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Will Pennsylvania bowling alleys post a sign of the times?

Bowling is a popular Allegheny County sport that few people associate with danger. Liability issues seem out of place in bowling alleys until you talk with someone whose rented, smooth-soled bowling shoes caused a slip, trip or fall.

Uninjured customers may be unaware of hazards of slippery bowling shoes but victims, their attorneys, business operators and lawmakers are not. Legislation discouraging liability claims is under debate in a nearby state and could emerge eventually in Pennsylvania.

Operators noticed that the number of premises liability claims rose steadily after a statewide indoor smoking ban was introduced in New York 10 years ago. Exposure to wet weather adds to the slipperiness of all shoes, especially non-grip bowling shoes.

A bill would allow bowling alley operators to avoid slip-and-fall lawsuits by tacking up signs in their establishments. The proposed signs would warn customers that wearing rented shoes outside the building could result in injury. The warning signs would deflect liability for slip-and-fall accidents from the bowling alley to patrons.

Liability signs already cover the walls of Illinois bowling alleys, where a similar bill was enacted in 2009. The language on the signs explicitly targets the slip and fall dangers of wet, rented shoes.

Bowling alley owners are hoping the legislation saves them money. Injury lawsuits are often settled out of court by insurance companies, which in turn raise premiums for the businesses they insure.

Some bowling alleys owners are not waiting for new liability laws to protect them. Operators are proactively involved in safety measures by encouraging customers with outdoor plans to retain and change into street shoes.

Trial attorneys say the New York measure lacks detail. Lawyers are concerned plaintiffs would be denied constitutional rights to make a legal claim for damages. As attorneys and victims know, businesses that do everything possible to maintain high safety standards prevent customer injuries and have few, if any, liability lawsuits to fear.

Source:  timesunion.com, "Proposal right down their alley" Rick Karlin, May. 21, 2013