— The Remington Walden lawsuit award of $40 million will stand as the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against Fiat Chrysler's motion to overturn the judgment.
Four-year-old Remington burned to death in 2012 while riding in a booster seat in the back of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee that was stopped to make a turn when it was hit from behind by a Dodge Dakota.
The gas tank, located behind the rear axle of the Jeep, leaked fuel and the resulting fire engulfed the Jeep. Witnesses could only watch in horror as Remington burned to death.
Remi's family says the only injury he suffered in the crash impact was a broken leg, but it was the ruptured fuel tank that caused Remington's painful and fiery death.
According to the lawsuit, the gas tank of the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee was located behind the rear axle only 11 inches from the back of the vehicle and hanging six inches below the bottom of the SUV.
The Walden family claims Chrysler has settled numerous lawsuits about Jeep gas tank fires out of court and knew of 17 crashes that involved Jeep fuel tank ruptures prior to the crash that killed Remington.
As part of the lawsuit, a Chrysler engineer testified under oath the automaker knew in 1998 that the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee plastic fuel tank would be crushed in a rear-end crash.
Remington's family also pointed out that while the automaker has always said the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee passed all applicable safety regulations when the SUV was sold, Chrysler later moved the gas tanks to the middle of the Jeeps.
The $40 million award may seem extreme to Chrysler, but it's much lower than the original $150 million that was awarded after a jury found the automaker 99 percent responsible for Remington's death.
Chrysler requested a new trial, but the judge said the award could be lowered to $40 million as long as the automaker dropped its bid for a new trial. Chrysler agreed, but then appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals which upheld the earlier ruling.
Chrysler argued a new trial was warranted because the trial judge allowed CEO Sergio Marchionne’s $68 million-a-year salary to be brought into the case. The plaintiffs told the jury an award of $120 million for Remi's life was appropriate because Chrysler's CEO made that amount in less than two years.
Although Chrysler extended its sympathies to the family, the automaker argues Remi died as the result of a reckless truck driver who crashed into the rear-end of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Center for Auto Safety hailed the ruling as a victory for the plaintiffs while poking the government in the side about its lackluster actions concerning Jeep gas tank fires.
"If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had listened to the advice of its own internal experts in 2013, when they recommended the recall not only of the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, but of the 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty as well for the same fire risk, as many as 50 other deaths, including two just last summer in Ohio, probably would have been prevented."
The Walden family is represented by Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak LLP.