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Fall From An Obstacle Course Is An Inherent Risk of that Activity, And Operator Owes No Duty Of Care To Patrons Of The Course (PA)

July 26, 2023

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In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Barrett-v.-New-American-Adventures-LLC.pdf">Barrett v. New American Adventures LLC</a>,</em> the Western District of Pennsylvania held that a land owner had no duty of care to protect a patron of an elevated amusement obstacle course where the risks of injury were inherent in the activity.  Plaintiff, Courtney Barrett was attempting to navigate an obstacle course called the Warrior Course at Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (“Urban Air”) in Cranbury Township, Pennsylvania.  Barrett was injured when she tried to swing from one board to another and slipped, falling into a ball pit below.  She went through the balls and landed on the surface below, injuring her knee.  Urban Air is a franchise trampoline and adventure park owned and operated by New American Adventures, LLC (“NAA”).  NAA is the franchisee and Defendant UATP Management Inc. (“UATP”) is the franchisor.  NAA leases the premises from One American Way, LLC (“One American”), which was a landlord out of possession at the time of the accident.

Barrett, 34, was an accomplished athlete in high school in track and field.  She was also a cheerleader.  She attended a dance and gymnastics school and was heavily involved in dance gymnastics, cheering, and fitness.  Following high school, she competed in competitive cheerleading and was a lifelong skier.  She understood that a person using the Warrior course could fall and injure themselves.  She rated her skill level as medium to high given her experience as a former athlete, gymnast, and track and field athlete.

All Defendants filed Motions for Summary Judgment, arguing that they had no duty to protect Barrett from the inherent risk of falling from the Warrior Course.  The “no-duty” rule provides that “an owner or operator of a place of amusement has no duty to protect the user from any hazards inherent in the activity.”  Where a plaintiff has voluntarily entered into some relation with defendant which he knows to involve the risk, he is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.  There is a two-part inquiry to determine if the “no-duty” rule applies: (1) whether the user was engaged in the amusement activity at the time of the injury; and (2) whether the injury arose out of risk inherent in the amusement activity.   There was no doubt that Barrett was engaged in the amusement activity at the time of the injury, thereby satisfying the first inquiry.  As to the second inquiry, a risk that is “common, frequent, and expected” is an inherent risk.

Barrett acknowledged that an obstacle course like the Warrior Course presents inherent risk of injury from a fall.  However, she argued that falling into a shallow pit filled with plastic balls is not an inherent risk of participating in the Warrior Course.  The Court rejected this attempt to “define the injury producing risk in a very specific and narrow manner.”  Barrett, on the other hand, argued that the no-duty rule did not apply because there was evidence that Defendants deviated from “established custom” by failing to meet certain industry standards and failed to properly maintain and operate the Warrior Course.  The Court rejected these arguments, holding that they went to negligence principles, not to the question of whether the risk was inherent.  When inherent risks are involved, negligence principles are irrelevant, the inquiry is over, and summary judgment is proper.

American Ninja Warrior wannabes are forewarned they are willingly accepting the risks of injury inherent in such activities.

Thanks to James Scott for his assistance with this article.  Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact <a href="tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken</a>.

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