Redmond v. Sirius International Insurance Corporation, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5089

Redmond v. Sirius International Insurance Corporation, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5089

Ryan M. Redmond, Plaintiff, v. Sirius International Insurance Corporation, Defendant.

Case No. 12-CV-587

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5089

January 15, 2014, Decided

January 15, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Redmond v. Sirius Int’l Ins. Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110594 (E.D. Wis., Aug. 7, 2012)

CORE TERMS: skiing, bad faith claim, coverage, mountaineering, summary judgment, marked, choice of law, ski, territory, in-bound, mountain, insurer, dictionary, insurance contracts, insurance policies, recreational, insured, climbing, ambiguous, snow, forum selection clause, jury trial, deposition, moot, climb, descent, http, www, com, interest of justice

COUNSEL: [*1] For Ryan M Redmond, Plaintiff: Dean P Laing, Douglas P Dehler, LEAD ATTORNEYS, O’Neil Cannon Hollman DeJong & Laing SC, Milwaukee, WI.

For Sirius International Insurance Corporation, Defendant: Barry A Chasnoff, Mary M Pena, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, San Antonio, TX; Jeffrey A Evans, von Briesen & Roper SC, Milwaukee, WI.

JUDGES: AARON E. GOODSTEIN, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: AARON E. GOODSTEIN

OPINION

DECISION AND ORDER

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ryan M. Redmond (“Redmond”) was seriously injured while skiing at Grand Teton National Park on July 2, 2011. When his health insurer, Sirius International Insurance Corporation (“Sirius”), [*2] denied coverage for his injuries, Redmond filed the present action, initially in Waukesha County Circuit Court. Sirius removed the action to federal court on June 8, 2012 based upon the diversity of the parties. On June 14, 2012, Sirius filed its answer and a counterclaim along with a motion to transfer the case to the Southern District of Indiana. Redmond responded to the motion and also filed motions asking that the court strike the defendant’s answer and counterclaim and asking the court to require the defendant to post bond in accordance with Wisconsin law.

On August 7, 2012, the court denied the plaintiff’s motions. With respect to Sirius’ motion to transfer the action to the Southern District of Indiana, the court found that the record was insufficient to permit the court to resolve the motion and therefore held the motion in abeyance as the parties engaged in discovery. On March 20, 2013, the court denied without prejudice the motion to transfer.

On September 9, 2013, the parties filed a total of eight separate motions. (Docket Nos. 54, 56, 58, 60, 63, 66, 70, 75.) The plaintiff subsequently filed two additional motions. (Docket Nos. 84, 107.) Of these 10 motions, the court must [*3] first address the defendant’s renewed motion to transfer the case to Southern District of Indiana, (Docket No. 54), and thus decide whether this court or the Southern District of Indiana should resolve the 9 other motions.

II. MOTION TO TRANSFER

The relevant policy contains a forum selection clause providing that venue for any action related to the policy shall be in “the Circuit and/or Superior Courts of Marion County [Indiana] and in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division (assuming that federal jurisdiction is otherwise appropriate and lawful).” (Docket No. 7 at 3-4.) If the forum selection clause is valid, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the “court should transfer the case unless extraordinary circumstances unrelated to the convenience of the parties clearly disfavor a transfer.” Atl. Marine Constr. Co. v. United States Dist. Court, 517 U.S. , , 187 L. Ed. 2d 487, 494, 134 S. Ct. 568 (2013).

Wisconsin law bars such forum selection clauses in insurance policies. Wis. Stat. § 631.83(3)(b). But Wisconsin’s prohibition applies to only “insurance policies and group certificates delivered or issued for delivery in this state, on property ordinarily [*4] located in this state, on persons residing in this state when the policy or group certificate is issued, or on business operations in this state.” Wis. Stat. § 631.01(1). The defendant’s argument against the application of this provision is limited to its view that Redmond was not “residing in” Wisconsin at the time the policy was issued. Sirius does not present, and therefore the court shall not consider any other arguments that may be raised as to why this statutory proscription may be inapplicable to the present dispute.

As the court discussed at length in its prior order, Redmond v. Sirius Int’l Ins. Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110594 (E.D. Wis. Aug. 7, 2012), there is a dispute as to whether Redmond was “residing in” Wisconsin when the policy was issued. The court concluded that “residing in” “include[s] [*5] not only those who dwell within the state for a long-term or extended period of time, but also, to the extent that the categories are not redundant, those who have Wisconsin as their domicile, i.e. ‘an individual’s true, fixed, and permanent home where the individual intends to remain permanently and indefinitely and to which, whenever absent, the individual intends to return.’” 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110594 at *21 (quoting Wis. Stat. §§ 71.01(1n), 71.22(1t)).

Redmond traveled frequently. In fact, the insurance policy that is at issue here was designed specifically to serve the needs of such travelers. He lived in his mother’s home in Delafield, Wisconsin until November 5, 2006 when he left for about six months of missionary work in Peru. He returned to Wisconsin and lived in Wisconsin until August 29, 2010, aside from a total of 30 days of missionary work in Peru and a month working on a Canadian dude ranch.

On August 25, 2010, from his home in Wisconsin, Redmond electronically submitted an application for renewal of his health insurance for the period of October 20, 2010 to October 20, 2011. (Docket No. 88, ¶8.) In doing so, he requested that the policy documents be sent to him in Vermont where he would be attending [*6] school. The application was approved the following day and the declaration and certificate were issued. (Docket No. 88, ¶9.) On August 29, 2010, Redmond left Wisconsin to travel to Vermont where he leased an apartment and attended school from August 30, 2010 through May 20, 2011, returning to Wisconsin in the interim for holidays. (Docket No. 88, ¶¶11-12.) Following May 20, 2011, Redmond returned to Wisconsin. (Docket No. 88, ¶13.)

The court finds that notwithstanding his travels and attendance at school in Vermont, Wisconsin remained Redmond’s domicile, and thus he was “residing in” Wisconsin when the policy was issued. This conclusion is further supported by the facts that Redmond filed taxes, had bank accounts, voted, and registered a vehicle in only Wisconsin. (Docket No. 88, ¶¶16-19.) Consequently, the policy’s forum selection clause is unenforceable under Wis. Stat. § 631.83(3)(b).

Having concluded that the forum selection clause is invalid, the court must turn to Sirius’ alternative argument and consider whether, after balancing all relevant factors, transfer to the Southern District of Indiana remains appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). “For the convenience of parties [*7] and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

Section 1404 (a) reflects an increased desire to have federal civil suits tried in the federal system at the place called for in the particular case by considerations of convenience and justice. Thus, as the Court recognized in Continental Grain Co. v. Barge FBL-585, 364 U.S. 19, 26, 27, 80 S. Ct. 1470, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1540, [(1960)], the purpose of the section is to prevent the waste “of time, energy and money” and “to protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense….”

Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 616, 84 S. Ct. 805, 11 L. Ed. 2d 945 (1964) (footnotes omitted). There is no dispute that this action could have been filed in the Southern District of Indiana. Thus, the court’s analysis is limited to consideration of the convenience of the parties and witnesses and the interest of justice. The movant “has the burden of establishing, by reference to particular circumstances, that the transferee forum is clearly more convenient.” Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219-20 (7th Cir. 1986).

“With respect to the convenience evaluation, [*8] courts generally consider the availability of and access to witnesses, and each party’s access to and distance from resources in each forum. Other related factors include the location of material events and the relative ease of access to sources of proof.” Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int’l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “The ‘interest of justice’ is a separate element of the transfer analysis that relates to the efficient administration of the court system.” Id.

For this element, courts look to factors including docket congestion and likely speed to trial in the transferor and potential transferee forums; each court’s relative familiarity with the relevant law; the respective desirability of resolving controversies in each locale; and the relationship of each community to the controversy. The interest of justice may be determinative, warranting transfer or its denial even where the convenience of the parties and witnesses points toward the opposite result.

Id. (citations omitted).

Neither forum is especially more convenient for the parties or witnesses. Of the witnesses identified by the parties as likely to testify at trial, four live [*9] in Wyoming, one lives in Colorado, two (or three using the defendant’s count of potential witnesses) live in Indiana, one (the plaintiff) lives in Wisconsin (not Vermont as the defendant states), and one lives in Florida but maintains an apartment and office in Wisconsin. (Docket Nos. 87 at 15; 55 at 10.) The plaintiff’s attorneys have offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the defendant’s attorneys are located in San Antonio, Texas, and are assisted by local counsel. Thus, a number of people are going to have to travel for trial. When traveling from Wyoming, Colorado, or Texas, it makes little difference whether the destination is Indianapolis or Milwaukee. The convenience of a trial in Indianapolis for the witnesses in Indiana would be countered by the inconvenience to the plaintiff, his attorneys, as well as his expert.

The defendant also notes that evidence, such as the plaintiff’s insurance documents, is more likely to be found at offices in Indiana. (Docket No. 55 at 10.) The court finds that in the usual case, the location of documentary evidence is generally an inconsequential consideration. Routine discovery in any case will involve digitizing documents and thus whether parties are [*10] separated by city blocks or time zones, the means and ease of exchange will be the same. The court has no reason to believe this would not be the case here. And after all, discovery is complete so this truly is a non-issue.

The court also recognizes that, although it is unenforceable under Wisconsin law, the fact that the parties agreed to a forum selection may be given some weight in the analysis under § 1404(a). See IFC Credit Corp. v. Aliano Bros. Gen. Contrs., Inc., 437 F.3d 606, 608 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 31, 108 S. Ct. 2239, 101 L. Ed. 2d 22 (1988). However, the fact of the parties’ agreement is counterbalanced by Wisconsin’s strong public policy against forum selection clauses in insurance contracts; thus, the interests of justice lead to the conclusion that this fact merits negligible weight. Cf. id.

With further respect to the interests of justice factor, the defendant points to the fact that the policy states, “Indiana law shall govern all rights and claims raised under this Certificate of Insurance.” (Docket No. 55-1 at ¶6.) Whether Indiana law actually governs this case is the subject of a separate motion. (Docket No. 58.) As discussed below, the court finds [*11] that Indiana law does govern the interpretation of the present contract. Nonetheless, the court does not find that this factor is sufficient to overcome the presumption of preference for the plaintiff’s chosen forum. Although a federal court in Indiana will naturally be more familiar with Indiana law, applying laws from other states is a routine task for federal courts. The defendant has not identified any reason for the court to believe that the legal questions in this action will involve especially novel or complex interpretations of Indiana law such that there is a strong reason to have this matter overseen by a court with more intimate familiarity with Indiana law.

Therefore, having concluded that the forum selection clause is not enforceable and consideration of all the § 1404(a) factors fails to show that the Southern District of Indiana is clearly more convenient and/or favored as a result of a consideration of the interests of justice, the defendant’s motion to transfer this action, (Docket No. 54), shall be denied.

III. CHOICE OF LAW

The relevant insurance policy states, “Indiana law shall govern all rights and claims raised under this Certificate of Insurance.” (Docket No. 55-1 [*12] at ¶6.) Relying upon this provision, the defendant asks the court to conclude that Indiana law applies to the claims raised in this case. (Docket Nos. 58, 59.) The plaintiff responds that Wisconsin law should apply because: (1) the defendant waived its opportunity to make a choice of law argument; (2) the choice of law provision is unconscionable; (3) the choice of law provision is contrary to Wisconsin public policy; (4) the choice of law provision would not apply to the plaintiff’s bad faith claim; (5) a common law choice of law analysis indicates that Wisconsin law should govern. (Docket No. 86.) The defendant replies that a common law choice of law analysis would actually favor Indiana, but in any event, the choice of law provision remains enforceable, is applicable to all the plaintiff’s claims, and the defendant did not waive the choice of law argument.

The court finds that Indiana law governs the present action. The court does not find that the defendant waived the choice of law argument. Choice of substantive law was not relevant to the court’s prior decisions and concluding now that Indiana law applies does not require the court to reassess any prior conclusion.

Nor does the [*13] court find the relevant provision unconscionable. Even accepting the plaintiff’s arguments that a reasonable person would not read the entire policy to recognize that it contained this choice of law provision, much less recognize its implications if he did, the court does not find the provision satisfies the high standard of unconscionability. The plaintiff does not point out what is supposedly so unfavorable about Indiana law that it would make it extremely unfair or oppressive to apply it in this case. If a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position had been fully aware of the presence and consequences of the choice of law clause, the court has no reason to believe he would not have still agreed to the insurance policy he was offered.

The court finds the plaintiff’s argument that the choice of law provision violates Wisconsin public policy, (Docket No. 86 at 7-8), to be novel but misguided. In the plaintiff’s view, only Wisconsin law could ever govern an insurance dispute involving a Wisconsin resident because Wisconsin’s laws embody the public policy of the state and an insurance contract cannot ever be interpreted in a manner that offends the public policy of the state of Wisconsin. [*14] This argument is founded upon an overly-expansive reading of a quote of Couch on Insurance contained in Appleton Papers, Inc. v. Home Indem. Co., 2000 WI App 104, ¶44, 235 Wis. 2d 39, 612 N.W.2d 760:

A provision that a contract of insurance shall be governed by the law of a given state is void where such an express provision violates a statute of the state of the contract or would, if given force, evade statutory provisions declaring a rule of public policy with reference to contracts made within the jurisdiction, or where the contract stipulation would violate the interests and public policy of the state, since these cannot be changed by the contract of the parties.

What the Wisconsin Court of Appeals was actually saying in this quoted passage is that Wisconsin will not enforce a provision of an insurance contract that offends Wisconsin law simply because the contract contained a choice of law provision stating that the law of another state shall govern. It is for this reason that, notwithstanding the presence of the forum selection clause, it is appropriate to apply Wisconsin law to conclude that the forum selection clause was invalid. The plaintiff does not point to any Wisconsin law or public policy similarly barring [*15] choice of law provisions in insurance contracts. The court rejects the plaintiff’s argument that the court of appeals in Appleton Papers effectively found any choice of law provision unlawful.

Thus, the court turns to the plaintiff’s remaining argument that Wisconsin law would still apply to his bad faith claim. (Docket No. 86 at 8-9.) In support of this argument, the plaintiff begins with the terms of the choice of law provision: “Indiana law shall govern all rights and claims raised under this Certificate of Insurance,” (Docket No. 55-1 at ¶6). Redmond reads this provision as being limited to claims for insurance coverage. (Docket No. 86 at 8.) In Redmond’s view, a claim of bad faith is not “raised under” the policy but rather is a wholly distinct claim.

The court disagrees. Although bad faith is a tort and is distinct from breach of contract, in this case, it is the existence of the contract that creates the relationship necessary for a bad faith claim. Anderson v. Cont’l Ins. Co., 85 Wis. 2d 675, 687, 271 N.W.2d 368, 374 (1978) (the court looks to Wisconsin law here because that is the basis for the plaintiff’s argument). If there was no contract, there could be no claim of bad faith. [*16] Any bad faith claim will depend upon the scope and provisions of the contract. Because a bad faith claim is inextricably linked to the contract, in the court’s view, it is appropriately regarded as a “claim raised under this Certificate of Insurance.”

Accordingly, the court concludes that the choice of law provision contained within the policy is enforceable and applies to all of the plaintiff’s claims. Therefore, the defendant’s motion, (Docket No. 58), shall be granted, and Indiana substantive law shall govern this matter. Consequently, the court shall not consider arguments presented by the plaintiff that are founded solely in Wisconsin law or otherwise unsupported by reference to Indiana law.

IV. MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Having concluded that Indiana law applies and this court must decide the present motions, the court turns to the parties’ motions for summary judgment. Sirius seeks summary judgment in its favor on both Redmond’s breach of contract, (Docket No. 70), and bad faith, (Docket No. 75), claims, as well as its cross-claim for breach of contract, (Docket No. 70), and with respect to the issue of future medical expenses, (Docket No. 66). Redmond seeks summary judgment [*17] on the question of coverage. (Docket No. 63.) The issues raised in all of the motions are largely inter-related and therefore the court shall address them together. At the core of the present dispute is the question of whether the relevant insurance policy afforded coverage for the injuries Redmond suffered and thus the court begins there.

A. Facts

On July 2, 2011, 32-year-old Redmond joined three acquaintances on a trip to ski the Ellingwood Couloir, located in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. (Docket No. 83, ¶1.) All were experienced skiers and Redmond considered himself an “expert,” having skied since age two and having skied competitively in high school. (Docket No. 83, ¶¶7-8.) Setting out at 1:00 or 2:00 AM, the group hiked up the mountain using crampons and ice axes to assist their assent. (Docket No. 83, ¶17-18.) Photographs of the group’s ascent have been included in the record. (See Docket No. 68-5.) By about 10:00 AM, the group was about two-thirds of the way up the Ellingwood Couloir when they stopped to rest. (Docket No. 83, ¶19.) Two of the group, including Redmond, rested about 30 minutes, removed their climbing gear, and prepared for their descent; two others continued [*18] climbing, intending to reach the top of the couloir before skiing down. (Docket No. 83, ¶¶25-26.) Redmond was first to ski down the mountain but after skiing only a short distance, he lost his balance and fell. (Docket No. 83, ¶28.) When he ceased tumbling down the mountain, he remained motionless, unconscious, and unresponsive. (Docket No. 83, ¶29.) He was eventually airlifted from the park for medical treatment. (Docket No. 83, ¶29.)

The relevant insurance policy that provided coverage for Redmond for the period of October 20, 2010 to October 20, 2011, contains the following exclusions:

All charges, costs, expenses and/or claims (collectively “Charges”) incurred by the Insured Person and directly or indirectly relating to or arising from or in connection with any of the following acts …:

* * *

(11) Charges incurred for any surgery, Treatment or supplies relating to, arising from or in connection with, for, or as a result of:

* * *

(d) any Injury or Illness sustained while taking part in mountaineering activities where specialized climbing equipment, ropes or guides are normally or reasonably should have been used, Amateur Athletics, Professional Athletics, aviation (except when traveling [*19] solely as a passenger in a commercial aircraft), hang gliding and parachuting, snow skiing except for recreational downhill and/or cross country snow skiing (no cover provided whilst skiing in violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations; away from prepared and marked in-bound territories; and/or against the advice of the local ski school or local authoritative body), racing of any kind including by horse, motor vehicle (of any type) or motorcycle, spelunking, and subaqua pursuits involving underwater breathing apparatus (except as otherwise expressly set forth in Section Q. Recreational Underwater Activities). Practice or training in preparation for any excluded activity which results in injury will be considered as activity while taking part in such activity; and/or

(e) any Illness or Injury sustained while participating in any sporting, recreational or adventure activity where such activity is undertaken against the advice or direction of any local authority or any qualified instructor or contrary to the rules, recommendations and procedures of a recognized governing body for the sport or activity….

(Docket No. 83, ¶33 (emphasis added).) Relying upon section (d) quoted above, [*20] Sirius denied Redmond’s claim. (Docket No. 83, ¶¶36, 38.)

B. Summary Judgment Standard

“The court shall grant summary judgment 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. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the case, and a nonmoving party’s dispute is “genuine” only if a reasonable finder of fact could find in the nonmoving party’s favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and likewise it draws all inferences in the non-movant’s favor. Ault v. Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011). The court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003). Thus, the nonmoving party will defeat a motion for summary judgment if it is able to produce admissible evidence that, when viewed in the most favorable light, would be sufficient to enable the finder of fact to return a verdict in its favor. Fleishman v. Cont’l Cas. Co., 698 F.3d 598, 603 (7th Cir. 2012).

C. [*21] Analysis

“An insurance policy is a contract, and as such is subject to the same rules of construction as other contracts.” Dunn v. Meridian Mut. Ins. Co., 836 N.E.2d 249, 251 (Ind. 2005) (citing Allstate Ins. Co. v. Dana Corp., 759 N.E.2d 1049, 1054 (Ind. 2001)). Because contract interpretation is primarily a question of law, it is a matter that is generally well-suited for summary judgment. FLM, LLC v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 973 N.E.2d 1167, 1174 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012) (citing Mahan v. Am. Std. Ins. Co., 862 N.E.2d 669, 676 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)). “When interpreting an insurance contract courts must look at the contract as a whole.” Dunn, 836 N.E.2d at 252 (citing Meridian Mut. Ins. Co. v. Richie, 540 N.E.2d 27, 29 (Ind. 1989)). In construing an insurance contract, the court should do “so as not to render any words, phrases, or terms ineffective or meaningless.” FLM, 973 N.E.2d at 1174 (citing Mahan, 862 N.E.2d at 676). Terms should be given their plain and ordinary meaning. Id. (citing Mahan, 862 N.E.2d at 676). In determining the “plain and ordinary meaning” of a term, courts will frequently turn to dictionaries. See, e.g., Allgood v. Meridian Sec. Ins. Co., 836 N.E.2d 243, 247 (Ind. 2005); [*22] State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. D’Angelo, 875 N.E.2d 789, 797-98 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

However, if a provision of an insurance contract is ambiguous, it is to be construed strictly against the insurer. FLM, 973 N.E.2d at 1174 (quoting Lake States Ins. Co. v. Tech Tools, Inc., 743 N.E.2d 314, 318 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001)). An insurance contract is not ambiguous simply because parties each have their own interpretation of a provision. Id. (citing Mahan, 862 N.E.2d at 676). Rather, “[a]n insurance contract is ambiguous when it is susceptible to more than one interpretation and reasonably intelligent persons would honestly differ as to its meaning.” Id. (quoting Allstate Ins. Co. v. Bradtmueller, 715 N.E.2d 993, 997 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999)).

1. Mountaineering Exclusion

In its motion for summary judgment, the defendant begins with the contention that the plaintiff’s injuries directly or indirectly related to or arose from or were in connection with mountaineering activities “where specialized climbing equipment, ropes or guides are normally or reasonably should have been used.” Mountaineering is not defined in the policy.

There is no dispute between the parties that when he was ascending the mountain, [*23] Redmond was mountaineering. But Redmond was not injured on his ascent, and the parties disagree as to whether his descent on skis constituted mountaineering.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “mountaineering” as, “The action or sport of climbing mountains.” Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/239554. Merriam-Webster similarly defines it as “the sport or technique of scaling mountains.” Merriam-Webster, (January 15, 2014), http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mountaineering. The definition within the American Heritage Dictionary states, “The climbing of mountains, especially using special equipment and techniques on rock, ice, or snow. Also called mountain climbing.” American Heritage Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=mountaineering.

If a person uses the word “climb” or “climbing” in common conversation, the connotation will generally be of an action involving ascent, e.g. climb a ladder, climbing stairs, or climb a tree. This understanding is reflected in the Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition of “climb,” which states, “To raise oneself by grasping or clinging, or by the aid of hands [*24] and feet; ‘to mount by means of some hold or footing’ (Johnson); to creep up; to ascend, come, or go up, a perpendicular or steep place. Often with up.” Oxford English Dictionary, (December 2, 2013), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/34342 (emphasis in original).

But as any parent knows from having to frequently call after a rambunctious child, the word “climb” is often used alongside “down,” to denote descent, as in, “Climb down from there before you get hurt!” The Oxford English Dictionary recognizes this usage of “climb” as its second definition of the word “climb” stating, “to descend by the same means.” Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/34342.

Thus, if “mountaineering” is defined by reference to “climbing” and climbing can denote either ascent or descent, then necessarily, “mountaineering” must include both ascent and descent. The court finds this understanding of mountaineering to be the only logical definition. After all, in the context of mountaineering, the proverb “What goes up, must come down,” is generally literally true.

But a person is not necessarily “mountaineering” when he is descending a mountain simply because he ascended through [*25] mountaineering. A person who has helicopter waiting for him at a peak or who chooses to parasail off a mountain could not be appropriately regarding as “mountaineering” on his descent, notwithstanding the means of his ascent. Rather, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes in its second definition of “climb,” when used in the context of descent, the action must be “by the same means.” The court understands the “same means” to be referring to the means stated in the first definition of “climb,” i.e. “grasping or clinging, or by the aid of hands and feet.” Thus, whether ascending or descending a mountain by means of “grasping or clinging, or by the aid of hands and feet,” the person is “mountaineering.”

Here, Redmond generally hiked and climbed up and attempted to ski down. Obviously, skiing involves “the aid of hands and feet” but so do countless other obviously distinct activities. Common sense and common usage would not equate skiing with mountaineering; the actions are distinct in both connotation and denotation. Redmond engaged in mountaineering in order to go skiing but that predicate or the fact that the skiing occurred on a mountain (as skiing obviously often will) did not transform [*26] his skiing into mountaineering.

Nor does the court find persuasive the defendant’s argument that the policy’s expansive language barring coverage for injuries “arising from or in connection with, for, or as a result of … mountaineering” operates to bar coverage. Obviously, this provision serves a valuable purpose. Without it, perhaps a person who fell while mountaineering could argue that the mountaineering exclusion should not bar coverage because he was injured when he fell, not when he was mountaineering, which, by definition, would not include an uncontrolled fall. But the defendant’s argument stretches this provision too far. In the view of the defendant, because the causal chain the resulted in Redmond’s injury included a mountaineering link, coverage must be barred. The court disagrees.

The court also rejects the defendant’s contention that the mountaineering exclusion encompasses “ski mountaineering,” which the defendant characterizes as a subset of mountaineering. The plaintiff contends that ski mountaineering requires ropes and other specialized equipment that he was not using on the descent, (Docket No. 64 at 23-24), but even accepting for present discussion that Redmond’s [*27] acts fell within a broad definition of “ski mountaineering,” the court finds that the mountaineering exclusion does not encompass the distinct activity of ski mountaineering. In describing the mountaineering exclusion, the policy states that mountaineering involves activities “where specialized climbing equipment, ropes or guides are normally or reasonably should have been used.” Here, Redmond’s downhill skiing would not have called for specialized climbing equipment, ropes, or guides, and thus, even if it came within a broad general definition of “ski mountaineering,” the activity would not come within the policy’s description of “mountaineering.”

Therefore, the court concludes that the mountaineering exclusion does not apply in this case. Thus, the court turns to whether any of the policy’s skiing exclusions apply.

2. Skiing Exclusions

In the portion of the insurance policy listing its exclusions, it also states:

“any Injury or Illness sustained while taking part in … snow skiing except for recreational downhill and/or cross country snow skiing (no cover provided whilst skiing in violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations; away from prepared and marked in-bound territories; [*28] and/or against the advice of the local ski school or local authoritative body)….”

This provision, moving back and forth between coverage and exclusions, is far from a model of clarity. It first excludes coverage for injuries sustained while snow skiing but then immediately excludes from the exclusion (and thus covers) injuries sustained while “recreational downhill and/or cross country snow skiing,” and then adds a parenthetical to now exclude from the exclusion to the exclusion (and thus deny coverage for) injuries sustained while “skiing in violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations; away from prepared and marked in-bound territories; and/or against the advice of the local ski school or local authoritative body.” The net effect of this provision is that injuries sustained as a result of recreational snow skiing are covered provided the skiing was not unlawful, against the advice of certain entities, or “away from prepared and marked in-bound territories.”

The defendant argues that the plaintiff’s skiing was not “recreational” and points to a case where a court found that a life insurance policy did not provide coverage for an insured who was killed in an avalanche while heli-skiing [*29] (traveling via helicopter to a remote location on a mountain and then skiing down the mountain) because, although the insured listed skiing as one of his “recreational activities” he did not disclose that he engaged in backcountry heli-skiing. (Docket No. 81 at 8-12 (discussing W. Coast Life Ins. Co. v. Hoar, 505 F. Supp. 2d 734 (D. Colo. 2007)).) However, Hoar is distinguishable in that the issue before that court was not whether a policy exclusion applied but rather whether the insurer had adequate notice of the risk it was undertaking when it relied upon his application to issue the policy. Moreover, the court’s conclusion that the insurer was not adequately informed of its risk was not based solely upon the fact that the insured identified simply skiing, as opposed to heli-skiing, as a recreational activity, but also the fact that the insured did not disclose heli-skiing when asked if he engaged in “any hazardous activities.” Id. at 744-49.

“Recreational” is not ambiguous. It is readily understood as, “An activity or pastime which is pursued for the pleasure or interest it provides.” Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/159954. Thus, competitive [*30] or commercial skiing likely would not be covered under the policy. There is no evidence that Redmond was skiing for any purpose other than the pure pleasure or interest the sport provides, and thus the court concludes that Redmond’s skiing on the day of his injury was recreational.

Nor is there reason to conclude that his skiing was unlawful or against the advice of any relevant entity. The next question is whether he was skiing “away from prepared and marked in-bound territories” when he was injured.

In Redmond’s view, this phrase, when read alongside the other exclusions, means simply that there is no coverage if he is skiing in an area where he has been told not to ski. (Docket No. 64 at 27.) Thus, the exclusion would not apply here because he was skiing in an area where skiing was permitted; in effect, because skiing was permitted anywhere within Grand Teton National Park, the whole park was a prepared and in-bound territory. (Docket No. 64 at 27.)

Moreover, the term “away from” is ambiguous in the view of the plaintiff. It may be interpreted strictly to suggest the skier’s direction. Thus, there would be no coverage if a skier started on a marked and prepared in-bound area but then [*31] left that area. Or, perhaps, there might be coverage for out-of-bounds skiing provided the skier’s path, at some point, would intersect a marked and prepared in-bound territory and thus he was going towards, rather than away from, the in-bound territory. Therefore, a skier taking a shortcut through an out-of-bounds area would still be covered because he was going towards in-bound territory. Alternatively “away from” might be much broader, meaning generally, “outside,” as in how one might say she is “away from home.”

The court does not find the phrase “away from” to be ambiguous. Simply because a term has more than one denotation does not make it ambiguous; otherwise, the majority of words would probably be ambiguous. The differing understandings must also be reasonable given the context before the court will find a term ambiguous. The latter understanding, i.e. that “away from” means, roughly, “outside,” is the only reasonable understanding of the term given the context in which it is used. There may be some arguable ambiguity as to how far from the prepared and in-bound territory a person must be to be “away from” such territory, e.g. whether the term should be read like the NFL rulebook [*32] where one foot on the line is out of bounds or if there might be a sort of “bubble” around a covered territory so that coverage does not necessarily end at a strict boundary line, see York v. Sterling Ins. Co., 114 A.D.2d 665, 666-67, 494 N.Y.S.2d 243 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 1985) (holding that policy provision excluding coverage for injuries “away from” the insured’s property did not bar coverage for injuries sustained when a person riding a dirt bike on insured’s property lost control, traveled over the insured’s property line, and was injured). The follow-up question as to precisely how far one must be to be “away from” is not an issue presently before this court, although it may be relevant for trial. Thus, the court turns its focus to what is meant by “prepared and marked in-bound territories.”

The court rejects the plaintiff’s contention that the court must lump all the exclusions together and conclude that they mean simply that there is coverage so long as he was not skiing in an area where skiing was not banned. Such an interpretation offends the maxim of contract interpretation that, to the extent possible, every term and provision must be given meaning. In saying that there is no coverage [*33] if Redmond was skiing away from prepared and marked in-bound territories, this plainly encompasses more than simply skiing in an area where skiing is not barred. Thus, having concluded that “away from” means roughly “outside of,” restating this exclusion as a positive question, the issue before the court becomes, “Was Redmond skiing in a prepared and marked in-bound territory when he was injured?” Only if he was would the policy possibly afford coverage for his injures.

The plaintiff’s focus upon “in-bound” overlooks two other essential components to the exclusion–”prepared” and “marked.” The plaintiff refers to these terms in only a single inconsequential footnote, (Docket No. 64 at 31, n. 14).) If the plaintiff does not regard his argument on this point worthy of inclusion of the text of his brief, the court hardly regards it as worthy of much consideration; in fact, the court previously expressed its disapproval of the plaintiff’s efforts to raise arguments in footnotes, (Docket No. 80 at 4).

The court agrees with the defendant that “prepared” and “marked” are words of ordinary use. However, this fact does not necessarily mean that the terms are unambiguous as used in the policy. [*34] The only argument offered by either party that approaches a definition of the term “prepared” is the defendant’s suggestion that it means “groomed.” (Docket Nos. 71 at 23; 103 at 3, 9.) As for “marked” there is only the defendant’s footnote where it notes that Redmond testified he did not observe ropes, signs, fences, or other defined physical boundaries on the mountain that day. (Docket No. 71 at 21-22, fn.78.)

The court finds that both “prepared” and “marked” are subject to different interpretations. Again, simply because there are differing interpretations does not mean that the terms are ambiguous or that the policy affords coverage. Rather, for the term to be ambiguous, the differing interpretations must both be reasonable such that “intelligent persons would honestly differ as to its meaning.” Stevenson by Freeman v. Hamilton Mut. Ins. Co., 672 N.E.2d 467, 471 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996) (citing Harden v. Monroe Guaranty Ins. Co., 626 N.E.2d 814, 817 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993)). There is coverage only if one of those reasonable understandings is consistent with coverage. Thus, the court looks to the various meanings of these terms.

While “marked” is readily understood as having some sort of [*35] visible identification, see Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/114174, what is unclear is what sort of mark must be utilized or what these marks must indicate. The court presumes that if a ski area is bordered on the sides by signs and ropes demarcating the boundaries of the permissible skiing area, it is likely “marked” within the scope of the policy. But is this the only kind of identification that will render an area “marked?” What if the area is depicted on a map that includes boundary lines indicating the recommended areas for skiing? If markings on a map are sufficient, who must prepare such a map to render the area marked? Must the map be prepared by the entity in charge of the area, e.g. the National Park Service, or would a map prepared by a person with special knowledge of the area suffice? Or must the markings even relate to the in-bound territories? Would a sign in the vicinity of the mountain stating “Ski at your own risk,” suffice as a marking? Perhaps there are many other plausible understandings of this term.

As for “prepared,” again this term has a readily understandable common meaning, e.g. “To bring into a suitable condition [*36] for some future action or purpose; to make ready in advance; to fit out, equip.” Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/150447. This definition is exceptionally broad and thus its application to the context of skiing is unclear. Even the defendant’s own expert testified that he was not familiar with what this might mean in the context of skiing. (Docket No. 68-15 at 32.)

If ground has snow on it, to many persons, it is “prepared” for skiing in that it has been brought into a suitable condition for skiing, and thus the policy may be simply excluding coverage when persons attempt to ski on surfaces not suitable for skiing. Or must there be some sort of human intervention? (See Docket No. 68-12 at 12.) If so, what sort of intervention? In the context of backcountry skiing, would inspection for or the mitigation of avalanche dangers be adequate preparation of the territory? If so, who must do this? Or must there be, as the defendant seems to suggest, formal grooming of the area, using, for example, a snow grooming machine? If the latter definition is appropriate, then would there be coverage under the policy if an insured was making a run after a fresh [*37] snowfall, or must he wait for the snow grooming machine to make a pass over the slopes?

The court finds that neither party has adequately articulated, much less supported, an appropriate conclusive meaning for these terms. While the defendant’s understanding of the terms “prepared” and “marked” is, as discussed below in conjunction with the plaintiff’s bad faith claim, reasonable, this understanding is not necessarily the only reasonable understanding. Therefore, because the court is not satisfied that the terms are unambiguous and support the conclusion that there is no coverage under the policy, the court cannot grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. However, nor can the court grant the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff has not adequately demonstrated that the terms are, in fact, ambiguous and/or support a finding of coverage. The plaintiff largely asks the court to read the terms out of the policy rather than presenting an alternative reasonable understanding of these terms that is consistent with coverage. Although the court offers here hypothetical interpretations of these terms to demonstrate how they terms are not necessarily un-ambiguous, [*38] absent the defendant’s opportunity to respond to these interpretations, the court is not prepared to conclude that any of these proffered interpretations is reasonable. And in any event, even if reasonable, the court could not conclude that the proffered interpretation would be consistent with coverage because the plaintiff has not presented any such factual support to the court.

Consequently, neither party has succeeded in establishing that summary judgment is warranted on their respective motions relating to coverage. Because the understanding of “in-bound” appears to be at least partially dependent upon the definitions of both “prepared” and “marked,” the court finds itself similarly unable to fix a definition of this term at this time. Therefore, the parties’ motions for summary judgment regarding coverage, (Docket Nos. 63, 70), shall be denied.

3. Future Medical Expenses

Based upon its reading of the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant understood that the plaintiff was seeking payment for medical expenses related to the accident but not incurred prior to the time the policy terminated. Thus, the defendant filed a motion seeking to foreclose this perceived request for damages. (Docket [*39] No. 66.) In response, the plaintiff states that he is seeking coverage only for medical expenses incurred between the date of the accident, July 2, 2011, and the date his coverage expired, October 19, 2012. The reference in the complaint to “costs of the medical care he will continue to receive in the future,” (Docket No. 1-1 at ¶40), was not a demand for coverage beyond the policy period but rather was necessitated by the fact that the complaint was filed within the policy period. In reply, the defendant asks the court to strike the pertinent portion of the complaint and declare that future medical expenses are not available to the plaintiff.

The court finds that the defendant’s motion, (Docket No. 66), is moot and therefore shall be denied as such. Further, the court finds no reason to strike any portion of the plaintiff’s complaint. The parties agree that the plaintiff is not entitled to payment for medical expenses incurred outside the policy period and the court does not read the complaint as seeking such damages. Thus, there is no controversy on this point that requires action by this court.

4. Bad Faith

It is well-established that insurers have a duty to deal in good faith with [*40] their insureds. Monroe Guar. Ins. Co. v. Magwerks Corp., 829 N.E.2d 968, 975 (Ind. 2005) (citing Freidline v. Shelby Ins. Co., 774 N.E.2d 37, 40 (Ind. 2002). “As a general proposition, ‘[a] finding of bad faith requires evidence of a state of mind reflecting dishonest purpose, moral obliquity, furtive design, or ill will.’” Magwerks, 829 N.E.2d 968, 977 (Ind. 2005) (quoting Colley v. Indiana Farmers Mut. Ins. Group, 691 N.E.2d 1259, 1261 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)). This may be proven if the plaintiff can establish by clear and convincing evidence “that the insurer had knowledge that there was no legitimate basis for denying liability.” Id. at 976 (quoting Freidline, 774 N.E.2d at 40). “Poor judgment or negligence do not amount to bad faith.” Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co. v. Combs, 873 N.E.2d 692, 714 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) (quoting State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Gutierrez, 844 N.E.2d 572, 580 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006). Nor is the lack of a diligent investigation sufficient to support a finding of bad faith. Id. (quoting Gutierrez, 844 N.E.2d at 580). Thus, bad faith is not synonymous with a breach of contract. Even if a denial of coverage was improper, it was not necessarily done in bad faith. Id. [*41] (quoting Erie Ins. Co. v. Hickman, 622 N.E.2d 515 (Ind. 1993)).

Redmond’s claim of bad faith is two-pronged. The first prong is Sirius’ conduct before the suit was filed; the second is Sirius’ conduct in defending this suit and pursuing a counterclaim against Redmond.

With respect to Sirius’ pre-litigation conduct, Redmond contends that Sirius acted in bad faith when it failed to conduct an adequate investigation into his claim and denied his claim. Sirius contends that its investigation was appropriate and its decision reasonable. In support, it points primarily to its “claim log,” which it provided to the court, (Docket No. 73-24). However, absent appropriate foundation to establish that this document is a business record under Fed. R. Evid. 803(6), this document is inadmissible hearsay. The defendant fails to support this document by an affidavit or declaration, nor has the defendant directed the court to any relevant deposition testimony that could provide the necessary foundation.

The defendant also relies upon the deposition testimony of Tammie Peters (“Peters”), the person ultimately responsible for denying Redmond’s claim. However, the defendant has provided the court with only [*42] nine pages of her 154 page deposition (three of the provided pages comprise the cover and certification pages), and not always the pages relied upon by the defendant, (see, e.g., Docket No. 73 at ¶130 (citing “Ex. W, Peters Dep. 10:7-9″ which is not included in Docket No. 73-23).) In her deposition, Peters is asked to review Exhibit 11, (see Docket No. 68-10), which the questioner posits consists of articles found on the internet and placed in the claims file of Sirius’ underwriter. (Docket No. 73-23 at 6.) At no point in the deposition excerpts provided to the court by the defendant does Peters authenticate these documents or testify that she relied solely upon them to make her coverage decision. Other documents attached to the defendant’s proposed findings of fact and cited by defendant in its proposed findings of fact and in its briefs are similarly un-authenticated. The only other testimony in the portion of Peters’ deposition provided to the court by the defendant that indicates the basis for Peters’ decision to deny Redmond’s claim is her statement that another employee offered his opinion that the claim was not covered because he reviewed an ambulance report and had done some [*43] internet research regarding where Redmond was skiing. (Docket No. 73-23 at 5.)

In contrast to the defendant’s submissions, the plaintiff has provided the court with the entirety of Peters’ deposition and thus the court turns to this document. (Docket No. 68-12.) Having reviewed this document, the court is able to fill in many of the gaps left by the defendant. In her deposition, Peters discusses Exhibit 7, which she describes as “insured notes” comprised of “notes that were put under the insured, Ryan Redmond.” (Docket No. 68-12 at 15.) Exhibit 7, which was provided to the court by the plaintiff as Docket No. 68-7, is largely the same as the “claim log,” (Docket No. 73-24), provided by the defendant, although the formatting of these documents differs and Docket No. 68-7 includes pages and entries beyond those included in the defendant’s excerpt. Based upon this more complete review, the court concludes that Peters’ testimony regarding this document is sufficient to bring the document within Fed. R. Evid. 803(6), and thus it may be appropriately considered by the court in deciding the present motion.

This document indicates that the decision to deny coverage was made by at least July [*44] 29, 2011. (Docket Nos. 73-24 at 3; 68-12 at 20.) The notes indicate that on July 5, 2011, the underwriter was informed that Redmond was in a “skiing accident with a head injury.” (Docket No. 73-24 at 6.) An hour later, another employer of the underwriter spoke with personnel at the hospital and noted, “Admitted through ER / head trauma / fall from cliff.” (Docket No. 73-24 at 5.) Ten days later, following a conversation with the helicopter ambulance service that assisted in Redmond’s rescue, the notes state, “Appeared scene was Lupine Meadows, but was unsure if that is a ski resort or park.” (Docket No. 73-24 at 4.) Later that day, a follow-up call confirmed that Lupine Meadows was in Grand Teton National Park. (Docket No. 73-24 at 4.) Four days thereafter, the underwriter communicated to the hospital that there might not be coverage because preliminary investigation indicated Redmond’s “injuries were as a result of backcountry skiing.” (Docket No. 73-24 at 4.)

The court is not able to find that the information contained in this document was necessarily sufficient to deny Redmond’s claim. Thus, the court looks to what other information was available to the underwriter. Peters testified [*45] that she also relied upon a report from the helicopter ambulance service that transported Redmond. (Docket No. 68-12 at 20.) This report is included in Exhibit AA to Sirius’ statement of proposed facts, (Docket No. 73-27 at 12-16), and, like many of the defendant’s exhibits, is not authenticated by way of a declaration, affidavit, or deposition testimony. Nonetheless, the court shall consider it because the plaintiff does not dispute that this document is the Omniflight Helicopters-Idaho medical records received by the underwriter. (Docket No. 96, ¶107.) The portion of this report captioned “History of Present Illness” states, in part, “Pt had been backcountry skiing when he fell down steep slope approx. 800 ft. Took approx. 2 hrs before pt could be reached.” (Docket No. 73-27 at 12.)

Taken together, all of this information provided a reasonable basis to deny Redmond’s claim pursuant to the skiing exclusion in the policy. As discussed above, the terms “prepared” and “marked,” as used within the skiing exclusion, can be reasonably understood in different ways. One such reasonable understanding would be the understanding that Peters testified she held, which there is no coverage for skiing [*46] outside of the boundaries of a ski run at a traditional ski resort. One could reasonably understand “backcountry skiing” to mean that Redmond was necessarily not skiing at a traditional ski resort. Subsequent information further corroborated the conclusion that Redmond was skiing in a remote wilderness area. (See Docket No. 73-14 (National Park Service Search & Rescue Report received by the underwriter on Sept. 15, 2011).) Thus, based upon the information provided, the decision to deny coverage was reasonable. This decision might prove incorrect, but it was not done in bad faith. There is simply no evidence that could permit a reasonable finder of fact to conclude by clear and convincing evidence that Peters’ decision to deny the claim was the result of a “dishonest purpose, moral obliquity, furtive design, or ill will.”

Thus, the court turns to the question of whether Sirius’ conduct in this litigation might form the basis for a claim of bad faith. Redmond argues that Sirius acted in bad faith by using tactics to try to get Redmond to concede Sirius’ counterclaim, which Sirius eventually withdrew, and by failing to reconsider the denial of coverage after certain deposition testimony. [*47] (Docket No. 89 at 9.)

On the issue of post-litigation conduct vis-à-vis bad faith, courts across the country have been dealing with two distinct issues. The first is evidentiary: whether an insurer’s conduct in litigation following the filing of a claim alleging bad faith might be used as evidence to support that claim of bad faith. The second is substantive: whether an insurer’s conduct in litigation might itself form the basis for a claim of bad faith. The Court of Appeals of Indiana addressed these issues in Gooch v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 712 N.E.2d 38 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), and noted the general reluctance of courts to permit post-litigation conduct as evidence to support a prior claim of bad faith. Id. at 42 (discussing Howard v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 316 S.C. 445, 450 S.E.2d 582 (1994); Palmer v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 261 Mont. 91, 861 P.2d 895 (1993); Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Clay, 525 So. 2d 1339 (Ala.1987)). With respect to the second question, however, the Court of Appeals of Indiana concluded that when an insurer is sued, under certain circumstances, its post-litigation conduct might form an independent basis for a new bad faith claim.

In Gooch, the plaintiff [*48] sued her insurer seeking coverage under the uninsured motorist provision of her policy. After the action was filed, the defendant insurer insisted that she also pursue an action against another individual in a foreign jurisdiction, an action the plaintiff believed would be frivolous. Believing that the insurance company was making these demands to frustrate her suit and thus pressure her to settle, the plaintiff amended her complaint to also allege bad faith. The court of appeals concluded that such litigation conduct by an insurer might present a cognizable claim of bad faith, and in doing so the court emphasized that the plaintiff was relying upon conduct that occurred only before she filed her bad faith claim.

What Redmond is attempting to allege here are two distinct bad faith claims. The first related to the denial of his claim; the second related to Sirius’ conduct in the litigation. But as the court addressed in a prior order, (Docket No. 80), Redmond’s complaint raises bad faith only with respect to Sirius’ denial of his claim. Although Gooch involved a case initiated on a wholly distinct coverage claim, an insurer is likely not absolved of its duty of good faith simply because [*49] a plaintiff, like Redmond, initiates a suit alleging bad faith. If a suit is commenced containing a claim of bad faith and an insurer subsequently engages in litigation conduct that itself constitutes a distinct claim of bad faith, in accordance with Gooch, that plaintiff may amend her complaint to state a second distinct claim of bad faith.

Here, Redmond did not seek to amend his complaint to add a claim of post-litigation bad faith. Instead, he has attempted to expand the bad faith claim in his complaint by supplementing his discovery responses. The defendant objected and, as is fully discussed in this court’s prior order, (Docket No. 80), the court rejected this means of constructively amending his complaint. There was no amended complaint and therefore no such claim of post-litigation bad faith is properly before the court. Thus, Redmond necessarily cannot obtain the relief he seeks. Accordingly, the court shall grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to the entirety of Redmond’s bad faith claim.

V. MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF’S DEMAND FOR A JURY TRIAL

Alongside its choice of law and venue provisions, the insurance policy also states, “All trials regarding disputes under [*50] this insurance shall be exclusively presented to and determined solely by the court as the trier of fact, without a jury.”

The plaintiff contends that this waiver of his right to a jury trial is unenforceable because it was not knowingly and intelligently made and the jury waiver provision is unconscionable. (Docket No. 95.) In reply, the defendant cites IFC Credit Corp. v. United Bus. & Indus. Fed. Credit Un., 512 F.3d 989, 993-94 (7th Cir. 2008), for the proposition that a jury waiver provision need not be knowing, voluntary, or intentional to be enforceable. (Docket No. 102 at 2-3.) However, the contract at issue in IFC was a traditional commercial contract under the Uniform Commercial Code. Although insurance policies are a form of contract and traditional rules of contract interpretation are applied, there is a vast difference between a UCC agreement for the sale of goods and a consumer insurance policy.

In deciding whether a contract provision waiving the right to a jury trial is enforceable, the court looks to the state substantive law that governs the contract. IFC, 512 F.3d at 994. Thus, the court looks to Indiana law. The plaintiff cites only Wisconsin law; the defendant, although [*51] citing Indiana law, does not identify any Indiana case explicitly addressing the question of a jury trial waiver in an insurance contract. The court’s own research has failed to identify any court that has applied Indiana law to directly answer this question.

Notwithstanding, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit noted that when it comes to the waiver of the right to a jury trial, an agreement to arbitrate a claim (and thus give up not only a jury trial but a judicial forum altogether) is arguably more onerous than an agreement to simply have a claim heard by a court instead of a jury, yet arbitration agreements are regularly enforced in all sorts of contracts without any special requirements. Id. Thus, in the absence of any case law addressing the validity of an insurance contract provision waiving simply the right to a jury trial, the court looks to how Indiana would regard a similar provision waiving the right to present a claim in any judicial forum.

Indiana law does not prohibit the use of arbitration provisions in insurance contracts, see Ind. Code sec. 34-57-2-1; rather, Indiana has a strong policy in favor of enforcing arbitration provisions in all contracts, including [*52] insurance contracts, see, e.g., Pekin Ins. Co. v. Hanquier, 984 N.E.2d 227, 228 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013); HemoCleanse, Inc. v. Phila. Indem. Ins. Co., 831 N.E.2d 259, 262 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

If an insurer can include in a standard insurance contract a provision whereby an insured will give up his right to not only a trial by jury but also the right to bring his action in any court, the court has little reason to conclude that a provision waiving the right to a jury trial is inherently unenforceable or any extraordinary means are necessary to render it effective. Thus, the court shall enforce the contract as written.

The plaintiff also raises separate arguments limited to the applicability of the waiver of the right to a jury trial to his bad faith claim. These arguments are basically a restatement of the arguments the plaintiff offered to support his contention that the choice of law provision did not apply to the bad faith claim. For the same reasons set forth above in the discussion of that motion, the court would reject these arguments. But more importantly, having concluded that the defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s bad faith claim, this aspect of the plaintiff’s [*53] argument is moot.

Finally, the court rejects the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant waived the opportunity to object to the plaintiff’s demand for a jury trial. Under the circumstances of this case, the court finds the present stage of litigation to be an appropriate time for the defendant to raise its objection. Therefore, the defendant’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s demand for a trial by jury, (Docket No. 50), shall be granted.

VI. DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF’S EXPERT REPORT

The defendant objects to opinions offered by the plaintiff’s expert, Daniel Doucette (“Doucette”), many of which are now moot in light of the court’s decisions on other motions. Thus, having concluded that the defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s bad faith claim, Doucette’s opinions on this topic are no longer relevant. The only topic on which Doucette opined that remains to be resolved is the question of what the phrase “away from prepared and marked in-bound territories” means.

On this topic, Doucette’s conclusions read more like a legal brief than the opinions of an expert. (See Docket No. 61-1 at 19.) He does not opine as to how this phrase is commonly understood in [*54] the insurance industry, but rather offers general conclusions as to what this phrase might mean in the context of skiing. Although Redmond argues that Doucette is qualified to testify also as a ski expert, (Docket No. 91 at 9-10), the court is not persuaded. Doucette may be an experienced skier, but absent additional knowledge, skill, training, or education, the court finds that Doucette is not qualified to testify as an expert on skiing. The court is not going to open the witness stand to a parade of recreational skiers, each of whom would opine as to the meaning of the relevant phrase. An expert is supposed to assist the trier of fact and Doucette’s opinion on these phrases is not at all helpful.

Therefore, to the extent that his opinions are not moot, the court shall grant the defendant’s motion to exclude Doucette from testifying and strike his expert report, (Docket No. 60).

VII. MOTIONS TO STRIKE

Redmond moved to strike portions of the Sirius’ brief in support of its motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s bad faith claim, (Docket No. 84), and to strike Sirius’s reply to its proposed findings of fact, (Docket No. 107.)

The first motion to strike, (Docket No. 84), relates to [*55] the fact that in its brief in support of its motion for summary judgment, Sirius relied upon an email exchange it had not previously disclosed in discovery on the grounds that it was privileged, (see Docket No. 76 at 9-10). In response, Sirius apparently does not oppose the motion to strike, (Docket No. 97 at 4 (“Sirius will withdraw the previously withheld document at issue…”); its opposition is limited to the request for sanctions. Having considered the parties’ briefs on the matter, the court does not find that sanctions are appropriate. Therefore, the motion to strike shall be granted; the request for sanctions shall be denied.

The second motion to strike relates to the fact that Sirius replied to Redmond’s response to Sirius’ proposed findings of fact. Responding to this motion, Sirius’ counsel acknowledges that he misread what was permissible under the relevant local rule, Civ. L.R. 56(b)(3)(B), and agrees to withdraw the pleading. (Docket No. 109.) Therefore, the defendant having withdrawn the relevant pleading, (Docket No. 106), the motion to strike, (Docket No. 107), is moot.

VIII. CONCLUSION

Notwithstanding his travels, Redmond was “residing in” Wisconsin when he renewed his [*56] travel insurance policy with Sirius. Therefore, under Wis. Stat. § 631.83(3)(b), the policy’s forum selection clause is unenforceable. Balancing all other relevant factors, the court does not find that transfer to the Southern District of Indiana pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) is appropriate. Therefore, Sirius’ motion to transfer will be denied.

However, the choice of law provision within the contract shall be given its effect, and therefore Sirius’ motion for an order holding that Indiana law applies to the present case will be granted.

As for the parties’ motions for summary judgment, the court concludes that the mountaineering exclusion is unambiguous and does not exclude coverage for Redmond’s injuries. As for the skiing exclusion, Redmond was engaged in recreational skiing, and there is no evidence that Redmond was skiing “in violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations … and/or against the advice of the local ski school or local authoritative body.” However, the provision excluding coverage for skiing “away from prepared and marked in-bound territories” is subject to varying interpretations and the evidence before the court is insufficient to enable the court to conclude [*57] that either party is entitled to summary judgment on the question of whether the policy provides coverage for Redmond’s injuries.

The court shall grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiff’s bad faith claim. The evidence is insufficient to permit a reasonable finder of fact to conclude that Sirius acted in bad faith in denying Redmond’s claim. Moreover, Sirius’ litigation conduct cannot form the basis for a bad faith claim because Redmond never amended his complaint to state such a claim.

The defendant’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s demand for a jury trial is granted in accordance with the plain language of the policy, and therefore in any trial in this matter, the court shall serve as the finder of fact.

The report of plaintiff’s expert Daniel Doucette is largely moot in light of other conclusions by the court, but to the extent it is not moot, the defendant’s motion to strike is granted. The plaintiff lacks the qualifications to testify as an expert on skiing and his opinions regarding the meaning of the phrase “away from prepared and marked in-bound territories” are insufficiently supported to come within the appropriate ambit of an expert.

Finally, [*58] with respect to the plaintiff’s motions to strike, the defendant concedes both. Therefore, the plaintiff’s motion to strike portions of the defendant’s brief in support of its motion for summary judgment is granted and its reply to the plaintiff’s response to the defendant’s proposed findings of fact is deemed withdrawn. The court declines to impose sanctions.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the defendant’s motion to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, (Docket No. 54), is denied.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s demand for a jury trial, (Docket No. 56), is granted.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant’s motion for an order that Indiana law governs the plaintiff’s claims, (Docket No. 58), is granted.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant’s motion to exclude and strike the expert report of Daniel Doucette, (Docket No. 60), is granted to the extent that the motion is not moot.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on coverage, (Docket No. 63), is denied.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on future medical expenses, (Docket [*59] No. 66), is denied as moot.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim and the defendant’s breach of contract counterclaim, (Docket No. 70), is denied

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s bad faith claim, (Docket No. 75), is granted.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the plaintiff’s expedited non-dispositive motion to strike, (Docket No. 84), is granted. The request for sanctions is denied.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the plaintiff’s expedited non-dispositive motion to strike, (Docket No. 107), is denied as moot. The defendant’s reply, (Docket No. 106), is considered withdrawn.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the court shall hold a telephonic conference on January 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM (CST) to discuss scheduling this matter for trial. The court will initiate the call. Not less than 48 hours before the call, counsel participating in the call shall provide to the court via email to GoodsteinPO@wied.uscourts.gov a direct telephone number where counsel may be reached for the call. The court strongly discourages the use of mobile phones for conference calls.

Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin [*60] this 15th day of January, 2014.

/s/ Aaron E. Goodstein

AARON E. GOODSTEIN

U.S. Magistrate Judge

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Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corporation, 2014 Colo. App. LEXIS 242

Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corporation, 2014 Colo. App. LEXIS 242

Salynda E. Fleury, individually, on behalf of Indyka Norris and Sage Norris, and as surviving spouse of Christopher H. Norris, Plaintiff Appellant, v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corporation, Defendant Appellee.

Court of Appeals No. 13CA0517

COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION VII

2014 Colo. App. LEXIS 242

February 13, 2014, Decided

OPINION

[*1]

Grand County District Court No. 12CV132 Honorable Mary C. Hoak, Judge

Opinion by JUDGE FOX

Navarro, J., concurs

J. Jones, J., dissents

Announced February 13, 2014

Burg Simpson Eldridge Hersh & Jardine, P.C., Diane Vaksdal Smith, Nelson P. Boyle, James G. Heckbert, Englewood, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Reitz Law Firm, LLC, Peter W. Reitz, Kimberly A. Viergever, Brian A. Birenbach, Dillon, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee

¶ 1 This case arises from the death of Christopher H. Norris, who was killed by an avalanche while skiing at Winter Park Resort. Mr. Norris’s wife, Salynda E. Fleury, individually and on behalf of her minor children Indyka and Sage Norris, sued defendant, IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corporation (IntraWest), the operator of Winter Park Resort. The district court granted IntraWest’s motion for determination of law and judgment on the pleadings, ruling that an avalanche is an inherent danger or risk of skiing under the Ski Safety Act, § 33-44-101 to -114, C.R.S. 2013 (the Act), and therefore IntraWest cannot be liable for Mr. Norris’s death. We agree and affirm.

I. Background and Procedural History

¶ 2 On January 22, 2012, Mr. Norris was fatally injured in an avalanche [*2] while skiing inbounds at Winter Park Resort on a run known as Trestle Trees/Topher’s Trees (Trestle Trees). Ms. Fleury asserted claims for negligence and wrongful death. Ms. Fleury claimed that IntraWest knew or should have known that an avalanche was likely to occur on Trestle Trees on January 22, 2012, and that IntraWest’s failure to warn skiers about the likelihood of

1

avalanches or failure to close Trestle Trees caused Mr. Norris’s death. Ms. Fleury sought an unspecified amount of economic and noneconomic damages, and punitive damages for IntraWest’s alleged willful and wanton conduct.

¶ 3 IntraWest moved for a determination of law under C.R.C.P. 56(h), and a judgment on the pleadings under C.R.C.P. 12(c), asserting immunity from liability because an avalanche is an inherent danger or risk of skiing under the Act. See §§ 33-44-103(3.5) (defining inherent dangers and risks of skiing) and 33-44-112 (granting immunity when an injury results from an inherent danger or risk of skiing). IntraWest also asserted that the Act caps the maximum amount of compensatory damages for derivative claims at $250,000, present value. See § 33-44-113.

¶ 4 The court held that the avalanche that killed Mr. [*3] Norris was an inherent risk of skiing, and thus IntraWest was not liable for his death. The court dismissed Ms. Fleury’s claims with prejudice, but opined that were Ms. Fleury allowed to proceed with her claims, compensatory damages would be capped at $250,000, individually and on behalf of her minor children.

2

II. Liability Under the Act

¶ 5 Ms. Fleury contends that the district court erred in determining that the avalanche was an inherent risk of skiing under § 33-44-103(3.5). We disagree and therefore affirm.

A. Standard of Review

¶ 6 We review a district court’s order granting a judgment on the pleadings under C.R.C.P. 12(c) de novo. In re Estate of Johnson, 2012 COA 209, ¶ 18. We likewise review a district court’s determination of a question of law under C.R.C.P. 56(h) de novo. Henisse v. First Transit, Inc., 247 P.3d 577, 579 (Colo. 2011). An order deciding a question of law is proper “[i]f there is no genuine issue of any material fact necessary for the determination of the question of law.” C.R.C.P. 56(h). The nonmoving party is entitled to all favorable inferences. Henisse, 247 P.3d at 579.

¶ 7 Statutory interpretation, the matter we must address here, presents a question of law [*4] and is also subject to de novo review. Stamp v. Vail Corp., 172 P.3d 437, 442 (Colo. 2007). When the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, we give effect to its plain and ordinary meaning. Id. Likewise, when the General

3

Assembly defines a term, we must apply that definition. People v. Swain, 959 P.2d 426, 429 (Colo. 1998); In re M.D.E., 2013 COA 13, ¶ 10. However, when the language is ambiguous – that is, reasonably susceptible of multiple meanings – we may consider extrinsic indications of the General Assembly’s intent. Stamp, 172 P.3d at 442; In re M.D.E., ¶ 10.

B. Applicable Law

¶ 8 In adopting the Act, the General Assembly recognized that there are dangers inherent to the sport of skiing, regardless of the safety measures that may be employed by ski area operators. § 33-44-102. The Act’s stated purposes are to “define the legal responsibilities of ski area operators and their agents and employees; to define the responsibilities of skiers using such ski areas; and to define the rights and liabilities existing between the skier and the ski area operator and between skiers.” Id. Consistent with these purposes, the Act grants ski area operators immunity from claims for injuries [*5] resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. § 33-44-112. Accordingly, a skier may not

4

recover if his injury – or death, see Stamp, 172 P.3d at 447 – is

the result of an inherent danger or risk of skiing.

C. Avalanches as Inherent Dangers or Risks of Skiing

¶ 9 Ms. Fleury contends that because an “avalanche” is not specifically listed as an inherent danger or risk of skiing in § 33-44-103(3.5), the General Assembly did not intend that it should be so regarded for purposes of the Act. Relying on Turbyne v. People, 151 P.3d 563, 567 (Colo. 2007) (holding that a court cannot add words to a statute), and Lunsford v. Western States Life Insurance, 908 P.2d 79, 84 (Colo. 1995) (where the legislature has spoken with exactitude, a court must construe the statute to mean that inclusion or specification of a particular set of conditions necessarily excludes others), she argues that the definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” is [*6] a finite list. According to Ms. Fleury, construing the definition to include avalanches would expand the scope of a ski area operator’s immunity under the Act in contravention of the intent of the General Assembly. We disagree, for two reasons.

1. Plain Meaning of the Act

5

¶ 10 First, giving effect to the plain meanings of the words in the Act, we conclude that an avalanche fits the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing. As relevant here, the inherent dangers and risks of skiing include:

those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; [and] variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design[.]

§ 33-44-103(3.5). We must apply this definition as written. Swain,

959 P.2d at 429.

¶ 11 The operative definition contains the word “including” before listing nonexclusive examples. Because the General Assembly typically uses “include” as a word of extension or enlargement, listing examples in a statutory definition does not restrict the term’s [*7] meaning. See S. Ute Indian Tribe v. King Consol. Ditch Co., 250 P.3d 1226, 1233 n.4 (Colo. 2011); see also Lyman v. Town of Bow Mar, 188 Colo. 216, 222, 533 P.2d 1129, 1133 (1975) (stating that the word “‘include’” in a statute ordinarily signifies extension or

enlargement, and it is not synonymous with the word “‘mean’”).

6

The list is illustrative and not, as Ms. Fleury argues, confined to the

identified dangers.

¶ 12 In Kumar v. Copper Mountain, Inc., the Tenth Circuit held thata cornice, which is not listed in the Act, is an inherent danger or risk of skiing. 431 F. App’x 736, 738 (2011). This cornice regularly formed at the intersection of two ski runs, but the resort did not post any warning signs alerting skiers to its existence or the potential danger of the steep drop-off at the edge. Id. at 737. The injuries in Kumar occurred when the skier did not see the edge of the cornice, and he unintentionally skied off of that edge. Id. The Tenth Circuit concluded that a cornice falls within the statutory definition of an inherent danger or risk of skiing either “within the section relating to snow conditions as they exist or change, or the provision covering variations in steepness or [*8] terrain.” Id. at 738.

¶ 13 Similar to a cornice, an avalanche – “a large mass of snow, ice, earth, rock, or other material in swift motion down a mountainside or over a precipice,” see Webster’s Third New International Dictionary Unabridged 150 (2002);see also Union Ins. Co. v. Houtz, 883 P.2d 1057, 1068 (Colo. 1994) (an appellate court

7

may consult recognized dictionaries to determine the ordinary meanings of words) – fits one or more of the statutory examples of inherent dangers or risks of skiing.

¶ 14 Ms. Fleury’s complaint alleges that the avalanche that killed Mr. Norris was caused by new snowfall on top of a weak and unstable snowpack on a north-facing slope of greater than thirty degrees. Thus, even pursuant to Ms. Fleury’s own allegations, the avalanche resulted from changing snow conditions (new snowfall) and existing snow conditions (weak and unstable snowpack) caused by weather and slope steepness (slope exceeding thirty degrees).

¶ 15 An avalanche falls neatly into the examples of dangers in the Act, and comports with the common understanding of a “danger”: a “[p]eril; exposure to harm, loss, pain, or other negative result.”

Black’s Law Dictionary 450 (9th ed. 2009); see also [*9] Union Ins. Co., 883 P.2d at 1068. An avalanche is itself a danger resulting from certain conditions of snow, and the degree of danger is affected by “changing weather conditions” across “variations of steepness and terrain.” See Mannhard v. Clear Creek Skiing Corp., 682 P.2d 64, 66

8

(Colo. App. 1983) (characterizing avalanche danger as arising from

dangerous natural snow conditions).

¶ 16 We thus construe the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing in § 33-44-103(3.5) as written to include an avalanche. See Swain, 959 P.2d at 429; Kumar, 431 F. App’x at 738. This construction is fully consistent with the legislative recognition that, regardless of all reasonable safety measures a ski area operator may employ, skiing is fraught with dangers. See § 33-44-102; see also Mannhard, 682 P.2d at 66.

2. Legislative Intent

¶ 17 Since its enactment in 1979, the General Assembly has amended the Act to increasingly limit a ski area operator’s liability

for skiing-related injuries.1 In 1990, the General Assembly added section 112, which immunizes ski area operators from liability for a

1 It is true that statutes granting immunity are in derogation of the common law and must be strictly construed. [*10] See State v. Nieto, 993 P.2d 493, 506 (Colo. 2000) . It is equally true, however, that we must assume that General Assembly knew this law when it increasingly broadened ski area operators’ immunity. See Smith v. Miller, 153 Colo. 35, 39, 384 P.2d 738, 740 (1963) (“[I]t must be assumed that the legislature acted with full knowledge of relevant constitutional provisions, inherent judicial powers existing, and of previous legislation and decisional law on the subject[.]“).

9

skier’s injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. See Ch. 256, sec. 7, § 33-44-112, 1990 Colo. Sess. Laws 1543; see also Stamp, 172 P.3d at 443-44 (Colo. 2007) (“By narrowly defining the claims that can be brought by injured skiers against ski area operators and by limiting the recovery in successful skiers’ claims, the 1990 amendments broaden the [Act's] protection of ski area operators.”).

¶ 18 In 2004, the General Assembly changed the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing from “dangers or conditions which are an integral part of the sport of skiing” to “dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing,” thereby broadening the types of inherent risks covered by the [*11] Act and decreasing the liability of ski area operators. See Ch. 341, sec. 1, § 33-44-103(3.5), 2004 Colo. Sess. Laws. 1393. Removing the words “an integral” effectively abrogated the part of the supreme court’s holding in Graven v. Vail Associates, 909 P.2d 514, 520 (Colo. 1995), that required courts to determine if a danger encountered on the ski

10

slopes was “integral to the sport,”2 and only granted immunity for

such dangers.

¶ 19 We conclude that the inclusion of an avalanche as an inherent danger or risk of skiing is consistent with the General Assembly’s intent, as evidenced by the evolution of the Act.

D. Duty to Warn

¶ 20 We also reject Ms. Fleury’s argument that IntraWest is liable for Mr. Norris’s death because it failed to close Trestle Trees – and failed to post closure signage – or warn skiers about the avalanche danger on January 22, 2012.

¶ 21 The Act prescribes the rights and responsibilities of ski area operators, see § 33-44-102, and two sections of the Act require sign placement throughout the ski area. Section 33-44-106 requires specific signs at the loading and unloading positions of ski lifts or tramways, and section 33-44-107 requires signs noting the difficulty of [*12] each slope, the entry point of extreme and freestyle

2 Following Graven and construing the Act’s definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing,” Rowan v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 31 F. Supp. 2d 889, 903 (D. Colo. 1998), defined “integral to the sport” as those risks that are so integrally related to skiing that the sport cannot be undertaken without confronting those risks. Id.

11

terrain, closed trails or slopes, ski area boundaries, and man-made structures along the slopes. Significantly, the Act’s signage requirements relate to man-made obstacles, ski area boundaries, and the steepness of the terrain. An avalanche is neither man-made nor a constant feature on the terrain.

¶ 22 Further, the General Assembly’s 2004 amendments removed a part of § 33-44-107(2)(d) that previously required ski area operators to post a sign notifying skiers of “danger areas,” which exclude “areas presenting inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” See Ch. 341, sec. 2, § 33-44-107(2)(d), 2004 Colo. Sess. Laws. 1393. This change further evinces that the General Assembly intended to broaden the immunity of ski areas by decreasing their obligations and responsibilities.

¶ 23 Again, Kumar, 431 F. App’x 736, is instructive. [*13] It held that Copper Mountain was not required to warn skiers about the cornice because “[a] ski area operator is negligent for failure to warn only when it violates the specific and detailed warning requirements of [the Act] as set forth in §§ 33-44-106 and -107.” Id. at 739. Additionally, Kumar held that inherent dangers and risks of skiing

12

include skiing over features, like cornices, that are not subject to

the statute’s signage requirements. Id.

¶ 24 We see nothing in the Act to support Ms. Fleury’s interpretation that IntraWest was required to close Trestle Trees or post warning signs, notwithstanding the fact that IntraWest may have had the ability to do so. The Act enumerates specific sign requirements and does not require ski area operators to warn skiers of possible avalanches or to close slopes with avalanche danger. Therefore, IntraWest was under no duty to post a warning sign at, or to close, Trestle Trees on January 22, 2012. See Kumar, 431 F. App’x at 739.

¶ 25 As discussed above, the General Assembly has increasingly broadened ski area operators’s immunity for skier injuries. While Mr. Norris’s death was tragic, IntraWest is not liable under the Act. If the General Assembly [*14] wishes to hold ski areas accountable for avalanche-related injuries or deaths, it should amend the Act.

¶ 26 We thus conclude that the district court properly dismissed Ms. Fleury’s claims against IntraWest.

III. Recovery Limits

13

¶ 27 Because we find no liability, we decline to address Ms. Fleury’s claim that the district court erred in determining that her recovery is statutorily capped at $250,000.

¶ 28 The judgment is affirmed.

JUDGE NAVARRO concurs.

JUDGE J. JONES dissents.

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J. JONES, J., dissenting.

¶ 29 I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that an avalanche is an inherent danger or risk of skiing as defined in subsection 33-44-103(3.5), C.R.S. 2013. In my view, that provision does not expressly or by clear implication include avalanches occurring on open, designated ski trails within its definition; therefore, the grant of immunity in section 33-44-112, C.R.S. 2013, for injuries resulting from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing does not apply to injuries resulting from such avalanches. Because Mr. Norris was killed as a result of an avalanche on an open, designated trail within the ski area – an event for which IntraWest does not have immunity – I would reverse [*15] the district court’s judgment and allow his family members’ claims to proceed.

I. The Relevant Statutes

¶ 30 Section 33-44-112 provides in relevant part that “[n]otwithstanding any judicial decision or any other law or statute to the contrary, . . . no skier may make any claim against or recover from any ski area operator for injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” This provision therefore

15

grants any “ski area operator” (a term defined in subsection 33-44-

103(7)) immunity from suit and damages for injuries resulting from

inherent dangers and risks of skiing. See Johnson v. Bodenhausen,

835 F. Supp. 2d 1092, 1094-96 (D. Colo. 2011); see also Air Wis.

Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper, 2012 CO 19, ¶¶ 19-25 (discussing the

distinction between immunity from suit and immunity from

damages), rev’d on other grounds, 561 U.S. ___ (2014).1

¶ 31 Subsection 33-44-103(3.5), in turn, defines “inherent dangers

and risks of skiing.” It provides in full as follows:

“Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, [*16] packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming

1 It is undisputed that the claims asserted here are those of a “skier,” and that IntraWest is a “ski area operator.”

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operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities. The term ‘inherent dangers and risks of skiing’ does not include the negligence of a ski area operator as set forth in section 33-44-104(2). Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of the ski area operator for injury caused by the use or operation of ski lifts.

See also § 33-44-107(8)(c), C.R.S. 2013 (setting forth what a

warning [*17] on every lift ticket must state).

¶ 32 The question here is whether an avalanche occurring on an open, designated ski trail within a ski area clearly fits within this statutory definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” If it does, the suit is barred. If it does not, the suit is not barred.

II. Standard of Review

¶ 33 The district court granted IntraWest’s motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to C.R.C.P. 12(c), and its motion for a determination of a question of law pursuant to C.R.C.P. 56(b). As the majority correctly notes, we review decisions granting both such motions de novo. And the sole question presented in the context of

17

those motions is one of statutory interpretation, the resolution of

which is a question of law that we also review de novo.

III. Applicable Principles of Statutory Interpretation

¶ 34 Our primary goals in applying any statute are to discern and then give effect to the General Assembly’s intent. Hassler v. Account Brokers of Larimer Cnty., Inc., 2012 CO 24, ¶ 15; Commercial Research, LLC v. Roup, 2013 COA 163, ¶ 7. We first look to the statutory language, giving the words and phrases used therein their plain and ordinary meanings. Hassler, ¶ [*18] 15; Krol v. CF & I Steel, 2013 COA 32, ¶ 15. But we do not consider those words and phrases in isolation. Rather, we must read the relevant statutory language in the dual contexts of the particular statute at issue and the entire related statutory scheme. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Equalization v. Gerganoff, 241 P.3d 932, 935 (Colo. 2010); Commercial Research, ¶ 7. And we must do this so as to give consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all parts of the statute. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 241 P.3d at 935.

¶ 35 If this analysis shows that the relevant statutory language is unambiguous, we apply it as written, without resorting to other

18

methods of ascertaining legislative intent. Id.; accord Denver Post Corp. v. Ritter, 255 P.3d 1083, 1089 (Colo. 2011). But if this analysis shows that the relevant statutory language is ambiguous, we may consider other indicators of legislative intent. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 241 P.3d at 935; Commercial Research,

¶ 7. Such indicators may include, for example, legislative history, the General Assembly’s declaration of purpose, prior law, and the consequences of a particular construction. See § 2-4-203, C.R.S. 2013; Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 241 P.3d at 935; [*19] Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs v. Costilla Cnty. Conservancy Dist., 88 P.3d 1188, 1193 (Colo. 2004).

¶ 36 Statutory language is ambiguous if it is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation. See A.M. v. A.C., 2013 CO 16,

¶ 8; see also Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 241 P.3d at 936 (“A statute is ambiguous when it ‘is capable of being understood by reasonably well-informed persons in two or more different senses.’” (quoting in part 2A Norman J. Singer & J.D. Shambie Singer,

Sutherland Statutory Construction § 45:2, at 13 (7th ed. 2007))).

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¶ 37 Ordinarily, the foregoing general principles supply a sufficient framework for resolving a question of statutory interpretation. But because the statutes at issue in this case grant an immunity from suit, other principles come into play. Specifically, we must strictly construe such statutes because they are in derogation of the common law. State v. Nieto, 993 P.2d 493, 506 (Colo. 2000); see Clyncke v. Waneka, 157 P.3d 1072, 1077 (Colo. 2007) (per Bender, J., with two justices concurring and one justice concurring in the judgment; applying this principle to a statute granting limited immunity to persons involved in equine activities). And, [*20] if the General Assembly “wishes to abrogate rights that would otherwise be available under the common law, it must manifest its intent either expressly or by clear implication.” Van Waters & Rogers, Inc. v. Keelan, 840 P.2d 1070, 1076 (Colo. 1992); see Ryals v. St. Mary-Corwin Reg’l Med. Ctr., 10 P.3d 654, 661 (Colo. 2000) (“A statute may modify or restrict a common law right ‘only to the extent embraced by the statute, which may not be enlarged by construction, nor its application extended beyond its specific terms.’” (ultimately quoting in part Robinson v. Kerr, 144 Colo. 48,

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52, 355 P.2d 117, 119-20 (1960))); Farmers Grp., Inc. v. Williams, 805 P.2d 419, 423 (Colo. 1991) (same; and citing cases for the proposition that the intent to abrogate a common law right must appear clearly, either “directly or by necessary implication” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

IV. Analysis

¶ 38 The majority errs, I believe, in giving the definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” in subsection 33-44-103(3.5) an expansive reading rather than a narrow one. Avalanches are not

mentioned in that definition.2 The majority concludes that they are nevertheless included within the definition by [*21] cobbling together

three categories of covered dangers and risks – “changing weather conditions,” “snow conditions as they exist or may change,” and “variations in steepness and terrain.” Fundamentally, I believe that approach contravenes the governing principles that a statute’s grant of immunity must be strictly construed, may not be expanded by construction, and must appear expressly or by clear implication.

2 Avalanches are not mentioned anywhere in the Ski Safety Act.

21

¶ 39 It also seems to me that the General Assembly has spoken with exactitude in defining inherent dangers and risks of skiing, delineating with specificity the types of conditions and events which fall within that definition. In Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322 (Colo. 2004), the supreme court, in construing a statute limiting liability, made clear that “‘when the legislature speaks with exactitude, [a court] must construe the statute to mean that the inclusion or specification of a particular set of conditions necessarily excludes others.’” Id. at 327 (quoting Lunsford v. W. States Life Ins., 908 P.2d 79, 84 (Colo. 1995)).

¶ 40 It is not as if avalanches are unheard of occurrences in mountainous areas, or even on or [*22] near ski areas. And yet the General Assembly – despite formulating a lengthy definition identifying numerous specific conditions and events – did not expressly (or otherwise clearly) include avalanches. Given the exactitude with which the General Assembly has spoken, I do not believe it is appropriate for us to essentially add another event to the definition.

22

¶ 41 Even were I to agree with the majority that we may aggregate categories of conditions and events to infer inclusion of unmentioned conditions or events, I would not agree with the majority that aggregation of the three categories on which it relies unambiguously shows that avalanches are included within the statutory definition.

¶ 42 An avalanche is “a large mass of snow, ice, earth, rock, or other material in swift motion down a mountainside or over a precipice.” Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 150 (2002). It is, therefore, an event – one that not even necessarily involves snow. Thus understood, I believe that the majority’s effort to fit avalanche within the statutory definition fails on its own terms.

¶ 43 The statute includes “changing weather conditions” within the definition. Though, to be sure, a change in weather [*23] conditions may contribute to the creation of an avalanche, the fact remains that an avalanche cannot be characterized as a change in weather conditions – avalanches and changing weather conditions are qualitatively different kinds of events.

23

¶ 44 In including “snow conditions as they exist or may change” within the definition, the General Assembly explained what it meant by that term by following it with “such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow.” These examples describe types of snow by the snow’s physical properties or source. An avalanche is not such a condition.

¶ 45 Nor is an avalanche a “variation[] in steepness or terrain.” Again, the General Assembly explained that term. It includes variations “whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications.” This describes conditions as encountered by a skier in the ordinary course of skiing, and in static condition. An avalanche is not such a condition.3

¶ 46 Further, an avalanche may not be caused by a combination of changing weather [*24] conditions, snow conditions, and variation in

3 In this way an avalanche is distinguishable from the cornice at issue in Kumar v. Copper Mountain, Inc., 431 F. App’x 736 (10th Cir. 2011). A cornice is clearly a variation in steepness or terrain.

24

steepness or terrain. Other factors, such as human conduct, may

contribute to the creation of such an event.

¶ 47 The majority’s analysis also fails to account for the fact that the General Assembly identified particular events which would fit within the statutory definition – collisions with natural objects, impacts with man-made objects, and collisions with other skiers. The event at issue here – an avalanche – is not among them.4

¶ 48 In sum, I do not believe that the statutory categories of dangers and risks, considered fully, in context, and as a whole, unambiguously encompass avalanches occurring on open, designated ski trail. See Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 241 P.3d at 935 (the meaning of a statutory term must be determined by considering its context).

4 The statutes certainly cover events which occur because of a skier’s encountering the conditions identified, and in that sense cover other events. See § 33-44-112 (providing immunity [*25] for claims for injuries “resulting from” those conditions). But that merely begs the question whether the skier encountered such a condition. If the condition or event was not one within the definition in subsection 33-44-103(3.5), there is no immunity. The “resulting from” language in section 33-44-112 is not an expansion of the definition in subsection 33-44-103(3.5).

25

¶ 49 Because, as noted above, a grant of immunity must appear expressly or by clear implication, this conclusion arguably ends the analysis. But there is some authority to the effect that looking to legislative history is appropriate in these circumstances. See Picher v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland, 974 A.2d 286, 294 (Me. 2009). To be on the safe side, I have considered the legislative history, as well as other indicators of legislative intent.

¶ 50 The legislative history is not enlightening. The General Assembly’s declaration of purpose, however, is of some help. It provides that one of the purposes of the Ski Safety Act is to further define the legal responsibilities of ski area operators with respect to “the dangers that inhere in the sport of skiing, regardless of any and all reasonable safety measures which [*26] can be employed . . . .” § 33-44-102, C.R.S. 2013. “Inhere” has been defined as “[t]o exist as a permanent, inseparable, or essential attribute or quality of a thing; to be intrinsic to something.” Black’s Law Dictionary 853 (9th ed. 2009); see also Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 1163 (defining “inherent” as “structural or involved in the constitution or essential character of something: intrinsic, essential”).

26

¶ 51 In my view, avalanches are not “intrinsic” to “the sport of skiing” on open, designated ski trails within ski areas. They stand in contrast to the conditions and events listed in subsection 33-44-103(3.5), all of which seem to me to be such as a reasonable skier would reasonably anticipate or expect.

¶ 52 Lastly, my research of similar statutes in other states turned up one revealing nugget. Statutes in several other states relating to ski area operator immunity define inherent dangers and risks of skiing in terms almost identical to those in subsection 33-44-103(3.5). See, e.g., Idaho Code Ann. § 6-1106 (2013); Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702(2) (2013); N.M. Stat. Ann. § 24-15-10 (2014); Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.970(1) (2014); Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402(1) (West 2013). As [*27] far as I can tell, they do not mention avalanches, with one exception – Montana’s statute.

¶ 53 Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702(2) includes within the definition of “[i]nherent dangers and risks of skiing” all of the conditions and events included in section 33-44-103(3.5). But it adds one more – “avalanches, except on open, designated ski trails.” § 22-2-702(2)(c). This tells me two things. First, Montana’s legislature did

27

not believe avalanches were covered by the other portions of the

definition – including those on which the majority relies in this

case. And second, the Montana legislature did not view avalanches

occurring on open, designated ski trails as an inherent danger or

risk of skiing.5 Unless the Montana legislature’s view is to be

regarded as unreasonable as a matter of law, see A.M., ¶ 8 (a

statute is ambiguous if it is susceptible of more than one

reasonable interpretation), I think this indicates at the very least

some ambiguity in Colorado’s statute – an ambiguity which must

be resolved by concluding that there is no immunity for injuries

resulting from avalanches. See Van Waters & Rogers, 840 P.2d at

1076 (an abrogation of a common law right must appear expressly

or by [*28] clear implication).

¶ 54 For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent.

5 This last point is further supported by the fact that, in 2007, a bill was introduced in the Montana legislature which would have (in part) deleted the language “except on open, designated ski trails” from subsection (2)(c); however, the final bill that was enacted did not make that deletion.

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Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, et. al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, et. al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

James Stephen Sauter and Piper Sauter, Individually and as the Natural Guardians of M.S., a minor, Plaintiffs, v. Perfect North Slopes, Inc., Andrew Broaddus, Stephanie Daniel, Christopher Daniel, Jenny Warr, and Anthony Warr, Defendants.

Case No. 4:12-cv-00027-TWP-WGH

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA, NEW ALBANY DIVISION

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

January 3, 2014, Decided

January 3, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95882 (S.D. Ind., July 11, 2012)

CORE TERMS: snow, slope, tube, tubing, lane, summary judgment, patrons, ambiguity, skiing, signor, duty of care, snowboarding, tuber, ski, affirmatively, ambiguous, signing, safely, trail, authorization, extrinsic, collision, skier, sport, seal, language used, patent, release form, ride, top

COUNSEL: [*1] For JAMES STEPHEN SAUTER, Individually and as Natural Guardian of M.S., a Minor, PIPER SAUTER, Individually and as Natural Guardians of M.S., a Minor, Plaintiffs: Louise M Roselle, Paul M. De Marco, MARKOVITS, STOCK & DEMARCO, LLC, Cincinnati, OH; Wilmer E. Goering, II, ALCORN GOERING & SAGE, LLP, Madison, IN.

For PERFECT NORTH SLOPES, INC., Defendant: Michael C. Peek, CHRISTOPHER & TAYLOR, Indianapolis, IN.

JUDGES: Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Tanya Walton Pratt

OPINION

ENTRY ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Following a tragic accident which occurred at Defendant Perfect North Slopes, Inc. (“Perfect North Slopes”) on January 30, 2011, Plaintiffs James Stephen Sauter (“Mr. Sauter”) and Piper Sauter (“Mrs. Sauter”) (collectively, “the Sauters”) filed this negligence action. Perfect North Slopes is a ski resort which among other activities, offers snow tubing, a recreational activity that involves sitting on an inner tube and sliding down a hill. The Sauters were at Perfect North Slopes with their three children, T.S. age 8, J.S., and M.S. age 10 (collectively, “the Sauter children”), on January 30, 2011, for a Boy Scouts event. While snow tubing, the Sauter children veered into Defendants’, [*2] Andrew Broaddus, Stephanie Daniel,1 Christopher Daniel, Jenny Warr, and Anthony Warr (collectively, “Snow Tube Defendants”), snow tube lane, after which the Snow Tube Defendants collided into the Sauter children. As a result of the collision, M.S. suffered a brain injury.

1 The Court notes that the Complaint and CM/ECF caption use this spelling for Stephanie Daniel’s name. However, Snow Tube Defendants’ briefing uses the spelling, “Stephany Daniel.” If “Stephanie” is incorrect, the parties are ordered to file a motion to correct the error.

The Sauters filed suit against both Perfect North Slopes and the Snow Tube Defendants for negligence. Before the Court are the Defendants’ separate Motions for Summary Judgment. The issue of Perfect North Slopes’ alleged negligence has not been briefed, and the sole issue before the Court regarding Perfect North Slopes is the validity and applicability of the release form signed by Mrs. Sauter. For the reasons set forth below, Perfect North Slopes’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 75) is DENIED and the Snow Tube Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 85) is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Snow Tubing and Perfect North Slopes

Perfect North Slopes is a [*3] ski resort located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It has terrain parks, ski slopes, and a snow tubing hill. Snow tubing involves sitting or lying inside a round inner tube and riding at a quick speed down a snow-covered slope. To reach the top of the snow tubing hill, patrons at Perfect North Slopes ride a moving walkway called the “magic carpet” up to the top of the hill. The snow tube hill is divided into multiple lanes separated by packed snow barriers approximately one foot high. On January 30, 2011, there were nine express lanes, nine regular lanes, and four super lanes on the snow tubing hill. Express lanes were longer than regular lanes and the super lanes were wider than regular lanes. The snow tubing hill flattens into a gravel lot called the “run-out” area, which is approximately 180 feet long. Snow tubers can average between 20 and 40 miles per hour down the hill.

Perfect North Slopes employees are located at the top of the snow tubing hill to direct the flow of patrons down the hill. The employees specifically determine when it is safe for patrons to proceed down the hill and they assist the patrons’ start by pushing or pulling the tubes into the designated lane. Perfect North [*4] Slopes also has employees located at the bottom of the hill to assist patrons exiting the snow tube area.

On January 30, 2011, Perfect North Slopes had rules and regulations governing use of the snow tubing hill. The rules and regulations were posted throughout the park, as well as broadcast on a loud speaker system. Only one rider was allowed per tube. Linking — allowing a number of tubers going at one time in one lane — was allowed as conditions warranted. Linking was to be single file and “[w]hen linking, tubers must hold on to each other’s short tube handles the entire time.” Dkt. 85-23 at 2. Perfect North Slopes’ website FAQs stated that, “[o]n the main hill, as many as three tubes can ‘link’ together.” Dkt. 129-10 at 2. Perfect North Slopes also recommended that parents supervise their children at all times.

B. The Releases

Before participating in snow tubing, all patrons were required to sign a release form prepared by Perfect North Slopes. On January 30, 2011, Perfect North Slopes provided the Snow Tube Defendants with a release titled “Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver”. Mrs. Sauter was provided a release titled “Snow Tubing Release of Liability”. The [*5] two forms differed in language.

The Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver included the following language in its “YOUR RESPONSIBILITY CODE”:

A. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

B. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

C. You must not stop where you will obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

D. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

E. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

F. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

G. Prior to using any lift, you must have knowledge and ability to load and unload safely.

This is a partial list. Be safety conscious.

Dkt. 85-21 at 1. This waiver also states that, “as a skier/snowboarder/slider, I have responsibilities to myself and others to ski/ride/tube safely and in control.” Dkt. 85-21 at 1. Each of the five Snow Tube Defendants signed this release.

Conversely, the Snow Tubing Release of Liability form did not have a personal responsibility code. It included language releasing Perfect North Slopes of liability for claims of personal injury, death and/or property [*6] damage. Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). It acknowledged acceptance of risk of snow tubing as a hazardous activity and risk of injury. It specifically stated, “I authorize Perfect North Slopes Ski Patrol to administer treatment in the event of an injury to myself or to the minor for whom I am signing.” Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). It further stated:

I, the undersigned, acknowledge that I have read this agreement and release of liability and I understand its contents and in the event that I am signing on behalf of any minors, that I have full authority to do so, realizing its binding effect on them as well as myself. I understand that my signature below expressly waives any rights I may have to sue Perfect North Slopes, Inc. for injuries and damages.

Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). Mrs. Sauter filled in the names of her three children and signed and dated this release.

C. The Collision

After Mrs. Sauter signed the release, Mr. Sauter took their three children to the “magic carpet,” where he escorted the children in line and then left. The Sauter children and Snow Tube Defendants each made their way to the top of the snow tubing hill. The Sauter children went to Express Lane 7 and the Snow Tube [*7] Defendants went to Express Lane 8. The Sauter children linked their tubes and were pushed down the lane by Perfect North Slopes employee Kelsi Carlson (“Ms. Carlson”). Unfortunately, at some point during their ride, the Sauter children veered out of their lane into Express Lane 8 and came to a stop before the end of the lane 8. Two of the Sauter children got out of their tubes and were pulling the third child in his or her tube toward the “magic carpet”. The Snow Tube Defendants had linked their five tubes and were pushed down lane 8 by Ms. Carlson. Stephanie Daniel went down the hill backwards in her tube and could not see where the tube was going. The Snow Tube Defendants collided with the Sauter children in Express Lane 8, approximately 25 feet short of the end of the snow tube slope. The Snow Tube Defendants’ tubes continued down Express Lane 8 after the collision and came to a stop in the gravel run-out area. Both Stephanie Daniel and Christopher Daniel suffered minor injuries from the collision. M.S. was knocked unconscious by the collision and was seriously injured.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, [*8] depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.Com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). However, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted). “In much the same way that a court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment, nor is it permitted to conduct a paper trial on the merits of a claim.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotations omitted). Finally, “neither the mere existence [*9] of some alleged factual dispute between the parties nor the existence of some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts is sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Grp., Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 395 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

As previously discussed, the Sauters’ Complaint alleges both Perfect North Slopes and the Snow Tube Defendants were negligent. Perfect North Slopes filed a motion for summary judgment based on the Snow Tubing Release of Liability and the Snow Tube Defendants move for summary judgment on the bases that they acted reasonably at all times and owed no duty to the Sauter Children. The motion’s are addressed in turn.

A. Snow Tube Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

The Court must first address whether the Snow Tube Defendants owed a duty of care to M.S., because in the absence of duty a claim of negligence necessarily fails. See Kroger Co. v. Plonski, 930 N.E.2d 1, 6 (Ind. 2010). The Snow Tube Defendants contend they had no duty of care toward the Sauter children, and thus should be dismissed from the suit. The Sauters contend that the duty was assumed upon signing the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing [*10] Waiver. Specifically, the Sauters rely on the waiver’s clauses that signors agree to “[a]lways stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects,” and “[tube] safely and in control.” Dkt. 85-21 at 1.

In Indiana, “[i]f a contract affirmatively evinces an intent to assume a duty of care, actionable negligence may be predicated upon the contractual duty.” Merrill v. Knauf Fiber Glass GmbH, 771 N.E.2d 1258, 1268 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002). To make this determination, “it is the court’s duty to ascertain the intent of the parties at the time the contract was executed as disclosed by the language used to express their rights and duties.” Walker v. Martin, 887 N.E.2d 125, 135 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). “Generally, only parties to a contract or those in privity with the parties have rights under a contract.” OEC-Diasonics, Inc. v. Major, 674 N.E.2d 1312, 1314-15 (Ind. 1996). The Indiana Supreme Court has stated that:

One not a party to an agreement may nonetheless enforce it by demonstrating that the parties intended to protect him under the agreement by the imposition of a duty in his favor. To be enforceable, it must clearly appear that it was the purpose or a purpose of the contract [*11] to impose an obligation on one of the contracting parties in favor of the third party. It is not enough that performance of the contract would be of benefit to the third party. It must appear that it was the intention of one of the parties to require performance of some part of it in favor of such third party and for his benefit, and that the other party to the agreement intended to assume the obligation thus imposed.

Id. at 1315 (quoting Kirtley v. McClelland, 562 N.E.2d 27, 37 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)).

The Snow Tube Defendants argue that the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver does not affirmatively create a duty of care of the signor of the waiver to other patrons at Perfect North Slopes. The Court agrees. The waiver included the following general language:

A. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

B. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

C. You must not stop where you will obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

D. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

E. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

F. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep [*12] off closed trails and out of closed areas.

G. Prior to using any lift, you must have knowledge and ability to load and unload safely.

This is a partial list. Be safety conscious.

Dkt. 85-21 at 1. This list of responsibilities appears at the beginning of the waiver and by signing the waiver, a signor attests that he or she is “familiar with and will adhere to” the responsibilities. The waiver also states: “as a skier/snowboarder/slider, I have responsibilities to myself and others to ski/ride/tube safely and in control.” Dkt. 85-21 at 1. This statement appears within the first full paragraph of the waiver, in which the signor also acknowledges the risks of the snow sports offered at Perfect North Slopes, Perfect North Slopes’ lack of duty to warn of dangers, and that participating in snow sports is voluntary with knowledge of the aforesaid risks.

The Court is not persuaded by the Sauters’ argument that the recitation of these responsibilities, even with the acknowledgment of the signor to adhere to them, represents an affirmative assumption of a duty of care. First, the “Your Responsibility Code” includes basic safety instructions and concludes with the words, “This is a partial list. Be [*13] safety conscious.” This implies not that the list imposes affirmative duties that are actionable if ignored, but that it is a general guideline. Second, the statement that the signor will tube safely and in control is included as one of many acknowledgments in a paragraph that ends with the statement, “I . . . hereby expressly agree to accept and assume all such risks of [in]jury or death associated with the sport of snow skiing/boarding/tubing.” Dkt. 85-2 at 1. This affirmative assumption of the risks does not mention the responsibilities listed within the same paragraph. Instead, the language regarding the responsibilities includes the words “recognize,” “familiar,” and “agree.” However, it does not affirmatively state the signor “assumes” those responsibilities.

Especially considering that the Sauters are third parties to the contract between the Snow Tube Defendants and Perfect North Slopes, there is no evidence that “it was the intention of one of the parties to require performance of some part of it in favor of such third party and for his benefit, and that the other party to the agreement intended to assume the obligation thus imposed.” OEC-Diasonics, Inc., 674 N.E.2d at 1315. [*14] While performance of the responsibilities listed certainly would benefit third parties like the Sauters and M.S., there is no evidence of clear intent as required.

Further, to the extent the contract language is ambiguous regarding the assumption of a duty of care, the extrinsic evidence of record supports the Snow Tube Defendants’ position. The Director of Snow Sports Operations at Perfect North Slopes, Mike Mettler (“Mr. Mettler”), explained during his deposition that the “Your Responsibility Code” section of the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver was derived from the “Skier’s Responsibility Code” developed by the National Ski Areas Association as a standard code for all skiers and snowboarders. Dkt. 85-7 at 5, 111:14-20. Mr. Mettler testified that there are not standard rules for snow tubing, the “Your Responsibility Code” did not apply to snow tubing, and that snow tubing is inherently distinct from skiing or snowboarding, particularly because a snow tuber lacks the ability to steer and control the tube. Dkt. 85-7 at 5, 111:22-25; Dkt. 85-8 at 51-53, 214:22-216:21; Dkt. 85-8 at 51, 214:6-21. Perhaps also telling, the Snow Tubing Release of Liability signed by Mrs. Sauter did not [*15] include a “Your Responsibility Code” section or any similar language. Mr. Mettler testified that Perfect North Slopes was transitioning from the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver to the Snow Tubing Release of Liability for snow tubers and that it was by chance that the Snow Tube Defendants and Sauters signed different release forms. He further stated that there were no distinction between the forms in terms of responsibilities while snow tubing. Dkt. 85-8 at 50, 213:7-17.

Mr. Mettler’s explanations support the conclusion that the Snow Tube Defendants did not assume a specific duty of care to other patrons. First, Perfect North Slopes did not expect or intend for snow tubers to have the exact abilities and safety responsibilities as skiers and snow boarders given the differences between the sport activities. Second, Perfect North Slopes was phasing out use of the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver for snow tubing, and the new form, the Snow Tubing Release of Liability, did not include any mention of responsibilities to stop and give right of way to other patrons. It is illogical that Perfect North Slopes would intend for some snow tubers to affirmatively assume a duty of care to other [*16] patrons, while other snow tubers did not. The random nature of who signed which form is evidence that Perfect North Slopes considered the two forms to contain the same obligations and releases.

Accordingly, the Court finds that the Sauters have not established as a matter of law that the Snow Tube Defendants affirmatively assumed a duty of care to the Sauter children. Nor have the Sauters established a common law duty existed. Therefore, the Snow Tube Defendants’ motion is GRANTED and they will be dismissed from the suit.

B. Perfect North Slopes’ Motion for Summary Judgment

At first glance, Perfect North Slopes’ motion is seemingly straightforward, as it contends that the Sauters released all claims for liability when Mrs. Sauter signed the Snow Tubing Release of Liability form on behalf of her children. The Sauters respond with two arguments in the alternative. First, they ask the Court to invalidate the release on public policy grounds, an issue on which the Indiana Supreme Court has not spoken. Second, the Sauters contend the language of the release does not contain a waiver of claims on behalf of minors. Because the Court finds that the release is ambiguous and thus does not bar the [*17] Sauters’ claim against Perfect North Slopes, the Court will not speculate on the public policy issue raised by the Sauters.

The Sauters contend that the Snow Tubing Release of Liability does not waive a minor’s possible negligence claims against Perfect North Slopes. The Indiana standard of review for contract interpretation is as follows:

“Construction of the terms of a written contract is a pure question of law for the court, reviewed de novo.” Harrison v. Thomas, 761 N.E.2d 816, 818 (Ind. 2002). If an instrument’s language is unambiguous, the parties’ intent is determined from the four corners of the instrument. City of Indianapolis v. Kahlo, 938 N.E.2d 734, 744 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), trans. denied. If a contract is ambiguous or uncertain, its meaning is determined by extrinsic evidence and its construction is a matter for the fact-finder. Kahlo, 938 N.E.2d at 744. An ambiguity exists where a provision is susceptible to more than one interpretation and reasonable persons would differ as to its meaning. Gregg v. Cooper, 812 N.E.2d 210, 215 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). But the fact that the parties disagree over the meaning of the contract does not, in and of itself, establish an ambiguity. [*18] Everett Cash Mut. Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 926 N.E.2d 1008, 1013 (Ind. 2010) (citation omitted).

When interpreting a written contract, the court should attempt to determine the parties’ intent at the time the contract was made, which is ascertained by the language used to express their rights and duties. Kahlo, 938 N.E.2d at 744. A court should construe the language of a contract so as not to render any words, phrases, or terms ineffective or meaningless. Hammerstone v. Ind. Ins. Co., 986 N.E.2d 841, 846 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013).

Claire’s Boutiques, Inc. v. Brownsburg Station Partners LLC, 997 N.E.2d 1093, 1097 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013). Furthermore, an ambiguity may be patent or latent:

A patent ambiguity is apparent on the face of the instrument and arises from an inconsistency or inherent uncertainty of language used so that it either conveys no definite meaning or a confused meaning. Extrinsic evidence is not admissible to explain or remove a patent ambiguity. Conversely, a latent ambiguity does not emerge until one attempts to implement the words as directed in the instrument. Extrinsic evidence is admissible to explain a latent ambiguity.

Weinreb v. Fannie Mae, 993 N.E.2d 223, 232 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013) [*19] (internal citations omitted). If an ambiguity arises by reason of the language used, construction of the ambiguous contract is a question of law for the court. Farmers Elevator Co. of Oakville, Inc. v. Hamilton, 926 N.E.2d 68, 80 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

The Sauters present the release form as a dual-purpose document; a medical authorization on one hand, and a release of liability on the other. They argue that nowhere does the release explicitly release the claims of minors, and the only reference to minors is in regard to medical authorization. The Court agrees that at best, the release is ambiguous regarding whether a minor’s claims against Perfect North Slopes are waived.

Specifically, the release is written from the viewpoint of an adult signor. Each paragraph and sentence references that the signor understands, accepts, or agrees to the release’s terms. However, in the fourth paragraph, the release changes structure and states, “I authorize Perfect North Slopes Ski Patrol to administer treatment in the event of an injury to myself or to the minor for whom I am signing.” Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). In the seventh and final paragraph the release also states, “I, the undersigned, acknowledge [*20] that I have read this agreement and release of liability and I understand its contents and in the event that I am signing on behalf of any minors, that I have full authority to do so, realizing its binding effect on them as well as myself.” Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). Perfect North Slopes argues this final statement applies to the entirety of the agreement, while the Sauters argue it applies only to the medical authorization.

Contract interpretation requires “the contract to be read as a whole, and the language construed so as not to render any words, phrases, or terms ineffective or meaningless.” Stewart v. TT Commercial One, LLC, 911 N.E.2d 51, 56 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). Here, the release inserts a specific reference to minors only regarding medical authorization. It does not reference minors regarding acceptance of risk, awareness that tubing is a hazardous activity, or releasing Perfect North Slopes from damage resulting from negligence, or any other clause. This disparity creates a susceptibility of more than one interpretation of the release’s provisions. However, if Perfect North Slopes’ interpretation that the final statement applies to the entire release was accepted, the specific [*21] reference to minors regarding medical authorization would be rendered redundant or unnecessary. Rather, it is reasonable to interpret the release as referencing minors when the release specifically applies to them, which is reiterated at the conclusion of the release. Thus, the Court finds the contract ambiguous. The ambiguity is a patent one, as it is inherent in the language of the document. In this circumstance, extrinsic evidence is not admissible or necessary to the Court’s determination. The release does not include a clear, unambiguous waiver of M.S.’s claims against Perfect North Slopes for its alleged negligence. Therefore, Perfect North Slopes’ motion is DENIED.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, the Snow Tube Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 85) is GRANTED. The Sauters’ claims against the Snow Tube Defendants are DISMISSED with prejudice. Perfect North Slopes’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 75) is DENIED. The Sauters’ negligence claim may proceed. No final judgment will issue for the Snow Tube Defendants until the remaining claims against Perfect North Slopes are resolved.

SO ORDERED.

Date: 01/03/2014

/s/ Tanya Walton Pratt

Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, [*22] Judge

United States District Court

Southern District of Indiana

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Tunkl v. The Regents of the University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92; 383 P.2d 441; 32 Cal. Rptr. 33; 1963 Cal. LEXIS 226; 6 A.L.R.3d 693

Tunkl v. The Regents of the University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92; 383 P.2d 441; 32 Cal. Rptr. 33; 1963 Cal. LEXIS 226; 6 A.L.R.3d 693

OLGA TUNKL, as Executrix, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant and   Respondent

L. A. No. 26984

Supreme Court of California

60 Cal. 2d 92; 383 P.2d 441; 32 Cal. Rptr. 33; 1963 Cal. LEXIS 226; 6 A.L.R.3d 693

July 9, 1963

PRIOR HISTORY:

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.  Jerold E. Weil, Judge.

Action for personal injuries alleged to have resulted from the negligence of physicians employed by a nonprofit charitable research hospital.

DISPOSITION:

Reversed.  Judgment for defendant reversed.

HEADNOTES: CALIFORNIA OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

(1) Release–Validity–Agreements Affecting Public Interest.  –An attempted exculpatory release provision is invalid as affecting a public interest if it involves a transaction that exhibits some or all of the following characteristics: it concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation; the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public; the party holds himself out as willing to perform such service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards; as a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services; in exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence; and, 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.

(2)  Id.–Validity: Hospitals–Liability–Release.  –A release from liability for future negligence imposed on a prospective patient as a condition for admission to a charitable research hospital falls within the category of agreements affecting the public interest and the exculpatory provisions included within it are invalid under Civ. Code, § 1668, providing that contracts having for their object, either directly or indirectly, the exemption of anyone from responsibility for his own fraud, or wilful injury to the person or property of another, or violation of law, are against the policy of the law.

(3)  Id.–Validity: Hospitals–Liability–Release.  –A release from liability for future negligence imposed on a prospective patient as a condition for admission to a charitable research hospital falls within the category of agreements affecting the public interest whether the prospective patient pays or does not pay for the treatment received in the hospital; there is no distinction in the hospital’s duty of care between a paying and a nonpaying patient.

(4)  Id.–Validity: Hospitals–Liability–Release.  –A charitable research hospital cannot obtain exemption, by means of an exculpatory release agreement imposed on a prospective patient as a condition for admission, from liability for the future negligence of its employees, as distinguished from exemption as to its “own” negligence.

JUDGES:

In Bank. Tobriner, J.  Gibson, C. J., Traynor, J., Schauer, J., McComb, J., Peters, J., and Peek, J., concurred.

OPINIONBY:

TOBRINER

OPINION:

[*94][**441][***33]  This case concerns the validity of a release from liability for future negligence imposed as a condition for admission to a charitable research hospital.  For the reasons we hereinafter specify, we have concluded that an agreement between a hospital  [**442][***34]  and an entering patient affects the public interest and that, in consequence, the exculpatory provision included within it must be invalid under Civil Code section 1668.

Hugo Tunkl brought this action to recover damages for personal injuries alleged to have resulted from the negligence of two physicians in the employ of the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, a hospital operated and maintained by the Regents of the University of California as a nonprofit charitable institution.  Mr. Tunkl died after suit was brought, and his surviving wife, as executrix, was substituted as plaintiff.

The University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center admitted Tunkl as a patient on June 11, 1956.  The Regents maintain the hospital for the primary purpose of aiding and developing a program of research and education in the field of medicine; patients are selected and admitted if the study and treatment of their condition would tend to achieve these purposes.  Upon his entry to the hospital, Tunkl signed a document setting forth certain “Conditions of Admission.” The crucial condition number six reads as follows: “Release: The hospital is a nonprofit, charitable institution.  In consideration of the hospital and allied services to be rendered and the rates charged therefor, the patient or his legal representative agrees to and hereby releases The Regents of the University of California, and the hospital from any and all liability for the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of its employees, if the hospital has used due care in selecting its employees.”

Plaintiff stipulated that the hospital had selected its employees with due care.  The trial court ordered that the issue of the validity of the exculpatory clause be first submitted to the jury and that, if the jury found that the provision did not bind plaintiff, a second jury try the issue of alleged malpractice.  When, on the preliminary issue, the jury returned a verdict sustaining the validity of the executed release, the  [*95]  court entered judgment in favor of the Regents.  n1 Plaintiff appeals from the judgment.

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n1 Plaintiff at the time of signing the release was in great pain, under sedation, and probably unable to read.  At trial plaintiff contended that the release was invalid, asserting that a release does not bind the releasor if at the time of its execution he suffered from so weak a mental condition that he was unable to comprehend the effect of his act ( Perkins v. Sunset Tel. & Tel. Co. (1909) 155 Cal. 712 [103 P. 190]; Raynale v. Yellow Cab Co. (1931) 115 Cal.App. 90 [300 P. 991]; 42 Cal.Jur.2d, Release § 20).  The jury, however, found against plaintiff on this issue.  Since the verdict of the jury established that plaintiff either knew or should have known the significance of the release, this appeal raises the sole question of whether the release can stand as a matter of law.

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We shall first set out the basis for our prime ruling that the exculpatory provision of the hospital’s contract fell under the proscription of Civil Code section 1668; we then dispose of two answering arguments of defendant.

We begin with the dictate of the relevant Civil Code section 1668.  The section states: “All contracts which have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for his own fraud, or willful injury to the person or property of another, or violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.”

The course of section 1668, however, has been a troubled one.  Although, as we shall explain, the decisions uniformly uphold its prohibitory impact in one circumstance, the courts’ interpretations of it have been diverse.  Some of the cases have applied the statute strictly, invalidating any contract for exemption from liability for negligence.  The court in England v. Lyon Fireproof Storage Co. (1928) 94 Cal.App. 562 [271 P. 532], categorically states, “The court correctly instructed the jury that: ‘The defendant cannot limit its liability against its own negligence by contract, and any contract to that effect would be void.’” (P. 575.) (To  [**443][***35]  the same effect: Union Constr. Co. v. Western Union Tel. Co. (1912) 163 Cal. 298, 314-315 [125 P. 242].) n2 The recent case of Mills v. Ruppert (1959) 167 Cal.App.2d 58, 62-63 [333 P.2d 818], however, apparently limits “[Negligent] . . . violation of law” exclusively to statutory law.  n3 Other cases hold that  [*96]  the statute prohibits the exculpation of gross negligence only; n4 still another case states that the section forbids exemption from active as contrasted with passive negligence.  n5

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n2 Accord, Hiroshima v. Bank of Italy (1926) 78 Cal.App. 362, 377-378 [248 P. 947]; cf.  Estate of Garcelon (1894) 104 Cal. 570, 589 [38 P. 414, 43 Am.St.Rep. 134, 32 L.R.A. 595].

n3 To the same effect: Werner v. Knoll (1948) 89 Cal.App.2d 474 [201 P.2d 45]; 15 Cal.L.Rev. 46 (1926). This interpretation was criticized in Barkett v. Brucato (1953) 122 Cal.App.2d 264, 277 [264 P.2d 978], and 1 Witkin, Summary of California Law 228 (7th ed. 1960).  The latter states: “Apart from the debatable interpretation of ‘violation of law’ as limited strictly to violation of statutes, the explanation appears to make an unsatisfactory distinction between (1) valid exemptions from liability for injury or death resulting from types of ordinary or gross negligence not expressed in statutes, and (2) invalid exemptions where the negligence consists of violation of one of the many hundreds of statutory provisions setting forth standards of care.”

n4 See Butt v. Bertola (1952) 110 Cal.App.2d 128 [242 P.2d 32]; Ryan Mercantile Co. v. Great Northern Ry. Co. (D. C. Mont. 1960) 186 F.Supp. 660, 667-668. See also Smith, Contractual Controls of Damages in Commercial Transactions, 12 Hastings L.J. 122, 142 (1960), suggesting that section 1668 permits exculpatory clauses for all but intentional wrongs, an interpretation which would render the term “negligent . . . violation of law” totally ineffective.

n5 Barkett v. Brucato (1953) 122 Cal.App.2d 264, 277 [264 P.2d 978].

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In one respect, as we have said, the decisions are uniform.  The cases have consistently held that the exculpatory provision may stand only if it does not involve “the public interest.” n6 Interestingly enough, this theory found its first expression in a decision which did not expressly refer to section 1668. In Stephens v. Southern Pac. Co. (1895) 109 Cal. 86 [41 P. 783, 50 Am. St. Rep. 17, 29 L.R.A. 751], a railroad company had leased land, which adjoined its depot, to a lessee who had constructed a warehouse upon it.  The lessee covenanted that the railroad company would not be responsible for damage from fire “caused from any . . . means.” (P. 87.) This exemption, under the court ruling, applied to the lessee’s damage resulting from the railroad company’s carelessly burning dry grass and rubbish.  Declaring the contract not “violative of sound public policy” (p. 89), the court pointed out “. . . As far as this transaction was concerned, the parties when contracting stood upon common ground, and dealt with each other as A and B might deal with each other with reference to any private business undertaking.  . . .” (P. 88.) The court concluded “that the interests  [*97]  of the public in the contract are more sentimental than real” (p. 95; italics added) and that the exculpatory provision was therefore enforceable.

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n6 The view that the exculpatory contract is valid only if the public interest is not involved represents the majority holding in the United States. Only New Hampshire, in definite opposition to “public interest” test, categorically refuses to enforce exculpatory provisions.  The cases are collected in an extensive annotation in 175 A.L.R. 8 (1948). In addition to the California cases cited in the text and note 7 infra, the public interest doctrine is recognized in dictum in Sproul v. Cuddy (1955) 131 Cal.App.2d 85, 95 [280 P.2d 158]; Basin Oil Co. v. Baash-Ross Tool Co.  (1954) 125 Cal.App.2d 578, 594 [271 P.2d 122]; Hubbard v. Matson Navigation Co. (1939) 34 Cal.App.2d 475, 477 [93 P.2d 846]. Each of these cases involved exculpatory clauses which were construed by the court as not applicable to the conduct of the defendant in question.

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In applying this approach and in manifesting their reaction as to the effect of the exemptive clause upon the public interest, some later courts enforced, and others invalidated  [**444][***36]  such provisions under section 1668. Thus in Nichols v. Hitchcock Motor Co. (1937) 22 Cal.App.2d 151, 159 [70 P.2d 654], the court enforced an exculpatory clause on the ground that “the public neither had nor could have any interest whatsoever in the subject-matter of the contract, considered either as a whole or as to the incidental covenant in question.  The agreement between the parties concerned ‘their private affairs’ only.” n7

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n7 See also Hischemoeller v. National Ice etc. Storage Co. (1956) 46 Cal.2d 318, 328 [294 P.2d 433] (contract upheld as an “ordinary business transaction between businessmen”); Mills v. Ruppert (1959) 167 Cal.App.2d 58, 62 [333 P.2d 818] (lease held not a matter of public interest); Inglis v. Garland (1936) 19 Cal.App.2d Supp. 767, 773 [64 P.2d 501] (same); cf.  Northwestern M.F. Assn. v. Pacific etc. Co. (1921) 187 Cal. 38, 41 [200 P. 934] (exculpatory clause in bailment upheld because of special business situation).

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In Barkett v. Brucato (1953) 122 Cal.App.2d 264, 276 [264 P.2d 978], which involved a waiver clause in a private lease, Justice Peters summarizes the previous decisions in this language: “These cases hold that the matter is simply one of interpreting a contract; that both parties are free to contract; that the relationship of landlord and tenant does not affect the public interest; that such a provision affects only the private affairs of the parties.  . . .” (Italics added.)

On the other hand, courts struck down exculpatory clauses as contrary to public policy in the case of a contract to transmit a telegraph message ( Union Constr. Co. v. Western Union Tel. Co. (1912) 163 Cal. 298 [125 P. 242]) and in the instance of a contract of bailment ( England v. Lyon Fireproof Storage Co. (1928) 94 Cal.App. 562 [271 P. 532]). In Hiroshima v. Bank of Italy (1926) 78 Cal.App. 362 [248 P. 947], the court invalidated an exemption provision in the form used by a payee in directing a bank to stop payment on a check.  The court relied in part upon the fact that “the banking public, as well as the particular individual who may be concerned in the giving of any stop-notice, is interested in seeing that the bank is held accountable for the ordinary and regular performance of its duties and, also, in seeing that direction  [*98]  in relation to the disposition of funds deposited in [the] bank are not heedlessly, negligently, and carelessly disobeyed and money paid out, contrary to directions given.” (P. 377.) The opinion in Hiroshima was approved and followed in Grisinger v. Golden State Bank (1928) 92 Cal.App. 443 [268 P. 425]. n8

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n8 Exculpatory clauses were regarded as invalid, although without reference to the public interest doctrine, in Franklin v. Southern Pac. Co. (1928) 203 Cal. 680, 686 [265 P. 936, 59 A.L.R. 118] (common carrier); Dieterle v. Bekin (1904) 143 Cal. 683, 688 [77 P. 664] (bailment); George v. Bekins Van & Storage Co. (1949) 33 Cal.2d 834, 846 [205 P.2d 1037] (bailment, clause upheld as one for declaration of value and not complete exculpation); Hall-Scott Motor Car Co. v. Universal Ins. Co. (9th Cir. 1941) 122 F.2d 531, 533-534 (California law, clause upheld on ground that transaction not a bailment).

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If, then, the exculpatory clause which affects the public interest cannot stand, we must ascertain those factors or characteristics which constitute the public interest. The social forces that have led to such characterization are volatile and dynamic.  No definition of the concept of public interest can be contained within the four corners of a formula.  The concept, always the subject of great debate, has ranged over the whole course of the common law; rather than attempt to prescribe its nature, we can only designate the situations in which it has been applied.  We can determine whether the instant contract does or does not manifest the characteristics which have been held to stamp a contract as one affected with a public interest.

(1)In placing particular contracts within or without the category of those affected with a public interest, the courts have revealed a rough outline of that type of transaction in which exculpatory provisions will  [**445] [***37]  be held invalid. Thus the attempted but invalid exemption involves a transaction which exhibits some or all of the following characteristics.  It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. n9 The party seeking exculpation is engaged  [*99]  in performing a service of great importance to the public, n10 which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.  n11 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.  n12 As a result of the essential nature  [**446][***38]  of the  [*100]  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.  n13 In exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, n14 and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection  [*101]  against negligence.  n15 Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller, n16 subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.

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n9 “Though the standard followed does not always clearly appear, a distinction seems to be made between those contracts which modify the responsibilities normally attaching to a relationship which has been regarded in other connections as a fit subject for special regulatory treatment and those which affect a relationship not generally subjected to particularized control.” (11 So.Cal.L.Rev. 296, 297 (1938); see also Note (1948) 175 A.L.R. 8, 38-41.)

In Munn v. Illinois (1877) 94 U.S. 113 [24 L.Ed. 77], the Supreme Court appropriated the common law concept of a business affected with a public interest to serve as the test of the constitutionality of state price fixing laws, a role it retained until Nebbia v. New York (1934) 291 U.S. 502 [54 S.Ct. 505, 78 L.Ed. 940, 89 A.L.R. 1469], and Olsen v. Nebraska (1941) 313 U.S. 236 [61 S.Ct. 862, 85 L.Ed. 1305, 133 A.L.R. 1500]. For discussion of the constitutional use and application of the “public interest” concept, see generally Hall, Concept of Public Business (1940); Hamilton, Affectation with a Public Interest (1930) 39 Yale L.J. 1089.

n10 See New York C. Railroad Co. v. Lockwood (1873) 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 357, 378-382 [21 L.Ed. 627]; Millers Mut. Fire Ins. Assn. v. Parker (1951) 234 N.C. 20 [65 S.E.2d 341]; Hiroshima v. Bank of Italy (1926) 78 Cal.App. 362, 377 [248 P. 947]; cf.  Lombard v. Louisiana (1963) 373 U.S. 267 [83 S.Ct. 1122, 10 L.Ed.2d 338] [Douglas J., concurring] (holding that restaurants cannot discriminate on racial grounds, and noting that “places of public accommodation such as retail stores, restaurants, and the like render a ‘service which has become a public interest’ . . . in the manner of the innkeepers and common carriers of old.”); Charles Wolff Packing Co. v. Court of Industrial Relations (1923) 262 U.S. 522 [43 S.Ct. 630, 67 L.Ed. 1103] (“public interest” as test of constitutionality of price fixing); German Alliance Ins. Co. v. Lewis (1914) 233 U.S. 389 [34 S.Ct. 612, 58 L.Ed. 1011, L.R.A. 1915C 789] (same); Hamilton, Affectation with a Public Interest (1930) 39 Yale L.J. 1089 (same); Arterburn, The Origin and First Test of Public Callings (1927), 75 U.Pa.L.Rev. 411, 428 ( “public interest” as one test of whether business has duty to serve all comers). But see Simmons v. Columbus Venetian Stevens Buildings, Inc. (1958) 20 Ill.App.2d 1, 25-32 [155 N.E.2d 372, 384-387] (apartment leases, in which exculpatory clauses are generally permitted, are in aggregate as important to society as contracts with common carriers).

n11 See Bisso v. Inland Waterways Corp. (1955) 349 U.S. 85, 91 [75 S.Ct. 629, 99 L.Ed. 911] New York C. Railroad Co. v. Lockwood, supra; Fairfax Gas & Supply Co. v. Hadary (4th Cir. 1945) 151 F.2d 939; Millers Mut. Fire Ins. Assn. v. Parker (1951) 234 N.C. 20 [65 S.E.2d 341]; Irish & Swartz Stores v. First Nat. Bank of Eugene (1960) 220 Ore. 362, 375 [349 P.2d 814, 821]; 15 U.Pitt.L.Rev. 493, 499-500 (1954); Note (1948) 175 A.L.R. 8, 16-17; cf.  Charles Wolff Packing Co. v. Court of Industrial Relations (1923) 262 U.S. 522 [43 S.Ct. 630, 67 L.Ed. 1103] (constitutional law); Munn v. Illinois (1877) 94 U.S. 113 [24 L.Ed. 77] (same); Hall, Concept of Public Business, p. 94 (1940) (same).

n12 See Burdick, The Origin of the Peculiar Duties of Public Service Companies (1911), 11 Colum.L.Rev. 514, 616, 743; Lombard v. Louisiana, supra, fn. 10. There is a close historical relationship between the duty of common carriers, public warehousemen, innkeepers, etc. to give reasonable service to all persons who apply, and the refusal of courts to permit such businesses to obtain exemption from liability for negligence.  See generally Arterburn, supra, fn. 10.  This relationship has led occasional courts and writers to assert that exculpatory contracts are invalid only if the seller has a duty of public service.  28 Brooklyn L.Rev. 357, 359 (1962); see Ciofalo v. Vic Tanney Gyms, Inc. (1961) 10 N.Y.2d 294, 220 N.Y.S.2d 962 [177 N.E.2d 925]. A seller under a duty to serve is generally denied exemption from liability for negligence; (however, the converse is not necessarily true) 44 Cal.L.Rev. 120 (1956); cf. Charles Wolff Packing Co. v. Court of Industrial Relations (1923) 262 U.S. 522, 538 [43 S.Ct. 630, 67 L.Ed. 1103, 1109] (absence of duty to serve public does not necessarily exclude business from class of those constitutionally subject to state price regulation under test of Munn v. Illinois); German Alliance Ins. Co. v. Lewis (1914) 233 U.S. 389, 407 [34 S.Ct. 612, 58 L.Ed. 1011, 1020, L.R.A. 1915C 1189] (same).  A number of cases have denied enforcement to exculpatory provisions although the seller had no duty to serve.  See, e.g., Bisso v. Inland Waterways Corp. (1955) 349 U.S. 85 [75 S.Ct. 629, 99 L.Ed. 911]; Millers Mut. Fire Ins. Assn. v. Parker (1951) 234 N.C. 20 [65 S.E.2d 341]; cases on exculpatory provisions in employment contracts collected in 35 Am.Jur., Master & Servant, § 136.

n13 Prosser, Torts (2d ed. 1955) p. 306: “The courts have refused to uphold such agreements . . . where one party is at such obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to put him at the mercy of the other’s negligence.” Note (1948) 175 A.L.R. 8, 18: “Validity is almost universally denied to contracts exempting from liability for its negligence the party which occupies a superior bargaining position.” Accord: Bisso v. Inland Waterways Corp. (1955) 349 U.S. 85, 91 [75 S.Ct. 629, 99 L.Ed. 911, 918]; Hiroshima v. Bank of Italy (1926) 78 Cal.App. 362, 377 [248 P. 947]; Ciofalo v. Vic Tanney Gyms, Inc. (1961) 13 App.Div.2d 702 [214 N.Y.S.2d 99] (Kleinfeld, J. dissenting); 6 Williston, Contracts (rev. ed. 1938) § 1751C; Note, The Significance of Comparative Bargaining Power in the Law of Exculpation (1937) 37 Colum.L.Rev. 248; 20 Corn. L.Q. 352 (1935); 8 U.Fla.L.Rev. 109, 120-121 (1955); 15 U.Pitt.L.Rev. 493 (1954); 19 So.Cal.L.Rev. 441 (1946); see New York C. Railroad Co. v. Lockwood (1873) 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 357, 378-382 [21 L.Ed. 627]; Fairfax Gas & Supply Co. v. Hadary (4th Cir. 1945) 151 F.2d 939; Northwestern M.F. Assn. v. Pacific etc. Co. (1921) 187 Cal. 38, 43-44 [200 P. 934]; Inglis v. Garland (1936) 19 Cal.App.2d Supp. 767, 773 [64 P.2d 501]; Jackson v. First Nat. Bank of Lake Forest (1953) 415 Ill. 453, 462-463 [114 N.E.2d 721, 726]; Simmons v. Columbus Venetian Stevens Buildings, Inc. (1958) 20 Ill.App.2d 1, 26-32 [155 N.E.2d 372, 384-387]; Hall v. Sinclair Refining Co. (1955) 242 N.C. 707 [89 S.E.2d 396]; Millers Mut. Fire Ins. Assn. v. Parker (1951) 234 N.C. 20 [65 S.E.2d 341]; Irish & Swartz Stores v. First Nat. Bank of Eugene (1960) 220 Ore. 362, 375 [349 P.2d 814, 821]; 44 Cal.L.Rev. 120 (1956); 4 Mo.L.Rev. 55 (1939).

n14 See Simmons v. Columbus Venetian Stevens Buildings, Inc. (1958) 20 Ill.App.2d 1, 30-33 [155 N.E.2d 372, 386-387]; Irish & Swartz Stores v. First Nat. Bank of Eugene (1960) 220 Ore. 362, 376 [349 P.2d 814, 821]; Note (1948) 175 A.L.R. 8, 15-16, 112.

n15 See 6A Corbin, Contracts (1962) § 1472 at p. 595; Note (1948) 175 A.L.R. 8, 17-18.

n16 See Franklin v. Southern Pac. Co. (1928) 203 Cal. 680, 689-690 [265 P. 936, 59 A.L.R. 118]; Stephens v. Southern Pac. Co. (1895) 109 Cal. 86, 90-91 [41 P. 783, 50 Am.St.Rep. 17, 29 L.R.A. 751]; Irish & Swartz Stores v. First Nat. Bank of Eugene (1960) 220 Ore. 362, 377 [349 P.2d 814, 822]; 44 Cal.L.Rev. 120, 128 (1956); 20 Corn.L.Q. 352, 358 (1935).

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

While obviously no public policy opposes private, voluntary transactions in which one party, for a consideration, agrees to shoulder a risk which the law would otherwise have placed upon the other party, the above circumstances pose a different situation.  In this situation the releasing party does not really acquiesce voluntarily in the contractual shifting of the risk, nor can we be reasonably certain that he receives an adequate consideration for the transfer. Since the service is one which each  [**447][***39]  member of the public, presently or potentially, may find essential to him, he faces, despite his economic inability to do so, the prospect of a compulsory assumption of the risk of another’s negligence.  The public policy of this state has been, in substance, to posit the risk of negligence upon the actor; in instances in which this policy has been abandoned, it has generally been to allow or require that the risk shift to another party better or equally able to bear it, not to shift the risk to the weak bargainer.

(2)In the light of the decisions, we think that the hospital-patient contract clearly falls within the category of agreements affecting the public interest. To meet that test, the agreement need only fulfill some of the characteristics above outlined; here, the relationship fulfills all of them. Thus the contract of exculpation involves an institution suitable for, and a subject of, public regulation. (See Health & Saf. Code, §§ 1400- 1421, 32000- 32508.) n17 That the services of the hospital to those members of the public who are in special need of the particular skill of its staff and facilities constitute a practical and crucial necessity is hardly open to question.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – Footnotes – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

n17 “[Providing] hospital facilities to those legally entitled thereto is a proper exercise of the police power of the county . . . as it tends to promote the public health and general welfare of the citizens of the county.” ( Goodall v. Brite (1936) 11 Cal.App.2d 540, 548 [54 P.2d 510]; see Jardine v. City of Pasadena (1926) 199 Cal. 64 [248 P. 225, 48 A.L.R. 509].)

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

[*102]  The hospital, likewise, holds itself out as willing to perform its services for those members of the public who qualify for its research and training facilities.  While it is true that the hospital is selective as to the patients it will accept, such selectivity does not negate its public aspect or the public interest in it.  The hospital is selective only in the sense that it accepts from the public at large certain types of cases which qualify for the research and training in which it specializes.  But the hospital does hold itself out to the public as an institution which performs such services for those members of the public who can qualify for them.  n18

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – Footnotes – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

n18 See Wilmington General Hospital v. Manlove (1961) 53 Del. 338 [174 A.2d 135]; holding that a private hospital which holds itself out as rendering emergency service cannot refuse to admit a patient in an emergency, and comment on the above case in 14 Stan.L.Rev. 910 (1962).

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

In insisting that the patient accept the provision of waiver in the contract, the hospital certainly exercises a decisive advantage in bargaining.  The would-be patient is in no position to reject the proffered agreement, to bargain with the hospital, or in lieu of agreement to find another hospital.  The admission room of a hospital contains no bargaining table where, as in a private business transaction, the parties can debate the terms of their contract.  As a result, we cannot but conclude that the instant agreement manifested the characteristics of the so-called adhesion contract. Finally, when the patient signed the contract, he completely placed himself in the control of the hospital; he subjected himself to the risk of its carelessness.

In brief, the patient here sought the services which the hospital offered to a selective portion of the public; the patient, as the price of admission and as a result of his inferior bargaining position, accepted a clause in a contract of adhesion waiving the hospital’s negligence; the patient thereby subjected himself to control of the hospital and the possible infliction of the negligence which he had thus been compelled to waive.  The hospital, under such circumstances, occupied a status different than a mere private party; its contract with the patient affected the public interest. We see no cogent current reason for according to the patron of the inn a greater protection than the patient of the hospital; we cannot hold the innkeeper’s performance affords a greater public service than that of the hospital.

[**448][***40]  We turn to a consideration of the two arguments urged by [*103]  defendant to save the exemptive clause.  Defendant first contends that while the public interest may possibly invalidate the exculpatory provision as to the paying patient, it certainly cannot do so as to the charitable one. Defendant secondly argues that even if the hospital cannot obtain exemption as to its “own” negligence it should be in a position to do so as to that of its employees.  We have found neither proposition persuasive.

(3)As to the first, we see no distinction in the hospital’s duty of due care between the paying and nonpaying patient. (But see Rest., Contracts, § 575(1)(b).) The duty, emanating not merely from contract but also tort, imports no discrimination based upon economic status.  (See Malloy v. Fong (1951) 37 Cal.2d 356, 366 [232 P.2d 241]; Rest., Torts, §§ 323-324.) Rejecting a proposed differentiation between paying and nonpaying patients, we refused in Malloy to retain charitable immunity for charitable patients. Quoting Rutledge, J. in President & Directors of Georgetown College v. Hughes (1942) 130 F.2d 810, 827, we said: “Retention [of charitable immunity] for the nonpaying patient is the least defensible and most unfortunate of the distinction’s refinements.  He, least of all, is able to bear the burden.  More than all others, he has no choice.  . . .  He should be the first to have reparation, not last and least among those who receive it.” (P. 365.) To immunize the hospital from negligence as to the charitable patient because he does not pay would be as abhorrent to medical ethics as it is to legal principle.

(4)Defendant’s second attempted distinction, the differentiation between its own and vicarious liability, strikes a similar discordant note.  In form defendant is a corporation.  In everything it does, including the selection of its employees, it necessarily acts through agents.  A legion of decisions involving contracts between common carriers and their customers, public utilities and their customers, bailees and bailors, and the like, have drawn no distinction between the corporation’s “own” liability and vicarious liability resulting from negligence of agents.  We see no reason to initiate so far-reaching a distinction now.  If, as defendant argues, a right of action against the negligent agent is in fact a sufficient remedy, then defendant by paying a judgment against it may be subrogated to the right of the patient against the negligent agent, and thus may exercise that remedy.

[*104]  In substance defendant here asks us to modify our decision in Malloy , which removed the charitable immunity; defendant urges that otherwise the funds of the research hospital may be deflected from the real objective of the extension of medical knowledge to the payment of claims for alleged negligence. Since a research hospital necessarily entails surgery and treatment in which fixed standards of care may not yet be evolved, defendant says the hospital should in this situation be excused from such care.  But the answer lies in the fact that possible plaintiffs must prove negligence; the standards of care will themselves reflect the research nature of the treatment; the hospital will not become an insurer or guarantor of the patient’s recovery.  To exempt the hospital completely from any standard of due care is to grant it immunity by the side-door method of a contractual clause exacted of the patient. We cannot reconcile that technique with the teaching of Malloy.

We must note, finally, that the integrated and specialized society of today, structured upon mutual dependency, cannot rigidly narrow the concept of the public interest.  From the observance of simple standards of due care in the driving of a car to the performance of the high standards of hospital practice, the individual citizen must be completely dependent upon the responsibility of others.  The fabric of this pattern is so closely woven that the snarling of a single thread affects the whole.  We cannot lightly accept a sought immunity from careless failure to provide the hospital service upon which many must depend.  Even if the  [**449][***41]  hospital’s doors are open only to those in a specialized category, the hospital cannot claim isolated immunity in the interdependent community of our time.  It, too, is part of the social fabric, and prearranged exculpation from its negligence must partly rend the pattern and necessarily affect the public interest.

The judgment is reversed.

WordPress Tags: Tunkl,Regents,California,Rptr,LEXIS,OLGA,Executrix,Plaintiff,Appellant,Defendant,Respondent,Supreme,Court,PRIOR,HISTORY,APPEAL,judgment,Superior,Angeles,Jerold,Weil,Judge,Action,injuries,negligence,physicians,hospital,DISPOSITION,HEADNOTES,OFFICIAL,REPORTS,Release,Agreements,Public,Interest,provision,transaction,characteristics,regulation,exculpation,importance,member,advantage,strength,adhesion,purchaser,protection,person,seller,agents,Hospitals,admission,category,Code,exemption,fraud,injury,violation,policy,treatment,distinction,agreement,employees,JUDGES,Bank,Tobriner,Gibson,Traynor,Schauer,McComb,Peters,Peek,OPINIONBY,OPINION,consequence,Civil,Hugo,Medical,Center,institution,wife,June,purpose,education,medicine,purposes,Upon,Conditions,omissions,clause,jury,malpractice,verdict,Footnotes,sedation,execution,Perkins,Sunset,Raynale,significance,basis,proscription,arguments,Although,decisions,impact,circumstance,interpretations,Some,statute,England,Lyon,Fireproof,Storage,Union,Constr,Western,Mills,Ruppert,Negligent,Accord,Hiroshima,Estate,Garcelon,Werner,Knoll,interpretation,Barkett,Brucato,Witkin,Summary,Apart,statutes,explanation,exemptions,death,Butt,Bertola,Ryan,Mercantile,Great,Northern,Mont,Supp,Smith,Contractual,Controls,Damages,Commercial,Transactions,Hastings,clauses,theory,decision,Stephens,Southern,depot,lessee,warehouse,reference,States,Hampshire,opposition,annotation,addition,text,doctrine,dictum,Sproul,Cuddy,Basin,Baash,Ross,Tool,Hubbard,Matson,Navigation,reaction,Thus,Nichols,Hitchcock,Motor,covenant,affairs,Hischemoeller,National,businessmen,Inglis,Garland,Northwestern,Assn,Pacific,situation,waiver,Justice,relationship,landlord,tenant,Italics,message,instance,payee,payment,fact,performance,duties,direction,relation,money,Grisinger,Golden,State,Exculpatory,Franklin,carrier,Dieterle,Bekin,George,Bekins,declaration,Hall,Scott,Universal,factors,characterization,definition,concept,formula,situations,Though,Note,Munn,Illinois,laws,role,Nebbia,York,Olsen,Nebraska,discussion,Hamilton,Affectation,Yale,Railroad,Lockwood,Wall,Millers,Fire,Parker,Lombard,Louisiana,Douglas,restaurants,accommodation,manner,innkeepers,carriers,Charles,Wolff,Industrial,Relations,German,Alliance,Lewis,Arterburn,Origin,Test,Callings,Simmons,Columbus,Venetian,Stevens,Buildings,apartment,Bisso,Inland,Waterways,Corp,Fairfax,Hadary,Irish,Swartz,Stores,Eugene,Pitt,Burdick,Peculiar,Service,Companies,Colum,refusal,writers,Brooklyn,Ciofalo,Tanney,Gyms,absence,enforcement,employment,Master,Servant,Prosser,Torts,disadvantage,mercy,Kleinfeld,Williston,Contracts,Comparative,Power,Corn,Jackson,Lake,Forest,Sinclair,Corbin,assumption,substance,actor,instances,Health,skill,facilities,welfare,citizens,Goodall,Brite,Jardine,Pasadena,aspect,Wilmington,General,Manlove,Stan,room,status,patron,innkeeper,proposition,Rest,tort,discrimination,Malloy,Fong,differentiation,Rutledge,President,Directors,Georgetown,College,Hughes,Retention,refinements,reparation,ethics,principle,corporation,selection,legion,customers,utilities,agent,extension,knowledge,surgery,plaintiffs,insurer,guarantor,recovery,door,method,technique,dependency,From,observance,citizen,fabric,failure,doors,himself,whereby,whether,patients,exemptive,neither,supra


Philippi v. Sipapu, Inc., 961 F.2d 1492; 1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 6973

Philippi v. Sipapu, Inc., 961 F.2d 1492; 1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 6973

George Philippi, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Sipapu, Inc., a New Mexico corporation; Sipapu Recreation Development Corporation, a New Mexico corporation; and their employees, Lawrence Gottschau, James Booth, and Olive Bolander; and American Home Assurance Corporation, a New York corporation, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 91-2253

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

961 F.2d 1492; 1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 6973

April 17, 1992, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO. (D.C. No. CIV-90-1178-JC). D.C. Judge JOHN E. CONWAY

DISPOSITION: DENIED. AFFIRMED

COUNSEL: Submitted on the briefs.

Patrick A. Casey and David C. Ruyle, Patrick A. Casey, P.A., Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Plaintiff-Appellant.

Joe L. McClaugherty and Cameron Peters, McClaugherty, Silver & Downs, P.C., Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Defendants-Appellees.

JUDGES: Before MOORE, TACHA, and BRORBY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: TACHA

OPINION

[*1493] TACHA, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff, George Philippi, appeals a district court order granting summary judgment to the defendants. 1 Philippi argues that the district court erred in granting the defendants summary judgment on Philippi’s negligence action. Philippi also argues that two unresolved issues of New Mexico law may be determinative in this case and urges this court to certify these issues to the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico. We exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 and affirm.

1 After examining the briefs and appellate record, this panel has determined unanimously that oral argument would not materially assist the determination of this appeal. See Fed. R. App. P. 34(a); 10th Cir. R. 34.1.9. The case is therefore ordered submitted without oral argument.

[**2] In January of 1984, Philippi suffered a physical injury during the course of a skiing lesson at Sipapu Ski Area in New Mexico. Philippi, a body builder, injured his right leg and knee while attempting to negotiate the “Lower Bambi” run at Sipapu. Philippi brought this action against the defendants claiming, among other things, that the defendants acted negligently in violation of the New Mexico Ski Safety Act, N.M. Stat. Ann. 24-15-1 to 24-15-14 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act” or “the Ski Safety Act”).

In their motion for summary judgment, the defendants argued that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Ski Safety Act is Philippi’s only remedy and because Philippi’s claim is barred by his statutory assumption of the risks of skiing and his own breaches of duty under the Act. As an alternative basis for summary judgment, the defendants argued that they did not breach any of their duties under the Act. Without stating the basis of its ruling, the district court found that the motion for summary judgment was “well taken and should be granted.”

Philippi raises two claims on appeal. First, he argues that the district court misconstrued and misapplied the doctrine [**3] of primary and secondary assumption of the risk, as embodied in the Ski Safety Act. Second, Philippi argues that even if his conduct constitutes secondary assumption of the risk, the Act embodies comparative negligence principles, and his conduct, therefore, cannot totally bar his recovery under the Act. Philippi urges us to certify both of these issues to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Although the basis of the district court’s ruling is not evident, [HN1] “we may affirm the granting of summary judgment if any proper ground exists to support the district court’s ruling.” McKibben v. Chubb, 840 F.2d 1525, 1528 (10th Cir. 1988). We find it unnecessary to reach the merits of Philippi’s arguments on appeal because both arguments presuppose that, but for the district court’s alleged errors in applying the doctrines of assumption of the risk and comparative negligence, the district court would have concluded that the defendants owed a duty to Philippi. Viewing the facts alleged in the complaint and in opposition [*1494] to the summary judgment motion in the light most favorable to Philippi, we hold as a matter of law that the defendants owed no duty to protect Philippi from the harm [**4] he allegedly sustained. Because Philippi cannot demonstrate a duty owed by the defendants, we find certification of the issues on appeal inappropriate, as these issues are not determinative of this action.

This case requires us to determine whether the Ski Safety Act imposes a duty on a ski area operator to warn, or in some way protect, a novice skier from the inherent perils and obstacles posed by the terrain of a narrow, steep and ungroomed ski slope. Philippi’s injury occurred during a skiing lesson. According to the amended complaint, Philippi fell repeatedly during the lesson and, despite the ski instructors’ demonstrations and instructions, he was unable to master turning and other skiing maneuvers. Philippi allegedly informed the instructors that he wanted to stop the lesson because he was frustrated and tired. The instructors encouraged Philippi to continue skiing to the end of the run because the remaining terrain was “relatively easy,” and there was “no place to stop or stand.” The complaint alleges that “following the instructions of one of the individual Defendants, Plaintiff entered onto a narrow, steep, ungroomed slope which required numerous turns to navigate. Plaintiff [**5] could not see obstacles on this slope until he was upon them and too late to avoid them. During this portion of the instruction Plaintiff fell and severely injured his right leg and knee. . . .”

[HN2] Under section 24-15-10(B) of the Ski Safety Act, a skier “accepts as a matter of law the dangers inherent in that sport insofar as they are obvious and necessary.” The Act goes on to state that a skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to person or property which results from participation in the sport of skiing, in the skiing areas, including any injury caused by . . . variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees or other forms of forest growth or debris . . . .

[HN3] The Act specifically excludes from the scope of a skier’s assumption of risk “any injuries . . . resulting from any breach of duty imposed upon ski area operators under the provisions of Sections 24-15-7 and 24-15-8 [of the Act].” Id.

Philippi maintains that even though he assumed the obvious and necessary risks associated with skiing, including any injury caused by variations in terrain, the risks he encountered were not “obvious and necessary” [**6] to him as a novice skier. The Act imposes an affirmative duty on ski area operators “to warn of or correct particular hazards or dangers known to the operator where feasible to do so.” Id. 24-15-7(I). Philippi’s complaint alleges that the defendants were aware of Philippi’s difficulties in mastering even the simplest skiing maneuvers, the defendants knew of “particular hazards or dangers,” and they knew or should have known that Philippi was likely to injure himself if “allowed to continue” down the slope. Thus, Philippi alleges that under section 24-15-7(I) of the Act, the defendants had a duty to warn him of the obstacles of the lower portion of the ski slope — obstacles “which were not plainly visible and which created an immediate hazard to [Philippi] and the skiing public.”

In response to the defendants’ argument in support of summary judgment that the defendants owed no duty to Philippi, Philippi bore the burden of making a showing sufficient to establish the existence of the defendants’ duty. See High Plains Natural Gas v. Warren Petroleum Co., 875 F.2d 284, 290-91 (10th Cir. 1989). [HN4] “The party resisting [summary judgment] may not rest on the bare allegations [**7] or denials of his pleadings. Rather he must produce some evidence showing a genuine issue for trial.” Lowell Staats Mining Co. v. Philadelphia Elec. Co., 878 F.2d 1271, 1274 (10th Cir. 1989).

Philippi claims that the deposition testimony and affidavits, along with facts alleged in his complaint, demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact concerning the defendants’ violation of section 24-15-7(I) of the Act. Philippi points out that, despite the instructors’ awareness of Philippi’s inability [*1495] to master even the simplest skiing maneuvers, the instructors “failed to help” and “failed to warn” Philippi of the risks of the lower portion of the Bambi trail. Further, Philippi made some showing that the defendants were aware that novice skiers had “problems” on the portion of the trail on which Philippi’s injury occurred. In addition, Philippi points to the failure of the Sipapu ski instructor’s manual to advise the instructors of the need to warn students of dangers and alert them to safety considerations. Philippi argues that reasonable minds could differ on whether these circumstances give rise to a duty on behalf of the defendants and, therefore, that the issue should [**8] be left to the finder of fact.

[HN5] Under New Mexico law, however, the question of whether a defendant owes a duty to a particular plaintiff is a question of law to be determined by the court. Calkins v. Cox Estates, 110 N.M. 59, 792 P.2d 36, 39 (N.M. 1990); Schear v. Board of County Comm’rs, 101 N.M. 671, 687 P.2d 728, 729 (N.M. 1984). Under section 24-15-7(I) of the Ski Safety Act, the defendants only have the duty to warn of or correct “particular hazards or dangers.” Philippi cannot rest on the bare allegation in his amended complaint that the defendants were aware of and failed to warn of “particular hazards or dangers.” Nothing in Philippi’s amended complaint, deposition or affidavits identifies any “particular hazard or danger” known to the defendants. Philippi merely asserts that his injury was caused by the defendants’ failure to warn him individually of the general conditions of the terrain on the lower portion of the beginner slope. Allegations of “thin and bare” terrain on a “narrow, steep and ungroomed” slope do not amount to a particular hazard of which the defendants had a duty to warn Philippi. Likewise, allegations of the defendants’ knowledge of injuries [**9] to novice skiers on that same portion of the slope do not amount to a particular hazard of which the defendants had a duty to warn Philippi.

The purpose of the Ski Safety Act is to define “those areas of responsibility and affirmative acts for which ski area operators shall be liable for loss, damage or injury and those risks which the skier expressly assumes and for which there can be no recovery.” N.M. Stat. Ann. 24-15-2. Philippi assumed the risk for variations in terrain, id. 24-15-10, and Philippi had the duty to ski within the limits of his own ability. Id. Section 24-15-13 of the Act clearly states that a skier cannot recover for injuries or damages resulting from the skier’s own violation of his duties, as set forth in section 24-15-10. In our view, the Act allocates to the skier the risks for the type of injury Philippi alleges. In light of the language and purpose of the New Mexico Ski Safety Act, we conclude as a matter of law that [HN6] the scope of the duty imposed on ski operators in section 24-15-7(I) of the Act is not broad enough to encompass the duty to provide a general warning to a novice skier that, because of the skier’s limited abilities, portions of a beginner [**10] slope may be dangerous.

The motion to certify questions of state law is DENIED and the order of the district court is AFFIRMED.

WordPress Tags: Philippi,Sipapu,LEXIS,George,Plaintiff,Appellant,Mexico,corporation,Recreation,Development,employees,Lawrence,Gottschau,James,Booth,Olive,Bolander,American,Home,Assurance,York,Defendants,Appellees,STATES,COURT,APPEALS,TENTH,CIRCUIT,April,PRIOR,HISTORY,APPEAL,FROM,DISTRICT,Judge,JOHN,CONWAY,DISPOSITION,COUNSEL,Patrick,Casey,David,Ruyle,Santa,Cameron,Peters,Silver,Downs,JUDGES,TACHA,BRORBY,OPINION,judgment,negligence,action,Supreme,State,jurisdiction,panel,argument,determination,January,injury,lesson,Area,builder,knee,Lower,Bambi,violation,Stat,assumption,basis,duties,doctrine,Second,recovery,Although,McKibben,Chubb,arguments,errors,doctrines,complaint,opposition,certification,operator,novice,perils,obstacles,terrain,instructors,instructions,instruction,Under,dangers,person,participation,areas,variations,trees,growth,debris,scope,injuries,operators,Sections,Thus,response,existence,High,Plains,Natural,Warren,Petroleum,allegations,denials,Rather,Lowell,Staats,Philadelphia,Elec,testimony,affidavits,fact,Further,addition,failure,instructor,students,finder,defendant,Calkins,Estates,Schear,Board,Comm,allegation,danger,beginner,Likewise,knowledge,purpose,Section,abilities,whether,skier,upon,skiers


Gwyn v. Loon Mountain Corporation, 350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

Gwyn v. Loon Mountain Corporation, 350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

Eileen Gwyn, on her own behalf, and as Executrix of the Estate of Howard Gwyn, and Margaret Do, Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. Loon Mountain Corporation, d/b/a Loon Mountain Ski Area, Defendant, Appellee.

No. 03-1047

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

350 F.3d 212; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 23995

November 25, 2003, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Amended December 2, 3003.

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE. Hon. Paul J. Barbadoro, U.S. District Judge.

Gwyn v. Loon Mt. Corp., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9092 (D.N.H., 2002)

Gwyn v. Loon Mt. Corp., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24625 (D.N.H., 2002)

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: Kevin M. Leach with whom Nixon, Raiche, Manning, Casinghino & Leach, P.C. was on brief for appellants.

Thomas Quarles, Jr. with whom Margaret O’Brien, Matthew R. Johnson and Devine, Millimet & Branch, P.A. were on brief for appellee.

JUDGES: Before Boudin, Chief Judge, Siler, * Senior Circuit Judge, and Lynch, Circuit Judge.

* Of the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation.

OPINION BY: BOUDIN

OPINION

[*214] BOUDIN, Chief Judge. In this tragic case, two individuals were killed and a third badly injured in a skiing accident in New Hampshire. The details are set forth in two very able opinions by the district court. Thus, we confine ourselves to an abbreviated description focused on the two primary issues raised on this appeal: one is an important question of statutory construction and the other a narrower issue turning upon the pleadings.

Howard and Eileen Gwyn, their daughter Margaret Do, and Margaret’s fiance Mark Goss went on a ski vacation in Lincoln, New Hampshire. On January 25, 1999, they spent the morning together skiing down [**2] easy trails at Loon Mountain Ski Area (“Loon”). Shortly before lunch, Howard, Margaret, and Mark–all very experienced skiers–left Eileen and rode the chairlift up to the Summit Lodge to ski down some more difficult trails. Unbeknownst to them, Loon had closed one of the trails (named “Triple Trouble”) the night before because of icy conditions, a closure noted on the trail board at the bottom of the mountain.

[*215] From the summit, it was possible to ski directly down a trail named Big Dipper from which, part way down, Triple Trouble branched off to the skier’s right. Or, from the summit, one could head right on a trail called Haulback, then take a left fork onto Cant Dog, and enter Big Dipper just above the point where Triple Trouble branched off to the right. At this branching off point from Big Dipper to Triple Trouble, Loon had posted a sign warning that Triple Trouble was closed. It had also placed a rope across the entrance to Triple Trouble.

From the summit, Howard led the group to the right down Haulback and then took a left turn onto Cant Dog. At the intersection of Cant Dog and Big Dipper–right above the closed Triple Trouble trail–Howard slipped on ice, slid under the rope [**3] blocking off Triple Trouble, and tumbled nine hundred feet down the icy slope. He suffered severe injuries resulting in his death a few days later. Margaret Do and Mark Goss saw Howard Gwyn fall, removed their skis, and attempted to walk down the closed trail to rescue him. Both fell, sliding hundreds of feet down Triple Trouble trail. Goss died. Margaret Do suffered severe injuries and frostbite but was rescued several hours later. In this diversity suit, Margaret Do and Eileen Gwyn (as executrix of Howard Gwyn’s estate and on her own behalf) sued Loon for breach of multiple common law and statutory duties. The district court granted Loon’s motion to dismiss the majority of claims under New Hampshire’s “Skiers, Ski Area, and Passenger Tramway Safety Act,” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 225-A:23 (2002) (“ski statute”). Two claims survived the motion to dismiss, but after discovery the district court granted summary judgment to Loon on both counts. Plaintiffs appealed, focusing attention on one statutory claim and one claim of common law negligence.

At the crux of this appeal is New Hampshire’s ski statute, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 225-A. In this [**4] statute several duties are placed on ski operators–maintaining trail boards, marking the difficulty of various slopes, making trail maps available to all skiers–and operators can be sued for violations of these statutory duties. § 225-A:23; Nutbrown v. Mt. Cranmore, Inc., 140 N.H. 675, 671 A.2d 548, 553 (N.H. 1996). At the same time, the statute places the risk of injury from dangers inherent in the sport of skiing on the skiers themselves, and bars all actions against ski operators for injuries caused by these dangers. 1 § 225-A:24; Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 553. New Hampshire case law is slowly filling in the gaps but uncertainties remain.

1 [HN1] The statute provides that “each person who participates in the sport of skiing accepts as a matter of law[] the dangers inherent in the sport, and to that extent may not maintain an action against the operator for any injuries which result from such inherent risks, dangers, or hazards.” § 225-A:24; see also Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 553 (“By participating in the sport of skiing, a skier assumes this inherent risk and may not recover against a ski area operator for resulting injuries.”).

[**5] Here, most of the counts and theories pressed by plaintiffs at the start are no longer in issue, but two major claims remain open on this appeal. The first is that Loon did not comply with a statutory duty relating to marking closed trails. Under the ski statute, operators are not required to close a trail because of hazardous conditions, but if they do close a trail they must mark “the beginning of, and designated access points to” the closed trail with a sign, § 225-A:23 (III)(b), and note the closure on a permanent trail board at the base of the mountain, § 225-A:23 (II)(a). Here, it is undisputed that Loon properly [*216] noted the closure on the trail board and properly marked “the beginning” of Triple Trouble at the point that it branched off Big Dipper.

Nevertheless, the plaintiffs say that a closed sign for Triple Trouble was also required by the statute at the uphill juncture where Cant Dog forked off Haulback–a point where a sign pointed the way to Big Dipper and Triple Trouble. This, they say, was itself an “access point” to Triple Trouble. Their causation theory is less clear: the implication is that such an early warning of a closed trail further downhill might have made [**6] Howard Gwyn decide to lead the group straight down Haulback instead of taking Cant Dog so they could avoid the entire region around the closed trail.

The district court ruled as a matter of law that “access points” as used in the New Hampshire statute referred to points of direct entry onto a trail, and did not include points above the start of the closed trail. Thus, the start of Cant Dog might conceivably be treated as an access point to Big Dipper since the former merged into the latter; once on Cant Dog, entry onto Big Dipper was inevitable. By contrast, nothing compelled one who took the fork to Big Dipper necessarily to take the fork from Big Dipper onto Triple Trouble.

We agree readily with the district court’s reading of the statute. True, as a matter of dictionary definition a remote fork to an intermediate trail that can lead eventually to the closed trail could be described as a way to “access” the later trail; but on this theory the summit itself would be an access point to every connected trail on the mountain below. Indeed, on plaintiffs’ reading, warning signs might have to be posted at a variety of different points wherever existing trail signs indicated that [**7] the closed trail could be reached somewhere downhill. Conceivably, plaintiffs’ position could also require ski operators to construct such directional signs even if they did not already exist in order to mark every downhill closure.

It would not be literally impossible to comply with such requirements–apparently some ski slopes do so mark their closed trails, at least where existing signs mention the trails–but it could involve fairly complex compliance measures. In fact, the Loon trail map indicates that from some trails one could reach nearly 30 different trails below–some of them through open intermediate trails branching off into other open forks. The simplicity of the statute’s requirements argues against an interpretation requiring ski operators to mark every one of those possibilities, and this interpretation is unnecessary to carry out what we perceive to be the rationale of the warning requirement.

In our view, the statute aims to give the skier warning of a trail closure at any point where the skier might otherwise commit himself to traverse the closed trail. This is a complete scheme of protection giving the skier both a comprehensive overview of all closures on the [**8] base trailboard, and specific notice of each closure at any point on the mountain where the skier has a last chance to avoid the closed trail.

This reading may leave some open issues, but it forecloses plaintiffs’ central claim in this case. Here, the plaintiffs argue that a sign should have been placed at the Haulback-Cant Dog junction, since Cant Dog led onto Big Dipper which in turn led onto Triple Trouble. But a skier does not commit himself to taking Triple Trouble merely by turning left onto Cant Dog. Big Dipper was an open trail which a skier could continue down without branching off onto Triple Trouble, so no warning sign as to Triple Trouble was required by [*217] the statute at the Haulback- Cant Dog fork, even though one could have been voluntarily provided.

The second claim on appeal is that the district court should not have rejected an alternative theory of the plaintiffs having nothing to do with notice. The plaintiffs said that the defendant had placed the rope across Triple Trouble somewhat below the entrance itself and that the placement was negligent because it could lure a skier closer to the icy entrance than one would go otherwise. Admittedly, there was no duty to [**9] use any closing rope at all (the statute made the signs sufficient) but the plaintiffs argue that a voluntarily assumed duty negligently performed is not immunized by the statute.

There are obvious risks in penalizing efforts to provide help or care beyond an existing duty, but the common law rule sometimes permits a claim for negligent performance of a voluntary act where the negligence “increases the risk” of harm, or harm is caused by the victim’s “reliance upon the undertaking” to provide help or care. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (1965); see also Prosser & Keaton on Torts 378-82 (5th ed. 1984). The New Hampshire Supreme Court has not decided how far this doctrine may apply in the face of the state statute providing protection to ski operators. See Rayeski v. Gunstock Area/Gunstock Area Comm’n, 146 N.H. 495, 776 A.2d 1265, 1269 (N.H. 2001).

The district court did not attempt to answer this question. It rested its rejection of such a claim in this case on the fact that the plaintiffs had not articulated any plausible causal connection between the placement of the rope and Howard Gwyn’s fall. As the district court [**10] said:

[The] complaint is devoid of allegations suggesting that defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care to perform the identified undertakings created the icy area where the falls took place, exacerbated an already dangerous situation, caused Howard Gwyn and Do to enter an area they would not have entered absent the undertakings, or caused Howard Gwyn and Do to suffer worse injuries than they would have suffered absent the undertakings.

We have read the plaintiffs’ appellate briefs with care and no persuasive answer to this summary appears.

The problem for the plaintiffs is that Howard Gwyn evidently slipped on an ice patch on Big Dipper, and [HN2] an icy and dangerous open slope is an inherent risk of skiing that the plaintiffs assumed as a matter of law. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 225-A:24(I); Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 553-54 (citing Fetzner v. Jiminy Peak, The Mountain Resort, 1995 Mass. App. Div. 55, 1995 Mass. App. Div. LEXIS 30, No. 94WAD16, 1995 WL 263916, at *2 (Mass. Dist. Ct. May 1, 1995) (slipping on ice is an inherent risk of skiing)). The only duty Loon voluntarily undertook–placing a rope across the trail–put the plaintiffs in no worse a position than [**11] they would have been without the rope. One can think of circumstances where a badly placed rope would cause or contribute to an accident but this simply is not such a case.

Three remaining claims can be dealt with more swiftly. First, plaintiffs say that as read by the district court (and now by this court), the New Hampshire statute violates two provisions of the New Hampshire Constitution: the right to a remedy and the equal protection of the laws. N.H. Const. part I, arts. 2, 12, 14. The claim is that the district court’s interpretation deprives the plaintiffs of their constitutionally guaranteed rights without giving them a sufficient quid pro quo of a prior warning of the danger. This argument may be forfeited since not raised [*218] below. Brigham v. Sun Life of Canada, 317 F.3d 72, 85 (1st Cir. 2003).

In any event the New Hampshire Supreme Court has already concluded that the obligations that the ski statute places on ski operators provide a sufficient quid pro quo for the statutory restriction on skiers’ legal remedies. Nutbrown, 671 A.2d at 552. While the “access points” issue was not considered in Nutbrown, this slight wrinkle would [**12] not be likely to alter the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s assessment. No further argument based on New Hampshire constitutional law is sufficiently developed to merit consideration. See Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. Am. Bar Ass’n, 142 F.3d 26, 43 (1st Cir. 1998).

Second, plaintiffs say that the statutory reading of the access points language and the voluntary assumption issue present open questions of New Hampshire law that should be certified to the state court. No such request was made in the district court, which is ordinarily conclusive save in rare circumstances such as public policy concerns, e.g., Pyle v. S. Hadley Sch. Comm., 55 F.3d 20, 22 (1st Cir. 1995). In any event, the access points issue is too straightforward to deserve certification and the voluntary assumption claim has been resolved not on the basis of statutory preemption but simply on the pleadings and facts of this case.

Third, plaintiffs say that the district court erred by denying them the chance to amend their complaint for the second time (one earlier amendment had been made) two months after the deadline set by the district court’s scheduling order. The motion [**13] to amend was denied by the district court for failure to make any effort to satisfy the good cause requirement for amendments after the scheduling order deadline, Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(1), and also the disregard of Local Rule 15.1′s further requirements (e.g., attaching all relevant documents and explaining why the change had not been made before). D.N.H. R. 15.1.

On appeal, the plaintiffs say only that the district court erred by applying federal standards for amending pleadings instead of the supposedly more liberal amendment rules applicable in New Hampshire state courts. [HN3] But if anything comprises “procedural” rules exempt from the Erie doctrine, Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938), it is the standards for such routine issues as the granting or denial of extensions of time, leave to amend, and similar housekeeping concerns. [HN4] The outcome determinative test relied upon by plaintiffs has been limited, see Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471, 14 L. Ed. 2d 8, 85 S. Ct. 1136 (1965), and has no application to a clearly procedural matter governed by explicit federal procedural rules.

[**14] This is a sad case but, despite the ingenuity and energy of plaintiffs’ counsel, it is not a close one, given the limitations imposed by state policy. It was handled with care and competence by the district court, and we might have said less but for a desire to make clear that plaintiffs’ arguments have been considered with respect.

Affirmed.

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King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

John King and Patricia King, Plaintiffs, vs. CJM Country Stables, Defendant.

Civ. No. 03-00240 ACK/BMK

United States District Court for the District of Hawaii

315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

February 18, 2004, Decided

February 18, 2004, Filed

DISPOSITION: [**1] Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment denied.

COUNSEL: For JOHN KING, PATRICIA KING, plaintiffs: David C. Schutter, Christopher A. Dias, Schutter Dias Smith & Wong, Honolulu, HI.

For CJM COUNTRY STABLES, INC., defendant: Gale L.F. Ching, Mitzi A. Lee, Jane Kwan, Hisaka Stone Goto Yoshida Cosgrove & Ching, Honolulu, HI.

JUDGES: Alan C Kay, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Alan C Kay

OPINION:

[*1062] ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BACKGROUND

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant CJM Country Stables’ (“CJM” or “Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion for Summary Judgment argues that Patricia and John King (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) signed a valid waiver that releases CJM from liability for the injuries Plaintiffs allegedly suffered when they participated in a recreational horseback riding activity provided by the Defendant.

I. Factual History.

On September 16, 2001, Plaintiffs began an 11-night Royal Caribbean cruise sailing from Vancouver to and around the Hawaiian islands. On September 26, 2001, the cruise ship docked in Nawiliwili, on the Island of Kauai. That day, Plaintiffs participated in an organized horseback ride that [**2] they arranged through the shore excursion desk on board their ship.

Upon arriving at the stables, the horseback riding participants were asked to read and sign a form entitled “Participant Agreement, Release, and Acknowledgement of Risk,” (hereinafter the “Release Form”). Both Plaintiffs signed this Release Form. (Motion for Summary Judgment, Exs. A, D). The Release Form provides, in relevant part, that “in consideration of the services of CJM Country Stables, Inc.” the signatory agrees “to release and discharge C.J.M., on behalf of [himself or herself] … as follows:

1. I acknowledge that horseback trailrides entails known and unanticipated risks which could result in physical or emotional injury, … to myself … I understand that such risks simply cannot [*1063] be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of the activity. The risks include, among other things: … horses, irrespective of their previous behavior and characteristics, may act or react unpredictably based upon instinct, fright, or lack of proper control by rider; latent or apparent defects or conditions in … animals …; acts of other participants in this activity;… contact with plants or animals; [**3] … Furthermore, C.J.M. guides have difficult jobs to perform. They seek safety, but they are not infallible … They may give inadequate warnings or instructions, and the equipment being used might malfunction.

2. I expressly agree and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks.

3. I hereby voluntarily release … and hold harmless C.J.M. from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity … including any such Claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of C.J.M … I have had sufficient opportunity to read this entire document, I have read and understood it, and I agree to be bound by its terms.”

Motion for Summary Judgment, Exs. A, D.

After signing the Release Forms, each of the riders was assigned a horse and proceeded on the trail ride. The parties agree that at some point during the ride Mrs. King was bitten by another rider’s horse. Plaintiffs allege that as a result of this incident they have suffered severe and permanent bodily injuries, pain [**4] and suffering, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and other special and general damages. Plaintiffs claim that Defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of these damages. Defendant argues that the signed Release Forms validly waive its liability for the Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

II. Procedural History.

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in state court on February 27, 2003 and it was removed to this Court on May 14, 2003. The Complaint sets forth claims of:

I. Negligence; II. Negligence Per Se; III. Strict Liability; IV. Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; V. Loss of Consortium; VI. Punitive Damages; and VII. Respondeat Superior.

On January 14, 2004, CJM filed this Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion for Summary Judgment argues that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Plaintiffs signed a valid waiver of liability. Plaintiffs filed their Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on January 30, 2004.

The Opposition argues that the Motion for Summary Judgment should be denied because the Release Form is unenforceable as a waiver and in any event, does not include negligence claims. If the Court [**5] is inclined to grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff alternatively requests that the Court order a continuance of the motion pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 56(f). n1 Defendant filed its Reply on February 5, 2004. The Reply argues that negligence is explicitly covered by the waiver. The Reply does not address Plaintiff’s alternative request for a Rule 56(f) continuance.

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n1 The Court need not address this alternative request because it is denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

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STANDARD

The purpose of summary judgment is to identify and dispose of factually unsupported [*1064] claims and defenses. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving [**6] party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” n2 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

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n2 Affidavits made on personal knowledge and setting forth facts as would be admissible at trial are evidence. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Legal memoranda and oral argument are not evidence and do not create issues of fact. See British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 952 (9th Cir. 1978).

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“A fact is ‘material’ when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact arises if ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” n3 Thrifty Oil Co. v. Bank of America Nat’l Trust & Sav. Ass’n, 310 F.3d 1188, 1194 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Union Sch. Dist. v. Smith, 15 F.3d 1519, 1523 (9th Cir. 1994)) (internal citations omitted). Conversely, where the evidence “could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no [**7] ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986) (quoting First Nat’l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289, 20 L. Ed. 2d 569, 88 S. Ct. 1575 (1968)).

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n3 Disputes as to immaterial issues of fact do “not preclude summary judgment.” Lynn v. Sheet Metal Workers’ Int’l Ass’n, 804 F.2d 1472, 1478 (9th Cir. 1986).

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The moving party has the burden of persuading the Court as to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party may do so with affirmative evidence or by “’showing’—that is pointing out to the district court—that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325. All evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., T.W. Elec. Serv. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass’n, 809 F.2d 626,

630-31 (9th Cir. 1987). [**8] So, too, the Court’s role is not to make credibility assessments. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Accordingly, if “reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence,” summary judgment will be denied. Id. at 250-51.

Once the moving party satisfies its burden, however, the nonmoving party cannot simply rest on the pleadings or argue that any disagreement or “metaphysical doubt” about a material issue of fact precludes summary judgment. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265; Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586; California Arch. Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987). Nor will uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarmo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002); see also T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630. The nonmoving party must instead set forth “significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.” T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630. Summary judgment [**9] will thus be granted against a party who fails to demonstrate facts’ sufficient to establish an element essential to his case when that party will ultimately bear the burden of proof at proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

[*1065] DISCUSSION

At issue in this Motion for Summary Judgment is whether the Release Form signed by Plaintiffs waives Defendant’s liability for the Plaintiffs’ alleged horseback riding injuries. Plaintiffs assert that the Release Form is unenforceable as a waiver and regardless, does not waive Defendant’s liability for its own negligent conduct allegedly contributing to their injuries.

Defendant claims that the Release Form constitutes a valid waiver of liability for Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries because the form clearly lists the risks associated with horseback riding and the horse-biting incident at issue constitutes one of these risks. Defendant also argues that the waiver explicitly waives liability for negligence.

As movant, Defendant has the burden of establishing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law by showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Release Form validly waives its liability [**10] for the Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

I. Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 663-1.54.

Although neither party cites or discusses it, the Court finds that Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 663-1.54, addressing “Recreational activity liability, “ applies to this case. Section 663-1.54 provides:

(a) Any person who owns or operates a business providing recreational activities to the public, such as, without limitation, scuba or skin diving, sky diving, bicycle tours, and mountain climbing, shall exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of patrons and the public, and shall be liable for damages resulting from negligent acts or omissions of the person which cause injury.

(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a), owners and operators of recreational activities shall not be liable for damages for injuries to a patron resulting from inherent risks associated with the recreational activity if the patron participating in the recreational activity voluntarily signs a written release waiving the owner or operator’s liability for damages for injuries resulting from the inherent risks. No waiver shall be valid [**11] unless:

(1) The owner or operator first provides full disclosure of the inherent risks associated with the recreational activity; and

(2) The owner or operator takes reasonable steps to ensure that each patron is physically able to participate in the activity and is given the necessary instruction to participate in the activity safely.

(c) The determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the

trier of fact. As used in this section an “inherent risk”:

(1) Is a danger that a reasonable person would understand to be associated with the activity by the very nature of the activity engaged in;

(2) Is a danger that a reasonable person would understand to exist despite the owner or operator’s exercise of reasonable care to eliminate or minimize the danger, and is generally beyond the control of the owner or operator; and

(3) Does not result from the negligence, gross negligence, or wanton act or omission of the owner or operator.

HRS § 663-1.54 (emphasis added).

A. Legislative History.

There is no Hawaii case law interpreting Section 663-1.54. The Standing Committee that drafted Section 663-1.54, described its [**12] purpose and function as follows:

“This measure is necessary to more clearly define the liability of providers of commercial recreational activities by statutorily validating inherent risk waivers signed by the participants. Your [*1066] Committee further finds that these inherent risk waivers … do not extend immunity to providers for damages resulting from negligence.”

Haw. Stand. Comm. Rep. No. 1537, in 1997 Senate Journal, at 1476. In substituting the provisions of Senate Bill 647 with those of House Bill number 581, which was codified into Section 663-1.54, the Standing Committee eliminated “the substantive provisions of S.B. No. 647, S.D.1, the Senate companion measure,” including a section “exempting the provisions of Chapter 663B, existing law regarding equine liability.” Id. n4 Thus, equine activities, such as the one at issue here, are covered by Section 663-1.54. n5

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n4 Section 663B-2(a) provides: “In any civil action for injury … of a participant, there shall be a presumption that the injury … was not caused by the negligence of an equine activity sponsor … or their employees or agents, if the injury … was caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature of the equine. An injured person … may rebut the presumption of no negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.” HRS § 663B-2(a). [**13]

n5 Section 663-1.54, addressing recreational activity liability, and Section 663B, addressing equine activities, are not mutually exclusive. Read together, these sections provide that a trier of fact must determine if injuries were caused by the “inherent risks” of a recreational activity. And if the trier of fact finds that the injuries were “caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature” of a horse, then there is a rebuttable presumption that the defendant’s negligence did not cause the injuries. The injured plaintiff may then rebut the presumption of no negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.

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Subsection (c), providing that “the determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the trier of fact,” is pertinent to the resolution of this Motion for Summary Judgment. HRS § 663-1.54(c). Unfortunately, legislative materials specifically addressing this part of Section 663-1.54 are not helpful to this analysis as they consist of the following: “Now let me say that we have, and I supposed admirably, set out to define what inherent risks are in subsection (c), but whether [**14] this is sufficient is not clear.” Debate on Haw. Stand. Comm. Rep. No. 753, in 1997 House Journal, at 408 (statement of Rep. Pendleton).

It is clear that given the statute’s 1997 enactment and specific focus on exculpatory agreements made with those “who own[ ] or operate[ ] a business providing recreational activities to the public” that on the issue of written waivers, Section 663-1.54 supplants every single case on which the parties rely to make their substantive arguments. These cases, however, may be pertinent to other possibly relevant claims and defenses such as negligence and implied assumption of risk. Most of the cases cited were decided prior to the statute’s enactment n6 and those that [*1067] were decided after 1997 do not address the effect of waivers on recreational activity liability as in Section 663-1.54. n7 Moreover, most of these cases do not interpret Hawaii law. Likewise, Defendant’s citation to Section 663-10.95, addressing the liability of “motorsports facility “ owners and operators, is inapplicable to this case. Motion for Summary Judgment, at 13 (citing HRS § 663-10.95). Based on the foregoing, the Court will apply Section 663-1.54 in resolving Defendant’s Motion [**15] for Summary Judgment.

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n6 See Grbac v. Reading Fair Co., 688 F.2d 215 (3rd Cir. 1982); Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 730 (D. Haw. 1993); Marshall v. Blue Springs Corp., 641 N.E.2d 92 (1994); Huber v. Hovey, 501 N.W.2d 53 (1993); Masciola v. Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, 257 Ill. App. 3d 313, 628 N.E.2d 1067, 195 Ill. Dec. 603 (1993); Swierkosz v. Starved Rock Stables, 239 Ill. App. 3d 1017, 607 N.E.2d 280, 180 Ill. Dec. 386 (1993); Buchan v. U.S. Cycling Federation, Inc., 227 Cal. App. 3d 134, 277 Cal. Rptr. 887 (1991); Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991); Guido v. Koopman, 1 Cal. App. 4th 837, 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 437 (1991); Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 276 Cal. Rptr. 672, 226 Cal. App. 3d 758 (1990); Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo. 1989); Harris v. Walker, 119 Ill. 2d 542, 519 N.E.2d 917, 116 Ill. Dec. 702 (1988); Kurashige v. Indian Dunes, Inc., 200 Cal. App. 3d 606, 246 Cal. Rptr. 310 (1988); Madison v. Superior Court, 203 Cal. App. 3d 589, 250 Cal.

Rptr. 299 (1988); Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center, 168 Cal. App. 3d 333, 214 Cal. Rptr. 194 (1985); McAtee v. Newhall Land & Farming Co., 169 Cal. App. 3d 1031, 216 Cal. Rptr. 465 (1985); Krohnert v. Yacht Systems Hawaii, Inc., 4 Haw.

App. 190, 664 P.2d 738 (1983); Hewitt III v. Miller, 11 Wn. App. 72, 521 P.2d

244 (1974); Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Douglas Aircraft Co., 238 Cal. App. 2d 95,

47 Cal. Rptr. 518 (1965); Lee v. Allied Sports Associates, Inc., 349 Mass. 544,

209 N.E.2d 329 (1965); Ciofalo v. Vic Tanney Gyms, Inc., 10 N.Y.2d 294, 177 N.E.2d 925, 220 N.Y.S.2d 962 (1961). [**16]

n7 Foronda v. Hawaii International Boxing Club, 96 Haw. 51, 25 P.3d 826 (2001) (holding that primary implied assumption of risk, evidenced by a signed waiver and plaintiff’s free participation in a boxing match, is a complete defense to claims of negligence where defendant’s conduct is an inherent risk of the sports activity); Fujimoto v. Au, 95 Haw. 116, 19 P.3d 699 (2001) (finding contract waiving general partners and landowners’ liability unenforceable where limited partners with unequal bargaining power sought to recover their investment in limited partnerships formed to develop real estate).

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B. Application.

Under Section 663-1.54, the Court must deny Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment for two reasons. First, Defendant argues that the Release Form validly waives Plaintiffs’ negligence claims but Section 663-1.54(a) explicitly precludes waiving liability for negligence. Thus, paragraph three (3) of the Release Form is void as to negligence.

Secondly, Section 663-1.54(c)’s provision that the “determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the [**17] trier of fact” automatically creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the horse-biting incident was an inherent of the horseback riding activity in which Plaintiffs participated. This statutorily-imposed genuine issue of fact precludes summary judgment as a matter of law. The trier of fact will have to decide whether the Release Form constitutes a valid waiver of Defendant’s liability. n8

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n8 The legislative history indicates that the statute’s proponents did not aim for this result. See Ammie I. Roseman-Orr, Comment, Recreational Activity Liability in Hawai’i: Are Waivers Worth The Paper On Which Thev Are Written?, 21. U. Haw. L. Rev. 715, 743-44 (1999) (“From the legislative testimony, it is apparent that the industry did not intend, nor was it aware, that this new law might eliminate summary judgment determinations of whether waivers are valid … Hawai’i’s new recreational activity liability statute, championed by the activity providers to protect the industry has instead eroded the common law protection it otherwise enjoyed.”).

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The Court finds that there are genuine issues of material fact as to: [1] whether Defendant was negligent; and [2] the Release Form’s validity as a waiver of liability, which depends on whether the horse-biting incident was an “inherent risk” of the recreational activity that Defendant provided to Plaintiffs. Defendant cannot satisfy its burden and thus, is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

CONCLUSION

The Court holds that there are genuine issues of material fact as to Defendant’s negligence and as to whether the Release Form constitutes a valid waiver of Defendant’s liability and accordingly DENIES Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: Honolulu, Hawii, 18 FEB 2004

Alan C Kay

United States District Judge

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Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc, 839 F. Supp. 730; 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050

Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc, 839 F. Supp. 730; 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050

Mary Rose Wheelock, individually, as Administratrix of the Estate of David William Wheelock, as Guardian Ad Litem for Maggie Wheelock and David William Wheelock, minors, Plaintiff, v. Sport Kites, Inc., a foreign corporation, dba Wills Wing, Rob Kells, an individual, Kualoa Ranch, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, and Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, Defendants.

Civ. No. 92-00768 HMF

United States District Court for the District of Hawaii

839 F. Supp. 730; 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050

December 1, 1993, Decided

December 1, 1993, Filed

Counsel: [**1] For Mary Rose Wheelock, individually gal, Maggie Wheelock, minor gal, David William Wheelock, minor, plaintiff: Jeffrey R. Buchli, Carroll Smith & Buchli, Honolulu, HI. John S. Carroll, Carroll Smith & Buchli, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Kites, Inc., a foreign corporation dba Wills Wing, Rob Kells, an individual, defendants: Leighton K. Oshima, Patrick I. Wong, Wong Oshima & Kondo, Honolulu, HI. For Kualoa Ranch, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, defendant:

Sidney K. Ayabe, a, Rodney S. Nishida, Libkuman Ventura Ayabe Chong & Nishimoto, Honolulu, HI. For Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, defendant:

Randolph R. Slaton, Law Offices of Randolph R. Slaton, Honolulu, HI.

For Kualoa Ranch, Inc., cross-claimant: Sidney K. Ayabe, a, Libkuman Ventura Ayabe Chong & Nishimoto, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Kites, Inc. dba Wills Wing, ROB KELLS, cross-defendants: Leighton K.

Oshima, Patrick I. Wong, Wong Oshima & Kondo, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., cross-claimant: Randolph R. Slaton, Law Offices of Randolph R. Slaton, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Kites, Inc. dba Wills Wing, ROB KELLS, cross-defendants: Leighton K.

Oshima, Patrick I. Wong, Wong Oshima & Kondo, Honolulu, [**2] HI.

Judges: Fong

Opinion by: Harold M. Fong

Opinion:

[*733] Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion To Dismiss Non-Diverse Parties And Denying Defendants’ Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Diversity Jurisdiction; Order Granting In Part And Denying In Part Defendants’ Motion For Summary Judgment

Introduction

This is a wrongful death action. On November 1, 1993, the court heard arguments on three motions: (1) defendant Kualoa Ranch, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment; (2) Kualoa Ranch’s motion to dismiss for lack of diversity jurisdiction; and (3) plaintiff’s motion to dismiss non-diverse parties to the complaint to preserve diversity jurisdiction.

Background

This action arises from the accidental death of David Wheelock (“David”). On July 14, 1991, David was paragliding at Kualoa Ranch. He was at a height of between 1,000 and 1,500 feet when the lines connecting him to the parachute-like canopy simultaneously broke, detaching him. He plunged to the earth and died.

Mary Rose Wheelock, David’s wife, brought this action n1 against Kualoa Ranch, owner of the premises where the activity occurred, Sport Aviation Hawaii, provider of the equipment, and Sport Kites, Inc., dba Wills Wing, and Rob Kells, an individual, manufacturers [**3] of the equipment.

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n1 Mrs. Wheelock brought the action individually, as administratrix of her husband’s estate, and as guardian ad litem for their children.

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Kualoa Ranch filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for lack of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff concedes that there is currently a lack of diversity: plaintiff is a citizen of California and defendant Sports Kites is a California corporation. On July 29, 1993, however, plaintiff reached a settlement agreement with Wills Wing and Rob Kells voluntarily dismissing all claims against them with prejudice. Plaintiff has thus filed a motion to dismiss Sport Kites, Inc., the sole non-diverse party to the complaint, to preserve diversity jurisdiction.

Kualoa Ranch has also filed a motion for summary judgment, joined by Sport Aviation Hawaii, on the grounds that plaintiff is barred from recovery because of an agreement and release of liability signed by David. On June 16, 1991, David signed the agreement as a precondition to use of the facilities and paragliding [**4] equipment. The agreement is a one-page, pre-printed, fill-in-the-blank form. Under its terms, David agreed to release and discharge Kualoa Ranch, Sport Ranch, and others from liability for injuries suffered while paragliding. n2

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – Footnotes – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

n2 The agreement, entitled an ‘Agreement and Release of Liability,” provides, in relevant part, that:

1. I hereby RELEASE AND DISCHARGE [defendants and others] . . . from any and all liability, claims, demands or causes of action that I may have for injuries and damages arising out of my participation in Ultralight activities, including but not limited to, losses CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASED PARTIES.

2. I further agree that I WILL NOT SUE OR MAKE A CLAIM against the Released Parties for damages or other losses sustained as a result of my participation in Ultralight activities. I also agree to INDEMNIFY AND HOLD THE RELEASED PARTIES HARMLESS from all claims, judgments and costs, including attorney’s fees, incurred in connection with any action brought as a result of my participation in Ultralight activities.

3. I understand and acknowledge that Ultralight activities have inherent dangers that no amount of care, caution, instruction, or expertise can eliminate and I EXPRESSLY AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISK OF DEATH OR PERSONAL INJURY SUSTAINED WHILE PARTICIPATING IN ULTRALIGHT ACTIVITIES WHETHER OR NOT CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASED PARTIES.

5. I hereby expressly recognize that this Agreement & Release of Liability is a contract pursuant to which I have released any and all claims against the Released Parties . . . .

I HAVE READ THIS AGREEMENT & RELEASE OF LIABILITY, FULLY UNDERSTAND

ITS CONTENTS AND MEANING, AND SIGN IT OF MY OWN FREE WILL.

David signed and dated it at the bottom, and initialed at nine pre-printed blank spaces, including one at each paragraph.

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DISCUSSION

I. KUALOA RANCH’S MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT FOR LACK OF DIVERSITY JURISDICTION AND MARY ROSE WHEELOCK’S COUNTER-MOTION TO DISMISS NON-DIVERSE PARTIES.

The principal requirements of diversity jurisdiction are that the amount in controversy exceed $ 50,000 and that the parties be citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. There is no dispute as to the citizenship of the parties for purposes of diversity: plaintiff n3 and defendant Sport Kites, Inc. are citizens of California, and defendants Kualoa Ranch and Sport Aviation are citizens of Hawaii.

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n3 The relevant citizenship of plaintiffs in a wrongful death action is that of the decedent. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2). It is undisputed that the domicile of David, the decedent, was in California.

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The court will dismiss Sport Kites unless doing so will prejudice the remaining defendants. Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which sets forth the rules for joinder [**6] of persons needed for a just adjudication, provides that in determining whether a party is indispensable, the court should consider “whether in equity and good conscience the action should proceed among the parties before it, or be dismissed.” A dispensable non-diverse party may be dismissed to perfect retroactively the district court’s original jurisdiction. Continental Airlines, Inc. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 819 F.2d 1519, 1522-23 (9th Cir. 1987); Othman v. Globe Indem. Co., 759 F.2d 1458, 1463 (9th Cir. 1985); Inecon Agricorporation v. Tribal Farms, Inc., 656 F.2d 498, 500 (9th Cir. 1981). Refusal by the court to dismiss a dispensable, non-diverse party may constitute an abuse of discretion. Kerr v. Compagnie de Ultramar, 250 F.2d 860, 864 (2d Cir. 1958).

Defendants claim that they will be prejudiced because Sports Kites, Inc. designed and manufactured the allegedly defective paraglider, and unless they remain as defendants, they will not be part of the special verdict form submitted to the jury, pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes § 663-11 et seq., [**7] for determination of comparative fault. The court, however, may include a non-party on the special verdict form for apportionment of fault. See, e.g., In re Hawaii Federal Asbestos Cases, 960 F.2d 806 (9th Cir. 1992) (where the jury attributed a percentage of fault to non-parties). The statute does not require that fault be apportioned only among parties to the lawsuit.

Plaintiff has already settled with Rob Kells and Wills Wing, the parties destroying diversity, and will not be prejudiced by their dismissal. Defendants are not prejudiced because they may bring a third-party complaint against Sport Kites for indemnification, and their ability to defend plaintiff’s suit is unimpaired. The greatest source of potential prejudice is to plaintiff if the court dismisses for lack of diversity jurisdiction because the statute of limitations has expired on her claims.

II. KUALOA RANCH’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT.

Plaintiff in a wrongful death action is subject to defenses which could be asserted against the decedent. See Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 226 Cal. App.3d 758, 763-64, 276 Cal. Rptr. 672 (Cal. App. 1990); [**8] Madison v. Superior Court, 203 Cal. App.3d 589, 250 Cal. Rptr. 299 (Cal. App. 1988).

Defendants thus raise the defense which they would have had against David—his agreement. The agreement provided, inter alia, that David agreed to release and discharge defendants Kualoa Ranch, Sport Aviation, and others from any liability, including “losses caused by the negligence of the released parties.”

The issue before the court on the motion for summary judgment is whether to give effect to the release of liability signed by David (and initialed at each paragraph).

A. David Wheelock Expressly Assumed the Risk of Death.

Defendants contend that signing the agreement constituted an assumption of risk by David. If the agreement is valid, they argue, it operates to relieve them of any legal [*735] duty to protect David from the injury-causing risk.

The agreement signed by David was a standardized, pre-printed form. It was an adhesion contract of the sort frequently offered to consumers of goods and services on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis. In Leong v. Kaiser Found, Hospitals, 71 Haw. 240, 247-48, 788 P.2d 164 (1990), [**9] the Hawaii Supreme Court addressed the problem of such contracts:

An adhesion contract is a form contract created by the stronger of the contracting parties. It is offered on a “take this or nothing” basis. Consequently, the terms of the contract are imposed on the weaker party who has no choice but to conform. These terms unexpectedly or unconscionably limit the obligations of the drafting party. Because of these circumstances, some courts look past the wording of the contract and consider the entire transaction in order to effectuate the reasonable expectations of the parties. Ambiguities in the contract will be construed against the drafters and in plaintiff’s favor. (citing Robin v. Blue Cross Hosp. Serv., Inc., 637 S.W.2d 695, 697 (Mo. 1982).

While the agreement in the case at bar was an adhesion contract, it is not unconscionable. It is of a sort commonly used in recreational settings. See, e.g., Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 226 Cal. App.3d 758, 276 Cal. Rptr. 672 (Cal. App. 1990) (whitewater rafting); Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc., 17 Cal. App. 4th 1715, 22 Cal. Rptr.2d 781 (Cal. App. 1993) [**10] (skiing). Such agreements are generally held to be valid. Adhesion contracts are fully enforceable provided that they are not unconscionable and do not fall outside the reasonable expectations of the weaker or adhering party. See Graham v. Scissor-Tail, Inc., 28 Cal.3d 807, 820, 623 P.2d 165, 171 Cal. Rptr. 604, 612 (1981).

In Saenz, 226 Cal. App.3d at 758, the court barred recovery in a wrongful death action because plaintiff had signed a release expressly assuming the risk of the activity. Saenz had signed a “release and assumption of risk” agreement in order to participate in a three-day whitewater rafting trip on which he drowned. The court found that the release constituted an express assumption of risk and acted as a bar to a wrongful death action. Id. at 765.

Plaintiff argues that Saenz is distinguishable in the extent of the decedent Saenz’s knowledge of the assumed risk. He received extensive warning regarding the risk, extensive preparation, and several opportunities to avoid the particular rapids in which he drowned. [**11] n4 In contrast, David received some, less extensive explanation of the dangers of paragliding. n5 Although David did sign and initial the agreement providing that he assumed all risks, plaintiff argues that there is a question of fact as to David’s state of mind and the parties’ understanding.

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n4 He was given several safety talks on emergency procedures, lessons, explanations of how to run the particular rapid, and a number of opportunities to opt out of riding the rapid in which he drowned. 276 Cal. Rptr. at 678.

n5 William Fulton, president of defendant Sport Aviation, avers that he warned David and informed him of the dangers of paragliding before he signed the release.

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Plaintiff also argues that Saenz is distinguishable in terms of the nature of the risk assumed. The Saenz court referred to the risk of drowning in treacherous rapids as “inherent in whitewater rafting and apparent to anyone.” Id. at 766. According [**12] to plaintiff, while injury or death caused by treacherous winds, improper landings, or collision with an obstacle are “apparent” risks, the risk which befell David—the simultaneous breaking of all lines connecting him to the parachute—was not apparent. The Saenz court held that defendant’s assumption of all risks, known and unknown, made knowledge of the particular risk (death by drowning) unnecessary. Id. The court need not adopt so broad a holding. A risk must be a known risk for it to be properly assumed. Prosser & Keaton, Torts, § 68 at 480-81 (5th ed. 1984).

The court is satisfied that David knowingly assumed the risk at issue. The agreement provided that David “expressly [*736] and voluntarily assume[d] all risk of death or personal injury sustained while participating in ultralight activities whether or not caused by the negligence of the released parties.” (capitalization omitted). The risk which befell David was the risk of death.

David expressly assumed this risk. Plaintiff could characterize it in many different ways, but the fact is that David assumed the risk of death. Moreover, the apparent cause of David’s fall and subsequent death—equipment failure — [**13] is an obvious risk in paragliding and other “air” sports.

B. The Agreement Does Not Affect Plaintiff’s Gross Negligence and Strict Liability Claims.

1. Plaintiff’s Negligence Claims Are Barred.

David’s assumption of risk relieves defendants from any legal duty towards him, except insofar as the law nullifies such a waiver. Plaintiff is thus barred from bringing any negligence claims against defendants.

Hawaii courts permit a waiver of negligence claims. In Krohnert v. Yacht Systems Hawaii, Inc., 4 Haw. App. 190, 198, 664 P.2d 738 (Haw. App. 1983), the court declared that absent a public interest, “a party can contract to exempt himself for harm caused by his negligence.” (citing Restatement (Second) of Contracts and Williston on Contracts). Accord, Madison v. Superior Court, 203 Cal. App.3d 589, 599, 250 Cal. Rptr. 299, 305 (Cal. App. 1988). Although Hawaii courts have not specifically addressed the issue, courts in other jurisdictions have rejected the notion that the public interest is at stake in sport- or recreational-related waivers. See Saenz, supra. [**14] Plaintiff’s claims under negligence theories are effectively barred, and defendants are entitled to summary judgment vis-a-vis these claims.

2. Plaintiff’s Gross Negligence Claims Are Unaffected.

Plaintiff alleges gross negligence on defendant’s part in misrepresenting the safety of the paraglider. This is a distinct theory of liability from negligence. Negligence is the failure to use such care as a reasonably prudent and careful person would use under similar circumstances. Gross negligence, by contrast, is a failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences. “Gross negligence involves a risk substantially greater in amount than that which is necessary to make conduct negligent.” Bunting v. United States, 884 F.2d 1143, 1147 (9th Cir. 1989). The Restatement (Second) describes the difference between gross and ordinary negligence as follows: “[Gross negligence] differs from that form of negligence which consists of mere inadvertence, incompetence, unskillfulness, or a failure to take precautions to enable the actor to cope with a possible or probable future emergency.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 cmt. g (1965). [**15]

Hawaii courts have not addressed the issue of whether a party can contract away liability for his own gross negligence. Because this is a diversity action, the court applies the substantive law of the forum state, Hawaii, and uses its best judgment in predicting how the Hawaii Supreme Court would decide this issue. See Takahashi v. Loomis Armored Car Serv., 625 F.2d 314, 316 (9th Cir. 1980). In Krohnert, 4 Haw. App. at 198, the court enunciated the principle that a party can only contract away liability for negligence in the absence of a public interest. The public interest is at stake when a party attempts to contract to exempt himself for harm caused by his gross negligence. See Stuart Rudnick, Inc. v. Jewelers Protection Servs., Ltd., 194 A.D.2d 317, 598 N.Y.S.2d 235, 236 (N.Y. App. Div. 1993); see also Saenz, 226 Cal. App.3d at 765 (“everything short of gross negligence is covered by the release . . . .”). The agreement in the instant case is therefore void against public policy to the extent that it attempts to relieve defendants of liability [**16] for their gross negligence. n6

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n6 Alternatively, the court has grounds to find that the contract is ambiguous as to gross negligence. While the release and discharge agreement is a valid contract, it is an adhesion contract, and the court will interpret it accordingly. Adhesion contracts are construed liberally in favor of the adhering party and any ambiguities are resolved against the drafting party. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fermahin, 73 Haw. 552, 556, 836 P.2d 1074 (1993) (interpreting an insurance contract) (citation omitted). The court applies this rule only if there is a true ambiguity, and not merely because the parties disagree over its interpretation. Id. at 556. “Ambiguity exists ‘only when the contract taken as a whole, is reasonably subject to differing interpretation. A court must respect the plain terms of the policy and not create ambiguity where none exists.’” Id. at 556-57 (citations omitted). The release agreement, however, addresses only negligence and not gross negligence. The court will construe this as not barring a claim in gross negligence.

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[*737] 3. Plaintiff’s Strict Liability Claims.

The remaining question is whether the waiver of plaintiff’s strict products liability claims is effective. This is also an issue of first impression in Hawaii. See Takahashi v. Loomis Armored Car Serv., 625 F.2d at 316.

In Madison, 203 Cal. App.3d at 596, the California court of appeals held that the waiver constituted a “complete defense” to any claims in plaintiff’s actions. Accord, Saenz, 226 Cal. App.3d at 763. Neither court addressed the issue of strict products liability claims. More recently, however, a California appellate court held that an agreement relieving a product supplier from strict products liability is void. In Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc., 17 Cal. App. 4th 1715, 22 Cal. Rptr.2d 781 (Cal. App. 1993), the court held that a release agreement did not bar plaintiff who suffered skiing injuries from suing under a strict products liability theory in tort:

there is a strong policy against allowing product suppliers to disclaim liability for injuries caused [**18] by defects in products they place on the market. To allow product suppliers to achieve this prohibited result merely by substituting assumption of risk language for disclaimer language would too easily allow circumvention of these policies. In effect, such an agreement is nothing more than a disclaimer. Id. at 17-18.

The court rejected defendants’ argument that the express assumption of risk was good against the whole world. Id. at 1716 (“we have not discovered any authority for this proposition. The doctrine of express assumption is founded on express agreement.”). Westlye is well reasoned and solidly grounded in relevant policy considerations. The essence of the doctrine of strict liability, as enunciated by Justice Traynor in Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co., 24 Cal.2d 453, 461, 150 P.2d 436 (1944) (Traynor, J., concurring), is that a manufacturer who places a product on the market should be absolutely liable if it knows that the product will be used without inspection and is shown to have an injury-causing defect. See also Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., 59 Cal.2d 57, 62, 377 P.2d 897, 27 Cal. Rptr. 697 (1963) [**19] (applying the doctrine of strict liability as formulated by Traynor in Escola). The doctrine of strict liability is based not only on the public policy of discouraging the marketing and distribution of defective products, but also on the reasoning that a manufacturer is in a far better position than individual consumers to insure against the risk of injury and to distribute costs among consumers.

The court sees no reason to permit defendants to insulate themselves from strict liability by means of a release when they could not do so otherwise.

Insofar as the agreement signed by David attempts to relieve product suppliers of their responsibility for injuries caused by defective products, it is squarely at odds with the strict products liability doctrine. The very reason for the growth of products liability law was a perceived need to protect consumers from defective products and from attempts by product suppliers to disclaim responsibility for such defects by way of contractual provisions. See Seely v. White Motor Co., 63 Cal.2d 9, 16-17, 403 P.2d 145, 45 Cal. Rptr. 17 (1965); Vandermark v. Ford Motor Co., 61 Cal.2d 256, 391 P.2d 168, 37 Cal. Rptr. 896 (1964) [**20] (“since [the dealer] is strictly liable in tort, the fact that it restricted its contractual liability to [plaintiff] is immaterial.”); Greenman, 59 Cal.2d at 57, 377 P.2d at 897. With respect to claims for strict liability, David’s waiver is thus void as against public policy.

Hawaii courts have recognized that lessors of products who are in the business of leasing are subject to strict products liability. Stewart [*738] v. Budget Rent-A-Car Corp., 52 Haw. 71, 75, 470 P.2d 240 (1970). Accord, Price v. Shell Oil Co., 2 Cal.3d 245, 250, 466 P.2d 722, 725, 85 Cal. Rptr. 178, 181 (1970). Plaintiff’s claims in strict liability against Kualoa Ranch and Sport Aviation are not precluded by the release agreement.

C. The Agreement Is Not Ambiguous.

Plaintiff claims that the agreement is ambiguous because it includes the following paragraph:

6. It is understood that the purchase of this waiver does not constitute a contract of insurance but only a waiver of the contractual defenses that would otherwise be available to the Released Parties.

[**21]

Plaintiff claims that this paragraph indicates that David was purchasing a waiver of the contractual defenses available to defendants, and that the agreement itself would constitute a defense which is being waived. She argues that it is thus ambiguous as to whether such defenses are being waived.

Plaintiff points out correctly that courts regard attempts to contract away tort liability with skepticism, Gardner v. Downtown Porsche Audi, 180 Cal. App.3d 713, 716, 225 Cal. Rptr. 757 (Cal. App. 1986), and that an attempt to do so must be “clear, explicit, and comprehensible in each of its details.” Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd., 147 Cal. App.3d 309, 319, 195 Cal. Rptr. 90 (Cal. App. 1983). The court will resolve ambiguities in such contracts against the drafting party. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fermahin, 73 Haw. 552, 556, 836 P.2d 1074 (1992) (interpreting an insurance contract) (citation omitted).

Before an exculpatory clause may be enforced against a party, it must be established that he clearly and unequivocally [**22] agreed to the disclaimer with knowledge of its contents. Krohnert, 4 Haw. App. at 200, 664 P.2d at 744 (citations omitted). The court, however, only applies this rule in the event of a true ambiguity, and not merely because of a confusing passage. “Ambiguity exists ‘only when the contract taken as a whole, is reasonably subject to differing interpretation. A court must respect the plain terms of the policy and not create ambiguity where none exists.’” Id. at 556-57 (citations omitted). In this case, the contract, taken as a whole is unambiguous.

D. There Is No Genuine Issue of Material Fact as to Whether the Decedent Agreed to the Release with Knowledge of Its Contents.

Plaintiff contends that it is unclear whether David signed the agreement with clear and unequivocal knowledge of its terms. David is dead and thus unavailable to testify.

Defendants have come forward, however, with the affidavit of William Fulton, president of Sport Aviation, averring that he explained and warned David of the dangers at length before David signed the agreement. Moreover, there is no dispute that David signed the agreement and initialed it at the [**23] title and each paragraph. Plaintiff has not come forward with any evidence contradicting the Fulton affidavit and the signed agreement. There thus appears to be no genuine issue of material fact as to whether David signed the agreement with knowledge of its terms and of the dangers involved in paragliding.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons given, the court GRANTS plaintiff’s motion to dismiss non-diverse parties and DENIES defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff has already settled with Sport Kites, Inc., dba Wills Wing and Rob Kells, the non-diverse defendants, and Sport Kites is not indispensable within the meaning of Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. n7

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – Footnotes – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

n7 The court understands that the remaining defendants will seek to prosecute a third-party complaint against Sport Kites as designers and manufacturers of the equipment. In the event that a third-party complaint may not be prosecuted, Sport Kites may still be included as non-parties on the special jury forms for assessment of its share of liability under Hawaii’s comparative negligence framework.

- – - – - – - – - – - – End Footnotes- – - – - – - – - – - – - – [**24]

For the reasons given, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part defendants ‘ [*739] motion for summary judgment. The release and discharge agreement signed by David Wheelock is valid and enforceable, and a plain reading of the agreement indicates that David expressly assumed the risk of death—the risk which befell him—and waived his right to any negligence claims against defendant. Plaintiff’s negligence claims are barred on this basis. The release and discharge is void, however, as it applies to plaintiff’s claims for gross negligence and strict liability, because the assumption of risk is ineffective vis-a-vis these claims.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: Honolulu, Hawaii, December 1, 1993

Harold M. Fong

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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Anaya v Town Sports International, Inc., 2007 NY Slip Op 7875; 44 A.D.3d 485; 843 N.Y.S.2d 599; 2007 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 10819

Anaya v Town Sports International, Inc., 2007 NY Slip Op 7875; 44 A.D.3d 485; 843 N.Y.S.2d 599; 2007 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 10819

Joseph Anaya, Plaintiff-Appellant, v Town Sports International, Inc., et al., Defendants, Sport Rock International, Inc., et al. Defendants-Respondents. Index 101027/03

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT

2007 NY Slip Op 7875; 44 A.D.3d 485; 843 N.Y.S.2d 599; 2007 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 10819

October 18, 2007, Decided

October 18, 2007, Entered

COUNSEL: Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & De Cicco, New York (Brian J. Isaac of counsel), for appellant.

Callan, Koster, Brady & Brennan, LLP, New York (Marc R. Wilner of counsel), for Sport Rock International, Inc., respondent.

Goldberg Segalla LLP, Mineola (Joanna M. Roberto of counsel), for Petzl America, Inc., respondent.

JUDGES: Friedman, J.P., Nardelli, Sweeny, McGuire, Malone, JJ.

OPINION

[**485] [***600] Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Leland DeGrasse, J.), entered January 24, 2006, which, to the extent appealed from as limited by the briefs, granted the separate motions of defendants Sport Rock International (Sport Rock) and Petzl America, Inc. (Petzl) for summary judgment dismissing the complaint as against them, unanimously modified, on the law, the motions denied with respect to plaintiff’s claims based on design defect and [***601] failure to warn, and otherwise affirmed, without costs.

Plaintiff sustained severe personal injuries when he fell from a height of approximately 30 feet while descending a rock climbing wall that was operated by defendant Town Sports International, Inc. of West Nyack (TSI). The accident occurred because an employee of TSI tied the safety line plaintiff was using to a non-weight bearing gear loop on the harness plaintiff was wearing; the line should have been tied to the “anchor point” of the harness. As plaintiff descended the wall the gear loop tore away from the harness, causing plaintiff’s fall. The harness was sold to TSI by Sport Rock and manufactured by Petzl.

Plaintiff asserts causes of action for, among other things, negligence and strict products liability. Plaintiff asserts that Sport Rock and Petzl are liable for his injuries because the safety harness was defectively designed and insufficient warnings were provided regarding where on the harness the safety line was supposed to be tied. Sport Rock moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and all other claims as asserted against it, and Petzl moved separately for similar relief. Plaintiff cross-moved for a special trial preference and to dismiss the affirmative defenses of Sport Rock and Petzl premised on [**486] the alleged absence of personal jurisdiction over those defendants. Supreme Court granted the motions of Sport Rock and Petzl, and denied plaintiff’s cross motion. Plaintiff appeals, as limited by his brief, from those portions [*2] of the order that granted the motions of Sport Rock and Petzl. 1

1 Plaintiff settled this action with TSI.

Petzl’s argument that plaintiff failed to oppose its motion before Supreme Court and that plaintiff therefore lacks standing to maintain this appeal is without merit. Plaintiff expressly opposed the motions of Sport Rock and Petzl for the reasons stated by TSI in its opposition to the motions.

[HN1] To establish a prima facie case for strict products liability based on defective design, the plaintiff must show that “the product was not reasonably safe and that the defective design was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injury” (Voss v Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 59 NY2d 102, 107, 450 N.E.2d 204, 463 N.Y.S.2d 398 [1983]). With respect to the first element — whether the product was not reasonably safe — the proper inquiry is “whether it is a product which, if the design defect were known at the time of manufacture, a reasonable person would conclude that the utility of the product did not outweigh the risk inherent in marketing a product designed in that manner” (id. at 108). In balancing the product’s risks against its utility and cost, the following factors must be considered: “(1) the utility of the product to the public as a whole and to the individual user; (2) the nature of the product – that is, the likelihood that it will cause injury; (3) the availability of a safer design; (4) the potential for designing and manufacturing the product so that it is safer but remains functional and reasonably priced; (5) the ability of the plaintiff to have avoided injury by careful use of the product; (6) the degree of awareness of the potential danger of the product which reasonably can be attributed to the plaintiff; and (7) the manufacturer’s ability to spread any cost related to improving the safety of the design” (id. at 109).

Since the harness was undoubtably meant to bear the weight of a climber, it was reasonably foreseeable that a climber [***602] might attempt to attach a safety line to various parts thereof and expect those parts to bear his weight. In fact, both these defendants admitted that novice climbers had been known to attach safety lines to gear loops and other parts of the harness. Rather than designing the gear loop to be weight bearing, or omitting it from the design, Petzl decided to make it appear flimsy in the expectation that the user would not attempt to attach a line to it. Whether this decision was reasonable in view [**487] of the questionable utility of a gear loop on a harness used for indoor rock climbing and the serious risk posed is a question for the jury (Voss, 59 NY2d at 108-109; see also Denny v Ford Motor Co., 87 NY2d 248, 662 N.E.2d 730, 639 N.Y.S.2d 250 [1995]).

Triable issues of fact also exist regarding plaintiff’s cause of action for strict products liability based on failure to warn. [HN2] “A manufacturer has a duty to warn against latent dangers resulting from foreseeable uses of its product of which it knew or should have known” (Liriano v Hobart Corp., 92 NY2d 232, 237, 700 N.E.2d 303, 677 N.Y.S.2d 764 [1998]). This rule applies with equal force to distributors and retailers (see Godoy v Abamaster of Miami, 302 AD2d 57, 754 N.Y.S.2d 301 [2003]). Foreseeing the potential that harness users might tie safety lines to gear loops, Petzl warned against such conduct. This warning appeared in the manual accompanying the harness and in a technical notice. A small label on the harness contained a “skull and cross-bones” symbol and directed the user to refer to the manual and technical notice. There is expert evidence, however, that these warnings were inadequate because no warning on the harness itself specifically advised against tying a safety line to the gear loop. Thus, the sufficiency of the warnings must be determined by a jury.

Contrary to the assertions of Sport Rock and Petzl, we cannot determine as a matter of law that the conduct of TSI’s employee was a superseding act.

[HN3] Where the acts of a third person intervene between the defendant’s conduct and [*3] the plaintiff’s injury, the causal connection is not automatically severed. In such a case, liability turns upon whether the intervening act is a normal or foreseeable consequence of the situation created by the defendant’s negligence. If the intervening act is extraordinary under the circumstances, not foreseeable in the normal course of events, or independent of or far removed from the defendant’s conduct, it may well be a superseding act which breaks the causal nexus (Derdiarian v Felix Contr. Corp., 51 NY2d 308, 315, 414 N.E.2d 666, 434 N.Y.S.2d 166 [1980]).

Here, TSI’s employee testified that she knew the safety line was not to be tied to the gear loop. However, she did not know what purpose the gear loop served, and accidently tied the safety line to it. While it appears that this employee had minimal training on the proper use of the harness and had not read the manual or technical notice, the record does not permit a finding that the employee’s conduct was unforeseeable as a matter of law. The record is replete with evidence indicating the foreseeability of the risk that novice users of the harness (or for that matter other inexperienced persons such as the employee) might mistakenly tie safety lines to gear loops. Had the harness been [**488] designed without a gear loop or with a weight bearing gear loop, or had clearer warnings been on the harness itself, the accident may have been prevented. Accordingly, triable issues of fact exist regarding whether the alleged defective design [***603] of the harness, the alleged inadequate warnings, or both, was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injuries (see id. ["Because [HN4] questions concerning what is foreseeable and what is normal may be the subject of varying inferences … these issues generally are for the fact finder to resolve”]).

Plaintiff’s remaining contentions are without merit.

THIS CONSTITUTES THE DECISION AND ORDER OF THE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT.

ENTERED: OCTOBER 18, 2007

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Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012; 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7791

Giebink v. Fischer, 709 F. Supp. 1012; 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7791

James C. Giebink and Roxanne Johnson-Giebink, as parents and natural guardians of Michael Giebink, a minor; James C. Giebink, individually and Roxanne Johnson Giebink, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Robert Fischer, as parent and natural guardian of Kevin Fischer, a minor; Robert Fischer, an individual and Aspen Skiing Corporation, a Colorado corporation, aka Aspen Skiing Company, and Jennifer Catherine Lang, Defendants

Civil Action No. 88-A-766

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

709 F. Supp. 1012; 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7791

March 22, 1989, Decided

March 22, 1989, Filed

COUNSEL: [**1] Scott R. Larson, Esq., Scott R. Larson, P.C., Denver, Colorado, Attorney for Plaintiffs.

Thomas E. Hames, Esq., Inman, Erickson & Flynn, P.C., Denver, Colorado, Attorney for Defendants Fischers.

Paul D. Nelson, Esq., Hancock, Rothert & Bunshoft, San Francisco, California, Scott S. Barker, Esq., Mary D. Metzger, Esq., Perry L. Glantz, Esq., Holland & Hart, Englewood, Colorado, Attorneys for Defendants Aspen Skiing Co. and Jennifer Catherine Lang.

JUDGES: Alfred A. Arraj, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: ARRAJ

OPINION

[*1013] MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS

ALFRED A. ARRAJ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the court on defendants Aspen Skiing Company’s (“ASC”) and Jennifer Catherine Lang’s (“Lang”) Motion to dismiss the Third, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Portions of the Fourth Claim For Relief Contained in Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint. This is the second motion to dismiss filed in this case.

In order to understand the procedural posture of this motion, it is helpful to first set out the factual events upon which plaintiffs’ claims arose. According to plaintiffs, defendant Kevin Fischer, minor son of defendant Robert Fischer, collided with plaintiff Michael Giebink (“Michael”) in a skiing accident at Snowmass Ski Area on or about March 29, 1988. As a result, Michael was seriously injured. At [**2] the time of the accident it is alleged that Michael was an invited guest and customer at Snowmass Mountain Resort which is owned by ASC.

Plaintiffs’ Third Claim in its Second Amended Complaint is based upon ASC’s alleged negligent maintenance of the premises. Plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim is apparently pled under C.R.S. 13-21-115, alleging that ASC “deliberately failed to exercise reasonable care to protect persons such as the minor Plaintiff, Michael Giebink, against dangers which were not ordinarily present on the aforesaid property despite the fact that Defendant actually knew or should have known of said dangers.” Second Amended Complaint para. 3 at 4. Plaintiffs’ Seventh Claim is also based upon the condition [*1014] of ASC’s premises under an attractive nuisance theory.

Plaintiffs further claim that Michael was enrolled in the Snowmass Ski School at the time of his accident. Defendant Jennifer Lang, an employee of ASC, was the skiing instructor. Plaintiffs’ Fifth Claim asserts that ASC is liable for the negligent supervision of Michael by its agents and/or employees during the course of Michael’s ski lesson. Plaintiffs’ Sixth Claim is against Lang, individually, for negligent supervision [**3] and instruction of Michael while enrolled in the ski school.

In its first motion to dismiss, defendant ASC moved to dismiss those of plaintiffs’ claims which were pled under theories of common law negligence. Defendant argued that C.R.S. § 13-21-115, the Colorado premises liability statute, abrogated common law claims and that the statute was plaintiffs’ exclusive means of remedy. Plaintiffs opposed dismissal on several grounds, including their contention that C.R.S. § 13-21-115 was unconstitutional. At a hearing held on July 15, 1988, this court denied ASC’s first motion without prejudice. Certification of the constitutional questions raised by plaintiffs was made to the Colorado Supreme Court on November 1, 1988. The Supreme Court declined to answer the certified questions on December 12, 1988.

The present motion to dismiss was filed January 24, 1989. In it, defendants move for dismissal of the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Claims and portions of the Fourth claim as contained in plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint. Defendants renew their argument that C.R.S. § 13-21-115 is plaintiffs’ exclusive remedy. They conclude that because § 13-21-115 abrogates common law claims against [**4] landowners, that plaintiffs’ Third, Fifth, and Sixth Claims, founded on common law negligence theories, fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants also urge this court to dismiss the Seventh Claim because it is admitted that Michael was not a trespasser, and, according to defendants, the doctrine of attractive nuisance only applies to trespassers. Finally, defendants argue that the Fourth Claim should be dismissed to the extent that, contrary to § 13-21-115, the complaint implies that liability may be imposed against a landowner for failure to exercise reasonable care to protect an invited plaintiff against dangers of which it “should have known.”

ANALYSIS

I) “Conflict” between the Colorado Ski Safety Act and Premises Liability Statute.

It is plaintiffs’ position that the premises liability statute, C.R.S. § 13-21-115, does not apply to this case involving a skiing accident because the Colorado Ski Safety Act (“Ski Safety Act”), C.R.S. §§ 33-44-101 to -111, is a specific statute which applies to ski areas and prevails over the general premises liability statute which applies to “any civil action brought against a landowner.” § 13-21-115(2). Plaintiffs contend [**5] that the Ski Safety Act authorizes negligence actions, and to the extent that § 13-21-115 abrogates common law negligence claims there is a conflict. Consequently, plaintiffs conclude that the specific statute prevails and that their negligence claims are viable under the Ski Safety Act.

My analysis begins with [HN1] C.R.S. § 2-4-205, which provides in full:

“If a general provision conflicts with a special or local provision, it shall be construed, if possible, so that effect is given to both. If the conflict between the provisions is irreconcilable, the special or local provision prevails as an exception to the general provision, unless the general provision is the later adoption and the manifest intent is that the general provision prevail.”

It is the court’s duty to construe statutes to avoid inconsistency if it is reasonably possible. Marshall v. City of Golden, 147 Colo. 521, 363 P.2d 650, 652 (1961). In the instant case the two statutes may reasonably be interpreted to avoid conflict. They apply to different activities and conditions.

The Ski Safety Act has an express purpose “to further define the legal responsibilities [*1015] of ski area operators 1 and their agents and employees; to define [**6] the responsibilities of skiers using such ski areas; and to define the rights and liabilities existing between the skier and the ski area operator and between skiers.” C.R.S. § 33-44-102. [HN2] The only responsibilities imposed upon operators by the Ski Safety Act relate to posting signs, §§ 33-44-106, 33-44-107, and providing lighting and other conspicuous markings for snow-grooming vehicles and snowmobiles. C.R.S. § 33-44-108. “A violation by a ski area operator of any requirement of this article or any rule or regulation promulgated by the passenger tramway safety board pursuant to section 25-5-710(a), C.R.S., shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of such operator.” C.R.S. § 33-44-104(2). Thus, the duties imposed upon ski operators by the Ski Safety Act, a breach of which constitutes actionable negligence, concern a very limited number of specifically identified activities and conditions.

1 “‘Ski area operator’ means ‘operator’ as defined in section 25-5-702(3), C.R.S., and any person, partnership, corporation, or other commercial entity having operational responsibility for any ski areas, including an agency of this state or a political subdivision thereof.” C.R.S. § 33-44-103(7).

[**7] The Ski Safety Act imposes specific duties upon ski operators as a means of protecting skiers against dangerous conditions that are commonly present at ski areas. See Pizza v. Wolf Creek Ski Development Corp., 711 P.2d 671, 678 (Colo. 1985) (“the legislature has attempted to identify those dangers which can reasonably be eliminated or controlled by the ski area operator.”). In general, it does not protect against dangers arising from conditions or activities which are not ordinarily present at ski areas. 2

2 Conceivably, a conflict could exist between the two statutes, as in a case where a ski operator fails to mark a man-made structure as required by § 33-44-107(7). If the structure was one not ordinarily present at a ski area, a conflict would exist. However, the instant case does not present the court with this situation.

In contrast, [HN3] the premises liability statute imposes liability against all landowners for conditions, or activities conducted on, or circumstances existing on his or her property. C.R.S. § 13-21-115(2). “If the landowner has expressly or impliedly invited the plaintiff onto the real property for the purposes of the landowner, the plaintiff may recover [**8] for damages caused by the landowner’s deliberate failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers which are not ordinarily present on property of the type involved and of which he actually knew.” C.R.S. § 13-21-115(3)(c) (emphasis added). 3 Thus, it is clear that the statutes are directed at two different types of dangerous activities and conditions, ordinary and out of the ordinary.

3 It is the judge’s duty to determine which subsection of § 13-21-115(3) is applicable in each action. § 13-21-115(4). The parties do not dispute that if the premises liability statute does indeed control, that § 13-21-115(3)(c) is the applicable subsection.

In Calvert v. Aspen Skiing Company, 700 F. Supp. 520 (D. Colo. 1988), the court held that the two statutes did conflict and that the specific Ski Safety Act prevailed. Accordingly, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence claims. The conflict, according to the court, was that the premises liability statute abrogates all common law claims for negligence while the Ski Safety Act does not. Id. at 522. However, the two statutes may be interpreted consistently in light of the different scope [**9] of activities and conditions addressed by each.

It would be contrary to the Legislature’s intent to expose ski operators to greater liability than other landowners. To sustain plaintiffs’ claims founded on negligence would have exactly that effect. The Colorado Supreme Court has addressed at least one of the Legislature’s purposes in enacting the Ski Safety Act, stating:

Indisputably, the ski industry is an important part of the Colorado economy. . . . The legislative history indicates that one of the purposes underlying the [presumption provided in § 33-44-109(2) which imposes a presumption that the [*1016] responsibility for collisions by skiers with any person, natural object, or man-made structure marked in accordance with the Act is solely that of the skier and not the ski area operator] is to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and, accordingly, the rapidly rising cost of liability insurance accruing to ski area operators.

Pizza, 711 P.2d at 679 (citation omitted). The Legislature intended to protect ski operators from the increasing burden of litigation by passing the Ski Safety Act. There is no reason to believe that it intended to single out ski operators as a subgroup [**10] of landowners who would be held to a higher standard of care.

While the Ski Safety Act does not abrogate common law causes of action for negligence, neither does it expressly or implicitly create a general negligence action for all injuries sustained at ski areas. In the present case plaintiffs have not alleged any facts that would be actionable as a violation of the specific duties imposed upon ski operators by the Ski Safety Act. Their common law negligence claims, therefore, cannot be sustained under the umbrella of the Act. 4

4 Defendants pose a second argument which leads to the same conclusion. The premises liability statute was adopted subsequent to the Ski Safety Act and contains the “manifest intent” to apply to “any civil action.” C.R.S. § 13-21-115(2) (emphasis added). Accordingly, the premises liability statute, which expressly abrogates common law claims, would prevail even if the two statutes did conflict. C.R.S. § 2-4-205.

II) Premises Liability Statute

I must now consider to what extent the premises liability statute applies to plaintiffs’ claims. The language of the statute appears to embrace a broad range of conditions and activities that exist or are [**11] conducted on a landowner’s property. C.R.S. § 13-21-115(2). However, the court in Geringer v. Wildhorn Ranch, Inc., 706 F. Supp. 1442 (D. Colo. 1988), noted that [HN4] “the statutory classification ‘activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property’ must be read narrowly with careful regard for the intent of the legislature to re-establish common law distinctions in the law of premises liability.” Id. at 1446.

In Geringer, the plaintiff brought a wrongful death action for the death of her husband and son in a drowning accident which occurred at the defendant’s guest ranch. The two drowned during a boating accident involving a peddleboat supplied by the defendant corporation. The court struck plaintiff’s claims founded on the premises liability statute. Following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the defendants made motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, for new trial, and for amended judgment. Defendants contended that they were prejudiced by the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury in accordance with the premises liability statute which provides a more difficult standard for plaintiffs to overcome. Defendants argued that the [**12] premises liability statute was plaintiff’s exclusive remedy. The court disagreed:

Traditionally, the activities for which a defendant is liable as a landowner are inherently related to the land — construction, landscaping or other activities treating the land. . . .

The causation evidence in this case focused on defendants’ maintenance of the peddleboats and on defendants’ knowledge of their condition following purported repairs. The duty litigated in this case was that of a supplier of chattel to provide its user with chattel that was not defective. . . . The statute does not reflect an intention to extend the application of premises liability doctrine to the negligent supply of chattel by a landowner.

Id. at 1446. The distinction between activities “inherently related to the land” and other activities which do not fall within the scope of the premises liability statute logically follows from the court’s conclusion that “the statute does not establish a feudal realm of absolute protection from liability for simple negligence based only on a defendant’s status as a landowner.” [*1017] Id. at 1446. 5

5 To hold otherwise would shield all types of negligent activities from the negligence standard, such as in a case where a doctor negligently treats a patient at his privately owned clinic. This result could not have been intended by the Legislature.

[**13] In the present case plaintiff’s Fifth and Sixth Claims are based upon the alleged negligent supervision of Michael during the course of his skiing instruction. Instructing people in the sport of skiing is not inherently related to the land. Therefore, plaintiffs’ Fifth and Sixth Claims should not be dismissed.

On the other hand, plaintiffs’ Third Claim is founded on defendant’s negligent maintenance of conditions at the ski area. Conditions of property clearly fall within the scope of the premises liability statute. C.R.S. § 13-21-115(2). Therefore, the Third Claim must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

III) Constitutionality of the Premises Liability Statute

Plaintiffs contest the constitutionality of C.R.S. § 13-21-115 on several grounds. [HN5] Statutes are presumed constitutional and the plaintiff, as the party attacking the statute, must prove the statute unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. Bedford Motors, Inc. v. Harris, 714 P.2d 489, 491 (Colo. 1986).

Plaintiffs argue that the phrase “deliberate failure to exercise reasonable care,” as provided in C.R.S. § 13-21-115(3)(c), is unconstitutionally vague. It is plaintiffs’ position [**14] that the terms “deliberate” and “reasonable care” are contradictory. I disagree.

The premises liability statute is basically an economic regulation, designed to limit the liability of landowners. Therefore, the vagueness standard which must be applied in this case is less exacting than in a case involving a penal statute or laws regulating first amendment rights. Pizza, 711 P.2d at 676.

“Deliberate” is a common word used frequently in every-day experience and readily understood. [HN6] “The probable legislative intent in using such a word may be determined by resorting to a standard dictionary.” Pizza, at 676. Webster’s New World Dictionary (2nd ed. 1972) defines “deliberate” as “carefully thought out and formed, or done on purpose; premeditated; careful in considering, judging, or deciding; not rash or hasty.” [HN7] “Reasonable care” is obviously a common tort standard associated with negligence which requires a degree of care which an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. See Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Langdon, 187 Colo. 425, 532 P.2d 337, 339 (1975). Thus, in order to incur liability under § 13-21-115(3)(c), a landowner must purposely fail to act [**15] as an ordinarily prudent person would in a like situation.

Plaintiffs also argue that the statute denies them a right to a remedy for injury as guaranteed by [HN8] Article II, Section 6 of the Colorado Constitution. Article II, Section 6 provides:

Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury to person, property or character; and right and justice should be administered without sale, denial or delay.

As noted in Goldberg v. Musim, 162 Colo. 461, 427 P.2d 698, 702 (1967), this provision is a mandate to the judiciary, not the legislature. “The power of the legislature to abolish substantive common law rights including those vouch-safed by the common law of England, in order to attain a permissible legislative object, has already been decided by this court. . . .” Id. at 470. Thus, the Legislature’s enactment of § 13-21-115 does not violate the Colorado Constitution.

Next plaintiffs argue that the statute violates [HN9] Article V, Section 25 of the Colorado Constitution which prohibits the general assembly from passing special laws for the benefit of any corporation, association or individuals. The constitutional inhibition against class legislation [**16] arises “when the effect of the law is to prohibit a carrying on of a legitimate business [*1018] or occupation while allowing other businesses or occupations not reasonably to be distinguished from those prohibited to be carried on freely.” Dunbar v. Hoffman, 171 Colo. 481, 468 P.2d 742, 745 (1970). However, a statute is not special when “it is general and uniform in its operation upon all in like situation.” McCarty v. Goldstein, 151 Colo. 154, 376 P.2d 691, 693 (1962). The premises liability statute applies uniformly to all landowners to limit liability for injuries resulting from conditions and activities which are inherently related to ownership of property. It is, therefore, not a special law.

Plaintiffs’ equal protection challenge also fails. [HN10] The statutory classification need only be reasonably related to a legitimate state objective in order to pass constitutional muster because no fundamental right or suspect class is involved. Yarbro v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 655 P.2d 822, 827 (Colo. 1982). In this case the Legislature could have reasonably enacted the premises liability statute as a means of reducing liability of landowners for certain injuries occurring on their property. The Colorado [**17] Supreme Court has recognized that the Legislature has a legitimate interest in protecting the state economy. Pizza, 711 P.2d at 679. Providing limited protection to landowners is reasonably related to that end.

IV) Plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim

Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim should be dismissed to the extent that it alleges that defendant ASC is liable for failure to exercise reasonable care to protect Michael against dangers of which it “should have known.” 6 Plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim is based on § 13-21-115(3)(c), which, by its express terms, requires actual knowledge. Plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim is dismissed to the extent that it seeks to impose liability for dangers of which ASC should have known.

6 Plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim alleges that ASC is liable because it “deliberately failed to exercise reasonable care to protect persons such as the minor Plaintiff, Michael Giebink, against dangers which were not ordinarily present on the aforesaid property despite the fact that Defendant actually knew or should have known of said dangers.”

V) Attractive Nuisance

Finally, defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs’ Seventh Claim which is founded upon the doctrine of attractive [**18] nuisance, 7 arguing that it only applies to situations involving trespassers, and that according to plaintiffs’ allegations Michael was not a trespasser. 8 In an attempt to strike a reasonable compromise between the conflicting interests between the freedom of land use and the protection of children, courts have recognized the attractive nuisance doctrine. [HN11] The doctrine imposes a higher standard of care on landowners toward children than would otherwise be owed to a trespasser. 9

7 In their Seventh Claim, plaintiffs accuse defendant ASC of maintaining an unreasonably dangerous and hazardous condition in the form of a roll jump. The roll jump is made entirely of earth. Skiers use it to perform aerial maneuvers.

8 The Colorado Legislature clearly provided that attractive nuisance, as it applies to persons under fourteen years of age, is not abrogated by the premises liability statute. C.R.S. § 13-21-115(2).

9 Prior to the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in Mile High Fence Co. v. Radovich, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308 (1971), landowners generally owed no duty to make or keep property safe for trespassers. See Staley v. Security Athletic Association, 152 Colo. 19, 380 P.2d 53, 54 (1963).

[**19] The purpose of the doctrine is to protect children from hazards which tend to attract them onto property. By allowing the doctrine to survive the enactment of the premises liability statute, the Legislature evidenced an intent to give children under the age of fourteen protection beyond that which is now available to other persons. This protection logically should extend to children, regardless of their status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. See W. Prosser & W. Keeton, Prosser and Keeton on Torts, § 59 at 402 (5th ed. 1984) (“In any case where the child could recover if he were a trespasser, he can recover at least as well when he is a licensee or an invitee [*1019] on the premises.”); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343B (1977) (“In any case where a possessor of land would be subject to liability to a child for physical harm caused by a condition on the land if the child were a trespasser, the possessor is subject to liability if the child is a licensee or an invitee.”); State v. Juengel, 15 Ariz. App. 495, 489 P.2d 869, 873 (1971). See also CJI-Civ. 2d 12:6A (Supp. 1988).

However, plaintiffs’ Seventh Claim fails for several other reasons. Plaintiffs’ counsel made [**20] it clear at the March 17, 1989 hearing that it was not Michael that was lured to the accident scene by the roll jump; it was Kevin Fischer, the other youth allegedly involved in the collision, who was drawn to the location by the roll jump. The doctrine of attractive nuisance simply does not apply under these facts.

A second, related argument, also leads me to the conclusion that the doctrine should not be applied in this case. [HN12] The doctrine requires that the object be unnatural and unusual. This limitation protects landowners from liability for conditions which are present on their property of which children should reasonably recognize the associated dangers. See Esquibel v. City and County of Denver, 112 Colo. 546, 151 P.2d 757, 759 (1944) (attractive nuisance doctrine did not apply where child was injured while climbing on automobile bodies piled in an unstable heap). The Esquibel court cited the Restatement of Torts § 339 Comment on Clause (c):

A possessor of land is . . . under a duty to keep so much of his land as he knows to be subject to the trespasses of young children, free from artificial conditions which involve an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm to [**21] them. This does not require him to keep his land free from conditions which even young children are likely to observe and the full extent of the risk involved in which they are likely to realize. The purpose of the duty is to protect children from dangers which they are unlikely to appreciate and not to protect them against harm resulting from their own immature recklessness in the case of known danger. Therefore, even though the condition is one which the possessor should realize to be such that young children are unlikely to realize the full extent of the danger of meddling with it or encountering it, the possessor is not subject to liability to a child who in fact discovers the condition and appreciates the full risk involved therein but none the less chooses to encounter it out of recklessness or bravado.

Other conditions which have been held to be common and obvious include an artificial pond, Phipps v. Mitze, 116 Colo. 288, 180 P.2d 233 (1947), an icy slope used for sledding, Ostroski v. Mount Prospect Shop-Rite, Inc., 94 N.J. Super. 374, 228 A.2d 545 (1967), a sand pile, Knight v. Kaiser Co., 48 Cal. 2d 778, 312 P.2d 1089 (1957), and a steep bluff, Zagar v. Union Pacific R. Co., [**22] 113 Kan. 240, 214 P. 107 (1923).

Defendants in this case had a right to expect youngsters who were actively participating in the sport of skiing to understand the dangers of conditions such as the roll jump. The dangers associated with the roll jump are apparent, not latent. It is not an “unusual condition.” Therefore, the doctrine of attractive nuisance is not available to the plaintiffs.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly,

IT IS ORDERED that plaintiffs’ Third and Seventh Claims be, and the same hereby are, DISMISSED with prejudice.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiffs’ Fourth Claim, to the extent that it seeks to impose liability for dangers of which ASC ‘should have known,’ be, and the same hereby is, DISMISSED with prejudice.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendants’ motion to dismiss to the extent that it requests dismissal of plaintiffs’ Fifth and Sixth Claims be, and the same hereby is, DENIED.

DATED at Denver, Colorado this 22nd day of March, 1989.

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Taylor v. L.A. Fitness International, 2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 252; 16 Pa. D. & C.5th 491

Taylor v. L.A. Fitness International, 2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 252; 16 Pa. D. & C.5th 491

This case was reversed and remanded without an opinion by the SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, Taylor, K. v. LA Fitness International, LLC, 32 A.3d 841; 2011 Pa. Super. LEXIS 4194

Kimberly Taylor and Andrew Taylor, h/w v. L.A. Fitness International, LLC d/b/a LA Fitness, USA PT, LLC, d/b/a Body of Change, c/o David White, Jr., Dorian Jefferson Hale

No. 2213

COMMON PLEAS COURT OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, CIVIL TRIAL DIVISION

2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 252; 16 Pa. D. & C.5th 491

August 30, 2010, Decided

CASE SUMMARY:

JUDGES: [*1] Judge John M. Younge.

OPINION BY: John M. Younge

OPINION

[**493] Younge, J.

The Plaintiffs, Kimberly and Andrew Taylor, filed this appeal from this Court’s Order that granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the above-captioned Defendants. 1

1 The Plaintiffs, Kimberly and Andrew Taylor, will be referred to collectively as the Plaintiff throughout the remainder of this Opinion because Andrew Taylor does not assert an independent cause of action against the Defendants. His claim is based on loss of consortium.

Facts and Procedure:

This personal injury action was brought against the Defendants by the Plaintiff, Kimberly Taylor, who was a member of LA Fitness and a client of Body of Change. The Plaintiff was seriously injured in June of 2007 while exercising at the Huntingdon Valley location for the Defendant, LA Fitness. The Plaintiff alleged to have hired [**494] the Defendant, Body of Change, to provide personal trainers to assist her while exercising at LA Fitness. At the specific time of her injury, she alleged to have been exercising with the Defendant, Dorian Jefferson Hale, a personal trainer and agent of the Defendant, Body of Change. In her Complaint, she alleged that Defendant Hale taught her an improper exercise [*2] and failed to properly assist or spot her while exercising. She alleged that the negligence of Defendant Hale caused her shoulder injury. She alleged that Defendant Hale was an agent of LA Fitness and Body of Change. Her claim against Defendants, LA Fitness and Body of Change, was based on agency and vicarious liability under a theory of respondeat superior.

Following discovery, the Defendants filed the motion for summary judgment that is currently at issue in this appeal. In their motion, the Defendants asserted immunity from suit based on exculpatory clauses contained in the Membership Agreement that the Plaintiff entered into with LA Fitness and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability that the Plaintiff entered into with Body of Change. 2

2 After this Court granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff filed two motions to reconsider this Court’s Order that granted summary judgment. In one of her motions to reconsider, she argued for the first time that she did not sign the membership agreement with LA Fitness. For a complete discussion of why her motion for reconsideration was without merit and a discussion of the procedural history surrounding [*3] that motion see § F of this Opinion.

The Membership Agreement at issue contained an exculpatory clause that read as follows:

[**495] IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY

You hereby acknowledge and agree that Member’s use of L.A. Fitness’ facilities, services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to persons and property, including those described below, and Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. In consideration of being permitted to enter any facility of L.A. Fitness (a “club”) for any purpose including, but not limited to, observation use of facilities, services or equipment, or participation in any way, Member agrees to the following: Member hereby releases and holds L.A. Fitness, its directors, officers, employees, and agents harmless from all liability to Member and Member’s personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any loss or damage and forever gives up any claim or demands therefore, on account of injury to Member’s person or property, including injury leading to death of Member, whether caused by the active or passive negligence of L.A. Fitness or otherwise, to the fullest extent permitted by law, while Member is in, upon, [*4] or about L.A. Fitness premises or using any L.A. Fitness facilities, services, or equipment. Member also hereby agrees to indemnify L.A. Fitness from any loss, liability, damage or cost L.A. Fitness may incur due to the presence of Member in, upon or about the L.A. Fitness premises or in any way observing or using any facilities or equipment of L.A. Fitness whether caused by the negligence of Member or otherwise.

You represent (a) that Member is in good physical condition and has no disability, illness, or other condition that could prevent Member from exercising without injury or impairment of member’s health, and (b) that Member has consulted a physician concerning an exercise [**496] program that will not risk injury to Member or impairment of Member’s health. Such risk of injury includes (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercise equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others; [*5] and accidental injuries occurring anywhere in Club dressing rooms, showers and other facilities. Member further expressly agrees that the foregoing release, waiver and indemnity agreement is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the State of Pennsylvania and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full force and effect. Member has read this release and wavier of liability and indemnity clause, and agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducement apart from this Agreement have been made.

(Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit B (July 6, 2009)).

The Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability with Body of Change contained two clauses that were relevant to the personal injury action brought by the Plaintiff. These clauses are entitled “Acknowledgement & Assumption of Risk” and “Limitation of Liability & Full Release of BOC” and read in relevant part:

Acknowledgement & Assumption of Risk: Client acknowledges that the Services purchased hereunder include participation in strenuous physical activities, including, but not limited to, aerobic dance, weight training, [*6] stationary bicycling, various aerobic conditioning [**497] machinery and various nutritional programs offered by BOC (the “Physical Activities”). Client acknowledges these Physical Activities involve the inherent risk of physical injuries or other damages, including, but not limited to, heart attacks, muscle strains, pulls or tears, broken bones, shin splints, heat prostration, knee/lower back/foot injuries and any other illness, soreness, or injury however caused, occurring during or after Client’s participation in the Physical Activities. Client further acknowledges that such risks include, but are not limited to, injuries caused by the negligence of an instructor or other person, defective or improperly used equipment, over-exertion of Client, slip and fall by Client, or an unknown health problem of Client. Client agrees to assume all risk and responsibility involved with Client’s participation in the Physical Activities. Client affirms that Client is in good physical condition and does not suffer from any disability that would prevent or limit participation in the Physical Activities. Client acknowledges participation will be physically and mentally challenging, and Client agrees that [*7] it is the responsibility of Client to seek competent medical or other professional advice, regarding any concerns or questions involved with the ability of Client to take part in the Physical Activities. By signing this agreement, Client asserts that Client is capable of participating in the Physical Activities. Client agrees to assume all risk and responsibility for Client’s exceeding her physical limits.

Limitation of Liability & Full Release of BOC: Client, his or her heirs, assigns and next of kin, agree to fully release BOC, its owners, employees, any related entities or authorized agents, including independent contractors from any and all liability, claims and/or litigation or [**498] other actions that Client may have for injuries, disability, or death or other damages of any kind, including but not limited to, direct, special, incidental, indirect, punitive or consequential damages whether arising in tort, contract, breach of warranty or arising out of participation in the Services, including, but not limited to the Physical Activities, even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC, its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors. [*8] Client is urged to have this agreement reviewed by an attorney before signing.

(Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit C (July 6, 2009)).

Discussion:

This Court granted the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and dismissed the Plaintiff’s Complaint because the agreements that the Plaintiff entered into with the Defendants contained exculpatory clauses that relieved the Defendants from all liability for the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff. The Defendants went to great lengths to comply with Pennsylvania law when they drafted the exculpatory clauses at issue. The language used in these exculpatory clauses mirrored the language of the two exculpatory clauses that were enforced in Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 603 A.2d 663 (1992). 3

3 The plaintiff in Kotovsky was injured while participating in a downhill ski race. He specifically collided with a fencepost along the outside of the race course. The Court in Kotovsky affirmed a trial court order that granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on an exculpatory agreement entered into between the parties prior to the competition.

[**499] In Kotovsky the first exculpatory clause provided, in pertinent [*9] part, as follows:

I agree that I am alone responsible for my safety while participating in competitive events and/or training for competitive events and specifically acknowledge that the following persons or entities including the United States Ski Association, the United States Ski Team, the United States Ski Coaches Association, the ski area, the promoters, the sponsors, the organizers, the promoters, the sponsors, the organizers, the promoter clubs, the officials and any agent, representative, officer, director, employee, member or affiliate of any person or entity named above are not responsible for my safety. I specifically RELEASE and DISCHARGE, in advance, those parties from any and all liability whether, known or unknown, even though that liability may arise out of negligence or carelessness on the part of persons or entities mentioned above. I agree to accept all responsibility for the risks, conditions and hazards which may occur whether they now be known or unknown.

Being fully aware of the risks, conditions and hazards of the proposed activity as a competitor, coach or official, I HEREBY AGREE TO WAIVE, RELEASE AND DISCHARGE any and all claims for damages for death, personal [*10] injury or property damage which I may have or which may hereafter accrue to me as a result of my participation in competitive events or training for competitive events, against any person or entity mentioned above whether such injury or damage was foreseeable.

I further agree to forever HOLD HARMLESS and INDEMNIFY all persons and entities identified above, generally or specifically, from any and all liability for death and/ [**500] or personal injury or property damage result[ing] in any way from my participating in competitive events or training for competitive events.

This Acknowledgement of and Assumption of Risk and Release shall be binding upon my heirs and assigns. (Emphasis added)

Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 445, 603 A.2d 663, 664 (1992).

The second exculpatory clause in Kotovsky provided as follows:

If you do not accept fully the conditions below do not compete, officiate, coach or in any other way participate in any event. I, the undersigned, know that alpine and nordic skiing are action sports carrying significant risk of personal injury. Racing, jumping or freestyle competition is even more dangerous. I know that there are natural and man-made obstacles [*11] or hazards, surfaces and environmental conditions, and risks which in combination with my action can cause me very severe or occasionally fatal injury. I agree that I and not the ski area or its staff or American Ski Racing Alliance, Inc. “(ASRA”) or its staff, am responsible for my safety while I participate in, or train for these events.

I HEREBY RELEASE and discharge, on behalf of myself, my heirs, executors, personal representatives and assigns, ASRA, USSA, their affiliates and subsidiaries and their respective directors, officers, agents, employees, successors and assigns or any of them, from any and all actions, causes of action, claims, damages, demands, injuries and liabilities of any nature whatsoever. (including reasonable attorneys fees and interest) arising out of or in any manner [**501] connected with their involvement with ski races organized, promoted or operated by ASRA. (Emphasis in original).

Id.

The Court in Zimmer v. Mitchell, 253 PA. Super. 474, 385 A.2d 437 (1978), was confronted with an exculpatory clause that was contained in a rental agreement for ski equipment. 4 The exculpatory clause in that rental agreement read, in relevant part, as follows, “I furthermore release [*12] Mitchell and Ness from any liability for damage and injury to myself or to any person or property resulting from the use of this equipment, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury.” Id. at 478, 385 A.2d at 439. The court chose to enforce the agreement despite the fact that the language of the agreement did not release the defendant for liability based on its own negligence. A different result was reached in Brown where the Superior Court invalidated an exculpatory agreement because “The release in question [did] not spell out the intention of the parties with the necessary particularity. The language [did] not set forth in an unambiguous manner that the releaser, in signing the agreement, intend[ed] to absolve the releasee of liability for the releasee’s own negligence.” Brown v. Racquetball Centers. Inc., 369 Pa. Super. 13, 16, 534 A.2d 842, 843 (1987). 5

4 The plaintiff in Zimmer alleged to have been injured when the bindings on the ski equipment that he had rented from the defendant failed to properly release him. The Court in Zimmer affirmed an order that granted summary judgment based on an exculpatory clause contained in a rental agreement.

5 The plaintiff [*13] in Brown was a member of a health club who slipped when exiting the club’s shower facilities. The Court reversed a trial court order that granted summary judgment in favor of the health club based on an exculpatory clause contained in the application form signed by the plaintiff upon joining the health club. The exculpatory clause read, in relevant, part:

I, LeRoy F. Brown, voluntarily enter the Westend Racquet Club…to participate in the athletic, physical and social activities therein. I have inspected the premises and know of the risks and dangers involved in such activities as are conducted therein and that unanticipated and unexpected dangers may arise during such activities. I hereby and do assume all risks of injury to my person and property that may be sustained in connection with the stated and associated activities in and about those premises. (Emphasis added).

In consideration of the permission granted to me to enter the premises and participate in the stated activities, I hereby, for myself, my heirs, administrators and assigns, release, remise and discharge the owners, operators and sponsors of the premises and its activities and equipment and their respective servants, agents, [*14] officers, and all other participants in those activities of and from all claims, demands, actions and causes of action of any sort, for injury sustained to my person and/or property during my presence on the premises and my participation in those activities due to negligence or any other fault.

Id. at 14, 534 A.2d at 842.

[**502] In the case sub judice, the Defendants made every possible effort to draft exculpatory clauses with language that complied with Pennsylvania precedent. The exculpatory clauses drafted by the Defendants are linguistically similar to the exculpatory clauses quoted in Kotovsky, Zimmer and Brown. The Defendants specifically attempted to remedy the problem identified by the Court in Brown by including language that specifically released liability for injuries caused by the Defendants’ own negligence. Unlike the exculpatory agreement in Brown, in the case sub judice, the Plaintiff clearly and unequivocally agreed to release the Defendant, LA Fitness, from any and all claims whether caused “by the active or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise.” (Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Membership [**503] Agreement Exhibit B (July 6, 2009)). Under the terms of the Fitness Service Agreement [*15] and Release of Liability, the Plaintiff clearly and unequivocally agreed to release the Defendants from any and all claims “even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors.” (Id. Exhibit C). The Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability also provided that the “[Plaintiff] further acknowledges that such risks included, but are not limited to, injuries caused by the negligence of an instructor.” (Id).

In accordance with Pennsylvania precedent, the exculpatory clauses at issue were also highly visible and clearly noticeable within the Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability. Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee, inc., 2006 PA Super 159, 902 A.2d 1266, 1274 (Pa. Super. 2006) (standing for the proposition that [HN1] an exculpatory clause should be conspicuous on the face of a document and espousing a three part test for determining whether a reasonable person should have noticed an exculpatory clause contained in a document as follows: (1) the disclaimer’s placement in the document, (2) the size of the disclaimer’s print, and (3) whether the disclaimer was [*16] highlighted by being printed in all capital letters or in a type style or color different from the remainder of the document). A plain reading of the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability shows that exculpatory clauses were both written in a larger and different type than the type used in the rest of the contracts in which they appeared. The clauses were both separated and sectioned apart from all other contractual provisions and encased within a box. [**504] The membership Agreement with LA Fitness was entitled “IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY.” The exculpatory clauses in the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability contained the titles, “Limitation of Liability & Full Release of BOC” and “Acknowledgement & Assumption of Risk.” Both titles were written in bold and in a larger print size than all other material on the page.

The Plaintiff was unable to cite a single valid reason for this Court to decline to enforce the exculpatory clauses at issue. In her response to the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and her motions to reconsider, the Plaintiff cited six arguments in an attempt to persuade this Court to allow [*17] her to proceed to trial. These arguments were as follows:

A. Defendants’ failed to plead, in their answer and new matter, the defense of waiver and release with regard to the exculpatory clauses…

B. The exculpatory clauses are contracts of adhesion and, therefore, are unconscionable and unenforceable…

C. It is against public policy to enforce a consumer contract that waives negligence on the part of the vendor and its agents and employees…

D. The terms of the exculpatory clauses are ambiguous and, therefore, unenforceable…

E. There is no privity of contract between Defendant, Hale, and plaintiff.

(Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Support of their Response to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (August 5, 2009) (citing the topic headings [**505] to Plaintiff’s five arguments against the entry of summary judgment)).

F. [Plaintiff] respectfully requests that this Honorable Court will enter an order amending the record to state that [the Plaintiff] did not execute or sign any contract with [the] Defendant, L.A. Fitness, LLC, and rescind and reverse the…Order granting summary judgment.

(Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration Based on New Evidence of the… Order Granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary [*18] Judgment (September 22, 2009) (citing the wherefore clause in said motion)).

A. The Defendants’ specifically pled waiver and release in their answer and new matter filed on September 10, 2009

The Defendants’ filed a late answer with new matter on September 10, 2009. This Court allowed the Defendants’ to pursue the exculpatory agreement as a defense despite the late pleading because the Plaintiff was unable to show that she suffered prejudice as a result of the Defendants’ untimely pleading. In Blumenstock v. Gibson, 2002 PA Super 339, 811 A.2d 1029 (PA. Super. 2002), the court wrote:

[HN2] It is true that under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1030, release is an affirmative defense that ordinarily must be pled as new matter. Holmes v. Lankenau Hospital, 426 Pa. Super. 452, 627 A.2d 763, 765 (PA. Super. 1993). Under the Rule, if release is not pled as new matter, the right to assert the defense has been waived. Id. Nevertheless, our Rules of Civil Procedure must be liberally construed so that actions are resolved in a just, speedy and inexpensive manner consistent with Rule 126. Id. 765-66. [**506] The rules shall be liberally construed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action or proceeding [*19] to which they are applicable. The court at every stage of any such action or proceeding may disregard any error or defect of procedure which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties. PA. R.C.P. 126.

Where the rights of the plaintiff have not been prejudiced through the defendant’s failure to plead the defense of release prior to filing a motion for summary judgment, the trial court is not required to strictly enforce Rule 1030. Holmes, 627 A.2d at 766.

Id. at 1039.

In the case sub judice, the Plaintiff could not show prejudice because the Defendants inadvertent oversight had no influence on the litigation. The Defendants mailed a copy of their Answer and New Matter to the Plaintiff on November 13, 2008, but failed to file a copy of the same with the Prothonotary. The Plaintiff did not file a 10-day notice of intent to take a default judgment and a default judgment was never entered. The Defendants stated that they produced the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability in their response to the Plaintiff’s request for production of documents on February 6, 2009. At deposition, the Defendants specifically questioned the Plaintiff about whether [*20] she signed the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability, and she admitted that she signed both agreements. The Defendants then advanced their defense based on the exculpatory clauses at the appropriate stage by motioning for summary judgment at the close of discovery.

[**507] B. This Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed because the exculpatory clauses at issue did not constitute contracts of adhesion

The Plaintiff argued that the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability were contracts of adhesion and were, therefore, invalid. In support of this argument, she cited the fact that the Defendants openly admitted that the terms of the agreements were non-negotiable. The Plaintiff was presented with standardized boiler plate contracts that contained exculpatory clauses. She was given no opportunity to negotiate the terms of these agreements. If she wanted to exercise at LA Fitness under the supervision of personal trainers provided by Body of Change, she had to sign the agreements as presented.

The Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability were not contracts of adhesion [*21] because the Plaintiff had the ability to seek other forms of exercise. Pennington v. Lombardi-Martelli 42 Pa. D. & C.4th 425 (1999) (Affirming a trial court’s grant of summary judgments in favor of a stable owner and stating that the exculpatory agreement entered into prior to taking horse riding lessons was not a contract of adhesion because the plaintiff was free to select another riding school.). The Plaintiff chose to exercise at LA Fitness under the guidance of a personal trainer who worked for Body of Change. The Plaintiff could have exercised independently at home or at a variety of other locations including LA Fitness. The Plaintiff’s ability to choose the form of exercise that she would practice defeats her argument based on a theory of adhesion. For example, the Court enforced an exculpatory agreement against a [**508] Plaintiff who was injured in a down hill ski race in Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 603 A.2d 663 (1992). In Kotovsky, the Court stated that the exculpatory agreement was not one of adhesion because the Plaintiff “was not required to enter the contract, but did so voluntarily in order to participate in the downhill ski race.” Id. at 447, 603 A.2d at 665.

C. [*22] This Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed because Pennsylvania has a public policy of enforcing exculpatory agreements

Exculpatory agreements in the context of athletic events and fitness club memberships have previously been the subject of litigation in Pennsylvania. However, the Plaintiff is completely unable to cite to precedent to establish that exculpatory clauses in the nature of the type at issue in the case sub judice are invalid based on public policy grounds. Courts located in California and Kansas have enforced exculpatory agreements in personal injury actions where the plaintiff was a member of a fitness club and signed contract that contained an exculpatory clause. Fata v. LA Fitness International LLC., 2008 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7926 (2008); and Ko v. Bally Total Fitness Corp., 2003 U.S. Dist. Lexis 19378. In both Fata and Ko, there was no mention of public policy being violated by the enforcement of the exculpatory clauses contained in either membership agreement with the health club defendants in those cases. In Zipusch v. LA Workout. Inc., 155 Cal. App. 4th 1281, 66 Cal. Rptr. 3d 704 (2007), the Court chose to not enforce an exculpatory agreement; however, it did not [*23] base its decision on public policy grounds. The Plaintiff failed to support her argument that public policy prevents the enforcement of exculpatory [**509] agreements when the Plaintiff engages in athletic activities at a health club where the Plaintiff is a member.

This Court would like to call attention to the fact that its analysis would have been entirely different if the Plaintiff had been working under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. In Leidy v. Deseret Enterprises, Inc., 252 Pa. Super. 162, 381 A.2d 164 (1977), the Court reversed a trial court order that granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the defendant (health spa) based on an exculpatory clause in a membership agreement entered into between the parties. In Leidy, the plaintiff alleged to have been “referred to the spa by her doctor as part of post-operative treatment following surgery on the lumbar area of her spine, but that the treatment she was in fact given was directly contrary to her doctor’s instructions to the spa.” Id. at 166, 381 A.2d at 166. The Court stated, “The public has an interest in assuring that those claiming to be qualified to follow a doctor’s orders are in fact so qualified, and accept responsibility for their actions.” The Court stated, “The public has an interest in assuring that those claiming to be qualified to follow a doctor’s orders are in fact so qualified, and accept responsibility for their actions.” Id. 170, 381 A.2d at 168.

The reasoning and logic of Leidy is inapplicable to the sub judice because no recognized statewide standard of care exists for health clubs like LA Fitness or health club employees like Defendant Hale. The legislature created the Broad of Physical Therapy to establish rules and procedures to regulate physical therapy throughout the state of Pennsylvania. See 63 P.S. § 1302.1. The Physical Therapy Practice Act, 63 P.S. § 1301 et seq., provides conclusive evidence of the public interest in protecting [**510] the health, safety and welfare of those who seek the services of a physical therapist. Therefore, this Court would have to be presented with an extremely unusual fact pattern before it would allow a physical therapist to escape liability based on an exculpatory agreement executed by his or her patient. It would be hard to believe that such an agreement truly regulated private interests. Yet at the same time, services provided by a personal [*25] trainer are substantially similar to the services provided by a physical therapist.

The fact pattern of the case sub judice highlights just one of the problems presented by the lack of legislative oversight of the health club and fitness industry in Pennsylvania. This Court would like to refer this matter on the legislature so that it can establish a system for regulation. The clear affect of this lack of legislative oversight means that national health club chains, like the Defendants, can be sued for negligence based upon a breach of an ordinary standard of care that could vary from county to county. Since an ordinary standard of care is applicable, the Defendants need the protection provided by the exculpatory agreement. Clearly, the establishment of a uniform standard of care is necessary. It would then be possible to establish a statewide standard of care that would subject entities and individuals involved in the fitness industry to liability. Legislative oversight would also bolster any argument that an exculpatory agreement should be invalid based on public policy grounds.

D. The terms of the exculpatory clauses are not ambiguous and are therefore enforceable.

As previously discussed, [*26] Plaintiff clearly and unequivocally agreed to release the Defendants from liability [**511] for personal injury. There was nothing ambiguous about the terms of either exculpatory clause. Both clauses specifically identified the types of personal injuries contemplated by the parties when they entered into the agreement. Under the terms of the Membership Agreement, the Plaintiff released LA Fitness from any risk of injury and agreed that:

Such risk of injury include[d] (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercises equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others…

The terms of the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability, clearly stated that the,

Client acknowledges these Physical Activities involve the inherent risk of physical injuries or other damages, including, but not limited to, heart attacks, muscle strains, pulls or tears, broken bones, shin splints, heat prostration, knee/lower [*27] back/foot injuries and any other illness, soreness, or injury however caused, occurring during or after Client’s participation in the Physical Activities.

The Plaintiff suffered injuries that were specifically encompassed within the description of injuries contemplated in the exculpatory clauses offered by the Defendants. The Plaintiff’s medical records state that she suffered an anteroinferior dislocation of the left shoulder that led to post-traumatic arthritis and contractures. The Plaintiff was a registered nurse at Magee Rehabilitation. [**512] She should have read and comprehended the ramifications of entering into the Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability. As a nurse, the Plaintiff should have also understood inherent danger in any exercise routine.

E. This Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed because privity of contract between the Plaintiff and the Defendant, Dorian Jefferson Hale, is a completely irrelevant issue

There was no dispute as to the fact that the Plaintiff entered into the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability with Body of Change. 6 This agreement specifically states,

Client, his or her heirs, assigns [*28] and next of kin, agree to fully release BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors from any and all liability, claims and/or litigation or other actions that Client may have for injuries?even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors.

6 See § F herein discussing the Plaintiffs motion to reconsider based on new evidence wherein she claims that she never signed the Membership Agreement with LA Fitness.

There was no dispute as to the fact that Defendant, Dorian Jefferson Hale, was an agent of Body of Change. Under the specific terms of the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability, all agents of Body of Change were released from liability over to the Plaintiff. As with any other contract, the specific terms of this exculpatory [**513] clause should be enforce in accordance with the plain meaning of its language. For example, the Court in Maloney v. Valley Medical Facilities, Inc., 603 Pa. 399, 984 A.2d 478 (Pa. 2009), permitted a plaintiff to maintain an action against an agent of a principal [*29] despite the fact that the plaintiff had released the agent’s principal. In Maloney, the release that the plaintiff entered into with the principal specifically contained a reservation of rights clause that permitted the plaintiff to proceed against the agent. The Court discussed the application of traditional contract principles and the need to effectuate the intent of the parties who enter into contracts.

The case sub judice is factually distinguishable from Maloney; yet, the reasoning and logic used in Maloney clearly favored the entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant Hale. The exculpatory clause found in the fitness service agreement and release of liability did not contain a reservation of rights clause whereby the Plaintiff retained the right to sue Defendant Hale. To the contrary, the specific language of the exculpatory clause released Defendant Hale from all liability. Based on the reasoning contained in Maloney, this Court placed great emphasis on the specific language of the exculpatory clause and decided to enforce the agreement as to Defendant Hale as well as the other Defendants.

F. Whether the Plaintiff signed the Membership Agreement with the Defendant, LA Fitness, [*30] is not relevant to the question of whether this Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed

After this Court granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider [**514] based on new evidence. She argued that this Court should vacate its Order granting summary judgment in favor of the Defendant, LA Fitness, because she did not sign the Membership Agreement that contained the exculpatory clause that it offered as an affirmative defense. A brief review of the pleadings and procedural history of this case illustrates the irrelevant and meritless nature of this issue.

Originally the Plaintiff filed a response to the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment that contained an affidavit wherein she admitted that she signed both the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and. Release of Liability. After this Court granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration that contained a second affidavit that contradicted her pervious affidavit. In her second affidavit, she averred that she did not sign the Membership Agreement.

The inconsistencies in the Plaintiff’s case could have created [*31] a legal issue that would have required judicial attention. However, the Plaintiff did not attempt to establish a direct claim of liability against LA Fitness. The Plaintiff did not bring an independent cause of action against LA Fitness on a theory like negligent hiring or supervision. The Plaintiffs claim against LA Fitness was based agency or vicarious liability for the actions or omissions of Defendant Hale. LA Fitness could only be held liable if Defendant Hale was held liable. The action against Defendant Hale was barred based on the exculpatory clauses in the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability. The Plaintiff openly admitted that she signed [**515] Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability which states:

Client, his or her heirs, assigns and next of kin, agree to fully release BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors from any and all liability, claims and/or litigation or other actions that Client may have for injuries…even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent [*32] contractors.

In reality, the Plaintiff’s signature on the Membership Agreement was really a mere technicality. A plain reading of both affidavits illustrates that the Plaintiff was aware that she had entered into an agreement that had been reduced to writing when she joined L A Fitness. She then proceeded to use the facilities provided by L A Fitness on multiple occasions prior to her accident. She should have read the Membership Agreement and her use of the facility was akin to accepting the terms of the Membership Agreement.

Conclusion:

The Defendants went to great lengths to draft exculpatory clauses that would comply with Pennsylvania law; therefore, this Court was required to enforce the exculpatory clauses contained in the Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability.

BY THE COURT

/s/ John M. Younge

Judge John M. Younge

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N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452 (ED Ten 2012)

N.H., a minor child, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452 (ED Ten 2012)

N.H., a minor child, by and through his parents Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez and Jorge Hernandez and Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually, v. Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America

NO. 2:11-CV-171

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87452

April 30, 2012, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jorge Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H, Elizabeth Hernandez, Individually Minor N. H., Plaintiffs: Thomas C Jessee, Jessee & Jessee, Johnson City, TN.

For Sequoyah Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America, defendant: Suzanne S Cook, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunter, Smith & Davis – Johnson City, Johnson City, TN.

JUDGES: J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: J. RONNIE GREER

OPINION

ORDER

This personal injury action is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court is the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [Doc. 5]. For the reasons which follow, the motion is GRANTED.

FACTS

The following facts are taken from plaintiffs’ Complaint and are assumed true for the purposes of defendant’s motion to dismiss. In June 2010, the minor plaintiff was registered by his parents to participate in a summer camp owned and operated by defendant in an attempt to earn merit badges towards becoming an Eagle Scout. On June 15, 2010, while at this summer camp, the minor plaintiff participated in a mountain biking activity/class sponsored by defendant. During the course of his participation, the minor plaintiff discovered [*2] that the brakes on his bike were not working, and he rode off the trail and struck a tree, sustaining severe bodily injuries.

The defendant was allegedly negligent as follows: (1) it failed to keep the mountain bike trails in a reasonably safe condition; (2) it failed to warn the minor plaintiff of hidden perils of the trails which defendant knew, or by reasonable inspection, could have discovered; (3) it failed to properly train its employees; (4) it failed to properly mark the bike trail; (5) it failed to properly evaluate and assess the skill of the minor plaintiff before allowing him to ride the trail; and (6) it was “negligent in other manners.” [Doc. 1 at ¶19]. The Complaint also states that “the negligence of Defendant . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries to the minor plaintiff.” Id. at ¶20. The Complaint contains a number of additional paragraphs that allege how the “negligence” of the defendant was the proximate cause of various other consequences. Id. at ¶¶22-27. The final paragraph of the Complaint states, “As a proximate . . . result of the negligence of Defendant, the Plaintiffs have been damaged . . . in an amount not to exceed $600,000.00 actual damages. As a [*3] direct and proximate result of the gross negligence of the Defendant, the Plaintiffs believe they are entitled to recover punitive damages . . ..” Id. at ¶28 (emphasis added).

Defendant has filed a motion asking the Court to dismiss the Complaint so far as punitive damages are concerned on the ground that the plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead a factual basis that would provide for the award of punitive damages.

LEGAL STANDARD

[HN1] Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than just labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

[HN2] “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [*4] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff’s allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984).

ANALYSIS

[HN3] “In a diversity action . . . the propriety of an award of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the factors the jury may consider in determining their amount, are questions of state law.” Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc., v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 278, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 106 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1989). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim for punitive damages must be plausible as defined by Tennessee law.

[HN4] The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are available in cases involving “only the most egregious of wrongs.” [*5] Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992). Accordingly, under Tennessee law, “a court may . . . award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.” Id. 1

1 [HN5] The Tennessee Supreme Court has expressly stated that punitive damages are not available for “gross negligence.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 900-901. However, the legal sufficiency of a complaint does not depend upon whether or not the plaintiffs invoked the right “magic words,” but instead whether the facts as alleged may plausibly be construed to state a claim that meets the standards of Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)(clarifying the dismissal standard under Rule 12(b)(6) and noting that “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era”). Consequently, the Court will construe the plaintiffs’ allegations of “gross negligence” in paragraph 28 of the Complaint as an allegation that defendant behaved “recklessly.”

Here, defendant asserts that “Although the Complaint cursorily mentions ‘gross negligence’ one time in a conclusory manner, the Complaint [*6] lacks any facts or allegations that aver an utter lack of concern or reckless disregard such that a conscious indifference can even be implied . . ..” [Doc. 6 at 3]. The plaintiff counters that “The plaintiff in this case has identified specific detailed acts of negligence on the part of the defendant and . . . [consequently] it is clear that a jury could decide that the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent.” [Doc. 7 at 2].

The Court has reviewed the Complaint and agrees with the defendant. [HN6] “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Such is the case with the Complaint in this matter. The entirety of the Complaint is dedicated to explaining why the defendant was negligent. However, there is no separate mention made regarding why the defendant was reckless. To be sure, the plaintiff could argue that by alleging in multiple paragraphs that defendant “knew, or should have known,” of certain unsafe conditions, he has sufficiently pled both negligence and recklessness. However, plaintiff would be mistaken in asserting such [*7] argument.

[HN7] Under Tennessee law, “A person acts recklessly when the person is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of such a nature that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 901. An examination of the Complaint reveals that plaintiffs have failed to allege how or why the defendant was aware of the deficiencies in the bicycle and the biking trail. This is fatal to plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. See Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430, 445 (6th Cir. 2012) ( [HN8] “To survive a motion to dismiss . . . allegations must be specific enough to establish the relevant ‘who, what, where, when, how or why.”); See also, Tucker v. Bernzomatic, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43771, 2010 WL 1838704 (E.D.Pa. May 4, 2010) (Dismissing punitive damages claim in products liability action because consumer did not allege how or why manufacturer knew that its product was dangerous).

In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual content to allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant has acted recklessly. [*8] See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The punitive damages claim will therefore be dismissed.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages [Doc. 5] is GRANTED and plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages is DISMISSED.

ENTER:

/s/ J. RONNIE GREER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

WordPress Tags: Sequoyah,Council,Scouts,America,Dist,LEXIS,parents,Jorge,Hernandez,Elizabeth,STATES,DISTRICT,COURT,EASTERN,TENNESSEE,April,COUNSEL,Minor,Plaintiffs,Thomas,Jessee,Johnson,defendant,Suzanne,Cook,LEAD,ATTORNEY,Hunter,Smith,Davis,JUDGES,RONNIE,GREER,JUDGE,OPINION,ORDER,injury,action,Federal,Rule,Civil,Procedure,FACTS,Complaint,purposes,June,plaintiff,badges,Eagle,Scout,mountain,participation,bike,tree,injuries,perils,inspection,employees,skill,negligence,paragraphs,consequences,paragraph,emphasis,basis,LEGAL,STANDARD,statement,Supreme,allegations,obligation,entitlement,relief,conclusions,recitation,Factual,Bell,Atlantic,Corp,Ashcroft,Iqbal,facial,inference,misconduct,Thus,Hishon,ANALYSIS,factors,jury,Ferris,Indus,Kelco,Disposal,Hodges,Toof,Tenn,sufficiency,dismissal,departure,regime,allegation,Here,Although,manner,indifference,Where,argument,Under,person,deviation,examination,deficiencies,bicycle,Carrier,Outokumpu,Tucker,Bernzomatic,products,consumer,manufacturer,product,CONCLUSION,ENTER,pursuant,upon,whether


Hembree v. Johnson et al., 224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

Hembree v. Johnson et al., 224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

Hembree v. Johnson et al.

A97A0034.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

February 14, 1997, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Slip and fall. Douglas Superior Court. Before Judge James.

DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Akin & Tate, S. Lester Tate III, for appellant.

Chambers, Mabry, McClelland & Brooks, Rex D. Smith, Ian R. Rapaport, for appellees.

JUDGES: Judge Harold R. Banke. Pope, P. J., and Johnson, J., concur.

OPINION BY: Harold R. Banke

OPINION

[*680] [**408] Judge Harold R. Banke.

Terrell L. Hembree sued Gordon Johnson and James Haddle d/b/a Douglasville Health & Athletic Club (collectively “Johnson”) to recover damages relating to a knee injury allegedly sustained in a slip and fall on a racquetball court. Hembree appeals the trial court’s adverse summary judgment ruling.

Johnson moved for summary judgment relying primarily on exculpatory language contained in a membership agreement. The record shows that Melissa Hembree completed and signed joint Membership Agreement No. 13217 on which she listed Terrell Hembree, her husband, as a family member. The first section in the contract provides, “I agree to use the Health and Athletic Club in accordance with the Rules and Conditions printed on the reverse side.” Melissa Hembree signed the Rules and Conditions document which contains certain exculpatory provisions requiring a member [***2] to: (1) assume any risk occasioned by the use of the facilities, and (2) forever release and discharge the corporate owner of the club, and any affiliated companies and/or its agents and employees from liability for claims arising out of the use of the facilities. Several months after the joint membership expired, Terrell Hembree signed a Membership Addendum to obtain an individual membership. The Membership Addendum states, “I herewith modify my original membership agreement No. 13217 dated 4-14-92 as stated herein.” The only pertinent change in the addendum altered [*681] the joint membership to an individual one. During the time Hembree had an individual membership, he allegedly slipped and fell. Held:

1. We reject Hembree’s contention that summary judgment was precluded by the existence of a material issue of disputed fact as to whether he assented to the waiver. [HN1] The construction of a written contract is a question of law for the trial court unless after the court applies the applicable rules of construction, ambiguity remains. O.C.G.A. § 13-2-1; Binswanger Glass Co. v. Beers Constr. Co., 141 Ga. App. 715, 716 (1) (234 S.E.2d 363) (1977). This is not such a situation. When Hembree [***3] signed the Membership Addendum, he specifically assented to all the terms contained in Membership Agreement No. 13217, which was incorporated by reference in the Membership Addendum. [HN2] Incorporation by reference is generally effective to accomplish its intended purpose where, as here, the reference has a reasonably clear and ascertainable meaning. Binswanger, 141 Ga. App. at 717 (2). Hembree was bound by the terms and conditions of the contract that he signed including the Rules and Conditions giving effect to the waiver. It was incumbent upon Hembree to read the contract and apprise himself of the terms to which he assented. Conklin v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 240 Ga. 58, 59 (239 S.E.2d 381) (1977); Lovelace v. Figure Salon, 179 Ga. App. 51, 53 (1) (345 S.E.2d 139) (1986). Having shown the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, Johnson was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-56 (c).

2. Hembree enumerates as errors an alleged violation of the Fair Business Practices Act (O.C.G.A. § 10-1-393.2) and an assertion that Johnson and Haddle are not [**409] agents and employees of the corporation as contemplated by the waiver language. Although Hembree [***4] claims that he raised these two issues during oral argument, he failed to provide a transcript of the summary judgment hearing. Hembree, as [HN3] the party alleging error, has the burden to show it affirmatively by the record. North Fulton Feed v. Purina Mills, 221 Ga. App. 576, 577 (472 S.E.2d 122) (1996). [HN4] Because Hembree failed to show that either of these issues was raised and argued below, they cannot be raised now for the first time. Auerbach v. First Nat. Bank of Atlanta, 147 Ga. App. 288, 290 (1) (B) (248 S.E.2d 551) (1978).

3. Notwithstanding Hembree’s argument to the contrary, we find no violation of public policy in the exculpatory clause at issue. [HN5] A contracting party may waive or renounce that which the law has established in his favor, provided doing so does not injure others or affect the public interest. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-7. It is well settled that public policy does not prohibit the inclusion of an exculpatory clause, like the one at issue here, in a health club membership. Day v. Fantastic Fitness, 190 Ga. App. 46 (1) (378 S.E.2d 166) (1989); My Fair Lady of Ga. v. Harris, 185 Ga. App. 459 (364 S.E.2d 580) (1987); Lovelace, 179 Ga. [*682] App. at 52 (1).

Judgment [***5] affirmed. Pope, P. J., and Johnson, J., concur.

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Albert v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100150

Albert v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100150

Jaren Albert, a minor bn/f Jarrod Albert, and Jarrod Albert, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., and Smoky Mountain Snow SPORT School, Inc., Defendants.

No. 3:02-CV-277

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100150

January 25, 2006, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Motion granted by, Summary judgment denied by, Motion denied by Albert v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17456 (E.D. Tenn., Apr. 6, 2006)

CORE TERMS: snow, ski, skiing, slope, lesson, skier, summary judgment, passenger, beginner, skied, sport, mountain, downhill, terrain, ski area, trail, teach, alpine, ski resort, expert witness, matter of law, moving party, minor child, non-moving, hazardous, warning, use reasonable care, daughter’s, resort, opined

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jarrod Albert, Individually, Jarrod Albert, next friend, Jaren – Albert, Jaren. Albert, Plaintiffs: Gerald L Gulley, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gulley Oldham, PLLC, Knoxville, TN; W. Richard Baker, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of W. Richard Baker, Jr, Knoxville, TN.

For Ober Gatlinburg Inc, Defendant: John T Buckingham, Richard W Krieg, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, P.C. (Knox), Knoxville, TN; Paul R Leitner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Leitner Williams Dooley Napolitan, PLLC (Chattanooga), Chattanooga, TN; Tonya R Willis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Linda G. Welch & Associates, Knoxville, TN.

For Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School, Inc., Defendant: Michael J King, W Kyle Carpenter, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Robert L Vance, Woolf, McClane, Bright, Allen & Carpenter, PLLC, Knoxville, TN.

For State of Tennessee, Intervenor: Paul G Summers, LEAD ATTORNEY, Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis, PLLC (Nashville), Nashville, TN.

JUDGES: Thomas W. Phillips, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Thomas W. Phillips

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is a civil action for personal injuries sustained by Jaren Albert while skiing at Ober Gatlinburg’s resort on December 27, 2001. Pending before the court are the following motions: (1) defendant Ober Gatlinburg’s [*2] motion for summary judgment [Doc. 55]; (2) defendant Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. 58]; and (3) plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument on the pending motions for summary judgment [Doc. 74].

The parties have filed extensive briefs pertaining to the motions for summary judgment in which they have fully briefed all of the issues and submitted record evidence in support of the parties’ positions. The court has reviewed the briefs and evidence submitted, and does not feel that oral argument is necessary. Therefore, plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument [Doc. 74] is DENIED. For the reasons stated below, Ober Gatlinburg’s motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part; and Smoky Mountain’s motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

On December 27, 2001, 15-year old Jaren Albert went to Ober Gatlinburg ski resort for the purpose of Alpine or downhill skiing. The previous day, Albert had received instructions in skiing from defendant Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School (Snow School). While skiing at the Ober Gatlinburg resort, Albert suffered injuries to her face and left eye as a result of a fall [*3] on the ski slope. Albert contends that her injuries resulted from defendants’ negligence in permitting skiing on a slope that was unreasonably icy and extra hazardous, and because she received inadequate instruction in skiing from the Snow School. Plaintiff Jarrod Albert has brought this action individually, and on behalf of his daughter Jaren Albert, against defendants alleging negligence which proximately caused personal injury to his daughter.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 56(c), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, provides that summary judgment will be granted by the court only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show that no genuine issue of material fact exists. The court must view the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); Morris to Crete Carrier Corp., 105 F.3d 279, 280-81 (6th Cir. 1987); White v. Turfway Park Racing Ass’n, Inc., 909 F.2d 941, 943 (6th Cir. 1990); 60 Ivy Street Corp. v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir. 1987). [*4] Once the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a motion under Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the non-moving party is not entitled to a trial simply on the basis of allegations. The non-moving party is required to come forward with some significant probative evidence which makes it necessary to resolve the factual dispute at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); White, 909 F.2d at 943-44. The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Collyer v. Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 220 (6th Cir. 1996).

III. Analysis

A. Ober Gatlinburg

Defendant Ober Gatlinburg moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In support of the motion, Ober asserts that (1) Jaren Albert was guilty of negligence as a matter of law which bars recovery for her injuries; (2) Jaren’s claim is barred by the Tennessee Ski Area Safety and Liability Act (SASLA), T.C.A. § 68-114-101; and (3) Ober is not guilty of any negligence which proximately caused or contributed to Jaren’s accident and [*5] injuries. Ober has also moved for summary judgment as to the claims of Jarrod Albert, stating that (1) his claims are solely derivative of the claims of Jaren Albert and that failure of her claims precludes any recovery by Jarrod Albert; and (2) that Jarrod Albert signed a valid release agreement contractually preventing him from bringing a claim against the ski operator.

First, Ober Gatlinburg asserts that Jaren Albert’s negligence bars any recovery against the ski resort as a matter of law. In support of its assertion, Ober Gatlinburg states that Ms. Albert, an inexperienced, beginning skier with limited skiing experience, chose to ski on a slope that she knew was designated for “advanced” skiers. That act of negligence on her part was the sole cause of her fall and her injury. Therefore, her negligence bars recovery against Ober Gatlinburg on any of her claims as a matter of law.

Second, Ober Gatlinburg contends the Ski Area Safety & Liability Act (SASLA), T.C.A. § 68-114-101, governs downhill snow skiing and sets a liability standard different from normal tort liability. Specific duties, responsibilities, and defenses are statutorily created by the SASLA for the sport of downhill [*6] skiing. Ober Gatlinburg asserts that the SASLA precludes ski area liability based on risks inherent in the sport of Alpine or downhill skiing. The SASLA provides:

It is hereby recognized that Alpine or downhill skiing is a recreational sport and the use of passenger tramways associated therewith may be hazardous to skiers or passengers, regardless of all feasible safety measures which can be taken. Therefore, each skier and each passenger has the sole responsibility for knowing the range of such skier’s or passenger’s own ability to negotiate any alpine, ski trail or associated passenger tramway, and it is the duty of each skier and passenger to conduct such skier or passenger within the limits of such skier’s or passenger’s own ability, to maintain control of such skier’s or passenger’s speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of such skier or passenger or others. Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter, each skier or passenger is deemed to have assumed the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to such skier’s or passenger’s person or property [*7] arising out of such skier’s or passenger’s participation in Alpine or downhill skiing or the use of any passenger tramways associated therewith. The responsibility for collisions by any skier while actually skiing, with any person or object, shall be solely that of the skier or skiers involved in such collision and not that of the ski area operator.

T.C.A. § 68-114-103.

Ober Gatlinburg asserts Ms. Albert was an inexperienced skier, yet she skied on a slope which she knew was designated as “most difficult” and rated as a “black diamond” slope; and she ignored the posted signs warning her that the slope she was preparing to ski on was not suited to her ability. Despite that knowledge, Ms. Albert skied down Mogul Ridge and suffered a fall. Defendant states that Ms. Albert was not skiing within the limits of her ability and she apparently failed to maintain control of her speed and course, resulting in her fall and injury. Having failed to meet her responsibility under the SASLA of skiing within her ability and maintaining control of her skiing, she is barred by the SASLA from recovering from defendant for her injuries.

Further, defendant states that the SASLA provides that each skier is “deemed [*8] to have assumed the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to such skier’s … person or property arising out of such skier’s . . . participation in Alpine or downhill skiing. T.C.A. § 68-114-103. Ms. Albert chose to participate in downhill skiing on the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, so under the SASLA, she is deemed to have assumed the risk of and liability for the injuries she suffered on December 27, 2001.

In support of its motion, Ober Gatlinburg has submitted the affidavit of Thomas Diriwaechter. Mr. Diriwaechter is a certified ski instructor, and has been the Director of Skiing at Ober Gatlinburg since 1998. Mr. Diriwaechter’s affidavit states that he is familiar with the SASLA and its requirements. On the day at issue, Mr. Diriwaechter states that all open slopes at Ober Gatlinburg were appropriate for skiing. The open slopes included Mogul Ridge, Upper Bear Run, Castle Run, Cub Way and the Ski School area. More specifically, Dr. Diriwaechter states that the slope where Jaren Albert fell was appropriate for skiing at the time of her fall. He further states that all slopes at Ober Gatlinburg were properly classified pursuant to state law and U.S. industry standards on December [*9] 27, 2001. It is Mr. Diriwaechter’s opinion that at the time of Jaren Albert’s fall, she was an inexperienced skier attempting to ski on a slope that was beyond the limits of her ability which resulted in her falling and sustaining injuries. He also opines that Ober Gatlinburg did nothing in any way to cause or contribute to Ms. Albert’s fall and resulting injuries.

Plaintiffs have responded in opposition, asserting that Ober Gatlinburg failed to use reasonable care in deciding to open the ski resort on the day of the accident, failed to close some slopes or warn of ultra hazardous conditions on the slope on which this accident occurred, and failed to designate the slope on which the accident occurred as ultra hazardous, ice-covered, and/or “black diamond,” thus breaching its duty to operate in conformity with the SASLA. In support of their response, plaintiffs have submitted the affidavit of James Isham, an expert in the field of snow sports safety and professional ski instruction.

Mr. Isham opines that Jaren hit an icy/muddy section of the ski run which was unmarked, lost control, fell and was injured. Based upon the parties’ deposition testimony, Mr. Isham states that the surface conditions [*10] on the trails indicated considerable variation. The snow on Cub Way and lower Castle Run was soft, groomed, packed powder texture. The snow surface on Mogul Ridge was icy, with patchy cover and lumpy/chunky earlier in the day. As the day wore on and more skiers skied the upper slopes, the surface became more thinly covered and would be reasonably deemed to be in extra-hazardous condition. When slope conditions change from marginal to extra-hazardous in nature, Mr. Isham states it becomes the obligation and duty of the ski operator to post warnings at the top of each trail notifying skiers that the slopes have changed and that they demand extra caution and attention. Such warnings should have also been posted at the slope condition board at the base of the mountain to provide additional information to skiers. Mr. Isham concludes that Ober Gatlinburg failed to use reasonable care by failing to comply with the SASLA to warn Jaren Albert of the changing conditions on the slopes, which contributed to her fall and injuries.

Jaren and her father each testified that they received skiing instructions in the following areas: snow plow, and side to side. Jaren was able to negotiate the trails [*11] by making “S” turns side-to-side down the slope. When she wanted to stop, she attempted to do so by sitting down. After the lesson, Jaren skied ten runs on Cub Way (the easiest trail). The following day, Jaren testified she skied Cub Way for approximately one hour and then moved on to Bear Run, an advanced slope. She skied both Bear Run and Cub Way many times, and made several runs on Castle Run (an intermediate trial). Just prior to lunch, Jaren skied down Mogul Ridge (the most difficult trail). Following lunch, Jaren skied the slopes for approximately two hours. During this time, she skied Bear Run, Cub Way, and Mogul Ridge, falling one or two times. Jaren testified that she was able to ski Bear Run, an advanced slope, without difficulty. She also skied Mogul Ridge, an expert slope, within her ability. Jaren testified that she did not lose control while skiing, until her accident occurred on the upper portion of Castle Run approximately 30 yards below Mogul Ridge.

Trevor Duhon provided a written statement of his eyewitness account of Jaren’s fall. He indicated that she fell on upper Castle Run. “She was coming down, she slipped and started sliding on her butt, she tried to stop sideways, [*12] she started going head over heels for about 10 feet, then her ski came off, hit her in the head, and she was out.”

The SASLA was enacted by the Tennessee legislature to define the responsibility of skiers and ski area operators, including assigning the responsibility for the inherent dangers of skiing. 1978 Tenn. Pub. Acts, Chapter 701. While the provisions at issue in the present case concern the protections for operators against liability claims, the SASLA also contains a number of provisions concerning signage and other duties of ski area operators. The intent behind the liability provisions of the Act is to protect ski area operators from lawsuits for falls and collisions in circumstances that cannot be made risk free given the inherent dangerousness of skiing. Id. However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has read the statute narrowly and held that it does not protect operators from their own negligence nor provide them with blanket immunity. Terry v. Ober Gatlinburg, 1998 Tenn. App. LEXIS 76, 1998 WL 54700 (Tenn.App. 1998) 1998 Tenn. LEXIS 426 (perm.app.denied July 13, 1998).

Plaintiffs state that Ober Gatlinburg owed a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances, in addition to their statutory duties, not to expose a skier [*13] to risks at the resort which were not an inherent risk of skiing. Plaintiff’s expert witness, Mr. Isham testified that the slope on which Jaren fell had become extra-hazardous and that Ober Gatlinburg failed to use reasonable care by failing to comply with the SASLA to warn skiers of the changing conditions on the slopes. On the other hand, Ober’s expert witness, Mr. Diriwaechter, testified that all open slopes at Ober Gatlinburg were appropriate for skiing. In particular, Mr. Diriwaechter testified that the slope where Jaren fell was appropriate for skiing at the time of her fall. Mr. Diriwaechter opined that Jaren’s fall and injuries resulted from her attempting to ski a slope that was beyond the limits of her ability. Jaren Albert testified that she was able to ski the slopes within her ability and had done so the previous day and for several hours prior to her accident. It is clear to the court that there exists questions of fact which preclude summary judgment. Whether Ober Gatlinburg failed to exercise reasonable care when it opened the ski resort to the public on December 27, 2001; whether the conditions encountered by Jaren Albert that day were an inherent risk of skiing; and [*14] whether Jaren Albert attempted to ski a slope beyond the limits of her ability, are all questions of fact to be resolved by the jury. Because there are disputed issues of material fact as to whether Jaren’s accident was the result of an inherent risk of skiing or the result of Ober Gatlinburg’s negligence, defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.

B. Release Signed by Jarrod Albert

Finally, Ober Gatlinburg asserts that the claims of Jarrod Albert are barred by the release he signed on behalf of himself and his minor daughter, Jaren. The release at issue stated as follows:

I HAVE READ THE AGREEMENT (SECTION 1) ON THE BACK OF THIS FORM RELEASING THE RESORT AREA FROM LIABILITY. I VOLUNTARILY AGREE TO THE TERMS OF THAT AGREEMENT.

User’s signature: /s/ Jaren Albert Date: 12-27-01

If user is a minor, parent must read the following and sign below.

I understand and accept full responsibility for the use of this ski equipment to my minor child and hereby release, indemnify, and hold harmless the provider of this ski equipment and the area operator for any claims brought by my minor child as a result of any injuries or damages sustained while engaging in the activity of snow skiing.

Parent’s [*15] signature: /s/ Jarrod Albert Date: 12-27-01

Ober Gatlinburg argues that by signing the release, Jarrod Albert, individually, accepted the responsibility to release, indemnify and hold harmless the ski resort for claims brought by his minor child as a result of any injuries or damages she might sustain while engaged in the activity of snow skiing. Thus, defendant argues that Mr. Albert should be precluded from recovering for the damages he sustained in his individual capacity because of his daughter’s fall at the ski resort.

Plaintiffs respond that material fact questions exist as to whether Ober Gatlinburg misrepresented the conditions which existed on the slopes on the day Jaren was injured. Plaintiffs contend that Ober Gatlinburg made material misstatements of fact when it represented to the public that it had created a snow base of 30 to 45 inches, and that a jury could conclude that this material misrepresentation of fact constitutes fraud which would render the release void.

This court has previously found the release void as to Jaren Albert because it is well settled in Tennessee that a guardian may not waive the rights of an infant or an incompetent. However, the Tennessee courts [*16] have held that a parent signing a release like the one at issue here, is precluded from recovering for the loss of services and medical expenses resulting from the child’s injury. See Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn.App. 1989); Rogers v. Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce, 807 S.W.2d 242 (Tenn.App. 1991). This rule is subject to exception: Exculpatory clauses purporting to contract against liability for intentional conduct, recklessness or gross negligence are unenforceable. See Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 5; Adams v. Roark, 686 S.W.2d 73 (Tenn. 1985). Plaintiffs’ complaint has not alleged intentional, reckless or grossly negligent conduct, their claims are couched in terms of simple negligence. The release in this case is clear and unambiguous. Jarrod Albert acknowledged that Jaren would be participating in snow skiing at his own risk. He further agreed to indemnity defendants “for any claims brought by my minor child as a result of any injuries or damages sustained while engaging in the activity of snow skiing.” Therefore, the release is valid with respect to Jarrod Albert’s right to recover for loss of services and medical expenses for his child. Accordingly, summary [*17] judgment will be granted to Ober Gatlinburg on the claims of Jarrod Albert.

C. Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School

The Snow School asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims because (1) the Snow School did not owe a duty to plaintiffs at the time of Jaren’s accident; and (2) the undisputed facts show that no acts or omissions of the Snow School caused plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

In support of its motion, the Snow School submits the affidavit of Jim Cottrell. Mr. Cottrell has been the Ski School Director for the French-Swiss Ski College at Blowing Rock, North Carolina for the past 36 years. Mr. Cottrell stated that the responsibility of a ski school is to provide coaching or ski instruction to students for a designated period of time, beginning from the time the students meet at the ski school area until they are released at the end of the lesson. Instructors at ski schools have no control over or responsibility for choices that students make after a lesson is concluded. He further stated that the goal of a beginner lesson is to help students learn the basic skills needed to ski beginner terrain. A beginner lesson should include instruction in the following areas: [*18] equipment orientation, getting up, basic ski posture (position), walking on flat terrain, walking up slight inclines, sliding, wedging, turning around on an incline, direction change, turning on beginner terrain, use of a lift, and safety. In his opinion, the beginner lesson plan developed by the Snow School included those elements. He further stated that a beginner lesson is not designed to teach the most advanced skills needed to ski advanced terrain or all types of snow conditions. He opined that the Snow School had no responsibility to plaintiffs at the time of the accident because the Snow School’s responsibility ended when the lesson ended; the Snow School did not have a responsibility to teach plaintiffs how to ski on advanced slopes during their beginner lesson; and the Snow School did not have a responsibility to teach the plaintiffs how to ski on all snow conditions. The Snow School had a responsibility only to teach plaintiffs in the context of the conditions present at the time and place of the lesson.

The Snow School asserts it did not owe a duty to Jaren Albert at the time of her accident because its responsibility to her ended when plaintiffs’ ski lesson ended on December [*19] 26. Moreover, the Snow School did not have a responsibility to teach Jaren how to ski on the snow conditions present on the advanced slope where the accident occurred. The Snow School asserts it had no control over or responsibility for the choices that Jaren made after her lesson had concluded. Further, the Snow School did not have a duty to teach Jaren how to ski on advanced terrain during her beginner lesson. Finally, the Snow School asserts that no causal connection exists between the ski lesson taught by the school and Jaren’s accident. Beginner lessons are not designed to teach students the advanced skills needed to ski on advanced terrain; therefore, not even a “perfect” beginner lesson would have prevented Jaren’s accident which took place on advanced terrain.

In response, plaintiffs state that material factual issues exist as to whether the Snow School actually provided the ski lesson contracted for and whether such deficient ski lesson was a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries. Jaren and Jarrod Albert testified that only a 5-10 minute lesson was provided and that the only elements covered included the snow plow and side-to-side.

Plaintiffs’ expert witness, James Isham reviewed [*20] the lesson plan outline provided by the Snow School and stated that if all the things outlined were taught, the lesson would take more than an hour for students to learn. The Alberts stated that the lesson took less than ten minutes. Mr. Isham states that there appears to have been no substantial information given to the Alberts regarding: (1) the conditions of the mountain; (2) where they could safely ski; (3) how to match each skiers’ ability with the slope of choice; (4) how to effectively execute a stop while skiing, and (5) the “Skiers Responsibility Code.” In his opinion, the lesson time and content were limited and failed to cover any safety issues, signage or slope difficulty information. Mr. Isham opined that the Snow School failed in its duties to give a complete lesson to the Alberts on the night of December 26. He testified that the lack of teaching the Skiers Responsibility Code, trail signage, and successful methods for stopping, all fell below minimum standards and were proximate contributing causes to plaintiffs’ injuries. Mr. Isham further opined that the Snow School failed to use reasonable care by not giving adequate information in the lesson.

The expert witnesses [*21] for the respective parties in this case disagree on whether the Snow School provided the Alberts with an adequate lesson in beginner skiing on December 26. Defendant’s expert witness, Mr. Cottrell, stated that the goal of a beginner lesson is to help students learn the basic skills needed to ski beginner terrain, and in his opinion, the Snow School’s lesson plan was adequate to meet that goal. In contrast, plaintiff’s expert witness, Mr. Isham, after reviewing the same lesson plan, stated that if all the things outlined were taught, the lesson would take more than an hour. The Alberts testified that the lesson lasted no more than 5-10 minutes, and that the only elements covered included the snow plow and side-to-side. Mr. Isham further testified that, in his opinion, an adequate beginner ski lesson should include information regarding the conditions on the mountain, where the Alberts could safely ski, how to match their ability with the slope of choice, how to effectively execute a stop while skiing, and the Skiers’ Responsibility Code.

There exists material issues of fact as to whether the Snow School did in fact give an adequate lesson to the Alberts on December 26. Because factual [*22] questions exist concerning the adequacy of the ski lesson taught by the Snow School and whether that lack of instruction was a proximate cause of Jaren’s fall and injuries, a jury must determine the facts in dispute, and summary judgment is not appropriate. Accordingly, Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School’s motion for summary judgment as to the claims of Jaren Albert will be denied.

The Snow School adopted Ober Gatlinburg’s motion for summary judgment as to the claims of Jarrod Albert. For the reasons stated above, the court finds that the release signed by Jarrod Albert waives his right to recover for the loss of services and medical expenses for his child. Accordingly, Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School’s motion for summary judgment as to the claims of Jarrod Albert will be granted.

Conclusion

For the reasons stated above, defendant Ober Gatlinburg’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. 55] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; the motion is DENIED as to the claims of Jaren Albert and GRANTED as to the claim of Jarrod Albert. Likewise, defendant Snow School’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. 58] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; the motion is DENIED as to the claims of Jaren Albert and [*23] GRANTED as to the claim of Jarrod Albert. Plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument [Doc. 74] is DENIED. The parties will prepare the case for trial.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

/s/ Thomas W. Phillips

United States District Judge

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Nageotte v. Boston Mills Brandywine Ski Resort, et al., 2012 Ohio 6102; 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 5266 (Ohio App 2012)

Nageotte v. Boston Mills Brandywine Ski Resort, et al., 2012 Ohio 6102; 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 5266 (Ohio App 2012)

Megan Nageotte, Appellee v. Boston Mills Brandywine Ski Resort, et al., Appellants

C.A. No. 26563

COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT, SUMMIT COUNTY

2012 Ohio 6102; 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 5266

December 26, 2012, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Discretionary appeal not allowed by Nageotte v. Boston Mills Brandywine Ski Resort, 2013–Ohio–1622, 2013 Ohio LEXIS 1085 (Ohio, Apr. 24, 2013)

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF SUMMIT, OHIO. CASE No. CV 2012 01 0175.

DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: JEFREY M. ELZEER, Attorney at Law, for Appellants.

MARK J. OBRAL and THOMAS J. SILK, Attorneys at Law, for Appellee.

JUDGES: EVE V. BELFANCE, Judge. MOORE, P. J. DICKINSON, J. CONCUR.

OPINION BY: EVE V. BELFANCE

OPINION

DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

BELFANCE, Judge.

[*P1] Defendants-Appellants Brandywine Ski Resort, Inc. (“Brandywine”) and Raymond Conde appeal from the order of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas which directed Brandywine and Mr. Conde to produce the witness statements of Mr. Conde. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

[*P2] On January 15, 2010, Plaintiff-Appellee Megan Nageotte went to Brandywine to go skiing. As she was “utilizing a tramway tow-rope, attempting to disembark, * * * her hand was caused to be pulled into the tramway tow-rope wheel [(bullwheel),] lifting her off of the ground and propelling her around the entire length of the tow-rope wheel, * * * causing serious and lasting personal injuries * * * .” On January 10, 2012, Ms. Nageotte filed a multi-count complaint against Boston Mills Brandywine Ski Resort, Brandywine Ski Resort, Boston Mills Ski Resort, Boston [**2] Mills Ski Resort, Inc., Mr. Conde, in his capacity as an employee, John Doe employees 1-5, John Doe individuals 1-5, and John Doe entities 1-5, which included several counts alleging negligence of the Defendants. Subsequently, Ms. Nageotte sought leave to file an amended complaint, which was unopposed, to consolidate the ski-resort defendants to a single defendant: Brandywine Ski Resort, Inc. Her motion was ultimately granted.

[*P3] The matter proceeded to discovery, at which point the Defendants refused to produce witness statements of Mr. Conde, asserting both attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. Ms. Nageotte filed a motion to compel and/or request for an in-camera inspection and extensive briefing by both sides followed. No hearing was held on the issue. The trial court concluded that neither the work-product doctrine nor the attorney-client privilege applied and granted the motion to compel.

[*P4] Brandywine and Mr. Conde have appealed the trial court’s ruling with respect to the issue of attorney-client privilege but not the application of the work-product doctrine. Ms. Nageotte filed a motion to dismiss this appeal, asserting that this Court lacked jurisdiction; however, [**3] we subsequently denied her motion and see no reason to revisit that ruling.

II.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE’S MOTION TO COMPEL THE PRODUCTION OF STATEMENTS OF DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, RAYMOND CONDE, AS THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE PROTECTS THE DISCLOSURE OF THESE STATEMENTS.

[*P5] Brandywine and Mr. Conde assert in their sole assignment of error that the trial court erred in concluding that the attorney-client privilege did not apply to protect disclosure of Mr. Conde’s witness statements. Because we conclude that the trial court did not err in determining that Brandywine and Mr. Conde failed to meet their burden, we affirm its ruling.

[*P6] [HN1] “Although, generally, discovery orders are reviewed under an abuse-of-discretion standard, the Supreme Court of Ohio has concluded that the issue of whether the information sought is confidential and privileged from disclosure is a question of law that should be reviewed de novo.” Ward v. Summa Health Sys., 184 Ohio App.3d 254, 2009-Ohio-4859, ¶ 11, 920 N.E.2d 421 (9th Dist.). [HN2] “Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action * * * .” Civ.R. 26(B)(1).

[*P7] [**4] [HN3] “In Ohio, the attorney-client privilege is governed by statute, R.C. 2317.02(A), and in cases that are not addressed in R.C. 2317.02(A), by common law.” (Internal quotations and citations omitted.) State ex. rel. Toledo Blade Co. v. Toledo-Lucas Cty. Port. Auth., 121 Ohio St.3d 537, 2009-Ohio-1767, ¶ 24, 905 N.E.2d 1221.

R.C. 2317.02(A), by its very terms, is a mere testimonial privilege precluding an attorney from testifying about confidential communications. The common-law attorney-client privilege, however, reaches far beyond a proscription against testimonial speech. The privilege protects against any dissemination of information obtained in the confidential relationship.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted.) Id.

[*P8] Thus, as Ms. Nageotte seeks discovery of Mr. Conde’s witness statements, the question is whether the common-law attorney-client privilege applies. [HN4] “[T]he party seeking protection under the privilege carries the burden of establishing the existence of that privilege.” Perfection Corp. v. Travelers Cas. & Sur., 153 Ohio App.3d 28, 2003 Ohio 3358, ¶ 12, 790 N.E.2d 817 (8th Dist.); see also Grace v. Mastruserio, 182 Ohio App.3d 243, 2007-Ohio-3942, ¶ 19, 912 N.E.2d 608 (1st Dist.), citing Lemley v. Kaiser, 6 Ohio St.3d 258, 263-264, 6 Ohio B. 324, 452 N.E.2d 1304 (1983). [**5] At issue in this case is whether appellants met their burden to establish the existence of the privilege.

[HN5] The common-law attorney-client privilege applies (1) [w]here legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from a professional legal adviser in his capacity as such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose, (4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are at his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure by himself or by the legal adviser, (8) unless the protection is waived.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted.) Grace at ¶ 19; Perfection Corp. at ¶ 12.

[*P9] Ms. Nageotte sought the witness statements of Mr. Conde because Mr. Conde was working at the top of the slope where Ms. Nageotte was injured. Further, Ms. Nageotte believes that Mr. Conde failed to press an emergency stop button or otherwise prevent Ms. Nageotte’s injuries. Brandywine and Mr. Conde assert that Mr. Conde’s witness statements are protected by the attorney-client privilege because the statements were at some point provided to Brandywine’s and Mr. Conde’s attorney. Brandywine and Mr. Conde submitted the affidavit of their attorney, who averred that he is the attorney representing the defendant in the [**6] action and that Brandywine and its liability insurer provided him with Mr. Conde’s witness statements “for the purpose of defending this action.” In addition, Brandywine and Mr. Conde relied on portions of the deposition of Michael March, who is the supervisor of the lifts at Brandywine Ski Resort. A large portion of Mr. March’s deposition was filed in this case, including some portions filed with Ms. Nageotte’s motion to compel.

[*P10] Mr. March testified that: (1) the ski patrol, an all-volunteer organization, typically obtains witness statements; (2) Mr. March typically reviews those witness statements; (3) the witness statements are obtained and preserved as a part of Brandywine’s insurance program; (4) the statements are turned over to the insurance carrier if there is a claim made; and (5) the witness statements are turned over to counsel if necessary to defend against any litigation. Mr. March agreed during his deposition that part of his job was to take witness statements to understand what happened and that Brandywine would want to understand what happened when someone was injured irrespective of whether the person filed a claim.

[*P11] [HN6] “In order for a document to constitute a privileged [**7] communication, it is essential that it be brought into being primarily as a communication to the attorney.” (Emphasis added.) In re Klemann, 132 Ohio St. 187, 192, 5 N.E.2d 492 (1936). “A document of the client existing before it was communicated to the attorney is not within the present privilege so as to be exempt from production. But a document which has come into existence as a communication to the attorney, being itself a communication, is within the present privilege.” (Emphasis omitted.) (Internal quotations and citations omitted.) Id. See also In re Story, 159 Ohio St. 144, 147, 111 N.E.2d 385 (1953) (noting that, in some instances, reports and records, which according to custom are turned over and remain in possession of attorney, are privileged communications); In re Keough, 151 Ohio St. 307, 85 N.E.2d 550 (1949), paragraph two of the syllabus.

[*P12] In addition, [HN7] “[o]therwise discoverable information cannot be made privileged by merely turning it over to an attorney.” Harpster v. Advanced Elastomer Sys., L.P., 9th Dist. No. 22684, 2005-Ohio-6919, ¶ 14. There is evidence in the record that indicates the statements at issue were not brought into being primarily as a communication to the parties’ attorney and that the document [**8] existed before it was communicated to the attorney and was not prepared at the direction of the attorney. See id. Shortly after the incident, Mr. March began to take witness statements. He agreed during his deposition that part of his job was to take witness statements to understand what happened and that Brandywine would want to understand what happened when someone was injured irrespective of whether the person filed a claim. Moreover, he agreed that, at the time the witness statements were made, he did not know a claim or lawsuit was coming. Further, it is unclear when the statements were handed over to the insurance company and the attorney.

[*P13] Moreover, we cannot say that the trial court erred in concluding that Brandywine failed to meet its burden. It is not clear whether the witness statements at issue were in fact confidential. See Grace, 182 Ohio App.3d 243, 2007-Ohio-3942, at ¶ 19, 912 N.E.2d 608. It is not evident from the materials provided what the circumstances were under which Mr. Conde’s witness statements were taken, how many witness statements were taken, or who in fact took the statements.1 For instance, it is unclear whether Mr. Conde gave his statement with just Mr. March present [**9] or in the presence of other people. Thus, the trial court was not presented with evidence that the witness statements at issue were confidential. If the statements were not confidential, the attorney-client privilege would not apply. See Grace at ¶ 19; Perfection Corp., 153 Ohio App.3d 28, 2003-Ohio-3358, at ¶ 12.

1 Mr. March’s deposition seems to indicate that he took at least one of Mr. Conde’s witness statements; however, Mr. March’s testimony also evidences that ski patrol is typically responsible for taking witness statements.

[*P14] Accordingly, we conclude the trial court did not err in concluding that the witness statements were not protected from discovery by the attorney-client privilege in light of the evidence presented by Brandywine and Mr. Conde. Brandywine’s and Mr. Conde’s assignment of error is overruled.

III.

[*P15] In light of the foregoing, the judgment of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas is affirmed.

Judgment affirmed.

There were reasonable grounds for this appeal.

We order that a special mandate issue out of this Court, directing the Court of Common Pleas, County of Summit, State of Ohio, to carry this judgment into execution. A certified copy of this journal entry shall [**10] constitute the mandate, pursuant to App.R. 27.

Immediately upon the filing hereof, this document shall constitute the journal entry of judgment, and it shall be file stamped by the Clerk of the Court of Appeals at which time the period for review shall begin to run. App.R. 22(C). The Clerk of the Court of Appeals is instructed to mail a notice of entry of this judgment to the parties and to make a notation of the mailing in the docket, pursuant to App.R. 30.

Costs taxed to Appellants.

EVE V. BELFANCE

FOR THE COURT

MOORE, P. J.

DICKINSON, J.

CONCUR.

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Fisher v. Sierra Summit, Inc. et al., 2011 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 185

Fisher v. Sierra Summit, Inc. et al., 2011 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 185

John G. Fisher, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Sierra Summit, Inc. et al., Defendants and Respondents.

F058735

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FIFTH APPELLATE DISTRICT

2011 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 185

January 11, 2011, 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 Fresno County. Super. Ct. No. 08CECG00198. Donald S. Black, Judge.

CORE TERMS: ski, patrollers, summary judgment, skiing, user, hole, rented, slope, emergency, snow-sliding, negligently, ambiguous, patrol, bad faith, bleachers, triable, skied, scene, crash, skier, snow, grossly negligent, triable issue, gross negligence, public policy, groomed, manufacturers, distributors, customer, arms

COUNSEL: Lang, Richert & Patch, Robert L. Patch II, David T. Richards, and Ana de Alba for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, Patrick M. Kelly, Steven R. Parminter, and Kathleen M. Bragg for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: Wiseman, Acting P.J.; Kane, J., Poochigian, J. concurred.

OPINION BY: Wiseman

OPINION

Plaintiff John G. Fisher was severely injured when he crashed while skiing at the Sierra Summit ski resort. He sued defendants Sierra Summit, Inc., and Snow Summit Ski Corporation, contending he crashed because he skied into a hole in the snow that was present because of their negligence. He also claimed that ski patrol personnel at Sierra Summit contributed to his injuries by providing first aid negligently.

The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court ruled that Fisher’s claim that he was injured by a dangerous condition negligently allowed to exist on the property was barred by a release he signed when he rented his skis, a release in which he expressly assumed the risk of being injured while skiing. It ruled that his claim of negligent first [*2] aid was barred by Health and Safety Code section 1799.102, 1 a Good Samaritan statute that immunizes from tort liability those who, at the scene of an emergency, render emergency care in good faith and not for compensation.

1 Subsequent statutory references are to the Health and Safety Code unless otherwise noted.

We affirm the judgment. We agree with the trial court’s conclusion that the risks Fisher expressly assumed when he signed the release included the risk of the accident he suffered. On the ski patrol issue, however, we will not reach the issue of whether section 1799.102 applies. This would require us to decide whether “for compensation” in that statute means for any compensation or for compensation specifically by the injured person–a question which, under the circumstances, it is unnecessary to decide. Instead, we hold that the claim of negligent first aid by the ski patrollers is barred by section 1799.108, which immunizes those certified to provide prehospital emergency field care treatment at the scene of an emergency except where their conduct is grossly negligent or not in good faith. There is no triable issue of fact regarding whether the ski patrollers were grossly [*3] negligent or acted in bad faith, so summary judgment on this claim properly was granted.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORIES

Fisher filed his complaint on January 17, 2008. It alleged that on January 20, 2007, “while skiing at a safe speed and in-bounds [on] a properly marked ski slope, [Fisher] encountered a large hole in the snow which was not naturally occurring or obvious.” He crashed. When ski patrol personnel came to the scene, they allegedly failed to provide proper assistance. The accident resulted in Fisher’s quadriplegia. The complaint alleged three causes of action: (1) negligence in defendants’ maintenance of the property, resulting in the hole into which Fisher skied; (2) negligence in defendants’ provision of ski equipment to Fisher; and (3) negligence in defendants’ provision of first aid at the scene of the accident. Fisher voluntarily dismissed the second cause of action, pertaining to equipment, on March 19, 2009.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. With it, they submitted a copy of a release Fisher signed when he rented his skis at the ski shop at Sierra Summit on the day of the accident. The document, a single sheet of 8-by-14-inch paper, printed in four columns [*4] going down the narrow axis of the paper, sets out two distinct agreements, with two separate places for the customer’s signature. The first agreement, occupying the first column, pertains exclusively to equipment. It reads:

“PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING EQUIPMENT RENTAL AGREEMENT & RELEASE OF LIABILITY DO NOT SIGN UNTIL YOU HAVE RECEIVED YOUR EQUIPMENT

“I understand how this ski (snowboard, skiboard) boot-binding system works and I have been fully instructed in its proper use. Any questions I have had about this equipment have been satisfactorily answered. I agree that the binding release/retention setting numbers appearing in the visual indicator windows on the binding correspond to those recorded on this form (Alpine only).

“I agree to have user check this equipment before each use, including the binding anti-friction device (Alpine only), and that I will not use this equipment or if I am not the user permit the user to use this equipment if any parts are worn, damaged, or missing. If I am not the user I will provide all of this information to the user.

“I understand that I may return at any time to have this equipment examined, replaced or repaired.

“X

“USER’S SIGNATURE

DATE”

Fisher’s [*5] signature appears on the line. The second column is filled with a box for the customer’s name, address, shoe size, and other information necessary for providing equipment. Fisher filled out this box.

The second agreement occupies the third and fourth columns. It refers to equipment as well, but also contains a more general release of liability. It reads:

“RELEASE OF LIABILITY “1) READ CONTRACT COMPLETELY, SIGN/INITIAL “2) PROCEED TO CASHIER, HAVE DRIVER’S LICENSE/I.D. READY.

“1. I will read the EQUIPMENT RENTAL AGREEMENT & RELEASE OF LIABILITY of this agreement, and will be responsible for obtaining all of the information required by that section and will provide a copy of same to the user of this agreement. I will make no misrepresentations to the ski shop regarding the user’s height, weight, and age or skier type.

“2. I understand that ALL FORMS OF SNOW-SLIDING, including skiing and snowboarding, are HAZARDOUS activities. I also understand that all forms of snow-sliding have inherent and other RISKS OF INJURY, INCLUDING DEATH, that reasonable care, caution, instruction and expertise cannot eliminate. I further understand that injuries are common and ordinary occurrences during these [*6] activities. I hereby agree to freely, voluntarily and expressly ASSUME and accept any and ALL RISKS of any injury to any part of the user’s body while engaging in any form of snow-sliding.

“(Please Initial )

“3. I understand that the Alpine ski equipment being furnished by Snow Summit, Inc., and/or by Sierra Summit, Inc., and/or by Bear Mountain, Inc., any of their respective agents, employees, or affiliated corporations (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Summit”), forms all or part of a ski-boot-binding system which will NOT RELEASE OR RETAIN AT ALL TIMES OR UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. I further agree and understand that any ski-boot-binding system does NOT ELIMINATE THE RISK of injuries to any part of the user’s body. If SkiBoard or Snowboard or any other equipment is being furnished, I understand that these systems are designed to NOT RELEASE and do NOT PROTECT against injuries to any part of this user’s body.

“(Please Initial )

“4. I hereby FOREVER RELEASE SUMMIT, as well as the equipment manufacturers and distributors from, and agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for, any and all responsibility or legal liability for any injuries or damages to any user of any equipment [*7] rented with this form, whether or not such injuries or damages are caused by the NEGLIGENCE OF SUMMIT. I agree NOT to make a claim against or sue Summit, or any of the equipment manufacturers and distributors for injuries or damages relating to or arising from the use of chairlifts or surface tows, any snow-sliding activities and/or the use of this equipment. I accept full responsibility for any and all such injuries and damages.

“(Please Initial )

“5. Summit provides NO WARRANTIES, express or implied. This equipment is accepted “AS IS.” I will accept full responsibility for the care of the listed equipment. I agree to return all rented equipment by the agreed date to avoid additional charges.

“(Please Initial )

“6. I have read this agreement and understand its terms. I am aware that this is a binding contract which provides a comprehensive release of liability. However, it is not intended to assert any claims or defenses that are prohibited by law. I agree that the foregoing agreement is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by law and that if any portion or paragraph is held invalid, the balance shall continue in full legal force and effect.

“X

“USER’S SIGNATURE

DATE”

Fisher [*8] signed at the bottom and initialed in each place indicated.

Defendants argued that this release constituted Fisher’s express assumption of the risk of having the accident he had and that it formed the basis of a complete defense to all Fisher’s claims. Defendants argued that, apart from the release, all Fisher’s claims were also barred by the common-law doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, set out in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 and its progeny. They further contended that Fisher could not produce evidence to support his claims that they were negligent in maintaining the property or providing first aid.

To support the contention that Fisher could not prove negligent maintenance of the property, defendants produced evidence that their personnel had inspected the area where Fisher crashed a number of times the day before and the day of the accident and did not find any condition requiring marking or correction. Defendants also pointed to Fisher’s deposition testimony, implying that he was not on a groomed ski run when he crashed: “And when I skied from one run to the next, I encountered a hole that seemed to be between the two runs.”

To support the contention that Fisher [*9] could not prove negligent first aid, defendants produced evidence that Fisher told the ski patrollers when they first arrived, and before he was moved, that he had no feeling in his feet or legs. He became agitated and combative and sat up and waved his arms; the ski patrollers told him he might injure himself more and should stop. Defendants argued that these facts showed Fisher had already become paralyzed in the crash and that his injuries could not have been caused by anything done by the ski patrollers. Defendants also argued that there was no evidence of any act or omission by the ski patrollers that would have caused additional injury to Fisher.

On the claim of negligent first aid alone, defendants also relied on section 1799.102. At the time, 2 that section provided:

“No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.”

Defendants argued that their ski patrollers were immunized by this statute because they did not receive any compensation [*10] from Fisher. They acknowledged that no published California case has interpreted the phrase “not for compensation” in this statute; they relied on out-of-state cases applying other states’ similar statutes.

2 Section 1799.102 was amended effective August 6, 2009. (Stats. 2009, ch. 77, § 1.) The former version applies to this case.

Defendants additionally relied on section 1799.108, which provides:

“Any person who has a certificate issued pursuant to this division from a certifying agency to provide prehospital emergency field care treatment at the scene of an emergency, as defined in Section 1799.102, shall be liable for civil damages only for acts or omissions performed in a grossly negligent manner or acts or omissions not performed in good faith.”

Defendants presented evidence that all the ski patrollers involved had the certification required by this section. They argued that Fisher could present no evidence that the patrollers who assisted him acted in bad faith or with gross negligence.

In opposing the motion for summary judgment, Fisher argued that the release did not apply to his accident because it only released defendants’ liability for injuries arising from problems with the rented [*11] equipment. The court could not grant summary judgment based on the release, he argued, because this was a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous contract. It was patently ambiguous, he argued, because a reasonable person could interpret its terms to mean that liability was released only for injuries related to equipment failures. It was latently ambiguous because defendants asked skiers to sign it when renting equipment and did not obtain any release from skiers who brought their own equipment, suggesting that liability for equipment failure was its only subject matter. Even if the release did relate to liability for accidents resulting from the condition of the slopes, Fisher argued, it would not bar an action for a dangerous condition that existed because of defendants’ negligence. In addition, even if the release covered defendants’ negligence, it did not cover the particular kind of negligence that caused Fisher’s injuries because releasing liability for injuries caused by falling in an artificially created hole was not reasonably related to the parties’ purpose in entering into the release.

Responding to defendants’ argument that there was no evidence to support his claim that [*12] the accident resulted from their negligent maintenance of the slopes, Fisher submitted evidence intended to show that the hole was on a groomed slope, meant to be skied on by defendants’ patrons, and was not naturally occurring. He cited his own deposition in which he testified that he did not ski on any ungroomed areas. He further testified that there was a wall of ice on the far side of the hole as he skied into it and that the wall of ice “seemed to have a groomed edge on the top of it ….” Fisher also submitted a declaration asserting that the hole was “manmade.” The declaration does not, however, explain how Fisher knew it was manmade. In addition, Fisher pointed to deposition testimony by Sierra Summit personnel acknowledging that holes or walls in the snow can inadvertently be created by snow grooming equipment.

In response to defendants’ claim that Fisher could not produce evidence of negligent first aid, Fisher argued that if he could sit up and wave his arms at the time when the ski patrollers found him, that could mean the patrollers added to his injuries through their first aid. He also claimed the defense was not entitled to summary judgment on the claim unless it offered [*13] expert medical testimony that the ski patrollers acted reasonably.

Fisher argued that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk does not apply to this case. He said the doctrine applies only to risks inherent in the risky activity, and the risk of an accident like his is not inherent in skiing if the hole was artificial and was present because of defendants’ negligence.

On the ski patrol claim, Fisher contended that section 1799.102 was inapplicable because the ski patrollers were compensated by defendants. He argued that the statute requires simply that aid be given “not for compensation”; that defendants’ view would read words into the statute that are not there; and that this would be improper, regardless of what out-of-state cases interpreting other statutes might say. Fisher also argued that summary judgment could not be granted based on section 1799.108 because of the facts that he was combative and tried to sit up while he was being aided, combined with defendants’ failure to produce an expert opinion. Fisher did not explicitly say how these points helped him, but presumably he meant they showed there was a triable issue of whether the ski patrollers were grossly negligent. [*14] Fisher also did not explicitly say why his ski patrol claim fell outside the release or outside the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, but his arguments on those topics implied that neither defense would apply because the risk of negligent first aid was not related to equipment failure and not an inherent risk of skiing.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, basing its ruling on the release and on section 1799.102. It held that the release barred Fisher’s claim that his crash was caused by a hole negligently allowed to exist on a slope because the release “clearly and unambiguously releases defendant from liability for injuries or damages caused by defendant’s negligence and which occur to any user of rented equipment, a status which plaintiff indisputably occupied.” It stressed that the release “clearly expresses plaintiff’s agreement not to sue defendant and to accept full responsibility for all injuries and damages relating to or arising from … ‘any snow-sliding activities ….’” The court rejected Fisher’s contention that the release was ambiguous: “[B]y its express terms [it] is not limited to damages or injuries caused by the equipment, but extends to [*15] any claims relating to or arising from snow-sliding activities.” In applying section 1799.102 to the negligent first-aid claim, the court acknowledged that no California cases have interpreted the phrase “not for compensation.” It agreed with defendants’ view that the phrase means not for compensation by the injured party.

DISCUSSION

We review an order granting summary judgment de novo. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 860.) We independently review the record and apply the same rules and standards as the trial court. (Zavala v. Arce (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 915, 925.) The trial court must grant the motion if “all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) “There is a triable issue of material fact if, and only if, the evidence would allow a reasonable trier of fact to find the underlying fact in favor of the party opposing the motion in accordance with the applicable standard of proof.” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.) We view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and assume [*16] that, for purposes of our analysis, his version of all disputed facts is correct. (Sheffield v. Los Angeles County Dept. of Social Services (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 153, 159.) A moving defendant can establish its entitlement to summary judgment by either (1) demonstrating that an essential element of the plaintiff’s case cannot be established, or (2) establishing a complete defense. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (o).)

I. Dangerous condition of property claim

Fisher contends that the trial court erred in applying the release of liability he signed to bar his claim that defendants caused his injuries by negligently allowing the existence of the hole into which he skied. We disagree.

A contract in which a party expressly assumes a risk of injury is, if applicable, a complete bar to a negligence action. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, 308, fn. 4; Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1372.)

“In order for a release of liability to be held enforceable against a plaintiff, it ‘must be clear, unambiguous and explicit in expressing the intent of the parties’ [citation]; the act of negligence that results in injury to the releasee must be reasonably related to the object [*17] or purpose for which the release is given [citation]; and the release cannot contravene public policy [citation]. A release need not be perfect to be enforceable. [Citation.]” (Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1301, 1304-1305 (Sweat).)

We address each requirement in turn.

A. The release is clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing the intent of the parties

We agree with the trial court’s conclusion that the release Fisher signed applied unambiguously to injuries arising from skiing accidents, including the injuries Fisher suffered, even if caused by defendants’ negligence. The release stated that Fisher “agree[d] to freely, voluntarily and expressly ASSUME and accept any and ALL RISKS of any injury to any party of the user’s body while engaging in any form of snow-sliding.” He agreed to “FOREVER RELEASE SUMMIT,” as well as the equipment manufacturers and distributors, from “any and all responsibility or legal liability for any injuries or damages to any user of any equipment rented with this forms, whether or not such injuries or damages are caused by the NEGLIGENCE OF SUMMIT.” He also agreed “NOT to make a claim against or sue Summit, or any of the equipment [*18] manufacturers and distributors for injuries or damages relating to or arising from the use of chairlifts or surface tows, any snow-sliding activities and/or the use of this equipment.” He accepted “full responsibility for any and all such injuries and damages” and stated that he was “aware that this is a binding contract which provides a comprehensive release of liability” and “is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by law ….” This language applies to personal injuries sustained by a skier who crashes while skiing at the resort, even if the crash is caused by a defect in the snow or ground surface caused by defendants’ negligent maintenance of the property. Fisher’s argument that the agreement is patently ambiguous because it contains references to the rented equipment and the equipment manufacturers and distributors is not persuasive. The agreement plainly states that Fisher releases the ski resort and the equipment manufacturers and distributors from liability for injuries caused by skiing as well as those caused by equipment problems.

The release also is not latently ambiguous. The parties disagree about whether extrinsic evidence should be considered to determine [*19] whether the release is latently ambiguous, but we need not resolve that debate because no latent ambiguity appears even if the extrinsic evidence Fisher relies on is considered. Fisher relies on evidence that the release is given to customers when they rent equipment; that neither it nor any other release is obtained from customers who ski without renting equipment; and that because of these circumstances he assumed, without reading the release, that it applied only to injuries caused by problems with the rented equipment. None of this detracts from the clarity of the release’s language or renders reasonable an interpretation according to which the release applies only to injuries arising from the rented equipment.

B. The alleged negligence that resulted in the injury was reasonably related to the purpose for which the release was given

The purpose of releases like the one signed by Fisher is to make skiing facilities available to the public by removing liability exposure that would make the operation of those facilities economically infeasible. (National & Internat. Brotherhood of Street Racers, Inc. v. Superior Court (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 934, 938 [if releases of liability in cases [*20] arising from hazardous recreational pursuits are not enforced, “many popular and lawful recreational activities are destined for extinction”].) The alleged negligence in maintenance of the property that Fisher says caused his injuries has a reasonable relationship with this purpose.

Fisher argues that the release’s purpose is not reasonably related to the conditions that caused his accident because the release only applies to accidents caused by equipment problems and was only given to customers renting equipment. We have already explained why the release cannot reasonably be understood as applying only to accidents caused by equipment problems. The fact that the resort gave the release only to skiers who rented equipment does not show that its purpose is limited to accidents arising from equipment, for its plain meaning is to the contrary. It may be that the release fails fully to achieve its economic purpose if the resort does not obtain it from all skiers, but that does not prove it has a different purpose.

Fisher also argues that the release’s purpose is not reasonably related to the conditions that caused his accident because the risk of skiing into an artificially created hole [*21] in a groomed part of a slope is not a reasonably foreseeable risk, and there is at least a triable question of whether the hole he skied into was artificially created and in a groomed part of a slope. He cites Bennett v. United States Cycling Federation (1987) 193 Cal.App.3d 1485, 1490-1491 (Bennett), which reversed summary judgment against the signer of an agreement releasing the defendants from liability for injuries, including injuries caused by the defendants’ negligence, sustained by the signer in a bicycle race. The court held that there was a triable question of whether the accident–a collision with a car on a race course that was closed to traffic–was reasonably foreseeable.

The Bennett court did not cite any authority directly supporting the proposition that an agreement releasing liability for negligence applies only to harms arising from reasonably foreseeable negligence. It relied instead on quotations from the Restatement Second of Torts and the treatise of Prosser and Keeton to the effect that releases apply only to harm-causing conduct of the defendant that was within the contemplation of the parties. (Bennett, supra, 193 Cal.App.3d at p. 1490.) It is not by any means [*22] clear to us that, as a general proposition, parties who enter into a release of liability for negligent conduct related to a hazardous recreational activity intend the release to apply only to negligent conduct that the parties can reasonably be expected to think of in advance. This is especially implausible where, as here, the release explicitly applies to all skiing-related injuries even if caused by defendants’ negligence. To the extent that Bennett is in conflict with these views, we decline to follow it. Further, even if we were applying the holding of Bennett, we would not conclude that it stands in the way of summary judgment here. Even assuming there are triable questions of whether the hole was artificial and whether it was on a groomed portion of the slope, Fisher has suggested no persuasive reasons why a crash caused by negligently maintained slope conditions would not be reasonably foreseeable. What sort of negligence would be more likely to cause a skiing accident than negligence in failing to keep the slopes in good condition?

Fisher relies also on Sweat, supra, 117 Cal.App.4th 1301, in which we held that a release did not apply because the defendant’s negligence was not [*23] reasonably related to the purpose of the release. In that case, the plaintiff attended an auto race where, if an audience member sat in the bleachers in the pit area, the track owners required him or her to sign a release of liability for any claim of injury arising while the audience member was in that area, even if caused by the owners’ negligence. The plaintiff signed the release, sat in the pit area bleachers, and was injured when the bleachers collapsed. After a bench trial, the court found this release was a complete defense. We reversed (id. at p. 1303), concluding that the release was ambiguous; that extrinsic evidence was necessary to resolve the ambiguity; and that, in light of that evidence, the release’s only purpose was to allow audience members to observe the race from the pit area. The collapse of the bleachers had no causal relation to dangers arising from the race, so the release was not applicable to liability for injuries resulting from that collapse. (Id. at pp. 1305-1308.)

Sweat is distinguishable from this case. Here we have an unambiguous release barring negligence liability for any injury resulting from skiing, among other activities. A skiing accident caused [*24] by a negligently maintained ski trail falls within the scope of the release.

The final paragraph of our analysis in Sweat is instructive:

“Here, appellant’s express assumption of risk would cover all hazards related to the automobile race and its observation. As appellant points out, those might include a tire separating from a car and hitting someone, a car leaving the track and striking a spectator, or someone being burned by a crash. This is not an exhaustive list. One can even anticipate the flying tire, the errantly driven car, or the flames from the crash causing the collapse of bleachers. The race activity might lead to less dramatic accidents: a person slipping on automotive grease in the pit area, or even a race observer slipping on spilled soda while keenly watching the race as he or she steps through the bleachers. The release agreement here does not, however, contractually charge appellant with assuming the risk of injury from defectively constructed or maintained bleachers, should a full trial on the merits establish such facts.” (Sweat, supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 1308.)

The accident in Sweat fell outside the release because it was causally unrelated to the race, to allow [*25] the observation of which was the purpose of the release. An accident unrelated to skiing, such as a fall inside a ski lodge caused by a defect in the floor unreasonably allowed to be present, would be comparable to the accident in Sweat and would fall outside the release, for it would be causally unrelated to skiing or any of the other activities mentioned in the release. Here, however, if the skiing accident were caused by defendant’s negligent maintenance of the slopes, as Fisher claims, it would be comparable to an accident caused by something negligently allowed to remain on the floor in the race-observation area–grease or soda–by the track owners in Sweat. That cause is reasonably related to skiing and consequently to the purpose of the release.

C. The release is not against public policy

Fisher argues that there is a public policy of “fundamental fairness,” and that the release violates this policy because it “appears, on its face, to only relate to the rental equipment ….” As we have said, this is not the case. Fisher also repeats here the argument that, because the release was obtained only from skiers who rented equipment, it is only applicable to accidents caused by the equipment. [*26] Again, this circumstance does not negate the explicit statements in the agreement releasing defendants from liability for any injuries sustained while the customer engages in snow-sliding activities.

Fisher also argues that the release violates public policy because it allows defendants to be negligent in maintaining their ski slopes without incurring liability. As we have seen, however, the law allows releases of liability for injuries caused by negligence during hazardous recreational activities, and does so in order to prevent exposure to liability from making those activities economically infeasible. Finally, Fisher argues that public policy was violated because defendants obtained releases only from those renting equipment but did not “make it unquestionably clear” that it was doing so. There is no public policy that requires this be done. A release must be clear about what is being released, and the release at issue here satisfied that requirement, as we have said.

The parties have extensively briefed the subject of primary assumption of the risk, but our holding on the release makes it unnecessary for us to address that issue.

II. Negligent first-aid claim

Fisher argues that the [*27] trial court erred when it held that section 1799.102 barred his claim of negligent first aid by the ski patrollers. He says summary judgment could not properly be granted on this basis because there was evidence that the ski patrollers received compensation for performing their duties. We need not break ground in this unsettled area because an alternative basis for the judgment–a basis raised by defendants in the trial court–is available. (California School of Culinary Arts v. Lujan (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 16, 22 [appellate court may affirm summary judgment on any correct legal theory raised by parties in trial court].)

This basis is section 1799.108, which immunizes certified first-aid providers except in cases of gross negligence or actions not taken in good faith. In support of their motion, defendants submitted evidence that all the ski patrollers who aided Fisher were properly certified. They also submitted evidence of the aid the patrollers gave, arguing that nothing in their actions or the surrounding circumstances gave any support to a claim of gross negligence or bad faith. This evidence included Fisher’s own statement in his deposition that the only thing he remembered about [*28] the people who aided him was that they insisted he lie still. It also included declarations by three patrollers who assisted Fisher: Mary Warner, Russ Bassett, and Richard Bailey. According to these declarations, a guest was helping Fisher when the ski patrollers first arrived. The guest said he was an EMT. The patrollers brought a toboggan, a backboard, a cervical collar, splints, and oxygen. Fisher was on the ground and the guest was correctly supporting his cervical spine, according to one of the patrollers. Fisher repeatedly yelled that his arms, legs, and back were broken and that he was going into shock. When one of the patrollers pinched Fisher’s leg and determined that he had no feeling in it, Fisher said he was paralyzed and became agitated. He swung his arms and tried to sit up until the patrollers calmed him and persuaded him to be still. The patrollers used the toboggan and backboard to bring Fisher to the first-aid patrol room, where his care was taken over by paramedics. The paramedics decided to transport Fisher to the hospital by ambulance.

In his opposition to the motion, Fisher presented no additional evidence. He only pointed to the evidence that he waved his arms [*29] and tried to sit up. Presumably his point was that, in the end, his injuries were too severe to allow this and therefore the patrollers might have made the injuries worse. He did not say so explicitly, however, and presented no supporting evidence. He also pointed out that defendants did not present an expert’s opinion that the patrollers did not act negligently.

A defendant moving for summary judgment has, at all stages, the burden of persuading the court that the plaintiff cannot establish an essential element of his cause of action. The defendant need not conclusively negate an element of the cause of action, however. Rather, the defendant must first bear a burden of producing evidence making a prima facie showing of the nonexistence of a triable issue of material fact. The burden of production then shifts to the nonmoving plaintiff, who must produce evidence making a prima facie showing that a triable issue of material fact exists. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 850-851, 853-855.)

In this case, Fisher does not claim there is a triable issue about whether the ski patrollers were certified. 3 He only claims there is a triable issue about whether they were [*30] grossly negligent or acted in bad faith. Defendants sustained their burden of producing evidence making a prima facie showing that there is no triable issue on the element of gross negligence or bad faith. As described in the ski patrollers’ declarations, the first aid they gave included nothing upon which a claim of gross negligence or bad faith could be founded. The fact that Fisher sat up and waved his arms, or attempted to do so, does not show that the ski patrollers made his injuries worse. There was no evidence that the sitting and waving or attempted sitting and waving were actions that later became impossible for Fisher, and no evidence that even if they did, this was because of anything done or omitted by the ski patrollers. Contrary to Fisher’s argument, there is no authority for the view that summary judgment can be obtained by a defendant on a claim of grossly negligent first aid only if the defendant presents an expert opinion that there was no gross negligence. Fisher presented no evidence to sustain his burden of making a prima facie showing that a triable issue exists on the element of gross negligence or bad faith. Defendants have sustained their ultimate burden of [*31] persuasion that Fisher cannot prove an essential element of this cause of action.

3 At oral argument, Fisher claimed, for the first time, that “some” of the ski patrollers were not certified. This claim does not appear in his discussion of this issue in his opening brief or his reply brief. It did not appear in his memorandum of points and authorities in opposition to the motion for summary judgment or the errata he filed to that memorandum. In their statement of undisputed facts, defendants stated that responders Russ Bassett, Richard Bailey, Marc Smith, Tim Crosby, and Mary Warner were qualified in first aid through, or were first-aid instructors for, the American Red Cross or the National Ski Patrol. Fisher agreed that these facts were undisputed. He did not argue that these credentials did not amount to certification within the meaning of section 1799.108. His separate statement of disputed facts did not state any contrary evidence or assert that any uncertified patrollers administered first aid. A factually unsupported claim made for the first time at oral argument on appeal is not grounds for reversing summary judgment.

Defendants argue that the release, the doctrine of primary [*32] assumption of the risk, and section 1799.102 all also support the court’s decision. We need not address these additional theories. 4

4 In their appellate brief, defendants assert that the trial court “implicitly determined the Release did not apply to the actions of the ski patrol” because it granted summary judgment on that claim on a different basis. This is not correct. A court does not implicitly reject a theory merely by basing a decision on another theory. “[A]n opinion is not authority for a proposition not therein considered.” (Ginns v. Savage (1964) 61 Cal.2d 520, 524, fn. 2.)

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed. Defendants are awarded costs on appeal.

Wiseman, Acting P.J.

WE CONCUR:

Kane, J.

Poochigian, J.

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O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd., 164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd., 164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

Mary Ryan O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd.

No. 93-394

SUPREME COURT OF VERMONT

164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

August 4, 1995, Filed

HEADNOTES

1. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

A landowner’s duty does not extend to assisting the prosecution of claims arising from torts of third parties also using the land.

2. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

The main concern of defendant’s ski patrol employees is and should be to give emergency medical assistance, remove the injured skier safely from the mountainside, and obtain necessary medical care; court was reluctant to dilute these critical, emergency duties with a responsibility to pursue and identify another skier for purposes of an injured skier’s litigation.

3. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

The Legislature has provided, as of 1994, that a skier involved in a collision has the responsibility to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision, but has also made clear that the ski area has no duty to obtain that identification. 12 V.S.A. 1038(b).

4. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

Although ski area could voluntarily assume the duty to investigate accidents on behalf of injured skiers, ski area’s employee manual provisions did not show the assumption of this responsibility because the manual made clear that the investigatory responsibilities placed on employees were for the protection of the ski area with respect to suits against it – there was nothing to indicate that they were assumed as duties to third parties.

5. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

To the extent ski area’s policy intended that its employees identify colliding skiers to aid in litigation between them, the rationale of Larocque v. State Farm Insurance Co., 163 Vt. 617, 618, 660 A.2d 286, 288 (1995), that a policy directing employees to investigate claims did not create a duty to a particular claimant, was controlling and prevented use of defendant’s manual to create a negligence duty.

6. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

In personal injury case against ski area, although the proper meaning of the employee manual may have been a question of fact for the jury, if a duty were present under some construction of the manual, the threshold question of whether the manual, however construed, could give rise to a duty was for the court.

COUNSEL: Thomas M. French, Brattleboro, for plaintiff-appellee.

Allan R. Keyes and John J. Zawistoski of Ryan Smith & Carbine, Ltd., Rutland, for defendant-appellant.

JUDGES: PRESENT: Allen, C.J., Gibson, Dooley, Morse and Johnson, JJ.

OPINION BY: JOHN A. DOOLEY

OPINION

[*74] [**41] DOOLEY, J. Defendant ski area, Killington, Ltd., appeals from a negligence judgment against it based on defendant’s failure to identify an unknown skier with whom plaintiff, Mary Ryan O’Connell, collided while skiing. On appeal, defendant claims that it owed no duty to plaintiff to identify the other skier, that plaintiff’s claim is barred because the jury found that the accident resulted from an inherent risk of skiing, and that the court made errors in its charge to the jury. We reverse.

[*75] On January 12, 1990, plaintiff was skiing one of defendant’s most difficult trails. She stopped to rest at the edge of the trail and was struck by another skier who lost control on the ice at the center of the trail. One of [***2] defendant’s ski patrollers, along with plaintiff’s sister, arrived at the scene shortly after the collision. Plaintiff requested that they obtain the name of the other skier. While the ski patroller was occupied with evaluating and stabilizing plaintiff’s injury, plaintiff’s sister spoke to the other skier, and requested that he follow plaintiff to the patrol station and identify himself. The skier failed to arrive at the patrol station as requested, and has never been identified. Plaintiff’s injuries proved serious, and she and her husband filed suit against defendant in Rutland Superior Court, complaining that defendant negligently (1) failed to warn of the icy conditions on the trail, (2) failed to close the trail because of its dangerous condition and (3) failed to obtain the identity of the skier who had collided with plaintiff. Defendant denied those allegations and alleged that plaintiff’s injuries were the consequence of her assumption of the inherent risks of skiing.

The trial court denied defendant’s motion for directed verdict, both at the close of plaintiff’s case and at the close of the evidence. The court submitted the failure-to-warn and the failure-to-identify counts [***3] to the jury. In its instructions to the jury on the failure-to-identify count, the court stated that the jury could find that defendant had assumed the duty to identify skiers involved in accidents based on its employee manual. This manual instructed defendant’s employees to investigate thoroughly all accidents and to obtain the identity of everyone involved. The court instructed the jury that, to decide defendant’s negligence on this count, it need determine only whether defendant had an opportunity to identify the other skier involved in the accident.

Based on the instructions, the jury found for defendant on the failure-to-warn count and on the failure to close the trail because it found that the accident resulted from an inherent risk of the sport of skiing. It further found that defendant had negligently failed to obtain the identity of the other skier and that its negligence was the proximate cause of the loss of plaintiff’s “right to compensation” from that skier for her injuries. The jury awarded plaintiff $ 71,108.69 in damages, and the trial court denied defendant’s motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial.

Defendant raises three issues on [***4] appeal: (1) whether defendant had a duty to plaintiff to obtain the identity of the other skier who collided [*76] with her; (2) whether plaintiff’s failure-to-identify claim is precluded by the jury’s finding that the accident and injury were a result of one or more inherent risks in the sport of skiing; and (3) whether certain instructions to the jury were proper. We agree with defendant’s position on the first issue and, therefore, reverse. Because the case must be dismissed, we do not reach the second and third issues.

Defendant first claims that it owed plaintiff no duty to obtain the identity of the other skier, and that, accordingly, the trial court erred by instructing the jury that could find that defendant’s employee manual created such a duty. We agree.

In deciding this question, we first note that although the Vermont Legislature has passed a statute governing liability vis-a-vis the obtaining of names of skiers involved in a collision, see 12 V.S.A. § 1038(b)(2), this accident preceded the effective date of the statute so that it does not apply to this case. In any event, we conclude that the result in this case [**42] is the same under either the common law or the statute. 1 [***5]

1 [HN1] 12 V.S.A. § 1038(b), effective June 21, 1994, provides, in part:

(b) Collision at a ski area.

(1) Any person who is involved in a collision with a skier at a ski area which results in bodily injury to any party to the collision has a duty to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision and shall proceed to the ski area first aid facility and provide that information to the ski area first aid personnel.

(2) No ski area, its employees or agents shall be held responsible for ensuring compliance with these duties by any person, nor shall it be liable in any way for a failure to obtain such person’s name or address.

[HN2] Common-law negligence requires that there be a legal duty owed by defendant to plaintiff, breach of that duty, that such breach be the proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm, and that plaintiff have suffered actual loss or damage. See Langle v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 517, 510 A.2d 1301, 1304 (1986). Clearly, the first of these elements, duty, [***6] is central to a negligence claim, and its existence is primarily a question of law. Denis Bail Bonds, Inc. v. State, 159 Vt. 481, 487, 622 A.2d 495, 499 (1993). The imposition of a duty is “‘an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say that the plaintiff is entitled to protection.’” Id. (quoting W. Prosser & W. Keeton, The Law of Torts § 53, at 358 (5th ed. 1984)).

Plaintiff’s theory is that defendant had a duty to obtain the name of the skier who collided with her so plaintiff could sue that skier for her damages caused by the collision. Under plaintiff’s theory, this duty arises, first and foremost, because plaintiff’s injury occurred on [*77] defendant’s land, held open to the public for skiing. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A(3) (1965).

In Langle, through the discussion of decisions from other states, we identified a number of factors to consider in determining whether a duty exits. See Langle, 146 Vt. at 519-20, 510 A.2d at 1304-05. [HN3] These factors may include the degree of certainty that plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between defendant’s conduct and plaintiff’s injury, the moral blame [***7] attached to defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the burden to the defendant, the consequences to the community of finding a duty, and the availability and cost of insurance. Id. We think that an additional factor is more significant herd — that is, that plaintiff seeks a duty to prevent purely economic loss. Negligence law does not generally recognize a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid intangible economic loss to another unless one’s conduct has inflicted some accompanying physical harm. See Prosser & Keeton, supra, § 92, at 657; Breslauer v. Fayston School Dist. Vt. , , 659 A.2d 1129, 1132 (1995). Thus, a possessor of land open to the general public has a duty to aid and protect a member of the public coming on the land against unreasonable risk of “physical harm” only. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A(1)(a), (3). Physical harm does not include economic loss. See Breslauer, Vt. at , 659 A.2d at 1132; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 7(3).

Our review of the decisions from other jurisdictions indicates that, [HN4] absent a special relationship or undertaking, there is no duty to protect [***8] another’s litigation interest. For example, there is no duty to preserve possible evidence for another party to assist that party in future litigation against a third party. See Edwards v. Louisville Ladder Co., 796 F. Supp. 966, 969 (W.D. La. 1992); Murphy v. Target Products, 580 N.E.2d 687, 689 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991); Koplin v. Rosel Well Perforators, Inc., 241 Kan. 206, 734 P.2d 1177, 1179 (Kan. 1987). A municipal police force has no duty to investigate motor vehicle accidents to identify possible tortfeasors. See Jackson v. Heymann, 126 N.J. Super. 281, 314 A.2d 82, 85 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1973); Caldwell v. City of Philadelphia, 358 Pa. Super. 406, 517 A.2d 1296, 1303 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986). Similarly, a taxicab company owes no duty to an injured passenger to identify the operator of the vehicle which caused the accident and injured the passenger. See Stupka v. Peoples Cab Co., 437 Pa. 509, 264 A.2d 373, 374 (Pa. 1970). An exception to this rule may exist when there is some special relationship or duty arising from contract, statute or other special circumstance. See Bondu v. Gurvich, 473 So. 2d 1307, 1313 [**43] (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1984) [*78] (claim against defendant hospital for destruction of evidence permitted because hospital [***9] had statutory duty to maintain medical records); Koplin, 734 P.2d at 1179.

This general principle has been applied to circumstances identical to those present here. Two reported decisions have concluded that a ski area has no duty to obtain the identity of a negligent skier who collides with and injures the another skier. See Northcutt v. Sun Valley Co., 117 Idaho 351, 787 P.2d 1159, 1164 (Idaho 1990); Phillips v. Wild Mountain Sports, Inc., 439 N.W.2d 58, 59-60 (Minn. Ct. App. 1989). Based on its prediction of our negligence law, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont determined that a ski area has no duty to identify the negligent skier. See Emil v. Sherburne Corp., No. 80-22, slip op. at 2-3 (D. Vt. July 8, 1980). We agree with that court that the landowner’s duty does not extend to “assisting the prosecution of claims arising from . . . torts” of third parties also using the land. Id. at 3.

We adopt the reasoning of the above decisions and conclude that no duty exists in these circumstances. Although our primary reason is the economic nature of the interest plaintiff asserts, other factors also point to the absence of a duty here. The main concern [***10] of defendant’s ski patrol employees is and should be to give emergency medical assistance, remove the injured skier safely from the mountainside, and obtain necessary medical care. We are reluctant to dilute these critical, emergency duties with a responsibility to pursue and identify another skier. See Caldwell, 517 A.2d at 1301 (police duty at accident scene was to ensure victim’s physical well-being in expediting her trip to the hospital, not to protect the financial interests of the plaintiff).

Moreover, even if the ski area had a duty to identify, it would have only a limited ability to enforce that duty against an uncooperative skier. This suggests that any recognition of a duty should come from the Legislature, which can provide the ski area the means to discharge the duty. In fact, the Legislature has provided, as of 1994, that a skier involved in a collision has the responsibility “to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision,” but has also made clear that the ski area has no duty to obtain that identification. 12 V.S.A. § 1038(b).

Finally, we consider plaintiff’s argument that there is a special circumstance present [***11] in this case that creates a duty. Plaintiff relies primarily on defendant’s employee manual that establishes procedures [*79] in case of ski accidents. These procedures include completing an accident reporting form, obtaining names and addresses of witnesses to the accident, obtaining witness statements and recording observations at the accident scene. Plaintiff argues that these provisions amount to the voluntary assumption of a duty to investigate accidents, particularly skier collisions. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (one who gratuitously undertakes “to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other’s person or things, is subject to liability” for “physical harm” resulting from negligent performance of undertaking).

Although we agree that defendant could voluntarily assume the duty to investigate accidents on behalf of injured skiers, we do not believe that the manual provisions show the assumption of this responsibility. The manual makes clear that the investigatory responsibilities placed on employees are for the protection of defendant with respect to suits against it. There is nothing to indicate that they were assumed [***12] as duties to third parties.

This exact claim was made and rejected in Northcutt v. Sun Valley Co., 787 P.2d at 1164. The court held that imposing such requirements on employees did not create a duty to skiers to act on the skiers’ behalf. This holding is consistent with our decisions in similar circumstances. In Smith v. Day, 148 Vt. 595, 538 A.2d 157 (1987), engineers on a railway train sued Norwich University when a university student shot at the train and injured them. We concluded that, although defendant sought to control its students via the imposition of numerous rules and regulations, it did not assume a duty to third persons to control the volitional criminal [**44] acts of the students. Id. at 598, 538 A.2d at 159. More recently, in Larocque v. State Farm Ins. Co., Vt. , , 660 A.2d 286, 288 (1995), we concluded that a liability insurer’s employee manual, while directing employees to investigate claims in an efficient and cooperative manner, did not create any duty to a particular claimant to process the claim in good faith and consistent with the manual. Citing Smith, 148 Vt. at 598, 538 A.2d at 158-59, we stated that conducting [***13] one’s “business in a way that [is] responsive to third-party claimants does not create a legally enforceable duty to do so with respect to a particular claimant.” Id. To the extent defendant’s policy intended that its employees identify colliding skiers to aid in litigation between [*80] them, we believe that the rationale of Larocque is controlling and prevents use of defendant’s manual to create a negligence duty. 2

2 Plaintiff relies upon a Colorado trial court decision that denied a ski area summary judgment in a failure-to-identify case similar to that here. Burgener v. Keystone Arapahoe Ltd. Partnership, No. 90 CV 215, slip op. at 3 (Colo. Dist. Ct., Summit County Sept. 5, 1991). In that case, the plaintiff argued successfully that the defendant assumed the responsibility to investigate in certain publications and materials that were distributed to the public, including the plaintiff. These were read and relied upon by the plaintiff’s husband, who skied with her. This case has none of the public promotional and reliance elements of Burgener and is distinguishable on that basis.

[***14] In adopting this position, we are necessarily rejecting the suggestion that the jury could decide whether the manual creates a duty to investigate and identify the other skier. The trial court’s supplemental charge to the jury appears to have adopted this approach. As we indicated earlier, the existence of a duty is primarily a question of law. See Denis Bail Bonds, Inc., 159 Vt. at 487, 622 A.2d at 499. Although the proper meaning of the employee manual may have been a question of fact for the jury, if a duty were present under some construction of the manual, the threshold question of whether the manual, however construed, could give rise to a duty was for the court. See Smith v. Day, 148 Vt. at 598 n.3, 538 A.2d at 159 n.3.

Reversed.

FOR THE COURT: John A. Dooley, Associate Justice

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McDonough v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036 (Dist. Del 1997)

McDonough v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036 (Dist. Del 1997)

Arthur Mcdonough and Linda Mcdonough, in their own right and as Parents of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, deceased, and Arthur Mcdonough in his own right and as Administrator of the Estate of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, Plaintiffs, v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), U.S. Cycling Fed., and Delaware Trail Spinners, Defendants.

C.A. No. 95-504-SLR

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE

1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036

June 2, 1997, Decided

NOTICE: [*1] FOR ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION ONLY

DISPOSITION: Defendants’ motion for summary judgment denied.

COUNSEL: For plaintiffs: Donald Eilhu Evans, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware. Of Counsel: Edwin F. McCoy, Esquire., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

For defendants: Mason E. Turner, Esquire, of Prickett, Jones, Elliott, Kristol & Schnee, Wilmington, Delaware.

JUDGES: Sue L. Robinson, District Judge

OPINION BY: Sue L. Robinson

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Date: June 2, 1997

Wilmington, Delaware

ROBINSON, District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

This case is a wrongful death/survival action filed as a result of Bradley McDonough’s (“McDonough”) death on August 30, 1993. Plaintiffs are Arthur and Linda McDonough, the parents of the decedent (collectively referred to as “plaintiffs”). Defendants are The National Off-Road Bicycle Association (“NORBA”), United States Cycling Federation (“Federation”), and the Delaware Trail Spinners (“Trail Spinners”). The court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Presently before the court is defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 66) For the following reasons, defendants’ motion for summary judgment shall be denied.

II. BACKGROUND

[*2] In the summer of 1993, Bradley McDonough developed an interest in off-road bicycle competition. In the spring or early summer of 1993, McDonough acquired an off-road bike (also known as a mountain bike) and rode with his college friends, Randall Blaker (“Blaker”), Michael Odenwald (“Odenwald”), and Kenny Steidle (“Steidle”). (D.I. 71 at A51-A52) On August 8, 1993, McDonough, Blaker, Odenwald and Steidle participated in a NORBA sanctioned event in Windham, New York (“Windham race”). (D.I. 71 at A51) In all NORBA events, participants are required to obtain a permanent membership or a one-day trial membership. The application for the one-day membership contains a section entitled “Agreement and Release of Liability” (“release”). (D.I. 68 at A3)

On the day of the Windham race, McDonough, along with his friends, paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 71 at A 54-55; D.I. 68 at A5) In signing the release, Blaker stated that he did not really read it, but simply skimmed through it. (D.I. 71 at A54) Blaker stated that he assumed it was a release “to some degree and we understood that we were involved in a sport.” (D.I. 71 at A54-A55)

The Windham race course was [*3] basically a two lap course. (D.I. 71 at A56) McDonough and Steidle quit after one lap because they were tired. (D.I. 71 at A56) Blaker, who was behind McDonough and Steidle, also stopped after the first lap since his friends had stopped. (D.I. 71 at A56) Odenwald did not complete the race either, because his bicycle broke. (D.I. 71 at A56) All four friends had water bottles on their bikes during the race. (D.I. 71 at A54)

On August 15, 1993, McDonough and Blaker participated in another NORBA sanctioned event in Delaware, called the C & D Canal Classic (“C & D race”). (D.I. 84 at A109) The C & D race consisted of three race levels: (1) Beginners’; (2) Sport; and (3) Pro/Expert. (D.I. 71 at A22) McDonough and Blaker both entered the Beginners’ level. (D.I. 71 at A23 and A59) The Beginners’ course was a 14 mile course “over the local terrain which included steep and gradual hills, open gravel and dirt roads, and wooded trails.” (D.I. 71 at A23) The Sport and Pro/Expert courses also used the same 14 miles designated for the Beginners’ course. (D.I. 71 at A38)

The Beginners’ course was difficult because of its layout. (D.I. 71 at A38) The terrain on the Beginners’ course made it difficult [*4] for riders to access their own water without stopping. (D.I. 71 at A38) Some areas on the course were smoothed out so that riders could stop or ride slowly and access their water bottles. (D.I. 71 at 38) The course, however, did not have any neutral area where water was given out to the race contestants. (D.I. 71 at A38) The only water the race contestants could drink was the water that they brought themselves. (D.I. 71 at A38) No physician was present at the race. (D.I. 71 at A24) There was neither an ambulance nor emergency medical personnel present at the race site. (D.I. 71 at A23) Denise Dowd (“Dowd”), another participant in the Beginners’ level, stated that the course was “difficult due to the heat and humidity and layout.” (D.I. 71 at A87) Although Dowd is an avid biker and had participated in approximately 20 mountain bike races, it took her over an hour and fifteen minutes to complete the course. (D.I. 71 at A87)

Defendant Trail Spinners, a NORBA club member, received sanctioning from NORBA to promote the C & D race. In order to receive sanctioning, defendant Trail Spinners had to complete a “Pre-Event Planning Checklist” (“Checklist”) provided by NORBA. (D.I. 84 at A109-A110) [*5] The Checklist contains several questions relating to the safety precautions taken for the event. Trail Spinners, through its race director William Bowen (“Bowen”), represented on the Checklist that there would be, inter alia, emergency medical assistance on site and adequate water for the participants and spectators. (D.I. 84 at A110) Bowen specifically represented that there would be an ambulance on site and adequate water or fluids for participants and spectators before, during, and after the race. (D.I. 84 at A110) The Checklist also provided that: “A NORBA Official must be present at your event. The NORBA Official will complete their portion of the checklist before allowing the event to proceed.” (D.I. 84 at A109) The Checklist identifies Elizabeth Small (“Small”) as the NORBA Official. Small, however, did not complete her portion of the Checklist and did not sign it. (D.I. 84 at A110)

When McDonough arrived at the race site, he again paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 68 at A7) Blaker also paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 71 at A59) No one at the race site explained the documents to the race participants. (D.I. [*6] 71 at A41) The release provides in part:

I acknowledge that cycling is an inherently dangerous sport in which I participate at my own risk and that NORBA is a non-profit corporation formed to advance the sport of cycling, the efforts of which directly benefit me. In consideration of the agreement with NORBA to issue an amateur license to me, hereby on behalf of myself, my heirs, assigns and personal representatives, I release and forever discharge NORBA and the United States Cycling Federation, its employees, agents, members, sponsors, promoters, and affiliates from any and all liability, claim, loss, cost or expense, and waive any such claims against any such person or organization, arising directly or indirectly from or attributable in any legal way to any action or omission to act of any such person or organization in connection with sponsorship, organization or execution of any bicycle racing or sporting event, in which I may participate as a rider, team member or spectator.

(D.I. 68 at A5) On the back of the trial membership and release certain “Racing Regulations” are set forth. (D.I. 68 at A8). At section 4.6, NORBA recommends that each participant carry “at least [*7] 8 ounces of water.” (D.I. 68 at A8) Section 5.6 provides that neutral water will be provided for any race that exceeds 60 minutes in length. (D.I. 68 at A8)

According to James McGroerty (“McGroerty”), the President, Officer, and Co-Founder of Trail Spinners, it is commonly understood by those who participate in races that they are required to sign the release. (D.I. 71 at A45) McGroerty stated that: “Most of [his] friends who are avid racers look at the form as you are signing this paper basically saying yes, I am doing this race at my own risk on the course. If I get hurt, it’s my own fault. It’s basically the way we look at it when we sign these forms and compete in an event.” (D.I. 71 at A45) Dowd, who also signed the release that day, stated that she understood that the release was intended to protect the defendants from liability. (D.I. 71 at A89) Dowd, however, did not believe that the release was intended to relieve the defendants from providing “common sense safety precautions, particularly on site trained medical personnel with an ambulance.” (D.I. 71 at A89) Dowd stated that she would not have signed the release if she had known there was no medical assistance immediately [*8] available. (D.I. 71 at A89)

Before the start of the race, McGroerty addressed the race contestants from the hood of his car. (D.I. 71 at A38 and A42) He addressed the participants without a bullhorn. (D.I. 71 at A37) There were approximately 80 to 100 total participants in the group that raced with McDonough and Blaker. (D.I. 71 at A37 and A62) McGroerty told the race contestants that there was no ambulance on site, but that one could be called. (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty did not specifically warn the participants about heat exhaustion. (D.I. 71 at A42) Instead, McGroerty told the contestants to be “careful, . . . take their time” and not to “ride over your head, which means going beyond your ability.” (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty also told them to “watch their bodies, make sure they didn’t push themselves too hard because it was hot out.” (D.I. 71 at A42) Finally, he told them that “if they felt dizzy or nauseous, to back off, stay cool and keep from going too hard.” (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty did not get any questions after he addressed the participants. (D.I. 71 at A37) McGroerty testified that he does not have Red Cross, CPR or EMT certification of any kind. (D.I. 71 at A43) He [*9] also does not know the signs of exertional heat stroke. (D.I. 71 at A43)

At approximately 9:00 a.m., McDonough and Blaker left the starting line with other contestants. (D.I. 71 at A23 and A62) Both McDonough and Blaker had brought water bottles with them. (D.I. 71 at A61) The temperature on that day was “extremely hot [] with high humidity.” (D.I. 71 at A85) Although McDonough and Blaker began the race together, they were separated because Blaker had a flat tire. (D.I. 71 at A63) After Blaker changed his flat tire, he continued in the race and eventually completed the course. (D.I. 71 at A64) McDonough, however, did not. (D.I. 71 at A64)

McGroerty found McDonough when he went to investigate whether some participants had accidently or deliberately missed the course markings. (D.I. 71 at A44) McGroerty first saw McDonough’s bike. As he approached the bike, he saw McDonough who was about five or six feet from his bike. (D.I. 71 at A44) According to McGroerty, other participants would not have seen McDonough since he was off to the side of the course, but could have seen his bike. (D.I. 71 at A44)

When McGroerty found McDonough, he was on the ground lying on his side and his breathing [*10] was heavy and labored. (D.I. 71 at A44) McDonough appeared to have trouble breathing and was not responsive. (D.I. 71 at A44) According to McGroerty, McDonough appeared to be unconscious. (D.I. 71 at A44) Based on these observations, McGroerty called 911 from his cellular phone. (D.I. 71 at A44) After calling 911, McGroerty went to the start/finish area and sought assistance. (D.I. 71 at A42 and A87) He led two people back to where McDonough was found and they administered CPR until an ambulance arrived. (D.I. 71 at A42 and A87-A88) According to Dowd, one of the two people who administered CPR, no one gave McDonough any water before the ambulance arrived because no water was provided. (D.I. 71 at A88) Blaker, however, testified that when McDonough’s bike was brought back from where McDonough had been found, it still had a water bottle attached to it that was half full. (D.I. 71 at A65)

Dowd stated that the race was “generally disorganized” and that there was a lot of confusion. (D.I. 71 at A86) According to Dowd, the race was delayed for 30 minutes and no maps of the course were given to the participants or posted. (D.I. 71 at A87-A88) Small, the NORBA official on duty at the race, [*11] reported to NORBA that the “race director [Bowen] was ‘light’ in the emergency medical area.” (D.I. 84 at A110) Small also reported that no course maps were available, but that the course was adequately marked. (D.I. 84 at A110) Overall, Small stated that mistakes were made since no water was provided, no emergency medical personnel were on site, and the course was too long. (D.I. 84 at A114)

Dowd stated that it took her about 5 minutes to reach McDonough and that the ambulance arrived 10 to 15 minutes after she began administering CPR. (D.I. 71 at A88) When the ambulance arrived, McDonough was treated by paramedics and helicoptered to the Medical Center of Delaware in Christiana, Delaware. (D.I. 71 at A23) Although hospitalized, McDonough died of heat stroke on August 30, 1993. (D.I. 70 at 1)

III. DISCUSSION

1. Summary Judgment Standard

[HN1] Summary judgment should be granted only if a court concludes that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). [HN2] The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact is in dispute. Matsushita Elec. Indus. [*12] Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its initial burden, the nonmoving party “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 587. “Facts that could alter the outcome are ‘material,’ and disputes are ‘genuine’ if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct.” Horowitz v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 n.1 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury reasonably to find for the nonmoving party on that factual issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, [*13] Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). This court, however, must “view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Pennsylvania Coal Ass’n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

2. Express or Primary Assumption of Risk

[HN3] Since Delaware adopted a comparative negligence statute, 1 it has become necessary to distinguish between primary and secondary assumption of the risk. Koutoufaris v. Dick, 604 A.2d 390, 397 (Del. 1992); cf. Bib v. Merlonghi, 252 A.2d 548, 550 (Del. 1969) Primary assumption, sometimes referred to as express assumption of risk, “involves the express consent to relieve the defendant of any obligation of care while secondary assumption [of risk] consists of voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk which is out of proportion to the advantage gained.” Koutoufaris, 604 A.2d at 397-398. With the adoption of the comparative negligence statute in Delaware, secondary assumption of risk became “totally subsumed within comparative negligence.” Id. at 398. Primary assumption of risk, however, still exists as [*14] a complete bar to recovery. See id. (stating that primary assumption of risk “might well constitute a complete bar to recover, as a matter of law, even in a comparative negligence jurisdiction”) (citation omitted); see also Patton v. Simone, 626 A.2d 844, 852 (Del. Super. Ct. 1992); see also Staats v. Lawrence, 576 A.2d 663, 668 (Del. Super. Ct. 1990).

1 In 1984, Delaware adopted a modified comparative negligence statute, which allows a jury to apportion liability where both parties are negligent only if the plaintiff’s negligence is less than fifty percent. 10 Del. C. § 8132 (1984).

Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ action is barred, as a matter of law, because McDonough expressly assumed the risks inherent in an off-road bicycle race when he signed the release. Defendants contend that the release, in plain and unambiguous language, is intended to protect defendants from all liability arising out of any hazards encountered in an off-road bike race. (D.I. 78 at 9) Defendants assert that McDonough, [*15] as a college graduate and former participant in a NORBA event, must have had an understanding of the these inherent dangers when he signed the release. As further support, defendants note that McDonough signed an identical Agreement and Release just one week prior to the C & D race. Based on these facts, defendants assert that summary judgment is appropriate.

In considering the facts and making all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs’ favor, the court finds to the contrary. [HN4] A release will not be set aside if the language is clear and unambiguous. Hallman v. Dover Downs, Inc., 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15708, Civ. A. No. 85-618 CMW, 1986 WL 535 at *2 (D. Del., Dec. 31, 1986) (citing Chakov v. Outboard Marine Corp., 429 A.2d 984, 985 (Del. 1981); see Bennett v. United States Cycling Federation, 193 Cal. App. 3d 1485, 239 Cal. Rptr. 55, 58 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987). [HN5] Where the language of a release is ambiguous, it must be construed strongly against the party who drafted it. Hallman, 1986 WL 535 at *2; Bennett, 239 Cal. Rptr. at 58. [HN6] In an express agreement to assume a risk, a plaintiff may undertake to assume all risks of a particular relation or situation, whether they are known or unknown to him. [*16] Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496D, cmt. a, (1965). However, for the release to be effective, it must appear that the plaintiff understood the terms of the agreement, or that a reasonable person in his position would have understood the terms. Bennett, 239 Cal. Rptr. at 58. As the Bennett court stated, “there is little doubt that a subscriber of a bicycle release . . . must be held to have waived any hazards relating to bicycle racing that are obvious or that might reasonably have been foreseen.” Id. These hazards include “collisions with other riders, negligently maintained equipment, bicycles which were unfit for racing but nevertheless passed by organizers, [and] bad road surfaces . . . .” Id. Thus, the understanding of the parties when the release was executed, in light of all the facts and circumstances, is paramount in determining whether the language is clear and unambiguous. Hallman, 1986 WL 535 at *2. The evidence must establish that the parties intended the release to apply to the particular conduct of the defendant which has caused the harm. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496B, cmt. d, (1965).

In the present case, plaintiffs assert that [*17] a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race. The court agrees.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, the court shall deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment. An order will issue consistent with this memorandum opinion.

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Sanny, v. Trek Bicycle Corporation, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65559

Sanny, v. Trek Bicycle Corporation, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65559

John Sanny and Diana Sanny, Plaintiffs, v. Trek Bicycle Corporation, Defendant.

Civil No. 11-2936 ADM/SER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA

2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65559

May 8, 2013, Decided

May 8, 2013, Filed

CORE TERMS: bicycle, retention, wheel, secondary, deposition, unreasonably dangerous, sheet, manufacturer, errata, post-sale, front wheel, detachment, summary judgment, question of fact, duty to warn, equipped, warning, failure to warn, notice, skewer, design defect, alternative design, engineering, corrections, feasible, deponent, warn, fork, dropout, tip

COUNSEL: [*1] Terry L. Wade, Esq., Vincent J. Moccio, Esq., and Brandon E. Vaughn, Esq., Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiffs.

Stephen J. Foley, Esq., Michael W. Haag, Esq., and Steven J. Erffmeyer, Esq., Foley & Mansfield, PLLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

JUDGES: ANN D. MONTGOMERY, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: ANN D. MONTGOMERY

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs John and Diana Sanny assert claims of design defect, failure to warn, and failure to provide post-sale warnings against Defendant Trek Bicycle Corporation’s (“Trek”). 1 On March 22, 2013, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Trek’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 77], Motion to Exclude Testimony of Plaintiffs’ Expert Witness David Hallman [Docket No. 76] (“Motion to Exclude”), and Motion to Strike Changes to Deposition of Plaintiffs’ Expert David Hallman [Docket No. 70] (“Motion to Strike”). For the reasons stated herein, Trek’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part, its Motion to Strike is granted, and its Motion to Exclude is granted in part.

1 Plaintiffs withdrew their claims for negligent failure to recall and negligent failure to advise [*2] the Consumer Product Safety Commission of a product hazard, conceding Minnesota law does not recognize these claims. Pls.’ Mem. Opp. Summ. J. [Docket No. 95] (“Pls.’ Opp.”) 48-49.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Sanny’s Accident

At the time of his accident in 2009, John Sanny (“Sanny”) taught tennis and other classes at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. Vaughn Aff. [Docket No. 96] Ex. UU (“Sanny Dep.”), at 18, 33-34. In 1993, Sanny purchased a used Model 930 Single Track bicycle, manufactured by Trek in 1990. The bicycle had a quick release mechanism, which allowed Sanny to quickly remove and replace the front wheel. About every 2-4 weeks, Sanny commuted to Cooke Hall, where he had an office, by driving to campus, parking in a nearby surface lot, and then riding his bicycle the remainder of the trip. Id. at 14-15. To fit his bicycle inside his car, Sanny routinely removed the bicycle’s front wheel. Id.

On September 10, 2009, Sanny arrived at the campus parking lot in the morning, about one hour before his class. Id. at 30. Sanny removed his bicycle from his car and attached the front wheel. Id. at 15-18. He then rode his bicycle about two-and-a-half blocks to Cooke Hall and entered the [*3] building before realizing he had left his keys in his car. Id. at 21, 30-31. Sanny returned to his bicycle and headed back to the parking lot to retrieve his keys. Id. at 30-31. As he approached the parking lot, he “bunny-hopped” a curb to cross the street. Id. at 24-25, 31; Haag Aff. [Docket No. 85] Ex. 2 (Map of accident site). The front wheel of his bicycle came loose and caught on the front brakes, causing the bicycle to come to a sudden stop. Vaughn Aff. Ex. VV (“Hallman Report”), at 2. Sanny was thrown face-forward off of his bicycle. See id. The first campus police officer to respond found Sanny on the pavement, bleeding and suffering from serious head and facial injuries. Vaughn Aff. Ex. A (“Welsh Dep.”), at 45-46.

On or about September 19, 2011, Plaintiffs filed suit against Trek. Plaintiffs allege Trek negligently failed to incorporate a “secondary retention system” into the design of Sanny’s bicycle, which would have acted as a safety mechanism when Sanny’s wheel detached. Compl. 2. Plaintiffs also allege Trek failed to warn Sanny of the risk of front wheel detachment in bicycles without secondary retention devices. Id. Finally, Plaintiffs argue they have stated a third claim [*4] alleging Trek’s post-sale failure to warn Sanny. Trek argues Plaintiffs did not sufficiently plead this claim.

B. Quick Release Device

A quick release mechanism, like the one used in Sanny’s bicycle, involves three major components: a bicycle fork designed for quick release use, a front wheel designed for the same, and the quick release device itself. In a bicycle equipped for a quick release tire, the front “fork blades”–the arms of the bicycle which hold the wheel–each end in an open, u-shaped “dropout.” The front wheel has a hollow axle, meaning the axle has a narrow, cylindrical hollow space running its length. The quick release device is a skewer that has an adjustable nut on one end and a lever on the other.

To connect the wheel to the bicycle, the quick release skewer is placed through the hollow of the front wheel’s axle, so that it protrudes on either end by a small amount. The wheel is then placed between the fork blades, so that the dropouts fit on to the skewer, on either side of the wheel axle. To secure the wheel to the bicycle, the rider tightens the nut on one end of the quick release device and presses the lever inward 90 degrees (relative to the skewer) on the other [*5] end. The lever, acting as a cam, tightens the skewer so that the quick release device is pushing in on each dropout from the outside. This pressure ensures the wheel does not detach during riding; the wheel is essentially “pinched” in place.

The alleged danger with quick release wheels is the risk that the quick release nut and/or lever become loose or completely undone during a ride. Because friction is the primary force keeping the wheel attached to the bicycle, a loss of “grip” by the quick release device means the dropouts are simply resting on top of the quick release skewer. If the rider of the bicycle in this situation lifts the front of his bicycle off of the ground, makes a sharp turn, or takes a similar action, the rider risks lifting the dropouts off of the axle and detaching the front wheel in mid-ride. In the present case, Plaintiffs and Trek agree that Sanny’s action in “hopping” over a curb to cross the street caused the front fork of his bicycle to lift off of and thus detach from his front wheel.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states a court shall grant summary judgment if no [*6] genuine issue as to any material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. On a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Ludwig v. Anderson, 54 F.3d 465, 470 (8th Cir. 1995). If evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party has been presented, summary judgment is inappropriate. Krenik v. Cnty. of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). However, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties is not sufficient by itself to deny summary judgment. . . . Instead, ‘the dispute must be outcome determinative under prevailing law.’” Get Away Club, Inc. v. Coleman, 969 F.2d 664, 666 (8th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

2. Design Defect

To establish a design defect claim under Minnesota law, a plaintiff must present specific facts establishing three elements: (1) the product was in a defective condition, unreasonably dangerous for its intended use; (2) the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer’s control; and (3) the defect proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury. Westbrock v. Marshalltown Mfg. Co., 473 N.W.2d 352, 356 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991) [*7] (citing Bilotta v. Kelley Co., Inc., 346 N.W.2d 616, 624 (Minn. 1984)). Whether a product is defective is usually a question of fact; “only when reasonable minds cannot differ does the question become one of law.” Thompson v. Hirano Tecseed Co., Ltd., 456 F.3d 805, 809 (8th Cir. 2006).

For both negligence and strict liability claims, Minnesota courts use a “reasonable care” balancing test to determine whether a product is defective. Thompson, 456 F.3d at 809. Under this balancing test, a product is unreasonably dangerous, and thus defective, if the manufacturer:

fails to exercise that degree of care in his plan or design so as to avoid any unreasonable risk of harm to anyone who is likely to be exposed to the danger when the product is used in the manner for which the product was intended, as well as an unintended yet reasonably foreseeable use.

What constitutes “reasonable care” will, of course, vary with the surrounding circumstances and will involve a balancing of the likelihood of harm, and the gravity of harm if it happens, against the burden of the precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm.

Mozes v. Medtronic, Inc., 14 F. Supp. 2d 1124, 1127 (D. Minn. 1998) (citing Bilotta, 346 N.W.2d at 621).

The [*8] parties dispute whether Sanny’s bicycle was unreasonably dangerous because it had no secondary retention device. Viewed as a whole, the evidence submitted by the parties would allow reasonable minds to disagree regarding whether Trek used reasonable care in choosing not to include a secondary retention device in the design of Sanny’s bicycle. Each category of evidence presented by the parties is discussed below.

a. Feasible alterative design

While not a prima facie element of a design defect claim, an important factor in determining whether a product is unreasonably dangerous is the availability of a feasible, safer alternative design. Kallio v. Ford Motor Co., 407 N.W.2d 92, 96-97 (Minn. 1987); Young v. Pollock Eng’g Group, Inc., 428 F.3d 786, 789 (8th Cir. 2005). If, at the time the manufacturer designed the product at issue, a safer, feasible design existed, it weighs in favor of finding the contested design unreasonably dangerous. Implicit in this evaluation, however, is the balance between utility and safety. If the alternative design increases safety at the cost of performance or utility, it may warrant the conclusion that the alternative design is not feasible. See, e.g., Unrein v. Timesavers, Inc., 394 F.3d 1008, 1012 (8th Cir. 2005) [*9] (holding expert must demonstrate proposed safety modifications do not “interfere with the machine’s utility”); Sobolik v. Briggs & Stratton Power Prods. Group, LLC, No. 09-1785, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33911, 2011 WL 1258503, at *4-5 (D. Minn. Mar. 30, 2011) (finding plaintiff had submitted sufficient evidence to create question of fact on issue of safety, despite defendants’ arguments that proposed design would harm utility).

Here, the parties agree several feasible, alternative designs exist which incorporate secondary retention devices. In bicycle design terms, “secondary retention device,” or “positive retention device,” refers to any kind of mechanism that acts as a failsafe in the event a quick release wheel loosens or detaches from a bicycle’s dropouts. One of the most common secondary retention devices found in bicycles are “tabbed tips” or “tab tips.” Normally, the dropouts to which the quick release skewer attaches are completely smooth. On a bicycle with tab tips, the dropouts are not flat but have extended, outward-curving edges. With this design, if a quick release nut and handle are not fully tightened, they may still “sit” in these tab tips and keep the wheel in place even if the front of the bicycle [*10] lifts off of the ground. In other words, tab tips act as a kind of safety railing to hold a quick release wheel that is no longer firmly attached. Another type of secondary retention device is the “peg and eyelet” device, which essentially adds two washers to either side of the quick release skewer; the washers are then attached to the bicycle fork blades using pegs or hooks that connect to holes punched into the washers.

Although Trek agrees that several feasible alternative designs exist, it disputes whether any of these designs–namely, whether any secondary retention device–actually increases bicycle safety. As discussed below, whether a secondary retention device would have increased the safety of Sanny’s bicycle is a key question of fact that a jury must resolve.

b. Trek’s record of wheel separation claims

Until his death in 1995, Robert Read served as Trek’s Director of Engineering and as the primary person tracking and evaluating the safety of Trek’s quick release bicycles. Read investigated all wheel separation claims from 1985 until 1995, and kept a record of reported claims. Haag Aff. Ex. O. In 1990, Read made the decision that Trek would incorporate secondary retention devices [*11] in all of its quick release bicycles, and Trek initially used both peg and eyelet, and tab tip designs. Id.; see also Vaughn Aff. Ex. P., at 4. By 1991, every new Trek bicycle had a secondary retention device of some kind. Vaughn Aff. Ex. P., at 4. Sanny’s bicycle, manufactured in 1990, was among the last of the bicycles manufactured by Trek without a secondary retention device.

Plaintiffs argue that Trek’s own use of tab tips, and peg and eyelet devices demonstrate the safety benefit that results from secondary retention devices. Since 1985, Trek has recorded 58 claims of wheel separation. See Vaughn Aff. Ex. X (Trek’s wheel separation claims list). A simple review of these claims indicate that the majority of wheel separations were reported from 1985 until the early 1990′s, after which the number of incidents reported per year began to decrease. See id. Plaintiffs argue that the year-over-year decrease in wheel separation incidents was the result of Trek’s decision to incorporate secondary retention devices in its bicycles starting in 1990. The correlation between decreased incident reports and use of secondary retention devices, according to Plaintiffs, is evidence that the feasible [*12] alternative designs increase the safety of Trek bicycles.

Trek disputes the necessity of secondary retention devices. Trek argues that although it has received claims of wheel separation in quick release bicycles, the number of reported incidents is extremely low compared to the total number of Trek bicycles sold. In particular, Trek argues that it was only aware of nine instances of wheel separation by 1990. See Haag Aff. Ex. Y (“Read Dep.”), at 152-53. 2 By that time, Trek had sold over a million bicycles, resulting in a wheel separation rate of about 0.0009%. See id. at 80. Trek also argues that four of these nine recorded incidents involved bicycles equipped with peg and eyelet style retention devices. As a result, Trek, through Read, decided bicycles without secondary retention devices had substantially the same level of safety as bicycles equipped with secondary retention devices. Id. at 82-84. Trek claims that it nevertheless adopted secondary retention devices to avoid litigation.

2 Although Read testified that Trek was only aware of nine claims of wheel separation by January 1990, Trek’s documents reflect 11 claims. Vaughn Aff. Ex. X. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear.

Trek [*13] also disputes Plaintiffs’ interpretation of the larger number of wheel separation claims. At oral argument, Trek stated that of the 58 total claims of wheel separation it recorded, about 32 of the bicycles involved had secondary retention devices, further demonstrating these devices’ failure to increase safety. By way of explanation, Trek notes that secondary retention devices are cumbersome, and increase the risk of user error in properly securing a quick release wheel. Trek argues that the decrease in wheel separation claims in the 1990′s did not result from any design change; on the contrary, Trek argues the decrease resulted from Trek’s campaign to educate riders on the proper use of quick release devices. Plaintiffs respond that although some wheel detachments may have occurred in bicycles designed to hold secondary retention devices, many of the 32 bicycles in question were not actually equipped with such devices at the time of the accidents. Plaintiffs also complain that Trek destroyed most of its files associated with older wheel separation claims, preventing Plaintiffs from further investigating the particular circumstances of each claim. See Pls.’ Opp. 37.

As an initial matter, [*14] it is necessary to address whether evidence of other wheel separation claims will be admissible at trial, as only facts based on admissible evidence may be considered at the summary judgment stage. See JRT, Inc. v. TCBY Sys., Inc., 52 F.3d 734, 737 (8th Cir. 1995). In the area of product liability litigation, evidence of similar injuries or incidents “may be relevant to prove a product’s lack of safety or a party’s notice of defects.” J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 243 F.3d 441, 444 (8th Cir. 2001). Similar incident evidence also risks raising “extraneous controversial issues,” confusing the issues, and being more prejudicial than probative. Id. (citation omitted). As a result, the offering party has the burden of demonstrating that the past incidents are substantially similar to the incident at issue. Id. at 445. Ultimately, the admission of such evidence is in the trial court’s discretion. Arabian Agric. Servs. Co. v. Chief Indus., Inc., 309 F.3d 479, 485 (8th Cir. 2002); Hammes v. Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A., Inc., No. 03-6456, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26526, 2006 WL 1195907, at *12, n.2 (D. Minn. May 4, 2006).

Here, Trek’s prior wheel separation incidents bear relevant similarities to Sanny’s accident. [*15] Every prior incident involved a bicycle with a quick release device, and it is logical to assume the bicycle wheel detached during foreseeable use. See, e.g., Schaffner v. Chicago & N.W. Transp. Co., 129 Ill. 2d 1, 541 N.E.2d 643, 660, 133 Ill. Dec. 432 (Ill. 1989) (reaching same conclusion in similar circumstances). Whether the wheel detached due to user error is immaterial, as Trek concedes user error of the quick release device is a foreseeable cause of injury. Def.’s Mem. Supp. Summ. J. [Docket No. 81] (“Def.’s Mem.”) 15. In this case, the parties agree that wheel separation incidents may be grouped together to demonstrate comparative safety and overall incident trends. See, e.g., id. at 14. In addition, the offered evidence is summary in nature and thus avoids the risk of unfair prejudicial effect. As a result, the evidence of Trek’s past wheel separation incidents is likely to be admitted in some form at trial.

Arguing against this conclusion, Trek cites Magistrate Judge Rau’s holding that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate how Sanny’s injuries compare to the majority of injuries suffered in other wheel detachment accidents. See Order, Jan. 2, 2013 [Docket No. 69] 8. Before Judge Rau, Plaintiffs argued for the appropriateness [*16] of punitive damages in part by describing several specific examples of injuries suffered by Trek bicycle riders. Judge Rau properly held that Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that injuries as serious as Sanny’s had occurred in the majority of wheel detachment claims. Id. As a result, Judge Rau held Plaintiffs had not demonstrated injuries rising to the level of seriousness required by Minnesota’s punitive damages statute. Id. Here, the evidence at issue is not of past injuries, but of the wheel detachments themselves. As discussed above, this more limited evidence is probative of the design’s safety and Trek’s notice of prior accidents. See, e.g., Broun, Kenneth, McCormick on Evidence § 200 (7th ed. 2013) (when evidence of other accidents used to show manufacturer’s notice, similarity to accident at issue “can be considerably less” than for other purposes). As such, evidence of past wheel separation claims may be relevant at trial for a purpose other than that argued in the punitive damages context.

The admissible evidence of Trek’s prior wheel separation claims supports a finding that genuine issues of material fact exist. Among other things, evidence of prior accidents may demonstrate: [*17] (1) a design defect; or (2) the manufacturer’s knowledge that prior accidents had occurred. See Lovett v. Union Pac. R. Co., 201 F.3d 1074, 1081 (8th Cir. 2000). Regarding the former purpose, evidence of similar accidents may indicate that the product at issue is unsafe and thus defective. See id. Even accidents occurring after the accident in question may be probative of safety. 4 See Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 181, Brainerd v. Celotex Corp., 309 Minn. 310, 244 N.W.2d 264, 266 (Minn. 1976); Steenson, Michael K., et al., 27 Minn. Practice Series § 12.9 (2012 ed.). Regarding the latter purpose, a manufacturer’s notice of other accidents addresses whether a manufacturer exercised sufficient care to eliminate any unreasonable risk of harm from foreseeable uses of its product at the time of design. See, e.g., Hammond v. Compaq Computer Corp., No. 06-1670, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90245, 2009 WL 3164797, at *4-5 (D. Minn. Sept. 29, 2009) (potential foreseeability of harm addressed in part whether manufacturer used reasonable degree of care in design).

4 In this case, evidence of accidents occurring after Sanny’s injuries may be relevant because, as Trek concedes, bicycles have a long useful life. As a result, bicycles manufactured at the same [*18] time as or before Sanny’s bicycle may have had wheel detachments after Sanny’s accident.

Trek’s history of wheel separation claims creates a question of fact regarding whether Trek exercised reasonable care in its failure to include a secondary retention device in its 1990 design of the bicycle Sanny later purchased. First, the parties dispute the significance of what these prior incidents demonstrate concerning the effectiveness of secondary retention devices. Plaintiffs argue Trek’s wheel separation claims decreased in the early 1990′s because of Trek’s use of secondary retention devices; Trek argues proper education in the use of quick release devices increased safety despite the presence of secondary retention devices. The parties’ differing but reasonable views of the same evidence demonstrates a question of fact. See, e.g., Riedl v. Gen. Am. Life Ins. Co., 248 F. 3d 753, 756 (8th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Second, the pre-1991 incidents of wheel separation are evidence that Trek had some notice of the risks associated with quick release devices, which creates a question of fact regarding the reasonableness of its decision to forgo secondary retention devices until 1990-91.

In [*19] addition, the parties’ disagreement over the specifics of the wheel