In October 2005, Jeremy Warriner swerved his new Jeep Wrangler to avoid an oncoming car and crashed into a utility pole. The pole fell, trapping Warriner inside the car. Then, allege engineers hired by his attorneys, the plastic brake fluid reservoir broke, setting the Jeep on fire.
Warriner awoke from a medically induced coma 5 1/2 weeks later with two amputated legs.
But his lawsuit against Chrysler ended before it even went to court. A federal bankruptcy court's decision to allow Fiat to buy the automaker last week exempted the "new" Chrysler from past product liability claims. Now consumer groups are mobilizing to block General Motors from seeking similar protections in bankruptcy.
"This is not a normal bankruptcy," said Warriner, 34, of Indianapolis. "It has been financed with our tax dollars. Our tax money is being used in a manner that blocks our Seventh Amendment right to a trial."
Since then consumer groups have been competing for the attention of lawmakers and the Obama administration.
Last week, the Center for Justice & Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG expressed their concern in a letter to President Obama. "American lives hang in the balance," according the group's letter. "Right now, we know of numerous Chrysler and GM vehicle defects that are hurting and killing Americans, which will only get worse if this time bomb bankruptcy loophole is not closed."
The groups argue that consumers may stop filing claims against GM and Chrysler, eliminating critical data that the federal government uses to monitor product defects. And exempting liability removes the financial incentive to fix defects or warn consumers about them, they said.
Earlier this month, Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy in New York, brought a number of victims and their families to Capitol Hill to lobby.
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