A Georgia jury has awarded $150 million to the family of a 4-year-old boy who was killed when a Jeep Grand Cherokee burst into flames after an auto accident.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the family of Remington Walden, who died in March 2012 when the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee he was riding in was rear-ended, causing the fuel tank to leak and then catch on fire. The boy’s death is one of at least 75 fatalities linked to Jeep fuel tank fires, which have been blamed on the design of their rear-mounted gas tanks.
Following a nine-day trial in Decatur County, Georgia, Chrysler was found to be 99% responsible for the boy’s death. The driver of the pick-up that struck the vehicle was found 1% responsible for the boy’s death.
Nearly 1.6 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty vehicles were recalled in June 2013, due to a risk of the gas tanks igniting or leaking fuel in rear-impact accidents.
Chrysler issued the Jeep gas tank recall in 2013, impacting 2002–2007 Jeep Liberty and 1993–1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles. The action was taken after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determined that the positioning of the gas tank behind the rear axle of the SUV are within the “crush zone” when struck from behind.
Prior to the recall, the Center for Auto Safety pushed for more than 5 million Jeeps to be recalled due to the risk of death from fire following a rear-impact accident. However, Chrysler resisted issuing the Jeep recall, maintaining that the vehicles were safe.
It was not until the NHTSA produced a three year back-track of accident reports involving fatal fiery rear-end collisions in the SUV’s and four more people dying in fiery crashes during the “denial stage” that Chrysler Group agreed that a “public concern” was present and agree to recall 1.6 million of the vehicles.
However, Chrysler failed to recall the 1999 vehicles, including the one driven by Remington’s aunt at the time of the accident, saying that federal regulators determined that they did not pose an unreasonable risk to drivers and passengers. Instead, the vehicle is part of a group of Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles the company is inspecting instead of recalling. The company has agreed to install trailer hitches on the back of the vehicles to protect the gas tank during low-speed auto accidents.
The jury ordered Fiat Chrysler to pay the family $30 million for the boy’s pain and suffering and $120 million for wrongful death. Chrysler officials say they are considering an appeal.