McDowell student’s wrongful death lawsuit settled for $1.7 million

Alyssa L. Hall, a 16-year-old junior, was struck by a car as she was crossing Zuck Road to board a school bus in December 2022. Her mom sued First Student bus company, driver of car. Both faults.

  • The death of McDowell High School student Alyssa L. Hall in December 2022 led Millcreek School District to examine bus routes, including the spot where she suffered fatal injuries
  • Hall’s death also prompted lawsuit against First Student bus company and driver of car, who was not charged in the case
  • Millcreek School District was not sued in the initial case, but First Student sued it, and the district contributed $50,000 to the overall settlement of $1,690,000

A settlement of $1.7 million has ended a lawsuit over the death of a 16-year-old McDowell High School junior who was fatally injured when a car struck her as she was crossing Zuck Road in Millcreek Township to get on a school bus.

The student, Allysa L. Hall, died two days after the accident, which occurred on Dec. 12, 2022.

Hall’s mother filed the wrongful death suit close to a year ago. It centered on claims that faulted First Student, the Cincinnati-based bus company that provides transportation for students in the Millcreek Township School District.

The suit contended the bus stop that First Student designated for Hall was “inherently dangerous” because it required her to get to the bus by crossing Zuck Road instead of picking her up closer to her residence on the other side of the street. The suit claimed the creation of the “ill-planned” and “unsafe route” was “economically motivated.”

“There were safer alternative routes that would have avoided placing Hall in harm’s way,” according to the petition filed to settle the case.

First Student denied the claims and admitted no liability as part of the settlement.

The settlement totals $1,690,000, according to the settlement petition and other records filed in Erie County Common Pleas Court. The records, which were not sealed, were docketed after Erie County President Judge Joseph M. Walsh III approved the settlement at a hearing on Tuesday.

The focus of the suit was the “prudence, or lack thereof,” in the design of the bus route that included Hall’s stop, one of the lawyers for Hall’s mother, William Kelly, said at the hearing.

The bulk of the settlement funds — $1,575,000 — are from First Student, according to court records. Most of the rest of the money is from insurance payments related to coverage for the driver of the car that struck Hall.

The settlement proceeds to the plaintiff in the case, Hall’s mother, Jennifer M. Zeppieri, who is the administrator of her daughter’s estate. Zeppieri sued First Student and the driver of the car on July 31. A trial had been scheduled for September.

Like First Student, the driver denied the claims and admitted no liability as part of the settlement, according to the settlement agreement.

Millcreek School District contributes $50,000 to settlement

Zeppieri did not sue the Millcreek School District, though it was pulled into the case.

First Student in April sued the school district, claiming that First Student before the fatal accident had made the district aware of concerns that Hall had to cross busy Zuck Road to get to her bus, according to court records. First Student also claimed the school district was contractually obligated to indemnify First Student over the claims in Zeppieri’s lawsuit.

The case never proceeded to the stage where the school district answered First Student’s claims in court, but the district also admitted no liability as part of the settlement. The school district contributed to the payout.

The Millcreek School Board at a special meeting on June 27 approved a payment of $50,000, including insurance proceeds, to go toward the overall settlement, according to district records. The vote was unanimous with no discussion.

Based on court records, the $50,000 is believed to have gone to First Student, which used it to fund its share of the settlement. In exchange, First Student released the school district from the bus company’s claims of liability.

Student’s death led to changes on bus routes

The Millcreek School District took action following Hall’s death.

The district’s superintendent at the time, Ian Roberts, said the day after Hall’s death that the district was reviewing a number of bus stops to reroute buses, where possible, to pick up students on the side of the road where they live. Hall’s stop was part of the changes.

“Most of these stops have been in place for years, and although we will not be able to pick up 100% of our students on the side of the street where they reside, we are prioritizing several known busy streets to put these changes into effect as soon as possible,” Roberts said.

“Our heart goes out to the McDowell High School family and the family of our beloved student at this difficult time,” Roberts also said in a news release after Hall’s death. He said she also attended classes at Erie County Technical School.

“The McDowell family shared some heartwarming memories, including that Alyssa always had a bright smile and cheerful demeanor,” Roberts said. “In addition to being a pleasant person to be around, she excelled in cosmetology at ECTS as well as her studies at McDowell. Alyssa will be dearly missed.”

Driver of car faced no criminal charges in accident

The accident in which Hall was killed happened around 7 am on Dec. 12, 2022, when the sky was still dark and the sun had yet to rise, according to the lawsuit. Hall was struck in the 5000 block of Zuck Road, between West Grandview Boulevard and Zimmerly Road. She lived in a mobile home park in the 5000 block of Zuck Road, on the west side of the street, according to the suit.

Hall was the only student on the bus route who lived on the west side of Zuck Road and had to cross the street to get the bus at the bus stop on the east side of the street, according to Zeppieri’s lawsuit. The other students lived on the east side of the street, the suit said.

The First Student bus, Bus 61, was heading north when it stopped to pick up Hall and the other students, according to the lawsuit. A northbound Buick LeSabre struck Hall as she was crossing Zuck Road, police said. Hall was taken to UPMC Hamot and then flown to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where she died on Dec. 14, 2022.

The driver of the car who struck Hall was not charged with a crime. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office said the driver, a 62-year-old Millcreek woman, was not impaired, was traveling slightly under the posted 45-mph speed limit and committed no driving violations.

Hall was wearing dark clothing, according to the lawsuit, and the District Attorney’s Office reported that the driver said she did not see Hall as she crossed the street. The driver remained at the scene, the District Attorney’s Office said.

The Erie Times-News is not naming the driver because she was not charged with a crime. Her lawyer, Christopher Sinnott, declined to comment, as did the other defense lawyers in the case who also attended Tuesday’s settlement hearing. They are Patrick Carey for First Student and Neal Devlin for the Millcreek School District.

Kelly, one of Zeppieri’s lawyers, also declined to comment outside of what he said at the settlement hearing. Kelly represented Zeppieri with attorney Grant Travis.

The settlement agreement states that the lawyers and others involved in the case will not “make any public comment regarding any matters pertinent to this lawsuit.”

Lawyer commends student’s mother for persistence, patience

Though the settlement totals $1,690,000, Zeppieri’s share will be about $1 million, according to court records. The reduction is due to payments to her lawyers, who worked under a contingency fee, and payments of other costs.

Zeppieri plans to use some of the proceeds to purchase “suitable housing” for herself and her other daughter, with whom she lives, Kelly said in court. He said Zeppieri has also set up an annuity to help pay for daily living expenses.

Kelly praised Zeppieri’s patience and her willingness to learn about the legal process during the ordeal that concluded with the settlement.

“Jennifer has been like a sponge in this case,” Kelly said in court.

Contact Ed Palattella at [email protected] or 814-870-1813. Follow him on X @ETNpalattella.