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Auto Product Liability In 1992 Dodge Ram Defective Design Causes Concern

Most product liability lawyers will admit that a defective auto can be a danger to all the occupants in the vehicle. In 1993, Charles Clark was driving his 1992 Dodge Ram pickup truck with his two nephews when he was hit by a State Police cruiser near Route 25 in Kentucky. The car collision to Clark's left front fender caused the vehicles to rotate and "side slap" after impact. Clark, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the truck, thrown onto the grass median and died six hours later from his injuries. Neither the police officer nor Clark's two passengers were seriously injured.

Clark's wife filed a products liability lawsuit against Chrysler. Her attorneys alleged that Chrysler's lock latch on the Ram's doors was defectively designed, since it failed to hold the truck's door shut during the accident.

Plaintiff's expert witnesses testified that the 1992 Dodge Ram did not have a state-of-the-art or state-of-the-industry lock latch. He referred to several other lock latch examples in that were state-of-the-art at the time Clark's pickup truck was manufactured. His opinion, that the lock latch was defective and unreasonably dangerous was based on his technical knowledge of automobile door latch systems, his extensive testing of door latch bypass failure, his familiarity with the Chrysler K latch and his examination of the latch in Clark's truck, as well as other K latches identical to the one involved in Clark's case.

Later, Clark's car accident reconstruction expert testified that the structure to which the truck's door attached when it closed, called a B-pillar, is the skeleton of the vehicle and typically would be reinforced. He added that the Dodge Ram lock latch was 40 years out of date and that the B-pillar was defectively designed because it was a single piece of sheet metal that had not been shaped and welded into a square box to provide structure, as was typical in the industry.

"B-pillar twist-out was a known failure in the automobile industry," noted nationally recognized auto defect lawyer John Bisnar. "General Motors submitted a twist-out test procedure to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for informational purposes. The procedure was also made available to other automobile manufacturers, including Chrysler. Despite being aware that General Motors was testing its B-pillars for twist-out, Chrysler did not choose to test its latches for twist-out failure. Other vehicles at the time the Dodge Ram was manufactured, including a Toyota pickup, a 1991 Nissan, and a 1989 Ford, had "boxed" B-pillars that were reinforced in the area of the striker. Regrettably, Chrysler's design did not utilize the box-within-a-box design found in the other vehicles--a design that could have prevented the twist-out and kept the Ram's doors shut in this car crash."

The jury found that Chrysler and Clark were each 50 percent at fault--Chrysler for its defective latch design and Clark for failing to "buckle up." Consequently, the jury's $471,258 compensatory award was cut in half in the judgment for Clark, while its $3 million in punitive damages stood. In its appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court, Chrysler lost its bid to overturn the jury verdict.

"Amidst the tremendous emotional upheaval and trauma of a lost spouse, Mrs. Clark chose to confront a major car maker like Chrysler," said Brian Chase of the nationally recognized defective auto products law firm Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "She is to be commended for holding Chrysler accountable for designing a truck that was obviously unsafe--failing even to test its door latches as other car makers did. Our hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Chrysler and other car makers will convince them to improve their vehicles and make them more crashworthy."

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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