April 9, 2010, York, Maine. The York County Superior Court allows a wrongful death case to proceed to a jury trial against a Sanford couple. The case involves an elderly Sanford man who died after being burned in a Sanford house fire. The lawsuit was filed by the deceased man’s daughter, and she is represented by James O’Connell of Berman & Simmons, a state-wide trial law firm.
The deceased Sanford man, Joseph Albert, 77, had been suffering from rapidly declining mental health conditions. He had been staying for a few days at the home owned by Billy Groom and April Walsh. Groom and Walsh had been caring for Mr. Albert following his discharge from Goodall Hospital with doctors’ instructions that he be given around-the-clock supervision. On November 22, 2008, Groom and Walsh left Mr. Albert alone and unsupervised while he smoked a cigarette on an enclosed porch heated by propane. As a result of standing too close to the propane heater, Mr. Albert’s clothes caught on fire, causing him to suffer second and third-degree burns over 40% of his body. Mr. Albert died the next day due to complications from his multiple burns.
The Defendants’ lawyer filed papers with the Court requesting a dismissal of the case, claiming that the Defendants owed Mr. Albert no special duties beyond those owed to an ordinary house guest. Following courtroom arguments by the lawyers, Justice Fritzsche denied the Defendants’ motion and allowed the case to proceed to a jury trial. The judge found that a special duty may have been owed and breached and that it was up to a jury to decide whether Groom and Walsh assumed a special duty by agreeing to provide constant supervision of Mr. Albert.
Attorney O’Connell was pleased that the judge recognized a legal doctrine that had not yet been adopted by Maine courts. “Groom and Walsh agreed to take appropriate care of Mr. Albert after he had been diagnosed with dementia. Mr. Albert’s doctors and children trusted Groom and Walsh to do a good job. They did not, and because of that Mr. Albert died. Mr. Albert’s children are deeply saddened by his loss and are satisfied that the judge refused the Defendants’ request to dismiss their case. Now their claim for wrongful death damages will be decided by a jury, which is what we were fighting for.”