The 1993-3004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees, 1997-2007 Jeep Wranglers, and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberties all have gas tanks mounted in the extreme rear, next to the rear bumper. When the Jeeps get hit in the rear, the tanks can rupture and the Jeeps can explode. People can burn alive. That has been happening for decades. What Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did, and continues to do, with its rear-tank Jeeps is chilling. When we took FCA to trial over these defective Jeeps, the jury found that FCA “acted with reckless or wanton disregard for human life” and returned a verdict of $150,000,000 for our clients. It was the first time any law firm had forced FCA to go all the way to trial. They are a danger to the people who drive them, most of whom don’t know about the defect. They are danger to the people who ride in them. And they are a danger to people who share the road with them.
FCA’s “Recall” of the Exploding Jeeps
Eventually, FCA couldn’t deny the danger any longer. Following pressure from nonprofits, safety advocates, customers, victims, lawyers, and media, FCA agreed to conduct a recall of at least some of the rear-tank Jeeps. But this would not be an ordinary recall. In 2013, FCA’s Chairman and CEO, Sergio Marchionne — who had previously told the public that these Jeeps were “absolutely safe” — arranged a private meeting with top government bureaucrats to talk about a recall. The federal Office of Defects Investigation (“ODI”) had already written FCA a letter requesting a recall and announcing that the Jeeps with rear gas tanks contained “defects related to motor vehicle safety.” Marchionne wanted to put a stop to that investigation. So Marchionne flew from his home in Switzerland to Chicago O’Hare Airport, where he met in private with the United States Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) Administrator, David Strickland. Nobody else was present at the meeting. No agency staff or engineers were present. There were no safety advocates, customers, victims there. The media was not told about the meeting. According to Marchionne’s later testimony, no notes were kept. There were no records at all, he swore. The three men reached a deal. FCA would invite Jeep owners to bring their Jeeps into a dealership and, if the Jeep didn’t already have an original trailer hitch on it, FCA would give the customer a trailer hitch for free. In return, the government agreed to drop the investigation.