By Brent Kallestad
BAINBRIDGE, GA. — A Georgia judge asked attorneys for more information Tuesday before he rules on a motion by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to dismiss a $150 million judgment that found the company responsible for the faulty placement of a gas tank that led to the 2012 death of a 4-year-old boy.
Chrysler attorneys asked Decatur County Superior Court Judge J. Kevin Chason to either dismiss the jury verdict or reduce the damages.
A 12-person jury found Chrysler negligent and asked for $120 million for wrongful death and $30 million in pain and suffering following a seven-day trial in this rural southwestern Georgia community in early spring.
Thomas Dupree, a Washington attorney representing FCA in Tuesday’s hearing, called the judgment “completely tainted” and so excessive “as to shock the judicial conscience.”
Dupree said a judgment totaling $5 million — $4 million for a wrongful death and $1 million for pain and suffering — would be more in line with court-approved judgments in similar Georgia cases.
“Astronomically beyond anything that has ever been approved or upheld before,” Dupree argued. “There is absolutely no basis in Georgia law for this amount.”
Jim Butler Jr., the attorney for the parents of the victim, Remington Walden, told Chason that $40 million for the wrongful death and $10 million for pain and suffering seemed fair.
The Walden youngster died after the Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by his aunt was hit from behind by a pickup truck in March 2012 and then exploded. The fuel tank in that vehicle was mounted just behind the rear bumper.
“The best judge of the ‘full value’ of a human life are the 12 citizens who come from the community and who hear the evidence,” Butler had written in his response to FCA’s motion for a new trial. “Instead of accepting blame for this tragedy, FCA blames prejudice of the jury.”
The youth’s parents, now divorced, sat through the long trial and also Tuesday’s appeal when the arguments centered almost entirely on money.
Chason, the presiding judge in the original trial, asked attorneys to have their final recommendations to him by Friday. He did not say when to expect a ruling.