Chrysler Bankruptcy: Consumer Groups Object

Farbod Nourian can't sit for long periods of time. The recent college graduate can't lift anything heavy. He suffers constant back problems.

Nourian says he injured himself a year and a half ago when his cousin's 1996 Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee slipped from park into reverse, throwing Nourian, who was walking around the back of the car, onto a concrete garage floor. Nourian says he suffered three ruptured disks, a crushed vertebrae and internal bruising and injuries. Nourian is suing Chrysler and has a November court date.

Attorneys say this is the very type of person who stands to be injured -- again -- by the Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings. Under the bankruptcy plan, they say, the "new" Chrysler absolves itself of any liability for legal claims for vehicles bought before the bankruptcy. With Nourian's case scheduled for trial against Chrysler in November, his attorney Scott Nealey says the suit would likely be thrown out.

Nealey and a number of consumer groups this week filed an objection to the bankruptcy arrangement, saying Chrysler car owners will be left in the lurch after the automaker's bankruptcy. They say that if you own a Chrysler vehicle and have an accident that you believe was caused by a manufacturing defect, you would be out of luck. You could not sue Chrysler for damages, they say.

"Chrysler has asked for the sale to be free and clear," Nealey, an attorney with San Francisco's Lieff Cabraser law firm, told ABC News. "They take all the assets and they have no obligations to people who have Chrysler vehicles right now. So if you have a design defect with Chrysler and it is something the company would normally fix, or you have a personal injury, you would be left with no remedy whatsoever.

"So they are basically seeking to cut off any liability under state law for prior vehicles made by Chrysler," he said.

This issue has now caught the attention of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee has hastily scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on the Chrysler bankruptcy and will hear from some of the consumer groups that have filed an objection.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, is among those who will testify. He told ABC he will tell lawmakers that "the bankruptcy court outright ought to address the issue of why consumers are getting nothing, and if the court won't do it, then the government needs to step in because consumers who are injured should not walk away with nothing, which is exactly what is happening."

Chrysler's attorneys today did not deny that the new company would wash its hands of liability claims. Attorney Corrine Ball told ABC News, "That is a very complicated question." She said the new company "has agreed to take ordinary warranty claims."

Liability lawyer Larry Coben, who has been appointed by the court to represent the liability interests of unsecured creditors, called the arrangement "troubling."

"It's weird," he said today. "You have the "new" Chrysler agreeing to be responsible for all the warranty claims and if a wheel falls off and it's under warranty then they'll fix it. But if the wheel falls off and the car rolls over and you're catastrophically injured, then they have no responsibility."

Coben added that a consumer who bought that a Chrysler car today and suffers a horrible injury because of a defect would have no right to sue, but a consumer who buys the same car after the bankruptcy goes through can bring a liability lawsuit.

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