ITHACA, N.Y.—The City of Ithaca is being sued by the family of former Cornell University student Philip Zukowski, who died after falling through a six-foot gap in the Ithaca Falls Natural Area on May 8, 2021.

The lawsuit, which was filed with the Tompkins County Court on May 24, 2022, alleges that the City of Ithaca was “carelessly negligent” in its upkeep of the public Ithaca Falls property that runs along the top of Fall Creek between Stewart Avenue and North Willard Way. Zukowski’s death was reported on at the time by the Cornell Daily Sun.

Because of this negligence, it claims that Zukowski “was caused to sustain serious and permanent injuries which led to his death, as a result of a dangerous and defective condition of the premises” while being lawfully on the public premises.

Not many other details of the incident are available in the suit, though the suit pins the blame on the city for the following conditions that it alleges led to the death of Zukowski: failing to undertake sufficient safety studies on the area, failure to upkeep, failure to repair dangerous conditions, failing to provide railings or barriers that would prevent people from navigating to dangerous parts of the area, failure to secure gaps or post signage where there are gaps, failing to build a gate at the Ithaca Natural Area, and more. It does not specifically point to how these measures, or lack thereof, directly contributed to the circumstances of Zukowski’s death.

The action sought in the suit is to “recover all of their damages from the defendants in an amount determined by a jury,” for Zukowski’s mother, Grazyna Sukowska, and additionally notes that the monetary threshold exceeds the jurisdictional limit of $25,000 on courts lower than the Supreme Court of New York State.

The City of Ithaca attorney did not provide comment. Green & Szymanski, LLP, is representing the Zukowska family and did not respond to a request for comment.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at