Amherst, van driver face civil lawsuit in pedestrian’s 2019 death

  • CREATAS CREATAS

  • Police continue the investigation of a fatal pedestrian accident at the entrance to Crocker Farm Elementary School in Amherst, Sept. 11, 2019. The school van struck and killed a woman who lives in the neighborhood. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2022 8:30:29 PM

AMHERST — A local man who was acquitted in the death of a pedestrian struck by the school van he was driving in 2019, and the town of Amherst as his employer are facing a civil lawsuit from the victim’s family seeking at least $100,000 in damages.

Filed in Hampshire Superior Court by Sabine Fenner and Angelica Fenner, the lawsuit was brought against the van driver, Richard Fuhrman, and the town, for their role in the Sept. 11, 2019, crash that claimed their mother’s life.

Fuhrman was driving the school van from Crocker Farm School onto West Street when it struck and killed Eva-Marie Fenner, also known as Marielle Fenner, an 88-year-old resident who was walking north, with a shopping cart and walker.

The lawsuit, filed by James E. Grumbach of Boston Law Collaborative LLC of Wellesley in November, seeks “to recover damages for the conscious pain and suffering and wrongful death of Ms. Fenner, and for the loss of her society and companionship.”

In addition to missing the “comfort, guidance, counsel and advice” of their mother, the sisters also contend there were funeral, burial and medical expenses related to the incident.

Fenner lived a short distance from the school at 188 West St. and was a regular walker in the neighborhood, according to neighbors interviewed earlier by the Gazette. A native of Germany, Fenner had lived at her Amherst home since 1964. 

A jury in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on March 16 found Fuhrman not guilty on a charge of negligent motor vehicle homicide, though prosecutors contended that he had failed to stop at a stop sign as he attempted to make a left turn from the 280 West St. school driveway,

Fuhrman was represented by Luke Ryan of Sasson, Turnbull, Ryan & Hoose of Northampton and was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Andrew Covington.

The lawsuit seeks three counts against Fuhrman, all under the Wrongful Death Act, including for negligence or gross negligence, intentional misconduct or battery and punitive damages, with all of these to be in an amount to be determined, with costs and interest. The lawsuit seeks a count of negligence against the town, under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, for its hiring and training practices related to Fuhrman’s employment, and up to $100,000.

Fuhrman, represented by attorneys with Morrison Mahoney LLP in Worcester, has denied the claims. 

Last week, attorneys for Fuhrman and the town sought to dismiss all but the intentional misconduct or battery count of the lawsuit because, under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, the plaintiffs “failed to make timely presentment” and the two-year period in which to file the lawsuit had already expired.

On Monday, Grumbach filed an amended complaint that outlines reasons for delay, including the challenges of the pandemic and confusion over information about the bus Fuhrman was driving. 

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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