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Product Liability: 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee Park-to-Reverse Defect

Most product liability lawyers will admit that defective auto products can have be harmful. In 1999, Juli Guillot and her husband, August, were about to drive to the local hospital in Chalmette, Louisiana for Juli to deliver her second child. Juli stepped out of their 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee to retrieve her young daughter's songbook, and August got out to get his cell phone in the back of the SUV. It was then that tragedy struck: the Cherokee shifted into reverse and pinned Julie to a brick carport column.

The force of the SUV's impact ruptured Juli's uterus, and forced her unborn son, Collin-Jacob into her abdominal cavity. Collin was delivered alive by emergency cesarean section but suffered extensive brain damage due to lack of blood and oxygen caused by the crushing injury. Colin died 17 days later in his parents' arms after being taken from life support.

Unable to explain why the SUV had begun to move backwards, August Guillot was overcome with guilt, thinking that he had left the Cherokee in reverse--there simply seemed no other explanation at the time. He was even investigated for criminal negligence by the local sheriff's office. Chrysler was aware of the incident and had sent an investigator to gather information, yet the car maker never informed the Guillots or law enforcement authorities that their vehicle had a defective transmission that may have caused the tragedy.

"The Cherokee's problem came to light when a Los Angeles Times reporter contacted the Guillots more than two years after the personal injury accident informing them that certain Chrysler vehicles had a park-to-reverse defect in their transmissions," noted nationally recognized auto product liability attorney, John Bisnar. "It's not hard to imagine that August Guillot's guilt was replaced by outrage when he realized that he was not responsible for his son's death."

Determined to hold Chrysler accountable, the Guillot's subsequently sued Chrysler LLC, claiming that the car maker had known for years that its vehicles had a defective transmission. And that by failing to rectify this defect, they had suffered the worst loss any parent can experience.

While Chrysler sympathized with the Guillots, they maintained that the car accident was August Guillot's fault, saying that he made a critical mistake during a "chaotic moment." They insisted that August should have placed the SUV in park, shut off the engine, removed the keys or set the parking brake. Had August taken these precautions, the car accident could have been prevented, Chrysler maintained.

The Guillots' defective auto product attorneys alleged that a number of Grand Cherokee SUVs had suffered from "rollback" problems. "Chrysler had recalled 1.6 million 1993-1998 model Grand Cherokees after hundreds of complaints the vehicles could shift suddenly from park to reverse," said John Bisnar. "You don't have to be an automotive engineer to conclude that something was seriously wrong with these transmissions."

But Chrysler maintained that neither its own investigation nor one by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had uncovered any such defects. The car maker further asserted that the Guillots' SUV was a 1999 model, and not part of the recall.

The jury disagreed with Chrysler, returning a unanimous verdict and assigning 99 percent of the fault for the accident to Chrysler and 1 percent to August Guillot. It found that the design of the Guillots' 1999 Grand Cherokee was unreasonably dangerous, that a defect in the SUV's transmission, called a park-to-reverse defect, played a substantial role in Collin Guillot's death and the severe injuries suffered by Mr. and Mrs. Guillot and their daughter. It awarded nearly $2.8 million to Judi Guillot, $2.1 million to her husband, $80,000 to the two together, and $125,000 to the couple's daughter Madison Guillot, who had witnessed the car accident from her car seat.

"Amidst an almost unimaginable tragic loss and initially wracked with guilt, the Guillots pressed on and confronted a huge car maker, holding them accountable for their son's death," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys motor vehicle defects law firm. "Hopefully, this lawsuit and the many lawsuits we have filed against Chrysler and other car makers will convince them to improve their vehicles, making them safer to prevent such tragedies in the future."

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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