Last June, Chrysler made headlines by refusing to recall 2.7 million SUVS despite requests made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA demanded a nationwide recall of Jeep Grand Cherokees produced and sold from 1993 to 2004, as well as Jeep Grand Cherokees produced from 2002 to 2007. Motorists throughout California and the United States were driving these vehicles and facing the risk of fire as a result of a potentially unsafe gas tank design.
“Chrysler’s initial refusal and subsequent success in limiting the number of recalled cars protected the company’s profits while potentially putting drivers throughout California and the country at risk,” commented an auto accident lawyer in Costa Mesa, California.
Chrysler Refuses NHTSA Demand for Recalls
The NHTSA urged the recall of the SUVs because the gas tank was placed behind the rear axle and was not properly protected from potential rear-end accidents. Rear-end collisions are one of the top causes of car wrecks in the United States, and the Chryslers were at risk of bursting into flames when a rear-end crash punctured the gas tank in its location behind the rear axle.
The NHTSA launched its initial investigation into the Chrysler SUVs as a result of a request made by a Washington public interest group called the Center for Auto Safety. The group estimated that there had been 201 fiery crashes and 258 deaths involving the Jeep Grand Cherokees. The group also reported another 36 accidents and 53 deaths in the Jeep Grand Liberties.
The NHTSA’s own estimates suggested that there had been at least 37 wrecks and 51 deaths, which is a more conservative estimate than the data from the Center for Auto Safety. Still, the NHTSA was concerned about the dangers presented by the gas tank in the Chrysler SUVs and thus requested that Chrysler initiate the recall.
Chrysler, however, declined to do so. The car company disputed the NHTSA data, indicated that the risk of potential explosions was overstated and stated that the design the NHTSA was citing as a risk was very common and accepted in many other vehicles. Chrysler also reported that the few crashes that did occur in which explosions happened were high-speed and high-energy accidents, so the vehicle explosion would have happened anyway even if the gas tank had a different design.
Chrysler’s refusal to recall the vehicles and the challenge to the NHTSA request was the first of such challenges since 1996. The prior challenge also involved Chrysler. The NHTSA had requested a recall of 91,000 vehicles as a result of alleged seatbelt problems. The car company disputed the need for the recall and Chrysler won a federal court decision two years after the dispute began, according to the auto accident lawyer in Costa Mesa.
The new challenge to the NHTSA’s recall request was once again a successful one for the car company. In mid-June, the chief executive officer of Chrysler contacted the NHTSA administrator, David Strickland. A compromise was worked out in which the NHTSA reduced the number of recalled Jeeps by 42 percent.
The compromise agreement, which resulted in a recall of 1.56 million Jeeps, may have saved Chrysler as much as $109 million.
Unfortunately, the delay and the decision on the part of the car company and NHTSA may have put drivers at risk by leaving potentially dangerous vehicles on the road. If an accident does occur, the location of the gas tank could increase the potential harm to crash victims. A fire could result in accident deaths that might not otherwise have occurred in a car with a gas tank in a different location.
If a motorist in a Chrysler vehicle does sustain injuries or is killed due to an explosion or fire, Chrysler could potentially be held legally liable for the damages and made to compensate the victim, according to the auto accident lawyer in Costa Mesa. Of course, Chrysler could pay out many damage claims and still be better off financially than if it had recalled all of the vehicles that the NHTSA originally suggested should be taken off the roads. This, unfortunately, means that Chrysler may have put profits above the safety of motorists and that drivers in California and throughout the U.S. could potentially be driving cars that are not as safe as they should be.
Additional articles, as well as books, on transportation safety and the personal injury claims process are available to the public free of charge through our office.
If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to discuss a specific legal matter with an auto accident lawyer in Costa Mesa, please call 866-981-5596.