D.C. Utility Blamed for Woman Frozen to Death

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Paul Bowman hadn’t heard from his 102-year-old mother all weekend when he went to her home one Sunday morning to check on her.
     Finding her home in southeast Washington “ice cold” and her bedroom door locked, Bowman had the fire department break down the door.
     They found Beatrice Harley on March 22, 2015, curled against the hot-water heater, blankets and clothes piled on top of her.
     “She had frozen to death in the night,” Bowman claims in a June 30 complaint.
     Harley’s gas line, her sole source of heat, had been disconnected a day or two before, but Bowman says Washington Gas Light Co. “made no attempt to contact” his mother about working on the pipes below her property.
     All the utility left was a notice dated March 19 “in a standard form with the defendant’s company name and logo printed on it,” he says.
     The notice “had no other information written or marked,” the complaint continues.
     “Washington Gas then left the scene for the weekend, leaving Ms. Harley with no heat in her house,” the complaint states. “Washington Gas never notified Ms. Harley or her son, never attempted to re-establish Ms. Harley’s gas supply or re-light her pilot light. The defendant simply left for the weekend, while an elderly lady had no heat in her home.”
     Temperatures had gone down to a record lows in the days leading up to Harley’s death, Bowman says, noting that the low on March 21 was 35 degrees.
     District law prohibits companies from disconnecting gas lines after 5 p.m. on a Thursday except if the meter is located inside the building or the company has unsuccessfully tried to access the property on two weekdays, Bowman says.
     He notes that neither exception applies to his mother’s situation.
     In addition, Washington law allegedly requires utility companies to contact the owner of the home 15 days before they intend to disconnect from a gas line. Bowman says the notice Washington Gas left for Harley did not specify when her line would be shut off and that the company never tried to contact her in person.
     Bowman further claims the company has not investigated the circumstances that led to his mother’s death, despite its claims to the contrary.
     “Ms. Harley did not die surrounded by family and friends,” the complaint says. “[She] died alone on the floor of her bedroom; she died suddenly and unexpectedly; she did not have the opportunity to tell her family how much she loved them or tell them goodbye; she did not die peacefully in her sleep; she consciously felt the temperature dropping so low that she left the comfort of her bed and in a final effort and attempt to save herself she forced her body, wrapped in blankets as close to the radiator as possible; she did not know that the gas had been disconnected by defendant.”
     Bowman insists that his mother was in good health before she died, and “there was no reason that … [she] should not live alone.”
     Seeking $10.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death, Bowman is represented by Michael McAuliffe of Ethridge Quinn Kemp McAuliffe Rowan & Hartinger.
     A spokesman for Washington Gas said in an email Monday that the company does not comment on pending legal matters and otherwise had not yet been served with the filing regarding Harley.
     McAuliffe did not return a request for comment.

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