Chrysler still delaying Jeep fuel tank recall. Will the recall fix even help?

by John Chapman

Four months after Chrysler agreed to recall about 1.6 million 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty and 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee models over rear-impact fire danger, the company has still not told owners to bring their vehicles to dealerships for repairs, according to a report by the New York Times. Chrysler had told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in June that Jeep owners would be notified back in July about the recall.

The vehicles have been recalled because of safety concerns about the gas tanks, which are mounted behind the rear axle and vulnerable to rear impacts. NHTSA has said it is aware of 51 deaths in rear-impact crashes that resulted in fire.

The remedy proposed by Chrysler/Jeep is to install trailer hitches on recalled vehicles that do not already have one. Chrysler says that trailer hitches will protect the gas tanks. However, even Chrysler has acknowledged that a trailer hitch “cannot and will not mitigate the risk of high-energy rear collisions” but would “incrementally improve the performance” in “certain types of low-speed impacts.”

Moreover, a top Chrysler engineer has testified in a deposition that the trailer hitch was not designed to protect the gas tank, according to the Center for Auto Safety. The Center argues that “[f]urther testing of the Jeep with the trailer hitch installed is necessary to ensure that it provides a reasonable level of safety as was done with the Ford Pinto whose initial remedy proposed by Ford failed crash tests supervised by NHTSA engineers.”* In a July presentation to NHTSA, the Center noted:

Although Chrysler states the proposed trailer hitch recall remedy would provide some additional protection in low speed crashes, nowhere does Chrysler define what a low speed crash is. Furthermore Chrysler admits the trailer hitch would not provide protection in higher speed rear impacts but again fails to define what a higher speed crash is. By definition, the 44 fatal rear impact fire crashes cited by NHTSA is in its voluntary recall request were survivable crashes because the occupants died by fire, not by trauma.

The Center has highlighted the story of 4-year old Cassidy Jarmon. According to the Center, Chrysler’s proposed trailer hitch remedy failed to prevent fuel tank rupture in the death of 4-year old Cassidy Jarmon and others. The Center has suggested that the trailer hitch may actually worsen the problem by becoming a spear to puncture the tank as happened in the death of Cassidy Jarmon.

NHTSA has not disclosed whether it agrees with Chrysler’s plan to use a trailer hitch to protect the gas tank, or will instead act upon the request from the Center for Auto Safety and conduct crash testing to determine if the trailer hitch solution is sufficient to protect occupants. For now, nothing has been done to address the issue on the vehicles. Four months is “an extraordinarily long wait” for vehicle owners, Allan Kam, a safety consultant in Bethesda, Md., who once served as N.H.T.S.A.’s senior enforcement lawyer, said in an interview with the New York Times. “Maybe the adequacy of the remedy is at issue in some way.”

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.

by John Chapman

John Chapman is a licensed attorney with experience in complex commercial litigation (including securities fraud, RICO, shareholder oppression, and derivative actions) and personal injury litigation.