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Chrysler Made To Recall 91,000 Cars

March 21, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Chrysler Corp. says it will recall 91,000 cars after a federal appeals court denied the company’s request to block the recall ordered by a lower court.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the request, 2-1, in a brief order Friday.

Last month, Chrysler lost an unprecedented challenge of a government recall order when a federal judge told the automaker to recall 91,000 Cirrus and Stratus cars from the 1995 model year because their rear seat belt systems are unsafe.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered the company to notify owners by the end of March that the 1995 model cars were being recalled. Sullivan is still deciding whether Chrysler should be assessed a civil fine of up to $1.6 million for failing to recall the vehicles earlier.

``We’re disappointed with the ruling,″ said Lew Goldfarb, Chrysler’s associate general counsel. ``We’ll abide by the decision and recall (the) vehicles even though they were in compliance at the time of manufacture and are safe.″

Phil Recht, deputy administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the government was pleased that the agency’s decision to order a recall had been reinforced by two courts.

``The agency’s interest is to have the vehicles recalled so the seat belt anchors can be fixed so these vehicles provide the same level of safety as other vehicles on the road,″ Recht said.

``Seat belts double your chances of survival in a crash. They are the holy grail of auto safety,″ he said.

Goldfarb said Chrysler officials are still appealing the case. Friday’s ruling only affects Chrysler’s request to quickly block the recall, prompted by the lower court’s decision that the company must notify customers by the end of this month.

Chrysler is the only company ever to fight in court a recall based on a car’s failure to meet a safety test standard. When Chrysler announced in 1996 that it would fight the recall in court, government officials were taken by surprise.

The government’s anchor standard had been in effect for more than 25 years and, during that time, had been violated 54 times. In every case, until Chrysler refused, the car company recalled the vehicles to strengthen the belt anchor.

Chrysler said the anchor system was safe and had never failed in cars on the road. In court, company officials argued the test the government used to determine the recall was unfair because regulators were not clear about its specifications so companies could duplicate it.

The dispute started in 1996 when, during a routine government safety compliance test, a nut anchoring the rear seat belt of a 1995 Cirrus pulled out of the floor. The same anchor system was used in all Cirrus and Dodge Stratus cars built between June 30, 1994, and May 15, 1995.

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