Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Chrysler to pay after van rolls over, kills Cobb tot

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/11/07

Chrysler agreed this week to pay an undisclosed amount to the family of a Cobb County toddler crushed to death in an accident his family blames on a defective minivan.

The incident happened last year when a babysitter briefly turned her attention away from 18-month-old Ian Escobar to find his pacifier and he bolted out the front door of his home toward the family's 1997 Plymouth Voyager. His mother was in the driveway walking toward the minivan, which was supposed to cart the family to dinner, but her older son, Gabriel, 4, shifted the vehicle out of park with the key in the ignition, causing it to roll over Ian and trap him under the wheel. The engine was not running.

The tragedy would not have happened if the minivan had a common device, known as a brake shift interlock, to prevent it from shifting out of park unless the brake pedal is depressed, Jeffrey Harris, the family's attorney, said Tuesday.

The Escobars filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court last year blaming the motor company giant for their son's June 6, 2006, death. The case remained pending until this week, just days after a similar accident killed four people during a July 4 picnic in Connecticut.

In that incident, a toddler knocked a 1999 Grand Voyager out of gear, causing it to roll into a lake.

"It's nauseating that this happens over and over again," said Harris, who claims there have been 23 similar deaths nationwide by DaimlerChrysler products because of the same missing part.

Michael Palese, a spokesman for the car manufacturer, said parents are responsible for what happens if they leave kids in cars with the keys in the ignition.

"A settlement is not an admission of a defect," he said. "The only defect is the judment of leaving children in a car with the keys inside. We make good cars."

Chrysler didn't install the $9 part until 2001, Harris said, and the company has not issued a recall on the more than 9 million automobiles previously made without the device.

In a Gwinnett County case that is still pending, a 4-year-old Duluth boy slipped out of his booster seat last year and sent his family's Dodge Caravan rolling down a hill, killing his father, Jarol Osmar Gomez, 41. The family also has blamed the lack of the safety feature in their van.

In a Forsyth County case, a federal jury last year returned a $3.4 million verdict against Chrysler for a similar 2005 minivan accident that killed 2-year-old Madison Hamby. The jury also blamed the mother's inattentiveness.

A judge cited mistakes in the trial and tossed out the verdict, but before it could be scheduled for a new trial, the automotive giant settled out of court earlier for an undisclosed amount.

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