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2017-07-20 / News

Jury awards $375K in parade float crash lawsuitBY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 •

LAPEER — The son of a woman killed in a horrific accident involving a parade float was recently awarded about $375,000 by a jury.

Michael Janoski, son of Janet Lough, will receive a total of about $25,000 annually for 15 years from the date of the accident. A Lapeer County Circuit Court jury made the determination after a four-day trial.

Lough, 76, was one of three who died as a result of the Aug. 23, 2014 accident at the corner of Clark and Turrill roads in Lapeer Township.

The others who died as a result of the accident were Grace Butterfield, 73, of Columbiaville, and Jeanette Rumptz, 80, of Metamora.

Ten others were injured when parade float owned and operated by the group commonly known as Lapeer County 40 & 8 rammed into the side of a Subaru Outback driven by Rumptz.

Janoski’s lawsuit is one of four that were filed as a result of the accident. The other three are still pending, including two with trial dates set for later this month and August, respectively.

The County Press reached Janoski by phone, but when asked for comment he said “no thank you” and hung up. Janoski’s attorney, Todd Rutledge, of Royal Oak-based Andreopoulos & Hill PLLC, did not return a message by press time.

In a brief filed with the court in support of his complaint, attorneys said the float “was being operated upon a highway, at a speed greater than it should have been allowed to be traveling at; the modified parade float vehicle was not involved in any sort of parade proceedings at the time that this incident occurred; no proper seat belts or other securing apparatuses were provided…”

Lapeer County 40 & 8, formally known as Voiture 1536, Lapeer County 40et8, La Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux, gets its name from the fact that French rail cars could hold 40 men or 8 horses on the way to the trenches during World War I.

The organization was originally founded in 1920 with the purpose to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, to promote the well-being of veterans and their widows and orphans, and to actively participate in selected charitable endeavors, which include programs that promote child welfare and nurse’s training.

The Lapeer County chapter remains active.

According to its 2015 Form 990 — the filing required by the IRS for nonprofits — the organization had assets of about $174,000 at the end of the year.

Dale Worvie, chef de gare of the chapter, told The County Press the organization is “still doing what we’ve always done.”

The group has between more than 40 members. They mark the accident that Worvie called “tragic” every year with a memorial service following the Metamora Days parade.

On Aug. 23, 2014, at about 10 a.m., the organization was on its way to that year’s Metmora Days parade, eager to show off its “novelty vehicle” — a truck converted to be consistent with the organization’s mission and look like a train. That’s when Rumptz pulled out in front of it.

Police say Rumptz was traveling eastbound on Turrill Road when she stopped at the stop sign for Clark Road. Rumptz began to turn left onto Clark Road when her vehicle collided with the parade float that was traveling south on Clark Road.

Ten people traveling in the float sustained injuries, including seven people who were ejected from the vehicle.

Two boys traveling in the float, an 8- and 9-year-old from North Branch, were treated and released. The other eight people on the float ranged in age from 50-83.

Police said the float had an unenclosed area that consisted of wood benches with no safety restraints for passengers.

Last August, attorneys from several of the cases involving the accident deposed Fred Greive, a specialist in accident reconstruction.

Greive testified that he looked at information compiled by the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept., Lapeer Township Police Dept., and conducted his own investigation of the vehicles that were involved in the accident.

Greive said “obviously, the Subaru pulled out in front of the train vehicle and struck the train vehicle.”

But Greive — who worked with the Ohio State Highway Patrol for nearly 30 years — also said the float should not have been on the road, even stating that he would’ve pulled the vehicle off the road is he had seen it while serving as a police officer.

“The way the vehicle was put together, the way the driver would sit in the vehicle, there was no way that the driver could have seen hardly anything up in front of the vehicle,” Greive stated on the record.

He noted what were supposed to be fake smokestacks on the front of the float that served as an obstruction.

“The driver would be sitting in a seat and he couldn’t even look straight out the windshield,” Greive said. “There was nothing he could see straight forward or to the right of the vehicle.”

Greive also stated that the float, as a slow moving vehicle, should not have been traveling over 25 miles per hour. It’s estimated the float was moving at 46 miles per hour.

Janoski filed suit in Lapeer County Circuit Court in November 2014 against the estate of Rumptz, Gerald Butterfield, Lapeer County 40 & 8, and two insurance companies. The suit included several claims of negligence and Janoski sought $1 million.

The jury ruled that Janoski will receive just under $25,000 annually for 15 years from the date of the accident. Of the amount, the jury determined Rumptz (now through her estate) is 75 percent responsible, Lapeer County 40 & 8 to be 21 percent responsible, and Gerald Butterfield (the driver of the float) responsible for 2 percent.

The jury also determined that Lough was responsible for 2 percent of her injury, meaning that amount won’t be recoverable.

Attorneys for the Rumptz estate, Gerald Butterfield, and Lapeer County 40 & 8 did not respond to messages left by press time.

The remaining three cases related to the accident are:

• One filed on behalf of a Columbiaville family (William Parsons Jr. and Renee Parsons) in which a father and minor son were passengers in the float. That suit was filed against the estate of Rumptz, Gerald Butterfield, Lapeer County 40 & 8, and two insurance companies. The suit included several claims of negligence. The family seeks more than $25,000 in damages. A trial date had not been set as of press time in that suit filed in February 2015.

• A suit filed by Dennis and Laura Mersino against the estate of Rumptz, Gerald Butterfield, and Lapeer County 40 & 8. The suit includes several claims of negligence and is set to go to trial in August.

• A suit filed by Gerald Butterfield — the driver of the float whose wife died as a result of the accident — against the estate of Rumptz and Lapeer County 40 & 8. The suit alleges negligence on the part of Rumptz and Lapeer County 40 & 8 that resulted in the death of Grace Butterfield and injuries to Gerald Butterfield. That case is set to go to trial later this month.