Travent, Ltd., v. Schecter, 718 So. 2d 939; 1998 Fla. App. LEXIS 12840; 23 Fla. L. Weekly D 2384 (Fl App 1998)Posted: May 20, 2013
Travent, Ltd., v. Schecter, 718 So. 2d 939; 1998 Fla. App. LEXIS 12840; 23 Fla. L. Weekly D 2384 (Fl App 1998)
Travent, Ltd., Appellant, v. Mark Schecter and Karen Schecter, his wife, Appellees.
CASE NO. 97-2491
COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, FOURTH DISTRICT
718 So. 2d 939; 1998 Fla. App. LEXIS 12840; 23 Fla. L. Weekly D 2384
October 14, 1998, Opinion Filed
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Released for Publication October 30, 1998.
PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Robert Lance Andrews, Judge; L.T. Case No. 93-17334 09.
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED.
COUNSEL: Kenneth W. Moffet of Moffet & Alexander, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Walter G. Campbell, Jr. of Krupnick, Campbell, Malone, Roselli, Buser, Slama, and Hancock, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellees.
JUDGES: DELL, J., GUNTHER and WARNER, JJ. concur.
OPINION BY: DELL
[*939] DELL, J.
Travent, Ltd. appeals the order granting Mark and Karen Schecters’ Motion for Judgment in Accordance with Motion for Directed Verdict and Motion for New Trial. Travent contends that the trial court erred when it granted the Schecters’ motion for directed verdict because they signed an agreement that released their claims. Travent also contends that the trial court erred when it granted the new trial because the Schecters waived any error concerning the admission of the release and invited any error in the jury instructions. We reverse.
The Schecters filed suit alleging that Travent’s negligence in the operation of bicycle tours caused serious injuries [**2] to Mark Schecter when the front wheel of the bicycle he rode fell off. 1 In its amended answer, Travent submitted the document signed by the Schecters, providing in pertinent part,
1 The Schecters also filed suit against Travel Center of Broward, Inc. d/b/a Compass-McQuade Travel. Travel Center is not a party to this appeal.
AGREEMENT: I have read and do understand Cycling Safely stated on the other [*940] side, and agree to follow [the safety precautions stated therein]. In consideration of being permitted to participate in a tour operated by TRAVENT International and TRAVENT Ltd., I do for myself, my heirs, legal representatives and assigns hereby release, waive and discharge TRAVENT International and TRAVENT Ltd., its agents and employees from all liability to myself, my heirs, legal representatives and assigns for any and all loss or damage on account of injury to my person or property, whether caused by negligence or otherwise, while participating in the tour. Furthermore, I assume full responsibility for [**3] the risk of bodily injury, death or property damages while participating in said tour.
Both parties moved for directed verdicts based on the release. The court denied the motions.
The jury found that the agreement signed by the Schecters released Travent from “any acts of negligence,” and that there was no negligence on Travent’s part legally causing damage to the Schecters. Thereafter, the Schecters filed a Motion for Judgment in Accordance with the Motion for Directed Verdict and a Motion for Mistrial, or in the alternative, a Motion for a New Trial. After a hearing, Judge Robert L. Andrews, successor to Judge Levon Ward, concluded,
The Release was insufficient to preclude liability on the part of the Defendant [Travent] . . . . [and that] because the Release contains no specific and unambiguous language asserting that the Defendant cannot be sued for its own negligence, the Plaintiffs were entitled to a Motion for Directed Verdict on the Release as a matter of law.
(emphasis in original). The trial court granted the Schecters’ motion for directed verdict, denied the motion for mistrial, and granted their motion for a new trial.
Travent argues that the trial [**4] court erred when it granted the Schecters’ motion for a directed verdict because their claims were barred by the release. We agree and reverse. In granting the directed verdict, the trial court relied on Zinz v. Concordia Properties, Inc., 694 So. 2d 120 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997). In Zinz, a premises liability case, the document signed by appellants provided that
“the undersigned agree to indemnify and hold Concordia … harmless” and that: the undersigned agree that Concordia … shall in no way be responsible for the action of the undersigned in the access to Villa Mare and/or Villa Costa, nor shall Concordia and the Town of Highland Beach be liable for damages arising out of any activities in which the undersigned are so involved.
Id. at 121. This court concluded that “the general terms ‘indemnify … against any and all claims’ did not sufficiently disclose the intention to indemnify against the negligence of the indemnitee.” Id. Here, the agreement specifically refers to Travent and states that the signator does release, waive and discharge TRAVENT International and TRAVENT Ltd., its agents and employees from all liability to myself, my heirs, legal representatives [**5] and assigns for any and all loss or damage on account of injury to my person or property, whether caused by negligence or otherwise, while participating in the tour.
The Schecters cite Witt v. Dolphin Research Center, Inc., 582 So. 2d 27 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991), where the trial court found that an action was barred by the terms of a release and awarded summary judgment in favor of the appellee. Id. The Third District Court of Appeal held, “Since there is no specific reference in the release to the appellee’s ‘negligence’ at all, it is clear that, as a matter of law, they provide no defense to the negligence claim in this case, and that the judgment must therefore be reversed for trial on that ground.” Id.
The Schecters also argue that the trial court’s directed verdict should be affirmed based on Van Tuyn v. Zurich American Insurance Co., 447 So. 2d 318 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984). In Van Tuyn, the appellant sued appellee for injuries she sustained after falling from a mechanical bull. Prior to riding the mechanical device, she signed a written waiver providing in pertinent part,
I hereby voluntarily release, waive, and discharge CLUB DALLAS, [**6] Marr Investments, [*941] Inc., their lessors, heirs successors and/or assigns from any and all claims, demands, damages and causes of action of any nature whatsoever which I, my heirs, my assigns, or my successors may have against any of them for, on account of, or by reason of my riding or attempting to ride this Bucking Brama Bull.
Id. at 320. This court concluded that the agreement in Van Tuyn “is devoid of any language manifesting the intent to either release or indemnify Club Dallas, Marr Investments, Inc., for its own negligence. Therefore, the agreement does not, as a matter of law, bar the Appellant’s recovery.” Id.
In Van Tuyn, the written waiver did not state that it released the subject parties from negligent acts. The release signed by the Schecters differs from that in Witt and Van Tuyn because it releases Travent “for any and all loss or damage on account of injury to my person or property, whether caused by negligence or otherwise, while participating in the tour.”
We find merit in Travent’s argument that the release signed by the Schecters should be considered in light of this court’s decision in Banfield v. Louis, 589 So. 2d 441 (Fla. 4th [**7] DCA 1991). In Banfield, before competing in a triathlon, the appellant completed and signed the official entry form:
In consideration for the acceptance of my entry, I, for my heirs, executors and administrators, release and forever discharge the United States Triathlon Series (U.S.T.S.), CAT Sports, Inc., Anheuser-Busch, the Quaker Oats Company, the city, county, state or district where the event is held and all sponsors, producers, their agents, representatives, successors and assigns of all liabilities, claims, actions, damages, costs or expenses which I may have against them arising out of or in any way connected with my participation in this event, including travel to or from this event, and including injuries which may be suffered by me before, during or after the event. I understand that this waiver includes any claims based on negligence, action or inaction or any of the above parties.
Id. at 443. The trial court concluded that the waiver provision in Banfield barred appellant’s negligence claims against the sponsors, organizers, and promoters, and therefore granted summary final judgment in favor of appellees. Id. at 443-44. This court stated that [HN1] waivers [**8] or exculpatory clauses are “valid and enforceable in Florida if the intent to relieve a party of its own negligence is clear and unequivocal,” id. at 444, and affirmed the summary judgment because “when Banfield signed the waiver, she knew that she was releasing all of the sponsors and promoters, as well as their agents, from liability.” Id. at 445.
As in Banfield, the subject agreement provided that the Schecters were releasing Travent, its agents, and its employees from liability, “whether caused by negligence or otherwise.” There is no meaningful difference between the language used in the subject release from that considered by this court in Banfield. Therefore, the language in the subject release must be interpreted to mean that the Schecters released, waived, and discharged Travent International, Travent, Ltd. and its agents and employees from all liability, caused by their own negligence or otherwise.
We hold that the trial court erred when it granted the Schecters’ motion for directed verdict and ordered a new trial. We further hold that the trial court should have granted Travent’s motion for directed verdict. Accordingly, we reverse the order granting [**9] the directed verdict in favor of the Schecters and ordering the new trial. We remand this cause to the trial court to enter judgment in favor of Travent. Our holding makes it unnecessary to discuss Travent’s remaining point on appeal.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
GUNTHER and WARNER, JJ. concur.
Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227 (Mich App 2012)
JONATHAN C. GAMZE, as Next Friend for JULIE GAMZE, a Minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, v CAMP SEA-GULL, INC. and WILLIAM P. SCHULMAN, Defendants-Appellees, and EMILY LISNER, Defendant.
COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN
2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 1227
June 21, 2012, Decided
NOTICE: THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION. IN ACCORDANCE WITH MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS RULES, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS ARE NOT PRECEDENTIALLY BINDING UNDER THE RULES OF STARE DECISIS.
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Charlevoix Circuit Court. LC No. 09-054822-NO.
CORE TERMS: camper, flag, flagpole, towel, capture, foreseeable, premises liability, team’s, material fact, circle, lying, pole, matter of law, genuine issues, proximate cause, proximately, counselor, favorable, causation, grabbing, owed, top, pick, order granting, negligence claim, final order, proper instructions, dangerous condition, foreseeability, depositions
JUDGES: Before: WILDER, P.J., and HOEKSTRA and BORRELLO, JJ.
In this case, plaintiff appeals from an order granting summary disposition in favor of defendants1 Camp Sea-Gull, Inc. (the Camp) and William Schulman, a part-owner and associate director of the Camp, on plaintiff’s claims of negligence and premises liability. Because genuine issues of material fact remain regarding plaintiff’s negligence claim, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.2
1 Emily Lisner was dismissed by stipulation and is not involved in this appeal. Thus, our reference to “defendants” will refer to appellees.
2 Defendants have raised a question as to this Court’s jurisdiction over the appeal. Plaintiff filed the initial appeal of the order granting summary disposition before Lisner had been dismissed from the case. Accordingly, this Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Gamze v Camp Sea-Gull, Inc, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered July 13, 2010 (Docket No. 298202). We informed plaintiff, however, that he could seek to appeal the grant of summary disposition by filing a delayed application for leave under MCR 7.205(F). Defendants [*2] subsequently requested that the trial court tax their costs against plaintiff. On July 29, 2010, the trial court denied this motion except for a $20 motion fee. Plaintiff then filed the current appeal. The arguments on appeal do not concern the motion for costs but, instead, are exclusively aimed at the trial court’s decision to grant the motion for summary disposition.
When an appeal of right is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or is not timely filed, an appellant may file an application for leave to appeal up to 12 months after entry of the final order to be appealed. MCR 7.205(F)(1) and (F)(3). Plaintiff filed this appeal on August 2, 2010, less than 12 months after May 21, 2010. Given the trial court’s notation in the orders below concerning which order was–or was not–intended as the final order in this case, we treat plaintiff’s claim of appeal as an application for leave and hereby grant it. MCR 7.205(D)(2); see also In re Morton, 258 Mich App 507, 508 n 2; 671 NW2d 570 (2003).
I. BASIC FACTS
Julie Gamze and defendant Emily Lisner were both campers at the Camp in the summer of 2007. As part of a “Pirate Day” on July 15, 2007, the Camp organized a game of capture the flag on a [*3] large field divided into two halves. In the middle of each half was a circle, and in the middle of the circle was a five-foot tall flagpole3 with a colored flag on top. While the object of the game was to “capture” the opposing team’s “flag,” the “flag” to be seized was actually a piece of cloth or towel lying on the ground at the base of the flagpole. Participants were not supposed to attempt to capture the flag on top of the pole or the pole itself. Lisner testified that no one told her that the flagpole flag was not the correct flag to capture, and the counselor who explained the rules does not remember if she clarified that point. In the course of the game, Lisner grabbed the flagpole and began running with it. Gamze was running nearby, being chased by another camper, and the metal stake at the bottom end of the flagpole hit her in the mouth. She lost one tooth, and three others were broken.
3 The flagpole also had a metal tapered end or “stake” so it could be inserted and anchored into the ground.
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging negligence and premises liability. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition and stated the following at the hearing:
I [*4] can’t see where the camp and Mr. Schulman did anything wrong. I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event by the camp and those in charge of this particular camp and the camp’s owner.
Anything that they did or failed to do was not the proximate cause of this Plaintiff’s injury. And, I don’t believe there is any material facts that are in dispute that would prevent the granting for the Motion for Summary Disposition under [MCR 2.116(C)(10)]. So that’s my ruling.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court reviews de novo a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition. Auto Club Group Ins Co v Burchell, 249 Mich App 468, 479; 642 NW2d 406 (2001). When reviewing a motion brought under MCR 2.116(C)(10), we consider the pleadings, admissions, and other evidence submitted by the parties in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Brown v Brown, 478 Mich 545, 551-552; 739 NW2d 313 (2007). A grant of summary disposition “is appropriate if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 552.
The elements of a negligence claim are “(1) a duty [*5] owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.” Case v Consumers Power Co, 463 Mich 1, 6; 615 NW2d 17 (2000). It is not entirely clear which element(s) the trial court found to be deficient in plaintiff’s claim. While only explicitly referencing causation, the trial court’s statement seemed to encompass three of the elements: duty (“I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event . . . .”; breach (“I can’t see where the [defendants] did anything wrong.”; and causation (“[a]nything that they did or failed to do was not the proximate cause of this Plaintiff’s injury.”). With the damages element not being disputed, we will address the remaining three elements.
The question of whether a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty of care is a question of law. Cummins v Robinson Twp, 283 Mich App 677, 692; 770 NW2d 421 (2009). When determining whether a duty should be imposed, the ultimate inquiry is “whether the social benefits of imposing a duty outweigh the social costs of imposing a duty.” In re Certified Question from Fourteenth Dist Court of Appeals of Texas, 479 Mich 498, 505; 740 NW2d 206 (2007). “This inquiry [*6] involves considering, among any other relevant considerations, the relationship of the parties, the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant, and the nature of the risk presented.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). But the most important factor is the relationship of the parties. Id.
Here, we conclude that defendants owed Gamze a duty to provide proper instructions for the game of “capture the flag.” In 2007, Gamze was a summer camper at the Camp. She and her family entrusted defendants with her safety during her stay. It was foreseeable that if the campers were not properly instructed, then a camper could pick up the actual flagpole instead of picking up the flag/towel lying on the ground next to the flagpole. It is also foreseeable that, if a camper did remove the flagpole from the ground, the camper could injure another camper while running with the pole.4 Finally, the burden to properly instruct the campers to pick up the towel from the ground is negligible.
4 This is especially foreseeable when the opposing team’s goal is to pursue and tag the flag carrier.
Once the existence of a duty toward Gamze is established, the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct is a question [*7] of fact for the jury. Arias v Talon Development Group, Inc, 239 Mich App 265, 268; 608 NW2d 484 (2000). Thus, the next question is whether there is a genuine issue regarding whether defendants breached this duty by failing to provide the proper instructions.
In support of their motion for summary disposition, defendants provided, inter alia, the unsworn “statements” from two people who were camp counselors at the time of the accident. However, these statements do not comply with the requirements of MCR 2.116(G)(2) since they are not “affidavits, depositions, admissions, or other documentary evidence,” and consequently cannot be considered. Marlo Beauty Supply, Inc v Farmers Ins Group of Cos, 227 Mich App 309, 321; 575 NW2d 324 (2009). Moreover, even if the statements were considered, they would not support granting defendants’ motion for summary disposition. The first statement was by Leah Glowacki, who was the programming counselor at the time of the incident. With regard to the instructions, she stated, “I instructed the campers to attempt to obtain the flag that was inside the circle on the opposite side of the field from where their team was stationed.” This statement does not establish [*8] that the correct instructions were given. In fact, when viewing the statement in a light most favorable to plaintiff, one could conclude that Glowacki’s instructions might possibly have been construed by at least some campers as a directive to remove the flag itself instead of the towel on the ground. The other statement was provided by Stephanie Plaine, who stated that she instructed the campers “to capture the team’s flag on the other side of the field which was located inside the circles drawn onto the grass.” Again, this statement does not specify that the instruction was to get the towel lying next to the flag.
Defendants did properly submit the depositions of six people, however. But none of the submitted testimony indicated that the campers were instructed to ignore the flagpole and only pick up the towel on the ground: Gamze could not recall what specific instructions were given; Lisner testified that she did not hear any specific instructions to take the towel on the ground instead of the pole itself; Jack Schulman and William Schulman both admitted that they did not hear the instructions that Glowacki and Plaine provided; Marsha Schulman admitted that she was not present when [*9] the instructions were given; and Plaine, herself, testified that she could not recall the specifics of the instructions that she gave. Therefore, when viewing all of this evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff, there is a question of material fact on whether the Camp instructed the campers to only take the towel lying at the base of the flagpole instead of the flag or flagpole itself.
Finally, the trial court indicated that it found as a matter of law that defendants could not have proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries. But proximate cause is a factual question for the jury unless reasonable minds could not differ. Lockridge v Oakwood Hosp, 285 Mich App 678, 684; 777 NW2d 511 (2009). Proximate cause normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences and whether a defendant should be held liable for those consequences. Campbell v Kovich, 273 Mich App 227, 232; 731 NW2d 112 (2006). Here, a reasonable juror could have concluded that a failure to instruct the campers properly could foreseeably result in an enthusiastic camper grabbing and removing the flagpole in order to “capture the flag” affixed to the top of it. And because the object of the game was for the camper [*10] to run the flag back to her team’s territory while other campers tried to tag her, a reasonable person could conclude that it was foreseeable that other campers might be hit and injured by the five-foot tall flagpole as it was being moved. Therefore, the trial court erred by holding as a matter of law that defendants could not have proximately caused Gamze’s injuries.
B. PREMISES LIABILITY
We now turn to plaintiff’s premises liability claim. Because Gamze was an invitee on the Camp’s premises, defendants owed a duty to “‘exercise reasonable care to protect [her] from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.’” Benton v Dart Properties, Inc, 270 Mich App 437, 440; 715 NW2d 335 (2006), quoting Lugo v Ameritech Corp, Inc, 464 Mich 512, 516; 629 NW2d 384 (2001) (emphasis added). Plaintiff must show that the duty was breached and that the breach proximately caused her injuries. Benton, 270 Mich App at 440.
However, Gamze was not harmed by a dangerous condition “on the land.” Instead, she was harmed when Lisner pulled the flagpole out of the ground and began running with it. The danger arose solely because of the actions of the participants and not because of [*11] an inherent condition of the premises. Thus, plaintiff’s claim properly sounds in negligence, not premises liability.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. No costs are taxable pursuant to MCR 7.219, neither party having prevailed in full.
/s/ Kurtis T. Wilder
/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra
/s/ Stephen L. Borrello
Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U
Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane, Plaintiff(s), against Samidra Marte, Oasis Community Corporation and Oasis Children’s Services, Defendant(s).
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, KINGS COUNTY
37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U
August 9, 2012, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.
CORE TERMS: summary judgment, bicycle, street, crossing, counselor, emergency, crosswalk, walk, emergency doctrine, triable issues of fact, stop sign, deposition, cyclist, annexed, proximate cause, red light, matter of law, emergency situation, party opposing, affirmative defense, traffic light, reasonableness, deliberation, speculative, unexpected, proceeded, favorable, surprise, sudden, pushed
[*1216A] Negligence–Emergency Doctrine.
JUDGES: [**1] Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Acting Justice.
OPINION BY: Bernard J. Graham
Bernard J. Graham, J.
The captioned lawsuit was commenced by filing of a summons and complaint on or about December 8, 2008, by plaintiffs, Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane, against defendants Samira Marte (incorrectly identified as “Samidra Marte”), Oasis Community Corporation, and Oasis Children’s Services, LLC. Plaintiffs’ claim is a negligence action against defendants stemming from a fall at Central Park and a derivative claim on behalf of plaintiff, Merrill Pavane.
Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR § 3212 for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint alleging that there are no triable issues of fact and that defendants are free from liability pursuant to the Emergency Doctrine’.
Defendant Oasis Children’s Services, LLC (“Oasis”) is a company that runs summer enrichment programs for at-risk children in the tri-state area. They have several camp locations in New York City, including one in Central Park.
Defendant Oasis Community Corporation is a named defendant which is ostensibly related to Oasis Children’s Services, LLC.
During the summer of 2008, Oasis hired 18-year-old defendant Samira Marte [**2] (“Marte”) as a camp counselor. On August 22, 2008, Marte and another counselor, Rachel Carrion (“Carrion”), entered Central Park at 96th Street with their campers to reach a swimming pool at 110th Street. Their route required them to cross West Drive.
According to the deposition testimony of Ms. Marte, Rachel Carrion and several children crossed West Drive first. The walk signal changed to “do not walk” before Ms. Marte was able to cross with the rest of the group, so she stayed on the sidewalk with the children to wait for the light to change again. When the signal changed to “walk”, Ms. Marte followed camp guidelines and proceeded to the middle of the crosswalk to hold up her “stop/children crossing” sign. According to the deposition of Richard Thompson McKay, who is an Oasis supervisor and not a named party to the action, Oasis provided protocol training for all camp counselors on how to cross the street. Counselors are instructed to stand in the middle of the street with the stop sign before children may begin to pass. Counselors were also told that if it appears that a cyclist will not stop, then the counselors must first be “loud and verbal” and ask the cyclist to stop. If the [**3] cyclist still does not stop, then counselors must “put [their] body as best as [they] can in between bicyclist and the children that [they] have to protect.” (See Dep. of Richard Thompson McKay, pg. 11-12, annexed as Ex. “H” to the Aff. of Rodney E. Gould in support of motion for summary judgment).
Ms. Marte states that several bicyclists were traveling down West Drive and that all of them stopped for the red light except for “one person that kept going.” (See Dep. of Samira Marte, pg. 60-61, 73-74, annexed as Ex. “F” to the Aff. of Rodney E. Gould in support of motion for summary judgment). Ms. Marte observed the defendant, Martin Pavane (“Pavane”), approaching the red light on his bicycle and alleges that Mr. Pavane did not slow down. Since children were beginning to cross the street, Ms. Marte anticipated that the bicycle would collide with the crossing children and herself. In order to get Mr. Pavane to stop, Ms. Marte first waived her stop sign and yelled for him to stop. When the bicycle still did not stop or slow down, she tried to put herself in between the bicycle and the children by standing in front of the bicycle’s [***2] path. However, Ms. Marte was forced to move aside because [**4] she states that the bicycle was going too fast. She was afraid that the bicycle would run right into her and the children. Ms. Marte states that was the moment she decided to push Mr. Pavane’s arm with the stop sign (Marte Dep. pg. 74-77).
In opposition to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the defendants failed to include the Emergency Doctrine’ as an affirmative defense in their answer.
However, where the party opposing summary judgment has knowledge of the facts relating to the existence of an emergency and would not be taken by surprise with the use of the emergency defense, the doctrine does not have to be pleaded as an affirmative defense (see Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d 58, 61, 783 N.Y.S.2d 648 (2nd Dept. 2004)). Here, plaintiffs cannot claim that they were taken by surprise by defendants’ emergency defense. The depositions provide full descriptions of facts describing an emergency situation.
A common law emergency doctrine is recognized in New York and it applies “when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance that leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so [**5] disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct. [The] actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context”. (Caristo v. Sanzone, 96 NY2d 172, 174, 750 N.E.2d 36, 726 N.Y.S.2d 334 (2001) (citing Rivera v. New York City Tr. Auth., 77 NY2d 322, 327, 569 N.E.2d 432, 567 N.Y.S.2d 629 (1991); see also Marks v. Robb, 90 AD3d 863, 935 N.Y.S.2d 593 (2nd Dept. 2011)). The depositions show that Marte was confronted with a sudden and unexpected emergency circumstance that left her with little time for deliberation. The evidence is credible that Marte pushed Pavane from his bicycle in order to prevent children from getting injured.
Ordinarily, the reasonableness of a party’s response to an emergency situation will present questions of fact for a jury, but it may be determined as a matter of law in appropriate circumstances (Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d at 60; see also Koenig v. Lee, 53 AD3d 567, 862 N.Y.S.2d 373 (2nd Dept. 2008); Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 844 N.Y.S.2d 105 (2nd Dept. 2007)).
In this case, defendants seek an award of summary judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ claim which would require a determination by this Court that, as a matter of law, the actions taken by Ms. Marte were reasonable [**6] and did not present a question which should be presented to a jury. Although summary judgment is a drastic remedy, a court may grant summary judgment when the moving party establishes that there are no triable issues of material fact (see Rotuba Extruders v. Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223, 385 N.E.2d 1068, 413 N.Y.S.2d 141 (1978); Sillman v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 144 N.E.2d 387, 165 N.Y.S.2d 498 (1957)).
Rachel Carrion, the co-counselor who is not a named party to the action, testified that she saw Pavane ride his bicycle towards the crosswalk where herself and Marte were crossing the street with children from the Oasis summer camp (see Carrion Dep. pg. 8-9 annexed to Gould [***3] Aff. in support of motion for summary judgment). Carrion testified that Pavane was approaching them “at [a] speed” and “would not stop” (Carrion Dep. pg. 10). The testimony of Ms. Carrion is completely consistent and corroborative of Ms. Marte’s testimony. Ms. Marte stated that Mr. Pavane was not going to stop and was about to hit the four children who were crossing in the crosswalk (Marte Dep. pg 61).
The majority of Pavane’s testimony consists of mere speculative and conclusory assertions because he claims to not recall most details. For example, Pavane did not recall [**7] whether he saw children on the street (see Pavane Dep. pg. 17, annexed to the Aff of Leon Sager in opposition to the motion for summary judgment), but states that “it’s certainly possible there were people there.” (Pavane Dep. pg. 17). Carrion testified that there definitely were children on both sides of the crosswalk and some crossing in the middle before Marte pushed Pavane off his bicycle (Carrion Dep. pg. 11). Pavane also does not recall whether Marte was holding a “stop, children crossing” sign or whether she was waving at him, but he does remember Marte being a young woman in her teens (Pavane Dep. Pg. 17), who was “doing something with her hands at the particular time when she stepped in front of [him]” (Pavane Dep. pg. 18).
In reviewing the offered testimony in support of the motion and the opposition to the motion, the evidence submitted must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion (see Branham v. Loews Orpheum Cinemas, Inc., 8 NY3d 931, 866 N.E.2d 448, 834 N.Y.S.2d 503 (2007)). Even assessing the available evidence in a light most favorable to Mr. Pavane, a neutral reading of the evidence would support a conclusion that Ms. Marte and the children were crossing the street with [**8] the “walk” sign in their favor; that Ms. Marte was positioned with her stop sign at the cross walk; and that Mr. Pavane was cycling into the crosswalk against the traffic light.
While this Court is hesitant to declare the actions of any party in an alleged tort claim to be reasonable as a matter of law, in certain cases, such as this, summary judgment may be appropriate. (see Bello v. Transit Auth. of NY City, 12 AD3d 58, 783 N.Y.S.2d 648 (2004). The actions of the defendant, Marte, must be considered reasonable given the emergency she faced and the potentially harmful consequences to the children she was protecting. It is also apparent that Mr. Pavane proceeded into the intersection against the traffic light and, would fairly be considered to be the proximate cause of his injury. Where it is clear that the plaintiff’s actions were the sole proximate cause of the accident, plaintiff’s mere speculative assertions that defendant may have failed to act properly is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact to defeat a summary judgment motion. (see Goff v. Goudreau, 222 AD2d 650, 650, 635 N.Y.S.2d 699 (2nd Dept. 1995); Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 844 N.Y.S.2d 105 (2nd Dept. 2007)).
It is the finding of this Court that Mr. Pavane’s [**9] own failure to stop at the red light and yield to children crossing the street was the sole proximate cause of the incident. The actions of the camp counselor, Ms. Marte, in the context of crossing the street with young children who she feared would be injured by the cyclist can only be considered reasonable and appropriate in the given circumstances. Mr. Pavane has not offered evidence which would raise a triable issue of fact as to the reasonableness of Ms. Marte’s actions and to subject the defendants here to the expenses of a trial on this matter would be exceedingly unjust.
Accordingly, defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted and the plaintiff’s complaint is dismissed.
This shall constitute the decision and order of this Court.
Dated: August 9, 2012
Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Acting Justice
Supreme Court, Kings CountyBottom of Form
Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501
Teresa Perry, Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., Appellee-Defendant.
Court Of Appeals Of Indiana
931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501
August 16, 2010, Decided
August 16, 2010, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
APPEAL FROM THE WHITLEY CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable James R. Heuer, Judge. Cause No. 92C01-0809-CT-652.
COUNSEL: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SARAH E. RESER, Glaser & Ebbs, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CARRIE KOONTZ GAINES, Kopka, Pinkus Dolin & Eads, L.L.C., Mishawaka, Indiana.
JUDGES: ROBB, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.
OPINION BY: ROBB
[*934] OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION
Case Summary and Issue
Teresa Perry appeals the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Whitley County 4-H Clubs, Inc. (the “4-H Club”) on Perry’s negligence complaint for personal injuries suffered during a horse competition sponsored by the 4-H Club. For our review, Perry raises two issues, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. Concluding there is no genuine issue of material fact and the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim for injuries resulting from inherent risks of equine activities, we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
The undisputed facts and those most favorable to Perry as the non-movant are as follows. At all relevant times, Perry, an adult, was a member of the 4-H Clubs Equine Advisory [**2] Board, which provides guidance and instruction to children participating in the 4-H Club’s horse events, and was herself a regular participant in those [*935] events. Perry was also the owner of seven horses. In July 2007, the 4-H Club held horse practices and competitions at the Whitley County Fairgrounds as part of the Whitley County Fair. These events were generally held in the 4-H Club’s Horse Barn, but one event, the Large Animal Round Robin Competition, was held in the 4-H Club’s Show Barn, located next to the Horse Barn. The Horse Barn is over 100 feet wide but the Show Barn is approximately thirty-six feet wide along its shorter side. Horses were generally familiar with the Horse Barn but unfamiliar with the Show Barn, where they were “not allowed any other time” besides the Round Robin Competition. Appellant’s Appendix at 88. At all entrances to the Horse Barn, the 4-H Club had posted “Equine Activity warning signs” that were “clearly visible.” Id. at 18-19 (affidavit of Bill Leeuw, 4-H Club’s President of the Board).
On July 25, 2007, the Round Robin Competition was held. The Equine Advisory Board and volunteers selected the horses to be shown, and Perry herself selected one of those [**3] horses “at the last minute.” Id. at 93. Perry was present at the Round Robin Competition as an Equine Advisory Board member responsible for the safety of children handling the horses. As part of the event, seven horses were led from the Horse Barn into the Show Barn and lined up approximately two and one-half feet apart along the shorter side of the Show Barn. The horses were then turned over to children who did not normally handle horses but had experience handling animals such as pigs and cows and had received brief instruction on how to handle a horse. After one of the children finished leading a horse through a series of maneuvers, the child left the horse facing away from the center of the Show Barn, in the opposite direction from the neighboring horses and with its rear next to the head of a neighboring horse. The horse facing backwards began sniffing the rear of the neighboring horse, which pinned its ears against its head as a sign it was agitated. Perry realized this situation posed a danger to the child handling the horse facing backwards. Perry therefore approached the child and told the child to turn the horse around. As the child was doing so, the neighboring horse kicked [**4] Perry in the knee. Perry was thrown back and suffered personal injuries.
In September 2008, Perry filed a complaint against the 4-H Club alleging her injuries were caused by the 4-H Club’s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” Id. at 6. As specifically argued by Perry at the summary judgment hearing, she alleged the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn, as the smaller Show Barn “requires horses to be placed close together, increasing the chances that a child near the horse will be injured by one. It’s also an environment the horses aren’t familiar with, which makes it more likely that a horse will get spooked and kick someone.” Transcript at 4. Among the 4-H Club’s affirmative defenses, it alleged in its answer that Perry’s claim was barred by the Indiana Equine Activity Statute.
The 4-H Club filed a motion for summary judgment based in part on the Equine Activity Statute. Following a hearing, the trial court on January 27, 2010, issued its order granting summary judgment to the 4-H Club. The trial court found and concluded in relevant part:
14. [**5] The [4-H Club] was a sponsor of an equine activity when the accident occurred.
15. [Perry] was a participant in the equine activity in her capacity as a safe [*936] keeper when she approached the horses and was kicked.
16. The Equine Activities Act . . . is applicable to this case.
17. Being kicked by a horse is an inherent risk of equine activity.
18. There is no evidence in the designation of material facts that [the 4-H Club] committed an act or omission which constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of [Perry] or that any other conditions set in [Indiana Code section] 34-31-5-2 existed at the time of the accident.
Appellant’s App. at 5. Perry now appeals.
Discussion and Decision
I. Standard of Review
[HN1] We review a summary judgment order de novo. Tri-Etch, Inc. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 909 N.E.2d 997, 1001 (Ind. 2009). In so doing, we stand in the same position as the trial court and must determine whether the designated evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Dreaded, Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Ins. Co., 904 N.E.2d 1267, 1269-70 (Ind. 2009). In making this determination, we construe [**6] the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine factual issue against the moving party. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. Bloom, 847 N.E.2d 175, 180 (Ind. 2006). Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated by the parties to the trial court. Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). The movant has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine factual dispute as to an outcome-determinative issue and only then must the non-movant come forward with evidence demonstrating genuine factual issues that should be resolved at trial. Jarboe v. Landmark Cmty. Newspapers of Ind., Inc., 644 N.E.2d 118, 123 (Ind. 1994).
Because this case turns on the proper application of the Equine Activity Statute, we also recite our well-established standard of review for interpretation of statutes:
[HN2] When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. [**7] We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.
Cooper Indus., LLC v. City of South Bend, 899 N.E.2d 1274, 1283 (Ind. 2009) (citations omitted).
II. Equine Activity Statute
A. Warning Signs
Perry argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. We address this sub-issue first because it bears on the threshold applicability of the Equine Activity Statute as a bar to Perry’s claim. See Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a) (providing [HN3] “[t]his chapter does not apply unless” equine activity sponsor has posted at least one complaint warning sign). In response to Perry’s argument, the 4-H Club initially [*937] contends Perry waived the argument by not raising it to the trial court prior to the summary judgment hearing. We disagree. In general, arguments [**8] by an appellant are waived if not presented to the trial court on summary judgment, see Cook v. Ford Motor Co., 913 N.E.2d 311, 322 n.5 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied, and summary judgment may not be reversed on the grounds of a genuine factual issue “unless the material fact and the evidence relevant thereto shall have been specifically designated to the trial court,” T.R. 56(H). However, Perry did argue at the summary judgment hearing that the evidence designated by the 4-H Club was insufficient to establish its compliance with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. Moreover, this issue was already before the trial court based upon the 4-H Club’s motion for summary judgment and designation of material facts.
Proceeding to Perry’s claim, [HN4] the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black [**9] letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c). The warning must state: “Under Indiana law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-5.
The undisputed evidence is that the 4-H Club, on the day of the incident, maintained “Equine Activity warning signs” on all entrances to the Horse Barn, and the signs were “clearly visible.” Appellant’s App. at 18-19. The 4-H Club’s equine activities were regularly held inside the Horse Barn, except for the Round Robin Competition held in the Show Barn located next to the Horse Barn. Perry acknowledged in her deposition she had seen “those signs” on the Horse Barn, id. at 114, and did not designate any evidence the signs were absent on the day of the incident or lacked the specific warning required by Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5. Perry argues, in effect, that because the only photographs the 4-H Club properly designated to the trial court do not directly show the signs contained the specific warning required, 1 the 4-H Club did not meet its burden of making a prima facie case of compliance [**10] with the statute. We decline Perry’s invitation to, in effect, interpret the Equine Activity Statute to require an equine activity sponsor to submit such photographic or documentary evidence in order to support its claim of immunity. Rather, we conclude the affidavit the 4-H Club properly designated established its prima facie case that it maintained proper warning signs, such that the burden shifted to Perry to come forward with evidence the signs were deficient. Because she did not do so, there is no genuine issue of fact as to the warning signs, and the trial court [*938] properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute applies to this case.
1 The parties dispute, and it is unclear from the record, whether a photograph identified as Defendant’s Exhibit A at Perry’s deposition, and allegedly included along with the deposition in the 4-H Club’s designation of evidence, was actually part of the designated material submitted to the trial court. That photograph, unlike those included as the 4-H Club’s Exhibit C in support of summary judgment and to which the 4-H Club referred at the summary judgment hearing, shows a warning sign containing the text specified in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5.
B. [**11] Inherent Risk of Equine Activities
Perry also argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether her injuries resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. The Equine Activity Statute provides:
[HN5] Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:
(1) an injury to a participant; or
(2) the death of a participant;
resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.
Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2 [HN6] The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:
the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:
(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.
(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.
(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.
(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.
(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the [**12] animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.
Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:
[HN7] Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:
(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and
(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;
(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:
(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and
(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;
(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and
(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;
if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;
(4) who committed an act or omission that:
(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and
(B) caused the injury; or
[*939] (5) who intentionally [**13] injured the participant.
Ind. Code § 34-31-5-2(b). As Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute has not previously been interpreted in any reported case, 3 we will cite for their persuasive value the decisions of other jurisdictions that have interpreted similar statutes.
2 “Equine activity,” pursuant to its statutory definition, includes among other things “[e]quine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve equines.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-41(a). “Equine activity sponsor” means “a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-42. Perry does not dispute that the 4-H Club qualifies as an equine activity sponsor.
3 In Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied, the only reported case citing the Equine Activity Statute, this court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on the alternative grounds of waiver and release of liability. Id. at 585. We concluded the waiver applied because the plaintiff’s fall from a horse that moved while the plaintiff was attempting to mount it resulted from a risk “inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding.” Id. at 584. However, [**14] we did not explicitly base that conclusion upon the text of the Equine Activity Statute.
Perry’s argument is that a reasonable trier of fact could find the cause of her injury was not an inherent risk of equine activities, but negligence of the 4-H Club in staging the Round Robin Competition. Perry makes no argument that any of the exceptions to immunity spelled out in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-2(b) (“Section 2(b)”) — faulty equipment or tack, provision of the equine and failure to make reasonable and prudent efforts to match the participant to the particular equine and equine activity, a latent premises defect, reckless disregard, or intentional injury — apply in this case. Therefore, we must examine whether and to what extent, consistent with the Equine Activity Statute, an equine activity sponsor may be liable for simple negligence allegedly causing injury to a participant.
Initially we note that negligence of an equine activity sponsor neither is one of the exceptions to immunity listed in Section 2(b), nor is it included in the non-exclusive list of inherent risks of equine activity under Indiana Code section 34-6-2-69. Thus, Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute, like equine activity [**15] statutes in some states but unlike some others, is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability. Compare Lawson v. Dutch Heritage Farms, Inc., 502 F.Supp.2d 698, 700 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (noting Ohio’s Equine Activity Liability Act, like some other states?, is “silent as to simple negligence as an inherent risk”) (quotation omitted); with Beattie v. Mickalich, 486 Mich. 1060, 1060 784 N.W.2d 38, 2010 Mich. LEXIS 1452, 2010 WL 2756979, at *1 (Mich., July 13, 2010) (per curiam) (Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act abolishes strict liability for equines but expressly provides liability is not limited “‘if the . . . person . . . [c]ommits a negligent act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury?” (quoting Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1665)). Because it is as important to recognize what a statute does not say as what it does say, City of Evansville v. Zirkelbach, 662 N.E.2d 651, 654 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied, and [HN8] statutes granting immunity, being in derogation of the common law, are strictly construed, see Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind. 1994), we conclude the Equine Activity Statute was not intended by the general assembly [**16] to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an equine activity sponsor. However, pursuant to the clear text of the statute, a negligence action is precluded if the injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities and the facts do not fit one of the exceptions to immunity provided by Section 2(b). Stated differently, if none of the Section 2(b) exceptions apply, then an equine activity sponsor is not liable for failing to use reasonable care to mitigate an already inherent risk of equine activities that ultimately resulted in a participant’s injury.
[*940] Turning to Perry’s claim, she was injured when unexpectedly kicked by a horse that became agitated during the 4-H Club’s Round Robin Competition. The horse became agitated because another horse was standing too close nearby and began sniffing its rear, and to remove the danger to the child handling the other horse, Perry intervened. The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways [**17] that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn. See Kangas v. Perry, 2000 WI App 234, 239 Wis.2d 392, 620 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Wis. Ct. App. 2000) (based on Wisconsin’s similar definition of inherent risks, concluding “horses? propensity to move without warning is an inherent risk of equine activity contemplated by the statute”), review denied. We therefore conclude Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities within the meaning of the Equine Activity Statute.
Perry argues the likelihood of a horse becoming agitated and kicking, and a child becoming endangered and needing to be rescued by a supervisor such as Perry, were unreasonably increased by the 4-H Club’s decision to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn, a cramped space unfamiliar to the horses. Even if that is true, however, the 4-H Club’s conduct would have contributed to Perry’s injury only by heightening the already inherent risk that a horse might [**18] behave unpredictably and in an injury-causing manner. Thus, Perry’s argument that her injury resulted not from an inherent risk of equine activities, but from the 4-H Club’s negligence in its manner of staging the Round Robin Competition, amounts to hair splitting irrelevant to the Equine Activity Statute. As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent. See Ind. Code §§ 34-6-2-69; 34-31-5-1.
Perry also relies on cases from other jurisdictions that, while involving similar statutes, are distinguishable on their facts. In Steeg v. Baskin Family Camps, Inc., 124 S.W.3d 633 (Tex. App. 2003), review dismissed, the court held summary judgment for the defendant improper where there was evidence the proximate causes of the rider’s fall included the saddle slipping and the defendant’s negligent failure to secure the saddle. Id. at 639-40. In Fielder v. Academy Riding Stables, 49 P.3d 349 (Colo. Ct. App. 2002), [**19] cert. denied, the court held the defendant was not entitled to immunity where the defendant’s wranglers negligently failed to remove a screaming child from a horse, an “obvious danger” the wranglers had notice of well before the horse bolted. Id. at 351-52. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence the 4-H Club ignored an obvious, imminent danger or that Perry’s injury directly resulted from anything other than unpredictable horse behavior.
In sum, the facts viewed most favorably to Perry as the party opposing summary judgment show her injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities and the 4-H Club was negligent, if at all, only for [*941] failing to mitigate those inherent risks. Therefore, the trial court properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim and properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.
There are no genuine issues of material fact that the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute and that Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. Therefore, Perry’s claim is barred by the Equine Activity Statute and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.
FRIEDLANDER, [**20] J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.
Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62
April Palmer, Appellant, v. Lakeside Wellness Center, Doing Business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc., Appellees.
281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62
June 24, 2011, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]
Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: JOSEPH S. TROIA, Judge.
1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will affirm a lower court’s granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
2. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.
3. Contracts: Parties: Intent. In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them.
4. Contracts: Parties. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly inter preted or construed.
5. Negligence: Words and Phrases. Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty.
6. Negligence. Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule.
7. Negligence: Summary Judgment. The issue of gross negligence is susceptible to resolution in a motion for summary judgment.
COUNSEL: Heather Voegele-Andersen and Brenda K. George, of Koley Jessen, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.
David L. Welch and Ashley E. Dieckman, of Pansing, Hogan, Ernst & Bachman, L.L.P., for appellee Lakeside Wellness Center.
Albert M. Engles and Cory J. Kerger, of Engles, Ketcham, Olson & Keith, P.C., for appellee Precor, Inc.
JUDGES: HEAVICAN, C.J., CONNOLLY, GERRARD, STEPHAN, and MCCORMACK, JJ. WRIGHT and MILLER-LERMAN, JJ., not participating.
OPINION BY: HEAVICAN
[**847] [*781] Heavican, C.J.
The appellant, April Palmer, was injured while on a treadmill at Lakeside Wellness Center (Lakeside). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Lakeside, doing business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc. Palmer appeals. We affirm.
Palmer and her husband joined Lakeside in November 2006. The accident occurred several months later, on March 7, 2007. On that date, Palmer approached the treadmill in question to begin her workout. Unaware that the treadmill belt was running, Palmer stepped onto the treadmill from the back and was thrown off the belt and into an elliptical training [**848] machine located behind [***2] her. During her deposition, Palmer stated that she looked at the treadmill’s control panel before getting on, but did not look at the belt of the treadmill. Palmer indicated that had she looked at the belt, she probably would have been able to see that it was operating, but that since she assumed the treadmill was off, she did not look further. According to Palmer, she thought the area was poorly lit, though she had never complained about it to any Lakeside staff members. And Palmer indicated that the facility was loud and that she was unable to hear whether the machine was operating.
This treadmill was located in a row of treadmills, and the treadmills to the right and left of the machine in question were [*782] being used at the time of the accident. In Palmer’s husband’s deposition, he testified that the woman on a neighboring treadmill told him she had been on that treadmill briefly before switching to the neighboring machine and had mistakenly thought she had turned it off.
Palmer’s Familiarity With Treadmills.
During her deposition, Palmer was asked about her exercise history and her familiarity with treadmills. Palmer testified that she and her husband had been members of other gyms prior [***3] to joining Lakeside. Palmer testified that she received instruction from a trainer after joining Lakeside, though she stated that she did not need specific instruction on how to operate a treadmill. According to Palmer’s testimony, she had been using treadmills for approximately 21 years. At the time of the accident, Palmer had been using the Lakeside facility at least 5 times a week and had used that actual treadmill 10 to 15 times total prior to the accident. Palmer also testified that she had a treadmill in her home.
Palmer’s Membership Agreement and Health History Questionnaire.
At the time Palmer and her husband became members at Lakeside, Palmer filled out and signed a membership agreement and a health history questionnaire. The membership agreement provided:
WAIVER AND RELEASE–You acknowledge that your attendance or use of [Lakeside] including without limitation to your participation in any of [Lakeside's] programs or activities and your use of [Lakeside's] equipment and facilities, and transportation provided by [Lakeside] could cause injury to you. In consideration of your membership in [Lakeside], you hereby assume all risks of injury which may result from or arise out of your [***4] attendance at or use of [Lakeside] or its equipment, activities, facilities, or transportation; and you agree, on behalf of yourself and your heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns to fully and forever release and discharge [Lakeside] and affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, [*783] successors and assigns, and each of them (collectively the “Releasees”) from any and all claims, damages, rights of action or causes of action, present or future, known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated, resulting from or arising out of your attendance at or use of [Lakeside] or its equipment, activities, facilities or transportation, including without limitation any claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action resulting from or arising out of the negligence of the Releasees. Further, you hereby agree to waive any and all such claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action. Further you hereby agree to release and discharge the Releasees from any and all liability for any loss or theft of, or damage to, personal property. You acknowledge that you have [**849] carefully read this waiver and release and fully understand that it is a waiver [***5] and release of liability.
The health history questionnaire signed by Palmer stated in relevant part as follows:
1. In consideration of being allowed to participate in the activities and programs of [Lakeside] and to use its facilities, equipment and machinery in addition to the payment of any fee or charge, I do hereby waive, release and forever discharge [Lakeside] and its directors, officers, agents, employees, representatives, successors and assigns, administrators, executors and all other [sic] from any and all responsibilities or liability from injuries or damages resulting from my participation in any activities or my use of equipment or machinery in the above mentioned activities. I do also hereby release all of those mentioned and any others acting upon their behalf from any responsibility or liability for any injury or damage to myself, including those caused by the negligent act or omission of any way arising out of or connected with my participation in any activities of [Lakeside] or the use of any equipment at [Lakeside]. . . .
2. I understand and am aware that strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise, including the use of equipment are a potentially hazardous activity. [***6] I also understand that fitness activities involve the risk of injury and even death, [*784] and that I am voluntarily participating in these activities and using equipment and machinery with knowledge of the dangers involved. I hereby agree to expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death. . . .
Palmer sued Lakeside and Precor for her injuries, which generally consisted of an injured hand and chest. Both Lakeside and Precor filed motions for summary judgment, which were granted. Palmer appeals.
ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR
Palmer assigns that the district court erred in (1) granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor; (2) holding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire signed by Palmer were clear, understandable, and unambiguous; and (3) holding that Palmer assumed the risk of using the treadmill.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
 [HN1] An appellate court will affirm a lower court’s granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as [***7] a matter of law. 1
1 Wilson v. Fieldgrove, 280 Neb. 548, 787 N.W.2d 707 (2010).
 [HN2] In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence. 2
Waiver and Release.
Palmer first argues that the district court erred in finding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire she completed and signed when joining Lakeside were clear, understandable, and unambiguous. We read Palmer’s argument as contending that the waivers, [**850] while perhaps applicable to instances of ordinary negligence, [*785] could not operate to relieve Lakeside or Precor from gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. We further understand Palmer to argue that both Lakeside and Precor committed gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct–Precor by delivering a treadmill without proper safety features, and Lakeside by not providing adequate space or lighting around the treadmill and by modifying the treadmill’s belt such that the treadmill became unsafe.
[3,4] Before reaching the merits [***8] of Palmer’s argument, we note that contrary to Precor’s argument, Precor is not protected from liability as a result of the waivers signed by Palmer. Precor contends in its brief that it is a third-party beneficiary of these waivers. This court recently addressed a similar issue in Podraza v. New Century Physicians of Neb. 3 In Podraza, we noted that we have traditionally strictly construed who has the right to enforce a contract as a third-party beneficiary.
[HN3] In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue thereon must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly interpreted or construed.
Authorities are in accord that one suing as a third-party beneficiary has the burden of showing that the provision was for his or her direct benefit. Unless one can sustain this burden, a purported third-party beneficiary will be deemed merely incidentally benefited and will not be permitted [***9] to recover on or enforce the agreement. 4
3 Podraza v. New Century Physicians of Neb., 280 Neb. 678, 789 N.W.2d 260 (2010).
4 Id. at 686, 789 N.W.2d at 267.
A review of the record shows that Precor was not explicitly mentioned in the language of the waiver. Nor is there any other evidence that Precor was an intended third-party beneficiary. Precor has the burden to show its status as a third-party beneficiary, and it has failed to meet that burden. As such, Precor [*786] is not shielded from liability as a result of the waivers signed by Palmer.
Lakeside’s Gross Negligence or Willful and Wanton Conduct.
At oral argument, Palmer conceded that by virtue of these waivers, Lakeside was not liable to Palmer for damages caused by ordinary negligence. But, as noted above, Palmer contends that Lakeside is nevertheless liable, because its actions were grossly negligent or were willful and wanton.
Having examined the record in this case, we find that as a matter of law, Palmer’s allegations against Lakeside do not rise to the level of gross negligence. Palmer alleges that the Lakeside facility had inadequate lighting and inadequate spacing between equipment and that Lakeside’s employees modified the treadmill [***10] in question by installing a treadmill belt that did not contain markings.
[5-7] [HN4] Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty. 5 Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule. 6 [**851] The issue of gross negligence is susceptible to resolution in a motion for summary judgment. 7 We simply cannot conclude that the allegations against Lakeside–inadequate lighting and spacing and the installation of a new treadmill belt–rise to such a level. We therefore conclude that as a matter of law, any negligence by Lakeside was not gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct. As such, the district court did not err in granting Lakeside’s motion for summary judgment.
5 Bennett v. Labenz, 265 Neb. 750, 659 N.W.2d 339 (2003).
We next turn to the question of whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Precor. Because we concluded above that the waiver signed by Palmer did not [*787] act to relieve Precor from liability, we address whether there was a genuine issue of material [***11] fact on the issue of whether Precor breached any duty it had to Palmer.
In arguing that Precor was liable, Palmer alleges that Precor breached its duty by not equipping the treadmill with (1) a safety feature that would prevent the treadmill from operating when no one was on it and (2) handrails extending down the sides toward the back of the treadmill. Palmer originally argued that Precor was also liable because the belt on its treadmill failed to contain adequate markings, but it is this court’s understanding that Palmer no longer makes such allegations with regard to Precor because the belt on the treadmill at the time of the incident was not original to the treadmill and had been installed by Lakeside.
In response to Palmer’s allegations, Precor introduced evidence in the form of an affidavit from its director of product development, Greg May. May averred that at the time of manufacture and delivery, the treadmill met or exceeded the voluntary guidelines set by the American Society for Testing and Materials in that group’s international standard specifications for motorized treadmills in all ways, including handrails. Though there was no specific feature on this treadmill designed [***12] to stop the treadmill from running when no one was operating it, the machine was manufactured with a clip to be attached to the user’s clothing. The manual for this treadmill noted that “by taking this precaution, a tug on the safety switch cord trips the safety switch and slows the running speed to a safe stop.” May also averred that the treadmill in question left Precor’s control on July 29, 1999, or over 7 years prior to the date of the incident.
In addition to May’s affidavit, Precor also introduced photographs of the treadmill at issue, which photographs showed that the treadmill did have front handrails, though not side handrails.
In an attempt to rebut May’s affidavit and show a genuine issue of material fact, Palmer introduced the affidavit of a fitness consultant. That affidavit noted in part that
based on [the consultant's] experience, in order for treadmills to meet appropriate safety standards from the late [*788] 1990s forward, treadmills should contain adequate safety features, emergency/safety stop mechanisms, warning labels, and markings on a treadmill belt. A treadmill should contain a safety stop mechanism such that the treadmill will turn off if no one is currently on the [***13] treadmill, adequate handrails extending towards the back of the treadmill and warning labels at the rear of the treadmill.
Even after drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Palmer, we conclude that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Precor’s alleged breach of duty. While the fitness consultant’s affidavit indicates that treadmills “should” contain [**852] various safety features, he does not speak in absolutes and does not refer specifically to this treadmill. On the other hand, May’s affidavit references the treadmill at issue in this case and details the safety features this treadmill possessed, as well as Precor’s compliance with all applicable, though voluntary, safety standards when manufacturing the treadmill. Because the record affirmatively shows that Precor did not breach any duty it owed to Palmer, we conclude that the district court did not err in granting Precor’s motion for summary judgment.
Assumption of Risk.
Palmer also argues that the district court erred in finding that she assumed the risk of injury when she used the treadmill. Because we conclude that the district court did not err in granting Lakeside’s and Precor’s motions for summary judgment for the [***14] foregoing reasons, we need not address Palmer’s assignment of error regarding the assumption of the risk.
The district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor is affirmed.
Wright and Miller-Lerman, JJ., not participating.
Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, Inc., 111 Haw. 254; 141 P.3d 427; 2006 Haw. LEXIS 386
Lisa Courbat and Steven Courbat, Plaintiffs-Appellants, vs. Dahana Ranch, Inc., Defendant-Appellee, and John Does 1-10, Jane Does 1-10, Doe Associations 1-10, Doe Partnerships 1-10, Doe Corporations 1-10, Doe Entities 1-10, and Doe Governmental Units 1-5, Defendants.
SUPREME COURT OF HAWAI’I
111 Haw. 254; 141 P.3d 427; 2006 Haw. LEXIS 386
July 10, 2006, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Amended by, Reconsideration granted by, in part, Reconsideration denied by, in part Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, 2006 Haw. LEXIS 417 (Haw., Aug. 3, 2006)
PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] APPEAL FROM THE THIRD CIRCUIT COURT. CIV. NO. 01-1-0049.
COUNSEL: On the briefs:
Andrew S. Iwashita, for the plaintiffs-appellants Lisa Courbat and Steven Courbat.
Zale T. Okazaki, of Ayabe, Chong, Nishimoto, Sia and Nakamura, for the defendant-appellee Dahana Ranch, Inc.
JUDGES: MOON, C.J., LEVINSON AND NAKAYAMA, JJ., AND DUFFY, J., DISSENTING, WITH WHOM ACOBA, J. JOINS.
OPINION BY: LEVINSON
[**429] [*256] OPINION OF THE COURT BY LEVINSON, J.
The plaintiffs-appellants Lisa Courbat and Steven Courbat [hereinafter, collectively, "the Courbats"] appeal from the May 13, 2002 judgment of the circuit court of the third circuit, the Honorable Riki May Amano presiding, entered pursuant to the circuit [*257] [**430] court’s April 26, 2002 grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-appellee Dahana Ranch, Inc. (the Ranch).
On appeal, the Courbats contend that the circuit court erred: (1) in concluding that Hawai’i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 480-2 et seq. (Supp. 1998) 1 do not apply to the Ranch’s business practices of booking prepaid tours and subsequently requiring liability waivers upon check-in; (2) by applying the rebuttable presumption set forth in HRS § 663B-2(a) [***2] (Supp. 1994) 2 in finding that [*258] [**431] Lisa’s injuries were not due to the negligence of the tour operator; (3) in finding that the Courbats sufficiently read over the waiver before signing it; and (4) in concluding that the waiver was valid as to their negligence claims.
1 HRS ch. 480 provided in relevant part:
§ 480-2 . . . . (a) [HN1] Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are unlawful.
(b) In construing this section, the courts and the office of consumer protection shall give due consideration to the rules, regulations, and decisions of the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts interpreting section 5(a)(1) of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45(a)(1)), as from time to time amended.
. . . .
§ 480-3 . . . . [HN2] This chapter shall be construed in accordance with judicial interpretations of similar federal antitrust statutes . . . .
. . . .
§ 480-12 . . . . [HN3] Any contract or agreement in violation of this chapter is void and is not enforceable at law or in equity.
§ 480-13 . . . . (b) [HN4] Any consumer who is injured by any unfair or deceptive act or practice forbidden or declared unlawful by section 480-2:
(1) May sue for damages sustained by the consumer, and, if the judgment is for the plaintiff, the plaintiff shall be awarded a sum not less than $ 1,000 or threefold damages by the plaintiff sustained, whichever sum is the greater, and reasonable attorneys’ fees together with the costs of suit; . . . and
(2) May bring proceedings to enjoin the unlawful practices, and if the decree is for the plaintiff, the plaintiff shall be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees together with the cost of suit.
Effective June 28, 2002, HRS § 480-2 was amended in respects immaterial to the present matter. See 2002 Haw. Sess. L. Act 229, §§ 2 and 6 at 916-18. Effective May 2, 2001, June 28, 2002, and June 7, 2005, HRS § 480-13 was amended in respects immaterial to the present matter. See 2005 Haw. Sess. L. Act 108, §§ 3 and 5 at 265-66, 267; 2002 Haw. Sess. L. Act 229, §§ 3 and 6 at 917-18; 2001 Haw. Sess. L. Act 79, §§ 1 and 5 at 127-28.
2 HRS ch. 663B, entitled “Equine activities” and enacted in 1994, see 1994 Haw. Sess. L. Act 229, §§ 1 and 2 at 591-92, provides in relevant part:
§ 663B-1 . . . . [HN5] As used in this [chapter], unless the context otherwise requires:
“Engages in an equine activity” means riding . . . or being a passenger upon an equine . . . .
. . . .
“Equine activity” means:
. . . .
(5) Rides, trips, hunts, or other equine activities of any type however informal or impromptu that are sponsored by an equine activity sponsor; and
. . . .
“Equine activity sponsor” means an individual, group, club, partnership, or corporation . . . which sponsors, organizes, or provides the facilities for, an equine activity. . . .
“Equine professional” means a person engaged for compensation in instructing a participant or renting to a participant an equine for the purpose of riding, driving, or being a passenger upon the equine, or in renting equipment or tack to a participant.
“Inherent risks of equine activities” means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities, including, but not limited to:
(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them;
(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
(3) Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;
(4) Collisions with other equines or objects; and
(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.
“Participant” means any person, whether amateur or professional, who engages in an equine activity, whether or not a fee is paid to participate in the equine activity.
§ 663B-2 . . . . (a) [HN6] In any civil action for injury, loss, damage, or death of a participant, there shall be a presumption that the injury, loss, damage, or death was not caused by the negligence of an equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or their employees or agents, if the injury, loss, damage, or death was caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature of the equine. An injured person or their legal representative may rebut the presumption of no negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.
(b) Nothing in this section shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or their employees or agents if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person:
. . . .
(2) Provided the equine and . . . failed to reasonably supervise the equine activities and such failure is a proximate cause of the injury
. . . . (Some brackets in original and some omitted.)
[***4] For the reasons discussed infra in section III.A, we vacate the circuit court’s May 13, 2002 judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The present matter arises out of personal injuries sustained by Lisa on February 1, 1999, while she and Steven were on a horseback riding tour on the Dahana Ranch on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The Courbats had booked the tour and prepaid the fee several months earlier through Island Incentives, Inc., an internet-based tour organizer. When they checked in at the Ranch, the Courbats were presented with a document to review and to sign which laid out the rules for the horseback tour and included a waiver “releas[ing] and hold[ing] harmless . . . [the] Ranch . . . from . . . injury to myself . . . resulting from my . . . being a spectator or participant or while engaged in any such activity in the event[-]related facilities” and stating that the undersigned “acknowledge[s] that there are significant elements of risk in any adventure, sport, or activity associated with horses.” 3 According to admissions by the Courbats in subsequent depositions, Lisa read over the waiver and, having [***5] no questions regarding the rules and regulations it contained, signed it before passing it to her husband to sign. Steven evidently did not read it, but recognized that it was “some kind of release of some sort” and signed it. In fact, no guest of the Ranch had ever refused to sign a waiver. Steven was familiar with the concept of such waivers, having participated with his wife in a snorkeling activity earlier during the vacation, at which time they both signed similar forms.
3 The rules and waiver stated in pertinent part:
In order for us to keep our ride from being a “Nose To Tail Trail Ride[,"] there are certain rules which must be followed for your safety and the horses’ mental well being. FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE RULES WILL RESULT IN FORFEITURE OF YOUR RIDE WITH NO REFUND.
RULES AND REGULATIONS
FOLLOW RIDING INSTRUCTIONS & DIRECTIONS THROUGHOUT THE RIDE
. . . .
. PLEASE DO NOT RIDE AHEAD OF YOUR GUIDE UNLESS TOLD TO DO SO
. . . .
. DO NOT FOLLOW ONE ANOTHER
. . . .
I/We, the undersigned, hereby release and hold harmless the land owners, managers, operators (William P. Kalawaianui, Daniel H. Nakoa, Dahana Ranch and Nakoa Ranch), [t]he State of Hawaii and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and all other persons directly related to those listed above for the event listed herein[,] their successors, assigns and affiliates from loss or damage to property or injury to myself or any person . . . resulting from my . . . being a spectator or participant or while engaged in any such activity in the event[-] related facilities. I/We acknowledge that there are significant elements of risk in any adventure, sport or activity associated with horses.
I/WE HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD THE FOREGOING RULES, REGULATIONS AND WAIVER.
(Emphasis in original.)
[***6] The Ranch’s guide, Daniel Nakoa, briefed the Courbats on how to handle a horse and general rules of the trail, including the importance of not riding single-file or allowing the horses to bunch up end to end. Out on the ride, Lisa was injured when she rode up behind Nakoa’s horse while Nakoa was speaking with another guest who had approached Nakoa with a question. According to later statements by both Nakoa and Lisa, Lisa approached Nakoa’s horse from the rear while the three horses were in motion, and, when her horse neared Nakoa’s horse, Nakoa’s horse struck out at her horse, hitting Lisa in the left shin. Lisa described the incident in a deposition taken on November 3, 2001:
Q: At what point did you believe that you needed to pull the reins back as you were approaching the guide . . . ? . . .
[*259] [**432] [Lisa]: When I felt that the horse was getting too close to the horses above me.
Q: So it appeared to you that the nose end of the horse was getting too close to the butt end of the horse in front?
[Lisa]: To the horse in general. We were coming in. I was just trying to keep a certain space between myself and the horse.
Q: [T]hose two horses, the guide’s [***7] horse and the guest’s horse, they were to the left of your horse, is that correct, to the front left of you?
Q: You recall which hind leg of the horse kicked you? Was it the right or the left?
[Lisa]: It would be the right one.
Q: And that was a horse which was ridden by the guide or the guest?
[Lisa]: The guide.
Q: Just before the horse in front of you kicked you, were all of the horses still in motion? When I say “all the horses,” yours, the guide’s, and the guest that was riding parallel to the guide?
[Lisa]: Just before?
Q: Was there any conversation between you and the guide or the guest just before this kicking incident occurred?
Q: At the time this kicking incident occurred, w[ere] the guide and the guest still talking to each other?
Nakoa described the same incident in a January 9, 2002 deposition:
[Nakoa]: . . . Everybody was facing the gate, the second gate. . . . And I was in the back. And because I lots of times don’t want to be a part of the ride, I started riding to the right. And then a man came to talk to me and [***8] ask me about the horse.
. . . .
Q: On which side of your horse was he at the time?
[Nakoa]: He was on the left side of me.
Q: And were you still moving or were you stopped?
[Nakoa]: We were walking.
. . . .
Q: . . .[H]ad you passed Lisa along the way? . . . .
[Nakoa]: Because of the angle, she was off to my left.
Q: Still in front of you?
[Nakoa]: No. About the same.
. . . .
Q: And when is the next time you notice Lisa’s horse before the injury takes place?
. . . .
[Nakoa]: She was still on the left side of me.
Q: . . . [A]bout how far away do you estimate she was from your horse?
[Nakoa]: You know, 30 feet maybe. . . .
Q: And from that point on, . . . were you able to continually observe Lisa riding her horse until the time the injury occurred?
[Nakoa]: Yes. The man was on my left and I was talking to him.
. . . .
Q: . . . [W]hile [the guest is] asking you this question and you can see [Lisa], what is her horse doing as it’s approaching your horse?
[Nakoa]: No, I didn’t see her approaching my horse. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. She was on the [***9] left side of this man and me and we’re all going in that direction (indicating). She was trotting, and I was walking with this man. And I saw her. And then this man asked me something. And the next thing I knew, she was right in back of my horse telling me that my horse kicked her.
Nakoa later acknowledged in the deposition that, if he or his horse had been aware that Lisa’s horse was approaching from behind, his horse would not have been surprised and would not have struck out at her horse. As a result of the impact, Lisa suffered severe pain and swelling, but no broken bones, and [*260] [**433] since the incident has complained of ongoing pain and injury to her leg.
The Courbats filed suit on January 31, 2001, asserting claims of negligence and gross negligence that resulted in physical injury to Lisa and loss of consortium injuries to Steven. On November 21, 2001, they filed a first amended complaint, adding a claim of unfair and deceptive trade practices regarding the waiver they had signed the day of the ride.
On January 16, 2002, the Ranch filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds: (1) that the Courbats had assumed the risk of the activity; (2) that the Courbats [***10] had waived their rights to sue the Ranch for negligence; and (3) that the Ranch had not committed any acts that brought it under the purview of HRS §§ 480-2 and 480-13, see supra note 1.
The Courbats filed a memorandum in opposition to the Ranch’s motion and a motion for partial summary judgment, urging the circuit court to rule, inter alia: (1) that the Ranch owed Lisa a duty to protect her from injury by Nakoa’s horse; and (2) that the rebuttable presumption of no negligence on a defendant’s part set forth in HRS § 663B-2, see supra note 2, was inapplicable.
The circuit court conducted a hearing on both motions on February 13, 2002 and, on April 26, 2002, entered an order granting the Ranch’s motion and denying the Courbats’ motion. On May 13, 2002, the circuit court entered a final judgment in favor of the Ranch and against the Courbats. On August 8, 2002, the Courbats filed a timely notice of appeal. 4
4 On May 10, 2002, the Ranch filed a notice of taxation of costs which, pursuant to Hawai’i Rules of Appellate Procedure (HRAP) Rule 4(a)(3), tolled the time for filing an appeal. An order as to taxation of costs was never entered, and so, pursuant to HRAP Rule 4(a)(3), the request was deemed denied 90 days later, on August 8, 2002. The Courbats’ appeal, filed prematurely on June 7, 2002, was therefore timely filed as of August 8, 2002, pursuant to HRAP Rule 4(a)(2) and (3).
[***11] II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW
A. Summary Judgment
We [HN7] review the circuit court’s grant or denial of summary judgment de novo . . . .
[S]ummary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of that fact would have the effect of establishing or refuting one of the essential elements of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties. The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. In other words, we must view all of the evidence and the inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.
[Hawai'i Cmty. Fed. Credit Union v. Keka, 94 Hawai'i 213, 221, 11 P.3d 1, 9 (2000)] (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Querubin v. Thronas, 107 Hawai’i 48, 56, 109 P.3d 689, 697 (2005) (quoting Durette v. Aloha Plastic Recycling, Inc., 105 Hawai’i 490, 501, 100 P.3d 60, 71 (2004)) [***12] (internal citation omitted) (some brackets in original).
B. Interpretation Of Statutes
[HN8] The interpretation of a statute is a question of law reviewable de novo. State v. Arceo, 84 Hawai’i 1, 10, 928 P.2d 843, 852 (1996).
Furthermore, our statutory construction is guided by established rules:
[HN9] When construing a statute, our foremost obligation is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which is to be obtained primarily from the language contained in the statute itself. And we must read statutory language in the context of the entire statute and construe it in a manner consistent with its purpose.
When there is doubt, doubleness of meaning, or indistinctiveness or uncertainty [*261] [**434] of an expression used in a statute, an ambiguity exists. . . .
In construing an ambiguous statute, “[t]he meaning of the ambiguous words may be sought by examining the context, with which the ambiguous words, phrases, and sentences may be compared, in order to ascertain their true meaning.” HRS § 1-15(1) [(1993)]. Moreover, the courts may resort to extrinsic aids in determining legislative intent. [***13] One avenue is the use of legislative history as an interpretive tool.
Gray [v. Admin. Dir. of the Court], 84 Hawai’i [138,] 148, 931 P.2d [580,] 590 [(1997)] (footnote omitted).
State v. Koch, 107 Hawai’i 215, 220, 112 P.3d 69, 74 (2005) (quoting State v. Kaua, 102 Hawai’i 1, 7-8, 72 P.3d 473, 479-480 (2003)). [HN10] Absent an absurd or unjust result, see State v. Haugen, 104 Hawai’i 71, 77, 85 P.3d 178, 184 (2004), this court is bound to give effect to the plain meaning of unambiguous statutory language; we may only resort to the use of legislative history when interpreting an ambiguous statute. State v. Valdivia, 95 Hawai’i 465, 472, 24 P.3d 661, 668 (2001).
A. Inasmuch As The Presence Or Absence Of An Unfair Or Deceptive Trade Practice Is For The Trier Of Fact To Determine, The Circuit Court Erroneously Granted Summary Judgment In Favor Of The Ranch And Against The Courbats.
The Courbats do not dispute that they both signed the Ranch’s waiver form, see supra note 3, prior to their ride. Nor do they dispute that waivers are an accepted [***14] method by which businesses may limit their liability. Rather, they assert that the Ranch’s practice of booking ride reservations through an activity company, receiving payment prior to the arrival of the guest, and then, upon the guest’s arrival at the Ranch, requiring the guest to sign a liability waiver as a precondition to horseback riding is an unfair and deceptive business practice to which the remedies of HRS ch. 480 apply. The Courbats maintain that the practice of withholding the waiver had “the capacity or tendency to mislead” customers, thereby satisfying this court’s test for a deceptive trade practice as articulated in State ex rel. Bronster v. United States Steel Corp., 82 Hawai’i 32, 50, 919 P.2d 294, 312 (1996).
The Intermediate Court of Appeals held in Beerman v. Toro, 1 Haw. App. 111, 118, 615 P.2d 749, 754-55 (1980), that [HN11] the remedies afforded by HRS ch. 480 are not available for personal injury claims. See also Blowers v. Eli Lilly & Co., 100 F. Supp. 2d 1265, 1269-70 (D. Haw. 2000). The Courbats, however, assert that they are not invoking HRS ch. 480 for the purpose of establishing personal injury damages, [***15] but rather because the lack of notice as to the waiver requirement injured them economically, by way of the $ 116 cost of the tour, giving rise to a valid claim under HRS § 480-13, see supra note 1. As a deceptive trade practice, the Courbats maintain, the waiver is void under HRS § 480-12, see supra note 1.
1. The elements of a deceptive trade practice claim for recision of a contract
[HN12] To render the waiver void, the Courbats must establish that it is an unseverable part of a “contract or agreement in violation of [HRS ch. 480].” See HRS § 480-12, supra note 1. Furthermore, any “unfair or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of any trade or commerce” violates HRS § 480-2.
[HN13] “Deceptive” acts or practices violate HRS § 480-2, but HRS ch. 480 contains no statutory definition of “deceptive.” This court has described a deceptive practice as having “the capacity or tendency to mislead or deceive,” United States Steel Corp., 82 Hawaii at 50, 919 P.2d at 312, 313, but, beyond noting that federal [***16] cases have also defined deception “as an act causing, as a natural and probable result, a person to do that which he [or she] would not do otherwise,” Keka, 94 Hawai’i at 228, 11 P.3d at 16 (brackets in original) (quoting United States Steel Corp., 82 Hawaii at 51, 919 P.2d at 313 (citing Bockenstette v. Federal Trade Comm’n, 134 F.2d 369, 36 F.T.C. 1106 (10th Cir. 1943))), we have not articulated a more refined test.
[HN14] HRS § 480-3, see supra note 1, provides that HRS ch. 480 “shall be construed in accordance with judicial interpretations of similar federal antitrust statutes,” [*262] [**435] and HRS § 480-2(b) provides that “[i]n construing this section, the courts . . . shall give due consideration to the . . . decisions of . . . the federal courts interpreting . . . 15 U.S.C. [§ ] 45(a)(1)[(2000)],” 5 in recognition of the fact that HRS § 480-2 is “a virtual counterpart.” 6 Keka, 94 Hawai’i at 228, 11 P.3d at 16. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in In re Cliffdale Assocs., Inc., 103 F.T.C. 110, Trade Cas. (CCH) P22137 (1984), developed [***17] a three-part analytical test for “deception,” 7 which the federal courts have thereafter extensively adopted, see FTC v. Verity Int’l, Ltd., 443 F.3d 48, 63 (2d. Cir. 2006); FTC v. Tashman, 318 F.3d 1273, 1277 (11th Cir. 2003); FTC v. Pantron I Corp., 33 F.3d 1088, 1095 (9th Cir. 1994); FTC v. World Travel Vacation Brokers, Inc., 861 F.2d 1020, 1029 (7th Cir. 1988). Under the Cliffdale Assocs. test, a deceptive act or practice is “(1) a representation, omission, or practice that (2) is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances [where] (3) the representation, omission, or practice is material.” Verity Int’l, 443 F.3d at 63. A representation, omission, or practice is considered “material” if it involves “‘information that is important to consumers and, hence, likely to affect their choice of, or conduct regarding, a product.’” Novartis Corp. v. FTC, 343 U.S. App. D.C. 111, 223 F.3d 783, 786 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Cliffdale Assocs., 103 F.T.C. at 165); see also Kraft, Inc. v. FTC, 970 F.2d 311, 322 (7th Cir. 1992); [***18] FTC v. Crescent Publ’g Group, Inc., 129 F. Supp. 2d 311, 321 (S.D.N.Y. 2001); FTC v. Five-Star Auto Club, Inc., 97 F. Supp. 2d 502, 529 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); FTC v. Sabal, 32 F. Supp. 2d 1004, 1007 (N.D. Ill. 1998). Moreover, the Cliffdale Assocs. test is an objective one, turning on whether the act or omission “is likely to mislead consumers,” Verity Int’l, 443 F.3d at 63, as to information “important to consumers,” Novartis Corp., 223 F.3d at 786, in making a decision regarding the product or service. 8
5 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(1) provides that ” [HN15] [u]nfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”
6 Hawai’i courts have long recognized, therefore, that federal interpretations of 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(1) guide us in construing HRS § 480-2 “in light of conditions in Hawai’i.” Ai v. Frank Huff Agency, 61 Haw. 607, 613 n.11, 607 P.2d 1304, 1309 n.11 (1980); see also Island Tobacco Co. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 63 Haw. 289, 299, 627 P.2d 260, 268 (1981) overruled on other grounds by Robert’s Hawaii School Bus, Inc. v. Laupahoehoe Transp. Co., Inc., 91 Hawai’i 224, 982 P.2d 853 (1999); Rosa v. Johnston, 3 Haw. App. 420, 426, 651 P.2d 1228, 1233-34 (1982).
7 See Cliffdale Assocs., 103 F.T.C. at 164-65 (characterizing the new standard as a refinement of the “tendency or capacity to deceive” test used by the FTC to that point and pronouncing the old test “circular and therefore inadequate to provide guidance”).
8 [HN16] While federal courts have not expressly categorized the test as objective, the FTC, in Cliffdale Assocs., commented that “[t]he requirement that an act or practice be considered from the perspective of a consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances is not new. . . . [The FTC] has long recognized that the law should not be applied in such a way as to find that honest representations are deceptive simply because they are misunderstood by a few. . . . [A]n advertisement would not be considered deceptive merely because it could be unreasonably misunderstood by an insignificant and unrepresentative segment of the class of persons [to] whom the representation is addressed.” 103 F.T.C. at 165 (footnotes and internal quotation signals omitted).
[HN17] Given our obligation under HRS §§ 480-3 [***20] and 480-2(b) to apply federal authority as a guide in interpreting HRS ch. 480, we hereby adopt the three-prong Cliffdale Assocs. test in determining when a trade practice is deceptive. 9
9 Other states have already adopted the Cliffdale Assocs. test. See, e.g., Luskin’s, Inc. v. Consumer Prot. Div., 353 Md. 335, 726 A.2d 702, 713 (Md. 1999); Carter v. Gugliuzzi, 168 Vt. 48, 716 A.2d 17, 23 (Vt. 1998). Our adoption of the Cliffdale Assocs. test does not change the existing rule that, in order to establish a violation of HRS § 480-2, the plaintiff need not establish an intent to deceive on the part of the defendant, World Travel Vacation Brokers, 861 F.2d at 1029; Five-Star Auto Club, 97 F. Supp. at 526, nor any actual deceit, United States Steel Corp., 82 Hawai’i at 51, 919 P.2d at 313.
2. Under The Cliffdale Assocs. Objective Consumer Test, The Determination [***21] Of A Deceptive Omission Is One For The Trier Of Fact, Thereby Rendering Summary Judgment Inappropriate.
The Courbats do not allege that the waiver itself is deceptive; rather, they urge [*263] [**436] that the deceptive practice at issue was the booking agent’s failure to inform them of the waiver requirement during the negotiation and execution of the underlying contract. 10 Nevertheless, if any deceptive omission occurred with respect to the negotiation and execution of the original contract, the operation of HRS § 480-12, see supra note 1, would render both the original contract and the waiver, signed afterward, void. 11 Thus, the waiver’s survival depends on the trier of fact’s determination as to whether the omission of the waiver requirement during Island Incentives, Inc.’s booking process was deceptive and therefore in violation of HRS § 480-2.
10 It is undisputed that Island Incentives, Inc. was acting as the Ranch’s agent in this matter, and “we note that [HN18] an owner is responsible for the representations of his agent made within the scope of his agent’s selling authority.” Au v. Au, 63 Haw. 210, 215, 626 P.2d 173, 178 (1981) (citing Negyessy v. Strong, 136 Vt. 193, 388 A.2d 383, 385 (Vt. 1978)).
11 If the waiver were severable from the underlying contract, it could survive despite a determination that the original contract was void. See Ai v. Frank Huff Agency, 61 Haw. 607, 619, 607 P.2d 1304, 1312 (1980) [HN19] (“The wording on HRS § 480-12 might . . . appear to suggest that any contract containing an illegal provision . . . should be held unenforceable in its entirety. . . . [U]nder ordinary contract law, however, . . . a partially legal contract may be upheld if the illegal portion is severable from the part which is legal.”). However, “the general rule is that severance of an illegal provision is warranted and the lawful portion . . . enforceable when the illegal provision is not central to the parties’ agreement.” Beneficial Hawaii, Inc. v. Kida, 96 Hawai’i 289, 311, 30 P.3d 895, 917 (2001). The underlying contract at issue is the sum of the parties’ agreement; the waiver would be considered an addendum to it. Therefore, the waiver is not severable and must stand or fall with the underlying contract.
[HN20] The application [***23] of an objective “reasonable person” standard, of which the Cliffdale Assocs. test is an example, is ordinarily for the trier of fact, rendering summary judgment “often inappropriate.” Amfac, Inc. v. Waikiki Beachcomber Inv. Co., 74 Haw. 85, 107, 839 P.2d 10, 24 (1992), cited in Casumpang v. ILWU Local 142, 108 Hawai’i 411, 425, 121 P.3d 391, 405 (2005); Arquero v. Hilton Hawaiian Village LLC, 104 Hawai’i 423, 433, 91 P.3d 505, 515 (2004). “Inasmuch as the term ‘reasonableness’ is subject to differing interpretations . . ., it is inherently ambiguous. Where ambiguity exists, summary judgment is usually inappropriate because ‘the determination of someone’s state of mind usually entails the drawing of factual inferences as to which reasonable [minds] might differ.’” Amfac, Inc., 74 Haw. at 107, 839 P.2d at 24 (quoting Bishop Trust Co. v. Cent. Union Church, 3 Haw. App. 624, 628-29, 656 P.2d 1353, 1356 (1983)). Reasonableness can only constitute a question of law suitable for summary judgment “‘when the facts are undisputed and not fairly susceptible of divergent inferences’ because ‘[w]here, upon [***24] all the evidence, but one inference may reasonably be drawn, there is no issue for the jury.’” Id. at 108, 839 P.2d at 24 (quoting Broad & Branford Place Corp. v. J.J. Hockenjos Co., 132 N.J.L. 229, 39 A.2d 80, 82 (N.J. 1944) (brackets in original)). “‘[A] question of interpretation is not left to the trier of fact where evidence is so clear that no reasonable person would determine the issue in any way but one.’” Id. (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 212 cmt. e (1981) (brackets in original)). See also Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 212(2) (1981 and Supp. 2005) (“A question of interpretation of an integrated agreement is to be determined by the trier of fact if it depends on the credibility of extrinsic evidence or on a choice among reasonable inferences to be drawn from extrinsic evidence .”) (Emphasis added). There is no genuine issue of material fact regarding the failure to disclose the waiver requirement during negotiation of the original tour contract, but we cannot say that, applying the Cliffdale Assocs. test, reasonable minds could draw [***25] only one inference as to the materiality of that omission to reasonable consumers contemplating the transaction. Therefore, the question whether a waiver requirement would be materially important in booking a horseback tour remains one for the trier of fact.
Because a genuine issue of material fact, resolvable only by the trier of fact, remains in dispute, the grant of summary judgment on the HRS ch. 480 claim was erroneous. We therefore vacate the circuit court’s May [*264] [**437] 13, 2002 judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
B. The Consequences, On Remand, Of The Determination By The Trier Of Fact As To Whether Nondisclosure Of The Waiver Requirement Was A Deceptive Trade Practice
If, on remand, the trier of fact determines that the nondisclosure of the waiver was a deceptive trade practice, rendering the waiver void, then the Courbats’ negligence claims proceed free of the waiver defense. Nevertheless, for the reasons set forth below and for purposes of any subsequent trial on the Courbats’ negligence claims, we hold that HRS ch. 663B, entitled “Equine activities,” see supra note 2, setting forth a rebuttable presumption of non-negligence [***26] on the part of the tour operator, does not apply to the present matter.
Conversely, if, on remand, the trier of fact determines that the nondisclosure of the waiver was not deceptive, then the Courbats validly waived their negligence claims.
1. The Statutory Presumption Of Non-Negligence For Equine-Related Injuries Set Forth In HRS Ch. 663B Does Not Apply To The Courbats’ Claims.
If the trier of fact determines that the failure to inform the Courbats of the waiver requirement was a deceptive trade practice, then the negligence waiver, along with the underlying contract, will be rendered void, and the Courbats’ negligence claims will be revived. In order to provide guidance on remand, therefore, we hold that it was error for the circuit court in the present matter to apply HRS § 663B-2(a), see supra note 2, which establishes a rebuttable presumption in favor of horseback tour operators that any injury “caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature of the equine” is not due to the negligence of the tour operator.
HRS § 663B-2(b) provides in relevant part that “[n]othing in [***27] this section shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . . if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person: . . . (2) [p]rovided the equine and . . . failed to reasonably supervise the equine activities and such failure is a proximate cause of the injury.” The substance of Lisa’s claim revolves around her assertion that Nakoa failed to monitor her approach toward his horse while he was engaged in conversation with another guest; in other words, Lisa claims that Nakoa “failed to reasonably supervise the equine activities” that were the “proximate cause of [her] injury.” Therefore, we hold that, if Lisa is correct, the presumption of non-negligence set forth in HRS § 663B-2(a) would not apply to the Courbats’ claims.
2. If The Trier Of Fact Determines That The Nondisclosure Of The Waiver Was Not A Deceptive Trade Practice, Then The Courbats Validly Waived Their Negligence Claims.
a. The waiver was validly executed.
Citing Krohnert v. Yacht Sys. of Hawai’i, 4 Haw. App. 190, 201, 664 P.2d 738, 745 (1983), the Courbats assert that, because they manifested no clear [***28] and unequivocal acceptance of the terms of the waiver, the waiver cannot be enforced against them. However, pursuant to the following analysis, we hold that, if the trier of fact finds that the failure to inform the Courbats of the waiver requirement was not a deceptive trade practice, then the waiver, in all other respects, was valid.
[HN21] “The general rule of contract law is that one who assents to a contract is bound by it and cannot complain that he has not read it or did not know what it contained.” Leong v. Kaiser Found. Hosp., 71 Haw. 240, 245, 788 P.2d 164, 168 (1990); see also Joaquin v. Joaquin, 5 Haw. App. 435, 443, 698 P.2d 298, 304 (1985); In re Chung, 43 B.R. 368, 369 (Bankr. D. Haw. 1984); In re Kealoha, 2 B.R. 201, 209 (Bankr. D. Haw. 1980). Furthermore, “‘[p]arties are permitted to make exculpatory contracts so long as they are knowingly and willingly made and free from fraud. No public policy exists to prevent such contracts.’” Fujimoto v. Au, 95 Hawai’i 116, 156, 19 P.3d 699, 739 (2001) (some brackets omitted) (quoting Gen. Bargain Ctr. v. Am. Alarm Co., Inc., 430 N.E.2d 407, 411-12 [*265] [**438] (Ind. Ct. App. 1982)). [***29] “[S]uch bargains are not favored, however, and, if possible, bargains are construed not to confer this immunity.” Fujimoto, 95 Hawai’i at 155, 19 P.3d at 738. Therefore, as a general rule, “‘[e]xculpatory clauses will be held void if the agreement is (1) violative of a statute, (2) contrary to a substantial public interest, or (3) gained through inequality of bargaining power.’” 95 Hawaii at 156, 19 P.3d at 739 (quoting Andrews v. Fitzgerald, 823 F. Supp. 356, 378 (M.D.N.C. 1993)).
The Courbats have not alleged that any of the terms of the waiver, or the use of a waiver by the Ranch, violates a statute; on the contrary, the Courbats concede that waivers are an acceptable method by which tour operators may seek to limit their liability in response to rising insurance and litigation costs.
In Krohnert, the ICA defined the public interest
as involving some or all of the following characteristics:
 It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation.
 The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often [***30] a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.
 The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards.
 As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.
 In exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence.
 Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller of the service, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.
4 Haw. App at 199, 664 P.2d at 744 (finding under this test that the exculpatory clause contained in a contract for marine surveying was permissible) (brackets omitted) (quoting Lynch v. Santa Fe Nat’l Bank, 97 N.M. 554, 627 P.2d 1247, 1251-52 (N.M. Ct. App. 1981) [***31] (holding that services of escrow agents in New Mexico were not in the nature of a public service so as to render an exculpatory clause unenforceable) (quoting Tunkl v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 60 Cal. 2d 92, 383 P.2d 441, 445-46, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33 (Cal. Ct. App. 1963) (declaring invalid as against the public interest an exculpatory clause for future negligence required for admission to a public research hospital))); see also 15 Corbin on Contracts § 85.18 (2003 & Supp. 2005) (summarizing a similar test commonly used by courts and noting that courts tend to enforce exculpatory clauses for recreational activities under the test). 12 Entities that have been found to fall under the public interest doctrine, rendering exculpatory clauses void, include common carriers, see Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491, 509, 33 S. Ct. 148, 57 L. Ed. 314 (1913); Shippers Nat’l Freight Claim Council, Inc. v. Interstate Commerce Comm’n, 712 F.2d 740, 746 (2d Cir. 1983); Clairol, Inc. v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., 79 A.D.2d 297, 309-10, 436 N.Y.S.2d 279 (N.Y. App. Div. 1981), and hospitals, see Tunkl, 383 P.2d at 447; Smith v. Hosp. Auth. of Walker, Dade & Catoosa Counties, 160 Ga. App. 387, 287 S.E.2d 99, [*266] [**439] 101 (Ga. Ct. App. 1981); [***32] Belshaw v. Feinstein, 258 Cal. App. 2d 711, 65 Cal. Rptr. 788, 798 (Cal. Ct. App. 1968).
12 Courts have upheld exculpatory clauses relating to car racing, see Cadek v. Great Lakes Dragaway, Inc., 843 F. Supp. 420 (N.D. Ill. 1994); Barbazza v. Int’l Motor Sports Ass’n, 245 Ga. App. 790, 538 S.E.2d 859 (Ga. Ct. App. 2000), snow skiing, see Chauvlier v. Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc., 109 Wn. App. 334, 35 P.3d 383 (Wash. Ct. App. 2001), skydiving, see Scrivener v. Sky’s The Limit, Inc., 68 F. Supp. 2d 277 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), and horseback riding, see Street v. Darwin Ranch, Inc., 75 F. Supp. 2d 1296, 1299 (D. Wyo. 1999) (finding that “recreational trail rides are neither of great importance to the public, nor a practical necessity to any member of the public”).
Applying these factors to the present matter, we determine that the public interest here is not at stake: recreational activity tours are not generally [***33] suitable to public regulation, in the manner of common carriers, nor of great importance to the public, nor of an essential nature, in the manner of medical care, such that the provider’s bargaining power is greatly enhanced over any member of the public seeking their services.
Finally, as the United States District Court for the District of Hawai’i noted, in considering negligence waivers in the context of recreational activity, while such waivers may be contracts of adhesion, in that they are presented on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, they are not unconscionable, but “are of a sort commonly used in recreational settings” and “are generally held to be valid.” Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 730, 736 (D. Haw. 1993). [HN22] “[C]ontracts [of adhesion] are ‘unenforceable if two conditions are present: (1) the contract is the result of coercive bargaining between parties of unequal bargaining strength; and (2) the contract unfairly limits the obligations and liabilities of, or otherwise unfairly advantages, the stronger party.’” Fujimoto, 95 Hawai’i at 156, 19 P.3d at 739 (quoting Brown v. KFC Nat’l Mgmt. Co., 82 Hawai’i 226, 247, 921 P.2d 146, 167 (1996)); [***34] see also Wheelock, 839 F. Supp. at 735 (“[A]dhesion contracts are fully enforceable provided that they are not unconscionable and do not fall outside the reasonable expectations of the weaker or adhering party.”). Unequal bargaining strength “involves the absence of alternatives; specifically whether the plaintiffs were ‘free to use or not to use’ [the] defendant’s . . . services.” Krohnert, 4 Haw. App at 199, 664 P.2d at 744 (quoting Lynch, 627 P.2d at 1250). These conditions are generally not germane in the recreational waiver context. In the context of a recreational sport or adventure activity, freely undertaken for pleasure, “coercive bargaining” and “an absence of alternatives” are terms that hold little meaning.
In the present matter, Lisa read through and responded to queries contained in the waiver form and had no further questions or concerns regarding the contents before she signed it. Steven conceded that he routinely relied on his wife to review documents before signing them and that he knew he was waiving rights when he signed the form. The record demonstrates that the Courbats were given adequate time and opportunity [***35] to fully review the waiver presented to them before they signed it and that both knew that by signing it they were waiving legal rights in return for being allowed to participate in the ride. In short, there is no evidence of coercion. By signing the waiver form, they demonstrated that they agreed to its terms, and by reading it, or, in Steven’s case, in relying on the advice of his wife, demonstrated knowledge of its contents. Moreover, they had signed similar waivers that week for another activity and were familiar with what they represented. Accordingly, we hold that, if the trier of fact determines that the nondisclosure of the waiver was not a deceptive trade practice, the Courbats’ waiver was valid.
b. The scope of the Courbats’ waiver does not extend beyond negligence claims.
The language of the waiver, see supra note 3, releases the Ranch and its agents and holds it harmless “from loss or damage to property or injury to [the undersigned] . . . resulting from [the undersigned] . . . being a spectator or participant or while engaged in any such activity in the event[-]related facilities.” However, because [HN23] “‘[e]xculpatory provisions are not [***36] favored by the law and are strictly construed against parties relying on them,’” the effect of the broad exculpatory language contained in the Ranch’s waiver should be construed to limit the waiver’s scope to simple negligence claims; it does not protect the Ranch against its own gross negligence or willful misconduct. Fujimoto, 95 Hawai’i at 156, 19 P.3d at 739 (quoting Andrews, 823 F. Supp. at 378); see also Wheelock, 839 F. Supp. at 736 (interpreting the reasoning in Krohnert to conclude that to allow an exculpatory clause to extend to gross negligence would violate [*267] [**440] the public interest, rendering the clause void).
In light of the foregoing analysis, we vacate the circuit court’s May 13, 2002 judgment in favor of the Ranch and against the Courbats and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
DISSENT BY: DUFFY
DISSENTING OPINION BY DUFFY, J., IN WHICH ACOBA, J., JOINS
I respectfully dissent. In my view, no reasonable person would find that the recreational tour operator’s failure to disclose the waiver requirement of Dahana Ranch, Inc. during negotiation of the horseback riding [***37] activity was a deceptive trade practice under HRS § 480-2. The Courbats concede that waivers are an acceptable method by which recreational tour operators and sponsors may seek to limit their liability in response to rising insurance and litigation costs, and admit that they were required to sign such a waiver before participating in a snorkeling activity earlier during the same Hawai’i vacation. Applying the Cliffdale Assoc. test to the undisputed facts in this case involving the inherently dangerous activity of horseback riding, I respectfully submit that the tour operator’s failure to disclose the waiver requirement of Dahana Ranch, Inc. during negotiation of the horseback riding activity with the Courbats was not a material omission implicating a deceptive trade practice under HRS § 480-2. I would thus affirm the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Dahana Ranch, Inc.
Brush, v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, 626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204Posted: March 25, 2013
Brush, v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, 626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204
Kelly Brush, Plaintiff v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, Defendants and st. Lawrence university, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff v. Middlebury College, Et Al, Third-Party Defendants
C.A. No. 07-10244-MAP
626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204
June 11, 2009, Decided
COUNSEL: [**1] For Jeffrey Pier, ThirdParty Plaintiff: Michael H. Burke, LEAD ATTORNEY, George W. Marion, Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, Springfield, MA.
For Barry Bryant, Defendant: John B. Connarton, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Luke R. Conrad, Donovan Hatem, LLP, Boston, MA.
For Williams College, Defendant: William J. Dailey, Jr., Brian H. Sullivan, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sloane & Walsh, LLP, Boston, MA.
For St. Lawrence University, ThirdParty Plaintiff: Thomas E. Day, Edward J. McDonough, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Flanagan & Cohen, PC, Springfield, MA.
For Kelly Brush, Plaintiff: Walter E. Judge, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Downs, Rachlin & Martin, Burlington, VT; Robert B. Luce, LEAD ATTORNEY, Downs, Rachlin & Martin PLLC, Burlington, VT.
For Williams College, Defendant: Lawrence J. Kenney, Jr., Sloane & Walsh, Boston, MA.
For Forest Carey, ThirdParty Defendant: Gerald F. Lucey, Nelson, Kinder, Mosseau & Saturley, P.C., Boston, MA.
For Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Defendant: David B. Mongue, LEAD ATTORNEY, Donovan & O’Connor, LLP, North Adams, MA.
For Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 05753, ThirdParty Defendant: Robert B. Smith, Nelson, Kinder, Mosseau & Saturley, P.C., Boston, MA.
JUDGES: MICHAEL A. PONSOR, United States District [**2] Judge.
OPINION BY: MICHAEL A. PONSOR
[*143] MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(Dkt. Nos. 135, 137, 138, 139, 140, 143, 157)
This case stems from a tragic skiing accident that left the plaintiff, Kelly Brush, permanently disabled. The accident occurred during a collegiate ski race on February 18, 2006 when Brush lost control and crashed into a ski lift stanchion just off the trail. In her six-count amended complaint Brush alleges that the severity of her injuries was the result of negligence or gross negligence on the part of the following defendants: Jiminy Peak, Inc., the operator of the ski area where the accident occurred; Williams College and two of its ski coaches, Edward Grees and Oyestein Bakken, who organized the competition; St. Lawrence University and its ski coach, Jeffrey Pier, who was the referee of the race during which Brush was injured; and Barry Bryant, who served as the competition’s Technical Delegate from the Federation Internationale de Ski (“FIS”). Pier and St. Lawrence University have also filed a third-party complaint seeking contribution from Brush’s school, Middlebury College, and its ski coach Forest Carey, who was a race [**3] referee for a race on the same trail the day before Brush’s accident. Before the court are motions for summary judgment from all of the parties.
Jiminy Peak argues that pursuant to the Massachusetts Ski Safety Act (“MSSA”) it, as the ski area operator, has no liability because Plaintiff’s injuries were caused by her collision with an object off the trail. The other Defendants assert that Plaintiff cannot recover from them because she executed a liability waiver that covered Defendants and their alleged negligence when she registered with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (“USSA”). The Third-Party Defendants argue that as a matter of law they have no obligation to contribute even if Third-Party Plaintiffs Pier and St. Lawrence are liable to Plaintiff. Plaintiff asks the court to rule that the MSSA does not bar her claims against Jiminy Peak and the USSA liability waiver is not applicable to bar the claims of the other Defendants. Finally she asserts that the facts are sufficient to permit this case to go to trial on a theory of gross negligence, even if the USSA waiver is valid.
For the reasons set forth below, the court will allow all Defendants’ motions for [*144] summary judgment, [**4] deny Plaintiff’s motion, and order entry of judgment for Defendants.
The facts are largely undisputed. Where disputes exist, the court has viewed the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
A. The Accident.
Brush was injured while competing in the Williams Winter Carnival, a two-day event at the Jiminy Peak ski area in Hancock, Massachusetts hosted by the Williams College Outing Club in association with the Williams College ski team. The Winter Carnival is part of the regular season of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA), one conference within the ski program of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The competition was also held under the auspices of the USSA and the FIS, which in the United States operates through the USSA. As a result of the USSA/FIS affiliation, all competitors in the Winter Carnival had to be USSA members, though not all had to be NCAA athletes. The USSA/FIS designation meant that skiers could earn “points” to improve their international, individual standing by competing in the Winter Carnival events.
The particular event during which Plaintiff was injured was the Giant Slalom, which took place on the second day of [**5] the Winter Carnival. This event requires skiers to pass through “gates” set along the trail as they descend the slope as quickly as possible. Skiers are ranked based on their best time through the course and are not penalized for any runs they fail to finish, due for example to a fall. Technological changes in the past decade have increased the sport’s risks. New ski designs allow skiers to reach speeds of forty miles per hour. At the same time it has become harder to predict how skiers will fall if they lose control. Some courses now are set with gates at the edges of the trail to maximize the distance skiers must travel from one side of the trail to another in order to slow skiers down. Persons involved with competitive skiing are aware that technical changes have increased the importance of proper placement of safety equipment during competitions.
Under NCAA and USSA rules, members of the “competition jury” have a responsibility to inspect the layout of a trail prior to its use during a competition. The competition jury for the race during which Brush was injured included the “Chief of the Race,” Defendant Edward Grees, the head ski coach at Williams; the “Chief of the Course,” Defendant [**6] Oyestein Bakken, an assistant ski coach at Williams; the “Race Referee,” Jeffrey Pier, a ski coach at St. Lawrence University; and the “Technical Delegate,” Defendant Barry Bryant. Third-party Defendant Forest Carey, the Middlebury coach, was the “Race Referee” for a race that used the same trail the previous day.
The USSA requires that trails used in competitions be “homologated,” which means that the trail has been confirmed to meet the relevant FIS regulations. The USSA also mandates that trails be prepared in keeping with homologation requirements. The parties disagree about whether all members of the jury were responsible for confirming that the trail was set consistent with the homologation report, but for purposes of this memorandum the court will assume they were. Additionally, there is a dispute as to whether the trail was, in fact, prepared as set out in a homologation report drafted in keeping with FIS requirements. Again, for purposes of its rulings here, the court will [*145] assume that the trail was not prepared as the homologation report contemplated.
Plaintiff asserts that the relevant homologation report required that “B-netting,” a type of netting used to slow errant skiers [**7] before they collide with objects, be placed along the edge of the trail starting uphill from any lift tower and continuing downhill some distance past the lift tower. The homologation report, completed in 2002 by Defendant Grees and an FIS representative for the area where Plaintiff was hurt, included a diagram showing such B-netting. While at least some of the defendants assert the report merely displays safety equipment that might be necessary, rather than the minimal required safety equipment, the court will, again, assume for the current purposes that the report indicated that B-netting should have been installed above and below lift towers. The parties do agree that B-netting was not set up according to the diagram on the day Plaintiff was hurt.
At the time of Plaintiff’s accident there was B-netting along the left edge of the trail, stopping at a point approximately even with the gate where Brush lost control and somewhat uphill from a lift tower. No other netting was placed between the trail and the tower, so that the area directly in front of the tower lacked any protection. In prior years B-netting was placed in accordance with a diagram in the homologation report, extending [**8] past the lift tower above and below.
Not only was there less B-netting on February 18, 2006 than there was in the past, there were no triangular nets set around the lift tower itself. Triangular nets are another available type of safety netting used to deflect a skier from a particular hazard. Additionally, neither the tower nor its support stanchion was equipped with a type of padding known as Willy Bags, though such padding is regularly used in speed events.
After the Giant Slalom course was set, Plaintiff had an opportunity to ski down the slope to assess the course, and she did so. Later, during one of her timed runs, Plaintiff caught an edge of one of her skis and lost control. As a result she left the trail and struck the unprotected lift tower support stanchion. The collision caused life-altering injuries to Plaintiff, including paraplegia.
B. Relevant Agreements.
1. USSA Waiver.
At the time of her accident Plaintiff was a member of the USSA and the FIS. During the summer of 2005 registration forms for both organizations were completed on her behalf. 1 The FIS waiver included language acknowledging the risks of skiing competitively. Additionally, it stated that national or club organizations [**9] in the United States may require a skier to waive any liability claims in order to participate in their activities.
1 The parties agree that Plaintiff’s mother signed the relevant USSA Release and FIS Registration with Plaintiff’s full consent and authorization. They further agree that the weight given to those documents should be the same as it would be if Plaintiff had signed them herself. (Dkt. No. 162, Pl.’s Resp. to Defs.’ Joint Statement of Undisputed Material Facts at 18.)
Those completing the USSA registration form had to sign a clearly-labeled liability release. (Dkt. No. 142, Ex. 9.) Pursuant to that release a USSA member
unconditionally WAIVES AND RELEASES ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, AND AGREES TO HOLD HARMLESS, DEFEND AND INDEMNIFY USSA FROM ANY CLAIMS, present or future, to Member or his/her property, [*146] or to any other person or property, for any loss, damage, expense, or injury (including DEATH), suffered by any person from or in connection with Member’s participation in any Activities in which USSA is involved in any way, due to any cause whatsoever INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE and/or breach of express or implied warranty on the part of USSA.
As used in the release “USSA” referred to the [**10] United States Ski and Snowboard Association and “its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, volunteers, employees, coaches, contractors and representatives, local ski clubs, competition organizers and sponsors, and ski and snowboard facility operators.” Id. The term “Activities” included “skiing and snowboarding in their various forms, as well as preparation for participation in, coaching, volunteering, officiating and related activities in alpine, nordic, freestyle, disabled, and snowboarding competitions and clinics.” Id.
2. Agreements Between Defendants.
The Williams College ski team utilized the Jiminy Peak ski area for its Winter Carnival and for practice sessions pursuant to a written agreement between the parties. (Dkt. No. 158, Tab 18, Jiminy Peak/Williams College Contract.) That five-paragraph agreement gave Williams and members of its community various types of access to the ski area in exchange for a single annual payment. Jiminy Peak agreed to have its mountain manager work with the Williams alpine coach to determine safe conditions for ski team training and to make and groom snow for the trails that were used during the annual winter carnival.
Jiminy Peak and Williams [**11] College were also parties to an Alpine Schedule Agreement with the USSA. Pursuant to that agreement the competition was listed on the USSA’s official schedule; all competitors had to be members of the USSA; competitors, as noted, were able to earn “points;” competition organizers had to agree to allow some non-collegiate USSA members to compete; and members of the competition jury had to be members of USSA. Additionally, the agreement required that facilities “to be used in the actual competition events . . . conform with applicable rules and with requirements of the [Technical Delegate] and competition jury.” (Dkt. No. 158, Tab 8, Alpine Schedule Agreement 2, P 8.) The competition organizer, the Williams College Outing Club, was responsible for “working with” Jiminy Peak, the USSA, and the competition jury to select facilities and ensure that they were prepared in accordance with “such rules or requirements, and homologation or facility approval requirements according to discipline and type of competition.” Id.
“Summary judgment is appropriate where ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and  the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’” [**12] Coffin v. Bowater, Inc., 501 F.3d 80, 85 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). “[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.’” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962)). “Cross-motions for summary judgment do not alter the basic Rule 56 standard, but rather simply require us to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Adria Int’l Group, Inc. [*147] v. Ferre Dev., Inc., 241 F.3d 103, 107 (1st Cir. 2001).
A. Claims Against Jiminy Peak.
Plaintiff asserts three claims against Jiminy Peak: negligent operation of a ski area in violation of the MSSA (Count I); negligent failure to undertake duties assumed under a contract with Williams (Count II); and negligent inspection (Count III). [HN1] “To prevail in a negligence action under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care; (2) the defendant breached this duty; (3) damage to the plaintiff resulted; and (4) the breach of the duty caused this [**13] damage.” Brown v. United States, 557 F.3fd 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Jupin v. Kask, 447 Mass. 141, 849 N.E.2d 829, 835 (Mass. 2006)). Jiminy Peak asserts that under the MSSA it did not owe Plaintiff any duty to use reasonable care to prevent her collision with an object off the ski trail. Plaintiff argues that Jiminy Peak had a duty to her pursuant to the MSSA and its agreements with Williams College and the USSA.
1. Statutory Duty.
[HN2] The MSSA serves two somewhat contradictory purposes, (1) to limit the liability of ski operators in order to ensure their economic survival and (2) to ensure skier safety. McHerron v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 422 Mass. 678, 665 N.E.2d 26, 27 (Mass. 1996). Pursuant to the MSSA a ski area operator has a general duty to operate the “ski areas under its control in a reasonably safe manner.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 71N(6) (2008).
However, this duty is sharply limited by other provisions of the act. Of particular relevance in this case is that the MSSA places “the duty to avoid any collision with any . . . object on the hill below” solely on the skier, so long as the object was not improperly marked. Id. at § 71O. The MSSA does shift the duty to avoid collisions back to the ski area operator [**14] when the ski operator has not marked the obstruction “pursuant to the regulations promulgated by the [recreational tramway] board” or “as otherwise provided” in the statute. Id.; see also Eipp v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 154 F. Supp. 2d 110, 116 (D. Mass. 2001) (declining to enter summary judgment for the ski area operator where skier was injured after striking “a snowgun in the middle of a ski trail”). At the time of Plaintiff’s accident the only active regulations, at 526 C.M.R. § 10, did not address signage requirements.
The other requirements established by the MSSA require ski area operators to (1) mark maintenance and snow-making equipment that is in use (Id. at § 71N(1)), (2) mark with flashing lights trail maintenance and emergency vehicles in use in a ski area (Id. at § 71N(2)), and (3) mark the location of snow-making hydrants “within or upon a slope or trail” § 71N(4)).
[HN3] Under the MSSA, skiers are also solely responsible for any injuries resulting from skiing anywhere other than on an open slope or trail. 2 Id. at § 71O; Spinale v. Pam F., Inc., 1995 Mass. App. Div. 140, 142 (Mass. App. Div. 1995) (“[Section] 71O expressly imposes responsibility for injuries sustained while ‘skiing [**15] on other than an open slope or trail within the ski area’ on the skier, and thereby exempts the ski area operator from liability for the [*148] same.”). The ski area operator has no duty to provide netting or padding around obstacles off the trail. Walsh v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., No. 02-11890-MAP, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18463 at *12-13 (D. Mass. Aug. 29, 2005). Nor does it assume such a duty by padding some obstacles. Id. Indeed, this court has previously noted that “imposing liability on ski area operators for duties voluntarily assumed but negligently performed would undercut a key goal of the MSSA,” because it would discourage ski area operators from adding safety features. 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18463 at *16.
2 [HN4] A “[s]ki slope or trail” is limited to the “area designed by the person or organization having operational responsibility for the ski area as herein defined, including a cross-country ski area, for use by the public in furtherance of the sport of skiing . . . .” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 71I.
The parties agree that the lift tower stanchion 3 Plaintiff struck was “off the course and off the trail.” (Dkt. No. 162 at 23.) Given these facts, the MSSA placed the duty to avoid collisions on Plaintiff alone. 4
3 Plaintiff [**16] separately argues that Jiminy Peak had a specific duty to protect skiers from collisions with ski lift stanchions pursuant to 526 C.M.R. 10.09(4)(b). That regulation specifies that ski area operators are to fence or barricade any area of the tramway that could cause injury to a person. However, that requirement appears within a section entitled “Protection Against moving parts or Other Hazards and Clearance Envelopes.” Id. at 10.09(4). Given that context, it is clear that this fencing requirement is only intended to keep members of the public from getting too close to moving parts of a tramway system which might cause injury and does not apply to nonmoving elements like stanchions and support towers.
4 Ski area operators’ liability is also limited such that they “shall not be liable for damages to persons or property, while skiing, which arise out of the risks inherent in the sport of skiing.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 71N(6). The parties disagree about the applicability of this limitation to this case. Jiminy Peak argues that collisions with off-trail objects, regardless of their cause, are a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. Plaintiff notes that the “inherent risks” enumerated [**17] in the statute are natural conditions that can cause a skier to lose control, not dangers that result from such a loss of control. Id. at § 71O (enumerating the “risks inherent in the sport of skiing” as including “variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow, ice conditions or bare spots”). Plaintiff appears to have the stronger argument that off-trail collisions, though not unexpected, are in a different category than the inherent risks identified in § 71O. As neither party suggests that Plaintiff’s crash resulted from an encounter with a natural condition like those listed in the statute, the limitation on ski area operator liability related to inherent risks of skiing is irrelevant. The determinative fact in this case, undisputed on the record, is that Plaintiff lost control and struck a stationary object, the stanchion, off the trail. The MSSA shields Jiminy Peak from liability in this situation. There is no need for an “inherent risk” analysis.
Plaintiff argues that Jiminy Peak’s duty to her was not fully circumscribed by the MSSA because her injury occurred during the course of a race. Ski racing is certainly dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than ordinary recreational skiing [**18] because speed is pursued sometimes to the limit of a skier’s competence, and beyond. Jiminy Peak undoubtedly was aware of the dangers associated with ski racing and took some steps, together with the race organizers, to try to reduce those dangers. However, no authority suggests that Jiminy Peak or any other ski operator in Massachusetts owes a greater duty to racing skiers than to other, perhaps less experienced, recreational skiers.
Plaintiff asserts that Jiminy Peak assumed a greater duty to racing skiers, similar to the heightened duty one Massachusetts trial court determined ski area operators owed to a minor child enrolled in an instructional program. Sanchez-Souquet v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 1997 MBAR-094, 1997 Mass. Super. LEXIS 198 (Mass. Super. Ct. 1997). In Sanchez-Souquet, the state court concluded that it was unfair to require “a ski student to ‘assume the risk’ for his injury” [*149] because ski area operators knew that such skiers lacked experience and judgment and were relying on their instructors to keep them safe. 1997 Mass. Super. LEXIS 198 at *9. Plaintiff urges this court to conclude that racing skiers also should be held to a lower standard than regular recreational skiers because, like students [**19] learning to ski, competitive skiers ski at the edge of their ability. Even if the court was persuaded that the court reached the correct outcome in Sanchez-Souquet (a decision the court need not, and does not, reach) it would not be inclined to carve out a further exception for competitive skiers. While it may be unreasonable to presume that a child learning to ski “know[s] the range of his own ability to ski on any slope, trail or area,” a similar presumption cannot be applied to collegiate competitive skiers. Mass. Gen Laws ch. 143, § 71O.
More importantly, [HN5] the MSSA applies to all skiers, a group which includes “any person utilizing the ski area under control of a ski area operator for the purpose of skiing . . . .” Id. at § 71I; Fetzner v. Jiminy Peak, The Mountain Resort, 1995 Mass. App. Div. 55, 56 (Mass. App. Div. 1995) (“The definition of skier in G.L.c. 143 includes any person utilizing the ski area.”). Competitive skiers thus have the same responsibility to avoid collisions with objects off the trail as other skiers. Ski area operators simply have no duty under the statute to prevent the injuries suffered by a skier who collides with an off-course obstacle. Without such a duty, [**20] Jiminy Peak’s alleged negligence cannot give rise to liability. McHerron v. Jiminy Peak, Inc., 422 Mass. 678, 665 N.E.2d 26, 28 (Mass. 1996) (“As the defendant had no duty to remedy a statutorily defined unavoidable risk inherent in the sport of skiing, the defendant’s alleged negligence in failing to eliminate the [risk] does not create liability.”).
2. Contractual Duty.
Plaintiff asserts that even if Jiminy Peak did not have a duty to her pursuant to the MSSA or through its voluntary safety efforts, it did have a contractual duty to undertake specific steps to ensure the competition would be as safe as possible. Failing to take those steps, Plaintiff asserts, constituted a breach of a separate, non-statutory duty. Massachusetts recognizes that “a claim in tort may arise from a contractual relationship . . . and may be available to persons who are not parties to the contract.” Parent v. Stone & Webster Engineering Corp., 408 Mass. 108, 556 N.E.2d 1009, 1012 (Mass. 1990). However, Jiminy Peak did not obligate itself to provide particular safety measures, such as netting or padding, in either of the two contracts relied on by Plaintiff. Pursuant to its agreement with Williams College, Jiminy Peak agreed to consult [**21] about safe training conditions for Williams skiers and to permit use of several trails for the Winter Carnival competition. Under the Alpine Schedule Agreement, the competition organizers are responsible for “working with” the ski area operator to ensure that ski facilities were prepared in accordance with all USSA rules, regulations, and applicable homologation requirements. The ski area operator, Jiminy Peak, did not itself undertake that responsibility and therefore any failure to ensure that applicable safety requirements were met did not give rise to tort liability.
B. Claims Against Competition Organizers and Officials.
1. The USSA Waiver.
Defendants collectively argue that Plaintiff’s various negligence claims are precluded by the liability waiver executed when her USSA membership was renewed the summer before her accident. Plaintiff [*150] asserts that the waiver does not bar her claims because its language was ambiguous as to the persons and entities it covered. In resolving this question the court applies Colorado law, as urged by Plaintiff and agreed to by Defendants. The waiver includes a choice of law provision selecting Colorado law and [HN6] in the absence of a “substantial Massachusetts [**22] public policy reason,” Massachusetts law honors choice of law provisions in contracts. Jacobson v. Mailboxes Etc. U.S.A., 419 Mass. 572, 646 N.E.2d 741, 744 (Mass. 1995).
[HN7] Under Colorado law “[e]xculpatory agreements are disfavored and, therefore, they are strictly construed against the party seeking to limit its liability.” Del Bosco v. United States Ski Ass’n, 839 F. Supp. 1470, 1473 (D. Colo. 1993). Under Colorado law the applicability of a liability waiver is a legal question to be resolved by the court after consideration of four factors: “(1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981) (citations omitted). Plaintiffs urge the court to rule that the waiver invoked by Defendants is inapplicable under the third and fourth factors.
As to the third factor, Plaintiff argues that the USSA waiver was a contract of adhesion because the USSA’s dominance over amateur ski racing in this country prevented her from being able to negotiate less onerous contract terms with the USSA. [HN8] “Colorado [**23] defines an adhesion contract as ‘generally not bargained for, but imposed on the public for a necessary service on a take it or leave it basis.’” Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474 (D. Colo. 1992) (citing Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 374 (Colo. 1981)).
On the undisputed facts of this case, Plaintiff’s “adhesion” argument must fail, because under Colorado law recreational activities and services are not essential. Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 889, 898 (D. Colo. 1998) (holding that waiver was not fairly entered because skier was skiing “as a part of work, not as a part of recreation”); Bauer, 788 F. Supp. at 475 (enforcing waiver executed as part of ski rental, even though all ski rental outlets used similar waivers, because such services were recreational, not essential). Plaintiff completed the USSA waiver in order to engage in a recreational activity. The nature of the activity is not changed by its competitive nature, its subjective importance in Plaintiff’s life, or the fact that a single entity controlled virtually all opportunities to engage in the recreational activity. But see O’Connor v. United States Fencing Ass’n, 260 F. Supp. 2d 545, 552 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) [**24] (concluding that a liability waiver was not binding under Colorado law because the waiver’s author so controlled the sport of fencing that an athlete wishing to compete had no choice but to agree to the terms in the waiver).
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the waiver did not express the parties’ intentions in clear and unambiguous language. Having reviewed the waiver, the court concludes that the language of the waiver was clear and unambiguous. Clear language indicates that the signer is waiving all claims against the USSA including those based on negligence, as indicated in bold, italic, capital letters. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 378. The waiver defined USSA quite expansively to encompass a host of individuals and groups including all affiliates, volunteers, competition organizers, sponsors, coaches, and representatives. It is clear that the list was meant to encompass any [*151] one involved in running a competition sanctioned by the USSA. Finally, it is undisputed that skiers, including Plaintiff, participating in the Williams Winter Carnival knew the event was sanctioned by the FIS through the USSA because they knew they were competing, in part, for FIS points.
2. Gross Negligence.
Plaintiff [**25] asserts that even if the USSA waiver is valid, she should be able to proceed against these Defendants on a theory of gross negligence. The argument is colorable but ultimately unpersuasive.
It is true that [HN9] under Colorado law an exculpatory agreement cannot “provide a shield against a claim for willful and wanton negligence.” Id. at 376. In Colorado an individual who “purposefully committed an affirmative act which he knew was dangerous to another’s person and which he performed heedlessly, without regard to the consequences or rights and safety of another’s person” can be found to have acted with willful and wanton negligence. Barker v. Colorado Region–Sports Car Club, Inc., 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P.2d 372, 379 (Colo. Ct. App. 1974). In Massachusetts, waivers may only release a defendant from ordinary negligence. Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 687 N.E.2d 1263, 1265 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997).
Plaintiff has alleged in her complaint that Defendants were grossly negligent. [HN10] Gross negligence involves “materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence,” though “it is something less than  willful, wanton and reckless conduct.” Altman v. Aronson, 231 Mass. 588, 121 N.E. 505, 506 (Mass. 1919). Despite [**26] the severity of Plaintiff’s injuries, the conduct alleged by Plaintiff is simple inadvertence. There is no evidence in the record, and indeed no allegation, that any of the Defendants, or anyone at the competition, became aware that there was an area of the trail without netting where netting was normally placed and declined to remedy the situation. At most there was a collective failure to take a step that might have lessened the injuries suffered by Plaintiff. No reasonable jury could find that this simple inadvertence, no matter how tragic its consequences, constituted gross negligence.
C. Third-Party Claims.
Having concluded that all Defendants, including the Third-Party Plaintiffs, are entitled to summary judgment, the court necessarily grants Third-Party Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the third-party contribution claims asserted against them. Any negligence on the part of Forest Carey, whether in his capacity as a race official or as Plaintiff’s coach is expressly covered by the USSA waiver. Even if the court had concluded that the waiver was inapplicable, Third-Party Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment because Carey simply did not breach any duty he owed [**27] to Plaintiff. His role as a race official concluded the day before Plaintiff’s accident. As a competitor on the following day, Plaintiff was outside the group of people likely to be injured by his acts or omissions as a referee. Therefore he had no duty with respect to her safety. See Matteo v. Livingstone, 40 Mass. App. Ct. 658, 666 N.E.2d 1309, 1312 (Mass. App. Ct. 1996) (citing Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928)). The risk which caused Plaintiff harm, improper safety fencing, was similarly not reasonably foreseeable to Carey in his capacity as her coach. See Moose v. Mass. Inst. of Tech., 43 Mass. App. Ct. 420, 683 N.E.2d 706, 710 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997) (upholding a jury’s finding that a coach was negligent where the risk which caused a student-athlete’s [*152] injury was reasonably foreseeable). Third-party Defendants would thus be entitled to summary judgment even absent the USSA waiver.
This is a terribly sad case. A young woman has been tragically, permanently injured. Putting aside considerations of legal liability, somebody connected with the 2006 Winter Carnival should, as a matter of conscience and professionalism, have noticed the unprotected ski tower and made sure that appropriate netting [**28] was installed to provide a greater degree of protection to the competitors.
It would, however, be false compassion now to ignore the undisputed facts and the unavoidable law. The Massachusetts Ski Safety Act, in the case of Jiminy Peak, and the USSA waiver, in the case of the other Defendants, forecloses any possibility of liability for payment of damages to Plaintiff in these circumstances. To encourage pursuit of a lawsuit lacking a legal basis would only serve to compound the tragedy.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. Nos. 135, 137, 138, 139, 140) are hereby ALLOWED, Third-Party Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 143) is hereby ALLOWED, and Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 157) is hereby DENIED. The trial scheduled for September 28, 2009 will obviously not go forward.
The Clerk is ordered to enter judgment for Defendants; the case may now be closed.
It is So Ordered.
/s/ Michael A. Ponsor
MICHAEL A. PONSOR
U. S. District Judge
Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312Posted: March 18, 2013
Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312
Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc.
223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312
December 4, 1996, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Certiorari Applied For.
PRIOR HISTORY: Bailment; release. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Cook.
DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.
COUNSEL: James B. Gurley, for appellants.
Long, Weinberg, Ansley & Wheeler, Kenneth M. Barre, for appellee.
JUDGES: ANDREWS, Judge. Pope, P. J., and Smith, J., concur.
OPINION BY: ANDREWS
[**111] [*800] ANDREWS, Judge.
Mr. Benford and his wife appeal from the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to RDL, Inc. d/b/a Rocky Mountain Ski Shop in Mr. Benford’s suit alleging breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence and Mrs. Benford’s claim of loss of consortium.
1. Viewed under the standard of Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491 (405 S.E.2d 474) (1991), the evidence on summary judgment was that Mr. Benford went to the ski shop on December 12, 1992 to rent skis and boots for an upcoming ski trip. He was assisted by Cooper, [*801] who asked Benford to pick out a pair of boots and to complete and sign a Rental Agreement and Release of Liability. Benford acknowledged reading, initialling, and signing the document which states that:
“I accept for use as is the equipment listed on this form and accept full responsibility for the care of this equipment. I have made no misrepresentations to this [***2] ski shop regarding my height, weight, age or skiing ability.
“I understand and am aware that skiing is a HAZARDOUS activity. I understand that the sport of skiing and the use of this ski equipment involve a risk of injury to any and all parts of my body. I hereby agree to freely and expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death to the user of this equipment while skiing.
“I understand that the ski equipment being furnished forms a part or all of a ski-boot-binding system which will NOT RELEASE at all times or under all circumstances, and that it is not possible to predict every situation in which it will or will not release, and that its use cannot guarantee my safety or freedom from injury while skiing. I further agree and understand that this ski-boot- binding system may reduce but NOT eliminate the risk of injuries to the lower portion of my leg. However, I agree and understand that this ski-boot-binding system does NOT reduce the risk of injuries to my knees or any other parts of my body.
“I agree that I will release this ski shop from any and all responsibility or liability for injuries or damages to the user of the equipment listed on this form, or to any [***3] other person. I agree NOT to make a claim against or sue this ski shop for injuries or damages relating to skiing and/or the use of this equipment. (Please initial ) [Benford's initials].
“In consideration for being able to rent this ski equipment, I hereby agree to accept the terms and conditions of this contract. This document constitutes the final and entire agreement between this ski shop and the undersigned. There are NO WARRANTIES, express or implied, which extend beyond the description of the ski equipment listed on this form.
“I have carefully read this agreement and release of liability and fully understand its contents. I am aware that this is a release of liability and a contract between myself and this ski shop and I sign it of my own free will.”
Pursuant to the height, weight, and skill level information provided by Benford, Cooper set the bindings of the skis at 5 1/2. This setting was based on a chart used in the business which the person doing the settings consults and then makes adjustments to the bindings, toes and heels of the boots.
[**112] Benford picked the skis up on December 26 and left with his wife [*802] and some friends on a ski trip. On the first day of the [***4] trip, Benford had made six or seven ski runs and had fallen uneventfully a couple of times. These falls did not cause the bindings to release. On his last run, Benford was in the process of coming to a stop to assist his wife who had fallen. Because of a change in the slope where he stopped, his center of gravity got out over his skis and he fell. While the right ski did release, the left one did not and he tore ligaments in his left knee. When he returned the skis to the shop, he was given a free week ski rental, good any time.
Because Benford was injured and contended the skis did not release, Jackson, the store manager, had the bindings tested with the Vermont Calibrator, a device used to measure the torque it takes to remove a boot from its binding, and the skis rented by Benford passed the test. All skis rented by the ski shop were tested on this device once a year, and randomly selected sets were tested periodically.
2. Benford acknowledges that these facts establish the relationship of bailor-bailee, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 44-12-60. Therefore, the relationship between them is governed by the terms of the Rental Agreement and the statutory obligations of a bailor under O.C.G.A. § [***5] 44-12-63. Mark Singleton Buick v. Taylor, 194 Ga. App. 630, 632 (1) (391 S.E.2d 435) (1990); Hall v. Skate Escape, Ltd., 171 Ga. App. 178 (319 S.E.2d 67) (1984).
3. Benford has failed totally to come forward with evidence concerning negligence by the ski shop. Lau’s Corp., supra; Prince v. Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 210 Ga. App. 108, 109 (1) (435 S.E.2d 482) (1993). 1
1 Even had he been able to do so, this is one of those rare cases where, as a matter of law, it can be said that Benford assumed the risk of exactly what happened to him. Beringause v. Fogleman Truck Lines, 200 Ga. App. 822, 823 (409 S.E.2d 524) (1991).
Also, even assuming some negligence had been shown, [HN1] “in Georgia, the general rule is that a party may exempt himself by contract from liability to the other party for injuries caused by his negligence, and the agreement is not void for contravening public policy. [Cits.]” Hall, supra at 179. Here, the agreement clearly and prominently did just that. Mercedes-Benz [***6] Credit Corp. v. Shields, 199 Ga. App. 89, 91 (403 S.E.2d 891) (1991).
4. Benford’s claims of breach of warranty and contract suffer the same fate. There is no showing by Benford of any latent defect in the skis or bindings, such as that in Hall, supra. Therefore, the covenant not to sue is not in contravention of O.C.G.A. § 44-12-63 (3). Mercedes-Benz, supra; Citicorp Indus. Credit v. Rountree, 185 Ga. App. 417, 422 (2) (364 S.E.2d 65) (1987). It is difficult to envision how the waiver language here could have been any clearer.
[*803] Judgment affirmed. Pope, P. J., and Smith, J., concur.
By Recreation Law Recfirstname.lastname@example.org James H. Moss Jim Moss
Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506
Kenneth Salvini et al., Individually, Respondents, v. Ski Lifts, Inc., Appellant.
COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE
2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2506
October 20, 2008, Filed
NOTICE: Rules of the Washington Court of Appeals may limit citation to unpublished opinions. Please refer to the Washington Rules of Court.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc., 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2529 (Wash. Ct. App., Oct. 20, 2008)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Appeal from King County Superior Court. Docket No: 05-2-13652-9. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: May 31, 2007. Judge signing: Honorable Laura Inveen.
CORE TERMS: ski lift, sport, jump, terrain, skier’s, ski area, inherent risk, notice, jumping, ski, dangerous conditions, warning, jury instructions, overshooting, warn, landing, invitee, limiting instruction, safe, prior incident, unreasonably, sentence, duty to protect, normal part, probative, “discover, owed, speed, top, duty of care
COUNSEL: Counsel for Appellant(s): William Robert Hickman, Pamela A. Okano, Reed McClure, Ruth Nielsen, Nielsen Law Office Inc PS, Wendy E Lyon, Riddell Williams PS, Seattle, WA; James W. Huston, Morrison & Foerster, LLP, San Diego, CA; Beth S. Brinkmann, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Morrison & Foerster, LLP, Washington, DC.
Counsel for Respondent(s): John Robert Connelly Jr., Connelly Law Offices, James Walter Beck, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, Tacoma, WA; Philip Albert Talmadge, Tukwila, WA.
JUDGES: Authored by Linda Lau. Concurring: Marlin Appelwick, Ronald Cox.
OPINION BY: Linda Lau
¶1 Lau, J. — While attempting a terrain park ski jump at a ski area, Kenneth Salvini was severely injured. Salvini and his parents brought a negligence action against the owner-operator Ski Lifts, Inc. The jury found Salvini 55 percent responsible and Ski Lifts 45 percent responsible. Ski Lifts appeals, arguing that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on duty, inherent risk, and signage, and that it admitted prejudicial and irrelevant evidence of prior accidents. We conclude that [*2] the jury instructions were proper and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of prior accidents for the limited purpose of notice. Accordingly, we affirm.
¶2 Ski Lifts owns and operates Snoqualmie, a ski area that features downhill skiing and a terrain park filled with artificial jumps and structures. Among these features are “table top” jumps, which have a takeoff ramp, a flat deck section, and a landing slope. To jump a table top successfully, a skier must approach the takeoff ramp with sufficient speed to launch into the air and clear the deck while maintaining enough control to land upright on the landing slope. “Overshooting” occurs when the skier lands past the end of the landing slope.
¶3 At approximately 7 P.M. on February 11, 2004, Kenneth Salvini arrived at Snoqualmie with his father and some friends. It was night, and the snow was rough, icy, and hard. After spending about an hour skiing at the Alpental downhill area, the main ski lift broke down. They then moved to the Summit Central downhill area. Salvini and a friend took a lift to the top of the mountain and skied over to the terrain park. A message hand written in light blue pen on a whiteboard [*3] sign posted near the lift read, “Terrain park Tip of the Week: Most injuries in the terrain park are as a result of the rider out-jumping the landing. Thanks, your friendly Ski Patrol.” Ex. 7. A Ski Lifts employee testified that the message was posted following several overshooting incidents. But Salvini and his friend did not see the sign.
¶4 Salvini, an experienced skier, decided to try a table top jump in the lower part of the terrain park–one that he had successfully jumped while skiing the previous week. Salvini testified that his goal was to approach the jump with “enough speed to make sure [he] cleared the deck.” Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (Mar. 22, 2007) at 83. Ski Lifts asserted that Salvini approached the jump at an excessively high speed, but Salvini presented evidence that his speed was within the range expected at a ski jump. He lost control, rotated backwards, “overshot” the landing ramp, and landed on his back onto a flat or nearly flat area. Salvini is now a quadriplegic.
¶5 Salvini and his parents filed a negligence action against Ski Lifts, alleging that it designed and built an unreasonably dangerous ski jump and that it failed to close the jump or to warn of [*4] its dangers, thereby exposing him to an extreme risk of serious injury beyond the risks inherent in the sport. Ski Lifts asserted that it was not negligent and that Salvini’s injuries were solely the result of the inherent risks of the sport and Salvini’s own negligence.
¶6 Ski Lifts filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence of prior accidents at the terrain park. Salvini responded with a motion to admit 66 prior incident reports. After reviewing the incident reports, the trial court admitted 15 reports for “the limited issue of notice” but excluded the remainder because they were not substantially similar. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 2632-35. 1 At Ski Lifts’ request, the trial court instructed the jury that the reports were admitted “for the limited purpose of showing that defendant had notice that people had overshot the landing of the jump on which the plaintiff was injured.” CP at 2672.
1 The court originally admitted 16 incident reports, but this was later reduced to 15.
¶7 The jury found Salvini 55 percent at fault and Ski Lifts 45 percent at fault. The jury also found that Salvini had suffered approximately $ 30 million in damages, resulting in a judgment against Ski Lifts of approximately [*5] $ 14 million. The trial court denied Ski Lifts’ motion for a new trial. Ski Lifts now appeals.
Jury Instruction on Inherent Risk
¶8 Ski Lifts argues that the trial court erred in refusing to give its proposed jury instruction. The instruction stated: “An inherent risk of a sport is one that cannot be eliminated without fundamentally changing the nature of the sport or chilling vigorous participation in the sport.” CP at 2578. Alleged errors of law in jury instructions are reviewed de novo. Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, Inc., 152 Wn.2d 259, 266, 96 P.3d 386 (2004). Whether to give a particular jury instruction, however, is within the trial court’s discretion. Boeing Co. v. Key, 101 Wn. App. 629, 632, 5 P.3d 16 (2000). “Jury instructions are sufficient if they allow the parties to argue their theories of the case, do not mislead the jury and, when taken as a whole, properly inform the jury of the law to be applied.” Hue v. Farmboy Spray Co., 127 Wn.2d 67, 92, 896 P.2d 682 (1995). “The trial court is given considerable discretion in deciding how the instructions will be worded.” Goodman v. Boeing Co., 75 Wn. App. 60, 73, 877 P.2d 703 (1994), aff’d, 127 Wn.2d 1020, 890 P.2d 463 (1995).
¶9 Chapter 79A.45 RCW [*6] generally sets forth the responsibilities of skiers and ski area operators. 2 The statute “modifies, but is generally consistent with, the common law.” Codd v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 45 Wn. App. 393, 397, 725 P.2d 1008 (1986). It provides that “[b]ecause of the inherent risks in the sport of skiing all persons using the ski hill shall exercise reasonable care for their own safety.” RCW 79A.45.030(6). “A defendant simply does not have a duty to protect a sports participant from dangers which are an inherent and normal part of a sport.” Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 500, 834 P.2d 6 (1992). But “[a]lthough the statute imposes both primary and secondary duties on skiers, it ‘does not purport to relieve ski operators from all liability for their own negligence.’” Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. 519, 524, 984 P.2d 448 (1999) (quoting Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 500). Risks caused by negligent provision of dangerous facilities are not “inherent” in a sport. Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 498.
2 Nothing in the statute specifically addresses terrain park ski jumping.
10 Washington’s ski statute does not define “inherent risk.” 3 The language of Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction is drawn from [*7] an intermediate California appellate court decision, Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co., 118 Cal. App. 4th 577, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 370 (2004). In Vine, a snowboarder who was seriously injured on a terrain park ski jump brought a negligence action against the ski area. The ski operator, arguing that it owed no duty to protect Vine against inherent risks, requested the following instruction on assumption of risk:
“The defendant has no duty to eliminate, reduce or make safer the inherent risks of injury which arise from the nature of the sport of recreational snowboard jumping or the manner in which it is conducted. An inherent risk of a sport is one that cannot be eliminated without fundamentally changing the nature of the sport or chilling vigorous participation in the sport.
“The defendant is under a duty to use ordinary care not to increase the risks to a snowboarder over and above those inherent in the sport. The defendant is under a duty to refrain from constructing a jump for use by the public which, by design, poses an extreme risk of injury.
“A failure to fulfill such duty is negligence.”
Id. at 594 n.5.
3 In contrast, some states have enacted ski safety statutes that define “inherent risks” [*8] and/or “inherent danger” of skiing with particularity. See, e.g., Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 33-44-103(3.5) (West); Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 408.342(2) (LexisNexis); 32 Me. Rev. Stat. Ann § 15217.
11 The trial court ruled that the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not apply because snowboarding does not inherently require jumps that are designed in such a way as to create an extreme risk of injury. Id. at 590. Thus, the court instructed the jury on ordinary negligence and contributory negligence but not on assumption of the risk. Id. at 595-97, 603.
12 The California appellate court held that the instructions were erroneous regarding the duty of care owed by the ski operator.
Nowhere was the jury informed that Bear Valley owed Vine no duty to protect her from the risks inherent in snowboard jumping. Indeed, the instructions suggested just the opposite, since it was obviously foreseeable that the inherent risks of riding a snowboard over the jump built by Bear Valley might result in injury.
Id. at 596. The court reasoned, “It is fundamentally unfair for a snowboarding injury case to go to a jury without any instruction on assumption of the risk.” Id. at 603.
13 Ski Lifts argues that under the reasoning [*9] of Vine, the trial court’s failure to give Ski Lifts’ proposed jury instruction defining the inherent risks of terrain park jumping deprived it of the ability to argue that the risks that caused Salvini’s accident were inherent in the sport and that he was responsible for his own injury. Salvini contends that the jury instructions given by the trial court were an accurate statement of the law and that Ski Lifts’ proposed additional instruction was unnecessary for Ski Lifts to argue its theory of the case.
14 We disagree with Ski Lifts. In Vine, the trial court declined to instruct the jury on the inherent risks of the sport, which erroneously precluded the jury from considering assumption of the risk. Here, in contrast, the trial court did instruct the jury on Salvini’s assumption of the risks that are an inherent and normal part of terrain park jumping. Instruction 16 stated,
A skier jumping in a terrain park assumes the dangers that are inherent in the sport of terrain park jumping. The ski area has no duty to protect a skier from dangers that are an inherent and normal part of jumping in a terrain park.
The ski area has a duty not to unduly enhance the risk of jumping in a terrain park [*10] beyond the risks inherent in the sport.
CP at 2674.
¶15 Instruction 16 properly informed the jury of Washington law, was not misleading, and permitted Ski Lifts to argue that the conditions and risks that caused Salvini’s injuries were an inherent and normal part of the sport. 4 During closing statements, Ski Lifts argued to the jury:
So what do we need to know in order to decide what is an inherent part of this sport? And what we know and what everybody has talked about is jumping is a fundamental activity, that’s what it is about. …
… Jumps are not safe, because ‘safe’ means free from injury or danger, free from risk, and we have to start out with the premise that this is an inherently dangerous activity; it is not free from risk. You can’t design out the risk, that’s part of jumping. …
… Talking about landing on your feet, landing on your landing gear, and absorbing the shock of a jump. That’s inherent in jumping, and that’s what is most important. …
… Two inherent dangers, everyone talked about it, losing control and falling. Those are things that come along with the sport.
… What we have to look at is what’s normal of [sic] this sport, and that the jumpers have [*11] the responsibility, they can choose their speed, depending on what they want to do. … And that’s why there is no starting point. That’s not a decision the ski area is making … , it is a decision the skier needs to make for themselves.
The jump itself. Again, we talk first about what is normal to the sport. And the people who build the jump are telling you this is what’s normal for the sport. This is what all of the ski areas are doing, this is how the jumps are built. …
We have some other things that factor in to this particular table top and the choices that are available. And this is all part of what is normal in the sport. We have the jump itself, we have the two different landings, we have the half pipe off to the right, we have other jumps below, two take offs on that jump, and lots of room to go around on either side. … And those are things that we don’t have a duty to change because that’s an inherent and normal part of the sport. …
… Because “normal” for a ski area includes people going to the first aid room for a whole variety of reasons, not to minimize it. But to say it is a risky sport and accidents happen, and you have to get back to [*12] the first part of our instruction, which is, there are inherent dangers … . And they are athletes and they are human and they did something different, and it ended up in injury. And nobody wants that to happen, but we can’t take that away and still have the sport, because what we have is something that is inherently dangerous and people are doing it because they want to. …
… But what we know is that at the end of the day, it was not the ski area that caused the accident, it was the behavior of the jumper. And not in a critical way, because this is what is part of the sport. And that’s why it is an inherent risk, because it is very dangerous. And it starts out that way. And the ski area did not do anything to increase that danger. It is a normal jump and it is a normal activity. … The people that developed it told you what it was about, and the skier assumes the dangers that are inherent in the sport, and assumes what is part of the normal sport. Not a different sport, but this sport. And we don’t have a duty to make it a different sport. … What is this sport about? It is about the risk of falling and being injured. It is about speed and control and snow conditions [*13] and choices. And that’s all a normal part of the sport.
VRP (Apr. 4, 2007) at 6-46.
4 Salvini argues that Ski Lifts failed to preserve any error on inherent risks of ski jumping because it proposed and received instruction 16, which was a correct statement of the law. We disagree. Ski Lifts specifically took exception below to the trial court’s refusal to give an additional proposed definition of “inherent risk,” which it now contends was necessary for the jury to understand that phrase. This was sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review under CR 51(f).
¶16 “Whether to define a phrase is a matter of judgment to be exercised by the trial court.” Goodman, 75 Wn. App. at 76. Under the instructions given, Ski Lifts could and did define the inherent and normal risks very broadly in crafting its argument to the jury. Ski Lifts’ additional instruction defining “inherent risk” was unnecessary and superfluous. 5 And when applied to this case, the definition is self-evident and obvious. The jury attributed 55 percent of the fault for the accident to inherent risk and Salvini’s own negligence. It is entirely speculative to conclude that the jury did not understand “inherent risk” or that [*14] the verdict would have been different if Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction had been given. 6 The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give a proposed instruction derived from California common law that was unnecessary to allow Ski Lifts to fully argue its theory of the case.
5 See Goodman, 75 Wn. App. at 76 (upholding trial court’s refusal to give a jury instruction defining the phrase “continuing violation” where the definition was self-evident and obvious when applied to facts of case).
6 In the special verdict form, the jury answered, “Yes” to the following question: “Was one or more of the inherent risks of jumping in a terrain park a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries?”
Jury Instruction on Duty to Discover Dangerous Conditions
¶17 Ski Lifts argues that instruction 15 misstated the duty owed by a ski area operator regarding the discovery and elimination of dangers, thereby erroneously holding Ski Lifts to an improperly broad duty to protect Salvini.
¶18 Instruction 15 stated,
The operator of a ski area owes its customers a duty to exercise ordinary care. This includes the exercise of ordinary care to provide reasonably safe facilities and to maintain in a reasonably safe [*15] condition those portions of the premises that such person is expressly or impliedly invited to use or might reasonably be expected to use. The operator of a ski area owes a duty to its customers to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the skier unless it is known or obvious.
CP at 2673. (Emphasis added.)
¶19 Ski Lifts objects only to the final, italicized sentence of the instruction, which was added at Salvini’s request over Ski Lifts’ objection. 7 This sentence was drawn directly from the Scott decision, which describes the duty of care for ski area operators. “A skier is a business invitee of a ski area operator. The operator owes a duty to a skier to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the invitees, unless it is known or obvious.” Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 500 (footnotes omitted). The Scott court further specified, “[T]he plaintiff assumes the dangers that are inherent in and necessary to the particular sport or activity” and that “[w]hile participants in sports are generally held to have impliedly assumed the risks inherent in the sport, such assumption of risk does not preclude [*16] a recovery for negligent acts which unduly enhance such risks.” Id. at 501 (third emphasis added).
7 Ski Lifts argues that instruction 15 misstated Washington law by failing to reference “unreasonably” dangerous conditions. Salvini contends that Ski Lifts failed to preserve this argument because it did not propose inserting the word “unreasonably” into the instruction. But Ski Lifts did object to instruction 15 on the ground that “the law would indicate that we don’t have a duty unless it is unreasonably dangerous. So I believe that the dicta from Scott that has been added to the WPIC instruction is not appropriate.” VRP (Apr. 3, 2007 P.M.) at 11. Accordingly, Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction was essentially the same as instruction 15, but without the final sentence taken from Scott. This sufficiently informed the trial court of the point of law in dispute to preserve for appellate review the issue of whether instruction 15 properly stated the duty owed by ski operators to skiers. Falk v. Keene Corp., 113 Wn.2d 645, 657-58, 782 P.2d 974 (1989). CR 51(f) does not require a party to additionally propose an alternative instruction under similar circumstances. Joyce v. State Dep’t of Corrections, 155 Wn.2d 306, 324-25, 119 P.3d 825 (2005).
¶20 Ski [*17] Lifts argues that the final sentence of instruction 15 misstated the duty of care for providers of an inherently dangerous activity such as terrain park ski jumping because, unlike Scott, it failed to specify that the duty was limited only to “unreasonably” dangerous conditions–those that “unduly enhance” the inherent risks. According to Ski Lifts, the omission of the word “unreasonably” from the jury instruction mistakenly informed the jury that Ski Lifts’ legal duty was to eliminate all dangers to terrain park ski jumpers–a standard that is impossible to meet. Ski Lifts further contends that instruction 16 was insufficient to cure the defect in instruction 15 regarding Ski Lifts’ duty of care for three reasons. First, it is not clear that the “unduly enhance” language of instruction 16 operates to limit instruction 15′s reference to “dangerous conditions.” Second, it was contradictory and confusing to instruct the jury that Ski Lifts was responsible for “dangerous conditions” (instruction 15) while also instructing it that Salvini assumed the dangers inherent in terrain jumping (instruction 16). Third, under the reasoning of Vine, the jury could not determine comparative fault [*18] without an instruction specifically defining the inherent risks assumed by Salvini.
¶21 We disagree with Ski Lifts and hold that instructions 15 and 16 properly instructed the jury on Washington law. “The court need not include specific language in a jury instruction, so long as the instructions as a whole correctly state the law.” Boeing Co. v. Key, 101 Wn. App. 629, 633, 5 P.3d 16 (2000).
¶22 Instruction 15 accurately summarized the well-established duty of care owed by ski area operators to skiers. Washington courts have adopted with approval the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343 (1965), which sets forth the duties a possessor of land owes to an invitee. Iwai v. State, 129 Wn.2d 84, 95, 915 P.2d 1089 (1996). Section 343 states,
Dangerous Conditions Known to or Discoverable by Possessor A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his invitees by a condition on the land if, but only if, he
(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, [*19] and
(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.
¶23 The ski operator owes an affirmative duty of care to the skier, as a business invitee, to discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection and repair them or warn the invitees of the hazard unless it is known or obvious. See, e.g., Scott, 119 Wn.2d at 500; Brown, 97 Wn. App. at 524; Codd, 45 Wn. App. 396-97. Consistent with this standard, instruction 15 also stated that the ski area operator’s duty is to provide “reasonably safe facilities” and to maintain them in a “reasonably safe condition.” Furthermore, instruction 16–to which Ski Lifts did not object–specified that a ski area has no duty to protect against “dangers that are an inherent and normal part of jumping in a terrain park” and that “[t]he ski area has a duty not to unduly enhance the risk of jumping in a terrain park beyond the risks inherent in the sport.”
¶24 Together, these instructions accurately summarized the law, allowed Ski Lifts to argue its theory of the case, and were not contradictory, confusing, or misleading. Ski Lifts could, and did, argue that the risks of the jump were known and obvious. Ski Lifts could, and did, argue [*20] that Salvini’s injuries resulted from the inherent risks of the sport. And the trial court gave an instruction on comparative fault to which Ski Lifts did not object. As discussed above, Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction defining “inherent risk” was unnecessary to allow Ski Lifts to fully argue all of its claims. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to omit the final sentence from instruction 15.
Jury Instruction on Failure to Warn
¶25 Ski Lifts argues that Salvini offered no evidence of proximate cause to support his claim that Ski Lifts was liable on a failure to warn theory. Instruction 15 informed the jury that Ski Lifts had a duty to “discover dangerous conditions through reasonable inspection, and repair that condition or warn the skier unless it is known or obvious.” Instruction 17 stated, “A statute relating to ski areas provides: All signs for instruction of the public shall be bold in design with wording short, simple, and to the point. All such signs shall be prominently placed.” 8 Relying primarily on products liability cases, Ski Lifts contends that proof of proximate cause on a failure to warn theory requires the plaintiff to show that he would have read and [*21] heeded an adequate warning. Because instructions 15 and 17 invited the jury to find Ski Lifts liable for failure to warn in the absence of evidence that Salvini would have behaved differently had he received better warnings, Ski Lifts contends that there was insufficient evidence to support these instructions. 9 We disagree.
8 RCW 79A.45.010(1).
9 We also note that during closing arguments, Ski Lifts did not contend that Salvini had failed to provide sufficient evidence of proximate cause on a failure to warn theory.
¶26 As a preliminary matter, we note that Ski Lifts objected to the final sentence of instruction 15 on the ground that it misstated the premises liability standard of care for ski area operators. But it did not object to instruction 15 on the ground that it erroneously instructed the jury on a failure-to-warn theory. Nor did Ski Lifts mention instruction 15 when it objected to instruction 17 on the ground that there was no evidence of proximate cause to support it. CR 51(f) requires that counsel state distinctly the matter to which he objects and the grounds for that objection so that the court may correct any error before instructing the jury. Because Ski Lifts did not apprise [*22] the trial court of the point of law in dispute, it waived any claimed error regarding instruction 15 or its interplay with instruction 17 in the context of this argument. Falk v. Keene Corp., 113 Wn.2d 645, 657-58, 782 P.2d 974 (1989).
¶27 Ski Lifts’ argument misconstrues the purpose of instruction 17 in this premises liability case. Salvini claimed that Ski Lifts “was negligent in the design, construction, and maintenance of the terrain park jump on which [he] was injured.” CP at 2960 (instruction 2). To establish an action for negligence, a plaintiff must show (1) the existence of a duty, (2) breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) proximate cause. Iwai, 129 Wn.2d at 96. In premises liability cases, a landowner’s duty of care is governed by the entrant’s common law status as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Soc., 124 Wn.2d 121, 128, 875 P.2d 621 (1994). Here, the parties do not dispute that Salvini was a business invitee of Ski Lifts.
¶28 “The duty owed by the possessor to the invitee derives from the entrant’s expectation that the possessor has exercised due care to make the premises reasonably safe.” The Law of Premises Liability (3d ed.) [*23] § 4.1, at 75 (2001). This duty may be fulfilled by an appropriate warning or other affirmative action to remedy the danger. Id. “An invitee is entitled to expect that the possessor will take reasonable care to ascertain the actual condition of the premises and, having discovered it, either to make it reasonably safe by repair or to give warning of the actual condition and the risk involved therein.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343, cmt. d (1965).
¶29 Salvini contended that Ski Lifts was negligent under this common law premises liability standard. And Ski Lifts could satisfy its duty to protect its customers from unreasonably dangerous conditions by providing adequate warnings. Instruction 17 went directly to Ski Lifts’ defense that it had met this duty. This instruction properly allowed the jury to evaluate the reasonableness of the warnings provided in light of the statutory signage requirements and the degree to which Salvini was comparatively at fault for failing to see the whiteboard sign.
¶30 Both parties presented evidence at trial regarding the reasonableness and adequacy of the warning signs. Expert witnesses Dr. Richard Gill and Richard Penniman testified extensively regarding the [*24] inadequacy of Ski Lifts’ warning signs. Salvini testified that he did not see the whiteboard sign. Salvini’s skiing companion and Salvini’s father, as well as several Ski Lifts employees, also testified that they did not see the sign. Expert witnesses Helge Lien and Richard Penniman testified that Ski Lifts should have designated a starting point for the jump to prevent skiers from gaining too much speed and overshooting the jump. Salvini argued in closing that the jump was not reasonably safe and that the signage failed to warn of the specific hazard known to Ski Lifts. He did not contend that Ski Lifts was additionally liable on a separate failure-to-warn theory.
¶31 Ski Lifts introduced photographs of its warning signs into evidence, and the photos were shown to the jury. Ski Lifts employees Dan Brewster and Bryan Picard 10 testified regarding the location and content of the warning signs. Ski Lifts’ expert witness Elia Hamilton testified that the warning signs at the entrance of the terrain park were “absolutely” appropriate. Ski Lifts relied on the signage evidence to argue in closing that Salvini was adequately warned. 11 Ski Lifts also argued that it had no duty to post signs designating [*25] a starting point because that choice is part of the skier’s responsibility. “‘[P]rejudicial error occurs where the jury is instructed on an issue that lacks substantial evidence to support it.’” Manzanares v. Playhouse Corp., 25 Wn. App. 905, 910, 611 P.2d 797 (1980) (quoting Haynes v. Moore, 14 Wn. App. 668, 672, 545 P.2d 28 (1975)). There was ample evidence to support giving instruction 17. 12
10 Bryan Picard was employed by Ski Lifts at the time of Salvini’s accident, but no longer employed by Ski Lifts at the time of trial.
11 “Another part of the responsibility code, observe all posted signs and warnings. The information is there. We can’t make people read signs, we can’t make people do anything, these are choices. But the signs are there, and this is part of the skiers’ responsibility.” VRP (Apr. 4, 2007 A.M.) at 9.
12 To the extent Ski Lifts contends that instruction 15 in combination with instruction 17 presented a separate inadequate warning theory of liability, Ski Lifts’ failure to request a clarifying special verdict form requiring the jury to indicate which theories of liability the jury relied upon precludes it from raising such an argument on appeal. See Davis v. Microsoft Corp., 149 Wn.2d 521, 539-40, 70 P.3d 126 (2003).
¶32 Ski [*26] Lifts further contends that it had no duty to warn Salvini because he had used the jump before and was fully aware of its condition. This argument is not persuasive. Salvini’s previous use of the jump would not necessarily put him on notice that its design could increase the risk of severe injury from overshooting. Whether the jump’s deficiencies were “known and obvious” and whether Salvini should have anticipated the harm is a question of fact for the jury. Degel v. Majestic Mobile Manor, Inc., 129 Wn.2d 43, 54, 914 P.2d 728 (1996). The jury instructions properly allowed Ski Lifts to argue that the alleged defect was known or obvious, while also allowing Salvini to argue that it was not.
Evidence of Prior Accidents
¶33 Ski Lifts argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence and testimony regarding 15 prior incidents of overshooting the same jump at which Salvini was injured. The court ruled that these incident reports were not admissible “as substantive evidence of the existence of a dangerous condition,” but that they were sufficiently similar “to put Ski Lifts on notice of a potential defect to warrant further inquiry into the design of the jump, or the reasonableness [*27] of the signage in light of the multiple injuries caused as a result of overshooting the landing of the jump in question.” CP at 2635. Ski Lifts moved the court for a limiting instruction on the admission of prior incident reports. The trial court granted Ski Lifts’ motion and gave a limiting instruction.
Exhibits 154, 155, 160, 161, 163, 165, 166, 167, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175 and 176 are accident reports. These accident reports have been admitted into evidence for the limited purpose of showing that defendant had notice that people had overshot the landing of the jump on which the plaintiff was injured. You are not to infer anything beyond notice by admission of these prior accidents.
CP at 2672 (instruction 14).
¶34 “A trial court’s decision admitting or excluding evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion, which occurs only when the exercise of discretion is manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds or reasons.” Kimball v. Otis Elevator Co., 89 Wn. App. 169, 172-73, 947 P.2d 1275 (1997).
¶35 In a negligence case, other accidents and injuries are inadmissible to show a general lack of care or negligence, but may be admissible on other, more limited issues if the conditions [*28] are sufficiently similar and the actions are sufficiently numerous. 13 5 Karl B. Tegland, Washington Practice: Evidence § 402.11, at 304 (2007) (citing Panitz v. Orenge, 10 Wn. App. 317, 322, 518 P.2d 726 (1973)). Evidence of prior accidents which occurred under substantially similar circumstances is admissible for the purpose of demonstrating a dangerous condition or notice of a defect. Davis v. Globe Mach. Mfg. Co., 102 Wn.2d 68, 77, 684 P.2d 692 (1984). Turner v. City of Tacoma, 72 Wn.2d 1029, 1036, 435 P.2d 927 (1967).
13 Some courts have recently relaxed the substantial similarity requirement when the evidence is offered for the purpose of showing notice. 5 Tegland, supra, § 402.11 (Supp. 2008).
¶36 The admitted reports need not be identical, only substantially similar. See, e.g., Seay v. Chrysler Corp., 93 Wn.2d 319, 324, 609 P.2d 1382 (1980) (upholding admission of evidence of other accidents involving same type of car chassis); Blood v. Allied Stores Corp., 62 Wn.2d 187, 189, 381 P.2d 742 (1963) (upholding exclusion of reports that showed “no similarity”); Miller v. Staton, 58 Wn.2d 879, 884-85, 365 P.2d 333 (1961) (upholding admission of evidence of previous fights in a tavern); [*29] O’Dell v. Chi., Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pac. R.R.., 6 Wn. App. 817, 826, 496 P.2d 519 (1972) (upholding admission of evidence of other near-accidents at same railroad crossing).
¶37 Ski Lifts first argues that Salvini failed to establish that the prior incidents were substantially similar to his situation because 13 of the 15 incident reports involved snowboarders, not skiers, and because the two reports involving skiers occurred under different conditions. We disagree. The trial court rejected most of the 66 incident reports offered by Salvini because it found that they were not sufficiently similar, and it admitted only “[t]hose accident reports documenting an injury occurring as a result of overshooting the jump in question, on either skis or snowboards (which go slower than skis.) … .” CP at 2635. If overshooting was a problem for slower moving snowboarders, it is reasonable to expect it to be a problem for skiers as well. Admitting evidence of prior accidents that occurred at the same table top jump, whether they involved skiers or snowboarders, was not an abuse of discretion.
¶38 Ski Lifts argues that the trial court’s limiting instruction was a confusing and meaningless restriction on [*30] the use of the evidence. 14 But Ski Lifts did not assign error to this limiting instruction and has therefore waived any objection to it. 15 Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, Inc., 152 Wn.2d 259, 281, 96 P.3d 386 (2004). Indeed, Ski Lifts asked the court to read the limiting instruction immediately before the prior incident evidence was presented to the jury and to include it among the court’s instructions to the jury. The court granted both requests.
14 Ski Lifts appears to challenge both the giving and the language of the limiting instruction. “A limiting instruction is available as a matter of right. If evidence is admissible only for a limited purpose and an appropriate limiting instruction is requested, the court may not refuse to give the instruction.” 5 Tegland, supra, § 105.2 (2007) (interpreting ER 105).
15 The limiting instruction requested and proposed by Ski Lifts contained a final sentence stating, “You are not to infer from these accident reports that the defendant was negligent.” CP at 2637. Salvini requested that the court remove that sentence and replace it with, “[Y]ou are not to infer anything beyond notice by admission of these prior accidents.” 1 Transcript of Proceedings (TR) (Mar. 12, 2007) at 28. [*31] The trial court agreed with Salvini and modified Ski Lifts’ proposed instruction accordingly. Ski Lifts did not object.
¶39 Ski Lifts argues that the prior incidents should not have been admitted for the purpose of notice, because it conceded that it was aware of overshooting incidents. “Evidence of similar accidents is inadmissible to prove notice, if there is no question that there was notice, or if notice is not a disputed issue in the case.” 5 Tegland, supra, at 306 (citing Hinkel v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 6 Wn. App. 548, 555-56, 494 P.2d 1008 (1972)); Porter v. Chicago, M., P. & P.R. Co., 41 Wn.2d 836, 842, 252 P.2d 306 (1953). We disagree.
[T]he fact that evidence is undisputed does not, alone, make the evidence inadmissible. Undisputed evidence may be valuable background information or other information that the jury, in fairness, ought to hear.
Thus, as a general rule, a party cannot frustrate the introduction of evidence by offering to stipulate to the underlying facts.
5 Tegland, supra, at 469. See, e.g., State v. Pirtle, 127 Wn.2d 628, 652, 904 P.2d 245 (1995); State v. Rice, 110 Wn.2d 577, 598-99, 757 P.2d 889 (1988); the plaintiff is not bound to stipulate to the issue unless its probative [*32] value is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice. Pirtle, 127 Wn.2d at 653.
¶40 The issue in this case went beyond the mere fact that Ski Lifts had notice of overshooting. The prior incident reports were probative of the extent and nature of the notice, which went directly to the question of whether Ski Lifts met its duty of care based on what it knew. Salvini is not categorically bound from introducing evidence of substantially similar prior overshooting incidents merely because Ski Lifts admitted it knew that they were occurring.
¶41 Ski Lifts also contends that the evidence was not probative of notice of a design defect because overshooting incidents are common. But evidence of prior accidents goes directly to the issue of whether Ski Lifts exercised reasonable care in light of what it knew about the performance of this particular table top jump. Therefore, it had probative value.
¶42 Ski Lifts argues that the incident reports should have been excluded under ER 403, which provides that relevant evidence “may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury … .” The burden of showing prejudice [*33] is on the party seeking to exclude the evidence. Carson v. Fine, 123 Wn.2d 206, 225, 867 P.2d 610 (1994); 5 Tegland, supra, § 403.2 at 435.
[T]he exercise of discretion in balancing the danger of prejudice against the probative value of the evidence is a matter within the trial court’s discretion and should be overturned only if no reasonable person could take the view adopted by the trial court. A trial judge, not an appellate court, is in the best position to evaluate the dynamics of a jury trial and therefore the prejudicial effect of a piece of evidence.
State v. Posey, 161 Wn.2d 638, 648, 167 P.3d 560 (2007) (internal citations omitted).
¶43 Ski Lifts argues that any probative value was outweighed by the extreme prejudicial effect, because Salvini’s counsel and expert witnesses referenced the incident reports not just to demonstrate notice, but also to show that the jump was improperly designed and unreasonably dangerous. But although Ski Lifts lodged “a continuing objection regarding the accident reports,” 1 TR (Mar. 12, 2007) at 51, it never objected to Salvini’s closing argument or trial testimony that allegedly went beyond the limited purpose of notice. Rather, it raised this issue [*34] for the first time in its motion for a new trial. To challenge a trial court’s admission of evidence on appeal, a party must raise a timely and specific objection at trial. State v. Gray, 134 Wn. App. 547, 557, 138 P.3d 1123 (2006), review denied, 160 Wn.2d 1008 (2007). ?To be timely, the party must make the objection at the earliest possible opportunity after the basis for the objection becomes apparent.” Id. at 557 n.27. By failing to object at trial, a party waives any claim that the evidence was erroneously admitted. ER 103(a)(1); State v. Warren, 134 Wn. App. 44, 57-58, 138 P.3d 1081 (2006), review granted, 161 Wn.2d 1001 (2007).
¶44 Because Ski Lifts did not timely object to the improper argument and testimony, Ski Lifts waives any challenge to it now on appeal. “‘The purpose of a motion in limine is to dispose of legal matters so counsel will not be forced to make comments in the presence of the jury which might prejudice his presentation.’” State v. Sullivan, 69 Wn. App. 167, 170-71, 847 P.2d 953 (1993) (quoting State v. Kelly, 102 Wn.2d 188, 193, 685 P.2d 564 (1984)). But when a party who prevails on a motion in limine later suspects a violation of that ruling, that party has a [*35] duty to bring the violation to the court’s attention to allow the court to decide what remedy, if any, to direct. A.C. ex rel Cooper v. Bellingham Sch. Dist., 125 Wn. App. 511, 525, 105 P.3d 400 (2004). As one court explained,
[W]here the evidence has been admitted notwithstanding the trial court’s prior exclusionary ruling, the complaining party [is] required to object in order to give the trial court the opportunity of curing any potential prejudice. Otherwise, we would have a situation fraught with a potential for serious abuse. A party so situated could simply lie back, not allowing the trial court to avoid the potential prejudice, gamble on the verdict, and then seek a new trial on appeal.
Sullivan, 69 Wn. App. at 172.
¶45 Here, while the court ruled that Salvini would be allowed to present evidence of prior incidents for the limited issue of notice, Ski Lifts was still required to object when Salvini’s counsel elicited improper testimony in violation of the motion in limine so the court could attempt to cure any resulting prejudice. By failing to do so, Ski Lifts waived review of this issue. In addition, Ski Lifts’ nonspecific continuing objection was insufficient to preserve the issue [*36] for appellate review. State v. Boast, 87 Wn.2d 447, 451, 553 P.2d 1322 (1976); State v. Saunders, 132 Wn. App. 592, 607, 132 P.3d 743 (2006).
¶46 Ski Lifts further contends that the evidence was prejudicial because the jury might have improperly punished Ski Lifts for being a bad actor or improperly inferred that the jump must have been defective. We disagree. As discussed above, Ski Lifts successfully moved for a limiting instruction, which was read to the jury at the time the evidence was presented and was included in the court’s instructions to the jury. “A jury is presumed to follow the court’s instructions and that presumption will prevail until it is overcome by a showing otherwise.” Carnation Co. v. Hill, 115 Wn.2d 184, 187, 796 P.2d 416 (1990) (curative instructions); see also State v. Lough, 125 Wn.2d 847, 864, 889 P.2d 487 (1995) (limiting instructions). And the trial court also instructed the jury in instruction 1 that “[i]t is your duty to decide the facts of the case based on the evidence presented to you during this trial” and that “[y]ou must not let your emotions overcome your rational thought process. You must reach your decision based on the facts proved to you and on [*37] the law given to you, not on sympathy, bias, or personal preference.” CP at 2657-59. Therefore, Ski Lifts’ arguments that the jury might have misused the evidence or that it might have improperly punished Ski Lifts are purely speculative.
¶47 In sum, we conclude that the jury instructions accurately stated the law, were not misleading, allowed Ski Lifts to argue its theory of the case, and were supported by substantial evidence. We further conclude that the prior incident reports were properly admitted. Accordingly, we affirm.
Cox and Appelwick, JJ., concur.
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Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421
Carrie Lewis, Lesa Moffatt, Appellants, v. Snow Creek, Inc., Respondent.
COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT
6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421
March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Passed June 1, 1999. Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to the Supreme Court Denied July 27, 1999. Opinion Readopted and Mandate Issued January 6, 2000, Reported at: 2000 Mo. App LEXIS 7.
PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Honorable Ward B. Stuckey, Judge.
DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
COUNSEL: Fritz Edmunds, Jr., Overland Park, KS, for Appellants.
Thomas Magee, St. Louis, MO, for Respondent.
JUDGES: Albert A. Riederer Judge. Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER
[*391] This is an appeal from summary judgments granted in each of two separate suits filed by two different plaintiffs making identical claims against Respondent. Pursuant to a motion filed by Appellants and Respondent, the cases have been consolidated on appeal. Because we find that there is disputed evidence regarding both Respondent’s liability as a possessor of land and Appellant’s implied assumption of the risk, and because we find that express assumption of the risk did not apply under the facts in this record, we reverse on those issues. However, because there is no disputed evidence regarding count III of the petitions, and because Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that count, we affirm as to that count.
Factual and Procedural Background
On January 8, 1995, Appellant Lesa Moffatt rented skis at Snow [**2] Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” On January 21, 1995, Appellant Carrie Lewis rented skis at Snow Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” The form states in pertinent part:
10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.
This document was signed by both Lewis and Moffatt during the process of renting equipment. Lewis and Moffatt both stood in line with people in front of and behind them when they received this form. The form had to be completed before obtaining skis and equipment. Both Lewis and Moffatt claim that they felt pressured to move along and did not have an adequate opportunity to read and fully comprehend the rental form.
Lewis [**3] and Moffatt both fell on ice at Snow Creek and were injured. Lewis and Moffatt each filed a separate petition against Respondent which included the same four counts: I. Defendant owed a duty to plaintiff as a business invitee, and breached that duty by failure to warn of the icy condition where the fall occurred; II. Defendant negligently adjusted and maintained the bindings on Plaintiff’s skis because they failed to properly release when plaintiff fell, injuring plaintiff’s leg; III. Defendant created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow; and IV. Defendant was grossly negligent in failing to warn plaintiff of the dangerous condition on its premises. Respondent generally [*392] denied Appellant’s claims in its answer and asserted affirmative defenses of comparative fault and assumption of the risk.
Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment in each case. Respondent submitted as evidence the “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form” and the deposition of the plaintiff in each case. In response to Respondent’s motions for summary judgment, each Appellant submitted additional evidence in the form of her own affidavit. Both motions for summary judgment were granted. Lewis’ and Moffatt’s [**4] claims are identical, and they have been consolidated on appeal.
Standard of Review
[HN1] Our standard of review of a summary judgment is essentially de novo. Lawrence v. Bainbridge Apartments, 957 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1997) (citing, ITT Commercial Finance Corp., v. Mid-America Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993)). We review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered and grant the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record. Id. [HN2] To be entitled to summary judgment a movant must demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.
In accordance with the law, we analyze whether summary judgment is appropriate on the record developed by the parties and presented to this court. The Respondent advances several arguments why summary judgment is appropriate. First, it claims as a possessor of land, it has no duty to warn a business invitee of dangers which are open and obvious as a matter of law and that the ice alleged to have caused the fall and injury was [**5] open and obvious as a matter of law. Second, it claims Appellants expressly assumed the risk of this injury by signing the Rental Form. Third, it claims Appellants impliedly assumed the risk of this injury by engaging in the sport of skiing. Fourth, it claims the Rental Form operates as a release.
I. Duty of the Possessor of Land
Respondent claims that the presence of ice on a ski slope should be determined to be an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.
A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee
” [HN3] The standard of care owed by a possessor of land is dependent upon the status of the injured party.” Peterson v. Summit Fitness, Inc., 920 S.W.2d 928, 932 (Mo. App. 1996). An invitee “is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.” Harris v. Niehaus, 857 S.W.2d 222, 225 (Mo. banc 1993) (quoting, Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 332 (1965). As [HN4] business invitees, the Appellants were entitled to reasonable and ordinary care by Respondent to make its premises safe. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 932. A possessor of land is [**6] liable to an invitee only if the possessor:
(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger or will fail to protect themselves against it, and
(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.
Id. Generally, [HN5] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Id. at 933. “The exception to this rule is where ‘the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.’” Id. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id.
Given the preceding principles, the pivotal question is whether the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land [*393] as a matter of law. If we determine the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land as a matter of law, Respondent as possessor has no liability – unless he should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Id. [**7] Thus, the next question would be whether Respondent could reasonably rely on its invitees – skiers – to protect themselves from the danger of ice or whether Respondent should have expected that skiers would not appreciate the danger thus posed. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. We need not reach the second question because this court is unwilling, under the facts as developed in this case, to declare that the conditions on Respondent’s property, which allegedly caused the fall, were open and obvious as a matter of law. To the contrary, we find there is a genuine dispute regarding a material fact: the nature and character of the ice alleged to have caused the fall. “For purposes of Rule 74.04, [HN6] a ‘genuine issue’ exists where the record contains competent materials that evidence two plausible, but contradictory, accounts of the essential facts.” ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 382. “A ‘genuine issue’ is a dispute that is real, not merely argumentative, imaginary or frivolous.” Id. In this case, Appellants characterized the ice as large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow. The evidence is that the Appellants fell on ice which they did not see because [**8] of the snow. Respondent maintained that both Appellants encountered ice on trails that the Appellants had been down several times before they fell. This is not sufficient evidence for this court to find that the ice Appellants encountered was an open and obvious danger as a matter of law. It is not clear that the Appellants should have reasonably been expected to have discovered the icy condition. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. ” [HN7] When there is disputed evidence – as in this case – on whether the landowner had reason to expect this type of accident . . ., the case properly belongs to the jury.” Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 229. Therefore, we find that Respondent was not entitled to summary judgment because there is a genuine issue regarding the ice, and the ice in question was not an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.
II. Assumption of Risk
Appellants claim that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the defense of assumption of the risk requires a jury determination as to disputed material facts. Specifically, Appellants claim that a jury should decide whether they knew of the ice and whether they understood and appreciated the [**9] danger posed by the ice. Respondent claims that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of a risk inherent in the sport of skiing, and therefore, the Appellants assumed the risk, or in the alternative, that Appellants expressly assumed the risk by signing the rental form. [HN8] Assumption of risk is generally categorized as express, implied primary, and implied secondary (reasonable and unreasonable). Sheppard v. Midway R-1 School District, 904 S.W.2d 257, 261-62 (Mo. App. 1995).
A. Express Assumption of Risk
[HN9] Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff expressly agrees in advance that the defendant owes him no duty. Id. Recovery is completely barred since there is no duty in the first place. Id. Respondent argues that the Rental Form, signed by both Appellants, specifically mentioned the snow. Respondent correctly argues that the Rental Form relieves it of liability for injury due to snow. The evidence is that the Appellants knew about the snow and voluntarily assumed that risk. However, we cannot agree that the Rental Form relieves Respondent from injury liability due to ice. First, the Rental Form did not mention injury due to ice. [**10] In addition, the Rental Form could only relieve Respondent of such liability if the general reference to “negligence” is sufficient to do so. The clause of the Rental Form reads as follows:
[*394] 10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.
” [HN10] Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.” Alack v. Vic Tanny International of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. 1996). “However, contracts exonerating a party from acts of future negligence are to be ‘strictly construed against the party claiming the benefit of the contract, and clear and explicit language [**11] in the contract is required to absolve a person from such liability.’” Id. (quoting, Hornbeck v. All American Indoor Sports, Inc., 898 S.W.2d 717, 721 (Mo. App. 1995)).
“Historically, [HN11] Missouri appellate courts have required that a release from one’s own future negligence be explicitly stated.” 923 S.W.2d at 336 (emphasis in original). The Court in Alack determined that the best approach was to follow precedent and decisions from our state as well as others and to require [HN12] clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and conspicuous language in order to release a party from his or her own future negligence. 923 S.W.2d at 337. The language of the exculpatory clause must effectively notify a party that he or she is releasing the other party from claims arising from the other party’s own negligence. Id. General language will not suffice. Id. “The words ‘negligence’ or ‘fault’ or their equivalents must be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.” Id. [HN13] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law to be decided by the court. Id. “An ambiguity arises when there is [**12] duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the words used in the contract.” Id.
Respondent’s exculpatory clause uses the term “negligence.” However, that does not end our inquiry. We must determine whether the exculpatory clause uses “clear, unmistakable, unambiguous and conspicuous language.” Id. The exculpatory clause purports to shield Respondent from “any claim based on negligence and . . . any claim based upon . . . other legal theory. . . .” Alack teaches us that “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Id. Respondent argues that the language from paragraph 8 of the rental form “does not purport to release defendant from liability for intentional torts, gross negligence, or activities involving the public interest ” and that use of the word “negligence” results in a clear understanding of the acts for which liability is released. We disagree. The exculpatory clause uses general language, to wit, “any claim based on . . . other legal theory.” This language includes intentional torts, [**13] gross negligence or any other cause of action not expressly listed. ” [HN14] A contract that purports to relieve a party from any and all claims but does not actually do so is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain.” Id. Here, the Rental Form purports to relieve Respondent of all liability but does not do so. Thus, it is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain, Id., and thence arises an ambiguity. Rodriguez v. General Accident, 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991).
In addition, the exculpatory language and its format did not effectively notify the Appellants that they were releasing Respondent from claims arising from its negligence. The form the Appellants signed was entitled “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” It did not indicate it [*395] was a release. This title was in large type and could not be reasonably construed to include release of liability. By contrast, the exculpatory clause is in approximately 5 point type at the bottom of the form. “[ [HN15] A] provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 335. The Appellants had to sign [**14] the Rental Form to receive ski equipment and had to do so while in a line. The language and format of the exculpatory clause leaves doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to the clause actually would understand what future claims he or she is waiving. Id. at 337-38. The language drafted by Respondent is not “unambiguous” or “conspicuous,” and thus does not meet the standard of Alack. Id.
Thus, Respondent cannot rely on that language to claim the Appellants expressly assumed the risk of the injury complained of in the petition.
B. Implied Assumption of Risk
[HN16] Implied assumption of risk includes two sub-categories, implied primary and implied secondary. Implied primary assumption of risk involves the question of whether the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from the risk of harm. Sheppard, 904 S.W.2d at 261. It applies where the parties have voluntarily entered a relationship in which the plaintiff assumes well-known incidental risks. Id. The plaintiff’s consent is implied from the act of electing to participate in the activity. Id. Implied primary assumption of the risk is also a complete bar [**15] to recovery. Id. at 262. On the other hand, [HN17] implied secondary assumption of the risk occurs when the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff but the plaintiff knowingly proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty. Id. In implied secondary assumption of the risk cases, the question is whether the plaintiff’s action is reasonable or unreasonable. Id. If the plaintiff’s action is reasonable, he is not barred from recovery. Id. If the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering a known risk is unreasonable, it is to be considered by the jury as one element of fault. Id. This case involves implied primary assumption of the risk.
Appellants claim the trial court erred when it ruled, “the court finds that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by skiing on the Defendant’s ski slope and that Plaintiff’s injuries were of a type inherent to the sport of skiing and that this incident involves dangers so obvious that the Defendant does not owe a duty to the Plaintiff and therefore is not required to warn the Plaintiff of such danger.” Respondent argues that the Appellants are barred by [**16] implied primary assumption of risk because by engaging in the sport of skiing, they impliedly assumed the risk of falling on the ice.
“Generally, [HN18] assumption of risk in the sports context involves primary assumption of risk because the plaintiff has assumed certain risks inherent in the sport or activity.” Id.
[HN19] Under comparative fault, if the plaintiff’s injury is the result of a risk inherent in the sport in which he was participating, the defendant is relieved from liability on the grounds that by participating in the sport, the plaintiff assumed the risk and the defendant never owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from that risk. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff’s injury is the result of negligence on the part of the defendant, the issue regarding the plaintiff’s assumption of that risk and whether it was a reasonable assumption of risk, is an element of fault to be compared to the defendant’s negligence by the jury.
Id. at 263-64. [HN20] The basis of implied primary assumption of risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk. Id. “If the risks of the activity are perfectly obvious or fully comprehended, plaintiff has consented to [**17] them and defendant has performed [*396] his or her duty.” Martin v. Buzan, 857 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Mo. App. 1993).
[HN21] As a “defending party,” Respondent may establish a right to summary judgment by showing that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support its properly pleaded affirmative defense and that those factors show Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381. In order for Respondent to have established its right to summary judgment based upon implied primary assumption of the risk, Respondent had to show that there was no genuine dispute that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of falling on ice, and that ice was a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. While there is no question that the Appellants’ injuries were a result of falling on ice, there is a genuine dispute regarding whether encountering the ice in this case is an inherent risk of skiing. Respondent notes that many states including Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia have all enacted statutes which codify assumption of the risk as is pertains to the sport [**18] of snow skiing. However, there is no such statute in Missouri, and this court is not willing to say, as a blanket rule, that all ice encountered on Respondent’s property is an inherent risk in the sport of snow skiing. There is a genuine dispute as to the nature of the ice. Was it “large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow on the ski slopes,” as the Appellants claim, or was it ice on the slopes that the Appellants had been over several times prior to falling. These are questions which must be answered by a fact-finder. [HN22] While the basis of implied primary assumption of the risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk, the plaintiff must be aware of the facts that create the danger and they must appreciate the danger itself. Shepard, 904 S.W.2d at 264. Thus, the standard is a subjective one: “what the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates.” Id. Here, the record does not include evidence that the Appellants were aware of the facts that created the danger or that they appreciated the danger itself. In fact, there was only evidence to the contrary, that the Appellants did not know, understand or appreciate [**19] the ice because it was under snow.
Therefore, we find that summary judgment cannot, on this record, be based upon express or implied primary assumption of the risk.
Respondent argues on appeal that the “Rental Form” operated as a release. Respondent did not plead release as an affirmative defense in its answer. [HN23] Release is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded in an answer. Rule 55.08. Failure to plead an affirmative defense constitutes a waiver of the defense. Leo’s Enterprises, Inc. v. Hollrah, 805 S.W.2d 739, 740 (Mo. App. 1991). Since Respondent did not plead the affirmative defense of release, summary judgment would not be proper based upon the theory of release.
We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on Count III of the Appellants’ petitions. The Appellants state in Count III of their petitions that Respondent created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow and dispersing it on the ski slope and that Respondent owed a duty to them as business invitees not to create dangerous conditions on the premises. The trial court was correct in granting Respondent’s summary judgment [**20] on Count III, because [HN24] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id. Respondent could be liable only if it was not reasonable [*397] for it to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk and to take reasonable precautions. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. Artificial snow at Snow Creek is an open and obvious condition, and it is reasonable for Respondent to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk of artificial snow and to take appropriate precautions.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed as to Count III of each of the petitions. It is reversed and remanded for further proceedings on counts I, II, & IV.
Albert A. Riederer, Judge
Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.
By Recreation Law Recemail@example.com James H. Moss Jim Moss
Foster, et al., v. Kosseff, et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5380
Stephanie Foster, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Alex Kosseff, et al., Defendants.
United States District Court For The Eastern District Of Washington
2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5380
January 14, 2013, Decided
January 14, 2013, Filed
CORE TERMS: audit report, audit, duty of care, beneficiary–, climbing, owed, failure to state a claim, citation omitted, incorporation, discover, lawsuit, anchor, owe, dangerous condition, negligence claim, authenticity, quotation, summary judgment, recreational, leave to amend, underlying purpose, recommendations, deliberately, cognizable, omitting, coverage, survive, amend, issues of law, discovery
COUNSEL: [*1] For Stephanie Foster, Susan Foster, Gary Foster, Plaintiffs: Allen M Ressler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ressler and Tesh PLLC, Seattle, WA; William S Finger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Frank & Finger PC, Evergreen, CO.
For Alex Kosseff, Adventure Safety International LLC, Defendants: Heather C Yakely, LEAD ATTORNEY, Evans Craven & Lackie PS – SPO, Spokane, WA.
JUDGES: THOMAS O. RICE, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: THOMAS O. RICE
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT ADVENTURE SAFETY INTERNATIONAL’S MOTION TO DISMISS
BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants Alex Kosseff’s and Adventure Safety International, LLC’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 33). This motion was heard without oral argument on January 14, 2013. The Court has reviewed the motion, the response, and the reply, and is fully informed.
In this diversity case, Plaintiff seeks to recover damages for a back injury which she sustained during a fall from a recreational climbing wall maintained by her employer, Whitman College. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Alex Kosseff and Adventure Safety International, LLC, were negligent in failing to discover the dangerous condition which caused the accident during a safety audit commissioned by Whitman College [*2] in 2007. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on the ground that they did not owe a duty of care to Plaintiff. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny the motion.
Plaintiff Stephanie Foster (“Plaintiff”) is a student enrolled at Whitman College in Spokane, Washington. In April 2008, Plaintiff was employed as a student instructor in Whitman College’s Outdoor Program. One of her duties in this position was to teach other students how to properly climb and descend a recreational climbing wall located on the Whitman College campus.
On April 28, 2008, Plaintiff fell from the climbing wall during a training exercise and was seriously injured. A subsequent investigation revealed that the accident occurred when a “Super Shut” climbing anchor manufactured by Defendant Fixe Industry1 inadvertently opened while Plaintiff was descending the wall. This investigation further revealed that the anchor opened as a result of Plaintiff using it in a manner for which it was not designed.
1 Defendant Fixe Industry has never been served in this action.
Approximately one year prior to Plaintiff’s accident, Whitman College hired Defendants Alex Kosseff and [*3] Adventure Safety International, LLC (collectively “ASI”) to perform a “risk management audit” of the Outdoor Program’s facilities. The parties sharply disagree about the scope of this audit. Plaintiff asserts that the audit extended to identifying and mitigating all risks posed to users of the climbing wall. ASI maintains that the audit was merely intended to provide Whitman College with a “general understanding” of how to improve its risk management program. In any event, it is undisputed that ASI’s audit did not identify the risk that the Super Shut anchor posed when used improperly.
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on April 22, 2011. Among other claims, Plaintiff asserts that ASI was negligent in failing to discover the risk posed by the Super Shut anchor. ASI now moves to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim on the ground that it did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care as a matter of law. Because ASI has previously filed an answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint, (ECF No. 9) the Court will treat the instant motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Elvig v. Calvin Presbyterian Church, 375 F.3d 951, 954 (9th Cir. 2004).
A [*4] motion for judgment on the pleadings is reviewed under the same legal standard as a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). A motion to dismiss “tests the legal sufficiency of a [plaintiff's] claim.” Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). To survive such a motion, the plaintiff must allege facts which, when taken as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868, (2009) (quotation and citation omitted). To satisfy this plausibility standard, the allegations in a complaint must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
In addition, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a plaintiff’s complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ [*5] but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To determine whether Rule 8(a)(2) has been satisfied, a court must first identify the elements of the plaintiff’s claim(s) and then determine whether those elements could be proven on the facts pled. Although the court should generally draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor, see Sheppard v. David Evans and Assoc., 694 F.3d 1045, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012), it need not accept “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotations and citation omitted).
The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly instructed district courts to “grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless … the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000). The standard for granting leave to amend is generous–the court “should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). In determining whether leave to amend is appropriate, a court must consider the following five factors: bad faith, undue delay, prejudice [*6] to the opposing party, futility of amendment, and whether the plaintiff has previously amended the complaint. United States v. Corinthian Colleges, 655 F.3d 984, 995 (9th Cir. 2011).
A. Consideration of the Draft Audit Report
In support of its motion to dismiss, ASI has submitted a document entitled “Whitman College Outdoor Programs Draft Risk Management Audit” (hereafter “audit report”). ECF No. 36-1. The parties disagree about whether the Court may properly consider the contents of this document without converting the instant motion into a motion for summary judgment. On December 4, 2012, in response to Plaintiff’s concerns that ASI was effectively seeking summary judgment, the Court ruled that it would treat ASI’s motion “as a standard motion to dismiss, considering only (1) facts specifically alleged in the complaint; and (2) documents submitted by Defendants that were referenced in the complaint and whose authenticity has not been questioned.” ECF No. 52 at 3-4. This ruling was based, in large part, upon ASI’s representations that it had submitted the audit report “for background purposes” only and that the contents of the report were “not relevant to the actual issues of law before [*7] the court.” See ECF No. 51 at 5.
It has now become clear that the contents of the audit report are material to the issues of law presented in the instant motion. The crux of ASI’s argument is that it did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care because the dangerous condition which caused her accident was simply “outside the scope of the risk management audit” that it agreed to perform. ECF No. 70 at 7. Specifically, ASI argues that the scope of the audit was limited to “gain[ing] a general understanding of [Whitman College's] risk management practices,” and that it did not “guarantee that future operations will be free of safety incidents.” ECF No. 70 at 7 (citing ECF No. 71-1 at 9). Because this argument expressly relies upon the contents of the audit report itself, the Court must decide whether the audit report is “fair game” at this early stage of the proceedings.
“Generally, a district court may not consider any material beyond the pleadings in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n. 19 (9th Cir. 1989). One exception to this rule is the so-called “incorporation by reference doctrine,” which permits a court to consider “documents [*8] whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the plaintiff’s pleading.” Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005). As the Ninth Circuit explained in Knievel, this exception typically applies in “situations in which the plaintiff’s claim depends on the contents of a document, the defendant attaches the document to its motion to dismiss, and the parties do not dispute the authenticity of the document.” Id. The underlying purpose of this exception is “to prevent plaintiffs from surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion by deliberately omitting documents upon which their claims are based.” Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation and citation omitted); see also United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003) (explaining that that the incorporation by reference doctrine “may apply, for example, when a plaintiff’s claim about insurance coverage is based on the contents of a coverage plan, or when a plaintiff’s claim about stock fraud is based on the contents of SEC filings”) (citations omitted).
The Court will not consider the audit report under the incorporation by reference [*9] doctrine for several reasons. First, the contents of the report are disputed. In responding to the instant motion, Plaintiff indicates that only a portion of the document was prepared by Defendant Kosseff and that another portion may have been prepared by Whitman College prior to ASI’s inspection of its facilities. ECF No. 67 at 2-3. Plaintiff further asserts that the audit report purports to be a draft rather than a finalized document. See ECF No. 36-1. This latter assertion is particularly on-point. Indeed, the document is styled as a “Draft Risk Management Audit,” and has the words “Whitman College Draft Risk Management Audit” reproduced at the top of each page. ECF No. 36-1 (emphasis in original).
Second, considering the audit report at this juncture would not serve the underlying purpose of the incorporation by reference doctrine. Notably, this is not a case in which the plaintiff has attempted to survive a motion to dismiss “by deliberately omitting documents upon which [her] claims are based.” Swartz, 476 F.3d at 763. To the contrary, Plaintiff did not have a copy of the audit report (and therefore lacked knowledge of its precise contents) when this lawsuit was filed. See Pl.’s [*10] Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 15, 30-31 (alleging that Plaintiff learned of the audit report’s existence from an investigation performed by the Department of Labor and Industries and that Whitman College and Defendant ASI “failed or refused” to provide her with a copy before the lawsuit was filed).
Third, the contents of the audit report are not particularly “integral” to Plaintiff’s claim. See Ritchie, 342 F.3d at 908. Unlike claims for breach of an insurance contract, for example (see Ritchie, 342 F.3d at 908), Plaintiff’s negligence claim does not necessarily rely upon the contents of a specific document. In fact, Plaintiff could theoretically prove the elements of her negligence claim (i.e., duty, breach, causation and damages) exclusively through witness testimony without introducing the audit report at all. Further, it is worth noting that the audit report is not a contract between ASI and Whitman College; it is simply ASI’s work product. As such, the audit report is not particularly probative of the most crucial issue in this case: whether ASI owed Plaintiff a legal duty. Although the report details specific tasks performed, it does not describe the precise scope of work that that [*11] ASI agreed to perform.
Finally, equitable considerations weigh against considering the audit report at this time. At bottom, Plaintiff’s negligence claim relies on the allegation that ASI agreed to “analyze and point out dangers and suggest remediation of dangers to prevent injury to students and employees utilizing the climbing wall.” Pl.’s Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 28. ASI has attempted to establish that the audit was more limited in scope and that, as a result, it did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care. In so doing, however, ASI has expressly relied upon the contents of the audit report. Based upon ASI’s prior representation that it would not do so, the Court denied Plaintiff an opportunity to conduct additional discovery relevant to this issue. That ruling has now placed Plaintiff at a significant disadvantage. Accordingly, the Court will not consider the contents of the audit report to the exclusion of other evidence which Plaintiff may develop as discovery progresses.
B. Duty Owed to Intended Third-Party Beneficiary
In light of the Court’s ruling above, the only remaining issue is whether Plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim on the facts alleged in the complaint. In the Court’s [*12] view, the relevant inquiry is whether Plaintiff was an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract between ASI and Whitman College. To the extent that Plaintiff was an intended beneficiary as an employee and student of Whitman College, ASI may have owed her a duty of care to discover the dangerous condition at issue. See Burg v. Shannon & Wilson, Inc., 110 Wash. App. 798, 807-08, 43 P.3d 526 (2002) (holding that engineering firm had no duty of care to disclose specific safety recommendations to third party who would have benefitted from the recommendations, but who was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the underlying agreement). To the extent that Plaintiff was merely an incidental beneficiary of the contract, however, she lacks a cognizable claim. Id. Stated somewhat differently, the viability of Plaintiff’s claim depends upon the extent to which ASI agreed to undertake the risk management audit for the benefit of the college’s employees and students rather than for the benefit the college itself.
In her complaint, Plaintiff squarely alleges that the risk management audit was performed for the benefit of Whitman College’s employees and students. See Pl.’s Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 28 [*13] (“The risk assessment was done for the benefit of Whitman College and its employees and students because Whitman College understood its duty to provide safe recreational activities and as part of good institutional management.”). This allegation, which the Court must accept as true for purposes of this motion, is sufficient to establish that Plaintiff was an intended third-party beneficiary of the agreement such that ASI may have owed her a duty of care to discover the dangerous condition at issue. Whether Plaintiff was in fact an intended beneficiary–as well as the scope of any duty owed to her by ASI–may be revisited on summary judgment.
ACCORDINGLY, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 33) is DENIED.
The District Court Executive is hereby directed to enter this Order and provide copies to counsel.
DATED this 14th day of January, 2012.
/s/ Thomas O. Rice
THOMAS O. RICE
United States District Judge
By Recreation Law Recfirstname.lastname@example.org James H. Moss Jim Moss
Tone v. Song Mountain Ski Center, et al., 37 Misc. 3d 1217A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5136; 2012 NY Slip Op 52069UPosted: February 18, 2013
Tone v. Song Mountain Ski Center, et al., 37 Misc. 3d 1217A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5136; 2012 NY Slip Op 52069U
Christina J. Tone and Steven Tone, Plaintiffs, against Song Mountain Ski Center and South Slope Development Corp. and their Agents, Servants and Employees, and Peter Harris, Individually and d/b/a Song Mountain Ski Center, and Individually as a member, officer, shareholder and director of South Slope Development Corp. and Song Mountain Ski Center, Defendants.
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, ONONDAGA COUNTY
37 Misc. 3d 1217A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5136; 2012 NY Slip Op 52069U
November 2, 2012, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.
CORE TERMS: lift, chair lift, attendant, skis, skier, mountain, chairlift, skiing, triple, gate, inspection, ski lift, ski area, training, riding, slowed, feet, ramp, snow, speed, deposition testimony, issue of fact, deposition, ex-husband, passenger, downhill, tramway, sport, safe, top
[*1217A] Negligence–Assumption of Risk–Skier Injured on Chair Lift.
COUNSEL: [**1] For Plaintiffs: MICHELLE RUDDEROW, ESQ., OF WILLIAMS & RUDDEROW, PLLC.
For Defendants: MATTHEW J. KELLY, ESQ., OF ROEMER, WALLENS, GOLD & MINEAUX, LLP.
JUDGES: Donald A. Greenwood, Supreme Court Justice.
OPINION BY: Donald A. Greenwood
The defendants have moved for summary judgment dismissal of the complaint against them, which alleges that the plaintiff suffered a fractured hip at Song Mountain on February 25, 2007 while attempting to exit a chair lift. The defendants move for dismissal on the grounds that all of the evidence shows that the ski lift was properly designed and operated and that the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injury.
As the proponent of the motion, the defendants are required to establish their entitlement to dismissal as a matter of law through the tender of admissible evidence. See, Hunt v. Kostarellis, 27 AD3d 1178, 810 N.Y.S.2d 765 (4th Dept. 2006). The defendants have done so here through their [***2] reliance, inter alia, on the plaintiff’s deposition testimony. The plaintiff testified that she was skiing with her nine year old son at the time and that she was an intermediate level skier with approximately fifteen years of experience. She owned her own skis and boots and had skied more than fifty times. [**2] On the date of the accident, she took two runs down the mountain and on both occasions rode the triple chair lift without incident. On her third occasion up the mountain she again rode the triple chair lift. Her son was with her, as was her ex-husband. Plaintiff testified that she sat on the right side of the chair, her son sat in the middle and the ex-husband sat on the left side. According to plaintiff, while riding up the chair lift she noticed that her skis were crossed with her son’s skis, so she let her son get off the chair lift first. Her ex-husband also got off the chair lift, but plaintiff waited. During her deposition, the plaintiff was shown the “Incident Report Form” completed at the time, which she signed. The form indicates that plaintiff said that she let her son get off first because their skis were crossed and that “I waited too late, and when I jumped approximately 6 feet, landed on my left hip.” When asked at her deposition what she did after her son got off, she responded that she did not remember, that she did not recall trying to get off, but that it happened so quickly that when the chairlift made its turn she “just flew off.”
The defendants also rely upon an [**3] inspection report completed by the Department of Labor on December 12, 2006, two months before the accident. An inspection of the chairlift was conducted by the Industry Inspection Bureau. Two violations unrelated to the design of the lift or exit ramp were found at that time and two unrelated violations were subsequently determined. Defendants note, however, that no deficiencies were found with respect to the design of the lift or exit ramp, the speed of the lift, or the location of the safety gate on the lift.
In addition, the defendants rely upon New York State regulations referenced in the Department of Labor inspections and standards promulgated by the American National Standards Institute which address industry wide safety standards for a variety of products and industries. Those regulations provide that the maximum relative carrier speed in feet per minute for chair lifts states that a triple chairlift carrying skiers may travel at a maximum speed of five hundred feet per minute. Defendants also provide an affidavit of Peter Harris, the President of South Slope Development Corporation, the operator of Song Mountain. Harris indicates that the chairlift traveled at a maximum speed [**4] of four hundred to five hundred feet per minute, which is equal to less than five miles per hour. He also claims that plaintiff failed to depart from the chairlift at the appropriate time, despite being warned by the unload signs. In addition, he indicates that the lift has certain safety mechanisms and if the plaintiff was to stay on the lift as it turned around the bull wheel heading downhill, her skis would hit the safety gate, which would stop the lift and allow for a safe evacuation of the lift. Plaintiff instead jumped from the lift before the safety gate, resulting in her being injured. He notes that the design of the lift specifically would have prevented the injury if she had remained on it, and the fact that the lift operated property is demonstrated by the fact that of the three people on the lift, two of them exited the lift in accordance with proper procedure and were not injured.
Defendants have also established in the first instance that any argument that the lift attendants were not properly trained is without merit, since Harris testified at his deposition that Song Mountain uses an industry standard lift operating training program designed by the National Ski Areas [**5] Association and that the program includes an in depth training DVD, training [***3] manuals and tests. The defendants also rely upon the deposition testimony of Carl Blaney, a long time attendant, who testified that the lift attendants took annual quizzes prior to the start of the season in order to demonstrate that they understood their duties in operating the lifts. It is also argued that plaintiff’s contention that the lift should have been slowed because plaintiff’s nine year old son was riding is incorrect. Blaney testified that the lift would not have been slowed for that reason, nor is there any evidence that simply because a child is riding the lift that it should be slowed. Defendants also point to the lift attendant’s daily log for the date of the accident, which demonstrates that the triple chair lift was fully checked on that date to ensure that all systems were working properly. The stops switches and safety gate were working, the ramps were snow covered and at a proper grade, the phones were working properly and the counter weight on the lift was clear and within normal limits. It is argued that since all of the evidence demonstrates that the lift was operating properly, the [**6] cause of the accident was solely plaintiff’s failure to disembark at the appropriate location, followed by her failure to remain seated once she missed the off load ramp. The defendants have met their burden in establishing that since there is no evidence that they improperly maintained the ski lift or that it was negligently designed, plaintiff cannot make a showing that the risks to her were increased or hidden. See, Sontag v. Holiday Valley, Inc., 38 AD3d 1350, 832 N.Y.S.2d 705 (4th Dept. 2007); see also, Painter v. Peek’n Peak Recreation, Inc., 2 AD3d 1289, 769 N.Y.S.2d 678 (4th Dept. 2003).
The defendants have also met their burden in the first instance of establishing that the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injury. Defendants point to the General Obligations Law, which addresses safety in skiing. The triple chair lift is identified as a “passenger tramway”, a mechanical device intended to transport skiers for the purpose of providing access to ski slopes and trails as defined by the Commissioner of Labor… See, GOL §18-102. Under “duties of passengers” the following are listed: to familiarize themselves with the safe use of any tramway prior to its use and…to board or disembark from passenger tramways only at [**7] points or areas designated by the ski area operator. See, GOL §18-104; see also, 12 NYCRR 54.4(a). A ski area operator is relieved from liability for risks inherent in the sport of downhill skiing, including the risks associated with the use of a chair lift when the participant is aware of, appreciates and voluntarily assumes the risk. See, DeLacy v. Catamount Development Corp., 302 AD2d 735, 755 N.Y.S.2d 484 (3rd Dept. 2003). In assessing whether one injured in the course of participating in a sporting or recreational event has assumed the risk posed by an assuredly dangerous condition, the critical inquiry is whether that condition is unique, constituting a hazard over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport. See, Simoneau v. State of New York, 248 AD2d 865, 669 N.Y.S.2d 972 (3rd Dept. 1998), citing, Morgan v. State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 (1997). Defendants have established that plaintiff was an experienced skier and had skied extensively at Song Mountain. It is further argued that the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injury by failing to comply with the requirements of the safety and skiing code by disembarking at the appropriate location. Plaintiff testified that she failed to get off the lift [**8] at the dismount area and had she stayed on she would have tripped the safety gate, which would have stopped the lift automatically. Inasmuch as the defendants have met their burden in the first instance, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to raise an [***4] issue of fact. See, Hunt, supra.
The plaintiff points to a recent Fourth Department case where the plaintiff skier was riding a chair lift with her son, a snow boarder. Plaintiff’s skis became entangled with the snow board and her son panicked and began yelling that he could not untangle the skis, despite frantic attempts. See, Miller v. Holiday Valley, Inc., 85 AD3d 1706, 925 N.Y.S.2d 785 (4th Dept. 2011). Plaintiff’s son exited the lift, but he pulled the plaintiff out of the lift chair in the process and she was injured. See, id. Plaintiff alleged that the top lift attendant should have slowed or stopped the lift because she and her son reached the unloading area. See, id. The court found that a question of fact existed as to whether the alleged failure to operate the ski lift in a safe manner was a proximate cause of the accident. See, id. In so finding, the court noted plaintiff’s deposition testimony that her son was yelling and making frantic attempts [**9] to untangle the skis and snow board and that plaintiff’s expert relied on that testimony in concluding that “the top lift attendant had sufficient time to observe plaintiff’s distress and to engage in what defendant’s night lift operation supervisor characterized as the exercise of judgment to slow or stop the lift.” Id. Defendants correctly argue that there is no evidence in the present case that plaintiff and her son caused any type of commotion prior to reaching the unloading area or tried to alert the attendant in any way for the top lift attendant to have noticed they were having any difficulty. The plaintiff has failed to come forward with proof in admissible form as in Miller, supra. that either the ski lift operator saw or should have seen that the plaintiff was in distress. Nor does plaintiff provide an expert opinion that based upon the facts here, the operator had time to take an action that would have prevented plaintiff’s fall. Plaintiff has likewise failed to raise an issue of fact as to whether she assumed the risk of her injury. Plaintiff does not dispute her experience as a skier or that she was familiar with the subject lift, as required by law. See, GOL §18-104; see [**10] also, 12 NYCRR §54.4. Nor has she submitted evidence to raise an issue of fact as to whether the defendants “created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in the sport of [downhill skiing]” Bennett v. Kissing Bridge Corporation, 17 AD3d 990, 794 N.Y.S.2d 538 (4th Dept. 2005), quoting, Owen v. RJS Safety Equip., 79 NY2d 967, 591 N.E.2d 1184, 582 N.Y.S.2d 998 (1992); see also, Miller, supra, quoting, Sontag, supra.
The plaintiff has also failed in her burden with respect to whether the lift attendants were properly trained, and in fact points to the National Ski Area’s Association Training completed by defendant’s employees. Nor has the plaintiff raised an issue as to whether the lift was properly operating on the day of the accident. Plaintiff has not disputed the inspection reports or the defendants’ compliance with the requisite regulations.
NOW, therefore, for the foregoing reasons, it is
ORDERED, that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissal is granted.
Dated: November 2, 2012
Syracuse, New York
DONALD A. GREENWOOD
Supreme Court Justice [***5]
Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682
Donna Rich and Mark Rich, Individually and as Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs, vs. Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp., Defendants.
2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682
January 28, 2013, Decided
January 28, 2013, Filed
CORE TERMS: tube, snow, summary judgment, guest, flung, attendant, top, evening, tuber, tubing, rope, pushed, deceleration, temperature, daughter, ski, issue of material fact, citation omitted, introducing, deposition, genuine, sport, conversation, double, ramp, tow, ran, credibility, causally, test runs
COUNSEL: [*1] For Plaintiffs: John W. Liguori, Esq., OF COUNSEL, Rehfuss, Liguori & Associates, P.C., Latham, NY.
For Defendants: Matthew J. Kelly, Esq., OF COUNSEL, Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, Albany, NY.
JUDGES: Mae A. D’Agostino, U.S. District Judge.
OPINION BY: Mae A. D’Agostino
Mae A. D’Agostino, U.S. District Judge:
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs commenced the within action against Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp. (“defendants” or “Ranch”) seeking monetary damages for pain and suffering and loss of consortium as a result of an accident that occurred on February 6, 2009. Plaintiffs allege that defendants’ negligence resulted in injury to plaintiff, Donna Rich. Presently before the Court is defendants’ motion summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In the alternative, defendants seek an order precluding plaintiffs from presenting medical evidence at trial with respect to certain injuries that defendants claim were not causally related to the accident. (Dkt. No. 28). Plaintiffs opposed the motion and cross-moved for an order pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 403 precluding certain evidence offered by defendants on the motion. (Dkt. No. 31). [*2] This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
1 Defendants filed a Statement of Material Facts and plaintiffs properly responded. Plaintiffs also set forth additional facts. Defendants have not responded to these additional assertions in the reply submission. To the extent that the “facts” asserted by plaintiffs in the Statement of Material Facts are supported by the record, the Court will consider them in the context of the within motion. The background set forth in this section is taken from: (1) defendants’ Statements of Material Facts and plaintiff’s responses therein; (2) the exhibits and evidence submitted by defendants in support of the motion for summary judgment; and (3) the exhibits and evidence submitted by plaintiffs in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. The facts recited are for the relevant time period as referenced in the complaint.
The facts in this case, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed. Rocking Horse Ranch is a family-owned resort in Highland, New York that provides a variety of activities for guests including horseback riding, water activities, entertainment, skiing and snow tubing. Plaintiff, Donna Rich (“plaintiff” or “D. Rich”), [*3] went to the Rocking Horse Ranch with her husband, Mark Rich (“plaintiff” or “M. Rich”) and their two children. Plaintiffs checked in on February 6, 2010 and stayed until Sunday, February 8, 2010.
The ski area and tube run at the Ranch are inspected by the New York State Department of Labor. The Ranch receives a permit from the State to operate the lift at the snow tube hill. The snow tube hill has been in continuous operation at the Ranch since 1994 or 1995. On a given day, approximately 1000 tubes will go down the snow tube hill. The snow tubing hill at the Ranch consists of a single tow rope and either one or two lanes for snow tubers. Guests hook their tubes to the tow rope and ride up the hill. Guests then ride their tubes to the bottom. Ranch employees assist with each step, including giving a “gentle” nudge in order to get the guests started down the hill. Guests may ride in single tubes alone or in double tubes with another person. The snow tube hill ends in a flat area covered with hay and then continues into a deceleration ramp – an uphill section designed to further slow riders. “Willy bags” and hay bales are set up to “create a horseshoe for protection” around the deceleration [*4] ramp.2
2 The parties disagree on whether Willy bags were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.
Generally, because the speed of the tubes is affected by changeable conditions, the snow tube run is tested by the employees before it opens. If tubers are traveling too far up the deceleration ramp, staff members will add additional deceleration mats – rubber mats used to slow the riders – and they will add additional hay at the base of the deceleration ramp, stretching it out so that tubers hit the hay sooner and slow down. Ranch employees test both the single and double tubes before opening the snow tube hill to guests.3 Typically, the double tubes will go farther than the single tubes. Generally, because the conditions are changeable, Ranch employees constantly monitor the distance guests are traveling, and they make adjustments to the hay and mats as needed, even after the hill has opened to guests.4
3 The parties dispute whether these procedures were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.
4 The parties dispute whether these procedures were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.
On the evening of February 6, 2010, plaintiff and her family went snow tubing at the [*5] Ranch. The highest temperature was 26 degrees Fahrenheit with a low temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit.5 Plaintiff knew that snow-tubing involved risks and that there were no brakes on the tube and that she was unable to steer the tube. Plaintiff took approximately three or four trips down the hill with her daughter on a double tube. Each time they would ride to the top of the hill using the tow rope. An attendant at the top of the tow rope would unhook their tube after they climbed off of it, and they would wait in line for their turn to go down the hill. Each time plaintiff rode down the hill with her daughter, she came to a complete stop on the hay at the bottom of the hill. After taking three or four trips down the hill with her daughter, plaintiff switched to a single tube. Plaintiff rode to the top of the hill in her single tube and found the same two attendants working at the top of the hill. Plaintiff believed the attendants’ names were “Tim” and “Sal”.6 Plaintiff claims that the two attendants were talking to each other about trying to get tubers to strike the back of the wall at the end of the tube run. Plaintiff claims that McDermott pushed a girl in a tube, and she [*6] went down the hill “at a good pace” and then stopped on the hay.
5 See Affidavit of Paul F. Cooney, annexed to defendants’ motion for summary judgment as Exhibit P. The affidavit contains certified meteorological records from the National Climatic Data Center. The parties do not object to the authenticity of those records. The records will be considered by the Court on the within motion.
6 The record indicates that the names were Tim McDermott (“McDermott”) and Sal Frisher (“Frisher”).
McDermott helped plaintiff’s daughter into a tube and pushed her down the hill. Plaintiff then got into her tube. Plaintiff claims that, without warning, Frisher took the rope attached to her tube, ran her back towards the woods, then turned and ran her to the top of the hill and “flung” her down the hill. McDermott does not remember the incident at all and denies ever seeing a coworker “fling” a tuber down the hill. Frisher does not remember the incident and denies ever seeing anyone “fling” a tuber down the hill. Plaintiff struck the barrier at the top of the deceleration ramp. Amanda Odendahl (“Odendahl”), a Ranch employee, was working at the snow tube hill on the evening of plaintiff’s accident and testified [*7] that she, “remember[ed] a woman coming down and hitting the back of the wall, rolling out of her tube”. At the time of plaintiff’s accident, the temperature was between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ranch employees assisted plaintiff from the hill. Jack Barnello (“Barnello”), a first aid provider and the manager on duty, examined plaintiff. Barnello walked plaintiff to the ski shop area so that she could sit down. They stayed in the ski shop area for approximately ten minutes, but plaintiff wanted to go back to her room to lie down. Plaintiff returned to her room and Barnello brought another employee, a nurse, to check on plaintiff in her room. Plaintiff complained of a headache. Barnello and the nurse suggested that plaintiff get checked at the hospital, but plaintiff refused to go. Barnello completed an accident report regarding the incident.7 Plaintiff claims that she told Barnello that she was “flung” down the hill. Barnello denies the conversation. The accident report indicates that the accident occurred at 8:00 p.m. at the “bottom of tube run”. In the section of the report entitled “Description of Incident, Statements, Witness(es), Address of Witness(es), Barnello wrote:
Guest [*8] struck her head (left side) on the back wall of the tube run. She was in a single tube, she was thrown into the back wall when tube hit the back wall.
7 The report is annexed to defendants’ motion as Exhibit “R”. Barnello identified the report during his deposition and plaintiffs do not object to the admissibility of the report. Accordingly, the Court will consider the report in the context of the within motion.
Plaintiff did not receive any medical treatment that evening. The next day, plaintiff skied for an hour or two with her family. While at the ski hill, plaintiff spoke with Anthony Riggio (“Riggio), the head of grounds at the Ranch, and claims that she told Riggio about the accident. Riggio denied that plaintiff told him that she had been “flung” down the hill. In the days after the accident, plaintiff claims that she spoke with Stanley Ackerman, the Ranch’s general manager. However, the parties do not agree on the substance of that conversation. M. Rich testified that plaintiff told him that she was “flung” [*9] down the hill. M. Rich did not see the accident occur and did not discuss the accident with any Ranch employees. Plaintiff took Advil and remained at the Ranch for the weekend.
I. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Standard on Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 ( c ). Substantive law determines which facts are material; that is, which facts might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 258, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). If the Court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, determines that the movant has satisfied this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to adduce evidence establishing the existence of a disputed issue of material fact requiring a trial. See id. If the nonmovant fails to [*10] carry this burden, summary judgment is appropriate. See id. “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and an issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. v. Hudson River–Black River Regulating Dist., 673 F.3d 84, 94 (2d Cir. 2012).
Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is only appropriate where admissible evidence in the form of affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other documentation demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and one party’s entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Viola v. Philips Med. Sys. of N. Am., 42 F.3d 712, 716 (2d Cir.1994). No genuinely triable factual issue exists when the moving party demonstrates, on the basis of the pleadings and submitted evidence, and after drawing all inferences and resolving all ambiguities in favor of the non-movant, that no rational jury could find in the non-movant’s favor. Chertkova v. Conn. Gen’l Life Ins. Co., 92 F .3d 81, 86 (2d Cir.1996) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 ( c ).
In applying this standard, the court should not weigh evidence [*11] or assess the credibility of witnesses. Hayes v. New York City Dep’t of Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Credibility determinations and choices between conflicting versions of the events are generally matters for a jury and not for the court on summary judgment. Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing inter alia Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). While not argued by defendants, there is a very narrow exception to the rule as stated by the Second Circuit in Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553-55 (2d Cir. 2005). In Jeffreys, the Second Circuit held that summary judgment may be awarded in the rare circumstance where there is nothing in the record to support plaintiff’s allegations, other than his own contradictory and incomplete testimony, and even after drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court determines that “no reasonable person” could believe the plaintiff’s testimony. Id. at 554-55. In order for the Jeffreys exception to apply: (1) the plaintiff must rely “almost exclusively on her own testimony”; (2) the plaintiff’s testimony must be contradictory or incomplete; and (3) the plaintiff’s version [*12] of events must be contradicted by defense testimony. Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 554.
B. Assumption of the Risk
Where jurisdiction is based upon diversity, the court must apply the substantive law of the forum state. Travelers Ins. Co. v. 633 Third Assocs., 14 F.3d 114, 119 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Ascher, 522 F. Supp. 2d at 452 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (citations omitted). A person who elects to engage in a sport or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation”. Morgan v. State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 (1997). A participant “may be held to have consented to those injury-causing events which are known, apparent and reasonably foreseeable”. Youmans v. Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 53 A.D.3d 957, 958, 862 N.Y.S.2d 626 (3d Dep’t 2008) (citations omitted). However, a participant does not assume risks that are the result of reckless or intentional conduct, risks “concealed or unreasonably increased” or risks that result in a “dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in the activity.” Morgan, 90 N.Y.2d at 485; Huneau v. Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 17 A.D.3d 848, 849, 794 N.Y.S.2d 460 (3d Dep’t 2005) (citations [*13] omitted). “Generally, whether the plaintiff assumed a risk by participating in a sport is a question for the jury; dismissal of the complaint is appropriate only when the proof before the court reveals no triable issue of fact.” Samuels v. High Braes Refuge, Inc., 8 A.D.3d 1110, 1111, 778 N.Y.S.2d 640 (4th Dep’t 2004) (citations omitted).
Here, defendants claim that they satisfied their duty to make conditions safe. Specifically, defendants assert that plaintiff was aware of the risks associated with snow tubing and that she rode down the hill three or four times before her accident occurred. Defendants also allege that summary judgment is warranted because there is no evidence corroborating plaintiff’s version of how the incident occurred. Plaintiffs claim that defendants’ employees engaged in reckless conduct.
Plaintiff testified that she rode down the hill three or four times on a double tube with her daughter. However, her accident occurred during her first run down in a single tube. Plaintiff testified that as she waited in line, “I heard one of the boys joking with the other about having people – - trying to get people to hit the wall”. (D. Rich EBT at p. 88-89). Plaintiff explained that the “boys” [*14] were the two attendants at the top of the hill and believed their names were “Tim” and “Sal”. When plaintiff was ready to move down the hill, she claims that Sal:
. . . took my rope, and he ran me back to the wooded line. And then he turned, and ran me to the tope of the hill and kind of flung my tube down.
Id. at 94.
Plaintiff testified that Sal ran backwards, “more than five feet”. Id. at 96. Plaintiff never saw Sal do this at any other time during the evening. Plaintiff also testified that the day after the incident, she told Jack Barnello, Anthony Riggio and Stanley Ackerman exactly how the accident occurred. Id. at 103-106. Plaintiff claims that Barnello told her that, “he knew something wasn’t right because of the groups behavior after the tube”. Id. at 112. Plaintiff also claims that Barnello told her that he, “addressed the boys, and that they had admitted to fooling around”. Id. at 114. Plaintiff cannot identify any witnesses to her accident. Id. at 115.
The defense witnesses provide different accounts of the events that transpired during the weekend. In some instances, the testimony of the defense witnesses contradict each other. Frisher was deposed and testified that he never [*15] saw plaintiff prior to the date of his deposition and that he had no recollection of working on Friday, February 6, 2009. In fact, Mr. Frisher testified that “I’m usually off on a Friday and Saturday”. In support of the within motion, McDermott provided an affidavit and states, “I do not have any specific memory of this incident”. Riggio testified that “Sal and Tim were mentioned to me as the attendants at the time” but admitted that he knew that from reviewing plaintiff’s deposition testimony. Moreover, Riggio, Ackerman and Barnello did not speak with Frisher or McDermott about the incident. Riggio stated he eventually spoke with Frisher but only after the lawsuit was commenced.
Riggio admitted that he had a brief conversation with plaintiffs in the presence of Stan Ackerman. However, Ackerman testified that he did not recall seeing plaintiff while she was at the facility. (Ackerman EBT at p. 13). According to Riggio, plaintiff never described how the accident occurred and the conversation involved how she was feeling and getting her daughter help on the rope tow. (Riggio EBT at p. 26). Riggio, Barnello and Ackerman testified that none of the Ranch employees were disciplined as a result [*16] of the incident. Ackerman stated that he did not recall telling plaintiff, in any subsequent telephone conversations, that the attendants on the snow tubing hill had been disciplined. (Ackerman EBT at p.34). Barnello testified that he completed an accident report but did not recall plaintiff ever telling him that she was “forcibly launched” down the hill. (Barnello EBT at p. 24).
Defendants also contend that plaintiffs did not read warning signs at the facility. However, plaintiff testified that she had no recollection of any kind of signs that were present at the facility. See D. Rich EBT at p. 72. During plaintiff’s deposition, she was shown photographs of signs and asked if she recalled seeing the signs at the Ranch. Plaintiff testified, “No”. The photographs are not part of the record herein.8 Moreover, there is no evidence with respect to what was posted on the signs, where the signs were located and whether the signs were present at the Ranch on the day of plaintiff’s accident.
8 The Court notes that there are photographs of signs annexed to Jim Engel’s, plaintiffs’ expert, affidavit. Mr. Engel reviewed the signs but does not state whether the signs were present on the day of plaintiff’s [*17] accident or where they were located at the Ranch. Therefore, the photographs are not in competent, admissible evidence and will not be considered by this Court on the within motion.
Based upon the record, the parties and witnesses present varying accounts of the accident and thus, genuine issues of fact exist requiring a trial in this matter. The Court finds that this case does not fall within the narrow Jeffreys exception. Plaintiff’s testimony is not contrary or incomplete. Moreover, plaintiff’s testimony is not contradicted by reliable defense witnesses. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, there are clear factual issues to be resolved by the jury including whether the attendants at the top of the hill unreasonably increased the risk of injury to plaintiff. See Huneau, 17 A.D.3d at 849.
The Court has reviewed the cases cited by defendants in support of the within motion and finds them factually distinguishable from the matter herein. In those cases, the plaintiffs described accidents with “foreseeable consequences” of snow tubing and did not prove that the defendants unreasonably enhanced the dangers. See Youmans, 53 A.D.3d at 959; Berdecia v. County of Orange, 15 Misc.3d 1102[A], 836 N.Y.S.2d 496, 2006 NY Slip Op 52582[U] [N.Y. Sup. 2006] [*18] (the plaintiff was “pushed” successfully on each of her three prior runs and voluntarily presented for a fourth run); Tremblay v. W. Experience, 296 A.D.2d 780, 745 N.Y.S.2d 311 (3d Dep’t 2002) (the risk of impacting the snow barrier was reasonably foreseeable).
Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate because plaintiff signed an assumption of risk notification warning her of the risk of physical injury when using defendants’ facility. Plaintiff admits that she executed the waiver but contends that the waiver simply warned of weather-related conditions and changes in terrain and as such, plaintiff could not have assumed the risk of being launched down the run.9
9 The form is attached to defendants’ motion as Exhibit “S”. The document is not in competent, admissible form. However, plaintiffs do not dispute the authenticity of the document and thus, it will be considered by the Court on the motion.
An exculpatory agreement will be enforced when the language expresses in unequivocal terms the intention of the parties to relieve a defendant of liability for the defendant’s negligence. Walker v. Young Life Saranac Vill., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166057, 2012 WL 5880682, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (citations omitted). “[T]he [*19] law frowns upon contracts intended to exculpate a party from the consequences of its own negligence”. Id. (citing Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 106, 400 N.E.2d 306, 424 N.Y.S.2d 365 (1979)). “It must be plain and precise that the limitation of liability extends to negligence or the fault of the party attempting to shed its ordinary responsibility.” 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166057, [WL] at *8. Further, an agreement that attempts to exempt a party from grossly negligent acts is wholly void. Gross, 49 N.Y.2d at 106.
On February 6, 2009, plaintiff executed a form entitled “Participants Responsibilities of Activities and Assumptions of Risk”. The form provides, inter alia:
Guest acknowledges that participation in riding, water skiing and other sports and activities listed but not limited to those in brochure, and/or available at Rocking Horse Ranch Resort are used at participants own risk and guest is of legal age and will advise others in his/her parties in inherent risks in partaking of such activities.
* * *
3. I acknowledge that ski area and riding trail conditions vary constantly because of weather and natural causes. I also understand that ice, variations in terrain, moguls, rocks, forest growth, debris and other obstacles and hazards, including other [*20] participants exist throughout the property. Therefore I acknowledge that participation in any sport or activity can be a hazardous activity and that I could suffer personal injury as a participant.
I hereby expressly acknowledge my understanding and acceptance of the foregoing and agree to assume the risk of any personal injuries which I may incur during my use of the Rocking Horse Facilities.
The waiver makes no reference to “negligence” and does not mention the specific risks inherent in snow tubing. Thus, the waiver is insufficient to protect defendants from liability for the subject occurrence. Moreover, having never been made aware of the risks involved in the activity, claimant cannot be considered to have assumed them. Long v. State, 158 A.D.2d 778, 780-781, 551 N.Y.S.2d 369 (3d Dep’t 1990). Thus, summary judgment based upon the waiver of liability is not appropriate.
D. Proximate Cause
Defendants also argues, in the alternative, that even assuming there is an issue of fact with respect to the assumption of the risk doctrine, defendants have demonstrated that being “flung” down the hill, in the manner plaintiff described, was not the proximate cause of the accident.
On February 11, 2012, at approximately [*21] 5:30 p.m., defendants conducted an experiment to determine the effects of being pushed and “flung” on the distance traveled at the snow tube hill. The highest temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit with a low temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time of the test runs, the temperature was approximately 28 degrees Fahrenheit. A Ranch employee who matched plaintiff’s physical characteristics, weighing approximately 200 pounds and standing approximately 5 feet 2 inches tall, took nine runs down the snow tube hill. On the first three runs, the employee was not pushed at all. On the next three runs, the employee was given a hard push on his back. On the final three runs, the employee was pulled backwards by the strap and then “flung” down the hill. In support of the motion, defendants offer the affidavit of Paul Engel, the owner of Sunburst Ski Area. Engel avers that he has engaged in “extensive analysis of the factors that affect speed and distance of snow-tubers”. However, Engel does not assert, nor is there any evidence, that he was present during the experiments that were conducted in February 2012. Rather, he states that he reviewed the video footage taken that evening and that [*22] he “reached several conclusions based on that footage and the associated case information”.
Plaintiffs’ expert, Paul F. Cooney, performed a series of calculations that allegedly led to the conclusion that being pushed or flung would cause a snow tuber to travel farther down the hill. According to plaintiffs’ expert’s calculations, it was possible for a snow tuber to hit the wall if he or she was flung down the hill.
The Court is wary of awarding summary judgment where there are conflicting expert reports. In re Omnicom Group, Inc. Sec. Litig., 597 F.3d 501, 512 (2d Cir. 2010); Rand v. Volvo Fin. N. Am., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33674, 2007 WL 1351751, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (“[i]t is not for the court to decide which expert opinion is more persuasive.”). “The conflicting opinions and statements of both parties’ experts on material factual issues . . . can only be determined by a trial on the merits”. Regent Ins. Co. v. Storm King Contracting, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16513, 2008 WL 563465, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). It would be improper for the Court to engage in an evaluation of Engel’s and Cooney’s opinions. The jury must make a determination regarding the credibility of all expert witnesses. See Scanner Techs. Corp. v. Icos Vision Sys. Corp., 253 F.Supp.2d 624, 634 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) [*23] (“The credibility of competing expert witnesses is a matter for the jury, and not a matter to be decided on summary judgment.”).
II. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO PRECLUDE
In the alternative, defendants argue that plaintiffs should be precluded from introducing evidence that plaintiff’s herniations and surgeries were causally related to the accident at defendants’ facility.10 Defendants rely upon the lack of contemporaneous treatment records and the opinions of John T. Rigney, M.D., a radiologist retained by defendants to review plaintiff’s MRI films. Plaintiffs’ claim that the reports completed by plaintiff’s treating providers and surgeon indicate that her injuries are related to the accident.
10 On the motion, the parties present various “facts” with respect to plaintiff’s medical treatment. The Court will not recite these facts as they are irrelevant for the purposes of this motion.
As discussed in Part II, conflicting expert opinions preclude summary judgment. Moreover, evaluations of doctor’s testimony should be addressed by the factfinder. Augustine v. Hee, 161 F. App’x 77, 79 (2d Cir. 2005). The conflict in the medical opinions of the parties’ experts, is sufficient to raise an issue of [*24] material fact as to whether plaintiffs’s herniations and surgeries were causally related to the accident; thus, the claims may not be dismissed on summary judgment. See Shamanskaya v. Ma, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63814, 2009 WL 2230709, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. 2009). Defendants’ motion to preclude plaintiffs from introducing evidence related to this issue at trial is denied.
III. PLAINTIFFS’ CROSS MOTION
Plaintiffs cross move for an order precluding plaintiff from introducing the video of test runs from February 2011 on this motion. Based upon this Court’s decision above, plaintiffs’ cross-motion is denied as moot. Plaintiffs’ motion specifically seeks to preclude this evidence from consideration on this motion. The parties are advised that the Court takes no position on the admissibility of defendants’ video of test runs at trial.
It is hereby
ORDERED, that defendants motion for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint in its entirety (Dkt. No. 28) is DENIED; it is further
ORDERED that defendants motion to preclude plaintiff from introducing evidence at trial that plaintiff’s injuries were causally related to the accident (Dkt. No. 28) is DENIED; it is further
ORDERED, that plaintiffs’ motion to preclude [*25] defendants from introducing the video of the February 2011 test runs as evidence in support of defendants’ summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 31) is DENIED as moot.
ORDERED that a Settlement Conference is scheduled in this matter for April 2, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. in Albany. The parties are directed to appear at that time and make submissions in advance of the conference as directed in this Court’s Order Setting Settlement Conference which will be forthcoming.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: January 28, 2013
Albany, New York
/s/ Mae A. D’Agostino
Mae A. D’Agostino
U.S. District Judge
McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45
Marcella McGrath f/k/a Marcella Widger v. SNH Development, Inc. and John Doe, an unnamed individual
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY
2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45
May 19, 2008, Decided
THE ORDERS ON THIS SITE ARE TRIAL COURT ORDERS THAT ARE NOT BINDING ON OTHER TRIAL COURT JUSTICES OR MASTERS AND ARE SUBJECT TO APPELLATE REVIEW BY THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed by McGrath v. SNH Dev., Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 969 A.2d 392, 2009 N.H. LEXIS 43 (2009)
CORE TERMS: skiing, ski area, personal injury, snowmobile, negligence claim, summary judgment, public policy, reasonable person, exculpatory, property damage, inherent hazard, public service, bargaining power, contemplate, import, common occurrence, relationship existed, citations omitted, hazardous, disparity, sport, exculpatory provision, exculpatory clause, public interest, privately owned, horseback riding, contemplation, collision, racing, voluntarily assume
JUDGES: [*1] GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.
OPINION BY: GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON
The plaintiff commenced the instant action alleging negligence against the defendants, SNH Development, Inc. (“SNH Development”) and John Doe, an unnamed individual. The defendants now move for summary judgment, and the plaintiff objects.
For purposes of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the parties do not appear to dispute the following facts. SNH Development is a subsidiary of Peak Resorts, Inc. and owns and operates the Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington, New Hampshire. On October 23, 2003, the plaintiff signed an application (the “application”) for a season pass to the Crotched Mountain Ski Area. The application provides:
I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the ski area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death of property damage, release Crotched Mountain its owners and its agents, employees, directors, officers and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage [*2] which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operations of the ski area including, but not limited to, grooming snow making, ski lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or age the area, or my participation in skiing, accepting myself the full responsibility
Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. Moreover, on December 20, 2003, the plaintiff signed a Liability Release Agreement, which provides:
I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Peak Resorts, Inc, all of its subsidiaries, and its agents, employees, directors, officers, shareholders and the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment and the school and group organizers (collective “providers’), from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operation of the area including, but not limited to grooming, [*3] snowmaking, lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or agents of the areas, or my participating in skiing, snowboarding, blading, accepting myself the full responsibility.
Id. On February 20, 2004, the plaintiff was skiing 1 a trail at the Crotched Mountain Ski Area when an employee of SNH Development drove a snowmobile into the plaintiff’s path, causing a collision.
1 Some of the pleadings state that the plaintiff was skiing, while other’s state that the plaintiff was snowboarding.
The defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff signed the application and the Liability Release Agreement, both of which are valid, enforceable exculpatory contracts. The plaintiff objects, arguing that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy and that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim.
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court “consider[s] the affidavits and other evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” White v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 151 N.H. 544, 547, 864 A.2d 1101 (2004). [*4] The Court must grant a motion for summary judgment if its “review of the evidence does not reveal a genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law Id. A fact is material “if it affects the outcome of the litigation under the applicable substantive law.” Palmer v. Nan King Restaurant, 147 N.H. 681, 683, 798 A.2d 583 (2002).
New Hampshire law generally prohibits exculpatory contracts, but the Court will enforce them if; “(1) do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims were within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.” Dean v. MacDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-267, 786 A.2d 834 (2001). Thus, the Court considers each of these requirements in turn.
Regarding the first requirement, an exculpatory contract violates public policy if a special relationship existed between the parties or if there was some other disparity in bargaining power. See Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 106, 509 A.2d 151 (1986) (“A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does [*5] not contravene public policy i.e that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.”).
A special relationship exists “[w]here the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service….” Id. The plaintiff contends that a special relationship existed between the parties because any person operating a snowmobile has a statutory duty to yield the right of way, RSA 215-C:49, XII (Supp. 2007), and because the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public. Assuming that RSA 215-C:49, XII applies to the operation of a snowmobile on a privately owned ski area, the plaintiff has not offered any legal support for the conclusion that this statute somehow charges the defendants with a duty of public service. Moreover, the fact that the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public is not conclusive. For example, Barnes, involved a negligence claim arising from a collision at an enduro kart racing facility. In Barnes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted that the defendant’s served the public but held that the defendant’s were not charged with a duty of public service because [*6] Endurokart racing is not “affected with a public interest.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108. Similarly, skiing is a recreational activity not affected with a public interest, and the Court finds that the defendant’s are not charged with a duty of public service.
The Plaintiff also contends that she was at an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power because all ski areas require skiers to sign releases. The Court disagrees.
This case … does not have any hallmarks of a disparity in bargaining power. The [skiing] service offered by the defendant is not a “matter of practical necessity.” Nor did the defendant in this ease have monopoly control over this service such that the plaintiff could not have gone elsewhere.
Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H. 416, 418, 640 A.2d 777 (1994) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108). 2
2 The Plaintiff also argues that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy because they relieve the defendant’s from compliance with RSA chapter 215-C, which governs snowmobiles. Assuming that RSA chapter 215-C applies to the operation of a snowmobile on privately owned ski area, the application and the Liability Release Agreement would have no bearing on the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C. [*7] See RSA 215-C-32 (Supp.2007) (providing for the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C).
“Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that reasonable person in his position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107. “The plaintiff’s understanding presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable.” Wright v. Loon Mt. Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 169, 663 A.2d 1340 (1995). The Court
therefore examine[s] the language of the release to determine whether “a reasonable person in [the plaintiff's] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence….”
Id. (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107). The Court “will assess the clarity. the contract by evaluating it as a whole, not by examining [*8] isolated words and phrases. Id. at 169-170.
The plaintiff does not appear to dispute that she understood the import of the application or the Liability Release Agreement. Rather, the plaintiff argues that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim. Thus, the Court turns to the third requirement.
“[T]he plaintiff’s claims must have been within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the execution of the agreement. The parties need not, however, have contemplated the precise occurrence that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. They may adopt language to cover, a broad range of accidents….” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107 (citation omitted). To determine the scope of a release, the Court examines its language, strictly construing it against the defendant. Dean, 147 N.H. at 267.
Thus, in order to effectively release a defendant from liability for his own negligence, “the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” There is no requirement that the term “negligence” or any other magic words appear in the release as long “as the language of [*9] the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”
Audley, 138 N.H. at 418 (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107).
The plaintiff contends that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because neither the application nor the Liability Release Agreement reference snowmobiles. As rioted above, the parties need not have contemplated a negligence claim arising from a snowmobile accident. Rather, it is sufficient that the parties adopted language to cover a broad range of accidents. The application releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence,” and the Liability Release Agreement releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in from negligence.” Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. This language clearly states that the defendants are not responsible for the consequences of their negligence.
The Plaintiff also contends that the parties did [*10] not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because snowmobiles are not an inherent hazard of skiing. The plaintiff relies on Wright. In Wright, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted:
The paragraphs preceding the exculpatory clause emphasize the inherent hazards of horseback riding. Because the exculpatory clause is prefaced by the term “therefore,” a reasonable person might understand its language to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injuries that occur “for that
Wright, 140 N.H. at 170. Here, however, the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not mention the inherent hazards of skiing. Rather, the application and the Liability Release Agreement note that skiing is a hazardous sport and that injuries are a common occurrence and then, without using the term “therefore,” release the defendants from any and all liability. Because the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not use the phrase “inherent hazards of skiing” or the term “therefore,” this case is distinguishable from Wright. A reasonable person would have contemplated that the application and the [*11] Liability Release Agreement would release the defendants from a negligence claim, whether nor not that claim arouse from an inherent hazard of skiing.
Based on the foregoing, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.
Moore v. Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc., 555 N.E.2d 1305; 1990 Ind. App. LEXIS 769; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P12,523Posted: January 27, 2013
Moore v. Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc., 555 N.E.2d 1305; 1990 Ind. App. LEXIS 769; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P12,523
Eldonna Moore, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc., Defendants-Appellees
Court of Appeals of Indiana, First District
555 N.E.2d 1305; 1990 Ind. App. LEXIS 769; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P12,523
June 27, 1990, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the Shelby Superior Court No. 1; The Honorable Jonathan E. Palmer, Judge; Cause No. 20C01-8806-CP-095.
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant injured party challenged a decision from the Shelby Superior Court (Indiana), which granted summary judgment in favor of appellees, a manufacturer and a seller, in a product liability and negligence action.
OVERVIEW: The injured party purchased some ski bindings from the seller. She signed a release when she picked the skis up from the shop. Subsequently, she suffered a compound fracture of her leg when the skis did not function properly. She then filed a strict liability and negligence action against the seller and the manufacturer. After the trial court granted summary judgment, she sought review. The court determined that the seller and manufacturer were not entitled to summary judgment under the Indiana Product Liability Act, Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-1 et seq. They failed to establish the affirmative defense of incurred risk because they did not show that the injured party was aware that her skis were defective. In the injured party’s negligence action, the signing of the release was not evidence that she knew of the condition of the skis. She was not able to incur the risk of the defect without knowledge of the defect. However, the release did constitute a bar to the injured party’s negligence action against the seller. The release stated that the seller was not liable for negligence in setting, adjusting, or checking the bindings on the skis.
OUTCOME: The court affirmed the summary judgment granted in favor of the seller in the injured party’s negligence action. The rest of the trial court’s decision was reversed. The case was remanded for further proceedings.
CORE TERMS: binding, summary judgment, incurred risk, manufacturer’s, liability theory, negligence theory, strict liability, negligent design, consumer, skiing, seller, slide, user, incur, ski, Liability Act, defective condition, fault, skis, matter of law, negligence action, moving party, entitled to judgment, affirmative defense, unreasonably dangerous, subject to liability, dispositive, favorable, signing, latent
Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Appellate Review > General Overview
Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Opposition > General Overview
Civil Procedure > Summary Judgment > Standards > General Overview
[HN1] When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, an appellate court applies the same standards as the trial court, and examine the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits filed with the court in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. When a defendant is the moving party, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when it demonstrates one of two things. First, that the undisputed material facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s claim. Second, the defendant may raise an affirmative defense which bars the plaintiff’s claim. If a defendant cannot make one of these showings, summary judgment is improper.
Contracts Law > Types of Contracts > Lease Agreements > General Overview
Torts > Premises Liability & Property > Lessees & Lessors > Liabilities of Lessors > Negligence > General Overview
Torts > Procedure > Preemption > General Overview
[HN2] The Indiana Product Liability Act has preempted the Indiana common law of strict liability and governs all actions in which the theory of liability is strict liability in tort. Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-1. Under the Act, (a) One who sells, leases, or otherwise puts into the stream of commerce any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to any user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm caused by that product to the user or consumer or his property if that user or consumer is in the class of persons that the seller should reasonably foresee as being subject to the harm caused by the defective condition, and if: (1) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product; and (2) the product is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial alteration in the condition in which it is sold by the person sought to be held liable under this chapter. Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-3(a). Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-2 defines a seller as a person engaged in business as a manufacturer, a wholesaler, a retailer, a lessor, or a distributor.
Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > Procedure
Torts > Products Liability > Plaintiff’s Conduct
Torts > Products Liability > Strict Liability
[HN3] It is a defense that the user or consumer bringing the action knew of the defect and was aware of the danger and nevertheless proceeded unreasonably to make use of the product and was injured by it. Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-4(b)(1). The party asserting incurred risk bears the burden of proving the defense by a preponderance of the evidence, and this requires three showings under § 33-1-1.5-4(b)(1). First is that the plaintiff’s knowledge of the defect. Second is that the plaintiff’s unreasonable use of the product despite knowledge of the defect. Third is that a plaintiff’s injuries caused by the product.
Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Comparative Negligence > Intentional & Reckless Conduct
Torts > Strict Liability > General Overview
[HN4] The Comparative Fault Act, Ind. Code § 34-4-33-1 et seq., does not include strict liability theory actions, but only those actions based on fault.
Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > General Overview
Torts > Products Liability > Negligence
Torts > Products Liability > Plaintiff’s Conduct
[HN5] A plaintiff may bring a negligence action against the manufacturer of a product. Such an action is not subject to the terms of the Indiana Product Liability Act; rather, it is a common law action. In turn, the manufacturer may raise the defense of incurred risk. In a negligence action, the defense of incurred risk is specifically subject to the terms of the Comparative Fault Act. Ind. Code § 34-4-33-2(a). Incurred risk involves a mental state of venturousness on the part of the actor against whom it is asserted, and requires a subjective analysis of the actor’s actual knowledge and voluntary acceptance of the risk.
Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > General Overview
[HN6] Actions which are not truly voluntary do not amount to an incurrence of risk.
Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > General Overview
Torts > Products Liability > Negligence
Torts > Products Liability > Strict Liability
[HN7] If any defect is open and obvious, a plaintiff may not recover on her negligence theory against a manufacturer. The open and obvious rule is inapplicable to actions under the Indiana Product Liability Act. The rule is still applicable in product negligence liability cases.
COUNSEL: Attorneys for Appellant: C. Warren Holland, Michael W. Holland, William J. Rumely, Holland & Holland, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Attorneys for Appellees: C. Wendell Martin, Amy L. Rankin, Martin, Wade, Hartley & Hollingsworth, Indianapolis, Indiana.
JUDGES: Baker, J. Ratliff, C.J., and Hoffman, P.J., concur.
OPINION BY: BAKER
[*1306] Plaintiff-appellant Eldonna Moore (Moore) broke her leg in a snow skiing accident. She subsequently brought this suit against defendant-appellees Salomon North America, Inc. (Salomon) and Sitzmark Corporation (Sitzmark), the manufacturer and seller, respectively, of the ski bindings she was using when she broke her leg The trial court granted summary judgment to Salomon and Sitzmark, and Moore now appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part.
On February 18, 1986, Moore, an experienced skier, purchased a pair of new downhill skis and new bindings from Sitzmark. Sitzmark installed the bindings, known as Salomon 747 bindings, on the skis, and adjusted them to release based on Moore’s weight. At the time of purchase, Moore signed a sales slip which contained the following [**2] language.
I have been instructed in the use of my equipment, I have read the manufacturer’s instruction pamphlet (new bindings only), I have made no misrepresentation in regard to my height, weight, age, or skiing ability . . . . I understand that there are inherent and other risks involved in the sport for which this equipment is to be used, snow skiing, that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of the sport and I freely assume those risks. I understand that the ski boot binding system will not release at all times or under all circumstances, nor is it possible to predict every situation in which it will release and is therefore no guarantee for my safety. I therefore release the ski shop and its owners, agents and employees from any and all liability for damage and from the selection, adjustment and use of this equipment, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury which may result.
Moore admits to having read and understood the sales slip.
On March 1, 1986, Moore went to Sugarloaf Mountain in Michigan and used her new skis and bindings for the first time. She made two uneventful “runs” down the most difficult slope. On her third trip [**3] down the slope, however, she took a severe fall, during which the binding on her right ski did not release. As a result of the fall, she suffered a compound fracture of her right femur.
Moore brought suit against Salomon and Sitzmark, alleging theories of negligence and strict liability. The negligence claim against Salomon was premised on negligent design, and the negligence claim against Sitzmark was premised on negligent adjustment of the bindings. In their motions for summary judgment, Salomon and Sitzmark argued that Moore had incurred the risk, and the trial court granted the motions on that basis. On appeal, Moore raises two restated issues for our review. First, whether the trial court erred in finding she had incurred the risk. Second, whether the release of liability Moore signed was effective.
[HN1] When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we apply the same standards as the trial court, and examine the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, [*1307] admissions, and affidavits filed with the court in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Hatton v. Fraternal Order of Eagles (1990), Ind. App., 551 N.E.2d 479. Summary judgment is appropriate [**4] only when no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. When a defendant is the moving party, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when it demonstrates one of two things. First, that the undisputed material facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s claim. Second, the defendant may raise an affirmative defense which bars the plaintiff’s claim. 3 W. HARVEY, INDIANA PRACTICE § 56.9 at 629 (1988). If a defendant cannot make one of these showings, summary judgment is improper.
I. INCURRED RISK
A. Strict Liability
Moore argues she incurred only the ordinary risk of falling while skiing. Based on the language in the sales slip’s release of liability, Salomon and Sitzmark argue Moore incurred the risk that her bindings could fail to release and that she might suffer harm as a result. Salomon and Sitzmark are correct, but that is not dispositive of the case.
Moore’s strict liability theory, based on her allegation that the bindings were defective, is a statutory cause of action controlled by the Indiana Product Liability Act, IND. CODE 33-1-1.5-1 et seq. [HN2] The Act has preempted the Indiana common [**5] law of strict liability and “governs all actions in which the theory of liability is strict liability in tort.” IND. CODE 33-1-1.5-1. See Koske v. Townsend Engineering Co. (1990), Ind., 551 N.E.2d 437. Under the Act,
(a) One who sells, leases, or otherwise puts into the stream of commerce any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to any user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm caused by that product to the user or consumer or his property if that user or consumer is in the class of persons that the seller should reasonably foresee as being subject to the harm caused by the defective condition, and if:
(1) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product; and
(2) the product is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial alteration in the condition in which it is sold by the person sought to be held liable under this chapter.
IND. CODE 33-1-1.5-3(a). IND. CODE 33-1-1.5-2 defines a seller as “a person engaged in business as a manufacturer, a wholesaler, a retailer, a lessor, or a distributor.” Accordingly, if Moore can prove the bindings were in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous, [**6] Salomon as manufacturer, and Sitzmark as retail seller, will be subject to liability under the Act.
The Act provides that defendants may raise the affirmative defense of incurred risk, as Salomon and Sitzmark did here. [HN3] “It is a defense that the user or consumer bringing the action knew of the defect and was aware of the danger and nevertheless proceeded unreasonably to make use of the product and was injured by it.” IND. CODE 33-1-1.5-4(b)(1) (emphasis added). The party asserting incurred risk bears the burden of proving the defense by a preponderance of the evidence, Get-N-Go, Inc. v. Markins (1989), Ind., 544 N.E.2d 484, reh’g granted on other grounds, 550 N.E.2d 748, and this requires three showings under IND. CODE 33-1-1.5-4(b)(1). First, a plaintiff’s knowledge of the defect. See, e.g., Corbin v. Coleco Industries, Inc. (7th Cir. 1984) 748 F.2d 411. Second, a plaintiff’s unreasonable use of the product despite knowledge of the defect. Third, a plaintiff’s injuries caused by the product. 1
1 In reality, of course, the third element will generally be shown by the plaintiff, requiring the party raising incurred risk to prove only the first two elements.
[**7] This is where Salomon and Sitzmark fail. Neither of them asserts that Moore knew of any defect in the bindings, they merely argue Moore knew her bindings would not release under all circumstances. [*1308] Absent the threshold showing that Moore knew of a defect in the bindings, neither Salomon nor Sitzmark is entitled to summary judgment on the grounds of incurred risk. The trial court’s grant of summary judgment on Moore’s strict liability theory was improper. 2
2 If, upon remand, Salomon and Sitzmark are able to prove Moore incurred the risk of a defect in the bindings, this will act as a complete bar to Moore’s strict liability claim. [HN4] The Comparative Fault Act, IND. CODE 34-4-33-1 et seq., does not include strict liability theory actions, but only those actions based on fault. See IND. CODE 34-4-33-1.
A similar analysis applies to Moore’s negligent design theory against Salomon. [HN5] A plaintiff may, of course, bring a negligence action against the manufacturer of a product. See, e.g., Jarrell [**8] v. Monsanto Co. (1988), Ind. App., 528 N.E.2d 1158; Pfisterer v. Grisham (1965), 137 Ind. App. 565, 210 N.E.2d 75; MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (1916), 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050. Such an action is not subject to the terms of the Indiana Product Liability Act; rather, it is a common law action. Koske, supra, 551 N.E.2d at 443. In turn, the manufacturer may raise the defense of incurred risk. See Pfisterer, supra. In a negligence action, the defense of incurred risk is specifically subject to the terms of the Comparative Fault Act. See IND. CODE 34-4-33-2(a).
As all the parties to this dispute correctly point out, incurred risk involves a mental state of venturousness on the part of the actor against whom it is asserted, and requires a subjective analysis of the actor’s actual knowledge and voluntary acceptance of the risk. Get-N-Go, supra; Power v. Brodie (1984), Ind. App., 460 N.E.2d 1241; Kroger Co. v. Haun (1978), 177 Ind. App. 403, 379 N.E.2d 1004. As with the parties’ dispute over incurred risk in the context of a strict liability theory, the question here revolves around the proper definition of the risk that may or may not have been incurred.
[**9] As we have already discussed, by signing the release in the sales slip, Moore incurred the risk that her bindings would not release under all circumstances and that she might suffer injuries in the event of a failure to release. This was merely an acknowledgement of the laws of physics, however. There is no evidence Moore knew of any alleged negligent design of the bindings. Salomon argues vigorously that Indiana case law defines the risk as solely the risk of injury, not the risk of negligence. 3 Salomon is mistaken.
3 Salomon and Sitzmark make much of the voluntariness of Moore’s actions (i.e., purchasing the bindings, signing the release, and skiing for pleasure) in incurring the risk of her bindings failing to release. It is hornbook law that [HN6] actions which are not truly voluntary do not amount to an incurrence of risk. See, e.g., Get-N-Go, supra; Richarson v. Marrell’s (1989), Ind. App., 539 N.E.2d 485, trans. denied; St. Mary’s Byzantine Church v. Mantich (1987), Ind. App., 505 N.E.2d 811, trans. denied. Moore’s actions were indeed voluntary, but this is immaterial; the proper definition of the risk is the dispositive issue in this case.
[**10] In Pfisterer, supra, the plaintiff lost part of her finger while using a slide at the defendants’ resort park. The plaintiff had used slides before, but had never used the slide which injured her prior to the time of injury. In discussing the defense of incurred or assumed risk, the court held the plaintiff “assumed or incurred the risks inherent and incident to the use of this slide, but she did not assume or incur the risk that the slide might be defectively constructed. [She] could not assume or incur the risk of a latent defect of which she had neither notice nor knowledge, either express or implied.” 4 Pfisterer, supra, 137 Ind. App. at 572, 210 N.E.2d at 78-79.
4 The plaintiff was 13 years old at the time of the accident. The court, however, did not in any way rely on the plaintiff’s youth as a basis for its decision.
In a similar case, the Missouri Court of Appeals held a high school pole vaulter assumed the inherent risks of pole vaulting, but not the risks of the manufacturer’s negligence. McCormick v. Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods Co. (1940), 235 Mo. App. 612, 144 S.W.2d 866.
[**11] Similarly, the evidence most favorable to Moore reveals she had no knowledge [*1309] of any negligent design flaws in the bindings. Moreover, she had not fallen while using the new bindings prior to the fall which injured her. Even if she had, assuming any defect was latent, she could not incur the risk of the defect without notice of the defect. 5 Moore did not incur the risk of negligent design by Salomon. The trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Salomon on Moore’s negligence theory was improper.
5 [HN7] If any defect was open and obvious under the rule enunciated in Bemis Co. v. Rubush (1981), Ind., 427 N.E.2d 1058, 1061, cert. denied (1982), 459 U.S. 825, 103 S. Ct. 57, 74 L. Ed. 2d 61, Moore may not recover on her negligence theory. Koske, supra, did not abrogate the open and obvious rule, but rather held it inapplicable to actions under the Indiana Product Liability Act. The rule is still applicable in product negligence liability cases. Koske, supra, 551 N.E.2d at 443. See Also Bridgewater v. Economy Eng’g Co. (1985), Ind., 486 N.E.2d 484, modified on other grounds in Get-N-Go, Inc. v. Markins (1990), 550 N.E.2d 748.
[**12] II. EFFECT OF RELEASE
Moore’s negligence complaint against Sitzmark alleged Sitzmark had been negligent in setting, adjusting, or checking the bindings. These alleged acts of negligence are exactly those for which Moore granted Sitzmark a release of liability when she read and signed the sales slip. This release was valid under Indiana law, LaFrenz v. Lake Cty. Fair Bd. (1977), 172 Ind. App. 389, 360 N.E.2d 605, and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Sitzmark on Moore’s negligence theory.
The trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Sitzmark on Moore’s negligence theory is affirmed. The trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Sitzmark on Moore’s strict liability theory, and in favor of Salomon on both Moore’s strict liability and negligence theories is reversed. The cause is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Ratliff, C.J., and Hoffman, P.J., concur.
Josephine Moore, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., Defendant and Respondent.
COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION THREE
2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180
December 10, 2004, Filed
NOTICE: [*1] NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 977(a), PROHIBIT COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 977(B). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 977.
PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. NC040331. Elizabeth Allen White, Judge.
CORE TERMS: scout, tent, rope, volunteer, flag, summary judgment, scout camp, causes of action, hazard, marker, adult, guy ropes, feet, dangerous condition, declaration, triable, conspicuity, warning, premises liability, issues of fact, negligently, military, donated, wall tent, lighting, tripped, visible, manual, pole, trip
COUNSEL: Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, Thomas A. Delaney and Steven S. Streger, for Defendant and Respondent.
Desjardins Kelly and Warren D. Kelly, for Plaintiff and Appellant.
JUDGES: ALDRICH, J.; CROSKEY, Acting P. J., KITCHING, J. concurred.
OPINION BY: ALDRICH
Plaintiff and appellant Josephine Moore (Moore) was setting up a tent for a scout camp site when she tripped over a rope that was securing the tent. Moore appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of defendant and respondent Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council. Inc. (the Boy Scouts). We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Following the usual rules on appeal, we construe the facts in the light most favorable [*2] to Moore, the party who opposed the motion for summary judgment. (Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 1830, 1836.)
On July 8, 2001, Moore was setting up a scout camp site. She and other adult volunteers were erecting a wall tent that was secured by poles and ropes. No employee of the Boy Scouts was involved in setting up the tent. The Boy Scouts did not own the tent. The rectangular tent was oblong, about 24 feet long by 16 feet wide. The poles used to hold up the tent were 6 feet long. Beige ropes were used to secure the tent to the ground and to keep the tent upright.
At about 7:00 p.m., the volunteers had been setting up the tent for 30 to 60 minutes. The tent was about four or five feet from a picnic table. One of the other adults asked Moore to retrieve additional stakes from the opposite side of the tent. Moore walked around the tent and picked-up six or seven stakes. Moore walked near the tent, toward the adult who had requested the stakes. In doing so, Moore tripped over one of the ropes that had already been staked into the ground. The stake holding the rope was two to five feet from the tent and two to five feet from the picnic table.
[*3] Moore had not set up the specific pole, rope or stake upon which she tripped.
The ropes coming off the tent were at varying angles and pitches. The ropes varied in length, depending upon location. There were no flags or markers on the ropes.
Before this date, Moore had never been involved in setting up or taking down this tent or this type of tent. However, in years past, Moore had used rope or flags to mark the guy ropes on this tent to make the ropes more visible.
During the time the tent was being set up, Moore was aware that some guy ropes were already in place, extending out from corners of the tent.
Before Moore fell, neither Moore nor any of the other adult volunteers saw anything they considered unsafe or dangerous.
In the past, some of the adult volunteers had used markers (e.g., cloth or fluorescent plastic tape) to make ropes more visible in scout camps and in non-scout camping situations. In prior years, this tent had been used in the Boy Scout camp, and flags had been used to mark the ropes. It is unclear if markers were used each time the tent was used.
The Boy Scout’s manual did not address rope safety and did not instruct that markers were to be used, although [*4] some believed marking the ropes made good sense. The photograph of a wall tent in the manual appeared to have markers on the ropes.
At one Boy Scout volunteer training session held a few years prior to this accident, volunteers were told to flag tent ropes so no one would trip. The Boy Scouts had no documents relating to the use of warnings on ropes.
The scout camp is planned by volunteers. The Boy Scout district executive, Jim McCarthy, attends the planning meetings.
Moore sued the Boy Scouts. The complaint stated two causes of action.
In the first cause of action for premises liability, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts “negligently maintained, managed, controlled, and operated the Scout Camp, in that the guy ropes attached to a certain tent in the Scout Camp were unmarked with flags, or with anything, and were obscured from view without some kind of flag, marker, or other warning, owing to their color, size and geometry, location, time of day, and other factors, which [the Boy Scouts] knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, constituted a dangerous condition and unreasonable risk of harm of which [Moore] was at all times . . . [*5] unaware. [The Boy Scouts] negligently failed to take steps to either make the condition safe or warn [Moore] of the dangerous condition, all of which caused [Moore] to trip and fall on one of the guy ropes, and to suffer the injuries and damages hereinafter described.”
In the second cause of action for negligence, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts failed to “use reasonable care in the construction, maintenance, management, and control of the Scout Camp, including but not limited to placing flags or some other kind of marker or warning to identify and call attention to the presence and location of the guy ropes surrounding the tent tarp. [P] . . . [The Boy Scouts] knew or should have known that the construction of the Scout Camp was likely to create during the construction a risk of harm to those who were working on and around the Scout Camp unless special precautions were taken, in that, among other things, guy ropes, which were obscured from view . . . would be emanating from the tent, unmarked and unguarded, in a fashion that constituted a hazard to persons, including [Moore].”
The Boys Scouts brought a motion for summary judgment.
In opposing the motion, Moore submitted [*6] the declaration of psychologist Ilene B. Zackowitz, Ph.D. Dr. Zackowitz declared the following. She was a human factors and safety consultant and a certified professional ergonomist. 1 She had reviewed the discovery in this case. “When wall tents that are secured with ropes and stakes are used, it is foreseeable that the low conspicuity of the ropes may present a tripping hazard. Despite this foreseeable hazard, [the Boy Scouts have] no stated policy or procedure that addresses the hazard, namely using flags to increase the conspicuity of guy ropes, in the [Scout] Camping merit badge book or the Scouts ‘Guide to Safe Scouting.’ ” “Other Scout Councils recognize the hazard and have policies in place to address the hazard[, such as a troop in Georgetown, Virginia, the Scout Association of Australia, and the Southeast Louisiana Council].” “A stated policy of securing conspicuous flags to the ropes as they are secured to the ground (as opposed to waiting until the entire tent is erected) would greatly increase the conspicuity of the anchoring ropes.” “The incident occurred at dusk such that lighting conditions and contrast were reduced. Under ideal lighting conditions, a rope and [*7] stake would have low contrast with the dirt covered ground surface. . . . There were no visual cues that the hazard was present. . . . A flag on the rope would have provided contrast and would have called attention to the hazard.”
1 Dr. Zackowitz’s curriculum vitae includes information that she serves as a forensic consultant for personal injury accidents, including slips, trips, missteps, and falls, the effectiveness of warnings, visibility, conspicuity, and lighting.
The trial court granted the summary judgment motion. In the order granting summary judgment, the trial court found there were no triable issues of fact because: (1) there was no evidence of a dangerous condition and Dr. Zackowitz’s declaration was not admissible on the issue; (2) the Boy Scouts had no notice of the condition as the only ones present were volunteers, who were not agents of the Boy Scouts; and (3) the condition was open and notorious.
Judgment was entered against Moore, from which she appealed.
1. Standard [*8] of review upon a motion for summary judgment.
Following the granting of a summary judgment, we review the moving papers independently to determine whether there is a triable issue as to any material fact and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., supra, 16 Cal.App.4th at p. 1837.)
A defendant who brings a motion for summary judgment asserting that the plaintiff cannot state a cause of action need only address the theories advanced in the complaint, as the complaint frames the issues. (United States Golf Assn. v. Arroyo Software Corp. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 607, 623; Varni Bros. Corp. v. Wine World, Inc. (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 880, 886-887; FPI Development, Inc. v. Nakashima (1991) 231 Cal. App. 3d 367, 381, 282 Cal. Rptr. 508.) “A party cannot successfully resist summary judgment on a theory not pleaded. [Citation.]” (Roth v. Rhodes (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 530, 541.)
2. Moore has not demonstrated a triable issue of fact with regard to the two theories presented.
Moore stated two causes of action – premises [*9] liability and negligence. She contends there are triable issues of fact with regard to these causes of action. This contention is unpersuasive.
A cause of action for premises liability generally is based upon a dangerous condition on land. (Delgado v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1403, 1406, fn. 1.) The possessor of land is liable only for hazardous conditions of which the possessor had actual or constructive knowledge. (Ortega v. Kmart Corp. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1200, 1203.) Here, the tent was set up by volunteers, who were not the agents of the Boy Scouts. (Young v. Boy Scouts of America (1935) 9 Cal. App. 2d 760, 765 [adult volunteers are not agents of local councils].) There is no evidence the Boy Scouts knew the tent was being set up. Thus, the Boy Scouts neither created the “dangerous” condition nor were aware that it existed.
With regard to the negligence cause of action, Moore alleged that the Boy Scouts negligently constructed, maintained, managed, and controlled the camp. However, the undisputed facts were that the volunteers undertook all of these activities. Thus, Moore failed to establish that the [*10] Boy Scouts breached its duty to her. (Cf. Ortega v. Kmart Corp., supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 1205 [negligence requires duty, breach, causation, damages].)
Moore argues that notice of the condition is irrelevant as liability “is not based on acts of the volunteers who erected the tent, but on the policy (or lack thereof) of the [Boy Scouts] relating to tent safety, as well as the fact that [the Boy Scouts] provided a tent with inconspicuous ropes and no flags.” These arguments are based primarily upon (1) statements made by some of the volunteers who said that the past they had marked the ropes to make them more visible, (2) comments by Moore’s expert (Dr. Zackowitz), and (3) Dr. Zackowitz’s reference to other scout manuals.
However, Moore’s complaint, which framed the issues, did not alleged that the Boy Scouts lacked a policy with regard to rope safety, nor did it allege that the Boy Scouts were negligent in supplying a defective tent. (Cf. FNS Mortgage Service Corp. v. Pacific General Group, Inc. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1564, 1572 [discussing negligent undertaking].)
Further, there is an evidentiary problem with Moore’s argument [*11] relating to the Boy Scouts supplying the tent. In Moore’s appellate brief, she does not provide a citation to the record to support the statement that the tent had been supplied by the Boy Scouts or that it had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. (Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc. (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 1361, 1378-1379 [parties have obligation to provide proper citations to record].) 2 In Moore’s separate statement of disputed and undisputed material facts, Moore also fails to establish that the tent had been supplied by the Boy Scouts, or that it had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. Additionally, Moore testified in her deposition that she did not believe that the Boy Scouts owned the tent. Dr. Zackowitz did state in her declaration that the tent had been donated to the Boy Scouts by the military. However, Dr. Zackowitz does not identify the source of this information and therefore this testimony lacks foundation.
2 In the introduction to her brief, Moore points to the Clerk’s Transcript, pages 226 to 264 for this factual assertion. This is an insufficient citation. (Grant-Burton v. Covenant Care, Inc., supra, 99 Cal.App.4th at p. 1379 [appropriate reference to records must include exact page citations].)
[*12] Summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the Boy Scouts. 3
3 In light of our conclusion, we need not address whether the trial court made evidentiary errors with regard to Dr. Zackowitz’s declaration.
The judgment is affirmed. Moore is to pay all costs on appeal.
CROSKEY, Acting P. J.
Horvath Et Al., v. Ish Et Al., 2012 Ohio 5333; 2012 Ohio LEXIS 2872
Horvath Et Al., Appellees, v. Ish Et Al., Appellants.
2012 Ohio 5333; 2012 Ohio LEXIS 2872
April 25, 2012, Submitted
November 20, 2012, Decided
THIS SLIP OPINION IS SUBJECT TO FORMAL REVISION BEFORE IT IS PUBLISHED IN AN ADVANCE SHEET OF THE OHIO OFFICIAL REPORTS.
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Summit County, No. 25442, 194 Ohio App. 3d 8, 2011 Ohio 2239, 954 N.E.2d 196.
Horvath v. Ish, 194 Ohio App. 3d 8, 2011 Ohio 2239, 954 N.E.2d 196, 2011 Ohio App. LEXIS 1907 (Ohio Ct. App., Summit County, 2011)
DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.
CORE TERMS: skier, skiing, sport, ski-area, collision, ski, inherent risks, tramway, negligence per se, slope, ski area, passenger, reckless, standard of care, statutory duties, statutory schemes, owe, common law, summary judgment, owed, duty of care, personal-injury, refrain, trail, ordinary care, general assembly, reasonable care, recreational, enumerated, sentence
Torts–Sport or recreational activity–Skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.
OF THE COURT
Skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.
COUNSEL: Paul W. Flowers Co. and Paul W. Flowers; and Sennett Fischer, L.L.C., and James A. Sennett, for appellees.
Gallagher Sharp, Timothy J. Fitzgerald, and Jeremy V. Farrell, for appellants.
JUDGES: LUNDBERG STRATTON, J. O’CONNOR, C.J., and O’DONNELL, LANZINGER, CUPP, and MCGEE BROWN, JJ., concur. PFEIFER, J., concurs in part and dissents in part.
OPINION BY: LUNDBERG STRATTON
Lundberg Stratton, J.
[*P1] The issue before the court is what duty or standard of care is owed by one skier to another for purposes of determining tort liability. We hold that skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.
[*P2] The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Ish and remanded the case to the trial court [**2] to determine whether Ish had violated any duties under R.C. 4169.08 or 4169.09 and if he did, whether negligence per se applied. The court of appeals also held that a genuine issue of material fact existed whether Ish was reckless. Horvath v. Ish, 194 Ohio App.3d 8, 2011 Ohio 2239, 954 N.E.2d 196, ¶ 18 (9th Dist). We agree that there is a genuine issue of material fact, but only whether Ish’s actions were more than negligent, that is, whether his actions were reckless or intentional under the common law. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals, albeit on somewhat different grounds, and remand the case to the trial court for proceedings consistent with our opinion.
II. Facts and Procedural History
[*P3] On March 6, 2007, Angel Horvath and Eugene Horvath (the couple were married after the accident but before the complaint was filed) were skiing at Boston Mills ski resort. David Ish was snowboarding at Boston Mills on that same date, with his brother, Tyler, and their cousins. In the early evening, Angel and Eugene were skiing down Buttermilk Hill. David, Tyler, and their cousins were snowboarding on the same hill. David and his relatives proceeded through a terrain park 1 [**3] and then reentered Buttermilk Hill, where David and Angel collided. Angel was injured in the accident.
1 A terrain park is an area where snowboarders and skiers can do tricks or stunts using various features including jumps, rails, and half-pipes. See R.C. 4169.01(I).
[*P4] The Horvaths filed a complaint against David Ish and his parents, alleging that David had acted negligently, carelessly, recklessly, willfully, and wantonly in causing the collision with Angel.
[*P5] The Ishes filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that skiers are subject to primary assumption of the risk, which means that a defendant owes no duty of ordinary care to plaintiff. Thus, the Ishes argued that in order to recover, the Horvaths were required to prove that David had acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the collision. The Ishes further asserted that there was no evidence that David’s actions were reckless or intentional.
[*P6] In opposing the Ishes’ motion for summary judgment, the Horvaths argued that R.C. 4169.08(C) imposes specific duties on skiers and that breaching those duties is negligence per se. The trial court granted the Ishes’ motion for summary judgment.
[*P7] In a two-to-one decision, the court of appeals [**4] reversed the judgment of the trial court, stating that “[b]y reading R.C. 4169.08(C) in context with 4169.09, we find that it is evident that the legislature intended that skiers would be liable for injuries caused to others while skiing.” Horvath, 194 Ohio App.3d 8, 2011 Ohio 2239, 954 N.E.2d 196, ¶ 13. The court of appeals remanded the cause to the trial court to determine whether David Ish’s actions violated any of the responsibilities described in R.C. 4169.08(C) and, if so, whether any such violation invoked the doctrine of negligence per se. Id. at ¶ 14.
[*P8] This case is before this court pursuant to the acceptance of the Ishes’ discretionary appeal. 129 Ohio St. 3d 1503, 2011 Ohio 5358, 955 N.E.2d 386.
R.C. Chapter 4169
[*P9] We begin our analysis by determining whether R.C. 4169.08 and 4169.09 apply to personal-injury litigation between skiers.
[*P10] When interpreting a statute, a court’s paramount concern is legislative intent. State ex rel. United States Steel Corp. v. Zaleski, 98 Ohio St.3d 395, 2003 Ohio 1630, 786 N.E.2d 39, ¶ 12. “[T]he intent of the law-makers is to be sought first of all in the language employed, and if the words be free from ambiguity and doubt, and express [**5] plainly, clearly and distinctly, the sense of the law-making body, there is no occasion to resort to other means of interpretation ” Slingluff v. Weaver, 66 Ohio St. 621, 64 N.E. 574 (1902), paragraph two of the syllabus. However, “[i]n reviewing a statute, a court cannot pick out one sentence and disassociate it from the context, but must look to the four corners of the enactment to determine the intent of the enacting body.” State v. Wilson, 77 Ohio St.3d 334, 336, 1997 Ohio 35, 673 N.E.2d 1347 (1997). “A court must examine a statute in its entirety rather than focus on an isolated phrase to determine legislative intent.” Massillon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. Massillon, 104 Ohio St.3d 518, 2004 Ohio 6775, 820 N.E.2d 874, ¶ 37.
[*P11] See also R.C. 1.42. With this guidance in mind, we examine R.C. Chapter 4169 in its entirety to determine whether R.C. 4169.08 and 4169.09 apply to personal-injury litigation between skiers.
[*P12] R.C. 4169.02 established a ski-tramway board that is authorized to create rules under R.C. Chapter 119 relating to “public safety in the construction, maintenance, mechanical operation, and inspection of passenger tramways.” 2 R.C. 4169.03 requires that a tramway must be registered [**6] with the board before it can be operated. R.C. 4169.04 provides that tramways must be inspected. R.C. 4169.05 authorizes the board to hear complaints that the construction, maintenance, or mechanical operation of a tramway endangers public safety. R.C. 4169.06 permits a board member to suspend the operation of a tramway if the board determines that an “immediate danger exists.” R.C. 4169.07 provides that ski-area operators are responsible for any tramway they construct and for the maintenance and operation of a passenger tramway in the operator’s ski area. R.C. 4169.07 also states that passengers have certain enumerated responsibilities regarding their use of tramways. R.C. 4169.99 provides that ski-area operators are subject to a monetary fine if they fail to register their tramway with the board, fail to comply with an order from the board, or fail to comply with a rule issued by the board.
2 A “passenger tramway” is “a device used to transport passengers uphill, whether on skis or other devices or without skis or other devices, or in cars on tracks or suspended in the air, by the use of steel cables, chains, or belts or by ropes, and that is usually supported by trestles or towers [**7] with one or two spans.” R.C. 4169.01(F). Chair lifts, rope tows, and conveyors are passenger tramways. R.C. 4169.01(F)(3), (5), and (7).
[*P13] R.C. 4169.08 insulates ski-area operators from liability for injuries that arise from the inherent risks of skiing and otherwise defines certain responsibilities applicable to ski-area operators and ski-area visitors. R.C. 4169.09 addresses the liability of ski-area operators and ski-area visitors for failing to comply with the responsibilities enumerated in R.C. 4169.08(C).
[*P14] And, finally, R.C. 4169.10 immunizes ski-area operators for damages suffered by a person who was committing a theft at the time the person suffered the loss.
[*P15] It is evident that R.C. Chapter 4169, when viewed in its entirety, addresses certain obligations and limitations on liability pertaining to ski-area operators, as well as the relationship between ski-area operators and ski-area visitors. Consequently, neither R.C. 4169.08 nor 4169.09 apply to personal-injury litigation between skiers.
[*P16] Our conclusion is confirmed when we examine R.C. 4169.08 and 4169.09 in greater detail. R.C. 4169.08(A)(1) provides that “the general assembly recognizes that skiing as a recreational sport [**8] is hazardous to skiers regardless of all feasible safety measures that can be taken. It further recognizes that a skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for injury, death, or loss to person or property that results from the inherent risks of skiing.” R.C. 4169.08(A)(1) then provides a nonexhaustive list of conditions (e.g., slush) or objects (e.g., out-of-bounds barriers) that are inherent risks of skiing. R.C. 4169.08(A)(2) and (3) provide that ski-area operators are not liable for the death of or injury to ski-area visitors that occur in a freestyle terrain or tubing park, subject to certain qualifications. Thus, R.C. 4169.08(A) effectively insulates ski-area operators from personal-injury lawsuits that arise from the inherent risks of skiing. See Stone v. Alpine Valley Ski Area, 135 Ohio App.3d 540, 545, 734 N.E.2d 888 (11th Dist.1999); Otterbacher v. Brandywine Ski Ctr., Inc., 9th Dist. No. 14269, 1990 Ohio App. LEXIS 4582, 1990 WL 72327, *4 (May 23, 1990).
[*P17] R.C. 4169.08(B) and (C) also state that ski-area operators and skiers have certain enumerated responsibilities. For example, ski-area operators must mark certain snowmaking equipment, and skiers must ski within the limits of their [**9] ability. R.C. 4169.08(B)(1) and (C)(1). And R.C. 4169.09 states that a “ski area operator * * * or skier is liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property * * * caused by the operator’s * * * or skier’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required by this chapter.” Therefore, reading R.C. 4169.08(B) and (C) in context with R.C. Chapter 4169, we find that the responsibilities of ski-area operators and ski-area visitors are reciprocal. In other words, the General Assembly intended that ski-area operators owe skiers certain enumerated responsibilities, and in return skiers owe ski-area operators certain enumerated responsibilities. Thus, we hold that R.C. 4169.08(C) does not create a duty of care that applies between skiers.
[*P18] Accordingly, we hold that R.C. Chapter 4169, and in particular, R.C. 4169.08 and 4169.09, do not apply to personal-injury litigation between skiers.
[*P19] Having determined that R.C. Chapter 4169 does not apply to personal-injury litigation between skiers, we turn to the common law to determine the proper standard of care applicable between skiers. This court has held that “[w]here individuals engage in recreational or sports activities, they [**10] assume the ordinary risks of the activity and cannot recover for any injury unless it can be shown that the other participant’s actions were either reckless or intentional as defined in [2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, and 1 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 8A (1965)].” Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699, syllabus; see also Thompson v. McNeill 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 559 N.E.2d 705. “Obviously, without our stating so, in Marchetti and Thompson we applied ‘primary’ assumption-of-risk principles in limiting the defendant’s liability.” Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004 Ohio 379, 802 N.E.2d 1116, ¶ 11. Primary assumption of the risk means that a defendant owes no duty whatsoever to the plaintiff. Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 431-432, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996).
[*P20] Clearly, skiing is a sport or recreational activity. However, “only those risks directly associated with the activity in question are within the scope of primary assumption of risk.” Id. at 432, citing Cincinnati Baseball Club Co. v. Eno, 112 Ohio St. 175, 3 Ohio Law Abs. 164, 147 N.E. 86 (1925). “To be covered under the [primary-assumption-of-the-risk] doctrine, the risk [**11] must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.” Konesky v. Wood Cty. Agricultural Soc., 164 Ohio App.3d 839, 2005 Ohio 7009, 844 N.E.2d 408, ¶ 19 (6th Dist), citing Westray v. Imperial Pools & Supplies, Inc., 133 Ohio App. 3d 426, 432, 728 N.E.2d 431 (6th Dist.1999). Where the risk at issue is not inherent, then a negligence standard applies. See Gallagher at 432; see also Pope v. Willey, 12th Dist. No. CA2004-10-077, 2005 Ohio 4744, 2005 WL 2179317 (colliding with a truck on a road is not an inherent risk of riding an all-terrain vehicle); Goffe v. Mowell, 2d Dist. No. 98-CA-49, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 308, 1999 WL 55693 (Feb. 5, 1999) (faulty racetrack design is not an inherent risk of go-cart racing).
[*P21] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has recognized that “other skiers are as much a part of the risk in downhill skiing, if not more so, than the snow and ice, elevation, contour, speed and weather conditions. As anyone who has ever undertaken the sport of skiing is painfully aware, it is a sport in which it is common for the participants to lose control.” Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 511, 762 A.2d 339 (2000). Other courts have also recognized that collisions [**12] between skiers are an inherent risk in the sport of skiing. See Peterson ex rel. Peterson v. Donahue, 733 N.W.2d 790, 793 (Minn.App.2007); Cheong v. Antablin, 16 Cal.4th 1063, 1069, 68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 859, 946 P.2d 817 (1997); Gern v. Basta, 809 N.Y.S.2d 724, 725, 26 A.D.3d 807 (2006). We agree that collisions between skiers are an inherent risk of skiing.
[*P22] Accordingly, we hold that skiers assume the ordinary risks of skiing, which include collisions with other skiers, and cannot recover for an injury unless it can be shown that the other skier’s actions were reckless or intentional.
[*P23] The judgment of the court of appeals is affirmed, albeit on somewhat different grounds. We agree that there is a genuine issue of material fact to be considered, but only with regard to whether Ish’s actions were more than negligent, that is, whether he acted recklessly or intentionally. Because a genuine issue of fact remains, the court of appeals was correct in holding that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. Therefore, we affirm the appellate court’s judgment, and we remand this cause to the trial court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
O’Connor, C.J., and [**13] O’Donnell, Lanzinger, Cupp, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
Pfeifer, J., concurs in part and dissents in part.
CONCUR BY: PFEIFER (In Part)
DISSENT BY: PFEIFER (In Part)
Pfeifer, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.
[*P24] I concur in the majority’s judgment affirming the appellate court’s decision to reverse the trial court’s granting of summary judgment. However, I do not agree with the majority’s baffling interpretation of R.C. 4169.08 and 4169.09. I also do not agree that there is no common-law duty of care between skiers. If legal issues were ski slopes, the one raised in this case would be a bunny hill. Somehow, the majority has careened down the hill and wound up smashed through the wall of the lodge.
A Skier’s Statutory Duties
[*P25] The fact that R.C. Chapter 4169 tends to limit the liability of ski-area operators from liability for injuries suffered by skiers does not mean that it leaves skiers without protection from other skiers. It makes perfect sense that a piece of legislation that shields ski-area operators from liability would also set forth a duty of care between skiers that would leave skiers, not ski facilities, liable for injuries they cause other skiers. Other states-Colorado (Colo.Rev.Stat.Ann. 33-44-109), [**14] Idaho (Idaho Code 6-1106), Maine (32 Maine Rev.Stat.Ann. 15217), Michigan (Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. 408.344), New Mexico (N.M.Stat.Ann. 24-15-10), and West Virginia (W.Va. Code Ann. 20-3A-8), for instance, manage to achieve that balance in their ski-safety statutory schemes. That balance is part of the prevailing view in states with ski statutes:
In a skier collision case, the laws differ from state to state on the duty of care one skier owes to another. The jurisdictions can be divided into two classifications. The prevailing view holds skiers to a standard of reasonable care to avoid injury to another skier. The standard of care is usually founded on a statutory principle obliging a skier to exercise reasonable care and to yield the right of way to the skier below. One skier does not assume the risk of another’s negligence; a skier collision is not a risk “inherent” in the sport as skiing is not a contact sport.
46 American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts 3d 1, Liability of Skier for Collision with Another Skier, Section 2 (1998).
[*P26] The duties between skiers, understood since Norwegians first strapped planks to their feet 4,500 years ago–ski under control and do not run into another skier, among [**15] others–are now part of Ohio statutory law. Those duties are set forth in R.C. 4169.08:
(C) A skier shall have the following responsibilities:
(1) To know the range of the skier’s ability to negotiate any slope or trail or to use any passenger tramway that is associated with a slope or trail, to ski within the limits of the skier’s ability, to ski only on designated slopes and trails, to maintain control of speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings, and to not cross the track of a passenger tramway except at a designated area;
(2) To refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of another person, to refrain from causing collision with any person or object while skiing, and to not place any object in a ski area that may cause another skier or a passenger to fall.
[*P27] Contrary to the majority’s assertion, it is possible for the General Assembly in one statutory chapter to protect ski-area operators from liability while at the same time providing some protection for skiers. R.C. 4169.08(C)(2) specifically states that skiers have responsibilities to avoid causing injuries to or colliding with another person, but the majority states that [**16] those responsibilities are owed to ski-area operators, not other persons. R.C. 4169.08(C)(3) requires a person who is involved in a ski accident that injures another to identify himself before leaving the scene, presumably so that the person causing the collision can live up to his responsibilities.
[*P28] But it is R.C. 4169.09 that makes it crystal clear that a skier is liable for injuries he causes to other skiers by failing to meet the duties set forth in R.C. 4169.08(C): “A * * * skier is liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the * * * skier’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required by this chapter.” How can the majority ignore this simple statutory statement? How can this mean anything other than that a skier is liable for injuries suffered by another person as a result of the skier’s failure to meet his statutory responsibilities? Why does this sentence appear in the statute if it does not establish responsibilities between skiers?
[*P29] If R.C. 4169.08 sets forth only duties between skiers and ski-area operators, the second sentence in R.C. 4169.09 would be sufficient to shield the ski area from liability. The second sentence of R.C. 4169.09 makes [**17] it clear that the ski-area operator is not liable for a skier’s injuries caused by another skier: “A ski area operator * * * is not liable for injury * * * caused by another’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required of another by this chapter.” In blunt terms, an injured person’s only recourse is against the person who caused the injury.
[*P30] Finally, R.C. 4169.09 states that “[a] * * * skier is not entitled to recover for injury * * * caused by the * * * skier’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required by this chapter.” That is, if a skier’s injuries are caused by his own failure to meet his statutory responsibilities, he has recourse against no one.
[*P31] Read as a whole, R.C. 4169.09 states that if a skier violates his responsibilities, he is liable for injuries caused to another, that the ski-area operator is not liable for those injuries, and that a skier who causes his own injuries is not entitled to recover from another, including a ski-area operator, for his injuries. The statute provides protection from liability for ski-area operators from something they cannot control–the behavior of individual skiers–while at the same time making skiers responsible for [**18] injuries they cause for failing to abide by the basic rules of skiing. Only this interpretation provides meaning to all three of the sentences that make up R.C. 4169.09.
Liability for Breach of Skier’s Statutory Duty in Michigan
[*P32] In Rusnak v. Walker, 273 Mich.App. 299, 729 N.W.2d 542 (2006), the court–a special panel called pursuant to Michigan law to resolve an appellate conflict–addressed whether a skier could sue another skier pursuant to Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act (“SASA”). The statutory scheme in Michigan is substantially similar to Ohio’s. The Michigan law places duties on skiers to ski safely and not injure other skiers, Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. 408.341 and 408.342, and assigns liability for injuries caused by skiers who violate those duties. (“A skier * * * who violates this act * * * shall be liable for that portion of the loss or damage resulting from that violation”). Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. 408.344.
[*P33] But Michigan’s statutory scheme contains an important provision missing from Ohio’s: it lists “collisions * * * with other skiers” as one of the inherent risks of skiing. Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. 408.342. Such a provision is absent from Ohio’s statutory declaration of the inherent risks [**19] of skiing. R.C. 4169.08(A).
[*P34] Even so, the Michigan court held that despite a statutory recognition that colliding with other skiers is an inherent danger of skiing, a skier could recover for injuries caused by another skier’s failure to live up to the responsibilities set forth in the SASA:
As we have already noted, we hold that the SASA assumption-of-risk provision contains clear and unambiguous language, providing in no uncertain terms that a collision between skiers is an obvious and necessary danger that inheres in the sport of skiing. However, in those cases in which a plaintiff can establish that a defendant violated one of the specific duties imposed by the SASA, the plaintiff can still recover damages to the extent that the defendant’s violations caused the plaintiffs injuries. To state it differently, it is possible, and therefore skiers assume the risk, that a collision can occur between skiers when neither skier is violating his or her duties under the SASA. That is, it is an obvious and necessary danger of skiing that sometimes accidents simply happen. But, again, if it can be shown that the collision resulted from a violation of the act, then the violator is to be held liable [**20] for the damage caused, as provided under [Mich.Comp.Laws Ann.] 408.344.
Rusnak, 273 Mich.App. at 305, 729 N.W.2d 542.
[*P35] The court noted in Rusnak that if it were to hold that there is no liability for injuries to a skier caused by another skier’s failure to meet his or her statutory duties, “the duties and liabilities placed on individual skiers would have no meaning.” Id. at 309. But the majority does in this case what Rusnak warns against, finding that the statutory provision–”A * * * skier is liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the * * * skier’s failure to fulfill any of the responsibilities required by this chapter”–is meaningless.
[*P36] In its remand to the trial court, the court of appeals suggested that the trial court should consider whether David Ish violated any of the duties outlined in R.C. 4169.08(C) and, if so, whether the violation would constitute negligence per se. Horvath v. Ish, 194 Ohio App.3d 8, 2011 Ohio 2239, 954 N.E.2d 196, ¶ 14. Violation of a statutory duty is not necessarily negligence per se, and it is not in this case.
[*P37] To successfully prosecute a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff [**21] a duty, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach of the duty proximately caused the plaintiffs injury. Wellman v. E. Ohio Gas Co., 160 Ohio St. 103, 108-109, 113 N.E.2d 629 (1953). “[A] duty may be established by common law, legislative enactment, or by the particular facts and circumstances of the case.” Chambers v. St. Mary’s School, 82 Ohio St.3d 563, 565, 1998 Ohio 184, 697 N.E.2d 198 (1998). In certain instances, the failure to perform a statutory duty is negligence per se, meaning that “the plaintiff has conclusively established that the defendant breached the duty that he or she owed to the plaintiff.” Id.
[*P38] But negligence per se does not follow from every violation of a statutory duty; violation of a statute may simply constitute evidence of negligence. “[T]he distinction between the two depends upon the degree of specificity with which the particular duty is stated in the statute.” Sikora v. Wenzel, 88 Ohio St.3d 493, 496, 2000 Ohio 406, 727 N.E.2d 1277 (2000). As this court put it in Swoboda v. Brown, 129 Ohio St. 512, 196 N.E. 274 (1935), paragraph four of the syllabus:
The distinction between negligence and “negligence per se” is the means and method of ascertainment. The former must [**22] be found by the jury from the facts, the conditions, and circumstances disclosed by the evidence; the latter is a violation of a specific requirement of law or ordinance, the only fact for determination by the jury being the commission or omission of the specific act inhibited or required.
That is, when a statute requires performance of specific acts, a jury need only determine whether the specific acts were performed, and if it determines that they were not performed, the defendant is negligent per se; but when the statute instead sets forth general rules of conduct that must be followed, a jury must use its judgment in evaluating the circumstances to determine whether the defendant was negligent. In the latter instance, the typical duty of care for negligence applies:
Where there exists a legislative enactment commanding or prohibiting for the safety of others the doing of a specific act and there is a violation of such enactment solely by one whose duty it is to obey it, such violation constitutes negligence per se; but where there exists a legislative enactment expressing for the safety of others, in general or abstract terms, a rule of conduct, negligence per se has no application [**23] and liability must be determined by the application of the test of due care as exercised by a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances of the case.
Eisenhuth v. Moneyhon, 161 Ohio St. 367, 119 N.E.2d 440 (1954), paragraph one of the syllabus.
[*P39] In this case, the defendant may have violated several of the responsibilities of R.C. 4169.08(C)(1) and (2): failing to ski “within the limits of [his] ability,” failing to “maintain control of [his] speed and course,” failing to “refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of another person,” and failing “to refrain from causing collision with any person or object while skiing.” None of the defendant’s violations could be established from the determination of one fact by a trier of fact; the trier of fact would need to consider “the facts, the conditions, and circumstances disclosed by the evidence.” Swoboda at paragraph four of the syllabus. The responsibilities set forth in R.C. 4169.08(C)(1) and (2) are akin to the “rule of conduct” discussed in Eisenhuth; in those instances, negligence per se does not apply, and liability is “determined by the application of the test of due care as exercised by a reasonably [**24] prudent person under the circumstances of the case.” Eisenhuth at paragraph three of the syllabus.
[*P40] Thus, the General Assembly has set forth a statutory duty of ordinary care for skiers. Ingrained in that ordinary-care standard is the recognition that skiers are on skis, are on a slippery surface, and are engaged in a somewhat dangerous activity. R.C. 4169.08(C)(1) and (2) do not require expert ability by all skiers; they require common sense and an appreciation of very basic safety rules of skiing. When a skier fails to use ordinary care to meet the responsibilities set forth in R.C. 4169.08(C), he is liable for any injuries caused by his failure to live up to those rules of conduct, pursuant to R.C. 4169.09.
[*P41] As stated above, I dissent from the majority’s holding that R.C. 4169.09 does not recognize a cause of action between skiers. I also dissent from the majority’s holding that a skier must prove that another skier was reckless to successfully assert a common-law claim against another skier. The crux of the majority’s holding regarding the common law is that skiers owe no duty to each other because collisions between skiers are one of the inherent risks of skiing. I disagree [**25] and instead would follow the reasoned approach adopted by the Supreme Court of Connecticut in Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 269 Conn. 672, 849 A.2d 813 (2004), in which the court held that “the standard of care implicated in the context of the sport of skiing is that of a duty to refrain from unreasonable conduct and that liability may attach for negligent behavior.” Id. at 698.
[*P42] Like many other states, Connecticut has a ski-safety statutory scheme; such statutory schemes are like snowflakes-no two are exactly alike. See, e.g., Frakt & Rankin, Surveying the Slippery Slope: The Questionable Value of Legislation to Limit Ski Area Liability, 28 Idaho L.Rev. 227, 230 (1992), fn.12. The Connecticut statute at issue in Jagger did not contain the declaration found in the Ohio and Michigan statutes that a skier is liable to another skier for injuries caused by the skier’s failure to meet his or her statutory responsibilities. The Connecticut statute did state that collisions with other skiers are an inherent risk of skiing, Conn.Gen.Stat. 29-212; the court in Jagger found that that provision did not apply to lawsuits between skiers. Jagger, 269 Conn. at 697, 849 A.2d 813, fn. 21.
[*P43] [**26] In Jagger, the court applied a four-part test “to evaluate the various policy considerations relevant to the determination of the extent of the defendant’s duty.” Id. at 700. The court had developed the test in Jaworski v. Kiernan, 241 Conn. 399, 696 A.2d 332 (1997), to determine the standard of care applicable to participants in a soccer game. The elements of the test include
“(1) the normal expectations of participants in the sport in which the plaintiff and the defendant were engaged; (2) the public policy of encouraging continued vigorous participation in recreational sporting activities while weighing the safety of the participants; (3) the avoidance of increased litigation; and (4) the decisions of other jurisdictions.”
Jagger at 700, quoting Jaworski at 407.
[*P44] As for the first factor, the normal expectations of the participants in the sport, I agree with the Jagger court that although ski collisions can be frequent, skiers expect their fellow skiers to abide by the commonly accepted, fundamental rules of skiing:
While collisions with other skiers are fairly common, frequency of occurrence is not the ultimate touchstone in evaluating the expectations of participants in the sport. [**27] Rather, we perceive the expectations of skiers to be that fellow participants in the sport will conduct themselves in a manner befitting the dangerous potentialities attendant with the sport. Thus, skiers will expect that other skiers will follow the rules and generally accepted practices of the sport of skiing. Indeed, our statutory scheme regarding ski liability confirms that skiers should possess such expectations as they take part in the sport. * * * The normal expectations of skiers will be that fellow skiers will ski in a reasonable and appropriate manner.
Id. at 701-702.
[*P45] Like Connecticut’s, our state’s statutory scheme sets forth responsibilities for skiers that should create in the minds of other skiers the expectation that collisions are not an acceptable part of the sport.
[*P46] Further, skiers are reminded by signs throughout ski areas of appropriate behavior. The Skier’s Responsibility Code, promulgated by the National Ski Areas Association, reminds skiers of common safety rules:
Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
You must not stop where you obstruct a trail [**28] or are not visible from above.
Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
http://www.nsaa.org/nsaa/safety/responsibilitycode (accessed Nov. 1, 2012)
[*P47] Unlike in sports like football, basketball, or soccer, in which contact with other participants is part of the very nature of the sport, contact with another individual in skiing is outside the nature of the sport; any contact at all between skiers transforms skiing into an unacceptably dangerous proposition. The expectation among skiers is that their fellow skiers appreciate that safety is essential for everyone’s enjoyment of the sport.
[*P48] As for the second factor-balancing the encouragement of participation in the sport against concern for the safety of participants-I agree with the court in Jagger that encouraging responsible behavior by skiers tends to encourage participation:
As for the second Jaworski factor, we conclude that the balancing of the public policy of [**29] the encouragement of vigorous participation in the sport of skiing and the protection of the safety of its participants weighs in favor of a negligence standard. We believe that requiring skiers to participate in the reasonable manner prescribed by the rules of the sport actually will promote participation in the sport of skiing. Should the threshold for liability be placed at a level that only reckless or intentional misconduct can serve as grounds for liability, many of the potential harms caused by coparticipants in the sport will go unremedied and, therefore, dissuade potential participants from taking part in the sport. Additionally, a standard of reasonableness also operates to protect the safety of participants in the sport of skiing.
Jagger, 269 Conn. at 702-703, 849 A.2d 813.
[*P49] I agree that there is a minimal price to pay, if any, for increased safety on ski slopes. That skiers could feel safer when skiing would tend to inure to the benefit of participation rates. Colorado, whose economy is much more dependent on skiing than Ohio’s, statutorily recognizes the right of skiers to recover damages from other skiers who cause injuries. Colo.Rev.Stat.Ann. 33-44-109 (“a skier is not [**30] precluded under this article from suing another skier for any injury to person or property resulting from such other skier’s acts or omissions. Notwithstanding any provision of law or statute to the contrary, the risk of a skier/skier collision is neither an inherent risk nor a risk assumed by a skier in an action by one skier against another”).
[*P50] The third factor, the potential increase in litigation, is a minimal factor in the analysis. Contact with other skiers is not a regular part of skiing; collisions are rare enough that our courts would not be clogged by claims. As the court recognized in Jagger, this situation might be different in other sports:
For instance, in Jaworski we recognized quite correctly that the imposition of a negligence standard in contact sports would result undesirably in the potentiality of a civil action arising out of any foul, any hit batsman, or any clipping penalty. The same potential for undesirable numbers of civil actions is not present in the context of skiing. As discussed previously, abiding by the rules of the sport of skiing will eliminate the overwhelming majority of contact between skiers.
Id. at 703.
[*P51] The fourth element of the Jaworski test is [**31] a consideration of the law in other jurisdictions. We have the benefit of relying on the court’s well-reasoned decision in Jagger. Jagger relied on Novak v. Virene, 224 Ill.App.3d 317, 321, 586 N.E.2d 578, 166 Ill. Dec. 620 (1991), in which the court stated:
As in the individual sports of running and bicycling, there is the possibility of collisions in downhill skiing. But by one’s participation in the sport, one does not voluntarily submit to bodily contact with other skiers, and such contact is not inevitable. Therefore, the concern that the possibility of a negligence lawsuit would damper vigorous participation is inapplicable to downhill skiing. There is no reason to expand the limited contact sports exception to exempt downhill skiers from negligence liability if they negligently collide with other skiers. Many activities in life are fraught with danger, and absent a specific assumption of risk, one may obtain damages when injured by another’s negligence. Defendant’s conduct should be governed by ordinary negligence standards.
Id. at 321.
[*P52] In a Utah case, Ricci v. Schoultz, 963 P.2d 784, 786 (Utah App.1998), the court held that “a skier does have a duty to other skiers to ski reasonably and within [**32] control. However, an inadvertent fall on a ski slope, alone, does not constitute a breach of this duty.” Even though there was no negligence in the Ricci case, the case did hold that negligence was the proper legal standard to apply.
[*P53] Interpreting Vermont law in Dillworth v. Gambardella, 970 F.2d 1113, 1123 (2d Cir.1992), the court held that a skier can be liable to another skier for injuries caused by the skier’s negligence, but made clear that not every collision is caused by negligence:
The law is clear. “[T]he standard of conduct needed to discharge a duty of care in any given situation [is] measured in terms of the avoidance of reasonably foreseeable risks to the person to whom such duty is owed.” Green v. Sherburne Corp., 137 Vt. 310, 403 A.2d 278, 280 (1979). Like all others, skiers owe that degree of care an ordinary prudent person would exercise under like or similar circumstances. See La Faso v. La Faso, 126 Vt. 90, 223 A.2d 814, 817-18 (1966). One skier is not the insurer of another skier’s safety nor, absent negligence, is one skier liable to another for inadvertent or accidental contact. See, e.g., LaVine v. Clear Creek Skiing Corp., 557 F.2d 730, 734-35 (10th Cir.1977).
Thus, [**33] a jury might conclude that skiers who lose control even while exercising due care-that is, have breached no duty owed to other skiers-may pose a danger which is inherent, obvious and necessary to participants in the sport of skiing. * * * “If the fall is due to no breach of duty on the part of the defendant, its risk is assumed in the primary sense, and there can be no recovery.” Sunday [v. Stratton Corp], [136 Vt. 293, 302], 390 A.2d 398 [(1978)]. Where the facts on assumption and breach of duty are in dispute and more than one reasonable inference may be drawn from them, the question of negligence is for the jury. See La Faso, 223 A.2d at 819.
Id. at 1122. Although a skier does assume some risks of skiing, as for the behavior of other skiers, “the only risks [a] plaintiff * * * could be said to have assumed are those which defendant in the exercise of reasonable care under the circumstances could have avoided.” Id. at 1123.
[*P54] Further, in Peterson v. Chichester, 157 Vt. 548, 600 A.2d 1326 (1991), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict in a collision-between-skiers case in which the negligence of the defendant and comparative negligence of the plaintiff were at issue. Similarly, [**34] in Stewart v. Rice, 120 Idaho 504, 817 P.2d 170 (1991), the Supreme Court of Idaho decided a case involving the negligence of a skier in a collision between skiers.
[*P55] Applying the four Jaworski factors to the sport of skiing leads to the conclusion reached by the court in Jagger: “the proper standard of care owed by coparticipants in the sport of skiing is that of reasonable care.” Jagger, 269 Conn. at 704, 849 A.2d 813. Even assuming that the majority correctly found that no statutory duty exists between skiers in Ohio, it should have found a common-law duty of reasonable care between skiers, as courts in Connecticut, Illinois, Utah, Vermont, and Idaho have done.
[*P56] I dissent from the majority’s holdings that neither Ohio’s ski statutes nor the common law creates a duty between skiers. An accident like the one in this case is not one that a person would assume would take place when undertaking the pleasant family activity of skiing. Children, seniors, beginners, and handicapped people use ski slopes; to require, as the majority does, no greater standard of care than to refrain from recklessness will make Ohio’s ski areas more dangerous for everyone. “[Contact between skiers [**35] is neither a part of the sport that skiers agree to confront by their participation, nor is it an inevitable byproduct of the sport of skiing.” Jagger at 704.
[*P57] However, the majority admits that the defendant is liable for the plaintiffs injuries if he was acting recklessly on the slopes on the day in question. I agree that if recklessness is the standard of care in this case that there is a genuine issue of fact for a trier of fact to determine. There is testimony establishing that the defendant was uphill of Angel Horvath and merging onto the slope in question, looking backward, and making a sudden change of course when he struck her. Evidence supports the plaintiffs’ contention that the defendant violated numerous statutory responsibilities contained in R.C. 4169.08(C), a statute that sets forth fundamental safety rules for skiers. Those rules are basic and essential for skier safety. The flouting of those rules should be considered by a trier of fact in determining recklessness.
[*P58] The trial judge erred by granting summary judgment in a case that presents factual issues for trial. The case has now snowballed into a case that eviscerates a statutory scheme that has well served [**36] the sport and industry of skiing for a long time. The General Assembly ensured that we owe a greater duty, a duty of ordinary care, to each other. The majority has removed that duty and today has made skiing in Ohio appreciably more dangerous. I trust that Ohio’s skiers will not look to this court, but instead to their common sense, their peers, and information provided by ski areas to determine what is acceptable behavior on Ohio’s ski slopes.
Mark, v. Moser, 46 N.E.2d 410; 2001 Ind. App. LEXIS 671
Rebecca J. Mark, Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. Kyle Moser, Appellee-Defendant.
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA, SECOND DISTRICT
746 N.E.2d 410; 2001 Ind. App. LEXIS 671
April 19, 2001, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE HAMILTON SUPERIOR COURT. Cause No. 29D03-9806-CT-323. The Honorable William Hughes, Judge.
DISPOSITION: Trial court’s decision affirmed with respect to Count I. Remanded to trial court for further proceedings on Count II consistent with this opinion.
COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: JOSEPH A. CHRISTOFF, KONRAD M. L. URBERG, Christoff & Christoff, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
FOR APPELLEE: STEVEN K. HUFFER, DEREK L. MANDEL, Huffer & Weathers, P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana.
JUDGES: BAKER, Judge. BROOK, J., and BARNES, J., concur.
OPINION BY: BAKER
[*413] BAKER, Judge
Today we are called upon to clearly define the standard of care one competitor owes another in a sporting event. Although this court may have tangentially addressed the issue in the past, there has been no case since the adoption of the Comparative Fault Act where an in-depth analysis was warranted. Thus, the precise issue we must decide is whether a participant in an athletic activity may recover in tort for injury as the result of another participant’s negligent conduct.
The uncontroverted facts are that on September 7, 1997, Rebecca Mark (Rebecca) and Kyle Moser (Kyle) were co-participants in a triathlon competition in [**2] Marion County, which consisted of three events, swimming, bicycling, and running. Before the competition, each triathlon participant agreed to abide by the rules adopted by USA Triathlon. In addition, all the participants signed an entry form, which included a waiver provision and release from liability.
During the bicycling leg of the triathlon, Kyle was riding on the left side of Rebecca and cut in front of her. As a result, the two bicycles collided and Rebecca was hospitalized with serious injuries. Kyle was subsequently disqualified for violating the USA Triathlon rule against endangerment. That rule provides: “No cyclist shall endanger himself or another participant. Any cyclist who intentionally presents a danger to any participant or who, in the judgment of the Head Referee, appears to present a danger to any participants shall be disqualified.” Record at 115. The triathlon referee, Ardith Spence, stated that Kyle’s conduct was not considered intentional; rather, he was disqualified for violating the rule “because, by moving over, an accident occurred.” R. at 111.
On June 7, 1998, Rebecca filed a two-count complaint against Kyle. In Count I, Rebecca alleged that the collision [**3] was caused by Kyle’s negligence and, in the alternative, in Count II, Rebecca alleged that Kyle acted intentionally, recklessly and willfully in causing her injuries. In response, on September 29, 2000, Kyle filed a motion for summary judgment as to both counts of Rebecca’s complaint. Specifically, Kyle argued that Rebecca was barred from recovering on a negligence theory and, instead, asserted that she was required to establish that he intentionally, recklessly, willfully, or wantonly caused her injuries. In addition, Kyle argued that there was no evidence indicating that he had intentionally or recklessly caused the collision between the two bicycles.
The trial court held a hearing on Kyle’s motion on June 7, 2000. Thereafter, on August 3, 2000, the trial court granted summary judgment as to Count I of Rebecca’s complaint and denied it as to Count II. Rebecca now appeals the trial court’s judgment regarding the negligence count.
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
I. Standard of Review
The standard of review of a summary judgment is well settled. [HN1] This court [*414] applies the same standard as the trial court. USA Life One Ins. Co. v. Nuckolls, 682 N.E.2d 534, 537 (Ind. 1997). [**4] We do not weigh the evidence designated by the parties. Instead, we liberally construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. Summary judgment is appropriate only if the pleadings and the evidence show both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Butler v. City of Indianapolis, 668 N.E.2d 1227, 1228 (Ind. 1996). Where material facts conflict, or undisputed facts lead to conflicting material inferences, summary judgment is inappropriate. Id.
II. The Current State of the Law
A. Indiana Law
Many people might think that Rebecca’s claim would be barred because she in some way incurred, or assumed, the risk of injury by participating in the sporting event. However, under present Indiana law that would not necessarily be the case if the standard of care was negligence. On January 1, 1985, Indiana adopted the Comparative Fault Act (the Act). IND. CODE § 34-51-2-1 to -19. The Act was intended to ameliorate the harshness of the then prevailing common law doctrine of contributory negligence. [**5] Baker v. Osco Drug, Inc., 632 N.E.2d 794, 797 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). Under the common law rule, a slightly negligent plaintiff was precluded from recovery of any damages, even against a highly culpable tortfeasor. Id. In [HN2] contrast, under the Act, if a plaintiff’s conduct satisfies the statutory definition of “fault,” he will be permitted to recover damages, but those damages will be reduced by his proportion of fault. Id. However, if the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is assessed at greater than fifty percent, his recovery will still be completely barred. Id. For purposes of defining comparative fault, [HN3] the term “fault” includes “any act or omission that is negligent, willful, wanton, reckless, or intentional towards the person or property of others. The term also includes unreasonable assumption of risk not constituting an enforceable express consent, incurred risk, and unreasonable failure to avoid an injury or to mitigate damages.” I.C. § 34-6-2-45(b). [HN4] This inclusion of “incurred risk” in the definition of fault abolishes incurred risk as a complete bar to recovery and establishes that the fault of each party should be apportioned. [**6] Baker, 632 N.E.2d at 797. Thus, under Indiana law, if we adopt negligence as the standard of care between co-participants in a sporting event, it would be a question of fact for the jury to decide whether the plaintiff in any way incurred the risk of harm but is, nevertheless, entitled to recover for his injury.
Our supreme court has not specifically addressed the standard of care between co-participants in athletic events. However, it has addressed the appropriate standard of care owed by an educational institution and its representatives to students for injuries sustained while playing campus sports. [HN5] In this context, the court has adopted a negligence standard. See Beckett v. Clinton Prairie Sch. Corp., 504 N.E.2d 552, 554 (Ind. 1987) (holding that school personnel have a duty to exercise reasonable care over students participating in a school activity under school supervision, in a case involving a collision between two student baseball players). Our supreme court adopted this standard based on its recognition that there is a well-established “duty on the part of school personnel to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety of children [**7] under their authority.” Beckett, 504 N.E.2d at 553; cf. Brewster v. Rankins, 600 N.E.2d 154, 158 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992) (holding that [*415] while school authorities have a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of children under their tutelage, they have no duty to prevent a student from injuring other players while practicing his golf swing at home). According to the court, whether school personnel exercised their duty with the level of care of an ordinary prudent person under the same or similar circumstances is generally a factual question for the determination of the jury. Beckett, 504 N.E.2d at 554.
Our supreme court has also recognized, however, [HN6] that if the student athlete can be shown to have incurred the risks inherent in the sports event, this acts as a potential bar to recovery. Id.; see also Clark v. Wiegand, 617 N.E.2d 916, 919 (Ind. 1993) (holding that the question of whether a student in a university judo class incurred the risk of injury from another student so as to bar recovery from the university was a question for the jury). According to the Beckett court, for the “doctrine of incurred [**8] risk” to affect the plaintiff’s likelihood or percentage of recovery, it is not enough that the plaintiff merely has a general awareness of a potential for mishap in engaging in the particular sports activity. Id. Rather, the doctrine involves a subjective analysis focusing upon the plaintiff’s actual knowledge and appreciation of the specific risk and voluntary acceptance of that risk. Clark, 617 N.E.2d at 919 (stating that whether the possibility of sustaining a knee ligament injury while participating in a judo class “was within the plaintiff’s actual knowledge, appreciation, and voluntary acceptance, is a factual matter not easily susceptible to determination as a matter of law”). 1
1 For another case where a student brought suit against the school corporation for injuries caused by a fellow student during a sports event, see Huffman v. Monroe County Community Sch. Corp., 588 N.E.2d 1264 (Ind. 1992). In that case, the plaintiff sustained head and shoulder injuries when a fellow student struck her in the back of the head with a shot put during a track meet. Id. at 1264.
[**9] In Duke’s GMC v. Erskine, 447 N.E.2d 1118, 1118 (Ind. Ct. App. 1983), a panel of this court addressed the situation where a sports participant sued for injuries caused by another player. Duke’s GMC involved a golfer, Erskine, who sued for loss of an eye from being struck by a golf ball at a country club. Id. In addition to being decided prior to Indiana’s adoption of the Comparative Fault Act, Duke’s GMC is distinguishable from the case at bar because the court was not confronted with the standard of care between sports co-participants and because Erskine sued the corporation that paid the dues of its president who hit the golf ball causing the injury, rather than suing the president himself. Id. Specifically, in Duke’s GMC, this court was called upon to decide whether the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and in the instructions it gave to the jury. In addressing whether the trial court’s instruction regarding incurred risk was erroneous, this court approved the parties’ assertion that a golfer could not incur the risk of another golfer’s negligence as a matter of law. This court then discussed the instruction based on a negligence [**10] standard, but it never addressed the standard of care one competitor owes another in a sporting event. However, when discussing the appropriateness of the trial court’s instructions regarding damages, the Duke’s GMC court did examine how violations of the rules of sport affect the negligence analysis. In so doing, this court recognized that the “rules of sport are at least an indicia of the standard of care which players owe each other,” and concluded that “while a violation [*416] of those rules may not be negligence per se, it may well be evidence of negligence.” 2 Id. at 1124.
2 The parties dispute whether the court in this case proceeded under a standard of negligence or reckless misconduct. Appellant’s brief at 8; Appellee’s brief at 4-5. While the standard is unclear, it appears from the court’s holding and analysis of how violations of the rules of sport affect the negligence analysis, that it permitted the case to proceed under a negligence standard. Duke’s GMC, 447 N.E.2d at 1124.
Thus, under the current state of Indiana law, in actions for sports-related injuries against school authorities, rather than against a co-participant, liability will attach in the event that negligence is shown. We note, however, that the plaintiff’s negligence claim is subject to the defense of incurred risk, which requires the defendant to establish that the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the risk that resulted in his injury. Should the defendant carry his burden of proof on this defense, the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced or eliminated depending on the degree of the plaintiff’s fault.
B. Law in Other Jurisdictions
The authority from other jurisdictions is instructive with regard to the standard of care to be applied between co-participants in a sports activity. Other jurisdictions have generally taken one of two approaches to this issue, and have adopted either a negligence or recklessness standard. They have also recognized two principle defenses, contributory negligence and assumption of risk.
Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin judge sports injury cases between co-participants according to an “ordinary care” or negligence standard. See Estes v. Tripson, 188 Ariz. 93, 932 P.2d 1364, 1366 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1997); [**12] Auckenthaler v. Grundmeyer, 110 Nev. 682, 877 P.2d 1039, 1043 (Nev. 1994); Lestina v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co., 176 Wis. 2d 901, 501 N.W.2d 28, 33 (Wis. 1993). The primary argument for adhering to the negligence standard is the belief that this standard is flexible enough to be applied to a wide range of situations because it only requires that a person exercise ordinary care under the circumstances. See Auckenthaler, 877 P.2d at 1043; Lestina, 501 N.W.2d at 33. Thus, “within the factual climate of . . . sporting events, the question posed is whether the defendant participated in a reasonable manner and within the rules of the game or in accordance with the ordinary scope of the activity.” Auckenthaler, 877 P.2d at 1043 (citing Lestina, 501 N.W.2d at 33).
The majority of other states have adopted a “reckless or intentional conduct” or a “willful and wanton or intentional misconduct” standard. These states include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Texas. See Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 834 P.2d 696, 711 (Cal. 1992) [**13] (applying a recklessness standard to an injury in an informal game of coed football); Jaworski v. Kiernan, 241 Conn. 399, 696 A.2d 332, 339 (Conn. 1997) (holding that a recklessness or intentional misconduct standard should be used in a case involving a recreational soccer game); Hoke v. Cullinan, 914 S.W.2d 335, 339 (Ky. 1995) (applying a recklessness standard with respect to an injury sustained in a doubles tennis match); Picou v. Hartford Ins. Co., 558 So. 2d 787, 790 (La. Ct. App. 1990) (applying recklessness as the standard for injuries sustained during a softball game); Gauvin v. Clark, 404 Mass. 450, 537 N.E.2d 94, 96 (Mass. 1989) (adopting a “reckless disregard of safety” standard in a case involving a college hockey game); Ritchie-Gamester [*417] v. City of Berkley, 461 Mich. 73, 597 N.W.2d 517, 518 (Mich. 1999) (holding that co-participants owe each other a duty not to engage in reckless misconduct in a case involving a collision between two recreational skaters); Dotzler v. Tuttle, 234 Neb. 176, 449 N.W.2d 774, 779 (Neb. 1990) (adopting a recklessness standard with respect to injuries [**14] sustained in a “pickup” basketball game); Crawn v. Campo, 136 N.J. 494, 643 A.2d 600, 601 (N.J. 1994) (adopting a “reckless disregard for the safety of others” standard in a case involving a “pickup” softball game); Kabella v. Bouschelle, 100 N.M. 461, 672 P.2d 290, 293 (N.M. Ct. App. 1983) (adopting recklessness as the standard for injuries sustained during an informal game of tackle football); Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432, 502 N.E.2d 964, 968, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49 (N.Y. 1986) (concluding that a “reckless or intentional” standard applied in a case involving a professional jockey injured during a horse race); Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St. 3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699, 703 (Ohio 1990) (applying the recklessness standard to a minor who was injured participating in a recreational game of “kick the can”); Hathaway v. Tascosa Country Club, Inc., 846 S.W.2d 614, 616 (Tex. App. 1993) (applying a “reckless or intentional” standard in a case involving an injury suffered during a recreational golf game).
Of those states that have adopted a recklessness or intentional misconduct standard, some, including Illinois [**15] and Missouri, have explicitly limited application of this standard to contact sports. See Pfister v. Shusta, 167 Ill. 2d 417, 657 N.E.2d 1013, 1017, 212 Ill. Dec. 668 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995) (holding that participants who voluntarily engage in contact sports cannot recover for injuries resulting from the negligence of other players and, instead, must establish willful and wanton or intentional misconduct); Zurla v. Hydel 289 Ill. App. 3d 215, 681 N.E.2d 148, 152, 224 Ill. Dec. 166 (Ill. App. Ct. 1997) (holding that negligence is the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in golf); Novak v. Virene, 224 Ill. App. 3d 317, 586 N.E.2d 578, 579, 166 Ill. Dec. 620 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991) (concluding that negligence is the appropriate standard between skiers); Gamble v. Bost, 901 S.W.2d 182, 186 (Mo. Ct. App. 1995) (holding that a negligence standard is proper in bowling, a non-contact sport) trans. denied; Ross v. Clouser, 637 S.W.2d 11, 14 (Mo. 1982) (adopting a recklessness standard for contact sports). 3
3 One critic has noted that a “shortcoming of the recklessness standard is the inconsistent formulas courts have established to define recklessness.” Ian M. Burnstein, Liability For Injuries Suffered In The Course of Recreational Sports: Application of the Negligence Standard, 71 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 993, 1014 (1994). Burnstein points out that the Louisiana Court of Appeals in Bourque v. Duplechin, 331 So. 2d 40, 43 (1976), defined recklessness “in terms of consequences to the victim,” whereas the Illinois Court of Appeals in Nabozny v. Barnhill, 31 Ill. App. 3d 212, 334 N.E.2d 258, 261 (Ill. App. Ct. 1975), defined it in terms of the “actor’s ‘reckless disregard’ for the safety of other players.” Id. The New Mexico Court of Appeals in Kabella, 672 P.2d at 294, “defined reckless disregard as reckless or willful conduct,” and other jurisdictions have used the definition set out in the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965). Id.
[**16] Courts that have departed from the negligence standard and adopted an elevated standard of care in the co-participant context, have recognized public policy justifications for doing so. Specifically, some courts have feared that use of an ordinary negligence standard could result in a flood of litigation. For example, in Jaworski, the Supreme Court of Connecticut declined to adopt a negligence standard, acknowledging that:
If simple negligence were to be adopted as the standard of care, every punter with whom contact is made, every midfielder [*418] high sticked, every basketball player fouled, every batter struck by a pitch, and every hockey player tripped would have the ingredients for a lawsuit if injury resulted.
696 A.2d at 338. The Jaworski court went on to state that given “the number of athletic events taking place in Connecticut over the course of a year . . . such potential for a surfeit of lawsuits . . . should not be encouraged.” Id.
Several courts have also recognized that “fear of civil liability stemming from negligent acts occurring [during] an athletic event could curtail the proper vigor with which the game should be played and discourage [**17] individual participation.” Ross, 637 S.W.2d at 14. The Supreme Court of New Jersey in Crawn, noted that “one might well conclude that something is terribly wrong with a society in which the most commonly-accepted aspects of play–a traditional source of a community’s conviviality and cohesion–spurs litigation.” 643 A.2d at 600. With the foregoing in mind, the Crawn court went on to adopt “the heightened recklessness standard,” recognizing this as a “commonsense distinction between excessively harmful conduct and the more routine rough-and-tumble of sports that should occur freely on the playing field and should not be second-guessed in courtrooms.” Id.
Apart from policy rationales, some courts have justified adoption of a recklessness or intentional standard of care on the grounds that a participant in a sports activity assumes the risks inherent in that activity. See, e.g., Knight, 834 P.2d at 712; Marchetti, 559 N.E.2d at 703-04; Turcotte, 502 N.E.2d at 967; Ross, 637 S.W.2d at 14. Assumption of risk can be applied in its primary or secondary sense. See Fowler V. [**18] Harper et al., The Law of Torts § 21.0 (3d ed. 1996). Secondary assumption of risk is applied according to a subjective standard. Therefore, “if the plaintiff knows, understands, and appreciates a risk and deliberately encounters it, he assumes that risk in the secondary sense.” Heidi C. Doerhoff, Penalty Box or Jury Box? Deciding Where Professional Sports Tough Guys Should Go, 64 Mo. L. Rev. 739, 751 (1999). Whether the plaintiff appreciated and was willing to encounter the particular risk is a “factual determination usually reserved to the jury.” Id.
Secondary assumption of risk has been subsumed by comparative fault in many jurisdictions and is no longer a defense. However, New York and California recognize primary assumption of risk as having survived enactment of their comparative negligence statutes. These two states have retained assumption of risk in the sports injury context by recasting it as a no-duty rule. Essentially, under the primary assumption of risk doctrine, a sports participant defendant owes no duty of care to a co-participant with respect to risks that are considered to be within the ordinary range of activity involved in the sport. [**19] See Knight, 834 P.2d at 711; Turcotte, 502 N.E.2d at 970. Because primary assumption of risk “is a policy-driven concept that flows from the legal relationship of the parties, not their subjective expectations,” it is applied according to an objective, rather than subjective, standard. Doerhoff, 64 Mo. L. Rev. at 751. Thus, for purposes of determining whether the doctrine negates a defendant’s duty of care, thereby barring a plaintiff’s action, the plaintiff’s “knowledge plays a role but [the] inherency [of the risks involved in the particular sport] is the sine qua non.” Morgan v. State, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 685 N.E.2d 202, 208, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 (N.Y. 1997). Whether a duty of care attends the relationship between the parties “is a question of law reserved to the [*419] court.” Doerhoff, 64 Mo. L. Rev. at 751. If no such duty is found to exist, then an action for personal injury will be barred as a matter of law absent evidence of reckless or intentionally harmful conduct. Turcotte, 502 N.E.2d at 967.
Courts that have adopted the recklessness or intentional standard have also tended to hold rule violations as an inherent and anticipated [**20] part of the game. Burnstein, 71 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. at 993. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has justified this tendency by reasoning that the “normal expectations of participants in contact team sports includes the potential for injuries resulting from conduct that violates the rules of sport.” Jaworski, 696 A.2d at 337. Thus, “Connecticut, like other jurisdictions that have adopted the reckless or intentional standard of care, allows a participant in a sporting event to escape liability when his conduct is ‘part of the game’ even though it violates [the] rules” of the sport. Mark M. Rembish, Liability for Personal Injuries Sustained in Sporting Events After Jaworski v. Kierney, 18 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 307, 341 (1998).
In sum, the majority of jurisdictions that have considered the issue of the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in sporting activities, have adopted a standard of care that exceeds negligent conduct. The rationale behind this heightened standard of care is the fear of a flood of litigation, the desire to encourage vigorous athletic competition and participation in sporting events, and the perception that risk of injury is a common [**21] and inherent aspect of sports and recreational activity.
In determining the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in sporting activities in Indiana, we are mindful that in Indiana, as in the rest of the United States, participation in recreational sports has become an increasingly popular leisure time activity. Indeed, over the last decade, more Americans than ever before “have joined recreational softball, basketball, football [and] other types of sports leagues,” and there has also been a dramatic increase in participation in high school and college organized sports. Burnstein, 71 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. at 993. Our legislature also emphasized and endorsed the growing importance of sporting and recreational activities in Indiana, when it enacted a statute specifically immunizing landowners from liability if they have opened their property for recreational use. See IND. CODE § 14-22-10-2. 4
4 [HN8] The Indiana Recreational Use Statute provides that the owner of premises used for recreational purposes, such as swimming, camping, hiking, and sightseeing, does not assume responsibility or incur liability, for personal injury or property damage caused by an action or failure to act of persons using the premises. I.C. § 14-22-10-2. Baseball and sledding are among the sporting activities that have been recognized as being covered by the Recreational Use Statute. See Cunningham v. Bakker Produce, Inc., 712 N.E.2d 1002 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied; Civils v. Stucker, 705 N.E.2d 524 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).
[**22] After reviewing the decisions of other jurisdictions that have considered this issue, we are convinced that a negligence standard would be over-inclusive. Specifically, we believe that adopting a negligence standard would create the potential for mass litigation and may deter participation in sports because of fear of incurring liability for the injuries and mishaps incident to the particular activity. Further, we believe that the duty of care between co-participants in sports activities is sufficiently distinguishable from Indiana cases where a student athlete sues an educational institution or its representatives, to merit a heightened standard of care. Specifically, application of a negligence [*420] standard is justified where a student athlete sues a school or its representatives because there is a well-established duty on the part of such institutions and their personnel to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety of those under their authority. See Beckett, 504 N.E.2d at 553. However, no such analogous authority or responsibility exists between co-participants in sporting events, and therefore, we are not compelled to adopt a similar standard in this context. [**23] 5 Finally, as a matter of policy, we prefer to avoid the need to hold a jury trial to determine whether the plaintiff incurred the risk of injury in every case involving a sports injury caused by a co-participant. We can prevent this necessity by adopting an objective primary assumption-of-risk doctrine and a standard of care greater than negligence.
5 Moreover, to the extent Duke’s GMC is inconsistent with this opinion it is disapproved.
Accordingly, we hold that [HN9] voluntary participants in sports activities assume the inherent and foreseeable dangers of the activity and cannot recover for injury unless it can be established that the other participant either intentionally caused injury or engaged in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport. 6 [HN10] The plaintiff’s assumption of risk is primary in nature inasmuch as it flows from the legal relationship of the parties, is evaluated according to an objective standard rather than a subjective standard, and [**24] acts to bar recovery. Thus, it is a question of law for the determination of the court, whether the injury-causing event was an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the game, such that the plaintiff is considered to have assumed the risk. If the court determines that the plaintiff did assume the risk, then the plaintiff’s cause fails. If, on the other hand, the court determines that plaintiff did not assume the risk, then the cause proceeds to a jury to determine, as a question of fact, whether the co-participant intentionally or recklessly caused the injury.
6 This author has advanced the position before, in his concurring opinion in Lincke v. Long Beach Country Club, 702 N.E.2d 738, 741 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998), that co-participants in sporting activities should be considered to have assumed the inherent and foreseeable dangers of the activity as a matter of law. Specifically, this author stated that: “Any golfer in the rough of a hole which runs parallel to another should, as a matter of law, know the dangers of approaching golfers. To be surprised that approaching drivers hook or slice is akin to being surprised that not everyone shoots par. We have said often that ‘there comes a point where this Court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men [or women].’ This is a shining example of the application of that maxim.” Id. (quoting Willner v. State, 602 N.E.2d 507, 509 (Ind. 1992)).
[**25] In addition, because we recognize that rule infractions, deliberate or otherwise, are an inevitable part of many [HN11] sports, a co-participant’s violation of the rules of the game may be evidence of liability, but shall not per se establish reckless or intentional conduct. We share the Supreme Court of Connecticut’s recognition that:
In athletic competitions, the object obviously is to win. In games, particularly those . . . involving some degree of physical contact, it is reasonable to assume that the competitive spirit of the participants will result in some rules violations and injures. That is why there are penalty boxes, foul shots, free kicks, and yellow cards.
Jaworski, 696 A.2d at 337. Thus, while some injuries may result from rules violations, we believe such violations are nonetheless an accepted part of any competition and among the anticipated risks of participation in the game.
[*421] We are affording enhanced protection against liability to co-participants in sports events, in part, because we recognize that they are not in a position, practically speaking, to protect themselves from claims. Event organizers, sponsors, and the like, are able to safeguard [**26] themselves from liability by securing waivers. They usually accomplish this by requiring each participant to sign a waiver and assumption-of-risk form as a condition of competing in the event. 7 However, in most instances, it is simply infeasible for participants to protect themselves by similar means. Indeed, at large sporting events, participants would have to exchange many releases in order to avoid liability. 8 Under the common law system of contributory fault, application of the doctrine of incurred risk would have allowed the judiciary to protect parties who, as here, cannot take steps to legally protect themselves from liability. However, when our legislature abandoned contributory negligence as a total bar to recovery and established a comparative negligence regime, it did not account for situations where parties are unable to protect themselves from liability. Thus, there is a void in the law. We recognize that [HN12] one of the responsibilities of the judiciary is to fill such voids. Accordingly, we determine that, [HN13] as a matter of law, participants in sporting events will not be permitted to recover against their co-participants for injuries sustained as the result of the inherent [**27] or foreseeable dangers of the sport.
7 Indeed, in the case at bar Rebecca was required to sign an “Acknowledgment, Waiver and Release From Liability” form in order to participate in the Triathlon. R. at 71. The release provided, in part:
(c) I WAIVE, RELEASE, AND DISCHARGE from any and all claims, losses, or liabilities for death, personal injury, partial or permanent disability, property damage, medical or hospital bills, theft or damage of any kind, including economic losses which may in the future arise out of or relate to my participation in or my traveling to a USAT sanctioned event, THE FOLLOWING PERSONS OR ENTITIES: USAT, EVENT SPONSORS, RACE DIRECTORS, EVENT PRODUCERS, VOLUNTEERS, ALL STATES, CITIES, COUNTIES, OR LOCALITIES IN WHICH EVENTS OR SEGMENTS OF EVENTS ARE HELD, AND THE OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, REPRESENTATIVES AND AGENTS OF ANY OF THE ABOVE EVEN IF SUCH CLAIMS, LOSSES, OR LIABILITIES ARE CAUSED BY NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF THE PERSONS I AM HEREBY RELEASING OR ARE CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY. (d) . . . I also ASSUME ANY AND ALL OTHER RISKS associated with participating in USAT sanctioned events including but not limited to falls, contacts and/or effects with other participants . . . and I further acknowledge that these risks include risks that may be the result of the negligence of the persons or entities mentioned above in paragraph (c) or of other persons or entities.
R. at 71.
As is generally the case, the release form that Rebecca signed does not relieve Kyle from liability as co-participants are not listed among the specific entities or individuals released from liability according to the plain language of the document. See OEC-Diasonics, Inc. v. Major, 674 N.E.2d 1312, 1314 (Ind. 1996) (stating that [HN14] a “release document shall be interpreted in the same manner as any other contract document.” Thus, where the language is unambiguous, it should be interpreted as to its clear terms.).
8 For example, there were “more than 23,000″ participants in the 2000 Mini Marathon in Indianapolis. Indianapolis Life 500 Festival Mini Marathon and 500 Festival 5K, at http://www.500festival.com. (last visited Mar. 7, 2001). Had each of the 23,000 participants attempted to obtain a release from the other 22,999 participants, this would have required the execution and exchange of 52,897,700 release forms. This endeavor would have taken even longer than it would take for this author to complete the requisite 13.1 miles of the mini marathon.
[*422] The foregoing standard means, in essence, that [HN15] an action will lie in tort between co-participants in sports events “when players step outside of their roles as fellow competitors” and recklessly or intentionally inflict harm on another. Doerhoff, 64 Mo. L. Rev. at 744. A player will be considered to have acted in reckless disregard of the safety of another player if “he does an act, or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable person to realize, not only that [**29] his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 (1965). A player acts intentionally when he desires to cause the consequences of his act, or when he believes that the consequences are substantially certain to result from it. Id. § 8a. Thus, [HN16] recklessness differs from intentional wrongdoing in that while the act must be intended by the actor in order to be considered reckless, the actor does not intend the harm that results from the act.
Applying the foregoing standard, liability will not lie where the injury causing action amounts to a tactical move that is an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the game and is undertaken to secure a competitive edge. Thus, where a baseball pitcher throws the ball near the batter to prevent him from crowding the home plate, and the ball ends up striking the batter and causing injury, the pitcher’s conduct would not be actionable. Similarly, there would be no tort liability where the defense in a football game strategically “blitzes” the opposing team’s quarterback resulting [**30] in injury, or where one basketball team is leading by a point and, seconds from the end of the game, a member of that team chooses to foul the opponent when he drives the lane for a “slam dunk,” thereby forcing him to try to win the game at the free throw line.
In contrast, if a co-participant vents his anger at another player by means of a physical attack, such conduct would be actionable. Instances of such tortious conduct would be where one boxer bites his opponent’s ear during a boxing match, 9 or where a soccer or football player punches another player after a tackle. Similarly, if a baseball batter in a fit of anger intentionally flips his bat towards the opposing team’s dugout and injures one of the players, liability might attach for such recklessness.
9 As one commentator has noted, “it is inconceivable that professional boxing or full contact karate matches could be conducted without some injury to one or both participants [as] causing bodily harm is the very essence of the match.” Daniel Lazaroff, Torts & Sports: Participant Liability to Co-participants for Injuries Sustained During Competition, 7 U. Miami Ent. & Sports L. Rev. 191, 194 (1990). However, while injury as the result of a “left hook” or “jab” is considered an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of professional boxing, injury as the result of a bite is not.
[**31] In light of these examples, it is our view that adoption of the recklessness or intentional conduct standard preserves the fundamental nature of sports by encouraging, rather than inhibiting, competitive spirit, drive, and strategy. Moreover, this standard will avoid judicial review of the kind of risk-laden conduct that is inherent in sports and generally considered to be part of the game, while at the same time imposing liability for acts that are clearly unreasonable and beyond the realm of fair play. Further, we believe that adoption of this standard will not compromise Indiana’s status as the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World.” Tammy Lieber, 20 Years of [*423] Amateur Sports, Indianapolis Bus. J., Apr. 12, 1999, at 3A. 10
10 As a result of the Indiana Sports Corporation’s initiative to turn Indianapolis into the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World,” Indiana has hosted several major sporting events and enjoyed the attendant economic, cultural, and recreational benefits. Lieber, supra, at 41A. Some of the major sporting events that Indiana has hosted include the: Pan American Games; Indianapolis 500 Mile Race; Brickyard 400-NASCAR Winston Cup Series; World Championships in gymnastics, rowing, and track and field; Olympic trials for canoe/kayak, diving, rowing, swimming, track and field and wrestling; U.S. National Championships in diving, figure skating, gymnastics, rowing, and swimming; Hoosier Basketball Classic; Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships and Outdoor Track and Field Championships; and the International Race of Champions (IROC). In 2001 Indiana will host, among other events, the World Police and Fire Games, Hoosier State Games, Coca Cola Circle City Classic, Youthlinks Indiana Charity Golf Tournament, RCA Tennis Championships, Corporate Challenge, PeyBack Classic II, and the USA Judo National High School and Collegiate Championships. Other sporting events scheduled to take place in Indiana during the next few years include the 14th World Basketball Championship for Men in 2002, the 2003 World Gymnastics Championships, the 2004 World Swimming Championships, and the 2006 NCAA Men’s Final Four. Correspondence from the Indiana Sports Corporation (March 7, 2001) (on file with author).
[**32] D. Rebecca’s Claim
We now return to Rebecca’s contention that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Kyle on Count I of her complaint, in which Rebecca alleged that Kyle acted negligently in causing her injuries. In light of our holding regarding the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in a sporting event, allegation or proof of negligent conduct is insufficient to create liability. Thus, Count I of Rebecca’s complaint must fail.
With regard to Count II, alleging that Kyle acted intentionally, recklessly and willfully in causing her injuries, the trial court must determine whether Kyle’s action was an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the sport, such that Rebecca assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law. In our view, it is reasonably foreseeable that a competitor in a cycling race may attempt to cut in front of co-participants in an effort to advance position. Thus, if Rebecca is unable to develop the facts beyond those presented at this juncture, we would conclude that Kyle’s action was an inherent risk in the event that Rebecca assumed as a matter of law, thereby precluding recovery.
[**33] We thus conclude that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Kyle as to Count I of Rebecca’s complaint. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision with respect to Count I. We also remand to the trial court for further proceedings on Count II consistent with this opinion, to determine whether, under the facts of this case as they develop, Rebecca assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law.
BROOK, J., and BARNES, J., concur.
Morrison, v. Northwest Nazarene University, 273 P.3d 1253; 2012 Ida. LEXIS 82
Paul Morrison, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Northwest Nazarene University, Defendant-Respondent.
Docket No. 37850-2010, 2012 Opinion No. 52
SUPREME COURT OF IDAHO
273 P.3d 1253; 2012 Ida. LEXIS 82
March 22, 2012, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Canyon County. The Hon. Juneal C. Kerrick, District Judge.
DISPOSITION: The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
COUNSEL: John C. Doubek; Doubek & Pyfer, LLP; Helena, Montana; argued for appellant.
John A. Bailey; Racine Olson Nye Budge & Bailey, Chtd; Pocatello; argued for respondent.
JUDGES: EISMANN, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, Justices W. JONES, and HORTON CONCUR. J. JONES, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.
OPINION BY: EISMANN
[*1254] EISMANN, Justice.
This is an appeal challenging the district court’s ruling on summary judgment that the plaintiff’s action for personal injuries suffered when he fell from a climbing wall was barred by the hold harmless agreement he signed prior to engaging in that activity. We affirm the judgment of the district court.
As a team building exercise, Paul Morrison’s employer wanted him and his coworkers to participate in a program at Northwest Nazarene University that included a climbing wall activity. Several days prior to doing so, Morrison’s employer required him to sign an agreement prepared by the University holding it harmless from any loss or damage he might incur [**2] due to the University’s negligence or that of its employees.
Morrison was severely injured when he fell while on the climbing wall. He filed this action alleging that his injuries were caused by the negligence of the University employees who were supervising the climbing wall activity. One of Morrison’s coworkers was assigned to control the safety rope used to keep the wall climber from falling, and Morrison alleges that his fall was caused by the negligent failure of a University employee to train and supervise that coworker.
The University moved for summary judgment on the ground that Morrison’s cause of action was barred by the hold harmless agreement. The district court agreed and dismissed this action. Morrison then timely appealed.
Did the District Court Err in Failing to Invalidate the Hold Harmless Agreement Due to the Inequality in Bargaining Power
[HN1] “Freedom of contract is a fundamental concept underlying the law of contracts and is an essential element of the free enterprise system.” Rawlings v Layne & Bowler Pump Co., 93 Idaho 496, 499, 465 P.2d 107, 110 (1970). Agreements exempting a party from liability for negligence will be upheld unless the party owes to the other party [**3] a public duty created by statute or the other party is at an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power. Lee v. Sun Valley Co., 107 Idaho 976, 978, 695 P.2d 361, 363 (1984).
In this case, there is no allegation of any public duty that the University owed to Morrison. However, he contends that there was an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power because his employer required that he sign the hold harmless agreement. [HN2] The existence of unequal bargaining power is not, by itself, sufficient to relieve a party from the provisions of a hold harmless agreement. Rather, the party must be “compelled to submit to a provision relieving the other from liability for future negligence [because] . . . the party injured has little choice, as a practical matter, but to use the services offered by the party seeking exemption.” 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 63 (2004). It is essentially the same test for determining whether unequal bargaining power between parties to a contract is sufficient to constitute procedural unconscionability. See Lovey v. Regence BlueShield of Idaho, 139 Idaho 37, 42, 72 P.3d 877, 882 (2003) (“Lack of voluntariness can be shown . . . by great imbalance on the [*1255] parties’ bargaining [**4] power with the stronger party’s terms being nonnegotiable and the weaker party being prevented by market factors, timing, or other pressures from being able to contract with another party on more favorable terms or to refrain from contracting at all.”)
In this case, Morrison stated in his affidavit: “My said employer told us before we went to the team building exercises that I needed to sign the release in order to participate. All employees were expected to participate and I signed it.” He also stated that he was not given the option of refusing to sign the release and it was required by his employer. Morrison was not injured by signing the release. He was injured by falling from the climbing wall. Absent from his affidavit is any statement that he told his employer that he did not want to climb the climbing wall and that his employer ordered him to do so anyway.1
1 We need not decide whether an employer’s demand that an employee participate in a hazardous activity would be sufficient to void a hold harmless agreement between the employee and the third party that conducted such activity.
[HN3] “With respect to adult participants, the general rule is that releases from liability for injuries [**5] caused by negligent acts arising in the context of recreational activities are enforceable.” 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 65 (2004). The agreement that Morrison signed stated as a separate paragraph: “The undersigned has read and voluntarily signs this release and waiver of liability and indemnity agreement. The undersigned further agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducements apart from the foregoing agreement have been made.” Morrison has not demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact showing that there was an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power sufficient to relieve him of the provisions of the hold harmless agreement that he signed.
Did the District Court Err in Ruling that the Hold Harmless Agreement Was Valid and that It Applied to the Cause of Action Alleged in the Complaint
Morrison contends that the hold harmless agreement is invalid because it is overly broad and is ineffective to bar his claim because it does not clearly identify the conduct that caused his injuries. [HN4] “Interpretation of unambiguous language in a contract is an issue of law.” McDevitt v. Sportsman’s Warehouse, Inc., 151 Idaho 280, 283, 255 P.3d 1166, 1169 (2011).
The agreement is [**6] entitled “Release / Hold Harmless / Indemnity / Assumption of Risk Agreement,” and it states as follows:
Release: The undersigned, in consideration of being permitted to participate in the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program, for educational purposes does irrevocably, personally and for his or her heirs, assigns and legal representatives, release and waive any and all past, present or future claims, demands, and causes of action which the undersigned now has or may in the future have against Northwest Nazarene University, its members, directors, administrators, representatives, officers, agents, employees, and assigns, and each of them (hereinafter jointly and severally referred to as “Releasees”), for any and all past, present or future loss of or damage to property, and/or bodily injury, including death, however caused, resulting from, arising out of or in any way connected with his/her participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program.
Hold Harmless/Indemnity: The undersigned agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the Releasees and each of them from any loss, liability, damage or cost she/he might incur [**7] due to her/his participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program whether caused by the negligence of the Releasees or otherwise. The undersigned further covenants not to cause any action at law or in equity to be brought or permit such to be brought in his or her behalf, either directly or indirectly, on account of loss or damage to property and/or bodily injury, including death, against the Releasees, resulting [*1256] from, or arising out of, or in any way connected with any claims, demands, and causes of action which now or in the future may be asserted against the Releasees arising out of or by reason of said course described above, including any injury, loss or damage that might occur at any place in connection therewith.
Assumption of Risk: The undersigned further states and affirms that he/she is aware of the fact that the aforesaid course, even under the safest conditions possible, may be hazardous, that he/she assumes the risks of any and all loss or of damage to property and/or bodily injury, including death, however caused, resulting out of or in any way connected with the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program; [**8] that he/she is of legal age and is competent to sign this Waiver of Claims and Release of Liability; and that he/she has read and understands all of the provisions herein contained. Risks include but are not limited to the following: [a list of various types of actions that can cause injury and various types of injuries].
Morrison contends that the hold harmless agreement is invalid because it is overbroad. It exempts the University and “its members, directors, administrators, representatives, officers, agents, employees, and assigns, and each of them” from “any and all past, present or future claims, demands, and causes of action which the undersigned now has or may in the future have” for all “bodily injury, including death, however caused, resulting from, arising out of or in any way connected with his/her participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program.” It also specifically mentions negligence. The hold harmless agreement is not overbroad. It only applies to all causes of action “resulting from, arising out of or in any way connected with his/her participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure [**9] Program.”2 Due to the dangers inherent in climbing the climbing wall, the University can certainly require such a release from anyone choosing to engage in that activity.
2 There is no contention that the conduct of the University employee was reckless or that the employee intentionally injured Morrison.
The agreement is likewise not inapplicable because of its failure to mention the specific conduct that is alleged to have constituted negligence in this case. In Anderson & Nafziger v. G. T. Newcomb, Inc., 100 Idaho 175, 178, 595 P.2d 709, 712 (1979), this Court stated, “Clauses which exclude liability must speak clearly and directly to the particular conduct of the defendant which caused the harm at issue.” That language can be misinterpreted, because neither that case nor the cases it cited nor our subsequent cases have held that an exculpatory clause must list the specific, allegedly negligent conduct at issue.
The Anderson & Nafziger Court cited three cases as support for the statement. The first one was Valley National Bank v. Tang, 18 Ariz. App. 40, 499 P.2d 991 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1972). In that case, the court stated “that clauses which purport to exclude liability for negligence must speak clearly [**10] and directly to the conduct at issue,” id. at 994, which it explained as meaning that an exculpatory clause would not cover negligence unless the wording was broad enough to include future negligent conduct within its scope. It stated, “The principal reason for such a construction is to assure that there has been actual agreement between the parties that the defendant shall not be liable for the consequences of future conduct which would otherwise be negligent.” Id. The second case was Missouri Pac. R. Co. v. City of Topeka, 213 Kan. 658, 518 P.2d 372 (Kan. 1974). The court held that a contract requiring a railroad to “save the said City of Topeka harmless from all costs, damages and expenses for the payment of which the said city may become liable to any person or persons or corporation by reason of the granting of said right of way to said railway company,” id. at 375, was not broad enough to require the city to pay the railroad the cost of relocating its tracks due to an urban renewal project. The court stated, “As we view the ‘hold harmless’ clause, to which the railroad is deemed to have agreed, there is no suggestion it was intended to [*1257] provide protection against liability for expenses, loss [**11] or damage created or made necessary by actions of the city-franchisor.” Id. at 376. The third case was Walker Bank & Trust Co. v. First Sec. Corp, 9 Utah 2d 215, 341 P.2d 944 (Utah 1959), in which the beneficiary of a life insurance policy sued a bank for damages because the policy had lapsed due to the bank’s failure to charge the insured’s account with drafts for the monthly premiums. The insured had signed an authorization to pay the drafts from her account, but the bank misplaced it. The authorization included a provision stating, “I understand and agree that your compliance herewith shall constitute a gratuity and courtesy accorded me as your customer, and that you assume or incur no liability whatsoever in the premises, and I further agree to hold you harmless of and from any and all claims arising hereunder.” Id. at 947. The court held that the hold harmless agreement only barred claims resulting from the bank’s “compliance herewith,” not its failure to comply with the agreement. The court stated:
It will be noted that the language quoted above purports only to protect the bank from liability arising from its compliance with the authorization, indicating that if it did so it would “incur no [**12] liability whatsoever.” . . . But there is no provision that it would be protected in the event of entire failure to fulfill the arrangement.
Id. (emphasis theirs). None of the cases held that an exculpatory clause was ineffective because the specific conduct that gave rise to the cause of action was not listed.
In Anderson & Nafziger, the buyer contracted to purchase three pivots that the seller agreed to deliver and install in mid-May, and the buyer brought an action for damages when the seller failed to do so. The purchase contract included a provision limiting the seller’s liability which stated as following:
It is hereby understood and agreed that all work ordered hereunder is precarious and uncertain in its nature, and all pulling of pumps, reinstalling pumps, repair work, alterations, well work, sand pumping, corrections, or other work herein specified, etc., shall be strictly at the Purchaser’s risk. The Seller will not be liable for damage of any kind, particularly including loss or damage for diminuation or failure of crop, shortage of water, inability or failure to supply same, or for diminuation or cessation of water flow; nor shall the Seller be liable for any damages or delays [**13] of any kind on account of sticking of pump in the well in any position, either when being pulled out or being reinstated nor shall the Seller be liable for any damages on account of delay in making repairs or installing by virtue of some defect in the well, or by virtue of the well not being in condition to receive the machinery, or by virtue of unforeseen or changing conditions in the well or in or about the premises on which the well is located.
Anderson v. Nafziger, 100 Idaho at 178, 595 P.2d at 712. This Court held that the clause did not preclude liability for crop loss caused by the failure to deliver the pivots because “[a] reading of the total clause indicates that the clause is aimed at limiting the seller’s liability for crop loss which is caused by installation or repair work done by seller.” Id. The clause listed specific types of conduct and causes of damage to which it applied. It did not have a general provision excluding liability for any delay in delivering or installing the equipment.
A review of this Court’s other cases shows that the hold harmless agreement need not specify the exact conduct that was allegedly negligent or caused harm. In H. J. Wood Co. v. Jevons, 88 Idaho 377, 400 P.2d 287 (1965), [**14] a landowner had entered into a contract for the purchase and installation of an irrigation pump in her well. The sales contract included a hold harmless agreement stating as follows:
Seller shall not be liable for damage or for consequential damage, particularly including loss or damage for diminution or failure of crops, shortage of water, or inability or failure to supply same, whether due to improper installation or performance of the machinery or otherwise . . . it being understood and agreed by Buyer that this work is uncertain and precarious in its nature.
[*1258] Id. at 378, 400 P.2d at 289. The landowner sought damages, alleging that she suffered crop losses because “the pump never functioned properly,” because the seller “removed the pump to make repairs and failed to provide appellant with a substitute pump,” and because “in making repairs to said pump [the seller] carelessly and negligently lost the tail pipe of said pump in the well, causing an inadequate flow or supply of water during the irrigation season.” Id. at 380, 400 P.2d at 288. The trial court sustained the seller’s objection to any evidence of crop loss, and then dismissed the landowner’s claim. On appeal, this Court held [**15] that it was not error to exclude evidence of crop loss because “[t]he foregoing quoted portion of the contract is unambiguous and clearly exempts respondent from liability for crop damage.” Id. at 381, 400 P.2d at 289. There was nothing in the exculpatory clause specifying that the seller would not be liable for failing to provide the landowner with a substitute pump while hers was being repaired or for negligently losing the tail pipe in the well, both of which were conduct that she alleged caused her damage. In fact, the clause did not even include the word “negligence.”
In Rawlings v Layne & Bowler Pump Co., 93 Idaho 496, 465 P.2d 107 (1970), the landowner entered into a contract for the purchase and installation of irrigation pumping machinery. He later brought an action seeking damages on the ground that he suffered crop loss because of the allegedly negligent installation of the pumping equipment. Paragraph 10 of the contract between the parties included an exculpatory clause stating:
Seller or Holder shall not be liable for consequential damage particularly including loss or damage for diminution or failure of crops, shortage of water, or inability or failure to supply same, due [**16] to installation or performance of the property sold hereunder, or repair work, pump or well service, nor shall Seller be liable for collapsing, telescoping, separating or otherwise injuring the well or pump, for any cause whatsoever, including negligence, since the Buyer and Seller agree that the work is hazardous and precarious in its nature . . . .
Id. at 497, 465 P.2d at 108. The trial court dismissed the landowner’s claim based upon the above contract provision, and the landowner appealed. In upholding the dismissal, we stated, “It is our opinion that the language contained in paragraph 10 of the contract is clear and unambiguous and its effect is to preclude the seller’s liability for consequential damages such as are sought by the appellant.” Id. at 499, 465 P.2d at 110. We did not require that the exculpatory clause mention the specific conduct that was allegedly negligent. In fact, the specific conduct that allegedly constituted negligent installation was not even identified in the opinion.
In Steiner Corp. v. American District Telegraph, 106 Idaho 787, 683 P.2d 435 (1984), the plaintiff contracted with the defendant to install and maintain a fire alarm system in the plaintiff’s [**17] building. The system failed to detect a fire because the defendant had not checked the electrolyte levels in the system’s batteries for eight months even though they were to be inspected monthly. The parties’ contract included a provision stating that the defendant “shall be exempt from liability for loss or damage due directly or indirectly to occurrences, or consequences therefrom, which the service is designed to detect or avert,” and that the exculpatory clause applied if the loss or damage “results directly or indirectly to person or property from performance or nonperformance of obligations imposed by this contract or from negligence, active or otherwise, of the [defendant], its agents or employees.” Id. at 789, 683 P.2d at 437. The plaintiff sued for strict liability, breach of warranty, and negligence. This Court first held that the complaint did not allege a cause of action under those theories, but then stated that even if the plaintiff could allege a cause of action it was barred by the exculpatory clause. Id. at 791, 683 P.2d at 439. We stated, “This unambiguous clause was clearly intended to apply to exclude liability under any of the bases urged by Steiner.” Id. The clause [**18] did not specifically mention the failure to inspect or maintain the batteries.
In Lee v. Sun Valley Co., 107 Idaho 976, 695 P.2d 361 (1984), the plaintiff, prior to going on a trail ride, signed a rental agreement [*1259] that included an exculpatory clause stating:
Upon my acceptance of horse and equipment, I acknowledge that I assume full responsibility for my safety. I further understand that I ride at my own risk, and I agree to hold the above entity, its officers, employees, etc., harmless from every and all claim which may arise from injury, which might occur from use of said horse and/or equipment, in favor of myself, my heirs, representatives or dependents. I understand that the stable does not represent or warrant the quality or character of the horse furnished.
Id. at 977, 695 P.2d at 362. Prior to the plaintiff mounting his horse, the defendant’s employee adjusted the cinch on the saddle. During the ride, the saddle loosened, and the plaintiff was injured when it rotated and the horse reared as he was attempting to dismount. We upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim on the ground that it was barred by the exculpatory clause, stating, “The agreement clearly and simply states [**19] that Sun Valley should be held ‘harmless for every and all claim which may arise from injury, which might occur from use of said horse and/or equipment,’ which is both unambiguous and applicable to the facts alleged by plaintiff.” Id. at 978, 695 P.2d at 363. The exculpatory clause did not even mention negligence, nor did it specifically list the failure to properly adjust the cinch as being within its scope. Justice Bistline dissented for that very reason. Id. at 981, 695 P.2d at 366.
Finally, in Empire Lumber Co v Thermal-Dynamic Towers, Inc., 132 Idaho 295, 971 P.2d 1119 (1998), a warehouse lease contained a provision stating, “Except for reasonable wear and tear and damage by fire or unavoidable casualty, Lessee will at all times preserve said premises in as good repair as they now are or may hereafter be put to . . . .” Id. at 297, 971 P.2d at 1121. We held that the clause did not exempt the lessee from liability for fire damage caused by the lessee’s negligence, stating, “The lease language does not clearly indicate, as required by this Court’s decision in Anderson & Nafziger, that the parties intended to release TDT from liability for its negligent acts.” Id. at 300, 971 P.2d at 1124. [**20] The clause made no mention of negligence, nor could its language be construed to apply to negligence. [HN5] Hold harmless agreements are strictly construed against the person relying upon them. Anderson & Nafziger, 100 Idaho at 178, 595 P.2d at 712.
The decisions of this Court have not held that a hold harmless agreement must describe the specific conduct or omission that is alleged to be negligent in order for it to bar recovery. That is consistent with the general law. [HN6] “The parties to a release need not have contemplated the precise occurrence that caused the plaintiff’s injuries but rather may adopt language to cover a broad range of accidents by specifying injuries involving negligence on the part of the defendant.” 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 53 (2004). In this case, the agreement stated that Morrison held the University harmless “from any loss, liability, damage or cost she/he might incur due to her/his participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge Course Adventure Program whether caused by the negligence of the Releasees or otherwise.” That language clearly stated that the clause applied to negligence and to any loss or damage he might incur from his participation [**21] in the program. The district court did not err in dismissing his negligence claim because it was barred by the hold harmless agreement.
Is the Defendant Entitled to an Award of Attorney Fees
In its issues on appeal, the University states that it “requests attorney fees on appeal pursuant to Idaho Code § 12-120(3), Idaho Code § 12-121, and/or Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54(e)(1).” However, it did not again mention attorney fees until it states in the conclusion section of its brief, “Respondent further requests an award of attorney fees on appeal pursuant to Idaho Code § 12-120 (3), Idaho Code § 12-121, and/or I.R.C.P Rule 54(e)(1).” As we held in Weaver v. Searle Brothers, 129 Idaho 497, 503, 927 P.2d 887, 893 (1996), [HN7] where a party requests attorney fees on appeal but does not address the issue in the argument section of [*1260] the party’s brief, we will not address the issue because the party has failed to comply with Idaho Appellate Rule 35.
We affirm the judgment of the district court. We award the respondent costs, but not attorney fees, on appeal.
Chief Justice BURDICK, Justices W. JONES, and HORTON CONCUR.
CONCUR BY: J. JONES (In Part)
DISSENT BY: J. JONES (In Part)
J. JONES, J., concurring in [**22] part and dissenting in part.
I concur in Part II of the Court’s opinion but dissent with respect to Part III. In my view, the Release/Hold Harmless/Indemnity/Assumption of Risk Agreement (Agreement) does not contain language effective to release Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) from liability for its own negligent actions; the release language in the Agreement is overly broad; and it would be contrary to public policy to provide immunity under the particular facts of this case.
Although this Court disfavors contracts purporting to absolve parties from certain duties and liabilities, contracting parties are free to enter into such agreements if they comply with strict criteria. As this Court summarized in Jesse v. Lindsley, 149 Idaho 70, 75, 233 P.3d 1, 6 (2008):
Freedom of contract is a fundamental concept underlying the law of contracts. Rawlings v. Layne & Bowler Pump Co., 93 Idaho 496, 499, 465 P.2d 107, 110 (1970). A contracting party may absolve himself from certain duties and liabilities under the contract, subject to certain limitations. Anderson & Nafziger v. G.T. Newcomb, Inc., 100 Idaho 175, 178, 595 P.2d 709, 712 (1979). However, courts look with disfavor on such attempts [**23] to avoid liability and construe such provisions strictly against the person relying on them, especially when that person is the preparer of the document. Id. Clauses which exclude liability must speak clearly and directly to the particular conduct of the defendant which caused the harm at issue. Id.
Where a party seeks to obtain contractual absolution from the consequences of that party’s own negligence, the release language must be particularly clear. As stated in 57A American Jurisprudence, 2d Negligence § 52 (2004):
Because the law does not favor contract provisions that relieve a person from his or her own negligence, and such provisions are subject to close judicial scrutiny, a greater degree of clarity is required to make such provisions effective. The exculpatory provision must be expressed in clear, explicit, and unequivocal language showing that this was the intent of the parties. The wording of such an agreement must be so clear and understandable that an ordinarily prudent and knowledgeable party to it will know what he or she is contracting away; it must be unmistakable.
American Jurisprudence continues the discussion in section 53:
To be effective, the intentions of the parties [**24] with regard to an exculpatory provision in a contract should be delineated with the greatest of particularity, and the clause must effectively notify the releasor that he or she is releasing the other person from claims arising from that person’s own negligence.
An exculpatory clause will be given effect if the agreement clearly and unambiguously expresses the parties’ intention to exonerate by using the word “negligence” and specifically including injuries definitely described as to time, place, and the like. Thus, the better practice is to expressly state the word “negligence” somewhere in the exculpatory provision. However, a specific reference to the “negligence” of the maker of the clause or agreement is not required if the clause clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release the defendant from liability for a personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence, if protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction, or if the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision. However, words conveying a similar import must appear; the provision must specifically and explicitly [*1261] refer to the negligence of the party seeking a release [**25] from liability. A preinjury release will not cover negligence if it neither specifically enumerates negligence, nor contains any other language that could relate to negligence.
A general release will not bar claims outside the parties’ contemplation at the time it was executed. For example, a claim for negligence will not be barred by using broad and sweeping language, as by an agreement to release from “any and all responsibility or liability of any nature whatsoever for any loss of property or personal injury occurring on this trip.” Thus, an exculpatory clause must clearly set out the negligence for which liability is to be avoided.
The parties to a release need not have contemplated the precise occurrence that caused the plaintiff’s injuries but rather may adopt language to cover a broad range of accidents by specifying injuries involving negligence on the part of the defendant.
Id. § 53.
The Agreement addresses four subjects–release, hold harmless, indemnity, and assumption of risk. The first paragraph of the Agreement, entitled “Release,” is a general release of liability,3 whereby participants in NNU’s Challenge Course Adventure Program (Program) release and waive claims against [**26] NNU and its agents and employees for property damage or bodily injury arising out of the Program. The word “negligence” does not appear anywhere in the Release. The second paragraph of the Agreement is a hold harmless/indemnity provision,4 whereby the participant “agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless” NNU and its agents and employees from liability incurred due to participation in the Program “whether caused by the negligence of the Releasees or otherwise.” Thus, the participant is obligated to defend and hold harmless the releasees against claims arising out of his or her participation in the Program. This paragraph specifically includes indemnity for claims alleging negligence on the part of NNU and its agents and employees. The last paragraph deals with assumption of risk,5 stating that the participant is aware that the course may be hazardous and that participants assume the risk of property damage and bodily injury. However, as with the Release, this paragraph makes no mention of negligence on the part of NNU and its agents and employees.
3 According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a “release” is “[t]he relinquishment or concession of a right, title, or claim.” Black’s Law Dictionary [**27] 1403 (9th ed. 2009).
4 According to Black’s, a “hold-harmless clause” is synonymous with an “indemnity clause,” which is “[a] contractual provision in which one party agrees to answer for any specified or unspecified liability or harm that the other party might incur.” Id. at 800, 837-38.
5 According to Black’s, “assumption of the risk” is “[t]he principle that one who takes on the risk of loss, injury, or damage cannot maintain an action against a party that causes the loss, injury, or damage.” Id. at 143. Although implied assumption of the risk has been abolished as a defense in Idaho, this Court still recognizes that express assumption of risk may preclude a negligence claim. Salinas v. Vierstra, 107 Idaho 984, 989-90, 695 P.2d 369, 374-75 (1985).
It is significant that only the hold harmless/indemnity paragraph of the Agreement includes a provision relating to the negligence of NNU. The word “negligence” appears nowhere else in the Agreement, particularly not in the Release nor in the assumption of risk paragraph. It is important to keep in mind that a hold harmless/indemnity clause does not operate as a bar to a claim in the same way as a “release” or “assumption of risk” clause might. [**28] So, where the party seeking immunity faces the double whammy of our construction principles–construing release provisions strictly against the person relying on them and requiring such provisions to speak clearly and directly to the particular instrumentality that caused the harm–I simply cannot find that the release language here is sufficient to waive Morrison’s claim. NNU could have included a provision in the Release absolving it and its agents and employees from liability, but it did not. It could have done likewise in the assumption of risk paragraph, but it did not. Where such language is specifically included in one paragraph dealing with specific subject matter [*1262] and not in the other paragraphs, both of which deal with other specific subject matter, I think we ought to give weight to that fact, particularly when required to construe such agreements against the avoidance of liability.
Therefore, in my view, the release paragraph of the Agreement is insufficient to immunize against claims asserting injury for negligent acts by NNU and its agents and employees. In my estimation, NNU had a duty to operate the program in a non-negligent manner and Morrison has asserted sufficient [**29] facts to survive summary judgment as to whether NNU breached such duty. Morrison claims that he was not properly instructed on how to scale down the climbing wall and that the person holding the rope, which is apparently designed to keep a participant from falling, was not properly instructed and supervised in performing that task. According to Morrison:
I had very little knowledge of climbing before [the accident]. I trusted and relied that the people running the course would properly instruct me and the people who were holding the rope that allowed me to scale down the wall. I do not believe that they gave me nor Donna Robbins, who was holding my rope, adequate instruction before this event nor do I believe that they adequately supervised Donna in properly handling the rope while I descended the wall.
The person holding the rope, Donna Robbins, agreed that she had not been properly instructed nor supervised. According to her affidavit, “I did feel that I had not been given adequate training to act as the belayer and I felt that I was neglected by the employees at the Rope Course when I was needing help.” In her statement made immediately after the accident, which was incorporated into [**30] her affidavit, she expanded:
The female assistant on site asked me to balet [sic] if I wasn’t going to climb the wall. I wasn’t comfortable working the equipment but I knew I should be a part of the team and help [belay]. I remember feeling like I was thrown in there and did not receive any further instruction other than where to hold my hands. After she strapped me in I was good to go. Soon she realized I was having trouble knowing what to do and informed me that I needed to pull the rope tight and slide the extra rope through my other hand to make it tight. She then placed another girl to my right and instructed her to coil the rope. I was the only one baleting [sic] and had one girl to my right holding the extra rope. As soon as they pulled the [ladder] away and Paul started climbing, I began to have trouble with the rope. The assistant assured me I was strapped down to the pole behind me and that I needed to walk forward away from the pole until I felt it was tight enough to not leave any slack. As soon as Paul reached the middle of the wall, his legs began to get tired and he would rest a little. But every time he would stop to rest, the rope pulled me into the air and the others [**31] around were laughing and joking around about the [sight] of me and my feet being off the ground and my body being pulled into the air. At first, it was comical but I felt like I couldn’t control him. I knew he had to keep climbing or else this strain on me would begin to hurt. So I just cheered him on. I looked around and everyone was just smiling so I figured I wasn’t going anywhere and there was nothing to worry about. Paul looked down and looked a little worried. He asked me if I was ok. I said yes. When Paul finally got to the top, he rang the bell and was ready to let go. When he did, if felt like an extreme pull on me and the assistant came quickly to briefly explain what to do. She told me to hold onto the [brake] (that also releases the rope). I think she thought she was explaining it to me–but she wasn’t. I told her I didn’t know how to use it. She said “its really easy,” just make sure you pull down the level.” She was walking away from me as she was saying this and she seemed very busy with other people. I didn’t think it would be too difficult. As I pulled the lever, Paul began to come down fast and I honestly don’t remember what I was thinking. I tried to grab the rope [**32] but it just stung my fingers and I knew I couldn’t stop it that way. I kept trying to figure it out quickly. The girl to my right [*1263] was helpless as well. The rope was just flying out her hands. I looked up and Paul’s feet, then butt, hit the rocks very fast and head hit very hard on the wooden frame around the rocks.
My feeling throughout the rock-climbing activity was that I was alone and assigned to do it because I had to. I wasn’t comfortable at all but the assistant felt I was well taken care of. Even though I didn’t answer her twice when she asked for volunteers, so she called me out and handed me the [belay]. But I did want to be a part of the team and help but had never done it before and was pretty intimidated.
Even if we were permitted to import the specific reference to negligent conduct from the hold harmless/indemnity paragraph into the Release, that paragraph suffers from another infirmity. It is overly broad. It purports to release NNU and its agents and employees from any claims for property damage or bodily injury “however caused, resulting from, or arising out of or in any way connected with his/her participation in or use of the Northwest Nazarene University Challenge [**33] Course Adventure Program.” The sweeping nature of the provision runs afoul of the specificity requirements noted in sections 52 and 53 of American Jurisprudence. This Court has found a similar all-encompassing provision in a lease agreement to be overly broad. In Jesse v. Lindsley, we dealt with an exculpatory clause that attempted “to relieve the landlord of liability for any type of injury, wherever it may occur.” 149 Idaho at 76, 233 P.3d at 7. We held, “The clause is too broad and does not speak clearly and directly to the particular conduct of the defendant intended to be immunized,” citing Anderson & Nafziger, 100 Idaho 175, 178, 595 P.2d, 709, 712 (1970). We stated:
While we have not considered the question of the enforceability of an overbroad exculpatory clause, we have considered the issue of enforceability of an overbroad contract provision in another area where a contractual provision is disfavored and strictly construed–covenants not to compete in contracts of employment. See Freiburger v. J-U-B Engineers, Inc., 141 Idaho 415, 420, 111 P.3d 100, 105 (2005). A covenant not to compete is reasonable and enforceable only if the covenant “(1) is not greater than necessary to [**34] protect the employer in some legitimate business interest; (2) is not unduly harsh or oppressive to the employee; and (3) is not injurious to the public.” Id. Applying the same principle here, it appears that the language absolving Lindsley of any liability for any occurrence anywhere on his property is simply too broad.
Id. at 76-77, 233 P.3d at 7-8.
In its opinion, the Court nicely summarizes some of our pre-Jesse cases regarding the degree of specificity required in a lease provision, and in my view none of those cases preclude the result I suggest here. In Lee v. Sun Valley Co., 107 Idaho 976, 695 P.2d 361 (1984), the plaintiff was injured when the saddle on a rented horse slipped, causing the horse to buck. Id. at 977, 695 P.2d at 362. The Court found that the plaintiff’s action was precluded by an agreement he signed acknowledging that he assumed the risk of riding and holding the defendant “harmless from every and all claim which may arise from injury, which might occur from use of said horse and/or equipment.” Id. Although the Court articulated little reasoning for its holding, a fall from a horse due to a loose saddle is a danger inherent in horseback riding itself. Thus, the [**35] agreement’s language was sufficient to put the plaintiff on notice of that risk. Of interest, however, is that the release specifically identified the “equipment” as a potential source of injury, which is not the case here.6 In H. J. Wood Co. [*1264] v. Jevons, the Court evaluated a sales contract for an irrigation pump stating the seller “shall not be liable for damage or for consequential damage, particularly including loss or damage for diminution or failure of crops … whether due to improper installation or performance of the machinery or otherwise.” 88 Idaho 377, 378, 400 P.2d 287, 289 (1965). The plaintiff’s claims for crop loss in that case all stemmed from the allegation that “the pump never functioned properly” and the consequences of that malfunction, which is clearly and directly contemplated by the “performance of the machinery” language in the agreement. See id. Thus, the Court correctly applied the rule.
6 In this regard, a case cited in section 53 of American Jurisprudence is relevant. In Beardslee v. Blomberg, 70 A.D.2d 732, 733, 416 N.Y.S.2d 855 (N.Y. App. Div. 1979), a spectator at a stock car race volunteered to take part in a “Powder Puff Derby,” a stock car race for women. When the spectator’s [**36] car struck a retaining wall of the race track, she alleged the defendant raceway was negligent in “providing her with an unsafe vehicle, a defective helmet, and in failing to supply her with a fire suit.” Id. The defendant relied on a release she had signed to bar her claim (the language of which is not entirely quoted in the opinion), but the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, stated:
The release absolves the defendants from liability for any injury plaintiff might sustain while in the “restricted area”, which includes the race track proper. It does not, however, specifically refer to equipment furnished by the defendants. Releases from liability for negligence are closely scrutinized and strictly construed, and a release general in its terms will not bar claims outside the parties’ contemplation at the time it was executed …. Furthermore, since the release herein is not entirely free of ambiguity, an issue of fact exists as to whether the risk of faulty equipment or the failure to furnish essential equipment was within the contemplation of the parties at the time it was executed ….
Another irrigation equipment contract case, Rawlings v. Layne & Bowler Pump Co., was [**37] similar. 93 Idaho 496, 465 P.2d 107 (1970). There, the claim for crop loss was based on negligent installation of pumping equipment, and the Court barred the claim based on an agreement exculpating the seller from liability for consequential damage “due to installation … of the property sold hereunder.” Id. at 497, 465 P.2d at 108.7 Although the particular negligent conduct was not addressed, further specificity was not necessary to put the buyer on reasonable notice of the claim he was waiving. Id. Buying any item under a contract specifically limiting liability for defects in installation clearly brings to mind the discrete array of possible installation-related conduct that entails. Such a contract does far more to notify the signer than simply including blanket language barring liability for any type of negligent conduct imaginable.
7 The contract later specifically identified negligence of the seller as a possible cause. Id.
Similarly, in Steiner Corp. v. American District Telegraph, the defendant contracted with the plaintiff to perform two discrete services–to install and maintain a fire detection system. 106 Idaho 787, 683 P.2d 435 (1984). When the defendant failed to check [**38] the batteries of the system for eight months, the system failed to detect a fire in the plaintiff’s building. Again, the Court found that such negligence fell under an exculpatory clause holding the defendant harmless for “loss or damage due … to occurrences … which the service is designed to detect or avert” resulting from “performance or nonperformance of obligations imposed by this contract or from negligence” of the defendant. Id. at 789, 683 P.2d at 437. This agreement specifically spoke to the alleged conduct by expressly referring to the discrete duties under the contract–to install and maintain. In signing the agreement, the plaintiff undoubtedly understood he was giving up claims for fire damage arising from failure to maintain the system, which reasonably included checking the batteries.
Conversely, in Anderson & Nafziger, the Court refused to find that a sales agreement for irrigation pivots contemplated liability for crop loss caused by delay in delivering the pivots, based on a strict reading of the agreement’s language. 100 Idaho at 178, 595 P.2d at 712. Although the agreement contained blanket language stating that “[t]he Seller will not be liable for damage of any [**39] kind, particularly including loss or damage for diminuation [sic] or failure of crop,” the Court held that the agreement did not apply. Id. The Court stated, “A reading of the total clause indicates that the clause is aimed at limiting the seller’s liability for crop loss which is caused by installation or repair work done by seller.” Id. With a loose reading, the Court might have found that the blanket language exempting liability “for damage of any kind” extended not only to that caused by installation and repair, but also by delay in delivery. However, the Court declined such a broad reading, focusing strictly on the language in the contract.8
8 Another case, Empire Lumber Co. v. Thermal-Dynamic Towers, Inc., also shows the Court taking a closer look at an exculpatory clause, although the result there was more obvious. 132 Idaho 295, 971 P.2d 1119 (1998). In Empire Lumber, a lessee sought to apply a lease provision to excuse its liability for a fire allegedly caused by its negligence. Id. The Court disagreed because the lease merely stated, “Except for reasonable wear and tear and damage by fire or unavoidable casualty, Lessee will at all times preserve said premises in as good repair [**40] as they now are or may hereafter be put to ….” Id. at 297, 971 P.2d at 1121. As the Court properly found, that clause clearly only contemplated incidental or unavoidable damage–not negligence. Id.
[*1265] The upshot of these pre-Jesse cases is that where the dangers or risks inherent in a particular undertaking are, or should be, apparent to a reasonable person and where the release agreement employs clear and direct language to negate liability for such risks or dangers, the release will be effective to shield the releasee from liability. On the other hand, where a reasonable releasor cannot be expected to comprehend the risk or danger that results in injury and where the release does not contain language that speaks directly to limitation of liability for injury caused by such risk or danger, the release will not be enforced.
In the situation at hand, it cannot be said that the danger of falling from the rock wall was not readily apparent to any reasonable person. Morrison would surely have known that he could lose his grip or footing and fall. However, the activity involved a danger that was not so readily apparent. This activity involved equipment and a procedure that may have appeared [**41] on the surface to alleviate or eliminate the risk. The belaying rope, like a trapeze artist’s safety net, was there, apparently to protect participants from the danger of a fall. This certainly would give a participant a certain measure of comfort and well being–knowing that the element of danger might well be alleviated or eliminated by the safety equipment. It is one thing to expose a participant to the “dangers inherent” in a particular activity and ask him to waive a consequent claim for damages, but it is quite another to give the participant the illusion of protective measures–thereby providing a false sense of security–and then fail to properly implement those protective measures. It is akin to a bait and switch. If protective measures are carried out in a competent manner, then an accident occurring in the course of the proceedings cannot be held against the sponsor. However, if those protective measures are inherently inadequate, by reliance on untutored or incapable personnel in their handling, the sponsors should not be shielded from responsibility by a waiver signed by an unwitting participant.
It makes sense to encourage sponsors of risky activities to adopt safety measures [**42] designed to alleviate or eliminate the risk to participants. It is not particularly good policy, however, to allow sponsors to escape liability when those safety measures are handled in an incompetent or negligent manner, unless participants are clearly put on notice that safety measures or equipment may not provide the margin of safety that one might reasonably anticipate. Nothing in the Release here indicates the employment of “equipment,” as the language in Lee did, nor of the possibility that any safety equipment might be operated in a faulty manner. Sponsors should be encouraged to adopt safety measures, but they should be held accountable where those measures are performed in a negligent fashion.
In the past, this Court has not been reluctant to embrace concepts of this nature, designed to provide redress where it may not have been previously available. For instance, the Court has adopted the doctrine that, “[e]ven when an affirmative duty generally is not present, a legal duty may arise if ‘one voluntarily undertakes to perform an act, having no prior duty to do so.’” Baccus v. Ameripride Services, Inc., 145 Idaho 346, 350, 179 P.3d 309, 313 (2008). “In such case, the duty is [**43] to perform the voluntarily-undertaken act in a non-negligent manner.” Id. As with a voluntarily assumed duty, it makes good sense and policy to require that an activity sponsor who purports to make a risky activity safe, by the apparent incorporation of protective measures, be required to ensure the protective measures are carried out in a non-negligent manner or provide specific warning to participants that a risk of negligence in that regard inheres in the activity.9
9 As we have noted on a number of occasions, “Public policy may be found and set forth in the statutes, judicial decisions or the constitution.” Jesse v. Lindsley, 149 Idaho at 75, 233 P.3d at 6 (quoting Bakker v. Thunder Spring-Wareham, LLC, 141 Idaho 185, 189, 108 P.3d 332, 336 (2005)).
[*1266] For all or any one of the foregoing reasons, I would vacate the judgment of the district court on the ground that the Agreement was ineffective to shield NNU from liability for Morrison’s claim. I would therefore remand for further proceedings.
Jozewicz v. GGT Enterprises, LLC; 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53937
Laura Jozewicz, Plaintiff, vs. GGT Enterprises, Llc; K2 Corporation; and Jarden Corporation, Defendants.
Case No. 2:09-cv-00215-CW
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH, CENTRAL DIVISION
2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53937
June 2, 2010, Decided
June 2, 2010, Filed
CORE TERMS: public policy concern, preinjury, binding, alert, distributor, rental, consumer products, consumer, retailer, citation omitted, ski, risks of injury, skiing, sports, skis, serious injury, manufacturer, recreational, invalidated, safety standards, public policy, unreasonable risk, manufacture, notice, hazard, release agreement, unenforceable, collectively, inventory, rented
COUNSEL: [*1] For Laura Jozewicz, an individual, Plaintiff: Jordan P. Kendell, Robert G. Gilchrist, LEAD ATTORNEYS, EISENBERG & GILCHRIST, SALT LAKE CITY, UT.
For K2, a Delaware corporation, Defendant: Cobie W. Spevak, Gainer M. Waldbillig, LEAD ATTORNEYS, FORD & HUFF LC (SLC), SALT LAKE CITY, UT.
For Jarden, a Delaware corporation, Defendant: Gainer M. Waldbillig, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cobie W. Spevak, FORD & HUFF LC (SLC), SALT LAKE CITY, UT.
For GGT Enterprises, a Utah corporation, Defendant: Adam Strachan, LEAD ATTORNEY, STRACHAN STRACHAN & SIMON, LITIGATION, PARK CITY, UT.
JUDGES: Clark Waddoups, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: Clark Waddoups
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
While skiing at Alta ski area, Plaintiff Laura Jozewicz (“Jozewicz”) fell and injured her neck. Jozewicz contends she fell because the binding on her skis unexpectedly released due to a product defect. Jozewicz rented the skis from Defendant GGT Enterprises, LLC (“GGT”). At the time of rental, a recall notice was in effect for the binding, but GGT did not remove the product from its rental inventory. Nevertheless, GGT seeks dismissal of Jozewicz’s negligence claim on the basis that she signed a release from liability at the time she rented [*2] the skis. For the reasons discussed below, the court denies GGT’s motion to dismiss.
On March 17, 2008, GGT rented skis to Jozewicz. On March 18, 2008, Jozewicz fell and injured her neck while skiing at Alta ski area. Jozewicz claims her fall occurred when the Marker MI Demo binding on her rental ski released unexpectedly. Jozewicz alleges that Defendants K2 Corporation and Jarden Corporation (collectively “K2/Jarden”) manufactured the ski binding. Prior to Jozewicz’s fall, K2/Jarden notified the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (“Commission”) regarding the binding, and the Commission subsequently issued a recall alert on May 30, 2007, due to “Unexpected Release, Fall Hazard.” 1 The recall alert stated that “[s]ki shops with these bindings in their rental inventory should not rent this equipment to consumers until it has been upgraded.” 2 The recall further stated that “[s]kiers can unitentionally displace a lever at the rear of the binding,” which “[i]f it is fully displaced, . . . can result in the unexpected release of the binding and possibly cause the user to fall.” 3
1 Recall Alert (May 30, 2007) (Docket No. 29, Ex. A).
Prior to renting her [*3] skis from GGT, Jozewicz signed an “Equipment Rental and Liability Release Agreement,” which states in relevant part:
I understand that the binding system cannot guarantee the user’s safety. In downhill skiing, the binding systems will not release at all times or under all circumstances where release may prevent injury or death, nor is it possible to predict every situation in which it will release. . . .
I understand that the sports of skiing, snowboarding, skiboarding, snowshoeing and other sports (collectively “RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS”) involve inherent risks of INJURY and DEATH. I voluntarily agree to expressly assume all risks of injury or death that may result from these RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS, or which relate in any way to the use of this equipment. . . .
I AGREE TO RELEASE AND HOLD HARMLESS the equipment rental facility, its employees, owner, affiliates, agents, officers, directors and the equipment manufacturers and distributors and their successors in interest (collectively “PROVIDERS”), from all liability for injury, death, property loss and damage which results from the equipment user’s participation in the RECREATIONAL SNOW SPORTS for which the equipment is provided, or [*4] which is related in any way to the use of this equipment, including all liability which results from the NEGLIGENCE of PROVIDERS, or any other person or cause.
I further agree to defend and indemnify PROVIDERS for any loss or damage, including any that results from claims or lawsuits for personal injury, death, and property loss and damage related in any way to the use of this equipment. 4
GGT claims the release agreement bars Jozewicz’s negligence claim.
4 Equipment Rental & Liability Release Agreement (Docket No. 13, Ex. 2) (emphasis in original).
I. STANDARD FOR REVIEW
Defendant GGT brings this motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a 12(b)(6) motion, “a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, as distinguished from conclusory allegations, and those facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” 5 The complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 6 “The court’s function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff’s complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim [*5] for which relief may be granted.” 7 Consequently, a court does not look at evidence outside of a pleading to determine such motions. 8 If a court does rely “on material from outside the pleadings, the court converts the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.” 9 Because the court relies on material outside of the pleadings in this case, the court converts this motion into a motion for summary judgment.
5 Shero v. City of Grove, 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
6 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).
7 Peterson v. Grisham, 594 F.3d 723, 727 (10th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
8 Dobsen v. Anderson, No. 08-7018, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 22820, at *8-9 (10th Cir. Nov. 4, 2008).
9 Id. at *9 (quotations and citation omitted).
II. PREINJURY RELEASES
A. Limitations on Preinjury Releases
Without question, individuals “may contract away their rights to recover in tort for damages caused by the ordinary negligence of others.” 10 The Utah Supreme Court has recognized, however, “that preinjury releases are not unlimited in power and can be invalidated in certain circumstances,” including when (1) the release offends public policy, (2) the release is for activities [*6] that fit within the public interest exception, or (3) the release is unclear or ambiguous. 11 The second limitation is not at issue here because “preinjury releases for recreational activities,” such as skiing, “cannot be invalidated under the public interest exception.” 12 Likewise, the third limitation is not at issue because Jozewicz conceded during oral argument that the release is not unclear or ambiguous. Thus, the prevailing issue in this case is whether a public policy concern overwhelms the effect of the preinjury release that Jozewicz signed.
10 Pearce v. Utah Athletic Found., 2008 UT 13, P 14, 179 P.3d 760, 765 (citations omitted).
11 Id. (citations omitted).
12 Id. P 18.
B. Public Policy Considerations
Preinjury releases must be compatible with public policy to be enforceable. 13 Previously, the Utah Supreme Court has invalidated preinjury releases when they were contrary to public policy set forth in statutory provisions. The court has recognized that “[w]hen . . . the Legislature clearly articulates public policy, and the implications of that public policy are unmistakable, we have the duty to honor those expressions of policy in our rulings.” 14 Thus, in Hawkins v. Peart, the [*7] Utah Supreme Court held that public policy invalidated a preinjury release signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child. 15 The court looked to Utah statute and found that it “provides various checks on parental authority to ensure a child’s interests are protected.” 16 In particular, it found that when a child is injured, statutory law precludes a parent from settling a claim, unless the parent is appointed as conservator for the child. 17 Based on this clear legislative intent to protect a minor’s interest post injury, the court concluded that a preinjury release for a minor child likewise was unenforceable. 18
13 Id. P 15 (citing Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 2007 UT 96, P 7, 175 P.3d 560).
14 Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 2007 UT 96, P 20, 175 P.3d 560.
15 Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, PP 12-13, 37 P.3d 1062.
16 Id. P 11.
17 Id. (citing Utah Code Ann. § 75-5-404 (1993)).
18 Id. PP 12-13.
As applicable to this case, Congress has expressed its concern about product defects that pose a significant risk of injury or death. In an effort to protect the public from such defects, it enacted the Consumer Product Safety Act (the “Act”). The stated purpose of the Act is:
(1) to protect the public against unreasonable [*8] risks of injury associated with consumer products; (2) to assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products; (3) to develop uniform safety standards for consumer products and to minimize conflicting State and local regulations; and (4) to promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product-related deaths, illnesses, and injuries. 19
Through this legislation, Congress has stated its intent to create laws that protect the public from unreasonable risk of harm from defective products and to provide a uniform regulatory scheme to promote product safety.
19 15 U.S.C. § 2051(b) (2010).
Under 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b), manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are required to notify the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission when they become aware a product (1) fails to comply with applicable safety standards, (2) fails to comply with other rules, regulations, standards, or bans under any acts enforced by the Commission, (3) “contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard,” or (4) “creates unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.” 20 Recall alerts arising from such notices are specifically designed to prevent serious [*9] injuries. Under 15 U.S.C. § 2068, manufacturers and distributors are charged with honoring the recall alerts issued by the Commission. The law in effect at the time of Jozewicz’s accident stated:
It shall be unlawful for any person to –
(1) manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any consumer product which is not in conformity with an applicable consumer product safety standard under this chapter;
(2) manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any consumer product which has been declared a banned hazardous product by a rule under this chapter. 21
20 Id. § 2064(b).
21 Id. § 2068(a)(1)-(2) (2006). This Section was amended on August 14, 2008, after Jozewicz’s injury occurred. Section 2068(a) now prohibits the sale, manufacture for sale, distribution, or importation of any product (1) “that is not in conformity with an applicable consumer product safety rule,” (2) that is subject to a voluntary corrective action, (3) that is an imminent hazard and subject to a Commission’s order, or (4) that is a banned hazardous substance. Id. § 2068(a)(1)-(2) (2010).
Congress enacted the statute to ensure [*10] safe products are provided to the public and to limit the risk of injury. Once a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer reports a defect to the Commission and a recall alert is published, the alert would have no effect if other retailers were not required to take action to correct the defect or remove the product from their inventory. The law requires distributors and retailers to heed recall alerts issued by the Commission and ensure defective products are either fixed or not sold.
Jozewicz argues that Congress’s public policy concern to prevent unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to the public meets the public policy standard set forth by the Utah Supreme Court, and therefore invalidates her release of GGT’s negligence. GGT contends, however, that Congress did not intend for the Consumer Product Safety Act to preempt state law, and no private cause of action exists under 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b). While this is true, this does not nullify the stated public policy concerns that override the right of parties to contract away tort liability. The rental of the ski bindings at issue in this case became unlawful once the recall notice became effective. Public policy should not favor [*11] allowing a party to insulate itself from harms caused to others arising from unlawful acts. Moreover, a decision that public policy causes a preinjury release to be invalid in this case does not cause GGT to be held liable under the Act, nor does it preempt state law. It merely recognizes Congress’s concern to minimize unreasonable risk to the public of serious injury or death. Such a concern is particularly relevant when a latent defect exists of which distributors and retailers are or should be aware, but not a consumer.
The implication of allowing distributors and retailers to contract away liability for noncompliance with established safety standards would increase the risk of injury and would be contrary to Congress’s express public policy concerns. Furthermore, validating the release of liability for noncompliance with Federal law would effectively reduce or eliminate the responsibility that distributors and retailers have to make sure the products they sell or rent are safe. Public policy should encourage compliance with safety laws, not disregard for such laws. Due to a strong public interest in ensuring adherence to recall alerts, the court concludes that GGT’s release is unenforceable [*12] as a matter of public policy.
GGT’s preinjury release is unenforceable and invalid as a matter of public policy. For this reason, GGT’s motion is DENIED. 22
22 Docket No. 12.
DATED this 2nd day of June, 2010.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Clark Waddoups
United States District Judge
Masciola, v. Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, 257 Ill. App. 3d 313; 628 N.E.2d 1067; 1993 Ill. App. LEXIS 2011; 195 Ill. Dec. 603Posted: November 19, 2012
Masciola, v. Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, 257 Ill. App. 3d 313; 628 N.E.2d 1067; 1993 Ill. App. LEXIS 2011; 195 Ill. Dec. 603
David R. Masciola, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, THIRD DIVISION
257 Ill. App. 3d 313; 628 N.E.2d 1067; 1993 Ill. App. LEXIS 2011; 195 Ill. Dec. 603
December 29, 1993, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Released for Publication March 9, 1994. As Corrected August 2, 1994.
PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE PADDY H. McNAMARA, JUDGE PRESIDING.
COUNSEL: John Thomas Moran, Jr., of Chicago, for appellant.
Pretzel & Stouffer, Chartered, of Chicago (Edward H. Nielsen, Robert Marc Chemers, and Ann S. Johnson, of counsel), for appellee.
JUDGES: RIZZI, TULLY, CERDA
OPINION BY: RIZZI
[*314] [**1068] JUSTICE RIZZI delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff, David R. Masciola, filed a complaint against defendant, the Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council (Ski Council) and others. Plaintiff sought damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by him while he was participating in a ski race sponsored by defendant. Counts I and II of the complaint alleged negligence and willful and wanton conduct, respectively. The trial court dismissed [**1069] count II of the complaint and granted summary judgment to defendant on count I. Plaintiff appeals the trial court’s award of summary judgment. We affirm.
Plaintiff alleges that trial court’s grant of summary judgment was erroneous (1) with respect to both counts of the complaint, on the basis of its finding that an exculpatory clause was enforceable and barred to the complaint, because the unsafe conditions of the racecourse [***2] exceeded the scope of the contemplated risks encompassed by the exculpatory clause which demonstrates that the parties were acting under a mutual mistake of material fact as to the safety of the racecourse; and (2) with respect to count II of the complaint because exculpatory clauses are void and against public policy when applied to willful and wanton conduct.
On December 21, 1985, plaintiff participated in a ski race sponsored by defendant at the ski resort of Indianhead Mountain in Wakefield, Gogebic County, Michigan. As a sponsor of the race, defendant required each participant to sign a “waiver of liability” prior to participating in the race. Plaintiff signed the waiver. The waiver form provided as follows:
The undersigned hereby acknowledges that ski racing is a dangerous sport which can lead to serious injury, or even death. The undersigned hereby understands and agrees to personally assume any and all of the liability and risks of alpine racing.
Further, the undersigned hereby agrees to hold harmless the CHICAGO METROPOLITAN SKI COUNCIL, its officers and the Senior Alpine Racing Committee from any responsibility or liability for any and all personal injuries or death which [***3] may occur during the 1985-86 CMSC Racing Series.
On March 16, 1988, plaintiff filed a 10-count complaint against Ski Council and other defendants who are no longer a part of this action, for damages for personal injuries sustained while participating in the ski race sponsored by defendant. Plaintiff alleged that his injuries are the result of a fall from a compression area in the ski racecourse which caused him to be thrown into the poles marking the finish line. Counts I and II of the complaint alleged negligence and willful and wanton conduct respectively, on the part of defendant.
[*315] Defendant filed a motion to dismiss count II of plaintiff’s complaint on the basis that he failed to comply with section 2-604.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code). Ill Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 2-604.1. On May 19, 1988, the court entered an order granting defendant’s motion to dismiss count II without prejudice. Count II was dismissed on the ground that willful and wanton misconduct constitutes negligence for purposes of claiming punitive damages and a hearing was necessary under section 2-604.1 and absent a hearing, dismissal was required.
Defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment [***4] with respect to count I. Plaintiff in his complaint alleged that defendant owed him a duty of reasonable care in supervising, inspecting, setting up and maintaining the racecourse and its attendant markers, gates and poles. In its motion, defendant argued, and the trial court agreed, that the release form signed by plaintiff barred plaintiff’s action. The motion was granted pursuant to an order entered on April 25, 1991. Plaintiff now appeals the grant of summary judgment.
First, plaintiff contends that trial court’s grant of summary judgment was erroneous (1) with respect to both counts of the complaint against defendant on the basis of its finding that an exculpatory clause was enforceable and therefore barred to the complaint, because the unsafe conditions of the racecourse exceeded the scope of the contemplated risks encompassed by the exculpatory clause which demonstrates that the parties were acting under a mutual mistake of material fact as to the implicit material term of their agreement, which was that the racecourse was presumptively safe; and (2) that the judgment was erroneous with respect to count II of the complaint alleging willful and wanton misconduct on the part [***5] of defendant because exculpatory clauses are void and against public policy when applied to willful and wanton conduct.
In addition to arguing that the trial court erred in granting defendant summary judgment [**1070] as to count I of the complaint, plaintiff now argues for the first time that the grant of summary judgment as to count II of his complaint was improper in that it alleged willful and wanton misconduct. The record shows that pursuant to an order entered on May 19, 1988, count II of plaintiff’s complaint alleging willful and wanton misconduct was dismissed for failure to comply with section 2-604.1 of the Code.
[HN1] Section 2-604.1 of the Code provides that no complaint based upon bodily injury shall contain a prayer for punitive damages. The section further provides that a plaintiff may move for a pretrial hearing thereby seeking leave to amend the complaint to include a prayer for punitive damages within 30 days after the close of discovery. Ill Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 2-604.1.
[*316] In the present case, the order dismissing count II of plaintiff’s complaint was without prejudice, therefore, plaintiff could have sought leave to amend the complaint to include the prayer for punitive [***6] damages. Plaintiff, however, failed to do so. At no point during the trial court proceeding did plaintiff argue that a grant of summary judgment would be improper in light of the complaint alleging willful and wanton misconduct.
Furthermore, in support of his allegation that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was erroneous with respect to count II, plaintiff now asks us to review the deposition testimony of himself and Ardwell Kidwell as well as the International Ski Competition Rules. Each of these deposition transcripts are attached to plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of the summary judgment order, but neither of the transcripts was before the trial court when it initially ruled on the summary judgment. At the hearing on the motion for reconsideration of summary judgment, the trial court refused to consider these items on the basis that they were not properly before the court.
[HN2] The scope of an appellate court’s review of a grant of summary judgment is limited to the matters considered by the trial court in ruling on the motion for summary judgment. Certified Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Wight & Co., Inc. (1987), 162 Ill. App. 3d 391, 397, 515 N.E.2d 1047, 1051. [***7] Upon review of a summary judgment ruling, an appellate court may only refer to the record as it existed at the time the trial court ruled, outline the arguments made at that time and explain why the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. Rayner Covering Systems, Inc. v. Danvers Farmers Elevator Co. (1992), 226 Ill. App. 3d 507, 509-10, 589 N.E.2d 1034, 1036.
In the present case, the allegations in count II were not before the trial court at the time of its ruling upon defendant’s motion for summary judgment because count II had been dismissed and thus they may not be considered by this court.
We will, however, address plaintiff’s allegation that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was erroneous with respect to count I of the complaint. Plaintiff argues that the exculpatory clause was not enforceable because the existence of compression bumps at the end of a racecourse and the use of telephone poles as a finish line marker are not within the scope of possible dangers accompanying an alpine ski race. Plaintiff further contends that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment because the parties were acting under a mutual [***8] mistake of material fact as to whether the racecourse was “safe” because the definition of “safe” arguably did not include compression bumps on the course and telephone poles as finish line markers.
[*317] [HN3] Although exculpatory agreements are not favored and will be strictly construed against the benefitting party ( Scott & Fetzer Co. v. Montgomery Ward & Co. (1986), 112 Ill. 2d 378, 395, 493 N.E.2d 1022, 1029), parties may allocate the risk of negligence as they see fit and exculpatory clauses are not violative of public policy as a matter of law. Reuben H. Donnelley Corp. v. Krasny Supply Co., Inc. (1991), 227 Ill. App. 3d 414, 419, 592 N.E.2d 8, 11.
Under certain circumstances, exculpatory clauses may bar a plaintiff’s negligence claim. Harris v. Walker (1988), 119 Ill. 2d 542, 548, 519 [**1071] N.E.2d 917, 919. [HN4] Exculpatory clauses will be upheld in the absence of fraud; willful and wanton conduct; legislation to the contrary; where the exculpatory clause is not contrary to the settled public policy of this State; where there is no substantial disparity in the [***9] bargaining position of the parties; and where there is nothing in the social relationship of the parties which militates against upholding the agreement. Harris, 119 Ill. 2d at 548, 519 N.E.2d at 919; Reuben H. Donnelley Corp., 227 Ill. App. 3d at 419, 592 N.E.2d at 11; Garrison v. Combined Fitness Centre, Ltd. (1990), 201 Ill. App. 3d 581, 584, 559 N.E.2d 187, 189-90.
Absent any of the above factors, [HN5] the question of whether or not an exculpatory clause will be enforced depends upon whether or not defendant’s conduct and the risk of injury inherent in said conduct was of a type intended by the parties to fall within the scope of the clause. See Larsen v. Vic Tanny, International (1984), 130 Ill. App. 3d 574, 577, 474 N.E.2d 729, 731; see also Simpson v. Byron Dragway, Inc. (1991), 210 Ill. App. 3d 639, 647, 569 N.E.2d 579, 584. The precise occurrence which results in injury need not have been contemplated by the parties at the time the agreement was entered [***10] into. Garrison, 201 Ill. App. 3d at 585, 559 N.E.2d at 190.
In the present case, plaintiff’s injury is a type that was intended to fall in the scope of the exculpatory clause thereby entitling defendant to summary judgment. The exculpatory provision provides as follows:
The undersigned hereby acknowledges that ski racing is a dangerous sport which can lead to serious injury, or even death. The undersigned hereby understands and agrees to personally assume any and all of the liability and risks of alpine racing.
Further, the undersigned hereby agrees to hold harmless [defendants] * * * from any responsibility or liability for any and all personal injuries or death which may occur during the 1985-86 CMSC Racing Series. (Emphasis added.)
While the parties may not have contemplated that plaintiff would be injured by skiing over a compression area in the ski racecourse, they [*318] could and did contemplate a broad range of accidents which occur during skiing, including problems with the surface of the ski racecourse.
The present case is analogous to Schlessman v. Henson (1980), 83 Ill. 2d 82, 86, 413 N.E.2d 1252, 1254, [***11] wherein this court held that a problem with an automobile race track surface was the type of risk which the exculpatory agreement was intended to cover. Although the parties may not have contemplated that a section of the race track would collapse during the race, they did contemplate a “broad range of accidents which occur in auto racing.” See also Garrison v. Combined Fitness Centre (1990), 201 Ill. App. 3d 581, 585, 559 N.E.2d 187, 190 (exculpatory clause contained in health club membership agreement relieved club from liability for injury caused by allegedly defective equipment, where clause stated that each member bore the “sole risk” of injury that might result from use of weights, equipment or other apparatus provided); Neumann v. Gloria Marshall Figure Salon (1986), 149 Ill. App. 3d 824, 827, 500 N.E.2d 1011, 1014 (exculpatory clause which expressly covered all risks of injury “while using any equipment” at the salon was enforceable because an injury to plaintiff resulting from the use of the machines was encompassed in the release).
Cases in which this court has found an exculpatory [***12] clause to be insufficient to release a defendant from liability for personal injuries to plaintiff are distinguishable from the present case. One line of cases wherein an exculpatory clause has been found ineffective have involved injuries or fatalities which clearly do not ordinarily accompany the activity which is the subject of the release. See Simpson v. Byron Dragway, Inc. (1991), 210 Ill. App. 3d 639, 649-50, 569 N.E.2d 579, 585-86 (a question of fact existed as to whether or not striking a deer while operating a race car on a drag strip was the type of risk which ordinarily accompanies the sport of racing); Larsen v. Vic Tanny, International (1984), 130 Ill. App. 3d 574, 578, 474 [**1072] N.E.2d 729, 732 (exposure to noxious fumes which injured plaintiff’s respiratory system was not a foreseeable risk related to the use of a health club). In the present case, however, the injuries to plaintiff resulting from a fall from a compression area in the ski course is a risk inherent in ski racing and as such falls within the scope of the exculpatory clause.
Another line of cases has held that the language of [***13] an exculpatory clause did not shield a defendant from liability that the language of the exculpatory clause was ambiguous with respect to which activities were covered. See Macek v. Schooner’s, Inc. (1991), 224 Ill. App. 3d 103, 106, 586 N.E.2d 442, 444-45 (genuine [*319] issue of material fact precluded summary judgment for sponsors of arm wrestling contest in personal injury action brought against it by a participant who was injured in the contest, existed as to whether the intent of the clause was to release the promoter of liability when injury resulted from the participant’s physical condition, or when injury resulted from the promoter’s negligence); Calarco v. YMCA of Greater Metropolitan Chicago (1986), 149 Ill. App. 3d 1037, 1043, 501 N.E.2d 268, 272 (statement that “participation in any of the activities of the YMCA” was ambiguous in that it could be read to mean that the exculpatory clause only pertained to participating in activities at the YMCA but not to liability from the use of equipment at the YMCA). The language of the exculpatory clause at issue in the present case is [***14] explicit and unambiguous and is thus sufficient as a matter of law to relieve defendant from liability.
Accordingly, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant was proper as there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the exculpatory agreement encompassed plaintiff’s injuries.
For the above reasons, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.
TULLY, P.J. and CERDA, J., concur.
Davis, v. 3 Bar F Rodeo, 2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423
Susan Davis, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Charles A. Davis, Deceased, Appellants v. 3 Bar F Rodeo; Marcus Fannin; Bobby Ray Fannin; Grant County Fair, Inc., Appellees
2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423
November 2, 2007, Rendered
PLEASE REFER TO THE KENTUCKY RULES REGARDING FINALITY OF OPINIONS. TO BE PUBLISHED. [UNLESS OTHERWISE ORDERED BY THE KENTUCKY SUPREME COURT, OPINIONS DESIGNATED "TO BE PUBLISHED" BY THE COURT OF APPEALS ARE NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IF DISCRETIONARY REVIEW IS PENDING, IF DISCRETIONARY REVIEW IS GRANTED, OR IF ORDERED NOT TO BE PUBLISHED BY THE COURT WHEN DENYING THE MOTION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW OR GRANTING WITHDRAWAL OF THE MOTION.]
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Modified May 2, 2008.
Rehearing denied by Davis v. 3 Bar F. Rodeo, 2008 Ky. App. LEXIS 266 (Ky. Ct. App., May 2, 2008)
Review denied and ordered not published by Grant County Fair, Inc. v. Davis, 2008 Ky. LEXIS 249 (Ky., Oct. 15, 2008)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
APPEAL FROM GRANT CIRCUIT COURT. HONORABLE STEPHEN L. BATES, JUDGE. ACTION NO. 05-CI-00427.
DISPOSITION: REVERSING AND REMANDING.
COUNSEL: BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANTS: Jerry M. Miniard, Florence, Kentucky.
BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE, GRANT COUNTY FAIR, INC.: Thomas R. Nienaber, Covington, Kentucky
BRIEFS FILED FOR APPELLEES, 3 BAR F RODEO, MARCUS FANNIN, AND BOBBY RAY FANNIN: Steven N. Howe, Dry Ridge, Kentucky.
JUDGES: BEFORE: LAMBERT, TAYLOR AND WINE, JUDGES. ALL CONCUR.
OPINION BY: WINE
REVERSING AND REMANDING
WINE, JUDGE: Susan Davis (“Susan”), individually and as the Administratrix of the Estate of Charles A. Davis (“Charles”), deceased, appeals a summary judgment order entered by the Grant Circuit Court dismissing her claims against the Grant County Fair, Inc. (“GCF”), 3 Bar F Rodeo (“3-BFR”), Marcus Fannin (“M. Fannin”) and Bobby Ray Fannin (“B. Fannin”) (“Appellees” collectively) for the injuries and wrongful death of her husband, Charles, which occurred on September 25, 2004. Specifically, Susan argues the trial court erred by denying her motion for summary judgment based upon the Appellees’ alleged failure to give her husband the mandatory warning pursuant to KRS 247.4027, which resulted in Charles’s severe internal bodily injuries [*2] which ultimately led to his death. For the reasons stated herein, we remand this case as summary judgment was not appropriate.
Appellant, GCF, is a non-profit corporation whose primary function is to own, maintain, and operate the Grant County Fairgrounds. 3-BFR is an unincorporated association comprised of M. Fannin and B. Fannin. 3-BFR’s primary function is to conduct rodeo events for the general public. GCF entered into an agreement with 3-BFR, M. Fannin and B. Fannin whereby 3-BFR would hold a rodeo at the fairgrounds.
On September 25, 2004, Charles and Susan attended the rodeo at the Grant County Fair. The announcer for the rodeo, Aaron Platt (“Platt”), called for participants for a game called the “Ring of Fear.” This game called for audience members to participate by entering the rodeo ring and standing in marked circles on the ground. Kenny, a bull from Ohio, was then released into the ring. The last person standing, without stepping outside of the circle, won the grand prize of $ 50.00. Charles proceeded to the ring to try his luck in the Ring of Fear. Susan alleges Kenny was angered by someone jabbing him with a wooden object and beating sticks against his cage prior to his [*3] release. Once released, Kenny proceeded to drive his head into Charles’s abdomen, lifting him off the ground. Charles made his way back into the stands where his wife Susan was seated. Unknown to Charles or anyone else, Kenny’s blow to Charles’s abdomen had caused his liver to burst and he was bleeding internally. Charles faded into temporary unconsciousness next to his wife in the stands. Charles died the next morning at the University of Cincinnati’s trauma unit. The cause of death was ruled “blunt trauma to torso” and internal bleeding.
Susan then brought a wrongful death action against GCF, 3-BFR and the Fannins, alleging that their negligence had caused her husband’s death. GCF moved for summary judgment based upon a release signed by Charles prior to his participation in the Ring of Fear. 3-BFR, M. Fannin and B. Fannin filed similar motions. After completing more discovery and taking depositions, Susan filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, asserting that the Appellees failed to properly warn of the dangers of the Ring of Fear as required by KRS 247.4027. Susan alleged the Appellees’ failure to warn was a substantial factor in causing the injuries that led to her husband’s [*4] death. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Appellees, finding that the release was sufficient to exempt them from liability in light of Hargis v. Baize, 168 S.W.3d 36 (Ky. 2005). The trial court denied Susan’s cross-motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.
[HN1] In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a trial court must consider all the stipulations and admissions on file. CR 56.03. “[S]ummary judgment is proper only where the movant shows that the adverse party cannot prevail under any circumstances.” Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476, 480 (Ky. 1991), citing Paintsville Hospital Co. v. Rose, 683 S.W.2d 255 (Ky. 1985). The standard of review on appeal of a summary judgment is whether the trial court correctly found that there were no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Scifres v. Kraft, 916 S.W.2d 779, 43 1 Ky. L. Summary 17 (Ky.App. 1996). There is no requirement that the appellate court defer to the trial court because factual findings are not at issue. Goldsmith v. Allied Building Components, Inc., 833 S.W.2d 378, 381, 39 7 Ky. L. Summary 24 (Ky. 1992).
Susan argues the Appellees breached their duty to warn [*5] pursuant to the Farm Animals Activities Act (“FAAA”), found in KRS 247.401 through KRS 247.4029. Specifically, [HN2] the FAAA represents a statutory plan designed to outline the duties and responsibilities of both participants and sponsors conducting animal activities. Having thoroughly read the statute, we agree with Susan that the statute applies to this case. However, KRS 247.4027(2)(a) allows for a waiver of liability if the participant signs a release waiving his right to bring an action against the farm animal event sponsor.
Susan asserts that non-compliance with the warning requirements of KRS 247.401 constitutes negligence per se and/or strict liability. We disagree. KRS Chapter 247 is generally recognized throughout the country as “Equine Activity Statutes” (“EAS”). In general, these statutes are an attempt to limit liability of persons engaging in animal activities. Therefore, [HN3] if a sponsor of an animal activity does post the suggested warnings found in KRS Chapter 247, he is granted immunity from liability if someone gets hurt. If, as in this case, the warnings are not posted, the sponsor loses the immunity and may be held responsible for the injury in accordance with other applicable [*6] law. KRS 247.4013. Therefore, EAS statutes are “immunity statutes,” not negligence per se or strict liability statutes as recognized in many of our sister states. See Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. 2006); Amburgey v. Sauder, 238 Mich. App. 228, 605 N.W.2d 84 (Mich. App. 1999).
[HN4] Although KRS 247.402 requires farm animal activity sponsors to warn of the inherent risks, there is no duty to reduce or eliminate the inherent risks. However, to intentionally mistreat or aggravate a farm animal would be the antithesis of this duty.
While it is clear that the Appellees did not have warning signs posted at the ring entrance, it is undisputed that Charles signed a release just prior to his participation in the Ring of Fear. Therefore, the central issue in this case is the validity of the release Charles signed. The release Charles signed states as follows:
We the undersigned hereby request permission (1) to enter the restricted area (2) to participate as a contestant, assistant, official or otherwise rodeo events (3) to compete for money, prizes, recognition or reward.
In consideration of “permissive entry” into the restricted areas, which is the area from which admission to the [*7] general public is restricted, which includes, but is not limited to the rodeo arena, chutes, pens, adjacent walkways, concessions and other appurtenances, I undersigned, my personal representatives, heirs, next of kin, spouses and assigns to hereby:
1. I release, discharge and covenant not to sue the rodeo committee, stock contractor, sponsors, arena operators or owners and each of them, their officers, agents and employees all hereafter collectively referred to as (Releases) from any and all claims and liability arising out of strict liability or ordinary negligence of Releases or any other participant which causes the undersigned injury, death, damages or property damage. I, the undersigned, jointly, severally, and in common, covenant to hold releases from any claim, judgment or expenses that may incur arising out of my activities or presence in the restricted area.
2. Understand that entry into the restricted area and/or participation in rodeo events contains danger and risks of injury or death, that conditions of the rodeo arena change from time to time and may become more hazardous, that rodeo animals are dangerous and unpredictable, and that there inherent danger in rodeo which [*8] I appreciate and voluntarily assume because I chose to do so. Each of the undersigned has observed events of this type and that I seek to participate in. I further understand that the arena surface, access ways or lack thereof, lighting or lack thereof, and weather conditions all change and pose a danger. I further understand that other contestants and participants pose a danger, but nevertheless, I voluntarily elect to accept all risks connected with the entry into restricted areas and/or participate in any rodeo events.
3. I agree that this agreement shall apply to any incident, injury, and accident death occurring on the above date and fore (sic) a period of one (1) year thereafter. All subsequent agreement and release documents signed by any of the undersigned shall amplify, shall in no way limit the provisions of the document.
4. I the undersigned agree to indemnify the Releases and each of them from loss, liability damage or costs they may incur due to the presence or participation in the described activities whether caused by the negligence of the Releases or otherwise.
WE HAVE READ THIS DOCUMENT, WE UNDERSTAND IT IS A RELEASE OF ALL CLAIMS, WE APPRECIATE AND ASSUME ALL RISKS INHERENT IN RODEO. [*9]
Charles’s signature appears below this language along with the signatures of the other participants of the Ring of Fear on September 25, 2004.
[HN5] While agreements to exempt future liability for either ordinary or gross negligence are not invalid per se, they are generally disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying upon them. Hargis, 168 S.W.3d at 47.
[A] preinjury release will be upheld only if (1) it explicitly expresses an intention to exonerate by using the word “negligence;” or (2) it clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release a party from liability for a personal injury caused by that party’s own conduct; or (3) protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract language; or (4) the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.
Id., citing 57A AM. JUR. 2d, Negligence § 53 (citations omitted). The trial court held that the release met the above requirements in Hargis and, absent genuine issues of fact as to the release, its enforceability warranted summary judgment in favor of Appellees.
We disagree with the trial court that the release form signed by Charles satisfies all of the [*10] factors in Hargis. The release uses the word “negligence.” The release does specifically and explicitly release the Appellees from liability for “any and all claims and liability arising out of strict liability or ordinary negligence of Releases [Appellees] . . . which causes the undersigned [Charles] injury . . . [or] death . . . .”
The language of the release is specific as to its purpose to exonerate the sponsors from ordinary negligence liability. The release specifically warns that rodeo events contain danger and risks of injury or death; that the conditions of the rodeo arena change and may become more hazardous; that rodeo animals are dangerous and unpredictable; and finally that anyone choosing to participate voluntarily assumes the inherent danger that exists in rodeo events. However, there is no language that releases Appellees from conduct that would constitute gross negligence. Susan contends that Appellees provoked Kenny by prodding him and beating on his cage prior to his release into the ring. The intentional provocation of the bull by Appellees to attack the participants is clearly not contemplated by the release. While the Appellees dispute the allegations of intentionally [*11] mistreating Kenny, if true, it would at the very least constitute gross negligence. The release contemplates getting into the ring with a bull and even mentions that rodeo animals are unpredictable. However, the release does not contemplate a bull that has been infuriated by the Appellees prior to its release into the ring. Such conduct could be construed as willful or wanton for which a party may not contract away any liability through a release. Hargis, supra. This material issue of fact as disputed by the parties can only be resolved by a trier of fact and is not appropriately resolved by summary judgment. If the jury determines that Appellees’ conduct was grossly negligent, the release would be unenforceable as to this conduct. Of course, under comparative negligence, the jury could also consider Charles’s own conduct in contributing to his death.
Susan also argues that the trial court was presented with a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Appellees offered her husband protective chest gear. M. Fannin testified that the participants in the Ring of Fear on the date in question were given an opportunity to put on a protective vest before entering the rodeo ring. Conversely, [*12] Rob Wells (“Wells”), who participated on the same day as Charles, submitted an affidavit indicating that he was never offered a protective vest nor did he observe that there were protective vests available. Susan further submits that Appellees should have inquired as to the abilities of the participants to participate in the Ring of Fear. Finally, Susan contends that Charles did not have an opportunity to read the release prior to signing it. In support of this contention, Susan relies on the affidavit of Wells wherein he indicates that he did not read the release. These are all factual issues to be resolved by a trier of fact.
Accordingly, we reverse and remand this case to the Grant Circuit Court for a jury trial.
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