The Portland Museum of Art (PMA) won a $4.6 million in a lawsuit on Monday, July 22, after a jury determined that a caretaker had unlawfully dissuaded a wealthy woman from bequeathing a large donation to the museum after her death. The caretaker, Annemarie Germain, will appeal the decision in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
The Cumberland County Superior Court jury accepted the museum’s argument that Germain had coerced Eleanor G. Potter, a wealthy art collector who lived in Portland, into changing her will shortly before her death in 2015. The revised bequest named the caretaker as the sole beneficiary of Potter’s entire estate, depriving PMA of a donation worth $3.3 million. According to the museum, an earlier version of the bequest, signed in 2014, granted it most of Potter’s estate.
Germain moved into Potter’s home as a live-in caretaker after the latter broke a hip in 2012. According to Germain’s attorney, Gene Libby, Potter made a conscious and independent decision to reward her caretaker. Potter was “very independent, intelligent, and up to her very last day, made her own decisions,” Libby told jurors, according to the Portland Press Herald. Porter had never complained to anyone that Germain is controlling her, Libby further argued, adding that she had enough opportunities to do so in meetings with lawyers and regular doctor visits in the year before her death. The attorney also provided medical notes which show that Porter was in good physical and mental health conditions.
Thimi Mina, PMA’s lawyer, disputed Libby’s arguments describing Germain’s control over Potter as “long, systematic and relentless.” According to Mina, Germain threatened Potter that she would send her to a nursing home. The lawyer also argued that Germain could be heard whispering words to Potter in the background during calls with lawyers.
At the end of a six-day trial, the jury awarded PMA about $3.3 million, the estimated value of Potter’s gift, in addition to over $1 million in punitive damages. According to the Portland Press Herald, the jury delivered its unanimous decision in less than an hour.
The PMA declined Hyperalleric’s request for response, saying it will not be making further comments on the case or bequest until it becomes a final judgment. It has, however, released a statement on Monday, before learning about Germain’s plans to appeal the decision.
“The PMA is grateful and appreciative of Mrs. Potter’s longtime support to the museum, which spanned decades, and is thankful that her intent to promote art and culture in Maine may now be recognized,” the museum said in its Monday statement. “The Portland Museum of Art did not take the decision to file this lawsuit lightly but felt compelled to do so given the evidence of the serious nature of the conduct before it.”