As critical as a well-prepared closing is, sometimes the moments with the biggest impact are delivered as a counterpunch to a remark by opposing counsel. That’s how James Butler framed the 60 seconds of silence during rebuttal argument in Walden v. Chrysler Group LLC.
Four-year-old Remington "Remi" Walden died in a Jeep Grand Cherokee fuel tank explosion, and his parents' suit against the vehicle's manufacturer, Chrysler Group LLC, made national headlines. During the trial's closing arguments, Bruce Kirbo, the company's attorney, suggested the jury award $50,000 for Remington's pain and suffering, after noting evidence Remington died about a minute after the explosion. “Remi’s death was mercifully short,” Kirbo said, adding, “I’m not trying to tell you that because his pain and suffering was short, it doesn’t have value or worth."
In rebuttal, Butler, representing Walden’s parents, drove home how long 60 seconds of pain and suffering could be. “Mr. Kirbo suggested $50,000 in pain and suffering because Remi only lived about a minute,” Buter said, holding a wristwatch. “Let’s start. We’re going to do a minute. Now. Let’s start thinking about what Remi went through.”
Butler stood in silence, timing the 60 seconds, allowing the jury to imagine the excruciating final seconds of the toddler’s life.
“Time,” Butler called at last.
“How much you award for pain and suffering is up to you," Butler said. "The amount of damages you award for pain and suffering and for wrongful death, Judge Chason will charge, is up to your enlightened conscience.”
It was a powerful 60 seconds of silence in a towering rebuttal. And, it led to a $30 million pain and suffering award delivered as part of a $150 million jury verdict.
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