Federal judge permits Retreat motion in lawsuit

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BRATTLEBORO — A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont granted the Brattleboro Retreat's request for a partial summary judgment in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a teenager who died several months after attempting suicide while under the Retreat's care.

On April 25, the Retreat's attorneys asked Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford to dismiss two of the teenager's siblings from the lawsuit. On Wednesday, Crawford granted the motion. However, Crawford did not address a second motion also filed on April 25, that he exclude the testimony of "a retained damages expert," and all other evidence of alleged economic damages addressed by him.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2015 on behalf of the family, accuses the Retreat of negligence in the death of the teenager, who was an inpatient receiving treatment for depression and suicidal ideation. The teenager attempted suicide on May 5, 2014, and was transported to a hospital in Massachusetts before dying on July 1, 2014.

In the suit, the teen's parents, her brother and her step-sister were listed as claimants. According to court documents, the four family members claimed they have lost "the love, affection, care, comfort, companionship, etc. of Laura due to her death." However, noted the motion for partial summary judgment, "Vermont's Wrongful Death Act specifically limits who may recover damages to the decedent's spouse and 'next of kin.'"

Because the phrase "next of kin" in the Act carries the "same meaning as it does in the laws of descent," claimants are limited to "the person or persons entitled to inherit personal property from a decedent who has not left a will ..." Under Vermont's laws of descent, her next of kin are her parents, wrote Nicole Andreson, of Dinse Knapp and McAndrew, a Burlington firm representing the Retreat in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. Because neither of the teenager's siblings are next of kin under the law, they are not entitled to damages, wrote Andreson.

Without issuing a document in support of his decision, Crawford approved the motion.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.

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