AP NEWS

Boy receives $2.3 million settlement for eye injury at Old Lyme beach camp

January 5, 2018 GMT

A Houston, Texas boy who is partially blind from being struck by a rock while attending a Point O’ Woods Beach Association day camp in 2013 has received a $2.32 million settlement from the beach association’s insurer.

The Reardon Law firm of New London represented Christian Amato in a civil lawsuit that was headed for trial in New London Superior Court when the parties reached a settlement last month. The now 10-year-old plaintiff is the son of Alison Amato-Terni and the stepson of Stephen Terni, a retired executive of the Exxon Mobil Corp. whose family has owned a home in Point O’ Woods, a private beach community in South Lyme, for generations.

Christian was attending day camp when two teenage counselors took a group of about 25 children ages 4 to 13, to “Secret Beach,” a rocky beach off the association property, according to the lawsuit. The counselors, who were not permitted to take campers off Point O’ Woods property, were not watching when another boy threw a rock at a big boulder, according to the lawsuit. The rock ricocheted off the boulder and struck Christian in the left eye, rupturing the eye globe.

He underwent initial surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital and underwent multiple surgeries after returning to Texas. He sees little through the eye and has a permanent scar. He requires additional surgeries and will always have sensitivity to light, double vision, and restricted depth perception, according to the lawsuit.

“His doctor said he functions like a person with one eye,” attorney Robert I. Reardon Jr. said in a phone interview Friday. “The reality is, with that type of eye damage, he really can’t see much at all, and that’s going to limit him in his lifetime in what he can do.”

Reardon said his firm worked with the boy’s parents, the Niantic Regional Probate Court and an attorney in Texas to set up a trust through a bank that will administer the settlement funds on Christian’s behalf.

“They’re very relieved its over with, without a trial,” Reardon said.

Glastonbury attorney David G. Hill, who represented the beach association, could not be reached for comment. The association was insured by the Chubb insurance company.

The lawsuit alleged the beach association failed Christian by allowing its teenage counselors to take campers off of association property, failed to supervise and watch over the campers, and provided insufficient staff for the number of campers present.

Christian’s mother and stepfather had dropped him off at the day camp for a few hours with the expectation that he would be doing arts and crafts at the pavilion at Point O’Woods, Reardon said. The parents ran errands and had returned to their home when one of the teenage counselors knocked on their door and said Christian was hurt. The parents rushed to the pavilion and found Christian being held by female counselor with fluid coming from his eye. They knew it was serious and they took him to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Through interviews and depositions conducted by Reardon and firm member Joseph M. Barnes, Reardon said they established that Gayle Stevens, the adult employee in charge of the day camp, asked the teenage counselors to take the campers for a walk while others set up the arts and crafts. Stevens said she thought the counselors would take the children to the Point O’ Woods beach, where they were allowed to play but not swim.

Instead, the teens led the children through a wooded path to the Secret Beach, also known as Little Beach, which is part of the neighboring Hatchett Point Beach Association, Reardon said. Christian Amato said he was standing watching one of the older campers throwing rocks against big boulders when a rock ricocheted and hit him in the eye. The teen counselors said they didn’t see the incident, Reardon said.

“When parents leave their children in the custody of adults in a day camp, they expect that their children will be adequately supervised by responsible counselors,” said a press release from the Reardon firm. “This case is an example of how terrible life changing injuries can result when proper training and procedures are not carried out and teenage counselors are left to oversee small children in a high risk area such as a beach. Christian Amato has been left with the type of permanent injury that will affect him in every aspect of his daily life. It will limit his careers and he will always be reminded of the tragic accident he suffered as a very small boy.”

k.florin@theday.com