A teenage hiker died last Sunday in a tragic fall at Sleeping Giant, a ridge located in Connecticut’s Sleeping Giant State Park. Tobias Engel, an 18 year-old high school senior, was hiking alone when he fell about two hundred feet off of a cliff at around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 5. Other hikers saw him fall, and were able to direct the Hamden Fire Department to Engel’s location when they arrived on the scene at 5:00 p.m. Emergency responders used an ATV to get him out of the park. Engel was reportedly conscious when they found him. They rushed him to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he died later that day.
The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which administers the park where the fall occurred, issued a statement indicating that the incident was likely a case of slip and fall. The trail goes very close to the edge of the ridge in the area where Engel fell, a spokesperson said. The case remains under investigation to determine whether the state should alter any of the safeguards or procedures in the park. According to the Hartford Courant, five “cliff rescues” have occurred at Connecticut state parks since 2008, as well as three cases of injured hikers needing help on wooded park trails.
Sleeping Giant is a traprock mountain in southeastern Connecticut, part of the Metacomet Ridge that runs north-south across the state. Its highest point is 739 feet above sea level, and it is a prominent feature of the landscape. It is named because of its resemblance to a reclining human figure. The mountain itself extends for about two miles. The area where Engel fell is known as the “chin.”
Cases involving falls and other injuries by hikers bring up questions of premises liability, which is the legal doctrine that holds an owner or manager of property liable for injuries caused by unsafe or dangerous conditions on that property. At the same time, such cases also involve the question of comparative negligence, which is a legal defense to liability in some cases. A defendant can argue that an injured person is at least partly at fault for their injuries, and this argument can apply in the case of risky activities with known dangers. If an injured person is found to be partly at fault, the damage award against the defendant would be reduced by the plaintiff’s share of liability. A poll conducted by the North Branford Patch, while not scientific at all, demonstrates the popular notion that people take on at least some of the responsibility in activities such as these.