By Doug Irving, Staff Writer
The widow of a San Pedro longshoreman crushed by a Dodge pickup plans to use millions of dollars she won from the automaker to publicize defects in those and other vehicles.
Adriana Mraz said Friday that she has little hope of collecting the full $55.2 million judgment awarded this week by a Los Angeles jury. But that verdict, she said, “opens a window” on what she described as a dangerous design flaw in the truck.
Her husband, Richard Mraz, died in 2004 after a Dodge Dakota truck he thought he had left in park at the Port of Los Angeles backed into him. Jurors found that a defect in the vehicle’s transmission system allowed it to slip into reverse — and that automaker DaimlerChrysler was negligent in Mraz’s death.
Mrs. Mraz said the award is “very gratifying” but means “nothing, because it doesn’t bring my husband back.” She said she would like to use the money to launch a consumer Web site to alert people to vehicle design problems, although she expects the award to be whittled down on appeal.
“His memory needs to live on somehow,” she said.
Her husband was 38 years old and working at the American Presidents Line container terminal on Terminal Island when the accident happened in April 2004. He had gotten out of the truck and was run over when it began rolling backward and he tried to stop it.
The family’s attorney, Charles Naylor, argued that a transmission flaw in Dakotas manufactured from 1988 to 2003 made it possible for them to put themselves into reverse. The gearshift, he argued, could stick between park and reverse and then slip into reverse several seconds later.
DaimlerChrysler issued a recall on Dodge Dakotas in 2000 to fix the so-called “park-to-reverse” problem. But Naylor argued that the repair it offered was inadequate, and that the company could not prove it had sent a recall notice to the owner of the truck Mraz was driving that day.
DaimlerChrysler has indicated that it may appeal the Los Angeles verdict. The company blamed the accident on driver error, arguing that Mraz left the truck in reverse when he got out.
A company spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment on Friday.
Company attorney Louann Van Der Wiele said the accident “occurred because Mr. Mraz ignored proper safety procedures by exiting a vehicle that was still running.” He compounded the problem, she said, by “attempting to jump into the vehicle while it was moving.”
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury, though, found DaimlerChrysler mostly at fault for the accident that killed Mraz. It also assigned 10 percent of the blame to Mraz, and 15 percent to his employer, APL.
The jury ordered DaimlerChrysler to pay $5.2 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
“There are thousands of these vehicles that have had the recall. They’re not fixed,” Naylor said Friday. Mraz, he added, “paid the price.”
Mraz had a 3-year-old daughter and two teenage stepsons; his widow said some of the verdict would pay for them to go to college. She described him as a family man who volunteered for book fairs and the annual church carnival.
They met online in 2000, and married two years later.
“He was wonderful,” she said. “It was a dream to him to have a family.”
Staff writer Kristopher Hanson contributed to this article.