Eleven years ago, Ashton Schneider nearly drowned at a community swimming pool. On September 4, 2018 a Fulton County judge ordered the pool management company, USA Pools, and the president at the time of the incident to pay $5 million. Ms. Schneider, then 7, suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after a lifeguard at the Chapel Hills Community Pool failed to notice the child sink to the bottom of the pool until other swimmers came to her rescue. The only lifeguard on duty didn’t notice Ashton drowning because she could not see the bottom of the pool and because she was “monitoring the door for persons entering and leaving the pool and otherwise not paying attention” according to the filed complaint. Once Ashton was pulled from the pool and resuscitated, she was airlifted to the hospital and diagnosed with a clear TBI. This injury led to developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, and seizures that Ashton dealt with throughout her childhood, attorney Hammers says. To this day, Ashton still feels the after-effects of the incident although she is preparing to go to college like most of her peers.
While litigating the case, Hammers Law Firm discovered that USA Pools committed acts of negligence as well as fraud. USA Pools misrepresented the nature of the company to its insurance provider and clients. For example, USA Pools told its insurance company it only cleaned pools while simultaneously marketing to its customers that it was a comprehensive pool safety and management company. USA Pools also represented it employed trained lifeguards when it did not train them and never tested their life saving skills. Even after Ashton’s near drowning, USA Pools did not train its lifeguards and continued to obtain pool management contracts while operating without proper insurance. The Fulton County judge found that USA Pools committed intentional fraud based on these misrepresentations. “It was important for them to be found fraudulent [because they said] they had trained lifeguards and were properly insured when they weren’t,” attorney Hammers said. How did we get from near drowning to this verdict and what happens next?
The lead attorneys on the case are Robert Hammers Jr., managing partner, and Ashley Mitchell, who came to the firm in July 2018. Ashley’s previous experience was on the side of the defense where she worked for 8 years defending insurance companies and their insureds in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. From this experience, Ashley gained important insights into the inner-workings of insurance companies and how they respond to accidents, analyze claims, and approach trials. Utilizing this insight, Ashley was a key player in getting damages awarded to the client. After only a month at the firm she’s won numerous settlements on the behalf of individuals and families who have been affected by the carelessness of others. Rob and Ashley made a great team as Rob also comes from a defense background. Having started his career representing insurance companies and large corporations in wrongful death and catastrophic injury claims, he can now use this experience to prosecute these cases on behalf of injured victims. As an Atlanta personal injury attorney, he is dedicated to getting fair and just results for those who have been injured by the negligence of others. Through diligent representation, he fights for the results his clients deserve.
In this case, the defendants were ordered to pay a default award because they refused to participate in the lawsuit. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-55(a) provides that when a case is in default, the plaintiff is entitled to judgment “as if every item and paragraph of the complaint or other original pleading were supported by proper evidence.” Judge Myra Dixon ordered the defendants to pay $5 million, including $3 million in punitive damages, $1 million for past and future pain and suffering, and $1 million for intentional fraud. Usually, Georgia courts limit punitive damages awards to $250,000, but Hammers and Mitchell were able to avoid this “cap” on punitive damages by proving Defendants had specific intent to harm. It’s important to note that punitive damages and damages related to fraud cannot be discharged by bankruptcy, which is away defendants can evade paying out settlements. Hammers and Mitchell said that the defendants still have large contracts managing pools around the country. One contract with the state of New York is worth $1 million by itself. In an article published in the Daily Report attorney Hammers said, “we believe there are assets and cash available. I don’t know if we can get all $4 million of the non-bankruptable judgment, but we’re going to pursue it. Somebody needs to put these folks out of business.”
“I’ll happily chase this judgment to the end of my career,” Hammers said.
Hammers Law Firm LLC is a trial lawyer firm located in Atlanta, Ga. They serve personal injury clients across the state of Georgia and nationwide. Hammers Law Firm has won millions for its thousands of clients since 2015. The Atlanta personal injury lawyers at Hammers Law Firm specialize in car accidents, personal injury, defective medical products and dangerous drugs. Robert Hammers, Jr. is yearly recognized as Super Lawyers® by the National Trial Lawyers Association. Contact them today to find out how he can help you.