Pre-2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee: A Fire Hazard?

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

The Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group, is calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall up to 2.2 million Jeep Grand Cherokees sold between 1993 through 2004 because of what it claims is a gas tank design that makes the SUV much more prone to lethal fires in rear-end collisions The design flaw in question is the positioning of the gas tank between the rear axle and the rear bumper, which makes it much more likely to burst into flame during a rear impact accident due to the lack of protection. Chrysler later recognized this flaw and when the popular SUV was overhauled in 2004, the gas tank was moved to a spot in front of the rear axle, shielding it. From an engineering standpoint, all modern cars and SUVs place the gas tank in front of the rear axle. In the event of a rear collision, the heavy steel axle serves as an important buffer to keep the gas tank from rupturing and potentially causing a fire.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the advocacy organization, claims that this is the most dangerous vehicle on the road today, citing that at least 55 people have died in crashes where fire was “the most harmful factor.” The Center for Auto Safety has also gone after other car companies over models with similar gas tank designs. In the 1970s, the Center investigated the Ford Pinto for the same design. And more recently, the group went after the Ford Crown Victoria, which for many years has been the vehicle of choice for police departments and taxi fleets. Our firm has handled numerous cases in which a car or truck’s design was a leading cause in dangerous post-accident fires. If you or someone you know was injured or killed in a post-accident fuel-fed fire in any of these vehicles, you should contact an experienced attorney to discus your options and possible compensation.

Jeep is a brand of Chrysler LLC, which also markets Chrysler and Dodge brand vehicles. At the time the vehicles were made, the company was independently owned, or part of the DaimlerChrysler Corp. Chrysler’s German owner redesigned the Grand Cherokee to move the gas tank to the preferred location in the vehicle, a move the Center for Auto Safety says shows that engineers knew it was a problem that needed correcting. Legally, however, a company does not admit that a previous design was flawed just because it makes changes or improvements. If that were the case, companies would never change their designs. This, however, does not absolve them of the responsibility to design a safe vehicle in the first place.

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