Decatur, GA— Jurors slapped a building contractor with a $5.5 million verdict Thursday for the brain injury a Georgia taxi driver suffered in a 2015 construction accident at an Atlanta hotel. Laguerre v Peachtree Property Sub LLC, et al., 17A64087.
Cajun Contractors was found 100 percent responsible for injuries Max Laguerre suffered when a pipe fell from the Crowne Plaza Hotel Atlanta-Midtown’s fourth floor pool deck and struck Laguerre in the head as he waited at the hotel’s taxi stand.
Laguerre, 52, contends the impact has left him with severe headaches and vision problems, along with a host of cognitive impairments, including memory issues, depression, and anxiety.
Thursday’s award includes $5 million in compensatory damages and $500,336 in punitives imposed against Cajun, which served as the general contractor on the hotel’s pool renovation project when the accident occurred.
The pipe fell during demolition work performed by RYR Construction, a subcontractor on the project. The four-day trial focused on whether Cajun, the only defendant at trial, was to blame for the accident, and whether Laguerre’s brain injury was as severe as he claimed.
During Thursday’s closings, Cajun’s attorney, Galloway, Johnson’s Tony Jones, maintained RYR was an independent contractor for which Cajun bore no vicarious liability. Moreover, Jones said, the hotel was responsible for failing to ensure Laguerre’s safety.
“The hotel employs vice presidents of construction to supervise, manage, and oversee every aspect of construction going on at that hotel. Not a single contractor or subcontractor has the final say on safety at their premises.” Jones said. “Not a single subcontractor or contractor can do a thing at that hotel without their express permission.”
Jones also challenged the severity of Laguerre's brain injury, and suggested the jury award $500,000 in compensatory damages if it reached that issue. Jones reminded jurors that experts testified that brain injury symptoms typically become apparent within one month of an injury. “As we sit here right now, the only symptom corroborated by any of his friends and family members that occurred within the first month of that incident — the concussion window, according to his own treating neurologist — is headaches,” Jones said.
But Laguerre’s attorney, Schneider Law’s Bethany Schneider, countered with evidence she said supported the range of problems Laguerre complained of. And she said experts noted symptoms of a traumatic brain injury could develop and worsen over time. “Memory loss, irritability, forgetfulness, fatigue,” Schneider said, “doesn’t all appear at once.”
Schneider maintained Cajun was ultimately responsible for the accident because it directed and oversaw RYR’s work and controlled access to the pool area during its renovation. “[Cajun Contractors President Troy Bossier] admitted he controlled the work site, not the hotel,” Schneider said. “It was Cajun Contractors.”
Schneider, who requested between $2 and $10 million in compensatories, accused Cajun of trying to seek a "discount" on the case by shifting blame and minimizing Laguerre’s injuries. “They don’t get a discount for 4 years of refusing to take responsibility. They don’t get a discount for forcing Max to file a lawsuit. They don’t get a discount for forcing us to come to court and take up your time,” Schneider said. “And they certainly don’t get a discount for adding insult to injury by calling Max a liar.”
After the verdict, Schneider told CVN she believed the injury's severity and the response to the accident played a role in the jury's decision. "The jury understood the life-altering consequences of a mild traumatic brain injury," Schneider said, adding "The defendant’s lack of remorse turned the jury against him early in the case."
CVN has reached out to attorneys for Cajun and will update this article with their comments.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Max Laguerre is represented by Bethany Schneider, of Schneider Law, and Quynh-Huong Nguyen Davis, of Davis Injury Law.
Cajun is represented by Tony Jones, Todd LaDouceur, and Casey Smartt, of Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins, Burr & Smith.
CVN covered the trial gavel-to-gavel and will provide on-demand video as soon as possible.