Assumption of the Risk is a valid defense against a claim by an injured indoor climber against the belayer who allegedly dropped him.

The bigger crime here is the climbing gym could have stopped this quicker by have one additional clause in its release. The clause would have protected the belayer from suit.

Holbrook v. McCracken, 2004-Ohio-3291; 2004 Ohio App. LEXIS 2932

State: Ohio: Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District, Cuyahoga County

Plaintiff: Matthew Holbrook

Defendant: Erin McCracken

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2004


A climber was dropped by a belayer and sued the belayer. The belayer was relatively new at climbing. However, the plaintiff climber’s case was dismissed on a motion for summary judgment.


The belayer allegedly dropped the plaintiff climber. She let out too much rope, and he fell as he was down climbing.

Appellant was injured when he fell from an indoor rock wall he had climbed for recreation. At the time, appellee was acting as his “belayer, ” i.e., as appellant descended from his successful climb, appellee reversed the process of taking up slack and instead let out rope for him from the top of the wall through a harness system attached to her body. Appellee stated she thought she “wasn’t fast enough” at locking the smooth “new” rope before too much of it slipped through the device on her harness and slackened appellant’s line.

The plaintiff sued the belayer, and not the climbing gym. The trial court dismissed the case finding the plaintiff climber assumed the risk of his injuries. The plaintiff appealed.

Ohio has a fast-appellate docket. The decisions are short and too the point and are rendered quickly. This decision came from that docket and is short, only three pages long.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

In this case, the court referred to the parties by their appeal names, appellee and appellant. The appellant is the plaintiff in the trial court, and the appellee is the defendant. In this analysis, I refer to them as plaintiff climber and defendant belayer.

Ohio applies the doctrine of assumption of the risk to recreational activities. “In order to gain the thrill associated with rock climbing, the appellant voluntarily assumed the primary and “inherent risk” of the activity, viz., falling.”

The plaintiff hired an expert witness who stated the actions of the belayer were reckless. The plaintiff’s expert also stated that the risk of falling was inherent to the activity and could be reduced but not eliminated.

Therefore, despite appellant’s expert’s opinion that appellee was “reckless” in permitting the rope to slip through her hands, the risk of falling inherent to the activity of rock climbing can be “reduced***[but] cannot be eliminated.

However, the plaintiff could produce no evidence to support the expert’s opinion that the belayer acted intentionally or recklessly. Assumption of the risk prevailed.

Since there was no evidence that appellee acted either intentionally or recklessly when the rope she held slipped before the harness device could lock it in place, the trial court correctly concluded she was entitled to summary judgment on appellant’s claim.

So Now What?

As stated above, the sad thing is the climbing gym, could have added one clause in its release, which would have eliminated the lawsuit or at least the appeal. The clause would have protected all climbers at the gym from suits by other climbers.

Most gyms only protect themselves. Yet a belayer is sued as often as the gym. Read the release you signed and make sure you are protected like the gym.

This was a short and simple decision that outlined the facts to support the court’s reasoning and did not have to stretch or contrive to reach it. When you climb you assume the risk you may fall.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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