In defense of a negligence action, whether a duty is in fact owed is a threshold question. Without duty, there can obviously be no breach let alone causation. As the existence of a duty is a question of law to be determined by a judge, it can be a determining factor in a motion for summary judgment, as it was in the case of Yun v GREAT WOLF LODGE OF THE POCONOS, LLC,.
The plaintiffs’ family of four was given a free room upgrade for their Pocono vacation at Great Wolf Lodge, a resort with indoor water parks and attractions. The upgraded room included an adult bed, pull out sofa and bunk beds. For parents with two daughters aged four and two years, there were ample sleeping options. The infant four year old was excited to sleep on the top bunk – she had never done so before. The parents weighed the dangers of her sleeping in the top bunk. Despite the fact that she slept in a low level bed with the side blocked off at home (for fear that she may fall out of bed), they ultimately decided that the top bunk was not dangerous.
At approximately 12:00 A.M., the parents heard a thump and rushed to the children’s room and found that their daughter had fallen from the top bunk onto the carpeted floor. She began vomiting immediately and every 2 hours thereafter. They took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a closed nondisplaced skull fracture.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs pursued premises and products liability theories based on the premise that the bunk bed was a dangerous condition. They disputed that a warning label was affixed to the bunk bed – despite the defendant’s photographic proof of a label that stated, “Never allow a child under 6 years of age on upper bunk.”
In opposition to the defendant’s summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs insisted that a question of fact existed as to the negligence of Great Wolf. They contended the free room upgrade was negligent given the age of their daughters. They argued that there had been a failure to warn. Essentially, they contended that the bunk beds were a dangerous condition.
In Pennsylvania, the elements of a negligence claim are: (1) a duty or obligation recognized by the law requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks; (2) defendant’s failure to conform to the standard required; (3) a causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury; (4) actual loss or damage resulting to the plaintiff. However, according to the Restatement (2d) of Torts, “a possessor of land is not liable to his invitees for physical harm caused to them by any activity or condition on the land whose danger is known or obvious to them, unless the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.”
Great Wolf argued that bunk beds were not a dangerous condition, in support if this they pointed to two non-controlling cases: Rubin v. Olympic Resort, Inc. (New York) and Buck ex rel v. Camp Wilkes, Inc., (Mississippi) both of which stated that notwithstanding any design defects, the potential danger of a bunkbed is obvious and it is for the parents to determine whether a bunk bed is suitable for their children. In fact, the plaintiff parents were admittedly aware of the potential danger of allowing their daughter to sleep in the top bunk. Great Wolf offered expert opinion that the bunk beds in the resort did not violate any code or regulations. He opined that the bed was not used in accordance with the warning provided.
Even granting the plaintiffs all favorable inferences, the federal district court could not find a duty on the resort to not offer bunk beds and granted Great Wolf’s motion for summary judgment.
Thanks to Sathima Jones for her contribution.
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