Pennsylvania Appeals Court Reverses Trial Court in Negligence Case Involving a Zipline

Jan 13, 2023

A Pennsylvania court of appeals reversed a lower court, giving new life to the claim of a plaintiff, who sued a resort after she was injured on a zipline.

Specifically, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania found that the plaintiff, Aisha Monroe, “produced sufficient evidence that the defendant consciously engaged in conduct that created an unreasonable risk of physical harm to her that was substantially greater than mere negligence” to defeat the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Monroe initiated this negligence action against Camelback Ski Resort, alleging that she was injured on the zipline as the result of Camelback’s failure “to use reasonable prudence and care to take care of the customers’ safety complaints” and its “acting in disregard of the rights of safety of [Monroe] and others similarly situated.”

Camelback moved for summary judgment, arguing not against the “more specific pleading regarding the factual underpinnings of the allegations of recklessness Complaint,” but rather that the allegations were “improper, broad and vague.” It also did not object in “the nature of a demurrer by contending that the allegations of recklessness were legally insufficient.”

Monroe responded with an amended complaint, “raising a single count of negligence. Therein, she repeated the averment, to which Camelback had stated no prior objection, that Camelback ‘knew that there was a high risk of injury during the landing process,’ and that her injury was ‘a direct and proximate result of [Camelback] consciously disregarding [her] safety.’’ She also amended the offending paragraph to state that Camelback’s “recklessness, carelessness and negligence” included, inter alia: (a) “Failing to properly monitor the speed of the zip-line, in disregard of the safety of [Monroe]; (b) Failing to use reasonable prudence and care by leaving [Monroe] to land with no help, in disregard of the safety of [Monroe]; (c) [Left blank]; (d) Failing to use reasonable prudence and care to respond to [Monroe]’s safety concerns during the ziplining, specifically when [Monroe] ask[ed] [Camelback] to slow down the ziplining machine, in disregard of the safety of [Monroe]; and, (e) Failing to inspect and/or properly monitor the zip[-]lining machine engine, in disregard of the safety of [Monroe].”

Camelback, again, did not object to the specificity or legal sufficiency of Monroe’s allegations of reckless conduct, opting instead to argue that her claim was barred by a release she signed. That document indicated that Monroe acknowledged that she assumed those risks “of which the ordinary prudent person is or should be aware” created by Camelback’s amusement activities, including “injury or even death.”

The release further reflected that, in consideration for the privilege of being allowed to use Camelback’s facilities, Monroe agreed not to sue Camelback for any injury sustained, “even if [she] contended that such injuries [were] the result of negligence, gross negligence, or any other improper conduct for which a release is not contrary to public policy.” In fact, Camelback argued that it was entitled to damages based upon Monroe’s breach of the release agreement.

After a Common Pleas court sided with the defendants, the plaintiff appealed.

The appeals court sided with the plaintiff, basing its decision on Rule 1019 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to the court on appeal, the plaintiff’s “facts do not suggest mere negligence. These allegations, viewed in the light most favorable to Monroe, sufficiently contend that Camelback engaged in intentional acts, knowing, or having reason to know facts which would lead a reasonable person to realize that it thereby created an unreasonable risk of physical harm that was substantially greater than incompetence or unskillfulness.” The court cites Bourgeois v. Snow Time, Inc., 242 A.3d 637, 657-58 (Pa. 2020) which similarly held that a summary judgment on a claim of injury caused by recklessness was improper because, viewing expert reports in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the ski resort defendant had a duty to bring snow-tubing patrons to a safe stop, failed to protect against unreasonable risks, and “instead increased the risk of harm to its patrons through a number of conscious acts, including using folded deceleration mats in an inadequate run-out area under fast conditions.”

Finally, the court concluded, “Monroe’s complaint sufficiently pled the state of mind of recklessness to defeat Camelback’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, and the evidence of [the] record created genuine issues of material fact precluding the entry of summary judgment.”

Aisha Monroe v. CBH20, LP, D/B/A Camelback Ski Resort D/B/A Camelback Ski Corporation; Superior Court of Pennsylvania; No. 1862 EDA 2019; 11/21/22