Apartments Downtown ordered to pay $5.6 million after worker's death

Jury orders Jeffrey Clark to pay family of Bronson Ganka after 2014 fall

An Apartments Downtown sign advertises apartments for rent on Gilbert Street in Iowa City. (file photo)
An Apartments Downtown sign advertises apartments for rent on Gilbert Street in Iowa City. (file photo)

IOWA CITY — One of Iowa City’s largest landlords must pay $5.6 million to the family of a worker who fell on the job and later died of brain injuries, a Johnson County jury has ruled.

Jeffrey Clark, a manager for Apartments Downtown Inc., was ordered to pay the money to the family of Bronson Ganka, 40, who fell 12 feet from a ladder while working in April 2014 and died 11 days later.

Kara Ganka, his widow, filed a lawsuit in 2016 asserting Clark was grossly negligent in failing to maintain a safe work environment and failing to train employees, among other issues.

“Even though it is a large verdict, it’s not a crazy verdict. She lost her husband. They lost their father and this amount represents 42 years of his life expectancy and it’s divided among all four of them,” said attorney Pressley Henningsen, who represented the Ganka family. “Who would give up 42 years of their loving spouse or 42 years of their loving parent for a couple million bucks?”

An attorney listed in court documents as representing Clark did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Apartments Downtown is a major Iowa City landlord with properties all around the University of Iowa campus and downtown. It offers everything from efficiency to five-bedroom apartments, as well as townhomes and houses for rent.

Bronson Ganka’s fall happened as he was standing on a ladder — leaned against a metal awning — and drilling holes into a wall of a building on S. Gilbert Street. Henningsen said Apartments Downtown owned a vehicle with an arm and basket to lift workers, but Clark told Ganka not to use it in front of the building because that would require a city permit.

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In a deposition, Clark said concerns over the risk of employees falling “did not come to mind.”

Crew members “were out back, and they were drilling holes through the siding out back, and my only conversation with (Bronson Ganka) was that they could not block the street with the boom lift,” Clark said in the court record.

Clark said later that the crew working with Ganka felt the ladder they decided to use was too short, “but Bronson went up on it anyway.”

“You know, it’s really flustering to me that you can be that low and you can have this kind of accident but, you know, I can only state and think that they used too short of a ladder,” Clark said. “I knew where Bronson had fallen, and as I look at it, I’m like, ‘How did that occur?’ ...”

The deposition shows there was nobody with Apartments Downtown who was assigned to be in charge of job site safety in 2014. Clark said in the deposition he had no formal training on job site safety before Bronson Ganka’s fall.

In an interview, Kara Ganka said she hopes that companies look at the case and ask if they’re doing everything right to prevent an incident like this from happening again.

“Our big thing was being able to tell our story and for people to hear it,” she said. “I really hope that obviously the company that my husband worked for really realizes the impact they can have on their community and that life matters.”

The couple had been married since 2002 and together since 1992. She said he was a “huge” Hawkeye fan whose tissue donations after his death helped people around the world.

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The couple has two adult children and a 6-year old. She said her oldest graduated culinary school and is working full time, while her second child is in college and working as well.

Last year, facing a class-action lawsuit, Apartments Downtown was told to pay about 14,000 tenants $65 each for an illegal carpet-cleaning charge for each year of tenancy.

Both Henningsen and Christopher Warnok, a lawyer with the Iowa Tenants Project, said they believe Apartments Downtown is the largest landlord in the city.

Warnok was on the opposite side of it in the lawsuit. But since then, he has worked with the company thanks to a settlement that pays for a complaint process for tenants to go to the Iowa Tennants Project.

Warnok said despite its size, Apartments Downtown is a family-run business. It was started by Clark’s parents, Jim and Loretta Clark, and Warnok said he’s noticed Clark out doing maintenance and shoveling snow.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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