Engineering expert witness testimony will help to determine who was at fault in the wrongful death lawsuit against Advance Cast Stone, the Wisconsin company whose construction methods allegedly caused the death of a 15 year old boy in June 2010. Jared Kellner was tragically killed in the parking garage of O’Donnell Park on the opening day of the music festival, Summerfest. A 13-ton concrete slab fell at least seven feet from the garage’s facade, crushing the boy and seriously injuring Kellner’s best friend Eric Wosinski and Eric’s mother, Amy Wosinski. The incident required Mrs. Wosinski to have her lower leg amputated.
Advance Cast Stone is accused of using an unapproved shortcut to hang many of the massive concrete panels on O’Donnell Park. According to the Journal Sentinel, lawyers for the plaintiffs claim that the company employed “shoddy practices” to save time and money on the construction project. They claim that they didn’t follow the protocol and instead used a “drill-and-pound” technique “to avoid having to wait for grout sealing the connections to dry.” The O’Donnell construction project had “called for use of predrilled holes lined with steel sleeves that stainless steel pins slip into, linking the panel with the wall.”
The company claims that “verbal approval was given for the change in how the panels were hung.” Yet, determining what actually transpired might be difficult, as the project was completed 20 years ago. Kenneth Loeffel, the project manager in charge of overseeing the O’Donnell construction project but retired partway through in the project in 1995, testified that he “could not recall issues with the method of connecting the heavy panel.” Jack Terry, the on-site construction manager, also testified that “he didn’t remember ever hearing about, much less approving, a change in the method of attaching heavy precast concrete panels to the building’s exterior.” He did state that “he would not have approved a switch from using stainless steel rods inserted into stainless steel sleeves and set into predrilled holes.”
The issue in question at trial is whether the company installed the concrete panels as originally designed as the “drill and pound” method was not specified in the construction plans, and no documentation of a change order has been found.
Related: Construction Expert Witness Discusses Crane Accident
Engineering expert witness William Blast, testifying for Advance Cast Stone, defended the company’s installation, stating that their method was “sufficient.” He stated that the accident was likely caused by “a blow from a tow truck or garbage truck” knocking the panel loose. Yet, a different engineering expert witness, John Goetter, testified a few weeks earlier that the company had installed the panels in a “substandard” fashion, noting that the “failed panel — and many others hung on the east side of the building — used two rather than four connecting pins” and were not “fitted into pre-drilled holes with steel sleeves, as construction plans specified.”
Structural engineer expert witness, Ned Cleland, testified that the “drill and pound” method of connecting the concrete was deficient and “failed to meet acceptable safety standards.”
Related: Design of Movie Theater Contributes to Injury
Advance Cast Stone completed the installation project in the early 1990s. They won the government contract to manufacture and install approximately 70 concrete panels on O’Donnell Park with a bid that was almost half of the bids placed by two other companies. According to the Journal Sentinel, Advance Cast Stone bid $650,000 less than one competitor and $723,000 less than the other.
The company claims that the tragic accident was caused by a “lack of maintenance by Milwaukee County,” blaming the county for allowing hits and scrapes by vehicles to damage and loosen the panels. Milwaukee County instead faults Advance Cast Stone for the accident. They are suing the company for “$7.1 million to cover costs of repairing the structure and for lost parking revenue.” The garage was closed for 18 months following the tragic accident.
The victims are in turn are also suing the company for millions. Kellner’s parents seek $7.5 million in damages, not including punitive damages, and the Wosinskis’ seek nearly $3 million for damages including lost income, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Psychologist expert witnesses have given contrasting testimony as to whether the victims perceived the danger of the 34-foot panel falling on them. “Whether Jared perceived the danger is crucial to the plaintiffs’ claim for monetary damages.”
The jury is expected to being deliberations next week.