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They recovered the bodies from the Hard Rock Hotel. Now, they say the developer never paid them. | Business News

The firm that was contracted to recover the bodies of two of the three workers who died in the 2019 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel is suing the hotel’s developer claiming it was never paid for the work.

Three workers died when the hotel’s top floors collapsed on Oct. 12, 2019, several months before construction of the 18-story tower at the corner of Canal and Rampart streets was set to be completed. The body of Anthony Magrette was recovered a few days later, but the bodies of Quinnyon Wimberly and Jose Ponce Arreola remained trapped inside the rubble for 10 months until they were removed under the supervision of the New Orleans Fire Department and other city agencies.

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Irene Wimberly, left, is consoled by the New Orleans Fire Department chaplain, after the body of her son, Quinnyon Wimberly, was recovered from the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, nearly 10 months after the hotel partially collapsed while under construction, killing three workers. The body of Jose Ponce Arreola has not yet been recovered from the rubble. 

Kolb Grading, a firm based in Weldon Spring near St. Louis, Missouri, handled most of the demolition work after the collapse, which took nearly a year and a half to complete.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Kolb said it had an $8.4 million contract with 1031 Canal Development, the ownership group that controlled the hotel, to do the main part of the demolition work. It also claims that it had a separate agreement to assist government officials with other demolition operations to safely remove the two bodies. Under that contract, Kolb expected to be compensated over and above the main contract on a “time and materials” basis.

In the lawsuit, Kolb said that it submitted invoices that totaled just over $1.6 million for this work but that 1031 Canal Development has refused to pay. The development company is controlled by Chandra Kailas, head of real estate firm Kailas Companies of Metairie, who is also named in the lawsuit.

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The collapsed Hard Rock Hotel building at Canal and N. Ramparts streets in New Orleans, La., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. 

Lori Mince of Fishman Haygood, which represents the developer, said they weren’t refusing to pay and that the estimate by Kolb overstated the cost.

“This is just a billing dispute,” Mince said. “If they gave us proper backup (for the claim) then we’d pay, but they haven’t, so we did our own investigation and came up with an amount somewhere around $500,000, $600,000.”

Kolb is seeking the $1.6 million it claims it is owed plus interest from the time it submitted the bill in August, 2020, as well as legal expenses.

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A slew of lawsuits

The Kolb action is the latest in a slew of lawsuits that have been filed since the hotel’s collapse.

The families of dead and injured workers began filing claims of negligence almost immediately after the hotel fell.

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Demolition of the cranes at the Hard Rock Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans on Sunday, October 20, 2019. 

The developer has been named is almost all of the lawsuits as sub-contractors and insurance companies have sued and counter-sued. 1031 Canal has also been sued by the city of New Orleans as well as by the Saenger Theater and other nearby businesses that were disrupted for more than a year after the collapse.

In one of the first legal maneuvers after the hotel’s collapse, the developer had put on notice all of its sub-contractors and insurance companies that it planned to hold them liable for most of the expenses that arose in the wake of the calamity.

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Workers are helped after the upper floors of the Hard Rock hotel collapsed while under construction on Rampart Street near Canal Street in New Orleans Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. 

In October, Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams convened a grand jury to consider felony charges in the hotel’s collapse, and he has subpoenaed files from the New Orleans Office of Inspector General and from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

There have yet to be any criminal charges filed in the case.

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