Where Does Your Gas Tank Live?

Where Does Your Gas Tank Live?

The Ford Pinto. With over 3 million sold during a 10-year production run, this quaint-sounding car competed in the subcompact class throughout the 1970s. But to most people, the name stirs up association with fuel tank fires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) investigated complaints about the Pinto’s fuel tank safety as early as 1974, taking action in 1977. The most controversial issue was whether, in order to save money, the Ford Motor Company ignored evidence that an $11 plastic tray could have prevented its cars from bursting into flames (and killing at least 27 people).

After the investigation into gas tank fires in Ford Pintos, most fuel tanks were moved in front of the axle. Jeeps are one of the few vehicles on the road with gas tanks still behind the rear axle, leaving the tanks highly vulnerable to being punctured in a rear-end crash. The combination of leaking fuel and sparks caused by collisions can easily set the car ablaze, and at least 75 people have died in fires involving model year 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Liberties.

Fiat Chrysler, the owner of the Jeep brand, recalled 1.5 million of the 2.7 million vehicles requested by NHTSA in June of 2013. This was already a decrease from the 5 million vehicles that NHTSA initially wanted recalled. Chrysler’s fix was to install trailer hitches on certain model years, despite research revealing that the trailer hitch was essentially useless in high-speed crashes and provided only incremental safety benefits in low- to moderate-speed crashes. Additionally, Chrysler was criticized for its slow reaction – fixes did not begin until August 2014.

Closer to home, a jury in Decatur County awarded $150 million to a family that sued Chrysler for the 2012 death of their 4-year-old son in a crash involving a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a rear fuel tank. Remington Cole Walden was killed, despite riding in a child booster seat to protect him, when the Jeep driven by his aunt was struck from behind at high speed and engulfed in flames.

Neither driver was injured, and Remington only had a broken leg from the crash — his death was caused by the fire from the damaged gas tank. In April, the jury found that Chrysler acted with “reckless and wanton disregard,” and failed to warn customers that the tank’s position could increase the risk of fire in a rear-end crash. Chrysler’s lawyers said at trial that regulators never found a defect and that the driver of the other vehicle was to blame.

NHTSA issued a consumer advisory in November 2014, urging owners of the recalled Jeeps to get them fixed immediately. As of April 2015, only 10 percent of the eligible vehicles have had the recalls completed. Currently, NHTSA is evaluating Chrysler’s behavior involving the Jeep recall plus 22 others. If NHTSA determines that Chrysler failed to meet its legal requirements, penalties could include hefty fines, an agreement requiring significant auto safety reforms, or even ordering a buy-back of unrepaired vehicles. An announcement is expected by the end of July.

At the Mann Law Firm, we have successfully represented victims throughout Georgia who have been seriously hurt by defective products. We have also assisted families who have lost loved ones to defective cars and trucks. For over 50 years, we have been helping injured consumers put their lives back on track, and we are ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next, or if you have any questions about this topic, call (478) 742-3381 or submit our online form.