Asbestos Lawsuit Reinstated by Wisconsin Appeals Court

By TODD RICHMOND | December 28, 2015

A Wisconsin appeals court reinstated portions of a woman’s lawsuit Tuesday that alleges asbestos exposure at two of Milwaukee’s signature brewing companies played a role in her steamfitter husband’s death.

Sandra Brezonick’s lawsuit alleges her husband, John Brezonick, contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos at a number of Milwaukee-area industrial sites between 1996 and 2000. The lawsuit includes nearly a dozen defendants, including Pabst Brewing Company and Miller Brewing Company.

A judge last year dismissed her claims against Pabst, Miller, Sprinkmann Sons Corporation and Wisconsin Electric Power Company. She said a state law that prohibits lawsuits over injuries resulting from work to improve property shields them because John Brezonick’s work amounted to such improvements. The 1st District Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the companies failed to prove his work amounted to improvements rather than repairs.

The companies’ attorneys didn’t immediately respond to an email Tuesday morning seeking comment on the decision. Sandra Brezonick’s attorney, Robert McCoy, called the appellate ruling “a great decision.”

“This will allow for all the defendants who might have some fault to be included,” he said.

Sandra Brezonick said in a telephone interview from her home in Del Rio, Texas, that she hopes the ruling helps everyone battling mesothelioma.

“It’s just such a great gift that the appeals court has given us,” she said through tears. “I know if my husband were still here, he would be ecstatic that it’s being recognized (that mesothelioma) is such a horrible thing.”

The lawsuit named Pabst, Miller and WEPCO as owners and operators of sites where asbestos existed. Sprinkmann was named as an installer and supplier of asbestos products used at sites where John Brezonick worked.

In her 2014 ruling, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Mary Kuhnmuench agreed with the four companies that state statutes bar lawsuits over injuries resulting from work to improve property completed more than a decade earlier.

The appellate court rejected that contention. John Brezonick installed and replaced pipes and frames at Pabst, suggesting that he was performing maintenance and repairs at the brewery, not improving it, the court said. He performed similar work at Miller and that company didn’t provide undisputed evidence showing that work amounts to a permanent addition that improved the property’s value.

WEPCO similarly failed to show that all of the lawsuit’s claims stemmed from work involved in improving property, the court added.

The court went on to say that Sprinkmann’s work replacing large portions of existing pipes could be construed as necessary maintenance.

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