Duceppe family seeks $1.25M from seniors' home over freezing death of 93-year-old mother
MONTREAL -- On the one-year anniversary of their mother's death, the family of former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe announced they are suing the luxury seniors' residence where the 93-year-old perished after being trapped in a courtyard during a false fire alarm.
Helene Rowley Hotte Duceppe died of hypothermia on Jan. 20, 2019, on a morning when it was a bitter -35 C outside and snowing.
In legal documents filed Monday, Rowley Hotte Duceppe's seven children allege their mother's life would have been saved if not for the "gross negligence" of the residence.
"Mother never stops dying, it continues all the time because (the residence's responsibility) isn't recognized," Gilles Duceppe said in a brief interview following the announcement of the lawsuit.
Lawyer Marc-Antoine Cloutier told the Montreal news conference that while the death may have been accidental, the alleged negligence of staff at the Lux Gouverneur Montreal contributed to the tragedy.
"When we don't put in place what needs to be put in place, there are foreseeable consequences," he said.
A coroner's report released last summer said video surveillance showed the woman trapped in the courtyard for six hours. She tried to get back inside the building to no avail, since her access card wouldn't let her back inside and no one noticed her absence.
Cloutier said the family and the estate are seeking $1.25 million for both the suffering experienced by Rowley Hotte Duceppe, and the pain her death has caused her seven children.
Gilles Duceppe said his mother had a "horrible fear of fire," and left her apartment upon hearing an alarm. He said the residence should have checked security cameras and the building's exits after the all-clear was given and the alarm turned out to be false.
"We can't understand how something like this can happen," he said. "There were cameras, they could have seen her." Duceppe says he also doesn't understand how staff allegedly didn't look to see if anyone was outside after the alarm on the emergency door into the courtyard signalled it had been opened.
"You have to open the door: they could have saved her, she would have come in. She was just there, on the other side."
His sister, Monique Duceppe, said the family chose the residence precisely because it was advertised as safe.
"That's why we went there, because in their brochure, it was the highest technology in terms of security," she said. Her mother was happy there, she said.
"Nobody thinks they'll end their days like that, outside..." she said, her voice trailing off.
Cloutier said that while the family is only suing the one residence, he hopes the case prompts a wider societal discussion on the safety of seniors' homes, and the need for stricter standards.
"We hear more and more about the problems that stem from the lack of security in these residences, but also sometimes because of lack of personnel, lack of training, carelessness in some cases."
The family sent the Lux Gouverneur notice last July that they were seeking damages, and were prepared to take legal action if the residence did not respond. Cloutier said the possibility of criminal charges was raised at first, but the family ultimately decided on a civil action.
The management of the residence said in a statement Monday saying staff remain "extremely shaken by the death of Mrs. Rowley-Hotte."
"The safety and wellbeing of residents is a top priority for management. Due to the ongoing legal procedures, we will not be granting interviews," the statement reads.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 20, 2020.