Law Firm Urges Chrysler Owners to Report Safety Belt Unlatching

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, March 8 -- The following press release is being issued by The Edwards Law Firm, L.L.P.:

Yvonne Moran and her attorney, Billy Edwards of The Edwards Law Firm, L.L.P., Corpus Christi, today urged Chrysler vehicle owners to report incidents or file complaints with government and consumer agencies in the wake of Thursday's national news disclosure that Chrysler's Gen3 seat belt buckle failed 100% of the time in an independent testing lab's analysis of the buckle's tendency to unlatch during car crashes.

A web site established to capture incident reports about the Gen3 revealed that at least one-third of the reports were from parents complaining that the buckle unlatched around the seat belt securing their child or infant car seat.

ABC's news magazine, PrimeTime, on Thursday aired an investigative report that as many as 14 million Chrysler vehicles -- including all minivans produced since 1994 -- are equipped with Gen3 seat belt buckles that repeatedly fail standard industry tests for safety. The report centered on the death of a Corpus Christi man, Bart Moran, who was killed in a low-speed collision in December 1996 while driving the family's new 1997 Dodge Caravan. In 2000, a jury determined that Moran's seat belt, a Gen3, had unlatched during the crash, was ``defective as designed'' and was ``99% responsible'' for his death.

At least three deaths in the United States so far have been attributed to inadvertent unlatching of the Gen3 seat belt.

At a Corpus Christi press conference today, Yvonne Moran, Bart's widow, urged consumers to complain to Chrysler dealers or to contact the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Center for Auto Safety about their concerns. She also urged them to report unlatching incidents to a web site established for that purpose, www.unsafebelts.com .

``The dead don't talk. We, the living, have to raise our voices and make this issue important enough for Chrysler to listen,'' Moran said.

The web site, www.unsafebelts.com , and a toll-free number, 1-866-848-9036, have been set up so that Chrysler owners can find information quickly and easily about how to identify a Gen3 safety belt, which models are known to be equipped with the buckles, and links to government and consumer agencies. The site, which was established by Billy Edwards, the Corpus Christi lawyer representing Yvonne Moran, also has a quick, easy form for reporting complaints.

A voice recording at DaimlerChrysler's toll-free number today, set up in response to the ABC story, continues to claim that the Gen3 seat belt buckle is safe. The recording says that the Gen3 met all ``appropriate'' safety requirements for seat belts. Friday morning, the recording accused Bart Moran of not wearing his seat belt. In the face of overwhelming evidence, that part of the message was deleted Friday afternoon.

ARCCA, a Pennsylvania engineering firm hired by ABC, tested fifteen seat belt buckles installed in most American cars using a standard industry test for buckle safety called a ``ball test.'' In this test, a metal ball, meant to simulate an elbow or other object that might strike the buckle during an accident, is pressed against the buckle to determine if it unlatches the belt.

Fourteen of the buckle designs, including those installed in General Motors, Ford, Honda and Toyota vehicles, passed the ball test consistently during 280 repetitions of the test. The Gen3 buckle ``failed every single time,'' according to ARCCA.

Edwards said that he is concerned particularly that Chrysler continues to install Gen3 belts in the middle and rear seats of minivans, where children typically sit.

``We have located numerous complaints filed with Chrysler and the government over the years from parents reporting seat belts in Chrysler-made vehicles unlatching around infant and baby car seats, and our own tests have shown how easily this happens,'' Edwards said.

In fact, about one-third of the consumer hits to a web site established two days ago to provide information about the Gen3 problem are coming from parents reporting unlatching incidents involving child car seats, Edwards said.

Chrysler has known since 1996 that the Gen3 seat belt buckle had a tendency to unlatch. Chrysler's engineers testified in the Moran case that, after viewing crash tests of the Dodge Durango and Dodge Dakota conducted in 1996 that showed the Gen3 buckles unlatching, they recommended upgrading the buckles in those models to the Gen4.

Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., called the Gen3 buckle design defect ``one of the worst I've ever seen.''

The Gen3 buckle is distinguished by a button that protrudes significantly beyond the button cover, enough so that flying objects or flailing arms during a crash can unlatch it by striking it. In other buckles, the buttons are more flush with the button cover and must be depressed below the cover to unlatch.

Consumer and reporting information about the Gen3 buckle can be accessed at www.unsafebelts.com , or by calling toll free 1-866-848-9036.

CONTACT: Billy Edwards of The Edwards Law Firm, L.L.P., +1-800-475-0971

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