ATLANTA, Georgia -- A Federal jury in Atlanta, Georgia ordered DaimlerChrysler to pay a total of $3.4 million for failing to warn of children shifting its minivans out of park, causing them to roll, and for failing to warn that its minivans did not have a brake shift interlock, which prevents vehicles from being shifted out of park without depressing the brake pedal.
The verdict was for the family of Madison Hamby, a two and a half year old girl who on July 27, 2002 was killed when she inadvertently pulled the gear shift lever on her mother's 1991 Dodge Caravan out of park causing it to roll. The minivan rolled 120 feet during which Madison was ejected and run over. Prior to the incident, Madison was playing in the parked minivan which was being washed by her mother's fiance. The fiance attempted to stop the rolling vehicle by jumping in it, but was knocked to the ground by the driver's door of the rolling vehicle.
Evidence in the case showed that before 2001, when DaimlerChrysler implemented the brake shift interlock in its minivans, DaimlerChrysler knew of almost two hundred child shifting incidents causing injuries and death to parents and children in vehicles which lacked the brake shift interlock. When DaimlerChrysler implemented the brake shift interlock in 2001 the incidents of child shifting in Chrysler vehicles was reduced to zero. All other major auto manufacturers installed the brake shift interlock in their vehicles by 1995. The jury found that DaimlerChrysler knew of the dangers of children shifting their vehicles out of park, especially its minivans, causing injury and death but nevertheless failed to warn the public, specifically the Hambys, to insure the safety of its consumers.
The family of Madison Hamby was represented by Jeff Harris and Darren Penn of the law firm Harris Penn & Lowry in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. Rebecca Franklin of Scherffius, Ballard, Still & Ayres assisted on the case. During the trial, the family's attorneys argued that DaimlerChrysler knew for years of this hazard and failed to do anything. The attorneys further argued that DaimlerChrysler refused to accept any fault whatsoever for its inaction regarding the hazard. Also the evidence showed that when DaimlerChrysler had comparable numbers of customer complaints, lawsuits and deaths caused by the lack of a brake shift interlock in its Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee vehicles, the company voluntarily recalled and retrofit those vehicles with a brake shift interlock, and pursued an aggressive media and warning campaign regarding the Cherokee recall and retrofit. When faced with similar complaints, deaths and lawsuits regarding the DaimlerChrysler minivans, which were marketed for families with children, DaimlerChrysler refused to do anything contended the plaintiff. Attorney Darren Penn said, "I am thankful that the Hamby family was able to pursue their case in court and hold this company accountable for its actions which caused the death of a beautiful, little girl."