In mid-May, a Connecticut jury awarded $2.9 million to Maribeth Blonski, 43, for injuries sustained after she crashed her mountain bike into a large, obvious, yellow gate at the West Hartford Reservoir in 2002. In response, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) is considering closing its gates to all recreational activities to avoid potential future lawsuits and higher insurance premiums.
The MDC is a non-profit municipal corporation created in 1929. It owns several recreation areas, including the West Hartford Reservoir, which the MDC itself calls a “nature lovers paradise.”
Blonski, from Wethersfield and Rocky Hill, formerly hosted a public access television program about mountain biking. She publicly commented that at the time of the accident her head was down and she did not see the gate until she was only three feet away. Court documents indicate she was riding between 20 and 30 mph. An expert witness noted skid marks 20 feet from the gate, and that she was riding in the wrong direction.
The MDC argued the accident was a result of Blonski’s own negligence and that as a political subdivision of the state, it is immune from such lawsuits.
Nevertheless, after a complex legal analysis involving Connecticut’s Recreational Liability Statute and definitions of “municipal corporations,” “government functions,” “corporate profits,” and “proprietary functions,” the judge determined that the MDC was notimmune from liability. The jury then decided the rider was 30% at fault and that the MDC was 70% at fault for not having signs and warnings to make riders aware of the gate that was present and closed for most of 30 years.
Since the jury announced its decision, the MDC has entered a motion to set aside the verdict. Opposition to closing the West Hartford reservoir has become vocal. West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka and town councilor Joseph Verrengia will introduce a resolution calling for the MDC not to close its reservoirs, and State Rep. David Baram said he will propose legislation that will stop future lawsuits against the Metropolitan District Commission.
Additionally, a public meeting on this topic will be held Tuesday, July 20th at 5:30 P.M. in the Auditorium of the Town Hall in West Hartford. If you appreciate the West Hartford Reservoir, it’s important that show up and say so.