Chrysler reaches 11th hour agreement with federal officials to recall Jeep SUVs linked to fire deaths

by Eric Pearson

Under pressure from federal safety regulators, Chrysler has agreed to recall about 1.56 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty SUVs due to a design problem that could increase the risk of a fire in the event of a rear-end collision. The Chrysler Jeep recall notice includes the 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs.

As we have previously reported, Chrysler had initially refused an order by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall the two SUVs. On Tuesday night, Chrysler agreed to recall the SUVs just hours before the agency’s June 18th deadline for a formal response from the company. The company would have become the first car manufacturer to refuse a NHTSA recall order since 1996, when Chrysler had refused another recall when it was an independently operated US company.

NHTSA had called on Chrysler to recall the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty after a three year investigation of the two vehicles revealed an unusually high number of fires caused by rear-end collisions involving the vehicles. The agency stated that the Grand Cherokee and Liberty were prone to fire in the event of a rear accident because of the way the two SUVs’ gas tanks were placed in the back of the vehicles, making them vulnerable to leaks that could lead to fire in the event of a crash. At the time of the initial Jeep recall order, NHTSA said that it had received reports of at least 37 rear-end collisions involving the Jeep Liberty or Grand Cherokee, including 51 deaths.

As part of the Chrysler recall, the automaker agreed to install a trailer hitch on the affected SUVs in order to protect them in the event of a rear-end collision. Recalled vehicles that do not have a trailer hitch or that do have a hitch not manufactured by Chrysler will have a Mopar replacement hitch installed for free by the automaker. Mopar is Chrysler’s parts unit. Vehicles with a factory-installed trailer hitch will be inspected by Chrysler dealers and left in place provided that the unit is in good shape.

NHTSA’s initial order had called for Chrysler to recall an additional 1.1 million Jeep Grand Cherokee models manufactured from 1999-2004. NHTSA agreed to let Chrysler remove these SUVs from the recall notice as part of the agency’s last-minute agreement with the safety regulator. Rather than issuing a recall, Chrysler will now only perform a “customer service action” on the 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees. Owners of these vehicles will still be eligible to have them inspected for free by a Chrysler dealer and to have non-Chrysler hitches replaced at no cost with a Mopar hitch. However, vehicles without a trailer hitch will not be eligible to have one installed for free by the company.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson and the Chrysler Jeep Recall

Legal experts believe that Chrysler agreed to recall the 1.56 million Jeep SUVs in order to avoid the possibility of lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals who were injured or killed in a fire caused by a rear-end collision involving these vehicles. As part of the recall agreement, NHTSA agreed not to refer to the Jeep Liberty or Jeep Grand Cherokee as “defective” due to the increased risk of deadly fires uncovered by the agency in its three-year study of the recalled SUVs.

Companies that manufacture cars, trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles have a duty to build a product that is as safe as can be made under the technology that is available to them. These auto makers are obligated to design vehicles so that they are as safe as possible for any reasonably foreseeable use. When vehicles are not constructed to the highest possible safety standards, the lives of drivers and passengers may be at risk.

If you or a loved one were seriously injured in a car accident, your injuries may have been caused or worsened by design or manufacturing defects with the vehicle. In order to determine whether you may have a case, you need to retain the services of experienced, qualified legal counsel as soon as possible.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the experience, knowledge and expertise to pursue a product liability or personal injury claim against any of the major auto manufacturers, including Jeep and Chrysler. To speak with a lawyer about your case and find out if you are eligible to file a lawsuit, 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.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.