US: verdict in case of Jeep fire could spell even more trouble for FCA US image

Last week a Georgia, US, trial by jury decided to award $150 million to the family of a child who died in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, with the result most likely yielding even more lawsuits against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The trial centered around the recalled Jeeps that were in danger of catching fire if struck from behind because of the placement of the gas tank – a design defect according to the plaintiffs. While FCA US – formerly the Chrysler Group LLC – said it was not an inherent flaw, the jury verdict in that case decided other wise and awarded a stunning compensation figure to the family that lost a four-year old in a fiery crash. And the precedent can only mean one thing: more legal disaster heading FCA’s way. The verdict, which followed after a dramatic two-week trial, has also added pressure on the safety regulators. Now, government officials will have to reinvestigate the Jeep SUVs that featured the rear-mounted fuel tank design, standard on older Jeep Libertys and Grand Cherokees. Naturally, plaintiff attorneys and families that lost dear ones in similar accidents also watched with interest the proceedings.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the rear-mounted fuel tank design might have been the contributing factor in 37 crashes that involved fires – resulting in 51 lost lives. But the Center for Auto Safety – an auto safety advocacy organization – believes the tally is far higher, estimating casualties to be as many as 395. The Decatur County jurors in Georgia contended last week that the third largest US carmaker “acted with wanton disregard for human life in the design … of the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee.” Remington Walden, a four-year old boy, was killed in a March 2012 accident when the Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by a pickup truck.