In 2015, a jury in Georgia awarded $150 million to the family of Remington “Remi” Walden, a 4 year-old boy who died in a fiery rear-end collision in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Jeep was never recalled, although the jury said the gas tank behind the rear axle was defective. The jury found Chrysler 99% at fault and said the company acted with “reckless and wanton disregard” for human life in designing the vehicle.
The $150 million verdict was quickly slashed to just $40 million by a judge in Georgia. Fiat Chrysler appealed it anyway, claiming the jury should not have been allowed to see evidence from 17 other fiery rear-end crashes.
On November 15, a federal court in Georgia denied the auto-maker’s appeal and upheld the $40 million verdict.
Around 2.7 million Jeeps from model-years 1993-2004 have a gas tank located behind the rear axle and below the bumper, like the Ford Pinto. In rear-end collisions, the fuel tank can rupture and explode into flames.
When regulators tried to get them off the road, Fiat Chrysler flatly refused — and in 2013, recalled only 1.56 million older-model Jeep Grand Cherokees (1993-1998) and Jeep Libertys (2002-2007).
Another 1.14 million newer Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1999-2004 model-years were included in a “service action” but not recalled, despite a similar fuel-tank placement between the rear axle and bumper.
Two years into the recall compromise, only 4% of Jeep Grand Cherokees and 27% of Jeep Libertys were fixed. The repair — a new trailer hitch — was never proven to work. Hitches with sharp edges might actually puncture the gas tank.
In July 2015, Fiat Chrysler was hit with a record-setting $105 million fine for failing to repair 23 safety defects on 11 million vehicles.
U.S. safety regulators say at least 75 people have died in Jeep fires, which are still occurring on a regular basis. In 2014, a pregnant woman in Michigan died just a few miles from Chrysler’s headquarters while driving a 2003 Jeep Liberty.
Source: Wall Street Journal