Michigan Family Gets $21 Million Settlement in Door County Explosion

May 16, 2008

The three children of a Michigan couple killed in an explosion in the popular Wisconsin vacation area of Door County will receive a settlement worth more than $21 million, according to court documents.

The teenage children of Patrick and Margaret Higdon and adult relatives filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Green Bay claiming negligence caused propane explosions in the resort community in 2006. The lawsuit names the Cedar Grove Resort, some construction companies, a utility and their insurance companies as defendants.

Patrick M. Higdon, 49, and his wife, Margaret Brooks Higdon, 45, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., died early July 10, 2006, while vacationing in a cottage with their children and other family members at the Cedar Grove Resort about 200 miles north of Milwaukee. Twelve other people were injured.

Other adult relatives have reached a settlement but that hasn’t been made public.

Authorities never filed criminal charges in the matter. Door County District Attorney Ray Pelrine has said an electrical contractor installing some underground electric lines for an upgrade of the resort’s docks ruptured a buried propane line three days before the explosion, and it wasn’t clear what caused the propane to ignite.

The $21 million settlement reached May 6 will be split among the three children, Megan, Patrick and James, and go into trust funds for them.

The lawsuit claimed Arby Construction, Inc., severed an underground propane gas line while performing work for the resort. The suit also named the Wisconsin Public Service Corp., Portside Properties LLC, and their insurance companies, and Ferrellgas, Inc.

Four of the five defendants in the lawsuit agreed to the settlement. The four will take the fifth defendant to court to try and make it share payment in the settlement, according to court documents.

An attorney for the family, Ralph J. Tease Jr., with Habush, Habush & Rottier in Green Bay, said the family was relieved the case was over. The children, two 16-year-old twin boys and a 14-year-old girl, are living with their maternal grandparents in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., he said.

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