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Ranieri comments on Georgia lawsuit

by Bill Cawthon on

The $150 million judgement rendered last week against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will likely encourage other owners of certain Jeep vehicles to file their own lawsuits, according to legal experts.

Ranieri-Jeep-Cash-Web

In addition, it may influence others to decline previously offered settlements in hopes of getting a larger award from a jury.

FCA US is considering an appeal, but a successful appeal may depend on an appellate court finding errors in the judge’s handling of the case. Since the suppression of evidence that might have aided the defense was in line with Georgia trial law, that might not be a factor in an appeal, at least at the state level.

Writing in FCA’s “Objects in the Mirror” last week, Gualberto Ranieri, Senior Vice President of Communications, wrote:

Sadly, the citizens of a southern Georgia town who performed their civic duty this week in the tragic case of a young boy’s traffic death were prevented from seeing or hearing critical evidence.

Four-year-old Remington Walden was killed when a pickup truck traveling at highway speed slammed into the rear of the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was riding. In stark contrast, the Grand Cherokee was traveling between zero and six miles per hour as its driver prepared to make a turn.

Fire ensued and plaintiffs’ attorneys argued the placement of the Jeep’s fuel tank was to blame. There is an extensive database of statistics to refute this claim, but the actual contents of this database were inadmissible under Georgia law.

Let that sink in.

FCA US LLC was allowed to tell jurors about the existence of relevant information, but not the information itself. Had a full airing the facts been conducted, jurors would have learned:

      • Tragedies of the same type occur more frequently in 57 other vehicles on U.S. roads
      • Twenty-one of the 57 have the same fuel-tank placement as the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee
      • None of the above vehicles was ever subject to a safety recall for fire-related rear-end crashes.

So compelling is this information that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was eventually moved to drop a safety recall request leveled against the 1999 Grand Cherokee.

FCA US and its more than 14,000 employees extend their deepest sympathies to the parents of young Remington Walden. But crashes of this kind – though they occur less than one time for every million years of vehicle operation, according to unheard evidence – are a sorrowful reality.

Exculpatory evidence that might have absolved FCA of any wrongdoing or even mitigated the judgement was not allowed while the emotionally charged testimony of people on the scene, which might not have had any factual information bearing on the actual collision, was admitted.

It may take a federal court challenge to Georgia’s civil laws and rules of evidence for FCA to obtain a reversal or an order for a new trial, but there’s little doubt that company attorneys and legal consultants are examining every bit of testimony and every decision by Judge J. Kevin Chason to build a case for an initial appeal.

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 just-auto.com, 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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