A 2011 crash on a Fort Stockton, Texas highway that was so horrific and devastating it compelled pop star Justin Bieber and scores of others to organize fundraising efforts is now the subject of a lawsuit against Chrysler over alleged flaws in its Town and Country minivan.
In July 2011, Joshua and Robin Berry were returning home to Houston with their three children, Peter, Aaron and Willa after a family vacation in Colorado when a Toyota 4Runner veered into their lane and struck them head-on at highway speed.
The crash killed Josh, 41, and Robin, 40, and left their sons Peter, 9, and Aaron, 8 paralyzed. Six-year-old Willa received multiple broken bones. The three children remain in the care of Josh’s brother Matthew Berry, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case against Chrysler.
Matthew Berry and Robin’s sister Susan Perlo, who filed the lawsuit against Chrysler and the driver of the 4Runner, claim the Town and Country minivan was defectively designed in a number of ways.
According to an attorney representing Berry and Perlo, “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.”
As evidence to back this claim is the fact that both the Chrysler minivan and the 4Runner were traveling about the same speed, were of similar weight and height and size, and both collided at the same angle of impact. However, whereas the 4Runner’s rigid steel safety cage surrounding the vehicle occupants left the front compartment of the SUV relatively intact, the Berry’s Chrysler minivan was nearly decimated by the impact.
According to the lawsuit, the Chrysler’s “crush zones” failed to absorb the force of the crash, while a “structural failure in the van’s safety cage caused key parts of the vehicle’s frame to buckle.” The lawsuit claims this failure led to “excessive rearward intrusion” of the engine and instrument panel, which allowed the front passenger compartment to collapse, crushing Josh and Robin.
Moreover, according to the lawsuit, “Due to defects in the design of the seat belts and seat backs . . . both [Peter and Aaron Berry] ‘submarined’ under the lap portion and away from the shoulder portion of their seat belts during the collision.”
“Instead of the energy from the crash being spread out primarily over the restraint system, and secondarily over their chests, pelvis and shoulders — the effect of properly designed and anchored seat belts — the energy from the crash was unloaded and unnecessarily concentrated onto their abdomens and spine. This resulted in multiple, severe and avoidable internal injuries to both boys,” the lawsuit charges.
The lawsuit also quotes recent comments made by Doug Betts, Chrysler’s senior vice president for quality, to the Wall Street Journal in on May 10, 2012:
“We are dragging behind us a pretty poor history,” Mr. Betts told WSJ. “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.”