Denise Spicuzzo and her family visited the popular Hershey amusement park. While posing for a picture standing on a wave runner display, she suffered a slip-and-fall injury. She filed an injury claim in a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania against the park. Judge Sylvia Rambo recently denied a motion raised by Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company requesting that evidence presented by an expert be excluded. The defense claims the safety codes the expert presented relate to stairs (steps) rather than fixed displays like the wave runner. The claim states the park was “negligent and careless” in failing to post proper signage and failing to suitably inspect and correct the dangerous condition on the property.
Rambo explained that the wave runner display did not have stairs in the traditional sense; however, she deemed the evidence as relevant because it has a pedestal-type elevated base that guests step up on. The claim asserts the step should have been coated with slip-resistant material and that the display should have had some posted warnings. The judge believes the defense has sufficient opportunity to counter the plaintiff’s assertions during the trial.
Visitors were routinely seen sitting on or near the watercraft display for photographs. At the time, the watercraft area was apparently wet and slippery. When Spicuzzo attempted to step off of the display she was unable to balance herself and fell. She was transported to Hershey Medical Center and underwent surgery for an ankle fracture.
Spicuzzo’s ankle required that a support plate be screwed into the bones for stability and she claims to have permanent physical limitations. As a result of the incident, the claim says she has endured “humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish & psychological trauma”. The claim says that the park demonstrated a failure to warn. The defense countered by saying that Spicuzzo exhibited negligence that contributed to the injury.
Pennsylvania Amusement Rider Safety & Liability Act
In 1994, the state implemented an amusement safety measure. The provision requires that all riders:
- Obey posted rules and oral instruction
- Board and exit rides only from the designated areas
- Do not act recklessly in ways that could harm themselves or others
- Do not direct or steer rides in ways that can cause harm
- May not attempt to ride when under the influence of alcohol or drugs
The Act allows the park to produce evidence of the rider’s failure to adhere to rules, which is used to suggest comparative negligence in lawsuits.
Pennsylvania Premises Liability Laws
Premises liability refers to how owners or controllers of property, in this case a business, has a duty to maintain reasonably safe conditions to prevent injuries. Traditionally, this duty is based on the status of the injured party at the time. The party may be an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. A customer of a business typically is classified as an invitee, who is owed the greatest duty of care, and may hold landowners liable for injuries that occur from failing to maintain safety.
Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania
Injured parties may pursue damages when caused by the negligence of another party. Sometimes the plaintiff will be found to have demonstrated negligence to some degree. The modified comparative negligence law allows the plaintiff to proceed with a claim as long as they did not contribute over 50% to the injury. If the injured party ultimately receives compensation from the claim, their recovery amount is reduced proportionally by any percentage of negligence allocated to them.
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