Chrysler Hit with $40 Million Verdict Due to Exploding Gas Tank in Jeep Grand Cherokee

In a recent case, Chrysler challenged a $40 million verdict against it after a tragic accident involving one of its Jeep vehicles. Evidently, a four-year-old was killed in a collision when a pickup truck hit the back of a 1999 Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee. When the pickup truck hit the Jeep, the Jeep’s gas tank was punctured, and the car caught fire. The child was in the backseat and died in the fire. The child’s parents filed a lawsuit against Chrysler, alleging that it acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life in its design or sale of the Grand Cherokee. They also alleged Chrysler breached a duty to warn the public of the danger.

JeepThe case proceeded to trial, and the jury found in favor of the parents. The parents were awarded $30 million in damages for their son’s wrongful death and $10 million in damages for pain and suffering. Chrysler was found to be 99 percent at fault.

Chrysler appealed the decision, arguing the court should not have denied its motion for a directed verdict. Before the jury deliberated, Chrysler had filed a motion for a directed verdict on the parents’ claims that Chrysler acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and failure to warn. The claims were based on the allegations that Chrysler knew that the location of the fuel tank in the 1999 Grand Cherokee was dangerous but continued to manufacture and sell the car, failing to warn the public.

The appellate court found the motions were properly denied, based on the evidence presented. At trial, a Chrysler employee who managed the Grand Cherokee crash test program testified that in 1998, Chrysler knew that the gas tank was vulnerable and would be crushed in rear impacts. A senior engineer at Chrysler testified that there should not be a “crush” in the tank area, and the fuel tank should be located in an area that would avoid known impact areas.

The parents also presented evidence of 17 other crashes involving Jeeps with fuel tanks located behind the rear axle in which the Jeep was rear-ended and fuel escaped from the tank. The parents also presented evidence that Chrysler could have placed the gas tank between the front and rear axles, and the tank would not have leaked when struck from behind. Thus, based on this evidence, the jury could have legitimately concluded Chrysler should have realized there was a strong probability harm would result, and thus it acted with wanton and reckless disregard. As a result, the directed verdict motion was properly denied and the case properly submitted to the jury.

Directed Verdicts in Illinois Personal Injury Cases

A party can make a motion for a directed verdict in order to have the judge decide a claim before the claim is submitted to the jury. A motion for a directed verdict should be granted when there is no conflicting evidence on a material issue, and based on the evidence presented, only one conclusion can be reached. But when there is any dispute of a material issue of fact, a motion for a directed verdict should be denied, and the claim should be submitted to the jury. Since the motion takes the decision out of the hands of the jury and allows a judge to decide, parties must be very careful about the evidence they present to prove their case.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured, contact a skilled personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at Moll Law Group represent individuals nationwide in product liability cases, as well as other personal injury and wrongful death claims, including those involving medical malpractice, transportation accidents, and premises liability. Our Chicago attorneys are available to help you pursue compensation for your losses. We represent individuals and their families in Naperville, Wheaton, Schaumburg, and throughout Cook County. Contact us through our online form or call us at 312-462-1700 to set up a free initial consultation.

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Court Reinstates Case After Attorney Admits Fault in Failing to Pay Court Fees, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, December 14, 2016.