Hinkle Secures Summary Judgment Affirmed on Appeal by the PA Superior Court in Snow Tubing Injury Case

In a widely reported decision, Anthony W. Hinkle, Managing GL Partner in the firm's Philadelphia office, successfully defended ski resort operator, Snow Time, Inc., in a personal injury suit accusing its subsidiary, Roundtop Mountain Resort, of reckless conduct in connection with a snow tubing accident.

In Bourgeois v. Snow Time, Inc., et al, plaintiffs alleged Snow Time was reckless in the manner in which it placed and monitored anti-fatigue mats at the bottom of a snow tubing hill used as deceleration devices.  Although plaintiffs' counsel referred to the mats in their court papers as "kitchen mats," anti-fatigue mats are used routinely in the ski resort industry at the base of snow tubing hills as a means to decelerate snow tubers as they arrive at the bottom of the snow tubing hill and enter at the run-out area.  In the instant case, husband-plaintiff claimed that while tubing over a deceleration mat, he was caused to come to a sudden stop propelling him head-first into the snow.  As a result of the sudden impact, plaintiff suffered a spinal cord injury rendering him a quadriplegic.  Plaintiffs brought suit asserting claims in negligence and recklessness.  Defendants maintained that plaintiffs' negligence claims were barred by the exculpatory release both plaintiffs signed to snow tube at Roundtop.  Defendants further maintained that plaintiffs could not meet the higher burden of establishing a claim for reckless conduct.  After the close of discovery, Snow Time and Roundtop moved for Summary Judgment.  The trial court granted Summary Judgment on all claims, finding that plaintiffs' claims in negligence were barred by the exculpatory release and that plaintiffs had failed to establish a claim for reckless conduct.  Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, plaintiffs conceded their negligence claim against Roundtop was barred by the exculpatory release.  Plaintiffs continued to pursue their claim in negligence against Snow Time on the grounds that it was not specifically named in the Roundtop snow tubing agreement.  The Pennsylvania Superior Court panel ruled against plaintiffs 2 to 1 on all claims upholding the trial court's grant of Summary Judgment.  The Superior Court found the exculpatory release provision was sufficiently specific to include Ski Roundtop's "owner", Snow Time, Inc. as a releasee and that plaintiffs had failed to otherwise establish a claim for reckless conduct against either defendant.  Specifically, the majority agreed with the trial court that plaintiffs, even with the submission of expert reports stating as such, failed to articulate an appropriate "standard of care" for the use of the deceleration mats at the bottom of the tubing hill run and, therefore, could not establish that either Snow Time or Roundtop breached a duty of care in using the mats as deceleration devices.

On October 23, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied plaintiffs' Application for Reargument filed on August 18, 2018.