My client, Kim Smith, has been given permission to sue the State of Connecticut over a very disturbing incident that happened at a state beach bathing house. Connecticut is one of only a handful of states in the nation where you must first ask permission to sue the state. It's an old law that actually goes back to 13th century England with the notion that the king can do no wrong. In Connecticut, getting the green light to sue the state is not something easily done.
I will say through very hard work by myself and others on my staff, we are getting Kim Smith her day in court. Below the picture, you will see the Associated Press story about the case. This story was picked up all over the United States.
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An East Hartford family that was spied on while showering at Hammonasset Beach State Park in 2011 by two former park employees has been granted permission to sue the state of Connecticut for negligence in superior court.
State Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. determined the state may have caused damage to Kim Smith by failing to fix holes that existed for years in the shower stall, where she and her younger daughters were showering. Vance said there was also evidence staff members were aware of holes near the toilets in park bathrooms.
“The evidence supported a claim for negligence against the state of Connecticut for failure to supervise and remediate the condition that allowed for holes in the shower facilities,” read Vance's April 20 decision, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press. The state generally is immune from lawsuits unless allowed by the commissioner.
Paul Levin, Smith's attorney, said he plans to file a lawsuit next week. He said his client was “ecstatic,” after pursuing the matter for 3 1/2 years.
“I always thought that if we had a commissioner that served his function, sort of as the conscience of the state, then they'd look at this and say, ‘This is wrong and let it proceed to court.' And that's what happened,” Levin said.
Levin said if such an incident occurred at a private facility, such as a hotel, management would “make a bee line” to apologize and resolve the matter amicably. He said it shouldn't be a different with a public park.
“When you have people that are coming to your park, enjoying family time and they're your guests, you just can't not take care of their privacy interests and allow your buildings and facilities to fall into a state of disrepair and rendering them at risk,” Levin said.
The Department Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees state parks, declined to comment on the commissioner's decision. DEEP has said previously its staff “works hard every day to protect the safety, well-being and privacy of visitors to our parks.” It called Smith's experience an “unfortunate incident” and all bathrooms were later inspected and repaired.
Vance also determined there's enough evidence to support a claim of “bystander distress” by Smith's husband Craig, who arrived to learn his wife and daughters, ages 6 and 3 at the time, had been watched through a peep hole by two men employed by the park. However, Vance said the state cannot be held liable for the intentional and criminal acts of former employees. The two seasonal park workers were fired and prosecuted.
Last April, Smith came forward publicly and told her story after learning about a small camera found hidden inside a bathhouse at Hammonasset. She urged people to “proceed with caution” when showering at a state park.
Smith said her family was camping for the first time at the Madison park on July 23, 2011, when she took her two daughters to shower in a bathhouse near their campsite. While they were showering in the stall, Smith said she noticed shadows and movement through a hole at the shower faucet. When she looked closer, Smith said she saw the outline of a man's face. His eyes were staring back at her.
“I was shaking, mad, scared, humiliated, and of course, worried about my two young daughters,” she said.
Smith later took photos of a space that runs behind the showers, where staff can access pipes, and found holes. Some were the size of a nickel or quarter. She also took pictures of holes she found near toilets, shower stalls and elsewhere throughout the park. She said there were too many to count.