Come New Year’s Day, Christopher Kraft will take the bench as one of two Saugerties town justices, overseeing vehicle and traffic matters, small claims, evictions, civil matters and criminal offenses for the next four years.
Two weeks later, on Jan. 14, his wife’s lawsuit in the state Supreme Court against the town he works for will go to trial — if the two parties don’t agree on a monetary settlement beforehand. The Krafts allege that their son was permanently disfigured in a 2016 mishap at Cantine Field due to, the suit charges, the negligence of several town-affiliated parties. They are asking for a settlement of $125,000.
Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. said that the town has been sued “seven or eight times” this year, primarily for injuries sustained in minor accidents, including slip-and-fall accidents “at the library and other places.” To his knowledge, this is the first time that an incoming town justice has sued the town.
“Anything that’s public the voters should be aware of. I don’t know if there was an opportunity for this to be part of that dialogue,” said Costello when asked whether the town should have told voters about the lawsuit prior to the Nov. 6 election, where Kraft beat Will Myers.
“There’s nothing available to us that we could distribute, and I don’t know if that would be appropriate or inappropriate either,” said Costello. “Just because a lawsuit exists doesn’t mean it has merit. I don’t know if people should develop their own opinion based on my opinion on [the validity of the lawsuit].”
When approached for comment, several town council members, as well as Town Attorney John Greco, all insisted that they were only made aware of the suit during an executive session at a Nov. 28 town board meeting, when the council reviewed a letter from the town’s insurance provider regarding the case. Publicly available court papers show that litigation has been ongoing since March 2017.
“From our perspective, the only documentation we’ve been able to find here is a 2016 notice of claim and then a recent notification from the attorney, an informative thing,” said Costello. “That’s what I shared with the board. Those folks had no knowledge until I provided them information of this.”
The incident took place April 30, 2016. According to the complaint filed by Hope Kraft in March of last year against the Town of Saugerties and Kenbenco Inc., [doing business as] Benson Steel Fabricators, the Krafts’ child was playing on the playground at Cantine Field at the hour of 9 p.m. Court papers allege that a pallet topped with sheets of steel and metal wiring had been placed by the steel company “adjacent to the playground.” During his playtime, the child sustained a “severe, deep laceration” to his right lower leg that evening, which led to his hospitalization, a depleted range of motion and scarring. The documents, drafted by attorney Alfred Mainetti, assert that the child was not at all negligent, and that fault lies with the town and the steel company they contracted. Although a summons was initially issued to J. Mullen and Sons, Inc., the action against Mullen was discontinued in June of last year.
Documents detailing the discovery period of the dispute said that the young defendant underwent plastic surgery on his injured leg in March 2018.
It’s unclear whether the town has reached a settlement that would prevent the case being tried before a jury — according to court papers, a settlement conference was called four to six weeks before the 14th.
“I was under the impression that it was just a recent notice of claim — I only heard about it one or two weeks ago at the most,” said Greco. “I was told, and I’ve never seen anything on it, but I was told that it had something to do with the playground. While the ultimate responsibility for representing the town lies with the attorneys chosen by the insurance carrier, I still like to be aware of what’s going on and, if appropriate to provide some input.”
Greco said any settlement would be paid for through the town’s insurance carrier at no cost to the taxpayer. According to Town Parks and Buildings Superintendent Greg Chorvas, insurance agents are still carrying out an investigation in connection with the lawsuit.
Both Mainetti and the attorney representing the town, Judith A. Waye of Drake and Loeb, declined to comment.