An attorney representing a patient who died as a result of COVID-19 at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison has filed a claim to investigate negligence at the Big Moose Inn, where the reception for the infamous Aug. 7 wedding identified as a spreader of COVID-19 was held.

Timothy Kenlan of Berman & Simmons represents the estate of Mary Hughgill, a resident who lived at Maplecrest. In a media release, he said that Hughgill died Sept. 3 “due to complications of COVID-19.” Hughgill was 82.

“Mary contracted the virus while a resident at the Maplecrest nursing home,” the release said. “Initial indications point to this infection being caused by the early August wedding held at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket.”

State officials closed their investigation into the coronavirus outbreak at Maplecrest that infected 40 people and resulted in seven deaths late last month. Kenlan said that a claim against Maplecrest would be handled differently than the one against the Big Moose Inn as the situation at Maplecrest would be treated as a medical malpractice suit.

The outbreak at Maplecrest was linked to the Aug. 7 wedding and subsequent reception in the Millinocket area where mask-wearing and physical guidelines were not followed. At least 177 people were sickened around the state and seven deaths have been linked to the event.

Following an investigation into the outbreak, the nursing home failed to have a system in place for monitoring symptom reports during the screening process. In documents provided by DHHS, a certified nursing assistant answered “yes” to having a cough, new muscle aches, repeated shaking with chills and sore throat — four symptoms listed on the COVID-19 screening — and then worked a 10-hour shift.

A day after these symptoms were documented, the employee called and informed the facility she had been exposed to a person who had tested positive for COVID-19. On Aug. 18, the same employee tested positive for COVID-19.

None of those who died at Maplecrest were at the Aug. 7 wedding. Instead, an adult who attended the wedding reportedly came into contact with another person who then came into contact with a staff member at the nursing home.

The claim filed against the Big Moose Inn alleges that as a result of their negligence, personal injury or, in this case, death occurred. The claim was dated Oct. 7, just over a month after Hughgill died.

Kenlan said that he hopes to also investigate Maplecrest and its staff. As of Monday, no claims have been filed against the nursing home. The attorney said that this would fall under a medical malpractice claim, which is a different process that involves a pre-litigation screening panel among other steps, making it a longer process.

Kenlan said he agreed to take on the case because he felt a “profound sense of duty as a Mainer and American” to look into what happened.

“Mary was an exceptional woman,” Kenlan said. “She lived a long life but had more life to live, and I was overwhelmed by the sadness of the situation. She passed away alone. She wasn’t allowed to see her husband or her kids. And that’s not just Mary’s story; that’s the story of everybody who has succumbed to this disease.”

Paul Brown of Rudman Winchell, representing Big Moose Inn, said that he’s reviewed the claim and feels confident that the disease was not spread at the inn, but possibly at the wedding ceremony or wedding events that happened before the reception.

“We regret that people have suffered ill effects and passed away, but the inn doesn’t feel that the infection started at the Inn,” Brown said. “… Anyone that’s been to a wedding knows that there are a lot of things that occur during a wedding. I don’t know what happened at the church or the wedding ceremony itself that day, but I would presume like most (weddings), there were other activities in addition to the reception.”

Brown added that the first person to come down with COVID-19 started showing symptoms Aug. 8, a day after the wedding. With projections about incubation and transmission, he said it seems like the timelines do not add up.

“The (Big Moose Inn) acknowledges that they had more than 50 people at the reception, but they did have the signage posted in the room,” Brown said. “But they’re also not charged with following everybody around and telling them to put their mask on or stay 6 feet apart.”

Additionally, he said that the only positive cases of COVID-19 at the Big Moose Inn were among staff members, one an employee who had no contact with the wedding party and another employee who had contact with that employee. Those cases were not diagnosed until around Aug. 18, Brown said.

“We feel strongly that it didn’t arise at the inn,” Brown said.

According to Kenlan, the investigation can take anywhere from three to six months, and he anticipates that a lawsuit will follow.

“I think it’s going to be some fact-intensive work to find out to what extent they can trace it and what science will show,” Brown said. “We’re going to wait and see what happens as the insurance company does the investigation, which looks at where causation for this infection came from.”

Kenlan added that this particular claim should not scare small business owners who are abiding by safety guidelines at their establishments.

“I do want to point out to my fellow Mainers that are reading about this and reiterate that the vast majority of the businesses in Maine have nothing to fear from potential lawsuits (related to) COVID-19 exposures,” Kenlan said. “The law in Maine doesn’t require perfection, only common sense. Going along with the simple steps that are put forth by mainstream medicine, Dr. Nirav Shah and others, nobody has anything to worry about.”

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