— The case of Remington "Remi" Walden is in the news again over two years after 4-year-old Remi was killed in a Jeep Grand Cherokee fire. The Wall Street Journal reports a Georgia judge has ordered Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne to give a videotaped deposition in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses Chrysler of negligence and for the wrongful death of Remi Walden who burned to death in a 2012 rear-end crash.
On March 6, 2012, Remi was in his booster seat in the back seat of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by his aunt, Emily Newsome. Newsome was stopped at a turn signal waiting to turn left when Bryan Harrell, driving a 1997 Dodge Dakota, struck the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the rear.
The impact caused the Grand Cherokee gas tank to rupture and leak gas which ignited and left Remi and the Grand Cherokee engulfed in flames.
Numerous witnesses saw Remi trying to escape and heard him screaming for help, but the child was unable to escape the smoke and flames. The lawsuit says "Remi suffered extreme and conscious shock, terror, fright, physical and mental pain, suffering and injuries up until the time of his death."
While acknowledging the rear-end accident was caused by the reckless driving of Bryan Harrell, the plaintiffs say the ruptured gas tank, fire and death of Remi Walden was caused by Chrysler's negligence.
The plaintiffs claim since at least the 1970s, Chrysler had actual knowledge about fires in vehicles with rear-mounted tanks located in the crush zone. The crush zone is between the rear bumper and the rear axle in an area that hangs down below the rear bumper. According to the lawsuit, Chrysler was obligated to warn Jeep Grand Cherokee owners about the danger of fatal fires in the event of a rear-end crash.
The lawsuit accuses Chrysler of knowingly choosing a dangerous location for the gas tank and assembly, then failing to install a guard to protect the tank.
Chrysler has always insisted the Jeep Grand Cherokee met or exceeded all safety standards at the time the vehicles were sold.
However, in June 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked Chrysler to recall 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty SUVs because of the dangerous location of the gas tanks.
Chrysler initially said it would not recall any of the SUVs, but later agreed to recall 1.5 million Jeeps to install a trailer hitch. The trailer hitch is supposed to help in a rear-end crash, but only if the crash occurs at low speeds. However, the Center for Auto Safety called the trailer hitch recall a "sham" and pointed out many of the SUVs that caught fire already had trailer hitches.
In the case of Remi Walden, that recall still would have been meaningless because Chrysler didn't include the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee in the recall.
"The very idea of installing a trailer hitch to protect the rear-mounted fuel tank is a clear admission by Chrysler that the fuel tank location is not just defective and dangerous - it is stupid. Chrysler put the fuel tanks on these Jeeps in a known crush zone. It's the very place where a tank is most vulnerable to one of the most common kinds of collisions - rear impact." - Jim Butler, Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak
The Jeep Grand Cherokee gas tank lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Decatur County of the State of Georgia - James Bryan Walden and Lindsay Walden, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Their Deceased Son Remington Cole Walden, vs. Chrysler Group LLC and Bryan L. Harrell.
The plaintiffs are represented by Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak LLP.