Michael and Deanna Fiscaro filed a personal injury suit against the Philadelphia Zoo in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court after their son Dominic was injured at the zoo's playground. Judge John M. Younge recently ordered that more “detailed discovery” be produced. The court ordered the defendants to submit the requested documents and information or face sanctions. These types of cases are based on laws regarding premises liability.
The Fiscaro family attended the zoo's “Boo at the Zoo” event and their son was playing on a jungle gym in the playground that featured a slide. While traveling down the slide, Dominic's foot struck the edge of the slide and his ankle was severely injured. Mrs. Fiscaro carried the boy to a nearby bench while the staff obtained a golf cart to move the child to their family vehicle. The filed claim asserts negligence, as the defendant failed to properly supervise those using their equipment and failed to implement safety procedures. Dominic may develop arthritis and a potential growth deformity from the accident.
The Philadelphia Zoo has the distinction of being the first zoo in the U.S. and has roughly 1.2 million visitors each year. A ticket must be purchased and presented by each person to enter the facility. Each ticket contains a waiver clause, often referred to as an indemnity statement. It states that all guests are agreeing to “hold the zoo and its employees harmless” in the event that any injuries occur. It further explains that this waiver applies even if the injury results from “negligence of the zoo” or their staff. Similar waivers have been argued in many U.S. courts with varying outcomes.
Was the Condition Known and Obvious?
Pennsylvania law recognizes that owners or controls of land have an obligation to care for those knowingly upon their property. This duty may not apply when a potentially hazardous condition is deemed “known” or “obvious” to a reasonable person. These potential dangers must be apparent to people of normal intelligence. This concept is similar to the doctrine of the assumption of risk.
Assumption of Risk
The assumption of risk was established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of Carrender v. Fitterer, which can be summarized as follows:
- If an individual “voluntarily and knowingly” proceeds to participate in risky behavior, they may not seek recovery in the event of an injury
- Essentially, the defendant is not liable for those who intentionally expose themselves to hazards or dangers
- This protection from liability for the property owner or controller applies when the dangerous condition is clearly obvious
- In continuing to expose themselves to danger the plaintiff is basically to look out “for themselves” in these instances
Pennsylvania Personal Injury Overview
The majority of personal injury actions relate to the concept of negligence. If an individual or organization acts in a negligent manner that causes an injury--they may be held liable. The injured party may pursue recovery through monetary damages if the elements of negligence are proven. The type of duty or responsibility that a property or landowner owes to individuals generally applies exclusively to those who are knowingly on the land. Those who are deemed to be trespassing are typically not afforded a duty from property owners in premises liability cases.