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Chrysler bankruptcy impacts consumer lawsuits, pension plans

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Jeremy Warriner

Sandra Chapman/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - The bankruptcy involving Chrysler is keeping some Hoosiers from re-couping damages from accidents and getting the full benefits of their retirement plans. They're losing out as Chrysler tries to get out of bankruptcy.

Walking with hydraulic prosthetics, Jeremy Warriner can appreciate good engineering and design. He's on his third set of legs in three years. He lost his birth pair in a fiery crash in October 2005 and believes a highly flammable plastic brake fluid container in his Jeep Wrangler is to blame. Now he wants the right to face Chrysler in court.

"Right now I have qualified engineers telling me that I lost my legs because of a fire that shouldn't have happened," Warriner told Eyewitness News.

But a New York Judge approved Chrysler's bankruptcy plan early Monday. That means he may never get a chance to prove his point.

"I'm very disappointed," the 34-year old said. "That frees Chrysler of any liability not only to those of us who have been injured, but to anybody who might be injured by any of their products that were sold before the bankruptcy anytime in the future."

Tuesday, with backing from the Center of Justice and Democracy, Warriner will tell his story to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He wants to warn them about the path they're taking and the precedent it could set with General Motors when it comes to injured motorists. GM is following Chrysler's footsteps into bankruptcy.

But Warriner believes, "Congress still has the opportunity to correct this. Those vehicles are still on the road and now nobody's going to be responsible for them."

There are reportedly 300 documented lawsuits pending against Chrysler. At least one of them here in Indianapolis involving a Dodge Ram has been settled mere days after Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection.

Plaintiffs aren't the only ones unhappy with the Chrysler corporation.

Under the bankruptcy plan, money was mostly set aside for secured creditors, but not enough to cover the millions that will be lost by retired State Police officers and teachers in Indiana. Both groups had pension investments wrapped up in Chrysler - $42.5 million worth. Chrysler wants to pay them 29 cents on the dollar.

Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock says that's unacceptable.

"This is the first time in American history when secured creditors, Indiana retirees got less than non-secured creditors. That is fundamentally wrong. It is a violation of the law," he said hours after filing an immediate appeal to the plan.

Chrysler plans to emerge from bankruptcy in as little as 30 days. But not without two Hoosiers taking a stand.

Both say it's unconstitutional to allow the huge auto manufacture to slide on principal.

"Something about that just seems wrong. It's unethical and immoral," said Warriner, a man refusing to be driven away no matter who's behind the wheel.

Chrysler says it must complete its sale with Fiat by June 15th or risk the deal. With little time to spare, Senator Richard Lugar is setting up a Senate meeting for Jeremy Warriner.