Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, and Terry Kelly, Plaintiffs, v. United States of America, Defendant.

NO. 7:10-CV-172-FL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTHERN DIVISION

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

September 25, 2014, Decided

September 25, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 (E.D.N.C., 2011)

CORE TERMS: orientation, training, summary judgment, public interest, guardian, non-commercial, attend, cadet, attendance, signature, daughter’s, public policy, enforceable, genuine, waive, obstacle, quasi-estoppel, participating, recreational, undersigned, pre-injury, parental, affirmative defense, genuine issue, transportation, municipalities, educational, unambiguous, discovery, workshop

COUNSEL: [*1] For Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, Terry Kelly, Plaintiffs: Steven Michael Stancliff, LEAD ATTORNEY, James L. Chapman , IV, Crenshaw, Ware and Martin, P.L.C., Norfolk, VA.

For United States of America, Defendant: Matthew Lee Fesak, R. A. Renfer , Jr., LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Raleigh, NC.

JUDGES: LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: LOUISE W. FLANAGAN

OPINION

ORDER

This matter comes before the court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (DE 93). This matter has been fully briefed, and the issues raised are ripe for review. For the following reasons, the court grants defendant’s motion.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

The court refers to and incorporates the case history provided in previous orders, including its recent order on defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for gross negligence. Kelly v. United States, No. 7:10-CV-172, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114376, 2014 WL 4098943 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 18, 2014) (“August 2014 Order”). Pertinent to the instant motion, plaintiffs commenced this action on September 2, 2010, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671, et seq., seeking damages in excess of ten million dollars ($10,000,000.00) for injuries allegedly suffered by plaintiff Morgan Kelly, daughter of plaintiffs Terry and Pamela Kelly. The [*2] court previously issued an order August 11, 2011, granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs’ motion to strike, in particular allowing defendant to raise the affirmative defense that plaintiff Pamela Kelly had waived plaintiffs’ claims. Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 437-38 (E.D.N.C. 2011) (“August 2011 Order”).

On November 25, 2013, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, which also included the motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ gross negligence claim. Plaintiffs responded in opposition on February 27, 2014, and defendant replied on March 13, 2014.

Plaintiffs’ memorandum in opposition included a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) for additional discovery regarding the use, allocation and disposition of monies received from Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (“NJROTC”) cadets in exchange for the cadets’ attendance in the July 2007 orientation visit at issue in this case. The court granted plaintiff’s motion on March 31, 2014, and subsequently issued an order on scheduling directing the parties to complete the additional discovery by May 30, 2014. Plaintiffs were given until June 13, 2014, to file a supplemental brief in opposition to the government’s motion. However, the deadline passed without such brief being filed.

On August [*3] 18, 2014, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The order noted that it did not address the motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ remaining claims. August 2014 Order, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114376, 2014 WL 4098943, at *1, n. 1. This motion comes now before the court.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, may be summarized as follows:

In July 2007, plaintiff Morgan Kelly, then fifteen (15) years of age, was a cadet in the NJROTC program at her high school. Plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s twin sister, Magan Kelly, also was a NJROTC cadet. The NJROTC program included an orientation visit to United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (“Camp Lejeune”).

Prior to the orientation visit, plaintiffs received a “Waiver of Liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement.” (“Liability Waiver”) (DE 94-3). The Liability Waiver included the following language:

In consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and further recognizing the voluntary nature of my participation in this event, I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, [*4] administrators, legal representatives and any other persons on my behalf, any and all rights and claims for damages, demands, and any other actions whatsoever, including those attributable to simple negligence, which I may have against any of the following persons or entities: the United States of America . . . which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me. I FURTHER VERIFY THAT I HAVE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ATTENDING THIS EVENT. I EXPRESSLY, KNOWINGLY, AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED IN THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE EVENT, AND AGREE TO HOLD THE UNITED STATES HARMLESS FOR ANY RESULTING INJURY. I understand that this assumption of risk agreement shall remain in effect until notice of cancellation is received by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized [*5] event.

(DE 94-3 at 1). (See attached as Addendum A hereto.)

Below this language, the form provided lines for the signature and printed name of the minor participant, along with lines for the signature of a parent or guardian, “on behalf of” the minor. Morgan and Magan’s mother, plaintiff Pamela Kelly, signed the form, believing that she was signing it for Magan. She left the blanks which required Magan’s name for Magan to complete. However, plaintiff Pamela Kelly did not sign a form for her other daughter because plaintiff Morgan Kelly originally planned to attend a sailing trip in Florida at the time of the orientation.

Subsequently, plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s sailing trip was cancelled, and she joined the orientation visit. She signed and printed her name onto the Liability Waiver in the spaces that her mother had left for Magan Kelly. The Liability Waiver, in its unredacted format, includes Magan Kelly’s social security number, but it is unclear how this number appeared on the form or who wrote it. The Liability Waiver does not otherwise mention Magan Kelly. It is unclear whether a separate form was submitted for Magan Kelly or whether she attended the orientation.

While planning the [*6] orientation visit, Operations Specialist Frank Acevedo (“Acevedo”) sent a packet of information to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s high school, including a list of training activities and a brief description of an obstacle course challenge known as the “Confidence Course.” However, neither plaintiff Pamela Kelly nor plaintiff Terry Kelly received a copy of this information packet prior to the orientation visit, and neither parent otherwise communicated with Acevedo or any other government representative from Camp Lejeune before the orientation visit.

The orientation visit began on July 23, 2007. During the visit, the cadets were allowed to use government facilities at Camp Lejeune at no expense, and were not charged for the instruction they received. Cadets were responsible only for paying for meals eaten at a Camp Lejeune dining facility at a Discount Meal Rate, and for personal purchases made at a Post Exchange.1

1 Although plaintiffs’ memorandum in opposition questioned defendant’s characterization of how the money received from students was used, plaintiffs failed to renew any challenge or provide any support for such a challenge after the court granted their request for additional discovery [*7] on the matter. As such, the court finds that plaintiffs do not object to the government’s description of the collection and use of money from the NJROTC cadets.

On July 27, 2007, plaintiff Morgan Kelly, along with the other cadets, completed two obstacle courses prior to undertaking the series of obstacles known as the “Confidence Course.” Before the cadets completed the Confidence Course, two Marine instructors from the School of Infantry provided preliminary instructions, the content of which is disputed.2 The final obstacle of the Confidence Course, called the “Slide for Life,” was a climbing apparatus. Defendant knew that the Slide for Life posed a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury if it were not successfully negotiated. However, defendant did not assess plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s physical capabilities before she climbed the Slide for Life. Nor did defendant provide any safety harnesses, restraints, or other protection systems that would prevent her from falling. While attempting to climb the Slide for Life, plaintiff Morgan Kelly fell and suffered injuries.

2 Defendant asserts that the instructors “provided a safety brief and a demonstration of how to navigate each obstacle,” [*8] (Def.’s Mem. in Supp. at 1-2) (DE 94), while plaintiffs assert that Marine instructors provided only a “walk-through” of the course, without safety warnings. (Pls.’s Mem. in Opp. at 4) (DE 101).

COURT’S DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review 3

3 Plaintiffs’ arguments in opposition to the motion for summary judgment raise several issues addressed by the court in its August 2011 Order on motion to strike. The court considers anew plaintiffs’ arguments under the standard applicable to the instant motion for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate where an examination of the pleadings, affidavits, and other discovery materials properly before the court demonstrates “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (holding that a factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit and “genuine” only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party).

The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate [*9] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In making this determination, the court must view the inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962).

B. Analysis

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment rests on its argument that the Liability Waiver bars plaintiffs’ claims. As detailed in the court’s August 2011 Order on plaintiffs’ motion to strike, liability waivers are generally enforceable under North Carolina law.4 See Kelly v. United States, 809 F. Supp. 2d 429, 433 (E.D.N.C. 2011) (citing Hall v. Sinclair Refining Co., 242 N.C. 707, 709, 89 S.E.2d 396 (1955)). Moreover, because plaintiff Morgan Kelly is a minor and has disaffirmed her waiver by filing complaint, her own waiver is unenforceable under North Carolina law. See id. at 434 (citing Baker v. Adidas Am., Inc., 335 F. App’x 356, 359 (4th Cir. 2009); Creech v. Melnik, 147 N.C. App. 471, 475, 556 S.E.2d 587 (2001); Freeman v. Bridger, 49 N.C. 1 (1856)).

4 In actions under the FTCA, “federal courts apply the substantive law of the state in which the act or omission giving rise to the action occurred.” Myrick v. United States, 723 F.2d 1158, 1159 (4th Cir. 1983). Because the alleged act or omission giving rise to the action occurred in North Carolina, [*10] North Carolina law governs the nature and extent of the government’s liability for plaintiffs’ injuries.

It does not appear that North Carolina courts have ruled on whether a liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is enforceable, yet numerous courts in other jurisdictions have upheld pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of minors in the context of litigation filed against schools, municipalities, and clubs providing activities for children. See, e.g., Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So. 2d 1067, 1067-68 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 106-12, 769 N.E.2d 738 (2002); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 374, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (1998); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 1564-65, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (1990). In its August 2011 Order the court held that North Carolina would similarly uphold a pre-injury waiver executed by a parent on behalf of a minor child in the context of the facts alleged here. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 437. Now on plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, the court continues to find that these cases are analogous to the circumstances here, where the facilities and instruction of the NJROTC program were provided at no expense and students were charged only for personal purchases from the Post Exchange and for meals at discount rate.

Plaintiffs nevertheless argue that the Liability Waiver is contrary to public policy. For support, they point to the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in McMurray v. United States, 551 F. App’x 651 (4th Cir. 2014). Although contracts [*11] seeking to release a party from liability for negligence generally are enforceable in North Carolina, the public policy exception prohibits a person from contracting to protect himself from “liability for negligence in the performance of a duty of public service, or where a public duty is owed, or public interest is involved, or where public interest requires the performance of a private duty.” McMurray, 551 F. App’x at 653-54 (quoting Hall, 242 N.C. at 710).5

5 Exculpatory clauses or contracts are also not enforceable when the provisions violate a statute, or are gained through inequality of bargaining power. McMurray, 551 F. App’x at 653; Hall, 242 N.C. at 709-10. The August 2011 Order rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that these two factors applied to the Liability Waiver. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 434, n. 6. Plaintiffs have not raised those arguments again here.

In McMurray, the plaintiff, a high school guidance counselor, completed a release of liability form in order to attend a workshop for educational professionals hosted by the Marine Corps at its facility on Parris Island, South Carolina. Id. at 652. The document released the government from any injuries arising out of participation in the workshop, including “riding in government-provided transportation (to include transportation to and from the Educator’s Workshop.)” Id. The [*12] plaintiff subsequently was injured when the Marine recruiter who drove her to the workshop ran a red light and collided with another car. Id. Noting the numerous statutes, regulations and cases governing public roads in North Carolina, the court determined that the state had a “strong public-safety interest in careful driving and the observance of all traffic-related rules and regulations.” Id. at 654. The court concluded that allowing the government to be released from the duty to use reasonable care when driving would violate that policy, and accordingly held the release unenforceable under North Carolina law. Id. at 656.

Plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver is contrary to an “equally compelling interest,” in this case being, “the obligation of the government to exercise reasonable care for the safety of minor school children participating in a congressionally-sanctioned (and funded) JROTC program.” (Pls.’s Mem. in Opp. at 20). Protecting the safety of minor school children in programs like JROTC (and NJROTC) is undoubtedly a matter of public interest. However, this case also involves a countervailing public interest in facilitating JROTC’s provision of non-commercial services to children on a [*13] voluntary basis without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation.

The public’s interest in the benefits provided by JROTC programs is embodied in federal statutes and regulations governing these programs’ purpose and administration, which set forth such objectives as instilling in students “the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment,” 10 U.S.C. § 2031(a)(2), along with imparting other benefits such as good communication skills, an appreciation of physical fitness, and a knowledge of basic military skills. 32 C.F.R. § 542.4. Moreover, North Carolina has demonstrated a public interest in the non-commercial provision of educational or recreational activities, by enacting statutes such as the recreational use statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 38A-4, which encourages landowners to allow public use of their land without charge for educational or recreational purposes by limiting their duty of care to that of refraining from willful or wanton infliction of injury.

The cases from other jurisdictions which have upheld liability waivers such as the one at issue here have concluded that the public is best served when risks or costs of litigation regarding such programs are minimized. [*14] See Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 372 (“[W]e conclude that although [plaintiff], like many children before him, gave up his right to sue for the negligent acts of others, the public as a whole received the benefit of these exculpatory agreements. Because of this agreement, the Club was able to offer affordable recreation and to continue to do so without the risks and overwhelming costs of litigation.”); Hohe, 224 Cal. App. 3d at 1564 (“The public as a whole receives the benefit of such waivers so that groups such as Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League, and parent-teacher associations are able to continue without the risks and sometimes overwhelming costs of litigation. Thousands of children benefit from the availability of recreational and sports activities.”).

Courts have also found that such releases serve the public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity. Sharon, 437 Mass. at 109; Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 374. Likewise, North Carolina has recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children. See Doe v. Holt, 332 N.C. 90, 97, 418 S.E.2d 511 (1992) (“[R]easonable parental decisions concerning children should [not] be reviewed in the courts of this state. Such decisions [*15] make up the essence of parental discretion, discretion which allows parents to shape the views, beliefs and values their children carry with them into adulthood. These decisions are for the parents to make, and will be protected as such.”).

The court remains persuaded by the analysis of those courts upholding liability waivers signed by parents in the context of litigation against schools, municipalities and clubs, which either implicitly or explicitly found the risk presented by such waivers to be outweighed by interests in providing non-commercial activities and respecting parental authority. See Sharon, 437 Mass. at 105 (“In weighing and analyzing [plaintiff’s] public policy arguments, we must also consider other important public policies of the Commonwealth implicated in the resolution of this issue . . . .); Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 370-71 (“[T]he proper focus is not whether the release violates public policy but rather that public policy itself justifies the enforcement of this agreement.”).

Plaintiffs’ reliance on McMurray is misplaced. The public interest considered in that case, careful driving and observance of traffic rules and regulations, is not at issue here. Nor did that case address whether any contrary public interest was at [*16] stake which might justify the waiver.

Plaintiffs argue that other cases upholding liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children are not applicable in this case, because the claims here are directed against the United States and because the JROTC is not a community-based or volunteer-run activity. They note that the officials conducting the orientation visit acted as paid servants of the United States. They argue that the economic considerations at issue in cases from other jurisdictions are not applicable here, where the United States government is self-insured and has waived its immunity. However, none of these arguments are persuasive.

First, neither the defendant’s status as a government body, nor the volunteer status of a program’s personnel, are controlling factors in the analysis. In Sharon, the court upheld a liability waiver in the context of a suit against the city government for a cheerleading program coached by a public school employee, not a volunteer. Sharon, 437 Mass. at 100. Furthermore, the JROTC program is community-based, in that schools must apply for a unit, 10 U.S.C. § 2031(a)(1), and may decide to eliminate the program from their curriculum. See Esquivel v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 630 F. Supp. 2d 1055 (N.D. Cal. 2008). In this way, JROTC programs are run in cooperation [*17] with the community, and rely on the community for support. In turn, JROTC programs promote the community welfare by instilling the values and benefits noted above in the community’s children. Finally, the mere fact that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity through the FTCA does not mean that it should be denied the use of a waiver that other non-governmental volunteer or non-profit organizations could employ. On the contrary, the FTCA only makes the United States liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

It is clear that the July 2007 NJROTC orientation program was offered with a noncommercial purpose, and that students attended voluntarily. Because a liability waiver signed by a parent would be enforceable by a private person offering a non-commercial, voluntary activity of this nature, the United States should also be able to use a parent-signed liability waiver for the noncommercial, voluntary NJROTC orientation visit. See Sharon, 437 Mass. at 111-12 (holding that Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”) would not prevent municipalities from using liability waivers as a precondition for participation in voluntary activities that they [*18] sponsored, because the MTCA gave such municipalities the same defenses as private parties in tort claims).

Aside from their public policy argument, plaintiffs contend that advance court approval is necessary for a parent to extinguish a minor’s personal injury claim. However, their argument is little more than an abbreviated version of their previous argument supporting their motion to strike. The cases they cite do not address the specific circumstances here, of a pre-injury liability waiver in the context of a non-commercial activity provided to children on a voluntary basis. For instance, plaintiffs quote from Justice White’s concurring opinion in International Union v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 111 S. Ct. 1196, 113 L. Ed. 2d 158 (1991), which recognized that “the general rule is that parents cannot waive causes of action on behalf of their children . . . .” (Pls’. Mem. in Opp. at 21) (quoting Int’l Union, 499 U.S. at 213-14.). The context of this quote was the concurring opinion’s speculation as to a potential justification for an employer’s fetal-protection policy, as a means of avoiding claims brought by children for injuries caused by torts committed prior to conception. Int’l Union, 499 U.S. at 212-14. This is far different than a pre-injury waiver for a non-commercial activity provided to children on a voluntary basis, where [*19] the activity does not generate its own profits and the benefits of the waiver extend to the entire community. Moreover, as the quote itself shows, the rule against parental waivers is only “general.” Id. at 213.

Plaintiffs also cite to the North Carolina cases of Sell v. Hotchkiss, 264 N.C. 185, 191, 141 S.E.2d 259 (N.C. 1965) and Creech, 147 N.C. App. at 475, neither of which involved non-commercial, voluntary activities like the NJROTC program. Moreover, both of these cases involved post-injury liability waivers. Concerns underlying courts’ reluctance to allow parents to dispose of childrens’ existing claims, such as the concern that the hardships posed by caring for an injured child will lead the parents to act for their own financial interest, or that the parents will be more vulnerable to fraud or coercion in such circumstances, are mitigated in the pre-injury release context. See Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 373. The cases from other jurisdictions noted above, where liability waivers signed by parents were upheld, did not require prior court approval for those waivers. E.g. Gonzalez, 871 So. 2d at 1067-68; Sharon, 437 Mass. at 106-12; Zivich, 82 Ohio St. 3d at 374; Hohe, 224 Cal. App. 3d at 1564-65. Further, as a practical matter, requiring prior court approval would seriously encumber the process for participation in non-commercial, educational activities such as the NJROTC program. Such prior approval is not required.

Having [*20] affirmed that a liability waiver is not unenforceable in the abstract, analysis turns to the particular agreement itself. First, plaintiffs argue that this Liability Waiver should not be enforced because the parties did not reach a “meeting of the minds,” alleging that plaintiff Pamela Kelly believed she was signing the form for plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s twin sister, Magan. A release from liability is subject to avoidance by showing that its execution resulted from mutual mistake. George v. McClure, 266 F. Supp. 2d 413, 418 (M.D.N.C. 2001); see also Marriott Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Capitol Funds, Inc., 288 N.C. 122, 136, 217 S.E.2d 551 (1975). However, a unilateral mistake, unaccompanied by fraud, imposition, undue influence or like circumstances is insufficient to avoid a contract. Marriott Fin. Servs., 288 N.C. at 136. Plaintiffs do not argue that defendant mistakenly believed that the Liability Waiver, to which plaintiff Morgan Kelly admittedly signed her own name, was intended to cover Magan Kelly. Nor do they argue that the government acted in a fraudulent manner or that other like circumstances were present. They have shown no more than a unilateral mistake.

In addition, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot avoid the contract because she subsequently allowed plaintiff Morgan Kelly to attend the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required. See (DE 94-3 [*21] at 1) (noting that those who failed to sign the waiver would “not be permitted to attend the organized event”). North Carolina courts have held that, when a release is originally invalid or voidable, it may be ratified and affirmed by subsequent acts accepting the benefits. Presnell v. Liner, 218 N.C. 152, 154, 10 S.E.2d 639 (1940); see also VF Jeanswear Ltd. P’ship v. Molina, 320 F. Supp. 2d 412, 422 (M.D.N.C. 2004). Similarly, under the North Carolina theory of quasi-estoppel, also known as “estoppel by benefit,” a party who “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.” Whitacre P’ship v. Biosignia, Inc., 358 N.C. 1, 18, 591 S.E.2d 870 (2004). The doctrine is grounded “upon a party’s acquiescence or acceptance of payment or benefits, by virtue of which that party is thereafter prevented from maintaining a position inconsistent with those acts.” Godley v. Pitt Cnty., 306 N.C. 357, 361-62, 293 S.E.2d 167 (1982).6

6 The court notes that defendant did not raise the defense of estoppel in its answer. Generally, estoppel is an affirmative defense that should be raised in the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(c). Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c); Simmons v. Justice, 196 F.R.D. 296, 298 (W.D.N.C. 2000). However, “[I]f an affirmative defense is raised in a manner that does not result in unfair surprise to the opposing party, failure to comply with Rule 8(c) will not result in waiver of the defense.” Simmons, 196 F.R.D. at 298 (quoting United States v. Cook, No. 94-1938, 1995 U.S. App. LEXIS 24342, 1995 WL 508888 (4th Cir. Aug. 29, 1995)). The requirement of pleading [*22] an affirmative defense may be waived if evidence of the defense is admitted into the record without objection. Caterpillar Overseas, S.A. v. Marine Transp. Inc., 900 F.2d 714, 725, n. 7 (4th Cir. 1990). “Courts have been more lenient in the context of motions for summary judgment.” Grunley Walsh U.S., LLC v. Raap, No. 1:08-CV-446, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38609, 2009 WL 1298244, at *5 (E.D. Va. May 6, 2009). The defense of quasi-estoppel was raised in defendant’s memorandum supporting summary judgment, and plaintiffs did not object to the defense in their memorandum in opposition. In this instance, no unfair surprise exists and defendant may assert this defense.

Zivich provides a helpful illustration of what constitutes “acceptance” of the benefits of a liability waiver in the context of non-commercial, voluntary recreational activities. Zivich, 82 Ohio St.3d at 375. There, the court held that a mother’s execution of a release would bar the claims of her husband for their son’s soccer practice injury. Id. The court noted that the father “was the parent who was at the practice field” on the evening of that the injury occurred. It held that his “conduct convey[ed] an intention to enjoy the benefits of his wife’s agreement and be bound by it.” Id.

Here, the benefits of the Liability Waiver for plaintiff Pamela Kelly consisted of her daughter’s participation in the NJROTC orientation program, [*23] with the attendant benefits of introducing her to the culture, skills, and values that the NJROTC seeks to impart. By accepting the benefit of her child’s attendance at the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required for attendance, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot now disavow the effect of the instrument she signed that allowed her child to attend.

As an alternative ground for denying summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver cannot be enforced because the government did not identify the risks that the form covered. Plaintiffs Pamela and Terry Kelly both allege that they never received any information concerning the risks of injury associated with plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s use of the obstacle course. (P. Kelly Decl. ¶¶ 6-11; T. Kelly Decl. ¶¶ 6-11). Consequently, they state they anticipated that plaintiff Morgan Kelly would only be visiting Camp Lejeune to observe equipment and other military activities, and that she would only be performing the same activities that she had performed in the past, such as marching in formations, drills, and “ground-based physical fitness training.” (P. Kelly Decl., ¶ 10; T. Kelly Decl., ¶ 10.)

As a contract, the Liability [*24] Waiver is subject to the recognized rules of contract construction. Adder v. Holman & Moody, 288 N.C. 484, 492, 219 S.E.2d 190 (1975). “The heart of a contract is the intention of the parties,” which “must be determined from the language of the contract, the purposes of the contract, the subject matter and the situation of the parties at the time the contract is executed.” Id. Liability waivers are disfavored under North Carolina law, and strictly construed against the parties seeking to enforce them. Hall, 242 N.C. at 709. However, when the language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the agreement is a matter of law for the court, and the court cannot look beyond the terms of the contract to determine the parties’ intent. Root v. Allstate Ins. Co., 272 N.C. 580, 583, 158 S.E.2d 829 (1968).

In an analogous case, Waggoner v. Nags Head Water Sports, Inc., No. 97-1394, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811 (4th Cir. April 6, 1998), the plaintiff rented a jet ski from the defendant, signing a rental agreement in which she “assume[d] all risk of accident or damages to my person . . . which may be incurred from or be connected in any manner with my use, operation or rental of the craft checked above.” 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, [WL] at *1. Plaintiff alleged that she did not understand that the form allowed defendant to escape liability for negligence. Id. Nevertheless, the court held that the clear and unambiguous language of the clause would bar her claim. 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, [WL] at *3-4.

Here, the Liability Waiver states [*25] in clear and unambiguous language that it is made “[i]n consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune,” and that it serves to waive “any and all rights and claims . . . including those attributable to simple negligence . . . which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me.” (DE 94-3).

As such, the waiver provides ample notice to plaintiffs of the potential for a wide range of activities at the event, not limited in any way to marching, drills, or “ground-based physical fitness training.” Plaintiffs do not allege that they were affirmatively misled as to the nature of the activities that would comprise the event, or that they were prevented from inquiring into the activities or the associated risks. They have not provided any reason for the court to look beyond the language clearly and unambiguously covering the circumstances of plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s injury. See Root, 272 N.C. at 583; Waggoner, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811 at *3-4; see also Kondrad v. Bismarck Park Dist., 2003 ND 4, 655 N.W. 2d 411, 413-14 (N.D. 2003) (Waiver language relinquishing [*26] all claims for injuries that would occur “on account of my participation of [sic] my child/ward in this program” exonerated park district from liability, even though child’s accident occurred during activity that was not “associated with the program;” language of waiver and release was “clear and unambiguous,” and “not limited only to injuries incurred while participating in activities associated with the program, but to all injuries incurred by the child on account of his participation in the program.”).

Plaintiffs also argue that summary judgment should be denied because plaintiff Morgan Kelly has disaffirmed it (by filing complaint) and because the Liability Waiver does not include express language waiving plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s claims on behalf of herself and her child. As noted above, the Liability Waiver refers to “my participation” in the “organized event” and states “I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized event.” (DE 94-3, at 1). This issue, too, was addressed in the court’s order on plaintiffs’ motion to strike. Kelly, 809 F. Supp. 2d at 434-37. There, the court held that, despite plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s disaffirmation of the Liability [*27] Waiver, the document was nevertheless enforceable as signed by her parent. Id. Although the language of the Liability Waiver was written from plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s perspective, its plain language nevertheless stated that “I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, administrators, legal representatives and any other persons on my behalf . . . .” Id. at 438, n. 8.

Plaintiffs cite cases from other jurisdictions enforcing liability waivers signed by parents in which the waiver was tailored from the perspective of the signing parent. Hamill v. Cheley Colo. Camps, Inc., 262 P. 3d 945, 948 (Colo. App. 2011) (“I, on behalf of myself and my child, hereby release . . .”); Sharon, 437 Mass. at 100-01 (“[I] the undersigned [father of] . . . a minor, do hereby consent to [her] participation in voluntary athletic programs and do forever RELEASE . . . all claims or right of action for damages which said minor has or hereafter may acquire.”). Yet plaintiffs have not cited any case holding that a form such as that used here, which expressly waives both the claims of the child and her guardians, and which is signed by one of those guardians, cannot be enforced against the guardian who signed it. The court again holds that the Liability [*28] Waiver is enforceable to bar the claims of both Morgan and Pamela Kelly.

The question remains whether the Liability Waiver is effective against the claims of plaintiff Terry Kelly, who did not sign the document, and denies ever seeing it prior to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s orientation visit. (T. Kelly Decl. ¶ 14). Defendant nevertheless argues that plaintiff Terry Kelly’s claims should also be barred, asserting the doctrine of quasi-estoppel described above. As noted above, quasi-estoppel is applied when a party “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.” Whitacre P’ship, 358 N.C. at 18. The doctrine faces problems in application to the Liability Waiver, however, where defendant has not directed the court to evidence that plaintiff Terry Kelly knew of the Liability Waiver or its terms.

However, it is not necessary to decide whether plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s signature could bind her husband under these circumstances, because defendant produced a document referred to as the “Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) Standard Release Form.” (DE 94-4) (“Release Form”) [*29] (See Attached as Addendum B hereto). Page 2 of the Release Form, dated July 13, 2007, provides the following:

I, Terry A Kelly, being the legal parent/guardian of Morgan Kelly, a member of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, in consideration of the continuance of his/her membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training, do hereby release from any and all claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to death, injury, or illness, the government of the United States and all its officers, representatives, and agents acting officially and also the local, regional, and national Navy Officials of the United States.

(DE 94-4 at 2).

In the paragraph quoted above, the names of plaintiffs Terry and Morgan Kelly are written by hand. Plaintiff Terry Kelly’s declaration provides that page 2 “appears to contains [sic] my handwriting, but I would have to see the original to be certain.” (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16).

Plaintiffs Terry and Pamela Kelly have attempted to challenge the Release Form, stating that they “do not believe that Document No. 94-4 is a genuine document.” In particular, they note that the front page, referenced as page 2 (the certification is appended [*30] as the first page of this filing), is identified as standard form “CNET 5800-4 (Rev. 1-00)” while the final page of the document, which includes a privacy act notification under which plaintiff Pamela Kelly’s name is signed, is identified as “CNET – General 5800/4 (REV. 1-95).” (DE 94-4 at 3; T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16; P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16). Like her husband, plaintiff Pamela Kelly declares that the writing on page 3 “looks like my signature, but I would need to see the original to be certain.” (P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 16). She states that she does “not know when Page 3 of 3 was signed or for what purpose.” (Id.).

On April 27, 2011, the court amended its case management order to permit plaintiffs

to have until May 1, 2011, at their option, to visually inspect any original release and/or waiver document or documents relied upon by defendant at defendant’s counsel’s office. This deadline is without prejudice to plaintiffs’ right to have such document or documents examined by experts at a later date, if they deem necessary.

(April 27, 2011, order, p.1, DE 19).

It appears plaintiffs reviewed the Liability Waiver at defendant’s counsel’s office, but not the Release Form. (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 15; [*31] P. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 15). No separate request to review was made.

Plaintiffs’ arguments are insufficient to create a genuine issue concerning the Release Form, which is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity executed by the Compliance Officer of plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s school district, and notarized by a notary public. (DE 94-4 at 1). “Unsupported speculation . . . is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ash v. UPS, 800 F.2d 409, 411-12 (4th Cir. 1986)). Plaintiffs had opportunity to review the original Release Form, and to have it assessed by an expert if deemed necessary. An opponent of summary judgment “must produce more than frivolous assertions, unsupported statements, illusory issues and mere suspicions.” Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Rodenberg, 571 F. Supp. 455, 457 (D. Md. 1983); see also 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Fed. Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 2727 at 510-12 (1998) (“Neither frivolous assertions nor mere suspicions will suffice to justify a denial of summary judgment.”). It is little more than speculation to argue that the Release Form is not genuine, based merely on minor distinctions in form designations between pages. Similarly, plaintiffs’ allegations that they would “have to see the original” to be sure of their signatures amount to nothing more than mere suspicions, [*32] and they had this opportunity. Furthermore, neither Terry nor Pamela Kelly expressly denies seeing or writing on the pages where their names appear. This cannot create a genuine issue for summary judgment.7

7 To the extent plaintiffs’ challenge is an attack on the document’s authentication under Federal Rules of Evidence 901 and 902, it still fails to create a genuine issue of material fact. A party may show the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact by objecting “that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). However, the Certificate of Authenticity signed by the school district’s Compliance Officer satisfies the court that this document could be made admissible in evidence at trial.

The document therefore shows plaintiff Terry Kelly’s acceptance of a transaction whereby his claims were released “in consideration of” plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s continued participation in NJROTC training activities. The Release Form refers to “any and all claims.” In Waggoner, the court held that “the term ‘all claims’ must doubtless include a claim for negligence.” Waggoner, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 6792, 1998 WL 163811, at *4. See also Young v. Prancing Horse, Inc., No. COA04-727, 2005 N.C. App. LEXIS 1108, 2005 WL 1331065, at *2 (N.C. App. June 7, 2005) (“[W]e cannot agree with plaintiff [*33] that the absence of the word ‘negligence’ makes the release inoperable to bar this claim . . . . With all due regard to the severity of the injuries suffered by plaintiff, they are of the type contemplated and intended by this release.”).

Even if the Release Form failed to refer to the orientation visit in sufficiently specific terms, quasi-estoppel must operate to bar plaintiff Terry Kelly’s claims, because the record shows that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted the benefits of the Release Form as it applied to the orientation visit. By detailing the kind of activities that he “understood” and “anticipated” his child would be involved in when she arrived at the orientation visit, plaintiff Terry Kelly’s declaration discloses that he knew plaintiff Morgan Kelly would be visiting Camp Lejeune. (T. Kelly Decl. at ¶ 10). He also alleges that “[a] monetary payment was required as a condition of Morgan’s attendance at the orientation visit,” indicating that he consented to payment for the visit. Id. at ¶ 5. He does not allege any objection to his daughters’ attendance or participation. He does not allege that he was estranged from his family, or that he was kept unaware of the upcoming activity. [*34]

“[A] party will not be allowed to accept benefits which arise from certain terms of a contract and at the same time deny the effect of other terms of the same agreement.” Brooks v. Hackney, 329 N.C. 166, 173, 404 S.E.2d 854 (1991). In Brooks, the court determined that even though an agreement to convey real property was invalid because its terms were not sufficiently definite, the plaintiff was estopped from denying its validity because he had made regular payments on the agreement, and therefore that the defendants reasonably relied on the writing. Id. at 171-73.

The same principle operates here, where plaintiff Terry Kelly signed a Release Form surrendering claims related to his daughter’s participation in NJROTC training, then allowed his daughter to attend a NJROTC training orientation visit. On the evidence, there is no genuine issue that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted that plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s “membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training,” included the orientation visit. In consideration of this training, including the orientation visit, he released “claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to . . . injury.” Defendant reasonably relied on plaintiff Terry Kelly’s writing, in addition to his acquiescence to his [*35] daughter’s attendance at the orientation visit. Plaintiff Terry Kelly cannot be allowed to accept the benefits of the Release Form through his daughter’s attendance, while at the same time denying the release that was required as a condition of that attendance.

With all of plaintiffs’ claims disposed by waiver and release, summary judgment must be granted.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, the court GRANTS defendant’s motion for summary judgment. (DE 93). The clerk is DIRECTED to close this case.

SO ORDERED, this the 25th day of September, 2014.

/s/ Louise W. Flanagan

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN

United States District Judge

ADDENDUM A

Waiver of liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement United States Marine Corps

Dated: July 20, 2007

EXHIBIT B

WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

In consideration of the privilege of participating in an organized event in a training area at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and further recognizing the voluntary nature of my participation in this event, I, the undersigned person, intending to be legally bound, hereby promise to waive for myself, my guardians, heirs, executor, administrators, legal representatives and any other [*36] persons on my behalf, any and all rights and claims for damages, demands, and any other actions whatsoever, including those attributable to simple negligence, which I may have against any of the following persons or entities: the United States of America; the Depart of Defense; the Department of the Navy; the United States Marine Corps; Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; any and all individuals assigned to or employed by the United States, including but not limited to the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary of the Navy; the Commandant of the Marine Corps; Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; in both their official and personal capacities; any medical support personnel assigned thereto; and these, persons’ or entities’ representatives, successors, and assigns; which said injuries arise out of my participation in the activities comprising the aforesaid event; as well as any use by me of any Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or government equipment, or facilities in conjunction with and furtherance of such participation by me. I FURTHER VERIFY THAT I HAVE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ATTENDING THIS EVENT. I EXPRESSLY, [*37] KNOWINGLY, AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED IN THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE EVENT, AND AGREE TO HOLD THE UNITED STATES HARMLESS FOR ANY RESULTING INJURY. I understand that this assumption of risk agreement shall remain in effect until notice of cancellation is received by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I understand that, should I decline to execute this agreement, I will not be permitted to attend the organized event.

(Signature of Witness)

[TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

/s/ Morgan E. Kelly 7/19/07

(Signature) (Date)

Morgan E. Kelly

(Printed Name)

/s/ Pamela D. Kelly

(Signature of Parent/Guardian)

on behalf of Morgan

(Name of Minor)

Date: 7-20-07

Participants Information/POC Page

FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

(Please Print Legibly)

Participant Last Name, First Name, Initial: Kelly Pamela D

Parent/Guardian Name: Pam Kelly

Home Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Work Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Cellular Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Alternative Adult to be Contacted in Case of Emergency and Relation to Participant: Terry Kelly

Home Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Work Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE [*38] COURT]

Cellular Phone: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT]

Does the Participant have Any Allergies or Special Medical Conditions? None

ADDENDUM B

Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC)

Standard Release Form With Certificate of Authenticity

Dated: July 13, 2007

EXHIBIT 2

CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY

The undersigned certifies that I am the person responsible for keeping of school and\or student records in behalf of the Henry County Board of Education and that the within and attached is a true and accurate copy of certain school system records of

Morgan Kelly (DOB: [TEXT REDACTED BY THE COURT])

thereof kept in the normal course of business of the Henry County School System. This Certificate of Authenticity may be used in lieu of the personal appearance of the person certifying hereto.

/s/ Archie Preston Malcom

Archie Preston Malcom, Bd.D

Compliance Officer (Contracted)

11-14-2013

Sworn to and subscribed before me on this 14th day of November 2013

/s/ Slyvia S/ Burch

Notary Public

My Commission Expires: 07/21/16

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Kindrich III et al., v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

Kindrich III et al., v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

Carl Kindrich III et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., Defendants and Respondents.

G038290

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION THREE

167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

October 28, 2008, Filed

COUNSEL: Brunick, McElhaney & Beckett and Steven K. Beckett for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Cogswell Nakazawa & Chang, Christina L. Owen and Dena S. Aghabeg for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: Opinion by Rylaarsdam, J., with Sills, P. J., concurring. Dissenting opinion by Bedsworth, J.

OPINION BY: Rylaarsdam [*1255]

OPINION

[**825] RYLAARSDAM, J.–Plaintiff Carl Kindrich III was injured while disembarking from a boat after participating in casting his late father’s ashes [**826] into the ocean. He sued defendants Long Beach Yacht Club, the owner of the boat and the dock, and Charles Fuller, the boat’s skipper, alleging they had been negligent in their use and maintenance of both the boat and the dock–specifically because they failed either to have someone on the dock to assist in tying off the boat when it returned, or to ensure that the portable steps, previously used in boarding the boat, would be available for his use when he attempted to disembark. Carl’s wife, Barbara, and son, Michael, also sued. Barbara claimed loss of consortium, and Michael claimed emotional distress suffered as an aural percipient witness to his father’s injury. (Because [***2] all three plaintiffs have the same last name, we will refer to them by their first names to avoid confusion and not out of disrespect.)

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, reasoning the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to Carl’s decision to jump off the boat onto the dock. All plaintiffs appeal, contending the court improperly concluded that the act of jumping onto the dock was an activity subject to the complete defense of primary assumption of risk. We agree that the court’s analysis was incorrect. Carl was not engaged in the type of sporting event where the doctrine of primary assumption of risk should be applied. At most Carl may have assumed risks, categorized as secondary assumption of risk, which are subsumed in contributory negligence. Whether he was contributorily negligent and, if so, how his negligence compares with that of defendants, if any, are questions of fact to be resolved by the trier of fact.

Defendants also contend summary judgment was properly granted because they were not negligent. But this is another question of fact and not subject to summary judgment. Defendants’ additional issues, whether Barbara suffered damages and whether [***3] Michael’s awareness of his father’s accident qualifies him as a “bystander” entitled to recover on a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress, also raise questions of fact.

We therefore reverse the summary judgment.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The complaint alleges that plaintiffs and some of their relatives and friends gathered at the Yacht Club to participate in a “burial at sea” of the ashes of Carl’s late father. The Yacht Club arranged for the attendees to be taken to the burial site on a boat it owned and maintained and assigned Fuller to pilot that boat. The Yacht Club provided portable stairs on the dock to assist the [*1256] attendees in boarding. Plaintiffs contend that, when the boat returned to the dock, the portable steps were no longer in place. According to the complaint, Fuller told Carl to tie off the boat; there was no one on the dock waiting to do so. As Carl “started to jump from the side of the boat onto the dock … , the boat and dock moved relative to each other causing [Carl] to fall and injure himself.”

Plaintiffs allege causes of action for Carl’s personal injury, Barbara’s loss of consortium, and emotional distress suffered by Michael when he witnessed [***4] his father’s accident.

Defendants moved for summary judgment. They argued that Carl’s claim failed as a matter of law because (1) he assumed any risk of injury from his voluntary decision to jump onto the dock from the boat; and (2) they did not breach any duty of care they might have owed him and had no actual or constructive notice that the portable stairs may not have been in place when the boat returned to the [**827] dock. They also asserted that Barbara’s claim failed as a matter of law, both because it was derivative of Carl’s claim and because her discovery responses revealed no loss of consortium damages. Finally, defendants maintained Michael’s claim failed as a matter of law because it was derivative of Carl’s and because Michael was not actually aware of his father’s injury until after it had occurred.

These are the relevant undisputed facts offered in support of the motion: Carl’s father, a member of the Yacht Club before he died, had expressed the wish to be “buried at sea.” The Yacht Club agreed to assist with such a burial and permitted the Kindrich family to use one of its boats, without charge, for the ceremony. The Yacht Club also agreed to let Fuller, one of its long-standing [***5] members and a good friend of Carl’s father, pilot the boat for the ceremony.

Carl, Barbara, and Michael, along with other family members, used portable steps located on the dock to board the boat for the ceremony. After the ceremony was over, Carl and Michael were up on the bridge with Fuller, who piloted the boat back to the dock. According to Carl’s testimony, “[a]fter the burial, we were bringing the boat in and … not too far from the dock, [Fuller] looked to me and says ‘We have to tie up the boat, and someone else will have to help.’ And Michael and I were the only two on the bridge … . And so Michael said that he would help … . [¶] … When [Fuller] turned the boat into the dock and we had gotten up to the dock and we were getting ready to get off the boat, Mike, my son, jumped to the dock. We didn’t see the steps. The steps weren’t there. And then after Mike jumped off, I jumped off, also … .” [*1257]

Carl stated that at the moment he jumped off the boat, it was hit by the wake from another boat, causing it to “go up as he stepped off the boat and when he came down onto the deck, he broke his leg.” The boat used for the burial ceremony does not require more than two [***6] people to tie it up when it reaches the dock–one person to operate the boat and one person on the dock to tie the lines.

Plaintiffs opposed the summary judgment, arguing this was not a proper case for applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, and the case could not be summarily adjudicated on the basis that defendants acted with reasonable care as a matter of law. Plaintiffs argued there were numerous factual disputes relating to whether defendants satisfied the duty of care they owed to the passengers on their boat, and those issues must ultimately be resolved by a jury.

At the hearing, the court explained its initial thinking in favor of granting the summary judgment: “We have some conflicts in the facts as to whether he jumped, or stepped, or lowered himself, or whatever, but that doesn’t matter. What didn’t happen was he wasn’t pushed. He wasn’t ordered. He voluntarily undertook an activity that was inherently dangerous; namely, disembarking from a moving boat obviously onto the dock and he hurt himself. [¶] I believe that without really much hesitation that … primary assumption of the risk applies and the motions should be granted for summary judgment.”

Although [***7] plaintiffs’ counsel attempted to persuade the court that Fuller directed Carl to assist in tying up the boat, and thus his decision to jump from the boat should not be regarded as voluntary, the court did not agree. “[Carl] assumed the risk of something in this recreational activity going wrong. [¶] It did go wrong. The precise wrong is irrelevant. One way or the other he voluntarily disembarked the boat … with the idea of going onto [**828] the dock, and this was an unsafe thing to do.”

The formal order granting the motion cited two bases. First, the court found that “even if the portable steps were actually missing when the vessel … arrived back at dock after the burial at sea, [d]efendants had no notice, constructive or actual, of their absence. … [¶] The Court additionally finds that [d]efendants are entitled to summary adjudication on their Fourth Affirmative Defense because when [p]laintiff … made the deliberate and conscious decision to jump from the vessel … to the dock, he, with full knowledge thereof, knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of sustaining injury. (See Meintsma v. United States [(9th Cir. 1947)] 164 F.2d 976 … ; see also DeRoche v. Commodore Cruise Line, Ltd. (1994) 31 Cal.App.4th 802, 810 [46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 468] [***8] (‘[It] is settled that there is no duty to warn of a danger that is as obvious to the injured party as to the defendant.’).)” [*1258]

The order granted summary judgment against Barbara and Michael as well, concluding Barbara’s claim for loss of consortium was derivative as a matter of law and that any distinct claim for emotional distress was precluded by the fact she did not actually witness Carl’s injury. As to Michael’s claim, the court concluded that a bystander’s recovery for extreme emotional distress was dependent upon a determination the injury he witnessed was negligently inflicted. Since Carl’s negligence claim failed, Michael’s did as well.

DISCUSSION

Primary Versus Secondary Assumption of Risk

(1) Even were we to conclude that Carl’s decision to jump off the boat was a voluntary one, and that therefore he assumed a risk inherent in doing so, this is not enough to provide a complete defense. [HN1] Because voluntary assumption of risk as a complete defense in a negligence action was abandoned in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804, 829 [119 Cal. Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226], only the absence of duty owed a plaintiff under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk would provide such a defense. But that doctrine does not come [***9] into play except when a plaintiff and a defendant are engaged in certain types of activities, such as an “active sport.” That was not the case here; plaintiff was merely the passenger on a boat. Under Li, he may have been contributorily negligent but this would only go to reduce the amount of damages to which he is entitled.

Before Li, contributory negligence and voluntary assumption of risk were distinct and complete defenses in an action for negligence. Under certain circumstances, the “last clear chance” doctrine provided relief from the harshness of the rules. Li changed all that. It adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence and held that “[t]he [HN2] doctrine of last clear chance is abolished, and the defense of assumption of risk is also abolished to the extent that it is merely a variant of the former doctrine of contributory negligence; both of these are to be subsumed under the general process of assessing liability in proportion to negligence.” (Li v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 13 Cal.3d at p. 829.)

Li recognized that there are at least two distinct forms of assumption of risk. “As for assumption of risk, we have recognized in this state that this defense overlaps that of contributory [***10] negligence to some extent and in fact is made up of at least two distinct defenses. ‘To simplify greatly, it has been observed … that in one kind of situation, to wit, where a plaintiff unreasonably undertakes to encounter a specific known risk imposed by a defendant’s negligence, [**829] plaintiff’s conduct, although he may encounter that risk in a prudent manner, is in reality a form of contributory negligence … . [*1259] Other kinds of situations within the doctrine of assumption of risk are those, for example, where plaintiff is held to agree to relieve defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him. Such a situation would not involve contributory negligence, but rather a reduction of defendant’s duty of care.’ [Citations.] We think it clear that the adoption of a system of comparative negligence should entail the merger of the defense of assumption of risk into the general scheme of assessment of liability in proportion to fault in those particular cases in which the form of assumption of risk involved is no more than a variant of contributory negligence. [Citation.]” (Li v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 13 Cal.3d at pp. 824-825.)

(2) So, [HN3] to the extent that “‘”a plaintiff unreasonably [***11] undertakes to encounter a specific known risk imposed by a defendant’s negligence,”‘” he or she is subject to the defense of comparative negligence but not to an absolute defense. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 305-306 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696].) This type of comparative negligence has been referred to as ” ‘secondary assumption of risk.’ ” (Id. at p. 308.) Assumption of risk that is based upon the absence of a defendant’s duty of care is called ” ‘primary assumption of risk.’ ” (Ibid.) “First, in ‘primary assumption of risk’ cases–where the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm–a plaintiff who has suffered such harm is not entitled to recover from the defendant, whether the plaintiff’s conduct in undertaking the activity was reasonable or unreasonable. Second, in ‘secondary assumption of risk’ cases–involving instances in which the defendant has breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff–the defendant is not entitled to be entirely relieved of liability for an injury proximately caused by such breach, simply because the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering the risk of such an injury was reasonable rather than unreasonable.” (Id. at p. 309.)

Primary assumption [***12] of risk, “‘”where plaintiff is held to agree to relieve defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him”‘” (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 306), remains as a complete defense. That defense was not fully developed until our Supreme Court decided Knight v. Jewett. There, Knight sued Jewett for negligence and assault and battery after she was injured when Jewett knocked her over and stepped on her finger during a touch football game. In affirming summary judgment for the defendant, the court held that under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty. It “conclude[d] that a participant in an active sport breaches a legal duty of care to other participants–i.e., engages in conduct that properly may subject him or her to financial liability–only if the participant intentionally injures another player or engages in conduct that is so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.” (Id. at p. 320, fn. omitted.) [*1260]

(3) Knight shifted the focus of assumption of risk from a plaintiff’s “subjective knowledge and awareness” of the risk to the nature of the activity in question. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) [***13] [HN4] “In cases involving ‘primary assumption of risk’–where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the [**830] activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury–the doctrine continues to operate as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.” (Id. at pp. 314-315.) Knight justified maintaining the defense in a sports setting because there “conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part of the sport itself” (id. at p. 315), and imposing liability “might well alter fundamentally the nature of the sport by deterring participants from vigorously engaging in activity that falls close to, but on the permissible side of, a prescribed rule” (id. at p. 319). The focus of the questions should consider the nature of the activity and the relationship of the parties to the activity. (Id. at p. 315.)

There are situations other than active sports where under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk a plaintiff is held to agree to relieve a defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him or her. For example, Knight stated, “In addition to the sports [***14] setting, the primary assumption of risk doctrine also comes into play in the category of cases often described as involving the ‘firefighter’s rule.’ [Citation.] In its most classic form, the firefighter’s rule involves the question whether a person who negligently has started a fire is liable for an injury sustained by a firefighter who is summoned to fight the fire; the rule provides that the person who started the fire is not liable under such circumstances. [Citation.] Although a number of theories have been cited to support this conclusion, the most persuasive explanation is that the party who negligently started the fire had no legal duty to protect the firefighter from the very danger that the firefighter is employed to confront. [Citations.] Because the defendant in such a case owes no duty to protect the firefighter from such risks, the firefighter has no cause of action even if the risk created by the fire was so great that a trier of fact could find it was unreasonable for the firefighter to choose to encounter the risk.” (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 309-310, fn. 5.)

Other examples of primary assumption of risk are the so-called veterinarian’s rule (e.g., Priebe v. Nelson (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1112, 1121, fn. 1 [47 Cal. Rptr. 3d 553, 140 P.3d 848]) [***15] or where the plaintiff is hired to undertake a particular, dangerous job (e.g., Farnam v. State of California (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1448, 1455 [101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 642]; Herrle v. Estate of Marshall (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1761, 1765 [53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 713]). But for purposes of this case, we need only consider whether Carl’s injuries occurred while he was engaged in an “active sport,” which relieved defendants of a duty of care. [*1261]

There are more than 100 published cases defining what is and what is not an “active sport” qualifying for application of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. “Since the decision in Knight, which involved a recreational game of touch football, our state Supreme Court and appellate courts have examined the applicability of the primary assumption of the risk defense in a wide variety of cases involving sports and recreational activities. In Ford[ v. Gouin (1992)] 3 Cal.4th 339 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724], the companion case to Knight, the Supreme Court expanded the doctrine and applied it to the noncompetitive, nonteam sporting activity of waterskiing. The Supreme Court has applied the doctrine to other sports, including intercollegiate baseball (Avila v. Citrus Community College Dist. (2006) 38 Cal.4th 148, 161 [**831] [41 Cal. Rptr. 3d 299, 131 P.3d 383]), swimming (Kahn[ v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003)] 31 Cal.4th [990,] 1004-1005 [4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 103, 75 P.3d 30] [***16] [examining coach’s relationship to sport]), and snow skiing (Cheong v. Antablin (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1063, 1067-1068 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 859, 946 P.2d 817] …). [Citation.] The Courts of Appeal have applied the primary assumption of the risk rule in cases involving snow skiing (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 8 [45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 855]), ‘off-roading’ with a motorcycle or ‘dune buggy’ (Distefano v. Forester (2001) 85 Cal.App.4th 1249, 1255, 1259-1265 [102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813]), skateboarding (Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108, 115-117 [96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 394]), figure ice skating (Staten v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1628, 1632-1636 [53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 657]), and long-distance group bicycle riding (Moser v. Ratinoff (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 1211, 1218-1223 [130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198]), to name a few.” (Truong v. Nguyen (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 865, 878-879 [67 Cal. Rptr. 3d 675] [primary assumption of risk applied to bar action for injury to passenger on jet ski].)

In Record v. Reason (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 472 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547], the court held that where the plaintiff was injured when he fell off an inner tube while being towed behind a motor boat, primary assumption of risk applied. In doing so, the court considered the issue of whether a particular activity was a “sport” such that the doctrine should be applied. [***17] After reviewing a substantial number of cases applying primary assumption of risk to a variety of activities, the court concluded that “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors, it appears that an activity falls within the meaning of ‘sport’ if the activity is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.” (Id. at p. 482.) Although we agree with the result in Record its reliance on a plaintiff’s subjective reasons for participating in a sport seems inconsistent with Knight‘s test, which focuses on whether imposing liability would “alter fundamentally the nature of the sport by deterring participants from” vigorous participation. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 319.) [*1262]

(4) Stimson v. Carlson (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1201, 1205 [14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 670] applied primary assumption of risk to sailing where the plaintiff was one of the crew operating the boat; the court noted that sailing involves swinging booms and physical participation of crew. But in our case, plaintiff was not a participant in the “sport” of boating or in any “active sport.” He was a passenger. Thus [HN5] this activity does not fall within [***18] the test set out in Knight, i.e., that to hold defendants owed no duty to plaintiffs would “alter fundamentally the nature of [a] sport by deterring participants from” vigorous participation. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 319.)

This case is more analogous to Shannon v. Rhodes (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 792 [112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217]. There a six-year-old child and her siblings sued the owner and operator of a ski boat for negligence arising from injuries sustained by the child when she fell from the boat into the boat’s propeller. The Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment, holding that primary assumption of risk did not apply. The court noted, “Our analysis begins by examining with what activity the Knight court was concerned. In Knight, the court came to the commonsense conclusion that when two people are playing a sport together one should not be liable to the other for injuries sustained while playing that sport [**832] absent some recklessness or intentional misconduct. [Citation.] The parties in Knight were engaged in a recreational game of football, clearly a physical activity and ‘sport’ within any common understanding of the word.” (Id. at p. 796.) Shannon held that the defense did not apply where [***19] the plaintiff was merely a passenger in the ski boat. (Id. at p. 801.)

Shannon distinguished Ford v. Gouin, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339, the waterskiing case, by noting that in Ford, our Supreme Court “explicitly used the language ‘noncompetitive but active sports activity’ in applying the doctrine to waterskiing. [Citation.] A review of the reasoning set forth in Ford makes clear that the court focused on the physical skill and risk involved in the waterskiing itself to conclude that the activity of waterskiing was a sport, and the boat driver a coparticipant in that sport. [Citation.] The same certainly cannot be said of a mere passenger in a boat … .” (Shannon v. Rhodes, supra, 92 Cal.App.4th at p. 798.)

(5) Here, the trial court characterized the activity in which plaintiff engaged as “jumping” rather than boating. We disagree that [HN6] we must surgically separate an activity’s constituent parts apart from the general activity in which the plaintiff was engaged. Carl was engaged in boating, not in jumping. If he had been a jumper, in the sense of one who competes in athletic events, our conclusion would be different. But he was disembarking from the boat; his method of doing so, be it leaping, jumping, stepping off, or walking the gangplank, [***20] did not turn his activity into an “active sport.” [*1263]

We therefore conclude that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk does not bar plaintiffs’ action.

Defendants’ Remaining Arguments

(6) We need not expend a great deal of time dealing with the rest of defendants’ arguments. Although these were not the basis for the grant of summary judgment, we will comment briefly. Defendants contend they acted with reasonable care. But this argument should be made not to us but to the trier of facts. [HN7] Whether reasonable care has been exercised is normally a question of fact. (Butigan v. Yellow Cab Co. (1958) 49 Cal.2d 652, 656 [320 P.2d 500].) Even if defendants were not responsible for the removal of the steps, and they contend the steps were there, this would only be one possible theory of liability. And, in light of the conflicting evidence, it is not for us to decide whether the steps were removed and, if so, by whom.

(7) As to defendants’ argument that Carl’s wife, Barbara, did not sustain damages to support her loss of consortium claim, the contention rests on the absence of evidence of physical injuries. But, as plaintiffs point out, “[a]lthough [HN8] loss of consortium may have physical consequences, it is principally a form [***21] of mental suffering.” (Rodriguez v. Bethlehem Steel Corp. (1974) 12 Cal.3d 382, 401 [115 Cal. Rptr. 765, 525 P.2d 669].)

(8) Defendants’ final argument is equally specious. [HN9] Whether or not Carl’s son, Michael, had such a contemporaneous sensory awareness of the accident as to satisfy the requirements of Thing v. La Chusa (1989) 48 Cal.3d 644, 668-669 [257 Cal. Rptr. 865, 771 P.2d 814] is again a question of fact, not to be resolved by us.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed. Appellants shall recover their costs.

Sills, P. J., concurred.

DISSENT BY: BEDSWORTH

DISSENT

BEDSWORTH, J., Dissenting.–“No good deed goes unpunished” has become a truism of modern life. Today, [**833] by allowing suit against a yacht club that tried to help one of the sons of a member in his time of grief, only to be sued when he hurt himself intruding into their conduct of the good deed, my colleagues give this sad commentary on modern society the force of law. I respectfully dissent from that.

Carl Kindrich III was injured when he jumped off a boat and onto a dock. He did so voluntarily, after he knew his adult son, Michael, had already [*1264] gotten onto the dock to assist in tying off the boat. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone suggested, let alone required, that Kindrich himself must get off the boat prior [***22] to the time the stairs were put into place on the dock for the egress of passengers. Nonetheless, Kindrich, along with his wife and son, sued both the Long Beach Yacht Club and Charles Fuller, the Yacht Club member who captained the boat, alleging they were responsible for his injuries.

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, and I would affirm that judgment. I believe the trial court properly concluded that Kindrich’s specific act of “jumping onto the dock,” rather than the more generic and sedate “boating” was the relevant “activity” for purposes of assessing his assumption of risk. In my view, jumping or stepping some two and one-half or three feet off the side of a boat onto a dock–merely because portable steps had not yet been put into place–is no more an integral part of “boating” than diving out a window–because no one has yet opened the door–is an integral part of visiting a house.

This was not an outing or an excursion. It was not a leisurely sail. The trip was made to dispose of the ashes of Kindrich’s father. The injury in question was not the result of “boating.” Kindrich was not swept off the boat by a wave or hit by a jib. He jumped off the [***23] boat at the conclusion of the trip before the boat had been tied up. His injury was the result of his sudden decision he would leap off the boat rather than waiting for his son to finish tying it off and ensuring debarkation could be safely accomplished.

It is undisputed that defendants did not expect, let alone require, that passengers would have to jump off this particular boat as part of the “boating” experience. To my mind, the existence of portable stairs, which had been used by these passengers when boarding the boat, and were intended to be kept on the dock for the passengers to use in both getting on and off the boat, rather conclusively establishes the lack of any such expectation. And Kindrich’s own testimony demonstrates that even he did not consider jumping off the side of the boat onto the dock to be a normal part of this boat ride, let alone an integral part of the activity of “boating” in general. As Kindrich explained it, he not only did not expect that anyone else on the boat would be jumping off, he believed them unable to do it. 1

1 As Kindrich explained in his deposition, “Jim, my brother, has a back to where he can’t do a lot of jumping; Mary Ann would not be capable [***24] of doing it; Lisa wouldn’t be capable of doing it; my grandsons would not be capable of doing it. And the other two gentlemen would not be capable of doing it.”

Moreover, there is no evidence that anyone–either Fuller or the Yacht Club–imposed some special obligation on Kindrich to jump off the boat and [*1265] be on the dock while it was being tied up. Instead, Kindrich’s own testimony establishes that (1) Fuller merely stated (either directly to Kindrich or generally to him and his son) that it was necessary to tie up the boat, and “someone else” would have to assist; (2) Kindrich’s son immediately volunteered to do that; and (3) Kindrich was aware his son [**834] had already jumped onto the dock for the purpose of tying off lines before his own ill-fated attempt to follow suit. Even assuming it was actually necessary for “someone” to be on the dock–a fact disputed below–it is uncontested that need had been met prior to Kindrich’s jump.

Under these facts, it is clear that jumping off the boat before the stairs were in place was not a requirement placed generally on those who were passengers on the boat, and it was not a requirement placed specifically on Kindrich by any defendant. 2 Hence, [***25] Kindrich’s decision to do so was simply an optional, and entirely voluntary act, which must be distinguished, for analytical purposes, from any normal aspect of “boating.”

2 Of course, I do not mean to suggest Kindrich necessarily thought through these events with the specificity I have just employed. Presumably, he just figured if Fuller needed help getting the boat tied onto the dock, he was willing to do whatever he could to assist. But that instinct is the essence of volunteerism: “Somebody ought to do it, might as well be me” is not the same thing as being specifically assigned a task. And the fact Fuller might even have appreciated having two people on the dock is not the same thing as concluding he actually directed Kindrich to get onto the dock–by whatever means possible–as soon as the boat arrived. Based upon the evidence in this case, the trial court correctly determined Kindrich was acting voluntarily when he jumped off the boat.

As my colleagues seem to concede, when Kindrich’s activity is construed not as an integral part of “boating” but rather as simply an impetuous act of “jumping off the boat,” it falls within the scope of “athletic” endeavors, which includes those [***26] noncompetitive activities requiring some level of “physical skill and risk,” and thus primary assumption of the risk would apply. (See Ford v. Gouin (1992) 3 Cal.4th 339, 345 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724]; Shannon v. Rhodes (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 792, 798 [112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217].) Because I see it that way, I would apply that doctrine, and grant the summary judgment.

But I should also note that I disagree with the majority’s analysis for an additional reason. As they explain, they considered Kindrich’s situation to be more analogous to Shannon v. Rhodes, supra, 92 Cal.App.4th 792, in which the injured plaintiff, a six-year-old child, was merely a passenger when she fell out of a boat that lurched unexpectedly, than to Stimson v. Carlson (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1201 [14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 670], in which the court applied primary assumption of the risk to a plaintiff who was injured while serving as a crewmember on a sailboat. If that is the analysis, it would lead me to the opposite conclusion. After all, a cornerstone of Kindrich’s theory of liability [*1266] is the assertion he had agreed to help with the docking of the boat, which is why–unlike the other passengers–he could not simply wait for the stairs to be put in place before getting onto the dock. If we accept [***27] his view, it seems clear that at the time of the accident, Kindrich had assumed the role of “crew,” rather than remaining a mere passenger. That would bring him within the majority’s characterization of Stimson. For that reason as well, I would affirm the judgment.

My colleagues have expanded civil liability beyond previous decisional law and beyond my ability to sign on. This ship will have to sail without me.

Respondents’ petition for review by the Supreme Court was denied February 11, 2009, S168902. Werdegar, J., did not participate therein.


Angelo, v. USA Triathlon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

Angelo, v. USA Triathlon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

Cheryl Angelo, Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard Angelo, Plaintiff, v. USA Triathlon, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 13-12177-LTS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

September 18, 2014, Decided

September 19, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Cheryl Angelo, Plaintiff: Alan L. Cantor, LEAD ATTORNEY, Joseph A. Swartz, Peter J. Towne, Swartz & Swartz, Boston, MA.

For USA TRIATHLON, Defendant: Douglas L. Fox, Shumway, Giguere, Fox PC, Worcester, MA.

JUDGES: Leo T. Sorokin, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Leo T. Sorokin

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SOROKIN, D.J.

This action arises from a tragic set of facts in which Richard Angelo died while participating in the swim portion of a triathlon organized by the defendant, USA Triathlon (“USAT”). Plaintiff Cheryl Angelo (“the plaintiff”), as personal representative of Richard Angelo (“Angelo” or “the decedent”), has brought claims of wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. USAT has counterclaimed for indemnity against any liability and legal costs associated with this action pursuant to indemnity agreements executed by the decedent prior to his participation in the triathlon. USAT has now moved for partial summary judgment on its claim for indemnity. Doc. No. 18. The plaintiff has opposed the Motion. Doc. No. 19. For the reasons stated below, USAT’s Motion is ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. [*2] STATEMENT OF FACTS

The following facts are stated in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmoving party, although the key facts for the purposes of this motion are not disputed. Angelo was a member of USAT since, at the latest, 2011. Doc. No. 18-1 at 1 ¶ 3. When Angelo last renewed his membership on August 12, 2011, he agreed to and electronically signed a “Waiver and Release of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.” Id. at 1 ¶ 3, 4. That agreement only required the member to execute the document, and, accordingly, the plaintiff did not sign the form. Id. at 4-5. That document contained a provision that, in its entirety, reads as follows:

4. I hereby Release, Waive and Covenant Not to Sue, and further agree to Indemnify, Defend and Hold Harmless the following parties: USAT, the Event Organizers and Promoters, Race Directors, Sponsors, Advertisers, Host Cities, Local Organizing Committees, Venues and Property Owners upon which the Event takes place, Law Enforcement Agencies and other Public Entities providing support for the Event, and each of their respective parent, subsidiary and affiliated companies, officers, directors, partners, shareholders, members, agents, employees [*3] and volunteers (Individually and Collectively, the “Released Parties” or “Event Organizers”), with respect to any liability, claim(s), demand(s), cause(s) of action, damage(s), loss or expense (including court costs and reasonable attorneys [sic] fees) of any kind or nature (“Liability”) which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the Event, including claims for Liability caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the Released Parties. I further agree that if, despite this Agreement, I, or anyone on my behalf, makes a claim for Liability against any of the Released Parties, I will indemnify, defend and hold harmless each of the Released Parties from any such Liability which any [sic] may be incurred as the result of such claim.

Id. at 4.

USAT arranged to hold its National Age Group Championship on August 18, 2012, in Burlington, Vermont. Id. at 2 ¶ 5. On February 17, 2012, Angelo registered for the championship and, as part of his registration, electronically signed an indemnity agreement identical to the one excerpted above. Id. at 2 ¶ 6. As with the prior agreement, only Angelo as the participant was required to, and in fact did, sign the form. Doc. Nos. 18-1 at 33-34, 19-2 [*4] at 3. Angelo competed in that triathlon and died during his participation in the swim portion of that event or shortly thereafter. Doc. No. 18-2 at 11-12.

The plaintiff, the decedent’s wife and the personal representative of his estate, then brought this action in Essex Superior Court, alleging wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering by the decedent, gross negligence resulting in the decedent’s death, and negligent infliction of emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff, who was present at the site of the race. Doc. No. 6 at 12-16. USAT subsequently removed the action to this Court. Doc. No. 1.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once a party “has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who ‘may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Barbour v. Dynamics Research Corp., 63 F.3d 32, 37 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)). The Court is “obliged to []view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences [*5] in the nonmoving party’s favor.” LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993). Even so, the Court is to ignore “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Prescott v. Higgins, 538 F.3d 32, 39 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)). A court may enter summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

USAT has moved for partial summary judgment on their counterclaim for indemnity.1 USAT asserts that the decedent’s execution of the two release and indemnity agreements (“the indemnity agreements”) released or indemnified, or both, all claims that arise from his participation in the National Age Group Championship, including all claims brought by the plaintiff in this action. The plaintiff counters that the indemnity agreements could not function to release her claims for wrongful death or negligent infliction of emotional distress, and that an indemnity agreement is not enforceable insofar as it exempts the indemnitee from liability for its own grossly negligent conduct.

1 The Court understands this motion for summary judgment to be limited to the scope of the release and indemnity agreement [*6] and its application to the plaintiff’s claims as raised in the Complaint and as amplified in the motion papers. Despite USAT’s argument to the contrary, the Court does not believe this motion to be an appropriate vehicle to address the substantive merits of the plaintiff’s pleadings or claims.

Under Massachusetts law,2 “[c]ontracts of indemnity are to be fairly and reasonably construed in order to ascertain the intention of the parties and to effectuate the purpose sought to be accomplished.” Post v. Belmont Country Club, Inc., 60 Mass. App. Ct. 645, 805 N.E.2d 63, 69 (Mass. App. Ct. 2004) (quoting Shea v. Bay State Gas Co., 383 Mass. 218, 418 N.E.2d 597, 600 (Mass. 1981)). Indemnity contracts that exempt a party from liability arising from their own ordinary negligence are not illegal. Id. at 70. Further, contracts of indemnity can survive a decedent’s death and become an obligation of a decedent’s estate. Id. at 71.

2 The parties do not contend that the law of any other state applies.

Here, the language in the indemnity provision is broad. The plaintiff argues, briefly, that the indemnity agreements are ambiguous as to who is bound by the agreements. The Court disagrees. The agreement clearly states that “I . . . agree to Indemnify, Defend and Hold Harmless” the released parties from liability “of any kind or nature . . . which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation [*7] in the Event.” Doc. No. 18-1 at 4. By the plain language of the provision, the signatory of the agreement agreed to indemnify USAT for any losses arising from his participation in the triathlon, including losses and damages associated with lawsuits arising from his participation. See Post, 805 N.E.2d at 70. Both the scope of the indemnity and the party bound by the agreement are clear and unambiguous. A close examination is required, however, to ascertain the applicability of the provision to the specific claims raised and the sources available to satisfy the indemnity.

A. Counts 1 and 3: Wrongful Death

The first count in the plaintiff’s Complaint alleges wrongful death due to USAT’s negligence. The third count alleges wrongful death due to USAT’s gross negligence and seeks punitive damages. Under Massachusetts law, an action for wrongful death is “brought by a personal representative on behalf of the designated categories of beneficiaries” set forth by statute. Gaudette v. Webb, 362 Mass. 60, 284 N.E.2d 222, 229 (Mass. 1972); see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, §§ 1, 2. “The money recovered upon a wrongful death claim is not a general asset of the probate estate, but constitutes a statutory trust fund, held by the administratrix as trustee for distribution to the statutory beneficiaries.”3 Marco v. Green, 415 Mass. 732, 615 N.E.2d 928, 932 (Mass. 1993) (quoting Sullivan v. Goulette, 344 Mass. 307, 182 N.E.2d 519, 523 (Mass. 1962)). These [*8] aspects of Massachusetts law have led another judge of this Court to the conclusion that “[w]rongful death is not, in any traditional sense, a claim of the decedent.” Chung v. StudentCity.com, Inc., Civ. A. 10-10943-RWZ, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102370, 2011 WL 4074297, at *2 (D. Mass. Sept. 9, 2011).

3 The Massachusetts Legislature has created limited statutory exceptions whereby the recovery on a wrongful death claim may be reached to pay certain specified expenses. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 6A. None of those exceptions are implicated by the present Motion. See id.

As stated above, the indemnity agreements signed by the decedent, by their terms, clearly were intended to indemnify losses arising from an action for wrongful death as a claim “aris[ing] out of” the decedent’s participation in the triathlon. Thus, USAT is entitled to indemnity on losses resulting from that claim. That does not end the matter, however, because the parties raise the question of where USAT may look in order to satisfy the indemnity obligation. The decedent, while having authority to bind his estate, see Post, 805 N.E.2d at 71, lacked authority to bind his surviving family members who did not sign the indemnity agreements and are not bound thereby, see Chung, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102370, 2011 WL 4074297, at *2. Accordingly, to satisfy the indemnity obligation, USAT may look to the assets of the decedent’s estate. See [*9] Post, 805 N.E.2d at 71 (noting that a contract of indemnity agreed to by a decedent became an obligation of the decedent’s estate). USAT may not, however, look to any recovery on the wrongful death claim for satisfaction, as that recovery would be held in trust for the statutory beneficiaries and would not become an asset of the estate. See Estate of Bogomolsky v. Estate of Furlong, Civ. A. 14-12463-FDS, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86998, 2014 WL 2945927, at *2 (D. Mass. June 26, 2014).4 USAT concedes this outcome as to the plaintiff’s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, Doc. No. 20 at 11-12, and given the structure of wrongful death claims in Massachusetts, there is no reason for a different result as to the wrongful death claims.5

4 In Estate of Bogomolsky, a recent decision of another session of this Court, Judge Saylor came to the same conclusion, finding that a judgment creditor of a decedent’s estate would not be able to restrain the proceeds of an insurance policy distributed pursuant to the wrongful death statute, as the proceeds of the policy were held in trust for the decedent’s next of kin and did not belong to the decedent’s estate. Estate of Bogomolsky, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86998, 2014 WL 2945927, at *2.

5 While the plaintiff notes that the Massachusetts Appeals Court has reserved the question of whether an indemnification provision would be [*10] enforced to effectively release the claims of people who were not signatories of such an agreement, see Post, 805 N.E.2d at 70-71, this case, as in Post, does not present that circumstance, as the indemnity agreements in this case do not purport to extinguish the plaintiff’s right to bring her claims nor her right to recover on those claims.

Count three of the plaintiff’s Complaint, alleging that the decedent’s death was a result of USAT’s gross negligence, raises the issue of whether Massachusetts courts would enforce an indemnity contract to the extent it functioned to indemnify a party’s own gross negligence. The Court has uncovered no controlling authority from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on this issue, nor any case of the Massachusetts Appeals Court on point. In such a case, “[w]here the state’s highest court has not definitively weighed in, a federal court applying state law ‘may consider analogous decisions, considered dicta, scholarly works, and any other reliable data tending convincingly to show how the highest court in the state would decide the issue at hand.'” Janney Montgomery Scott LLC v. Tobin, 571 F.3d 162, 164 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting N. Am. Specialty Ins. Co. v. Lapalme, 258 F.3d 35, 38 (1st Cir. 2001)).

In the closely analogous context of releases, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has held that, for reasons of public policy, [*11] a release would not be enforced to exempt a party from liability for grossly negligent conduct, though otherwise effective against ordinary negligence. Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 687 N.E.2d 1263, 1265 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997). The Supreme Judicial Court, although not adopting that holding, has noted that public policy reasons exist for treating ordinary negligence differently from gross negligence when enforcing releases. Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738, 748 n.12 (Mass. 2002). Finally, Judge Saylor of this Court, examining this caselaw, has concluded that the Supreme Judicial Court would not enforce an indemnity agreement to the extent it provided for indemnification of a party’s own gross negligence. CSX Transp., Inc. v. Mass. Bay Transp. Auth., 697 F. Supp. 2d 213, 227 (D. Mass. 2010).

This Court, having studied the caselaw, agrees with and reaches the same conclusion as Judge Saylor: specifically that Massachusetts courts would not enforce an indemnity provision insofar as it relieved a party from liability stemming from its own gross negligence. Thus, the indemnity agreements executed by the decedent are not enforceable to the extent they would require the decedent’s estate to indemnify losses arising from USAT’s grossly negligent conduct.6

6 This conclusion would gain significance if the plaintiff were to be awarded punitive damages owing to USAT’s alleged gross negligence. Punitive damages [*12] awarded under the wrongful death statute, unlike compensatory damages under that statute, are considered general assets of the decedent’s estate. Burt v. Meyer, 400 Mass. 185, 508 N.E.2d 598, 601-02 (Mass. 1987). Any punitive damages, however, could not be reached in satisfaction of the indemnity obligation because gross negligence or more culpable conduct is the predicate upon which an award of punitive damages is based under the statute. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2.

Accordingly, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to the plaintiff’s claims of wrongful death is ALLOWED insofar as it seeks indemnity from the decedent’s estate for USAT’s allegedly negligent conduct. The Motion is DENIED insofar as it seeks to satisfy the indemnity obligation from any amounts recovered on the wrongful death claim and insofar as the agreement would require the decedent’s estate to indemnify liability arising from USAT’s grossly negligent conduct.

B. Count 2: Conscious Pain and Suffering

The second count of the plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that USAT’s negligence caused the decedent’s conscious pain and suffering. Under Massachusetts law, a claim for conscious pain and suffering is a claim of the decedent, which may be brought on the decedent’s behalf by his or her personal representative. [*13] Gaudette, 284 N.E.2d at 224-25; see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 6. Any recovery on such a claim is held as an asset of the decedent’s estate. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 6. By executing the two agreements, the decedent both released his claim of conscious pain and suffering caused by USAT’s negligence and indemnified USAT for any losses occasioned by such a claim. Putting aside the release for a moment, if the personal representative of the decedent received any recovery for his conscious suffering, USAT would be able to reach that recovery to satisfy the decedent’s indemnity obligation. See Estate of Bogomolsky, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86998, 2014 WL 2945927, at *2. Thus, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED insofar as the claim for conscious suffering caused by USAT’s negligence was both released and indemnified.

In response to this argument, however, the plaintiff has stated her intent to proceed on the conscious suffering count only on a theory of gross negligence, and not to proceed upon ordinary negligence. As noted above, both the release and the indemnity provisions of the agreements are unenforceable to exempt USAT from liability for their own grossly negligent conduct. See CSX, 697 F. Supp. 2d at 227; Zavras, 687 N.E.2d at 1265. Thus, insofar as the plaintiff chooses to proceed on the conscious pain and suffering count only on a theory of gross negligence, USAT’s Motion for Summary [*14] Judgment is DENIED. If she chooses to so proceed, the plaintiff shall amend her Complaint accordingly.

C. Count 4: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

The fourth and final count of the plaintiff’s Complaint alleges USAT’s negligent infliction of emotional distress on the plaintiff, who was present at the race venue. As an initial matter, the plaintiff, as currently denominated in the Complaint, only brings claims as personal representative of the estate of the decedent. Negligent infliction of emotional distress, however, alleges a harm directly against the plaintiff in her individual capacity, see Cimino v. Milford Keg, Inc., 385 Mass. 323, 431 N.E.2d 920, 927 (Mass. 1982), and thus cannot be brought in a representative capacity.

In response, the plaintiff has indicated her intent to amend her Complaint to bring this claim in her individual capacity. The Court will allow the amendment, as it is not futile in light of the Court’s rulings on the indemnity agreements. The indemnity language in those agreements is broad enough to reach a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a claim “aris[ing] out of” the decedent’s participation in the triathlon. Thus, USAT is entitled to indemnification on any losses resulting from such a claim. As conceded by [*15] USAT, however, any recovery on the emotional distress claim would belong to the plaintiff individually, and thus USAT would not be able to use that recovery to satisfy the indemnity and may look only to the estate of the decedent. Doc. No. 20 at 11-12. Accordingly, the plaintiff may so amend her Complaint to perfect her claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

D. Defense Costs

USAT also claims an entitlement to defense costs arising from the provisions in the indemnity agreements obligating the signatory to defend and hold harmless USAT. The language of the indemnity agreements does clearly obligate the decedent’s estate to make USAT whole on these losses. As with the claims discussed above, USAT may seek indemnity from the decedent’s estate for their defense costs which predate this Motion as well as prospective costs to the extent that the plaintiff chooses to proceed on at least one claim which is subject to indemnification.7 See Mt. Airy Ins. Co. v. Greenbaum, 127 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 1997) (“[U]nder Massachusetts law, if an insurer has a duty to defend one count of a complaint, it must defend them all.” (citing Aetna Cas. & Surety Co. v. Continental Cas. Co., 413 Mass. 730, 604 N.E.2d 30, 32 n.1 (Mass. 1992)).

7 Should the plaintiff decide to proceed only on those claims that, following the reasoning of this Order, are not subject to the [*16] indemnity obligation, the parties may request leave to brief the issue of USAT’s entitlement to prospective defense costs at that time.

IV. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. No. 18, is ALLOWED as set forth above insofar as USAT seeks to establish the release of the conscious pain and suffering claim and indemnity from the decedent’s estate for the claims wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress caused by USAT’s ordinary negligence. USAT’s Motion is DENIED, however, insofar as it argues for release of or indemnity on any claims caused by their own gross negligence and insofar as it seeks satisfaction of the indemnity obligation from any recovery on the wrongful death or emotional distress claims. The plaintiff shall amend the Complaint within seven days to more clearly specify the capacity in which each claim is brought and add the allegations of gross negligence, both as described in the plaintiff’s papers. The defendant shall respond to the Amended Complaint within seven days of its filing. The Court will hold a Rule 16 conference on October 21, 2014 at 1 p.m.

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Leo T. Sorokin

Leo T. Sorokin

United [*17] States District Judge


Sanislo, et al., v. Give Kids The World, Inc., 157 So. 3d 256; 2015 Fla. LEXIS 214; 40 Fla. L. Weekly S 79

Sanislo, et al., v. Give Kids The World, Inc., 157 So. 3d 256; 2015 Fla. LEXIS 214; 40 Fla. L. Weekly S 79

Stacy Sanislo, et al., Petitioners, vs. Give Kids The World, Inc., Respondent.

No. SC12-2409

SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

157 So. 3d 256; 2015 Fla. LEXIS 214; 40 Fla. L. Weekly S 79

February 12, 2015, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] (Osceola County). Fifth District – Case No. 5D11-748. Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal – Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions.

Give Kids The World, Inc. v. Sanislo, 98 So. 3d 759, 2012 Fla. App. LEXIS 17750 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist., 2012)

COUNSEL: Christopher Vincent Carlyle and Shannon McLin Carlyle of The Carlyle Appellate Law Firm, The Villages, Florida; and Michael J. Damaso, II of Wooten, Kimbrough & Normand, P.A., Orlando, Florida, for Petitioners.

Dennis Richard O’Connor, Derek James Angell, and Matthew J. Haftel of O’Connor & O’Connor, LLC, Winter Park, Florida, for Respondent.

Bard Daniel Rockenbach of Burlington & Rockenbach, P.A., West Palm Beach, Florida, for Amicus Curiae Florida Justice Association.

JUDGES: LABARGA, C.J., and PERRY, J., concur. CANADY and POLSTON, JJ., concur in result. LEWIS, J., dissents with an opinion, in which PARIENTE and QUINCE, JJ., concur.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

This case is before the Court for review of the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Give Kids the World, Inc. v. Sanislo, 98 So. 3d 759 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012), in which the Fifth District held that an exculpatory clause was effective to bar a negligence action despite the absence of express language referring to release of the defendant for its own negligence or negligent acts. The district court certified that its decision is in direct conflict with [*2] the decisions of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth District Courts of Appeal in Levine v. A. Madley Corp., 516 So. 2d 1101 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987); Van Tuyn v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 447 So. 2d 318 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984); Goyings v. Jack & Ruth Eckerd Found., 403 So. 2d 1144 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981); and Tout v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 390 So. 2d 155 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the following reasons, we approve the Fifth District’s decision in Give Kids the World and disapprove the decisions of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth District Courts of Appeal.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action arose as a result of a negligence action brought against Give Kids the World, Inc., (Give Kids the World), a non-profit organization that provides free “storybook” vacations to seriously ill children and their families at its resort village,1 by Stacy and Eric Sanislo, a married couple who brought their seriously ill child to the village, for injuries sustained by Ms. Sanislo while on the vacation.

1 Fulfillment of a child’s wish is accomplished in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. See Give Kids the World, 98 So. 3d at 760 n.1.

As part of the application process for the “storybook” vacation, the Sanislos filled out and signed a wish request form, which contained language releasing Give Kids the World from any liability for any potential cause of action. After the wish was granted, the Sanislos arrived at the resort village located in Kissimmee, Florida, and again signed a liability [*3] release form. The wish request form and liability release form both provide, in pertinent part:

I/we hereby release Give Kids the World, Inc. and all of its agents, officers, directors, servants, and employees from any liability whatsoever in connection with the preparation, execution, and fulfillment of said wish, on behalf of ourselves, the above named wish child and all other participants. The scope of this release shall include, but not be limited to, damages or losses or injuries encountered in connection with transportation, food, lodging, medical concerns (physical and emotional), entertainment, photographs and physical injury of any kind. . . .

I/we further agree to hold harmless and to release Give Kids the World, Inc. from and against any and all claims and causes of action of every kind arising from any and all physical or emotional injuries and/or damages which may happen to me/us. . . .

While at the resort village, the Sanislos and their children participated in the horse-drawn wagon ride operated by Heavenly Hoofs, Inc. The wagon, manufactured by codefendant Thornlea Carriages, Inc., was equipped with a rear, pneumatic lift to allow those in wheelchairs to participate in [*4] the ride. The carriage was carrying the Sanislos’ children. The Sanislos stepped onto the wheelchair lift of the wagon to pose for a picture and the lift collapsed due to weight overload, causing injuries to Ms. Sanislo’s left hip and lower back.

The Sanislos subsequently brought suit in the circuit court for Osceola County against Give Kids the World alleging Ms. Sanislo’s injuries were caused by Give Kids the World’s negligence. See id. at 761. Give Kids the World asserted an affirmative defense of release, and filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the Sanislos signed releases that precluded an action for negligence. Id. The Sanislos also filed a motion for partial summary judgment on Give Kids the World’s affirmative defense of release. The trial court granted the Sanislos’ motion for summary judgment and denied Give Kids the World’s motion for summary judgment. Thus, the negligence action proceeded to trial. Following a jury verdict, judgment was entered in the Sanislos’ favor awarding them $55,443.43 for damages incurred as a result of the injury and costs of $16,448.61.

On appeal to the Fifth District, Give Kids the World argued that the lower court erred by denying its pretrial [*5] motion for summary judgment on its affirmative defense of release because the release was unambiguous and did not contravene public policy. The Fifth District reversed the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, holding that an exculpatory clause releasing Give Kids the World from liability for “any and all claims and causes of action of every kind arising from any and all physical or emotional injuries and/or damages which may happen to me/us” barred the negligence action despite the lack of a specific reference to “negligence” or “negligent acts” in the exculpatory clause. Id. at 761-62. The Fifth District reasoned that exculpatory clauses are effective if the wording of the exculpatory clause is clear and understandable so that an ordinary and knowledgeable person would know what he or she is contracting away, and that the court had previously rejected “‘the need for express language referring to release of the defendant for “negligence” or “negligent acts” in order to render a release effective to bar a negligence action.'” Id. at 761 (quoting Cain v. Banka, 932 So. 2d 575, 578 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006)). The Fifth District also held that the bargaining power of the parties should not be considered because it was outside of the public utility or public function [*6] context and the Sanislos were not required to request a vacation with Give Kids the World or go on the vacation.

In Levine, Van Tuyn, Goyings, and Tout, the remaining four district courts of appeal held that exculpatory clauses are ineffective to bar a negligence action unless there is express language referring to release of the defendant for its own negligence or negligent acts. Accordingly, the conflict presented for this Court’s resolution is whether an exculpatory clause is ambiguous and thus ineffective to bar a negligence action due to the absence of express language releasing a party from its own negligence or negligent acts.

The Sanislos argue that express language regarding negligence is necessary to render an exculpatory clause effective to bar an action for negligence because this Court has held that indemnification agreements, which are similar in nature to an exculpatory clause, require a specific provision protecting the indemnitee for its own negligence in order to be effective. Further, the Sanislos argue that an ordinary and knowledgeable person does not expect a release to relieve a party from liability for failure to provide reasonable care; thus, any document intending [*7] to do so must include specific, unambiguous language to that effect. Give Kids the World, however, argues that use of the term “negligence” should not be required because: (1) the term “liability” is more readily understandable than “negligence” to an ordinary and knowledgeable person; (2) the language of this exculpatory clause would be rendered meaningless if found ineffective; (3) indemnification agreements and exculpatory clauses serve different purposes and involve differing allocations of risks; and (4) this rule has been rejected by many states. For the reasons discussed below, we hold that an exculpatory clause is not ambiguous and, therefore, ineffective simply because it does not contain express language releasing a defendant from liability for his or her own negligence or negligent acts; such an approach could render similar provisions meaningless and fail to effectuate the intent of the parties.

ANALYSIS

The issue presented–the enforceability of a pre-injury exculpatory clause that does not contain express language releasing a party of liability for its own negligence or negligent acts–is a question of law arising from undisputed facts. Thus, [HN1] the standard of review is de [*8] novo. See Kirton v. Fields, 997 So. 2d 349, 352 (Fla. 2008) (citing D’Angelo v. Fitzmaurice, 863 So. 2d 311, 314 (Fla. 2003) (stating that the standard of review for pure questions of law is de novo and no deference is given to the judgment of the lower courts)).

[HN2] Public policy disfavors exculpatory contracts because they relieve one party of the obligation to use due care and shift the risk of injury to the party who is probably least equipped to take the necessary precautions to avoid injury and bear the risk of loss. Applegate v. Cable Water Ski, L.C., 974 So. 2d 1112, 1114 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (citing Cain, 932 So. 2d at 578); see Levine, 516 So. 2d at 1103 (“The rule is that [HN3] an exculpatory clause may operate to absolve a defendant from liability arising out of his own negligent acts, although such clauses are not favored by the courts.”); Goyings, 403 So. 2d at 1146 (same). Nevertheless, because of a countervailing policy that favors the enforcement of contracts, as a general proposition, unambiguous exculpatory contracts are enforceable unless they contravene public policy. Applegate, 974 So. 2d at 1114 (citing Cain, 932 So. 2d at 578); Ivey Plants, Inc. v. FMC Corp., 282 So. 2d 205, 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B (1965). Exculpatory clauses are unambiguous and enforceable where the intention to be relieved from liability was made clear and unequivocal and the wording was so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he or she is contracting away. Cain, 932 So. 2d at 578 (citing Gayon v. Bally’s Total Fitness Corp., 802 So. 2d 420, 420-21 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001)); Raveson v. Walt Disney World Co., 793 So. 2d 1171, 1173 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001); cf. Univ. Plaza Shopping Ctr., Inc. v. Stewart, 272 So. 2d 507, 509 (Fla. 1973) ( [HN4] “‘A contract of indemnity will not be construed to indemnify [*9] the indemnitee against losses resulting from his own negligent acts unless such intention is expressed in clear and unequivocal terms. . . .'”).

The liability release forms signed in this case provided that the Sanislos released Give Kids the World from “any liability whatsoever in connection with the preparation, execution, and fulfillment of said wish . . .” and “any and all claims and causes of action of every kind arising from any and all physical or emotional injuries and/or damages which may happen to me/us. . . .” Further, the form states that the scope of the release includes “damages or losses or injuries encountered in connection with transportation, food, lodging, medical concerns (physical and emotional), entertainment, photographs and physical injury of any kind.” Although this exculpatory clause otherwise clearly and unequivocally includes negligence as its express terms encompass any liability, any and all claims and causes of action, and damages or losses or injuries encountered on the vacation, the issue before this Court is whether an exculpatory clause’s terms “clearly and unequivocally” release a party of liability for its own negligence or negligent acts when the [*10] clause does not contain express language regarding negligence or negligent acts.2

2 The Sanislos do not argue that the exculpatory clause here is void because it is against public policy. This claim is barred. Hoskins v. State, 75 So. 3d 250, 257 (Fla. 2011) (noting that an argument not raised in the initial brief is barred).

As noted above, in Give Kids the World, the Fifth District reaffirmed its position that exculpatory clauses are not ambiguous, equivocal, and unenforceable to bar negligence actions simply because they do not contain express language referring to release of the defendant for negligence or negligent acts. Id. at 761. The First, Second, Third, and Fourth Districts, however, relying on this Court’s holding in University Plaza regarding indemnity agreements, have held that an exculpatory clause is only effective to bar a negligence action if it clearly states that it releases a party from liability for his or her own negligence. Levine, 516 So. 2d at 1103; Van Tuyn, 447 So. 2d at 320; Goyings, 403 So. 2d at 1146 (reasoning that “This duty to undertake reasonable care expressed in the first part of the provision would be rendered meaningless if the exculpatory clause absolved appellees from liability.”); and Tout, 390 So. 2d at 156 (citing Ivey Plants, 282 So. at 209 (relying on University Plaza to conclude that the language in the indemnification agreement [*11] did not preclude maintenance of an action predicated on the alleged negligence of the defendant)).

Here, both parties argue the merits of extending the holding stated in University Plaza in the context of indemnity agreements to exculpatory clauses and hold-harmless agreements. The Sanislos contend that indemnity agreements and exculpatory clauses achieve the same result–abdication of responsibility for one’s own negligence–and therefore, should be treated the same. Give Kids the World, on the other hand, contends that it is sensible to require specificity in indemnity agreements because both parties to the contract can conceivably cause injury to an unknown third party, whereas exculpatory clauses shift the risk of injury and liability from one contracting party–usually a purveyor of voluntary amusements or a non-profit service provider–to the other contracting party, a voluntary consumer of the amusement or service. To determine whether the holding in University Plaza should be applied in this context, we examine University Plaza and its progeny, and out of state case law.

University Plaza

In University Plaza, University Plaza Shopping Center leased space in its building to a tenant [*12] who used the space to operate a barbershop. During the lease, a gas line exploded underneath the barbershop causing fatal injuries to a barber. The barber’s widow sued University Plaza Shopping Center for wrongful death alleging that the landlord negligently installed and maintained the gas line under the barbershop, which caused the explosion that led to the barber’s fatal injuries. University Plaza Shopping Center then instituted a third-party complaint against the tenant and his insurer seeking to impose liability on them based on an indemnity provision, which provided in pertinent part that the tenant would indemnify and save harmless the landlord from and against any and all claims for damages in and about the demised premises, and against any and all claims for personal injury or loss of life in and about the demised premises. Univ. Plaza, 272 So. 2d at 508-09. University Plaza Shopping Center conceded that the gas line was under, but not part of, the leased premises. Thus, the trial court entered a summary judgment for the tenant finding that an indemnity agreement stated in general terms does not apply to liability resulting from the sole negligence of the indemnitee. Further, the trial court found that the [*13] policy of insurance procured by the tenant was only applicable when the tenant was liable, and the tenant was free from liability for the gas line explosion. On appeal, the First District affirmed. This Court accepted certiorari review based on a decisional conflict because the Third District, in Thomas Awning & Tent Co., Inc. v. Toby’s Twelfth Cafeteria, Inc., 204 So. 2d 756 (Fla. 3d DCA 1967), held that indemnification for “any loss or claims” encompasses the indemnitee’s negligence.

The central issue in University Plaza was whether a contract of indemnity stated in general terms of “any and all claims” indemnifies the indemnitee for damages resulting from his sole negligence. Univ. Plaza, 272 So. 2d at 509. This Court noted that “divergent views” on the particular issue existed throughout the United States, but that the basic premise was that an indemnity contract does not indemnify the indemnitee against losses resulting from the indemnitee’s negligent acts unless such intention is expressed in clear and unequivocal terms. Id. The Court observed that the divergence in views across the country turned on an interpretation of the words “clear and unequivocal” and that three approaches existed: (1) the contract must contain a specific provision providing for indemnification in the event the indemnitee is negligent; [*14] (2) promises to indemnify against “any and all claims” include losses attributed solely to the negligence of the indemnitee because “all” means “all without exception”; and (3) the express use of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts” is not required if the contractual language and any other factors indicate the intention to clearly and unequivocally indemnify for the indemnitee’s own negligence. Id. at 509-10.

In concluding that [HN5] the best alternative was to require a specific provision protecting the indemnitee from liability solely caused by his own negligence,3 this Court reasoned that its “basic objective in construing the indemnity provision is to give effect to the intent of the parties involved. . .” and that “the use of the general terms ‘indemnify . . . against any and all claims’ does not disclose an intention to indemnify for consequences arising solely from the negligence of the indemnitee.” Id. at 511 (emphasis omitted). The Court further reasoned that in the context presented, “the phraseology logically relates to the tenant’s occupation of the leased premises–not some outside (though proximately close) independent act of negligence of the landlord. . . . It might be likened to a ‘common [*15] stairway’ in an apartment complex. . . . One would not expect liability to extend under a shopowner’s policy for a landlord’s negligently maintained common walkway or mall in front of a series of shops.” Id. at 512 (emphasis omitted). Finally, we concluded our reasoning by stating that the other alternatives listed above impute an intent to indemnify for liability occasioned by the indemnitee’s sole negligence, which is a “harsh result not necessarily contemplated by the parties nor condoned by this Court.” Id. Six years later, we considered whether this rule applied to situations where the indemnitee was jointly liable due to his or her own negligence in Charles Poe Masonry, Inc. v. Spring Lock Scaffolding Rental Equip. Co., 374 So. 2d 487, 489 (Fla. 1979).

3 This Court did not follow the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Seckinger, 397 U.S. 203, 212 n.17, 90 S. Ct. 880, 25 L. Ed. 2d 224 (1970), in which the Supreme Court declined to hold that language in indemnification agreements needed to explicitly state that the indemnification extended to injuries caused by the indemnitee’s own negligence, and recognized that contract interpretation is largely an individualized process “with the conclusion in a particular case turning on the particular language used against the background of other indicia of the parties’ intention.”

Charles Poe Masonry

In Charles Poe Masonry [*16] , an employee of Charles Poe Masonry was injured when he fell from a scaffold on a construction site. The employee filed an action alleging the manufacturer of the scaffold, Spring Lock, was negligent, breached the implied warranty, and was strictly liable for his injuries. The scaffold had been leased by Spring Lock to Charles Poe Masonry. The lease agreement provided in pertinent part that the lessee assumed all responsibility for claims asserted by any person whatsoever growing out of the erection and maintenance, use, or possession of the scaffolding equipment, and that the lessee agreed to hold the lessor harmless from such claims. Id. at 489. Thus, Spring Lock filed a third-party complaint against Charles Poe Masonry for contractual indemnity.4 Id. at 488.

4 Spring Lock also filed the third-party complaint against Charles Poe Masonry for common law indemnity, which this Court held was unavailable for the reasons expressed in Houdaille Industries, Inc. v. Edwards, 374 So. 2d 490 (Fla. 1979).

In considering whether the provision barred a negligence action, we found that the provision at issue was “exactly the sort of ‘general terms’ which we held in University Plaza do not disclose an intention to indemnify for consequences arising from the wrongful acts of the indemnitee” [*17] and that the public policy reasons expressed in University Plaza applied with equal force to instances where the indemnitor and indemnitee were jointly liable. Id. at 489-90 (“Under classical principles of indemnity, courts of law rightfully frown upon the underwriting of wrongful conduct, whether it stands alone or is accompanied by other wrongful acts.”). Further, we reasoned that the language of the provision demonstrated “nothing more than an undertaking by [Charles Poe Masonry] to hold Spring Lock harmless from any vicarious liability which might result from [Charles Poe Masonry’s] erection, maintenance or use of the scaffold.” Id. at 489.

We reaffirmed these principles thirteen years later in Cox Cable Corp. v. Gulf Power Co., 591 So. 2d 627 (Fla. 1992).

Cox Cable

In Cox Cable, Cox Cable Corporation and Gulf Power Company entered into a written contract authorizing Cox Cable to attach its cables, wires, and appliances to Gulf Power’s utility poles. The contract also provided that Cox Cable was to ensure the safe installation and maintenance of any wires, cables, or devices attached to the poles and indemnify Gulf Power against claims for personal injury and property damages. Cox Cable hired a cable installation contractor to perform the installation, and the [*18] cable installation contractor’s employee suffered electrical burns when he overtightened a guy wire during the course of installation. This employee sued Gulf Power alleging that its failure to warn him of the danger was negligent. Gulf Power then filed a third-party complaint against Cox Cable seeking indemnification.5 Id. at 628-29. The indemnity agreement provided in pertinent part that the licensee was to indemnify and save the licensor forever harmless against any and all claims and demands for damages to property and injury or death to any persons including, but not restricted to, employees of the licensee and employees of any contractor or subcontractor performing work for the licensee which may arise out of or be caused by the erection, maintenance, presence, use or removal of the aforementioned attachments. Id. at 629.

5 Gulf Power also claimed breach of contract and alleged that Cox Cable’s negligence was the sole and proximate cause of the employee’s injuries.

On appeal, the district court stated that the degree of specificity required for indemnification in cases of joint negligence was less stringent than in cases where the indemnitee is solely negligent. This Court, however, reaffirmed the principles [*19] established in University Plaza and Charles Poe Masonry in holding that the district court had erred by applying a less stringent standard to cases involving parties who are jointly liable, and that the language of the provision before it was insufficiently clear and unequivocal. Accordingly, it is clear that since 1973 and as recently as 1992, this Court has found that [HN6] an indemnity agreement only indemnifies the indemnitee for his or her own negligence or negligent acts if the agreement contains a specific provision protecting the indemnitee from liability caused by his or her own negligence.

[HN7] The principles underlying our case law regarding indemnity agreements, however, are not applicable to exculpatory clauses. Generally, “[i]ndemnification provides a party entitled to indemnification the right to claim reimbursement for its actual loss, damage, or liability from the responsible party. . . .” First Baptist Church of Cape Coral, Florida, Inc. v. Compass Constr., Inc., 115 So. 3d 978, 986 (Fla. 2013) (Lewis, J., dissenting) (emphasis added) (citing Black’s Law Dictionary 837 (9th ed. 2009)); see also Dade Cnty. Sch. Bd. v. Radio Station WQBA, 731 So. 2d 638, 643 (Fla. 1999) ( [HN8] “A contract for indemnity is an agreement by which the promisor agrees to protect the promisee against loss or damages by reason of liability to a third party.”). Further, “[i]ndemnification serves the purpose of holding [*20] the indemnified party harmless by shifting the entire loss or damage incurred by the indemnified party–who has without active negligence or fault ‘been obligated to pay, because of some vicarious, constructive, derivative, or technical liability’–to the responsible party who should bear the cost because it was that party’s wrongdoing for which the indemnified party is held liable.” Compass Constr., 115 So. 3d at 986 (Lewis, J., dissenting) (emphasis added); see also Rosati v. Vaillancourt, 848 So. 2d 467, 470 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) ( [HN9] “Indemnity is a right which inures to one who discharges a duty owed by him but which, as between himself and another, should have been discharged by the other.” (citing Houdaille Indust., Inc. v. Edwards, 374 So. 2d 490, 492-93 (Fla. 1979))). These contracts are typically negotiated at arm’s length between sophisticated business entities and can be viewed as an effort to allocate the risk of liability. Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 400 N.E.2d 306, 310, 424 N.Y.S.2d 365 (N.Y. 1979). Thus, it would not be apparent that a party has agreed to indemnify a party for liability incurred due to that party’s own negligent conduct based on general language in an indemnification agreement.

[HN10] An exculpatory clause, on the other hand, shifts the risk of injury and deprives one of the contracting parties of his or her right to recover damages suffered due to the negligent act of the other contracting party. See Ivey Plants, 282 So. 2d at 207. Thus, [*21] although indemnification agreements can sometimes produce the same result as an exculpatory provision by shifting responsibility for the payment of damages back to the injured party, see O’Connell v. Walt Disney World Co., 413 So. 2d 444, 446 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982), Florida courts recognize a distinction between exculpatory clauses and indemnity clauses.6 Acosta v. Rentals (N. Am.), Inc., No. 8:12-CV-01530-EAK-TGW, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31392, 2013 WL 869520 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 7, 2013).

6 In Yang v. Voyagaire Houseboats, Inc., 701 N.W.2d 783, 792 n.6 (Minn. 2005), the court noted that [HN11] although it had previously recognized similarities between exculpatory clauses and indemnity agreements, the “[i]ndemnification clauses are subject to greater scrutiny because they release negligent parties from liability, but also may shift liability to innocent parties.”

These distinctions are evidenced in this Court’s precedent noted above. In University Plaza and Charles Poe Masonry, this Court recognized that [HN12] indemnification agreements are construed subject to the general rules of contract construction–the Court looks to the intentions of the parties. See Dade Cnty. Sch. Bd., 731 So. 2d at 643 (noting that indemnity contracts are subject to the general rules of contractual construction). Thus, given the typical purpose of indemnification, and that the parties’ apparent intent was to reduce the risk of vicarious liability, we were reluctant to decipher an intent to indemnify a party [*22] for its own wrongdoing through the parties’ use of general terms. See Univ. Plaza, 272 So. 2d at 512 (noting that the language of the agreement appeared to relate to injuries occurring due to the tenant’s occupation of the leased premises–liability would not logically extend to a landlord’s negligently maintained common walkway); Charles Poe Masonry, 374 So. 2d at 489 (noting that the language of the lease agreement appeared to be an undertaking by the indemnitor to indemnify the indemnitee from any vicarious liability). Further, because courts “frown upon the underwriting of wrongful conduct. . .,” specificity is required in the indemnity context. See id. at 489-90 (holding that courts should not allow underwriting of wrongful conduct). In short, because indemnification agreements allocate the risk of liability for injuries to an unknown third party, specificity is required so that the indemnitor is well aware that it is accepting liability for both its negligence and the negligence of the indemnitee. Exculpatory clauses, however, primarily release a party from liability for its own negligence and not vicarious liability.7 See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784-85 (Colo. 1989) (noting, in a release relieving a party from liability for any injuries due to horseback riding, that any claim the injured party could [*23] have asserted would have been based on negligence). Further, releasing a party from liability does not result in the underwriting of wrongful conduct or shift liability to an innocent party. Thus, discerning the intent of the parties regarding the scope of an exculpatory clause involves less uncertainty than in an indemnification context. Accordingly, University Plaza and its progeny do not control our conclusion here.

7 Indeed, the petitioner in this case could not indicate what this liability release form covered if not the negligence of Give Kids the World.

Review of out-of-state precedent illustrates that many states have expressly rejected the requirement that an exculpatory clause contain an explicit provision releasing a party from liability for his or her own negligence or negligent acts.

Out-of-State Precedent

State courts across the country have rendered four different standards for determining whether language in an exculpatory clause clearly and unequivocally releases a party from liability for negligence. 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 53 (2004). First, recognizing that “the intentions of the parties with regard to an exculpatory provision in a contract should be delineated with the greatest of particularity,” [*24] an exculpatory clause will be given effect if the agreement clearly and unambiguously expresses the parties’ intention to release a party from liability for his or her own negligence by using the words “negligence” or “negligent acts” and specifically including injuries definitely described as to time and place. 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 53 (citing Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo. 1981); Wright v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 663 A.2d 1340 (N.H. 1995)). Second, a specific reference to negligence is not required if the clause clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release the defendant from liability for a personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence. See 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 53 (citing Seigneur v. Nat’l Fitness Inst., Inc., 132 Md. App. 271, 752 A.2d 631 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000); Swartzentruber v. Wee-K Corp., 117 Ohio App. 3d 420, 690 N.E.2d 941 (Ohio Ct. App. 1997); Empress Health & Beauty Spa, Inc. v. Turner, 503 S.W.2d 188 (Tenn. 1973); Russ v. Woodside Homes, Inc., 905 P.2d 901 (Utah Ct. App. 1995); Blide v. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., 30 Wn. App. 571, 636 P.2d 492 (Wash. Ct. App. 1981)). Third, a specific reference to negligence is not required if protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract. See, e.g., American Druggists’ Ins. Co. v. Equifax, Inc., 505 F. Supp. 66, 68-69 (S.D. Ohio 1980) (applying Ohio law). Fourth, a specific reference to negligence is not required if the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision. See, e.g., Blide, 636 P.2d 493). Courts, however, have required words conveying a similar import; a release will not cover negligence if it neither specifically refers to negligence nor contains any other language that could relate to negligence. See 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 53 (citing Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388 (Mo. Ct. App. 1999) (retransferred to Mo. Ct. of Appeals (Dec. 21, 1999) and opinion adopted [*25] and reinstated after retransfer (Jan. 6, 2000)); Sivaslian v. Rawlins, 88 A.D.2d 703, 451 N.Y.S.2d 307 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982); Colton v. New York Hospital, 98 Misc. 2d 957, 414 N.Y.S.2d 866 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1979)). According to American Jurisprudence, however, “the better practice is to expressly state the word ‘negligence’ somewhere in the exculpatory provision.”8 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 53; see Give Kids the World, 98 So. 3d at 763 (Cohen, J., concurring specially) (“The better view is to require an explicit provision to that effect. . . . I would suggest that the average ordinary and knowledgeable person would not understand from such language that they were absolving an entity from a duty to use reasonable care.”).

8 Although many courts have noted that it may be “better practice” to include the term “negligence” in contracts, our jurisprudence recognizes that the term “negligence” may not be understood by the average ordinary and knowledgeable person. For instance, the legal term “negligence” is defined for juries. See Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Civ.) 401.4. Thus, the inclusion of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts” may not clarify the meaning of an exculpatory contract for the average ordinary and knowledgeable person at all.

Although some courts have suggested that “the better practice” for contracting parties is to require an explicit provision releasing a party from liability for his or her own negligence or negligent acts, most [*26] states have expressly rejected such a requirement. For instance, the Supreme Court of Kentucky does not require the word “negligence,” but reviews the contractual language to determine whether it satisfies any one of four standards articulated by the court. Hargis v. Baize, 168 S.W.3d 36, 47 (Ky. 2005) (“. . . a preinjury release will be upheld only if (1) it explicitly expresses an intention to exonerate by using the word ‘negligence'; or (2) it clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release a party from liability for a personal injury caused by that party’s own conduct; or (3) protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract language; or (4) the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.”); see Cumberland Valley Contractors, Inc. v. Bell Cnty. Coal Corp., 238 S.W.3d 644, 649-50 (Ky. 2007) (finding that the wording of the release was “unmistakable” and that “‘the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.'”).

The Colorado Supreme Court has “examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. . .” and has “also made clear that the specific terms ‘negligence’ and ‘breach of [*27] warranty’ are not invariably required for an exculpatory agreement to shield a party from claims based on negligence and breach of warranty.” Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004) (citing Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785). Indeed, in Heil, the Colorado Supreme Court noted several factors supporting the enforceability of the exculpatory clause: (1) the agreement was written in terms free from legal jargon; (2) the clause was not inordinately long or complicated; (3) when the agreement was read to the injured party at a deposition she indicated that she understood it; (4) the release specifically addressed a risk that adequately described the circumstances of the injury; and (5) it was difficult to imagine any claims that the injured party could have asserted other than negligence. 784 P.2d at 785. However, in Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of Assemblies of God, 251 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Colo. App. 2010), the court of appeals noted that in every Colorado Supreme Court case upholding an exculpatory clause, the clause “contained some reference to waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in.” Thus, a release form that did not reference the relevant activity or that personal injury claims were specifically waived was unenforceable.

Other states have similarly held that reference to negligence is not required. The Supreme Court of Hawai’i [*28] has held that an exculpatory clause that did not include specific language pertaining to negligence was effective to bar simple negligence claims, but not gross negligence or willful misconduct. See Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, Inc., 111 Haw. 254, 141 P.3d 427, 439-40 (Haw. 2006). In Massachusetts, an exculpatory clause releasing a party from liability for “any and all liability, loss, damage, costs, claims and/or causes of action, including but not limited to all bodily injuries” occurring during a motorcycle safety course was deemed “unambiguous and comprehensive” despite the absence of language specifically mentioning negligence. Cormier v. Cent. Mass. Chapter of the Nat’l Safety Council, 416 Mass. 286, 620 N.E.2d 784, 785 (Mass. 1993).

The following states also hold that the word “negligence” is not required. See, e.g., Adloo v. H.T. Brown Real Estate, Inc., 344 Md. 254, 686 A.2d 298, 304 (Md. 1996) (“To be sure, as the weight of authority makes clear . . . the exculpatory clause need not contain or use the word ‘negligence’ or any other ‘magic words.'”); Cudnik v. William Beaumont Hosp., 207 Mich. App. 378, 525 N.W.2d 891, 894 n.3 (Mich. App. 1994) (holding exculpatory agreement executed by patient before receiving radiation therapy was void as against public policy, but noting that exculpatory clause was not void for ambiguity because it “quite clearly attempts to absolve defendant of all liability ‘of every kind and character’ arising out of the radiation therapy” despite no reference to negligence); Mayfair Fabrics v. Henley, 48 N.J. 483, 226 A.2d 602, 605 (N.J. 1967) (“But there are no required words [*29] of art and, whatever be the language used or the rule of construction applied, the true goal is still the ascertainment and effectuation of the intent of the parties.”); Reed v. Univ. of N.D., 1999 ND 25, 589 N.W.2d 880, 885-86 (N.D. 1999); Estey v. MacKenzie Eng’g Inc., 324 Ore. 372, 927 P.2d 86, 89 (Or. 1996) (noting that the Supreme Court of Oregon had previously upheld clauses releasing others from liability “‘from whatever cause arising,'” and “‘all liability, cost and expense,'” and declining “to hold that the word ‘negligence’ must expressly appear in order for an exculpatory or limitation of liability clause to be effective against a negligence claim”); Empress Health & Beauty Spa, Inc. v. Turner, 503 S.W.2d 188, 190 (Tenn. 1973); Russ v. Woodside Homes, Inc., 905 P.2d 901, 906 (Utah Ct. App. 1995); Fairchild Square Co. v. Green Mountain Bagel Bakery, Inc., 163 Vt. 433, 658 A.2d 31, 34 (Vt. 1995); Scott ex rel. Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6, 9-10 (Wash. 1992) (en banc) (rejecting proposed requirement of “the word ‘negligence’ or language with similar import” and holding “[c]ourts should use common sense in interpreting purported releases, and the language ‘hold harmless . . . from all claims’ logically includes negligent conduct”); Murphy v. N. Am. River Runners, Inc., 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504, 511 (W. Va. 1991); Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Ctr., 2005 WI 4, 277 Wis. 2d 303, 691 N.W.2d 334, 341 (Wis. 2005) (noting that “this court has never specifically required exculpatory clauses to include the word ‘negligence,'” but has recognized that its inclusion would be “very helpful”); Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057, 1061 (Wyo. 1986) (adopting a “common sense” approach “based on the clear intent of the parties rather than specific ‘negligence’ terminology” for interpreting exculpatory clauses); Sanchez v. Bally’s Total Fitness Corp., 68 Cal. App. 4th 62, 79 Cal. Rptr. 2d 902, 904 (Cal. Ct. App. 1998)9 (noting that courts look to the intent of the parties [*30] and use of the term “negligence” is not dispositive); Neighborhood Assistance Corp. v. Dixon, 265 Ga. App. 255, 593 S.E.2d 717 (Ga. Ct. App. 2004); Finagin v. Ark. Dev. Fin. Auth., 355 Ark. 440, 139 S.W.3d 797 (Ark. 2003) (noting that courts are not restricted to the literal language of the contract and will consider the facts and circumstances surrounding the execution of the release to determine the intent of the parties).10

9 In Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica, LLC, 104 Cal. App. 4th 1351, 129 Cal. Rptr. 2d 197 (Cal. Ct. App. 2002), the injured party did not contend that the release is ineffective due to the ambiguity of the language. Thus, Division Five of the Second Appellate District did not address this issue. However, California law appears to provide that a release need not achieve perfection, but “must be clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing the intent of the subscribing parties.”

10 It is also evident that federal courts in circuits finding complete limitations on liability enforceable in maritime contracts hold that express reference to the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts” is not required. See Cook v. Crazy Boat of Key West, Inc., 949 So. 2d 1202 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007) (“State laws requiring specific reference to the releasee’s negligence therefore conflict with federal law and may not be applied in cases involving federal maritime law.”).

Other jurisdictions, however, require express use of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts.” See Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 878-79 (Iowa 2009) (requiring specific reference to exculpee’s own negligence); McCune v. Myrtle Beach Indoor Shooting Range, Inc., 364 S.C. 242, 612 S.E.2d 462 (S.C. Ct. App. 2005); [*31] Powell v. Am. Health Fitness Ctr. of Fort Wayne, Inc., 694 N.E.2d 757, 761 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998); Morganteen v. Cowboy Adventures, Inc., 190 Ariz. 463, 949 P.2d 552 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1997); Alack v. Vic Tanny Int’l of Mo., Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 337-38 (Mo. 1996) (holding that express language is required because “[o]ur traditional notions of justice are so fault-based that most people might not expect such a relationship to be altered, regardless of the length of an exculpatory clause, unless done so explicitly”); Dresser Indus., Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 853 S.W.2d 505, 508-09 (Tex. 1993) (applying an “express negligence doctrine” because “indemnity agreements, releases, exculpatory agreements, or waivers, all operate to transfer risk” and such agreements are “an extraordinary shifting of risk”); Macek v. Schooner’s Inc., 224 Ill. App. 3d 103, 586 N.E.2d 442, 166 Ill. Dec. 484 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991); Kissick v. Schmierer, 816 P.2d 188, 190-91 (Alaska 1991).11 The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that express language was required explaining that

A person of ordinary intelligence reasonably could believe that, by signing this release, he or she was releasing the defendant only from liability for damages caused by dangers inherent in the activity of snowtubing. A requirement of express language releasing the defendant from liability for its negligence prevents individuals from inadvertently relinquishing valuable legal rights. Furthermore, the requirement that parties seeking to be released from liability for their negligence expressly so indicate does not impose on them any significant cost.

Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts of Conn., Inc., 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827, 831 (Conn. 2003). In New York, the Court of Appeals of New York held that in order for a party to shed [*32] its ordinary responsibility of due care, express use of the terms “negligence,” “negligent acts,” or words conveying a similar import are required because although parties may be alerted to dangers inherent in dangerous activities, “it does not follow that [parties are] aware of, much less intended to accept, any enhanced exposure to injury occasioned by the carelessness of the very persons on which [the parties] depend[] for [his or her] safety. . . . Thus, whether on a running reading or a careful analysis, the agreement could most reasonably be taken merely as driving home the fact that the defendant was not to bear any responsibility for injuries that ordinarily and inevitably would occur, without any fault of the defendant.” Gross, 400 N.E.2d at 309-11.

11 In Alaska, however, indemnification agreements do not require specific words regarding indemnity for the indemnitee’s own negligence. Kissick, 816 P.2d at 192 (Compton, J., dissenting) (citing Manson-Osberg Co. v. State, 552 P.2d 654, 659 (Alaska 1976)).

Although we agree that it may be better practice to expressly refer to “negligence” or “negligent acts” in an exculpatory clause, we find that the reasoning employed by the states that do not require an express reference to render an exculpatory clause effective to bar a negligence action [*33] is more persuasive, particularly in the context presented here. As discussed above, the courts’ basic objective in interpreting a contract is to give effect to the parties’ intent. Further, as the United States Supreme Court has observed, [HN13] contract interpretation is largely an individualized process “with the conclusion in a particular case turning on the particular language used against the background of other indicia of the parties’ intention.” United States v. Seckinger, 397 U.S. 203, 212 n.17, 90 S. Ct. 880, 25 L. Ed. 2d 224 (1970). As a result, we are reluctant to hold that all exculpatory clauses that are devoid of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts” are ineffective to bar a negligence action despite otherwise clear and unambiguous language indicating an intent to be relieved from liability in such circumstances. Application of such a bright-line and rigid rule would tend to not effectuate the intent of the parties and render such contracts otherwise meaningless.12 The contract at issue demonstrates as much.

12 In a concurring opinion in Florida Department of Financial Services v. Freeman, Justice Cantero referred to several Florida Supreme Court cases discussing the freedom of contract and noted that this Court had previously recognized that [HN14] “‘while there is no such [*34] thing as an absolute freedom of contract, nevertheless, freedom is the general rule and restraint is the exception.'” 921 So. 2d 598, 607 (Cantero, J., concurring) (quoting Larson v. Lesser, 106 So. 2d 188, 191 (Fla. 1958)). Further, Justice Cantero noted that “[t]his freedom . . . ‘includes freedom to make a bad bargain.'” Id. at 607 (quoting Posner v. Posner, 257 So. 2d 530, 535 (Fla. 1972)). Finally, Justice Cantero acknowledged that courts may not “‘rewrite contracts or interfere with freedom of contracts or substitute [their] judgment for that of the parties to the contract in order to relieve one of the parties from apparent hardships of an improvident bargain.'” Id. at 607 (quoting Quinerly v. Dundee Corp., 159 Fla. 219, 31 So. 2d 533, 534 (Fla. 1947)).

The wish request form and liability release form signed by the Sanislos released Give Kids the World and all of its agents, officers, directors, servants, and employees from “any liability whatsoever in connection with the preparation, execution, and fulfillment of said wish. . . .” The language of the agreement then provided that the scope of the agreement included “damages or losses or injuries encountered in connection with transportation, food, lodging, medical concerns (physical and emotional), entertainment, photographs and physical injury of any kind. . . .” This agreement clearly conveys that Give Kids the World would be released [*35] from any liability, including negligence, for damages, losses, or injuries due to transportation, food, lodging, entertainment, and photographs. With regard to Give Kids the World and the wish fulfilled for the Sanislos, it is unclear what this agreement would cover if not the negligence of Give Kids the World and its agents, officers, directors, servants, and employees, given that exculpatory clauses are unenforceable to release a party of liability for an intentional tort. See Loewe v. Seagate Homes, Inc., 987 So. 2d 758, 760 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (citing Kellums v. Freight Sales Ctrs., Inc., 467 So. 2d 816 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985), and L. Luria & Son, Inc. v. Honeywell, Inc., 460 So. 2d 521 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984)). Further, this agreement specifically operates to release Give Kids the World in connection with circumstances that are not inherently dangerous. Thus, this is not a situation where a person of ordinary intelligence would believe that the release “could most reasonably be taken merely as driving home the fact that the defendant was not to bear any responsibility for injuries that ordinarily and inevitably would occur, without any fault of the defendant.” Cf. Gross, 400 N.E.2d at 309-10; Hyson, 829 A.2d at 831 (requiring the use of the word “negligence” in a release pertaining to snowtubing). Accordingly, this agreement would be rendered meaningless if it is deemed ineffective to bar a negligence action solely on the basis of the absence of [*36] the legal terms of art “negligence” or “negligent acts” from the otherwise clear and unequivocal language in the agreement.

Despite our conclusion, however, we stress that our holding is not intended to render general language in a release of liability per se effective to bar negligence actions. As noted previously, [HN15] exculpatory contracts are, by public policy, disfavored in the law because they relieve one party of the obligation to use due care. Applegate, 974 So. 2d at 1114 (citing Cain, 932 So. 2d at 578); see Levine, 516 So. 2d at 1103 (“The rule is that an exculpatory clause may operate to absolve a defendant from liability arising out of his own negligent acts, although such clauses are not favored by the courts.”); Goyings, 403 So. 2d at 1146 (same). Further, exculpatory clauses are only unambiguous and enforceable where the language unambiguously demonstrates a clear and understandable intention to be relieved from liability so that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he or she is contracting away. Cain, 932 So. 2d at 578 (citing Gayon, 802 So. 2d at 420); Raveson, 793 So. 2d at 1173; cf. Univ. Plaza, 272 So. 2d at 509 (“‘A contract of indemnity will not be construed to indemnify the indemnitee against losses resulting from his own negligent acts unless such intention is expressed in clear and unequivocal terms.'”). Moreover, as we stated in University Plaza, this [*37] Court’s “basic objective . . . is to give effect to the intent of the parties. . . .” Id. at 511 (emphasis deleted). Accordingly, our decision is merely a rejection of the Sanislos’ invitation to extend University Plaza, which applies to indemnity agreements, to exculpatory clauses.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that [HN16] the absence of the terms “negligence” or “negligent acts” in an exculpatory clause does not render the agreement per se ineffective to bar a negligence action. Accordingly, we approve the Fifth District’s decision in Give Kids the World and disapprove the decisions of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth District Courts of Appeal in Levine v. A. Madley Corp., 516 So. 2d 1101 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987); Van Tuyn v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 447 So. 2d 318 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984); Goyings v. Jack & Ruth Eckerd Found., 403 So. 2d 1144 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981); and Tout v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 390 So. 2d 155 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980).

It is so ordered.

LABARGA, C.J., and PERRY, J., concur.

CANADY and POLSTON, JJ., concur in result.

LEWIS, J., dissents with an opinion, in which PARIENTE and QUINCE, JJ., concur.

DISSENT BY: LEWIS

DISSENT

LEWIS, J., dissenting.

Today the majority leaves our most vulnerable citizens open to catastrophe from those who seek to shield themselves from their own fault. Florida precedent mandates that because the advance liability release and hold harmless agreement signed by the Sanislos did not explicitly and unambiguously warn that Give Kids the World [*38] would be released and held harmless for its own failure to exercise reasonable care as previously outlined and required under Florida law, no such waiver was made. I disagree with the decision of the majority that such explicit warning is required only for valid indemnity agreements, but not for combined releases, indemnification, and hold harmless agreements, such as the document in this case.

In University Plaza Shopping Center v. Stewart, 272 So. 2d 507, 509 (Fla. 1973), the Court considered whether an indemnity agreement in which one party agreed to indemnify another for “any and all claims” included those that arose solely out of the negligence of the indemnitee. The Court concluded that indemnification agreements will be effective against the negligence of the indemnitee only if that intention is expressed in clear and unequivocal terms. Id. The Court then held that an agreement to indemnify against “any and all claims” does not clearly and unequivocally express the intent to include claims that result exclusively from the negligence of the indemnitee. Id. at 511. The majority provides no logical basis to ignore that well established principle.

As the majority recognizes but fails to apply, exculpatory clauses that protect a party from his or her own negligence [*39] are disfavored. See Slip Op. at 7, 32; see also Charles Poe Masonry, Inc. v. Spring Lock Scaffolding Rental Equip. Co., 374 So. 2d 487, 489 (Fla. 1979). Based on this policy, the Court in Charles Poe Masonry extended the holding of University Plaza to apply even where the indemnified party is jointly liable with the indemnitor. See id. at 489-90 (“Under classical principles of indemnity, courts of law rightfully frown upon the underwriting of wrongful conduct, whether it stands alone or is accompanied by other wrongful acts.”). Additionally, courts strictly construe exculpatory clauses against the party that seeks to be relieved of liability. See Cain v. Banka, 932 So. 2d 575, 580 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006); see also Sunny Isles Marina, Inc. v. Adulami, 706 So. 2d 920, 922 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998). Courts have consistently required that explicit language be used in agreements that attempt to contract away liability for one’s own negligence, and the language must be sufficiently clear and understandable such that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will comprehend the rights that he or she relinquishes. Gillette v. All Pro Sports, LLC, 135 So. 3d 369, 370 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014). The language here has previously been held to be insufficient. The public policy that disfavors exculpatory clauses should apply with equal force to all contracts that operate to remove a party’s obligation to act with reasonable care.

Moreover, a hold harmless agreement is simply another term for an indemnification agreement. See 42 [*40] C.J.S. Indemnity § 23 (2014) (“The term ‘hold harmless’ means to fully compensate the indemnitee for all loss or expense, and an agreement to hold harmless is a contract of indemnity that requires the indemnitor to prevent loss to the indemnitee or to reimburse the indemnitee for all losses suffered from the designated peril.”) (footnotes omitted); see also Black’s Law Dictionary 887 (10th ed. 2014) (stating that “indemnity clause” may also be termed “hold-harmless clause”). Accordingly, because the Court has previously held that indemnification agreements are ineffective against the negligence of the party being indemnified unless they clearly and explicitly state this intent in language that can be understood by an ordinary and knowledgeable person, agreements to release and hold harmless without such language should be deemed similarly ineffective.

The rational basis for this principle of law is that a general release and hold harmless agreement may not sufficiently warn the untrained signing party that the other party will not be responsible for its own negligent acts. The signing party may instead understand the contract as an agreement that exempts the other party from any injury [*41] that occurs as a result of a third party. For example, in this case, the Sanislos signed a contract that was both a release and a hold harmless agreement, and a number of other entities were involved in carrying out the wish that Give Kids the World granted, including food vendors and transportation providers. The Sanislos could have understood that Give Kids the World would not be liable for the negligence of these other entities, and may not have understood that Give Kids the Worlds would not be liable for its own negligence. As established under Florida law, a specific provision that explicitly states that a party will be released and held harmless for liability for its own negligence would clarify the nature of the release so that individuals would have full knowledge of what risks they undertake by signing such a contract. There simply is no rational or logical legal reasoning that would require one to explicitly state a party will be indemnified for its own negligence as a condition of validity as is the current law, but not required to do so if that agreement also includes a release!

For these reasons, I dissent.

PARIENTE and QUINCE, JJ., concur.


Espinoza, Jr., v. Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136102

Jesus Espinoza, Jr., Plaintiff, v. Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC; Defendant.

Civil Action No. 13-cv-01421-MSK-BNB

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136102

September 26, 2014, Decided

September 26, 2014, Filed

CORE TERMS: rafting, trip, undersigned, wrongful death, decedent’s, exculpatory provision, outfitter, exculpatory clause, summary judgment, white water, website, participating, genuine, raft, river, affirmative defense, material facts, misrepresentation, exculpatory, enforceable, unambiguous, whitewater, survived, heir, obstacles, matter of law, entitled to judgment, assumption of risk, burden of proof, personal representative

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jesus Espinoza, Jr., Plaintiff: William James Hansen, LEAD ATTORNEY, McDermott & McDermott, LLP, Denver, CO; George E. McLaughlin, Warshauer-McLaughlin Law Group, P.C., Denver, CO.

For Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC, Defendant: Conor P. Boyle, Ryan L. Winter, Hall & Evans, LLC-Denver, Denver, CO.

JUDGES: Marcia S. Krieger, Chief United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Marcia S. Krieger

OPINION

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (# 17), the Plaintiff’s Response (# 22), and the Defendant’s Reply (# 26).

I. JURISDICTION AND ISSUES PRESENTED

Sue Ann Apolinar died on a white water rafting trip conducted by Defendant Arkansas Valley Adventures (“AVA”). This action is brought by Ms. Apolinar’s son, Jesus Espinoza, who asserts three claims related to his mother’s death: (1) negligent, careless, and imprudent operation of a raft resulting in wrongful death; (2) negligence and negligence per se; and (3) fraud and misrepresentation.

AVA moves for summary judgment on all three claims. It seeks to dismiss any “survivorship” claim premised on C.R.S. § 13-20-101 for lack of capacity. In addition, it seeks judgment in its favor on all of Plaintiff’s [*2] claims based on its affirmative defense that Ms. Apolinar released AVA from liability and assumed all risks prior to the rafting trip. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332. The issues are governed by Colorado law.

II. MATERIAL FACTS

Based upon the evidence submitted by the parties, which the Court construes most favorably to the Plaintiff, the material facts are summarized below. Where appropriate, the Court provides further explication explication in conjunction with its analysis.

Mr. Espinoza is Ms. Apolinar’s son. There is no evidence of record that an estate was created following Ms. Apolinar’s death or whether Mr. Espinoza acts in a fiduciary capacity for such estate.

AVA is a river outfitter licensed under C.R.S. § 33-32-104. It offers a number of river rafting trips of varying levels of difficulty. Among the trips it offers is “24 Hours in Brown’s Canyon,” which Ms. Apolinar booked based on her review of AVA’s website. She made reservations for herself, her significant other, her god-daughter, and Mr. Espinoza because “it looked like fun and was appropriate for [the group’s] level of experience.”

Before beginning the rafting trip, AVA required its participants to review and execute a document [*3] entitled “Rafting Warning, Assumption of Risk, and Release of Liability & Indemnification Agreement” (“Agreement”). Ms. Apolinar signed the Agreement for herself and for her minor son, Mr. Espinoza, on June 7, 2011 before beginning the trip.

On the second day of the trip, the raft carrying Ms. Apolinar capsized while navigating a rapid known as “Seidel’s Suck Hole.” Ms. Apolinar was ejected from the raft. An AVA guide pulled her back into the raft, but it capsized and ejected Ms. Apolinar, again. Ms. Apolinar was swept into a logjam, became entangled with the collection of tree logs and branches, and tragically drowned.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law governs what facts are material and what issues must be determined. It also specifies the elements that must be proved for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Kaiser–Francis Oil Co. v. Producer’s Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary judgment is precluded if [*4] the evidence presented in support of and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).

If the movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the movant must establish every element of its claim or defense by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to avoid summary judgment the responding party must present sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991); Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.

IV. ANALYSIS

AVA’s motion raises a straight forward issue — are Ms. Espinoza’s claims barred by the exculpatory and release provisions of the Agreement executed by Ms. Apolinar. However, before addressing that question, AVA asks that the Court clarify the capacity in which Mr. Espinoza [*5] brings this action.

A. Capacity

As noted, Mr. Espinoza asserted three claims in the Amended Complaint: (1) negligent, careless, and imprudent operation of a raft resulting in wrongful death; (2) negligence and negligence per se; and (3) fraud and misrepresentation. None of these are brought for injuries to Mr. Espinoza1, only for the death of his mother.

1 Much of the parties’ argument addresses questions of Ms. Apolinar’s capacity to execute the Agreement for her son (then a minor), Mr. Espinoza. The Court need not address this debate because Mr. Espinoza is not asserting claims for injuries to him. He asserts claims for the death of his mother, which grow out of what she could have asserted had she survived, and therefore it is the Agreement that she executed for herself that is at issue.

Colorado law recognizes that claims can be brought on behalf of a decedent in two different capacities. The first type of claim is brought in a fiduciary capacity by the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person. C.R.S. § 13-20-101. Claims brought in this capacity are often referred to as “survival” claims. The personal representative “stands in the decedent’s shoes” in order to assert a claim that the [*6] decedent could have asserted had he or she been alive. The beneficiary of a survival claim is the decedent’s estate.

The second type of claim is brought by the decedent’s heir. Known as a wrongful death claim, it is created and limited by statute. C.R.S. § 13-21-201 et seq; see also Espinoza v. O’Dell, 633 P.2d 455, 462-466 (Colo. 1981). A wrongful death claim differs from a claim that a decedent could have asserted during his or her lifetime. A wrongful death claim arises only upon the decedent’s death, it addresses wrongful acts that caused the death, and the amount of recovery is limited by statute. C.R.S. § 13-21-203; Fish v. Liley, 120 Colo. 156, 208 P.2d 930, 933 (1949); Colorado Comp. Ins. Auth. v. Jorgensen, 992 P.2d 1156, 1164 n. 6 (Colo. 2000). To prove a wrongful death claim, an heir must establish that (1) the death of the decedent; (2) was caused by a wrongful act and 3) that the decedent would have been able to maintain an action for injuries, had the person survived. Stamp v. Vail Corp., 172 P.3d 437, 451 (Colo. 2007). A wrongful death claim is subject to the same limitations and defenses that would have applied to the claim had the decedent survived and brought the claim. Elgin v. Bartlett, 994 P.2d 411, 416 (Colo.1999); see also Lee v. Colo. Dep’t of Health, 718 P.2d 221, 233 (Colo.1986) ( comparative negligence of the decedent will reduce the recovery available in a wrongful death action brought by the decedent’s heirs).

The Amended Complaint does not clearly identify in what capacity Mr. Espinoza asserts the claims in this action, but in the absence [*7] of the representation that a probate estate has been created for Ms. Apolinar and that Mr. Espinoza is the appointed executor or personal representative, the Court assumes that he brings this action for wrongful death of his mother. Thus, the three claims are merely alternate theories of alleged wrongful conduct leading to wrongful death. With that clarification, the Court turns to AVA’s affirmative defense.

B. The Agreement

AVA argues that it is entitled to judgment on Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim, regardless of the theory upon which it is premised, because Ms. Apolinar contractually released AVA from any claims and liability and assumed all risks associated with white water rafting. These arguments are in the nature of affirmative defenses upon which AVA bears the burden of proof. See Squires ex rel. Squires v. Goodwin, 829 F.Supp 2d 1062, 1071 (D. Colo. 2011).

There is no dispute that prior to the raft trip, AVA presented and Ms. Apolinar executed a two-page Agreement that provides in pertinent part:

2. Risks of Activity. The Undersigned agree and understand that taking part in the Activity can by HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH. The Undersigned acknowledge that the Activity is inherently dangerous and fully realize the [*8] dangers of participating in the Activity. The risks and dangers of the activity include, but are not limited to: choice of rafting course, . . . choice of outfitter, negligence of rafting or climbing or zip lining guides, changing weather conditions, changing water conditions, cold water immersion, hidden underwater obstacles, trees or other above water obstacles, . . . changing and unpredictable currents, drowning, exposure, swimming, overturning, . . . entrapment of feet or other body parts under rocks or other objects . . . . THE UNDERSIGNED ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE RISKS LISTED ABOVE IS NOT COMPLETE AND THAT PARTICIPATING IN THE ACTIVITY MAY BE DANGEROUS AND MAY INCLUDE OTHER RISKS.

3. Release, Indemnification, and Assumption of Risk. In consideration of the Participant being permitted to participate in the activity, the Undersigned agree as follows:

(a) Release. THE UNDERSIGNED HEREBY IRREVOCABLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE, FOREVER DISCHARGE, AND AGREE NOT TO SUE OR BRING ANY OTHER LEGAL ACTION AGAINST THE RELEASED PARTIES with respect to any and all claims and causes of action of any nature whether currently known or unknown, which the Undersigned [*9] or any of them, have or which could be asserted on behalf of the Undersigned in connection with the Participant’s participation in the Activity, including, but not limited to claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and/or breach of contract.

(b) Indemnification. The Undersigned hereby agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the Released Parties from and against any and all liability, cost, expense or damage of any kind or nature whatsoever and from any suits, claims or demands including legal fees and expenses whether or not in litigation, arising out of, or related to, Participant’s participation in the Activity. Such obligation on the part of the Undersigned shall survive the period of the Participant’s participation in the Activity.

(c) Assumption of Risk. The Undersigned agree and understand that there are dangers and risks associated with participation in the Activity and that INJURIES AND/OR DEATH may result from participating in the Activity, including, but not limited to the acts, omissions, representations, carelessness, and negligence of the Released Parties. By signing this document, the Undersigned recognize that property loss, injury and death are all possible while [*10] participating in the Activity. RECOGNIZING THE RISKS AND DANGERS, THE UNDERSIGNED UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THE ACTIVITY AND VOLUNTARILY CHOOSE FOR PARTICIPANT TO PARTICIPATE IN AND EXPRESSLY ASSUME ALL RISKS AND DANGERS OF THE PARTICIPATION IN THE ACTIVITY, WHETHER OR NOT DESCRIBED ABOVE, KNOWN OR UNKNOWN, INHERENT, OR OTHERWISE.

As noted earlier, Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim is subject to the defenses that could have been asserted against Ms. Apolinar, had she lived and brought the claim. The issue is whether the exculpatory provision in Paragraph 3(a) or the assumption of risk provision in Paragraphs 2 and 3(c) of the Agreement would have barred Ms. Apolinar’s claims. If so, Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim is similarly barred.

The Court begins with the exculpatory provision of the Agreement. Colorado law favors enforcement of contracts, but exculpatory provisions that shield one party from its future negligence must be carefully scrutinized.2 Whether an exculpatory provision is enforceable is a question of law. In order to determine whether an exculpatory clause is enforceable, courts evaluate the four “Jones factors”3: “(1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature [*11] of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.”

2 Indeed, there are some types of conduct for which exculpatory clauses are never enforceable. For example, they cannot be used as a shield against a claim for willful and wonton negligence. See, e.g., Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo.2004); Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981); Barker v. Colorado Region, 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P. 2d 372 (1974).

3 These come from Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). Although colloquially referred to as “factors,” they really are not treated as such — they are not weighed, compared or tallied. Instead, they might be better understood as situations in which an exculpatory clause should not be enforced.

1. Duty to the Public

This factor focuses on whether the party seeking to enforce the contract (here, AVA) provided such a necessary and important service to the public that the releasing party (Ms. Apolinar) could not reasonably be expected to refuse the service in order to avoid the exculpatory provision. Drawing from Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 444 (1963), Colorado law recognizes that when a service has great importance to the public and it is a matter of practical necessity to some members of the public, then the provider of the service has undue bargaining power in setting the terms of the contract. [*12] In such case, an exculpatory agreement may be void as an adhesion contract. See Jones, 623 P. 2d at 376; Potter v. Nat’l Handicapped Sports, 849 F. Supp. 1407, 1409 (D. Colo. 1994).

By their nature, recreational activities generally are not considered necessary public services. Instead, participation in these activities is optional. See, e.g., Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; Mincin v. Vail Holdings, Inc.., 308 F.3d 1105, 1110 (10th Cir. 2002); Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Indeed, at least one court has specifically found that white water rafting activities are not necessary public services. See Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo 1996).

Mr. Espinoza does not dispute this authority. Instead, he argues that because white water rafting is regulated by Colorado statute, it has a public aspect4, and that enforcement of the exculpatory clause in the Agreement would frustrate the purposes of regulation. Mr. Espinoza is quite correct that white water rafting enterprises are regulated under the Colorado River Outfitter’s Act (CROA), C.R.S. § 33-32-101 et seq. CROA makes it “unlawful any river outfitter, guide, trip leader, or guide instructor to (i) violate CROA’s safety equipment provisions; (ii) operate a vessel in a careless or imprudent manner without due regard for river conditions or other attending circumstances, or in such a manner as to endanger any person, property, or wildlife; or (iii) operate a vessel with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. [*13] An outfitter or guide that does not comply with CROA’s safety obligations commits a misdemeanor. § 33-32-107.

4 Presumably, this argument is based on a sentence found in Tunkl‘s explanation of the types of services that might create public duties: “It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation.” Tunkl, 383 P2d at 444.

The regulation of white-water rafting enterprises, however, does not change the nature of the service that AVA provides. White water rafting is a purely recreational activity, as compared to an essential or necessary one. The rafter is free to decline the service if the rafter is unwilling to accept the terms of the exculpatory clause. Indeed, since CROA was enacted, several courts have enforced exculpatory agreements protecting white water rafting operators. See Lahey, 964 F. Supp. at 1446; Forman v. Brown, 944 P2d 559, 563-64 (Colo. App. 1996).

Furthermore, enforcement of the exculpatory provision does not logically or practically have any impact on regulation under CROA. There is Colorado authority that recognizes that when a statute defines the scope of civil liability, individuals cannot contract around it; however, such authority is not instructive here.

In Stanley v. Creighton Co., 911 P.2d 705, 708 (Colo. App. 1996), the Colorado Court of Appeals compared the provision of the Colorado Premises Liability [*14] Act that made a landowner liable to invitees for damages caused by the “landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known”5 with conflicting exculpatory language in a lease, “Lessor shall not be responsible for any damage or injury said Lessee may sustain from any cause whatsoever unless injury is a direct result of the Lessor’s gross negligence.” The Court characterized the issue of the validity of the lease’s exculpatory clause as implicating competing principles: freedom of contract and responsibility for damages caused by one’s own negligent acts. Stanley, at 706 (citing Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo.1989)). Ultimately, it held that where the General Assembly has expressed its intent in an area of clear public policy, a contract to the contrary is invalid.

5 C.R.S. §13-21-115(3)(c)(I).

However, the Stanley-type situation is not present here. CROA does not address the scope of civil liability of rafting operators.6 Rather, it provides for the creation of safety standards that are enforceable by criminal penalty. See C.R.S. §§ 33-32-107,108. If the exculpatory provision of the Agreement were to bar Mr. Espinoza’s wrongful death claim, Colorado nevertheless could implement its public policy under CROA [*15] by prosecuting and punishing AWA under the CROA safety standards. In fact, the record reflects that CROA enforcement occurred in this case. The Colorado State Parks (“CSP”) conducted an investigation, and found that all required safety equipment was on the trip, all equipment to was in serviceable condition, and all of the guides were qualified as required by Colorado law. CSP concluded that other than filing a late written report that there were “[n]o other violations of Colorado law”.

6 In this respect, CROA differs from the statutory schemes in other states cited by Mr. Espinoza in his Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment because those statutes establish the limits on civil liability for recreational outfitters, rather than a public right enforced through criminal penalties. See W. Va. Code Ann. § 20-3B-5 (West) (“No licensed commercial whitewater outfitter or commercial whitewater guide acting in the course of his employment is liable to a participant for damages or injuries to such participant unless such damage or injury was directly caused by failure of the commercial whitewater outfitter or commercial whitewater guide to comply with duties placed on him by [statute or rule].”); Idaho Code Ann. § 6-1206 (West) (“No licensed [*16] outfitter or guide acting in the course of his employment shall be liable to a participant for damages or injuries to such participant unless such damage or injury was directly or proximately caused by failure of the outfitter or guide to comply with the duties placed on him by [statute or rule].”).

Because rafting is not a necessary, public service and its regulation is unaffected by the terms of the exculpatory provision, this factor does not compel a determination of unenforceability.

2. Nature of Service Performed

Somewhat duplicative of the first factor, the second concerns the nature of the service that was performed. An exculpatory provision can be invalidated when “the activity can be described as an essential service.” See Lahey, 964 F.Supp. at 1445. The parties agree that white-water rafting is not an essential service. Thus, this factor does not invalidate the exculpatory provision in the Agreement.

3. Whether the Agreement was Fairly Entered Into

The third factor focuses on whether the party benefitted by the exculpatory clause overreached the releasing party. Colorado law specifies that a contract is “fairly entered into” if neither party is so obviously disadvantaged with respect to bargaining power [*17] that he/she is placed at the mercy of the other party’s negligence.” Hamill v. Cheley Colorado Camps, Inc., 262 P.3d 945, 949 (Colo. App. 2011). Simply because a contract is on a printed form and is offered on a “take-it-or-leave-it basis” does not necessarily make it unfair, especially when similar services can be obtained by another provider. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 375; Mincin, 308 F.3d at 1111; Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949. Analysis with regard to this factor turns on the particular facts surrounding the execution of the Agreement.

Mr. Espinoza argues that AVA defrauded Ms. Apolinar at the time she selected and reserved seats for the rafting trip. He contends that on its website, AVA misrepresented that the trip was for beginners and was safe for families on its website. In particular, he contends that AVA represented that this trip included no rapids rated higher than Class III rapids, when in reality one rapid known as Seidel’s Suck Hole was a Class IV rapid. He states that had Ms. Apolinar known that Seidel’s Suck Hole was a Class IV rapid, she would not have selected the particular rafting trip, participated in the trip or signed the Agreement.

The Court recognizes that there is a genuine dispute as to the difficulty level of Seidel’s Suck Hole and assumes that it was a Class IV rapid for purposes of this motion. The Court [*18] further assumes that AVA did not disclose the severity of the rapid to Ms. Apolinar on its website or later when Ms. Apolinar signed the Agreement. The nature of the omitted information (severity of the rapid) arguably was material to questions of risk of injury or death. Even if viewed as misrepresentation by omission (failure to disclose Seidel’s Suck Hole as a class IV rapid) or false representation (that Seidel’s Suck Hole was a Class III rapid), there is no evidence that suggests that Ms. Apolinar relied on such designation in executing the Agreement.

The chronology of events shows two independent decisions by Ms. Apolinar. She viewed the website and booked the trip online before traveling to Colorado. But, Ms. Apolinar executed the Agreement after she arrived in Colorado before the trip began. There is no evidence in the record addressing the manner in which the Agreement was presented to Ms. Apolinar or any representations made to her by AVA before or at the time of its execution. There is no evidence, for example, that an AVA employee told Ms. Apolinar that the Agreement or release language was not important, was not accurate, would not be enforced, or did not mean what it said. [*19]

Turning to the Agreement, it both applied to all rafting trips (not just the one Ms. Apolinar had chosen) and it described the risks in the contexts of all rafting activity. It characterizes all rafting activity as “HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH” and it states that there are particular risks and dangers that cannot be anticipated including changing water conditions, obstacles, currents, etc. In capitalized print, it states that “THE UNDERSIGNED ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE RISKS LISTED ABOVE IS NOT COMPLETE AND THAT PARTICIPATING IN THE ACTIVITY MAY BE DANGEROUS AND MAY INCLUDE OTHER RISKS”. It also contains an integration and merger clause. Paragraph (6)(c) states that the Agreement’s representations “supersede prior contracts, arrangements, communications or representations, whether oral or written, between the parties relating to the subject matter hereof.”

Assuming that AVA’s website portrayed, and Ms. Apolinar believed, that the rafting trip she booked was safe for families before participating, she was presented with an Agreement that contained comprehensive, even dire, descriptions of the risks she was undertaking. There is no evidence [*20] that Ms. Apolinar relied on the website information in lieu of the risks outlined in the Agreement at the time she signed the Agreement, nor any evidence that she was misled or overreached by AVA employees. Faced with stark representations of risk in the Agreement, Ms. Apolinar could have cancelled her reservation and declined to participate in the rafting trip. Thus, the Court finds that Ms. Apolinar fairly entered into the Agreement. On this record, the Court cannot find that she was either overreached or defrauded. See Squires v. Breckenridge Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 715 F.3d 867, 879 (10th Cir. 2013) (“Plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence that [her mother] relied on this misrepresentation in deciding to sign the Release.”).

4. Whether the Agreement is Clear and Unambiguous

The final “Jones factor” asks whether the exculpatory provision was clear and unambiguous. To evaluate this factor, a court “examine[s] the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.” See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467.

Mr. Espinoza argues that Agreement is not clear and unambiguous because it is broad, unduly long, and obscures the key terms. The Court disagrees.

First, at less than two [*21] pages, the Agreement “is not inordinately long or complicated.” See Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 127 F.3d 1273, 1275 (10th Cir. 1997); Lahey, 964 F. Supp. at 1445 (concluding that a release agreement of “just over one page” was “short”).

Second, the Agreement repeatedly and clearly states that the signor is releasing AVA from liability. The title of the document is “RAFTING WARNING, ASSUMPTION OF RISK, RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNIFICATION AGREEMENT”. This is immediately followed by a directive, “PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING. THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY & WAIVER OF LEGAL RIGHTS.”

The body of the Agreement contains six main paragraphs titled in boldface print. For example: 2. Risks of Activity” and “3. Release, Indemnification and Assumption of Risk.” Key portions are printed in all capital letters. For example, the “Release” clause indicates the signor’s agreement to “THE UNDERSIGNED HEREBY IRREVOCABLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE, FOREVER DISCHARGE , AND AGREE NOT TO SUE OR BRING ANY OTHER LEGAL ACTION AGAINST THE RELEASED PARTIES with respect to any and all claims and causes of action of any nature whether currently known or unknown, which the undersigned of any of them have or which could be asserted on behalf of the Undersigned in connection with the Participant’s [*22] participation in the Activity.” There is no legal jargon that impairs the meaning of this or other provisions.

Third, the Agreement clearly expresses intent for the release to apply to claims based on injury or death resulting from white water rafter, including the type of circumstances that led to Ms. Apolinar’s death. It expressly states there is a risk of physical injury or death and lists specific risks such as “trees or other above water obstacles,” drowning, overturning, and “entrapment of feet or other body parts under rocks or other objects.” The Court finds that the Agreement clearly and unambiguously articulates the intent of the parties to release AVA from all liability resulting from Ms. Apolinar’s participation in the rafting trip.

As explained above, none of the Jones factors compels a finding that the Agreement’s exculpatory clause is invalid. Thus, as a matter of law, the exculpatory clause would have barred claims for injury to Ms. Apolinar, had she survived. Similarly, it bars wrongful death claims by Mr. Espinoza as her heir. C.R.S. § 13-21-202; see also Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F.Supp.2d 889, 895 (D. Colo. 1998) (“Colorado courts interpreting the statute hold, consistent with the plain language of the statute, that the right to bring a wrongful [*23] death claim is dependent on the decedent’s ability to have brought the claim.”). Because this action is barred, it is not necessary to address the parties’ arguments as to the Agreement’s assumption of risk provisions. As a matter of law, AVA is entitled to dismissal of all claims with prejudice.

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that AVA’s Motion for Summary Judgment (#17) is GRANTED. AVA is entitled to judgment on its affirmative defense as against all claims of the Plaintiff. The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of the Defendant and against the Plaintiff on all claims and close this case.

Dated this 26th day of September, 2014.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Marcia S. Krieger

Marcia S. Krieger

Chief United States District Judge


Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440 (Dist Colo 1996)

Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440 (Dist Colo 1996)

Carol Lahey, Plaintiff, v. Rick Covington d/b/a Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., and Douglas (Blues) Voisard, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs, v. Rob Mobilian, Third-Party Defendant.

Civil Action No. 95 N 1396

United States District Court for the District of Colorado

964 F. Supp. 1440; 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21247

April 29, 1996, Decided

April 29, 1996, FILED; May 1, 1996, ENTERED

Disposition: [**1] Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings Granted.

Defendants’ motion for summary judgment Granted in part and Denied in part.

Counsel: For Carol Lahey, plaintiff: William A. Trine, Williams & Trine, P.C., Boulder, CO U.S.A.

For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., a Colorado corporation, defendant: James V. Pearson, Pearson, Milligan & Horowitz, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A. For Rick Covington, defendant: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (Blues) Voisard, defendant: James V. Pearson, (See above).

For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, Pearson, Milligan & Horowitz, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A. For Rick Covington, counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (Blues) Voisard, counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, (See above).

For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Rick Covington, third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (BLUES) Voisard, third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above).

For Carol Lahey, counter-defendant: William A. Trine, Williams & Trine, P.C., Boulder, CO U.S.A.

For Rob Mobilian, third-party defendant: Ira M. Long, Jr., Roos, [**2] Cohen & Long, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A.

Judges: Edward W. Nottingham, United States District Judge

Opinion by: Edward W. Nottingham

Opinion:

[*1441] Order and Memorandum of Decision

This is a personal injury action. Plaintiff Carol Lahey alleges that she suffered serious injuries during a white-water rafting trip as a result of the negligence and willful and wanton conduct of Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs Rick Covington d/b/a Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., and Douglas (Blues) Voisard [hereinafter “defendants”]. Defendants allege that, pursuant to an indemnity agreement, both plaintiff and Third-Party Defendant Rob Mobilian (“Mobilian”) are liable to defendants for any fees and costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit. The matter is before the court on (1) “Third-Party Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” filed November 15, 1995, and (2) “Defendants’ and Third-Party Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment” filed January 19, [*1442] 1996. Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (West 1993).

Facts

At all times relevant to this case, Covington owned and operated Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., a white-water rafting company located in Twin Lakes, Colorado. (Defs.’ and Third-Party [**3] Pls.’ Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P A [filed Jan. 19, 1996] [hereinafter “Defs.’ Summ. J. Br.”]; admitted at Pl.’s Mem. Br. in Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P A [filed Feb. 5, 1996] [hereinafter “Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot.”]; Mobilian’s Br. in Opp’n to Mot. for Summ. J., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts [filed Feb. 9, 1995] [hereinafter “Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot.”] [incorporating “Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Undisputed Material Facts”].) At all times relevant to this case, Voisard worked for Twin Lakes as a rafting guide. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P B; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P B; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.)

At sometime prior to June 1, 1993, Mobilian scheduled a white-water rafting trip for himself and his family with Covington and Twin Lakes. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P C; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material [**4] Facts P C; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Mobilian is plaintiff’s brother. (See Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl. P 15 [filed Sept. 15, 1995]; Am. Answer to Third-Party Compl. P 3 [filed Nov. 7, 1995].) On the morning of June 1, 1993, plaintiff, Mobilian, and family members arrived at Twin Lakes for the purpose of taking a white-water rafting trip. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. A [Mobilian Dep. at 15-16].)

At the Twin Lakes office, plaintiff and Mobilian signed identical release agreements. (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Exs. A [copy of release signed by plaintiff], B [copy of release signed by Mobilian].) Plaintiff did not read the release before she signed it. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. at 18.) The releases provided:

I recognize that there is a significant element of risk in whitewater rafting or any adventure expedition, sport or activity associated with the outdoors which I have voluntarily applied to participate in.

I fully understand that any activity associated with Twin Lakes Expeditions may include hazards and exposures connected in the outdoors which do involve risk and that I [**5] am aware of the risks and dangers inherent with the activities that I and/or my family, including any minor children, are involved in. I am mentally and physically capable of participating in the activities contracted for and willingly assume the risk of injury as my responsibility, including loss of control, collisions with other participants, trees, rocks, and other man made or natural obstacles, whether they are obvious or not obvious.

. . . .

As lawful consideration for being permitted by Twin Lakes Expeditions to participate in the activities involved, the undersigned, for himself and/or his heirs and assigns, hereby releases the State of Colorado, Bureau of Land Management, Twin Lakes Expeditions and employees of Twin Lakes Expeditions from any liability for claims or lawsuits brought by the undersigned and arising out of the activities provided by the concessioner.

I agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Twin Lakes Expeditions, the United States Forest Service and Parks Department, and all State or Government agencies, and private property [sic] the activities may be conducted on, and all of their officers, members, affiliated organizations, agents and employees [**6] for any injury or death caused by or resulting from me or my family’s participation in the activities associated with Twin Lakes Expeditions both scheduled and unscheduled whether or not such injury or death was caused by their negligence or from any other causes.

I assume complete and full responsibility for my family and myself, including any minor children, for bodily injury, loss of [*1443] life, loss of personal property and expenses thereof.

I have carefully read the agreement, fully understand and accept the terms and conditions explained and stated herein and acknowledge that this release shall be effective and legally binding upon me, my heirs, my estate, assigns[,] legal guardians and my personal representatives during the entire period of participation in the activities.

DO NOT SIGN THE RELEASE IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR DO NOT AGREE WITH ITS TERMS.

(Id.)

After signing the releases, plaintiff, Mobilian, and the others embarked on a white-water rafting trip. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. A [Mobilian Dep. at 21].) They went to the “Numbers” section of the Arkansas River. (See Am. Compl. in Tort for Damages P 10 [filed Aug. 24, 1995] [**7] [hereinafter “Am. Compl.”]; Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl. P 10 [filed Sept. 15, 1995].) Plaintiff testified that, at the time of the trip, she understood that she faced the following risks: (1) she might fall into the river; (2) she might be swept away from her raft; (3) she might strike rocks in the river; and (4) she could be injured. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P F; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P F; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.).

Covington testified that, on June 1, 1993, “Numbers” were a Class IV-plus set of rapids. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 128 11. 16-18].) He described the condition of the river as “high” but not “any more challenging that day than any other day.” (Id., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 136 11. 6-11].) On June 1, 1993, the water flow at the “Numbers” measured 3.8 feet high on the Scott’s Bridge Gauge. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P L; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P L; Mobilian’s [**8] Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) The Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, apparently a white-water rafting regulatory group, recommends against commercial rafting through the “Numbers” when the water flow measures 4.0 feet high or more on the Scott’s Bridge Gauge. (Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P M; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P M; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Covington testified that his company policy was not to take people rafting through the “Numbers” if the water was four feet high or more. (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 160 1. 23 to 161 1.7]; Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 169 11. 4].) He explained that “anything up to [four] feet . . . was certainly not only acceptable, but a fine rafting level, exciting, and a guide’s favorite, if you want to put it that way.” (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 161 ll. 4-7].)

During the trip, plaintiff was in a raft guided by Voisard. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P K; [**9] admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P K; Mobilian ‘s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) As plaintiff ‘s raft entered “rapid number 4,” Voisard was thrown out of the raft. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P N; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P N; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Shortly thereafter, the raft capsized, tossing plaintiff into the river. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that, as she was swept through the rapids, she incurred multiple injuries and, as a result, has had to undergo surgery and physical therapy. (Am. Compl. P 29.)

On May 31, 1995, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants in this court, alleging that defendants were liable for (1) negligence and (2) willful and wanton conduct. (See Compl. [filed May 31, 1995].) On August 24, 1995, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, in which she corrected her allegation regarding Covington’s residence. (See Am. Compl.) [*1444] On September 15, 1995, defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint, a [**10] counterclaim against plaintiff, and a third-party complaint against Mobilian. (See Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl.) In their counterclaim, defendants assert that, according to the terms of the release agreement, plaintiff is obligated to indemnify defendants for “all of their damages, attorneys’ fees, costs and other expenses incurred as a result of” her participation in the June 1, 1993, rafting trip. (See id. at 7-8.) Similarly in their third-party claim against Mobilian, defendants assert that, according to the terms of the release agreement, Mobilian must indemnify defendants for all of the fees and costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit.

The motions currently before the court present the following three issues:

(1) whether the release agreement bars plaintiff’s negligence claims; (2) whether plaintiff has presented evidence that defendants acted willfully and wantonly; (3) whether, by signing the release agreement, plaintiff and Mobilian agreed to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. In his motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mobilian argues that the release agreement is unclear and ambiguous and counter to public [**11] policy and, thus, does not obligate him to indemnify defendants. In their motion for summary judgment, defendants maintain that: (1) plaintiff’s negligence claims are barred by the release agreement; (2) plaintiff has not presented evidence that defendants acted willfully and wantonly in taking her on the rafting trip; and (3) Mobilian is obligated to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. I begin with the issues raised in defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

ANALYSIS

1. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

a. Legal Standard

Pursuant to rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where “the pleadings, depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts and the . . . moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Concrete Works, Inc. v. City and County of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1004, 131 L. Ed. [**12] 2d 196, 115 S. Ct. 1315 (1995). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. at 2554). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but must instead designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The court may consider only admissible evidence when ruling on a summary judgment motion. See World of Sleep, Inc. v. La-Z-Boy Chair Co., 756 F.2d 1467, 1474 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 823, 106 S. Ct. 77, 88 L. Ed. 2d 63 (1985). Additionally, the factual record must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Concrete Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Applied Genetics Int’l, Inc. v. First Affiliated [**13] Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 [10th Cir. 1990]).

b. Negligence

Colorado law disfavors exculpatory agreements such as the release agreement at issue here. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 783 (Colo. 1989) (en banc). Thus, they are strictly construed against the drafter. Anderson v. Eby, 998 F.2d 858, 861 (10th Cir. 1993) (quoting Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 [Colo. 1981] [en banc]); Potter v. National Handicapped Sports , 849 F. Supp. 1407, 1409 (D. Colo. 1994). Nevertheless, an exculpatory agreement is “not necessarily void . . . as long as one party [*1445] is not ‘at such obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to put him at the mercy of the other’s negligence.’” Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784 (quoting W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 482 [5th ed. 1984].) The release agreement at issue here is not the sort where one party is at so great a disadvantage as to render the agreement void. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 374-75.

In determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid, the court must consider the following four factors: “’(1) [**14] the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.’” Id. at 784 (quoting Jones, 623 P.2d at 376). Whether an exculpatory agreement is valid is a question of law for the court. Jones, 623 P.2d at 376; Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. “For an exculpatory agreement to fail under the first factor, the party seeking exculpation must be engaged in providing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.” Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Such is not the case here. As in Potter, the activity at issue—white-water rafting—is recreational in nature. Thus, “by definition and common sense, it is neither a matter of great public importance nor a matter of practical necessity.” Id. (citing Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474 [D. Colo. 1992]).

The second factor, “the nature of the activity,” involves an assessment of whether the activity can be described as an “essential service.” See Potter, [**15] 849 F. Supp. at 1410; Jones, 784 P.2d. at 784. Clearly white-water rafting is neither. See Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Regarding the third factor, plaintiff testified that she does not feel that she was treated unfairly by Twin Lake’s requirement that she sign the release form before going on the rafting trip. (Def.’s Summ. J. Br., Ex. G [Pl.’s Dep. at 131 l. 23 to 132 l.

1].) Because plaintiff has presented no evidence which contradicts her testimony, I conclude that she entered into the release fairly. Thus, only the fourth factor, whether the terms of the exculpatory agreement are clear and unambiguous, remains to be considered.

The release agreement in this case is short (just over one page), written in simple, clear terms, free of legal jargon, and uncomplicated. Thus, under the standard expressed in Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., it appears to be clear and unambiguous. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 785; see also Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1410. Plaintiff maintains, however, that the agreement is not clear because, even if she had read it, n1 it would not have fully apprised her of the risks she would encounter on the rafting trip. Specifically, plaintiff [**16] complains that the release did not inform her of the following: (1) she would not be given an opportunity to observe “rapid number 4” before proceeding through it; (2) she would not be given an opportunity to determine what risks were inherent in “rapid number 4” before proceeding through it; (3) she would not be given an opportunity to walk around “rapid number 4” instead of rafting through it; and (4) Voisard could fall out of the raft and, consequently, be unable to direct and navigate the raft. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. At 16.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 Even though plaintiff did not read the agreement before signing it, she is nevertheless bound by its terms since there is no evidence that she was fraudulently induced to sign it. See Day v. Snowmass Stables, Inc., 810 F. Supp. 289, 294 (D. Colo. 1993).

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Colorado law does not require that an exculpatory agreement describe in detail each specific risk that the signor might encounter. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 785; see also Potter, 849 F. Supp. [**17] at 1410-11. Rather, an exculpatory agreement bars a claim if the agreement clearly reflects the parties’ intent to extinguish liability for that type of claim. See id.

Plaintiff asserts that the above-listed risks of which she allegedly was not informed were the product of defendants’ negligence. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. at 16.) The release agreement states in plain language, however, that plaintiff agreed to “hold harmless Twin Lakes Expeditions . . . and all of [its] officers . . . and employees for any injury . . . whether [*1446] or not such injury . . . was caused by their negligence. . . . “ (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. A [copy of release agreement signed by plaintiff] [emphasis supplied].) Thus, the exculpatory agreement clearly reflects an intent to preclude claims based on defendants’ negligence. See Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1411.

I conclude that the exculpatory portion of the release agreement is valid as a matter of law. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784; Jones, 623 P.2d at 378; see also Anderson, 998 F.2d at 861-62; Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1410.

Consequently, it bars plaintiff’s claims to the extent that they are based on defendants’ [**18] alleged negligence. See id. Accordingly, defendants are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s negligence claims. See id.c.

Willful and Wanton Conduct

In Colorado, “willful and wanton conduct” is conduct which an actor realizes is highly hazardous and poses a strong probability of injury to another but nevertheless knowingly and voluntarily chooses to engage in. See Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 354 P.2d 1011, 1013-14 (Colo. 1960); Hodges v. Ladd, 143 Colo. 143, 352 P.2d 660, 663 (Colo. 1960) (en banc); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102(1)(b) (1987) (concerning exemplary damages). Here, plaintiff claims that defendants are liable for willful and wanton conduct because they concealed from her the fact that the risks she would face on the rafting trip were greater that those usually involved in white-water rafting. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Br. at 13-14.) She maintains that “defendants knew that the [’Numbers’] stretch of the river was extremely dangerous and that only skilled and experienced rafters could safely maneuver the rapids.” (See id. at 13.)

Plaintiff’s claim, however, is wholly unsupported by the record. Plaintiff presents no evidence [**19] that defendants knew that the risks posed by rafting through the “Numbers” were greater than usual for the sport of white-water rafting, let alone any evidence that the risks were, in fact, greater. To the contrary, Covington’s uncontroverted testimony is that the river ‘s water-height on the day of plaintiff’s trip was appropriate for rafting according to industry standards as well as his company policy, and that the “Numbers” was not any more dangerous on June 1, 1993, than on any other day. (See Def.’s Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 160 l. 21 to 164 l. 25]; Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 136 ll. 6-12].) Plaintiff has introduced nothing to suggest that defendants did not believe that, in taking plaintiff on the rafting trip, they were acting (1) in conformance with industry standards, (2) in conformance with their company standards, and (3) in what they knew to be a reasonably safe manner, given the nature of white-water rafting. Thus, because plaintiff has failed to introduce evidence that defendants’ conduct rises to the level of willful and wanton, I conclude that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on that claim. Concrete [**20] Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. at 2554).

d. Indemnity

As indicated above, defendants maintain that, by signing the release agreement, plaintiff agreed to indemnify them for their attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred in connection with this lawsuit. Similarly, defendants argue that, because Mobilian is plaintiff’s brother, the indemnity clause in the release agreement obligates him to indemnify defendants for any costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit, including attorneys’ fees and costs.

In general, indemnity agreements, like exculpatory agreements, are strictly construed under Colorado law. Public Serv. Co. of Colo. v. United Cable Television of Jeffco, Inc., 829 P.2d 1280, 1284 (Colo. 1992) (en banc). For an indemnity agreement to be enforceable, it must contain clear and unequivocal language which manifests the parties’ intent that the indemnitee be indemnified for the expenses at issue. See id.; Williams v. White Mountain Constr. Co., Inc. , 749 P.2d 423, 426 (Colo. 1988) (en banc).

Here, the relevant language provides, “I agree to . . . indemnify [defendants] . . . for any injury or [**21] death caused by or resulting from me or my family’s participation [*1447] [in the rafting activity].” (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Exs. A [copy of release signed by plaintiff], B [copy of release signed by Mobilian].) That language does not clearly and unequivocally state that the signor agrees to pay the attorney’s fees and costs associated with a lawsuit such as this. In fact, it seems more likely that the clause means that the signor agrees to pay expenses such as medical bills which result from her or her family member’s physical injury during a rafting trip. Further, with respect to defendant’s claim against Mobilian, the term “family” is not clearly and unequivocally broad enough to encompass the signor’s adult sister as opposed to only the signor’s spouse and children. Thus, I conclude that the language of the indemnity clause does not obligate plaintiff or Mobilian to indemnify defendants for the attorneys’ fees and other expenses they incur in connection with this lawsuit. See Public Serv. Co. of Colo., 829 P.2d at 1284; Williams, 749 P.2d at 426. Accordingly, defendants’ summary judgment motion is denied on the issue of plaintiff’s and Mobilian’s indemnity obligations. [**22] I need not reach the parties’ further arguments on that issue.

2. Mobilian’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

As indicated above, Mobilian moves for judgment on the pleadings with respect to his obligation to indemnify defendants for their attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred in connection with this lawsuit. A motion for judgment on the pleadings is a motion to dismiss that is filed after the pleadings are closed.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); 2A James W. Moore, Moore’s Federal Practice P 12.15 (2d ed. 1995). The standard of review for such a motion is as follows:

For purposes of the motion, all well-pleaded material allegations of the non-moving party’s pleading are to be taken as true, and all allegations of the moving party which have been denied are taken as false. Conclusions of law are not deemed admitted. On the basis of the facts so admitted, the court may grant judgment only if the moving party is clearly entitled to judgment. 2A Moore P 12.15; Hamilton v. Cunningham, 880 F. Supp. 1407, 1410 (D. Colo. 1995). I therefore accept as true all allegations set forth by defendants. See id. “A judgment on the pleadings is appropriate [**23] when, even if all allegations in the complaint are true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Westlands Water Dist. v. Firebaugh Canal, 10 F.3d 667, 670 (9th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

Here, for the reasons explained in the previous section, I conclude as a matter of law that Mobilian is not obligated to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. Accordingly, Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

3. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, it is therefore

ORDERED as follows:

1. Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED.

2. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

3. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED with respect to plaintiff’s claims of negligence and willful and wanton conduct.

4. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is DENIED with respect to defendants’ claim that plaintiff and Mobilian are obligated to indemnify defendants for their attorneys’ fees and other costs incurred in connection with this lawsuit.

5. Defendants’ third-party claim is hereby dismissed.

Dated this 29 day of April, 1996.

By The [**24] Court:

Edward W. Nottingham

United States District Judge


Sajkowski et al., v. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater New York, 269 A.D.2d 105; 702 N.Y.S.2d 66; 2000 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 968

Sajkowski et al., v. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater New York, 269 A.D.2d 105; 702 N.Y.S.2d 66; 2000 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 968

Kathleen Sajkowski et al., Appellants, v. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater New York, Respondent.

2180

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT

269 A.D.2d 105; 702 N.Y.S.2d 66; 2000 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 968

February 1, 2000, Decided

February 1, 2000, Entered

COUNSEL: [***1] For Plaintiffs-Appellants: Charles H. Dobkin.

For Defendant-Respondent: Laura Getreu.

JUDGES: Concur–Nardelli, J. P., Ellerin, Lerner, Andrias and Friedman, JJ.

OPINION

[*105] [**66] Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Lorraine Miller, J.), entered July 20, 1998, which granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, unanimously affirmed, without costs.

The Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater New York (YMCA) sponsored a “Wellness for Life” weekend program for adults who wished to engage in exercise and outdoor activities. Among the activities [**67] that were offered at the program was an obstacle course that included an event called the Nitro Crossing. This event involved nothing more than swinging from a rope. The rope dangled just about 1 1/2 feet from the ground in the center of an imaginary pit that was actually flat, bare dirt. Those who chose to participate in the Nitro Crossing would start out by standing on a log that was lying at ground level. Then, holding on to the rope, they would swing approximately five to seven feet to another log that was also lying at ground level.

Plaintiff, Kathleen Sajkowski, an attendee [***2] at the weekend program, stood in line with several other participants and waited for her turn to swing on the rope. While she was waiting, she observed that several participants lost their grip and fell while swinging. When her turn came, she grasped the rope and began to swing. Approximately at the midway point of the imaginary pit, plaintiff lost her grip and fell, injuring her ankle. Plaintiff, alleging, inter alia, that defendant YMCA was negligent in failing to place shock absorbing material such as wood chips below the Nitro Crossing, commenced this action. No claim was made that the rope broke or was otherwise defective. Thereafter, defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, asserting that plaintiff assumed the risk of participating in this activity. We conclude that the assumption of risk doctrine is applicable to plaintiff’s injury.

In Morgan v State of New York (90 NY2d 471, 484), the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the principle that, [HN1] “by engaging in a [*106] sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly [***3] appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation.” This encompasses those risks that are associated with the construction of the playing field and any open and obvious defects on it ( Maddox v City of New York, 66 NY2d 270, 277). Thus, if the risks of an activity are fully comprehended or perfectly obvious, one who participates in the activity is deemed to have consented to the risks ( Morgan v State of New York, supra; see also, Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d 432, 439). Furthermore, where the risk is open and obvious, the mere fact that a defendant could have provided safer conditions is irrelevant ( Simoneau v State of New York, 248 AD2d 865).

In considering plaintiff’s injury, it is apparent that the risk of falling while swinging from a rope is inherent in participation in such an activity (cf., Hofflich v Mendell, 235 AD2d 784; compare, Roska v Town of Cheektowaga, 251 AD2d 984). It is also incontrovertible that the risks involved were not concealed and that plaintiff fully comprehended them since she had seen several [***4] other participants fall just moments earlier. Moreover, to the extent that the Nitro Crossing failed to have shock absorbing material beneath it, this was nothing more than an open and obvious condition of the playing surface, which, as noted, is not actionable ( Maddox v City of New York, supra; see also, Sheridan v City of New York, 261 AD2d 528; Paone v County of Suffolk, 251 AD2d 563; Brown v City of New York, 251 AD2d 361; compare, Warren v Town of Hempstead, 246 AD2d 536 [defect concealed]; Cronson v Town of N. Hempstead, 245 AD2d 331).

Plaintiff attempts to avoid the foregoing analysis by establishing that the Nitro Crossing was constructed or operated in violation of prevailing industry standards. Specifically, it is alleged that shock absorbing material beneath the Nitro Crossing was required, as well as proper training for plaintiff with regard to her participation in the activity. These violations, it is asserted, exposed plaintiff to unreasonably enhanced risks, which she cannot be deemed to have assumed (see, Morgan v State of New York, supra, at 485; [***5] [**68] see also, Greenburg v Peekskill City School Dist., 255 AD2d 487; Clark v State of New York, 245 AD2d 413; Stackwick v Young Men’s Christian Assn., 242 AD2d 878). In seeking to demonstrate such violations, plaintiff submitted expert evidence that analogized the Nitro Crossing to a gymnastics event and pointed to the requirements for construction of playgrounds built for children under 12 years of age.

[*107] What becomes apparent is that the comparison of the Nitro Crossing to a gymnastics event is incongruous. * Simply stated, plaintiff was not dismounting from uneven bars, or doing a tumbling routine during a floor exercise–activities completely different in degree, complexity, and danger from the activity at issue here. Nor was she engaged in an activity that required any specialized kind of training, instruction, or skill. She was only swinging from a rope with her body suspended just barely off the ground. The instructions for such an activity are simple and straightforward–hold the rope and swing. Similarly incongruous was plaintiff’s reliance on standards for the proper construction of playgrounds built [***6] for children under 12 years of age. The Nitro Crossing, after all, was not part of a children’s playground.

* For the same reasons plaintiff’s claim that defendant should have provided a spotter is without merit. Moreover, since plaintiff immediately fell to the ground when she lost her grip on the rope, the presence of a spotter would not have prevented this accident.

We also note that the balance of the expert evidence failed to demonstrate that defendant violated any prevailing standards in constructing the Nitro Crossing (see, Simoneau v State of New York, supra; cf., Greenburg v Peekskill City School Dist., supra; Clark v State of New York, supra; Stackwick v Young Men’s Christian Assn., supra).

In view of the foregoing, Supreme Court properly granted defendant’s motion and dismissed the complaint.

Concur–Nardelli, J. P., Ellerin, Lerner, Andrias and Friedman, JJ.


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