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Railing break led to disabled man’s death, estate claimed

Amount:

$4,600,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Georgia

Venue:

Fulton County

Court:

Fulton County, Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

other-death; pulmonary/respiratory-asphyxia

Case Type:

Wrongful Death; Premises Liability – Apartment, Tenant’s Injury, Dangerous Condition, Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance

Case Name:

Katrina Dobbs, as beneficiary and personal representativeof Antoine Hendrix, deceased, v. Hickory Falls Apt., L.P., Hickory Falls/Villa Rica, LLC, City of Villa Rica, Carroll County, Carroll County Community Development, James Morean, John Doe, Lane Realty Construction, L.L.C., PRS Construction LLC, William Creekmore, James D. Spratt, Jr., Peter Chang, Richard Winfrey, PMC Management Group LLC, Foundation Development LLC, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc., Carter-Haston Holdings LLC and Wilkinson Villa Rica I, LLC,
No. SUCV2017001240

Date:

July 3, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Estate of Antoine Hendrix (Male, 37 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Thomas Reynolds;
Reynolds Law Group LLC;
Atlanta,
GA,
for
Estate of Antoine Hendrix ■ Isaac Tekie;
Reynolds Law Group LLC;
Atlanta,
GA,
for
Estate of Antoine Hendrix ■ Jeremy J. Abernathy;
Abernathy Ditzel LLC;
Marietta,
GA,
for
Estate of Antoine Hendrix

Plaintiff Expert(s):

J.P. Gingras; M.B.A.; Economics; Atlanta,
GA called by:
Thomas Reynolds ■ Todd Antin; M.D.; Psychiatry; Decatur,
GA called by:
Thomas Reynolds ■ Peter Combs; R.A.; Architecture; New York,
NY called by:
Thomas Reynolds

Defendant(s):

Peter Chang, 

James Morean, 

Carroll County, 

Richard Winfrey, 

William Creekmore, 

City of Villa Rica, 

James D. Spratt Jr., 

PRS Construction LLC, 

Hickory Falls Apt. L.P., 

Lane Realty Construction, 

PMC Management Group LLC, 

Carter-Haston Holdings LLC, 

Foundation Development LLC, 

Wilkinson Villa Rica I, LLC, 

Hickory Falls/Villa Rica, LLC, 

Carroll County Community Development, 

Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Robert L. Shannon Jr.;
Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP;
Atlanta,
GA,
for
Hickory Falls Apt. L.P., Carter-Haston Holdings LLC, Hickory Falls/Villa Rica, LLC, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc. ■ None reported;
;
for
Peter Chang, James Morean, Carroll County, Richard Winfrey, William Creekmore, City of Villa Rica, James D. Spratt Jr., PRS Construction LLC, Lane Realty Construction, PMC Management Group LLC, Foundation Development LLC, Wilkinson Villa Rica I, LLC, Carroll County Community Development ■ David J. Younker;
of counsel, Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP;
Atlanta,
GA,
for
Hickory Falls Apt. L.P., Carter-Haston Holdings LLC, Hickory Falls/Villa Rica, LLC, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc. ■ Ciera N. Locklair;
Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP;
Atlanta,
GA,
for
Hickory Falls Apt. L.P., Carter-Haston Holdings LLC, Hickory Falls/Villa Rica, LLC, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc.

Defendant Expert(s):

Chris Shiver;
Engineering;
Roswell,
GA called by:
Robert L. Shannon Jr. ■ Laura Tormoehlen;
Drug Toxicology;
Indianapolis,
IN called by:
Robert L. Shannon Jr.

Insurer(s):

Westfield Insurance Co. for Carter-Haston Holdings, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services, Hickory Falls/Villa Rica and Hickory Falls Apt.;
Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. for Carter-Haston Holdings, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services, Hickory Falls/Villa Rica and Hickory Falls Apt.

Facts:

On Jan. 31, 2014, plaintiff’s decedent Antoine Hendrix, 37, a paraplegic in a motorized wheelchair, was on the patio of his first-floor apartment in Villa Rica. Around the patio was a railing, with two horizontal pieces at the top and bottom. Hendrix’s wheelchair rolled into the bottom railing and the two front wheels ran off the patio. His estate alleged the bottom railing on one side, which he was facing, broke and his chair continued to roll. It got stuck on a groove on the ground and his neck caught on the top railing, suffocating him. Hendrix’s estate, with his mother as beneficiary and personal representative, sued the companies that owned the apartment complex, Carter-Haston Holdings LLC and Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc., and the companies that managed the apartment complex at the time, Hickory Falls Apt., L.P. and Hickory Falls/Villa Rica, LLC. Also sued were the city of Villa Rica, Carroll County, Carroll County Community Development and building inspector James Morean, alleging the building was not properly inspected. Construction companies and some of their owners were also sued, such as Lane Realty Construction, L.L.C., PRS Construction LLC, William Creekmore, James D. Spratt Jr., Peter Chang, Richard Winfrey, PMC Management Group LLC and Foundation Development LLC. Carter-Haston sold the apartments four months after the accident. The company that bought the complex, Wilkinson Villa Rica, was also sued. All defendants except Carter-Haston Holdings LLC, Carter-Haston Real Estate Services Inc., Hickory Falls Apt. L.P. and Hickory Falls/Villa Rica LLC were dismissed before trial. The estate could not link the initial construction or inspection in the early 2000s to any issues with the patio and/or railing at the time of Hendrix’s death. The primary insurer for the two remaining defendants, Westfield Insurance Co., settled for $1 million. The case proceeded to trial against the Carter-Haston and Hickory Falls defendants’ and their excess insurer, Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. The estate alleged Hendrix had complained and asked for a repair of the bottom railing in July 2013, but it was not done. According to the estate, the complex had received a series of complaints about broken, cracked or missing railings that were fixed using existing parts instead of replacing them with new ones. The estate argued that a failure to properly repair and/or maintain the property led to Hendrix’s death. A repair technician testified that an adjacent railing had been replaced and was what Hendrix had complained about, but counsel for the estate contended the repairman’s testimony was inconsistent and he had not been properly trained to fix the railing. There were no quality control measures for repair work at the complex, nor any oversight, according to the estate. If the technician did repair the rail, the estate said, it was done improperly. An architecture expert for the estate testified that, after measuring the railing and its brackets and fixture points, the hardware went less than a half-inch into the railing, which was not sufficient to hold the railing in place and resist impact. The defense said Hendrix submitted a work request on May 6, 2013, in which he stated that one of the bottom rails had come out. The maintenance supervisor testified that he fixed the rail by popping the rail back in place the following day. He also testified that he popped in the shorter rail, which was not the same rail in question. There were only four requests for rail work in the four years that Carter-Haston owned the complex, the defense contended. One of the requests was from Hendrix. The defense asserted that other rails in pictures shown to the jury were from other units taken three years after the incident. There was no testimony of how many units were inspected, according to defense counsel. The defense also claimed Hendrix was comparatively negligent. The defense contended that Hendrix died, or was dying, before his chair rolled into the railing from an overdose of the over-the-counter cold medicine Coricidin, which the defense said he was known to abuse. The defense relied on a Georgia Bureau of Investigation toxicology report indicating there were toxic levels of dextromethorphan and chlorpheniramine in Hendrix’s system. The GBI forensic medical examiner stated in the autopsy report that the drugs significantly contributed to Hendrix’s death and if there was not a historical report of positional asphyxia she would have attributed the cause of death to drug overdose. An engineering expert for the defense testified that a different railing had been fixed prior to Hendrix’s death and the railings, which were made out of PVC pipe, could be bent back into place, so new parts were not always necessary. Counsel for the estate countered by arguing that PVC pipe is too strong to be bent easily, challenging the defense expert on cross to bend a piece, which he could not do. A toxicology expert for the defense said the levels of dextromethorphan and chlorpheniramine, the active ingredients in Coricidin, in Hendrix’s blood were high enough to be fatal. However, a psychiatric expert for the estate testified that dextromethorphan is generally safe. He also said that people build up a tolerance to it and rarely die from overdosing on it. Counsel for the estate also argued that deaths from the drug are rare, citing a study that found only 11 deaths were reported from it in a 10-year period out of the 3.5 million people projected to be abusing it. Hendrix also had no other drugs or alcohol in his system, the estate’s counsel argued.

Injury:

A neighbor saw Hendrix caught in the railing and called 911, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was survived by his mother and three children. An economist for the estate said the value of Hendrix’s loss of income ranged from $5,050,000 to about $8 million, depending on how much longer he might have lived. His value of household services to his kids, the expert said, was between $380,000 and $7.2 million. Hendrix’s estate sought $15 million in economic damages and $25 million in non-economic damages. The defense did not address damages.

Result:

The jury found Carter-Haston and Hickory Farms to be negligent and their negligence was a proximate cause of Hendrix’s death. The jury apportioned 70 percent liability to the defendants and 30 percent liability to Hendrix. The estate was awarded $4.6 million, but after a $1 million setoff for a prior settlement and the fault apportionment, the verdict was was reduced to $2.2 million.

Actual Award:

$2,200,000

Trial Information:

Judge:

John Goger

Trial Length:

5
 days

Trial Deliberations:

2
 days

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel.