Lyme Disease Lawsuit Seeks $41 Million For Teen
It was 20 years ago that Lyme disease became an issue in Connecticut courts as well as in the medical community. In May 1993, an Old Saybrook woman secured the state's first medical malpractice settlement against doctors for misdiagnosis of the tick-borne disease. The then-30-year-old woman, who claimed she was left with memory loss, chronic pain that forced her into a wheelchair, and other neurological damage, collected $350,000.
The stakes are even higher in the most recent Connecticut Lyme disease case. Two New York parents, Abby Horowitz and Joseph Sierzputowski, have filed suit on behalf of their daughter against a Litchfield summer camp, seeking $41.75 million in damages.
Attorney Antonio Ponvert III, of Bridgeport-based Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Connecticut against YMCA Camp Mohawk Inc., which operates the YMCA Camp Mohawk for Girls in Litchfield. The lawsuit alleges negligence and medical negligence.
More than two years after the camp experience, Ponvert said former camper Ariana Sierzputowski continues to endure cognitive impairment, neurological damage, joint pain, burning sensations in her skin, muscle spasms, nausea, and difficulty breathing.
As a result, the lawsuit notes, Ariana missed 52 days of 10th grade and 45 days of 11th grade during the first semester. She was unable to attend school at all in the second semester of her junior year. She is currently completing her senior year at home. Her chances of being accepted to a college suited to accommodate her illness has been "irreparably complicated," her attorney said.
In recent years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a concerted effort to raise awareness of the illness named for the Connecticut shoreline town. This past August, the CDC estimated that about 300,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with Lyme disease. That number is 10 times higher than the number of cases actually reported to the CDC.
The CDC has long linked summer camps with Lyme disease; an in-depth 1995 report by the agency chronicled an outbreak at a Maryland camp. As early as the 1980s, camps began sending out brochures to parents and campers, providing training sessions for counselors and staff, more strictly enforcing dress codes and even eliminating some nature programs and hikes. These days, some public health experts are even advising parents to treat children's clothing with a tick-killing chemical known as permethrin before sending them off to camp.
Ponvert said YMCA Camp Mohawk distributed to parents a handbook which acknowledged that children would be in places where they might encounter ticks. To prevent Lyme disease, the camp said it sponsored a "four-stage program of precautions." That included notifying campers involved in activities outside of mowed areas to wear appropriate clothing, such as long pants and sneakers, and to apply insect repellant to exposed skin. Counselors also were supposed to be watchful for signs of tick bites.
"Tragically, Camp Mohawk failed to follow even its own written promises to monitor and protect the minor children in its care, and as a result, Ariana sustained catastrophic and permanent injuries," said Ponvert.
Ponvert said that about a week into Ariana's camp visit in the summer of 2011, an enlarged deer tick attached itself to the 14-year-old girl's upper arm in plain sight. Ponvert said Ariana was never told to wear tick protective clothing nor was she consistently reminded to use insect repellant.