Appeals court orders ORDA to release Van Ho sliding safety records

Kendall Wesenberg begins her second run in the women’s World Cup skeleton race in February 2019 at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

(Editor’s note: This story was first published on AdirondackExplorer.org.)

A state appeals court has sided with the Adirondack Explorer’s attempt to review safety records related to the sliding sports at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Judicial Department ruled March 16 that Supreme Court Judge Richard Meyer — who had ruled in favor of the Explorer in September 2021 — “appropriately ordered disclosure of the records.”

Meyer’s decision had been appealed by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which had been the subject of the state Freedom of Information Law request.

The appeals court also sided with the lower court in denying the Explorer’s request that ORDA pay court costs.

ORDA representatives said they had just received a copy of the decision and were reviewing it.

The case originated from an Explorer investigation into the safety of ORDA’s sliding sports, including bobsled, skeleton and luge. As part of this story, James M. Odato, the Explorer’s editor, requested copies of injury reports from January 2015 through July 2020, and also from calendar year 2004, for sporting and athletic events and competitions that took place at Van Hoevenberg.

The FOIA request did not ask for names of accident victims, only the circumstances involving the accidents. ORDA provided records, but they were so heavily redacted they were of little use.

In justifying the redactions, ORDA claimed in court papers that the requested information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, or was otherwise exempt from disclosure under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 better known as HIPAA.

Noting that public information is “presumptively available for public inspection,” the appeals court acknowledged the right to privacy — but said ORDA had itself created problems in the manner information was provided.

Privacy law guards against the release of personal health information, including names and any documents by which a person could be identified. ORDA argued that in the small and insular world of sliding sports, the identity of an accident victim might be pieced together by the release of more general information.

But the court noted the law “provide(s) a mechanism” by which individual identities can be protected, while still releasing related information.

This is the third Adirondack-related case this month in which the office of Attorney General Letitia James has come up short. The state has also suffered losses in litigation against the Adirondack Park Agency over permitting a Saranac Lake marina and the application of an herbicide in the waters of Lake George.


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