A Luzerne County jury found Hope Enterprises Inc. negligent Wednesday at the conclusion of a civil trial that began this week. It centered around the death of a 31-year-old client who died as a result of a car crash three years ago in Bloomsburg.
The jury awarded $3.1 million in compensatory damages to the family of Barbara Maines, of Berwick, who died Sept. 11, 2009, days after an crash in a Bloomsburg parking lot outside Hope day program provider Suncom Industries Inc.
In addition, the jury awarded $100,000 in punitive damages related to Hope's conduct, according to Mike Pisanchyn, a Scranton attorney who represented Maines family.
Pisanchyn said Maines was in a transport van that was involved in a collision outside Suncom's 164 W. Ninth St. facility.
Police were not called because there were no apparent injuries but, at a regularly scheduled doctor appointment shortly after the incident, Maines was found to be in deteriorating health. She later died due to a lacerated liver and related complications.
The attorney claimed Maines was not promptly taken to a hospital after the crash for assessment and that Hope employees refused to tell doctors at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville what happened to her.
"Never to this day have they said they were sorry," Pisanchyn said.
He also said family requests after Maines' death to improve the Suncom parking lot never happened.
"You have to take special care of special persons in need," he said.
But Hope officials in Williamsport, who were surprised by the level of damages awarded by the jury, said proper procedures were followed.
"When it happened, we filed the appropriate reports to the state and everything else," said James F. Campbell, Hope president, who added attempts were made to settle the case.
He said the crash amounted to a 5-mph minor "fender bender" and there was no immediate way of knowing Maines had suffered an injury.
Campbell also said the question of whether adequate information was provided to doctors was debated throughout the trial. He said steps were taken in the same manner as in any other investigation.
Thomas W. Bixler, Hope board president, said the organization did express its sympathy to the Maines family.
"Our people were very saddened by this tragedy and they went to the viewing and funeral and they expressed our heartfelt sorrow and regret that this happened," he said.
Bixler said the victim and her family had a positive, 12-year relationship with Hope before the incident.
"The family has to be fully aware of our sorrow," he said.
Mark Sheridan, of Scranton, the attorney representing Hope Enterprises, agreed that no information ever was willfully withheld. He also said the jury's decision most likely will be appealed.
Campbell confirmed that the unnamed driver in the incident still is on the job. He also said the organization's insurance carrier will cover any payments.
"Hope is going to remain strong and certainly (will) be able to serve our clients," he said.
The trial, heard before Luzerne County President Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr., took place in the home county of the van driver.