Deal offered in girl’s scalding death

Wednesday, February 14, 2007: CARLISLE – After a nine-year court battle, a proposed settlement is on the table concerning the scalding death of a 19-month-old girl.

A Cumberland County judge will decide whether to approve the accord among the family of the toddler, Heather Johnson, the Illinois-based A.O. Smith Corp. and the owners of a Carlisle apartment building where the tot suffered her fatal injuries.

The tot was scalded in a bathtub on March 11, 1996, and died 20 days later in St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Her mother, Lea Ann Fralish, was charged with third-degree murder but was acquitted by a county jury in 1997.

A year later, the tot’s grandparents, James and Jean Fralish, sued A.O. Smith and landlords Paul and Doris Lay on behalf of their granddaughter’s estate.

The Fralishes claimed the water heater that served the apartment building was set to a dangerously high temperature and did not include proper operating warnings.

A county judge dismissed the suit in 2002, but it was reinstated by the state Superior Court.

According to the settlement proposal filed by the Fralishes’ attorney, Eric G. Zajac, the water heater, made by A.O. Smith and controlled by the Lays, was set to 150 degrees, enough to cause scalding burns.

Zajac said Lea Fralish fell asleep on a couch in the apartment at 124 A St. and her daughter turned on the hot water for the bathtub.

The girl fell into the tub, suffering burns to more than 70 percent of her body, he said.

In fighting the suit, A.O. Smith and the Lays contended that lack of parental supervision was a primary cause of the tot’s fatal accident, according to settlement documents.

Negotiations to resolve the case began in October, Zajac said.

The proposal calls for nearly $150,000 of the settlement proceeds to be paid to three law firms that represented the girl’s estate. The rest is to go to Heather Johnson’s surviving family members