Valley family says BMW defects led to daughter's death

A Madera teenager's death has prompted a lawsuit claiming BMW manufactured dangerous cars, then tried to keep the defect hidden. (KFSN)
May 7, 2014 7:58:08 PM PDT
A Madera teenager's death has prompted a lawsuit claiming BMW manufactured dangerous cars, then tried to keep the defect hidden.

Action News investigated the trouble with the BMW cars last November.

We found more than a dozen complaints to the federal government about the BMW 3 series, including one blaming the driver's death on the so-called "double locking system."

It's an anti-theft feature BMW quit using in the late 1990s, but a Madera family says the cars need to be recalled because they're deadly.

Graciela Martinez didn't have a chance to break free from the car her family says killed her. The 14-year-old died in September inside her family's 1997 BMW, in the parking lot outside Madera South High School.

Madera police investigators say it was obvious she struggled to escape before heat exhaustion and dehydration killed her. Now, her family is suing the automaker.

"This would be a very interesting case and it may be a case of first impressions associated with this and this locking mechanism," said legal analyst Melissa White.

The locking mechanism is known as the "double locking system" and a BMW spokesman told Action News it was designed to keep thieves from breaking a window then opening the door from the inside.

But in this case, it locked Graciela inside. Her brother had driven her to school and left her there, not knowing that without the keys, she couldn't possibly get out. BMW installed the double locking feature in its 3 series for about 15 years.

The Martinez family's lawsuit says the automaker knew it was a problem and actually suppressed data regarding deaths and serious injuries. Their lawyer says the case is similar to recent issues with Toyota and its accelerator problems. Toyota recently agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle lawsuits. The Martinez family isn't expecting that kind of payout.

"This case is different in one regard, that the amount of injury is not as prevalent in the Toyota," said their attorney, Warren Paboojian, who also said the defects are equally dangerous, but less common in the BMWs.

Paboojian said what the Martinezes really wants is a recall.

"The family hopes that end of the day the lawsuit is completed that BMW will take responsibility for the loss of their daughter," he said.

BMW hasn't responded yet to my e-mails about the lawsuit.

The family is also suing Madera Unified for not notifying them that her daughter was missing from school that day and for a lack of security in that parking lot. Their superintendent told us he couldn't comment on pending lawsuits.

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