John Mabrey (left) and Matthew Stoddard (Photo: John Disney/ALM) John Mabrey (left) and Matthew Stoddard (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

An Georgia jury returned an $8 million verdict for a young lawyer who hit her head on a low-hanging pipe in her firm’s Midtown parking garage.

Her attorneys—John Mabrey of the Mabrey Firm and Matthew Stoddard of the Stoddard Firm—said she suffered a traumatic brain injury and had to leave the legal profession as a result.

“The defense called it a mild brain injury,” Mabrey said. “I told the jury in closing arguments that a mild brain injury is someone else’s brain injury.” He added the injury was devastating to a “smart, young, up-and-coming attorney.”

The jury’s apportionment of some liability to the plaintiff in the accident reduces the recovery.

Aja Diamond Moore, who has since married and changed her last name to McCoy, was practicing at Hunton & Williams when she hit her head on a low-hanging pipe after stepping out of her car in the parking garage for the Bank of America building on Dec. 10, 2013, according to summaries from both sides in the consolidated pretrial order. The pipe was little more than 5 feet above the sidewalk, next to the spot where she parked.

“Her cognitive skills are fine,” Mabrey said. “It was the pain. The head pain is unpredictable and severe.” He added that medications used to treat the pain have debilitating side effects.

Mabrey and Stoddard presented video-recorded testimony from a paralegal for another firm who had hit her head on a low pipe over the parking space next to the one where McCoy parked. Both had backed into their parking spaces and couldn’t see the low pipe from inside their cars.

Kenneth Jones and Jeffrey Daniel of Hall Booth Smith defended the parking garage, owned by a limited partnership called JPMCC. The defense attorneys could not be reached for comment.

The jury deliberated for about 3½ hours following a four-day trial before Fulton County State Court Judge John Mather, Mabrey said. The verdict totaled slightly more than $8 million. The biggest portion—$4.4 million—was for future lost wages. The jury awarded another $2.5 million for noneconomic damages. Another $500,000 was awarded for past lost wages. The remaining $212,000 was for medical expenses.

The jury apportioned 21.75 percent of the fault to McCoy and 78.25 percent to the parking garage, reducing the total award to $6.3 million.

Asked whether he had heard whether the defense plans to appeal, Mabrey said, “There will be no appeal.” But he said he could not discuss why.

The defense said in the pretrial order that the low-hanging pipe was for a fire sprinkler and did not violate the building code at the time the garage was built in 1992. The defense also pointed out that McCoy did not lose consciousness and walked to her office at the law firm after the incident. Although emergency medical technicians came to her office, she refused an ambulance and only went to an emergency room later. The defense also noted that tests revealed no sign of concussion.

“There’s no radiology imaging that would show this type of brain injury. It’s microscopic,” Mabrey said. “It’s diagnosed by the patient’s history.”

Her neurologist provided helpful testimony about the extent of her pain and her efforts to recover, Mabrey said. Also helpful was the testimony of biomechanical and conspicuity experts, he said. The plaintiff’s expert testified that, at the very least, instead of having the low pipe painted the same color as the walls, “paint it red and put a sign on it,” Mabrey said. “Make it more conspicuous.”

Mabrey said he also thought the defense expert was helpful to the plaintiff’s side on cross-examination. When asked whether painting the pipe red would make it more conspicuous, the defense expert replied, “I need to do more research on that,” according to Mabrey.