A Decatur County jury heard opening arguments Tuesday in the trial of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by two Bainbridge parents who lost their son in a 2012 auto accident.
The plantiffs are Bryan Walden and Lindsay Walden, the parents of Remington Cole Walden, a four-year-old boy who died after the 1999 Jeep Cherokee he was riding in caught fire after an auto accident on March 6, 2012.
The two defendants, who have separate attorneys, are Fiat Chrysler, the makers of the Jeep Cherokee; and Bryan Lamar Harrell, whose Dodge Dakota pickup truck rear-ended the Jeep Cherokee Remington Walden was riding in.
The Waldens allege Chrysler was at fault for their son’s death because there is evidence to suggest the fire was started due to the placement of the gas tank on Jeep Cherokees made in certain model years. There have been other Jeep Cherokee accidents in which a fire caused injury or death; citizens and consumer groups have claimed the fires start when a Jeep Cherokee is rear ended in an accident and the Cherokee’s gas tank is damaged.
The gas tank in the Jeep Cherokees in question is located 11 inches from the rear bumper; Chrysler eventually agreed to recall 2.7 million Cherokees. To date, Chrysler has added tow hitches to the rear of 1.5 million of the recalled Jeeps. Some have argued it does not prevent the hazardous condition in more forceful accidents.
Chrysler has said the vehicles in question aren’t defective and exceed federal safety standards. Chrysler also claims that the year model Jeeps in question are as safe as comparable vehicles sold during the same time period.
The 1999 Jeep Cherokee, the model that Remington Walden was riding in, was initially studied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but the 1999 Cherokee was ultimately not included in a 2013 recall.
Safety experts quoted in an automotive industry news article said the outcome of the case could have a future impact for Chrysler, which could be sued by the families of other people who were injured or killed in similar accidents involving Jeep Cherokees.