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$40 Million Not Enough for Jeep

Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles says it is debating the appeal of 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, causing the vehicle to burst into flames.

Four-year-old Remington Walden was riding in the back of his parents Jeep when it was hit from behind by a larger pickup truck, in March of 2012. The collision punctured the gas tank and started a fire surrounding the car. 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 this case had awarded Remington’s family $150 million, but the judge quickly reduced it to just $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, as it pleads that the pickup truck hit the Jeep at a very high rate of speed, ultimately causing the fatal injury. Fiat-Chrysler has always maintained that the models in question have a safety record comparable to similar SUVs.

Numerous jurors quoted in previous press reports that they were convinced by testimony that Remington survived the initial crash, but died in the fire following the events.

Safety advocates concede that 270 people, at minimum, have died in accidents similar to this, involving vehicles with rear-mounted fuel tanks, and though The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has studied these cases for years, they 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.

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