Three years ago, Alan Loignon of Biddeford was fatally injured when he fell from a third-story roof in Portland. Now a jury will decide whether he was working for himself that day or for his half brother, a Scarborough roofer who has been charged with manslaughter in his death.

The trial of Shawn Purvis began Wednesday afternoon at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, with opening statements focused on this question.

Loignon, 30, was not wearing a safety harness when he fell from the roof on Dec. 13, 2018. Purvis, 47, who owns a home improvement business, arranged the job at the home on Munjoy Hill.

Purvis has pleaded not guilty to one count of manslaughter and another of workplace manslaughter, a rarely used statute. On the first charge, the state is alleging that Purvis negligently or recklessly caused Loignon’s death. On the second, the state is accusing Purvis of intentionally or knowingly violating federal safety regulations in a way that caused an employee’s fatal fall.

Whether he is found guilty of workplace manslaughter could hinge on how the jurors interpret their working relationship. If Purvis was an employer and Loignon an employee, federal rules would have required Purvis to take certain steps to prevent falls, such as making sure Loignon wore a safety harness. But if Loignon was an independent contractor, those same regulations would not have applied.

From the start, Purvis has contended that he works with independent contractors and that he can’t force them to use the safety equipment he brings to jobs.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin displayed a checklist of criteria that she said jurors must consider to decide whether Purvis was an employer. She said he was because he determined the scope and length of the roofing jobs, transported workers to sites, provided building supplies and key equipment such as ladders, and handled all dealings with building owners. She also said he had received repeated warnings from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration about his failure to require workers to wear fall protection.

Shawn Purvis stands in court in May 2019 during his arraignment on charges in the death of a worker who fell from the roof of a house on Munjoy Hill in December 2018. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

“Those facts will show you who was really in charge of the job site at 157 Congress St.,” Robbin said. “It was that man, Shawn Purvis. And if he had required his crew to wear the fall-protection harnesses, Alan Loignon would be alive.”

Defense attorney Tom Hallett said the evidence actually would show that the workers who were on Congress Street that day were all independent contractors. He called them “rooftop cowboys.” They created a system in which Purvis did the sales and they did the work, and they could pass on jobs if they felt like it, and that was the way they preferred to work, Hallett said.

He described the case as a battle for control by OSHA in a state where many people work for themselves.

“This case is a case where OSHA doesn’t have that control,” Hallett said. “They’re trying to dictate how this group of independent Mainers operates. They don’t have that right.”

Hallett also said that a witness will tell the jurors that Loignon was smoking dabs – concentrated doses of THC – when he was on the roof, and that he appeared to go limp before he fell to the ground. Robbin said the evidence presented by the state could show that Purvis knew Loignon used marijuana and that Purvis sometimes provided it to him.

The state will present its first witnesses Thursday. Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren is overseeing the trial.

This is likely only the second time prosecutors in Maine have sought charges under the workplace manslaughter statute, which is a subsection of manslaughter and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

In the first known prosecution, in 1991, a York County grand jury indicted a New Hampshire contracting firm in connection with the death of a 23-year-old man who had been crushed two years earlier while crews were overhauling the Route 1 bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, The Associated Press has reported. That case ended with an acquittal, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

If Purvis is convicted on the manslaughter charge, a Class A felony, he will face a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

He also could be subject to more than $2 million in OSHA fines for failing to protect workers from falls. Purvis has contested his OSHA citations, and a hearing on those citations took place over multiple days in October and November. An administrative law judge is not expected to rule in that case for months.

Purvis has remained free, subject to conditions, since he was indicted.

The website for Purvis Home Improvement advertises services for roofing, siding, windows and gutters. Its slogan is “Don’t be nervous, call Purvis.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: