A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Wednesday stemming from a June 24 incident at the Milwaukee County-owned O’Donnell Park parking garage in which a concrete panel collapsed, killing 15-year-old Jared Kellner and injuring two others.
The victim’s mother, Dawn Kellner, filed the wrongful death and personal injury claim, which lists several plaintiffs.
“This is the initial step in attempting to determined what happened to Jared Kellner and what led to his death,” said attorney Bill Cannon, of Cannon & Dunphy, who is representing the family. “Now we will have subpoena power to get the documents and to take testimony. It’s clear that many people had knowledge of the shoddy construction, or should have had that knowledge.”
The list of companies named in the lawsuit includes Advance Cast Stone Co., Random Lake, which designed and installed the 70 decorative concrete panels on the garage’s outer walls; J.H. Findorff and Son Inc., Madison, the project’s construction manager; C.D. Smith Construction Inc., Fond du Lac, a concrete subcontractor on the project; and engineering firm Dietz Drafting and Design Inc., Burlington. Four unnamed insurance companies were also listed on the suit.
Representatives from three of the four construction companies listed in the suit did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday morning.
Gary Smith, president of C.D. Smith, said his company was strictly a concrete subcontractor and had no further knowledge of the panel casting process. He said his company did its portion of the work for O’Donnell in 1990 and 1991.
“Everything we did was according to the plans and specifications,” he said. “It was inspected prior to the concrete placement, and after the concrete was placed it was tested for strength.”
C.D. Smith only keeps project records for 10 years, and it does not have any paperwork supporting inspections occurred before and after pouring concrete, Smith said.
But the construction firm is confident, he said, it will be cleared of any wrongdoing during the course of the legal process.
“No matter how it turns out, everybody that’s been named somewhere along the line – whether you’re guilty or not – people are going to remember our name was attached to this litigation,” Smith said. “Even though we should be found to not be at fault, people aren’t necessarily going to remember that.”
All four construction companies conducted various work on the O’Donnell Park parking structure, according to the suit.
“It’s clear all the defendants had or should have known what was occurring there,” Cannon said. “I suspect at the end of the day, we will have several defendants point fingers at each other.”
Cannon said his goal is to get to the bottom of what happened and expects the defendants will deny their culpability.
“That’s standard operating procedure,” he said. “But now we have the subpoena powers to obtain their documents and subpoena powers to take depositions of key people at each of the companies and get to the bottom of what happened.”
The case was filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court and has been assigned to Judge Thomas Cooper.
The Daily Reporter’s Marie Rohde and the Wisconsin Law Journal’s Jack Zemicka also contributed to this report.