Last month, the company that builds and markets electric Chrysler Pacifica minivans recalled almost 20,000 vehicles, saying they should not be charged or even parked near buildings because they might explode.
This week, a Chula Vista man became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of fraud, negligence and violating state laws against false advertising, among other allegations
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Diego by Scott Olsen, who said in the complaint that he needed the minivan to transport his disabled son.
“After learning about the recall, Mr. Olsen stopped using his vehicle out of fear of immediate catastrophic injury to himself and his son, Steven,” the complaint states.
FCA US LLC, the company known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, announced Feb. 11 that it was recalling some 19,808 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans in the United States, Canada and elsewhere due to a risk of catching fire.
“Some of the above Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) may experience a fire potentially originating in the center of the vehicle underbody with the ignition in “OFF” mode,” the statement said.
“A vehicle fire can result in increased risk of occupant injury and/ or injury to persons outside the vehicle, as well as property damage,” it added. “The remedy for this condition is not currently available.”
Company officials said a routine review of customer data prompted an internal investigation that identified 12 separate fires in its 2017 and 2018 model year minivans.
All of the fires started while the vehicles were parked and turned off. Eight of the 12 vans were connected to chargers at the time they caught fire, the company said.
FCA US said it had not learned of any injuries or accidents due to the fires.
The minivans use batteries manufactured by LG Energy Solution of South Korea, The battery maker said in its own statement last month that there was no definitive proof that its products were the root cause of the fires.
As a result, the class-action case alleges, buyers like Olsen and thousands of others are left with vehicles that are unsafe to drive, or even park near their homes.
“The class vehicles are at risk of exploding or catching fire due to an unknown root cause, resulting in an immediate risk to the vehicles’ occupants or the property surrounding the vehicles,” the lawsuit asserts.
Messages sent Tuesday to Stelliantis, the parent company of FCA US, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legal complaint.
The global manufacturer makes and markets some 2.5 million vehicles a year under the brand names Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Alfa Romeo and others, the lawsuit states.
The recall announced by FCA US included only the 2017 and 2018 models of plug-in hybrid vans manufactured between August 2016 and August 2018.
According to Olsen, he purchased a 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivan at a dealership in Poway because he needed a larger vehicle to accommodate his adult disabled son.
After researching a number of vehicles suitable to his family needs, Olsen bought the Chrysler Pacifica because the company promoted it as the “most family-friendly minivan in its class.”
In advertisements, FCA US also said “Your family’s safety and security are what matter most,” the complaint states.
But “since the recall, Mr. Olsen has been left with a vehicle that could catch fire at any second, resulting in an immediate risk to his vehicles’ occupants, including his disabled son Steven Olsen, or the property surrounding his vehicle.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Todd W. Robinson, and requests a trial by jury.
Stellantis said in its February statement that once a remedy for the cause of the fires is developed, the company will provide repairs at no cost to consumers.