Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) says it may appeal a Georgia court decision upholding a $40 million judgment in the death of a four-year-old boy who died when his family's Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended and burst into flames.
Remington Walden was riding in the back seat of the 1999 Jeep when it was rear-ended by a pickup truck in March 2012, puncturing the gas tank and starting a fire. The Jeep was one of about 1 million that were unofficially recalled for retrofitting with a trailer hitch to protect the gas tank, which was located behind the rear axle.
The jury in the case had awarded Remington's family $150 million, but the judge reduced it to $40 million. The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld that verdict Tuesday.
Fiat Chrysler said it may ask the Georgia Supreme Court to review the decision. It said the pickup truck hit the Jeep at a high rate of speed, causing the fatal injury. FCA has always maintained that the models in question have a safety record comparable to similar SUVs.
Jurors quoted in press reports at the time said they were convinced by testimony at the trial that Remington survived the crash but died in the subsequent fire.
Safety advocates say that at least 270 people have died in similar accidents involving older Jeep Cherokees with the rear-mounted fuel tanks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied the cases for years but never ordered a formal recall.
Instead, at a secret 2013 meeting at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, federal officials and top FCA executives agreed to a "customer satisfaction campaign" that called for installing safety hitches as a protective measure, even though that solution was never scientifically proven to be effective.