TRAVERSE CITY — An emotional six-day civil trial ended with a $2 million verdict for the family of a young boy who died after an accident at the 2012 Northwestern Michigan Fair.
A 13th Circuit Court jury on Thursday decided the Northwestern Michigan Fair Association should pay damages for the death of Ezekiel “Zeke” Goodwin, 6. Goodwin on Aug. 8, 2012 rode his bicycle from his family’s campground down a bike path when he was struck and fatally injured by a pickup truck.
Attorney Grant Parsons, who represented Goodwin’s family, argued in the personal injury trial that fair officials let traffic onto the bike path despite complaints by parents. He said that led to the death of Goodwin, an “angelic” child who was active in 4-H, dreamed of becoming a Detroit Tigers pitcher and was days away from his 7th birthday.
“The verdict of $2 million expresses the level of the damage here,” Parsons said.
Jurors found a Kingsley man who backed into Goodwin shared equal blame with the fair, but his settlement with Goodwin’s family means they won’t recover damages from him. That effectively puts the fair on the hook for $1 million.
William J. Ewald said fair officials likely will mount an appeal. He said even if they’re unsuccessful the verdict won’t impact the fair financially.
“It will not affect the fair’s operation and it will not affect the fair’s future,” he said.
The civil case began in 2015 and centered around what Parsons in a court complaint called “a single unmonitored and unenclosed ‘service drive.’” Goodwin pedaled down that dirt path on his way to feed a horse when he was struck by the pickup truck.
The complaint states fair association officials effectively encouraged children to use the service drive because they placed a bicycle rack at the end. It states they permitted pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles to all use the path, failed to warn about its dangers and didn’t act on prior complaints.
Parsons said all the 4-H families who testified during the trial had two things in common — they all knew motor vehicles couldn’t drive on the bike path and they all broke down in tears. He noted fair officials opened a paved, illuminated path called “Zeke’s Way” on the fairgrounds in 2013, one of many safety changes after Goodwin’s death.
“The argument is Zeke died for the hundreds and thousands of children that came after him,” he said.
But Ewald argued that the premises didn’t have unreasonable safety issues. He said the path is relatively isolated and the number of motor vehicles on the property itself is limited. He noted Goodwin and the driver were the only two people on the drive when the incident occurred.
“What about that condition is unreasonably dangerous?” he said.
Ewald said the fact Goodwin’s father let his son ride unaccompanied down the drive several times could feature in an appeal.
Five of seven jurors effectively found the fair responsible for Goodwin’s death. They found Goodwin’s family should receive $1.5 million for their loss and $500,000 for the fright and shock Goodwin experienced before his death.
Current fair board president Jeremy Clous referred questions to past president Scott Gray, who thanked the community for its continued support.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Goodwin family because of the accident,” Gray said.