Pa. court changes its mind, kills widow’s lawsuit over husband’s death in Philly Triathlon

Nearly a year after it told a widow she could sue over her husband’s death during the June 2010 Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon, the state Superior Court has changed its mind.

This time around, a majority on a nine-member panel of the same court concluded that Michele Valentino is barred from suing the race organizers because her husband, Derek, signed a liability waiver in order to participate in that fateful event.

Last December a sharply divided three-judge panel of the same court reached exactly the opposite conclusion and temporarily revived Valentino’s wrongful death suit, which had been dismissed by a Philadelphia judge.

The state court revisited the case after the Philadelphia Triathlon LLC challenged the December 2015 ruling.

No one is disputing that Derek Valentino’s death was tragic. The 40-year-old mail carrier from Prospect Park vanished during the first leg of the race, which involved a half-mile swim in the Schuylkill River. Divers recovered his body a day after the race.

Michele Valentino claimed in her suit that race organizers didn’t have enough safety measures, including properly trained lifeguards, in place.

Yet in the majority opinion the Superior Court issued this week, Judge Judith Ference Olson found that Derek Valentino’s signing of the liability waiver short-circuits his widow’s ability to sue over his death.

That waiver, Olson wrote, provides “overwhelming proof that Mr. Valentino intelligently and willingly assumed the risk of participating in the triathlon.”

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