Thursday, December 29, 2016

Superior Court Upholds Waiver Form in Wrongful Death/Survival Action Claim

In its recent decision in the case of Valentino v. Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, No. 3049 EDA 2013 (Pa. Super. Nov. 15, 2016)(en banc) (Op. by Olson, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that summary judgment was properly entered against a wrongful death claim based upon the decedent’s execution of a liability waiver.  

This matter arose out an incident during which the Plaintiff’s decedent participated in a triathlon in Philadelphia.  The decedent signed a waiver form when he signed up to participate in the event.  

During the event, the decedent never completed the swimming portion of the competition and his body was recovered from the Schuylkill River on the day after the incident.  

The decedent’s widow pursued wrongful death and survival claims.  

The trial court initially sustained Defendant’s Preliminary Objections, ruling that the Plaintiff had failed to plead reckless or intentional conduct by the Defendant.  

The trial court later granted summary judgment on the remaining claims, finding them to be barred by the liability waiver executed by the decedent.   On appeal, the Plaintiff challenged all of the trial court’s decisions.  

The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s rulings in sustaining the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to the Plaintiff’s claims of punitive damages.   The court noted that punitive damages are only proper for a Defendant who had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to the Plaintiff and acted, or failed to act, in conscious disregard of that risk.

Here, the court found that the Plaintiff’s Complaint merely alleged inadvertence, mistake, or error in planning and supervising the triathlon course.  

With respect to the trial court’s entry of summary judgment, the Superior Court found no genuine issues of material fact with regards to the decedent’s execution of the Waiver Agreement.   The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s contention that the Defendant’s alleged reckless or intentional conduct defeated the decedent’s waiver of liability.  In this regard, the Superior Court noted that the trial court had previously ruled that the Plaintiff had failed to assert viable reckless or intentional conduct claims.  

The Superior Court also rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that the decedent’s waiver did not waive the decedent’s separate wrongful death claim.   The court ruled that wrongful death claims, while belonging solely to a decedent’s heir, are still derived from the same conduct that caused the decedent’s death.  Accordingly, the liability waiver was found to also extend to the wrongful death claim because such action requires tortuous conduct and was therefore subject to the same substantive defenses, such as the decedent’s execution of a liability waiver as to the decedent’s own tort claim.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the Majority's decision may click this LINK.
Judge Kate Ford Elliott's Concurring and Dissenting Opinion can be viewed HERE.
For another Superior decisions previously entered in this same case, click this LINK.
To view other Tort Talk posts on cases involving Waiver of Liability Forms, click HERE


Source:  “Digest of Recent Opinions.”  Pennsylvania Law Weekly (December 6, 2016)


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