Archive for the ‘Pennsylvania’ Category

Ejected – Man Knocked Unconscious on Water Slide; Court Permits Amendment to Complaint Alleging Punitive Damages (PA)

September 10, 2015

Perez v. Great Wolf Lodge of the Poconos (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff Brian Perez was a paying guest and business invitee of the defendant Great Wolf Lodge, which operates a hotel and water park in the Poconos.  While riding on a water slide with his companions, Perez’s raft began “oscillating excessively,” causing him to strike his head and neck on the side of the ride, rendering him unconscious, and ejecting him from the ride.  Perez and his wife filed a complaint against the defendant alleging negligent overloading of the raft.  Discovery ensued and was very contentious.  There was what was characterized as a “failure of discovery by the defendants for much of the first year of this litigation.”  At some point, the initial attorney representing the defendant was replaced.  Thereafter, some significant additional disclosures, totaling approximately 5,000 pages of material, were made by the defendant.  As a result of the disclosures, the plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages to the lawsuit.

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Let It Snow – Triable Issue Existed as to Whether Nine Year Old That Collided with Snowmaking Machine Assumed the Risk (PA)

August 19, 2015

MD ex rel Mora-Dillon v. Ski Shawnee (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff was a nine year old girl that participated in a ski trip with her elementary school as a novice skier with no skiing experience other than three lessons.  As she was skiing down one of the slopes, she collided with a snowmaking machine, suffering several bone fractures and other injuries.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the ski resort, contending that the resort failed to adequately place padding on the metal components of the snowmaking machine.  The ski resort filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it had no duty to protect plaintiff from the inherent risks associated with downhill skiing.  Defendant argued that even though plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk presented, the plaintiff implicitly assumed the risk of colliding with snowmaking equipment, negating any duty it had to plaintiff. (more…)

Iced Out – Claim by Skier Who Lost Control Due to Icy Conditions Barred (PA)

June 22, 2015

Smith-Wille v. Ski Shawnee, Inc. (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff was skiing at the defendant’s ski resort when she encountered icy conditions, causing her to lose control and run into unpadded PVC piping holding a vinyl fence on the ski slope.  Plaintiff suffered personal injury and filed an action against the resort, claiming that there should have been a warning as to the icy conditions.   The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the accident was the result of the inherent risk of skiing.  In opposition to the motion, plaintiff asserted that there were no warnings of the slope conditions that would have allowed her to decide whether or not to proceed in skiing (i.e., she could not assume a risk of which she was not aware).  Plaintiff stated that “her conduct in skiing down the hill in the icy conditions was not voluntary, and that she could not have assumed the risk of any dangerous conditions on the slopes once there was no way to avoid those conditions, namely the ice.”  Plaintiff further contended that she was not adequately warned or the pole or the fencing that she ran into during the incident.

The Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania referred to the Pennsylvania Skiers Responsibility Act (“Act”), which was part of Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence statute.  In the Act, the Pennsylvania General Assembly recognized that there were “inherent” risks in the sport of downhill skiing, although those risks were not defined.  The Court concluded that “ice and icy conditions are part of the ‘inherent risks’ envisioned by the General Assembly.”  As such, the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty to protect the plaintiff from those conditions.  The Court also pointed out that “from a practical standpoint . . . it would be virtually impossible for a ski area to warn of icy conditions wherever and wherever they may exist.”  Finally, the Court stated that the defendant did not owe a duty to provide plaintiff with an alternate route down the slope.

The Court granted the motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of the defendant.

Reckless Abandon – Allegations of Recklessness and Punitive Damages Survive in Ski Collision Case (PA)

June 11, 2015

Doyle v. Dianna (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

The plaintiff was skiing with his son in a highly congested area of a ski resort when he was struck by the defendant who was “allegedly skiing abnormally fast, out-of-control, recklessly” and who became airborne such that he was unable to slow down, stop, or avoid the impact.  Plaintiff filed an against against the defendant skier alleging that he acted recklessly and should be liable for punitive damages.  The defendant moved to strike both the references to “recklessness” and the punitive damages claim from the complaint.

Reviewing the applicable standards under Pennsylvania law, the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania denied the defendant’s motion.  The defendant had argued that the complaint lacked specificity to support an allegation of reckless conduct, but the court disagreed, noting that in Pennsylvania “recklessness is a condition of the mind that may be averred generally.”

With regard to the claim for punitive damages, the court stated that it “must be supported by evidence sufficient to establish that (1) a defendant had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the plaintiff was exposed and that (2) he acted, or failed to act, as the case may be, in conscious disregard of that risk.”  The court then concluded that the plaintiff alleged facts that, if true, were sufficient justify punitive damages.  Plaintiff had alleged:

“Defendant knew he was skiing in an area that ‘is generally highly congested … with other skiers.’ [Citation omitted.]  The Plaintiffs further aver that the Defendant was (a) skiing at an abnormally high rate of speed, (b) jumping and/or becoming airborne ‘rendering himself completely out-of-control and unable to change his course of direction,’ and (c) that he knew that he would not be able to stop in an emergency situation due to the conditions of the area.”

Teachable Moment – Claims of Student Chaperon Injured While Whitewater Rafting Barred by Release (PA)

June 10, 2015

McDonald v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc. (Pennsylvania)

The plaintiff (a New York resident) was a school teacher who chaperoned seventh and eighth grade school children on a whitewater rafting field trip with other faculty members.  While she was rafting, her raft struck a large rock, causing her personal injury.  Plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against against the whitewater facility, alleging that the facility failed to provide a river guide/instructor in her boat, failed to provide a properly inflated raft, failed to advise her on the grade/class of whitewater rapids she would encounter, failed to instruct her on how to safely and effectively maneuver the rapids, and allowed an unsafe number of inexperiences rafters in the boat.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the waiver and release agreement signed by plaintiff prior to her participating in the rafting.  The trial court denied the motion.  Following further discovery, plaintiff then filed a motion for partial summary judgment arguing that New York law (and not Pennsylvania law) should be applied to the facts, and defendant filed a second motion for summary judgment.  Applying Pennsylvania law, the trial court denied both motions.  While the court acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously “affirmed the validity of such exculpatory releases in inherently dangerous recreational activities,” the court held that there were “material issues of fact existed regarding whether she was economically compelled to sign the release” by her employer/school.  The parties filed petitions for permission to file an interlocutory appeals, which were granted.

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Can’t Catch a “Brake” – Woman Injured on Foreign Bicycle Tour Forced to Litigate Away from Home (PA)

April 20, 2015

Steinfeld v. EMPG International (Pennsylvania)

The Pennsylvania plaintiffs were injured during a trip to Costa Rica.  Prior to leaving for Costa Rica, the plaintiffs visited the website of defendant EMPG International, LLC (a Colorado limited liability company) and consummated an online transaction to rent bicycles and sign up for a bicycle tour while in Costa Rica.  The bicycle equipment was allegedly not in the condition originally promised by the defendant, and one of the plaintiffs was injured during the tour due to faulty brakes on the bicycle.  The plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging negligence, negligent hiring and retention, vicarious liability, joint enterprise, agency, breach of contract, violation of the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and loss of consortium.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the action based on a lack of personal jurisdiction and a failure to state a claim under which relief could be granted.  Following a pretrial conference, the Court entered an order permitting the parties to conduct discovery regarding jurisdiction, and the court required the parties to submit a joint stipulation of facts with respect to jurisdiction so that it could rule on the defendant’s motion to dismiss.  After reviewing the evidence and stipulated facts, the Court found that the “plaintiffs’ cause of action did not arise out of or relate to the company’s contacts with Pennsylvania.”  However, because the defendant was subject to general personal jurisdiction in Colorado, the Court transferred the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

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A Racing Incident

September 28, 2012

Ketchum v. Mercer Raceway Park, LLC (Pennsylvania)(Not Published)
(A race team crew member was killed when a race car left the racing surface and struck a guard rail in front of the crew member; his estate sued the speedway for wrongful death.)

The incident occurred in 2007 during a race at the defendant’s speedway.  The decedent and a friend were volunteer members of a pit crew.  They were standing near a guard rail and catch fence barrier of the pit area watching a race when a race car moved across the racing surface and collided with the guard rail and catch fence.  The concrete footing of the fence was ripped from the ground, and a steel pole was separated from the footing, striking the decedent.

According to the evidence presented, sometime prior to the incident, the owner of the racetrack hired the track’s manager to improve the fencing around the track for safety reasons.  The manager designed and installed the barrier “on his own” without instruction, guidance, or formal education or training.  He was learning as he went along and utilized his “best guess” as to how far into the ground to place each pole.  The manager was aware that steel posts could be separated from the footing of a fence and pulled from the ground because he had seen it happen before.

Prior to their entry into the facility and participation on the pit crew, the decedent and his friend paid a pit entrance fee and signed a “Release and Waiver of Liability and Indemnity Agreement.”  They understood what they were signing and knew that crashes occurred and had seen cars collide with walls/guard rails.  They had participated as pit crew members at numerous prior events and had signed many prior waiver and release agreements.  The evidence also showed that the racetrack posted rules specific to the pit area at its entrance, along with warning signs to both participants and patrons concerning the possible dangers of watching automobile racing.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant “acted negligently with respect to the construction and installation of the guard rail and fencing.”  The defendant thereafter moved for summary judgment based upon the waiver and release agreements signed by the injured pit crew members.  The plaintiffs made several arguments against the enforceability of the waiver and release documents, but the trial court disagreed, granting the motion.  The plaintiff appealed.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed each of plaintiffs arguments in turn.

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Unfortunate Landing

September 6, 2012

Duchesneau v. Cornell University (Pennsylvania Court – New York Law Applied)
(An amateur gymnast suffered a significant injury while attempting a backflip on a rebounding Tumbl Trak apparatus; he sued the manufacturer of the apparatus for a failure to warn of the dangers associated with its use, and he sought punitive damages; the court denied the manufacturer’s motion, allowing the case to proceed to the jury.)

In its motion, the defendant manufacturer alleged (1) plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of failure to warn; (2) plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages; and (3) plaintiff assumed the risk of injury when using the apparatus.  In support of its arguments, the manufacturer referred to “general knowledge” that “an individual might land on his head if he attempt[ed] a black flip on a rebounding [apparatus].”  Defendant also referred to plaintiff’s education in basic physics, the fact that he signed a waiver that stated that he understood the risks and dangers associated with gymnastics, the existence of a small warning label on the apparatus that warned of the potential for catastrophic injury (including paralysis or even death from falling on the head or neck), and plaintiff’s knowledge of the concept of spotting from his prior participation in cheerleading.  Viewing all of that evidence, defendant asserted that “‘common sense’ would have informed an individual that he or she was risking landing on their head by using the [apparatus], and, as such, [defendant] had no legal duty to warn Plaintiff.”

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Wreck-less Behavior

July 20, 2012

Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corporation (Pennsylvania)
(A snow tuber involved in a collision sued a ski resort for negligence and reckless conduct;  the trial court granted the defendant’s motion, dismissing the entire action based on the waiver and release signed by the plaintiff; the decision was overturned on appeal as to the reckless conduct allegations.)

The plaintiff was participating in snow tubing activities at the defendant’s ski resort.  On her fifth run of the day, she was struck by another participant coming down the run.  She was also narrowly missed by others.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the ski resort, which filed a motion for summary judgment based upon a pre-printed release form that plaintiff had signed prior to participation.  The release applied to all liability that was “the result of negligence or any other improper conduct on the part of the snowtubing facility.”

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Risks of Tackle Football Under Review

September 17, 2010

Betts v. New Castle Youth Development Center (Pennsylvania)
(17-year-old suffers spinal cord injury while playing “pick-up” football at a government youth development center; the center and its employees are found immune under the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution.)

The 17-year-old plaintiff severely injured himself while attempting to make a tackle in a “pick up” tackle football game without any pads, helmets, or other safety gear. He thereafter sued the New Castle Youth Development Center (a facility that houses youths that have been adjudicated delinquent and committed to the state’s care) and several members of its staff, alleging that his rights were violated under the Eighth Amendment (prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment”) and Fourteenth Amendment (deprivation of substantive due process) of the United States Constitution. The evidence indicated that immediately after the incident, an employee of the facility asked the plaintiff to tell authorities that he was playing touch football at the time of the injury rather than tackle football. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment contending that they were immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment and the United States District Court agreed, finding that the facility was an administrative agency “without existence apart from the Commonwealth.” As for the claims against the individual employees, the District Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show a “substantial risk of serious harm” and “deliberate indifference to that risk.” The court stated that the challenged behavior of allowing the youths to play tackle football without equipment “did not shock the conscience.” The plaintiff appealed and the Court of Appeal affirmed the District Court’s decision.

NOTE: In ruling against the plaintiff on the Eighth Amendment claim, the court included the following notable quotable: “Life is fraught with risk of serious harm and the sports world is no exception.” The discussion by the Court of Appeal in terms of the risk evaluation of tackle football is quite interesting. Citing past incidents of publicized spinal cord injuries, the plaintiff asserted that the risk of serious harm inherent in playing tackle football without equipment was “obvious.” However, the Court of Appeal stated that the plaintiff’s evidence shed “no light on the frequency or likelihood of such injuries” and did not mean that there was a “substantial risk.” The Court concluded that there was no “evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that serious injury is a common or likely occurrence in tackle football games.” The Court also referred to the fact that there had been no prior reported injuries as a result of tackle football games at the facility, supporting the conclusion that there could be no deliberate indifference to a serious risk on the part of the facility or its employees.