- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

BAINBRIDGE, Ga. (AP) - Attorney Jim Butler told a jury of 11 women and one man Tuesday that Chrysler should be held responsible for the death of a 4-year-old Georgia boy following the explosion of the Jeep Grand Cherokee after the vehicle was rear-ended.

Butler showed slides of the burned-out vehicle during his one hour and 15 minutes opening statements to jurors.

“We will prove conclusively with evidence that Chrysler is dead wrong,” Butler said. “People are not supposed to die from this.”

Butler’s Atlanta-based firm contends the boy’s death resulted from the fire because of a poorly located gas tank that exploded after the collision. They are asking Chrysler to pay for full value of the youngster’s life, pain and suffering and all litigation expenses, an undisclosed figure that could run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Butler later introduced a video deposition taken in January from Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, who answered mostly that he had “no way of knowing” about many of the vehicle designs that the plaintiffs contended were factors in Remington Walden’s death in the March 2012 accident.

Attorneys for the two sides sparred for several hours over the gas tank placement in the 1999 vehicle and whether Chrysler should be liable for the youth’s death.

The trial will resume Wednesday with more from the Marchionne deposition in Superior Court Judge J. Kevin Chason’s courtroom at the Decatur County Courthouse.

The automaker’s attorney, Brian Bell of Chicago, argued Tuesday that Remi, as he was called, died from a traumatic head injury as a result of the Cherokee being hit from behind and not from the ensuing blaze that engulfed the vehicle before the youngster could escape.

“The evidence is going to come from the witnesses, the documents and the photographs,” Bell told jurors in his opening statement.

He also listed several witnesses that said they did not hear the youngster desperately screaming for help during the blaze. The plaintiff’s attorney has said otherwise.

Bell sought to convince the jury that autopsy resulted indicated Remi’s death was not from the fire, but the blunt trauma created by the vehicle being struck from behind at a speed of 56 mph. The driver of the car, Bryan Harrell, acknowledged the accident was created by his reckless driving. Now serving a prison term for vehicular manslaughter, Harrell is also a defendant.

Bell produced testimony that said that Remi’s aunt, Emily Newsome, was hospitalized for treatment of smoke inhalation and suffered more from the fire and smoke that the dead youngster. Newsome was driving Remi to a tennis lesson at the time of the accident.

The suit was filed by Remi’s parents, Bryan and Lindsay Walden, who sat with their attorneys during Tuesday’s proceedings.

The jury was confronted with charts and videos throughout the day before Chason recessed shortly before 5:30 p.m.

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