The mother of a 2-year-old boy who was killed in a May 2011 car accident has filed a wrongful lawsuit against Chrysler Group LLC. According to a news report in The Times-Tribune, the lawsuit, which was filed in Lackawanna County Court, claimed that the improper positioning of the Cherokee’s fuel tank caused it to burst into flames when a Ford Focus driven by David Ranakoski rear-ended her vehicle.

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The toddler, Cole Hazelton, died in the fire. The lawsuit stated that his mother suffered permanent physical and emotional injuries from the crash. The suit is seeking compensation for wrongful death, negligence, unfair trade practices and infliction of emotional distress.

Fatal Fire

The accident occurred May 9, 2011 when Hazelton was southbound on Dark Region Road in Ransom Township. The Ford driven by Rankowski struck the back of the Cherokee causing it to spin clockwise and into a grass embankment. The Cherokee’s fuel tank, which was located in the “crush zone” or below the rear bumper, released gas into the vehicle causing it to burst into flames, according to the complaint. Cole’s father, Andrew Carullo, was able to pull Hazelton to safety but couldn’t rescue his son.

The auto product lawsuit emphasized that Cole was not seriously injured in the initial collision. All their injuries were caused by the fuel fed fire, which was the direct result of the Cherokee’s defective design. In addition, Chrysler did not recall the Cherokee despite having the knowledge that rear impact collisions resulted in passengers being seriously injured or killed, the suit stated.

Jeep Cherokee’s Design Flaw

According to the Center for Auto Safety, the number of defective gas tank fatal fires from 1993 to 2004 in the Jeep Grand Cherokee is about four times higher than any other SUV. After 2005, Chrysler redesigned the vehicles moving the gas tank inside the frame offering more protection. However, drivers such as Hazelton who purchased the older model vehicles may not be aware of the potential for serious injuries or death that these improperly located gas tanks pose.

Instead of making these cases public and recalling these defective auto products, automakers take the route of settling confidentially with victims or families of deceased victims. Auto manufacturers put profits over public safety by deliberately not making the public aware of these dangerous auto defects.