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Federal Bailouts May Complicate Defective Product Claims Against Automakers

Car accidents are often the result of defects in the design or manufacturing of a vehicle. While automakers can (and should) be held liable for such defects, victims and their families must often overcome a number of legal obstacles. For example, the recent bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler have complicated a number of product liability claims.

Post-Bankruptcy Chrysler May Not Have All Records from Pre-Bankruptcy Chrysler

Here is an illustration of one such complication arising from the 2009 bankruptcy reorganization of Chrysler. The underlying case is a Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit brought after a fatal 2011 accident. A young woman riding in a Dodge van was killed when the driver lost control of the vehicle on the interstate. The van then rolled over several times.

The victim’s mother has alleged that defects in the design and manufacture of the Dodge van led to its rolling over. Among other things, her lawsuit claims the van had an “unsafe center of gravity that is dangerously high and rearward in proportion to the track width and wheelbase of the vehicle,” and that the “passenger capacity” and “seatbelt design” was also “unsafe.” Because of these defects, the lawsuit claims, “the Dodge Van failed to maintain its structural integrity in a rollover,” leading to the victim’s death.

The lawsuit, which seeks $40 million in damages, remains pending before a federal court in Nashville. Recently a federal magistrate assigned to oversee discovery in the case had to rule on several requests made by the plaintiff for information regarding Chrysler’s design of the van, which was a 2002 model. The magistrate noted that the present Chrysler ownership’s access to such records “is tempered by the fact that it is a successor in bankruptcy and is not the true originator or decision maker concerning the 2002 van.”

In May 2009, two years before the accident that killed the plaintiff’s daughter, Chrysler’s ownership sought bankruptcy protection in federal court. The automaker’s assets were sold to a new entity that was partly owned by the United States and Canadian governments. The U.S. government also provided financing for the sale. As the magistrate in the present lawsuit explained, the current Chrysler “only bought assets in the bankruptcy case,” and many records from the pre-bankruptcy company “may be difficult to retrieve,” including much of the evidence sought by the plaintiff.

Get Help from a Product Liability Attorney

While government officials were eager to bail out automakers like Chrysler, they were less vigilant about protecting individuals who were injured due to defective vehicles designed and manufactured prior to bankruptcy. This unfortunately adds to the uphill struggle many victims face in seeking justice. But it also highlights the importance of working with an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer. If you or a family member have been injured, or even killed, and you suspect a defect in a car or truck’s design may be responsible, you should contact Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton to speak with an attorney right away.

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