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Product liability suit over 4 deaths settles just before trial

Illinois drivers are often the first to be blamed for accidents, but the true source of negligence may originate from parties nowhere near the crash site. Automobiles are consumer products subject to strict design and manufacturing standards. Car makers and dealers can be held accountable for making and selling unsafe or defective products.

A 39-year-old woman, her toddler son, 6-year-old nephew and a friend's 2-year-old daughter died when the van they occupied rolled into a pond. The mother stepped outside the parked Plymouth Grand Voyager in a picnic area parking lot on the Fourth of July in 2007. Police determined one of the children inside the van shifted the vehicle into drive, causing the Voyager to pitch forward.

The mother raced toward the van as it headed toward a pond but was unable to stop the vehicle from entering the water. The woman stayed in the van and drowned with the children as the Voyager sank to the pond's deep bottom.

The victims' families initially brought a lawsuit against the local government, which owned the property, and the operators of a nearby zoo. The lawsuit later was modified to become a product liability case. The defendants were replaced by the car dealership that sold the 1999 van to the woman driver.

The families' attorney said the claim would have been directed toward the van manufacturer but Plymouth, a Chrysler Corporation product before the company's merger with Daimler-Benz, was defunct. The car dealership became the default defendant.

The plaintiffs agreed to a settlement with the car dealer, just days before the scheduled liability trial. Court papers said the families were willing to accept a $15.5 million settlement, although terms of the final agreement were not disclosed.

A car maker is responsible for the safe design and manufacture of vehicles. Additionally, other parties along the distribution chain can be faulted in liability suits for marketing dangerous products.

Source: ctpost.com, "Settlement reached in family drowning" Daniel Tepfer, Dec. 06, 2013

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