Declaring that Chrysler acted with “reckless or wanton disregard for human life in the design or sale” of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and its fire-prone fuel tank, a Georgia jury on Thursday ordered the automaker to pay $150 million to the family of a 4-year old boy who burned to death in after a crash in 2012.
Remington Walden, 4, was riding in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee when it was struck from behind by a pickup truck in 2012, Bloomberg reports. The Jeep’s fuel tank ruptured, causing it to catch fire, killing Walden when he was trapped inside.
The truck driver was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison, but the Georgia jury decreed that Chrysler’s design was “99 percent” responsible for the boy’s death.
The issue with the fuel tank on that generation of Grand Cherokee is its location. It’s mounted behind the rear axle and in such a way that it won’t be vulnerable during off-roading, but when struck from behind the tank can rupture and result in a fire.
The fuel tank issue has been linked to 75 deaths. Fiat Chrysler reluctantly agreed to a recall of 1.56 million older Grand Cherokee and Liberty models with the piece of equipment in 2013. Still, the majority of those recalled Jeeps remain unfixed.
Fiat Chrysler officials said they will consider appealing the decision, and said in a blog post that jurors were prevented from hearing some of the evidence in the case. The fuel tanks on some models were redesigned in 2005 to move them more to the middle of the vehicle, and the attorney for the Walden argued that this was done quietly to fix a defect Chrysler was aware of but never acknowledged publicly, Bloomberg reported.
The Georgia case was the first one involving the Jeep gas tank fires; another is set to begin in January.
Photo credit NHTSA
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