Update: Joshua Flax v. Chrysler seat back case

by Ted Frank on June 23, 2005

We covered this case in detail Nov. 24 and Dec. 21. The court reduced punitive damages from $98 million to $20 million, which means that the total injustice is $23.75 million instead of $101.75 million. The AP version of the story doesn’t even acknowledge the auto company’s defense. (Randy McClain, “Judge slashes damages against carmaker”, The Tennessean, Jun. 21; AP, Jun. 21).

Lawyers Weekly USA has more details about the trial, including the fact that the jury wasn’t allowed to hear that, with 7.1 million vehicles on the road, there were only three deaths from collapsing seatbacks. Moreover, the judge permitted plaintiffs to argue liability based on a post-sale duty to warn of (allegedly) improved technology, unprecedented in Tennessee and most other states: thus, according to plaintiffs, when Chrysler merged with Mercedes, Chrysler had a legal duty to inform every single one of its car owners of any safety features on Mercedes vehicles that weren’t on Chrysler vehicles (and, one would imagine, vice versa). How this would have prevented a pick-up truck from slamming into the rear of a minivan at twice the speed limit, one wonders, but too many judges have stopped requiring causation to be an element of a tort. (Reni Gertner, “Parents Of Baby Killed In Seatback Collapse Win $105.5M”, Lawyers Weekly USA, Jan. 2005).