Jurors: PennDOT “Partially” Responsible for Deadly 2011 Crash

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WILKES-BARRE -- A jury in a Luzerne County civil case ruled that PennDOT was partially responsible for a deadly crash in 2011 that killed a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver's license.

"I've been waiting three and a half years for this," said Ronald Coburn, the father of 15-year-old Kayla McGrady, the crash victim.

She was a passenger in the January 2011 wreck when the SUV missed a sharp turn on Suscon Road in Pittston Township.

The driver, Scott Smith, admitted he was driving nearly 90 miles per hour when he lost control at the curve.

But Kayla's parents, Ronald and Tammy Coburn of Edwardsville, believe the lack of road signs warning drivers about the curve contributed to the tragedy.

"We did literally scratch and claw to get here, there's no doubt about it," said Ronald Coburn of his three-year legal battle.

"Juries get it right," said the family lawyer, Ed Ciarimboli, who told jurors in closing arguments that PennDOT's own manuals showed Suscon Road needed more so-called chevron signs that reflect light and warn of an upcoming sharp curve.

The jury assigned most of the responsibility for the deadly crash to Smith, the driver, who is now 20.  But the jury assigned 10 percent of the responsibility to PennDOT.

"The road was dangerous," said Ciarimboli.  "They (PennDOT) didn't do anything about it. And the jury saw that."

A spokesperson for PennDOT in Harrisburg said the agency is not commenting.

A second civil trial will now be held to decide how much money the victim's family will get.

Whatever that amount, PennDOT would have to pay 10 percent.

Kayla McGrady's parents say they made their point, as PennDOT added more road signs on Suscon Road after the deadly crash.

"I don't want this to happen to anybody again," said Ronald Coburn.  "What we've been through ain't easy."

49 comments

  • Tom

    Only in Pennsyltucky. The same state that pulls passing zones on roads like 29, 6/11, etc… Go for a drive in “Liberal” New York, especially areas around Ithaca or Corning. All of the roads there are curvy, they have regular passing zones, 55MPH limits, and curves aren’t usually marked. And yet NYDOT isn’t sued for this. PennDOT can’t even get 115 right and pulled out passing lanes to cater to idiots, causing the worst driver’s road in the area from one that used to be a joy.

  • Darren Raine

    I may have missed it somewhere in the comments, but don’t forget it was the “jury that got it right” that managed to agree the taxpayers (and themselves) that would be partially on the hook for this. And also, the kid would have had a finite insurance policy, if any. Therefore, if the attorney is going to make a payday, he has to go after someone who can actually pay. Ergo, PennDot (the taxpayer).
    You can now feel better about ‘your’ contribution in helping out this poor family. And also the attorney who took his %40 fee plus costs.

  • Jason Jones

    Seriously?!?
    Driving TWICE the speed limit and its the DOTs fault they couldn’t make the turn?!?
    This nation is FUBAR from top to bottom. There is no chance this nation is going to survive another 100 years with this kind of nanny state BS serving the leeches bleeding this nation dry.

  • brockway32

    PennDOT should have known better. Now they’ll go back and declare all their signage perfect in every way they can discern. No more liability. So let that be a lessen to you…if there is anything dangerous about your possessions, disavow any knowledge of their danger.

    • Mrs. Cindersoot

      We all must take responsibility for our actions when driving. If you speed, text, sext, drink, eat, take a selfie or bend over to get your fallen smartphone and get in a wreck, no one else should be blamed but yourself. Unfortunately, our government likes to play mummy and daddy telling us what we can do and not do. Increased signage has become a nuisance. Quite overdone if you ask me. There are 3 way stop signs where roads are a perfect “T” in my area. A waste of taxpayers money and the signage causes confusion and many ignore it which can lead to an accident. I don’t know why there are warning signs in front of my house. My beagle is harmless. When people see the signs, they hit the gas pedal when they approach my house. Ive called the local paper and they won’t come out to investigate. If the late great Mr. Cindersoot III was still living, these signs would not be there.

  • B

    Technically speaking a lower speed limit itself is supposed to serve as a warning for non-obvious hazards. However, since the speed limit is often set for the least capable drivers in the least capable cars for the worst spot in the road, used for revenue, and to satisfy the desire of petty control freaks, it no longer serves its intended purpose.It has become a boy-who-cried wolf street sign. Basically more often than not a guideline for getting fined but not one that relays useful driving information. Which of course doesn’t change the fact that the driver was entirely at fault. Even with the boy-who-cried wolf nature of speed limit signs one should have known there was something on that road that a vehicle with limited road handling capabilities like an SUV might not be able to do at a speed of twice the PSL.

    • Jen Yeisley

      “Technically speaking a lower speed limit itself is supposed to serve as a warning for non-obvious hazards”

      I NEVER see speed limits more than 45 miles on curvy roads. And most of the time, it’s 35. The only time I ever see speed limits above 50 are on freeways/expressways, and anything above 65 would be an interstate highway.

  • Gail

    The parents lost a child and let’s face it people, it could have been any one of us. Let the person with a perfect child please stand up!! I do agree that chevron signs do help responsible drivers but probably wouldn’t have in this situation. My heart goes out to her parents and hope that the money they receive from PennDot at least covers her burial expenses. No one deserves that pain.

    • Brer Rabbiot

      Gail, it’s terribly sad for the family to lose a child, but to blame PennDOT for the accident in any way is irresponsible. If the driver was going twice the speed limit and additionally was unlicensed what makes anyone think that he would have heeded the signs to slow down for a curve.

    • nevins

      Yes, it is very sad for the parents. Sometimes our kids will judge poorly. But they have no financial loss, nor valid claim to the public’s money on this one.

  • Wow...

    Are you kidding me blaming penn dot because they got in accident due to speeding that’s like me walking infront of a moving vehicle and then having my fiancé sue penn dot because there was not a no crossing sign hung up… Money hungry people it’s a disgrace that they use tier daughters death to get money…

  • Jay

    If this irresponsible kid with no license was ignoring speed limit signs, what guarantee is there that he would ahve slowed down for other signs. At that speed he was bound to crash somewhere. The blood sucking leech attorney probably figured they didn’t have the money to cough up anyway, so go after deep pockets PennDot.

  • Chris Mincemoyer

    Signage would’ve been a great help. The driver obviously was observing the posted speed limit. WNEP should ask PENNDOT how much the signage is costing the taxpayer. Remember PENNDOT is not paying for this, we the taxpayer are.

  • Joe

    Give them 10 dollars and sue the kid that was driving without a license going 90 mph. He is the one at fault
    There are a lot of roads that could have more guide rails and signs but that doesn’t mean you could go 90 in a 45 mile zone and kill someone.

    • Betty

      Right, Joe! Fine the kid for damage to the roadside and for the time the DOT employees have had to spend as a result of this illegal driver going unsafely. I wouldn’t fine the girl’s parents for the girl getting into a car with an unlicensed, underage, and unsafe driver…I’d go easy on her, especially as she’s dead. But I’d also not reward them financially for having a daughter dumb enough to get into a car with that same unlicensed, underage and unsafe driver. Yes, most kids do some stupid things, but choosing to go along for a drive with an unlicensed an unsafe driver is a bit more serious than doing some little stupid thing. Some might think the gene pool is better off, but hopefully won’t say that to the parents.

      • Jen Yeisley

        Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure Penndot is going after the non-licensed driver as well. Back in 2008 or 09, my stepdad spun out on some black ice on route 6 and took out a guard rail. He got a bill for the damage later in the month..

  • pamela

    Really pendot is not to blame both kids are. She got in the car with an unlicensed driver for one n continued to drive with him when he was speeding instead of asking for him to stop so she could get out the car. All this is a get rich quick scheme for the parents. Lil roads signs has Nothing to do with it that’s why there is borough meetings to bring things like this up but yet I bet not once Did these parents go there to address something like this. So you can be partly responsible as Well for not going to these meetings and bringing up your Concerns. Take responsibility for your child as Well for doing wrong and getting in That car in the first place. You shouldn’t get anything for this accident from penndot Sue the other kid who is responsible. It’s a tragic loss but no amount of money will bring her back or help with the grieving process. Greed is not the answer

    • M

      Get out of the car? Are you serious? Have you ever been on Suscon Road?? Not the ideal place for a 15 year old girl to wander alone, at night on. And we’re you perfect when you were a teen? I’m sure you’ve done your share of dumb things as a kid. Unfortunately, her poor decision led to her death. She was 15, have a heart.

  • Jay

    No one ever takes responsibility for their actions. Taxpayers fault again for inadequate parenting. Road has been there since 1920. The circumstances and juries decision are pathetic.

  • Harry

    I can’t believe the found penndot partially responsible! Thats crazy. These people are just money hungry. Lost there new vehicles and had to make drastic downgrades .in life because they blew all their insurance money so now they need more. They have a daughter they need to focus on now and let their eldest one R.I.P but money is more important.

    • Unbelieveable

      let me just say, I watched their daughter take her mothers car on numerous occasions. 15. No license. No supervision. She could have easily been on the other side here..

  • Olive Herb

    The flaw in the jury’s decision is the assumption that the driver would even understand the meaning of the street signs. If the driver did not have a license, we cannot assume the driver had any education regarding the meaning of street signs. The driver obviously did not understand the MPH sign on that particular road because I am sure it wasn’t 90. This decision should be appealed. Of course, law suits like these are the reason we have a tag on our hair dryers that warn against use in the tub and why we now have to have our oven ranges bolted to the floor so we don’t stand on the open door and tip the range over.

  • RAM

    This is a no-brainer! The boy did not have a driver’s license which is required in PA, and whoever owned the vehicle should have been aware he took it. Also, the insurance policy follows the vehicle no matters who is driving it, so the insured has liability. PENNDOT is not a fictitious entity but rather you and me, the taxpayers who are always footing the bill!

  • zach

    I blame the parents. Maybe if they kept better control of their child she would not of been in that vehicle with the careless teen. Stop blaming others take responsibility for your own mistakes!

  • finklerdonald

    Really going after Penndot for what is taking money got a make your daughter rest because somebody didn’t have no business behind the wheel n why ain’t you going after his family y Penndot get a clue dummy

  • penny

    I would never be able to take money for the loss of my child. To say it was someone else’s fault is absurd. We each have a choice in this world. We should take the responsibility for doing what we do .. be it right or be it wrong. If the road was so dangerous… why was there no others that drove twice the speed limit and not even have a drivers license. This is so sad .. soon it will be that no one is responsible for their own choices..let’s just make excuse after excuse after excuse. I am more than sympathetic for the loss of the child, but it was the driver that caused same.

  • Rob

    soon it will be, the police should have spotted them speeding and pulled them over! Local PD – 20% responsible!

    • Mrs. Cindersoot

      No but the police should radio in hazardous road conditions and missing hazard signs. Period.
      They could also ride around with some cold patch and a shovel. Why is it the same people who make the effort. Everyone should pitch in and help out by reporting poor conditions.
      Oh, dear me, I forgot, it’s unlawful to radio or use a smart phone while driving. Now I understand. I shall make a subdivision in my garden club called the pot-holes. We will call in and document every road hazard. We’ll summarize our findings and report monthly to all local tv stations. We shall see how this new road gas tax and reporting method helps the community.

      • Busses be crazy

        It’s obvious that you are definitely out there. Why doesn’t your garden club chip in and buy some cold patch and fill the holes. Gardening slows down this time of year, even on your planet I would think. You’re willing to go to all kinds of trouble reporting and documenting…..just fix them yourself and THEN you might have a story. Or at least it could possibly be argued that you might have one. In any event, I enjoy your ability to leap from topic to topic in only a few sentences.

      • CM

        Installing signs does not necessarily make things “safer”. They are visual aids to advise drivers to be more alert. They are only as effective as the person driving is responsible. They don’t make a curve safer just because they because of their mere existence. Too often, we as a society call for “safety measures” that are useless unless we can use them responsibly. It’s terrible that these people lost a child but when we assign a % of responsibility, I would think the parents, even if they have done everything correctly in a child’s life, automatically have to assume part of that blame (when the intention is to ASSIGN blame)
        .
        “Kayla McGrady’s parents say they made their point, as PennDOT added more road signs on Suscon Road after the deadly crash.”
        If the whole point of the suit is holding PennDot partially responsible. then it looks like their part has been fulfilled. I’m not trying to bash anyone here but it seems that nobody ever wants to take responsibility. Why not hold the auto manufacturer responsible because the car is capable of going 2X the posted speed limit. Or the sign company because it did not automatically reduce the vehicles speed in a posted area? I know these are a bit ridiculous examples, but these types of lawsuits are too.
        I would like to see how many lawsuits would go forward when the only thing on the table for the plaintiffs is a better situation being created from a tragedy. Take the money paid to plaintiffs and lawyers off the table.

        Again, I have nothing personal against this family and this OPINION is not against them but it is to point out how we as Americans have thrown out all personal responsibility. Sure there are times when someone else is negligent but many times these things are results of our own actions, decisions, mistakes etc..

  • J. R.

    This is totally absurd! The kid was speeding he didn’t obey the speed limit sign so another sign would have made him slow down! umm Reality Check here terrible accident and dire consequences but be real the driver is at fault. If he was doing the speed limit all would be alive and fine!

  • Busses be crazy

    So PennDot was 10% responsible for him going 70mph in a 45mph zone. I wonder how that works. Hopefully the appeals process will discard this absurd decision.

    • Mrs. Cindersoot

      Buzzy, I thank you for your suggestions to help identify and report road hazards which cause deaths and affect so many lives negatively, but Ive heard frein is closer and I have no choice but to round up the gals in our racoon rifle club to search for this killer!
      I hope you understand pot-stickers will be on hold for the foreseeable future.

  • Mrs. Cindersoot

    It is a tragic story. Much blame to go around. PennDot, County and local towns need to be more attentive to problems and should be held accountable. There are two deep potholes at the very edge of a narrow paved road which when filled with water, drivers have no clue the craters will destroy their front end. I refuse to call. The township trucks are always out and about and the Police see these things too. If I call, they will all joke its Mrs. Cindersoot gain. I shall not do their jobs anymore. Mr. Cindersoot III should have terminated all of them before retirement.

    • Busses be crazy

      Nice job making it all about YOU. Maybe WNEP can do a story about you and all your connections sometime.

      • Mrs. Cindersoot

        Thank You Buzzy!! That’s a marvelous idea!! WNEP could do a segment about “road conditions before winter”. I would love to be interviewed near that crater pond alongside the narrow road. I’ll ask my garden club to call the pocono’s newsroom to arrange the interview. They would like to be present too because this crater lake affects many.

      • Busses be crazy

        Nice of you to allow the people who arrange the meeting for you to be present for it. Be sure to thank me in your interview. I think they are trying to call you right now.

    • CM

      Be careful there!!! You may be setting yourself up as a co-defendant by admitting knowledge and doing nothing about it. That is negligent behavior!! Why even mention your opinion here if you refuse to do ANYTHING about it?

      • Mrs. Cindersoot

        CM, not to worry dear but thank you for the sound advice. Ive called the township royalty many times. For some reason they wont answer my calls but I do use a smartphone so I can document the 50 or so voice mails Ive left. I just don’t understand why they wont fill something I can easily fall into. We can not begin winter with such deep potholes, now can we dear?

  • true_archer

    I am sorry for the loss of your daughter, but what was she doing in a car with such a loser when she was so young?
    “a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver’s license.”

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