CT Sports Car Law: Why is Chrysler Destroying 90 Vipers?

ViperBy now, you may have heard that Chrysler is insisting that some 90 plus pre-production Dodge Vipers, used by various automotive repair schools, be destroyed.  Chrysler’s edict was followed by public pleas and petitions to save the cars.  As Brandon Turkus on Autoblog.com has written (citing Autobytel), there are many facts to this story that don’t add up.  But at its core, this appears to be a legal issue.

The Vipers are reportedly pre-production, lacking many of the safety items included on production models, and are not street legal.  Chrysler apparently retained ownership of the cars but loaned them out to automotive schools on the condition that they would be destroyed once they lost their educational value. 

Why doesn’t Chrysler simply sign over the cars to the school?

The issue appears to be liability.  Even if Chrysler sells or gives away the cars, as manufacturer it generally remains liable to third parties for any injuries caused by certain defects in the cars.  Indemnification (an agreement whereby the school would cover any legal fees and judgments against Chrysler) is not a realistic option because the schools likely lack the assets to satisfy a judgment in a case of product liability suit involving serious injury or death.  Although it has been reported that there have been two lawsuits against Chrysler aruising from accidents involving these Vipers, Chrysler has denied this report.

Why doesn’t Chrysler donate the cars to a museum?

Chrysler maintains that the cars are not historically significant and therefore worthless.  Also, donating the cars to a museum does not absolve Chrysler from liability if one of the cars is involved in an accident.  A 600-hp sports car might be too tempting not to drive.

What’s next?

The Vipers will be destroyed.  Chrysler has suffered from some negative publicity, reinforcing the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.  Chrysler never had to allow the cars to be used by the schools in the first place.  Most pre-production models are crushed by manufacturers before a situation like this can arise.

Perhaps Chrysler can find a creative solution, such as replacing the Vipers with other cars for the schools to use in their educational programs.

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