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DeKalb Jury Awards Nearly $70M in Kroger Parking Lot Robbery-Shooting Case

Pete Law (clockwise, from left), Denise Hoying, Mike Moran with client Laquan Taylor (Courtesy photo)

On Thursday, a DeKalb County jury delivered a post-apportioned award of more than $69.6 million to a young Navy veteran shot multiple times during a robbery and carjacking at a Moreland Avenue Kroger store, leading to multiple surgeries and leaving him paraplegic.

Lead plaintiff’s attorney Peter Law said the evidence was overwhelming that Kroger knew the store was located in an unsafe, high-crime area, yet failed to place any security guards in the parking lot where Laquan Taylor was robbed and shot.

“There was testimony the guy who shot him had been hanging out around there before,” said Law, who tried the case with Law & Moran colleagues E. Michael Moran and Denise Hoying.  

The case was originated by Joseph Kuveikis of Duluth's  Kuveikis Law.

Law said the defense’s highest offer to settle pretrial was for $1 million.

“The offered somewhere around $12 million during the trial,” he said. “We turned that down.”

Law said his client, Laquan Taylor, “is a really great guy. Everybody loved him: the police officers, the defense lawyers, the jury. He’s really an inspiration.”

Law said Taylor, who served five years aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln before his discharge, now serves as a mentor for other injured vets.  

Kroger was represented by Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial partners Jonathan Krawcheck, Richard Hill II and Frederick Cooper IV.

“Kroger and its trial team wish Mr. Taylor all the best,” said Krawcheck via email, declining to comment on pending litigation.   

A co-defendant company that provided in-store security for Kroger, Norred & Associates, was dismissed from the trial case when its attorneys, Charles McDaniel Jr. and Ryan Kolb of Carlock Copeland & Stair, moved for a directed verdict.

Norred “was granted a directed verdict following Taylor’s and Kroger’s presentations of their respective cases in chief,” said McDaniel in an email.

“After presentation of this evidence, the court ruled there was no evidence of a causal connection between Norred’s actions and the incident involving Mr. Taylor; Norred was under contract to provide interior security,” McDaniel wrote.

McDaniel said Norred’s security officer had been at the store’s entrance when the shooting happened, “which is an appropriate location and where the officer was expected to be positioned.”  

According to Law and court filings, Taylor was 26 when he visited the Kroger in southeast Atlanta a little after 7 p.m. in January 2015 to do some shopping and use the Western Union outlet there.

Victor Moore and Javon Ross were hanging around the parking lot, Law said.

“Laquan had an orange Camaro, and when he pulled in, they decided they wanted his car and his money,” he said of the men arrested for the crime. Moore and Ross allegedly demanded his keys and wallet. After Taylor handed them over, Ross shot him between 11 and 14 times, and the pair left in his car.

Taylor’s car was equipped with an OnStar security system, and responding officers were able to use it to track and disable the vehicle remotely, Law said.

“They couldn’t figure out why the car wasn’t working and were pushing it down the road when the police got there,” he said.  

Ross and Moore are each serving 15-year sentences after pleading guilty to charges including armed robbery, carjacking, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and aggravated assault.

Taylor was fortunate to be alive: He was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he underwent 14 surgeries over two months, then spent two more months at Shepherd Center. He spent another seven months in rehab at Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, and underwent two more surgeries.

His medical bills thus far are more than $4.5 million.

Taylor sued Kroger, Western Union and Norred in DeKalb County State Court in 2015 for claims including premises liability, nuisance and negligence.

During a mediation before Gino Brogdon Sr. with Henning Mediation & Arbitration Service last April, Law said Kroger made its $1 million offer to settle.

“Laquan had more than $4 million in past medicals then,” he said.

Law said his side started the mediation demanding $40 million but indicated they could drop to around $30 million.

Kroger had multiple lawyers of insurance, he said, but the adjuster “just never really engaged, he never seemed to get serious. By the time he was ready to offer some money during the trial, we weren’t interested.”

Judge Wayne Purdom dismissed Western Union pretrial after determining that it was neither an owner or occupier of the premises and had no employees on site, Moran said.

Law said jury selection was so difficult, Purdom had to call in two jury pools to pick a panel.

“Everybody kept saying they couldn’t be fair and impartial because they were all strongly in favor of my client,” he said.

During a seven-day trial, Law said several of Taylor’s doctors testified; a life-care plan cited in the pretrial order said Taylor's future medical needs would be at least $1.4 million.

Both sides had security experts ready to testify, but they didn’t.

“We decided not to call ours, so they didn’t call theirs,” Law said.

According to the order, Kroger argued that it was not responsible for Ross and Moore’s “heinous actions” and that Taylor’s causation claim was “mired in speculation that additional security measures could have prevented the subject criminal attack from occurring.”

During closing arguments Tuesday afternoon, Law said he asked the jury to award $80 million in damages.

The jury deliberated all day Wednesday and about four hours Thursday before awarding $81 million in total damages, but it apportioned 14 percent of the fault to Ross and Moore, for a total award of $69,660,000.

The award included $60 million for “pain and suffering, mental suffering, physical injury, inconvenience, and physical impairment in the past and into the future.”

In conversation with jurors afterward, Law said the panel had no problem finding liability on Kroger’s part.

“They said that, to them, it was a clear case, a strong case of negligence,” he said. “Kroger had no security in the parking lot, and they knew they should have had it.”