Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys are, like many Americans, following the frustrating stories of Veterans Affairs backlogs. People who fought for our country are finding themselves cheated out of the high quality, prompt medical care they deserve. One recent story concerns a Georgia family that will receive more than $100,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs because a VA hospital in Augusta, Georgia, failed to properly treat Jimmy Lee Stapletfile0001770758579on, a 68 year-old veteran, for gallbladder cancer. Mr. Stapleton, who served in the Army from 1965 to 1967, suffered from two years of neglect and substandard care in three different VA hospitals before receiving his cancer diagnosis. He died at home on June 2.

Mr. Stapleton was first diagnosed with gallstones at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in 1998. The surgeons chose not to remove the gallstones at the time. After suffering in pain for 13 years, doctors diagnosed him with pancreatitis in 2011. In November of that year, doctors at the VA hospital decided that his gallbladder and part of his liver needed to be removed. Mr. Stapleton underwent surgery at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in early 2012. During the operation, doctors did not find any evidence of cancer, but ordered Mr. Stapleton to come for periodic testing and chemotherapy to prevent a potential spread of the disease. However, subsequent appointments were cancelled at the last minute by all three Georgia VA hospitals. The Stapletons repeatedly requested referral to a private hospital, but their requests were denied. Mr. Stapleton’s wife, Carolyn, later stated, “He was sent on a merry-go-round of canceled appointments from one hospital to another.” In August 2013, doctors finally diagnosed Mr. Stapleton with Stage 4 gallbladder cancer.

The family argued that the VA should have allowed Mr. Stapleton to receive treatment in a private medical center after Georgia’s three VA hospitals were unable to see him. After settling with the VA over Mr. Stapleton’s death, Carolyn Stapleton said, “The outcome’s unfair, and I truly believe if the VA had done their job, my husband would still be here today. No one should have to go through the same torture my husband and other veterans have, and I hope they don’t.”

Our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys read a news article recently about two wrongful death cases in Athens regarding pedestrians killed by cars. Areas with large numbers of pedestrians and other forms of transport, such as bicycles, need to make sure drivers are aware of the dangers of driving around these more vulnerable people close to the road.

DSC05911bBoth wrongful death suits were filed in Clarke County Superior Court. One victim was 73 year-old Roger Griffith. After suffering an injury 20 years ago that made walking difficult, particularly over long distances, he often used a wheelchair to get around. A car hit him as he crossed Lexington Road in his electric wheelchair on the night of April 8th last year. He was killed instantly. The police report noted that Mr. Griffith’s wheelchair was not equipped with lights or reflectors, and a portion of the street where the accident occurred did not have street lights. His wife, Zelma Griffith, said her husband often used his wheelchair to visit people and run errands, and to travel to the bus stop on Lexington Road. The police did not cite the 66 year-old driver of the car that hit Mr. Griffith. I

n her complaint, Zelma Griffith stated that Mr. Griffith had crossed two lanes when the car hit him, and that Mr. Griffith “had already entered the roadway under safe conditions” when the driver failed to yield. She filed the lawsuit on July 22, and is seeking to recover the full value of her husband’s life, “in an amount to be determined by the enlightened conscience of a fair and impartial jury.”

This blog has discussed cases against Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS) before (see previous blog here). Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers recently read about yet another tragic case involving a child, a 16-year-old disabled girl named Markea, who died under tragic circumstances, and under watch of the department that is supposed to protect child welfare in our state.

Funeral.jpgMarkea’s mother hated her, and her grandmother said she did not know why Ebony Berry had so much hatred for her daughter, saying, “She punished her. She hated her daughter.” Markea died of starvation in 2012, and her mother is in Cobb County Jail charged with the crime. At a hearing on the case of her death, investigators said Markea weighed less than 50 pounds. Cobb County Detective Christopher Twiggs said of her, “I could see most of the bones in her body. There was hardly any muscle mass left. Just a skeleton with skin is the way I could best describe it.”

There were worrisome reports from Michigan’s DFCS for the years 1999 to 2004, but they were incomplete and Georgia DFCS did not followed up on them. The State of Georgia has a 150 page case file on Markea, which chronicles the long-term abuse she suffered. As early as 2005, a DFCS caseworker found her isolated and unfed. The case file was started in 2009. Even from that time, the case file said she was “very thin” and caseworker was concerned she was not being fed. Markea, who was 14 years old at the time, was found in 2010 hiding at a Wal-Mart, afraid to go home. She told investigators she often went there to sleep. She said she’d rather stay at Wal-Mart than go home because she was a burden to her mother. At that time, DFCS investigated but took no further action because Ebony Berry would not cooperate. In June 2012, Ebony Berry called 911 saying her daughter was not responsive. Detectives found that she had been starved and charged her mother with murder.

Our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys read about a tragic story from the filming of the movie Midnight Rider.

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The movie, a biopic of Gregg Allman, was filming in February when a freight train crashed on a historic train trestle in Doctortown, Georgia. The crew were told only two trains would pass on the stretch of railway. The crew waited until two trains had passed to place a metal bed on the tracks for a dream sequence involving the actor William Hurt, who was playing Gregg Allman. At about 4:30 p.m., another train came at high speed. To try to avoid the oncoming train, crew members tried to run away, but not all of them got off the bridge in time. One that did not was Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old second camera assistant who was hit by the train and debris from the bed. Ms. Jones died of her injuries from the accident.

Sarah Jones was from South Carolina and started her film career as an intern on the set of the TV show Army Wives, where she was one of the most popular crew members. Her parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Chatham County State Court last week, alleging negligence causing Sarah’s death. The lawsuit names as defendants: movie producer Randall Miller, who is also the director of Midnight Rider; his wife Jody Savin; their production company Unclaimed Freight Productions; local production partner Meddin Studios; CSX Transportation; Open Road Films, the company that planned to distribute the film; unit production manager Jay Sedrish; first assistant director Hillary Schwartz; and Gregg Allman himself, as an executive producer.

Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers read about the tragic case of Adriana Rhine who was electrocuted to death at a fountain on a Georgia college. Adriana was 19 years old and with her three year old son, Zi’Quan, on campus.

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The tragic incident happened in September 2012 on the campus of South Georgia Technical College in Americus. Adriana was a student, but that day she was on campus to donate blood and see her sister, Jasmine, for her sister’s birthday. Jasmine was also a student. Adriana and Zi’Quan were waiting for Jasmine, and the little boy was playing with a blue ball. The ball rolled away and into a fountain. The fountain had a single knee high barrier chain, and it had previously had spouts of water several feet high. Adriana stopped Zi’Quan from chasing the ball and went to get it for him. When she reached into the water to get the ball, she was electrocuted. Little Zi’Quan was near her, watching as she struggled. She screamed for help, but passers-by who tried to help had to let go because they were being shocked too.

Adriana’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit last May, hoping that others would not be injured or killed by this danger. Investigations found issues with the wiring for lighting and the motor beneath the fountain. Officials require inspection when fountains are built to make sure of safety, but then maintenance is left to the owner. Adriana’s family argued that the fountain was dangerous due to poor maintenance, which allowed the water to carry an electric current that killed Adriana. If fountains are not maintained, experts said that the water could send a charge of 110 volts into someone touching it. There was notice of the danger of this particular fountain, as well, since only one month before Adriana’s tragic death another student was electrocuted after falling in the fountain, and the person who rescued her was also shocked.

Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers recently read about the conclusion of a trial in a tragic case where a young pastor, 28-year-old Jonathan Ayers, was shot and killed when he inadvertently walked into a drug investigation.

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Mr. Ayers, a minister at the Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, was in the parking lot of a Toccoa convenience store on September 1, 2009. He was unaware that there was an undercover drug investigation going on at the time. He was shot and killed by Deputy Billy Shane Harrison when the police apparently mistook him for a drug dealer. The family’s attorney said, “This young man had done nothing wrong and was shot and killed by officers dressed like thugs that appeared to him were trying to carjack him,” and called it an “egregious case.” In December that year, a grand jury found the shooting justified and cleared Harrison of any criminal wrongdoing. This caused some complaints of a tainted process due to the thought that the police were looking after their own in this case, and some local residents were unhappy. Then in March 2010, Mr. Ayers’ widow, Abigail, who was pregnant with their first child at the time of her husband’s death, filed a wrongful death lawsuit. She alleged excessive use of deadly force, assault, battery and false arrest, accusing Deputy Harrison of “gross and plain incompetence,” saying he was an overzealous cop who violated her husband’s civil rights.

At the civil trial, Deputy Harrison said he thought Mr. Ayers was an imminent threat because he had been talking to a suspected drug dealer, and then backed toward another officer, and then drove forward towards Deputy Harrison. Video from the convenience store shows Deputy Harrison shooting at Mr. Ayers’ car as he drove away. One of the bullets hit Mr. Ayers, who crashed his car half a mile from the store, and was still conscious when police found him. While still conscious, he told police he sped away because he thought he was being robbed and didn’t know the people near his car were police officers. Deputy Harrison claims that is untrue, and believed Mr. Ayers saw his badge and knew he was a cop. Mr. Ayers later died at the hospital during surgery to repair the bullet wound.

Our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys saw a news story about a wrongful death lawsuit against NBA Los Angeles Lakers and Georgia Tech basketball star, Javaris Crittenton. This civil lawsuit was filed by June Woods, the mother of Julian Jones, who Crittenton allegedly killed in August 2011. Crittenton is currently in the Fulton County jail after being arrested last week for drug charges while he was out on bond, after being arrested for Ms. Jones’s murder.


Julian Jones was killed by a high-caliber rifle in southeast Atlanta on the night of August 19th, 2011. Police accused Crittenton, and he was charged with murder, aggravated assault, and criminal gang activity in connection with Ms. Jones death. The prosecutors contend that Crittenton was trying to retaliate against a rival gang member when he shot Ms. Jones, claiming the gang member had previously robbed him. Crittenton was released on a $230,000 bond in September 2011, but then had a curfew imposed on him in October after accusations he tried to intimidate a Fulton County prosecutor. Earlier this month he was indicted with several other co-defendants for drug charges, and then was arrested in Fayette County last Wednesday for drug offenses again. Crittenton maintains he’s not guilty and that the case will go to trial, not “mob justice.”

Julian Jones was the mother of four, and Ms. Wood said she was filing the civil lawsuit to try to get compensation to help Ms. Jones’s young children. Her attorney asked the court to freeze Crittenton’s assets. This is after allegations that Crittenton transferred two homes, one in Fulton County and one in Fayette County, to his mother to avoid them being claimed in a civil court case. Ms. Woods will ask the court transfer those properties back to Crittenton. She is also trying to get the files from the prosecutor’s office on the criminal trial for her daughter’s death, and the civil suit will continue pending the murder trial.

With the new year 2014 arriving, one Georgia lawmaker will introduce a bill with tougher sentences for those convicted of driving under the influence, or DUI. Our Georgia wrongful death attorneys read a news story about this proposed law by Representative Earnest Smith and the story behind it.


The bill, which will be introduced in the State Legislature in January, will give judges the option of ordering up to five days in jail for first time DUI offenders. At present, there is only a 48-hour mandatory sentence for first time DUI offenders. The bill is in honor of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue’s intern, Jordan Griner, whose death Rep. Smith called “truly tragic”. Jordan was from Augusta, Georgia, the same area as Rep. Smith. Jordan was killed by a drunk driver on June 19, 2010 when he was 24 years old. He was the designated driver for friends after a party and was almost home at around 4 o’clock in the morning. The drunk driver was 26-year-old Christa Scott. She was driving her Mustang home from working as a bartender at Door 44, a club in Atlanta, and had a blood alcohol level of 0.229, nearly triple the legal limit to drive, when she ran a red light and hit Jordan’s car. Ms. Scott was later convicted of a DUI and wrongful death. She got a 10-year sentence, five years in prison and another five on probation.

Ms. Scott apologized to the family, but they felt she should have thought of her actions before getting in her car to drive under the influence. Jordan’s mother, Autumn Griner, asked the judge in the case to make Ms. Scott have a reminder of Jordan, and the judge complied, ordering Ms. Scott to carry Jordan’s picture with her during the 10-year sentence. The district attorney from Fulton County, Clint Rucker, said of the family, “they felt like having his photo, even as she is in prison, would be a source of a constant reminder for her of how the consequences of drinking and driving had affected an exemplary young man.”

Our Atlanta product liability lawyers know that products in your own house can be dangerous, especially to children. A news story last week talked about a Georgia family’s saga with a home elevator, which caused their young son to become disabled.

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Michael and Brandi Helvey invested $20,000 for a National Wheel-O-Vator Destiny elevator in their home to help Michael’s 80 year old mother who moved in with them. It worked so well they recommended it to neighbors. But on Christmas Eve three years ago the elevators dangers became apparent. The Helvey’s have a son, Jacob, who was three years old at the time and curious about his surroundings. The parents thought they had been careful with child gates in their home. But Jacob stood on his tip toes and managed to open the elevator’s swinging outer door. That swinging outer door closed and latched, and trapped Jacob against the inner door on the elevator car. Brandi Helvey heard noises and pushed the elevator button from upstairs, and when it started the elevator dragged Jacob. They put the elevator back down once again, but the movement shoved Jacob feet first into the elevator shaft, trapping his chest tightly in the small space. The family tried to get him out for 10 minutes with no success. When the emergency crew finally arrived, he had nearly suffocated to death already. Jacob survived, but he suffered terrible injuries. He has brain damage from lack of oxygen to his brain, he cannot speak, and he is now a quadriplegic.

Jacob Helvey and the Helvey family are not alone, sadly. These swinging door elevators have become more popular in homes in recent years, particularly to help elderly family members. At least seven children have died due to accidents with these kind of elevators since 1995. Despite this, most who install these elevators don’t know of the dangers. “We never had any idea this could happen,” said Michael Helvey. “But we found out that the industry knows all about this. There are other cases. My son was just the only one we know of who survived.” He and his family settled a lawsuit this year against National Wheel-o-Vator and their parent company, ThyssenKrupp Access.

Rapper Mario “Slim Dunkin” Hamilton died in December 2011, allegedly over an argument about candy. His death is now the subject of a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit in Fulton County State Court by his father, Mark Hamilton, according to news reports.

The Georgia Wrongful Death Case

Mr. Hamilton, the former emcee of Brick Squad Monopoly, was shot to death on December 16, 2011. It happened when he was about to shoot a music video with 33 year old Radric Davis, aka “Gucci Mane”, at Zone 6 Studio in east Atlanta. Davis was Mr. Hamilton’s mentor. Another musician, 29 year old Vinson Hardimon, aka “Young Vito”, accused Mr. Hamilton of “messing with his candy”. The two began to “scuffle” and someone separated them. Mr. Hamilton was unarmed, but he rushed at Mr. Hardimon, who shot and killed Mr. Hamilton. At Mr. Hardimon’s trial in February 2013, also in Fulton County, he was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and gun possession and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was acquitted of murder and felony murder. Mr. Hardimon has asked the judge to reconsider reducing his sentence by ten years because he shouldn’t have been convicted of aggravated assault if he was not guilty of murder. He also claims there is a hit out on his life.