L-R Omari J. Crawford, paralegal Candace Banks, Peter A. Brogdon II and Mecca S. Anderson. The Cochran Firm, Atlanta. (John Disney/ALM)
A DeKalb County jury awarded a postapportionment award of more than $2.4 million to two women who were shot outside a Stone Mountain nightspot.
The total award topped $3.5 million, but the panel allocated 30 percent of the fault to the unknown gunmen.
Attorneys for the women said a late-night fight in January 2012 apparently sparked by a spilled drink erupted inside Jay’s Place Sports Bar & Lounge on Redan Road.
“Security put those gentlemen out, then they put everybody else out,” said plaintiffs attorney Peter Brogdon II of the Cochran Firm’s Atlanta office.
According to a contemporaneous news acount on WSB Radio, two of the ejected men left in a small black car and then returned, opening fire in what defense filings said was a drive-by shooting.
Syria Canady and Temika Johnson, described as in their mid-to-late 20s at the time, were among those standing outside.
Canady was shot in the stomach and suffered serious internal injuries requiring multiple surgeries, and her friend Johnson was shot in the shoulder and hip.
Johnson is “still experiencing pain to this day; the bullet in her hip took months to work its way out,” said co-counsel Mecca Anderson, who also represented the women along with Cochran colleague Omari Crawford.
Brogdon said two other men were also shot that night, one fatally.
The club was represented by Tanya Mitchell Graham, Demetrius Price and Kiarra Brown of The Law Office of Tanya Mitchell Graham, who did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2013, both women filed premises liability actions in DeKalb County State Court against Jay’s Place and owner Gerald Becks, as well the property’s manager, JNV Investments Group, and owner, Shoppes at Redan.
Shoppes at Redan settled in 2014; Becks and JNG won summary judgment, and the case continued against Jay’s Place.
Anderson said she was unaware of any settlement offers or demands until a “ridiculously low” defense offer just before trial of $6,500 for Canady’s injuries and $1,500 for Johnson’s.
During a three-day trial before Judge Wayne Purdom, evidence included medical bills of about $200,000 for Canady and $27,000 for Johnson, she said.
Key to the plaintiffs’ case was a former security guard and an off-duty DeKalb County police officer, who both testified that the club’s policies had been violated on the night of the shootings.
“The first thing they were supposed to do in a fight is determine the aggressor and escort that person to the off-duty officer,” said Brogdon. “The officer is then supposed to take the first combatant off the premises, then the rest of the people involved in the altercation were to be removed.”
“On the night in question, they just kicked everybody out,” he said.
There was also evidence of prior fights at the club and drug-dealing on the parking lot, he said, although no previous shootings had been reported there.
The defense portion of the pretrial order said the plaintiffs’ allegation were false and “were made with the specific intent to defraud” and “extort money” from the club.
There was no evidence, it said, that a Jay’s patron had shot the women, who were “frequent patrons of Jay’s” who knew it “was located in a high crime area” where violent acts had been committed.
“The defense had several theories,” said Anderson, including assumption of risk and contributory negligence.
“They disparaged the women, questioned their motives—even argued that it didn’t happen at the club, even though they were mere paces from the front door and never left the sidewalk,” she said. At closing, “We did the math for the jury,” Anderson said. The lawyers multiplied the minimum wage by the waking hours each woman was likely to live according to mortality tables. They then sought that sum for past, present and future pain and suffering. “We wanted to present a reasonable figure for the jury,” she said.
On Aug. 17, after about two and a half hours, the jury delivered “just what we asked for,” awarding $3,504,080 in damages. Because the jury apportioned 30 percent of the liability to the unknown shooter, the judgment Purdom signed Aug. 24 totaled $2,452,856.
Afterward, Anderson said three jurors “approached us with hugs and said they would hire us.”
The lawyers said they did not know whether the defense would appeal.
“Judge Purdom was extremely fair,” Anderson said.
The trial was the first time the trio of Cochran lawyers tried a case without a senior lawyer sitting first chair.
Anderson, 40, has been practicing five years and served as a clerk with the Georgia Supreme Court and then worked with plaintiffs attorney Darren Summerville before joining the Cochran Firm.
Crawford, 31, started out with the firm in 2012 as a summer intern and signed on after earning his law degree in 2013.
Brogdon, 27, joined the South Carolina bar in 2016 and Georgia’s this year and has been with the firm two years.
“This was our first trial together as trial team,” said Anderson. “Omari first-chaired, but we all shared the duties, and we all carried the weight at trial.”
“It was joy working together,” she said.