Fiat-Chrysler is facing a hefty lawsuit in Georgia stemming from the death of a thirty-two year old woman who was incinerated after the gas tank in her 1996 Jeep Cherokee exploded after a collision. The woman was hit from behind while waiting to make a left turn. Upon impact, her trailer hitch was jammed into her vehicle’s gas tank allowing gas to seep out.
The lawsuit alleges that Chrysler has known for a number of years that a gas tank positioned behind the rear axle posed a risk of explosion and that Chrysler failed to do anything to correct the problem. In the subject vehicles, the gas tank hangs below the rear bumper, which can be perilous in rear-end collisions. The exploding gas tanks have caused some to refer to the defective vehicles as this generation’s Ford Pinto.
Another Georgia case – in which the jury awarded $150 million against Chrysler – is currently pending before the Georgia Supreme Court. That verdict, however, was reduced to $40 million. In that case, a 4-year old boy died in a vehicle fire after his Jeep vehicle was hit from behind. The Plaintiff’s lawyers called the vehicle indefensible. The verdict consisted of $30 million for wrongful death and $10 million for pain and suffering. Alabama’s wrongful death statute is peculiar in that it only allows punitive damages and not compensatory damages.
The rear-positioned gas tanks has been an ongoing affair. In June of 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into the gas tank explosions in Chrysler vehicles. That investigation led to the recall of 1.5 million vehicles including 1992-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberties. The recall fix was the placement of a trailer hitch, which Chrysler said would protect the gas tanks in effected vehicles. However, the Plaintiff asserts that the trailer hitch actually led to the explosions.
When the NHTSA tested the trailer hitch in 2014, they reported that it provided “incremental” benefits in low to moderate speed accidents but this was not the case for high speed impacts. Shockingly, 478 people have perished as a result of the placement of the fuel tanks, according to the Center for Auto Safety. With the redesign of the Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2005, Chrysler moved the fuel tank away from the rear bumper.
Products liability lawsuits such as these are vital to holding corporations liable for faulty designs of their vehicles. If you’ve been injured in a car accident you may have a claim against the at-fault driver, but you may also have a products liability claim if there was some defect in the vehicle that caused the wreck or enhanced your injury. Even in single car accident crashes, there may be a products liability claim even if the defect in the vehicle didn’t cause the wreck, but rather a defective design in the vehicle caused you to suffer a more severe injury than you would have sustained had that failure not occurred. A s such, it’s critically important to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyers as soon as possible after the accident.