A Muscogee County State Court jury has found that the owners of Ralston Towers were responsible for the 2017 death of resident Charles Hart and awarded his daughter and his estate, $125 million.
The jury deliberated less than two hours before returning a $35 million judgment for wrongful death and $15 million for pain and suffering. They went back into deliberations and awarded another $50 million in punitive damages and $25 million for attorney’s fees.
Columbus attorney Charles Gower represented Hart’s daughter, Christina Thornton.
“They need to get their act straight and not let these people continue to live in this hell,” Gower said of the Ralston owners, PF Holdings Inc.
The jury sent a powerful message, Gower said.
“It says the jury of Columbus is fed up with how the Ralston is being run,” he said. “And by the way they were giving away millions of dollars over pain and suffering. This needs to stop.”
The verdict came Monday, the sixth day of the wrongful death lawsuit in front of Judge Andy Prather.
Hart died in a 98-degree room at Ralston Towers two years ago. Attorneys for Hart’s daughter and his estate are seeking punitive damages against PF Holdings, a New Jersey-based company that owns the Ralston.
During closing arguments, Gower asked the jury for more than $51 million dollars. He came to that number by saying that the owners of the Ralston had diverted more than $5 million since buying the property.
James Budd, the Atlanta attorney representing the Ralston, asked the jury give Cristina Thornton nothing for the death of her father. He pointed to Hart’s multiple medical issues and said the heat in Hart’s room did not cause his death.
“This case is not about the condition of the Ralston today, yesterday or in the ensuing months after the death of Charles Hart,” Budd said. “Your task in this case; your job in this case, is not to fix the Ralston.”
That is not what the jury appeared to say.
Much of the testimony focused on the deplorable living conditions inside the Ralston, a low-income apartment building in downtown Columbus. Most of the residents in theRalston depend on federal subsidies for all or a portion of their rent.
Gower pounded the Ralston ownership in his closing.
“It’s deplorable,” Gower said. “It’s a living hell down there. Do they care? Do they give a damn? They are getting money from various ways out of it. I can go on and on and show you the financial statements. You hopefully get the point, they are sucking it dry. Why?”
Budd would not comment when the case ended. Gower said he is certain that the Ralston owners will appeal.
The only person in court representing PF Holdings was Jewel Hearl, a compliance director. In his closing, Gower noted that owners Chaim and Aron Puretz never stepped foot in the courtroom.
The entities that Gower sued were Ralston GA LLC, doing business as The Ralston; PF Ralston, LLC; PF Holdings, Inc.; and Schoolhouse Road Estates, Inc.
“Who controls the above four corporations?” Gower asked. “It certainly isn’t Mrs. Hearl.. Where are the owners? Where are the people responsible for this? Where are the people laundering the money?”
Gower told News 3 that he turned down a $5 million settlement offer from the defendants as the jury deliberate.
In addition to Gower, attorneys Miranda Brash, Shaun O’Hara and Austin Gower as well as investigator Joe Denson worked on the case.