Lawsuit against college related to hit-and-run appealed

The family of a former crew team member who was catastrophically injured by a hit-and-run accident has appealed their lawsuit against Lafayette College, after it was dismissed by a Lehigh County judge in September.

The car accident took place in November 2013, when a drunk driver hit then freshman Aubrey Baumbach while she was walking back from crew practice with her teammates at dusk on Lehigh Drive. Baumbach still suffers every day from the accident, according to one of the Baumbachs’ lawyers, Dominic Guerrini.

Because the suit against the college, head coach of the crew team Richard Kelliher and former assistant coach Allison Sobiech was dismissed, the Baumbachs have an automatic right to appeal. Guerrini said he cannot give an exact date on when the briefs will be filed, but he predicts it will be sometime in the next few months. The appeal was filed on Sept. 30.

“Under Pennsylvania law, the college and the coaches owed a duty to Aubrey to make sure that she was not placed in a dangerous situation,” Guerrini said. “We believe they breached that duty and she was injured. And we believe that she should be compensated by the college and the coaches for her injuries.”

Lehigh County Judge Edward Reibman wrote in his opinion that he dismissed the suit because the collegecould not be responsible for students who are injured “while going back and forth between the main campus and satellite facilities.”

The original suit, filed in 2014, also alleged that although both sides knew Lehigh Drive, which has no sidewalks or walking paths, was dangerous, they failed to provide appropriate safeguards. Reibman wrote that “a person using his common sense could conclude that there is a certain level of risk associated with being a pedestrian on a roadway with no sidewalks or walking path,” adding that there is always a risk of being hit by a drunk driver while walking on a road.

He also wrote that there is a distinction between the scholarship athletes and club athletes, as far as the college’s responsibilities to those students.

“Where there is a coach and direct supervision, Aubrey should be afforded the same rights and abilities, as far as compensation, and the ability to use the civil justice system, as an NCAA scholarship athlete,” Guerrini said. “There should be no distinction.”

The hit-and-run left Baumbach with a broken back, a fractured skull, severe brain injury and a collapsed lung.

Although Baumbach’s condition has improved greatly since the accident, Guerrini said, she still “requires medical care around the clock.” As she continues with her rehabilitation and therapy, Baumbach is living with her parents and is capable of walking with some assistance. She has permanent brain damage and poor short term memory. At times, Baumbach realizes that she has a brain injury, but cannot remember why, Guerrini said.

“If you’re in her company, she will ask you repeatedly, you know, 10 times an hour, ‘What happened to me? How did this happen?’ and you tell her, and she forgets,” Guerrini said. “So it’s a really sad situation.”

Spokesman for the college Roger Clow wrote in an email that the Lafayette community continues to keep Baumbach in its thoughts and prayers, but would not comment on matters of litigation.

Clow also wrote that a new dock will be installed on the Lehigh River for the crew club. There is already an existing building, which will be used to store the team’s boats and other equipment, on the property at 620 Lehigh Drive, according to Clow.

The dock is still waiting on approval from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, Clow wrote, but added that the college hopes that the installation will begin late spring.

Wilson David Kneebone, who was accused of hitting Baumbach, pled guilty in July of last year to the charges of aggravated assault and driving with a suspended license. Two other charges against him were dropped, as part of a plea bargain, according to court records.

Kneebone was sentenced to 15 months to seven years in state prison, according to The Morning Call.

Richard “Bruce” Wickersham, the lawyer who represented the college in the dismissed suit, could not comment on the appeal.

 

About William Gordon

William Gordon '17 is the editor-in-chief of The Lafayette. He writes about student government, law, financial aid and music. He's studying English and government & law with a minor in economics.

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