$4.7 million dollar verdict in climbing wall case against Alpine Towers in South Carolina CourtPosted: June 22, 2009
Expert witnesses appear to be the reason the jury found for plaintiff; who are they?
Numerous reports are available online about a jury decision in a South Carolina case awarding $4.7 million to a paralyzed man who fell while climbing. The facts, as reported, state the man fell after his belayer failed to catch him. The belayer lost her grip on the rope and the plaintiff fell 20 feet to the floor shattering a vertebrae.
The family after the verdict stated they hope the verdict would “lead to improved safety conditions at similar climbing walls across the country.” Post verdict it is difficult to determine if this was a pre litigation sentiment, but it is always interesting to hear a plaintiff voice a reason for suing other than money.
“cited faulty design, saying the belay equipment lacked an automatic locking device that could have prevented Keeter’s [plaintiff] fall. The suit also said Alpine did not adequately train Fort Mill High School faculty members.”
“You don’t put kids in a position where their lives literally hang in the balance based on the attentiveness of other kids,” Harpootlian [plaintiff’s attorney] said Friday. “That is what our experts hammered.”
Negligent design and/or construction and negligent training of the staff by the defendant appear to be the claims the plaintiff succeeded in proving. Negligent design and/or construction in this case is going to have major affects if all climbing walls are supposed to use auto locking belay devices. The reason is auto locking belay devices have people problems also. I have never heard or found a case where an auto locking belay device failed, however I know of dozens of situations and several suits where the belayer used the auto locking belay device improperly.
Negligent instruction is always available when the people trained want to pass the buck or in an effort to CYA act dumb. Besides, memories fails. Here again, this will just lead to more paperwork as climbing wall builders attempt to prove they trained adequately by leaving behind documents.
This case if better facts come out could have a major effect on the climbing wall industry and challenge course industry.
I’ve also been told by several people that it was an Alpine Tower’s Tower, not a climbing wall but a tower.
For other blogs about climbing wall cases see: UK court holds climber 75% responsible for his injuries, Child falls on auto belay at climbing wall, Update on climbing wall accident at Wood River YMCA Climbing Wall, Climbing accident at Ketchum Idaho indoor Climbing Wall and Student suing school district for climbing wall injury.
For Law Review Articles about climbing wall cases see: Warning labels found to be inadequate in climbing harness that was improperly clipped in, Case Brief: Climber’s Suit Against Belayer Denied and Update on Releases: Climbing walls and health clubs.