Bradenton not liable for injuries at Riverwalk's skate park

mvalverde@bradenton.comOctober 28, 2012 

BRADENTON -- At least 12 people have walked into Manatee Memorial Hospital within a week's span for treatment after injuring themselves at the new Riverwalk skate park.

But skaters at the new park do so at their own risk, and state statutes protect the city of Bradenton from any injury-related lawsuits, officials say.

"The city is not liable at all," city attorney Bill Lisch told officials. "Unless you are grossly negligent or have created a hidden condition that no one could know about, you are not responsible."

Dozens of skaters and spectators gather at the skate park every day, making it one of the most popular destinations on the Riverwalk. The city held the grand opening Oct. 18 after almost a year of construction along the Manatee River.

"We've had about 12 to 14 injuries related specifically to the skate park," said Vernon DeSear, vice president of marketing for Manatee Memorial Hospital, which is within walking distance of the skate park.

Two have been fractures, one in the shoulder and jaw areas and another in the wrist, DeSear said. The rest have been mostly abrasions and

sprains.

"But, ironically, they can't wait to go back there," DeSear said.

There are signs posted around the skate park noting that it is an unsupervised facility and that the user "assumes all risk of injury or damage."

Parental supervision is required, the signs state, and protective equipment is strongly recommended to avoid injuries.

"We anticipated that there may be some," DeSear said. "As time goes on, we'll see people paying more attention. The rules are posted. ... It was done for their enjoyment, but they also have to be careful and pay attention."

Skating comes with recognized, inherent dangers, Lisch said. The justification behind the state laws limiting cities' liabilities is that people are already skating elsewhere, like on steps of big buildings, something that can be far more dangerous than doing so at a skate park.

All of the injured skaters were younger than 18, DeSear said. All were skaters, except a child who was on a bicycle and didn't look where he was going.

There are no restrictions preventing bikers from using the skate park.

Jimmy Quezada has been coming to the skate park every day since it opened.

"It's pretty cool. Even if you fall, that's how you learn," the 18-year-old Bradenton resident said as he took a break from skating Thursday. "It's pretty much your own risk, you're coming here, nobody's forcing you."

Quezada, who said he has been skating for a few years, has been spending at least an hour a day at the skate park. He has fallen while skating, he acknowledges, "but it wasn't anything bad, just bruises."

Out of several skaters enjoying the park Thursday afternoon, only one wore knees and elbows pads.

"You buy your ticket, you take your ride," laughed Paul Thomas, also of Bradenton. "I'm 62 -- if I get hurt, it's my own fault."

Thomas used to skate back in the 1960s, stopped for many years, and then saw the teenagers at the Riverwalk park.

"It looked like they were having fun," he said. "So I bought my own skateboard today."

And for more than hour, Thomas laughed and smiled, joining other skaters rolling around the city's new attraction.

"As you get older, you don't have to worry about being cool," he said. "Just about having fun."

Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamValverde.

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