Fiat Chrysler wants new trial in the case of Remi Walden, a four-year-old boy who died in flames after his parents’ Jeep was rear-ended. I wrote last month about the $150M verdict the jury delivered in this case. The Walden’s 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, with an improperly placed gas tank, was little Remi’s deathtrap in March 2012.
The automaker’s first response to the tank placement issue was less than reassuring. In fact, I’m sure that Sergio Marchionne’s “no way of knowing” about his the safety of his company’s products testimony didn’t sit well with the jury. The Jeep’s gas tank was positioned behind the rear axle, a placement known to lead to fires in rear-end collisions much of the time. The jury said that Fiat Chrysler failed to warn vehicle owners and displayed “reckless or wanton disregard for human life” with the poor vehicle design.
Now, rather than pony up the money it owes, the company wants a new trial. A spokesperson said the damages award was “astonishing” and “shocking” and that the jury’s decision came “from passion and prejudice” because the Walden’s lawyer made improper appeals to the jury.
The original award was $120M for Remi’s wrongful death and $30M for pain and suffering. Fiat Chrysler’s new filing asserts that this is more than 11 times and 4 times respectively the largest award upheld on appeal in Georgia’s history. It further states that the “stunning and unprecedented damage awards are grossly excessive and cannot stand.”
Buckle up, folks.
I find Fiat Chrysler’s assertions “astonishing” and “shocking.” The history of this case shows that the company knew of the dangers and repeatedly refused to do anything about it, including warning vehicle owners. Its CEO, the lovable and compassionate Marchionne, testified that because he’s “not an engineer” he couldn’t possibly have known of the problems. Essentially, Fiat Chrysler behaved very badly and got smacked for it.
And now they want to smack the Waldens. This makes me sick! As of the close of fiscal year 2014, Fiat Chrysler was worth approximately $8B and it’s whining about writing a $150M check? Poor Remi Walden died in the backseat of a Jeep as it burned and his parents watched. The whole thing was preventable if Fiat Chrysler and its apparently heartless CEO Marchionne had acted properly.
If the company gets its way, the Waldens damages could be reduced to roughly $10M and $7.5M respectively and Fiat Chrysler saves a bundle. What about Remi? This is another case of bottom line over human life and it is reprehensible. The original damages should stand. Marchionne and company owes it to the Waldens. If he hadn’t been such an ass at trial and if the company had fixed the problems, this precious little boy would be alive.
The jury sent a message: “You messed up big time and we want you to pay for it.” If the original award stands, it just might teach Fiat Chrysler a lesson. It seems that nothing else has been able to penetrate the layers of callousness and stupidity surrounding the captain of this particular ship; maybe taking a huge chunk of his FY 2015 earnings will finally do it.
I, for one, will never buy a Fiat Chrysler product. This case shows me that Fiat Chrysler is completely unconcerned with the duties it owes its customers. Who knows what other defects exist in its products that its not telling us about. Nope, not my kind of company. I sincerely hope the Waldens get the original damages award and that Marchionne spends a great many sleepless nights haunted by the image of little Remi Walden dying in a fire.