Kansas company sued over fatal house fire in Scott City

08/01/2012 5:00 AM

08/01/2012 9:41 PM

Two lawsuits were filed Wednesday against a Kansas company in connection with a house fire that killed a Scott City woman and three children in March.

The wrongful death suits filed in Sedgwick County District Court say the company, Windsor Place At-Home Care, did not meet its contractual obligations to provide 24-hour care to Jackie Coberly, a 28-year-old quadriplegic, the morning of the fire, resulting in her death and the deaths of Terra Murphy, 8, Cassie Murphy, 6, and Brandon Carter, 4.

The suits say a caregiver from Windsor Place arrived at Coberly’s Scott City home more than an hour late on March 10. Attorneys for the families contend that if the caregiver had arrived on time, the caregiver would have been there when the fire started.

The lawsuit alleges that “essentially that there was a failure in the protection of Jackie and these kids,” Kansas City-based attorney Stephen Torline, who filed the lawsuits, said in a courthouse interview.

“The allegations are that they (Windsor Place At-Home Care) failed to provide care,” he said. “… The morning of the fire there was no caregiver present that could have saved Jackie and these children.”

Windsor Place executive director Monte Coffman said Wednesday evening that the company provided only “administrative financial support services” to Coberly, who elected to select, hire and schedule her own caregivers. Coffman said the company filed and paid taxes, accessed Medicaid benefits and handled payroll for Coberly, but did not “have a supervisory relationship” with her caregivers.

The Coffeyville-based company, which was incorporated in Wichita, has provided at-home care since the mid-1990s.

“They (the clients) are the managing employer when they choose to self-direct,” said Coffman, who said he was unaware a lawsuit had been filed until a reporter contacted him Wednesday morning. “ … She had chosen our organization to come alongside her and provide the financial administration support services so she could self-direct her care.”

Coffman added that Windsor Place received $575 over a five-month period for those services, not the “substantial amount of money” alleged by the lawsuit.

Jeffrey Murphy of Scott City is suing Windsor Place on behalf of his daughters, Terra and Cassie. Torline also filed a lawsuit alleging the wrongful deaths of Coberly and her son, Brandon, on behalf of Jason Hundertmark, whose minor son is heir to their estates.

Coberly, who was paralyzed following a car accident, required 24-hour care. She called 911 to report the fire, but was wheelchair-bound and unable to do much else, Torline said. Murphy, who was Coberly’s boyfriend, was working at a Scott City feed yard when the fire started.

Coberly and the children died from burn injuries and smoke inhalation incurred that morning, according to the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, Jeffrey Murphy and his ex-wife, Branda Murphy, had tiny green ribbons pinned to their shirts, signifying the organs their older daughter and Coberly donated to save others’ lives, as they filed the lawsuit in Wichita.

“They were just sweet, loving little girls,” Jeffrey Murphy said as Branda wiped away tears.

Branda Murphy smiled as she remembered her girls.

“They were kind-hearted little ladies. Terra was a nurturing type who would go out of her way to help a person out.”

“Cassie was just a follower,” she added. “She followed her sister in her steps and took it to a whole ’nother level.”

Jeffrey Murphy also said he grieved for Coberly and her son, Brandon Carter, whom he planned to adopt.

“I lost my whole family,” he said.

The Murphys and Hundertmark also are suing Linda and James Noll of Scott City, the landlords of the home where the fire occurred. The suits say the Nolls failed to provide a smoke detector in the rental house, as required by law, and keep the house is good repair.

The Nolls could not be located for comment Tuesday.

Torline said the families of those who died want to change a Kansas law requiring homeowners and landlords to provide smoke detectors in residences. Torline said current law prevents parties from filing a civil lawsuit based solely on a landlord’s failure to provide a working smoke detector.

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