AUGUSTA — State legislators continue to consider a bill that would compensate Susan Cloutier for the loss of her husband and son in a December 2014 crash.

The bill, L.D. 1671, would provide $400,000 to Cloutier, whose husband, Ghislain “Gus,” and son, Casey, were killed on the way to a hockey tournament when their car collided head-on with a sport utility vehicle that crossed the centerline on Route 202 in Leeds. The SUV was driven by a state employee.

Cloutier and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, spoke last week in front of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee asking it to approve the legislation, which has the backing of Gov. Paul LePage.

“I told them I was not here asking for pity or sympathy,” Cloutier said Monday during an interview at the Kennebec Journal. “I was asking for the financial support to raise my other son, Chase, maintain our lives and our home and our future, which was abruptly stolen from us.”

The committee unanimously voted in support of the bill, which House Clerk Robert Hunt expects to be in front of the full House of Representatives shortly. Cloutier is hopeful that there is little debate on the House and Senate floor because the bill had unanimous committee support.

Maine tort law limits the state’s liability to $400,000 per incident, but Hickman said Cloutier should get double that amount.

“In essence, we would be compensating the family $400,000 for the loss of her husband and $400,000 for the loss of her son, providing equitable relief for both tragedies,” Hickman said, according to a transcript of the committee session. “(It would allow) Susan and her son some sense of security as they continue to grieve and find a way forward.”

Complicating matters for Cloutier, who returned to work full time in September at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Information Technology, is her initial claim against the state. The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, Ralph Ryder Jr. of Livermore, was a state employee driving his own vehicle during work hours. He had a $50,000 policy for each injured party with GEICO, Cloutier said.

“State tort law limits my claim to $400,000, so the state would settle that claim with me and then be reimbursed by GEICO for the amount of Ryder’s policy,” Cloutier said.

The caveat attached to Hickman’s legislation is that it only becomes effective if Cloutier’s claim against the state is resolved, said Avery Day, chief legal counsel for LePage. Day said the legislation would provide an additional $400,000 by providing an appropriation rather than going through the process of litigating damages.

Cloutier said her attorney, Michelle Allott, of Farris Law in Gardiner, is working to resolve the claim with the attorney general’s office. Allott is handling Cloutier’s case pro bono and said there are standard legal hurdles that need to be cleared. The case involves a surviving minor child, so any financial settlement needs to be approved by a judge.

Attorney general spokesman Timothy Feeley said via email that the AG’s office has been working with Allott on the claim, but he would not elaborate.

“I’m just trying to provide for my son,” Cloutier said. “He’s been my rock.”

 


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