The state's Court of Claims in Syracuse will get the ball rolling next month on a massive lawsuit filed against the state on behalf of 663 people who claim they suffered illnesses after visiting the spraypark at Seneca Lake State Park outside Geneva last August.
The purpose of the hearing Jan. 18 will be to certify a class action filed by three law firms, Marler Clark in Seattle, Underberg & Kessler in Rochester and Dreyer Boyajian in Albany. A class action, if approved, is a type of lawsuit in which a large group of plaintiffs can argue a case collectively.
Paul Nunes, a partner in Underberg & Kessler, said the Rochester firm teamed up with the other two firms because of their experience representing victims of bacterial and viral illnesses. "They are in my eyes, the country's leading experts on food-borne illnesses and water-contamination cases," said Nunes.
Four to five sub-groups in the lawsuit will seek different levels of compensation based on their alleged level of sickness, Nunes said.
"Some folks spent weeks in the hospital, some spent days and some spent no time in the hospital," he said. "Some of your victims could not go outside and play for the month of August. "
The water at the sprayground was contaminated with a parasite that spread a gastrointestinal illness identified as cryptosporidium, authorities determined. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and fever.
The sprayground was closed by the state Health Department on Aug. 15.
According to the Health Department, reported cases totalled 4,076.
By February, new regulations, with design requirements for water-treatment infrastructure, will be in effect. The investigation into how the parasite ended up in the water tanks at the park is ongoing, said the state Department of Health.
Wendy Gibson, spokesperson for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the specific defendant in the suit, said the state agency is in consultation with the Department of Health and anticipates making improvements to the filtration system so that it will be ready for next season.