Even as Chrysler awaits a decision from the Georgia Supreme Court on its appeal of a $40 million judgment in the case of an exploding gas tank, the company now must defend itself against another similar lawsuit filed last week in Gwinnett County State Court.
Erica Scannavino, 32, burned to death inside a 1996 Jeep Cherokee in July 2017 after she was hit from behind while making a left turn, according to a lawsuit her parents filed. They blamed the crash on the driver who hit her, but they blamed her death on Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
The circumstances of Scannavino’s death appear eerily similar to those of 4-year-old Remi Walden, whose parents’ case is pending before the high court. Both vehicles had a rear-mounted gas tank sitting behind the axle. Both ignited after crashing.
But Scannavino’s Jeep also had a steel trailer hitch the company added aftermarket to address safety concerns about the gas tanks rupturing on impact, according to the lawsuit and a U.S. Department of Transportation report. The hitch only made matters worse, according to the lawsuit.
“As the vehicle was hit, the trailer hitch crushed into the gas tank and punctured it, exacerbating the deformation of the gas tank,” the lawsuit said. “The gasoline ignited and the subject vehicle became engulfed in flames.” Scannavino was trapped inside even as others tried to rescue her and “after some time, was burned alive,” the lawsuit said.
“Chrysler has known for decades the dangers associated with placing a fuel tank in that location and was well aware that certain trailer hitches posed a problem to vehicles with fuel tanks in that location,” said Chris Glover of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles. “The combination of these two designs created the most dangerous vehicle I’ve ever seen. The conduct of these two companies in creating and then hiding this problem is sickening. Far too many people have already died as a result.”
Glover represents the surviving parents, Bud and Mary Scannavino of Kennesaw. One of the largest plaintiff firms in the country, Beasley Allen has an Atlanta office and headquarters in Montgomery.
Chrysler did not have an immediate response to the Scannavino suit
Chrysler emailed the following statement Wednesday: ”FCA US extends its deepest sympathies to those affected by this tragic crash. We cannot comment further at this time as we have not been served with the complaint.”
A spokesman noted a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report on an investigation of post-collision fires and fatalities in Jeeps, saying “available data for the Cherokee did not establish an unreasonable risk in comparison to peer vehicles.”
That same report said 75 people had died in fires as of 2013 in the Jeep Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Liberty. While defending the Jeep’s safety record, Chrysler proposed recalling 2.5 million vehicles to install trailer hitches as a remedy.
Many of the same facts came into evidence in the Walden case now pending before the Supreme Court. The $40 million judgment Chrysler is appealing was reduced from the jury’s verdict of $150 million: $120 million for the full value of the life lost and $30 million for pain and suffering for a death inside a burning vehicle.
The new case is Scannavino v. FCA, No. 17C06784.