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$55 Million Verdict Imposed Against DaimlerChrysler Corporation For Failing To Fix Known Transmission “Park-to-Reverse” Defect That Killed Young Father At San Pedro/Long Beach Maritime Terminal

— Millions Of DaimlerChrysler Vehicles In Use With Similar Park-to-Reverse Defect

Robert J. Nelson, Scott P. Nealey, and Chuck Naylor, counsel for Adriana Mraz and her three children in a wrongful death action against DaimlerChrysler Corporation, announced that a California-state jury today returned a $50 million punitive damages award against DaimlerChrysler for knowing and intentional failure to cure a defect in millions of its vehicles. On March 2, 2007, the same jury found DaimlerChrysler liable for the death of Richard Mraz and returned a verdict of $5.2 million in compensatory damages for Mrs. Mraz and her children.

On April 13, 2004, Mr. Mraz suffered fatal head injuries when the 1992 Dodge Dakota pickup truck he had been driving at his work site, the San Pedro/Long Beach Maritime Terminal, ran him over after he exited the vehicle believing it was in park. The jury found that a defect in the Dodge Dakota’s automatic transmission, called a park-to-reverse defect, played a substantial factor in Mr. Mraz’s death, and that DaimlerChrysler was negligent in the design of the vehicle, for failing to warn of the defect, and then for failing to adequately recall or retrofit the vehicle.

“Richard was a loving husband and father who was just 38 years old when he died,” stated Adriana Mraz. “He struggled for 17 days to stay alive after the accident and never regained full consciousness. When I found out many people have been injured by the same defect, and some even killed, I was determined to hold DaimlerChrysler accountable. I am deeply grateful to the members of the jury for their hard work and for sending a strong message to DaimlerChrysler that it must finally fix the defect in millions of its vehicles.”

“Mr. Mraz died and left behind a wife and three children because DaimlerChrysler put short-term profits ahead of the safety of its customers,” commented Robert J. Nelson. “Had DaimlerChrysler dealt with the defect many years ago when customers first complained about park-to-reverse problems, Mr. Mraz and others would be alive today.”

Plaintiff’s co-counsel Scott P. Nealey noted, “The evidence was clear that the park-to-reverse defect in the Dodge Dakota, Ram, and Jeep Grand Cherokee allows a driver such as Mr. Mraz to place their vehicle into what appears to be the park position. The vehicle does not move when the driver pulls their foot from the brake, but in fact, the transmission is between gears. From this position, the vehicle can have a dangerous delayed engagement of powered reverse after a few seconds or an even longer period.”

The evidence presented at trial included that DaimlerChrysler had received well over a thousand park-to-reverse complaints, including complaints with 1988 through 2003 Dodge Dakotas, certain 1988 through 2006 Dodge Rams, and certain 1993 through 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, over a period spanning more than a decade before Mr. Mraz was killed. These complaints were based on same common defect. Senior management at DaimlerChrysler, however, failed to investigate the full extent of the problem out of fear it could expose the corporation to liability for injuries that had already occurred and it would require a massive recall.

Plaintiffs’ counsel introduced evidence that the defect could have been remedied with corrective action, which would have meant conceding a safety-related defect in much of DaimlerChrysler’s fleet. Faced with this expensive prospect, DaimlerChrysler never had its engineers conduct the “root cause analysis,” or utilize the type of design failure mode effects analysis required as vehicle designs change — which would have quickly isolated the failure in its design and identified a proper fix.

“When DaimlerChrysler finally determined that it had to do something about the problem in 2000 due to an ongoing NHTSA investigation, it chose to issue a ‘voluntary recall’ of the Dodge Dakota in 2000 to install a “fix” that its safety office knew, and its engineers testified at trial they knew, did not fix the park-to-reverse problem,” stated Mr. Nealey. “The result is that today over a million vehicles, including 1988 to 2003 Dodge Dakota pickup trucks, on the road with the same defect that caused the death of Mr. Mraz.”

At trial, plaintiffs introduced into evidence a 1999 memorandum written by Antonius Brenders, Senior Manager in the Vehicle Safety Office at DaimlerChrysler. In the memo, Mr. Brenders discussed the pros and cons of doing a survey that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency sought to determine the cause of the park-to-reverse incidents. One of the cons to doing such a survey was that doing so could provide “[p]roduct liability credence to a hypothesis we have long ignored” and “continually challenge.” This “smoking gun” document showed that DaimlerChrysler refused to properly investigate the cause of all the accidents, including deaths, for liability reasons.
Chuck D. Naylor, a maritime lawyer in San Pedro, California, originally represented Mrs. Mraz. Later, Scott P. Nealey and Robert J. Nelson of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, joined with Mr. Naylor in the representation due to their extensive expertise in vehicle defect litigation.

“Hopefully, the verdict will cause DaimlerChrysler to change its conduct and save the lives of others,” noted Chuck D. Naylor. “Working as a team with Lieff Cabraser’s expertise on the defect issues and my expertise on the long shore aspects of the case was key to the successful resolution of the lawsuit.”

Reporters who wish to obtain a copy of the jury verdict and 1999 memorandum referred to above should contact attorney Stephen Cassidy at 415-956-1000 or by email at scassidy@lchb.com.

Vehicle owners who wish to learn more and contact plaintiffs’ counsel to report any injuries they have suffered as a result of the park-to-reverse defect should visit www.vehicle-injuries.com

About Lieff Cabraser

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is a fifty-plus attorney law firm that has represented plaintiffs nationwide since 1972. We have offices in San Francisco, New York and Nashville. We represent plaintiffs in class and group actions and in individual lawsuits in cases involving substantial injuries. For the last four years, the National Law Journal has selected Lieff Cabraser as one of the top plaintiffs’ law firms in the nation.