Chrysler Group LLC’s decision to fix some of the 2.7 million sport-utility vehicles linked to 51 deaths in post-crash fires averts what could have been the biggest showdown with U.S. regulators in three decades over a safety defect.
Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, said in a statement yesterday it reached an agreement with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a “voluntary”campaign on Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty vehicles with fuel tanks mounted behind the rear axles. The company, in a letter to NHTSA yesterday, said the vehicles in question are “safe”.
“I’m sure they had some legal experts say that with the preponderance of the evidence, it was going to be very hard to tip the scales in their favor given the deference courts give government regulatory agencies,” said David Kelly, an acting NHTSA administrator during the George W. Bush administration who’s now a transportation safety consultant.
Chrysler on June 4 said it would refuse NHTSA’s request to recall the 2.7 million vehicles in question because they didn’t pose a safety risk. Had the company held that position by yesterday’s deadline to respond to the regulator, the standoff could have proceeded to a public hearing and possibly to court.
The auto-safety advocate who pushed the company and U.S. regulator to look at the Jeeps today told Chrysler its intended fix, involving installation or replacement of trailer hitches, is “woefully inadequate” and said it should recall more vehicles.
What tipped the balance here? Chrysler acting out of the “goodness of heart”?
Perhaps it has sooooo much money that it doesn’t know what else to spend it on?
Or, perhaps, the threat of being sued for 51 people dying, and the likelihood of many more similar circumstances, brought Chrysler to the table of rationality and good sense.
Keep in mind—the next time anyone suggests that lawyers are “ruining America”, that it is the lawyers that help keep America safe.
Think about this. If you could do whatever you wanted to, if you could market crappy, unsafe products that injure people without any fear or threat of responsibility, who in their profit-minded business model would spend much effort making products as safe as they can be? The answer: No one.
Lawyers, and the “promise” of lawsuits and holding the wrongdoers financially responsible for their misconduct, are a very real deterrent to the manufacturers of America in deciding the safety consequences of their products. Keep that in mind—next time someone suggests that America cannot compete because of the safety laws that exist in this country.