Punitive damages nixed, compensatory left intact

Updated: October 2, 2003, 12:33 AM ET
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- A state appeals court Tuesday threw out a $94 million punitive damage award to the families of three ironworkers killed when a crane collapsed during the construction of Milwaukee's Miller Park.

The 1st District Court of Appeals left intact a $27 million award for compensatory damages. But the judges voted 2-1 that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America did not intentionally cause the deaths of three ironworkers nor was its conduct certain to cause injury.

Because of that, the judges ruled the case should not have been sent to a jury for punitive damages from Mitsubishi and its insurance carriers.

Robert Habush, who represents the families of the dead ironworkers, said they planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

A Milwaukee County jury awarded the families of Jeffrey Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr compensatory damages and $94 million in punitive damages after a 2000 trial.

The families filed the suit shortly after the mishap, arguing that Mitsubishi was negligent because it was too windy to install a piece of the stadium's retractable roof the day the ironworkers were killed.

The court said Tuesday the families have already been paid the $27 million in compensatory damages and its decision does not affect that award.

The ironworkers were killed when the crane, called Big Blue, fell onto the partially completed ballpark on July 14, 1999. The widows sued a month later.

DeGrave, Starr and Wischer were guiding a 450-ton roof piece into place from a safety basket held aloft by another crane when Big Blue fell, smashing them to the ground.

The tragedy delayed the opening of Miller Park by one year.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press