LONG BEACH PRESS-TELEGRAM
By Kristopher Hanson, Staff Writer
Five years after a faulty transmission caused a pickup truck to pop into gear, running over and killing a longshoreman in the Port of Los Angeles, Chrysler has agreed to a $24 million settlement with the victim's Long Beach family.
Richard Mraz, 38, was working at the APL yard on Terminal Island when a 1994 Dodge Dakota he had been driving suddenly jumped into reverse after he had exited it to help a co-worker, knocking him to the ground and causing a fatal head injury. He died several days later, leaving behind a wife and three kids.
In 2007, a jury found Chrysler liable in the death, saying the automaker knew of the transmission problem as early as 2000, but failed to adequately notify owners that the trucks could suddenly pop into reverse even after being placed in the "park" position.
The jury awarded Mraz's family $55 million, but during the ensuing appeals and years of litigation, Chrysler sank into bankruptcy, putting the judgment in question.
Finally, in early October, a federal judge in New York overseeing the bankruptcy case approved a reduced $24 million settlement - a deal agreed to by Mraz's widow Adrianna Mraz and the San Pedro law firm of Charles Naylor, who guided the Mraz family through the years of legal wrangling.
Naylor and Adrianna Mraz blame the automaker for "maliciously" selling defective products despite knowledge of previous such incidents that forced the automaker to issue a recall of an estimated 1 million trucks, including Dakotas, Dodge Rams and Jeep Grand Cherokees in 2000 - a notice that Mraz's family or employer proved in court they never received.
"When I found out that many people had been injured by the same defect, and some evenkilled, I was determined to hold Chrysler accountable and send a strong message to all automakers that they must put safety first," Adrianna Mraz said in a statement.
A settlement of any size was put in doubt when Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in April, but the automaker eventually agreed to settle old accounts as it struggled to emerge from bankruptcy.
"We hope that the new Chrysler Corporation will never put short-term profits ahead of the safety of its customers," said attorney Robert Nelson, who worked with Naylor and lawyer Scott Nealey on behalf of the Mraz family.
Mraz was born and raised in San Pedro and had been working the waterfront for several years before his death. The jury found Mraz 10 percent responsible for his death, while his employer, APL was found to be 15 percent at fault with the rest of the blame placed on Chrysler.
"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, whose represented cases involving maritime workers, cruise ship passengers and others in Southern California since 1975.
APL Terminal rated fastest
A recently completed survey employing interviews with tracking by global positioning satellite trackers showed truck turnaround times at the Global Gateway South-Eagle Marine Services terminal were the quickest of the 14 major terminals servicing the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
The survey marked the average time it took for a driver to wait in line, enter the yard, receive his load and exit, which at the Global facility averaged 50 minutes - markedly below the 1-2 hours averaged at other major terminals.
The survey, conducted by Harbor Truckers for a Sustainable Future, also showed that drivers working night shifts face substantially longer wait times than those working day shifts, despite less traffic.
The reason for this discrepancy - which averaged 30 minutes in the survey - is assumed to be because terminal operators hire fewer gate operators and longshoremen during night shifts, leading to less efficient cargo handling and truck movement.
Trucking companies and drivers are looking at ways to improve turnaround times in an effort to reduce fuel usage, reduce pollution emitted while idling in truck queues and to handle more cargo with fewer trucks, thereby reducing traffic on local roadways