Officers for NYPD’s Bomb Squad were quick to announce that a teenager injured in a July 3 explosion in Central Park was the victim of discarded “homemade” fireworks. Dismissing any connection with terrorism, Lt. Mark Torre speculated that a hobbyist had made the explosive compound and brought it to Central Park “to test it.” A wet matchbook nearby suggested the device had failed to detonate when tested. Outlets reporting the incident did not record any theories from law enforcement on why someone would have left behind an explosive compound hidden among some large rocks in the park near E. 60th Street and Fifth Avenue.
At around 11 a.m., University of Miami undergraduate Connor Golden innocently triggered the device, setting off an explosion that mutilated his foot, necessitating amputation below the knee. The NYPD Bomb Squad concluded that the device had been “shock sensitive,” exploding when Golden stepped on it, rather than being detonated remotely.
As of this writing, police are looking for clues that will lead them to the person responsible for the device. If this does turn out to be the work of a hobbyist, it is another powerful reminder of the destructive force of fireworks in the hands of amateurs. But what about Connor Golden? Before this incident, he was a healthy, active honor student. Now he faces a long, challenging rehabilitation and the permanent use of a prosthetic. And, unless and until NYPD apprehends a suspect, Mr. Golden will most likely have to shoulder the burden of his losses on his own.
A lawsuit against New York City is unlikely to succeed, given the city’s sovereign immunity and the burden of proving negligence in this type of case. While Central Park is part of the New York, the city is liable for injuries to park visitors only when the city has not acted reasonably to discover and remediate hazards. If Mr. Golden were to allege the city had been negligent because bomb-sniffing dogs hadn’t scoured the rocks prior to the explosion, a court would be unlikely to rule in his favor.
In recent years, New York City has paid large settlements when tree limbs have fallen, killing or injuring park visitors. In those cases, the injured visitors were able to show that the city had been aware of dangerous conditions, such as dead limbs, and had even scheduled limbs for removal, but had not acted within a reasonable time. It’s hardly possible for the city to police the entirety of the park’s 843 acres to protect each of its 40 million annual visitors. Holding New York City responsible for the negligent, reckless or deliberate acts of thoughtless or malevolent individuals, including those who leave behind explosive devices, would place too great a burden on the city. Mr. Golden’s — and New York City’s — best hope is that the NYPD find the culprit.
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