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Fiat Chrysler loses $150 million lawsuit in Georgia

by Bill Cawthon on

A jury in Bainbridge, Georgia, has found Fiat Chrysler at fault in a wrongful death lawsuit involving a small boy who was a passenger in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.


Four-year-old Remington Walden was killed on March 6, 2012, when the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was riding caught fire following a rear-end collision. The Jeep was stopped for a turn when it was struck by a Dodge Ram pickup truck driven at high speed by 26-year-old Brian Harrell and spun into a ditch. Emily Newsome, Walden’s aunt who was driving the Grand Cherokee, escaped but the boy was trapped inside and perished in the fire.

Bryan and Lindsay Walden, the boy’s parents, alleged that Fiat Chrysler was liable because it knew there was a likelihood that Jeeps would be struck from behind at more than 30 miles per hour, the federal standard at the time the Grand Cherokee was built, but failed to warn customers that the fuel tank was in a vulnerable location.

Attorneys for Fiat Chrysler said that Harrell was the one at fault. He pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Harrell was also named in the lawsuit.

The jury determined that Harrell was 1% at fault for Walden’s death and Fiat Chrysler was 99% liable and awarded the Waldens $30 million for pain and suffering and $120 million for the loss of life.

This is the first lawsuit concerning the Jeep fuel tanks to reach a jury.

A statement from FCA US expressed disappointment in the verdict.

“FCA US is disappointed and will consider an appeal of this verdict. It is unfortunate that under Georgia Law the jury was prevented from taking into account extensive data submitted to NHTSA during a three year investigation, which included more than 20 years of rear impact accident data for tens of millions of vehicles. This and other information provided the basis for NHTSA’s determination that the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee did not pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the 1999 Grand Cherokee as part of a larger investigation of Jeep fuel tank fires. In November 2014, the agency’s Office of Defect Investigations (ODI) determined that no action was required and closed its investigation.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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