February 28, 2005

DaimlerChrysler to fight Mohr verdict

Auburn Hills, Michigan – DaimlerChrysler plans to appeal a jury verdict that will require the company to pay US$4.5 million of a US$48.77 million award to the estate of a woman killed in a collision July 5, 2002.

Vicki Mohr was driving a 2000 Dodge Caravan near Corning, Arkansas; her mother Maurine Heathscott was in the front passenger seat, with Mohr’s nine-year-old daughter Victoria in the rear passenger seat. Mohr’s sister, Carolyn Jones, was seated behind the driver and admitted she was not wearing a seatbelt.

They were approached by 17-year-old Brett McAfee, driving a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee. McAfee fell asleep at the wheel and drifted into oncoming traffic. He sideswiped a 1993 GMC Sierra pickup truck and then collided with Mohr’s minivan, at a combined speed of 112 km/hr.

A coroner’s report concluded that Mohr died of blunt force trauma to the back of the head when her unrestrained, 245 lb (111 kg) sister struck her. Jones sustained fractures to her arm and pelvis; the nine-year-old suffered an abdominal injury requiring surgery.

Brent McAfee was charged with vehicular homicide and pleaded no contest. The plaintiffs filed suit against DaimlerChrysler Corporation. On February 14, 2005, a Memphis, Tennessee jury found the company 45 per cent at fault for Mohr’s fatal injuries and 55 per cent at fault for Heathscott’s injuries. McAfee was also found partially responsible for both fatalities. Jones, the unrestrained passenger, was found partially responsible for Mohr’s death.

“This tragedy occurred because an inexperienced 17-year-old driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into Mohr’s vehicle at a devastatingly high speed,” said Steve Hantler, Assistant General Counsel, DaimlerChrysler Corporation, in a statement. “As a result, the unbelted rear passenger was thrown into the back of the driver’s seat, contributing to the fatal injuries Ms. Mohr sustained.

“While serious accidents often have tragic consequences, this high speed accident highlights why occupants who choose not to wear their seat belts not only put themselves in danger, but can pose an even greater danger to other occupants in the vehicle. Accident reconstruction experts believe the fatal injuries to Vickie Mohr and Maurine Heathscott might have been prevented had all the passengers been wearing their seat belts properly. Mohr’s Dodge Caravan met every applicable federal safety standard as well as DaimlerChrysler Corporation’s own rigorous testing, but the seat belts must be used properly to offer maximum protection to occupants. Real-world evidence demonstrates that minivans are among the safest vehicles on the road, and Chrysler Group minivans are among the best vehicles in the minivan class in safety and security. To impose any punitive damages in these circumstances, let alone $48 million, is an especially egregious miscarriage of justice. While we share the jury’s sympathy with the Mohr family over this tragedy, the outcome of this accident was not the result of any defect with the vehicle. We will appeal this outrageous and unconstitutional verdict.”

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