Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. has filed multiple federal lawsuits in Madison, Wisconsin on behalf of 43 workers who were poisoned by toxic lead exposure at Fraser Shipyards in Superior Wisconsin last year during the refurbishment work being performed aboard the vessel, Herbert C. Jackson. The Herbert C. Jackson, a 690′ bulk carrier ship, was undergoing dry-dock work at Fraser Shipyards. The lawsuits name Fraser Shipyards, Inc., Capstan Corporation, Northern Engineering Company, and The Interlake Steamship Company as defendants.
The conduct of Fraser Shipyards, Inc., for work aboard the Herbert C. Jackson was the subject of an OSHA investigation, as well as a joint investigation by the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Public Health. The OSHA investigation culminated in the issuance of 14 willful egregious health violations against Fraser, as well as five additional willful violations and 10 serious violations. According to OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago, Ken Atha, “Fraser ignored federal regulations, its own corporate safety manuals and worker concerns.”
OSHA had no occasion to consider the fault of Capstan Corporation, Northern Engineering Company, and The Interlake Steamship Company in this case, because these entities did not employ any of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. David E. Rapoport, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed today, explains: “OHSA’s statutory mandate is to pass and enforce safety rules regulating the conduct of “employers” only. This means OHSA investigations do not cover the conduct of parties like the vessel owner in this case, or Capstan Corporation, or Northern Engineering Company. Our investigation shows all of these entities shared in the gross fault that resulted in lead poisoning so many workers. We appreciate the work OSHA did in this case, but civil lawsuits like the ones our clients filed today also serve important purposes. Full justice is not possible in a case like this one without all responsible parties being held liable, not just the employer of some of the plaintiffs.
The new lawsuits mention information learned by Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. since the filing of the first Fraser Shipyard lawsuit filed last year on behalf of welder James Holder. While Fraser Shipyards has publicly denied any responsibility for what happened aboard the vessel, the lawsuits allege that prior to a single worker setting foot aboard the Herbert C. Jackson, the defendants knew, without a doubt, workers were going to be exposed to toxins. None of the workers were ever told they were going to be exposed to toxins. Instead, the presence of toxins was actively concealed from the workers by the defendants.
According to attorneys from Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. the levels of blood in some of the workers’ blood was more than 15 times higher than the level recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being harmful.
The lawsuits seek compensation for injuries as a result of the critically high levels of lead exposure, exposure to other toxins aboard the vessel, and punitive damages against the defendants for their intentional disregard of the workers’ safety.
According to plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Sims, “The defendants have made it clear since this happened that they have no intention of accepting responsibility for what they did to these workers and their families. The courts are the only avenue left for them to seek justice, and we intend to deliver it for them.”
Attorney Melanie VanOverloop added: “The evidence we have gathered will show that the defendants made a conscious decision to prioritize profits over safety by taking away funds specifically allocated for lead abatement. We now know that safety professionals told the defendants time and again that if the proper safety measures for lead were not put in place, workers would be poisoned. They knew this before any worker stepped foot on the Herbert C. Jackson and they let the workers get poisoned anyway.”
The workers are represented by David E. Rapoport, Matthew S. Sims, and Melanie J. VanOverloop of Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. in Chicago.