Case emphasizes hazards of hydraulics
By Rick Karlin, Times Union
New York State has agreed to pay $1.5 million to the family of a Massachusetts man who in 2015 drowned in a well-known-but-dangerous section of river in the Adirondacks.
Dale Scott Calverley, of Wayland, Mass. died Aug. 17, 2015 when he became caught in an underwater current, or hydraulic, that can suck swimmers into an area below Buttermilk Falls, a series of cascades on the Raquette River near Long Lake.
Calverley, a former ocean lifeguard, was on a camping trip with his family. He left behind a wife and three children.
He had been swimming for about 20 minutes when he became stuck at the base of the falls.
Other swimmers pulled him out of the current but were unable to revive Calverley with CPR.
Nelson E. Canter, a partner with the New York City-based McLaughlin & Stern law firm, argued before the state Court of Claims and then the Appellate Division that the state knew or should have known about the dangerous conditions and should have taken affirmative steps to properly warn visitors to the area.
“We are proud to have seen this case through to a successful outcome. This was a terrible tragedy and hope that this resolution not only provides some relief to Dale’s family but also engenders some action on the state to warn visitors of Buttermilk Falls about the dangers of swimming in this area,” Canter said.
There have been other drownings at the falls, including Nicholas Padilla, of Buffalo, in 2014 and Scott Karlnoski, from the Rochester area, in 2018.
A website promoting the Long Lake/Raquette Lake area noted that the falls are “extremely dangerous at both low water and high water, and year-round,” according to court papers.
It also recommends that people do not venture into the waters of the actual falls.
According to court documents, Calverley had asked someone at a nearby museum about swimming areas and was told about Buttermilk Falls.
There were some twists and delays in the case according to court filings. At one point, lawyers for the state and the claimants had each reached out to an expert witness, Gerald Dworkin, a well-known forensic expert on drownings.
But lawyers with the state never followed up after an initial contact, and the claimants in the meantime retained Dworkin as a witness for their side.
At another point in the case, the state Department of Environmental Conservation argued that they have no responsibility to post warning signs. But it turned out that there was a sign telling canoeists approaching the falls from above to portage, or carry their canoes on land, around the falls.
Officials at the state Department of Environmental Conservation couldn’t immediately say if there were plans to post a warning sign at the falls or if one had been put up.
But local residents say the area is a known danger.
“I always tell people don’t swim there,” said Cindy Black, clerk for the Long Lake chamber of commerce.
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