Finally, in my fourth decade of practice, the law of Tug of War has finally been set forth by a court.
The Plaintiff was a church member and came to a church event held in a park. John v St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church, Inc., Slip Op. (PA Sup. 2017). The Plaintiff was married so we theorize he was an adult male. He got into a Tug of War game. The opinion of the court seemed to state this was part of the organized activity of the church event. The first game of Tug of War was mentioned, too, but not whether Plaintiff was victorious or whether he was an organizer, instigator, team captain or in the critical front or rear positions.
In the second game of Tug of War, either as a prank, a life lesson, or for some other reason (e.g., rope burns, unfair balance of the sides, sudden defeat, etc.), the team opposing the Plaintiff’s team suddenly dropped the rope and the Plaintiff’s team fell in a heap. Plaintiff suffered a “torn right ACL.” (The same injury happened to me in a church softball game in the ‘90s. I thought it was the result of age.) He required surgery and had other soft tissue injuries. The Plaintiff sued alleging that the person that called for the rope to be dropped was the Pastor.
The church asserted the defense of assumption of the risk. This defense typically applies to sports. Each sport has its “inherent risks” that participants knowingly encounter. The Plaintiff responded by claiming the call to drop the rope was a game changer that was not an anticipated risk. The Plaintiff claimed he had a reasonable expectation of how the Tug of War game was to be played. (Maybe the game is played differently in other places, but the winners I have witnessed almost always end up in a tangle on the ground after the defeated team is dragged across the line, through the mud, or through the water because the moment of victory is often sudden and the command to cease tugging has to be communicated to each of the completely focused victors, which with crowd noise is not always immediate. Ropes often break under the strain putting both teams on the ground in a heap.) Apparently, the appellate court members attended a Tug of War game or two.
“It cannot be disputed that falling down and colliding with other teammates are obvious and inherent risks of tug of war.” Opinion at 8. Finally, a statement of the law of Tug of War.