This week, Chrysler “voluntarily” recalled 2.7 million Jeeps. The Jeep recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was based on observations that the vehicle catches fire when involved in low speed, rear end accidents. I don’t care what side of the “political car-aisle” you hail from, Chrysler’s Jeep recall is a safety-related issue that touches anyone who drives on a public road. The problem, according to the experts, revolves around the design and placement of the Jeep’s gas tank. In other words, Chrysler is dealing with a probable design defect. Design defects, especially those involving motor vehicles, can result in serious injuries, or even death.
This isn’t the first time a domestic car manufacturer has been forced to recall a vehicle over a gas tank. In the late 1970’s Ford recalled the Pinto. Like the Jeep recall, the Pinto involved a design defect that caused the vehicle to burst into flames following low speed, rear end accidents. As a result, several consumers were injured and jurors across the country later held Ford liable for their injuries, harms, and losses. In 1999, a California jury similarly held General Motors (GM) liable for damages two women and four children sustained after their 1979 Malibu burst into flames following a rear end accident. Like Ford, GM knowingly utilized a defective gas tank design. In the GM case, the jury returned a $4.9 billion dollar verdict.
I think its fair for consumers to believe that car manufacturers would learn a lesson or two in design safety over the past 25 plus years.
Jeep has decided to follow Ford in announcing a voluntary recall and, where warranted, has agreed to “provide [consumers] an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low speed impacts.” I anticipate that, following the Jeep recall, Chrysler will follow Ford and GM into the Courtroom to explain to a jury exactly why these preventable acts were allowed to occur. We should also expect Jeep to fairly compensate any consumer that was injured or killed as a result of their defective product.