$150M Verdict against Jeep Manufacturer — Cut to $40M — Heads to the Georgia Court of Appeals

Gavel and money isolated on white

In Fiat Chrysler Automobiles v. Walden, No. A16A1285, Fiat Chrysler is appealing the trial court’s final judgment on liability and damages in a case involving a high-speed rear-end collision that punctured the gas tank of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, causing it to explode. At trial, the family of a 4-year-old boy killed in the crash argued that the design of the jeep was defective and dangerous in that its gas tank was located in the crush-zone between the rear bumper and axle. The family also presented evidence that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had previously requested of Chrysler a recall of more than two million vehicles based upon the higher likelihood of fire because of the position of the gas tank, but Chrysler refused. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury awarded $150 million dollars to the child’s family and determined that Fiat Chrysler was 99 percent responsible for the damages after finding that it acted in “reckless or wanton disregard for human life” in the design of the 1999 Grand Cherokee and that its conduct was the proximate cause of the boy’s death. The jury’s award was later reduced by the court to $40 million.

Fiat Chrysler appealed the trial court’s final judgment, arguing that the trial judge permitted the plaintiffs’ attorneys to  make “highly inappropriate” suggestions to the jury – such as gauging damages based on the CEO’s income and putting the company’s executives in prison. The manufacturer also noted that the reduced award is still higher than any on record in Georgia and further argued that the reduction did not cure the multitude of errors that rendered the trial fundamentally unfair. Specifically, it was noted that the jeep should be protected by the statute of repose, which limits the time frame of liability to 10 years from manufacturing. The incident jeep was manufactured in 1999; the crash occurred in 2012. Fiat Chrysler has requested that the Court of Appeals reverse and enter judgment for the manufacturer or, in the alternative, order a new trial in which it may fairly present its defenses.

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