Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · The $50 Million Electrocution...
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The $50 Million Electrocution Case

Is TC going to be on the hook for more than it can afford?

Patrick Sullivan - November 19th, 2012  

Michael Knudsen and his friends had no reason to believe that death was waiting for them when they jumped into West Grand Traverse Bay inside a marina breakwall in August, 2011.

A $50 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Knudsen’s estate describes the teenager’s harrowing last few moments alive:

“When Michael Knudsen jumped into the water at the end of F-Dock, he immediately began to struggle due to electric shock, and immediately attempted to swim and hold onto the F-Dock platform, at which time he was electrocuted,” according to the suit, filed against the city of Traverse City, among other defendants, by high-profile downstate attorneys Geoffery Fieger and Jeffrey Danzig.

Knudsen’s friends looked on as the 18-year-old bled from his eyes, ears and nose and he struggled in the water, according to the suit. They attempted to lift him out of the water but when they grabbed his arms, they received an electrical shock.

A friend who was swimming with Knudsen and survived, Zachary Kott-Millard, also suffered electrical shock and has also filed a lawsuit.

“Michael’s friends helplessly watched as he drowned before their eyes, as Michael’s friends screamed for help, yelling for someone to turn off the electricity,” the lawyers wrote.


Now lawyers are circling the Duncan L. Clinch Marina electrocution case like sharks in the water, seeking to assign blame for an electrical malfunction that caused Knudsen’s death.

The suit has dragged on for over a year now, and as an April, 2013 trial date approaches, the case has taken some twists and turns.

Among them: apparently Traverse City officials wanted to settle the case this summer, a move one city official says was blocked by the city’s insurance company.

Also: the city, which could be on the hook for a multi-million dollar judgment if it is found responsible, has filed crossclaims in the suit, seeking to turn the tables on co-defendants who helped design and construct a marina renovation a decade ago, a project which appears now to be the source of the problem that caused water in the marina to become electrified on Aug. 15, 2011.


The cross-claims in the lawsuit filed by lawyers for Traverse City mean the defendants are now arguing among themselves over who is to blame, leaving the plaintiffs more or less to sit on the sidelines. Are those cross-claims a sign of desperation?

Danzig, the attorney overseeing the plaintiff’s case, said he had no comment.

TC attorney Enrico Schaefer, who has blogged about the case at his firm’s website, traverselegal.com, said the cross-claims aren’t necessarily signals the case is going badly for Traverse City.

Schaefer, who is not involved in the case, said it could be a matter of the city attempting to make sure they’ve identified everyone who might have some responsibility.

“It makes sense for them to bring everyone to the party,” Schaefer said.

In the court file, there are two competing theories about what caused the malfunctions that caused Knudsen’s death -- some analysis points to the marina renovation design and construction, while elsewhere it is alleged that lack of maintenance since the renovation is to blame.

If it is defective design or construction, Traverse City and Clinch should be relatively well off when it comes time to divvy up percentages of liability, Schaefer said. If, on the other hand, it is found that the problem stemmed from a failure of marina staff to conduct maintenance, that could put more responsibility on the city.


And that responsibility could be serious. When Fieger and Danzig filed the suit in September, 2011, they claimed damages of $50 million.

Juries can be unpredictable when it comes time to add up what is owed to right a wrong, Schaefer said.

“The jury’s got a lot of leeway when it comes to what kind of number they put on it,” he said. “If it got to be a hundred million-dollar verdict, then Fieger could start collecting city assets.”

City manager Ben Bifoss said the city’s insurance coverage is capped at $5 million. He said he could not comment on how the lawsuit is going and he referred questions to the city’s attorney, Gretchen Olsen, who did not return a message seeking comment.

City commissioner Jim Carruthers agreed that the stakes are huge for Traverse City.

Carruthers said commissioners authorized the city attorneys this summer to settle the suit within the city’s liability cap, but the city’s insurance company balked.

He said if the case was to go to trial and the plaintiffs got the $50 million they claimed at the outset, the result could be devastating.

“It would bankrupt Traverse City until the end of time,” Carruthers said.


There have been as many as 14 defendants named in the lawsuit, however, and it remains to be seen whether or how the burden would be spread among them, if that’s what the case comes to.

There are so many defendants because a lot of companies worked on the marina renovation, which saw construction commence in 2002. The grand opening of the new marina took place on Aug. 7, 2003.

SmithGroup JJR LLC won the contract to design the marina and Rhoades Engineering Corp. was selected to design the electrical system.

Both are now among the defendants and both have denied liability in court filings, arguing that the design of the marina was sound and their responsibility ended there.

Plans originally called for five floating docks to extend north into the water within the eastern breakwall. Later, a sixth floating dock was added, to be called F-Dock, to provide refuge for larger boats.

Since each boat slip needed to have an electrical hook-up, the design called for electrical wires to be run through PVC pipe under each dock to junction boxes, where wires would branch off to connect to shore power stations.

How those electrical hook-ups were designed, how they were installed, and how they were maintained is the crux of the lawsuit.


The problem, according to a post-accident investigation, started in one of the junction boxes, where some wires frayed over time. Exposed copper wire came into contact with a metal junction box, electrifying the box. A circuit breaker failed to respond. That meant electricity spread from the junction box into other metal components in the floating dock and into the water, electrifying an area around the dock.

Rhoades, the designer of the electric system, argues that their plans called for the installation of fiberglass junction boxes instead of metal junction boxes, so that the boxes would not pose a danger by conducting electricity. In court filings, their attorney, Kent Gerberding, has argued the Rhoades’ electrical designs were not at fault.

SmithGroup’s and Rhoades’ lawyers argue that later, after the companies were out of the picture, changes were made. Those changes included the installation of metal boxes rather than fiberglass boxes.

SmithGroup and Rhoades also argue that their contracts ended before the completion of F-Dock, relieving them of responsibility.

Knudsen’s lawyers -- and now also Traverse City’s lawyers -- argue that Rhoades’ and SmithGroup’s responsibility was to see the project through to its completion to and make sure their designs were carried out.


Perhaps the most serious allegation against the city is that marina staff failed to properly maintain F-Dock.

F-Dock was supposed to have been taken out of the water for maintenance each winter, according to a motion filed by Kevin Gleeson, an attorney for SmithGroup.

The company that constructed the docks “clearly understood the dockage was to be disconnected and conveyed this to the City,” Gleeson wrote. “The piers were not disconnected and stored as part of the winterization process. SmithGroup JJR cannot be held liable for the resulting damage.”

Also, SmithGroup argues, the owner’s manual called for annual inspections of the electrical system which they say were not performed according to instructions.

The lawyers argue that years of wave motion on F-Dock and lack of maintenance is to blame for the electrical failure.

Lawyers for Traverse City and Clinch have denied the allegations.


Another question raised by the lawsuit is this: how common was swimming in the marina, anyway, and did city officials look the other way?

Less than a month before Knudsen’s death, hundreds of locals got together to film what was called Traverse City LipDub 2011, a video that would go on to become a popular online celebration of Traverse City.

In the video, three men in swim suits jump from a railing at the south end of the marina. They appear to jump into marina water.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that a “promotional video” for Traverse City proves how common swimming at the marina had been.

Fieger and Danzig also contend there were no “NO SWIMMING” signs posted around the marina at the time, an allegation that Clinch and the city deny.

In a court filing, Traverse City attorneys argue that swimming was not allowed in the marina.

“While it is admitted the City Defendants were aware people would sometimes swim or kayak in the marina, such activities were not authorized and, upon discovery, (those swimming or kayaking) were immediately asked to stop,” the attorneys wrote.

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