States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute

Restrictions

Alaska

Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292

Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries

Arizona

ARS § 12-553

Limited to Equine Activities

Colorado

C.R.S. §§13-22-107

 

Florida

Florida Statute § 744.301 (3)

Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue

Virginia

Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Allows a parent to sign a release for a minor for equine activities

Utah

78B-4-203.  Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities

Limited to Equine Activities
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign.

 

By Case Law

 

California

Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)

 

Florida

Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454

Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims

Florida

Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147

Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities

Massachusetts

Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384

 

Minnesota

Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299

 

North Dakota

McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3

 

Ohio

Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998)

 

Wisconsin

Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1

However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 may void all releases in the state

Maryland

BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897

Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.

 

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

 

North Carolina

Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741

Ruling is by the Federal District Court and only a preliminary motion

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2011 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, minor, release, Parent Signature, NC, North Carolina, Alaska, AK, AZ, Arizona, CO, Colorado, Florida, FL, CA, California, MA, Massachusetts, Minnesota, MN, ND, North Dakota, OH, Ohio, WI, Wisconsin, Hohe, San Diego, San Diego Unified School District, Global Travel Marketing, Shea, Gonzalez, City Of Coral Gables, Sharon, City of Newton, Moore, Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, McPhail, Bismark Park District, Zivich, Mentor Soccer Club, Osborn, Cascade Mountain, Atkins, Swimwest Family Fitness Center, Minor, Minors, Right to Sue, Utah, UT, Equine, Equine Safety Act,

 

About these ads

Wisconsin decision has left the status of release law in Wisconsin in jeopardy. Decision also brought in new defenses to releases in the state

This decision worked hard to defeat not only this release, but all releases in Wisconsin, even though the dissent laid out great arguments why the majority’s decision was not based on any business principle. Even a concurring opinion thought the majority decision was too broad.

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Date of the Decision: January 19, 2005

Plaintiff: Benjamin Atkins, a minor, as the only surviving child of Charis Wilson, deceased, by Alexander Kammer, guardian ad litem

Defendant: Swimwest Family Fitness Center a/k/a Swimwest School of Instruction, Inc., Karen Kittelson, and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

In this decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court set release law back in the state. The decision, Atkins v. Swimwest violated a release on numerous grounds that would not hold up in other states. In a decision that may invalidate all releases in Wisconsin, the Court ruled that a release used by a swim club in conjunction with the registration statement was invalid as against public policy.

The plaintiff was the only surviving heir of the deceased and a minor. Consequently, the plaintiff was represented by a guardian ad litem. This is a person appointed by the court to represent the minor. The guardian ad litem may or may not be an attorney.

The decedent went to the defendant’s swimming pool for physical therapy. She entered the pool that day and was observed swimming a sidestroke up and down the length of the pool. Soon thereafter she was observed at the bottom of the pool. She was rescued, and CPR was started. She was transported to a hospital where she died the next day.

The decedent was not a member of the swim club, so she was required to sign a guest registration/release form. The form was titled “Guest Registration.” The form was a five 1/2 inch by five 1/2 inch card with release language that the court characterized as standardized. The card also required written personal information. The waiver information was below the registration information. The waiver language was:

I agree to assume all liability for myself without regard to fault, while at Swimwest Family Fitness Center. I further agree to hold harmless Swimwest Fitness Center, or any of its employees for any conditions or injury that may result to myself while at the Swimwest Fitness Center. I have read the foregoing and understand its contents.

The trial court dismissed the case based on the release. The appellate court certified the case to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. Certified means they passed the case on up without a decision.

Summary of the case

The court first had a problem with the term fault. The term was described as overly broad. The court explained the term was not defined enough to indicate to the parties (the deceased) the exact legal claims that would be barred by the release. The court found the term fault could also cover intentional acts which the court specifically stated would violate public policy and consequently, void the release.

The court stated, “We have consistently held that “only if it is apparent that the parties, in light of all the circumstances, knowingly agreed to excuse the defendants from liability will the contract be enforceable.” From this, statement appears the court wants the specific possible risks to be enumerated; however, that is an impossible job for most recreational activities.

The Supreme Court then looked at the Public Policy issues. The court called the public policy test a balancing test. The court required a balancing of the needs of the parties to contract versus the needs of the community to protect its members. No other court has balanced the issue of a release for a recreational activity this way. No other decision has surmised that the needs of the community include protecting individual members from freedom to contract. The court did not even consider the issue that the purpose of swimming by the decedent was for medical care: her physical therapy which might have had some public policy basis.

The court examined the release’s language in a two-step process. “First, the waiver must clearly, unambiguously, and unmistakably inform the signer of what is being waived.  Second, the form, looked at in its entirety, must alert the signer to the nature and significance of what is being signed.” The court stated the release served two purposes: (1) as a sign-in sheet for the facility and (2) as a release and therefore, did not meet the test they created.

In another statement the court stated, there was nothing conspicuous about the release language in the form. While other courts across the nation have continuously berated release writers about hiding the release language, wanting them to make sure the language was not hidden. Here the court goes one step further and wants the release language to be quite apparent and pointed out to the reader.

In one of the wildest statements in a court decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin stated that the decedent did not contemplate drowning.

…Wilson likely would not have contemplated drowning in a four-foot deep pool with a lifeguard on duty, when she signed the guest registration and waiver form. The question is not whether swimming carries with it the risk of drowning, but rather whether Wilson, herself, likely contemplated that risk.

Although you might look at slipping on the wet deck or stubbing your toe as you entered the water, what other possible risks exist in swimming other than drowning?

The next major blow to releases in general was the bargaining argument. The court stated the release was void because there was no opportunity for the decedent to bargain over the release language.

We also conclude that there was no opportunity for Wilson to bargain over the exculpatory language in the guest registration and waiver form.

We held that an exculpatory clause would not be enforced when it is part of a standardized agreement that offers little or no opportunity to bargain.

The term bargain means the court wants possible signors of releases to be able to negotiate the exculpatory language out of the release. As argued by the dissent, (judge who disagrees with the majority opinion) this would require every firm to hire an attorney to negotiate each release with each patron. As a condition of insurance, most providers of recreational insurance and/or health club insurances are requiring that every participant sign a release. If a participant does not sign a release and the release is a policy condition, there will be no insurance available to defend a claim.

Even if you could purchase insurance without using a release, at what cost would not having a release be worth? Based on two cases that have occurred, the person who is injured is the person who did not sign the release. So the cost of not have a patron sign a release is equal to their possible claims. If you want to join the health club and sign a release the cost is $79.00 per month with a $100 membership fee. If you want to join without signing a release, the cost is $89.00 a month with a $5 million-dollar membership fee.

The failure bargain to remove the release language was a violation of public policy. How? The court does not enumerate, nor do the concurrence and the dissent provide much additional information; however, both the concurrence and the dissent recognize the fallacy of the bargain requirement.

In the one point of illumination, court summed up their decision in the last paragraph:

In summary, we conclude that the exculpatory language in Swimwest’s form is unenforceable, since it is contrary to public policy. The waiver of liability language is, first, overly broad and all-inclusive. The use of the word “fault” on the form did not make clear to Wilson that she was releasing others from intentional, as well as negligent, acts. Second, the form served two purposes, guest registration and waiver of liability for “fault,” and thus failed to highlight the waiver, making it uncertain whether Wilson was fully notified about the nature and significance of the document she signed. Finally, Wilson did not have any opportunity to bargain. If she had decided not to sign the guest registration and waiver form, she would not have been allowed to swim.  The lack of such opportunity is also contrary to public policy. Accordingly, we reverse and remand, concluding also that Atkins is entitled to pursue his wrongful death claim.

The dissent is a well-thought-out argument about what is good and bad about the release and what is very bad about the majority’s opinion; however, the dissent, a minority of one, has no real value.

So Now What?

The solution to this issue is to use the word negligence. Negligence has a specific legal definition and specifically/legally defines the parameter of the release. The only specific statement from the decision that could be considered directional in writing releases was the statement that the word release should have been used in the form.

Why not? Why risk having your release thrown out because you failed to put in one additional sentence.

The next problem was the release was part of a registration form. The court included this as a reason the release did not meet its public policy test. This problem would have been resolved if the release was on a separate sheet of paper and clearly marked with a heading and/or notice above the signature line that the document was a release.

The court then went on in this vein and stated the exculpatory language in the release should have been highlighted or been more visible to someone signing the release.

From this decision, in Wisconsin you must!

1.                  Your release must be on a separate and distinct piece of paper.

2.                You release must be identified and clearly state it is a release.

3.                The release must use the magic word “negligence” to be valid.

4.                You need to list all of the possible injuries or risks that can befall the signor of the release.

5.                 Your release must be read by the parties and there should be a notice in the release that the signor read, understood and signed the release with the intention to give up their right to sue for injuries or death.

If you can, you should see if you can provide:

6.                The opportunity for your patron to buy their way out of the release.

7.                 References to other competitors where a guest may be able to go to have a similar opportunity without signing a release.

8.                8.  Make sure your insurance is up to date and adequate for the value of your business and your risk.

Always in any business.

9.                Make sure your corporate records are up to date. If you are not incorporated or an LLC get incorporated now!

10.            10.         Look into separating assets from operations in separate corporations or LLC’s and divide your business into separate, smaller entities to protect the business.

11.              11. Look into asset protection planning for your personal assets.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Swimming, Release, Waiver, Wisconsin, Fitness Center,

WordPress Tags: Wisconsin,decision,status,jeopardy,arguments,principle,opinion,Atkins,Swimwest,Center,Wisc,LEXIS,Date,January,Plaintiff,Benjamin,Charis,Wilson,Alexander,Kammer,guardian,Defendant,School,Instruction,Karen,Kittelson,West,Bend,Mutual,Insurance,Company,Claims,Defenses,Release,Supreme,Court,conjunction,registration,statement,policy,heir,person,attorney,therapy,length,Soon,hospital,member,guest,card,information,waiver,employees,injury,Summary,defendants,From,Public,freedom,purpose,basis,Second,significance,purposes,sheet,nation,writers,Here,reader,statements,foot,lifeguard,Although,argument,clause,agreement,patron,providers,health,insurances,participant,cost,worth,membership,million,dollar,failure,violation,concurrence,fallacy,requirement,illumination,paragraph,death,solution,negligence,definition,parameter,paper,signature,vein,injuries,intention,References,competitors,Make,Look,assets,corporations,entities,asset,protection,Leave,FaceBook,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,RecreationLaw,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,James,Moss,Authorrank,author,AdventureTourism,AdventureTravelLaw,AdventureTravelLawyer,AttorneyatLaw,BicyclingLaw,Camps,ChallengeCourse,ChallengeCourseLaw,ChallengeCourseLawyer,CyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,FitnessLawyer,HumanPoweredRecreation,JamesHMoss,JimMoss,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,OutsideLaw,OutsideLawyer,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,LawBlog,RecLawyer,RecreationalLawyer,RecreationLawBlog,RecreationLawcom,Lawcom,RiskManagement,RockClimbingLawyer,RopesCourse,RopesCourseLawyer,SkiAreas,SkiLaw,SummerCamp,Tourism,TravelLaw,YouthCamps,ZipLineLawyer,litem,five,signer,whether,exculpatory,month,signor

 


Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Benjamin Atkins, a minor, as the only surviving child of Charis Wilson, deceased, by Alexander Kammer, guardian ad litem, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center a/k/a Swimwest School of Instruction, Inc., Karen Kittelson, and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, Defendants-Respondents.

No. 03-2487-FT

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

October 26, 2004, Submitted on Briefs

January 19, 2005, Opinion Filed

Prior History: [**1] Appeal from an order of the Circuit court for Dane County, Michael N. Nowakowski, Judge. L.C. No. 02 CV 3149.

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

Counsel: For the plaintiff-appellant there were briefs by J. Michael Riley and Axley Brynelson, LLP, Madison, and oral argument by John M. Riley.

For the defendants-respondents there was a brief by Bradway A. Liddle, Sarah A. Zylstra and Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field, LLP, Madison, and oral argument by Sarah A. Zylstra.

An amicus curiae brief was filed by Patricia Sommer and Otjen, Van Ert, Lieb & Weir, S.C., Madison, on behalf of Wisconsin Insurance Alliance.

Judges: N. Patrick Crooks, J. Patience Drake Roggensack, J. (concurring). Jon P.

Wilcox, J. (dissenting).

Opinion By: N. Patrick Crooks

Opinion:

[*P1] N. Patrick Crooks, J. This case is before the court on certification from the court of appeals, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § (Rule) 809.61 (2001-2002). n1 Benjamin Atkins (Atkins) appealed from an order of the circuit court, which granted summary judgment in favor of Swimwest Family Fitness Center a/k/a Swimwest School of Instruction, Inc., Karen Kittelson, and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company (Swimwest). Atkins filed suit for [**2] the wrongful death of his mother, Dr. Charis Wilson (Wilson), who drowned n2 while using Swimwest’s lap pool. The circuit court held that the guest registration and waiver form signed by Wilson constituted a valid exculpatory provision, releasing Swimwest from liability.

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

n1 Unless otherwise indicated all references to Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2001-02 edition. Wisconsin Stat. § (Rule) 809.61 states, in relevant part: “The supreme court may take jurisdiction of an appeal or other proceeding in the court of appeals upon certification by the court of appeals or upon the supreme court’s own motion.”

n2 Wilson was found unconscious at the bottom of Swimwest’s lap pool. Swimwest employees pulled her from the pool and immediately administered CPR. Wilson was then transported by ambulance to University Hospital, where she died the next day, May 4, 2001. An autopsy revealed that death was caused by an Anoxic Brain Injury, the result of drowning.

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

[*P2] We conclude that the exculpatory [**3] language in Swimwest’s form is unenforceable, since it is contrary to public policy. The waiver of liability language is, first, overly broad and all-inclusive. The use of the word “fault” on the form did not make clear to Wilson that she was releasing others from intentional, as well as negligent, acts. Second, the form served two purposes, guest registration and waiver of liability for “fault,” and thus failed to highlight the waiver, making it uncertain whether Wilson was fully notified about the nature and significance of the document she signed. Finally, Wilson did not have any opportunity to bargain. If she had decided not to sign the guest registration and waiver form, she would not have been allowed to swim. The lack of such opportunity is also contrary to public policy. Accordingly, we reverse and remand, concluding also that Atkins is entitled to pursue his wrongful death claim.

I

[*P3] Swimwest is mainly an instructional swimming facility located in Madison, Wisconsin. It is equipped with a lap pool that is open to both members and visitors. On May 3, 2001, n3 Wilson, a local physician, visited Swimwest as part of a physical therapy and rehabilitation program. Upon [**4] entering the facility, Wilson was assisted at the front desk by Swimwest employee Arika Kleinert (Kleinert). Kleinert informed Wilson that because she was not a member of Swimwest, she was required to fill out a guest registration card and pay a fee before swimming.

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

n3 The actual form signed by Wilson is dated May 2, 2001. The complaint, coroner’s report, and Arika Kleinert’s affidavit all indicate, however, that Wilson signed the form and was found unconscious in the pool on May 3, 2001. The parties have presumed that the date on the form was incorrect.

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

[*P4] Kleinert presented Wilson with the guest registration card. The form was preprinted on a five and one-half inch by five and one-half inch card that also contained a standardized “Waiver Release Statement.” This statement appeared below the “Guest Registration,” which requested the visitor’s name, address, phone, reason for visit, and interest in membership. The entire card was printed in capital letters with the same size, font, and color. The waiver [**5] language printed on the card, following the registration information requested, is reproduced below:

WAIVER RELEASE STATEMENT

I AGREE TO ASSUME ALL LIABILITY FOR MYSELF WITHOUT REGARD TO FAULT, WHILE AT SWIMWEST FAMILY FITNESS CENTER. I FURTHER AGREE TO HOLD HARMLESS SWIMWEST FITNESS CENTER, OR ANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES FOR ANY CONDITIONS OR INJURY THAT MAY RESULT TO MYSELF WHILE AT THE SWIMWEST FITNESS CENTER. I HAVE READ THE FOREGOING AND UNDERSTAND ITS CONTENTS.

[*P5] The guest registration and waiver card had just one signature and date line that appeared at the end of the “Guest Registration” and the “Waiver Release Statement.” Wilson completed the requested “Guest Registration” portion and signed at the bottom of the “Waiver Release Statement” without asking Kleinert any questions.

[*P6] Before entering the pool, Wilson told Dan Kittelson, Aquatic Director of Swimwest, that she did not require assistance getting into the water. n4 She was observed entering the pool by Karen Kittelson, part owner of Swimwest, and the lifeguard on duty. Karen Kittelson testified that she saw Wilson swimming the sidestroke up and down the length of the pool.

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

n4 It was established in Atkins’ affidavit that Wilson knew how to swim prior to May 3, 2001.

- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**6]

[*P7] Soon after Wilson began swimming, another Swimwest employee, Elizabeth Proepper (Proepper), spotted Wilson lying motionless underwater near the bottom of the pool. Proepper alerted Karen Kittelson, who pulled Wilson from the pool and administered CPR. Wilson died at the hospital on May 4, 2001. An autopsy was performed, and drowning was listed as the official cause of death on the coroner’s report.

[*P8] Atkins, a minor and Wilson’s only child, filed a wrongful death action against Swimwest through his guardian ad litem. Atkins’ complaint alleged that Swimwest was negligent in the operation of the pool facility, particularly in the management and observation of the pool area, that procedures to safeguard against the risk of drowning were not followed, and that negligence of its employees caused Wilson’s death.

[*P9] The Dane County Circuit Court, the Honorable Michael N. Nowakowski presiding, granted Swimwest’s summary judgment motion and dismissed Atkins’ wrongful death action. The circuit court concluded that the form Wilson signed was sufficient to absolve Swimwest of any liability for Wilson’s death. The court reached its conclusion after considering whether [**7] the exculpatory clause was in contravention of public policy.

[*P10] Atkins appealed the circuit court decision. The court of appeals, Judges Charles P. Dykman, Margaret J. Vergeront, and Paul B. Higginbotham, certified the appeal to this court to clarify Wisconsin law concerning the enforceability of exculpatory clauses in standard liability release forms.

II

[*P11] This case involves review of whether the circuit court appropriately granted Swimwest’s motion for summary judgment. In reviewing the grant of summary judgment, we apply the same methodology used by the circuit court in deciding the motion. Yauger v. Skiing Enters., Inc., 206 Wis. 2d 76, 80, 557 N.W.2d 60 (1996); see Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1011, 513 N.W.2d 118 (1994). Although the standard for our review is de novo, we benefit from the analysis of the circuit court.Yahnke v. Carson, 2000 WI 74, P10, 236 Wis. 2d 257, 613 N.W.2d 102. Wisconsin Stat. § 802.08(2) states, in relevant part, that the circuit court may appropriately grant summary judgment if evidence shows “that there is no genuine issue as to any material [**8] fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

[*P12] This case turns on the interpretation of Swimwest’s guest registration and waiver form, and whether it relieves Swimwest of liability for harm caused by its negligence. Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 210, 321 N.W.2d 173 (1982). Wisconsin case law does not favor such agreements. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1015; Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991). While this court has not held that an exculpatory clause is invalid per se, we have held that such a provision must be construed strictly against the party seeking to rely on it. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 81; Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 210-11.

[*P13] Generally, exculpatory clauses have been analyzed on principles of contract law, see Dobratz, 161 Wis. 2d 502; Arnold v. Shawano County Agr. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 330 N.W.2d 773 (1983), overruled on other grounds, Green Spring Farms v. Kersten, 136 Wis. 2d 304, 317, 401 N.W.2d 816 (1987), and on public policy grounds. See Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d 76; [**9] Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007; Merten, 108 Wis. 2d 205; see generally, Restatement (Second) of Contracts, § 195 (1981). n5 However, lately the contractual analysis has not been emphasized, as many of the factors previously reviewed on a contractual basis were reached in the more recent cases, like Richards and Yauger, on public policy grounds. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 86. For a contractual inquiry, we need only “look to the contract itself to consider its validity. Specifically, we examine the facts and circumstances of [the] agreement . . .” Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 211, to determine if it was broad enough to cover the activity at issue. If not, the analysis ends and the contract should be determined to be unenforceable in regard to such activity. If the language of the contract does cover the activity, as it does here, we then proceed to an analysis on public policy, which remains the “germane analysis” for exculpatory clauses. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 86.

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

n5 Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195 states, in relevant part:

(1) A term exempting a party from tort liability for harm caused intentionally or recklessly is unenforceable on grounds of public policy.

(2) A term exempting a party from tort liability for harm caused negligently is unenforceable on grounds of public policy if:

(a) the term exempts an employer from liability to an employee for injury in the course of his employment;

(b) the term exempts one charged with a duty of public service from liability to one to whom that duty is owed for compensation for breach of that duty, or

(c) the other party is similarly a member of a class protected against the class to which the first party belongs.

(3) A term exempting a seller of a product from his special tort liability for physical harm to a user or consumer is unenforceable on grounds of public policy unless the term is fairly bargained for and is consistent with the policy underlying that liability.

- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**10]

[*P14] We generally define public policy as “’that principle of law under which freedom of contract or private dealings is restricted by law for the good of the community.’” Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 213 (quoting Higgins v. McFarland, 196 Va. 889, 86 S.E.2d 168, 172 (1955)). In such a review of exculpatory clauses, this court “attempts to accommodate the tension between the principles of contract and tort law that are inherent in such an agreement.” Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1016. n6 For guidance on the application of these public policy principles, we examine our two most recent cases considering exculpatory contracts in Wisconsin.

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

n6 The basic principles of contract and tort law as applied to exculpatory provisions were made clear in Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1016, 513 N.W.2d 118 (1994):

The law of contract is based on the principle of freedom of contract; people should be able to manage their own affairs without government interference. Freedom of contract is premised on a bargain freely and voluntarily made through a bargaining process that has integrity. Contract law protects justifiable expectations and the security of transactions. The law of torts is directed toward compensation of individuals for injuries resulting from the unreasonable conduct of another. Tort law also serves the “prophylactic” purpose of preventing future harm; tort law seeks to deter certain conduct by imposing liability for conduct below the acceptable standard of care. Id. (citing Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 211-12, 321 N.W.2d 173).

- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**11]

[*P15] In Yauger, this court based its determination of the enforceability of an exculpatory clause on two grounds: “First, the waiver must clearly, unambiguously, and unmistakably inform the signer of what is being waived. Second, the form, looked at in its entirety, must alert the signer to the nature and significance of what is being signed.” Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 84. Yauger involved a wrongful death action against the owner of a ski hill area. The claim, brought by the parents of a girl who fatally collided with the concrete base of a chair lift tower while skiing, alleged that the defendant negligently failed to pad the lift tower. The defendant filed for summary judgment, relying on the exculpatory provision contained in the family ski pass signed by the girl ‘s father. The waiver read, in part: “’There are certain inherent risks in skiing and that we agree to hold Hidden Valley Ski Area/Skiing Enterprises Inc. harmless on account of any injury incurred by me or my Family member on the Hidden Valley Ski Area premises.’” Id. at 79.

[*P16] In applying the two factors, the court in Yauger held that the release was void as [**12] against public policy. First, this court held that the release was not clear because it failed to include language “expressly indicating Michael Yauger’s intent to release Hidden Valley from its own negligence.” Id. at 84. Without any mention of the word “negligence,” and the ambiguity of the phrase “inherent risks of skiing,” the court held that Yauger was not adequately informed of the rights he was waiving. In regard to the second factor, this court held that the form, in its entirety, did not fully communicate to Yauger its nature and significance, because it served the dual purposes of an application for a season pass and a release of liability. Id. at 87. Furthermore, the waiver was not conspicuous. It was one of five paragraphs on the form and did not require a separate signature. Id.

[*P17] In Richards, the court adopted a slightly different approach to determining the enforceability of exculpatory contracts. Richards involved the wife of a truck driver signing a “Passenger Authorization” release form issued by her husband’s employer. The form claimed to waive liability for “intentional, reckless, and negligent conduct.” She [**13] brought suit to recover for injuries she suffered while riding in her husband’s truck as a passenger. We used a combination of factors to determine that the exculpatory language was contrary to public policy. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017. The first factor was that the contract served two purposes, neither of which was clearly identified or distinguished. Second, the court held that the release was broad and all-inclusive. Finally, there was little or no opportunity to negotiate or bargain over the contract. Id.at 1011.

[*P18] Applying the factors from Yauger and Richards, we hold that Swimwest ‘s exculpatory clause is in violation of public policy. n7 First, this exculpatory waiver, which uses the word “fault,” is overly broad and all-inclusive. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 85-86; Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017-18. Second, the form, serving two functions and not requiring a separate signature for the exculpatory clause, thus not sufficiently highlighting that clause, does not provide the signer adequate notification of the waiver’s nature and significance. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 86-87. Third, [**14] there was little or no opportunity to bargain or negotiate in regard to the exculpatory language in question. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1019. n8 Under this framework, the waiver in question is unenforceable as against public policy.

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

n7 We acknowledge that Yauger v. Skiing Enters., Inc.,, 206 Wis. 2d 76, 557 N.W.2d 60 (1996) and Richards place different weight on the public policy factors used to invalidate exculpatory clauses. See Rose v. Nat’l Tractor Pullers Ass’n, Inc., 33 F. Supp. 2d 757, 765 (1998). In Yauger, for example, “the presence of a single objectionable characteristic (was) sufficient to justify invalidating an exculpatory agreement.” Id. On the other hand, in Richards, the court stated that “none of these factors alone would necessarily have warranted invalidation of the exculpatory contract.” Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1020; see Rose, 33 F. Supp. at 765. Because all of the factors listed in those cases are present here, we do not address whether a single objectionable factor is sufficient to invalidate an exculpatory clause. [**15]

n8 According to the court in Yauger, it did not address this factor from Richards because both of the factors it had already addressed were sufficient to void the exculpatory clause in question. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d 76, 86 n.1.

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

[*P19] In addressing the first factor, we find the waiver’s broadness raises questions about its meaning and demonstrates its one-sidedness. Id. At 1018. The language chosen by Swimwest is not clear and could potentially bar any claim arising under any scenario. The waiver begins: “I AGREE TO ASSUME ALL LIABILITY FOR MYSELF WITHOUT REGARD TO FAULT. . . .” This language never makes clear what type of acts the word “fault” encompasses. Although Swimwest alleges that negligence is synonymous with fault, we find that fault is susceptible to a broader interpretation. Fault is currently defined as “an error or defect of judgment or of conduct; any deviation from prudence or duty resulting from inattention, incapacity, perversity, bad faith, or mismanagement.” Black’s Law Dictionary 623 (7th ed. 1999). This definition is broad enough to cover [**16] a reckless or an intentional act. A waiver of liability for an intentional act would clearly place the exculpatory clause in violation of public policy. Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 212; Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195(1) (1981). We again emphasize that exculpatory language must be strictly construed against the party seeking to rely on it. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 81.

[*P20] If Swimwest wanted to make clear that the signer is releasing it from negligent acts, it could have included the word “negligence” in the waiver. While this court has never specifically required exculpatory clauses to include the word “negligence,” we have stated that “we consider that it would be very helpful for such contracts to set forth in clear and express terms that the party signing it is releasing others for their negligent acts. . . .” Dobratz, 161 Wis. 2d at 525.

[*P21] Likewise, the broadness of the exculpatory language makes it difficult to ascertain exactly what was within Wilson’s or Swimwest’s contemplation. We have consistently held that “only if it is apparent that the parties, in light of all [**17] the circumstances, knowingly agreed to excuse the defendants from liability will the contract be enforceable.” Id. at 520 (citing Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 213). For example, in Arnold, we voided an exculpatory clause, because the accident that occurred was not within the contemplation of the parties when they signed the agreement. The case involved a waiver signed by a racecar driver, whereby he agreed not to hold liable the race promoter, the racing association, the track operator, the landowner, and any other driver in the race for injuries arising from the race. The plaintiff was severely injured after he crashed his car, and the rescue personnel sprayed chemicals into his burning car. The fumes that the spray created were toxic and caused the driver severe brain damage. In rendering the exculpatory language unenforceable, we held that “an issue of material fact exists as to whether the risk of negligent rescue operations was within the contemplation of the parties at the time the exculpatory contract was executed.” Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 212.

[*P22] Like the plaintiff in Arnold, Wilson likely would not have contemplated [**18] drowning in a four-foot deep pool with a lifeguard on duty, when she signed the guest registration and waiver form. The question is not whether swimming carries with it the risk of drowning, but rather whether Wilson, herself, likely contemplated that risk.

[*P23] Here, the guest registration and waiver form does not provide adequate notice of the waiver’s nature and significance. See Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 84. In this case, the form provided by Swimwest served two purposes. It was both a “Guest Registration” application and a “Waiver Release Statement.” Just as in Richards and Yauger, the exculpatory language appeared to be part of, or a requirement for, a larger registration form. In Yauger, for example, the plaintiff signed a one-page document that served as an application for a season ski pass and also contained a release of liability. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87. The waiver in this case could have been a separate document, providing Wilson with more adequate notice of what she was signing. Also, a separate signature line could have been provided, but was not. “Identifying and distinguishing clearly between those two contractual [**19] arrangements could have provided important protection against a signatory’s inadvertent agreement to the release. “ Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017.

[*P24] Another problem with the form was that there was nothing conspicuous about the paragraph containing the “Waiver Release Statement.” See Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87. “The form, looked at in its entirety, must be such that a reviewing court can say with certainty that the signer was fully aware of the nature and the significance of the document being signed.” Id. at 88. Here, the entire form was printed on one card, with the same size, font, and color. The fact that the release statement is in capital letters is irrelevant since all of the words on the guest registration were also in capital letters. Furthermore, the only place to sign the form was at the very end. This supports the conclusion that the waiver was not distinguishable enough.

[*P25] We also conclude that there was no opportunity for Wilson to bargain over the exculpatory language in the guest registration and waiver form. According to the deposition testimony of Swimwest employee Kleinert, Wilson had an opportunity [**20] to read the form and ask questions. She was told that the form included a waiver, and allegedly took her time reading the card. This information alone, however, is not sufficient to demonstrate a bargaining opportunity. The form itself must provide an opportunity to bargain. See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1019.

[*P26] We were faced with an analogous situation in Richards. In that case, the plaintiff was forced to choose between signing a standardized waiver or not riding with her husband in his employer’s truck. The court invalidated the contract, in part, because she “simply had to adhere to the terms of the written form.” Id. We held that an exculpatory clause would not be enforced when it is part of a standardized agreement that offers little or no opportunity to bargain. Id. Similarly, Wilson was without an opportunity to negotiate in regard to the standard exculpatory language used in the form. She was forced to either sign the form or not swim at Swimwest. n9 We hold, therefore, that such an exculpatory clause, where there is no opportunity to bargain in regard to its terms, presents another significant factor in the analysis of public policy. [**21]

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

n9 In Karen Kittelson’s deposition, she states: “You have to pay the fee and sign the waiver. You are not allowed to use the facility unless you sign the waiver.”

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

[*P27] All of the factors discussed lead us to conclude that the exculpatory clause in the Swimwest form violates public policy, and, therefore, is unenforceable.

III

[*P28] The final issue we address is whether Atkins is permitted to bring a wrongful death claim against Swimwest. Under Wisconsin law, a wrongful death action may be brought under such circumstances “as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages. . . .” Wis. Stat. § 895.03. n10

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

n10 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.03 states, in relevant part:

Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, then and in every such case the person who would have been liable, if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages notwithstanding the death of the person injured; provided, that such action shall be brought for a death caused in this state.

- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**22]

[*P29] As the son of Wilson, Atkins was a proper claimant for a wrongful death claim against Swimwest, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 895.04. n11 However, because the circuit court determined that Wilson would have been barred from bringing suit, the court consequently determined that Atkins was also barred. While caselaw does establish that wrongful death claims are derivative to any claim Wilson could have maintained, see Ruppa v. Am. States Ins. Co., 91 Wis. 2d 628, 646, 284 N.W.2d 318 (1979), having found the exculpatory clause unenforceable as against public policy, Swimwest is no longer shielded from liability, since Wilson could have brought a claim against it. Accordingly, Swimwest must now face the derivative wrongful death claim filed by her son, Benjamin Atkins.

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

n11 Wisconsin Stat. § 895.04(1) states, in relevant part: “An action for wrongful death may be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person or by the person to whom the amount recovered belongs.”

- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**23]

IV

[*P30] In summary, we conclude that the exculpatory language in Swimwest’s form is unenforceable, since it is contrary to public policy. The waiver of liability language is, first, overly broad and all-inclusive. The use of the word “fault” on the form did not make clear to Wilson that she was releasing others from intentional, as well as negligent, acts. Second, the form served two purposes, guest registration and waiver of liability for “fault,” and thus failed to highlight the waiver, making it uncertain whether Wilson was fully notified about the nature and significance of the document she signed. Finally, Wilson did not have any opportunity to bargain. If she had decided not to sign the guest registration and waiver form, she would not have been allowed to swim. The lack of such opportunity is also contrary to public policy. Accordingly, we reverse and remand, concluding also that Atkins is entitled to pursue his wrongful death claim.

By the Court.-The decision of the circuit court is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Concur by: Patience Drake Roggensack

Concur:

[*P31] Patience Drake Roggensack, J. (concurring). [**24] While I agree with the mandate to reverse and remand this matter, I write separately for two reasons: (1) because the court paints with too broad a brush when it strikes down the waiver due to its conclusion that Swimwest Family Fitness Center did not give Charis Wilson the opportunity to bargain on the terms of the release, without explaining that while the opportunity to bargain is desirable, it is not a separate component that may be dispositive of a waiver’s validity, and (2) because whether Wilson contemplated the possibility of her own death when she signed the waiver of liability is a question of fact that we should not decide on appeal.

[*P32] In the absence of legislation that prohibits them, waivers of liability, also known as exculpatory contracts, generally have been upheld. Arnold v. Shawano County Agric. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 209, 330 N.W.2d 773 (1983). However, exculpatory contracts, such as the one Wilson signed to obtain the opportunity to swim in the Swimwest pool, are not favored in the law. Id.

[*P33] When an exculpatory contract is reviewed by a court upon a claim that the contract violates public policy, there is a tension [**25] that is always present. On one hand, the court must consider the right to contract freely in the management of one’s affairs without government interference, and on the other hand, the court must consider that the shifting of responsibility for a tortfeasor’s negligent acts may tend to permit more negligent conduct. Id. at 209, n.2. We have balanced this tension by consistently requiring that exculpatory contracts contain two components in order to survive a public policy challenge: (1) a description that “clearly, unambiguously, and unmistakably inform[s the signer] of the rights he [or she is] waiving,” Yauger v. Skiing Enters., Inc., 206 Wis. 2d 76, 86, 557 N.W.2d 60 (1996), and (2) a description that “clearly and unequivocally communicates to the signer the nature and significance of the document being signed.” Id. at 86-87. In regard to these components, releases that serve two purposes and those that are not conspicuously labeled have been held to be insufficient to draw the signer’s attention to the fact that he is waiving liability for other parties’ negligence, as well as his own. Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1017, 513 N.W.2d 118 (1994). [**26] And a release that is so broad as to be interpreted to shift liability for a tortfeasor’s conduct under all possible circumstances, including reckless and intentional conduct, and for all possible injuries, catastrophic as well as minor, will not be upheld. Id. at 1017-18.

[*P34] In Richards, we also identified a third consideration that may be examined when exculpatory contracts are reviewed: Whether the injured party has had an opportunity to bargain in regard to the breadth of the release. Id. At 1019. However, contrary to our discussion of the two components set out above, which previous cases had evaluated, we offered no citation to precedent that would establish that the lack of an opportunity to bargain is a component necessary to a valid exculpatory contract. Instead, we linked the lack of an opportunity to bargain to the component requiring releases to clearly state the circumstances and scope of injuries contemplated in order to inform the signer of the rights that he or she is waiving. Id. at 1019-20.

[*P35] In a more recent decision where we invalidated a waiver because it “failed to clearly, unambiguously, [**27] and unmistakably inform [the signer] of the rights he was waiving,” Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 86, and failed to “clearly and unequivocally communicate to the signer the nature and significance of the document being signed,” id. at 86-87, we also explained:

We need not address the third ground articulated in Richards, i.e., standardized agreement which offers little or no opportunity for negotiation or free and voluntary bargaining, inasmuch as either of the above principles was sufficient to void this contract.

Id. at 87 n.1. In so explaining that a lack of either of the two necessary components set out at pages 86-87 of our decision was sufficient to set aside an exculpatory contract, we chose not to establish as a third and necessary component of a public policy analysis a requirement that there be an opportunity to bargain on the terms of the release. Rather, the lack of an opportunity to bargain was a fact that a court could consider in evaluating the totality of the circumstances surrounding the execution of a waiver.

[*P36] It is against this background that the majority opinion strikes down the contract [**28] between Wilson and Swimwest, while concluding that one of the infirmities leading to invalidation is that Wilson was not given an opportunity to bargain about the terms of the release. Majority op., P18. It also opines that, “because all of the factors listed in [earlier] cases are present here, we do not address whether a single objectionable factor is sufficient to invalidate an exculpatory clause.” Id., P18 n.7. In so doing, it adds the lack of an opportunity to bargain as a component of the public policy analysis, rather as reasoning used to determine whether the release was overly broad, as we employed it in Richards. It also implies that the lack of an opportunity to bargain could be sufficient to invalidate a release when it asserts, “The form itself must provide an opportunity to bargain.” Majority op., P25. This is an unnecessary broadening of the law that heretofore has set the framework for the analysis of an exculpatory contract on public policy grounds.

[*P37] My concern may seem like a minor matter, but it is very important in a practical sense. For example, the reception desk of a recreational facility is not always staffed by the owner of the facility, [**29] but rather, it may be staffed by an employee, as was the case here. It would be unrealistic to require that an employee be authorized to “bargain” about the terms of a release of liability, and it would be unrealistic that an owner always be present at the facility. Additionally, what give and take has to occur in order that there be an actual opportunity to bargain? What if a potential swimmer does not want to waive any potential claims for liability, but the owner is able to afford insurance only for catastrophic injuries, does the owner have the right to say that the person cannot swim in his pool? Those are only a few of the questions that could arise. Accordingly, I would not employ the opportunity to bargain in any way other than in an attempt to determine if the language in the release described the circumstances for which potential liability claims were being waived.

[*P38] Additionally, in holding that the opportunity to bargain is a component of a contractual waiver, the court has effectively removed the ability of most businesses that operate paid recreational facilities to limit any type of liability by contract. In my view, this will result in an increase in lawsuits [**30] and in fewer swimming and other paid recreational facilities for Wisconsin citizens to enjoy, a result that does not further the public good.

[*P39] Exculpatory contracts may be invalidated on a contractual basis, as well as on a public policy basis, if the injury that occurred was not within the contemplation of the parties when the agreement was signed. Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 211. As we have explained, “Exculpatory agreements that are broad and general in terms will bar only those claims that are within the contemplation of the parties when the contract was executed.” Id. We have also explained that the determination of what risks the parties to the contract intended to include in the release are questions of fact for the jury. Id. at 212.

[*P40] An overly broad and generally stated release that may prevent the formation of a valid contract because there was no meeting of the minds by the contracting parties presents a question similar to that presented by a failure to establish the components necessary to a public policy analysis. However, under a contract analysis, the question presents as a fact question, unless the facts are undisputed [**31] and capable of only one interpretation, see Energy Complexes, Inc. v. Eau Claire County, 152 Wis. 2d 453, 466-67, 449 N.W.2d 35 (1989), and in a public policy analysis the question presents as a question of law, Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1011. The foundations are so similar that we have cited to cases that were decided under a contract-type analysis as support for a decision based on public policy. See, e.g., id. at 1015-16 (a policy-based decision, citing Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 520, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991), a contract-based decision).

[*P41] Here, the contract-formation question presented is whether Wilson contemplated the possibility of her own death when she signed the release. The record provides that she was a swimmer and that the part of the pool in which she was swimming was only about four feet deep. Therefore, if she tired of swimming, all she had to do to keep from sinking below the water’s surface was to stand up. Additionally, statements in the coroner’s report included in the record, which repeated findings from the autopsy, relate that although Wilson’s cause of death is listed [**32] as “drowning,” she did not die from the aspiration of water into her lungs, as one would expect when breathing continues after a person is submerged under water. The physician who conducted the autopsy labeled this phenomenon a “dry drowning.” Although he did not assign any specific finding, such as a heart attack, as the cause of Wilson’s failing to breathe, several possibilities were mentioned. Accordingly, there may have been medical circumstances that contributed to Wilson’s death that had nothing to do with her being submerged in a swimming pool when she was found unconscious. This presents the court with material factual questions about what risks Wilson contemplated when she signed the release. In my view, there must first be a finding of what caused Wilson’s death before a court can evaluate whether she could have agreed to waive that cause. This cannot be decided on summary judgment.

[*P42] Furthermore, the majority opinion does not decide that as a matter of law Wilson could not have contemplated the possibility of her own death when she signed the release. Therefore, I would send the case back to the circuit court for determinations of what caused Wilson to stop breathing [**33] and whether Wilson and Swimwest intended the release to cover that catastrophic event. In my view, until it is known why Wilson stopped breathing, it will not be possible to determine whether she contemplated that event when she signed the waiver of liability. If the injury-causing event is found to be one that Wilson did not contemplate, the waiver she signed will have no effect on liability for her death.

[*P43] For the reasons set forth above, I respectfully concur.

DISSENTBY: JON P. WILCOX

DISSENT:

[*P44] JON P. WILCOX, J. (dissenting). I dissent. While I certainly do not believe that all exculpatory agreements should be upheld, the majority opinion will render it virtually impossible to enforce any exculpatory agreement in Wisconsin. The majority concludes that the agreement in this case is unenforceable as against public policy for three reasons: 1) the agreement is overly broad; 2) the agreement serves two purposes; and 3) there was no opportunity for the signer to bargain or negotiate over the exculpatory language. Majority op., P18. These factors originate from this court’s decision in Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1017-19, 513 N.W.2d 118 (1994). [**34] I disagree with the majority’s application of factors one and two and while I am bound to accept the legitimacy of the third factor, I question the manner in which the third factor is applied in this case. Further, the majority fails to articulate a clear test as to what types of exculpatory agreements are enforceable in this state. The majority applies the above three factors in such a fashion so as to leave little possibility that any exculpatory agreement could be enforceable in this state.

[*P45] The law governing the enforceability of exculpatory agreements in Wisconsin has been anything but consistent and this court has, through its various articulations of standards applicable to such agreements, failed to ever adhere to a consistent test for determining their validity. While parties wishing to execute such agreements certainly have a plethora of cases explaining when such agreements are not enforceable, our jurisprudence has not provided a beacon for litigants to successfully navigate the rocky waters of this area of the law.

[*P46] The last time this court had the opportunity to examine the validity of exculpatory agreements in Wisconsin, we noted that our previous [**35] cases had used a variety of tests to evaluate the legitimacy of such agreements. Yauger v. Skiing Enters., Inc., 206 Wis. 2d 76, 81-83, 557 N.W.2d 60 (1996). We explained that although our past cases had not adhered to a single test, they all had a single common thread tying them together: “these cases, in different ways, involved an exculpatory clause that failed to disclose to the signers exactly what rights they were waiving.” Id. at 81. After analyzing our prior jurisprudence, including Richards, this court distilled a two-part test governing the legitimacy of exculpatory agreements:

While the law grudgingly accepts the proposition that people may contract away their liability right to recovery for negligently caused injuries, the document must clearly, unambiguously, and unmistakably express this intention. Furthermore, the document when looked at in its entirety must clearly and unequivocally communicate the nature and significance of the waiver.

Id. at 88-89. The majority in this case reverts back to the test used in Richards while ignoring the lessons of Yauger.

[*P47] Before analyzing [**36] the exculpatory agreement, it is important to set forth precisely the nature and contents of the agreement and consider the form on which it appears as a whole. n12 The agreement in question is contained on an index card that is five and one-half inches by five and one-half inches.

The card reads:

GUEST REGISTRATION

NAME__________________________________________________

ADDRESS_______________________________________________

CITY____________________________STATE_________________

ZIP______________________HOME PHONE___________________

REASON FOR VISIT______________________________________

HOW DID YOU HEAR OF SWIMWEST?_________________________

I WOULD LIKE MEMBERSHIP INFORMATION?

YES NO DATE_________________________

WAIVER RELEASE STATEMENT

I AGREE TO ASSUME ALL LIABILITY FOR MYSELF WITHOUT REGARD TO FAULT, WHILE AT SWIMWEST FAMILIY FITNESS CENTER. I FURTHER AGREE TO HOLD HARMLESS SWIMWEST FITNESS CENTER, OR ANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES FOR ANY CONDITIONS OR INJURY THAT MAY RESULT TO MYSELF WHILE AT THE SWIMWEST FITNESS CENTER. I HAVE READ THE FOREGOING AND UNDERSTAND ITS CONTENTS. SIGNED DATE

That is the entirety of the agreement at question in this case.

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

n12 A copy of the agreement is attached as an exhibit at the end of this dissent.

- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**37]

[*P48] The first reason the majority provides for striking down the exculpatory agreement contained on this card is: “this exculpatory waiver, which uses the word ‘fault,’ is overly broad and all-inclusive.” Majority op., P18. The majority reasons that the language is ambiguous, could potentially cover a variety of claims, does not include the word “negligence,” and states that it is unclear whether the risk of drowning was within the signer’s contemplation. Majority op., PP19-22.

[*P49] “Fault,” as understood by a layperson, is defined as “[a] mistake; an error” or “responsibility for a mistake or an offense; culpability.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 665 (3d ed. 1992). Thus, the clear meaning of the first clause in the waiver is that the signer agrees to assume all liability for herself, without regard to who is responsible for any mistake leading to an injury. This language plainly covers negligent conduct. The fact that the legal definition of “fault” covers reckless and intentional acts, majority op., P19, is not dispositive. As the majority correctly indicates, waivers may not be enforced to prevent liability for reckless or intentional [**38] conduct. Id. However, neither reckless nor intentional conduct is at issue in this case. The fact that the waiver may be unenforceable as to other tortious acts is not germane; the relevant inquiry is whether “the exculpatory clause . . . fails to disclose to the signers exactly what rights they were waiving[,]” and whether the agreement unambiguously and unmistakably covers the tortious act at issue. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 81, 86.

[*P50] When read in context of the remaining language of the waiver release statement, the meaning of the first sentence, containing the word “fault,” becomes even clearer. See Folkman v. Quamme, 2003 WI 116, P28 n.11, P29, 264 Wis. 2d 617, 665 N.W.2d 857 (words and phrases of a contract are to be read in context of the contract’s other language in determining ambiguity). The second sentence of the waiver provides: “I FURTHER AGREE TO HOLD HARMLESS SWIMWEST FITNESS CENTER, OR ANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES FOR ANY CONDITIONS OR INJURY THAT MAY RESULT TO MYSELF WHILE AT THE SWIMWEST FITNESS CENTER.” Thus, when the first two sentences of the waiver are read together in context, an ordinary reader would understand that she [**39] is agreeing to hold Swimwest harmless for any injuries she suffers while at Swimwest that are due to mistakes or errors for which Swimwest is responsible. In other words, a layperson would understand that the waiver applies to any negligent acts of Swimwest or its employees.

[*P51] However, the majority argues that the decedent would not have contemplated the injury that occurred, majority op., P22, and focuses on the fact that the agreement does not contain the word “negligence.” Majority op., P20. The decedent in this case went to a facility called “Swimwest” in order to swim laps as part of her physical therapy. Majority op., P3. She took her time to read the waiver and then signed it. Id., PP5, 25. Yet, the majority somehow concludes that the decedent did not contemplate the risk of drowning. Regardless of whatever other activities the waiver may or may not cover, it is almost inconceivable that a reasonable person would not understand that, at a minimum, a waiver at an aquatic facility would cover the risk of drowning. What else would such a waiver cover if not the risk of drowning?

[*P52] Must a business list in the waiver each and every conceivable form [**40] of negligence that may result in injury to a patron? The majority opinion would seem to so indicate. Majority op., P22 (“Wilson likely would not have contemplated drowning in a four-foot deep pool with a lifeguard on duty.”). Listing the myriad of ways in which the proprietor or its agents could be negligent would be unduly burdensome to a business and would necessitate a waiver that is much more than one page in length. Such a waiver, in addition to being quite lengthy, would certainly not be easy to read or understand.

[*P53] In Yauger, this court cited with approval guidelines originally developed for the Uniform Commercial Code that govern warranty disclaimers. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87 n.2. One of the guidelines is that “the language of the negligence waiver should be readable. . . . and should not be written in legal jargon.” Id. (quoting Stephanie J. Greer & Hurlie H. Collier, The Conspicuousness Requirement: Litigating and Drafting Contractual Indemnity Provisions in Texas After Dresser Industries, Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 35 S. Tex. L. Rev. 243, 265-70, Apr. 1994). By focusing on the absence of a legal term of art in the [**41] waiver—“negligence”—and the fact that the waiver did not precisely mention the exact negligent act leading to injury in this case, the majority’s rationale runs afoul of the principle that waivers should be easy to read and should not contain legal jargon.

[*P54] Next, the majority concludes that the waiver does not provide “adequate notice of the waiver’s nature and significance” because it serves two purposes. Majority op., P23. The majority states that as in Richards and Yauger, the exculpatory language here is part of a larger registration form. Majority op., P23. However, the waiver in this case is part of a simple five and one-half inch by five and one-half inch index card. The only part of the card containing contiguous complete sentences is the waiver. The remainder of the form is comprised of mere blank lines for the reader to fill in his or her contact information.

[*P55] Thus, the waiver is the only part of the form for a patron to read. The form of the waiver in this case stands in stark contrast to the waiver in Yauger, which was “one paragraph in a form containing five separate paragraphs” that did not stand out from the other language. [**42] Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87. Here, the exculpatory language is the only language on the form to be read. This is not a case where the exculpatory language is located in fine print at the end of a multi-page document or even a case where the waiver is located in the midst of several paragraphs on a single page form. Aside from the blanks for contact information, the waiver is the form.

[*P56] While the top portion of the card does contain blanks for the signer to supply his or her contact information, such information would seem to be a necessary part of the waiver itself, as if injury did occur, it seems logical that the facility would be in need of the injured patron’s contact information. The fact that the top portion of the card is entitled “GUEST REGISTRATION” does not somehow alter the inherent nature of the form. Indeed, one of the guidelines cited in Yauger is that the waiver should be separately labeled to distinguish it from other parts of the agreement. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87 n.2.

[*P57] The majority also stresses that there is not a separate signature line for the waiver. Majority op., P23. However, the signature [**43] line on the form is located directly under the exculpatory language, unlike the waiver in Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1013. One has to wonder why there would need to be a separate signature line under the blank lines in the top portion of the form.

[*P58] The exculpatory language in this case satisfies the guidelines cited in Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87 n.2. The waiver is conspicuous, as it is the only “paragraph” on the form. The waiver is set off from the remainder of the form in a separately titled section. The waiver is easy to locate. The waiver appears directly above a signature line and the waiver is the only portion of the document requiring a signature. The heading before the waiver is not misleading. The waiver itself is written in plain, easy to read language and does not contain an abundance of legal jargon. The waiver is written in large print. In other words, there is no doubt that the waiver is conspicuous and informs the signer of its nature and significance.

[*P59] Yet, the majority concludes that the waiver “was not distinguishable enough.” Majority op., P24. Apparently, the waiver would have been distinguishable if it appeared [**44] on a separate card, or if the form was multicolored and had but one more signature line, or if Swimwest had not utilized capital letters when asking for contact information. Id., PP23-24. This type of analysis elevates form over substance and fails to consider the form on which the exculpatory clause appears as whole.

[*P60] The majority states that it is clarifying the law in Wisconsin concerning exculpatory clauses. Majority op., P10. However, its application of these first two factors has done just the opposite. In Yauger we stated that a waiver appearing on a form with other language should be conspicuously labeled, set apart, and should stand out from the rest of the form. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87 & n.2. Here, this was done. Yet, the majority uses the very fact that the “Waiver Release Statement” is labeled separately from the “Guest Registration” portion to conclude that the form serves two purposes and thus does not provide adequate notice of the significance and nature of the waiver. Majority op., P23. In Yauger, we suggested that a waiver should be easy to read and should not be written in legalese. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87 & n.2. [**45] Yet, the majority faults Swimwest for not utilizing a legal term of art—“negligence”—in its waiver, and for not listing the precise act of negligence that allegedly occurred in this case. Majority op., PP20, 22.

[*P61] Further, as close reading of Yauger indicates, a document “serving two purposes” is not in and of itself questionable. Rather, the concern arises that the signer may not be aware of the nature and significance of the waiver when a document serves two purposes and the waiver is not conspicuous. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 86-88. This concern is not present here because the waiver is conspicuous and, read in context, clearly indicates what is being waived. Thus, the fact that the form on which it appears arguably serves two purposes should not be dispositive.

[*P62] Finally, the majority concludes that the waiver is not valid because “there was no opportunity for Wilson to bargain over the exculpatory language[.] “ Majority op., P25. This “bargaining” requirement originated in Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1019-20, and was not based on any existing case law. The “bargaining” requirement was not utilized in Yauger. The dissent [**46] in Richards, which I joined, indicated that this requirement was not based on existing law and discussed the inherent problems with such a requirement. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1035-43 (Day, J., dissenting). In particular, the dissent in Richards queried:

What does it mean to “negotiate” in this context, and how would [a] company ensure that the negotiations were “equal”? Are we to assess the competency of [the plaintiff] to negotiate and assume that any deficiencies must somehow be compensated for in substance by the company? . . . Or is it suggested that the company must appoint someone to help [the plaintiff] draft a counter-proposal? Must the company then negotiate—in good faith, of course—about which terms of its own release it might be willing to drop in “negotiations”? And what if, despite very skilled and fair negotiations on both sides, [the plaintiff] nevertheless agrees to accept the full release.

Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1041 (Day, J., dissenting).

[*P63] It is entirely impractical to require “bargaining” in this context. Almost all releases are printed on standardized forms and are a condition [**47] precedent to the use of recreational facilities. Such releases are utilized by aquatic facilities, athletic clubs, ski resorts, canoeing and rafting outfits, and other high-risk ventures such as skydiving and bungee jumping. Many of these businesses are small firms whose continued existence is based on high customer volume. Must the owner of such business, or other person with the authority to negotiate, be present at the desk of such facility during all hours of operation? Must the proprietor employ a full-time attorney whose duties include negotiating with every person in the long line of skiers waiting to brave the slopes? These businesses would grind to a halt under such practices or, at the very least, face long lines of angry customers.

[*P64] The reality is that there is almost never an opportunity to “bargain “ over exculpatory clauses, as the majority describes it. Rarely do ordinary consumers in today’s fast-paced global economy have an “opportunity” to bargain over any of the terms of a contract (other than perhaps the price), as the majority describes “bargaining.” The only meaningful “bargaining” tool that an ordinary consumer possesses is his or her choice to frequent [**48] another business.

[*P65] While Richards has not been overruled and I am bound to accept the lack of the “opportunity to bargain” as a legitimate factor in the analysis of exculpatory agreements, the use of the “bargaining” factor in this case is particularly troublesome in light of the majority’s refusal to set forth a workable standard describing what would satisfy the “opportunity to bargain” requirement and its failure to decide whether a single objectionable factor is sufficient to render an exculpatory clause invalid. Majority op., P18 n. 7. Richards, which utilized the “bargaining” test, noted that no one factor alone was sufficient to invalidate an exculpatory agreement. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1011. Yauger, which did not discuss the bargaining factor, came to the opposite conclusion and held the presence of one factor was sufficient to invalidate an exculpatory clause. Yauger, 206 Wis. 2d at 87 n.1.

[*P66] The majority fails to resolve this dispute and leaves open the possibility that even an exculpatory clause that is expertly drafted, conspicuous, and appears on a separate document may be invalidated merely because [**49] the signer had no “opportunity to bargain.” As such, the majority places the legitimacy of all exculpatory agreements in doubt. If this court wishes to invalidate all exculpatory clauses, then it should so hold, rather than burdening businesses with confusing requirements that are impossible or unlikely to be met in any case.

[*P67] Individuals have a right to know what the law is so that they may conduct their affairs in an orderly fashion. The majority has failed to articulate a clear, useable test that will provide meaningful guidance to those wishing to execute exculpatory agreements. Because the majority fails to articulate such a test, fails to apply the first two factors in accordance with the guidelines set forth in Yauger, and leaves open the possibility that the lack of an “opportunity to bargain” alone is sufficient to invalidate an exculpatory agreement, I respectfully dissent.


Wisconsin Sales Rep Statute

Wisconsin Sales Rep Statute

REGULATION OF TRADE

CHAPTER 134. MISCELLANEOUS TRADE REGULATIONS

Wis. Stat. § 134.93 (2012)

134.93. Payment of commissions to independent sales representatives.

(1) DEFINITIONS.

In this section:

(a) “Commission” means compensation accruing to an independent sales representative for payment by a principal, the rate of which is expressed as a percentage of the dollar amount of orders or sales made by the independent sales representative or as a percentage of the dollar amount of profits generated by the independent sales representative.

(b) “Independent sales representative” means a person, other than an insurance agent or broker, who contracts with a principal to solicit wholesale orders and who is compensated, in whole or in part, by commission. “Independent sales representative” does not include any of the following:

1. A person who places orders or purchases products for the persons own account for resale.

2. A person who is an employee of the principal and whose wages must be paid as required under s. 109.03(3) “Principal” means a sole proprietorship, partnership, joint venture, corporation or other business entity, whether or not having a permanent or fixed place of business in this state, that does all of the following:

1. Manufactures, produces, imports or distributes a product for wholesale.

2. Contracts with an independent sales representative to solicit orders for the product.

3. Compensates the independent sales representative, in whole or in part, by commission.

(2) COMMISSIONS; WHEN DUE.

(a) Subject to pars. (b) and (c), a commission becomes due as provided in the contract between the principal and the independent sales representative.

(b) If there is no written contract between the principal and the independent sales representative, or if the written contract does not provide for when a commission becomes due, or if the written contract is ambiguous or unclear as to when a commission becomes due, a commission becomes due according to the past practice used by the principal and the independent sales representative.

(c) If it cannot be determined under par. (a) or (b) when a commission becomes due, a commission becomes due according to the custom and usage prevalent in this state for the particular industry of the principal and independent sales representative.

(3) NOTICE OF TERMINATION OR CHANGE IN CONTRACT.

Unless otherwise provided in a written contract between a principal and an independent sales representative, a principal shall provide an independent sales representative with at least 90 days prior written notice of any termination, cancellation, nonrenewal or substantial change in the competitive circumstances of the contract between the principal and the independent sales representative.

(4) COMMISSIONS DUE; PAYMENT ON TERMINATION OF CONTRACT.

A principal shall pay an independent sales representative all commissions that are due to the independent sales representative at the time of termination, cancellation or nonrenewal of the contract between the principal and the independent sales representative as required under sub. (2)

(5) CIVIL LIABILITY.

Any principal that violates sub. (2) by failing to pay a commission due to an independent sales representative as required under sub. (2) is liable to the independent sales representative for the amount of the commission due and for exemplary damages of not more than 200% of the amount of the commissions due. In addition, the principal shall pay to the independent sales representative, notwithstanding the limitations specified in s. 799.25 or 814.04, all actual costs, including reasonable actual attorney fees, incurred by the independent sales representative in bringing an action, obtaining a judgment and collecting on a judgment under this subsection.

WordPress Tags: Wisconsin,Sales,Statute,REGULATION,TRADE,CHAPTER,MISCELLANEOUS,REGULATIONS,Stat,Payment,DEFINITIONS,Commission,compensation,percentage,dollar,Independent,person,insurance,agent,broker,products,account,employee,Principal,partnership,corporation,Manufactures,product,Contracts,Compensates,COMMISSIONS,Subject,pars,custom,usage,industry,NOTICE,TERMINATION,CHANGE,CONTRACT,cancellation,CIVIL,addition,limitations,attorney,action,judgment,subsection,nonrenewal


Pagel v. Marcus Corporation, 2008 WI App 110; 313 Wis. 2d 78; 756 N.W.2d 447; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 423

Pagel v. Marcus Corporation, 2008 WI App 110; 313 Wis. 2d 78; 756 N.W.2d 447; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 423

Briane F. Pagel, Jr. and Joy Pagel, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Marcus Corporation d/b/a Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Defendant, Milwaukee City Center LLC, Defendant-Respondent.

Appeal No. 2007AP1369

COURT OF APPEALS OF WISCONSIN, DISTRICT ONE

2008 WI App 110; 313 Wis. 2d 78; 756 N.W.2d 447; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 423

June 3, 2008, Decided

June 3, 2008, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY:

APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Milwaukee County: RICHARD J. SANKOVITZ, Judge. Cir. Ct. No. 2006CV1145.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: On behalf of the plaintiff-appellant, the cause was submitted on the briefs of J. David Krekeler and Anthony Baer of Krekeler Strother, S.C., of Madison.

On behalf of the defendant-respondent, the cause was submitted on the brief of Ronald G. Pezze, Jr. and Ahndrea R. Van Den Elzen of Peterson, Johnson & Murray, S.C., of Milwaukee.

JUDGES: Before Curley, P.J., Fine and Kessler, JJ.

OPINION BY: KESSLER

OPINION

[**81] [***448] [*P1] KESSLER, J. Briane F. Pagel, Jr., and Joy Pagel (individually and collectively, Pagel) appeal from an order granting summary judgment to Milwaukee City Center LLC (MCC), dismissing all claims by Pagel against it. Pagel asserts that the trial court erred when it applied § 388 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS to the [***449] facts here, and concluded that the hazard, which Pagel claims caused his injury, was open and obvious to Pagel, thus relieving MCC of a duty to provide signs warning of the open and obvious hazard. We affirm.

Background

[*P2] Pagel and his family visited an indoor water park owned by MCC in a hotel in Milwaukee. Among the water attractions used by Pagel and his family was a “Lily Pad Walk” which Pagel described as:

The lily pads were a couple of large floating cushions underneath a cargo-style net. Each pad was about [four feet] in diameter and had a vinyl-like coating on them.

….

You grabbed the cargo net and stepped onto the lily pads, holding yourself by your arms as you used the lily pads to try to go ahead. The lily pads were chained to the bottom but loosely so they could float around, and they didn’t float well enough to hold up even a little kid.

[*P3] Pagel testified that before he used the Lily Pad Walk, he “knew the lily pads could tip to cause you to fall into the water.” When he used the Lily Pad Walk the first time, Pagel said his hand slipped off the ropes, the lily pad moved away from his feet, and, as a result, he dropped into the water rather than hanging from the [**82] ropes. Pagel testified about his observation of the mechanics of the Lily Pad Walk during his first time across:

Q: When you used the Lily Pad attraction the first time, why didn’t you continue to hold on to the rope when the lily pad tipped?

A: Because I was going to drop into the water.

Q: Well, you did drop into the water. But my question was, why didn’t you continue holding on to the rope?

A: I didn’t want to be just be [sic] hanging from the rope. When I couldn’t get it by the foot, your only option at that point would be just to hang by the rope and try to go across just with your arms, I guess. And I – that didn’t seem like a smart move, so I just dropped.

Pagel acknowledged that before using the Lily Pad Walk he watched other people using it, saw people fall into the water using it, and saw people trying to traverse across the Lily Pad Walk while he was waiting in line to use it.

[*P4] Pagel alleged that he was injured when he used the Lily Pad Walk when his foot slipped from the lily pad, he lost his grip on the cargo net ropes above the water and lily pads, and fell into the water, injuring his back. The injury occurred the second time he used the Lily Pad Walk. His amended complaint alleged, as material to this appeal, negligence by MCC for failure “to provide a warning of the unsafe condition of the lily pad section of its water park.”

[*P5] Relying on Kessel ex rel. Swenson v. Stansfield Vending, Inc., 2006 WI App 68, 291 Wis. 2d 504, 714 N.W.2d 206, and § 388 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) [**83] OF TORTS, the trial court observed that [HN1] “where an injured person already knows what he or she needs to know to avoid a danger, the law does not impose a duty to warn on a person who provides a product for the use of another.” Based on the undisputed facts, the trial court then granted summary judgment dismissing Pagel’s negligence claim against MCC. Pagel appeals.

Standard of Review

[*P6] [HN2] In reviewing motions for summary judgment, we apply the standards set forth in WIS. STAT. § 802.08 (2005-06), 1 in [***450] the same manner as the trial court. Moua v. Northern States Power Co., 157 Wis. 2d 177, 184, 458 N.W.2d 836 (Ct. App. 1990). “Summary judgment is [properly] granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact and only a question of law is at issue.” Id. The historical facts here are not in dispute. “Whether facts fulfill a particular legal standard is a question of law to which we give de novo review.” Bantz v. Montgomery Estates, Inc., 163 Wis. 2d 973, 978, 473 N.W.2d 506 (Ct. App. 1991); see also DOR v. Exxon Corp., 90 Wis. 2d 700, 713, 281 N.W.2d 94 (1979), aff’d, 447 U.S. 207, 100 S. Ct. 2109, 65 L. Ed. 2d 66 (1980).

1 All references to the Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2005-06 version unless otherwise noted.

[*P7] [HN3] “Where the facts alleged to give rise to a duty are agreed upon, the question of the existence of a duty is one of law.” Rockweit v. Senecal, 197 Wis. 2d 409, 419, 541 N.W.2d 742 (1995) (quoting Olson v. Ratzel, 89 Wis. 2d 227, 251, 278 N.W.2d 238 (Ct. App. 1979)). Where the undisputed facts establish that a danger is open and obvious to the user of the product, as a matter [**84] of law there is no duty to warn the user of that danger and summary judgment is proper. Griebler v. Doughboy Recreational, Inc., 160 Wis. 2d 547, 561, 466 N.W.2d 897 (1991).

Analysis

[*P8] The role an open and obvious danger plays in our tort law has evolved over a long period of time. Describing the open and obvious nature of the danger as a “defense,” the trial court in Griebler granted summary judgment, dismissing a claim of injury in a shallow water diving accident. Id. at 551, 554. The court of appeals reversed, relying on § 343A(1) of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS (1965) and a related comment which required not only that the reasonable person/user must recognize that an open and obvious danger exists, but that person must also appreciate the gravity of the harm threatened by that danger. Griebler, 160 Wis. 2d at 556-57. Our supreme court rejected § 343A(1), noting that, as in all of the earlier diving cases, the condition of the water is the obvious danger, the risk is that the person diving will hit bottom, and the type of injury that might result (or the person’s knowledge thereof) is irrelevant. Griebler, 160 Wis. 2d at 558. The supreme court reversed our decision and reinstated summary judgment dismissing Griebler’s complaint, stating:

We hold that the open and obvious danger defense applies whenever a plaintiff voluntarily 2 confronts an open and obvious condition and a reasonable person in [**85] the position of the plaintiff would recognize the condition and the risk the condition presents.

Id. at 551 (footnote modified). Relying on “nearly twenty years of Wisconsin law holding that diving into water of unknown depth is an open and obvious danger,” 3 id. at 557, where Griebler admitted that he dove headfirst [***451] into water, whose depth he did not know, id. at 557, the supreme court described such conduct as “unreasonable as a matter of law,” id. at 561.

2 By footnote, the court recognized two conditions which would preclude invoking the open and obvious danger defense, namely if the injured person was distracted or if the injured person could not avoid the condition. Griebler v. Doughboy Recreational, Inc., 160 Wis. 2d 547, 551, 466 N.W.2d 897 (1991) (citing Waters v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 124 Wis. 2d 275, 369 N.W.2d 755 (Ct. App. 1985), and Maci v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 105 Wis. 2d 710, 314 N.W.2d 914 (Ct. App. 1981), overruled on other grounds by Rockweit v. Senecal, 197 Wis. 2d 409, 423, 541 N.W.2d 742 (1995)).

3 The Griebler court relied on Scheeler v. Bahr, 41 Wis. 2d 473, 164 N.W.2d 310 (1969), and Davenport v. Gillmore, 146 Wis. 2d 498, 431 N.W.2d 701 (Ct. App. 1988), for the duration of these holdings. Griebler, 160 Wis. 2d at 557.

[*P9] Four years later, in Rockweit, when a small child walking with his mother fell into a campground fire pit with smoldering embers, our supreme court noted that in previous cases it had

abrogated the common law immunity [for owners of premises] by subsuming the concept of open and obvious danger into the consideration of common law negligence. In the ordinary negligence case, if an open and obvious danger is confronted by the plaintiff, it is merely an element to be considered by the jury in apportioning negligence and will not operate to completely bar the plaintiff’s recovery.

Id., 197 Wis. 2d at 423. This holding placed the characterization of an open and obvious danger as a defense to negligence in the context of applying a comparative negligence analysis. Pagel relies on specific Rockweit [**86] language 4 [4] to argue that summary judgment was not proper here because the lack of warning is merely a fact to be considered in apportioning the negligence attributable to MCC. Pagel argues that a jury must decide whether MCC’s common law duty of care is overcome by the defense that there was an open and obvious danger which Pagel recognized before he was injured.

4 [HN4] “In the ordinary negligence case, if an open and obvious danger is confronted by the plaintiff, it is merely an element to be considered by the jury in apportioning negligence ….” Rockweit, 197 Wis. 2d at 423.

[*P10] Pagel’s reliance on this isolated language in Rockweit is misplaced. In Rockweit, a fire pit at a commercial campground was used in common by the large extended family of the child victim, who were camping together. Id. at 414. A family friend, who was staying at a different area of the campground, was invited to a social gathering with the extended family at a fire pit the night before the accident occurred. Id. at 415. The friend, who was also named as a defendant, did not select the fire pit site, took no part in setting, controlling or managing the fire, and did not use that fire pit while she was camping. Id. Her only connection with the fire pit was attending the social gathering to which she was invited. Id. at 415. When the friend and two members of the child’s extended family were the last to leave the social gathering, no one extinguished the embers. Id. at 415-16. The next morning the child was walking with his mother when he stumbled into the pit which still contained live embers. Id. at 416. The child alleged negligence by the friend and the others who were the last to leave and did not extinguish the embers. Id. The jury found the campground owner, the family members present, the child’s mother, and the friend were all negligent. Id.

[**87] [*P11] On appeal, our supreme court concluded that public policy considerations precluded imposing liability on the invited friend. Id. at 429. The court noted that fire is commonly known to be dangerous, id. at 427 (“The dangerous propensities akin to fire are commonplace to a campsite.”), and that the child’s mother, who was with the child when he fell into the pit, knew as much about the danger of the fire pit as the invited friend, id. at 428 (“[Mother] testified that she was fully aware that the fire pit constituted a hazard at the time of the accident and had not relied on a supposition that someone the [***452] night before might have doused the embers ….”). These considerations foreshadowed the court’s later decision to adopt § 388 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS in the context of the open and obvious danger of a chattel which is alleged to have caused injury.

[*P12] Five years after Rockweit, our supreme court in Strasser v. Transtech Mobile Fleet Service, Inc., 2000 WI 87, PP57-59, 236 Wis. 2d 435, 613 N.W.2d 142, adopted the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 (1965), which provides:

[HN5] One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for another to use is subject to liability to those whom the supplier should expect to use the chattel with the consent of the other or to be endangered by its probable use, for physical harm caused by the use of the chattel in the manner for which and by a person for whose use it is supplied, if the supplier

(a) knows or has reason to know that the chattel is or is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied, and

[**88] (b) has no reason to believe that those for whose use the chattel is supplied will realize its dangerous condition, and

(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to inform them of its dangerous condition or of the facts which make it likely to be dangerous.

Strasser involved personal property–a ladder fabricated without safety treads on the rungs–which Strasser used many times before he slipped on a rung and fell. Id., 236 Wis. 2d 435, P19. Our supreme court did not overrule Rockweit (which involved only real property–a fire pit in the ground). Strasser, 2000 WI 87, 236 Wis. 2d 435, P60, 613 N.W.2d 142. Rather, by adopting § 388, the supreme court adopted the law of a real property owner’s responsibility to invitees to codify the common law duty of due care owed by the provider of personal property to the user of personal property when the use for which the property is intended causes injury. Although somewhat awkwardly stated in the negative, § 388(1) establishes that when the danger is open and obvious to a reasonable person, warning of what the reasonable person already knows is unnecessary; thus, the failure to warn cannot be negligent. Strasser, 2000 WI 87, 236 Wis. 2d 435, PP59-60, 613 N.W.2d 142.

[*P13] The adoption of RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 moved the open and obvious danger to the level of being not only a jury issue as a defense to negligence when the material facts of whether the danger is open and obvious are disputed, but also removed any duty to warn from the negligence calculus when the undisputed material facts establish that the danger is open and obvious and the user recognizes/observes/knows of the danger. Approximately four years after Strasser, in Mohr v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., 2004 WI App 5, 269 Wis. 2d 302, 674 N.W.2d 576 (Ct. App. 2003), we discussed § 388(b), noting that:

[**89] As the court explained in Strasser, one of the situations under § 388(b) in which a supplier or manufacturer has no duty to warn of a danger is when “‘a mere casual looking over will disclose [the dangerous condition] unless the circumstances under which the chattel is supplied are such as to make it likely that even so casual an inspection will not be made.'” … When danger is obvious from a mere casual looking over, the supplier or manufacturer has reason to believe that the user will realize the danger.

Mohr, 2004 WI App 5, 269 Wis. 2d 302, P23, 674 N.W.2d 576 (citing Strasser, 2000 WI 87, 236 Wis. 2d 435, PP58-59, 613 N.W.2d 142).

[***453] [*P14] Mohr presented a factual dispute as to whether a diving platform used by a high school for racing dives into 3.5 feet of water, rather than 5 feet of water, was something that a casual observation would disclose as dangerous. Id., P3 (discussing RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 cmt. k). We concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate, not because a jury must always decide whether a danger is open and obvious, but because the facts material to that question were disputed–one high school swim coach had one view, and another swim coach at the same high school had a different view. Id., PP17-18, 25.

[*P15] Later, in Kessel, we held there was no duty to warn of danger from steaming water coming from a hot water dispenser (provided in a hospital waiting room to let patients’ families make hot chocolate) where the hot temperature was obvious from the steam, and both parents admitted they took precautions because they knew that hot water could injure their young child (who tipped the cup and was injured by the scalding water). Id., 291 Wis. 2d 504, PP3-4, 23, 32. We discussed whether Strasser held that RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388(1) inevitably required a warning to comply with the duty of care:

[**90] In essence, the court in Strasser concluded that RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 and cmt. k defined the standard of ordinary care in that situation: “This exception in cmt. k recognizes that a warning is not necessary to satisfy the standard of ordinary care when the condition at issue is known to the user.

Kessel, 2006 WI App 68, 291 Wis. 2d 504, P21, 714 N.W.2d 206 (citation and brackets omitted; emphasis added).

[*P16] As we explained in Kessel, where the supplier of the tangible property has reason to believe that casual inspection will disclose the danger, and the user is aware of the danger, RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 does not require a warning. Kessel, 2006 WI App 68, 291 Wis. 2d 504, P21, 714 N.W.2d 206. Here, it is undisputed that Pagel used the Lily Pad Walk once without injury. It is also undisputed that before, or during, his first use, Pagel personally observed how the Lily Pad Walk worked, knew from observation and experience that the lily pads were not stable, knew that they could not hold up even a small child, and that because of their obvious instability, the only alternatives available to users of the Lily Pad Walk were to drop or fall into the water 5 or use their hands to hold on to the cargo net ropes above to cross the area hand over hand. On his first use of the Lily Pad Walk, Pagel chose to get wet rather than travel by hand on the cargo net ropes. Thus, he knew both from experience and from observation that when the pad moved, the only two choices were to drop or fall into the water or to use his hands to hold onto the cargo net ropes to cross the [**91] area. The danger–that the pads would move–was open and obvious. The only ways to avoid the danger while using the Lily Pad Walk–get wet or travel hand over hand on the cargo net ropes–were equally open and obvious.

5 It would seem that the primary purpose of a water park is to get into the water. One would expect that the possibility of getting wet, or even drenched, is the very attraction that brings visitors to these facilities.

[*P17] The terms of RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 apply here. MCC supplied the Lily Pad Walk in the water park for use by visitors to the water park. Section 388(1) (“One who supplies … a chattel for another to use is subject to liability to those whom the supplier should expect to use the chattel” under certain conditions.). MCC is liable if it “has reason to know [***454] that the chattel is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied.” Id. The lily pads were obviously unstable, tending to cause (or allow) users to fall into the water, or to traverse the area using their hands on the cargo net ropes. The “danger” of falling into the water or the “danger” of crossing by hands on ropes is the very purpose of the Lily Pad Walk. These “dangers” are not hidden in any way. These properties were apparent to Pagel before and/or during his uneventful first use of the Lily Pad Walk. Section 388(b) imposes liability if the supplier of the product “has no reason to believe that those for whose use the chattel is supplied will realize its dangerous condition.” Id. (emphasis added). Here, the converse is the fact. Because the mechanics of the moving lily pads and cargo net ropes for hand use were open and obvious to anyone who looked, MCC had reason to believe these “dangers” would be immediately apparent to any reasonable person. Hence, as in Strasser, where the lack of safety treads on the ladder was obvious to anyone who looked, and specifically known to Strasser who used the treadless ladder multiple times before his injury, the liability imposed by § 388(b) is not applicable here, where MCC had no [**92] reason to believe these conditions would not be immediately apparent to users of the Lily Pad Walk, and these dangers were specifically known to Pagel, in part because he had used the Lily Pad Walk before the use during which he was injured.

[*P18] Pagel urges us to adopt RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 343A(1) and apply it to his case. As we explained above, when we relied on the § 343A(1) analysis in Griebler, our supreme court rejected our analysis and overruled our conclusion. See P8, supra. [HN6] It is not our role to reject our supreme court’s policy conclusions. See Cook v. Cook, 208 Wis. 2d 166, 189, 560 N.W.2d 246 (1997):

[HN7] [T]he supreme court’s primary function is that of law defining and law development. The supreme court, unlike the court of appeals, has been designated by the constitution and the legislature as a law-declaring court. The purpose of the supreme court is to oversee and implement the statewide development of the law. The supreme court is the only state court with the power to overrule, modify or withdraw language from a previous supreme court case.

(Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.)

[*P19] Where, based on the undisputed facts, the dangerous condition of a chattel is open and obvious to the reasonable user, no warning is required under RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388(1), and summary judgment dismissing a negligence claim premised on failure to warn is proper.

By the Court.–Judgment affirmed.

Enhanced by Zemanta

States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute

Restrictions

Alaska Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292 Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries
Arizona ARS § 12-553 Limited to Equine Activities
Colorado C.R.S. §§13-22-107 Some commentators consider the statute a little weak
Florida Florida Statute § 744.301 (3)

By Case Law

California Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)
Florida Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454 Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims
Florida Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147 Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities
Massachusetts Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384
Minnesota Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299
North Dakota McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3
Ohio Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998) Maybe only for non-profits
Wisconsin Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1 However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 voided all releases in the state

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

North Carolina Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 Ruling is by the Federal District Court and only a preliminary motion

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2011 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog:www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

Keywords: #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #minor, #release, #ParentSignature, #NC, #NorthCarolina, #Alaska, #AK, #AZ, #Arizona, #CO, #Colorado, #Florida, #FL, #CA, #California, #MA, #Massachusetts, #Minnesota, #MN, #ND, #NorthDakota, #OH, #Ohio, #WI, #Wisconsin, #Hohe, #SanDiego, #SanDiegoUnifiedSchoolDistrict, #GlobalTravelMarketing, #Shea, #Gonzalez, #CityOfCoralGables, #Sharon, #CityofNewton, #Moore, #MinnesotaBaseballInstructionalSchool, #McPhail, #BismarkParkDistrict, #Zivich, #MentorSoccerClub, #Osborn, #CascadeMountain, #Atkins, #SwimwestFamilyFitnessCenter,

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Windows Live Tags: States,State,Statute,Restrictions,Alaska,areas,injuries,Arizona,Equine,Activities,Colorado,Some,commentators,Florida,Case,California,Hohe,Diego,Dist,Rptr,Global,Travel,Shea,LEXIS,Allows,arbitration,Gonzalez,Coral,Gables,Release,government,entities,Massachusetts,Sharon,Newton,Mass,Minnesota,Baseball,Instructional,School,Minn,Unpub,North,Dakota,McPhail,Bismarck,Park,District,Ohio,Zivich,Mentor,Soccer,Club,Maybe,Wisconsin,Osborn,Cascade,Mountain,Wisc,decision,Atkins,Swimwest,Center,Edge,Carolina,America,Federal,Court,Leave,Recreation,Edit,Gmail,Twitter,RecreationLaw,Facebook,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Blog,Mobile,Site,Keywords,Outside,Moss,James,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Negligence,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,ParentSignature,NorthCarolina,NorthDakota,SanDiego,SanDiegoUnifiedSchoolDistrict,CityOfCoralGables,CityofNewton,MinnesotaBaseballInstructionalSchool,BismarkParkDistrict,MentorSoccerClub,CascadeMountain,SwimwestFamilyFitnessCenter

WordPress Tags: States,State,Statute,Restrictions,Alaska,areas,injuries,Arizona,Equine,Activities,Colorado,Some,commentators,Florida,Case,California,Hohe,Diego,Dist,Rptr,Global,Travel,Shea,LEXIS,Allows,arbitration,Gonzalez,Coral,Gables,Release,government,entities,Massachusetts,Sharon,Newton,Mass,Minnesota,Baseball,Instructional,School,Minn,Unpub,North,Dakota,McPhail,Bismarck,Park,District,Ohio,Zivich,Mentor,Soccer,Club,Maybe,Wisconsin,Osborn,Cascade,Mountain,Wisc,decision,Atkins,Swimwest,Center,Edge,Carolina,America,Federal,Court,Leave,Recreation,Edit,Gmail,Twitter,RecreationLaw,Facebook,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Blog,Mobile,Site,Keywords,Outside,Moss,James,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Negligence,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,ParentSignature,NorthCarolina,NorthDakota,SanDiego,SanDiegoUnifiedSchoolDistrict,CityOfCoralGables,CityofNewton,MinnesotaBaseballInstructionalSchool,BismarkParkDistrict,MentorSoccerClub,CascadeMountain,SwimwestFamilyFitnessCenter


Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute prevents lawsuit over accidental drowning of guests at sports club

WI Supreme Court thoroughly reviews the definition of non-profit in examining the recreational use statute

Trinidad v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, 2008 WI App 36; 308 Wis. 2d 394; 746 N.W.2d 604; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 50 aff’d Trinidad v. Capitol Indemnity Corporation, 2009 WI 8; 315 Wis. 2d 324; 759 N.W.2d 586; 2009 Wisc. LEXIS 3

This is always a tough situation when the court has to apply the law no matter how sad the facts of the case. However, this is how our country works, the law controls no matter how hard the heartstrings are tuagged.

In this case, a family went to a wildlife area that was incorporated as a non-profit hunting club. While there, two young girls drowned. The parents sued the non-profit corporation for their loss. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, which was upheld by the appellate court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The legal issue was the application of the Wisconsin Recreational Land Use Statute, Wis. Stat. § 895.52 (2009). The state has different laws on how the protection of the recreational use statute will be applied based on the type of landowner. In this case, a landowner who is a non-profit, has broader protection if there is a fee charged for the use of the land.

The group that invited the plaintiffs to the hunting club paid the fee for the use of the land, not the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were on the land for free.

The Wisconsin Recreational Use Statute first defines a non-profit as “Nonprofit organization” means an organization or association not organized or conducted for pecuniary profit.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52. The statute then defines the activities that will be protected by the statute.

Recreational activity” includes hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, picnicking, exploring caves, nature study, bicycling, horseback riding, bird-watching, motorcycling, operating an all-terrain vehicle, ballooning, hang gliding, hiking, tobogganing, sledding, sleigh riding, snowmobiling, skiing, skating, water sports, sight-seeing, rock-climbing, cutting or removing wood, climbing observation towers, animal training, harvesting the products of nature, sport shooting and any other outdoor sport, game or educational activity

The families activities, picnicking and water sports, are specifically listed as protected.

The immunity afforded by the statute is specific.

1. A duty to keep the property safe for recreational activities.

2. A duty to inspect the property, except as provided under s. 23.115 (2)

3. A duty to give warning of an unsafe condition, use or activity on the property. (b) Except as provided in subs. (3) to (6), no owner and no officer, employee or agent of an owner is liable for the death of, any injury to, or any death or injury caused by, a person engaging in a recreational activity on the owners property or for any death or injury resulting from an attack by a wild animal.

The statute then provides additional protection for non-profit entities as defined by the statute.

(5) LIABILITY; PROPERTY OF NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS.

Subsection (2) does not limit the liability of a nonprofit organization or any of its officers, employees or agents for a death or injury caused by a malicious act or a malicious failure to warn against an unsafe condition of which an officer, employee or agent of the nonprofit organization knew, which occurs on property of which the nonprofit organization is the owner.

The statute goes further to allow property owners to collect up to $2000.00 per year for the use of the property.

The court in Trinidad concentrated on the definition of a non-profit. The plaintiff argued the organization had not kept its articles of incorporation current with the changes in the statute over the years. The Wisconsin Statutes concerning Wisconsin non-profits had changed several times since the defendant had been incorporated as a non-profit entity.

However, the court did not find this controlling. The Wisconsin Secretary of State and the IRS still considered the defendant a non-profit and that was all that mattered.

So?

Many corporations forget that they may have to amend their articles of organization as the statutes controlling a corporation or LLC changes. Always check with an attorney, whether you are a non-profit or for profit entity to make sure your paperwork is current and up to date.

A big area that most corporations fail to do is titles. No state statute recognizes CEO. Although the CEO may be the top person, the president has all of the legal authority according to state law.

All fifty states in the US have recreational use statutes. All 50 of them are very different. If you are going to rely on the recreational use statute for protection from litigation, make sure you meet each of the requirements based on the activities occurring on your land and the type of landowner you are.

When in doubt, do not rely on the recreational use statute alone. Either receive an indemnification agreement from groups bringing people on to your land or have each person entering and using your land sign a release.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

Keywords:

#recreation-law.com, #outdoor law, #recreation law, #outdoor recreation law, #adventure travel law, #law, #travel law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #attorney at law, #tourism, #adventure tourism, #rec-law, #rec-law blog, #recreation law, #recreation law blog, #risk management, #Human Powered, #human powered recreation,# cycling law, #bicycling law, #fitness law, #recreation-law.com, #backpacking, #hiking, #Mountaineering, #ice climbing, #rock climbing, #ropes course, #challenge course, #summer camp, #camps, #youth camps, #skiing, #ski areas, #negligence, #Recreational Use Statute, #Charitable Immunity, #non-profit, #Wisconsin, #Wisconsin Supreme Court, #Private Club, #Hunting Club Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Windows Live Tags: Wisconsin,Recreational,Statute,lawsuit,guests,recreation,adventure,Moss,James,attorney,tourism,management,Human,youth,areas,negligence,Charitable,Supreme,Court,Private,Club,blog
WordPress Tags: Wisconsin,Recreational,Statute,lawsuit,guests,recreation,adventure,Moss,James,attorney,tourism,management,Human,youth,areas,negligence,Charitable,Supreme,Court,Private,Club,blog
Blogger Labels: Wisconsin,Recreational,Statute,lawsuit,guests,recreation,adventure,Moss,James,attorney,tourism,management,Human,youth,areas,negligence,Charitable,Supreme,Court,Private,Club,blog

Enhanced by Zemanta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,600 other followers

%d bloggers like this: