Andrea Dearden Dec. 6, 2012, 8:52am

The owner of a Wood River oil refinery is being sued by a contractor who says he nearly fell off a furnace he was hired to paint.

James Wheeler filed a lawsuit Nov. 1 in Madison County Circuit Court against ConocoPhillips Company.

(In spite of being named as defendant in the lawsuit. As of May 1, all refining assets that were part of ConocoPhillips spun off and now belong to a new company called Phillips 66).

Wheeler worked for Washington Group International as a union painter, according to the complaint. In February 2011 the company was hired by ConocoPhillips to make improvements to its petroleum processing plant in Wood River.

Wheeler says he was assigned to paint a furnace in ConocoPhillips’ Coker and Refinery Expansion. He claims the work required him to walk on a grating attached to a platform that was 90 feet above the ground. Wheeler alleges the grating became unstable, tilted inward and caused him to fall off the platform.

Wheeler claims he would have fallen 90 feet to the ground were it not for two bolts sticking out of the furnace wall 4 feet below the platform. When he hit the bolts, Wheeler says he hurt his lower back and groin.

ConocoPhillips is accused of negligence for allegedly providing an unsafe work area. Wheeler seeks more than $50,000 in damages for medical expenses, loss of income and court costs.

Attorney Edward W. Unsell of East Alton represents Wheeler. They ask for a jury trial.

Madison County Circuit Court Case No. 12-L-1777

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