Judge brings in mediator in construction collapse case

Three workers killed, many injured in 2019 disaster

Judge brings in mediator in construction collapse case

A judge in New Orleans in the U.S. has brought in a mediator to try to work out settlements for those claiming damages when a hotel collapsed three years ago, killing three workers.

The incident happened on Oct. 12, 2019 along Canal Street. The upper stories of a planned Hard Rock Hotel collapsed and also left many injured. It also damaged nearby property and shut down part of the six-lane major thoroughfare.

It took 10 months before all bodies were removed and 18 months before two-way traffic ran on Canal Street.

Now, Civil District Judge Kern Reese has appointed John Perry Jr., of Baton Rouge, as special master to work out a settlement, WWL-TV reported.

“For our clients, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mike Brandner Jr., who represents more than 40 injured construction workers, in a report from The Associated Press. 

Perry will negotiate with a committee of 13 plaintiffs’ attorneys and with the hotel’s developers and construction contractors.

“It may be easy to settle with some of the defendants and very difficult to settle with other defendants,” Perry told the station Friday. “And we’re just going to have to get into it in a traditional negotiation to make that determination.”

If a settlement is approved, Perry will run a compensation program to distribute any money put up by the defendants’ insurance companies, he said in a letter Thursday. He also wants plaintiffs’ attorneys to recommend that their clients participate in a compensation program, with a Sept. 28 deadline for attorneys’ consent to do so.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to put a program in place that’s acceptable to all participants in the very near future,” Perry said. “And at that point, we’ll be in a position to try to negotiate the claims with the defendants.”

Agreement to participate in the process would avoid long litigation but would require accepting Perry’s decision. However, claimants can opt out of any settlement and continue 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, this will take years,” Perry said. “And we’re trying to get this plane landed and give everyone an opportunity to resolve these claims efficiently and quickly.”

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office is investigating possible negligence charges but has not brought any. Meanwhile, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued safety violations against the designer, prime contractor, and some subcontractors, but lead engineer James Heaslip is still appealing his case.