By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Lawsuits seeking a total of $50 million accuse Chrysler Group of negligence, claiming a design flaw in its Jeep Cherokee caused the fatal fire that killed a family of four in a June crash in Frederick County.
The two separate complaints, filed Wednesday in Frederick County Circuit Court, also blame the driver of the Chevrolet S-10 pickup, which collided with the rear end of the Jeep, of negligence.
The driver, Steven Allen Boyce, 21, of 221 Hawk Trail, Shawneeland, stands accused in the court for causing the deaths of Amanda and Mark Roe and their sons Caleb and Tyler, all occupants in the Jeep at the time of the crash, which occurred in the late morning of June 24, on U.S. 11 at the Interstate 81 interchange.
Boyce remains held in the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center on four counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, a first offense of driving under the influence of alcohol and underage possession of alcohol.
The lawsuits name Chrysler Group LLC and Boyce as defendants. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company is identified as a defendant and as an underinsured/uninsured motorist carrier.
Richmond attorney James D. Hundley filed the separate complaints on behalf of Amanda Roe's mother, Brenda Simkhovitch, and Mark Roe's brother, Carl, identified as the administrators of the decedents' estates.
The suits note that Amanda Roe drove the 1994 Jeep Cherokee, owned by her husband, northbound on Martinsburg Pike at or near the intersection with the interstate. Chrysler Group designed the Jeep, the lawsuit states.
Boyce operated the Chevrolet pickup traveling directly behind the Jeep, which had stopped at a traffic light, according to the suit. The pickup struck the rear of the Jeep "which then became engulfed in flames," the filing states.
"As a result of the aforementioned collision, Amanda Louise Roe sustained severe bodily injuries and was ultimately burned to death," the complaint filed for states.
The complaint for Carl Roe makes the same claim for the survivor's brother.
The lawsuits also claim the design of the Chrysler vehicle contributed to the victims' deaths.
"The fuel tank of the Jeep was designed and installed in a location that is susceptible to rupture, puncture or other damage that would cause a breach in the fuel tank allowing fuel to escape thereby presenting the risk of fire and explosion, thus causing injury or death in the event of a collision," the complaint for Simkhovitch states.
Chrysler also designed the fuel tank using a material susceptible to rupture, puncture or other damage that would cause a breach and leak, according to the complaint.
Additionally, the lawsuits note the Jeep did not come equipped with a shield to protect the fuel tank; that the design made the filler neck susceptible to being torn away, pulled off or punctured, nor did the tank have a check valve to prevent spillage were the filler neck removed or damaged.
"The defendant, 'Chrysler,' failed to warn the Plaintiff of the potential hazards of the fuel tank and fuel tank assembly system contained in the subject vehicle when it knew, or should have known, that such hazards, would present the risk of fire and explosion, and thus lead to injury and/or death in the event of a collision," the complaint states.
The lawsuit notes Chrysler conducted tests on the Jeep Cherokee model years 1993-2005 to determine the vehicle's capability to withstand rear-end impacts under various conditions without losing fuel.
"These tests proved conclusively to Defendant, Chrysler, that the basic design of the Jeep Cherokee model years 1992-2005 as related to fuel tank integrity following rear end crashes, was totally inadequate to prevent fuel leakage and ignition," the complaint states. "Independent tests conducted by third parties proved conclusively that the design of the subject vehicle was unsafe, and those third parties strenuously argued to Chrysler that a recall be issued to protect purchasers of these mentioned Jeep Cherokees from predictable and foreseeable fires following a rear end collision."
The complaint accuses Chrysler of knowing that the Jeep Cherokee made for the model years 1993-2005 routinely became involved in crashes which produced fuel spills and fires resulting in burns and death.
"Despite this very clear knowledge from its own tests and the testing of others and its actual knowledge of incidents involving its Jeep Cherokee accumulated over roughly the last twenty years, Chrysler callously and with total disregard for the safety of the occupants of these vehicles, failed to take appropriate precautions from the obvious danger to the lives of said occupants."
The lawsuit accuses that Boyce "carelessly, recklessly and negligently operated his vehicle so that it collided with the rear of" the Jeep, according to the complaint.
"Defendant, Boyce, was negligent in that he failed to keep a proper lookout, to operate his vehicle at a reasonable speed under the circumstances and conditions then and there existing, failed to stop his vehicle as reasonably and legally required, and operated his vehicle after consuming an amount of alcoholic beverages sufficient to impair substantially his ability to operate his vehicle," the complaint states.
The suit cites as reasons for Boyce's "conscious disregard for the rights of others" that he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 at the time of the crash, and that, at the time he began drinking he knew doing so would impair his ability to drive.
The lawsuits also claims Chrysler committed a breach of its implied warranty.
Each plaintiff seeks $25 million in compensatory damages from the defendants.