Archive for the ‘Sledding’ Category

No Brakes – Village Not Responsible for Injuries to Woman Injured at the Bottom of Sledding Hill (NY)

June 24, 2015

Vannatta v. Village of Otisville (New York)

A woman was standing at the bottom of a hill in an area of village-owned park.  The area was not maintained by the village and was left in its natural state.  The hill had been used for sledding for approximately 50 years, and the woman had walked with her son to the hill to take him sledding.  As she was standing at the bottom of the hill, she was struck by someone coming down the hill.  She filed and action against the village claiming that it “failed to install and maintain proper signage or to employ personnel to prevent [or] safely restrict access to and use of the park and hill or to warn users, including pedestrians such as the Plaintiff, of dangers to such pedestrian users inherent in or incident to the use of the park and hill by others who may be using the park and hill for sleigh riding or similar recreational activities.”

The defendant moved for summary judgment under the New York General Obligations Law Section 9-103, which provides immunity “to private as well as government landowners against claims for ordinary negligence brought by members of the public who come on their property to engage in certain enumerated activities where the land is suitable for those activities.”  The trial court granted the motion and the plaintiff appealed.  On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court agreed that the statute applied and affirmed the trial court ruling, entering judgment for the defendant.

Wipeout – Sledding Spectator at Birthday Party Assumed risk of Bring Struck (NY)

June 8, 2015

Photo by Tony Fischer (no changes made)

 

Savage v. Brown (New York)

The plaintiff was one of about 15 guests invited to a birthday party held for defendant Tracy Brown (“Tracy”).  The guests were invited to participate in snow sledding at the party.  Plaintiff was standing on the side of the hill watching other attendees sledding when she was struck by a sled carrying Tracy and another guest.  Plaintiff sued Tracy, Tracy’s mother, and the property owner for negligence.  The defendants moved for summary judgment based on the doctrine of assumption of the risk.  Alternatively, the property owner contended that it was entitled to protection of the state’s recreational immunity statute.

The trial court denied the defendants’ motions, and the defendants appealed.  The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court reversed the trial court decisions and entered judgment in favor of the defendants.  The Court compared the plaintiff to a spectator at other sporting activities who assume the risk of being struck, such as a spectator at a baseball game.  The Court concluded that by standing on the side of the hill while watching other people sledding, plaintiff assumed the risk of being struck by a sled.”  Plaintiff testified that she knew the sleds were moving very fast, and she had “observed someone else at the party lose control of her sled and crash into a snow bank, and she saw a sled strike another person.”  Plaintiff’s only argument was that “she did not assume the risk of being struck by a sled because she was standing off to the side of the hill in an area where sleds were unlikely to go.”  However, the Court noted that the evidence showed that the sled turned at the very end of the run and that plaintiff did not have any time to react to it.

In light of the Court’s decision based on assumption of risk, the Court noted that it need not address the applicability of the recreational immunity statute.

Root of the Problem

August 3, 2012

Connelly v. City of Omaha (Nebraska)
(Children were injured while sledding at a public park when they struck a tree, and their parents filed an action agains the city for negligence; liability was imposed against the city for failing to remedy an unreasonable risk of harm.)

The Nebraska Supreme Court determined that the City of Omaha should have realized that the trees in the area of the park used by the public for sledding posed an unreasonable risk of danger.  Moreover, the Court explained that the city should have expected that lawful visitors to that area of the park for sledding would fail to protect themselves against the danger posed by trees in the area.  Key facts in the litigation revolved around the city’s efforts to restore and renovate the subject park where the incident occurred about 10 year prior to the incident.  The city held public hearing opportunities, and issues relating to “sledding opportunities” were discussed in detail.  City officials also specifically debated issues regarding the placement of trees and how such placement could affect the sledding activities.  Several years later, many trees were planted at the park in an area previously identified as the location for sledding.  There was also an indication of prior similar incidents in the area.

The verdict from a bench trial was affirmed, and the children and parents were awarded damages.  The damages of all parties were subject to damage caps pursuant to Nebraska’s statutory scheme limiting the liability exposure of political subdivisions.

NOTE: Cases like this are a reason that government entities are hesitant to fully embrace recreational activities on public lands.  It ia also a lesson to government entities to carefully select their words while making a public record on issues relating to potentially dangerous conditions on public lands.  Unfortunately, the impact of cases like this extends far beyond these parties and the City of Omaha.