Crane Accidents

Miller Park Case Arguments Heard

10/29/04

MADISON — The contractor hired to install the roof at Miller Park intentionally disregarded the rights of three ironworkers killed in an accident, an attorney argued Thursday.

William DeGrave of Kimberly, Jeffrey Wischer and Jerome Starr were killed in 1999 when a crane collapsed as they tried to guide a 450-ton piece of the roof into place from a safety basket.

Attorney Robert Habush, representing the ironworkers’ widows, urged the state Supreme Court to restore a $94 million punitive award to the victims’ widows.

Habush conceded state lawmakers intended to make it harder to receive punitive damages when they changed state law in 1995.

But he said the statute was not intended to prevent an award in a case that involved such a blatant disregard for the well-being of others.

Habush said Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc. ignored the dangers of lifting a piece of the roof on a windy day, a factor that contributed to the crane’s collapse and the ironworkers’ deaths.

“They don’t get it. They haven’t learned their lessons,” Habush said. “Does this cry out for deterrence? I suggest it does.”

Attorney Ralph Weber, representing Mitsubishi, said a state appeals court got it right last year when it threw out the $94 million punitive damage award.

The court ruled the Legislature intended to limit punitive damages to cases where a defendant acted with malice or intent to harm and decided Mitsubishi did neither.

The case involves one of the largest punitive damages awards in state history. At the heart of it is whether the $94 million in punitive damages was unconstitutionally excessive and whether state law only allows such rewards only when it can be proven a defendant intended to cause injury.

The justices did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.

Category: Famous, Report Update

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