Photo: Post-accident view of the Almanza and Urquiza family’s burned-out Jeep Liberty.
Los Angeles–(Business Wire)–Rick Patterson of Southern California plaintiffs’ law firm Owen Patterson & Owen and Fabrice N. Vincent of the national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, announce that Nancy Urquiza Avila, Jacqueline Almanza Urquiza, and Yaritza Angulo Urquiza, residents of Oxnard, California, have filed a personal injury lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against FCA US LLC (“Fiat Chrysler Automobiles”) and certain other parties for the lethal injuries suffered by Cesar Almanza Garcia and Cesar Almanza Urquiza in an explosion and fire in their Jeep Liberty that occurred as a result of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ failure to effectively and safely recall the 2002 Jeep Liberty to meaningfully protect occupants from extraordinary risks of fuel-fed fires following read-end collisions.
On December 4, 2016, this close-knit family of five was headed to Oregon on the I-5 Freeway, north of Santa Clarita, when Baldemar Cervantes Rivas, an agent and employee of Cervantes Brothers Trucking, negligently struck the rear of Cesar Almanza Garcia’s 2002 Jeep Liberty, in which Almanza was driving his family. The ensuing explosion and fuel-fed fire caused severe burn injuries to the three survivors, and killed Mr. Almanza and their three-year-old son Cesar Almanza Urquiza.
The complaint in the case alleges that the 2002 Jeep Liberty and 2.5 million vehicles like it (1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee; 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty) are defective because the rear fuel tank was placed between the rear bumper and rear axle, a placement that makes vehicles prone to explode and burn when struck in the rear (like the Ford Pinto and Ford Crown Victoria); placing a fuel tank midship (between the axles and side rails) has been known for decades to best protect occupants. The complaint further alleges that in the 2002 Jeep Liberty and 2.5 million similar vehicles the fuel tank is placed low, under the bumper, where it is most easily pierced in rear-end collisions (making it even worse than other rear-mounted fuel tank vehicle designs). As reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation, over 75 deaths, 58 injuries, and 90 incidents to-date are attributed to the Jeep fuel tank defect.
The Jeep Liberty driven by Cesar Almanza Garcia was recalled in 2014 by defendant Fiat Chrysler Automobiles because of fuel-fed fires occurring in exactly such situations (rear-end strikes). The complaint alleges that the recall was outrageously deficient and defective because it failed to effectively fix the defect, bypassing the installation of an inexpensive plastic fire shield/panel that when pierced emits a fire suppressant powder, and instead of truly fixing the problem only adding a rear trailer hitch — equipment that was never designed or intended to protect a gas tank — to affected vehicles with the notion that a rear trailer hitch would provide a small physical impediment to mitigate accident-caused fuel fires. The complaint alleges that an alternative plastic fire shield/panel is a proven superior fix, in that it has been deployed in 25,000 U.S. Military and Ford Crown Victoria vehicles to successfully protect occupants from similar vehicle-impact, fuel-fed fires. As the complaint concludes, had the fuel tank been properly located, properly protected, and/or properly recalled, the Almanza and Urquiza family would have avoided burn injuries and deaths.
“It is heartbreaking to consider that the tragedy and death suffered by the Almanza and Urquiza family could have been prevented had Fiat Chrysler Automobiles accepted its responsibilities to its customers and adequately and safely protected its vehicles,” noted plaintiffs’ co-counsel Fabrice Vincent. “We hope our lawsuit will help raise awareness of the serious explosion and fire dangers still present in thousands of similar Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles.”
In this case, the 2002 Jeep Liberty did have a trailer hitch on it and instead of properly protecting the fuel tank and the vehicle occupants, the trailer hitch harpooned into the fuel tank, causing and/or contributing to the occupants’ burn injuries and deaths.
The complaint seeks actual damages for plaintiffs’ injuries and the loss of their loved ones, as well as punitive damages for, among other things, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ sale and marketing of a dangerous and defective product, failure to properly recall and protect that product, fraud and malice in the knowing concealment of the true dangers of the subject vehicle, and wanton and willful disregard of the safety and well-being of purchasers like the Almanza and Urquiza family.
The complaint additionally calls upon Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to warn consumers, vehicle owners and lessees, and the public that trailer hitches are potentially hazardous and deadly when mounted on its vehicles with rear fuel tanks. Plaintiffs ask Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to consider recalling all affected vehicles for installation of the plastic fire shield/panel, a proven-effective alternative to adding a rear trailer hitch.
Legal Resources for Jeep Fire Victims
Please visit www.lieffcabraser.com/jeepfires for more information and the answers to frequently-asked questions about Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee accident-caused fuel-fed fires.
If you or a family member have been injured in a Jeep Liberty accident or Jeep Grand Cherokee accident where impact damage caused a fuel-fed fire, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your case. Please call us toll-free at 1 800-541-7358 or complete the contact form at www.lieffcabraser.com/jeepfires. We will promptly review your case for free, confidentially, and in a caring and compassionate manner.
About Owen Patterson & Owen
For almost four decades, Owen Patterson & Owen have been committed to making every day count by striving for positive results for the people we represent. Founded in 1977, our firm has always stood for results, experience and integrity. Over the years, we have obtained settlements and verdicts totaling several hundred million dollars. Our attorneys played an instrumental role in obtaining a $4.85 billion settlement for the victims of the dangerous drug Vioxx. Included on Law and Politics’ list of Super Lawyers and named one of the Top 25 lawyers by Valley Magazine, members of our team have also held a wide range of leadership positions in important legal organizations including president of the Santa Clarita Bar Association. We are sincere about doing what is right for the people we represent in personal injury cases.
About Lieff Cabraser
Recognized as “one of the nation’s premier plaintiffs’ firms” by The American Lawyer, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is a seventy-plus attorney law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York, Nashville, and Seattle. Our firm has successfully represented thousands of vehicle injury victims across America in individual lawsuits. U.S. News and Best Lawyers named Lieff Cabraser as their 2016 “Law Firm of the Year” for representing plaintiffs in class actions and mass torts, and we were recognized in 2016 by Law360 as one of the Top 50 Firms for Litigation in America and by Benchmark Litigation as one of the Top 10 Plaintiffs firms in the country.
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Fabrice N. Vincent
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Owen Patterson & Owen