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Attorney: Robert L. Habush, 65 Firm: Milwaukee’s Habush, Habush, Davis & Rottier Case: Wischer v. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America, No. 99-CV-6553 (Cir. Ct., Milwaukee Co., Wis.) Winning Points: � Be sure to hire experts early in the case. � Use ‘slashing cross’ in depositions. � Call defendants in the plaintiff’s case. In the last days of Jeffrey Wischer’s life, he had a premonition about his death, says plaintiffs’ attorney Robert L. Habush. Wischer had been working on the new Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium and “he was becoming very concerned about safety” at the construction site, Habush says. As a result, “he started showing his wife where things were and told her, ‘If anything ever happens to me, I want you to call Bob Habush.’ “ On July 14, 1999, Wischer and co-workers Jerome Starr and William DeGrave were suspended in a basket by a crane 250 feet above the ground as a larger crane lifted a 450-ton portion of the ballpark’s retractable roof. “The wind caught the roof piece and blew it to the north, putting stress on the crane,” recalls Habush. The larger crane “broke on the bottom and collapsed onto the smaller crane and the three men plunged to their deaths,” he says. Within 24 hours, Patricia Wischer had called Habush and set in motion a suit that would draw one of the largest jury verdicts in Wisconsin history — a total of $99.25 million to the families of the three workers. Wischer’s suggestion to his wife was not surprising. He has long been the premier plaintiffs’ lawyer in Wisconsin. In a venue not noted for million-dollar verdicts, he has won more than a dozen, including the first successful verdict anywhere against a blood center for the transmission of AIDS and the first successful products liability judgment against a maker of latex gloves. He also has dozens of settlements of seven figures or more. In the past 35 years, he has had more than 200 jury trials and lost only three. In the Miller Park case, the widows sued Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America, which had contracted to build the removable roof of the stadium, and subcontractor Lampson International Ltd., which had leased the larger crane from Mitsubishi and loaned three workers to Mitsubishi to operate it. As soon as he was hired by Wischer, Habush moved quickly to determine how and why the accident occurred. “We went out early and interviewed all the ironworkers, within five to seven days after we were hired.” He also interviewed bystanders who had been watching the construction of the stadium. “I decided to file the lawsuit right away so I could start depositions. I needed to get the documents and the depositions under oath. These people in construction come and go.” Habush hired an expert on cranes: “You definitely have to hire experts early. Experts help you prepare questions for depositions.” “We knew Mitsubishi’s strategy was to blame the crane” — that it broke because it was defective, not because of the wind. He hired Howard Shapiro of New York, who had written a textbook on derricks and cranes. Shapiro concluded “that there was nothing wrong with the crane.” SEARCH AND DESTROY In the depositions of the Mitsubishi and Lampson people, Habush was relentless. He says his depositions “are like a full trial, slashing, search-and-destroy cross.” Early in the pretrial investigation, he says, he determined that Mitsubishi would be the primary target. Mitsubishi’s site supervisor, Victor Grotlisch, “made the decision” to lift the roof piece that day, “despite winds in the high 20s to low 30s,” Habush says. The manufacturer of the crane, he said, had warned that “the crane, by itself, could not be used during winds in excess of 20 mph.” Given the 450-ton load, the crane operators had to make additional wind calculations, he adds. “But no one did.” During the depositions, he says, Grotlisch agreed with Habush that “if your safety supervisor had known the winds were in excess of 25 mph and didn’t tell you, this was conscious disregard” for the safety of the construction workers. “Proceeding with that lift in the face of those winds was an intentional disregard of the plaintiffs’ rights,” warranting punitive damages, Habush said. He began by calling Lampson employees. He always uses the defendants in his case, Habush says, “if I’ve got good impeaching material.” Mitsubishi blamed Lampson and the crane, Lampson blamed Mitsubishi. He could use Lampson to prove his case against Mitsubishi. Lampson’s workers set the scene, he says. “Not just what happened then, but about unsafe incidents before that day.” The Lampson witnesses testified, he says, that Mitsubishi was making them work at night, pushing them to work up high in below-freezing weather and dismissing their protests. One Lampson witness testified that after complaining, Habush recalls, “He was told by Grotlisch, ‘I hired you below the neck.’ ” A crew chief testified that “ after expressing concerns about safety, Mr. Grotlisch got rid of him.” At one point, he notes, he asked a Lampson crew supervisor, “You never saw a sloppier operation.” The witness answered, “You’re right.” SIGNIFICANT ADMISSIONS The Mitsubishi people weren’t quite as malleable but proved even more effective. In his examination of Grotlisch, “I pinned him to his depositions. I was getting significant admissions from him, implicating his intelligence and decision-making. I’d dwell on this, like picking a scab.” He pestered Grotlisch with questions about the lack of wind calculations, referring to his deposition testimony, getting agreements with each question. “You told me, did you not, that it was necessary to do calculations on the effect wind has on the load due to the size of the roof piece at Miller Park? “You also told me … that if you had known that the calculations were not being done, you’d have done something about it? “Now you told me, Mr. Grotlisch … that it was your responsibility that if you knew no one at Mitsubishi was doing these calculations, you were unsure if Lampson was doing them, that it was your responsibility to ask, ‘Did you do them?’ ” Grotlisch admitted that this was his responsibility but that he failed to assure that wind calculations were made. Habush then asked him, “You dropped the ball, didn’t you?” Grotlisch paused for a long moment. Judge Dominic Amato instructed him to answer. Grotlisch then replied, “Correct.” “It was a Perry Mason moment,” Habush recalls. The defense cross-examined Patricia Wischer. “The defense attorney asked, ‘What else did your husband tell you?’ And then she nailed him: ‘If anything happens to me, call Bob Habush.’ The jury loved it.” On Dec. 1, the jury awarded $94 million in punitives, all against Mitsubishi, and $5.25 million in compensatories, finding Mitsubishi 97 percent and Lampson 3 percent responsible for the accident. Each estate was awarded $1.4 million for conscious pain and suffering, or $100,000 per second of the 14 seconds it took for the ironworkers to hit the ground. Mitsubishi has appealed, but the plaintiffs have already been compensated significantly. Under agreements reached before, during and after trial, insurance carriers covering the Miller Park construction have agreed to pay a total of $29.375 million.

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