$1 Million Paid Family of Man Killed at Central

RARITAN TWP. – Hunterdon Central High School’s insurance carrier has paid a $1 million settlement to the family of an excavator killed when a trench collapsed on him in 1994.

Matthew Pfenninger, 29, of Raritan Township was crushed to death on Aug. 24, 1994, when the walls of an 8 or 9 foot ditch caved in while he was working.
The trench, which had no supports, was for drainage of the school’s varsity baseball fields.

Clinton Township attorney Victor Rotolo of Rotolo & Midlige, who represented Mr. Pfenninger’s wife, Lisa Pfenninger, said the case was settled March 8.  Central’s insurance company, Selective Insurance, made the payment last week.

Hunterdon Central Public Information Officer Sheila Fernekes would not comment.  Often when defending lawsuits, insurance companies decide to settle because they fear that if they went to trial and lost, their payment would be even higher.  About 23% of the settlement, or $238,000 will go to the attorneys, according to Mr. Rotolo.

He said the original architect drawings called for Mr. Pfenninger, owner and operator of Countrywide Excavating Co., to install the poly pipe without entering the ditch.

“The school supplied the incorrect piping.  They supplied PVP pipe.  If poly pipe was supplied, Mr. Pfenninger would’ve never entered the trench,” Mr. Rotolo said.  “They gave him the wrong materials and that changed how to do the job.”

Ms. Pfenninger, who has two sons and has since remarried, originally sued the Board of Education and the architect firm of A.J. O’Sullivan, claiming the school and firm did not properly supervise the work and supplied the wrong type of pipe for the job.

On March 13, 2001, the state Supreme Court voted 4-3 to send the case back to trial after Superior Court Judge Edmund Bernhard previously dismissed the suit.

The Appellate Division reversed Judge Bernhard’s decision.  The case against the architects was dismissed last year.

By David Catanese
Hunterdon County Democrat
April 4, 2002

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