Michigan court upholds release in a climbing wall accident where injured climber sued his belayer for his injuries

Belayer failed to keep enough slack in the system allowing the climber hit the ground. 

Mankoski v Mieras, 1999 Mich. App. LEXIS 514, March 12, 1999 

This case was the first time I’ve seen the injured plaintiff sue his belayer for his injuries. The plaintiff and the belayer went to a climbing gym to climb. Both were experienced climbers.

While climbing the plaintiff fell. The belayer was unable to catch the climber in a way that prevented him from hitting the floor. Either the belayer did not know how to use the belay device or had too much slack in the rope to prevent the climber from crashing. The injured climber, the plaintiff, sued the belayer for his injuries. The plaintiff claimed the belayer was negligent in his belaying.

The defendant belayer argued:

… he breached no duty to plaintiff, that plaintiff assumed the risks of injury, that the injury sustained was within the scope of plaintiff’s consent to the risks inherent in the sport, and that plaintiff released all participants from liability.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which he won. The plaintiff appealed and the Michigan Appellate Court upheld the lower court decision:

…finding that a participant in a sporting event is assumed to be aware of the inherent risks of injury in the sport, and to have consented to those risks. The plaintiff’s injury was within the scope of the plaintiff’s consent.

The court agreed the plaintiff assumed the risks because the risk was assumed by the plaintiff in writing. The release the plaintiff signed was used as proof that the plaintiff assumed the risk.


  • · Make sure your release protects you.
  • · Make sure your release protects your patrons and guests.
  • · Make sure your release outlines the risks of the activity.

Here the court took the language in the release and applied it to the defense of the belayer. However, your release should be clear that it not only protects you, your volunteers, employees and your business but your other guests and patrons.

How much business will you continue to receive if the word gets out that you can be sued just because you are not perfect in your business?

Releases are complex legal documents that require knowledge of the sport, knowledge of the types of issues and claims in the sport and a good knowledge of the law of contracts and releases. You just can’t find one on the internet and hope it works. It may not.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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One Comment on “Michigan court upholds release in a climbing wall accident where injured climber sued his belayer for his injuries”

  1. It's good to know that the belayer is protected. We take our Scouts climbing a few times a year and always have releases. We also train our Scouts thoroughly and have adult supervision.

    However, accidents happen. Last spring, one of our Scouts slipped off the wall and swung out, hitting a passerby. The belayer did his job, as the Scout didn't fall.

    For the future, we will be more careful with the public area we use, ensuring that people don't get too close to a climber's “fall” zone.


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