Saturday, May 10, 2003

Victim receives $550,000


Island winery terrace collapse hurt woman

The Associated Press

SANDUSKY, Ohio - A jury has awarded $550,000 to a woman injured in a terrace collapse nearly three years ago at Lonz Winery.

It was the first claim to advance to a verdict from the collapse that killed a man and injured 75 people, attorneys said Friday. Another 82 claims have been settled privately, said Kevin Young, an attorney for the winery.

An eight-person jury in Erie County Common Pleas Court on Thursday awarded damages to Ruth Oleska, 51, of Bradford, Pa., who had surgery for a broken heel.

In the trial, she testified about the shock and terror of her fall, and how her injury has since hindered her life. Her attorney, Charles Murray, sought $1 million.

Her husband, Joseph Oleska, previously took a confidential settlement.

The people were hurt when a concrete patio collapsed July 1, 2000, and dropped them into an empty cellar.

Mark Reighard, 29, of Columbus, was pronounced dead at the winery on Middle Bass Island. His family settled their lawsuit in November 2001. Terms were not disclosed.

The former winery and 124 acres surrounding it are being developed into a park. The state had started the process of buying the site before the collapse.

Last August, after 69 claims had been settled, plaintiffs with lawsuits still pending dropped their claims against Paramount Distillers Inc., the winery's former parent company.

Instead, the remaining lawsuits sought to claim damages from a subsidiary of Paramount, Mantey-Mon Ami-Lonz Wineries, which agreed not to contest its liability for the collapse.

The Oleska case was one of 11 cases remaining. Another trial was scheduled for Friday, also in Erie County, for Nichole Lammers, of Columbus.

The only issue at the Oleska trial was how much money she was entitled to receive, because of disagreement about the extent of her injury and how much the aftermath cost her.

Murray said Oleska was unable to concentrate at work after the injury and lost her job at a behavioral center for children.

"The jury was very rational in their deliberations. They were insightful," Murray said.

Young on Friday called the verdict "fair and just."

"The issue was what is fair and reasonable compensation for Mrs. Oleska's injuries," he said.

"My client obviously is very sorry for the accident."




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