Family awarded $1.2 million for death in storm at Kennywood

Posted Monday, July 23, 2007 9:06 AM | Contributed by GregLeg

An Allegheny County Common Pleas jury yesterday awarded $1.2 million to a Monroeville couple whose daughter was killed five years ago when a roof broke loose at Kennywood Park. Theirs was the last of several lawsuits against Kennywood by patrons injured by flying debris in a May 31, 2002, storm. The other injured park-goers settled out of court. Stephanie Wilkerson, 29, was the only fatality and her parents' suit was only one to go to trial.

Read more from The Post-Gazette.

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Monday, July 23, 2007 9:10 AM
Jeff's avatar How very strange that they're awarding damages before determining liability. In the event that they prove the structure was not built to code, there's certainly a just case there, but what if it was? I have a hard time getting my head around the limits of liability when nature gets involved.

I do remember that day pretty well though. Very tragic.

Monday, July 23, 2007 9:14 AM
I remember that day quite well. A number of us were actually at Holiday World, but came home to quite a mess.

Damage was pretty severe, not just in Kennywood, but to a number of houses and other buildings in the surrounding area. That was an incredibly nasty storm.

Monday, July 23, 2007 10:22 AM
It was sad and I really feel for her family but..

If everything was built to code why would anyone be at fault?It was a accident or a "act of God".

Monday, July 23, 2007 10:24 AM
So what did they award damages for then? Because tornado-like winds collapsed a building and she happened to be there? I'm not quite sure how the park is at fault here especially since they haven't proven if the structure was legal and/or built to the proper codes.

I'm also a little confused as to why the family is awarded "loss of future wages" damages for someone who was 29. My family doesn't get any of my wages right now. Were her parents the beneficiaries of her life insurance? Did she HAVE life insurance? I could see if she was married or something, but parents of a 29 year old getting lost wage money seems a little odd to me. Did this person support her parents financially? The story mentions nothing of that.

I sympathize for anyone who is involved in an accident. But, just because someone dies at a park doesn't mean it was the parks fault and they should pay. But, I guess it's a sign of the times in our country.

If the pavilion was built without a proper permit, shouldn't the city be somewhat liable for that? They are supposed to inspect the property and record data like that with the county. If a structure was erected without a permit, shame on the city for not checking. If they did have a permit, shame on the city for not enforcing the local building code.

Monday, July 23, 2007 10:28 AM
^^^ agree.

My boss is a lawyer,Im going to ask his opinion about what he thinks of this.

Monday, July 23, 2007 10:32 AM
Slip and fall, dog bite, anything that happens that hurts anybody on your property makes you potentially liable.

The truly sad thing about this: Not one penny will bring the girl back.


Monday, July 23, 2007 10:51 AM
Maybe Kennywood just wanted to settle the case and be done with it.It might have cost them more to fight the courts ruling than what its worth.My boss said some insurance companies do write a provision in their policies for future lost wages in case of a accident.

*** This post was edited by Ex_Westview and KW_worker 7/23/2007 10:56:25 AM ***

Monday, July 23, 2007 3:26 PM
I was going through some older pictures recently of my trip to KW in 2000, and it was haunting to see The Whip with the cover still overtop of it. I have to agree that this was a total Act of God and nothing more.
Monday, July 23, 2007 4:12 PM

The story mentions that she still lived at home. Whether she actually helped to support them is something that we don't know about, but I'm sure on that basis alone they were able to get compensated.

Monday, July 23, 2007 4:26 PM
kpjb's avatar The headline is somewhat misleading, as are most of the news reports.

Some have touched on it, but to clarify:

The family has not yet been awarded anything. This was a trial to determine how much compensation the settlement would be IF anyone is found liable in the next trial.

The second trial will determine who is responsible and in what amount, whether it be Kennywood, the architects, or the contractors who built the roof.

The roof was torn off by tornado-force winds. The technical term for the event was a "macro-burst." If that is found to be the sole cause, the family would not be compensated.

I've never heard of a case being determined in this fashion, it's a new one for me. It must be so terrible for the family... how do you sit there and hear people determine what price your daughter's life was worth?

Monday, July 23, 2007 5:20 PM
^ If it was really that hard on them, why sue in the first place? I'm sorry, the second this one went to court, I lost all sympathy for them. Your daughter was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Things happen, that doesn't mean the world owes you money because of it. You don't want to hear people wrangle over the price of your daughters' life, you don't bring the case into court.
Monday, July 23, 2007 9:26 PM
Jeff's avatar Perhaps you'd feel differently if it was one of your family members.
Monday, July 23, 2007 9:29 PM
kpjb's avatar They are parents whose daughter went to an amusement park and came home in a box. You lost all sympathy for them? I lost all respect for you.
Monday, July 23, 2007 10:27 PM
I think I've seen this Kline guy on some Philly news shows weighing in on various legal issues. I usually disagree with his stand on most issues. He strikes me as a bit of a sleaze. He seems to think that a person or company having money automatically makes them guilty of something. I suppose that makes him a good plaintiff's lawyer.

I may be thinking of a different person, but didn't this Wecht guy have some problems with impropriety in his office that cost him credibility as an expert witness? Maybe somebody from the Pittsburgh area can clarify that, or correct me if I'm wrong.

It's a horrible thing to happen to any family, but it doesn't necessarily mean someone's at fault. Unfortunately, our society has been trained to think that for every bad thing that happens in life there must be someone to blame and pay.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:07 AM
I don't think anyone said that they were happy the girl died at an amusement park. But, sh1t happens during violent weather. There's not much you can do about it. That doesn't mean there's always someone to blame and pay out a ton of money because you lost a loved one. Should I sue someone because my Grandma died last year? Should my friend sue someone because his mom died of cancer last year?

Maybe I'm more sensitive to people suing parks and building owners when bad things happen because I'm an architect. But, unless you're designing a safe room, buildings can collapse, blow away, catch on fire, blow up, fill with smoke, etc... You take a risk with your life just by being alive. Why's there always a need to have someone pay when something bad happens?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:20 AM
From my limited understanding in a few law classes, comparative negligence cases like these are fairly common. The most famous example would be the McDonald's Coffee case where they first decided the actual amount of compensatory damages. Then they go on to determine what percentage of each part is at fault. McDonald's was found a percentage negligent for having their coffee too hot (among other reasons), and the lady was found a percentage at fault for being a moron. McDonald's paid their percentage of damages and the lady was out her percentage. If there are more than two parties involved it works the same way. Punitive damages are then awarded if deemed necessary separately from this.

So in this case that 1.2 million is the maximum amount in compensatory damages that plaintiffs can receive. Then the court will use comparative negligence to find out what responsibility each party had. Though unlikely, I suppose if things were built up to code and it is found the park acted accordingly they could fault 100% of this on the weather and the woman just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I have a feeling though if there is any signs that the building was not up to code, the plaintiffs will get all 1.2 million and punitive damages on top.

A sad tragedy for everyone involved. Not saying I agree with any of this it but it’s the way it works.

On a side note, I wonder if these cases (including the flying debris) have changed the way other parks deal with severe weather. I have no idea if people were warned on the Kennywood PA, but while at Hershey they constantly were on the PA system when a storm approached urging people to take shelter. This could certainly make them less liable if someone was hurt while out in a storm in their park.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:48 AM
I think the park just wants to put it behind them and move on i work at the park and we have spoke of the situation numerous times its a very touchy subject to them and they just want to move on from it and i believe from what i have been hearing next year the whip WILL have a roof over it once again they said as soon as the settlement is over they will put a new roof on and now that this seems to be wrapping up finally the ride will recieve a new roof it will be similar or not who knows but lets face facts that ride needs a roof i work that ride and the exterminator and its miserable without the roof plus the ride is taking a beating from mother nature.

Now if Kennywood is at fault for this is anyones guess numerous arguments can be made was it built up to code? Did Kennywood inspect the structure themselves? Did a building inspecter inspect it? And last but not least should that ride even have been open in that weather?..kennywood has weather codes for rides and ill tell you what the way the codes work now that ride shouldn't have been open...however even if the ride was closed would people still be in that area? after all it is a covered area and everyone knows that everyone seeks shelter in bad weather.

From what i have heard now don't quote me on this but i have heard that the building was not built correctly the jointing plates or whatever they are called to join numerous pieces of wood together were all in the same direction or not an architect so i don't know the proper way but from what i have heard whatever was on the whip wasn't that brings up the question whos at fault...kennywood for allowing that or the company that built it?...Personally the whole thing is strange and we may never know all of the details but the facts are this a family lost thier loved one in a horrible accident and nothing can change that so lets move on move forward and not dwell on something 5 years old.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 7:23 AM
FYI from what I know, the ride was not operating at the time, and the woman was not under that roof. She was somewhere near the Pittsburgh Plunge, taking shelter underneath that ride from the rain. When the micro/macroburst/tornado hit, she panicked and ran and when the roof of the Whip was ripped off, it pinned her against that fence along the plunge.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:18 PM
You mean the ride wasn't operating? That changes everything. Sounds like she almost deserved to get hit with a roof flying from other building. Perhaps I should lose all sympathy for her and her family, too.


When I finally breathe my last--accident, old age, whatever does me in--I intend to be surrounded by better people. People who aren't so narrow-minded. People who can see past their own ass or specific interests of the day. People I'd be proud to have known throughout my years.

Frankly, we all should.


(Edited to add the letter 'd' to a word)

*** This post was edited by CoastaPlaya 7/24/2007 1:19:59 PM ***


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