Zipline adventure company says woman in suit assumed risk of ziplining

By Christina Stueve Hodges | Jun 24, 2013

Grafton Zipline Adventures, which is being sued after a woman who was injured at the facility’s “Barn Burner” run last October, claims a document the woman signed releases both Grafton Zipline and all of its employees from any claims of negligence.

Plaintiff April Dodge filed suit in February, claiming she was injured when her foot struck a tree trunk at the base of a zip line run. She claims she suffered a broken right heel bone and had to undergo surgery to fix the fracture.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dave Hylla denied Grafton Zipline Adventures’ motion to dismiss the suit in light of granting plaintiff’s motion to file a first amended complaint.

In an amended complaint filed May 3, Dodge added claims of willful and wanton conduct on the part of the company and its employee Michael Quinn saying they acted with reckless disregard for the safety of patrons.

Grafton Zipline and Quinn responded to the complaint last month saying the plaintiff’s claims are barred by an “exculpatory agreement she signed prior to engaging in the ziplining activity.”

Dodge, represented by Jamie L. Boock of Bossiter and Boock in St. Louis, argued against the defense motion to dismiss, saying the exculpatory agreement is not enforceable as a matter of law.

Grafton Zipline filed a motion to dismiss the first amended complaint June 7.

“Exculpatory agreements barring negligence claims are ordinarily enforceable and do not violate public policy as a matter of law,” the motion states.

“The release covers all claims made by plaintiff, including specifically claims based on injury caused by the negligence of Grafton Zipline and Quinn. Moreover, the language in the release specifically identifies the hazard at issue in the plaintiff’s complaint."

The motion also states that the basis for which the plaintiff alleges  that defendants’ conduct was willful and wanton is that they “acted to intentionally or recklessly violate one or more of the safety regulations promulgated by the Illinois Department of Labor.”

“No facts are alleged, and no explanation is provided by plaintiff to support her conclusion that defendants violated any safety regulations, much less intentionally violated any safety regulations," the motion states. "Thus, for purposes of defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court should disregard plaintiff’s conclusory claim that defendants’ conduct was willful and wanton.”

Dodge also states that Illinois case law holds a party cannot enforce an exculpatory agreement that purports to waive liability for its own willful and wanton conduct.

According to the complaint, Dodge claims she was unable to brake her descent as she approached the course’s platform. She claims she attempted to as instructed by Quinn, but despite her best efforts, the system failed.

Dodge approached the landing platform at a high rate of speed and Quinn was unable to stop her, her suit says. She claims she has been permanently scarred and disfigured and has been caused to suffer fear, stress and anxiety.

“Thus because plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of ziplining and released both defendants from all liability relating to their own negligence with respect to her injuries, plaintiff’s claims in the first amended complaint are barred as a matter of law.”

Jason D. Johnson of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville represents Grafton Zipline Adventures and Quinn.

Madison County case number 13-L-238.

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