June 2010. Jared Kellner, 15 years old, was looking forward to spending the day at Milwaukee’s Summerfest music festival. As he and a friend walked out of a county owned parking garage, a 27,000 pound slab of concrete fell without warning killing him and injuring his friend and friend’s mother. In an instant, his life was gone.
This week, the story is being relived in a Milwaukee County courtroom. Kellner’s family and Milwaukee County are suing the contractor who installed the panels. In testimony yesterday, the former project manager (now retired) said he can’t recall much about the project. That is not surprising as the garage was built in the early 1990’s.
What is known is that the panels were apparently not connected with the proper fasteners. There is some question about the quantity and quality of the stainless steel fasteners.
Could the tragedy have been prevented? Yes.
The Kellner case has many similarities to the deadly accident that occurred in 2006 after completion of Boston’s “Big Dig” tunnel. There another concrete slab fell, another fatality and more questions about whether the fasteners were the one’s specified in the project.
It’s too late to bring back Jared. We have no idea what the jury will do – they face a difficult task trying to sort through events that occurred 22 years ago.
Because we represents whistleblowers, we are always concerned when workers don’t come forward and report substandard steel, use of improper components or cutting corners on government projects. Whenever a contractor works on a federally funded project, the false claims act protects workers who blow the whistle on fraud or shortcuts. If there is a loss to the government or a contractor submits a “false claim” certifying that the work or parts are as specified, the government is entitled to seek triple damages. (Many states also have false claims act laws for projects that don’t rely on federal dollars.)
In the case of the O’Donnell Park parking garage, replacing and rehanging the concrete panels could have been a multi-million project. The financial costs associated with cutting costs are high but only if the contractor or vendor gets caught. The human cost when someone dies can’t be measured.
We may never know who is at fault for the construction defects that occurred in 1991. We will accept former manager Jack Terry’s word that he simply doesn’t remember. Everyday, however, buildings, bridges, parking garages and other big projects are being built with tax dollars. Unfortunately, some of those projects are being built illegally – inferior foreign steel, substituted components and unauthorized shortcuts all in the name of “efficiency”.
Luckily, in passing the False Claims Act, Congress said whistleblowers could claim awards of up to 30% of whatever the government collects from wrongdoers. They are also protected from retaliation.
Our firm of whistleblower lawyers can help you put a stop to fraud and collect the maximum reward. If you know of fraud to any type of government program, give us a call. All inquiries are protected by the attorney client privilege and kept in strict confidence.
Mahany Law – False Claims Act Lawyers – Wisconsin Whistleblower Lawyers (services offered in many jurisdictions)
NOTE! – We are currently searching for cases involving violations of the Buy America Act or Buy American Act which require the use of American steel and components in most publicly funded projects. Have information about a violation? Please call us.