After fewer than two hours of deliberation, a jury in Bainbridge, Georgia, found the manufacturer of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee liable for the death of a four-year-old boy who was killed when his family’s SUV went up in flames after being rear-ended, causing its fuel tank to leak. The jury ordered the Fiat Chrysler to pay $150 million in damages to the boy’s family.
For years, Chrysler executives had claimed that the Jeep at issue and others like it were safe. Finally, after vigorous resistance, the corporation caved to public safety concerns and recalled millions of vehicles whose fuel tanks were located where they could cause fires and explosions in routine accidents. At trial, however, the automaker tried to pin blame for the boy’s death on the pickup that rear-ended the Jeep. The jury rejected this excuse, finding that the company had acted with “reckless or wanton disregard for human life in the design or sale” of the Jeep while failing to warn car buyers that the vehicle was hazardous. (See Mike Spector, “Chrysler Hit With $150 Million Penalty in Boy’s Death,” Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2015, available here.)
Even after the verdict, the company refused to accept responsibility, calling the decision “unfortunate” and arguing to the media that the vehicle did not pose an “unreasonable risk” to consumers. Of course, for the family, such explanations are bitterly hollow, creating a void in their lives that no amount of money can fill. We can only hope that such a monetary award, written in the only language a big company can understand, sends a message to Fiat Chrysler and the other car makers in the news in recent months for deadly design defects that their abdication of their duty to keep consumers safe is anything but “reasonable.”
Accidents happen on the roadways. That much is inevitable. The cars we rely upon in our daily lives must be designed to protect us as best as modern technology permits – not create additional, deadly dangers due to defective designs and their manufacturers’ unwillingness to act when those flaws are discovered.
The attorneys at Abraham Watkins have been protecting the rights of families hurt in auto accidents and by defective car designs for over 65 years. If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, contact us today by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 800-594-4884.