Fiat Chrysler Admits to Underreporting Death and Injury Claims

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm consistently report on the latest legal updates, recalls, and auto industry news. In a record fine, Fiat Chrysler recently agreed to a $105 million settlement for mishandling nearly two dozen recalls involving suspension systems in millions of vehicles. Now, federal regulators say the company significantly underreported the number of injury and death claims linked to this defect.

The 23 Fiat Chrysler recalls affected 11 million vehicles of various models, including Jeep Grand Cherokees, Dodge Rams, Jeep Liberties, and Mitsubishi Raiders. A full list of the affected models can be found here.

As part of the $105 million settlement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the automaker agreed to have an independent monitor audit its recall processes. Early information gleaned from this audit revealed serious flaws in the company’s system for obtaining and reporting claims to the government.

All automakers are required under federal law to gather claims they receive on vehicle defects and serious injury or death. This is called Early Warning Reporting, and it was established in 2000 under the TREAD Act, to help the NHTSA more quickly and easily identify defects. The TREAD Act was enacted in response to the Firestone tire defects that caused thousands of rollovers. Congress decided that the NHTSA could have detected problems with the tires faster if it were able to gather reports in a timelier manner. A full account of the TREAD Act can be found here.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters that he plans to call automakers in for a meeting to emphasize the importance and proper following of safety reporting rules. This comes after several high-profile lapses in the auto industry, including Honda’s failure to properly report thousands of deaths and injuries and Volkswagen’s admission of illegal emissions testing.

Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA Administrator, said that the auto industry currently only reacts to defects rather than proactively tries to avoid or correct them. The agency believes this meeting is necessary to re-focus the auto industry on its obligations to public safety.

In July 2015, Fiat Chrysler was hit with a $40 million verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit involving one of its recalled Jeeps. The lawsuit centered on the death of a four-year-old boy who was riding in his aunt’s Jeep Cherokee when the SUV was rear-ended and caught fire. The four-year-old was stuck in his booster seat and ultimately burned to death. Read our full recap of this lawsuit here.

More than 1.5 million Jeeps have been linked to similar fires in low-speed crashes, though that number is now expected to be much higher after this recent admission. Fiat Chrysler agreed to offer cash to Jeep owners to incentivize them to get their vehicles repaired or trade them in. The affected Jeeps are models Grand Cherokee and Liberty, from years 1993 to 2007.

Fiat Chrysler’s $105 million settlement was the largest fine ever levied against an automaker. The penalties are linked to three violations: inadequate and lagging repairs; misleading and obstructing regulators; and failing to tell vehicle owners about the recalls.

Our team of auto accident lawyers is currently accepting cases of serious injury and death from defective vehicles. If you or someone you love was involved in a crash caused by a defective auto part, contact our firm immediately for a free consultation. We accept clients nationwide, and never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we win you a settlement or verdict.

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