A jury has ordered Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to pay the family of young Remington Walden $150 million. The 4-year-old boy was burned to death in a 2012 car accident. The jury arrived at their verdict after finding that the automaker was reckless in its design of the gas tank of the 1999 Jeep Cherokee.
This is the first trial against Fiat Chrysler over fires involving older Jeep models that burst into flames after they were struck from behind. Auto products liability plaintiffs claim that the gas tanks, which are some 11 inches from the rear of the vehicle, are not safely situated. Already, at least 75 deaths in almost two decades have been linked to the older Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee. Some 1.5 million have been recalled. The 1999 model in which Walden was riding was not part of the recall.
It wasn’t until the 2005 Jeep models that the gas tanks of these vehicles were relocated to a different location on the car between the rear and front axles. The plaintiff’s legal team argued that the redesign was because the older design was flawed. They accused Fiat of destroying documents regarding the modification to hide the real reason for the fix. The automaker, however, maintains that both the newer and older designs are safe.
A tow hitch fix has been designated for the vehicles that were affected by the gas tank issue. However, some experts and auto defects lawyers believe that the fix is not good enough. Chrysler engineer Francois Castaing said, in a deposition that took place a couple of years before the recall, that a tow package does not provide enough protection for the gas tank. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a 2014 test, found that the device offered incremental safety benefits in speed crashes that involved moderate to low speeds. Meantime, the automaker continues to blame speeding by drivers for the car fires.
In the accident that claimed Walden’s life, Fiat Chrysler blamed the driver of the pickup truck that hit the Jeep. The motorist, who is also a defendant in the car accident lawsuit, was sentenced to eight years behind bars after entering a guilty plea to the charge of vehicular homicide. The jury, however, only found the driver to be 1% at fault, placing the rest of the blame on the manufacturer. The family’s lawyers argued that if the fuel tank had been located elsewhere on the Jeep, Walden would have been more protected.
The jury awarded $120 million for the boy’s wrongful death and $30 million to his parents for his pain and suffering.
Our Boston auto products liability lawyers are here to help Massachusetts car crash victims obtain the compensation that they are owed from negligent automakers, drivers, and others. Contact Altman & Atman, LLP today.
Boys’ Jeep Fire Death Results in $150M Verdict Against Fiat Chrysler, Insurance Journal, April 6, 2015
Fiat Chrysler ordered to pay $150M in Jeep Fuel Tank Death, Auto News, April 2, 2015
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