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Clearwater family sues contractor over man's fall, death

TARPON SPRINGS — As 96-year-old Andrew Brown attempted to leave his home the morning of Nov. 6, 2007, he encountered trouble.

Instead of stepping onto a porch, his feet hit air.

In a flash, Brown had tumbled to the ground and was seriously injured. Paramedics treated him at the scene and took him to a local hospital, but Brown never returned home.

He died four weeks later, leaving behind his wife, Sallie Mae Brown, now 86.

"She gets depressed because she misses him," said Mary Dorsett, Andrew Brown's stepdaughter.

Brown's death certificate listed the cause of death as "complications from blunt head trauma." But one question remained: Who was responsible for the accident?

The Browns' home at 724 Lincoln Ave. was being renovated when Brown fell, and a front porch that once met the doorway Brown exited had been removed, creating a significant dropoff.

A lawsuit filed by Brown's family in February claims the contractor was to blame for his death. The suit says James C. Miller Inc., which is based in Tarpon Springs, "failed to place a barrier at the front door."

Linnes Finney, attorney for the Brown family, refused to say how much the family is seeking. Dorsett said money is needed to cover her mother's living expenses, which include a car payment.

When reached by phone, James C. Miller declined comment and referred all questions about the suit to his attorney, Wade James. Calls to James have not been returned.

According to the Better Business Bureau, there have been no complaints made by consumers against Miller's company.

"I don't know what the defense is going to allege," Finney said.

It all started when Brown and his wife were awarded a $22,700 grant from Pinellas County through a senior assistance program to rehabilitate their home. The house, which Brown had helped his father build in 1920, was looking every bit its age.

Termites were having a field day, the floors were rotted out, the bathrooms were a disaster and the front porch needed to be replaced, Dorsett said.

"It was troubling to see the house falling apart," said Dorsett, 48, of Riverview.

The grant offered hope.

With it, the floors and bathrooms were to be repaired and a new front porch constructed. The Browns picked the contractor.

"They were excited," Dorsett said. "The porch was the big thing for both of them. They've loved to sit out in the summer and feel the breeze at night."

As the project moved forward, Miller's company simultaneously fixed the home's main bathroom and removed the old porch, Dorsett said.

The day Brown fell, he was headed outside after hearing the garbage truck and forgot the porch was gone, Dorsett said.

Finney said the contractor was supposed to secure the doorway.

"They left it open for anybody to fall out," Finney said. "It could have been anybody."

Construction continued, and the contractor never acknowledged the accident, Dorsett said.

Today, the home's floors are up to par, the bathroom is fixed and the new porch is in place.

But Brown's loss has left a void.

"I honestly believe that had he not fallen out that door," Dorsett said, "he would probably still be alive today."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kniebuhr@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4156.

Clearwater family sues contractor over man's fall, death 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 8:20pm]
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