Ninth Circuit Reinstates Death Claims Against Chrysler Over Alleged Transmission Defect, Lieff Cabraser Announces

SAN FRANCISCO--()--Attorney Todd A. Walburg of the national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP announced that a federal appeals court today reversed an order that had dismissed wrongful death claims stemming from an alleged transmission defect in many Chrysler vehicles.

As a result of the “park-to-reverse” defect at issue in the case, Pavoni v. Chrysler Group, LLC, No. 13-55761, a driver can place a vehicle into what appears to be park gear when the transmission is actually in an intermediate, “false-park” gear. If the engine is left running — for example, when a driver leaves the vehicle to check her mailbox or parking position — the vehicle can suddenly and unexpectedly jerk into powered reverse, causing injuries or even deaths.

The case involves a double fatality that pretrial evidence indicates was caused by a park-to-reverse event in a Chrysler-manufactured 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. Rose Coats was found crushed to death, standing upright, between the open driver’s side door and the corner of her garage frame. Her husband Roy was lying directly underneath her, dead of a heart attack. The vehicle’s engine was running with the transmission in reverse.

The district court granted summary judgment to Chrysler despite this suspicious scene and the documented history of Chrysler park-to-reverse incidents, and even though an automotive expert’s testing of the Coats minivan revealed that a driver could unwittingly place its transmission into a false park gear.

The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for trial in a published opinion. The court wrote “that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether a ‘false park’ defect in the Coats’ Grand Caravan caused the deaths of Roy and Rose Coats. We also find that the district court incorrectly applied the relevant substantive law.”

“We’re looking forward to trying this case — it’s a strong one,” said Walburg, who represents the plaintiffs, survivors of the Coatses. “The Ninth Circuit needed only a few short pages to vindicate the important policies and principles of strict products liability, a doctrine firmly embedded in California law that both deters manufacturers from placing dangerous products on the market and provides redress to the victims of product defects. The opinion is a credit to that doctrine’s vitality and to the ability of juries to sort through the evidence in this type of case to reach a just result.”

Today’s opinion explained that “[t]he alleged existence of the ‘false park’ defect, documented in Chrysler vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and identified in the Grand Caravan through Plaintiffs’ expert Rosenbluth’s testing, along with the details of Roy and Rose Coats’ deaths, present genuine issues of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the ‘false park’ defect was the legal cause of the accident and their deaths.”

About Lieff Cabraser

Described by The American Lawyer as “one of the nation’s premier plaintiffs’ firms,” Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is a national plaintiffs’ law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York and Nashville. U.S. News and Best Lawyers selected Lieff Cabraser as national “Law Firm of the Year” for 2015 in the category of plaintiffs’ mass torts and class actions.

Lieff Cabraser prevailed in a 2007 trial against Chrysler over a similar park-to-reverse incident involving a 1991 Dodge Dakota, obtaining a $54 million jury verdict that included an assessment of $50 million in punitive damages.

Contacts

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Todd Walburg and Jordan Elias, 415-956-1000

Release Summary

A federal appeals court today reversed an order that had dismissed wrongful death claims stemming from an alleged transmission defect in many Chrysler vehicles.

Contacts

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Todd Walburg and Jordan Elias, 415-956-1000