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Parking garage suit filed to beat reform bill

A wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a collapsed concrete panel at a Milwaukee County-owned parking garage was filed earlier than planned so the plaintiffs could avoid pending legislation that would limit punitive damages.

The legislation, which would limit punitive damage claims to $200,000 or twice the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater, was approved by the State Senate on Jan. 18. The bill would also impose a higher burden of proof for punitive damages that require plaintiffs to show defendants acted with intent to cause an injury.

On June 24, a concrete panel collapsed at O’Donnell Park parking garage in downtown Milwaukee, killing Jared Kellner, 15.

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Jan. 19 by Cannon & Dunphy on behalf of Dawn Kellner, Jared’s mother.

The city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, both of which were served a Notice of Injury in December and have 120 days to respond, were not named. Cannon & Dunphy attorney Allan M. Foeckler said the city and/or Milwaukee County could be added to the lawsuit later.

Foeckler said the proposed changes hastened the firm’s decision to file suit. He said the stricter standards “will take away juries’ abilities to hold bad businesses fully accountable.”

Current law, as interpreted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Wischer v. Mitsubishi, 2005 WI 26, 279 Wis. 2d 4 (2005), allows for recovery if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant acted maliciously toward the plaintiff or in an intentional disregard of the rights of the plaintiff.

The high-profile 2005 Supreme Court case involved the wives of three workers who were killed in the 1999 crane collapse accident during construction of Miller Park.

“Nobody wants to be the test case,” said Milwaukee Personal Injury Lawyer Paul J. Scoptur on the timing of the O’Donnell Park suit.

Jack Zemlicka can be reached at jack.zemlicka@wislawjournal.com.

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