Saturday, March 10, 2007

Visually impaired woman receives compensation due to skating accident

It was the state's idea to take a group of visually impaired citizens roller-skating during an outing in 2004.

The adventure ended in disaster, by one skater's account. Judy Wassenaar, a blind Chesapeake woman, says she fractured her wrists and injured her shoulders, back and neck when she was sent off alone around the roller rink.

Taxpayers will pay $50,000 in a partial settlement of a lawsuit Wassenaar filed in Chesapeake Circuit Court against The Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. Wassenaar's lawsuit is still active against a second defendant, Skate America Inc. in Mechanicsville, according to her attorney Kevin Martingayle.

According to the settlement, the state admits no liability for the April 2004 incident at Skate America.

Wassenaar could not be reached for comment. The 49-year-old woman is categorized as completely blind after losing her sight as an adult.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2006, sought $1.5 million, alleging that the state was negligent and reckless during the skating excursion. Wassenaar was not particularly athletic and had not skated in more than 30 years when her instructor turned her loose, according to the lawsuit.

Wassenaar, without safety gear, went around the roller rink once with an escort, according to her claim.

"The instructor then turned her loose and told her to go around the outer edge of the skating rink, without providing one-on-one or adequate assistance," according to the lawsuit.

She fell hard on the skating surface, the lawsuit said. She was one of about six students at Skate America.

The Chesapeake woman was enrolled as a student in the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, which was established to help visually impaired people. The center teaches strategies and skills so blind people can lead more independent lives.

Wassenaar was a live-in resident at the state-financed and state-run program.

Joseph Bowman, commissioner of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, said he still believes the students there should have every opportunity to enjoy full lives.

"They need to be active and involved in their community and that includes recreational activity," Bowman said. "We do offer recreational activity from time to time for the students' benefit."


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