For Christmas in 1999, two sisters, Nancy Johnson and Jill Davis (the names have been changed per the families’ request), made plans for their families to go to Las Vegas. The Johnson family lived in Detroit, Michigan and the Davis family lived in Canada. The families flew to Los Angeles and rented a 1999 Dodge Caravan at the airport. En route to Las Vegas, the driver lost control of the van and it rolled over. During the rollover, the van’s sliding door on the passenger’s side opened and fell off, and four passengers – two seated on the van’s front bench and two on the rear bench – were ejected.

Two of the passengers, Nancy Johnson and her 18-year old daughter, suffered fatal injuries. Nancy was a gifted research engineer and her daughter was a Canadian national scholar. Nancy’s mother, who was also a passenger in the van, suffered broken bones in her feet, ankle, and shoulder. She also suffered significant grief in watching the fatal injuries to her daughter and granddaughter. Jill Davis, the fourth passenger, suffered brain injuries that left her with memory loss and sensory deficits. She also suffered severe and disfiguring facial injuries resulting in scarring, multiple orthopedic injuries, and significant internal bleeding that required several surgeries. Jill was a medical research scientist at the time of the accident and has faced difficulties returning to the type of work that she did before the accident.

Both families contacted a lawyer in Detroit, Michigan. This attorney was familiar with the landmark verdict in the case of Jimenez vs. Chrysler Corporation (the Joye Law Firm had a victory in an earlier Chrysler minivan case) and he contacted JLF attorney Mark Joye to represent the families. “From the extensive work we had done in Jimenez against Chrysler, I knew all of the corners Chrysler had cut in the production of these minivans. Removing the latch on that sliding door is one of those cost-cutting, profit-generating short-cuts that needlessly took the lives of two wonderful people and destroyed two families,” said Joye. Joye filed suit in California state court against the manufacturer of the minivan, alleging that it was defectively designed. The only latch on the sliding door was on the trailing edge of the door, not the leading edge. As a result, the door had peeled open during the collision, creating a large porthole through which the passengers were ejected. Joye was prepared to show that just a moderate amount of roof crush would cause the leading edge of the sliding door to come out of its socket and knock the door off its track, causing the door to detach in a rollover.

“We knew that the minivan’s original design had incorporated a hook system in the leading edge of the door, where it assists in keeping the door closed in an accident, which is a major safety issue for vehicles involved in accidents,” said Joye. “Doors must stay shut in collisions. Instead, the hook system was replaced with a flimsy bolt no bigger than the width of a pencil, and it was designed to wedge the front edge of the door into the support post. In any type of roll-over or roof crush accident, the force can easily wedge the bolt out and from there, and the door will just fly wide open.”

Joye litigated the case in California and shortly before trial he obtained a favorable confidential settlement with Daimler Chrysler on behalf of the surviving family members. “While nothing would erase the loss suffered by these families, they are happy to put this event behind them,” Joye said. “We have proved another dangerous problem with these Chrysler minivans. We will continue to fight for the rights of innocent victims of defective products across the country.”

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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