Appeals court says Chrysler 'false park' wrongful death case can proceed.

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Appeals court says Chrysler 'false park' wrongful death case can proceed.

— A Dodge Grand Caravan "false park" lawsuit will proceed after a federal appeals court reversed an order that had dismissed wrongful death claims in the deaths of California couple, Roy and Rose Coats.

What is "False Park?"

A false park event, or "park-to-reverse" event, occurs when a driver moves the gear shifter to "park" but the transmission is not in park. The vehicle can then begin moving in reverse on its own.

How a Tragedy Turned into a Lawsuit

The lawsuit, Pavoni v. Chrysler Group, LLC, says on February 27, 2011, police found Rose and Roy Coats dead in the garage of their California home.

Rose Coats, 75, was found pinned between the open driver-side door of the Grand Caravan and the inside of the garage door frame, where she suffocated to death. Roy Coats, 83, was found lying on the garage floor directly beneath and in front of his wife, with his left ankle under the front driver-side tire, which fractured his ankle.

The coroner reported Roy died of "hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a natural cause of death.”

Although there are no witnesses to the incident, the plaintiffs allege Rose Coats got out of the minivan believing the vehicle was in park. However, an alleged "false park" defect in the Grand Caravan transmission caused the van to shift into reverse on its own.

The Grand Caravan pinned Rose between the driver-side door and the inside frame of the garage. According to court documents, Roy Coats was struck by the van and died of a heart attack.

How the Case's Dismissal was Overruled

The original district court ruling favored Chrysler's motion to dismiss, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision by saying the case presents "genuine issues of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the ‘false park’ defect was the legal cause of the accident and their deaths."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated false park reports in 1990-1991 after receiving hundreds of complaints about the problem. The false park investigation found 212 incidents that caused property damage, 109 injuries and seven fatalities. However, the NHTSA investigation was closed after the agency determined false park incidents occur in all kinds of vehicles.

The plaintiff law firm involved in the Chrysler false park wrongful death lawsuit is the same firm that won a previous park-to-reverse lawsuit.

Not an Isolated Incident

In 2008, attorneys from Lieff Cabraser prosecuted a wrongful death case against Chrysler involving a park-to-reverse defect in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The jury found Chrysler liable for the death of the infant, Colin Guillot, and awarded a $7.2 million verdict.

The jury determined the false park defect in the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s transmission played a substantial factor in Collin Guillot’s death and also the severe injuries suffered by Mr. and Mrs. Guillot and their daughter.

Furthermore, Lieff Cabraser is representing a Colorado man who sued Chrysler claiming a park-to-reverse transmission defect caused the death of his wife. Gil Sanders, of Arvada, Colo., claims his wife, Kari Sanders, was killed by their 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 after it experienced a false park event.

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