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Family Of 82-Year-Old Who Died Of COVID-19 Alleges Negligence At Millinocket Wedding Venue

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A sign for the Big Moose Inn is seen Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, near Millinocket, Maine. The inn was the setting for an Aug. 7 wedding reception that has since been linked to numerous cases of the coronavirus, and several deaths.

The family of a former resident of the Maplecrest Rehabilitation Facility in Madison, who died after contracting COVID-19, has filed a civil claim alleging negligence on the part of the Big Moose Inn, which hosted a wedding reception that public health officials believe led to the spread of hundreds of cases of the virus and several deaths.

Mary Hughgill was 82 when she died from COVID-19 at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison earlier this year, one of several deaths that public health officials have now linked to the Millinocket wedding outbreak.

“The issue that led us here is that those businesses, and folks who chose to disobey those guidelines or flout them, have allowed this virus to spread,” says attorney Tim Kenlan, who represents Hughgill’s estate. “And that’s what would cause my client, Mary Hughgill, to pass away.”

Kenlan says he is still investigating the case but expects to file a formal lawsuit in the next few months.

The action follows the release of a federal CDC report last week detailing the Millinocket wedding outbreak and its eventual spread across the state. The report found that while some precautions were taken at the Aug. 7, event at the Big Moose Inn, including temperature checks and signs dictating mask-wearing, the 55-person gathering exceeded Maine’s 50-person limit.

The report also says that staff members did not enforce mask-wearing and social distancing. A guest transmitted the virus to a Maplecrest staff member, who authorities say continued to work despite showing symptoms. Six deaths at Maplecrest have now been connected to the wedding.

“What we saw was, this greatly increased the risk that the virus is going to be transmitted through that group of people and then transmitted to others who then brought it to the Maplecrest nursing facility,” Kenlan says.

Paul Brown, an attorney representing the Big Moose Inn, disputes the facility’s role. Brown says the inn did follow executive orders by posting signs requiring mask-wearing and social distancing, and it shouldn’t be held responsible if guests didn’t follow them. He acknowledges the event did have more than 50 people, but says that doesn’t make it directly responsible for effects down the line.

“I just think it’s very difficult to say, simply because there were more than 55 people that went to the dinner, that’s where it happened. And that’s why you’re responsible for this infection that ultimately spread multiple places,” Brown says.

Kenlan says that he’s also working with several other families who were affected by the outbreak, as well.