$150 Million Jury Verdict for the Death of Four-Year-Old Boy Killed When a Jeep Exploded After Being Rear-Ended

A jury in Georgia entered a $150 million verdict to the family of a four-year-old child killed in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that exploded and burst into flames after being rear-ended. The verdict was entered against Chrysler, which is the manufacturer of Jeeps. The trial took place in Decatur County, Georgia. The jury concluded that Chrysler acted with reckless disregard for human life in selling the family a 1999 Jeep with a gas tank mounted behind the rear axle.

The Jeep was being driven by the boy’s aunt when it was hit from behind by a pickup truck in March 2012. The fuel tank leaked, engulfed the Jeep in flames and killed the young boy.

This verdict came down nearly two years after Chrysler compromised with the Federal Safety Agency. Chrysler agreed to a scaled-down recall of some of the older model Jeeps that have rear-mounted gas tanks. The gas tanks were placed in these Jeep models in a way that provides little protection when hit from behind; this makes them susceptible to punctures and deadly fires.

According to federal documents, at least 75 people have died in post-crash fires because of the rear-mounted fuel tanks.

The jury of 11 women and one man found that Chrysler was 99% at fault for the crash, and the pickup driver was 1% at fault. The jurors also found that Chrysler had chosen not to warn the family about the serious hazards of driving this Jeep.

The jury’s verdict detailed that the family of the child should receive $30 million for the boy’s pain and suffering and another $120 million for the full value of his lost life.

Chrysler Corporation’s spokesperson said the company will appeal the verdict. At the trial, the court prevented Chrysler from presenting data submitted to federal safety regulators that showed that the vehicles did not pose an unreasonable safety risk.

This was not the largest verdict against an automaker in a personal injury case. In 1999, a California jury ordered General Motors to pay $4.9 billion in a case where four children in the back seat were severely injured after a Chevy Malibu was rear-ended and burst into flames. The jury’s verdict was reduced on appeal to $1.2 billion.

In 2004, a woman was paralyzed when her Ford Explorer rolled over and a jury entered a $369 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. That verdict was later reduced on appeal to $83 million, which Ford eventually paid after exhausting its appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chrysler has maintained that its Jeep models of that era were no more dangerous than other SUVs manufactured at about the same time. Chrysler argued that it had to convince the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 to allow it to recall 1.56 million Jeeps after the government agency recommended that 2.7 million Jeeps be repaired. Under that recall, Chrysler agreed to install trailer hitches in the rear as an extra layer of protection.

Safety advocates said the trailer hitch addition was of no value and was still inadequate in terms of safety. The Atlanta attorney representing the family of the boy killed in this Jeep case, Jim Butler, argued that the death resulted from the fire because of the gas tank’s poor position. The child was on his way to a tennis lesson when the SUV was rear-ended. Witnesses said the child was struggling to escape and heard him yelling for help.

The lawsuit alleged that Chrysler had placed the gas tank in the “crush zone,” which is behind the rear-axle, and Chrysler knew the location was dangerous. In addition, it was claimed that the company chose not to protect the gas tank against rupture when it was impacted. There are likely to be more cases surfacing with respect to this automotive product defect, gas tank placements.

Robert Kreisman of Kreisman Law Offices represented a family of four who were killed in a General Motors SUV when its fuel line was fractured in a head-on crash, which engulfed the undercarriage of the GM vehicle. A mother and two young children survived the initial impact of the crash but later died. The automotive product liability claim — filed in Chicago’s Cook County Circuit Court — was that the fuel line was inherently dangerous because it lacked a simple and inexpensive safety shut-off valve that would have prevented the spread of the fire that took the lives of this young family. That case settled during jury deliberations.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automotive product defect cases, wrongful death cases and product liability cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Schiller Park, Arlington Heights, Barrington Hills, Bedford Park, Bellwood, Berwyn, Blue Island, Brookfield, Buffalo Grove, Calumet City, Chicago Ridge, Olympia Fields, Orland Hills, Clarendon Hills, Justice, LaGrange Park, Lemont, Lansing, Lincolnwood, Wilmette, South Holland, Skokie, Chicago (Marquette Park, Austin, Polish Village, Jefferson Park, Englewood, Beverly, Bridgeport, The Loop, Lincoln Square, Pill Hill, Wicker Park, Sheffield), Western Springs, Oak Forest and River Forest, Ill.

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