In September 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) launched a preliminary investigation into 387,356 2002 and 2003 Jeep Liberty SUVs after it received complaints of airbags deploying without proper cause, which in turn caused injuries and increased the risk of accidents.
In the announcement, the NHTSA indicated that the investigation might evaluate mechanical, electrical, or engineering issues to determine whether a recall of nearly 400,000 vehicles would be appropriate. At the time, the NHTSA indicated that Chrysler Group and Jeep might issue a recall of their own to address the issue.
The complaints that motivated the investigation included the following:
- Complaints involving the front driver and passenger airbags suddenly deploying without a crash
- Four complaints involved owners alleging that the driver frontal air bag deployed without a crash
- Three complaints involved owners alleging that both the driver and passenger frontal air bags suddenly deployed without a crash
- Some owners noted that the air bag light had been illuminated or had intermittently illuminated prior to the deployment
- Six of the seven owners stated that their vehicle was being operated on a residential roadway when the airbag deployed
- Three of the owners alleged that they were travelling on a highway at speeds of 45 mph or greater when the air bag(s) deployed
- Five of the seven complaints alleged an injury incident
When the investigation was launched, ODI had received thirty-two early warning field reports involving ten accidents causing injuries.
On January 31, 2012, the NHTSA announced that it was upgrading its investigation to an engineering analysis, a step in a process that could lead to a recall if regulators determine that a manufacturer needs to address a safety issue.
According to Reuters:
NHTSA said it had identified eighty-seven reports of inadvertent driver or passenger front airbag deployment, resulting in fifty alleged injuries, including burns, cuts, and bruises to the upper body, according to documents filed online.
Forty-two of the eighty-seven incidents involved the driver front airbag deploying without a crash, occurring at vehicle startup, and while driving on the road, according to NHTSA. The remaining forty-five involved both the driver and passenger front airbags, NHTSA said.
Some drivers noted that the airbag warning light had illuminated just prior to airbag deployment, while others did not observe one, NHTSA said.
An inspection conducted by Chrysler indicates an internal electronic chip that controls airbag deployment failed, possibly due to a voltage spike. The automaker, which is controlled by Fiat, is in the process of identifying possible root causes, NHTSA said.
NHTSA initially opened a probe into the Jeep SUVs in September after receiving seven consumer complaints.
A Chrysler spokesman said the U.S. automaker was cooperating with the investigation.
Contact an Experienced Product Liability Attorney
The Brad Hendricks Law Firm is experienced in the area of products liability and has the knowledge and resources necessary to represent our clients aggressively and efficiently. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries because of an airbag deployment or other automotive defect or recalled auto part, please call The Brad Hendricks Law Firm at (501) 221-0444 or toll-free at (800) 603-5100 for a free consultation.