JPML Centralizes Lawsuits Over Chrysler Pacifica Fire Recall

Two years after the Chrysler Pacifica fire recall was announced, owners indicate that they still cannot safely charge their vehicles

With a growing number of Chrysler Pacifica recall lawsuits pending in different U.S. District Courts, each involving similar allegations that the minivans pose a risk of exploding or catching fire due to defects the manufacturer has yet to repair, a panel of judges has decided to centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Chrysler Pacifica fire recall was announced by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on June 11, 2020, following at least 12 reports of the minivans igniting due to an electrical post on the 12-volt battery developing high resistance and overheating.

According to the recall notice, the impacted vehicles are equipped with a 12-volt isolator post located behind the driver’s seat which may develop high resistance, causing the connection to overheat and potentially start a fire.

The manufacturer has acknowledged that these Chrysler Pacifica fires may occur while the vehicle is in the on or off position, and owners have been instructed to park the vehicles outdoors, away from other vehicles and structures. Owners have also been instructed to not allow moisture of any kind to get on the floor of the second row seating where the post is located, as this could increase the risk of a fire. In particular, the company warned customers to keep wet items out of the back seat such as beverages, umbrellas, or bottled liquids that could leak and make contact with the post.

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Although Chrysler identified the problem nearly two years ago, owners are still unable to safely charge the minivans or park the vehicle inside their garages. While awaiting a Chrysler Pacifica recall repair to be released by the auto maker, owners have been left without the ability to fully use the hybrid-electric features they paid for, according to many of the Chrysler Pacifica lawsuits filed to date.

Lawsuits have by filed on behalf of dozens of Pacifica owners in recent months, including one brought by Scott Olsen, who filed a motion filed a motion to transfer (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) in May 2022, calling for all of the Chrysler Pacifica lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system to be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in either the Northern District of California, or to the Central District of California.

Following oral arguments heard last month, the JPML issued a transfer order (PDF) on August 3, determining that centralization was appropriate, since the pending actions all present common factual questions arising from the allegation that Chrysler Pacifica Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles “have a defect that makes them prone to fire and explosion and that the manufacturer’s voluntary recall notice issued on February 11, 2022, is inadequate.”

As a result of the findings, the Panel has ruled to centralize the Chrysler Pacifica lawsuits into an MDL in the Eastern District of Michigan before the U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson for coordinated and consolidated pretrial proceedings.

Known as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, such centralization is common in complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are being filed in courts nationwide over the similar damages caused by the same product defects.

Coordinating the cases before one judge is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.

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