Jurors say award was to prompt minivan repairs
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ A $262.5 million judgment against Chrysler Corp. is intended to ensure the automaker repairs liftgate latches on minivans still on the road, a juror said Thursday.
``We wanted a punitive award that would make them fix all the vans out there that are broken,″ said the woman, who spoke on condition she not be identified.
The verdict, returned Wednesday in a suit stemming from the death of a 6-year-old boy thrown from a Dodge minivan in 1994, is believed to be the largest damage award against a U.S. automaker. It includes $250 million in punitive damages.
The family of Sergio Jimenez II sued alleging a defective rear latch caused the boy to be thrown from the minivan.
The juror said the panel did not deliberate long in finding actual damages, but that the punitive damages took more soul-searching.
``That was the toughest part of the whole case,″ said the woman, a 48-year-old sales assistant from Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Juror Bryan Smythe of Summerville agreed the panel wanted to prompt latch repairs but would not comment further.
Two other jurors refused to discuss the case, three have unpublished numbers, and the other three did not return phone messages.
In trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange, Chrysler’s stock rose 43 3/4 cents per share to close at $34.43 3/4.
At least 37 passengers were killed in accidents in which they were ejected when the rear liftgates opened on Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Caravan or Plymouth Voyager minivans sold from 1984 through 1995, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records.
Highway safety advocates have criticized the agency for allowing Chrysler to repair the vans under a less-strict ``service campaign″ rather than an official recall.
Government records in February showed fewer than half the rear latches on 4.1 million Chrysler minivans were replaced during the first 15 months of the repair campaign.
The jurors, who included, among others, a homemaker, an engineer, a sales clerk and a student, returned the verdict in a state not known for large jury awards. They deliberated about three hours after a monthlong trial.
Chrysler expects to ask U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins to rule for the automaker and to ask for a new trial, Chrysler lawyer Wade Logan said. If that does not work, the company will appeal, he said.
``We respect the jury’s verdict, but we think they were wrong,″ he said. ``We think the vehicle is safe, one of the safest vehicles on the road.″