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
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.