Older models of Jeep Cherokee vehicles have been implicated in 270 traffic deaths so far and thousands of lawsuits. Now, in the latest of those, which involves two decedents and 17 defendants, alleges FCA – the company that used to be known as Chrysler – knew about a fatal defect in the vehicle design and dragged its feet on issuing a recall.
Ultimately, manufacturers recalled more than 1.6 million Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles made between 1993 and 2004. But that was almost three years after consumer advocate Ralph Nader first called for the manufacturer to issue a recall. Nader in 2011 called the vehicles, “a modern day Pinto for soccer moms” that was prone to burst into flames when struck from behind.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Jeep first announced it would offer a “fix” – a trailer hitch installed between the rear axle and bumper. Many questioned whether that alone was adequate.
Four months after that announcement, a husband and wife were involved in a multiple vehicle pileup on a Pennsylvania interstate. They died when a tractor-trailer truck slammed into a row of vehicles lined up at a construction zone. The first vehicle struck was a Chevrolet Malibu. That driver was killed instantly. The Malibu then struck a Dodge Caravan ahead of it, which was occupied by six people. In turn, that vehicle rear-ended the husband and wife in their Jeep Cherokee. Immediately upon impact, witnesses say, the Jeep burst into flames.
The problem with these vehicles is that there is very little to protect the gas tank when the vehicle is rear-ended. So the gas tank gets punctured and then catches fire.
Now, representatives for the couples’ estates say the company failed in its duty to timely issue a recall and inform the public of the dangers. Technically, the company had issued a recall by the time of the accident, but the couple wasn’t aware of it, plaintiffs say. They further allege the vehicle they were driving wasn’t crash-worthy because it burst into flames immediately upon impact.
Plaintiffs say although the company knew about the hazard the vehicle posed long before the crash, it actively delayed the safety recall, even as the death toll climbed. Had the company announced the recall sooner, plaintiffs allege, the couple would have had a better chance of learning about it and having the vehicle fixed – or better yet, not driving it that day.
To this day, FCA insists the vehicles it recalled were safe and have a lower death-per-mile rate than other similar model vehicles made by competitors. The recall wasn’t initiated until after federal investigators had completed an analysis amid numerous consumer complaints.
Last year, a jury in Georgia awarded $150 million to the family of a 4-year-old boy who was killed when the Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was riding exploded into flames when the vehicle was rear-ended in 2012. Jurors determined the company acted with reckless regard for human life when it sold the boy’s family the vehicle with a gas tank mounted behind the rear axle. The company was found 99 percent at fault for the death of the boy. The driver was found 1 percent at fault.
It’s important in any crash injury lawsuit or auto accident death case to explore whether a vehicle or its parts may have been defectively-designed or manufactured.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Latest Jeep fire lawsuit accuses Chrysler of foot-dragging in recall, Jan. 18, 2016, By James R. Hood, Consumer Affairs
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No Car, Bike or Pedestrian Accidents Goal of Vision Zero, Jan. 18, 2016, Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog