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A Court of Claims judge has ordered the State of New York to pay $275,000 to a college student who fell into a manhole. Judge John L. Bell of Plattsburgh, N.Y., who had previously found the State liable, awarded Susannah G. Scutt $200,000 for past damages and $75,000 for future pain and suffering. However, he labeled “suspect” Scutt’s claim that her loss of congeniality and weight gain are totally attributable to the injury. Scutt v. State, 95390, arises out of an incident on Nov. 6, 1995, when Scutt, then a 17-year-old freshman, stepped on a storm drain while walking to class at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. The cover gave way and Scutt fell into the manhole, damaging her knee. The physical injuries were relatively clear; other injuries were not. Scutt claims to suffer recurring nightmares, contends her weight ballooned and blamed her “bleak” mental outlook on the accident. Bell noted that Scutt has obtained an associate’s degree since the accident and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree. He also viewed skeptically Scutt’s blaming of the accident for her weight problem and change in attitude. Arthur M. Greene of Greene and Reid in Syracuse, N.Y., represented Scutt. The State was defended by Assistant Attorney General Frederick H. McGown III. In another Court of Claims decision, the State was found not liable for injuries suffered by a 6-year-old girl who fell from playground equipment at Riverbank State Park in Manhattan. The child took the stand at trial after Judge Alan C. Marin was satisfied that she understood the importance of being honest, but was not placed under oath. Stephanie Rodriguez was 10-years-old at the time of trial. “A 10-year-old witness and a deposition from when she was a year younger might give some pause,” Marin said in his decision, Rodriguez v. State, 94919. “However, her answers to my inquiries were satisfactory, and no objection was made to the use of the deposition. Despite her years, Stephanie was an intelligent, articulate and responsive witness.” At the heart of the case was whether the State was negligent in failing to install padding under the monkey bars, from which Rodriguez fell. Padding apparently covered part of the area. Marin noted that neither side called any expert witnesses, and observed that the State did not put on a case. He said it was unclear that Rodriguez fell on a wooden platform rather than the matting. But even if he had concluded otherwise, the judge said the lawsuit would fail in part because of the lack of expert testimony on the design of the playground equipment. Alan B. Katz of Katz & Katz in Manhattan represented Rodriguez and her mother, Annette, as guardian. The State was represented by Assistant Attorney General Paula Pavlides. A judge in Binghamton dismissed a lawsuit filed by a college student who was injured in a gym class. Brian Schaffer, then 19, was hurt while playing softball at the State University at Binghamton. At issue is whether the gym teacher should have required students to wear cleats. “From the very nature of this gym class, the Court finds that requiring softball cleats would have been absurd,” Judge Jerome F. Hanifin wrote in Schaffer v. State, 96888. Hanifin said that Schaffer, with years of experience as a baseball player, should have understood the implications of playing ball without cleats on a wet field. “Virtually all sporting activities involve some risk of injury and softball, even co-ed softball, is no exception,” Hanifin said. He found it “difficult to understand” how Schaffer managed to injure his leg, “but the reason that he did sustain injury had nothing to do with the violation of a duty owed him by the State.” Arguing the case were Assistant Attorney General Earl F. Gialanella for the State, and Melvin B. Berfond of Manhattan for the claimant.

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