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$26.1 million personal injury settlement, possibly largest ever in Pa., reached in tractor-trailer death suit

By Jon Campisi | Jun 13, 2012

What’s believed to be the largest personal injury settlement ever in Pennsylvania was

reached last week between a cheese products company and the family of man who was killed after the vehicle he was riding in was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer on a central Pennsylvania highway.

Philadelphia personal injury lawyers Alan M. Feldman, Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, of the firm Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig, negotiated the $26.1 million settlement in the case of Sneeringer v. GLC Transportation, according to a statement from the plaintiff’s firm announcing the settlement.  

James R. Melinson of JAMS served as the mediator in the case.

The case was initiated back in June 2011 when Gettysburg, Pa. residents Peter M. Sneeringer II, Kathryn Sneeringer and Dorcas Cook filed suit at Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas against GLC Transportation Inc. and Great Lakes Cheese Co. of Ohio, as well as Great Lakes Cheese of New York and Sandy Lake, Pa. resident Spencer Chapman.

According to the complaint, Kathryn Sneeringer was driving her 2004 Toyota Matrix eastbound on Interstate 80 on July 6, 2010, a little after 5 in the evening, when, while stopped in traffic, her vehicle was struck from behind by Chapman, who was operating a tractor-trailer owned by GLC.

David Cook, who was Kathryn Sneeringer’s father, and was riding in his daughter’s vehicle at the time of the crash, was killed instantly, while Peter and Kathryn Sneeringer suffered “catastrophic injuries.”

The Sneeringer family’s two dogs, which were in the plaintiffs’ vehicle at the time, also perished in the crash.

The lawsuit claimed that Chapman was driving at an excessive rate of speed, causing him to “completely and recklessly” lose control of the large vehicle and strike the plaintiff’s car.

Upon seeing traffic stopped up ahead, Chapman quickly changed lanes, at which point he struck the Toyota in the rear, the suit states.

As a result of the accident, Peter Sneeringer was entrapped in the vehicle, and he suffered multiple head injuries, leaving him in a comatose state.

He ended up sustaining permanent brain damage, along with extensive cognitive, physical and emotional consequences that are permanent in nature, the lawsuit claimed.

Kathryn Sneeringer sustained multiple lacerations and contusions, three rib fractures, a liver laceration, multiple vertebral fractures and other physical injuries.

The suit contained wrongful death and loss of consortium counts on the part of Dorcas Cook, who lost her husband in the accident.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Feldman praised the settlement.

“This is a case in which reckless driving caused a family to suffer appalling death and destruction,” the lawyer said in a statement. “Our clients are wonderful people who have endured a terrible loss for which they are still grieving. We are privileged to have had the opportunity to represent Dori, P.J. and Katie and to help achieve some small measures of justice for them.”

The defendants were represented by attorneys Chester A. Dudzinski, Salvatore Vilardi and Judith A. Moses, of the firm Cipriani & Werner, which has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

At the time of the accident, traffic was supposedly stopped due to road construction.

The lawsuit had claimed that Chapman, the tractor-trailer operator, told Pennsylvania State Police following the accident that sun glare had affected his view of the roadway, and explained why he was unable to see the stopped vehicles ahead of him.

Chapman went on to say that he was “unaware he had impacted any other vehicles during this accident sequence until he exited his tractor trailer and was informed of same.”

On the sun glare argument, plaintiffs’ attorneys disputed Chapman’s assertion, writing in their suit that Chapman was heading eastbound at the time, making his statement a “complete fabrication,” given that the sun sets in the west.

“Defendant Chapman’s failure to recall the impact, and failure to describe the accident with precision is an indication that he was either not alert, or was asleep at the wheel immediately prior to the accident,” the suit stated.

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