The family of four year-old Remington Walden, known as “Remi,” filed a lawsuit against the SUV manufacturer, Chrysler. They allege that the company demonstrated a reckless disregard for human life by selling Remi’s family a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a gas tank mounted behind the rear axle. This design, they allege, is defective.
According to the Associated Press, young Remi was in the Jeep with his aunt on his way to a tennis lesson in March 2012 when the SUV was hit by a pickup truck from behind. The impact caused the fuel tank to leak and caused the Jeep to go up in flames. The explosion and subsequent fire killed Remi. Witnesses to the crash saw Remi struggling to escape from the burning SUV and heard him screaming for help.
It was later determined that the fuel tanks in these models have very little structure to protect them if they are struck from behind. The tanks, therefore, are susceptible to fires and leaks. At least seventy-five people have died in car fires resulting from the rear-mounted fuel tanks.
Remi’s family filed a lawsuit against Chrysler, alleging that the company placed the gas tank in a crush zone behind the rear axle. The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendant company knew of the danger of putting a gas tank in that location, but nevertheless failed to do anything about it.
Remi’s family has been awarded $150 million by a Decatur County, Georgia jury. The jury ruled that Chrysler was 99% at fault for the crash and that the driver of the pickup truck was 1% at fault. The jurors agreed that Chrysler failed to warn Remi’s family of the hazards associated with driving the Jeep. The jury awarded $30 million for Remi’s pain and suffering and an additional $120 million for his loss of life. The trial lasted nine days and Remi’s family was represented by attorney Jim Butler.
The decision came almost two years after Chrysler agreed to a scaled-down recall of older model Jeeps, which had rear-mounted tanks. The recall was a compromise between the company and the government. The National Highway Traffc Safety Administration wanted to recall 2.7 million Jeeps in 2013, but Chrysler was only eventually required to recall 1.56 million. Chrysler alleged that the design of its model was no more dangerous than other SUVs that were built at the same time. The recall allowed Chrysler to install trailer hitches in the rear in order to have an extra layer of protection. Many have criticized this decision, calling the fix and the reduction in number of SUVs inadequate.
Chrysler plans to appeal and continues to state that its vehicles are not defective. Although it would be hard for the company to win an appeal, it seems as if an appeals court will reduce the amount of money damages.
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