City still unable to collect insurance reimbursement

The city continues to seek $1 million from an insurance company after paying that amount to the estate of a man who died in January 2014 when his car was struck by a speeding police car that was heading to a call, city officials said Thursday.

“Evidently the insurance company, CNA, has prevailed in this round,” said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

Nichols responded after U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann issued an order in the case.

The city has been trying to reclaim the $1 million is settled and paid to the estate of James D. Robinson, who was 42 years old at the time of the crash on Jan. 12, 2014, Nichols said.

Robinson died when his car was struck by a speeding police car being driven by former officer Jonathan DePrenda, who “was traveling at speeds up to 101 mph with emergency lights and siren activated east on East Third Street, which has a 35 mph speed limit,” according to the Lycoming County District Attorney’s office.

DePrenda was heading to help another officer who had been involved in a pursuit which ended just one minute before DePrenda’s car struck Robinson’s vehicle. DePrenda was in the process of passing three vehicles when the lead one, driven by Robinson attempted a left turn onto Railway Street.

The police car hit Robinson’s car with an impact speed of 88 mph, according to testimony during a preliminary hearing in the criminal case. “Robinson’s car burst into flames after it struck a utility pole and a vacant house. He was pronounced dead at the scene.”

DePrenda was fired from the police force by the city in October 2014 and pleaded guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with Robinson’s death. He was placed on five years’ probation.

The settlement gave Robinson’s mother and sole survivor, Nancy Westbrooks, the cash. The city issued an apology to Westbrooks for the incident and also renamed its cultural arts grant program for Robinson and funded it at a $3,000 level for the next 10 years.

Once the insurance company declined to provide more than $500,000 total in coverage for the settlement, the city initiated legal action. The city sought a declaration that the insurance company must cover the $1 million settlement under either the automobile policy or law enforcement policy, according to the order.

The city also argued the insurance company’s failure to cover the settlement breached the contract of insurance between the city and the agency, according to the order.

The city claimed the insurance company’s refusal to cover the settlement was done in bad faith.

On Feb. 6, the insurance company moved to dismiss the city’s complaint in court arguing its coverage was limited to $500,000 because of policy, according to the order.

The city attorney said the law enforcement policy’s coverage for civil rights violations applied to its settlement with Westbrooks. The insurance company said the policy’s automobile exclusion precluded such coverage.

Amendments to the order are expected by city solicitor, according to Nichols.