The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that Thomas Lukken, who was injured in a zip line accident, can sue the ski resort where he was injured, after concluding that the waiver he signed doesn’t preclude claims that the site was “willful, wanton or reckless,” according to a report on Law360.com. The decision highlights both the strength and weakness of liability waivers.
According to the suit, Lukken v. Fleischer et al., Lukken was injured at Mt. Crescent in 2016 when the operator at the zip line’s terminus forgot to reset the braking system, causing Lukken to collide with a wooden pole at the base of the zip line and fracture his neck.
After Lukken sued in state court, the court granted summary judgment, finding that the waiver he signed blocked claims for “any and all acts of negligence” against Mt. Crescent.At the state Supreme Court, the justices sided with the lower court and rejected Lukken’s argument that the waiver he signed did not cover “gross negligence,” since Iowa law does not have a separate cause of action for gross negligence.
However, the court noted that it has long recognized separate grounds for liability based on more culpable types of conduct, and that a waiver aiming to negate liability for acts that are “wantonly or recklessly” committed goes against public policy. The justices decided that, to the extent that Mt. Crescent’s actions represented “willful, wanton and reckless” conduct, the resort could be held liable.
Therefore, the justices held the waiver unenforceable, to the extent it blocks liability for the willful, wanton or reckless conduct that Lukken alleged in his complaint, and remanded the case to the trial court.