Mass. agrees to pay $56m to settle Holyoke Soldiers’ Home lawsuit

84 veterans died of COVID-19 at facility; 84 more were infected

THE STATE HAS AGREED to pay $56 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by veterans who contracted COVID-19 and the families of veterans who died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in a 2020 outbreak. 

Tom Lesser, an attorney representing the veterans, announced at a hearing conducted by telephone on Thursday that the settlement had been reached. “We’re happy to report that after many months of intensive negotiations with the governor’s office we have reached a $56 million settlement which we are confident is extremely fair to the plaintiffs,” Lesser said. 

According to Lesser, there were 84 veterans who died and 84 others who were infected with COVID-19 during an outbreak at the home between March and June of 2020, at the start of the pandemic. A lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Springfield in July 2020 by the estate of Joseph Sniadach, a veteran who died of COVID-19 at the home. The lawsuit was later expanded to cover other veterans who contracted the disease. 

“The COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was a terrible tragedy. While we know nothing can bring back those who were lost, we hope that this settlement brings a sense of closure to the loved ones of the veterans,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a press release announcing the agreement.

There will be two classes of veterans who will be compensated by the settlement: the estates of the veterans who died before June 23, 2020 and veterans who were ill with COVID but survived beyond June 23. 

Details of the settlement were not announced at Thursday’s hearing, but will be filed with the court by next Friday. The settlement must still be approved by US District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni. 

According to Baker’s office and the attorneys involved in the case, former U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern will serve as the settlement claims administrator and will make awards to participating claimants based on his review of each veteran’s individual circumstances. Estates of the veterans who died would receive a minimum award of $400,000, with an average settlement payment of $510,000. Veterans who contracted COVID but survived would receive a minimum of $10,000, and an average payment of $20,000. The settlement also includes money to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees.

Should each veteran get the average amount, that would leave $11.48 million to pay the attorneys and the claims administrator.

Baker intends to file a supplementary budget bill that will ask the Legislature to appropriate the $56 million needed to pay out the settlement.  

Lesser said in a statement, “There is no amount of money that can compensate our clients for the loss of their loved ones.  But our clients are grateful that the Commonwealth has acted to resolve this matter without the need for protracted litigation by agreeing to compensate both the families of those who died of COVID, as well as the veterans who survived.  The settlement is fair and just.”

Numerous reports have detailed the mismanagement that led to the spread of COVID in the veterans’ home, and all the home’s top officials have left their jobs. Superintendent Bennett Walsh was fired, and multiple reports have criticized his management. Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco Urena resigned.  

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The lawsuit named as defendants Walsh, Urena, former medical director David Clinton, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, and other former top Soldiers’ Homes officials. The complaint, which is heavily based on a state-commissioned investigation into the outbreak, argues that the officials “showed deliberate indifference to the veterans’ basic needs” through “misrepresentations, misjudgments, mistakes, and blatant errors,” in responding to the facility’s first COVID cases. It focuses on managers’ decisions not to quarantine the first ill patient, then to combine two dementia units when several patients had been infected, and on state officials’ lack of quick intervention once COVID started spreading in the home. 

Veterans who fit into one of these classes could either accept the settlement or choose to file their own lawsuit. But state law makes it very difficult to recover significant damages from public employees, so it appears unlikely that many veterans would pursue their own suits. 

The litigation will now be paused until the judge decides whether to accept the settlement terms. If it is accepted, notices will go out to the veterans allowing them to opt into the settlement to receive the money.