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$50 Million Punitive Damages Award for Auto Defect Fatality


A San Pedro woman and her three children were awarded $50 million in punitive damages Wednesday in a wrongful death lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler Corp. in an auto product defect case.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found that the auto maker knowingly and intentionally failed to correct an automatic transmission defect in the Dodge Dakota that led to the May 1, 2004 death of 38-year-old Richard Mraz, according to a news article based on wire reports published in the Daily Breeze.

The jury awarded the $50 million to Mraz’s widow, Adriana, and her children.

On March 2, the same jury found DaimlerChrysler liable for the death of Richard Mraz and returned a verdict of $5.2 million in compensatory damages for the family, the article said. Two of the children were Richard Mraz’s stepchildren and one was his biological child, according to the plaintiff’s attorney who was quoted in the article.

Richard Mraz suffered fatal head injuries when the 1992 Dodge Dakota pickup truck he was driving at his work site, the San Pedro/Long Beach Maritime Terminal, ran him over after he got out of the vehicle believing it was in park, the article stated. He died 17 days after the accident.

The jury found that a defect in the transmission was a substantial factor in Mraz’s death, and that DaimlerChrysler was negligent in the design of the vehicle.

According to the report, the evidence presented at trial included that DaimlerChrysler had received more than 1,000 park-to-reverse complaints — including complaints with 1988 through 2003 Dodge Dakotas, certain 1988 through 2006 Dodge Rams, and certain 1993 through 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees — over a period spanning more than a decade before Mraz was killed. Attorneys for the family also introduced evidence that the defect could have been remedied with corrective action.

The death of Mr. Mraz is the type I despise happening and that I love to pursue. Corporate giants need to be held accountable for their negligence. Time after time over the last three decades, we have found that auto makers are negligent when it comes to fixing their defective products. No matter how many complaints they receive, no matter whether its Ford or Chevrolet or DaimlerChrysler, the tract record of auto manufacturers show that they will bend over backwards to deny their faults and their product’s defects.

Personally, I’m happy for this family that probably lost its sole bread winner. I’m thankful to this jury for seeing through an auto manufacturer’s shoddy treatment of its consumers and lame excuses for defective products. Unfortunately most juries throughout the country side with the automakers in these cases.

The history of successful punitive damage verdicts against automakers dictates that the Mraz family is not likely to see much of the $50 million dollar punitive damages award. DaimlerChrysler will appeal, which could tie up the family receiving any money for years. Then the parties are likely to enter into a settlement whereby the Mraz family will get their $5.2 million in compensatory damages within a reasonable amount of time, as well as a substantially reduced amount of the punitive damages, in trade for avoiding risky and lengthy appeal process.

At Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys we are very fortunate to have prevailed for our clients in over 90% of our auto defect cases. Our firm is passionate about holding automakers’ feet to the fire when their products do not meet basic safety standards or the expectations of the motoring public and cause serious injuries. It isn’t right for a manufacturer to sweep complaints under the proverbial rug and hope no one gets seriously hurt.

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