The Utah Supreme Court has ruled a man who broke his back while riding the Winter Sports Park bobsled run can sue the Utah Athletic Foundation for gross negligence, although he signed a liability waiver form acknowledging the risks.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, the state's high court said because James Pearce signed the form, he is barred from suing the foundation for simple negligence but can try to convince a jury that it was reckless to a degree that they showed utter indifference to his safety.

In February 2003 Pearce, 59, thought it would be fun to go down the bobsled run with his son. The two paid $200 each for tickets. Before going down, Pearce signed a document acknowledging he was about to take part in a risky activity. He was then briefed by Winter Sports Park staff about the ride and told he would experience as much as 4 or 5 Gs around some turns with speeds up to 82 mph. During the ride, Pearce says he broke his back.

In his suit, Pearce accused the park staff of lapses in safety. Among those claims, Pearce pointed out that three other people had suffered serious spinal injuries in the previous three months with no evidence that park staff had investigated any possible cause.

A district court judge threw out Pearce's claims, finding that he was barred from bringing suit because he had singed a legal release form. However, in Tuesday's ruling, justices said while such waiver forms do protect UAF from simple negligence claims, it does not protect them from gross negligence claims if it can be proven that staff were grossly indifferent to riders.

Park staff say the bobsled run and sleds conform to international standards and sleds are driven by world cup-class drivers.

The case has been remanded back to the district court for further hearings.


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