Collecting accident reports without doing something with the reports guarantees you will lose a lawsuit and in this case possibly for gross negligence.Posted: May 4, 2020
Climbing gym had a collection of accident reports that were based on the same set of facts. Failure to act on the reports and solve the problem was enough proof for the Utah appellate court to hold the actions of the defendant gym were possibly grossly negligent.
State: Utah; Court of Appeals of Utah
Plaintiff: Scott Howe
Defendant: Momentum LLC
Plaintiff Claims: Momentum was grossly negligent. He alleged that Momentum, “with a knowing and reckless indifference and disregard for the safety of [Howe] and other members of [Momentum], concealed, or caused to be concealed, the defects in their floor padding by placing mats over the defective area
Defendant Defenses: the actions of the defendant did not rise to the level of gross negligence.
Holding: For the Plaintiff
Incident and Accident reports that have not been acted on and the issues that caused the accidents which had not been fixed, were proof that the defendant climbing gym possibly acted in a grossly negligent way.
Momentum is an indoor-climbing facility with a separate area for bouldering. The bouldering area’s concrete floor is covered by approximately twelve inches of foam padding overlain by thick vinyl, known as an “impact attenuation surface.” In the years after Momentum’s 2007 opening, some of the vinyl began to tear and separate. In late September 2011, Momentum had “[a]t least one” tear repaired with a welded vinyl patch.
But Momentum’s management team deemed these tear patches a hazard for tripping, so it placed modular one-inch-thick mats over certain areas of the bouldering area floor that were showing signs of wear or damage. The mats are not designed to be anchored to the underlying pad and they would sometimes move when people landed on them. Because the mats tended to move, Momentum staff “monitored the floor regularly to try to keep the [mats] in place.” In addition to this action, a Momentum employee altered the routes above those areas by reconfiguring and reducing the number of foot-and hand-holds to reduce customer use of the areas with worn and damaged padding.
Over the years—and prior to Howe’s injury—Momentum’s patrons had reported incidents, some of which involved injuries, which alerted Momentum to the fact that the padding in the bouldering area was worn and damaged in some places. Before Howe was injured, five incidents were reported before Momentum began using the mats and another eight were reported thereafter. Each of these injuries involved a climber dropping from the bouldering wall or “slab area” to the floor below and, upon landing, pushing a foot through the floor padding, making contact with the concrete floor below, either rolling or twisting an ankle in the process.
In March 2012, Howe was bouldering at Momentum. After finishing his bouldering route, Howe dropped off the wall to the floor below. As he made contact with the floor, his “left foot impacted the mat on top of the padded floor, causing the mat to move. As the mat moved, it exposed the padded floor beneath. Concealed under the mat, the cover of the pad was split in a straight line, exposing the abutting edges of pads below.” When Howe’s “right foot impacted the top of the two abutting pads, [his] foot passed between the two abutting pads to the floor beneath.” As a result of the contact with the concrete, Howe broke his right ankle.
Howe sued, asserting—among other things—that Momentum was grossly negligent. He alleged that Momentum, “with a knowing and reckless indifference and disregard for the safety of [Howe] and other members of [Momentum], concealed, or caused to be concealed, the defects in their floor padding by placing mats over the defective area.”
The defendant Momentum filed a motion for summary judgement to dismiss the gross negligence claims of the plaintiff. The trial court judge ruled the plaintiff had shown enough action and inaction on the part of the gym that the plaintiff could proceed to trial on a claim of gross negligence. The defendant appealed this ruling.
The decision also looks at the qualifications of the plaintiff’s expert witness. However, there is nothing in the decision that warrants review here.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court’s analysis of the law was quite good and balanced. It’s application of the law to the facts was clear cut. The court defined gross negligence under Utah’s law as “…the failure to observe even slight care….”
A broader definition was defined as:
“…the essential evidence needed to survive a defendant’s motion for summary judgment on a gross negligence claim” is “evidence that the defendant’s conduct dramatically magnified the risk of harm to the plaintiff….
The court concluded its review of gross negligence with this statement about the actions of the defendant. “…Momentum’s failure to take further action in the face of eight additional incidents creates questions of fact about whether it was grossly negligent….”
The court then followed with this statement.
It is beyond question that a plaintiff who can demonstrate that a defendant has taken no action in response to injury incidents will have likely made out at least a prima facie case of gross negligence,….
At this point, in the opinion it is clear the court looked at Momentum’s failure to act after collecting more than 13 incident reports as gross negligence.
It is also clear that the court believes that failure to act on the defendant’s own incident reports is a major failure of the defendant. Why have accident and incident reports if you do nothing about them.
These acts arguably show that Momentum exercised slight care in the beginning and was therefore not completely indifferent to the consequences of allowing climbers to use the bouldering area given the condition of the padding.
The court gave the climbing gym some benefit because after the first five accidents, they placed additional padding over the torn spots. However, having eight additional incidents, with the torn padding was more than the court would allow.
The court then summed up the accident reports that the defendant compiled.
…onto the floor below, the mat moved, their feet were caught in the crack in the foam padding, and their ankles were injured. Under these circumstances, the question of whether Momentum’s continued use of the mats constituted gross negligence presents a disputed issue of material fact.
The court found that collecting injury reports, which almost identical fact situations and not doing anything about it were proof of gross negligence. The appellate court held the trial court was correct in denying the defendant climbing gym’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the gross negligence claims.
So Now What?
Incident reports are legal explosives just waiting to go off when a plaintiff’s attorney gets them. If you collect them, then you MUST do something with them.
Each report MUST be analyzed. It must be compared with all other reports to see trends or to determine what the cause or problem is. Then something must be done to correct the problem.
If you decided the report is a rate instance or something outside of your ability to control it, then you must indicate that in your notes or on your response to the report. If a second accident occurs with the same fact situation, then it is not longer a rare case, it is something you must act on.
If not, like in this case, the reports prove foreseeability and in this case, prove that failing to act when the defendant knew a problem existed, was enough to support a claim of gross negligence.
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