Forman v. Brown, d/b/a Brown’s Royal Gorge Rafting, 944 P.2d 559; 1996 Colo. App. LEXIS 343
Sue Forman, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Mark N. Brown, d/b/a Brown’s Royal Gorge Rafting, Brown’s Fort and Greg Scott, Defendants-Appellees.
COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION B
944 P.2d 559; 1996 Colo. App. LEXIS 343
November 29, 1996, Decided
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Released for Publication October 23, 1997.
Rehearing Denied February 6, 1997.
PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the District Court of Fremont County. Honorable John Anderson, Judge. No. 93CV123.
DISPOSITION: JUDGMENT AFFIRMED
COUNSEL: Gregory J. Hock, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
Hall & Evans, L.L.C., Alan Epstein, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees.
JUDGES: Opinion by JUDGE NEY. Pierce *, J. concurs. Tursi *, J. concurs in part and dissents in part.
* Sitting by assignment of the Chief Justice under provisions of the Colo. Const. art. VI, Sec. 5(3), and § 24-51-1105, C.R.S. (1996 Cum. Supp.).
OPINION BY: NEY
[*560] Opinion by JUDGE NEY
Plaintiff, Sue Forman, appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, Mark N. Brown d/b/a Brown’s Royal Gorge Rafting and Brown’s Fort, and Greg Scott. We affirm.
Plaintiff participated in a rafting trip conducted by defendants. During the trip, defendant Scott, the river guide, pulled the raft off the river for a rest break and suggested [*561] that the participants take a swim in the river. Scott led some of the participants, including plaintiff, to a large boulder near the river and instructed them on the proper method [**2] to enter the water. Plaintiff injured her ankle when she jumped into the river.
Plaintiff brought this action alleging negligence, willful and wanton conduct, and breach of contract. Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on the grounds that the exculpatory agreement executed by plaintiff before the trip absolved them from liability for negligence as a matter of law. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment, and later granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s remaining claims. This appeal followed.
Plaintiff argues that summary judgment was improper because a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether she was mentally competent when she signed the exculpatory agreement. We disagree.
[HN1] Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, and admissions show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. C.R.C.P. 56; Civil Service Commission v. Pinder, 812 P.2d 645 (Colo. 1991).
The moving party has the burden to show that there is no issue of material fact. Once the moving party has met its initial burden, the burden then [**3] shifts to the nonmoving party to establish that there is a triable issue of material fact. Mancuso v. United Bank, 818 P.2d 732 (Colo. 1991).
In determining whether summary judgment is proper, the nonmoving party must receive the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the undisputed facts. Mancuso v. United Bank, supra. Summary judgment is proper if reasonable persons could not reach differing conclusions. Morlan v. Durland Trust Co., 127 Colo. 5, 252 P.2d 98 (1952).
In their motion for summary judgment, defendants attached the exculpatory agreement, which was signed by plaintiff, entitled “Agreement to Participate (Acknowledgment of Risks),” and an agreement entitled “On River Prohibitions,” also signed by plaintiff, which listed rules that rafting participants were required to follow while on the rafts. Defendants also included plaintiff’s admissions that she signed the exculpatory agreements and that she was advised concerning the hazards involved in the raft trip. With this evidence, defendants established both the scope of the exculpatory agreement and the fact that plaintiff signed the agreement, and thus the burden shifted to plaintiff to establish [**4] triable issues of fact. Mancuso v. United Bank, supra.
Plaintiff admitted in her response to the summary judgment motion that she had signed the exculpatory agreement and she attached to her response an affidavit in which she stated:
I believe I am an intelligent woman and I
understand the (prohibition.) My failure to read the Agreement to Participate was related to my mental condition.
. . . .
Although I was not incompetent when I signed the on-river prohibitions and the Agreement to Participate, I do feel I lacked competency in the skills of independent decision-making and that I had mental impairment on relying on what Mr. Scott had advised.
Plaintiff also averred that she had been in therapy for several years before the incident, and included extensive documentation of the diagnosis and in-patient treatment of her emotional and mental condition that she underwent six months after the rafting incident. However, plaintiff’s complaint did not state any allegations of her impaired mental capacity.
Plaintiff filed a supplementary response to the summary judgment motion which included an affidavit from the therapist who had been treating her for several years prior to the rafting [**5] incident wherein the therapist stated that, at the time of the rafting trip, plaintiff was suffering from a mental impairment, “including a mental and/or emotional disability related to psychiatric problems, her [*562] inability to handle stress, emotional illness and severe psychiatric difficulties and serious emotional disturbances which prevented her from fully assessing the consequences of risks or prohibited conduct related to jumping into the river.” The therapist further opined that plaintiff had a tendency “to be quite vulnerable following the direction of someone she was trusting as well as to following the actions of those with whom she desired to be a part.”
Plaintiff also supplemented her response with an affidavit from a therapist who began treating her a year after the rafting incident in which the therapist averred that, at the time of the rafting incident, plaintiff’s need to be liked and accepted was likely to have caused her to suspend her own judgment in deference to others.
The trial court held that, even under the most favorable interpretation of the evidence, plaintiff did not show that she was incompetent to enter into a binding contract. Relying on plaintiff’s [**6] specific assertion that she was not incompetent when she signed the exculpatory agreements, the court found that plaintiff’s assertions of mental impairment, such as her need to belong to a group and her need to trust and follow the river guide, did not at all relate to her execution of a binding contract.
We agree with the trial court and find that the relevant evidence established, as a matter of law, that plaintiff was not, under principles of competency applicable to contracts in general, incompetent at the time she signed the exculpatory agreement.
[HN2] Every person is presumed by the law to be sane and competent for the purpose of entering into a contract. Hanks v. McNeil Coal Corp., 114 Colo. 578, 168 P.2d 256 (1946). A party can be insane for some purposes and still have the capacity to contract. Davis v. Colorado Kenworth Corp., 156 Colo. 98, 396 P.2d 958 (1964).
A person is incompetent to contract when the subject matter of the contract is so connected with an insane delusion as to render the afflicted party incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the agreement or of acting rationally in the transaction. Hanks v. McNeil Coal Corp., supra. Therefore, under this [**7] rule, it follows that emotional distress or severe mental depression generally is insufficient to negate the capacity to contract. See Drewry v. Drewry, 8 Va. App. 460, 383 S.E.2d 12 (Va. App. 1989)(severe mental depression did not render party to separation agreement legally incompetent where there was no evidence that party did not understand the nature and consequences of her acts).
Moreover, a contract may not be voided when, as here, the alleged incompetence arose after the execution of the contract. Competency to contract is determined by a party’s mental state at the time of execution of the agreement. See Hanks v. McNeil Coal Corp., supra.
[HN3] Where a party has failed to present sufficient evidence to make out a triable issue of material fact, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. See Continental Air Lines Inc. v. Keenan, 731 P.2d 708 (Colo. 1987).
Plaintiff admitted that she was not incompetent at the time she signed the exculpatory agreement, that she was “an intelligent woman,” and that she understood the “prohibition.” Additionally, none of plaintiff’s evidence of her psychological diagnosis and treatment showed that, at the time she signed the exculpatory agreements, she was [**8] suffering under an insane delusion that prevented her from understanding the nature and effect of the agreements or of acting rationally in the transaction.
Nor do we agree with plaintiff’s claim that her impaired mental capacity caused her to fail to read the Agreement to Participate. As noted above, plaintiff admitted that she was not incompetent when she signed the exculpatory agreements; therefore, her failure to read the Agreement to Participate precludes her from arguing that she is not bound by it. See Rasmussen v. Freehling, 159 Colo. 414, 412 P.2d 217 (1966)(in the absence of fraud, one who signs a contract without reading it is barred from claiming she is not bound by what she has signed); Cordillera Corp. v. Heard, 41 Colo. App. 537, 592 P.2d 12 (1978), aff’d, 200 Colo. 72, 612 [*563] P.2d 92 (1980)(party signing an agreement is presumed to know its contents).
We conclude, therefore, that plaintiff failed to establish a triable issue of fact concerning her capacity to execute a contract at the time she signed the exculpatory agreement.
Plaintiff also argues that the exculpatory agreement was invalid and ambiguous as to whether it applied to the activity in which she was [**9] injured. We disagree.
[HN4] The determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a matter of law for the court to determine. Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo. 1981).
The validity of an exculpatory agreement must be determined by the following four criteria: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Jones v. Dressel, supra.
Only the fourth factor is at issue here, and as to this factor, the supreme court has held that in order for an exculpatory agreement to shield a party from liability, the intent of the parties to extinguish liability must be clearly and unambiguously expressed. Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo. 1989).
The Agreement to Participate provided in relevant part:
I am aware that the activities I am participating in, under the arrangements of Brown’s Fort family recreation center; its agents, employees, and associates, involves certain inherent risks. I recognize that white water rafting, . . . and other activities, scheduled or unscheduled [**10] have an element of risk which combined with the forces of nature, acts of commission, or omission, by participants or others, can lead to injury or death.
I also state and acknowledge that the hazards include, but are not limited to the loss of control, collisions with rocks, trees and other man made or natural objects, whether they are obvious or not obvious, flips, immersions in water, hypothermia, and falls from vessels, vehicles, animals, or on land.
I understand that any route or activity, chosen as a part of our outdoor adventure may not be the safest, but has been chosen for its interest and challenge. . . . I . . . understand and agree that any bodily injury, death or loss of personal property, and expenses thereof, as a result of my . . . participation in any scheduled or unscheduled activities, are my responsibility. I hereby acknowledge that I and my family . . . have voluntarily applied to participate in these activities. I do hereby agree that I and my family . . . are in good health with no physical defects that might be injurious to me and that I and my family are able to handle the hazards of traffic, weather conditions, exposure to animals, walking, riding, and all [**11] and any similar conditions associated with the activities we have contracted for.
. . . .
I and my family . . . agree to follow the instructions and commands of the guides, wranglers, and others in charge at Brown’s Fort recreation center with conducting activities in which I and my family are engaged.
Further, and in consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips or other activities . . . I have and do hereby assume all the above risks and will hold Brown’s Fort . . . its agents, employees, and associates harmless from any and all liability, action, causes of action, debts, claims, and demands of any kind or nature whatsoever which I now have or which may arise out of, or in connection with, my trip or participation in any other activities.
The terms of this contract shall serve as a release and assumption of risk for my heirs, executors and administers and for all members of my family, including any minors accompanying me. . . .
I have carefully read this contract and fully understand its contents. I am aware [*564] that I am releasing certain legal rights that
I otherwise may have and I enter into this contract in behalf of myself and my family [**12] of my own free will.
Plaintiff was engaged in an apparently unscheduled activity that had an element of risk which, combined with the forces of nature and acts of others, resulted in an injury. The language of the Agreement to Participate specifically addressed a risk, collision with boulders, that adequately described the circumstances of plaintiff’s injury, and by executing the Agreement to Participate, plaintiff was specifically made aware of and agreed to assume this risk. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (broad language in a release interpreted to cover all negligence claims); Barker v. Colorado Region–Sports Car Club of America, Inc., 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P.2d 372 (1974) (in absence of duty to public, exculpatory agreements are valid when fairly made and may be enforced to preclude recovery for injury sustained by patrons of recreational facilities).
Therefore, we agree with the trial court that the Agreement to Participate unambiguously released defendants from liability for injuries occurring during associated scheduled or unscheduled activities such as the swimming activity here at issue.
Plaintiff’s final contention is that the trial court erred in [**13] dismissing her claim of willful and wanton conduct against defendant Scott. We disagree.
[HN5] An exculpatory agreement does not bar an action based upon injuries sustained by a defendant’s willful and wanton conduct. Barker v. Colorado Region-Sports Car Club of America, Inc., supra. Willful and wanton conduct is purposeful conduct committed recklessly that exhibits an intent consciously to disregard the safety of others. Such conduct extends beyond mere unreasonableness. Terror Mining Co. v. Roter, 866 P.2d 929 (Colo. 1994) (applying definition of willful and wanton conduct to parental immunity doctrine); see also § 13-21-102(1)(b), C.R.S. (1987 Repl. Vol. 6A)(for purposes of exemplary damages, willful and wanton conduct means conduct purposefully committed which the actor must have realized as dangerous and which was done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to the consequences, or of the rights and safety of others, particularly the plaintiff).
[HN6] Although the issue of whether a defendant’s conduct is purposeful or reckless is ordinarily a question of fact, Wolther v. Schaarschmidt, 738 P.2d 25 (Colo. App. 1986), if the record is devoid of sufficient evidence to raise a factual [**14] issue, then the question may be resolved by the court as a matter of law. See Continental Air Lines, Inc. v. Keenan, supra.
Plaintiff’s complaint alleged only that defendant Scott “beached the raft with Plaintiff and other guests, subsequently inviting, encouraging and directing Plaintiff and other guests to jump into the river and take a swim, directing them to a point of jumping that Scott represented as being safe for entry.” Plaintiff also gave a statement in which she said that, prior to the swim, defendant Scott reinforced the possibility of being hurt while jumping into the river but that he instructed the group on the proper manner of entry to avoid injury, and talked and stood close to the participants while they jumped.
Additionally, plaintiff stated in one of her affidavits:
Scott was with all of us monitoring the entry into the river. He gave brief instructions that we should try to jump with our feet up and keep our feet downstream and paddle to the shore. Although the possibility of being hurt existed, this clearly related to after we went downstream and tried to negotiate the river current and swim to the side of the river. I did not believe there were any safety [**15] problems in entering the water at the place he designated, nor could I see any submerged rocks.
. . . .
A couple jumped in before me and everything worked out fine. Their experience was consistent with what Scott had stated that if we followed his direction we would not get hurt.
. . . .
[*565] I feel that Scott was negligent in his suggesting the jumping and his preparing us and instructing us for that exercise.
Plaintiff’s evidence is insufficient to establish a factual question as to whether defendant Scott acted in a willful and wanton manner. Plaintiff’s statements that Scott instructed the participants on the proper manner to enter the water to avoid injury indicates that Scott did not consciously and willfully disregard the safety of the participants. Furthermore, plaintiff does not allege, nor does the record indicate, that Scott recklessly forced the participants to jump in the river or otherwise intentionally disregarded the participants’ safety. Rather, plaintiff states in her affidavit that Scott acted negligently. Negligence is not the same as willful or wanton conduct. Pettingell v. Moede, 129 Colo. 484, 271 P.2d 1038 (1954).
Therefore, the court properly entered summary [**16] judgment in defendant Scott’s favor. See Mancuso v. United Bank, supra.
The judgment is affirmed.
JUDGE PIERCE concurs.
JUDGE TURSI concurs in part and dissents in part.
CONCUR BY: TURSI (In Part)
DISSENT BY: TURSI (In Part)
JUDGE TURSI concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I concur in Parts I and III of the majority opinion and dissent as to Part II.
This matter is before us on summary judgment. The majority adequately sets forth the rules governing review of summary judgments. However, as to Part II, it misapplies them.
In Part II, the majority concludes that the documents which defendant had plaintiff execute were unambiguous. I disagree.
Plaintiff was presented with two documents by the defendants and was required to execute them simultaneously. These are the Agreement to Participate, quoted at length in the majority opinion, and the On River Prohibitions, which although mentioned, are not quoted.
It is axiomatic that if simultaneously executed agreements between the same parties and relating to the same subject matter are contained in more than one instrument, the documents must be construed together. Bledsoe v. Hill, 747 P.2d 10 (Colo. App. 1987).
The On River Prohibitions [**17] contained a prohibition that stated: “No diving or jumping into the river. (There are rocks under the surface of the river).”
By affidavit and by a statement appended to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, facts were presented that the guide had instructed plaintiff to “jump in” the river. In plaintiff’s affidavit (referred to by the majority), plaintiff further stated that the guide “indicated that we should jump into the water at that point.”
Plaintiff correctly argues that she was confronted with the requirement that she follow the instruction of the guide as required by the Agreement to Participate, but that this conflicted with a specific provision of the On River Prohibitions. The patently conflicting provision was, at a minimum, ambiguous and placed plaintiff in a situation that gave rise to a genuine issue of material fact. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781; Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370.
Clearly, the provision in the Agreement to Participate stating that participants “agree to follow the instruction . . . of the guides” creates a conflict when a participant is instructed by the guide to violate the specific prohibition against jumping into the river. Under [**18] these circumstances, an ambiguity arises which creates a genuine issue of material fact and thus, renders the entry of summary judgment reversible error.
Finally, after giving the entire agreement a fair reading, I am unable to comprehend how the majority can conclude that a prohibited activity is a foreseeable “unscheduled” [*566] activity. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781.
Therefore, in view of the ambiguity that arose under the documents based upon the material facts herein, I would reverse and remand to the trial court to proceed on the issues addressed in Part II of the majority opinion.
Hubert Schoeps; Christiane Schoeps, as heirs and beneficiaries of Sandra Schoeps, deceased, Plaintiffs – Appellants, v. Whitewater Adventures LLC; Mark Gholson, Defendants – Appellees.
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
136 Fed. Appx. 966; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 13181
June 15, 2005**, Submitted, San Francisco, California
** This panel unanimously finds this case suitable for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. App. P. 34(a)(2).
June 29, 2005, Filed
JUDGES: Before: TALLMAN, BYBEE, and BEA, Circuit Judges.
[*967] MEMORANDUM *
* This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3.
Hubert and Christiane Schoeps brought a diversity jurisdiction wrongful death action against Whitewater Adventures and its managing owner, Mark Gholson, alleging negligence, breach of contract, and intentional misrepresentation arising from the death of their daughter, Sandra Schoeps, during a whitewater rafting trip organized by the defendants. The district court granted the defendants summary [**2] judgment on all claims. The Schoeps appeal only the dismissal of their negligence claim against Whitewater Adventures. [HN1] We review de novo the grant of summary judgment. Buono v. Norton, 371 F.3d 543, 545 (9th Cir. 2004).
We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm. The district court correctly concluded that California law precludes recovery for Sandra’s personal injuries because she expressly assumed the risk of harm when she signed Whitewater Adventures’ liability release form before participating in the whitewater rafting activity. See Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc., 117 Cal. App. 4th 1301, 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d 678, 681 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004) (citation omitted). On the whole, the release is in plain language, contains a clear and comprehensive outline of the kinds of harm that may occur, and has [**3] the clear import of relieving Whitewater Adventures of liability for negligence or other harms. See Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 226 Cal. App. 3d 758, 276 Cal. Rptr. 672, 676-77 (Cal. Ct. App. 1990).
Moreover, we conclude that the liability release was not unconscionable. See Ilkhchooyi v. Best, 37 Cal. App. 4th 395, 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 766, 774-75 (Cal. Ct. App. 1995) (noting that [HN2] unconscionability has “procedural and substantive elements, both of which must be present to invalidate a clause”). Substantively, it is not unreasonable or unexpected for an organizer of adventure sports to reallocate risk to the participants through a liability waiver. See, e.g., Ford v. Gouin, 3 Cal. 4th 339, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724, 728 (Cal. 1992). Procedurally, there were no hidden terms in the liability release, and the most oppressive aspect of the situation was that if Sandra refused to sign it she could not go with the group on the river and might be stuck without transportation in an isolated area. But this was not caused by any action or inaction On Whitewater Adventures’ part; nor is there any evidence in the record that Denyse Caven, who had driven Sandra to the meeting point, would have been unwilling to [**4] leave with Sandra or to let Sandra drive herself, nor that no other transportation was available. The district court recognized that Sandra had only a few minutes to decide whether to sign the release and would have lost her pre-paid ticket price had she refused to sign. However, this is not sufficient to constitute oppression or lack of meaningful choice, particularly insofar as Sandra had been given a brochure before the rafting trip in which Whitewater Adventures stated: “we require all trip participants to sign a liability release [*968] waiver before embarking on your trip.” See Ilkhchooyi, 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 775.
[HN3] We may affirm on any ground supported by the record, San Jose Christian Coll. v. City of Morgan Hill, 360 F.3d 1024, 1030 (9th Cir. 2004), and therefore do not reach the issue of whether recovery is also barred under the primary assumption of risk doctrine. See Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, 32 Cal. App. 4th 248, 38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65, 67-68 (Cal. Ct. App. 1995).
The Schoeps’ maritime jurisdiction claim was not presented to the district court and so we do not consider it here. See United States v. Flores-Payon, 942 F.2d 556, 558 (9th Cir. 1991). [**5]
Haffner, et al., v Killington, Ltd., 119 A.D.3d 912; 990 N.Y.S.2d 561; 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5452; 2014 NY Slip Op 05522Posted: January 6, 2015
Claudia Mejia-Haffner, et al., appellants, v Killington, Ltd., respondent, et al., defendants. (Index No. 30370/10)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT
119 A.D.3d 912; 990 N.Y.S.2d 561; 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5452; 2014 NY Slip Op 05522
July 30, 2014, Decided
COUNSEL: [***1] Gordon & Haffner, LLP, Bayside, N.Y. (Steven R. Haffner, Pro se, of counsel), for appellants.
Ryan Smith & Carbine, P.C., Glens Falls, N.Y. (Mark F. Werle of counsel), for respondent.
JUDGES: MARK C. DILLON, J.P., THOMAS A. DICKERSON, LEONARD B. AUSTIN, SANDRA L. SGROI, JJ. DILLON, J.P., DICKERSON, AUSTIN and SGROI, JJ., concur.
[**562] [*912] DECISION & ORDER
In an action, inter alia, to recover damages for personal injuries, etc., the plaintiffs appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, Queens County (Grays, J.), dated December 19, 2011, which granted the motion of the defendant Killington, Ltd., for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against it.
ORDERED that the order is affirmed, with costs.
The plaintiff Claudia Mejia-Haffner and her husband, the plaintiff Steven R. Haffner, enrolled in a ski racing instructional camp operated by Killington/Pico Ski Resort Partners, LLC, sued herein as Killington, Ltd. (hereinafter Killington), at Killington’s ski resort in Vermont. The plaintiffs made their reservations through the American Ski Racing Association. While participating in the camp, Mejia-Haffner (hereinafter the injured plaintiff) was injured, and the plaintiffs commenced this action [***2] against, among others, Killington.
Killington moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against it on the ground, inter alia, that it was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New York. The Supreme Court granted Killington’s motion for summary judgment finding, among other things, that New York did not have jurisdiction over Killington.
[**563] [HN1] “A foreign corporation is amenable to suit in New York courts under CPLR 301 if it has engaged in such a continuous and systematic course of doing business’ here that a finding of its presence’ in this jurisdiction is warranted” (Landoil Resources Corp. v Alexander & Alexander Servs., 77 NY2d 28, 33, 565 N.E.2d 488, 563 N.Y.S.2d 739, quoting Laufer v Ostrow, 55 NY2d 305, 309-310, 434 N.E.2d 692, 449 N.Y.S.2d 456; see [*913] Cardone v Jiminy Peak, 245 AD2d 1002, 1003, 667 N.Y.S.2d 82; Sedig v Okemo Mtn., 204 AD2d 709, 710, 612 N.Y.S.2d 643). [HN2] Mere solicitation of business within New York will not subject a defendant to New York’s jurisdiction (see Cardone v Jiminy Peak, 245 AD2d at 1003; Sedig v Okemo Mtn., 204 AD2d at 710). Instead, a plaintiff asserting jurisdiction under CPLR 301 must satisfy the standard of “solicitation plus,” which requires a showing of ” activities of substance in addition to solicitation'” (Arroyo v Mountain School, 68 AD3d 603, 604, 892 N.Y.S.2d 74, quoting Laufer v Ostrow, 55 NY2d at 310; see Cardone v Jiminy Peak, 245 AD2d at 1003; Sedig v Okemo Mtn., 204 AD2d at 710).
Even assuming that Killington engaged in substantial advertising in New York, as the plaintiffs claim, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Killington also engaged in substantial activity within this State sufficient to satisfy the solicitation-plus standard. Contrary [***3] to the plaintiffs’ contention, this Court’s decision in Grimaldi v Guinn (72 AD3d 37, 49-50, 895 N.Y.S.2d 156) does not stand for the principle that a business’s interactive website, accessible in New York, subjects it to suit in this State for all purposes. Instead, the Grimaldi decision stands only for the more limited principle that [HN3] a website may support specific jurisdiction in New York where the claim asserted has some relationship to the business transacted via the website (see id.; see also Paterno v Laser Spine Inst., 112 AD3d 34, 973 N.Y.S.2d 681). Here, even Killington’s alleged substantial solicitation in New York constitutes no more than solicitation (see Cardone v Jiminy Peak, 245 AD2d at 1004; see also Arroyo v Mountain School, 68 AD3d at 603-604; Sedig v Okemo Mtn., 204 AD2d at 710; Chamberlain v Jiminy Peak, 155 AD2d 768, 547 N.Y.S.2d 706).
[HN4] CPLR 302(a)(1), the section of New York’s long-arm statute at issue in this case, grants New York courts jurisdiction over nondomiciliaries when the action arises out of the nondomiciliaries’ “transact[ion of] any business within the state or contract  . . . to supply goods or services in the state” (CPLR 302[a]). [HN5] Pursuant to CPLR 302(a)(1), jurisdiction is proper “even though the defendant never enters New York, so long as the defendant’s activities here were purposeful and there is a substantial relationship between the transaction and the claim asserted” (Fischbarg v Doucet, 9 NY3d 375, 380, 880 N.E.2d 22, 849 N.Y.S.2d 501 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Deutsche Bank Sec., Inc. v Montana Bd. of Invs., 7 NY3d 65, 71, 850 N.E.2d 1140, 818 N.Y.S.2d 164; Kreutter v McFadden Oil Corp., 71 NY2d 460, 467, 522 N.E.2d 40, 527 N.Y.S.2d 195; Muse Collections, Inc. v Carissima Bijoux, Inc., 86 AD3d 631, 927 N.Y.S.2d 389). “Purposeful activities are those [***4] with which a defendant, through volitional acts, avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within [*914] the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws'” (Fischbarg v Doucet, 9 NY3d at 380, [**564] quoting McKee Elec. Co. v Rauland-Borg Corp., 20 NY2d 377, 382, 229 N.E.2d 604, 283 N.Y.S.2d 34; see Grimaldi v Guinn, 72 AD3d at 44; Sedig v Okemo Mtn., 204 AD2d at 710).
[HN6] Although a plaintiff is not required to plead and prove personal jurisdiction in the complaint (see Fischbarg v Doucet, 9 NY3d at 381 n 5; Halas v Dick’s Sporting Goods, 105 AD3d 1411, 964 N.Y.S.2d 808; Cadle Co. v Ayala, 47 AD3d 919, 920, 850 N.Y.S.2d 563; Ying Jun Chen v Lei Shi, 19 AD3d 407, 407-408, 796 N.Y.S.2d 126), where jurisdiction is contested, the ultimate burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff (see Halas v Dick’s Sporting Goods, 105 AD3d at 1411; Arroyo v Mountain School, 68 AD3d at 604; Shore Pharm. Providers, Inc. v Oakwood Care Ctr., Inc., 65 AD3d 623, 624, 885 N.Y.S.2d 88; Stardust Dance Prods., Ltd. v Cruise Groups Intl., Inc., 63 AD3d 1262, 1264, 881 N.Y.S.2d 192; Ying Jun Chen v Lei Shi, 19 AD3d at 407; Armouth Intl. v Haband Co., 277 AD2d 189, 190, 715 N.Y.S.2d 438).
Here, the plaintiffs alleged that Killington’s negligence stemmed from the injured plaintiff being injured after having been instructed by ski instructors to unbuckle her ski boots as part of a training exercise so that when she fell, her ski bindings failed to release. They also alleged that Killington was negligent due to the instructors’ failure to warn her of the dangers of such activity. Further, the injured plaintiff submitted an affidavit, in opposition to Killington’s motion, stating that her injury occurred when another skier ran over the tails of her skis, causing her to fall and her bindings to fail to release, since she had been skiing with her boots unbuckled as instructed and that she was unaware that skiing with her boots unbuckled would disable the ski bindings [***5] until she was informed of this information by the ski patrol. Based on the allegations in the complaint and the statements in the injured plaintiff’s affidavit, there is no substantial relationship between Killington’s maintenance of a website through which a person in New York could purchase services and the alleged tort that occurred. Such allegations are “too remote from [Killington’s] alleged sales and promotional activities to support long-arm jurisdiction under CPLR 302(a)(1)” (Sedig v Okemo Mtn., 204 AD2d at 710-711; see Meunier v Stebo, Inc., 38 AD2d 590, 591, 328 N.Y.S.2d 608). Thus, Killington is not subject to long-arm jurisdiction under CPLR 302(a)(1).
The plaintiffs’ contention that the complaint contains a breach of contract cause of action relating to their purchase of reservations in New York is improperly raised for the first time on appeal, and therefore is not properly before this Court.
[*915] Furthermore, contrary to their contention, the plaintiffs have not made ” a sufficient start'” to warrant holding the motion in abeyance while discovery is conducted on the issue of jurisdiction (Shore Pharm. Providers, Inc. v Oakwood Care Ctr., Inc., 65 AD3d at 624, quoting Peterson v Spartan Indus., 33 NY2d 463, 467, 310 N.E.2d 513, 354 N.Y.S.2d 905; see Amigo Foods Corp. v Marine Midland Bank-N.Y., 39 NY2d 391, 395, 348 N.E.2d 581, 384 N.Y.S.2d 124; Stardust Dance Prods., Ltd. v Cruise Groups Intl., Inc., 63 AD3d at 1265; Ying Jun Chen v Lei Shi, 19 AD3d at 408). The plaintiffs have not alleged facts which would support personal jurisdiction under either CPLR 301 or under CPLR 302(a)(1), and thus have failed to indicate how further discovery might lead to evidence showing [***6] that [**565] personal jurisdiction exists here (see Lang v Wycoff Hgts. Med. Ctr., 55 AD3d 793, 794, 866 N.Y.S.2d 313).
In light of the foregoing, we need not reach the parties’ remaining contentions.
DILLON, J.P., DICKERSON, AUSTIN and SGROI, JJ., concur.
Mcquivey v. Fulmer Helmets, Inc., 2014 UT App 177; 335 P.3d 361; 766 Utah Adv. Rep. 32; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 184; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P19,438Posted: January 6, 2015
Jamie Mcquivey, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Fulmer Helmets, Inc., Defendant and Appellee.
COURT OF APPEALS OF UTAH
2014 UT App 177; 335 P.3d 361; 766 Utah Adv. Rep. 32; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 184; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P19,438
July 31, 2014, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Fourth District Court, Provo Department. The Honorable Claudia Laycock. No. 090403384.
COUNSEL: Mark R. Taylor, Henry N. Didier Jr., and P. Alexander Gillen, Attorneys for Appellant.
Julianne P. Blanch and Tsutomu L. Johnson, Attorneys for Appellee.
JUDGES: JUDGE J. FREDERIC VOROS JR. authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE JOHN A. PEARCE concurred. JUDGE JAMES Z. DAVIS concurred in the result.
OPINION BY: J. FREDERIC VOROS JR.
[*P1] Eight-year-old Conway Cook crashed an all-terrain vehicle while wearing a protective helmet. Instead of protecting him, the helmet cracked and injured his face. Conway’s mother sued various defendants on his behalf. The district court dismissed the claim against Fulmer Helmets, Inc. under the passive-retailer doctrine. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
1 [HN1] When reviewing a district court’s rulings on a summary judgment motion, we recite all facts and fair inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Poteet v. White, 2006 UT 63, ¶ 7, 147 P.3d 439.
[*P2] In 2008, Conway Cook drove his ATV down a dirt path, trailing his grandfather’s truck. Conway wore a Fulmer Blade AF-C1, a helmet designed for children. While driving along the path, Conway hit a shallow ditch. The impact ejected Conway and flipped [**2] the ATV. The helmet’s chinguard snapped on impact, and the sharp edge of the now-serrated plastic guard cut deeply into Conway’s face. His injuries were serious and will require lifelong care and future surgeries.
[*P3] On Conway’s behalf, his mother, Jamie McQuivey, sued three parties: Kim Yong Lung Industrial (KYL), which manufactured the helmet in Taiwan; Fulmer Helmets, which distributed the helmet throughout the American market; and White Knuckle Motor Sports, which sold the helmet to Conway’s father. Against Fulmer, McQuivey alleged strict liability for defective design as well as negligence and failure to warn.
[*P4] The district court dismissed McQuivey’s claims against both KYL and White Knuckle. McQuivey stipulated to White Knuckle’s dismissal because the evidence showed that White Knuckle had neither knowledge of potential defects nor influence over the helmet’s design, safety, or manufacturing. KYL moved to dismiss the claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. Fulmer and McQuivey did not oppose the motion, and the district court granted it, leaving Fulmer as the lone defendant.
[*P5] Fulmer moved for summary judgment. Fulmer argued that, as a passive retailer, it could not be [**3] held liable for defects in the helmet. The district court agreed and dismissed all claims against Fulmer, terminating the litigation.
ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
[*P6] McQuivey contends that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Fulmer on the ground that it qualifies as a passive retailer. [HN2] We review a district court’s “legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment for correctness . . . and view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 6, 177 P.3d 600 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, “[t]he determination of whether a passive seller of a product can be held strictly liable under the Utah Liability Reform Act . . . is based on the trial court’s interpretation of a statute, which we review for correctness without deference to the trial court’s conclusions.” Yirak v. Dan’s Super Mkts., Inc., 2008 UT App 210, ¶ 3, 188 P.3d 487 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
[*P7] McQuivey contends that the district court improperly applied the passive-retailer doctrine to Fulmer and thus erred in dismissing Fulmer from the case. She argues that Fulmer does not qualify as a passive retailer because “[Fulmer] is not passive in the design, manufacturing, [**4] and testing of the helmets bearing its name.” Fulmer responds that it qualifies as a passive retailer because it “does not design or manufacture helmets.”
[*P8] [HN3] Under general principles of tort law, “as between an injured buyer of a product, and the seller of the product, the seller must bear the liability.” Sanns v. Butterfield Ford, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 15, 94 P.3d 301. Utah has long recognized a cause of action against the seller of defective products. Hahn v. Armco Steel Co., 601 P.2d 152, 158 (Utah 1979). Under Utah’s Product Liability Act, a “manufacturer or other initial seller” who sells an “unreasonably dangerous product” may be liable for resulting “personal injury, death, or property damage.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-703(1) (LexisNexis 2008). And under the Second Restatement of Torts, section 402A, the commercial seller of a defective product may be held strictly liable–liable without proof of fault–for harm caused by the product:
One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ultimate user or consumer, or to his property, if (a) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and (b) it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965) expressly [**5] adopted in Hahn, 601 P.2d at 158. Thus, because “strict liability does not require an examination of a party’s fault,” a manufacturer or other initial seller can be held liable for a defective product regardless of its degree of fault. Sanns, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 14 n.5, 94 P.3d 301. However, these rules exist in tension with another feature of Utah tort law: comparative fault.
[*P9] Comparative fault became the law of Utah in 1986. Before that time, Utah applied the common-law rule of joint-and-several liability. Under joint-and-several liability, “a tortfeasor was potentially liable for the entire amount of a plaintiff’s damages, irrespective of what proportion of fault was actually attributable to that individual tortfeasor as opposed to another joint tortfeasor.” National Serv. Indus. v. B.W. Norton Mfg. Co., 937 P.2d 551, 554 (Utah Ct. App. 1997). In 1986, the Utah Legislature enacted the Liability Reform Act. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-820(1) (LexisNexis 2008). [HN4] The Act replaced the rule of joint-and-several tort liability with a rule of comparative fault. A plaintiff’s “recovery of damages under the Product Liability Act is proportionate to the percentage of fault attributable to each defendant.” Yirak, 2008 UT App 210, ¶ 4, 188 P.3d 487. The Act defines “fault” to include strict liability. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-817(2) (LexisNexis 2008). Consequently, a plaintiff in a products-liability case may recover from each defendant only [**6] in proportion to that defendant’s fault (including strict liability).2
2 We previously noted that the legislature’s “inclusion of ‘strict liability’ in defining ‘fault’ is confusing and somewhat problematic because unlike negligence, strict liability does not require an examination of a party’s fault.” Sanns v. Butterfield Ford, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 14 n.5, 94 P.3d 301. “The use of strict liability in this statutory definition should be viewed only as a cause of action subject to the [Liability Reform Act], rather than changing the traditional use of the term fault to somehow include strict liability, a liability concept that is unconcerned with fault in the usual sense of culpability.” Id.
[*P10] Tension inheres between the principles of Utah’s comparative-fault statute and Utah’s products-liability statute because together they require a finder of fact to apportion relative fault to a codefendant whose liability does not depend on fault as commonly understood in tort law. In response to this tension, this court devised the passive-retailer doctrine.
[*P11] [HN5] The passive-retailer doctrine creates an exception to strict liability under the Product Liability Act for “passive retailers”–sellers who do not “participate in the design, manufacture, engineering, testing, or [**7] assembly” of a product. Sanns, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 21, 94 P.3d 301. Under this doctrine, “a passive retailer is not subject to a strict liability claim . . . where the manufacturer is a named party to the action.” Yirak v. Dan’s Super Mkts. Inc., 2008 UT App 210, ¶ 5, 188 P.3d 487. The passive-retailer doctrine thus allows the trial court to dismiss a strict-liability claim against a codefendant when undisputed facts establish that no fact finder could, under principles of comparative fault, apportion fault to that codefendant. In this circumstance, “as long as [the actual manufacturer] is present in the suit, there remains no reason to require [a passive retailer] to incur the time and expense of defending” the action. Sanns, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 21, 94 P.3d 301.3
3 Other jurisdictions have sought to protect passive sellers from the effects of section 402A in other ways or left them unprotected. Some jurisdictions that adopted section 402A sought to protect passive sellers with legislation prohibiting a strict-liability suit against a seller unless the seller either manufactures the product or participates in the manufacture of the product. See, e.g., Ga. Code Ann. § 51-1-11.1 (2000); Ind. Code § 34-20-2-3 (2008); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-21,181 (2008). Other jurisdictions have enacted legislation prohibiting strict-liability suits against passive sellers unless no remedy exists against the manufacturer. See, e.g., Del. Code Ann. tit. 18, § 7001 (1999); Idaho Code Ann. § 6-1407(4) (2010); [**8] Iowa Code § 613.18 (West 1999); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-3306 (Supp. 2012); Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 411.340 (LexisNexis 2005); Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-405 (LexisNexis 2013); Minn. Stat. Ann. § 544.41 (West 2010); Mo. Ann. Stat. § 537.762 (West 2008); N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 99B-2 (2013); N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01.3-04 (2006); Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-106 (Supp. 2013); Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 7-72.040(2) (West 2007). And a significant number of jurisdictions that adopted section 402A have not enacted any legislation to protect passive sellers and continue to subject passive sellers to strict liability. See, e.g., Clark v. Williamson, 129 F. Supp. 2d 956, 959 (S.D. Miss. 2000) (applying Mississippi law and holding that a passive retailer could be strictly liable in products-liability suit); Oser v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 951 F. Supp. 115, 119 (S.D. Tex. 1996) (holding that a plaintiff injured by a defective shopping bag can sue the passive retailer); Nichols v. Agway, Inc., 280 A.D.2d 889, 720 N.Y.S.2d 691, 692 (N.Y. App. Div. 1994) (confirming that retailers are subject to strict-liability suits but dismissing on other grounds); Honeywell v. GADA Builders, Inc., 2012 OK CIV APP 11, 271 P.3d 88, 95 (Okla. Civ. App. 2011) (“The rationale for imposing strict liability on retailers and distributors is founded upon the public interests in human safety. . . .”).
[*P12] This court has applied the passive-retailer doctrine only twice.4 In Sanns, a van in which Sanns was a passenger rolled several times. Id. ¶ 2. Sanns sued both the manufacturer–Ford Motor Company–and the retailer– Butterfield Ford. Id. ¶ 3. We held that Butterfield Ford qualified as a passive retailer because it “did not participate in the design, manufacture, engineering, testing, or assembly of the van.” Id. ¶ 21. [**9] As a result, we concluded, “The strict liability ‘fault’ in this case, if any, lies with the manufacturer, not with Butterfield Ford, the passive retailer.” Id. Consequently, we held that “the trial court was correct to dismiss Butterfield Ford.” Id.
4 The Utah Supreme Court has yet to address or apply the passive-retailer doctrine.
[*P13] This court again applied the passive-retailer doctrine in Yirak, 2008 UT App 210, 188 P.3d 487. After discovering a piece of glass in her prepackaged salad, Yirak sued both the seller–Dan’s Super Markets–and the manufacturer–Dole. Id. ¶¶ 2, 5 n.3. However, Dan’s submitted undisputed evidence that it did not “manufacture, design, repackage, label, or inspect the prepackaged salads supplied by Dole.” Id. ¶ 7. Consequently, we held that Dan’s qualified as a passive retailer. Id. ¶ 8.
[*P14] Notably, the passive retailers in Sanns and Yirak did not Participate in the creation of the defective or unreasonably dangerous products at issue in those cases–they did not participate in the products’ design, manufacture, or testing. See Sanns v. Butterfield Ford, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 21, 94 P.3d 301; Yirak, 2008 UT App 210, ¶ 7, 188 P.3d 487. They were thus not “in a position to eliminate the unsafe character of the product and prevent the loss,” one of the rationales for imposing strict liability. See Hebel v. Sherman Equip., 92 Ill. 2d 368, 442 N.E.2d 199, 205, 65 Ill. Dec. 888 (Ill. 1982).
[*P15] In contrast, [**10] McQuivey presented evidence demonstrating that Fulmer did participate in the manufacture, design, and testing of the helmets that bear its name. First, Fulmer participates in helmet design. Fulmer receives sample helmets from KYL to ensure that they fit properly. One of Fulmer’s representatives stated, “[W]e might have to tell [KYL] this is tight here or loose here and they change something about the comfort padding perhaps to–to adjust the way it fits. But we work through that.” Fulmer also designs the helmets’ graphics and tags.5 Though relatively slight, this degree of involvement in helmet design distinguishes Fulmer from Dan’s and Butterfield Ford, who had no role in the design of the products they sold.
5 Fulmer’s tags contain explicit warnings, instructions for sizing, and a directive stating, “If helmet experiences a severe blow, return it to the manufacturer for competent inspection or destroy and replace it.” Below this direction, in all capital letters, the tag reads, “FULMER HELMETS, INC.”
[*P16] Fulmer also participates in the helmets’ manufacture. Fulmer performs on-site visits to KYL’s helmet factory twice annually. Fulmer examines KYL’s quality-control procedures. Furthermore, Fulmer [**11] requires that KYL manufacture its helmets in compliance with United States Department of Transportation standards, “100 percent, every helmet, all the time.” This level of involvement constitutes “participation” in the manufacturing process. See Sanns, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 21, 94 P.3d 301.
[*P17] Fulmer also participates in the helmets’ testing. Fulmer requires that KYL test all Fulmer helmets, and Fulmer itself has the helmets tested “from time to time.” As mentioned above, Fulmer test-fits helmets and then instructs KYL to make changes accordingly. Furthermore, Fulmer has had helmets tested “both in KYL as well as in labs in the United States” to ensure that all helmets comply with U.S. standards.
[*P18] Finally, we note that Fulmer holds itself out to the public as the manufacturer of the helmets that bear its name. Under Second Restatement of Torts, “[o]ne who puts out as his own product a chattel manufactured by another is subject to the same liability as though he were its manufacturer.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 400 (1965). “[O]ne puts out a chattel as his own product when he puts it out under his name or affixes to it his trade name or trademark.” Id., § 400 cmt. d. Courts typically refer to this as the “apparent-manufacturer doctrine.” Long v. United States Brass Corp., 333 F. Supp. 2d 999, 1002 (D. Colo. 2004) (citing Yoder v. Honeywell Inc., 104 F.3d 1215, 1223 (10th Cir. 1997)). “The primary rationale for imposing [**12] liability on the apparent manufacturer of a defective product is that it induced the purchasing public to believe that it is the actual manufacturer, and . . . [thus] to purchase the product in reliance on the apparent manufacturer’s reputation and skill in making it.” Hebel, 442 N.E.2d at 203 (emphasis omitted). Although Utah has not yet addressed the question, most jurisdictions to consider the apparent-manufacturer doctrine have adopted it.6
6 See, e.g., Carney v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 309 F.2d 300, 304 (4th Cir. 1962) (citing Highland Pharmacy, Inc. v. White, 144 Va. 106, 131 S.E. 198 (Va. 1926)); Davis v. United States Gauge, 844 F. Supp. 1443, 1446 (D. Kan. 1994); Moody v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 324 F. Supp. 844, 846 (S.D. Ga. 1971) superseded by statute as stated in Freeman v. United Cities Propane Gas, Inc., 807 F. Supp. 1533, 1539-40 (M.D. Ga. 1992); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Morris, 273 Ala. 218, 136 So. 2d 883, 885 (Ala. 1961); Cravens, Dargan & Co. v. Pacific Indem. Co., 29 Cal. App. 3d 594, 105 Cal. Rptr. 607, 611 (Ct. App. 1972); King v. Douglas Aircraft Co., 159 So.2d 108, 110 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.1963); Dudley Sports Co. v. Schmitt, 151 Ind. App. 217, 279 N.E.2d 266, 273 (Ind. Ct. App. 1972); Tice v. Wilmington Chem. Corp., 259 Iowa 27, 141 N.W.2d 616, 628 (Iowa 1966); Penn v. Inferno Mfg. Corp., 199 So.2d 210, 215 (La. Ct. App. 1967); Coca Cola Bottling Co. v. Reeves, 486 So.2d 374, 378 (Miss. 1986) superseded by statute as stated in Turnage v. Ford Motor Co., 260 F. Supp. 2d 722, 727 (S.D. Ind. 2003)); Slavin v. Francis H. Leggett & Co., 114 N.J.L. 421, 177 A. 120, 121 (N.J. 1935) aff’d, 117 N.J.L. 101, 186 A. 832 (N.J. 1936)); Andujar v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 193 A.D.2d 415, 597 N.Y.S.2d 78, 78 (App. Div. 1993) (citing Commissioners of State Ins. Fund v. City Chem. Corp., 290 N.Y. 64, 48 N.E.2d 262, 265 (N.Y. 1943)); Warzynski v. Empire Comfort Sys., Inc., 102 N.C. App. 222, 401 S.E.2d 801, 803-04 (N.C. Ct. App. 1991); Forry v. Gulf Oil Corp., 428 Pa. 334, 237 A.2d 593, 599 (Pa. 1968); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Black, 708 S.W.2d 925, 928 (Tex. App. 1986); Wojciuk v. United States Rubber Co., 13 Wis. 2d 173, 108 N.W.2d 149, 152-53 (Wis. 1961).
[*P19] As McQuivey has not urged us to adopt the apparent manufacturer doctrine here, we reserve that question for another day. We note, however, that Fulmer distributed the Blade AF-C1 helmet under its own name; typically describes itself as the “manufacturer” of Fulmer helmets on equipment safety reports filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; and puts its name on tags inside its helmets, certifying that they meet the applicable safety standards.
[*P20] Even without resort to the apparent-manufacturer doctrine, we conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Fulmer as a passive retailer. See [**13] Sanns, 2004 UT App 203, ¶ 21, 94 P.3d 301. Although KYL principally conducted the manufacturing, design, and testing of the helmets, [HN6] the passive-retailer doctrine does not ask whose role in manufacturing a defective product was the greatest; rather it asks whether a party “participate[d] in the design, manufacture, engineering, testing, or assembly of” the product. Id. This follows from the passive-retailer doctrine’s rationale, which is to dismiss codefendants to whom the finder of fact will, should the matter go to trial, inevitably apportion no fault.7
7 McQuivey also argues that the court erred in granting summary judgment in Fulmer’s favor on two other grounds: first, that “the passive-retailer doctrine is inappropriate” here because “the alleged manufacturer was never a proper party to this case,” and second, that “even if the doctrine otherwise applied, only the strict-liability claims against Fulmer should be dismissed.” Because we determine that the court erred in ruling that Fulmer qualifies as a passive retailer, we do not address these arguments.
[*P21] We reverse the district court’s judgment of dismissal and remand the case for further proceedings.
[**1] Kathleen Ferrari, as Administratrix of the Estate of Dennis Ferrari, and Kathleen Ferrari, Individually. Plaintiffs, – against – Bob’s Canoe Rental, Inc., Defendant. INDEX No. 09-6690
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, SUFFOLK COUNTY
2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3768; 2014 NY Slip Op 32209(U)
July 31, 2014, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.
CORE TERMS: river, canoe, trip, low tide, summary judgment, stranded, deposition, tide, rented, canoeing, paddling, safe, launch, minutes, mile, issue of fact, nonparty, high tide, entitlement, newspaper, decedent, halfway, paddle, facie, launched, arrived, canoed, times, stuck, woman
COUNSEL: [*1] For Plaintiffs: ELOVICH & ADELL, ESQS., Long Beach, New York.
For Defendant: GORDON & SILBER, P.C., New York, New York.
JUDGES: PRESENT: Hon. DENISE F. MOLIA, Acting Justice of the Supreme Court.
OPINION BY: DENISE F. MOLIA
ORDERED that these motions are hereby consolidated for purposes of this determination; and it is further
ORDERED that the motion by the defendant for an order pursuant to CPLR 3212 granting summary judgment dismissing the complaint is granted, and it is further
ORDERED that the motion by the defendant for an order pursuant to CPLR 1021 dismissing the complaint for failure to substitute a representative on behalf of the decedent Dennis Ferrari is denied as academic.
This action was commenced to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiff Kathleen Ferrari, and her husband, the decedent Dennis Ferrari, when they were exposed to the elements after becoming stranded at low tide while canoeing on the Nissequogue River in Suffolk County, New York. The Ferraris had rented the canoe used by them that day from the defendant. In the complaint, the Ferraris allege, among other things, that the defendant was negligent in permitting them to rent the canoe and launch so close in time to low [*2] tide, and in advising them that it was safe to begin their canoe trip when the defendant knew or should have known it was unsafe to do so.
[**2] The following facts involving this incident are undisputed. The Ferraris rented a canoe from the defendant on October 27, 2008, intending to make a one-way trip on the Nissequogue River from a launching site located in a park in Smithtown, New York to a park in Kings Park, New York. Both sites were used by the defendant in its business of renting canoes to the public. The defendant’s employee, Geoffrey Lawrence, met the Ferraris, both signed the defendant’s release of liability form, and Dennis Ferrari signed a written lease agreement for the canoe.
The defendant now moves for summary judgment on the grounds that the Ferraris assumed the risk of their activities and that the defendant did not breach a duty of care. In support of the motion, the defendant submits, among other things, the pleadings, the deposition transcripts of the parties, the deposition transcripts of three nonparty witnesses, and an affidavit from an expert. The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, [*3] tendering sufficient evidence to eliminate any material issue of fact (see Alvarez v Prospect Hospital, 68 NY2d 320, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 NYS2d 923 ; Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 NYS2d 316 ). The burden then shifts to the party opposing the motion which must produce evidentiary proof in admissible form sufficient to require a trial of the material issues of fact (Roth v Barreto, 289 AD2d 557, 735 NYS2d 197 [2d Dept 2001]; Rebecchi v Whitmore, 172 AD2d 600, 568 NYS2d 423 [2d Dept 1991]; O’Neill v Fishkill, 134 AD2d 487, 521 NYS2d 272 [2d Dept 1987]). Furthermore, the parties’ competing interest must be viewed “in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion” (Marine Midland Bank, N.A. v Dino & Artie’s Automatic Transmission Co., 168 AD2d 610, 563 NYS2d 449 [2d Dept 1990]).
At his deposition, Dennis Ferrari testified that he had canoed approximately 12 times when he was younger and a Boy Scout, and that, before this incident, he had canoed as an adult on the Nissequogue River two times. He indicated that his first trip took four to four and one-half hours to travel the length of the river, and that his second trip took five hours to complete. He stated that he rented canoes for those trips, that he “believes” they were rented from the defendant, and that the rental company “schedule[s] you around the tides.” Dennis Ferrari further testified that he called the defendant the day before this trip to rent a canoe, that he believes that he was told it would be high tide for his trip at either 9:00 or 10:00 a.m, and that he was aware that low tide was generally six hours [*4] after high tide. He stated that he himself checked the time of high tide in the local newspaper, and that he does so “every day, because I do a lot of fishing.” He indicated that, on the day of this incident, he awoke at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and had breakfast, that he packed a lunch with wine and vodka, that he left his home at 9:30 a.m. to travel to Smithtown to rent the canoe, and that no one from the defendant was there when he arrived at approximately 10:00 a.m. He declared that neither he or his wife had cell phones, that they waited approximately one hour and then contacted the defendant by pay phone, and that he was told to travel to the mouth of the river in Kings Park. Dennis Ferrari further testified that he arrived at Kings Park at 11:30 or 11:45 a.m., that “there was somebody waiting there,” and “by this time, I’m thinking that its getting a little late, and I asked him if it was going to be a problem.” He stated that the person then drove them back to Smithtown, that they arrived “probably close to 12:30,” and “I just asked if we had enough time to make it down river. He said, yeah, it won’t be a problem.” He indicated that he and his wife launched the canoe a little after [*5] 12:30, that both were paddling the canoe, and that they did not eat or drink anything before they “got stuck” at approximately 4:30 p.m. Dennis Ferrari further testified that, for the approximately four hours before they were stranded, he and his wife were paddling [**3] “leisurely, because the river … takes you,” and that he noticed the tide “going out fast” approximately 20 minutes before they got stuck in the mud. He indicated that he and his wife paddled “maybe a couple of hundred yards” in that last 20 minutes, that, “as the water started to go out,” he tried to paddle closer to the shore, and that they became stranded near the Smithtown Landing Country Club. He stated that the Country Club was approximately three or four miles from the launch site in Smithtown and more than halfway to Kings Park, that he did not have any difficulties with the canoe before he and his wife were stranded, and that, after they were stuck, he got out of the canoe to attempt to pull it to shore. He was unsuccessful and re-entered the canoe. He declared that the sun went down at approximately 5:00 or 5:30 p.m., and that he and his wife were not rescued for hours after they were stranded.
At her deposition, [*6] Kathleen Ferrari testified that she had never been canoeing before, that her husband told her that he had canoed on the Nissequogue River twice before, and that he rented a canoe and said that they had to be at Smithtown at either 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. on the day of this incident. She stated that they waited approximately 15 minutes for someone from the defendant to show up, that they called from a pay phone, and that they were told that they had to go to Kings Park. She indicated that they met the man in Kings Park at approximately 11:00 a.m., that her husband asked if they were getting out too late and if it was safe, that the man said that they were fine, and the man told them to leave their car so that he could drive them back to Smithtown. Kathleen Ferrari further testified that, because they were approximately 20 minutes away from Smithtown, her husband kept asking about the tides and told the man that “we’re not going to be actually going out until 11:30,” and that the man kept assuring him that it was safe. She stated that they launched from Smithtown at approximately 12:00 p.m., that they paddled at “quite a pace” because her husband was “concerned that we kept moving,” and that [*7] when her husband mentioned that tide was changing fast they were almost at the end of their trip. She indicated that she and her husband did not have any alcohol to drink until well after they were stranded and in order to combat the cold, and that it took hours before they were rescued.
Geoffrey Lawrence (Lawrence) was deposed on March 7, 2011, and testified that he was a seasonal full-time employee of the defendant in 2008, that he canoed the Nissequogue River daily that year, and that the length of the river from Smithtown to Kings Park is five and one-half miles. He stated that the defendant always launches its canoes from Smithtown, and that the average time to complete the trip to Kings Park at a moderate rate of paddling is two and one-half hours. He indicated that high tide was at approximately 10:30 a.m. on October 27, 2008, that low tide was at 4:30 p.m., and that the time for return of canoes was 4:30 p.m., as it is always at the time of low tide. Lawrence further testified that the Ferraris signed the releases and lease agreement in his truck at Kings Park, that he gave them general instructions, and that Dennis Ferrari said he was experienced, he had done this before, and [*8] he knew where he was going. He stated that he recalled Dennis Ferrari asking if they still had time to launch, and that, generally, the latest time that he would rent a canoe to someone, depending on the tide and time of sunset, would be 2:00 p.m. He indicated that he advised Dennis Ferrari that they could not be in later than 4:30 p.m. that day, that he did not know of any other incidents where someone was stranded on the river, and that he waited in Kings Park for the Ferraris after they launched. He declared that he became anxious when the Ferraris did not arrive at 4:30 p.m., that he went looking for them in his truck, and that he found them stranded near the Smithtown Landing Country Club.
[**4] Nonparty witness Ann Schumacher was deposed on September 3, 2010, and testified that she was employed by the Smithtown Fire Department as an EMT-B in 2008, that she was also a registered nurse, and that she had training in hypothermia and intoxication. She stated that she and her crew responded to an emergency call on October 27, 2008, that this was the first time she had been called to rescue someone stuck on the Nissequogue River, and that she completed a patient care record regarding Dennis [*9] Ferrari. She indicated that Dennis Ferrari did not appear intoxicated, that she did not smell alcohol on his breath, and that he was not slurring his speech.
At his deposition, nonparty witness Edward Springer (Springer) testified that he was employed by the Smithtown Fire Department as an EMT-Critical Care in 2008, that he responded to an emergency call on October 27, 2008, and that he completed a care record regarding Kathleen Ferrari that date. He indicated that he recorded her blood pressure as 80/60, that she was hypothermic, and that her pupils were normal. He stated that if she was intoxicated her pupils would be “different [than] normal,” and that he did not smell alcohol on her breath. Springer further testified that he has rented canoes on the Nissequogue River, that he was verbally told when high tide would be, and that he was aware that low tide is six hours later. He stated that “he believed” it took him three hours to complete a trip on the river, and that the Smithtown Landing Country Club is a little more than halfway to the end of the river.
Nonparty witness Greg Krockta (Krockta) was deposed on September 1, 2011, and testified that he was fishing on the Nissequogue [*10] River on the day of this incident, that he observed a man and a woman in a canoe, and that the woman was slumped over and looked “ill or something.” He stated that the man was paddling the canoe, that the woman was not paddling, and that the man was yelling at the woman to “get up and paddle.” He indicated that he did not know if the couple that he saw are “the same two people [involved in this lawsuit],” that he thinks that the two were the only “male and female combination” that he saw that day, and that he believes that he could identify the couple if shown photographs. Krockta further testified that he lives near the river less than one mile from the launching area, that he often fishes and boats on the river, and that it would take a novice approximately two hours to get from the Smithtown … launching area to the end of the river.”
In an affidavit dated December 8, 2011, the defendant’s expert witness, David Smith (Smith), swears that he is a retired commander with the United States Coast Guard and, among other things, a member of the National Safe Boating Council. He states that he has reviewed the complaint and bill of particulars, the depositions of the Ferraris, Lawrence [*11] and Krockta, and the tidal data for the Nissequogue River. He indicates that he inspected the river on June 14, 2011, when he paddled a canoe from the Smithtown launch site to the vicinity of the Smithtown Landing Country Club. Smith further swears that he chose the June date because the tidal times were substantially the same as on the date of this incident, that he was provided a 17-foot aluminum canoe, and that he took a companion but that “he was the sole paddler of the canoe at all times.” He states that he was 73 years old at the time, and that the combined weight of he and his companion was 426 pounds. He indicates that his review of the Ferraris depositions reveals that their combined weight was 302 pounds, and that Dennis Ferrari was 49 years old on the day of this incident. Smith further swears that he launched his canoe at 11:38 a.m., encountered a headwind of 5-10 miles per hour, and arrived at the Smithtown Landing Country Club at 1:03 p.m. having covered a distance of 3.2 miles in 1 hour and 25 minutes. He states that he estimates that he would have completed the 5 Vi miles from Smithtown to Kings Park in 2 hours and 26 minutes. Smith [**5] opines that, with a reasonable degree [*12] of boating and aquatic safety certainty, the Ferraris had “ample time to complete the course of the Nissequogue River well before the onset of low tide” on the date of this incident.
As a general rule, a plaintiff who voluntarily participates in a sporting or recreational event is held to have consented to those commonly-appreciated risks that are inherent in, and arise out of, the nature of the sport generally and flow from participation therein (see Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 NYS2d 421 ; Mendoza v Village of Greenport, 52 AD3d 788, 861 NYS2d 738 [2d Dept 2008]; Paone v County of Suffolk, 251 AD2d 563, 674 NYS2d 761 [2d Dept 1998]), including the injury-causing events which are the known, apparent, or reasonably foreseeable risks of the participation (see Cotty v Town of Southampton, 64 AD3d 251, 880 NYS2d 656 [2d Dept 2009]; Rosenbaum v. Bayis Ne’Emon, Inc.., 32 AD3d 534, 820 NYS2d 326 [2d Dept 2006]). In addition, the plaintiff’s awareness of risk is to be assessed against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff (see Maddox v City of New York, 66 NY2d 270, 487 N.E.2d 553, 496 NYS2d 726 ; Kremerov v. Forest View Nursing Home, Inc.., 24 AD3d 618, 808 NYS2d 329 [2d Dept 2000] Dept 2005]; Gahan v Mineola Union Free School Dist., 241 AD2d 439, 660 NYS2d 144 [2d Dept 1997]). If the risks of the activity are fully comprehended or perfectly obvious, plaintiff has consented to them and defendant has performed its duty” (Turcotte v Fell, 68 NY2d 432, 502 N.E.2d 964, 510 NYS2d 49 ). Stated otherwise, the duty of the defendant is to protect the plaintiff from injuries arising out of unassumed, concealed, or unreasonably increased risks (see Manoly v City of New York, 29 AD3d 649, 816 NYS2d 499 [2d Dept 2006]; Lapinski v Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, 306 AD2d 320, 760 NYS2d 549 [2d Dept 2003]; Pascucci v Town of Oyster Bay, 186 AD2d 725, 588 NYS2d 663 [2d Dept 1992]).
Here, the defendant has established [*13] that Dennis Ferrari was an experienced canoeist, with experience regarding the tides on the Nissequogue River, and with knowledge about the risk involved in canoeing at low tide. Dennis Ferrari testified that he had specific knowledge that low tide would occur at approximately 4:30 p.m. that date, and he indicated that it was his experience that a trip on the river could take five hours. Nonetheless, he decided to launch the rented canoe as late as 12:30 p.m., and apparently urged his wife to paddle at “quite a pace” to ensure that they accounted for the tides. It is determined that getting stranded at low tide, whether in a river or on a sand bar near a beach, is an inherent risk in canoeing and arises out of the nature of the sport. Accordingly, the defendant has established its prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on the ground that the Ferraris assumed the risk of canoeing on the river.
In addition, it is undisputed that, prior to their commencing their trip on the river, the Ferraris signed a release of liability form which states, in part:
2. I KNOWINGLY AND FULLY ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS, both known and unknown, EVEN IF ARISING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASES or others, [*14] and assume full responsibility for my participation; and
* * *
[**6] 4. I, for myself and on behalf of my heirs … HEREBY RELEASE, INDEMNIFY, AND HOLD HARMLESS THE Bob’s Canoe Rental, Inc. … WITH RESPECT TO ANY AND ALL INJURY, DISABILITY, DEATH, or loss or damage to person or property associated with my presence or participation, WHETHER ARISING FROM THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE, to the fullest extent of the law.
Exculpatory provisions in a contract, including a release or a covenant not to sue, are generally enforced although they are disfavored by the law and closely scrutinized by the courts (Lago v Krollage, 78 NY2d 95, 575 N.E.2d 107, 571 NYS2d 689 ). Thus, the language of the exculpatory agreement must express the intention of the parties in unequivocal terms in order to relieve a defendant from liability for negligence (Lago v Krollage, id.; Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 400 N.E.2d 306, 424 NYS2d 365 ). It must appear absolutely clear that the agreement extends to negligence or other fault of the party (Gross v Sweet, id., Van Dyke Prods. v Eastman Kodak Co., 12 NY2d 301, 189 N.E.2d 693, 239 NYS2d 337 , Ciofalo v Vic Tanney Gyms, 10 NY2d 294, 177 N.E.2d 925, 220 NYS2d 962 ). “That does not mean that the word ‘negligence’ must be employed for courts to give effect to an exculpatory agreement; however, words conveying a similar import must appear” (Gross v Sweet, supra). Here, the defendant has established its prima facie entitlement to summary [*15] judgment on the ground that the Ferraris are bound by the release of liability herein.
Having established its entitlement to summary judgment dismissing the complaint, it is incumbent upon the plaintiff to produce evidence in admissible form sufficient to require a trial of the material issues of fact (Roth v Barreto, supra; Rebecchi v Whitmore, supra; O’Neill v Fishkill, supra). In opposition to the defendant’s motion, the plaintiff submits, among other things, four newspaper articles, the pleadings and bill of particulars, the deposition transcripts of the parties, and the affirmation of her attorney. The newspaper articles relied on by the plaintiff are plainly inadmissible and they have not been considered by the Court in making this determination (Young v Fleary, 226 AD2d 454, 640 NYS2d 593 [2nd Dept 1996] [newspaper articles submitted on summary judgment motion constitute inadmissible hearsay]; see also P & N Tiffany Props. Inc. v Maron, 16 AD3d 395, 790 NYS2d 396 [2d Dept 2005]; Platovsky v City of New York, 275 AD2d 699, 713 NYS2d 358 [2d Dept 2000]).
In his affirmation, counsel for the plaintiff contends that the defendant had a duty to warn the Ferraris that it was essential that they complete their trip on the river “well before the 4:30 low tide,” and that the Ferraris justifiably relied on the defendant’s material misrepresentation that it was safe to leave as late [*16] as they did that day. The affidavit of an attorney who has no personal knowledge of the facts is insufficient to raise an issue of fact on a motion for summary judgment (Sanabria v. Paduch, 61 AD3d 839, 876 NYS2d 874 [2d Dept 2009]; Warrington v Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 35 AD3d 455, 826 NYS2d 152 [2d Dept 2006]; 9394, LLC v Farris, 10 AD3d 708, 782 NYS2d 281 [2d Dept 2004]; Deronde Prods., Inc. v. Steve Gen. Contr., Inc., 302 AD2d 989, 755 NYS2d 152 [4th Dept 2003]). The plaintiff has not submitted any evidence that individuals canoeing on the Nissequogue River must fully complete the trip “well before” low tide, or that the Ferraris could not have completed their trip on the river having left as late as 12:30. In addition, the plaintiff has not submitted any evidence why it took approximately four hours to traverse a little more than halfway on their trip, or to rebut the [**7] testimony of Lawrence and the nonparty witnesses, as well as the opinion of the defendant’s expert, that the entire trip takes three hours or less to complete, paddling at a moderate rate.
The plaintiff’s remaining contention sounds in negligent misrepresentation. In order to prevail on her claim, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant had a “duty to use reasonable care to impart correct information due to a special relationship existing between the parties, that the information provided by plaintiff was incorrect or false, and that the plaintiff reasonably relied upon the information provided [*17] (J.A.O. Acquisition Corp. v Stavitsky, 8 NY3d 144, 863 N.E.2d 585, 831 NYS2d 364 ; MatlinPatterson ATA Holdings LLC v Federal Express Corp., 87 AD3d 836, 929 NYS2d 571 [1st Dept 2011]; Fleet Bank v Pine Knoll Corp., 290 AD2d 792, 736 NYS2d 737 [3d Dept 2002]; see also Fresh Direct, LLC v Blue Martini Software, 7 AD3d 487, 776 NYS2d 301 [2d Dept 2004]; Grammer v. Turits, 271 AD2d 644, 706 NYS2d 453 [2d Dept 2000]). As noted above, the plaintiff has failed to submit any evidence that the information provided by Lawrence was incorrect or false. In addition, the testimony of Dennis Ferrari and Kathleen Ferrari establishes that they did not reasonably rely on Lawrence’s general statement that it was safe to leave as late as 12:30 p.m. that day. Dennis Ferrari testified as to his knowledge that low tide was at 4:30 p.m. that day, and that, according to him, the trip could take five hours. Kathleen Ferrari testified that her husband was concerned that they paddle at more than a moderate pace. Despite this, the plaintiff has failed to submit any evidence why they were only able to traverse a little more than halfway on their trip before becoming stranded, and how Lawrence’s general statements mislead them.
In addition, despite the fact that this is not a wrongful death case, counsel for the plaintiff also contends that the Ferraris are entitled to every inference that can reasonably be drawn from the evidence in determining whether a prima facie case of negligence is made as against the defendant (see Noseworthy v City of New York, 298 NY 76, 80, 80 NE2d 744 ). Setting [*18] aside the issue whether the doctrine is applicable herein, even with the reduced burden of proof thereunder, the plaintiff is required to submit proof from which the defendant’s negligence may be inferred (see Sanchez-Santiago v Call-A-Head Corp., 95 AD3d 1292, 945 NYS2d 716 [2d Dept 2012]; Barbaruolo v DiFede, 73 AD3d 957, 900 NYS2d 671 [2d Dept 2010]; Martone v Shields, 71 AD3d 840, 899 NYS2d 249 [2d Dept 2010], and the plaintiff is not absolved from demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact to avoid summary judgment (Albinowski v Hoffman, 56 AD3d 401, 868 NYS2d 76 [2d Dept 2008]; Blanco v Oliveri, 304 AD2d 599, 600, 758 NYS2d 376 [2d Dept 2003]). In any event, the subject doctrine is not applicable under the circumstance herein as the defendant’s knowledge as to the cause of the decedent’s accident is no greater than that of the plaintiff (Knudsen v Mamaroneck Post No. 90, Dept. of N.Y. – Am. Legion, Inc., 94 AD3d 1058, 942 NYS2d 800 [2d Dept 2012]; Zalot v Zieba, 81 AD3d 935, 917 NYS2d 285 [2d Dept 2011]; Martone v Shields, supra; Kuravskaya v Samjo Realty Corp., 281 AD2d 518, 721 NYS2d 836 [2d Dept 2001]).
Finally, the plaintiff has not submitted any evidence to dispute the efficacy of the signed release of liability, and does not address the issue in her opposition to the defendant’s motion. New York Courts have held that the failure to address arguments proffered by a movant or appellant is equivalent to a concession of the issue (see McNamee Constr. Corp. v City of New Rochelle, 29 AD3d 544, 817 NYS2d 295 [2d Dept 2006]; Weldon v Rivera, 301 AD2d 934, 754 NYS2d 698 (3d Dept 2003]; Hajderlli v Wiljohn 59 LLC, 24 Misc3d 1242[A], 901 N.Y.S.2d 899, 2009 NY Slip Op 51849[U] [Sup Ct, Bronx County 2009]) [**8] . Accordingly, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint is granted. [*19]
The Court now turns to the defendant’s motion for an order pursuant to CPLR 1021 dismissing the complaint for failure to substitute a representative on behalf of the decedent Dennis Ferrari. The computerized records maintained by the Court indicate that the parties entered into a stipulation to amend the caption to reflect Kathleen Ferrari’s appointment as the executrix of the estate of Dennis Ferrari. Said stipulation was so-ordered by the undersigned on October 17, 2013, and recorded with the Clerk of the Court on October 21, 2013. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion is denied as academic.
/s/ Denise F. Molia
Myles A. Bagley, individually, Petitioner on Review, and Al Bagley, individually; and Lauren Bagley, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, Respondent on Review, and John DOES 1-10, Defendants.
SUPREME COURT OF OREGON
2014 Ore. LEXIS 994
May 7, 2014, Argued and Submitted
December 18, 2014, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: CC 08CV0118SF; CA A148231. On review from the Court of Appeals. [*1] *
* Appeal from Deschutes County Circuit Court, Stephen P. Forte, Judge. 258Or App 390, 310 P3d 692 (2013).
COUNSEL: Kathryn H. Clarke, Portland, argued the cause and filed the briefs for petitioner on review. With her on the briefs was Arthur C. Johnson.
Andrew C. Balyeat, Balyeat & Eager, LLP, Bend, argued the cause and filed the brief for respondent on review.
Michael J. Estok, Lindsay Hart, LLP, Portland, filed a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Oregon Association of Defense Counsel.
Kristian Roggendorf, Roggendorf Law LLC, Lake Oswego, filed a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.
JUDGES: BREWER, J.
OPINION BY: BREWER
The issue on review in this case is whether an anticipatory release1 of a ski area operator’s liability for its own negligence in a ski pass agreement is enforceable in the face of an assertion that the release violates public policy and is unconscionable. Plaintiff suffered serious injuries while snowboarding over a jump in defendant ski area operator’s “terrain [*2] park,” and brought this action alleging that defendant was negligent in the design, construction, maintenance, and inspection of the jump. Defendant moved for summary judgment based on an affirmative defense of release; plaintiff filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the ground that the release was unenforceable as a matter of law. The trial court granted defendant’s summary judgment motion and denied plaintiff’s cross-motion. Plaintiff appealed, asserting, among other arguments, that the trial court erred in concluding that the release did not violate public policy and that it was neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 258 Or App 390, 310 P3d 692 (2013). Because we conclude that enforcement of the release would be unconscionable, we reverse and remand.
1 By “anticipatory release,” we refer to an exculpatory agreement that purports to immunize–before an injury occurs–the released party from liability for its own tortious conduct.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
We review the trial court’s rulings on summary judgment to determine whether “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact” and whether “the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” [*3] ORCP 47 C. We view the historical facts set out in the summary judgment record, along with all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party–plaintiff on defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and defendant on plaintiff’s cross-motion. Id.; Vaughn v. First Transit, Inc., 346 Or 128, 132, 206 P3d 181 (2009). The historical facts in the record largely relate to the enforceability of the release at issue. Defendant’s summary judgment motion did not address the issues of negligence, causation, or damages. Therefore, insofar as those issues are relevant to the enforceability of the release, we accept as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint. ORCP 47 C (adverse party on summary judgment has burden of producing evidence only “on any issue raised in the motion as to which adverse party would have burden of persuasion at trial”).
On September 29, 2005, plaintiff purchased a season pass from defendant for use at defendant’s ski area. Plaintiff was a skilled and experienced snowboarder, having purchased season passes from defendant for each of the preceding three years and having classified his skill level as of early 2006, before being injured, as an “advanced expert.” Upon purchasing the season pass, plaintiff [*4] executed a written “release and indemnity agreement” that defendant required of all its patrons. That document provided, in pertinent part:
“In consideration of the use of a Mt. Bachelor pass and/or Mt. Bachelor’s premises, I/we agree to release and indemnify Mt. Bachelor, Inc., its officers and directors, owners, agents, landowners, affiliated companies, and employees (hereinafter ‘Mt. Bachelor, Inc.’) from any and all claims for property damage, injury, or death which I/we may suffer or for which I/we may be liable to others, in any way connected with skiing, snowboarding, or snowriding. This release and indemnity agreement shall apply to any claim even if caused by negligence. The only claims not released are those based upon intentional misconduct.
“* * * * *
“The undersigned(s) have carefully read and understand this agreement and all of its terms on both sides of this document. This includes, but is not limited to, the duties of skiers, snowboarders, or snowriders. The undersigned(s) understand that this document is an agreement of release and indemnity which will prevent the undersigned(s) or the undersigneds’ estate from recovering damages from Mt. Bachelor, Inc. in the event [*5] of death or injury to person or property. The undersigned(s), nevertheless, enter into this agreement freely and voluntarily and agree it is binding on the undersigned(s) and the undersigneds’ heirs and legal representatives.
“By my/our signature(s) below, I/we agree that this release and indemnity agreement will remain in full force and effect and I will be bound by its terms throughout this season and all subsequent seasons for which I/we renew this season pass.
“See reverse side of this sheet * * * for duties of skiers, snowboarders, or snow riders which you must observe.”
(Capitalization omitted.)2 The reverse side of the document detailed the “Duties of Skiers” under ORS 30.985 and ORS 30.990 and also included a printed notification that “Skiers/Snowboarders/Snowriders Assume Certain Risks” under ORS 30.975–the “inherent risks of skiing.”3
2 Although defendant relies on several documents that, it asserts, separately and collectively released it from liability for plaintiff’s injuries, for convenience we refer to those documents in the singular throughout this opinion as “the release.” In addition to the releases discussed in the text, plaintiff’s father also executed a “minor release and indemnity agreement” on plaintiff’s [*6] behalf, containing essentially the same terms as the other releases, because plaintiff was not yet eighteen years old when he bought the season pass. Plaintiff asserted before the trial court and the Court of Appeals that he was entitled to–and effectively did–disavow the release after he reached majority. For reasons explained in its opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rejection of that argument. Plaintiff did not seek review of that holding in this court and we do not address it here.
3 As elaborated below, Oregon has enacted statutes specifically pertaining to skiing and ski areas. See ORS 30.970 – 30.990. Those statutes, among other provisions, set out the “duties” of skiers, require that ski area operators inform skiers of those duties, establish notice requirements and a statute of limitations pertaining specifically to injury or death while skiing, and provide that those who engage in the sport of skiing accept and assume the risks inherent in that activity.
On November 18, 2005, plaintiff began using the pass, which stated, in part:
“Read this release agreement
“In consideration for each lift ride, the ticket user releases and agrees to hold harmless and indemnify Mt. Bachelor, [*7] Inc., and its employees and agents from all claims for property damage, injury or death even if caused by negligence. The only claims not released are those based upon intentional misconduct.”
(Capitalization omitted.) Further, the following sign was posted at each of defendant’s ski lift terminals:
“YOUR TICKET IS A RELEASE
“The back of your ticket contains a release of all claims against Mt. Bachelor, Inc. and its employees or agents. Read the back of your ticket before you ride any lifts or use any of the facilities of Mt. Bachelor, Inc. If you purchase a ticket from someone else, you must provide this ticket release information to that person or persons.
“Skiers and lift passengers who use tickets at this resort release and agree to hold harmless and indemnify Mt. Bachelor, Inc., its employees and agents from all claims for property damage, injury or death which he/she may suffer or for which he/she may be liable to others, arising out of the use of Mt. Bachelor’s premises, whether such claims are for negligence or any other theory of recovery, except for intentional misconduct.
“If you do not agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of the sale of your ticket, please do not purchase [*8] the ticket or use the facilities at Mt. Bachelor.
“Presentation of this ticket to gain access to the premises and facilities of this area is an acknowledgment of your agreement to the terms and conditions outlined above.”
(Capitalization in original.)
Beginning on November 18, 2005, plaintiff used his season pass to ride defendant’s lifts at least 119 times over the course of 26 days that he spent snowboarding at the ski area. On February 16, 2006, while snowboarding over a human-made jump in defendant’s “air chamber” terrain park, plaintiff sustained serious injuries resulting in his permanent paralysis. Approximately four months later, plaintiff provided defendant with notice of his injuries under ORS 30.980(1), which requires that “[a] ski area operator shall be notified of any injury to a skier * * * within 180 days after the injury[.]” Within two years after he was injured, plaintiff brought this action; his complaint alleged negligence on defendant’s part in designing, constructing, maintaining, and inspecting the jump on which plaintiff was injured. Defendant answered, in part, by invoking the affirmative defense of release, pointing to the above-quoted documents.
In its summary judgment motion, [*9] defendant asserted that plaintiff “admittedly understood that he [had] entered into a release agreement and was snowboarding under its terms on the date of [the] accident.” Defendant argued that the release conspicuously and unambiguously disclaimed its future liability for negligence, and that the release was neither unconscionable nor contrary to public policy under Oregon law, because “skiers and snowboarders voluntarily choose to ski and snowboard and ski resorts do not provide essential public services.” Thus, defendant reasoned, there was no material issue of fact as to whether the release barred plaintiff’s action, and defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
In his cross-motion for partial summary judgment, plaintiff asserted that the release was unenforceable because it was contrary to public policy and was “both substantively and procedurally unconscionable.” The trial court rejected plaintiff’s public policy and unconscionability arguments, reasoning that “[s]now riding is not such an essential service which requires someone such as [p]laintiff to be forced to sign a release in order to obtain the service.” Accordingly, the trial court granted summary judgment in defendant’s [*10] favor and denied plaintiff’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment.
As noted, the Court of Appeals affirmed. The court initially observed that the line between the public policy and unconscionability doctrines on which plaintiff relied was not clearly delineated:
“We assume without deciding that the ‘void as contrary to public policy’ doctrine pertaining to this type of case has not been superseded by later-evolved principles concerning substantive unconscionability. See Restatement[(Second) of Contracts], § 208 comment a [(1981)] (unconscionability analysis generally ‘overlaps’ with public-policy analysis).”
Bagley, 258 Or App at 403 n 7. The court then proceeded separately to analyze plaintiff’s arguments. It first concluded that the release did not violate public policy. In particular, the court understood plaintiff to rely on an uncodified Oregon public policy that gives primacy to the tort duties of landowners and business operators to provide safe premises for invitees. In rejecting plaintiff’s argument, the Court of Appeals relied on several factors. First, the court observed that the release “clearly and unequivocally” expressed defendant’s intent to disclaim liability for negligence. Id. at 405 (“[W]e are hard-pressed to envision [*11] a more unambiguous expression of ‘the expectations under the contract'[.]”). Second, the court noted that anticipatory releases that disclaim liability only for ordinary negligence do not necessarily offend public policy where they pertain exclusively to recreational activities and, most importantly, where the party seeking to relieve itself from liability does not provide an essential public service. Id. The court noted that a ski resort primarily offers recreational activities that, with possible exceptions that do not apply in this case, such as training for search-and-rescue personnel, do not constitute essential public services. Id. at 406. Third, the court stated that plaintiff’s claims were based on ordinary negligence and did not implicate a violation of any heightened duty of care. Id.
The court then rejected plaintiff’s unconscionability argument for essentially the same reasons. First, the court concluded, the release was not procedurally unconscionable in that it did not surprise plaintiff (that is, it was conspicuous and unambiguous) and it was not impermissibly oppressive, because, even though offered on a “take it or leave it basis,” plaintiff always could choose not to engage [*12] in the non-essential recreational activity that defendant offered. Id. at 407-08. The court also concluded that the release was not essentially unfair and, therefore, was not substantively unconscionable. Id. at 409. Although “favorable” to defendant, the release was not impermissibly so, the court stated, because a person does not need to ski or snowboard, but rather merely desires to do so. That is, the patron is free to walk away rather than accept unjust terms. Id. at 409-10. For those reasons, the court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment rulings and its dismissal of plaintiff’s action.
The parties’ dispute in this case involves a topic–the validity of exculpatory agreements–that this court has not comprehensively addressed in decades. Although the specific issue on review–the validity of an anticipatory release of a ski area operator’s liability for negligence–is finite and particular, it has broader implications insofar as it lies at the intersection of two traditional common law domains–contract and tort–where, at least in part, the legislature has established statutory rights and duties that affect the reach of otherwise governing common law principles.
It is a truism that a contract validly [*13] made between competent parties is not to be set aside lightly. Bliss v. Southern Pacific Co. et al, 212 Or 634, 646, 321 P2d 324 (1958) (“When two or more persons competent for that purpose, upon a sufficient consideration, voluntarily agree to do or not to do a particular thing which may be lawfully done or omitted, they should be held to the consequences of their bargain.”). The right to contract privately is part of the liberty of citizenship, and an important office of the courts is to enforce contractual rights and obligations. W. J. Seufert Land Co. v. Greenfield, 262 Or 83, 90-91, 496 P2d 197 (1972) (so stating). As this court has stated, however, “contract rights are [not] absolute; * * * [e]qually fundamental with the private right is that of the public to regulate it in the common interest.” Christian v. La Forge, 194 Or 450, 469, 242 P2d 797 (1952) (internal quotation marks omitted).
That “common,” or public, interest is embodied, in part, in the principles of tort law. As a leading treatise explains:
“It is sometimes said that compensation for losses is the primary function of tort law * * * [but it] is perhaps more accurate to describe the primary function as one of determining when compensation is to be required.
“* * * * *
“[Additionally, t]he ‘prophylactic’ factor of preventing future harm has been quite important in the field of torts. The courts are concerned not only with compensation [*14] of the victim, but with admonition of the wrongdoer.”
W. Page Keeton, Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 4, 20-25 (5th ed 1984). See also Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts, § 8, 12 (2000) (most commonly mentioned aims of tort law are compensation of injured persons and deterrence of undesirable behavior). A related function of the tort system is to distribute the risk of injury to or among responsible parties. Prosser and Keeton, § 4, 24-25.4
4 See also Rizutto v. Davidson Ladders, Inc., 280 Conn 225, 235, 905 A2d 1165 (2006) (fundamental purposes of the tort system are “compensation of innocent parties, shifting the loss to responsible parties or distributing it among appropriate entities, and deterrence of wrongful conduct.”).
One way in which courts have placed limits on the freedom of contract is by refusing to enforce agreements that are illegal. Uhlmann v. Kin Daw, 97 Or 681, 688, 193 P 435 (1920) (an illegal agreement is void and unenforceable). According to Uhlmann:
“An agreement is illegal if it is contrary to law, morality or public policy. Plain examples of illegality are found in agreements made in violation of some statute; and, stating the rule broadly, an agreement is illegal if it violates a statute or cannot be performed without violating a statute.”
Id. at 689 (internal citation omitted); see also Eldridge et al. v. Johnston, 195 Or 379, 405, 245 P2d 239 (1952) (“It is elementary that [*15] public policy requires that * * * contracts [between competent parties], when entered into freely and voluntarily, shall be held sacred and shall be enforced by the courts of justice, and it is only when some other overpowering rule of public policy * * * intervenes, rendering such agreement illegal, that it will not be enforced.”).
In determining whether an agreement is illegal because it is contrary to public policy, “[t]he test is the evil tendency of the contract and not its actual injury to the public in a particular instance.” Pyle v. Kernan, 148 Or 666, 673-74, 36 P2d 580 (1934). The fact that the effect of a contract provision may be harsh as applied to one of the contracting parties does not mean that the agreement is, for that reason alone, contrary to public policy, particularly where “the contract in question was freely entered into between parties in equal bargaining positions and did not involve a contract of adhesion, such as some retail installment contracts and insurance policies.” Seufert, 262 Or at 92.
As we discuss in more detail below, courts determine whether a contract is illegal by determining whether it violates public policy as expressed in relevant constitutional and statutory provisions and in case law, see, e.g., Delaney v. Taco Time Int’l, Inc., 297 Or 10, 681 P2d 114 (1984) (looking to those [*16] sources to determine whether discharge of at-will employee violated public policy), and by considering whether it is unconscionable. With respect to the doctrine of unconscionability, one commentator has explained:
“The concept of unconscionability was meant to counteract two generic forms of abuses: the first of which relates to procedural deficiencies in the contract formation process, such as deception or a refusal to bargain over contract terms, today often analyzed in terms of whether the imposedupon party had meaningful choice about whether and how to enter the transaction; and the second of which relates to the substantive contract terms themselves and whether those terms are unreasonably favorable to the more powerful party, such as terms that impair the integrity of the bargaining process or otherwise contravene the public interest or public policy; terms (usually of an adhesion or boilerplate nature) that attempt to alter in an impermissible manner fundamental duties otherwise imposed by the law, fine-print terms, or provisions that seek to negate the reasonable expectations of the nondrafting party, or unreasonably and unexpectedly harsh terms having nothing to do with price [*17] or other central aspects of the transaction.”
Richard A. Lord, 8 Williston on Contracts § 18.10, 91 (4th ed 2010). As that passage suggests, the doctrine of unconscionability reflects concerns related specifically to the parties and their formation of the contract, but it also has a broader dimension that converges with an analysis of whether a contract or contract term is illegal because it violates public policy.5
5 This court has not distinguished between contracts that are illegal because they violate public policy and contracts that are unenforceable because they are unconscionable. However, a difference in focus between the two concepts has been described in this way:
“[O]ur public policy analysis asks whether the contract provision at issue threatens harm to the public as a whole, including by contravening the constitution, statutes, or judicial decisions of [this state]. In contrast, an unconscionability analysis asks whether the agreement, by its formation or by its terms, is so unfair that the court cannot enforce it consistent with the interests of justice.”
Phoenix Ins. Co. v. Rosen, 242 Ill 2d 48, 61, 949 NE2d 639 (2011). As that passage suggests, the two doctrines are aimed at similar concerns: unfairness or oppression in contract formation or terms that [*18] are sufficiently serious as to justify the conclusion that the contract contravenes the interests of justice.
Recognizing that convergence, this court often has relied on public policy considerations to determine whether a contract or contract term is sufficiently unfair or oppressive to be deemed unconscionable. See, e.g., William C. Cornitius, Inc. v. Wheeler, 276 Or 747, 754-55, 556 P2d 666 (1976) (treating lessee’s unconscionability defense as grounded in public policy); Cone v. Gilmore, 79 Or 349, 352-54, 155 P 192 (1916) (analyzing unconscionability challenge to contract enforcement based on public policy considerations); Balfour v. Davis 14 Or 47, 53, 12 P 89 (1886) (referring to unconscionability interchangeably with public policy considerations). Other authorities also have described the two doctrines in functionally the same terms, see, e.g., E. Allen Farnsworth, 1 Farnsworth on Contracts, § 4.28, 577 (3d ed 2004) (comparing unconscionability to violation of public policy), or as involving substantially overlapping considerations, see Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 208 comment a (1981) (policy against unconscionable contracts or contract terms “overlaps with rules which render particular bargains or terms unenforceable on grounds of public policy”).
As discussed, the Court of Appeals concluded that the release at issue here did not violate public policy and was not [*19] unconscionable for essentially the same reasons: it was conspicuous and unambiguous, and it related to a recreational activity, not an essential public service. Likewise, neither party has suggested that different legal standards apply in determining whether the release at issue in this case violates public policy or is unconscionable. Thus, for the sake of convenience–if not doctrinal convergence–we address the parties’ public policy arguments in the context of our analysis of whether, in the particular circumstances of this case, enforcement of the release would be unconscionable.6
6 We emphasize that it is not necessary to decide in this case whether the doctrines always are identical in practical effect or whether they may vary in their application depending on the particular circumstances of a given case. It suffices to say that we discern no difference in their practical application in this case and, therefore, for the sake of convenience, we consider plaintiff’s violation of public policy theory in the context of his unconscionability arguments.
Oregon courts have recognized their authority to refuse to enforce unconscionable contracts since the nineteenth century. See Balfour, 14 Or 47 (refusing [*20] to award attorney fees because amount specified in contract was unconscionable); see also Caples v. Steel, 7 Or 491 (1879) (court may refuse specific performance if bargain is unconscionable). Unconscionability is “assessed as of the time of contract formation,” and the doctrine “applies to contract terms rather than to contract performance.” Best v. U.S. National Bank, 303 Or 557, 560, 739 P2d 554 (1987) (“Unconscionability is a legal issue that must be assessed as of the time of contract formation.”); Tolbert v. First National Bank, 312 Or 485, 492 n 4, 823 P2d 965 (1991) (same).
Unconscionability may be procedural or substantive. Procedural unconscionability refers to the conditions of contract formation and focuses on two factors: oppression and surprise. See, e.g., John Edward Murray, Jr., Murray on Contracts § 96(b), 555-56 (4th ed 2001) (describing components of procedural unconscionability). Oppression exists when there is inequality in bargaining power between the parties, resulting in no real opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract and the absence of meaningful choice. Vasquez-Lopez v. Beneficial Oregon, Inc., 210 Or App 553, 566-567, 152 P3d 940, 948 (2007); Acorn v. Household Intern. Inc., 211 F Supp 2d 1160, 1168 (ND Cal. 2002). Surprise involves whether terms were hidden or obscure from the vantage of the party seeking to avoid them. Id. Generally speaking, factors such as ambiguous contract wording and fine print are the hallmarks of surprise. In contrast, the existence of gross inequality of [*21] bargaining power, a takeit- or-leave-it bargaining stance, and the fact that a contract involves a consumer transaction, rather than a commercial bargain, can be evidence of oppression.
Substantive unconscionability, on the other hand, generally refers to the terms of the contract, rather than the circumstances of formation, and focuses on whether the substantive terms contravene the public interest or public policy.7 See Restatement § 208 comment a; Williston on Contracts § 18.10 at 91. Both procedural and substantive deficiencies–frequently in combination–can preclude enforcement of a contract or contract term on unconscionability grounds. Restatement § 208 comment a.8
7 It sometimes can be difficult to categorize the factors on which a determination of unconscionability may be based as distinctly procedural or substantive, and even factors usually considered in assessing procedural unconscionability can help establish a violation of public policy. For example, the passage quoted above from Williston on Contracts § 18.10, 356 Or at suggests that adhesive and fine-print terms may be substantively unconscionable. Indeed, the author goes on to say that “[t]he distinction between procedural and substantive abuses * * * may become quite blurred.” [*22] Williston on Contracts § 18.10 at 108-111.
8 In some jurisdictions, courts require both procedural and substantive unconscionability before they will invalidate a contract. See, e.g., Armendariz v. Found. Health Psychcare Servs., Inc., 24 Cal 4th 83, 114, 99 Cal Rptr 2d 745, 6 P3d 669, 690 (2000) (procedural and substantive unconscionability must both be present in order for a court to exercise its discretion to refuse to enforce a contract or clause under the doctrine of unconscionability); Blue Cross Blue Shield of Ala. v. Rigas, 923 So 2d 1077, 1087 (Ala 2005) (“To avoid an arbitration provision on the ground of unconscionability, the party objecting to arbitration must show both procedural and substantive unconscionability.”). This court has not addressed that issue, and because, as explained below, we conclude that both procedural and substantive considerations support the conclusion that the release here is unconscionable, we do not decide that issue in this case.
Identifying whether a contract is procedurally unconscionable requires consideration of evidence related to the specific circumstances surrounding the formation of the contract at issue. By contrast, the inquiry into substantive unconscionability can be more complicated. To discern whether, in the context of a particular transaction, substantive concerns relating to unfairness or oppression are sufficiently [*23] important to warrant interference with the parties’ freedom to contract as they see fit, courts frequently look to legislation for relevant indicia of public policy. When relevant public policy is expressed in a statute, the issue is one of legislative intent. See Uhlmann, 97 Or at 689-90 (so stating). In that situation, the court must examine the statutory text and context to determine whether the legislature intended to invalidate the contract term at issue.9 Id.
9 Many jurisdictions that limit or prohibit the use of anticipatory releases from negligence liability on public policy grounds do so as a matter of statutory enactment, rather than common law. For example, Great Britain and the States of Louisiana and Montana have statutory provisions that forbid contracts exculpating one party from liability for negligence that results in personal injury. Unfair Contract Terms Act of 1977, ch 50, § 2(1) (Eng) (“A person cannot by reference to any contract term or to a notice given to persons generally or to particular persons exclude or restrict his liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence.”); La Civ Code Ann art 2004 (“Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury [*24] to the other party.”); Mont Code Ann § 28-2-702 (“All contracts that have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility * * * for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.”); see also Miller v. Fallon County, 222 Mont 214, 221, 721 P2d 342 (1986) (under statute, prospective release from liability for negligence is against the policy of the law and illegal, despite being a private contract between two persons without significant public implications).
Some states use statutes to make anticipatory releases from liability for negligence void as against public policy as to businesses providing recreational activities to the public. NY Gen Oblig Law § 5-326 (every contract between recreational business owner and user of facility, pursuant to which owner receives payment for use of facilities, that exempts owner from liability for damages resulting from owner’s negligence “shall be deemed void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable”); Haw Rev Stat § 663-1.54(a) (“Any person who owns or operates a business providing recreational activities to the public * * * shall be liable for damages resulting from negligent acts or omissions of the person which cause injury.”).
Other states have enacted more narrowly crafted statutes that deal with specific [*25] recreational activities, including skiing. For example, an Alaska statute specifically prohibits ski area operators from requiring skiers to enter into agreements releasing them from liability in exchange for the use of the facilities. Alaska Stat Ann § 05.45.120. In North Carolina, a statute imposes a duty on ski area operators “[n]ot to engage willfully or negligently in any type of conduct that contributes to or causes injury to another person or his properties.” NC Gen Stat § 99C-2(c)(7); NC Gen Statute § 9C-3 (violation of duties of ski area operator that causes injury or damage shall constitute negligence); see also Strawbridge v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc., 320 F Supp 2d 425, 433 (WD NC 2004) (in light of statutory duty imposed on ski area operators not to negligently engage in conduct that causes injury, exculpatory clause on back of lift ticket was unenforceable).
Still other states have statutes that pertain specifically to skiing and, although not addressing releases, prescribe ski area operator duties and provide that operators will be liable for a violation of those duties. Colo Rev Stat § 33-44-104(1) (violation of duties of ski area operator constitutes negligence to extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property); see also Anderson v. Vail Corp., 251 P3d 1125, 1129-30 (Colo App 2010) (if ski area operator violated statutory duties, exculpatory agreement would not release operator from [*26] liability); Idaho Code § 6-1107 (“Any ski area operator shall be liable for loss or damages caused by its failure to follow the duties set forth in [other sections of the Idaho Code pertaining to duties of ski area operators], where the violation of duty is causally related to the loss or damage suffered.”); NM Stat Ann § 24-15-11 (to same effect); ND Cent Code § 53-09-07 (same); W Va Code § 20-3A-6 (same); Utah Code Ann § 78B-4-401(public policy of Utah Inherent Risks of Skiing Act is to make ski area operators better able to insure themselves against the risk of loss occasioned by their negligence); see also Rothstein v. Snowbird Corp., 175 P3d 560, 564 (Utah 2007) (by extracting a pre-injury release from plaintiff for liability due to ski resort’s negligent acts, resort breached public policy underlying Utah Inherent Risks of Skiing Act).
Frequently, however, the argument that a contract term is sufficiently unfair or oppressive as to be unenforceable is grounded in one or more factors that are not expressly codified; in such circumstances, the common law has a significant role to play. As the commentary to the Restatement (Second) of Contracts explains:
“Only infrequently does legislation, on grounds of public policy, provide that a term is unenforceable. When a court reaches that conclusion, it usually does so on the basis of a public policy [*27] derived either from its own perception of the need to protect some aspect of the public welfare or from legislation that is relevant to the policy although it says nothing explicitly about enforceability.”
Restatement § 178 comment b.
This court has considered whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate an uncodified public policy in only a few cases. Although, in those cases, this court has not expressly analyzed the issue through the lens of unconscionability, it has followed an approach that is generally consistent with the application of that doctrine. That is, the court has not declared such releases to be per se invalid, but neither has it concluded that they are always enforceable. Instead, the court has followed a multi-factor approach:
“Agreements to exonerate a party from liability or to limit the extent of the party’s liability for tortious conduct are not favorites of the courts but neither are they automatically voided. The treatment courts accord such agreements depends upon the subject and terms of the agreement and the relationship of the parties.”
K-Lines v. Roberts Motor Co., 273 Or 242, 248, 541 P2d 1378 (1975).
In K-Lines, this court upheld a limitation of liability contained in a commercial sales agreement. The court held that the [*28] fact
“[t]hat one party may possess greater financial resources than the other is not proof that such a disparity of bargaining power exists that a limitation of liability provisions should be voided.
“When the parties are business concerns dealing in a commercial setting and entering into an unambiguous agreement with terms commonly used in commercial transactions, the contract will not be deemed a contract of adhesion in the absence of evidence of unusual circumstances.”
Id. at 252-53. The court also noted that, in an earlier decision, it had stated: Cite as 356 Or 543 (2014) 559
“‘There is nothing inherently bad about a contract provision which exempts one of the parties from liability. The parties are free to contract as they please, unless to permit them to do so would contravene the public interest.'”
Id. at 248 (quoting Irish & Swartz Stores v. First Nat’l Bk., 220 Or 362, 375, 349 P2d 814 (1960), overruled on other grounds by Real Good Food v First National Bank, 276 Or 1057, 557 P2d 654 (1976)).10
10 In K-Lines, which, as noted, involved a commercial transaction, the court distinguished between releases from liability for ordinary negligence and releases involving more serious misconduct, concluding that the latter violate public policy, but that the former are not necessarily unenforceable. K-Lines, 273 Or at 249.
Soon after deciding K-Lines, this court, in Real Good Food, held that a bank-serving [*29] as a bailee for depositors-could not limit its liability for the negligence of its employees. Relying on the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the court held:
“Where the defendant is a common carrier, an innkeeper, a public warehouseman, a public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service, and the agreement to assume the risk relates to the defendant’s performance of any part of that duty, it is well settled that it will not be given effect. Having undertaken the duty to the public, which includes the obligation of reasonable care, such defendants are not free to rid themselves of their public obligation by contract, or by any other agreement.”
Id. at 1061 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B comment g (1965)).11 The court in Real Good Food concluded that “[b]anks, like common carriers and utility companies, perform an important public service,” and the release therefore violated public policy and was unenforceable. 276 Or at 1061.
11 Restatement (Second)of Torts § 496B provides:
“A plaintiff who by contract or otherwise expressly agrees to accept a risk of harm arising from the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct cannot recover for such harm, unless the agreement is invalid as contrary to public policy.”
According [*30] to the comments to that section, an exculpatory agreement should be upheld if it is freely and fairly made, if it is between parties who are in an equal bargaining position, and if there is no societal interest with which it interferes. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B comment b. Comments e-j set out a non-exclusive list of situations in which releases may interfere with societal interests, insofar as they are contrary to public policy. Among other things, in addition to situations like those described in the passage quoted above, the Restatement refuses to give effect to express liability releases where there is a substantial disparity in bargaining power. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B comment j.
Finally, this court has held that another factor for determining whether an anticipatory release may be unenforceable is the possibility of a harsh or inequitable result for the releasing party. Commerce & Industry Ins. v. Orth, 254 Or 226, 231-32, 458 P2d 926 (1969) (so stating); Estey v. MacKenzie Engineering Inc., 324 Or 372, 376-77, 927 P2d 86 (1996) (court’s inquiry into intent of parties to immunize against negligence “focuse[s] not only on the language of the contract, but also on the possibility of a harsh or inequitable result that would fall on one party by immunizing the other party from the consequences of his or her own negligence”).
We glean from those [*31] decisions that relevant procedural factors in the determination of whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable include whether the release was conspicuous and unambiguous; whether there was a substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining power; whether the contract was offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis; and whether the contract involved a consumer transaction. Relevant substantive considerations include whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh or inequitable result to befall the releasing party; whether the releasee serves an important public interest or function; and whether the release purported to disclaim liability for more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence. Nothing in our previous decisions suggests that any single factor takes precedence over the others or that the listed factors are exclusive. Rather, they indicate that a determination whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable must be based on the totality of the circumstances of a particular transaction. The analysis in that regard is guided, but not limited, by the factors that this court [*32] previously has identified; it is also informed by any other considerations that may be relevant, including societal expectations.12
12 Justice Peterson eloquently described the role of societal expectations in informing the development of both the common law and legislation:
“The beauty and strength of the common-law system is its infinite adaptability to societal change. Recent decisions of this court are illustrative. In Heino v. Harper, 306 Or 347, 349-50, 759 P2d 253 (1988), the court abolished interspousal immunity, holding ‘that the common-law rule of interspousal immunity is no longer available in this state to bar negligence actions between spouses.’ In Winn v. Gilroy, 296 Or 718, 734, 681 P2d 776 (1984), the court abolished parental tort immunity for negligent injury to minor children. Nineteen years earlier, in Wights v. Staff Jennings, 241 Or 301, 310, 405 P2d 624 (1965), stating that ‘it is the function of the judiciary to modify the law of torts to fit the changing needs of society,’ the court held that a seller of a product may be held strictly liable for injuries to a plaintiff not in privity with the seller.
“The development of the common law occurs in an environment in which tensions abound. On occasion, the Legislative Assembly passes laws in response to decisions of this court. Products liability decisions of this court led to the enactment [*33] of a series of products liability statutes now found in ORS 30.900 to 30.927. A decision of this court involving an injury to a skier, Blair v. Mt. Hood Meadows Development Corp., 291 Or 293, 630 P2d 827, modified, 291 Or 703, 634 P2d 241 (1981), led to the enactment of statutes concerning skiing activities, ORS 30.970 to 30.990.
“On the other hand, this court, in deciding common-law issues presented to it, has ascertained public policy by looking to legislative enactments. The legislature is incapable of passing laws that govern every conceivable situation that might arise, however. The common-law court is the institution charged with the formulation and application of rules of governing law in situations not covered by constitution, legislation, or rules.”
Buchler v. Oregon Corrections Div., 316 Or 499, 518-19, 853 P2d 798 (1993) (Peterson, J., concurring).
With those principles in mind, we first consider the factors that usually are described as procedural, viz., those pertaining to the formation of the agreement. Plaintiff does not contend that the release was inconspicuous or ambiguous; that is, plaintiff does not contend that he was surprised by its terms. Thus, that factor weighs in favor of enforcement. Other procedural factors, however, point in a different direction. This was not an agreement between equals. Only one party to the contract-defendant-was a commercial enterprise, and that [*34] party exercised its superior bargaining strength by requiring its patrons, including plaintiff, to sign an anticipatory release on a take-it-or-leave-it basis as a condition of using its facilities. As the Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 496B, explains, a release may not be enforced
“where there is such a disparity in bargaining power between the parties that the agreement does not represent a free choice on the part of the plaintiff. The basis for such a result is the policy of the law which relieves the party who is at such a disadvantage from harsh, inequitable, and unfair contracts which he is forced to accept by the necessities of his situation. The disparity in bargaining power may arise from the defendant’s monopoly of a particular field of service, from the generality of use of contract clauses insisting upon assumption of risk by those engaged in such a field, so that the plaintiff has no alternative possibility of obtaining the service without the clause; or it may arise from the exigencies of the needs of the plaintiff himself, which leave him no reasonable alternative to the acceptance of the offered terms.”
Id. comment j (emphasis added).
Also, plaintiff had no opportunity in this [*35] case to negotiate for different terms or pay an additional fee for protection against defendant’s negligence. What makes the substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining positions even more significant in this circumstance is the limited number of ski areas that provide downhill skiing and snow-boarding opportunities in Oregon, and the generality of the use of similar releases among that limited commercial cohort.13 Simply put, plaintiff had no meaningful alternative to defendant’s take-it-or-leave-it terms if he wanted to participate in downhill snowboarding. Although that factor is not, by itself, dispositive,
“[w]hen one party is in such a superior bargaining position that it totally dictates all terms of the contract and the only option presented to the other party is to take it or leave it, some quantum of procedural unconscionability is established. The party who drafts such a contract of adhesion bears the responsibility of assuring that the provisions of the contract are not so one-sided as to be unconscionable.”
Strand v. U.S. Bank Nat. Ass’n, 693 NW2d 918, 925 (ND 2005).
13 In an excerpt from the transcript of plaintiff’s deposition that was included in the summary judgment record, plaintiff testified that he had never been to a ski resort [*36] where a release such as the one at issue here was not required.
We next consider the substantive factors that are relevant to our inquiry. The parties have identified the following relevant factors: whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh or inequitable result; whether defendant’s recreational business operation serves an important public interest or function; and whether the release purported to disclaim liability for more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence.
We begin with the question whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result to befall the releasing party, in this case, plaintiff. As discussed, this court has recognized the importance of that consideration in other cases. See, e.g., Estey, 324 Or at 376. As pertinent here, we conclude that the result would be harsh because, accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured. And that harsh result also would be inequitable because defendant, not its patrons, has the expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards [*37] of its own creation on its premises, and to guard against the negligence of its employees. Moreover, defendant alone can effectively spread the cost of guarding and insuring against such risks among its many patrons.
Those public policy considerations are embodied in the common law of business premises liability. Business owners and operators have a heightened duty of care toward patrons–invitees14–with respect to the condition of their premises that exceeds the general duty of care to avoid unreasonable risks of harm to others. Hagler v. Coastal Farm Holdings, Inc., 354 Or 132, 140-41, 309 P3d 1073 (2013); Garrison v. Deschutes County, 334 Or 264, 272, 48 P3d 807 (2002) (business invitee rule is a “special duty”). As this court explained in Woolston v. Wells, 297 Or 548, 557-58, 687 P2d 144 (1984):
“In general, it is the duty of the possessor of land to make the premises reasonably safe for the invitee’s visit. The possessor must exercise the standard of care above stated to discover conditions of the premises that create an unreasonable risk of harm to the invitee. The possessor must exercise that standard of care either to eliminate the condition creating that risk or to warn any foreseeable invitee of the risk so as to enable the invitee to avoid the harm.”
Furthermore, a business operator’s obligation to make its premises reasonably safe for its invitees includes taking into account [*38] the use to which the premises are put. See, e.g., Ragnone v. Portland School Dist. No. 1J, 291 Or 617, 621 n 3, 633 P2d 1287 (1981) (so stating); Mickel v. Haines Enterprises, Inc., 240 Or 369, 371-72, 400 P2d 518 (1965) (owner must “take reasonable precautions to protect the invitee from dangers which are foreseeable from the arrangement or use of the premises.”).
14 An “invitee” is “[a] person who has an express or implied invitation to enter or use another’s premises, such as a business visitor or a member of the public to whom the premises are held open.” Bryan A Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 846 (8th ed 1999).
The legislature has statutorily modified those duties to some extent in the Skier Responsibility Law, ORS 30.970 to 30.990. Under ORS 30.975, skiers assume certain risks:
“In accordance with ORS 31.600 [pertaining to contributory negligence] and notwithstanding ORS 31.620 (2) [abolishing the doctrine of implied assumption of risk], an individual who engages in the sport of skiing, alpine or nordic, accepts and assumes the inherent risks of skiing insofar as they are reasonably obvious, expected or necessary.”
ORS 30.970(1) describes “inherent risks of skiing”:
“‘Inherent risks of skiing’ includes, but is not limited to, those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of the sport, such as changing weather conditions, variations or steepness in terrain, [*39] snow or ice conditions, surface or subsurface conditions, bare spots, creeks and gullies, forest growth, rocks, stumps, lift towers and other structures and their components, collisions with other skiers and a skier’s failure to ski within the skier’s own ability.”
ORS 30.985 prescribes the duties of skiers, which generally deal with behaving safely while skiing.
By providing that a skier assumes the “inherent risks of skiing,” ORS 30.975 reduced ski area operators’ heightened common law duty to discover and guard against certain natural and inherent risks of harm. However, the Skier Responsibility Law did not abrogate the common-law principle that skiers do not assume responsibility for unreasonable conditions created by a ski area operator insofar as Cite as 356 Or 543 (2014) 565 those conditions are not inherent to the activity. See Nolan v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 317 Or 328, 336, 856 P2d 305 (1993) (Skier Responsibility Law provides that “[t]o the extent an injury is caused by an inherent risk of skiing, a skier will not recover against a ski area operator; to the extent an injury is a result of [ski area operator] negligence, comparative negligence applies”). It follows that the public policy underlying the common-law duty of a ski area operator to exercise reasonable care to avoid creating [*40] risks of harm to its business invitees remains applicable in this case.
In short, because (1) accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff would not have been injured if defendant had exercised reasonable care in designing, constructing, maintaining, or inspecting the jump on which he was injured; and (2) defendant, not its patrons, had the expertise and opportunity–indeed, the commonlaw duty–to foresee and avoid unreasonable risks of its own creation on its business premises, we conclude that the enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result, a factor that militates against its enforcement.
To continue our analysis, we next consider whether defendant’s business operation serves an important public interest or function. The parties sharply disagree about the importance of that factor to our resolution of this case. According to defendant, that factor is paramount here, because, as a matter of law, anticipatory releases of negligence liability are unenforceable only when a defendant provides an “essential” public service.
Although this court has not previously addressed that precise issue in the context of a release involving a recreational [*41] activity, other courts have done so. As defendant observes, courts in several jurisdictions that lack statutory prohibitions of anticipatory releases of liability for negligence have upheld such releases (at least in part) on the ground that the activity at issue did not involve an “essential” public service.15 However, courts in other jurisdictions have taken the opposite approach, concluding that, regardless of whether the release involves an essential public service, anticipatory releases that immunize a party from the consequences of its own negligence can violate public policy or be unconscionable.
15 See, e.g., Malecha v. St. Croix Valley Skydiving Club, Inc., 392 NW 2d 727 (Minn App 1986) (upholding an exculpatory agreement entered into between a skydiving operation and a patron); Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, 607 Pa 1, 2 A3d 1174 (2010) (skiing); Pearce v. Utah Athletic Foundation, 179 P3d 760 (Utah 2008) (bobsledding); Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica, LLC, 104 Cal App 4th 1351, 129 Cal Rptr 2d 197 (2002) (health club); Henderson v. Quest Expeditions, Inc., 174 SW3d 730, (Tenn Ct App 2005) (whitewater rafting).
For example, in Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd., 164 Vt 329, 670 A2d 795 (1995), the Vermont Supreme Court rejected the argument that anticipatory releases of negligence liability necessarily are enforceable in the context of recreational activities because such activities are not essential. 670 A2d at 799. In that case, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries when he collided with a metal pole that formed part of the control maze for a ski-lift line. He brought a negligence action against the [*42] defendant ski area operator, alleging that it had negligently designed, built, and placed the maze pole. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on an anticipatory release that the plaintiff had signed absolving the defendant of liability for negligence.
On appeal, the court noted that the release was conspicuous and unambiguous, but it nevertheless concluded that the release violated public policy. Id. at 797. The court began its analysis with the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B comment b, which states that an anticipatory release should be upheld if (1) it is freely and fairly made, (2) between parties who are in equal bargaining positions, and (3) there is no societal interest with which it interferes. Dalury, 670 A2d at 797. The parties’ dispute focused on the last issue. The defendant urged the court to conclude that, because skiing-like other recreational activities-is not a necessity of life, the sale of a lift ticket is a purely private transaction that implicates no public interest. The court concluded that “no single formula will reach the relevant public policy issues in every factual context.” Id. at 798. Rather, the court stated that it would consider “the totality of the circumstances [*43] of any given case against the backdrop of current societal expectations.” Id.
The court found a significant public policy consideration in the case in the law of premises liability; in particular, the court stated, business owners–including ski area operators–owe a duty of care to make their premises safe for patrons where their operations create a foreseeable risk of harm. Id. at 799. The court observed that
“[d]efendants, not recreational skiers, have the expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards, and to guard against the negligence of their agents and employees. They alone can properly maintain and inspect their premises, and train their employees in risk management. They alone can insure against risks and effectively spread the cost of insurance among their thousands of customers. Skiers, on the other hand, are not in a position to discover and correct risks of harm, and they cannot insure against the ski area’s negligence.
“If defendants were permitted to obtain broad waivers for their liability, an important incentive for ski areas to manage risk would be removed with the public bearing the cost of the resulting injuries. * * * It is illogical, in these circumstances, to undermine the [*44] public policy underlying business invitee law and allow skiers to bear risks they have no ability or right to control.”
Turning to the defendant’s argument that the release was enforceable because ski resorts do not provide an essential public service, the court stated that, “[w]hile interference with an essential public service surely affects the public interest, those services do not represent the universe of activities that implicate public concerns.” Id. The court held that, “when a facility becomes a place of public accommodation, it ‘render[s] a service which has become of public interest in the manner of the innkeepers and common carriers of old.'” Id. at 799-800 (quoting Lombard v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 267, 279, 83 S Ct 1122, 10 L Ed 2d 338 (1963)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Finally, the court’s analysis was informed by a statute that placed the “inherent risks” of any sport on the participant, insofar as the risks were obvious and necessary.16 The court stated that “[a] ski area’s own negligence * * * is neither an inherent risk nor an obvious and necessary one in the sport of skiing,” and, therefore, “a skier’s assumption of the inherent risks of skiing does not abrogate the ski area’s duty to warn of or correct dangers which in the exercise of reasonable prudence in [*45] the circumstances could have been foreseen and corrected.” Dalury, 670 A2d at 800 (internal quotation marks omitted).17
16 Vermont Statutes Annotated title 12, section 1037, provides:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of section 1036 of this title, a person who takes part in any sport accepts as a matter of law the dangers that inhere therein insofar as they are obvious and necessary.”
17 For similar reasons, the Connecticut Supreme Court also has declined to enforce an anticipatory release of negligence liability in the face of the defendant’s contention that recreational activities do not implicate the public interest. Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn 314, 885 A2d 734 (2005). Hanks was a negligence action brought by a plaintiff who was injured when his foot was caught between his snowtube and the artificial bank of a snowtubing run at a ski resort operated by the defendant. The defendant relied on an anticipatory release that the plaintiff had signed that purported to absolve the defendant from liability for its negligence. The court acknowledged that the release was conspicuous and unambiguous, but ultimately agreed with the Vermont Supreme Court that determining what constitutes the public interest required consideration of all relevant circumstances, including that the plaintiff lacked sufficient knowledge and authority to discern [*46] whether, much less ensure that, the snowtubing runs were maintained in a reasonably safe condition. Id. at 331. Thus, the court held, “it is illogical to permit snowtubers, and the public generally, to bear the costs of risks that they have no ability or right to control.” Id. at 332.
We, too, think that the fact that defendant does not provide an essential public service does not compel the conclusion that the release in this case must be enforced. As the court stated in Dalury, “[w]hile interference with an essential public service surely affects the public interest, those services do not represent the universe of activities that implicate public concerns.” 670 A2d at 799. It is true that ski areas do not provide the kind of public service typically associated with government entities or heavily regulated private enterprises such as railroads, hospitals, or banks. See Real Good Food, 276 Or at 1061 (“Banks, like common carriers and utility companies, perform an important public service, and, for that very reason, are subject to state and federal regulation.”). However, like other places of public accommodation such as inns or public warehouses, defendant’s business premises–including its terrain park–are open to the general public virtually without [*47] restriction, and large numbers of skiers and snowboarders regularly avail themselves of its facilities. To be sure, defendants’ business facilities are privately owned, but that characteristic does not overcome a number of legitimate public interests concerning their operation.18
18 Public accommodations laws that prohibit discrimination against potential users of the facility are just one example of limitations imposed by law that affect the use of defendant’s premises. See, e.g., ORS 447.220 (explaining purpose of ORS 447.210-280 to make places of public accommodation accessible to persons with disability); ORS 447.210 (defining public accommodation to include “places of recreation”); ORS 659A.403 (prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation); ORS 659A.400 (defining places of public accommodation for purposes of ORS 659A.403 to include places offering “amusements”).
The major public interests at stake are those underlying the law of business premises liability. The policy rationale is to place responsibility for negligently created conditions of business premises on those who own or control them, with the ultimate goal of mitigating the risk of injury-producing accidents. Hagler, 354 Or at 140-41; Garrison, 334 Or at 272. In that setting, where a business operator extends a general invitation [*48] to enter and engage in activities on its premises that is accepted by large numbers of the public, and those invitees are subject to risks of harm from conditions of the operator’s creation, their safety is a matter of broad societal concern. See Dalury, 670 A2d 799 (“[W]hen a substantial number of such sales take place as a result of the [operator’s] general invitation to the public to utilize the facilities and services in question, a legitimate public interest arises.”). The public interest, therefore, is affected by the performance of the operator’s private duties toward them. See, e.g., Strawbridge v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Inc., 320 F Supp 2d 425, 433-34 (WD NC 2004) (holding, under North Carolina law, that “the ski industry is sufficiently regulated and tied to the public interest” to preclude enforcement of anticipatory release, based on the principle that “a party cannot protect himself by contract[ing] against liability for negligence * * * where * * * public interest is involved, or where public interest requires the performance of a private duty”). Accordingly, we reject defendant’s argument that the fact that skiing and snowboarding are “non-essential” activities compels enforcement of the release in this case. Instead, we conclude that defendant’s business operation is sufficiently tied [*49] to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to its patrons.
Finally, we consider the nature of the conduct to which the release would apply in this case. Defendant makes a fair point that, although the release purports to immunize it from liability for any misconduct short of intentional conduct, plaintiff’s claim is based on ordinary negligence. Defendant notes that this court has held that an anticipatory release violates public policy where it purports to immunize the releasee from liability for gross negligence, reckless, or intentional conduct, but a release that disclaims liability only for ordinary negligence more often is enforced. K-Lines, 273 Or at 249. That statement is correct as a general comment on the validity of anticipatory releases, but, of course, whether any particular release will be enforced depends on the various factors that we discuss in this opinion. In the circumstances of this transaction, the fact that plaintiff’s claim is based on negligence rather than on more egregious conduct carries less weight than the other substantive factors that we have considered or than it would, for example, in a commercial transaction between parties of relatively [*50] equal bargaining power.19
19 Defendant does not contend that the release would be enforceable against a claim based on alleged gross negligence or reckless conduct.
SUMMARY AND APPLICATION
To summarize, our analysis leads to the conclusion that permitting defendant to exculpate itself from its own negligence would be unconscionable. As discussed, important procedural factors supporting that conclusion include the substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining power in the particular circumstances of this consumer transaction, and the fact that the release was offered to plaintiff and defendant’s other customers on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
There also are indications that the release is substantively unfair and oppressive. First, a harsh and inequitable result would follow if defendant were immunized from negligence liability, in light of (1) defendant’s superior ability to guard against the risk of harm to its patrons arising from its own negligence in designing, creating, and maintaining its runs, slopes, jumps, and other facilities; and (2) defendant’s superior ability to absorb and spread the costs associated with insuring against those risks. Second, because defendant’s business premises [*51] are open to the general public virtually without restriction, large numbers of skiers and snowboarders regularly avail themselves of its facilities, and those patrons are subject to risks of harm from conditions on the premises of defendant’s creation, the safety of those patrons is a matter of broad societal concern. The public interest, therefore, is affected by the performance of defendant’s private duties toward them under business premises liability law.
In the ultimate step of our unconscionability analysis, we consider whether those procedural and substantive considerations outweigh defendant’s interest in enforcing the release at issue here. Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 178 comment b (“[A] decision as to enforceability is reached only after a careful balancing, in the light of all the circumstances, of the interest in the enforcement of the particular promise against the policy against the enforcement of such terms.”). Defendant argues that, in light of the inherent risks of skiing, it is neither unfair nor oppressive for a ski area operator to insist on a release from liability for its own negligence. As defendant explains,
“[W]hen the plaintiff undertook this activity, he exposed himself [*52] to a high risk of injury. Only he controlled his speed, course, angle, ‘pop’ and the difficulty of his aerial maneuver. Skiing and snowboarding requires [sic] the skier to exercise appropriate caution and good judgment. Sometimes, even despite the exercise of due care, accidents and injuries occur.”
Further, defendant contends, denying enforcement of such a release
“improperly elevates premises liability tort law above the freedom to contract, fails to take into account the countervailing policy interest of providing recreational opportunities to the public, fails to recognize that certain recreational activities are inherently dangerous and fails to consider the fact that the ski area operator has little, if any, control over the skier/snowboarder.”
Defendant’s arguments have some force. After all, skiing and snow boarding are activities whose allure and risks derive from a unique blend of factors that include natural features, artificial constructs, and human engagement. It may be difficult in such circumstances to untangle the causal forces that lead to an injury-producing accident. Moreover, defendant is correct that several relevant factors weigh in favor of enforcing the release. [*53] As discussed, the release was conspicuous and unambiguous, defendant’s alleged misconduct in this case was negligence, not more egregious conduct, and snowboarding is not a necessity of life.
That said, the release is very broad; it applies on its face to a multitude of conditions and risks, many of which (such as riding on a chairlift) leave defendant’s patrons vulnerable to risks of harm of defendant’s creation. Accepting as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, defendant designed, created, and maintained artificial constructs, including the jump on which plaintiff was injured.20 Even in the context of expert snowboarding in defendant’s terrain park, defendant was in a better position than its invitees to guard against risks of harm created by its own conduct.
20 We reiterate that the issues of whether defendant actually was negligent in one or more of the particulars alleged by plaintiff, whether and the extent to which plaintiff was comparatively negligent, and the extent to which either party’s negligence actually caused plaintiff’s injuries, are not before us on review.
A final point deserves mention. It is axiomatic that public policy favors the deterrence of negligent conduct. [*54] 2 Farnsworth on Contracts § 5.2, 9-12 (“[i]n precedents accumulated over centuries,” courts have relied on policy “against the commission or inducement of torts and similar wrongs”). Although that policy of deterrence has implications in any case involving the enforceability of an anticipatory release of negligence liability, here, that policy bolsters the other considerations that weigh against enforcement of the release. As the parties readily agree, the activities at issue in this case involve considerable risks to life and limb. Skiers and snowboarders have important legal inducements to exercise reasonable care for their own safety by virtue of their statutory assumption of the inherent risks of skiing. By contrast, without potential exposure to liability for their own negligence, ski area operators would lack a commensurate legal incentive to avoid creating unreasonable risks of harm to their business invitees. See Alabama Great Southern Railroad Co. v. Sumter Plywood Corp., 359 So 2d 1140, 1145 (Ala 1978) (human experience shows that exculpatory agreements induce a lack of care). Where, as here, members of the public are invited to participate without restriction in risky activities on defendant’s business premises (and many do), and where the risks of harm posed by operator negligence [*55] are appreciable, such an imbalance in legal incentives is not conducive to the public interest.
Because the factors favoring enforcement of the release are outweighed by the countervailing considerations that we have identified, we conclude that enforcement of the release at issue in this case would be unconscionable.21 And, because the release is unenforceable, genuine issues of fact exist that preclude summary judgment in defendant’s favor. It follows that the trial court erred in granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment and in denying plaintiff’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment, and that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the judgment dismissing plaintiff’s action.
21 By so concluding, we do not mean to suggest that a business owner or operator never may enforce an anticipatory release or limitation of negligence liability from its invitees. As explained, multiple factors may affect the analysis, including, among others, whether a legally significant disparity in the parties’ bargaining power existed that made the release or limitation unfairly adhesive, whether the owner/operator permitted a patron to pay additional reasonable fees to obtain protection against negligence, [*56] the extent to which the business operation is tied to the public interest, including whether the business is open to and serves large numbers of the general public without restriction, and the degree to which the personal safety of the invitee is subjected to the risk of carelessness by the owner/ operator.
The decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The judgment of the trial court is reversed and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings.
Nicholas, a Minor, etc., Plaintiffs and Appellants, Defendants and Respondents.
COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION TWO
August 15, 2013, Opinion Filed
NOTICE: NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 8.1115(a), PROHIBITS COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 8.1115(b). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 8.1115.
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. KC061412, Peter J. Meeka, Judge.
DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.
CORE TERMS: dodgeball, triable, membership, ball, summary judgment, issues of fact, gross negligence, sport, playing, racquetball, played, inherent risk, hit, childcare, assumption of risk, ambiguity, risk of injury, risk of harm, rubber ball, matter of law, participating, aggressively, supervised, training, thrown, riding, player, risk doctrine, risk doctrine, evidence showed
COUNSEL: Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy and Charles M. Finkel for Plaintiffs and Appellants.
Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, Anthony J. Ellrod and David J. Wilson for Defendants and Respondents.
JUDGES: FERNS, J. *; ASHMANN-GERST, Acting P. J., CHAVEZ, J. concurred.
* Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.
OPINION BY: FERNS, J.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and respondents The Claremont Club (Club) and Adam Qasem (Qasem) on the complaint brought by minor Nicholas Lotz (Nicholas) by and through his guardian ad litem Deborah Lotz (Deborah) and Deborah individually (sometimes collectively appellants). 1 Nicholas was injured in a dodgeball game that took place while he was in the Club’s childcare program. The trial court ruled that a release signed by Nicholas’s father barred appellants’ claims and there was no evidence showing the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence beyond the scope of the release. It further ruled the primary assumption of risk doctrine [*2] barred appellants’ claims.
1 We use first names for convenience only; no disrespect is intended.
We reverse. The evidence offered by appellants showed there were triable issues of material fact regarding the scope and application of multiple releases, whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct constituted gross negligence and whether their conduct increased the risk of harm inherent in the game of dodgeball.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 2001, Thomas Lotz (Thomas) signed The Claremont Club Membership Agreement (Membership Agreement) and completed a membership information form indicating that he was seeking a family membership for himself, Deborah and their two children. On the information form, Thomas put a check mark by some of the specified sports and activities in which he and his family were interested in participating. Dodgeball was not included among the list of activities.
The Membership Agreement included a section entitled “Waiver of Liability” that provided in relevant part: “IT IS EXPRESSLY AGREED THAT USE OF THE CLUB FACILITIES, PARTICIPATION IN CLUB-SPONSORED OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES OR EVENTS AND TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED BY THE CLUB SHALL BE UNDERTAKEN BY A MEMBER [*3] OR GUEST AT HIS/HER SOLE RISK AND THE CLUB SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INJURIES OR ANY DAMAGE TO ANY MEMBER OR GUEST . . . .” The provision further stated that the member voluntarily assumed the risk of personal injury and released the Club and its employees from every demand, claim or liability on account of any personal injury.
On the same day he signed the Membership Agreement, Thomas signed a separate document captioned Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement (Waiver) that contained a provision stating: “This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club.” The Waiver further provided in part: “I, for myself, my spouse, if any, my heirs, personal representative or assigns, and anyone claiming through or under me do hereby release, waive, discharge, and covenant not to sue The Claremont Club . . . for liability from any and all claims including the negligence of the Claremont Club, resulting in damages or personal injury . . . .” The Waiver further identified certain activities provided at the Club–again excluding dodgeball–together [*4] with the risks arising therefrom, and required Thomas to assert that his participation was voluntary and “that I knowingly assume all such risks.” The Waiver’s concluding paragraph provided for Thomas’s understanding “THAT I AM GIVING UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING MY RIGHT TO SUE.”
Together with a Club attorney, Club president and chief executive officer Mike Alpert helped prepare the Waiver. According to Alpert, only the Waiver–not the waiver of liability contained in the Membership Agreement–was in full force and effect at the time Thomas signed both documents. None of the documents that Thomas and Deborah signed in connection with their Club membership informed them that dodgeball would be played on Club premises.
Nicholas Is Injured in a Dodgeball Game at the Club.
The “InZone” was part of the Club’s childcare department; it provided a clubhouse environment for older children that included ping pong, foosball and video games. In-house sports and a specialized fitness room were also available as part of the InZone. A document provided to parents describing InZone activities identified a number of sports in which a child might participate; it did not mention dodgeball.
On April 13, [*5] 2005, Deborah checked 10-year-old Nicholas into the InZone between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. No one advised Deborah or Thomas that Nicholas might be playing dodgeball as part of the InZone activities. That day, Club employee Qasem was scheduled to work at the front desk. Eighteen-year-old Qasem had worked part-time at the Club for approximately one year as a lifeguard, weight room attendant and at the front desk. He had never worked in the InZone and the Club had not provided him with any training to work with children.
At some point during his shift, Qasem left the front desk to work in the children’s fitness room. He was the only individual supervising approximately eight to 15 children, including Nicholas. One of the children suggested the group play dodgeball, and Qasem agreed. He took the children to the Club’s racquetball court because he had observed dodgeball being played there once or twice. The Club’s written policies, however, stated “[o]nly racquetball, handball, squash and Wally ball may be played on the racquetball courts.” Qasem had never played dodgeball at the Club, nor had he ever seen any written rules concerning dodgeball.
Though Qasem was uncertain whether he provided the [*6] children with any rules before they began playing the game, he may have told them to throw the ball below their waists. During the game, anywhere from three to six balls were being thrown at one time; each rubber ball was filled with air and was about the size of a soccer ball. About 20 minutes into the game, Qasem threw a ball using a sidearm motion hard and fast toward Nicholas. The ball hit Nicholas’s face and slammed his head into the wall behind him, leaving tooth marks on the wall. Nicholas suffered multiple dental injuries as a result of being hit by the ball.
At the time of the game, Qasem was six feet tall and weighed approximately 145 pounds. According to Nicholas, Qasem had been playing aggressively throughout the game. By playing in the game, Qasem had also violated the Club’s then unwritten policy that supervisors not participate in dodgeball games with the children. No one had previously been injured in a dodgeball game at the Club. After that game, Qasem was disciplined for failing to follow childcare policies and procedures, and one of his superiors instructed him not to play dodgeball at the Club.
Nicholas had previously played dodgeball at school. Though the players [*7] were instructed to not throw the ball at other players’ heads, he understood there was some risk of being hit in the head with the ball. The balls used at school, however, were similar to a Nerf ball and softer than those used at the InZone. Had Thomas and Deborah been advised that Nicholas would be playing dodgeball on a racquetball court with rubber balls, they would not have given their permission for him to do so.
The Intramural Rules of Dodgeball provide the game is one in which players try to hit others with a ball and avoid being hit themselves. “The main objective is to eliminate all members of the opposing team by hitting them with thrown balls, catching a ball thrown by a member of the opposing team, or forcing them outside of the court boundaries.” The National Dodgeball League Rules and Regulations of Play specify that a player committing a “headshot”–hitting another player in the head by a high thrown ball–will be deemed out of the game.
The Pleadings and Summary Judgment.
In June 2011, appellants filed their complaint alleging negligence and gross negligence and seeking general and special damages. They alleged that Nicholas was injured as a result of the Club’s negligently [*8] and recklessly “a. hiring, employing, training, entrusting, instructing, and supervising defendant ADAM QASEM; [¶] b. failing to adequately  protect children under the care of defendant ADAM QASEM; [¶] c. participating in a game of dodge ball in an unreasonably forceful and dangerous manner so as to endanger the health, safety and welfare of children placed by their parents into the care of defendants.”
In December 2011, the Club and Qasem moved for summary judgment. They argued that appellants’ negligence claims were barred by Thomas’s execution of a release and express assumption of risk, and according to the assumption of risk doctrine. They further argued their actions did not rise to the level of gross negligence. In support of their motion, they submitted the Membership agreement, appellants’ discovery responses, deposition excerpts and Qasem’s declaration. They also sought judicial notice of several principles related to dodgeball rules and manner of play.
Appellants opposed the motion and filed evidentiary objections. They argued that triable issues of material fact existed concerning the scope of the Waiver, whether the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence and whether [*9] Nicholas’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of the game of dodgeball. They offered deposition excerpts, Club policies, medical records and several declarations in support of their arguments. Sports and Recreational Consultants president Steve Bernheim opined that the Club “did not take the proper measures to protect the children who were in its care, custody and control during the dodgeball game in which Nicholas Lotz was injured.” More specifically, the children were not provided with game-appropriate rules, the racquetball court was an insufficient space, use of the rubber balls was inappropriate and an adult should not have been playing with the children. He further opined that Qasem acted recklessly and that his conduct, coupled with the other conditions of the game, increased the risks inherent in the game of dodgeball and were outside the range of ordinary activity associated with the sport.
The Club replied and also filed evidentiary objections. At a March 2012 hearing, the trial court granted the motion. Though the trial court edited the proposed judgment to eliminate any reasons for its ruling, at the hearing the trial court first referred to childhood dodgeball experience [*10] as the basis for its decision: “When I went to school, we called it Warball, and we didn’t use Nerf balls because there weren’t any. It was a ball. When it hit you, it stung. And we all knew that. Everybody knew it. And it was just one of those games you played in school, and high school for that matter.” Turning to the evidence, the trial court construed the Waiver to apply to Thomas’s family members as well as Thomas, reasoning that the Club would have expected Thomas to be executing a release on behalf of all family members when he joined. The trial court further explained that even if it were to ignore the Waiver, appellants’ claims would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine. It further found that the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct did not rise to the level of gross negligence as a matter of law, reasoning there was no evidence that Qasem was trying to injure Nicholas and that such an injury could have occurred in the context of any type of sport. It did not rule on any of the evidentiary objections.
Judgment was entered in June 2012, and this appeal followed.
Appellants maintain that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and assert they offered evidence [*11] sufficient to create triable issues of fact concerning the scope and application of the Waiver, the existence of gross negligence and the application of the assumption of risk defense. We agree that triable issues of fact preclude the granting of summary judgment.
I. Standard of Review.
We review a grant of summary judgment de novo and independently determine whether the facts not subject to triable dispute warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. (Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1348; Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849-850.) To secure summary judgment, the moving defendant must show that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to the cause of action, and that it “is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.) Once that burden is met, the burden “shifts to the [other party] to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2); Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.)
We assume the role of the trial court and redetermine the [*12] merits of the motion. (Barber v. Marina Sailing, Inc. (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 558, 562.) “In doing so, we must strictly scrutinize the moving party’s papers. [Citation.] The declarations of the party opposing summary judgment, however, are liberally construed to determine the existence of triable issues of fact. [Citation.] All doubts as to whether any material, triable issues of fact exist are to be resolved in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. [Citation.]” (Ibid.; accord, Hamburg v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 497, 502.) “Because a summary judgment denies the adversary party a trial, it should be granted with caution. [Citation.]” (Acosta v. Glenfed Development Corp. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1278, 1292.) The court’s role is to focus “on issue finding; it does not resolve issues of fact. The court seeks to find contradictions in the evidence, or inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence, which raise a triable issue of material fact.” (Ibid.)
II. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact as to Whether the Waiver Applied to Release Their Claims.
At the hearing on the motion, the trial court indicated that one basis for its ruling was the application of [*13] a written release. It stated: “Here, dad is signing the release on behalf of the family. Mom could have signed the release on behalf of the family and had a check and paid for the membership. And even though there are some slight twists and turns here, I guess nothing is ever completely crystal clear. I think the release really hurts the plaintiff or plaintiffs here.” Though the trial court’s comments fail to demonstrate whether it relied on the Membership Agreement or the Waiver as providing the operative release, the Club argues on appeal that the release contained in the Membership Agreement was clear and unambiguous, and applied to release appellants’ claims.
“California courts require a high degree of clarity and specificity in a [r]elease in order to find that it relieves a party from liability for its own negligence.” (Cohen v. Five Brooks Stable (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1488 (Cohen).) Thus, “to be effective, an agreement which purports to release, indemnify or exculpate the party who prepared it from liability for that party’s own negligence or tortious conduct must be clear, explicit and comprehensible in each of its essential details. Such an agreement, read as a whole, [*14] must clearly notify the prospective releaser or indemnitor of the effect of signing the agreement.” (Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 309, 318.) Waiver and release forms are strictly construed against the defendant. (Lund v. Bally’s Aerobic Plus, Inc. (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 733, 738.) But “a release need not achieve perfection” to be effective. (National & Internat. Brotherhood of Street Racers, Inc. v. Superior Court (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 934, 938.) A release is sufficient if it “‘constitutes a clear and unequivocal waiver with specific reference to a defendant’s negligence.'” (Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 755.)
Here, Thomas represented in his membership application that he sought Club membership on behalf of his family. The release contained in the Membership Agreement provided that the member and guests assumed the risk of Club activities and released the Club from liability for participation in Club activities. A contract in which a party expressly assumes a risk of injury is, if applicable, a complete defense to a negligence action. (See Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 308, fn. 4 (Knight); Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1301, 1304.) [*15] Moreover, it is well settled a parent may execute a release on behalf of his or her child. (Aaris v. Las Virgenes Unified School Dist. (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1112, 1120 (Aaris); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist. (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 1565.) By offering evidence of the Membership Agreement, the Club met its threshold burden to demonstrate a complete defense to appellants’ negligence claims.
In contrast to the trial court, however, we conclude the evidence offered by appellants showing that the release was not “crystal clear” satisfied their burden to demonstrate triable issues of material fact. As summarized in Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1357: “The determination of whether a release contains ambiguities is a matter of contractual construction. [Citation.] ‘An ambiguity exists when a party can identify an alternative, semantically reasonable, candidate of meaning of a writing. [Citations.] An ambiguity can be patent, arising from the face of the writing, or latent, based on extrinsic evidence.’ [Citation.] The circumstances under which a release is executed can give rise to an ambiguity that is not apparent on the face of the release. [Citation.] [*16] If an ambiguity as to the scope of the release exists, it should normally be construed against the drafter. [Citations.]”
Here, appellants demonstrated an ambiguity by offering evidence that the Waiver–not the Membership Agreement–contained the operative release. The Waiver contained language effectively negating any other release, providing: “This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club. Any prior written or oral agreements, promises, representations concerning the subject matter contained in this Agreement and not expressly set forth in this Agreement have no force or effect.” Club president Alpert testified that only the Waiver was the operative agreement at the time Thomas joined the Club. The Waiver, however, inconsistently provided in one paragraph that Thomas was giving up his right to sue on behalf of his spouse and heirs, and in another paragraph that he was relinquishing only his personal right to sue. Other language in the Waiver that “I hereby assert that my participation is voluntary and that I knowingly assume all such risks” likewise [*17] suggested that the Waiver was intended to be personal only. Given appellants’ identification of an “alternative, semantically reasonable” construction of the Waiver, the evidence created a triable issue of fact concerning whether and to what extent the Waiver applied to appellants’ claims. (See Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 354, 360.)
Beyond the issue of whether the Waiver or the Membership Agreement contained the operative release, appellants demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to whether the language of either document contemplated the type of injuries suffered by Nicholas. Both the Membership Agreement and the Waiver released the Club from liability for personal injury from Club activities. “‘Where a participant in an activity has expressly released the defendant from responsibility for the consequences of any act of negligence, “the law imposes no requirement that [the participant] have had a specific knowledge of the particular risk which resulted in his death [or injury.]” . . . Not every possible specific act of negligence by the defendant must be spelled out in the agreement or discussed by the parties. . . . Where a release of all liability for any [*18] act of negligence is given, the release applies to any such negligent act, whatever it may have been. . . . “It is only necessary that the act of negligence, which results in injury to the releasor, be reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.“‘ [Citation.]” (Leon v. Family Fitness Center (#107), Inc. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1227, 1234-1235 (Leon).) 2
2 The Leon court separately evaluated an assumption of risk provision and a general release in a health club membership agreement. (Leon, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1234, 1235.) It reasoned that for an assumption of the risk provision to be effective, “‘it must also appear that its terms were intended by both parties to apply to the particular conduct of the defendant which has caused the harm.'” (Id. at p. 1234.) We find this analysis sufficiently similar to that required for a general release to engage in a single evaluation.
Appellants offered evidence creating a triable issue of fact as to whether an injury from a child playing dodgeball was sufficiently related to the purpose of the release. Neither Thomas nor Deborah were ever informed that Nicholas would be playing dodgeball at the Club. Dodgeball [*19] was not identified as a Club activity in any of the Club materials. It was not listed as an activity in either the Membership Agreement or the Waiver. It did not appear on the list of Club activities in the membership information form. According to the Club’s written policies, it was not among the activities permitted to be played on the Club’s racquetball courts. Likewise, the Club maintained a policy to preclude supervisors from engaging in dodgeball games with children.
These circumstances are analogous to those in Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th 1476. There, the plaintiff was injured during a horseback ride when the guide unexpectedly caused his horse to gallop, knowing that it would cause the horses following to do the same, and the plaintiff was unable to control her galloping horse. (Id. at p. 1480.) Before riding, the plaintiff had signed a release that described some but not all of the risks inherent in horseback riding and provided that she agreed “‘to assume responsibility for the risks identified herein and those risks not specifically identified.‘ (Italics added.)” (Id. at p. 1486.) Finding this language unambiguous, the trial court granted summary judgment. (Id. at pp. 1482-1483.) [*20] The appellate court reversed, reasoning the exculpatory provision was problematic, as “[t]he ‘risks not specifically identified’ could refer to the risks inherent in horseback riding left unidentified by the phrase ‘some, but not all,’ which seems to us the most reasonable assumption, but it might also refer to risks arising out of respondent’s negligence that increase the inherent risks.” (Id. at p. 1486.) Stated another way, the court explained that “[t]he Release presented to appellant clearly does not unambiguously, let alone explicitly, release respondent from liability for injuries caused by its negligence or that of its agents and employees which increase a risk inherent in horseback riding.” (Id. at p. 1488.)
At a minimum, appellants’ evidence that dodgeball was an undisclosed risk and an activity contrary to the Club’s written policies raised a triable issue of fact as to whether it was a risk that was reasonably related to the purpose for which any release was given. Evidence of Qasem’s conduct likewise raised a triable issue of fact as to whether such a risk was encompassed by the Waiver. (See Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at p. 1489 [“Nothing in the Release clearly, unambiguously, [*21] and explicitly indicates that it applies to risks and dangers attributable to respondent’s negligence or that of an employee that may not be inherent in supervised recreational trail riding,” italics omitted]; see also Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc., supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 1308 [release in favor of racetrack owner for injuries suffered while in a racetrack’s restricted area did not apply to injuries sustained after defectively constructed bleachers collapsed]; Leon, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at p. 1235 [release that allowed the plaintiff to engage in fitness activities at a health club did not apply to injuries from a collapsed sauna bench].)
On the other hand, the circumstances here bear no similarity to those in Aaris, supra, 64 Cal.App.4th 1112, a case on which the Club relies. There, the court found that a high school cheerleader and her family assumed the risk of injuries resulting from cheerleading activities. On the basis of that finding, the court also affirmed summary judgment on the ground that a release of liability for school activities barred any claim for injuries. The court reasoned that the assumption of risk doctrine “embodies the legal conclusion that defendant [*22] owed no duty to protect appellant from the risk of harm inherent in the athletic activity. [Citation.] There being no duty, there was no negligence.” (Id. at p. 1120.) Ignoring that the Aaris court’s holding was based on a finding of no negligence rather than any application of the release, the Club emphasizes that the release applied notwithstanding its failure to specify “cheerleading,” and argues that the Membership Agreement’s and Waiver’s references to Club activities must therefore similarly be construed to encompass dodgeball. But in Aaris, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence was that the sole purpose of the release was to address injuries resulting from cheerleading. Here, Thomas and Deborah did not even know that Nicholas would be participating in a dodgeball game. Moreover, the trial court in Aaris ruled that the undisputed evidence showed “‘that the instructor did not increase the risk of harm inherent in the activity, the participants received adequate and proper training in technique and safety, and they were properly and reasonably supervised.'” (Id. at p. 1117.) In sharp contrast, appellants’ evidence showed that Qasem should not have been playing [*23] dodgeball and played aggressively, he violated the Club’s written policy concerning use of the racquetball court and no one else was supervising the game.
Finally, appellants offered evidence to show that the InZone was part of the Club’s childcare department. On the day of the dodgeball game, Deborah signed Nicholas in to the Club’s InZone program. Club wellness director Denise Johnson testified that she was aware children played dodgeball on the racquetball courts while being supervised under the childcare department. To the extent that the Club’s Membership Agreement or Waiver purported to release it from liability for injuries occurring in its childcare program, appellants raised a triable issue of fact as to whether such an agreement would be void against public policy. (Gavin W. v. YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 662, 676 [“we hold that exculpatory agreements that purport to relieve child care providers of liability for their own negligence are void as against public policy”].)
In sum, the evidence offered on summary judgment demonstrated that the Membership Agreement and/or the Waiver did not clearly and explicitly release the Club from liability for Nicholas’s [*24] injuries. In view of the ambiguities concerning whether the Membership Agreement or the Waiver applied, whether the language in either document was sufficient to cover the Club’s conduct and whether any release violated public policy, a trier of fact could find that the Club was not released from liability. (See Zipusch v. LA Workout, Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1281, 1288 [“if a release is ambiguous, and it is not clear the parties contemplated redistributing the risk causing the plaintiff’s injury, then the contractual ambiguity should be construed against the drafter, voiding the purported release”].) The undisputed evidence failed to show the Club and Qasem were absolved from liability as a matter of law according to the Membership Agreement or the Waiver.
III. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact Whether the Club Was Liable for Gross Negligence.
In City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 751 (Santa Barbara), our State’s highest court held “that an agreement made in the context of sports or recreational programs or services, purporting to release liability for future gross negligence, generally is unenforceable as a matter of public policy.” Relying on Santa [*25] Barbara, appellants opposed the Club’s summary judgment motion on the alternative ground that, even if the Club’s most comprehensive release language was unambiguous, there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence. The trial court ruled: “It is not gross negligence. He wasn’t trying to injure the child on purpose, any more than a child would be injured playing hockey or soccer, or anything like that.” Again, we disagree.
California courts define “‘gross negligence'” “as either a ‘”‘want of even scant care'”‘ or ‘”‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”‘ [Citations.]” (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 754; accord, Eriksson v. Nunnink (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 826, 857.) Gross negligence “connotes such a lack of care as may be presumed to indicate a passive and indifferent attitude toward results.” (Calvillo-Silva v. Home Grocery (1998) 19 Cal.4th 714, 729, disapproved on other grounds in Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 853, fn. 19.) In contrast to willful misconduct, gross negligence does not require an intent to do harm or to act with absolute disregard of the consequences. (Meek v. Fowler (1935) 3 Cal.2d 420, 425; [*26] see also Hawaiian Pineapple Co. v. Ind. Acc. Com. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 656, 662 [“While gross negligence may involve an intent to perform the act or omission, wilful misconduct involves the further intent that the performance be harmful or that it be done with a positive, active and absolute disregard of the consequences”].) Though not always, “[g]enerally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence. [Citations.]” (Decker v. City of Imperial Beach (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 349, 358; accord, Santa Barbara, supra, at pp. 767, 781.)
Appellants offered sufficient evidence to create a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct amounted to gross negligence. According to the undisputed evidence, while the Club’s policies prohibited dodgeball being played on the racquetball courts, Club employees–including the childcare director–knew the courts were used for children’s dodgeball games. Nonetheless, none of the Club’s materials identified dodgeball as an available activity. Consistent with the Club’s failure to acknowledge dodgeball as an ongoing activity, it failed to promulgate rules to insure the game was played [*27] safely. When Nicholas was dropped off at the InZone program, no one advised his parents that he might play dodgeball. In this particular instance, children initiated a dodgeball game while being supervised by an 18-year-old front desk clerk who had no childcare training. Qasem selected inflated rubber balls for the game and participated aggressively in the game with the children, even though the Club’s policy was that supervisors not play dodgeball. Nicholas was injured after Qasem threw the ball extremely hard and extremely fast, using a sidearm motion.
On the basis of this evidence, appellants offered Bernheim’s expert opinion that “the injury to Nicholas Lotz occurred during an extreme departure from what must be considered as the ordinary standard of conduct when children are playing dodgeball and are supposed to be . . . supervised.” We agree that appellants’ evidence was sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct was an extreme departure from ordinary care or, at a minimum, demonstrated passivity and indifference toward results. A trier of fact could find gross negligence on the basis of the Club’s failure to address the repeated violation [*28] of its own policy prohibiting dodgeball play on the racquetball courts, failure to implement rules or policies designed to protect those playing dodgeball and failure to provide any training to individuals assigned to supervise the children in its childcare program. Triable issues existed as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct was grossly negligent and therefore outside the scope of any release in either the Membership Agreement or the Waiver.
IV. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact Whether the Assumption of Risk Doctrine Barred Liability.
As a further basis for granting summary judgment, the trial court determined that the Club met its burden to show the primary assumption of risk doctrine was a viable defense and that appellants failed to offer any effective rebuttal. It analogized the circumstances here to those in a previous case in which it found the doctrine barred recovery to a high school student injured during a soccer game. We fail to see the analogy.
“Primary assumption of risk occurs where a plaintiff voluntarily participates in a sporting event or activity involving certain inherent risks. For example, an errantly thrown ball in baseball or a carelessly extended [*29] elbow in basketball are considered inherent risks of those respective sports. [Citation.] Primary assumption of risk is a complete bar to recovery. [Citation.] [¶] Primary assumption of risk is merely another way of saying no duty of care is owed as to risks inherent in a given sport or activity. The overriding consideration in the application of this principle is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the sport and thereby alter its fundamental nature. [Citation.]” (Wattenbarger v. Cincinnati Reds, Inc. (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 746, 751-752, citing Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296.) “Knight however does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.‘ ([Knight, supra,] 3 Cal.4th at pp. 315-316, italics added.) Thus, even though ‘defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,’ they may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is [*30] inherent. (Id. at p. 315.)” (Campbell v. Derylo (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 823, 827.) Thus, “when the plaintiff claims the defendant’s conduct increased the inherent risks of a sport, summary judgment on primary assumption of risk grounds is unavailable unless the defendant disproves the theory or establishes a lack of causation. [Citations.]” (Huff v. Wilkins (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 732, 740.)
Much of appellants’ evidence that we deemed sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact on the question of gross negligence likewise created a triable issue as to whether the Club and Qasem increased the risk of harm inherent in the game of dodgeball. 3 Certainly, being hit by a ball is one of the objectives of and hence an inherent risk in the game of dodgeball. But appellants’ evidence tended to show that the Club and Qasem increased that risk in a number of ways, including by playing on an enclosed racquetball court which was neither intended nor permitted to be used for dodgeball; by selecting rubber balls for the game; by allowing an adult untrained in childcare not only to participate in the game with the children but also to abdicate any supervisory role over them during the game; and by enabling [*31] that adult to play aggressively with the children. Given the totality of the circumstances, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that Nicholas assumed the risk of being hit in the head with a ball.
3 We acknowledge that the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine is a question of law. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) But where a defendant engages in conduct that is not an inherent risk of the sport and the imposition of a duty of care will neither alter the nature of nor chill participation in the sport, the question becomes one of ordinary negligence, with the remaining elements beyond duty to be determined by a trier of fact. (Yancey v. Superior Court (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 558, 565-567.)
Other courts have similarly reversed a grant of summary judgment where the plaintiff’s evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant’s conduct increased the inherent risks in a sport or other recreational activity. Lowe v. California League of Prof. Baseball (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 112 is particularly instructive. There, the plaintiff filed suit after he was injured by a foul ball while watching a baseball game, and the trial court granted summary judgment, finding [*32] the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred his claims. (Id. at p. 120.) In reversing, the appellate court relied on evidence showing the plaintiff was hit when he turned toward a team mascot who had repeatedly tapped his shoulder. (Id. at pp. 117-118, 123.) The court explained that while foul balls represent an inherent risk to spectators attending a baseball game, “we hold that the antics of the mascot are not an essential or integral part of the playing of a baseball game. In short, the game can be played in the absence of such antics. Moreover, whether such antics increased the inherent risk to plaintiff is an issue of fact to be resolved at trial.” (Id. at p. 123; see also Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 577, 591 [though skiers assume the risk of injury from the sport, triable issue of fact existed whether ski resort’s jump design increased the risk of harm]; Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 127, 134 [while a golfer assumes the risk of being hit by a golf ball, golf course owner owes a duty to minimize that risk, and the plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether that duty was breached where evidence showed the design [*33] of certain holes may have increased that risk].)
We find no merit to the Club’s and Qasem’s argument that appellants’ evidence demonstrated merely that their conduct may have increased the severity of Nicholas’s injuries as opposed to increasing the risk of injury. In Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108, the plaintiff suffered injury when he fell off his skateboard and hit a metal pipe protruding from a planter in the defendants’ driveway. Finding the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred his claims, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the concealed metal pipe increased his risk of harm: “[The plaintiff] was injured because he fell. As [he] concedes, falling is an inherent risk of skateboarding, and the presence of the pipe or the planter had nothing to do with his falling down. The fact that [his] injuries were more severe than they would have been if the pipe had not been in the planter does not make the assumption of risk doctrine inapplicable. The Knight exception applies when the defendant increased the risk of injury beyond that inherent in the sport, not when the defendant’s conduct may have increased the severity of the injury suffered.” (Id. at p. 116.) [*34] Here, in contrast, appellants’ evidence showed that the Club and Qasem increased the risk of injury by initiating the dodgeball game in which Nicholas participated. This was not the type of situation where Nicholas would have been playing dodgeball absent the Club’s and Qasem’s involvement. Moreover, the evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club and Qasem increased the risk of injury by permitting dodgeball play on the racquetball court, by failing to adopt rules for safe play, by Qasem’s failing to act as a supervisor during the game, by his selecting rubber balls for the game and by his participating aggressively in the game. The Club and Qasem were not entitled to summary judgment on the ground the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred appellants’ claims.
The judgment is reversed and the matter is remanded with directions for the trial court to vacate its order granting summary judgment and to enter a new order denying summary judgment. Appellants are entitled to their costs on appeal.
, J. *
* Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.
, Acting [*35] P. J. ASHMANN-GERST , J. CHAVEZ