Court rules against families in fatal nursing home fire case

The Boston Herald reported this week that family members of 16 nursing home patients who died in a nursing home fire in 2003 will only be able to recover $1 million from the nursing home’s insurance policy in a personal injury lawsuit.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boston-based insurance company, which had argued that it was only liable for up to $1 million in damages under the nursing home’s insurance policy. The ruling reversed a decision by the lower court in favor of the families, who said they were entitled to $10 million under the insurance plan.

An attorney for one of the victim’s family called the decision “completely inadequate” and said that he was disappointed in the 3-2 ruling.

The fire broke out at the Connecticut nursing home in February 2003 after a psychiatric patient set her bed on fire playing with a cigarette lighter. A total of 16 nursing home patients were killed in the fire, making it at the time the 10th deadliest nursing home fire in U.S. history.

In the wake of the tragedy, families of 13 of the fire victims filed suit against the nursing home, alleging that the resident who started the fire had been negligently supervised.

In 2009, a Superior Court judge ruled that the nursing home’s insurance policy with the Boston company provided $250,000 in cash settlements to each plaintiff, as the policy’s maximum coverage was $10 million. However, this interpretation of the policy was reversed.

The insurance company appealed, and this week, the state Supreme Court held that each plaintiff was actually entitled to $500,000, but that the policy’s total coverage was limited to $1 million. Because the court held that the insurance was capped at $1 million, each plaintiff will likely receive around $75,000 if they win the case.

Source: Boston Herald, “Court: $1M coverage for Conn. fire victim families,” June 10, 2013