When Tim Byrom started his construction company almost 30 years ago, he was hoping to build a family business for his sons. But now faced with a million dollar lawsuit, the future of Byrom’s company is in jeopardy.
A few weeks ago, Brint Construction was hit with what Byrom calls a frivolous lawsuit. Byrom started the company in 1985. Most of its business is building and remodeling beach houses at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula.
According to the complaint, a cargo lift added to the beach house built by Brint Construction malfunctioned and injured the homeowner. But Brint Construction, which was named as defendant along with Tim's son Clint Byrom, didn’t install the lift, which Byrom says was never meant to carry people in the first place.
“They sued us, but we didn’t make it, install it, or guarantee it,” Byrom said in a recent interview.
In the lawsuit filed May 2 in Jefferson County District Court, plaintiffs James and Tricia Keene claim that Brint Construction recommended the lift, and then last November James’ left arm was caught in the cables and mutilated.
Byrom said the story begins in 2011 when the Keenes inquired about installing an elevator. Clint Byrom told the Keenes an elevator would cost about $20,000.
The company heard nothing from the Keenes for several months, when Brint Construction was contacted by EasyLift Cargo Lifts about doing the electrical work for the installation of a cargo lift -- not an elevator -- at the Keenes’ beach house.
“They contacted EasyLift on their own,” Byrom said. “We didn’t refer them and weren’t involved in their decision. The only work we did was installing the electrical system for the lift."
A cargo lift can be installed for about $7,800.
The work was completed in March 2012, and thought nothing else about it until November when Clint Byrom saw James Keene at a restaurant with an injured arm.
“According to Clint, Mr. Keene said the lift malfunctioned and he tried to repair it and that’s when he got hurt,” Byrom said.
“It appears they were using the cargo lift as an elevator,” Byrom said. “Despite the warning sign: ‘This device is NOT to be used for lifting human beings or animals.’”
Byrom said his company never got a letter or a phone call, "they just went straight to filing a lawsuit."
He said he can't understand how his company could be responsible for the man's injuries, when it had nothing to do with the lift itself.
“The whole thing is just a fabrication for them to get money,” he said.
The original lawsuit was filed in Jefferson County, since the business address of Brint Construction is in Beaumont, although most of the work done by the company is on the Bolivar Peninsula.
The Keenes then amended the complaint and added EasyLift, based in Galveston County, as a defendant.
“Their lawyers want this in Beaumont,” Byrom said. “It should be filed in Galveston County, because that is where EasyLift is located and they are the ones responsible for installing the lift.”
"People with legitimate claims have to wait because of cases like this," he said. "This has to stop, people have to take some personal responsibility."
And people are responsible for obeying warning signs like the one on the cargo lift.
The plaintiffs are seeking $1 million in their lawsuit, and Byrom said it would ruin his company if it were hit with a verdict that size. Brint Construction has premises general liability, but no other insurance to protect them.
“I would have to close the business,” he said.
Byrom says his attorney, Mitch Toups of Weller Green Toups & Terrell in Beaumont, has filed a motion to dismiss Brint Construction and Clint Byrom from the suit. Defending his company is already costing him money, but he is not giving up.
"They want us to roll over, but I’m going to fight," he said.
Byrom said it makes him angry that some attorneys are gaming the system, but he doesn't put the blame fully on the attorneys.
"Lawyers aren't doing anything that we don't allow them to do," he said. "If we don't like it, we have have to get the laws changed."
Reporter David Yates contributed to this story.