Oral arguments for Chrysler v. Walden to take place at UGA law school

Published 12:24 pm Thursday, October 12, 2017

More than two years after Judge J. Kevin Chason issued a verdict over a fatal jeep accident in Bainbridge, the Chrysler v. Walden case will continue before the Georgia Supreme Court later this month.

Oral arguments for Chrysler’s appeal of the $150 million verdict will take place at the University of Georgia School of Law on North Campus. Arguments will be heard on Oct. 24 starting at 10:30 p.m.

“FCA US (Fiat-Chrysler) looks forward to presenting our arguments to the Georgia Supreme Court,” said Michael Palese, from Chrysler’s corporate communications.

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“What should have been a straightforward trial about vehicle design soon spiraled out of control, as the trial court allowed Plaintiffs to introduce evidence and make arguments that had no relevance to the issues the jury was asked to decide, but were intended to incite the jury’s passions by whipping up prejudice against a large corporate defendant and to set the stage for the verdict that followed,” Chrysler stated in its opening brief to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The parents of 4-year-old Remington Walden claimed that an exposed gas tank on the Jeep he was riding in back in 2012 led to the wrongful death of their son when a car collided with it, bursting it into flames. Walden was unable to escape.

The driver of the vehicle that hit the Jeep, Bryan Harrell, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and is now in prison.

The nine-day trial in March and April 2015 was held at the Decatur County Courthouse. The $150 million verdict consisted of $30 million for Walden’s pain and suffering and $120 million for the full value of Walden’s life.

Judge Chason lowered the damages to be paid to the Waldens to $40 million, but Chrysler filed for an appeal in August 2015. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment last November.

Georgia attorney Jim Butler, who represents the Waldens, said his firm admired parents Lindsay and Bryan for their patience while the case is worked through the court system.

“Fiat-Chrysler just keeps changing its stories,” Butler said. “Now it’s boiled down to a question of whether the fact Fiat-Chrysler paid its CEO Marchionne $68 million in one year was admissible in evidence regarding the credibility of his testimony to the jury that the rear gas tank Jeeps were ‘absolutely safe.’ That’s the big question for the Georgia Supreme Court. Because Marchionne personally got the politically appointed Administrator of NHTSA to remove this particular Jeep from the recall list and thus created the argument FCA relied on at trial, we contend his bias was clearly admissible.”