The Chief Executive Officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne, claims in the wrongful-death lawsuit over a 4-year-old boy killed in a fiery rear-end Jeep crash in 2012, that Chrysler conducted a “thorough review” of older Jeeps and the design of their fuel tanks is “not a safety defect.”
The trial comes in the wake of a record number of vehicle recalls in the U.S. last year and public investigations into defective ignition switches in General Motors vehicles and rupture-prone air bags made by Takata Corp. of Japan. The Georgia case attracts new attention to fuel tanks installed behind the rear axle in Jeeps that regulators have tied to 51 deaths.
The company says the SUVs in question are safe and that it agreed in 2013 to recall 1.56 million of them and inspect other Jeeps to assuage customer concerns, and not as an admission of wrongdoing. The company currently is installing trailer hitches on the backs of the Jeeps designed to give them more protection in lower-speed collisions.
Mr. Marchionne in his deposition noted he is “not an engineer” and several times said he has “no way of knowing” whether more recent Jeep models with fuel tanks located in front of the rear axle are safer than the older SUVs, according to a video feed of the proceedings provided by Courtroom View Network. When asked about the testimony of a Chrysler engineer, he said: “I don’t know who he is.”
Federal regulators have raised concerns about the pace of the Jeep trailer-hitch installations, but have stopped short of asking Chrysler to designate the vehicles as defective. Mr. Marchionne’s testimony renews scrutiny of Chrysler’s tussles with regulators over millions of older Jeep models whose fuel tanks were installed behind the rear axle. The government, when originally requesting a recall, concluded that the tanks are vulnerable to igniting in rear-end crashes. Yet, Mr. Marchionne insists the company’s data showed the vehicles were not defective and insists the Jeeps are safe.
The recall of these Jeep models (1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee; 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty) has to do with the potential for rupturing fuel tanks. The last thing you want to happen in any kind of car accident is a fuel tank explosion, leak or fire. This defect is particularly dangerous even when vehicles are struck from behind at low to medium speeds. This means that a minor fender bender could end in a catastrophic fiery crash. Unfortunately, according to Chrysler, only about 3 percent of the vehicles have been fixed.
If you don’t have one of the Jeep models in question, but still want to know if your vehicle is under a safety recall, there are a few different ways you can check. First, you can contact your vehicle’s manufacturer. They might have customer service numbers available at their websites or recall information already online. You can also use the NHTSA’s free Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) lookup tool at Safercar.gov. Whether a recall is being conducted or not, if you think a defective part has caused your accident or put your life in danger, contact the law firm of Hoskins, Turco, Lloyd & Lloyd for a free consultation.
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