Is it a negligent act to open a car door into a bike lane when a cyclist is in the lane in New Jersey?

At the same time, if the defendant photographed the scene, measured the distance his car was from the curb or how wide his door was, the plaintiff might not have succeeded in her claims.

Gwinner, v. Michael Matt, et al., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108827

State: New Jersey, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

Plaintiff: Sheila Gwinner and Horst Gwinner

Defendant: Michael Matt, et al.

Plaintiff Claims: failing to observe [her] bicycle on the bicycle path” and “failing to keep a reasonable lookout for other vehicles lawfully on the road

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff cannot prover her claims that the defendant opened his car door into the bikeway

Holding: For the Plaintiff, sent back for trial

Year: 2012

This is sort of an odd case for me, but after spending a week with the bicycle community at Interbike it seemed appropriate. This case looks at the legal issues when a driver of a car after parking opens his door into a bicycle lane injuring a cyclist.

In this case, the defendant was from Pennsylvania visiting his parents at a tourist town in New Jersey. The Plaintiff was also from Pennsylvania riding her bike in the bike lane in the same town in New Jersey.

Allegedly, the defendant parked his car and opened his car door into the bike lane where the plaintiff was riding and caused her injury.

The real issue was the plaintiff could not recall the accident and could not say with certainty that the defendant’s door was in the bike lane. However, she was in the bike lane, and she hit the defendant’s car door.

The case was filed in Federal Court because the accident occurred in New Jersey, where the lawsuit was occurred but the plaintiff was a resident of Pennsylvania.

The basis for this decision was a motion filed by the defendant to dismiss the case because the plaintiff’s lack of proof of whether the door opened in the bike lane. There was also substantial discussion about the application of New Jersey automobile law to the accident (a bicycle is a vehicle) and what damages would be applicable to this case. That part of the decision is not covered in this article.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court started its analysis looking to the requirements to prove a negligence case under New Jersey law.

Under New Jersey law, for a plaintiff to establish a negligence claim she must show that the defendant “breached a duty of reasonable care, which constituted a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.” Furthermore, “negligence must be proved and will never be presumed, indeed there is a presumption against it, and the burden of proving negligence is on the plaintiff.”

As in all states, the plaintiff must prove, and has the burden of proving that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, which he breached causing her injuries. In this case, the allegation of the Plaintiff was the duty was not to open a car door into the bike lane.

To establish a duty of care in New Jersey requires the passing of a two-part test. “The question of whether a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid the risk of harm to another exists is one of fairness and policy that implicates many factors.”

The first part is whether the accident was foreseeable.  The second test in New Jersey is whether the application of the duty would be fair and be supported by public policy.

The defendant knew about the bike lanes and was a resident of the city; he also knew about the bike lanes on that particular road. And whenever a bike is in close proximity to a car, there is an obvious risk of harm to the cyclist.

As a result, where bicycles and motor vehicles are in close proximity, the risk of harm presented by obstructing or entering into the bike lane, or, more generally a bicyclist’s lane of travel, was clearly foreseeable to Mr. Matt at the time of the accident.

The fairness and policy considerations were easy and obvious.

…both were using vehicles on the limited roadway space of a public thoroughfare. Imposing a duty of care on Mr. Matt in terms of obstructing or otherwise interfering with a bicyclist’s lane of travel is fair as a matter of public policy. The City of Avalon has created bike lanes presumably to promote bicycling generally and as an attempt to attract visitors. The explicit purpose of a bike lane is to minimize the risks inherent in roadways that accommodate automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians by providing bicyclists an exclusive lane of travel. Finally, imposing a duty of care in terms of keeping a proper lookout before crossing, entering into, or otherwise obstructing a bicyclists’ lane of travel does not unduly burden motorists. At most, this duty requires a driver to ensure his automobile is parked fully in the parking lane and to check his review mirrors, or otherwise look out for bicyclists, prior to opening his car door and exiting his vehicle.

The bike lanes were built to make cycling safer, and the bike lanes were put in by the city. It is fair to assume that there was an expectation of safety while riding the bike lanes and since the bike lanes were created by the city, there was obviously no violation of public policy.

In conclusion, the possibility of a collision between a cyclist and a car or car door on roadways shared by cyclists and motorists, is foreseeable. Moreover, the public interest in promoting bicycle safety and the minimal burden placed on motorists to exercise reasonable care can lead only to the conclusion that Mr. Matt owed Ms. Gwinner a duty of care when parking and exiting his vehicle along Dune Drive.

The next issue the court looked at was whether the plaintiff could prove the defendant breached a duty to her. Because she could not remember whether or not the car door was in the bike lane, the defendant argued the door was not in the lane, and it did not breach a duty to the plaintiff.

The evidence in the record pertaining to Plaintiff’s negligence claim is scant. There were no witnesses to the accident, aside from Mr. Matt and Ms. Gwinner. Neither Mr. Matt nor Ms. Gwinner took photographs or made measurements of the accident scene; more specifically, there are no photographs 4 or measurements relating to the distance of Mr. Matt’s passenger-side tires from the curb or how far Mr. Matt’s car door extended when opened on the day of the incident. Finally, though both parties independently visited the Avalon Police Station after the accident, no police report was produced.

However, the pleadings and deposition testimony of the plaintiff were enough to make a case that should be heard by a jury.

However, Ms. Gwinner’s deposition testimony describing the accident is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a question of material fact, which should be decided by a jury. She states, “Is all I know I was [sic] riding my bike. And the poor man was as startled as I was. The door started opening and I just went into it.” When Ms. Gwinner’s description of the accident is considered along with her testimony that she was riding her bike within the bike lane when she collided with Mr. Matt’s car door a fact finder could reasonably infer Mr. Matt’s car door must have entered the bike lane and caused the collision, and choose to believe Ms. Gwinner’s account of the accident rather than Mr. Matt’s.

Although there was not specific proof the car door was in the bike lane, the jury could reach a conclusion by a preponderance of the evidence that car door was in the bike lane.

As such, the case was sent back for trial.

The decision continues on the application of New Jersey automobile and insurance law to the case and whether there were any limits on the damages available for the plaintiff.

So Now What?

Here the plaintiff or the defendant could have photographed the scene, measured the door, the car to the curb, and the width of the bike lane and ended this case. If you have the opportunity, after the victim(s) have been taken care of document the accident.

At the same time, when both victims filed complaints at the police department, the police did nothing. Don’t wait and go to the police department, call 911 and have them show up.

These facts will also lead to a big argument on the actual damages the plaintiff suffered. If she was able to go to the police department rather than going to the hospital, she must not have been injured as much as she might claim. 

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Gwinner, v. Michael Matt, et al., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108827

Gwinner, v. Michael Matt, et al., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108827

Sheila Gwinner and Horst Gwinner, Plaintiffs, v. Michael Matt, et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 10-3001 (JBS/AMD)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108827

August 2, 2012, Decided

August 3, 2012, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] Appearances: Thomas Sacchetta, Esq., SACCHETTA & BALDINO, Marlton, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiffs.

Barbara J. Davis, Esq., Jessica D. Wachstein, Esq., MARSHALL, DENNEHY, MARSHALL, COLEMMAN & GOGGIN, Cherry Hill, NJ, Attorneys for the Defendants.

JUDGES: HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter involving the alleged negligence of a motorist opening his car door on a roadway with a designated bike lane is before the Court on Defendant’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). [Docket Item 17.] The principal issue to be determined is whether a dispute of fact exists that Defendant breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiff when she collided with his car door as he was exiting his vehicle. As will be explained at length below, the Court finds Plaintiff’s negligence claim raises a question of material fact to be decided by a jury. Plaintiff has also raised a dispute of fact that her alleged injuries are permanent and causally related to the accident for purposes of the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold of the New Jersey Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act, so Defendant’s motion will be [*2] denied.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Sheila Gwinner, filed this lawsuit against Defendant, Michael Matt, based on an accident that occurred in June 2008, when Ms. Gwinner collided with Mr. Matt’s car door while she was bicycling on Dune Drive in Avalon, New Jersey. Ms. Gwinner alleges Mr. Matt negligently opened his car door into the bike lane where she was traveling, striking her and causing her to suffer serious personal injuries.

On June 14, 2010, Plaintiff commenced a civil action against Defendant in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey based on diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). 1 [Docket Item 1.] According to Ms. Gwinner’s Complaint, Mr. Matt’s negligence consisted of, in part, “failing to observe [her] bicycle on the bicycle path” and “failing to keep a reasonable lookout for other vehicles lawfully on the road.” Compl. at ¶ 12. Ms. Gwinner then claims that, as a result of Mr. Matt’s negligence, she suffered “severe and painful injuries,” which required medical treatment, restricted her personal and work activities, and resulted in permanent injuries. Id. at ¶ 13.

1 Both Plaintiffs are citizens of Pennsylvania, and Defendant is a citizen of [*3] New Jersey. Compl. at ¶ 1.

On the morning of June 15, 2008 Mr. Matt parked his vehicle in front of his father’s house, in the parking lane along Dune Drive. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 17:23-24. At this location, Dune Drive is a four-lane roadway, two lanes north and two lanes south, with a bike lane and a parking lane. Id. at 19:4-7. When Mr. Matt opened his door, he “heard a loud bang,” and then observed a “young lady [] on the ground with her bicycle in front of the car to the left a little bit.” Id. at 28:5-8. Ms. Gwinner was traveling at fifteen miles per hour along Dune Drive on the morning of the accident, and she did not observe Mr. Matt’s vehicle prior to the collision. Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 34:5-10. Additionally, Ms. Gwinner testified that, when the accident occurred, she was riding within the bike lane (id. at 34:20-21); however, she did not observe and does not know whether Mr. Matt’s car door actually extended into the bike lane. Id. at 40:7-13.

Ms. Gwinner carries automobile insurance provided by Progressive Insurance, an insurance company authorized to conduct business in the State of New Jersey. She alleges that as a result of the accident, she suffered “traumatic multi level [*4] disc herniation/protrusion/radiculopathy, traumatic right knee fracture/contusion/anterior horn tear, and traumatic right hand/thumb tendonitis with radial/median nerve neuritis and joint inflammation.” Compl. at ¶ 13. 2 Plaintiff claims that these injuries demonstrate a “permanent injury” as set forth in the New Jersey Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (“AICRA”) at N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:6A-8(a) and that she has produced sufficient objective medical evidence to support her claim. Pl.’s Opp’n Br. at 4.

2 Plaintiff includes a medical report in support of this allegation. Pl. Ex. D.

In the present motion, Defendant argues that he is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to “establish proof a negligence claim as a matter of law.” Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. at 2. Specifically, Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to establish the alleged breach of duty, as she “produced no evidence that Mr. Matt’s car door extended into the bike lane.” Id. at 3. Defendant also argues that Plaintiff is barred from pursuing noneconomic damages 3 because she has failed to produce objective medical evidence demonstrating she suffered permanent injuries, as a result the accident in question, [*5] to her neck, right knee, and right wrist. Id. at 15-16.

3 “Noneconomic damages” are defined by statute as “pain, suffering and inconvenience.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:6A-2(i). By contrast, “economic loss” is defined as “uncompensated loss of income or property, or other uncompensated expenses, including, but not limited to, medical expenses.” Id. at § 39:6A-2(k). The Court notes that Plaintiff appears to claim only noneconomic losses. Additionally, Defendant requests dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim in its entirety, not just dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim for noneconomic losses. Plaintiff does not refute this by presenting economic losses and arguing that, should the Court find in Defendant’s favor, her claims for economic losses must survive. Therefore, dismissal is the result of finding for Defendant.

For the following reasons, the Court finds Plaintiff has sufficiently raised a question of material fact regarding her breach of duty claim; Defendant’s motion is denied on this issue. Additionally, the Court finds Plaintiff has provided sufficient objective medical evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that she suffered permanent injuries as a result of the accident; therefore, [*6] Plaintiff has met AICRA’s limitation-on-lawsuit threshold, and Defendant’s motion is denied.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment will not be denied based on mere allegations or denials in the pleadings; instead, some evidence must be produced to support a material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A); United States v. Premises Known as 717 S. Woodward Street, Allentown, Pa., 2 F.3d 529, 533 (3d Cir. 1993). However, the Court will view any evidence in favor of the nonmoving party and extend any reasonable favorable inferences to be drawn from that evidence to that party. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552, 119 S. Ct. 1545, 143 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1999). Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may be entitled to summary judgment merely by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of [*7] the nonmoving party’s case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

B. Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s Negligence Claim

[HN2] Under New Jersey law, for a plaintiff to establish a negligence claim she must show that the defendant “breached a duty of reasonable care, which constituted a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.” Brown v. Racquet Club of Bricktown, 95 N.J. 280, 288, 471 A.2d 25, 29 (1984). Furthermore, ” [HN3] negligence must be proved and will never be presumed, [] indeed there is a presumption against it, and [] the burden of proving negligence is on the plaintiff.” Buckelew v. Grossbard, 87 N.J. 512, 525, 435 A.2d 1150 (1981) (citing Hansen v. Eagle-Picher Lead Co., 8 N.J. 133, 139, 84 A.2d 281 (1951)).

Plaintiff claims Defendant acted negligently when he opened his car door “into the bike lane where [she] was operating her bicycle.” Pl.’s Opp’n Br. 2. She also alleges she suffered injuries as a result of Defendant’s negligence. Id.

Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to present a valid negligence claim because she has not alleged a breach of duty that was the proximate cause of her injuries. Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. 2. Defendant [*8] argues Plaintiff has not produced evidence showing his car door entered into or obstructed the bike lane. Id. at 3. Defendant also claims the evidence shows Ms. Gwinner was solely responsible for her injuries because she was riding her bicycle outside of the bike lane when she collided with his car door. Id. To support this claim, Defendant argues that after the accident, he fully opened his door to see if it extended into the bike lane, which, he claims, it did not. Id. at 1.

1. Duty of Care

Neither party has addressed the existence of a duty of care in the instant case. Because the existence of a duty is essential to all negligence claims, however, the Court must tackle the issue.

[HN4] “The question of whether a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid the risk of harm to another exists is one of fairness and policy that implicates many factors.” Carvalho v. Toll Bros. and Developers, 143 N.J. 565, 573, 675 A.2d 209, 212. (citing Dunphy v. Gregor, 136 N.J. 99, 110, 642 A.2d 372 (1994)). Foreseeability is the first factor considered, as it is “the predicate for the duty to exercise reasonable care.” Id. at 573. While foreseeability is needed to determine whether a duty of care exists, it [*9] is not the only factor. Id. at 572. Courts also consider fairness and policy factors such as “the relationship of the parties, the nature of the attendant risk, the opportunity and ability to exercise care, and the public interest in the proposed solution.” Id. at 573 (quoting Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426, 439, 625 A.2d 1110. (1993)).

The Court will first address foreseeability. Mr. Matt was a resident of Avalon, who was aware of the existence of the bike lane along Dune Drive, and who had used the Dune Drive bike lane prior to the accident in question. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 9:20; 20:16-19, 22-23; 21:1-2. Mr. Matt was also aware that the Dune Drive bike lane was regularly used during the summer months, Avalon’s tourist season. Id. at 46:3-7. The risk of harm posed by a collision between a cyclist and an automobile, or automobile door, is obvious. As a result, where bicycles and motor vehicles are in close proximity, the risk of harm presented by obstructing or entering into the bike lane, or, more generally a bicyclist’s lane of travel, was clearly foreseeable to Mr. Matt at the time of the accident.

” [HN5] Once the foreseeability of an injured party is established, . . . considerations [*10] of fairness and policy govern whether the imposition of a duty is warranted.” Carvalho at 573, 675 A.2d at 212 (quoting Carter Lincoln Mercury, Inc. v. EMAR Group, Inc., 135 N.J. 182, 194-95, 638 A.2d 1288 (1994)). In Carvalho, a construction worker was killed when trench walls collapsed on him. Id. at 571-572, 675 A.2d at 212. In a suit against the site engineer, the New Jersey Supreme Court, after determining the risk of harm was foreseeable, held that imposing a duty of care on the engineer was warranted because there was a contractual relationship between the parties; the engineer was responsible for monitoring work progress, which implicated worksite safety; the engineer had control to change work conditions; and the engineer had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition because other trench walls had collapsed at the site. Id. at 575-578, 675 A.2d at 214-15.

Here, Mr. Matt and Ms. Gwinner had no prior existing relationship. In fact, their first actual encounter occurred after Ms. Gwinner had already collided with Mr. Matt’s car door. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 28:4-15; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 37:4-10. Additionally, Mr. Matt had never previously been involved in an automobile accident [*11] involving a bicyclist. Ex. F at 46:12-16. But their relationship was a functional one: both were using vehicles on the limited roadway space of a public thoroughfare. Imposing a duty of care on Mr. Matt in terms of obstructing or otherwise interfering with a bicyclist’s lane of travel is fair as a matter of public policy. The City of Avalon has created bike lanes presumably to promote bicycling generally and as an attempt to attract visitors. The explicit purpose of a bike lane is to minimize the risks inherent in roadways that accommodate automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians by providing bicyclists an exclusive lane of travel. Finally, imposing a duty of care in terms of keeping a proper lookout before crossing, entering into, or otherwise obstructing a bicyclists’ lane of travel does not unduly burden motorists. At most, this duty requires a driver to ensure his automobile is parked fully in the parking lane and to check his review mirrors, or otherwise look out for bicyclists, prior to opening his car door and exiting his vehicle.

In conclusion, the possibility of a collision between a cyclist and a car or car door on roadways shared by cyclists and motorists, is foreseeable. Moreover, [*12] the public interest in promoting bicycle safety and the minimal burden placed on motorists to exercise reasonable care can lead only to the conclusion that Mr. Matt owed Ms. Gwinner a duty of care when parking and exiting his vehicle along Dune Drive.

2. Breach of Duty

[HN6] Because breach of duty is an essential element of a negligence claim, facts relating to a defendant’s breach are material to the success of the claim. In the instant case, the material fact regarding breach of duty is whether Defendant Matt’s car door entered into the bike lane, causing the collision. Because Ms. Gwinner has the burden of proving negligence at trial, Mr. Matt would be “entitled to summary judgment merely by showing that there is an absence of evidence” supporting Ms. Gwinner’s negligence claim. Celotex Corp. at 325. The Court finds Plaintiff has minimally succeeded in providing evidence to support her claim that Defendant breached a duty of care.

Ms. Gwinner alleges Mr. Matt breached the duty by negligently opening his car door into the bike lane, causing her to collide with the door and suffer injuries. Mr. Matt claims Ms. Gwinner has failed to produce evidence his car door entered the bike lane. Mr. [*13] Matt also claims the evidence in the record shows that Ms. Gwinner was actually the sole cause of the collision and her injuries because his car door did not extend into the bike lane, so, he infers, Ms. Gwinner must have been riding her bicycle in the parallel parking lane at the time of the accident.

The evidence in the record pertaining to Plaintiff’s negligence claim is scant. There were no witnesses to the accident, aside from Mr. Matt and Ms. Gwinner. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 35:5-7; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 44:14-15. Neither Mr. Matt nor Ms. Gwinner took photographs or made measurements of the accident scene; more specifically, there are no photographs 4 or measurements relating to the distance of Mr. Matt’s passenger side tires from the curb or how far Mr. Matt’s car door extended when opened on the day of the incident. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 37:22-24, 38:1-2; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 47:1-5. Finally, though both parties independently visited the Avalon Police Station after the accident, no police report was produced. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 43:19-22, 44:1-3; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 70:13-15, 71:18-21.

4 There is photographic evidence of Dune Drive at the accident site as of February 2011. While [*14] the photographs tell us little about the actual scene of the accident in June 2008, they do confirm that a Honda Accord parked close enough to the curb in the parking lane can fully open its driver side door without the door entering into the bike lane. However, the photographer used a Honda Accord to make this demonstration. Ex. G. On the day of the accident, Mr. Matt was driving a Cadillac CTS. Ex. F at 23:5-6. Car width and door length vary from make to make and model to model; as a result, the Court notes that Defendant’s photographs are of limited value on the relevant question of whether Mr. Matt’s Cadillac could similarly park in the parking lane and fully open his car door without obstructing the bike lane. The demonstrative Honda exhibit’s materiality also depends upon how close to the curb Defendant’s vehicle was parked at the time of the accident.

Ms. Gwinner’s recitation of what she remembers from the date of the accident is also meager. Though she claims to have been riding in the bike lane along the right side of the lane, at no time before, during or after the accident did she observe Mr. Matt’s car door extending into the bike lane. 5 Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 34:8-10, [*15] 40:7-10, 19-23. Additionally, she did not observe and does not know how close to the curb Mr. Matt parked his car. Id. at 48:2-5.

5 During her deposition, Ms. Gwinner participated in the following exchange with Defense attorney Barbara J. Davis:

Q: But did you see at all how far the car door extended out?

A: No, I didn’t.

Q: As you sit here today, do you know if the car door extended out into the bike lane, Mr. Matt’s car door?

A: I don’t.

However, Ms. Gwinner’s deposition testimony describing the accident is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a question of material fact, which should be decided by a jury. She states, “Is all I know I was [sic] riding my bike. And the poor man was as startled as I was. The door started opening and I just went into it.” Id. at 34:6-10. When Ms. Gwinner’s description of the accident is considered along with her testimony that she was riding her bike within the bike lane when she collided with Mr. Matt’s car door (id. at 36:15-17), a fact finder could reasonably infer Mr. Matt’s car door must have entered the bike lane and caused the collision, and choose to believe Ms. Gwinner’s account of the accident rather than Mr. Matt’s.

Because all reasonable inferences [*16] must be given to the nonmovant, the Court finds Ms. Gwinner has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Matt breached a duty of care by negligently opening his car door into a bicyclist’s lane of travel, or otherwise failing to reasonably look out for bicyclists before exiting his vehicle. Therefore, Mr. Matt has failed to meet the summary judgment standard set forth under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B) and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986) and his motion will be denied as to Plaintiff’s negligence claim.

C. Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s Inability to Satisfy AICRA’s Limitation-on-Lawsuit Threshold

1. The Applicability of the New Jersey’s “Deemer Statute” and AICRA

Because Ms. Gwinner is insured by Progressive Insurance, an insurance company authorized to conduct business in the State of New Jersey, Defendant argues, and Plaintiff does not dispute, Plaintiff is subject to New Jersey’s “Deemer Statute” and the “limitation-on-lawsuit threshold” set forth in AICRA.

[HN7] The Deemer Statute, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 17:28-1.4, “requires insurers authorized to transact automobile insurance business in New Jersey to provide coverage to out-of-state residents consistent [*17] with New Jersey law ‘whenever the automobile or motor vehicle insured under the policy is used or operated in this State.'” Zabilowicz v. Kelsey, 200 N.J. 507, 513-514, 984 A.2d 872, 875-876 (2009). The Deemer Statute also requires affected insurance companies “to provide personal injury protection [(“PIP”)] benefits pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. [§] 39:6A-4.” Id. at 514, 984 A.2d at 876. “In short, the Deemer Statute furnishes the covered out-of-state driver with New Jersey’s statutory no-fault PIP and other benefits and, in exchange, deems that driver to have selected the limitation-on-lawsuit option of [N.J. Stat. Ann. §] 39:6A-8(a).” Id. Because Plaintiff conceded to Defendant’s assertion that Plaintiff is subject to the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold via the Deemer Statute, even though Plaintiff was riding her bicycle rather than driving an automobile at the time the accident, the Court assumes that the Deemer Statute applies to the facts of this case.

AICRA represents an effort by the New Jersey’s Legislature to curb rising auto insurance costs by limiting the opportunities for accident victims to sue for noneconomic damages. This effort began with New Jersey’s implementation of [*18] a no-fault insurance scheme in 1972 when New Jersey passed the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Act and has since undergone numerous revisions, in a process described as “tortured,” which need not be recounted here. See, e.g., Branca v. Matthews, 317 F. Supp. 2d 533, 537-539 (D.N.J. 2004). The New Jersey Legislature passed AICRA in 1998 with three distinct goals “containing [insurance premium] costs, rooting out fraud within the system, and ensuring a fair rate of return for insurers.” DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 488, 874 A.2d 1039, 1046 (2005).

2. The Limitation-on-Lawsuit Threshold

[HN8] To contain automobile insurance costs, AICRA established the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold, which “bars recovery for pain and suffering unless the plaintiff suffers an injury that results in (1) death; (2) dismemberment; (3) significant disfigurement or significant scarring; (4) displaced fractures; (5) loss of fetus; or (6) permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability ….” Id. (quoting N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:6A-8(a))(internal quotation marks omitted).

[HN9] An insured bound by the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold is barred from suing for noneconomic damages unless her injuries fall [*19] within AICRA’s six categories. Johnson v. Scaccetti, 192 N.J. 256, 261, 927 A.2d 1269, 1273 (2007). In the summary judgment context, a plaintiff can proceed to trial if she demonstrates that her alleged injuries, if proven, fall into one of the six threshold categories. Davidson v. Slater, 189 N.J. 166, 187, 914 A.2d 282, 295 (2007) (citing Oswin v. Shaw, 129 N.J. 290, 294, 609 A.2d 415, 417 (1992)). A plaintiff must also prove that the alleged statutory injury was caused by the accident in question or “risk dismissal on summary judgment if the defendant can show that no reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the defendant’s negligence caused plaintiff’s alleged … injury.” Id. at 188, 914 A.2d at 295. However, where, as here, a plaintiff alleges she suffered more than one injury as a result of the accident in question, the plaintiff need only establish one of her injuries meets the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold for the jury to consider all of the injuries when calculating noneconomic damages. Johnson at 279, 927 A.2d at 1282.

3. Permanent Injury

[HN10] AICRA defines “permanent injury” as “[w]hen the body part or organ, or both, has not healed to function normally and will not heal to [*20] function normally with further medical treatment.” N.J. Stat. Ann. 39:6A-8(a). Additionally, in adopting AICRA, the New Jersey Legislature explicitly adopted a threshold requirement, the objective medical evidence standard, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Oswin v. Shaw, 129 N.J. 290, 609 A.2d 415 (1992). DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 495, 874 A.2d 1039, 1050 (2005). A plaintiff’s alleged limitation-on-lawsuit injury “must be based on and refer to objective medical evidence.” Id. (emphasis removed).

Plaintiff claims her neck, right wrist, and right knee injuries are permanent injuries within the meaning of AICRA. See supra pp. 4-5. Additionally, Ms. Gwinner claims the medical report created by Dr. James F. Bonner, her physical therapy physician (Pl.’s Opp’n Br., Ex. D), “sets forth his opinion within a reasonable degree of certainty as to the permanency of [her] injuries and their relatedness to the accident”; as such, she has satisfied the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold. Pl.’s Opp’n Br. 4.

Mr. Matt argues that Ms. Gwinner has failed to produce objective medical evidence demonstrating she suffered permanent injuries, as a result the accident in question, to her neck, [*21] right knee, and right wrist. Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. at 11. First, Defendant claims Dr. Bonner’s report shows that Ms. Gwinner had a pre-existing cervical injury and that the report fails to present evidence showing Ms. Gwinner’s cervical condition is causally connected to the accident. Id. at 11-12. Second, Defendant argues Plaintiff’s alleged knee injuries fail to meet the threshold because there is evidence of pre-existing injuries and surgeries, a failure to connect the injuries to the accident, and Plaintiff “has testified she has full use of her right knee and is not restricted in any of her physical activities.” Id. 12-14. Finally, Defendant claims Plaintiff has not presented objective medical evidence of a permanent injury to her right wrist because the medical reports show that she had been treated for right wrist problems prior to the accident and that the reports alleging a right wrist injury after the accident are based on Ms. Gwinner’s subjective complaints and not objective medical testing. Id. at 14-15.

Because Ms. Gwinner need only demonstrate that one of her injuries, if proven, is permanent under AICRA’s definition, the Court will evaluate each alleged injury [*22] individually. First, however, the Court will address Defendant’s broader assertion that Plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed because she did not provide a comparative analysis distinguishing the injuries allegedly caused by the accident from other, preexisting injuries, as required by Davidson v. Slater, 189 N.J. 166, 914 A.2d 282 (2007). In Davidson, The New Jersey Supreme Court did not create a blanket rule. Instead, it held,

When a plaintiff alleges aggravation of preexisting injuries as the animating theory of the claim, then plaintiff must produce comparative evidence to move forward with the causation element of that tort action. When a plaintiff does not plead aggravation of preexisting injuries, a comparative analysis is not required to make that demonstration.

189 N.J. at 179, 914 A.2d at 284. The New Jersey Supreme Court then cautioned plaintiffs with preexisting injuries not required to provide such a report, stating, ” [HN11] [T]he plaintiff who does not prepare for comparative medical evidence is at risk of failing to raise a jury-worthy factual issue about whether the subject accident caused the injuries.” Davidson, at 188, 914 A.2d at 295.

As was the case in Davidson, Plaintiff [*23] Gwinner has not explicitly alleged that her injuries were aggravations of preexisting injuries. 6 The only medical report provided by Ms. Gwinner to support her claim that she suffered permanent injuries as a result of the accident, however, makes no mention of new injuries. Pl. Ex. D. Instead, the one-page report prepared in 2009 by Dr. Bonner states Ms. Gwinner had previous injuries or previously received medical treatment to the alleged injured areas and that she suffered “advanced impairment … as a direct result of her 6/15/08 trauma.” Id. Moreover, the report specifically mentions Plaintiff’s “old knee problem” and concludes the accident caused “a higher pain/dysfunction level.” Id. While this report might appear to indicate all of Plaintiff’s alleged injuries are exacerbations, Dr. Bonner produced a more detailed report on July 1, 2008, on which the 2009 report partially relies. 7 Reviewing the medical reports referenced in Dr. Bonner’s report reveals some of the injuries described are in fact new injuries.

6 Plaintiff did not allege her injuries were either new or exacerbations of previous injuries and conditions; she was silent on this issue. Compl. at ¶ 13. However, Plaintiff’s [*24] allegations regarding her injuries appear to be direct quotes from Dr. Bonner’s 2009 report. See supra. p. 4. and note 2.

7 In addition to his July 1, 2008 report, Dr. Bonner also referenced a July 9, 2008 report created by Dr. Philip S. Yussen of Mainline Open MRI (Def. Ex. I). Both reports discuss new injuries Ms. Gwinner suffered as a result of the accident. See infra pp. 23-26.

When considering Ms. Gwinner’s complaint and supporting evidentiary documents, it is clear some of her alleged injuries are aggravations of previously existing injuries and medical conditions. But because she has not alleged aggravation injuries in her Complaint, she is not required to provide a comparative report to support the causation element of her tort claim. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s warning in Davidson, however, is pertinent to the instant case because the lack of a comparative analysis has clouded the Court’s effort to properly evaluate whether Plaintiff provided sufficient evidence of causation. Nevertheless, the surplus of medical reports provided has allowed the Court to satisfactorily investigate which alleged injuries are sufficiently supported by evidence of causation and which are not.

a. [*25] Cervical Injury

Though Ms. Gwinner claims to have suffered permanent injury in the form of traumatic multi level disc herniation, protrusion, and radiculopathy, there is no evidence suggesting the alleged injuries are permanent. First, Ms. Gwinner had an MRI done in 2007, prior to the accident, because she was experiencing pain in her neck dating back to 2000. Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 13:15-21, 14:15-23. At the request of Dr. Bonner, Ms. Gwinner received another MRI in July 2008. The report written by Dr. Philip S. Yussen states, “Current examination demonstrates the cervical vertebral bodies to maintain normal stature. There is partial straightening of the cervical lordosis, which may be related to patient positioning, muscle spasm, or even a chronic finding given that this was evident on the previous MRI study as well.” Def. Ex. O (emphasis added). The report goes on to conclude,

There has not been a significant change in the MRI appearance of the cervical spine as compared to the previous MRI study of 8/9/07. The previously noted fatty marrow island at C7 and small low signal presumed development focus at C5 right of midline are again noted, and are stable. No new osseous abnormalities [*26] are seen referable to the cervical vertebrae as compared to the previous study.

Id. Dr. Yussen’s report can only be read to state that the condition of Ms. Gwinner’s neck has not changed, let alone deteriorated, as a result of the accident.

Additionally, Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Brian K. Zell examined Ms. Gwinner in May of 2011, two years after the medical report provided by Plaintiff, and produced a report (Def. Ex. N). According to Dr. Zell, Ms. Gwinner suffered from a preexisting degenerative disease of the cervical spine, and “[t]he automobile accident in question is not considered a responsible event for the progression of preexisting degenerative changes in the cervical spine.” Def. Ex. N. at 17. Ms. Gwinner has not offered any evidence to rebut these findings. As a result, Plaintiff’s cervical injury cannot serve as a basis for her noneconomic claims. See Kauffman v. McCann, Civ. No. 05-3687, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23514, 2007 WL 1038696 at *4 (D.N.J. March 29, 2007) (” [HN12] Because it is plaintiff’s burden at trial to show Defendant caused her permanent injuries within the meaning of AICRA, Plaintiff may not merely rest on her pleadings once Defendant has come forward with evidence tending to show that Plaintiff [*27] is not suffering permanent injury.”). Plaintiff has offered no evidence raising a dispute of fact that, since at least 2008, she has suffered from any spinal injury caused by the 2008 accident.

b. Right Knee Injury

Plaintiff also claims her “traumatic right knee fracture/contusion/anterior horn tear” constitutes a permanent injury under AICRA. The evidence in the record is very close as to whether Ms. Gwinner’s right knee injuries are permanent; however, there is insufficient evidence demonstrating the injuries are causally related to the accident.

Ms. Gwinner underwent medial meniscus surgery to her right knee in 1999. Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 8:23-24, 9:1-4. After the accident, Ms. Gwinner was first evaluated Dr. Bonner on July 1, 2008. Regarding Ms. Gwinner’s right knee, Dr. Bonner wrote, “Her past medical history is remarkable for a medical meniscetomy seven years ago for which she recovered had not had problems involving the right knee.” Def. Ex. K. Dr. Bonner then concluded that, “as a direct result of the accident,” Ms. Gwinner suffered a “contusion to the distal one third of the medial subcutaneous surface of the tibia.” Id. Thus, Dr. Bonner’s initial evaluation attributed only a contusion [*28] to the accident in question.

Eight days later, Ms. Gwinner received an MRI and evaluation at Main Line MRI. In a report dated July 9, 2008, Dr. Philip S. Yussen also noted symptoms consistent with “mild strain or subtle contusion.” Def. Ex. I. Dr. Yussen further noted that the MRI revealed there were no tears to the posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, or medial collateral ligament. Id. Additionally, “no lateral meniscal tear or significant degenerative signal change” was apparent. Id. Finally, while Dr. Yussen’s examination did reveal “free edge blunting of the posterior horn region” as well as some “small” tears in the medial meniscus region, he was unable to determine the cause of these injuries. Id. He stated, “Given the provided history, the appearance may in part be related to previous partial meniscus tear.” Id.

An orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Marc S. Zimmerman, then evaluated Ms. Gwinner’s right knee. In a report dated July 28, 2008, Dr. Zimmerman stated, “[Ms. Gwinner’s] right knee gives out on her. She denies popping and clicking. She does not think it is swollen at this time.” Def. Ex. J at 1. Dr. Zimmerman described his evaluation of Ms. Gwinner’s right knee [*29] as follows:

Evaluation of the right knee reveals no swelling or effusion. She has full range of motion without pain. There is minimal tenderness over the lateral joint line with no tenderness over the medial joint line. On the McMurray’s test on internal rotation, there is a click appreciated over the lateral joint line. There is a negative Lachman’s test. There is no varus/vulgus laxity.

Id. at 2. Dr. Zimmerman found there “appear[ed] to be a tear in the posterior horn of the medial meniscus,” but concluded the possible tear was “most likely related to the previous surgery and injury.” Id. As with the two previous evaluations, Dr. Zimmerman noted a bone contusion “at the lateral plateau in the anterolateral aspect.” Id.

In conclusion, because Plaintiff has failed to provide a comparative analysis detailing her previous right knee injuries and then distinguishing any preexisting conditions from the injuries she allegedly suffered as a result of the accident in question, the Court is only able to find causation with regards to the bone contusion. This injury was consistently reported in all three medical evaluations conducted in 2008 and was the only injury explicitly connected to the [*30] accident. However, this injury cannot be considered permanent. Plaintiff’s medical report was prepared on December 16, 2009. Regarding Ms. Gwinner’s right knee, the report merely states, “She also injured her right knee.” It then concludes Ms. Gwinner suffered “traumatic right knee fracture/contusion/anterior horn tear.” Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Zell, examined Ms. Gwinner’s right knee approximately one-and-a-half years later in May 2011. This represents the most recent evaluation of Ms. Gwinner’s right knee. Dr. Zell noted that the MRI taken by Main Line MRI in 2008 revealed a contusion, but concluded that as of May 2011, the right knee “is entirely within normal limits … [and] further intervention with respect to the patient’s right knee as a consequence of the bicycle versus automobile collision is not warranted.” Def. Ex. N. at 17.

Again, Plaintiff has not offered any evidence to rebut the evidence offered by Defendant showing Plaintiff’s right knee is within normal limits and does not require further treatment. Moreover, Plaintiff offers no additional evidence permitting the reasonable inference that the right knee contusion is permanent. Therefore, it is insufficient to [*31] support a claim for noneconomic damages under AICRA.

c. Right Wrist Injury

Ms. Gwinner alleges that, as a result of the accident, she suffered traumatic right hand/thumb tendonitis with radial/median nerve neuritis and joint inflammation. After reviewing the many doctors’ reports discussing Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist, the Court finds Ms. Gwinner has successfully demonstrated that, if proven, these injuries constitute a causally related permanent injury with the meaning of AICRA.

Dr. Bonner was the first medical professional to evaluate Ms. Gwinner’s wrist after the June 2008 accident. On July 1, 2008, Dr. Bonner wrote that Ms. Gwinner reports “numbness in the right thumb, index finger, and long finger primarily on the tip.” Def. Ex. K. Dr. Bonner then noted Ms. Gwinner had been previously treated for numbness in her right hand and that she stopped treatment in November 2007, prior to the accident. Id. Relevant to causation, this report stated, the “condition had resolved until following this accident.” Id. Dr. Bonner also found “positive phalen’s 8 and tinel’s sign 9 [sic] at the right wrist with tenderness over the … carpal metacarpal joint of the thumb.” Id. The report concludes that [*32] “as a direct result” of the accident in question Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist is indicative of “[p]ost traumatic sprain of the carpal/metacarpal joint of the right thumb with carpal tunnel syndrome being evident.” Id.

8 Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1714 (Elsevier Saunders 32nd ed. 2012) defines “Phalen sign” as the “appearance of numbness or paresthesias within 30 to 60 seconds during the Phalen test, a positive sign for carpal tunnel syndrome.” A Phalen sign is detected by performing a Phalen test, which is a “[a] test for carpal tunnel syndrome. The patient flexes the wrist for 1 minute. Carpal tunnel syndrome is confirmed if the patient experiences a tingling that radiates into the thumb, index finger and the middle and lateral half of the ring finger.” Volume 4 M-PQ, J.E. Schmidt, M.D., Attorney’s Dictionary of Medicine P-208 (Matthew Bender). In light of these definitions, the Court interprets positive Phalen sign to represent that carpal tunnel syndrome was detected.

9 Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1716 (Elsevier Saunders 32nd ed. 2012) defines “Tinel sign” as “a tingling sensation in the distal end of a limb when percussion is made over the site of a divided [*33] nerve. It indicates a partial lesion or the beginning regeneration of the nerve.” The Court thus interprets Positive Tinel sign to indicate possible presence of a lesion(s) in the tested area.

Dr. Zimmerman also evaluated Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist during her July 28, 2008 visit because she reported “some numbness and tingling in the thumb and second finger of her right hand.” Def. Ex. J. Dr. Zimmerman’s report sheds light on the issues of previous existing injuries and causation. He states that while Ms. Gwinner’s past medical history includes numbness and tingling in her right hand, that condition “had resolved but is now present again . . . since the most recent accident.” Id. Moreover, an EMG was performed on Ms. Gwinner in 2007, and “she was told there was no permanent damage.” 10

10 It should be noted, however, that Dr. Zimmerman determined there were “negative Tinel’s and negative Phalen’s signs.” Def. Ex. J.

In December of 2008, Ms. Gwinner visited Dr. William H. Kirkpatrick of Hand Surgical Associates. Def. Ex. L. In his report, Dr. Kirkpatrick similarly noted, “[Ms. Gwinner] had approximately six months of tingling in the thumb, index and long fingers before her bike accident [*34] for which she was treated by a chiropractor” but that the symptoms resolved prior to the June 2008 collision. Id. Dr. Kirkpatrick saw no swelling in the right wrist, full active range of motion, and no tenderness. However, the report found positive Tinel signs “over the superficial radial nerve several centimeters proximal to the wrist” and ultimately diagnosed Ms. Gwinner with right “superficial radial nerve neuritis, probably right median neuritis, and right thumb joint CMC joint inflammation.” Id. This report also noted that Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist injuries were her “primary concern.” Id.

The Court finds the reports of Dr. Bonner, Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Kirkpatrick sufficient to demonstrate that while Ms. Gwinner had experienced some numbness and tingling prior to the June 2008, that condition had ceased and was deemed nonpermanent prior to the accident. Because both Dr. Bonner and Dr. Zimmerman’s reports noted positive Phalen and Tinel signs, among other injuries, a reasonable fact finder could determine that any injuries found in Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist in these post-accident reports are causally connected to the June 2008 collision. Therefore, Ms. Gwinner has sufficiently demonstrated [*35] causation.

Dr. Bonner’s December 16, 2009 report and Dr. Zell’s May 31, 2011 report are relevant to the Court’s inquiry into the permanency of Ms. Gwinner’s alleged right wrist injuries. Dr. Bonner’s 2009 report described Ms. Gwinner’s injuries as “traumatic right hand/thumb tendonitis with radial/median nerve neuritis and joint inflammation.” Pl. Ex. D. The report stated these injuries have resulted in “permanent restriction to no impact forces to those affected areas.” Id.

Again, the Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Zell, was the last doctor to evaluate Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist. As of May 2011, Ms. Gwinner’s still complained of tightness and numbness in her right wrist. Def. Ex. N. at 5. Dr. Zell found, “The bicycle versus automobile collision in question has a chronological association with ongoing complaints referable to the median nerve at the right wrist.” Id. And while he found “the absence of a Tinel at the carpal tunnel on the right side,” Dr. Zell did not entirely rule out carpal tunnel syndrome, concluding, “If this patient does in fact have a carpal tunnel syndrome, it is subclinical.” Id.

There is substantially more evidence regarding Ms. Gwinner’s alleged right wrist injury. [*36] While some of the medical reports seem to contradict each other, particularly in regard to Phalen and Tinel signs, all reasonable inferences must be given to the nonmovant. Thus, the Court finds Plaintiff has provided evidence sufficient for a reasonable fact finder to determine her right wrist injuries are permanent and causally connected to the June 2008 accident.

Defendant’s final argument in support of his motion for summary judgment is that Ms. Gwinner’s deposition testimony indicates “she does not have any physical restrictions or limitations.” Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. at 15. Defendant claims Ms. Gwinner experiences no restrictions in her ability to “perform all of her household chores, go[] skiing, and … ride her bike approximately 50 miles.” Id. While Ms. Gwinner did state she did not miss any time from work as a result of the accident (Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 7:12-14) and she is able to conduct her life somewhat normally, Defendant has not provided a full picture of Ms. Gwinner’s statements. Regarding her ability to perform household chores, Ms. Gwinner participated in the following exchange:

Q: Are you able to do all your household chores?

A: I can do almost everything I that [*37] want. It’s–I’m losing dexterity in this hand because of numbness.

Q: Indicating your right hand?

A: Yes. Like I have good strength it in to go like this.

Q: To make a fist?

A: To make a fist. And if you put your hand, I can break your fingers with my strength, but it dwindles, it doesn’t stay.

Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 66:18-24, 67:1-6. And while Ms. Gwinner stated that she is able to ride her bike, she also stated that when she is finished her hands are numb. Id. at 67:23-24. When viewing Ms. Gwinner’s statements in their entirety, it appears they are supportive of the proposition that the injuries suffered to her wrist are permanent within the meaning of AICRA, especially because, as of the deposition date, May 16, 2011, Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist had not healed to function normally.

In conclusion, the Court finds Ms. Gwinner has provided evidence sufficient to demonstrate injuries suffered to her right wrist were permanent and caused by the accident in question. Because Plaintiff need only demonstrate one of her injuries, if proven, satisfies AICRA’s limitation-on-lawsuit threshold, and she has done so, the Court will allow all of her noneconomic claims to go to a jury.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons [*38] set forth above, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment shall be denied. The accompanying Order will be entered, and the case will be scheduled for trial.

August 2, 2012

DATE

/s/ Jerome B. Simandle

JEROME B. SIMANDLE

Chief U.S. District Judge


Sometimes you wish the defendant would lose when a fireman prevents a rescue by someone who probably could have saved the deceased’s life

At the same time, any claim for “negligent rescue” would put thousands of SAR volunteers at risk.

Decker, v. City of Imperial Beach, 209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEX-IS 301

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One

Plaintiff: Glenn A. Decker

Defendant: City of Imperial Beach

Plaintiff Claims: Failure to properly rescue and failure to allow rescue

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: For the Defendants

Year: 1989

The deceased and a friend went surfing off the city beach. There were no lifeguards on duty because it was not summer. Lifeguards were only at work during the summer season. The defendant city does not provide lifeguards for the beach except in the summer.

The defendant’s leash for his surfboard got caught on a line for a lobster trap and he eventually drowned.

While the deceased was still alive several people attempted to assist the deceased until the fire department showed up. On the scene the Fire Chief ordered no more rescues.

An Imperial Beach firefighter, Olin Golden, who was a water safety instructor and life guard, contacted Hewitt about the situation and borrowed Hewitt’s wet suit and surfboard.  Imperial Beach Fire Chief Ronald Johnston ordered Hewitt and Golden and all other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach and not to attempt a rescue.

Eventually, the deceased died without being rescued and his body floated to shore. His mother sued the city for the botched rescue or actually no rescue. The trial court granted the cities motion for summary judgment.

This appeal then occurred.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first started looking at the requirements for summary judgment in California.

The aim of the summary judgment procedure is to discover whether the parties possess evidence requiring the fact-weighing procedures of a trial. “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” In reviewing the propriety of a summary judgment, the appellate court must resolve all doubts in favor of the party opposing the judgment.

A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the record establishes as a matter of law that none of the plaintiff’s asserted causes of action can prevail.

The city first argued that it owed no duty because surfing was a hazardous recreational activity and there was a statute that protected it from liability issues of such activities.

Government Code 2 section 831.7 provides a public entity is not “liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity . . .  for any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” Surfing is specifically included as a “hazardous recreational activity.” (§ 831.7, subd. (b)(3).)

In reviewing the statute the court found the legislature had you broad language in creating the statute in order to provide the broadest protection for the municipalities.

Instead, the Legislature used expansive language to describe the scope of the immunity, stating it applied to “any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” (Italics added.) This broad language is reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that it was intended to preclude liability for negligently inflicted injuries while rescuing a person who has been participating in a hazardous recreational activity since it can be said the rescue effort “arises out of” the individual’s participation in the hazardous recreational activity.

The court looked at the issues in the case and found the statute was created to encourage rescue. If any rescue was subject to litigation afterwards, no rescues would occur.

The act did seem to have an exception for gross negligence.

An interpretation of the hazardous recreational activities immunity to immunize public entities and their employees for acts of emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence furthers the strong public policy encouraging rescues and emergency assistance.

However, no gross negligence claim was pled, and none was found in this case.

The court then looked at the Fire Chief “precluding other assistance.”

The facts show Imperial Beach firefighter Olin Golden borrowed Hewitt’s wet suit and requested permission to attempt a surf rescue of Gary.  Decker states Golden “was a water safety instructor and a life guard trained in surf rescue.” While Decker presented evidence showing Golden was a water safety instructor and lifeguard, nothing in the record indicates Golden was experienced in surf rescue. Rather, the record indicates Golden had given swimming lessons at a high school pool and had guarded the pool; this was the information known to the fire chief at the time he told Golden to stay on the beach. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said the fire chief’s refusal to allow Golden to attempt a surf rescue constituted gross negligence.

Here the court found the duty of the fire chief in precluding the rescue was based on protecting the rescuer. As such the acts of preventing a possible rescue were not grossly negligent.

The next argument made by the plaintiff, was, the rescue technique used was antiquated and prevented a proper rescue.

Decker presented testimony by Charles Chase, an experienced lifeguard supervisor.  Chase testified about the rescue method used by the Sheriff’s dive team (sending out a diver tethered to a rope) as follows: “A life line type rescue is used in special circumstances, but it would never be used with a strong side current [as was the case here] and it would never be used if you could get there quicker in a better way, and it’s a specialized form of rescue. Years and years ago the life line rescue was quite common, and that was prior to the use or the availability of, say, fins and also the availability of good swimmers.  If you go back to the 20’s, they had a limited amount of people that could swim as well as a lot of people can swim now and fins weren’t available.”

The court found the technique was disfavored, but did not rise to the level of gross negligence in this case.

This testimony could support a finding that use of the lifeline rescue method is a disfavored surf rescue method and would not be used by an experienced, trained surf rescuer but it does not support a finding the sheriff’s dive team was grossly negligent for having used this method given their lack of training or experience in surf rescue.

Finding no gross negligence on the part of the fire chief or the fire department the appellate court upheld the trial court’s granting of the motion for summary judgment.

So Now What?

This is one of those cases that frustrated the heck out of me. Yet, overall, in hundreds of other situations, this is the good outcome. It will save a lot more other people because rescuing someone will not be a liability nightmare.

This is how the law is to be applied both as it applies to the individual parties who are in the case and future litigants, searches and victims of the city.

Sad, but true.

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Decker, v. City of Imperial Beach, 209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301

Decker, v. City of Imperial Beach, 209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301

Glenn A. Decker, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. City of Imperial Beach, Defendant and Respondent

No. D007375

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One

209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301

April 4, 1989

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Superior Court of San Diego County, No. 526147, Andrew G. Wagner, Judge.

DISPOSITION: The judgment is affirmed.

COUNSEL: Schall, Boudreau & Gore, W. Lee Hill and Robert J. Trentacosta for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Hollywood & Neil and Anton C. Gerschler for Defendant and Respondent.

JUDGES: Opinion by Kremer, P. J., with Nares, J., concurring. Separate concurring and dissenting opinion by Wiener, J.

OPINION BY: KREMER

OPINION

[*352] [**357] Glenn A. Decker appeals a summary judgment in favor of the City of Imperial Beach on his complaint for the wrongful death of his son, Gary Decker. On appeal, Decker contends the court erred in finding Imperial Beach was immune from liability because the death arose out of Gary’s participation in a “hazardous recreational activity” and in finding no “special relationship” existed between Gary and Imperial Beach. We conclude the trial court properly granted summary judgment and therefore affirm.

Facts

Around 5:30 p.m. on March 15, 1984, Gary and his friend Victor Hewitt went surfing off the 1600 block of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. There were no lifeguard services provided at this beach during the nonsummer months. Soon after Gary entered the water, Gary’s surfboard leash became [***3] entangled in a nylon rope tether connecting a submerged lobster trap to a small floating surface buoy.

Bystanders noticed Gary appeared to be in trouble. They contacted Hewitt and called the county sheriff’s department. Hewitt twice attempted to paddle out to Gary on his surfboard to render assistance, but was unable to reach him. The sheriff’s department, which provided law enforcement support to Imperial Beach, called the City of Imperial Beach Fire Department to assist at the scene. Both agencies responded to the beach. 1 An announcement by bullhorn was made to Gary, telling him “help [was] on the way.”

1 Imperial Beach, in its brief, seems to suggest it had no liability because only county employees (i.e., sheriff department deputies) were involved. The record indicates, however, that the Imperial Beach Fire Department responded to the scene and participated in the rescue operation and that Imperial Beach contracted with the sheriff’s department to provide police services to the city. Thus, liability cannot be precluded on this basis.

An Imperial Beach firefighter, Olin Golden, who was a water safety instructor and life guard, contacted Hewitt about the situation and [*353] borrowed [***4] Hewitt’s wet suit and surfboard. Imperial Beach Fire Chief Ronald Johnston ordered Hewitt and Golden and all other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach and not to attempt a rescue.

At about 6:45 p.m., an ASTREA helicopter arrived and hovered over Gary for 15 to 20 minutes, shining a bright light on him. Eventually, a helicopter rescue was rejected. The sheriff’s dive team attempted to rescue Gary by tying a rope around one diver’s waist and anchoring him to the shore while he waded into the surf. There was evidence that this was an antiquated method of surf rescue that has been abandoned because it is ineffective. Shortly [**358] after this rescue attempt, Gary’s surf leash became disentangled and he floated to shore, unconscious. All attempts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at University of California at San Diego Medical Center.

Discussion

I

Summary Judgment Standard

(1) [HN1] The aim of the summary judgment procedure is to discover whether the parties possess evidence requiring the fact-weighing procedures of a trial. ( Chern v. Bank of America (1976) 15 Cal.3d 866, 873 [127 Cal.Rptr. 110, 544 P.2d 1310]; Corwin v. Los Angeles Newspaper Service Bureau, Inc. (1971) 4 Cal.3d 842, 851 [94 Cal.Rptr. 785, 484 P.2d 953].) [***5] “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1107 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].) (2) [HN2] In reviewing the propriety of a summary judgment, the appellate court must resolve all doubts in favor of the party opposing the judgment. (Palma v. U.S. Industrial Fasteners, Inc. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 171, 183 [203 Cal.Rptr. 626, 681 P.2d 893].) The reviewing court conducts a de novo examination to see whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. ( Lichty v. Sickels (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 696, 699 [197 Cal.Rptr. 137].) (3) While “[summary] judgment is a drastic procedure, should be used with caution [citation] and should be granted only if there is no issue of triable fact” ( Brose v. Union-Tribune Publishing Co. (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 1079, 1081 [228 Cal.Rptr. 620]), it is also true “[justice] requires that a defendant be as much entitled to be rid of an unmeritorious lawsuit as a plaintiff is entitled to maintain a good [***6] one.” ( Larsen v. Johannes (1970) 7 Cal.App.3d 491, 507 [86 Cal.Rptr. 744].) “A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the record establishes as a matter of law that none of the plaintiff’s asserted causes of action [*354] can prevail. [Citation.]” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., supra, 46 Cal.3d at p. 1107.)

II

Hazardous Recreational Activities Immunity

(4a) Imperial Beach argues it has no liability for Gary’s death because it arose out of Gary’s participation in a “hazardous recreational activity.”

[HN3] Government Code 2 section 831.7 provides a public entity is not “liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity . . . for any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” Surfing is specifically included as a “hazardous recreational activity.” (§ 831.7, subd. (b)(3).)

2 All statutory references are to the Government Code unless otherwise specified.

Decker argues section 831.7 does not bar his suit because Gary’s death was not “solely attributable” to surfing but was also due to Imperial Beach’s conduct during the rescue and section 831.7 provides immunity only for injuries caused by the hazardous recreational activity [***7] itself.

(5) ” [HN4] ‘The fundamental rule of statutory construction is that the court should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. [Citations.]'” ( T.M. Cobb Co. v. Superior Court (1984) 36 Cal.3d 273, 277 [204 Cal.Rptr. 143, 682 P.2d 338].) “In determining such intent, the court turns first to the words of the statute.” ( Regents of University of California v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 601, 607 [224 Cal.Rptr. 631, 715 P.2d 590].) The court attempts to give effect to the usual, ordinary import of the language and seeks to avoid making any language mere surplusage. ( Fontana Unified School Dist. v. Burman (1988) 45 Cal.3d 208, 219 [246 Cal.Rptr. 733, 753 P.2d 689].) The words must be construed in context in light of the nature and obvious purpose of the statute where they appear. (Palos Verdes Faculty [**359] Assn. v. Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified Sch. Dist. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 650, 658-659 [147 Cal.Rptr. 359, 580 P.2d 1155].) (6) The various parts of a statutory enactment must be harmonized in context of the statutory framework as a whole. ( Moyer v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1973) 10 Cal.3d 222, 230-231 [110 Cal.Rptr. 144, 514 P.2d 1224]; [***8] Long Beach Police Officers Assn. v. City of Long Beach (1988) 46 Cal.3d 736, 746 [250 Cal.Rptr. 869, 759 P.2d 504].) (7) The statute “. . . must be given a reasonable and commonsense interpretation consistent with the apparent purpose and intention of the Legislature, practical rather than technical in nature, and which, when [*355] applied, will result in wise policy rather than mischief or absurdity. [Citations.]” ( Beaty v. Imperial Irrigation Dist. (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 897, 902 [231 Cal.Rptr. 128]; see also Webster v. Superior Court (1988) 46 Cal.3d 338, 344 [250 Cal.Rptr. 268, 758 P.2d 596].)

(4b) In defining the scope of the hazardous recreational activities immunity, the Legislature did not choose narrow language; the Legislature did not limit the immunity to injuries “solely attributable” to the hazardous recreational activity. Instead, the Legislature used expansive language to describe the scope of the immunity, stating it applied to “any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” (Italics added.) This broad language is reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that it was intended to preclude liability for negligently [***9] inflicted injuries while rescuing a person who has been participating in a hazardous recreational activity since it can be said the rescue effort “arises out of” the individual’s participation in the hazardous recreational activity.

Such an interpretation — that the immunity extends to rescue efforts, a foreseeable result of participating in a hazardous recreational activity — is consistent with the statutory scheme. Section 831.7 contains a number of exceptions to the rule of immunity. [HN5] Subdivision (c) of section 831.7 provides: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (a), this section does not limit liability which would otherwise exist for any of the following:

“(1) Failure of the public entity or employee to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition or of another hazardous recreational activity known to the public entity or employee that is not reasonably assumed by the participant as inherently a part of the hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.

“(2) Damage or injury suffered in any case where permission to participate in the hazardous recreational activity was granted for a specific fee. For the purpose of this paragraph, a ‘specific [***10] fee’ does not include a fee or consideration charged for a general purpose such as a general park admission charge, a vehicle entry or parking fee, or an administrative or group use application or permit fee, as distinguished from a specific fee charged for participation in the specific hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.

“(3) Injury suffered to the extent proximately caused by the negligent failure of the public entity or public employee to properly construct or maintain in good repair any structure, recreational equipment or machinery, or substantial work of improvement utilized in the hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.

[*356] “(4) Damage or injury suffered in any case where the public entity or employee recklessly or with gross negligence promoted the participation in or observance of a hazardous recreational activity. For purposes of this paragraph, promotional literature or a public announcement or advertisement which merely describes the available facilities and services on the property does not in itself constitute a reckless or grossly negligent promotion.

“(5) An act of gross negligence by a public entity or [***11] a public employee which is the proximate cause of the injury.

“Nothing in this subdivision creates a duty of care or basis of liability for personal injury or for damage to personal property.”

[**360] In reading the exceptions to the immunity, it is first apparent that the Legislature did not expressly exempt from the immunity liability for injuries caused by negligent rescue efforts. Liability for negligent conduct is provided for certain conduct by a public entity (failure to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition that is not reasonably assumed by a participant as an inherent part of the activity, sponsorship of a hazardous recreational activity by charging a fee, failure to maintain structures, equipment or improvements used in the activity) but not for a public entity’s conduct during a rescue.

[HN6] The language of subdivision (c)(5) of section 831.7 is sufficiently broad to encompass rescue activity. It states immunity is not limited for “[an] act of gross negligence by a public entity or a public employee which is the proximate cause of the injury.” (Italics added.) Clearly, the “act” delineated in this subdivision is not intended to duplicate those mentioned in the other immunity exemptions, [***12] i.e., a public entity’s promotion or sponsorship of a hazardous recreational activity, provision of improvements or equipment, or failure to warn of known risks which are not inherently a part of the sport. Among the most obvious other “acts” which would involve a public entity with hazardous recreational activity is the act of rescuing a person who has been injured by participation in a hazardous recreational activity.

An interpretation of section 831.7 that it was intended to grant immunity for emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence is consistent with other statutes providing immunity to persons providing emergency assistance. The Legislature has enacted numerous statutes, both before and after the enactment of section 831.7, which provide immunity to persons providing emergency assistance except when there is gross negligence. (See Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2727.5 [immunity for licensed nurse who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency occurring outside the [*357] place and course of nurse’s employment unless the nurse is grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2395.5 [immunity for a licensed physician who serves on-call in a hospital emergency [***13] room who in good faith renders emergency obstetrical services unless the physician was grossly negligent, reckless, or committed willful misconduct]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2398 [immunity for licensed physician who in good faith and without compensation renders voluntary emergency medical assistance to a participant in a community college or high school athletic event for an injury suffered in the course of that event unless the physician was grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 3706 [immunity for certified respiratory therapist who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency occurring outside the place and course of employment unless the respiratory therapist was grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 4840.6 [immunity for a registered animal health technician who in good faith renders emergency animal health care at the scene of an emergency unless the animal health technician was grossly negligent]; Civ. Code, § 1714.2 [immunity to a person who has completed a basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation course for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiac care who in good faith renders emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene of an emergency [***14] unless the individual was grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.105 [immunity for poison control center personnel who in good faith provide emergency information and advice unless they are grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.106 [immunity for a firefighter, police officer or other law enforcement officer who in good faith renders emergency medical services at the scene of an emergency unless the officer was grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107 [immunity for public entity and emergency rescue personnel acting in good faith within the scope of their employment unless they were grossly negligent].)

Further, there are policy reasons supporting an interpretation extending immunity to public entities for negligence occurring during the course of a rescue effort. It is a matter of strong public policy to [**361] encourage emergency assistance and rescue. Just three months after the incident involved here, the Legislature enacted Health and Safety Code section 1799.107 expressly granting immunity to emergency rescue personnel for any action taken within the scope of their employment to provide emergency services unless the personnel acted in bad faith or in a grossly [***15] negligent manner. ( Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107, subd. (b).) In enacting this statute, the Legislature declared: “The Legislature finds and declares that a threat to the public health and safety exists whenever there is a need for emergency services and that public entities and emergency rescue personnel should be encouraged to provide emergency services.” ( Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107, subd. (a).)

[*358] An interpretation of the hazardous recreational activities immunity to immunize public entities and their employees for acts of emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence furthers the strong public policy encouraging rescues and emergency assistance.

We conclude summary judgment was properly granted to Imperial Beach on Decker’s cause of action for negligence.

III

(8a) The question remains whether Decker may recover on a theory of gross negligence pursuant to subdivision (c)(5) of section 831.7.

In Gore v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1980) 110 Cal.App.3d 184, 197 [167 Cal.Rptr. 881], the court examined the meaning of the term “gross negligence”: “Prosser on Torts (1941) page 260, also cited by the Van Meter court [ Van Meter v. Bent Construction Co. (1956) 46 Cal.2d 588 [297 P.2d 644]] [***16] for its definition of gross negligence, reads as follows: ‘Gross Negligence. This is very great negligence, or the want of even scant care. It has been described as a failure to exercise even that care which a careless person would use. Many courts, dissatisfied with a term so devoid of all real content, have interpreted it as requiring wilful misconduct, or recklessness, or such utter lack of all care as will be evidence of either — sometimes on the ground that this must have been the purpose of the legislature. But most courts have considered that “gross negligence” falls short of a reckless disregard of consequences, and differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, and not in kind. So far as it has any accepted meaning, it is merely an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.’ (Italics added.)”

(9) [HN7] California courts require a showing of “‘the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct'” in order to establish gross negligence. ( Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1982) 31 Cal.3d 124, 138 [181 Cal.Rptr. 732, 642 P.2d 792]; De Vito v. State of California (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 264, 272 [248 Cal.Rptr. 330].) [***17] (10) Generally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence ( Pacific Bell v. Colich (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 1225, 1240 [244 Cal.Rptr. 714]) but not always. ( De Vito v. State of California, supra, at p. 272.)

(8b) Decker argues Imperial Beach is liable because their rescue personnel responded to the scene within minutes in their official capacity to give aid to Gary; they took both actual and ostensible control of the rescue efforts, they required other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach, including firefighter Golden; and “[the] promise to ‘help’ arrived in the [*359] form of the Sheriff’s Department Dive Team which was not trained in surf rescue techniques” and used a technique which “was abandoned by life guards trained in surf rescue in the 1920’s.” Decker concludes: “Unfortunately, Gary Decker would have been better off if the City of Imperial Beach had not responded. Their presence (by creating the illusion of competent assistance and by preventing other rescue efforts) proved fatal to Gary.”

Precluding Other Assistance

The facts show Imperial Beach firefighter Olin Golden borrowed Hewitt’s wet [**362] suit and requested [***18] permission to attempt a surf rescue of Gary. Decker states Golden “was a water safety instructor and a life guard trained in surf rescue.” While Decker presented evidence showing Golden was a water safety instructor and lifeguard, nothing in the record indicates Golden was experienced in surf rescue. Rather, the record indicates Golden had given swimming lessons at a high school pool and had guarded the pool; this was the information known to the fire chief at the time he told Golden to stay on the beach. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said the fire chief’s refusal to allow Golden to attempt a surf rescue constituted gross negligence. Sending Golden, a person not known to be trained or experienced in surf rescue, into the water could have endangered Golden’s safety and been the basis for finding negligence had Golden been injured. Since the facts suggest negligence could be based on either the act or the omission, a finding of gross negligence by virtue of the omission is not warranted; the case is too closely balanced. In such a case, it cannot be said there is a “‘want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”

This same reasoning [***19] applies even more strongly to the fire chief’s refusal to allow Hewitt or other bystanders to attempt a surf rescue. Hewitt had already demonstrated his lack of qualifications to rescue Gary; he had tried twice and failed both times. (11) As to other would-be rescuers, their training and experience was unknown and it certainly cannot be said that it is gross negligence to discourage persons with unknown qualifications from attempting a dangerous surf rescue.

Rescue Options

(8c) Decker presented testimony by Charles Chase, an experienced lifeguard supervisor. Chase testified about the rescue method used by the Sheriff’s dive team (sending out a diver tethered to a rope) as follows: “A life line type rescue is used in special circumstances, but it would never be used with a strong side current [as was the case here] and it would never be [*360] used if you could get there quicker in a better way, and it’s a specialized form of rescue. Years and years ago the life line rescue was quite common, and that was prior to the use or the availability of, say, fins and also the availability of good swimmers. If you go back to the 20’s, they had a limited amount of people that could swim as well as [***20] a lot of people can swim now and fins weren’t available.”

When asked why he thought the dive team was unable to reach Gary, Chase explained that “[the] buoyancy of the full dive suit would have made it hard to submerge one’s self and/or dive under the waves while you’re swimming out but also slow you down.” He stated the line tethering the diver to the shore would be pulled down by the side current, a “force which would impede the progress towards the rescue as far as getting to him.” When asked if he had any other opinions about why the attempts to reach Gary were unsuccessful, Chase responded: “Well, it would obviously be the lack of — the dive team’s lack of training in open surf conditions and what would have been a routine rescue for a lifeguard. I’d have to qualify that a little bit. The routine rescue meaning to reach the victim would have not been a difficult task at all. Whether they could have untangled the victim is — that’s hard to judge from a Monday morning quarterback type of situation.”

This testimony could support a finding that use of the lifeline rescue method is a disfavored surf rescue method and would not be used by an experienced, trained surf rescuer but it [***21] does not support a finding the sheriff’s dive team was grossly negligent for having used this method given their lack of training or experience in surf rescue.

Nor did Decker present evidence which would support a finding Imperial Beach was grossly negligent in its selection of rescue techniques, in particular, its failure to call off-duty lifeguards trained in surf rescue for assistance.

[**363] To the extent Decker seeks to impose liability based on Imperial Beach’s failure to adopt a policy requiring the training of firefighters and sheriff’s deputies in surf rescue or the calling of trained lifeguards for assistance, his claim must fail. The Legislature has provided immunity to public entities for such policy decisions. (§ 820.2; Nunn v. State of California (1984) 35 Cal.3d 616, 622 [200 Cal.Rptr. 440, 677 P.2d 846].)

Nor can a finding of gross negligence be premised on the failure of the Imperial Beach rescue personnel at the beach to call for the assistance of the off-duty lifeguards. First, the facts show the rescue personnel diligently pursued attempts to rescue Gary, both by helicopter and by use of the sheriff’s dive team. Decker presented no evidence contesting the validity of [***22] [*361] decision to first attempt a helicopter rescue. He does not claim the Imperial Beach rescue personnel were grossly negligent in calling for the helicopter or attempting to effectuate a rescue by helicopter. Decker appears to treat the helicopter rescue as a valid rescue method. Second, the record shows there were no existing procedures or centralized dispatcher available for contacting off-duty lifeguards. Thus, the rescue personnel cannot be said to have been grossly negligent for having failed to follow established procedures or for having failed to pursue a readily available option (i.e., the record indicates the lifeguards were not readily and easily accessible). (Compare Lowry v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 188, 196, fn. 7 [229 Cal.Rptr. 620, 64 A.L.R.4th 1191] [affirming summary judgment based on immunity under Health & Saf. Code, § 1317 for a hospital rescue team because there were no facts showing bad faith or gross negligence for deviating from American Heart Association guidelines].)

Decker’s argument would find gross negligence because the rescue personnel elected to try two methods to rescue Gary but failed to try a third method, i.e., [***23] contacting off-duty lifeguards. This failure to pursue this alternative, which may or may not have succeeded in saving Gary’s life, does not constitute gross negligence. (12) [HN8] To avoid a finding of gross negligence, it is not required that a public entity must pursue all possible options. It is required only that they exercise some care, that they pursue a course of conduct which is not “‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'” ( Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance, supra, 31 Cal.3d 124, 138.)

(8d) The essence of Decker’s complaint is not that the Imperial Beach rescue personnel were grossly negligent in failing to try to rescue Gary, but that they were not timely in their rescue of Gary. To the extent Decker’s claim is essentially that Imperial Beach was not timely in providing lifeguard services, his case is similar to County of Santa Cruz v. Superior Court (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 999 [244 Cal.Rptr. 105]. In the Santa Cruz case, the court found summary judgment was properly granted on a claim for gross negligence for injuries due to diving into shallow water. The court explained: “The only basis for liability that Magana alleged against City . . . [***24] was that City lifeguards failed to provide adequate and safe extrication and first aid to him promptly after he was injured. . . . The allegation here is that the lifeguard assigned to the area where the injury occurred did not respond and offer aid for 20 minutes. This is insufficient to raise a triable issue of gross negligence or bad faith.” ( Id. at p. 1007.)

Here the facts supporting gross negligence are even weaker. In contrast to the Santa Cruz case where no rescue efforts were made for 20 minutes, here [*362] the rescue personnel arrived promptly and they diligently and continuously tried to rescue Gary. The facts in this case do not warrant a finding of gross negligence. Summary judgment was properly granted on Decker’s cause of action for gross negligence.

IV

Special Relationship

Imperial Beach also argues it had no liability for Gary’s death because no special [**364] relationship existed between Imperial Beach and Gary. We need not resolve this issue since we have held Imperial Beach has immunity under section 831.7.

The judgment is affirmed.

CONCUR BY: WIENER (In Part)

DISSENT BY: WIENER (In Part)

DISSENT

WIENER, J., Concurring and Dissenting. I agree that absent gross negligence, Government Code section 831.7 [***25] immunizes the City of Imperial Beach (City) from emergency rescue service. I disagree, however, that there are no triable factual issues as to the City’s gross negligence.

In the interest of brevity I will not belabor what I believe is the misapplication of the standards governing summary judgment to the facts here. (See maj. opn., ante, pp. 353-354.) I prefer to focus on the human aspects of this case.

Understanding the meaning of gross negligence in the context of this case does not require scholarly insight into an arcane legal subject. The simple question before us is whether there are triable factual issues relating to the City’s gross negligence. Significantly we are not asked to decide, as the majority would have us believe, whether Decker successfully established gross negligence. That determination is not required in a summary judgment proceeding. “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1107 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].)

Here without sufficient factual support the majority say as a [***26] matter of law that the action taken by the fire chief to prevent any rescue effort was perfectly proper. Perhaps they are correct. It may well be that the chief made a prudent judgment call or at worse acted only negligently. But from [*363] the information in the record before us I cannot say that this conduct did not represent a substantial departure from ordinary care. I do not know what objective criteria, if any, the fire chief used to formulate his decision barring everyone on the beach from trying to save Gary. What investigation did the fire chief take before issuing his blanket directive preventing anyone from attempting to rescue this drowning young man? What authority did he have to effectively intimidate those who were willing to be Good Samaritans from acting as such when there is nothing in this record to support a finding that their efforts would not have been successful? I would hate to think that bureaucratic considerations dominated the chief’s decision. We may never know. The summary judgment remedy, characterized as a drastic remedy to be used with caution, has replaced a trial on the merits.

Although the appellate record is purportedly cold I cannot leave this [***27] case without admitting that I will remain haunted by the specter of this young man’s lengthy, unsuccessful struggle against the power of the sea, fighting to stay afloat, emotionally assisted by what can only be described as a callous call from the beach that “help was on the way.” In no way can this case be compared to the drowning described in City of Santa Cruz v. Superior Court (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 999 [244 Cal.Rptr. 105] where lifeguards came to assist the victim as soon as they were able to do so, about 20 minutes after the accident occurred. All those participating in the rescue efforts were certified emergency technicians. It was also undisputed that the lifeguard assigned to the area was elsewhere properly attending to another problem when the accident happened. (At p. 1002.) I agree the facts in City of Santa Cruz do not present triable factual issues on the question of the City’s gross negligence. I cannot agree here. This case should be decided on the evidence presented in a trial and not on the documents before us.


List of Enhancements at Colorado Ski Resorts for the 2016-17 season.

Colorado Ski Country USA Enhances Guest Experience for 2016/17 Season

with Major Capital Improvements

Resorts Invest In New Dining Options, Lifts and Transportation Upgrades

 

Photo Credit: Arapahoe Basin, Dave Camara

Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) member resorts are dedicated to providing a guest experience that sets the standard in ski vacations, from friendly employees providing personal interactions and a welcoming spirit, to unmatched guest services including top of the line amenities, customized programs and innovative activities.

CSCUSA resorts regularly invest to improve facilities and enhance the guest experience both on and off the mountain. For the 2016/17 season, guests will find new dining options, new chairlifts and new terrain enhancements, as well as other improvements that will elevate the premier skiing and snowboarding experience at CSCUSA resorts.

Below is a summary of the many upgrades at CSCUSA resorts that guests will enjoy during the 2016/17 ski season.

Arapahoe Basin

To celebrate A-Basin’s 70th Anniversary, the resort has made significant investments into improving the base area including renovating buildings, improving walkways and ramps, upgrading skier services, expanding Arapahoe Sports and providing better outdoor seating and viewing areas for the main stage.

A-Basin has recently updated all of its webcams, installing new ones last season in the base area and facing the Pali terrain and invested in a partnership with Prism for the Divide Cam, situated at the summit. For more information, visit www.arapahoebasin.com.

Aspen Snowmass

Aspen Snowmass has undergone significant renovations in anticipation of the 2016/17 season including an extensive remodel at Gwyn’s High Alpine Restaurant that will expand the building’s capacity from 350 to 800, and add a bar complete with a large wood-burning fire and big-screen televisions. Additionally the cafeteria will have a “market” setup that will improve diners’ access to food.

Lynn Britt Cabin, debuted in the spring of 2016, introduced LBC Après, a lively après party at the quaint cabin featuring $6 Woody Creek Distillers Gin & Juice Cocktails alongside après food specials starting at $5.

Aspen will host the 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals March 15-17, 2017, marking the first time the event has been held in the U.S. in 20 years. The races will feature the best men’s and women’s alpine skiing athletes in the world competing in downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and nation’s team event. For more information, visit www.aspensnowmass.com.

Cooper

This season Cooper will unveil a new mountaintop yurt lodge, a comfortable place to kick back for a break, complete with food and beverage and a large deck with stunning panoramic mountain views.

Other ski area improvements include a new Pistenbully 400 slope groomer to continue to provide the softest and smoothest snow around. There are also new administrative offices at the mountain and a new point-of-sale system in food and beverage and the retail shop. For more information, visit www.skicooper.com.

Copper Mountain

On the Rockies is Copper’s new bar and entertainment hotspot in the resort’s Center Village. Just steps from the American Eagle chairlift, On the Rockies specializes in craft whiskeys from Colorado and beyond as well as craft beer. It also features a full menu of sandwiches, salads and other American fare.

A second new eatery, Eagle BBQ, will offer a variety of barbeque options in a Colorado-themed atmosphere in Center Village’s Copper Junction building. The restaurant’s patio is as close to the snow as possible, making it a perfect après location. It is expected to open in November 2016.

Recently Copper’s Green Team secured a grant from the State of Colorado to install four Level 2 electric car charging spaces, allowing vehicles to charge in 4-8 hours. Located at the entrance of the Beeler parking lot in Copper’s Center Village, the Chargepoint interface allows users to schedule appointment times through a smartphone app, free of charge.

For 2016/17, Copper will offer a new option for those looking for luxury accommodations during their visit. White River Luxury Rentals will allow guests to book units through the White River Luxury Rentals website and coppercolorado.com. For more information, visit www.coppercolorado.com.

Crested Butte

For 2016/17 Crested Butte Mountain Resort will feature a new coffee shop, Coal Breaker Coffee, named after the Ruby-Anthracite. Coal Breaker is located in the Treasury Center in the base area and offers made-to-order crepes, breakfast sandwiches, espresso and hand scooped ice cream.

Another feature for 2016/17 is a new, quarter million dollar, state-of-the-art Montana Crystal Glide Finish automated tuning machine to provide speedy and accurate tuning of skis and snowboards to the Gunnison Valley.

A new program at the resort will debut this season, Women’s Tips on Tuesday’s is a half-day women’s specific ski school led by Crested Butte’s top female pros that concludes with a glass of wine. For more information, visit www.skicb.com.

Eldora

For 2016/17 Eldora added new runs on Indian Peaks as well as upgraded key facilities in both Timbers Lodge and Indian Peaks Lodge. Other improvements include upgrades to snowmaking equipment and guest Wi-Fi internet. For more information, visit www.eldora.com.

Monarch Mountain

For 2016/17 Monarch is adding three designated uphill travel routes that will allow guests to trek from the base area to the top of the Continental Divide. Guests must register at the information desk to receive the complimentary uphill travel ticket.

Also new this season, Monarch will have one, all-mountain point-of-sale system, Siriusware, that allows guests to log in online and reload their ticket products, skipping the ticket windows and increasing convenience. For more information, visit www.skimonarch.com.

Purgatory

New this season guests will notice the Columbine beginner area has been expanded and re-graded to improve the area where beginners learn to ski and snowboard. Also, the Snow Coaster Tubing Hill has been relocated, redesigned, and enhanced for a better user experience and a hazard tree mitigation project will vastly improve the health of the forest and enhance tree skiing at the resort.

A modernized rope tow, the new T-3 surface lift, will transport skiers on the backside of the mountain heading west to the Legends Lift 8 high-speed detachable-quad chairlift, which debuted last winter. The T-3 lift will also connect a new trail to the Legends Lift 8. The Legends Bypass, which opened last winter as an alternative way down to Lift 8, will be widened and re-graded.

Additionally, the snowmaking system has been enhanced with additional snow guns and upgraded nozzles, making snowmaking efforts more productive and efficient allowing for snowmaking as early as October.

Purgatory installed a new point-of-sale software that will make it easier for consumers who are making purchases throughout the resort, providing them with faster transactions at the Ticket Office, Snow Sports School, rentals, retail, and restaurants.

This fall, Purgatory is opening a new convenient retail, rental and repair services shop in Durango at 2615 Main Ave. The remodel will provide a new storefront for outdoor recreation apparel, gear, rentals, repair services, ticket/pass purchases, as well as the resort’s reservation center. For more information, visit www.skipurg.com.

Silverton

As Silverton celebrates its 15th anniversary season in 2016/17, the ski area will unveil a new custom ski basket for helicopter skiing which will allow the Silverton heli to fly higher and faster than ever before and allow guests to get in more runs during their stay. Also new this season, redesigned entrance steps to the tent will greet visitors.

Other improvements include an all new demo fleet featuring state of the art Marker demo bindings.

Silverton’s largest hotel, The Grand Imperial Hotel, recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation this year to return this historic building to its former luster with huge upgrades to all aspects of the facility. For more information, visit www.silvertonmountain.com.

Ski Granby Ranch

Ski Granby has added one new groomer and five new snow guns, which will increase snow making capability by more than 100 acres. Additionally, there will be new TVs and a new menu at the Grill. From more information, visit www.granbyranch.com.

Sunlight

In preparation for the season, Sunlight has updated its fleet of rental equipment with the purchase of several hundred sets of new skis, snowboards, and boots plus new tuning equipment. Coupled with a fresh wax and high-precision tuning, visitors will be ready to shine during Sunlight’s 50th anniversary season. For more information, visit www.sunlightmtn.com.

Steamboat

For 2016/17 Steamboat will replace its Elkhead fixed-grip quad with a Dopplemayr high-speed detachable quad, cutting ride times by more than half. Safety bars will also be added to the new lift. The increased speed and capacity of the new Elkhead lift is expected to substantially improve the guest experience in the popular Sunshine and Priest Creek areas of the mountain, especially at lunchtime and end-of-day egress.

Steamboat’s new mountain coaster will operate year-round in the vicinity of Christie Peak Express lift. The mountain coaster will allow guests to ride a gravity driven sled up the mountain and then slide down the rails while controlling the sled.

A new flight will offer travelers a chance to experience Steamboat’s legendary Champagne Powder® with a direct flight from San Diego International Airport (SAN) to Steamboat/Hayden Airport (HDN). Alaska Airlines will fly routes twice a week from Dec. 17, 2016 to March 25, 2017.

The resort partnered with Marmot on a new concept store located on the corner of 7th Street and Lincoln Ave in historic downtown Steamboat. The new 1,800-square-foot branded retail space will focus extensively on outerwear, apparel and accessories from the award-winning, high-performance company.

Improvements to snowmaking equipment include a new Leitwolf snowcat and an upgrade to the pumphouse to increase water capacity for snowmaking. For more information, visit www.steamboat.com.

Telluride

The beloved Telluride Mountain Village Gondola system will celebrate its 20th anniversary in December. A celebration with a series of events and a festive gala will take place during the anniversary month while a number of events will take place to celebrate the Gondola and its contribution to the region throughout the season.

Telluride’s newest restaurant, Altezza at the Peaks, offers incredible views. Altezza, which means “height” in Italian, offers an Italian-inspired menu, with a variety of main courses such as traditional pastas and Colorado-inspired dishes. To broaden the overall resort experience, Telluride is adding a number of ongoing, free, family-friendly events to take place when the lifts stop turning for the day including a kids’ zone, a holiday prelude and movie series, other movie nights and live music in the mountain village.

Skiers and riders will also have new transportation options with Allegiant Airlines adding a flight between Montrose/Telluride and Denver. The seasonal flights will operate twice weekly and fly nonstop between Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) and DIA (DEN) with one-way fares as low as $44.

Telluride continues to invest in its infrastructure by enhancing the snowmaking capabilities in the Meadows area that caters to Ski School and beginner skiers and snowboarders. For more information, visit www.tellurideskiresort.com.

Winter Park

The Winter Park Express ski train returns, restoring passenger rail service from Denver’s Union Station to the slopes of Winter Park with service beginning Saturday, January 7 and continuing every weekend and holiday Monday through Sunday, March 26. This service is the only one of its kind in the United States.

There are four new state-of-the-art snowcats that can be used year-round to trim trees and bushes in the summer that have a tendency to peek through the snow in the winter. At peak output the resort will be able to groom almost 1,000 acres, which is a lot of corduroy. For more information, visit www.winterparkresort.com.

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek Ski Area will debut a new lift for the 2016/17 ski season, the Lynx Lift, which will link the existing base area to a new teaching area. The top of the Lynx Lift terminal building will house a ski school greeting area facility designed for greater customer service for beginner skiers.

A portion of the Tranquility Parking Lot has been paved and other damaged areas have been repaired with 2,600 tons of asphalt. The ski and snowboard rentals have increased their fleet for next season with new demos, sport and standard models from some of the best manufactures in the industry. Guests will also see cosmetic improvements to the base area buildings as well as the Bonanza Lift.

This season marks the 40th year Wolf Creek Ski Area has been owned and operated by the Pitcher family, which is committed to operating a sustainable ski area with a low-density skiing experience that remains affordable to the public.

Other improvements include an upgrade in the food and beverage department from traditional cash registers to a point-of-sale system. Improvements to the online reservation system include allowing guests to book ski school lessons and access to the entire rental fleet. Radio telemetry for activating avalanche control exploders along the Knife Ridge out of the Horseshow Bowl were added this spring while maintenance on the the D. Boyce Poma Lift will keep piece of Wolf Creek history operating. For more information, visit www.wolfcreekski.com.


Premier in SLC of 3,000 Cups of Tea the story of the program and its founder Greg Mortenson

September 27, 2016

3,000 CUPS OF TEA

3000CupsOfTea660

Start: September 27, 2016 7:00 PM
End: September 27, 2016 9:00 PM
Venue: The City Library The City Library
Address: 210 E. 400 S. , Salt Lake City, UT, 84111
Cost: Free

*Post-film Q&A with director Jennifer Jordan and Co-Producer Jeff Rhoads

This is the story of Greg Mortenson, his mission to bring about peace through education, his meteoric rise, and the scandal that brought him to his knees. It is the story of the difference his work is making in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the world. The film explores the brilliance and the blindness of a great but sometimes flawed human being, and finally, it reveals what has happened since the scandal to the man, his schools, and his dream of spreading “peace through books not bombs.”

In 2000 and again in 2002, Jeff Rhoads and Jennifer Jordan made the arduous, week-long journey into base camp at the foot of K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to research future books and shoot a documentary for National Geographic. Those treks took the two through scores of remote mountain villages, many of which had only one building with four plumb walls standing among the mud and stone huts. Those buildings turned out to be Central Asia Institute schools.

Then in 2011, allegations arose that many of those schools did not exist and that Mortenson had used the Institute as his “personal ATM.” Having helped us with both of our expeditions through the troubled and fractious Northern Territories of Pakistan, Mortenson had become a friend and colleague to Rhoads and Jordan. When he came to Salt Lake only months after the attacks of 9-11, Jordan interviewed him about his experience building schools for girls in the nexus of the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s powerbase.

As the media firestorm began and continued Rhoads and Jordan decided to find out for themselves what had happened with Mortenson, his schools, and perhaps, with the state of American journalism.

3,000 Cups of Tea is the result of that investigation.

Jennifer Jordan

www.3000cupsoftea.org


Release and assumption of the risk are both used to defeat a para-athlete’s claims when she collided with a runner on the cycling portion of the course

A good procedure for tracking releases and bibs help prove the plaintiff had signed the release when she denied that fact in her claims.

Hines v. City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

State: New York, Supreme Court of New York, New York County

Plaintiff: SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

Defendant: City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., and Central Park Conservancy

Plaintiff Claims: negligently permitted and/or allowed a non-participant jogger to enter upon the race course and violently collide with Hines.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2016

This was a simple case where a triathlon course was closed, but a jogger ran into a cyclist. However, there was one quirk. The cyclist was para-athlete riding a push-rim racer.

Hines, an experienced para-athlete, claims she was injured during the running portion of the triathlon when she was operating a push-rim racer and was struck by an alleged non-participant jogger. The accident occurred in Central Park at or around West 100th Street and West Drive.

Although the rights of a para-athlete are identical to those of any other athlete, it is interesting to see if either side used the issue legally to their advantage. Neither did.

The plaintiff sued for her injuries.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first looked at how releases are viewed under New York law. New York has a statute voiding releases if those places using them are places of amusement charging for admission. See New York Law Restricting the Use of Releases.

§ 5-326.  Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

However, the court found since this was a race it was not an admission fee but a participation fee; the statute did not apply.

Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable where not expressly prohibited by law Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood. The waiver at issue here clearly and unequivocally ex-presses the intention of the parties to relieve defendants of liability for their own negligence and because the entry fee paid by Hines was for her participation in the triathlon, not an admission fee allowing her to use the public park and roadway where her accident allegedly occurred, the waiver does not violate General Obligations Law § 5-326

The next issue was the plaintiff claimed that she did not sign the release. However, the husband under oath testified that the release could have been his wife’s. “George Hines, who as a party to the action is an interested witness, testified that he believed the signature on the waiver was Hines’.”

In addition, the procedures at the beginning of the race required a racer’s signature. A racer did not get a bib until they had signed the release and proving their identify.

Moreover, as defendants point out, athletes could not participate in the triathlon without signing the waiver in person and presenting photographic identification at a pre-race expo and Hines was seen by non-party witness Kathleen Bateman of Achilles International, Inc. at the expo waiting in line with her handlers to pick up her race bib.

Whether the identification and procedures are in place to prevent fraud in case of an accident and subsequent suit or to prevent fraud among the racers is not clear.

The plaintiff also claimed the defendant was negligent in their cone placement and location of race marshals. She argued the cones should have been placed closer together.

On this claim, the court argued the plaintiff had assumed the risk by racing.

Moreover, the primary assumption of the risk doctrine provides that a voluntary participant in a sporting or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” and it is “not necessary to the application of [the doctrine] that the injured plaintiff have foreseen the exact manner in which his or her injury occurred, so long as the he or she is aware of the potential for injury of the mechanism from which the injury results”

The application of the doctrine of assumption of risk is to be applied based upon the background, skill and experience of the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff had considerable experience racing in triathlons.

Awareness of risk, including risks created by less than optimal “is not to be determined in a vacuum” but, rather, “against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff”. Hines is a highly decorated and highly experienced para-athlete who participated in dozens races over her career, many of which took place in Central Park. Hines’ testimony that other race courses in Central Park were set up differently and delineated with cones and marshals differently than the way in which defendants allegedly set up the triathlon course establishes that Hines was aware that collisions with non-participants were an inherent risk in participating in a triathlon in Central Park.

Because the plaintiff was experienced in racing in triathlons and signed a release her claims were barred.

So Now What?

This case resolved around whether or not the defendant could prove the plaintiff had signed a release, when denied she had signed it. By having procedures set that proved who the person was and not allowing the person to receive a bib, and consequently, race, until a release had been signed was pivotal.

On top of that when a party to the suit, in this case the husband admitted the signature could have been the plaintiffs the court took that statement as an admittance against interest. The husband was a litigant because he was claiming damages as a spouse. A spouse’s claim, as in this case are derivative of the other spaces main claims. That means the plaintiff spouse must prove her claims or the derivative claims also fail.

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