Jeep Gas Tank Defect Claims Another Victim

In mid-August of 2020, a two-car crash in Spokane County, Washington changed many peoples’ lives in an instant.

On August 18, 2020, Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a crash on W. Rutter Parkway west of N. Indian Trail around 8:30 pm—someone had called in saying they’d heard an explosion, then had seen large, growing flames shortly after.

A woman was killed after her vehicle burst into flames following a rear-collision from another car. The man driving that car was arrested for vehicular homicide.

The crash happened quickly—one moment a man—23-year-old Jackson Neal, as reported by KHQ—was driving behind a woman. In the next moment, he’d struck the rear of her car and her vehicle was up in flames. Neal’s vehicle was quickly engulfed in the blaze, too.

Though the woman was transported to the hospital to receive care quickly, she died shortly after, succumbing to her burns and wounds.

Her husband, driving directly in front of her while towing a boat, saw the entire thing happen from his rearview mirror.

The woman was driving a Jeep with a rear-located gas tank.

The Jeep Fire Problem: Untangling Decades of Undeniable Issues

The death of the victim is undeniably horrific and tragic, the pain her family feels truly incomparable—but the circumstances surrounding her death are, unfortunately, not new. Jeeps, like the one the victim was driving, have been exploding in rear-impact collisions for decades, often ending in tragic Jeep fires that leave those involved severely injured or worse.

Unfortunately, the fatal fire in Spokane County, Washington is just one of the most recent—Jeep fires across the country have claimed lives for years.

But why do these Jeep fires happen in the first place, and more importantly, why do they continue to happen now?

For decades, rear-mounted gas tank explosion cases have been described with a collection of similar words—explosion upon impact; vehicles destroyed; injuries sustained; lives lost.

Jeep (and other vehicles during a certain time period) manufactured and sole millions of SUVs and vehicles with gas tanks that were located at the extreme rear of the vehicle. More specifically, behind the rear axle and only protected by plastic fascia. The location itself is only an issue when something ruptures the gas tank—for example, when a vehicle gets rear-ended.

Why? Because when the jeeps get rear-ended or involved in a crash, the tanks can easily rupture, spraying gas everywhere, and endangering both vehicles.

If the gas catches fire, it’s incrementally worse.

In the past, Jeep manufactured and sold SUVs that were designed with the gas tank located in the rear of the vehicle behind the gas tanks—similar to the 1970s-era Ford Pinto.

The issue with this design lies in the location of the gas tanks—when rear-ended, the plastic tank is only “protected” by plastic fascia. When a Jeep of this design gets hit from the back, that tank can rupture, the jeep can explode, and passengers inside the Jeep (and potentially in the other vehicle) can burn alive.

This issue isn’t new. It has been happening for decades. While the design flaw has been corrected in newer models, older vehicles have never been taken off the road. Each and every day, we can see older Jeep models driving next to us, behind us, in front of us—often, we are even able to see the rear-mounted gas tanks.

The extreme rear gas tank concept is a part of the design for vehicles we see each and every day, including the following Jeep models:   

  •   1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees

  •    1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees

  •    1997-2007 Jeep Wranglers

  •    2002-2007 Jeep Liberties

The wildest part about all of this? Jeep has sold millions of these vehicles. Despite the tragedies and fatalities that undoubtedly result because of this defect, Jeep continues to allow these vehicles to share the same roads we all travel. The Jeeps have never really been part of a true recall.

Fiat Chrysler Automotive: They Knew What They Were Doing with Rear-Mounted Gas Tanks

Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) knew about this defect and the tragedies that could occur before they sold these rear-tank Jeeps.

In fact, the entire automotive industry knew about the dangers of rear-mounted tanks because of the infamous 1970 Ford Pinto.

The Pinto was an automotive disaster. In rear impacts, Pintos were prone to leaking gasoline and hundreds of people (yes, hundreds) burned to death as a result. Ford initially tried to ignore the defect and pretend there was nothing wrong. But, eventually, Ford had to pay the piper. Ford stopped selling the Pinto and as a result of this disaster, and almost every American automobile manufacturer halted putting gas tanks at the extreme rear of their vehicles.

For some reason, in the early 90s, Chrysler picked the practice up again.

There’s evidence that Chrysler acknowledged in an internal company memo from 1978 the danger of the Pinto gas tanks in the rear of the vehicle, but they continued to manufacture cars with this defective feature.

FCA (Chrysler’s successor) made Jeeps with this defect from 1993 to 2007—and millions of those vehicles are still on the road today.

Some of them have caused incidents so tragic we can’t begin to comprehend them—incidents like the one in Spokane County, Washington in August. 

Looking to the Future: What Can Be Done?

The decades of fiery explosions, injuries sustained, and lives lost aren’t even the most tragic pieces of the Jeep puzzle. The real tragedy lies in the fact that FCA refuses to do anything to truly take care of the problem.

In 2013, the number of burn victims and fatalities had mounted and pressure from nonprofit advocacy groups (like the Center for Auto Safety) had grown so substantially, the federal government was forced to act and they asked FCA to recall the Jeeps with rear gas tanks

FCA refused.

But it did not stop there. The mounting pressure continued to build and the federal government and FCA had to appear to do something. Just a week after FCA had been asked to recall rear-gas-mounted Jeeps, the CEO and Chairman of FCA met privately with the U.S Department of Transportation and the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Only those three people were present.

The three of them met in Europe and reached a deal—FCA didn’t have to buy the Jeeps back or move the gas tanks. FCA did not need to issue a warning to families putting their children in Jeeps. Instead, FCA only had to offer a free trailer hitch to some Jeep owners.

That has been the extent of FCA’s action to “stop” these Jeep fires.

It has been nearly a decade since this trailer hitch “recall” and the fires have not stopped. Gas tanks that are rear-mounted continue to result in peril. FCA is still doing nothing to solve the problem or warn potential buyers. 

So, what comes next?

Butler Law Firm Takes Action: Contact Us If You’ve Been Involved in a Jeep Fire

As jeep fire lawyers, we know that cases that involve a minor accident—even a fender bender—can cause these Jeep models to burst into flames, taking lives and causing irreparable injuries.

Fiat Chrysler Automotive still refuses to buy back these old-model Jeeps.

They still remain on the road.

Consumers are still naïve or totally oblivious to the true danger these old-model, rear-mounted tank vehicles that they drive around every single day. According to Fiat Chrysler Automotive representatives, these Jeeps are absolutely safe.

At Butler Law Firm, we are on your side because we know how truly dangerous and destructive these Jeeps are. If you’ve been a victim of a Jeep fire, know someone who has been a victim of a Jeep fire, or have more questions for us about Jeep fires, please reach out to Butler Law Firm.

We’ve worked first-hand with people deeply affected by Fiat Chrysler Automotive negligence—people how have been injured or nearly died due to the rear-mounted tank vehicle that FCA has never warned consumers against.

It’s vital that you seek help from an attorney in Georgia who has not only the experience with working similar cases, but also believes in you, believes in ethics, honesty, and producing top-quality legal work for those who deserve it most.

We believe that what Fiat Chrysler Automotive is doing—and is failing to remedy—is wrong. We believe that the longer these poorly designed, malfunctioning vehicles continue to drive up and down the roads we know and love, the further we put ourselves—and those we care about—at risk.

It’s time that Fiat Chrysler Automotive is held accountable for the damage they’ve created. It’s time that Fiat Chrysler Automotive takes action to right the heinous wrongs that have befallen their consumers. It’s time that Fiat Chrysler Automotive does something to change the course of their customer’s future.

Help us help you—contact Butler Law Firm at 678-940-1444 or contact us directly on our website through our online chat or email options.

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