Hershey must face allegations of unsafe stairs in a lawsuit over a wave runner

By Justin Stoltzfus | Jul 18, 2018

HARRISBURG - The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co.'s motion to exclude some expert testimony related to safety codes introduced by a woman who allegedly was hurt in an accident at Hersheypark, according to an order entered June 12 by U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo.

In her slip-and-fall lawsuit, Denise Spicuzzo and husband Charles Spicuzzo claimed the design aspects of a wave runner installed at the park led to a right ankle injury that required surgery.

Hershey Entertainment argued that testimony about safety codes pertaining to stairways should not be allowed because Spicuzzo's case does not involve stairs.

The park also asked the court to bar a safety presentation by biomechanical engineer Andres Calderon that covered safety of the “personal watercraft display” in question.

The plaintiff alleges that the park was “negligent, careless and/or engaged in negligent omission” because it did not use proper signage and did not inspect the wave runner apparatus. As a result, Spicuzzo said the company was not aware that the wave runner was dangerous.

In her ruling, Rambo said “Defendant does not challenge Dr. Calderon’s qualifications or the reliability of his methods, but does argue that the materials and testimony ... regarding stair and step safety do not 'fit' the present case...The standard to be used in assessing fit is 'not that high.'”

Rambo's order also addressed the issue of relevance.

“While there was no typical stairway, there was an elevated portion of the pedestal around the personal watercraft where patrons could step down, and the court finds that the use of analogy to a stair or step is appropriate,” the ruling said. 

“Accordingly, the court finds that expert testimony regarding whether, or to what extent, certain ... safety measures applied to stairs, such as slip-resistant coatings, warnings or painting two surfaces of differing elevations in different colors, rather than the same, would have made the personal watercraft attraction less hazardous is likely to be relevant and will assist the trier of fact at trial."

Rambo said Hershey could clarify any confusing aspects of the expert's testimony at trial.

"In the event that defendant believes any expert testimony may be confusing to the jury, counsel can clear up the confusion through cross examination or by requesting an appropriately curative jury instruction," the order said.

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