University of Iowa Student Files Lawsuit Over Climbing Wall Fall

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

A former University of Iowa student seriously injured in a 2012 fall from the campus climbing wall has filed a lawsuit accusing the university of negligence for, among other things, failing to properly supervise the apparatus, test equipment, and train climbers.

Spencer Bean, who was both a UI student and university recreational services employee assigned to the climbing wall, was climbing the 52.5-foot wall in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center about 9:50 p.m. Nov. 8, 2012.

Bean, then 21, was not working at the time and was “lead climbing” with a partner, meaning he was relying on his partner to belay him. His partner, identified in the lawsuit as Daniel Dennis, was using a personal belay device, and the two were taking turns belaying and climbing, according to the lawsuit.

As Bean neared the top of the climbing wall, which was approximately level with the center’s third-floor balcony, he fell — dropping 30 to 40 feet to the ground. He landed on his feet, according to the lawsuit, and suffered multiple injuries, including two crushed vertebrae.

Campus officials closed the climbing wall after the fall and conducted an internal investigation. UI investigators found that neither the wall nor its components contributed to the fall, but it couldn’t determine the cause.

Risk Management officials did, however, recommend the UI make some changes before reopening the wall, including implementing stricter training and testing policies, updating camera equipment, re-evaluating what non-UI equipment can be used, and communicating to users that they are responsible for those devices, according to a 2013 report in The Gazette.

In addition to requiring users be tested or retested, Risk Management advised the UI require all users to sign a new waiver and code of conduct statement.

The wall reopened Jan. 22, 2013, and Bean filed a claim with the State Appeal Board. On May 5, the board denied the claim, prompting Bean to sue the State of Iowa, which oversees UI.

Bean, in the lawsuit that was filed June 26 in Johnson County District Court, says he wasn’t responsible for the fall and his injuries were the result of UI negligence, including its failure to supervise climbers, properly monitor climbing activities, oversee access to the wall to prevent distractions, train climbers, monitor the use of non-UI equipment, and test belayers and devices.

He’s seeking damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, lost income, loss of full body and medical expenses, according to the lawsuit.

Bean no longer is listed as a student in the UI’s online directory. In a blog posted after the fall, friends and family members reported that he underwent eight hours of surgery, during which doctors had to collapse his left lung, and that he was recovering in Illinois.

Bean’s fall was the first one in the UI’s 13 years of operating a climbing wall, according to recreation officials. Before the current wall opened in the new wellness center in 2010, the Field House had a smaller version.

When asked about the lawsuit Thursday, UI spokesman Joseph Brennan said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

l Comments: (319) 339-3106; vanessa.miller@sourcemedia.net

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