PHOENIX, Ariz. – Following the overturning of a lower-court’s ruling, FCA US LLC (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) will have to defend itself in a suit brought by a woman claiming the absence of a collision-mitigation system with automatic-emergency braking (AEB) in the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee contributed to injuries she received and those which killed her daughter during a crash.
Alleging negligence and product liability (defective design), Melissa Varela claimed the Jeep involved in the accident would not have collided with her car, or would not have collided with as much force, if it had been equipped with that technology. The top-two tiers of the Grand Cherokee range that model year came standard with an AEB system, while others offered it as an option.
The Superior Court dismissed the suit essentially because the Grand Cherokee, which did not have the optional AEB and met all federal safety standards at the time of its production; and federal law preempted the plaintiff’s state-law claim. In 2017 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rejected a petition to mandate the inclusion of AEB systems in all vehicles.
“We conclude Varela’s claims are not preempted, reverse the dismissal and remand for further proceedings,” Judge Diane M. Johnsen wrote for the court. “. . . we have nothing in our record from NHTSA informing us that when it decided against undertaking an AEB rulemaking in 2017, it intended to preempt tort claims based on the absence of AEB. To the contrary, NHTSA’s explanation for its decision recounts its long history of encouraging automakers to develop AEB technologies; its decision to refrain from issuing a rule was not driven by uncertainty about whether automakers should install AEB, or about what design of AEB to install, but instead by the agency’s apparent delight at automakers’ embrace of AEB technologies of all designs.”
Following the ruling earlier this week, Fiat Chrysler issued the following statement: “FCA is disappointed in this decision and is considering its legal options. We note that the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee meets or exceeds all applicable federal safety standards and has an excellent safety record.”