Fiat Chrysler Hit with $150 Million Verdict After 4-Year-Old Boy Killed as a Result of Fuel Tank Defect

By: Allan M. Siegel

In the 1970's Ford was rightly derided and attacked for failing to prevent and remedy a defect in the Ford Pinto that allowed the fuel tank to be punctured and explode when the car was in a rear-end collision. Unfortunately, the same type of defect is now resulting in deaths of owners and passengers in Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Libertys. As of January 2015, the defect had resulted in 56 fatalities in 38 crashes, at least six of which occurred after the Fiat Chrysler began recalls in June of 2013.Fiat Chrysler Verdict

This fatal defect had been overshadowed in recent years by the deadly GM ignition-switch defect, and the defective Takata Corp. airbags, but new, and overdue, attention and pressure is being applied to the company following the verdict from a Georgia jury. The jury found that Chrysler acted with "reckless or wanton disregard for human life in the design or sale" of a Jeep Grand Cherokee and ordered the company to pay $150 million to the family of a 4-year old boy who burned to death after a crash in 2012. The boy was riding in a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee when it was struck in the rear by a pickup truck in 2012. The Jeep's fuel tank ruptured and caught fire, killing the boy when he was trapped in the vehicle. The driver of the pickup was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison, but the jury found that Chrysler's design was "99 percent" responsible for the boy's death.

The fire was a result of a defect that is found in 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys. In those models the plastic gas tank is behind the axles of the vehicles and can be punctured and catch fire when they are struck from behind. The NHTSA first began investigating the defect in 2009 and in 2013 Chrysler agreed to a compromised recall. Rather than recall vehicles and actually fix the problem, Chrysler would install a trailer hitch on the vehicles to mitigate the potential fuel tank explosions. The obviousness of the inadequacy of this solution caused safety advocates at the time to decry it as lacking, and the company has been further criticized for the incredibly low rate of repairs on vehicles with the defect. This is highlighted by the fact that since the recall was instituted, at least six people have been killed as a result, including a 23-year-old expectant mother in Michigan, a 58-year-old man in Virginia, and a Maryland resident.

The personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, and Siegel, P.C. have spent decades fighting to hold companies accountable for the defective and potentially deadly products that they release to the public. Our personal injury attorneys handle product liability and product defect cases of all kinds. If you believe that you or someone you love has been injured by a defective vehicle, defective product, or someone's negligent conduct, please call the attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, and Siegel, P.C.