ALBANY — A state judge has dismissed the claim of a Tupper Lake teacher seeking more than $1 million in damages for leg injuries she suffered on a sightseeing luge ride at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
Sarah Bencze sued the state for $1.1 million after the January 30, 1996, accident, claiming she agreed to follow her third-grade students on the short ride only after an official at the state-owned facility assured her it would be safe.
But State Court of Claims Judge John Bell denied the lawsuit, saying that Bencze — a downhill and cross-country skier — knew that participating in sports involved accepting some inherent risks.
Bencze and a fellow teacher from Tupper Lake Central School District took their third-graders on a field trip to tour the Olympic bobsled and luge runs at Mt. Van Hoevenberg and the speed-skating oval in Lake Placid.
As part of the day, Bencze's students got to take short rides on the lower portion of the luge run.
According to court documents, Bencze did not plan to take a ride herself but finally agreed to do so after the persistent urging of her students.
Bencze told the ride operator that she was "scared to death," but was reassured when he told her it was "perfectly safe" and "no one ever got hurt."
However, partway down the icy track, Bencze had an accident in which she injured her left ankle, prompting her lawsuit against the state.
Her lawyer, Richard Hunter of Malone, argued that the luge operator, an employee of the state, assured Bencze that the ride would be safe, essentially implying a guarantee of safety.
However, Bell brushed that argument aside, quoting previous court decisions — including one involving injury to a bobsledder at Mt. Van Hoevenberg — saying "an individual who engages in a sport or recreational activity accepts commonly appreciated risks that are inherent to the activity."
Hunter did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.