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Smollett v. Skayting Dev. Corp. - 793 F.2d 547 (3d Cir. 1986)

Rule:

In considering a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a reviewing court uses the same standard applied in considering a motion for a directed verdict. The district court must determine whether, as a matter of law, the record contains the minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief. An appellate court must apply this same standard and determine whether there was sufficient evidence to permit the denial of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Facts:

Plaintiffs Helene Smollett and her husband, Leonard Smollet, attended a fundraising event at a skating rink operated by defendant Skayting Development Corporation ("Skayting"). Mrs. Smollett was an experienced skater. The skating area, which had a polyurethane surface, was raised three to five inches higher than the surrounding floor, which was carpeted. Several signs reading "skate at your own risk" were posted in the rink. After skating for some time without incident, and while taking a final lap before leaving the event, a child skater fell in front of Mrs. Smollett. To avoid the child and a skater on her left, she swerved to the right onto the carpeted area. She fell and broke her left wrist. Her injury required surgery on the day of the accident and again one year later. Mrs. Smollett and her husband filed a lawsuit against Skayting in federal district court. As a defense, Skayting asserted that Mrs. Smollet had assumed the risk of injury. After a two day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for Mrs. Smollett but made no award to her husband. Because the jury found Mrs. Smollett 50 percent at fault, her award was reduced from $50,000 to $25,000. The court denied Skayting's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for a new trial. Skayting appealed.

Issue:

Did Mrs. Smollet assume the risk of injury?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court held that it was error to deny Skayting's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because there was insufficient evidence to find that Mrs. Smollet had not assumed the risk of injury. The court found that the evidence showed that Mrs. Smollet fully understood the risk of harm to herself, voluntarily chose to enter the area of risk, and thus implicitly assumed the risk of injury. The court held that Mrs. Smollet was aware of the risk of falling when going from the skating area to the surrounding carpeted area. The court determined that to reach the rink Mrs. Smollet had to walk on the carpeted area with her skates and that, therefore, she had to be aware that the carpet slowed down the wheels on the skates. The court also determined that Mrs. Smollet had skated many times before and knew that other skaters might fall down in her path. The court reversed the judgment of the district court that denied Skayting's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and directed the district court to enter a judgment for Skayting.

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