A Pennsylvania state appeals court has affirmed a trial court’s ruling that the City of Philadelphia was immune from a liability in a case, where a flag football player, who fractured his tibia during a flag football game, sued the City, and the Philadelphia Sport and Social Club for negligence. The appeals court also found for the club, finding that it “never controlled or intended to exercise control over the field.”
On March 26, 2005, Roman Davis was playing in a flag football, which . The game had been organized by the PSSC. Toward the end of the game, Davis tripped in a depression in the field, which was about four and a half inches deep, and suffered the aforementioned injury.
He sued for negligence, alleging that he sustained $ 9,058.40 in wage losses and incurred a $ 13,478.34 medical lien.
After discovery, the City and PSSC moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted both motions, finding that because the field was undeveloped recreational land, the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act (RULWA) shielded the City from liability. The trial court also held that the alleged depression in the Field was such a trivial and commonplace defect that it could not constitute a dangerous condition of the land as a matter of law. Finally, the trial court concluded that the plaintiff assumed the risk of his injury by participating in the flag football game.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that: (1) the RULWA does not shield the City from liability because the RULWA only covers properties “that are largely unimproved in character and where no admission fee is charged” or which are not regularly maintained; (2) if the RULWA does not protect the City from liability, the City is also liable for negligence under the real property exception of the act commonly known as the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act; (3) PSSC had possession of the field such that it is liable to the plaintiff for his injuries; (4) the depression in the field was not so trivial and common as to preclude imposition of liability on either the City or PSSC as a matter of law; and (5) the plaintiff did not assume the risk of his injury.
In addressing the plaintiff’s argument that the RULWA does not shield the City, the court relied on Bashioum v. County of Westmoreland, 747 A.2d 441 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000). In Bashioum, the court “considered whether the Giant Slide in Mammoth Park was covered by the RULWA. The trial court in that case held that, because Mammoth Park was largely unimproved, the RULWA should apply even though the injury at issue took place on the Giant Slide. Bashioum, 747 A.2d at 442. Specifically, the trial court in that case stated: ‘The dispositive fact is not whether the Giant Slide itself constitutes an “improvement,” but whether Mammoth Park itself constitutes a highly developed recreation facility.’ Id. at 445.”
In that case, the appeals court disagreed, writing that: “’Generally, our courts have focused on the specific area which caused the injury to determine whether [the] RULWA is applicable or not.’” Id. at 446. Therefore, the correct focus of our inquiry in the current case is whether the Field is a highly-developed recreational area to which the RULWA would not apply.”
In the instant case, according to the court, “there is no evidence of any improvement on the field. Therefore, it is the sort of unimproved property to which the RULWA applies.”
The court also sided with the defendants on the second argument “that the RULWA does not protect the City from liability because a fee was paid by the plaintiff for use of the Field.” In favoring the defendants, the court wrote that the plaintiff’s team “never paid its registration fee to PSSC. The plaintiff offered no testimony that he paid his dues to his team’s captain.”
In addition, the court dispatched with the plaintiff’s argument that “the City is liable because it failed to warn or guard the plaintiff against the depression in the field.”
The court wrote that “even assuming that the City did willfully or maliciously fail to warn or guard the plaintiff against a dangerous condition on the Field, the City would be immune from liability for such willful or malicious conduct under the Tort Claims Act.”
Lastly, the court relieved PSSC of any responsibility, writing that the facts “adduced in the record before us are not sufficient to show possession by PSSC. PSSC occupied the field for only brief periods, approximately once a week; PSSC did not modify the field other than by painting lines on it; and the field was used by other groups during the rest of the week. Moreover, even if PSSC were in possession of the field, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has suggested that possession sufficient to cause tortious liability to attach is possession sufficient to trigger the protection of the RULWA, stating that: ‘As a matter of logic, a party with sufficient control over the land as to be exposed to liability should also be deemed entitled to the protections the RULWA offers to owners who open their land for public use.’ Stanton v. Lackawanna Energy Ltd., 584 Pa. 550, 567, 886 A.2d 667, 677 (2005). Because there is no evidence that PSSC controlled or intended to exercise control over the Field, we hold that the trial court did not err in holding that PSSC did not possess the Field such that it could be liable for Plaintiff’s injuries.”
Roman Davis v. City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Sport and Social Club; Commonwealth Court of Pa.; No. 362 C.D. 2009, 2010 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 15; 1/13/10
Attorney of Record: (for appellant) Jo Ann P. Kelton, Philadelphia. (for appellee City of Philadelphia) Alan C. Ostrow, Philadelphia. (for appellee Philadelphia Sport and Social Club) Michael A. Cognetti