The owners and property management companies of a Riverside apartment building agreed last month to pay $950,000 to the family of a man who in 2018 fell to his death while painting a rear stairwell, settling a wrongful death lawsuit that had been filed by the man’s estate.
The defendants named in the case – Ronald Kafka, Carol Kafka, the Carol Kafka Revocable Trust, Property Rental Inc., Reliable Management and three real estate trusts – admit no liability in settling the case, but according to court records, shared the cost of the settlement.
“It was clearly settled in favor of the family for a substantial amount,” said attorney Timothy Ocasek, who represented the estate of 70-year-old Randall Schirmer, a tenant of the Tower Apartments, 39 Forest Ave., who died after falling from a second-floor exterior wood stairwell when a handrail gave way while he was painting the structure on Sept. 4, 2018.
The settlement amount included the plaintiffs’ court cost and attorney’s fees, totaling more than $315,000.
“Such expenses included plaintiffs retaining an expert structural engineer who examined the stairs and railings on site, and confirmed that the stairs and railings were deteriorated and dangerous and took possession of the deteriorated railing as evidence,” Ocasek wrote in an email to the Landmark in response to an inquiry from the newspaper.
Two days after Schirmer’s death, Property Rental Inc. filed a building permit application to demolish and replace the three-story rear porch/stairwell Schirmer had been painting.
The village of Riverside also ordered a structural analysis of a second wooden rear porch/stairwell structure at the apartment building. Riverside Building Department records, obtained by the Landmark via a Freedom of Information request, show that two porch/stairwell structures were replaced.
Police responded to the Tower Apartments, 22-42 East Ave. and 25-39 Forest Ave., on Sept. 4, 2018 at about 8:45 a.m. after an employee of the property management company called 911 to report finding Schirmer unresponsive on the pavement next to the stairwell, where police reported seeing a second-floor railing broken. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
During their investigation, according to a police report, an officer interviewed Ronald Kafka, who told him he had not hired Schirmer to paint the stairwell, although he had him do odd jobs occasionally in the past.
Schirmer’s estate, on behalf of his siblings, Brian Schirmer and Elise George, sued on Sept. 6, 2018. A day later, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Moira S. Johnson ordered all evidence related to case, including the rear stairwell, be preserved and that the building owners and managers allow the village, the estate’s attorney and a structural engineer access to the property to inspect the stairwell and gather evidence.
The complaint was amended five times as Ocasek worked to unspool the complicated ownership of the property.
But the basic allegations of the complaint remained consistent: That the owners and property management were negligent in their failure to maintain, repair and remove and replace the stairwell, landing and railing. The suit also alleged that the defendants negligently failed to warn tenants of the poor condition of the stairwell and negligently allowed the stairwell to be used in its poor condition.