Inflatable climbing wall case injury from a party thrown by a health club stretched the release

It took an appeal of the issues to win, the trial court held for the plaintiff.

Citation: Vinson v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3380

Plaintiff: Robert Vinson

Defendant: Paramount Pictures Corporation et al.,

Plaintiff Claims: (1) the trial court erred in denying appellants’ motion for nonsuit because a release and waiver signed by Vinson precluded a finding of liability; (2) the trial court erred in finding the primary assumption of the risk doctrine did not apply, and its failure to instruct the jury on the relevant duty owed by appellants was prejudicial; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by granting a partial new trial on the limited issue of damages.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Case dismissed based on the release

The case arises from a fall off an inflatable climbing wall at a party. The party was hosted by a health club. The plaintiff had joined a health club or employee club and when he signed a release. It is not clear from the case what the purpose of the club was, but it seems to be a fitness club.

As part of the function of the club, the club hosted a party or event. The party had numerous amusements, including a climbing wall which was operated by a third party. The two individuals operating/belaying the wall claimed they had received an hour’s lesson in how to operate the wall, including how to belay climbers and had not seen the instructions on how to operate the inflatable wall.

The plaintiff argued no one gave him any instructions on how to put on the harness or how to climb on the wall.

While being lowered the plaintiff claimed he fell from the top of the wall landed on the inflatable apron and then bounced onto the concrete. The operators testified the plaintiff was bouncing on the wall and fell when he was 50 to 70% of the way down and never hit the concrete.

The plaintiff sued for his injuries. The trial court threw out the release and a jury awarded the plaintiff $70,000. The plaintiff and defendant appealed.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff appealed the jury trial arguing he was not awarded enough money. The defendant appealed arguing the release should have stopped the suit. The court looked at the release and finding the release was valid did not look at the plaintiff’s appellate arguments.

The court looked at negligence law in California and found generally; persons have a duty to use due care to avoid injuring others, and they can be liable if they do breach the duty causing injury.

A release under California law must be “must be clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing the intent of the subscribing parties.” The defining legal issue in determining if a release was valid was:

…whether the particular risk of injury [plaintiff] suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies, but simply the scope of the Release.

The court had to piece together the language in the release; however, the court could find the scope of the release covered “events” of the club, which included the climbing wall and therefore, the release was valid and stopped the claims of the plaintiff.

So Now What?

First, this is another case where a release for one purpose was stretched to cover another. Luckily, it worked. Probably, the event or the climbing wall should have had its own release. The risks found in a gym are different than the risks found at a party, unless the gym had a climbing wall. Even if there was a climbing wall, the release for a gym is not written for an event.

Second, the obvious issues of how the inflatable climbing wall was operated should raise red flags. If you hire a third party to come to your event and run an activity with greater than normal risks, simple falls, at a party, then look into how the risk will be run and maybe the training and/or experience of the people operating the event or amusement.

Third, based upon the wide disparity opinions on what happened, there was no post-accident follow up. No one collected any witness statements, took pictures, or attempted to determine what happened. Granted the plaintiff’s version of events will always differ from the defendants. But one side or the other can always be bolstered by a little paperwork.

Taking care of the injured plaintiff is always the first priority. However, normally there is someone who could have collected statements and taken pictures.

Fourth and Last, the statement by the court “whether the particular risk of injury suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies, but simply the scope of the Release” is great news and at the same time an excuse for using poor releases. It is hard to describe the mental and emotional toll of a trial and an appeal.

However, I can describe the cost. You will have weeks away from your work for both, you and employees. Essentially, a trial will require you to hire someone to replace you part-time and at least another employee full-time to employee to replace others.

It isn’t worth it. Get a well-written release for your business, company or activity.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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2 Comments on “Inflatable climbing wall case injury from a party thrown by a health club stretched the release”

  1. A release is a contract. Contracts only apply to the parties who sign the agreements. The third parties did not sign the release nor where they named as parties to be protected by the release.

    Anytime you bring third parties on to your property you need to determine the liability issues. A waiver would not be the proper document, but an indemnification agreement would.


  2. Mitch Burgdorf says:

    If the jury found the waiver to cover the entire event, why would it cover a third parties equipment and employees? Shouldn’t the club require the third party to supply a waiver claiming that the facility is not responsible?


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