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Dodge minivan products liability and wrongful death case reinstated

Dodge minivan products liability and wrongful death case reinstated

A federal appeals court has reinstated a products liability and wrongful death case against the Chrysler Group L.L.C., stating there is a genuine dispute whether the deaths of two people were caused by a defect in a 2008 Chrysler Dodge Grand Caravan minivan.

Rose Coats, 75, and her husband, Roy, 83, were found dead in the garage of their Menifee, California, home on Feb. 27, 2011, according to Tuesday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Karen Ann Pavoni; Pamela Joyce Moyet; Fred Arthur Scheid v. Chrysler Group L.L.C.

Ms. Coats was found pinned between the car's open driver-side door and the inside of the garage door frame, where she had suffocatedaccording to the ruling.

Mr. Coats was found lying on the garage floor directly beneath and in front of her with his left ankle under the car's front driver-side tire. The car had run over him and fractured his right ankle.

Three of Ms. Coats' children filed suit against the Chrysler Group, which is now known as FCA US L.L.C., based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, stating that a “false park” defect caused their deaths under the theories of strict products liability, negligent design and failure to warn, negligence and wrongful death, according to the ruling.

The plaintiffs charged that the false park defect caused the Grand Caravan to self-shift into reverse, and begin moving backwards. While in reverse, the car pinned Ms. Coats between the driver's door and the inside of the garage door's frame of the garage door and struck Mr. Coats, causing him to have a heart attack and fall to the ground, the plaintiffs said.

An expert submitted a declaration that explained the history of the alleged false park defect in Chrysler vehicles, the engineering mechanics of the alleged defect, and how it can be avoided, according to the ruling.

He also tested the Coats' vehicle and found this defect, and concluded there was a “reasonable degree of scientific and technological” certainty that this defect had caused the couple's deaths.

The U.S. district court in Los Angeles granted Chrysler summary judgment dismissing the case, stating the facts presented by the plaintiffs and their expert were insufficient to establish a “causal connection” between Chrysler's actions and the couple's death.

A three-judge panel unanimously reinstated the charges. It said in its ruling the existence of the “false park” defect, which has been documented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and identified by the expert in the car, along with details of the couple's 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,” said the court, in remanding the case.

In 2014, U.S. safety regulators added the 2008-2009 Dodge Grand Caravan to a previous recall of Fiat Chrysler vehicles that had ignition switches that could be inadvertently shut off.

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