Steven King was a 19-year old
sophomore at Cornell in 2010, when he fell to his death in one of Cornell’s signature gorges. In the darkness of the wee small hours, King, intoxicated, began to run on a path to a fraternity house for no apparent reason. While his companion stopped, King did not. He was found dead the next day at the bottom of the gorge bordering the path where his companion had last seen him alive.
Cornell argued to Supreme Court that it was not liable, as King had been “hiking” and under the rubric of GOL 9-103, the university was immune from any duty to keep the gorge safe. AD3 was having none of that, holding that “hiking” might be many things, e.g., “traveling through the woods on foot’”, but was not what King was doing when he fell, nor what the Legislature intended to protect when it passed 9-103.
With 9-103 out of the mix, Cornell next argued that the gorges were an “open and obvious” danger of which Cornell had no duty to warn and had taken all reasonable measures to maintain in a safe condition. But that is a question of fact, for “open and obvious” as a matter of law means that it could not be overlooked by
anyone using ordinary abilities. The situation here, however, “is not quite so clear-cut,” and Cornell had failed to warn of the proximity of the edge of the gorge to the trail. SJ denied.