The risk of hiking over lava fields is an obvious risk; falling while hiking is also a possibility….so is suing when you do both…but you won’t win

Plaintiff signed up on a cruise ship to hike on a lava field. She was fully informed of the risks and admitted to knowing the risks in advance which is defined as assumption of the risk.

Andia, M.D., v. Full Service Travel, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88247

State: California and Hawaii, the accident occurred in Hawaii but the lawsuit was filed in California

Plaintiff: Ana Maria Andia, M.D.

Defendant: Full Service Travel, a California corporation, Celebrity Cruises, Inc., a foreign corporation, and Arnott’s Lodge and Hike Adventures

Plaintiff Claims: (1) negligence, on grounds that Defendant breached its duty of care to Plaintiff by failing to ensure the safety of participants in their excursions, and (2) negligence, on grounds that Defendant failed to warn Plaintiff of the known dangers and risks associated with the lava hike. & (1) negligence, on grounds that defendant cruise breached its duty of care to Plaintiff by failing to offer reasonably reliable and safe excursions, and (2) negligence, on grounds that defendant cruise failed to warn Plaintiff of the dangers and risks associated with the lava hike.

Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2007

Simple case, however, the facts are long because the defendants provided the plaintiff with a ton of information about the risks of the activity which the court reviewed.

The plaintiff signed up for a hike in the lava fields in Hawaii while on a cruise ship. The information about the hike stated the distance of the hike was always changing because of the lava flow. The hikers could return at any time; however, if they did they would return the way they came by themselves.

This information was provided to the plaintiff in a description of the hike provided by the defendant cruise line, in a brochure that plaintiff was given, in a release the plaintiff signed, and during a talk before the hike began.

Plaintiff in her deposition also admitted that she was an experienced hiker, that falling was always a possibility when hiking.

During a point in the hike, the plaintiff decided to turn around. While hiking back to the ranger station she fell breaking her foot. She sued for her injuries.

The lawsuit was started in the Federal District Court of Southern California. The defendant travel company was dismissed earlier in the case. The defendant hiking company cruise line filed motions for summit judgment.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the claims against the defendant hiking business. (The type of entity or whether it was an entity was never identified, and the court was not sure what the hiking company was also.)

The basis of the motion from the hiking company was that the risk of “…slipping, falling and injuring oneself on uneven, natural terrain is an inherent risk of lava hiking.”

The duty of care owed by the defendant hiking company in this situation is:

…a duty to use due care and avoid injury to others, and may be held liable if they’re careless conduct injures another person. The doctrine of primary assumption of the risk is an exception to this general rule. The doctrine arises where “by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity; the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury.”

The court then found the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applied because:

…conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part” of the activity itself. “The overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.”

Summing up its own analyses of primary assumption of risk the court stated:

If the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies, a defendant is only liable for a plaintiff’s injuries if the defendant “engages in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport or activity” or increases the inherent risk involved in the activity.

The plaintiff argued that the hiking company, Arnott’s, was guilty of gross negligence because:

Arnott’s did nothing to provide for Plaintiff’s safety on the lava hike once she determined she could not go forward; Arnott’s did nothing to warn plaintiff of the dangers of approaching too closely to the coastline; Arnott’s did not ensure plaintiff had sufficient water for her trip back to the Rangers station; Arnott’s was understaffed; Arnott’s failed to follow protocol by pressuring plaintiff to return to the ship rather than obtain treatment at the Hilo emergency room; Arnott’s offered misleading information about the trail markings; Arnott’s provided plaintiff with falsely reassuring directions back to the Rangers station; and Arnott’s permitted Plaintiff to hike in sneakers instead of boots. Plaintiff contends that this conduct constituted gross negligence, making the Agreement, which purports to exculpate Arnott’s of liability, unenforceable. Plaintiff also contends that the Agreement is an unconscionable and unenforceable contract of adhesion because it is a pre-printed form, contained multiple signatures and there was no alternative for Plaintiff but to sign it or wait at the Rangers station while the others hiked, losing a day of her cruise vacation.

However, the plaintiff’s arguments were not backed up with any facts. Arguing a point with facts that do not support your argument fails.  

The Court concludes that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies, negating Arnott’s general duty to prevent plaintiff from slipping and falling on lava rock, an inherent risk of the activity of lava hiking.

Nor did the actions of the defendant hiking company increase the risk of injury to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff knew the risks of hiking prior to the hike in question and admitted that in her deposition. The plaintiff was given information about the hike and had the risks of the hike explained to her four different ways prior to the hike. The plaintiff assumed the risk of here injuries, and the risk that plaintiff suffered causing her injury were visible to anyone hiking in the lava field.

The next issue the court reviewed with regard to the defendant hiking company was the duty to warn. “It is established law, at least in the exercise of ordinary care, that one is under no duty to warn an-other of a danger equally obvious to both.”

The court found for the hiking company on this issue based on the facts and found the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries because she could see the risk and continued on anyway. If you can see the risk, you cannot complain about not knowing about the risk.

The plaintiff’s claims against the cruise ship were then reviewed. A cruise ship has a different duty of care owed to its passengers. “The duty of care of the owner of an excursion ship is a matter of federal maritime law. That duty is to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.”

Here the plaintiff presented no evidence that the defendant cruise line did not exercise reasonable care to the plaintiff. The same facts when applied to the case also showed the defendant cruise ship had not breached its duty to warn to the plaintiff. The information and brochure were provided by the cruise ship to the plaintiff when she signed up for the hike.

[I]t is generally accepted that where a carrier.  . . has a continuing obligation for the care of its passengers, its duty is to warn of dangers known to the carrier in places where the passenger is invited to, or may reasonably be expected to visit.” However, “there is no duty to warn of a danger that is as obvious to the injured party as to the defendant.”

So Now What?

The case was won on two issues. The first was the risks of the activity were pointed out over and over again by the hiking company to the plaintiff. Information, brochures, safety talks all stated the risks of the activity which the plaintiff accepted when she turned around.

The second issue was the plaintiff in her deposition admitted to hiking experience. Possibly one or the other could have been enough to prove a defense for the defendants in this case; however, since both were so clear, the defense was easily proven.

Many times on hikes, we point out risk, as well as birds and beauty, to others with us. If you are guiding a hike, this requirement should concentrate your attention to these issues and your actions in pointing out risks. You can cover many of the risks of an activity such as hiking with a general talk at the beginning. “We are going to be walking on uneven surfaces. There will be many rocks and roots to trip on. Pay attention to where you are putting your feet and make sure you are on a solid surface when walking.”

As much as releases are an important defense and source of information for your guests, assumption of the risk is making a comeback in the outdoor recreation industry. If your release fails for any reason, assumption of the risk is the best and maybe the only other defense you have available.

Besides the more your gusts know and understand the risks of the activity the less likely the will be to be injured and the better the experience they will have. Leave scaring guests to fun houses at Halloween.

The one confusing issue in the case was the courts use of California law to decide a case that occurred in Hawaii. The federal courts are for situations like this when the parties are from different states. The plaintiff was from California, and the defendants were from Hawaii. However, without an agreement as to the law that should be applied to the case, Hawaiian law, I believe should be applied. Here the court used California law.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Andia, M.D., v. Full Service Travel, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88247

Andia, M.D., v. Full Service Travel, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88247

Ana Maria Andia, M.D., Plaintiff, vs. Full Service Travel, a California corporation, Celebrity Cruises, Inc., a foreign corporation, and Arnott’s Lodge and Hike Adventures, a Hawaiian business of unknown structure, Defendants.

CASE NO. 06cv0437 WQH (JMA)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88247

November 29, 2007, Decided

November 29, 2007, Filed

CORE TERMS: hike, lava, station, terrain, falling, rock, summary judgment, hiking, slipping, uneven, duty of care, assumption of risk, cruise, inherent risk, trail, ship, warn, surface, viewing, passenger, excursion, admits, hiker, duty to warn, failure to warn, negating, minutes, causes of action, totally outside, gross negligence

COUNSEL: [*1] For Ana Maria Andia, an individual, Plaintiff: Harold M Hewell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hewell Law Firm APC, San Diego, CA; Howard M Rubinstein, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Howard Rubinstein, Aspen, CO.

For Celebrity Cruises Inc, a foreign corporation, Arnotts Lodge and Hike Adventures, a Hawaiian business of unknown structure Defendants: Gregory Dean Hagen, Tammara N Tukloff, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Drath Clifford Murphy and Hagen, San Diego, CA.

JUDGES: WILLIAM Q. HAYES, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: WILLIAM Q. HAYES

OPINION

ORDER

HAYES, Judge:

The matter before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Celebrity Cruises, Inc. and Arnott’s Lodge and Hike Adventures. (Doc. # 40).

Background

Defendant Celebrity Cruises, Inc. (“Celebrity”) is engaged in the business of providing passenger cruises to various destinations. 1 UMF 1. Arnott’s Lodge and Hike Adventures (“Arnott’s”) guides transport cruise ship passengers to Volcanoes National Park (“the Park”), and provide knowledge about where the lava flow is each day. UMF 3. In order to view the active lava flow, individuals must hike over cooled lava. This terrain is rugged and natural, consisting of uneven surfaces. Id. at 4; DMF 4. The Hawaii Volcanoes [*2] National Park Rangers (“Rangers”) place reflective markers and cones on the lava to be used by hikers as reference points. UMF 7.

1 The parties each submitted a statement of facts with their submissions in support of and in opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court relies upon the facts from Defendants’ Alleged Undisputed Material Facts (“UMF”), which are undisputed by Plaintiff and supported by the cited evidence, and the facts from Plaintiff s Disputed Material Facts (“DMF”), which are undisputed by Defendants and supported by the cited evidence.

In November, 2005, Plaintiff Ana Maria Andia, M.D. was a passenger on Defendant Celebrity Cruises, Inc.’s (“Celebrity”) passenger cruise ship. Plaintiff is an experienced hiker. Andia Depo, 35: 23-25. On November 27, 2005, Plaintiff signed up to participate in a shore expedition known as the HL 15, the Kilauea Lava Viewing Hike, guided by Arnott’s. UMF 8. On November 27, 2005, there was total visibility for many miles in every direction. Id. at 5.

Prior to beginning the hike, Plaintiff read the description of the hike that states: “This tour involves approximately two to six miles of hiking over very sharp and uneven surfaces.” [*3] Id. at 10. Plaintiff also read, understood and executed the “Lava Hike Participant, Release and Acknowledgment of Risk” (“Agreement”), which provides, in relevant part:

I agree not to hold Arnott’s liable for any accident or injury beyond its control. The hike to the Lava is conducted at a brisk pace and requires physically fit participants in good health who can readily hike on varied surfaces and elevation changes for extended periods. I, as a participant, acknowledge that I am taking this activity of my own free will and that I will not hold Arnott’s responsible for any injury incurred while . . . I am hiking on the paved or natural surfaces of the National Park. . . . I understand by reading this waiver that Arnott’s guides will provide only broad direction and safety guidelines and that I remain responsible for the actual path hiked and whether I choose to take the risks with possibly still hot Lava Flows.

Id. at 11. Plaintiff also received and read a document entitled “Arnotts Adventures proudly presents: The Kilauea Lava Hike Adventure” (“Brochure”), which informed Plaintiff that she may need to turn around and head back to the Rangers station alone, and that she did not need [*4] a trail to return safely. Id. at 14.

Prior to beginning the hike, Arnott’s informed Plaintiff that the lava flow had changed and that the hike was going to be longer than anticipated for that day. Id. at 13. Arnott’s also informed all participants in the hike, including Plaintiff, that they had the option of staying at the Rangers station and not going on the hike, and that there would be four decision points during the hike at which hikers could turn around and head back to the Rangers station. Id. at 13, 18.

Prior to beginning the hike, Plaintiff understood that the marked trail was merely a preferred route, and that the trail was not necessary to safely return to the Rangers station. UMF 15; Andia Depo, 63:1-15. Plaintiff also understood that guides would not stay with her during the hike and that she might be returning to the Rangers station unaccompanied. UMF 15, 16; Andia Depo, 63: 1-15, 64:22-24. Plaintiff understood that the hike would be difficult and strenuous. Andia Depo, 52: 17-19

For the first 30 minutes of the hike, and through the first two decision points, the hike proceeded on paved surfaces. UMF 20. During this period, Plaintiff recalls seeing reflective tabs on the [*5] paved surface. Id. Plaintiff’s companion recalls seeing reflective tabs stuck to the rocks for 10-15 minutes of the hike after leaving the paved road. Plaintiff does not recall whether or not the reflective tabs were stuck to the rocks. Id. at 21. Approximately 45 minutes into the hike, and after approximately 15 minutes of walking on unpaved terrain, Plaintiff decided to return, unaccompanied by a guide, to the Rangers station. Id. at 22. About 15 minutes into her return, Plaintiff slipped on one of the rocks. When Plaintiff slipped, she twisted her ankle. Plaintiff then lifted her foot up, and hit the top of her foot on the lava rock. As a result of these events, Plaintiff fractured her foot. Id. at 23. Plaintiff testified that she then proceeded back to the Rangers station. Andia Depo, 86:22-87:14. The fall itself could have caused the fracture to become displaced and surgery may have been required regardless of whether Plaintiff attempted to walk out of the lava fields. UMF 25. Plaintiff was given the option of going to the ship’s doctor or the Hilo emergency room for treatment, and Plaintiff elected to receive treatment with the ship’s doctor. Id. at 24; Andia Depo, 89:15-25; [*6] 90:1-10. Plaintiff testified that, as a result of the fracture, she was confined to a wheel chair for a period of months, had to take time off of work, and suffers impaired balance. Id. 15:13-14.

On February 24, 2006, Plaintiff filed the First Amendment Complaint (“FAC”) against Defendants Full Service Travel, 2 Celebrity and Arnott’s. (Doc. # 3). The FAC alleges causes of action against Arnott’s for (1) negligence, on grounds that Arnott’s breached its duty of care to Plaintiff by failing to ensure the safety of participants in their excursions, and (2) negligence, on grounds that Arnott’s failed to warn Plaintiff of the known dangers and risks associated with the lava hike. The FAC alleges causes of action against Celebrity for (1) negligence, on grounds that Celebrity breached its duty of care to Plaintiff by failing to to offer reasonably reliable and safe excursions, and (2) negligence, on grounds that Celebrity failed to warn Plaintiff of the dangers and risks associated with the lava hike.

2 On October 5, 2006, Defendant Full Service Travel was dismissed from the case, with prejudice.

On August 18, 2007, Defendants filed the Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [*7] Defendants claim they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) Arnott’s owed Plaintiff no duty to protect Plaintiff against the assumed risk of slipping and falling on the lava rock, (2) Arnott’s owed Plaintiff no duty to warn Plaintiff of the obvious risk of injury of slipping and falling on the lava rock, (3) Celebrity did not owe Plaintiff a duty to warn of the obvious risk of slipping and falling on lava rock, (4) the alleged negligence of Defendants did not cause Plaintiff’s injuries, and (5) the claim for punitive damages against Arnott’s is not warranted. After receiving evidence and briefing from the parties, the Court heard oral argument on November 9, 2007.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure where the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A dispute over a material [*8] fact is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). “Credibility determinations [and] the weighing of evidence . . . are jury functions, not those of a judge, [when] he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Choice of Law

The Court has jurisdiction over this action through diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. section 1331. Federal courts exercising diversity jurisdiction must [*9] apply the substantive law of the state in which they are located, except on matters governed by the United States Constitution or federal statutes, or on procedural issues. Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938). The Complaint alleges causes of action in negligence for breach of due care and for failure to warn. The elements of the tort of negligence are essentially identical under California and Hawaii law. See White v. Sabatino, 415 F. Supp. 2d 1163, 1173 (USDC Haw. 2006); Ladd v. County of San Mateo, 12 Cal. 4th 913, 917, 50 Cal. Rptr. 2d 309, 911 P.2d 496 (1996). Furthermore, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk is a measure of a defendant’s duty of care, and is essentially identical under both Hawaii and California law. Yoneda v. Andrew Tom, 110 Haw. 367, 379, 133 P.3d 796 (2006); Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 314-15, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696 (1992).

Discussion

I. Plaintiff’s Claims Against Arnott’s

Arnott’s contends that the risk of slipping, falling and injuring oneself on uneven, natural terrain is an inherent risk of lava hiking. Arnott’s contends that without this risk, the means of viewing this natural phenomenon would be severely limited to the general public. Arnott’s also contends that the evidence is uncontroverted that [*10] Arnott’s provided Plaintiff with written disclosures concerning the condition of the terrain, that guides would only give broad direction on the actual hike, that Plaintiff may need to turn around and head to the Rangers station alone, and that Plaintiff did not need a trail to return safely. Arnott’s contends that there is no triable issue of fact as to whether Arnott’s is liable for breach of its duty of care because the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies, negating any duty of Arnott’s to protect Plaintiff against the inherent risk of slipping and falling while lava hiking. Arnott’s contends that Plaintiff has failed to assert facts or introduce any evidence that demonstrates that the conduct of Arnott’s was totally outside the range of ordinary activity or that the conduct of Arnott’s increased Plaintiff’s risk of slipping and falling on the lava rock. Arnott’s also contends that there is no triable issue of fact as to whether Arnott’s is liable to Plaintiff for breach of the duty of Arnott’s to warn because the risk of slipping and falling on the natural terrain was equally obvious to Plaintiff and Arnott’s.

Plaintiff responds that the conduct of Arnott’s constituted [*11] gross negligence for the following reasons: Arnott’s did nothing to provide for Plaintiff’s safety on the lava hike once she determined she could not go forward; Arnott’s did nothing to warn Plaintiff of the dangers of approaching too closely to the coastline; Arnott’s did not ensure Plaintiff had sufficient water for her trip back to the Rangers station; Arnott’s was understaffed; Arnott’s failed to follow protocol by pressuring Plaintiff to return to the ship rather than obtain treatment at the Hilo emergency room; Arnott’s offered misleading information about the trail markings; Arnott’s provided Plaintiff with falsely reassuring directions back to the Rangers station; and Arnott’s permitted Plaintiff to hike in sneakers instead of boots. Plaintiff contends that this conduct constituted gross negligence, making the Agreement, which purports to exculpate Arnott’s of liability, unenforceable. Plaintiff also contends that the Agreement is an unconscionable and unenforceable contract of adhesion because it is a pre-printed form, contained multiple signatures and there was no alternative for Plaintiff but to sign it or wait at the Rangers station while the others hiked, losing a day [*12] of her cruise vacation. 3

3 Plaintiff does not dispute that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies, negating Arnott’s’ duty to prevent Plaintiff from slipping and falling on lava rock. Instead, Plaintiff relies solely on her contention that the Agreement itself is either an unenforceable exculpatory agreement or an unenforceable contract of adhesion. Defendants, however, do “not contend, nor have they even asserted, that the [Agreement] relieves them from liability for any alleged negligence, nor gross negligence.” Reply, p. 1-2.

A. Duty of Care

As a general rule, persons have a duty to use due care and avoid injury to others, and may be held liable if their careless conduct injures another person. Cal. Civ. Code § 1714. The doctrine of primary assumption of the risk is an exception to this general rule. Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696 (1992). The doctrine arises where “by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury.” Id. at 315. Whether the doctrine of assumption of risk applies, thereby negating a duty of care, turns on [*13] the “nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.” Id. at 309. In reviewing the nature of the activity, the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies where “conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part” of the activity itself. Id. at 315. “The overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.” Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, 32 Cal. App. 4th 248, 253, 38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65 (1995).

If the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies, a defendant is only liable for a plaintiff’s injuries if the defendant “engages in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport or activity” or increases the inherent risk involved in the activity. Saville v. Sierra College, 133 Cal. App. 4th 857, 866, 36 Cal. Rptr. 3d 515 (4th Dist. 2005); Kane v. National Ski Patrol, 88 Cal. App. 4th 204, 209, 105 Cal. Rptr. 2d 600 (4th Dist. 2001). The relationship between an instructor and student is instructive [*14] on the issue of whether the Arnott’s guides engaged in reckless conduct or increased the inherent risk involved in lava hiking. Kane, for example, involved candidates for a voluntary ski patrol who participated in a skills clinic instructed by Larry Stone, a National Ski Patrol System (“NSPS”) instructor. 88 Cal. App. 4th at 207. Stone led the clinic participants to the most difficult terrain at the resort. When the participants were reluctant to proceed through a portion of the trail, which was icy and spotted with trees, rocks and stumps, Stone asked the clinic participants what they would do “if there was a skier over the side?” Id. at 208. Although both plaintiffs felt uncomfortable with continuing down the terrain, they carried on, following Stone’s direction. Id. One plaintiff ultimately caught an “edge” with his ski, causing him to fall to his death, and the other plaintiff fell and suffered a broken leg. Id. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, holding that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied, negating the defendant’s duty of care. The court reasoned that “an instructor’s assessment errors – either in making the necessarily subjective [*15] judgment of skill level or the equally subjective judgment about the difficulty of the conditions – are in no way ‘outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.” Id. at 214.

Plaintiff admits that she is an experienced hiker. Andia Depo, 35:23-25. Plaintiff admits that falling is always a risk when engaging in any kind of strenuous hike on steep and uneven terrain. Id. at 153:8-14. Plaintiff admits that prior to starting the hike she was aware that she would be hiking over “very sharp and uneven surfaces.” Id. at 51:8-13. Plaintiff does not introduce any evidence to refute that hiking across uneven and challenging natural terrain is an inherent risk of hiking to active lava flow, without which the general public would be substantially deprived of viewing this natural phenomenon. The Court concludes that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies, negating Arnott’s general duty to prevent Plaintiff from slipping and falling on lava rock, an inherent risk of the activity of lava hiking.

Plaintiff admits that, prior to the hike, Arnott’s provided the following written disclosures, which she understood: that the natural terrain was uneven and challenging; that [*16] during the hike she would be responsible for the path she traveled; that the guides would give only broad direction; that she may have to return to the Rangers station alone; and that the trail was merely a preferred route, and not necessary to safely get back to the Rangers station. Despite these disclosures, Plaintiff asserts that the decision to allow Plaintiff to return to the Rangers station alone and subsequent conduct on the part of the Arnott’s guides constituted gross negligence. The Court finds that the decision to allow Plaintiff to return alone and subsequent conduct on the part of Arnott’s guides at most constituted “assessment errors,” but these “subjective judgment[s] about the difficulty of the condition[s],” were “in no way so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved” in the activity of lava hiking. See Kane, 88 Cal. App. 4th at 214. Plaintiff emphasizes that Arnott’s’ conduct, such as permitting her to participate in the hike wearing sneakers instead of hiking boots, was grossly negligent. However, the Court finds that there is no evidence in the record to support Plaintiff’s conclusion that Arnott’s conduct, including permitting [*17] Plaintiff to wear improper footwear, hike over thin lava crust, return to the Rangers station alone and without sufficient water, or return to the ship instead of going to the Hilo emergency room, increased the risk of Plaintiff’s injury. The Court concludes that there is no triable issue of fact as to whether Arnott’s conduct was so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity or otherwise increased the inherent risk involved in the activity of lava hiking.

The Court grants summary judgment on Plaintiff’s negligence claim against Arnott’s for breach of duty of care.

B. Duty to Warn

“It is established law, at least in the exercise of ordinary care, that one is under no duty to warn another of a danger equally obvious to both.” Marshall v. United Airlines, 35 Cal. App. 3d 84, 90, 110 Cal. Rptr. 416 (1973).

Plaintiff admits she is an experienced hiker, that she was aware that falling is always a risk involved in any kind of hike on steep and uneven terrain, that she knew that the terrain she would cover during the lava hike was rugged and uneven, and that she read the Agreement and the Brochure, which both emphasize the strenuous nature of the hike, the possibility that Plaintiff would [*18] have to return to the Rangers station alone and nature of the terrain. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to offer any evidence to demonstrate that the risk of slipping and falling on lava rock was any less obvious to Plaintiff than it was to Arnott’s. The Court grants summary judgment on Plaintiff’s negligence claim against Arnott’s for failure to warn.

II. Plaintiff’s Claims Against Celebrity

Celebrity contends that although Plaintiff alleges separate causes of action in negligence for breach of due care and for failure to warn, both of these claims allege only failure to warn. Celebrity contends that it had no duty to warn Plaintiff of the risk of slipping and falling on lava rock during a hike through a lava field because the risk was patently obvious and equally apparent to Plaintiff and Celebrity.

Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on all of Plaintiff’s claims against Celebrity states in full:

[P]laintiff relied on Celebrity to provide her with reasonably safe shore excursions. The dangers of the lava hike with Arnott’s were not readily apparent to her or anyone else who had not [*19] taken the hike. Celebrity’s reliance on Deroche is misplaced.

This was not a scooter ride, which a reasonable person knows poses obvious dangers. It was a hike to a uniquely dangerous place. [Plaintiff] reasonably relied on Celebrity to exercise due care in providing her with a safe guide service, and in offering a potentially life-threatening venture. Celebrity had a duty to ensure that Arnott’ s was a reasonable safe and reliable service. Celebrity is liable for breach of that duty.

Opposition, p. 19-20.

A. Duty of Care

The duty of care of the owner of an excursion ship is a matter of federal maritime law. DeRoche v. Commodore Cruise Line, Ltd., 31 Cal. App. 4th 802, 807, 46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 468 (1994). “That duty is to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.” Id. at 807-8.

Plaintiff fails to introduce any evidence to support her claim that Celebrity did not exercise due care when it enrolled Plaintiff in “excursion HL 15, the Kilauea Lava Viewing Hike, an unreasonably dangerous and poorly run and operated excursion.” See FAC, P 35-36. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed introduce any evidence demonstrating Celebrity breached its duty [*20] of due care to Plaintiff. The Court grants summary judgment on Plaintiff’s negligence claim against Celebrity for breach of duty of care.

B. Duty to Warn

“[I]t is generally accepted that where a carrier . . . has a continuing obligation for the care of its passengers, its duty is to warn of dangers known to the carrier in places where the passenger is invited to, or may reasonably be expected to visit.” DeRoche, 31 Cal. App. 4th at 809. However, “there is no duty to warn of a danger that is as obvious to the injured party as to the defendant.” Id. at 810.

As previously discussed, Plaintiff admits she is an experienced hiker, that she was aware that falling is a risk involved in any kind of hike on steep and uneven terrain, that she knew that the terrain she would cover for the lava hike was rugged and uneven, and that she read the Agreement and the Brochure, which both emphasize the strenuous nature of the hike, the challenging nature of the terrain and the possibility that Plaintiff would have to return to the Rangers station alone. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed offer any evidence that demonstrates the risk of falling [*21] on lava rock was any less obvious to her than it was to Celebrity. The Court grants summary judgment on Plaintiff’s negligence claim against Celebrity for failure to warn.

Conclusion

Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Celebrity Cruises, Inc. and Arnott’s Lodge and Hike Adventures (Doc. # 40) is GRANTED. The Court directs the Clerk of the Court to enter JUDGMENT for Defendants and against Plaintiff.

DATED: November 29, 2007

/s/ William Q. Hayes

WILLIAM Q. HAYES

United States District Judge


The FlowRider looks fun because it has a lot of people trying it, falling and suing

Ignoring the risks that are presented by the defendant are not a way to prove your claim.

Magazine v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41092

State: Florida, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Plaintiff: Mary Magazine

Defendant: Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD. d/b/a Royal Caribbean International

Plaintiff Claims: “(1) the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular injury; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the breach actually and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered actual harm

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding:

Year: 2014

The FlowRide is a surfing simulator. It consists of a sloped surface with water shooting up to the top. The water flowing up is similar to a wave and used to learn to ride a wave or just have fun. You can find Flowriders in stores along the ocean and in this case on a cruise ship.

The plaintiff was a 59 year old attorney that signed up for the cruise. The cruise is a “Card Player Cruise.” These cruises are pushed to poker players. The plaintiff signed up for the cruise two weeks in advance and registered to participate in several activities: ice skating, rock climbing, zip lining and the FlowRider. In doing so she signed an electronic release.

The defendant argued the plaintiff was warned of the risks. There was a “Caution” sign was located in the FlowRider viewing area. There was also a five-minute video that played on television channels on the cruise. There was a list of warnings on the bulletin board.

The plaintiff watched another person on the FlowRider and watched that person fall. The plaintiff’s turn came on the FlowRider. She alternated with other riders and fell 10- to 12 times before falling and breaking her leg. The FlowRider lessons were videotaped including the plaintiff’s fall which broke her leg.

Summary of the case

The court refers to the plaintiff by her last name, Magazine and to the defendant Royal Caribbean Cruises as RCL.

Because the accident occurred on a ship, the standard of care is different. “…a shipowner owes the duty of exercising reasonable care towards those lawfully aboard the vessel who are not members of the crew.”

The judge first throughout the negligent design claims. To be liable for negligent design a “defendant must have played some role in the design.” Because the defendant did not design the FlowRider that claim was thrown out. Also, the negligent maintenance claim was also thrown out.

A shipowner does have a duty to warn passengers of dangers which the shipowner knows or should know about “and which may not be apparent to a reasonable passenger”.

The duty to warn does not extend to dangers that are “open and obvious.” “The obviousness of a danger and adequacy of a warning are determined by a ‘reasonable person’ standard, rather than on each particular plaintiff’s subjective appreciation of the danger.

Whether adequate efforts were made to communicate a warning to the ultimate user and whether the warning if communicated was adequate are uniformly held questions for the jury.

The plaintiff argued that she did not see any of these warnings. However, the plaintiff also stated that even if she had seen the warnings “…she would not have heeded warnings anyway.” The court also stated that the risk of falling was an open and obvious risk in this case.

The court also looked at the requirements the plaintiff had to meet to prove her case. “Thus, to prove that a defendant’s failure to warn caused an injury, the plaintiff must show that the risk about which the defendant failed to warn the plaintiff caused the injury.”

Therefore, to prevail on a negligence claim predicated on a defendant’s failure to warn, a plaintiff must identify a specific risk (1) of which the defendant had notice or constructive notice, (2) that is not open and obvious, (3) about which the defendant failed to warn the plaintiff, and (4) that actually caused the plaintiff’s injury.

The plaintiff argued that it was not falling that caused her injury, but the specific way she fell, which was not identified as a risk of the activity. However, the court did not agree with the argument.

First, any failure by RCL to warn of this general risk did not proximately cause Magazine’s injury. Magazine expressly testified that a warning sign referring only to a “risk of serious bodily injury or death” would not have stopped her from participating in the FlowRider and there is no indication in the record that such a warning might have reduced the severity of her injury. Therefore, any breach by RCL of a duty to warn Magazine of the risk of serious bodily injury or death did not proximately cause Magazine’s injury.

Second, the general risk of injury on the FlowRide is open and obvious. The FlowRider is a recreational activity, and the risk of which Magazine argues she should have been warned is created by the FlowRider itself, rather than by an anomalous condition in an otherwise safe area, such as a protruding nail or slippery substance on a walkway.

The court then stated, “Courts routinely recognize that sports and similar recreational activities pose an inherent risk of injury and that such inherent risk, in the absence of some hidden danger, is open and obvious.”

The court then looked at the various other arguments of the plaintiff stating that the surface was not as the plaintiff had imagined that the medical issues suffered by the plaintiff were not related to the warnings and the FlowRider, and the Defendant had a duty to inform riders of other injuries participants had received. The court found all of these arguments of the plaintiff all failed because the risks were open and obvious.

Put simply, while Magazine contends that certain warnings should have been more prominently displayed, she has not identified any risk about which she should have been warned differently such that a warning might have made a difference.

The court then reviewed the negligent instruction claim of the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that how she was instructed, and the methods used to teach here lead to her injury.

While the Court is not deciding this issue of law at this time, in a paid lesson for a sport or similar recreational activity such as the FlowRider, reasonable care by an instructor may include not exposing a plaintiff to risks beyond those inherent in the recreational activity itself, at least not before the plaintiff is ready to handle those risks.

The court found that the plaintiff may have a claim based on negligent instruction.

The relevant risk is not of falling but of falling in a way likely to result in injury, such as by losing control of the board while falling. RCL’s argument that “there is no record evidence that RCL was on notice that the use of the balance rope was a danger to any passenger” is also not dispositive, because the requirement of notice applies to risks created by passive conditions such as slippery walkways or protruding nails, not to risks created by a defendant’s actions.

The court then found that:

to (1) whether the instructors’ handling of the balancing rope breached their duty of reasonable care under the circumstances and (2) whether any such breach actually and proximately caused Magazine’s injury.

However, the court found the plaintiff’s arguments to be thin and thought she would have a hard time proving those elements at trial.

So Now What?

If you have warning signs, videos, or information of the risks of your activity and are using a release, put in the release that by signing the release the signor states they have seen the warnings and videos and reviewed the website.

During registration for your activity, tell people to read the warnings, watch the videos and read all warning signs.

If you are using methods to teach or use a device that are not suggested by the manufacture or are different from the standard of care for the activity, this case suggests you should inform people of those differences.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD., Royal Caribbean International, FlowRider, Cruise, Surfing, Release, Electronic Release,

 


Georgia Federal Court finds that assumption of the risk is a valid defense in a head injury case against a bicycle helmet manufacturer.

If you purchase a helmet that only protects part of your head, then you cannot sue for injuries to the part of your head not protected.

Wilson v. Bicycle South, Inc., 915 F.2d 1503; 1990 U.S. App. LEXIS 18903; 31 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 682

State: Georgia, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Plaintiff: Lois Elaine Wilson

Defendant: Bicycle South, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Product Liability (breach of warranty, strict liability, and negligence)

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk and Open and Obvious

Holding: For the defendants

Year: 1990

This case is fairly easy to understand, even though the opinion is quite complicated. The plaintiff was riding her bike from Florida to California. While traveling through Georgia she crashed suffering head injuries.

She sued claiming the rear wheel of the bike collapsed causing her crash. She claimed her head injuries were caused because the helmet failed to protect her head.

She sued the wheel manufacturer, Opportunities Inc., the bicycle manufacturer, Trek Bicycle Corporation and the retailer Bicycle South, Inc. The three defendants were found not liable at trial.

The jury did find the helmet manufacturer, Skid Lid Manufacturing Company liable for the plaintiff’s head injuries. The majority of the decision reviews the helmet issues. The plaintiff purchased the helmet for her ride. The helmet was a “half helmet” which only covered the top half of her head. The helmet came down to about the top of her ears.

The jury found in favor of the plaintiff on the head injury issue caused by the helmet manufacturer. The defendant Skid Lid moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, (JNOV), which the court granted. The defendant helmet manufacturer appealed the decision.

A JNOV is effectively a motion filed by the losing party and the judge overrules the jury. This is a motion that is rarely granted and only done so to overcome extreme or unreasonable jury verdicts. The judge must find that no reasonable jury could reach the decision that was reached by the jury in the case. Normally this is because there are insufficient facts to support the claims or the jury applied the law incorrectly.

In this case, the JNOV seemed to have been entered because the jury ignored the defenses presented by the defendant.

Summary of the case

Georgia at the time of the decision allowed several defense to product liability claims, two of which were: Assumption of the risk and the “open and obvious” defects. Variations of these defenses are available in some, but not all states. The trial judge in this case granted the JNOV based on the Assumption of the Risk defense. The appellate court looked at both of these defenses.

The open and obvious defense states a plaintiff cannot recover from a defendant when the alleged defect is patent and obvious to the user.

The open and obvious rule states that a product is not defective if the peril from which injury could result is patent or obvious to the user. This determination regarding the peril is made on the basis of an objective view of the product. In assessing what is obvious, it must be remembered that, contrary to the belief of some, the American public is not child-like.

This defense is not based on a defect in the product, only that the product will not or will do something that is patent, and open and obvious.

The defense applied here because the plaintiff when purchase the helmet purchased one that only covered part of her head. It was “obvious” that the helmet would not protect the part of her head that the helmet did not cover.

The assumption of risk defense is slightly different, but also applicable in this case. If the consumer knows of a defect in the product, is aware of the danger presented by the defect and proceeds to use the product anyway the plaintiff is barred from recovering. “The first part of the test, actual knowledge of the defect and danger, is fulfilled because appellant had subjective knowledge that the helmet she purchased only covered a portion of her head.”

The assumption of risk defense in Georgia is slightly more difficult to prove because the injured plaintiff must have known about the defect. (However, a defect only becomes one in pleadings after an injury has occurred.) What I mean by this is, as a manufacturer should point out the limitations of the product in the information supplied by the product. This provides the necessary notice to a user of the defect and provides a defense to the manufacturer.

The court also ruled on evidentiary issues in the case which are not important in understanding these issues.

So Now What?

For manufacturers, selling a product means more than just point out the great features of the product. You must warn the consumer of any problems or issues with the product and you must point out what the product cannot do.

That does not mean that you should point out your bicycle won’t get you to the moon. It might mean you should point out that the bicycle should only be ridden on roads if it is a road bike. Videos online show road bikes being ridden everywhere, but that does not mean as a manufacturer you should be liable when someone tries to ride the Monarch Crest Trail on your road bike.

As a retailer, you should point out the differences in products trying to specifically point out short comings about a product. This helmet has a MIPS system in side, this one does not.

Both of these defenses are easy to rely on, however not all states still allow the use of these defenses.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss              

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Opportunities, Incorporated, Trek Bicycle Corporation, Bicycle South, Inc., Skid Lid Manufacturing Company, Open and Obvious, Assumption of the Risk, Product Liability, Helmet, Wheel, Cycling, Bicycle, Bike,

 

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Wilson v. Bicycle South, Inc., 915 F.2d 1503; 1990 U.S. App. LEXIS 18903; 31 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 682

Wilson v. Bicycle South, Inc., 915 F.2d 1503; 1990 U.S. App. LEXIS 18903; 31 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 682

Lois Elaine Wilson, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Bicycle South, Inc., a Georgia Corporation, et al., Defendants-Appellees

No. 89-8522

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

915 F.2d 1503; 1990 U.S. App. LEXIS 18903; 31 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 682

October 30, 1990

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Amended.

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. No.1: 85-cv-2658-CAM; Moye, Jr., Judge.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Robert H. Benfield, Jr., Middleton & Anderson, Atlanta, Georgia, for Appellant.

For Trek Bicycle: Stephen F. Dermer, Smith Gambrell & Russell, Atlanta, Georgia.

For Bicycle South: Jonathan Mark Engram, Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers, Thomas E. McCarter, Atlanta, Georgia.

For Opportunities, Inc.: Tommy T. Holland, Carter & Ansley, Christopher N. Shuman, Atlanta, Georgia.

For Skid Lid: Palmer H. Ansley, Long Weinberg Ansley & Wheeler, David A. Sapp, Atlanta, Georgia.

JUDGES: Clark, Circuit Judge, Morgan and Hill, * Senior Circuit Judges.

* See, Rule 34-2(b), Rules of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

OPINION BY: HILL

OPINION

[*1504] HILL, Senior Circuit Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

This appeal concerns a products liability action based upon alleged breach of warranty, strict liability, and negligence resulting in injuries to Lois Elaine Wilson (“Wilson”), appellant. Wilson incurred head injuries during an accident in Georgia while on a cross-country bicycle trip. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Wilson and against one defendant on a bicycle helmet defect claim, and against Wilson and in favor of three defendants on a bicycle wheel defect claim. The district court granted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the helmet claim. Plaintiff appeals [*1505] this grant and also alleges several other errors by the district court concerning the bicycle wheel claim.

A. Issues Presented

Appellant raises four distinct categories of issues on appeal. First, appellant claims that the district court erred in granting appellee Skid Lid Manufacturing Company’s (“Skid Lid”) motion for a judgment notwithstanding [**2] the verdict. Second, appellant contends that the district court improperly commented on the evidence. Third, she asserts that the district court committed reversible error by refusing to admit “similar accident” evidence. Finally, appellant maintains that the district court erred in charging the jury on the defense of “legal accident.”

We hold that the trial court did not err in granting the JNOV. Nor do the trial judge’s comments on the evidence provide cause for reversal. Similarly, we find appellant’s third and fourth contentions to be meritless.

B. Factual and Procedural History

On January 6, 1983, appellant purchased a Trek 614 touring bicycle. Trek Bicycle Corporation (“Trek”) manufactured the bicycle, Opportunities, Incorporated (“Opportunities”) assembled the bike’s rear wheel according to Trek’s specifications, and Bicycle South, Inc. (“Bicycle South”) sold the bike to appellant. The latter three parties will be referred to collectively as “the bicycle defendants.” On February 9, 1983, appellant also purchased, from a company not a party to this lawsuit, a bicycle helmet manufactured by Skid Lid. Rather than purchase a helmet covering her entire head, appellant chose [**3] one that only covered the top half of her head, coming down to about the top of her ears.

Wilson purchased the bike and helmet for a cross-country bicycling trip from Florida to California. Eight days into her trip, on April 23, 1983, Wilson sustained head injuries in a fall from the bicycle while she was riding downhill on a two-lane Georgia highway between Plains and Americus, Georgia. Between January 6 and April 23, Wilson had ridden approximately 1200 to 1600 miles on the bicycle.

The cause of appellant’s fall is disputed by the parties. Appellant maintains that the rear wheel collapsed into a saddle-like shape as a result of an improper manufacturing process and a failure to retrue the spokes of the wheel after the rim was assembled. Under this theory, the tension in the wheel, which was not released after the rim was formed and the wheel assembled, caused the spokes to loosen after use and led to the collapse. The bicycle defendants, on the other hand, maintain that the fall did not result from the wheel collapse, but that the wheel collapsed as a result of appellant’s fall from the bike. 1

1 The actual cause of the fall does not affect the issues currently before this Court.

[**4] The point of initial impact between Ms. Wilson’s head and the pavement was behind her left ear and below the edge of the helmet. As a result of the impact, she claims that she sustained three injuries. The first two, a basilar skull fracture and occipital scalp laceration, were not particularly serious and do not comprise the more serious damage. The more serious injury was a “contre-coup” (an injury to the opposite side of the head from the point of initial impact) brain contusion.

Alleging defects in the bicycle wheel and helmet, Ms. Wilson filed a complaint in this products liability action based upon breach of warranty, strict liability, and negligence. During the trial, appellant attempted to introduce evidence of a prior bicycle wheel defect claim brought by another party against Trek, Opportunities, and another bicycle store, alleging that the incidents were substantially similar. The trial court excluded the earlier incident.

At the beginning of his charge, the trial judge explained to the jury:

As a federal judge, I have the right, power, and duty to comment on the facts, to express my opinion with respect thereto . . . but remember, in the last analysis, every factual issue [**5] in this case must be decided by you, by you alone, and anything that anybody else in this room says [*1506] about the facts is a mere opinion, not binding upon you.

Subsequently, referring to witness testimony, the judge again emphasized that “as sole judges of the facts, you, the jury, and you only, must determine which of the witnesses you believe and what portion of their testimony you accept and what weight you attach to it.” Prior to analyzing and giving his opinion of the evidence that Ms. Wilson presented, 2 the judge again cautioned the jury that “you, as jurors, are at liberty to disregard each, every, and all comments of the court in arriving at your own findings of the facts.” At the conclusion of his remarks, the trial judge further emphasized:

Let me stress as strongly as I can that you, the jury, are the sole and only judges of the facts. The past several minutes I have been giving you [**6] my opinion with respect to matters committed solely to your decision, not mine. My comments are and can only be expressions of a personal opinion and are not binding on you in any way, shape, or form. Remember that in considering every issue in this case, including those to which I have just alluded, you must resort to your own recollection of the evidence, not that which I have just stated. . . . You must, in the diligent performance of your duty, rely on your recollection of all the evidence and not merely that which I may have called to your attention and emphasized.

2 The trial judge focused especially on items of derogatory information with respect to appellant’s expert, Mr. James Green.

On April 13, 1989, the jury returned a verdict in favor of appellant against appellee Skid Lid in the amount of $ 265,000 on the helmet claim. On the bicycle wheel claim, the jury returned a verdict against appellant and in favor of the bicycle defendants.

On April 21, 1989, appellee Skid Lid moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and on May 24 the trial court entered an Order granting the motion. The court did so because it found that Ms. Wilson had “assumed the risk of injury as to parts of her body patently not covered by the helmet.”

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Helmet & the Judgment Notwithstanding the [**7] Verdict

[HN1] We review the district court’s grant of a JNOV under the same standard as the district court used in determining whether to grant a JNOV. As we stated in Castle v. Sangamo Weston, Inc., 837 F.2d 1550, 1558 (11th Cir.1988):

All of the evidence presented at trial must be considered “in the light and with all reasonable inferences most favorable to the party opposed to the motion.” A motion for judgment n.o.v. should be granted only where “reasonable [people] could not arrive at a contrary verdict. . . .” Where substantial conflicting evidence is presented such that reasonable people “in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusion, [sic]” the motion should be denied. (citations omitted)

In applying this standard for the sufficiency of evidence, we also look to Georgia substantive law to determine whether Skid Lid deserved judgment as a matter of law. See Erie v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938); Salter v. Westra, 904 F.2d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir.1990).

Defendants in products liability actions have asserted two similar defenses in attempting to steer clear of liability, assumption of the risk and the “open and obvious [**8] rule.” 3 While the trial judge in this case based the JNOV on assumption of the risk, we also address the open and obvious rule because affirmance of the JNOV is proper even if based on a different rationale. See Paisey v. Vitale, 807 F.2d 889, 890 (11th Cir.1986).

3 This rule is also known as the “patent danger rule” and has its roots in a New York decision involving negligence law, Campo v. Scofield, 301 N.Y. 468, 95 N.E.2d 802 (1950). New York later abandoned the rule in Micallef v. Miehle Co., 39 N.Y.2d 376, 384 N.Y.S.2d 115, 348 N.E.2d 571 (1976).

[*1507] We need not reach the assumption of the risk issue if the helmet was not defective because Skid Lid would have breached no duty to Ms. Wilson. We thus initially address the open and obvious rule. [HN2] The open and obvious rule states that a product is not defective if the peril from which injury could result is patent or obvious to the user. Stodghill v. Fiat-Allis Construction Machinery, Inc., 163 Ga. App. 811, 295 S.E.2d 183, 185 (1982). This determination [**9] regarding the peril is made on the basis of an objective view of the product. Weatherby v. Honda Motor Co., Ltd., 195 Ga. App. 169, 393 S.E.2d 64, 66 (1990) (certiorari denied June 21, 1990). In assessing what is obvious, it must be remembered that, contrary to the belief of some, the American public is not child-like. Stodghill is instructive in this respect. In Stodghill, the plaintiff was using a bulldozer manufactured by the defendants to clear felled trees from a construction site when a tree jumped over the bulldozer blade and struck him in the chest. The plaintiff claimed that the machine was defective because it had no protective metal cage surrounding the driver’s seat. The Georgia Court of Appeals recognized that the plaintiff “was obviously aware that the bulldozer he was operating had no protective cage and that the absence of this safety device exposed him to the danger of being injured by anything which might strike the driver’s compartment.” Id. 295 S.E.2d at 184. The court concluded that

“because the failure of the appellees in this case to install a protective cage over the driver’s seat of the bulldozer was an obvious characteristic of the machine [**10] which created no hidden peril and did not prevent the machine from functioning properly for the purpose for which it was designed, it cannot reasonably be considered a design or manufacturing defect under Georgia law.”

Id. at 185.

Similar to the absence of the protective cage on the bulldozer, it is or should be apparent to one who purchases an article of clothing or protective gear that the article can only protect that portion of the body which is covered. A person purchasing a bullet proof vest cannot realistically claim that he expected it to protect him from a bullet in the leg. Likewise, one purchasing a sleeveless t-shirt cannot protest that it should have protected him from a scrape on the arm. In the case at bar, rather than selecting a helmet covering her entire head, appellant elected to purchase a helmet that she knew covered only the top half of her head. She did know, or certainly should have known, that the helmet with less extensive coverage would not protect her from an impact to an area not covered by the helmet. Unlike a full helmet, the half-helmet was not designed to protect against impacts anywhere on the head. The extent of coverage was “an obvious characteristic [**11] of the [helmet] that created no hidden peril and did not prevent the [helmet] from functioning properly for the purpose for which it was designed.” Stodghill, 295 S.E.2d at 185. We thus find, as a matter of law, that the helmet was not defective under Georgia law. 4

4 We note that Georgia courts have been careful to avoid treating the American public as children where a peril is obvious or patent and the product thus not defective. In Weatherby, the five-year old plaintiff had been a passenger on an off-road motorcycle that did not have its gas cap in place. During the ride over uneven terrain, gasoline splashed from the open tank and ignited, causing burns to the plaintiff. The court found that an open fuel tank “surely suggests the possibility of spillage,” that because the fuel tank is located above the engine “gravity can be anticipated to bring the spilled fuel in contact with the engine and spark plug,” and that the dangers of spilled gasoline coming into contact with an engine are generally known. 393 S.E.2d at 67. The court consequently concluded as a matter of law that the peril of an open fuel tank resting over the engine and its spark plug was “an obvious or patent peril,” and that the product was thus not defective. Id. at 68.

[**12] Even if the failure to cover the full head were a defect, it is still beyond peradventure that appellant assumed the risk of injury to the parts of her body patently not covered by the helmet. [HN3] Under Georgia law, “‘if the user or consumer discovers the defect and is aware of the danger, but nevertheless proceeds unreasonably to make use of the product, he is [*1508] barred from recovery.'” 5 Center Chemical Co. v. Parzini, 234 Ga. 868, 870, 218 S.E.2d 580 (1975) (citation omitted). The first part of the test, actual knowledge of the defect and danger, is fulfilled because appellant had subjective knowledge that the helmet she purchased only covered a portion of her head. Had appellant, somehow, been unaware that the helmet only partially covered her head, the result might be different. As counsel for appellant admitted at oral argument, however, there is no evidence that she thought the helmet covered more of her head than it did cover, or that she believed it would protect her from injury to parts of her body not covered. Nor do we find, after our careful review of the transcript, any testimony to that effect. As for the second portion of the test, unreasonable use, it seems axiomatic [**13] to say that it is unreasonable to use a helmet to protect a portion of the body that the helmet clearly does not cover.

5 This test, in contrast to the open and obvious rule, looks to the subjective perceptions of the user or injured party. Another difference between assumption of the risk and the open and obvious rule is that while the latter places the burden of proof on the plaintiff, the former places it on the defendant. Weatherby, 393 S.E.2d at 66. See also Annotation, Products Liability: modern status of rule that there is no liability for patent or obvious dangers, 35 A.L.R. 4th 861, 865 (1985) (discussing open and obvious rule and the differences from assumption of the risk).

In sum, the district judge properly granted appellee Skid Lid’s motion for a JNOV.

B. Comments on the Evidence

At the close of the case, the district judge employed the time-honored, though little used, right and duty of a federal trial judge to comment on the evidence. As the Supreme Court stated in Quercia v. United [**14] States, 289 U.S. 466, 469, 53 S. Ct. 698, 698-99, 77 L. Ed. 1321 (1932):

[HN4] In a trial by jury in a federal court, the judge is not a mere moderator, but is the governor of the trial for the purpose of assuring its proper conduct and of determining questions of law. (citation omitted) In charging the jury, the trial judge is not limited to instructions of an abstract sort. It is within his province, whenever he thinks it necessary, to assist the jury in arriving at a just conclusion by explaining and commenting upon the evidence, by drawing their attention to the parts of it which he thinks important; and he may express his opinion upon the facts, provided he makes it clear to the jury that all matters of fact are submitted to their determination. (citations omitted) Sir Matthew Hale thus described the function of the trial judge at common law: “Herein he is able, in matters of law emerging upon the evidence, to direct them; and also, in matters of fact to give them a great light and assistance by his weighing the evidence before them, and observing where the question and knot of the business lies, and by showing them his opinion even in matters of fact; which is a great advantage and [**15] light to laymen. (citation omitted)

[HN5]

The trial judge will not be reversed unless his comments “excite a prejudice which would preclude a fair and dispassionate consideration of the evidence.” Id. at 472, 53 S. Ct. at 700. See also United States v. Hope, 714 F.2d 1084, 1088 (11th Cir.1983) (“[a] trial judge may comment upon the evidence as long as he instructs the jury that it is the sole judge of the facts and that it is not bound by his comments and as long as the comments are not so highly prejudicial that an instruction to that effect cannot cure the error”). 6 It is only where [*1509] this prejudice exists that the substantial rights of the parties are affected and Fed.R.Civ.P. 61 permits disturbing a judgment. 7 In assessing whether this prejudice exists and has affected the parties’ substantial rights, we consider the record as a whole and not merely isolated remarks. See Newman v. A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., 648 F.2d 330, 334-335 (5th Cir. Unit B June 1981). “The test is not whether the charge was faultless in every particular but whether the jury was misled in any way and whether it had understanding of the issues and its duty to determine those issues.” Bass v. International [**16] Bhd. of Boilermakers, 630 F.2d 1058, 1065 (5th Cir.1980) (citations omitted).

6 Other circuits have adopted similar language regarding a trial judge’s right to comment on the evidence. See, e.g., White v. City of Norwalk, 900 F.2d 1421 (9th Cir.1990); Johnson v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc., 892 F.2d 422 (5th Cir.1990); Vaughn v. Willis, 853 F.2d 1372 (7th Cir.1988); United States v. Munz, 542 F.2d 1382 (10th Cir.1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1104, 97 S. Ct. 1133, 51 L. Ed. 2d 555 (1977); Mihalic v. Texaco, Inc., 377 F.2d 978 (3d Cir.1967); Meadows v. United States, 144 F.2d 751 (4th Cir.1944); A number of practitioners and commentators have also assessed the role of the judge in a jury trial. See, e.g., Bancroft, Jury Instructions, Communications, Juror Substitutions and Special/Partial Verdicts: Selected Topics — The Principal Law, 340 Prac.L.Inst. 611 (1987); Loeffler, Project — Seventeenth Annual Review of Criminal Procedure: United States Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals 1986-1987 (III. Trial: Authority of the Trial Judge), 76 Geo.L.J. 986 (1988); Murphy, Errors in the Charge, 14 Litig. 39 (1988).

[**17]

7 [HN6] Fed.R.Civ.P. 61 provides in part:

“No error . . . is ground for granting a new trial . . . unless refusal to take such action appears to the court inconsistent with substantial justice. The court at every stage of the proceeding must disregard any error or defect in the proceeding which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties.”

Appellants allege that the district judge went too far in commenting on the evidence and on the testimony of their expert, Mr. Green. We do not doubt that a trial judge could misuse his authority. 8 After careful review of the record, however, while we are not prepared in this case to suggest the outside limits on a trial judge’s comments, we are satisfied that the district judge here did not overstep his bounds. As recounted in Part I.B. of this opinion, he went to great lengths to assure that the jury understood that it was the sole fact-finder in the case. 9 When his remarks are considered in their entirety, on the facts of this case we find no prejudice affecting the substantial rights of the parties.

8 Perhaps one of the best examples of a jury charge that would constitute an abuse of authority today, but was permitted prior to Quercia, is Judge Emory Speer’s eight and one-half hour, 92 page charge in United States v. Greene, 146 F. 803 (S.D.Ga.1906), cert. denied, 207 U.S. 596, 28 S. Ct. 261, 52 L. Ed. 357 (1907). In testimony before a congressional committee looking into the possibility of impeaching Judge Speer, Alexander Lawrence (one of Greene’s defense attorneys) characterized the judge and his charge as follows:

He knows the jury, knows how to play on their passions, on their prejudices, as no living man that I have seen could do it; he has a faculty for marshalling evidence that I have never seen another living man able to marshal; and in that Greene & Gaynor case he charged that jury for eight hours and I will challenge any six prosecuting attorneys in the United States, from the Attorney General down, all of them together, to take that mass of testimony taking three months’ time that Judge Speer heard, and then put it down in as ingenious an argument against the defense as Judge Speer put it in that thing. It was a masterpiece of oratory, but a very poor thing when you come down to look at it from a judicial standpoint.

H. Res. 234, 63rd Cong., 2d Sess. (1914) (Minority Report of Representative Volstead).

Since, Quercia, many appeals courts have overturned cases where the trial judge has gone too far. See, e.g., Bentley v. Stromberg-Carlson Corp., 638 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir.1981) (trial judge’s comments to the jury gave all the arguments for the defendant, being “tantamount to directing a verdict” for defendant); McCullough v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 587 F.2d 754, 761 (5th Cir.1979) (trial judge’s mistaken assertions virtually destroyed appellant’s circumstantial case, requiring reversal); Maheu v. Hughes Tool Co., 569 F.2d 459, 471-472 (9th Cir.1978) (trial judge’s comments amounted to “personal character reference” for witness and thus “went too far”).

[**18]

9 It seems that the jurors responded to the trial judge’s direction that they were the sole fact-finders. The judge brought to their attention that appellant’s expert had been prepared to testify that the helmet was defective because of one set of facts and then shifted his reasoning when that set of facts was disproven; nevertheless, the jury still awarded appellant $ 265,000 against the helmet manufacturer.

In the course of his remarks, appellant also contends that the trial judge improperly restricted her case to the testimony of her one expert, Mr. Green. In stressing the importance of Mr. Green’s testimony to appellant’s case, the judge stated as follows:

In this case, as in every case, there are the two big main issues: one, liability, and, two, the amount of any damages proximately flowing therefrom. The plaintiff has the burden of proving each and every element of the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff’s entire case here, and in meeting the elements which must be proved, rests upon the expert testimony, [*1510] that is, the expert opinion, of Mr. Green. Except for Mr. Green’s testimony, the plaintiff [**19] has not made out a case of liability. With Mr. Green’s testimony, the plaintiff has made out a legal case on liability; therefore, the court suggests that the first, immediate, and crucial issue in the case for you to determine is the credibility or the believability of Mr. Green.

After studying the record, we find no merit in appellant’s contention. We are inclined to agree with the trial judge that, without Mr. Green, the case would not have been one for the jury.

In sum, we find that on the facts of this case the trial judge’s comments to the jury, when taken as a whole, neither excited a prejudice affecting the substantial rights of the parties nor incorrectly instructed the jury.

C. The Allegedly Similar Accident

Appellant argues that the trial court erred by refusing to admit evidence of the collapse of another wheel manufactured by appellees Trek and Opportunity. Appellant sought to show appellees’ notice of a defect in the wheel, the magnitude of the danger, appellees’ ability to correct a known defect, the lack of safety for intended purposes, the strength of the product, the standard of care, and causation.

The trial judge denied the proffer on the grounds that the evidence [**20] was not probative because of the necessity for a considerable amount of extrinsic evidence to determine whether the incidents were sufficiently similar to meet the standards of Fed.R.Evid. 403. 10 [HN7] A trial judge has broad discretion over the admission of evidence, Borden, Inc. v. Florida East Coast Ry. Co., 772 F.2d 750, 754 (11th Cir.1985), and we find that the district judge did not abuse his discretion. 11

10 The cause of the alleged similar incident had never been established because that case settled out of court. The parties in the instant case vigorously dispute the actual cause, demonstrating that even had the trial court reached the issue of whether the two incidents were similar this issue would have required a trial within a trial.

11 Because of our disposition of this issue, we need not reach the question of whether the two incidents were actually similar, and if so, whether the prior incident would have been properly excluded under Fed.R.Evid. 403.

D. The Charge on “Legal Accident”

In his [**21] instructions to the jury, the judge included a charge on “legal accident.” 12 To determine whether such a charge is appropriate, we first look to Georgia substantive law. See Erie v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938); McCullough v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 587 F.2d 754, 759 (5th Cir.1979). [HN8] Georgia law permits a charge on “legal accident” where there is evidence in the record authorizing a finding that the occurrence was an “accident.” 13 Chadwick v. Miller, 169 Ga. App. 338, 344, 312 [*1511] S.E.2d 835, 840 (1983). 14 Where appropriate, the charge is valid in a products liability case. Kemp v. Bell-View, Inc., 179 Ga. App. 577, 579, 346 S.E.2d 923, 926 (1986).

12 This portion of the charge reads as follows:

Now, let me tell you that the mere fact that an accident happened or an occurrence happened from which injury stemmed standing alone does not permit a jury to draw any inference that the occurrence was caused by anyone’s negligence or by any defect.

Now, I have used the word “accident” loosely, as I think is commonly the practice, is interchangeable with the word occurrence producing injury, but in Georgia law accidental injury means, in connection with personal injury actions such as this, any injury which occurs without being caused by the negligence either of the plaintiff or of the defendants. The idea of accident removes responsibility for the cause of the injury if found to have occurred by reason of a legal accident as defined under Georgia law, that is, one which is caused by the negligence neither of the plaintiff or the defendants.

It is necessary that you find from a preponderance of the evidence in this case, in order to find for the plaintiff, that the occurrence and/or resulting injuries were the result of defect and/or negligence and/or breach of warranty to the exclusion of legal accident, as I have defined that term to you, because the plaintiff has the burden of proof, as I will charge you later, to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the occurrence did, in fact, result from defect and/or negligence and/or breach of warranty, to the exclusion of legal accident.

[**22]

13 [HN9] “Accident” is defined as “an occurrence which takes place in the absence of negligence and for which no one would be liable.” Chadwick, 169 Ga. App. at 344, 312 S.E.2d 835.

14 Appellant cites Seaboard Coastline R.R. Co. v. Delahunt, 179 Ga. App. 647, 347 S.E.2d 627 (1986), for the proposition that a charge on “legal accident” can be given only where there is no evidence of negligence on the part of either party. The Georgia Court of Appeals recognized in Stiltjes v. Ridco Exterminating Co., 192 Ga. App. 778, 386 S.E.2d 696, 697 (1989), however, that Delahunt had misstated the law in Georgia.

Because the manner of giving jury instructions is procedural rather than substantive, it is governed by federal rather than state law. McCullough, 587 F.2d at 759. In reviewing alleged errors in jury instructions, we must determine whether the trial court’s charge, considered as a whole, “sufficiently instructs the jury so that the jurors understand the issues involved and are not misled.” Mark Seitman & Assocs., Inc. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 837 F.2d 1527, 1531 (11th [**23] Cir.1988) (citation omitted). We will only reverse if we are left with “a substantial and ineradicable doubt as to whether the jury was properly guided in its deliberations.” Id. (citation omitted).

After careful review, we find evidence in the record that supports a charge on legal accident as defined by Georgia law. We are therefore satisfied that the district judge properly guided the jury with respect to this issue.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

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Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al., 1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al., 1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

Alicia Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al.

96-4863

SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, AT MIDDLESEX

1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

March 11, 1999, Decided

JUDGES: [*1] Raymond J. Brassard, Justice of the Superior Court.

OPINION BY: RAYMOND J. BRASSARD

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Plaintiff, Alicia Herberchuk (“Ms. Herberchuk”), brought this action for recovery of damages for injuries sustained while on land owned by defendant, Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. (“4H”), while attending an outing accompanied by co-workers employed by defendant, Teleglobe Communications, Inc. (“Teleglobe”). The plaintiff alleges that the injuries were caused by the negligence of the defendants and that there are genuine issues of material fact which preclude the entry of summary judgment on the issue of liability. For the reasons set forth below, defendants’ motions for summary judgment are ALLOWED.

BACKGROUND

Viewing the facts available at this summary judgment stage in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Ms. Herberchuk, the undisputed facts are as follows.

On August 28, 1993, Ms. Herberchuk attended an employee outing at a campground owned by 4-H. The campground had been rented through a third party under the name of Teleglobe by certain of its employees, but not by Teleglobe itself. At the cookout [*2] Ms. Herberchuk observed other guests using an apparatus known as a zipwire. The zipwire was used by children who attended the 4H’s camp during the summer months. Using the zipwire involved climbing up a ladder which reached to a platform mounted on a tree, and then leaving the platform to traverse the entire length of the wire. Proper use of the zipwire required a safety helmet, a safety harness, a drag line, and several people assisting the rider. The zipwire also included an 8 inch square 2,000 pound-test pulley to which the safety harness was attached. At the end of the camping season all removable equipment, including the safety equipment, was required to be removed from the zipwire, leaving only the cable and the platform.

On the date in question, a ladder found on or near the campground was propped against the tree upon which the platform was mounted by unidentified parties allowing guests to access the zipwire. Hanging from the zipwire was a nylon rope described as green in color which other guests were using to slide down the wire. No rules or instructions on how to use the zipwire were posted on or near the apparatus on the day in question. After watching several other [*3] people use the zipwire, Ms. Herberchuk decided she wanted to use the apparatus. In order to reach the zipwire, the plaintiff climbed the ladder. Although the ladder did not reach the platform at the end of the wire, Ms. Herberchuk was able to reach the platform by pulling herself up by her hands. Once on the platform Ms. Herberchuk wrapped the rope around her hands as she had seen others do and pushed herself off. Instead of traveling down the wire, however, Ms. Herberchuk fell to the ground sustaining serious injuries, including two elbow fractures and a fractured jaw. As result of these events Ms. Herberchuk commenced this lawsuit against 4H and Teleglobe. Both 4H and Teleglobe have moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

DISCUSSION

[HN1] Summary judgment shall be granted where there are no issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to as a matter of law. Kourouvacilis v. General Motors Corp., 410 Mass. 706, 716, 575 N.E.2d 734 (1991); Cassesso v. Comm’r of Correction, 390 Mass. 419, 422, 456 N.E.2d 1123 (1983); Community Nat’l Bank v. Dawes, 369 Mass. 550, 553, 340 N.E.2d 877 (1976); Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of affirmatively demonstrating the [*4] absence of a triable issue and that, therefore, she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pederson v. Time, Inc., 404 Mass. 14, 17, 532 N.E.2d 1211 (1989). If the moving party establishes the absence of a triable issue, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must respond and allege facts which would establish the existence of disputed material facts. Id.

[HN2] A judge, when ruling on a motion for summary judgment must consider “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate.” Flesner v. Technical Communications Corporation et al., 410 Mass. 805, 807, 575 N.E.2d 1107 (1991). Where no genuine issue of material fact exists, “the judge must ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented.” Id. citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

1. The Claim Against 4-H.

[HN3] A property owner has a duty to maintain its property [*5] “in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk.” Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693, 708, 297 N.E.2d 43 (1973). A defendant is not required to “supply a place of maximum safety, but only one which would be safe to a person who exercises such minimum care as the circumstances reasonably indicate.” Toubiana v. Priestly, 402 Mass. 84, 88, 520 N.E.2d 1307 (1988). “A landowner has no duty to protect lawful visitors on his property from risks that would be obvious to persons of average intelligence.” Id. at 89.

In the present case, Ms. Herberchuk claims there are genuine issues of fact concerning the condition in which the zipwire was kept, as well as, what actions 4-H took to prevent unauthorized use of the apparatus. The evidence on the record, for the purposes of this motion, includes affidavits from both Ms. Herberchuk and Mr. Charles G. Ingersoll, a member of the 4-H Board of Trustees, as well as exhibits, including photographs of the area immediately before the accident.

In his affidavit, Mr. Ingersoll states that, while not having [*6] a specific memory of doing so the summer during which Ms. Herberchuk was injured, it was his practice to remove and put away for the winter all those removable parts and safety equipment associated with the zipwire at the end of each camping season (before the outing). Mr. Ingersol also stated that the ladder used by the plaintiff to get to the platform was not one of those presently used by the camp and that the pulley was not on the line the day of the outing. Ms. Herberchuk admitted in her affidavit that when she first arrived at the outing there was no ladder attached to the tree and that when she attempted to make her way to the platform she had to pull herself up because the wooden ladder placed there did not reach the platform. Ms. Herberchuk stated further that she did not know if the pulley was attached to the wire or where the strap had come from.

[HN4] “The question to be decided is whether the jury reasonably could have concluded that, in view of all the circumstances, an ordinarily prudent person in the defendant’s position would have taken steps, not taken by the defendant, to prevent the accident that occurred.” Id. at 89. In this case the evidence shows that 4-H [*7] had removed both the ladder and the safety equipment used with the zipwire during the camping season. Upon arriving at the outing Ms. Herberchuk saw no ladder allowing entry to the platform rendering the zipwire inaccessible, it being twenty feet above the ground. Ms. Herberchuk chose to use the zipwire without the benefit of safety equipment or instructions on the use of the device. Ms. Herberchuk also admitted in her deposition that she knew there was a chance she could be injured but decided to use the apparatus. Further, 4-H did not have a duty to warn Ms. Herberchuk of the obvious dangers involved with using the zipwire without safety equipment or instruction. “There is no duty to warn of dangers obvious to persons of average intelligence.” Thorson v. Mandell, 402 Mass. 744, 749, 525 N.E.2d 375 (1988). On this evidence, a fair minded jury could not return a verdict for the plaintiff.

2. The Claim Against Teleglobe.

[HN5] “Before liability for negligence can be imposed there must first be a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, and a breach of that duty proximately resulting in the injury.” Davis v. Westwood Group, 420 Mass. 739, 743, 652 N.E.2d 567 (1995). [*8] Ms. Herberchuk urges that Teleglobe played a part in the organization and funding of the outing at which the plaintiff was injured. The evidence, however, is to the contrary. First, the outing was organized by Teleglobe employees because the company no longer sponsored such events. Second, the money to pay for the outing was raised by a group of employees independent of Teleglobe through the use of a raffle. Finally, Ms. Herberchuk’s attendance was not required by her employment and she received no compensation for attending. On this evidence a reasonable jury could not find that Teleglobe owed any duty to Ms. Herberchuk.

ORDER

For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that defendants’, 4-H and Teleglobe, motions for summary judgment are ALLOWED.

Raymond J, Brassard

Justice of the Superior Court

Dated: March 11, 1999


The Iowa Supreme Court reaffirms a Permission Slip is not a release, but leaves open the argument that releases may stop a minor’s claim for negligence.

City Parks Department sued for injuries of an eight-year-old girl hit by a flying bat at a baseball game field trip.

Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873; 2009 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 26

State: Supreme Court of Iowa

Plaintiff: Tara Sweeney, Individually, and by Cynthia Sweeney, Her Mother and Next Friend

Defendant: City of Bettendorf and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release (Permission Slip), No duty owed,

Holding: Split, the permission slip was not a release however there triable issues to the defense of duty owed

Year: 2009

The city recreation department would take kids on field trips to see minor-league baseball games in other cities. The plaintiff was an eight-year-old girl who loved baseball and her mother. The minor went on several of these field trips in the past. Her mother signed the permission slip and she went off on the trip.

In the past, the participants had sat behind home plate which was protected by netting from flying objects. This time the kids were taken to bleachers along the third baseline. They were told they had to sit there and could not move.

During the game, a player lost his grip on the bat which sailed down the third baseline hitting the girl. The minor had turned to talk to her friend when she was struck. No adults were around at the time.

The plaintiffs sued for negligent. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment citing a permission slip the mother had signed as a release and that the plaintiff had not shown a breach of duty owed to the injured minor.

The plaintiff’s opposed the motion for summary judgment arguing:

The plaintiffs further argued that even if the permission slip amounted to a valid release, it was fatally flawed because it purported to release only the Department and not the City. Finally, plaintiffs asserted even if the permission slip amounted to an anticipatory release of future claims based on acts or omissions of negligence, statutory and common law public policy prevents a parent from waiving such claims on behalf of a minor child.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment based on the permission slip no evidence of a breach of duty. The plaintiff’s appealed.

Summary of the case

The court reviewed several procedural issues and then looked into releases under Iowa law. The court found the permission slip was deficient in many ways.

…the permission slip contains no clear and unequivocal language that would notify a casual reader that by signing the document, a parent would be waiving all claims relating to future acts or omissions of negligence by the City. The language at issue here refers only to “accidents” generally and contains nothing specifically indicating that a parent would be waiving potential claims for the City’s negligence.

Based on the language in the permission slip the court found it could not enforce the release because it was not a release.

Next the court looked at whether being hit by a bat at a baseball game was an inherent risk of being a spectator at a baseball game. In Iowa this is called the inherent risk doctrine. (This doctrine is very similar to a secondary assumption of risk argument.) What created a difference in this issue, is the issue of whether a flying bat is an inherent risk, is a defense of the baseball team/promoter/owner or field rather than a city recreation department field trip.

In the majority of cases, spectators sitting outside protective netting at baseball stadiums have been unable to recover from owners or operators for injuries related to errant bats and balls on the ground that such injuries were an “inherent risk” of attending the game.

Regardless of whether the approach is characterized as involving inherent risk or a limited duty, courts applying the doctrine have held that the owner or operator of a baseball stadium is not liable for injury to spectators from flying bats and balls if the owner or operator provided screened seating sufficient for spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire such protection and if the most dangerous areas of the stands, ordinarily the area behind home plate, were so protected.

Because the inherent risk was not one of a field trip, the court found differently than if the defense was argued by the owner of the field. The issue was not one of attending a sporting event invited by the event, but supervision of a minor child by a recreation department.

A negligent supervision case is fundamentally different than a case involving premises liability. The eight-year-old child in this case made no choice, but instead sat where she was told by the Department. The plaintiffs further claim that there was inadequate adult supervision where the child was seated. The alleged negligence in this case does not relate to the instrumentality of the injury, but instead focuses on the proper care and supervision of children in an admittedly risky environment.

As a negligent supervision case, the recreation department owed a different type and a higher degree of care to the minor.

Viewed as a negligent supervision case, the City had a duty to act reasonably, under all the facts and circumstances, to protect the children’s safety at the ball park. The gist of the plaintiffs’ claim is that a substantial cause of the injury was the supervisors’ decision to allow the children, who cannot be expected to be vigilant at all times during a baseball game, to be seated in what a jury could conclude was an unreasonably hazardous location behind third base instead of behind the safety of protective netting.

Add to this the change in sitting and the restrictions the adults placed on where the minors could sit and the court found there was a clear issue as to liability.

The third issue reviewed by the court was whether the recreation department failed to provide an adequate level of care to the minor. Here the court agreed with the recreation department. Not because the level of care was sufficient, but because the plaintiff could not prove the level of care was inadequate.

There was a dissent in this case, which argued that the risk of being hit by a bat was an inherent risk of attending a baseball game and that the permission slip was a valid release.

The case was then sent back for trial on the negligence claims of the plaintiff.

So Now What?

What is of interest is the single sentence that argues a release signed by an adult stops the claims of a minor. It was argued by the plaintiff’s as one of the ways the permission slip was invalid. However, the court did not look at the issue in its review and decision in the case.

The court’s review was quite clear on releases. If you do not have the proper language in your release, you are only killing trees. It was a stretch, and a good one, by the recreation department to argue that a document intended to prove the minor could be on a field trip was also a release of claims.

Releases are different legal documents and require specific language.

You also need to remember that defenses that are available to a lawsuit are not just based on the activity, like baseball, but the relationship of the parties to the activity. If the minor child had attended the baseball game on her own or with her parents, the Iowa Inherent Risk Doctrine would have probably prevented a recovery. However, because the duty owed was not from a baseball game to a spectator, but from a recreation department to a minor in its care, the inherent risk defense was not available.

 

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

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