Powerfully framing the value of life is crucial when plaintiff’s attorneys tell the damages story of a wrongful death case. And in the latest episode of Trial Technique Spotlight, renowned trial consultant Shane Read details how Jeb Butler vividly explained the value of life in a closing that helped win a $150 million verdict at trial over the death of a Georgia toddler.
Four-year-old Remington "Remi" Walden died in a Jeep Grand Cherokee fuel tank explosion. And in the 2015 trial against Chrysler, applicable law allowed for the award of damages measured by the point of view of the toddler, if Chrysler was found liable. Understanding such a concept can be difficult for jurors. But during the trial’s closings, Jeb Butler, then of Butler Tobin and now of Butler | Kahn, explained the concept using a pair of his grandfather’s sunglasses.
Butler told jurors that, on his grandfather’s 90th birthday, he had given Butler a pair of aviator sunglasses he’d worn as a pilot in World War II. As he showed the glasses to the jury, Butler said that his grandfather tearfully told him they were his most valuable possession from his flying days, and that they were probably worth some money because of their rarity.
Butler said that while that was true, the glasses were worth more to him than any antiques dealer would pay because they represented all of the memories of his grandfather’s long, well-lived life: from his days in the military to years of happy family Christmases.
“To me, the full value of the glasses is tears in the eyes of a grandfather who knows that his days are getting numbered, and he’s giving something away to a grandson he loves,” Butler said. “And so it is with the full value of a life.”
In spotlighting the clip, Shane Read said Butler’s story powerfully illustrated what Walden had lost: the opportunity for a long life full of memories like the ones Butler’s grandfather had, including the impact that life had on Butler himself.
“The grandfather was 90 years old and that wasn’t lost on the jury,” Read said.
Read said the fact that the story came from Butler’s personal experience made it even more powerful. “What I loved about what Jeb Butler did was he used an experience from his own life," Read said. “[Butler] was explaining what those glasses meant to him, growing up with his grandfather.”
Read added that Butler’s story served as the perfect lead-in to his father, Jim Butler’s closing rebuttal, where the elder Butler, then of Butler Wooten & Peak and now of Butler Prather, walked jurors through the lifetime of precious opportunities Walden lost.
“It really had an impact,” Read said, noting the jury handed down a $150 million verdict, including $120 million for the value of Walden’s life.
Read’s analysis is the latest in CVN’s ongoing series, Trial Technique Spotlight, with Shane Read. Read is a nationally recognized expert and award-winning author who has helped thousands of lawyers transform their deposition, trial, and oral advocacy skills through in-house training programs, one-on-one coaching, and keynote speeches. And in each episode of Trial Technique Spotlight, he uses CVN’s trial video to detail the techniques the nation’s top attorneys use, and how to best use them in your own cases.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Shane Read and how he helps attorneys at ShaneRead.com.
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