Chrysler Agrees to Recall Jeeps after Deaths

Auto recall lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm announce that Chrysler finally resolved its issues with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and agreed to inspect and repair older Jeep Libertys and Grand Cherokees.

We recently reported that the automaker was reluctant, if not flat out refusing, to repair the vehicles after requests by the federal agency. More than 2.5 million Jeeps are affected by the semi-recall, which stems from defects in the fuel tanks that could cause leaking and possibly fires if involved in a rear-end collision.

The NHTSA contends that more than 50 people have died in this way, when their Jeeps were involved in a low-speed rear-end collision, ultimately erupting in fire. Chrysler recently made a statement saying that consumers can go into a dealership where they will inspect the vehicles and upgrade the rear structure if need be.

The model years affected by this recall are from 1993 to 2004 for Jeep Grand Cherokees and model years 2002 through 2007 for the Libertys. The fuel tanks are mounted behind the rear axles in these vehicles, posing a risk of rupture in a crash.

The automaker refused the NHTSA’s initial request in June 2013 because it claimed the fuel tanks did not pose a safety risk (despite the 51 deaths, apparently). Had Chrysler maintained this stance, the issue would have likely ended up in a public hearing, possibly proceeding to court. Still, the automaker contends that the Jeeps are not defective and remain among the safest in their peer group.

In a euphemistic statement, Chrysler said the recall is being initiated in effort to “provide additional measures to supplement safety.” Of course, the automaker would like to avoid negative publicity as much as possible, which would have been the case, through regulatory or court challenges, if it ardently refused the NHTSA’s request. Jeep is a powerful brand, with an esteemed reputation for family-friendly safety, which Chrysler cannot afford to tarnish.

For more than 1.5 million of the affected Libertys and Grand Cherokees, dealers will install trailer hitches, if one is not already installed, to enhance protection in a collision. These fixes are supposed to incrementally improve the vehicle’s performance. Another 1.14 million Grand Cherokees (model years 1999 through 2004) will be inspected, and the trailer hitches will be replaced if required.

Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, was one of the proponents who pushed Chrysler to recall the SUVs. He said in a recent statement that the repairs proposed by the automaker are far from sufficient, and that he will continue to pressure Chrysler for a full-scale recall.

Ditlow requested that the NHTSA perform crash tests on the repaired Jeeps to see if the same fire and leaking issues arose. The agency performed similar tests on the 1978 Ford Pinto when it was discovered they had similar defects and Ford wished to repair instead of recall. He said that if the modified Jeeps do not pass the crash tests, the NHTSA should require Chrysler to establish a more efficient solution, as it did with the Pinto. Ditlow even went so far as to call the Grand Cherokee a “modern-day Pinto for soccer moms.”

An NHTSA administrator asserted that, although the Jeeps in question do have safety defects, it was up to consumers to decide whether they were safe enough to drive. The federal Transportation Department (which includes the NHTSA) has been investigating Chrysler’s SUVs for over two years now; in 2012, it requested an upgrade in more than 5 million Jeep vehicles, again for the fuel systems, following reports of about two dozen fires.

Auto recall attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm will continue to report on any recalls, federal requests, and reports relating to dangerous or defective vehicles. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a crash caused by a defective vehicle, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation through a lawsuit against the automaker.