Gasoline Fed Fuel Tank Fires

Do you know that one of the most flammable liquids in your car is your brake fluid? Yes, that’s right, your brake fluid.

If your brake fluid is so flammable, then why do so many auto manufacturers install plastic brake fluid reservoirs under the hood of your vehicle?  Any significant frontal impact may rupture this flimsy reservoir, causing flammable brake fluid to contact your hot engine, resulting in a rapidly-spreading, life-threatening vehicle fuel-fed fire.  Obviously, vehicles have many more flammable components aside from brake fluid, including:

  • Gasoline
  • Oil
  • Lubricants
  • Power steering fluid
  • Antifreeze
  • Tires

Unfortunately, 219,000 vehicle fires caused personal injury, death, and property damage in the United States in 2011, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Causes for vehicle fires usually include the following:

  • Collisions releasing flammable liquids
  • Engine fires caused by flammable engine-compartment liquids, also known as “Hot Surface Ignitions”
  • Electrical fires
  • Explosions
  • Filler neck detachments or separations
  • Gasoline spillage while re-fueling
  • Fuel line ruptures or tears
  • Lack of shielding for gas tanks

One of the most publicized lawsuits involving an automobile fuel-fed fire was Mosely v. General Motors Corp..  In this case, Shannon Mosely, a 17 year-old high school student, was killed in a collision resulting in a fuel-fed fire in his 1985 GMC Sierra Pickup Truck.  A suit was filed against GM based on the fact that GM’s gas tank implemented a “side saddle” design, where the gas tank was placed outside the frame of the vehicle.  This design increased the risk of injury or death based on gasoline fires in side impacts.

During the trial, an internal GM Memo was introduced that showed GM’s knowledge of the risk of fuel-fed fires as well as a statistical formula, also knows as a risk-utility assessment or cost-benefit analysis concerning the economic impact on GM for fuel-fed fires in GM vehicles.  This famous memo is known as “The Ivey Memo.”

After a multi-week trial, in 1993, the jury in Atlanta, Georgia awarded the Mosely family a $105 million verdict, including $101 million in punitive damages.  GM appealed the verdict but later settled the case for a confidential amount.

Many feel this case, and others, were a springboard for the implementation of the current federal regulations on fuel-fed fires.   Specifically, the National Highway Safety Administration has enacted standards, such as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 301, to protect us from the risk of fuel-fed fires. Regardless of these safety standards, gasoline-fed fuel tank fires still occur and still burn or kill people all over the United States.

The Texas Automotive Defect Lawyer at Hill Law Firm is currently investigating Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Liberty fires following foreseeable rear-end collisions.  If you need to consult with an attorney because you have been the victim of an automobile fuel-fed fire, call the Automobile Fire Attorney at Hill Law Firm for a free consultation at our San Antonio office.

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