A wet floor in an Orlando hotel lobby made Qurris Walker fall. The fall led to a surgery. Post-operation complications led to respiratory arrest, which resulted in a tracheal tube. And, about two years later, a clog in the tube caused Walker’s death in his early 30s.
That was the chain of events presented by Coral Gables attorneys to support a wrongful death case against the hotel and the cleaning company, securing a $1.5 million settlement for Walker’s family in November after four years of litigation.
“I think there was a very real fear on their part that if we were able to prove causation, things could be significantly worse for them,” said attorney Todd Michaels of the Haggard Law Firm, who brought the case along with Pedro Echarte III and John Walker of the Walker Group in Jackson, Mississippi, where Walker lived.
The case was far from an ordinary slip-and-fall lawsuit.
Walker had Down syndrome, sleep apnea and a history of knee trouble that often caused him to fall, Michaels said. Defense counsel argued Walker’s death was a result of his pre-existing medical issues, not any failure to warn hotel visitors of a slick floor in August 2011.
The Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel hosted the Walker family when they visited Orlando for a Pentecostal Church seminar. According to the lawsuit, Walker’s sister walked across the lobby ahead of other family members and nearly lost her footing. She shouted back to the others to be careful, but Walker was already toppling to the ground.
“He’s screaming out, in a lot of pain,” Michaels said. “He has trouble communicating because of his condition. His family thinks because he’s suffered so many falls that this is similar to what’s happened to him in the past.”
The hotel’s cleaning service, Majic Cleaning Systems, ordinarily placed more than a dozen cones around the lobby when it’s mopping the floors, Michaels said. But surveillance video showed there were only five cones that day, and the one near the spot where Walker fell was picked up five minutes before his family passed through.
The video also showed his feet slipped out from under him and he fell backward, whereas when his knees locked in the past, he would fall forward slowly, the attorney said. A hotel incident report also linked the fall to the cleaning crew’s failure to adequately mop up the water. Those pieces of evidence were “very strong for us, we felt, in terms of liability,” Michaels said.
But establishing an unbroken link between the slip-and-fall and Walker’s death was another story.
Walker fractured his femur when he fell and ended up in surgery back in his hometown. He went into respiratory arrest during post-operation recovery, and drugs were administered that affected his breathing and sleep apnea, Michaels said. Walker needed a tracheal tube and would never breathe on his own again.
“It affected his mood; it affected the sparkle in his eye; it affected everything in his life,” Michaels said.
Walker died in 2013 because of a mucus plug in his tracheal tube.
A “very reputable” defense expert, Dr. Christopher Lettieri, testified Walker’s sleep apnea would have required him to have a tracheostomy at some point in his life, regardless of whether he fell in the lobby, Michaels said.
“Where I think we were finally able to really make our point in a way that the defense understood was he could not say that Qurris would have had his tracheostomy by now,” the plaintiffs attorney said.
The expert also could not say for sure whether Walker would have died by now regardless of the fall, or whether he might have lived at least another 20 years. That testimony helped plaintiffs counsel support the argument that but for the wet floor, Walker would still be alive.
The two defendants agreed on Nov. 10 to jointly pay $1.5 million to settle the case. Wayne Tosko of Vasquez & Tosko in Orlando, who represented Majic Cleaning, and John McDonough of Meier, Bonner, Muszy, O’Dell & Harvey in Longwood, who represented Rosen, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Michaels said the Walker family—a close-knit group that includes 14 siblings—inspired him to push through the challenges of the case.
“I just wish words could do justice to this family and to the enormity of their loss and what a reminder it was of why we do this job,” he said. “To be able to represent people like the Walker family was truly an honor.”
Case: Charlesetta Walker v. Rosen Hotels and Resorts et al Case no.: 2013-CA-008923-O Description: Wrongful death Filing date: June 28, 2013 Settlement date: Nov. 10, 2017 Judge: Orange Circuit Judge Keith White Plaintiffs attorneys: Todd Michaels and Pedro Echarte III, The Haggard Law Firm, Coral Gables; John Walker, Walker Group, Jackson, Mississippi Defense attorneys: Wayne Tosko, Vasquez & Tosko, Orlando; John McDonough and John Bengier, Meier, Bonner, Muszy, O’Dell & Harvey, Longwood Settlement amount: $1.5 million