Source: http://findarticles.com, February 8, 2007
By: Joe Grundle
The families of three workers killed in the Dec. 6 propane explosion at the Falk Corp. plant have sued Milwaukee mechanical contractor J.M. Brennan Inc. for negligence.
Robert Habush, attorney for the families of Thomas LeTendre, Curtis Lane and Daniel Kuster, announced the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon at Habush, Habush & Rottier S.C.’s downtown Milwaukee offices.
The suit, which asks for an unspecified amount of civil damages, was filed in Milwaukee County court Wednesday and alleges that J.M. Brennan improperly installed the pipes that leaked and led to the explosion.
“This section of pipe was supposed to be laid in sand and turned out to be laid on rocks,” he said. “That is how the corrosion that caused the leaks occurred.”
Rexnord Corp., Falk’s parent company, hired J.M. Brennan to work on the propane system at the Falk plant. Workers from J.M. Brennan were testing the site about 40 minutes before the explosion.
The lawsuit targets J.M. Brennan rather than Rexnord because Rexnord is protected from large civil liability claims under the state’s workers’ compensation law, which awards compensation to the deceased workers’ families but limits the damages they can receive to $233,200 per dependant. Also, Habush said counsel found no evidence of negligence on Falk’s part.
Habush represented the widows of three ironworkers who died in the 1999 crane collapse at Miller Park. The widows received $57 million in settlements from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America’s insurance companies in January 2006.
“This is the second tragedy in less than 10 years in Milwaukee where three hard-working Milwaukee workers were killed and others injured on the job,” he said.
Brennan defends work.
Prior to Habush’s press conference, Jeffery Remsik, spokesperson for J.M. Brennan, said he hadn’t seen any lawsuit or complaint yet but expected the contractor would be the target of Habush’s suit.
“It makes sense because the employees that were killed were Falk employees so (Falk) can’t be sued based on workers’ comp (law),” Remsik said. “We are the next likely target for a lawsuit.”
Remsik said J.M. Brennan would “vigorously defend its work and safety record.”
“We have a really strong safety record, no violations with OSHA or anything like that,” he said. “We have a good relationship with Falk.”
Investigators of the explosion found two leaks in a propane pipe that connects a series of propane storage tanks to the boilers that heat buildings at Falk’s 61-acre complex in the Menomonee Valley.
Falk has been a customer of J.M. Brennan for about 60 years. In addition to maintenance, J.M. Brennan installed some parts of the propane system in the early 1960s, although not necessarily the parts that leaked.
Workers for both J.M. Brennan and Falk were testing the 30-year- old backup propane system before the explosion occurred, and Remsik has said J.M. Brennan’s workers were observing the annual operational test when they smelled and saw liquid propane coming from underground.