A man’s injury claims against a trampoline park are not arbitrable because his wife signed the arbitration agreement on his behalf without the authority to do so, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled.
In Burns v. Philly Trampoline Parks Delco, plaintiffs Joseph and Dawn Burns brought suit after Joseph Burns allegedly injured his ankle at Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park.
In a nonprecedential Oct. 31 opinion, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court ruled 2-1 to uphold a Delaware County trial judge’s decision that the claims are not subject to arbitration because Burns never signed, and was not aware of, the arbitration agreement.
The park’s owner, defendant Philly Trampoline Parks Delco, had filed preliminary objections, arguing that the Burnses’ claims must be submitted to arbitration pursuant to the park’s participant agreement, release and assumption of risk form, the Superior Court’s opinion said.
The Burnses responded that the agreement was unenforceable because Joseph Burns never signed it. Instead, according to the opinion, Dawn Burns had filled out and signed the form with her husband’s name on it.
The Superior Court said that while there was no evidence in the record that Joseph Burns had expressly given Dawn Burns authority to fill out the forms on his behalf, Sky Zone argued that there was an agency relationship between the husband and wife.
The Superior Court majority’s opinion, written by Judge John T. Bender and joined by Judge Jacqueline O. Shogan, largely deferred to the reasoning of Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Charles B. Burr II.
Burr found there was no implied authority for Dawn Burns to sign documents on her husband’s behalf.
“‘Implied authority is an extension of express authority,’” Burr wrote, according to Bender. “‘Neither the record nor Joseph Burns’ deposition supports that Joseph Burns gave Dawn Burns “authority to complete paperwork and enroll her husband in activities” as argued by [Sky Zone]. To the contrary, Joseph Burns stated in his deposition that Dawn Burns did not normally fill out waivers and forms for him and that she had never signed his name to participate in an activity.’”
Burr also said nothing in the record showed that Sky Zone’s employees would have had reason to believe Dawn Burns had authority to sign documents on her husband’s behalf.
Burr also rejected the theory of agency by estoppel, which required a showing that Joseph Burns knew or should have known that his wife had signed the arbitration agreement.
“‘Joseph Burns testified in deposition that he did not know about the agreement until after his alleged injury,’” Burr said. “‘He further testified that he was not aware that waivers needed to be signed for activities such as the trampoline park or that Dawn Burns had ever signed waivers on behalf of his children for activities akin to the trampoline park.”
Judge Mary Jane Bowes dissented from the Superior Court’s ruling, saying she would have enforced the arbitration agreement.
“Mr. Burns openly admitted that, when the family engaged in recreational activities, Ms. Burns ‘normally handles that stuff’”—meaning paperwork, Bowes said. “Thus, in connection with the allocation of the marital duties, Ms. Burns had the authority to handle paperwork and take care of ensuring her husband’s participation in recreational events.”
Counsel for the Burns, David F. Binder of Gold, Silverman, Goldenberg & Binder in Wayne, said he thought the trial court and Superior Court made the right decision.
Counsel for Sky Zone, David J. Shannon of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia, could not be reached for comment.
(Copies of the 17-page opinion in Burns v. Philly Trampoline Parks Delco, PICS No. 17-1674, are available at http://at.law.com/PICS.)