The danger posed by a rocky gorge in a state park is so “open and obvious” that the state was under no legal obligation to warn patrons of the consequences of falling in it, a Court of Claims judge determined in dismissing the claim of an injured hiker. Judge Christopher McCarthy (See Profile) wrote from Albany in Panebianco v. State, 2012-040-100, that to “erect barriers or to clutter the area with superfluous warning signs about the manifest danger present, would serve only to mar the dramatic natural grandeur of the gorge that is one of the chief attractions that draws patrons to the Park.”
The judge dismissed the claim of Nicole Panebianco, 14, for the 2007 fall she took in the gorge at Chittenango Falls State Park in Cazenovia. Park police estimated she fell 36 feet. She acknowledged straying from the trail while on a middle school class trip and fell as she tried to find a “shortcut” to the bottom of the gorge.
McCarthy noted that a sign in a tree warned patrons “NO TRESPASSING FOR ANY PURPOSE WHATSOEVER” and that the land was off-limits to the public. Citing a 1950 Court of Claims case in Pope v. State, 198 MIsc 31, the judge said the state is “not required to maintain its parks in such condition that its patrons may wander at will over each and every portion thereof.”