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Mystery truck tied to demolished building, court case

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Eriksen says film projects will reveal number of stories

By Marty Finley

A dump truck making its rounds in Elizabethtown with a sign that says “Evil Willful Intentional” is owned by Dr. William Eriksen, founder of Eriksen Chiropractic Center.

The truck spent several weeks on property owned by Eriksen at the intersection of Dixie Avenue and Mulberry Street downtown but recently was moved to a spot off North Mulberry Street near the chiropractor’s office.

The vehicle stimulated public discussion as residents attempted to decode the meaning behind the date and time listed on the banner affixed to the truck: 3 p.m. Oct. 29, 2004.

The News-Enterprise reached out to Eriksen numerous times inquiring about the truck. Initially, Eriksen’s daughter, Dr. Teddi Eriksen, provided a short statement in response.

“The truck is a representation of the story that will be told about how ironic it is that Dr. Eriksen, who was trying to fix up his historic Elizabethtown building with his own money and not taxpayer money, caused evil, willful and intentional acts by an insurance company, which was supported by Elizabethtown city officials,” she said.

Later, Eriksen agreed to an interview and confirmed the date and time are tied to the moment a jury found his insurance company, Kentucky National Insurance Co., guilty of “evil, willful and intentional acts” under a bad faith claim. Bad faith must be proven to show a party acted with evil intent, intentional misconduct or a form of willful disregard.

Eriksen tried to pursue a breach of contract claim but the statute of limitations had expired. 

 

Demolished building plays role in project. Court records show Eriksen sued Kentucky National Insurance in 2000 for damages tied to the condemnation and demolition of a building he owned at 137 W. Dixie Ave., where the truck was parked.

Eriksen said he bought the building with plans to restore it to its original look. He wanted to install a printing press because it once was home to one of the community’s newspapers. Eriksen said he intended to spend $150,000 or more to fix the building, eschewing grants and government assistance.

In November 1995, the building was struck by a vehicle. The next year, Eriksen had the building surveyed and inspected and informed Planning Director Ed Poppe of his intentions to remove and rework the exterior, according to city records.

By December 1996, Eriksen told Poppe the costs contractors projected to repair the building were not feasible and the building would have to come down, according to city records.

An order of demolition was issued in March 1997, which was completed later that month, city records show. Eriksen was responsible for reimbursing the city $15,000 for the demolition but did not issue the payment until 2001, according to city records.

Eriksen told The News-Enterprise in 1997 that the vehicle struck the front door and knocked out the bottom pillar. Subsequent inspection, he said, found the structural damage was greater than expected and a damaged wall was starting to lean, posing a safety hazard.

“We tried to save it,”  Eriksen said in the March 1997 article. “It wasn’t that it wasn’t pursued on that level.”

 

Case ends in bad faith ruling. According to Hardin Circuit Court records, Eriksen did not file a loss notice on the building with Kentucky National until November of 1996, more than a year after the damage occurred.

The insurance company extended an offer to Eriksen in early 1997 but he did not respond, according to information Kentucky National filed with the court.

Eriksen said he haggled with the company for months and had trouble reaching representatives. When he did discuss the damage, they offered payouts he described as “unbelievable,” including an offer of $1,500 to which he did not respond.

Eriksen said he was flabbergasted by the low figure because it was a fully functioning building with electricity.

“I believe I paid more in premiums than what they said the building was worth,” he said.

Eriksen first sued the driver, reaching a settlement agreement in 1999 with insurance company Omni, according to court records.

Around 3 p.m. Oct. 29, 2004, jurors upheld the notion that Eriksen’s claim was handled in bad faith by Kentucky National and awarded him $20,000. He also was seeking up to $2 million in punitive damages and up to $150,000 for embarrassment, humiliation and mental anguish, both of which were denied by the jury, according to court records.

Eriksen said testimony presented during the Kentucky National case was inconsistent with the facts as he knew them and he believes information provided by the city and the property appraisal escalated the dispute with the insurance company.

He also took issue with the city threatening litigation for reimbursement of demolition costs, claiming removal of the building caused him to run afoul of state government officials because they were not properly notified.

 

Several names posted on website. Eriksen created an affiliated website, which includes a black background and a revolving list of names, many of which are local or have ties to Hardin County. Other names on the list proved more puzzling because they are national figures, including former President John F. Kennedy and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

An analysis of Hardin Circuit Court records show several of the names posted on the website are linked to the suit against Kentucky National.

For instance, Judge Michael McDonald was an expert witness for Kentucky National and Jason Bell is a local attorney who represented the insurance company.

Other names that pop up on the list are Steven Burzlaff, the jury foreman; Austin Mehr, an attorney who represented Eriksen against Kentucky National; and Rick Baumgardner, a local real estate appraiser.

Poppe also makes the list, as does former Mayor Pat Durbin, who was in office when Eriksen’s building was struck by the vehicle and demolished.

Durbin said she has no idea why she is listed. She said the city was disappointed with the demolition, but the severity of the damage made it unavoidable. City officials later approached Eriksen about obtaining the land for use as a small park, but Eriksen rejected the offer, she said.

“We were just trying to get that whole mess over there cleaned up,” she said.

While Eriksen admitted several of the names are tied to the lawsuit and the demolished building, several names on the list are unrelated and attached to other stories he plans to tell in time.

Eriksen has started a production company and said he will weave some of those stories into documentaries. He also indicated he may add more names to the website.

Eriksen said some on the list are tied to earlier memories. He met Kennedy when he was a child because his mother was a national convention delegate and he has spent time with Cheney, he said.

City Attorney D. Dee Shaw and Executive Assistant Charlie Bryant reviewed the statement released to the newspaper by Teddi Eriksen, but said they are unsure why the city was mentioned or why Eriksen may be revisiting the issue now.

Shaw said the city never was included in the lawsuit. Eriksen paid the demolition costs so the city considered the matter resolved.

“We’re mystified as to why we were included,” she said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.