The son of a Coeur d’Alene woman who was found frozen to death in her apartment has filed a wrongful death claim against the owners of the apartment complex as well as several others. The woman, seventy-three-year-old Margie Saunders, died in November of 2014. The lawsuit alleges that the complex had a history of complaints about heat and hot-water problems, and that the management’s failure to correct these problems led to the victim’s death.
The wrongful death suit filed by Saunders’ son last month names the mayor of Coeur d’Alene and the general manager of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, who are co-owners of the Royal Arms Apartments—the property where Saunders died. The complex, on East Front Street, includes about a dozen apartments for low-income Section 8 residents. Also named in the suit are others responsible for the property’s management, as well as the plumbing and heating company that serviced the heating system.
According to the suit, the heating company had warned the complex’s management as early as March of 2014 that parts of the system were no longer fully functional and needed replacement. Documents from June show that the heating company restated this point, and in October they advised the managers to get additional heaters because the boiler system pumps could not be repaired. Heaters were not acquired, and Saunders died of hypothermia in her cold apartment only a few weeks later.
The suit claims that the defendants were negligent by not providing “heat, hot water, other habitable necessities, and/or proper maintenance or repair” and that this resulted in Saunders’ death. However, the case might be complicated by the county coroner’s determination that Saunders died due to both hypothermia and ethanol (alcohol) intoxication. She also had other medical conditions, which may have been contributing factors.
Death by hypothermia—freezing—doesn’t happen to people inside their homes very often, but it’s not unheard of. In 2009, a Michigan man froze to death in his home after the local utility cut off his electricity. That man’s family successfully pursued a wrongful death claim against the power company. In another case with echoes of Saunders’ situation, the tenants of a Brooklyn, New York, building have joined together to sue their landlord over a lack of gas, heat, and hot water. Many of those tenants, like Saunders, are elderly. Fortunately, no one has been physically harmed in that building.
As we move completely into winter, it’s important to remember that the cold can be dangerous, especially to the elderly. If you have a relative who lives alone, be sure that they have proper heat and that they’re not being endangered in other ways, such as by using space heaters without proper ventilation. Check on them regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly.
Death is a part of life that we all must face, but when someone dies due to the negligence of others, it can be especially difficult to deal with. Our legal system allows the survivors of a wrongful death to sue those responsible. It’s important to use this option, to recover damages for financial losses and also to make sure that the guilty party is held accountable and cannot harm others.
Craig Swapp & Associates understands what’s involved in a wrongful death claim, and we offer a free consultation to evaluate your case and help you understand what comes next. Give us a call at 1-800-404-9000 to schedule an appointment. You can also reach us online through the form below or launch the LiveChat feature from any page of this website.