$3M DEATH AWARD STANDS
BERWICK GROUP HOME’S OWNER DENIED A NEW TRIAL BY COURT
By Michael Lester, Press Enterprise Writer | May 18, 2014
The state Superior Court recently upheld a $3 million verdict by a jury that found a group home negligent in the 2009 death of a woman with cerebral palsy following a van accident in Bloomsburg.
Hope Enterprises, the Williamsport-based owner of a group home on Walnut Street in Berwick, sought and was previously granted a new trial by a Luzerne County judge to contest damages awarded to the family of Barbara Ann Maines.
The Superior Court ruling means Hope Enterprises won’t get that trial now.
Maines died at age 31, three days after a van driven by William Birth of Bloomsburg crashed in the parking lot of the Market Street shopping plaza in Bloomsburg. Birt was transporting Maines to Suncom Industries on West Ninth Street near the plaza at the time.
Neither Birt nor the other driver involved in the accident reported the crash the police, according to court documents.
And Hope officials did not disclose to hospital personnel that Maines had been involved in an accident until two days after Maines had been admitted to an emergency room showing “abnormal vital signs.”
‘TAUGHT TO COVER SELF’
One Hope employee who escorted Maines to the hospital did not initially reveal how Maines may have been injured because the employee had “alwasy been taught to cover (her)self,” court papers state.
It was not until after Hope officials huddled to discuss the situation – two days after the crash while Maines was in the hospital – that they decided to come clean.
Maines died about nine hours later in the hospital of a lacerated liver.
A Luzerne County jury found Hope Enterprise’s actions after the crash to be “outrageous.” The jury awarded Maines’ aunt, Patricia Brittain, who filed a wrongful death suit, $2 million for “loss of comfort, society and companionship, $1 million for pain and suffering, $100,000 in punitive damages, plus additional amounts for funeral expenses and medical bills.
‘MISSES HER DAUGHTER’
Because Maines could neither speak nor walk, and had “impaired mental ability” hope disputed the value of her life.
It argued the damage award was excessive since Maines “was physically unable to provide any services to her mother, who lived in another state,” court papers say.
The mother of Maines, Sharon Moyer, who is also disabled, testified in county court that she “misses being able to hold her daughter, talk to her and play and draw with her,” records show. While the mother’s testimony was hampered by her disability, the Superior Court found it “was sufficient, as the best available evidence to allow a jury to utilize its common inheritance to assign a value to Maines’ life.”
While the new ruling denies hope a new trial, attorney Mike Pisanchyn, who filed the suit against the firm on behalf of Brittain, may seek more punitive damages.
Pisanchyn said the Superior Court decision reinforces his contention that Maines had “the same rights as every other non-disabled, intellectually challenged person in Pennsylvania.”