A settlement has been reached in a landmark civil case stemming from a 2008 firetruck crash that killed a city man and his stepgrandson.
The case was resolved late Friday afternoon in Stark County Common Pleas Court but is subject to approval by the probate court, said attorney Edmond J. Mack of Tzangas Plakas Mannos Ltd., the law firm representing the family. Approval could take several weeks to a few months, he said. Mack would not disclose the settlement amount.
City Law Director Pericles Stergios also would not reveal the figure. Records show the case has not yet been filed in probate court.
Nearly eight years ago, city firefighters were responding to a call when the firetruck, traveling eastbound on Walnut Road SE with its lights and sirens on, struck a van at Johnson Avenue SE. The driver, Ronald Anderson, 72, died in the crash along with his stepgrandson, four-year-old Javarre Tate, a passenger in the van.
Mack spoke on behalf of the Anderson family.
“Our clients are very pleased with the result that our law firm obtained on their behalf,” Mack said. “This has been a groundbreaking case. It’s been through Supreme Court twice and it has redefined the standards that apply to emergency vehicle operators. No amount of money will ever bring back Ronnie and Javarre, but we secured justice on behalf of the Anderson family.”
Stergios called the event “tragic” from both sides.
“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” he said. “I think it’s good for it to be resolved without a trial from everybody’s side.”
Stergios said the settlement is being paid through the city’s insurance company. He declined to give specifics Wednesday because is has not been approved in probate court.
A trial may have caused the case to continue for another couple of years on appeals regardless of who won or lost, Stergios said.
“It needed to be put to rest from all sides,” he said.
Mack explained that the suit marks a turning point because it has been cited in more than 100 legal decisions.
“Prior to this case, the standards that would be used to judge an emergency vehicle operator’s conduct were blurred,” Mack said. “As a result of this case, those standards are now clear. Those standards clearly show what needs to be proven in order to hold an emergency operator vehicle responsible.”
The case — Anderson vs. Massillon — bounced from Common Pleas Court to both the 5th District and Ohio Supreme Court twice, and then back to Common Pleas Court after a Stark County judge first ruled that the city and its firefighters were immune to prosecution.
The wrongful death lawsuit was initiated Sept. 22, 2009. The following year, the Stark County Common Pleas Court granted the city immunity in the case, but in March 2011, the 5th District Court of Appeals reversed the decision.
In December 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that a trial court should reconsider whether the city was liable in the crash. City attorneys sought clarification of the remedies provided by the Supreme Court. In January 2013, the Supreme Court rejected a request from the city to clarify its decision. The Supreme Court upheld a portion of the appellate court decision and clarified legal definitions of “willful,” “wanton,” and “reckless.”
The 5th District Court of Appeals ruled in 2014 that it would be up to a Stark County jury to decide whether the city of Massillon and its employees were liable in the crash. The court said the question for the jury to decide was whether two firefighters in the truck were reckless in their actions on May 6, 2008.
Attorneys for Anderson’s widow, Cynthia Anderson, had argued that the firetruck driver was traveling at excessive and unsafe speeds given the neighborhood and type of emergency to which they were responding — a report of a vehicle fire.
The city had argued the accident was unavoidable because Anderson failed to yield to the oncoming firetruck at the intersection, which has a three-way stop and flashing light, according to court papers.