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Technicians sue hospital designer and builders

Claiming they have been exposed to excess radiation, four Hudson Hospital & Clinics technologists have filed a lawsuit against the architectural firm that designed the hospital and the construction company that built it 10 years ago.

The computed tomography (CT) technicians say quarter-inch plate glass rather than lead-shielded glass was installed in the windows between the scanning and control rooms, thus exposing the workers to more than 20 times the usual radiation.

The technologists' attorney, Chuck Bye of River Falls, said the problem was identified over a year ago when the hospital bought a new CT scanner. As part of the installation process, the hospital brought in a physicist to check for radiation.

Bye said the consultant discovered the window between the CT scan room and technologists' viewing location "was ordinary glass."

"State law requires the glass to be of the same radiation resistance as the walls," said Bye Friday. The hospital reported the situation to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as "a construction error."

"It was corrected as soon as it was discovered," said Bye. "Hudson Hospital has been cooperative, and there is no claim that they did anything wrong."

The suit says the CT technologists were injured as a result of repeated exposure to excess amounts of radiation.

"There is no concern that anyone who had a CT scan performed on them by the Hudson Hospital at any time received anything more than normal radiation exposure," added Bye.

The defendants named in the civil lawsuit are Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis; Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, a Minneapolis architectural and design firm; and Hammes Company, Brookfield, the company that oversaw and managed construction of the facility.

The suit was filed on behalf of technologists Jodi L. Goveronski, Spring Valley; Breanna R. Hoivik, Glenwood City; Michelle E. Rick, 86 Coach Light Drive, Hudson; and Nicholas S. Olk, 829 Hidden Lake Road, Roberts.

According to the complaint, all four have worked "multiple years" as CT technologists.

The complaint also says Hoivik's 8-month-old daughter, Avery, was injured as a result of her mother's radiation exposure.

"Medical evaluations are ongoing," said Bye.

He said he can't disclose details of his clients' health care, but there are "serious concerns" about the immediate and long-term effects of the radiation.

Bye said an investigation to determine why and who installed ordinary glass instead of radiation-protected glass has not concluded.

"This is an ongoing investigation and there's much yet to be learned through the legal discovery process," said the attorney.

According to the complaint, the wrong glass was apparently installed when the hospital was built. Construction was completed and the hospital and clinic opened June 29, 2003.

The lawsuit says design plans called for viewing windows between the scanning rooms and the control rooms where technologists, radiologic personnel and other technicians and employees worked.

Filing the lawsuit was the only way the plaintiffs could start gathering information from the architect, the construction company and the construction manager, said Bye.

"We are in the very, very early stages of discovery," he said. "We asked for the specifications from the architects which were not forthcoming. Clearly we need to identify why ordinary glass was used, who put it in and what are the immediate and long-term effects (of the radiation exposure)."

The hospital is not a defendant in the lawsuit. "By law you cannot sue your employer -- even if you wanted to," said Bye.

Wisconsin law also does not allow personal-injury plaintiffs to put a dollar amount to the damages they are seeking when they file their lawsuit. Bye would not give an estimate in this case.

"Quite honestly if the matter is not resolved before trial, that figure is not determined until you make your closing argument," said the attorney.

He added, "In this case in particular, I don't have the faintest idea.'

According to the complaint, the architectural, construction management and construction companies were negligent in installing the wrong glass, failing to remove it, failing to do adequate inspections and failing to warn of the dangers.

A Hammel, Green and Abrahamson spokesperson did not respond to a message left Monday morning. A person from Mortenson Construction's corporate communications department did return a call but was not able to provide a response by press time.

A Hudson Hospital spokeswoman declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

The technologists' spouses -- Bret Goveronski, Joshua Hoivik, Richard M. Rick and Alison Weiss Olk -- were also named plaintiffs in this case.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.