New zipline regulations reflect risk of adventure recreation

A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and partner with Moss & Colella PC, says that new Michigan regulations that went into effect last month adding zip-lines to the regulation guidelines of the Michigan Carnival-Amusement Safety Act may not go far enough to protect people engaging in risky adventure activities.

“Zip-lining is a fun adventure activity, yet because of its inherent risks, it is now rightly regulated by an existing Michigan law,” Colella said.

“However, I often deal with gross negligence cases in recreational waivers and have found that it isn’t always the risk of the activity itself that endangers participants, but operator error.”

A recreational waiver,  a critical legal protection document to prevent lawsuits and used by organizations involved in offering activities that carry varying degrees of risk,  such as skiing, snowboarding, zip-lining, sky diving, canoeing and rock climbing, is commonplace and most participants sign off without question.

“Individuals generally sign the document because they understand that, on the face of it, the activity is indeed risky. At the same time, the
individual places trust in the company or organization offering the service, believing that every precaution within reason has been taken to keep participants as safe as possible,” Colella said.

Colella, who is currently involved in a lawsuit with a client who failed to have his rock-climbing harness properly secured by an employee of Lifetime Fitness, says participants need to go beyond consideration of the risky activity itself and pay close attention to the individuals actually operating the adventure activity—not just the legitimacy of the company or venue that is offering it.

“Legitimate businesses like ski resorts and theme parks often hire young adults to direct or assist with activities like zip-lines, chair lifts and other recreational adventures,” Colella said.

“From the numerous gross negligence cases I’ve handled, I see a common thread of untrained or under-trained employees, frequently college students picking up hours during school breaks, in charge of potentially dangerous activities. That’s often where the greatest danger lurks.”

Colella offers the following advice to those engaging in an activity that requires a signed recreational waiver.

“Do not participate in risky adventure activities if you encounter clueless employees, shoddy equipment or poorly maintained grounds,” Colella said.

“They can be indicators of additional unnecessary risks that can cause death or permanent harm.”
 

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