Earlier I wrote about Chrysler-Fiat’s CEO and his less-than-compassionate response during deposition in this case. I’ll bet he regrets that robotic and idiotic stance today. The verdict is in and the jury has awarded the Walden family $150 million dollars. The breakdown is $30M for pain and suffering and $120M for value of Remi Walden’s life.
The jury, eleven women and one man, took nine days to decide that 99% of the fault was Chrysler’s and 1% belonged to the driver of the pickup truck that struck the Waldens. However, the jury said that Chrysler must pay the full amount. Its decision stated that Chrysler not only acted with reckless disregard for human life by selling the Waldens a 1999 Jeep with its fuel tank mounted behind the rear axle, but that it also failed to warn the family of the potential dangers associated with the vehicle.
Two years ago, Chrysler made a deal with a federal safety agency to do a scaled-down recall on the Jeeps. The solution was installing trailer hitches to provide added structure in the event of a rear-end collision. While Chrysler still contends that the vehicles are safe, federal documents reveal that at least 75 deaths have resulted from post-crash fires in Jeep with the rear-mounted gas tanks. Chrysler said it’s planning to appeal the verdict.
I have to wonder if Marchionne’s statements during deposition that he’s “not an engineer” and had “no way of knowing” if his company’s products were safe didn’t strike the same sour note in this trial as McDonald’s execs did with their arrogance in the infamous Liebeck hot coffee case. Arrogance and ignorance cost this little boy (and over 70 others) their lives in one of the most excruciatingly painful ways possible. It’s reprehensible that any company would take such a crass, unfeeling attitude toward the loss of life.
Proponents of product safety, especially in the automotive industry, should celebrate this verdict. Manufacturers should fear it. The pain of writing a $150M check comes nowhere near close to the pain Remi Walden and his parents suffered. This jury sent a message that passing the buck on safety issues is going to cost companies more than a buck in the long run. If justice continues to prevail, Chrysler will lose on appeal. The money won’t bring little Remi back, nor will it erase the pain and the memories of that awful day. Hopefully, it’ll teach Chrysler a lesson, though and save some lives in the future.