A Superior Court judge has ruled that the wife and children of a Rockland man who was one of six people killed in last month’s apartment house fire in Portland likely would receive a judgment against the building’s landlord. The judge ordered a freeze on $1.7 million of the landlord’s real estate assets in Cumberland County in case they’re needed to pay out any future claims.

The preliminary ruling is based partly on statements by fire survivors who said the building lacked working smoke alarms and had a blocked exit, and on details about how Steven Summers suffered severe burns and was conscious for several days before he died.

The judge’s order was issued Tuesday without a response from the defendant, landlord Gregory Nisbet, who has 21 days to appeal. It does not represent a final judgment in the civil lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 21.

“It is more likely than not that in this action the plaintiff will recover judgment, including interest and costs, in an amount not less than $1.7 million,” Justice Joyce Wheeler wrote in the order.

The suit is the first to result from Maine’s deadliest fire in 40 years. The fast-moving blaze that started early on Nov. 1 remains under investigation.

Sworn statements contained in court records from a former tenant and two people who survived the fire indicate there were no smoke detectors installed at 20 Noyes St. and a bookcase blocked a back stairway, forcing survivors to jump from a second-story window.


Ashley Summers, of Topsham, is suing Nisbet for being negligent in causing the wrongful death of her husband, Steven, a 29-year-old father of two daughters, ages 5 and 3.

Tom Hallett, the attorney representing Summers, said the “ex parte order approving attachment and trustee process” was sought because the Noyes Street property was insured for only $300,000.

The Noyes Street duplex and an apartment building on Dartmouth Street owned by Nisbet are in the process of foreclosure because he is behind on mortgage payments. The city also has a lien on Nisbet’s personal home for $6,873 in unpaid property taxes and a sewer lien seeking $274 for a building on Dartmouth Street.

“From what I know, the insurance is not enough to cover the claims,” Hallett said, noting that damages could exceed $1.7 million. The lawsuit cites damages such as depriving the family of Summers’ future income and his parental guidance, and on the unusual pain and suffering he and his family endured.


Summers was visiting friends on Halloween and stayed at the house. He got out of the building as it burned and was engulfed in flames when he ran into the middle of the road and tried to put them out by rolling on the ground.


With fourth-degree burns over 98 percent of his body, he was kept alive for four days using ventilators at a Massachusetts hospital, until his family decided to remove him from life support.

“The damages to my client’s estate are much greater than that ($1.7 million), but we wanted to give a number that was not too difficult for a court to look at,” Hallett said. “The damages for a fellow that burned to death and died over a period of four days are, as you can imagine, staggering.”

Nisbet has not responded to repeated requests for comment. He is being represented by attorney John Veilleux, who declined to comment on the case.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fire victims,” Veilleux said in an email. “It would be inappropriate to comment on any pending investigation and/or litigation at this time.”

The court order to freeze real estate assets was based on affidavits that for the first time offer detailed accounts on the harrowing escape of two of the fire’s survivors, a history of alleged neglect at the property and a claim the apartment was being managed like a boarding house.

To prove the Noyes Street duplex was not properly maintained, Hallet noted that the city had received 16 complaints about the property dating to 2003. The complaints expressed concerns about combustible materials being stored improperly and a possible illegal unit on the third floor, among other issues. The lawsuit notes that the city attempted to reach Nisbet about the allegedly illegal unit, but Nisbet did not return the call.


The lawsuit contains three affidavits, including one from a former tenant who says she moved out because Nisbet didn’t respond to repeated requests to fix issues at the apartment.

Shanna Fratini said in a sworn statement that she lived at 20 Noyes St. from the summer of 2010 to October 2011. When she and five other people moved in, they discovered a smoke detector hanging off a bedroom wall and a leaky oil tank in the basement, among other issues.

“I personally called Nisbet many times to request that he address these problems within the apartment but he never came to fix any,” she said. “I know at least one of my roommates also called Nisbet repeatedly. … We got very frustrated and angry on the phone because of the neglect that we perceived.”


Fratini said Nicole Finlay, who died in the Nov. 1 fire, had been trying to get Nisbet to address concerns about exposed wiring.

Although Fratini said there were functioning smoke detectors on the first floor when she lived there, Nathan Long, who was one of the residents to escape the fire by jumping out of a second-floor window, said there were no smoke detectors installed when he became a resident in April 2013, according to an interview transcript accompanying the lawsuit.


Long described Nisbet as “a really cool guy” who was “lenient” when they didn’t have rent on the first of the month, and allowed the tenants to live there without a lease, according to the transcript. However, Long also said Nisbet never walked him through the house to show him working smoke detectors, something state law requires, according to the attorney conducting the interview.

Paul Garrido, a friend of Summers who accompanied him during his trip to Portland, said he was asleep on a couch when he was awoken by someone yelling “fire.” No smoke detectors were going off, he said.

Garrido, of Rockland, said the front door was on fire, so he ran upstairs to escape through the back stairwell, banging on the walls trying to wake people up as he went. The back staircase was blocked by a bookcase. He watched as a tenant tried unsuccessfully to move it, before they decided to escape through a window, he said.

“As soon as I got to the second floor, the smoke was very thick and I realized I had to get out of the house as soon as possible. It was terrifying,” Garrido said. “I did not hear any fire alarms at any point in the entire ordeal.”

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