Lawsuit filed by father over Fairfield daughter’s death in fire
Updated 11:07 am, Friday, July 17, 2015
A judge Thursday refused to throw out the lawsuit of the father of a 20-year-old disabled woman who died along with her mother in a blaze that swept through their Crane Street home last year.
Paul O’Neill, of Hinckley, Ohio, contends in the suit that his daughter Katherine Rose O’Neill died as a result of the negligence by his ex-wife Maureen Gerrity, the girl’s mother. He is suing his ex-wife’s sister, Catherine Robertson, who is the administrator of his ex-wife’s estate.
The mother and daughter were asleep in a second-floor bedroom about 1 a.m. March 14, 2014, when the fire broke out in their small Cape at 135 Crane St. The fire-damaged dwelling was sold to a builder for $200,000 in a recent auction.
Firefighters managed to get the mother and daughter out of the burning home, but both were later pronounced dead at Bridgeport Hospital.
The Fairfield fire marshal later determined the fire was caused by the negligent disposal of smoking material.
In his lawsuit, O’Neill claims Gerrity was a frequent smoker and was under the influence of drugs, including codeine and alcohol at the time of the fire.
Robertson’s lawyer, Michael Connelly, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit under the doctrine of parental immunity. Under the doctrine parents do not have civil liability for their children’s personal injuries inflicted during their minor years.
While Katherine O’Neill was not a minor, Connelly claimed she was developmentally disabled and totally dependent on her mother as a full-time care giver. He argued she therefore was “unemancipated” at the time of her death and the doctrine should apply.
“This argument is creative, but it is not controlling,” the judge stated. “This court declines the invitation to expand immunity to the facts alleged in this case.”
Connelly declined comment on the ruling. Neither Paul O’Neill nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.