Inexperienced tenpin bowler sues Alley for $156,000

The Facts

The lights dimmed, the games began, and Susan stepped up to take her turn. Susan was out with her work colleagues one evening for a session of ‘glow in the dark bowling’.

Like most of us, Susan had no real bowling skills.

In an effort to improve, she aligned her bowling stance to match an impressive looking bowler 2 lanes down. As she stepped forward to release the ball, Susan crossed the foul line and suddenly slipped and fell onto her left hip, causing a serious fracture and extreme pain.

Nearly two years later she was still in pain and unable to work or go about her day the way she had before the accident.

Susan brought a claim for compensation against the bowling alley, alleging the bowling alley’s lack of lighting and line marking caused her injuries. The bowling alley argued the contrary and claimed Susan failed to inspect the line marking.

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The conflict was decided at trial…

The Judgement

Was the bowling alley negligent?

In short, yes. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the bowling alley should have foreseen the high risk of injury involved.

Remember, a bowler is moving quickly, with a very heavy bowling ball in hand and in this case, under dim lighting.

It is little wonder these accidents occur so frequently. In fact, in the United States, bowling accidents over 17, 000 accidents were treated in hospital in 2015 alone. And bowling accidents were more common than Boxing and Rugby, seen as typically ‘more dangerous’ sports (see Graph below).

The judge confirmed this, stating that:


"The bowling alley owed Susan a duty of care, and breached that duty by not properly marking the line (nor warning [Susan] of that failure) "

Did Susan contribute to her injury?

The judge acknowledged that the act of bowling the ball (much like driving a car) is an intuitive action, but “requires the mind to process many things” including personal safety.

Susan attempted to look after her safety by aligning herself with another bowler, however, this was not enough. Susan could have perhaps looked harder for the line markings or paid more attention to where she stepped.

This one missed action resulted in the judge believing that she contributed to her own injuries by 40%.

What compensation was awarded?

Susan received around $156,000 (only 60% of the total amount) for pain and suffering, economic loss and future medical costs. 

MCW Legal's Opinion

At first glance, it seems harsh to attribute 40% liability to the Susan. She wasn’t intoxicated, she wasn’t deliberately breaking rules, and she did attempt to position herself properly.

However, the Susan did not properly look out for her safety. Or more accurately, did not provide enough evidence to support her statements that she took all the steps to avoid the accident. A person wouldn’t cross a road without looking in both directions or jump into a pool without looking where the ledge ends. In the same way, a person in Susan’s position likely wouldn’t bowl without gauging their distance from the foul line.

The Consequences

Subconsciously keeping a look out for safety isn’t enough to avoid injury – a claimant must prove they took all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk.

Gathering evidence and proving this point is difficult but crucial.

If a claimant cannot prove they took reasonable measures to look out for themselves, they might be found to have contributed to their injuries (which can have a devastating effect on compensation).

It is not always clear who is at fault for an accident in a public place, so it is important to be aware of one’s surroundings at all times. And maybe steer clear of glow-in-the-dark bowling alleys!

Written by Verity Smith | Law Graduate