Plaintiff in suit against ziplining company argues exculpatory agreement not enforceable

By Christina Stueve Hodges | Aug 1, 2013


Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla on July 26 held a hearing in a St. Louis woman’s lawsuit against Grafton Zipline Adventures.

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.

Hylla signed an order, stating all parties appeared by their counsel and an argument was held. The court took a motion to dismiss under advisement. The next court date in the case is Oct. 2.

Grafton Zipline Adventures claims a document Dodge signed releases both Grafton Zipline and its employees from claims of negligence.

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

Plaintiff Dodge filed a memorandum of law opposing the defendant’s motion to dismiss the first amended complaint on July 3. The memo states the motion should be denied, because the defendants’ exculpatory agreement is not enforceable, because zipline courses are common carriers under Illinois law, and common carriers cannot exempt themselves from liability for their own negligence.

The Illinois legislature indicated its intent to prohibit the use of exculpatory agreements in the operation of amusement rides by statutorily requiring all amusement ride operators to maintain liability insurance for the bodily injury or death of patrons, according to Dodge’s motion.

The plaintiff alleges the defendants acted with reckless disregard for her safety and others which caused her injuries, and such conduct was “willful and wanton.”

Hylla earlier denied the company's motion to dismiss the suit in light of granting the plaintiff’s motion to file a first amended complaint.

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.

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, the tour guide, 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.

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

Jamie L. Boock of Rossiter and Boock in St. Louis represents the plaintiff.

Madison County case number 13-L-238.

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