The town of Duanesburg and Schenectady County were dismissed Thursday from a lawsuit involving an incident that took place at the 2012 Camp Bisco music festival.
The suit was filed on behalf of Heather Bynum, who sustained catastrophic medical problems while attending the three-day music show.
Her mother, Deborah Bynum, alleges emergency responders took too long to get to her daughter after she suffered a massive seizure at the event and fell into a coma and sustained other significant injuries.
Bisco was held on the 200-acre property of the Indian Lookout Country Club for seven consecutive years. The event drew negative headlines in recent years after a staff member was found dead in his tent and local health officials reported a spike in drug and alcohol overdoses each time the festival took place.
The popular event was canceled for 2014 but moved to a new location this past July — Montage Mountain near Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In 2013, Deborah Bynum filed two suits — one against Camp Bisco, Indian Lookout, Duanesburg and Schenectady County, and another against MCP Presents, the Denver-based company that promotes the music festival, and two specific festival organizers.
The suit against the town and county were based on claims of negligence in the way the permits for Camp Bisco were issued for too few attendees, which resulted in an insufficient number of medical personnel at the event who could respond to help Heather Bynum.
The town and the county moved to dismiss the claims of negligence against them, but they were denied at first. They appealed to a higher level of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, which granted their motions Thursday.
“For a municipality to have liability, there has to be a special duty established between the municipality and the person who is seeking to sue them,” Mark Dolan, the attorney representing Duanesburg in the case, said Thursday. “One of the primary requirements is that person has contact with the municipality, and the Appellate Division agreed with our argument that there was no contact between the town of Duanesburg and Heather Bynum.”
“We are happy the decision was reversed, but at the same time, we recognize it’s still a tragic situation with Heather Bynum’s condition,” Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner said. “We’re glad to win the lawsuit, but we always are concerned about public health and safety.
“To review the administrative determination [to hold Camp Bisco], we’d require a lot greater police presence on the site and a better emergency management so we don’t have any situations like Heather Bynum’s case again,” he added.
Jason Frament, the attorney representing Bynum, said the dismissal of claims against the town and county is an unfair decision.
“It’s unfair to my client,” Frament said Thursday. “The court said there was no direct contact between Heather and the municipality, even though the town and county may have known there were dangerous things going on at this festival.”
He said an abundance of drugs and drug dealers were common at Camp Bisco, as well as double the amount of fans the town approved a permit for.
“In 2011, there were reports of 26,000 people in attendance, which is more than double the permitted 12,000,” Frament said. “The amount of people governs what medical supplies and medical equipment and personnel are required on site, and is why Heather wasn’t afforded this medical personnel.”
The Camp Bisco organizers who were the target of the second lawsuit also filed an appeal last year.
The complaint against defendants Brett Keber and Jonathan Fordin was dismissed Thursday, as were claims of fraud against corporate promoter MCP Presents, but litigation against MCP on grounds of negligence is still pending.
“What substance Heather ingested and how she ingested it are still under investigation,” Frament said. “Saying Heather’s injuries are significant is an understatement.
“This is a sad case, and this decision is actually a victory for us because we are able to move forward against Camp Bisco and the promoters of the event,” Frament continued. “They’re the ones who bear the responsibility in this case.”
Jim Kelly, the attorney representing Camp Bisco, said Bynum’s boyfriend testified that the couple consumed alcohol and serious drugs they smuggled into the festival.
“Any claim that Camp Bisco is a drug bazaar is fiction,” Kelly said Thursday. “Bynum suffered an unfortunate injury . . . but it stands to reason that if someone voluntarily ingests drugs, it’s unfortunate, but that wasn’t our fault.”
Kelly said he believes the negligence claim against his client will be dismissed once all witnesses are found and interviewed, as Bynum’s injury took place between 4 and 5 a.m. the first night of the festival, when only about 3,000 attendees were on site.
“The festival was only open to a particular class of ticket holders at the time Ms. Bynum’s injury was sustained, when less than 3,000 were at the event,” he explained. “This woman was camping in the woods, and we ultimately had the correct amount of emergency personnel for that number of people at that time.
“Today’s action was an appropriate reflection of the lack of merit to the claims against the planner,” Kelly added. “It’s all unfortunate, but there’s no legal basis for the claim they’re making against Camp Bisco.”
Kelly said he hopes the claims against his clients will be revisited and dismissed by the end of the year.