Dead Woman's Family and Consumer Group Urge Chrysler to Recall Cars
26 March 1999Dead Woman's Family and Consumer Group Urge Chrysler to Recall Cars
Court Case Reveals Serious Safety Concerns About Auto Safety Testing and '89 Dodge Dynasty FORT WORTH, Texas, March 25 -- Countless lives could be at risk if DaimlerChrysler Corporation does not recall all of its 1989-model Dodge Dynasty automobiles, according to statements made today by the family of Elizabeth G. Daniels, deceased, their attorneys, and a representative of the nationwide consumer group, Public Citizen. The comments were made at a press conference held this morning, just one day before the third anniversary of Mrs. Daniels' death in a Fort Worth traffic accident. "We must get these vehicles off the streets before more lives are needlessly lost," said J. Dennis Daniels who successfully sued Chrysler Corporation as a result of the incident that killed his wife, Elizabeth, in 1996. Since the lawsuit was filed, Chrysler Corporation has merged with the German manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz and now is called DaimlerChrysler Corporation. "The '89 Dynastys are rolling death traps for unsuspecting people like my wife who reasonably assume that manufacturers have taken all factors into account when designing and testing their vehicles," said Daniels. "This should include testing to ensure that cars are safe for drivers of all sizes. Beth's terrible and unnecessary death demonstrates that DaimlerChrysler did not do so, at least with its '89 Dynasty." The steering wheel and steering column, which are supposed to absorb some of the intensity of a crash by collapsing on impact, in fact, did not collapse, and Mrs. Daniels' chest struck the wheel with full force. Due to the defects in the seatbelt design, the seatbelt failed to keep her from striking the steering wheel. The failure of these "safety" mechanisms -- the steering wheel and column assembly and the seatbelt -- caused her fatal injuries, according to testimony. After being treated by paramedics at the scene, Mrs. Daniels was taken to a nearby hospital where she died within a few short hours. "Consumers need to be warned. Chrysler marketed its Dodge Dynasty as a family car and a car safe for women to drive. But Chrysler knew its Dodge Dynasty testing ignored nearly half of the female drivers in America. Death has resulted from Chrysler's failure to test its 1989 Dodge Dynasty for the safety of the full range of American drivers, including shorter and petite drivers -- who are mostly women," said Allene Evans of Edwards, Perry and Haas, L.L.P. "We cannot and need not take the chance that other innocent people will die as a result of DaimlerChrysler's failure to correct this defect. We call on DaimlerChrysler to test for the safety of all American drivers. But that action alone is not enough. We implore DaimlerChrysler Corporation to act responsibly by promptly recalling the 1989 Dodge Dynasty vehicles that are still on the road today. Nothing short of that will properly honor the memory of Elizabeth G. Daniels. We also call on NHTSA to investigate this problem and to require responsible testing by automotive manufacturers -- comprehensive testing that does not ignore nearly half of the female drivers in America." Tom "Smitty" Smith, Director of Public Citizen's Texas Office, appeared at the Daniels press conference representing Public Citizen's nationwide organization. Public Citizen was founded by Ralph Nader in 1971 and is currently headed by Joan Claybrook who previously was Director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). With the support of more than 150,000 people across the country, Public Citizen acts as the consumer's eyes and ears in Washington, D.C., standing up for the rights of the American consumer against thousands of special interest lobbyists who represent big corporations such as the major automakers. Smith said that Public Citizen has been working with the Daniels family and its attorneys for the past few months to formulate strategies to avert future tragedies of the kind that killed Elizabeth Daniels, and the group is now ready to move forward with its plan. "We call on NHTSA to require that DaimlerChrysler and all automobile manufacturers make specific changes in their testing procedures -- before history repeats itself. We urge them to require that all vehicles be comprehensively tested for the full range of drivers' sizes." It was determined during the case that a combination of factors resulted in Mrs. Daniels' losing her life in what was a seemingly minor traffic accident -- the failure of her seatbelt to keep her from striking the steering column and the fact that the steering column did not collapse as it was designed to do. It was found that these mechanisms failed to protect Beth because Chrysler had not designed and tested them for shorter or petite drivers or for collisions other than those involving direct frontal impacts. Smith said he wanted to make it clear "that the average height of females age 18-74 is 5 ft. 3.7 in., therefore, nearly half of all women could be affected by this danger. Further, we are concerned that, virtually any drivers who position their seats more than halfway toward the seat's most forward position could suffer serious or fatal injuries, regardless of their size. We join the Daniels family in urging DaimlerChrysler Corporation to take the '89 Dodge Dynasty off the road." According to Smith, The Center for Auto Safety (CAS), an independent auto safety research organization established in 1970 specifically to give consumers a voice for auto safety and quality in Washington, will establish a website to disseminate information to consumers about the exact DaimlerChrysler model involved in this incident. Smith said the website also will inform visitors about how to contact DaimlerChrysler Corporation, NHTSA and members of the United States Congress to urge adoption of a rule requiring comprehensive testing of all automobiles for all sizes of drivers, including the 5th percentile group. "The Center for Auto Safety is establishing a website whereby citizens can request more information about the critical safety hazards inherent in DaimlerChrysler vehicles," said Smith. Motioning to Elizabeth Daniels' husband and three minor sons who stood nearby, Smith declared, "We commend this family -- which has been so devastated by its loss -- for transcending its grief and coming forward to make the public aware of the details of their own loss, in order to help avoid more tragedies of this kind." "We are proud of the Daniels family for overcoming their pain and coming forward with this information in order to safeguard the lives of other drivers," said Jan Hueber, of the Fort Worth law firm of Kirkley, Schmidt & Cotten, L.L.P., which was contacted by Mr. Daniels following the accident. Ultimately, Hueber's firm referred Daniels to the Corpus Christi law firm of Edwards, Perry and Haas, L.L.P., which successfully represented Daniels in the action. Elizabeth Daniels, who was a forty-one-year-old wife and mother of three at the time of her death, was driving her '89 Dodge Dynasty on McCart Avenue in Fort Worth on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 26, 1996, when the driver of a truck traveling in the opposite direction lost control of his vehicle and collided with Mrs. Daniels' car. Although Beth Daniels was wearing her seatbelt, she still lurched forward, striking the steering wheel with her chest. J. Dennis Daniels, etc., et al vs. Chrysler Corporation contended that Chrysler was negligent because it failed to design and test its cars to ensure their safety for vehicle occupants who are part of the 5th percentile of the population, as was Elizabeth Daniels. The 5th percentile encompasses individuals who are less than 5 ft. 4 in. tall and are petite in stature. On November 5, 1998 the case was settled for a confidential amount. The Daniels family's attorneys developed evidence during the litigation to show that DaimlerChrysler Corporation's negligence in testing its vehicles extended beyond the fact that its Dodge Dynasty seatbelts, by its own admission, are not tested to assure they protect individuals such as Elizabeth Daniels who are near 5 foot 4 inches and petite. According to deposition transcripts, DaimlerChrysler Corporation's own corporate representatives and experts testified that the purpose of seatbelts is to help reduce the likelihood of harmful contact with the vehicle's interior, yet they also acknowledged that their own Dodge Dynasty crash tests fail to take the occupant's size or seat position into consideration. Further, DaimlerChrysler's corporate representatives and experts confirmed that the Dodge Dynasty's steering wheel and column was designed to collapse only for direct frontal impacts when the driver strikes the steering wheel straight on. Individuals seeking further information regarding this matter may visit The Center for Auto Safety's webpage at http://www.autosafety.org/.