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Published: Saturday, 12/22/2001

$24 million jury award is overturned by court

SANDUSKY - A $24 million jury award in a wrongful-death lawsuit has been overturned because of errors made by the trial judge, the Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

The judges also ordered a new trial in the case of construction worker Christopher Dellinger, who was killed Aug. 18, 1994, when he was helping to build a Meijer's store in Sandusky.

After his death, Mr. Dellinger's sister, Dawn Wyczalek, filed the lawsuit against Meijer, Inc., as well as Elford, Inc., and Rowe and Simms Construction Services Companies, Inc., which were involved with the building project.

Ms. Wyczalek claimed the companies, individually or collectively, were negligent in ordering her brother to work under unsafe conditions. She also claimed they were negligent in their hiring practices.

A jury in 1999 awarded $13.5 million in compensatory damages to Ms. Wyczalek from the four companies. The verdict also ordered Meijer to pay an additional $10 million with Elford, Inc., paying an additional $1 million.

But the appellate judges said they reversed the order for several reasons, including Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Ann Maschari's denial of a request for a directed verdict from attorneys for Meijer's and Elford. The judges said that facts presented before the court and jury indicated that Meijer and Elford did not assume a duty of maintaining safety procedures on the work site.

The judges also said that the lower court judge made errors with the jury, in part, by failing to provide them with proper information and for returning the case to the jury for a second time.

Yesterday's ruling means that Elford and Meijer aren't liable in the wrongful-death case and don't have to return to court, said Irene Keyse-Walker of Cleveland, an attorney for Elford.

As a result, the only companies that will have to return for a new trial are Rowe and Simms.

Thomas Murray, one of the Sandusky attorneys who represent Ms. Wyczalek, said he had not yet seen the ruling and could not comment.

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