Deal offered in girl’s scalding death

February 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007: CARLISLE – After a nine-year court battle, a proposed settlement is on the table concerning the scalding death of a 19-month-old girl.

A Cumberland County judge will decide whether to approve the accord among the family of the toddler, Heather Johnson, the Illinois-based A.O. Smith Corp. and the owners of a Carlisle apartment building where the tot suffered her fatal injuries.

The tot was scalded in a bathtub on March 11, 1996, and died 20 days later in St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Her mother, Lea Ann Fralish, was charged with third-degree murder but was acquitted by a county jury in 1997.

A year later, the tot’s grandparents, James and Jean Fralish, sued A.O. Smith and landlords Paul and Doris Lay on behalf of their granddaughter’s estate.

The Fralishes claimed the water heater that served the apartment building was set to a dangerously high temperature and did not include proper operating warnings.

A county judge dismissed the suit in 2002, but it was reinstated by the state Superior Court.

According to the settlement proposal filed by the Fralishes’ attorney, Eric G. Zajac, the water heater, made by A.O. Smith and controlled by the Lays, was set to 150 degrees, enough to cause scalding burns.

Zajac said Lea Fralish fell asleep on a couch in the apartment at 124 A St. and her daughter turned on the hot water for the bathtub.

The girl fell into the tub, suffering burns to more than 70 percent of her body, he said.

In fighting the suit, A.O. Smith and the Lays contended that lack of parental supervision was a primary cause of the tot’s fatal accident, according to settlement documents.

Negotiations to resolve the case began in October, Zajac said.

The proposal calls for nearly $150,000 of the settlement proceeds to be paid to three law firms that represented the girl’s estate. The rest is to go to Heather Johnson’s surviving family members

GM and Suzuki settle SUV rollover case

July, 2006

General Motors, Suzuki and Cami Automotive have agreed to settle a single-vehicle rollover which resulted in the death of a 20 year-old Pennsylvania man.

On May 11, 2001, Mark Barsottini was scheduled to attend the prom of his girlfriend, Shannon Marshall. Mark was operating a 1997 four door Geo Tracker owned by his parents. Mark and Shannon, along with another couple, had reserved a limousine to take them to the prom. They were traveling in the Tracker to meet the limo. As Mark drove on wet roads north along Brighton Road in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, the Tracker began to slide, then rolled over twice, coming to rest on its roof, facing south. Mark and two of his passengers were thrown from the vehicle while it was rolling. Mark, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was actually ejected through the windshield headfirst. EMS personnel found Mark facedown on the pavement, 15 feet away from the Tracker. He reportedly was unconscious and seizing at the scene. He remained in a coma for several weeks but succumbed to major head trauma the next month. Mark was survived by his parents and two siblings.

Plainitff argued that even if Mark had been seatbelted, his head would have been crushed by the severe roof collapse.

The Zajac Law Firm co-counseled with Hal Waldman and Associates of Pittsburgh on this case. The Zajac Law Firm became involved in the case in late April, 2006 and it settled about 3 months later. The specific terms and conditions of settlement are confidential.

Toyota settles roof defect case

June, 2006

Toyota Motor Corp. of Japan has settled with a Zajac Law Firm client who claimed that a defectively weak roof contributed to head injuries sustained in a single vehicle accident. The Zajac Law Firm represented a Washington, D.C. business man who was traveling through Namibia, Africa on behalf of a U.S. federal agency when the pick-up truck he was driving went off the road and slid down an embankment. The vehicle rolled over once but the roof on the driver’s side severely collapsed. The driver was thrown from the vehicle and suffered major head injury. This claim involved a multitude of legal and factual controversies, ranging from whether suit could be brought in the U.S. to whether the head injury was caused by a rock outside the vehicle. The specific terms and conditions of settlement are confidential.

Doctor’s estate settles retained sponge case

May, 2006

In the summer of 1977, Linda Schoelkoph was a 27 year old married mother who suddenly developed mid-section pain acutely and was taken to a local hospital for evaluation. Ms. Schoelkoph was examined by a surgeon and an appendectomy was emergently performed.

More than twenty-three years later, in the fall of 2000, Ms. Schoelkoph began to experience mid-section pain. When the source of the pain could not be readily established, a CT scan was performed. The scan revealed a surgical sponge in the peritoneal cavity in the area where the appendectomy had been performed. The sponge was surgically removed in the spring of 2001. The surgeon who removed the sponge related it back to the appendectomy of 1977. By the time the sponge was discovered, however, the records for the 1977 appendectomy were long gone, and the surgeon had retired, living in Southern Florida. He had also suffered a stroke, incapacitating him.

Eric Zajac located witnesses who remembered details of the 1977 surgery, including Ms. Schoelkoph’s estranged ex-husband and a former neighbor who had gone to the doctor’s office with Ms. Schoelkoph in the post-surgery recovery period. The Zajac Law Firm successfully fought off several motions to dismiss the case, and the action settled several weeks before trial.

The specific terms and conditions of settlement are confidential.

GM, Suzuki and Takata settle seatbelt failure case

Fall, 2005

Eric Zajac represented a 50 year old Florida woman who was ejected from a Geo Tracker and violently thrown onto a highway after her seat-belt allegedly failed. The injuries left the driver permanently disabled. The Defendants, who had either designed, manufactured or sold the Tracker or its seatbelt system, alleged that Zajac’s client was never wearing her seat-belt to begin with. But a neighbor who was walking her dog just minutes before the accident had stopped to speak to the driver and testified that she remembered the seat-belt being used.