Posted in Firm News on June 5, 2013
MEDIA CONTACT: James E. Butler, Jr. ( Jim@butlerwooten.com, Tel: (706) 322-1990; Butler Wooten & Peak LLP, Atlanta/Columbus, GA.
The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter to Chrysler on June 3 informing Chrysler that the model year 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee and the model year 2002-2007 Liberty should be recalled because they contain defects impacting motor vehicle safety. The defects are related to the vehicles’ rear fuel tanks and the likelihood that they will leak gasoline and catch fire in rear impacts, causing fire-related deaths and injuries.
This is the same vehicle at issue in the lawsuit Bryan and Lindsay Walden filed against Chrysler in the Superior Court of Decatur County, Georgia, for the death of their four-year-old son, Remington (Remi) Walden. Remi was killed by a post-collision fuel-fed fire on March 6, 2012, in Bainbridge, Georgia.
Remi’s aunt Emily Newsome was driving Remi to tennis lessons in his grandfather’s 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee when the vehicle was struck in the rear by a Dodge Dakota. Remi was properly restrained in his booster seat in the back seat. Remi’s only injury from the collision itself was a fractured bone in his leg. But the vehicle in which he was a passenger, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, had a fuel tank located just inside the rear bumper of the car, unprotected from rear impact. The collision ruptured the fuel tank, causing a fire. Witnesses were unable to rescue Remi. The Grand Cherokee was engulfed in flames. Remi’s death was caused by the fire.
Remi’s death is memorialized on page 8 of the June 3 NHTSA letter by both a photograph of the burning Jeep Grand Cherokee and a listing of his death.
“Automakers, including Chrysler, have known for decades-at least since the Pinto explosions -that putting gas tanks in the rear unprotected by the vehicle’s frame rails poses a grave danger to occupants,” said lead counsel James E. Butler, Jr. Chrysler designed its Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty cars with a fuel tank which is located behind the rear axle, adjacent to the rear bumper, and hanging down below the rear bumper. “That is in a known crush zone. It’s the very place where it is most vulnerable to one of the most common kinds of collisions: rear impact,” Butler said.
NHTSA had this to say about its conclusion that these Jeeps are defective: “[t]here is a performance defect and a design defect. The performance defect is that the fuel tanks installed on these vehicles are subject to failure when the vehicles are struck from the rear. Such failure can result in fuel leakage, which in the presence of external ignition sources, can result in fire. The design defect is the placement of the fuel tanks in the position behind the axles and how they were positioned, including their height above the roadway. The defects present an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle because people…have burned to death in rear impact crashes, there have been fires (without fatalities) in these vehicles from rear impact crashes that have, or could have,
led to deaths and injuries, and there have been leaks from Grand Cherokee and Liberty gas tanks from rear impact crashes that could have led to fire and death or injury.”
Although Chrysler has finally relocated the fuel tank in its newer model Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty cars, putting the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle, where it is protected from rear impact, Chrysler has not warned owners or recalled its other model year Jeeps with rear fuel tanks.
In fact, in response to the June 3 letter from NHTSA, Chrysler still refuses to recall these Jeep Grand Cherokees, does not acknowledge there is any problem, and vows to fight the recall.
“The Walden family applauds NHTSA for its finding that these vehicles are dangerous and should be recalled. They want to make sure that no other family suffers the loss that they have from these defective vehicles.The Walden family only hopes that Chrysler rethinks its opposition to the recall and removes all these unsafe vehicles from the roads,” said counsel Leigh May.
Representing Remi’s parents from the Butler Wooten & Peak LLP law firm of Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia are James E. Butler, Jr., Leigh May, and Jeb Butler. Joining them on the case is Bainbridge lawyer George Floyd.
Butler Wooten & Peak LLP is a nationally-renowned law firm that has handled cases in 30 states and won record verdicts and settlements. The firm has extensive experience in automotive products liability cases and specifically in post-collision fuel fed fire cases involving defective fuel systems and gas tanks. Butler Wooten & Peak LLP has previously handled three cases involving post-collision fires in Chrysler vehicles with rear fuel tanks. One of those cases involved a Jeep Cherokee which was hit in the rear, resulting in gas tank rupture, a fire, and the death of a family of three.