Smith Haughey team wins substantial damages for bereaved wife, family



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Lary Blahnik was a well-loved man, that much is clear. His death in July 2011 would have been a tremendous loss to his wife and children even if he had not suffered terribly for as much as 15 minutes after a garbage truck violently hit his vehicle.

“Lary and Roseann had an extraordinarily close marriage and had just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They really were best friends and soul mates, and her loss was huge,” said E. Thomas McCarthy of Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge, the Blahnik survivors’ attorney along with Matthew Wikander of the same firm.

There is no way to put a dollar amount on that kind of pain, but at the end of March a jury in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court awarded the Blahniks a substantial amount of money, just short of $14.5 million.

“We were pleased that the jurors ascribed significant value  to the damages the family suffered,” McCarthy said.

The defendants in the case were Republic Services, Inc., a publicly-traded recycling and non-hazardous solid waste company serving 39 states; City Star Services, Inc.,  Republic’s Kalamazoo affiliate; and William W. Ormerod III, the driver of the truck. Ormerod was also charged with a moving violation causing death, which is a misdemeanor, and has since served 18 months of probation.

In addition to Roseann Blahnik, the award was given to their children, Kristyn who was 22 at the time of the crash, and Matthew, who was 19. That portion of the award, $6 million, which was given for noneconomic damages to the present date by family members, also included his grandchild, his parents — his mother died about a year ago at the age of 92 — and his three siblings.

The same family members were included in the $3 million award granted for future noneconomic damages, which the jury deemed to run through 2041.

The total award for economic losses up to the present and into the future, ending in 2029, was almost $411,000. Blahnik owned a construction company and a property management company, but neither was a large source of income because, according to McCarthy, he spent a majority of his time “closer to home” taking care of his family.

Finally, the jury found that Lary Blahnik’s “conscious pain and suffering, mental anguish, fright, shock, and mortification prior to his death,” which resulted from his remaining conscious and critically injured while trapped in the truck for 12-15 minutes, merited an award of $5,040,000. McCarthy and Wikander brought in an expert witness who offered his opinion about how much Blahnik would have suffered before losing consciousness.

Both attorneys have a wealth of experience in trying such cases.

McCarthy focuses currently on representing seriously injured people and the survivors of wrongful death victims. Co-Chair of Smith Haughey’s Plaintiff Personal Injury Practice Group, he also has a legal malpractice defense practice and has been a neutral facilitative mediator since 1989.

He received his B.A. in Psychology (with high distinction) from the University of Michigan, and his J.D. from the University of Tennessee. He took Harvard Law School Mediation and Negotiation Workshops in 1988, 1989, and 2001, and received mediation training from the Dispute Resolution Center and the U.S. Court for the Western District as well. With the exception of three years at a smaller firm, McCarthy has spent his professional career with Smith Haughey since 1978.

Well-known throughout the state for his professional involvement, McCarthy is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation and of the American College of Trial Lawyers, an advocate-rank member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, and is just finishing a term as president of the Gerald R. Ford Chapter, American Inns of Court.

He also is in his second year of serving on the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners. “The Board does work which is important to the practice of law and access to justice in the State

of Michigan, and I am honored to serve,” he says.

His many accolades include being named a Best Lawyer Lawyer of the Year in Personal Injury Litigation for 2009 and 2013 and one of Michigan’s Top 100 Trial Layers by the National Trial Lawyers Association, listing as a Michigan Super Lawyer for the last nine years, and the designation of Local Litigation Star in Benchmark Litigation this year.

Matt Wikander’s honors are also plentiful. He was an Up and Coming Lawyer in 2012 and a Rising Star in Super Lawyers 2013-2-14. He was also named a Local Litigation Star in Benchmark Plaintiff for 2013 and 2014, and in Benchmark Litigation for 2015.

After receiving his B.A. from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from Wayne State University, Wikander joined Smith Haughey as a summer associate in 2003. He is on the firm’s board of directors and hiring committee.

He too practices in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death, as well as employment, and commercial litigation. He represents plaintiffs and defendants.

Very active in U of M Clubs and the Alumni Association, Wikander has published and presented on many topics, including aviation crashes and trucking permits.

He and McCarthy have teamed up for several cases recently. In the Blahnik case, over which Judge Alexander C. Lipsey presided, McCarthy did the jury selection and opening and closing arguments, and the two attorneys split up the witness examinations. The case was in discovery for about two years; the attorneys worked together during that time.

Because a default judgment had been entered earlier against all three defendants, meaning “each defendant has been found by the Court to be negligent and to have proximately caused damages to the plaintiff” as stated in the judge’s jury instructions, the trial focused only on determining the amount of money to be awarded. The jurors deliberated six hours before coming to their conclusion.

“I felt that the jury was attentive and tracking the evidence carefully,” McCarthy commented.

Though he is expecting the defendants to appeal, McCarthy says nothing has been filed yet.