A $40-million jury verdict was affirmed last month by the Court of Appeals of Georgia. The verdict was awarded to the parents of a 4-year-old boy killed in a 2012 Jeep crash fire. The appellate court rejected Fiat Chrysler’s arguments that certain evidence was wrongly allowed and the award resulted from prejudice. The Court concluded that a lower judge did not err by allowing the parents of Remington Walden to present during a 2015 trial similar crash instances and other evidence to support their theory that by placing the fuel tank behind the vehicle’s rear axle, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and breached its duty to warn that a rear-end crash could result in a gas leak and fire.
Four-year-old Remington was riding in the backseat of a 1999 Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee in March 2012 when it was struck from behind by a pickup truck driven by Bryan Harrell. The rear-located gas tank was punctured and the Jeep Cherokee caught fire, killing the boy.
In 2015, a Georgia state court jury found for the parents, awarding them $120 million in damage for wrongful death, and $30 million in damages for pain and suffering after finding Harrell to be 1 percent at fault and Fiat Chrysler to be 99 percent at fault. The state court judge then denied the automaker’s motion for a new trial, but reduced the wrongful death verdict to $30 million and the pain and suffering damage award to $10 million.
The appellate court ruled the parents had presented sufficient evidence to support their claim that Fiat Chrysler knew that the location of the fuel tank in the 1999 Grand Cherokee was dangerous, yet consciously and deliberately continued to manufacture and sell the vehicle with the gas tank in that location and failed to warn the public of the danger. Among the evidence presented was 17 other instances where a Jeep vehicle with a fuel tank located behind the rear axle was rear-ended, causing gas to leak.
The Waldens are represented by Karsten Bicknese and Robert H. Betts of Seacrest, Karesh, Tate & Bicknese; James Butler Jr. and James E. Butler III of Butler Wooten & Peak; and L. Catharine Cox and George C. Floyd. The case is Chrysler Group LLC v. Walden et al. in the Court of Appeals for the State of Georgia.