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$500K settlement reached in Sutersville teenager's death

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By Jennifer Reeger
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 7:42 p.m.
 

Westmoreland County and its insurer will split the cost of a $500,000 settlement to the estate of a Sutersville teenager, who died in an automobile accident in 2010.

Commissioners voted Thursday morning to settle the case filed by Tonya Lesniak, whose daughter, Taylor Lynne Frohnhofer, 16, died in the Nov. 27, 2010, accident on Clay Pike Road in Sewickley Township.

Frohnhofer was a passenger in a car driven by Jorden King of Sutersville, who was 16 at the time. King was speeding when his car left the road while rounding a curve. The vehicle struck a stone wall, became airborne and hit a tree.

Frohnhofer, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car and died of head injuries.

Last year, King pleaded guilty in juvenile court to a misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter, as well as summary traffic violations.

Lesniak filed paperwork indicating her intent to sue King and the county last November.

The county was named in the case because Clay Pike is a county road, said solicitor Mark Gesalman.

Prior to the accident, county engineers had determined the speed limit on the road should be lowered. However, when road crews installed the new speed limit sign, they mistakenly placed it too close to the curve, Gesalman said.

The improperly placed sign, which has been corrected, became a point in the criminal case against King and was the basis for the county's involvement in the civil action, he said.

Gesalman said after the civil action was filed, the county's insurance company decided to settle the case for $500,000 — the maximum allowed against a municipal government by law.

Gesalman said under Pennsylvania tort law at the time of the accident, any party found negligent in a lawsuit would be required to pay the full amount of damages if the other parties did not have the means to pay their share.

That made it likely that the county would have to pay $500,000 whether they settled or took the case to a jury, Gesalman said.

“The determination was made that we would simply be wasting county money (to defend the suit),” he said.

The county's insurer will pay $250,000 of the settlement, while the county will pay $250,000 — the amount of its self-insured reserve, similar to a deductible.

The county will make its payments in two installments, the first now and the second before Jan. 31, 2014.

Charles Evans, of Meyers Evans & Associates in Pittsburgh, who represents Frohnhofer's estate, said the county's action ends the case since King's insurance company offered to settle for $50,000 — the maximum amount in his policy.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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