Collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel | A mediator appointed to settle dozens of civil disputes

Mike Brandner Jr., who represents more than 40 injured construction workers, said the move toward a settlement is welcome after years of stagnation.

NEW ORLEANS — Nearly three years after the partially constructed Hard Rock Hotel collapsed and three construction workers died, a mediator is trying to settle dozens of claims filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against developers and construction contractors, ranging from business losses to worker injuries. death claims.

Judge Kern Reese appointed John Perry Jr., a Baton Rouge mediator, as special master to mediate a settlement between a panel of 13 plaintiffs’ attorneys and the companies involved in building the 18-story hotel that s collapsed on October 12, 2019.

“It can be easy to settle with some of the defendants and very difficult to settle with other defendants,” Perry said in an interview on Friday. “And we’ll just have to go into a traditional negotiation to make that decision.”

Reese signaled early on that he wanted the civil cases settled completely, but there has been almost no movement in the past two years, and no witnesses have even testified in any deposition. The project’s developers, 1031 Canal Development, and owner Mohan Kailas negotiated settlements in some cases individually, with Perry’s help.

“1031 Canal has worked closely with Special Counsel Perry to resolve several claims and looks forward to continuing this effort,” said attorney Paul Thibodeaux.

A separate criminal investigation, led by Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, has yet to produce negligence charges in the possible cause of the crash. And the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued safety violations against the designer, prime contractor and some subcontractors, but chief engineer James Heaslip is still appealing his case.

Perry sent a letter Thursday to attorneys representing hundreds of plaintiffs who claim to have been damaged by the devastating collapse, which killed construction workers Anthony Magrette, Quinnyon Wimberly and Jose Ponce Arreola, injured scores of others, damaged properties neighbors and closed a major intersection in downtown New Orleans for more than a year.

Perry’s letter says he will mediate the settlement negotiations and, if a settlement is reached, he will set up a compensation program to distribute all the money put together by the defendants’ insurance companies. . It is also asking plaintiffs’ attorneys to sign a consent form by September 28 agreeing to recommend their clients participate in the compensation program, although no settlement has yet been offered.

“Hopefully we will be able to put together a program acceptable to all participants in the very near future,” Perry said. “And at that time we will be able to try to negotiate the claims with the defendants.”

Mike Brandner Jr., who represents more than 40 injured construction workers, said the move toward a settlement is welcome after years of stagnation.

“For our customers, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Brandner said.

Perry’s letter says that if a settlement is reached and Reese agrees it is fair to all parties, anyone with a claim who chooses to participate will be able to avoid protracted litigation by agreeing to participate in the claims process, but that doing so, she will also forfeit the right to sue and will have to accept the payment amount determined by Perry.

A consent form shared by Perry says he and his staff will review submitted claims and evidence and issue preliminary awards from a settlement fund. Plaintiffs will be able to object and request reconsideration, but once Perry makes final decisions, his “decisions will be final,” the document says. “There will be no appeal to a court or other authority.”

Plaintiffs have the ability to opt out of any settlement and continue to pursue individual claims in court.

“But if they have to take 100 depositions and hire 25 experts and start getting trial dates and working their way through the traditional process, it will take years,” Perry said. “And we’re trying to land that plane and give everyone the opportunity to resolve those claims efficiently and quickly.”

Reese has already ordered that 4% of all claim payments go into a pot for the plaintiffs committee to cover legal costs, primarily to pay for the storage of evidence recovered from the site of the collapse.

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