A jury in Georgia has awarded $150 million to a family that sued Fiat Chrysler over a deadly crash involving their 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The lawsuit centered around a fiery crash that killed a 4-year-old boy when the family’s Jeep was rear-ended by another vehicle. Following a two-week trial, the jury found Fiat Chrysler at fault for failing to warn customers about fire risks associated with the Jeep’s rear fuel tank.
Upon hearing the jury’s decision, Fiat Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese said the company was disappointed with the verdict and will consider appealing. FCA blamed the accident on the other driver who hit the family’s Jeep from behind.
“FCA US is disappointed and will consider an appeal of this verdict,” the company said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that under Georgia Law the jury was prevented from taking into account extensive data submitted to NHTSA during a three year investigation, which included more than 20 years of rear impact accident data for tens of millions of vehicles. This and other information provided the basis for NHTSA’s determination that the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee did not pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”
FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne even issued a taped deposition in the case, claiming the fire-ravaged Jeep had always been perfectly safe despite a formal recall of 1.56 million Jeep SUVs over real fuel tanks with increased fire risk. (The 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee involved in this specific crash was not among those recalled.) His pre-taped testimony was played during the trial.
However, the jury didn’t see it that way and said Chrysler acted with “reckless and wanton disregard” and ordered it to pay 99 percent of the damages. Jurors found the driver of the vehicle that rear-ended the Grand Cherokee responsible for the other 1 percent, according to Reuters.
The young child was killed when the Jeep he was riding in was struck from behind, which ruptured the fuel tank and caused an “inferno,” according to the family’s lawyer Jim Butler. He argued if the fuel tank been placed farther forward on the vehicle, it would have been better protected.
According to Reuters, concerns over fuel-tank placement prompted Chrysler to announce in 2013 that it would recall 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokees, along with the Jeep Liberty’s from model years 2002-07. The company also said it would conduct a “customer satisfaction campaign” for 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
The announcement came after Chrysler initially denied there was a safety issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked more than 50 deaths to the fuel-tank issues.