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Fayette judge will consider $200,000 settlement in wrongful death lawsuit against Joseph Hardy

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 3:17 p.m.
Zack Nelson died of injuries from a car crash on Sept. 10, 2011, at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa near Farmington in Fayette County.

The parents of a Fayette County teenager who died in an underage drunken-driving crash at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort have been offered $200,000 to settle a civil lawsuit against founder Joseph Hardy, according to online court documents.

Daniel and Tricia Nelson's son, Zack, 17, died five days after a teenage driver's vehicle hit a tree at the resort near Farmington on Sept. 10, 2011.

Police said the driver, Steven DiCenzo, then 17, of Uniontown had a blood-alcohol content of 0.136 percent. Under Pennsylvania law, a teen driver is considered intoxicated at 0.02 percent.

The Nelsons of Chalk Hill filed a lawsuit in October 2012 against Joseph Hardy and his daughter, Paige, DiCenzo and the Hardy family's resort, Nemacolin Woodlands Inc. and Nemacolin Inc. Hardy, a self-made millionaire, founded 84 Lumber and the resort.

Police said DiCenzo, Nelson and other teens in the car attended a party hosted by Paige Hardy, then 15, according to the lawsuit.

The suit contends Hardy is liable because he knew his daughter hosted underage drinking parties, including the one just before the fatal crash, but did nothing.

Paige Hardy was cleared of liability in August when a judge found that, under the state's “social host” doctrine, minors who give alcohol to other minors cannot be held liable.

Through their attorneys, Thomas E. Crenney & Associates of Sewickley, the Nelsons on Monday filed a petition saying they have agreed to the offer. They offered the proposed settlement agreement and are seeking a judge's approval to end their claims against Joseph and Paige Hardy for $200,000.

Thomas Crenney confirmed the Nelsons want to partially settle because they were “nearly certain that both Hardys would be dismissed from the case.”

He declined to comment on the settlement amount.

Crenney said the Nelsons agreed “to a modest partial settlement because the court had already dismissed Paige Hardy from the case, even though there was clear and convincing evidence that she provided her father's alcohol to Steven DiCenzo and other teenagers that night.”

Crenney said he believes there was evidence Joe Hardy was negligent, but “under Pennsylvania law, it is virtually required that the adult host actually provide the liquor to the minors himself.”

There was no evidence Hardy did so, Crenney said.

According to an online copy of the proposed settlement, claims against the Hardys will be settled if it is approved by a judge, but the lawsuit will continue against DiCenzo, Nemacolin Woodlands Inc. and Nemacolin Inc.

By agreeing to pay the $200,000, the Hardys are not admitting any liability or wrongdoing, according to the online document.

The settlement calls for the money to be distributed with: $93,510.19 paid to Zack Nelson's estate; $31,170.06 to the Nelsons; $58,275 to Thomas E. Crenney Associates for legal fees; and $17,044.75 to Crenney & Associates for reimbursable fees.

Crenney is set to present the proposed settlement in court on Wednesday.

Jeff Nobers, Hardy's spokesman, and Philadelphia attorney M. Scott Gemberling, who represents the Hardys, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. The Nelsons could not be reached.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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