San Francisco, CA – September 24, 2009 – Charles D. Naylor of the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor and Robert J. Nelson of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, announced today that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the payment of $24 million for the wrongful death of longshoreman Richard Mraz. The settlement is believed to be one of the largest ever for the wrongful death of a longshore worker, as well as one of the largest settlements ever of an individual wrongful death action involving an auto manufacturer.
“Richard was a loving husband and father who was just 38 years old when he died,” said Richard Mraz’s wife, Adrianna. “When I found out that many people have been injured by the same defect, and some even killed, I was determined to hold Chrysler accountable and send a strong message to all automakers that they must put safety first.”
Naylor and Nelson, along with Scott P. Nealey of Lieff Cabraser, served as co-counsel in the action. They demanded that Chrysler post an appeal bond which guaranteed the automaker’s ability to pay the $55.4 million verdict awarded by a Los Angeles jury in 2007.
“The appeal bond was a key factor,” said Naylor, a 34-year maritime litigator. “Had we agreed to Chrysler’s request to waive an appeal bond two years ago, the unexpected bankruptcy filing this year would have left the Mraz family without a dime for the tragic and preventable death of its breadwinner, husband and father.”
“We’re gratified that the Bankruptcy Court has approved the settlement, and the action has been resolved,” said Nelson, who also served as lead appellate counsel. “We hope that the new Chrysler Corporation will never put short-term profits ahead of the safety of its customers.”
Chrysler Corporation (formerly DaimlerChrysler) appealed the jury verdict to the California Court of Appeals. In April 2009 the automaker filed for bankruptcy, staying the appeal before a hearing could take place. The automaker’s bankruptcy put the Mraz family’s compensation at risk in the event of a reversal or remand on appeal; additionally, it exposed the appeal bond in the event the verdict was upheld.
This summer, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court lifted the stay and allowed direct negotiations to occur with appeal bond issuer, Safeco Insurance Company. At the center of the settlement negotiations was the issue of how compensation to the Mraz family would impact Chrysler’s creditors due to the structure of the appeal bond. Safeco posted an $81 million bond to guarantee payment of the judgment and post-judgment interest.
“Ultimately, the $24 million settlement offered a substantial return to Chrysler’s creditors while providing fair compensation to the Mraz family, our ultimate goal,” said Naylor.
The settlement was approved by Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, who is presiding over the Chrysler bankruptcy filing.
In 2007 a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $55.4 million, including $50 million in punitive damages, to the family of 38-year-old Mraz, who died after being hit and run over by a Dodge Dakota while working in the Port of Los Angeles in 2004. Attorneys for Mraz – Naylor, Nelson and Nealey – successfully argued that a “park-to-reverse” defect in the truck’s automatic transmission caused Mraz’s death. The jury found that the automaker acted with malice by failing to warn consumers of the defect it had known about for years and by conducting a “phony” recall that did not adequately fix the vehicle.
About Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor
Since 1975, the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor has been compassionately and aggressively representing injured workers from the maritime trades including seamen, longshore and marine construction workers, and cruise ship passengers and crew. With more than 100 years combined experience, our attorneys specialize in Maritime Personal Injury, Jones Act, Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act and Cruise Ship Injury.
Charles D. Naylor received California Lawyer magazine’s prestigious CLAY Award in 2008, has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and has been recognized by Southern California Super Lawyers as one of the “top attorneys in Southern California” (2007- 2009). For more information, visit www.naylorlaw.com.
About Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
With three offices nationwide and on the web at www.lieffcabraser.com, Lieff Cabraser is one of the largest law firms in America dedicated solely to advancing the rights of plaintiffs. For the last six years, The National Law Journal has selected Lieff Cabraser as one of the top plaintiffs’ law firms in the United States.
Vehicle owners who wish to learn more about the park-to-reverse defect, and report their experience, should visit http://www.usautoinjurylaw.com/cases/defects/transmission/false-park.htm. For their work in the case, Robert J. Nelson and Scott P. Nealey won California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) awards by California Lawyer Magazine.