Alfred Davis was unaware that he had accidentally turned on the electric seat heaters in his brand new 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with his clipboard. The 59-year-old owner of a Texas oil field remembered smelling a strange odor, as though something was burning.
Davis, who was paralyzed from the waist down from the result of a car accident two decades before, was unable to notice that the seat heater had reached a scalding 165 degrees, a temperature that is 60 degrees above the recommended top temperature.
It suddenly dawned on Davis that it was his legs that were burning as a result of his driver’s seat. He went to touch the seat and remembered the seat was “almost on fire.”
He sustained third-degree burns from the overheated car seat. His injuries required multiple skin grafts and a months-long stay at the hospital, both of which resulted in costly medical bills.
Faulty seat heaters that cause seats to reach dangerous temperatures have been an issue with many carmakers. By 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted investigations on the seat warmers of six carmakers, resulting in nine recalls.
Paraplegics like Davis are especially vulnerable to overheated seat heaters. When they do notice they are sitting on a dangerously hot seat, it is often too late. The “integrity of the skin” can be forever compromised as a result, said David Greenhalgh, chief of burns at Shriners Hospital for Children in North Carolina, in a 2011 interview with USA Today. Even at 120 degrees, it would take 10 minutes for 3rd degree burns to occur.
Mostyn Law, Davis’ attorney, worked with a team of experts to see firsthand how the seat heaters in the 2003 and 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees worked. Their tests revealed that these seat heaters reached temperatures as high as 165 degrees. At that temperature these seat heaters could cause significant physical damage to the drivers and “a possibility of fire in unoccupied seats,” said Mostyn in a 2006 interview with The Gainesville Sun.
Davis and Mostyn Law filed a suit against the Chrysler Group (the owners of Jeep) and Johnson Controls Inc., the maker of the car seats. By using forensic evidence and critical documents, Mostyn Law and The Chrysler Group reached a resolution in the severe burn litigation.
By 2006, Chrysler settled three similar cases and recalled 111,700 Grand Cherokees to replace their seat warmers.