Lotz et al., v. The Claremont Club et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5748

Lotz et al., v. The Claremont Club et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5748

Nicholas, a Minor, etc., Plaintiffs and Appellants, Defendants and Respondents.

B242399

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION TWO

August 15, 2013, Opinion Filed

NOTICE: NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 8.1115(a), PROHIBITS COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 8.1115(b). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 8.1115.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. KC061412, Peter J. Meeka, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS: dodgeball, triable, membership, ball, summary judgment, issues of fact, gross negligence, sport, playing, racquetball, played, inherent risk, hit, childcare, assumption of risk, ambiguity, risk of injury, risk of harm, rubber ball, matter of law, participating, aggressively, supervised, training, thrown, riding, player, risk doctrine, risk doctrine, evidence showed

COUNSEL: Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy and Charles M. Finkel for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, Anthony J. Ellrod and David J. Wilson for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: FERNS, J. *; ASHMANN-GERST, Acting P. J., CHAVEZ, J. concurred.

* Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.

OPINION BY: FERNS, J.

OPINION

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and respondents The Claremont Club (Club) and Adam Qasem (Qasem) on the complaint brought by minor Nicholas Lotz (Nicholas) by and through his guardian ad litem Deborah Lotz (Deborah) and Deborah individually (sometimes collectively appellants). 1 Nicholas was injured in a dodgeball game that took place while he was in the Club’s childcare program. The trial court ruled that a release signed by Nicholas’s father barred appellants’ claims and there was no evidence showing the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence beyond the scope of the release. It further ruled the primary assumption of risk doctrine [*2] barred appellants’ claims.

1 We use first names for convenience only; no disrespect is intended.

We reverse. The evidence offered by appellants showed there were triable issues of material fact regarding the scope and application of multiple releases, whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct constituted gross negligence and whether their conduct increased the risk of harm inherent in the game of dodgeball.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Club Membership.

In 2001, Thomas Lotz (Thomas) signed The Claremont Club Membership Agreement (Membership Agreement) and completed a membership information form indicating that he was seeking a family membership for himself, Deborah and their two children. On the information form, Thomas put a check mark by some of the specified sports and activities in which he and his family were interested in participating. Dodgeball was not included among the list of activities.

The Membership Agreement included a section entitled “Waiver of Liability” that provided in relevant part: “IT IS EXPRESSLY AGREED THAT USE OF THE CLUB FACILITIES, PARTICIPATION IN CLUB-SPONSORED OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES OR EVENTS AND TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED BY THE CLUB SHALL BE UNDERTAKEN BY A MEMBER [*3] OR GUEST AT HIS/HER SOLE RISK AND THE CLUB SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INJURIES OR ANY DAMAGE TO ANY MEMBER OR GUEST . . . .” The provision further stated that the member voluntarily assumed the risk of personal injury and released the Club and its employees from every demand, claim or liability on account of any personal injury.

On the same day he signed the Membership Agreement, Thomas signed a separate document captioned Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement (Waiver) that contained a provision stating: “This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club.” The Waiver further provided in part: “I, for myself, my spouse, if any, my heirs, personal representative or assigns, and anyone claiming through or under me do hereby release, waive, discharge, and covenant not to sue The Claremont Club . . . for liability from any and all claims including the negligence of the Claremont Club, resulting in damages or personal injury . . . .” The Waiver further identified certain activities provided at the Club–again excluding dodgeball–together [*4] with the risks arising therefrom, and required Thomas to assert that his participation was voluntary and “that I knowingly assume all such risks.” The Waiver’s concluding paragraph provided for Thomas’s understanding “THAT I AM GIVING UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING MY RIGHT TO SUE.”

Together with a Club attorney, Club president and chief executive officer Mike Alpert helped prepare the Waiver. According to Alpert, only the Waiver–not the waiver of liability contained in the Membership Agreement–was in full force and effect at the time Thomas signed both documents. None of the documents that Thomas and Deborah signed in connection with their Club membership informed them that dodgeball would be played on Club premises.

Nicholas Is Injured in a Dodgeball Game at the Club.

The “InZone” was part of the Club’s childcare department; it provided a clubhouse environment for older children that included ping pong, foosball and video games. In-house sports and a specialized fitness room were also available as part of the InZone. A document provided to parents describing InZone activities identified a number of sports in which a child might participate; it did not mention dodgeball.

On April 13, [*5] 2005, Deborah checked 10-year-old Nicholas into the InZone between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. No one advised Deborah or Thomas that Nicholas might be playing dodgeball as part of the InZone activities. That day, Club employee Qasem was scheduled to work at the front desk. Eighteen-year-old Qasem had worked part-time at the Club for approximately one year as a lifeguard, weight room attendant and at the front desk. He had never worked in the InZone and the Club had not provided him with any training to work with children.

At some point during his shift, Qasem left the front desk to work in the children’s fitness room. He was the only individual supervising approximately eight to 15 children, including Nicholas. One of the children suggested the group play dodgeball, and Qasem agreed. He took the children to the Club’s racquetball court because he had observed dodgeball being played there once or twice. The Club’s written policies, however, stated “[o]nly racquetball, handball, squash and Wally ball may be played on the racquetball courts.” Qasem had never played dodgeball at the Club, nor had he ever seen any written rules concerning dodgeball.

Though Qasem was uncertain whether he provided the [*6] children with any rules before they began playing the game, he may have told them to throw the ball below their waists. During the game, anywhere from three to six balls were being thrown at one time; each rubber ball was filled with air and was about the size of a soccer ball. About 20 minutes into the game, Qasem threw a ball using a sidearm motion hard and fast toward Nicholas. The ball hit Nicholas’s face and slammed his head into the wall behind him, leaving tooth marks on the wall. Nicholas suffered multiple dental injuries as a result of being hit by the ball.

At the time of the game, Qasem was six feet tall and weighed approximately 145 pounds. According to Nicholas, Qasem had been playing aggressively throughout the game. By playing in the game, Qasem had also violated the Club’s then unwritten policy that supervisors not participate in dodgeball games with the children. No one had previously been injured in a dodgeball game at the Club. After that game, Qasem was disciplined for failing to follow childcare policies and procedures, and one of his superiors instructed him not to play dodgeball at the Club.

Nicholas had previously played dodgeball at school. Though the players [*7] were instructed to not throw the ball at other players’ heads, he understood there was some risk of being hit in the head with the ball. The balls used at school, however, were similar to a Nerf ball and softer than those used at the InZone. Had Thomas and Deborah been advised that Nicholas would be playing dodgeball on a racquetball court with rubber balls, they would not have given their permission for him to do so.

The Intramural Rules of Dodgeball provide the game is one in which players try to hit others with a ball and avoid being hit themselves. “The main objective is to eliminate all members of the opposing team by hitting them with thrown balls, catching a ball thrown by a member of the opposing team, or forcing them outside of the court boundaries.” The National Dodgeball League Rules and Regulations of Play specify that a player committing a “headshot”–hitting another player in the head by a high thrown ball–will be deemed out of the game.

The Pleadings and Summary Judgment.

In June 2011, appellants filed their complaint alleging negligence and gross negligence and seeking general and special damages. They alleged that Nicholas was injured as a result of the Club’s negligently [*8] and recklessly “a. hiring, employing, training, entrusting, instructing, and supervising defendant ADAM QASEM; [¶] b. failing to adequately [] protect children under the care of defendant ADAM QASEM; [¶] c. participating in a game of dodge ball in an unreasonably forceful and dangerous manner so as to endanger the health, safety and welfare of children placed by their parents into the care of defendants.”

In December 2011, the Club and Qasem moved for summary judgment. They argued that appellants’ negligence claims were barred by Thomas’s execution of a release and express assumption of risk, and according to the assumption of risk doctrine. They further argued their actions did not rise to the level of gross negligence. In support of their motion, they submitted the Membership agreement, appellants’ discovery responses, deposition excerpts and Qasem’s declaration. They also sought judicial notice of several principles related to dodgeball rules and manner of play.

Appellants opposed the motion and filed evidentiary objections. They argued that triable issues of material fact existed concerning the scope of the Waiver, whether the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence and whether [*9] Nicholas’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of the game of dodgeball. They offered deposition excerpts, Club policies, medical records and several declarations in support of their arguments. Sports and Recreational Consultants president Steve Bernheim opined that the Club “did not take the proper measures to protect the children who were in its care, custody and control during the dodgeball game in which Nicholas Lotz was injured.” More specifically, the children were not provided with game-appropriate rules, the racquetball court was an insufficient space, use of the rubber balls was inappropriate and an adult should not have been playing with the children. He further opined that Qasem acted recklessly and that his conduct, coupled with the other conditions of the game, increased the risks inherent in the game of dodgeball and were outside the range of ordinary activity associated with the sport.

The Club replied and also filed evidentiary objections. At a March 2012 hearing, the trial court granted the motion. Though the trial court edited the proposed judgment to eliminate any reasons for its ruling, at the hearing the trial court first referred to childhood dodgeball experience [*10] as the basis for its decision: “When I went to school, we called it Warball, and we didn’t use Nerf balls because there weren’t any. It was a ball. When it hit you, it stung. And we all knew that. Everybody knew it. And it was just one of those games you played in school, and high school for that matter.” Turning to the evidence, the trial court construed the Waiver to apply to Thomas’s family members as well as Thomas, reasoning that the Club would have expected Thomas to be executing a release on behalf of all family members when he joined. The trial court further explained that even if it were to ignore the Waiver, appellants’ claims would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine. It further found that the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct did not rise to the level of gross negligence as a matter of law, reasoning there was no evidence that Qasem was trying to injure Nicholas and that such an injury could have occurred in the context of any type of sport. It did not rule on any of the evidentiary objections.

Judgment was entered in June 2012, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Appellants maintain that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and assert they offered evidence [*11] sufficient to create triable issues of fact concerning the scope and application of the Waiver, the existence of gross negligence and the application of the assumption of risk defense. We agree that triable issues of fact preclude the granting of summary judgment.

I. Standard of Review.

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo and independently determine whether the facts not subject to triable dispute warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. (Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1348; Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849-850.) To secure summary judgment, the moving defendant must show that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to the cause of action, and that it “is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.) Once that burden is met, the burden “shifts to the [other party] to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2); Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.)

We assume the role of the trial court and redetermine the [*12] merits of the motion. (Barber v. Marina Sailing, Inc. (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 558, 562.) “In doing so, we must strictly scrutinize the moving party’s papers. [Citation.] The declarations of the party opposing summary judgment, however, are liberally construed to determine the existence of triable issues of fact. [Citation.] All doubts as to whether any material, triable issues of fact exist are to be resolved in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. [Citation.]” (Ibid.; accord, Hamburg v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 497, 502.) “Because a summary judgment denies the adversary party a trial, it should be granted with caution. [Citation.]” (Acosta v. Glenfed Development Corp. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1278, 1292.) The court’s role is to focus “on issue finding; it does not resolve issues of fact. The court seeks to find contradictions in the evidence, or inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence, which raise a triable issue of material fact.” (Ibid.)

II. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact as to Whether the Waiver Applied to Release Their Claims.

At the hearing on the motion, the trial court indicated that one basis for its ruling was the application of [*13] a written release. It stated: “Here, dad is signing the release on behalf of the family. Mom could have signed the release on behalf of the family and had a check and paid for the membership. And even though there are some slight twists and turns here, I guess nothing is ever completely crystal clear. I think the release really hurts the plaintiff or plaintiffs here.” Though the trial court’s comments fail to demonstrate whether it relied on the Membership Agreement or the Waiver as providing the operative release, the Club argues on appeal that the release contained in the Membership Agreement was clear and unambiguous, and applied to release appellants’ claims.

“California courts require a high degree of clarity and specificity in a [r]elease in order to find that it relieves a party from liability for its own negligence.” (Cohen v. Five Brooks Stable (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1488 (Cohen).) Thus, “to be effective, an agreement which purports to release, indemnify or exculpate the party who prepared it from liability for that party’s own negligence or tortious conduct must be clear, explicit and comprehensible in each of its essential details. Such an agreement, read as a whole, [*14] must clearly notify the prospective releaser or indemnitor of the effect of signing the agreement.” (Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 309, 318.) Waiver and release forms are strictly construed against the defendant. (Lund v. Bally’s Aerobic Plus, Inc. (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 733, 738.) But “a release need not achieve perfection” to be effective. (National & Internat. Brotherhood of Street Racers, Inc. v. Superior Court (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 934, 938.) A release is sufficient if it “‘constitutes a clear and unequivocal waiver with specific reference to a defendant’s negligence.'” (Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 755.)

Here, Thomas represented in his membership application that he sought Club membership on behalf of his family. The release contained in the Membership Agreement provided that the member and guests assumed the risk of Club activities and released the Club from liability for participation in Club activities. A contract in which a party expressly assumes a risk of injury is, if applicable, a complete defense to a negligence action. (See Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 308, fn. 4 (Knight); Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1301, 1304.) [*15] Moreover, it is well settled a parent may execute a release on behalf of his or her child. (Aaris v. Las Virgenes Unified School Dist. (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1112, 1120 (Aaris); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist. (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 1565.) By offering evidence of the Membership Agreement, the Club met its threshold burden to demonstrate a complete defense to appellants’ negligence claims.

In contrast to the trial court, however, we conclude the evidence offered by appellants showing that the release was not “crystal clear” satisfied their burden to demonstrate triable issues of material fact. As summarized in Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1357: “The determination of whether a release contains ambiguities is a matter of contractual construction. [Citation.] ‘An ambiguity exists when a party can identify an alternative, semantically reasonable, candidate of meaning of a writing. [Citations.] An ambiguity can be patent, arising from the face of the writing, or latent, based on extrinsic evidence.’ [Citation.] The circumstances under which a release is executed can give rise to an ambiguity that is not apparent on the face of the release. [Citation.] [*16] If an ambiguity as to the scope of the release exists, it should normally be construed against the drafter. [Citations.]”

Here, appellants demonstrated an ambiguity by offering evidence that the Waiver–not the Membership Agreement–contained the operative release. The Waiver contained language effectively negating any other release, providing: “This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club. Any prior written or oral agreements, promises, representations concerning the subject matter contained in this Agreement and not expressly set forth in this Agreement have no force or effect.” Club president Alpert testified that only the Waiver was the operative agreement at the time Thomas joined the Club. The Waiver, however, inconsistently provided in one paragraph that Thomas was giving up his right to sue on behalf of his spouse and heirs, and in another paragraph that he was relinquishing only his personal right to sue. Other language in the Waiver that “I hereby assert that my participation is voluntary and that I knowingly assume all such risks” likewise [*17] suggested that the Waiver was intended to be personal only. Given appellants’ identification of an “alternative, semantically reasonable” construction of the Waiver, the evidence created a triable issue of fact concerning whether and to what extent the Waiver applied to appellants’ claims. (See Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 354, 360.)

Beyond the issue of whether the Waiver or the Membership Agreement contained the operative release, appellants demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to whether the language of either document contemplated the type of injuries suffered by Nicholas. Both the Membership Agreement and the Waiver released the Club from liability for personal injury from Club activities. “‘Where a participant in an activity has expressly released the defendant from responsibility for the consequences of any act of negligence, “the law imposes no requirement that [the participant] have had a specific knowledge of the particular risk which resulted in his death [or injury.]” . . . Not every possible specific act of negligence by the defendant must be spelled out in the agreement or discussed by the parties. . . . Where a release of all liability for any [*18] act of negligence is given, the release applies to any such negligent act, whatever it may have been. . . . “It is only necessary that the act of negligence, which results in injury to the releasor, be reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.“‘ [Citation.]” (Leon v. Family Fitness Center (#107), Inc. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1227, 1234-1235 (Leon).) 2

2 The Leon court separately evaluated an assumption of risk provision and a general release in a health club membership agreement. (Leon, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1234, 1235.) It reasoned that for an assumption of the risk provision to be effective, “‘it must also appear that its terms were intended by both parties to apply to the particular conduct of the defendant which has caused the harm.'” (Id. at p. 1234.) We find this analysis sufficiently similar to that required for a general release to engage in a single evaluation.

Appellants offered evidence creating a triable issue of fact as to whether an injury from a child playing dodgeball was sufficiently related to the purpose of the release. Neither Thomas nor Deborah were ever informed that Nicholas would be playing dodgeball at the Club. Dodgeball [*19] was not identified as a Club activity in any of the Club materials. It was not listed as an activity in either the Membership Agreement or the Waiver. It did not appear on the list of Club activities in the membership information form. According to the Club’s written policies, it was not among the activities permitted to be played on the Club’s racquetball courts. Likewise, the Club maintained a policy to preclude supervisors from engaging in dodgeball games with children.

These circumstances are analogous to those in Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th 1476. There, the plaintiff was injured during a horseback ride when the guide unexpectedly caused his horse to gallop, knowing that it would cause the horses following to do the same, and the plaintiff was unable to control her galloping horse. (Id. at p. 1480.) Before riding, the plaintiff had signed a release that described some but not all of the risks inherent in horseback riding and provided that she agreed “‘to assume responsibility for the risks identified herein and those risks not specifically identified.‘ (Italics added.)” (Id. at p. 1486.) Finding this language unambiguous, the trial court granted summary judgment. (Id. at pp. 1482-1483.) [*20] The appellate court reversed, reasoning the exculpatory provision was problematic, as “[t]he ‘risks not specifically identified’ could refer to the risks inherent in horseback riding left unidentified by the phrase ‘some, but not all,’ which seems to us the most reasonable assumption, but it might also refer to risks arising out of respondent’s negligence that increase[] the inherent risks.” (Id. at p. 1486.) Stated another way, the court explained that “[t]he Release presented to appellant clearly does not unambiguously, let alone explicitly, release respondent from liability for injuries caused by its negligence or that of its agents and employees which increase a risk inherent in horseback riding.” (Id. at p. 1488.)

At a minimum, appellants’ evidence that dodgeball was an undisclosed risk and an activity contrary to the Club’s written policies raised a triable issue of fact as to whether it was a risk that was reasonably related to the purpose for which any release was given. Evidence of Qasem’s conduct likewise raised a triable issue of fact as to whether such a risk was encompassed by the Waiver. (See Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at p. 1489 [“Nothing in the Release clearly, unambiguously, [*21] and explicitly indicates that it applies to risks and dangers attributable to respondent’s negligence or that of an employee that may not be inherent in supervised recreational trail riding,” italics omitted]; see also Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc., supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 1308 [release in favor of racetrack owner for injuries suffered while in a racetrack’s restricted area did not apply to injuries sustained after defectively constructed bleachers collapsed]; Leon, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at p. 1235 [release that allowed the plaintiff to engage in fitness activities at a health club did not apply to injuries from a collapsed sauna bench].)

On the other hand, the circumstances here bear no similarity to those in Aaris, supra, 64 Cal.App.4th 1112, a case on which the Club relies. There, the court found that a high school cheerleader and her family assumed the risk of injuries resulting from cheerleading activities. On the basis of that finding, the court also affirmed summary judgment on the ground that a release of liability for school activities barred any claim for injuries. The court reasoned that the assumption of risk doctrine “embodies the legal conclusion that defendant [*22] owed no duty to protect appellant from the risk of harm inherent in the athletic activity. [Citation.] There being no duty, there was no negligence.” (Id. at p. 1120.) Ignoring that the Aaris court’s holding was based on a finding of no negligence rather than any application of the release, the Club emphasizes that the release applied notwithstanding its failure to specify “cheerleading,” and argues that the Membership Agreement’s and Waiver’s references to Club activities must therefore similarly be construed to encompass dodgeball. But in Aaris, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence was that the sole purpose of the release was to address injuries resulting from cheerleading. Here, Thomas and Deborah did not even know that Nicholas would be participating in a dodgeball game. Moreover, the trial court in Aaris ruled that the undisputed evidence showed “‘that the instructor did not increase the risk of harm inherent in the activity, the participants received adequate and proper[] training in technique and safety, and they were properly and reasonably supervised.'” (Id. at p. 1117.) In sharp contrast, appellants’ evidence showed that Qasem should not have been playing [*23] dodgeball and played aggressively, he violated the Club’s written policy concerning use of the racquetball court and no one else was supervising the game.

Finally, appellants offered evidence to show that the InZone was part of the Club’s childcare department. On the day of the dodgeball game, Deborah signed Nicholas in to the Club’s InZone program. Club wellness director Denise Johnson testified that she was aware children played dodgeball on the racquetball courts while being supervised under the childcare department. To the extent that the Club’s Membership Agreement or Waiver purported to release it from liability for injuries occurring in its childcare program, appellants raised a triable issue of fact as to whether such an agreement would be void against public policy. (Gavin W. v. YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 662, 676 [“we hold that exculpatory agreements that purport to relieve child care providers of liability for their own negligence are void as against public policy”].)

In sum, the evidence offered on summary judgment demonstrated that the Membership Agreement and/or the Waiver did not clearly and explicitly release the Club from liability for Nicholas’s [*24] injuries. In view of the ambiguities concerning whether the Membership Agreement or the Waiver applied, whether the language in either document was sufficient to cover the Club’s conduct and whether any release violated public policy, a trier of fact could find that the Club was not released from liability. (See Zipusch v. LA Workout, Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1281, 1288 [“if a release is ambiguous, and it is not clear the parties contemplated redistributing the risk causing the plaintiff’s injury, then the contractual ambiguity should be construed against the drafter, voiding the purported release”].) The undisputed evidence failed to show the Club and Qasem were absolved from liability as a matter of law according to the Membership Agreement or the Waiver.

III. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact Whether the Club Was Liable for Gross Negligence.

In City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 751 (Santa Barbara), our State’s highest court held “that an agreement made in the context of sports or recreational programs or services, purporting to release liability for future gross negligence, generally is unenforceable as a matter of public policy.” Relying on Santa [*25] Barbara, appellants opposed the Club’s summary judgment motion on the alternative ground that, even if the Club’s most comprehensive release language was unambiguous, there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence. The trial court ruled: “It is not gross negligence. He wasn’t trying to injure the child on purpose, any more than a child would be injured playing hockey or soccer, or anything like that.” Again, we disagree.

California courts define “‘gross negligence'” “as either a ‘”‘want of even scant care'”‘ or ‘”‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”‘ [Citations.]” (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 754; accord, Eriksson v. Nunnink (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 826, 857.) Gross negligence “connotes such a lack of care as may be presumed to indicate a passive and indifferent attitude toward results.” (Calvillo-Silva v. Home Grocery (1998) 19 Cal.4th 714, 729, disapproved on other grounds in Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 853, fn. 19.) In contrast to willful misconduct, gross negligence does not require an intent to do harm or to act with absolute disregard of the consequences. (Meek v. Fowler (1935) 3 Cal.2d 420, 425; [*26] see also Hawaiian Pineapple Co. v. Ind. Acc. Com. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 656, 662 [“While gross negligence may involve an intent to perform the act or omission, wilful misconduct involves the further intent that the performance be harmful or that it be done with a positive, active and absolute disregard of the consequences”].) Though not always, “[g]enerally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence. [Citations.]” (Decker v. City of Imperial Beach (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 349, 358; accord, Santa Barbara, supra, at pp. 767, 781.)

Appellants offered sufficient evidence to create a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct amounted to gross negligence. According to the undisputed evidence, while the Club’s policies prohibited dodgeball being played on the racquetball courts, Club employees–including the childcare director–knew the courts were used for children’s dodgeball games. Nonetheless, none of the Club’s materials identified dodgeball as an available activity. Consistent with the Club’s failure to acknowledge dodgeball as an ongoing activity, it failed to promulgate rules to insure the game was played [*27] safely. When Nicholas was dropped off at the InZone program, no one advised his parents that he might play dodgeball. In this particular instance, children initiated a dodgeball game while being supervised by an 18-year-old front desk clerk who had no childcare training. Qasem selected inflated rubber balls for the game and participated aggressively in the game with the children, even though the Club’s policy was that supervisors not play dodgeball. Nicholas was injured after Qasem threw the ball extremely hard and extremely fast, using a sidearm motion.

On the basis of this evidence, appellants offered Bernheim’s expert opinion that “the injury to Nicholas Lotz occurred during an extreme departure from what must be considered as the ordinary standard of conduct when children are playing dodgeball and are supposed to be . . . supervised.” We agree that appellants’ evidence was sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct was an extreme departure from ordinary care or, at a minimum, demonstrated passivity and indifference toward results. A trier of fact could find gross negligence on the basis of the Club’s failure to address the repeated violation [*28] of its own policy prohibiting dodgeball play on the racquetball courts, failure to implement rules or policies designed to protect those playing dodgeball and failure to provide any training to individuals assigned to supervise the children in its childcare program. Triable issues existed as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct was grossly negligent and therefore outside the scope of any release in either the Membership Agreement or the Waiver.

IV. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact Whether the Assumption of Risk Doctrine Barred Liability.

As a further basis for granting summary judgment, the trial court determined that the Club met its burden to show the primary assumption of risk doctrine was a viable defense and that appellants failed to offer any effective rebuttal. It analogized the circumstances here to those in a previous case in which it found the doctrine barred recovery to a high school student injured during a soccer game. We fail to see the analogy.

“Primary assumption of risk occurs where a plaintiff voluntarily participates in a sporting event or activity involving certain inherent risks. For example, an errantly thrown ball in baseball or a carelessly extended [*29] elbow in basketball are considered inherent risks of those respective sports. [Citation.] Primary assumption of risk is a complete bar to recovery. [Citation.] [¶] Primary assumption of risk is merely another way of saying no duty of care is owed as to risks inherent in a given sport or activity. The overriding consideration in the application of this principle is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the sport and thereby alter its fundamental nature. [Citation.]” (Wattenbarger v. Cincinnati Reds, Inc. (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 746, 751-752, citing Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296.) “Knight however does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.‘ ([Knight, supra,] 3 Cal.4th at pp. 315-316, italics added.) Thus, even though ‘defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,’ they may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is [*30] inherent. (Id. at p. 315.)” (Campbell v. Derylo (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 823, 827.) Thus, “when the plaintiff claims the defendant’s conduct increased the inherent risks of a sport, summary judgment on primary assumption of risk grounds is unavailable unless the defendant disproves the theory or establishes a lack of causation. [Citations.]” (Huff v. Wilkins (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 732, 740.)

Much of appellants’ evidence that we deemed sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact on the question of gross negligence likewise created a triable issue as to whether the Club and Qasem increased the risk of harm inherent in the game of dodgeball. 3 Certainly, being hit by a ball is one of the objectives of and hence an inherent risk in the game of dodgeball. But appellants’ evidence tended to show that the Club and Qasem increased that risk in a number of ways, including by playing on an enclosed racquetball court which was neither intended nor permitted to be used for dodgeball; by selecting rubber balls for the game; by allowing an adult untrained in childcare not only to participate in the game with the children but also to abdicate any supervisory role over them during the game; and by enabling [*31] that adult to play aggressively with the children. Given the totality of the circumstances, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that Nicholas assumed the risk of being hit in the head with a ball.

3 We acknowledge that the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine is a question of law. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) But where a defendant engages in conduct that is not an inherent risk of the sport and the imposition of a duty of care will neither alter the nature of nor chill participation in the sport, the question becomes one of ordinary negligence, with the remaining elements beyond duty to be determined by a trier of fact. (Yancey v. Superior Court (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 558, 565-567.)

Other courts have similarly reversed a grant of summary judgment where the plaintiff’s evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant’s conduct increased the inherent risks in a sport or other recreational activity. Lowe v. California League of Prof. Baseball (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 112 is particularly instructive. There, the plaintiff filed suit after he was injured by a foul ball while watching a baseball game, and the trial court granted summary judgment, finding [*32] the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred his claims. (Id. at p. 120.) In reversing, the appellate court relied on evidence showing the plaintiff was hit when he turned toward a team mascot who had repeatedly tapped his shoulder. (Id. at pp. 117-118, 123.) The court explained that while foul balls represent an inherent risk to spectators attending a baseball game, “we hold that the antics of the mascot are not an essential or integral part of the playing of a baseball game. In short, the game can be played in the absence of such antics. Moreover, whether such antics increased the inherent risk to plaintiff is an issue of fact to be resolved at trial.” (Id. at p. 123; see also Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 577, 591 [though skiers assume the risk of injury from the sport, triable issue of fact existed whether ski resort’s jump design increased the risk of harm]; Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 127, 134 [while a golfer assumes the risk of being hit by a golf ball, golf course owner owes a duty to minimize that risk, and the plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether that duty was breached where evidence showed the design [*33] of certain holes may have increased that risk].)

We find no merit to the Club’s and Qasem’s argument that appellants’ evidence demonstrated merely that their conduct may have increased the severity of Nicholas’s injuries as opposed to increasing the risk of injury. In Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108, the plaintiff suffered injury when he fell off his skateboard and hit a metal pipe protruding from a planter in the defendants’ driveway. Finding the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred his claims, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the concealed metal pipe increased his risk of harm: “[The plaintiff] was injured because he fell. As [he] concedes, falling is an inherent risk of skateboarding, and the presence of the pipe or the planter had nothing to do with his falling down. The fact that [his] injuries were more severe than they would have been if the pipe had not been in the planter does not make the assumption of risk doctrine inapplicable. The Knight exception applies when the defendant increased the risk of injury beyond that inherent in the sport, not when the defendant’s conduct may have increased the severity of the injury suffered.” (Id. at p. 116.) [*34] Here, in contrast, appellants’ evidence showed that the Club and Qasem increased the risk of injury by initiating the dodgeball game in which Nicholas participated. This was not the type of situation where Nicholas would have been playing dodgeball absent the Club’s and Qasem’s involvement. Moreover, the evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club and Qasem increased the risk of injury by permitting dodgeball play on the racquetball court, by failing to adopt rules for safe play, by Qasem’s failing to act as a supervisor during the game, by his selecting rubber balls for the game and by his participating aggressively in the game. The Club and Qasem were not entitled to summary judgment on the ground the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred appellants’ claims.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed and the matter is remanded with directions for the trial court to vacate its order granting summary judgment and to enter a new order denying summary judgment. Appellants are entitled to their costs on appeal.

, J. *

* Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.

FERNS

We concur:

, Acting [*35] P. J. ASHMANN-GERST , J. CHAVEZ


Bowman v. The Chicago Park District, 2014 IL App (1st) 132122; 2014 Ill. App. LEXIS 648

Bowman v. The Chicago Park District, 2014 IL App (1st) 132122; 2014 Ill. App. LEXIS 648

Artenia Bowman, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Cheneka Ross, a Minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The Chicago Park District, a Municipal Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 1-13-2122

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FIFTH DIVISION

2014 IL App (1st) 132122; 2014 Ill. App. LEXIS 648

September 5, 2014, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Corrected.

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 L 7865. The Honorable Kathy M. Flanagan, Judge Presiding.

Bowman v. Chi. Park Dist., 2014 IL App (1st) 132122-U, 2014 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1420 (2014)

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL: For Appellant: Paul A. Greenberg, Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, of Chicago, IL.

For Appellee: George P. Smyrniotis, Risk Management Senior Counsel, Robert L. Raymond, Marie Christelle Levesque (Legal Extern), Chicago Park District, of Chicago, IL.

JUDGES: JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Palmer and Justice Taylor concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION BY: GORDON

OPINION

[*P1] Plaintiff Artenia Bowman, individually and as mother and next friend of Cheneka Ross, a minor, filed suit in the circuit court of Cook County against the Chicago Park District (CPD) alleging willful and wanton conduct for failing, for almost a year, to repair a damaged slide. Plaintiff’s daughter, Cheneka Ross, age 13, was going down a slide on April 21, 2011, when her foot became caught in a hole in the plastic at the bottom of the slide, resulting in a fractured ankle. Defendant CPD owns the property and maintains the playground equipment, including the slide.

[*P2] Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2010)) claiming: (1) that it did not owe any duty to Cheneka because she was not an intended user of the slide since she was 13 years old and the slide was intended for children aged under 12; and (2) that the hole at the bottom of the curved slide was an open and obvious risk that the 13-year-old [**2] should have avoided. Plaintiff, in her response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, claims.

[*P3] The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that 13-year-old Cheneka had violated a CPD ordinance by using a slide that had been designed for children under 12 years old, although there were no signs to indicate an age limit. Since the trial court found that Cheneka was not an intended user of the slide, it did not discuss whether the damage was open and obvious or whether CPD’s failure to repair the slide was willful and wanton conduct.

[*P4] On this direct appeal, plaintiff argues: (1) that the trial court erred by granting defendant summary judgment on the basis that 13-year-old Cheneka was not an intended user of defendant’s slide; (2) that the danger created by the hole at the [**3] bottom of the curved slide was not open and obvious; and (3) that CPD’s failure to repair the slide, after being informed of its condition almost a year earlier, constituted willful and wanton conduct.

[*P5] For the following reasons, we find the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis that Cheneka was not the intended user of the slide and reverse. We remand for the trial court to decide whether the slide’s condition was open and obvious and whether CPD’s failure to repair the slide after being notified was willful and wanton conduct.

[*P6] BACKGROUND

[*P7] I. The Complaint

[*P8] The complaint at issue on this appeal is plaintiff’s second amended complaint, which was filed on March 1, 2012. The suit seeks damages for injuries sustained by plaintiff’s daughter, Cheneka, when she damaged her ankle on a park slide on April 21, 2011. The complaint alleges that Cheneka was using the slide when her foot came in contact with a hole that caused a fracture in her ankle; and that defendant CPD was aware that the slide was dangerous and had failed to repair it. Count I alleges defendant acted willfully and wantonly toward users of the slide by failing to repair the slide even though it had received [**4] numerous complaints from the community. Count II sought recovery on behalf of her daughter’s medical expenses under the Rights of Married Persons Act, commonly known as the Family Expense Act. 750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2010).

[*P9] II. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

[*P10] On January 13, 2013, defendant, as noted, filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming: (1) that it did not owe any duty to Cheneka because she was not an intended user of the slide; and (2) that the slide was an open and obvious risk that the 13-year-old should have avoided.

[*P11] CPD argued that it had an ordinance stating that children age 12 and older should not use playground equipment designed for children under the age of 12. CPD claims that, since Cheneka was 13 years old, she violated the ordinance, and CPD was immune from liability.

[*P12] CPD also claimed that the danger at the bottom of the curved slide was open and obvious, and that the 13-year-old should not have used the slide because a reasonable child would have avoided it. CPD also claimed that, since the 13-year-old was unsupervised, she should be old enough to appreciate obvious risks; however, issues of supervision were not raised on appeal.

[*P13] Plaintiff responded to the motion contending [**5] that defendant had failed to establish that the 13-year-old was not the intended user of the slide. She claimed that the park was open to the public and no sign was present in the park prohibiting children age 12 and older from using the slide. Plaintiff also contended that the hole at the bottom of the curved slide was not open and obvious because she was unable to see the hole prior to being injured. The slide was curved, which made it difficult for children to observe what was in front of them.

[*P14] III. Exhibits

[*P15] A. Cheneka Ross’s Deposition

[*P16] Cheneka testified in a discovery deposition that, on April 21, 2011, she went with friends to a park located at 1420 North Artesian Avenue1 to play a game of tag. Most of her friends were several years younger than her, including her brother. It was around 7 p.m. and starting to become dark. She had played at this park before and had been there several times. While playing tag, Cheneka ran to the slide to avoid being tagged by one of her friends. She went up the slide and when she descended, her foot became caught in a hole in the plastic, at the bottom of the slide, causing a fractured ankle requiring surgery.

1 The parties agree that the park is known [**6] as Park 399.

[*P17] Cheneka testified that she did not observe the hole at the bottom of the slide before her foot became caught. She did not observe the crack from the top of the slide and identified a photograph of the slide. The photograph, which was introduced at the deposition, showed that the slide was curved, and the top of the slide did not line up with the bottom.

[*P18] B. Artenia Bowman’s Affidavit and Deposition

[*P19] Artenia Bowman is Cheneka’s mother. In an affidavit attached to plaintiff’s response to the motion for summary judgment, Cheneka’s mother alleges that there were no signs posted which designated the age group for the playground. Specifically, there were no signs stating that the play equipment was intended for those 2 to 12 years old2 and that those 13 years or older were prohibited.

2 We note that this age range conflicts with the Chicago Park District Code (CPD Code), which states certain parks are designated for children under age 12. Chicago Park District Code ch. 7, § B(3)(e) (amended July 28, 1992).

[*P20] Cheneka’s mother testified that, after the incident, the park had been renovated, and after the renovation, new signs were posted stating that the park was intended for children [**7] under the age of 12.

[*P21] C. Juan Moreno’s Deposition

[*P22] Juan Moreno lives about 300 feet away from the park. Moreno testified in a discovery deposition that he goes to the park on a daily basis for a walk and some fresh air. He observed the damage to the slide for about a year and a half. He testified that the slide was “cracked really bad,” and it had a lot of water buildup at its bottom. Moreno had called 311 and was directed to CPD several times to report the broken slide’s condition before Cheneka was injured. Moreno testified that he spoke to an unnamed CPD supervisor in person, about a year prior to the incident, to complain about the slide. He also has contacted Alderman Roberto Maldonado’s office three times regarding the condition of the slide.

[*P23] Moreno testified that he still observed children playing on the broken slide despite its condition. He also mentioned that he observed older children at the park.

[*P24] D. Kathleen Oskandy’s Deposition

[*P25] Kathleen Oskandy, Alderman Maldonado’s chief of staff, spoke to Cheneka’s mother after the incident. Oskandy testified in a discovery deposition that she informed Cheneka’s mother that Moreno had already filed complaints with the alderman’s office [**8] about the slide before the incident. Oskandy reported the condition of the slide to CPD in July 2010 after being informed by Moreno.

[*P26] Oskandy provided a computer printout of the complaints regarding the park maintained by her office. It was a timeline of Moreno’s initial complaint, along with subsequent comments. The log showed a complaint made on July 29, 2010, about the slide’s condition and additional comments when CPD was contacted. On August 24, 2010, the log stated: “slide boarded up and waiting for repair.” One week prior to the incident in April 2011, the log stated, “slide west of park still broken.” On April 25, 2011, the log mentioned that Cheneka was injured and “[CPD] replaced slide for repair.”

[*P27] E. Gladys Ruiz’s Deposition

[*P28] Gladys Ruiz works in Alderman Maldonado’s office answering calls and inputting data. Ruiz explained in a discovery deposition the procedure of how staff entered complaints in the office computer. On July 29, 2010,3 Moreno had called the office, and Ruiz logged his complaint about the slide. She made a note about the damaged slide in the computer log. Ruiz interpreted the log provided by Oskandy and explained that Oskandy was the one that closed out the [**9] file on August 27 when Oskandy contacted CPD.

3 The computer printout of the log shows a date of July 29, but Ruiz’s deposition testimony states July 19.

[*P29] F. Robert Rejman’s Affidavit and Deposition

[*P30] Robert Rejman is the director of development and planning for CPD. His duties include developing policies for park district facilities and establishing and improving playgrounds. In an affidavit attached to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Rejman stated that “he was personally familiar with Park 399″ and he “reviewed the plaintiff’s photographs of the playground equipment and can say that this equipment is commonly in the design of playgrounds that are intended for users between the ages of two to twelve.” He additionally stated that a sign was posted at the park indicating that playground equipment is designed for children aged 2 to 124; however, his affidavit did not state when the sign was posted or whether the sign was posted at the time of 13-year-old Cheneka’s injury.

4 We note that this age range conflicts with the CPD Code, which states certain parks are designated for children under age 12. Chicago Park District Code ch. 7, § B(3)(e) (amended July 28, 1992).

[*P31] Rejman later testified [**10] in a discovery deposition that he visited the park only once at some unknown point before the incident. He stated that he was unaware if there were any signs posted outside the park designating the age range when he was there. We observe that this testimony conflicts with the affidavit, where he stated that a sign was posted in the park. Rejman also stated that he was unaware if there had been any recent improvements to the park. Rejman characterized the park as a “play lot,” a park with most equipment for children age 12 and under. He testified there are different areas for younger children because “it’s safer for kids within a certain age groups to have space to play *** within that age group. *** It’s important to [parents] to provide that safe zone of play for younger children.”

[*P32] G. John Shostack’s Deposition

[*P33] John Shostack is a maintenance foreman for CPD’s natural resources landscape maintenance department. He testified in a discovery deposition that he was assigned to the park in 2010, but was not assigned there at the time of the incident in 2011. Shostack claimed to have stopped by the park at least once a week when he was assigned to the park. He admitted that he was aware [**11] of the slide’s damaged condition in 2010. Shostack placed a work order in 2010 to have the slide repaired; however, it was not his job to follow up, as that task was assigned to a different department. Shostack testified that he remembered seeing a wooden board placed at the top of the slide to prevent use, and yellow caution tape surrounded the slide. Shostack could not recall how long the board or caution tape was present on the slide. He would put up caution tape as a courtesy on one day, and it would be absent the next time he was there. He also testified that he could not recall if any actual repairs were done on the slide while he was assigned to the park.

[*P34] IV. Trial Court’s Order Granting Summary Judgment

[*P35] On June 10, 2013, the trial court granted summary judgment to defendant CPD, finding that Cheneka had violated a CPD ordinance and was not an intended user:

“Here, there is a dispute as to whether the subject playground displayed a sign restricting the use of the playground to persons under the age of twelve. However, the Chicago Park District enacted an ordinance restricting the use of playgrounds to children under the age of twelve. The ordinance itself is the manifestation [**12] of the Park District’s intent vis-a-vis the use of the playground. As such, whether or not there was a sign on the subject playground, the minor Plaintiff here was not an intended user of it.”

[*P36] The trial court did not discuss whether the damage to the slide was open and obvious, or whether CPD’s failure to repair the slide was willful and wanton conduct. The trial court granted summary judgment solely on the ground that the 13-year-old was not an intended user because of her age.

[*P37] On July 13, 2013, plaintiff filed a notice of appeal, and this appeal followed.

[*P38] ANALYSIS

[*P39] Plaintiff Artenia Bowman appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Chicago Park District.

[*P40] On this appeal, plaintiff argues: (1) that the trial court erred by granting defendant summary judgment on the basis that 13-year-old Cheneka was not an intended user of defendant’s slide; (2) that the danger created by the hole at the bottom of the curved slide was not open and obvious; and (3) that CPD’s failure to repair the slide, after being informed of its condition almost a year earlier, constituted willful and wanton conduct.

[*P41] With respect to the first issue, defendant [**13] claims that Cheneka was not the intended user of the slide, and therefore, it is not liable. For the following reasons, we find the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on this ground and reverse. We remand for the trial court to decide whether the slide’s condition was open and obvious, and whether CPD’s failure to repair the slide after being notified was willful and wanton conduct.

[*P42] I. Standard of Review

[*P43] [HN1] A trial court is permitted to grant summary judgment only “if the pleadings, depositions, 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 a judgment as a matter of law.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2010). The trial court must view these documents and exhibits in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Home Insurance Co. v. Cincinnati Insurance Co., 213 Ill. 2d 307, 315, 821 N.E.2d 269, 290 Ill. Dec. 218 (2004). We review a trial court’s decision to grant a motion for summary judgment de novoOutboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102, 607 N.E.2d 1204, 180 Ill. Dec. 691 (1992). De novo consideration means we perform the same analysis that a trial judge would perform. Khan v. BDO Seidman, LLP, 408 Ill. App. 3d 564, 578, 948 N.E.2d 132, 350 Ill. Dec. 63 (2011).

[*P44] [HN2] “Summary judgment is a drastic measure and should only be granted if the movant’s right to judgment is clear and free from doubt.” Outboard Marine Corp., 154 Ill. 2d at 102. However, “[m]ere speculation, conjecture, or guess is insufficient [**14] to withstand summary judgment.” Sorce v. Naperville Jeep Eagle, Inc., 309 Ill. App. 3d 313, 328, 722 N.E.2d 227, 242 Ill. Dec. 738 (1999). A defendant moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of proof. Nedzvekas v. Fung, 374 Ill. App. 3d 618, 624, 872 N.E.2d 431, 313 Ill. Dec. 448 (2007). The defendant may meet his burden of proof either by affirmatively showing that some element of the case must be resolved in his favor or by establishing “‘that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.'” Nedzvekas, 374 Ill. App. 3d at 624 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986)). In other words, there is no evidence to support the plaintiff’s complaint.

[*P45] “‘The purpose of summary judgment is not to try an issue of fact but *** to determine whether a triable issue of fact exists.'” Schrager v. North Community Bank, 328 Ill. App. 3d 696, 708, 767 N.E.2d 376, 262 Ill. Dec. 916 (2002) (quoting Luu v. Kim, 323 Ill. App. 3d 946, 952, 752 N.E.2d 547, 256 Ill. Dec. 667 (2001)). “‘To withstand a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party need not prove his case at this preliminary stage but must present some factual basis that would support his claim.'” Schrager, 328 Ill. App. 3d at 708 (quoting Luu, 323 Ill. App. 3d at 952). We may affirm on any basis appearing in the record, whether or not the trial court relied on that basis or its reasoning was correct. Ray Dancer, Inc. v. DMC Corp., 230 Ill. App. 3d 40, 50, 594 N.E.2d 1344, 171 Ill. Dec. 824 (1992).

[*P46] II. Intended User of Slide

[*P47] CPD argues that, since Cheneka was not the intended user of the slide, it cannot be liable for her injuries. [HN3] As a local public entity, CPD is entitled to the protection of the Illinois Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (the Act) (745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq. (West 2010)). [**15]

[*P48] In order for a municipality to have immunity under the Act, a duty must be owed under section 3-102 (745 ILCS 10/3-102 (West 2010)) for any of the subsequent immunity sections to apply. Swett v. Village of Algonquin, 169 Ill. App. 3d 78, 95, 523 N.E.2d 594, 119 Ill. Dec. 838 (1988). Section 3-102(a) states:

[HN4] “Except as otherwise provided in this Article, a local public entity has the duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for the use in the exercise of ordinary care of people whom the entity intended and permitted to use the property in a manner in which and at such times as it was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used, and shall not be liable for injury unless it is proven that it has actual or constructive notice of the existence of such a condition that is not reasonably safe in reasonably adequate time prior to an injury to have taken measures to remedy or protect against such condition.” (Emphasis added.) 745 ILCS 10/3-102(a) (West 2010).

[*P49] Thus, [HN5] according to the Act, a municipality owes a duty of care only to those who are both intended and permitted users of municipal property. 745 ILCS 10/3-102(a) (West 2010). Because “the Act ‘is in derogation of the common law,'” we must construe it strictly against the municipal defendant. Vaughn v. City of West Frankfort, 166 Ill. 2d 155, 158, 651 N.E.2d 1115, 209 Ill. Dec. 667 (1995) (quoting Curatola v. Village of Niles, 154 Ill. 2d 201, 208, 608 N.E.2d 882, 181 Ill. Dec. 631 (1993)). “[A]n intended user of property is, by definition, also a permitted user; [**16] a permitted user of property, however, is not necessarily an intended user.” Boub v. Township of Wayne, 183 Ill. 2d 520, 524, 702 N.E.2d 535, 234 Ill. Dec. 195 (1998).

[*P50] “[T]he duty of a municipality depends on whether the use of the property was a permitted and intended use. [Citation.] Whether a particular use of property was permitted and intended is determined by looking to the nature of the property itself. [Citation.]” (Emphasis omitted.) Vaughn, 166 Ill. 2d at 162-63. “Intent must be inferred from the circumstances.” Sisk v. Williamson County, 167 Ill. 2d 343, 351, 657 N.E.2d 903, 212 Ill. Dec. 558 (1995).

[*P51] Defendant contends that, as a 13-year-old, Cheneka was not the intended or permitted user of the slide at the park. CPD claims, first, that this park was intended only for children 12 and younger. Second, chapter 7, section B(3)(e), of the CPD Code states:

“Playgrounds Designated for Persons under Twelve Years of Age.

[HN6] No person the age of twelve years or older shall use playground equipment designed for persons under the age of twelve years.” Chicago Park District Code ch. 7, § B(3)(e) (amended July 28, 1992).

[HN7] The CPD Code has the same force as a municipal ordinance. Chicago Park District v. Canfield, 382 Ill. 218, 223-24, 47 N.E.2d 61 (1943). Defendant claims it is immune from liability, because the 13-year-old violated the CPD Code by allegedly using equipment “designed” for younger children.

[*P52] [HN8] To determine whether plaintiff was an intended user of property, we [**17] look to the property itself to determine its intended use. Wojdyla v. City of Park Ridge, 148 Ill. 2d 417, 426, 592 N.E.2d 1098, 170 Ill. Dec. 418, (1992).

[*P53] Defendant cites Montano v. City of Chicago, 308 Ill. App. 3d 618, 624, 720 N.E.2d 628, 242 Ill. Dec. 7 (1999), where this court ruled that the defendant city was not liable when an adult pedestrian, who was injured on the pavement in an alleyway, had been violating an ordinance governing the use of alleys. The court found that there is no duty owed to pedestrians on thoroughfares not intended for pedestrian traffic. Montano, 308 Ill. App. 3d at 625.

[*P54] In Prokes v. City of Chicago, 208 Ill. App. 3d 748, 750, 567 N.E.2d 592, 153 Ill. Dec. 634 (1991), this court found the defendant city not liable when an adult bicyclist had been injured on a sidewalk. The city had an ordinance stating, “‘No person twelve or more years of age shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district ***.'” Prokes, 208 Ill. App. 3d at 749 (quoting Chicago Municipal Code § 27-296 (1984)).

[*P55] In both Prokes and Montanto, the adult plaintiffs were not found to be intended users of the premises on which they were injured because they had violated a Chicago ordinance. However, defendant does not cite a case where a child was charged with the responsibility of knowing municipal ordinances, without a sign or other notice.

[*P56] In addition, nothing in the record shows that even adult members of the public had any means of knowing that CPD had allegedly designated this particular park for a certain age group. [HN9] Publication [**18] of ordinances is necessary so that the public can be informed of the contents of ordinances. City of Rockford v. Suski, 90 Ill. App. 3d 681, 685, 413 N.E.2d 527, 46 Ill. Dec. 87 (1980). It is a long-established principle that members of the public must have a reasonable opportunity to be informed of an ordinance so that they may conform their conduct accordingly and avoid liability under the ordinance. Schott v. People, 89 Ill. 195, 197-98 (1878). While the CPD Code prohibited children age 12 and over from playing on playgrounds “designed” for children younger than 12, nothing in the CPD Code stated that this particular park was designated for children under age 12 or that this slide was designed for children under age 12. The CPD website for the park, attached to plaintiff’s response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, mentions no age range, only stating: “This park features a playground and swings and green space. It is an active community park.”

[*P57] There were also no signs on the playground or any other indications that the playground was designated or designed for children under 12 years old. Plaintiff states in her affidavit that the park did not have a sign designating the playground for younger children. Robert Rejman, CPD’s director of development and planning, admitted at his deposition that he did not [**19] know whether there was a sign posted. Nothing in the record shows that CPD took any measures to prevent children age 12 and older from using this park. Playgrounds are designed for children. What would prompt a 13-year-old child to observe a slide and think, “am I really the intended user of this slide?”

[*P58] CPD stated that plaintiff presented no case or legal authority to support the assumption that all community members are intended users of a park called a “community park.” However, [HN10] it is the defendant’s burden to prove that it is immune from liability. Bubb v. Springfield School District 186, 167 Ill. 2d 372, 377-78, 657 N.E.2d 887, 212 Ill. Dec. 542 (1995); Van Meter v. Darien Park District, 207 Ill. 2d 359, 370, 799 N.E.2d 273, 278 Ill. Dec. 555 (2003). In addition, CPD has pointed to no legal authority claiming that the public generally is not allowed to use public parks.

[*P59] Plaintiff contends that CPD did not follow the administrative provisions in chapter 7, section C, of the CPD Code for designating the playground as solely for children under the age of 12 years old. However, we do not consider this issue, because [HN11] issues not raised in the trial court are waived and may not be considered for the first time on appeal. Haudrich v. Howmedica, Inc., 169 Ill. 2d 525, 536, 662 N.E.2d 1248, 215 Ill. Dec. 108 (1996). Nothing in plaintiff’s complaint or her response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment argued that CPD failed to follow its own administrative procedures under [**20] chapter 7, section C, of the CPD Code.

[*P60] Defendant argues that placing signage is discretionary, and it has no duty to post its ordinances at every park. The CPD Code is available online; however, the Code does not state which parks have been designated for a certain age group. [HN12] An ordinance is invalid if a municipality cannot prove it was published (Suski, 90 Ill. App. 3d at 685), and here there is no showing that it was published.

[*P61] CONCLUSION

[*P62] We must reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment which was granted solely on the basis that a 13-year-old was not an intended user of the slide.

[*P63] First, the defendant does not cite a case where a child was charged with the responsibility of knowing municipal ordinances, without a sign or other notice, nor can we find such a case.

[*P64] Second, defendant failed to inform park users of any age, by any means, that this park and the slide were intended for children younger than age 12.

[*P65] For these reasons, we must reverse. We remand for the trial court to decide whether the slide’s condition was open and obvious, and whether CPD’s failure to repair the slide after being notified was willful and wanton conduct.

[*P66] Reversed and remanded.


Boyce v. Cycle Spectrum, Inc., et al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96545

Boyce v. Cycle Spectrum, Inc., et al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96545

Timothy Boyce and Courtney Boyce, Plaintiffs, – against – Cycle Spectrum, Inc.; AZ Velo Imports, Inc.; CS Velo AZ Inc.; AZ Desert Velo, Inc.; CS Bike, Inc.; CS Velo HT, Inc.; Velo Bdbi Support, Inc.; Cycle Support, Inc.; Spratt Cycle Support, Inc.; Windsor America Corporation; and HL Corp (USA), Defendants.

14-CV-1163

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96545

July 14, 2014, Decided

July 15, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Courtney Boyce, Timothy Boyce, Plaintiffs, Counter Defendant: Gary A. Zucker, LEAD ATTORNEY, Zucker & Bennett, P.C, Brooklyn, NY.

For Velo BDBI Suport, Inc., Spratt Cycle Support, Inc., Defendant, Cross Claimants, Cross Defendants: Angelantonio Bianchi, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cohen Kuhn & Associates, New York, NY.

For HL Corp (USA), Defendant, Cross Defendant, Cross Defendant: Cynthia K. Messemer, George S. Hodges, Hodges Walsh Messemer & Moroknek, LLP, White Plains, NY; Paul E. Svensson, Hodges, Walsh & Slater, LLP, White Plains, NY.

For Advanced Sports, Inc., Defendant, Cross Defendant, Cross Claimant: Richard H. Bakalor, LEAD ATTORNEY, Quirk & Bakalor, New York, NY.

JUDGES: Jack B. Weinstein, Senior United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Jack B. Weinstein

OPINION

MEMORANDUM, ORDER, & JUDGMENT

Jack B. Weinstein, Senior United States District Judge:

Contents

I. Introduction
II. Facts
III. Law
A. Personal Jurisdiction Generally
B. Specific Jurisdiction in New York
C. Constitutional Limits on Personal Jurisdiction
IV. Application of Law to Facts
A. Specific Jurisdiction in New York
B. Constitutional Limits on Personal Jurisdiction
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Plaintiffs sue Defendant HL Corp. (USA), among others, for injuries plaintiff [*2] Timothy Boyce he sustained while riding a bicycle. Defendant HL Corp. (USA) moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

II. Facts

On April 25, 2010 plaintiff Timothy Boyce purchased a Windsor Timeline bicycle from bikesdirect.com, a website operated by Velo BDBI from outside New York. See Am. Compl. ¶ 36. The bicycle was shipped to his residence in New York from a place outside New York. See Pl’s Aff. in Opp., Ex. B.

In July 2012, plaintiff, a New York resident, was riding the bicycle across the Manhattan Bridge when the handlebar broke, causing him injuries. See id. ¶ 51-52.

The alleged manufacturer of the handlebar part is HL Corp (Shenzhen), an organization operating outside of New York. See Pl. Mem. in Opp. 3; Def.’s Reply, Ex. A. HL Corp. (USA) (hereinafter “HL”) is a California Corporation that sells bicycle parts, sporting goods, and medical equipment manufactured by HL Corp. (Shenzhen), presumably in China. See Def.’s Reply Aff. These bicycle components are sold to companies in California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, and Idaho. See id. HL does not sell bicycle parts in New York. It has sold medical equipment in New [*3] York in quantities and at a time not yet revealed. See Def. HL’s Answers ¶ 9. HL does not sell handlebars for the Windsor TimeLine model bicycle used by plaintiff. See Def.’s Reply Aff.; Def.’s Reply Mem., Ex. A.

III. Law

A. Personal Jurisdiction Generally

“District courts resolving issues of personal jurisdiction must engage in a two-part analysis.” Grand River Enters. Six Nations, Ltd. v. Pryor, 425 F.3d 158, 165 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and ellipses omitted). First, the court looks to the personal jurisdiction law of the forum state and determines whether it is satisfied. See Metro. Life Ins. C. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 567 (2d Cir. 1996). Once state law is found to confer personal jurisdiction over the defendant, the court determines whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with constitutional due process requirements. Id.

There are two traditional foundations for personal jurisdiction in the forum state, New York: general and specific, the latter known as long-arm jurisdiction. See, e.g., Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 473 n.15, 105 S. Ct. 2174, 85 L. Ed. 2d 528 (1985). Plaintiff relies on specific jurisdiction. See Pl’s Opp. Mem. 7.

B. Specific Jurisdiction [*4] in New York

Plaintiff supports its claim for jurisdiction by subsection 302(a)(3)(ii) of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“N.Y.C.P.L.R.”), which provides specific personal jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary that “expects or should reasonably expect [its actions] to have consequences in the state and derives substantial revenue from interstate or international commerce.” N.Y.C.P.L.R. 302(a)(3)(ii). Establishing jurisdiction under this subsection requires satisfaction of five elements: “(1) the defendant’s tortious act was committed outside New York, (2) the cause of action arose from that act, (3) the tortious act caused an injury to a person or property in New York, (4) the defendant expected or should reasonably have expected that his or her action would have consequences in New York, and (5) the defendant derives substantial revenue from interstate or international commerce.” Penguin Grp. (USA) Inc. v. Am. Buddha, 609 F.3d 30, 35 (2d Cir. 2010). In the instant case, the parties dispute the fourth element.

C. Constitutional Limits on Personal Jurisdiction

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “protects a person without meaningful ties to the forum state from being [*5] subjected to binding judgments within in its jurisdiction.” Metro. Life Ins. C. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 567 (2d Cir. 1996). To decide whether this requirement is met, courts analyze two factors: (1) minimum contacts; and (2) reasonableness. Id. An inquiry into minimum contacts asks “whether the defendant has sufficient contacts with the forum state to justify the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction.” Chloé v. Queen Bee of Beverly Hills, LLC, 616 F.3d 158, 164 (2d Cir. 2010). The second component, reasonableness, involves consideration of “whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction comports with ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice’–that is, whether it is reasonable to exercise personal jurisdiction under the circumstances of the particular case.” Id.

“The import of the ‘reasonableness’ inquiry varies inversely with the strength of the ‘minimum contacts’ showing–a strong (or weak) showing by the plaintiff on ‘minimum contacts’ reduces (or increases) the weight given to ‘reasonableness.'” Bank Brussels Lambert, 305 F.3d at 129 (citations omitted). For example, “[a]ssuming that a constitutional threshold of contacts has been demonstrated, fewer [*6] contacts may be necessary where the ‘reasonableness’ factors weigh heavily in favor of an exercise of jurisdiction.” City of New York v. A-1 Jewelry & Pawn, Inc., 247 F.R.D. 296, 335 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (citing Metro. Life Ins. Co., 84 F.3d at 568).

IV. Application of Law to Facts

A. Specific Jurisdiction in New York

Plaintiff claims that the court has specific jurisdiction under C.P.L.R. 302(a)(3)(ii) because HL should have expected that New York residents would purchase bikes outfitted with its products. See Pl’s Opp. Mem. He does not directly rely on HL’s sales of medical equipment at some time in New York. Defendant responds that it has no distribution or sales agreements for bicycle parts in New York, had no knowledge or expectation that its customers would sell bicycle products containing its parts to individuals in New York, and has not established any contact with New York. See Def.’s Mem.

There is no HL contact with New York supporting a finding of specific jurisdiction. Bicycles are generally limited, unlike cars, to local use. Expansion of jurisdiction to this case would exceed New York statutory limits.

Foreign and out-of-state manufacturers have been held amenable to product liability [*7] suits after their products were distributed to New York through third parties and caused injury within the State. In those cases, the defendants had distribution or sales agreements with its customers that gave rise to the reasonable expectation that its product would be used in New York. See, e.g., LaMarca v. Pak-Mor Mfg. Co., 95 N.Y.2d 210, 214-16, 735 N.E.2d 883, 713 N.Y.S.2d 304 (2000) (Texas manufacturer of rear-loading device subject to specific jurisdiction based on agreement with New York-based distributor that sold device to plaintiff’s employer); see Kernan v. Kurz-Hastings, Inc., 175 F.3d 236, 242-44 (2d Cir. 1999) (Japanese manufacturer of hot stamping press subject to specific jurisdiction based on targeting North American market generally, including New York, with its products through an “exclusive sales rights agreement” with a Pennsylvania distributor).

In the instant case, HL did not enter into any distribution or sales agreements with its customers leading to an expectation that its product would be sold to or used by a person in New York. Def. Reply Mem. 1, 3; Id., Ex. D.

The allegations and conceivable facts are insufficient to establish specific jurisdiction under New York law. See Kernan, 997 F. Supp. at 372 [*8] (“The ‘reasonable expectation’ test . . . is not satisfied by ‘[t]he mere likelihood that a product will find its way into the forum state . . . .” (quoting Cortlandt Racquet Club, Inc. v. OySaunatec, Ltd., 978 F. Supp. 520, 523 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)); see also Jash Raj Films (USA) Inc. v. Dishant.com LLC, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116431, 2009 WL 4891764 (E.D.N.Y. 2009) ([T]he Second Circuit requires “a discernible effort [by the defendant] to directly or indirectly serve the New York market.” (quoting Kernan, 175 F.3d at 241).

B. Constitutional Limits on Personal Jurisdiction

Even if plaintiff could show specific jurisdiction under New York law, the case would still warrant dismissal on due process grounds. Plaintiff’s theory is that defendant established the requisite minimum contacts with New York by placing its goods into the national stream of commerce. See Pl’s Mem. in Opp. 10-12.

In a recent opinion, a plurality of the Supreme Court addressed this argument: “The principal inquiry in cases of this sort is whether the defendant’s activities manifest an intention to submit to the power of a sovereign. . . . [A]s a general rule, it is not enough that the defendant might have predicted that its goods will reach the forum [*9] State.” J. McIntyre Mach., Ltd V. Nicastro, 131 S. Ct. 2780, 2788, 180 L. Ed. 2d 765 (2011) (plurality opinion). Concurring in the opinion, Justice Breyer explained that jurisdiction is lacking when:

there is no “‘regular . . . flow’ or ‘regular course’ of sales in [the State]; and there is no ‘something more,’ such as special state-related design, advertising, advice, marketing, or anything else. . . . And [defendant has not] ‘purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities’ within [the State], or that it delivered its goods in the stream of commerce ‘with the expectation that they will be purchased’ by [the State’s] users.”

Id. at 2792 (Breyer, J. concurring) (citations omitted).

Plaintiff has failed to allege facts sufficient to establish minimum contacts. Absent are any arrangements with companies incorporated or doing business in New York to sell bicycle parts or bicycles containing their parts in New York. HL did not target the New York market. See id. at 2788 (“The defendant’s transmission of goods permits the exercise of jurisdiction only where the defendant can be said to have targeted the forum.”) (plurality opinion).

V. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, defendant HL [*10] Corp. (USA)’s motion to dismiss due to lack of personal jurisdiction is granted.

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Jack B. Weinstein

Jack B. Weinstein

Senior United States District Judge

Dated: July 14, 2014

Brooklyn, New York


Rothstein v. Snowbird Corporation, 2007 UT 96; 175 P.3d 560; 593 Utah Adv. Rep. 26; 2007 Utah LEXIS 219

Rothstein v. Snowbird Corporation, 2007 UT 96; 175 P.3d 560; 593 Utah Adv. Rep. 26; 2007 Utah LEXIS 219

William Rothstein, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Snowbird Corporation, a Utah corporation, Defendant and Appellee.

No. 20060158

SUPREME COURT OF UTAH

2007 UT 96; 175 P.3d 560; 593 Utah Adv. Rep. 26; 2007 Utah LEXIS 219

December 18, 2007, Filed

February 6, 2008, Released for Publication

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Third District, Salt Lake. The Honorable Anthony B. Quinn. No. 040925852.

COUNSEL: Jesse C. Trentadue, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff.

Gordon Strachan, Kevin J. Simon, Park City, for defendant.

JUDGES: NEHRING, Justice. Chief Justice Durham and Justice Parrish concur in Justice Nehring’s opinion. Justice Durrant concurs in Associate Chief Justice Wilkins’s dissenting opinion.

OPINION BY: NEHRING

OPINION

[**560] NEHRING, Justice:

[*P1] William Rothstein, an expert skier, sustained injuries when he collided with a retaining wall while skiing at Snowbird Ski Resort. He sued Snowbird, claiming the resort’s [**561] negligence caused his injuries. The district court granted Snowbird’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Mr. Rothstein’s ordinary negligence claim. The district court agreed with Snowbird that Mr. Rothstein had surrendered his right to recover damages for Snowbird’s ordinary negligence when he became a party to two agreements releasing Snowbird from liability for its acts of negligence. In this appeal, Mr. Rothstein challenges the enforceability of the releases and the district court’s summary judgment based on them. We hold that the releases are contrary to the public policy of this state and are, therefore, unenforceable. Accordingly, [***2] we vacate the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Snowbird.

BACKGROUND

[*P2] [HN1] When we review a district court’s grant of summary judgment, as in this case, we review the facts and their reasonable inferences in a manner most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Ewart, 2007 UT 52, P 2, 167 P.3d 1011. We present the facts surrounding Mr. Rothstein’s injury in this light.

[*P3] As he was descending Snowbird’s Fluffy Bunny run, Mr. Rothstein collided with a retaining wall constructed of stacked railroad ties and embedded partially in the mountain. The collision left Mr. Rothstein with broken ribs, an injured kidney, a bruised heart, a damaged liver, and a collapsed lung. At the time of the accident, a light layer of snow camouflaged the retaining wall from Mr. Rothstein’s view. As photographs and the alleged admission of a resort official suggest, the retaining wall was unmarked and no measures had been taken to alert skiers to its presence. Although Snowbird had placed a rope line with orange flagging near the wall, there remained a large gap between the end of the rope and a tree, which Mr. Rothstein incorrectly understood indicated an entrance [***3] to the Fluffy Bunny run. Mr. Rothstein filed suit against Snowbird for its ordinary and gross negligence. 1 Snowbird defended itself by asserting that Mr. Rothstein had waived his ability to sue Snowbird for its ordinary negligence when he purchased two resort passes that released the resort from liability for its ordinary negligence.

1 Mr. Rothstein’s initial complaint alleged only ordinary negligence. The district court permitted him to amend his complaint to incorporate a gross negligence claim after it had granted Snowbird’s motion for summary judgment on Mr. Rothstein’s ordinary negligence cause of action.

[*P4] At the time he was injured, Mr. Rothstein held a season pass to Snowbird and a Seven Summits Club membership which entitled him to bypass lift lines for faster access to the slopes. In order to obtain these benefits, Mr. Rothstein signed two release and indemnify agreements. The first agreement provided:

I hereby waive all of my claims, including claims for personal injury, death and property damage, against Alta and Snowbird, their agents and employees. I agree to assume all risks of personal injury, death or property damage associated with skiing . . . or resulting from the [***4] fault of Alta or Snowbird, their agents or employees. I agree to hold harmless and indemnify Alta and Snowbird . . . from all of my claims, including those caused by the negligence or other fault of Alta or Snowbird, their agents and employees

(emphasis in original). The second agreement stated:

In consideration of my use of the Snowbird Corporation (Snowbird) ski area and facilities, I agree to assume and accept all risks of injury to myself and my guests, including the inherent risk of skiing, the risks associated with the operation of the ski area and risks caused by the negligence of Snowbird, its employees, or agents. I release and agree to indemnify Snowbird, all landowners of the ski area, and their employees and agents from all claims for injury or damage arising out of the operation of the ski area or my activities at Snowbird, whether such injury or damage arises from the risks of skiing or from any [**562] other cause including the negligence of Snowbird, its employees and agents

(emphasis in original).

[*P5] Citing the agreements, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Snowbird on Mr. Rothstein’s ordinary negligence claim. (Mr. Rothstein later voluntarily moved to dismiss [***5] his gross negligence claim without prejudice.) The issue before us is whether the district court correctly granted Snowbird summary judgment on Mr. Rothstein’s ordinary negligence claim on the basis of the existence of the release and indemnify agreements.

DISCUSSION

[*P6] [HN2] Preinjury releases from liability for one’s negligence pit two bedrock legal concepts against one another: the right to order one’s relationship with another by contract and the obligation to answer in damages when one injures another by breaching a duty of care. E.g., Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, P 12, 171 P.3d 442. We have joined the majority of jurisdictions in permitting people to surrender their rights to recover in tort for the negligence of others. Id. P 15. We have made it clear throughout our preinjury release jurisprudence, however, that contract cannot claim victory over tort in every instance. We have indicated that releases that are not sufficiently clear and unambiguous cannot be enforced. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, P 9 n.3, 37 P.3d 1062. We have also indicated that we would refuse to enforce releases that offend public policy. Id. P 9. We do not explore the clarity with which Snowbird communicated [***6] to Mr. Rothstein its intention to release itself of liability for its negligence because we conclude that the releases offend the public policy of this state as articulated by the Legislature.

[*P7] We first insisted that preinjury releases be compatible with public policy a century ago when we affirmed Christine Pugmire’s jury verdict awarding her damages for injuries she sustained when a locomotive ran into the railroad car in which she lived and worked as a cook. 2 Pugmire v. Or. Short Line R.R. Co., 33 Utah 27, 92 P. 762, 763, 767 (Utah 1907). Mrs. Pugmire had signed a release absolving the railroad from liability for any injuries she might sustain. We affirmed the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury that Mrs. Pugmire could be bound by the release, noting that such master-servant agreements “are held to be void . . . [because] they are against public policy.” Id. at 765.

2 Mrs. Pugmire worked in the railroad car with her husband. The defendant railroad attempted to escape liability by claiming that only Mr. Pugmire was its employee. (Of course, this case predated the enactment of Utah’s Workers’ Compensation Act by a decade.) In testimony that stands out as an artifact of a bygone era of gender [***7] roles, a railroad witness sabotaged this defense when he told the jury that Mr. Pugmire’s duties included cooking for the train crew. As it happened, Mr. Pugmire could not cook, but “it was taken for granted that [Mrs. Pugmire] could cook and would assist in the work; and that was why the wife was permitted to go.” Pugmire v. Or. Short Line R.R. Co., 33 Utah 27, 92 P. 762, 764 (Utah 1907) (internal quotation marks omitted).

[*P8] By the time it was adopted within the Restatement of Torts in 1965, the principle that the interests of public policy could supplant the interests of contract had acquired universal acceptance. See, e.g., Bisso v. Inland Waterways Corp., 349 U.S. 85, 90, 75 S. Ct. 629, 99 L. Ed. 911 (1955); Am. S.S. Co. v. Great Lakes Towing Co., 333 F.2d 426, 428-29 (7th Cir. 1964); Mohawk Drilling Co. v. McCullough Tool Co., 271 F.2d 627, 633 (10th Cir. 1959); Gilpin v. Abraham, 218 F. Supp. 414, 415 (E.D. Pa. 1963). Section 496B of the Restatement (Second) of Torts states, [HN3] “A plaintiff who by contract or otherwise expressly agrees to accept a risk of harm arising from the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct cannot recover for such harm, unless the agreement is invalid as contrary to public policy.” 3 Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B [***8] (1965).

3 This section of the Restatement is titled “Express Assumption of the Risk.” Courts are wise to exercise caution whenever they encounter the term assumption of the risk. To many, it is a concept that had been wholly discredited with the arrival of comparative negligence. We spoke to the perils of falling prey to this overgeneralization in Fordham v. Oldroyd, 2007 UT 74, PP 9-14, 171 P.3d 411. Express assumption of the risk of the type addressed in section 496B is another species of the doctrine that coexists with comparative negligence. In Jacobsen Construction Co. v. Structo-Lite Engineering, Inc., we noted,

An express assumption of risk involves a contractual provision in which a party expressly contracts not to sue for injury or loss which may thereafter be occasioned by the acts of another. We not only follow suit by refraining to include this form of assumption of risk in our discussion, but furthermore fail to see a necessity for including this form within assumption of risk terminology.

619 P.2d 306, 310 (Utah 1980).

[**563] [*P9] Our recent encounters with preinjury releases have uniformly reaffirmed the public policy exception to the general rule that preinjury releases are enforceable. [***9] See, e.g., Hawkins, 2001 UT 94, P 1, 37 P.3d 1062 (holding invalid as contrary to public policy a waiver of liability and an indemnity provision that an equestrian group required individuals to sign before riding horses).

[*P10] Despite our willingness to invoke public policy as the justification for refusing to enforce certain preinjury releases, we are mindful of the caution with which we must proceed when contemplating this analytic approach. Ascertaining when a preinjury release sufficiently offends public policy to warrant stripping the release of its enforceability can be difficult. As the example of preinjury releases for negligence amply illustrates, the quest to identify good public policy in a particular instance often requires a court to account for two or more conflicting policies, each laudable, but none of whose claims on the good can be fully honored. Extracting public policy from statutes can be no less challenging. Moreover, in most instances, our proper role when confronted with a statute should be restricted to interpreting its meaning and application as revealed through its text. To pluck a principle of public policy from the text of a statute and to ground a decision of this court [***10] on that principle is to invite judicial mischief. Like its cousin legislative history, public policy is a protean substance that is too often easily shaped to satisfy the preferences of a judge rather than the will of the people or the intentions of the Legislature. We aptly noted the risks of relying on public policy rationales when we stated that [HN4] “‘the theory of public policy embodies a doctrine of vague and variable quality, and, unless deducible in the given circumstances from constitutional or statutory provisions, should be accepted as a basis for judicial determinations, if at all, only with the utmost circumspection.'” Berube v. Fashion Centre, Ltd., 771 P.2d 1033, 1043 (Utah 1989) (quoting Patton v. United States, 281 U.S. 276, 306, 50 S. Ct. 253, 74 L. Ed. 854 (1930)). When, however, 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. Such is the case here.

[*P11] Seldom does a statute address directly the public policy relevant to the precise legal issue confronting a court. Here, no statute or other legislative pronouncement of public policy answers squarely the question of whether [***11] a preinjury release of a ski resort operator’s negligence executed by a recreational skier is enforceable. Few legislative expressions of public policy speak more clearly to an issue, however, than the public policy rationale for Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 78-27-51 to -54 (2002 & Supp. 2007), speaks to preinjury releases for negligence.

[*P12] Our confidence in defining the public policy that the Act was created to serve is enhanced by the fortuitous fact that the Utah Legislature introduced the substantive text of the Act with a statement of public policy. Section 78-27-51 states:

[HN5] The Legislature finds that the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents, significantly contributing to the economy of this state. It further finds that few insurance carriers are willing to provide liability insurance protection to ski area operators and that the premiums charged by those carriers have risen sharply in recent years due to confusion as to whether a skier assumes the risks inherent in the sport of skiing. It is the purpose of this act, therefore, to clarify the law in relation to skiing injuries and [***12] the risks inherent in that sport, to establish as a matter of law that certain risks are inherent in that sport, and to provide that, as a matter of public policy, [**564] no person engaged in that sport shall recover from a ski operator for injuries resulting from those inherent risks.

[*P13] [HN6] Read in its most restrictive sense, section 78-27-51 simply announces that it is the public policy of Utah to bar skiers from recovering from ski area operators for injuries resulting from the inherent risks of skiing, as enumerated in the Act. So limited, this pronouncement explains nothing that one could not deduce from the text of the Act itself which by its terms codifies this policy. Of equal or greater significance are legislative findings and expressions of public policy that bear on why it is important to identify the inherent risks of skiing and insulate ski area operators from liability for injury caused by them.

[*P14] According to the Legislature, it was necessary to immunize ski area operators from liability for injuries caused by inherent risks because they were otherwise being denied insurance coverage or finding coverage too expensive to purchase. See id. The Legislature found that the ski industry [***13] insurance crisis imperiling the economic viability of ski area operators was more than an inconvenient product of market forces. It had become a matter of public policy concern meriting the intervention of public policy because, in the words of the Legislature, “the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents, significantly contributing to the economy of this state.” Id. Thus, the ski industry’s prominent role in Utah’s economy justified, in the view of the Legislature, governmental intervention to ameliorate the untoward effects of the free market.

[*P15] The central purpose of the Act, then, was to permit ski area operators to purchase insurance at affordable rates. The insulation of ski area operators from liability for injuries caused by inherent risks of skiing was a means to that end. There is no evidence that, in the absence of a perceived insurance crisis, the Legislature would have interceded on behalf of ski area operators merely to clarify the scope of duties owed skiers who used the ski facilities. [HN7] The Act is most clearly not, as Snowbird contends, intended to protect ski area operators by limiting their liability [***14] exposure generally. It is rather a statute that is intended to clarify those inherent risks of skiing to which liability will not attach so that ski resort operators may obtain insurance coverage to protect them from those risks that are not inherent to skiing.

[*P16] By expressly designating a ski area operator’s ability to acquire insurance at reasonable rates as the sole reason for bringing the Act into being, the Legislature authoritatively put to rest the question of whether ski area operators are at liberty to use preinjury releases to significantly pare back or even eliminate their need to purchase the very liability insurance the Act was designed to make affordable. They are not. The premise underlying legislative action to make insurance accessible to ski area operators is that once the Act made liability insurance affordable, ski areas would buy it to blunt the economic effects brought on by standing accountable for their negligent acts. The bargain struck by the Act is both simple and obvious from its public policy provision: ski area operators would be freed from liability for inherent risks of skiing so that they could continue to shoulder responsibility for noninherent risks [***15] by purchasing insurance. By extracting a preinjury release from Mr. Rothstein for liability due to their negligent acts, Snowbird breached this public policy bargain.

[*P17] There is little to recommend Snowbird’s rejoinder to this interpretation of the public policy provision of the Act. Snowbird contends that the purpose of the Act is to immunize ski area operators from liability generally. Since releases of liability also serve this end, Snowbird argues such releases are wholly compatible with the Act. This reasoning fails to account for the Legislature’s inescapable public policy focus on insurance and ignores the reality that the Act’s core purpose is not to advance the cause of insulating ski area operators from their negligence, but rather to make them better able to insure themselves against the risk of loss occasioned by their negligence.

[*P18] The cases cited by Snowbird from other states that statutorily insulate the providers [**565] of recreational activities from liability for inherent risks and permit preinjury releases lose their persuasive appeal on close examination. Street v. Darwin Ranch, Inc., 75 F. Supp. 2d 1296 (D. Wyo. 1999); Clanton v. United Skates, 686 N.E.2d 896 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997). [***16] Neither Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to -123 (1995), nor the relevant Indiana statute, Ind. Code § 14-22-10-2 (1995), that inform these cases contain public policy sections or discuss the issue of insurance. Although both statutes contemplate the lack of liability associated with a variety of recreational activities, neither contains the kind of resounding public policy pronouncement present in Utah’s Act.

[*P19] Likewise unavailing is Snowbird’s assertion that the freedom to enter into a preinjury release must be preserved in the absence of express legislative disapproval. Were we to adopt this reasoning, we would call into question the legitimacy of the entire body of our preinjury release jurisprudence inasmuch as we have never declared a preinjury release unenforceable with the aid of an express statutory mandate to do so. Nor would we be likely to encounter such an occasion. In the face of an express legislative prohibition of a preinjury release, a public policy analysis would hardly be necessary. Moreover, the Act’s expression of public policy does not lend itself to the need for an additional statement concerning the status of preinjury releases. The [***17] legislative goal expressed in the Act of easing the task of ski area operators to insure themselves against noninherent risks creates the presumption that ski area operators will confront those risks through insurance and not by extracting contractual releases from skiers. In this setting, the burden shifts to ski area operators to persuade the Legislature to expressly preserve their rights to obtain and enforce preinjury releases.

CONCLUSION

[*P20] Consistent with our duty to honor the Legislature’s unambiguous expressions of public policy, we hold that the release and indemnify agreements Mr. Rothstein signed per Snowbird’s request are contrary to the public policy of this state and are, therefore, unenforceable. We vacate the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

[*P21] Chief Justice Durham and Justice Parrish concur in Justice Nehring’s opinion.

DISSENT BY: WILKINS

DISSENT

WILKINS, Associate Chief Justice, dissenting:

[*P22] I conclude that the preinjury releases at issue in this appeal are not, in and of themselves, contrary to the public policy of this state. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion.

[*P23] I agree with the majority that the central [***18] purpose of Utah’s Inherent Risks of Skiing Act is to facilitate affordable insurance rates for ski area operators because of their direct impact on and contribution to the Utah economy. See Utah Code Ann. § 78-27-51 (2002 & Supp. 2007). I also agree that, in drafting the public policy statement that precedes the substantive text of the Act, the Legislature clearly intended to clarify the law and proscribe lawsuits against ski area operators for those risks that are inherent in skiing. My conformity with the majority opinion, however, ends thee.

[*P24] Grounding their reasoning in the “legislative findings and expressions of public policy [in the Act],” supra P 13, the majority ultimately concludes that the Legislature has “authoritatively put to rest the question of whether ski area operators [may] use preinjury releases to significantly pare back or . . . eliminate their need to purchase . . . liability insurance . . . . They [may] not.” Supra P 16. In other words, the majority reasons that because encouraging affordable insurance rates is the primary objective of the Act, once ski area operators obtain that insurance they may do no more to protect themselves. Consequently, my colleagues [***19] conclude, it violates this express public policy for ski area operators to attempt to limit their liability by seeking preinjury releases from patrons. Extracting such releases, according to the majority, “breache[s the] public policy bargain” made by the Act. Supra P 16. I disagree.

[**566] [*P25] When deciding questions of statutory interpretation, we customarily look first to the plain language of a statute. It is also usual that we take note of words and phrases the Legislature did not include. See Biddle v. Washington Terrace City, 1999 UT 110, P 14, 993 P.2d 875 (“[O]missions in statutory language should be taken note of and given effect.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Similarly, we have previously expressed the view that “[this] court has no power to rewrite a statute to make it conform to an intention not expressed.” Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n, 107 Utah 502, 155 P.2d 184, 185 (Utah 1945) (emphasis added).

[*P26] In my view, the majority’s interpretation improperly expands the plain language of the Act and infuses it with “intention not expressed” by the Legislature. Id. Section 78-27-51 simply proscribes lawsuits against ski area operators for those risks that are [***20] inherent to skiing. See Utah Code Ann. § 78-27-51. Nowhere does the text suggest that ski area operators may not contractually further limit their liability for risks that are not inherent to skiing. In fact, the text is silent about whether an individual may or may not sue a ski area operator on some other basis. Accordingly, this court should resist the temptation to add language or meaning to the Act where no hint of it exists in the text.

[*P27] When the Legislature clearly identifies a public policy objective, we have a duty to honor it. We also have a duty, however, not to stray beyond the plain language of a statute, as I believe the majority has done here. I conclude that preinjury releases do not automatically violate the public policy of this state and that releases must be examined on an individual basis to determine whether they are enforceable under the applicable law. Where, as here, neither preinjury release executed by the plaintiff was a requirement to using the ski area but instead granted additional benefits and privileges to the skier, both parties should be free to enter into the agreement, or not, and expect it to be enforced by our courts as agreed. Accordingly, I would [***21] affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Snowbird.

[*P28] Justice Durrant concurs in Associate Chief Justice Wilkins’s dissenting opinion.


Berry v. Greater Park City Company, 2007 UT 87; 171 P.3d 442; 590 Utah Adv. Rep. 3; 2007 Utah LEXIS 192

Berry v. Greater Park City Company, 2007 UT 87; 171 P.3d 442; 590 Utah Adv. Rep. 3; 2007 Utah LEXIS 192

James Gordon Berry V, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Greater Park City Company dba Park City Mountain Resort, a Utah corporation; CRE Management, Inc., dba Milosport; and International Ski Federation, Defendants and Appellee.

No. 20051057

SUPREME COURT OF UTAH

2007 UT 87; 171 P.3d 442; 590 Utah Adv. Rep. 3; 2007 Utah LEXIS 192

October 30, 2007, Filed

December 6, 2007, Released for Publication

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Third District, Salt Lake. The Honorable J. Dennis Frederick. No. 030904411.

COUNSEL: Harold G. Christensen, Richard A. Van Wagoner, Julianne Blanch, Ryan B. Bell, Salt Lake City, for appellant.

Gordon Strachan, Kevin J. Simon, Park City, for appellee.

JUDGES: NEHRING, Justice. Chief Justice Durham, Associate Chief Justice Wilkins, Justice Durrant, and Justice Parrish concur in Justice Nehring’s opinion.

OPINION BY: NEHRING

OPINION

[**444] NEHRING, Justice:

[*P1] James Gordon “V.J.” Berry was seriously injured while competing in a ski race. He sued the parties connected with the event, including Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), the site where the race was held. The district court granted PCMR’s motions for summary judgment and dismissed Mr. Berry’s claims for ordinary negligence, gross negligence, and common law strict liability. We affirm in part and hold that Mr. Berry’s preinjury release of PCMR is enforceable and that the district court properly determined that Mr. Berry’s strict liability claim fails as a matter of law. We further hold that the district court improperly awarded PCMR summary judgment on Mr. Berry’s gross negligence claim and therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

[*P2] In February [***2] 2001, Mr. Berry, an expert skier then twenty-six years of age, entered a skiercross race promoted as the King of the Wasatch, which was constructed on one of PCMR’s ski runs. In the skiercross race format, four racers simultaneously descend a course that features difficult turns and tabletop jumps. The racers compete against each other as they ski down the mountain to complete the course first. A series of elimination heats determines the race winner. On Mr. Berry’s fourth trip over the course, he attempted to negotiate the course’s first tabletop jump. Upon landing from the jump, Mr. Berry fell and fractured his neck, an injury that resulted in permanent paralysis.

[*P3] Before being allowed to participate in the contest, competitors like Mr. Berry were required to sign a Release of Liability and Indemnity Agreement. Although Mr. Berry did not read the agreement, he signed it twelve days before the race. The agreement purported to release PCMR from claims arising from its negligence, stating:

In consideration for being permitted to participate in the Event, I agree to release from any legal liability, agree not to sue and further agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Park City Mountain [***3] Resort . . . the race organizers, sponsors and all of their officers, agents and employees for injury or death resulting from participation in the Event, regardless of the cause, including the negligence of the above referenced parties and their employees or agents.

[*P4] PCMR introduced several measures aimed at enhancing the safety of contest participants like Mr. Berry. Blue paint marked the take-off point of the tabletop jumps. The course was built with speed gates and berms uphill of the jump in order to slow and control the speed of racers on their approach. Safety barriers enclosed the racecourse and closed it to noncompetitors. Racers were required to wear helmets and familiarize themselves with the course by inspecting its features while twice “slipping” its length. Competitors were also permitted to take practice runs of the course on the day of the race.

[*P5] Naturally occurring conditions compromised these measures on the day of the race. The light was “flat,” which hindered depth perception and made it difficult for participants to make out aspects of the course. The snow-covered surface of the course was packed particularly hard.

[*P6] Mr. Berry offered expert opinion that pointed to [***4] significant design flaws in the tabletop jump that was the site of his fall. For example, the left side of the jump, from which Mr. Berry was forced to ascend due to his competitors’ positioning in the heat, was built in a manner to launch skiers at a dangerously steep angle, causing them to be propelled beyond the landing area. Expert opinion also faulted the landing area as being too small and not steep enough to accommodate safe landings.

[*P7] Relevant to our purposes, Mr. Berry brought suit against PCMR and alleged claims of ordinary negligence, gross negligence, and common law strict liability. The district court granted PCMR’s motions to summarily dismiss each of Mr. Berry’s claims. The district court concluded that Mr. Berry was bound by the “clear and unequivocal” language of the agreement and could not therefore pursue a claim against [**445] PCMR based on the resort’s alleged negligence. The district court held that Mr. Berry’s strict liability claim was invalid because the King of the Wasatch race was not as a matter of law an abnormally dangerous activity. Finally, the district court concluded that as a matter of law Mr. Berry failed to present evidence sufficient to place in dispute [***5] the issue of whether PCMR had designed and built the skiercross course with “utter indifference to the consequences that may result” or gross negligence. This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[*P8] [HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c). [HN2] Because a grant of summary judgment by definition involves conclusions of law, we afford no deference to the district court’s decision and review it for correctness. See Peterson v. Sunrider Corp., 2002 UT 43, P 13, 48 P.3d 918.

ANALYSIS

I. MR. BERRY’S AGREEMENT TO RELEASE PCMR FROM LIABILITY FOR ITS NEGLIGENT ACTS IS ENFORCEABLE

[*P9] [HN3] Preinjury exculpatory releases turn against one another the freedom of persons to regulate their affairs by contract and the social bargain at the heart of tort law that persons who fail to exercise reasonable care should be accountable in damages to those injured by negligent acts. We have not previously had occasion to consider whether the sponsor of a competitive ski race may shield itself from negligence by obtaining prospective exculpatory agreements from participants. This appeal is not, however, [***6] our introduction to preinjury releases.

[*P10] In our most recent encounter, we held that a preinjury release could not foreclose claims of negligence brought by the parent of a minor child who was injured during a guided equestrian trail ride. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062. Mr. Berry interprets Hawkins as a case containing sufficient kinetic energy to move it beyond its facts to guide the outcome of this appeal. According to Mr. Berry, Hawkins signaled that we had found common cause with a “growing consensus” of jurisdictions that rejected as contrary to public policy preinjury releases generally and those releasing ski areas particularly. To support his interpretation, Mr. Berry drew on our statement in Hawkins that

[a]n exculpatory clause that relieves a party from future liability may remove an important incentive to act with reasonable care. These clauses are also routinely imposed in a unilateral manner without any genuine bargaining or opportunity to pay a fee for insurance. The party demanding adherence to an exculpatory clause simply evades the necessity of liability coverage and then shifts the full burden of risk of harm to the other party.

Id. P 13.

[*P11] We made observations [***7] critical of preinjury releases in the context of the point that sound reasons exist for the law to treat preinjury releases with greater suspicion than postinjury releases. Regardless of the context in which they appear, we readily acknowledge that the shortcomings of exculpatory clauses cited in Hawkins provide ample cause to approach preinjury releases with caution. Indeed, the reasoning used by courts to reject as contrary to public policy preinjury releases is persuasive. See Hiett v. Lake Barcroft Cmty. Ass’n, 244 Va. 191, 418 S.E.2d 894, 8 Va. Law Rep. 3381 (Va. 1992); see also Jaffe v. Pallotta TeamWorks, 362 U.S. App. D.C. 398, 374 F.3d 1223, 1226 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Coughlin v. T.M.H. Int’l Attractions Inc., 895 F. Supp. 159 (W.D. Ky. 1995); Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd., 164 Vt. 329, 670 A.2d 795, 799 (Vt. 1995); cf. N.Y. Gen. Oblig. §§ 5-321 to -326 (2007). In the Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, public policy forbids exculpatory agreements because “‘to hold that it was competent for one party to put the other parties to the contract at the mercy of its own misconduct . . . can never be lawfully done where an enlightened system of jurisprudence prevails.'” Hiett, 418 S.E.2d at 896 (quoting Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond & Danville R.R. Co., 11 S.E. 829, 829, 86 Va. 975 (Va. 1890)). [***8] This approach is certainly defensible both as a statement of legal and social philosophy–the right to con [**446] tract is always subordinate to the obligation to stand accountable for one’s negligent acts–and on an operational level inasmuch as such a clear statement eliminates any ambiguity over whether a court would later deem a particular preinjury release enforceable. Our recognition of the undesirable features of preinjury releases and of the merits of arguments that we should brand all preinjury releases unenforceable falls short of convincing us that freedom to contract should always yield to the right to recover damages on the basis of another’s fault. See, e.g., Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo. 1981); Porubiansky v. Emory Univ., 156 Ga. App. 602, 275 S.E.2d 163, 167-68 (Ga. Ct. App. 1980); Olson v. Molzen, 558 S.W.2d 429, 431 (Tenn. 1977); Wagenblast v. Odessa Sch. Dist., 110 Wn.2d 845, 758 P.2d 968 (Wash. 1988); Kyriazis v. Univ. of W. Va., 192 W. Va. 60, 450 S.E.2d 649 (W. Va. 1994).

[*P12] Our analysis in Hawkins disclosed both our conviction that [HN4] a person should retain the power to contract away the right to recover damages for the negligence of another and our understanding that the authority to exercise the right was subject [***9] to many conditions and limitations. 1 We began that analysis by acknowledging, uncritically, the “general principle of common law” that [HN5] “‘those who are not engaged in public service may properly bargain against liability for harm caused by their ordinary negligence in performance of contractual duty.'” Hawkins, 2001 UT 94, P 9, 37 P.3d 1062 (quoting 6A Arthur Linton Corbin, Corbin on Contracts § 1472 (1962)). After canvassing the legal landscape for perspective on how courts have received and interpreted the Corbin principle, we noted that most of the cases from jurisdictions that were not among the minority rejecting all preinjury releases focused their analytical energy on ascertaining how to know who is and who is not “engaged in public service.” Id. P 9. Because it was not necessary to do so, we did not delve into this question in Hawkins and instead limited ourselves to the observation that most jurisdictions that permit prospective releases draw the line at attempts to limit liability for activities in which there is a strong public interest. These cases did not, however, aid us in making progress toward a proper outcome because Hawkins concerned the unique circumstance of the release of a [***10] minor’s prospective claim for negligence and did not implicate the public service exception. Our analysis in Hawkins relied, then, on a public policy exception to the Corbin principle “specifically relating to releases of a minor’s claims.” Id. P 10.

1 For example, parents in many jurisdictions lack the authority to release a minor’s claims against a negligent party. E.g., Hawkins, 2001 UT 94, P 10, 37 P.3d 1062. When Hawkins was decided, Utah was such a jurisdiction; the state afforded parents no “general unilateral right to compromise or release a child’s existing causes of action without court approval or appointment to that effect.” Id. P 11. Although Hawkins involved a mother’s preinjury release of her minor daughter’s claims, we reasoned that it would be inconsistent for the court to allow parents to do preinjury what they were prohibited from doing postinjury. Id.

[*P13] The lesson of Hawkins is that all of the analytical approaches we discussed were exceptions to the general principle that preinjury releases are enforceable. The viability of the principle itself was never challenged. We assumed its controlling force then and make explicit our adoption of the principle now.

[*P14] Had we intended our observations [***11] concerning the deleterious effects of preinjury releases to be our final expression of views on the proper place of such releases in our law, little reason would have existed for us to have refrained from using Hawkins to declare categorically that such releases offend public policy and are unenforceable. The proper inference to draw from Hawkins is that this general rule is well embedded in our common law despite its flaws. Our position on this matter can coexist with our endorsement of the prevailing view that [HN6] the law disfavors preinjury exculpatory agreements. See Hanks v. Powder Ridge Rest. Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734, 739 (Conn. 2005).

[*P15] Having determined that our public policy does not foreclose the opportunity of parties to bargain for the waiver of tort claims based on ordinary negligence, we confront the issues we stopped short of resolving in Hawkins: selecting and applying a standard [**447] relating to the public interest exception to the general rule recognizing the enforceability of preinjury releases. 2 2001 UT 94, P 10, 37 P.3d 1062. This is an inquiry that directs our attention to the nature of the activity seeking to be shielded from liability for its negligence and away from Hawkins’ focus on the [***12] status of the person from whom the release is sought. 3 In Hawkins, we stated that many states had come to rely on the guidelines for evaluating the applicability of the public interest exception to preinjury releases set out in Tunkl v. Regents of The University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 445-46 (Cal. 1963). The Tunkl guidelines have retained their vitality over the years since Utah, through Hawkins, became one of many jurisdictions to permit preinjury releases. See, e.g., Omni Corp. v. Sonitrol Corp., 476 F. Supp. 2d 125, 128 (D. Conn. 2007); Am. Structural Composites, Inc. v. Int’l Conference of Bldg. Officials, 325 F. Supp. 2d 1148, 1151 (D. Nev. 2004); Moore v. Hartley Motors, Inc., 36 P.3d 628, 632 (Alaska 2001); Brown v. Soh, 280 Conn. 494, 909 A.2d 43, 48-51 (Conn. 2006); Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, Inc., 111 Haw. 254, 141 P.3d 427, 437-39 (Haw. 2006); Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corp., 2003 NMSC 24, 134 N.M. 341, 76 P.3d 1098, 1109-10 (N.M. 2003). [HN7] The Tunkl standard, which identifies the traits of an activity in which an exculpatory provision may be invalid, is as follows:

“[1] [The transaction] concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. [2] The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing [***13] a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] 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. [6] Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.”

Hawkins, 2001 UT 94, P 9 n.3, 37 P.3d 1062 (quoting Tunkl, 383 P.2d at 445-46).

2 [HN8] The law’s wariness of preinjury releases is reflected in the requirement that to be enforceable, such agreements must be communicated in a clear [***14] and unequivocal manner. See Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court, 23 Cal. App. 4th 748, 29 Cal. Rptr. 2d 177, 180 (Ct. App. 1993); Cain v. Banka, 932 So. 2d 575, 578 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006); Hawkins, 2001 UT 94, P 5, 37 P.3d 1062. Mr. Berry has not claimed that PCMR’s release failed to meet this standard. We therefore limit our discussion of the public interest exception to the general rule that exculpatory agreements are enforceable.

3 Of course, the status of the person giving a preinjury release is an omnipresent consideration insofar as status relates to the relative bargaining power of the parties to the release.

[*P16] [HN9] Consideration of these traits is a flexible endeavor; the activity at issue need exhibit only a sufficient number of Tunkl characteristics such that one may be convinced of the activity’s affinity to the public interest. When a preinjury release is contrary to the public interest, it is invalid. Applying this approach, we test the King of the Wasatch race against each of the six Tunkl guidelines.

[*P17] First, while as an academic matter it may be debatable whether the sport of skiing is of a type generally thought to be suitable for public regulation, in Utah there can be no debate. [HN10] In Utah, skiing is regulated [***15] by the Inherent Risk of Skiing Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 78-27-51 to -54 (2002 & Supp. 2007). Although the parties assume that the Act applies to skiercross events like the King of the Wasatch race, it is less clear that the applicability of the Act to skiercross racing would qualify the competition as suitable for public regulation. The Act was animated by a legislative finding that “the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of [**448] Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents.” Id. § 78-27-51. The same cannot be said for skiercross racing. This form of competition has simply not generated sufficient public interest either through its popularity or because of hazards associated with it to generate a call for intervention of state regulatory authority. Skiercross racing is but one of an almost countless number of competitive sporting events occurring at any particular time in Utah. Among these, Utah law regulates only competitive boxing and equestrian events. See id. §§ 63C-11-301 to -318; id. §§ 63C-11-320 to -325; id. §§ 78-27b-101 to -102 (Supp. 2007).

[*P18] Thus, [HN11] while the reach of the Act may extend to ski-related activities that fall outside the public policy considerations [***16] underlying the adoption of the Act, those activities, like skiercross racing, are nevertheless subject to a separate analysis for the purpose of evaluating the enforceability of preinjury releases. Put another way, while the services provided by a business operating a recreational ski area and the services provided by a business sponsoring a competitive ski race may be covered by the provisions of the Act, the differences between recreational and competitive skiing are substantial enough to warrant the application of a separate analysis concerning their suitability for public regulation. In our view, skiercross racing is not generally thought suitable for public regulation.

[*P19] Second, for all the benefits that the King of the Wasatch race may have bestowed on its competitors, sponsors, and spectators, the race sponsors were in no way performing a service of great importance to the public, nor was race participation a matter of practical necessity for anyone.

[*P20] Third, the record suggests that PCMR made race participation available to anyone who sought to enter. Based on the description of the King of the Wasatch race in the record, a clear inference exists that competitors came from a limited [***17] group of expert, competitive skiers.

[*P21] The fourth Tunkl guideline diminishes the likelihood that we might find a preinjury release enforceable considering that the essential nature of the activity or service results in endowing the party seeking exculpation with a decisive advantage of bargaining strength. We have little doubt that Mr. Berry possessed no bargaining strength whatsoever. If he wanted to compete in the King of the Wasatch race, he was required to sign the preprinted release form. In this setting, however, PCMR’s decisive advantage in bargaining strength was of little consequence since the race was a nonessential activity.

[*P22] Fifth, PCMR’s superior bargaining power, its use of a contract of adhesion, and its failure to provide Mr. Berry an option to purchase protection against PCMR’s negligence is similarly of little consequence because of the nonessential nature of the race.

[*P23] The final Tunkl factor, that Mr. Berry was placed under PCMR’s control as a result of signing the release and made subject to the risk of PCMR’s carelessness, is of questionable application. PCMR appears to have been capable of exercising a negligible degree of control over the manner in which Mr. Berry [***18] traversed the racecourse or whether he elected to complete the course at all after inspecting its features.

[*P24] After considering the facts of Mr. Berry’s case with the Tunkl guidelines in mind, we are convinced that the release Mr. Berry executed in favor of PCMR is enforceable.

II. THE DISTRICT COURT ERRED WHEN IT AWARDED PCMR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON MR. BERRY’S GROSS NEGLIGENCE CLAIM

[*P25] PCMR does not claim that its release insulates it from liability for gross negligence. It argues instead that the precautions the sponsors of the King of the Wasatch race took, designed to minimize the risk of injury to participants without unduly compromising the competitive challenges, without which the contest would have little allure, were sufficient to overcome Mr. Berry’s gross negligence claim as a matter of law. Without guidance anywhere in the record as to the applicable standard of care, we cannot conclude that PCMR was not grossly negligent as a matter of law.

[**449] [*P26] We must initially return to the topic of the standard of review because its proper form and application largely determine the outcome of Mr. Berry’s challenge to the district court’s summary dismissal of his gross negligence claim. [HN12] In securing [***19] recovery, the task confronting a plaintiff who claims injury due to a defendant’s gross negligence is markedly greater than that of a plaintiff who traces his injury to ordinary negligence. Gross negligence requires proof of conduct substantially more distant from the appropriate standard of care than does ordinary negligence. We have characterized gross negligence as “‘the failure to observe even slight care; it is carelessness or recklessness to a degree that shows utter indifference to the consequences that may result.'” Atkin Wright & Miles v. Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co., 709 P.2d 330, 335 (Utah 1985) (quoting Robinson Ins. & Real Estate, Inc. v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 366 F. Supp. 307, 311 (W.D. Ark. 1973)).

[*P27] [HN13] When reviewing appeals from grants of summary judgment in cases of ordinary negligence, we have consistently followed the principle that “summary judgment is generally inappropriate to resolve negligence claims and should be employed ‘only in the most clear-cut case.'” White v. Deseelhorst, 879 P.2d 1371, 1374 (Utah 1994) (quoting Ingram v. Salt Lake City, 733 P.2d 126, 126 (Utah 1987) (per curiam)). Moreover, summary judgment is “‘inappropriate unless the applicable standard [***20] of care is fixed by law, and reasonable minds could reach but one conclusion as to the defendant’s negligence under the circumstances.'” White, 879 P.2d at 1374 (quoting Wycalis v. Guardian Title of Utah, 780 P.2d 821, 825 (Utah Ct. App. 1989) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

[*P28] Were we evaluating this case as one of ordinary negligence, we would have little difficulty discerning the presence of genuine issues of material fact sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Mr. Berry presented testimony of an experienced ski racer, coach, and jumper who witnessed Mr. Berry’s accident and faulted the jump’s design. A second expert in ski racecourse design and safety was likewise critical of the configuration of the accident site.

[*P29] According to PCMR, this testimony is insufficient to overcome summary dismissal of Mr. Berry’s gross negligence claim because evidence that would be adequate to take an ordinary negligence case to a jury cannot withstand uncontroverted evidence that PCMR exercised enough care to avoid a finding of gross negligence. PCMR urges that its production of evidence indicating that it used “even slight care” or displayed something more than “complete and absolute [***21] indifference” to the consequences that might have resulted from an improper design or construction of the tabletop jump and landing area is sufficient to remove Mr. Berry’s gross negligence claim from the jury. We disagree.

[*P30] The parties have not directed us to, nor have we been able to discover, a location in the record where the appropriate standard of care applicable to the design and construction of skiercross courses appears. We have held that [HN14] where a standard of care is not “fixed by law,” the determination of the appropriate standard is a factual issue to be resolved by the finder of fact. Wycalis, 780 P.2d at 825. Identification of the proper standard of care is a necessary precondition to assessing the degree to which conduct deviates, if at all, from the standard of care–the core test in any claim of gross negligence. Absent the presence of an identified, applicable standard of care to ground the analysis, we hold that the district court improperly granted PCMR summary judgment and dismissed Mr. Berry’s gross negligence claim.

III. THE DISTRICT COURT’S SUMMARY DISMISSAL OF MR. BERRY’S STRICT LIABILITY CLAIM WAS PROPER

[*P31] Mr. Berry contends that the district court erred when it [***22] summarily dismissed his claim that PCMR was strictly liable for damages for his injuries because skiercross racing is an abnormally dangerous activity as defined by the factors set out in section 520 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. In aid of his argument, Mr. Berry points to numerous [**450] articles in popular ski publications, describing in dramatic terms the injuries sustained, seemingly as a matter of routine, by racers in skiercross competitions. These aspects of the record may indeed advance Mr. Berry’s cause regarding the degree of peril that skiercross races pose. To us, they establish convincingly alternative grounds upon which to affirm the district court’s rejection of Mr. Berry’s strict liability claim. See, e.g., State v. Robison, 2006 UT 65, P 19, 147 P.3d 448 (allowing affirmance of the judgment appealed from based “‘on any legal ground or theory apparent on the record'” (quoting Bailey v. Bayles, 2002 UT 58, P 10, 52 P.3d 1158)).

[*P32] [HN15] Assuming the skiercross racing is an abnormally dangerous activity, Mr. Berry’s role as a participant excludes him from eligibility to recover under a theory of strict liability. See, e.g., Pullen v. West, 278 Kan. 183, 92 P.3d 584 (Kan. 2004) (holding that [***23] an individual who lit fireworks while a guest at an Independence Day party was a participant in an abnormally dangerous activity and therefore barred from recovery on a strict liability theory). As a general principle, the Restatement’s protections extend to those individuals who are injured as the result of an activity that carries “the existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person, land or chattels of others.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 520 (1977). Like the Pullen court and others, we agree that the scope of section 520 excludes participants, like Mr. Berry, who engage in the very activity for which they seek to recover damages based on strict liability. See, e.g., Whitlock v. Duke Univ., 637 F. Supp. 1463, 1475 (M.D.N.C. 1986); Gaston v. Hunter, 121 Ariz. 33, 588 P.2d 326, 341 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1978); Trull v. Carolina-Virginia Well Co., 264 N.C. 687, 142 S.E.2d 622, 622-26 (N.C. 1965). This conclusion is not undermined by the principles upon which Mr. Berry rests his claim to strict liability recovery.

[*P33] Section 520 generally states that [HN16] a court should consider the following factors in determining whether an activity is abnormally dangerous:

(a) existence of a high degree of risk of some harm [***24] to the person, land or chattels of others;

(b) likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great;

(c) inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care;

(d) extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage;

(e) inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on; and

(f) extent to which its value to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes.

Mr. Berry argues the eligibility of skiercross racing under several of these. Although we fully recognize that all of these factors may aid a court in evaluating whether an activity is abnormally dangerous, we view the first factor as qualitatively different than the rest and therefore worthy of separate consideration. See, e.g., Restatement (Second) of Torts § 520 cmt. f (“Any one of them is not necessarily sufficient of itself . . . for strict liability. On the other hand, it is not necessary that each of them be present, especially if others weigh heavily.”). Unlike its five colleagues, the first factor targets the very nature of the strict liability protection–who is eligible. Section 520 exposes landowners who conduct abnormally dangerous activities on their land–harboring [***25] dangerous animals has of particular concern to the drafters of the Restatement–to strict liability for injury suffered by those who come onto the land under color of privilege, but not for injury suffered by those who participated in the abnormally dangerous activity. We accordingly affirm the district court’s dismissal of Mr. Berry’s strict liability claim.

CONCLUSION

[*P34] Because our public policy does not foreclose Mr. Berry from waiving PCMR’s liability, we hold that Mr. Berry’s preinjury release is enforceable. We further hold that Mr. Berry’s strict liability claim fails as a matter of law considering his participation in the skiercross race. Finally, we hold that the district court erred in awarding summary judgment on Mr. Berry’s gross negligence claim without reference to the applicable [**451] standard of care. We therefore reverse and remand to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

[*P35] Chief Justice Durham, Associate Chief Justice Wilkins, Justice Durrant, and Justice Parrish concur in Justice Nehring’s opinion.


Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al.

A13A1778.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

March 25, 2014, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: Negligence, etc. Richmond Superior Court. Before Judge Annis.

DISPOSITION: [***1] Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Richard H. Goolsby, Sr., for appellants.

Dodson & Associates, Charles R. Beans, for appellees.

JUDGES: ANDREWS, Presiding Judge. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

[*522] [**147] Andrews, Presiding Judge.

James and Jennifer Goins sued The Family YMCA (the Y) after their 16-year-old son Brant collapsed while walking on a treadmill at its facility. Brant died before EMTs arrived, and it was later determined that he suffered from a congenital heart disease. The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment on the Goins’ claims of negligence and fraud. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

The following facts are undisputed. The Goins brought their son Brant to the Y to get him into shape for baseball season and to lose some weight. Brant began training with Greg Mason, a certified personal trainer, and there was no indication at the time that Brant was not in good physical condition. The Goins do not contend that there was anything inappropriate in the level or intensity of the workouts suggested by Mason.

On the day in question, Brant had been walking on the treadmill for a short time when he collapsed. An employee who saw him fall immediately called 911. This employee was trained in CPR, but stated that she did not go over to Brant because there were two “paramedics” [***2] with him. One of the two men was a deputy sheriff who had been a first responder for eight years, was trained in advanced CPR, first aid, and also had life saving training in the Marine Corps. The deputy said that he checked for a pulse and saw that Brant was still breathing. The other man who went over to Brant after he collapsed was an EMT who testified that the deputy was with Goins when he went over to see if he could help. He stated that Brant’s airway was open and he saw him take a breath, but then Brant [*523] appeared to stop breathing. The deputy also testified that he saw Brant take a large breath and then stop breathing. At that point, the deputy and the EMT began CPR. Simultaneously, the ambulance and EMTs arrived on the scene.

The Goins filed this suit, claiming that the Y was negligent in the death of their son because he was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was [***3] also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment in a two-sentence order. This appeal followed.

[HN1] To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). A [***4] defendant may do this by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of plaintiff’s case. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out by reference to the affidavits, depositions and other documents in the record that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. If the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but rather must point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue.

Boller v. Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, 311 Ga. App. 693, 693-694 (716 SE2d 713) (2011).

1. The Goins first argue that the trial court erred in finding there was no duty to render first aid to a minor child in the Y’s care when false representations had been made to the child’s parents.

[HN2] The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence [*524] action is whether and to what extent the defendant [***5] owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

Boller, supra at 695-696. In Boller, plaintiff

claimed that the Arts Center breached its duty of care to her husband, an [**148] invitee, by its failure to have on site either an ambulance or an officer operating an automatic external defibrillator device (“AED”) and by its failure to maintain a safety and security plan to govern the actions of employees and security personnel during a medical emergency.

Id. at 695. This Court held that

the long-established general rule is that [HN3] “[a] person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused,” even when the peril is foreseeable. We conclude that this case is controlled by our decision in Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, where we held that the defendant innkeeper had no legal duty to comply with a wife’s requests that it attempt a rescue of its guest, her husband, from his medical peril. In that case, the defendant did not create the decedent’s underlying medical condition. Similarly, in the case at bar, Boller does not allege that the Arts Center or the concert it sponsored caused her husband’s sudden attack of cardiac arrest.

(Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 696.

Nevertheless, [***6] the Goins argue that a “special relationship” existed in this case, because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The Goins cite to several cases not on point. See, e.g., Bull Street Church of Christ v. Jensen, 233 Ga. App. 96 (504 SE2d 1) (1998) (four-year-old victim molested at church); Wallace v. Boys Club of Albany, 211 Ga. App. 534 (439 SE2d 746) (1993) (five-year-old boy abducted from summer camp after employees assured parents that they would watch child and keep track of his whereabouts). (1) Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.1 There is no merit to this enumeration.

1 The Goins claim that when they signed their son up for a personal trainer at the YMCA, Greg Mason was misrepresented to them as a “certified” personal fitness trainer. This argument is puzzling. The undisputed evidence was that Mason was a certified personal trainer.

[*525] 2. Likewise, for the same reasons discussed in Division 1, the (2) trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellants’ negligence claim. Further, and equally important, the Goins [***7] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death. The Goins’ statement of facts does not refer to the deposition testimony of the deputy sheriff or the EMT. It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician and a deputy sheriff trained as a first responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

3. Next, the Goins claim that the trial court erred in finding no issues of fact on their fraud claim. The Goins alleged in their complaint that they were told that “THE FAMILY Y was a safe and positive environment.” (3) They contend that it was represented to them that there would be adequate well-trained employees on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.

[HN4] To survive a motion for summary judgment on a fraud count, some evidence must support each of the five elements, which are: a false representation by a defendant; scienter; intention to induce the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting; justifiable reliance [***8] by plaintiff; and damage to the plaintiff.

Wertz v. Allen, 313 Ga. App. 202, 207-208 (721 SE2d 122) (2011).

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing. The Y was entitled to summary judgment on this claim, and there was no error.

Judgment affirmed. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.


Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 986 F. Supp. 2d 555; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161029

Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 986 F. Supp. 2d 555; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161029

Colleen Barillari and William Barillari, Plaintiffs, v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., Defendant.

Civ. No. 3:12-CV-00034

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

986 F. Supp. 2d 555; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161029

November 12, 2013, Decided

November 12, 2013, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4998 (M.D. Pa., Jan. 17, 2012)

CORE TERMS: skiing, sport, downhill, skier, spectator, no-duty, summary judgment, ski, hit, ball, SKIER’S RESPONSIBILITY ACT DOES, risk doctrine, foul ball, amusement, matter of law, inherent risks, slope, baseball game, baseball, genuine, snow, ski lift, collision, mountain, ski resorts, risks inherent, nonmoving party, frequent, sporting, player

COUNSEL: [**1] For Colleen Barillari, William Barillari, h/w, Plaintiffs: Edward Shensky, Jeffrey A. Krawitz, Stark & Stark, Newtown, PA.

JUDGES: Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Matthew W. Brann

OPINION

[*557] MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Ski Shawnee, Inc.’s (“Defendant”) motion for summary judgment in the negligence action filed by Colleen Barillari and William Barillari (“Plaintiffs”). The complaint alleges Colleen Barillari suffered an injury and William Barillari suffered a corresponding loss of consortium, both caused by the Defendant’s alleged negligence. See Pls.’ Compl. 9-13, Jan. 6, 2012, ECF No. 1.

The Defendant moves for summary judgment in its favor on two related, but alternative theories relying on the assumption of the risk doctrine: first, that the Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the Pennsylvania Skier’s Responsibility Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(c); or, alternatively, that the claims are barred by the traditional common law assumption of the risk doctrine. See Def.’s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 5-9, Dec. 3, 2012, ECF No. 17 [hereinafter Def.’s Br.]. The Court hereby denies the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on both theories for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from [**2] an accident Mrs. Barillari suffered at the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 2010. Def.’s Statement Material Facts ¶ 1, Dec. 3, 2012, ECF No. 18 [hereinafter Def.’s SOF]. Although Mrs. Barillari had skied previously, she was not a ticketed skier that day. Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 3-4; Pls.’ Answer Statement Facts ¶ 3, Dec. 19, 2012, ECF No. 19 [hereinafter Pls.’ SOF]. On that particular occasion, she came to the ski area to watch her husband and her children take ski lessons. Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 6-13.

The accident occurred while Mrs. Barillari was standing on the snow of the slope close to tape that divided a ski run from the instruction area where Mr. Barillari was taking a lesson. See Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 12-13; Pls.’ SOF ¶¶ 10-11. There was a sign that read: “ATTENTION A Ticket or a Pass is Required to be on the Snow.” Def.’s SOF ¶ 19. Nevertheless, Ski Shawnee, Inc. employees admitted that the sign may be ambiguous and that its stated policy was not routinely enforced. Pls.’ SOF ¶ 19.

Mrs. Barillari was generally aware of the risks of collision between skiers. [*558] Def.’s SOF ¶ 7. At the time, however, she was not worried about skiers colliding with her because she believed [**3] that she was close enough to the dividing tape and there were other spectators in the area. Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 15-17; Pls.’ SOF ¶¶ 15-17. Unfortunately for Mrs. Barillari, a skier did collide with her and caused an injury to her left leg. Pls.’ SOF, at 2. The Court considers the legal arguments in light of these facts.

II. DISCUSSION

A. LEGAL STANDARDS

1. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the court is satisfied that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). When the court considers the evidence on summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.” Id. at 255.

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the nonexistence of a “genuine issue” of material fact. In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 237 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and [**4] citations omitted). The moving party may satisfy this burden by either submitting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim, or demonstrating the other party’s evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of its claim. Id. at 231.

Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, the nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). To do so, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). Rather, to survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, “[w]hen opposing summary judgment, the non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations, but rather must identify those facts of record which would contradict the facts identified by the movant.” Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal [**5] quotations and citation omitted).

In deciding the merits of a party’s motion for summary judgment, the court’s role is to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial, not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the factfinder, not the district court. BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). Consequently, summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(a).

2. Pennsylvania Law Must Be Applied In This Case

This case is before the Court as a diversity of citizenship action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Plaintiffs are citizens of New [*559] Jersey, the Defendant is a Pennsylvania corporation with a principal place of business in Pennsylvania, and the amount in controversy is alleged to be over $75,000–consequently, diversity jurisdiction is proper. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Pls.’ Compl., ¶¶ 1, 2, 46.

As this is a diversity action and Pennsylvania was the situs of the injury, this Court “must apply Pennsylvania law to the facts of [**6] this case.” Berrier v. Simplicity Mfg., Inc., 563 F.3d 38, 46 n. 11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938)).

B. THE PENNSYLVANIA SKIER’S RESPONSIBILITY ACT DOES NOT APPLY TO THIS CASE

The Defendant asserts that the Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the assumption of the risk doctrine. Def.’s Br., at 6. The Pennsylvania General Assembly expressly provided this doctrine as a defense in downhill skiing cases in the Comparative Negligence Statute. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(c). The pertinent portion of the statute, commonly known as the Skier’s Responsibility Act, reads:

(c) Downhill skiing.–

(1) The General Assembly finds that the sport of downhill skiing is practiced by a large number of citizens of this Commonwealth and also attracts to this Commonwealth large numbers of nonresidents significantly contributing to the economy of this Commonwealth. It is recognized that as in some other sports, there are inherent risks in the sport of downhill skiing.

(2) The doctrine of voluntary assumption of risk as it applies to downhill skiing injuries and damages is not modified by subsections (a) and (a.1). 1

42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(c).

1 As a general rule, subsections (a) and (a.1) [**7] supplant the assumption of the risk doctrine with a system of comparative fault in most negligence cases. Nevertheless, assumption of the risk was expressly preserved for injuries arising from downhill skiing, as noted. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102; Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 341 (2000).

The Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, summarizes the essence of the assumption of the risk doctrine: “[a] plaintiff who voluntarily assumes a risk of harm arising from the negligent or reckless conduct of the defendant cannot recover for such harm.” As the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania elucidated, “[t]he assumption of the risk defense, as applied to sports and places of amusement, has also been described as a ‘no-duty’ rule, i.e., as the principle that an owner or operator of a place of amusement has no duty to protect the user from any hazards inherent in the activity.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1186 (2010) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. C, 2).

Applying those principles to the Skier’s Responsibility Act, that same court “made clear that this ‘no-duty’ rule applies to the operators of ski resorts, so that [**8] ski resorts have no duty to protect skiers from risks that are ‘common, frequent, and expected,’ and thus ‘inherent’ to the sport of downhill skiing.” Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1186 (citing Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 343-44 (2000)). Consequently, “[w]here there is no duty, there can be no negligence, and thus when inherent risks are involved, negligence principles are irrelevant–the Comparative Negligence Act is inapplicable–and there can be no recovery based on allegations of negligence.” Id.

[*560] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania established a two-part analysis to determine whether a plaintiff was subject to the assumption of the risk doctrine adopted in the Skier’s Responsibility Act. See Huges v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc. 762 A.2d at 343-44. “First, this Court must determine whether [the Plaintiff] was engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of her injury. If that answer is affirmative, we must then determine whether the risk of being hit . . . by another skier . . . is one of the ‘inherent risks’ of downhill skiing . . . .” Id. at 344. If both of these prerequisites are met, then summary judgment is appropriate because, as a matter of law, [**9] the Defendant would have had no duty to Mrs. Barillari. See id.

First, the Court considers whether Mrs. Barillari was “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of her injury.” Id. As the court noted in Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc.:

the sport of downhill skiing encompasses more than merely skiing down a hill. It includes those other activities directly and necessarily incident to the act of downhill skiing. Such activities include boarding the ski lift, riding the lift up the mountain, alighting from the lift, skiing from the lift to the trail and, after a run is completed, skiing towards the ski lift to start another run or skiing toward the base lodge or other facility at the end of the day.

Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344.

In that case, the court held that a plaintiff who was skiing towards the chair lift through an area at the base of the mountain where several trails converged when she was struck from behind by another skier could not recover because the assumption of risk doctrine applied. Hughes, 762 A.2d at 340, 345. Although the plaintiff “was not in the process of skiing downhill, but rather was propelling herself towards the ski lift at the base of the mountain,” the [**10] court found this action was within the scope of engaging “in the sport of downhill skiing.” Id. at 344-45. The court noted that to decide otherwise would “interpret the Act, as well as the sport of downhill skiing, in an extremely narrow, hypertechnical and unrealistic manner.” Id. at 344.

In Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174 (2010), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that a skier’s negligence action based on her fall from a ski lift was barred by the doctrine of assumption of the risk because she was engaged in the sport of downhill skiing and the fall was an inherent risk of that sport. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1194-95. The court noted that “the clear legislative intent to preserve the assumption of the risk doctrine in this particular area, as well as the broad wording of the Act itself, dictates a practical and logical interpretation of what risks are inherent to the sport.” Id. at 1187-88.

A number of other courts have addressed the scope of the Skier’s Responsibility Act as well. See, e.g., Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, LP, 550 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that a skier’s claim based on the lack of safety netting, improper course plotting, or [**11] soft loose snow was barred because those were risks inherent in skiing); Burke v. Ski America, Inc., 940 F.2d 95 (4th Cir. 1991) (interpreting Pennsylvania law to find ski resort had no duty of care to injured skier because a “double black diamond” slope with rocks and trees was an obvious inherent danger of skiing); Smith v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 716 F.2d 1002 (3d Cir. 1983) (Aldisert, J.) (finding that a skier’s claim was barred by assumption of the risk when he chose to ski a steep, icy expert slope with unpadded poles for snowmaking equipment); Lin v. Spring Mountain Adventures, Inc., CIV. [*561] A. 10-333, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2010) (holding that the Act barred a skier’s claim because colliding with snow making equipment was an inherent risk); Savarese v. Camelback Ski Corp., 417 F. Supp. 2d 663, (M.D. Pa. 2005) (Caputo, J.) (holding that a skier was barred from recovery where the injury occurred when he attempted to board the ski lift when the bottom of the chair was not folded down for seating); Bell v. Dean, 2010 PA Super 151, 5 A.3d 266 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010) (finding that a skier assumed the risk of collision with a snowboarder such that the snowboarder could not be found negligent); [**12] Crews v. Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 2005 PA Super 138, 874 A.2d 100 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005) (holding that the risk of colliding with a drunk underage snowboarder was not a risk inherent in the sport of downhill skiing).

The case before the Court, however, is distinguishable from all of these cases–Mrs. Barillari was not “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing” at the time of her collision, as required by the statute. 2 Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344. Although someone wearing skis and standing in the area of Mrs. Barillari and the other spectators on a momentary pause in their run may well have been “engaged in the sport,” that is an entirely different matter from someone who is purely a spectator. See id. Even though a collision with a skier is a prominent injury considered to be inherent in the sport of skiing as contemplated by the statute and the courts, the fact remains that Mrs. Barillari was merely a spectator not engaged in the sport. See id.

2 The Court recognizes that “engaged” may be defined as “greatly interested,” which could suggest that spectators are “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing.” Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary (3d ed. 2013). As is apparent from the context of the [**13] relevant Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decisions, however, this is not the manner in which the court used the term “engaged.” See, e.g., Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344. Rather, the context surrounding the court’s usage of the term indicates a meaning closer to “occupied” or “employed” when using the phrase “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing.” See id.; Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary (3d ed. 2013).

If this Court were to include Mrs. Barillari as a person subject to the Skier’s Responsibility Act, it would necessarily extend the confines of Pennsylvania’s law beyond the scope of its current applicability. That is not this Court’s place, and the Court declines to do so. Instead, the Court must apply the law as Pennsylvania’s own Supreme Court has instructed. See, e.g., Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344-45. Consequently, the Court finds that the assumption of the risk doctrine, as articulated in the statue and interpreted by courts, does not apply to bar Mrs. Barillari’s claim, because she was not “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing” at the time of her accident. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344-45.

C. TRADITIONAL ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK DOES NOT BAR THE PLAINTIFFS’ CLAIMS

The Defendant [**14] asserts that, in the alternative, the traditional common law defense of assumption of the risk should bar the claim. Def.’s Br., at 6. Although Pennsylvania has severely limited the traditional assumption of the risk doctrine and some courts have questioned its ongoing viability, the fact remains that Pennsylvania courts continue to apply assumption of the risk in a variety of cases outside the context of downhill skiing. See, e.g., Zinn v. Gichner Systems Grp., 880 F. Supp. 311 (M.D. Pa. 1995) (Caldwell, J.) (holding assumption of the risk barred plaintiff’s claim when he continued to work after landowner refused to cover opening in which he was injured); Howell v. Clyde, [*562] 533 Pa. 151, 620 A.2d 1107 (1993) (finding that the plaintiff guest who helped secure gunpowder for a firework cannon and participate in lighting it assumed the risk of his injury); see also Rutter v. Ne. Beaver Cnty. Sch. Dist., 496 Pa. 590, 437 A.2d 1198, 1212 (1981) (Nix, C.J., dissenting) (“[T]his doctrine constitutes a necessary and viable component of tort law.”).

Borrowing Justice Antonin Scalia’s memorable phrase concerning a similarly limited but resurgent doctrine in another area of law, assumption of the [**15] risk survives “[l]ike some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried.” Lamb’s Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 398, 113 S. Ct. 2141, 124 L. Ed. 2d 352 (1993). Nevertheless, the doctrine remains viable in certain circumstances, a monstrous hydra though it may be.

There are four different theoretical species of assumption of the risk–two of which are at issue in this case. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 341-42; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c. One form of this polymorphic doctrine is a voluntary assumption of the risk, where the plaintiff makes a conscious, voluntary decision to encounter a risk of which he is aware. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 342; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c, 3.

A second related corollary of the assumption of risk doctrine 3 is sometimes titled the “no-duty rule.” It applies when a plaintiff tacitly agrees to relieve the defendant of a duty by entering a certain relationship with the defendant, when the plaintiff is then injured by an inherent risk of that activity, such as a spectator at a sporting event. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 342; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c, 3 [**16] . As both of these manifestations of that intractable doctrine are at issue here, the Court addresses them in turn, first analyzing voluntary assumption of the risk. 4

3 See Berman v. Radnor Rolls, Inc., 374 Pa. Super. 118, 542 A.2d 525, 531 (1988) (discussing the discrete conceptual differences between voluntary assumption of the risk as an affirmative defense to a breached duty and the “no-duty” theory with its inherent absence of a duty).

4 The two remaining forms of assumption of the risk do not apply to this case. These are i) express assumption of the risk; and, ii) situations in which the plaintiff’s conduct in voluntarily encountering a known risk is itself unreasonable. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 341-42; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c, 1, 4.

1. Voluntary Assumption of the Risk Does Not Bar Plaintiff’s Claim in this Case

As Judge A. Richard Caputo articulated when considering a case involving voluntary assumption of the risk: “[t]o grant summary judgement on [that basis] the court must conclude, as a matter of law: (1) the party consciously appreciated the risk that attended a certain endeavor; (2) assumed the risk of injury by engaging in the endeavor despite [**17] the appreciation of the risk involved; and (3) that injury sustained was, in fact, the same risk of injury that was appreciated and assumed.” Bolyard v. Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, Inc., 3:10-CV-87, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2012) (Caputo, J.). This assumption of risk defense is established as a matter of law “only where it is beyond question that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly proceeded in the face of an obvious and dangerous condition.” Barrett v. Fredavid Builders, Inc., 454 Pa. Super. 162, 685 A.2d 129, 131 (1996). Moreover, “[t]he mere fact one engages in activity that has some inherent [*563] danger does not mean that one cannot recover from a negligent party when injury is subsequently sustained.” Bullman v. Giuntoli, 2000 PA Super 284, 761 A.2d 566, 573 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2000).

The dispositive analytical point in the case before this Court is determining what constitutes a plaintiff’s conscious appreciation of the risk. It is not enough that the plaintiff was generally aware that the activity in which he was engaged had accompanying risks. See Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at * 6 (citing Handschuh v. Albert Dev., 393 Pa. Super. 444, 574 A.2d 693 (1990)). Rather, the plaintiff must be [**18] aware of “the particular danger” from which he is subsequently injured in order to voluntarily assume that risk as a matter of law. Id.

For example, in Bolyard v. Wallenpaupack Law Estates, Inc., 3:10-CV-87, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5-6 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2012), Judge Caputo held, inter alia, that assumption of the risk did not apply to a plaintiff who went snow-tubing on an old ski slope, hit a rut, and crashed into a tree. Judge Caputo recognized that, while the plaintiff “was generally aware that snow tubing on a tree-lined trail was dangerous, there [was] no evidence in the record that she had any knowledge of the specific hazards of that particular slope.” Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *6. This was a material distinction, such that the elements of voluntary assumption of the risk remained unsatisfied–therefore, as a matter of law, the plaintiff did not assume the risk. Id.

Similarly, in Handschuh v. Albert Dev., 393 Pa. Super. 444, 574 A.2d 693, 696 (1990), the court held that assumption of the risk did not apply when a plumbing contractor sustained injuries and died because a trench in which he was laying pipe collapsed. The court noted that the plaintiff was aware of the general [**19] risk of ditch collapses and that the particular job would be delicate. Handschuh, 574 A.2d at 694. Nevertheless, that awareness of the general risks was not sufficient “to compel a finding of a waiver of an individual’s right to complain about a breach of duty of care to the risk taker.” Id. at 696 (original punctuation altered).

In the case before the Court, Mrs. Barillari did not voluntarily assume the risk of her injury under this doctrine because there are no facts demonstrating she was specifically aware of the risk of the type of harm she suffered–namely, a skier crashing into a spectator. See Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5-6; Handschuh, 574 A.2d at 694, 696; Pls.’ SOF ¶ 5. It is undisputed that Mrs. Barillari was aware of the general risks and dangers inherent in the sport of skiing. She was aware collisions between skiers occurred and she “was worried about [her] children with that.” Def.’s SOF, Oral Dep. Mrs. Barillari 23, Dec. 03, 2012, ECF No. 18, Exh. 5. There is not, however, anything in the record that indicates Mrs. Barillari was specifically aware of the danger that later befell her.

Rather, Mrs. Barillari stated she was not worried about a skier crashing into her, “because [**20] [she] was close enough to the ribbon and [she] was with other people that were just watching. [She] wasn’t standing with a bunch of skiers. [She] was standing with spectators.” Id. at 63-64. Like the plaintiffs in Bolyard and Handschu, Mrs. Barillari did not possess the requisite conscious appreciation of the specific risk of harm that caused her injury. Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5-6; Handschuh, 574 A.2d at 694, 696. Therefore, the doctrine of voluntary assumption of the risk is inapplicable to this case. See id.

2. The “No-Duty” Rule Does Not Apply

The “no-duty” theory, a corollary species of assumption of the risk discussed [*564] previously in the context of the Skier’s Responsibility Act, applies at common law when: “the plaintiff has entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk, and so is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve the defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.” Hughes, 762 A.2d at 341 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, §496A, cmt. c, 2). “Again the legal result is that the defendant is relieved of his duty to the plaintiff.” Id.

The no-duty rule applies most prominently in the context of a spectator [**21] at a sporting event, such as a fan hit by a foul ball at a baseball game. See, e.g., Schentzel v. Philadelphia Nat’l League Club, 173 Pa. Super. 179, 96 A.2d 181 (1953). As the Restatement observes, “a spectator entering a baseball park may be regarded as consenting that the players may proceed with the game without precautions to protect him from being hit by the ball.” Restatement (Second) of Torts, §496A, cmt. c, 2.

“In Pennsylvania, the law imposes ‘no duty’ to protect spectators from risks that are common, frequent, and expected [in the sport].” Petrongola v. Comcast-Spectacor, L.P., 2001 PA Super 338, 789 A.2d 204, 210 (2001). “However, a facility may be held liable if the design of the facility deviates from the established custom in some relevant way.” Id. “The central question, then, is whether [a plaintiff’s] case is governed by the ‘no-duty’ rule applicable to common, frequent and expected risks of [the sport] or by the ordinary rules applicable to all other risks which may be present [at a sporting facility].” Jones v. Three Rivers Mgmt. Corp., 483 Pa. 75, 394 A.2d 546, 551 (1978).

For example, in Schentzel v. Philadelphia National League Club, 173 Pa. Super. 179, 186-92, 96 A.2d 181 (1953), [**22] the no-duty rule barred the claim of a plaintiff hit by a foul ball in the stands at a baseball game. The court noted that, even though there was scant evidence the plaintiff knew about the prevalence of foul balls, the defendant owed her no duty because foul balls are an inherent risk of attending a baseball game. Schentzel,173 Pa. Super. at 186-92.

In Loughran v. The Phillies, 2005 PA Super 396, 888 A.2d 872, 876-77 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005), a majority of the court held that the no-duty rule barred a spectator’s claim for injuries suffered in the stands at a baseball game. There, the center-fielder threw the ball into the stands after catching it for the final out of the inning–as is customarily done to provide souvenirs for fans–when the unsuspecting plaintiff was hit and injured by the ball. Loughran, 888 A.2d at 874. Although this was not the typical foul ball hit into the stands, the majority considered this custom to be inherent in the sport. Id. at 877. They noted that the plaintiff failed to establish the defendants “deviated from the common and expected practices of the game of baseball.” 5 Id.

5 Judge John T. Bender dissented from this majority opinion, writing:

since the act of tossing a ball to fans [**23] as a souvenir is extraneous to the game and not necessary to the playing of the game, a spectator does not “assume the risk” of being struck by a ball entering the stands for this purpose, nor is there any valid reason in law or policy to extend the immunity of the “no duty” rule to this practice. Rather, if a baseball player wants to go beyond the confines of the game . . . he should be charged with the obligation of doing it in a reasonably safe and prudent manner.

Loughran, 888 A.2d at 882.

By contrast, in Jones v. Three Rivers Management Corporation, 483 Pa. 75, 394 A.2d 546, 548, 552-553 (1978), the court held that the no-duty rule did not apply because the patron was hit by a ball while using an interior walkway to the concessions [*565] area, rather than while seated in the stands. The court noted that “in a ‘place of amusement’ not every risk is reasonably expected.” Jones, 394 A.2d at 551. That particular injury was due to a failure in the ballpark’s design such that the no-duty rule should not apply. Id. at 551-52.

The Jones court also drew a distinction between risks that are merely inherent in the activity, and those risks that are not only inherent but also necessary to the activity. See id.; [**24] see also Loughran, 888 A.2d at 880 (Bender, J., dissenting) (“A careful reading of Jones, reveals that the no-duty rule applies not just when one’s injury is caused by a risk inherent to the activity, but also when the risk in question is necessary to the activity.”). For example, while foul balls in the stands are an inherent and necessary part of any baseball game, a bat flying into the stands is an inherent risk of baseball but not a necessary component of the game. Jones, 394 A.2d at 551; see also Schentzel, 96 A.2d at 182 (“There is a million foul balls, maybe three or four or five an inning, goes into the stand [sic].”).

The court further illuminated this distinction with analogies, writing that: “[m]ovies must be seen in a darkened room, roller coasters must accelerate and decelerate rapidly and players will bat balls into the grandstand.” Id. at 550-51. As Judge John T. Bender poignantly extrapolated in his Loughran dissent:

if movie houses are made to lighten the theatres so that no one trips, the movie-going experience would be greatly diminished if not destroyed. If amusement parks are made to design roller coasters so as to eliminate all jerkiness and smooth out all changes [**25] in direction they would no longer be capable of being classified as “thrill rides” and the word “amusement” might be deleted from the term “amusement parks.” But if baseball players and their employers, are charged with exercising reasonable care in the practice of providing souvenir balls to patrons, the “Fall Classic” will remain a classic sporting contest and all those regular season and playoff games preceding it would still be played in a manner consistent with Abner Doubleday’s original intent.

Loughran, 888 A.2d at 881.

According to the principles discussed in Jones and Loughran, the no-duty rule can be said to apply when, to avoid injury, a “place of amusement” must alter conditions at the facility in such a way that would change the very essence of the activity for which it is made. See Loughran, 888 A.2d at 881; Jones, 394 A.2d at 550-52. This does not affect the duty of sports facilities and places of amusement to protect patrons against foreseeable risks not inherent and necessary such that they are “common, frequent, and expected” in the very essence of that central activity. Jones, 394 A.2d at 551

Applying these principles to the case before the Court, the no-duty rule cannot [**26] protect the Defendant and bar Mrs. Barillari’s claim. The Defendant asserts that this case is directly analogous to the example of a spectator at a baseball game being hit by a foul ball–Mrs. Barillari was a spectator by a ski slope that was hit by a skier. See Def.’s Br., at 8-10. Although a skier crashing into spectators may be a foreseeable risk inherent in the sport of skiing, it is not a necessary and inherent element of that sport. See Jones, 394 A.2d at 551-52.

A majority of fans attend a baseball game expecting to see a number of foul balls hit into the stands. See Schentzel, 96 A.2d at 182. The Court is not aware of a similar majority that assumes they will see [*566] a number of skiers crash violently into spectators on a day trip to the mountain.

Furthermore, charging ski facilities with the ordinary duty of care to protect spectators from ski crashes, rather than shielding them with “no-duty,” will not in any way affect the essence of skiing. See Loughran, 888 A.2d at 881. The ski resort may erect mesh fences, snow walls, ropes, and other sorts of precautions around the sides and at the base of the slopes without impeding the rhythmic descent of countless alpine enthusiasts.

Therefore, [**27] the issues in this case do not present an instance where the “no-duty” rule applies. Rather, the existence of any negligence by either or both parties should be submitted to a jury.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Ski Shawnee Inc.’s motion for summary judgment is denied.

An appropriate Order follows.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Matthew W. Brann

Matthew W. Brann

United States District Judge

ORDER

AND NOW, this 12th day of November, 2013, it is hereby ORDERED, in accordance with a Memorandum of this same date, that the Defendant, Ski Shawnee, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment is hereby DENIED.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Matthew W. Brann

Matthew W. Brann

United States District Judge


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