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Motor Vehicle Defects: 1996 Mitsubishi Sebring Found Not Crashworthy

Most motor vehicle defect attorneys will agree that a car's crashworthiness is an important aspect of survival for victims of car accidents. In 2004, Jonny Gray II was traveling east on Highway 98 between Alabama and Mississippi, when a car that had swerved into oncoming traffic struck his 1996 Mitsubishi Sebring. The car crash collapsed the Sebring's front-side structure, driving the steering column close to Gray's chest before the airbag deployed, killing him. Tashina Gray, his 9-year-old daughter, was in the front seat. She suffered massive brain injuries and paralysis when her seat was propelled forward to the aluminum-backed airbag door and struck her in the head as the airbag deployed.

The Grays sued DaimlerChyrsler, which sold the Sebring, and Mitsubishi, which manufactured the coupe. They asserted that the vehicle was generally uncrashworthy because the seat belts and the doors' structure and frame were defective. The auto product liability lawsuit further claimed that the airbags were defective because they were overly aggressive and deployed late. Finally, they asserted that the passenger seat was defective because it failed to lock in place.

"This is a classic example of a car that is an accident waiting to happen," said nationally recognized auto defect lawyer, John Bisnar. "In a car collision, it presents a cascade of defects that reduce the odds of survival. It's a no-win situation for the occupants."

To prove the defective seat claim, defective product attorneys for the Grays sought evidence-showing changes to Mitsubishi's "easy-entry" seat track design. The easy entry system allowed rear seat passengers better access by allowing the front seat back to be folded and the seat bottom pushed forward with a single lever. Most seats of this type lock into place by sliding the seat bottom into position and then raising the seat back to an upright position to lock the seat in place in the track.

Between 1995 and 1997, Mitsubishi designed the easy-entry seat so that an occupant would have to return the seat back to the upright position first and then slide the seat back into position to lock it into place. Unfortunately, Mitsubishi failed to warn consumers about the design change and included no instructions in their Sebring's owner's manual.

DaimlerChrysler admitted that it had fielded about 20,000 warranty claims about front seat failures, without specifying the specific nature of the complaints. Mitsubishi asserted its warranty claims or those of DaimlerChrysler did not signal a trend that required revisions to the seat track or notice to its customers.

The Grays' attorney confirmed that the design had been changed sometime in 1997 or 1998. Mitsubishi argued to exclude any evidence of a subsequent design change in the seat track on the grounds that the law precluded any evidence of a design change that occurred after the date of the Sebring's manufacturer.

The Grays' car defect attorney argued that Mitsubishi had repeatedly denied that there was any change to the seat track design. He then presented seat exemplars, showing that triggers had been designed out of the seat tracks.

"Mitsubishi has a long history of concealing car defects. From 1999 to 2004, the car maker was rocked by a series of scandals that revealed a corporate culture at its highest levels in denying the existence of problems with their vehicles," said nationally recognized auto product liability lawyer, Brian Chase.

The court found that Mitsubishi had concealed the existence of more than 51,000 warranty claims and reports from customers and dealers concerning unintended door openings and door-latch failures. In 2000, after an investigation by the Japanese Ministry of Transport, the President of Mitsubishi apologized for hiding information since 1998 on more than 530,000 vehicles produced since 1991. Eventually, Mitsubishi admitted to hiding documents for at least 23 years, going back to 1969 when the recall system was first initiated in Japan, the Japan Times reported.

"This concerted and ongoing effort to hide potentially dangerous defects from the public is outrageous but unfortunately, is not an isolated event in the auto industry," Said nationally recognized auto defect lawyer, John Bisnar. "Car makers, foreign and domestic, have a history of protecting themselves from being held accountable for their negligence and outright disregard for the motoring public by their concealment of evidence of their knowledge of defects in their automobiles."

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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