MANCHESTER — The family of a man who was accidentally shot and killed by his friend on Nov. 25, 2010, is suing the family who lives in the house where the shooting took place for negligently-caused wrongful death and is asking for unspecified damages.
Jeffrey Charbonneau, 24, of Manchester, was shot by Nicholas Bell, 25, also of Manchester, on Thanksgiving Day in 2010. Bell was sentenced to serve a year in jail after pleading no contest in May to a felony charge of manslaughter and misdemeanor charges of simple assault with a weapon and reckless endangerment,
According to an affidavit filed in the case, Charbonnneau and Bell had been at The Perfect Wife, a Manchester restaurant and pub, on Nov. 24, 2010, when they ran into another friend, James Goodwin. Charbonneau told Goodwin that his home was crowded with visiting family members and asked if he could spend the night at the Goodwin family home on Eagle Rise Road.
The next morning, Bell picked up what he thought was a pellet gun from the wall of a third-floor bedroom in the Goodwin home and fired it at Charbonneau to wake him up. However, the gun was a loaded .22-caliber rifle. police said.
According to the affidavit, Charbonneau was dead by the time rescue workers arrived.
The complaint, which was filed on Oct. 31 by David Cleary, of the Rutland law firm, Cleary, Shahi and Aicher, was brought forward by Charbonneau’s parents, Richard and Betty Charbonneau. Cleary said Jeffrey Charbonneau’s death was a result of a firearm which had been in an “unsecured and unsafe posture” in the Goodwins’ home.
“At that time and place, the defendants and each of them had the responsibility to maintain the firearm in a safe and non-lethally dangerous condition by either containing it in an unloaded condition or by maintaining it in a locked and inoperable condition,” Cleary said.
Cleary also accuses the Goodwins of negligence because they “failed to ensure that the premises to which Jeffrey R. Charbonneau was invited on Nov. 25, 2010 was free of hazards such as a loaded and unsecured firearm within the dwelling.”
On Friday, Cleary said he couldn’t say much about a pending action but said one theory that would be pursued was that the rifle’s safety was not on and that it was “simply hanging on the wall where Charbonneau was sleeping.”
The complaint lists Goodwin family members James, Carolyn, Charles and James Jr.
A response, dated Nov. 28, was made by John Paul Faignant, of the Rutland law firm, Miller, Faignant and Robbason, P.C. The response denies almost all of the allegations made by the complaint except that the families both live in Manchester and the incident happened in Bennington County.
Among the “affirmative” defenses listed in the answer, which are possible defenses that could be used in the course of the case if it proceeds, are the sections of both the U.S. and Vermont constitutions that guarantee the right to bear arms.
Other possible defenses listed are “conduct on behalf of others for whom these defendants are neither responsible in law nor fact” and “assumption of the risk.”
A call made to Faignant was not returned before deadline.
During Bell’s change-of-plea hearing in May, Judge David Howard said he was willing to accept a plea of no contest instead of guilty because “due to the unfortunate facts there is a great deal of civil liability here.”
Bell is currently being held in the Newport jail.
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