Three ironworkers were killed in 1999

Updated: March 18, 2005, 12:56 PM ET
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- The state Supreme Court on Friday overturned a decision that threw out a $94 million award to the families of three ironworkers killed when a crane collapsed during the construction of Milwaukee's Miller Park.

A state appeals court voted 2-1 on Sept. 30 that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America did not intentionally cause the three deaths, nor was its conduct certain to cause injury.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-1 that the appeals court decision was incorrect and established that state law only requires a plaintiff to prove the defendant acted maliciously or with intentional disregard to the rights of the plaintiff.

Ironworkers Jeffrey Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr were killed in 1999 as they tried to guide a 450-ton piece of Miller Park's roof into place from a safety basket held aloft by a crane. As they worked, another crane dubbed Big Blue fell on top of them.

The court said a reasonable jury could conclude that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America acted with an intentional disregard for the rights of the three ironworkers killed. The justices noted the plaintiffs claimed the crane collapsed because Mitsubishi used it in high winds, no wind-speed calculations were made and the crane's load limits were exceeded.

"Anyone who has hung wet laundry, set up an outdoor art display or driven a motor vehicle on a high bridge knows the havoc wind can play with items light or heavy," chief justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the majority.

Attorney Robert Habush, who represented the families of the three ironworkers killed, called the decision a "total victory."

"It is a sharp warning to companies or individuals who would disregard people's rights in an intentional way and cause them harm," Habush said.

The Supreme Court put off ruling whether the amount of the punitive damages award was excessive under state law. The justices said there were numerous unresolved issues over the award and they need more evidence to make a decision.

The case was sent back to the appeals court on that issue.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press