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AMC hands out millions in Jeep crash suits

DETROIT -- Deaths and injuries in rollover crashes of Jeep CJ models have cost American Motors Corp. more than $9 million in court settlements since 1973 and at least 17 other lawsuits are pending, the Detroit Free Press reported Sunday.

The Free Press said in a copyright story that AMC is appealing a $2.2 million verdict and has paid still other Jeep accident victims -- on the condition they do not reveal terms of the settlement.

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The data came from a study of court files and interviews with attorneys, safety experts and company officials. The information indicates the automaker is having difficulty defending itself against Jeep safety lawsuits.

At least one AMC engineer, Robert Blaine, who testifies for the company in Jeep accident cases, has recommended against going to trial in some cases because AMC would likely be found liable for injuries suffered.

In response to the newspaper's findings, AMC called CJs 'special vehicles designed for special people. Not for everybody ... '

The Jeep CJ-5 and CJ-7, two of AMC's hottest selling products until recently, are narrow-track utility vehicles with a high center of gravity.

A study released last spring by the University of Michigan's Highway Safety Research Institute found that such vehicles -- particularly Jeep CJs -- are especially prone to roll over during certain driving situations.

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The study, which received new attention recently when it was featured on the CBS television program '60 Minutes,' also found the Jeep CJ design did not adequately protect passengers in rollover accidents and concluded 'the stability, crashworthiness and occupant protection features of utility vehicles need to be improved.'

While conceding the Jeep has a high center of gravity, AMC challenged the Institute tests and maintained drivers must avoid excessive speed during cornering.

'To say they are designed differently from regular passenger cars and that, therefore, they handle differently, is to state the obvious,' the company said.

AMC estimates that some 600,000 Jeep CJs are on the road today in the United States.

The company refused comment on how many Jeep cases have been filed, but the newspaper's study indicated at least $9 million has been paid in out-of-court settlements.

AMC is currently appealing a $2.2 million court award to a Canton, Ohio, brother and sister. They were passengers in a JeepCJ-7 that rolled over in April 1976, killing the couple who owned it and leaving Carl Leichtamer with a skull fracture and his sister, Jean, 21, a paraplegic.

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