Spare Me

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Young v. New Southgate Lanes (Ohio-NOT PUBLISHED)
(Bowler Slips and Falls Due to Oil on Approach to Lane; Facility Owed Duty of Care; Assumption of Risk Not a Viable Defense)

The plaintiff slipped and fell in the middle of a bowling game at the defendant’s bowling facility. She encountered oil on the approach to the lane, which caused the incident. The facility had received a complaint from another patron about oil on the subject approach, and an employee attempted to clean it up shortly before the incident. Plaintiff filed a negligence action against the facility. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the following: 1) as a recreational user, plaintiff was barred from recovery; 2) plaintiff assumed the risk; 3) the condition of the lane was open and obvious; 4) the facility did not breach its duty of care to plaintiff; 4) plaintiff was barred from recovery because she was comparatively negligent; and 5) there was no evidence to prove recklessness on the part of the facility. The court granted the defendant’s motion and entered judgment in its favor. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court noted that the bowling facility was responsible for putting oil on the lanes, and it noted that the facility’s failure to adequately clean it up is evidence of negligence.  According to the court, there was sufficient evidence that the oil on the approach was placed there by the property owner as a result of maintenance (which included putting oil on part of the lanes).  Such a circumstance created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the facility breached its duty of care.  The court further explained that notice of the alleged hazardous condition was not required because the facility allegedly created it.

The defendant was not a co-participant in the sport.  As such, the modified duty of care (i.e., recklessness or intentional conduct) did not apply.  Moreover, according to the court, oil on the approach to a lane was not an inherent risk in the activity. The court stated that the case concerned a business property owner and its duty of care to its business invitees who are injured due to the condition of the premises.  The recreational use immunity did not apply.

Assumption of the risk also did not preclude liability under the circumstances.  The plaintiff saw an employee attempt to clean up the substance on the approach.  She then continued to bowl under the belief that the approach had been made safe.  Thus, the court concluded that the plaintiff did not voluntarily encountered the risk that led to her injury.

As to the “open and obvious” nature of the condition, the court explained that oil on a bowling lane was “not likely observable to a bowler.”  Nonetheless, the court noted that the determination of the “obviousness” of a danger requires a review of the facts of the case, and the issue should have been reserved for a jury.

Based upon the facts alleged by both sides, the court noted that the determination of whether the plaintiff was more than 50% comparatively at fault (precluding liability) was an issue of fact for the jury to decide.  The trial court’s ruling was overturned, judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded.

NOTE: Determining the risks inherent in an activity is often a difficult task. Clearly, it is well known that bowling involves oiled lanes and smooth surfaces. It is not unreasonable to expect that oil could make it way to the lane approaches, particularly with some bowlers crossing the foul line. Arguably, one who bowls assumes the risk of encountering oil on and perhaps near the lanes. In the end, the court’s determination may have been focused more on the fact that the problem was brought to the defendant’s attention and the defendant failed to remedy it in a reasonable manner.

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