Trial attorneys debating blame Wednesday for the June 2010 death of a teenager at the O’Donnell Park parking garage near Milwaukee’s lakefront pointed fingers at Advance Cast Stone Co., which built the structure about 20 years ago.
Plaintiff and defense attorneys said the Random Lake contractor shoddily attached panels to the parking garage, from which a 34-foot, 13.5-ton concrete piece fell and killed 15-year-old Jared Kellner while he was walking to Summerfest.
The trial, which began Monday with jury selection in Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley’s courtroom, stems from Kellner’s death and injuries sustained by his friend Eric Wosinski and Wosinski’s mother, Amy. The Wosinskis and Kellners are seeking damages from Advance Cast Stone. The company has countersued Milwaukee County.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and Milwaukee County alleged Wednesday that Advance Cast Stone employees did not follow the engineer’s instructions for the panel installation. Instead of taking the proper time to install the panels, the attorneys said, the contractor used an unapproved method known as “drill and pound” to fasten the panels to the structure.
“These panels were massive,” said Allan Foeckler, an attorney with Cannon & Dunphy SC representing the Kellners. To demonstrate, he had Timothy Andringa, an attorney with Cramer, Multhauf & Hammes LLC who is representing the Wosinskis, pull a tape measure that stretched from Foeckler’s table to the back of the courtroom.
“That’s why those connections were so important,” Foeckler said. “That’s why they were engineered to hold the panels in place.”
Advance Cast Stone’s attorney, Matthew McClean of Davis & Kuelthau SC, said the county’s lack of maintenance in the years following installation caused the panel to fall. The panel was prone to damage from cars, rain and snow, he said, and Milwaukee County did not do its part to keep the structure safe.
McClean said he intends to call former Advance Cast Stone employees to testify that the panels were installed properly. County Executive Chris Abele also will testify, the attorney said, to discuss comments he made about deferred maintenance.
“ACS did what they were told,” McClean said. “They followed the instructions … to make sure that something like this could never happen.”
But Ross Anderson, an attorney with Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC representing Milwaukee County, maintained Advance Cast Stone breached its contract by not following the engineer’s instructions. He told the jury, “There will not be any evidence linking any deferred maintenance issue to O’Donnell Park to the way that panel was connected to the exterior of the structure.”
Andringa said the Wosinskis stand to lose more than $2.8 million in medical bills and future earnings. When the panel fell, Eric Wosinski fractured his leg and toe and was left with a gash on the back of his head. Amy Wosinski had part of her leg amputated as a result of her injuries and used a cane while walking around the courthouse.
Foeckler said the Kellners should be awarded at least $7.5 million.
Anderson said the county lost $6.7 million in parking fee revenue and money spent studying the accident and removing the panels. The attorney said the county’s study “revealed 98 percent of the panels were not installed in the way the engineer said they should be.”
Testimony in the trial, expected to last up to five weeks, began Wednesday afternoon with Steve Wosinski, Amy’s husband and Eric’s father. Steve Wosinski was with his family and Kellner when the panel fell, and Andringa told the jury Steve saw “the fear in [Jared’s] eyes before he’s killed.”
Emotions were running high as proceedings began. Some of Jared Kellner’s loved ones wore buttons with his face on it. Dawn Kellner, Jared’s mother, was visibly crying as Foeckler, in opening statements, laid out the life her son never would live.
“Jared is dead because Advance Cast Stone did something wrong,” Foeckler said, later characterizing the company as one “that would rather lie to make a buck than do the job safe.”