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Auto Product Liability: 1991 Dodge Caravan Minivan No Brake Shift Interlock

Most auto product liability lawyers know that a defective auto product can be a danger to the vehicle occupants. In 2002, Lori Hamby was hanging clothes in the yard of an Atlanta home while her daughter, Mary, sat inside their 1991 Dodge Caravan minivan. The van was not running and was being washed by Lori Hamby's fiancé, Roberto Martinez. When Martinez turned to grab a bottle of Windex about 15 feet away, Mary apparently struck the automatic transmission lever, allowing the minivan to roll down a 120-foot driveway. The minivan struck a small tree, Mary fell out and was pinned under the right front tire. Sadly, she died from compression asphyxiation and trauma.

Lori Hamby filed a lawsuit against the car maker, her product liability attorneys alleging that Chrysler's 1991 Dodge Caravan lacked a brake shift interlock, a device that keeps the transmission from being shifted out of "Park" unless the brake pedal is depressed. They pointed to other major car makers that had been placing such devices in their cars since at least 1995.

"This was not a freak accident," observed nationally recognized defective product lawyer John Bisnar. "A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation of Chrysler minivans manufactured for model years 1981 to 1990 identified 212 such unexpected starts. Sadly, these car accidents resulted in 111 injuries and 7 fatalities. But even that investigation failed to tell the whole story, for it covered only four-cylinder front-wheel drive minivans that had gearshift controls mounted on the steering column. Chrysler maintained that all these incidents were caused by driver error. Regrettably, NHTSA closed its investigation at the end of 1991 without taking action."

DaimlerChrysler's assistant general counsel blamed the mother and fiancé, saying Martinez should have remained with the vehicle. And that the car collision occurred because a two-year-old child was left alone in a vehicle with the key in the ignition, the doors open and the parking brake not in use. Defense counsel further added that a brake shift interlock was not designed to prevent this type of car accident, nor was it designed to relieve adults of their responsibility to never leave children alone in vehicles. They also noted that 46 states have laws regarding unattended children in cars, with 12 states criminalizing leaving a child alone in a vehicle.

"While Chrysler's comments were noteworthy, they attempted to shift the jury's attention away from the fact that the car maker waited until 2001 to install brake shift interlocks in many of its minivan models--even though it had possessed the technology years earlier. For it had installed interlocks on its Mitsubishi Eagle Summit vehicles starting in 1993, and offered to retrofit it in Jeep Cherokees and Wagoneers. Nevertheless, from 1995 to 2000, Chrysler manufactured some 3 million Town and Country, Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans without brake-shift interlocks. Unfortunately, The omission of brake-shift interlocks did not keep Chrysler from marketing its minivan as a safe family vehicle.

Although the federal jury in Atlanta found the child's mother 49 percent responsible for Mary's death, it awarded the mother $3.4 million.

"Lori Hamby suffered unimaginable emotional pain, yet she still found the strength to confront Chrysler for manufacturing and selling an unsafe family vehicle," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys defective auto product law firm. "Holding Chrysler accountable for this preventable tragedy was a necessary and courageous act. Our hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Chrysler and other car makers will convince them to design and incorporate child-safe transmission levers and prevent other children from being seriously injured or killed."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.

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