Kennywood, contractor settle storm death suit for $2 million

Posted | Contributed by Josh M

Kennywood Park and the contractor that built the pavilion over the amusement park ride known as The Whip that collapsed during a storm seven years ago settled a lawsuit last week for nearly $2 million on the eve of trial.

Read more from The Post-Gazette.

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Jeff's avatar

You know, I have no problem with the park being liable or the amount of the settlement or any of that, because someone is dead and that's terrible. But I sure could do without the attorney grandstanding about assurances that the place is safe. I think what happened sounded like a freak natural event, not some deliberately negligent action. Free-spanning roof structures are not where you want to be in a storm.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

I guess all stuctures in the park have to stand up to 200 MPH wind

and 10.0 earthquakes or any other natural disaster (Volcano's and Metor strikes )

I am sorry someone died but how can the park guard against any possible thing that may happen. I always thought the standard was the park should take reasonable precautions. Not every precaution imaginable.

Updated article:

Of note is the debate over whether or not the pavilion was properly constructed, inspected, etc. I get the impression that whether or not the macroburst was an Act of God, the potentially shoddy work done by the park and/or contractor opened them up to the lawsuit.

Jeff's avatar

That paints a very different picture. I'd say the contractor is not someone I'd want to use for anything of my own if they didn't even have real drawings to work from.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

For Kennywood to say they considered the pavilion a seasonal structure is surprising. Maybe the park is only open for half the year, but they didn't plan on taking it down and putting it up every year, did they?

Jeff, I wonder if this attorney Tom Kline is the same attorney from Philly who often appears on TV stations there as a legal expert/commentator. This guy would go over the top and make screwy comments on cases he had nothing to do with, so I could imagine what he'd do if he had a real interest in a case.

kpjb's avatar

I think the seasonal structure comment refers to the occupancy permit. Although it was not taken apart annually, it was only occupied seasonally, and that's why the same permits would not be necessary compared to building an apartment building (for example.)


LostKause's avatar

That gust of wind caused other damage other than to the Whip structure. The Whip structure is what caused a death, but the rest of the damage to the park show me that it could have easily happened somewhere else in the park.

The Whip building was a bit of a unique structure in the park (well, apart from the large picnic pavilion that used to be the Whip building...) in that its roof was unsupported over a very large area. If I remember correctly, it was basically a large self-supporting structure held up by posts around the perimeter. That is, the roof structure was not integrated into the building structure, it was effectively a separate unit held up by columns.

As for the usage of the building, not only is it occupied seasonally, it is also a special purpose structure, designed specifically to house the 1918 Mangels Whip. It is not a dwelling, warehouse, or office building. Heck, it isn't even a place of public assembly!

I don't care what kind of drawings they had, without conducting an as-built review I am not sure that it is fair to make any kind of comment on the adequacy of the structure. It seems that it was solidly built, it was well supported both vertically and laterally...the problem is that a 100-mph wind came through, lifted the entire roof structure off of its posts, and dropped it.

One could argue that this is a failure of the design, certainly if this happened in Miami it would probably fail a code compliance review. But down there the building code has specific requirements for extreme wind conditions. Does such a requirement exist in Pittsburgh? For a structure that is sheltered by a 90' building on one end and a mountain on the long side? Clearly the conditions exceeded the design specifications for the building. But my question is, was the pavilion required to be built to these wind specifications? (I honestly don't know)

It's a terrible tragedy that the roof came down and that someone was killed as a result. My point is that this is a terrible accident, but it's not necessarily an accident for which anyone should actually be liable. I'm not convinced that any party actually did wrong. The problem for Kennywood and for Landau is that they can't *prove* that they did right.

All that said, I am glad that they were able to agree on a settlement. The real tragedy is that it took this long.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____

I think the lawyer's a bit overboard in saying the building was built from cartoons and that only five pages of drawings were provided. For a structure like this, you don't need 200 pages of specifications and 60 sheets of drawings. It shouldn't cost $600,000 for design. Some design work is necessary, but we're not re-inventing the wheel here. Similar, if not the same size and style of building have been constructed elsewhere. So the volume of paper is not indicative of what went into the design or construction.

However, it is troubling that according to the article, the contractor installed smaller posts than shown on the drawings. There should have been a review by an engineer to either OK that reduction or to say the larger posts should be used. The park also should not have allowed that to be done based on the contractor's word alone. A big key in structural stability are the connections between the members. No mention of what type was specified or used.

I understand the idea of "seasonal occupancy," but the structure still needs to be constructed to withstand forces that could occur whether it's occupied or not. What if there were a heavy snow? Sure, the park isn't used during the winter, but do they want to keep hauling away splinters and building a new roof every year? Penny wise, pound foolish.

The interesting theoretical question is, what if an engineer had OK'dthe structure and it all met existing codes in force at the time? Isthere a case? Or does the number of defendants simply increase toinclude an engineer and the borough, county, etc.?

When I saw the new Whip building in Lost Kennywood the very first thing I thought was that it looked top heavy, and the posts seemed mighty slender for such a large roof structure. I'm no engineer, so I wasn't thinking about the structural/load bearing aspect of it, necessarily, but more from an aesthetic point of view - it just looked odd and kind of out of scale, or something. But I figured someone there had to know what they were doing, and just chalked it up to an odd if not unfortunate choice.

There were storms everywhere that night and we happened to be watching the evening news when a story came across about a tornado in West Mifflin Pa, and my ears perked up - there was an aerial shot of storm damage and I immediately recognized the buildng as Kennywood's Whip. My heart sank when the reporter stated there was a death and many injuries as a result of the roof's collapse.

We all like to think we'd be smart about where to seek shelter during a sudden ferocious storm, but at an place like that where buildings are "seasonal" we may not have many options. Since amusement parking is a warm weather activity, structures tend to be more open to the elements, anyway. Do I remember correctly that the ride was operating when this happened?

Very, very sad for all involved.

I remember two years ago when a horrible wind/rainstorm blew through SFA. People were taking shelter wherever they could, and that thing came up FAST. I wonder if the same thing happened here.

RCMAC, as I recall they were trying to evacuate the park when the event happened, and all the rides had been shut down.

Carrie M.'s avatar

I think the whole event occurred really quickly and it passed almost as quickly as it came. If I recall, it was as close to being a tornado without being a tornado as you can get. It was definitely a freak act of nature for West Mifflin, PA.

"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

rollergator's avatar

Per Dave's argument above: Building for 100mph winds at Kennywood is kind of like having a 6" snow load requirement in Miami. Sure, it's theoretically possible, but if every structure had to meet design requirements for "clearly unanticipated" events, then nothing would ever get built. Your local building codes are there to protect you from any reasonably foreseeable weather/seismic event (that's why in Japan, they build with earthquakes in mind).

That was kind of my point. The bad thing is that while the building may have met all the relevant building codes (and apparently Kennywood was relying on the contractor to see that it did) they don't have the documentation or an independent inspection that *says* that it does. And therefore, since the building isn't around to be examined anymore, "it didn't".

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____

The bottom line is Kennywood should of had the building properly built with the correct permits and inspections done. It doesn't matter whether a structure that passed codes would of stood the winds. Kennywood was highly negligent in not getting it inspected! They took on the liability, something unfortunate happened, and now should rightly pay the consequences. Kennywood is known for quality and doing things the right way. I am highly surprised these things have come to light.

When there's a lawsuit, and a major settlement the day before it goes to trial, you'd better believe that both attorneys have exhausted every possible avenue for defending the structure, or finding fault in it.

Both sides are fighting like hell, and if there was no fault of Kennywood's, then they wouldn't have settled for a dime. Not a dime. And Kennywood would have rushed to trial, proud as peacocks.

But when it gets to this dollar amount, there have likely been scores of depositions, including employees involved in safety discussions, meetings about wind sustainability for these structures, and he-said she-said about "that meeting we had in February about whether or not they should upgrade these buildings", and hundreds of hours of research and witness and architect testimony.

If they settled for this dollar amount, Kennywood was at fault. Otherwise, they wouldn't have settled for even a penny.

kpjb's avatar

If you think a company won't settle a lawsuit unless they're at fault, you're not too familiar with the American legal system.


^^ So if you consider Kennywood liable because they settled, what do you consider the plaintiff? After all, since you seem to believe that Kennywood was at fault, shouldn't the plaintiffs have rushed to trial. Why settle for a dime when a jury is going to award you millions?

On Monday, attorney Todd Gray, who represented Landau, said his client feels it is a good settlement.

"It's always better for parties to control their own destiny when possible rather than put it in the hands of a jury," he said.

Mr. Gray noted that the settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.

The lawyer (of all people) says it perfectly. You can never try and predict how a jury of complete strangers adjudicate something like this. Any lawyer worth anything will tell you that much. Why put your reputation at risk when you can simply settle it like this? Yeah, you pay out some money, and while it may hurt for the next couple years, it's chump change in the grand scheme of things. Or maybe you go to trial and your reputation gets dragged through the mud. That's a lot harder to recover than a monetary pay out. On the other hand, you can go to trial and walk off with the jury on your side. But is it a risk worth taking? In this case, Kennywood decided no.

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