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A Dallas-area jury has ordered Chrysler Corp. and a local dealership to pay $83.5 million to a Texas couple who charged that the defendants misled them on the towing capacity of the Dodge Ram pickup truck they bought. But the plaintiffs will never see anything near that amount, said plaintiffs’ attorney Larry R. Boyd of McKinney, Texas’ Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd & Joplin. Texas law in effect when the case was filed caps punitives at three times economic damages, leaving a net verdict of about $2.4 million, he said. In addition, Chrysler intends to appeal the capped judgment, said Jay Cooney, DaimlerChrysler senior manager of legal, safety and public affairs. “Even at that reduced rate, we find the amount no less objectionable,” he said. A BUCKING TRUCK Jessie and Karla Sellers charged Chrysler and the dealership, Daniels & Fry Motor Co. Inc., with deceptive trade practices in the sale of a 1997 Dodge Ram 3500. In 1997, the Sellers bought the truck to use in their family business of transporting horse trailers, said Boyd. The specifications in a Chrysler brochure indicated that the pickup could pull up to 11,900 pounds, he said. The weights that the Sellers intended to pull did not exceed 9,000 pounds. The dealership had assured the couple that the truck would be able to pull these loads, he said. But, said Boyd, the Sellers encountered problems immediately. While pulling the trailers, he said, the truck began to buck. “If they were going at a high enough speed, the wheels would go off the ground,” he said. Eight days after the purchase, they brought the truck back, but the problem wasn’t corrected, Boyd said. Mechanics at the dealership tried without success to fix it. A Chrysler representative offered to sell the Sellerses a flatbed one-ton truck that could pull the loads, for an additional $5,000, he said, but “they didn’t have any money.” Chrysler and the dealer would not return the trade-in, he said, but did return the Dodge Ram to them. In May, while driving the truck in Missouri, Sellers “lost control of the truck.” No one was injured, he said, but they stopped driving the truck and ultimately lost their business. They are now living in one of the horse trailers, Boyd said. The Sellers sued Chrysler and the dealership, claiming that problems with the truck caused them to lose their business and caused a major depression in Sellers. Sellers v. Chrysler Corp. No. 296-1283-98 (Dist. Ct., Collins Co., Texas). Chrysler denied the charge. “We offered a buyback immediately — to the penny and within days of the purchase,” Cooney said. When Chrysler couldn’t correct the bucking problem, the company offered the Sellerses another vehicle, at cost, with more towing power. The plaintiffs also alleged that Chrysler had destroyed “key documents” relating to bucking problems on the Dodge Ram 3500. Chrysler had issued a technical services bulletin in October 1997, describing the condition and indicating it could be fixed by replacement of the throttle linkage, Boyd said. The plaintiffs learned of the bulletin during the deposition of the Chrysler zone manager. But when the plaintiffs attempted to subpoena the file on this bulletin, “Chrysler said the file had been destroyed in January 1999,” after the Sellers action had been filed, he said. The trial court issued a spoliation instruction to the jury, noting that … “Chrysler negligently caused harm to the plaintiff,” he said. On Sept. 15, a McKinney, Texas, jury awarded the plaintiffs just under $1 million in compensatory damages, adding $80 million in punitives against Chrysler and $2.5 million in punitives against the dealer. The punitives against Chrysler will be cut to about $1.4 million.

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