In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began investigating post-collision fuel-fed fire claims related to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Jeep Liberty. NHTSA had discovered that the plastic fuel tank for certain Jeep Grand Cherokees (1993-2004) and the Jeep Liberty (2002-2007) had been placed between the rear axle and the rear bumper. The design of the vehicles placed the plastic fuel tank approximately 11 inches from the rear bumper. This placed the plastic fuel tanks within the recognized two-foot crush zone for the rear of the vehicle.
Most manufacturers place fuel tanks in front of the rear axle instead of behind it to ensure that fuel tanks are in an area not likely to receive crush during a collision. The fuel tanks for the Jeep vehicles also extend below the rear bumper, also increasing the likelihood that the tanks could be punctured in a rear collision.
Preliminarily, NHTSA sought a mandatory recall of 2.7 million of these Jeep vehicles. However, Chrysler, the company that owns the Jeep brand and was acquired by Fiat after the 2009 bankruptcy of Chrysler, fought NHTSA’s efforts for nearly three years.
In 2013, after a private meeting between Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Ray LaHood, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the manufacturer agreed to voluntarily recall 1.5 million of the vehicle population. The agreement required Jeep to add a tow package to the rear of the vehicle to “add safety” to the vehicle. Jeep claims that this fix will provide added safety in low-to-moderate speed rear impacts. Unfortunately, approximately 75 deaths associated with the vehicle have been reported to have occurred prior to this agreement.
Notwithstanding this agreement, NHTSA in November 2014 ordered Jeep to provide the agreed-upon fix at a faster rate. Although the initial recall occurred in June 2013, only three percent of the vehicles had been repaired by November 2014. Additionally, it had been reported to NHTSA that Chrysler / Jeep dealers had been sending customers away without the repair and telling them that their vehicles were safe without the repair.
It should be noted that Chrysler / Jeep has known about this vehicle defect for years. In fact, Chrysler fought NHTSA over recalling these vehicles while consumers continued to die as a result of the unreasonably dangerous placement of the plastic fuel tank between the rear axle and the rear bumper. The “agreed” fix between NHTSA and Fiat Chrysler is not sufficient to provide adequate protection to consumers.
Interestingly, prior to the recall, a Chrysler engineer testified in deposition that “the tow package does not protect the tank.” This fact begs the question why NHTSA would agree to such a fix after a private meeting between the Secretary for the Department of Transportation and the CEO for Fiat Chrysler. What makes the situation even worse is that the NHTSA attorney in charge of this investigation joined a prominent law firm that defends Chrysler in products liability cases after the deal was struck with NHTSA in June of 2003. If you need more information on this subject, contact Ben Baker, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Ben.Baker@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Automotive News and CBS News
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