; Miller_Park_ruling_apparently_a_record
Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out
Your Federal Quarterly Tax Payments are due April 15th Get Help Now >>



  • pg 1
									     Miller Park ruling apparently a record
     of the Journal Sentinel staff

     Last Updated: Dec. 1, 2000

A jury on Friday awarded $99,250,000 in damages
in the Miller Park accident - apparently a record for
a personal injury case in Wisconsin - and found
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America 97%
negligent in the tragic mishap that killed three
In a unanimous verdict, the jurors found Lampson
International Ltd. only 3% negligent in the
accident, which also caused $100 million in
damage at the ballpark construction site and forced
a one-year delay in the opening of the Milwaukee        Photo/Gary Porter
                                                        Widows of the three ironworkers killed in the Miller Park
Brewers baseball stadium.                               accident comfort each other as the verdict is read.

Three employees of Lampson who operated the
                                                                   IRONWORKERS KILLED
firm's "Big Blue" crane - Allen Watts, Fred
Flowers and Steve Aldrich - were found not to
have been negligent.
Victor Grotlisch, the Mitsubishi site supervisor and
a target in the trial, was not named in the verdict     James                   Jeffrey            William
form given to the jury. Jurors declined to discuss      Starr                   Wischer            DeGrave
Grotlisch or any other specific individuals when
they talked with reporters after their verdict.         VERDICT AT A GLANCE
                                                        The $99.25 million jury award to the three widows
The verdict came on the third day of jury               of the ironworkers killed in the Miller Park crane
                                                        collapse breaks down this way:
deliberations and at the end of the seventh week of
the emotional and contentious trial.                    • $94 million in punitive damages against
                                                        Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America
Jeffrey Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome             • $4.2 million, or $1.4 million to each widow, for
Starr were killed when Big Blue crashed while           the pain and suffering of the ironworkers
lifting a 450-ton roof piece in high winds on July      • $1.05 million, or $350,000 to each widow, for
                                                        loss of companionship
14, 1999.
                                                        In its verdict, the jury:
Mitsubishi, the American subdivision of the
Japanese conglomerate, is the subcontractor in          • Decided Mitsubishi was 97% negligent in the
                                                        accident and Lampson International Ltd. 3%
charge of building the radial retractable ballpark      negligent.
roof. Lampson leased the crane and the crew to
                                                        • Ruled in favor of Lampson, and against
Mitsubishi.                                             Mitsubishi, on disputed contract issues,
                                                        including one that requires Mitsubishi to pay
After the accident, the three ironworkers' widows       Lampson's liabilities in the trial. That appears to
sued Mitsubishi and Lampson for negligence.             mean that Lampson's 3% share of the $5.25
                                                        million in compensatory damages, or $157,500,
                                                        must also be paid by Mitsubishi.
                                                        • Found that Lampson employees Allen Watts,
                                                        Fred Flowers and Steve Aldrich - the crew that
                                                        operated the Big Blue crane - were not negligent.
After the accident, the three ironworkers' widows sued Mitsubishi and Lampson for
From the start of the trial on Oct. 16, Robert Habush, the widows' lead attorney, pressed the
widows' case against Mitsubishi and Grotlisch and only secondarily blamed Lampson.
"We are completely happy and satisfied for the widows," Habush said after the verdict.
The attorneys for Mitsubishi declined several requests for comment.
But they told Circuit Judge Dominic Amato that they would not waive their right to take the
standard amount of time, in this case until Dec. 28, to file so-called "motions after verdict."
Such motions must be filed before any appeal can be made to a higher court.
Don Carlson, the lead attorney for Lampson, said he was "extremely gratified by the verdict."
He said he was disappointed that the 16-member jury found Lampson even 3% negligent, but
he noted that another provision of the jurors' ruling means that Lampson won't have to pay its
3% of the $5.25 million in compensatory damages.From the start of the trial on Oct. 16,
Robert Habush, the widows' lead attorney, pressed the widows' case against Mitsubishi and
Grotlisch and only secondarily blamed Lampson.
Because the jury decided in Lampson's favor on all disputed contract issues between the two
firms, Mitsubishi must honor the contract provision that makes it responsible for any liabilities
Lampson incurred on the project, Carlson said.
The verdict also pleased the widows.
"I think that this puts some closure, and I hope this sends a message," Ramona Dulde-Starr
said. "We're the greatest country in the world, and accountability in the workplace" is vital.
Patricia Wischer and Marjorie DeGrave said they looked forward to spending more time with
their children now that the trial was over.
Wischer said she expected the jurors to find Mitsubishi negligent but didn't know how much
they would award in damages. She wore her late husband's wedding ring on a chain around her
DeGrave said, "I'm certain that what happened today, that that will reflect for years to come on
the safety of families out there."
Amato appeared to hold back tears as he told the jurors after reading the verdict that "the
minds of 16 people of this community are better than the minds of any one judge."
Mitsubishi's attorneys had tried during the trial to get Amato to remove himself from the case,
but he refused.
Mitsubishi's attorneys had harshly criticized Amato during the trial as being biased in the
widows' favor.
Habush called Amato "a very emotional man" and a "great human being."
Habush declined to comment on what fees his firm would receive.
Habush represents Wischer and DeGrave; attorney David Lowe represents Dulde-Starr. When
Habush and Lowe obtained $7 million in pretrial settlements in the case earlier this year, they
took the standard fee of one-third of the settlement amount.
In his closing argument to the jury on Tuesday, Habush said he thought Mitsubishi was 90%
responsible for the mishap and that Lampson and its crane crew were perhaps just 10% at
During the trial, witnesses for the widows blamed Grotlisch for running an authoritarian,
sloppy job site and especially for proceeding with the lift, knowing that it was windy that day.
Grotlisch admitted under examination by Habush that he had "dropped the ball" the day of the
accident and that he had no idea what effect the wind would have on the roof piece being

That was because nobody at the site did so-called "wind-sail" calculations, which are
commonly done for crane lifts in windy conditions. They are designed to predict the effect of
the wind on the load being raised.
Employees of Mitsubishi and Lampson each testified that they thought the other firm was
doing the wind-sail estimates. Lampson employees maintained that they explained to
Mitsubishi officials that Mitsubishi would be responsible for doing them.
Jurors said that Mitsubishi's failure to see that wind-sail calculations were done was the main
reason they found the firm 97% negligent.
Habush also suggested during the trial that Grotlisch attempted to cover up his responsibility
in the accident. Testimony showed that Grotlisch went to the Mitsubishi construction trailer
shortly after the accident and that someone unplugged the firm's weather computer there,
leaving no record of the wind speeds measured at the
time of the accident.
For his part, Mitsubishi attorney John Bell contended in
his closing argument that the accident was not the result       I'm certain that what
of any intentional misconduct by Mitsubishi, and that a       happened today, that
"chain of events" led to the tragedy.                         that will reflect for
Although conceding that the wind had an impact,               years to come on the
Mitsubishi witnesses during the trial cited less-than-        safety of families out
ideal ground conditions, crane crawler movements made         there.
by the Lampson crew, and the way the crane was
assembled as contributing factors to the accident.                        - Marjorie DeGrave,
                                                                  widow of ironworker William
Charles Morin, Mitsubishi's chief expert witness, said                               DeGrave
the accident would not have happened if Lampson had
not used a weak bronze spacer in the kingpin assembly
of the crane. Another Lampson crane, a sister to Big
Blue but not assembled with a spacer, would have withstood the effects of wind on the load,
Morin said.
Jurors said they didn't think the spacer was a factor in causing the accident at all.
Lampson witnesses defended the integrity of the design, manufacture and assembly of Big
Blue. They said the spacer met code strength requirements, and that even with a stronger
spacer, the accident still would have occurred because Big Blue, rather than breaking apart,
would have entirely tipped over as a result of the wind blowing the roof piece.
The $100 million in property damage from the accident was covered by insurance obtained by
the stadium board and was not an issue in the trial.

To top