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Chrysler Appeals $262.5M Verdict

March 8, 2000

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ DaimlerChrysler asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to overturn a $262.5 million judgment against the company over allegations that it manufactured minivans with defective rear door latches.

In papers filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the company cited ``numerous errors by a lower court and a staggering verdict premised on a misleading depiction of events.″

DaimlerChrysler, formed by the merger of Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG in late 1998, said it should get a new trial because the company was not allowed to submit evidence about the circumstances surrounding the fatal accident in North Charleston, S.C., that prompted the suit.

The appeal says the $250 million punitive damage award is ``grossly excessive″ and violates the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by not giving the company adequate notice that it would be subject to such a large amount of the monetary damages, among other claims.

``On its surface, it is troubling to any company that a jury is willing to award these vast sums of money in a case like this,″ said Ken Gluckman, assistant general counsel for DaimlerChrysler.

U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins last December upheld a jury’s 1997 decision to compensate the parents of 6-year-old Sergio Jimenez II, who died in an accident involving the family’s Chrysler-made minivan in April 1994.

Hawkins reduced the jury’s $262.5 million verdict by only $3.5 million. His 84-page decision upheld the jury’s $250 million punitive damage award, saying the substantial award was necessary to affect the profitability Chrysler achieved by its conduct and to deter the company from engaging in such conduct in the future.

Mark Joye, a lawyer for the Jimenez family, said the damages awarded by the 1997 jury are justified.

``It says to car manufacturers that if you make a product and tout it as being safe, then discover there is a defect with the product, you need to take immediate steps right then and there to make the product safe,″ Joye said. ``Chrysler got several calls about there being problems with the door, but refused to make the changes needed to make the door safe, resulting in the kind of loss that happened with our client.″

The Jimenez family says Sergio was riding in the back seat of their 1985 Dodge Caravan when it was hit on the rear of the driver’s side by another vehicle. The impact caused the van to spin and roll over. Sergio was thrown out the rear liftgate and sustained a fatal skull fracture.

Chrysler claims Sergio was not wearing a seat belt, and contends it was not allowed to introduce information about the boy’s use of a seat belt, and about the minivan driver’s actions just before the crash.

Tim Hurd, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said an investigation found that 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 between 1984 and 1995.

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