It could be months before Advance Cast Stone Co. knows exactly how much money it will have to pay following a jury’s decision Thursday to award millions of dollars to the families of those injured and killed at O’Donnell Park parking garage.
Debate is ongoing about whether the Random Lake contractor’s insurers, Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp. and Liberty Insurance Underwriters Inc., should have to pay up to $10 million of the $39.2 million verdict.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley decided Monday that the insurers will be allowed to present evidence to a jury March 3 to determine what coverage, if any, is applicable.
That determination followed the jury’s finding Thursday that Advance Cast Stone’s negligence led to the death of Jared Kellner, 15, as well as injuries sustained by Amy Wosinski and her son, Eric, when a piece of concrete facade fell off the parking garage June 24, 2010.
During the first part of the trial, in which the jury determined negligence, the judge excluded evidence about insurance coverage. But Liberty has said it should not be on the hook for any of the money Advance Cast Stone owes because the contractor willfully ignored a safe way to install the panels.
During Monday’s hearing, Foley said debate about the fact of whether coverage applies should be handled by a jury, and not left unanswered, which could then create a problem if the case is appealed.
The jury last week found Advance Cast Stone 88 percent at fault for the incident, Milwaukee County 2 percent negligent and J.H. Findorff & Son Inc. 10 percent at fault. Findorff settled with the families in July. Milwaukee County’s portion of the judgment will be covered by insurance, its attorney said.
Advance Cast Stone President Matt Garni, as well as the contractor’s attorney, Matt McClean of Davis & Kuelthau SC, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But Tim Andringa, an attorney with Cramer, Multhauf & Hammes LLP representing the Wosinskis, said after Monday’s hearing that it’s important for Liberty to “be held responsible for the acts of their insured.” He also said it’s possible in cases such as this that the verdict could end up bankrupting a company, thus making it difficult for the plaintiffs to collect their winnings.
During the trial to determine negligence, attorneys for the Wosinskis and Kellners argued that Advance Cast Stone deviated from the approved technique for hanging concrete panels on the garage’s parapet walls when the structure was built in the early 1990s.
McClean, in turn, argued that the change in technique was approved but that the relevant paperwork had been lost. The panel fell, he said during trial, because it was hit by an unknown vehicle at an unknown time and because connections were weakened by time and the elements.