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Fuel-Tank Fires in Jeep Vehicles Being Investigated; Will There Be Liability for Injury or Death?

More than five million Jeep vehicles are being investigated by the federal government for deadly fuel-tank fires caused by rear-impact collisions.

Fuel-tank ruptures and fires during crashes have resulted in 48 fatalities in the Jeep Grand Cherokee model since 1993, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, to this point neither the federal government nor Chrysler has announced a recall for specific model years.

And this week, the NHTSA expanded its investigation to include Jeep Cherokees from model years 1993 to 2001 and Jeep Liberty models from 2002 to 2007.

Federal investigators initially looked into the Jeep Grand Cherokee following complaints by the Center for Auto Safety. The fuel tank of the 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee is made of plastic and extends below the rear bumper “so there is nothing to protect the tank from direct hit” in a rollover or rear-end collision, the watchdog group said in a letter sent to NHTSA.

“Chrysler Group has concluded that 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles are neither defective nor do their fuel systems pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety in rear impact collisions,” responded Chrysler in a written statement.

The company estimates that two million of the affected vehicles are still on the road. “We still feel confident these vehicles are safe. They have really good safety records,” said a Chrysler spokesperson. “We feel really confident, and we’ll work cooperatively with NHTSA.” The investigation could take a year to complete, possibly longer if it becomes complex, the NHTSA said.

In 2005 and later models, Chrysler moved the gas tank of the Jeep Grand Cherokee from behind the rear axle to the middle of the vehicle. A Chrysler spokesperson said that Chrysler made the move to allow for more cargo space, not due to safety concerns. However, since that change, there has been only one fatal fire crash in the redesigned vehicle, according to the Center for Auto Safety.

So it remains to be seen if this evidence of many more deaths and injuries before the design change will result in liability lawsuits from those involved in accidents in the earlier Jeep models.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

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