One of my former students sent me this video of a harrowing experience of an 80-year-old woman named Laverne who almost falls out of her harness in a parachute jump. I have long collected “falling body” cases of torts involving falling human and animal bodies (which we discuss in class). This one will have to go into the negligence section, though ultrahazardous activities might be an option.
What is striking about the video is that the tandem instructor appears to be pushing the woman out of the plane and someone was peeling her fingers away from the door. Some have suggested that the harness was put on too loosely by the instructor. However, he seems to have done a remarkable job in holding on to the woman as they plummeted toward the ground.
The audible “no” heard on the tape would raise a question of consent or assumption of the risk in any legal action. Negligence in the preparation of the harness would be an obvious claim. The question of whether skydiving is an ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activity could be challenged by the industry on the basis for the low incidence of deaths or injuries. However, even flying has been listed as ultrahazardous in some states (though that has largely changed).
The Second Restatement describes the factors for ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activities:
the Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 520:
“In determining whether an activity is abnormally dangerous, the following factors are to be considered: (a) existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person, land, or chattels of others; (b) likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great; (c) inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care; (d) extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage; (e) inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on; and (f) extent to which its value to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes.”
The company is very fortunate that the incident did not cause a heart attack in the elderly jumper. With the video of her being pushed out after saying “no,” the age of the woman would have worked heavily against the company. It is likely that many people have to be nudged out, but she seemed to be pretty resistant in the video. What do you think?
Kudos: Casey Fos