The Iowa Supreme Court reaffirms a Permission Slip is not a release, but leaves open the argument that releases may stop a minor’s claim for negligence.Posted: July 21, 2014
City Parks Department sued for injuries of an eight-year-old girl hit by a flying bat at a baseball game field trip.
State: Supreme Court of Iowa
Plaintiff: Tara Sweeney, Individually, and by Cynthia Sweeney, Her Mother and Next Friend
Defendant: City of Bettendorf and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence
Defendant Defenses: Release (Permission Slip), No duty owed,
Holding: Split, the permission slip was not a release however there triable issues to the defense of duty owed
The city recreation department would take kids on field trips to see minor-league baseball games in other cities. The plaintiff was an eight-year-old girl who loved baseball and her mother. The minor went on several of these field trips in the past. Her mother signed the permission slip and she went off on the trip.
In the past, the participants had sat behind home plate which was protected by netting from flying objects. This time the kids were taken to bleachers along the third baseline. They were told they had to sit there and could not move.
During the game, a player lost his grip on the bat which sailed down the third baseline hitting the girl. The minor had turned to talk to her friend when she was struck. No adults were around at the time.
The plaintiffs sued for negligent. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment citing a permission slip the mother had signed as a release and that the plaintiff had not shown a breach of duty owed to the injured minor.
The plaintiff’s opposed the motion for summary judgment arguing:
The plaintiffs further argued that even if the permission slip amounted to a valid release, it was fatally flawed because it purported to release only the Department and not the City. Finally, plaintiffs asserted even if the permission slip amounted to an anticipatory release of future claims based on acts or omissions of negligence, statutory and common law public policy prevents a parent from waiving such claims on behalf of a minor child.
The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment based on the permission slip no evidence of a breach of duty. The plaintiff’s appealed.
Summary of the case
The court reviewed several procedural issues and then looked into releases under Iowa law. The court found the permission slip was deficient in many ways.
…the permission slip contains no clear and unequivocal language that would notify a casual reader that by signing the document, a parent would be waiving all claims relating to future acts or omissions of negligence by the City. The language at issue here refers only to “accidents” generally and contains nothing specifically indicating that a parent would be waiving potential claims for the City’s negligence.
Based on the language in the permission slip the court found it could not enforce the release because it was not a release.
Next the court looked at whether being hit by a bat at a baseball game was an inherent risk of being a spectator at a baseball game. In Iowa this is called the inherent risk doctrine. (This doctrine is very similar to a secondary assumption of risk argument.) What created a difference in this issue, is the issue of whether a flying bat is an inherent risk, is a defense of the baseball team/promoter/owner or field rather than a city recreation department field trip.
In the majority of cases, spectators sitting outside protective netting at baseball stadiums have been unable to recover from owners or operators for injuries related to errant bats and balls on the ground that such injuries were an “inherent risk” of attending the game.
Regardless of whether the approach is characterized as involving inherent risk or a limited duty, courts applying the doctrine have held that the owner or operator of a baseball stadium is not liable for injury to spectators from flying bats and balls if the owner or operator provided screened seating sufficient for spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire such protection and if the most dangerous areas of the stands, ordinarily the area behind home plate, were so protected.
Because the inherent risk was not one of a field trip, the court found differently than if the defense was argued by the owner of the field. The issue was not one of attending a sporting event invited by the event, but supervision of a minor child by a recreation department.
A negligent supervision case is fundamentally different than a case involving premises liability. The eight-year-old child in this case made no choice, but instead sat where she was told by the Department. The plaintiffs further claim that there was inadequate adult supervision where the child was seated. The alleged negligence in this case does not relate to the instrumentality of the injury, but instead focuses on the proper care and supervision of children in an admittedly risky environment.
As a negligent supervision case, the recreation department owed a different type and a higher degree of care to the minor.
Viewed as a negligent supervision case, the City had a duty to act reasonably, under all the facts and circumstances, to protect the children’s safety at the ball park. The gist of the plaintiffs’ claim is that a substantial cause of the injury was the supervisors’ decision to allow the children, who cannot be expected to be vigilant at all times during a baseball game, to be seated in what a jury could conclude was an unreasonably hazardous location behind third base instead of behind the safety of protective netting.
Add to this the change in sitting and the restrictions the adults placed on where the minors could sit and the court found there was a clear issue as to liability.
The third issue reviewed by the court was whether the recreation department failed to provide an adequate level of care to the minor. Here the court agreed with the recreation department. Not because the level of care was sufficient, but because the plaintiff could not prove the level of care was inadequate.
There was a dissent in this case, which argued that the risk of being hit by a bat was an inherent risk of attending a baseball game and that the permission slip was a valid release.
The case was then sent back for trial on the negligence claims of the plaintiff.
So Now What?
What is of interest is the single sentence that argues a release signed by an adult stops the claims of a minor. It was argued by the plaintiff’s as one of the ways the permission slip was invalid. However, the court did not look at the issue in its review and decision in the case.
The court’s review was quite clear on releases. If you do not have the proper language in your release, you are only killing trees. It was a stretch, and a good one, by the recreation department to argue that a document intended to prove the minor could be on a field trip was also a release of claims.
Releases are different legal documents and require specific language.
You also need to remember that defenses that are available to a lawsuit are not just based on the activity, like baseball, but the relationship of the parties to the activity. If the minor child had attended the baseball game on her own or with her parents, the Iowa Inherent Risk Doctrine would have probably prevented a recovery. However, because the duty owed was not from a baseball game to a spectator, but from a recreation department to a minor in its care, the inherent risk defense was not available.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62
Evelean Morgan v. State of Tennessee
COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE, AT NASHVILLE
2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62
November 3, 2003, Session
January 27, 2004, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Claims Commission Affirmed. Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. 99000125 W. R. Baker, Commissioner.
DISPOSITION: Affirmed and remanded.
COUNSEL: David H. Dunaway, LaFollette, Tennessee, for the appellant, Evelean Morgan.
Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; and Christopher Michael Fancher, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
JUDGES: WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which WILLIAM B. CAIN and PATRICIA J. COTTRELL, JJ., joined.
OPINION BY: WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S.
This appeal involves a fatal accident at the Colditz Cove State Natural Area in Fentress County. The mother of a woman who fell to her death from the bluff surrounding Northrup Falls filed a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The State of Tennessee denied liability based on (1) the recreational use defense in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 (1995), (2) its lack of actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and (3) its assertion that the decedent’s fault exceeded its own. The commissioner granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. [*2] While he did not rely on the statutory recreational use defense, the commissioner determined that the State had no notice of a dangerous condition at the natural area, it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated persons who were unfamiliar with the natural area would hike into the area of the falls in the middle of the night, and the decedent’s actions were the sole proximate cause of her death. The decedent’s mother has appealed. We have determined that the commissioner properly granted the summary judgment because, as a matter of law, (1) the State established a defense under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, (2) the decedent’s estate presented no evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of an allegedly dangerous condition on the trail in the natural area, and (3) the decedent’s fault far exceeded whatever fault could be attributed to the State.
Rochelle Copeland Zegilla and her two small children were living with her mother in mid-1997 following a separation from her husband. On Saturday evening, July 26, 1997, she told her mother that she was “going to go out for awhile,” and then she drove to the Top of the Mountain Lounge in [*3] Jamestown, Tennessee. After the lounge closed at midnight, Ms. Zegilla and four companions 1 decided to drive to a nearby VFW club. When they arrived at the club, however, they discovered that it had closed earlier than usual. After a brief discussion in the club parking lot, the group decided to continue their drinking and talking in the parking lot of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area.
1 Ms. Zegilla’s companions at the Top of the Mountain Lounge were Chris Smith, Loretta Johnson, Edward Raines, and Larry King.
The Colditz Cove State Natural Area is a 165-acre Class II natural-scientific area in Fentress County owned by the State of Tennessee. It is heavily wooded and contains the 75-foot Northrup Falls and a scenic gorge with interesting rock formations. 2 The area has been designated by statute as “worthy of perpetual preservation,” 3 and accordingly, improvements to the area are limited to foot trails, foot bridges, and primitive campgrounds 4 and “facilities as may be reasonably necessary . . .for [*4] the safe and proper management and protection of the area.” 5 In addition to a parking lot, the State had erected several signs and a gate and had constructed a 1.5 mile foot trail along the bluff overlooking Northrup Falls, as well as a scenic overlook. The State had not installed lights in the parking lot or along the foot trail.
2 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-108(b)(2)(F) (Supp. 2003).
3 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-105(2) (1999).
4 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-106(a)(1)(B) (1999).
5 Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-106(a)(2).
All of the group except Mr. Raines had been drinking throughout the evening, and they continued drinking in the parking lot because Messrs. Smith and King had brought along a cooler of beer purchased earlier in the evening at Midway Qwick Stop. After talking for several minutes, the group decided to walk down the foot trail toward Northrup Falls in the pitch dark even though [*5] three of them, including Ms. Zegilla, had never been to Colditz Cove before. The only illumination they had was Mr. King’s flashlight.
When the group reached a fork in the trail, Mr. Raines and Ms. Johnson decided to walk no further and sat near a trash container to talk and drink. Ms. Zegilla and Messrs. Smith and King kept walking along the trail toward Northrup Falls. After they stopped to drink and talk, Mr. King asked Mr. Smith to shine the flashlight into the bushes to enable him to find a place to urinate. Mr. King walked into the bushes and, on his return, he fell over the bluff into the gorge below.
Mr. Smith yelled, “Larry has fallen off,” and called to Mr. Raines for assistance. Mr. Raines made his way down the trail to Mr. Smith and Ms. Zegilla. After they all called out to Mr. King to no avail, Mr. Raines decided to go for help and took the flashlight to help make his way back up the foot path to the parking lot. Ms. Zegilla and Mr. Smith, now joined by Ms. Johnson, continued to call for Mr. King. Mr. Smith decided to start a fire with his shirt to make some light. After his shirt went out, Ms. Zegilla somehow fell over the bluff. The rescue workers who arrived at the [*6] scene at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 27, 1997, found the lifeless bodies of both Mr. King and Ms. Zegilla in the water at the bottom of the falls. An autopsy revealed that Ms. Zegilla’s blood alcohol level was .18%.
On July 23, 1998, Evelean Morgan, Ms. Zegilla’s mother and her personal representative, filed a claim for $ 500,000 with the Tennessee Claims Commission asserting that the State had violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) (Supp. 2003) by negligently creating or maintaining a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area. 6 The State moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that it was shielded from liability by the recreational use statute [Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105 (1995)]. After the claims commissioner denied its motion, the State filed an answer denying Ms. Morgan’s negligence claims. The State asserted, as affirmative defenses, (1) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 shielded it from liability, (2) that it had no actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition at Colditz Cove State Natural Area and that it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated [*7] persons who were unfamiliar with the natural area would hike into the area of the falls in the middle of the night, and (3) that Ms. Zegilla’s own negligence “contributed in excess of 50% to the cause of her death.”
6 Ms. Morgan also filed a civil damage action in the Circuit Court for Fentress County against Ms. Johnson, Messrs. Smith and Raines, and the estate of Mr. King.
In February 2002, following lengthy and somewhat contentious discovery, the State moved for a summary judgment on two grounds – Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 and its assertion that Ms. Zegilla’s “negligence was equal to or greater than [the] negligence of the State, if any.” 7 In April 2002, Ms. Morgan responded by asserting that the State was not entitled to a judgment on either ground because the State was grossly negligent and because its negligence was greater than Ms. Zegilla’s. The claims commissioner held a hearing on the State’s motion for summary judgment after conducting his own personal inspection of [*8] the Colditz Cove State Natural Area without the lawyers or parties present. On June 5, 2002, the commissioner filed an order granting the State’s motion for summary judgment. While the commissioner declined to base his decision on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, he determined that the undisputed evidence demonstrated as a matter of law that Ms. Morgan had not shown that she could prove notice and foreseeability as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) and that Ms. Zegilla was “preponderantly negligent in her own death.” 8 The commissioner later denied Ms. Morgan’s request for a hearing before the entire claims commission. Ms. Morgan has appealed.
7 The State based the latter assertion on what it called the “step in the dark” rule, i.e., that stepping into an unfamiliar dark area constitutes the proximate cause of injuries sustained by falling down stairs hidden in the darkness. Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d 587, 594 (Tenn. 1994); Goodman v. Memphis Park Comm’n, 851 S.W.2d 165, 171 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).
8 We construe this finding to be that Ms. Zegilla’s fault exceeded the fault of the State, if any. The claims commissioner stated later in its order that “the sole proximate cause of Ms. Zegilla’s death was her own actions.”
THE STANDARD OF REVIEW
The standards for reviewing summary judgments on appeal are well-settled. [HN1] Summary judgments are proper in virtually any civil case that can be resolved on the basis of legal issues alone. Fruge v. Doe, 952 S.W.2d 408, 410 (Tenn. 1997); Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Tenn. 1993); Pendleton v. Mills, 73 S.W.3d 115, 121 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). They are not, however, appropriate when genuine disputes regarding material facts exist. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. Thus, a summary judgment should be granted only when the undisputed facts, and the inferences reasonably drawn from the undisputed facts, support one conclusion – that the party seeking the summary judgment is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Pero’s Steak & Spaghetti House v. Lee, 90 S.W.3d 614, 620 (Tenn. 2002); [*10] Webber v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 49 S.W.3d 265, 269 (Tenn. 2001).
[HN2] The party seeking a summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute of material fact exists and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d 692, 695 (Tenn. 2002); Shadrick v. Coker, 963 S.W.2d 726, 731 (Tenn. 1998). To be entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must either affirmatively negate an essential element of the non-moving party’s claim or establish an affirmative defense that conclusively defeats the non-moving party’s claim. Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 215 n. 5; Cherry v. Williams, 36 S.W.3d 78, 82-83 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000).
[HN3] Once the moving party demonstrates that it has satisfied Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56′s requirements, the non-moving party must demonstrate how these requirements have not been satisfied. Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn. 1997). Mere conclusory generalizations will not suffice. Cawood v. Davis, 680 S.W.2d 795, 796-97 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984). The non-moving party must convince the [*11] trial court that there are sufficient factual disputes to warrant a trial (1) by pointing to evidence either overlooked or ignored by the moving party that creates a factual dispute, (2) by rehabilitating evidence challenged by the moving party, (3) by producing additional evidence that creates a material factual dispute, or (4) by submitting an affidavit in accordance with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.07 requesting additional time for discovery. McCarley v. West Quality Food Serv., 960 S.W.2d 585, 588 (Tenn. 1998); Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 215 n. 6. A non-moving party who fails to carry its burden faces summary dismissal of the challenged claim because, as our courts have repeatedly observed, the “failure of proof concerning an essential element of the cause of action necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Alexander v. Memphis Individual Practice Ass’n, 870 S.W.2d 278, 280 (Tenn. 1993).
[HN4] A summary judgment is not appropriate when a case’s determinative facts are in dispute. However, for a question of fact to exist, reasonable minds must be able to differ over whether some alleged occurrence or event did or did not happen. Conatser v. Clarksville Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 920 S.W.2d 646, 647 (Tenn. 1995); [*12] Harrison v. Southern Ry. Co., 31 Tenn. App. 377, 387, 215 S.W.2d 31, 35 (1948). If reasonable minds could justifiably reach different conclusions based on the evidence at hand, then a genuine question of fact exists. Louis Dreyfus Corp. v. Austin Co., 868 S.W.2d 649, 656 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1993). If, on the other hand, the evidence and the inferences to be reasonably drawn from the evidence would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion, then there are no material factual disputes and the question can be disposed of as a matter of law. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d at 695; Seavers v. Methodist Med. Ctr., 9 S.W.3d 86, 91 (Tenn. 1999); Beaudreau v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 118 S.W.3d 700, 703 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003).
[HN5] Summary judgments enjoy no presumption of correctness on appeal. BellSouth Advertising & Publ’g Co. v. Johnson, 100 S.W.3d 202, 205 (Tenn. 2003); Scott v. Ashland Healthcare Ctr., Inc., 49 S.W.3d 281, 285 (Tenn. 2001). Accordingly, appellate courts must make a fresh determination that the requirements of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56 have been satisfied. [*13] Hunter v. Brown, 955 S.W.2d 49, 50-51 (Tenn. 1997). We must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and we must resolve all inferences in the non-moving party’s favor. Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d at 695; Doe v. HCA Health Servs., Inc., 46 S.W.3d 191, 196 (Tenn. 2001). When reviewing the evidence, we must determine first whether factual disputes exist. If a factual dispute exists, we must then determine whether the fact is material to the claim or defense upon which the summary judgment is predicated and whether the disputed fact creates a genuine issue for trial. Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d at 214; Rutherford v. Polar Tank Trailer, Inc., 978 S.W.2d 102, 104 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998).
THE APPLICATION OF TENN. CODE ANN. § 70-7-102
The State’s defense predicated on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 figures prominently in this appeal even though the claims commissioner expressly declined to base his decision on this defense. 9 For her part, Ms. Morgan asserts that the commissioner erred by “failing and refusing” [*14] to rule on this defense. While the State does not specifically assert that the commissioner erred by not addressing this defense, 10 it asserts that it did not owe a duty to Ms. Zegilla by virtue of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70- 7-102. Accordingly, we have decided to address the applicability of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 to this case head on.
9 The commissioner’s cryptic rulings regarding Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 are not easy to reconcile. He stated:
The Commission renders its ruling without considering the applicability of the state Recreational Use Immunity Statute. The individuals involved in this incident were using the State property for recreation, thus the Recreational Use Statute applies.
As for gross negligence, if the facts involved the Recreational Use statute alone, in absence of the other three factors discussed heretofore, then this claim should probably proceed to trial. Although the Commission believes there was not any gross negligence, it does not base its conclusion on the Recreational Use Immunity statute.
Because the commissioner stated twice that he was not basing his decision on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102, we will take him at his word.
10 The State could have raised this issue pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 13(a).
At common law, property owners could be held liable for injuries to persons who were using their property, with or without their permission, for recreational purposes. Beginning in the 1950s, state legislatures began to enact statutes to limit property owners’ liability when persons were using their property for recreational purposes. 11 The Tennessee General Assembly enacted one of these statutes in 1963. 12 As originally enacted, the statute was applicable only to private landowners and excluded from its coverage the “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.”
11 James C. Becker, Landowner or Occupier Liability for Personal Injuries and Recreational Use Statutes: How Effective Is the Protection?, 24 Ind. L. Rev. 1587, 1587-88 (1991).
12 Act of Mar. 15, 1963, ch. 177, 1963 Tenn. Pub. Acts 784, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105 (1995).
[*16] In 1987, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the recreational use statute in two significant ways that are directly applicable to this case. First, it amended the statute to explicitly apply to real property owned by governmental entities. 13 Second, it broadened the exemption to cover “gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct.” 14
13 Act of May 7, 1987, ch. 448, § 8, 1987 Tenn. Pub. Acts 897, 899, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2)(B).
14 Act of May 7, 1987, ch. 448, § 5, 1987 Tenn. Pub. Acts 897, 898, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104(1).
The operation of the recreational use statutes is straightforward. Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 [HN6] is an affirmative defense available to persons who fit within the definition of “landowner” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2). Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d 240, 242 (Tenn. 1999); Bishop v. Beckner, 109 S.W.3d 725, 728 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002). [*17] Landowners may assert a Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense if they prove that the injured person was engaged in a recreational activity 15 at the time of the injury. Plaintiffs may defeat this affirmative defense in essentially three ways: (1) prove that the defendant is not a “landowner,” (2) prove that the injured party was not engaged in a recreational activity, or (3) prove that the landowner’s conduct fits within one of the three exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104. The exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 do not create new independent causes of action against the landowner. Rather, they enable a plaintiff to pursue its negligence claim by negating a landowner’s Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 242-43.
15 The applicable recreational activities are identified in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-102, -103.
[HN7] Applying Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101 [*18] , -105 to a particular case requires a three-step analysis. First, the court must determine whether the party asserting the Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 defense is a landowner. Second, the court must determine whether the activity in which the injured party was engaged at the time of the injury is a recreational activity. Third, the court must determine whether any of the exceptions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 are applicable to the case. See Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 243. If the activity is recreational and no Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104 exceptions apply, the landowner is shielded from liability by Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102. If, however, the activity is recreational, but one of the exceptions applies, the landowner may be liable.
Based on the undisputed facts, there can be no dispute (1) that the State, as a governmental entity, is a “landowner” under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-101(2)(B), (2) that Ms. Zegilla was engaged in a recreational activity because she was “hiking” or “sightseeing” when she fell to her death, [*19] and (3) that the land on which Ms. Zegilla was killed was not exempt from coverage of the statute. 16 Thus, the only remaining question with regard to the application of the recreational use statute is whether one of Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104′s exceptions applies to this case. Ms. Morgan insists that the exception for gross negligence in Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-104(1) applies.
16 Ms. Morgan argued before the claims commissioner that improvements in state natural areas and parks were somehow exempt from Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 70-7-101, -105. However, both the Tennessee Supreme Court and this court have recognized that [HN8] the recreational use statute may apply to state parks and wildlife management areas. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 241; Rewcastle v. State, 2002 Tenn. App. LEXIS 943, No. E2002-00506-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 31926848, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 31, 2002) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).
[HN9] Gross negligence [*20] is negligent conduct reflecting a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Davidson v. Power Bd., 686 S.W.2d 581, 586 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984); Odum v. Haynes, 494 S.W.2d 795, 807 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1972). It does not require a particular state of mind as long as it creates an extremely unjustified risk to others. 1 DAN B. DOBBS, THE LAW OF TORTS § 147, at 351 (2001). It differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, not in kind. W. PAGE KEETON, PROSSER & KEETON ON THE LAW OF TORTS § 34, at 212 (5th ed. 1984). Thus, gross negligence is a negligent act or failure to act that reflects more than lack of ordinary care (simple negligence) but less than intentional misconduct. Inter-City Trucking Co. v. Daniels, 181 Tenn. 126, 129-30, 178 S.W.2d 756, 757 (1944); Bennett v. Woodard, 60 Tenn. App. 20, 31-32, 444 S.W.2d 89, 94 (1969).
[HN10] Determining whether particular conduct rises to the level of gross negligence is ordinarily a question of fact. 3 STUART M. SPEISER ET AL., THE AMERICAN LAW OF TORTS § 10:05, at 368 (1986) (“SPEISER”); see also Adams v. Roark, 686 S.W.2d 73, 76 (Tenn. 1985) (gross negligence [*21] determined from the facts alleged in the complaint). However, it may be decided as a matter of law when the material facts are not in dispute and when these facts, and the conclusions reasonably drawn from them, would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion. Leatherwood v. Wadley, 121 S.W.3d 682, ___, 2003 WL 327517, at *8-9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003) (affirming summary judgment dismissing gross negligence claim); Buckner v. Varner, 793 S.W.2d 939, 941 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990) (affirming summary judgment dismissing gross negligence claim); Fellows v. Sexton, 46 Tenn. App. 274, 282, 327 S.W.2d 391, 394 (1959) (granting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on a gross negligence claim).
We find no evidence in this record upon which a reasonable person would conclude that the State was grossly negligent with regard to the construction or maintenance of the Colditz Cove State Natural Area. The State had a statutory obligation to maintain this area in a pristine, natural condition. Erecting warning signs, installing lighting along the trails, fencing the entire area, or installing guard rails, barriers, or other sorts of buffers, [*22] while perhaps appropriate at Dollywood, would have been entirely unwarranted and unnecessary at a natural area such as Colditz Cove. Accordingly, we have determined that the record, as a matter of law, supports the claims commissioner’s conclusion that “there was not any gross negligence.” 17 The State was simply not acting recklessly with disregard of the safety of persons entering the natural area.
17 Ms. Morgan asserts in her brief that “the State of Tennessee knew that at Northrop [sic] Falls . . . there was a cliff that eroded into a commonly used path which suddenly dropped at a ninety degree angle approximately one hundred feet and that it posed a deadly, dangerous condition.” This is the only assertion in her papers that approaches an allegation of gross negligence. We have searched the record for substantiation of this claim and have found none. There is no evidence that any of the trails in Colditz Cove had dangerously eroded on July 26, 1997. There is no evidence that the State had actual or constructive notice of any dangerous erosion along any of the trails in the natural area. There is likewise no evidence that either Ms. Zegilla or Mr. King fell to their deaths at a spot on the trail that had eroded.
[*23] Because the State was not grossly negligent, it was entitled to assert a defense predicated on Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102. Therefore, we have concluded, based on the undisputed facts, that the recreational use statute shields the State from liability for Ms. Zegilla’s death and that the State was entitled to a summary judgment dismissing her claims on this ground alone.
THE STATE’S LIABILITY UNDER TENN. CODE ANN. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C)
Despite our conclusion that the State has established an affirmative defense under Tenn. Code Ann. § 70-7-102 as a matter of law, we will also address Ms. Morgan’s assertion that the claims commissioner erred by concluding that she had failed to demonstrate that she would be able to prove that the State was liable for her daughter’s death under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C). We have concluded that the undisputed facts also support the commissioner’s conclusion that the State was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because Ms. Morgan had not demonstrated that she would be able to prove the essential elements of her claim.
[*24] [HN11] The State is not the insurer of the safety of persons on its property. Byrd v. State, 905 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995). It is, however, liable to these persons to the same extent that private owners and occupiers of land are liable, Sanders v. State, 783 S.W.2d 948, 951 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989), because Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) has imposed this common-law duty on the State. Parent v. State, 991 S.W.2d at 242. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) provides that the State may be held monetarily liable for
Negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state controlled real property. The claimant under this subsection must establish the foreseeability of the risks and notice given to the proper state officials at a time sufficiently prior to the injury for the state to have taken appropriate measures.
Based on this statute, the State, like a private landowner, has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent foreseeable injuries to persons on the premises. Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d at 593-94. This duty is [*25] grounded on the foreseeability of the risk involved. To recover, a claimant must prove that the injury was a reasonably foreseeable probability. Dobson v. State, 23 S.W.3d 324, 331 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).
Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) required Ms. Morgan to prove that Ms. Zegilla was injured in a manner that was reasonably foreseeable and that the State had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that caused Ms. Zegilla’s death in time to take “appropriate measures.” The claims commissioner properly concluded that she failed on both counts.
The record contains no factual, legal, or policy basis for concluding that the State should have foreseen that intoxicated persons who were unfamiliar with the Colditz Cove State Natural Area would hike down the trail to Northrup Falls in the middle of the night without adequate illumination.
Likewise, the record contains no evidence meeting the standards in Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06 that the improvements to Colditz Cove are either inherently dangerous 18 or, as we have already pointed out, that the State had actual or constructive notice of any particular [*26] dangerous condition in the natural area that caused Ms. Zegilla’s death.
18 Ms. Morgan’s lawyer asserted in the proceeding below that he had consulted an architect who “felt” that the Colditz Cove State Natural Area was “unduly dangerous” and that “the majority of the defects were certainly foreseeable and could have been rectified at a relatively modest capital investment.” While the record contains an unauthenticated letter from this architect summarizing his impressions of the improvements in the natural area, it does not contain the architect’s affidavit or deposition stating these conclusions. The architect’s letter does not meet the requirements in Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06 for evidentiary materials that may be used to support or oppose a motion for summary judgment.
COMPARISON OF MS. ZEGILLA’S FAULT WITH THE STATE’S FAULT
As a final issue, Ms. Morgan asserts that the claims commissioner erred by determining that Ms. Zegilla’s fault exceeded the State’s fault. [*27] She bases her argument on the assertion that the State’s “gross negligence” should somehow count for more in a comparative fault analysis. We have determined that this argument has no merit for two reasons. First, we have already concluded that the undisputed facts demonstrate, as a matter of law, that the State was not grossly negligent. Second, even if the States could somehow be considered grossly negligent, its fault would still be compared with Ms. Zegilla’s fault. Conroy v. City of Dickson, 49 S.W.3d 868, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). A majority of the courts in comparative fault jurisdictions permit gross negligence to be compared to ordinary negligence. 3 SPEISER, § 13:25, at 764; 1 ARTHUR BEST, COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE LAW & PRACTICE § 4.40 (1999); Restatement (Third) of Torts: Apportionment of Fault § 7 cmt. b (1999).
[HN12] The allocation of fault is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury or the trial court sitting without a jury. Brown v. Wal-Mart Discount Cities, 12 S.W.3d 785, 789 (Tenn. 2000). The task of allocating fault should be taken from the fact-finder only when it can be determined beyond question (or alternatively, when reasonable [*28] minds cannot differ) that the plaintiff’s fault is equal to or greater than the defendant’s. Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 91-92 (Tenn. 2000); Eaton v. McLain, 891 S.W.2d at 589; Kim v. Boucher, 55 S.W.3d 551, 556-57 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). The procedural avenues for obtaining a decision that the plaintiff’s fault exceeds the defendant’s as a matter of law are governed by the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The question may be raised using (1) a motion for summary judgment under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56, (2) a motion for directed verdict governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 50.01, and (3) a post-trial motion for a judgment as a matter of law governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 50.02. Henley v. Amacher, 2002 Tenn. App. LEXIS 72, No. M1999-02799-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 100402, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 28, 2002) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).
Ms. Zegilla’s voluntary intoxication on the evening of July 26, 1997 does not relieve her from the responsibility of her own negligence. Kirksey v. Overton Pub, Inc., 739 S.W.2d 230, 235 (Tenn. 1987); Schwartz v. Johnson, 152 Tenn. 586, 592, 280 S.W. 32, 33 (1926). [*29] She was required to use reasonable care under the circumstances, and her conduct must be measured against the conduct of an ordinary, reasonable person rather than an ordinary and reasonable intoxicated person. Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Hall, 5 Tenn. Civ. App. 491, 502 (1915). Accordingly, if her conduct while intoxicated was a proximate cause of her death, it may be compared with the fault of the other parties whose fault was also a proximate cause. Worley v. State, 1995 Tenn. App. LEXIS 755, No. 02A01-9312-BC-00267, 1995 WL 702792, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 1995) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed).
It cannot be reasonably disputed that Ms. Zegilla was intoxicated when she arrived at Colditz Cove State Natural Area after midnight on July 26, 1997. Even though she had never visited the natural area before, she decided to venture into a wooded area down an unfamiliar, rough foot path in the dark. After one of her companions fell to his death, she continued to walk around in the darkness even though she must have known that danger was close at hand. As tragic as her death is, the only conclusion that reasonable persons can draw from these facts is that her fault [*30] far exceeded any fault that may reasonably be attributed to the State. Accordingly, the claims commissioner properly concluded the State was not liable to Ms. Zegilla’s estate because her fault exceeded any fault that could be attributed to the State.
We affirm the order dismissing the Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) claim of Ms. Zegilla’s estate against the State and remand the case to the Tennessee Claims Commission for whatever further proceedings may be required. We tax the costs of this appeal to Evelean Morgan for which execution, if necessary, may issue.
Give Kids The World, Inc., v. Sanislo, 2012 Fla. App. LEXIS 7403; 37 Fla. L. Weekly D 1143
Give Kids The World, Inc., Appellant, v. Stacy Sanislo and Eric Sanislo, Appellees.
Case No. 5D11-748
COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, FIFTH DISTRICT
2012 Fla. App. LEXIS 7403; 37 Fla. L. Weekly D 1143
May 11, 2012, Opinion Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Osceola County, Jeffrey Fleming, Judge.
COUNSEL: Wm. Jere Tolton, lll, of Ogden & Sullivan, P.A., Tampa, and Matthew J. Haftel of O’Connor & O’Connor, LLC, Orlando, for Appellant.
Michael J. Damaso, ll, of Wooten, Kimbrough and Normand, P.A., Orlando, and Jack W. Shaw, Jr., of Jack W. Shaw, Jr., P.A., Winter Park, for Appellees.
JUDGES: ORFINGER, C.J., and PALMER, J., concur. COHEN, J., concurs and concurs specially with opinion.
Give Kids the World, Inc. (“GKTW”), the defendant below, appeals a final judgment entered against it in a negligence action. GKTW argues that the lower court erred by denying its pretrial motion for summary judgment on its affirmative defense of release. We agree and reverse.
GKTW is a non-profit organization that provides free “storybook” vacations to seriously ill children and their families at its resort village, the Give Kids the World Village (“the Village”). Stacy and Eric Sanislo (“the Sanislos”) are the parents of a young girl with a serious illness. In November 2004, the Sanislos executed a liability release to GKTW in connection with a “wish request” that benefitted their daughter.1 The release, in pertinent part, provided:
By [*2] my/our signature(s) set forth below, and in consideration of Give Kids the World, Inc. granting said wish, 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 the 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 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, or damage to or theft of our personal belongings, jewelry or other personal property which may occur while staying at the Give Kids the World Village.
The wish request was approved and, upon their arrival at the Village from the state of Washington, the Sanislos executed another liability release [*3] with identical language.
1 Fulfillment of a child’s wish is accomplished in conjunction with the Make-AWish Foundation, a separate entity from GKTW.
During the course of her stay at the Village, Stacy Sanislo was injured when she, along with her husband, posed for a picture on a pneumatic wheelchair lift that was attached to the back of a horse-drawn wagon. The lift collapsed because the weight limit had been exceeded, injuring Ms. Sanislo. The Sanislos brought suit against GKTW, alleging that Ms. Sanislo’s injuries were caused by GKTW’s negligence. In its answer, GKTW asserted the affirmative defense of release. Subsequently, GKTW filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the signed liability releases precluded a finding of liability. The Sanislos filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of release as well. The trial court denied GKTW’s motion, but granted that of the Sanislos.2 Following a jury verdict, judgment was entered in the Sanislos’ favor.
2 The parties stipulated that if the trial court granted one of the motions for summary judgment, then the other should be denied.
On appeal, GKTW correctly asserts that it was entitled to summary judgment based on the [*4] release. [HN1] Exculpatory clauses are disfavored under the law, but unambiguous exculpatory contracts are enforceable unless they contravene public policy. Applegate v. Cable Water Ski, L.C., 974 So. 2d 1112, 1114 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (citing Cain v. Banka, 932 So. 2d 575, 578 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006)). The wording of the exculpatory clause must be clear and understandable so that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he or she is contracting away. Raveson v. Walt Disney World Co., 793 So. 2d 1171, 1173 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001). This Court has expressly “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.” Cain, 932 So. 2d at 578. In Cain, this Court noted that an exculpatory clause absolving a defendant of “any and all liability, claims, demands, actions, and causes of action whatsoever” was sufficient to encompass the plaintiff’s negligence action filed against a defendant track owner in connection with motocross bike riding. Id. at 579; see also Hardage Enters., Inc. v. Fidesys Corp., N.V., 570 So. 2d 436, 437 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990) (determining that “any and [*5] all claims, demands, damages, actions, causes of action, or suits in equity, of whatsoever kind or nature” encompassed negligent action). A release need not list each possible manner in which the releasor could be injured in order to be effective. Cf. DeBoer v. Fla. Offroaders Driver’s Ass’n, Inc., 622 So. 2d 1134, 1136 (Fla. 5th DCA 1993).
The instant release contains two separate provisions releasing GKTW from liability. One provision releases GKTW from “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 . . . which may occur while staying at the Give Kids the World Village.” This language is markedly similar to the language in the release signed by the plaintiff in Cain, which encompassed the release of a negligence action. 932 So. 2d at 577. A second provision releases GKTW from “any liability whatsoever in connection with the preparation, execution, and fulfillment of said wish . . . .” This language is broad enough to encompass negligence claims arising from the injuries suffered by Ms. Sanislo due to the collapse of the wheelchair lift.
The Sanislos argue that the release is not [*6] clear and unambiguous because it applies to liability arising “in connection with the preparation, execution and fulfillment of said wish.” They suggest the nature and scope of the wish is not clear or defined and thus renders the release unenforceable. However, the wish, which was requested by the Sanislos, clearly encompassed events at the Village related to their stay and attendance at Orlando area theme parks. The Sanislos’ interpretation is not likely the interpretation that an “ordinary and knowledgeable person” would give to the clause. See Raveson, 793 So. 2d at 1173. The language used clearly and unambiguously releases GKTW from liability for the physical injuries Ms. Sanislo sustained during her stay at the Village, and was sufficiently clear to make the Sanislos aware of the breadth of the scope of the release and what rights they were contracting away. [HN2] The ability to predict each and every potential injury is unattainable and is not required to uphold an exculpatory provision within a release.
[HN3] In addition to assessing the clarity of the language used in releases, this Court must consider the parties’ relative bargaining power in determining the enforceability of a release. [*7] Ivey Plants, Inc. v. FMC Corp., 282 So. 2d 205, 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973). Enforcement of an exculpatory clause has been denied where the relative bargaining power of the contracting parties is unequal and the clause seeks to exempt from liability for negligence the party who occupies a superior bargaining position. Id. However, Florida courts have held that the bargaining power of the parties will not be considered unequal in settings outside of the public utility or public function context. For instance, in Banfield v. Louis, 589 So. 2d 441, 443-44 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991), the court upheld the enforcement of a release executed by a participant in a triathlon and the trial court’s ruling that a disparity in bargaining power was “not applicable to entry of athletic contests of this nature, where a party is not required to enter it and not entitled to participate unless they want to.” The Banfield court emphasized that the application of Ivey Plants was limited to circumstances in which a release was executed on behalf of a public utility or a company serving some public function. Id. at 444-45. Consistent with this analysis, Florida courts have refused to find an inequality of bargaining [*8] power in recreational settings. Id.; DeBoer, 622 So. 2d at 1136. Similarly, in Hardage Enterprises, this Court found that an exculpatory clause in an agreement entered into by the owner of a hotel complex and a construction manager of the complex was enforceable because its language was unambiguous and the parties were not in a position of unequal bargaining power. 570 So. 2d at 438. This Court explained that the case did not present “a situation where public policy mandates the protection of consumers who are offered a contract in a ‘take it or leave it’ form.” Id. at 439.
GKTW argues that the bargaining power of the parties cannot be viewed as unequal, because the Sanislos voluntarily participated in the GKTW program. The Sanislos, for their part, argue that the parties are of unequal bargaining power because they were offered a contract in a “take it or leave it” form, and GKTW gave them no choice but to sign the release in order to have their daughter’s wish fulfilled. Unfortunately for the Sanislos, however, the instant case is more akin to Banfield and DeBoer than it is to Ivey Plants. The Sanislos’ desire to fulfill their ill daughter’s wish is certainly understandable, but the [*9] parents’ desire to fulfill the wish and take advantage of the GKTW program does not equate to unequal bargaining power. The Sanislos were not consumers as contemplated in Hardage Enterprises. They were provided a copy of the release at the time they applied to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and made a decision to waive certain rights. GKTW is entitled to enforcement of that release.
ORFINGER, C.J., and PALMER, J., concur.
COHEN, J., concurs and concurs specially with opinion.
CONCUR BY: COHEN
COHEN, J., concurring specially.
If I were writing on a clean slate, I would affirm the trial court’s denial of GKTW’s summary judgment. I am bound, however, to follow this Court’s prior decisions that do not require an express reference to negligence in a release in order to render the release effective to such actions. This District stands alone on this position. See 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); Tout v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 390 So. 2d 155 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1980).
The better view is to require an explicit provision to that [*10] effect. Exculpatory clauses are “by public policy disfavored in the law 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.” Tatman v. Space Coast Kennel Club, Inc., 27 So. 3d 108, 110 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009). While those trained in the law might understand and appreciate that the general language releasing a party from any and all liability could encompass the injuries suffered by Ms. Sanislo, a release should be readily understandable so that an ordinary and knowledgeable person would know what is being contracted away. 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. Conversely, a clause which provides a waiver of liability for one’s own negligence is easily understood. The other district courts of appeal have recognized how simple it is to add such a clause in a release. I suggest we do the same.
Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873; 2009 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 26
Tara Sweeney, Individually, and by Cynthia Sweeney, Her Mother and Next Friend, Appellants, vs. City of Bettendorf and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation, Appellees.
SUPREME COURT OF IOWA
762 N.W.2d 873; 2009 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 26
March 13, 2009, Filed
COUNSEL: Joseph C. Creen of Bush, Motto, Creen, Koury & Halligan, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellants.
Martha L. Shaff and Edward J. Rose of Betty, Neuman & McMahon, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellees.
JUDGES: APPEL, Justice. All justices concur except Cady, J., who dissents and Streit, J., who concurs in part and dissents in part. CADY, Justice (dissenting). STREIT, Justice (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
OPINION BY: APPEL
[*875] APPEL, Justice.
This case involves an appeal from a district court order granting the City of Bettendorf summary judgment in a negligent supervision case. Here, an eight-year-old girl was injured by a flying baseball bat at a minor league game while on a field trip sponsored by the Bettendorf Parks and Recreation Department. The district court found that a permission slip signed by the parent of the injured girl amounted to an enforceable anticipatory release of future claims against the City. The district court in the alternative ruled that the plaintiffs failed to introduce [**2] sufficient evidence to show that the City violated a duty of care owed to the plaintiffs. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case to the district court.
I. Background Facts and Prior Proceedings.
Eight-year-old Tara Sweeney enjoyed baseball games. She participated in field trips to Davenport, Iowa, sponsored by the Bettendorf Parks and Recreation Department to see minor league baseball games. In the past, according to Tara, the children sat in “comfy seats” behind home plate that were protected by screening.
In 2003, Tara wanted to go to another ball game. Prior to the field trip, Tara’s mother, Cynthia Sweeney, was asked to sign what was entitled a “Permission Slip,” which the Department required of all participants. The text of the “Permission Slip” was as follows:
I hereby give permission for my child Tara M. Sweeney to attend the Bettendorf Park Board field trip to John O’Donnell Stadium with the Playgrounds Program on Monday, June 30, 2003. I realize that the Bettendorf Park Board is not responsible or liable for any accidents or injuries that may occur while on this special occasion. Failure to sign this release as is without amendment [**3] or alteration is grounds for denial of participation.
Prior to signing the “Permission Slip,” Cynthia talked with a supervisor about the trip. She was told the times of the field trip and who would be supervising Tara’s group. She then executed and returned the permission slip to the Department.
At the game, the children did not sit in the “comfy seats” behind screening as they had in the past. Instead, Tara was required by the Department to sit on bleachers or the adjacent grassy area along the third base line that was unprotected by screening or netting. Tara chose a seat in the third or fourth row of bleachers. The Department supervisors did not allow the children to move to another location in the stadium.
At a midpoint in the game, a player lost his grip on a bat. The record indicated that the bat flew a distance of about 120 feet along the third base line at a height of approximately six feet. The bat was airborne for two or three seconds before it struck Tara on the right side of her head. Prior to being struck by the bat, Tara had turned to talk to a friend.
At the time of the incident, no supervisors from the Department were in Tara’s immediate vicinity. One supervisor who viewed [**4] the incident from a distance testified that an adult in the area could possibly have done something, either trying to knock down the bat or yelling for the kids to duck. Cynthia, at her deposition, however, testified that the incident could not have been avoided had an adult been in Tara’s place.
Plaintiffs sued the City and a number of other defendants, including the baseball player involved and the teams playing the [*876] game. The plaintiffs’ claims against the City sounded in negligence.
The City filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the permission slip constituted a waiver of the plaintiffs’ claims and that, in any event, the plaintiffs could not show a breach of any duty of care owed by the City. With respect to the permission slip, the City noted that the language specifically states that a parent realizes that the “Bettendorf Park Board is not responsible or liable for any accidents or injuries that may occur while on this special occasion” and that “[f]ailure to sign this release” is “grounds for denial of participation.” On the issue of breach of duty, the City argued that there was nothing that the City should have done to avoid the accident.
Plaintiffs resisted and [**5] filed a cross motion for summary judgment. On the issue of waiver, the plaintiffs contended that the permission slip did not amount to a valid anticipatory release of future claims based upon the City’s negligent acts or omissions. The plaintiffs further argued that even if the permission slip amounted to a valid release, it was fatally flawed because it purported to release only the Department and not the City. Finally, plaintiffs asserted even if the permission slip amounted to an anticipatory release of future claims based on acts or omissions of negligence, statutory and common law public policy prevents a parent from waiving such claims on behalf of a minor child.
In resisting the City’s motion for summary judgment based upon the lack of a breach of duty, the plaintiffs, in addition to testimony of lay witnesses, offered a report from Susan Hudson, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and an expert on playground and park safety. Based on her review, Hudson found that the Department breached its duty of care toward the plaintiffs in several ways. Hudson opined that the Department breached its duty of care by: (1) not informing the Sweeneys about the nature of possible [**6] harm even though Cynthia personally inquired about the nature of the activity; (2) not anticipating the known and foreseeable harm that could occur by not paying attention to the selection of seating; (3) not providing direct instructions to the children about paying attention to the possibility of bats and balls flying into the bleacher area; and (4) not providing direct supervision for children under their care.
The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment. The district court found that the permission slip constituted a valid waiver of plaintiffs’ claims. In the alternative, the district court found that the plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to establish a breach of duty owed to them. Plaintiffs appealed.
II. Direct vs. Interlocutory Appeal.
At the outset, there is a question of whether this case presents a direct appeal or is interlocutory in nature. [HN1] A direct appeal is heard as a matter of right, while this court has broad discretion to consider whether to hear an interlocutory appeal. Iowa R. App. P. 6.1(4). The central issue is whether an appeal of a district court order which dismisses all claims against one party in a negligence action involving [**7] multiple defendants is direct or interlocutory.
In Buechel v. Five Star Quality Care, Inc., 745 N.W.2d 732 (Iowa 2008), we considered this question. In Buechel, we noted that under our comparative fault statute, fault sharing cannot occur with a defendant who is no longer a party to the litigation through grant of summary judgment. Id. at 735; Spaur v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 510 N.W.2d 854, 863 (Iowa 1994). As a [*877] result, the issues in the motion for summary judgment had impact on the issues of liability against the remaining defendants, are not severable, and are therefore interlocutory in nature. Buechel, 745 N.W.2d at 735. Nonetheless, as in Buechel, we exercise our discretion to treat the notice of appeal here as an application for interlocutory appeal, grant the application, and consider the underlying merits. Id. at 736.
III. Standard of Review.
[HN2] We review a district court’s order on a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Ratcliff v. Graether, 697 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Iowa 2005). [HN3] Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows there is no genuine issue of material fact. Berte v. Bode, 692 N.W.2d 368, 370 (Iowa 2005). Summary judgment should not [**8] be granted if reasonable minds can differ on how a material factual issue should be resolved. Walker v. Gribble, 689 N.W.2d 104, 108 (Iowa 2004).
A. Permission Slip as Anticipatory Release of Claims of Negligence. This case involves an exculpatory provision contained in a permission slip signed by the parent of a minor child in connection with recreational activities sponsored by a municipality. 1 The validity of exculpatory provisions which release future claims in connection with recreational activities is a topic that has been thoroughly explored in the academic literature. See, e.g., Mary Ann Connell & Frederick G. Savage, Releases: Is There Still a Place for Their Use by Colleges & Universities?, 29 J.C. & U.L. 579 (2003); Mark Seiberling, “Icing” on the Cake: Allowing Amateur Athletic Promoters to Escape Liability in Mohney v. USA Hockey, Inc., 9 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 417 (2002). The academic commentators note courts considering such exculpatory provisions deal with the inherent tensions between the law of torts, which generally requires parties to be responsible for their acts of negligence, and the law of contracts, which allows a competent party to make his [**9] or her own agreements. Connell & Savage, 29 J.C. & U.L. at 580; Seiberling, 9 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. at 428.
1 [HN4] While many cases appear to use the terms interchangeably, an exculpatory provision is similar but not identical to an indemnity provision. An indemnity provision ordinarily allocates risks of third party losses among parties to a contract. In an indemnity context, at least one party remains liable for the third party losses. The victim thus still has a source of recovery. An exculpatory provision, however, does not allocate risk between responsible parties but eliminates liability all together. Cathleen M. Devlin, Indemnity & Exculpation: Circle of Confusion in the Courts, 33 Emory L.J. 135, 170-71 (1984).
The early Iowa cases dealing with exculpatory provisions involve real estate contracts. As early as 1921, we considered the effect of a provision in a real estate lease that provided that in no case should the lessor be liable for damage to the property. Oscar Ruff Drug Co. v. W. Iowa Co., 191 Iowa 1035, 181 N.W. 408 (1921). Among other things, we noted that the clause in the lease was couched in general terms and did not specifically exempt the lessor from liability for [**10] its own negligent acts. Id. at 1042, 181 N.W. at 411. As a result, we held that the lease did not release the lessor from damages resulting from the lessor’s own negligence. Id. at 1043, 181 N.W. at 412.
More than thirty-five years later, we considered the effect of provisions in a real estate lease which the tenant claimed relieved the tenant from liability for a fire that was allegedly caused by its own negligence. Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Poling, [*878] 248 Iowa 582, 81 N.W.2d 462 (1957). The lease in Sears, among other things, obligated the tenant to keep the premises in good condition, “loss by fire . . . excepted.” Id. at 586, 81 N.W.2d at 464. While this contractual provision might have had a bearing on fire losses not caused by the tenant’s negligence, we held that the general exculpatory language did not immunize the tenant from liability for damage to the landlord’s premises caused by its own negligence. Id. at 589, 81 N.W.2d at 466. In reaching this determination, we cited with approval an annotation stating that [HN5] “broad exculpatory provisions” would rarely immunize a defendant for acts of affirmative negligence. Id. at 588, 81 N.W.2d at 465 (citation omitted). We further cited with [**11] approval Oscar Ruff Drug and cases from other jurisdictions holding that contract provisions will not be held to relieve a party of liability for its own negligence unless the intention to do so is clearly expressed. Id. at 591-92, 81 N.W.2d at 467-68; see Oscar Ruff Drug, 191 Iowa at 1035, 181 N.W.2d at 408; see also Fields v. City of Oakland, 137 Cal. App. 2d 602, 291 P.2d 145, 149 (Cal. Ct. App. 1955); Winkler v. Appalachian Amusement Co., 238 N.C. 589, 79 S.E.2d 185, 190 (N.C. 1953); Carstens v. W. Pipe & Steel Co., 142 Wash. 259, 252 P. 939, 941 (Wash. 1927).
Following Sears, we decided Baker v. Stewarts’ Inc., 433 N.W.2d 706 (Iowa 1988), a case outside the real estate setting. In Baker, we considered the validity of a document signed by a plaintiff who claimed that hair straightening products applied to her scalp at a cosmetology school produced subsequent baldness. Baker, 433 N.W.2d at 707. The document stated in relevant part, “I will not hold the Stewart School, its management, owners, agents, or students liable for any damage or injury, should any result from this service.” Id.
In Baker, we held that this document did not amount to an anticipatory release of future claims based upon negligent acts or omissions of the professional [**12] staff of a cosmetology school because a release of such claims would not be apparent to a casual reader. Id. at 709. We cited Sears and dicta in the indemnity case of Evans v. Howard R. Green Co., 231 N.W.2d 907, 916-17 (Iowa 1975), for the proposition that [HN6] general exculpatory provisions do not cover the negligence of a party unless the intention to do so is clearly expressed. Id. In other words, the general exculpatory provision in Baker, which stated that the customer would not hold “management, owners, agents or students liable for any damage or injury,” was insufficient to release the defendant from liability for the negligent acts of its professional staff. Id.
In contrast, in Huber v. Hovey, 501 N.W.2d 53, 56 (Iowa 1993), we held that a document signed by a spectator to an auto race did amount to an enforceable anticipatory release of future claims based on negligent acts or omissions of a party. In Huber, the document in question emphasized that it was a “covenant not to sue” and that it “releases” the promoter “from all liability . . . [for] all loss or damage, and any claim . . . on account of injury . . . whether caused by the negligence of the releasees or otherwise. . . [**13] .” 501 N.W.2d at 54. We distinguished this language from the sort utilized in Baker, noting that the document specifically indicated that it was a release of claims caused by the negligence of one of the parties. Id. at 56; see also Grabill v. Adams County Fair & Racing Ass’n, 666 N.W.2d 592 (Iowa 2003).
The permission slip in this case is much closer to the document in Baker than in Huber. As in Baker, the permission slip contains no clear and unequivocal language that would notify a casual reader that by signing the document, a parent [*879] would be waiving all claims relating to future acts or omissions of negligence by the City. Baker, 433 N.W.2d at 707. The language at issue here refers only to “accidents” generally and contains nothing specifically indicating that a parent would be waiving potential claims for the City’s negligence. See Alliant Energy-Interstate Power & Light Co. v. Duckett, 732 N.W.2d 869, 878 (Iowa 2007) (holding a utility tariff that released utility from “all claims, demands, costs, or expenses for injury . . . or damage” was not sufficient to release utility from its own negligent acts). As noted in a recent best seller, [HN7] the term “accident” normally means “unpreventable [**14] random occurrences.” See Marc Gernstein with Michael Ellsberg, Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents are Rarely Accidental 3 (2008). The general language in this permission slip simply does not meet the demanding legal standards of our Iowa cases.
While we have not previously considered the effect of exculpatory provisions in the specific context of sponsored recreational activities, we see no basis for departing from the Baker-Huber principles in this context. The cases from other jurisdictions demonstrate the reluctance of courts to provide defendants who sponsor recreational activities a more lenient framework for analyzing exculpatory clauses seeking to limit liability for the sponsors’ own negligence. Several state courts in a recreational context have adhered to a bright-line test, requiring that the specific words negligence or fault be expressly used if an exculpatory provision is to relieve a defendant from liability for its own negligent acts or omissions. See Alack v. Vic Tanny Int’l of Mo., Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 337 (Mo. 1996) (noting general exculpatory language releasing “any . . . injuries” and “all claims” does not suffice to release party of its own negligence, because [**15] such language creates a latent ambiguity in exculpatory contracts); Geise v. Niagara County, 117 Misc. 2d 470, 458 N.Y.S.2d 162, 164 (Sup. Ct. 1983) (holding words “fault” or “neglect” must be used to bar claim for party’s own negligence).
Other courts in the context of recreational activities have not required magic words, but have imposed a demanding requirement that the intention to exclude liability for acts and omissions of a party must be expressed in clear terms. Sirek v. Fairfield Snowbowl, Inc., 166 Ariz. 183, 800 P.2d 1291, 1295 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1990) (requiring intention to immunize for negligent acts be clearly and explicitly stated); Turnbough v. Ladner, 754 So. 2d 467, 470 (Miss. 1999) (finding general exculpatory provision inadequate and noting release of acts of a party’s own negligence must be expressed in “specific and unmistakable terms”); Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 400 N.E.2d 306, 309-10, 424 N.Y.S.2d 365 (N.Y. 1979) (noting that while the word “negligence” need not specifically be used, words conveying a similar import must appear). 2 The approach of these cases is [*880] consistent with the approach in Iowa exculpatory clause cases generally. See Baker, 433 N.W.2d at 709 (requiring a clear and unequivocal expression). We see no reason [**16] to relax from the approach in Baker merely because this case involves a recreational activity.
2 Even in these jurisdictions, the better practice is to expressly use the term “negligence” in the exculpatory agreement. See Swartzentruber v. Wee-K Corp., 117 Ohio App. 3d 420, 690 N.E.2d 941, 945 (Ohio Ct. App. 1997) (noting that the “better practice” would be to expressly include the word “negligence”); Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654, 663 (Wis. 1991) (refusing to adopt a magic words test, but noting the use of term “negligence” would be “very helpful”); see also Steven B. Lesser, How to Draft Exculpatory Clauses That Limit or Extinguish Liability, 75 Fla. B.J. 10, 14 (Nov. 2001) (noting from a practical standpoint, utilization of the word “negligence” should increase the likelihood of enforcement); Kevin G. Hroblak, Adloo v. H.T. Brown Real Estate, Inc.: “Caveat Exculpator”–An Exculpatory Clause May Not Be Effective Under Maryland’s Heightened Level of Scrutiny, 27 U. Balt. L. Rev. 439, 469 (1998) (noting a risk adverse drafter should use the word “negligence” in all exculpatory clauses).
In looking at cases involving recreational activities, language similar to that used by the City in this case has been [**17] found insufficient to support a release of a party’s own negligence. For example, in Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 (Me. 1979), the court found the use of the term “accidents” insufficient to provide a basis for release from a party’s own negligence. See Hroblak, 27 U. Balt. L. Rev. at 471 (noting drafter should not seek to release party from any “accidents” because the term is ambiguous and insufficient to release own negligent acts); see also O’Connell v. Walt Disney World Co., 413 So. 2d 444, 446-47 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982) (finding language stating company held harmless from liability and from risks inherent in riding activity not sufficient to release its own negligence); Calarco v. YMCA of Greater Metro. Chicago, 149 Ill. App. 3d 1037, 501 N.E.2d 268, 272-73, 103 Ill. Dec. 247 (Ill. App. Ct. 1986) (holding provision to hold YMCA “free from any and all liability” and discharging “any and all rights and claims for damages” not sufficient to relieve YMCA of liability for its own negligence).
For the reasons expressed above, we hold that the language in the permission slip in this case does not constitute an enforceable anticipatory release of claims against the City for its negligent acts or omissions in [**18] connection with the field trip. 3
3 As a result of our disposition of the release issue, we do not consider four other arguments advanced by the plaintiffs. First, we do not consider whether the failure to specifically name the City in the release prevents its enforcement by the City. Second, we also do not address the question of whether a parent may release the claims of a minor for the negligent acts or omissions of a sponsor of recreational events. The case law from other jurisdictions is divided on this issue. Compare Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 901 A.2d 381, 389-90 (N.J. 2006), with Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 205 (Ohio 1998). See generally Doyice J. Cotten, Sarah J. Young, & Sport Risk Consulting, Effectiveness of Parental Waivers, Parental Indemnification Agreements, & Parental Arbitration Agreements as Risk Management Tools, 17 J. Legal Aspects Sport 53 (2007). Third, we do not consider the implications on this case, if any, of Iowa Code section 599.2 (2003), which allows a minor to disaffirm contracts with certain exceptions. Fourth, we do not consider the general question of whether public policy voids a contract provision releasing claims of negligence [**19] under the circumstances presented here. See Tunkl v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 446-47 (Cal. 1963).
B. Application of Inherent Risk Doctrine to Defeat Negligent Supervision Claim. The City, while acknowledging that it owed Tara a duty of care, seeks to limit that duty through the application of the inherent risk doctrine. The City claims that the risk of being injured by flying bats and balls when seated outside screening is unavoidable as it is an inherent part of attending a baseball game. As a result, the City claims, it had no duty to protect Tara from the subsequent injuries. [HN8] The question of the proper scope of legal duty is a question of law to be determined by the court. J.A.H. ex rel. R.M.H. v. Wadle & Assocs., P.C., 589 N.W.2d 256, 258 (Iowa 1999); Leonard v. State, 491 N.W.2d 508, 511-12 (Iowa 1992).
In support of its position, the City cites Anderson v. Webster City Community School District, 620 N.W.2d 263 (Iowa 2000). In Anderson, a seven-year-old boy broke his leg while sledding during a noon recess at his elementary school. [*881] Anderson, 620 N.W.2d at 265. The jury instruction in that case noted that some risks naturally attend participation in recreational activities [**20] and that the sponsor has a duty only to protect a participant from unreasonable risks of harm. Id. at 266. The Anderson court noted that the instruction was similar to the “primary assumption of risk doctrine” which, while no longer utilized in Iowa, was an alternative expression for the proposition that a defendant is not negligent or owed no duty for risks inherent in certain activities. Id. at 267.
The City also cites Dudley v. William Penn College, 219 N.W.2d 484 (Iowa 1974), in support of its motion for summary judgment. In Dudley, a plaintiff baseball player, who was hit by a foul ball, claimed that the college should have had dugouts or netting protecting the participants from the playing field. 219 N.W.2d at 485. We rejected that claim, noting that the duty that was owed extended only to those risks that were unreasonable. Id. at 486-87. “[P]layers in athletic events accept the hazards which normally attend the sport.” Id. at 486. As a result, we held that the injured player did not have a cause of action against the coach and college. Id. at 487. In sum, the City argues that it did not breach its duty of care because being struck by a bat is an inherent risk of attending a [**21] minor league baseball game.
Plaintiffs view the case differently. They distinguish Anderson on the ground that the City had a much greater control over the activities of the children in this case. They note that the City determined that Tara would sit on bleachers unprotected by screening and that the City chose not to follow accepted recreational and leisure standards for the proper safety and supervision of children by failing to ensure direct supervision and by failing to warn them and their parents of the danger of flying bats when sitting in unprotected areas. The plaintiffs further note that in Anderson, whether the defendants unreasonably failed to protect the plaintiff was a question for the jury to decide.
The plaintiffs assert Dudley is inapposite. They see Dudley as a variant of the limited liability rule which relieves baseball park owner-operators of responsibility for flying objects. Here, however, the question on appeal relates not to the duty of the owner-operator of a baseball facility, but to the duty of the City to properly supervise Tara while attending the game. The City, plaintiffs argue, directed Tara to sit in an unprotected area and then did not provide adequate [**22] direct supervision in that area. Further, plaintiffs argue that their expert provided a sufficient basis for a jury to determine that the City acted unreasonably under all the facts and circumstances.
In the majority of cases, spectators sitting outside protective netting at baseball stadiums have been unable to recover from owners or operators for injuries related to errant bats and balls on the ground that such injuries were an “inherent risk” of attending the game. See generally James L. Rigelhaupt, Jr., Annotation, Liability to Spectator at Baseball Game Who is Hit by Ball or Injured as Result of Other Hazards of Game, 91 A.L.R.3d 24 (1979). Claims against owners or operators for injuries incurred by flying bats and balls that have been decided after the movement toward comparative negligence tend to characterize nonliability as based on a “limited duty” theory. See, e.g., Vines v. Birmingham Baseball Club, Inc., 450 So. 2d 455, 456 (Ala. 1984) (Torbert, C.J., concurring specially); Lawson v. Salt Lake Trappers, Inc., 901 P.2d 1013, 1015-16 (Utah 1995); Perez v. McConkey, 872 S.W.2d 897, 900 (Tenn. 1994); Daniel E. Wanat, Torts and Sporting Events: Spectator [*882] & Participant Injuries–Using [**23] Defendant’s Duty to Limit Liability as an Alternative to the Defense of Primary Implied Assumption of Risk, 31 U. Mem. L. Rev. 237 (2001).
Regardless of whether the approach is characterized as involving inherent risk or a limited duty, courts applying the doctrine have held that the owner or operator of a baseball stadium is not liable for injury to spectators from flying bats and balls if the owner or operator provided screened seating sufficient for spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire such protection and if the most dangerous areas of the stands, ordinarily the area behind home plate, were so protected. Quinn v. Recreation Park Ass’n, 3 Cal. 2d 725, 46 P.2d 144, 146 (Cal. 1935); Akins v. Glens Falls City Sch. Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 424 N.E.2d 531, 533-34, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644 (N.Y. 1981). In Arnold v. City of Cedar Rapids, 443 N.W.2d 332, 333 (Iowa 1989), we adopted a version of the limited duty rule in a premises liability case with respect to misthrown balls. 4
4 There has been some resistance to inherent risk or the limited duty doctrine. For example, Professor James noted long ago that the primary assumption of risk doctrine, of which the limited duty rule is a variant, provides “an exceptional curtailment of defendant’s [**24] duty below the generally prevailing one to take care to conduct oneself so as not to cause unreasonable danger to others.” Fleming James, Jr., Assumption of Risk, 61 Yale L. J. 141, 168 (1952). More recently, a few judges have directly challenged the limited duty rule. See Maisonave v. Newark Bears Prof’l Baseball Club, Inc., 185 N.J. 70, 881 A.2d 700, 710-13 (N.J. 2005) (Wallace, J., concurring), superseded by statute, New Jersey Baseball Spectator Safety Act of 2006, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:53A-43-48 (2006); Akins, 424 N.E.2d at 536 (Cooke, J., dissenting). There appears to be a move within the legal profession away from the rule. See Restatement (Third) of Torts: Apportionment of Liability § 3 cmt. c, illus. 6, at 32-33 (2000) (replacing limited duty with comparative fault in cases involving injury to baseball spectators). In addition, recent academic commentary has challenged the doctrine. David Horton, Rethinking Assumption of Risk & Sports Spectators, 51 UCLA L. Rev. 339, 366 (2003) (noting increasingly hazardous nature of stadium seating in light of increased pitching speeds, greater batting capability, and stadium design that places patrons in a zone of danger); Gil Fried & Robin Ammon, Baseball [**25] Spectators’ Assumption of Risk: Is it “Fair” or “Foul”?, 13 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 39, 61 (2002) (same). There is no occasion on this appeal to revisit the application of inherent risk or limited duty doctrine in the context of a premises liability claim.
This case, however, does not involve a premises liability claim against the owner or operator of a baseball stadium. Instead, the issue is whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in a negligent supervision case against the City based on its view that the injury was due to “an inherent risk in attending the baseball game.”
We conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment based on inherent risk. [HN9] A negligent supervision case is fundamentally different than a case involving premises liability. The eight-year-old child in this case made no choice, but instead sat where she was told by the Department. The plaintiffs further claim that there was inadequate adult supervision where the child was seated. The alleged negligence in this case does not relate to the instrumentality of the injury, but instead focuses on the proper care and supervision of children in an admittedly risky environment. See, e.g., [**26] Stanley v. Bd. of Educ., 9 Ill. App. 3d 963, 293 N.E.2d 417, 422 (Ill. App. Ct. 1973) (holding alleged negligent supervision of children in thrown bat case raises jury question in light of expert opinion); Cook v. Smith, 33 S.W.3d 548, 553-54 (Mo. Ct. App. 2000) (noting acceptance of custody and care of minor child creates duty of care independent of premises liability); Havens v. Kling, 277 A.D.2d 1017, 1018, [*883] 715 N.Y.S.2d 812 (N.Y. App. Div. 2000) (holding parents of eleven-year-old inexperienced golfer did not have claim against twelve-year-old golfer who hit son on the head with club, but did have claim against golf shop and event sponsor for negligent supervision); Gordon v. Deer Park Sch. Dist. No. 414, 71 Wn.2d 119, 426 P.2d 824, 828 (Wash. 1967) (finding possible negligence claim where bat slips from hands of teacher).
Viewed as a negligent supervision case, the City had a duty to act reasonably, under all the facts and circumstances, to protect the children’s safety at the ball park. City of Cedar Falls v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch. Dist., 617 N.W.2d 11, 16-17 (Iowa 2000). The gist of the plaintiffs’ claim is that a substantial cause of the injury was the supervisors’ decision to allow the children, who cannot be expected to be vigilant [**27] at all times during a baseball game, to be seated in what a jury could conclude was an unreasonably hazardous location behind third base instead of behind the safety of protective netting. From this perspective, the inevitable exposure of the children to flying balls and bats that arises from sitting outside the range of protective netting does not provide a complete defense, but instead is a factor for a jury to consider in determining whether the acts and omissions of the supervisors were reasonable under all the facts and circumstances. As in Anderson, moreover, [HN10] whether a defendant has breached its duty of care under all the circumstances is ordinarily a jury question, particularly where the plaintiff has offered expert testimony indicating that the defendant did not follow customary practices for the safety of children when engaged in recreational activities. Anderson, 620 N.W.2d at 266-67.
As a result, the City is not entitled to summary judgment with respect to the specifications of negligence in the plaintiffs’ expert report on the ground of “inherent risk” or the “limited duty doctrine.” [HN11] The extent to which an injured party knowingly engages in risky behavior in a negligent [**28] supervision case is a factor for the fact finder to consider in the framework of comparative fault.
C. Cause in Fact Challenge to Claim of Lack of Direct Supervision. The City also advances an alternate argument in partial defense to some aspects of the plaintiffs’ negligent supervision claim. To the extent that the plaintiffs’ case rested on the failure to have adult supervision in close proximity to Tara when the children were seated along the third base line, the City argued that such direct supervision would not have made a difference. The City’s argument amounts to a claim that even if the City breached its duty toward Tara by not providing adequate adult supervision, that breach of duty was not the cause of Tara’s injuries.
We have held that [HN12] causation has two components: cause in fact and legal cause. Faber v. Herman, 731 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa 2007). Cause in fact is a but-for test, while determination of legal or proximate cause reflects a policy judgment that the cause of the accident is not so remote or attenuated that liability should not be imposed. Id. Ordinarily, determination of cause in fact is a question for the fact finder to determine. Id.
Conceding for purposes of summary [**29] judgment that the City had a legal duty to reasonably supervise its charges, and further assuming that the City breached its duty of reasonable care by failing to provide direct supervision to the children in a ratio of one adult for ten children as suggested by plaintiffs’ expert, the alleged breach of duty cannot satisfy the “but-for” element of proximate cause for Tara’s injuries [*884] as a matter of law. Although whether a breach of duty was a cause in fact of injuries sustained by the plaintiff is ordinarily a fact question, the evidence in this case, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, does not establish a triable issue.
[HN13] In order to establish cause in fact, the plaintiff need not show certainty or inevitability, but the plaintiff must offer something beyond mere conjecture and speculation. Easton v. Howard, 751 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2008) (quoting George v. Iowa & S.W. Ry. Co., 183 Iowa 994, 997-98, 168 N.W. 322, 323 (1918)). A plaintiff must offer sufficient evidence for a fact finder to conclude by a preponderance of evidence that the injuries that occurred would likely have been avoided absent the breach of duty. Mere guesswork about what might have occurred [**30] is not enough.
Here, the evidence simply is not sufficient to allow a reasonable fact finder to conclude that in all likelihood the injuries to Tara would have been avoided if the City would have provided the direct adult supervision as urged by plaintiffs’ expert. Even if the City provided direct supervision in the ratio of one adult for every ten children, there no is reason to believe that an adult supervisor would likely have been able to knock down the bat or warn Tara effectively to avoid injury.
In order to block the flying bat, the supervisor would have had to have seen the bat leave the hands of the batter and would have had to have sufficient presence and verve to thrust himself or herself into harm’s way to knock down the projectile. This scenario is improbable enough, but there is also no reason to believe that a supervisor would have been sitting in sufficiently close proximity to be physically able to knock down the bat. In short, the City could have met the plaintiffs’ expert’s standard for direct supervision without affecting the outcome of this tragic affair.
Perhaps realizing the difficulties of persuading a fact finder that a fortuitous courageous block would have occurred [**31] but for the breach of duty, the plaintiffs fall back on a warning theory. While an adult seated in the vicinity of Tara would have been in a position to provide a louder and more direct warning to her than a supervisor at a greater distance, a reasonable fact finder could not conclude that the accident would have likely been avoided if there was direct supervision as suggested by plaintiffs’ expert. The errant bat in this case did not fly like a helicopter seed dropping from some tree, but rapidly ripped through the air at a low elevation to its unhappy destination. Under these facts, it is anyone’s guess as to whether a sharp verbal warning, even if immediately given, would have done the job. We therefore hold that plaintiffs have failed to generate a fact question on the proposition that enhanced direct supervision would have provided sufficient warning to Tara to avoid the injuries.
Our ruling on the issue of cause in fact is consistent with the case law in a number of other jurisdictions that have considered the issue in the context of flying balls and bats. 5 Further, our decision, though disappointing perhaps, will not come as a total shock to the plaintiffs. Tara’s mother testified [**32] in this case that there was nothing a supervisor sitting in the vicinity could have done to avoid Tara’s injuries. [*885] We do not regard Tara’s mother’s testimony as a binding admission, but the observation is obviously consistent with our conclusion that the evidence does not establish a triable issue of cause in fact on the ground of lack of direct supervision. Cf. Meyer v. Mulligan, 889 P.2d 509, 516 (Wyo. 1995) (noting that lay people are generally not competent to pass judgment on legal questions, including cause).
5 See, e.g., Benedetto v. Travelers Ins. Co., 172 So. 2d 354, 355 (La. Ct. App. 1965) (finding no amount of supervision could have altered manner in which bat was thrown); Lang v. Amateur Softball Ass’n of Am., 1974 OK 32, 520 P.2d 659, 662 (Okla. 1974) (finding no triable issue in wild pitch case where it was not reasonably apparent that injuries suffered were caused by wrongful act).
The permission slip in this case did not release the City from alleged acts of future negligence. Further, the doctrine of inherent risk does not provide a basis to defeat the plaintiffs’ theories of negligence in this case. To the extent the plaintiffs argue that the City breached its duty [**33] of care by failing to provide direct supervision to the children once they were seated along the third base line at the ball park, we conclude that the plaintiffs failed as a matter of law to adduce sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue. To this extent, the City is entitled to summary judgment in this case. As a result, the district court’s grant of summary judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part.
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
All justices concur except Cady, J., who dissents and Streit, J., who concurs in part and dissents in part.
CONCUR BY: STREIT (In Part)
DISSENT BY: CADY; STREIT (In Part)
CADY, Justice (dissenting). STREIT, Justice (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
I respectfully dissent. My departure from the decision of the majority is based on two principal reasons, both tied by a common thread. This common thread is woven with the clear understanding that a baseball game–America’s pastime–presents a known, but acceptable, threat of harm to spectators. This threat, of course, comes from baseballs and, on very rare occasions, bats or broken pieces of bats that enter the spectator area from the playing area. While these objects become coveted possessions [**34] for spectators of all ages, they are at the same time an inherent danger of attending the game. This danger is the basis for the lawsuit in this case, which I believe should be thrown out by a call made with relative ease.
I. Release of Liability.
First, I believe the release of liability signed by the parents of the child hit by the baseball bat in this case was valid and prevents the parents from suing. The majority, of course, concludes the release was insufficient to cover the particular claim of negligent supervision brought against the city parks and recreation department, who organized the field trip to the ballgame. I agree the release would not cover the full range of injuries a child could reasonably be expected to encounter during a supervised field trip to a professional baseball park, but I believe it at least covered the very obvious and common danger associated with watching a baseball game–the very purpose of the field trip–that any reasonable parent would have understood and contemplated when deciding to permit their child to attend a baseball game.
The majority seems to construct a rule that invalidates all but the most sophisticated and carefully drawn releases by [**35] focusing on the general principle of law that agreements to release a party from liability for his or her own negligence are disfavored. Yet, this broad principle is not a working rule of law and has given way to the more pragmatic, specific rule that a release must clearly identify to a casual reader those claims or injuries covered under the release. Baker v. Stewarts’ Inc., 433 N.W.2d 706, 709 (Iowa 1988). Importantly, a release does not need to specifically mention a party’s “own negligence” to be valid. In proper context, [*886] most releases could only have meaning as applied to common claims of negligence. Instead, the inclusion of such language merely helps remove any doubt that the release intended to cover any circumstance under the umbrella of negligence. Yet, the critical inquiry is whether the incident claimed to be covered under the release was unambiguously identified to a casual reader.
For example, in Baker a release of “liability for any damage or injury” between a cosmetology school and a patron of services performed by students at the school did not cover an injury to the hair and scalp of the patron that was the subject of a negligence claim for liability against the professional [**36] staff who supervised the student services. Id. The language of the release failed to “clearly and unequivocally” express to a casual reader of the release that it included professional staff in the release of liability. Id. We did not totally invalidate the release as too vague due to the absence of any specific mention of negligence, but only found the language of the release was not broad enough to include professional staff. Id. A patron of the cosmetology school would not understand that he or she was releasing the professional staff from liability by casually reading the release. Id. Similarly, in Huber v. Hovey, 501 N.W.2d 53, 54 (Iowa 1993), we were presented with a release of “all liability” for any claim of injury “whether caused by the negligence of the releasees or otherwise.” The release was between a racetrack and spectators who entered the pit area of the racetrack, and we found the release did cover a spectator who entered the pit area and was injured when a wheel of a race car came off and struck the spectator. Id. at 56-57. In response to the argument that the language of the release did not sufficiently identify the accident, we found the release covered the claim [**37] because it clearly identified the parties to the release, including spectators who entered the pit area, and clearly covered personal injuries to spectators who entered the pit area. Id. Under the circumstances, a casual signer of the racetrack release would understand that the injuries referred to in the release included injuries associated with car racing that could be expected to occur in the pit area. We did mention the release specifically covered injuries caused by the track’s own negligence, but only to further clarify that the release covered a broad range of personal injuries to spectators. The use of the term “negligence” in the release only helped clarify the broad type of injuries covered. It was not a predicate to covering any injury.
Overall, the Baker-Hovey approach considers the context and subject of a release between the parties and the language expressed in the release and looks to consider whether a casual signer would understand the injury or incident at issue was unambiguously covered. In this case, the language of the release may not cover a broad range of injuries that could be sustained by children who go on a field trip to a baseball park. For example, the [**38] release did not express the notion that injuries during the transportation of the children would be covered. The subject of the release was a baseball game, and a parent signing the release would likely not have transportation in mind without some specific identification or reference to the transportation component of the field trip. However, the release did have meaning, and that meaning was the city would at least not be liable for those inherent injuries known to occur to spectators of a baseball game–the subject of the release. The release clearly identified the baseball stadium as the subject of the trip and stated the city would not be “liable for any accidents.” At a minimum, any parent [*887] signing the release would understand that those accidents known to occur to spectators were contemplated under the release of liability.
II. No Duty of Care.
There is a second, more fundamental, reason the case should be dismissed. This reason is the city had no duty to protect the children at the baseball park from the inherent risks of the game of baseball as the children sat in their seats watching the game being played.
I completely agree the city had a duty to supervise the children throughout [**39] the field trip and to generally protect the children from reasonably foreseeable harm. However, the creation of a duty of care and the scope of the duty created are always questions of law. Courts have drawn a line on the scope of a duty of care to protect spectators of a baseball game at a baseball park. That line is roughly drawn in an area behind home plate. This area is where spectators need the most protection from foul balls, or perhaps an occasional wild throw. Protection is most needed in this area because the risk of harm to spectators is most foreseeable in this area of a baseball park. Thus, courts have consistently imposed a duty of care on baseball parks to protect spectators from balls entering the spectator area, and baseball parks have responded to this duty by installing protective netting in the area behind home plate.
Of course, protective netting could easily be installed around the entire perimeter of the playing field, which would provide a consistent level of full protection for all spectators in all areas of the baseball park. Yet, courts have almost universally rejected such a notion as a legal duty, driven largely by public policy, which is normally a major [**40] component in deciding to create any duty of care. Thus, baseball parks have only a limited duty to spectators, and this duty is to protect spectators behind the area of home plate from foul balls. There is no duty to protect spectators in other areas of the baseball park, even though a foreseeable risk of harm continues to exist for spectators. Yet, this gap in protection comes into play due to public policy. Spectators want some limited protection from the inherent risks of attending a baseball game, but they also attend the game for the chance to catch a foul ball or a home run ball. This is a time-honored tradition, deeply imbedded into the game itself and the American culture. It is as much a part of the game as the game itself and has become an inherent but acceptable danger for spectators.
The majority throws a knuckleball in an effort to dance around this culture and the supporting legal principles by relying on the general duty of supervision as a separate, more demanding area of tort law. It holds that supervisors of children have a greater duty of care to protect child spectators from the inherent risks of watching a baseball game than the owner of the ballpark by requiring [**41] adult supervisors to place children in seats that are reasonably protected from the inherent risks. Put another way, the majority essentially declares an adult supervisor can commit negligence by allowing a child to sit in an area of the ballpark outside the protective netting. 6 This approach by the majority is [*888] scuffed and flawed. Most noticeably, it has no support in the application of the factors that go into the imposition of any duty of care and is detached from the traditions and expectations of the game of baseball.
6 It might be argued that the majority does not actually hold children must be seated behind the netting, but instead could be seated in those areas unprotected by netting that are not unreasonably exposed to the inherent risks of the sudden presence of flying objects. In other words, the majority believes the area of Tara’s seat in this case–thirty feet beyond third base, three or four rows into the spectator area–was an “unnecessarily hazardous location.” There was, of course, no evidence to support such a proposition, and such a proposition is contrary to the accepted configuration of a baseball stadium. This configuration recognizes the unreasonably hazardous [**42] area is behind home plate, which supports a duty of the owner of the ballpark to install protective netting around the area of home plate. Moreover, any spectator who has attended a professional baseball game or two knows that a sharply hit line drive off the bat of a professional baseball player that hooks foul can make any spectator location in the path of the ball, for a split second, hazardous. This hazard is the same whether a spectator is seated thirty feet beyond third base, 130 feet beyond third base, or even 230 feet beyond third base. It is simply of no avail to attempt to distinguish between areas of reasonable hazards outside the area protected by netting and areas of unreasonable hazards outside the area protected by netting. Spectators at a professional baseball game are exposed to inherent dangers most anywhere outside the area protected by netting, and it is a danger society has chosen, until this case, to accept.
At the outset, it must be acknowledged that, from a legal standpoint, this case is not merely about a flying bat. If it was, there could be no liability imposed on the city park and recreation department because a flying bat is too unforeseeable to give rise [**43] to a legal duty of care to protect a spectator. That is, it is not reasonably foreseeable to spectators that a flying bat will leave the playing field of a baseball park and enter the spectator area, especially an area thirty feet beyond third base. While the field trip organizers were charged with the responsibility to protect the children during the trip, a flying bat could not have been reasonably anticipated by the trip organizers as a potential harm to the children as they sat in the area of the ballpark beyond third base. Even on those rare occasions when a bat slips from the hands of a batter while attempting to hit a pitched ball, the bat will most likely travel in the direction of the playing field, not 120 feet into the spectator area. It is an extremely rare event for spectators outside the playing area to be placed in the zone of danger of a flying bat, especially a spectator located 120 feet down the third base spectator area. Consequently, no duty of care could be imposed to protect another against such specific, remote harm.
Nevertheless, the law does not impose a duty of care based on the foreseeability of a specific means of injury. See Nachazel v. Miraco Mfg., 432 N.W.2d 158, 160 (Iowa 1988) [**44] (“In negligence cases it is not necessary to a defendant’s liability that the wrongdoer should have foreseen the extent of the harm or the manner in which it occurred, so long as the injuries are the natural, though not inevitable, result of the wrong.”). Instead, only some type of injury must be foreseeable to give rise to a duty of care. In this case, the known danger is flying objects, which is nearly always a baseball. Thus, the duty of care imposed by the majority applies to all flying objects, including baseballs and flying bats. This means a supervisor must protect children from baseballs in the same way as flying bats. Accordingly, this is the duty imposed by the majority that I believe cannot withstand the scrutiny of the factors we rely upon in deciding to impose a duty of care on people, or the scope of such duty of care.
When courts step up to decide whether or not to establish a duty of care under a particular circumstance, three factors are primarily considered: (1) the relationship between the parties, (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm, and (3) public policy concerns. See Stotts v. Eveleth, 688 N.W.2d 803, 810 (Iowa 2004). These are the same factors that were [**45] essentially applied [*889] by courts in creating the limited duty of care for baseball parks. Yet, the majority avoids any serious discussion and analysis of these factors, but instead merely recognizes that premise liability law, which supports a limited duty of care, is different from supervision-liability law. The majority finds this difference justifies the imposition of a greater duty of care for supervisors to protect others from a premise-based harm than the entity responsible for the creation of the harm. The rationale for this finding is that the supervisor in this case “directed” the children to sit outside the area protected by the netting.
I agree a supervisor should have a continuing duty of care for the safety of children while at the ballpark to protect children from those foreseeable risks of harm that might be encountered from strangers, horseplay on the steps, or other such events, but not from the very risks unique to the game of baseball and those risks that our law has already decided do not need to be eliminated by the baseball parks. An analysis of the factors used to create a duty of care clearly supports this approach.
First, there is nothing particular about a relationship [**46] between a child spectator and an adult supervisor who accompanies the child to a baseball game that favors the imposition of liability. The relationship between parties is a factor in creating a duty of care because it often introduces special considerations that help support a duty, such as control by one party over the other party or special benefits derived by a party. As applied to a baseball game, this factor actually tends to support liability on the premise owner more than it does for liability of a supervisor. The premise owner has a contractual relationship with the spectator, primarily controls the designation of the area to sit, and receives a financial benefit. Moreover, the premise owner has the greatest practical ability to protect the spectator. For sure, the relationship between a supervisor of a field trip to a baseball game and a participant on the field trip is also marked by control over the participant, but not the same type of control that relates to a reasonable and effective ability to provide protection from the inherent risks of watching the game. That is to say, the relationship does not easily transform into the ability of a supervisor to protect the child [**47] spectator from the inherent risks of the game.
The majority finds supervisors determine where children sit, but the baseball park ultimately controls the seating arrangement. Moreover, the seats around home base protected by netting are usually the most expensive seats and are normally reserved for season ticketholders. It is impractical to conclude the relationship between supervisors and children gave supervisors the ability to seat children behind the protective netting.
Second, the foreseeability of harm to child spectators in an unprotected area of the baseball park is the same, if not greater, for the owner of the premise as it is for supervisors of the spectators. The owner has considerably more knowledge of the baseball park and the dangerous areas of the park. A supervisor should be able to safely expect the most dangerous areas for flying objects have been covered by netting, allowing spectators to sit in unprotected areas that are less dangerous.
Third, and most important, the public policies that support limiting the duty of care to protect spectators from the inherent risks of watching baseball are the same under premise-liability law as under supervisor-liability law. These [**48] public-policy concerns have drawn the line, which leaves spectators unprotected except in an area behind home plate. In the other areas of the baseball park, the opportunity [*890] to catch or retrieve a foul ball has won out over the slight risk of harm presented to spectators. In other words, the known risk of harm is not unreasonable under common, practical standards and policies society has embraced since the game was invented by Alexander Cartwright in 1845. 7
7 Alexander Cartwright is recognized as the inventor of modern baseball. He published the rules of baseball in 1845, and his team, the Knickerbocker Club of New York, played the first recorded baseball game in 1846.
Without examining these factors, the majority has changed the game for spectators who bring children to a baseball park to take in the joys of our national pastime. It does this by concluding children must not be exposed to the same inherent risks of attending a baseball game as unsupervised spectators, and by placing the responsibility for protecting children from the inherent risks of attending a baseball game on adults who accompany children to the game. This conclusion, at its core, can only be explained by policies [**49] of overprotectionism and the innate desire to remove children from all potential harm they might encounter in life. Yet, this goal can go too far and can end up depriving children of some of the most rewarding and beneficial experiences of their youth. This will be the likely result of the overprotective decision by the majority in this case.
With this decision, America’s pastime risks becoming a different, or less frequent, event for children than enjoyed in the past. With the imposition of liability on supervisors and others who accompany children to a professional baseball game, the common field trip, as well as the simple pleasure of a parent accompanying a child and the child’s friend to a baseball park, gives rise to new considerations that can only diminish enthusiasm for the trip. Court decisions can have vast consequences on our way of life, and a trip to the ballpark with children in tow may now need to be prCity of Bettendorf and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation,eceded by a trip to a lawyer’s office to obtain a release containing all the essential legal language demanded by the majority or be confined to the most expensive seats behind home base, safely protected from the excitement and anticipation of catching a foul ball.
Just [**50] as there was no joy in Mudville the day the mighty Casey struck out, there is no joy on this day around Iowa’s ballparks. 8 The majority has taken a mighty swing at the correct result in this case and missed by a mile.
8 The legendary baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat,” was written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and first published in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888.
I concur in the majority’s opinion in regard to the release of liability signed by the parent of the child, but join Justice Cady’s dissent as to the duty of care.
Mahan v. Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo, 320 Ark. 473; 897 S.W.2d 571; 1995 Ark. LEXIS 296; 68 A.L.R.5th 813Posted: July 14, 2014
Melonie Mahan, and Melonie Mahan As Next and Best Friend of Shawn Mahan, Appellants, v. Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo, Appellee
320 Ark. 473; 897 S.W.2d 571; 1995 Ark. LEXIS 296; 68 A.L.R.5th 813
May 15, 1995, Opinion Delivered
May 15, 1995, filed
1. APPEAL & ERROR — REVIEW OF DIRECTED VERDICT — WHEN A DIRECTED VERDICT SHOULD BE GRANTED. — Where the appellant challenged the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in favor of the appellee, the supreme court reviewed the evidence in a light most favorable to the appellant, the non-moving party, and gave it its highest probative value, taking into account all reasonable inferences; a motion for directed verdict may only be granted if there is no substantial evidence to support a jury verdict.
2. NEGLIGENCE — DAMAGES AND BURDEN OF PROOF — NEGLIGENCE DEFINED. — The plaintiff has the burden of proving that he sustained damages, that the defendant was negligent, and that such negligence was the cause of his damages; here, there was no question that the appellant sustained injury and resulting damages; rather, the issue was whether there was substantial evidence of the appellee’s negligence; negligence is the failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do; a negligent act arises from a situation where an ordinarily prudent person in the same situation would foresee such an appreciable risk of harm to others that he would not act or at least would act in a more careful manner.
3. APPEAL & ERROR — ASSERTION NOT SUPPORTED BY TESTIMONY AS FOUND IN THE ABSTRACT — RECORD ON APPEAL CONFINED TO THAT WHICH IS ABSTRACTED. — The appellant’s assertion that the gate was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition, unsupported by testimony or other evidence as found in the abstract, was not reached on appeal; the record on appeal is confined to that which is abstracted.
4. NEGLIGENCE — FACT THAT AN INJURY OCCURRED WAS NOT OF ITSELF EVIDENCE OF NEGLIGENCE — TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED. — The fact that a injury, collision or accident occurred was not of itself evidence of negligence or fault on the part of anyone; even though the appellants offered testimony that an accident occurred and that one of them suffered damages, they presented no evidence that the appellee was negligent; the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in the appellee’s favor was affirmed.
COUNSEL: JOHN THROESCH, POCAHONTAS.
TOM GARNER, GLENCOE.
JUDGES: JACK HOLT, JR., Chief Justice
OPINION BY: JACK HOLT, JR.
[*474] [**571] JACK HOLT, JR., Chief Justice
This is a negligence case. The appellant, Melonie Mahan, brought suit against the appellee, Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo, and the Sharp County Fair Association, on behalf of herself and her minor son, Shawn Mahan, who was injured while attending a rodeo produced by Mr. Hall. The case was settled as to the Sharp County Fair Association, and at trial, the court directed a verdict in favor of Mr. Hall, which is the basis for Ms. Mahan’s sole point of error on appeal. As Ms. Mahan failed to prove that Mr. Hall was negligent, we affirm.
On July 8, 1992, sixteen-year-old Shawn Mahan attended a rodeo in Sharp County which was produced by the appellee, Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo. Shawn and a friend, Derrick Kildow, went to watch another friend ride in the rodeo, which was located on property owned by the Sharp County Fair Association. While Shawn and Derrick [***2] were standing near a gate outside the arena, but in an area open to the public, a bucking horse broke through the gate, which in turn struck Shawn, causing injuries to his face.
In a complaint against both Mr. Hall and the Sharp County Fair Association, Ms. Mahan alleged that Shawn was a business invitee of Mr. Hall and the Association, each of whom “owed him a duty to use ordinary care [**572] to prevent injuries to him.” Ms. Mahan sought damages for personal injury, both temporary and permanent, pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost wages, and compensatory damages for medical treatment. While Mr. Hall admitted in his answer that the rodeo was open to the public, he denied that he was negligent.
The case settled as to separate defendant Sharp County Fair Association, but proceeded to trial as to Mr. Hall. At trial, Shawn testified that on the night in question, he and Derrick arrived at the arena and sat down in the bleachers before going over to a concession stand to get something to drink. From the concession stand, the two left the arena and walked over to a horse trailer where saddles and rodeo items were being sold and where some smaller children were playing around. [***3] According to Shawn, he and Derrick were standing outside the arena watching a rodeo event when the horse bucked off its rider, circled the inside of the arena, then broke through the gate, injuring him. It was also Shawn’s testimony that the rodeo announcer was standing in front of the gate, approximately one foot away from where he and Derrick were standing, and that the announcer blocked his view when the horse came through the gate.
Shawn further testified that his cheekbone was crushed as a result of the accident, and that he was unable to move his mouth for approximately three months afterward. According to Shawn, he underwent surgery, and has no feeling on the left side of his face. He further stated that he had problems with his jaw, that he [*476] was suffering from frequent headaches, that he was unable to work at his job at IGA for three months, and that he was no longer able to play football. Ms. Mahan corroborated her son’s testimony regarding the extent of his injuries, adding that he was “scared to eat” for a long time after the accident, and that she had incurred medical expenses in the amount of $ 5372.35.
Derrick Kildow testified that he too was injured when [***4] the horse came through the gate, as he had to have stitches after being hit above his right eye. According to Derrick, he and Shawn did not have time to react or to get out of the way when the horse struck the gate, as the announcer was obstructing their view and did not move until the horse got to him and came through the gate.
At the close of Ms. Mahan’s case, Mr. Hall moved for directed verdict on the grounds that Ms. Mahan had failed to show that he had breached a duty of care owed to Shawn or that he was negligent. Ms. Mahan responded that Shawn had paid an admittance to get into the rodeo on the date in question, and, as such, was a business invitee of Mr. Hall, who owed him a duty of care to secure the gate and to see that he was not injured. When the trial court inquired as to the presence of any testimony indicating that Mr. Hall did not secure the gate, Ms. Mahan responded that the fact that the horse came through the gate was “in itself evidence that the gate wasn’t secure,” that Mr. Hall had been producing rodeos for several years and had knowledge of the dangerous propensities of the animals, and that the gate was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition. Mr. Hall [***5] argued that Arkansas Model Jury Instruction (Civil) 603 states that “the fact that an injury, collision or accident occurred is not of itself evidence of negligence or fault on the part of anyone.” The trial court agreed, finding that while Ms. Mahan had proved an accident and had shown where it had occurred, she had not shown any breach of duty on the part of Mr. Hall. It is from the trial court’s granting of Mr. Hall’s motion for directed verdict that Shawn appeals.
 As Ms. Mahan challenges [HN1] the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in favor of Mr. Hall, we will review the evidence in a light most favorable to Ms. Mahan, the non-moving party, and give it its highest probative value, taking into account all [*477] reasonable inferences. Miller v. Nix, 315 Ark. 569, 868 S.W.2d 498 (1994); Mankey v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 314 Ark. 14, 858 S.W.2d 85 (1993). A motion for directed verdict may only be granted if there is no substantial evidence to support a jury verdict. Id.
 We have said that [***6] [HN2] the plaintiff has the burden of proving that he sustained damages, [**573] that the defendant was negligent, and that such negligence was the cause of his damages. Sanford v. Ziegler, 312 Ark. 524, 851 S.W.2d 418 (1993); Fuller v. Johnson, 301 Ark. 14, 781 S.W.2d 463 (1989). Here, there is no question that Shawn sustained injury and resulting damages; rather, the issue before us is whether there was substantial evidence of Mr. Hall’s negligence. See Sanford v. Ziegler, supra. [HN3] Negligence is the failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do; a negligent act arises from a situation where an ordinarily prudent person in the same situation would foresee such an appreciable risk of harm to others that he would not act or at least would act in a more careful manner. Sanford v. Ziegler, supra; White River Rural Water Dist. v. Moon, 310 Ark. 624, 839 S.W.2d 211 (1992).
 Ms. Mahan contends that because Shawn purchased a ticket to [***7] see the rodeo, he was an invitee of Mr. Hall, who, as the producer of the rodeo, owed Shawn a duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. See Black v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 316 Ark. 418, 872 S.W.2d 56 (1994). While Ms. Mahan asserts that the gate was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition, she presented no such testimony or other evidence to prove this assertion. And while the trial court and counsel for both Ms. Mahan and Mr. Hall allude to testimony that the gate was tied or chained, we find no such testimony in the abstract. It is fundamental that the record on appeal is confined to that which is abstracted. Davis v. State, 318 Ark. 212, 885 S.W.2d 292 (1994).
 While Ms. Mahan maintains that the fact that the horse came through the gate was “in itself evidence that the gate wasn’t secure,” we agree with Mr. Hall’s assertion that “the fact that a injury, collision or accident occurred is not of itself evidence of negligence or fault on the part of anyone.” See AMI 603. Granted, Ms. Mahan, her son Shawn, and Derrick Kildow [*478] offered testimony that an accident occurred [***8] and that Shawn suffered damages, yet they simply presented no evidence that Mr. Hall was negligent. For this reason, we affirm the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in Mr. Hall’s favor.
James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., Appellee (Defendant).
SUPREME COURT OF WYOMING
996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21
February 14, 2000, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County. The Honorable Nicholas G. Kalokathis, Judge.
COUNSEL: Representing Appellants: Robert A. Hampe, Cheyenne, Wyoming (Withdrew pursuant to an Order of Suspension Upon Consent entered in the Wyoming Supreme Court on June 18, 1999.)
Representing Appellee: John I. Henley of Vlastos, Brooks, Henley & Drell, P.C., Casper, Wyoming.
JUDGES: Before LEHMAN, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, GOLDEN, and TAYLOR, * JJ.
* Retired November 2, 1998.
OPINION BY: THOMAS
[*1132] THOMAS, Justice.
The only issue in this case is whether a waiver of liability in a contract between S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C. (S.M.A.R.T.) and James Massengill (Massengill) is enforceable under the standards adopted in Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057 (Wyo. 1986) and followed in later cases. Massengill was using a lat-pull-down machine at S.M.A.R.T. when a pin used to secure the weights fell out. Apparently the pin did not fit properly in the machine, and when the pin fell out, Massengill fell over backwards injuring his wrist. In various statements of the [*1133] issues, Massengill attacks the validity of the waiver of liability on the grounds [**2] that it violated public policy; the business of S.M.A.R.T. is suitable for public regulation; the use of the premises at the time of injury by Massengill is not material; the question of duty is one that must be determined by a trier of fact; and S.M.A.R.T. owed a statutory duty to Massengill which invalidates the waiver. Our review of the record and legal precedent in Wyoming persuades us that the district court ruled correctly that there is no genuine issue of material fact in this case, and S.M.A.R.T. is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is affirmed.
In the Appellants’ Supreme Court Brief, filed on behalf of James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill (collectively the Massengills), these issues are stated:
Did the district court error [sic] in validating the “waiver of liability” in the “sports specific training and advanced rehab agreement and release["] due to the fact that:
(A) The release violated public policy,
(B) The business operated by appellee is suitable for public regulation, and
(C) Plaintiff J. Massengill was engaged in non therapeutic activities on the premises of [**3] the medical clinic has no bearing on whether the release should be validated or not?
Is the duty issue in this case purely a question of law where the basic facts are undisputed or is the duty issue one which can only be determined by the trier of fact?
Did appellee owe a statutory duty of care to appellant which would invalidate the waiver incorporated in the sports specific training and advanced rehabilitation agreement & release?
In the Brief of Appellee S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., the issues are stated in this way:
Was the waiver of liability executed by the Appellants valid[?]
(i) Was the Appellee’s waiver language inclusive and unambiguous as required by prior Wyoming Supreme Court case law; [or]
(ii) Is the waiver language of the Appellee contrary to public policy[?]
One evening James Massengill engaged in a conversation at a Cheyenne drugstore with the equity owner of S.M.A.R.T., a physician in Cheyenne. Massengill knew that S.M.A.R.T. had a weight room, and had seen recent advertisements to the effect that the facility offered personal trainers to assist members. In the course of a brief [**4] conversation, Massengill mentioned his interest in S.M.A.R.T.’s facilities, and the physician suggested he come over and try it out. A month or two following the conversation, Massengill went to S.M.A.R.T. and toured the facilities. The purpose of his initial visit was to assure himself that the equipment met his need, which was to get in better condition.
After he had been shown the facilities and the equipment, Massengill was given a Sports Specific Training and Advanced Rehabilitation Agreement and Release (Agreement and Release) to take home and review. Three days later, both Massengill and his wife executed the Agreement and Release, and they began using the facilities. Massengill was present at S.M.A.R.T. almost every day, and he had been using the lat-pull-down machine for nearly a month prior to his injury. He had not asked any questions about using the machine because he had used one previously. On March 13, 1996, Massengill was warming up on the machine, and he noticed that the pin holding the weights was shaped like a “T” rather than the longer “I” usually used. When Massengill pulled the bar down, the pin holding the weights popped out, and he fell over backwards, hitting [**5] his left hand and injuring his wrist.
On May 29, 1997, the Massengills filed their Complaint for Negligence and Damages. The first count of the Complaint for Negligence and Damages was couched in terms of alleged negligence causing injury to James Massengill, and the second count was couched in terms of recovery by Kaylea Massengill [*1134] for loss of consortium based upon her husband’s injuries. Various procedural steps, including discovery, followed the Answer by S.M.A.R.T., which included the affirmative defense of waiver and the affirmative defense that Kaylea Massengill’s claims were derivative of James Massengill’s claim. On October 3, 1997, there was filed by facsimile a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment accompanied by a Memorandum in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Additional procedural steps ensued, and on February 2, 1998, the district court entered an Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
The district court ruled that the exculpatory clause, including the release and waiver, was not ambiguous and was enforceable. Since the premise for the grant of the summary judgment by the district court was the language contained in the Agreement [**6] and Release, the district court ruled implicitly that any other issues of fact, genuine or not, were not material. The Massengills have appealed from the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
In Mercado v. Trujillo, 980 P.2d 824, 825-26 (Wyo. 1999), we summarized our rules with respect to review of summary judgments:
“‘When [HN1] a motion for summary judgment is before the supreme court, we have exactly the same duty as the district judge; and, if there is a complete record before us, we have exactly the same material as did he. We must follow the same standards. The propriety of granting a motion for summary judgment depends upon the correctness of a court’s dual findings that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This court looks at the record from the viewpoint most favorable to the party opposing the motion, giving to him all favorable inferences to be drawn from the facts contained in affidavits, depositions and other proper material appearing in the record.’” Reno Livestock Corporation v. Sun Oil Company (Delaware), Wyo., 638 P.2d 147, 150 (1981). [**7] See also, Blackmore v. Davis Oil Company, Wyo., 671 P.2d 334, 336 (1983).
“A [HN2] summary judgment should only be granted where it is clear that there are no issues of material facts involved and that an inquiry into the facts is unnecessary to clarify the application of law. Johnson v. Soulis, Wyo., 542 P.2d 867 (1975). A material fact is one which has legal significance. Johnson v. Soulis, supra. It is a fact which would establish a defense. Wood v. Trenchard, Wyo.[,] 550 P.2d 490 (1976). [HN3] After the movant establishes a prima facie case the burden of proof shifts to the opposing party who must show a genuine issue of material fact, Gennings v. First Nat’l Bank of Thermopolis, Wyo., 654 P.2d 154 (1982), or come forward with competent evidence of specific facts countering the facts presented by the movant. Matter of the Estate of Brosius, Wyo., 683 P.2d 663 (1984). The burden is then on the nonmoving party to show specific facts as opposed to general allegations. 10 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2727, p. 538. The material presented must be admissible evidence [**8] at trial. Conclusory statements are not admissible. Bancroft v. Jagusch, Wyo., 611 P.2d 819 (1980). We give the party defending the motion the benefit of any reasonable doubt.” Roth v. First Security Bank of Rock Springs, Wyoming, Wyo., 684 P.2d 93, 95 (1984).
Nowotny v. L & B Contract Industries, 933 P.2d 452, 455 (Wyo.1997) (quoting Thomas by Thomas v. South Cheyenne Water and Sewer Dist., 702 P.2d 1303, 1304 (Wyo.1985)).
More specifically and succinctly, with respect to this case, when review is sought of a summary judgment this Court must determine that there is no genuine issue of a material fact and the party prevailing in the district court is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Utilization of summary judgment serves the purpose of eliminating formal trials where only questions of law are involved. [HN4] In accomplishing the review of a summary judgment resting upon a question [*1135] of law, our review is de novo and affords no deference to the district court’s ruling on that question. E.g., Roberts v. Klinkosh, 986 P.2d 153, 156 (Wyo. 1999); Gray v. Norwest Bank Wyoming, N.A., 984 P.2d 1088, 1091 (Wyo. 1999); [**9] Ahrenholtz v. Time Ins. Co., 968 P.2d 946, 949 (Wyo. 1998).
Our reading of the Agreement and Release convinces us that the intention of S.M.A.R.T. and the Massengills is expressed in clear and unequivocal language. The language clearly assigns the risk to members who agree to be liable for any and all risks. The Agreement and Release continues with an unequivocal statement that S.M.A.R.T. shall not be liable for any injuries or damages to any member or the member’s property, including those caused by the negligence of S.M.A.R.T. It continues with this language:
1. Any member using S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS facility shall undertake any and all risks. The member shall also be liable for any and all risks. S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS shall not be liable for any injuries or damage to any member, or the property of the member, or be subject to any claim, demand, injury or damages whatsoever, including, without limitation, those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents. The member, for himself/herself and on behalf of his/her executors, administrators, heirs, assigns, and assignees and successors, does hereby expressly forever [**10] waive, release and discharge S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its owners, officers, employees, agents, assigners and successors from all such claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions or causes of action.
The language of the Agreement and Release is broad, and specifically releases S.M.A.R.T. from claims and actions for negligence. Indeed, the Massengills do not assert that the agreement does not apply to this action; instead, their contention is that the agreement is not enforceable. In the absence of any genuine issue of a material fact with respect to the language of the Agreement and Release, the issue is a pure question of law with respect to whether the district court invoked and correctly applied the pertinent rules of law.
In Shepard v. Top Hat Land & Cattle Co., 560 P.2d 730, 732 (Wyo. 1977), the applicable rule was summarized:
[HN5] If the language of the contract is plain and unequivocal that language is controlling and the interpretation of the contractual provisions is for the court to make as a matter of law. The meaning of the instrument is to be deduced only from its language if the terms are plain and unambiguous. Mauch v. Ballou, Wyo., 499 P.2d 591 (1972); [**11] Craig v. Gudim, Wyo., 488 P.2d 316 (1971); Chandler-Simpson, Inc. v. Gorrell, Wyo., 464 P.2d 849 (1970); Flora Construction Company v. Bridger Valley Electric Association, Inc., Wyo., 355 P.2d 884 (1960); Barlow v. Makeeff, 74 Wyo. 171, 284 P.2d 1093 (1955).
This rule first was alluded to by this Court in Horvath v. Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co., 58 Wyo. 211, 230, 131 P.2d 315, 321 (1942), and it has been consistently applied over the years, appearing most recently in Saulcy Land Co. v. Jones, 983 P.2d 1200, 1202 (Wyo. 1999).
[HN6] Exculpatory clauses or releases are contractual in nature, and we interpret them using traditional contract principles and considering the meaning of the document as a whole. Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1065 (Wyo. 1988); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 712 (Wyo. 1987); Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1059; Kelliher v. Herman, 701 P.2d 1157, 1159 (Wyo. 1985). The language of the Agreement and Release is clear in manifesting an intention to release S.M.A. [**12] R.T. and those involved with the facility from liability; it specifically states that S.M.A.R.T. will not be held liable for “those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents.” And, just as in Boehm, 748 P.2d at 712, “[a] plain reading of the language in the context of the entire membership application evidences no other rational purpose for which it could have been intended.”
The Massengills endeavor to avoid the release and waiver articulated in the Agreement and Release by arguing that it is not valid as a matter of public policy because the business of S.M.A.R.T. is appropriate for [*1136] public regulation, and the nature of the use of the equipment by Massengill is not material to the public policy or public regulation determination. We said in Fremont Homes, Inc. v. Elmer, 974 P.2d 952, 956 (Wyo. 1999):
[HN7] In Wyoming, a contract limiting liability for negligence may be enforced only if it does not contravene public policy. Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057, 1059-60 (Wyo.1986); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 710 (Wyo. 1987); Brittain v. Booth, 601 P.2d 532, 535 (Wyo.1979). [**13]
In Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060, this Court adopted from Colorado a four-part test for evaluating a negligence exculpatory clause. [HN8] The factors the court considers are: “(1) whether a duty to the public exists; (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.” A comparison of Massengill’s claim with these factors leads to the ineluctable conclusion that the district court’s decision was correct as a matter of law.
We said in Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066, “[ [HN9] a] duty to the public exists if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest and the service performed is considered an essential service.” We then adopted from California [HN10] a definition of a release agreement affecting the public interest, giving rise to a public duty, which is that it
“concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for [**14] some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it * * *. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.” (Emphasis added and footnotes omitted.) Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 445-46, 6 A.L.R.3d 693 (1963).
Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066. We also adopted a [HN11] list of examples of services which are typically subject to public regulation and which demand a public duty or are considered essential. The list includes common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers, and services involving extra-hazardous activities. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066.
Schutkowski was a case involving a sky diving injury, and we held that [HN12] a private recreational business does not qualify as one that owes a special duty to the public nor are its services of a special, highly [**15] necessary nature. Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060. The services offered by S.M.A.R.T. to its members were those of a private recreational business which did not qualify as suitable for public regulation because they did not affect the public interest nor could they be considered as necessary or essential, and there was no greater duty to the public than existed in Schutkowski, Boehm or Milligan. The district court in its Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment cites and relies upon decisions from other jurisdictions which have held that [HN13] exculpatory clauses in health club contracts do not violate public policy. Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 926 (Minn. 1982); Shields v. Sta-Fit, Inc., 79 Wn. App. 584, 903 P.2d 525, 528 (1995). We are persuaded that the approach of the courts in Minnesota and Washington is the correct rule.
Massengill further maintains that he joined S.M.A.R.T. pursuant to a doctor’s order, and as such was receiving an essential service; therefore, S.M.A.R.T. owed him a public duty that is subject to regulation. A casual conversation, at a drugstore one evening, with the doctor/equity [**16] owner of the S.M.A.R.T. facility hardly qualifies as a prescription. The doctor was not Massengill’s treating physician nor was he acting in that capacity; he engaged in the conversation as the owner of the facility and not a physician. Moreover, the record is devoid of evidence showing that on the day he was injured, Massengill was engaging in a rehabilitation program. He admitted joining S.M.A.R.T. to [*1137] get into better physical condition. That was the purpose of his membership at S.M.A.R.T., and it qualifies as a recreational activity and not a practical necessity. Based on Massengill’s own testimony, his membership was purely recreational and not pursuant to a doctor’s order. There is no genuine issue of material fact as to the purpose or nature of Massengill’s use of the S.M.A.R.T. facility that needs to be resolved.
The third factor in the Schutkowski test is whether the contract was fairly entered into. Since membership in a private recreational facility such as S.M.A.R.T. is purely optional and does not qualify as an essential service, no decisive bargaining advantage exists. “A disparity of bargaining power will be found when a contracting party with little or no bargaining [**17] strength has no reasonable alternative to entering the contract at the mercy of the other’s negligence.” Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066. Similar to the releases in Milligan, which involved an optional ski race, and Schutkowski, which involved sky diving, no evidence suggests that Massengill was unfairly pressured into signing the agreement or was deprived of the opportunity to understand its implications. In fact, after Massengill initially toured the facilities, he was given the Agreement and Release to take with him, which he filled out at home and returned three days later.
In determining that the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment should be considered under principles of contract law, we held that the last factor of the Schutkowski test is satisfied in this case. The intent of the parties was clearly expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [HN14] We interpret exculpatory clauses or releases using traditional contract principles, and consider the meaning of the document as a whole. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1067. Just as in Boehm, 748 P.2d at 712, “[a] plain reading of the language in the context of the [**18] entire membership application evidences no other rational purpose for which it could have been intended.”
In a further effort to avoid the Agreement and Release, the Massengills present an argument that the Recreation Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123 (Lexis 1999), creates a statutory duty on the part of providers of a sport or recreational opportunity because it preserves actions based upon negligence if damage or injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity. The Massengills rely upon Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995), and the distinction drawn in that case between primary assumption of risk and secondary assumption of risk. The thrust of this rather convoluted argument is that, if the conduct of the defendant comes within the category of secondary assumption of risk, a statutory duty is created by the language that preserves actions based on negligence. The Massengills then contend that the Agreement and Release cannot be enforced because it is contrary to the statutory duty. No authority is cited for that precise proposition, and we are satisfied that [HN15] the Recreation Safety Act does not foreclose [**19] the invocation of a contractual release or waiver for negligent conduct that is not released by the assignment of the inherent risk to the person participating in the sport or recreational opportunity under the statute. Indeed, the limited reach of the statute would suggest that a contractual release in addition to the statute would be prudent.
With respect to the claim of Kaylea Massengill for loss of consortium, her cause of action was included in the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. She executed the same Agreement and Release that James Massengill signed. Furthermore, her claim for loss of consortium was derivative of James Massengill’s claim for injuries, and it fails when his claim fails. Verschoor v. Mountain West Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 907 P.2d 1293, 1301 (Wyo. 1995); Boehm, 748 P.2d at 708.
The only pertinent issue in this case was whether the exculpatory clause should be held to violate public policy and not enforced for that reason. The record reflects that Massengill’s participation was purely recreational and S.M.A.R.T. did not owe him a public duty. S.M.A.R.T. is not engaged in a type of business generally [**20] thought suitable for public regulation, and Massengill was engaged in a recreational activity not an activity pursuant to a physician’s order. The case [*1138] is correctly resolved as a matter of law under principles relating to contract, and the contractual language being clear and unambiguous, there are no genuine issues of material fact. The case is controlled by Schutkowski and the later cases that followed it. We affirm the district court’s Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
Court Of Appeals Of Indiana
931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501
August 16, 2010, Decided
August 16, 2010, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
APPEAL FROM THE WHITLEY CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable James R. Heuer, Judge. Cause No. 92C01-0809-CT-652.
COUNSEL: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SARAH E. RESER, Glaser & Ebbs, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CARRIE KOONTZ GAINES, Kopka, Pinkus Dolin & Eads, L.L.C., Mishawaka, Indiana.
JUDGES: ROBB, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.
OPINION BY: ROBB
[*934] OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION
Case Summary and Issue
Teresa Perry appeals the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Whitley County 4-H Clubs, Inc. (the “4-H Club”) on Perry’s negligence complaint for personal injuries suffered during a horse competition sponsored by the 4-H Club. For our review, Perry raises two issues, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. Concluding there is no genuine issue of material fact and the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim for injuries resulting from inherent risks of equine activities, we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
The undisputed facts and those most favorable to Perry as the non-movant are as follows. At all relevant times, Perry, an adult, was a member of the 4-H Clubs Equine Advisory [**2] Board, which provides guidance and instruction to children participating in the 4-H Club’s horse events, and was herself a regular participant in those [*935] events. Perry was also the owner of seven horses. In July 2007, the 4-H Club held horse practices and competitions at the Whitley County Fairgrounds as part of the Whitley County Fair. These events were generally held in the 4-H Club’s Horse Barn, but one event, the Large Animal Round Robin Competition, was held in the 4-H Club’s Show Barn, located next to the Horse Barn. The Horse Barn is over 100 feet wide but the Show Barn is approximately thirty-six feet wide along its shorter side. Horses were generally familiar with the Horse Barn but unfamiliar with the Show Barn, where they were “not allowed any other time” besides the Round Robin Competition. Appellant’s Appendix at 88. At all entrances to the Horse Barn, the 4-H Club had posted “Equine Activity warning signs” that were “clearly visible.” Id. at 18-19 (affidavit of Bill Leeuw, 4-H Club’s President of the Board).
On July 25, 2007, the Round Robin Competition was held. The Equine Advisory Board and volunteers selected the horses to be shown, and Perry herself selected one of those [**3] horses “at the last minute.” Id. at 93. Perry was present at the Round Robin Competition as an Equine Advisory Board member responsible for the safety of children handling the horses. As part of the event, seven horses were led from the Horse Barn into the Show Barn and lined up approximately two and one-half feet apart along the shorter side of the Show Barn. The horses were then turned over to children who did not normally handle horses but had experience handling animals such as pigs and cows and had received brief instruction on how to handle a horse. After one of the children finished leading a horse through a series of maneuvers, the child left the horse facing away from the center of the Show Barn, in the opposite direction from the neighboring horses and with its rear next to the head of a neighboring horse. The horse facing backwards began sniffing the rear of the neighboring horse, which pinned its ears against its head as a sign it was agitated. Perry realized this situation posed a danger to the child handling the horse facing backwards. Perry therefore approached the child and told the child to turn the horse around. As the child was doing so, the neighboring horse kicked [**4] Perry in the knee. Perry was thrown back and suffered personal injuries.
In September 2008, Perry filed a complaint against the 4-H Club alleging her injuries were caused by the 4-H Club’s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” Id. at 6. As specifically argued by Perry at the summary judgment hearing, she alleged the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn, as the smaller Show Barn “requires horses to be placed close together, increasing the chances that a child near the horse will be injured by one. It’s also an environment the horses aren’t familiar with, which makes it more likely that a horse will get spooked and kick someone.” Transcript at 4. Among the 4-H Club’s affirmative defenses, it alleged in its answer that Perry’s claim was barred by the Indiana Equine Activity Statute.
The 4-H Club filed a motion for summary judgment based in part on the Equine Activity Statute. Following a hearing, the trial court on January 27, 2010, issued its order granting summary judgment to the 4-H Club. The trial court found and concluded in relevant part:
14. [**5] The [4-H Club] was a sponsor of an equine activity when the accident occurred.
15. [Perry] was a participant in the equine activity in her capacity as a safe [*936] keeper when she approached the horses and was kicked.
16. The Equine Activities Act . . . is applicable to this case.
17. Being kicked by a horse is an inherent risk of equine activity.
18. There is no evidence in the designation of material facts that [the 4-H Club] committed an act or omission which constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of [Perry] or that any other conditions set in [Indiana Code section] 34-31-5-2 existed at the time of the accident.
Appellant’s App. at 5. Perry now appeals.
Discussion and Decision
I. Standard of Review
[HN1] We review a summary judgment order de novo. Tri-Etch, Inc. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 909 N.E.2d 997, 1001 (Ind. 2009). In so doing, we stand in the same position as the trial court and must determine whether the designated evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Dreaded, Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Ins. Co., 904 N.E.2d 1267, 1269-70 (Ind. 2009). In making this determination, we construe [**6] the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine factual issue against the moving party. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. Bloom, 847 N.E.2d 175, 180 (Ind. 2006). Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated by the parties to the trial court. Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). The movant has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine factual dispute as to an outcome-determinative issue and only then must the non-movant come forward with evidence demonstrating genuine factual issues that should be resolved at trial. Jarboe v. Landmark Cmty. Newspapers of Ind., Inc., 644 N.E.2d 118, 123 (Ind. 1994).
Because this case turns on the proper application of the Equine Activity Statute, we also recite our well-established standard of review for interpretation of statutes:
[HN2] When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. [**7] We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.
Cooper Indus., LLC v. City of South Bend, 899 N.E.2d 1274, 1283 (Ind. 2009) (citations omitted).
II. Equine Activity Statute
A. Warning Signs
Perry argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. We address this sub-issue first because it bears on the threshold applicability of the Equine Activity Statute as a bar to Perry’s claim. See Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a) (providing [HN3] “[t]his chapter does not apply unless” equine activity sponsor has posted at least one complaint warning sign). In response to Perry’s argument, the 4-H Club initially [*937] contends Perry waived the argument by not raising it to the trial court prior to the summary judgment hearing. We disagree. In general, arguments [**8] by an appellant are waived if not presented to the trial court on summary judgment, see Cook v. Ford Motor Co., 913 N.E.2d 311, 322 n.5 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied, and summary judgment may not be reversed on the grounds of a genuine factual issue “unless the material fact and the evidence relevant thereto shall have been specifically designated to the trial court,” T.R. 56(H). However, Perry did argue at the summary judgment hearing that the evidence designated by the 4-H Club was insufficient to establish its compliance with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. Moreover, this issue was already before the trial court based upon the 4-H Club’s motion for summary judgment and designation of material facts.
Proceeding to Perry’s claim, [HN4] the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black [**9] letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c). The warning must state: “Under Indiana law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-5.
The undisputed evidence is that the 4-H Club, on the day of the incident, maintained “Equine Activity warning signs” on all entrances to the Horse Barn, and the signs were “clearly visible.” Appellant’s App. at 18-19. The 4-H Club’s equine activities were regularly held inside the Horse Barn, except for the Round Robin Competition held in the Show Barn located next to the Horse Barn. Perry acknowledged in her deposition she had seen “those signs” on the Horse Barn, id. at 114, and did not designate any evidence the signs were absent on the day of the incident or lacked the specific warning required by Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5. Perry argues, in effect, that because the only photographs the 4-H Club properly designated to the trial court do not directly show the signs contained the specific warning required, 1 the 4-H Club did not meet its burden of making a prima facie case of compliance [**10] with the statute. We decline Perry’s invitation to, in effect, interpret the Equine Activity Statute to require an equine activity sponsor to submit such photographic or documentary evidence in order to support its claim of immunity. Rather, we conclude the affidavit the 4-H Club properly designated established its prima facie case that it maintained proper warning signs, such that the burden shifted to Perry to come forward with evidence the signs were deficient. Because she did not do so, there is no genuine issue of fact as to the warning signs, and the trial court [*938] properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute applies to this case.
1 The parties dispute, and it is unclear from the record, whether a photograph identified as Defendant’s Exhibit A at Perry’s deposition, and allegedly included along with the deposition in the 4-H Club’s designation of evidence, was actually part of the designated material submitted to the trial court. That photograph, unlike those included as the 4-H Club’s Exhibit C in support of summary judgment and to which the 4-H Club referred at the summary judgment hearing, shows a warning sign containing the text specified in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5.
B. [**11] Inherent Risk of Equine Activities
Perry also argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether her injuries resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. The Equine Activity Statute provides:
[HN5] Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:
(1) an injury to a participant; or
(2) the death of a participant;
resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.
Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2 [HN6] The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:
the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:
(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.
(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.
(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.
(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.
(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the [**12] animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.
Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:
[HN7] Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:
(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and
(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;
(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:
(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and
(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;
(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and
(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;
if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;
(4) who committed an act or omission that:
(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and
(B) caused the injury; or
[*939] (5) who intentionally [**13] injured the participant.
Ind. Code § 34-31-5-2(b). As Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute has not previously been interpreted in any reported case, 3 we will cite for their persuasive value the decisions of other jurisdictions that have interpreted similar statutes.
2 “Equine activity,” pursuant to its statutory definition, includes among other things “[e]quine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve equines.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-41(a). “Equine activity sponsor” means “a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-42. Perry does not dispute that the 4-H Club qualifies as an equine activity sponsor.
3 In Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied, the only reported case citing the Equine Activity Statute, this court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on the alternative grounds of waiver and release of liability. Id. at 585. We concluded the waiver applied because the plaintiff’s fall from a horse that moved while the plaintiff was attempting to mount it resulted from a risk “inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding.” Id. at 584. However, [**14] we did not explicitly base that conclusion upon the text of the Equine Activity Statute.
Perry’s argument is that a reasonable trier of fact could find the cause of her injury was not an inherent risk of equine activities, but negligence of the 4-H Club in staging the Round Robin Competition. Perry makes no argument that any of the exceptions to immunity spelled out in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-2(b) (“Section 2(b)”) — faulty equipment or tack, provision of the equine and failure to make reasonable and prudent efforts to match the participant to the particular equine and equine activity, a latent premises defect, reckless disregard, or intentional injury — apply in this case. Therefore, we must examine whether and to what extent, consistent with the Equine Activity Statute, an equine activity sponsor may be liable for simple negligence allegedly causing injury to a participant.
Initially we note that negligence of an equine activity sponsor neither is one of the exceptions to immunity listed in Section 2(b), nor is it included in the non-exclusive list of inherent risks of equine activity under Indiana Code section 34-6-2-69. Thus, Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute, like equine activity [**15] statutes in some states but unlike some others, is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability. Compare Lawson v. Dutch Heritage Farms, Inc., 502 F.Supp.2d 698, 700 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (noting Ohio’s Equine Activity Liability Act, like some other states?, is “silent as to simple negligence as an inherent risk”) (quotation omitted); with Beattie v. Mickalich, 486 Mich. 1060, 1060 784 N.W.2d 38, 2010 Mich. LEXIS 1452, 2010 WL 2756979, at *1 (Mich., July 13, 2010) (per curiam) (Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act abolishes strict liability for equines but expressly provides liability is not limited “‘if the . . . person . . . [c]ommits a negligent act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury?” (quoting Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1665)). Because it is as important to recognize what a statute does not say as what it does say, City of Evansville v. Zirkelbach, 662 N.E.2d 651, 654 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied, and [HN8] statutes granting immunity, being in derogation of the common law, are strictly construed, see Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind. 1994), we conclude the Equine Activity Statute was not intended by the general assembly [**16] to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an equine activity sponsor. However, pursuant to the clear text of the statute, a negligence action is precluded if the injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities and the facts do not fit one of the exceptions to immunity provided by Section 2(b). Stated differently, if none of the Section 2(b) exceptions apply, then an equine activity sponsor is not liable for failing to use reasonable care to mitigate an already inherent risk of equine activities that ultimately resulted in a participant’s injury.
[*940] Turning to Perry’s claim, she was injured when unexpectedly kicked by a horse that became agitated during the 4-H Club’s Round Robin Competition. The horse became agitated because another horse was standing too close nearby and began sniffing its rear, and to remove the danger to the child handling the other horse, Perry intervened. The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways [**17] that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn. See Kangas v. Perry, 2000 WI App 234, 239 Wis.2d 392, 620 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Wis. Ct. App. 2000) (based on Wisconsin’s similar definition of inherent risks, concluding “horses? propensity to move without warning is an inherent risk of equine activity contemplated by the statute”), review denied. We therefore conclude Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities within the meaning of the Equine Activity Statute.
Perry argues the likelihood of a horse becoming agitated and kicking, and a child becoming endangered and needing to be rescued by a supervisor such as Perry, were unreasonably increased by the 4-H Club’s decision to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn, a cramped space unfamiliar to the horses. Even if that is true, however, the 4-H Club’s conduct would have contributed to Perry’s injury only by heightening the already inherent risk that a horse might [**18] behave unpredictably and in an injury-causing manner. Thus, Perry’s argument that her injury resulted not from an inherent risk of equine activities, but from the 4-H Club’s negligence in its manner of staging the Round Robin Competition, amounts to hair splitting irrelevant to the Equine Activity Statute. As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent. See Ind. Code §§ 34-6-2-69; 34-31-5-1.
Perry also relies on cases from other jurisdictions that, while involving similar statutes, are distinguishable on their facts. In Steeg v. Baskin Family Camps, Inc., 124 S.W.3d 633 (Tex. App. 2003), review dismissed, the court held summary judgment for the defendant improper where there was evidence the proximate causes of the rider’s fall included the saddle slipping and the defendant’s negligent failure to secure the saddle. Id. at 639-40. In Fielder v. Academy Riding Stables, 49 P.3d 349 (Colo. Ct. App. 2002), [**19] cert. denied, the court held the defendant was not entitled to immunity where the defendant’s wranglers negligently failed to remove a screaming child from a horse, an “obvious danger” the wranglers had notice of well before the horse bolted. Id. at 351-52. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence the 4-H Club ignored an obvious, imminent danger or that Perry’s injury directly resulted from anything other than unpredictable horse behavior.
In sum, the facts viewed most favorably to Perry as the party opposing summary judgment show her injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities and the 4-H Club was negligent, if at all, only for [*941] failing to mitigate those inherent risks. Therefore, the trial court properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim and properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.
There are no genuine issues of material fact that the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute and that Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. Therefore, Perry’s claim is barred by the Equine Activity Statute and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.
FRIEDLANDER, [**20] J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.
Burd v. KL Shangri-La Owners, 2003 OK CIV APP 31; 67 P.3d 927; 2002 Okla. Civ. App. LEXIS 143; 74 O.B.A.J. 1109Posted: June 9, 2014
Burd v. KL Shangri-La Owners, 2003 OK CIV APP 31; 67 P.3d 927; 2002 Okla. Civ. App. LEXIS 143; 74 O.B.A.J. 1109
Georgia N. Burd, Plaintiff/Appellant, vs. KL Shangri-La Owners, L.P., Highgate Hotels, Inc., and Highgate Holdings, Inc., all d/b/a Shangri-La Resort and John Doe 1-3, Defendants/Appellees.
Case No. 98,235
COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OF OKLAHOMA, DIVISION TWO
2003 OK CIV APP 31; 67 P.3d 927; 2002 Okla. Civ. App. LEXIS 143; 74 O.B.A.J. 1109
December 23, 2002, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Released for Publication December 23, 2002. As Modified March 25, 2003.
PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF DELAWARE COUNTY, OKLAHOMA. HONORABLE ROBERT G. HANEY, TRIAL JUDGE.
DISPOSITION: Trial court’s grant of summary judgment reversed, and case remanded for further proceedings.
COUNSEL: Andrew B. Morsman, ANDREW B. MORSMAN, P.C., Tulsa, Oklahoma, For Plaintiff/Appellant.
Tracy Pierce Nester, LAW OFFICES OF LARRIET E. THOMAS, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, For Defendants/Appellees.
JUDGES: OPINION BY JERRY L. GOODMAN, JUDGE. COLBERT, P.J., and RAPP, J., concur.
OPINION BY: JERRY L. GOODMAN
[**928] OPINION BY JERRY L. GOODMAN, JUDGE:
[*1] This is Georgia N. Burd’s (Patron) appeal from the trial court’s August 19, 2002, order granting summary judgment to all defendants on Patron’s petition for damages from personal injuries suffered while on defendants’ premises. The appeal was assigned to the accelerated docket pursuant to Okla.Sup.Ct.R. 1.36, 12 O.S. 2001, ch. 15, app. 1. Based upon our review of the facts and applicable law, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
[*2] According to Patron’s petition, filed March 16, 2001, she was injured while on the premises owned by the above named corporate defendants (collectively, Shangri-La) on May 12, 1999. Patron was participating in [***2] a tennis tournament held at Shangri-La when she tripped over rolls of carpet stored next to the tennis court. The carpet rolls were hidden from plain view by hanging curtains. Shangri-La generally denied the allegations and raised the affirmative defenses of contributory negligence, assumption of the risk, failure to state a claim, and inadequate notice of a dangerous condition.
[*3] On May 9, 2002, Shangri-La filed a motion for summary judgment. The motion set out as evidentiary material a document executed by Patron and other members of her tennis league prior to the start of the tennis season. The document stated, in relevant part: 1
Waiver of Claims: . . . .
I agree; for myself, my executors, administrators, heirs and personal representatives; that all claims of any kind, nature [**929] and description are waived, including past, present and future claims, if any, for injuries sustained in traveling to or from, or participating in, local league play in a USTA/MVTA tennis league. I further agree to release any facility (including, but not limited to, private clubs or public parks), its officers or employees; and any personnel associated with the league itself (including officials, [***3] the district association, committees and employees; the USTA, its officers, committees and employees; and any sponsors of the local league). (Emphasis added.)
1 We note this document also serves as a roster sign up sheet and a promise to play by league rules and demonstrate good sportsmanship.
[*4] Shangri-La sought summary judgment on the basis of this exculpatory clause and also argued that it owed no duty to search for hidden traps or dangers on its premises to protect Patron, whom it characterized as a licensee upon the premises. Shangri-La introduced evidentiary material showing Patron was not registered as a guest at Shangri-La, and Shangri-La did not receive any remuneration for the use of its tennis facilities by Patron’s tennis league.
[*5] The trial court conducted a hearing July 3, 2002, and found as a matter of law:
that the document entitled “Missouri Valley Tennis Association Local League Player Waiver,” signed by Plaintiff, contains an exculpatory clause which is effective to relieve Defendants [***4] of and from any liability to Plaintiff for the injuries and damages alleged in this action.
The trial court then granted Shangri-La’s motion for summary judgment. Patron appeals. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
[*6] As set out in Schmidt v. United States, 1996 OK 29, PP 8, 10, 912 P.2d 871, 874,
While these exculpatory promise-based obligations are generally enforceable, they are distasteful to the law. [HN1] For a validity test the exculpatory clause must pass a gauntlet of judicially-crafted hurdles: (1) their language must evidence a clear and unambiguous intent to exonerate the would-be defendant from liability for the sought-to-be-recovered damages; (2) at the time the contract (containing the clause) was executed there must have been no vast difference in bargaining power between the parties; and (3) enforcement of these clauses must never (a) be injurious to public health, public morals or confidence in administration of the law or (b) so undermine the security of individual rights vis-a-vis personal safety or private property as to violate public policy. (Italics in original) (emphasis added).
Further, [***5] [HN2]
A contractual provision which one party claims excuses it from liability for in futuro tortious acts or omissions must clearly and cogently (1) demonstrate an intent to relieve that person from fault and (2) describe the nature and extent of damages from which that party seeks to be relieved.
[*7] In the case in controversy, Patron testified that when she executed the waiver at the beginning of the tennis season, she had no idea she would be playing league tennis at Shangri-La. Also, to her knowledge, this was the first time her Tulsa-area team had played there, though Patron had personally played there before. Indeed, Patron stated she “absolutely [did] not” intend to release Shangri-La when she executed the waiver, because at the time of the execution, the league teams had not even been formed, much less had a schedule or location of games been published. Further, Patron had no idea that Shangri-La would maintain what is arguably a hidden danger on its premises and therefore could not “describe the nature and extent of damages from which” Shangri-La now seeks to be relieved. We hold, as a matter of law, that the general, non-specific release of “any facility” was insufficient [***6] under Schmidt to relieve Shangri-La from liability.
[*8] We are not persuaded by Shangri-La’s attempts to distinguish Schmidt. Indeed we find Schmidt‘s three-prong analysis to test the validity of an exculpatory contract to be directly on point. While it is true Schmidt did not directly rule on an example of an exculpatory contract, it did answer certified federal questions of law as to how this court should analyze such a contract. Using the Schmidt criteria, we find [**930] Patron could not contract away Shangri-La’s liability, because (1) Patron did not know she would be playing at Shangri-La; (2) the identity of the tortfeasor was not known to her at the time of the contract; (3) there was no intent, and thus no meeting of the minds, to exculpate Shangri-La, and (4) the language of the exculpatory contract is vague and ambiguous.
[*9] Nor are we persuaded by Shangri-La’s reliance on Manning v. Brannon, 1998 OK CIV APP 17, 956 P.2d 156, decided one year after, and relying on, Schmidt. In the first instance, Shangri-La’s motion inaccurately sets out Manning‘s holding. Shangri-La declares Manning to stand for the proposition that Patron’s [***7] intent to execute a “waiver” is sufficient to relieve Shangri-La of liability. However, Manning holds as follows:
P7 The Oklahoma Supreme Court has long recognized that [HN3] exculpatory contracts, i.e., a contract to avoid liability for damages also known as a “waiver” or “release,” may be valid and enforceable. . . . That is to say, so long as (1) the intent to excuse one party from the consequences of his or her own negligence is expressed in clear, definite and unambiguous language . . . . (Emphasis added.)
[*10] Second, in Manning, a divided 2 Court of Civil Appeals Division I held an exculpatory contract signed or initialed by the plaintiff in 14 different places, after watching a video tape wherein an attorney explained in detail the consequences of the document that the plaintiff was about to sign which expressly named the defendant parachute instruction school, and which contained a release of liability, a covenant not to sue, an agreement to indemnify and hold harmless, and a paragraph describing in detail the risks being assumed by the plaintiff, was sufficient evidence of the plaintiff’s intent to absolve the school of liability.
2 The dissent in Manning noted that the record suggested the defendant parachute school may have recklessly packed plaintiff’s parachute, thus creating a jury question. A waiver should not, in the opinion of the dissenter, absolve a defendant from his reckless behavior.
[*11] [***8] In the case at bar, the general, nonspecific waiver signed by Patron is completely dissimilar to the detailed, explicit release in Manning. In the instant case, the identity of the possible tortfeasor is unclear, over broad, unnamed, and unknown. Further, the waiver fails to identify the risks being waived, the duration of the waiver, and is arguably ambiguous, given the fact that Patron’s signature could be construed as an acknowledgment of the rules of the tennis league, of the waiver of liability, or merely of an indication that she wished to be part of a particular tennis team. We therefore conclude the facts in the case on review are distinguishable from those of Manning, and decline Shangri-La’s invitation to affirm the trial court based upon Manning.
[*12] Because the trial court’s order clearly states the sole reason for its grant of summary judgment is the existence of the exculpatory clause which the trial court found as matter of law prevented Patron’s recovery, and because we have held such clause to be ineffective as to Shangri-La, we hold the trial court’s order must be reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. [***9] The order makes no mention of undisputed material facts, or other reasons that, as a matter of law, would support the grant of summary judgment. Nor do we address the issue of Patron’s status as a licensee or invitee, and the respective duties owed to her by Shangri-La, because this was not part of the trial court’s stated basis for granting summary judgment.
[*13] REVERSED AND REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS.
COLBERT, P.J., and RAPP, J., concur.
December 24, 2002
Parveen v. Tiki Tubing, LLC, 2011 1477 (La.App. 1 Cir. 03/23/12); 2012 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 115
Neelam Parveen, Individually and on Behalf of Mansoor Raja and their Minor Children Versus Tiki Tubing, LLC and Abc Insurance Company
NO. 2011 CA 1477
COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, FIRST CIRCUIT
2011 1477 (La.App. 1 Cir. 03/23/12); 2012 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 115
March 23, 2012, Judgment Rendered
NOTICE: NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION.
PLEASE CONSULT THE LOUISIANA RULES OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE FOR CITATION OF UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Writ denied by Parveen v. Tiki Tubing, LLC, 90 So. 3d 1063, 2012 La. LEXIS 1798 (La., June 15, 2012)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
On Appeal from the 21st Judicial District Court, in and for the Parish of Livingston, State of Louisiana. District Court No. 128,216. The Honorable Elizabeth P. Wolfe, Judge Presiding.
COUNSEL: Nicholas M. Graphia, Monroe, La., Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant, Neelam Parveen, individually and on behalf of Mansoor Raja and their minor children.
C. David Vasser, Jr., Baton Rouge, La., Counsel for Defendant/Appellee, Tiki Tubing, L.L.C.
JUDGES: BEFORE: CARTER, C.J., PARRO AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.
OPINION BY: CARTER
[Pg 2] CARTER, C.J.
The plaintiff appeals the summary judgment dismissing her suit for damages arising from the drowning death of her husband. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Tiki Tubing, L.L.C. (Tiki) is a commercial enterprise located on the banks of the Amite River. During peak summer months, Tiki employs 10-15 full time employees. For a fee, Tiki provides customers with parking, tube rental, a bus ride upstream, and a beach entry and exit on the river. The tubing route on the Amite River takes approximately four hours to complete. The Tiki website describes the Amite River as “smooth and slow moving and … 1 to 3 feet deep with a few deeper holes from [*2] 6 to 8 feet deep.” The website continues: “All bodies of water have some inherent risks. Tiki . . . and its affiliates assume no liability for personal injury or loss of personal property.” The tubers are grouped together at the Tiki hut and bused upstream to the ingress point on the river. At this point, the tubers select their tubes and enter the water.
According to John Fore, the managing member of Tiki, there are no warning signs posted at the hut or along the river. Tiki provides life jackets free of charge to customers; however, customers are not required to wear them. Neither Fore nor the Tiki employees were aware of any prior drowning on the tubing route. There are no lifeguards or rescuers on staff, and employees are not trained in water safety or in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Tiki employees do not travel the river with the tubers, and there is no emergency equipment along the river route or at the Tiki [Pg 3] facility. Tiki does hire off-duty Livingston Parish Deputies as independent contractors to assist with crowd control, public drinking, drugs, broken glass, and unlocking of cars. The deputies are not posted on the tubing route; they are not hired to handle medical [*3] emergencies.
On June 21, 2009, 37-year-old Mansoor Raja and two of his friends decided to tube the Amite River. Raja had never tubed before, and after reading about Tiki from its internet website, Raja, Akhlaq Akhtar, and Tariq Mehmood drove to the facility. The group was presented with a liability waiver at the hut, and Akhtar printed all three men’s names on the bottom of the sheet.1 Although Raja was with Akhtar when Akhtar completed the form, Raja did not read or sign the waiver. Akhtar remembered the men being given a document containing safety instructions and that this information also was posted on a board. According to Akhtar, all three men read the instructions, which specifically mentioned the availability of life jackets. Akhtar asked the other men if they needed life jackets, but the general consensus was that the water would not be deep enough and that the life jackets were not needed. The waiver sheet is the only “warning” at the Tiki facility.
1 The waiver is entitled “Participant’s Agreement, Release, and Assumption of Risk.” The bottom of the form has multiple lines upon which customers write their names.
The three men boarded the bus, rode upstream, retrieved their tubes, [*4] and entered the river. According to Akhtar, Raja and Mehmood were playing around and getting caught in trees in the water. Akhtar tried to rush the other two men along so that they would not get separated from the group. The water was shallow, and Raja and Mehmood were leaving their tubes and [Pg 4] swimming freely in the river. The three men continued in this fashion for 15 to 20 minutes.
On the river trip, Raja was “getting excited.” He would leave his tube, swim downstream with the current, then wait for his tube to float to him. Raja did this four or five times. The men stopped to take a photograph, after which Raja said he would swim just one more length. Suddenly, while swimming ahead of his tube, Raja disappeared under the water. Then, Mehmood began having trouble in the water. Akhtar floated toward his friends and was able to help Mehmood get hold of the tube and out of the water. Raja, however, panicked and was unable to grasp the tube. According to Akhtar, the water was “too far deep” and moving much faster underneath the surface. Akhtar did not leave his tube in an attempt to pull Raja from the water because, according to Akhtar, the water was too deep and the current would [*5] have pulled him under too. Akhtar explained: “If you go to somebody who’s drowning, he’ll take you with him even if you are [a] good swimmer….”
Other floaters, noticing the commotion, began calling for help; the authorities were alerted with a call to 911, and another tuber ran toward the ingress point where several employees were working to notify them that someone was “lost.” Christopher Seese, a teenage employee of Tiki, stated that he first thought someone had simply gotten off his tube and run off. Upon realizing there was a problem, three employees ran to the scene. Fifteen to twenty tubers were sitting on the beach, and several tubers were swimming around in the deeper area of the river. The employees immediately entered the river. It took Christopher five to ten minutes to [Pg 5] locate Raja in the eight-foot-deep pocket in the river by dragging his foot in the water. Raja’s body was resting against a submerged log. According to Christopher, the current in the pocket was no stronger than the rest of the river; however, the water was deeper. It was estimated that it took an additional three to four minutes to get Raja out of the water and onto the shore.
Raja was brought to [*6] the shore, and another tuber was the first to attempt CPR. Because he was on the opposite side of the river, Akhtar estimated that it took him ten minutes to get to Raja after he was pulled from the water. Upon reaching shore, Akhtar observed that the unidentified tuber was performing CPR incorrectly, so Akhtar took over.2 Akhtar blew air into Raja’s chest, and Tiki employee Jacob Bourgeois assisted with chest compressions. Ultimately, four different people performed chest compressions on Raja, assisting Akhtar with CPR until the rescue helicopter arrived. According to Akhtar, Raja’s pulse was restored and he was warm to the touch prior to the arrival of paramedics and being airlifted to a hospital. Raja’s death certificate indicates he died the next day, June 22, 2009.
2 Akhtar explained that he had received training in CPR during military service.
Raja’s surviving spouse, Neelam Parveen, filed this wrongful death and survival action for damages against Tiki and its insurer, alleging Tiki’s negligent acts and omissions were a proximate cause of Raja’s death. After answering the petition, Tiki filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging Tiki did not breach any legal duty to Raja. Subsequent [*7] to the filing of Tiki’s motion for summary judgment, but prior to the hearing on the motion, the trial court granted the plaintiff leave to file a supplemental and amending [Pg 6] petition for damages. Therein the plaintiff alleged that she was entitled to punitive damages under general maritime law in that Tiki’s conduct was grossly negligent, reckless, and wanton. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed an opposition to Tiki’s motion for summary judgment, with attachments thereto, as well as a supplemental opposition.
Following a hearing, the trial court granted Tiki’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff’s claims against Tiki were dismissed with prejudice. The plaintiff appeals, asserting several arguments in support of her position that summary judgment was improperly granted.
A motion for summary judgment is a procedural device used to avoid a full-scale trial when there is no genuine issue of material fact. All Crane Rental of Georgia, Inc. v. Vincent, 10-0116 (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/10/10), 47 So. 3d 1024, 1027, writ denied, 10-2227 (La. 11/19/10), 49 So. 3d 387. Summary judgment is properly granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions [*8] on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966B. Summary judgment is favored and designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966A(2).
Appellate courts review evidence de novo under the same criteria that govern the trial court’s determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. All Crane, 47 So. 3d at 1027. On a motion for summary judgment, the burden of proof is on the mover. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966C(2) [Pg 7]. If, however, the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the matter that is before the court on the motion, the mover’s burden does not require that all essential elements of the adverse party’s claim, action, or defense be negated. Id. Instead, the mover must point out to the court that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party’s claim, action, or defense. Id. Thereafter, the adverse party must produce factual evidence sufficient to establish that he will be able to satisfy his evidentiary [*9] burden of proof at trial. Id. If the adverse party fails to meet this burden, there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the mover is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 966C(2); All Crane, 47 So. 3d at 1027.
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court’s role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter but, instead, to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. All Crane, 47 So. 3d at 1027. A court cannot make credibility decisions on a motion for summary judgment. Id. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must assume that all of the witnesses are credible. Id. Factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence must be construed in favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubt must be resolved in the opponent’s favor. Id. Whether a particular fact in dispute is “material” for summary judgment purposes is viewed in light of the substantive law applicable to the case. Richard v. Hall, 03-1488 (La. 4/23/04), 874 So. 2d 131, 137.
[Pg 8] DISCUSSION
The plaintiff advances several theories of recovery for the alleged negligence or gross negligence of Tiki. [*10] Broadly stated, the plaintiff maintains that Tiki had custody of the tubing route on the Amite River and, accordingly, that Tiki owed its patrons a duty to maintain the river so that its guests would not be injured by the river’s vices and defects, a duty to train Tiki employees in emergency rescue and life-saving procedures, and a duty to properly warn Tiki customers of the hazards associated with tubing on the Amite River. The plaintiff also alleges that once Tiki employees involved themselves in attempted life-saving procedures on Raja, those employees assumed a duty to perform those life-saving measures properly.
The elements of a cause of action in tort are fault, causation, and damage. Seals v. Morris, 410 So. 2d 715, 718 (La. 1981). The existence of a legal duty and a breach of that duty are prerequisites to any determination of fault. Id. Although the determination of whether to assign a legal duty is fact-specific, the issue of whether there is a duty ultimately is a question of law. Bowman v. City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge, 02-1376 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/9/03), 849 So. 2d 622, 627, writ denied, 03-1579 (La. 10/3/03), 855 So. 2d 315. The inquiry is whether the plaintiff [*11] has any law–statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault– to support her claim. Faucheaux v. Terrebonne Consol. Government, 615 So. 2d 289, 292 (La. 1993); Fredericks v. Daiquiris & Creams of Mandeville, L.L.C, 04-0567 (La. App. 1 Cir. 3/24/05), 906 So. 2d 636, 639, writ denied, 05-1047 (La. 6/17/05), 904 So. 2d 706.
[Pg 9] Under Louisiana Civil Code article 2317, “[w]e are responsible, not only for the damage occasioned by our own act, but for that which is caused by the act of persons for whom we are answerable, or of the things which we have in our custody.” Louisiana Civil Code article 2317.1 modifies Article 2317 and provides in pertinent part:
[The] custodian of a thing is answerable for damage occasioned by its ruin, vice, or defect, only upon a showing that he knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the ruin, vice, or defect which caused the damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he failed to exercise such reasonable care.
The plaintiff alleges that in accordance with Article 2317.1, Tiki, as custodian3 of the tubing route on the Amite River, owed a duty to its patrons [*12] to employ safety measures to prevent drowning and to discover any unreasonably dangerous condition and to either correct the condition or warn of its existence. In order to prevail on a claim of negligence under Articles 2317 and 2317.1, the plaintiff will have the ultimate burden at trial of proving by a preponderance of the evidence each of the following elements: (1) Tiki is the custodian of the portion of the Amite River that includes the tubing route; (2) that portion of the Amite River is defective and that the defect presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) Tiki knew or should have known of the defect; (4) the plaintiff was damaged by the defect; and (5) Tiki could have prevented the damage to the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable care, which Tiki failed to exercise. See Riggs v. Opelousas General Hosp. Trust Authority, 08-591 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/5/08), 997 So. 2d 814, 817. Failure to prove any one of these elements will defeat the [Pg 10] plaintiff’s claim and thus establish the defendant’s entitlement to summary judgment. See Grogan v. Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Inc., 07-1297 (La. App. 3 Cir. 4/16/08), 981 So. 2d 162, 165.
3 There are no allegations or evidence [*13] suggesting that Tiki owned the area of the river, or the land abutting that portion of the river, in which Raja drowned.
The Louisiana Supreme Court has instructed that determining who has custody of a thing is a fact-driven determination. Dupree v. City of New Orleans, 99-3651 (La. 8/31/00), 765 So. 2d 1002, 1009. Courts should consider: (1) whether the person bears such a relationship as to have the right of direction and control over the thing; and (2) what, if any, kind of benefit the person derives from the thing. Dupree, 765 So. 2d at 1009. “The person who has custody or garde of a thing is he who has the legal duty to prevent its vice or defect from harming another.” Id. at 1009. This court has held that a state-owned river cannot be in the custody of a landowner. See Tobey v. State, 454 So. 2d 144, 145 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1984) (a tubing accident did not result from any condition of the land).
Even if the plaintiff were to establish that material issues of fact remain in dispute regarding custody of the tubing route on the Amite River, the plaintiff also must prove that the portion of the Amite River at issue suffered from a vice or defect in order to recover damages under Articles 2317 [*14] and 2317.1. A defect is defined as a condition that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. Moory v. Allstate Ins. Co., 04-0319 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/11/05), 906 So. 2d 474, 480, writ denied, 05-0668 (La. 4/29/05), 901 So. 2d 1076. The record establishes that Raja drowned in an area of the river described as a drop or a deep pocket. This court has held that the “existence of a hole in a natural lake, that renders the depth of the lake deeper than other portions, would not, ipso facto, constitute a defective [Pg 11] condition.”4 Johnson v. City of Morgan City, 99-2968 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/22/00), 787 So. 2d 326, 330-31, writ denied, 01-0134 (La. 3/16/01), 787 So. 2d 315. Further, “variations in water depth within natural swimming areas are standard.” Johnson, 787 So. 2d at 330. Citing this court in Johnson, the Fourth Circuit has concluded that there is no distinction between a hole in a lake and a drop off in a river. Sevin v. Parish of Plaquemines, 04-1439 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/27/05), 901 So. 2d 619, 623-24, writ denied, 05-1790 (La. 1/27/06), 922 So. 2d 550. The plaintiff fails to establish that the deeper pocket in this natural body of water constitutes a defect for purposes of Article 2317.1.
4 Moreover, [*15] not every defect gives rise to statutory liability under Articles 2317 and 2317.1. Ruschel v. St. Amant, 11-78 (La. App. 5 Cir. 5/24/11), 66 So. 3d 1149, 1153. The defect must be of such a nature as to constitute a dangerous condition that reasonably would be expected to cause injury to a prudent person using ordinary care under the circumstances. Ruschel, 66 So. 3d at 1153.
The plaintiff argues that Tiki had a duty to provide an adequate and correct warning to customers regarding the dangers of tubing and the depth and current of the Amite River, and also had a duty to post lifeguards along the tubing route.5 Tubing has been defined as an activity that is obviously and inherently dangerous. See Tobey, 454 So. 2d at 146. Drowning because of currents is a natural and inevitable risk to swimmers in a natural body of water. See Hall v. Lemieux, 378 So. 2d 130, 132 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1979), [Pg 12] writ denied, 381 So. 2d 1220 (La. 1980). When a risk is obvious, there is no duty to warn or protect against it. Moory, 906 So. 2d at 478. Akhtar described Raja as “not a good swimmer.”6 Despite his limited swimming abilities and knowing that the water was over his head in parts, Raja voluntarily [*16] left his tube to swim freely in the river without a life jacket, allowing the current to carry him away from his tube.
5 Louisiana’s general negligence liability provision is found in Louisiana Civil Code article 2315. Louisiana courts have adopted a duty-risk analysis in determining whether to impose liability under Article 2315. Pinsonneault v. Merchants & Farmers Bank & Trust Co., 01-2217 (La. 4/3/02), 816 So. 2d 270, 275. In order for liability to attach under a duty-risk analysis, the plaintiff must prove five separate elements: (1) the defendant had a duty to conform his or her conduct to a specific standard of care (the duty element); (2) the defendant failed to conform his or her conduct to the appropriate standard of care (the breach of duty element); (3) the defendant’s substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff’s injuries (the cause-in-fact element); (4) the defendant’s substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries (the scope of protection element); and (5) actual damages (the damage element). Pinsonneault, 816 So. 2d at 275-76.
6 During the few times that Akhtar and Raja swam together in a pool, Raja would swim one pool length at a time, keeping [*17] his head out of the water the entire time. Raja would go in water over his head; however, he would hold onto a “pipe.”
Finally, citing to Harris v. Pizza Hut of La., Inc., 455 So. 2d 1364 (La. 1984), the plaintiff argues that Tiki assumed a duty when its employees attempted life-saving measures on Raja and then breached that duty by improperly performing CPR on Raja. In Harris, the supreme court held that a restaurant had a duty, once it hired a security guard, to have that guard protect patrons from the criminal activities of third persons in a reasonable and prudent manner. Id. at 1369. This court has recognized that the negligent breach of an assumed duty may create civil liability. McGowan v. Victory and Power Ministries, 99-0235 (La. App. 1 Cir. 3/31/00), 757 So. 2d 912, 914. If a person voluntarily or gratuitously undertakes a task that he otherwise has no duty to perform, he must nevertheless perform that task in a reasonable or prudent manner. McGowan, 757 So. 2d at 914; see La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315.
Tiki employees acknowledged having no formal CPR training. Akhtar stated that he had been trained in CPR, and Akhtar was performing breathing assistance on Raja, while several [*18] others–including Tiki employees–assisted with chest compressions on Raja. The affidavit of the [Pg 13] plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Adam Broussard, set forth the CPR guidelines and concluded that, based on Jacob’s deposition, “the responders did not correctly perform CPR.” Dr. Broussard’s affidavit establishes that early CPR “performed correctly is the single most important intervention that can be performed in the field by a lay person.”
Raja was pulled from the water after being submerged for at least ten minutes. Akhtar stated that when Raja was brought up to the surface, he was not moving and not conscious. Akhtar began breathing into Raja with the assistance of four others, who took turns doing chest compressions. Akhtar observed that after the second person’s turn with chest compressions, Raja was warm to the touch and a pulse was discernible. Although Dr. Broussard’s affidavit establishes that CPR was performed improperly, his affidavit does not establish that the efforts of Tiki employees were unreasonable, imprudent, or, more importantly, a cause-in-fact of Raja’s death or that there was a reasonable probability that proper CPR would have been lifesaving in these circumstances.
The [*19] plaintiff failed to produce factual evidence sufficient to establish that she would be able to meet her burden at trial of proving by a preponderance of the evidence all of the elements of a cause of action in negligence or gross negligence. Despite not being a good swimmer, Raja willingly entered the river without a life jacket and chose to swim away from his tube. It was Raja’s own imprudent actions that led to his tragic death. See Sevin, 901 So. 2d at 624. For the above-stated reasons, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Tiki [Pg 14] Tubing, L.L.C, dismissing the suit filed against it by Neelam Parveen, individually and on behalf of Mansoor Raja and their minor children. Costs of this appeal are assessed to the plaintiff, Neelam Parveen.
Wroblewski v. Ohiopyle Trading Post, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119206
Cari J. Wroblewski, Plaintiff, v. Ohiopyle Trading Post, Inc., Defendant.
Civil Action No. 12-0780
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119206
August 22, 2013, Decided
August 22, 2013, Filed
COUNSEL: [*1] For CARI J. WROBLEWSKI, Plaintiff: Emmanuel J. Argentieri, LEAD ATTORNEY, Parker McCay, Mount Laurel, NJ; Gary F. Piserchia, PRO HAC VICE, Parker McCay P.A., Mt. Laurel, NJ.
For OHIOPYLE TRADING POST, INC., Defendant: P. Brennan Hart, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jeanette H. Ho, Pietragallo, Bosick & Gordon, Pittsburgh, PA; John R. Brumberg, Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP, Pittsburgh, PA.
JUDGES: Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: Mark R. Hornak
Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge
Cari Wroblewski brings suit against Ohiopyle Trading Post, Inc. (“Ohiopyle”) alleging that she suffered injuries to her knee as a result of Defendant’s negligence and gross negligence when she was thrown from her raft during a white water rafting trip. Ohiopyle argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because (1) Plaintiff signed a Rental Agreement which contained a provision releasing Defendant from liability (“Release”) for the very claims made in this matter and (2) Defendant did not have a duty to protect Plaintiff from being thrown from a raft and striking a rock because these are inherent risks of white water rafting. These matters, having been fully briefed by the parties and oral [*2] argument having been presented, are ripe for disposition. For the reasons which follow, Ohiopyle’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.
Cari Wroblewski was 37 years old at the time of the incident that forms the basis of this lawsuit. Wroblewski Dep. 7:4-5. She holds an associate’s degree in business as well as a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Id. at 8:18-9:19. In April 2010, two months prior to the trip at issue in this case, Plaintiff went white water rafting on the Salt River in Arizona where she signed a rental agreement with a release and was informed that white water rafting could be dangerous and that she could fall out of the raft. Id. 16:21-17:7; 20:14-21:9.
One of Plaintiff’s friends, Steve Rose, made arrangements to rent equipment from Ohiopyle for a rafting trip on the Youghiogheny River with a group of their friends on June 11, 2010. ECF No. 21 ¶ 2; ECF No. 25 ¶ 2. Joel Means, one of the owners of Ohiopyle, testified in his deposition that the lower section of the Youghiogheny River is considered “the intermediate white water section of the River” and consists of Class I through Class III rapids with borderline Class IV at certain levels. Means Dep. 14:8-15:1. [*3] Plaintiff had been told, not by an Ohiopyle employee but most likely by one of her friends in the group, that the rapids on the river would be mild, level two and three rapids. Wroblewski Dep. 37:6-23. 1
1 “Q: What made you think before then that the rapids were levels two or three?
A: From what I had been told they were supposed to be rather mild rapids.
Q: Who told you that they were rather mild rapids?
A: I don’t recall.
Q: It wasn’t anyone from Ohiopyle Trading Post; was it?
Q: Was it one of the people in your group that went white water rafting that day?
A: Most likely.” Wroblewski Dep. 37:6-23.
On the morning of June 11, 2010, Means noticed that the river was “up and brown” from rain the night before, and that the water level had risen from 2.5 to 3.98 feet. Means Dep. 19:2-11. When the river’s water level reaches four (4) feet, rafters are required by state regulations to have an experienced guide accompany them on their rafting trip. 2 Id. 60:3-6. Ohiopyle is permitted to provide guided white water rafting tours when the level of the river is between four (4) and ten (10) feet. ECF No. 31. Means testified that the river level being of above average flow could make the rafting trip [*4] more difficult, but that the river is more dangerous at low levels than at high levels. Means Dep. 47:18-22.
2 At oral argument, Plaintiff’s counsel persistently argued not that the river level actually was four (4) feet at the time at issue, but that the Court should treat it as if it were. The Court knows of no record basis to do so.
Plaintiff and her friends traveled to the Youghiogheny River for the white water rafting trip on the morning of June 11, 2010. ECF No. 21 ¶ 1; ECF No. 25 ¶ 1. Upon arriving at the River, Plaintiff went to the bathroom for “quite a while” while the rest of her group started to get their rented equipment. ECF No. 25 at 2, ¶ 1; Wroblewski Dep. 31:8-19. Means informed the rest of Plaintiff’s group that the level of the river was above average flow that day and therefore the river that day was a “real white water river” and not a “float trip.” Means Dep. 16:16-17. Means told Steve Rose that if he and the others in the group no longer wished to rent equipment, Ohiopyle would provide the group with a guided whitewater rafting tour at a discounted rate of $40 per person rather than the usual price of $60 per person (a non-guided rafting trip costs about $20 per [*5] person). Id. 38:9-14; 46:21-47:8. Plaintiffs group declined the offer of a discounted guided rafting trip. Means also instructed his employees that day to “make sure [the group understood] what game they’re about to play,” in reference to the river. Id. 39:11-15. Presumably because she was in the bathroom, Plaintiff never heard from Means his advice as to the conditions of the river or offer of a guided tour. Wroblewski Dep. 32:2-12.
When Plaintiff was finished in the bathroom, she went to get her equipment from Ohiopyle and was “in a rush” because her friends had gotten a head start. ECF No. 25 at 2, ¶¶ 2-3; Wroblewski Dep. 31:8-19. An Ohiopyle employee handed Plaintiff a Rental Agreement and told her that she “needed to sign the form and meet up with [her] group because they were getting their gear.” ECF No. 25 at 2, ¶ 5; Wroblewski Dep. 76:6-21. Plaintiff testified that “[t]hey hurried me along” and she was not given an opportunity to read the Rental Agreement. Wroblewski Dep. 78:7; 76:22-23. She also testified that the Ohiopyle employee “didn’t ask me to read it, they just gave it to me and said please sign this and catch up with your group, they’re already getting their stuff.” [*6] Id. 78:3-13. Plaintiff signed Ohiopyle’s Rental Agreement which included a waiver and release of liability provision (“Release”). ECF No. 19-5. 3
3 Plaintiff was not the last person in her group to sign the Rental Agreement, as her signature is the second to last signature on the Rental Agreement. ECF No. 19-5.
After receiving her rafting equipment, Plaintiff and her group received a safety briefing by an Ohiopyle employee before being sent to the river to embark on their trip. ECF No. 25 ¶ 8; Wroblewski Dep. 32:13-16. In the safety briefing, Plaintiff was warned that white water rafting can be dangerous, and it was possible that participants could fall out of the raft. Wroblewski Dep. 33:6-12.
After rafting through the first set of river rapids, Plaintiff grew concerned that the rapids were not level two or three. Id. 37:6-10. Plaintiff stated that she was concerned that the river was more than she could handle, and that she considered getting off of the river but “[t]here was no place to get off.” Id. 40:5-16. Plaintiff did not express her concerns to any others on the rafting trip. Id. 40:10-1. Near the end of the whitewater rafting trip, Plaintiff was thrown from the raft. ECF No. [*7] 21 ¶ 5; ECF No. 25 ¶ 5; Wroblewski Dep. 41:12-20. According to Plaintiff, she was dragged under water and struck her knee on a rock, sustaining serious injuries. ECF No. 21 ¶ 6; ECF No. 25 ¶ 6; Wroblewski Dep. 41:21-42:1.
Plaintiff filed this action against Defendant in June 2012. ECF No. 1. Defendant moved for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 19, 20, 21. Plaintiff filed her response, ECF Nos. 24, 25, and Defendant filed a reply as well as a supplement. ECF Nos. 26, 27, 31. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.
Summary judgment is appropriate when “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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The parties must support their position by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). In other words, summary judgment may be granted only if [*8] there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).
In reviewing the evidence, the court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S. Ct. 2097, 147 L. Ed. 2d 105 (2000); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); Huston v. Procter & Gamble Paper Prod. Corp., 568 F.3d 100, 104 (3d Cir.2009) (citations omitted). It is not the court’s role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004); Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if a reasonable jury could possibly hold in the non-movant’s favor with regard to that issue. See id. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a reasonable trier [*9] of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Huston, 568 F.3d at 104.
Ohiopyle advances two arguments in support of its summary judgment motion. First, Defendant submits that the Rental Agreement form signed by Plaintiff contained a valid and enforceable release of liability in favor of Defendant, releasing Defendant from liability for the very claims made in this matter. Secondly, Defendant argues that it did not have a duty to protect Plaintiff from being thrown from a raft and striking a rock because these are inherent risks of white water rafting, and this Defendant should not have any liability.
On June 11, 2010, prior to white water rafting, Plaintiff signed a two-page document that contains a release of liability and is titled “RENTAL AGREEMENT” in capital letters at the top of its first page. ECF No. 19-5. The top half of the first page is a form to be filled out with information relating to the primary renter and the white water rafting equipment to be rented. Id.
The bottom half of the first page begins with the header “TERMS AND CONDITIONS,” with thirteen (13) paragraphs listed in three columns [*10] under this header. Id. The actual language releasing Ohiopyle from liability regardless of its own negligence is listed as paragraph nine (9) in this section. Id. The font of the Release language is the same size as the other paragraphs listed under “TERMS AND CONDITIONS” but, unlike the other paragraphs, is written in all capital letters. Id. The exculpatory clause consequently falls on the bottom half of the front side of the first page, in both the left and middle columns and, by itself, makes up approximately half of the language listed under “TERMS AND CONDITIONS.” Id.
Paragraph nine (9) contains the following language:
9. READ CAREFULLY THE FOLLOWING WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY: HAVING RECEIVED A SAFETY TALK BY A MEMBER OP LESSOR’S STAFF, AND HAVING READ THE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE REVERSE SIDE HEREOF, LESSEE(S) HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT HE/SHE/THEY FULLY UNDERSTAND(S): (a) THAT OUTDOOR RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES HAVE INHERENT RISKS, DANGERS, AND HAZARDS, AND THAT SUCH EXISTS IN MY USE OF THE EQUIPMENT ABOVE DESCRIBED AND MY PARTICIPATION IN WHITE WATER RAFTING AND RELATED ACTIVITIES; (b) THAT MY PARTICIPATION IN SUCH ACTIVITIES AND/OR THE USE OF SUCH EQUIPMENT [*11] MAY RESULT IN INJURY OR ILLNESS, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, BODILY INJURY, DISEASE, STRAINS, FRACTURES, PARTIAL AND OR TOTAL PARALYSIS, DEATH, OR OTHER AILMENTS THAT COULD CAUSE SERIOUS DISABILITY; (c) THAT SAID RISKS AND DANGERS MAY BE CAUSED BY (i) THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE OWNERS, EMPLOYEES, OFFICERS, OR AGENTS OF LESSOR, (ii) THE NEGLIGENCE OF PARTICIPANTS, (iii) THE NEGLIGENCE OF OTHERS, (iv) ACCIDENTS, (v) BREACHES OF CONTRACT, AND (vi) THE FORCES OF NATURE OR OTHER CAUSES; (d) THAT RISKS AND DANGERS MAY ARISE FROM FORESEEABLE OR UNFORESEEABLE CAUSES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, GUIDE DECISION MAKING, INCLUDING THAT A GUIDE MAY MISJUDGE TERRAIN, WEATHER, TRAIL OR RIVER ROUTE LOCATION; WATER LEVEL; FALLING OUT OF OR DROWNING WHILE IN A RAFT, CANOE, OR KAYAK; AND SUCH OTHER RISKS, HAZARDS. AND DANGERS THAT ARE INTEGRAL TO RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES THAT TAKE PLACE IN A WILDERNESS, OUTDOOR OR RECREATIONAL ENVIRONMENT; AND (e) THAT BY MY PARTICIPATION IN THESE ACTIVITIES AND/OR USE OF THE EQUIPMENT ABOVE DESCRIBED, I HEREBY ASSUME ALL RISKS, DANGERS, AND RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY LOSSES AND/OR DANGERS, WHETHER CAUSED IN WHOLE OR IN PART BY THE NEGLIGENCE OR OTHER CONDUCT OF THE OWNERS, [*12] AGENTS, OR EMPLOYEES OF LESSOR OR ANY OTHER PERSON.
AND FURTHER, ON BEHALF OF MY PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES, SUCCESSORS, HEIRS, AND ASSIGNS, I DO HEREBY VOLUNTARILY AGREE TO RELEASE, WAIVE, DISCHARGE, HOLD HARMLESS, DEFEND, AND INDEMNIFY LESSOR AND ITS OWNERS, AGENTS, OFFICERS, AND EMPLOYEES FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, ACTIONS, OR LOSSES FOR BODILY INJURY, PROPERTY DAMAGE, WRONGFUL DEATH, LOSS OF SERVICES, OR OTHERWISE WHICH MAY ARISE OUT OF MY USE OF THE EQUIPMENT ABOVE DESCRIBED, OR MY PARTICIPATION IN ANY ACTIVITIES INVOLVING SAID EQUIPMENT. I SPECIFICALLY UNDERSTAND THAT I AM RELEASING, DISCHARGING, AND WAIVING ANY CLAIMS OR ACTIONS THAT I MAY HAVE PRESENTLY OR IN THE FUTURE FOR THE NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OTHER CONDUCT BY THE OWNERS, AGENTS, OFFICERS, OR EMPLOYEES OF LESSOR.
I HAVE READ THE ABOVE WAIVER AND RELEASE, AND, BY SIGNING THIS RENTAL AGREEMENT, AGREE THAT IT IS MY INTENTION TO EXEMPT AND RELIEVE LESSOR AND ITS OWNERS, AGENTS, OFFICERS, AND EMPLOYEES FROM LIABILITY FOR PERSONAL INJURY, PROPERTY DAMAGE, OR WRONGFUL DEATH CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE OR ANY OTHER CAUSE.
At the end of the “TERMS AND CONDITIONS” section, at the beginning of the right column, is the following language:
IN WITNESS [*13] WEREOF, and intending to be legally bound hereby, the undersigned Lessee(s) hereby certify that he/she/they have read and understood the terms and conditions of this Rental Agreement, and has/have affixed his/her/their hand(s) and seal(s) hereto on the dated indicated.
Id. Directly underneath this language, and in the column next to the exculpatory clause, multiple lines were provided where Plaintiff and the members of her party signed their names. Id. Plaintiff’s signature is the second to last signature listed on the form. Id.
The second page of the Rental Agreement has two sections. Id. The first section includes the header “SAFETY PRECAUTIONS” and the second section is titled “RECOMMENDATIONS.” Id. Both sections list a number of precautions and recommendations for how white water rafters should conduct themselves while on the river. Id.
The Defendant argues that the Release contained in the Rental Agreement is valid and enforceable. ECF Nos. 19, 20, 26. Plaintiff on the other hand asserts that the Release is unenforceable because its language is not sufficiently conspicuous to alert a party that it serves to release Defendant from liability and that Plaintiff did not actually assent [*14] to the terms of the Rental Agreement. ECF No. 24. To support her contentions, Plaintiff points out that the document was titled “Rental Agreement” and therefore does not provide adequate notice to signors that it is a release of liability. Id. at 7-8. Furthermore, the exculpatory language is placed at the bottom left of the form and not directly above the signature line, is written in small font, and does not appear until paragraph 9 of the form. Id. Plaintiff also argues that no one specifically informed her that she was entering into a contract that would affect her legal rights, and that she was “rushed along” by Defendant’s employees. Id.
The parties agree that this Court must consider Pennsylvania law and apply it in this case. See Lin v. Spring Mountain Adventures, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2010). Applying Pennsylvania law, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained that:
It is generally accepted that an exculpatory clause is valid where three conditions are met. First, the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent [*15] to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion. . . . once an exculpatory clause is determined to be valid, it will, nevertheless, still be unenforceable unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence. In interpreting such clauses we listed as guiding standards that: 1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.
Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1189 (Pa. 2010) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff primarily relies on three release of liability cases to support her contention that the Release is in this instance unenforceable: Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 2006 PA Super 159, 902 A.2d 1266 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006); [*16] Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174 (Pa. 2010), and Lin v. Spring Mountain Adventures, Inc., No. 10-333, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2010). 4
4 Plaintiff does not argue that the release in this instance is facially invalid.
In Beck-Hummel, the plaintiff brought a negligence claim for injuries she received from colliding with a barrier wall while snow tubing at the defendant’s resort. 2006 PA Super 159, 902 A.2d 1266. There, the release was printed on the backside of a lift ticket that the plaintiff’s husband purchased and had given to plaintiff. Id. at 1267, 1270-71. The release contained hard to read and inconspicuous language, it did not require a signature or acknowledgment, and was printed on the portion of the ticket that would be folded out of sight of the user. Id. at 1269, 1273-1274. The record also revealed the lift ticket was not given to the Plaintiff directly by the operator. The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that plaintiff’s assent to the terms of the disclaimer was not clearly established and therefore it could not hold as a matter of law that the release for snow tubing injuries was enforceable. Id. at 1275.
In Chepkevich, plaintiff skier, who had signed a release [*17] prior to skiing, asked a lift operator to stop a lift so that she and her 6-year-old nephew could board the lift. Although the lift operator agreed to do so, when the lift came behind the plaintiff and her nephew, the operator failed to stop the lift. The skier sued the ski resort for negligence for injuries she received as a result of falling from the ski lift. The release in this case was printed on a single page and titled “RELEASE FROM LIABILITY.” 2 A.3d at 1192. The language releasing liability was in the same font as the rest of the release, included the term “negligence”, and “specifically noted that riding the ski lift is a risky activity.” Id. The plaintiff argued that she did not read the exculpatory language nor did anyone orally inform her that she was entering into such an agreement. Id. at 1180-81. The court held that the release was valid, enforceable, and “clearly encompassed the risk at issue . . . [and] clearly spelled out the parties’ intention to release [defendant] from liability for injuries . . . regardless of any negligence on the part of the [defendant].” Id. at 1195. The court therefore upheld the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Id.
Finally [*18] in Lin, the plaintiff sued for serious injuries sustained from skiing when she lost control and fell into a snow making machine that was not properly padded. The document containing the release provision was titled “EQUIPMENT RENTAL FORM AND RELEASE FROM LIABILITY.” 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648, at *2. On the front page of the release was a capitalized, blocked section in the center of the page, above the signature line, instructing the reader to “PLEASE READ THE AGREEMENT ON THE BACK OF THIS FORM BEFORE SIGNING. IT RELEASES U.S. FROM CERTAIN LIABILITY.” Id. Directly between the instruction to read the back of the release and the signature line was the following statement: “I, the undersigned, have carefully read and understood the Acceptance of Risk and Liability Release on the back of this paper.” Id. The exculpatory clause was located on the back of the form and stated multiple times that it was a release from liability. 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, [WL] at *2. The court found that even though the plaintiff had not read the release language, that she “was a voluntary signatory to a full-sized contract.” 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, [WL] at *5. The court held that the exculpatory clause was enforceable and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment. [*19] 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, [WL] at *9.
This case is not analogous to Beck-Hummel, as Plaintiff contends. Unlike Beck-Hummel, Plaintiff “was not a mere recipient of a release printed on a ticket, but was a voluntary signatory to a full-sized contract.” Lin, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648, at *5. Plaintiff signed the Rental Agreement herself, and her signature is immediately preceded by instructions guiding her to read the entirety of the form and confirming that she had done so. Moreover, Plaintiff was provided a full-sized contract in which the Release was set forth on its front side, as opposed to a small unreadable ticket that she did not sign and in which the operative language was written on the reverse side.
Moreover, the language of the Release, construed strictly against Defendant, plainly expresses the intention of the parties to release Defendant from liability for future injury. The paragraph mentions “negligence” five (5) times and that it is a release of liability three (3) times. ECF No. 19-5. 5 Specifically, the first sentence of paragraph 9 asks the signer to carefully read the “WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY.” Id.
5 In fact, exculpatory clauses may bar suits based on negligence even where the clause does not specifically [*20] mention the word “negligence” at all. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1193. “It strains common sense to suggest that releases that fail to mention the word ‘negligence’ should consistently be interpreted as barring suits based on negligence claims, while a release that clearly states that suits are barred ‘regardless of negligence’ would not bar such suits.” Id.
Part of Plaintiff’s argument is that she was not personally informed by Ohiopyle of the elevated water level prior to her signing the Rental Agreement. However, the language of the Release explicitly warned of the same things that Defendant’s employees cautioned the rest of Plaintiff’s group. Specially, the Release warns of “bodily injury” from “risks and dangers [that] may arise from foreseeable or unforeseeable causes, including . . . water level” and “falling out of . . . a raft.” Id. Furthermore, the clause stated that by signing the agreement, the signor “assume[s] all risks, dangers, and responsibility for any losses and/or dangers.” Id. In fact, the clause even warns of “total paralysis” and “death.” Id. This paragraph goes on to explain that the signor “specifically understand[s] that I am releasing, discharging, and waiving any [*21] claims or actions that I may have presently or in the future for the negligent acts or other conduct by” the Defendant. Id. Furthermore, “it is my intention to exempt and relieve lessor . . . from liability for personal injury . . . caused by negligence.” Id. It is also important to note that prior to her trip to Ohiopyle, Plaintiff admittedly went white water rafting in Arizona where she signed a rental agreement with a release, and was informed that white water rafting could be dangerous and that she could fall out of the raft. Wroblewski Dep. 16:21-17:7; 20:14-21:9. Moreover, in Ohiopyle’s safety briefing, right before Plaintiff boarded the raft, Plaintiff and her group were warned that white water rafting can be dangerous, and it was possible that she could fall out of the raft. Id. 33:6-12.
The fact that the exculpatory language was contained in the bottom half of the first page, not listed until paragraph 9, and not directly above the signature line does not make it unenforceable, either generally or in this case. While the terms and conditions are in a slightly smaller font than the upper half of the form, they are still clearly readable. Moreover, paragraph 9 is the only paragraph [*22] written entirely in capital letters. Taken as a whole, using a strict (but common sense) interpretation, it is clear the form in question releases the Defendant from liability for injuries such as those sustained by Plaintiff, even if due to Defendant’s own negligence. 6
6 Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1442 (D. Colo. 1996) is factually similar to this case in that there, the defendant failed to personally inform plaintiff of heightened water level when the plaintiff took a white water rafting trip through defendant’s company. The Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, a white water rafting regulatory group, recommended against any rafting when the water flow measured 4.0 feet high or more (the same cut-off measurement for rafts without guides at Ohiopyle). The defendant also had a company policy to not take people rafting when the water was four feet or higher. On the day in question, the river measured 3.8 feet but, similar to this case, the defendant did not inform the plaintiff that the water level was “high” that day. Plaintiff signed a release of liability agreement prior to the trip and was injured after being tossed into the river. The court held that the exculpatory portion [*23] of the release agreement was valid and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s negligence claim. Id. at 1446.
Plaintiff contends that summary judgment is also improper because whether she knowingly signed the Rental Agreement and assented to its terms is a question of fact for the jury. ECF No. 24. Plaintiff argues that she did not read the Release and that employees of Defendant did not directly warn or advise her as to the conditions of the river or offer her a guided tour, nor did they orally inform her of what the form stated or ask her to read the form, and that they rushed and “hurried [her] along”, and therefore she did not assent to the terms of the agreement. Id.
Plaintiff voluntarily chose to engage in the sport of white water rafting purely for recreational purposes. Plaintiff signed the Release; she was not compelled, as a legal matter, to sign it, but chose to sign it so that she could go on the white water rafting trip with her group. See Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., Inc., 616 Pa. 385, 47 A.3d 1190, 1197 (Pa. 2012) (“[R]ecreational sporting activities may be viewed differently in the context of exculpatory agreements, as each party is free to participate, or [*24] not, in the activity, and, therefore, is free to sign, or not, the release form.”); see also Chepkevich, 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174 (release enforceable even though plaintiff had not read agreement); Lin, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648 (same). There is no evidence that plaintiff sought to negotiate the terms of the Release or asked for additional time to read it, and to the extent she was “compelled” it was a compulsion arising solely from her personal desire to meet up with her group.
Under Pennsylvania law, the failure to read a contract does not nullify the contract’s validity. Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. Am. Empire Ins. Co., 503 Pa. 300, 469 A.2d 563, 566 (Pa. 1983) (“[I]n the absence of proof of fraud, failure to read [the contract] is an unavailing excuse or defense and cannot justify an avoidance, modification or nullification of the contract or any provision thereof.”); see also Arce v. U-Pull-It Auto Parts, Inc., No. 06-5593, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10202, 2008 WL 375159, at *5-9 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 11, 2008) (written release found to be enforceable even when the agreement was in English but the plaintiff only read and spoke Spanish, noting that the “[p]laintiff cannot argue that the release language was inconspicuous or somehow hidden from his attention. [*25] . . . Nor did Defendant have an obligation to verify that [p]laintiff had read and fully understood the terms of the document before he signed his name to it.”). 7
7 See also In re Greenfield Estate, 14 Pa. 489, 496 (Pa. 1850) (“[i]f a party, who can read . . . will not read a deed put before him for execution; or if, being unable to read, will not demand to have it read or explained to him, he is guilty of supine negligence, which . . . is not the subject of protection, either in equity or at law.”).
This rule has been applied time and again in the context of recreational activities in which a party signed a pre-injury release of liability. For instance, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed an order granting summary judgment in favor of the owner of a racetrack where the plaintiff had signed an agreement releasing all claims against the racetrack before he was injured. Seaton v. E. Windsor Speedway, Inc., 400 Pa. Super. 134, 582 A.2d 1380 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1990). The Superior Court held that the signed release was enforceable even though plaintiff claimed that he had not read it, did not know that he was signing a release, and did not have time to read the document because of a long line of people behind [*26] him. Id. at 1383 (“His explanation that he did not read it does not, in the absence of fraud or a confidential relationship, extricate him from its operation.”). See also Lin, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648, at *6 (“[i]t is a well established rule under Pennsylvania law that failure to read a contract does not relieve a party of their obligation under such contract that they sign, and such parties will be bound by the agreement without regard to whether the terms were read and fully understood.”); Martinez v. Skirmish, U.S.A., Inc., No. 07-5003, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51628, 2009 WL 1676144, *7 (E.D. Pa. June 15, 2009) (release enforceable as to negligence for injury to plaintiff during paintball game, noting that plaintiff was accompanied by friends “who could have explained the Waiver & Release to him, if he had asked them to do so. . . . Consequently, [plaintiff's] failure to read that document cannot constitute a defense to the enforceability of the Waiver & Release.”); Schillachi v. Flying Dutchman Motorcycle Club, 751 F. Supp. 1169, 1174-75 (E.D. Pa. 1990) (release that plaintiff signed before being injured while racing all-terrain vehicle was enforceable even though plaintiff failed to read it because “[t]o accept plaintiff’s [*27] argument that there is such a duty [on the part of the defendant] to inform in this case would essentially abrogate the law of Pennsylvania regarding plaintiff’s duty to read.”). 8
8 In Doe v. Cultural Care, Inc., No. 10-11426-DJC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28226, 2011 WL 1048624, at *4-5 (D. Mass. Mar. 17, 2011), the court held that a release signed by plaintiff was enforceable even if the defendant had rushed her. There, the court explained that
“[t]he fact that [plaintiff] did not take the time to read the terms and conditions of the Agreement because she felt hurried by [defendant] does not change the analysis. [Plaintiff] does not dispute that she executed the Agreement or that it contains the Release. She disputes that she agreed to the terms and conditions, that the Release discharges Defendants from liability or bars her claims since she had no knowledge of the Release and was rushed into executing the Agreement based on Defendants’ representations.”
Similar to the cases discussed above, Plaintiff voluntarily participated in the white water rafting trip. “The signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential [*28] services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.” Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1191. Plaintiff could have requested additional time to read the agreement, or she could have chosen to not sign the Release and not go white water rafting. See Martinez, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51628, 2009 WL 1676144, at *7 (argument that plaintiff had no choice but to sign release because he had pre-paid for the paintball activity was unavailing for the reason that it was a recreational activity where participation was voluntary). Holding that Defendant had a duty to orally inform Plaintiff of what she was signing, or holding a release unenforceable because Plaintiff failed to read the contract containing a release of liability she signed because she felt rushed, would turn this rule on its head.
The Court considers, as it must, all of the relevant circumstances set out in the record, Lin, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648, at *6, and is unable to agree with Plaintiff that the Rental Agreement constituted (as a matter of law) an insufficient effort on the part of Ohiopyle to inform her of the fact that by signing that Agreement, she was giving up any right she might have to sue for damages arising from injuries caused even by negligence. In five [*29] (5) different places the Release mentions “negligence” and states that is a release of liability in three (3) places. ECF 19-5. Similar to Chepkevich, “[a]lthough the outcome in this case was certainly unfortunate, the risk was not so unexpected, or brought about in so strange a manner, as to justify placing this injury beyond the reach of the plain language of the Release, which specifically noted” that white water rafting is a risky activity in which water levels can increase or decrease and that you can fall out of the raft. Chepkevich, 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1194. Furthermore, between her previous white water rafting trip in Arizona and the safety briefing she was admittedly provided by Ohiopyle, Plaintiff was aware that white water rafting was dangerous and that falling out of a raft was an actual danger of the activity. Moreover, Plaintiff’s argument that there is an issue of material fact as to whether she assented to the terms of the agreement because she felt “rushed” by Defendant, is insufficient to deem the agreement unenforceable in light of her duty under Pennsylvania law to read a contract.
The Release, even when construed against Defendant, clearly spelled out the parties’ intention [*30] to release Defendant from liability and encompassed the risk of varying water levels and falling out of the raft. Consequently, the Release meets the enforceability test under Pennsylvania law. Plaintiff brings a claim for negligence. Negligence is explicitly encompassed within the Release, and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted. 9
9 Because the signed Rental Agreement precludes Plaintiff from bringing a claim of negligence against Defendant, the Court need not decide whether the incident at issue in this case was an inherent risk of white water rafting.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted. An appropriate Order will issue.
/s/ Mark R. Hornak
Mark R. Hornak
United States District Judge
Dated: August 22, 2013
Son v. Kerzner International Resorts, Inc., et al., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67482
Miyoung Son and Youngkeun Son, Plaintiffs, v. Kerzner International Resorts, Inc., et al., Defendants.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67482
September 5, 2008, Decided
September 5, 2008, Entered
COUNSEL: [*1] For Miyoung Son, Youngkeun Son, Plaintiffs: Alexander Rundlet, Victor Manuel Diaz, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEYS, Podhurst Orseck, P.A., Miami, FL; Katherine Warthen Ezell, Robert C. Josefsberg, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Podhurst Orseck Josefsberg et al, Miami, FL; Gene Locks, Jonathan W. Miller, Locks Law Firm, Philadelphia, PA; Stephen J. Nolan, Stephen J Nolan Chartered, Baltimore, MD.
For Kerzner International Resorts, Inc., a Florida corporation, in its own right, doing business as Paradise Island, doing business as Destination Atlantis, doing business as Atlantis, Kerzner International North America, Inc., a Delaware corporation, in its own right, doing business as Paradise Island, doing business as Atlantis, doing business as Destination Atlantis, Kerzner International Limited, a company of the commonwealth of the Bahamas, in its own right, doing business as Paradise Island, doing business as Atlantis, doing business as Destination Atlantis, Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, a company of the commonwealth of the Bahamas, in its own right, as a subidiary of Kerzner International Limited, doing business as Paradise Island, doing business as Atlantis, doing business as Destination Atlantis, Island [*2] Hotel Company Limited, a company of the commonwealth of the Bahamas, in its own right, as subsidiary of Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, doing business as Paradise Island, doing business as Atlantis, doing business as Destination Atlantis, Paradise Island Limited, a company of the commonwealth of the Bahamas, in its own right, as a subsidiary of Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, doing business as Paradise Island, doing business as Atlantis, doing business as Destination Atlantis, Defendants: Bruce Scott Liebman, Michelle Ioanna Bougdanos, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Akerman Senterfitt & Eidson, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
JUDGES: KENNETH A. MARRA, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: KENNETH A. MARRA
OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS
THIS CAUSE comes before the Court on Defendants Kerzner International Resorts, Inc., Kerzner International North America, Inc., Kerzner International Limited, Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, Island Hotel Company Limited, and Paradise Island Limited’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint (DE 15), filed November 12, 2007. The motion is now fully briefed and is ripe for review. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on this matter on June 19, 2008. The Court has carefully [*3] considered the motion and the record and is otherwise fully advised in the premises.
On August 17, 2007, Plaintiffs Miyoung Son (“Mrs. Son”) and Youngkeun Son (“Mr. Son”) ( together, “Plaintiffs”) filed a four-count Complaint (DE 1) against Defendants Kerzner International Resorts, Inc., Kerzner International North America, Inc., Kerzner International Limited, Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, Island Hotel Company Limited, Paradise Island Limited, 1 Nassau Cruses, Limited (“Nassau Cruses”), Robert Brown, Rodger Munroe, and Silvin Brown (together, “Defendants”), asserting claims of negligence and loss of consortium against all Defendants. The facts, as alleged in the Complaint and adduced at the evidentiary hearing, are as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Son, residents of Maryland, purchased a vacation package from the Kerzner Defendants for a four-night stay at the Atlantis Resort in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in July 2005. (Compl. PP 3, 15.) The vacation was to last from August 17 to August 21, 2005. Plaintiffs were to be accompanied by their two children, Mrs. Son’s sister and brother-in-law, their three children, and a nanny. (Compl. P 15.) While in the Bahamas, Plaintiffs [*4] booked an excursion through Atlantis’s Tour and Excursions Center. (Compl. P 17.) While on the excursion, Mrs. Son received severe and extensive injuries as a result of being pulled through the churning propellers of the excursion boat. (Compl. PP 20-21.)
1 The Court will refer to the moving parties, Kerzner International Resorts, Inc., Kerzner International North America, Inc., Kerzner International Limited, Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, Island Hotel Company Limited, and Paradise Island Limited, collectively as the “Kerzner Defendants.”
Findings of Fact
1. After booking the trip, Plaintiffs received from the Kerzner Defendants a package in the mail containing information about the trip; however, the package did not contain any mention that Plaintiffs would be expected to sign a forum selection clause or choice of law clause upon check-in at the Atlantis Resort. (Pl. Ex. 1; Def. Ex. 5.)
2. On July 24, Mrs. Son received two e-mails from the Kerzner Defendants with additional information about her upcoming trip – one regarding her booking, and one regarding her sister’s family’s booking. (Pl. Ex. 3, 4; Def. Ex. 3, 4.)
3. Mrs. Son testified that she did not open the e-mails prior to [*5] departing for the Bahamas because she did not recognize the sender. Mrs. Son also testified that she did not open the e-mails and read the attached documents until very recently, but she admitted that she did receive the e-mails prior to her trip.
4. One of the documents contained in each e-mail that Mrs. Son received after making the booking stated as follows:
During guest registration at Atlantis, Paradise Island you will be asked to sign a form agreeing to the following terms related to any claims you may have as a result of your stay at the resort: I agree that any claim I may have against Atlantis, Ocean Club, or any of their officers, directors, employees or related or affiliated companies, including, without limitation, Kerzner International Limited, Kerzner International Bahamas Limited, Island Hotel Company Limited, Paradise Enterprises Limited, Paradise Island Limited and Paradise Beach Inn Limited resulting from any events occurring in The Bahamas shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and further, irrevocably agree to the Supreme Court of The Bahamas as the exclusive venue for any such proceedings whatsoever. The [*6] foregoing shall apply to all persons accompanying me, and I represent that I have the authority to sign this document on their behalf.
(Pl. Ex. 3, 4; Def. Ex. 3, 4.)
5. Mrs. Son testified that she did not know she would have to sign such a document upon arrival.
6. Upon arrival, Mr. Son completed the check-in process. (Pl. Ex. 2; Def. Ex. 1.) Mr. Son signed a form on his own behalf “and the members of [his] family group or others listed below” (including Mrs. Son) which contained the following language:
I agree that any claims I may have against the Resort Parties resulting from any events occurring in The Bahamas shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and further, irrevocably agree to the Supreme Court of the Bahamas as the exclusive venue for any such proceedings whatsoever.
(Pl. Ex. 2; Def. Ex. 1.) Mr. Son stated that the check-in process lasted approximately two to three minutes, that he was asked to sign several forms, and that he did not read the forms. Mr. Son said that the resort’s front desk staff did not explain the contents of the forms. Mr. Son further stated that he did not intend to sign a forum selection clause, [*7] nor was he authorized to sign one on his wife’s behalf. However, Mr. Son did not state that his wife had affirmatively told him not to sign any documents regarding her legal rights.
7. Mrs. Son testified that she did not authorize her husband to sign a forum selection clause, but Mrs. Son also did not state that she told her husband he was not to sign any legal documents on her behalf. Mrs. Son testified that she did authorize her husband to complete all necessary check in procedures on her behalf.
8. Plaintiffs previously visited the Atlantis Resort in December 2001. When completing check-in formalities in 2001, Mr. Son signed a form that states as follows:
I agree that any claim I may have against Atlantis, Ocean Club, or any of their officers, directors, employees or related or affiliated companies, including, without limitation, Sun International Hotels Limited, Sun International Bahamas Limited, Island Hotel Company Limited, Paradise Enterprises Limited, Paradise Island Limited and Paradise Beach Inn Limited resulting from any events occurring in The Bahamas shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and further, irrevocably [*8] agree to the Supreme Court of The Bahamas as the exclusive venue for any such proceedings whatsoever. The foregoing shall apply to all persons accompanying me and I represent that I have the authority to sign this document on their behalf.
Standard of Review
In the Eleventh Circuit, a motion to dismiss on the basis of a forum selection clause is brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a motion to dismiss for improper venue. Lipcon v. Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, 148 F.3d 1285, 1290 (11th Cir. 1998). Forum selection clauses are “prima facie valid and should be enforced unless enforcement is shown by the resisting party to be ‘unreasonable’ under the circumstances.” M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10, 92 S. Ct. 1907, 32 L. Ed. 2d 513 (1972). The Court may make any findings of fact necessary to resolve a motion to dismiss for improper venue, so long as the resolution of factual disputes is not an adjudication on the merits of a case. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 2008 WL 2469405 at *5 (11th Cir. 2008). Determining the reasonableness of a forum selection clause is a fact-specific inquiry to be made on a case-by-case basis. [*9] Shankles v. Costa Armatori, S.P.A., 722 F.2d 861, 864 (1st Cir. 1983).
Because the Court is sitting in diversity, Florida substantive law applies. See, e.g., Admiral Ins. Co. v. Feit Management Co., 321 F.3d 1326, 1328 (11th Cir. 2003) (“Sitting in diversity, we apply the substantive law of the forum state unless federal constitutional or statutory law compels a contrary result.”).
A forum selection clause will be held “unreasonable” in only four circumstances: 1.) when the formation of the clause was induced by fraud or overreaching; 2.) when the plaintiff would be deprived of her day in court because of inconvenience or unfairness; 3.) when the chosen law would deprive the plaintiff of a remedy, or 4.) when enforcement of the provisions would contravene public policy. Lipcon, 148 F.3d at 1292; see also Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585, 594-95, 111 S. Ct. 1522, 113 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1988). Some courts have also made prior notice of the clause an element to consider in determining reasonableness. See, e.g., Sun Trust Bank v. Sun International Hotels, Ltd., 184 F. Supp. 2d 1246, 1258 (S.D. Fla. 2001); Corna v. American Hawaii Cruises, Inc., 794 F. Supp. 1005, 1012 (D. Haw. 1992). 2 Here, Plaintiffs [*10] argue that the forum selection clause was formed by fraud and overreaching, that Plaintiffs will be deprived of their day in court if they have to sue in the Bahamas, that Bahamian law is fundamentally unfair, and that enforcement of the forum selection clause would contravene public policy. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.
2 In Shute, the Supreme Court did not state that lack of notice of the forum selection clause was grounds for finding that the clause was unreasonable. In fact, the Court stated that it would not “address the question of whether respondents had sufficient notice of the forum clause before entering the contract for passage” because the respondents had conceded that they had sufficient notice. Shute, 499 U.S. at 590. However, the Supreme Court found notice relevant insofar as the Court found a party’s right to reject the contract “with impunity” essential to its enforceability. Id. at 595. Thus, notice is a relevant inquiry when considering a forum selection clause to determine whether the party could walk away from the contract with a minimal penalty. In Corna, for instance, the Court found that two to three days notice of the forum selection [*11] clause insufficient, because the plaintiffs would have forfeited the entire ticket price for their trip if they had canceled the trip upon first learning of the forum selection clause. Corna, 794 F. Supp. at 1011-1012; cf. Elliott v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 231 F. Supp. 2d 555, 561 (S.D. Tex. 2002) (enforcing forum selection clause where cancellation at time notice of clause received by passenger would have resulted in refund of only 50% of purchase price).
Fraud and Overreaching
Plaintiffs argue that the formation of the agreement including the forum selection provision was “induced by fraud and overreaching.” (Pl. Resp. 9.) Plaintiffs claim that they “never received . . . any notice of a forum selection clause prior to arriving at the hotel in the Bahamas.” (Id.) Plaintiffs do not argue bad faith on the Kerzner Defendants part, and their sole argument regarding fraud and overreaching relates to notice. Plaintiffs also do not argue that the forum selection clause was hidden on the forms they signed. Instead, they argue that they did not receive notice of the clause prior to their arrival in the Bahamas, so they could not cancel “with impunity.” Further, they argue that the short check-in [*12] time period effectively deprived Mr. Son of the ability to read and comprehend the rights he was surrendering when he signed the document. (See Pl. Resp. 9-10.)
A non-negotiated contract containing a forum selection clause may be enforceable, so long as the contract was formed under “reasonable” circumstances. Shute, 499 U.S. at 593-94. In particular, the clause must be reasonably communicated to the consumer such that the consumer knows that the contract contains terms and conditions which affect the consumer’s legal rights. Shankles, 722 F.2d at 864.
With respect to the time for check-in, a perusal of the “Acknowledgment, Agreement, and Release” form shows that the clause is not hidden in any way. The page contains seven paragraphs regarding limitations on liability, choice of law, and other legal provisions. (Pl. Ex. 2; Def. Ex. 1.) While the forum selection provision is not written in a larger font, in bold font, or italicized, it is still easily readable and is set off in its own paragraph in the middle of the front side of the form. Further, the form is marked at the very top “READ BEFORE SIGNING.” Thus, the Court finds that the form clearly and unmistakably conveys that it contains [*13] terms affecting the consumer’s legal rights. The clause is not hidden among other, non-legal provisions, nor is the clause physically disguised. The fact that Mr. Son chose not to read the form that is clearly marked “read before signing” does not excuse Plaintiffs from their contractual obligation. See, e.g., Coleman v. Prudential Bache Securities, Inc., 802 F.2d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 1986) (“[A]bsent a showing of fraud or mental incompetence, a person who signs a contact cannot avoid her obligations under it by showing that she did not read what she signed.”). The check-in process was doubtless hurried, but the Court finds that Mr. Son was not rushed through the process so as to prevent him from taking as much time as he needed or desired to review the document thoroughly. Mr. Son made a conscious choice – he chose to sign the form without reading it in order to speed the check-in process along. This willful ignorance cannot be used to invalidate an otherwise binding provision.
Plaintiffs then argue that they did not receive notice of the forum selection clause prior to their arrival at the Atlantis resort, such that they could not reject the provision “with impunity.” In Sun Trust [*14] Bank, under similar facts, the court concluded that the same forum selection clause disputed in this case was unenforceable because the plaintiffs did not have an “objectively reasonable opportunity to consider and reject” the clause. Sun Trust Bank, 184 F. Supp. 2d at 1261. The court was presented with “undisputed” evidence that the “forum-selection clause was presented to [plaintiff] for the first time upon arrival in the Bahamas.” Id.
Contrary to Plaintiffs assertions, this case is distinct, and Sun Trust Bank is inapplicable. First, Plaintiffs had both visited the Atlantis resort in 2001, and Mr. Son signed a nearly identical forum selection provision upon arriving at the resort in 2001. Having previously signed a nearly identical forum selection provision in 2001, it is reasonable to expect that Plaintiffs would be asked to sign a similar provision on their return visit. In Horberg v. Kerzner Resorts International Ltd., No. 07-20250-CIV-UNGARO, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97693, slip op. at 5-6 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 6, 2007), the court enforced the same forum selection clause disputed in this case on the basis that the plaintiffs had visited the Atlantis resort on previous occasions and thus “had a reasonable opportunity [*15] to consider and reject the forum selection clause.”
Also making this case distinct from Sun Trust Bank is the fact that the Kerzner Defendants provided Plaintiffs with prior notice that they would be asked to sign a form requiring all suits brought against the Kerzner Defendants be brought in the Bahamas. Plaintiffs concede that Mrs. Son received two e-mails on July 24, 2005, that contained an attachment titled “Terms and Conditions.” (Pl. Ex. 4, 5.) In the section labeled “Atlantis Registration,” the attachment explained that all guests would be asked to sign a forum selection clause upon check-in.
Mrs. Son testified that she did not remember receiving these e-mails from the Kerzner Defendants, and Mrs. Son also testified that she did not open e-mails from unrecognized senders because of the threat of computer viruses. Mrs. Son further testified that she did not expect to receive e-mails regarding her Atlantis resort trip. However, Mrs. Son received these e-mails the very same day that she booked her trip, and both e-mails had “Travel Plan” in the subject line with a reservation number. Logic would dictate that Mrs. Son must have provided her e-mail address over the phone when making [*16] the reservation since she received e-mails regarding her booking shortly thereafter. Thus, while the Court finds Mrs. Son’s testimony credible, the Court does not agree that her decision not to read the e-mails was reasonable. 3 Mrs. Son chose not to read the e-mails, but the e-mails provided sufficient notice of the forum selection and choice of law clauses her family would be required to sign upon arrival at the Atlantis Resort.
3 At the hearing, Plaintiffs’ counsel consistently averred that Plaintiffs did not have a “duty” to open the e-mails they received regarding their trip but that Plaintiff had a “duty” to open packages sent to her through the U.S. Mail. However, the Court fails to see how Plaintiffs make this distinction. Plaintiffs have not identified a specific duty that Plaintiffs might have had to open regular mail versus e-mail. Plaintiffs’ could have decided not to open the package received through the U.S. Mail as freely as they decided not to open the e-mails. The Court cannot conceive of a “duty” to open a letter any more than it can conceive of a “duty” to open an e-mail. Plaintiffs’ bear the risk that they will lose valuable information or documentation when they [*17] choose not to receive a letter, e-mail, or any other form of communication. Plaintiffs weighed the risk of losing vital information against the risk of receiving a computer virus when deciding not to open the e-mails, just as Plaintiffs weighed the risk of losing vital information against the risk of receiving anthrax powder when deciding to open the mailed package. The Kerzner Defendants’ should not be held liable because Plaintiffs’ risk calculus led them not to open the documentation.
Finally, Plaintiffs argued at the hearing that Mrs. Son did not sign the forum selection clause, nor did she grant her husband authority to sign away her legal rights. Thus, Plaintiffs claim, the forum selection clause could not apply to Mrs. Son. The Court disagrees. First, Mrs. Son admitted that she granted her husband authority to complete all procedures necessary to check-in to the Atlantis Resort. Thus, Mr. Son had “implied authority” to sign the forum selection clause on Mrs. Son’s behalf, because it was necessary for Mr. Son to sign the clause to complete check-in. 4 Alternatively, by signing the form which clearly stated he had the authority to bind everyone in his party, Mr. Son acted with “apparent [*18] authority,” because the Atlantis Resort reasonably believed his representations that he had the authority to bind Mrs. Son. 5
4 The Restatement (Third) of Agency defines “implied authority” as either (1) the authority “to do what is necessary, usual, and proper to accomplish or perform an agent’s express responsibilities or (2) to act in a manner which an agent believes the principal wishes the agent to act based on the agent’s reasonable interpretation of the principal’s manifestation in light of the principal’s objectives and other facts known to the agent.” Restatement (Third) of Agency § 2.01 cmnt. b (2006).
5 “Apparent authority is the power held by an agent or other actor to affect a principal’s legal relations with third parties when a third party reasonably believes the actor has the authority to act on behalf of the princpal and that belief is traceable to the principal’s manifestations.” Restatement (Third) of Agency § 2.03.
The parties did not brief the issue of agency, but the parties proceeded to argue the issue of agency at the hearing. In Florida, the rule of lex loci contractus determines the law to be applied when determining an issue of contract law. See Sturiano v. Brooks, 523 So. 2d 1126 (Fla. 1988). [*19] Because the contract was executed in the Bahamas, Bahamian law would apply to whether Mr. Son was acting as Mrs. Son’s agent and whether she was bound by Mr. Son’s signature. The parties, however, have not provided any evidence of (nor can the Court determine on its own initiative) the scope of Bahamian agency law. The Court has turned to the Restatement (Third) of Agency as a general guideline, not as an authoritative source on the law of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
Moreover, a party need not sign a forum selection clause to be bound by the terms of the clause; a party can be bound if it is “closely related” to the dispute. Hugel v. Corporation of Lloyd’s, 999 F.2d 206, 209-10 (7th Cir. 1993); see also E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. v. Rhone Poulenc Fiber and Resin Intermediaries, S.A.S., 269 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2001); Manetti-Farrow, Inc. v. Gucci America, Inc., 858 F.2d 509, 514 n.5 (9th Cir. 1988). Mrs. Son is at the center of this dispute (indeed, the parties are arguing over who is responsible for her injuries) and is thus “closely related.” Therefore, she can be bound to the terms of the clause whether she actually signed it or not. Again, the Court has explained that [*20] she received all the notice to which she was entitled under the law, and she should have been aware that agreeing to a forum selection clause was part of the check-in process.
In sum, the Kerzner Defendants’ burden in this situation was only to provide reasonable notice to Plaintiffs, which the Kerzner Defendants achieved. Once the Kerzner Defendants sent Plaintiffs notice of the forum selection clause, it was Plaintiffs’ decision as to whether they read the notification. The Court rejects Plaintiffs’ argument that Defendants somehow needed to do more. Plaintiffs chose not to read the notice, and the consequences are theirs to bear. Thus, the forum selection clause will not be invalidated on this ground.
Deprivation of Day in Court and Fundamental Unfairness
Plaintiffs argue that they will be “effectively deprived of their day in court” because of the “inconvenience” of litigating in the Bahamas and because of the fundamental unfairness of Bahamian law. (Pl. Resp. 10.) First, Plaintiffs claim that Mrs. Son cannot return to the Bahamas because of the “great mental and emotional anguish” she would suffer if she was forced to return there. Mrs. Son testified that she did not want to return [*21] to the Bahamas; however, she admitted that her doctors have never stated that she is physically or mentally incapable of returning. Instead, her prohibition on travel to the Bahamas appears self-imposed and, as a result, not a persuasive justification to invalidate the forum selection clause.
Likewise, Plaintiffs claim they are “financially unable to pursue litigation in the Bahamas, where contingent fees are prohibited.” (Pl. Resp. 11.) This argument is also unavailing. The Court cannot give substantial weight to fact that contingency fee arrangements are not available in foreign forums. Magnin v. Teledyne Continental Motors, 91 F.3d 1424, 1430 (11th Cir. 1996). As the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated, “If the lack of a contingent-fee system were held determinative, then a case could almost never be dismissed because contingency fees are not allowed in most foreign forums.” Coakes v. Arabian American Oil Co., 831 F.2d 572, 576 (5th Cir. 1987) (discussing contingency fee arrangements as part of forum non conveniens analysis).
Plaintiffs argue that “enforcement of the provisions of the Release would contravene a strong public policy, because enforcement of the forum [*22] selection clause would imply enforcement of the entire Release.” (Pl. Resp. 11.) Plaintiffs, however, have provided no cases to suggest that enforcement of the forum selection clause by this Court would compel a Bahamian court to enforce the release of liability. The Court thus finds this argument lacks merit.
Discouraging Legitimate Claims
Finally, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants “set the Bahamas as the forum ‘as a means of discouraging [hotel guests] from pursuing legitimate claims.’” (Pl. Resp. 12.) Plaintiffs point to a case in which the Kerzner Defendants chose to litigate in New Jersey state court, Paradise Enterprises Ltd. v. Sapir, 356 N.J. Super. 96, 811 A.2d 516 (N.J. Super. Ct. 2002), to show that the Kerzner Defendants can indeed litigate in U.S. forums. Plaintiffs claim that the fact that the Kerzner Defendants will litigate in New Jersey when they so choose shows bad faith selecting the Bahamas to litigate these claims. The Court also finds this argument unpersuasive. As the Supreme Court held in Shute, where the defendant selected a Florida forum, “[a]ny suggestion of such a bad-faith motive is belied by two facts: Petitioner has its principal place of business in Florida, and many of its [*23] cruises depart from and return to Florida ports.” Here, the Kerzner Defendants, who run a resort in the Bahamas, elected a Bahamian forum to litigate disputes arising out of visitors to the Bahamian resort who are injured while staying in the Bahamas. Had Defendants selected a trial court in Thailand to settle tort claims arising out of resort stays in the Bahamas, one could make a colorable argument that the selected forum was unrelated to the dispute and selected to discourage individuals from bringing legitimate claims. Where the defendant operates a business in the selected forum and the actions that would give rise to litigation would also occur in the selected forum, the Court cannot conclude that the defendant acted in bad faith.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the forum selection clause is enforceable, and this case shall be dismissed subject to Plaintiff’s ability to refile the action in the Supreme Court of the Bahamas.
Forum Non Conveniens
Alternatively, the Court believes that this action should be dismissed on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The federal doctrine of forum non conveniens allows the Court to use its inherent power to dismiss an action because [*24] of the inconvenience of the plaintiff’s chosen forum. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 506-07, 67 S. Ct. 839, 91 L. Ed. 1055 (1947). Under the doctrine, dismissal is “appropriate where trial in the plaintiff’s chosen forum imposes a heavy burden on the defendant or the court, and where the plaintiff is unable to offer any specific reasons of convenience supporting his choice.” Piper Aircraft v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 249, 102 S. Ct. 252, 70 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1981).
Analytically, the Court’s analysis falls into three stages. First, the Court must consider whether an “adequate alternative forum” exists which has jurisdiction over the case. La Seguridad v. Transytur Line, 707 F.2d 1304, 1307 (11th Cir. 1983). The Court must then consider whether private interest factors suggest that the Court should disturb the strong presumption in favor of a plaintiff’s choice of forum. Id. If the Court finds that the private interest factors are indeterminate, the Court must then proceed to consider whether considerations of public interest favor a trial in the foreign forum. Id. Dismissal is only warranted if these factors weigh heavily towards trial in the foreign forum. Piper Aircraft, 454 U.S. at 249. This strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff’s choice [*25] of forum is strongest when the plaintiff is a citizen or resident of the U.S. SME Racks, Inc. v. Sistemas Mecanicos Para Electronica, S.A., 382 F.3d 1097, 1102 (11th Cir. 2004).
Adequate Alternative Forum
An adequate alternative forum exists when the defendant is “amenable to process” in the foreign forum. Piper Aircraft, 454 U.S. at 254 n.22. The defendant bears the burden of establishing that its proposed forum is adequate and has jurisdiction over the case. La Seguridad, 707 F.2d at 1307. Here, all but two of the Defendants in this action are Bahamian citizens or corporations. (Compl. PP 4-14.) Defendants claim that they are “undoubtedly amenable to service of process in the Bahamas.” (Def. Mot. 15.) Likewise, Defendants have presented evidence that the Bahamian legal system recognizes negligence actions like Plaintiffs’ claims in the instant case. (Pyfrom Aff. P 10.) Thus, there is no indication that Bahamian courts would not afford Plaintiffs a remedy for their claims. Moreover, courts are loathe to hold that other forums are inadequate. See Leon v. Millon Air, Inc., 251 F.3d 1305, 1312 (11th Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs have not intimated that Bahamian courts would be inadequate. Thus, [*26] the Court finds that the Supreme Court of the Bahamas is an adequate alternative forum for the instant action.
Private Interest Factors
The Supreme Court has directed district courts to consider the “private interest of the litigant.” Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508. Factors considered to be in a litigant’s private interest include the ease of access to sources of proof, availability of compulsory process for witnesses, cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, ability to view the premises (if necessary), and “all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.” Id.
The Kerzner Defendants argue that “all of the documents related to Plaintiffs’ allegations in the Complaint are in The Bahamas.” (Def. Mot. 16.) The Kerzner Defendants do not state what documents are in the Bahamas, nor do they argue that such documents could not be brought to Florida in the event that trial was conducted here. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, have noted that they are already in possession of police and medical records from the Bahamas (see Childs Aff.), and such documents could easily be disclosed to Defendants during discovery. This factor weighs in Plaintiffs’ favor.
Notwithstanding [*27] the relative ease of access to documentary evidence, the ease of access to witnesses and the ability to compel attendance at trial is not as clear. Plaintiffs have only identified one Florida citizen witness – the corporate representative of Defendant Kerzner International Resorts, Inc. The remaining witnesses Plaintiffs seek to call are largely medical professionals from Maryland or Washington, D.C. (See Pl. Resp. 14-16.) Defendants, on the contrary, note that many prospective witnesses are located in the Bahamas: the staff at Doctors Hospital in Nassau, Bahamas, who initially treated Mrs. Son; representatives of Defendant Nassau Cruises, Ltd.; Defendants Robert Brown, Rodger Munroe, and Silvin Brown; as well as employees of the Atlantis Resort. (Def. Mot. 16.)
The Court recognizes that in Ward v. Kerzner International Hotels Ltd., Judge Jordan held that the fact that several witnesses resided in the Bahamas was insufficient to overcome the strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff. No. 03-23087-CIV, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11081, 2005 WL 2456191 at *3 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 30, 2005). In that case, like in Sun Trust Bank, a majority of the Bahamian witnesses were employees of the defendants who, defendants claimed, [*28] would appear voluntarily. Id.; see also Sun Trust Bank, 184 F. Supp. 2d at 1263-64. In Ward, only two Bahamian witnesses were not employed by the defendants. Ward, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11081, 2005 WL 2456191 at *3. By contrast, in this case, most of the relevant witnesses are not employees of the Kerzner Defendants. Some of the prospective witnesses are Defendants in this action, but this Court cannot effectively subpoena these foreign nationals residing in the Bahamas and compel them to appear before this Court. In fact, these Bahamian witnesses are the very witnesses that will describe the events leading to Mrs. Son’s injuries (i.e., the liability phase). The U.S. witnesses, who for the most part are medical professionals, will likely be used for the damages phase of trial. Looking at the quality of the proposed witnesses, rather than absolute numbers of potential witnesses, the Court finds that none of the most vital witnesses needed to resolve the issue of liability reside in Florida, and a substantial number of these witnesses reside in the Bahamas.
The Kerzner Defendants may be able to interview agents of Nassau Cruses, Ltd., or some of the other individual Defendants, but the Kerzner Defendants would be [*29] forced to present testimony at trial in Florida in the form of depositions or letters rogatory. Were this situation limited to a pair of witnesses whose testimony was not in controversy (as in Ward), the Kerzner Defendants would be expected to proceed using these devices. Where several of the Defendants are outside of the compulsory process of this Court and where those witnesses are the Kerzner Defendants’ main witnesses to challenge Plaintiffs’ claims of liability, as in this case, the Court believes that the Kerzner Defendants would be severely prejudiced in their ability to defend their case. As the Supreme Court explained in Gulf Oil, the doctrine of forum non conveniens should be applied to avoid these situations: “Certainly to fix the place of trial at a point where litigants cannot compel personal attendance and may be forced to try their cases on deposition, is to create a condition not satisfactory to court, jury or most litigants.” 330 U.S. at 511.
Moreover, Plaintiffs’ have not identified a single witness who would be available to testify if trial were held in Florida but would not be available to testify at trial in the Bahamas. As all but one of Plaintiffs’ witnesses are [*30] coming from locations outside of this district, all but one will have to travel. The Court believes that it would be equally feasible for Plaintiffs to arrange plane tickets and hotel stays in Nassau, Bahamas, as it would in West Palm Beach, Florida. These cities are roughly 200 miles apart, a relatively short distance considering that Plaintiffs will have to travel roughly 1,000 miles to reach either forum. While there may be some inconvenience for the one Florida witness to travel to the Bahamas, Plaintiffs cannot realistically contend that the inconvenience of traveling to Nassau would vary significantly from the inconvenience of traveling to West Palm Beach. See Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 226 F.3d 88, 107 (2d Cir. 2000) (“For any nonparty witnesses, the inconvenience of a trial in New York is not significantly more pronounced than the inconvenience of a trial in England.”).
Finally, it has been widely recognized that the inability to implead other parties directly involved in a controversy is a factor weighing heavily against the plaintiff’s choice of forum. See, e.g., Reid-Walen v. Hansen, 933 F.2d 1390, 1398 (8th Cir. 1991); Fitzgerald v. Texaco, Inc., 521 F.2d 448, 453 (2d Cir. 1975). [*31] In this case, like in Piper Aircraft, the joinder of Nassau Cruises, Ltd., Robert Brown, Rodger Munroe, and Silvin Brown is “crucial to the presentation” of the Kerzner Defendants’ case. 454 U.S. at 259. Plaintiffs want to show that Nassau Cruises and these individuals are the agents of the Kerzner Defendants and that the Kerzner Defendants are vicariously liable for her injuries. Without the ability to join this corporation and these individuals meaningfully to this case, the Kerzner Defendants would be forced to defend claims of vicarious liability with limited benefit of evidence from the persons actually involved in the incident giving rise to the claim. The Court finds this burden to be substantial. 6 Conversely, the Court can find no substantial burden on Plaintiffs (other than a financial burden from Plaintiffs’ inability to retain counsel on a contingency fee basis) from having to litigate their dispute in the Bahamas.
6 Unlike all of the cases involving injuries at resorts cited by Plaintiffs, this case is distinct because it involves an injury allegedly caused by third parties. In every other case, the plaintiff alleged that the resort was directly liable for negligence. Here, [*32] Plaintiffs do not argue direct negligence by the Kerzner Defendants, and the Kerzner Defendants can only defend their own case by compelling the attendance of the alleged direct tortfeasors. While these tortfeasors are nominally part of this lawsuit and have been served, their appearance in Court cannot be guaranteed.
After considering the private interest factors, the Court finds that they weigh substantially against Plaintiffs’ selection of the Southern District of Florida as their forum. The Court will now consider the public interest factors.
Public Interest Factors
In Gulf Oil, the Supreme Court described the considerations of public interest that district courts should consider on a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens:
Administrative difficulties follow for courts when litigation is piled up in congested centers instead of being handled at its origin. Jury duty is a burden that ought not to be imposed upon the people of a community which has no relation to the litigation. In cases which touch the affairs of many persons, there is reason for holding the trial in their view and reach rather than in remote parts of the country where they can learn of it by report only. There [*33] is a local interest in having localized controversies decided at home. There is an appropriateness, too, in having the trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the state law that must govern the case, rather than having a court in some other forum untangle problems in conflict of laws, and in law foreign to itself.
Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508-09. Additionally, the Court must weigh the interest of the United States in providing a U.S. forum for its citizens with the interest of the Bahamas in adjudicating a dispute that occurred in its territory. See SME Racks, 382 F.3d at 1104.
While the Court begins with the proposition that Plaintiffs (both U.S. citizens) should not be ousted from a U.S. forum, the Court finds that the public interest factors also weigh heavily in favor of trial in the Bahamas. First, in SME Racks, the court made clear that the “United States has a strong interest in providing a forum for its citizens’ grievances against an allegedly predatory foreign business that actively solicited business and caused harm within the home forum.” 382 F.3d at 1104 (emphasis added). In SME Racks, a U.S. plaintiff brought an action against a Spanish company for breach [*34] of contract and various torts in Florida. Id. at 1099. The contract was negotiated and executed in Spain, but the alleged breach and torts allegedly occurred in Florida as the plaintiff claimed it received a shipment of defective goods in Florida. Id. This case is distinguishable from SME Racks, because the “harm” did not occur in Florida (or even in the U.S.). Instead, Plaintiffs are suing (with one exception) Bahamian companies and individuals for conduct which occurred entirely within the Bahamas. Unlike SME Racks, the presumption in favor of Plaintiffs’ choice of forum here is not as strong because of the attenuated connection of this forum with the events giving rise to the claims. See, e.g., J.C. Renfroe & Sons, Inc. v. Renfroe Japan Co., Ltd., 515 F. Supp. 2d 1258, 1274 (M.D. Fla. 2007); see also Iragorri v. United Technologies Corp., 274 F.3d 65, 73 (2d Cir. 2001) (en banc) (holding that a U.S. plaintiff’s choice of forum is not automatically granted greater deference unless the choice was motivated by “legitimate reasons”).
The parties have not addressed any administrative difficulties with pursuing this case in the Bahamas, other than the fact that contingency fee agreements [*35] for Plaintiffs’ counsel are not permitted in the Bahamas. 7 This factor, as the Court has already explained, receives no consideration. The Court also agrees with Plaintiffs that a view of the site of Mrs. Son’s accident is meaningless because the “shifting sands are no longer as they were at the time of the accident.” (Pl. Resp. 14.) The remaining factors, nonetheless, weigh heavily for the Kerzner Defendants.
7 The Court notes the logic of Chierchia v. Treasure Cay Services, 738 F. Supp. 1386 (S.D. Fla. 1990), where Judge King held that “a forum in which the personal injury action arose would present a better administrative choice than one which experiences one of the busiest criminal dockets in the U.S.” Id. at 1389.
A jury composed of residents of Palm Beach County, Florida, has a minimal (if any) interest in adjudicating a dispute between citizens of Maryland and (with one exception) citizens of the Bahamas for acts that occurred in the Bahamas. As explained in Gulf Oil, the people of Florida have no relation to this case, and thus they should not bear the burden of serving on a jury to settle a dispute between Maryland residents and Bahamian corporations for activities in Bahamian [*36] territory. In contrast, the Bahamas has an interest in settling a dispute between its citizens and foreigners for activity that happened within its sovereign territory. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas has the strongest interest in protecting tourists and visitors from the conduct of its own citizens. See, e.g., Calvo v. Sol Melia, S.A., 761 So. 2d 461, 464 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2000). While the State of Florida has an interest in protecting its citizens, Plaintiffs (as well as countless other visitors to the Atlantis resort) are not citizens of Florida and they have not presented a persuasive argument for needing the protection of Florida’s laws. 8
8 An argument could be made that the United States has an interest in protecting its citizens from harm abroad. Nevertheless, the Court feels that the interests of the Bahamas are stronger, because the events giving rise to the cause of action occurred in the Bahamas and because Defendants are Bahamian nationals. Further, Plaintiffs traveled to the Bahamas on their own volition and only after the fact seek the protection of U.S. courts.
Plus, Bahamian law will most likely govern this dispute. 9 While this Court is capable of applying Bahamian [*37] law, and the Bahamas is a common law country much like our own, the Court would be forced to rely on expert testimony and evidence provided by the parties as to the substance of Bahamian law, which would add substantially to the administrative burden of having trial in this forum. “The public interest factors point towards dismissal where the court would be required to ‘untangle problems in conflict of laws, and in law foreign to itself.’” Piper Aircraft, 454 U.S. at 251 (quoting Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 509).
9 In Florida, courts apply the “significant relationship test” to determine the substantive law applied to personal injury actions. Bishop v. Florida Specialty Paint Co., 389 So.2d 999, 1001 (Fla. 1980). While not dispositive, the law of the state where both the injury and the conduct causing the injury occurred is, in most instances, the law to be applied. Id. Since Mrs. Son’s accident occurred in the Bahamas, the Court finds it likely that Bahamian law will apply, at least in part, to this dispute. Notably, none of the other factors Florida courts consider (residence, nationality or place of incorporation of the parties and the place where the relationship between the parties is [*38] centered) indicate that Florida law should apply. Again, these factors would suggest either Bahamian law or Maryland law should be applied.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the public interest factors also weigh in favor of dismissal of this action.
Reinstatement of Suit
The Court must ultimately determine whether Plaintiffs can reinstate their lawsuit in the alternative forum without undue prejudice or inconvenience. See Leon, 251 F.3d at 1310-11. As the Court has already explained, the inconvenience of traveling from Maryland to West Palm Beach, Florida, is no greater than the inconvenience of traveling from Maryland to Nassau, Bahamas. The distance between these locations is practically the same. In addition, Plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by dismissal, as Defendants are all subject to the jurisdiction of Bahamian courts. (Def. Mot. 19.) The statute of limitations will expire in August 2008, but Defendants have agreed to waive any statute of limitations defenses they might have under Bahamian law. (Id. at 19 n.12.) The Court, therefore, dismisses this action subject to these representations.
It is hereby ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Kerzner Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [*39] (DE 15) is GRANTED IN PART as follows:
1. The Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) is DENIED. (See DE 31.)
2. The Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3) is GRANTED.
3. The Motion to Dismiss on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens is GRANTED.
4. The Kerzner Defendants are deemed to have waived any statute of limitations and personal jurisdiction defenses they might otherwise raise in the Supreme Court of the Bahamas.
5. This case is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for Plaintiff to refile in the Supreme Court of the Bahamas.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida, this 5th day of September, 2008.
/s/ Kenneth A. Marra
KENNETH A. MARRA
United States District Judge
River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, v. The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe, et al, 223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157Posted: May 12, 2014
River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, v. The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe, et al, 223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157
River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, Petitioners v. The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe, all Plaintiffs in the Christopher et al v. River Riders, Inc., Civil Action No. 06-C-328, And All Plaintiffs in Freeman Civil Action NO. 06-C-325, Respondents
223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157
October 28, 2008, Submitted
December 10, 2008, Filed
[**378] [*242] BY THE COURT
1. “In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal’s order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal’s order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal’s order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight.” Syllabus Point 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W. Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).
2. [***2] “In determining whether to grant a rule to show cause in prohibition when a court is not acting in excess of its jurisdiction, this Court will look to the adequacy of other available remedies such as appeal and to the over-all economy of effort and money among litigants, lawyers and courts; however, this Court will use prohibition in this discretionary way to correct only substantial, clear-cut, legal errors plainly in contravention of a clear statutory, constitutional, or common law mandate which may be resolved independently of any disputed facts and only in cases where there is a high probability that the trial will be completely reversed if the error is not corrected in advance.” Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Tucker County Solid Waste Authority v. West Virginia Division of Labor, 222 W. Va. 588, 668 S.E.2d 217, 2008 WL 2523591 (W. Va. 2008).
3. “In the absence of compelling evidence of irremediable prejudice, a writ of prohibition will not lie to bar trial based upon a judge’s pretrial ruling on a matter of evidentiary admissibility.” Syllabus Point 3, State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside, 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124 (2002).
4. “A writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of [***3] discretion by a [**379] [*243] trial court.” Syllabus Point 4, State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124 (2002).
5. “A party seeking to petition this Court for an extraordinary writ based upon a non-appealable interlocutory decision of a trial court, must request the trial court set out in an order findings of fact and conclusions of law that support and form the basis of its decision. In making the request to the trial court, counsel must inform the trial court specifically that the request is being made because counsel intends to seek an extraordinary writ to challenge the court’s ruling. When such a request is made, trial courts are obligated to enter an order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. Absent a request by the complaining party, a trial court is under no duty to set out findings of fact and conclusions of law in non-appealable interlocutory orders.” Syllabus Point 6, State ex rel. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Gaughan, 203 W. Va. 358, 508 S.E.2d 75 (1998).
6. Federal admiralty law governs a tort action if the wrong occurred on navigable waters, and if the incident involved had the potential to disrupt maritime activity and the general character of the activity [***4] giving rise to the incident had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.
7. “[A] party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333(1) over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity. A court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. 46 U.S.C. App. §740. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must ‘assess the general features of the type of incident involved,’ 497 U.S., at 363, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, to determine whether the incident has ‘a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce,’ id., at 364, n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, n. 2. Second, a court must determine whether ‘the general character’ of the ‘activity giving rise to the incident’ shows a ‘substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.’ Id., at 365, 364, and n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2897, 2896, and n. 2.” Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, 513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 1048, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024 (1995).
8. The activity of whitewater rafting does not constitute traditional maritime activity [***5] and is therefore not governed by federal admiralty law.
COUNSEL: For Petitioners: Robert P. Martin, Esq., Justin C. Taylor, Esq., Jared M. Tully, Esq., Bailey & Wyant, P.L.L.C., Charleston, West Virginia; Michael A. Barcott, Esq., Holmes Weddle & Barcott, P.C., Seattle, Washington.
For Kathy L. Freeman, Respondent: Stephen G. Skinner, Esq., Laura C. Davis, Esq., Skinner Law Firm, Charles Town, West Virginia.
For The Christopher Plaintiffs, Respondent: Michael P. Smith, Esq., Salsbury, Clements, Beckman, Marder & Adkins, LLC, Baltimore, Maryland; Mark Jenkinson, Esq., Burke, Schultz, Harman, and Jenkinson, Martinsburg, West Virginia.
JUDGES: JUSTICE BENJAMIN delivered the Opinion of the Court. CHIEF JUSTICE MAYNARD concurs and reserves the right to file a concurring opinion. JUSTICE ALBRIGHT not participating. SENIOR STATUS JUSTICE McHUGH sitting by temporary assignment.
OPINION BY: BENJAMIN
Petition for a Writ of Prohibition
WRIT GRANTED AS MOULDED
BENJAMIN, Justice: 1
1 Pursuant to an administrative order entered on September 11, 2008, the Honorable Thomas E. McHugh, Senior Status Justice, was assigned to sit as a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia commencing September 12, 2008, and continuing until [***6] the Chief Justice determines that assistance is no longer necessary, in light of the illness of Justice Joseph P. Albright.
Petitioners, River Riders, Inc. and Matthew Knott, seek a writ of prohibition to vacate three pre-trial orders of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County that (1) excluded from the forthcoming trial the Release and Assumption of Risk Agreements that had been signed by fourteen plaintiffs prior to embarking on a whitewater rafting expedition provided by the Petitioners; (2) ruled that the rafting incident was governed by [**380] [*244] general maritime law, thus, precluding assumption of the risk as a defense; and (3) consolidated the civil action of the personal representative of the estate of the decedent with the civil action brought by thirteen injured persons. After careful consideration of the memoranda 2 and arguments in this proceeding, as well as the pertinent legal authorities, we grant the writ sought only to the extent of vacating the circuit court’s ruling finding that the rafting incident is governed by maritime law.
2 We wish to acknowledge the participation of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters amicus curiae in support of Petitioners and appreciate their [***7] participation in this action.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This original proceeding in prohibition arose out of a commercial whitewater rafting accident on the Shenandoah River in Jefferson County, West Virginia, which resulted in the death of one person and injuries to thirteen others, all paying participants in a rafting expedition taken with River Riders, Inc., a licensed commercial whitewater outfitter. 3 As a result of the accident, two separate lawsuits against River Riders ensued. The first action was filed by Kathy L. Freeman [hereinafter referred to as the "Freeman plaintiff"], as personal representative of the estate of her husband, the decedent, Roger Freeman. 4 The second action was filed by the thirteen injured persons and seven of their spouses [hereinafter collectively referred to as the "Christopher plaintiffs"] who claimed loss of consortium. 5
3 The accident, which occurred on September 30, 2004, involved four inflatable rafts which dumped Roger Freeman and thirteen of the Christopher plaintiffs into the Shenandoah River, causing Mr. Freeman to drown, and causing various personal injuries to the others. All but two of the fourteen were management employees of Kaiser [***8] Permanente of suburban Washington, D.C. It is claimed that on this particular day, the level of water on the Shenandoah River was approximately 12.5 feet, compared to a normal average level of 2 to 4 feet during that time of year.
4 The Freeman lawsuit also names Matthew Knott, owner of River Riders, as a defendant. Mr. Knott is also alleged to have been a commercial whitewater guide who guided one of the rafts on the ill-fated expedition and who served as the trip’s leader.
5 In the second of the complaints, Timothy Friddle, husband of Cristina Renee Friddle, is named as a plaintiff. They claim “loss of consortium and services, and interference with and injury to their marital relationship.” Timothy Friddle is not, however, named as a spouse and as plaintiff in the Memorandum which these plaintiffs filed with this Court in this proceeding. The Petitioners represent that Mr. Friddle has been voluntarily dismissed from the action.
Prior to embarking on the rafting expedition, Roger Freeman and each of the injured Christopher plaintiffs signed a “Release, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement” [hereinafter sometimes referred to as "Release Agreement"] provided to them by River Riders. [***9] In that agreement, each signatory (1) acknowledged that he or she had requested to be allowed to participate in whitewater rafting provided by River Riders; and expressed his or her understanding, among other things, that “[whitewater rafting] activities and services pose substantial risks of injury or death. . . as the result of exposure; . . . or being in whitewater rivers and streams; . . . the negligence, gross negligence, or bad judgment by [the signatory], River Riders, Inc., or other participants; the failure or misuse of equipment; . . . and other known and foreseeable risks of [whitewater rafting].” (Emphasis in original). The signatories to the Release Agreement also agreed, in part, that:
In consideration of and as partial payment for being allowed to participate in [whitewater rafting] provided by River Riders, Inc., I ASSUME, to the greatest extent permitted by law, all of the risks, whether or not specifically identified herein, of all the activities in which I participate and services I use [whitewater rafting]; I RELEASE River Riders, Inc. from any and all liability, including, but not limited to, liability arising from negligence, gross negligence, willful and wanton [***10] and intentional conduct; . . .
[**381] [*245] The Freeman plaintiff and the Christopher plaintiffs contend that River Riders failed to meet the statutory “standard of care” expected of members of the whitewater guide profession in direct violation of the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act, W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b) (1987). 6 In both actions, they assert that running a raft trip on September 30, 2004, simply was not reasonable under the circumstances, and that the expected standard of care would have obligated River Riders to cancel or reschedule the whitewater expedition on that day because of the river’s high and turbulent waters caused by a recent hurricane that had swept through the area. 7 Specifically, Respondents argue that River Riders was negligent and careless and failed to conform to the standard of care by failing to call off or postpone the trip until conditions were safe to go out on the river, by failing to recognize that the operating capabilities of its rafts with the inexperienced customers would be unsafe and hazardous in high, swift and rough water conditions; and by wrongfully electing to navigate the Shenandoah River and in particular the Shenandoah Staircase. 8
6 In 1987, [***11] the Legislature enacted the Whitewater Responsibility Act, codified as W. Va. Code §§20-3B-1 et seq.(1987). Therein, [HN1] the Legislature stated that it “recognizes that there are inherent risks in the recreational activities provided by commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides which should be understood by each participant. It is essentially impossible for commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides to eliminate these risks. It is the purpose of this article to define those areas of responsibility and affirmative acts for which commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides are liable for loss, damage or injury.” W. Va. Code §20-3B-1.
The Act [HN2] declares that “[n]o 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 article two of this chapter, by the rules of the commercial whitewater advisory board, or by the duties placed on such [***12] commercial whitewater outfitters or commercial whitewater guide by the provisions of this article.” W. Va. Code §20-3B-5(a).
Among the duties imposed by the Whitewater Responsibility Act upon all commercial whitewater guides providing services for whitewater expeditions in this state is that they “while providing such services, conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession.” W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b).
7 The Freeman plaintiff represents to the Court that the liability issues are exactly the same in both cases.
8 The wrongful death complaint filed by the Freeman plaintiff contains two separate counts: one for negligence, gross negligence, reckless and wanton conduct; the other for negligence per se. Citing fifteen alleged acts or omissions, Count One alleges that the duties owed by River Riders to Mr. Freeman included the duty to conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession, the duty to conform to safety and other requirements set forth in the West Virginia Code, the duty to conform to rules promulgated by the commercial whitewater advisory board, and the duty not to act in a reckless or wanton manner. Count Two alleges two additional acts [***13] or omissions constituting negligence per se, including citations by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resource for failure to mark a commercial water craft and failure to have a valid CPR card as required by W. Va. Code §20-2-23a (1999) and 58 C.S.R. 12 (2008).
The complaint filed by the Christopher plaintiffs contains twenty counts, seven of which assert loss of consortium claims. The remaining thirteen counts are negligence claims under general maritime law, one for each injured plaintiff.
Prior to the forthcoming trial in this matter, the Freeman plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine to exclude the Release Agreement 9 that had been signed by Mr. Freeman. On January 30, 2008, the circuit court, in finding that the issues at trial on liability were whether the defendants met the standard of care required under the Whitewater Responsibility Act, entered an order granting the Motion in Limine prohibiting the defendants from introducing the Release Agreement, making any reference to it, or eliciting any information regarding it at trial. The circuit court based it ruling on the language of W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b), and on this Court’s prior decision in Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991) [***14] 10 and on Johnson v. New [**382] [*246] River Scenic Whitewater Tours, Inc., 313 F.Supp.2d. 621 (S.D. W.Va. 2004).
9 The Freeman Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings which the circuit court denied.
10 In Murphy, this Court held that generally, [HN3] in the absence of an applicable statute, a plaintiff who expressly and, under the circumstances, clearly agrees to accept a risk of harm arising from a defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct may not recover for such harm, unless the agreement is invalid as contrary to public policy. 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504.
Thereafter, on April 15, 2008, the circuit court likewise granted a Motion in Limine Regarding Release and Assumption of the Risk filed by the Christopher plaintiffs, which excluded the release agreement from trial. The circuit court, finding that maritime law governed the case, held that assumption of the risk was not an available defense. Specifically, the court held:
Second, this Court is of the opinion that assumption of the risk is not an available defense in this maritime action. Because the incident occurred on the Shenandoah River, a navigable body of water, it is governed by general maritime law. Yamaha Motor Corp. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 206, 116 S. Ct. 619, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1996). [***15] Assumption of the risk is not a defense in admiralty or maritime law. DeSole v. United States, 947 F.2d 1169, 1175 (4th Cir. 1991). In fact, “[t]he tenants of admiralty law, which are expressly designed to promote uniformity, do not permit assumption of risk in cases of person [sic] injury whether in commercial or recreational situation.” Id. The foundation of this principle has been recognized for more than 70 years. In The Arizona v. Anelich, Justice Harlan F. Stone, stated in support of his position that assumption of the risk was not a proper defense in cases of unseaworthiness, “No American case appears to have recognized assumption of risk as a defense by such a suit.” 298 U.S. 110, 122, 56 S. Ct. 707, 80 L. Ed. 1075 (1936). Accordingly, Defendant is prohibited from asserting the defense of assumption of the risk or making any argument in support of this defense at trial.
To the left of the judge’s signature on the order, there appeared a stamped “Note to Counsel”, which reads, “[t]he court has received no pleadings in opposition to this motion during the time period contemplated by trial court rule 22 order.” Subsequent to the circuit court’s ruling on those issues, Petitioners filed a Motion for Relief from [***16] the circuit court’s order on April 23, 2008, to clarify that it had in fact filed a response to plaintiffs’ motion in limine, but that it was untimely filed due to excusable neglect. 11 Petitioners urged the circuit court to consider its reply.
11 Petitioners contended that the mailing, rather than faxing, of their responses to the motion on the last day of filing was a clerical error that should not result in completely ignoring their response to the motion, which resulted in the exclusion of a recognized common law defense in West Virginia, among other findings.
In a third order entered on May 19, 2008, the circuit court granted the Christopher plaintiffs’ motion to consolidate their case with the case of the Freeman plaintiff under Case No. 06-C-328. In granting the motion, the circuit court considered the four factors set forth in Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Appalachian Power Company v. Ranson, 190 W. Va. 429, 438 S.E.2d 609 (1993) in exercising its discretion when deciding issues of consolidation under Rule 42(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. The circuit court expressly declined Petitioner’s request to bifurcate the cases on the issue of damages, stating that [***17] “the issue of liability and damages are intertwined and not reasonably susceptible of being bifurcated.”
Following the entry of the third order, Petitioners invoked the original jurisdiction of this Court in prohibition seeking a writ to vacate the three circuit court orders of January 30, 2008, April 15, 2008, and May 19, 2008. Petitioners assert that the circuit court’s rulings are incorrect for several reasons: (1) the Release Agreements are admissible as evidence because they contain warnings of the inherent risks of participating in whitewater rafting, and to the extent the Agreements contain inadmissible or unenforceable provisions, those provisions could be redacted therefrom; (2) maritime jurisdiction does not extend to this whitewater rafting case on the Shenandoah River because the Whitewater Responsibility Act is controlling, as the Shenandoah River is not a navigable waterway since it cannot be used for [**383] [*247] commercial shipping; (3) the circuit court failed to make any findings of fact regarding the navigability of the Shenandoah River; (4) assumption of the risk would be an available defense of the actions pursuant to controlling West Virginia law; (5) mandating the application [***18] of maritime law negates the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act, and deprives the defendants of the defense of assumption of the risk, thus rendering all whitewater outfitters uninsurable and crippling a vital State industry; and (6) consolidating the two cases for trial will cause unfair prejudice and insure juror confusion as a result of the intertwining of unrelated legal, factual and damage issues in that one case is a wrongful death case, and the others are personal injury cases. Specifically, Petitioners claim that the circuit court’s consolidation of the two cases will result in the application of maritime law to both actions, prohibiting the defense of assumption of the risk in both.
Conversely, the Christopher plaintiffs argue (1) that maritime law applies because the tort they complain of has a nexus to traditional maritime activity, and because the Shenandoah River is a navigable waterway; (2) that since there is no well- developed substantive maritime law of the issue of whitewater rafting safety, maritime law permits the circuit court to properly look to the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act for guidance 12 and (3) that “[b]ecause there is no federal statute [***19] stating otherwise, the duty under maritime law is the same duty established under West Virginia’s Whitewater Responsibility Act – that commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides ‘conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession.’ W. Va. Code §20-3B-3.” It appears that the only facet of maritime law that the Respondents wish to have applied to this case is that assumption of the risk is not a defense.
12 Citing Tassinari v. Key West Water Tours, L.C., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46490, 2007 WL 1879172 (S.D. Fla. 2007)(unpublished opinion); Smith v. Haggerty, 169 F.Supp.2d 376 (E.D.Pa. 2001); and Coastal Fuels Marketing, Inc. v. Florida Exp. Shipping Co., Inc., 207 F.3d 1247, 1251 (11th Cir. 2000).
STANDARD OF ISSUANCE OF WRIT OF PROHIBITION
[HN4] The standard for the issuance of a writ of prohibition is set forth in W. Va. Code §53-1-1 (1882): “The writ of prohibition shall lie as a matter of right in all cases of usurpation and abuse of power, when the inferior court has not jurisdiction of the subject matter in controversy, or having such jurisdiction, exceeds its legitimate powers.” In syllabus point 4 of State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W. Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996) we [***20] held:
[HN5] In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal’s order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal’s order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal’s order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight.
Id., Syl. Pt. 4.
This Court has stated that “. . . [HN6] prohibition. . . against judges [***21] [is a] drastic and extraordinary remed[y] . . . As [an] extraordinary remed[y], [it is] reserved for really extraordinary causes.” State ex rel. United States Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Canady, 194 W. Va. 431, 436, 460 S.E.2d 677, 682 (1995)(citations omitted); State ex rel. Tucker County Solid Waste Authority v. West Virginia Division of Labor, 222 W. Va. 588, 668 S.E.2d 217, [**384] [*248] 2008 WL 2523591 (W. Va. 2008). Thus, we have held that:
[HN7] In determining whether to grant a rule to show cause in prohibition when a court is not acting in excess of its jurisdiction, this Court will look to the adequacy of other available remedies such as appeal and to the over-all economy of effort and money among litigants, lawyers and courts; however, this Court will use prohibition in this discretionary way to correct only substantial, clear-cut, legal errors plainly in contravention of a clear statutory, constitutional, or common law mandate which may be resolved independently of any disputed facts and only in cases where there is a high probability that the trial will be completely reversed if the error is not corrected in advance.
Id. at Syl. Pt. 2 (citing Syllabus Point 1, Hinkle v. Black, 164 W. Va. 112, 262 S.E.2d 744 (1979)).
In [***22] syllabus point 3, State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside, 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124 (2002), this Court recognized “[i]n [HN8] the absence of compelling evidence of irremediable prejudice, a writ of prohibition will not lie to bar trial based upon a judge’s pretrial ruling on a matter of evidentiary admissibility.” (quoting Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel. Williams v. Narick, 164 W. Va. 632, 264 S.E.2d 851 (1980)). “A writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of discretion by a trial court.” Syl. Pt. 4, 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124. “The writ does not lie to correct ‘mere errors’ and . . . it cannot serve as a substitute for appeal, writ of error or certiorari.” Narick, 164 W. Va. at 635, 264 S.E.2d at 854.
This Court further stated in Burnside that:
[t]here is a practical reason for not allowing challenges, by use of the writ of prohibition, to every pre-trial discretionary evidentiary ruling made by trial courts. Such use of the writ would effectively delay trials interminably while parties rushed to this Court for relief every time they disagree with a pre-trial ruling. The fact remains that “[t]he piecemeal challenge of discretionary rulings through writs of prohibition [***23] does not facilitate the orderly administration of justice.” Woodall, 156 W. Va. at 713, 195 S.E.2d at 721. Said another way, “writs of prohibition should not be issued nor used for the purpose of appealing cases upon the installment plan.” Wimberly v. Imel, 1961 OK CR 25, 358 P.2d 231, 232 (Okla. Crim. App., 1961).
212 W. Va. at 519, 575 S.E.2d at 129. Guided by these principles, we proceed to consider the parties’ arguments.
Petitioners raise questions regarding three pretrial rulings made by the circuit court on two motions in limine and one motion to consolidate. We note as a preliminary matter that it is this Court’s general practice and procedure to decline to consider rulings on motions in limine. This Court has recognized that “[t]hese [HN9] motions necessarily involve the exercise of discretion, and the correctness of discretionary rulings should ordinarily be challenged at a time when the entire record is available to an appellate court. The piecemeal challenge of discretionary rulings through writs of prohibition does not facilitate the orderly administration of justice.” Woodall v. Laurita, 156 W. Va. 707, 713, 195 S.E.2d 717, 720-21 (1973). Thus, in the absence of jurisdictional [***24] defect, the administration of justice is not well served by challenges to discretionary rulings of an interlocutory nature. These matters are best saved for appeal. State ex rel. Allen v. Bedell, 193 W. Va. at 37, 454 S.E.2d at 82 (Cleckley, J. concurring). As Justice Cleckley cautioned in his concurrence in State ex rel. Allen v. Bedell:
[HN10] Mere doubt as to the correctness of a trial court’s ruling on a motion in limine regarding an evidentiary issue is an insufficient basis to invoke this Court’s writ power. To justify this extraordinary remedy, the petitioner has the burden of showing that the lower court’s jurisdictional usurpation was clear and indisputable and, because there is no adequate relief at law, the extraordinary writ provides the only available and adequate remedy. Thus, writs of prohibition, as well as writs of [**385] [*249] mandamus and habeas corpus, should not be permitted when the error is correctable by appeal.
193 W. Va. at 37, 454 S.E.2d at 82.
This Court has, on limited occasions, considered challenges from evidentiary rulings in unique circumstances where the matter at issue rose to a level of considerable importance and compelling urgency. 13 In reviewing the claims asserted [***25] by Petitioners herein, which allege that the circuit court, by virtue of a motion in limine, made jurisdictional rulings that serve to have a significant and lasting negative impact on the question of liability for an important segment of business within this State, we find it appropriate to accept this matter for consideration at this stage in the proceedings. 14
13 See State ex rel. Foster v. Luff, 164 W. Va. 413, 419, 264 S.E.2d 477, 481 (1980)(prohibition granted where trial court abused discretion in failing to authorize expenditure of adequate funds to allow defense to secure experts); State ex rel. Register-Herald v. Canterbury, 192 W. Va. 18, 449 S.E.2d 272 (1994)(prohibition granted to reverse order constituting prior restraint against newspaper); State ex rel. Tyler v. MacQueen, 191 W. Va. 597, 447 S.E.2d 289 (1994)(prohibition used to review disqualification of prosecutor’s office); State ex rel. Leach v. Schlaegel, 191 W. Va. 538, 447 S.E.2d 1 (1994)(prohibition granted to prevent relitigation of case which was foreclosed because of collateral estoppel); State ex rel. DeFrances v. Bedell, 191 W. Va. 513, 446 S.E.2d 906 (1994)(prohibition used to review decision on lawyer’s [***26] disqualification).
14 Respondents contend that the circuit court’s order of April 15, 2008, cannot be challenged by the Petitioners, or is not before this Court in this extraordinary proceeding, because the Petitioners did not timely oppose the Christopher plaintiffs’ motion in limine asking the circuit court to find that maritime law governed the case. Petitioners admit that a scheduling order required them to file their response to the motion in limine by April 10, 2008, but that through “clerical error” their response was mailed, not faxed, to the clerk and the court on April 10, 2008. Five days later, on April 15, 2008, the circuit court, having not received the mailed response, entered an order granting the motion. To the left of the judge’s signature on the order, there appears a stamped “Note to Counsel”, which reads, “[t]he court has received no pleadings in opposition to this motion during the time period contemplated by trial court rule 22 order.” Petitioners contend that the mailing, rather than faxing, of their responses to the motion on the last day of filing was a clerical error that should not result in completely ignoring their response to the motion, which resulted in [***27] the exclusion of a recognized common law defense in West Virginia, among other findings.
Rule 6(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure [HN11] provides, in part, that “[w]hen . . . by order of court an act is required or allowed to be done at or within a specified time . . . the court for cause shown may at any time in its discretion . . . (2) upon motion made after the expiration of the specified period permit the act to be done when the failure to act was the result of excusable neglect. . .” In Pritt v. Vickers, 214 W. Va. 221, 227, 588 S.E.2d 210, 216 (2003), the Court approvingly quotes this statement in 3 Moore’s Federal Practice §16.14: “[a] trial court may modify or amend a scheduling order only when ‘good cause’is shown and the court grants leave to modify.” See also Walker v. Option One Mortgage Corporation, 220 W. Va. 660, 665, 649 S.E.2d 233, 238 (2007)(trial courts should not permit parties to obtain extensions absent a showing of good cause). The record before us does not reveal that Petitioners filed a motion with the circuit court after the April 10, 2008, deadline to permit the belated filing of their response. If they did not, we cannot condone their failure, and [***28] their argument that this Court should, nevertheless, hear their argument that the circuit court incorrectly concluded that maritime law applies and that assumption of the risk is not a defense under that law. We will, however, consider the circuit court’s order of April 15, 2008, in this regard because it raises questions of whether the circuit court has jurisdiction of the subject matter in controversy. Issues of jurisdiction may be raised by this Court sua sponte. Ray v. Ray, 216 W. Va. 11, 13, 602 S.E.2d 454, 456 (2004). Also, “[t]his Court may, sua sponte, in the interest of justice, notice plain error.” Syl. Pt.1, Cartwright v. McComas, 223 W. Va. 161, 672 S.E.2d 297, 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 81, 2008 WL 4867068 (W. Va. 2008).
Having made the determination to consider this matter, we limit our review herein to the specific jurisdictional issue of the circuit court’s finding that the rafting incident is governed by maritime law. We decline to address on a writ of prohibition the other issues presented regarding the exclusion of the Releases signed by the plaintiffs and the circuit court’s consolidation of the two cases, to the extent that the circuit court’s rulings were discretionary. As stated above, this Court’s general rule provides that [***29] [HN12] prohibition is ordinarily inappropriate in matters involving a trial court’s pretrial ruling on the admissibility of evidence. State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside, 212 W. Va. at 518, 575 S.E.2d at 128. Furthermore, “[a] [HN13] decision by a trial court to consolidate civil actions on [**386] [*250] any or all matters in issue under Rule 42(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure will be deferentially reviewed under an abuse of discretionary standard.” State ex rel. Appalachian Power Company v. MacQueen, III, 198 W. Va. 1, 4, 479 S.E.2d 300, 303 (1996).
[HN14] A trial court, pursuant to provisions of Rule 42, has a wide discretionary power to consolidate civil actions for joint hearing or trial and the action of a trial court in consolidating civil actions for a joint hearing or trial will not be reversed in the absence of a clear showing of abuse of such discretion and in the absence of a clear showing of prejudice to any one or more of the parties to civil actions which have been so consolidated.
Syl. Pt. 1, Holland v. Joyce, 155 W. Va. 535, 185 S.E.2d 505 (1971); State ex rel. Appalachian Power Company v. MacQueen, III, 198 W. Va. 1, 4, 479 S.E.2d 300, 303 (1996).
Herein, Respondents allege that the instant [***30] petition should not be considered because Petitioners never requested that the circuit court set forth a detailed order including findings of fact and conclusions of law that support and form the basis of its decision, or informed the circuit court that it intended to seek an extraordinary writ to challenge the court’s ruling. We held in State ex rel. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Gaughan, 203 W. Va. 358, 367, 508 S.E.2d 75, 84:
[HN15] A party seeking to petition this Court for an extraordinary writ based upon a non-appealable interlocutory decision of a trial court, must request the trial court set out in an order findings of fact and conclusions of law that support and form the basis of its decision. In making the request to the trial court, counsel must inform the trial court specifically that the request is being made because counsel intends to seek an extraordinary writ to challenge the court’s ruling. When such a request is made, trial courts are obligated to enter an order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. Absent a request by the complaining party, a trial court is under no duty to set out findings of fact and conclusions of law in non-appealable interlocutory orders.
Syl. Pt. [***31] 6, 203 W. Va. 358, 508 S.E.2d 75.
While we recognize that there is generally a duty on the part of a party petitioning this Court for an extraordinary writ based upon a non-appealable interlocutory decision of a trial court to make a request that the trial court set forth findings of fact and conclusions of law prior to seeking prohibition, we will proceed to consider the maritime issue before us since it concerns a distinct issue of law involving the interpretation and application of a federal statute which may be resolved on the pleadings, orders and arguments before us. This Court has, on prior occasions, recognized that [HN16] when we are able to resolve issues before the Court without a detailed order, it is not necessary to remand for the circuit court to provide findings of fact and conclusions of law. See, e.g., Pruitt v. W. Va. Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 222 W. Va. 290, 664 S.E.2d 175 (2008)(citing Fayette County National Bank v. Lilly, 199 W. Va. 349, 484 S.E.2d 232 (1997))(this Court is able to resolve issues before us without a detailed order and thus have no reason to remand for the circuit court to provide findings of fact and conclusions of law). See also Toth v. Board of Parks and Recreation Com’rs, 215 W. Va. 51, 55, 593 S.E.2d 576, 580 (2003); [***32] Ward v. Cliver, 212 W. Va. 653, 656, 575 S.E.2d 263, 266 (2002). [HN17] Based upon the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court and the statutory laws of the State of West Virginia, we find, as a matter of law, that the activity of whitewater rafting does not invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction.
The question of whether or not the rafting accident on September 30, 2004, is governed by general maritime law presents a federal admiralty jurisdictional question. 15 Herein, [**387] [*251] the circuit court concluded that because the incident occurred on the Shenandoah River, a navigable body of water, it is governed by general maritime law. The circuit court order cites to the decision Yamaha Motor Corp. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 206, 116 S.Ct. 619, 623, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1996), as support for its ruling.
15 [HN18] The United States Constitution provides in relevant part that “[t]he judicial Power shall extend. . . to all Cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. . .” U.S. Const. Art. III, §2, cl. 1. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. §1333(1948 and 1949), “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of: (1) Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in [***33] all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” The United States Supreme Court interpreted this section in Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 222, 106 S.Ct. 2485, 2494, 91 L. Ed. 2d 174 (1986) stating:
[HN19] the “savings to suitors” clause . . . allows litigants to bring in personam maritime actions in state courts. See Judiciary Act of 1789, §9, 1 Stat. 76 (“savings to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it”); 28 U.S.C. §1333 . . . See also Madruga v. Superior Court, 346 U.S. 556, 560, n. 12, 74 S.Ct. 298, 300, n. 12, 98 L.Ed. 290 (1954) . . . The “savings to suitors” clause leaves state courts competent to adjudicate maritime causes of action in proceedings in personam and means that “a state, ‘having concurrent jurisdiction, is free to adopt such remedies, and to attach to them such incidents, as it sees fit’ so long as it does not attempt to [give in rem remedies or] make changes in the ‘substantive maritime law.’” [citations omitted]. Stated another way, the “savings to suitors” clause allows state courts to entertain in personam maritime causes of action, but in such cases the extent to which state [***34] law may be used to remedy maritime injuries is constrained by a so-called “reverse-Erie” doctrine which requires that the substantive remedies afforded by the States conform to governing federal maritime standards.
477 U.S. at 222, 106 S.Ct. at 2494. See also Wright, Miller, Cooper, 14A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris.3d §3672, and Am.Jur.2d Admiralty §108.
Yamaha, 516 U.S. 199, 116 S.Ct. 619, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578, involved a collision between a twelve-year-old on a rented jet-ski and another recreational vehicle in territorial waters of the United States off a hotel frontage in Puerto Rico. The Yamaha Court found that because the case involved a watercraft collision on navigable waters, it fell within admiralty’s domain. 516 U.S. at 206, 116 S.Ct. at 623. The Yamaha Court then cited to its other previous decisions in Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 361-367, 110 S.Ct. 2892, 2895-2898, 111 L. Ed. 2d 292 (1990), and Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668, 677, 102 S.Ct. 2654, 2659, 73 L. Ed. 2d 300 (1982), which set forth [HN20] the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction test for tort claims. “The test ‘comprises two functional inquiries: first, the traditional “situs” analysis determining whether the tort was committed or the alleged injury occurred on navigable [***35] waters, and second, the more recently developed “nexus” analysis determining whether the alleged tort bears a significant relationship to traditional maritime activities.” Sisson, 497 U.S. at 361-367, 110 S.Ct. at 2895-2898.
Subsequently, in Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024 (1995), the Supreme Court stated:
After Sisson, then, [HN21] a party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333(1) over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity. A court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. 46 U.S.C. App. §740. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must “assess the general features of the type of incident involved,” 497 U.S., at 363, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, to determine whether the incident has “a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce,” id., at 364, n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, n. 2. Second, a court must determine whether “the general character” of the “activity giving rise to the incident” shows a “substantial relationship to [***36] traditional maritime activity.” Id., at 365, 364, and n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2897, 2896, and n. 2.
513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024. Thus, according to Grubart, federal admiralty law governs a tort action if the wrong occurred on navigable waters, and if the incident involved had the potential to disrupt maritime activity and the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. 16
16 The Fourth Circuit has recognized the Grubart jurisdictional test. See Brock v. Lewis, 86 F.3d 1148 (4th Cir. 1996)(unpublished opinion). Other publications that provide discussion of the criteria for determining admiralty jurisdiction include:1 The Law of Maritime Personal Injuries §10.1 (5th ed.)(2007)(stating that “[t]here is no doubt that [HN22] under the current law recreational boating activities that give rise to personal injuries or death fall within admiralty jurisdiction if they satisfy the locus and nexus criteria for admiralty tort jurisdiction.”; See also Wright, Miller, Cooper, 14A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris.3d §3676; Admiralty Jurisdiction: Maritime Nature of Torts – Modern Cases, 80 A.L.R. Fed. 105 (2008).
[**388] [*252] Based upon the United [***37] States Supreme Court’s holding in Grubart, [HN23] in order for the circuit court to find that general maritime law applies, it should have properly determined whether the rafting mishap and ensuing tort claims arising therefrom satisfied both prerequisite conditions of 1) location on the navigable waters and 2) connection with maritime activity. Failing to conduct such an analysis, the circuit court’s order of April 15, 2008, concluded, in a single sentence, that “because the incident occurred on the Shenandoah River, a navigable body of water, it is governed by general maritime law.” From its order, the circuit court appears to have only considered the first prong of the Grubart test in arriving at its conclusion that maritime law applied. 17
17 It is not necessary for this Court to discuss the propriety of the circuit court’s findings regarding the location requirement to the extent that we find that the second part of the Grubart test is not satisfied. [HN24] A party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333(1) over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity. With that said, we note that the circuit court provided [***38] no standards whereby it determined that the Shenandoah River is in fact a navigable river, and no facts to which it applied standards to make that determination. Based on the limited set of facts we have reviewed herein, we question how a river with average relevant depths of two feet that was used for whitewater rafting purposes could possibly be considered a navigable waterway for purposes of maritime jurisdiction.
In addition to determining whether the incident occurred on navigable waters, the circuit court should have also analyzed whether the incident constituted “a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce” and that it had a “substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity” in order to satisfy the second nexus criterion. Applying the second prong of the Grubart test to the circumstances of the instant case, we find that [HN25] the activity of whitewater rafting does not constitute traditional maritime activity and is therefore not governed by maritime law.
First, given the fact that the Shenandoah River maintains average depths of two feet, 18 it is hard to envision how the act of whitewater rafting could have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, to [***39] the extent that this area was unlikely a highly traveled thoroughfare over which trade and travel is conducted. 19 However, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the incident that occurred during this whitewater rafting trip had a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, it still did not bear a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.
18 This fact was represented by both the Petitioners and the Respondents.
19 See Grubart, 115 S.Ct. at 1051 (the relevant inquiry is whether the general features of the mishap place it within a class of incidents that pose more than a fanciful risk to commercial shipping.)
The cases before us involve an unfortunate incident that occurred during the course of a recreational outing on a river that was unusually swollen with flood waters resulting from a hurricane. They do not concern piloting, shipping, or navigational error, or other aspects of traditional maritime activity. Foster v. Peddicord, 826 F.2d 1370, 1376 (4th Cir. 1987). The requisite maritime connection is therefore missing.
It is particularly relevant that there is no existing federal or state precedent applying admiralty jurisdiction to the activity of whitewater [***40] rafting. Perhaps this is because the very nature of the activity of whitewater rafting is not the customary mode of travel or transportation with which maritime law has ever been concerned. Whitewater rafting is a recreational activity where participants seek the adventure of paddling a rubber raft in rapidly moving whitewater streams and rivers. Such use of streams and rivers carrying people, not as traveling passengers, but rather as participants seeking adventure, makes it difficult to conceive that whitewater rafting bears a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. For these reasons, we conclude that the circuit court committed clear error in determining [**389] [*253] that maritime law applies to the instant cases.
Accordingly, we grant the writ sought only to the extent of vacating the circuit court’s ruling finding that the rafting incident is governed by maritime law. We remand this matter to the circuit court for entry of an order consistent with this opinion.
Writ granted as moulded.
Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 258 Ore. App. 390; 310 P.3d 692; 2013 Ore. App. LEXIS 1080
Myles A. Bagley, individually, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Al Bagley, individually; and Lauren Bagley, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, Defendant-Respondent, and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.
COURT OF APPEALS OF OREGON
258 Ore. App. 390; 310 P.3d 692; 2013 Ore. App. LEXIS 1080
September 6, 2012, Argued and Submitted
September 5, 2013, Filed
COUNSEL: Kathryn H. Clarke argued the cause for appellant. On the opening brief were Bryan W. Gruetter and Joseph S. Walsh. With her on the reply brief was Lisa T. Hunt.
Andrew C. Balyeat argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Balyeat & Eager, LLP.
JUDGES: Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Sercombe, Judge, and Hadlock, Judge.
OPINION BY: SERCOMBE
[**694] [*392] SERCOMBE, J.
Plaintiff Bagley, after suffering serious injuries while snowboarding over a “jump” in defendant Mt. Bachelor, Inc.’s (Mt. Bachelor) “terrain park,” brought this action alleging negligence in the design, construction, maintenance, or inspection of that jump. 1 The trial court granted Mt. Bachelor’s motion for summary judgment, which was based on the affirmative defense of release, and denied Bagley’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment pertaining to that same issue. Bagley appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in (1) concluding that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Bagley ratified, after reaching the age of majority, a release agreement entered into while he was a minor; (2) concluding that the release agreement was not contrary [***2] to public policy; and (3) concluding that the release agreement was neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable. For the reasons that follow, we agree with the trial court and, accordingly, affirm.
1 For ease of reading, notwithstanding additional named parties (Bagley’s parents and “John Does 1-10″), we refer throughout this opinion to plaintiff “Bagley” and defendant “Mt. Bachelor.”
[HN1] In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we view the facts, along with all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party–here, Bagley on Mt. Bachelor’s motion and Mt. Bachelor on Bagley’s cross-motion. ORCP 47 C; Vaughn v. First Transit, Inc., 346 Ore. 128, 132, 206 P3d 181 (2009). On September 29, 2005, just under two weeks before his 18th birthday, Bagley purchased a “season pass” from Mt. Bachelor. Bagley was a skilled and experienced snowboarder, having purchased season passes from Mt. Bachelor for each of the preceding three years and having classified his skill level as of early 2006, immediately prior to the injury, as “advanced expert.” Upon purchasing the season pass, he executed [**695] a release agreement as required by Mt. Bachelor. That [***3] agreement read, in pertinent part:
“RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT
“IN CONSIDERATION OF THE USE OF A MT. BACHELOR PASS AND/OR MT. BACHELOR’S PREMISES, I/WE AGREE TO RELEASE AND INDEMNIFY MT. BACHELOR, [*393] INC., ITS OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS, OWNERS, AGENTS, LANDOWNERS, AFFILIATED COMPANIES, AND EMPLOYEES (HEREINAFTER ‘MT. BACHELOR, INC.’) FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS FOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURY, OR DEATH WHICH I/WE MAY SUFFER OR FOR WHICH I/WE MAY BE LIABLE TO OTHERS, IN ANY WAY CONNECTED WITH SKIING, SNOWBOARDING, OR SNOWRIDING. THIS RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT SHALL APPLY TO ANY CLAIM EVEN IF CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE. THE ONLY CLAIMS NOT RELEASED ARE THOSE BASED UPON INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT.
“* * * * *
“THE UNDERSIGNED(S) HAVE CAREFULLY READ AND UNDERSTAND THIS AGREEMENT AND ALL OF ITS TERMS ON BOTH SIDES OF THIS DOCUMENT. THIS INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO, THE DUTIES OF SKIERS, SNOWBOARDERS, OR SNOWRIDERS. THE UNDERSIGNED(S) UNDERSTAND THAT THIS DOCUMENT IS AN AGREEMENT OF RELEASE AND INDEMNITY WHICH WILL PREVENT THE UNDERSIGNED(S) OR THE UNDERSIGNEDS’ ESTATE FROM RECOVERING DAMAGES FROM MT. BACHELOR, INC. IN THE EVENT OF DEATH OR INJURY TO PERSON OR PROPERTY. THE UNDERSIGNED(S), NEVERTHELESS, [***4] ENTER INTO THIS AGREEMENT FREELY AND VOLUNTARILY AND AGREE IT IS BINDING ON THE UNDERSIGNED(S) AND THE UNDERSIGNEDS’ HEIRS AND LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES.
“BY MY/OUR SIGNATURE(S) BELOW, I/WE AGREE THAT THIS RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT WILL REMAIN IN FULL FORCE AND EFFECT AND I WILL BE BOUND BY ITS TERMS THROUGHOUT THIS SEASON AND ALL SUBSEQUENT SEASONS FOR WHICH I/WE RENEW THIS SEASON PASS.
“SEE REVERSE SIDE OF THIS SHEET * * * FOR DUTIES OF SKIERS, SNOWBOARDERS, OR SNOW RIDERS WHICH YOU MUST OBSERVE.”
(Underscoring and capitalization in original; emphases added.) The reverse side of the document detailed the “Duties of Skiers” pursuant to ORS 30.990 and ORS 30.985 and also included printed notification that “Skiers/Snowboarders/Snowriders [*394] Assume Certain Risks” under ORS 30.975–namely, the “inherent risks of skiing.” 2 In addition, because Bagley was not yet 18, his father executed a “minor release and indemnity agreement” (capitalization omitted) that read as follows:
“I HEREBY AGREE TO RELEASE AND INDEMNIFY MT. BACHELOR, INC., ITS OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS, OWNERS, AGENTS, LANDOWNERS, AFFILIATED COMPANIES, AND EMPLOYEES FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS FOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURY, OR DEATH WHICH [***5] THE MINOR(S) NAMED BELOW MAY SUFFER OR FOR WHICH HE OR SHE MAY BE LIABLE TO OTHERS, IN ANY WAY CONNECTED WITH SKIING, SNOWBOARDING, OR SNOWRIDING. THIS RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT SHALL APPLY TO ANY CLAIM EVEN IF CAUSED BY [**696] NEGLIGENCE. THE ONLY CLAIMS NOT RELEASED ARE THOSE BASED UPON INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT.
“BY MY SIGNATURE BELOW, I AGREE THAT THIS MINOR RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT WILL REMAIN IN FULL FORCE AND EFFECT AND I WILL BE BOUND BY ITS TERMS THROUGHOUT THIS SEASON AND ALL SUBSEQUENT SEASONS FOR WHICH THIS SEASON PASS IS RENEWED.
“I HAVE CAREFULLY READ AND UNDERSTAND THIS AGREEMENT AND ALL OF ITS TERMS.”
(Capitalization in original; emphasis added.)
2 Oregon has promulgated statutes specifically pertaining to skiing and ski areas. See ORS 30.970 – 30.990. Those statutes, inter alia, set forth the “duties” of skiers, require that ski area operators inform skiers of those duties, establish notice requirements and a statute of limitations pertaining specifically to injury or death while skiing, and provide that those who engage in the sport of skiing accept and assume the risks inherent in that activity.
Less than two weeks after purchasing the season pass and executing the [***6] above-quoted release agreement, Bagley reached the age of majority–turning 18 on October 12, 2005. Thereafter, on November 18, 2005, Bagley began using the pass, on which the crux of the release agreement was also printed:
[*395] “READ THIS RELEASE AGREEMENT
“IN CONSIDERATION FOR EACH LIFT RIDE, THE TICKET USER RELEASES AND AGREES TO HOLD HARMLESS AND INDEMNIFY MT. BACHELOR, INC., AND ITS EMPLOYEES AND AGENTS FROM ALL CLAIMS FOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURY OR DEATH EVEN IF CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE. THE ONLY CLAIMS NOT RELEASED ARE THOSE BASED UPON INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT.”
(Capitalization in original; emphasis added.) Further, the following sign was posted at each of Mt. Bachelor’s ski lift terminals:
“YOUR TICKET IS A RELEASE
“The back of your ticket contains a release of all claims against Mt. Bachelor, Inc. and its employees or agents. Read the back of your ticket before you ride any lifts or use any of the facilities of Mt. Bachelor, Inc. If you purchase a ticket from someone else, you must provide this ticket release information to that person or persons.
“Skiers and lift passengers who use tickets at this resort release and agree to hold harmless and indemnify Mt. Bachelor, Inc., its employees and [***7] agents from all claims for property damage, injury or death which he/she may suffer or for which he/she may be liable to others, arising out of the use of Mt. Bachelor’s premises, whether such claims are for negligence or any other theory of recovery, except for intentional misconduct.
“If you do not agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of the sale of your ticket, please do not purchase the ticket or use the facilities at Mt. Bachelor.
“Presentation of this ticket to gain access to the premises and facilities of this area is an acknowledgment of your agreement to the terms and conditions outlined above.”
(Capitalization in original; emphases added.)
Ultimately, beginning on November 18, 2005, after his 18th birthday, Bagley used his season pass to ride Mt. Bachelor’s lifts at least 119 times over the course of 26 days spent snowboarding at the ski area. However, on February 16, 2006, while snowboarding over a manmade jump in Mt. Bachelor’s “air chamber” terrain park, Bagley sustained serious injuries resulting in permanent paralysis.
[*396] On June 16, 2006, approximately four months later, Bagley provided Mt. Bachelor with formal notice of his injury under ORS 30.980(1), which requires [***8] that “[a] ski area operator * * * be notified of any injury to a skier * * * within 180 days after the injury * * *.” Nearly two years after the injury, on February 15, 2008, Bagley brought this action–filing a complaint alleging negligence on Mt. Bachelor’s part in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which Bagley was injured. Mt. Bachelor answered, in part, by invoking the affirmative defense of release–pointing to the above-quoted release agreements signed by Bagley and his father prior to the date of injury.
Mt. Bachelor quickly moved for summary judgment on that ground, arguing before the trial court that, by failing to disaffirm the voidable release agreement within a reasonable [**697] period of time after reaching the age of majority, and by accepting the benefits of that agreement and “objectively manifest[ing] his intent to affirm” it (i.e., by riding Mt. Bachelor’s lifts 119 times over 26 days), Bagley had ratified the release and was therefore bound by it. Mt. Bachelor further noted that Bagley “admittedly understood that he [had] entered into a release agreement and was snowboarding under its terms on the date of [the] accident.” Accordingly, Mt. Bachelor [***9] argued, because Bagley had ratified a release agreement that unambiguously disclaimed liability for negligence, there was no material issue of fact as to whether that agreement barred Bagley’s action, and Mt. Bachelor was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 3
3 Mt. Bachelor additionally argued, as pertinent to this appeal, that the release agreement was neither adhesionary nor contrary to public policy under Oregon law. Specifically, it argued that “skiers and snowboarders voluntarily choose to ski and snowboard and ski resorts do not provide essential public services.”
Bagley then filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment as to Mt. Bachelor’s affirmative defense of release, arguing that “there [was] no genuine issue of material fact [as to whether] the release [was] void and unenforceable as a matter of law.” Specifically, Bagley argued that he timely disaffirmed the release agreement by (1) notifying Mt. Bachelor of the injury pursuant to ORS 30.980(1), (2) filing his complaint for negligence within the two-year statute of limitations “for injuries to a skier” established by ORS 30.980(3), [*397] and (3) “plead[ing] infancy as a defense to [Mt. Bachelor's] First Affirmative Defense [***10] on the release executed by [Bagley] while an infant.” Additionally, in response to Mt. Bachelor’s motion, Bagley alternatively argued that “whether [he] disaffirmed the Release within a reasonable time should be determined by the jury as a question of fact” because a material issue of fact existed as to Bagley’s knowledge of both the scope of the release (namely, whether it covered claims for negligence) and “of his right to disaffirm” it (i.e., whether it was voidable). He further argued that the release was contrary to public policy and “both substantively and procedurally unconscionable.”
The trial court agreed with Mt. Bachelor, reasoning that Bagley’s “use of the pass following his eighteenth birthday constitute[d] an affirmation of the contract and release agreement each time the pass was used, a total of 119 times over a period of 26 different days, up to February 16, 2006[,]” and noting that, “[o]nce there [was] an affirmation, [Bagley could] no longer disaffirm the contract.” The court rejected Bagley’s public policy and unconscionability arguments, reasoning that “[s]now riding is not such an essential service which requires someone such as [Bagley] to be forced to sign a [***11] release in order to obtain the service.” Accordingly, having determined that Bagley ratified the release agreement after reaching the age of majority and that “there [was] no basis by which [it could] find the release invalid[,]” the trial court granted summary judgment in Mt. Bachelor’s favor and denied Bagley’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment. Bagley now appeals, reprising his arguments below.
[HN2] On appeal, we review the trial court’s ruling on summary judgment to determine whether we agree “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” ORCP 47 C; see O’Dee v. Tri-County Metropolitan Trans. Dist., 212 Ore. App. 456, 460, 157 P3d 1272 (2007). [HN3] No genuine issue of material fact exists if, “based upon the record before the court viewed in a manner most favorable to the adverse party, no objectively reasonable juror could return a verdict for the adverse party on the matter that is the subject of the motion for summary judgment.” ORCP 47 C.
[*398] In his first assignment of error, Bagley asserts that “[t]here is a genuine factual dispute as to whether [his] actions or omissions after reaching the age of majority [***12] were enough to disaffirm or affirm the contract he entered with [Mt. Bachelor] when he was a minor.” More specifically, Bagley argues that “[a] jury could reasonably infer from the facts that merely turning 18 years old and continuing to snowboard was not conclusive evidence of [his] intent to affirm the release [**698] and agree to waive all prospective claims for [Mt. Bachelor's] negligence.” He argues that a jury “could just as easily find that he promptly disaffirmed the contract” by notifying Mt. Bachelor of the injury approximately four months after it occurred as required by ORS 30.980(1), by filing suit for negligence within the applicable statute of limitations, or by pleading infancy in response to Mt. Bachelor’s affirmative defense of release. 4
4 Bagley alternatively argues that, “even if there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the inferences arising from the facts in this case are susceptible to more than one reasonable conclusion precluding summary judgment.” However, Bagley does not identify any facts that purportedly give rise to inferences susceptible to more than one reasonable conclusion, and, ultimately, his generalized argument to that effect is not materially different [***13] from his argument in support of his first assignment of error. Accordingly, we reject that alternative argument without further discussion.
Mt. Bachelor likewise reprises its arguments below, asserting that Bagley admittedly knew that he was snowboarding under the terms of a release agreement, was aware of the inherent risks of snowboarding (particularly given his advanced, aerial style of snowboarding), and, “[u]nderstanding those risks,” made “an informed decision to execute the release agreement” and “an informed decision to honor the agreement after reaching the age of majority because he wanted to snowboard.” As noted, Mt. Bachelor points to Bagley’s use of the pass after reaching the age of majority–arguing that Bagley ratified the release agreement by riding the lifts “no less than 119 times on 26 days before the subject accident.”
[HN4] In Oregon, a former minor may disaffirm a contract within a “reasonable time” after reaching the age of majority, see Highland v. Tollisen, 75 Ore. 578, 587, 147 P 558 (1915), or, conversely, may ratify a contract after reaching the age of majority by manifesting an intent to let the contract stand, [*399] see Haldeman v. Weeks, 90 Ore. 201, 205, 175 P 445 (1918); [***14] see also Richard A. Lord, 5 Williston on Contracts § 9:17, 166-70 (4th ed 2009) (“[I]f an infant after reaching the age of majority engages in any conduct that objectively manifests an intent to regard the bargain as binding, the former minor will be held as a matter of law to have ratified the contract.”). Further, as particularly relevant here, although what constitutes a reasonable period of time after reaching the age of majority varies widely depending on the circumstances, it is well established that [HN5] ratification of a voidable contract abolishes a party’s power to later disaffirm it. See Brown et ux v. Hassenstab et ux, 212 Ore. 246, 256, 319 P2d 929 (1957) (“The two courses of action are inconsistent and the taking of one will preclude the other.”); Snyder v. Rhoads, 47 Ore. App 545, 553-54, 615 P2d 1058, rev den, 290 Ore. 157 (1980) (similar).
Applying those principles to these facts, we agree with Mt. Bachelor and conclude that no objectively reasonable juror could find that Bagley disaffirmed the release agreement within a reasonable time after turning 18. Rather, the record gives rise to only one reasonable conclusion: By using the season pass at least 119 times over the course [***15] of 26 days between November 18, 2005 and February 16, 2006, Bagley objectively manifested his intent to let the release stand–affirmatively electing to ride the lifts and snowboard under the terms of the agreement (i.e., to accept the benefits of the agreement). His actions after the date of injury–at which time the release had already been ratified and Bagley’s power to disaffirm it thereby defeated–are immaterial. Cf. Highland, 75 Ore. at 587 (former minor’s disaffirmance held valid under circumstances where she had neither taken any affirmative action on the contract nor received any benefit from it); see also Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 85 comment b (1981) (power of disaffirmance may be lost, inter alia, “by exercise of dominion over things received”); Lord, 5 Williston on Contracts § 9:17 at 170 ( [HN6] “[I]f the infant after attaining majority voluntarily receives performance in whole or in part from the other party to the contract, this will amount to a ratification.”). 5
5 Although existing Oregon case law on point is limited, several other states have similarly reasoned that a former minor’s acceptance of the benefits of a contract may constitute a ratification. See, e.g., Jones v. Dressel, 623 P2d 370, 372-74 (Colo 1981) [***16] (holding that a former minor, who had signed a release at age 17 in order to skydive, “ratified the contract, as a matter of law, by accepting the benefits of the contract when he used [the defendant's] facilities” and further stating that the question whether that former minor’s subsequent actions constituted disaffirmance of the contract was “not relevant” because the former minor had already ratified the contract); Parsons ex rel Cabaniss v. American Family Insurance Co., 2007 WI App 211, 305 Wis 2d 630, 639, 740 NW2d 399, 403 (Wis Ct App 2007), rev den, 2008 WI 19, 307 Wis. 2d 294, 746 N.W.2d 811 (Wis 2008) (former minor ratified release agreement in connection with settlement by retaining funds given as consideration for that release).
[*400] [**699] In reaching that conclusion, we emphasize that Bagley was less than two weeks short of the age of majority when he signed the release agreement and did not begin snowboarding under its terms until well over a month after turning 18. He was also an experienced snowboarder, had signed release agreements at other ski resorts in the past, and had purchased a season pass and signed a release agreement for each of the preceding three years that he spent snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor. See [***17] Haldeman, 90 Ore. at 205 (considering former minor’s maturity and life experience in determining whether contract had been ratified). Moreover, the language of the release was unambiguous, as discussed further below, and that language was both heavily emphasized and omnipresent–having been reproduced on the back of the physical season pass that Bagley was required to carry at all times and in large part on signage at each of the lift terminals to which Bagley was exposed at least 119 times. Indeed, given the exculpatory language on Bagley’s pass and the signage directing his attention to it, it is not implausible that Bagley released Mt. Bachelor from liability for negligence each time that he rode one of the lifts.
Nevertheless, Bagley affirmatively chose to accept the benefits of the agreement after reaching the age of majority and, as noted, continued to do so until the date of injury notwithstanding the pass’s and signage’s continuing reminders of the existence of the agreement and provision of ample exposure to its terms. The following exchange, which occurred during Bagley’s deposition, is particularly illustrative:
“[Mt. Bachelor's Counsel]: The reason you didn’t go to Mt. Bachelor [***18] and tell them ‘You know what, I signed this agreement when I was 17, now I’m 18, I want to void it, I don’t want to be subject to it,’ what I’m asking you to [*401] acknowledge is the reason you didn’t do that is because you wanted [to] continue [to snowboard] and did continue [to snowboard] under the terms of the season pass agreement.
Thus, as the trial court correctly reasoned, when Bagley used the season pass 119 times to gain access to Mt. Bachelor’s lifts, he objectively manifested his intent to regard the release agreement as binding in order to reap its benefits–thereby ratifying it.
However, although he concedes that he was “aware of the release” and “aware of the inherent risks of his sport[,]” Bagley further argues that he did not know that the agreement released Mt. Bachelor from claims related to its own negligence. Nor, he argues, did he know that he had the power to disaffirm the contract upon turning 18. We conclude that such knowledge was not a necessary prerequisite to ratification and, therefore, that Bagley’s arguments as to his subjective understanding of both the release agreement and the law do not affect our determination that “no objectively reasonable [***19] juror could [have] return[ed] a verdict for” Bagley on the issue of ratification. ORCP 47 C.
Oregon subscribes to the “objective theory of contracts.” Kabil Developments Corp. v. Mignot, 279 Ore. 151, 156-57, 566 P2d 505 (1977) (citation omitted); Newton/Boldt v. Newton, 192 Ore. App. 386, 392, 86 P3d 49, rev den, 337 Ore. 84, 93 P.3d 72 (2004), cert den, 543 U.S. 1173, 125 S. Ct. 1365, 161 L. Ed. 2d 153 (2005). Accordingly, although there is undisputed evidence in the record showing that, after reaching the age of majority, Bagley was exposed to language expressly disclaiming liability for negligence on the part of Mt. Bachelor, 6 his subjective understanding [*402] [**700] of that language and the terms of the release agreement is not relevant to the question of whether he ratified that agreement such that it could be enforced against him. See, e.g., NW Pac. Indem. v. Junction City Water Dist., 295 Ore. 553, 557 n 4, 668 P2d 1206 (1983), modified on other grounds, 296 Ore. 365, 677 P2d 671 (1984) ( [HN7] “[F]ailure to read an instrument is not a defense to enforcement.”).
6 For instance, as noted, the season pass that he was required to carry with him at all times expressly disclaimed liability for negligence and drew his attention to that language with the following [***20] heading: “READ THIS RELEASE AGREEMENT[.]” (Capitalization in original.) Further, during his deposition testimony, Bagley confirmed that he had read signage posted prominently on the mountain that stated, as pertinent here, that
“[s]kiers and lift passengers who use tickets at this resort release and agree to hold harmless and indemnify Mt. Bachelor, Inc., its employees and agents from all claims for property damage, injury or death which he/she may suffer or for which he/she may be liable to others, arising out of the use of Mt. Bachelor’s premises, whether such claims are for negligence or any other theory of recovery, except for intentional misconduct.”
We similarly reject Bagley’s argument regarding his lack of knowledge of the power to disaffirm the release agreement upon reaching the age of majority. In raising that issue, Bagley notes that, “[i]n some states, the former infant’s knowledge, or lack thereof, of his right to disaffirm a contract may be taken into consideration” in assessing whether there has been a ratification or disaffirmance. (Emphases added.) However, we have previously stated that [HN8] “[i]gnorance of [***21] the law is not a basis for not enforcing a contract.” Shea v. Begley, 94 Ore. App. 554, 558 n 3, 766 P2d 418 (1988), rev den, 307 Ore. 514, 770 P.2d 595 (1989) (citation omitted; emphasis added); see also Walcutt v. Inform Graphics, Inc., 109 Ore. App. 148, 152, 817 P2d 1353 (1991), rev den, 312 Ore. 589, 824 P.2d 418 (1992) (the plaintiff was not entitled to avoid contract due to her and her counsel’s “failure to take reasonable measures to inform themselves about her affairs”). Moreover, as Mt. Bachelor correctly points out, Bagley’s argument is drawn from the minority view among other jurisdictions. See Lord, 5 Williston on Contracts § 9:17 at 175-77 (former minor’s ignorance of legal defense of infancy treated as irrelevant in a majority of those jurisdictions that have considered the issue). As aptly stated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,
“[t]o require that one must have knowledge of a right to disaffirm in order to make an effective ratification of a voidable contract made in infancy would be inconsistent with the well-established rule that failure to disaffirm such contract within a reasonable time after coming of age terminates the privilege of disaffirmance.”
Campbell v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 307 Pa 365, 371, 161 A 310, 312 (1932).
In [***22] short, both of Bagley’s ancillary arguments are inconsistent with the objective theory of contracts to which Oregon adheres; we look to the parties’ objective conduct, [*403] and, here, after reaching the age of majority, Bagley objectively manifested his intent to let the contract stand because he “wanted to snowboard[.]“
As noted, in his second assignment of error, Bagley asserts that the release agreement was void as contrary to public policy–focusing primarily on the respective bargaining power of the parties and an asserted “public interest [in] protecting a large number of business invitees, including [Bagley], from the negligence of ski area operators.” 7 (Some capitalization omitted.) [HN9] In evaluating whether a contract disclaiming liability for negligence is contrary to public policy, we assess the language of the agreement under the circumstances in order to determine whether it violates public policy “as applied” to the facts of the particular case. Harmon v. Mt. Hood Meadows Ltd., 146 Ore. App. 215, 217-18, 222-24, 932 P2d 92 (1997) (upholding release agreement disclaiming “any and all liability (including claims based upon negligence) for damage or injury” because the plaintiff’s action [***23] pertained only to ordinary negligence and therefore did not implicate the release’s potential coverage of recklessness or intentional misconduct [**701] (capitalization and boldface omitted)). Specifically, we stated in Harmon that
[HN10] “[t]he question of whether a contract provision is unenforceable as against some general, uncodified public policy must be determined on an ‘as applied’ basis. * * * [A] party seeking to avoid contractual responsibility must demonstrate that enforcement of the contractual provision as to him or her will offend public policy. That is so regardless of whether enforcement of the same contractual provision against other parties in other circumstances would violate public policy.”
Id. at 222 (emphases added); see generally Young v. Mobil Oil Corp., 85 Ore. App. 64, 69, 735 P2d 654 (1987) ( [HN11] “Oregon requires that a public policy be clear and ‘overpowering’ before a court will interfere with the parties’ freedom to contract on the ground of public policy.” (Citation omitted.)).
7 We assume without deciding that the “void as contrary to public policy” doctrine pertaining to this type of case has not been superseded by later-evolved principles concerning substantive unconscionability. [***24] See Restatement at § 208 comment a (unconscionability analysis generally “overlaps” with public-policy analysis).
[*404] Again, the release agreement provided, as pertinent here:
“RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT
“IN CONSIDERATION OF THE USE OF A MT. BACHELOR PASS AND/OR MT. BACHELOR’S PREMISES, I/WE AGREE TO RELEASE AND INDEMNIFY MT. BACHELOR, INC., ITS OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS, OWNERS, AGENTS, LANDOWNERS, AFFILIATED COMPANIES, AND EMPLOYEES (HEREINAFTER ‘MT. BACHELOR, INC.’) FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS FOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURY, OR DEATH WHICH I/WE MAY SUFFER OR FOR WHICH I/WE MAY BE LIABLE TO OTHERS, IN ANY WAY CONNECTED WITH SKIING, SNOWBOARDING, OR SNOWRIDING. THIS RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT SHALL APPLY TO ANY CLAIM EVEN IF CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE. THE ONLY CLAIMS NOT RELEASED ARE THOSE BASED UPON INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT.”
(Underscoring and capitalization in original; emphasis added.) Although that exculpatory language expressly excludes intentional misconduct from its purview, the same cannot be said with respect to gross negligence or recklessness. However, applying Harmon, because Bagley alleges only ordinary negligence, the failure to expressly exclude gross negligence or recklessness does [***25] not render the agreement contrary to public policy “as applied” to the negligence claim in this case. 146 Ore. App at 222.
Further, in assessing the language of the agreement, our decision in Steele v. Mt. Hood Meadows Oregon, Ltd., 159 Ore. App. 272, 974 P2d 794, rev den, 329 Ore. 10, 994 P.2d 119 (1999), provides substantial guidance. There, the plaintiff in a wrongful death action brought against a ski resort argued that the trial court had erred in granting summary judgment for the ski resort in part because “the terms of the release [were] ambiguous.” Id. at 276. We concluded that the agreement was ambiguous and stated that, [HN12] “[w]hen one party seeks to contract away liability for its own negligence in advance of any harm, the intent to do so must be ‘clearly and unequivocally expressed.’” Id. (quoting Estey v. MacKenzie Engineering Inc., 324 Ore. 372, 376, 927 P2d 86 (1996)). We further elaborated:
[*405] “In determining whether a contract provision meets that standard, the court has considered both the language of the contract and the possibility of a harsh or inequitable result that would fall on one party if the other were immunized from the consequences of its own negligence. The latter inquiry turns on the [***26] nature of the parties’ obligations and the expectations under the contract.”
Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis added).
We conclude that the release agreement’s language “clearly and unequivocally” expressed Mt. Bachelor’s intent to disclaim liability for negligence. In reaching that conclusion, considering “the nature of the parties’ obligations and the expectations under the contract[,]” id., we note that Bagley admittedly understood that he was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity and that the agreement not only disclaimed liability [**702] for negligence but specifically stated that the “only” claims not released were those for intentional misconduct. Unlike the ambiguous release agreement in Steele, the above-quoted language expressly referred to negligence and was positioned prominently at the beginning of the release agreement; it was not obscured by unrelated provisions. See id. at 274-75 (exculpatory provision obscured by, inter alia, provision addressing skier’s duty to report injuries to the ski resort’s medical clinic). Indeed, we are hard-pressed to envision a more unambiguous expression of “the expectations under the contract”–namely, that in exchange [***27] for the right to use Mt. Bachelor’s facilities to participate in an inherently dangerous activity, Bagley was to release Mt. Bachelor from all claims related to anything other than intentional misconduct (including, of course, negligence).
Moreover, we have previously emphasized that [HN13] a release agreement disclaiming liability for negligence does not necessarily offend public policy where it pertains exclusively to “recreational activities,” and, most prominently, where the business seeking to relieve itself of such liability does “not provide an essential public service[.]” Mann v. Wetter, 100 Ore. App. 184, 187, 187 n 1, 785 P2d 1064, rev den, 309 Ore. 645, 789 P.2d 1387 (1990) (“[T]here are no public policy considerations that prevent a diving school from limiting liability for its own negligence. The diving school does not provide an [*406] essential public service[.]“). A ski resort, like a diving school, primarily offers “recreational activities” (with possible exceptions that do not apply here, e.g., training for search-and-rescue personnel) and does not provide an “essential public service[.]” Id.
Thus, bearing in mind the principles set forth in Mann and the recreational context of this particular case, [***28] 8 because the release agreement “clearly and unequivocally” disclaimed liability for negligence, and because Bagley’s claims relate only to ordinary negligence, under Oregon law the agreement was not contrary to public policy “as applied” to Bagley’s action. Steele, 159 Ore. App. at 276; Harmon, 146 Ore. App. at 222.
8 Regarding that recreational context, we further note that the legislature has enacted statutes indemnifying landowners from liability in connection with “use of the land for recreational purposes[.]” ORS 105.682; see ORS 105.672 – 105.696. Accordingly, we add that, as a general matter, it would be counterintuitive to hold that a contract with the same operative effect as that statutory scheme is void as contrary to public policy.
Finally, we reject Bagley’s third assignment of error, in which, as noted, he asserts that the release agreement was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. At the outset, we emphasize the substantive rigor historically applied by Oregon courts in assessing claims of unconscionability:
[HN14] “‘[T]he doctrine of unconscionability does not relieve parties from all unfavorable terms that result from the parties’ respective bargaining positions; it [***29] relieves them from terms that are unreasonably favorable to the party with greater bargaining power. Oregon courts have been reluctant to disturb agreements between parties on the basis of unconscionability, even when those parties do not come to the bargaining table with equal power. In those rare instances in which our courts have declared contractual provisions unconscionable, there existed serious procedural and substantive unfairness.’”
Hatkoff v. Portland Adventist Medical Center, 252 Ore. App. 210, 217, 287 P3d 1113 (2012) (quoting Motsinger v. Lithia Rose-FT, Inc., 211 Ore. App. 610, 626-27, 156 P3d 156 (2007)) (emphasis in Motsinger). Further, “each case is decided on its own unique facts[,]” Vasquez-Lopez v. Beneficial Oregon, Inc., 210 Ore. App. 553, 567, 152 P3d 940 (2007), taking into account both the terms of the contract and the circumstances existing when the contract was signed.
[HN15] [*407] In assessing Bagley’s claim of procedural unconscionability, we focus on “the conditions of contract formation” and look to “two factors: oppression and surprise.” Id. at 566-67 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). More specifically, “[o]ppression arises from an inequality of bargaining power [***30] which results in no real negotiation and an absence of meaningful [**703] choice. Surprise involves the extent to which the supposedly agreed-upon terms of the bargain are hidden in a prolix printed form drafted by the party seeking to enforce the terms.” Id. at 566 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Bagley addresses only the former, advancing a generalized argument that the agreement “was a contract of adhesion and there was a disparity in bargaining power.” (Some capitalization omitted.)
As noted, we do not find the release agreement procedurally unconscionable under these circumstances. Although the parties indeed came to the bargaining table with unequal power insofar as Mt. Bachelor required that the release be signed in order to allow Bagley to purchase a season pass, we have, albeit in dictum and in the context of addressing public-policy arguments, suggested that standard-form release agreements in the context of recreational activities are not impermissibly adhesive. See Harmon, 146 Ore. App. at 219 n 4 (citing cases from other jurisdictions and noting their holdings “that exculpatory provisions in ski-related form agreements were not impermissibly adhesive”); Mann, 100 Ore. App. at 187-88 [***31] (noting that “customers have a multitude of alternatives” in dealing with providers of “non-essential service[s,]” even where such providers hold an “economic advantage”). 9 Although we limit our holding to these “unique facts,” we rely in part on those principles in addressing both “oppression” and “surprise” (as well as substantive unconscionability, as set forth below).
9 Many other states, as well as federal courts, have, as Mt. Bachelor points out, “reached the same conclusion.” See, e.g., Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L. P., 607 Pa 1, 29, 2 A3d 1174, 1191 (2010) (noting that, in the recreational context, “[t]he signer is a free agent who can simply walk away without signing the release and participating in the activity, and thus the contract signed under such circumstances is not unconscionable”); Silva v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., No CV 06-6330-AA, *2, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55942 (D Or July 21, 2008) (“[T]he release from liability is not invalid as a contract of adhesion, because [the] plaintiff voluntarily chose to ski at Mt. Bachelor and the ski resort does not provide essential public services.”); Grbac v. Reading Fair Co., Inc., 521 F Supp 1351, 1355 (WD Pa 1981), aff’d, 688 F2d 215 (3d Cir 1982) (stock-car [***32] racing company’s standard-form release provision not adhesionary).
[*408] Here, with respect to “oppression,” Bagley was free to choose not to snowboard at Mt. Bachelor, was less than two weeks short of the age of majority when he signed the agreement, was an experienced snowboarder who had previously signed release agreements required by at least two other ski resorts, had signed a release agreement in obtaining a season pass at Mt. Bachelor during each of the preceding three years, and was accompanied by his father (who, as noted, signed a nearly identical agreement disclaiming liability for negligence). Each of those facts contributes to our conclusion that, notwithstanding the parties’ unequal bargaining power, the circumstances of contract formation were not impermissibly oppressive. Bagley and his father were presented with a “meaningful choice[,]” Vasquez-Lopez, 210 Ore. App. at 566, particularly given that, as noted, snowboarding is a recreational activity and Bagley could have simply declined to sign the release without being denied access to an essential public service.
With respect to “surprise,” as evidenced by the unambiguous language of the release agreement, and particularly given [***33] its additional clarification after disclaiming liability for negligence (“THE ONLY CLAIMS NOT RELEASED ARE THOSE BASED UPON INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT”), this was not a situation where the “terms of the bargain [were] hidden” by Mt. Bachelor. Id. To the contrary, the above quoted paragraph pertaining to the skier’s release of claims, including claims for negligence, appeared at the beginning of the release agreement and was highlighted by a centered and underlined introductory heading drawing the skier’s attention to the fact that he or she was signing a release (“RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT”). On those facts, we find no indication of surprise and, coupled with our conclusion above as to oppression, cannot say that the release agreement was procedurally unconscionable.
In further arguing that the release agreement was substantively unconscionable, Bagley asserts that “[t]he Release term of the contract in question is unreasonably [**704] favorable to [Mt. Bachelor], the drafter of the contract and more powerful party.” Further, Bagley argues, the terms of the release “unconscionably shift[ ] the burden to protect [skiers] from [Mt. Bachelor's] negligent behavior to the public that it invites [***34] upon its premises, including [Bagley].” [HN16] [*409] In assessing a contract for substantive unconscionability, we focus on the terms of the contract itself in light of the circumstances of its formation; ultimately, “[t]he substantive fairness of the challenged terms” is the “essential issue.” Carey v. Lincoln Loan Co., 203 Ore. App. 399, 423, 125 P3d 814 (2005), aff’d on other grounds, 342 Ore. 530, 157 P3d 775 (2007); see Vasquez Lopez, 210 Ore. App. at 566-69.
On these facts, the provision in the release agreement disclaiming liability for negligence was not “unreasonably” favorable to Mt. Bachelor. Carey, 203 Ore. App. at 422. Indeed, the principal Oregon case touching on the issue upheld a provision–albeit on an “as applied” basis in the context of that particular plaintiff’s public-policy argument–that not only disclaimed liability for negligence in connection with skiing but for “any and all liability” (presumably including liability related to gross negligence or intentional misconduct on the part of the ski resort). Harmon, 146 Ore. App. at 217-22 (emphasis added). Moreover, as noted, in Harmon we specifically cited cases from other jurisdictions “holding that exculpatory provisions in ski-related form [***35] agreements were not impermissibly adhesive.” Id. at 219 n 4. Returning to the overarching notion that the terms at issue must be read in light of their recreational context, in one of those cases, the New Jersey Superior Court aptly reasoned as follows:
“When an individual enters a ski shop to buy ski equipment, s/he does not have a need for those goods and services, merely a desire. Should the seller demand exculpation as a condition for the sale of the equipment, the purchaser is free to walk away. This is not so with the consumer of automobile insurance, or the individual who cannot find a place to live during a housing shortage. Unlike the skier, these individuals must face an inability to use their automobile, or the prospect of becoming homeless, if they are not willing to sign on the dotted line and exculpate the provider. The skier merely faces the prospect of a ski-less weekend.”
McBride v. Minstar, Inc., 283 NJ Super 471, 491, 662 A2d 592, 602 (NJ Super Ct Law Div 1994), aff’d sub nom McBride v. Raichle Molitor, USA, 283 NJ Super 422, 662 A2d 567 (NJ Super Ct App Div), rev den, 143 N.J. 319, 670 A.2d 1061 (1995) (emphasis in original). As noted, similar release agreements [*410] in the [***36] context of recreational activities have been upheld (including against claims of unconscionability) in a number of other jurisdictions. See Or App at n 9 (slip op at 20 n 9). Finally, [HN17] ORS 105.682 establishes a public policy in favor of indemnification of landowners where the land is used for, inter alia, recreational purposes. We fail to see how a private contract to the same effect is substantively unfair as a matter of law.
Accordingly, given existing case law and the aforementioned substantive rigor that we apply in assessing claims of unconscionability, see Hatkoff, 252 Ore. App. at 217, we conclude that the terms of Mt. Bachelor’s release were not substantively unconscionable under these circumstances. That is, the inclusion of the release provision did not constitute one of “those rare instances” where the terms of the contract were so “unreasonably favorable” to Mt. Bachelor that they were unconscionable. Id. (emphasis in original); see also Restatement at § 208 comment b (a contract has traditionally been held unconscionable only where “it was such as no man in his senses and not under delusion would make” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).
In sum, we conclude [***37] that Bagley ratified the release agreement prior to the date of injury, nullifying his power to later disaffirm it (whether by notice, filing suit, or pleading infancy), and that the agreement–coupled with the language printed on the season pass and signage at the lift terminals–was sufficiently clear as to its application to claims for negligence. We further conclude that Bagley’s lack of knowledge regarding the scope of the unambiguous agreement did not preclude [**705] summary judgment, nor did his lack of knowledge of the power to disaffirm it upon reaching the age of majority. As to whether the release agreement was valid in the first instance, we conclude that, as applied, the release agreement was not contrary to public policy. Nor was the agreement substantively or procedurally unconscionable. Accordingly, no genuine issue of material fact exists as to Mt. Bachelor’s affirmative defense of release, and the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment for Mt. Bachelor and denying partial summary judgment to Bagley on that basis.
West Coast Life Insurance Company. Hoar, 558 F.3d 1151; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 5266
West Coast Life Insurance Company, a Nebraska corporation, Plaintiff – Appellee, v. Martha Hoar, as the personal representative of the other Estate of Stephen M. Butts; Telluride Properties, Llc., a Colorado Limited Liability Company; Telluride Properties, Inc., a Colorado corporation; Albert D. Roer, an individual; Polly Lychee, an individual, Defendants – Appellants.
558 F.3d 1151; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 5266
March 6, 2009, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO. (D.C. NO. 05-CV-01765-EWN-BNB).
W. Coast Life Ins. Co. v. Hoar, 505 F. Supp. 2d 734, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5442 (D. Colo., 2007)
COUNSEL: Blain D. Myhre (Stuart Pack with him on the briefs), Isaacson Rosenbaum P.C., Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellants.
Stephen G. Masciocchi (Lee F. Johnston with him on the briefs), Holland & Hart LLP, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
JUDGES: Before BRISCOE, EBEL, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.
OPINION BY: MURPHY
[*1153] MURPHY, Circuit Judge.
West Coast Life Insurance Company (“WCLI”) brought suit in federal district court seeking rescission of an insurance policy based upon an alleged misrepresentation by Stephen Butts. Butts, who participated in heli-skiing on numerous occasions, stated in his insurance application that he did not engage in any hazardous activities. Butts’s estate and intended beneficiaries asserted counterclaims against WCLI alleging: (1) breach of contract, (2) bad faith, and (3) violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. The district court dismissed Defendants’ Consumer Protection Act counterclaim with prejudice. It then granted WCLI’s motion for summary judgment, concluding Butts had knowingly made a false statement of material fact on which WCLI relied [**2] in issuing him the life insurance policy. On appeal, Defendants contend the district court erred in granting summary judgment to WCLI on its rescission claim because genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether: (1) there was a false statement or concealed fact in the Butts application, (2) Butts knowingly made the false statement or concealed the facts, and (3) WCLI was chargeable with the knowledge Butts engaged in heli-skiing. Defendants also appeal the district court’s grant of summary judgment with respect to their bad faith claim. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.
1. Factual Background
In August 2004, Butts (through his company, Defendant Telluride Properties, Inc.), Defendant Albert Roer, and Defendant Polly Lynchee formed a new company, Defendant Telluride Properties, LLC. 1 The three principals entered into a buy-sell agreement requiring each principal to sell his or her interest in the business to the remaining principals in the event of his or her death. The agreement was financed by insurance policies on the lives of each of the three principals. On September 21, 2004, Butts contacted WCLI agent Sharon Evanson by phone to [**3] complete an application for a three million dollar life insurance policy (the “Butts Application”). Evanson read the questions on the application and transcribed Butts’s responses.
1 The other Defendant is Martha Hoar, the personal representative of Butts’s estate.
The fifth question of the Butts Application (“Question 5″) asked if Butts “[e]ngaged in auto, motorcycle or boat racing, parachuting, skin or scuba diving, skydiving, or hang gliding or other hazardous avocation or hobby.” Butts answered the question in the negative. The Butts Application contained a declaration that all statements and answers were full, complete, and true to the best of Butts’s “knowledge and belief.” Butts did not at any point during the call mention he participated in “heli-skiing.” Heli-skiing involves flying by helicopter to the top of a backcountry mountain and skiing down the mountain, usually with the escort of guides.
Alex Chu, a senior life insurance reporter at First Financial Underwriting Services, Inc. (“First Financial”), conducted a telephonic interview with Butts on October 12, 2004. First Financial is an independent, third-party company that, at the request of its insurance company clients, [**4] [*1154] gathers information about the lifestyles and finances of life insurance applicants, typically through telephone interviews. Chu asked Butts what he did for recreation and exercise in his spare time, to which Butts answered he skied and golfed. Chu also asked Butts if he engaged in “any hazardous activities.” Butts stated he was involved only in scuba diving and private aviation as a pilot. Butts did not seek any clarification of this question or voice concerns or confusion as to the meaning of “hazardous activities.” During Chu’s tenure at First Financial, applicants had identified heli-skiing in response to the hazardous activity question.
Under a heading titled “Aviation-Recreation-Driving Record,” Chu’s report to WCLI (the “First Financial Report”) detailed Butts’s piloting experience, briefly noted his scuba diving activities, and stated: Butts “also enjoys skiing and golfing in his spare time. He reported no other recreational or hazardous pastimes in which he is active on a regular basis.”
In October 2004, Mark Youngquist, an underwriter for WCLI, underwrote a three million dollar policy (the “Butts Policy”) insuring Butts’s life. In so doing, Youngquist reviewed the Butts Application, [**5] Butts’s medical records, the First Financial Report, and a questionnaire completed by Butts regarding his aviation activities. Youngquist, who worked as an underwriter since 1995 for other insurance companies, had worked for WCLI for less than a month when he approved the Butts Application. The WCLI underwriting manual, published by reinsurer Swiss Re, does not rate resort skiing as an activity to be factored into the underwriting process. “Heli-skiing,” however, is a rated activity requiring the insured to pay a higher premium. Youngquist never referred to this rating table during the process of underwriting the Butts Policy.
Based on the information before him, Youngquist believed Butts engaged only in non-rated resort skiing. Youngquist made no inquiry into the nature of the “skiing” activity mentioned in the First Financial Report. Youngquist determined the Butts Policy should be issued on a “Standard, Non-Tobacco” rating. 2 On November 5, 2004, WCLI issued the Butts Policy, which expressly incorporated the Butts Application.
2 Neither party addresses the significance, if any, of the disclosure by Butts of his scuba diving activities. We therefore deem it irrelevant.
On January 15, [**6] 2005, Butts traveled to British Columbia with a group of friends for a week of heli-skiing. The group hired heli-skiing operator Selkirk-Tangiers Helicopter Skiing LLP (“Selkirk-Tangiers”). On January 18, 2005, Butts was heli-skiing with his friends when an avalanche broke above them. The avalanche caught Butts, and swept him into some trees. Within minutes, Butts was found dead. He suffered a broken neck as a result of the avalanche.
During her deposition, Butts’s ex-wife testified he took approximately ten to fifteen heli-skiing trips with Selkirk-Tangiers and additional trips to Canada with another heli-skiing operator. Butts took heli-skiing trips to British Columbia with Selkirk-Tangiers every year for at least six consecutive years prior to his application. Each year, Butts had signed a Selkirk-Tangiers “Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement,” each of which included the following language:
I am aware that wilderness skiing involves risks, dangers and hazards in addition to those normally associated with downhill skiing. Avalanches occur frequently in the alpine terrain used for [*1155] wilderness skiing and may be caused by natural forces or [**7] by skiers. I acknowledge and accept that the [o]perators and their staff may fail to predict whether the alpine terrain is safe for skiing or whether an avalanche may occur. The alpine terrain used for wilderness skiing is uncontrolled, unmarked, not inspected and involves many risks, dangers and hazards in addition to that of avalanche.
* * *
I AM AWARE OF THE RISKS, DANGERS AND HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH WILDERNESS SKIING AND I FREELY ACCEPT AND FULLY ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS, DANGERS AND HAZARDS AND THE POSSIBILITY OF PERSONAL INJURY, DEATH, PROPERTY DAMAGE OR LOSS RESULTING THEREFROM.
Selkirk-Tangiers provides its guests with: (1) avalanche rescue and survival training; (2) helicopter safety training; and (3) specialized equipment such as “avalanche beacons,” which signal to rescuers the location of skiers buried in avalanches. Prior to each of his heli-skiing trips with Selkirk-Tangiers, Butts participated in mock avalanche drills and other onsite, hands-on training on helicopter safety protocols and avalanche rescue and survival. Although not required by Selkirk-Tangiers, Butts also had purchased and used an “Avalung” on heli-skiing trips in 2004 and 2005. An Avalung is a product designed [**8] to provide a few minutes of air should its user become buried in an avalanche.
After receiving notification of Butts’s death, WCLI initiated an investigation. WCLI received evidence indicating Butts had previously participated in heli-skiing trips. In March 2005, WCLI’s chief underwriter, Steven Hetherington, composed an opinion as to the impact of heli-skiing on the risk assumptions for the Butts Policy. Hetherington determined that had Butts disclosed his heli-skiing activities, the Butts Policy would have been rated in the amount of an extra $ 2.50 per $ 1000 of coverage. Marilyn Reed, WCLI’s Vice President of Underwriting, adopted Hetherington’s underwriting opinion.
According to WCLI underwriters, had Butts disclosed his heli-skiing avocation, his annual premium would have almost tripled, rising from $ 4880 to $ 12,380. WCLI’s independent agent, Stuart Bachman, contacted other life insurance companies to determine if they applied an additional rating for heli-skiing. Every carrier Bachman contacted indicated heli-skiing would result in an additional rating of at least $ 2.50 per $ 1000 dollars of coverage.
WCLI’s contestable claims committee met on July 26, 2006, to discuss and evaluate [**9] the Butts Policy claim. The committee considered whether “a reasonable objective person’s interpretation” of Question 5 would have led such a person to disclose a heli-skiing avocation such as that of Butts. The committee did not consider whether Butts was an expert skier, whether he believed heli-skiing was hazardous, or if he had heli-skied previously without incident because it felt such information was irrelevant to its decision. The committee voted unanimously to deny payment under the Butts Policy based upon Butts’s failure to disclose he regularly engaged in heli-skiing.
2. Procedural History
WCLI filed its complaint in the district court seeking: (1) rescission of the Butts Policy pursuant to Colorado law, and (2) a declaration that the Butts Policy was void ab initio and WCLI was thus not liable to Defendants thereunder. In their answer, Defendants asserted state law counterclaims for: (1) breach of contract, (2) bad faith, and (3) violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 6-1-101 to -115. The district court [*1156] dismissed Defendants’ Consumer Protection Act counterclaim with prejudice.
Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted [**10] WCLI’s motion for summary judgment, concluding: (1) Butts had made a false statement of fact or concealed a fact in his application for insurance because a reasonable person would have understood heli-skiing was a hazardous activity for purposes of Question 5, (2) Butts knew heli-skiing was a hazardous activity and knowingly concealed the fact he engaged in it, (3) the concealment materially affected the risk assumed by WCLI, (4) WCLI was ignorant of the false statement of fact or concealment of fact and was not chargeable with knowledge of the fact, and (5) WCLI relied on Butts’s false statement in issuing the Butts Policy.
On appeal, Defendants contend the district court erred in granting summary judgment to WCLI on its rescission claim because genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether: (1) there was a false statement or concealed fact in the Butts application, (2) Butts knowingly made the false statement or concealed the facts, and (3) WCLI was chargeable with the knowledge Butts heli-skied. Defendants also appeal the district court’s grant of summary judgment with respect to their bad faith claim.
1. Motion to Strike
In its motion to strike, WCLI contends [**11] this court should not consider certain arguments and evidence raised by Defendants for the first time on appeal. Specifically, in their reply brief, Defendants for the first time offer statistical evidence regarding auto accident fatalities and discuss the Colorado Ski Safety Act requirement that ski resort lift tickets warn of the risk of resort skiing as support for their argument that reasonable minds could differ on whether heli-skiing is a hazardous activity. Defendants ask the court to take judicial notice of the accident statistics. In addition, Defendants argue the Colorado Ski Safety Act cite was properly included in their reply brief in order to rebut an argument raised in WCLI’s answer brief.
[HN1] “Whether an appellate court will for the first time take judicial notice of a judicially notable fact rests largely in its own discretion.” Mills v. Denver Tramway Corp., 155 F.2d 808, 812 (10th Cir. 1946). Defendants offer no explanation for why they did not seek to introduce the auto accident fatality statistics before the district court. In addition, consideration of this evidence for the first time in Defendants’ reply brief denies WCLI the opportunity to contest or rebut the evidence. [**12] Stump v. Gates, 211 F.3d 527, 533 (10th Cir. 2000). We therefore decline to take judicial notice of the auto accident fatality statistics and grant WCLI’s motion to strike these statistics. See Am. Stores Co. v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 170 F.3d 1267, 1270 (10th Cir. 1999) ( [HN2] “Judicial notice is not a talisman by which gaps in a litigant’s evidentiary presentation . . . may be repaired on appeal.” (quotation omitted)).
As to the introduction of Colorado’s statutory requirement that ski resort lift tickets warn of the risk of resort skiing, Defendants maintain this evidence was properly introduced for the first time in their reply brief in response to an argument in WCLI’s answer brief. Specifically, it rebuts WCLI’s contention that the requirement that individuals sign a release before engaging in heli-skiing supports the proposition a reasonable person would view heli-skiing as hazardous. While WCLI’s precise argument regarding the release requirement was raised before the district court, the evidence Defendants now seek to introduce to rebut the argument [*1157] was never brought to the attention of the district court. This court has stated [HN3] “[i]n reviewing a grant of summary judgment, our [**13] inquiry is limited to the summary judgment record before the district court when the motion was decided.” Feichko v. Denver & Rio Grande W. R.R., 213 F.3d 586, 593 n.5 (10th Cir. 2000). In addition, as discussed above, [HN4] this court is reluctant to consider evidence raised only in a reply brief, leaving the opposing party no opportunity to challenge its validity or relevance. See Am. Stores Co., 170 F.3d at 1270. We therefore grant WCLI’s motion to strike this evidence.
2. Rescission of the Life Insurance Policy
[HN5] “We review de novo a district court’s grant of summary judgment, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonprevailing party.” Mullin v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 541 F.3d 1219, 1222 (10th Cir. 2008). [HN6] “Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute over any material fact, and a party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Id. (quotation omitted). [HN7] Under Colorado law, to avoid a life insurance policy due to misrepresentations in the application, an insurer must prove:
(1) the applicant made a false statement of fact or concealed a fact in his application for insurance; (2) the applicant knowingly made the false statement or knowingly concealed [**14] the fact; (3) the false statement of fact or the concealed fact materially affected either the acceptance of the risk or the hazard assumed by the insurer; (4) the insurer was ignorant of the false statement of fact or concealment of fact and is not chargeable with knowledge of the fact; (5) the insurer relied, to its detriment, on the false statement of fact or concealment of fact in issuing the policy.
Hollinger v. Mut. Benefit Life Ins. Co., 192 Colo. 377, 560 P.2d 824, 827 (Colo. 1977) (footnote omitted). Defendants contend the district court erred in concluding no genuine issue of material fact existed as to the first, second, and fourth elements of the Hollinger standard.
i. The First and Second Hollinger Elements
The first element, “the applicant made a false statement,” is encompassed in the second element, “the applicant knowingly made a false statement.” Id. Because there is significant overlap in the parties’ arguments regarding the first and second elements, we consider the two elements together. Wade v. Olinger Life Insurance Co. holds that [HN8] in determining whether an applicant knowingly made a false statement, a court must look beyond the applicant’s mere knowledge she engaged in the activity [**15] which was allegedly required to be disclosed by the open-ended insurance question. 192 Colo. 401, 560 P.2d 446, 452 (Colo. 1977). Namely, “to protect innocent insurance applicants, an applicant must be reasonably chargeable with knowledge that the facts omitted or misrepresented were within the scope of questions asked on the application.” Id. The court further explained that in the context of answering an insurance application question which calls for a value judgment, “[a] particular misrepresentation . . . must be such that a [r]easonable person would, under the circumstances, have understood that the question calls for disclosure of specific information.” Id. The court elaborated on this standard in Hollinger, a companion case to Wade. Hollinger, 560 P.2d at 827. In Hollinger, the court explained the standard applied in Wade was “whether a reasonable person, with the applicant’s physical or mental characteristics, under all the circumstances, would understand that the question calls for disclosure of specific information.” Id.
[*1158] Question 5 asked Butts if he “[e]ngaged in auto, motorcycle or boat racing, parachuting, skin or scuba diving, skydiving, or hang gliding or other hazardous avocation or [**16] hobby.” WCLI contends Butts’s negative response to Question 5 was unreasonable in light of his yearly heli-skiing vacations. Defendants argue reasonable minds could differ as to whether heli-skiing constitutes a hazardous activity, and thus the question should have been submitted to the jury. Defendants further contend because Butts believed heli-skiing was not a hazardous activity, his response to Question 5 could not have constituted a misrepresentation.
This court must thus decide whether a reasonable person in Butts’s position would know heli-skiing constituted a hazardous activity for purposes of the insurance policy. We agree with the district court that reasonable purchasers of life insurance understand they are agreeing to pay a premium in exchange for the insurer’s promise to pay benefits in the event of death, and thus an insurer would be interested in learning of activities that increase the chance of premature death. Question 5 asks applicants whether they engage in hazardous activities and provides as examples of hazardous activities, skydiving, motorized racing, and scuba diving. A reasonable applicant understands these examples are provided to have the applicant determine [**17] if she engages in activities that might pose risks similar to those posed by the enumerated activities.
WCLI presented evidence indicating a heli-skier is approximately 18,702 times more likely to be killed in an avalanche than an individual skiing inbounds at a ski area. 3 In addition, the heli-skiing operator Butts skied with required its clients to: (1) demonstrate proficiency in avalanche rescue techniques and equipment, (2) undergo training on safety protocols associated with helicopter loading, flight, offloading, and landing, and (3) carry an avalanche beacon while skiing. Such training took place prior to the execution of a waiver and release agreement in which Butts recognized: (1) wilderness skiing involves “risks, dangers and hazards in addition to those normally associated with downhill skiing,” (2) avalanches occur frequently in the alpine terrain used for wilderness skiing, (3) the ski outfitter’s “staff may fail to predict whether the alpine terrain is safe for skiing or whether an avalanche may occur,” and (4) the “alpine [**18] terrain used for wilderness skiing is uncontrolled, unmarked, not inspected and involves many risks, dangers and hazards in addition to that of avalanche.” Additionally, Butts chose to purchase and carry an “Avalung” avalanche emergency air supply while heli-skiing.
3 The probability of an avalanche fatality occurring while heli-skiing or snowcat skiing is approximately 1 per 29,000 visits.
Based on these facts, a reasonable person in Butts’s position would understand Question 5 calls for an applicant to report heli-skiing. As the district court explained, “a reasonable, ordinary person would understand that a sport whose participants equip themselves with ‘avalanche beacons’ and ‘Avalungs’ and then ride in helicopters to the summits of isolated backcountry mountains in order to ski down ungroomed alpine terrain . . . falls along with sky diving, hang gliding, and scuba diving into the commonsense category of ‘hazardous’ activities.” Butts’s status as an experienced heli-skier who engaged in the activity in the past without incident does not change the conclusion it was unreasonable for an individual in his position to answer “no” to Question 5. Butts knew of the great risks of heli-skiing. [**19] Notably, [*1159] Defendants’ expert declined to refute the Utah Avalanche Center’s statement that “[a]lmost all avalanche accidents occur to recreationists who are very skilled at their sport.”
Defendants contend this court should rely on the expert opinion of Vincent Anderson, a certified alpine and ski mountaineering guide who, without citing any statistical evidence, states in a report that, in his opinion, the risks involved in heli-skiing are not unreasonably high and are not greater than those involved in skiing at a resort. This opinion, however, does little to rebut the statistical evidence presented by WCLI demonstrating a heli-skier is approximately 19,000 times more likely to die in an avalanche than someone skiing within bounds at a ski resort. Moreover, it is difficult to see how the subjective opinion testimony of this one individual, lacking any statistical support, does much to support the proposition a reasonable person with Butts’s characteristics would not understand heli-skiing to be a hazardous activity. This is especially true where heli-skiers such as Butts were required to sign a waiver explicitly acknowledging heli-skiing was far more dangerous than resort skiing.
Finally, [**20] Defendants argue that because of the language at the end of the Butts Application, wherein Butts affirmed all answers in the “application [were] full, complete and true to the best of [his] knowledge and belief,” Question 5 solicited a subjective answer and thus could not be a false statement of fact. In support of this argument Defendants cite to Hauser v. Life General Security Insurance Co., 56 F.3d 1330, 1335 (11th Cir. 1995), in which the Eleventh Circuit stated, “[w]here an insurer only requests the disclosure of information to the best of the insured’s ‘knowledge and belief,’ and where the applicant so complies, we will decline to protect the insurer from a risk it assumed by virtue of the contractual language it drafted.” Id. at 1335 (quotation omitted). The court went on to state, however:
[w]hat the applicant in fact believed to be true is the determining factor in judging the truth or falsity of his answer, but only so far as that belief is not clearly contradicted by the factual knowledge on which it is based. In any event, [HN9] a court may properly find a statement false as a matter of law, however sincerely it may be believed. To conclude otherwise would be to place insurance [**21] companies at the mercy of those capable of the most invincible self deception . . . .
Id. (quotation omitted). Here, even assuming Colorado courts would follow the reasoning of Hauser, any belief Butts may have had in the non-hazardous nature of heli-skiing is contradicted by his underlying knowledge of the significant risks inherent in heli-skiing as indicated by the training he was required to undertake, waivers he signed, and equipment he used. We therefore affirm the district court’s conclusion that as a matter of law Butts knowingly made a false statement of fact.
ii. The Fourth Element
In order to satisfy the fourth element of the Hollinger standard, WCLI must demonstrate it was “not chargeable” with the knowledge Butts heli-skied. 560 P.2d at 827. [HN10] Colorado has yet to adopt a test for determining when an insurer is “chargeable with knowledge” of an undisclosed material fact. The parties agree, however, and the district court concluded, the Colorado Supreme Court would endorse the following standard: an insurer is chargeable with knowledge of undisclosed information only where it “had sufficient information that would have put a prudent man on notice and would have caused him to [**22] start an inquiry” which would have uncovered the truth. Major Oil Corp. v. [*1160] Equitable Life Assurance Soc’y, 457 F.2d 596, 604-05 (10th Cir. 1972).
Butts gave a negative response to Question 5, indicating he did not engage in any hazardous activities. Later, however, in response to the question of what he did for recreation and exercise in his spare time during his phone interview with Chu, Butts stated he enjoyed skiing and golfing. In response to Chu’s question about hazardous activities, Butts stated only that he was involved in scuba diving and private aviation as a pilot. WCLI’s underwriter, Youngquist, interpreted Butts’s response that he participated in skiing in his spare time, to mean he engaged in resort skiing. Youngquist had only worked for WCLI for about a month, and was unaware the underwriting manual treated the various kinds of skiing differently, with heli-skiing, but not resort skiing, meriting an increase in the insured’s premium. He did not consult the manual during the course of underwriting Butts’s Policy. Defendants contend that based on Butts’s disclosure that he skied, WCLI had a duty to conduct an investigation into the nature of Butts’s skiing precisely because [**23] of the six classes of skiing identified for differing treatment in the underwriting manual. A reasonably prudent insurer, they argue, would have been put on notice to conduct further investigation into the type of skiing in which Butts engaged.
In deciding to insure Butts, Youngquist had before him: (1) Butts’s negative response to Question 5, (2) Butts’s report to Chu stating the only hazardous activities in which he engaged were scuba diving and private aviation, and (3) Butts’s report to Chu stating he “also enjoy[ed] skiing and golfing in his spare time.” Thus, even if Youngquist had been aware of the classifications in the underwriting manual, such awareness would not have sufficed to put a prudent underwriter on notice he should further investigate a situation where an applicant reports recreational skiing and denies engaging in any hazardous activities. As the district court explained, “[i]f such were the burden of a prudent insurance company, then it would seem that any report of a generally lowhazard recreational activity — e.g., wrestling, juggling, or fishing — would require the insurer to investigate the myriad possible ‘extreme’ variants thereof.” Cf. Am. Eagle Fire Ins. Co. of N.Y. v. Peoples Compress Co., 156 F.2d 663, 667 (10th Cir. 1946) [**24] (stating “honesty, good faith, and fair dealings require [an insured] to communicate [facts material to the risk] to his insurer.”).
Accordingly, [HN11] courts have generally found insurance companies chargeable with knowledge of an undisclosed fact only where it has knowledge of evidence indicating the applicant was not truthful in answering the particular application question at issue. See Major Oil Corp., 457 F.2d at 598-604 (concluding insurer was chargeable with knowledge of applicant’s alcohol problem where another insurance company considering the applicant informed the insurer of the applicant’s ongoing alcohol problem and a report by the Medical Information Bureau received by the insurer prior to issuance of the policy revealed the insured had a drinking habit); Columbian Nat. Life Ins. Co. v. Rodgers, 116 F.2d 705, 708 (10th Cir. 1940) (concluding insurer was chargeable with knowledge that applicant had previously been declined insurance despite applicant’s answer to the contrary where it had in its possession documentation indicating “that the applicant had either been declined or had been rated differently from the established rates, or that some other unusual circumstances were [**25] involved.”). Here, WCLI had no such evidence. Butts twice informed WCLI he did not engage in hazardous activities. Contrary to Defendants’ assertions, Butts’s statement he engaged in the recreational activities of skiing and [*1161] golfing does not constitute evidence or raise a red flag as to his lack of truthfulness in answering the hazardous activities question, as recreational resort skiing is not considered a hazardous activity. See Barciak v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co., 777 F. Supp. 839, 843 (D. Colo. 1991) (concluding insurer was not chargeable with knowledge of applicant’s heart condition where applicant did not disclose he received medical care for chest pain, extensive medical tests, and had been referred to a cardiologist, but in a subsequent phone interview stated he had seen a doctor for a headache and received a variety of tests, including a chest x-ray and EKG, and the doctor’s diagnosis was unknown.).
We therefore affirm the district court’s conclusion that WCLI has met the Hollinger elements as a matter of law entitling it to summary judgment on its claim for rescission of the Butts Policy.
3. Defendants’ Counterclaim
Defendants’ bad faith counterclaim depends on the existence [**26] of a valid and enforceable insurance policy. Because we affirm the district court’s ruling that Butts’s nondisclosure voided the Butts Policy entitling WCLI to rescission, Defendants’ counterclaim fails.
Because WCLI was entitled to rescission of the Butts Policy, the district court’s decision is affirmed.
Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4622; 2013 NY Slip Op 32453(U)
Index No. 115435/10
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY
2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4622; 2013 NY Slip Op 32453(U)
October 9, 2013, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS
CORE TERMS: scout, campers, shower, notice, supervision, negligent supervision, summary judgment, assault, leader, lit, triable issue, scoutmaster, supervise, troop, adult, older, trip, discovery, dangerous condition, duty to supervise, prior conduct, unanticipated, accompanied, negligently, supervised, assaulted, charter, oppose, fellow, bunks
COUNSEL: [*1] For plaintiff: Scott W. Epstein, Esq., Antich, Erlich & Epstein, LLP, New York, NY.
For Patrick Loureiro: Harvey Gladstein, Esq., Gladstein Keane & Partners LLC, New York, NY.
For Boy Scouts of America: Brian P. Morrissey, Esq., Connell Foley LLP, New York, NY.
For Bryan Barbosa: Charles J. Sosnick, Esq., Law Office of James J. Toomey, Esq., New York, NY.
For Michael Medeiros: Ann P. Eccher, Esq., Smith Mazure et al., New York, NY.
JUDGES: PRESENT: Barbara Jaffe, Justice.
OPINION BY: Barbara Jaffe
DECISION & ORDER
BARBARA JAFFE, JSC:
By notice of motion, defendant Boy Scouts of America (BSA) moves pursuant to CPLR 3212 for an order summarily dismissing the complaint against it. Plaintiff and defendant Loureiro oppose.
By notice of motion, defendant Michael Medeiros moves for an order precluding plaintiff from introducing at trial certain evidence based on his failure to respond to discovery demands. Plaintiff opposes.
The motions are consolidated for disposition.
I. PERTINENT BACKGROUND
On July 24, 2005, plaintiff, then a 13-year-old Boy Scout, was participating in a Boy [**3] Scout excursion at Floodwood Mountain Scout Reservation in the Adirondacks. Plaintiff was a member of Boy Scout Troop 141. He and [*2] other scouts were accompanied by volunteer adult leaders. Near or in the shower house at the Reservation, plaintiff sustained head injuries. (NYSCEF 19).
In accident and witness reports created after the accident, the other scouts who were at the showers at the time of plaintiff’s accident stated that they saw plaintiff run from the shower area and discovered him lying prone on the ground and bleeding. None of them saw him fall. (NYSCEF).
In his amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that as he was walking along the common area and/or grassy area at or near the showers, he fell due to defendants’ failure to keep the area safe, in good repair, well-lit and free from obstruction or defect and supervise him and the other scouts. As to BSA, plaintiff alleges that it owned, operated, controlled, maintained, managed, and inspected the Reservation and camp grounds and supervised the activities held there. (NYSCEF 17).
In plaintiff’s supplemental verified bill of particulars, he describes the dangerous condition which caused his fall as follows: “that the area in front of the showers where the [ ] accident occurred was not lit, and/or was poorly lit, and/or was inadequately lit; was raised and [*3] un-leveled, and had rocks and/or tree limbs/branches strewn about it,” all of which defendants had constructive notice. (NYSCEF 22).
At an examination before trial held on December 16, 2011, plaintiff testified that he did not recall his accident or what had caused his fall, and that his last memory before falling was of walking to the showers. At the time of his accident, it was dark outside and there was no lighting [**4] outside the showers, although it was lit inside, and he noticed that there were many rocks on the ground around the shower house. He was wearing a working head lamp as he approached the showers. (NYSCEF 25).
By affidavit dated July 25, 2012, Todd McGregor, area director for BSA’s Northeast Region, states that BSA grants charters to local scout councils and organizations to operate scouting groups or units, that the Reservation and camp grounds were owned and operated by Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, and that no BSA employees were in staff positions at the camp when plaintiff was injured, nor did BSA supervise the scouts or maintain the grounds. (NYSCEF 39).
II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Based on McGregor’s affidavit, BSA has established, prima [*4] facie, that it may not be held liable to plaintiff for the alleged dangerous condition at the Reservation or the alleged assault upon plaintiff by another scout. (See Entler v Koch, 85 AD3d 1098, 928 N.Y.S.2d 297 [2d Dept 2011], lv denied 18 NY3d 869, 962 N.E.2d 275, 938 N.Y.S.2d 851  [BSA not liable for alleged negligence of charter BSA Council as there was no agency relationship between it and Council, and it lacked requisite supervision, direction, or control over adult leader who had custody of Scouts during trip at issue]; O’Lear v Boy Scouts of Am., 33 AD3d 685, 821 N.Y.S.2d 903 [2d Dept 2006] [where plaintiff died while on Scout trip, BSA granted summary judgment as it exercised no supervisory control over troop or adult leaders who accompanied scouts on trip]; Pitkewicz v Boy Scouts of Am., Inc. – Suffolk County Council, 261 AD2d 462, 690 N.Y.S.2d 119 [2d Dept 1999] [absent evidence that Council had supervision or control over day-to-day activities of Scout troop or scoutmaster, it could not be held liable for scoutmaster's alleged negligent supervision]; Alessi v Boy Scouts of Am. Greater Niagara Frontier Council, Inc., 247 [**5] AD2d 824, 668 N.Y.S.2d 838 [4th Dept 1998] [neither BSA nor Council held liable for acts of scoutmaster]).
Plaintiff’s claim that BSA may be held liable [*5] for negligent supervision based on his claim that he was assaulted by other scouts does not raise a triable issue absent evidence that BSA had or violated a duty to supervise the scouts at the Reservation or that it knew of any prior conduct that would have put it on notice of a potential assault by another scout. (See eg Buchholz v Patchogue-Medford School Dist., 88 AD3d 843, 931 N.Y.S.2d 113 [2d Dept 2011] [injuries caused by impulsive, unanticipated act of fellow student will not give rise to negligent supervision claim absent proof of prior conduct that would have put reasonable person on notice]; Ullrich v Bronx House Community Ctr., 99 AD3d 472, 952 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2012] [community center not liable for assault on player during basketball game as it was unprovoked and unanticipated, there was no warning of impending assault, and thus it occurred in such short span of time that "even most intense supervision could not have prevented it"]).
In Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am., on which plaintiff relies, “very young campers” were placed in bunks at a camp with “much older campers,” who allegedly assaulted the young campers. The court denied summary judgment to BSA, finding that there were triable issues as to whether [*6] the camp negligently supervised the campers and whether BSA had “sufficient control over the operation of the camp” to be held liable for the camp’s negligent supervision. (305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]). The court observed that a summer camp has a duty to supervise its campers as would a parent of ordinary prudence in similar circumstances, and that constant supervision in a camp setting is neither desirable nor feasible. However, the court also allowed that very young campers often require closer supervision than older campers, and that placing the younger campers in the bunks with the older campers was an apparent violation of camp policy.
[**6] Here, there is no issue of very young campers being unsupervised or placed in risky circumstances as plaintiff and his fellow scouts were all teenagers and there is no evidence that any camp policy was violated or that BSA had any control over the camp’s operation. (See Kosok v Young Men’s Christian Assn. of Greater New York, 24 AD2d 113, 264 N.Y.S.2d 123 [1st Dept 1965], affd 19 NY2d 935, 228 N.E.2d 398, 281 N.Y.S.2d 341  [finding that camp operator did not negligently supervise activities of campers of high school age for short period as "certain amount of horseplay is almost always to be [*7] found in gatherings of young people, and is generally associated with children’s camps” and is only discouraged when it becomes dangerous and camp operator had no notice that it was likely to do so; however, situation is different when very young children involved]).
Moreover, to the extent that plaintiff relies on a “Leaders’ Guide” which allegedly sets forth requirements for the supervision of scouts, BSA denies that it was involved with its preparation or that it reviewed, approved, or was aware of it. (NYSCEF 79). Plaintiff has thus failed to raise a triable issue as to BSA’s liability.
III. MOTION TO PRECLUDE
Defendant Michael Medeiros’s motion to preclude is granted solely to the extent of directing plaintiff to respond to his June 8, 2012 discovery demands and setting the matter down for a compliance conference.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED, that defendant Boy Scouts of America’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims against it are severed and dismissed, with costs and disbursements to said defendant as taxed by the Clerk upon the submission of an appropriate [**7] bill of costs, and the Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly; [*8] it is further
ORDERED, that defendant Michael Medeiros’s motion to preclude is granted solely to the extent of directing plaintiff to respond to his June 8, 2012 discovery demands within 20 days of service on plaintiff of a copy of this order with notice of entry; and it is further
ORDERED, that the remaining parties in the consolidated action are directed to appear for a compliance conference on November 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm, in Room 279 at 80 Centre Street, New York, New York.
/s/ Barbara Jaffe
Barbara Jaffe, JSC
DATED: October 9, 2013
New York, New York
Yauger v. Skiing Enterprises, Inc., 196 Wis. 2d 485; 538 N.W.2d 834; 1995 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1022
Michael Yauger and Brenda Yauger, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Skiing Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Hidden Valley Ski Area, a Wisconsin corporation, and Investors Insurance Company of America, a foreign corporation, Defendants-Respondents.
COURT OF APPEALS OF WISCONSIN
196 Wis. 2d 485; 538 N.W.2d 834; 1995 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1022
July 12, 1995, Oral Argument
August 23, 1995, Opinion Released
August 23, 1995, Opinion Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Manitowoc County: ALLAN J. DEEHR, Judge.
COUNSEL: On behalf of the plaintiffs-appellants, the cause was submitted on the briefs of Gary L. Bendix and John M. Bruce of Savage, Gregorski, Webster, Stangel & Bendix, S.C. of Manitowoc. There was oral argument by John M. Bruce.
On behalf of the defendants-respondents, there was a brief and oral argument by Thomas B. Hartley of Guttormsen, Hartley & Guttormsen of Kenosha.
JUDGES: Before Anderson, P.J., Brown and Snyder, JJ.
OPINION BY: BROWN
[**836] [*490] BROWN, J. We are asked to gauge whether the exculpatory contract in this case is void as against public policy. Here, Brenda and Michael Yauger brought a wrongful death action against Hidden Valley Ski Area after their eleven-year-old daughter, Tara, was killed when she struck the concrete base of a ski lift tower. The trial court dismissed the claim finding that the [*491] Yaugers’ contract with Hidden Valley for a season pass contained a valid exculpatory clause. The Yaugers now reassert their challenge that [***2] it is void.
The following facts were taken from the appellate record consisting of the pleadings, affidavits and depositions. On October 8, 1992, Michael Yauger submitted an application for a family season pass at Hidden Valley. This form is reproduced at the end of the opinion. The pass cost roughly $ 720. Although only Michael signed the application, his wife and two daughters (then ages ten and eight) were named on the form. Depositions reveal that Michael submitted the application in person at the Hidden Valley Ski Shop.
The Yauger family was familiar with Hidden Valley. Michael had skied there approximately sixty times in the three seasons prior to the accident, and Tara had skied there about fifty times prior to her accident. The record also shows that the Yauger family had a season pass at the resort the prior year.
On March 7, 1993, Tara suffered her fatal accident. The exact facts surrounding her death are unsettled, but the record currently suggests that she struck the side of a concrete base of a ski lift tower. The Yaugers sued Hidden Valley that October, claiming that this support was not adequately padded.
After limited discovery, Hidden Valley and its insurer [***3] sought summary judgment on grounds that the exculpatory release within the Yaugers’ contract for a season pass barred them from bringing this claim since it arose out of the “certain inherent risks in skiing.” The Yaugers responded that the clause was invalid as against public policy because it was not knowingly entered into by each of the Yaugers, was ambiguous and overbroad and also attempted to encompass protections provided under Wisconsin’s safe-place law.
[*492] The trial court granted Hidden Valley’s motion. It focused its analysis on the phrase “certain inherent risks in skiing” and reasoned that it covered the type of injury that killed Tara, namely, the risk that a skier will collide with a stationary object. It also rejected the Yaugers’ argument that Brenda Yauger was not bound by the exculpatory clause, finding that her express endorsement was not necessary since she received the benefit of the season pass.
We are reviewing a grant of summary judgment; thus, § 802.08(2), STATS., governs [**837] the analysis. See Decade’s Monthly Income and Appreciation Fund v. Whyte & Hirschboeck, S.C., 164 Wis. 2d 227, 230, 474 N.W.2d 766, 767 (Ct. App. 1991), aff’d, 173 Wis.2d 665, [***4] 495 N.W.2d 335 (1993). [HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no material issues of fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Moreover, this appeal concerns the interpretation of a contract which appellate courts address de novo. Id. at 230-31, 474 N.W.2d at 767. Therefore, to defeat Hidden Valley’s motion for summary judgment the Yaugers must show that material facts are in dispute, or that the trial court erred in its analysis of the exculpatory clause. See id. at 230-31, 474 N.W.2d at 767.
We first turn to the analysis of the season pass and its exculpatory clause. Wisconsin law does not favor these agreements and courts therefore examine with care the facts of each case to ascertain whether enforcement will contravene public policy. See Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 210-11, 321 N.W.2d 173, 176 (1982). The goal is to strike a balance between conflicting principles of contract and tort law. See id. at 211, 321 N.W.2d at 177. [HN2] Freedom of contract suggests that [*493] courts should abstain from interfering in people’s relationships and personal affairs. See id. On [***5] the other hand, tort law recognizes that those responsible for causing harm through negligence should bear the cost of the harm and should not be allowed to circumvent this duty through contract. See id. at 211-12, 321 N.W.2d at 177.
A review of the recent supreme court cases on this issue indicates that there are two aspects to the question of whether an exculpatory contract violates public policy. In Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991), the court cited with approval § 195 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS (1979), which sets out a series of situations in which an exculpatory contract would violate public policy. Id. at 515-16, 468 N.W.2d at 658-59 (citing Arnold v. Shawano County Agric. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 210-11, 330 N.W.2d 773, 777 (1983)). The first element tests the effect of the exculpatory clause, e.g., does it exempt an employer from suits by an employee. See id. 1
1 This two-prong analysis was also discussed in Discount Fabric House v. Wisconsin Telephone Co., 117 Wis. 2d 587, 602, 345 N.W.2d 417, 424-25 (1984), where the court faced a challenge to an exculpatory release that served to cover any errors in telephone directory advertising. The court explained that the analysis of such contracts involves an assessment of the “commercial reasonableness” of the terms (substantive) and the relationship between the parties during negotiations (procedural). Id.
[***6] The Yaugers’ assertion that the exculpatory clause in Hidden Valley’s season pass application contravenes the safe-place statute, § 101.11, STATS., fits this line of analysis. In further support of this argument they cite Meyer v. Val-Lo-Will Farms, Inc., 14 Wis. 2d 616, 111 [*494] N.W.2d 500 (1961), for the proposition that a for-profit winter sports park was subject to the safe-place law. In substance, they argue that the exculpatory clause violates public policy because it seeks to relieve Hidden Valley of the duty imposed by the statute. See RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195(2)(c). 2 The trial court rejected this argument, reasoning that the safe-place statute did not create a special cause of action, but established a higher duty of care for what would ordinarily be addressed through common law negligence.
2 The applicability of the safe-place statute, § 101.11, STATS., in situations where frequenters challenge exculpatory contracts was raised, but left unanswered, in Kellar v. Lloyd, 180 Wis. 2d 162, 178-81, 509 N.W.2d 87, 93-94 (Ct. App. 1993).
[***7] While we agree with the trial court’s result, a different analysis is appropriate. Moreover, we need not decide the issue of whether the safe-place law imposed a special statutory duty on Hidden Valley. We hold that even if the statute does apply, a potential defendant may still bargain for an exclusion.
As noted above, the supreme court has endorsed § 195 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS. See Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 212-13, 321 N.W.2d at 177-78. 3 [*495] The [**838] official comment to this section, however, suggests that the enumerated standards are not a litmus test for these agreements; it states: “the rigor of this rule may, however, be mitigated by a fairly bargained for agreement to limit liability to a reasonable agreed value in return for a lower rate.” RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195 cmt. a.
3 We recognize that the exact status of RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195 (1979), is somewhat clouded. In Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 515-16, 468 N.W.2d 654, 658-59 (1991), the court expressly quoted all the subsections after noting that it had originally “referred with approval” to them in Arnold v. Shawano County Agric. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 210-11, 330 N.W.2d 773, 777 (1983). When one examines the Arnold opinion, however, it includes only a general reference to the RESTATEMENT. Indeed, the rule in § 195(2)(c), which provides the basis for the Yaugers’ argument, was not referred to in the discussion. See Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 210-11, 330 N.W.2d at 777. Moreover, in the supreme court’s most recent exploration of these issues, the majority opinion made no reference to § 195, although it did reaffirm its confidence in the Dobratz decision. Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1014, 513 N.W.2d 118, 121 (1994). We have located a federal district court case in which the various subsections of § 195 were found to be a component of Wisconsin law and formed the basis for voiding an exculpatory contract. See RepublicBank Dallas, N.A. v. First Wisconsin Nat’l Bank, 636 F. Supp. 1470, 1473 (E.D. Wis. 1986) (voiding clause exempting liability for harm arising out of reckless or intentional acts). We thus find that § 195 continues to be a valid component of Wisconsin common law.
[***8] The process envisioned by the drafters of this comment aptly describes the transaction between the Yaugers and Hidden Valley. The Yaugers wanted a discount on their skiing. The resort was a willing supplier, but recognized that the increase in days skied would directly increase the risk of an accident and the potential for a damages claim. Hidden Valley therefore sought a release from liability. Gauging the deal at the time when the parties entered into the contract, we cannot say that the exchange was totally unreasonable. The Yaugers obtained their discount, but lost the right to bring a claim arising out of an accident which may never have occurred. Here, freedom of contract requires that we not delve deeper into the merits of this agreement. [*496] See Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 211, 321 N.W.2d at 177. 4
4 Of course the above analysis certainly does not summarize all the concerns of the bargaining parties. The Yaugers and Hidden Valley were also making allowances for the risk that there would be no snow that season. The key to understanding our analysis, however, is to recognize that courts rarely are able to do a better job of writing contracts than the parties themselves.
[***9] The second prong of the public policy question entails examining the circumstances surrounding the bargaining process. See Dobratz, 161 Wis. 2d at 516 n.2, 468 N.W.2d at 659. For example, in Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1010, 513 N.W.2d 118, 119 (1994), 5 the supreme court was asked to review an exculpatory contract signed by a passenger in a commercial, long-haul truck. The plaintiff was married to a driver employed by the defendant and was asked to sign a “passenger authorization” before joining her husband on the road. Id. at 1012, 513 N.W.2d at 119. Within the form was a clause releasing the defendant from liability for any harm that might occur during her travels. Id. Still, the wife brought suit after she and her husband were involved in an accident. The lower courts found that the release was valid and granted summary [*497] judgment for the defendant. Id. at 1010, 513 N.W.2d at 119.
5 We discuss Richards in detail because it represents the supreme court’s most recent analysis of how flaws in the specific terms of an agreement, or the circumstances of the bargaining process, may serve as grounds for voiding an exculpatory agreement. For other examples, see Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 214-15, 321 N.W.2d 173, 178 (1982) (release invalidated because defendant misrepresented a fact during the negotiation process), and Eder v. Lake Geneva Raceway, 187 Wis. 2d 596, 610-11, 523 N.W.2d 429, 434 (Ct. App. 1994) (release clause found to be ambiguous).
[***10] After its review of the contract, however, the supreme court found it to be void as contrary to public policy. Id. at 1011, 513 N.W.2d at 119. The majority pointed to three aspects of the agreement, which together led to this conclusion. First, the contract served two purposes. The court emphasized that the exculpatory clause was not distinguishable from other components of the document. It reasoned that highlighting the release provision would have provided greater protection for the signing party. See id. at 1017, 513 N.W.2d at 122.
Next, the court found that the contract was over-inclusive. It applied not only to the [**839] defendant, but also to all of its affiliates. Moreover, it did not delineate the nature of claims that would be excluded, such as those arising from negligence but not from intentional acts. Also, the time period through which the exclusion would apply was not limited. The majority found that the contract was lopsided in favor of the defendant and should therefore be construed against the company. See id. at 1017-18, 513 N.W.2d at 122.
Finally, the court noted that the release was embodied in a standard form contract, and the defendant [***11] did not inform the plaintiff of the purpose and effect of the authorization. This suggested that there was little or no opportunity to dicker about the terms. Id. at 1019, 513 N.W.2d at 123.
The Yaugers cite Richards and raise a number of arguments, each suggesting that they and Hidden Valley were not on equal footing when they entered into this agreement. The many issues they raise can be distilled into three central points. First, the Yaugers contend that the release clause, which was a single [*498] term in the season pass application, was never pointed out to Michael before he completed and signed the form. See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1019, 513 N.W.2d at 123. They further assert that summary judgment was inappropriate because Hidden Valley presented no evidence on this issue.
We are not persuaded. This agreement was signed in October, at least one month prior to the skiing season. There was no sense of urgency. Michael could have taken the form home for further consideration. In addition, the Yaugers had purchased a season pass for the prior year. Therefore, Michael had a source of knowledge from which to draw comparisons. Compare Eder v. Lake [***12] Geneva Raceway, 187 Wis. 2d 596, 609, 523 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Ct. App. 1994)(noting that parties signing the release were not allowed onto the racetrack grounds until they signed the release form).
Next, the Yaugers assert that the language within the exculpatory clause is ambiguous. It specifically addressed “certain inherent risks in skiing.” They question what constitutes these “inherent risks” and whether the clause only applies to a “certain” number of these dangers. In addition, they note that Hidden Valley did not provide any evidence which would identify these risks. The Yaugers also raise concerns that the clause (which is composed of a single sentence) reads to limit Hidden Valley’s liability for any injury occurring on the premises. They stress that this could be reasonably interpreted as an attempt to limit the resort’s liability for any accident on the premises, such as a slip and fall in the restaurant. See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017-18, 513 N.W.2d at 122.
The trial court concluded that the terminology covered the obvious dangers in skiing, viz, falling down or [*499] colliding with another skier or a fixed object, and that the “any injury” language was limited [***13] to those harms arising out of these risks. We agree.
[HN3] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law. Borchardt v. Wilk, 156 Wis. 2d 420, 427, 456 N.W.2d 653, 656 (Ct. App. 1990). We test whether the term is reasonable or fairly susceptible of more than one construction. Id. [HN4] A clause is not ambiguous, however, merely because its language is general or broad. See Wilke v. First Federal Savs. & Loan Ass’n, 108 Wis. 2d 650, 654, 323 N.W.2d 179, 181 (Ct. App. 1982).
This was a contract between Hidden Valley and a season pass holder. The contracting skier, therefore, could reasonably be expected to have some knowledge about the sport. The Yaugers’ interest in skiing is further demonstrated by their willingness to commit over seven hundred dollars to skiing that season. 6 The record also reveals that the Yaugers had a similar pass at the resort the prior year. We are thus hesitant to accept their arguments that such language would lead to confusion among parties executing these agreements. The language is plain and simple. It aptly describes the risks that [**840] arise whenever one’s skis are in contact with the slope. 7
6 The season pass was not refundable.
7 Very similar language can be found in Wisconsin’s recreational responsibility law. See § 895.525(3), STATS. (“A participant in a recreational activity … accepts the risks inherent in the recreational activity ….”) (emphasis added). Moreover, several states have adopted specific skier responsibility laws which codify these terms. For example, Colorado law provides, in part:
“Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities.
COLO. REV. STAT. ANN. § 33-44-103(10) (West Supp. 1994) (emphasis added).
Further discussion of these laws, and judicial efforts in providing interpretation, are set forth in Arthur N. Frakt and Janna S. Rankin, Surveying the Slippery Slope: The Questionable Value of Legislation to Limit Ski Area Liability, 28 IDAHO L. REV. 227 (1991-92).
[***15] [*500] Finally, the Yaugers argue that the exculpatory clause should be held void because it was “not clearly identified or distinguished.” See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017, 513 N.W.2d at 122.
The trial court noted that although the exculpatory language was not highlighted, there was no indication that it was disguised and therefore did not provide grounds for rendering the agreement void. Indeed, the clause is set out in a separate paragraph.
Any break in text requires the reader to pause and thus provides a moment for reflection.
The face of the application does not otherwise suggest that Hidden Valley was trying to trick season pass holders into signing away their rights. It was an application form. Not only did the applicants have to sign the agreement, but they had to furnish information [*501] such as their address, age, other family member names, etc. In sum, the form and application process provided ample opportunity for Michael to consider the terms of the agreement.
We have addressed a variety of concerns about the exculpatory clause of the season pass contract. Although no single point is troublesome enough to render the clause void, Richards suggests that [***16] courts may consider all these aspects together when making a determination about the effects of public policy. See id. at 1011, 513 N.W.2d at 119. But even the totality of the circumstances presented here does not warrant that this contract be set aside. The contracting process simply does not raise any concern of overreaching by the party seeking to be released from liability. 8
8 The Yaugers raised one other challenge to the exculpatory clause relating to the contract language. They assert that under Hortman v. Otis Erecting Co., 108 Wis. 2d 456, 463, 322 N.W.2d 482, 485-86 (Ct. App. 1982), an agreement which indemnifies a party for its own negligence must specifically include the term “negligence.” As the defendants contend, however, this specific argument was not presented to the trial court and is therefore waived on appeal. See, e.g., Bank One, Appleton, N.A. v. Reynolds, 176 Wis. 2d 218, 222, 500 N.W.2d 337, 339 (Ct. App. 1993).
We now turn to the second issue presented. [***17] Although we have found that the exculpatory clause serves as a bar to the Yaugers’ claim, Brenda nonetheless asserts that it should not run against her individually since she did not expressly acknowledge these terms, nor did she authorize her husband to execute a contract releasing these claims. In support of her argument, she draws an analogy to Arnold v. Shawano County Agri. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 214-15, 330 N.W.2d 773, 779 (1983), where the court held that a [*502] spouse’s claim for consortium rights is not defeated by a valid exculpatory contract running against the deceased.
In dismissing this claim the trial court distinguished Arnold, stating:
In this case the plaintiff Brenda Yauger did not sign the application, but the application was made on her behalf and for her [**841] benefit, which is not the factual situation in Arnold. And she is specifically identified and money is specifically paid for her membership, for her use, and the use of her daughter ….
Although we agree in substance with the trial court’s analysis, we feel it necessary to elaborate further. We add that Brenda’s claim is barred by the exculpatory clause because it is so intertwined [***18] with that of her husband, and thus it was reasonable for Hidden Valley to assume that Michael was acting on her behalf when he executed the agreement.
The Yaugers’ claim has three components: loss of consortium, Tara’s medical expenses and the cost of her funeral. See § 895.04(4), STATS. The right to pursue a claim for these losses accrues to Michael and Brenda as the “parents of the deceased.” See id. This is not a situation in which one parent’s recovery is limited or barred by his or her negligence. See § 895.04(7). This distinction recently was addressed in Chang v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 182 Wis. 2d 549, 561, 514 N.W.2d 399, 403 (1994), where the court noted: “the right to sue and recover damages under the wrongful death statute must be distinguished from the ownership and allocation of the recovery itself.”
Brenda alleges that she never authorized her husband to enter into this exculpatory clause (and bargain [*503] away her right to pursue a potential claim), nor was she aware of its effects. Nevertheless, she shared equally in the benefits that arose to her family, and the face of the application form would suggest that all [***19] named parties are bound by its terms.
Although there is little case law applying the principles of agency in transactions between married persons and third parties, Smart v. Estate of Ford, 23 Wis. 2d 60, 65-66, 126 N.W.2d 573, 576 (1964), summarized the Wisconsin rule that third parties may reasonably believe that one spouse had authority to act on behalf of the other. Here, we are dealing with the Yaugers’ joint interest in the companionship of their beloved daughter. Michael completed the season pass application on behalf of his whole family and paid the appropriate sum. Absent any evidence that Brenda informed Hidden Valley that she was not bound by this agreement, the Yaugers should both be held by the terms of the application.
By the Court.–Judgment affirmed.
Morgan et al., v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ et al., 2012-Ohio-453; 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 385Posted: April 7, 2014
Brian Morgan et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ et al., Defendants-Appellees.
COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, TENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, FRANKLIN COUNTY
2012-Ohio-453; 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 385
February 7, 2012, Rendered
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. (C.P.C. No. 10CVC-03-4516).
DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.
COUNSEL: Rourke & Blumenthal, LLP, Kenneth S. Blumenthal and Jonathan R. Stoudt; Cloppert, Latanick, Sauter & Washburn, and Robert L. Washburn, for appellants.
Philipp & Gregory, Ronald D. Gregory and Jeffrey T. Peters, for appellees.
JUDGES: DORRIAN, J. KLATT and SADLER, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: DORRIAN
[*P1] Plaintiffs-appellants, Brian Morgan (“Morgan”) and his wife Amie Morgan (collectively “appellants”), appeal from the April 4, 2011 judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in favor of defendants-appellees, Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ (“OCUCC”) and Templed Hills Camp and Conference Center (“Templed Hills”) (collectively “appellees”). For the following reasons, we affirm.
[*P2] On November 12, 13, and 14, 2007, Morgan was scheduled to attend the Nature’s Classroom program at Templed Hills as a teacher chaperone for sixth grade students of Worthington City Schools. The school district contracted with the owner of the site, OCUCC, to send the students. The contract set forth a fee of $7,565 for the group’s participation. (Affidavit of Mark Glassbrenner, [**2] ¶4; Exhibit A-A to Affidavit.) On the evening of November 13, Morgan volunteered to act as a chaperone on one of the group’s night hikes. Morgan had chaperoned students annually from approximately 2002 to 2007 and attended the night hike every year. The night hike had originally been scheduled for the evening of November 12, but was postponed to the second evening due to rain. (Affidavit of Kristi Patrick, ¶6; Affidavit of Kathy Mikkelson, ¶6.)
[*P3] The night hike was led by Matthew Marsh (“Marsh”), a Nature’s Classroom instructor. Marsh testified that the purpose of the night hike was to use your other senses when your eyes were not as heightened as during the daylight. Marsh picked the trail and had been using that same trail for the night hikes he had been leading twice a week for the last seven months. It was an established trail and wider than shoulder length. Other trails on the property were harder to traverse. Marsh stated that the evening was a clear night, not cloudy, and the moon was out so the trail could be seen. The adults were also told to bring flashlights.
[*P4] The group met at approximately 7:30 p.m. and started with a game called “Bat & Moth,” where one child is blindfolded [**3] and the children attempt to escape. It is similar to the game Marco Polo. The game lasted approximately 20 to 25 minutes, after which the group entered the woods. After several minutes of hiking, they had to cross a creek bed, but it was a receding creek so there was not much water in it. Marsh stood in the middle of the creek bed on a rock with his flashlight and helped every child cross by holding their hand, and then he helped Morgan cross. While Marsh was counting the kids on the other side of the creek, he saw Morgan shift his weight and fall on his stomach. Marsh tried to call his supervisor on his radio and his cell phone but could not reach her. Then he called 911. When the EMTs arrived, Marsh took the students to an area away from Morgan.
[*P5] Morgan testified to a slightly different version of facts. He had never been on that particular trail and thought it was very overgrown. He was not advised to take a flashlight on the hike and remembered the night being cloudy. Morgan testified that as he approached the creek Marsh was there to help him cross and had a flashlight. Morgan did not remember specifically, but thinks he used Marsh’s shoulder to step on a tree stump or rock as [**4] he took a long stride to cross the creek. After a few seconds, Marsh gave some directions for the next activity and Morgan took a step with his right foot, lost traction and fell. He knew immediately that he was seriously injured. Morgan suffered severe injuries to his left arm and shoulder. Morgan testified he had to ask Marsh to call 911 several times before Marsh called them.
[*P6] Morgan and his wife filed a complaint against OCUCC and Templed Hills as the owners and operators of the site and the employers of Marsh for damages Morgan suffered resulting from Marsh’s negligence, as well as for Amie Morgan’s loss of consortium. A stipulation of dismissal pursuant to Civ.R. 41 was filed.
[*P7] The claim was refiled on March 22, 2010. Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that appellants’ claims were barred by the affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk and by the Ohio recreational user statute, R.C. 1533.181. Appellees argued that Morgan assumed the risk of his injury by voluntarily participating in the night hike and that, under the circumstances, appellees owed no duty to protect Morgan from injury. Appellees also argued that Ohio’s recreational statute, R.C. 1533.181, [**5] barred his claims because Morgan was a recreational user and, as such, appellees owed no duty to Morgan as a hiker pursuant to the statute.
[*P8] In opposition to appellees’ motion, Morgan argued that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk does not bar his cause of action, as the dangers presented by Marsh’s negligence were not inherent to hiking. Also, Morgan argued that the recreational user statute was inapplicable to these facts because the negligence alleged was based on the negligence of an employee, not a theory of premises liability. Additionally, Morgan claimed he was not a recreational user because he was a business invitee.
[*P9] By decision and entry filed April 4, 2011, the trial court granted appellees’ motion for summary judgment finding that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk barred appellants’ claims. The doctrine removed any duty on appellees’ part to protect Morgan from risks inherent to the activity of night hiking.
[*P10] Appellants assert one assignment of error on appeal:
The trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment filed by the Appellees Ohio Conference United Church of Christ and Templed Hills holding that the doctrine of primary assumption [**6] of the risk bars Plaintiffs from recovering on their claims for negligence and loss of consortium.
[*P11] In their assignment of error, appellants challenge the granting of the motion for summary judgment, contending that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk is inapplicable to these facts. [HN1] By asserting a negligence action, appellants were required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that appellees owed them a duty of care, that the duty was breached and that the breach proximately caused Morgan’s injuries. Strother v. Hutchinson, 67 Ohio St.2d 282, 285, 423 N.E.2d 467 (1981). Under the law of negligence, a defendant’s duty to a plaintiff depends on the relationship between the parties and the foreseeability of injury to someone in the plaintiff’s position. Simmers v. Bentley Constr. Co., 64 Ohio St.3d 642, 645, 1992 Ohio 42, 597 N.E.2d 504 (1992).
[*P12] [HN2] The doctrine of primary assumption of the risk has often been applied to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities. Crace v. Kent State Univ., 185 Ohio App. 3d 534, 2009 Ohio 6898, ¶12, 924 N.E.2d 906, citing Ballinger v. Leaniz Roofing, Ltd., 10th Dist. No. 07AP-696, 2008 Ohio 1421, ¶8, 2008 WL 802722, citing Anderson v. Ceccardi, 6 Ohio St.3d 110, 114, 6 Ohio B. 170, 451 N.E.2d 780 (1983). Whether to [**7] apply the affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk presents an issue of law for the court to determine. Crace at ¶12, citing Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 435, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996). We therefore review the trial court’s decision de novo. Crace at ¶12, citing Cleveland Elec. Illum. Co. v. Pub. Util. Comm., 76 Ohio St. 3d 521, 523, 1996 Ohio 298, 668 N.E.2d 889 (1996), citing Indus. Energy Consumers of Ohio Power Co. v. Pub. Utils. Comm., 68 Ohio St. 3d 559, 563, 1994 Ohio 435, 629 N.E.2d 423 (1994).
[*P13] [HN3] Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries. Crace at ¶13, citing Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App. 3d 27, 2006 Ohio 3656, ¶12, 857 N.E.2d 1255. The doctrine is based on the fiction that the plaintiff has “tacitly consented” to the risk of injury inherent in the activity. Collier v. Northland Swim Club, 35 Ohio App.3d 35, 37, 518 N.E.2d 1226 (10th Dist.1987). The rationale behind the doctrine is that certain risks are so intrinsic in some activities that the risk of injury [**8] is unavoidable. Crace at ¶13, citing Collier. The test for applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to recreational activities and sporting events requires that “(1) the danger is ordinary to the game, (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists, and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.” Santho at ¶12.
[*P14] [HN4] The affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk completely negates a negligence claim because the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff against the inherent risks of the recreational activity in which the plaintiff engages. Crace at ¶15, citing Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 144, 2004 Ohio 379, 802 N.E.2d 1116, citing Prosser & Keeton, Law of Torts (5th Ed.1984) 496, Section 68; see also Gallagher at 431, citing Prosser & Keeton, 496-97, Section 28 (“Primary assumption of risk ‘is really a principle of no duty, or no negligence, and so denies the existence of any underlying cause of action.’”). Primary assumption of the risk serves to negate the duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. Wolfe v. Bison Baseball, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-905, 2010 Ohio 1390, ¶18, 2010 WL 254597. “Because a successful [**9] primary assumption of risk defense means that the duty element of negligence is not established as a matter of law, the defense prevents the plaintiff from even making a prima facie case.” Id. at ¶21, citing Gallagher at 431-32.
[*P15] [HN5] With the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, the injured plaintiff’s subjective consent to and appreciation for the inherent risks of the recreational activity are immaterial to the analysis. Crace, 185 Ohio App. 3d 534, ¶16, citing Gentry at 144. The types of risks inherent to an activity are those risks that are foreseeable and customary risks of the sport or recreational activity. Deutsch v. Birk, 189 Ohio App. 3d 129, 2010 Ohio 3564, ¶12 (937 N.E.2d 638, 12th Dist.), citing Thompson v. McNeill, 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 104-106, 559 N.E.2d 705 (1990). In accordance with these principles, this court held in Gehri v. Capital Racing Club, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 96APE10-1307, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527, 1997 WL 324175 (June 12, 1997), that “primary assumption of [the] risk requires an examination of the activity itself and not plaintiff’s conduct. If the activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, then a finding of primary assumption of [the] risk is appropriate.” 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527, [WL] at *4. [**10] “The law simply deems certain risks as accepted by the plaintiff regardless of actual knowledge or consent.” Crace at ¶16. The focus in primary assumption of the risk is on the defendant’s conduct, whether such conduct was reckless or intentional. Gentry at ¶9.
[*P16] In the instant case, the trial court noted that hiking is a recreational activity to which the doctrine applies, and hiking contains an inherent risk of slipping, tripping or falling that cannot be eliminated, even more so with hiking at night. (Apr. 4, 2011 Decision, 2.) Appellants argue that primary assumption of the risk does not apply to these facts because the risks which led to the injury in this case could have been eliminated if Marsh had chosen a different trail. However, this is essentially a claim that Marsh’s conduct was reckless. In Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 100, 559 N.E.2d 699 (1990), fn. 3, the Supreme Court of Ohio cited the comments f and g to Section 500 of the Restatement of Torts 2d, 590, which defined the three mental states of tortious conduct, as follows:
f. Intentional misconduct and recklessness contrasted. [HN6] Reckless misconduct differs from intentional wrongdoing in a very important particular. While an act [**11] to be reckless must be intended by the actor, the actor does not intend to cause the harm which results from it. It is enough that he realizes or, from facts which he knows, should realize that there is a strong probability that harm may result, even though he hopes or even expects that his conduct will prove harmless. However, a strong probability is a different thing from the substantial certainty without which he cannot be said to intend the harm in which his act results.
g. Negligence and recklessness contrasted. [HN7] Reckless mis-conduct differs from negligence in several important particulars. It differs from that form of negligence which consists in mere inadvertence, incompetence, unskillfulness, or a failure to take precautions to enable the actor adequately to cope with a possible or probable future emergency, in that reckless misconduct requires a conscious choice of a course of action, either with knowledge of the serious danger to others involved in it or with knowledge of facts which would disclose this danger to any reasonable man. It differs not only from the above-mentioned form of negligence, but also from that negligence which consists in intentionally doing an act with [**12] knowledge that it contains a risk of harm to others, in that the actor to be reckless must recognize that his conduct involves a risk substantially greater in amount than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent. The difference between reckless misconduct and conduct involving only such a quantum of risk as is necessary to make it negligent is a difference in the degree of the risk, but this difference of degree is so marked as to amount substantially to a difference in kind.
[*P17] Appellants argue that Marsh should have chosen a different path for the hikers that evening. However, appellants did not allege that Marsh was reckless in choosing that path. The trial court specifically found that [HN8] hiking, especially night hiking, involves the risk of tripping, slipping and falling. Hiking does involve these risks. Morgan volunteered to participate in the night hike and assumed these risks. The court in Shaner v. Smoot, 7th Dist. No. 712, 2001 Ohio 3429, 2001 WL 1243920, found that persons involved in recreational activities assume the ordinary risks of the activity and the failure to warn of the ordinary risks does not subject one to liability. In Shaner, the plaintiff was injured [**13] while riding a motorcycle in tall grass with tree stumps scattered throughout the area. The plaintiff was aware that there were tree stumps in the area where he was riding. However, the court found that the risk of hitting a tree stump was an ordinary risk of riding a motorcycle in such a location, and the defendants could not be liable for failure to warn of an ordinary risk assumed by the plaintiff.
[*P18] Appellants concede that there are risks inherent in hiking that cannot be avoided. However, appellants contend that the risks which led to Morgan’s particular injury could have been avoided if Marsh had picked a trail which was better maintained with less-demanding obstacles. Thus, appellants argue, implied assumption of the risk is more appropriate to these facts, which has been merged into Ohio’s comparative negligence statute, R.C. 2315.19. However, these risks were not risks out of the ordinary for night hiking.
[*P19] In California, the courts have addressed similar issues and applied primary assumption of the risk, finding that a defendant is only liable for a plaintiff’s injuries if the defendant’s conduct is reckless or totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the [**14] sport or activity. In Andia v. Full Service Travel, S.D.Cal. No. 06cv0437 WQH (JMA), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88247, 2007 WL 4258634 (Nov. 29, 2007), the plaintiff was a passenger on the defendant’s cruise ship and participated in a shore expedition known as the HL 15, the Kilauea Lava Viewing Hike. The plaintiff slipped on one of the rocks and fell, fracturing her foot. She filed a negligence action, and the court found that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applied, negating the defendant’s duty to prevent the plaintiff from slipping and falling on lava rock, an inherent risk of the activity of lava hiking.
[*P20] In Kane v. Natl. Ski Patrol Sys., Inc., 88 Cal.App.4th 204, 209, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 600 (2001), a ski instructor led participants in a skills clinic for a voluntary ski patrol. The participants were reluctant to proceed to the most difficult portion of the trail, which was icy and contained trees, rocks, and stumps, but the instructor encouraged them to go. The two plaintiffs were injured, one fell to his death and the other one suffered a broken leg. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, holding that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applied, negating the defendant’s [**15] duty of care. The court held that [HN9] “an instructor’s assessment errors–either in making the necessarily subjective judgment of skill level or the equally subjective judgment about the difficulty of the conditions–are in no way ‘outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.’” Id. at 214.
[*P21] Similarly, here, any assessment error in the subjective judgment of the path chosen by the Nature’s Classroom instructor, if any, is not outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in night hiking. As we have said, tripping, slipping, and falling are inherent risks of night hikes, regardless of the trail chosen.
[*P22] In Kalter v. Grand Circle Travel, 631 F.Supp.2d 1253 (C.D.Cal.2009), the plaintiff suffered serious injuries when she fell while hiking at Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the vacation tour operator, but the court applied the primary assumption of the risk doctrine, finding that hiking across uneven and challenging terrain is an inherent risk when hiking in ancient ruins, and inherent in this activity is the risk that one will fall and become injured.
[*P23] This case law from California is similar to our Ohio law. Morgan attempts [**16] to argue that the conditions which led to his injury, attempting to cross a creek up a slippery embankment in dark, wet conditions, were not inherent to hiking. However, Morgan had already crossed the creek when he fell, and the dark is inherent in night hiking regardless of the trail chosen, and the ground was wet because it had been raining the day before. That was the reason the hike had been postponed. Despite Morgan’s attempt to argue that the risks were heightened, we find, under these facts, that these risks were inherent risks to night hiking.
[*P24] Appellants rely on Byer v. Lucas, 7th Dist. No. 08AP-351, 2009 Ohio 1022, 2009 WL 581710, to argue that the risks involved here outweigh the ordinary risks involved in the recreational activity that the plaintiff was engaged. In Byer, the plaintiff filed a negligence action against the owner and driver of a tractor pulling a hay wagon as part of party festivities. The defendant was drinking alcohol at the party. The plaintiff was riding in the wagon. The defendant stopped the wagon at the top of a steep hill and advised the passengers that they could get out of the wagon and either walk down the hill or wait to be picked up by a truck [**17] to return to the party. Apparently, the plaintiff did not hear the warning and remained on the wagon. The defendant lost control of the wagon, and plaintiff was ejected and treated for severe injuries. Plaintiff filed suit alleging negligence and intentional and reckless conduct. On appeal, the court found there were risks that were not ordinary, customary, or foreseeable to a hayride.
[*P25] Ordinary risks for a hayride include “getting scratched by tree braches [sic], being bounced around on a wagon, and even losing one’s balance and falling off the wagon.” Id. at ¶30. In Byer, however, the court found risks that were out of the ordinary for a hayride, including the choice of route, the driver control and severe injuries. The driver chose to drive down the steep hill while another driver took a safer route. The tractor and wagon careened down the hill out of control. Many passengers were thrown from the wagon. Finally, the plaintiff suffered severe injuries including cuts to her head, requiring stitches, and two segments of her tailbone were fractured.
[*P26] The choice of route, down a steep hill, the out-of-control nature of the ride and the injuries the plaintiff received were not risks that [**18] would be expected from a hayride. The court found that “a farm tractor and its wagon cascading down a steep hill out of control and jackknifing to a stop throwing passengers from it is not an inherent risk of a hayride.” Id. at ¶39. Thus, the court found primary assumption of the risk inapplicable. But Byer is distinguishable from the case at hand. The court in Byer found the risks were not inherent to the recreational activity, whereas here, we find the risks were inherent to night hiking. Also in Byer, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless. Here, the only allegation is that Marsh’s conduct was negligent. Thus, the facts of Byer distinguish it from the facts at hand.
[*P27] Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, appellees owed no duty to protect appellants from the inherent risks of injury related to the night hike. Since the primary assumption of the risk negates the duty element of appellants’ negligence claim, appellants are precluded from making a prima facie case of negligence, and the trial court did not err in granting appellees’ motion for summary judgment. Amie Morgan’s claim also fails because it is dependent upon her husband’s [**19] successful claim. Appellants’ assignment of error is overruled.
[*P28] For the foregoing reasons, appellants’ assignment of error is overruled, and we affirm the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
KLATT and SADLER, JJ., concur.
Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428
Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. f/k/a Wabash Community Service, Appellant-Defendant, vs. Taylor M. Thompson, a minor, by next friends, Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson, Appellees-Plaintiffs.
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428
August 31, 2012, Decided
August 31, 2012, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
APPEAL FROM THE WABASH CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Robert R. McCallen, III, Judge. Cause No. 85C01-1110-CT-839.
COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: RANDALL W. GRAFF, ORFEJ P. NAJDESKI, LESLIE B. POLLIE, Kopka, Pinkus, Dolin & Eads, LLC, Indianapolis, Indiana.
FOR APPELLEES: JOSEF MUSSER, Spitzer Herriman Stephenson, Holderead Musser & Conner, LLP, Marion, Indiana.
JUDGES: BROWN, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and PYLE, J., concur.
OPINION BY: BROWN
OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION
Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc., (“YMCA”) appeals the trial court’s order denying its motion for summary judgment. The YMCA raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the trial court erred in denying the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment. We reverse.
The relevant facts follow. On October 13, 2011, Taylor Thompson, by next friends Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson, filed a complaint against the YMCA alleging that she was at the premises known as the Field of Dreams which was owned by the YMCA on May 28, 2009, and was injured when she slid into second base while participating in the Wabash Metro Summer Baseball/Softball League.1 The complaint alleged that the YMCA was negligent and violated its duty to protect Taylor [*2] by its failure to inspect, warn, and implement preventive measures designed to eliminate or reduce dangers posed by the condition of the second base “such that it was fixed as a rigid obstacle for participants to encounter while sliding into the base and, thereby, posing a clear safety hazard.” Appellant’s Appendix at 7. The complaint alleged that Taylor suffered serious and permanent physical injury.
1 The complaint indicated that Taylor was seventeen years old at the time of the filing of the complaint.
On November 22, 2011, the YMCA filed a Motion to Dismiss And/Or Change of Venue Pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(6). The YMCA alleged that Charlene, Taylor’s mother, executed a contractual document for Taylor’s participation in the Wabash Metro Summer Baseball/Softball League, and the YMCA attached the document to the motion. The form contains the following statement:
I (parent or guardian) Charlene Thompson hereby give permission for Taylor Thompson to participate in Metro League Baseball/Softball. I further understand that injuries can occur and will not hold the field, sponsor, coaching staff or league responsible for injury or medical expenses incurred while participating in practice [*3] or playing in a game. I also affirm that my child is physically fit to participate in athletic activities.
Id. at 12. The YMCA alleged that Taylor contractually agreed that there was an inherent risk to her participation in the softball game that could result in injury and that she contractually agreed that she would hold the YMCA, as alleged owner of the field, harmless for any injuries or medical expenses resulting from such injuries.
On December 22, 2011, Taylor filed a response to the YMCA’s motion to dismiss and argued that “in the case of minors, a person claiming tort damages on behalf of the minor against another person has power to execute a release on the minor’s behalf, however, the release must be approved by the Court before being effective.” Appellant’s Appendix at 14. Taylor also alleged that the document YMCA relies upon did not contemplate an injury from the negligent maintenance of the property, rather, it contemplates the foreseeable injuries which can inherently occur while playing baseball or softball. Taylor argued that the YMCA was not a party to the understanding evidenced by the document.
On December 30, 2011, the court held a hearing on the YMCA’s motion. On [*4] January 18, 2012, the court denied the YMCA’s motion to dismiss. On February 16, 2012, the YMCA filed a motion to certify the interlocutory order, which the court granted on February 21, 2012. On April 16, 2012, this court accepted jurisdiction pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 14(B).
The issue is whether the trial court erred by denying summary judgment to the YMCA. Initially, we note that the YMCA’s motion to dismiss was filed pursuant to Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(6) and attached the form completed by Taylor’s mother. Therefore, we will review the YMCA’s motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. [HN1] See Ind. Trial Rule 12(B) (“If, on a motion, asserting the defense number (6), to dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56.”); New Albany-Floyd Cnty. Educ. Ass’n v. Ammerman, 724 N.E.2d 251, 255 n.7 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) (“Although the trial court specifically granted Holman’s motion to dismiss and did not rule on his motion for summary judgment, we must nevertheless treat [*5] the former as a motion for summary judgment on review.”); Galbraith v. Planning Dep’t of City of Anderson, 627 N.E.2d 850, 852 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) (treating the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint as a summary judgment for the defendant when plaintiff submitted an affidavit and the trial court acknowledged that it considered matters outside the pleadings).
[HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). All facts and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts are construed in favor of the nonmovant. Mangold, 756 N.E.2d at 973. [HN3] Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated to the trial court. Id. [HN4] We must carefully review a decision on summary judgment to ensure that a party was not improperly denied its day in court. Id. at 974. [HN5] “[A] motion for summary judgment that is unopposed should be granted only if the designated materials, regardless of whether they stand unopposed by materials designated by the nonmovant, warrant it.” [*6] Starks v. Village Green Apartments, 854 N.E.2d 411, 415 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Klotz v. Hoyt, 900 N.E.2d 1 (Ind. 2009).
[HN6] In reviewing a grant of summary judgment we face the same issues as the trial court and follow the same process. Klinker v. First Merchants Bank, N.A., 964 N.E.2d 190, 193 (Ind. 2012). [HN7] Under Trial Rule 56(C), the moving party bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. If it is successful, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to designate evidence establishing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id.
[HN8] “In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach.” Peters v. Forster, 804 N.E.2d 736, 738 (Ind. 2004). [HN9] In negligence cases, summary judgment is “rarely appropriate.” Rhodes v. Wright, 805 N.E.2d 382, 387 (Ind. 2004). “This is because negligence cases are particularly fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the [*7] objective reasonable person–one best applied by a jury after hearing all of the evidence.” Id. Nevertheless, a defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the undisputed material facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 385.
We initially address Taylor’s argument that while Indiana law requires that a parent claiming tort damages on behalf of a minor against another person has power to execute a release on the minor’s behalf, the release must be approved by the court to be valid. Taylor cites Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) which provides:
[HN10] Whenever a minor has a disputed claim against another person, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, and a guardian for the minor and the minor’s property has not been appointed, the parents of the minor may compromise the claim. However, before the compromise is valid, it must be approved by the court upon filing of a petition requesting the court’s approval. If the court approves the compromise, it may direct that the settlement be paid in accordance with IC 29-3-3-1. If IC 29-3-3-1 is not applicable, the court shall require that a guardian be appointed and that the settlement be delivered to the guardian [*8] upon the terms that the court directs.
Taylor argues that “[n]o Indiana statute, rule, or decision authorizes a parent of a minor to sign a pre-tort waiver.” Appellee’s Brief at 5. Taylor also argues that “the Indiana statute requiring court approval of minor’s claim settlement arises out of a public policy of favoring protection of minors with respect to contractual obligations” and “[t]he statute guards minors against improvident compromises made by their parents.” Id.
The YMCA argues that Taylor’s reliance on Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) “is misplaced and has no bearing on the subject matter at issue in this case, which involves a vastly different legal scenario having nothing to do with probating a disputed claim a minor has against another person.” Appellant’s Brief at 8. The YMCA also argues that if Taylor’s argument is accepted, it would render all releases signed by parents to allow their children to participate in school and sporting events ineffective and meaningless. The YMCA contends that “[i]t would be impossible for parents to obtain court approval for every release or hold harmless agreement for every club, hobby, camp, and sporting activity for each of their children.” Id. at 9.
We [*9] observe that the referenced statute governs a post-injury claim and falls under Title 29, which governs probate law, and not the issue in this case. Further, Taylor does not point to any other authority indicating that the release form was invalid. Under the circumstances, we conclude that the release form is valid. See Bellew v. Byers, 272 Ind. 37, 38, 396 N.E.2d 335, 336 (1979) (addressing a minor’s compromise claim in which the parent and natural guardian was paid an amount for the injuries to her three children in return for a release), abrogated on other grounds by Huffman v. Monroe Cnty. Cmty. Sch. Corp., 588 N.E.2d 1264 (Ind. 1992); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 206-207 (Ohio 1998) (holding that it was not appropriate to equate a pre-injury release with a post-injury release and that parents have the authority to bind their minor children to exculpatory agreements in favor of volunteers and sponsors of nonprofit sport activites where the cause of action sounds in negligence).
We next turn to whether the release applies to Taylor’s injury. The YMCA argues that the release form applies to Taylor’s action of sliding into second base during the softball game. [*10] The YMCA also argues that “one can take almost any on-field mishap and seek to couch it in terms of negligence by arguing for more padding, softer playing surfaces, rule changes, etc., but the fact remains that the injury arose because of a risk inherent in the game.” Appellant’s Reply Brief at 3. Taylor argues that the YMCA’s repeated reference to her injury being the result of her sliding into second base without referencing the accompanying allegations of the complaint that the injury was caused by the negligent maintenance of the second base is a glaring omission throughout the YMCA’s argument.
“It is well established in Indiana that [HN11] exculpatory agreements are not against public policy.” Stowers v. Clinton Cent. Sch. Corp., 855 N.E.2d 739, 749 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. [HN12] “Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent.” Marsh v. Dixon, 707 N.E.2d 998, 1000 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied. However, this court has held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve a party from liability unless it “‘specifically [*11] and explicitly refer[s] to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.’” Id. (quoting Powell v. Am. Health Fitness Ctr. of Fort Wayne, Inc., 694 N.E.2d 757, 761 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)). [HN13] An exculpatory clause may be found sufficiently specific and explicit on the issue of negligence even in the absence of the word itself. Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Ctr., Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576, 581 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. Furthermore, [HN14] an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity. Id. [HN15] The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence. Id. at 581-582.
The form signed by Taylor’s mother did not release the YMCA of liability for all negligent acts because the form did not contain any specific or explicit reference to the negligence of the YMCA or owner of the field. See Stowers, 855 N.E.2d at 749 (“The Stowers’ proposed instruction set out that the Release Forms did not absolve Clinton Central of liability for negligent acts if they did not contain language specifically referring [*12] to negligence; thus, it was a correct statement of the law.”). Thus, we must determine whether Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity. See Anderson, 852 N.E.2d at 581 (holding that an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity).
Sliding into second base, notwithstanding its rigidity, is an activity inherent in the nature of playing baseball or softball and we conclude that Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity. See id. at 584-585 (observing that the plaintiff was injured when attempting to mount her horse and concluding that the plaintiff’s damages were inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding and that the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment to the defendants). The release attached to the YMCA’s motion to dismiss indicated that the owner of the field would not be responsible for any injury or medical expenses “incurred while participating in practice or playing in a game.” Appellant’s Appendix at 12. Based upon the language in the release, we conclude [*13] that the YMCA met its burden of making a prima facie showing that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the burden then shifted to Taylor who did not designate any evidence to show that an issue of material fact existed. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court erred by denying the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment.
For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the trial court’s denial of the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment.
FRIEDLANDER, J., and PYLE, J., concur.
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