Jury Orders Chrysler To Pay $150M After Jeep Fire Kills Four-Year-Old

Two years after Chrysler reluctantly recalled millions of Jeeps that could catch fire after being rear-ended the company has been ordered to pay $150 million to the family of a four-year-old boy who was killed in one of hundreds of related accidents.

The Associated Press reports that a jury in Georgia handed down the verdict after ruling that Chrysler acted with reckless disregard for human life by selling the family a 1999 Jeep with a gas tank mounted behind the rear axle.

In this specific instance, the Jeep the boy was riding in was hit from behind by a pickup truck in March 2012. The accident caused a fuel leak which led to the jeep catching fire, killing the boy.

The family’s attorney argued that the fire was a direct result of the gas tank’s poor position.

According to the lawsuit, Chrysler placed the gas tank in a “crush zone” behind the rear axle and knew the location was dangerous.

For nearly three years, Chrysler has maintained that the millions of Jeeps do not have a safety defect. However, safety documents show that the issue has resulted in nearly 75 deaths.

During the summer of 2013, the car manufacturer and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agreed to a remedy for the issue that involved equipping vehicles with a trailer hitch that could reduce the risk of fires.

Officials with Chrysler have said dealers would inspect the recalled Jeeps to determine if there was a need to install the trailer hitch assemblies.

Some have questioned whether the addition of the hitch will indeed suffice to reduce the risk of fire. Even Chrysler’s own report on the fix said the hitch would only “incrementally improve the performance in certain types of low-speed impacts.”

NHTSA tested the hitch fix and determined that “the risk of fuel tank ruptures and fires in lower to medium-speed rear-end crashes will be successfully reduced by the remedy.” However, the agency did not test what would happen in collisions at speeds greater than 43 mph.

Despite finding a compromise to fix the vehicles, Chrysler reported last summer that only about 8.6% of the 1.56 million Jeeps involved in the recall have been fixed.

Critics of the hitch plan say that Jeep passengers have survived high-speed crashes but died in resulting fires.

The initial recall involved some 2.7 million Jeeps, but Chrysler says that, given the age of some of these vehicles (the Grand Cherokee recall included model years as far back as 1993), only about 1.6 million remain on the road.

Jury orders Chrysler to pay $150M in fire death of 4-year-old Georgia boy [The Associated Press]