Jeep fuel-tank fire death verdict slashed to $40 million

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 28, 2015 4:23 PM

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge in the state of Georgia has reduced a $150 million award to $40 million for the family of a young boy killed when the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was riding was rear-ended and burst into flames, according to orders released on Tuesday.

Judge J. Kevin Chason in Decatur County said the family of Remington Walden should receive $30 million for his wrongful death and $10 million for pain and suffering. He also denied a motion from Chrysler, the vehicle manufacturer, for a new trial, calling the evidence presented against it during a nearly two-week trial earlier this year “overwhelming.”

Chrysler is now known as FCA US, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

FCA spokesman Michael Palese said the reduced damages did not fix the “many errors” tainting the verdict and that the company was weighing its legal options. A lawyer for the Walden family, Jim Butler, was not immediately available. The court orders released Tuesday indicated that plaintiffs’ lawyers had accepted the reduced verdict.

FCA had sought to toss the verdict, handed down in April. It said jurors had acted irrationally and were biased against the company.

Walden was killed when the Jeep he was riding in was struck from behind, rupturing the fuel tank and creating an “inferno,” according to Butler.

The Jeep’s fuel tank was placed near the back of the vehicle, which plaintiffs said made it vulnerable to rear-end collisions.

FCA’s lawyers said during the trial that the fire did not cause Walden’s death and blamed the driver of the other car.

Concerns over fuel-tank placement prompted Chrysler to announce in 2013 that it would recall 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees, along with Jeep Libertys from model years 2002-2007. The company also said it would conduct a “customer satisfaction campaign” for 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, in which it reached out to customers and offered to inspect certain vehicles.

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The company had initially denied there was a safety issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked more than 50 deaths to the fuel-tank problems.

On Sunday, NHTSA announced FCA would pay a record $105 million civil penalty over lapses in safety recalls involving millions of vehicles.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Lisa Von Ahn)