SCHENECTADY COUNTY — The Camp Bisco festival can be sued for wrongful death, even though Heather Bynum hadn't yet died when her family filed a suit over injuries she suffered at the event.
The Third Department Appellate Division on Thursday unanimously upheld an April 10 ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Vincent Versaci, of Schenectady. Versaci had granted a motion by Bynum's estate allowing it to add wrongful death to the causes of action to be considered in the court case. Camp Bisco's lawyers appealed that ruling.
Thursday's ruling sends the lawsuit back to Versaci for potential trial.
Bynum was a Schenectady woman who was 24 at the time of the 2012 music festival, which took place at Indian Lookout Country Club in Duanesburg. While there, "after reportedly ingesting a harmful substance," Bynum had a seizure, became unconscious and entered a coma from which she never awoke. She died in 2016.
Bynum's mother, Deborah Bynum, filed a lawsuit against Camp Bisco in 2013, alleging the organization was negligent in failing to prevent the use of illegal drugs on festival grounds, and that contributed to her daughter's coma. After Bynum died, the estate sought to add wrongful death to the causes of action in the lawsuit.
The appeals court found trial judges have broad discretion to grant such motions, as long as it doesn't somehow prejudice the case or come as a surprise. Versaci made his ruling orally after a hearing, and the appeals court noted there was no written record of his reasoning.
"Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in granting plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint to add a cause of action for wrongful death following the death of (Bynum)," Judge Robert C. Mulvey wrote for the court.
According to her death certificate, Bynum died from "acute respiratory failure" due to bacterial infection and an oxygen-deprivation brain injury she suffered years before her 2016 death. The certificate also noted that she suffered from a seizure disorder that was a secondary cause of death but was not related to the primary cause.
"Decedent's dire condition and prognosis were known from the outside, discovery has been on-going, the proposed amendment does not change the theory of recovery, and, given it's nature, obviously could not have been added prior to decedent's death," the court's Thursday decision states.
The lawsuit initially named the town of Duanesburg and Schenectady County as defendants, but judges previously dismissed the cases against them.
Camp Bisco was an electronic music festival held annually at the Duanesburg property from 2007 to 2014. It drew thousands of fans each year and was known for its drug use and party scene. In 2012, in addition to Bynum having her initial seizure, a festival staffer died of an apparent drug overdose.
The festival ended its run in Duanesburg after the 2014 concert. Neighbors' opposition to the festival had grown, and amid questions about its planning and finances, Schenectady County denied the event a mass gathering permit in 2015.