A jury on Friday found that a Salt Lake City housing unit for chronically homeless people shared some blame for a man who died in his sleep in 2010 after getting drunk.
But the jury declined to award Roy Cohoe’s son and daughter any monetary compensation.
Cohoe, 55, a military veteran and former member of the Screen Actors Guild, battled alcoholism for many years. Sometime between Jan. 4 and 5, 2010, he lost that war and died alone in his bed at Sunrise Metro Apartments.
A wrongful death suit filed in 3rd District Court by his children claimed that Sunrise Metro LLC, the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City, and Housing Assistance Management Enterprises were negligent by failing to call 911 and for not communicating Cohoe’s inebriated condition to his case manager.
Just a few weeks prior to his death, Cohoe signed an agreement to live soberly at Sunrise Metro, a 100-unit complex dedicated to housing and stabilizing individuals who are chronically homeless.
But on Jan. 4, 2010, a Sunrise Metro maintenance man and property manager found him extremely intoxicated and surrounded by liquor bottles during a routine apartment inspection.
When Cohoe’s case manager checked on him the following day, he was dead.
At the end of the five-day trial, Judge Robert Faust instructed the eight-member jury to determine whether plaintiffs — Cohoe’s son, Alex Cohoe, and daughter, Lisa Solis — were harmed and to assign a percentage of fault to those who bore blame in Cohoe’s death. If jurors concluded Cohoe was at least 50 percent at fault for his own death, no damages would be awarded to his children.
The jury assigned 50 percent fault to Cohoe and 50 percent to the defendants — 10 percent to Sunrise Metro and 20 percent each to Salt Lake City’s Housing Authority and Housing Assistance Management Enterprise, a nonprofit entity that serves as the Housing Authority’s development arm.
Attorney Tyler Young, who represented the plaintiffs, had urged jurors to assign 25 percent fault to each entity, arguing that assigning anything more than 49 percent to Cohoe "gives [the defendants] a pass." However, he declined to suggest the level of compensation his clients should receive.
Young acknowledged that Cohoe bore some fault for his own death by consuming so much alcohol. Cohoe’s death certificate reportedly cited the causes as acute alcohol intoxication, hypertension and heart disease. However, Young said he believed steps could have been taken on Jan. 4 to alter that outcome.
"Were they negligent by not calling 911?" Young asked. "I wish they would have called 911. My clients wish they would have."
Attorney Gregory Sanders, who represented the defendants, urged jurors not to award anything to the family, asserting that Cohoe was accountable for his own death. But with the thought that the jury could decide differently, Sanders suggested $50,000 would be appropriate.
Reached Friday night, Terry Feveryear, executive director for the Housing Authority, called the outcome reasonable and said her agency has made many changes since Cohoe’s death.
"Our residents were always our top priority, even if there were management issues," Feveryear said.
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