A pedestrian struck by a pickup truck while she was crossing Water Street at the Chestnut Street intersection two years ago has filed a pair of lawsuits in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas.

On behalf of Centerville resident Susan K. Frey, Edgar Snyder & Associates LLC of Pittsburgh filed complaints in civil actions against Meadville Area Water Authority, owner of the truck; MAWA employee William Kaplin, the driver; and the City of Meadville and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for creating and maintaining an intersection they allege was unsafe at the time of the incident.

The accident took place on May 11, 2010, shortly after traffic control signal lights at the intersection were replaced with stop signs for a 90-day trial period.

In March 2010, in the wake of the successful replacement of traffic signals with stop signs at six city intersections, City Manager Joe Chriest included the Chestnut and Water intersection on a list of nine Meadville intersections where traffic studies would take place. At the time, Chriest noted that there was very little traffic — even during peak hours — on Chestnut. Although he said Water Street was well-traveled and lots of pedestrian traffic crossed Water on the way to and from the Downtown Mall, Chriest told City Council he’d like to take a look at the possibility of eliminating signal lights at that location. Following the completion of the trial period, council opted to restore the signal lights and pedestrian “islands” were constructed to narrow the width of the roadway.

Frey was transported from Meadville Medical Center to the former Hamot Medical Center in Erie immediately following the crash for treatment of head injuries described by police at the scene as “serious.” According to Michael Rosenzweig, one of her attorneys, she has made “significant improvement from her initial life-threatening injuries.

“She was very badly hurt and has made significant improvement over time, but the medical bills are staggering,” Rosenzweig said Tuesday.

The lawsuits caught both Chriest and MAWA Project Manager Don Nold off guard.

“We have turned it over to our insurance carrier,” Chriest said, noting that he will not comment until the carrier assigns an attorney to the case.

Because MAWA’s insurance carrier has been involved with the case for some time, both Nold and the authority’s attorney, Ted Watts Sr., told the Tribune they would not comment; the Erie attorney assigned by the carrier to handle the case did not respond to the Tribune’s request for comment Tuesday.

Although Rosenzweig stressed repeatedly that both his client and his firm would have preferred to settle out of court, both complaints in civil actions — one naming MAWA as the defendant and the other naming Kaplin, the City and PennDOT — were filed shortly before 4 p.m. on May 8.

After discussions with MAWA’s insurance carrier extended for what he described as months and months and months, “the clock ran out (on the two-year statute of limitations) and we have to proceed with litigation,” Rosenzweig said. “We tried to resolve this amicably and we’ve gotten no cooperation.”

Although a recent offer was made, “It was grossly inadequate,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s a clear case. She was in the middle of a crosswalk and the guy turned left right into her.”

According to the police report filed at the time, that may be pretty much what happened.

A witness told police that Frey, who was 56 years old at the time, was in the crosswalk. Kaplin, who had stopped on Chestnut Street and began turning left onto Water Street after stopping, said he didn’t notice her in the crosswalk, Meadville police officer Greg Beveridge noted in his report on the investigation.

The incident occurred at 2:36 p.m. on a rainy afternoon. Meadville police reported Kaplin’s estimated speed in the Ford F series pickup as 10 miles per hour. He was ticketed for violating Section 3542 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, which governs the right-of-way of pedestrians in crosswalks and states that when traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. The penalty for the violation, which is a summary offense, is a fine of $50.

As for what comes next, Rosenzweig said that Kaplin, the city and PennDOT have 20 days from the day the sheriff’s department delivers notices of the lawsuit to file an answer or procedural objections. While the city received its notice late last week, Kaplin had not been served as of Tuesday afternoon.

At that point, participants can explore evidence on each side through the discovery process. “They can decide there’s no dispute and resolve it — or have a jury decide the dispute,” Rosenzweig said. A jury trial has been demanded.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com


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