Ruling nullifies award in child's death

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Following a decision from the Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District, a former Dexter woman likely won't collect on a $2 million judgment she won in relation to the death of her 7-year-old son.

Dustin Gaines died sometime on the night of Aug. 8, 1998, or early morning hours of Aug. 9, 1998, when he suffocated after crawling into a refrigerator sitting outside of a mobile home undergoing refurbishment on property in Dexter.

Shanna Christian, Gaines' mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Stoddard County Circuit Court against the mobile home's owner, Richard Maschmeyer, and was awarded $2 million in damages. Christian sought to collect from Maschmeyer's insurer, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., and the court agreed the company was liable. Progressive appealed.

In a ruling issued Friday, the appeals court's three-judge panel overturned the lower court, ruling that Maschmeyer's policy didn't cover the circumstances under which Gaines died.

While the monetary judgment against Maschmeyer still stands, Christian's attorney, Samuel P. Spain of Poplar Bluff, Mo., said the court's action essentially means his client will not collect damages. Spain said Christian had reached an agreement with Maschmeyer that she would look solely to his insurer to collect on the judgment.

"The bottom line is Mr. Maschmeyer has no personal liability," Spain said. "If there is no insurance coverage, there is no money."

Spain said Christian, who lived in Dexter at the time of the incident but has since moved to Florida, hadn't yet decided on whether she would appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

According to court records, Maschmeyer bought the mobile home in 1995 and had been renovating on and off until the time of Gaines' death. During that time, the home was sitting on property owned by a friend of Maschmeyer.

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