Judge approves FCA SUV stalling settlement

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A federal judge granted preliminary approval for a settlement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV over a class-action lawsuit for stalling problems in more than 500,000 recalled Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees.

The settlement agreement that was unveiled in June and preliminarily approved late Monday by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson in California covers 526,000 U.S. owners of 2011-13 Durangos and Grand Cherokees.

Documents in the suit disclose Fiat Chrysler agreed to recall more than 460,000 SUVs worldwide in late February as part of a settlement of the lawsuit.

The automaker called back the vehicles to install a new, more robust fuel pump relay outside the integrated power module after finding it was possible that the relay within the module could fail and cause stalling or trouble starting.

Under the settlement, Fiat Chrysler will reimburse owners the cost of rental cars used during repairs; the $1,100 to $1,200 cost for replacement of the power module that some owners had to pay; and the $100-$200 cost for the replacement of the defective fuel pump relay, the Center for Auto Safety said Wednesday.

The rental car provision is significant because when the lawsuit was filed in November 2013, some owners said they were forced to wait months to get replacement parts that were on backorder. At the time the automaker would not provide rental cars to owners waiting for parts, owners said in complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Under the settlement, Fiat Chrysler agreed to extend its standard warranty from 3 years/36,000 miles to 7 years/70,000 miles for relay repairs. It will pay $3.7 million in attorneys fees and costs. Fiat Chrysler said in court documents that a settlement was “desirable to resolve, finally and completely, all pending and potential claims.”

That was the second recall for the issue. In September, Fiat Chrysler recalled 230,000 2011 Durangos and Grand Cherokees with 3.6-liter and 5.7-liter engines for the same issue.

FCA US spokesman Michael Palese said Wednesday settlements are “not an admission of defect or liability and often represent a decision to avoid the costs of ongoing litigation.” He declined to comment further until the settlement is final.

The settlement comes two weeks after NHTSA said it would not open a formal investigation into 4.9 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles that safety advocates said were prone to a broader electronic glitch that could cause stalling, air bag non-deployments and fires.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said NHTSA should have done more.

“NHTSA never opened an investigation or indicated any knowledge of Chrysler’s (power module) investigations, once again showing either how a manufacturer can pull the wool over NHTSA’s eyes or NHTSA can ignore defect data,” the center said in a letter to NHTSA Wednesday.