Gate crasher awarded $2.9 million in suit: Legislators seek ways to protect towns, parks
HARTFORD â€” A juryâ€™s decision earlier this year to award $2.9 million to a Rocky Hill woman who crashed her bicycle into a steel barrier gate has legislators seeking ways to avoid similar lawsuits in the future.
State Rep. John Rigby (R-63) and state Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8) have announced they will push legislation that would grant the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) immunity from lawsuits filed by people injured at its recreational areas.
MDC has considered closing down bike trails and swimming areas following the jury decision in May, which awarded $2.9 million to Maribeth Blonski, who crashed her bicycle into a steel gate at the MDC reservoir in West Hartford in 2002.
While MDC lawyers are appealing the verdict, officials from the nonprofit water company have announced they are now considering closing many of the districtâ€™s recreational areas, including Lake McDonough in Barkhamsted.
â€œAn afternoon swim in Lake McDonough is quintessential Barkhamsted,â€ said Rigby. â€œI grew up swimming there. My children go there today, and their friends go there too. I look forward to working with MDC staff to craft the legislation they need to protect it from similar lawsuits and to keep these areas open to the public.â€
Witkos added that recreation areas have become more important in recent years.
â€œIn this economy many people are foregoing their vacations and staying closer to home. We really need to do everything we can to ensure that the MDC locations remain open,â€ he said. â€œWhile I am certainly cognizant of the issue at hand, I donâ€™t believe it should prevent people from enjoying these outdoor recreation areas.â€
Blonski was riding her bicycle in 2002 and apparently hit a gate designed to keep cars off the trails at the West Hartford MDC reservoir.
She broke four vertebrae in her neck and subsequently claimed the MDC had endangered people by installing the gate. The lawsuit has drawn widespread criticism from Connecticut residents and mountain bikers, who are concerned that trails may be closed as a result of the verdict.
MDC has said the monetary award will translate into increased rates for water users. The company will hold a July 20 hearing in Hartford on the issue of closing its recreation areas.