Families Reach Settlement in ’99 Crane Deaths at Miller Park

Sat January 28, 2006 - Midwest Edition

MILWAUKEE (AP) The families of three ironworkers killed in a 1999 crane collapse at Miller Park have reached a settlement in their lawsuit against insurance companies and the contractor hired to install the ballpark’s roof, their attorney said.

The amount was not disclosed, but Robert Habush, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, called the settlement “substantial and fair.”

The amount is in addition to the $27 million his clients already received, he said.

Ralph Weber, lead attorney for roofing contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America, said the company “is grateful that the parties were able to resolve this difficult and sad case.”

The agreement concludes more than six years of legal wrangling over the liability in the ironworkers’ deaths.

The families alleged that Lampson International, which leased the crane, and Mitsubishi acted with disregard for the workers’ safety.

“They should have never lifted the crane that day — because of the wind, it was too unsafe,” Habush said.

Ironworkers Jeffrey Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr were killed in July 1999 while working on the construction of Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

They were trying to guide a 450-ton piece of the stadium’s roof into place from a safety basket held aloft by a crane.

As they worked, another crane fell, smashing them to the ground.

Widows Patricia Wischer, Marjorie DeGrave and Ramona Dulde-Starr sued the contractor in August 1999.

The jury awarded them $5.25 million in compensatory damages and $94 million in punitive damages.

On appeal in September 2003, the 1st District Court of Appeals threw out the $94-million award, ruling the Legislature had intended to limit such awards to cases in which a defendant acted with malice or intent to harm.

The appeals court ruled 2-1 that Mitsubishi did neither.

The state Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision in March 2005, saying punitive damages were justified but declining to say whether the amount was excessive. The case was then sent back to the appeals court for further review.

Attorneys for both sides said they’ll now file the appropriate paperwork to have the case dismissed.

Habush said the process would take approximately 30 days.

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