Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the seventh-largest automaker in the world, lost a crucial lawsuit surrounding a Jeep defect that led to a recall after numerous fire incidents.
The company has lost the trial to the family of a 4-year-old boy who was trapped in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee after a rear-end collision and burned to death – with the jury concluding the automaker was at fault for the design of the model’s gas tank. The verdict, in rural Bainbridge, Georgia, is also only the first over fires that stemmed from a defect in older Jeep models. The faulty positioning of the gas tank in several Jeep models has led to fires if the SUVs were rear-ended, with the accidents leading to more than 75 fatalities since the late 1990s. Another lawsuit with a seminal accident scenario will undergo trial in California in January, according to attorneys.
The verdict could also result in a massive spike in related lawsuits, but could also bring forth regulatory action, according to law professor Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Safety advocates have been very vocal about the need to amend the safety of recalled older Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberties, with all of them having the gas tank positioned very close to the back bumper – the company resolved the matter by ordering a safety campaign involving the installment of trailer hitches. From 2005 model year models onwards, the Jeep tanks were relocated in a “midship” position between the axles, with FCA arguing that both designs were equally safe.