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Two Recent Defense "Wins" Prove the Benefits of Video Surveillance in Amusement Facilities

March 1, 2010

New Jersey - Amusements, Sports & Entertainment

Key Points:

  • A modern digital camera system can be very useful in disproving bogus liability claims in roller skating rinks or any facility where sports or recreation activities are conducted.
  • Video cameras can help improve a client's defense position by allowing an expert to analyze the plaintiff's movements before during and after a fall.
  • Strategically placed video surveillance cameras are a valuable risk management tool that can help defend lawsuits and prevent other types of economic losses.

 

The use of video surveillance cameras in roller skating rinks, bowling centers, water parks and other amusement facilities can be very useful in defending and defeating liability lawsuits brought by injured patrons. Two recent cases prove this point. In the first case, a plaintiff's attorney voluntarily dismissed his client's roller skating complaint, before an answer was even filed, after the plaintiff learned that his "accident" was on video. In the second case, a video of the plaintiff's roller skating accident convinced a Superior Court Arbitration Panel to find for the defendant in a defective roller skate case.

Case Number 1 - The Case of the "Leaky Roof"

This case began when a woman walked into my client's skating rink to report an accident that had happened three days before. The woman reported that her husband had fallen after he skated through a puddle of water on the floor that was caused by a leak in the roof. Her husband left without reporting the accident. She wanted to file a report because her husband had broken his ankle in the fall and now required surgery.

The manager taking this report had been working on the day of the accident, and she was aware of the roof leak and the water on the floor. However, she also knew that immediately after the leak was discovered, her staff cleaned the floor and took steps to keep patrons away from the area. She was not aware of any accidents that occurred during that skating session, so she turned to the video to find out what really happened.

Reviewing the video of the skating session, the manager saw a young patron skate over to a floor guard to report the water on the floor located near the center of the rink. The skate guard quickly located the water and stood over the area to keep patrons away. Within the next minute, rink employees placed a large bucket on the floor under the leak along with six orange traffic cones to keep patrons out of the area.

To the manager's observation, no one had fallen in the area of the water either before or after it was reported to the floor guard. However, 10 minutes after the bucket and cones were in place, a heavyset male skater wearing a Reggie White Philadelphia Eagles jersey lost his balance and fell as he was entering the skating rink floor, about 60 feet from where the leak had occurred. From what the manager could see on the video, the leak from the roof had nothing to do with the patron's fall.

After the claim was denied, a lawsuit was filed alleging that the skating rink was responsible for the plaintiff's injury based on allegations of negligent inspection and maintenance of the facility. After I was assigned to defend the claim, I went to the rink to view the video with the manager. After reviewing the video, I concluded that if the plaintiff was wearing a Reggie White Eagles jersey on the day of the accident, he was going to have a great deal of explaining to do.

I called the plaintiff's attorney to ask him what his client was wearing on the day of the accident. When he told me that his client was wearing an Eagles jersey, I told him what I had seen on the video. One week after this initial phone call, the plaintiff's attorney called to tell me that his client had instructed him to drop the claim; he explained that his client had returned to work and was "too busy" to pursue this lawsuit. As a result, the attorney filed a voluntary dismissal of the complaint with prejudice, and I was able to close my file just 15 days after it was opened.

Case Number 2 - The Case of the "Defective" Skate

The second case involves a roller skating patron who claimed that he lost his balance and fell due to a defective wheel on a rental skate. The plaintiff claimed that after skating for 15 minutes, the front wheel on his right skate suddenly jammed, causing him to fall backwards onto his elbow. He sustained an elbow fracture and underwent an open reduction and internal fixation.

After the plaintiff's accident, his rental skates were inspected and found to be in good working order. They were tagged and bagged and retained in the office in accordance with Roller Skating Association Risk Management Guidelines. More importantly, the plaintiff's accident was filmed by two surveillance cameras in the rink, and his actions before and after the fall could be analyzed.

By slowing the speed of the video, I determined that moments before the plaintiff lost his balance and fell, he turned slightly to his right to wave to his daughter who was standing off to the side of the rink. After waving, he shifted his upper body forward, and this movement caused him to lose his balance, and his feet flew out in front of him, as if he had slipped on a banana peel.

Defense expert Bill Carlson explained that the plaintiff's fall as seen on the video was inconsistent with his claim that a wheel jammed on one of his skates. Carlson explained that if a skate stopped for any reason while the skater was moving, the skater's momentum would cause him to fall forward, not backward. Also, Carlson noted that after the plaintiff fell, he was able to skate off the rink without any difficulty.

After proceeding through discovery, the case was submitted to mandatory non-binding arbitration in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County. After I played the video for the arbitration panel, they agreed that the happening of the accident was inconsistent with the plaintiff's story. As a result, the arbitrators returned an award for the defendant, and the plaintiff did not appeal.

I have long advocated the use of surveillance video cameras as a risk management tool in amusement facilities. In a roller skating rink, videos can prove many disputed factual issues, such as whether a skate room attendant checked the wheels on a rental skate before handing them to a patron or the number and location of skate guards on a rink floor at any given time. In a bowling center case, video surveillance cameras can prove whether a bowler crossed the foul line before falling and whether a spill or a foreign substance on the approach was present long enough to provide constructive notice for the rink.

*Lary is a shareholder and Co-Chair of the firm's Amusements, Sports & Entertainment Litigation Practice Group. He works in our Cherry Hill, New Jersey, office and can be reached at (856) 414-6001 or lizucker@mdwcg.com.

Defense Digest, Vol. 16, No. 1, March 2010

Affiliated Attorney

Lary I. Zucker
Chair, Amusements, Sports and Recreation Practice Group
(856) 414-6001
lizucker@mdwcg.com

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