Wamsleys speak out on lawsuit

PARSONS – Paul Jr. and Paula Wamsley, the children of Virginia “Skip” Wamsley, contacted the Advocate recently to discuss openly the reasoning behind the lawsuit filed against contractor G.A. Brown and Son, Inc.; architect ZMM, Inc. and the Tucker County Commission on behalf of their mother’s estate.
Courthouse elevator shaft
Courthouse elevator shaft

Civil Action No. 12-6-33, the first of two complaints, was filed in the office of Donna Jean Bava, Tucker County Circuit Clerk, Friday, May 18, 2012, by Attorneys David A. Sims and Pat A. Nichols against contractor GA Brown and Son, Inc. alleging particulates containing lead and asbestos were released into the air and inhaled subsequently by employees and others inside the Tucker County Courthouse on March 6, 2012, after the contractor cut holes into the walls of the building to prepare for the installation of an elevator shaft. The plaintiffs allege barriers were not used to contain the dust, which spread throughout the building after the incident.

The Parsons Advocate reported the following after the first complaint was filed: The first part of the suit states Wamsley’s heirs allege, while working at her job in the Tucker County Assessor’s office in the Tucker County Courthouse, she inhaled the particulates, which escalated her lung disease, and died as a result. The second part of the suit is a request for medical monitoring for employees of the Courthouse who may have also inhaled particulates from the cutting of the walls. According to Nichols, “to anyone’s knowledge the Courthouse has been cosmetically cleaned but has not been cleaned professionally.” The Complaint states the Plaintiffs seek a ruling that the contractor “be compelled to hire a competent environmental abatement team to develop and implement a plan of correction for the Tucker County Courthouse to eliminate the toxins created by the Defendant’s wrongful conduct. Said plan should include, at a minimum, the closure of the Courthouse until such time remediation may be accomplished.”

The second complaint, Civil Action 14-C-10, was filed March 6, 2014, by Sims on behalf of the Wamsleys and John and Jane Does 1-1000 (employees together and members of the public present during the alleged incident) against G.A. Brown and Son, Inc.; Tucker County Commission and ZMM, Inc. Sims stated he represents the Wamsleys and John and Jane Does 1-1000, and Nichols is acting as co-counsel representing the interests of John and Jane Does 1-1000. Upon reviewing the second complaint, Judge Andrew N. Frye consolidated the two.

The Wamsley’s stated, “The reason for the suit against the Tucker County Commission is that it did not follow the request to have the Courthouse professionally cleaned, which affects the safety of employees and the general public. Every person entering the building from March 6, 2012 to now is exposed. Every time something is moved from a shelf or equipment moved, or exterior doors and windows opened dust is stirred up and into the air. To our knowledge, items were not professionally cleaned before being moved to the new facility. By conducting this interview, we wanted to update people of the status of the case and to reiterate the risk factors to the Courthouse staff and the general public entering the facility.”

The Wamsleys stated prior to the alleged incident at the Courthouse their mother led a full life with no limitations despite minor health issues. “The question the family has is, why wasn’t the safety of the employees considered? Why were they present at the time the structure was disturbed? Someone should have approached each department or the Commission to see if any employees had health issues that could have been directly affected by the construction since they chose to do it during normal business hours. Yes, she had minor health issues controlled by medication and smoked until she was 50, but a person with such health issues should have received special attention to protect her health.”

According to the Wamsleys, Mrs. Wamsley’s x-rays showed the presence of asbestos, lead, chrystalline substance and fibrous material (fiberglass from insulation, brick and mortar). Paul Jr. stated, “Two physicians at two separate medical facilities confirmed this was the direct cause of her passing.” The Wamsleys contend, “Even minor asthma, COPD, allergies, and other health issues can be affected by breathing this type of material.”

Paul Jr. told of how the case received nationwide attention. “The Associated Press picked up the information and ran with it nationwide and in Canada. The story was featured on MSNBC, USA Today and the New York Times. I was surprised to see the help people were willing to give with this, especially attorneys and environmentalists.”

Aside from the legal aspects of the story, the Wamsley’s shared personal reactions to the loss of their mother. Paul Jr. stated, “It’s hard to drive by the courthouse and not see her car, or to stop by the drive-thru at McDonald’s and not see her face in the window and other things like that.” He explained how the situation has difficult for their father because he lost not only his wife, but suffers the financial strain of funeral expenses, losing her income and health insurance. Paula said, “This has been extremely hard on our family. Holidays, especially Easter, are difficult. Easter Sunday was the last day Mom was home. Dominick and Gavin still cry for their Meemaw. Dad is just going thru the motions of life. Paul Jr., Marcus and I are trying to keep the family going even though our hearts are broken.” Paula added she has moved home to help care for her father.

Sims commented, “OSHA standards say do not cut holes without testing. They could have very easily done this on Saturday or on a day when the Courthouse was closed. All three parties had the responsibility to ensure the job was done correctly and to protect the employees. People in the courthouse thought the courthouse was on fire−that’s how thick the dust was. With a pre-existing health condition, it wouldn’t matter what the levels were. Just inhaling that dust was enough to cause Mrs. Wamsley harm. There is no question what happened−no question how it affected her− why she’s dead. It created a lot of dust. She inhaled it. Before she was fine. After she inhaled it she was not. It is a tragedy that should not have happened.” As co-counsel, Nichols declined to comment at this time.

In an effort to report both sides of the issue, The Parsons Advocate contacted G.A. Brown and Son, Inc.; ZMM, Inc. and the Tucker County Commission. G.A. Brown and Son, Inc. and the Tucker County Commission both stated they were unable to comment at this time because of the ongoing litigation. However, Adam Krason, Principle and Architect at ZMM, Inc. offered the following statement, “We are of the position that we have no responsibility in this case. We appropriately designed the project and included criteria for dust proof barriers to separate demolition areas from occupied spaces. Additionally, the material that was disturbed was tested and was found not to be hazardous.”

The Advocate could find no information regarding air quality samples taken at the Courthouse. However, a copy of the lab report containing the results of material collected from the Courthouse on March 13, 2012 and submitted by Orion Consulting, LLC to Schneider Laboratories Global, Inc. on March 14, 2012 was obtained as a matter of public record filed with the Tucker County Clerk. To clarify the results, The Advocate spoke with Irma Faszewski, an employee of Schneider.

According to Faszewski, EPA standards state anything over one percent asbestos is considered asbestos containing material and to be hazardous. However, factors can affect the hazard level to an individual including the amount of material released into the air and the length of exposure. Sixteen samples from the first floor elevator entryway, basement storage room access and second floor elevator entryway were submitted to Schneider for asbestos testing. Of those, four were found to contain asbestos, all of which were from the floor tile and mastic. Sample TCC-005, Green floor tile and mastic contained five percent chrysotile (asbestos fiber), sample TCC-006 floor tile contained three percent chrysotile and mastic five percent, sample TCC-015 floor tile contained five percent chrysotile and mastic none detected, and sample TCC-016 floor tile contained four percent chrysotile and mastic none detected.

Three samples were submitted for lead testing including green paint from a plaster wall in the first floor elevator entryway, white paint from a drywall ceiling in the same area and white paint from a masonry wall in the basement storage room access. Faszewski explained EPA standards state anything over 5000 parts per million (PPM) of lead is considered to be hazardous material. Sample TCCL-01 tested 53 PPM, but contained substrate, which is additional material that may create false results. Sample TCCL-02 contained 79.180 PPM, which is considered hazardous and sample TCCL-03 contained less than 32 PPM, which is considered not hazardous.

The Parsons Advocate is unclear and cannot state at this time if any material from the tile containing asbestos or material containing lead paint from these areas was released into the air during the alleged incident in question. In regard to air quality Sims stated, “I cannot speculate on air quality at this time without testing.” He also stated, “I am unsure of the knowledge of the Tucker County Commission regarding the incident until depositions occur, which will be held at a later date.” Paul Jr. summed up the interview, “We have nothing to hide. We just want people to hear our side of the story.” A hearing on motions before Judge Frye is scheduled at 10 a.m., August 22, at the Tucker County Courthouse.