A Georgia jury has ordered the automobile manufacturer Chrysler to pay $150 million for the 2012 death of a boy who was caught in a Jeep gas tank fire, Bloomberg reports. The jury found Chrysler guilty of recklessly designing the gas tank of the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee model, which burst into flames and killed a 4-year-old boy.
This marks the first Jeep fuel tank lawsuit to make it to trial, and experts predict the impact of the verdict could be substantial, spurring further lawsuits and even regulatory action. “This huge verdict will encourage plaintiffs, potential plaintiffs and their counsel to pursue more vigorously cases already filed . . . to file new ones that might have been unclear,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
According to the Bloomberg article, during the trial regarding this Jeep gas tank fire, the lawyer for the boy’s family focused on the motivation for Chrysler’s redesign of the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. He claimed that the company destroyed a database of documents detailing the change to conceal the real reason for the redesign: to address a safety flaw that Chrysler hid from the public. “Chrysler consciously chose to put American families at risk, and gambled that juries would not figure it out,” the lawyer is quoted as arguing.
In 2013, Chrysler put out a recall on 2.7 million Jeep units. The recall, which is still in effect, covers Jeep Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Liberty models from years 2002 through 2007. The federal government ordered Chrysler to recall the Jeeps after an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the exposed placement of the fuel tanks could result in a rupture or explosion if the car were hit from behind. After much resisting, Chrysler agreed to inspect the recalled units and attach trailer hitches to protect the exposed gas tanks on some of the cars. Despite the recall, the company maintains that there is nothing wrong with the Jeeps, and that they met or exceeded all of the safety standards in place at the time they were produced.
Nearly two years later, only about 12 percent of the recalled Jeeps have received the fix. It appears this is not for a lack of initiative on the owners’ part: since the recall, there have been 840 complaints to the government that Jeep dealerships either refused or were unequipped to make the trailer hitch fix. In February, a Detroit woman was killed in a fuel tank explosion after being denied the remedy at a local dealership.
Consumers and safety regulators continue to call for Chrysler to more actively address this safety concern. They say it is clear the fix is not being implemented quickly enough. Since the recall, at least nine deaths have been caused by Jeep fuel tank fires. They ask how many more it will take before Chrysler takes responsibility for its defective products.
The attorneys at Lopez McHugh are committed to protecting the safety and rights of automobile consumers. If you or someone you know was injured in a Jeep fuel tank accident, contact our team of experienced lawyers immediately to receive a free consultation. You may be entitled to compensation through a Jeep fuel tank lawsuit.