Massachusetts Widow May File Suit

LANCASTER -- An attorney for Claire McNamara notified towns throughout North Central Massachusetts that she is reserving the right to file a lawsuit against them in connection with the death of her husband, Martin McNamara V.

The Sentinel & Enterprise confirmed by press time Thursday that Ashburnham, Clinton, Leominster, Lunenburg and Westminster received the letter.

McNamara, a Lancaster on-call firefighter, died while fighting a blaze at 76 Mill St., on Nov. 29, 2003.

The letter states that the role of each individual fire department in the fire is not "fully understood" and that if "evidence emerges implicating your department in the occurrence," McNamara intends to pursue a claim of negligence.

Attorney Carl W. Lindley of Worcester, who's representing McNamara, said Lancaster was not served notice because the firm decided a lawsuit against the town was not a possibility.

"Under Massachusetts law, there really wouldn't be any possibility of a claim against Lancaster," Lindley said.

In addition, Lindley stressed that the firm's focus was on private individuals who may have been responsible in the death of McNamara.

"The primary focus is the role of the homeowner," Lindley said. "As far as the towns go,that is just an abundance of caution."

Lindley would not comment on whether the homeowner had been sent a notice similar to the ones sent to the towns.

According to the Lancaster Tax Assessor's Office, the house was owned by Loraine Moeckel, but she sold the house to 76 Mill Street LLC in June of 2004.

Moeckel's number listed in the phone directory is disconnected, and there are no other listings under her name in Massachusetts.

The death sparked national media attention, because McNamara was not entitled to a pension or death benefit because of his on-call status.

The controversy after his death resulted in the McNamara Law, signed last month, which mandates that all Massachusetts communities must provide a death benefit or pension to on-call emergency personnel.

The law also provided a $650,000 annuity to Claire McNamara.

Gov. Mitt Romney attended a signing ceremony for the bill on Nov. 8 in front of the Lancaster Fire Station, with Claire McNamara by his side.

Lindley said his firm would continue investigating the circumstances surrounding McNamara's death, but would not say what its next step would be.

All of the towns received the letter on Nov. 29, two years after McNamara's death, and the same day a memorial was held for friends and family outside the house in which he was killed.

Examples of negligence given in the letter are inadequate training, inadequate preparation for interdepartmental radio communications, or any other deficiencies cited by an October 2004 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report.

The report, according to the letter, does not identify individual towns enough to "rule out a particular municipality."

All of the towns who responded to Lancaster's call for mutual aid at the time of the fire were sent notices, but Lindley was unable to provide an exact list.

"There was a hefty number of towns who responded," Lindley said.

Westminster Fire Chief Brenton MacAloney said the arrival of the notices gives many of the chiefs in area towns an "uneasy feeling."

"It leaves an element of doubt," MacAloney said.

But Lindley said the legal notice, which cited General Laws Chapter 258, was an "abundance of caution to just ensure that we met the deadline so we could investigate what transpired."

Lindley said they were required to notify any entity within two years of the incident in order to bring a lawsuit against them later.

Ashburnham Town Administrator Kevin Paicos said it did not seem his town had much to do with the response to the 2003 fire, and did not expect to be "actively" involved in the potential litigation.

Despite his surprise that Ashburnham was included, Paicos said the decision was within the family's right.

"When you have a tragedy like this, everyone defers to the family's right to claim compensation," Paicos said. "You can't be anything but sympathetic."

A message left at Claire McNamara's number Thursday afternoon was not returned by press time.