Housing authority, estate reach settlement

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Housing Authority has settled a lawsuit with the estate of a woman who fell outside of its building and froze to death for $237,500.

Margaret Marshall slipped and fell outside her apartment at the Oak Terrace public housing complex in the early morning of Feb. 7, 2010. Last year, a jury at Waterbury Superior Court determined the housing authority was negligent because it had not property cleared snow and ice near her apartment. The jury awarded her estate $560,000.

However, attorney Donn Swift, who represents the authority, appealed the decision in part because jurors said they did not believe the negligence caused her death.

Based upon the jury’s decision, Superior Court Judge Mark Taylor drastically lowered the award to $42,000 after Swift appealed; the estate then requested a new trial, which ended in the latest and final settlement.

“If we had gone back to trial and the jury said we did nothing wrong, we would not have been surprised,” Swift said. “But we were back to square one, and we didn’t know what the outcome would be. We thought this was the most appropriate action at this time.”

Marshall, a retired state employee, mother and grandmother, lived at Oak Terrace at 53 Conrad St. for 20 years. On the night of the incident, she is believed to have gone outside to take out garbage sometime around or after 2 a.m. She slipped on ice that had formed after snow melted the day before and refrozen that night. She died of hypothermia, according to medical examiners.

Part of the reason jurors did not place entire blame on the fall for causing her death was because Marshall had a breathing condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which makes it harder to breathe in cold weather and get back up, Swift said. Marshall was supposed to be using supplemental oxygen and was not wearing her mask at the time of the incident, Swift said.

The estate argued the housing authority, which is overseen by a local board and receives state and federal funding, was negligent because it “allowed a dangerous situation to exist and failed to take adequate measures to remedy or remove the condition.”

Attorney James Miron, who represented the estate, argued that it appeared a narrow walking path had been made in the snow on a walkway but that the snow had not been removed from directly outside Marshall’s door.

The housing authority has maintained that it met and even exceeded the standard of “reasonable care” in clearing the sidewalks.

Swift said Naugatuck Housing Authority Executive Director Christine Warren, who was not in that role when the incident happened, is “excellent” and has reviewed protocol for ice and snow removal.

“Obviously they are sorry this happened to their resident, and they have reinforced in their protocol that ‘we have snow cleared and have to be aware of it melting or refreezing,’” Swift said.

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