N.Y. to pay $200K to woman hit by umbrella


NEW YORK (AP) – A woman who was injured when a lifeguard’s wind-blown beach umbrella “became a flying torpedo” and hit her in the head at Robert Moses State Park said Wednesday that she has accepted a $200,000 settlement from the state.

Phyllis Caliano-Bahaj, 53, who lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, said she was watching her 8-year-old son Zachary and three of his friends at the beach on July 19, 1999, when the umbrella hit and cut her forehead just below the hairline.

“I never saw it coming,” Caliano-Bahaj said in a news conference with her lawyer, Devon Reiff, in front of Manhattan’s state Supreme Court building.

Caliano-Bahaj said the lifeguards gave her oxygen and contained the bleeding. She said she received 13 stitches for the head cut and has made more than 100 medical visits for a neck injury.

Reiff said the state initially denied liability, claiming that the 15-pound umbrella, which “became a flying torpedo in the air, like a missile,” belonged to a beach patron, not one of its lifeguards.

Reiff twirled a striped beach umbrella that he said was similar to the one that hit Caliano-Bahaj.

Court of Claims Judge S. Michael Nadel found in December 2003 after a trial on liability that it did not matter who the umbrella belonged to.

“The sole issue is whether the defendant (the state) acted reasonably in light of the prevailing weather conditions to minimize a foreseeable danger,” the judge wrote in a decision that found the state liable for the accident.

Nadel said weather conditions at the time were worsening and the lifeguards “had ample time and opportunity to react.” Their failure to take reasonable precautions by prohibiting open umbrellas on the beach or by not securing them properly “was the proximate cause of claimant’s injuries,” the judge said.

Reiff said the state subsequently offered Caliano-Bahaj “a respectful amount of money and she has accepted it.” The lawyer said he believes he could have gotten his client $450,000 to $500,000 if they had gone to trial for damages.