Chrysler Pacifica Lawsuits Allege Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) May Explode and Catch Fire

Plaintiffs are pushing for the Chrysler Pacifica lawsuits to be consolidated and centralized before one federal judge for pretrial proceedings.

A series of Chrysler Pacifica class action lawsuits are being pursued for owners of the recalled minivans, alleging that the vehicles pose a significant risk of exploding or catching fire. Yet the manufacturer has yet to provide a remedy or fix, nearly two years after initiating a recall.

To date, at least seven Fiat Chrysler Pacifica lawsuits have been filed on behalf of 46 plaintiffs, which are currently pending across four different U.S. District Courts, each raising similar allegations that the Plug-in Hybrid Electric minivans pose an unreasonable risk of fires and explosions.

Fiat Chrysler issued a Pacifica minivan recall on June 11, 2020, impacting at least 27,634 hybrid minivans from the model years 2017 to 2020.

At the time of the recall, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSA) had received at least 12 reports of the Chrylser Pacifica fires linked to an electrical post on the 12-volt battery developing high resistance and overheating.

The recall notice indicated that these overheating events may occur while the plug-in hybrid electric minivans are on or off. As a result, vehicle owners have been instructed to park the vehicles outdoors, away from other vehicles and structures, and 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.

Nearly two years after owners of the minivans were told about these problems, they 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 are left without the ability to fully use the hybrid-electric features they paid for, according to the lawsuits.

The recalled minivans are a hybrid vehicle, consisting of both an internal combustion engine with a battery and electric motor. However, due to the increased battery fire risks, owners cannot charge the battery to power the electric motor.

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As a result of the unresolved battery problems, a growing number of owners and lessees have filed lawsuits against Fiat Chrysler claiming they have are not able to use the hybrid features that were advertised, unable to park their vehicle in garages or near structures, and that the vehicles have lost significant value due to the unresolved defect.

On May 9, one of the plaintiff’s, Scott Olsen, filed a motion filed a motion to transfer (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), 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 before the U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings, or to the Central District of California before the District Judge Cormac J. Carney.

“As suggested by the nature of the allegations and the size of the putative class, the Related Actions will involve complex and voluminous electronic discovery,” the motion states. “Should the cases remain in separate districts, there will inevitably be duplicative motions, depositions, and production of documents.”

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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