— Fiat Chrysler says the death of 4-year-old Remi Walden in a Jeep gas tank fire is not worth the $150 million awarded by a jury. Calling the jury's damage awards "stunning" and "grossly excessive," Fiat Chrysler has asked a Georgia judge for a new trial in the death of the boy who burned to death in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee fire.
Remi was killed in 2012 while riding in a booster seat in the back of the Grand Cherokee that was stopped and waiting to turn left. The gas tank leaked and engulfed the Jeep in flames when the driver of a Dodge Dakota ran into the rear of the Grand Cherokee. Witnesses could only watch in horror as Remington burned to death.
Remi's family sued Fiat Chrysler (formerly Chrysler Group) accusing the automaker of manufacturing the Jeep with the gas tank behind the rear axle. Court documents show the Jeep Grand Cherokee that burned had a rear gas tank 11 inches from the back of the SUV and located 6 inches lower than the bottom of the Jeep.
In Remi's wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued Remington's death was completely preventable and that prior to the crash, Chrysler knew of 17 rear-impact crashes where Jeep gas tanks leaked. One of those accidents occurred in New Jersey in 1998, where a lady escaped her burning jeep and caused her mother to write Chrysler and warn the automaker how dangerous it would be for a child in a car seat.
Remington Walden burned to death 14 years after that letter was mailed.
The jury found the automaker acted with a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life” and failed in its duty to warn customers about the dangers. The jury said Fiat Chrysler was 99 percent at fault and the driver who struck the Jeep was 1 percent at fault for Remington's death. Further, the jury awarded $120 million as the value of Remington's full life and another $30 million for pain and suffering.
Fiat Chrysler says the $150 million award is more than 11 times the largest award upheld on appeal, at least in the state of Georgia. Amazingly, the automaker also says the award for Remington's suffering is too large because Remi didn't have to suffer long before he died. According to Fiat Chrysler, Remi probably only burned alive for one minute before the flames killed him.
In the eyes of Fiat Chrysler, that one minute of burning alive isn't worth as much as the jury believed.
The automaker further argues the jury wasn't thinking straight when it awarded the $150 million because the jury was blinded by its personal prejudices against the automaker.
Chrysler argued the severity of the impact is what caused the gas tank to leak, but the plaintiffs argued other than the burns, all Remington had was a broken leg. The driver of the Jeep and the driver of the other vehicle were not injured.
Fiat Chrysler then named a pathologist to testify against the medical arguments, but the automaker chose not to call the pathologist to the witness stand.
The automaker has been sued before over the dangerous location of the Jeep gas tanks, but the Chrysler always settled those suits. The case of Remington Walden was the first Jeep gas tank lawsuit that went to a jury trial.
Fiat Chrysler changed the location of the Jeep gas tanks with the 2005 models, moving the tanks closer toward the middle of the SUVs. However, at least 75 people have died in Jeep fires due to the old location of the gas tanks.