Wrongful Death Case Arising from Jeep Fire Leads to $150 Million Verdict
Eleven women and one man from Bainbridge Georgia, told Chrysler that their defectively designed Jeep Grand Cherokee was dangerous, when they awarded Remington “Remi” Walden’s parents $150,000,000 after Remi died in one of the Jeeps.
On April 2, 2015, this jury of 12 listened to closing arguments as Jeb Butler of Butler Tobin and Jim Butler of Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak explained why Chrysler should pay for the “full value” of Remi’s life.
The verdict came after a nine-day trial during which time the jury was shown evidence that Chrysler had designed a dangerous vehicle, failed to warn of the dangerous threats the vehicle posed, and acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life. Jeb Butler was quoted in Bloomberg Business and the Wall Street Journal: “What Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did was unacceptable and put families at risk, and the jury figured that out.”
This is the first trial against Chrysler (Chrysler Group LLC now known as FCA US LLC) for a rear gas tank lawsuit. Chrysler settled substantially all previous lawsuits, and this is the first time that any firm has taken a rear gas tank lawsuit against Chrysler/Fiat Chrysler Automobiles all the way to a jury verdict. Federal documents show that at least 75 people have died in fuel-fed fire tank explosions. Bryan Walden and Lindsay Strickland, Remi’s parents, refused to settle.
Through the course of trial and discovery, Chrysler admitted that the gas tank caused the fire that engulfed Remi. Chrysler decided to only call one witness from Chrysler to the witness stand–Chief Operating Officer Mark Chenoby. Chrysler’s own COO refused to admit that if an automaker knows of a danger, it has a duty to warn of that danger. FCA Chairman, Sergio Marchionne never attended the trial. However, during Marchionne’s own deposition on January 14, 2015 he admitted that for Chrysler to suggest that it was not liable for this vehicle would be “dishonest.” He also stated under oath that under federal minimum compliance standards, compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 301 was no defense; that the federal standards are only minimum standards; and that compliance with a minimum standard is not sufficient.
One of the strongest outcomes of this $150,000,000 verdict is that it will bring national awareness to the issue. Look at the rear of the vehicle—see that “box” hanging under the back? That’s the gas tank. That’s what exploded and killed Remi. Chrysler knew this could happen, but never told anyone. This verdict may change that.