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Injured woman sues rafting company

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Delaware County woman filed a lawsuit Monday against a local company that runs guided whitewater rafting tours on the dangerous Dimple Rock section of the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County.

The woman, 29-year-old Jennifer Caffarella, nearly drowned and was severely injured during a rafting tour on Aug. 17, 2004.

In a three-count lawsuit filed yesterday in Westmoreland County, Caffarella claims Laurel Highlands River Tours Inc. misrepresented its claims that a rafting tour of the area known as Dimple Rock was safe for beginners. She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Caffarella also claims the company never told her about the dangers associated with the area.

Specifically, Caffarella in her lawsuit contends the touring company failed to develop an appropriate water-safety and rescue course; did not provide an adequate number of river rafting guides; and permitted inexperienced and novice rafters to steer and control the raft.

According to news accounts of the incident, Caffarella nearly drowned when she and five companions were thrown from their raft at the Dimple Rock section of the river. Rescue workers said Caffarella's foot became trapped, possibly under a rock.

In her lawsuit, Caffarella claims she suffered brain and nervous-system injuries and was permanently disfigured as a result of the incident.

Linda McCarty, who owns Laurel Highlands River Tours with her husband, Mark, said yesterday that Caffarella's claims are unfounded.

"Our guides actually brought her out. There's a procedure that gives rafters an option of continuing or walking around (Dimple Rock). That's regulated by the state," McCarty said.

The company requires all rafters to watch a safety video and undergo a 30-minute training course before being allowed to go down the river, she said.

The company offers beginner rafting tours for $39 per person. McCarty said for an extra $10, guides are assigned to ride on a raft.

"They chose not to take it, but she was on a guided tour. She was told not to stand up in the water and she did. That's why she got in trouble," McCarty said.

Since 1976, there have been 19 drownings on the lower Youghiogheny River where Dimple Rock is located. Three drowning deaths occurred in 2003. Fayette County Coroner Dr. Phillip Reilly conducted an inquest in which a jury recommended a series of steps that whitewater rafting tour operators should implement to improve safety on the river.

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