TRAVERSE CITY — A $1 million verdict reached in the death of a boy at the Northwestern Michigan Fair was thrown out and the case could soon return to the courtroom.
State appeals court Judges Christopher Murray, Joel Hoekstra and Michael Gadola issued a 22-page opinion Tuesday vacating a 13th Circuit Court jury’s 2016 judgment that directed Northwestern Michigan Fair Association officials to pay $1 million in damages to Ezekiel “Zeke” Goodwin’s family.
Goodwin, 6, rode a bicycle along a path at the fairgrounds Aug. 8, 2012, from his family’s campsite and was struck and fatally injured by a pickup truck, as previously reported. Goodwin’s death prompted the trial and $2 million award, apportioned evenly between the driver and the fair association, said Grant Parsons, the attorney representing the Goodwin family.
But William Ewald, a fair association attorney, challenged the ruling. He appealed the award and argued jurors were wrongfully barred from considering whether Jeff Goodwin, Ezekiel Goodwin’s father, was negligent.
“According to defendant, a new trial is required to allow the jury to consider whether Jeff was negligent and to apportion fault to Jeff on the basis of his negligence,” the opinion reads. “We agree.”
Ewald said circuit court officials already set a scheduling conference for the case Aug. 27.
Parsons will accept the decision and prepare for a new trial.
“It’s too bad,” Parsons said. “It just means we will have another trial with the same evidence, the same everything, basically.”
Jeff Goodwin allowed his son to ride alone from the family’s campsite to the fair barns where Ezekiel Goodwin kept his pony, the opinion states. Pedestrians and bicyclists used the drive, but it was not closed off to motor vehicle traffic, according to the opinion.
Ezekiel Goodwin rode in a pickup driver’s blind spot. The driver didn’t see him as he checked his mirrors and backed up into Goodwin, the opinion states.
Prosecutors chose not to pursue criminal charges in the case, as previously reported.
Ewald said he plans to address the damages issues during the trial. He said those damages will be affected by the level of negligence by the Kingsley man who drove the pickup and Jeff Goodwin’s negligence in letting his son ride his bike on what Ewald considered a “service drive.”
Parsons said Goodwin did not show negligence.
“The theory of his being negligent is that he let his child ride his bike — along with every other child at the fair — ride on a bike path,” Parsons said. “To me, it’s just a crazy idea. It’s just a crazy theory.”
Ewald said he hopes for a fair jury for the second trial. The last jury contained a juror “who was enamored with the plaintiff,” he said.
Going through the case again will not be easy for the Goodwin family, Parsons said.
“Judge (Philip) Rodgers said at the time it was the most emotional trial he had ever seen,” he said. “(The family is) not looking forward to doing it again, but they’re perfectly able.”