Court upholds $40 million verdict for family who lost 4-year-old in fiery crash

Attorney Jim Butler is a partner with Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer, LLP.
Attorney Jim Butler is a partner with Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer, LLP. Ledger-Enquirer file

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision on Tuesday, keeping a $40 million wrongful death verdict in place in the case of Walden vs. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles.

Remington Walden, 4, died in a 2012 crash in which the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee he was a passenger in burst into flames. The child, strapped into a car seat, was unable to escape the fire.

Walden’s parents were represented by Jeb Butler of Butler/Tobin in Atlanta and Jim Butler of Butler Wooten & Peak LLP in Columbus and Atlanta. The litigation was filed in 2012 when Jeb Butler was working in his father’s law practice. Jeb Butler formed his own firm in 2014.

The original verdict was $150 million to Walden’s parents. It was lowered to $40 million by Decatur County Superior Court Judge Kevin Chason, who tried the case in Bainbridge.

Attorneys claimed that an exposed gas tank on Walden’s Grand Cherokee, located near the back of the vehicle and hanging down below the frame, was the cause of the fire when it ruptured after the collision.

“It is simply unbelievable that FCA continues to deny this design is defective — a design the industry has known for decades is vulnerable and can cause the most horrible kind of death and injury,” Jim Butler said. “FCA’s briefs and oral argument were fundamentally dishonest. We are glad that the court saw through them.”

The Court of Appeals decision keeps the $40 verdict in place. Walden vs. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles can petition to the Georgia Supreme Court to hear the case.

“Remi’s parents are very appreciative of the Court of Appeals’ decision,” Jeb Butler said. “They hope that someday this will all be over.”

There have been multiple wrongful deaths suits filed throughout the country involving crashes involving the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but this is the only one that has made it to trial, Jim Butler said. Other were settled before they reached a trial.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams