Sa v. Red Frog Events, LlC, 979 F. Supp. 2d 767; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151355

Sa v. Red Frog Events, LlC, 979 F. Supp. 2d 767; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151355

James Sa, Plaintiff, vs. Red Frog Events, LlC, an Illinois corporation, Defendant.

No. 2:13-cv-10294

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN, SOUTHERN DIVISION

979 F. Supp. 2d 767; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151355

October 22, 2013, Decided

October 22, 2013, Filed

CORE TERMS: mud, dive, pit, own negligence, willful, wanton misconduct, obstacle, gross negligence, diving, indemnity, negligence claim, indemnitee, indemnify, negligent acts, indemnification, disclaim, pit head, risk of injury, citation omitted, unambiguous, encouraged, summary judgment, claim arising, recreational activities, reasonable care, encouraging, disclaimer, hazardous, choosing, ladder

COUNSEL: [**1] For James Sa, Plaintiff: Michael J. Behm, Behm and Behm, Flint, MI.

For Red Frog Events, LLC, Defendant: Brian T. McGorisk, Plunkett & Cooney, Flint, MI.

JUDGES: Hon. GERALD E. ROSEN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: GERALD E. ROSEN

OPINION

[*769] OPINION AND ORDER PARTIALLY GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This action arises out of an unfortunate and tragic accident during a running race organized by Defendant Red Frog Events, resulting in Plaintiff James Sa’s paralysis from his chest down. On January 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed a three-count Complaint, asserting negligence, gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct. 1 Defendant has now moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff waived his negligence claim and that his two other claims fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 2 Having reviewed and considered the parties’ briefs and supporting documents and the entire record of this matter, the Court has determined that the pertinent allegations and legal arguments are sufficiently addressed in these materials and that oral [*770] argument would not assist in the resolution of these motions. Accordingly, the Court will decide Defendant’s [**2] motion “on the briefs.” See L.R. 7.1(f)(2). This Opinion and Order sets forth the Court’s ruling.

1 Michigan courts use “willful” and “wilful” interchangeably. For consistency, this Court uses the former, unless in the context of a direct quote.

2 Though captioned as a “Motion for Summary Judgment,” Defendant’s Motion makes clear that it seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or alternatively, pursuant to Rule 56. As discussed in more detail in footnotes 3 and 4, this Court applies Rule 12(b)(6) to this Motion.

II. PERTIENT FACTS

In July 2011, Plaintiff participated in a two-day event known as the “Warrior Dash” in Mt. Morris, Michigan. (Plf’s Compl., Dkt. # 1, at ¶¶ 5, 8). The Warrior Dash is a 5k running race with obstacles, including jumping over fire, wall climbing, and a mud pit. (Id. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff was injured as a result of diving head first into the mud pit. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22).

Positioned directly across from bleachers and right before the finish line, the mud pit was the last obstacle of the race. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14). One of Defendant’s employees or agents was stationed near the mud pit with a microphone and loudspeaker, acting as an emcee for the [**3] event. (Id. at ¶ 15). Over the course of the event, this individual continually enticed, encouraged, and specifically told participants to dive into the mud pit. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 26, 27). It was common knowledge among participants that diving into the mud pit was not only permitted, but encouraged. (Id. at ¶ 17). As an example of this “common knowledge,” bloggers commented about mud diving online. (Id. at ¶ 18). One noted the following:

When I arrived at the Warrior Dash on Saturday morning I found out rather quickly that “mud diving” was rather popular on the last obstacle before the finish line. . . . A good mud dive at this point makes perfect sense since runners are tired from the grueling course yet rejuvenated as they see the last obstacle. I’m sure the spectator attention also gives a little more motivation for participants to bring their best mud dive as well. . . . Hopefully this joy is worth the pain they may have endured to make this happen since my brother-in-law had to go to the hospital after attempting a cannon ball.

(Id.). This same person also posted “sweet pictures of an assortment of some of the best mud dives” and requested that readers “vote” for their favorite. (Id.).

Before [**4] Plaintiff’s race wave began, he witnessed many participants dive into the mud pit, heard the emcee encourage others to dive into the mud pit, and never saw anyone tell participants not to dive into the mud pit. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 27). Defendant also did not post any signs instructing individuals not to dive into the mud pit. (Id. at ¶ 20). Accordingly, Plaintiff followed the emcee’s encouragement and the lead of other participants and dove into the mud pit, resulting in paralysis from the chest down. (Id. at ¶ 22).

Prior to participating in the Warrior Dash, Plaintiff — as well as all other participants — signed a “Waiver and Release of Claims” (Waiver). (Id. at ¶ 9). The Waiver provides, in no uncertain terms, that Plaintiff “agree[s] not to dive into or enter the mud pit head first.” (Ex. A. to Def’s Br., Dkt. # 4-1, at ¶ 17). 3 Other pertinent language includes:

1. I understand that entering Warrior Dash is a hazardous activity.

2. I understand that Warrior Dash presents extreme obstacles including, but not limited to: fire, mud [*771] pits with barbed wire, cargo climbs, junk cars, and steep hills.

* * *

7. I assume all risks associated with competing in Warrior Dash, including, but not limited [**5] to: falls, contact with other participants, negligent or wanton acts of other participants, completing all obstacles, any defects or conditions of premises, and the effects of weather including high heat and/or humidity, all such risks being known and appreciated by me.

* * *

DISCLAIMER

I understand that Red Frog Events, LLC is committed to conducting its race and activities in a safe manner and holds the safety of participants in high regard. I understand that Red Frog Events, LLC continually strives to reduce such risks and insists that all participants follow safety rules and instructions that are designed to protect the participants’ safety. I also understand, however, that participants . . . registering for the race, programs, and activities must recognize that there is an inherent risk of injury when choosing to participate in recreational activities and programs.

* * *

WAIVER & RELEASE OF ALL CLAIMS; ASSUMPTION OF RISK

I recognize and acknowledge that there are certain risks of physical injury to participants in Warrior Dash, and voluntarily assume the full risk of any and all injuries, damages, or loss, regardless of severity, that I . . . may sustain as a result of said participation. [**6] . . . I assume all risks and hazards incidental to such participation in Warrior Dash, and I hereby waive, release, absolve, indemnify, and agree to hold harmless . . . Red Frog Events, LLC . . . for any claim arising out of an injury to me . . . and from any and all claims, causes of action, obligations, lawsuits, charges, complaints, contracts, controversies, covenants, agreements, promises, damages, costs, expenses, responsibilities, of whatsoever kind, nature, or description, whether direct or indirect, in law or in equity, in contract or tort, or otherwise, whether known or unknown, arising out of or connected with my . . . participation in Warrior Dash.

(Id.) In accepting these terms, Plaintiff checked that he had read and fully understood the Waiver and signed with his own free act and deed. (Id.).

3 Defendant attached a signed copy of the Waiver in support of its Motion. This Court may consider this document without treating Defendant’s Motion as one for summary judgment because it is referred to in Plaintiff’s Complaint and is central to his claim. Weiner v. Klais and Co., Inc., 108 F.3d 86, 89 (6th Cir. 1997).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Applicable Standards

1. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

In [**7] deciding a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs and accept all well-pled factual allegations as true. League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007). To withstand a motion to dismiss, however, a complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The factual allegations in the complaint, accepted as true, “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level,” and must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “The plausibility of [*772] an inference depends on a host of considerations, including common sense and the strength of competing explanations for defendant’s conduct.” 16630 Southfield Limited P’ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013).

The Sixth [**8] Circuit has emphasized that the “combined effect of Twombly and Iqbal [is to] require [a] plaintiff to have a greater knowledge . . . of factual details in order to draft a ‘plausible complaint.'” New Albany Tractor, Inc. v. Louisville Tractor, Inc., 650 F.3d 1046, 1051 (6th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). Put another way, complaints must contain “plausible statements as to when, where, in what or by whom,” Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 373 (6th Cir. 2011), in order to avoid merely pleading “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

2. Application of Michigan law

This Court applies Michigan law as enunciated by the Michigan Supreme Court because subject matter jurisdiction in the matter is premised solely on diversity jurisdiction. See, e.g., Corrigan v. U.S. Steel Corp., 478 F.3d 718, 723 (6th Cir. 2007); Garden City Osteopathic Hosp. v. HBE Corp., 55 F.3d 1126, 1130 (6th Cir. 1995). “Where the Michigan Supreme Court has not addressed an issue, [courts] may look to opinions issued by the Michigan appellate courts and should follow their reasoning unless [they] are ‘convinced by other persuasive data that the [**9] highest court of the state would decide otherwise.'” Tooling, Mfg. & Technologies Ass’n v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 665, 670 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ziegler v. IBP Hog Market, Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 517 (6th Cir. 2001)).

B. The Waiver bars Plaintiff’s negligence claim (Count I)

In Michigan, “the validity of a release turns on the intent of the parties. A release must be fairly and knowingly made to be valid. If the language of a release is clear and unambiguous, the intent of the parties is ascertained from the plain and ordinary meaning of the language.” Batshon v. Mar-Que Gen. Contractors, Inc., 463 Mich. 646, 650 n.4, 624 N.W.2d 903 (2001). “The interpretation of [a] release [is] a question of law.” Cole v. Ladbroke Racing Michigan, Inc., 241 Mich. App. 1, 13, 614 N.W.2d 169 (2000).

Michigan law expressly permits “a party to contract against liability or damages caused by its own ordinary negligence.” Skotak v. Vic Tanny Intern., Inc., 203 Mich. App. 616, 617-18, 513 N.W.2d 428 (1994). Plaintiff does not dispute that he signed the Waiver and provides no factual support to avoid the consequences of the Waiver. He does not argue, for example, that (1) he “was “dazed, in shock, or under the influence” when he signed the Waiver; [**10] (2) “the nature of the instrument was misrepresented, or (3) there was other fraudulent or overreaching conduct.” Xu v. Gay, 257 Mich. App. 263, 273, 668 N.W.2d 166 (2003). 4 Rather, Plaintiff asserts [*773] that “Red Frog fails to indemnify itself from its own negligent acts” because it “did not use the term ‘negligent’ and/or ‘negligence’ anywhere within the four corners of it’s (sic) Waiver & Release Agreement.” (Plf’s Resp., Dkt. # 8, at 6). For this proposition, Plaintiff begins with a citation to an Eastern District of Michigan case, Buffa v. General Motors Corporation, 131 F. Supp. 478 (E.D. Mich. 1955), finding that “a contract of indemnity which purportedly indemnifies against the consequences of one’s own negligence is subject to strict construction and will not be so construed unless it clearly appears from the language used that it was intended to have that effect.” Id. at 482.

4 In response to Defendant’s Motion, Plaintiff submitted various materials outside the pleadings, including an unsigned and different version of the Waiver, an affidavit from Plaintiff, affidavits from two participants, a press release from Defendant regarding the Warrior Dash, and an excerpt from the above quoted blog picturing [**11] participants’ dives and requesting that readers vote for the best dive. To the unsigned Waiver, the Court notes that while slightly different, the material language at issue is the same — including that Plaintiff agreed to “not dive into or enter the mud pit head first,” that the Warrior Dash is a “hazardous activity,” that he “assum[ed] the full risk of any and all injuries,” and that he agreed to release Defendant from “any and all” claims. Plaintiff’s affidavit also fails to raise any issues challenging the factual circumstances of his signing of the Waiver. Finally, the remaining materials just supplement his Complaint assertions — namely, that Defendant’s agent encouraged participants to dive into the mud pit. Such materials “simply fill[] in the contours and details of the [P]laintiff’s complaint, and add[] nothing new.” Yeary v. Goodwill Indus.-Knoxville, Inc., 107 F.3d 443, 445 (6th Cir. 1997). In short, nothing in these materials provides the Court with any basis for finding that there would be any facts that could be developed through discovery that would provide a factual predicate to support Plaintiff’s negligence cause of action. Accordingly, the Court declines to consider [**12] these materials and therefore evaluates the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

There is no doubt that Michigan courts have adopted this general proposition, but not in the manner in which Plaintiff suggests. See, e.g., Skinner v. D-M-E Corp., 124 Mich. App. 580, 586, 335 N.W.2d 90 (1983) (“It is universally recognized that a contract which purports to confer an express right to indemnification against the consequences of one’s own negligence is subject to strict construction and will not be so construed unless the contract language clearly evidences that such was the intended effect.”). Instead, Michigan courts hold that “indemnity clauses need not expressly mention the indemnitee’s own acts to provide coverage for them.” Badiee v. Brighton Area Sch., 265 Mich. App. 343, 353, 695 N.W.2d 521 (2005) (citing Sherman v. DeMaria Bldg. Co., Inc., 203 Mich. App. 593, 513 N.W.2d 187 (1994)). As the Sherman court explained:

Michigan courts have discarded the additional rule of construction that indemnity contracts will not be construed to provide indemnification for the indemnitee’s own negligence unless such an intent is expressed clearly and unequivocally in the contract. Instead, broad indemnity [**13] language may be interpreted to protect the indemnitee against its own negligence if this intent can be ascertained from “other language in the contract, surrounding circumstances, or from the purpose sought to be accomplished by the parties.”

Sherman, 203 Mich. App. at 596-97 (citation omitted); see also Chrysler Corp. v. Brencal Contractors, Inc., 146 Mich. App. 766, 771, 381 N.W.2d 814 (1985) (“Earlier cases imposed the additional rule of construction that indemnification contracts will not be construed to indemnify the indemnitee against losses from his own negligent acts unless such an intent is expressed in unequivocal terms. That rule of construction no longer applies.”) (internal citations omitted). Put another way, “although an indemnity provision does not expressly state that the indemnitee will be shielded from its own negligence, such language is not mandatory to provide such indemnification.” Fischbach-Natkin Co. v. Power Process Piping, Inc., 157 Mich. App. 448, 452-53, 403 N.W.2d 569 (1987); Harbenski v. Upper Peninsula Power Co., 118 Mich. App. 440, 454, 325 N.W.2d 785 (1982) (“The [*774] contention that the intent to indemnify an indemnitee against his own negligence must be expressly stated has been rejected.”) (citing Vanden Bosch v. Consumers Power Co., 394 Mich. 428, 230 N.W.2d 271 (1975)).

Plaintiff [**14] contends that Sherman does not so hold, and rather only stands for the narrow proposition that “if there is no unequivocal language in the agreement indemnifying defendant for its own negligent acts then the indemnity language may be interpreted to protect the indemnitee against its own negligence if this intent can be ascertained from other language in the contract, surrounding circumstances, or from the purpose sought to be accomplished by the parties.” (Plf’s Resp., Dkt. # 8, at 8) (citation and internal quotations omitted). For support, Plaintiff argues that the presence of an exclusionary clause in Sherman — excluding indemnification for claims based on the defendant’s sole negligence — “evince[d the] . . . intent to indemnify [defendant] against losses from its own negligence but not from loses caused solely by [defendant].” (Id.) (quoting Sherman, 203 Mich. App. at 598-99). 5 Though the Waiver here contains no such clause, Sherman cannot be read as requiring such juxtaposing language to either read in or read out coverage for a party’s own negligence. Instead, Sherman counsels that courts must examine, among other things, the contract’s “other language” in the absence of an [**15] unequivocal statement regarding a party’s own negligence.

5 Sherman also notes that the waiver referenced the “owner’s continuing operations, which indicated that the parties realized their employees would be on the job site at the same time . . . [t]hus, the possibility that an injury or damage could result from [the defendant]‘s negligence was apparent at the time the parties entered the contract.” Sherman, 203 Mich. App. at 599. The Court addresses this language below.

Here, the Waiver’s “other language” “clearly expresses [D]efendant’s intention to disclaim liability for all negligence, including its own.” Skotak, 203 Mich. App. at 619. Michigan law plainly holds that the phrases “‘any’ and ‘all’ and of the phrase ‘any and all’ . . . include[s] one’s own negligence.” Paquin v. Harnischfeger Corp., 113 Mich. App. 43, 50, 317 N.W.2d 279 (1982). This is because “there cannot be any broader classification than the word ‘all.’ In ‘its ordinary and natural meaning, the word “all” leaves no room for exceptions.'” Id. (citation omitted).

In personal injury cases interpreting language nearly identical to the Waiver’s language, Michigan courts find that such phrases disclaim one’s own negligence. Take Skotak [**16] for example. There, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed the scope of a waiver in a matter alleging negligence — failing to train staff to respond to a heart attack — against a health club after a club member suffered a fatal heart attack while sitting in a steam room. 203 Mich. App. at 617. In construing the waiver to include the defendant’s own negligence, the Skotak court noted that the waiver’s “inclusive language, ‘any and all claims, demands, damages, rights of action, or causes of action, . . . arising out of the Member’s . . . use of the . . . facilities,’ clearly expresses defendant’s intention to disclaim liability for all negligence, including its own.” Id. at 619 (alterations in original). The Skotak court also emphasized the breadth of the word “all,” rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that it covered certain kinds of negligence (slip and fall injuries resulting from use of exercise equipment), but not others (like negligent training and supervision):

[*775] We fail to see how such a line can be drawn. We do not believe that the risk that medical assistance might not be available is somehow less foreseeable than the danger of a slip and fall injury. In any event, there is no [**17] broader classification than the word “all.” In its ordinary and natural meaning, the word “all” leaves no room for exceptions. Therefore, assuming that defendant was negligent in failing adequately to train and supervise its employees, any claim arising out of that negligence would be barred by the release clause the decedent signed.

Id. (internal citation omitted).

Other personal injury cases — of which Defendant features prominently and Plaintiff avoids all together — also interpret similar waiver language to include one’s own negligence. 6 See Cole, 241 Mich. App. at 14 (release covering “all risks of any injury that the undersigned may sustain while on the premises . . . clearly expressed defendant’s intention to disclaim liability for all injuries, including those attributable to its own negligence”); Gara v. Woodbridge Tavern, 224 Mich. App. 63, 67, 568 N.W.2d 138 (1997) (“The language whereby the participant agreed to assume ‘any risks inherent in any other activities connected with this event in which I may voluntarily participate’ and to take responsibility for ‘any and all injuries (including death) and accidents which may occur as a result of my participation in this event . . . ‘ clearly [**18] expressed defendants’ intention to disclaim liability for all negligence, including their own.”).

6 None of the cases cited by Plaintiff discuss this line of cases. Instead, he relies upon older cases that do not hold that releases must include the magic words of “negligence” or “negligent acts” and do not substantively analyze whether “any” or “all” language covers negligence claims. See, e.g., Gen. Acc. Fire & Life Assur. Corp., Ltd. v. Finegan & Burgess, Inc., 351 F.2d 168 (6th Cir. 1965); Tope v. Waterford Hills Racing Corp., 81 Mich. App. 591, 265 N.W.2d 761 (1978). He also distinguishes this matter from a recent unpublished Sixth Circuit case, Fish v. Home Depot USA, Inc. 455 F. App’x 575 (6th Cir. 2012). There, the Sixth Circuit found that a ladder rental contract favored indemnification for several reasons: (1) the waiver included a rental “as is” provision; (2) the waiver had an acknowledgment that the plaintiff inspected the ladder; (3) the plaintiff had rented other equipment from the defendant before; and (4) because the plaintiff was renting and not purchasing the ladder, he was “undoubtedly aware” that others had used the ladder before him, and was therefore aware that there was a possibility [**19] that “latent equipment problems can be caused by ordinary wear and tear.” Id. at 580. Plaintiff distinguishes Fish, asserting that he did not agree to an “as is” provision,” had not dealt with Red Frog or the Warrior Dash before, did not inspect the course beforehand, and was not aware that the course would “become dangerous though the ‘wear and tear’ of other participants.” (Plf’s Resp., Dkt. # 8, at 10). Fish is not binding authority, and even if it was, it is not applicable to the instant matter because it still does not address the core issue of whether the Waiver’s “any” or “all” language covered Defendant’s own negligent conduct.

More recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals distinguished this line of cases in Xu v. Gay. In that matter, a man using a treadmill at a fitness center fell, hit his head, and died. 257 Mich. App. at 265. Distinguishing Skotak and Cole, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the notion that the parties intended to release the fitness center from liability stemming from its own negligence:

We find that the language in the alleged release is unambiguous, and clearly states that defendant would not assume responsibility for “any injuries and/or sicknesses [**20] incurred to [sic] me or any accompanying minor person as a result of entering the premises and/or using any of the facilities.” However, this provision does not inform the reader that he is solely responsible for injuries [*776] incurred or that he waives defendant’s liability by relinquishing his right to sue, nor does it contain the words “waiver,” “disclaim,” or similar language that would clearly indicate to the reader that by accepting its terms he is giving up the right to assert a negligence claim.

Id. at 275.

Here, as with Skotak, Cole, and Gara, the Waiver unambiguously covered Defendant’s own negligence. The Waiver warned Plaintiff that “enter[ing] Warrior Dash [was] a hazardous activity” and that it presented “extreme obstacles.” Plaintiff agreed to “assume all risks associated with competing in Warrior Dash” and acknowledged that there was “an inherent risk of injury when choosing to participate in recreational activities and programs.” Most critically, Plaintiff “voluntarily assume[d] the full risk of any and all injuries, damages or loss, regardless of severity, that [he] . . . may sustain as a result of . . . participation [in the Warrior Dash].” Likewise, he also agreed to “waive, [**21] release, absolve, indemnify, and agree to hold harmless . . . Red Frog Events, LLC . . . for any claim arising out of an injury to me and from any and all claims . . . [including] tort . . . arising out of or connected with [his] participation in Warrior Dash.” 7 The Waiver therefore unambiguously covered Defendant’s own negligence. Finally and unlike Xu, the Waiver, titled as a “Waiver and Release of Claims, Assumption of Risk and Warning of Risk,” informed Plaintiff that he was relinquishing his right to sue Defendant for claims resulting from his participation in the Warrior Dash.

7 Plaintiff’s argument that “[t]here was nothing in Red Frog’s indemnity provision that warned participants that Red Frog’s agents would be interfering with the actual race or to notify James that there was potential that the risks of the race would be or could be heightened by the presence of Red Frog’s agents, or that injury could result from the negligence of Red Frog or its agents” misses the mark. (Plf’s Resp., Dkt. # 8, at 9) (contrasting with Sherman, see footnote 5). Whether the indemnity provision warned of certain negligent acts or not, just as in Skotak, any claim arising out of negligence is [**22] barred given the Waiver’s express and unambiguous language.

Notwithstanding this clear language, Plaintiff claims other language contained in the Waiver “gave James the false impression that Red Frog would not be negligent in the operation and performance of this racing event.” (Plf’s Resp., Dkt. # 8, at 10). For support, Plaintiff points to the disclaimer portion of the Waiver stating that Red Frog: (1) “is committed to conducting its race and activities in a safe manner and holds the safety of participants in high regard;” and (2) “continually strives to reduce such risks and insists that all participants follow safety rules and instructions that are designed to protect the participants’ safety.” Plaintiff omits, however, the remainder of the disclaimer, which provides that “participants . . . registering for the race, programs, and activities must recognize that there is an inherent risk of injury when choosing to participate in recreational activities and programs.”

This argument is without merit. In Cole, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected a similar argument in a personal injury case arising out of an accident at a horse-racing facility. There, the plaintiff “acknowledge[d] [**23] that due to the unique combination of dangerous factors in the restricted area associated with the stabling, exercising and training of a large number of horses, and the presence of tradespeople, jockeys, owner and other personnel in the area, there are inherent dangers in the restricted area which [the defendant] cannot eliminate after exercising [*777] reasonable care.” 241 Mich. App. at 14. In rejecting the argument that the “which [the defendant] cannot eliminate after exercising reasonable care” language limited the scope of the release (to not cover negligent acts), the court reasoned that the language “specifically addressed the dangerous conditions and inherent dangers in the restricted area of the racetrack.” Id. The “reasonable care” language was, therefore, “an unambiguous emphasis of the fact that being in the restricted area entails dangers that cannot be eliminated by exercising reasonable care.” Id.

Just as in Cole, the Waiver’s language here regarding Defendant’s commitment to conducting the Warrior Dash in a safe manner and to reducing risks cannot be read to carve out Defendant’s negligence from the Waiver’s scope. The very next sentence expressly warns participants of the [**24] “inherent risk of injury when choosing to participate in recreational activities and programs.” The disclaimer language, read in toto, and pursuant to Cole, serves only as “an unambiguous emphasis” that participating in the Warrior Dash carries a risk of injury. This is especially true when, as discussed above, read in conjunction with the fact that the Waiver releases liability with respect to “any and all injuries” sustained as a result of participation in the Warrior Dash. Id. at 14-15.

In the alternative, Plaintiff presents an interesting theory with respect to the Waiver’s enforceability: Defendant’s conduct — the emcee’s statements encouraging participants to dive head first into the mud pit — “constituted a waiver and modification of the release of liability.” (Plf’s Resp., Dkt. # 8, at 14). In sum, Plaintiff argues, “[t]his conduct led James to believe a waiver had occurred and it was okay and safe to dive into the mud pit. Red Frog failed to correct the actions of participants who dove into the mud pit or further instruct through the speaker system that this type of behavior was not permitted.” (Id.)

To find an implied waiver, the conduct of the party against whom waiver is [**25] asserted must be inconsistent with strict compliance with the terms of the contract. H J Tucker & Associates, Inc. v Allied Chucker & Eng’g Co., 234 Mich. App 550, 564-65, 595 N.W.2d 176 (1999). Though Plaintiff does not articulate this theory as such, Plaintiff essentially argues a waiver by estoppel theory. “[A] waiver by estoppel implied from conduct focuses not on the intent or purpose of the waiving party but on the effect of its conduct on the other party.” 13 Williston on Contracts § 39:29 (4th ed). “To prove waiver by estoppel, a party need only show that it was misled to its prejudice by the conduct of the other party into the honest and reasonable belief that the latter was not insisting on, and was therefore giving up, some right.” Id.

Plaintiff’s argument, however, is untenable. Even assuming that Michigan law permits parties to orally modify a waiver and release, 8 the most Plaintiff has alleged is that Defendant’s actions modified the provision prohibiting Plaintiff from diving into the mud pit head first. Defendant’s actions cannot be interpreted, as pled by Plaintiff, as an agreement to modify the Waiver such that Plaintiff could hold Defendant liable for negligence due to injuries [**26] arising out of his participation in the Warrior Dash. Therefore, the Waiver bars Plaintiff’s negligence claim.

8 Neither Plaintiff nor Defendant briefed this issue. The Court also notes that the Waiver does not include an integration clause.

[*778] C. Plaintiff’s gross negligence (Count II) and willful and wanton misconduct (Count III) claims9

9 These claims are not within the Waiver’s scope as “a party may not insulate himself against liability for gross negligence or wilful and wanton misconduct.” Lamp v. Reynolds, 249 Mich. App. 591, 594, 645 N.W.2d 311 (2002).

1. Plaintiff has stated a claim for gross negligence

Gross negligence is “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether injury results.” M.C.L. § 600.2945(d); Xu, 257 Mich. App. at 269. “Evidence of ordinary negligence does not create a question of fact regarding gross negligence.” Xu, 257 Mich. App. at 271. Taking Plaintiff’s allegations as true, Plaintiff’s gross negligence count states a claim for relief. As Plaintiff emphasizes, Defendant not only made participants acknowledge that the Warrior Dash is a “hazardous” activity and that it presents “extreme obstacles,” it expressly enumerated rules regarding how participants [**27] were to enter the mud pit without doing so for other obstacles. Simply, Plaintiff has adequately alleged that Defendant was aware of the dangers presented by the obstacles throughout the Warrior Dash and especially those presented by diving headfirst into the mud pit. Despite this awareness, it is plausible that the act of encouraging Plaintiff — and other participants — to dive into the mud pit head first was so reckless to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether injury would result. Cf. Kahn v. East Side Union High Sch. Dist., 31 Cal. 4th 990, 1012-13, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 103, 75 P.3d 30 (2003) (finding issue of fact regarding swimming coach’s recklessness where a student broke her neck after diving into shallow water after the coach, among other things, allegedly “ignored her overwhelming fears and made a last-minute demand that she dive during competition, in breach of a previous promise that she would not be required to dive”); Falgoust v. Richardson Indus., Inc., 552 So. 2d 1348 (La. Ct. App. 1989) (affirming apportionment of fault to pool owner who “not only failed to warn or reprimand plaintiff [for diving into a non-diving pool], but [who also] encouraged diving by doing it himself”).

This is therefore [**28] distinguishable from the case relied upon by Defendant where the plaintiff just alleged that the defendant “acted in a grossly negligent manner.” See Thomas v. Rijos, 780 F. Supp. 2d 376, 380 (D.V.I. 2011). Moreover, that “there are no specific allegations that [Defendant] knew when Plaintiff approached the mud pit that he would dive into it or that he would be injured,” as Defendant asserts (Def’s Br., Dkt. # 4, at 19), is irrelevant to the present inquiry. Defendant’s knowledge of Plaintiff’s intent before he dove into the mud pit is immaterial as to whether the act of encouraging Plaintiff to dive head first demonstrated a substantial lack of concern for whether injury would result. 10

10 Defendant urges this Court to “take into account the undisputed fact that Plaintiff expressly acknowledged the danger prior to encountering it when he signed the Waiver . . . and was specifically instructed not to ‘dive or enter the mud pit head first.'” (Def’s Br., Dkt. # 4, at 19). Such an argument has no bearing on whether Defendant demonstrated a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results with respect to Plaintiff’s claim that Defendant encouraged Plaintiff to dive head first into [**29] the mud pit. This is not to say that Defendant’s argument might not have some merit down the road as, for example, Michigan law requires the allocation of damages “in direct proportion to the person’s percentage of fault.” M.C.L. § 600.2957(1).

[*779] In sum, Plaintiff has stated a claim for gross negligence.

2. Plaintiff has stated a claim for willful and wanton misconduct

Willful and wanton misconduct is separate and distinct from gross negligence. Xu, 257 Mich. App. at 269 n.3 (citing Jennings v. Southwood, 446 Mich. 125, 138, 521 N.W.2d 230 (1994)); Burnett v. City of Adrian, 414 Mich. 448, 462, 326 N.W.2d 810 (1982) (Moody, J., concurring) (“[W]ilful and wanton misconduct . . . [is] qualitatively different from and more blameworthy than ordinary, or even gross, negligence.”). The elements of a willful and wanton misconduct claim are: “(1) knowledge of a situation requiring the exercise of ordinary care and diligence to avert injury to another, (2) ability to avoid the resulting harm by ordinary care and diligence in the use of the means at hand, and (3) the omission to use such care and diligence to avert the threatened danger, when to the ordinary mind it must be apparent that the result is likely to prove disastrous [**30] to another.” Miller v. Bock, 223 Mich. App. 159, 166, 567 N.W.2d 253 (1997) (citing Jennings, 446 Mich. at 137). Michigan’s Supreme Court has clarified that “willful and wanton misconduct is made out only if the conduct alleged shows an intent to harm or, if not that, such indifference to whether harm will result as to be the equivalent of a willingness that it does. Willful and wanton misconduct is not . . . a high degree of carelessness.” Jennings, 446 Mich. at 138 (1994) (emphasis omitted). It is, therefore, “in the same class as intentional wrongdoing.” Boumelhem v. Bic Corp., 211 Mich. App. 175, 185, 535 N.W.2d 574 (1995).

The seminal Michigan case on point with respect to willful and wanton misconduct is Burnett v. City of Adrian. In that case, the City of Adrian created Lake Adrian to use as a reservoir for its water treatment facilities. 414 Mich. at 458. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, a 14-year old boy drowned after walking off the edge of a submerged structure that the City of Adrian failed to destroy or level when it created the lake. Id. The boy drowned after being swept away by “an unnatural current” created by the submerged structure. Id. Finally, the complaint alleged that “that the city [**31] knew that the structure existed from maps at the time of flooding and from the fact that the structure is visible when the water level is low; that the city knew or had reason to know of the potential harm created for swimmers, including children, who used the area; and that it failed to avert the danger by destroying the structure, fencing the lake, or posting warnings.” Id. at 458-59. Taking these allegations as true, the Michigan Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs “barely” asserted enough facts to make out the claim that the City of Adrian “was indifferent to the likelihood that catastrophe would come to a member of the public using the lake, an indifference essentially equivalent to a willingness that it occur.” Id. at 456.

Applying this standard, it is plausible — though barely — that Defendant’s actions amounted to willful and wanton misconduct. The Michigan Supreme Court has often noted that “[i]t is most difficult to determine, in a particular case, where negligence ends and wilful and wanton begins.” Id. at 477 (Moody, J, concurring) (citing Goss v. Overton, 266 Mich. 62, 253 N.W. 217 (1934) and Finkler v. Zimmer, 258 Mich. 336, 241 N.W. 851 (1932)). “This caution is appropriate in the case at hand, [**32] because the [gross] negligence claim stands.” Bondie v. BIC Corp., 739 F. Supp. 346, 352 [*780] (E.D. Mich. 1990). Here, a reasonable jury might conclude that the act of encouraging participants to jump head first into the mud pit despite knowing the risks to the contrary — at the end of a grueling physical endurance challenge when participants are likely to be physically and mentally exhausted — could be interpreted as such “indifferen[ce] to the likelihood that catastrophe would come to a [race participant.]” Burnett, 414 Mich. at 456. The Court reaches this conclusion with some significant reservation as to whether discovery will produce such facts. However, giving Plaintiff the benefit of every doubt and knowing that he need only “nudge[ his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible” in order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, it seems appropriate here to allow Plaintiff the opportunity to try to develop his case. This is particularly so given that the facts set forth in Burnett also “barely” stated a claim and that Plaintiff’s gross negligence claim also survives. Accordingly, Plaintiff has pled enough facts sufficient to plausibly [**33] state a claim for willful and wanton misconduct.

IV. CONCLUSION

For all of the foregoing reasons,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. # 4) is partially granted. Accordingly, the Court dismisses Plaintiff’s Count I (negligence) with prejudice.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: October 22, 2013

/s/ Gerald E. Rosen

GERALD E. ROSEN

CHIEF, U.S. DISTRICT COURT

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Mitchell v. City of Dallas, 855 S.W.2d 741; 1993 Tex. App. LEXIS 1714

Mitchell v. City of Dallas, 855 S.W.2d 741; 1993 Tex. App. LEXIS 1714

Saundra Harris Mitchell and Jan P. Mitchell, Individually and as Next Friends of Ashley J. Harris, Appellants v. City of Dallas, Appellee

No. 05-91-01416-CV

COURT OF APPEALS OF TEXAS, FIFTH DISTRICT, DALLAS

855 S.W.2d 741; 1993 Tex. App. LEXIS 1714

March 31, 1993, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] On Appeal from the 68th District Court. Dallas County, Texas. Trial Court Cause No. 89-13400-C

COUNSEL: For Appellants: KRISTINA BLINE DIAL.

For Appellee: PATRCIA MEDRANO.

JUDGES: Before Justices Lagarde, Kinkeade, and Barber 1

1 Justice Will Barber succeeds Justice Jeff Kaplan, a member of the original panel. Justice Barber has reviewed the briefs and record in this case.

OPINION BY: WILL BARBER

OPINION

[*743] OPINION

Opinion By Justice Barber

This is a premises liability case. Saundra Harris Mitchell and Jan P. Mitchell sued the City of Dallas for damages sustained by their minor son when he fell from his bicycle at a municipal park. The City moved for summary judgment. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of the City. We reverse and remand.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Ashley Harris suffered serious injuries when he fell from his bicycle into a creek bed at Hamilton Park. The park is owned [*744] and maintained by the City of Dallas. The accident occurred at a part of the creek where there is a fifteen to twenty-five foot drop-off. This condition was created by a gabion wall constructed by the City for erosion control. [**2] The wall consists of rocks wired together. Ashley fell over the edge of the drop-off onto the rocks below.

The Mitchells allege that the City was negligent and grossly negligent in the construction and maintenance of the gabion wall. They also allege that the City failed to warn park users of the steep drop-off and failed to construct a fence or other barrier around this dangerous area.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

The Mitchells attack the trial court’s summary judgment on two broad grounds. First, they contend that this case is governed by common-law principles because the establishment and maintenance of public parks are proprietary functions. Alternatively, the Mitchells argue that their claims against the City are within the waiver provisions of governmental immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. They assert that fact issues exist concerning gross negligence in the construction and maintenance of the gabion wall and the City’s negligent failure to warn of or correct this dangerous condition.

LIABILITY UNDER COMMON LAW

In their fourth point of error, the Mitchells contend that the Texas Tort Claims Act does not apply to this case. Rather, the Mitchells argue that the City [**3] is liable under common-law principles because the establishment and maintenance of public parks are proprietary functions.

Under common law, the establishment and maintenance of public parks were deemed proprietary functions. See Dancer v. City of Houston, 384 S.W.2d 340, 342 (Tex. 1964); City of Waco v. Branch, 117 Tex. 394, 5 S.W.2d 498, 499 (1928). These common-law classifications have been redefined under the Texas Tort Claims Act. [HN1] Section 101.0215 of the Act now provides that the operation of parks and zoos is a governmental function. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 101.0215(a)(13) (Vernon Supp. 1993).

The Mitchells argue that section 101.0215(a) does not reclassify all actions taken by a city regarding public parks. We refuse to adopt such a restrictive interpretation of the statute. To the contrary, the legislature specifically provided that [HN2] the proprietary functions of a municipality do not include those governmental activities listed in section 101.0215(a). See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 101.0215(c) (Vernon Supp. 1993).

We conclude that the claims against the City made the basis of this suit involve governmental functions. [**4] The Mitchells do not have any common-law cause of action against the City. We overrule the fourth point of error.

LIABILITY UNDER THE TEXAS TORT CLAIMS ACT

The Mitchells next contend that the trial court erred in granting summary Judgment because they stated a cause of action within the waiver provisions of governmental immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. They allege that the City is not immune from liability for negligent construction and maintenance of the gabion wall along the creek bank. See, e.g., City of Watauga v. Taylor, 752 S.W.2d 199, 202 (Tex. App.–Fort Worth 1988, no writ); Stanford v. State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp., 635 S.W.2d 581, 582 (Tex. App.–Dallas 1982, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

The City argues that these allegations involve the design, upgrading, and placement of an erosion control deuce. The City contends that it is immune from liability because these activities involve discretionary functions. See, e.g., City of El Paso v. Ayoub, 787 S.W.2d 553, 554 (Tex. App.–El Paso 1990, writ denied); Tarrant County Water Control & Improvement Dist. No. 1 v. Crossland, 781 S.W.2d 427, 433 (Tex. App.–Fort Worth 1989, writ denied). [**5]

1. Governmental Immunity

[HN3] A municipality performing a governmental function is afforded sovereign immunity [*745] unless immunity has been waived under the Texas Tort Claims Act. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. §§ 101.001-.109 (Vernon 1986 & Supp. 1993). A governmental unit is liable for personal injuries proximately caused “by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the governmental unit would, were it a private person, be liable to the claimant according to Texas law.” TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 101.021 (Vernon 1986).

2. Discretionary Functions

The Texas Tort Claims Act creates certain exceptions to the waiver of governmental immunity. [HN4] Section 101.056 provides that the waiver provisions of the Act do not apply to claims based on:

(1) the failure of a governmental unit to perform an act that the unit is not required by law to perform; or

(2) a governmental unit’s decision not to perform an act or on its failure to make a decision on the performance or nonperformance of an act if the law leaves the performance or nonperformance of the act to the discretion of the governmental unit.

TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE [**6] ANN. § 101.056 (Vernon 1986); see generally Lee M. Larkin, Comment, The “Policy Decision” Exemption of the Texas Tort Claims Act: State v. Terrell, 32 BAYLOR L. REV. 403 (1980) [hereinafter Larkin]. 2

2 The Larkin comment and several cases cited in this opinion involve the interpretation of the original Tort Claims Act contained in the Revised Civil Statutes. See TEX. REV. CIV. STAT. ANN. art. 6252-19 (Vernon 1970) (repealed 1985). The codification of the prior statute in the Civil Practice and Remedies Code did not effect any substantive change, and the language of the current version of the Texas Tort Claims Act is virtually identical to the prior statute. See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 1.001 (Vernon Supp. 1993).

[HN5] The discretionary function exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity is designed to avoid judicial review of governmental policy decisions. State v. Terrell, 588 S.W.2d 784, 787 (Tex. 1979); McKinney v. City of Gainesville, 814 S.W.2d 862, 866 (Tex. [**7] App.–Fort Worth 1991, no writ). Thus, a governmental entity is immune from liability if an injury results from the formulation of policy. However, a governmental unit is not immune if an injury is caused by the negligent implementation of that policy. See Terrell, 588 S.W.2d at 787-88; Christilles v. Southwest Tex. State Univ., 639 S.W.2d 38, 42 (Tex. App.–Austin 1982, writ ref’d n.r.e.); Larkin at 409. This distinction is often stated in terms of actions taken at the planning or policy-making level, which are immune, and actions taken at the subordinate or operational level, which are not immune. See McKinney, 814 S.W.2d at 866; Crossland, 781 S.W.2d at 433; Larkin at 410.

Design decisions made by the City are discretionary and therefore immune from liability. See Crossland, 781 S.W.2d at 433; Taylor, 752 S.W.2d at 202; Stanford, 635 S.W.2d at 582. Maintenance activities undertaken at the operational level are not discretionary functions and are not immune from liability. See City of Round Rock v. Smith, 687 S.W.2d 300, 303 (Tex. 1985); Taylor, 752 S.W.2d at 202; Hamric v. Kansas City S. Ry., 718 S.W.2d 916, 919 (Tex. App.–Beaumont [**8] 1986, writ ref’d n.r.e.). There is some conflict in the case law regarding the characterization of construction activities. Compare Smith, 687 S.W.2d at 303, and Ayoub, 787 S.W.2d at 554 (indicating that city is not immune from liability for construction and maintenance activities), with Taylor, 752 S.W.2d at 202 (indicating that planning and construction are immune activities).

We hold that construction activities are not discretionary functions. These activities involve the implementation of planning or policy-making decisions at the operational level. Therefore, the City is not immune from liability for claims based on the negligent construction and maintenance of the gabion wall.

STANDARD OF CARE

We next determine the standard of care owed by the City to park users. The City argues that it only owes the duty owed to a trespasser. The Mitchells contend that the City owes the same duty as [*746] owed to an invitee because they paid for use of the premises through the payment of taxes and because of the nature of the premises defect.

1. Statutes

[HN6] Section 101.022 of the Texas Tort Claims Act provides:

(a) If a claim arises from a premises [**9] defect, the governmental unit owes to the claimant only the duty that a private person owes to a licensee on private property, unless the claimant pays for the use of the premises.

(b) The limitation of duty in this section does not apply to the duty to warn of special defects such as excavations or obstructions on highways, roads, or streets.

TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 101.022 (Vernon 1986) (emphasis added).

Section 75.002 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides:

If an owner, lessee, or occupant of real property other than agricultural land gives permission to another to enter the premises for recreation, the owner, lessee, or occupant, by giving the permission, does not:

. . . .

(2) owe to the person to whom permission is granted a greater degree of care than is owed to a trespasser on the premises.

TEX. CIV PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 75.002 (Vernon 1986) (emphasis added).

These two statutes are in apparent conflict in cases where the owner or occupier of the premises is a governmental unit that gives implied permission to persons to enter the property for recreational purposes. We must resolve this conflict by examining the [**10] case law and implementing well-settled rules of statutory construction.

2. Case Law

One court has held that the statutory predecessor to section 75.002, article 1b of the Revised Civil Statutes, should apply only if the injured party was a trespasser. It held the statute did not apply in a governmental tort liability context by simply stating that the persons who used the premises were not trespassers. Trinity River Auth. v. Williams, 659 S.W.2d 714, 720 (Tex. App.–Beaumont 1983), aff’d in part a rev’d in part on other grounds, 689 S.W.2d 883 (Tex. 1985); see TEX. REV. CIV. STAT. ANN. art. 1b, § l (Vernon 1969). It should be noted that the statute did not declare that recreational users are trespassers but merely provided that the duty owed to such users is the same as that owed to trespassers. Another court has held that section 75.002 did apply to governmental units. Noting that section 101.022(a) provides that the governmental entity owes “only the duty that a private person owes to a licensee on private property,” the court held that the section 75.002 duty standard applied to the State. Crossland, 781 S.W.2d at 547. Although the Crossland court [**11] purported to rely on section 101.022(a) in reaching its result, it ignored the fact that such provision states the governmental unit owes the duty that a private person owes to a licensee.

3. Statutory Analysis

We are not persuaded by the reasoning of either Williams or Crossland. Instead, we look to the legislative history of sections 75.002 and 101.022(a).

Article 1b of the Texas Revised Civil Statutes preceded section 75.002. See Act of May 29, 1965, 59th Leg., R.S., ch. 677, 1965 Tex. Gen. Laws 1551, 1551-52. Until this statute was codified in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, it was contained in the “General Provisions” of Title 1. See TEX. REV. CIV. STAT. ANN. art. 1b, § 1 (Vernon 1969). The statutory predecessor to section 101.022(a) of the Texas Tort Claims Act was article 6252-19, section 18(b) of the Texas Revised Civil Statutes. Article 6252-19 was first enacted in 1969, four years after the enactment of article 1b. See Texas Tort Claims Act, 61st Leg., R.S., ch. 292, 1969 Tex. Gen. Laws 874, 878-79; TEX. REV. CIV. STAT. ANN. art. 6252-19, § 18(b) (Vernon 1970).

We conclude that section 75.002 and its predecessor, article [**12] 1b, were intended [*747] to be laws of general application. Section 101.022(a) and its predecessor, section 18(b) of article 6252-19, were specific laws applicable to governmental owners and occupiers of real property. [HN7] When two statutes conflict, the specific controls over the general. Sam Bassett Lumber Co. v. City of Houston, 145 Tex. 492, 496, 198 S.W.2d 879, 881 (1947); see also TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. § 311.026(b) (Vernon 1988); Carr v. Hunt, 651 S.W.2d 875, 882 (Tex. App.–Dallas 1983, writ ref’d n.r.e). Further, a more recent statutory enactment prevails over an earlier one. TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. § 311.025(a) (Vernon 1988); State v. McKinney, 803 S.W.2d 374, 376 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 1990, no pet.); Commercial Standard Fire & Marine Co. v. Commissioner of Ins., 429 S.W.2d 930, 933 (Tex. Civ. App.–Austin 1968, no writ).

4. Conclusion

We hold that section 101.022(a) controls over section 75.002. The duty owed by the City to park users under the Texas Tort Claims Act is the duty that a private person owes to a licensee. [HN8] An owner or occupier of land must refrain from injuring a licensee by willful, wanton, or gross negligence. An [**13] owner or occupant must also warn a licensee of any dangerous condition, or make the condition reasonably safe, if the land owner has actual knowledge of the dangerous condition and the licensee does not. State v. Tennison, 509 S.W.2d 560, 562 (Tex. 1974).

EXCEPTIONS TO THE STANDARD OF CARE UNDER THE TORT CLAIMS ACT

The Mitchells argue that the duty owed by the City in this case is the same duty owed to an invitee. The Mitchells contend that the Texas Tort Claims Act creates a higher standard of care because: (1) they paid for use of the park through the payment of taxes; and (2) the steep drop-off created by the gabion wall constituted a special defect.

1. Taxpayer Status

The Mitchells first contend that their son was an invitee because they paid for use of the park through the payment of city taxes.

A similar argument was recently rejected by the San Antonio Court of Appeals in Garcia v. State, 817 S.W.2d 741 (Tex. App.–San Antonio 1991, writ denied). The plaintiff in Garcia sued the State of Texas under the Texas Tort Claims Act for damages sustained in a highway accident. He claimed invitee status because he paid for use of the highway through [**14] driver’s license fees and fuel taxes. The court held that the payment of fees and taxes does not confer invitee status for several reasons: (1) invitee status requires payment of a specific fee for entry onto and use of public premises; (2) the plaintiff’s contention would result in a lesser duty owed to nonresident users who did not pay taxes; and (3) the legislature did not intend such a broad grant of invitee status under section 101.022(a) of the Tort Claims Act. See Garcia, 817 S.W.2d at 743.

We adopt the reasoning of Garcia. We hold that [HN9] section 101.022(a) of the Tort Claims Act does not confer invitee status on park users based on the payment of taxes alone.

2. Special Defect

The Mitchells next contend that the City owed a higher standard of care because the steep drop-off created by the gabion wall constituted a special defect.

[HN10] A governmental unit has a duty to warn of or protect against special defects. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 101.022(b) (Vernon 1986); see City of Houston v. Jean, 517 S.W.2d 596, 599 (Tex. Civ. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 1974, writ ref’d n.r.e.). The duty to warn of a special defect is the same duty owed to an invitee. [**15] County of Harris v. Eaton, 573 S.W.2d 177, 180 (Tex. 1978). A special defect must be distinguished by some unusual quality outside the ordinary course of events. Crossland, 781 S.W.2d at 433; Sutton v. State Highway Dep’t, 549 S.W.2d 59, 61 (Tex. Civ. App.–Waco 1977, writ ref’d [*748] n.r.e.). A condition is a special defect only if it presents an unexpected and unusual danger to ordinary users of a roadway. State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp. v. Kitchen, 1993 Tex. LEXIS 26, 36 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 678, 679 (March 24, 1993); State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp. v. Payne, 838 S.W.2d 235, 238-39 n.3 (Tex. 1992) (op. on mot. for reh’g). A longstanding, routine, or permanent condition is not a special defect. Crossland, 781 S.W.2d at 433.

The Mitchells do not argue that the condition created by the gabion wall was unusual or outside the ordinary course of events. The summary judgment evidence establishes that the drop-off near the creek bank was longstanding and permanent. We hold that the premises defect made the basis of this claim was not a special defect.

MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

We now consider the summary judgment rendered in favor [**16] of the City in light of our holding that (1) construction and maintenance activities are not discretionary functions, and (2) the duty owed to park users is the same duty owed to a licensee.

1. Standard of Review

[HN11] Summary judgment may be rendered only if the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. TEX. R. Civ. P 166a(c); Rodriguez v. Naylor Indus., Inc., 763 S.W.2d 411, 413 (Tex. 1989). A summary judgment seeks to eliminate patently unmeritorious claims and defenses, not to deny a party its right to a full hearing on the merits of any real fact issue. Gulbenkian v. Penn, 151 Tex. 412, 416, 252 S.W.2d 929, 931 (1952).

[HN12] A defendant who moves for summary judgment must show that the plaintiff has no cause of action. Citizens First Nat’l Bank v. Cinco Exploration Co., 540 S.W.2d 292, 294 (Tex. 1976). A defendant may meet this burden by either (1) disproving at least one essential element of each theory of recovery, Anderson v. Snider, 808 S.W.2d 54, 55 (Tex. 1991), or (2) conclusively proving all elements of an affirmative defense. Swilley v. Hughes, 488 S.W.2d 64, 67 (Tex. [**17] 1972).

[HN13] In reviewing a summary judgment, we must take all evidence favorable to the nonmovant as true in deciding whether a fact issue exists. Nixon v. Mr. Property Management Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548-49 (Tex. 1985). We must indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubt in favor of the nonmovant. Id.

2. Application of Law to the Facts

a. Negligent Construction and Maintenance

The Mitchells allege that the City was negligent and grossly negligent in the construction and maintenance of the gabion wall. They specifically pleaded that the City was negligent in constructing the wall for erosion control “in such a manner so as to result in a dangerous condition by creating a 15 to 25 foot steep cliff drop-off . . . when the City should have built the creek bank in a non-cliff manner.” The Mitchells also alleged that “construction and maintenance of a 15 to 25 foot drop-off behind a public restroom in a public park without a fence and Warning signs demonstrates a lack of due care and conscious indifference to the health, safety, and welfare of those affected by it.” 3

3 Gross negligence is defined as “such an entire want of care as to establish that the act or omission was the result of actual conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of the person affected.” TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 41.001(5) (Vernon Supp. 1993). Absent a special exception, the allegation of “lack of due care and conscious indifference” contained in the Mitchell’s petition is sufficient to plead the duty owed by the City to park users.

[**18] The City characterizes these allegations as defective design claims. It correctly notes that design claims are discretionary functions for which governmental entities are immune from liability. However, the City has failed to conclusively demonstrate that design defect is the sole basis for the Mitchells’ claim.

[*749] The City argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because there is no specific pleading or proof that the premises were unreasonably dangerous or that it breached any duty owed to park users. The City misconstrues the burden of proof in a summary judgment proceeding. It is incumbent upon a defendant as movant to conclusively negate at least one essential element of the plaintiff’s case. Citizens First Nat’l Bank, 540 S.W.2d at 294. [HN14] A plaintiff as nonmovant is not required to establish his right to prevail. Ramirez v. Bagley Produce Co., 614 S.W.2d 582, 584 (Tex. Civ. App.–Corpus Christi 1981, no writ). A nonmovant has no duty or burden whatsoever in a summary judgment case until the movant establishes its right to a judgment as a matter of law. Bankers Commercial Life Ins. Co. v. Scott, 631 S.W.2d 228, 232 (Tex. App.–Tyler 1982, [**19] writ ref’d n.r.e.).

The City presented no evidence of the original design of the gabion wall. The City did not show that the gabion wall was constructed and maintained pursuant to its original design and that the design of the wall was not otherwise modified. The City, therefore, failed to show that the Mitchells’ allegations were defective design claims and, thereby, failed to meet its burden of negating an essential element of the Mitchells’ case.

The Mitchells alleged that Ashley was injured when he fell from his bicycle down a steep cliff drop-off. The area was unfenced and located adjacent to the sidewalk. The Mitchells contend that this constitutes a dangerous condition. Ashley’s deposition testimony reflects that there was erosion of the ground underneath the sidewalk where he fell. 4 The City did not conclusively negate these allegations. The pleadings and deposition testimony are sufficient to create a fact issue regarding negligent and grossly negligent maintenance and construction.

4 Ashley’s testimony on this point is not very clear, but it is susceptible to the interpretation advanced by the Mitchells. In a summary judgment case, all inferences and doubts must he resolved in favor of the nonmovant. See Nixon, 690 S.W.2d at 548-49.

[**20] b. Failure to Warn or Make Safe

The Mitchells alleged that the City failed to warn of a dangerous condition in the area of the restrooms and sidewalk adjacent to the creek. They also claimed that the City failed to construct a fence or other barrier in the area or otherwise correct the dangerous condition.

The City relies on affidavits from three park officials to show that it lacked actual knowledge of any dangerous condition. The affidavits state that the City had no prior notice of a defect, dangerous condition, or similar accident. However, lack of notice from third parties does not conclusively negate actual knowledge. The fact that the owner or occupier of a premises created a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm may support an inference of knowledge. The question of knowledge is a fact issue. See Keetch v. Kroger Co., 845 S.W.2d 262, 36 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 273, 275 (December 2, 1992). An affidavit from a civil engineer states the drop-off should have been fenced off from the public area of the park. The engineer’s affidavit concludes that in failing to fence off or otherwise obstruct public movement into the area, “the City has failed to protect the [**21] public or give adequate warning to the public of a defect which created a dangerous condition.”

The City argues that Ashley must be charged with knowledge of any dangerous condition because the alleged premises defect was open and obvious. [HN15] The duty to warn or make safe applies when the licensee lacks actual knowledge. Payne v. State, 838 S.W.2d at 237; Tennison, 509 S.W.2d at 562. The City contends that the Mitchells have conceded that Ashley had actual knowledge of the condition of the premises. The response to the summary judgment motion recites that Ashley was aware of the existence of the creek. The response recites that Ashley, “being unaware . . . that the ground had eroded under the sidewalk next to this drop-off . . . fell over the edge and onto the rocks below.” [*750] The Mitchells never stated that Ashley was aware of the drop-off next to the sidewalk. The record does not conclusively establish that Ashley had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. The lack of knowledge is an element of appellant’s claim that when disputed should be submitted to the fact finder. See Payne, 838 S.W.2d at 241.

SUMMARY

The establishment and maintenance [**22] of municipal parks are governmental functions under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The City is immune from liability for any claims involving the design of the gabion wall at Hamilton Park. However, the City is not immune from liability for claims based on the construction or maintenance of the wall. The duty owed by the City to park users is the same duty owed by a private person to a licensee.

We hold that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. There are genuine fact issues concerning (1) gross negligence 5 in the construction and maintenance of the gabion wall, and (2) the failure to warn of or correct a dangerous condition. 6 We sustain the Mitchell’s second and third points of error.

5 The duty owed to a licensees being a duty to refrain from injuring by willful, wanton, or gross negligence.

6 The licensor must also warn of a dangerous condition, or make it reasonably safe, if the licensor has actual knowledge of the condition and the licensee does not have such knowledge.

We reverse [**23] the trial court’s judgment and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

WILL BARBER

JUSTICE


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

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

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

State: Supreme Court of Iowa

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

Defendant: City of Bettendorf and Bettendorf Parks and Recreation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

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

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

Year: 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of the case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

Releases are different legal documents and require specific language.

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

 

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Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

Morgan v. State of Tennessee, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 62

Evelean Morgan v. State of Tennessee

No. M2002-02496-COA-R3-CV

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.

OPINION

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.

I.

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).

[*9]

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.”

II.

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).

III.

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.

[*15]

10 The State could have raised this issue pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 13(a).

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.

B.

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.

IV.

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.

V.

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[3] (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.

VI.

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., 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.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

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.

REVERSED.

ORFINGER, C.J., and PALMER, J., concur.

COHEN, J., concurs and concurs specially with opinion.

CONCUR BY: COHEN

CONCUR

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.

WordPress Tags: Give,Kids,World,Sanislo,LEXIS,Appellant,Stacy,Eric,Appellees,Case,COURT,APPEAL,FLORIDA,FIFTH,DISTRICT,Opinion,PRIOR,HISTORY,Circuit,Osceola,Jeffrey,Judge,COUNSEL,Jere,Tolton,Ogden,Sullivan,Tampa,Matthew,Haftel,Connor,Orlando,Michael,Damaso,Wooten,Kimbrough,Normand,Jack,Shaw,Winter,Park,JUDGES,ORFINGER,PALMER,COHEN,CURIAM,GKTW,defendant,judgment,negligence,action,vacations,families,resort,village,Sanislos,parents,girl,November,connection,daughter,signature,agents,officers,directors,servants,employees,preparation,execution,participants,scope,injuries,transportation,food,injury,theft,belongings,jewelry,arrival,Washington,Fulfillment,conjunction,Make,AWish,Foundation,husband,horse,wagon,jury,verdict,Exculpatory,clauses,policy,Applegate,Cable,Water,Cain,Banka,clause,person,Raveson,Walt,Disney,plaintiff,owner,motocross,bike,Hardage,Enters,Fidesys,Corp,manner,DeBoer,Offroaders,Driver,provision,events,attendance,area,theme,parks,interpretation,breadth,addition,Ivey,Plants,Enforcement,settings,context,instance,Banfield,Louis,participant,Consistent,analysis,Enterprises,agreement,hotel,construction,manager,situation,protection,consumers,advantage,Wish,decision,CONCUR,denial,decisions,reference,Levine,Madley,Tuyn,Zurich,Goyings,Ruth,Eckerd,Found,Tout,Hartford,Accident,Indem,obligation,precautions,Tatman,Space,Coast,Kennel,Club,waiver,behalf,wheelchair,enforceable


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

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.

No. 07-0127

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

OPINION

[*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).

IV. Discussion.

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).

V. Conclusion.

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)

DISSENT

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.

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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 813

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 813

Melonie Mahan, and Melonie Mahan As Next and Best Friend of Shawn Mahan, Appellants, v. Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo, Appellee

No. 94-1341

SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS

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

HEADNOTES

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.

OPINION

[*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.

[*475] Facts

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.

Directed verdict

[1] 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.

[2] 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).

[3] 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).

[4] 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.

Affirmed.


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