Even though ziplines are a thrill activity and usually come with a liability waiver, most riders are under the impression that the danger is an illusion, that the operator has everything under control, and that as long as they follow the rules, they’ll be fine. No one goes out for a day of fun and adventure expecting to end up needing a spinal cord injury lawyer.
Unfortunately, zipline injuries are a very real issue and often have nothing to do with the rider’s conduct. Once someone sustains a serious injury due to ziplining, the mood of harmless excitement that most zipline operators work hard to create takes a harsh turn, and survivors must suddenly figure out how to get to help safely, how much the injury will affect the rest of their lives, and of course, how to pay for everything.
Survivors of zipline accidents often have questions about their rights, even more so than survivors of other comparable accidents.
Will the inherent risks of ziplining affect my potential compensation?
Did I unknowingly do something that could make the accident my fault?
Can I sue after signing a waiver at all?
Below, we’ll go into more detail on zipline accident causes, consequences, and the legal rights and responsibilities associated with them.
If you have lost a loved one or suffered an injury on a zipline in Georgia, you can discuss your specific situation with a qualified zipline accident lawyer at any time via our online chat function, to learn more about your options.
As Ziplines Have Grown in Popularity, Accidents Have Skyrocketed
In their current role as a common tourist attraction, ziplines are relatively new, and so is the scrutiny directed toward their safety standards. One of the more horrific accidents to draw attention to the dangers of inadequately regulated ziplines happened here in Georgia.
Aimee Copeland fell from a zipline during a kayaking trip in Carrollton in May of 2012. Through her injuries, she contracted necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria), and ended up losing both hands, a leg, and the foot from her other leg. Though Copeland came out of her ordeal an upbeat advocate for other amputees, what happened to her should never be allowed to happen to anyone if it can be prevented with reasonable safety measures.
Following Copeland’s accident — and the many others that occurred over the previous few years — Nationwide Children’s Hospital conducted a study that would later be published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, investigating the frequency and causes of zipline accidents. The study drew upon U.S emergency room data spanning 1997 through 2012, which included an estimated 16,850 non-fatal zipline injuries.
Evenly distributed, that would average out to just under three zipline injuries per day for 16 years. That would certainly be bad enough, but more concerningly, the data showed a massive increase in incidents over the years, with 70% of all injuries happening in the last four years of the study. Incidents were also heavily concentrated within the summer months.
Zipline falls were by far the most common cause of ziplining injuries, accounting for 77% of all incidents. Falls and collisions put together accounted for 90%.
Those numbers show a clear pattern of similar, repeated accidents. Where such a pattern exists, it can and should be addressed.
Zipline Accidents Continue, Even Though the Problem Has Been Recognized for Years
The Nationwide Children’s Hospital study was published in late 2015, not exactly an age ago, but half a decade should be long enough for an industry to make significant changes when lives depend on it.
Instead, zipline accidents seem to be continuing as usual. In summer of 2016, a Utah woman was killed when a tree blew over into the path of her zipline. Local law enforcement described her death as a “freak accident,” but as noted above, there’s nothing “freak” about ziplining collisions, and closing courses during inclement weather is a fairly basic safety precaution.
The next year, a woman collided with the tower at the end of a zipline in Colorado. According to her subsequent lawsuit, she suffered a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures. She says she was warned about the risk of stalling out in the middle of the line and coached on how to speed up to prevent this, but she ended up having the opposite problem instead and had no way of slowing down. If you’re looking for legal help in cases of traumatic brain injury, consider contacting experienced Atlanta brain injury lawyers who can provide you with the support and guidance you need.
Falls have continued along with collisions. In Oregon in 2020, a basketball player lost her leg after falling 15 feet from a ziplining tower. She went through 11 other surgeries before the amputation and describes her heel bone after the fall as “just like oatmeal.”
Zipline Regulations in Georgia Are Close to Non-Existent
Ziplines are not legally classified as rides, so zipline operations are not subject to the same federal regulations as theme parks. Instead, they’re considered part of the “challenge course” industry, which is not federally regulated at all. This means no standardized inspections or safety codes.
Some states have begun regulating ziplines, but Georgia is not one of them. In states where there are no official zipline regulations, guidance comes instead from industry organizations, mainly the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) and the Professional Ropes Course Association (PRCA). These organizations provide safety recommendations and accreditations for ziplines, but compliance is legally optional in most areas, and their primary focus is on helping challenge course companies succeed, rather than on keeping the public safe. Copies of their recommended safety standards are for sale and not freely available in any form to the public.
This lack of regulation makes ziplines more dangerous than thrill activities with better oversight, but thankfully, it does not make zipline companies completely immune to litigation. All companies that invite members of the public to use their facilities have a default responsibility to take all reasonable steps to make those facilities safe, whether specific safety standards exist or not.
The existence of zipline regulations, even optional regulations, can help a survivor’s case, however. If the ACCT or PRCA recommends a certain safety measure, that’s something a responsible zipline operator should know. If the operator chooses to skip that safety measure, and a rider gets hurt as a result, that creates a strong basis for establishing negligence in court.
The Liability Waiver Does Not Necessarily Eliminate Your Rights
Virtually all professional zipline attractions require riders to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks. Making sure people are aware of the inherent, unavoidable dangers of an activity, and educating them on how to stay as safe as possible, is a sensible move that benefits everyone. Unfortunately, it’s become standard practice for these waivers to go a step further and demand that participants release the host company from all liability, even in case of negligence.
The ubiquity of these waivers has made it so that people have to choose between missing out on whole categories of leisure activities, or promising not to hold companies responsible for things they really should be responsible for. Some states have legislated against this practice, but the precedent in Georgia recognizes liability waivers as valid legal contracts.
That’s a significant obstacle to holding zipline companies accountable for injuries, but not always an insurmountable one. There are two main reasons you might still be able to sue even though you signed a waiver:
- The waiver was not properly written or executed
- The zipline operator was guilty of gross negligence
We’ll break down these two scenarios one at a time below.
Some Zipline Liability Waivers Are Unenforceable
In order to stand up in court, a liability waiver must:
- Be obvious about what it is, not hidden in the fine print of a larger document.
- Be signed by the accident victim or their guardian.
- Clearly explain what rights are being waived. If the waiver is meant to protect the company in case of negligence, it must say so. The more detailed the waiver is about the types of accidents and injuries that may occur, the stronger it is.
So, if you were injured at a ziplining venue that tried to hide their waiver, allowed another member of your group to sign for everyone, or did not specifically disclaim liability for negligence, you may have a case.
Zipline Liability Waivers Usually Can’t Stop Suits for Gross Negligence
The gross negligence scenario is a little more complicated but just as important.
Even though Georgia courts will typically uphold liability waivers in case of ordinary negligence, most judges will make exceptions in case of gross negligence, regardless of how thorough the wording of the waiver is.
The line between ordinary negligence and gross negligence can be vague at times, but essentially, ordinary negligence involves careless, seemingly small errors (though the consequences to the victim may be far from small), while gross negligence involves a more extreme mistake or willful misconduct.
For example, if a zipline attendant accidentally gave you too hard a push at the beginning of the line, leading to a collision, the company might be untouchable if the waiver was well-written and there were no other contributing factors. But if the owner knew the line was fraying and chose not to replace it until it broke and let you fall, you probably have a case, no matter what you signed.
Entities Other Than the Zipline Company May Share Liability for Injuries Caused by Ziplines
Even if the zipline company is fully covered under their liability waiver for their part in your accident, you’re not necessarily out of luck in recovering compensation. You can still bring a suit against any party that isn’t named in the waiver, but still contributed to your accident.
For example, if your zipline accident happened at a mandatory company teambuilding event, your employer might be responsible for failing to vet the zipline company’s safety compliance and putting you in a needlessly dangerous situation. Or, if your accident was caused by faulty equipment, such as a harness that failed to hold the load it was rated for, you may be able to sue the manufacturer that supplied the equipment to the zipline company.
The Stoddard Firm Has Qualified Zipline Accident Lawyers
Because zipline operations are minimally regulated and protected by liability waivers, getting the compensation you need can require determination and flexibility. The strategy that works best for one survivor may not be an option for another, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one to be found.
When selecting a zipline accident lawyer, it’s important to find someone who knows how to approach and pursue your case from all possible angles. The Stoddard Firm has expertise in premises liability, product liability, personal injury, and wrongful death. We understand contract law and how it applies to liability waivers. We’re passionate about consumer rights, and about making sure each one of our clients is fully compensated for their pain and loss.
If you’ve suffered a zipline fall, a zipline collision, or any serious injury due to ziplining in Georgia, and there’s any way under the law to get you the settlement you deserve, The Stoddard Firm will find it.
To talk to a zipline lawyer in a free, no-obligation consultation, just call 678-RESULT or reach out through our online chat function.