Scranton Housing Authority Found Not Negligent In 2012 Death Of Child

March 7, 2019
Jury Finds For Scranton Housing Authority In 2012 Death Of Child

SCRANTON — A Lackawanna County Court jury on Wednesday found the Scranton Housing Authority was not negligent in the death of a child who fell from a high-rise window seven years ago.

In returning the verdict in favor of the authority in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the boy’s estate, jurors rejected claims that the SHA bore responsibility for the death of 2-year-old Brian Kochis Jr.

The boy was visiting his great-grandfather in his fifth-floor apartment at the authority’s Washington West Apartments on North Washington Avenue on March 19, 2012, when he fell from an open bedroom window that had no screen and plunged more than 60 feet to a concrete walkway behind the building.

The child was rushed to Geisinger Community Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead of multiple traumatic injuries. County Coroner Timothy Rowland ruled the death an accident.

Chelsea Williams Olmedo, as administratrix of her son’s estate, filed a lawsuit against the housing authority in 2014, alleging the authority was negligent in its duty of care to the child.

After 2½ days of testimony and argument, jurors deliberated only about 30 minutes before returning their verdict to Judge James Gibbons.

In their closing arguments Wednesday morning, attorneys for both sides implored jurors to set aside their emotions in what they acknowledged was an emotional case and render a verdict based on the evidence.

Attorney Michael Goffer, who represented the housing authority, called the child’s death a “terrible tragedy” but argued there was no negligence on the part of his client.

He maintained the evidence showed the authority did nothing wrong.

“There were no code violations. We didn’t take the screen out. We didn’t open the window. ... And this is probably the most important one — we don’t control what goes on in that apartment,” Goffer told jurors.

Olmedo’s attorney, Gregory Pascale, said in his closing that the housing authority had a duty to maintain its premises in safe condition.

“If this window was safe, this accident would not have happened,” he told the jury. “Brian Kochis would not have died.”

Citing testimony by SHA employees, Pascale said the authority knew its properties had problems with missing screens and window locks. If the window had been closed, or if it had been equipped with a guard to prevent it from opening fully, the fall would have been prevented, he said.

“This was a foreseeable risk and this was a foreseeable accident,” Pascale said.

Contact the writer: dsingleton@timesshamrock.com, 570-348-9132