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home : local news archive : local news August 20, 2014

Workplace death lawsuit dropped
Rotert Construction paid a $21,000 fine for the 2010 carbon-monoxide poisoning of an employee
Steve Weeks
Steve Weeks
Times Herald Staff Writer

March 29, 2013

A Carroll woman - whose husband died two years ago when he went into an apartment building to refuel gasoline-powered generators and was asphyxiated by their exhaust - dismissed her lawsuit last week against her husband's former employer, Rotert Construction.

It's unclear whether Janet Weeks reached an out-of-court settlement with the company and one of its co-owners, Dean Pottebaum.

Weeks and her attorney did not return telephone calls to comment for this article. Pottebaum declined to comment.

Pottebaum has admitted that he asked employees to refuel the generators on a December 2010 weekend at the six-unit housing complex near the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and Ely Drive that Rotert was building. He said the generators were kept inside the building to keeps passersby from stealing them and that he assumed the exhaust would vent through the roof because it wasn't yet insulated.

The generators were used to power heaters to keep the concrete floor from cracking in the cold.

Steve Weeks, 55, was the fifth employee to go to the building to refuel the three generators on Dec. 12, 2010, when he "was overcome by the accumulated carbon monoxide which had built up" inside the building, Janet Weeks' lawsuit said.

A U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration report backs the lawsuit's claim and says that the concentration of carbon monoxide in Steve Weeks' body was nearly double the lethal threshold for humans.

The administration fined Rotert Construction $21,000 for the incident.

Janet Weeks found her husband face-down on the floor of the building after he didn't return home that night for supper and didn't answer his cell phone. The couple had celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary the day before.

Janet Weeks sued Rotert and Pottebaum last year, and a judge ruled in May that the lawsuit was narrowly permissible under Iowa law, which generally forbids lawsuits that are tied to workplace deaths.

Spouses and children of the victims are entitled to workers' compensation disability benefits of up to $1,420 per week, according to the Iowa Workforce Development website.

"This is a very close case involving hard facts and unclear points of Iowa law," district judge Joel Swanson wrote. "Both (Weeks and Rotert) present cogent, reasonable arguments."

Swanson reasoned that Rotert was not exempt from the lawsuit because Weeks was an innocent bystander when she saw her husband in his dying moments, and that the trauma for which she sought unspecified compensation was not tied to the death itself but to witnessing the event.

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