The makers of Jeep have been ordered to pay $150 million to the family of a 4-year-old boy who was killed when a relatively minor car accident sparked a major fire. The jury apparently agreed that the positioning of the Jeep’s fuel tank allowed this terrible incident to occur.
According to Car and Driver, the boy was riding in the back of a Jeep Grand Cherokee that was hit from behind by a pickup truck. It appears the boy suffered a broken leg in the crash, but then the Jeep caught fire.
Grand Cherokees from model years 1993-2004 have their fuel tanks positioned behind the rear axle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that this contributed to a worse-than-average fatality rate. Chrysler, which makes Jeeps and is now part of parent company FCA, eventually recalled more than 2 million of these and Liberty models.
At trial, jurors heard about the boy screaming in pain and fear while caught in the fire. The jury found FCA 99 percent liable for his death, reserving 1 percent for the truck driver that hit the Jeep.
FCA suggested it will appeal the verdict. At trial, the company’s chairman said that putting the gas tank behind the rear axle is not a defective design, and that Jeeps were as safe as other vehicles “of the comparative class… in the marketplace at the time.”
Few defective products on the market can cause as much harm and suffering as a motor vehicle. Defects in cars and trucks may not become obvious to the user until it is too late.