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Families of men killed in Wis. blast file lawsuit


MILWAUKEE--A wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the families of three men killed at a Milwaukee manufacturing plant in December 2006 when a liquid propane heating system exploded seeks damages from engineering firm J.M. Brennan Inc. and its errors and omissions insurer.

Brennan installed the system at Falk Corp. approximately 18 years ago, and the engineering firm was conducting a system startup test when a pipeline leak led to the explosion on Dec. 6, 2006. In addition to the three deaths, the blast injured dozens of Falk workers, who are not plaintiffs in the litigation filed Wednesday.

Brennan's E&O insurer is Sheboygan, Wis.-based ACUITY, a Mutual Insurance Co., while David Insurance Agency Inc. in Kenosha, Wis., placed the coverage, according to a Brennan spokesman. The engineering firm would not disclose its E&O limits.

Also named as a defendant is Falk's workers compensation insurer, American Home Assurance Co., a subsidiary of New York-based American International Group Inc.The area's natural gas heat utility has designated Falk as an "interruptible customer," which requires the manufacturer to have an alternative heating source that must be tested. Brennan was supervising a system startup test of Falk's liquid propane heating system when propane leaked from underground pipes, bubbled to the surface and flowed to a building in the Falk manufacturing complex. At the building, the propane exploded.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Milwaukee County State Court, Brennan improperly installed the system by not protecting its underground piping from corrosion. In addition, Brennan failed to test the pipes for leaks before the test or properly assess a fuel pressure gauge during the test, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that Brennan was negligent by failing to order a plant evacuation after the propane leak was detected, even though Falk employees involved in the test suggested an evacuation.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages as well as damages for pain and suffering and for loss of society and companionship. Under Wisconsin law, damages for loss of society are capped at $350,000 per plaintiff, noted plaintiffs' attorney Timothy Trecek, a partner with Habush, Habush & Rottier S.C. in Milwaukee. Habush represents the families of all three Falk workers killed in the blast.

In a statement, Brennan said: "We are confident that the results of the official investigations will show that the work of J.M. Brennan was reasonable and did not cause the explosion. J.M. Brennan has a strong safety record, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.

"In reviewing the claims in this lawsuit, it is important to note that Wisconsin state law does not allow employees to recover damages from their employer, only worker compensation benefits. J.M. Brennan was present as a contractor and was not an employer of the deceased involved in this lawsuit."