DaimlerChrysler statement on the suit after the jump; it’s almost scandalous what the press accounts (Feb. 26)left out, but not as scandalous as the verdict. The unbelted Vickie Mohr was killed from blunt force trauma to the back of the head–caused when she was hit by the 245-pound unbelted passenger in the backseat. (The jury found that passenger, Carolyn Jones, responsible for only a small percentage.) Brett McAfee, the 17-year-old driver who killed the two plaintiffs when he fell asleep at the wheel going 45 mph, but was found slightly less than half-responsible by the civil jury, pleaded no contest to vehicular homicide criminal charges. (via Dodgeforum, which has an impressive array of photos of the totalled Durango Caravan).
The following statement can be attributed to Steve Hantler, Assistant General Counsel, DaimlerChrysler Corporation:
“This tragedy occurred because an inexperienced 17-year-old driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the Mohr’s vehicle at a devastatingly high speed. 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.
“The 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. This award clearly violates the federal due process restrictions on punitive damages recently announced by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“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.”
On July 5, 2002, Ms. Vickie Mohr was driving her 2000 Dodge Caravan on U.S. Highway 67 near Corning Arkansas. Her mother, Ms. Maurine Heathscott was sitting in the front passenger seat. All of the physical evidence from the accident indicates that Ms. Heathscott was not wearing a seat belt. Nine-year-old Victoria Mohr, seated in the rear behind the front passenger, was wearing her lap belt only and had slipped the shoulder belt behind her back. Ms. Mohr’s sister, Carolyn Jones, was seated behind the driver and has admitted she was not belted.
While approaching in the opposite lane, 17-year-old Brett McAfee fell asleep behind the wheel of a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee. He then drifted into oncoming traffic, sideswiped a 1993 GMC Sierra pickup truck and struck the Dodge Caravan. When the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the minivan collided, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was traveling at approximately 45 m.p.h. while the Caravan was traveling at approximately 30 m.p.h., resulting in a catastrophic collision with a closing speed of over 70 m.p.h.
Tragically, Ms. Mohr and Ms. Heathscott suffered fatal injuries. The coroner’s report concluded that Vickie Mohr was killed due to blunt force trauma to back of the head; experts determined that the trauma was caused when Mohr was struck by the 245-pound unrestrained occupant seated directly behind her, Ms. Jones. Nine-year-old Victoria Mohr sustained an abdominal injury requiring surgery, and Ms. Jones sustained fractures to her left arm and a pelvic fracture.
Brett McAfee was criminally charged with vehicular homicide and pled no contest. The plaintiffs filed suit against DaimlerChrysler Corporation.
On February 14, 2005, a Memphis, Tenn., jury found DaimlerChrysler Corporation 46% at fault for Ms. Mohr’s fatal injuries and 55% at fault for Ms. Heathscott’s fatal injuries. Brett McAfee, the driver of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, was also found partially responsible for both Ms. Mohr’s and Ms. Heathscott’s fatal injuries. Carolyn Jones, the unrestrained rear passenger behind the driver, was found partially responsible for Ms. Mohr’s death.
DaimlerChrysler Corporation’s portion of the compensatory damages totaled $4.5 million. The jury did not find DaimlerChrysler Corporation at fault for the injuries of the two rear seat passengers, Ms. Jones and Victoria Mohr. On February 24, 2005, following a separate punitive damages proceeding, the jury awarded $48.77 million to Ms. Mohr’s estate.