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Report: Jeep Grand Cherokee Investigation Expanding
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal investigation into a potential safety defect in Jeep Grand Cherokees has expanded significantly in recent days, based on new reports of scores of incidents as well as three previously undisclosed deaths, according to records, Friday's Los Angeles Times reported.
The paper said the deaths occurred when Grand Cherokees idling in ``park'' allegedly lurched into reverse without warning, trapping and crushing bystanders and motorists.
DaimlerChrysler AG, maker of the popular sport-utility vehicle, has entered into confidential settlements in at least four lawsuits arising from such accidents, according to records and interviews, the Times said. Three involved injuries; the fourth, a death, it added.
The paper said the fatalities and sealed settlements have heightened the urgency of the probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (news - web sites) and raise questions of whether the auto maker should have promptly notified authorities.
NHTSA's investigation was prompted by consumer complaints, not an alert from DaimlerChrysler.
NHTSA has now received 144 consumer complaints of ''inadvertent rollaway in reverse'' involving 1995-1999 Grand Cherokees, including an estimated 100 accidents and some 40 injuries. One fatality has been reported to NHTSA; the Los Angeles Times said it had confirmed two others from police and court records, and interviews.
That represents a significant increase from the 48 complaints, 32 accidents, 14 injuries and no fatalities logged by the agency when it announced the investigation last month.
The paper said DaimlerChrysler officials say the company is fully cooperating with the investigation, and there has been no attempt to withhold information. The company initially said the problems were most likely caused by driver error and not its transmissions. It has not acknowledged any liability in the settlements.
``We don't hesitate to alert our customers when we become alarmed over something,'' the paper quoted DaimlerChrysler spokesman Mike Aberlich as saying. ``But you have to be careful not to overreact as well. ... You look for patterns, and so far we haven't seen any.''
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