Manitoba Public Insurance is taking Fiat Chrysler to court after two of its vehicles caught fire in Manitoba, alleging there was faulty wiring in the sun visors.
The owners of one of the vehicles reported a fire during a trip in their 2011 Dodge Durango, even after having work done on the SUV's sun visor months earlier as recommended in a July 2014 safety recall.
"It was completely engulfed by the time the fire department arrived," said Rodel Morrison, who with his wife, Jill, owns the vehicle, named in one of two separate lawsuits filed by the public insurer.
On June 4, 2015, Jill and her mother were returning home to the small town of Melita from Brandon when the fire started.
"They were about 10 minutes from home and then some smoke started to billow up from under the driver's sun visor, and she immediately hit the phone button on the stereo and phoned me and said, 'Well, what do I do?'" Morrison said.
'There was fire actually dripping down ... like it was melting the foam and it was dripping fire onto her leg.' - Rodel Morrison, vehicle owner
His wife pulled the visor down and saw a burnt hole with smoke billowing out, so she turned onto a side road and stopped.
"In those three minutes she said there was fire actually dripping down onto her leg off of the roof, like it was melting the foam and it was dripping fire onto her leg," Morrison said.
The safety recall warned that "wiring for the vanity lamp in the sun visor may short circuit, after a service repair is performed. If the vanity lamp wiring shorts, there is an increased risk of fire."
After receiving the notice, the Morrisons dutifully brought their car in for the fix, but that didn't prevent the fire that consumed their SUV several month later.
"I just feel that Chrysler's solution was just a patch," Morrison said, adding the company could have come up with a better solution to a "huge fire hazard."
He said wiring spacers were installed in his Durango's sun visor as recommended, but more should have been done.
Morrison said he and his wife warned everyone they knew who owned Jeeps or Durangos about the problem.
'Problems with that recall'
A few months after the 2015 fire in the Durango, they received a second notice, telling them their vehicle could still be at risk for a fire if service repairs are done and that dealers will replace the sun visors.
The Automobile Protection Association said the recalls are on its radar.
"There were problems with that recall," said APA president George Iny. "Vehicles continued to catch fire in some cases after the recall so Chrysler had to issue a recall of the recall."
But Iny said he's surprised MPI is taking the automaker to court.
"Usually these deals are settled out of court and with confidentiality," Iny said, "and often the government isn't told about them."
"I am surprised, really astonished, to see that a car maker would let MPIC have to go this far before stepping up to the plate and paying off the vehicle," Iny said.
A previous case of a visor fire in a Durango following an initial recall fix was reported by CBC last year in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said it doesn't comment on ongoing litigation but in a statement to CBC it said, "Safety is paramount at FCA Canada. We urge our customers to heed the instructions on recall notices so we may help them resolve any outstanding issues. Those uncertain about the status of their vehicles are encouraged to inquire with registered dealers, or check their VINs using any of the various online search engines."
Fiat Chrysler didn't say how many reports it had of fires among vehicles affected by the recall but acknowledged that "overheating conditions were reported among a small percentage of vehicles (<0.02%) serviced in connection with a related recall, conducted previously."
In an email, Fiat Chrysler said an investigation found that if the service procedure was not followed "precisely" it "may leave vehicles susceptible to a short-circuit, creating a potential fire hazard."
MPI declined to say why it decided to pursue this case in court. Spokesperson Brian Smiley said, "The corporation does not comment on active litigation matters."
Insurer seeks $34K for Durango damages
The lawsuit seeks damages totalling $34,725.67 for the Dodge Durango, which the claim says was damaged beyond repair.
As for Rodel, he's pleased the public insurer is taking the company to court.
"I'm glad. I think they should make Chrysler accountable for this mistake they made," he said.
While no one in his family was injured in the incident, he worries others might not be so lucky.
"Someone leaves their child in a vehicle, they run in ... to grab something," Morrison said, "and they end up visiting for a couple of minutes and they come out and their kid could be strapped in the vehicle and it be engulfed in flames because it only took three or four minutes for our vehicle to go from smoke to fire dripping down from the roof."
The MPI statement of claim also names the Brandon dealership where the Morrisons bought their vehicle — Murray Chrysler Westman Ltd. — as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Murray Chrysler Westman general manager Chris Smale said he had not yet received the statement of claim and declined to comment.
Jeep Overland went up in flames in 2016
In a second lawsuit filed the same day, June 1, MPI is suing FCA North America Holdings, FCA US, FCA Canada, and the dealership Winnipeg Dodge Chrysler Ltd. related to another fire.
The claim seeks $28,828.14 plus other costs in a case involving a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. The claim alleges "the Jeep was designed and manufactured with sun visor lamp wiring which was prone to overheating, electrical failure and fire."
'We did everything correctly.' - Glen Trafford, a vice-president at the Walt Morris Group of Companies
Winnipeg Dodge sold the Jeep to a buyer in May 2015. Then on August 30, 2016, the vehicle caught fire while it was being driven on Highway 7 near Balmoral, Man., the claim said.
MPI alleges "the fire was caused by defects in the design, manufacture, assembly, and installation of the wiring."
Glen Trafford, a vice-president at the Walt Morris Group of Companies, which owns Winnipeg Dodge Chrysler, said any fault lies with the manufacturer, not with his dealership.
He said when the customer bought the vehicle, it had passed a safety inspection as required by MPI and there was no outstanding recall on the visor lamp wiring at that time.
"We have clearly met all responsibility to this issue," Trafford said. "We did everything correctly."
A safety recall on the visor lamp wiring was issued after the customer purchased the Jeep, Trafford said.
The allegations in the lawsuits have not been proven in court.
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