A pickup truck rear-ended a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, causing the gas tank to explode which killed a four-year-old boy. Chrysler, the parent company now known as FCA US, contends that the driver of the truck was responsible, but jurors in the wrongful death case determined otherwise.
The jury initially awarded $150 million to the boy’s family, but the trial judge reduced their compensation to $40 million. Chrysler appealed the decision, feeling that the trial court abused its discretion and permitted the plaintiff’s counsel some leeway in their arguments. Defense attorneys were unhappy with their mention of Ford Pinto issues with exploding tanks and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s salary. Chrysler’s lawyers believed that these remarks led to the significant damages amount.
Georgia’s Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s April 2015 ruling and upheld its decision.
Additionally, an article on the CBS News website from March 2015 claims that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) started investigating gas tank issues in 2010 for 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Liberties. Chrysler contended that the gas tanks were not defective for three years after the investigation started. In 2013, the NHTSA asked the company to recall their vehicles based on its findings.
Shortly afterward, Chrysler addressed the issue by adding trailer hitches to the vehicles, which many experts claimed would not be effective in protecting the gas tanks. The NHTSA did show that the hitches helped somewhat in low to medium impacts. To complicate matters further, many dealers were unable to or wouldn’t add the hitches, telling customers that parts were not available or that their cars were safe regardless of the hitches.
Overall, about 50 people lost their lives to the gas tank defects, but safety advocates think that’s a conservative estimate.