Woman sues after son dies at church camp

By Kyla Asbury | May 12, 2015

CLARKSBURG – A woman is suing Singing Hills Association after she claims it was responsible for her son's death.

Church Mutual Insurance Company was also named as a defendant in the suit.

On June 14, 2013, Andrew Michael Gochenour was 14 years old and was attending church camp at Singing Hills Association, which is located in Wirt County, according to a complaint initially filed in Harrison Circuit Court and removed to federal court last month.

Vanessa Gochenour claims while at church camp, Andrew Gochenour was entrusted to the custody, direction and control of the Singing Hills Association counselors and directors.

On June 14, 2013, Andrew Gochenour was one of 26 campers, who planned to go to a nearby creek to swim with counselors and they were loaded onto a homemade flatbed trailer that had no rails, seats, seatbelts or other safety devices, according to the suit.

Vanessa Gochenour claims Brad Logan, the operator of the tractor and pulled onto a public roadway known as Dotson Memorial Road and while traveling that road, Andrew Gochenour fell from the trailer and was crushed under the tires of the trailer.

When the tractor stopped, Andrew Gochenour was seriously injured and his arm was severed or nearly severed, according to the suit,

Vanessa Gochenour claims her son was transported via Health Net to Charleston Area Medical Center for medical attention, but he died as a result of his injuries at 5:03 a.m. on June 15, 2013.

On Aug. 6, 2013, the law firm of Cipriani & Werner on behalf of Singing Hills Association and its insurer, Church Mutual Insurance Company, reached out to Vanessa Gochenour and offered her $5,000 to settle the wrongful death claim accruing as a result of her son's death, according to the suit.

Vanessa Gochenour claims through several conversations, the defendants increased their offer to $25,000, then to $50,000 and finally to $75,000.

The plaintiff learned that Singing Hills Association's policy had limits of $300,000 and she consequently demanded the full policy amount and, on Aug. 9, 2013, the settlement offer was raised to $200,000 and on Aug. 15, 2014, it was raised to $225,000, according to the suit.

Vanessa Gochenour claims she orally agreed to settle the case for $225,000 on the understanding that after payment of her son's medical and funeral expenses, this was all the money that remained.

The plaintiff later talked to court personnel at the Ohio Probate Court, who indicated that the settlement was not fair and that she should seek legal counsel, according to the suit.

Vanessa Gochenour claims after talking with counsel, she learned that the healthcare lien is significantly lower than $75,000 and that special damages for her son's death totaled between $2,228,880 and $7,726,379 based upon the economic evaluation performed by Dr. Clifford Hawley, who is a professor of Economics at West Virginia University.

The plaintiff feels that the $225,000 settlement offer was not fair and that it should not be approved or compelled by the court, according to the suit.

Vanessa Gochenour is seeking compensatory damages. She is being represented by David E. Goddard and Edmund L. Wagoner of Goddard & Wagoner PLLC.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:15-cv-00067

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