Break a Leg

by

 Rachal v. O’Neil (Rhode Island)
(12 Year Old Breaks Leg at Skatepark; Statute of Limitations Tolled; Motion for Summary Judgment Procedurally Premature)

A 12 year old boy fractured his leg while dropping into a half pipe at an indoor skate park.  Nearly two years after the incident, the minor’s parents filed a lawsuit against the skate park and the property owner.  More than a year later, the parents sought to amend the complaint to add a corporate defendant and substitute an insurer for an individual defendant who had filed for bankruptcy.  The amended complaint also added two causes of action.  The motion to amend was denied based on the expiration of the statute of limitations despite a statute tolling the statute of limitation for a minor until the minor reaches the age of 18.  Alternatively, the court granted the defendants motion for summary judmgent based upon the doctrine of assumption of the risk.  The parents appealed those decisions.

On appeal, the court reversed the denial of the motion to amend finding that the statute tolled the limitations period until the minor turned 18, preserving his right to pursue an action against the added defendants.  The filing of the lawsuit had not waived the protections to the minor offered by the statute. 

With regard to the motion for summary judgment, the court held that the lower court’s ruling was procedurally improper in light of the pending motion to amend.  The court indicated that it was not reaching the merits of the assumption of the risk legal merits, leaving open the opportunity for the defendants to file the motion for summary judgment anew.  The ruling on the motion for summary judgment as to the individual land owner (no liability due to the fact that he was a commercial landlord and owed not duty of care) was upheld.  That portion of the motion for summary judgment had not been challenged by the plaintiffs.

NOTE: It does not appear that there was a waiver and release or express assumption of the risk agreement signed by the minor or his parents. Perhaps such an agreement would have been effective to preclude negligence liability under Rhode Island law. There is little or no published case law in Rhode Island dealing with the issue of waiver and release agreements in the context of sports and recreation. There have recently been some published opinions in New Jersey attacking minor waiver and release agreements in the context of skate parks.

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