News Story by Elio Gugliotti, Editor of the Naugatuck Citizen News
NAUGATUCK — A jury has found the Naugatuck Housing Authority negligent on several instances prior to a fall that preceded the death of a borough woman, but ruled the housing authority's negligence did not cause her death.
The jury issued its verdict in Waterbury Superior Court last month in the civil case filed by the estate of Margaret Marshall against the housing authority.
Marshall was living in an apartment at Oak Terrace, a public housing complex for the elderly and disabled on Conrad Street run by the housing authority, when she died on Feb. 7, 2010 at the age of 80.
Marshall fell on the sidewalk/patio area behind her apartment at about 2 a.m. and was unable to get up. She was found dead in the morning. The medical examiner ruled Marshall died from hypothermia, according to court documents.
Marshall's estate argued she fell on ice and the housing authority's negligence led to the fall.
Naugatuck Housing Authority Oak Terrace Complex. Naugatuck, Connecticut
Ultimately, the jury ruled the plaintiff proved Marshall fell due to an accumulation of ice, and the housing authority allowed a dangerous condition to exist and failed to take adequate measures to remedy or remove the condition, according to the verdict form.
The jury also ruled the housing authority's negligence caused the fall and injuries to Marshall, but did not cause her death.
The jury ruled that 30 percent of the negligence rested with Marshall, including that she did not use caution while walking, according to the verdict form.
The jury awarded $800,000 in damages. But, since the jury ruled Marshall was 30 percent negligent, the estate will receive $560,000 in damages if the decision holds up, according to the verdict form.
Attorney James Miron, from the law office Zeisler & Zeisler in Bridgeport, is representing Marshall's estate. He said the verdict serves as a notice to the housing authority that the people that live at Oak Terrace are not devalued because they are older and disabled.
He said what happened on the night Marshall died can't be taken back, but if the housing authority is able to learn from the incident, “then justice, I think in some ways, is served.”
The verdict brought the trial to an end, but the legal proceedings continue.
The law office of Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante, P.C. out of New Haven is representing the housing authority. Attorney Donn Swift said a post-trial motion has been filed with the trial judge to have the award set aside and reduced.
Swift argued that there is no hard evidence to make the connection that Marshall slipped on ice. He added that since the suit was filed as a wrongful death claim, and the jury ruled the housing authority did not cause Marshall's death, the $800,000 award is excessive.
He said based on evidence Marshall was outside for two hours before her death, so the $800,000 award is high compared to other cases for injuries suffered over a similar time frame.
“That's why we believe the award is excessive,” he said.
A decision on the post-trial motion is expected in February. The decision could then be appealed.