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Georgia Jury Awards Family $150 Million in Jeep Cherokee Child Death

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Back in the summer of 2013, Chrysler agreed to a massive Jeep recall of 1.56 million vehicles because of problems with the placement of the gas tank. Older-model Jeep Libertys and Jeep Grand Cherokees were designed so that the gas tank was in a “crush zone” behind the rear axle. The design was considered defective because a rear-end collision could cause the tank to burst into flames.

The defect was linked to a number of vehicle crashes in which Jeep occupants were severely injured or killed. Many of those occupants were children. Such was the case in a 2012 crash that killed 4-year-old Remington Walden. A Georgia jury recently awarded Walden’s family $150 million in damages in their wrongful death lawsuit.

Firey Accident Kills Young Boy

In March 2012, Emily Newsome was taking her nephew, Remington (“Remi”) to a tennis lesson. She was driving her 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee—one of the vehicles the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) suggested should be recalled in 2013—and had belted her nephew in a booster seat in the back. She was rear-ended by a Dodge Dakota. The resulting accident caused the defective gas tank to burst into flames. Witnesses could not get the young boy out of the car in time, and he was burned to death.

Remi’s parents, Bryan and Lindsay Walden, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Chrysler. They stated in their complaint that the company knew about the defective gas tank and yet failed to do anything about it to protect consumers.

Defective Gas Tanks Leave a Trail of Tears

The CAS noted in their 2013 letter to Chrysler and Fiat that Remi wasn’t the only boy to die tragically in a Jeep gas-tank related accident. In February 2006, 4-year-old Cassidy Jarmon was also killed when her mother’s 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee was struck from behind and burst into flames. In May 2011, 22-month-old Cole Hazleton was also killed when his mother’s 1966 Cherokee was similarly hit from behind.

The CAS added that as of May 2013, a total of 349 fatal fire crashes had occurred resulting in 478 deaths, at least 157 of which were due to fire. (Accidents occurred in 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees, 2002-2007 Jeep Libertys, and 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees.)

“There has not been a single confirmed fire death since Chrysler moved the fuel tanks from behind the rear axle in 2005 for the Grand Cherokee and 2008 for the Liberty,” they noted.

The Georgia jury agreed, ruling that Chrysler “acted with reckless disregard for human life in selling the family of Remington ‘Remi’ Walden a 1999 Jeep with a gas tank mounted behind the rear axle,” according to CBS News.

Chrysler Offers Only Partial Solutions

Chrysler initially resisted recalling these vehicles, rejecting an initial request from the NHTSA. They agreed only after suffering intense pressure from the government. Still, their 2013 recall fell short of that desired by the NHTSA, involving less than half of the vehicles the administration said were at risk. Chrysler maintained their vehicles were safe.

The Georgia trial took only nine days, after which Chrysler was found to be 99 percent responsible for Remi’s death, with the other ten percent going to the driver of the vehicle that rear-ended his aunt’s Jeep. Chrysler has yet to issue a recall for the year and model of Jeep driven by Emily Newsome at the time of the accident—to date, they have it on a list of vehicles being “inspected” for potential problems. They’ve offered only a partial solution—installing trailer hitches on the back of the vehicles to partially protect the tank during low-speed accidents.

The jury ordered Fiat Chrysler to pay the family $120 million for wrongful death and $30 million for pain and suffering. According to Bloomberg, this is the eighth-largest jury award in the U.S. for auto product defect verdicts.

Chrysler has stated that they will consider an appeal.

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  1. John H says:
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    Chrysler is 99% responsible, and the driver is 10% liable? Ummm….