VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - A Lowndes County nursing home is appealing a $7.6 million ruling on a wrongful death lawsuit.
The nursing home argues the judgment should be reversed because a prospective juror was excused based on race, saying it’s a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Georgia Supreme Court held its oral arguments Tuesday on the case.
“Our position is that both the trial court and court of appeals error by concluding that the explanation given for the strike of juror number eleven was race-neutral,” said Page Powell, the attorney for Heritage Healthcare at Holly Hill.
He’s appealing a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling upholding a court’s decision in a wrongful death case where the jury awarded more than $7.6 million in damages.
The court’s document states that Lowndes County Health Services owns Holly Hill.
Gregory Copeland sued them in connection to the 2012 death of Copeland’s father, Bobby, for professional and ordinary negligence.
Bobby Copeland was a resident at the facility and died in the emergency room of South Georgia Medical Center.
The cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by acute respiratory distress syndrome, which a court ruled could’ve been avoided if detected.
“Juror eleven works in a sheet metal factory, works in South Lowndes County. Based on our demographic research of this group and with our discussion with other councils who work in this area, suggested that may not be an area that may be friendly to African-Americans, which our client is,” said Powell.
Powell argues there are multiple references to race in the explanation.
Judges challenged both attorneys.
Copeland’s lawyer, Kenneth Connor, was asked what made them conclude that area was not friendly to African-Americans and if the dismissal explanation was race-neutral.
“Demographics is a fuzzy word, it could mean race. And as it was used in the transcripts, we can’t say it didn’t mean that,” said the judge.
“The burden is on the opponent of the strike to demonstrate purposeful race discrimination,” said Connor.
Connor said he believes their comment was racial neutral and hopes the Supreme Court agrees. He said it takes several months for the court to make a decision.