Lawsuit Spawns Awareness Campaign

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Cayuga County will alert care providers about the dangers of scalding

By Toni Johnson
Staff Writer

When Maresa cries at night, Kimberly Seeber rubs her daughter's back to help her sleep.

When Maresa asked if she was poor because people referred to her as ''poor, little girl,'' Seeber reassured the 8-year-old of her blessings.

When Seeber shared what it's been like since Maresa was burned severely in bath water while in foster care in Conquest, law enforcement officials decided to use the case to educate the public.

As part of a civil lawsuit settlement announced Thursday for Maresa, Cayuga County has agreed to start a two-year public awareness campaign through its health division's injury prevention program. The county also agreed to pay damages, although the agreement clears the County of liability in the case.

Oct. 2, 1994, Maresa Vogelsang, then 3l/2 years old, was living in a certified foster home in the town of Conquest in Cayuga County. Seeber and her lawyer declined to explain why the child was in foster care.

During the stay, Maresa's legal guardians put her in bath water that was about 140 degrees. She suffered second- and third-degree burns on her buttocks, feet and genitals.

Maresa now lives with her mother in Mexico, Oswego County.

Maresa has been through reconstructive surgery four times since being scalded, her mother said.

Maresa - pronounced Ma-RAY-sa - also has behavioral problems. She's been seeing a therapist for two and a half years for post traumatic distress disorder, Seeber said.

The county education campaign is designed to provide foster parents and public and private agency officials who work with children with information about preventing scalds and burns, said John Rowe, Cayuga County Health and Human Services spokesman.

''If a child has to go to foster care, there's already stress in the family without worrying about this sort of thing," Seeber said. "I don't ever want anyone else to go through this." Health officials will recommend every house in Cayuga County include an anti-scald device to not allow water to get hotter than 120 degrees.

"These precautions are important ones to take for children and families in every county in New York State," attorneys in the case wrote in a shared statement.

Details of the campaign will be complete today, Rowe said Thursday, and the campaign will begin within two months. The cost is not yet known, he said.

The lawyer representing Maresa and her mother, Elliot S. Tetenbaum of Newburgh said he will ask the County Court to require the county to begin the education campaign in the next six weeks.

"We wanted to fully compensate Maresa," Tetenbaum said. "In addition, we wanted to do what we could to see... such a thing would never happen again. If the county is educating the community, they are, in turn, educating themselves. They can never say 'It's not our fault,' if it happens in the future.''

The settlement bars disclosure of how much money was awarded lo Maresa. However, Seeber and Tetenbaum did say it is Maresa's money, not her mother's, and the court will stipulate how she gets it.

* Reprinted with permission of The Post-Standard.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.