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Fayette parents want claims tossed from suit over son's death in crash

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The parents of a Fayette County teenager who died five days after an underage drunken driver hit a tree at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort want a judge to throw out allegations they are responsible for their son's death.

Daniel and Tricia Nelson of Chalk Hill filed a lawsuit in October against Joseph Hardy, driver Steven DiCenzo of Uniontown and the Hardy family's resort, Nemacolin Woodlands Inc. and Nemacolin Inc. Hardy, a self-made millionaire, founded 84 Lumber and the resort.

The Nelsons' 17-year-old son, Zack, died after DiCenzo's vehicle hit a tree at the resort near Farmington in September 2011.

Police said DiCenzo, who was 17 at the time, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.136 percent. A teen driver is considered intoxicated at 0.02 percent under Pennsylvania law.

Nelson, DiCenzo and other teens who were in the car attended a party that night hosted by Hardy's then-15-year-old daughter, Paige, according to the Nelsons' lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends Hardy is liable because he allegedly knew his daughter hosted underage drinking parties, including the one that ended in the fatal accident, but did nothing to cut off her access to alcohol.

In a cross-claim filed in October, the resort'sattorneys, Gerard Cipriani and Rebecca Sember Izsak of Pittsburgh, place blame for Nelson's death on his parents.

The attorneys alleged the Nelsons were aware their son had previously drank to the point of intoxication, drove while drunk and rode with others who were drinking, but failed to do anything to deter him.

“The Nelsons breached the duty of care owed to their minor son and this breach of duty was the sole, direct and proximate cause of Zackery Nelson's injuries,” the resort's attorneys claimed in a court brief.

The Nelsons, through their attorney, Thomas E. Crenney of Pittsburgh, on Friday filed a motion asking President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. to dismiss the cross-claim.

Crenney describes the resort's allegations as “outrageous, scandalous and untrue,” having “no factual basis” and raised “to smear the Nelsons and unfairly prejudice the potential jury pool.”

Crenney argues that to allow a cross-claim of parental “negligent supervision” to proceed puts parents at risk for their children's decisions.

“To allow defendants' claim to go forward would make parents liable for every decision (that in hindsight looks like a bad decision) made by their children,” Crenney said in the filing. “This is not the law in Pennsylvania.”

Crenney contends the Nelsons had no ability to control their son the night of the accident because they were unaware he planned to go to Paige Hardy's party and consume alcohol.

“At the time of the accident, the Nelsons did not know there was a need to exercise parental control over their son, and the Nelsons did not have the ability or the opportunity to control Zackery Nelson's actions that night,” Crenney wrote.

“Pennsylvania law limits the duties of parents to supervise their children to circumstances where a parent at the relevant time knows or should know of the need to exercise parental control and has the ability and opportunity to do so.”

The case is pending before Wagner.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media.

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