The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

October 26, 2012

Deadly cover-up costs nonprofit $3M

WILKES-BARRE — A Williamsport-based nonprofit that provides the mentally disabled with a variety of services, including facilities in Snyder and Union counties, has been ordered by a Luzerne County jury to pay $3 million to the family of a 32-year-old mentally-disabled woman who died at Geisinger Medical Center two days after a vehicle crash in Bloomsburg.

An attorney for Barbara Ann Maines’ family said the jury’s decision was a statement that her life had value even if, as a mentally-disabled individual, Maines did not have much in the way of earnings.

“They didn’t take us seriously because they didn’t think we would be able to put a big number on the board as far as wage losses,” attorney Michael Pisanchyn said. “Her life was worth as much as anyone else’s.”

The jury returned a $3 million verdict Wednesday and then deliberated again Thursday to rule that Maines’ estate and her family should receive another $100,000 because the defendants acted recklessly. The verdict came after a two-week trial. The suit, filed in August 2010, alleged that Hope Enterprises Foundation Inc. van driver William Birt and Selective Insurance Co. of America were responsible in the September 2009 car crash that later killed Maines.

Pisanchyn said staff from Hope Enterprises did not immediately take Maines to the hospital. She did not receive medical care until a scheduled appointment days later. When they arrived at Geisinger, Maines was clearly in distress, but Hope Enterprises workers did not tell the medical staff that she had been in a vehicle accident and her family was not immediately notified. Maines’ mother did not arrive at the hospital until after Maines had died.

Maines had cerebral palsy and mental retardation, but medical experts hired by her family testified that she would have been able to understand what people were saying around her as she lay dying and Hope Enterprises staff failed to disclose all they knew about what had happened, Pisanchyn said.

“It is a terrible situation,” said Peggy Vitale, CEO of SUNCOM Industries, Northumberland. “It is a terrible loss for the family.”

Vitale refused to comment further.

The accident happened while Maines was being taken to a SUNCOM Industries facility in Bloomsburg.

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