Doyice J. Cotten
Ernest McMeans, an experienced and aggressive in-line skater, visited the skate park at the Escondido Sports Center in California. He signed the required waiver and began some skating maneuvers. While attempting a trick, McMeans' right foot missed the coping at the top of the ramp, causing him to fall. To catch himself, he dragged his left hand on the surface of the ramp and caught his wedding ring on a screw head. His ring finger was severed just above the first knuckle. McMeans filed suit against the city, alleging ordinary and gross negligence by 1) failing to have written inspection procedures and policies, 2) failing to remedy the raised screw and 3) failing to inspect the ramps for raised screws on the date of the incident. The waiver protected the city from liability for ordinary negligence, so the crucial issue was whether the city was grossly negligent.
While most fitness centers do not have skate parks, all have facilities and equipment. The issue here — the duty to inspect — is one that facility management cannot ignore. The issues addressed in this case are identical to those faced many times each year by fitness facilities, and the principles determining liability in this case hold true in situations faced by them, as well.
To establish gross negligence, the plaintiff must show "the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct." In this case, the trial court granted summary judgment for the city (affirmed by the appellate court) since the plaintiff presented no facts or evidence that would suggest gross negligence on the part of the city.
Risk management principlesThe risk management procedures and policies followed by the city and the skate park were important in that they showed that ordinary care for the safety of participants was exercised. These policies dealing with equipment inspection can be adapted by fitness centers to help minimize the risk of injury to members and guests.
1. A supervisor at the center was designated as responsible for the day-to-day administrative oversight and management of the sports center. He also directly supervised recreation supervisors, site supervisors and skate attendants (all of whose duties included inspection of ramps and minor repairs).
2. The supervisor directly supervised an experienced recreation maintenance worker and regularly met with him to review and prioritize maintenance and repairs.
3. The city employed a recreation coordinator who conducted regular staff meetings, at which skate attendants were directed to inspect ramps for raised screws and tighten them.
4. The park was open for two skate sessions daily. Prior to each session, skate attendants were required to walk the park looking for any safety concerns in need of repair.
5. Site supervisors and skate attendants were provided with both a manual screwdriver and a power screwdriver for making on-the-spot repairs.
6. Skate attendants documented their daily inspection by filing a report. Any needed repairs were listed on the report.
7. In addition, skate attendants were to bring any serious safety matters to the immediate attention of the site supervisor.
8. Skate attendants monitored the ramps and skaters while skating was in progress.
In view of these policies and procedures, it is no surprise that the plaintiff was unable to establish to the court that the skate park was grossly negligent (the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct). In fact, even with no waiver protecting the city against liability for ordinary negligence, it would have been difficult to convince a jury that the city had committed ordinary negligence.
Management, in examining an inspection policy for a fitness center, should note that this suit would probably never have been initiated had the city had all of its risk management policies in writing.
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