A jury in Cleveland has cleared DaimlerChrysler Corp. in a wrongful-death lawsuit that had alleged that a 1989 Dodge Car-avan that ran over an 80-year-old man had slipped into reverse by itself.
The suit was filed by the family of Fred Holland, who died eight days after the 1996 accident. It sought $250,000 as compensation for his pain and suffering and $750,000 for the family's loss of companionship and other damages.
Attorneys in the case said the accident happened when Holland parked the minivan in his gravel driveway and got out to get his mail.
As he was re-entering the vehicle, it backed over him. He died from complications that arose from his injuries.
Holland's attorney, Mark Fra-ney of Cleveland, argued that a manufacturer's defect caused the car to slip from park to reverse, but DaimlerChrysler's legal team was able to persuade the jury that Holland must have mistakenly placed the car in reverse when he got out to get his mail.
Rodger Kesley, senior staff counsel at DaimlerChrysler, said the vehicle's transmission would have had to overcome resistance to the gravel before the Caravan began to move.
That would have given Holland enough time to retrieve his mail and get back to the Caravan as it started rolling.
'He talked to the police officer that arrived and told him that he thought he put it in park,' Kesley said. 'Our defense was that he made a mistake.'
Holland's attorney said he was unable to persuade the jury that there was a manufacturer's defect.
'They must have accepted that he put it in reverse when he got out,' said Franey.
He said the jury had ignored evidence that showed how the Caravan could have slipped into reverse by itself.
Franey said a re-creation using the Caravan showed the jury that the shift lever could have moved into reverse by itself if it had been placed between park and reverse.
He conceded, however, that his case was hurt because Holland was not alive to testify.
He also noted that 'there were no previous incidents of (the transmission) slipping.'