NEWS: Chrysler Disputes Need for Recall of Headrests in Florida Trial

NEWS: Chrysler Disputes Need for Recall of Headrests in Florida TrialPlaintiffs are alleging in a case against Chrysler that their active head restraints (AHRs) are deploying suddenly and without warning, causing the risk of accidents and head injuries.

Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, and Ram have issued a Service Bulletin explaining that the active head restraint is held in place by what Law 360 calls a “cheap plastic pin.” That pin can degrade over time and cause the AHR to deploy prematurely. The AHR is designed to move the headrest forward when there is a rear-end collision. That prevents the head from moving backward and prevents the whipping back and forth of the head. The defect is that the AHR activates where there is no crash, thus pushing the head forward and causing injury. Also, when the AHR moves forward unexpectedly, it causes a distraction which in turn can cause you or someone else to have a collision.

Finally, the defect causes the AHR system not to operate when there is a collision. Therefore, the driver ends up with the whiplash that the system was designed to protect. Per Law 360, “Vehicles include several new and used Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler SUVs and vans that were purchased or leased between 2010 and 2018 in Florida.”

The impacted vehicles with AHR headrests include:

  • 2010-2011 Dodge Nitro
  • 2010-2012 Jeep Liberty
  • 2010-2012 Dodge Caliber
  • 2010-2017 Jeep Patriot or Compass
  • 2010-2018 Dodge Journey
  • 2010-2018 Dodge Caravan
  • 2011-2018 Dodge Durango
  • 2011-2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee

An attorney for Chrysler disagreed that a recall was necessary to replace faulty automatic head restraints in its vehicles, telling a jury of seven people in a Florida federal courtroom on January 17 that the company gave customers extended warranties because only a small fraction of the restraints had inadvertently deployed.

Law 360 reports:

During opening arguments in Fort Lauderdale federal court, FCA attorney Fred J. Fresard of Klein Thomas Lee & Fresard told the jury that the headrest mechanisms in several of its vehicle models are built to prevent whiplash in the event of a collision, that they have no common design defect and that claims the devices “exploded” as drivers operated their cars are “baseless.”

“It’s not like an airbag has gone off and it’s no longer useful as an airbag,” Fresard said. “It’s not an explosion, it’s a click forward.”

However, plaintiffs allege the active head restraints (AHRs) are held in place by a “cheap plastic pin” that degraded over time and caused the AHR to deploy prematurely.

What is AHR?

AHR stands for active head restraint, a system designed to reduce the impact of whiplash. AHR systems are located in the front and passenger headrests. When a rear-end collision occurs, the AHR system works by extending the front half of the headrest forward to catch the occupant’s head. This all happens within milliseconds. It reduces the distance between the head and the headrest, which reduces the risk of whiplash injury by preventing the neck vertebrae from stretching.

The AHR system activates when the occupant’s lower back presses against the backrest, moving the headrest diagonally upwards. This particular AHR system is made by Grammer AG.

What are the plaintiffs alleging in this case?

Plaintiffs’ counsel is alleging that the plastic pin holding the AHR is subject to cracking because of a chemical in the pin’s coating that affects the hard plastic, and due to the constant pressure the pins are under. Counsel states that their medical experts will explain that drivers and passengers can suffer a “slight brain injury” when AHRs go off without warning. This also causes a serious risk of collision when AHRs deploy suddenly while the vehicle is in operation.

Plaintiffs also state that Grammer knew about the problems as of production in 2010 and that the company was in “constant communication” about the issue.

Reports from drivers say that the deployment of the AHR sounded like a “gunshot,” yet no tests were undertaken to see whether drivers were startled or distracted while behind the wheel.

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