Chrysler Jeep recalls and safety investigations raise safety concerns about accident risk

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by Jim Orr

Fuel-tank fires

In May, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned Chrysler Group to recall about five million Jeep vehicles. The nonprofit consumer advocacy group said, “Children are dying in Jeeps in rear-impact fires.” The center cited the deaths of three children since 2006 in fires that occurred when the Jeeps in which they were riding were struck from the rear.

Urging a recall of all 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, the Center cites two problems. First, the a gas tank on these models is located behind the rear axle and somewhat below the bumper, in an area that safety engineers call a crush zone. Second, a fuel filler pipe is positioned so that it can rip away from the tank in a rear impact, allowing gasoline to escape from the tank, according the center.

In early June, after a nearly three-year investigation, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration recommended that Chrysler recall 2.7 million older Jeep SUVs because the fuel tanks could rupture, leak and cause fires in rear-end crashes. NHTSA had evidence of 37 Jeep accidents that killed 51 people. However, the government and Chrysler later reached an agreement letting Chrysler limit the recall to about 1.5 million vehicles. The agreement removed about 1.2 million Jeep Grand Cherokees, model years 1999 to 2004, from the recall. Chrysler argued that those Jeeps have a different design. Critics have said say all the Jeeps should be recalled.

Critics have also questioned whether Chrysler’s solution of adding a trailer hitch as an extra buffer in the back is enough to prevent deadly fires. The Center for Auto Safety has said a hitch failed to protect 4-year-old Cassidy Jarmon of Cleburne, Texas, who died in a fire after her family’s 1993 Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by a car in 2006. The hitch punctured the gas tank, according to the center.

Active head restraint problems

In July, Chrysler announced the recall of approximately 490,000 cars and utility vehicles worldwide to address active head-restraint function. Active head restraints are designed to mitigate neck injuries by automatically moving forward during certain rear-impact collisions. According to the recall announcement, potentially faulty microcontrollers in some vehicles may prevent the systems from functioning properly. The recall included model year 2011-2012 Jeep Liberty vehicles manufactured June 17, 2011, through August 15, 2012. Electrical over-stress of a resistor in the occupant restraint control module may lead to the non-deployment of the active head restraints during a rear impact collision.

Chrysler said it would w notify owners, and dealers will flash the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM) or replace the occupant restraint control module, as needed, free of charge. In July, Chrysler said the recall was expected to begin around September 30, 2013. However, as of October, there have been reports that dealers do not have the parts needed to comply with the recall.

Sun visor fires

In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it was looking into three reports that sun visors in 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs caught fire. Three Grand Cherokee drivers said they noticed a burning odor and smoke coming from the sun visor while the SUVs were in motion. This was followed by flames from the sun visor area, which intensified when customers rolled down windows, NHTSA said. The fires continued to burn after the Grand Cherokee SUVs were shut off. All three incidents occurred in the past four months, NHTSA records show.

HO&P and Auto Safety

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car accident, it may well be that the injuries were caused or made worse because the vehicle was not properly designed or manufactured. In order to determine whether you may have a case, you need to retain experienced, qualified legal counsel at the earliest opportunity.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the experience and knowledge to pursue product liability claims against any of the major auto manufacturers. To speak with a lawyer about your case, contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001 or by filling out our free case evaluation form located on this page.