The son of a Tucker County employee who died after inhaling dust from a construction project has filed a wrongful death lawsuit and wants the courthouse closed for a thorough cleanup.
The Inter-Mountain of Elkins reported that Paul Wamsley Jr.’s 68-year-old mother, Virginia, died May 2 after developing pneumonia and undergoing several hospitalizations.
The lawsuit, filed recently in Tucker County Circuit Court, says she had a pre-existing lung condition but was stable, otherwise healthy and working in the assessor’s office when she was exposed in March. Doctors allegedly told her son that inhaling the dust caused her death.
The lawsuit accuses Fairmont-based G.A. Brown & Son Inc. of negligence and reckless conduct for cutting a hole in the side of the courthouse for an elevator but failing to contain allegedly toxic dust.
That dust, it contends, contained lead, asbestos and other materials that harmed Mrs. Wamsley and may have harmed both courthouse employees and visitors since March 6. That includes people who went to the courthouse to vote in the May primary elections.
“The dust was so heavy it clogged the early voting machines,” attorney David A. Sims said.
Sims said he has requested information on the number of early votes cast in the courthouse so he can estimate the number of people who might have been exposed. About 30 county employees also work there.
The lawsuit asks a judge to issue an injunction ordering the courthouse closed and compelling G.A. Brown & Son to hire an environmental abatement team to clean up the building. The ongoing construction work involves an elevator and skyway that will connect the courthouse to a new annex, Sims said.
James Brown, owner of the contracting company, didn’t immediately respond to a message, while the county administrator’s office refused comment.
Messages for the three county commissioners and Virginia Wamsley’s supervisor, Assessor Paul “Butch” Burns, weren’t immediately returned.
The lawsuit is seeking class-action status and demands a company-funded medical monitoring program for anyone who may have been exposed. That includes the other named plaintiffs, Sarah Bowley, Mable Roy and Marine Wolford.
It also seeks unspecified punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
Sims said the courthouse has been only superficially cleaned, and without the benefit of an environmental study to make sure it’s done properly.
The defendants have yet to file a response.