1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV
On May 21, 1999 Juli and Augi Guillot were preparing to go to the hospital to deliver their second child, Colin. As they were about to pull out of their driveway, their young daughter Madison dropped her song book on the floor. Mrs. Guillot exited the vehicle, and opened the rear passenger door of their 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, to help her. While she was leaning over to get Madison's song book, Mrs. Guillot asked her husband about their cellular phone, and Mr. Guillot realized it was in the vehicle's rear hatch. He shifted into what he believed was park, opened up the door, got out and had walked to the back driver side window of the car, by the rear wheel when Mrs. Guillot felt something against her right side. The vehicle had begun to creep backwards, more than several seconds after Mr. Guillot had exited.
The vehicle then self-shifted fully into reverse, with the door catching Mrs. Guillot as the vehicle moved backwards. Mrs. Guillot was seriously injured, and Colin was tragically born alive, but profoundly brain injured due to asphyxiation. He died 17 days later.
The Guillots did not know it at the time, but their 1999 vehicle was equipped with an inline-6 engine paired with a transmission that had a "park-to-reverse" defect. It had both a flat spot and a weak spring. This defect, allowed the Guillots' transmission to be inadvertently mis-shifted to between Park and Reverse. The vehicle would then sit, idling in neutral for a period of time, where it could, and in the Guillots' case tragically did, reengaging powered reverse.
Despite a then ongoing NHTSA investigation for "inadvertent movement issues" on earlier vehicles equipped with the same transmission (a 42RE model, first introduced by Chrysler in 1987), and a number of reports of injuries and deaths due to unexplained movement when the operator had believed the vehicle was in Park, Chrysler had continued to produce and sell a transmission that a reasonable manufacture would have discontinued.
GUILLOT VS. CHRYSLER
An inline-6 engine paired with a transmission that had a "park-to-reverse" defect in it
There had been ongoing NHTSA investigation for "inadvertent movement issues" on earlier vehicles equipped with the same transmission (a 42RE model, first introduced by Chrysler in 1987)
A simple, inexpensive "Out-of-Park" alarm would have easily fixed the issue and greatly enhanced public safety
Guillot vs Chrysler - Trial and Verdict
The Guillots' case was tried in April 2008 in Louisiana State Court. Despite the accident happening on flat ground, with no obstructions, and evidence of a long delay, Chrysler contended the Jeep was left in Reverse, and the accident was Mr. Guillots' fault for failing to shift. The jury, shown the defect, and evidence of Chrysler's knowledge of it, disagreed, and awarded the Guillots' $5,080,000, which with prejudgment interest awarded by the Court was more than $7,200,000.
This verdict was upheld by the Louisiana Court of Appeals in a decision in 2010 (Guillot v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 50 So.2d 173 (2010); and the case was then resolved for $7,200,000 after Chrysler's bankruptcy against the bonding company.
Yet, despite, the size of the verdict, and its horrible facts, Chrysler still has done nothing to retrofit vehicles with the defect, and continues to use transmission designs with a low detent spring pressure on most of its vehicles, which allows them to be shifted to between Park and Reverse. As a result of this, and the lack of any out-of-park alarm to alert drivers if they began to exit the vehicle outside of Park, injuries and deaths due to inadvertent movement on Chrysler's vehicles unfortunately continue to this day.
As a senior Chrysler executive wrote in an internal memorandum in January 1999, when considering how to respond to a then ongoing NHTSA investigation of inadvertent movement issues on certain of Chrysler's vehicles, the issue of inadvertent vehicle movement due to the park-to-reverse defect was a concept that "we continually challenge" and that Chrysler had "long ignored" and "long denied". However, as a solution to this issue, the Chrysler executive suggested that Chrysler implement a "warning buzzer" which would sound if the vehicle door were opened, with the key in the on position, and the vehicle was not in Park.
Rather than immediately implement this "out-of-park" alarm on its vehicles to prevent future injuries and deaths, even after the Guillots' tragic accident, Chrysler continued to place the 42RE transmission, and transmissions with a similar design, into Jeep Grand Cherokees with inline-6 engines, and certain Rams and Dakota pick-ups until 2005, without adding a safety system to alert drivers when a potential park-to-reverse event or misshift had occured.
Moreover, even when in 2003, in response to a further NHTSA investigation, Chrysler reluctantly recalled certain 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees to address the Park-to-reverse defect, Chrysler failed to extend the recall so as to address other vehicles with the same defect. The vehicles Chrysler left on the road with the same design as the 42RE quipped Guillot transmission include:
Dodge and Dodge Ram Pick-ups
Certain Dodge Durango SUVs,
Certain Jeep Wranglers,
Additional 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees with I-6 engines.