Jeep Fire Case Settles Day Before Trial

Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, & Jeep Cherokee Gas Tank Defect

If you’ve found this article, you probably already know about the defect in the exploding Jeeps with rear gas tanks.

For decades, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (“FCA”) and its predecessors put the gas tanks in many of their Jeep SUVs in the extreme rear of the vehicles, behind the rear axle and right next to the piece of plastic that they called a “bumper.”  The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty, and 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokee all had this defect.  It was obviously dangerous.  If the Jeep was rear-ended, it could explode, and people could burn alive.  Yet FCA refused to fix the problem, and instead chose to tell consumers that even though the federal government was asking for a recall, the exploding Jeeps were “absolutely safe.”

Jeep Explodes Following Rear-End Collision

One day in Ohio, the inevitable happened—just as it had happened many times before.  A truck coming down a hill didn’t brake in time.  Ahead of it, slowing down for traffic, was an ER nurse who was heading home from a hair appointment.  She had the misfortune to be driving a Jeep Liberty.  When the truck rear-ended her Jeep, the trailer hitch that FCA had put on the Jeep Liberty bent forward.  The bent trailer hitch sliced through the plastic gas tank like a can opener.  Gasoline spilled.  The Jeep spun.  Gasoline spewed across the roadway.  It ignited.  Witnesses saw fire shoot across the road.  The nurse’s Jeep Liberty came to a stop.  The fire was spreading.  Bystanders rushed to the Jeep got get her out.  They couldn’t get her seat belt unfastened.  The nurse’s seat back had collapsed rearward.  The fire reached the nurse.  The heat was unbelievably intense.  The bystanders tried to pull her out.  They could not.  Eventually the fire forced the bystanders back.

The nurse did not survive.

It had happened many times before. 

Filing the Jeep Fire Case

We filed the wrongful death case.  As with other Jeep fire cases the firm has handled, we dug deep through FCA’s documents showing what FCA knew about the dangers of these exploding Jeeps.  We traveled across the country taking depositions (that is, testimony under oath) of all kinds of witnesses.  We met with other victims of Jeep fires and got their stories to present to the jury.  We met with the law enforcement officers and fire department personnel who investigated this collision.  We traveled to Detroit and cross-examined FCA executives about what they knew and when they knew it.  We found one former FCA executive in Florida who admitted that the gas tank location in the Jeep Liberty was similar to the gas tank location in the Ford Pinto—after we proved it by showing him the photograph below, which shows the Ford Pinto on the left and the Jeep Liberty on the right, with both gas tanks colored red.

We got the case ready for trial.  It was very clear that FCA knew about the dangers of this gas tank location and knew that people were burning to death but did not fix the problem because fixing it would have cost too much money.  When the federal government asked FCA to recall these exploding Jeeps, FCA fought the recall.  Once it became clear that FCA would have to do something, FCA struck a deal.  In a meeting that was not announced to the press, safety advocates, or families of victims, FCA’s Chairman and CEO flew from Switzerland to Chicago where he met—in person—with the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  No one else was present.  According to FCA, nobody prepared any agenda for the meeting, nobody took any notes, and nobody created any summary.  There were no documents at all, according to FCA.  But they did strike a deal.

Recall of Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, & Jeep Cherokee for Gas Tank Defect

Instead of taking the Jeeps off the road, moving the tanks, installing bladders, or doing something else to fix the problem, FCA’s idea was to give out free trailer hitches to Jeep owners.  And that’s all they did.  Owners of most 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2002-2007 Jeep Liberties, and 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees got new trailer hitches.  FCA didn’t tell the Jeep owners that the trailer hitch would not work.  That one of its own executives had testified under oath just two years before that “the tow package does not protect the tank.”  That crash tests had repeatedly shown that the trailer hitch wouldn’t protect the tank.  That in a rear-end collision, the trailer hitch could bend forward and slice the plastic gas tank open like a can opener.

A few years later, that’s exactly what happened to the Ohio nurse.

Jeep Fire Wrongful Death Settlement

After almost two years of litigation, our case was ready for trial.  Trial was scheduled for a Monday.  Our client was ready.  We were ready.  On Sunday evening, after consultation with our client, the case settled for a confidential amount.

The most brutal truth in all of this: it will happen again.  There are millions of these rear-tank Jeeps still on American roads.  And rear-end collisions happen every day.

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