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Old 02-03-2003, 11:44 PM
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Exploding Heater Cores?

Vol. 9, No. 2031 - The American Reporter - February 3, 2003

by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 3, 2003 -- A closely-watched trial over automakers' responsibility for
exploding heater parts that have injured scores of people in Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and
Volkswagen vehicles went to a Superior Court jury in Los Angeles this afternoon after a motion
for a mistrial based on the discovery of an American Reporter article in the jury room was denied
by Judge Emilie Elias.
Closing arguments presented by defense attorney Jeff Lyddan of San Francisco-based Carroll,
Burdick & McPherson for Mercedes-Benz and Daimler-Chrysler urged the jury to disregard the
testimony of an expert witness for the plaintiffs who had not tested the exploding heater cores
manufactured by the Baer Corp. and sold by European auto parts giant BASF.
For the plaintiff, realtor Albert Royas of Los Angeles, trial lawyer Herbert Hafif of Claremont,
Calif., told the jurors that his expert, Adnan Kasnabar, had been unable to perform tests because
the company would not identify the plastic that is used to seal the end of the heater corers, which
in Mercedes-Benz and dozens of other vehicles is located just over the passenger's foot when it is
on the brake or accelerator. An expert hired by Mercedes-Benz, Dr. Edward Caulfield of Packer
Engineering, an expert witness company, said the heater core end cap's failure was due to "abuse"
by the driver.
Lyddan also told jurors that a finding by them that the plastic end cap was defective means they
would have to find that all plastic and nylon end caps in Mercedes vehicles are also defective.
Mercedes, largely alone among automakers, has resisted recalling the parts which are 1.9 million
Mercedes-Benz 190D and 190E automobiles around the world. All the failures have been
reported in the United States. In European vehicles, a standard Techmatic switch turns off the
heater cores. That is not used in American cars.
Hafif said the part is one that ages and eventually degrades to 20 percent of its original strength.
Lyddan says the cars involved in various injuries were uniformly old and poorly maintained.
Records of maintenance performed by Royas indicated he frequently visited the dealer and had
complained the car was overheating before the incident.
An exploding heater core burned Royas' foot and leg as he drove his Mercedes 190E on Mission
Blvd. in East Los Angeles two years ago. He told the American Reporter today that he hopes to
become a crusader for a change in the use of the design that was in his car and millions of others.
Instructions to the jury read by Judge Elias state that complaints to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration and to Mercedes-Benz officials could be treated as "notice to defendants" of
the problem, but the veracity of the complaints are not to be considered by the jury.
A trial is scheduled for June in Phoenix on three additional cases against Volkswagen, and
observers say automakers fear they may face many more if a substantial award is offered to the
plaintiffs in the Royas case, where the heater core design is similar and many issues are identical to
those raised in Phoenix.
At the conclusion of their deliberations on the liability issue, the jury will return to seek a verdict on
exemplary or punitive damages in the case. Hafif told the jury in closing arguments that
Mercedes-Benz had saved $150 to $200 million by not doing a recall of the part as Renault,
Peugeot, Isuzu, Volkswagen and other have done. BMW modified their heater core design after
complaints of burns, lawyers indicated in testimony last Thursday.
"I know you can fill in the gaps," Hafif told the jury. "I trust you. I know Mr. Royas trusts you."
The jurors include Rocky Delgadillo, the Harvard-trained former All-American football player and
deputy mayor who is the elected City Attorney of Los Angeles, its highest-ranking legal officer.
Happy Benzing
Darryl, Hill
2005 SL55 AMG Kleemanized
1984 500 SEC
1967 W113 California Coupe
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