$5 Million Settlement for Wrongful Death Plaintiffs After Balcony Fall

Parties:

John & Stephanie Lipp v. American Campus Communities, et. al.

Court:

United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division

Judge:

The Honorable Nanette K. Laughrey, U.S. District Judge

Date of Settlement:

February 2nd, 2017

Plaintiff’s Counsel:

AW Smith
The AW Smith Law Firm, Columbia, Missouri
573-777-3333 (office) aw@awsmithlaw.com

Defense Counsel:

Jacqueline Cook & Suzanne Bruss Franke, Schultz & Mullen, Kansas City, Missouri
816-421-7100 (office) jcook@fsmlawfirm.com
Attorneys for American Campus Communities, Inc.

Jeffrey Blaylock & Clayton Thompson
Ford, Parshall & Baker, Columbia, Missouri
573-449-2613 (office) jblaylock@fpb-law.com
Attorneys for Ginger C, LLC

Type of Case:

Fall from Balcony – Wrongful Death

Plaintiffs’ Experts:

David Chase, Architect, West Palm Beach, Florida; Robert Griswold, Real Estate Management, San Diego, California; Tony Childress, Civil Engineering, Dallas, Texas; Mariusz Ziejewski, Biomechanical Engineering, Fargo, North Dakota; Carl Stacey, M.D., Columbia, Missouri.

Settlement:

Plaintiffs, $5,000,000.00


On April 18, 2013, Ginger C, a local student housing rental-company owned by University of Missouri Professor Nakhle Asmar, contracted to purchase 507 S. Fourth Street in Columbia, Missouri, on contingency. Asmar had also contracted to purchase or already owned all of the 16 adjacent properties near West Campus. Ginger C had an additional contingent contract with American Campus Communities, the self-proclaimed nation’s largest student housing developer, to re-sell and redevelop the assemblage into a 718 bed student housing complex. City approval of the project fulfilled the contingencies.

On February 1, 2014, ACC submitted an application to the City of Columbia for the new project. On March 19th, 2014, the City Council voted to table ACC’s project. Numerous other student housing development projects were already under construction in Columbia. Numerous other student housing projects were in the application process. The City of Columbia was becoming concerned about the City’s aging infrastructure being able to handle the student housing development boom.

On May 7, 2014, the City Council voted again to table ACC’s redevelopment project. Local media was regularly covering increasing opposition to new student housing developments. On August 5th, 2014, the City of Columbia voted for the 3rd time to table defendant ACC’s redevelopment request. Frustrated and concerned about the future viability of the project, ACC directed Ginger C to lease all 17 properties to students for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year. Although the City finally approved ACC’s new project on August 19, 2014, most of the properties had already been rented, including 507 S. Fourth.

On October 22, 2014, Ginger C closed on 507 S. Fourth Street with a loan that it secured from ACC. Under the loan’s terms, Ginger C still owned and managed the property, however there was conflicting evidence as to whether the tenant lease was assigned to ACC. Ginger C was the only one that inspected the property after closing. Witnesses testified that they showed Mr. Asmar an outdoor balcony railing that was in need of repair. Asmar denied that he was shown the railing.

On December 12, 2014, the tenants of 507 S. Fourth Street held a “stop day” party. Around 200 students attended. Jack Lipp, a 19 year old freshman, arrived at the party around 11:30 p.m. Several witnesses saw Lipp at the party. Shortly after 2:00 a.m., Lipp was found on the ground outside of the residence directly underneath the balcony. Lipp was unconscious and no one saw what happened. The main balcony railing was found broken on the ground, 35 feet from Lipp. Lipp was rushed to University Hospital and was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury. Lipp also had injuries that were consistent with being in a fight. On December 25, 2014, Lipp died from his injuries. The Columbia Police Department investigated the incident and declined to make any arrests.

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