The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed an order granting summary judgment to Chrysler Group LLC in a suit alleging that a “false park” defect allowed a minivan to roll backward and kill two people. The appeals court found that there was adequate evidence of the defect and that the suit should be allowed to proceed. The appellate court said questions remain as to whether a defect in the 2008 Grand Caravan caused the vehicle to slip into reverse after the driver had shifted its transmission into park and exited the vehicle. In the incident, Roy and Rose Coats were killed in the garage of their Menifee, Calif., home.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled in Chrysler’s favor in January 2013, saying that the Plaintiffs’ claims were “speculative.” The judge said that the couple could have been killed due to Mrs. Coats’ carelessness, suggesting that she may have accidentally put the car into reverse, causing it to roll into her husband and then into her when she rushed from the vehicle to assist him. The Ninth Circuit stated that Judge Klausner had misapplied state law, noting that manufacturers can be held strictly liable for a defective product if an injury results from that product’s reasonably foreseeable use.
The appeals court said that a report from an expert for the Plaintiffs, combined with documentation of a false park defect in Grand Caravans documented by NHTSA, presented a material issue of fact on the issue of whether Mr. and Mrs. Coats were killed because of that defect.
According to the Plaintiffs the couple’s minivan’s defective transmission made it look and feel as though the vehicle was parked, catching both of them unaware when it rolled backward. Mrs. Coats, a 75-year-old woman, was pinned between the open driver’s side door and the wall of the couple’s garage, causing her to suffocate. Roy Coats, who was 83, suffered a fatal heart attack after his ankle was broken and his leg trapped under a wheel of the van, according to the Plaintiffs. Police discovered the couple’s bodies in their garage in February 2011.
I was not at all surprised to see this case reinstated. In my opinion, the appellate court got it right. It will be interesting to see how this case progresses now that it’s back on track.
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