News Release

For more information contact Barbara Canetti 713-654-1122 For immediate release May 14, 2012

Berry Children File Suit Against Chrysler
Blame Design of Minivan for Deaths and Severity of Injuries in Crash
HOUSTON—The three Berry children of Houston, orphaned in July in a deadly highway collision, filed suit Monday in federal court against Chrysler for defects in the design of the seat back and restraint system, and defects in the performance of the vehicle during the collision. Also named as a defendant was the driver of the vehicle that hit them as they returned home following a family vacation. The Berry children -- Peter, 9, Aaron, 8, and Willa, 6 -- witnessed the deaths of their parents Robin and Joshua Berry, who were killed on July 2 when a Toyota 4Runner driven by Mike Scott Doyle of Phoenix veered into the Berry’s 2003 Chrysler Town and Country minivan near Fort Stockton, Texas. The Berrys were returning from vacation in Colorado. Robin Berry, the mother who was driving, and Joshua Berry, the father who was in the front passenger seat, died at the scene as the children watched in horror. All five family members were wearing property fastened shoulder and lap belts; Willa also was seated in a child booster seat. Doyle, who police said was distracted while driving, lost his wife in the crash. Houston attorney Richard Mithoff, previously appointed by the court to investigate the incident for possible legal action, represents the Berry children. Mithoff previously was lead attorney representing families of elderly victims fleeing Hurricane Rita in a bus, which resulted in an $82 million settlement. Presently he is co-lead counsel representing shareholders in their case against BP in the 2010 Gulf oil spill. “This was a collision at highway speeds. But in a properly designed vehicle, such a collision should not result in the complete collapse of the driver and front passenger compartment, and should not result in the seat back and seat belts causing catastrophic injury,” said Mithoff. Mithoff explained in the lawsuit that the Berry’s Town and Country minivan lacked adequately designed front crush zone and safety cage protecting the occupants.. In order to avoid serious injury to front seat occupants during a frontal vehicle collision, the front end of the vehicle should be designed to crush up to the point of the firewall, but not beyond, in order to absorb energy from the crash. The design should prevent the engine and dash components from substantially entering the occupant space of the vehicle and injuring the passengers.

According to the suit, the Doyle’s Toyota 4 Runner compartment space for the driver and front passenger remained intact. In direct contrast, the Berry’s minivan driver and front passenger compartment crumpled, permitting the engine and dash components to intrude beyond the firewall to such a degree that there was virtually no occupant space remaining in the front compartment. The couple had to be removed using the Jaws of Life, but the accident was fatal for both of them. When the collision occurred, the two Berry boys were restrained in their seats, but because of the design of the restraint system, they both received internal and spinal cord injuries. They both are permanently disabled and paraplegic. Willa suffered broken bones. Seat belt restraints should be designed to tightly restraint passengers in their seats during a collision, , so that they move in tandem with the seat, the lawsuit explained. Only in this way can the seat back and restraint system, rather than the bodies of the passengers, act to absorb the energy of the accident. But because of the way the rear restraint system was designed in the Chrysler Town and Country minivan, excessive slack and the positioning of the seat belts actually increased the risk of serious injury to children in a collision, according to the lawsuit. Chrysler specifically markets this minivan to families, and represents in its owner’s manual that its seat restraint system will protect children who have reached a certain age and size and have outgrown the infant car seats and booster seats. However, the actual design of the rear seat restraints not only failed to give the small passengers protection, but also put these children at increased risk of serious injury from the very restraint system designed for their use, Mithoff said. According to the pleading, Chrysler’s senior vice president for quality Doug Betts was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on May 10, 2012 concerning Chrysler vehicles built in the past. “(We) are dragging behind us a pretty poor history,” he is quoted as saying. “(We) were building cars that were functional, and other than that, they were boxes you got into that hopefully kept the rain off your head.” Mithoff and lawyers Janie Jordan and Sherie Beckman are also representing Matthew Berry, the children’s uncle and brother of Joshua, who brings the suit in behalf of the children. Sue Perlo, the children’s grandmother and Robin’s mother, is also party to the lawsuit.


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