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Published: Wednesday, 6/8/2005

Fru-Con sued over North Dakota bridge accident

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The family of a worker killed Nov. 30 in a North Dakota bridge construction accident has sued Fru-Con Construction Corp. and a subcontractor in federal court for more than $17 million.

Along with compensation for the death of Levi Grant, 21, relatives are claiming extreme emotional distress suffered by Gaylord Grant, who also was employed at the Four Bears Bridge construction site and, along with being injured himself, witnessed his brother Levi's death.

Levi Grant was crushed when a tower of reinforcing steel, known as rebar, collapsed on him during construction of a pier for a state highway bridge over the Missouri River's Lake Sakakawea near New Town, N.D.

Fru-Con, based in Ballwin, Mo., also is the general contractor for the I-280 Veterans' Glass City Skyway bridge project in Toledo that was the scene of a Feb. 16, 2004, crane collapse that killed four construction workers and injured four others.

On May 26, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said Fru-Con agreed to pay a $280,000 fine for safety violations associated with that accident as long as the violations were changed from "willful" to "unclassified."

Citing the findings of an OSHA report issued last month about the North Dakota mishap, the lawsuit accuses Fru-Con and subcontractor J.D. Steel of Phoenix of inadequate worker training and unsafe workplace practices leading to Levi Grant's death and his brother's trauma.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Bismarck, N.D., also claims that the two firms "failed to conduct meaningful drug testing policies and allowed employees to come to work inebriated or worked under the influence of drugs, thereby contributing to the collapse of the rebar."

Steve Houston, a Fru-Con spokesman, referred a query about the lawsuit to Gary Reddin, J.D. Steel's president. Mr. Reddin called the drug and alcohol claims "ridiculous" but said he otherwise could not comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.

A recent meeting between the two companies and OSHA led to one of four citations against J.D. Steel being dropped, Mr. Reddin said.

Reed Soderstrom, an attorney from Minot, N.D., representing the Grant brothers' family, declined to elaborate on the intoxication claims. "That's something we're going to bring out in court, and I wouldn't have put it in there if I didn't have a factual basis," Mr. Soderstrom said.



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