Judge J. Kevin Chason in Georgia’s Decatur County Superior Court is my new hero! He told Fiat Chrysler to suck it regarding their request for a new trial in the tragic fire death of little Remi Walden. In his opinion, the evidence against Fiat was “overwhelming.” The judge also ordered the Walden $150M award reduced to $40M. The Walden family has accepted the reduced amount.
After some pretty spectacular fails on the part of Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, such as his statement that he had “no way of knowing” whether his company’s products were safe, the jury had no trouble making its April decision. Due to improper design, four-year-old Remington Walden burned to death in the family vehicle while his helpless parents watched.
Fiat asked for a new trial in May saying that the $150M award ($120M for Remi’s life and $30M for his pain and suffering) was “grossly excessive.” The original verdict was much higher than any of Georgia’s highest awards; Fiat’s data stated that the $120M award was 11 times higher and the $30 award was over 4 times higher than any upheld.
The jury found that Fiat was 99% liable for Remi’s death and that the company had acted with reckless disregard for human life. Judge Chason stated the company’s argument that the “jury acted from passion or prejudice” was completely without merit. In fact, Fiat’s track record on the issue clearly supported the verdict.
Fiat’s original fix, a compromise of installing trailer hitches as added protection, came only after the company resisted U.S. safety regulator’s insistence that they recall the Jeeps. Federal records indicate that the same design flaw (gas tank placement) that caused Remi’s death also claimed at least 75 other lives. NHTSA has criticized Fiat numerous times for not being more proactive in its recall and repair efforts.
Fiat Chrysler spokesman, Michael Palese, commented, “The reduction in the damage awards does not cure the many errors that tainted this verdict and denied FCA US a fair trial. We are considering our legal options.”
Part of the new trial motion stated that Remi’s suffering was brief and the largest pain and suffering award in Georgia had been $7M for a plaintiff who spent months paralyzed and in severe pain in the hospital. “A $30 million pain-and-suffering award for what plaintiffs acknowledge was at most one minute of suffering is irrational,” according to the document.
Irrational? Irrational? Pardon me if I don’t buy your lame argument. The P&S award was reduced to $10M, but following Fiat’s logic, that’s still too much. After all, it’s $3M more than someone who suffered for months. In my opinion, Fiat’s CEO & spokespeople are out of touch with reality. One might go so far as to say they are idiots.
We’re not talking about an adult who could understand what was happening to them and who, presumably, had access to incredible pain-relieving drugs (which is not to say they didn’t still suffer!); we’re talking about a 4-year-old child. Remi Walden had no such understanding, nor the capacity to have it. Nor did he have the benefit of any pain-reduction drugs.
What Remi had was the experience of dying alone in a fire. I don’t give a furry rat’s hindquarters about the fact that his suffering was brief. The whole point is, he suffered. While it may have been brief, it most certainly was terrifying and horrifically painful. It was also quite preventable if the CEO had half a clue as how to properly handle the issue of product design.
I’m glad the Walden’s are fine with the award reduction. Frankly, no amount of money will bring Remi back or, I suspect, prevent nightmares of the event. Personally, the company’s negligent handling of the whole issue and Marchionne’s callous disregard for a little child’s life fully justified the original award. It seems today that monsters such as this only understand one thing: money. Hit them where it hurts and hit them hard. That’s the only way they’ll pay attention and learn.