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ALBANY � New York state is liable to a little girl who stepped on hot coals at a Stony Point park, a Court of Claims judge has found. Even though the coals were apparently dumped on the ground by a patron, not a state employee, and even though the child was poorly supervised, Judge Stephen J. Mignano said the state bears the prime culpability because it did not have enough barrels at Lake Welch Beach so picnickers could dispose of the embers. Crucial to that determination was the testimony of the park manager, who reported that in the prior three years there were about five incidents annually involving hot charcoals. In Collins v. State, 102837, Judge Mignano said the state was 70 percent responsible for the injuries suffered by Chequel Morrell. However, he attributed 30 percent of the blame to lax supervision, noting that one adult was responsible for 10 children, including then-2-year-old Chequel. The incident occurred on Aug. 1, 1998, when the toddler was spending the day with her aunt and uncle, and nine other children, mostly cousins, at Lake Welch. Apparently, none of the large red trash barrels labeled “Dump Hot Charcoal Here” was in the immediate vicinity, and someone dumped the embers from their barbecue on the ground. Chequel stepped on the hot coals and burned her feet. At trial, park manager Dennis Haight testified that it was a violation of park rules to dispose of charcoal on the ground. However, he also said there were repeated accidents involving hot coals on the picnic area ground. The state declined to present witnesses and relied largely on the precedent that general awareness of a hazardous condition does not necessarily equate to notice. Here, however, Judge Mignano said the “potential for injuries” was obvious. “The risk could have been avoided by the simple expedient of adding more barrels for the disposal of hot coals,” Judge Mignano wrote. “In the face of these facts, the court finds the state’s action in having one barrel for the disposal of hot coals in the approximately two-acre area of Lake Welch . . . to be insufficient to fulfill its duty of care.” However, Judge Mignano also said “supervision of the entire group by a single adult was a truly herculean task and, in this context, not reasonable.” Norman Landres of Manhattan appeared for the claimant. Assistant Attorney General John M. Healey defended the state.

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