Great Escape lawsuit settled

Possibly hundreds of people will be eligible to collect a small part of a $1.3 million class-action

Like more than 600 others, Leonard Baker fell ill after being at the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark in Queensbury in March 2008.

The volunteer assistant coach from Saratoga Springs attended a year-end banquet for the South Glens Falls High School wrestling team. Two days later, he joined the many who suffered a violent bout of gastrointestinal illness from a strain of the norovirus later identified by officials from the state Department of Health.

Now Baker and possibly hundreds of others will be eligible to collect a small part of a $1.3 million class-action settlement reached between a pair of area law firms and Six Flags. The lawsuit filed in 2008 and granted class-action status in January was resolved Tuesday before Judge David Krogmann in state Supreme Court in Warren County.

The class-action case claimed Six Flags failed to ensure proper sanitary conditions and safeguards at the park by having improperly trained staff and allowing sick employees to continue working. The lawsuit also blamed the company for failing to warn guests of the outbreak and neglecting to temporarily shut down so the park could be disinfected to prevent further infection.

Details of the settlement were not immediately clear, and an attorney representing the amusement park did not return a call for comment. David Kunz, a partner in the Albany law firm that represented Baker in the case, also declined to discuss the settlement.

“We can’t comment on that,” he said Wednesday.

In reaching the settlement, Six Flags did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the outbreak. Spokeswoman Rebecca Close said resolving the lawsuit came on the advice of the company’s insurance carrier.

“The safety and well-being of our guests and employees is always our top priority,” she said. “While we maintain this illness did not originate at our property, our insurance carrier made the decision to settle this claim versus defending the class-action suit.”

The outbreak was identified in mid-March 2008 after hundreds of guests reported falling ill. As the cases mounted, Great Escape temporarily shut down two eateries at the lodge — Tall Tales restaurant and Trapper’s Buffet — after food workers also reported illness.

Trappers Buffet later closed altogether. Johnny Rockets opened in its place in June 2008.

Health Department officials determined the outbreak to be the contagious norovirus, a group of related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis. The illness manifests in the form of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, along with aches, fever and lethargy.

Symptoms from the virus generally last several days. Young children, the elderly and people with depressed immune systems can face more severe and long-lasting symptoms.

At the peak of the outbreak, Health Department officials received calls from people in 18 counties across New York, in addition to six from other states and Canada — all who had been stricken after being at the park.

Local attorney John Aretakis was among the first to file a lawsuit in the case, representing four families who had young children who contracted the virus. Aretakis was staying at the lodge with the families as part of a children’s party when the illness struck and saw firsthand the large number of people complaining of sickness.

Yet, Great Escape didn’t seem prepared to handle the outbreak that was rapidly unfolding, he said. Aretakis recalled a woman at the front desk of the lodge who wasn’t telling guests about the others who were reporting illness.

“She wasn’t communicating what appeared to be an epidemic to anyone,” he said.

Aretakis’ lawsuit, like the others, was inactive for years after Six Flags filed for bankruptcy in 2009, creating an automatic stay in the proceedings. He said his legal action against the company is ongoing and was not part of the settlement.

“They’re still pending,” he said. “They’re not a part of this.”

The eateries at the lodge and water park have been the subject of more than six dozen Health Department violations since the outbreak, some critical. All of the violations — ranging from food held at improper temperatures to chemicals being wrongly stored or used — were corrected, according to state records.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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