Fiat Chrysler CEO Faces Deposition in Suit Over Jeep Fire

A Georgia judge ordered Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne to give a videotaped deposition in a lawsuit filed by the family of a child killed in a fiery Jeep crash.

The family sued Chrysler in 2012 over the death of 4-year-old Remington Cole Walden. He died after the Jeep Grand Cherokee he was riding was rear-ended and caught fire, according to the lawsuit. The judge ordered the automaker to make Marchionne available for a videotaped deposition in Georgia at a time agreed upon by both parties, according to a copy of the Oct. 14 decision.

The 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee involved in the accident met or exceeded all applicable safety standards at the time it was first sold and the vehicle is not defective, Chrysler said today in an e-mailed statement. Jeep is a brand of Chrysler Group, a unit of Fiat Chrysler.

Fiat Chrysler initially refused a June 2013 request by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberty vehicles, saying they didn’t pose a safety risk. The vehicles, which included the 1999 Grand Cherokee, were linked to 51 deaths over 15 years because the fuel tank is located between the rear axle and the bumper, where it can be punctured in a crash, NHTSA said in a June 2013 report.

Voluntary Fix

Later that month, the automaker reached an agreement with NHTSA for a voluntary fix for 1.56 million of those Jeep models, not including the 1999 Grand Cherokee. The repair involved installing or repairing trailer hitches to enhance protection in a low-speed crash. The models subject to the NHTSA investigation are among the safest in their peer groups, Chrysler said in the statement.

“Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles,” the automaker said in the statement. “Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families.”

In the accident that prompted the Georgia lawsuit, Walden was belted into a booster seat in the rear of the Grand Cherokee. It was waiting to turn left at an intersection when another vehicle slammed into the rear, according to the lawsuit. The child died from injuries in the fire, according to the lawsuit.

“Chrysler Group expresses its most profound sympathy to those affected by this tragedy, which resulted from a collision with a pickup truck driven in a manner police described as ‘erratic, reckless, careless (and) negligent,’” the company said in the statement.

The deposition ruling was reported earlier today by the Wall Street Journal.

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