Fiat Chrysler US, back then called Chrysler Group LLC, decided to relocate the fuel tank of its 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee from the perilous “crush zone” immediately after the rear bumper to a safer location closer to the middle of the model.
According to the lawyer that is suing the company on behalf of a family that lost a 4-year-old son, ten years later the company has not provided any documents or evidence to explain why they decided to introduce such a massive change – which needed years of engineering and approvals. The fate of the trial in Bainbridge, Georgia, could hinge on the answer to that simple question, as the boy’s family has accused the older design to be the cause for their son’s death from burns inflicted by a fire that was started when the car – a 1999 Grand Cherokee – was crashed from behind. The plaintiffs lawyer, James Butler, claimed in court Fiat Chrysler chose to destroy a database of engineering documents that referred to the engineering change. That would have proved the company wanted to mitigate a safety defect they never acknowledged to have existed.
Fiat Chrysler US, the subsidiary of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, said the design change was due to a model refresh that involved relocating the spare tire. “Chrysler says it has no documents,” to “ a major design change,” the lawyer told the court in his opening statement. “The obvious reason is that Chrysler knew the very thing it denies to you in this courtroom.” The trial that was started on behalf of the parents of Remington Walden, who died in 2012, is bringing back into attention the massive safety campaign that involves older Jeeps and in which the company continues to deny any wrongdoing.