Jeep Fire Lawsuits
Owen, Patterson, and Owen represents individuals with severe burn injuries and the families of loved ones who have passed away due to auto accidents induced by the negligence of others or defectively manufactured vehicles. This includes fires and fuel-tank explosions caused by the alleged defective design of Jeep SUVs manufactured in the 1990s and 2000s.
Alleged Defect with Jeep Fuel Tanks
In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a safety investigation into Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs made between 1993 and 2004 and the Jeep Liberty manufactured between 2002 and 2007, consisting of a total of 2.7 million Jeeps. The fuel tanks on these models are made of plastic and are placed between the rear axle and the bumper, positioned to sit close to the ground. This makes the tanks susceptible to damage in rear-end collisions. In otherwise non-lethal accidents, they can become damaged and are prone to ignite, resulting in severe burns and death. In addition, fuel lines run along the side panels of the car, so if a fire starts at the rear, it can quickly move to engulf the entire vehicle.
After a consumer-led petition had been sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the board investigated. The NHTSA found significantly higher fire incident rates and urged Fiat Chrysler to issue a recall. After pressure from U.S. safety regulators, they issued a recall in June 2013 for the oldest affected models while running a “customer service campaign” to encourage drivers of newer affected vehicles to come in for a free fix.
Only 12 percent of the SUVs have been repaired in the 18 months since the recall, and as of early 2017, accidents are still occurring. According to recent data from the US Department of Transportation, the Jeep defect has resulted in 75 deaths, 58 injuries, and 90 occurrences. Over 40 lawsuits and legal claims have been filed over the last 20 years, many of them settled privately out of court.
More Problems Than Solutions
Moving the gas tank to the midship placement, between the axles and the side rails, would be expensive and difficult to accomplish, so the fix implemented on the newer models was the addition of a trailer hitch. The hitch solution was intended to add a layer of protection to the vulnerable tanks, and Government testing showed that the hitches provided protection for the tanks in crashes where a stationary Jeep was hit at 40 mph or less. Although it served as a protectant in low-speed collisions, its sharp edges appear to make gas tank punctures more likely. In some instances, the impacted hitch pierced into the fuel tank causing a fire that may not have occurred otherwise.
Such was the case for a California family of five traveling up the I-5 headed to Oregon in December of 2016. A trucker struck them from behind. Their Jeep Liberty had been fitted with the protective trailer hitch which was later found to have pierced the tank, purportedly contributing to the deadly fire which killed the father in the driver’s seat and his 3-year-old son.
Post-recall tragedies like this, totaling six deaths since the announcement, show that the fix has not provided the necessary protections and the pace of the repairs is still inadequate — despite letters from NHTSA demanding faster action. Since the recall was announced, more than 840 people complained to the government that Chrysler dealers didn’t have hitches available, according to an AP review of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database.
Contact Owen, Patterson, and Owen
If you have been injured or have lost a loved one in a collision fire due to a faulty fuel tank, the Personal Injury Law Office of Owen Patterson & Owen is here to help. We have been successfully protecting the rights of the injured since 1977. We are committed to holding car manufacturers accountable for the products they market and sell to the public.