Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989)
William Todd Childress, By and Through his parents, Ira Childress and Joyce Childress, and Ira Childress and Joyce Childress, individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Madison County, Tennessee, The Madison County Board of Education, and the Young Men’s Christian Association, Jackson, Tennessee, a/k/a Y.M.C.A., Defendants-Appellees
[NO NUMBER IN ORIGINAL]
Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Western Section
777 S.W.2d 1; 1989 Tenn. App. LEXIS 48
January 24, 1989, Filed
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Application for Permission to Appeal Denied August 7, 1989.
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] From the Circuit Court of Madison County, Tennessee, MADISON LAW NO. 5, The Honorable Andrew T. Taylor, Judge
DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART AND REMANDED.
COUNSEL: David Hardee, Linda L. Moore, Jackson, Attorneys for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
J. Tim Edwards, Memphis, Glassman, Jeter & Edwards, Attorney for Defendants-Appellees.
JUDGES: Highers, J. Nearn, Sp. J., concurs. Tomlin, P.J., W.S., concurs separately.
OPINION BY: HIGHERS
[*2] The plaintiffs, Ira Childress and Joyce Childress, brought this action individually and on behalf of their son, William Todd Childress, against Madison County and the Madison County Board of Education, alleging negligence which proximately caused personal injury to their son, a mentally handicapped student in Special Education at South Side High School. After a bench trial, the court found that the evidence did not preponderate in favor of the contentions of the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs are appealing from a judgment for the defendants.
At the time of the accident, William Todd Childress was a twenty-year old, nonverbal, severely retarded student. He traveled regularly with his class to the Y.M.C.A. to use recreational facilities, including a swimming pool. 1 [**2] The trips were supervised by a teacher and an aide, both employees of Madison County, and while at the pool, by a lifeguard employed by the Y.M.C.A.
1 The Y.M.C.A. was originally a party defendant, but was dismissed before trial and is not involved in this appeal.
Some of the trips were to allow students to train for the Special Olympics. Childress’ event consisted of walking the width of the shallow end of the swimming pool and handing a floating ball to an attendant.
On April 11, 1984, near the end of one of these training excursions to the Y.M.C.A., Childress was found on the floor of the pool at the point where the pool slopes from the shallow to the deep end. He was retrieved by the lifeguard and, after resuscitation began to breathe. He expelled water, vomited, and coughed, but otherwise appeared normal. An ambulance was called and Childress was taken to the hospital and admitted. Childress sustained injuries and incurred medical expenses as a result of this incident.
[*3] The teacher testified that there were three people who were responsible for observing the class — the teacher, the aide, and the lifeguard. The teacher testified that she was at the shallow end of the [**3] pool, the aide was on the other side of the pool, and the lifeguard was in and out of the pool at various points while offering instruction to students.
On this occasion the teacher stated that she was working with Childress. She described the events leading to the accident as follows:
Q. And toward the end of that hour what specifically were you doing with the children?
A. Well, the last thing that I did before I got out of the pool was work with Todd going back and forth across the pool.
Q. He would be walking back and forth across the pool?
Q. And when you ceased that activity, what did you do?
A. I told Todd to get out of the water and told all of the other children to get out of the water.
Q. Did Todd get out of the water?
A. I did not see Todd get out of the water. As the children were exiting the pool another student jumped in at the shallow end, who was a swimmer, to swim a lap and I walked along the edge of the pool as he swam to the deep end.
Q. Did you ever again see Todd after you told him to get out of the pool until he was found underwater?
* * * *
Q. Do you know who was watching Todd?
Q. Do you know if anybody was watching [**4] Todd?
A. We all had joint responsibility for watching the students.
Q. Do you know if anyone was watching Todd as he was getting out of the pool?
A. I would have no way of knowing.
In light of the testimony, we are of the opinion that the evidence preponderates against a finding of no negligence. [HN1] In non-jury matters the findings of fact of the trial court come to this court with a presumption of correctness and are reviewed de novo. Unless the evidence preponderates against the findings, we must affirm. T.R.A.P. 13(d). The trial court’s judgment in this case indicates that he found no negligence on the part of Madison County or the Madison County Board of Education. The proof shows, however, that the teacher and the aide were responsible for watching the students; that the teacher ordered students out of the pool, but did not actually see Childress exit; that she became involved in observing another student, and did not know whether Childress left the pool; and that she did not know whether anyone was watching Childress during the crucial period when he apparently went into water that was over his head, thereby sustaining the injuries and damages which gave rise to the complaint. [**5] It further appears that each of the attendants was involved in small group instruction and that no one actually scanned the pool in order to see whether the group as a whole had obeyed the instructions to leave the area. But for the fact that no one watched the pool without the distractions of other instruction, Childress would not have been injured.
Under these circumstances, we cannot say that plaintiffs have failed to make out a case by the greater weight or preponderance of the evidence.
The defendants have raised a further issue in this case, however, that the mother executed a release of all liability of these defendants. It is their contention that even if they were guilty of negligence the action is barred by the release of claims executed by the mother individually and on behalf of her son.
[HN2] It is well settled in this state that parties may contract that one shall not be liable for his negligence to another but that such other shall assume the risk incident to such negligence. Moss v. Fortune, 207 Tenn. 426, 340 S.W.2d 902 (1960). This [*4] rule is subject to exception. A party cannot contract away his liability for willful or gross negligence. [**6] Memphis & Charleston Railroad Co. v. Jones, 39 Tenn. (2 Head) 517 (1859). Neither can a party contract away liability if the duty under which he acts is a public one. Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway Co. v. Saulsbury, 115 Tenn. 402, 90 S.W. 624, 626 (1905); Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Railway Co. v. Unaka Springs Lumber Co., 130 Tenn. 354, 170 S.W. 591, 594 (1914); Hartford Fire Insurance Co. v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Co., 175 U.S. 91, 20 S. Ct. 33, 44 L. Ed. 84 (1899).
[HN3] The existence of a public duty which would disallow giving effect to an exculpatory provision is determined by looking at several factors. If the service provided is the type which may generally be subject to public regulation then the duty probably exists. Smith v. Southern Bell, 364 S.W.2d at 958. Other factors include the degree to which the service is of practical necessity for some members of the public, whether the service is offered to any member of the public who seeks it or qualifies for it, whether one party has greater bargaining power than [**7] members of the general public, whether in exercising that bargaining power, the party presents a standardized “adhesion” contract making no provision whereby protection against negligence may be obtained, or whether the person or property of one party is placed under the control of the other. Olson v. Molzen, 558 S.W.2d 429, 431 (Tenn. 1977) (adopting the rule of Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal.2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441 (1963)). [HN4] Particularly offensive in Tennessee are exculpation contracts executed by persons in professional vocations. Olson, 558 S.W.2d at 432.
[HN5] Persons and businesses which normally operate under a public duty are not bound by the exception and can execute valid exculpation contracts when the transaction in question is not under that public duty. Thus it has been held that a telephone company can execute such a contract as to its advertising services, Smith v. Southern Bell, 51 Tenn. App. 146, 364 S.W.2d 952, 957-958, citing Mitchell v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 298 S.W.2d 520 (Mo. App. 1957), and a common carrier may contract [**8] against liability when executing a lease agreement, Cincinnati, N.O. & T.P.R.Co. v. Saulsbury, 90 S.W. at 626.
Analyzing the facts of this case under the foregoing rules, we find that the Special Olympics generally, and the services provided in this case specifically, are governed by the general rule and do not fall under the exception prohibiting exculpatory clauses. Although there are a number of circumstances which would otherwise bring the Special Olympics under the exceptions related to professional or public services, our analysis of all the cases cited reveals that the rule was intended to operate primarily in the marketplace. The Olson opinion in analyzing the public duty exception refers to “business,” “bargaining strength” in “economic settings,” “purchasers,” and payment of “additional fees to obtain protection against negligence” implying that there were fees in the first place. We are not here saying that the touchstone of the analysis is the existence or absence of business motivations, or pecuniary exchange. But when those considerations which are tied to economic factors are eliminated from the analysis, in this case by the absence [**9] of any business motivations, the remaining factors are insufficient to bring this case under the exception. Having determined that the [HN6] exculpatory clauses are generally valid as to the Special Olympics, we look now to the provisions of the clause used in this case.
The exculpatory language in this case is a part of a form document entitled “Tennessee Special Olympics Parental/Medical Release Form.” It is printed on an 8 1/2″ X 11″ sheet divided into three sections, the right half of the page being a medical release to be completed by a physician or registered nurse. The left half of the page is divided into two sections, the top being for completion by parents or teachers requiring statistical date such as age, clothing sizes, and addresses of the participant. [*5] The bottom section is entitled “Parent/Guardian Release.” As completed in the case at bar, the release is as follows:
I hereby give permission for the entrant named above to participate in the Special Olympics program — a sports-training, recreation, and competitive athletic program for mentally retarded children and adults.
I represent and warrant to you that [**10] the entrant is physically and mentally able to participate in Special Olympics, and I submit herewith a subscribed medical certificate.
Consent to Treatment:
You are authorized on my behalf and at my account to take such measures and arrange for such medical and hospital treatment as you may deem advisable for the health and well-being of the entrant without the need for further consent or permission.
Release of Claim:
I, the undersigned, individually and on behalf of the above-named entrant, acknowledge that the entrant will be using facilities at his/her own risk. I, on my own behalf, hereby release, discharge and indemnify Special Olympics, its directors, officers, employees, physicians, agents, and all volunteer personnel from all liabilities for damage, injury or illness to the entrant or his/her property during his/her participation in or travel to or from any Special Olympics event. (Emphasis Supplied)
Permission to Publish:
Permission is hereby granted to use the name, likeness, voice and words of the entrant in television, radio, films, newspapers, magazines and other media, and in any form not heretofore described for the purposes and activities of Special Olympics [**11] and in appealing for funds to support such activities.
Mrs. Ira Childress (subscribed)
Relationship to Entrant
The emphasized language is at issue. The trial judge was of the opinion that Mrs. Childress “had executed a document releasing these defendants from liabilities as a result of any injuries that might occur in connection with the Special Olympics program.” This conclusion is in part correct.
[HN7] Exculpatory clauses purporting to contract against liability for intentional conduct, recklessness or gross negligence are unenforceable. See Adams v. Roark, 686 S.W.2d 73 (Tenn. 1985) Memphis & Charleston Railroad Co., supra. We find that the defendants in this case have not exceeded the bounds of simple negligence, even in light of the higher standard of care under which they operate due to the students’ mental disability. See 65A C.J.S. Negligence § 141 (1966).
The parties in this case are the plaintiffs, Todd Childress, by his parents, and his mother, Joyce Childress, and his father, Ira Childress, individually; and the defendants, Madison [**12] County, and the Madison County Board of Education. The defendants were at the time of the incident in question acting through the teacher and her aide as agents or volunteers of the Special Olympics. The incident occurred during a Special Olympics training session, which the evidence shows was a “Special Olympics event” within the meaning of that phrase as used in the release form. While the evidence did show that there had been trips to the Y.M.C.A. pool which were independent of Special Olympics training, it is clear that the objective of this particular trip was to train for the Special Olympics and during this trip the teachers acted within the purview of duties they assumed as agents and/or volunteers of Special Olympics. Therefore, any liability for any actions taken must be analyzed as the actions of agents or volunteers of the Special Olympics as governed by the release form.
[*6] The plaintiffs assert on appeal that the evidence established that Mrs. Childress had signed a number of “permission slips” and that in executing the release form, Mrs. Childress thought that she was merely signing another permission slip. We find this assertion unsupportable by the evidence. [**13] The evidence shows that the permission slips which Mrs. Childress signed were mimeographed copies of a handwritten form. The release form was not mimeographed and was copied from a printed document not handwritten, not even typed. Besides the difference facially, the content of the release is very different from the content of the permission slips. Mrs. Childress signed the document, and cannot, under these circumstances assert she thought she was signing a permission slip and not a release. Even if that were a valid assertion, it would make no difference in the outcome of the case. [HN8] Although notice of an exculpatory clause is a prerequisite to its validity, Dodge v. Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway Co., 142 Tenn. 20, 215 S.W. 274 (1919), a party’s failure to read does not constitute a lack of notice to that party, Dixon v. Manier, 545 S.W.2d 948, 949 (Tenn. App. 1976).
Of the plaintiffs, only Mrs. Childress, Todd’s mother signed the release form. The language, quoted above, is clear and unambiguous. Mrs. Childress acknowledged that Todd would be participating at his own risk. She further agreed to “release, discharge and [**14] indemnify Special Olympics, its . . . agents, and all volunteer personnel.” Therefore, the trial judge was correct in dismissing this case as to Mrs. Childress individually.
Mr. Childress did not himself sign the release form and there is no indication in the language of the form or in the manner in which Mrs. Childress signed that she did in fact, or was even authorized to, release or discharge the Special Olympics on Mr. Childress’ behalf. However, Mrs. Childress did clearly agree to indemnify the Special Olympics “from all liabilities for damage, injury or illness to the entrant or his/her property during his/her participation in or travel to or from any Special Olympics event.” Therefore, to the extent the defendants are liable to Mr. Childress, Mrs. Childress, as indemnitor, must compensate him.
Neither did the remaining plaintiff, Todd Childress, sign the release form himself. Had he done so, being an incompetent, incapable of understanding the nature of his action, the execution could not be given effect. See 44 C.J.S. Insane Persons § 49 (1945). But, according to the language of the release, Mrs. Childress, as his mother and natural parent, acknowledged on Todd’s behalf [**15] that he would be participating at his own risk.
[HN9] The status of guardians of incompetent persons is similar to that of guardians of infants, especially in view of courts of equity. Id. The general rule is that a guardian may not waive the rights of an infant or an incompetent. 39 Am. Jur.2d, Guardian & Ward § 102 (1968); 42 Am. Jur.2d, Infants § 152 (1969). Specifically, [HN10] the Supreme Court of Tennessee long ago stated that a guardian cannot settle an existing claim apart from court approval or statutory authority. Miles v. Kaigler, 18 Tenn. (10 Yerg.) 10 (1836). Spitzer v. Knoxville Iron, Co., 133 Tenn. 217, 180 S.W. 163 (1915). Tune v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co., 223 F. Supp. 928 (MD Tenn. 1963). It has also been held that [HN11] a guardian may not waive the statutory requirements for service of process on an infant or incompetent by accepting service of process on himself alone. Winchester v. Winchester, 38 Tenn. (1 Head) 460 (1858).
The courts of other states have recognized this general rule in a number of circumstances including those cited above. See e.g. Gibson v. Anderson, 265 Ala. 553, 92 So.2d 692, 695 (1956) [**16] (legal guardian’s acts do not estop ward from asserting rights in property); Ortman v. Kane, 389 Ill. 613, 60 N.E.2d 93, 98 (1945) (guardian cannot waive tender requirements of land sale contract entered into by ward prior to incompetency); Stockman v. City of South Portland, 147 Me 376, 87 A.2d 679 (1952) (guardian cannot waive ward’s property tax exemption); Sharp v. State, 240 Miss. 629, 127 So.2d 865, 90 A.L.R.2d 284 (1961) [*7] (guardian cannot waive statutory requirements for service of process on ward); Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370 (Colo. 1981) (ratification by parent of contract executed by child does not bind child); Whitcomb v. Dancer, 140 Vt. 580, 443 A.2d 458 (1982) (guardian cannot settle personal injury claim for ward without court approval); Natural Father v. United Methodist Children’s Home, 418 So.2d 807 (Miss. 1982) (infant not bound by evidentiary admissions of parent); Colfer v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 214 N.J. Super. 374, 519 A.2d 893 (1986) (guardian [**17] cannot settle personal injury claim for ward without court approval).
In Mississippi, the rule was expressed in broad terms by the Supreme Court in Khoury v. Saik, 203 Miss. 155, 33 So.2d 616, 618 (1948): “Minors can waive nothing. In the law they are helpless, so much so that their representatives can waive nothing for them.” See also Parker v. Smith, 150 Miss. 849, 117 So. 249, 250 (1928).
The Supreme Court of Connecticut has specifically held that [HN12] an agreement, signed by one of the parents of a minor as a condition to his being allowed to attend a camp, waiving the minor’s claims against a camp for damages in the event of an injury was ineffective to waive the rights of the minor against the defendant camp. Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 21 Conn. Sup. 38, 143 A.2d 466, 468 (1958). The Supreme Court of Maine reached the same conclusion in Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 n.3 (Me. 1979). In Doyle, the court held that if the agreement in question were a release, it would be ineffective because a parent cannot release the child’s [**18] action.
We believe the rule stated above is in keeping with the protection which Tennessee has afforded to the rights of infants and minors in other situations. We, therefore, hold that Mrs. Childress could not execute a valid release or exculpatory clause as to the rights of her son against the Special Olympics or anyone else, and to the extent the parties to the release attempted and intended to do so, the release is void.
The indemnity provisions of the release are on a similar footing. [HN13] Indemnification agreements executed by a parent or guardian in favor of tort feasors, actual or potential, committing torts against an infant or incompetent, are invalid as they place the interests of the child or incompetent against those of the parent or guardian. See Valdimer v. Mt. Vernon Hebrew Camps, Inc., 9 N.Y.2d 21, 210 N.Y.S.2d 520, 172 N.E.2d 283, 285 (1961). “Clearly, a parent who has placed himself in the position of indemnitor will be a dubious champion of his infant child’s rights.” Id. See also Ohio Casualty Insurance Co. v. Mallison, 223 Or 406, 354 P.2d 800, 802-803 (1960). We are aware that the indemnity [**19] agreements in the two cases just cited were executed after the cause of action had arisen. This fact does not change the rule, and [HN14] indemnity provisions executed by the parent prior to a cause of action in favor of a child cannot be given effect. Were the rule otherwise, it would circumvent the rule regarding exculpatory clauses and the policy of affording protection in the law to the rights of those who are unable effectively to protect those rights themselves.
We do not deny that there are good and logical reasons for giving effect to exculpatory and indemnification clauses executed by parents and guardians on behalf of infants and incompetents. Risk is inherent in many activities that make the lives of children richer. A world without risk would be an impoverished world indeed. As Helen Keller well said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Partnow, Quotable Woman, 173 (1977). Ultimately, this case is a determination of who must bear the burden of the risk of injury to infants and minors.
[**20] It is not our intention, nor do we feel the result of this case will be, to put a chill on activities such as the Special Olympics. [HN15] The law is clear that a guardian cannot on behalf of an infant or incompetent, exculpate or indemnify against liability those [*8] organizations which sponsor activities for children and the mentally disabled. If this rule of law is other than as it should be, we feel the remedy is with the Supreme Court or the legislature.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed as to Joyce Childress individually, and her case is dismissed. As to Ira Childress individually, and William Todd, by and through his parents, Ira Childress and Joyce Childress, this case is reversed and remanded for such further proceedings as may be required. Costs on appeal are assessed against appellees.
CONCUR BY: TOMLIN
SEPARATE CONCURRING OPINION
TOMLIN, P.J., W.S.
I readily concur in the excellent opinion written by my colleague. In addition, I would hold that even if the law in this state was to the effect that Mrs. [**21] Childress could execute a valid release as to the rights of her son, the release, as executed, as I interpret it, attempts to release only the mother’s rights and not those of her son. For instance, the first sentence, acknowledging that young Childress was using the facilities at his own risk, begins with the language: “I, the undersigned, individually and on behalf of the above-named entrant . . . .” [emphasis added] However, the language purporting to release the Special Olympics and others reads as follows: “I, on my own behalf, hereby release, discharge and indemnify . . . .” [emphasis added] It is obvious that the language last used purports only to release the rights of the “undersigned,” i.e., Mrs. Childress, and not those of her handicapped son.
Rarely do you see recreation or release cases from the District of Columbia; in this case, the appellate court upheld the release for an injury in a gymPosted: June 26, 2017
Plaintiff’s arguments about the release and attempt to invalidate the release by claiming gross negligence all failed.
State: District of Columbia, District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Plaintiff: Richard J. Moore
Defendant: Terrell Waller and Square 345 Limited Partnership T/A Grand Hyatt Hotel
Plaintiff Claims: negligence
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: for the defendant health club
The plaintiff was a member of the exercise facility and had signed a release when he joined. One day while at the facility to exercise, he was asked by a kick boxing instructor to hold an Everlast body bag so the instructor could demonstrate kicks to the class. The plaintiff reluctantly did so.
The kick boxing instructor showed the plaintiff how to hold the bag. The instructor then kicked the bag five times in rapid succession. The plaintiff was out of breath after the demonstration and stated with irony that it was not hard to do.
A month after the class the plaintiff determined he had been injured from holding the bag and sued.
The defendants motioned for summary judgment with the trial court which was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court stated that it did not often look at releases in this context. The court looked at Maryland and other states for their laws concerning releases as well as the release law in DC, which was mostly in other types of business contracts.
DC like most other states will not allow a release to stop claims for “intentional harms or for the more extreme forms of negligence, i.e., reckless, wanton, or gross [negligence].” The plaintiff did not argue the acts of the defendant were grossly negligent, but did argue the acts were reckless.
However, the court could find nothing in the pleadings that indicated the defendant’s actions were reckless. In fact, the pleadings found the instructors efforts to show the plaintiff how to hold the bag was for safety purposes and as such; safety is inconsistent with recklessness or gross negligence.
The appellate court also looked at the release itself and found it was clear and unambiguous.
…”exculpation must be spelled out with such clarity that the intent to negate the usual consequences of tortious conduct is made plain”; also recognizing that in most circumstances modern law “permit[s] a person to exculpate himself by contract from the legal consequences of his negligence”
The plaintiff also argued the release was written so broadly that it was written to cover reckless or gross negligence and as such should be thrown out. However, the court looked at the issue in a different way. Any clause in a release that attempts to limit the liability for gross negligence is not valid; however, that does not invalidate the entire release.
We disagree. “‘A better interpretation of the law is that any “term” in a contract which at-tempts to exempt a party from liability for gross negligence or wanton conduct is unenforceable, not the entire [contract].
This is the acceptable way under contract law to deal with clauses or sections that are invalid. However, many contracts have clauses that say if any clause is invalid only that clause can be thrown out; the entire contract is still valid.
DC recognizes that some releases can be void if they reach too far.
We, of course, would not enforce such a release if doing so would be against public policy. “An exculpatory clause [in a will] that excuses self-dealing [by the personal representative] or attempts to limit liability for breaches of duty committed in bad faith, intentionally, or with reckless indifference to the interest of the beneficiary, is generally considered to be against public policy.”)
However, releases found within health club agreements do not violate public policy.
However, we agree with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and with numerous other courts which have held that it does not violate public policy to enforce exculpatory clauses contained in membership contracts of health clubs and fitness centers.
The appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court.
So Now What?
This decision does not leap with new information or ideas about releases. What is reassuring are two points. The first is releases are valid in DC. The second is when in doubt the court looked to Maryland, which has held that a release signed by a parent can stop a minor’s right to sue. See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.
If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.
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Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a., 158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d 399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51Posted: June 23, 2017
Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a., 158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d 399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51
Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a.
SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d 399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51
March 18, 2009, Argued
April 24, 2009, Opinion Issued
HEADNOTES NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES
1. Insurance–Policies–Construction The interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law for the court to decide. The court construes the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, the court accords the language its natural and ordinary meaning. The court need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, the court’s search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy.
2. Insurance–Proceedings–Burden of Proof The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists rests squarely with the insurer.
3. Insurance–Policies–Ambiguities Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so through clear and unambiguous policy language. Ambiguity exists if reasonable disagreement between contracting parties leads to at least two interpretations of the language. In determining whether an ambiguity exists, the court will look to the claimed ambiguity, consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer. Where, however, the policy language is clear, the court will not perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended.
4. Insurance–Policies–Construction When a climbing gym’s insurance policy stated, “All participants shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in your favor prior to engaging in any climbing activity,” the clear meaning of the policy language was that the gym was required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation that a reasonable person would believe that coverage existed so long as the gym had a policy of requiring waivers regardless of whether it actually obtained waivers would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. Because the policy required the gym to obtain waivers from all participants, the failure to do so in the case of an injured climber rendered coverage under the policy inapplicable to his claims.
COUNSEL: Wiggin & Nourie, P.A., of Manchester (Doreen F. Connor on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.
Mallory & Friedman, PLLC, of Concord (Mark L. Mallory on the brief and orally), for defendant, Dover Indoor Climbing Gym.
Shaheen & Gordon, P.A., of Dover, for defendant, Richard Bigelow, filed no brief.
JUDGES: DUGGAN, J. BRODERICK, C.J., and DALIANIS, J., concurred.
OPINION BY: DUGGAN
[**400] [*629] Duggan, J. The plaintiff, Colony Insurance Company (Colony), appeals an order of the Superior Court (McHugh, J.) denying its motion for summary judgment and granting that of the defendants, Dover Indoor Climbing Gym (the gym) and Richard Bigelow. We reverse and remand.
The trial court found, or the record supports, the following facts. Colony issued a commercial general liability insurance policy to the gym, which was in effect from January 5, 2007, to January 5, 2008. An endorsement to the policy stated: “All ‘participants’ shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in your favor prior to engaging in any ‘climbing activity.’ ” It further stated: “Failure to conform to this warranty will render this policy null and void as [sic] those claims brought against you.”
On August 14, 2007, [***2] Bigelow accompanied friends to the climbing gym, but did not sign a waiver. He testified that he was never asked to sign a waiver; the gym owner’s affidavit stated that the owner asked the group of climbers if they had waivers on file and received no negative answers. It is undisputed, however, that Bigelow did not sign a waiver or release. While climbing, Bigelow fell and sustained serious injuries. The gym then put Colony on notice to defend and pay any verdict obtained by Bigelow. In response, Colony filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the gym’s failure to obtain a release from Bigelow absolved Colony of any duty to defend or indemnify the gym.
Both Colony and the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which the trial court addressed in a written order. The trial court found that Colony’s failure to provide the gym with a sample waiver rendered the endorsement provision ambiguous. The trial court therefore denied Colony’s motion for summary judgment, and granted the defendants’ cross-motion [**401] for summary judgment. This appeal followed.
[*630] On appeal, Colony argues that the trial court erred in finding that the endorsement was ambiguous, and contends that the [***3] gym’s failure to obtain a waiver from Bigelow renders the policy inapplicable as to his claims. Alternatively, Colony argues that even if the endorsement is ambiguous, the gym is not entitled to coverage because it had actual knowledge of the policy’s waiver requirement.
[HN1] In reviewing the trial court’s grant or denial of summary judgment, we consider the evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Everitt v. Gen. Elec. Co., 156 N.H. 202, 208, 932 A.2d 831 (2007); Sintros v. Hamon, 148 N.H. 478, 480, 810 A.2d 553 (2002). If there is no genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the grant of summary judgment is proper. Everitt, 156 N.H. at 209; Sintros, 148 N.H. at 480. We review the trial court’s application of the law to the facts de novo. Everitt, 156 N.H. at 209; Sintros, 148 N.H. at 480.
 [HN2] The interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law for this court to decide. Godbout v. Lloyd’s Ins. Syndicates, 150 N.H. 103, 105, 834 A.2d 360 (2003). We construe the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading [***4] of the policy as a whole. Id. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, we accord the language its natural and ordinary meaning. Id. We need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, our search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy. Id.
[2, 3] In this case, the gym argues that the policy is ambiguous and Colony maintains that it is not. [HN3] The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists rests squarely with the insurer. Curtis v. Guaranty Trust Life Ins. Co., 132 N.H. 337, 340, 566 A.2d 176 (1989); see RSA 491:22-a (1997). [HN4] Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so “through clear and unambiguous policy language.” Id. (quotation omitted). Ambiguity exists if “reasonable disagreement between contracting parties” leads to at least two interpretations of the language. Int’l Surplus Lines Ins. Co. v. Mfgs. & Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 140 N.H. 15, 20, 661 A.2d 1192 (1995); Trombly v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield, 120 N.H. 764, 771, 423 A.2d 980 (1980). In determining whether an ambiguity exists, we will look to the claimed ambiguity, [***5] consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. Int’l Surplus, 140 N.H. at 20. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer. Id. Where, however, the policy language is clear, this court “will not [*631] perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity” simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended. Hudson v. Farm Family Mut. Ins. Co., 142 N.H. 144, 147, 697 A.2d 501 (1997); Curtis, 132 N.H. at 342.
The trial court found that the endorsement requiring waivers is ambiguous because Colony did not provide the gym with a sample waiver. Even the gym, however, contends that the trial court “reached the [**402] correct result for the wrong reasons.” Thus, the gym does not argue that the endorsement creates an ambiguity by its failure to provide the insured with a sample waiver form, but, rather, that the exclusionary language is ambiguous because it states that participants shall “be required” to sign waivers as opposed to mandating that the gym obtain signed waivers. [***6] Under this interpretation, the gym argues, a reasonable person would believe that coverage exists so long as the gym has a policy of requiring waivers regardless of whether it actually obtained waivers from climbing participants. Colony argues that the policy language is unambiguous. We agree with Colony.
 The clear meaning of the policy language is that the gym is required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. The gym’s interpretation is unreasonably narrow, and is therefore not the type of alternative interpretation that renders policy language ambiguous. See Curtis, 132 N.H. at 342 ( [HN5] refusing to find ambiguity when alternate interpretations would “inevitably lead to absurd results”). To construe the exclusion against the insurer here would create coverage where it is clear that none was intended. We therefore conclude that the policy language is unambiguous and that a reasonable insured would understand that the exclusion would [***7] apply in this case.
Because the policy requires the gym to obtain waivers from all participants, the failure to do so in the case of Bigelow renders coverage under the policy inapplicable to his claims. In light of our holding, we need not address Colony’s remaining argument. We therefore reverse the order of the trial court granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and hold that Colony is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
Reversed and remanded.
Broderick, C.J., and Dalianis, J., concurred.
Ochall et al., v. McNamer et al., 2016-Ohio-8493; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 5337
Andrea Ochall et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. William M. McNamer et al., Defendants-Appellees, Mark McMillen et al., Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, TENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, FRANKLIN COUNTY
2016-Ohio-8493; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 5337
December 29, 2016, Rendered
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. (C.P.C. No. 14CV-5498).
DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.
COUNSEL: On brief: Kitrick, Lewis & Harris, Co. LPA, Mark Lewis, Mark Kitrick, and Elizabeth Mote, for appellants. Argued: Mark Lewis.
On brief: The Carr Law Office, LLC, Adam E. Carr, and Eric K. Grinnell, for appellees William M. and Elizabeth McNamer. Argued: Adam E. Carr.
On brief: Lane Alton, Joseph A. Gerling, and Monica L. Waller, for appellees/cross-appellants Sharon and Mark McMillen. Argued: Monica L. Waller.
On brief: Hollern & Associates, and Edwin J. Hollern, for appellees James Porter and Jane Doe # 1. Argued: Edwin J. Hollern.
JUDGES: KLATT, J. SADLER, J., concurs. DORRIAN, P.J., concurs in and part dissents in part.
OPINION BY: KLATT
[*P1] Plaintiffs-appellants, Andrea Ochall, her husband Robert Ochall, and their two minor children, appeal from a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, granting the motions for summary judgment of defendants-appellees, Sharon and Mark McMillen, James Porter and his minor daughter, Jane Doe, and William and Elizabeth McNamer (“Liz”). For the reasons which follow, we affirm.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
[*P2] On May 23, 2014, appellants [**2] filed a complaint against the McNamers, the McMillens, Porter, Doe, McMillen Paving and Sealing, Inc. (“MP&S”), and McMillen Paving, Inc. The complaint asserted claims for negligence, recklessness, negligent and/or reckless design, construction, operation and maintenance, failure to warn or instruct, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, vicarious liability, and loss of consortium. The events giving rise to the complaint occurred on September 20, 2013, when Mrs. Ochall was seriously injured while watching a go-kart race on the McMillens’ property.
[*P3] On the day of the incident, the McNamers had invited the Ochalls to their home in Hilliard, Ohio, for the purpose of using the go-kart track located on the McMillens’ property. The McNamers and the McMillens are next-door neighbors and very good friends. Liz McNamer and Robert Ochall are co-workers, and Liz McNamer had previously invited the Ochalls over to use the McMillens go-kart track in 2011. The Ochall family, both the adults and their two children, drove go-karts on the McMillens’ track during their visit in 2011. The Ochalls, however, had never met the McMillens before filing the [**3] present lawsuit.
[*P4] The McMillens’ son, Brian McMillen, with assistance from his younger brother Scott, constructed the go-kart track in the McMillens’ backyard between 1994-1995, when Brian was between the ages of 18 and 19-years-old. The McMillens own and operate a paving and sealing company, MP&S. Brian is now the vice president of MP&S, but was not when he originally constructed the track.
[*P5] Brian and his brother built the track in their spare time, and used some company equipment to build it. The McMillens routinely used company equipment on their home projects. Brian explained that the track “basically is a twisted up driveway.” (Jan. 5, 2015 Brian McMillen Dep. at 62.) The McMillens have never charged anyone money to use the track and they do not operate the track commercially, it is something they simply use “to [their] liking.” Id. at 88.
[*P6] Although the McNamers and the McMillens are close frends, the McNamers would always ask the McMillens for permission before bringing guests over to use the track. Thus, prior to the Ochalls’ 2013 visit, Liz McNamer asked the McMillens if they could bring the Ochalls over to use the track. The McMillens said yes, and Mark McMillen opened the McMillens’ [**4] barn and prepared the go-karts for the group’s use.
[*P7] The McMillens own five go-karts and the McNamers own one go-kart, but the go-karts are all the same make and model. Brian McMillen purchased all the go-karts from the same vendor shortly after he constructed the track, and the McNamers paid the McMillens directly for their one go-kart. Brian explained that he selected these specific go-karts because he “didn’t want to go so fast out there” so that people would “need helmets.” Id. at 109. Brian noted that the go-karts have “a bumper, * * * a full harness and had a roll cage,” and could reach a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour. Id. Brian also noted that he could not “recall whether or not we actually got a manual for the karts,” noting that he did not “remember even seeing a manual.” Id. at 115. The go-karts all have stickers on the back which advise the drivers that there is no bumping.
[*P8] The McMillens store their go-karts in their barn, and there is a paved driveway which connects the barn to the track. The driveway connects with the track at the track’s start/finish line. Porter explained that people would generally congregate on the paved area next to the start/finish line in order “to trade positions [**5] with the drivers or to watch people driving by.” (Dec. 30, 2014 James J. Porter Dep. at 41.) Liz McNamer stated that she “always stood” on the paved area near the start/finish line when she was at the track. (Feb. 10, 2015 Elizabeth G. McNamer Dep. at 56-57.) Mrs. Ochall stated that, during her visit in 2011, she was “instructed to stand in that — that particular area” by Liz McNamer. (Dec. 4, 2014 Andrea L. Ochall Dep. at 29.) No one told Mrs. Ochall where to stand during the 2013 visit. Id. at 135-36.
[*P9] Brian McMillen testified that he designed the track “not to have any spectators.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 168.) Brian explained that, when he took “people out there, that’s part of my deal: Stay up in the barn until you come up and get in a kart.” Id. at 175. He also noted that anyone at the track had to “be aware. You’ve got cars going around the track. You have to be aware that that’s an issue.” Id. Mark McMillen had placed a bench at the back edge of that paved area next to the start/finish line. Brian explained that the bench was “by no means a bleacher,” as it was there simply for drivers to rest on between and after races. Id. at 170-71.
[*P10] There are no barriers around the McMillens’ go-kart track, only painted edge lines. [**6] Brian McMillen explained that he purposely did not construct barriers because barriers “would just be something for a kart to hit,” and would “give a much greater probability of making a car go airborn and possible flipping.” Id. at 168, 232. Accordingly, when driving on the McMillens’ go-kart track, “there are times you go off the track on a turn or you veer off for some reason or another. * * * And that happens regularly.” (J. Porter Dep. at 38.) Liz McNamer noted that she “went off into the grass” the first time she drove on the track. (L. McNamer Dep. at 40, 42.) She explained that it was “safe” for a driver to “go off the track and come back on.” Id. at 108-09. Porter noted that he had seen go-karts go off the track on the “big turns, * * * on the little turns, * * * on the straightaways,” and specifically stated that he had seen go-karts go off the track “coming out that final turn into the start/stop” area. (J. Porter Dep. at 38-39; 45-46.)
[*P11] On the day of the incident, the Ochalls arrived with their two minor children, and two of their children’s friends. The McNamers’ son-in-law, Porter, was also present with his daughter, and the McNamers’ granddaughter, Doe. Doe was 11 years old; the Ochall children [**7] and their friends were all 13 years old. The group met at the McNamers’ house, and walked through the adjoining backyards to the McMillens’ go-kart track. The McMillens were not present at the track; Sharon McMillen was at the grocery store and Mark McMillen was inside his home watching a football game.
[*P12] Liz McNamer gave the group instructions regarding how to operate the go-karts, telling them, “the gas was on one side, the brake was on the other, the steering wheel.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 103.) Liz McNamer observed the children as they drove, noting that “[t]hey seemed to be doing pretty well. They seemed like they were able to manage going around the track.” Id. at 106. Liz McNamer noted that she watched the children driving to make sure that no one was “at risk,” and noted that she “didn’t see that.” Id. at 117.
[*P13] There were more people than go-karts during the 2013 event, so both the adults and the children rotated using the go-karts throughout the day. As was typical at the McMillens’ track, multiple drivers drove off the track that day. Doe’s go-kart came all the way off the track and went into the grass, and Porter’s go-kart came partially off the track. One of the Ochall children drove off the track, “[a]ll [**8] four wheels were off the track,” and Porter “had to push him out.” (J. Porter Dep. at 93, 95-96.) Liz McNamer stated that she “observed that day each child went off the track at some capacity.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 109.) Liz McNamer testified that, when Doe’s go-kart left the track earlier in the day, she spoke to her granddaughter and “cautioned her and advised her just to be careful. The ground was pretty saturated. * * * There was water standing, so I just wanted her to be aware and, you know, just cautioned her.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 129.)
[*P14] Mrs. Ochall was aware that there were “no barriers, there’s no safety barriers” around the track. (A. Ochall Dep. at 137.) Mrs. Ochall also witnessed go-karts driving off the track on the day of the incident, and admitted that she knew “that [a go-kart] could come off the track.” Id. at 139. Indeed, two photographs Mrs. Ochall took that day depict go-karts which had driven partially and completely off the track. (See A. Ochall Dep; Defs.’ Exs. 3 and 4.) However, Mrs. Ochall believed that the paved area next to the start/finish line was “a safe environment. That is a safe zone.” (A. Ochall Dep. at 137.) No one ever told Mrs. Ochall that the paved area was [**9] a safe zone. (See Dec. 4, 2014 Robert W. Ochall Dep. at 13; A. Ochall Dep. at 191.)
[*P15] Mrs. Ochall drove a go-kart on the day of the incident. After driving, she stood around the track taking pictures. Mrs. Ochall’s camera had a telephoto lens, and there was a cup she had to put her eye up to in order to use the camera. Because she was taking pictures “one right after the other,” Mrs. Ochall admitted that she was “[n]ot always” able to see what was going on around her. Id. at 139-40. She admitted that her vision was “[p]robably” obstructed by her camera. Id. at 140.
[*P16] After one to two hours at the track, the group decided they would hold one last race. Porter, Mr. and Mrs. Ochall, Mr. and Mrs. McNamer, and an Ochall child were all standing in the paved area adjoining the track near the start/finish line; the others participated in the race. During the second lap of the race, as Doe came into the turn which approached the start/finish area, “her hair band went over her eyes. She had grabbed it and thrown it off to get better vision. So as she grabbed it and thrown it off, * * * she went straight through” the paved area next to the track and struck Mrs. Ochall. (J. Porter Dep. at 117.) Mrs. Ochall was standing “10-12 feet to [**10] the south of the painted edge line which delineated the marked boundary of the track surface” when the accident occurred. (Pls.’ Ex. C., Apr. 9, 2013 Choya R. Hawn Acc. Reconstruction Report at 8.) Porter noted that, the cars are “hard to steer with one hand,” so when Doe threw her headband “she kind of jerked as well,” which caused her to veer off the track. (J. Porter Dep. at 117.) Doe confirmed these events and told her father immediately after the incident that her “headband slipped over her eyes, and she threw it out and lost control.” Id. at 130.
[*P17] Doe’s go-kart struck Mrs. Ochall directly and flung her into the air. When Mrs. Ochall landed, she suffered a serious spinal cord injury. The last photograph Mrs. Ochall took that day depicts Doe throwing her headband. (See A. Ochall Dep.; Defs.’ Ex. 5.) Prior to Mrs. Ochall’s injury, no one had ever been injured at the McMillens’ go-kart track. (L. McNamer Dep. at 44-45.)
[*P18] Although each defendant filed separate motions for summary judgment, all defendants alleged that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred appellants’ negligence claims, and that there was no evidence of reckless or intentional misconduct. The McMillens further asserted [**11] that, as they did not invite the Ochalls to their property, they could not be considered the social hosts of the Ochalls. The McNamers asserted that, as they were not the property owners, they could not be held liable for any condition on the McMillens property. MP&S and McMillen Paving, Inc. argued that McMillen Paving, Inc. was a shell corporation with no assets, and that MP&S did not design or construct the track.
[*P19] Appellants filed a memorandum contra the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, asserting that “[n]othing occurred to alert [Mrs. Ochall] to any danger of go-karts driving into spectators in the seating area.” (Apr. 14, 2015 Pls.’ Memo. Contra at 8.) Appellants argued that primary assumption of the risk did not apply to the facts of this case, because the track was designed defectively and because all of the defendants had acted recklessly.
[*P20] Appellants supported their memorandum contra with the report of their accident reconstruction expert, Choya Hawn. Hawn observed that, “[i]n the absence of any persons afoot the original track design was in [his] opinion reasonably safe for the ‘go-kart operators.'” (Emphasis sic.) (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 13.) Hawn stated that a “reasonable [**12] solution to the safety issue for persons afoot” was to construct “a small elevated wooden platform (~7-8 inches in height) on the infield side of the start/finish/staging area.” Id. at 16. Hawn concluded that the “failure to either provide a safe observation location or to otherwise dictate, communicate and enforce safety rules to protect guests from the potential hazard associated with spectating was unreasonable and made this an unsafe environment for persons afoot.” Id. at 16, 18.
[*P21] On May 6, 2015, the court issued a decision and entry denying the McMillens’ motion for summary judgment, in part, and granting the business entities’ motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that, as the McNamers had asked the McMillens if they could bring the Ochalls to the McMillens property, and the McMillens had granted the McNamers permission to do so, “an implied invitation between the McMillens and Plaintiffs occurred.” (May 6, 2015 Decision & Entry at 4.) As such, the court concluded that the Ochalls were the social guests of the McMillens. Regarding the entities, the court determined that McMillen Paving, Inc. had “never performed any business nor held assets, and never acted in the creation of the go-kart [**13] track,” such that the company was an “inappropriate party to the suit.” Id. at 5. Regarding MP&S, the court concluded that the company “was not employed to create or maintain the go-kart track,” and that Brian McMillen was not acting in his capacity as an employee of the company when he constructed the track. Id.
[*P22] On July 31, 2015, the trial court issued a decision and entry granting the McMillens’, the McNamers’, and Porter’s and Doe’s motions for summary judgment. The court observed that go-karting is a recreational activity, and concluded that, “[s]ince the risk of being injured by a go-kart leaving the track [was] a foreseeable risk of go-kart racing on the McMillen track,” the risk was “inherent to go-kart racing on a private, barrier-less backyard track.” (July 31, 2015 Decision & Entry at 7-8.) As such, the court concluded that primary assumption of the risk applied to bar appellants’ negligence claims, and that appellants could only recover if the defendants acted intentionally or recklessly to cause Mrs. Ochall’s injuries.
[*P23] The “parties agree[d] that no one acted intentionally to injure Andrea Ochall on that day.” Id. at 8. Accordingly, the court addressed whether any of the defendants engaged in reckless [**14] misconduct. Appellants argued that the defendants were reckless because they failed to enforce Brian McMillen’s no-spectator rule. The court observed that, while Brian McMillen had a no-spectator rule when he was at the track, Brian was not the property owner, and neither the McMillens nor Brian McMillen acknowledged Brian’s personal rule as a track rule. As such, the court concluded that “not allowing adult spectators at or near the track for races [was] not a rule, regulation, custom, or common practice of the track or races conducted at the McMillen track.” Id. at 11. The court also addressed appellants’ argument that the defendants were reckless because they had not read or implemented safety guidelines from the go-kart manufacturer’s or owner’s manuals. The court concluded that no defendant had a duty to inform appellants about those safety guidelines.
[*P24] Regarding the McMillens, the court noted that, as the property owners, the McMillens had no duty to improve their track, as they only had a duty to “exercise ordinary care to prepare the property for social guests.” Id. at 12. Accordingly, the McMillens did not have “a duty to instruct guests on how to go-kart race or to implement any rules other [**15] than those which the family uses on their land.” Id. at 14. The court observed that the McMillens merely allowed their neighbors and their neighbor’s guests to use their go-kart track. As such, the court did not find any evidence of reckless conduct by the McMillens.
[*P25] Regarding the McNamers, the court noted that the McNamers similarly “did not have a duty to instruct guests on how to drive a go-kart.” Id. at 16. Regarding the McNamers supervision of Doe, the court noted that Liz McNamer told her granddaughter once to slow down. The court observed that “[a] single admonishment by a grandparent in the presence of the child’s parent” was “not sufficient evidence of recklessness.” Id. at 19. As there was no evidence indicating that the McNamers told appellants “they ‘had to’ stand on the adjacent asphalt area,” and as Liz McNamer also stood on the adjacent asphalt area, the court could not find that the “McNamer’s action of standing on the adjacent area rose to the level of reckless required by the theory of primary assumption of the risk.” Id. at 20.
[*P26] Regarding Doe, the court concluded that Doe was not reckless, “because removing a hand from the steering wheel to clear one’s vision is the lesser of two evils. * * * [Doe] [**16] did not intentionally drive into the spectator area, but was unable to correct her kart’s path in time to not strike Plaintiff.” Id. at 21. Regarding appellants claim that Porter was reckless by not removing Doe from the track earlier in the day, the court concluded that, as there was no evidence demonstrating that Doe was driving recklessly throughout the day, there was no reason why Porter should have removed Doe from the track.
[*P27] Accordingly, the court concluded that primary assumption of the risk applied to the case, and that there was no evidence of reckless or intentional misconduct. As such, the court found the defendants entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
II. ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR
[*P28] Appellants appeal, assigning the following two assignments of error for our review:
1. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED APPLYING PRIMARY ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK TO HOLD THAT DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES WERE ENTITLED TO JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW.
2. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THERE EXISTED NO GENUINE ISSUES OF MATERIAL FACT CONCERNING DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES’ RECKLESS-NESS, THUS ENTITLING THEM TO JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW.
The McMillens have also filed a contingent cross-appeal, asserting the following sole, [**17] assignment of error:
The Trial Court erred in denying in part the Motion for Summary Judgment of Appellees/Cross-Appellants Sharon McMillen and Mark McMillen and concluding that Appellants were social guests of the McMillens rather than licensees. The McMillens’ assignment of error is conditional upon the Courts’ ruling on the assignment of error of Appellants. If the Court overrules Appellants’ assignment of error, the McMillens will withdraw the cross-appeal.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
[*P29] [HN1] Appellate review of summary judgment motions is de novo. Helton v. Scioto County Bd. of Comm’rs, 123 Ohio App. 3d 158, 162, 703 N.E.2d 841 (4th Dist.1997). “When reviewing a trial court’s ruling on summary judgment, the court of appeals conducts an independent review of the record and stands in the shoes of the trial court.” Mergenthal v. Star Banc Corp., 122 Ohio App. 3d 100, 103, 701 N.E.2d 383 (12th Dist.1997). We must affirm the trial court’s judgment if any of the grounds raised by the movant at the trial court are found to support it, even if the trial court failed to consider those grounds. Coventry Twp. v. Ecker, 101 Ohio App.3d 38, 41-42, 654 N.E.2d 1327 (9th Dist.1995).
[*P30] [HN2] Summary judgment is proper only when the party moving for summary judgment demonstrates that: (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and (3) reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse [**18] to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence most strongly construed in that party’s favor. Civ.R. 56(C); State ex rel. Grady v. State Emp. Rels. Bd., 78 Ohio St. 3d 181, 183, 1997 Ohio 221, 677 N.E.2d 343 (1997).
[*P31] [HN3] When seeking summary judgment on the ground that the nonmoving party cannot prove its case, the moving party bears the initial burden of informing the trial court of the basis for the motion, and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact on an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claims. Dresher v. Burt, 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 293, 1996 Ohio 107, 662 N.E.2d 264 (1996). A moving party does not discharge this initial burden under Civ.R. 56 by simply making a conclusory allegation that the nonmoving party has no evidence to prove its case. Id. Rather, the moving party must affirmatively demonstrate by affidavit or other evidence allowed by Civ.R. 56(C) that the nonmoving party has no evidence to support its claims. Id. If the moving party meets this initial burden, then the nonmoving party has a reciprocal burden outlined in Civ.R. 56(E) to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial and, if the nonmoving party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the nonmoving party. Id.
IV. FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF [**19] ERROR — PRIMARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK
[*P32] Appellants’ first assignment of error asserts that the trial court erred by applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to the instant dispute. Appellants asserted various negligence claims against the defendants, and [HN4] “in order to establish actionable negligence, one seeking recovery must show the existence of a duty, the breach of the duty, and injury resulting proximately therefrom.” Strother v. Hutchinson, 67 Ohio St.2d 282, 285, 423 N.E.2d 467 (1981), citing Feldman v. Howard, 10 Ohio St.2d 189, 193, 226 N.E.2d 564 (1967). “[A] successful primary assumption of risk defense means that the duty element of negligence is not established as a matter of law.” Wolfe v. Bison Baseball, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-905, 2010-Ohio-1390, ¶ 21, quoting Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 432, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996).
[*P33] [HN5] “Ohio law recognizes three categories of assumption of the risk as defenses to a negligence claim: express, primary, and implied or secondary.” Schnetz v. Ohio Dep’t of Rehab. & Corr., 195 Ohio App. 3d 207, 959 N.E.2d 554, 2011-Ohio-3927, ¶ 21 (10th Dist.), citing Crace v. Kent State Univ., 185 Ohio App.3d 534, 2009-Ohio-6898, ¶ 10, 924 N.E.2d 906 (10th Dist.). “Express assumption of the risk applies when parties expressly agree to release liability.” Crace at ¶ 11. “Implied assumption of risk is defined as plaintiff’s consent to or acquiescence in an appreciated, known or obvious risk to plaintiff’s safety.” Collier v. Northland Swim Club, 35 Ohio App.3d 35, 37, 518 N.E.2d 1226 (10th Dist.1987). “Under this approach to assumption of risk, defendant owes to plaintiff some duty, but it is plaintiff’s acquiescence in or appreciation of a [**20] known risk that acts as a defense to plaintiff’s action.” Id.
[*P34] [HN6] “Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries.” Morgan v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-405, 2012-Ohio-453, ¶ 13, citing Crace at ¶ 13, citing Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App.3d 27, 2006-Ohio-3656, ¶ 12, 857 N.E.2d 1255 (10th Dist.). See also Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699 (1990), paragraph one of the syllabus. “The rationale is that certain risks are so inherent in some activities that the risk of injury is unavoidable.” Crace at ¶ 13, citing Collier at 37. By participating in an activity, the plaintiff “tacitly consent[s]” to the risk of injury inherent in the activity. Id. The test requires that: “(1) the danger is ordinary to the game, (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.” Santho at ¶ 12.
[*P35] Thus, [HN7] courts apply the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities, and generally extend the doctrine to relieve liability of [**21] owners, operators, and sponsors of recreational activities. Crace at ¶ 12, 20. The doctrine applies regardless of whether the activity was engaged in by children or adults, or was organized, unorganized, supervised, or unsupervised. Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004-Ohio-379, ¶ 8, 802 N.E.2d 1116. The doctrine also applies to spectators and participants alike. Id. at ¶ 10.
[*P36] Furthermore, [HN8] when considering primary assumption of the risk, “the injured plaintiff’s subjective consent to and appreciation for the inherent risks are immaterial to the analysis.” Crace at ¶ 16, citing Gentry at ¶ 9. See also Foggin v. Fire Protection Specialists, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 12AP-1078, 2013-Ohio-5541, ¶ 10 (noting that the plaintiff’s subjective consent to the inherent risks of an activity are immaterial, because “[t]hose entirely ignorant of the risks of the activity, still assume the risk by participating in the activity”). Indeed, “primary assumption of risk requires an examination of the activity itself and not plaintiff’s conduct.” Gehri v. Capital Racing Club, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 96APE10-1307, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527 (June 12, 1997). See Rees v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Co., 8th Dist. No. 84183, 2004-Ohio-6112, ¶ 20, quoting Gum v. Cleveland Elec. Illuminating Co., 8th Dist. No. 70833, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 503 (Feb. 13, 1997) (explaining that “‘the baseball fan assumes the risk of being hit by a foul ball when [**22] he takes his place in the stands, not at the moment the foul ball comes flying his way'”). Accordingly, Mrs. Ochall’s personal belief that the paved area next to the track was a safe zone is irrelevant to the primary assumption of the risk analysis.
[*P37] [HN9] “‘[O]nly those risks directly associated with the activity in question are within the scope of primary assumption of risk.'” Horvath v. Ish, 134 Ohio St.3d 48, 2012-Ohio-5333, ¶ 19, 979 N.E.2d 1246, quoting Gallagher at 432. “The affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk completely negates a negligence claim because the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff against the inherent risks of the recreational activity in which the plaintiff engages.” Morgan at ¶ 14, citing Crace at ¶ 15. See also Pope v. Willey, 12th Dist. No. CA2004-10-077, 2005-Ohio-4744, ¶ 11. “Because of the great impact a ruling in favor of a defendant on primary assumption of risk grounds carries, a trial court must proceed with caution when contemplating whether primary assumption of risk completely bars a plaintiff’s recovery.” Gallagher at 432.
[*P38] [HN10] The “goal” of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine “is to strike a balance between encouraging vigorous and free participation in recreational or sports activities, while ensuring the safety of the players.” Marchetti at 99. See also Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, 38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65, 32 Cal. App. 4th 248, 253 (observing [**23] that the “overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature”); Yancey v. Superior Court, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 777, 28 Cal. App. 4th 558, 565 (noting that “[d]uty is constricted in such settings because the activity involves inherent risks which cannot be eliminated without destroying the sport itself”).
[*P39] [HN11] Whether to apply the affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk presents an issue of law for the court to determine. Crace at ¶ 12, citing Gallagher at 435. We therefore review the trial court’s application of the doctrine de novo. Id.
[*P40] Appellants contend that the trial court disregarded relevant authority when it “looked only to ‘foreseeable’ and ‘common’ risks to invoke the doctrine.” (Appellant’s brief, at 16.) Appellants assert that the trial court “misunderstood and misapplied Ohio law” when it held that the risks which are foreseeable and common in the course of a sport or activity are the inherent risks of the activity. Id. at 16-17. The trial court observed that “[a] risk is found to be ordinary or inherent to the recreational activity when it arises from conduct that is ‘a foreseeable, customary part of the activity.'” [**24] (Decision & Entry at 4, quoting Gentry at 144.)
[*P41] In Gentry the Supreme Court of Ohio held that [HN12] “where injuries stem from ‘conduct that is a foreseeable, customary’ part of the activity, the defendant ‘cannot be held liable for negligence because no duty is owed to protect the victim from that conduct.'” Id. at ¶ 10, quoting Thompson v. McNeill, 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 104, 559 N.E.2d 705 (1990), modified on other grounds by Anderson v. Massillon, 134 Ohio St.3d 380, 2012-Ohio-5711, 983 N.E.2d 266. The court in Gentry noted that, “[o]bviously,” in Thompson, the court had “applied ‘primary’ assumption-of-risk principles in limiting the defendant’s liability.” Id. at ¶ 11. See Thompson at 106 (noting that, because “[s]hanking the ball is a foreseeable and not uncommon occurrence in the game of golf,” the plaintiff primarily assumed the risk of being hit by a golf ball by playing the game of golf).
[*P42] [HN13] Under the three-part test, a danger ordinary to a game is a danger which is customary to the game. See Santho at ¶ 13 (observing that “[f]alling is an ordinary danger of ice-skating,” and that “[c]olliding with the perimeter boards is an ordinary danger of ice rink skating”). When a danger is a foreseeable part of a game, there will be common knowledge that the danger exists. See id. (noting that it is “foreseeable that any time an individual, regardless of skill, steps onto ice, they risk falling or coming into contact with [**25] the barriers that set the perimeter of the skating surface”); Cincinnati Base Ball Club Co. v. Eno, 112 Ohio St. 175, 180-81, 3 Ohio Law Abs. 164, 147 N.E. 86 (1925) (noting that it is “common knowledge that in baseball games hard balls are thrown and batted with great swiftness, that they are liable to be thrown or batted outside the lines of the diamond, and that spectators in positions which may be reached by such balls assume the risk thereof”).
[*P43] Thus, [HN14] for primary assumption of the risk purposes, the risks inherent in an activity are the foreseeable, common, and customary risks of the activity. See also Foggin v. Fire Protection Specialists, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 12AP-1078, 2013-Ohio-5541, ¶ 9 (noting that the “types of risks associated with the activity are those that are foreseeable and customary risks of the activity”); Deutsch v. Birk, 189 Ohio App.3d 129, 2010-Ohio-3564, ¶ 13, 937 N.E.2d 638 (12th Dist.). Accordingly, the trial court did not err by concluding that the foreseeable and cutomary risks of an activity are the inherent risks of the activity. See Gentry at ¶ 10, quoting Thompson at 104 (primary assumption of the risk applies to “‘conduct that is a foreseeable, customary part’ of the activity”).
[*P44] Appellants further contend that the the “trial court improperly applied the doctrine when it failed to analyze whether the risks that injured Plaintiff-Appellant were inherent, necessary or unavoidable, [**26] i.e., whether they could be eliminated.” (Appellant’s brief, at 17.) Appellants assert that the trial court “ignored” the “various ways” the danger to spectators “could have been eliminated.” Id. at 23. Relying on the accident reconstruction report, appellants assert that “the ‘potential’ danger to spectators could have been easily eliminated by (1) moving the spectator area, (2) elevating the spectator area by wooden deck, (3) installing simple barriers between the track and spectators, or (4) warning guests about the no-spectator rule.” Id. Appellants, however, misconstrue the meaning of risks which “cannot be eliminated.”
[*P45] [HN15] The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that “‘[t]o be covered under the doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.'” Horvath at ¶ 19, quoting Konesky v. Wood Cty. Agricultural Soc., 164 Ohio App.3d 839, 2005-Ohio-7009, ¶ 19, 844 N.E.2d 408 (6th Dist.). In Horvath, the court observed that “collisions between skiers are an inherent risk of skiing,” as “‘other skiers are as much a part of the risk in downhill skiing, if not more so than the snow and ice, elevation, contour, speed and weather conditions.'” Id. at ¶ 20, quoting Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 511, 762 A.2d 339 (2000). See also Morgan v. Kent State Univ., 2016-Ohio-3303, 54 N.E.3d 1284, ¶ 25 (noting that, “by its very nature, karate, [**27] as a martial art, is an inherently dangerous activity from which the risk of harm cannot be eliminated”). To determine the risks which are so inherent in an activity that they cannot be eliminated, a court must “focus exclusively upon the activity itself.” Schnetz at ¶ 28. See also Crace at ¶ 25.
[*P46] For example, in Brumage v. Green, 2d Dist. No. 2014-CA-7, 2014-Ohio-2552, the court observed that “‘[l]osing control and flipping an ATV is a foreseeable and customary risk associated with the activity of driving or riding on an ATV.'” Id. at ¶ 14, quoting Curtis v. Schmid, 5th Dist. No. 07 CAE 11 0065, 2008-Ohio-5239, ¶ 56. The plaintiff argued that certain factors specific to the incident, including that he was driving the ATV on a public roadway, made the risks he faced “greater than are customary in the recreational activity of riding ATVs.” Id. at ¶ 15. The court refused to address the plaintiff’s incident specific arguments, because “flipping off an ATV and getting injured is a risk that is inherent in the recreational activity of riding an ATV.” Id. at ¶ 16. The Brumage court observed that, “‘[w]hat causes the driver to lose control is better addressed when determining whether the driver acted intentionally, [or] recklessly.'” Id. at ¶ 16, quoting West v. Devendra, 7th [**28] Dist. No. 11 BE 35, 2012-Ohio-6092, ¶ 26, 985 N.E.2d 558. See also Morgan v. Kent State Univ. at ¶ 22, 25.
[*P47] Accordingly, in analyzing the risks inherent to go-karting, we must focus exclusively on the activity of go-karting, and not on the actions or omissions of the defendants in this case. See Crace at ¶ 25 (observing that, if the law treated participants differently from nonparticipants, the primary assumption of the risk analysis would shift “away from the activity and its inherent risks,” and would “unnecessarily focus upon the extent of the defendant’s involvement and the defendant’s classification as a participant, non-participant, * * * sponsor, provider, or otherwise,* * * with no regard for the inherent risks of the activity”). Appellants’ contentions regarding the things the defendants could have done to alter the McMillens’ track for the benefit of spectators essentially amount to claims that the various defendants were reckless. See Morgan v. Church of Christ at ¶ 16.
[*P48] Additionally, appellants’ arguments regarding the “risks to spectators” at the McMillens’ track improperly attempts to shift the focus of the analysis away from the risks inherent in the activity. (Appellant’s brief, at 20.) [HN16] Because the primary assumption [**29] of the risk analysis focuses on the risks inherent in the activity at issue, spectators and participants are treated the same. Indeed, “spectators as well as participants ‘must accept from a participant conduct associated with that sport’ or activity.” Gentry at ¶ 10, quoting Thompson at 104. See also Taylor v. Mathys, 3rd Dist. No. 14-04-32, 2005-Ohio-150, ¶ 10, citing Gentry at ¶ 6 (noting that primary assumption of the risk’s “limitation on liability extends to the spectators of a recreational activity as well as the participants”); Crace at ¶ 25. “‘[T]hose entirely ignorant of the risks of a sport, still assume the risk * * * by participating in a sport or simply by attending the game.'” Gentry at ¶ 12, quoting Gilles, From Baseball Parks to the Public Arena: Assumption of the Risk in Tort Law and Constitutional Libel Law, 75 Temple L.Rev. 231, 236 (2002).
[*P49] Focusing on the activity at issue herein, we observe that go-karting is a recreational activity involving motorized go-karts which are propelled forward around a racetrack by a driver. During a race, a go-kart driver will attempt to drive their go-kart past the other go-karts in the race in order to be the first go-kart to cross the finish line. The joy of go-karting derives from attempting to maintain control over one’s go-kart while maneuvering, [**30] at speed, around the go-kart track and the other go-karts present on the track. Accordingly, [HN17] the inherent risks of go-karting include running into other go-karts on the track, or deviating from the track and running into any object present around the track. See Loewenthal v. Catskill Funland, 237 A.D.2d 262, 263, 654 N.Y.S.2d 169 (1997) (where the plaintiff’s “go-kart veered off its intended course, striking the wall in the pit area head on,” the court observed that, “[i]n riding the go-cart, the plaintiff * * * assumed the risks inherent in the activity,” which included that the “go-cart would bump into objects”); Garnett v. Strike Holdings LLC, 131 A.D.3d 817, 820, 15 N.Y.S.3d 786 (2015) (noting that “the operator of the track does not have a duty to protect the go-kart rider from the inherent and foreseeable risk of being bumped by another go-kart”). Compare Jussila v. United States Snowmobile Ass’n, 556 N.W.2d 234, 237 (Minn.App.1996) (noting that “a snowmobile takes on a more dangerous character when operated on a racetrack by competitors attempting to win races”).
[*P50] Accordingly, [HN18] the risk that a go-kart may veer off the track and strike any object present nearby is a risk inherent to go-karting. As such, Mrs. Ochall assumed that risk in the primary sense when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track while a go-kart race was in process.
[*P51] Appellants [**31] assert that the trial court erred “by conflating the duty analysis under primary assumption of the risk with the social host duty of care in premises liability cases.” (Appellant’s brief, at 27.) The trial court noted appellants’ argument that “a risk is not inherent if it can be eliminated with due care,” but concluded that, because “[d]efendants, as social hosts, did not have an additional duty to make adjustments to the private, residential track, * * * the risk in question [was] a risk inherent to go-kart racing on a private, barrier-less backyard track.” (Decision & Entry at 5, 7-8.) Appellants contend that the trial court’s analysis improperly mixed “duty with breach.” (Appellant’s brief, at 27.) We agree.
[*P52] The trial court erred in its primary assumption of the risk analysis because it failed to ascertain the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting. Instead, the trial court wrongly focused on the defendants, and the duty they owed to appellants, rather than focusing on the activity at issue. See Schnetz at ¶ 30 (finding that the trial court erred by concluding that primary assumption of the risk did not apply “to inmate claims against a prison because a prison owes a duty of care to inmates in its custody and [**32] control,” as such a “holding shift[ed] the focus of the analysis away from the activity and its inherent risks and improperly focuse[d] upon the extent of the defendant’s involvement and the defendant’s classification”).
[*P53] Although the trial court erred by considering the defendants’ duty under the primary assumption of the risk analysis, this error does not amount to reversible error. Pursuant to our de novo review, we have determined that an inherent risk of go-karting is the risk that a go-kart will deviate from its intended course upon the track and strike any object which may be present around the track. As such, absent evidence of reckless or intentional conduct, primary assumption of the risk applies to the facts of this case and defeats appellants’ negligence claims. Accordingly, we have reached the same result as the trial court, albeit for different reasons. See Phillips v. Dayton Power & Light Co., 93 Ohio App.3d 111, 115, 637 N.E.2d 963 (2d Dist.1994) (noting that, since the reviewing court must independently determine, as a matter of law, whether summary judgment was properly granted, “[a] summary judgment based on a legally erroneous analysis of the issues must be affirmed if the appellate court independently determines that upon the record summary judgment should have been rendered [**33] as a matter of law, albeit for different reasons”).
[*P54] Appellants assert that the trial court disregarded the two Ohio go-karting cases, Goffe v. Mower, 2d Dist. No. 98-CA-49, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 308 (Feb. 5, 1999) and Reed v. Cassidy, 3d Dist. No. 2-01-36, 2002-Ohio-1672 (Apr. 10, 2002), in reaching its summary judgment decision. The trial court noted the cases, but correctly found the cases inapplicable to the present dispute. (See Decision & Entry at 5-6.)
[*P55] In Reed the plaintiff was injured at a charity go-kart race being held on city streets. The race organizers had placed a four-foot high fence and bales of hay around the race perimeter to separate the sidewalk from the racetrack. The plaintiff was “initially watching the race from a spectator area,” but had moved to another area to watch the race, which was still “protected by the orange fencing” but had “fewer hay bales.” Id. Two go-kart drivers collided during the race, causing one go-kart to veer off the track and strike the plaintiff. The court stated that it was “not convinced that injury to a spectator [was] the kind of risk so inherent to the sport of go-kart racing that the appellant could be deemed to have consented to it.” Id. The court noted that the plaintiff “testified that she observed [**34] other accidents during go-kart races and that there had, in fact, been several other accidents on the day she was hit.” Id. The court concluded that simply observing other go-karts run into each other did “not mean that injury to spectators as a result of karts leaving the track [was] inherent to racing,” but stated that it “raise[d] a question of fact as to whether such risk was obvious to appellant.” Id.
[*P56] As Reed is a decision from the Third District Court of Appeals, it holds no precedential value in this district. Furthermore, as the Reed court failed to engage in a proper primary assumption of the risk analysis, we do not find the decision persuasive. Reed did not attempt to ascertain the risks inherent to the activity of go-karting. Instead, the court simply concluded that injury to spectators was not an inherent risk of go-karting. In so concluding, the court treated spectators differently from participants, in violation of Gentry. The Reed court also inappropriately considered the plaintiff’s subjective understanding of the risk, in further violation of Gentry.
[*P57] Unlike the present case which concerns a private, free, backyard go-kart track, in Goffe the plaintiff was a business invitee [**35] at a commercial go-kart track. The plaintiff was injured exiting her go-kart at the end of the ride when another driver accidently accelerated and “struck a parked go-cart in the off-loading area of the track,” which then “struck Ms. Goffe in the leg.” Id. The plaintiff alleged defective design had caused her injury because, at the end of the ride, a gate would funnel the go-karts “into a confined pit area so that a runaway go-cart had no option but to strike go-carts in the unloading area.” Id. The court observed that “[o]ne who rides an amusement device assumes the ordinary risks inherent in the ride, insofar as those risks are obvious and necessary, but only so long as the device is properly designed and the operator has used proper care in its construction and operation.” Id., citing Pierce v. Gooding Amusement Co., 55 Ohio Law Abs. 556, 90 N.E.2d 585 (1949). The court concluded that the business had breached its “duty of ordinary care to Ms. Goffe by desiging an amusement ride which created an unreasonable danger that the rider would be injured while exiting the ride but before reaching a place of safety.” Id.
[*P58] Relying on Goffe, appellants contend that primary assumption of the risk cannot apply in this matter, because defendants “enhanced the unusual risk [**36] to spectators by operating a defective track.” (Appellant’s brief, at 23.) Appellants assert that defendants “failed to design, build and operate the track to account for spectator safety by, among other steps, moving the spectator area inside the track and elevating it.” Id. at 24. Appellants argue that the track was defective because defendants “built and maintained a ‘short chute’ at the final high-banked turn to create faster go-kart speeds approaching the spectator area.” Id. However, there is no evidence in the record indicating that either the short-chute or the high-banked turn created faster go-kart speeds, or that these aspects of the track caused the accident.
[*P59] Brian McMillen explained that, in 2010-11, he “raised the elevation” on the curve approaching that start/finish area in order to “control flooding from the pond and the ground water.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 135.) The alteration resulted in the track “dropping three or four inches over that 30-40 feet” as a kart approached the straightaway into the start/finish line. Id. at 149. Brian referred to the straightaway as a “short chute,” explaining that a “short chute” is just a “small piece of straightaway between two turns.” Id. at 150. Notably, Brian [**37] confirmed that this alteration did not affect a driver’s “ability to change speed or how they had to maneuver that part of the track.” Id. at 149.
[*P60] Hawn concluded that “it was mathematically possible for a kart to be driven successfully through the high-banked curve at the south end of the track” approaching the start/finish area “at full (maximum) speed,” and explained that “[t]he laws of Newtonian physics dictate that if a kart were to exceed the critical speed of the high-banked curve or fail to maintain a traversable line through the curve, the kart will break tracation and likely slide towards the outside of the curve beyond the apex.” (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 10, 13. ) Hawn stated that Doe’s go-kart was travelling between 18 to 25 miles per hour when it struck Mrs. Ochall, “which was consistent with the critical speed calculations for the kart traversing the high-banked curve.” Id. at 11. Thus, Doe did not exceed the critical speed of the high-banked curve. Although Hawn referred to the high-banked curve as the “fastest curve of the track,” he did not find that the curve created unreasonably fast go-kart speeds or that the curve would cause a driver to lose control of their go-kart. Id. at 13.
[*P61] Indeed, Hawn [**38] concluded that the “design, layout, construction and overall environment of the track facility (with the generous clear zone) was reasonably safe for the ‘operators of the karts.'” Id. at 17. Hawn also stated that the “the original track design was in [his] opinion reasonably safe for the ‘go-kart operators.'” (Emphasis sic.) Id. at 15. Thus, appellants own expert concluded that the design of the track was safe. Appellants have failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the track was designed defectively.
[*P62] Appellants’ contention that the McMillens’ track was defectively designed because there was no infield, elevated, spectator platform, does not amount to an argument that the track was designed defectively. An elevated viewing platform would not be part of the track itself; rather, it would be a separate structure near the track. Appellants’ contention that defendants should have constructed a viewing platform for spectators, or taken other actions for spectators, do not allege that the track itself was designed defectively, but are essentially claims that the defendants were reckless by failing to build a spectator platform.
[*P63] Based on the foregoing, we find that Mrs. Ochall [**39] primarily assumed the risk of injury when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track. Appellants’ first assignment of error is overruled.
V. SECOND ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR – RECKLESSNESS
[*P64] Appellants’ second assignment of error asserts that the trial court erred in finding no genuine issues of material fact regarding defendants’ recklessness.
[*P65] [HN19] An actor’s conduct is reckless when the actor “‘does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another,'” but also “‘that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.'” Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, at 587 (1965). “What constitutes an unreasonable risk under the circumstances of a sporting event must be delineated with reference to the way the particular game is played, i.e., the rules and customs that shape the participants’ ideas of foreseeable conduct in the course of a game.” Thompson at 105.
[*P66] Thus, “[i]f the rules of a sport allow conduct intended to harm another player, as they do in boxing or football, for example, [**40] it follows that those same rules allow behavior that would otherwise give rise to liability for recklessness.” Id. Conversley, “any conduct which is characterized by the strong probability of harm that recklessness entails, and which occurs outside the normal conduct and customs of the sport, may give rise to liability.” Id. In assessing recklessness, courts must recognize the “inverse relationship between duty and dangerousness,” as the “‘quid pro quo of an “assumed greater risk” is a diminished duty.'” Id., quoting Hanson v. Kynast, 38 Ohio App. 3d 58, 64, 526 N.E.2d 327 (5th Dist.1987).
[*P67] Appellants assert that the trial court “wrongly construed evidence regarding Defendants’ failure to warn Andrea Ochall about the track builder Brian McMillen’s design and rule prohibiting spectators in a light most favorable to [plaintiffs].” (Appellant’s brief, at 34.) Appellants assert that, construing the evidence in their favor, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether McMillens and/or McNamers disregarded Brian McMillen’s rule and “knowingly failed to warn or inform Andrea Ochall about the Brian McMillen’s design and policy.” Id. at 38.
[*P68] As noted above, Brian McMillen testified that he did not design the track to account for spectators. (B. McMillen Dep. [**41] 169.) Brian explained that he “rarely” had spectators at the track, but that when he did, he told them to “[s]tay up in the barn.” Id. at 172, 175. However, Brian also did not enforce his no-spectator rule when he was at the track. Brian noted that when the track was first built his “dad may come out or one of [his] friends may come out and stand somewhere in that vicinity,” of the paved area next to the start/finish line, “and watch us turn a couple laps.” Id. at 172. Brian stated that he had never kicked any spectator of the paved area next to the start/finish line. Id. at 182-83.
[*P69] Sharon McMillen noted that Brian told her “[a] couple of years ago” that he had a no-spectator rule when he was at the track, but she clarified that he never told her that the track wasn’t designed for spectators. (Feb. 10, 2015 Sharon McMillen Dep. at 104-05. Sharon noted that, when she was out at the track, she would stand “[u]sually in the grass out by the corner where the bench sits,” explaining that’s “just where we stand.” Id. at 100, 102. Sharon stated that she previously stood on the paved area next to the start/finish line when Brian was also present at the track, and that he never told her to move from that location. Id. at 130.
[*P70] Indeed, for adult spectators at the McMillens’ [**42] go-kart track, there “was no rule” regarding where they had to stand. Id. at 108-09. Sharon McMillen noted, “[t]here’s seven acres they can stand on. They can stand anywhere.” (S. McMillen Depo. 108.) Sharon believed it was safe for people to stand on the paved area next to the start/finish line at the track, “[a]s long as they’re watching what’s going on.” Id. at 102, 108.
[*P71] The McMillens, as the property owners who granted the McNamers permission to bring the Ochalls upon their land, were the implied social hosts of the Ochalls. See Estill v. Waltz, 10th Dist. No. 02AP-83, 2002-Ohio-5004, ¶ 32 (noting that, [HN20] to be classified as a social guest, “the evidence must show the host extended to the guest an actual invitation, express or implied”). As social hosts, the McMillens owed their guests the following duties: (1) to exercise ordinary care not to cause injury to their guests by any act of the host or by any activities carried on by the host while the guest is on the premises, and (2) to warn the guest of any condition of the premises which is known to the host and which one of ordinary prudence and foresight in the position of the host should reasonably consider dangerous, if the host has reason to believe that the guest does not know and will [**43] not discover such dangerous condition. Scheibel v. Lipton, 156 Ohio St. 308, 102 N.E.2d 453 (1951), paragraph three of the syllabus. Accordingly, the McMillens had a duty to warn the Ochalls of any dangerous condition on their premises which the McMillens had reason to believe the Ochalls did not know about and could not discover.
[*P72] As the lack of barriers around the McMillens’ track was readily apparent, there was no dangerous condition about the track which the McMillens should have had any reason to believe the Ochalls did not know about or could not discover. Indeed, Mrs. Ochall saw go-karts driving off the track throughout the day, and admitted that she knew that there “was no barrier in front of [her] * * * to protect [her] from getting hit by a car if it left the track.” (A. Ochall Dep. at 172-73.) Accordingly, the McMillens had no duty to warn appellants about Brian McMillen’s personal track rule. As such, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the Ochalls, we are unable to find a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the McMillens intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Section 500, at 587 (1965). As such, the McMillens were not reckless by failing to inform [**44] appellants about Brian’s rule.
[*P73] Regarding the McNamers, appellants assert that the McNamers were reckless because they “knew of [Brian McMillen’s] prohibition and failed to inform guests.” (Appellant’s brief, at 36.) Liz McNamer stated that she could not recall if Brian McMillen ever told her about his no-spectator rule, noting that “[h]e could have told [her] husband, but * * * [she didn’t] recall.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 66.)
[*P74] During Brian McMillen’s deposition, counsel asked him if he ever told “people, including the McNamers or anybody, that if you’re not driving a go-kart, then you better not be standing anywhere on this track, whether it’s the access road, sitting on that bench, anywhere on this asphalt period?” (B. McMillen Dep. at 175.) Brian responded, stating:
Absolutely. Absolutely we’ve talked about that with the McNamers, with Michael, their son, with my brother, myself, my dad, we’ve all discussed the common sense rules of the road that we’re going to follow out here on this go-kart track. Absolutely.
* * *
And, again, you know, it’s not like we sat down and said, hey, let’s write a rule book for the track. I’m talking about general guys hanging out in the garage, garage talk, hey, [**45] these are the rules of the road we’re going to follow. Again, we’re not putting together a commercial facility here. We’re going — we’re putting together a little backyard toy here.
Id. at 175-76.
[*P75] When asked if he told the McNamers that he “didn’t build this track for there to be any bystanders. And that if you’re not racing, no one is allowed to be standing around watching people racing or in go-karts going around the track on any part of this asphalt,” Brian stated “[t]hat’s just generally speaking what we have always gone with.” Id. at 177.
[*P76] Liz explained that everytime she had ever been to the track people would be standing in the paved area adjacent to the start/finish line. (L. McNamer Dep. at 67.) Liz also always stood in that area and believed it was safe to stand there as long as “you’re observing and — and paying attention and watching what’s occurring.” Id. at 56-57. Porter similarly testified that whenever he had been to the track, people always stood on the asphalt near the start/finish line. (J. Porter Dep. at 44.)
[*P77] To determine whether the McNamewrs were reckless in failing to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s personal track rule, we ask whether the McNamers intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about [**46] Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, at 587 (1965). As noted, [HN21] primary assumption of the risk “‘relieves a recreation provider from any duty to eliminate the risks that are inherent in the activity.'” Lykins v. Fun Spot Trampolines, 172 Ohio App.3d 226, 2007-Ohio-1800, ¶ 34, 874 N.E.2d 811 (10th Dist.), quoting Whisman v. Gator Invest. Properties, Inc., 149 Ohio App.3d 225, 236, 2002 Ohio 1850, 776 N.E.2d 1126 (1st Dist.2002).
[*P78] The parties do not direct us, and our independent research has failed to produce, an Ohio case delineating the duty which a non-landowner, sponsor or organizer of a free activity owes to the participants of the activity. [HN22] Courts from other jurisdictions, however, have held that “operators, sponsors and instructors in recereational activities posing inherent risks of injury have no duty to eliminate those risks, but do owe participants the duty not to unreasonably increase the risks of injury beyond those inherent in the activity.” Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P., 55 Cal. 4th 1148, 1162, 150 Cal. Rptr. 3d 551, 290 P.3d 1158 (2012).1 See also Saville v. Sierra College, 36 Cal. Rptr. 3d 515, 133 Cal. App. 4th 857 (2005) (noting that an “organizer of an activity is under a duty not to increase the risk of injury inherent in the activity”); Estate of McNeil v. FreestyleMX.com, Inc., 177 F.Supp.3d 1260 (S.D.Cal. 2016) (noting that the “organizer and promoter of the freestyle motocross event” owed the plaintiff a limited duty of care, “breached only if they increased the risk beyond that which is inherent to the activity itself”); Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, Inc., 132 Cal. Rptr. 3d 567, 200 Cal. App. 4th 217 (2011) (concluding that the sponsor of the activity, had not “increased the inherent danger [**47] of riding in an organized motorcycle ride,” because “traffic slowing and other drivers not paying attention are inherent risks of riding in an organized motorcycle ride on public highways,” and to close down the freeway in order to eliminate these risks “would alter the parade-like nature of riding in a motorcycle procession on a public highway”).
1 In Nalwa the plaintiff argued that sponsors of recreational activities should owe a greater duty to participants. The court disagreed, holding as follows:
[HN23] A rule imposing negligence duties on sponsors, organizers and operators of recreational activities would encompass not only commercial companies like defendant but also noncommercial organizations without extensive budgets or paid staff. Such groups might not easily afford insurance to cover injuries that are inherent risks of the activity; nor could they readily collect large fees from participants to cover that cost. The primary assumption of risk doctrine helps ensure that the threat of litigation and liability does not cause such recreational activities to be abandoned or fundamentally altered in an effort to eliminate or minimize inherent risks of injury.
Nalwa at 1162.
[*P79] Accordingly, as the organizer of the go-karting event that day, the McNamers owed appellants the duty to not increase the risk of harm beyond the risks inherent in the activity. [**48] Failing to inform appellants about Brian McMillen’s rule did not increase the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting, as it did not increase the risk that go-karts would crash into one another, or that a driver would lose control of their go-kart and deviate from the track. Accordingly, the McNamers did not have a duty to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s rule. Construing the evidence in appellants favor, we find no evidence demonstrating that the McNamers intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Accordingly, appellants have failed to demonstrate that the McNamers were reckless by failing to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s rule.
[*P80] Appellants next assert that the trial court “ignored factual issues regarding Defendants’ concealing the danger from Andrea Ochall by installing a bench to entice her to congregate on the paved area next to the track not designed for spectators.” (Appellants’ brief, at 38-39.) Mr. McMillen had placed a light, moveable, park style bench on the back of the paved area adjoining the start/finish line. (S. McMillen dep. at 106.) Brian McMillen explained that the bench was for drivers to [**49] sit on following a race, noting that, after a race, “you’re tired, your back hurts, your legs are sore, you’re sweating. * * * A guy will sit on that bench and relax for a minute.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 170.)
[*P81] Sharon McMillen agreed with counsel that someone might think “if there’s a bench around, that that may be a safe place to be because there’s a bench where you could sit.” (S. McMillen Dep. at 106.) However, there is no evidence indicating that the McMillens placed the bench there to “entice” people to congregate in that area. More importantly, the bench did not conceal any danger from appellants. The bench did not obscure appellants’ ability to see the barrier-less nature of the track or the go-karts driving off the track. There also was no evidence indicating that Mrs. Ochall ever sat on the bench; rather, the evidence indicated that Mrs. Ochall “moved around quite a bit to take photographs.” (J. Porter Dep. at 107.) Compare Kacsmarik v. Lakefront Lines Arena, 8th Dist. No. 95981, 2011-Ohio-2553, ¶ 10, 13 (concluding that the “bench was not the proximate cause of [plaintiff’s] injuries,” as the plaintiff was not “sitting on the bench when she was injured” as she had “left the bench, [and] opened the ice rink door”).
[*P82] Construing the evidence in appellants’ favor, [**50] we cannot find that the McMillens knew or had reason to know of facts which would have lead them to realize that placing a bench near their go-kart track created an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, or amounted to conduct substantially greater than negligent conduct. Simply placing a bench by the track did not create an unreasonable risk of physical harm to others, as the bench did not obsecure anyone’s ability to appreciate the barrier-less nature of the go-kart track.
[*P83] Appellants also state that Hawn concluded that Brian McMillen’s 2010-11 alteration to the track, “enhanced the danger to spectators by creating greater risk go-karts would lose control.” (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 13-14.) (Appellant’s brief, at 41.) Appellants assert that “[t]his remodeling and the enhanced risk were not known to Andrea Ochall, whereas McMillens knew that they had made the track faster for go-karts approaching the spectator area where they had placed the bench.” (Appellant’s brief, at 41.) Although appellants do not directly argue that the McMillens acted recklessly by altering their track, we observe that the McMillens were not reckless in this regard, as there is no evidence linking the [**51] 2010-11 alteration to an increased risk that a driver would lose control of their go-kart.
[*P84] Hawn stated that the paved area next to the start/finish line, and “just beyond the exit to the fastest curve of the track,” would be a danger zone to persons afoot, but only “if a driver should experience such a loss of control and deviate from the track.” (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 13.) Similarly, Hawn stated that the paved area next to the track was dangerous for spectators, but only in the event that “a kart deviated from the track, at speed, due to driver loss of control in the curve.” Id. at 14. Thus, Hawn’s opinion that the paved area next to the start/finish line was unsafe for spectators was based on if a driver should lose control of their go-kart. Hawn did not find that the elevation of the curve, or that the straightaway itself, would cause a driver to lose control of their go-kart. Brian confirmed that the 2010-11 alteration did not affect a driver’s “ability to change speed or how they had to maneuver that part of the track.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 149.)
[*P85] Furthermore, Hawn opined, and the record supports, that it was Doe’s act of “discarding an unwanted headband” which caused her to fail [**52] to “maintain steering control [which] was a significant causative factor” of the accident. (Acc. Reconstruction Report, 14-15.) Thus, it was Doe’s act of removing her hand from the steering wheel to remove her headband from her face, and not the elevation of the high-banked curve, which caused the accident.
[*P86] Appellants also state that “an easy, inexpensive precaution” for the McMillens was to “relocate the spectator area to the inside of the track and raise the elevation where their guests stood.” (Appellant’s brief, at 41.) Appellants do not directly assert that the McMillens acted recklessly by failing to construct an elevated spectator platform. Regardless, the McMillens were not reckless by failing to construct a spectator platform, because they had no duty to do so. [HN24] “‘There is no duty on the part of the host to reconstruct or improve the premises for the purpose of making his house more convenient or more safe for those accepting his hospitality, gratuitously extended. The guest assumes the ordinary risks which attach to the premises.'” Scheibel at 315, quoting 38 American Jurisprudence 778, Section 117.
[*P87] Appellants next assert that defendants concealed the “danger by failing to educate themselves about [**53] safety or warn guests of known danger.” (Appellant’s brief, at 43.) Appellants observe that Sharon McMillen instructed drivers, “don’t be bumping into anybody,” but assert that she was reckless because she did not know how fast the go-karts traveled, wasn’t aware of the go-kart’s maintenance schedule, and did not follow the go-kart manufacturer’s height or age restrictions. Id. at 44-45. Appellants similarly assert that Liz McNamer was reckless because she did not know the make or model of the go-karts, did not know the go-kart manufacturer’s age or height restrictions, and did not know how fast the go-karts traveled. Id. at 45-46.
[*P88] Appellants, however, fail to explain what any of these facts have to do with the accident. The accident did not result from unsafe go-kart operation; it occurred because Doe’s headband slipped into her eyes. See Thompson v. Park River Corp., 161 Ohio App.3d 502, 2005-Ohio-2855 (1st Dist.), ¶ 43, 830 N.E.2d 1252 (observing that, although the plaintiffs “presented evidence that the handrail was deteriorating and that a 1 to 50 instructor-to-student ratio was too high to be considered safe, they presented no evidence that either of these factors played even the slightest role in causing Eric’s injury”). Appellants fail to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether [**54] the defendants intentionally failed to educate themselves about go-kart safety when they had a duty to do so, or that they intentionally failed to warn appellants about the dangers of go-karting when they had a duty to do so. Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, at 587 (1965). Accordingly, the record fails to demonstrate that any of the defendants acted recklessly by failing to educate themselves about safe go-kart operation or by failing to warn guests of the dangers of go-karting.
[*P89] Appellants lastly assert that the trial court “construed evidence regarding [Doe’s] driving and supervision of her by Liz McNamer and James Porter in a light most favorable to Defendants.” (Appellant’s brief, at 48.) Appellants note that, earlier in the day before the accident, Doe drove off the track, and that “[o]ther children came partially off the track as well.” Id. at 48. McNamer went and spoke to Doe after she drove off the track, and “cautioned her and advised her to be careful.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 129.) McNamer explained that “all the children had went off” the track that day, but that she only spoke to Doe because she was Doe’s “grandparent.” Id. at 131. McNamer noted that, “[n]o one else said anything to me that anyone was driving reckless or [**55] that [Doe] wasn’t in control.” Id. Porter testified that Doe’s driving that day was “[t]ypical for past driving and typical of the driving of all of the other children who were racing that day.” (J. Porter Dep. at 105.) Porter stated that he never told his daughter, or anyone, to slow down. Id. at 152.
[*P90] Mrs. Ochall testified that Doe “had been asked numerous times to slow down and watch her speed. * * * She was warned by her father, by Liz.” (A. Ochall Dep. at 27.) Mrs. Ochall characterized Doe’s driving as “out of control,” because she had “gotten off the track” and “was just driving aggressively.” Id. at 45-46. Mr. Ochall stated that Doe was “driving aggressively,” by “[p]assing other cars.” (R. Ochall Dep. at 53.) However, Mrs. Ochall explained that she took no precautions for her own personal safety in light of Doe’s allegedly aggressive driving, because she “felt that [Doe’s] grandmother and father addressed the behavior with [Doe].” (A. Ochall Dep. at 48.)
[*P91] Accordingly, construing the evidence in appellants’ favor, Porter and McNamer watched the children driving, all the children drove off the track that day, and McNamer and Porter cautioned Doe about her driving. Although Mrs. Ochall characterized Doe’s driving as aggressive, [**56] she felt that McNamer and Porter adequately addressed Doe’s behavior by speaking to her. Appellants fail to demonstrate how Porter or McNamer engaged in conduct which was substantially greater than negligent conduct by keeping an eye on Doe and cautioning her.
[*P92] Appellants assert that the trial court “ignored the Ochalls’ testimony that [Doe] was driving aggressively.” (Appellant’s brief, at 50.) The trial court, however, did not ignore this evidence. The court noted appellants’ contention that Doe was driving aggressively by “passing other karts and veering off the track.” (Decision & Entry at 20.) The trial court observed that Mr. Ochall admitted that “he passed other karts while driving on the track that day,” and that Doe “was not the only child to veer off the track that day, as one of [apppellants’] children also veered off the track while driving.” Id. at 21. The court concluded that there was no evidence that Doe’s “actions prior to the accident amounted to aggressive driving.” Id.
[*P93] Indeed, appellants fail to make any connection between Doe’s allegedly aggressive driving and the accident. The record indicates only that it was an unfortunate slip of Doe’s headband, and Doe’s attendant need to remove her hand [**57] from the wheel in order to remove the headband from her face, which caused the accident. There is nothing in the record indicating that Doe’s alleged aggressive driving caused the accident. See Thompson v. Park River Corp., 161 Ohio App.3d 502, 2005-Ohio-2855, ¶ 43, 830 N.E.2d 1252 (1st Dist.).
[*P94] Finally, Doe’s act of removing her headband from her line of vision did not amount to reckless conduct. Doe did not remove the headband with any conscious choice of action, or with knowledge that doing so would cause her go-kart to jerk, veer off the track, and strike Mrs. Ochall. See West v. Devendra, 7th Dist. No. 11 BE 35, 2012-Ohio-6092, ¶ 37, 985 N.E.2d 558, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, Comment g (1965) (noting that [HN25] “reckless misconduct requires a conscious choice of a course of action, either with knowledge of the serious danger to others involved in it or with knowledge of facts which would disclose this danger to any reasonable man”).
[*P95] Because appellants fail to establish any genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the defendants engaged in reckless misconduct, appellants’ second assignment of error is overruled.
[*P96] The incident at the McMillens’ go-kart track which caused Mrs. Ochall’s injury was, unquestionably, a terrible and tragic accident. However, every tragic accident does not result in tort liability. Because Mrs. Ochall [**58] primarily assumed the risk of injury when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track, and no defendant engaged in reckless or intentional misconduct, the trial court properly granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Having overruled appellants’ first and second assignments of error, we affirm the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. As we have overruled the appellants’ assignments of error, the McMillens withdraw their assignment of error on cross-appeal.
SADLER, J., concurs.
DORRIAN, P.J., concurs in and part dissents in part.
CONCUR BY: DORRIAN (In Part)
DISSENT BY: DORRIAN (In Part)
DORRIAN, P.J., concurring in part and dissenting in part
[*P97] I respectfully concur in part and dissent in part.
[*P98] I concur with the majority that primary assumption of the risk requires an examination of the recreational activity or sport itself. For this reason, and pursuant to Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004-Ohio-379, ¶ 10, 802 N.E.2d 1116, I also agree with the majority that spectators and participants are to be treated the same and appellants’ arguments regarding the “risks to spectators” improperly attempt to shift the focus of the analysis away from the risks inherent in the activity. (Lead opinion at ¶ 48.) Consistent with [**59] this, I concur with the majority and am not persuaded by the Third District Court of Appeals’ decision in Reed v. Cassidy, 3d Dist. No. 2-01-36, 2002-Ohio-1672 (Apr. 10, 2002).
[*P99] I concur with the majority that the trial court erred when it conflated the duty analysis under primary assumption of the risk with the social host duty of care under premises liability.
[*P100] I concur with the majority that the trial court did not err when it observed that “[a] risk is found to be ordinary or inherent to the recreational activity when it arises from conduct that is ‘a foreseeable, customary part[‘] of the activity.” (Emphasis added.) (July 31, 2015 Decision at 4, quoting Gentry at ¶ 10.) (Lead opinion at ¶ 43.) However, I would find further, notwithstanding the trial court’s correct legal statement, that the trial court erred by concluding that “foreseeable risks are inherent risks of recreational activities” and in not conducting the additional analysis of whether the risk is ordinary or customary to the game. (July 31, 2015 Decision at 7.) Given this court’s three part test in Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App.3d 27, 2006-Ohio-3656, 857 N.E.2d 1255 (10th Dist.), which requires that in order to be considered inherent, a risk be both ordinary and foreseeable, I would interpret the term “customary” [**60] in this context as “ordinary.” To interpret “customary” as “common” or “foreseeable” would merge the doctrines of primary and implied assumption of the risk.
[*P101] I concur with the majority that the Supreme Court of Ohio has held that “‘[t]o be covered under the * * * doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.'” Horvath v. Ish, 134 Ohio St.3d 48, 2012-Ohio-5333, ¶ 19, 979 N.E.2d 1246, quoting Knoesky v. Wood Cty. Agricultural Soc., 164 Ohio App.3d 839, 2005-Ohio-7009, ¶ 19, 844 N.E.2d 408 (6th Dist.). (Lead opinion at ¶ 45.) I would note further that contrary to appellees’ suggestion that courts do not typically conduct a detailed analysis of whether a risk cannot be eliminated, a survey of Tenth District case law reveals that this court adheres to this requirement. “If the activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, then a finding of primary assumption of risk is appropriate.” Gehri v. Capital Racing Club, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 96APE10-1307, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527 (June 12, 1997) (finding the plaintiff’s “injuries occurred as a result of a commonly known danger ordinary to the sport of thoroughbred horse racing”). See also Morgan v. Kent State Univ., 2016-Ohio-3303, 54 N.E.3d 1284, ¶ 13, 15, 25 (noting that, “by its very nature, karate, as a martial art, is an inherently dangerous activity from which [**61] the risk of harm cannot be eliminated”); Crace v. Kent State Univ., 185 Ohio App.3d 534, 2009-Ohio-6898, ¶ 35, 924 N.E.2d 906 (10th Dist.) (noting that in cheerleading, “the risk [of injury] is forever present and may only be reduced to manageable levels. Manageable risks are nevertheless risks. It necessarily follows that the risk of injury is incapable of being completely eliminated”); Morgan v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-405, 2012-Ohio-453, ¶ 16 (affirming the trial court’s finding “that hiking is a recreational activity to which the doctrine [of primary assumption of the risk] applies, and hiking contains an inherent risk of slipping, tripping or falling that cannot be eliminated, even more so with hiking at night”); Main v. Gym X-Treme, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-643, 2012-Ohio-1315, ¶ 9, 12-13 (noting “[t]he rationale behind the doctrine [of primary assumption of the risk] is that certain risks are so intrinsic in some activities that the risk of injury is unavoidable,” and finding that “tripping, slipping, and falling are all normal inherent risks” with “‘play time and gymnastic activities'”); Schnetz v. Ohio Dep’t of Rehab. & Corr., 195 Ohio App. 3d 207, 959 N.E.2d 554, 2011-Ohio-3927, ¶ 30, 49 (10th Dist.) (noting that “[i]f that activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, a finding of primary assumption of the risk is appropriate” and finding that “[i]njury resulting [**62] from colliding with another player on the field of play, even accidentally, is an ordinary danger of the sport of football”).
[*P102] I concur with the majority that to determine the risks that are so inherent in an activity that they cannot be eliminated, a court must “‘focus exclusively upon the activity itself.'” (Lead opinion at ¶ 45, quoting Schnetz at ¶ 28.) I would clarify further that the contention that a risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated is appropriately considered in the context of the ordinary or customary analysis. I would also suggest that in determining the same, a court should consider the goal of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine as discussed by the majority: “‘to strike a balance between encouraging vigorous and free participation in recreational or sports activities, while ensuring the safety of the players.'” (Lead opinion at ¶ 38, quoting Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 99, 559 N.E.2d 699 (1990), and Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, 32 Cal.App.4th 248, 253, 38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65 (3d Dist.1995) (observing that the “overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of the risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature”); Yancey v. Superior Court, 28 Cal.App.4th 558, 565, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 777 (5th Dist.1994) (noting that “[d]uty is constricted [**63] in such settings because the activity involves inherent risks which cannot be eliminated without destroying the sport itself”).)
[*P103] Finally, I concur with the majority’s ultimate conclusion that the trial court erred in its primary assumption of the risk analysis because it failed to ascertain the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting. I dissent, however, with the majority’s consideration and determination, in the first instance, of the same.
[*P104] Because the Supreme Court in Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 432, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996), instructs that courts must proceed with caution when contemplating whether primary assumption of the risk completely bars a plaintiff’s recovery and because of the great impact a ruling in favor of a defendant would have, I would not determine the issue in the first instance on appeal. Rather, I would remand this case to the trial court with instructions to consider whether the risk of a go-kart veering off the track and striking objects/persons in its path meets the criteria that “(1) the danger is ordinary to the game; (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.” (Emphasis added.) Santho at ¶ 12. In considering whether [**64] such risk is ordinary to the game, I would instruct the court to (1) focus on the activity of go-karting itself; and (2) consider whether such risk can be eliminated without inhibiting vigorous and free participation, fundamentally changing or destroying the activity of go-karting. Such consideration necessarily involves an examination of the nature of the activity, the purpose or goals of the activity, and the rules or customs of the activity, where applicable.
[*P105] Finally, I dissent from the majority’s consideration of the second assignment of error. Because I would reverse and remand this case for the trial court to determine, in the first instance, whether primary assumption of the risk applies, I would find to be moot the second assignment of error regarding whether the trial court erred in holding appellees did not act recklessly.2
2 I would note that appellants’ argument, pursuant to Goffe v. Mower, 2d Dist. No. 98-CA-49, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 308 (Feb. 5, 1999), that primary assumption of the risk cannot apply because appellees “enhanced” the risk by defective design or operation, would be appropriately addressed when considering whether the exception of recklessness or willfull or wanton conduct applies to application of primary assumption of the risk.
Moore v. Waller, et al., 930 A.2d 176; 2007 D.C. App. LEXIS 476
Richard J. Moore, Appellant, v. Terrell Waller and Square 345 Limited Partnership T/A Grand Hyatt Hotel, Appellees.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS
930 A.2d 176; 2007 D.C. App. LEXIS 476
June 20, 2006, Argued
August 2, 2007, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CA-1522-04). (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge).
COUNSEL: John P. Fatherree for appellant.
Terrell Waller, Pro se.
Rocco P. Porreco for appellee, Square 345 Limited Partnership.
JUDGES: Before GLICKMAN, KRAMER, and FISHER, Associate Judges.
OPINION BY: FISHER
[*177] FISHER, Associate Judge: Appellant Richard Moore claims that he was injured on February 26, 2001, while participating in a demonstration of kick boxing at Club Fitness, which is operated by the appellee, Square 345 Limited Partnership (hereinafter Grand Hyatt). Relying on a waiver and release of liability Moore signed when he joined the fitness center, the Superior Court granted summary judgment, first for Grand Hyatt and then for Terrell Waller, the instructor who allegedly injured Moore. We affirm.
Plaintiff Moore alleged that he had gone to the fitness center on February 26, 2001, to exercise. Although “he was not participating in the kick boxing classes, the instructor [*178] , defendant Waller, asked [Moore] to hold . . . a detached Everlast body bag, so [Mr.] Waller could demonstrate a kick to his class.” According to Mr. Moore, he “reluctantly agreed, saying to [Mr. Waller], ‘Not hard.’ Defendant [**2] Waller showed [Mr. Moore] how to hold the bag, braced against his body, and then kicked the bag five times, in rapid succession, with great force.” He claims that when Waller finished, “he was out of breath from the strenuous effort, and commented with obvious sarcasm and irony, ‘That wasn’t hard, was it.'” Moore states that he “immediately felt trauma to his body,” felt “stiff and achy” the next day, and consulted a physician about one month later. Mr. Moore asserts that “[h]e has been diagnosed as having torn ligaments and tendons from the trauma of the injury, and may have neurological damage, as well.” The resulting limitations on his physical activity allegedly have diminished the quality of his life in specified ways.
Mr. Moore had joined the fitness center on January 16, 2001, signing a membership agreement and initialing that portion of the agreement that purports to be a waiver and release of liability.
Article V – WAIVER AND LIABILITY
Section 1. The Member hereby acknowledges that attendance at or use of the Club or participation in any of the Club’s activities or programs by such Member, including without limitation, the use of the Club’s equipment and facilities, . . . exercises [**3] (including the use of the weights, cardiovascular equipment, and apparatus designed for exercising), [and] selection of exercise programs, methods, and types of equipment, . . . could cause injury to the Member or damage to the Member’s personal property. As a material consideration for the Club to enter into this Agreement, to grant membership privileges hereunder and to permit the Member and the Member’s guests to use the Club and its facilities, the Member, on its own behalf and on behalf of the Member’s guests, agrees to assume any and all liabilities associated with the personal injury, death, property loss or other damages which may result from or arise out of attendance at or use of the Club or participation in any of the Club’s programs or activities, notwithstanding any consultation on any exercise programs which may be provided by employees of the Club.
By signing this Agreement, the Member understands that the foregoing waiver of liability on its behalf and on the behalf of the Member’s guests will apply to any and all claims against the Club and/or its owners, shareholders, officers, directors, employees, agents or affiliates . . . for any such claims, demands, personal [**4] injuries, costs, property loss or other damages resulting from or arising out of any of foregoing risks at the Club, the condominium or the associated premises.
The Member hereby, on behalf of itself and the Member’s heirs, executors, administrators, guests and assigns, fully and forever releases and discharges the Club and the Club affiliates, and each of them, from any and all claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action, present or future, known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated resulting from or arising out of the attendance at or use of the Club or their participation in any of the Club’s activities or programs by such Member, including those which arise out of the negligence of the Club and/or the Club and the Club affiliates from any and all liability for any loss, or theft of, or damage to personal property, including, without limitation, automobiles and the contents of lockers.
[*179] THE MEMBER, BY INITIALING BELOW, ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HE/SHE HAS CAREFULLY READ THIS WAIVER AND RELEASE AND FULLY UNDERSTANDS THAT IT IS A WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY, AND ASSUMES THE RESPONSIBILITY TO INFORM HIS/HER GUESTS OF THE PROVISIONS OF THIS AGREEMENT.
If effective, [**5] this provision waives and releases not only claims against the Club but also claims against its “employees [and] agents.” 1
1 We assume for purposes of analysis that the Grand Hyatt is responsible for the conduct of Mr. Waller at issue here, but we need not determine whether he was an employee or an independent contractor.
Ruling on Grand Hyatt’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court concluded:
The Waiver and Liability section of the contract . . . expresses a full and complete release of all liability for personal injury occurring in the fitness center. Moore signed an acknowledgment indicating that [he] had read and understood that he was releasing Grand Hyatt from all liability for personal injuries that he might sustain. Furthermore, there is no allegation of fraud or overreaching in the amended complaint. In the circumstances, the court finds that the waiver and release is valid and enforceable and is a complete defense for Grand Hyatt in this action.
The court later held “that the terms of the waiver . . . apply equally to defendant Terrell Waller….”
This court has not often addressed the validity of exculpatory clauses in contracts. We have enforced them, however. For [**6] example, “[i]t is well settled in this jurisdiction that a provision in a bailment contract limiting the bailee’s liability will be upheld in the absence of gross negligence, willful act, or fraud.” Houston v. Security Storage Co., 474 A.2d 143, 144 (D.C. 1984). Accord, Julius Garfinckel & Co. v. Firemen’s Insurance Co., 288 A.2d 662, 665 (D.C. 1972) (“gross negligence or willful misconduct”); Manhattan Co. v. Goldberg, 38 A.2d 172, 174 (D.C. 1944) (“a bailee may limit his liability except for gross negligence”). We recently considered such a clause contained in a home inspection contract and concluded that it would be sufficient to waive or limit liability for negligence. Carleton v. Winter, 901 A.2d 174, 181-82 (D.C. 2006). However, after surveying “leading authorities” and cases from other jurisdictions, we recognized that “courts have not generally enforced exculpatory clauses to the extent that they limited a party’s liability for gross negligence, recklessness or intentional torts.” Id. at 181. See also Wolf v. Ford, 335 Md. 525, 644 A.2d 522, 525 (Md. 1994) ( [HN1] “a party will not be permitted to excuse its liability for intentional harms or for the more extreme forms of negligence, i.e., reckless, [**7] wanton, or gross”); Seigneur v. National Fitness Institute, Inc., 132 Md. App. 271, 752 A.2d 631, 638 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000) (exculpatory clause will not be enforced “when the party protected by the clause intentionally causes harm or engages in acts of reckless, wanton, or gross negligence”). In Carleton, the court remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the conduct of the defendants “was not just simple negligence, but rather gross negligence.” 901 A.2d at 182.
As Moore’s counsel conceded at oral argument, he does not claim that Waller intentionally or purposefully injured [*180] him. The complaint does allege reckless conduct, however, 2 and he argued to the trial court, as he does to us, that the fitness center could not exempt itself from liability for reckless or wanton behavior or gross negligence. Nevertheless, the defendants had moved for summary judgment, and [HN2] “[m]ere conclusory allegations on the part of the non-moving party are insufficient to stave off the entry of summary judgment.” Musa v. Continental Insurance Co., 644 A.2d 999, 1002 (D.C. 1994); see also Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (e) (“the . . . response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this Rule, must set forth specific [**8] facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial”). “‘[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'” Brown v. George Washington Univ., 802 A.2d 382, 385 (D.C. 2002) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)). “‘The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].'” LaPrade v. Rosinsky, 882 A.2d 192, 196 (D.C. 2005) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252).
2 In his second amended complaint, Moore alleged that “defendant Waller recklessly disregarded [his] duty of due care [and] acted with deliberate indifference to the likelihood that his action would injure the plaintiff. Defendant Waller’s reckless action was the direct and proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.” He also alleged that the Grand Hyatt was responsible for Waller’s actions.
Nothing Moore presented in opposition to summary judgment would be sufficient to prove gross negligence or reckless conduct. Indeed, in one of his affidavits Mr. Moore stated that “as I was shown by defendant [**9] Waller exactly how to hold the body bag while he demonstrated his kick(s), the purpose of his directions as communicated to me as to how to hold the bag were plainly for safety.” Such concern for safety is inconsistent with recklessness or gross negligence. See generally In re Romansky, 825 A.2d 311, 316 (D.C. 2003) (defining “recklessness”); District of Columbia v. Walker, 689 A.2d 40, 44 (D.C. 1997) (defining “gross negligence” for purposes of D.C. Code § 2-412 (2001) (formerly D.C.Code § 1-1212 (1981)). Moreover, Moore did not allege that defendant Waller kicked an unprotected portion of his body. Nor did he proffer expert testimony suggesting that the demonstration was so hazardous that it was reckless to undertake it, even with the protection of the Everlast body bag.
Because there is no viable claim for gross negligence, recklessness, or an intentional tort, we turn to the question of whether this particular contractual provision is sufficient to bar claims for negligence. 3 Although this is a suit for personal [*181] injury, not merely for economic damage, the same principles of law apply. See Wright v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., 394 F. Supp. 2d 27, 34 (D.D.C. 2005) (“by voluntarily [**10] signing the Contestant Release Form, plaintiff waived his right to bring any claims for negligently caused personal injury”; applying District of Columbia law). This court has not previously considered the effect of an exculpatory clause in a membership agreement with a health club or fitness center, but many jurisdictions have done so. After surveying the legal landscape, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals concluded that most courts hold “that [HN3] health clubs, in their membership agreements, may limit their liability for future negligence if they do so unambiguously.” Seigneur, 752 A.2d at 636. We have found the analysis in Seigneur to be very helpful.
3 Appellant’s brief explains that he “claims damages from Waller based upon negligent infliction of injury, and against Square 345 Limited Partnership based upon respondeat superior and upon apparent agency and authority, as well as negligent failure to properly select, train and supervise a person whose services were retained to provide lessons in an activity which would certainly be dangerous if not expertly and responsibly performed.” He later elaborates: “While kick boxing is an inherently dangerous activity, had the demonstration [**11] been conducted in a responsible, non-negligent way, it would not have been dangerous.” The words “strict liability” appear under the caption of the second amended complaint, but appellant has not cited any statute or regulation that purports to impose strict liability on demonstrations of kick boxing, nor has he alleged the common law elements of strict liability in tort. See Word v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 742 A.2d 452, 459 (D.C. 1999). Neither has he proffered facts which would support such a theory. In sum, the waiver is sufficient to cover any theory of liability which is supported by more than conclusory allegations.
[HN4] A fundamental requirement of any exculpatory provision is that it be clear and unambiguous. Maiatico v. Hot Shoppes, Inc., 109 U.S. App. D.C. 310, 312, 287 F.2d 349, 351 (1961) (“exculpation must be spelled out with such clarity that the intent to negate the usual consequences of tortious conduct is made plain”; also recognizing that in most circumstances modern law “permit[s] a person to exculpate himself by contract from the legal consequences of his negligence”). Cf. Adloo v. H.T. Brown Real Estate, Inc., 344 Md. 254, 686 A.2d 298, 305 (Md. 1996) (“Because it does not clearly, [**12] unequivocally, specifically, and unmistakably express the parties’ intention to exculpate the respondent from liability resulting from its own negligence, the clause is insufficient for that purpose.”). The provision at issue here meets the requirement of clarity. Article V is entitled, in capital letters, “WAIVER AND LIABILITY.” The Article ends with a prominent “box” containing a sentence typed in capital letters. Appellant Moore initialed that box, verifying that he had “carefully read this waiver and release and fully understands that it is a waiver and release of liability . . . .” By accepting the terms of membership, Moore “agree[d] to assume any and all liabilities associated with the personal injury, death, property loss or other damages which may result from or arise out of attendance at or use of the Club or participation in any of the Club’s programs or activities . . . .” He understood that this waiver of liability would “apply to any and all claims against the Club and/or its owners, shareholders, officers, directors, employees, agents or affiliates . . . for any . . . personal injuries . . . resulting from or arising out of any of [the] foregoing risks at the Club . [**13] . . .” He “release[d] and discharge[d] the Club . . . from any and all claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action…, including those which arise out of the negligence of the Club . . . .” This release is conspicuous and unambiguous, and it is clearly recognizable as a release from liability. Moreover, the injuries alleged here were reasonably within the contemplation of the parties. “Because [HN5] the parties expressed a clear intention to release liability and because that release clearly included liability for negligence, that intention should be enforced.” Anderson v. McOskar Enterprises, Inc., 712 N.W.2d 796, 801 (Minn. Ct. App. 2006) (health and fitness club). 4
4 Because this waiver expressly refers to “claims . . . which arise out of the negligence of the Club,” its effect is clear. We have held, however, that it is not always necessary to use the word “negligence” in order to relieve a party of liability for such conduct. See Princemont Construction Corp. v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co. 131 A.2d 877, 878 (D.C. 1957) (“the terms of an indemnity agreement may be so broad and comprehensive that although it contains no express stipulation indemnifying against a party’s [**14] own negligence, it accomplishes the same purpose”); see also Avant v. Community Hospital, 826 N.E.2d 7, 12 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005)( [HN6] “an exculpatory clause need not include the word ‘negligence’ so long as it conveys the concept specifically and explicitly through other language”).
[*182] Appellant protests that the waiver provisions are so broad that they could be construed to exempt the Club from liability for harm caused by intentional torts or by reckless or grossly negligent conduct. Because such provisions are unenforceable, he argues that the entire release is invalid. We disagree. “‘A better interpretation of the law is that [HN7] any “term” in a contract which attempts to exempt a party from liability for gross negligence or wanton conduct is unenforceable, not the entire [contract].'” Anderson, 712 N.W.2d at 801 (quoting Wolfgang v. Mid-American Motorsports, Inc., 898 F. Supp. 783, 788 (D. Kan. 1995) (which in turn quotes RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195(1) (1981) (“A term exempting a party from tort liability for harm caused intentionally or recklessly is unenforceable on grounds of public policy.” (emphasis added))). See Ellis v. James V. Hurson Associates, Inc., 565 A.2d 615, 617 (D.C. 1989) [**15] (“The Restatement sets forth the relevant principles. Where less than all of an agreement is unenforceable on public policy grounds, a court may nevertheless enforce the rest of the agreement ‘in favor of a party who did not engage in serious misconduct.'” (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 184(1) (1981))).
Nor is Article V (the waiver and release) unenforceable due to unequal bargaining power, as Mr. Moore asserts. We do not suppose that the parties in fact had equal power, but Moore does not meet the criteria for invalidating a contract on the grounds he invokes. He does not invite our attention to any evidence that he objected to the waiver provision or attempted to bargain for different terms. Nor has he shown that the contract involved a necessary service.
[HN8] Even though a contract is on a printed form and offered on a “take it or leave it” basis, those facts alone do not cause it to be an adhesion contract. There must be a showing that the parties were greatly disparate in bargaining power, that there was no opportunity for negotiation and that the services could not be obtained elsewhere.
Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 924-25 (Minn. 1982) (emphasis in [**16] original). “Health clubs do not provide essential services[,]” Shields v. Sta-Fit, Inc., 79 Wn. App. 584, 903 P.2d 525, 528 (Wash. Ct. App. 1995), and “[t]he Washington metropolitan area . . . is home to many exercise and fitness clubs.” Seigneur, 752 A.2d at 639 (rejecting argument that patron’s bargaining position was grossly disproportionate to that of the fitness club).
We, of course, would not enforce such a release if doing so would be against public policy. See Godette v. Estate of Cox, 592 A.2d 1028, 1034 (D.C. 1991) ( [HN9] “An exculpatory clause [in a will] that excuses self-dealing [by the personal representative] or attempts to limit liability for breaches of duty committed in bad faith, intentionally, or with reckless indifference to the interest of the beneficiary, is generally considered to be against public policy.”); George Washington Univ. v. Weintraub, 458 A.2d 43, 47 (D.C. 1983) (exculpatory clause in lease was ineffective to waive tenants’ rights under implied warranty of habitability); see also Wolf v. Ford, 335 Md. 525, 644 A.2d 522, 526 (Md. 1994) (public policy will not permit exculpatory agreements in certain transactions affecting the performance of a public service obligation or “so important [*183] [**17] to the public good that an exculpatory clause would be patently offensive”). However, we agree with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and with numerous other courts which have held that it does not violate public policy to enforce exculpatory clauses contained in membership contracts of health clubs and fitness centers. Seigneur, 752 A.2d at 640-41 (and cases cited therein); see also, e.g., Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 926 (“the exculpatory clause in the contract before us was not against the public interest”); Ciofalo v. Vic Tanney Gyms, Inc., 10 N.Y.2d 294, 177 N.E.2d 925, 927, 220 N.Y.S.2d 962 (N.Y. 1961) (“there is no special legal relationship and no overriding public interest which demand that this contract provision, voluntarily entered into by competent parties, should be rendered ineffectual”); Massengill v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132 (Wyo. 2000). 5
5 The Supreme Court of Wisconsin refused to enforce one such clause on grounds of public policy. Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4, 277 Wis. 2d 303, 691 N.W.2d 334 (Wis. 2005). That decision was based on several factors, however, and we do not understand the court to have announced a categorical rule. See id. at 340-42 (waiver was “overly broad [**18] and all-inclusive,” the word “negligence” was not included, the provision was not “sufficiently highlight[ed],” and there was “no opportunity to bargain”).
The trial court properly held that “the waiver and release is valid and enforceable and is a complete defense for Grand Hyatt [and Mr. Waller] in this action.” The judgment of the Superior Court is hereby
Neither a release nor the Pennsylvania Equine Liability Act protects a stable for injuries when the stirrup broke.Posted: June 19, 2017
Between a poorly written release, an Equine statute that requires proof the rider assumed the risk and the “cavalier” attitude of the defendant; the plaintiff will proceed to trial.
Melendez v. Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131576
State: Pennsylvania, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Plaintiff: Wilberto Melendez
Defendant: Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Recklessness
Defendant Defenses: Release and Pennsylvania Equine Liability Protection Act
Holding: For the plaintiff
The plaintiff was part of a group ride. Upon arrival he was told, he had to sign a release which he did. At the office where the plaintiff signed, the release signs were posed as required by the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act. During the ride, the plaintiff asked the guides if he could gallop the horse and was told no several times. Eventually at the end of the ride, the plaintiff was allowed to gallop his horse.
Plaintiff then mounted the horse and participated in a guided group horseback ride for the next forty-five minutes without incident. On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail. At the end of the ride, one of the guides brought Plaintiff away from the group so that Plaintiff could canter the horse. Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal.
While galloping the horse, the stirrup broke causing the plaintiff to fall incurring injuries.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release signed by the plaintiff and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act. The court denied the motion because the issue of the stirrup breaking could be considered reckless under Pennsylvania law.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The decision first looks at releases or exculpatory agreements under Pennsylvania law.
An exculpatory clause is valid if (1) the clause does “not contravene public policy”; (2) the contract is “between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs”; and (3) each party is “a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.
Under Pennsylvania, the language of the release must be clear in relieving notifying the possible plaintiff, he or she is releasing the defendant of negligence. “However, a valid exculpatory clause will nevertheless, be unenforceable “unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.”
As in most states, releases are not favored and must conform to contract law. However, the term “not favored” is a term of art rather than a term used to determine if the release will be valid.
Contracts immunizing a party against liability for negligence are not favored by law and therefore established standards must be “met before an exculpatory provision will be interpreted and construed to relieve a person of liability for his own or his servants’ acts of negligence.”
In that regard Pennsylvania, courts have set up standards on how releases will be governed.
1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by ex-press stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.
As in most other states, Pennsylvania does not allow a release to relieve a defendant for intentional or reckless acts. “Further, exculpatory clauses may not immunize a party for intentional or reckless behavior.”
The plaintiff did not argue that the release was not valid. The court reviewed the release on its own and find it valid.
First, the agreement does not violate any public policy of Pennsylvania. In light of the Equine Activities Immunity Act–discussed in the next section–and similar statutes addressing other recreational activities, it is the policy of the state to encourage participation in those activities, despite their inherent danger, and assign the risk of loss to those who choose to participate in them.
Second, the agreement was between two private parties, Happy Trails and Mr. Melendez, concerning the purely private matter of renting a horse for recreational purposes. Finally, this is not a contract of adhesion. (“The signer I is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.”). Thus, the agreement is facially valid.
The court also found Pennsylvania law allowed the use of releases for inherently dangerous activities. Horseback riding in Pennsylvania is an inherently dangerous activity.
The plaintiff’s argument centered on the inherent risks of horseback riding. Inherent, a limiting word, defines the risks that are part of horseback riding no matter what. Inherent risks are part of horseback riding and can rarely be reduced or modified by someone because of the horse. However, there are more than just inherent risks in any activity and the plaintiff argued that a stirrup breaking was not an inherent risk and not covered by the release or the statute.
How the bridle or saddle is attached to the horse is under the control of the stable, thus not an inherent risk of horseback riding in must states. How the horse responds; maneuvers or acts is an inherent risk of riding a horse.
Plaintiff contends that Defendant has failed to meet its burden to show either that defective equipment is an inherent risk of horseback riding, or that the language of the agreement shows that Plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of defective equipment.
Plaintiff points out that the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk. (Id.). Further, Plaintiff argues that a broken stirrup is not an inherent risk of horseback riding as demonstrated by the testimony of both Happy Trails’ owner and a Happy Trails’ employee who both stated they had never seen a stirrup break before. Thus, Plaintiff argues, because the risk was not foreseeable and was not expressly in the agreement, Plaintiff could not appreciate the risk and could therefore not assume it.
(For other articles on the use of “inherent” in a release see: Here is another reason to write releases carefully. Release used the term inherent to describe the risks which the court concluded made the risk inherently dangerous and voids the release and 2015 SLRA – Inherent Risk: Should the Phrase be in your Release?)
The court looked at the issue and rephrased it to a contract analogy. A contract must state the intention of the parties. A release is a contract.
…the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties”–is not met in this case because the agreement did not specifically enumerate the risk of defective equipment. Pennsylvania courts, however, have rejected this argument before.
The court then looked at the issue and found that defective equipment was not an inherent risk of horseback riding. This means if you use the term “inherent risk” in your release to describe all of the risks, claims based defective equipment would not be covered by your release in Pennsylvania. However, the release in this case was written broadly so it was not an issue.
Concerning the case at hand, while this Court agrees with Plaintiff that the provision of defective equipment is not an inherent risk in the sport of horseback riding, this point is not dispositive. As one Pennsylvania court explained, “the assumption of the risk doctrine bars a plaintiff from recovering in tort for risks inherent to a certain activity. In contrast, the explicit, broad, and valid language of the exculpatory clause bars all claims, regardless of whether they arise from an inherent risk.”
Pennsylvania courts have held that a release protects against claims for inherent as well as non-inherent risks if written to include those risks, and this release was written broadly.
The plaintiff argued the release should be read narrowly because the release did not identify defective equipment as a risk to be covered. However, the court found that every risk needs not be reviewed or identified in a release.
Plaintiff advances a more narrow reading of the agreement and argues that because the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk, he did not expressly assume it. The Chepkevich Court, however, was clear that no illustrations or examples are required to give common terms effect in an exculpatory agreement. “All claims” and “negligence” are commonly used terms and Pennsylvania law does not require drafters of exculpatory clauses to enumerate every possible contingency that is included in broader language they choose to use.
The next point the plaintiff argued was the actions of the defendant amounted to recklessness and as such voided the release. The court defined recklessness under Pennsylvania law as:
Recklessness is distinguishable from negligence on the basis that recklessness requires conscious action or inaction which creates a substantial risk of harm to others, whereas negligence suggests unconscious inadvertence.”
Pennsylvania uses the term recklessness to define acts of the defendant that exceed the scope of a release. The majority but not all states use the term gross negligence.
This argument the court did accept. The court found that it was the defendant’s responsibility to inspect the equipment, and the defendant could not provide any evidence of any inspection.
Defendant’s bare assertion that its actions do not rise to the level of recklessness does not satisfy its burden to show that there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact. The record shows that Happy Trails provided a saddle for Plaintiffs ride, that a stirrup on that saddle broke during the ride, and that Plaintiff fell from a horse when the stirrup broke. It was the responsibility of Happy Trails, not the customer, to inspect the equipment, but no records of inspections or repairs were kept, nor was the Happy Trails’ owner able to say if any inspection of the specific stirrup occurred on the day of the accident.
The court on this same topic went on looking at the facts to determine other reckless acts of the defendant. In that review, the court added a comment about the attitude of the defendant/owner of Happy Trails and described his attitude as “cavalier.”
He was unable to say where he procured the saddle in question, how long he had had it, or how old it was. Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal. Viewing the record in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, a question of fact therefore remains as to whether Defendant’s action rose to the level of recklessness
Finding a lack of knowledge about the age or condition of the defendant’s equipment, no record of inspecting or maintaining the equipment and the attitude of the defendant allowed the court to reach a conclusion that the actions of the defendant would be found by a jury to be reckless. As such, a motion for summary judgment could not be granted if there were “genuine dispute as to any material fact.”
The next issue was the application of the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act to the case. The court could find no other case law in Pennsylvania that looked at the application of the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act to defective equipment. Consequently, the court had to interpret the statute to see if the language of the statute covered defective equipment.
The Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act like most equine liability protection acts provides immunity to horse owners, stables, etc., for the actions of the animals. (Since Equine Acts have been created, they have been 100% effective. No horses have been sued. Lawsuits against horse owners have increased.) However, the Pennsylvania statute places a burden on the stable or horse owner to prove knowledge of the risk for the immunity to apply.
Most equine protection acts are written to say that when on a horse, or at places where horses, llamas, mules, etc., are, you assume the risk of the actions of the animal. By assuming the risk, the defendant owner is immune from liability for the plaintiff’s injuries. The Pennsylvania statute is different. The Pennsylvania statute states “liability for negligence shall only be barred where the doctrine of knowing voluntary assumption of risk is proven.”
This requirement puts a burden upon the horse owner to provide additional education to the rider.
The court looked at the definition of assumption of risk as defined in the Restatement of Torts, which found four different definitions or as the Restatement defines them doctrines of assumption of the risk.
The Restatement outlines four varieties of the doctrine, the first two of which are of interest in this case. The first, express assumption of risk occurs when lithe plaintiff has given his express consent to relieve the defendant of an obligation to exercise care for his protection, and agrees to take his chances as to injury from a known or possible risk.” Id. (emphasis added). This is the type of assumption of risk examined above in respect to the agreement signed by Plaintiff. The second, implied assumption of risk, occurs when lithe plaintiff has entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk, and so is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve the defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.”
The first type of assumption of risk the court found that applied here was express assumption of risk. Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff has consented to the risk. Usually, this consent is given by writing, if written property as part of a release.
The second type applicable in this case was implied assumption of the risk. Implied assumption of the risk has no exactness to the risk assumed. The plaintiff knows there is risk, and the defendant hopes the plaintiff knows of the explicit risk that may injure the plaintiff or that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. If the plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk, then the plaintiff cannot assume the risk.
It is self-evident that a person “cannot be found to have implicitly assumed a risk of which he had no knowledge.” (plurality opinion). As such, lithe defense of assumption of the risk requires that the defendant show that the plaintiff was subjectively aware of the facts which created the danger and…must have appreciated the danger itself and the nature, character and extent which made it unreasonable.”
In this case, there was no evidence that the plaintiff knew of the risk. That risk was of equipment failure that the stirrup would break. Consequently, the plaintiff could not assume the risk.
Thus, for a defendant to prevail on a summary judgment motion based on the assumption of risk defense, it must be “beyond question that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly proceeded in the face of an obvious and dangerous condition.”
In short, to preclude Plaintiffs negligence action under the EAIA, Defendant must show that Plaintiff knew that the equipment he was provided with might break and voluntarily continued with the horseback ride in spite of that knowledge.
Because the risk that injured the plaintiff was outside of the risks assumed by the plaintiff, the defense of assumption of the risk did not apply. As such, the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act did not provide the defendant with any protection.
With the release not valid and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act not providing any protection both defenses of the defendant failed. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment was denied.
So Now What?
This case would not have meant anything if the plaintiff had simply fallen off the horse. Both the release and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act would have prevented recovery if a claim had even been made.
But broken equipment always creates a different issue. Here it created an issue of whether the actions of the defendant were reckless and proved the plaintiff did not assume the risk.
Another important issue is courts put into their decision the facts they find persuasive or at least interesting. There were several facts in the decision that did not alter or affect the decision on its face, but important enough for the court to identify them anyway. I always find these facts as instructional and a good indication of something that was not enough for the judge to argue but important anyway.
I also believe that they may not have any legal value, but if written into the decision by the judge, they had to have an impact on the judge’s thinking, and consequently, those issues did affect the outcome of the case.
In this decision those facts included:
After his group arrived, Plaintiff went into the stable’s office to register. Plaintiff was presented with a form (the “agreement”), which stated, in pertinent part….
Combined with the next sentence:
An employee of Happy Trails informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff must sign the agreement in order to go horseback riding. Plaintiff signed the agreement.
Meaning, the plaintiff was not told in advance he was going to be required to sign a release.
Another one was the plaintiff being told galloping was too dangerous yet he was eventually allowed to gallop his horse.
On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail.
Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal.
If galloping the horse was too dangerous earlier, what changed? More importantly, galloping the horse led to the broken stirrup which led to the injury.
And then there are the straight out in your face statements a court rarely makes.
Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal.
If this statement or something like it has been at the beginning, you would have known immediately that the defendant was going to lose. Never walk into a courtroom looking like the bad guy and never give the court proof, such as this, that you are.
For other Equine Liability Act articles see:
Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release http://rec-law.us/1nvfCV5
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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law
Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law
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By Recreation Law Recemail@example.com James H. Moss
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