Chrysler refuses to recall Jeep Grand Cherokee, Liberty models despite risk of deadly fires

by Eric Pearson

The Chrysler Group says that it will not recall certain models of its Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty despite being told to do so by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Federal regulators called for the Jeep recall due to problems with the way the gas tanks in the Grand Cherokee and Liberty were designed, which could create a risk of fire in the event of a rear collision. Chrysler—which is now controlled by Italian automaker Fiat—is the first car manufacturer to refuse a NHTSA recall order since 1996, when Chrysler was an independently operated US company.

NHTSA had called on Chrysler to recall all Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured from 1993-2004 and Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Libertys manufactured between 2002 and 2007, totaling 2.7 million vehicles. According to the agency, the plastic gas tank in the rear of these two vehicles is susceptible to spilling in the event of a rear end collision, which could cause a fire. NHTSA has received reports of at least 37 accidents involving Liberty and Grand Cherokee models included in the proposed Jeep recall involving at least 51 deaths. Safety advocates believe that the number of deaths linked to gasoline fires in these two vehicles is much higher than the number reported by federal officials. According to the Center for Auto Safety, the risk of a fire for the model years that were involved in the NHTSA requested recall is 20 times higher than for a Ford Explorer made during the same period.

Witnesses who were involved in accidents with either a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Liberty have told harrowing stories about passengers who were burned alive in gasoline fires caused by rear end collisions. One woman who watched as two of her friends died in a fire caused by a rear end collision with their Jeep Cherokee has started an online petition to hold Chrysler accountable for the design of these vehicles.

Despite concerns about the susceptibility of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty to gas tank fires caused by rear collisions, Chrysler has refused NHTSA’s call to issue a recall notice, stating that the design of the two vehicles—with the gas tank behind the rear axle—falls within federal safety standards. The company stated that the deadly fires which NHTSA blames on the design of the vehicles were due to the high speed of the collisions, and not due to the location of the vehicles’ gas tanks. In recent years, Chrysler has redesigned both the Grand Cherokee and Liberty, moving the gas tanks to the front of both vehicles.

NHTSA will wait until June 18 to see if Chrysler changes its mind about the Jeep recall before taking action. After holding public hearings on the need to recall the Grand Cherokee and Liberty, the agency could decide to issue an involuntary recall within 30 to 60 days. In the event that Chrysler still refuses to pull the two vehicles off the road, NHTSA could go to court to force the automaker to carry out the recall. Although this court fight could last years, NHTSA has been successful in pursuing such actions in the past.

Safety officials with the Center for Auto Safety say that owners of one of the recalled Jeep models who are concerned about the safety of their vehicles can take them to be serviced themselves. The group says that installing an optional steel skid plate that goes over the gas tank costs about $300 and will eliminate most of the risk of fire caused by its location in the rear of the vehicle. The Center for Auto Safety is advising Jeep drivers who opt to have their vehicles serviced themselves to save their repair receipts in case the repairs are covered if Chrysler recalls the two Jeep models. According to the group, it would cost Chrysler a relatively small amount of money to install these skip plates, as well as adding a fuel tank check valve and an improved fuel filler hose, in the recalled vehicles.

Individuals who were hurt in a fire caused by a rear collision involving a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Jeep Liberty—as well as those who lost a loved one in such an accident—may be eligible to file a lawsuit against Chrysler over the design of these vehicles.

For more information about the Chrysler Jeep recall or to speak with a lawyer about your case, contact the law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the 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.