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Iowa City landlord ordered to pay $5 6M in worker's death

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- A prominent Iowa City landlord was ordered to pay $5.6 million in damages Tuesday after jurors blamed him for the 2014 death of a maintenance worker.

A jury ruled that Jeffrey Clark, manager of Apartments Downtown, Inc., was "grossly negligent" in the death of 40-year-old Bronson Ganka, who fell from a ladder while working on one of Clark's properties.

Jurors awarded $7 million in damages to Ganka's widow and three children as part of the verdict, which was issued late Monday. A judge reduced the verdict Tuesday to $5.6 million because jurors assessed that Ganka was 20 percent at fault.

Apartments Downtown has long been the dominant apartment rental company in downtown Iowa City, housing thousands of University of Iowa students. Owned and operated by the Clark family, the company has faced complaints and class-action lawsuits over its treatment of tenants over the years.

Ganka, a handyman and construction worker employed by the company, fell from a ladder in April 2014 while trying to drill a hole above an awning to a downtown Iowa City business. He suffered serious injuries after landing on the sidewalk 12 feet below, went into a coma and died 11 days later.

Ganka had previously used a boom truck that had a basket and safety guardrails to perform similar work. But Clark, his supervisor, told Ganka he couldn't use the truck for the work before his death even though it was available, Ganka's widow alleged in a lawsuit filed in 2016. Her lawyers argued to the jury Clark was negligent because he failed to ensure proper equipment was available, failed to supervise the work and failed to ensure there was fall protections and safety training.

The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Apartments Downtown for serious safety violations after Ganka's death, saying employees hadn't been instructed or trained to avoid hazards, were not wearing hard hats and used ladders on unstable surfaces. The company agreed to correct those violations and pay a $5,250 settlement.

At trial, attorneys for Clark denied that he was negligent and argued that Ganka's own actions caused his death.

But jurors found that Clark was 80 percent at fault and awarded damages for past and future pain and suffering for Ganka's widow and children.

Attorneys for both sides didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

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