October 15, 2018
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Landlord’s $45k settlement for deadly Maine fire called ‘wholly inadequate’

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Ashley Summers, widow of Steven Summers, who died in the Noyes Street fire in 2014, talks with the press in December 2016, after landlord Gregory Nisbet was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.

A Portland landlord has agreed to pay nearly $300,000 in settlements to the families of six people who were killed on his property in Maine’s deadliest fire in decades.

Gregory Nisbet, who was convicted of a misdemeanor for his role in the 2014 blaze, settled six civil lawsuits brought by the estates of those killed in the accidental fire.

Nisbet agreed to pay $45,000 to the families of each of the victims and an additional $30,000 to a survivor through an insurance policy, according to settlement documents filed in the Cumberland County Superior Court in February. The cases were dismissed in April.

The settlements end years of civil litigation over the deadly fire that reached Maine’s highest court, and may provide some closure to the victims’ families. But Nisbet continues to fight to overturn his criminal conviction, with an appeal set to be argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court next week.

The payment is “wholly inadequate,” a lawyer for Ashley Summers, whose husband Steven Summers died in the fire, said in a court filing. An attorney for the estate of Christopher Conlee, who was 25 when he died in the blaze, called it “a pittance.”

The fire at 20 Noyes St. was kindled by a stray cigarette butt, which ignited a chair and couch on the front porch. Investigators later found that the home lacked working smoke detectors and that the back staircase that offered a second exit had been blocked with furniture.

[Landlord not guilty of manslaughter in Maine’s deadliest house fire in decades]

Following the fire, Nisbet was sued by the estates of David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26 — who lived at 20 Noyes St. — as well as those of Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham, Summers, 29, of Rockland, and Conlee, 25, of Portland, who were visiting on the night of the blaze. But a judge put the suits on hold while the landlord faced manslaughter charges for the deaths.

Following a 2016 trial, Nisbet was convicted of a single fire code violation but acquitted of all counts of manslaughter and several misdemeanors. The landlord was sentenced to serve 90 days in prison and pay a $1,000 fine, but has remained free as he appeals the conviction.

After Nisbet was cleared of manslaughter, negotiations over the settlements resumed and lawyers worked to verify what assets he had to pay with, according to Conlee’s attorney, Brad Pattershall. They turned out to be scant.

The only funds available were $300,000 from the landlord’s fire insurance policy, according to the settlement documents. Nisbet has said in court documents that the civil and criminal proceedings have left him “indigent.”

[Two years after the deadly Portland fire, two little girls learn the truth of how their father died]

Lawyers for some of the estates of the victims and survivor Paul Garrido confirmed that the settlements have been paid but said their clients did not wish to comment. Nisbet’s lawyers in the criminal and civil cases — Luke Rioux and John Veilleux, respectively — did not respond to requests for comment.

Court documents state that the settlement to the Summers family was split between Ashley and trust funds for her and Steven’s two young daughters.

After legal fees, the girls each got $6,750 for their father’s death.

Follow Jake Bleiberg at: @JZBleiberg.

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