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Articles Posted in Auto Products Liability

Actor Anton Yelchin, 27, who played Chekov in the recent “Star Trek” movies was killed two weeks ago when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee slid backwards and pinned him against a brick pillar and a security fence.  Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 1.1 million of these models and large cars in April because some drivers exited vehicles without putting them into park.  The company said it was aware of 41 potentially related injuries during the time it announced the recall.  However, U.S. safety regulators said on Tuesday that there were 68 reported injuries and 266 reported crashes in vehicles that have the confusing gear-shifting control.  Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said on a conference call that the recall would include a software update that would automatically shift the vehicles into park.  Critics are claiming this is a perfect example of how things become harder to use when you take the controls out of hardware and put them into software.

The underlying issue of the recall is that the Jeep’s shift lever doesn’t mechanically control the transmission, although it looks and moves like a traditional shift lever.  The shifter does not give any tactile feedback as to what gear you are in because it returns to the center position after each shift.  Therefore, to determine which gear you are in, you have to look at the LEDs on the shifter, which are often blocked by your hand, or the digital display in the instrument cluster.  This has caused a lot of confusion among drivers, resulting in them failing to put the vehicles in park.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made a statement in February saying, “[T]he Monostable shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”  Unlike other car companies who use this type of shifter, there isn’t an override to automatically put the car into park if the door is open. Continue reading

Takata Corporation has expanded its air bag recall to nearly 34 million devices. Already, six fatalities and more than 100 injuries that have been linked to exploding shrapnel from these defective safety devices. As part of an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Takata has admitted that these air bags are flawed.

Until recently the recall affected over 16 million autos with Takata side passenger inflators and only in regions in the U.S. with high humidity. The recall now affects close to 34 million cars and trucks and has gone national. The safety devices were made with a propellant that can degrade.

A Takata air bag with a propellant that has degraded may be at risk of inflating too fast, which could create extra pressure that may make the air bag rupture and shoot metal shards into the vehicle. The metal pieces can cause puncture wounds, organ damage, cuts, bruises, eye injuries, and blindness—not to mention that an exploding air bag cannot properly provide protection during a Boston car crash.

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A jury has ordered Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to pay the family of young Remington Walden $150 million. The 4-year-old boy was burned to death in a 2012 car accident. The jury arrived at their verdict after finding that the automaker was reckless in its design of the gas tank of the 1999 Jeep Cherokee.

This is the first trial against Fiat Chrysler over fires involving older Jeep models that burst into flames after they were struck from behind. Auto products liability plaintiffs claim that the gas tanks, which are some 11 inches from the rear of the vehicle, are not safely situated. Already, at least 75 deaths in almost two decades have been linked to the older Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee. Some 1.5 million have been recalled. The 1999 model in which Walden was riding was not part of the recall.

It wasn’t until the 2005 Jeep models that the gas tanks of these vehicles were relocated to a different location on the car between the rear and front axles. The plaintiff’s legal team argued that the redesign was because the older design was flawed. They accused Fiat of destroying documents regarding the modification to hide the real reason for the fix. The automaker, however, maintains that both the newer and older designs are safe.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is ordering Takata Corp. to preserve air bag inflators that were removed during the manufacturer’s recall process. The NHTSA wants the evidence kept for both its own probe and for any air bag defect lawsuits. Dozens of injuries and at least five fatalities have been linked to the safety issue.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that NHTSA would upgrade the Takata probe to an engineering analysis. This should help determine the actual cause of the air bag failure, as well as whether Takata refused to tell the government agency about the safety defect and violated safety laws and rules.

In the last seven years, car manufacturers have recalled some 17 million autos because they came with Takata air bags. The safety devices are at risk of rupturing upon deployment, which may cause them to spit out sharp fragments that can lead to serious injury or prove fatal. Just last year, BMW, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda, and Ford issued national recalls over defective Takata air bags located on the driver side of many of their vehicles. Toyota, Subaru, General Motors, Nissan, and Mitsubishi later joined these manufacturers in recalling autos with possibly defective passenger-side air bags. The affected vehicles were located in geographic areas that experience high absolute humidity on a regular basis.

Even after Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.56 million Jeeps in 2013 in the wake of mounting pressure from U.S. safety regulars, the Associated Press reports that there continues to be related incidents involving car fires and fatalities. The safety issue involves the vehicles’ plastic fuel tanks that are in the back of the rear axel.

The tanks don’t have much structure to protect themselves from getting hit from behind, which places them at risk of tank punctures and fires. To fix the safety issue, Chrysler is supposed to install trailer hitches behind the Jeeps to add more protection.

However, since the recall, only 12% of the recalled sport utility vehicles have been repaired, with some Jeep owners claiming they’ve had problems when they tried to get the fixes completed. Also, notes the AP, government tests demonstrate that the hitches do protect the tanks during car crashes but only if the Jeep is stationary and the vehicle striking it from behind was moving at no more than 40 mph.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it wants a nationwide recall of vehicles outfitted with certain side frontal side air bags manufactured by Takata. The move comes after the regulator decided that the manufacturer is not acting swiftly enough to expand the recall of defective air bags that may rupture when deployed.

Already there have been five deaths, four in the U.S., linked to the faulty auto safety device, which may shoot out shrapnel when rupturing. Today, two U.S. Senators said there might even be a sixth death linked to the deadly air bags. All of the air bag deaths occurred in Honda vehicles.

A national recall would broaden what has to date been regional action involving 4.1 million vehicles in states that are humid and hot, which is where the safety devices are more likely to fail. Automakers involved in that initiative included Mazda, Honda, Ford, BMW, and Chrysler. NHTSA said that unless Takata and the car manufacturers swiftly agree to the wider recall, it will use its authority to make sure that such an initiative happens.

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