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Court upholds dismissal of injury case arising out of climbing wall at club

Clinton Lucas was badly hurt when he fell twenty feet to the floor at the Norton Pines Athletic Club in Muskegon.  In order to participate in Club activities, Lucas was required to sign a "release" pursuant to which he assumed the risk of injury arising out of participation in recreational activities or use of the facilities.  He had also executed a mandatory "Climbing Wall Release of Liability."  He was an experienced climber who had developed a pattern of interaction with the Club employee who was managing the wall on the night Lucas fell.

Lucas claimed that the Club employee managing the climbing wall was negligent in failing to confirm that Lucas' harness was clipped to the auto-belay system on his final climb.  The employee admitted that he was reading a magazine at the time, but it was also pointed out that Lucas had not followed Club rules requiring a Club employee--and not Lucas--to attach and confirm the harness before climbing. Both men confirmed that they had developed a habit of merely confirming the attachment by a system of eye contact.

The Court noted that Lucas' signature on the Releases had waived his "ordinary negligence" claims against the Club and its employees.  It also held that "based on the factual circumstances of this case, there is no basis to assert reckless misconduct" by the Club employee--who was not a "co-participant."  The court noted that normally a claim of reckless behavior requires some affirmative or assertive action--not merely passive neglect and inattention.  The employee's acknowledged pattern of deviation from Club policy was not considered to be affirmative reckless behavior because the judges deemed it not to be evidence of a "level of willfulness or indifference necessary to establish reckless behavior."

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