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Making headlines: Fiat Chrysler’s failure to act on Jeep fuel-tank fire risk

In June of 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Fiat Chrysler to recall millions of Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles because of a deadly problem with fuel-tank fires. Fiat Chrysler refused to acknowledge any problem with the fuel tanks, but after pressure, they decided to recall some, but not all, of the affected vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler’s decision to limit the recall is now hitting the headlines. One of the vehicles that the company declined to recall, a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, was involved in a rear-end collision in which the fuel tank caught fire, killing a four-year-old boy who was strapped into a booster seat in the back seat. The family has filed a lawsuit in their home state of Georgia, and the judge in the case has just ordered the CEO of Fiat Chrysler submit to a deposition.

In the Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee models that Fiat Chrysler was asked to recall, the fuel tank is found between the rear axle and the bumper. This poses a problem because it can be punctured in a rear-end collision. According to the NHTSA, at least 51 people have died because a rear end collision in these vehicles caused a tank fire.

Fiat Chrysler still has not issued a wider mandatory recall, nor has it admitted that the fuel tanks may pose an unreasonable danger to car occupants. In commenting on the Georgia lawsuit, a company representative shifted the blame for the fire that caused the toddler’s death onto the driver of the pickup truck that rear-ended the Jeep, which was stopped at an intersection.

The lawsuit over the toddler’s death was filed in the Superior Court of Decatur County, Georgia. News of the ruling compelling the CEO of Chrysler Fiat to participate in a deposition was first reported in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.