Code of the District of Columbia: Chapter 39. Consumer Protection Procedures

Code of the District of Columbia

Chapter 39. Consumer Protection Procedures.

§ 28–3901. Definitions and purposes.    1

§ 28–3902. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs as consumer protection agency.    4

§ 28–3903. Powers of the consumer protection agency.    5

§ 28–3904. Unfair or deceptive trade practices.    10

§ 28–3905. Complaint procedures.    14

§ 28–3906. Consumer education and information.    22

§ 28–3907. Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection.    23

§ 28–3908. Severability.    24

§ [28-3909.01]. Attorney General Authority.    24

§ 28–3910. Investigatory powers of Attorney General [for the District of Columbia].    25

§ 28–3911. District of Columbia Consumer Protection Fund. [Repealed]    26

§ 28–3912. Submissions to the Council.    27

§ 28–3913. Rules.    27

§ 28–3901. Definitions and purposes.

(a) As used in this chapter, the term —

(1) “person” means an individual, firm, corporation, partnership, cooperative, association, or any other organization, legal entity, or group of individuals however organized;

(2) “consumer” means:

(A) When used as a noun, a person who, other than for purposes of resale, does or would purchase, lease (as lessee), or receive consumer goods or services, including as a co-obligor or surety, or does or would otherwise provide the economic demand for a trade practice;

(B) When used as an adjective, describes anything, without exception, that:

(i) A person does or would purchase, lease (as lessee), or receive and normally use for personal, household, or family purposes; or

(ii) A person described in § 28-3905(k)(1)(B) or (C) purchases or receives in order to test or evaluate qualities pertaining to use for personal, household, or family purposes.

(3) “merchant” means a person, whether organized or operating for profit or for a nonprofit purpose, who in the ordinary course of business does or would sell, lease (to), or transfer, either directly or indirectly, consumer goods or services, or a person who in the ordinary course of business does or would supply the goods or services which are or would be the subject matter of a trade practice;

(4) “complainant” means one or more consumers who took part in a trade practice, or one or more persons acting on behalf of (not the legal representative or other counsel of) such consumers, or the successors or assigns of such consumers or persons, once such consumers or persons complain to the Department about the trade practice;

(5) “respondent” means one or more merchants alleged by a complainant to have taken part in or carried out a trade practice, or the successors or assigns of such merchants, and includes other persons who may be deemed legally responsible for the trade practice;

(6) “trade practice” means any act which does or would create, alter, repair, furnish, make available, provide information about, or, directly or indirectly, solicit or offer for or effectuate, a sale, lease or transfer, of consumer goods or services;

(7) “goods and services” means any and all parts of the economic output of society, at any stage or related or necessary point in the economic process, and includes consumer credit, franchises, business opportunities, real estate transactions, and consumer services of all types;

(8) “Department” means the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs;

(9) “Director” means the Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs;

(10) “Chief of the Office of Compliance” means the senior administrative officer of the Department’s Office of Compliance who is delegated the responsibility of carrying out certain duties specified under section 28-3905;

(11) “Office of Adjudication” means the Department’s Office of Adjudication which is responsible for carrying out certain duties specified under section 28-3905;

(12) “Office of Consumer Protection” means the Department’s Office of Consumer Protection which is responsible for carrying out the statutory requirements set forth in § 28-3906; and

(13) “Committee” means the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection which is responsible for carrying out the statutory requirements set forth in section 28-3907.

(14) “nonprofit organization” means a person who:

(A) Is not an individual; and

(B) Is neither organized nor operating, in whole or in significant part, for profit.

(15) “public interest organization” means a nonprofit organization that is organized and operating, in whole or in part, for the purpose of promoting interests or rights of consumers.

(b) The purposes of this chapter are to:

(1) assure that a just mechanism exists to remedy all improper trade practices and deter the continuing use of such practices;

(2) promote, through effective enforcement, fair business practices throughout the community; and

(3) educate consumers to demand high standards and seek proper redress of grievances.

(c) This chapter shall be construed and applied liberally to promote its purpose. This chapter establishes an enforceable right to truthful information from merchants about consumer goods and services that are or would be purchased, leased, or received in the District of Columbia.

(d) In construing the term “unfair or deceptive trade practice” due consideration and weight shall be given to the interpretation by the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts of the term “unfair or deceptive act or practice,” as employed in section 5(a) of An Act To create a Federal Trade Commission, to define its powers and duties, and for other purposes, approved September 26, 1914 (38 Stat. 719; 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)).

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 2, 23 DCR 1185; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-234, § 2(b), 38 DCR 296; Feb. 5, 1994, D.C. Law 10-68, § 27(b), 40 DCR 6311; Apr. 9, 1997, D.C. Law 11-255, § 27(u), 44 DCR 1271; Oct. 19, 2000, D.C. Law 13-172, § 1402(b), 47 DCR 6308; Oct. 20, 2005, D.C. Law 16-33, § 2032(b), 52 DCR 7503; June 12, 2007, D.C. Law 17-4, § 2(a), 54 DCR 4085; Apr. 23, 2013, D.C. Law 19-282, § 2(b)(1), 60 DCR 2132; July 17, 2018, D.C. Law 22-140, § 2(b), 65 DCR 5970.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3901.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 2.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 1-350.10, § 28-3301, and § 28-3905.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 13-172 in subsec. (b)(1) inserted “and deter the continuing use of such practices” following “practices” in subsec. (b)(1) and added subsec. (c) providing for liberal construction of the chapter.

D.C. Law 16-33 rewrote subsec. (a)(12), which had read:

“(12) ‘Office of Consumer Education and Information’ means the Department’s Office of Consumer Education and Information which is responsible for carrying out the statutory requirements set forth in section 28-3906; and”

D.C. Law 17-4 rewrote subsec. (a)(3), which had read as follows: “(3) ‘merchant’ means a person who does or would sell, lease (to), or transfer, either directly or indirectly, consumer goods or services, or a person who does or would supply the goods or services which are or would be the subject matter of a trade practice;”.

The 2013 amendment by D.C. Law 19-282 rewrote (a)(2); added (a)(14) and (a)(15); and added the last sentence in (c).

Cross References

Automobile Consumer Protection Act, see § 50-501 et seq.

Employer-paid personnel services, operation requirements, see § 32-406.

Employment agencies and counseling services, operation requirements, see §§ 32-404 and 32-405.

Job listing services, operation requirements, see § 32-407.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 1402(b) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-376, July 24, 2000, 47 DCR 6574).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 1402(b) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-438, October 20, 2000, 47 DCR 8740).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 2032(b) of Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2005 (D.C. Act 16-168, July 26, 2005, 52 DCR 7667).

Short Title

Short title of subtitle D of title II of Law 16-33: Section 2031 of D.C. Law 16-33 provided that subtitle D of title II of the act may be cited as the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Consumer Protection Revitalization Act of 2005.

Delegation of Authority

Delegation of authority pursuant to Law 1-76, see Mayor’s Order 86-132, August 12, 1986.

§ 28–3902. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs as consumer protection agency.

(a) The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs shall be the principal consumer protection agency of the District of Columbia government and shall carry out the purposes of this chapter.

(b) Repealed.

(c) The Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs shall exercise the powers set forth in section 28-3905 through the Office of Compliance, and shall appoint a Chief of the Office of Compliance from among active members of the unified District of Columbia Bar. The Chief of the Office of Compliance may carry out investigative, conciliatory, and other duties assigned by the Director.

(d) Repealed.

(e) The Mayor shall appoint one or more attorneys qualified to serve as administrative law judges or attorney examiners to conduct adjudicatory proceedings. Any administrative law judge or attorney examiner appointed pursuant to this subsection may hear cases pursuant to § 2-1801.03.

(f) Repealed.

(g) Repealed.

(h) Repealed.

(i) Notwithstanding any other provision of District law, enforcement of this chapter by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is suspended until October 1, 2002. This subsection shall not prevent the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs from cooperating with, and making appropriate referrals to, another law enforcement agency.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 3, 23 DCR 1185; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Mar. 5, 1981, D.C. Law 3-159, § 2(a), 27 DCR 5147; Oct. 5, 1985, D.C. Law 6-42, § 422, 32 DCR 4450; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-234, § 2(c), 38 DCR 296; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-237, § 4, 38 DCR 314; Feb. 5, 1994, D.C. Law 10-68, § 27(a), (c), 40 DCR 6311; Sept. 26, 1995, D.C. Law 11-52, § 812, 42 DCR 3684; Apr. 9, 1997, D.C. Law 11-255, § 27(v), 44 DCR 1271; Apr. 29, 1998, D.C. Law 12-86, § 1301(a), 45 DCR 1172; Mar. 26, 1999, D.C. Law 12-175, § 1403, 45 DCR 7193; Apr. 20, 1999, D.C. Law 12-264, § 27(b), 46 DCR 2118; Oct. 19, 2000, D.C. Law 13-172, § 1402(c), 47 DCR 6308.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3902.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 3.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 13-172 in subsec. (i) substituted 2002 for 2000 and added a new sentence at the end thereof providing cooperating with and making referrals to another law enforcement agency.

Cross References

Prescription drug price posting, enforcement, cease and desist orders, see § 48-804.03.

Prescription drug price posting, informational posters provided to pharmacies, see § 48-801.02.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary amendment of section, see § 811 of the Omnibus Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 1995 (D.C. Act 11-124, July 27, 1995, 42 DCR 4160).

For temporary amendment of section, see § 503 of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Federal Law Conformity Emergency Amendment Act of 1998 (D.C. Act 12-339, May 4, 1998, 45 DCR 2947) and § 503 of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Federal Law Conformity, Motor Vehicle Insurance, Regulatory Reform, and Consumer Law Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 1998 (D.C. Act 12-429, August 6, 1998, 45 DCR 5890).

For temporary amendment of section, see § 1003 of the Fiscal Year 1999 Budget Support Emergency Act of 1998 (D.C. Act 12-401, July 13, 1998, 45 DCR 4794) and § 1003 of the Fiscal Year 1999 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 1998 (D.C. Act 12-564, January 12, 1999, 46 DCR 669).

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 1003 of the Fiscal Year 1999 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 1999 (D.C. Act 13-41, March 31, 1999, 46 DCR 3446).

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 1402(c) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-376, July 24, 2000, 47 DCR 6574).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 1402(c) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-438, October 20, 2000, 47 DCR 8740).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 day) amendment of section, see § 503 of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Federal Law Conformity, Motor Vehicle Insurance, Regulatory Reform, and Consumer Law Temporary Amendment Act of 1998 (D.C. Law 12-154, September 18, 1998, law notification 45 DCR 6951).

§ 28–3903. Powers of the consumer protection agency.

*NOTE: This section includes amendments by temporary legislation that will expire on February 4, 2022. To view the text of this section after the expiration of all emergency and temporary legislation, click this link: Permanent Version.*

(a) The Department, in its discretion, may:

(1) receive and investigate any consumer complaint and initiate its own investigation of deceptive, unfair, or unlawful trade practices against consumers where the:

(i) amount in controversy totals $250 or more; or

(ii) case, or cases, indicates a pattern or practice of abuse on the part of a business or industry;

(2) issue summonses and subpoenas to compel the production of documents, papers, books, records, and other evidence, hold hearings, compel the attendance of witnesses, administer oaths, and take the testimony of any person under oath, concerning any trade practice;

(3) issue cease and desist orders with respect to trade practices determined to be in violation of District law by the Department;

(4) report to appropriate governmental agencies any information concerning violation of any law;

(5) present the interest of consumers before administrative and regulatory agencies and legislative bodies;

(6) assist, advise, and cooperate with private, local and federal agencies and officials to protect and promote the interest of the District of Columbia consumer public;

(7) assist, develop, and conduct programs of consumer education and information through public hearings, meetings, publications, or other materials prepared for distribution to the consumer public of the District of Columbia;

(8) undertake activities to encourage local business and industry to maintain high standards of honesty, fair business practices, and public responsibility in the production, promotion, and sale of consumer goods and services and in the extension of credit;

(9) exercise and perform such other functions and duties consistent with the purposes or provisions of this chapter which may be deemed necessary or appropriate to protect and promote the welfare of District of Columbia consumers;

(10) [repealed];

(11) implead and interplead persons who are properly parties to a case before the Department under section 28-3905;

(12) negotiate, agree to, and sign consent decrees;

(13) determine whether a person has executed a trade practice in violation of any law of the District of Columbia, and provide full remedy for such violation by:

(A) damages in contract, and orders for restitution, rescission, reformation, repair, and replacement,

(B) stipulations, conditions, and directives, both temporary and permanent, of all kinds,

(C) enforcement of orders and decrees, collection of civil penalties, and other activities, in the courts,

(D) and other lawful methods;

(14) maintain both confidential and public records, and publicize its own actions, in accordance with section 28-3905;

(15) [repealed];

(16) appoint private attorneys from the District of Columbia bar, who shall take action in the name of the Department, and shall promulgate regulations implementing this provision, in order to assist in the enforcement of any consumer complaint; and

(17) impose civil fines, pursuant to Chapter 18 of Title 2, as alternative sanctions for any violation of the provisions of this chapter or of any rules issued under the authority of this chapter. Any violation of this chapter, or of any rule issued under the authority of this chapter, shall be a Class 2 infraction pursuant to 16 DCMR § 3200.1(b), unless the violation is classified otherwise pursuant to rules issued by the Department; except, that notwithstanding any other provision of District law or regulation, during a period of time for which the Mayor has declared a public health emergency pursuant to § 7-2304.01, a violation of this chapter or of any rule issued under the authority of this chapter shall be a Class 1 infraction within the meaning of 16 DCMR § 3200.1(a).

(b) The Department shall:

(1) perform the functions of the Mayor, Department of Consumer Affairs, Board of Consumer Goods Repairs Services or Department of Economic Development in:

(A) the District of Columbia Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1971 (Title 28, Chapters 36, 37, 38, et al.),

(B) the District of Columbia Consumer Retail Credit Regulation (16 DCMR Ch. 1),

(C) the District of Columbia Consumer Goods Repair Regulation (16 DCMR Ch. 6); and

(D) the District of Columbia Consumer LayAway Plan Act (section 28-3818);

(2) render annual reports to the Council and the Mayor as to the number of complaints filed and the nature, status, and disposition thereof, and about the other activities of the Department undertaken during the previous year.

(c) The Department may not:

(1) order damages for personal injury of a tortious nature;

(2) apply the provisions of section 28-3905 to:

(A) landlord-tenant relations;

(B) persons subject to regulation by the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia;

(C) professional services of clergymen, lawyers, and Christian Science practitioners engaging in their respective professional endeavors;

(D) a television or radio broadcasting station or publisher or printer of a newspaper, magazine, or other form of printed advertising, which broadcasts, publishes, or prints an advertisement which violates District law, except insofar as such station, publisher or printer engages in a trade practice which violates District law in selling or offering for sale its own goods or services, or has knowledge of the advertising being in violation of District law; or

(E) an action of an agency of government.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 4, 23 DCR 1185; June 11, 1977, D.C. Law 2-8, § 4(a), 24 DCR 726; Oct. 4, 1978, D.C. Law 2-115, § 3, 25 DCR 1997; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-234, § 2(d), 38 DCR 296; Feb. 5, 1994, D.C. Law 10-68, § 27(a), (d), 40 DCR 6311; Apr. 9, 1997, D.C. Law 11-255, § 27(w), 44 DCR 1271; Apr. 29, 1998, D.C. Law 12-86, § 1301(b), 45 DCR 1172; Oct. 20, 2005, D.C. Law 16-33, § 2032(c), 52 DCR 7503; Mar. 2, 2007, D.C. Law 16-191,§ 100, 53 DCR 6794; Aug. 16, 2008, D.C. Law 17-219, § 2024, 55 DCR 7598; Feb. 26, 2015, D.C. Law 20-155, § 2012(a), 61 DCR 9990; Oct. 22, 2015, D.C. Law 21-36, § 7029, 62 DCR 10905; June 24, 2021, D.C. Law 24-9, § 305, 68 DCR 004824.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3903.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 4.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 28-3905, § 28-3906, and § 28-4002.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 16-33 repealed subsecs. (a)(10) and (a)(15), which had read:

“(10) publish rules and regulations governing the Department’s procedures, developed by the Director in accordance with the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act ( sections 2-501 et seq.);”

“(15) issue rules that interpret, define, state general policy, or prescribe requirements to prevent unfair, deceptive, and unlawful trade practices as set forth in section 28-3904;”

D.C. Law 16-191, in subsecs. (a)(13)(D) and (14), validated previously made technical corrections.

D.C. Law 17-219, in subsec. (a)(1)(i), substituted “$250” for “$2,500”.

The 2015 amendment by D.C. Law 20-155 added (a)(17) and made related changes.

The 2015 amendment by D.C. Law 21-36 substituted “Chapter 18 of Title 2″ for ” Section 28-3905″ in (a)(17).

Cross References

Hearing aid dealers and consumers, office of consumer protection, powers and duties, see § 28-4002.

Prescription drug price posting, enforcement, cease and desist orders, see § 48-804.03.

Prescription drug price posting, informational posters provided to pharmacies, see § 48-801.02.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Act 24-96, June 7, 2021, 68 DCR 006025).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Act 24-30, Mar. 17, 2021, 68 DCR 003101).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Second Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-405, Aug. 19, 2020, 67 DCR 10235).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-328, June 8, 2020, 67 DCR 7598).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-326, May 27, 2020, 67 DCR 7045).

For temporary amendment of section, see § 2 of the Omnibus Regulatory Reform Amendment Act of 1998 Emergency Repealer Act of 1998 (D.C. Act 12-297, March 4, 1998, 45 DCR 1773), and see § 2 of the Omnibus Regulatory Reform Congressional Review Emergency Repealer Act of 1998 (D.C. Act 12-387, July 13, 1998, 45 DCR 4792).

For temporary amendment of section, see § 2 of the Omnibus Regulatory Reform and Alcoholic Beverage Control DC Arena Clarifying Emergency Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Act 13-1, January 29, 1999, 46 DCR 2284).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 2032(c) of Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2005 (D.C. Act 16-168, July 26, 2005, 52 DCR 7667).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(a) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-377, July 14, 2014, 61 DCR 7598, 20 STAT 3696).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(a) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-449, October 10, 2014, 61 DCR 10915, 20 STAT 4188).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(a) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Second Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-566, January 9, 2015, 62 DCR 884, 21 STAT 541).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(c- 1) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Clarification Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-587, January 13, 2015, 62 DCR 1294, 21 STAT 758).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 7016(c) of the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2015 (D.C. Act 21-127, July 27, 2015, 62 DCR 10201).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Law 24-9, June 24, 2021, 68 DCR 004824).

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 305 of Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Law 23-130, Oct. 9, 2020, 67 DCR 8622).

For temporary (225 day) amendment of section, see § 2 of the Cooperative Association Amendment Act of 1998 (D.C. Law 12-117, April 13, 1999, law notification 46 DCR 3839).

For temporary (225 day) amendment of section, see § 2 of the Omnibus Regulatory Reform Temporary Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Law 13-3, May 28, 1999, law notification 46 DCR 5303).

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(c) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Clarification Temporary Amendment Act of 2014 (D.C. Law 20-179, March 7, 2015, 62 DCR 424).

Short Title

Short title: Section 2023 of D.C. Law 17-219 provided that subtitle J of title II of the act may be cited as the “Consumer Protection Act of 2008”.

§ 28–3904. Unfair or deceptive trade practices.

*NOTE: This section includes amendments by temporary legislation that will expire on February 4, 2022. To view the text of this section after the expiration of all emergency and temporary legislation, click this link: Permanent Version.*

It shall be a violation of this chapter for any person to engage in an unfair or deceptive trade practice, whether or not any consumer is in fact misled, deceived, or damaged thereby, including to:

(a) represent that goods or services have a source, sponsorship, approval, certification, accessories, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, or quantities that they do not have;

(b) represent that the person has a sponsorship, approval, status, affiliation, certification, or connection that the person does not have;

(c) represent that goods are original or new if in fact they are deteriorated, altered, reconditioned, reclaimed, or second hand, or have been used;

(d) represent that goods or services are of particular standard, quality, grade, style, or model, if in fact they are of another;

(e) misrepresent as to a material fact which has a tendency to mislead;

(e-1) [r]epresent that a transaction confers or involves rights, remedies, or obligations which it does not have or involve, or which are prohibited by law;

(f) fail to state a material fact if such failure tends to mislead;

(f-1) [u]se innuendo or ambiguity as to a material fact, which has a tendency to mislead;

(g) disparage the goods, services, or business of another by false or misleading representations of material facts;

(h) advertise or offer goods or services without the intent to sell them or without the intent to sell them as advertised or offered;

(i) advertise or offer goods or services without supplying reasonably expected public demand, unless the advertisement or offer discloses a limitation of quantity or other qualifying condition which has no tendency to mislead;

(j) make false or misleading representations of fact concerning the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of price reductions, or the price in comparison to price of competitors or one’s own price at a past or future time;

(k) falsely state that services, replacements, or repairs are needed;

(l) falsely state the reasons for offering or supplying goods or services at sale or discount prices;

(m) harass or threaten a consumer with any act other than legal process, either by telephone, cards, letters, or any form of electronic or social media;

(n) cease work on, or return after ceasing work on, an electrical or mechanical apparatus, appliance, chattel or other goods, or merchandise, in other than the condition contracted for, or to impose a separate charge to reassemble or restore such an object to such a condition without notification of such charge prior to beginning work on or receiving such object;

(o) replace parts or components in an electrical or mechanical apparatus, appliance, chattel or other goods, or merchandise when such parts or components are not defective, unless requested by the consumer;

(p) falsely state or represent that repairs, alterations, modifications, or servicing have been made and receiving remuneration therefor when they have not been made;

(q) fail to supply to a consumer a copy of a sales or service contract, lease, promissory note, trust agreement, or other evidence of indebtedness which the consumer may execute;

(r) make or enforce unconscionable terms or provisions of sales or leases; in applying this subsection, consideration shall be given to the following, and other factors:

(1) knowledge by the person at the time credit sales are consummated that there was no reasonable probability of payment in full of the obligation by the consumer;

(2) knowledge by the person at the time of the sale or lease of the inability of the consumer to receive substantial benefits from the property or services sold or leased;

(3) gross disparity between the price of the property or services sold or leased and the value of the property or services measured by the price at which similar property or services are readily obtainable in transactions by like buyers or lessees;

(4) that the person contracted for or received separate charges for insurance with respect to credit sales with the effect of making the sales, considered as a whole, unconscionable; and

(5) that the person has knowingly taken advantage of the inability of the consumer reasonably to protect his interests by reasons of age, physical or mental infirmities, ignorance, illiteracy, or inability to understand the language of the agreement, or similar factors;

(s) pass off goods or services as those of another;

(t) use deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin in connection with goods or services;

(u) represent that the subject of a transaction has been supplied in accordance with a previous representation when it has not;

(v) misrepresent the authority of a salesman, representative or agent to negotiate the final terms of a transaction;

(w) offer for sale or distribute any consumer product which is not in conformity with an applicable consumer product safety standard or has been ruled a banned hazardous product under the federal Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. § 2051-83), without holding a certificate issued in accordance with section 14(a) of that Act to the effect that such consumer product conforms to all applicable consumer product safety rules (unless the certificate holder knows that such consumer product does not conform), or without relying in good faith on the representation of the manufacturer or a distributor of such product that the product is not subject to a consumer product safety rule issued under that Act;

(x) sell consumer goods in a condition or manner not consistent with that warranted by operation of sections 28:2-312 through 318 of the District of Columbia Official Code, or by operation or requirement of federal law;

(y) violate any provision of the District of Columbia Consumer LayAway Plan Act (section 28-3818);

(z) violate any provision of the Rental Housing Locator Consumer Protection Act of 1979 (section 28-3819) or, if a rental housing locator, to refuse or fail to honor any obligation under a rental housing locator contract;

(z-1) violate any provision of Chapter 46 of this title;

(aa) violate any provision of sections 32-404, 32-405, 32-406, and 32-407;

(bb) refuse to provide the repairs, refunds, or replacement motor vehicles or fails to provide the disclosures of defects or damages required by the Automobile Consumer Protection Act of 1984;

(cc) violate any provision of the Real Property Credit Line Deed of Trust Act of 1987;

(dd) violate any provision of title 16 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations;

(ee) violate any provision of the Public Insurance Adjuster Act of 2002 [Chapter 16A of Title 31];

(ff) violate any provision of Chapter 33 of this title;

(gg) violate any provision of the Home Equity Protection Act of 2007 [Chapter 24A of Title 42];

(hh) fail to make a disclosure as required by § 26-1113(a-1);

(ii) violate any provision of Chapter 53 of this title;

(jj) violate any agreement entered into pursuant to section 28-3909(c)(6);

(kk) violate any provision of subchapter 2 of Chapter 38 of this title;

(ll) violate any provision of 17 DCMR § 3013;

(mm) violate any provision of 17 DCMR § 3117; or

(nn) Not Funded.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 5, 23 DCR 1185; Oct. 4, 1978, D.C. Law 2-115, § 3, 25 DCR 1997; June 21, 1980, D.C. Law 3-71, § 3(a), 27 DCR 1891; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Mar. 13, 1985, D.C. Law 5-136, § 16, 31 DCR 5727; Mar. 14, 1985, D.C. Law 5-162, § 9(a), 32 DCR 160; Jan. 28, 1988, D.C. Law 7-67, § 5, 34 DCR 7441; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-234, § 2(e), 38 DCR 296; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-236, § 9, 38 DCR 306; Feb. 5, 1994, D.C. Law 10-68, § 27(e), 40 DCR 6311; July 25, 1995, D.C. Law 11-30, § 7(h), 42 DCR 1547; Apr. 9, 1997, D.C. Law 11-255, § 27(x), 44 DCR 1271; Mar. 27, 2003, D.C. Law 14-256, § 11(b), 50 DCR 238; Mar. 13, 2004, D.C. Law 15-105, § 63, 51 DCR 881; Nov. 24, 2007, D.C. Law 17-42, § 3(b), 54 DCR 9988; Jan. 29, 2008, D.C. Law 17-87, § 7, 54 DCR 11913; Jan. 29, 2008, D.C. Law 17-90, § 3, 54 DCR 11925; Mar. 25, 2009, D.C. Law 17-353, § 222, 56 DCR 1117; Apr. 23, 2013, D.C. Law 19-282, § 2(b)(2), 60 DCR 2132; Feb. 26, 2015, D.C. Law 20-155, § 2012(b), 61 DCR 9990; Apr. 22, 2017, D.C. Law 21-280, § 6(b), 64 DCR 168; July 17, 2018, D.C. Law 22-140, § 2(c), 65 DCR 5970; June 17, 2020, D.C. Law 23-98, § 2(b)(1), 67 DCR 3923; Mar. 16, 2021, D.C. Law 23-187, § 2(b), 68 DCR 001031; June 24, 2021, D.C. Law 24-9, § 302(b), 68 DCR 004824.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3904.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 5.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 16-4431, § 28-3905, § 28-3909, § 28-4006, and § 38-1312.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 14-256 added subsec. (ee).

D.C. Law 15-105, in subsec. (ee), validated a previously made technical correction.

D.C. Law 17-42, in subsec. (cc), deleted “or” from the end; in subsec. (dd), substituted a semicolon for a period; in subsec. (ee), substituted “; or” for a period; and added subsec. (ff).

D.C. Law 17-87, in subsec. (ee), deleted “or” from the end; in subsec. (ff), substituted “; or” for a period; and added subsec. (gg).

D.C. Law 17-90, in subsec. (ff), deleted “or” from the end; in subsec. (gg), substituted “; or” for a period; and added subsec. (hh).

D.C. Law 17-353 validated previously made technical corrections in pars. (ff), (gg), and (hh).

The 2013 amendment by D.C. Law 19-282 added (e-1) and (f-1).

The 2015 amendment by D.C. Law 20-155 rewrote (m).

Cross References

Automobile Consumer Protection Act, limitations of actions, see § 50-507.

Automobile Consumer Protection Act, rules and regulations for implementation, see § 50-508.

Education licensure commission, criminal sanctions, fines and penalties, see § 38-1312.

Employment Services Licensing and Regulation Act, penalties for violations, see § 32-414.

Hearing aid dealers and consumers, grounds for revocation and suspension, see § 28-4006.

Applicability

Applicability of D.C. Law 23-187: § 3 of D.C. Law 23-187 provided that the change made to this section by § 2(b) of D.C. Law 23-187 is subject to the inclusion of the law’s fiscal effect in an approved budget and financial plan. Therefore that amendment has not been implemented.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Act 24-96, June 7, 2021, 68 DCR 006025).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Act 24-30, Mar. 17, 2021, 68 DCR 003101).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Second Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-405, Aug. 19, 2020, 67 DCR 10235).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-328, June 8, 2020, 67 DCR 7598).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-326, May 27, 2020, 67 DCR 7045).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(b) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-377, July 14, 2014, 61 DCR 7598, 20 STAT 3696).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(b) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-449, October 10, 2014, 61 DCR 10915, 20 STAT 4188).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(b) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Second Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-566, January 9, 2015, 62 DCR 884, 21 STAT 541).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Law 24-9, June 24, 2021, 68 DCR 004824).

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 302(b) of Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Law 23-130, Oct. 9, 2020, 67 DCR 8622).

References in Text

The Public Insurance Adjuster Licensure Act of 2002, referred to in subsec. (ee), is D.C. Law 14-256.

The “Automobile Consumer Protection Act of 1984”, referred to in paragraph (bb) of this section, is D.C. Law 5-162, codified as Chapter 5 of Title 50.

The “Real Property Credit Line Deed of Trust Act of 1987,” referred to in subsection (cc) of this section, is codified as Chapter 23 of Title 42.

Effective Dates

Section 4 of D.C. Law 17-42 provided: “This act shall take effect following the certification by the Chief Financial Officer, through a revised quarterly revenue estimate for fiscal year 2008, that local funds exceed the annual revenue estimates incorporated in the fiscal year 2008 budget and financial plan in an amount sufficient to account for its fiscal effect. The Chief Financial Officer shall set aside revenue to account for the cost of fully implementing this act.”

Editor’s Notes

Application of D.C. Law 14-256 including the amendments to this section: See section 12 of D.C. Law 14-256, codified as § 31-1631.12.

§ 28–3905. Complaint procedures.

(a) A case is begun by filing with the Department a complaint plainly describing a trade practice and stating the complainant’s (and, if different, the consumer’s) name and address, the name and address (if known) of the respondent, and such other information as the Director may require. The complaint must be in or reduced by the Director to writing. The filing of a complaint with the Department shall toll the periods for limitation of time for bringing an action as set out in section 12-301 until the complaint has been resolved through an administrative order, consent decree, or dismissal in accordance with this section or until an opportunity to arbitrate has been provided in Chapter 5 of Title 50.

(b)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, the Director shall investigate each such complaint and determine:

(A) What trade practice actually occurred; and

(B) Whether the trade practice which occurred violates any statute, regulation, rule of common law, or other law of the District of Columbia.

(2) The Director may, in his or her discretion, decline to prosecute certain cases as necessary to manage the Department’s caseload and control program costs.

(b-1) In carrying out an investigation and determination pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the Director shall consult the respondent and such other available sources of information, and make such other efforts, as are appropriate and necessary to carry out such duties.

(c) If at any time the Director finds that the trade practice complained of may, in whole or in part, be a violation of law other than a law of the District of Columbia or a law within the jurisdiction of the Department, the Director may in writing so inform the complainant, respondent and officials of the District, the United States, or other jurisdiction, who would properly enforce such law.

(d) The Director shall determine that there are, or are not, reasonable grounds to believe that a trade practice, in violation of a law of the District of Columbia within the jurisdiction of the Department, has occurred in any part or all of the case. The Director may find that there are not such reasonable grounds for any of the following reasons:

(1) any violation of law which may have occurred is of a law not of the District of Columbia or not within the jurisdiction of the Department, or occurred more than three years prior to the filing of the complaint;

(2) in case paragraph (1) of this subsection does not apply, no trade practice occurred in violation of any law of the District;

(3) the respondent cannot be identified or located, or would not be subject to the personal jurisdiction of a District of Columbia court;

(4) the complainant, to the Director’s knowledge, no longer seeks redress in the case;

(5) the complainant and respondent, to the Director’s knowledge, have themselves reached an agreement which settles the case; or

(6) the complainant can no longer be located.

(d-1) The Director may dismiss any part or all of a case to which one or more of the reasons stated in subsection (d) of this section apply. The Director shall inform all parties in writing of the determination, and, if any part or all of the case is dismissed, shall specify which of the reasons in this subsection applies to which part of the case, and such other detail as is necessary to explain the dismissal.

(e) The Director may attempt to settle, in accordance with subsection (h) of this section, each case for which reasonable grounds are found in accordance with subsection (d-1) of this section. After the Director’s determination as to whether the complaint is within the Department’s jurisdiction, in accordance with subsection (d-1) of this section, the Director shall:

(1) effect a consent decree;

(2) dismiss the case in accordance with subsection (h)(2) of this section;

(3) through the Chief of the Office of Compliance present to the Office of Adjudication, with copies to all parties, a brief and plain statement of each trade practice that occurred in violation of District law, the law the trade practice violates, and the relief sought from the Office of Adjudication for violation; or

(4) notify all parties of another action taken, with the reasons therefor stated in detail and supported by fact. Reasons may include:

(A) any reason listed in subsections (d)(1) through (d)(6) of this section; and

(B) that the presentation of a charge to the Office of Adjudication would not serve the purposes of this chapter.

(5) Repealed.

(f) When the case is transmitted to the Office of Adjudication, the Chief of the Office of Compliance shall sign, and serve the respondent, the Department’s summons to answer or appear before the Office of Adjudication. Not less than 15 nor more than 90 days after such transmittal, the case shall be heard. The case shall proceed under section 10 of the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act (section 2-509). The Office of Adjudication may, without delaying its hearing or decision, attempt to settle the case pursuant to subsection (h) of this section, and has discretion to permit any stipulation or consent decree the parties agree to. The Director shall be a party on behalf of the complainant. Applications to intervene shall be decided as may be proper or required by law or rule. Reasonable discovery shall be freely allowed. Any finding or decision may be modified or set aside, in whole or part, before a notice of appeal is filed in the case, or the time to so file has run out.

(g) If, after hearing the evidence, the Office of Adjudication decides a trade practice occurred in which the respondent violated a law of the District of Columbia within the jurisdiction of the Department, such Office of Adjudication shall issue an order which:

(1) shall require the respondent to cease and desist from such conduct;

(2) shall, if such Office of Adjudication also decides that the consumer has been injured by the trade practice, order redress through contract damages, restitution for money, time, property or other value received from the consumer by the respondent, or through rescission, reformation, repair, replacement, or other just method;

(3) shall state the number of trade practices the respondent performed in violation of law;

(4) shall, absent good cause found by the Office of Adjudication, require the respondent to pay the Department its costs for investigation, negotiation, and hearing;

(5) may include such other findings, stipulations, conditions, directives, and remedies including punitive damages, treble damages, or reasonable attorney’s fees, as are reasonable and necessary to identify, correct, or prevent the conduct which violated District law; and

(6) may be based, in whole or part, upon a violation of a law establishing or regulating a type of business, occupational or professional license or permit, and may refer the case for further proceedings to an appropriate board or commission, but may not suspend or revoke a license or permit if there is a board or commission which oversees the specific type of license or permit.

(h)(1) At any time after reasonable grounds are found in accordance with subsection (d) of this section, the respondent, the Department (represented by (i) the Director prior to transmittal to the Office of Adjudication and after an order issued pursuant to subsection (f) of this section has been appealed, and (ii) the Office of Adjudication after transmittal to the Office of Adjudication and prior to such appeal), and the complainant, may agree to settle all or part of the case by a written consent decree which may:

(A) include any provision described in subsection (g)(2) through (6) of this section;

(B) not contain an assertion that the respondent has violated a law;

(C) contain an assurance that the respondent will refrain from a trade practice;

(D) bar the Department from further action in the case, or a part thereof; or

(E) contain such other provisions or considerations as the parties agree to.

(2) The representative of the Department shall administer the settlement proceedings, and may utilize the good offices of the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection. All settlement proceedings shall be informal and include all interested parties and such representatives as the parties may choose to represent them. Such proceedings shall be private, and nothing said or done, except a consent decree, shall be made public by the Department, any party, or the Advisory Committee, unless the parties agree thereto in writing. The representative of the Department may call settlement conferences. For persistent and unreasonable failure by the complainant to attend such conferences or to take part in other settlement proceedings, the Director, prior to transmittal to the Office of Adjudication, may dismiss the case.

(3) A consent decree described in paragraph (1) of this subsection may be modified by agreement of the Department, complainant and respondent.

(i)(1) An aggrieved party may appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals after:

(A) the Office of Adjudication decides a case pursuant to subsection (f) of this section;

(B) all parts of a case have been dismissed by operation of subsection (d) or (e) of this section; or

(C) the Director dismisses an entire case in accordance with subsection (h)(2) of this section.

(1A) Such appeals shall be conducted in accordance with the procedures and standards of section 11 of the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act (section 2-510), and take into account the procedural duties placed upon the Department in this section and all actions taken by the Department in the case.

(2) An aggrieved party may appeal any ruling of the Office of Adjudication under subsection (j) of this section to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

(3)(A) Any person found to have executed a trade practice in violation of a law of the District within the jurisdiction of the Department may be liable for a civil penalty not exceeding $1,000 for each failure to adhere to a provision of an order described in subsection (f), (g), or (j) of this section, or a consent decree described in subsection (h) of this section.

(B) The Department, the complainant, or the respondent may sue in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for a remedy, enforcement, or assessment or collection of a civil penalty, when any violation, or failure to adhere to a provision of a consent decree described in subsection (h) of this section, or an order described in subsection (f), (g), or (j) of this section, has occurred. The Department shall sue in that Court for assessment of a civil penalty when an order described in subsection (g) of this section has been issued and become final. A failure by the Department or any person to file suit or prosecute under this subparagraph in regard to any provision or violation of a provision of any consent decree or order, shall not constitute a waiver of such provision or any right under such provision. The Court shall levy the appropriate civil penalties, and may order, if supported by evidence, temporary, preliminary, or permanent injunctions, damages, treble damages, reasonable attorney’s fees, consumer redress, or other remedy. The Court may set aside the final order if the Court determines that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs lacked jurisdiction over the respondent or that the complaint was frivolous. If, after considering an application to set aside an order of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Court determines that the application was frivolous or that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs lacked jurisdiction, the Court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees.

(C) Application to the Court to enforce an order shall be made at no cost to the District of Columbia or the complainant.

(4) The Attorney General for the District of Columbia shall represent the Department in all proceedings described in this subsection.

(j) If, at any time before notice of appeal from a decision made according to subsection (f) of this section is filed or the time to so file has run out, the Director believes that legal action is necessary to preserve the subject matter of the case, to prevent further injury to any party, or to enable the Department ultimately to order a full and fair remedy in the case, the Chief of the Office of Compliance shall present the matter to the Office of Adjudication, which may issue a cease and desist order to take effect immediately, or grant such other relief as will assure a just adjudication of the case, in accordance with such beliefs of the Director which are substantiated by evidence. The Office of Adjudication’s ruling may be appealed to court within 7 days of notice thereof on the Director, respondent, and complainant.

(k)(1)(A) A consumer may bring an action seeking relief from the use of a trade practice in violation of a law of the District.

(B) An individual may, on behalf of that individual, or on behalf of both the individual and the general public, bring an action seeking relief from the use of a trade practice in violation of a law of the District when that trade practice involves consumer goods or services that the individual purchased or received in order to test or evaluate qualities pertaining to use for personal, household, or family purposes.

(C) A nonprofit organization may, on behalf of itself or any of its members, or on any such behalf and on behalf of the general public, bring an action seeking relief from the use of a trade practice in violation of a law of the District, including a violation involving consumer goods or services that the organization purchased or received in order to test or evaluate qualities pertaining to use for personal, household, or family purposes.

(D)(i) Subject to sub-subparagraph (ii) of this subparagraph, a public interest organization may, on behalf of the interests of a consumer or a class of consumers, bring an action seeking relief from the use by any person of a trade practice in violation of a law of the District if the consumer or class could bring an action under subparagraph (A) of this paragraph for relief from such use by such person of such trade practice.

(ii) An action brought under sub-subparagraph (i) of this subparagraph shall be dismissed if the court determines that the public interest organization does not have sufficient nexus to the interests involved of the consumer or class to adequately represent those interests.

(2) Any claim under this chapter shall be brought in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and may recover or obtain the following remedies:

(A)(i) Treble damages, or $1,500 per violation, whichever is greater, payable to the consumer;

(ii) Notwithstanding sub-subparagraph (i) of this subparagraph, for a violation of § 28-3904(kk) a consumer may recover or obtain actual damages. Actual damages shall not include dignitary damages, including pain and suffering.

(B) Reasonable attorney’s fees;

(C) Punitive damages;

(D) An injunction against the use of the unlawful trade practice;

(E) In representative actions, additional relief as may be necessary to restore to the consumer money or property, real or personal, which may have been acquired by means of the unlawful trade practice; or

(F) Any other relief which the court determines proper.

(3) Any written decision made pursuant to subsection (f) of this section is admissible as prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.

(4) If a merchant files in any court a suit seeking to collect a debt arising out of a trade practice from which has also arisen a complaint filed with the Department by the defendant in the suit either before or after the suit was filed, the court shall dismiss the suit without prejudice, or remand it to the Department.

(5) An action brought by a person under this subsection against a nonprofit organization shall not be based on membership in such organization, membership services, training or credentialing activities, sale of publications of the nonprofit organization, medical or legal malpractice, or any other transaction, interaction, or dispute not arising from the purchase or sale of consumer goods or services in the ordinary course of business.

(6) The right of action established by this subsection shall apply to trade practices arising from landlord-tenant relations.

(l) The Director and Office of Adjudication may use any power granted to the Department in section 28-3903, as each reasonably deems will aid in carrying out the functions assigned to each in this section. Each, while holding the primary responsibility of the Department for decision in a certain case, may join such case with others then before the Department. No case may be disposed of in a manner not expressly authorized in this section. Every complaint case filed with the Department and within its jurisdiction shall be decided in accordance with the procedures and sanctions of this section, notwithstanding that a given trade practice, at issue in the case, may be governed in whole or in part by another law which has different enforcement procedures and sanctions.

(m)(1) Whenever requested, the Department will make available to the complainant and respondent an explanation, and any other information helpful in understanding, the provisions of any consent decree to which the Department agrees, and any order or decision which the Department makes.

(2) The Director shall maintain a public index for all the cases on which the Department has made a final action or a consent decree, organized by:

(A) name of complainant;

(B) name of respondent;

(C) industry of the merchant involved;

(D) nature of the violation of District law alleged or found to exist (for example, subsection of section 28-3904 involved, or section of a licensing law involved);

(E) final disposition.

(n) There shall be established a Consumer Protection Education Fund (“Fund”). All monies awarded to or paid to the Department by operation of this section, including final judgements, consent decrees, or settlements reduced to final judgements, shall be paid into the Fund in order to further the purpose of this chapter as enumerated in § 28-3901.

(o) Every complaint case that is before the Department in accordance with this section shall proceed in confidence, except for hearings and meetings before the Office of Adjudication, until the Department makes a final action or a consent decree.

(p) The Director may file a complaint in accordance with subsection (a) of this section, on behalf of one or more consumers or as complainant, based on evidence and information gathered by the Department in carrying out this chapter. Persons not parties to but directly or indirectly intended as beneficiaries of an order described in subsection (f), (g), or (j) of this section, or a consent decree described in subsection (h) of this section, arising out of a complaint filed by the Director, may enforce such order or decree in the manner provided in subsection (i)(3)(B) of this section.

(q) At any hearing pursuant to subsection (f) or (j) of this section, a witness has the right to be advised by counsel present at such hearing. In any process under this section, the complainant and respondent may have legal or other counsel for representation and advice.

(r) All cases for which complaints were filed before March 5, 1981, may be presented to and heard by the Office of Adjudication notwithstanding the time limits previously provided in section 28-3905(d), 28-3905(e), and 28-3905(f) for the investigation and transmittal of cases to the Office of Adjudication, and for the hearing of cases by the Office of Adjudication.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 6, 23 DCR 1185; June 11, 1977, D.C. Law 2-8, § 4(b), 24 DCR 726; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Mar. 5, 1981, D.C. Law 3-159, §§ 2(b), (c), 3, 27 DCR 5147; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-234, § 2(f), 38 DCR 296; Feb. 5, 1994, D.C. Law 10-68, § 27(f), 40 DCR 6311; Apr. 9, 1997, D.C. Law 11-255, § 27(y), 44 DCR 1271; Apr. 29, 1998, D.C. Law 12-86, § 1301(c), 45 DCR 1172; Oct. 19, 2000, D.C. Law 13-172, § 1402(d), 47 DCR 6308; Oct. 20, 2005, D.C. Law 16-33, § 2032(d), 52 DCR 7503; June 12, 2007, D.C. Law 17-4,§ 2(b), 54 DCR 4085; Apr. 23, 2013, D.C. Law 19-282, § 2(b)(3), 60 DCR 2132; Feb. 26, 2015, D.C. Law 20-155, § 2012(c), 61 DCR 9990; Feb. 22, 2019, D.C. Law 22-206, § 2(a), 65 DCR 12363; June 17, 2020, D.C. Law 23-98, § 2(b)(2), 67 DCR 3923.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3905.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 6.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 28-3818, § 28-3901, § 28-3902, § 28-3903, § 28-3906, and § 28-4002.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 13-172 added the introductory sentence to subsec. (k)(2) pertaining to the penalties being cumulative and additional and rewrote subsec. (k)(1).

D.C. Law 16-33 rewrote subsec. (b), which had read:

“(b) The Director shall investigate each such complaint and determine:

“(1) what trade practice actually occurred, and

“(2) whether the trade practice which occurred violates any statute, regulation, rule of common law, or other law, of the District of Columbia.”

D.C. Law 17-4 added subsec. (k)(5).

The 2013 amendment by D.C. Law 19-282 rewrote (k)(1) and (k)(2).

The 2015 amendment by D.C. Law 20-155 rewrote (i)(3)(A).

Cross References

Hearing aid dealers and consumers, office of consumer protection, powers and duties, see § 28-4002.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 1402(d) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-376, July 24, 2000, 47 DCR 6574).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 1402(d) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-438, October 20, 2000, 47 DCR 8740).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 2032(d) of Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2005 (D.C. Act 16-168, July 26, 2005, 52 DCR 7667).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(c) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-377, July 14, 2014, 61 DCR 7598, 20 STAT 3696).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(c) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-449, October 10, 2014, 61 DCR 10915, 20 STAT 4188).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2012(c) of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Second Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2014 (D.C. Act 20-566, January 9, 2015, 62 DCR 884, 21 STAT 541).

§ 28–3906. Consumer education and information.

(a) The Office of Consumer Protection is established within the Department. The Office of Consumer Protection shall:

(1) Inform the public and the business community of existing laws, regulations, and guidelines concerning consumer rights and standards of fair treatment;

(2) Coordinate consumer education programs with, and use consumer education programs to help carry out, the consumer protection programs of the Department, including enforcement options through the Department and the Office of the Attorney General and before the courts;

(2A) Develop a consumer education program to educate consumers about the appropriateness of video and computer games for certain age groups, which may include information on video and computer game rating systems and the manner in which parental controls can enhance the ability of parents to regulate their children’s access to video and computer games;

(3) Handle publicity for the Department concerning cases under § 28-3905 when the Director requests;

(4) Aid the Director in the formulation of consumer protection plans and recommend legislation and regulations related to consumer education;

(5) Cooperate with consumer-related agencies, groups, and individuals in the District of Columbia metropolitan area to improve consumer education efforts; and

(6) Perform the functions of the Department under § 28-3903(7) and (8) [§ 28-3903(a)(7) and (8)].

(b) The Chief of the Office of Consumer Protection shall be appointed by the Director.

(c) In fiscal year 2006, the Office of Consumer Protection shall focus on investigation and mediation in the areas of auto repair and home improvement.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 7, 23 DCR 1185; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Mar. 8, 1991, D.C. Law 8-234,§ 2(g), 38 DCR 296; Oct. 20, 2005, D.C. Law 16-33, § 2032(e), 52 DCR 7503; Mar. 6, 2007, D.C. Law 16-218, § 2, 53 DCR 10209.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3906.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 7.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 28-3901.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 16-33, rewrote section, which had read:

“(a) The Office of Consumer Education and Information shall:

“(1) inform the public and the business community of existing laws, regulations and guidelines concerning consumer rights and standards of fair treatment;

“(2) coordinate consumer education programs with, and use consumer education programs to help carry out, the consumer protection programs of the Office;

“(3) handle publicity for the Office Department concerning cases under section 28-3905, when the Director requests;

“(4) aid the Director in the formulation of consumer protection plans and recommend legislation and regulations related to consumer education;

“(5) cooperate with consumer-related agencies, groups and individuals in the D.C. area to improve consumer education efforts.

“(b) The Chief of the Office of Consumer Education and Information shall be appointed by the Director.”

D.C. Law 16-218, in subsec. (a), added par. (2A).

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 2032(e) of Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2005 (D.C. Act 16-168, July 26, 2005, 52 DCR 7667).

Editor’s Notes

The bracketed language has been inserted in (a)(3) to correct an error in D.C. Law 8-234.

§ 28–3907. Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection.

(a) There shall be an Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection consisting of 11 members appointed by the Mayor for three-year terms. The nongovernmental members, immediately prior to the effective date of this chapter, of the Advisory Committee on Consumer Affairs established in Organization Order No. 40 (C.O. 73-225; October 3, 1973), shall carry out their terms. No District Government employees shall be members. Four members shall be District merchants. Seven members shall be persons with demonstrated and current records of activity on behalf of consumers.

(b) The Committee shall:

(1) recommend priorities in, and, at the Committee’s discretion, carry out investigations and research, which concern broad, developing, or frequently encountered consumer problems;

(2) assist the Director as the Director may request;

(3) monitor the performance and organization of the Office, by quantitative and qualitative methods, and make recommendations and criticisms, based thereon; and

(4) cooperate with consumer-related agencies, groups, and individuals in the District and in the metropolitan area to improve city-wide and area-wide consumer protection and education efforts.

(c) The Committee shall elect one of its members as Chairperson and another as Vice-Chairperson, each to serve at the pleasure of the Committee, and such other officers and subcommittees as it determines.

(d) The Office shall provide staff support for the Advisory Committee. Appropriate expenses incurred by the Committee as a whole, or by individual members, may be paid when authorized by the Director.

(e) The Committee shall meet on call by the Chairperson as frequently as required to perform its duties, but no less than once each month, and it shall submit an annual report to the Mayor, Council, and the public.

(f) The Committee shall hold public hearings as deemed necessary.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 8, 23 DCR 1185; Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900; Apr. 9, 1997, D.C. Law 11-255, § 27(z), 44 DCR 1271.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3907.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 8.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 28-3901.

§ 28–3908. Severability.

If any provision of this chapter, or the application thereof to any person or circumstance, is held invalid, the remainder of this chapter, and the application of such provision to other persons not similarly situated or to other circumstances, shall not be affected.

(July 22, 1976, D.C. Law 1-76, § 9, 23 DCR 1185; enacted, Sept. 6, 1980, D.C. Law 3-85, § 3(a), (d), 27 DCR 2900.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 28-3908.

1973 Ed., T. 28, Appx., § 9.

§ [28-3909.01]. Attorney General Authority.

*NOTE: This section was created by temporary legislation that will expire on February 4, 2022.*

Notwithstanding any District law, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia may use the enforcement authority set forth at [§ 28-3909] against any merchant, including a utility provider, that violates any provisions of this act (D.C. Law 24-9).

(June 24, 2021, D.C. Law 24-9, § 307(g), 68 DCR 004824.)

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 days) creation of this section, see § 307(g) of Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Act 24-96, June 7, 2021, 68 DCR 006025).

For temporary (90 days) creation of this section, see § 307(g) of Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Act 24-30, Mar. 17, 2021, 68 DCR 003101).

For temporary (90 days) creation of this section, see § 307(g) of Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-328, June 8, 2020, 67 DCR 7598).

For temporary (90 days) creation of this section, see § 307(g) of Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-326, May 27, 2020, 67 DCR 7045).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 days) creation of this section, see § 307(g) of Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment Act of 2021 (D.C. Law 24-9, June 24, 2021, 68 DCR 004824).

§ 28–3910. Investigatory powers of Attorney General [for the District of Columbia].

(a) In the course of an investigation to determine whether to seek relief under section 28-3909, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, examine an individual under oath, and compel production of records, books, papers, contracts, and other documents. Information obtained under this section is not admissible in a later criminal proceeding against the person who provides the evidence.

(b) A subpoena issued pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be issued in accordance with [§  1-301.89c].

(Oct. 19, 2000, D.C. Law 13-172, § 1402(f), 47 DCR 6308; Oct. 22, 2015, D.C. Law 21-36, § 1036, 62 DCR 10905; July 17, 2018, D.C. Law 22-140, § 2(e), 65 DCR 5970.)

Effect of Amendments

The 2015 amendment by D.C. Law 21-36 designated the existing text as (a); and added (b).

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2018 (D.C. Act 22-486, Oct. 22, 2018, 65 DCR12042).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Emergency Amendment Act of 2018 (D.C. Act 22-402, July 16, 2018, 65 DCR 7518).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Emergency Amendment Act of 2017 (D.C. Act 22-164, Oct. 23, 2017, 64 DCR 10790).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2017 (D.C. Act 22-23, Mar. 27, 2017, 64 DCR 3065).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Emergency Amendment Act of 2016 (D.C. Act 21-576, Dec. 19, 2016, 63 DCR 15695).

For temporary (90-day) addition of section, see § 1402(f) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-376, July 24, 2000, 47 DCR 6574).

For temporary (90 day) addition of section, see § 1402(f) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-438, October 20, 2000, 47 DCR 8740).

For temporary (90 days) amendment of this section, see § 1036 of the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2015 (D.C. Act 21-127, July 27, 2015, 62 DCR 10201).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Temporary Amendment Act of 2018 (D.C. Law 22-172, Oct. 30, 2018, 65 DCR 9540).

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Temporary Amendment Act of 2017 (D.C. Law 22-45, Jan. 25, 2018, 64 DCR 12399).

For temporary (225 days) amendment of this section, see § 2(b) of At-Risk Tenant Protection Clarifying Temporary Amendment Act of 2016 (D.C. Law 21-271, Apr. 15, 2017, 64 DCR 944).

§ 28–3911. District of Columbia Consumer Protection Fund. [Repealed]

Repealed.

(Oct. 19, 2000, D.C. Law 13-172, § 1402(f), 47 DCR 6308; Mar. 8, 2007, D.C. Law 16-237, § 2(d), 54 DCR 393; Sept. 18, 2007, D.C. Law 17-20, § 3023, 54 DCR 7052; Jan. 23, 2008, D.C. Law 17-68, § 2, 54 DCR 11648; Mar. 3, 2010, D.C. Law 18-111, § 3002, 57 DCR 181; Sept. 14, 2011, D.C. Law 19-21, § 9003(a), 58 DCR 6226.)

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90-day) addition of section, see § 1402(f) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-376, July 24, 2000, 47 DCR 6574).

For temporary (90 day) addition of section, see § 1402(f) of the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-438, October 20, 2000, 47 DCR 8740).

For temporary (90 day) addition of section, see § 2(b) of Residential Water Lead Level Test Emergency Act of 2004 (D.C. Act 15-436, May 25, 2004, 51 DCR 5953).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 2 of District of Columbia Consumer Protection Fund Emergency Amendment Act of 2007 (D.C. Act 17-64, June 28, 2007, 54 DCR 7046).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 3023 of Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2007 (D.C. Act 17-74, July 25, 2007, 54 DCR 7549).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 2 of District of Columbia Consumer Protection Fund Congressional Review Emergency Act of 2007 (D.C. Act 17-138, October 17, 2007, 54 DCR 10729).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 3002 of Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Support Second Emergency Act of 2009 (D.C. Act 18-207, October 15, 2009, 56 DCR 8234).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 3002 of Fiscal Year Budget Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2009 (D.C. Act 18-260, January 4, 2010, 57 DCR 345).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 day) amendment of section, see § 2 of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Fund Temporary Amendment Act of 2007 (D.C. Law 17-34, October 18, 2007, law notification 54 DCR 10704).

Short Title

Short title: Section 3001 of D.C. Law 18-111 provided that subtitle A of title III of the act may be cited as the “Consumer Protection Funds Act of 2009”.

Editor’s Notes

Section 9052(b) of D.C. Law 19-21 purported to amended this section which was repealed by section 9003(a) of Law 19-21.

§ 28–3912. Submissions to the Council.

The Department shall, in coordination with the Office of the Attorney General, submit 2 plans to the Council:

(1) A detailed plan for fiscal year 2006 on the steps that the Department shall take in providing consumer protection education in the District, including the dissemination of information regarding legal options through the Department and before the Office of the Attorney General and the Courts, to be submitted by September 1, 2005; and

(2) A plan to fully implement this subchapter in fiscal year 2007, including any recommended amendments to this subchapter, to be submitted by February 1, 2006, in anticipation of the fiscal year 2007 budget.

(Oct. 20, 2005, D.C. Law 16-33, § 2032(f), 52 DCR 7503.)

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 day) addition, see § 2032(f) of Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2005 (D.C. Act 16-168, July 26, 2005, 52 DCR 7667).

§ 28–3913. Rules.

The Mayor may issue rules necessary to carry out this chapter. Rules proposed pursuant to this section shall be submitted to the Council for a 45-day period of review, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, legal holidays, and days of Council recess. If the Council does not approve or disapprove the proposed rules, in whole or in part, by resolution, within this 45-day review period, the proposed rules shall be deemed disapproved.

(Oct. 20, 2005, D.C. Law 16-33, § 2032(f), 52 DCR 7503.)

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90 day) addition, see § 2032(f) of Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Support Emergency Act of 2005 (D.C. Act 16-168, July 26, 2005, 52 DCR 7667).


Washington DC consumer law set to suck money from retailers AND manufacturers who sell to Washington DC Residents

My advice. STOP ALL SALES TO WASHINGTON DC RESIDENTS OR WASHINGTON DC ADDRESSES!

The letter below was received from a Georgia cycling store. The letter demands thousands of dollars for violating Washington DC Chapter 39. Consumer Protection Procedures. Allegedly the prices on the website prior to the sale price were higher than the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). In Most states you can sell something for any price unless you have an agreement with the manufacturer to sell within a price range. (Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price regulations.)

The letter is posted here with permission from Joe Elam of Habersham Bicycles. THANKS JOE!






The law firm is real, but the website for the firm is not finished. https://www.dcclg.com/

The organization the law firm is representing is also a one-person operation and is listed by different firms that monitor non-profits as questionable. http://www.i4tm.org/#page-top.

https://www.causeiq.com/organizations/institute-for-truth-in-marketing,473475721/

https://nonprofitlight.com/dc/washington/institute-for-truth-in-marketing-inc.

The products were purchased in three different sales and shipped to:

Jared Zecco

1629 K St.

Suite 300

Washington DC 20006

The letter is demanding $1500 for each violation of the Washington DC law, however the only penalty I can find in the statute says not exceeding $1000 per violation.

§ 28–3905. Complaint procedures.

(3)(A) Any person found to have executed a trade practice in violation of a law of the District within the jurisdiction of the Department may be liable for a civil penalty not exceeding $1,000 for each failure to adhere to a provision of an order described in subsection (f), (g), or (j) of this section, or a consent decree described in subsection (h) of this section.

However, if the seller is taken to court, then $1500 can be recovered.

(A)(i) Treble damages, or $1,500 per violation, whichever is greater, payable to the consumer;

Here is the problem. You will be sued in a DC court.

Do Something

Don’t Sell to DC online until you understand this law.

MORE COMING

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

If you are interested in having me, write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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

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

 


One paragraph would have eliminated this lawsuit.

Badly written release and a bad attempt to tie two documents together almost cost the defendant outfitter.

Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc

State: Colorado, United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

Plaintiff: Alicia Hamric, individually, as representative of the Estate of Robert Gerald Hamric, and as next friend of Ava Hamric, a minor

Defendant: Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2021

Summary

Deceased died while repelling with the defendant and surviving spouse sued Colorado company in Colorado but attempted to use Texas law, where the release was signed, as a way to void the release.

Facts

Members of the Keller Church of Christ in Keller, Texas, scheduled an outdoor excursion to Colorado, contracting with WEI for adventure planning and guide services. WEI is incorporated in Colorado and has its headquarters in Salida, Colorado. Jamie Garner served as the coordinator for the church group and the point-of-contact between the church members and WEI. The experience WEI provided included guides taking participants rappelling. WEI required all participants, before going on the outdoor excursion, to complete and initial a “Registration Form” and complete and sign a “Medical Form.”

WEI made the forms available to Mr. Garner for downloading and completion by the individual church members several months prior to the booked trip. Mr. Hamric initialed both blanks on the Registration Form and signed the Medical Form, dating it April 5, 2017. Andrew Sadousky, FNP-C, completed and signed the “Physician’s Evaluation” section of the Medical Form, certifying that Mr. Hamric was medically capable of participating in the outdoor activities listed on the form, including rappelling. Mr. Hamric’s signed forms were delivered to WEI upon the church group’s arrival in Colorado in July 2017.

After spending a night on WEI property, WEI guides took the church group, including Mr. Hamric, to a rappelling site known as “Quarry High.” Because the rappelling course had a section that WEI guides considered “scary,” the guides did not describe a particular overhang at the Quarry High site during the orientation session or before taking the church group on the rappelling course. [emphasize added]

Several members of the church group successfully descended Quarry High before Mr. Hamric attempted the rappel. As Mr. Hamric worked his way down the overhang portion of the course, he became inverted and was unable to right himself. Efforts to rescue Mr. Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he died of positional asphyxiation.

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

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is an appellate court that sits in Denver. The Tenth Circuit hears cases from Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming federal district courts. The court, consequently, hears a few appeals of recreation cases because of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming recreation activities.

This appealed covered four different legal issues. Three of the issues were procedural and won’t be reviewed here. The fourth was the dismissal of the case by the lower-court magistrate on a motion for summary judgement because of the release.

The plaintiff argued the release should be read using Texas law because the release was read and signed in Texas.

There was no Jurisdiction and Venue Clause in the Release!

The defendant had the deceased sign two forms. One was a release, and the second was a medical form. Neither form had a venue or jurisdiction clause. Having a medical information formed signed is a quick give away that the defendant does not understand the legal issues involved. The defendant wrote both forms, so they conflicted with each other in some cases and attempted to tie the forms together. Neither really worked.

The plaintiff argued the forms were one because they conflicts would have made both forms basically invalid.

Further, language on the Medical Form is conflicting and ambiguous as to whether the two forms comprise a single agreement: Individuals who have not completed these forms will not be allowed to participate. I have carefully read all the sections of this agreement, understand its contents, and have initialed all sections of page 1 of this document. I have examined all the information given by myself, or my child. By the signature below, I certify that it is true and correct. Should this form and/or any wording be altered, it will not be accepted and the participant will not be allowed to participate.

Both the italicized language and the use of “forms” in the plural to describe the agreement support the conclusion that the Registration Form and the Medical Form are a single agreement. But the underlined language, using “form” in the singular, suggests the forms might constitute separate agreements. Otherwise, the singular use of “form” would suggest the unlikely result that a participant could not alter the wording of the Medical Form but could alter the wording of the Registration Form.

However, after a lengthy review, the court found the forms were two different documents and ignored the medical form and the release like language in it.

We conclude, however, that this dispute of fact is not material to resolution of the primarily legal question regarding whether Mr. Hamric entered into a valid liability release with WEI.

The next issue is what law should apply to determine the validity of the release. Choice of laws is a compete course you can take in law school. I still have my Choice of Laws’ textbook after all these years because it is a complicated subject that hinges on minutia in some cases to determine what court will hear a case and what law will be applied.

The case was filed in the Federal Court covering Colorado. Since the defendant was not a Texas business or doing business in Texas, the lawsuit needed to be in the defendant’s state. Federal Court was chosen because disputes between citizens of two states should be held in a neutral court, which is the federal courts. A Texan might not feel they are getting a fair deal if they have to sue in a Colorado state court. That is called the venue. What court sitting where will hear the case.

If the defendant had operated in Texas, been served in Texas or had a history of actively looking for clients in Texas this would have been a Texas lawsuit, probably with a different outcome.

So, the decision on what court to sue was somewhat limited. However, that is not the end. Once the court is picked, venue, the next argument is what law will be applied to the situation. The Plaintiff argued Texas Law. Texas has stringent requirements on releases. If Texas law was applied to the release, there was a chance the release would be void under Texas law. The defendant argued Colorado law, which has much fewer requirements for releases.

Ms. Hamric further contends that under contract principles in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Laws, Texas law applies because Mr. Hamric was a Texas resident who completed the Registration Form and the Medical Form while in Texas.

Here is the court’s analysis on what states laws should apply.

A more specific section of the Restatement addressing contracts lacking a choice-of-law provision provides additional guidance: (1) The rights and duties of the parties with respect to an issue in contract are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the transaction and the parties under the principles stated in § 6. (2) In the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties . . ., the contacts to be taken into account in applying the principles of § 6 to determine the law applicable to an issue include: (a) the place of contracting, (b) the place of negotiation of the contract, (c) the place of performance, (d) the location of the subject matter of the contract, and (e) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties. These contacts are to be evaluated according to their relative importance with respect to the particular issue.

It is not a slam dunk for Colorado law. In this case, the plaintiff made a very good argument that Texas law should apply. The deceased was a Texas resident recruited in Texas by the defendant. The release had been given to the deceased in Texas, and he signed it in Texas. If the analysis ended there Texas law would have applied.

However, there was more to the investigation the court is required to do.

We conclude that, under the Restatement, a Colorado court would apply Colorado law to determine the validity and enforceability of the liability release relied upon by WEI. First looking at § 6 of the Restatement, the liability release was drafted by a Colorado corporation to cover services provided exclusively in Colorado.

Honestly, the trial court and appellate court bent over backwards to help this defendant.

This argument switched the discussion from applying Texas law to Colorado law.

Applying out-of-state law to interpret the liability release would hinder commerce, as it would require WEI and other outdoor-recreation companies to know the law of the state in which a given participant lives. Such a rule would place a significant burden on outdoor-recreation companies who depend on out-of-state tourists for revenue because it would require a company like WEI to match the various requirements of the other forty-nine states. This approach would not give WEI the benefit of having logically molded its liability release to comply with Colorado law, the law of the state where WEI does business. Furthermore, Ms. Hamric’s primary argument for applying Texas law is that Mr. Hamric signed the forms in Texas. But a rule applying out-of-state law on that basis is likely to deter WEI from furnishing the liability release until a participant enters Colorado. And, while not providing participants the forms until arrival in Colorado might lessen WEI’s liability exposure under out-of-state law; such a practice would not benefit participants because it would pressure participants into a last-minute decision regarding whether to sign the liability release after having already traveled to Colorado for the outdoor excursion.

It is significant to note that the court looked at the issue of waiting until customers arrive in the state of Colorado to have them sign the release. The court intimated that doing so would put pressure on them to sign after already traveling to Colorado. Legally, that could be argued as duress, which voids a release or contract.

It is these small statements in decisions that must be watched and remembered so that in the future they are not used to void a release. You must have your clients sign a release as soon as possible and waiting until they travel to Colorado maybe to late to have the release survive in court.

In a rare statement, the court also commented on the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado and the need for releases.

Colorado also has a strong interest in this matter. Colorado has a booming outdoor-recreation industry, in the form of skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, horseback riding, and rafting excursions. Colorado relies on tax receipts from the outdoor-recreation industry. And while many out-of-state individuals partake in these activities within Colorado, they often purchase their tickets or book excursion reservations before entering Colorado. If we applied Texas law because it is the state where Mr. Hamric signed the liability release, we would essentially allow the other forty-nine states to regulate a key industry within Colorado.

The final analysis the court discussed on the issue was the legal issue of binding effect. When a contract does define what is required to create the contract, such as the signature of both parties to the contract, then the last act that gives life or that is necessary to form the contract is considered the point when the contract was valid. Where that last act occurs is the place where the contract should be litigated and the law that should be applied to the contract. Here the last act occurred when the deceased was in Colorado and the church group he was with, handed over the signed releases.

Further, the considerations and contacts listed in § 188 of the Restatement favor application of Colorado law. As to the first contact, in accord with the commentary, a contract is formed in “the place where occurred the last act necessary to give the contract binding effect.” Here, that act occurred when the church group provided the forms to WEI in Colorado; for, before the forms were provided to WEI, Mr. Hamric had not conveyed his acceptance to WEI, and WEI did not know whether Mr. Hamric would complete the forms and agree to the liability release.

The plaintiff then argued the release did not meet the requirements of Colorado or Texas law. The plaintiff argued the contract was ambiguous. Colorado has five factors that must be considered to determine if a contract is ambiguous.

In general accord with this statement, federal district courts in Colorado have discerned five factors from Colorado Supreme Court decisions to determine if a release is unambiguous: (1) “whether the agreement is written in simple and clear terms that are free from legal jargon”; (2) “whether the agreement is inordinately long or complicated”; (3) “whether the release specifically addresses the risk that caused the plaintiff’s injury”; (4) “whether the contract contains any emphasis to highlight the importance of the information it contains”; and (5) “whether the plaintiff was experienced in the activity making risk of that particular injury reasonably foreseeable.”

The court reviewed the release and found it was not ambiguous. Only one factor the last one, whether the plaintiff has experience in the activity, was possible and the Colorado Supreme Court had weakened that requirement.

The sole factor clearly cutting against enforcement of the liability release is Mr. Hamric’s lack of rappelling experience. However, as noted above, the Colorado Supreme Court has not found this consideration to be dispositive against the enforcement of a liability waiver.

So, the court first determined that the release should be reviewed under Colorado law and then determined that under Colorado law, the release was valid and stopped the claims of the plaintiffs.

Finally, I have to comment about one incredibly stupid move on the part of the defendant. As quoted in the facts and by the court.

Because the rappelling course had a section that WEI guides considered “scary,” the guides did not describe a particular overhang at the Quarry High site during the orientation session or before taking the church group on the rappelling course.

Besides eliminating the defense of assumption of the risk by doing this, you have created a situation where you have increased the chance of a participant getting injured or as in this case died. You cannot assume a risk which you don’t know about.

First, what are you doing taking beginners rappelling over an overhang. This is not a beginner move.

Second, you have a scary section you CANNOT hide it from people, especially if they cannot see it or understand it. You MUST inform your participants of the risk.

Third, the defendant did not tell the deceased how to correct the problem if they found themselves in a compromised position. That is the main goal of any safety talk, to tell your participants how to keep themselves safe and how to rescue or be rescue.

Fourth, you need to hire new guides because it is clear your current guides do not understand the gravity of the situation, let alone the legal liability, of doing this to someone.

So Now What?

However, for one simple paragraph, or actually, one sentence, this lawsuit would have never gotten off the ground. The issue is a jurisdiction and venue clause. If the release would have stated any lawsuit must be in Colorado and Colorado law must apply, this lawsuit would not have had a chance.

Of special note in writing a release in Colorado and a few other states, if you do not outline or identify the possible risks to the participant signing the release, the release may be ambiguous. This issue is facing more scrutiny by the plaintiffs, and you are seeing more courts have to deal with the issue. On top of that, failing to identify the possible risks, eliminates the defense of assumption of the risk, which might be needed.

The other issue that the court waded through that could have done the defendant in was the competing language in the two contracts. First why collect information you cannot use, such as medical information? Only a physician and the participant have the ability to make the decision, as to whether or not they can medically undertake an activity. If you, the activity, business or program, decide a person can’t participate because of a medical issue, you are practicing medicine without a license which is a crime.

That does not mean you cannot collect information that you might need if a participant is injured.

Worse the above in this case, was both documents attempted to include release language and neither agreement had language stated which one was controlling. If you have your participants sign multiple documents you need to make sure that the release is not voided by another contract. You need to make sure one contract is primary, and the other contact has nothing in it that cancels, modifies or revokes the release.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2021 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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




If you are interested in having me, write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

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

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Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.,

Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.

ALICIA HAMRIC, individually, as representative of the Estate of Robert Gerald Hamric, and as next friend of Ava Hamric, a minor, Plaintiff – Appellant,

v.

WILDERNESS EXPEDITIONS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 20-1250

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

July 26, 2021

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (D.C. No. 1:19-CV-01442-NYW)

William J. Dunleavy, Law Offices of William J. Dunleavy, Allen, Texas (Stephen A. Justino, Boesen Law, Denver, Colorado, on the briefs), for Plaintiff – Appellant.

Malcolm S. Mead (Peter C. Middleton and Jacob R. Woods with him on the brief), Hall & Evans, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant – Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, HOLMES, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

McHUGH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Gerald Hamric, a Texas resident, joined a church group on an outdoor recreation trip to Colorado. The church group employed the services of Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. (“WEI”) to arrange outdoor activities. Before the outdoor adventure commenced, WEI required each participant, including Mr. Hamric, to complete a “Registration Form” and a “Medical Form.” On the first day, WEI led the church group on a rappelling course. In attempting to complete a section of the course that required participants to rappel down an overhang, Mr. Hamric became inverted. Attempts to rescue Mr. Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he died.

Alicia Hamric, Mr. Hamric’s wife, sued WEI for negligence. WEI moved for summary judgment, asserting the Registration Form and the Medical Form contained a release of its liability for negligence. Ms. Hamric resisted WEI’s motion for summary judgment in four ways. First, Ms. Hamric moved for additional time to conduct discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). Second, Ms. Hamric moved for leave to amend her complaint to seek exemplary damages based on willful and wanton conduct. Third, Ms. Hamric filed a motion for leave to disclose an expert out of time. Fourth, Ms. Hamric argued Texas law controlled the validity of the purported liability release in the Registration Form and the Medical Form, and additionally that the release was not conspicuous as required by Texas law.

In a single order, a magistrate judge addressed each of the pending motions. The magistrate judge first declined to grant leave to amend the complaint due to Ms. Hamric’s failure to (1) sustain her burden under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) because the deadline for amendments had passed; and (2) make out a prima facie case of willful and wanton conduct as required by Colorado law to plead a claim seeking exemplary damages. Next, the magistrate judge concluded WEI was entitled to summary judgment, holding the liability release was valid under both Colorado law and Texas law. Finally, the magistrate judge denied as moot Ms. Hamric’s motions for additional discovery and to disclose an expert out of time.

We affirm the magistrate judge’s rulings. As to Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend, a party seeking to amend a pleading after the deadline in a scheduling order for amendment must satisfy the standard set out by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b). But Ms. Hamric concedes she has never sought to satisfy the Rule 16(b) standard. Turning to the discovery motions, where this case hinges on the validity of the liability release and all facts necessary to this primarily legal issue appear in the record, we reject Ms. Hamric’s contentions that further discovery or leave to belatedly disclose an expert were warranted. Finally, while the magistrate judge’s summary judgment analysis was not free of error, we apply de novo review to that ruling. And, under de novo review, we conclude (1) relying on contract law to resolve the choice-of-law issue, as argued for by the parties, Colorado law, rather than Texas law, controls whether the Registration Form and the Medical Form contain a valid liability release; and (2) the forms contain a valid release for negligence by WEI, barring Ms. Hamric’s action.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Rappelling Excursion, Mr. Hamric’s Death, and the Liability Release

Members of the Keller Church of Christ in Keller, Texas, scheduled an outdoor excursion to Colorado, contracting with WEI for adventure planning and guide services. WEI is incorporated in Colorado and has its headquarters in Salida, Colorado. Jamie Garner served as the coordinator for the church group and the point-of-contact between the church members and WEI. The experience WEI provided included guides taking participants rappelling. WEI required all participants, before going on the outdoor excursion, to complete and initial a “Registration Form” and complete and sign a “Medical Form.”[ 1]

The Registration Form has three sections. The first section requires the participant to provide personally identifiable information and contact information. The second section is entitled “Release of Liability & User Indemnity Agreement for Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.” App. Vol. I at 57, 83.[ 2] The text under this bold and underlined header reads, in full: I hereby acknowledge that I, or my child, have voluntarily agreed to participate in the activities outfitted by Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. I understand that the activities and all other hazards and exposures connected with the activities conducted in the outdoors do involve risk and I am cognizant of the risks and dangers inherent with the activities. I (or my child) and (is) fully capable of participating in the activities contracted for and willingly assume the risk of injury as my responsibility whether it is obvious or not. I understand and agree that any bodily injury, death, or loss of personal property and expenses thereof as a result of any, or my child’s, negligence in any scheduled or unscheduled activities associated with Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. are my responsibilities. I understand that accidents or illness can occur in remote places without medical facilities, physicians, or surgeons, and be exposed to temperature extremes or inclement weather. I further agree and understand that any route or activity chosen may not be of minimum risk, but may have been chosen for its interest and challenge. I agree to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless Wilderness Expeditions. Inc., the USDA Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Recreation Department, and any and all state or government agencies whose property the activities may be conducted on, and all of their officers, members, affiliated organizations, agents, or employees for any injury or death caused by or resulting from my or my child’s participation in the activities, scheduled and unscheduled, whether or not such injury or death was caused by my, or their, negligence or from any other cause. By signing my initials below, I certify this is a release of liability.

Id.[ 3] Immediately after this paragraph, the form reads, “Adult participant or parent/guardian initial here:(Initials).” Id. The third and final section of the form is entitled: “Adult Agreement or Parent’s/Guardian Agreement for Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.” Id. The text of this provision states: I understand the nature of the activities may involve the physical demands of hiking over rough terrain, backpacking personal and crew gear, and voluntarily climbing mountains to 14, 433 feet in elevation. Having the assurance of my, or my child’s, good health through a current physical examination by a medical doctor, I hereby give consent for me, or my child, to participate in the activities outfitted by Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. I have included in this form all necessary medical information about myself, or my child, that should be known by the leadership of the program. I assure my, or my child’s, cooperation and assume responsibility for my, or my child’s, actions. I understand that I am responsible for any medical expenses incurred in the event of needed medical attention for myself, or my child. I further agree that I will be financially responsible to repair or replace all items lost or abused by myself or my child. In the event of an emergency, I authorize my consent to any X-ray examination, medica1, dental, or surgical diagnosis, treatment, and/or hospital care advised and supervised by a physician, surgeon, or dentist licensed to practice. I understand that the designated next of kin will be contacted as soon as possible. By signing my initials below, I certify this is a release of liability.

Id. And, as with the second section, the form then provides a line for the participant or the parent or guardian of the participant to initial.

The Medical Form has four sections. The first section seeks information about the participant. The second section is entitled “Medical History.” Initially, this section asks the participant if he suffers from a list of medical conditions, including allergies, asthma, and heart trouble. If the participant does suffer from any medical conditions, the form requests that the participant explain the affirmative answer. Thereafter, the section includes the following language: Note: The staff will not administer any medications, including aspirin, Tums, Tylenol, etc. If you need any over the counter medications, you must provide them. Be sure to tell your staff members what medications you are taking. List any medications that you will have with you: Note about food: Trail food is by necessity a high carbohydrate, high caloric diet. It is high in wheat, milk products, sugar, com syrup, and artificial coloring/flavoring. If these food products cause a problem to your diet, you will be responsible for providing any appropriate substitutions and advise the staff upon arrival. * Doctor’s signature is required to participate. No other form can be substituted. By signing below a physician is verifying the medical history given above and approving this individual to participate.

Id. at 58, 84. The form then includes a section titled “Physician’s Evaluation.” Id. This section seeks certification of the participant’s medical capability to partake in the outdoor activities and asks the physician for contact information. It reads: The applicant will be taking part in strenuous outdoor activities that may include: backpacking, rappelling, hiking at 8-12, 000 feet elevation, and an all day summit climb up to 14, 433 feet elevation. This will include high altitude, extreme weather, cold water, exposure, fatigue, and remote conditions where medical care cannot be assured. The applicant is approved for participation. Physician Signature: ___ Date: ___ Physician Name: ___ Phone Number: ___ Office Address: ___ City: ___ State: ___ Zip: ___

Id. The final section of the form is entitled “Participant or Parent/Guardian Signature – All sections of these forms must be initialed or signed.” Id. The text of the section reads: Individuals who have not completed these forms will not be allowed to participate. I have carefully read all the sections of this agreement, understand its contents, and have initialed all sections of page 1 of this document[.] I have examined all the information given by myself, or my child. By the signature below, I certify that it is true and correct. Should this form and/or any wording be altered, it will not be accepted and the participant will not be allowed to participate.

Id.

WEI made the forms available to Mr. Garner for downloading and completion by the individual church members several months prior to the booked trip. Mr. Hamric initialed both blanks on the Registration Form and signed the Medical Form, dating it April 5, 2017. Andrew Sadousky, FNP-C, completed and signed the “Physician’s Evaluation” section of the Medical Form, certifying that Mr. Hamric was medically capable of participating in the outdoor activities listed on the form, including rappelling. Mr. Hamric’s signed forms were delivered to WEI upon the church group’s arrival in Colorado in July 2017.

After spending a night on WEI property, WEI guides took the church group, including Mr. Hamric, to a rappelling site known as “Quarry High.” Because the rappelling course had a section that WEI guides considered “scary,” the guides did not describe a particular overhang at the Quarry High site during the orientation session or before taking the church group on the rappelling course. Id. at 203.

Several members of the church group successfully descended Quarry High before Mr. Hamric attempted the rappel. As Mr. Hamric worked his way down the overhang portion of the course, he became inverted and was unable to right himself. Efforts to rescue Mr. Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he died of positional asphyxiation.

B. Procedural History

In the District of Colorado, Ms. Hamric commenced a negligence action against WEI, sounding in diversity jurisdiction. As a matter of right, Ms. Hamric amended her complaint shortly thereafter. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(A) (permitting plaintiff to file amended complaint “as a matter of course” within twenty-one days of serving original complaint). The parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), consented to a magistrate judge presiding over the case. WEI answered Ms. Hamric’s First Amended Complaint, in part raising the following affirmative defense: “Decedent Gerald Hamric executed a valid and enforceable liability release. Decedent Gerald Hamric also executed a medical evaluation form which Defendant relied upon. The execution of these document [sic] bars or reduces [Ms. Hamric’s] potential recovery.” Id. at 31-32.

The magistrate judge entered a Scheduling Order adopting several deadlines: (1) August 31, 2019, for amendments to the pleadings; (2) January 31, 2020, for Ms. Hamric to designate her expert witnesses; and (3) April 10, 2020, for the close of all discovery. The Scheduling Order also noted WEI’s defense based on the purported liability release, stating “[t]he parties anticipate that mediation . . . may be useful to settle or resolve the case after meaningful discovery and summary judgment briefing on the issue of the validity and enforceability of the liability release.” Id. at 38 (emphasis added). Finally, the Scheduling Order concluded with language reminding the parties that the deadlines adopted by the order “may be altered or amended only upon a showing of good cause.” Id. at 42 (italicized emphasis added).

In November 2019, after the deadline for amendments to the pleadings but before the discovery deadlines, WEI moved for summary judgment based on its affirmative defense that both the Registration Form and Medical Form contained a liability release that barred Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. In support of its motion, WEI contended Colorado law controlled the interpretation and validity of the liability release. Ms. Hamric opposed summary judgment, arguing that because Mr. Hamric completed the forms in Texas, a Colorado court would apply Texas law and that, under Texas law, the liability release was not adequately conspicuous to be valid.

Ms. Hamric also sought to avoid disposition of WEI’s motion for summary judgment and dismissal of her action by filing three motions of her own. First, Ms. Hamric moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) for additional time to conduct discovery, contending further discovery would, among other things, reveal details about Mr. Hamric’s completion of the forms and whether Colorado or Texas law should control the interpretation and validity of the purported liability release. Second, in February 2020, Ms. Hamric moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), for leave to file a second amended complaint to seek exemplary damages under § 13-21-102 of the Colorado Revised Statutes based on new allegations of WEI’s willful and wanton conduct.[ 4] Ms. Hamric’s motion to amend, however, did not cite Federal Rule Civil Procedure 16(b) or seek leave to amend the August 31, 2019, Scheduling Order deadline for amendments to the pleadings. Third, in March 2020, Ms. Hamric moved for leave to disclose out of time a “‘Rappelling/Recreational Activities Safety’ expert.” App. Vol. II at 37. Ms. Hamric contended the expert’s opinions about the training, knowledge, and rescue efforts of the WEI guides supported her contention in her proposed second amended complaint that WEI acted in a willful and wanton manner.

The magistrate judge disposed of the four pending motions in a single order. Starting with Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint, the magistrate judge concluded Ms. Hamric (1) “failed to meet her burden under Rule 16(b) of establishing good cause to generally amend the operative pleading” and (2) had not made out a prima facie case of wanton and willful conduct. Id. at 94. The magistrate judge then turned to WEI’s motion for summary judgment. The magistrate judge concluded WEI’s affirmative defense raised an issue sounding in contract law such that principles of contract law controlled the choice-of-law analysis. Applying contract principles, the magistrate judge determined that although Texas law imposed a slightly more rigorous standard for enforcing a liability release, the difference between Texas law and Colorado law was not outcome-determinative and the court could, therefore, apply Colorado law. The magistrate judge read Colorado law as holding that a liability release is valid and enforceable “so long as the intent of the parties was to extinguish liability and this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed.” Id. at 106 (citing Heil Valley Ranch v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 785 (Colo. 1989)). Applying this standard, the magistrate judge held the liability release used clear and simple terms such that, even though Mr. Hamric was inexperienced at rappelling, the release was valid and foreclosed Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. Therefore, the magistrate judge granted WEI’s motion for summary judgment. And, having denied Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend and granted WEI’s motion for summary judgment, the magistrate judge denied both of Ms. Hamric’s discovery motions as moot.

Ms. Hamric moved for reconsideration, which the magistrate judge denied. Ms. Hamric timely appealed.

II. DISCUSSION

On appeal, Ms. Hamric contests the denial of her motion for leave to amend and the grant of summary judgment to WEI. Ms. Hamric also tacitly challenges the magistrate judge’s denial of her discovery motions. We commence our analysis with Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend, holding the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the motion where the motion was filed after the Scheduling Order’s deadline for amendments to pleadings and Ms. Hamric did not attempt to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)’s standard for amending a deadline in a scheduling order. Next, we discuss Ms. Hamric’s two discovery motions, concluding the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion by denying the motions because (1) WEI’s motion for summary judgment presented a largely legal issue on which all facts necessary for resolution already appeared in the record; and (2) consideration of the proposed expert’s opinions potentially capable of supporting allegations of willful and wanton conduct was mooted upon Ms. Hamric failing to satisfy Rule 16(b)’s standard for amending her complaint to allege such conduct. Finally, we analyze WEI’s motion for summary judgment. Although the magistrate judge’s decision was not free of error, the errors are not outcome determinative on appeal given our de novo standard of review. Exercising de novo review, we conclude Colorado law governs the validity of the liability release. And considering the entirety of both the Registration Form and the Medical Form, we conclude the liability release satisfies the factors in Colorado law for enforceability. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment.

A. Ms. Hamric’s Motion for Leave to Amend

1. Standard of Review

“We review for abuse of discretion a district court’s denial of a motion to amend a complaint after the scheduling order’s deadline for amendments has passed.” Birch v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 812 F.3d 1238, 1247 (10th Cir. 2015). “An abuse of discretion occurs where the district court clearly erred or ventured beyond the limits of permissible choice under the circumstances.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “A district court also abuses its discretion when it issues an arbitrary, capricious, whimsical or manifestly unreasonable judgment.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

2. Analysis

“A party seeking leave to amend after a scheduling order deadline must satisfy both the [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 16(b) and Rule 15(a) standards.” Tesone v. Empire Mktg. Strategies, 942 F.3d 979, 989 (10th Cir. 2019). Under the former of those two rules, “[a] schedule may be modified only for good cause and with the judge’s consent.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). To satisfy this standard a movant must show that “the scheduling deadlines cannot be met despite the movant’s diligent efforts.” Gorsuch, Ltd., B.C. v. Wells Fargo Nat’l Bank Ass’n, 771 F.3d 1230, 1240 (10th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). We have observed the “good cause” standard for amending deadlines in a scheduling order is “arguably [a] more stringent standard than the standards for amending a pleading under Rule 15.” Bylin v. Billings, 568 F.3d 1224, 1231 (10th Cir. 2009).

In moving for leave to file a second amended complaint, Ms. Hamric discussed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 and how Colorado law did not permit a plaintiff to seek exemplary damages until after commencement of discovery. But Ms. Hamric did not advance an argument for amending the Scheduling Order as required by Rule 16(b). Nor does Ms. Hamric cite Rule 16(b) in her briefs on appeal, much less explain how she satisfied, in her papers before the magistrate judge, the Rule 16(b) standard. In fact, Ms. Hamric conceded at oral argument that, before the magistrate judge, she sought only to amend her complaint and “did not seek to amend the scheduling order.” Oral Argument at 7:42-7:46; see also id. at 7:31-9:10. Ms. Hamric also conceded at oral argument that she had not advanced an argument on appeal regarding satisfying Rule 16(b).

This omission by Ms. Hamric is fatal to her argument. Specifically, when a party seeking to amend her complaint fails, after the deadline for amendment in a scheduling order, to present a good cause argument under Rule 16(b), a lower court does not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Husky Ventures, Inc. v. B55 Invs. Ltd., 911 F.3d 1000, 1019-20 (10th Cir. 2018). Even if a party who belatedly moves for leave to amend a pleading satisfies Rule 15(a)’s standard, the party must also obtain leave to amend the scheduling order. But Rule 16(b) imposes a higher standard for amending a deadline in a scheduling order than Rule 15(a) imposes for obtaining leave to amend a complaint. Thus, as Husky Ventures suggests, a party’s ability to satisfy the Rule 15(a) standard does not necessitate the conclusion that the party could also satisfy the Rule 16(b) standard. Id. at 1020; see also Bylin, 568 F.3d at 1231 (observing that Rule 16(b) imposes “an arguably more stringent standard than the standards for amending a pleading under Rule 15”). Accordingly, where Ms. Hamric did not attempt to satisfy the Rule 16(b) standard for amending the Scheduling Order, we affirm the district court’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend.

B. Ms. Hamric’s Discovery Motions

After WEI moved for summary judgment, Ms. Hamric filed a pair of discovery-related motions-a motion for additional discovery before disposition of WEI’s motion for summary judgment and a motion to disclose an expert out of time. The magistrate judge denied both motions as moot. After stating the applicable standard of review, we consider each motion, affirming the magistrate judge’s rulings.

1. Standard of Review

We review the denial of a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) motion for additional discovery for an abuse of discretion. Ellis v. J.R.’s Country Stores, Inc., 779 F.3d 1184, 1192 (10th Cir. 2015). Likewise, we review the denial of a motion to revisit a scheduling order and allow the disclosure of an expert out of time for an abuse of discretion. Rimbert v. Eli Lilly & Co., 647 F.3d 1247, 1253-54 (10th Cir. 2011). “We will find an abuse of discretion when the district court bases its ruling on an erroneous conclusion of law or relies on clearly erroneous fact findings.” Ellis, 779 F.3d at 1192 (internal quotation marks omitted). “A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is without factual support in the record or if, after reviewing all of the evidence, we are left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

2. Analysis

a. Motion for additional discovery

Before the April 10, 2020, deadline for discovery, WEI filed its motion for summary judgment based on the liability release. Ms. Hamric moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) to delay resolution of WEI’s motion for summary judgment, asserting additional discovery would allow her to learn further information about the liability release. The magistrate judge denied the motion as moot, concluding further discovery was not needed to assess the validity of the liability release.

Under Rule 56(d), a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may seek additional time for discovery. To do so, a party must “submit an affidavit (1) identifying the probable facts that are unavailable, (2) stating why these facts cannot be presented without additional time, (3) identifying past steps to obtain evidence of these facts, and (4) stating how additional time would allow for rebuttal of the adversary’s argument for summary judgment.” Cerveny v. Aventis, Inc., 855 F.3d 1091, 1110 (10th Cir. 2017). “[S]ummary judgment [should] be refused where the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to his opposition.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 n.5 (1986). “Requests for further discovery should ordinarily be treated liberally.” Cerveny, 855 F.3d at 1110. “But relief under Rule 56(d) is not automatic.” Id. And Rule 56’s provision allowing a non-moving party to seek additional discovery before disposition on a motion for summary judgment “is not a license for a fishing expedition.” Lewis v. City of Ft. Collins, 903 F.2d 752, 759 (10th Cir. 1990); see also Ellis, 779 F.3d at 1207-08 (affirming denial of Rule 56(d) motion where party “required no further discovery to respond to the . . . summary-judgment motion” and additional discovery sought was speculative).

Through the affidavit supporting her Rule 56(d) motion, Ms. Hamric sought four areas of additional discovery. First, she sought discovery on “the drafting of the purported liability release forms” and the meaning of language on the forms. App. Vol. I at 94. Regardless of whether Colorado or Texas law applies, the four corners of the Registration Form and Medical Form, not WEI’s thought process when drafting the forms, controls the validity of the liability release. See B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 138 (Colo. 1998) (requiring that intent of parties to extinguish liability be “clearly and unambiguously expressed” (quoting Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785)); Dresser Indus., Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 853 S.W.2d 505, 508 (Tex. 1993) (“[A] party seeking indemnity from the consequences of that party’s own negligence must express that intent in specific terms within the four corners of the contract.”). Therefore, the drafting process employed by WEI and its understanding of the language of the forms is not relevant to whether the forms included sufficiently specific language to foreclose a claim for negligence.

Second, Ms. Hamric sought to discover information about WEI’s process for distributing the forms and how the church group members, including Mr. Hamric, completed and submitted the forms. Ms. Hamric also requested time to discover matters related to the choice-of-law issue, including the “place of contracting,” “the place of performance,” and “the domicile, residence nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties.” App. Vol. I at 95. Information on these matters, however, was known to Ms. Hamric prior to the magistrate judge’s summary judgment ruling. For instance, the record shows Mr. Hamric received and completed the forms in Texas a few months before the WEI-led excursion and that the church group provided WEI the completed forms upon its arrival at WEI’s location in Colorado. Accordingly, there was no need to delay summary judgment proceedings to discover matters already known to the parties. See Ellis, 779 F.3d at 1207-08.

Third, Ms. Hamric, as part of a challenge to the authenticity of the forms, initially sought to discover information regarding anomalies and alterations on the forms attached to WEI’s motion for summary judgment, as well as evidence of fraud by WEI. Subsequent to Ms. Hamric filing her motion for additional discovery, WEI provided her the original forms signed by Mr. Hamric, and she withdrew her challenge to the authenticity of the forms. Accordingly, by the time the district court ruled on WEI’s motion for summary judgment and Ms. Hamric’s motion for additional discovery, the requests for discovery regarding the authenticity of the forms was moot.

Fourth, Ms. Hamric sought time to discover “evidence of willful and wanton conduct by Defendant WEI and/or by its agents, servants and/or employees.” Id. Discovery on this matter, however, became moot with the magistrate judge’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint to seek exemplary damages and add allegations of willful and wanton conduct, a ruling we affirm. See supra at 12-14, Section II(A).

Having considered each additional discovery request advanced by Ms. Hamric, we conclude the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion by ruling on WEI’s motion for summary judgment without permitting Ms. Hamric additional time for discovery. Accordingly, we affirm the magistrate judge’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s Rule 56(d) motion.

b. Motion for leave to disclose expert out of time

Ms. Hamric moved for leave to disclose a “‘Rappelling/Recreational Activities Safety’ expert” out of time. App. Vol. II at 37. Attached to the motion was a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) expert disclosure, offering opinions about the alleged negligent and/or willful and wanton conduct of WEI and its employees. The magistrate judge denied this motion as moot. Considering the magistrate judge’s other rulings and our holdings on appeal, we conclude the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion. Any opinion offered by the expert as to willful and wanton conduct lost relevance with the denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint to add allegations of willful and wanton conduct and to seek exemplary damages-a ruling we affirmed supra at 12-14, Section II(A). And the expert’s opinion about WEI acting in a negligent manner lost relevance upon the magistrate judge concluding the liability release was valid and barred Ms. Hamric from proceeding on her negligence claim-a ruling we affirm infra at 19-37, Section II(C). Accordingly, we affirm the magistrate judge’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to disclose an expert out of time.

C. WEI’s Motion for Summary Judgment

After stating our standard of review, we discuss Ms. Hamric’s contentions that the magistrate judge (1) applied the wrong standard when considering WEI’s affirmative defense based on the liability release and (2) resolved issues of disputed fact in favor of WEI. Although we conclude the magistrate judge’s ruling is not free of error, the errors do not bind us because we need not repeat them when conducting our de novo review of the grant of summary judgment. Thus, we proceed to consider the validity of the liability release. In conducting our analysis, we hold that, where the parties contend contract principles provide the framework for our choice-of-law analysis, Colorado law governs the validity of the release.[ 5] And we conclude that, under Colorado law, the liability release is valid and enforceable so as to foreclose Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment.

1. Standard of Review

We review the district court’s rulings on summary judgment de novo. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Winton, 818 F.3d 1103, 1105 (10th Cir. 2016). Summary judgment is appropriate if “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); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. “In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we need not defer to factual findings rendered by the district court.” Lincoln v. BNSF Ry. Co., 900 F.3d 1166, 1180 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). For purposes of summary judgment, “[t]he nonmoving party is entitled to all reasonable inferences from the record.” Water Pik, Inc. v. Med-Sys., Inc., 726 F.3d 1136, 1143 (10th Cir. 2013). Finally, “we can affirm on any ground supported by the record, so long as the appellant has had a fair opportunity to address that ground.” Alpine Bank v. Hubbell, 555 F.3d 1097, 1108 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

2. Alleged Errors by the Magistrate Judge

Ms. Hamric argues the magistrate judge (1) applied the incorrect standard when considering WEI’s affirmative defense and (2) resolved disputed issues of material fact in favor of WEI. We consider each contention in turn.

a. Standard applicable to affirmative defenses

Ms. Hamric contends the magistrate judge announced an incorrect standard of review and impermissibly shifted evidentiary burdens onto her, as the non-moving party. The disputed language in the magistrate judge’s opinion states: When, as here, a defendant moves for summary judgment to test an affirmative defense, it is the defendant’s burden to demonstrate the absence of any disputed fact as to the affirmative defense asserted. See Helm v. Kansas, 656 F.3d 1277, 1284 (10th Cir. 2011). Once the defendant meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to put forth sufficient evidence to demonstrate the essential elements of her claim(s), see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Simms v. Okla. ex rel. Dep’t of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Servs., 165 F.3d 1321, 1326 (10th Cir. 1999), and to “demonstrate with specificity the existence of a disputed fact” as to the defendant’s affirmative defense, see Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562, 564 (10th Cir. 1997).

App. Vol. II at 100 (emphasis added). Ms. Hamric takes issue with the emphasized phrase.

Nothing on the pages the magistrate judge cited from Anderson and Simms requires a plaintiff responding to a motion for summary judgment based on an affirmative defense to identify evidence supporting each element of her claim. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (requiring nonmoving party in face of “properly supported motion for summary judgment” to “‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial'” (quoting First Nat’l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288 (1968))); Simms, 165 F.3d at 1326, 1328 (discussing summary judgment standard in context of employment discrimination claim and burden-shifting framework from McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)). In fact, the standard announced by the magistrate judge would unnecessarily require a plaintiff, in response to a motion for summary judgment based on an affirmative defense, to identify evidence supporting elements of her claim never drawn into question by the defendant. Placing such a burden on a plaintiff is all the more problematic where, as here, the parties contemplated a bifurcated summary judgment process initially focused on the validity of the liability release, and WEI filed its motion for summary judgment before the close of discovery.

We have previously stated that a district court errs by requiring a party opposing summary judgment based on an affirmative defense to “establish at least an inference of the existence of each element essential to the case.” Johnson v. Riddle, 443 F.3d 723, 724 n.1 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted). We reaffirm that conclusion today. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff, upon the defendant raising and supporting an affirmative defense, need only identify a disputed material fact relative to the affirmative defense. Id.; Hutchinson, 105 F.3d at 564; see also Leone v. Owsley, 810 F.3d 1149, 1153-54 (10th Cir. 2015) (discussing defendant’s burden for obtaining summary judgment based on an affirmative defense). Only if the defendant also challenges an element of the plaintiff’s claim does the plaintiff bear the burden of coming forward with some evidence in support of that element. See Tesone, 942 F.3d at 994 (“The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing an absence of any issues of material fact. Where . . . the burden of persuasion at trial would be on the nonmoving party, the movant may carry its initial burden by providing ‘affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim’ or by ‘demonstrating to the Court that the nonmoving party’s evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.’ If the movant makes this showing, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” (first quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 330, then quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250)); Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir. 1998) (if summary judgment movant carries its initial burden of showing a lack of evidence in support of an essential element of plaintiff’s claim, “the burden shifts to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts” supporting the essential element (internal quotation marks omitted)).

The magistrate judge’s erroneous statement regarding Ms. Hamric’s burden, however, does not foreclose our ability to further review the grant of summary judgment. Rather, in accord with the applicable de novo standard of review, we review WEI’s motion for summary judgment under the standard that “should have been applied by the [magistrate judge].”[ 6] Nance v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Can., 294 F.3d 1263, 1266 (10th Cir. 2002) (quotation marks omitted).

b. Resolution of disputed issues of material fact

Ms. Hamric contends the magistrate judge impermissibly resolved two issues of disputed fact in WEI’s favor. We discuss each asserted factual issue in turn, concluding factual disputes existed and the magistrate judge incorrectly resolved one of the disputes against Ms. Hamric. However, even if this factual dispute were material, we may proceed to analyze the validity of the liability release after resolving the dispute in Ms. Hamric’s favor. See Lincoln, 900 F.3d at 1180 (“In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we need not defer to factual findings rendered by the district court.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

i. Language of Registration Form and Medical Form

In moving for summary judgment, WEI’s brief contained edited versions of the Registration Form and Medical Form that focused the reader’s attention on the language most pertinent to Mr. Hamric’s participation in the outdoor excursion and the release of liability. For instance, the version of the forms in WEI’s brief left out phrases such as “(or my child)” and the accompanying properly-tensed-and-conjugated verb that would apply if the forms were completed by a parent or guardian of the participant, rather than by the participant himself. Compare App. Vol. I at 46, with id. at 57, 83.

Although WEI and Ms. Hamric attached full versions of the forms to their papers on the motion for summary judgment, the magistrate judge’s quotation of the language in the forms mirrored that which appeared in WEI’s brief. Ms. Hamric contends the magistrate judge, in not quoting the full forms, resolved a dispute of fact regarding the language of the forms in WEI’s favor. It is not uncommon for a court to focus on the pertinent language of a contract or liability release when putting forth its analysis. In this case, Ms. Hamric claims the forms should be reviewed on the whole. Although there is no indication the magistrate judge did not review the forms in their entirety, despite her use of incomplete quotations, we attach full versions of the Registration Form and Medical Form completed by Mr. Hamric as an appendix to this opinion. And we consider all the language on the forms when assessing whether the forms contain a valid liability release.

ii. Registration Form and Medical Form as single form

The magistrate judge viewed the Registration Form and the Medical Form as a single, “two-page agreement.” App. Vol. II at 103; see also id. at 101 (“Adult customers are required to execute a two-page agreement with WEI before they are permitted to participate in WEI-sponsored activities. The first page of the agreement is a ‘Registration Form’, followed by a ‘Medical Form’ on page two.”). Ms. Hamric contends the two forms are separate agreements, not a single agreement. While a jury could have concluded that the Registration Form and Medical Form were separate agreements, this dispute of fact is not material given applicable law regarding the construction of agreements that are related and simultaneously executed.

It is clear from the record that a participant needed to complete both forms before partaking in the WEI-lead excursion. Further, while the Medical Form required a signature and a date, the Registration Form required only that a participant place his initials on certain lines, suggesting the forms were part of a single agreement. However, the forms do not contain page numbers to indicate they are part of a single agreement. Further, language on the Medical Form is conflicting and ambiguous as to whether the two forms comprise a single agreement: Individuals who have not completed these forms will not be allowed to participate. I have carefully read all the sections of this agreement, understand its contents, and have initialed all sections of page 1 of this document. I have examined all the information given by myself, or my child. By the signature below, I certify that it is true and correct. Should this form and/or any wording be altered, it will not be accepted and the participant will not be allowed to participate.

App., Vol. I at 58, 84 (emphases added). Both the italicized language and the use of “forms” in the plural to describe the agreement support the conclusion that the Registration Form and the Medical Form are a single agreement. But the underlined language, using “form” in the singular, suggests the forms might constitute separate agreements. Otherwise the singular use of “form” would suggest the unlikely result that a participant could not alter the wording of the Medical Form but could alter the wording of the Registration Form.[ 7] Accord Navajo Nation v. Dalley, 896 F.3d 1196, 1213 (10th Cir. 2018) (describing the cannon of expressio unius est exclusio alterius as providing “that the ‘expression of one item of an associated group or series excludes another left unmentioned'” and that “the enumeration of certain things in a statute suggests that the legislature had no intent of including things not listed or embraced.” (quoting NLRB v. SW Gen., Inc., 137 S.Ct. 929, 940 (2017))). Thus, a reasonable jury could have found the Registration Form and the Medical Form were separate agreements.

We conclude, however, that this dispute of fact is not material to resolution of the primarily legal question regarding whether Mr. Hamric entered into a valid liability release with WEI. Under Colorado law, it is well established that a court may, and often must, construe two related agreements pertaining to the same subject matter as a single agreement. See Bledsoe v. Hill, 747 P.2d 10, 12 (Colo.App. 1987) (“If a simultaneously executed agreement between the same parties, relating to the same subject matter, is contained in more than one instrument, the documents must be construed together to determine intent as though the entire agreement were contained in a single document. Although it is desirable for the documents to refer to each other, there is no requirement that they do so.” (citing In re Application for Water Rights v. N. Colo. Water Conservancy Dist., 677 P.2d 320 (Colo. 1984); Harty v. Hoerner, 463 P.2d 313 (Colo. 1969); Westminster v. Skyline Vista Dev. Co., 431 P.2d 26 (Colo. 1967))).[ 8] Thus, although a jury could conclude the Registration Form and Medical Form technically constitute separate agreements, we consider the agreements together when determining if Mr. Hamric released WEI for its negligent acts.

3. Choice-of-Law Analysis

At the heart of WEI’s motion for summary judgment was whether Colorado or Texas law controls and whether the release is valid under the appropriate law. On appeal, Ms. Hamric contends “contract principles” control the choice-of-law analysis because WEI’s affirmative defense “was a contract issue on a purported agreement to release liability.” Opening Br. at 26-27. Ms. Hamric further contends that under contract principles in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Laws, Texas law applies because Mr. Hamric was a Texas resident who completed the Registration Form and the Medical Form while in Texas. WEI agrees that if contract principles govern the choice-of-law issue, the Restatement (Second) on Conflict of Laws provides the appropriate factors for this court to consider. But WEI contends (1) the liability release is valid under both Colorado and Texas law and (2) the relevant factors in §§ 6 and 188 of the Restatement favor application of Colorado law if this court is inclined to resolve the conflict-of-law issue.

Outdoor recreation and tourism is a growing industry in Colorado, as well as several other states within our circuit. And many outdoor tourism outfitters, like WEI, require participants to complete forms containing liability releases. See Redden v. Clear Creek Skiing Corp., ___ P.3d ___, 2020 WL 7776149, at *2 (Colo.App. Dec. 31, 2020); Hamill v. Cheley Colo. Camps, Inc., 262 P.3d 945, 947-48 (Colo.App. 2011); see also Dimick v. Hopkinson, 422 P.3d 512, 515-16 (Wyo. 2018); Penunuri v. Sundance Partners, Ltd., 301 P.3d 984, 986 (Utah 2013); Beckwith v. Weber, 277 P.3d 713, 716-17 (Wyo. 2012). With the prevalence and recurrence of questions regarding the validity of liability releases in mind, and viewing the choice-of-law issue as sounding in contract law as urged by the parties, we consider whether the law of the state where the outdoor recreation company is based and the outdoor excursion occurs controls or whether the law of the state of residence of the participant controls.

a. Framework for choice-of-law analysis

“In a diversity action we apply the conflict-of-laws rules of the forum state.” Kipling v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 774 F.3d 1306, 1310 (10th Cir. 2014). “This is true even when choice of law determinations involve the interpretation of contract provisions.” Shearson Lehman Brothers, Inc. v. M & L Invs., 10 F.3d 1510, 1514 (10th Cir. 1993). Accordingly, this court must look to Colorado choice-of-law rules to determine if Colorado or Texas law applies.

“Colorado follows the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (1971) . . . for both contract and tort actions,” Kipling, 774 F.3d at 1310 (citing Wood Brothers Homes, Inc. v. Walker Adjustment Bureau, 601 P.2d 1369, 1372 (Colo. 1979); First Nat’l Bank v. Rostek, 514 P.2d 314, 319-20 (Colo. 1973)). Absent a forum-state “statutory directive,” the Restatement advises a court to consider seven factors: (a) the needs of the interstate and international systems, (b) the relevant policies of the forum, (c) the relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue (d) the protection of justified expectations, (e) the basic policies underlying the particular field of law, (f) certainty, predictability and uniformity of result, and (g) ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied.

Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws: Choice-of-Law Principles § 6 (Am. L. Inst. 1971). The commentary to § 6 identifies the first factor as “[p]robably the most important function of choice-of-law rules” because choice-of-law rules are designed “to further harmonious relations between states and to facilitate commercial intercourse between them.” Id. § 6 cmt. d. Meanwhile, the second factor takes into account any special interests, beyond serving as the forum for the action, that the forum state has in the litigation. Id. § 6 cmt. e. As to the fourth factor-“the protection of justified expectations, “- the comments to § 6 note: This is an important value in all fields of the law, including choice of law. Generally speaking, it would be unfair and improper to hold a person liable under the local law of one state when he had justifiably molded his conduct to conform to the requirements of another state.

Id. § 6 cmt. g.

A more specific section of the Restatement addressing contracts lacking a choice-of-law provision provides additional guidance: (1) The rights and duties of the parties with respect to an issue in contract are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the transaction and the parties under the principles stated in § 6. (2) In the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties . . ., the contacts to be taken into account in applying the principles of § 6 to determine the law applicable to an issue include: (a) the place of contracting, (b) the place of negotiation of the contract, (c) the place of performance, (d) the location of the subject matter of the contract, and (e) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties. These contacts are to be evaluated according to their relative importance with respect to the particular issue.

Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws: Law Governing in Absence of Effective Choice by the Parties § 188.

b. Colorado law controls

We conclude that, under the Restatement, a Colorado court would apply Colorado law to determine the validity and enforceability of the liability release relied upon by WEI. First looking at § 6 of the Restatement, the liability release was drafted by a Colorado corporation to cover services provided exclusively in Colorado. Applying out-of-state law to interpret the liability release would hinder commerce, as it would require WEI and other outdoor-recreation companies to know the law of the state in which a given participant lives. Such a rule would place a significant burden on outdoor-recreation companies who depend on out-of-state tourists for revenue because it would require a company like WEI to match the various requirements of the other forty-nine states. This approach would not give WEI the benefit of having logically molded its liability release to comply with Colorado law, the law of the state where WEI does business. Furthermore, Ms. Hamric’s primary argument for applying Texas law is that Mr. Hamric signed the forms in Texas. But a rule applying out-of-state law on that basis is likely to deter WEI from furnishing the liability release until a participant enters Colorado. And, while not providing participants the forms until arrival in Colorado might lessen WEI’s liability exposure under out-of-state law, such a practice would not benefit participants because it would pressure participants into a last-minute decision regarding whether to sign the liability release after having already traveled to Colorado for the outdoor excursion.

Colorado also has a strong interest in this matter. Colorado has a booming outdoor-recreation industry, in the form of skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, horseback riding, and rafting excursions. Colorado relies on tax receipts from the outdoor-recreation industry. And while many out-of-state individuals partake in these activities within Colorado, they often purchase their tickets or book excursion reservations before entering Colorado. If we applied Texas law because it is the state where Mr. Hamric signed the liability release, we would essentially allow the other forty-nine states to regulate a key industry within Colorado. Such an approach is impractical and illogical.

Further, the considerations and contacts listed in § 188 of the Restatement favor application of Colorado law. As to the first contact, in accord with the commentary, a contract is formed in “the place where occurred the last act necessary to give the contract binding effect.” Id. § 188 cmt. e. Here, that act occurred when the church group provided the forms to WEI in Colorado; for, before the forms were provided to WEI, Mr. Hamric had not conveyed his acceptance to WEI and WEI did not know whether Mr. Hamric would complete the forms and agree to the liability release. See Scoular Co. v. Denney, 151 P.3d 615, 619 (Colo.App. 2006) (discussing means of accepting an offer and stating “general rule that communication is required of the acceptance of the offer for a bilateral contract”). The second contact consideration is not applicable because the terms of the Medical Form precluded alteration, and there is no suggestion in the record Mr. Hamric attempted to negotiate the terms of the liability release before signing the forms. The third and fourth factors heavily favor application of Colorado law because WEI provides outdoor excursion services in Colorado, not Texas, and Mr. Hamric knew such when he signed the forms. Finally, the fifth factor is neutral because Mr. Hamric was a resident of Texas and WEI has its place of business in Colorado. With three factors favoring Colorado law, one factor inapplicable, and one factor neutral, the overall weight of the § 188 factors favors application of Colorado law.

Concluding that both § 6 and § 188 of the Restatement strongly support application of Colorado law, we hold that a Colorado court would choose to apply Colorado law, not Texas law, when determining whether the Registration Form and Medical Form contain a valid liability release. We, therefore, proceed to that analysis.

4. The Liability Release Is Valid under Colorado Law

Under Colorado law, “[a]greements attempting to exculpate a party from that party’s own negligence have long been disfavored.” Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 783.But, such “[e]xculpatory agreements are not necessarily void,” as courts recognize that “[t]hey stand at the crossroads of two competing principles: freedom of contract and responsibility for damages caused by one’s own negligent acts.” Id. at 784.In assessing the validity of a release, “a court must consider: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981); see also Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004) (a release agreement “must be closely scrutinized to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language and that the circumstances and the nature of the service involved indicate that the contract was fairly entered into”).

Ms. Hamric challenges only WEI’s ability to show “whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.”[ 9] “To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, [the Colorado Supreme Court has] examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.” Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467. In general accord with this statement, federal district courts in Colorado have discerned five factors from Colorado Supreme Court decisions to determine if a release is unambiguous: (1) “whether the agreement is written in simple and clear terms that are free from legal jargon”; (2) “whether the agreement is inordinately long or complicated”; (3) “whether the release specifically addresses the risk that caused the plaintiff’s injury”; (4) “whether the contract contains any emphasis to highlight the importance of the information it contains”; and (5) “whether the plaintiff was experienced in the activity making risk of that particular injury reasonably foreseeable.” Salazar v. On the Trail Rentals, Inc., Civil Action No. 11-cv-00320-CMA-KMT, 2012 WL 934240, at *4 (D. Colo. Mar. 20, 2012) (deriving factors from Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785; Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467); see also Eburn v. Capitol Peak Outfitters, Inc., 882 F.Supp.2d 1248, 1253 (D. Colo. 2012) (citing factors set forth in Salazar). Each and every factor, however, need not be satisfied for a court to uphold the validity of a liability release, as the Colorado Supreme Court has upheld the validity of a release where the signor was a novice at the outdoor activity in question. See B & B Livery, Inc., 960 P.2d at 138 (upholding liability release without finding every factor favored validity); id. at 139-40 (Hobbs, J., dissenting) (discussing signor’s inexperience riding horses).

The first four factors taken from Heil Valley Ranch and Chadwick support the validity of the liability release in the Registration Form and Medical Form. The forms span a mere two pages, with language pertinent to the liability release in only four sections of the forms. And those four sections are generally free of legal jargon. For instance, in detailing the scope of the release, the Registration Form required the participant/signor to “hold harmless Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. . . . for any injury or death caused by or resulting from my or my child’s participation in the activities.”[ 10] App. Vol. I at 57, 83. And this language comes after the form describes several of the risks associated with the activities, including “that accidents or illness can occur in remote places without medical facilities” and that “any route or activity chosen [by WEI] may not be of minimum risk, but may have been chosen for its interest and challenge.” Id. The Registration Form also twice places bolded emphasis on the fact that a participant was releasing WEI from liability: “By signing my initials below, I certify this is a release of liability.”Id. Finally, although not explicitly a factor identified by Colorado courts, we observe WEI provided the church group with the forms, and Mr. Hamric completed the forms, months before the booked excursion. Thus, if Mr. Hamric personally had difficulty understanding any of the language on the forms, he had ample time to contact WEI for an explanation or consult legal counsel.

The sole factor clearly cutting against enforcement of the liability release is Mr. Hamric’s lack of rappelling experience. However, as noted above, the Colorado Supreme Court has not found this consideration to be dispositive against the enforcement of a liability waiver. See B & B Livery, Inc., 960 P.2d at 138-39. And, where the liability release between Mr. Hamric and WEI is otherwise clear, specific, and uncomplicated, Mr. Hamric’s lack of experience rappelling is insufficient to defeat the release as a whole.

Accordingly, applying Colorado law, we hold the liability release is valid and its enforcement bars Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment in favor of WEI.

III. CONCLUSION

We affirm the denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint because the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion where Ms. Hamric did not attempt to satisfy the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) standard for amending the Scheduling Order. We also affirm the denial of Ms. Hamric’s discovery motions, holding the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion where the items Ms. Hamric sought to discover were either already in the record, were not necessary to determine the validity of the liability release, or went to Ms. Hamric’s effort to obtain exemplary damages, which she could not pursue given the denial of her motion for leave to amend her complaint. Finally, applying de novo review to the choice-of-law issue and the issue regarding the validity of the liability release, we conclude Colorado law applies and the release is valid and enforceable under that law. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment to WEI.

———

Notes:

[ 1]Here, we summarize the Registration Form and the Medical Form. Copies of the full forms, taken from the Appendix submitted by Ms. Hamric, are attached to this opinion. We rely on the full forms, and all of the language thereon, when conducting our analysis. Further, as discussed infra at 25-27, Section II(C)(2)(b)(ii), while the Registration Form and Medical Form could be viewed as separate forms, Colorado law requires us to consider both forms together when conducting our analysis.

[ 2]Throughout our opinion, we cite simultaneously to the Registration Form or Medical Form attached to WEI’s motion for summary judgment, App. Vol. I at 57- 58, and the Registration Form or Medical Form attached to Ms. Hamric’s response to WEI’s motion for summary judgment, id. at 83-84. Although the language of the two sets of forms are identical, the clarity of the text varies somewhat, seemingly based on the proficiency of the respective copy machines used by the parties.

[ 3]In quoting the forms, we seek to replicate the font size, spacing, and bolding of the text of the Registration Form and Medical Form completed by Mr. Hamric.

[ 4] Under Colorado law: A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by [§ 13-21-102 of the Colorado Revised Statutes] may not be included in any initial claim for relief. A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by this section may be allowed by amendment to the pleadings only after the exchange of initial disclosures . . . and the plaintiff establishes prima facie proof of a triable issue.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102(1.5)(a).

[ 5]Although Ms. Hamric’s action sounds in tort law, on appeal, the parties do not contend that tort principles provide the framework for the choice-of-law analysis regarding the liability release. Thus, we reach no conclusion as to whether Colorado law or Texas law would govern if tort principles played a role in the choice-of-law analysis.

[ 6]While the magistrate judge incorrectly stated the standard governing WEI’s motion for summary judgment, it is not apparent the magistrate judge’s analysis and conclusion that WEI was entitled to summary judgment hinged on Ms. Hamric’s failure to identify evidence supporting each element of her negligence claim. Rather, the magistrate judge correctly granted WEI summary judgment based on the liability release and WEI’s affirmative defense.

[ 7]WEI has advanced inconsistent positions on whether the Registration Form and Medical Form comprised a single agreement. Although on appeal WEI argues the forms constitute a single agreement releasing liability, WEI’s Answer to Ms. Hamric’s Complaint treats the two forms as separate agreements, stating that “[d]ecedent Gerald Hamric executed a valid and enforceable liability release. Decedent Gerald Hamric also executed a medical evaluation.” App. Vol. I at 32 (emphasis added).

[ 8]Although we conclude that Colorado law, not Texas law, controls the validity of the liability release, infra at 28-33, Section II(C)(3), Texas law likewise permits a court to read separate but related documents together when determining the intent of the parties, see Fort Worth Indep. Sch. Dist. v. City of Fort Worth, 22 S.W.3d 831, 840 (Tex. 2000) (“The City’s argument ignores well-established law that instruments pertaining to the same transaction may be read together to ascertain the parties’ intent, even if the parties executed the instruments at different times and the instruments do not expressly refer to each other, and that a court may determine, as a matter of law, that multiple documents comprise a written contract. In appropriate instances, courts may construe all the documents as if they were part of a single, unified instrument.” (footnotes omitted)).

[ 9]Ms. Hamric also argues that the question of whether Mr. Hamric and WEI entered into a liability release was a question of fact for a jury. But Ms. Hamric withdrew her fact-based challenge to the authenticity of the forms. Further, under Colorado law, “[t]he determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court to determine.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). And, where a liability release has force only if it is “clear and unambiguous,” id., the question of the existence of a liability release and its validity are one in the same because if the language relied on by a defendant does not form a valid release, then no liability release exists.

[ 10] The omitted language marked by the ellipses also required a signor/participant to hold federal and state agencies harmless for injuries or death that might occur as a result of WEI-led activities on federal or state land. Like the rest of the release, this language is plain and clear such that any reasonably educated individual would understand the nature of the release as to these third parties.


This is why you should BOYCOTT NEW HAMPSHIRE! Do not recreate in this state.

New Hampshire charges for Search & Rescue. To be able to charge it must prove you were negligent. If you get hurt or need rescued you are NEGLIGENT in New Hampshire.

N.H. Fish & Game Dep’t v. Bacon, 167 N.H. 591, 116 A.3d 1060, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 34

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: New Hampshire Fish and Game Department

Defendant: Edward Bacon

Plaintiff Claims: Negligent

Defendant Defenses: No proof that the defendants actions were negligent

Holding: For the Plaintiff, state of New Hampshire

Year: 2015

Summary

A law in New Hampshire, which you cannot beat or get around, requires the state to charge you for the costs of search and rescue. The court simply stated the New Hampshire Fish & Game statement that the actions of the defendant were negligent. Proof was the prior injuries the plaintiff had suffered in his life. Boycott New Hampshire.

Facts

On September 16, 2012, the defendant began a five-day solo hiking trip in the White Mountains, during which he planned to hike several mountains with summits over 5,000 feet. At the time of the hike, the defendant was fifty-nine years old, had undergone four hip surgeries since 2005, and had an artificial hip that had dislocated on five occasions, twice during the prior year. The defendant also had a “bad back” and was taking a variety of medications for multiple ailments. In preparation for his hike, the defendant trained in a city park in Michigan, which had 250-foot hills and some “gravelly” spots. The conditions on the Franconia Ridge Trail between Liberty and Little Haystack Mountains, on which the rescuers eventually located the defendant, are rocky and steep in various locations.

On September 18, the defendant left the Liberty Springs campsite to begin a planned hike to the summits of Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette Mountains; he planned to end at the Greenleaf Hut, which provides overnight accommodations to hikers. Days in advance, stormy weather had been forecast for the morning the defendant began the hike, and rain began a few hours after he departed the campsite. A bit later, the defendant’s pack cover “on its own accord came off and flew away in the wind.” Sergeant Brad Morse, a Conservation Officer with the Department who helped rescue the defendant, testified that the winds were among the worst he had ever experienced in that part of the Franconia Ridge Trail and had repeatedly blown him to the ground. Sometime that morning, the defendant slipped on loose gravel, slid down the trail, hit his pack on a rock, and lost his tent which fell down a ravine. At noon time, the defendant took a photograph of two other hikers he encountered on the trail, both of whom were wearing full rain gear with their hoods over their heads.

At around 1:00 p.m., the defendant encountered a waist-high rock ledge that he needed to traverse in order to continue on the trail. He attempted to jump backward up onto the ledge and, in the process, fell and dislocated his hip. Approximately one hour later, Morse received an alert that a hiker had dislocated his hip and needed assistance. He responded immediately and eventually located the defendant on the trail between Little Haystack and Lincoln Mountains. Morse testified that when he found the defendant his left leg was flexed and internally rotated, the very position that the defendant’s orthopedic surgeon had warned him to avoid due to his hip replacement.

Approximately fifteen Department personnel and thirty-five volunteers participated in the defendant’s rescue during the afternoon and evening of September 18 and into the early morning hours of September 19. When Lieutenant James Kneeland visited the defendant in the hospital after his rescue, the defendant explained that he had misread the weather report: he thought the forecast called for 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 70 mph and heavy rain, instead of the actual forecast of 30-40 mph winds increasing to 70 mph and heavy rain. The defendant also told Kneeland that he had caught his left leg while attempting to jump backward up onto a rock ledge and dislocated his artificial hip when he fell.

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

The New Hampshire Supreme Court first looked at the statute in question.

§ 206:26-bb. Search and Rescue Response Expenses; Recovery

I. Any person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response, unless the person shows proof of possessing a current version of any of the following:

(a)    A hunting or fishing license issued by this state under title XVIII.

(b)    An OHRV registration under RSA 215-A, a snowmobile registration under RSA 215-C, or a vessel registration under RSA 270-E.

(c)    A voluntary hike safe card. The executive director shall adopt rules under RSA 541-A for the issuance to purchasers on the department’s Internet site, and subsequent annual renewals, of a hike safe card prior to a person’s need for a search and rescue response. The annual fee for a hike safe card shall be $25 for an individual or $35 for a family. A “family” shall consist of the purchaser, the purchaser’s spouse, and the purchaser’s minor children or stepchildren. In addition, if the purchaser or the purchaser’s spouse has been appointed as a family guardian for an individual under RSA 464-A, that individual shall be considered part of the purchaser’s family. A transaction fee determined by the department shall be for the Internet license agent as provided in RSA 214-A:2. The executive director shall forward to the state treasurer the sum collected from each individual hike safe card purchased and each family hike safe card purchased, less the amount of such transaction fee, for deposit in the fish and game search and rescue fund under RSA 206:42.

I-a.    The executive director shall bill the responsible person for such costs. Payment shall be made to the department within 30 days after the receipt of the bill, or by some other date determined by the executive director. If any person shall fail or refuse to pay the costs by the required date, the department may pursue payment by legal action, or by settlement or compromise, and the responsible person shall be liable for interest from the date that the bill is due and for legal fees and costs incurred by the department in obtaining and enforcing judgment under this paragraph. All amounts recovered, less the costs of collection and any percentage due pursuant to RSA 7:15-a, IV(b), shall be paid into the fish and game search and rescue fund established in RSA 206:42.

II.    If any person fails to make payment under paragraph I, the executive director of the fish and game department may:

(a)    Order any license, permit, or tag issued by the fish and game department to be suspended or revoked, after due hearing.

(b)    Notify the commissioner of the department of health and human services of such nonpayment. The nonpayment shall constitute cause for revocation of any license or certification issued by the commissioner pursuant to RSA 126-A:20 and RSA 151:7.

(c)    Notify the director of motor vehicles of such nonpayment and request suspension of the person’s driver’s license pursuant to RSA 263:56.

III.    Regardless of a person’s possession of a document satisfying subparagraph I(a), (b), or (c), a person shall be liable to the department for search and rescue response expenses if the person is judged to have done any of the actions listed in RSA 153-A:24, I.

As you can see in reading the statute, there is no definition of what a negligent act might be in New Hampshire that would trigger this requirement. To the best of my knowledge and research, neither does the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. EVERY ACT where a rescue is run is negligence and everyone gets charged.

There are four steps to prove negligence in most states. Duty, Breach of the Duty, Injury and Damages. The last to I suppose are the cost of the rescue to New Hampshire. But what is the duty of care and who is the duty of care owed too?

A duty is a level of doing or not doing something, below which the action or in action is actionable if it causes injury. So, a hiker, as in this case, owed a duty to New Hampshire? For what? There is a duty not to get injured? There is a duty not to require assistance in getting out of the backcountry? If the duty is either of those issues, then there is a breach of duty every time and thus negligence every time.

However, at no time, has New Hampshire ever argued or proved any duty. No other state has ever identified a duty of a person away from the city owing a duty to the state to be good.

If the failure to be good is so great it violates a criminal act, that is another story. A criminal act is action so bad it causes harm to an individual or society. So, is New Hampshire arguing that an individual causing a financial loss to the state is breaching a duty to the state? Absurd!

This is how the court explained the duty of care in this case.

Also plain is that the statute imposes as the duty of care the common law standard of negligence, which we have defined as how a reasonable person would be expected to act under the same circumstances. Thus, in order to avoid liability for search and rescue costs, the defendant must have hiked in a manner that was reasonable under all of the circumstances.

Hiking in a manner that is reasonable under all circumstances” If this is the standard of care, then every hiker in New Hampshire is violating the standard of care. What is reasonable? In this case, there was no expert testimony as to the reasonableness of what the defendant did. Is it reasonable to step on a rock that may roll causing the hiker to fall. Or is it reasonable to step in the mud and water between the rocks suffering foot injury, cold and other injuries.

If you can’t Hike in a Manner that is Reasonable under ALL Circumstances, don’t go to New Hampshire.

The court continued to justify its findings.

As previously stated, a person violates RSA 206:26-bb by not acting as a reasonable person would have acted under the same circumstances. The defendant argues that he did not act negligently because he was prepared for the conditions, physically capable, had proper equipment, and had adequately planned his hike. The trial court concluded to the contrary when it found that the defendant did not act as a reasonably prudent hiker would have acted under the same circumstances.

What more is needed to hike other than prepared for the conditions, physically capable and proper equipment? The 10 essentials (which there are hundreds of versions of) seems to be covered here.

However, the court found the defendant was not reasonable because of his prior injuries.

…the defendant had undergone multiple hip surgeries; he had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times, twice within the year prior to his hike; he had trained in a city park that did not remotely resemble the challenging terrain he would experience in the White Mountains; he had continued his hike despite the fact that bad weather had been forecast days in advance and that he encountered high winds and rain early into his hike; and he chose to jump backward over a rock ledge he was unable to pass, despite his artificial hip and experience with hip dislocation.

So, anyone with any prior injury should not hike in New Hampshire because that is proof, they are hiking in a reasonable manner under all circumstances.

I wonder what the Americans with Disabilities Act says about that?

And because the defendant had had prior injuries, it was foreseeable as determined by the NH Fish & Game and the court that he would get injured again.

To the extent that the defendant argues that his injury was not foreseeable, we agree with the trial court’s conclusions that the defendant’s injury was foreseeable and directly caused his need to be rescued by the Department.

This explains why there are no professional sports teams in New Hampshire, they would spend the off-season in court. Fans could sue any team arguing that since they played previously injured players, they were negligent in playing them in New Hampshire.

So Now What?

What is the real issue? The real issue is this puts rescuers at greater risk. Instead of calling at 2:00 PM in the afternoon when the weather is sunny and nice, a victim waits and calls when they are desperate, 2:00 AM. Darkness, bad weather, and little sleep put rescuers at greater risk of becoming injured in a rescue. Charging for a rescue puts rescuers at risk!

Besides the simple fact that charging for rescues increases the risk to the people in trouble and the rescuers, New Hampshire continues to do so. Either to keep people from recreating in the state or because the Legislators & the Courts are not too bright or refuse to understand.

To not pay New Hampshire for a rescue, recreate in a state other than New Hampshire.

Boycott New Hampshire

#BoycottNewHampshire

For additional Articles & Support on this subject see:

Who Charges for Search and Rescue?    http://rec-law.us/xtM6hp

Update: Give me a break! Teen charged $25K for a rescue he did not need    http://rec-law.us/zndiA7

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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N.H. Fish & Game Dep’t v. Bacon, 167 N.H. 591, 116 A.3d 1060, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 34

N.H. Fish & Game Dep’t v. Bacon, 167 N.H. 591, 116 A.3d 1060, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 34 

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

January 15, 2015, Argued; April 30, 2015, Opinion Issued

No. 2014-158

New Hampshire Fish and Game Department v. Edward Bacon

Prior History:  [***1]  6th Circuit Court — Concord District Division.

NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

NH1.[] 1.

Negligence > Standard of Care > Ordinary and Reasonable Care

The search and rescue response statute plainly is intended to create a statutory cause of action in favor of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to recover the costs it incurs in conducting a search and rescue operation for a person whose negligent conduct required such an operation. Whether or not a common law duty exists, a plaintiff may maintain an action directly under a statute if a statutory cause of action is either expressed or implied by the legislature. Also plain is that the statute imposes as the duty of care the common law standard of negligence, which has been defined as how a reasonable person would be expected to act under the same circumstances. Thus, in order to avoid liability for search and rescue costs, the defendant must have acted in a manner that was reasonable under all of the circumstances. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in using the common law standard of negligence to evaluate defendant’s conduct under the statute. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH2.[] 2.

Appeal and Error > Standards of Review > Generally

The court will uphold the trial court’s findings and rulings unless they lack evidentiary support or are legally erroneous. It is within the province of the trial court to accept or reject, in whole or in part, whatever evidence was presented, including that of the expert witnesses. The standard of review is not whether the court would rule differently than the trial court, but whether a reasonable person could have reached the same decision as the trial court based upon the same evidence. Thus, the court defers to the trial court’s judgment on such issues as resolving conflicts in the testimony, measuring the credibility of witnesses, and determining the weight to be given evidence.

NH3.[] 3.

Negligence > Proceedings > Generally

In determining that a hiker was liable under the search and rescue response statute for his rescue costs, the trial court properly found that he was negligent when he had undergone multiple hip surgeries, had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times, had trained in a city park that did not remotely resemble the challenging mountain terrain he [*592]  would experience, had continued his hike despite the fact that bad weather had been forecast days in advance and when he encountered high winds and rain early on, and chose to jump backward over a rock ledge he was unable to pass. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH4.[] 4.

Negligence > Proximate Cause > Tests and Standards

To establish proximate cause a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct caused or contributed to cause the harm.

NH5.[] 5.

Damages > Practice and Procedure > Generally

In reviewing damage awards, the court will consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Furthermore, the court will not disturb the decision of the fact-finder unless it is clearly erroneous. The law does not require absolute certainty for recovery of damages. The court does, however, require an indication that the award of damages was reasonable.

NH6.[] 6.

Negligence > Damages > Particular Cases

The damage award of $9,186.38 against a rescued hiker who was found to have been negligent under the search and rescue response statute was reasonable when it represented the costs for the 15 people who participated in the rescue, including overtime, mileage, and benefits. The hiker’s argument that the Fish and Game Department employees were on duty and would have been paid regardless of their participation in the rescue failed to take into account the overtime paid, and also ignored the fact that by being diverted to the rescue operation, the employees were unable to perform their other assigned duties. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH7.[] 7.

Environment and Natural Resources > Game and Fish > Particular Matters

The search and rescue response statute specifically states that the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is to receive the reasonable costs associated with a rescue. Nothing in the statute otherwise limits the Department’s recovery, and the court will not add limiting language to the statute that the legislature did not include. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH8.[] 8.

Statutes > Generally > Legislative History or Intent

A court interprets legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.

Counsel: Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Philip B. Bradley, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.
Seufert, Davis & Hunt, PLLC, of Franklin (Brad C. Davis on the brief and orally), for the defendant.

Judges: LYNN, J. DALIANIS, C.J., and HICKS, CONBOY, and BASSETT, JJ., concurred.

Opinion by: LYNN

Opinion

 [**1062]  Lynn, J. The defendant, Edward Bacon, appeals an order of the Circuit Court (Boyle, J.), following a bench trial, finding that he violated RSA 206:26-bb (2011) (amended 2014) by acting negligently while hiking, so as to require a search and rescue effort by the plaintiff, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (Department), and that he, thus, was responsible to the Department for the reasonable costs associated with the search and rescue. We affirm.

I

The following facts are established by the record. On September 16, 2012, the defendant began a five-day solo hiking trip in the White [*593]  Mountains, during which he planned to hike several mountains with summits over 5,000 feet. At the time of the hike, the defendant was fifty-nine years old, had undergone four hip surgeries since 2005, and had an artificial hip that had dislocated on five occasions, twice [***2]  during the prior year. The defendant also had a “bad back” and was taking a variety of medications for multiple ailments. In preparation for his hike, the defendant trained in a city park in Michigan, which had 250-foot hills and some “gravelly” spots. The conditions on the Franconia Ridge Trail between Liberty and Little Haystack Mountains, on which the rescuers eventually located the defendant, are rocky and steep in various locations.

 [**1063]  On September 18, the defendant left the Liberty Springs campsite to begin a planned hike to the summits of Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette Mountains; he planned to end at the Greenleaf Hut, which provides overnight accommodations to hikers. Days in advance, stormy weather had been forecast for the morning the defendant began the hike, and rain began a few hours after he departed the campsite. A bit later, the defendant’s pack cover “on its own accord came off and flew away in the wind.” Sergeant Brad Morse, a Conservation Officer with the Department who helped rescue the defendant, testified that the winds were among the worst he had ever experienced in that part of the Franconia Ridge Trail and had repeatedly blown him to the ground. [***3]  Sometime that morning, the defendant slipped on loose gravel, slid down the trail, hit his pack on a rock, and lost his tent which fell down a ravine. At noon time, the defendant took a photograph of two other hikers he encountered on the trail, both of whom were wearing full rain gear with their hoods over their heads.

At around 1:00 p.m., the defendant encountered a waist-high rock ledge that he needed to traverse in order to continue on the trail. He attempted to jump backward up onto the ledge and, in the process, fell and dislocated his hip. Approximately one hour later, Morse received an alert that a hiker had dislocated his hip and needed assistance. He responded immediately and eventually located the defendant on the trail between Little Haystack and Lincoln Mountains. Morse testified that when he found the defendant his left leg was flexed and internally rotated, the very position that the defendant’s orthopedic surgeon had warned him to avoid due to his hip replacement.

Approximately fifteen Department personnel and thirty-five volunteers participated in the defendant’s rescue during the afternoon and evening of September 18 and into the early morning hours of September 19. [***4]  When Lieutenant James Kneeland visited the defendant in the hospital after his rescue, the defendant explained that he had misread the weather report: he thought the forecast called for 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 70 mph and heavy rain, instead of the actual forecast of 30-40 mph winds increasing [*594]  to 70 mph and heavy rain. The defendant also told Kneeland that he had caught his left leg while attempting to jump backward up onto a rock ledge and dislocated his artificial hip when he fell.

The defendant testified to a different version of events at trial. For instance, he testified that he was unaware of the weather conditions on the day of the hike because he did not have his reading glasses with him, and that he did not encounter any significant rain or wind. Additionally, he testified that when he dislocated his hip he had not fallen, as he told Kneeland, but instead had jumped backward over a rock ledge and swung his legs up while perfectly maintaining his left leg to avoid flexion and internal rotation.

At the close of the trial, the court accepted closing memoranda from both parties. Thereafter, the court found for the Department “for all of the reasons cited in the plaintiff’s [***5]  closing memorandum,” and awarded the Department $9,334.86 in damages. The defendant filed a motion to reconsider, to which the Department objected. The court denied the defendant’s motion, stating that “[t]he actions of the defendant were a gross deviation from those of a reasonable person that surpasses the [negligence] standard required.” This appeal followed.

II

The defendant raises three arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the trial  [**1064]  court erred by judging his conduct under an ordinary negligence standard which, he asserts, is not the standard mandated by RSA 206:26-bb. Second, he argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding that his actions while hiking were negligent, thus necessitating his rescue by the Department. Third, he argues that the court’s damages award was improper under RSA 206:26-bb because the award included recovery for expenses that the Department would have incurred regardless of its effort to rescue him. We address each argument in turn.

A

The defendant first argues that the court erred by applying the ordinary negligence standard to determine his liability under RSA 206:26-bb. He characterizes this standard as “incorrect,” and asserts that the court should instead have [***6]  applied “the full and complete” civil standard of negligence, although he fails to articulate how this standard differs from the standard of “ordinary negligence.”

To resolve this issue we must engage in statutory interpretation. HN1[] “Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review de novo.” [*595] 
Appeal of Local Gov’t Ctr., 165 N.H. 790, 804, 85 A.3d 388 (2014). “In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole.” Id. “We first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning.” Id. “We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.” Id. “We construe all parts of a statute together to effectuate its overall purpose and avoid an absurd or unjust result.” Id.

NH[1][] [1] We have not previously had occasion to construe the search and rescue response statute. It provides, in pertinent part:

HN2[] I. [A]ny person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department [***7]  for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response. The executive director shall bill the responsible person for such costs. Payment shall be made to the department within 30 days after the receipt of the bill, or by some other date determined by the executive director. If any person shall fail or refuse to pay the costs … the department may pursue payment by legal action … .

RSA 206:26-bb. HN3[] This statute plainly is intended to create a statutory cause of action in favor of the Department to recover the costs it incurs in conducting a search and rescue operation for a person whose negligent conduct required such an operation. See Marquay v. Eno, 139 N.H. 708, 714, 662 A.2d 272 (1995) (“Whether or not a common law duty exists, … a plaintiff may maintain an action directly under [a] statute if a statutory cause of action is either expressed or implied by the legislature.”). Also plain is that the statute imposes as the duty of care the common law standard of negligence, which we have defined as how a reasonable person would be expected to act under the same circumstances. See Gelinas v. Metropolitan Prop. & Liability Ins. Co., 131 N.H. 154, 161, 551 A.2d 962 (1988). Thus, in order to avoid liability for search and rescue costs, the defendant must have hiked in a manner that was reasonable under [***8]  all of the circumstances. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in using the common law standard of negligence to  [**1065]  evaluate the defendant’s conduct under RSA 206:26-bb.

B

The defendant next argues that there was insufficient evidence upon which to find that he acted negligently, resulting in his need for rescue by [*596]  the Department. In particular, the defendant takes issue with the fact that the trial court’s order stated that it found for the Department “for all of the reasons cited in the plaintiff’s closing memorandum.” He asserts that, in so doing, the court improperly adopted as its findings the facts recited in the Department’s memorandum — which facts, he claims, are not supported by the evidence. We disagree.

NH[2][] [2] HN4[] We will uphold the trial court’s findings and rulings unless they lack evidentiary support or are legally erroneous. Cook v. Sullivan, 149 N.H. 774, 780, 829 A.2d 1059 (2003). “It is within the province of the trial court to accept or reject, in whole or in part, whatever evidence was presented, including that of the expert witnesses.” Id. “Our standard of review is not whether we would rule differently than the trial court, but whether a reasonable person could have reached the same decision as the trial court based upon the same [***9]  evidence.” Id. “Thus, we defer to the trial court’s judgment on such issues as resolving conflicts in the testimony, measuring the credibility of witnesses, and determining the weight to be given evidence.” Id.

We first consider the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s findings are not supported by the evidence because the court adopted the Department’s closing memorandum, which he claims relied upon findings that were also not supported by the evidence. Having reviewed both the evidence presented at trial and the Department’s closing memorandum, we reject the defendant’s argument that the Department’s closing memorandum was not supported by the evidence.

NH[3][] [3] We next consider whether there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s determination that the defendant acted negligently. As previously stated, a person violates RSA 206:26-bb by not acting as a reasonable person would have acted under the same circumstances. The defendant argues that he did not act negligently because he was prepared for the conditions, physically capable, had proper equipment, and had adequately planned his hike. The trial court concluded to the contrary when it found that the defendant did not act as a reasonably [***10]  prudent hiker would have acted under the same circumstances. The following facts, recited by the Department in its memorandum and based upon the evidence, support the trial court’s conclusion: the defendant had undergone multiple hip surgeries; he had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times, twice within the year prior to his hike; he had trained in a city park that did not remotely resemble the challenging terrain he would experience in the White Mountains; he had continued his hike despite the fact that bad weather had been forecast days in advance and that he encountered high winds and rain early into his hike; and he chose to jump backward over a rock ledge he was unable to pass, despite his artificial hip and experience with hip dislocation.

 [*597] NH[4][] [4] To the extent that the defendant argues that his injury was not foreseeable, we agree with the trial court’s conclusions that the defendant’s injury was foreseeable and directly caused his need to be rescued by the Department. See Estate of Joshua T. v. State, 150 N.H. 405, 408, 840 A.2d 768 (2003) (stating that HN5[] to establish proximate cause a plaintiff must show “that the defendant’s conduct caused or contributed to cause the harm”). For the foregoing reasons  [**1066]  we conclude that the trial court’s determination [***11]  that the defendant acted negligently does not lack evidentiary support and is not legally erroneous. See Cook, 149 N.H. at 780. Accordingly, we uphold the trial court’s ruling.

C

Finally, the defendant argues that the court’s damages award was improper because it included wages and mileage for on-duty Department officers who would have been paid regardless of their participation in the rescue operation. In essence, he claims that the damages provide a windfall to the Department. We disagree.

NH[5][] [5] HN6[] “In reviewing damage awards, we will consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.” Gallentine v. Geis, 145 N.H. 701, 703, 765 A.2d 696 (2001) (quotation and brackets omitted). “Furthermore, we will not disturb the decision of the fact-finder unless it is clearly erroneous.” Id. (quotation omitted). “The law does not require ‘absolute certainty’ for recovery of damages.” Id. (quotation omitted). “We do, however, require an indication that the award of damages was reasonable.” Id.
RSA 206:26-bb states that “any person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response.” (Emphasis [***12]  added.)

NH[6][] [6] The trial court awarded $9,186.38 in damages to the Department, plus costs and interest. At trial, Kneeland testified that this amount represented the Department’s costs for the fifteen personnel who participated in the rescue, and included overtime, mileage, and benefits. These figures were contained in a document entitled “Search and Rescue Mission Report,” which was admitted by stipulation as a full exhibit. This detailed, itemized report, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Department, indicates that the trial court’s damages award represented the “reasonable costs” associated with the rescue, as required by RSA 206:26-bb.

NH[7,8][] [7, 8] We reject the defendant’s argument that this sum provides a windfall to the Department because certain officers were on duty and thus would have been paid regardless of their participation in his rescue. Not only does this argument fail to take into account the overtime paid to [*598]  Department employees who would not have worked in the absence of the rescue, but it also ignores the fact that, by being diverted to the rescue operation, Department employees were unable to perform their other assigned duties. HN7[] The statute specifically states that the Department is [***13]  to receive the “reasonable costs” associated with the rescue. RSA 206:26-bb. Nothing in the statute otherwise limits the Department’s recovery, and we will not add limiting language to the statute that the legislature did not include. See Appeal of Local Gov’t Ctr., 165 N.H. at 804 (HN8[] “We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.”). Because the trial court’s damages award of $9,186.38, plus costs and interest, is reasonable, and thus is not clearly erroneous, we uphold it.

Affirmed.

Dalianis, C.J., and Hicks, Conboy, and Bassett, JJ., concurred.


Forum non conveniens is a legal term meaning the place where the litigation is occurring is not the right place for the lawsuit to occur.

In this case a mountain bike manufacturer sued in California by a Canadian plaintiff for an accident in Canada used the rule to move the case to Canada.

It did not hurt the manufacturer that the plaintiff was playing games with the court and the plaintiff’s attorneys stretched the law in directions the appellate court did not find appropriate.

Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

State: California, California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

Plaintiff At the Appeal: Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox

Defendant at the Appeal: The Superior Court of Santa Clara County

Plaintiff in the base case: Peter Isherwood

Defendant in the base case: Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose

Defendant Defenses: forum non conveniens (the lawsuit is in the wrong place)

Holding: Sent back to the lower court for further evaluation (defendant Fox won)

Year: 2017

Summary

There are rules about where lawsuits can be brought and there are equitable rules on where lawsuits can be brought. The plaintiff wants to sue in the place where he or she has the greatest chance of winning and getting the most money. The defendant wants to be sued where they have the greatest chance of winning or paying the least amount of money. The court wants the lawsuit to be in a place that has the most fairness to both parties to the litigation.

Here the case was moved from California to Canada for equitable reasons, the best place for this lawsuit was Canada.

Facts

Plaintiff Isherwood is a Canadian citizen and resident of British Columbia. Fox, a California corporation, manufactures bicycle parts, including front fork racing shocks. On April 24, 2011, plaintiff was mountain biking downhill in British Columbia on a full-suspension mountain bike purchased from Oak Bay Bikes, a retail bicycle shop in British Columbia. The mountain bike was assembled with specialized component parts selected by plaintiff from various manufacturers, including a frame manufactured by Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. (Specialized), a California corporation; an adapter made by Full Speed Ahead, Inc., a Washington corporation; a headset made by King Cycle Group, Inc. (King), an Oregon corporation; and Fox Vanilla 36 RC forks which ” a lot of professionals rode.” According to plaintiff’s first amended complaint, the steerer tube used in the Fox racing shocks broke as plaintiff landed a jump. Plaintiff was thrown forward, resulting in a spinal cord injury.

Plaintiff filed this action on April 22, 2013, alleging negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose. Tamara Jayne Bickerton, who later became plaintiff’s wife,[2] also alleged loss of consortium, but she subsequently obtained dismissal of her claim with prejudice. In addition to Fox, plaintiff named Specialized, King, and Full Speed Ahead.

The following day, April 23, 2013, plaintiff filed another court action in Vancouver, British Columbia, naming as defendants SNC Cycles Ltd. (SNC Cycles) and three Doe corporations, as well as three individuals as John Doe defendants. In this pleading plaintiff alleged that the identities of the corporate and individual Doe defendants were unknown to him, even though the allegations were the same as those in the California action filed one day earlier. He also alleged that SNC Cycles was the owner and operator of Oak Bay Bicycles. As in the California action, plaintiff claimed that the negligence of these defendants was responsible for the April 24, 2011 accident that had caused his injuries.

The caption of the British Columbia pleading named ” Peter Dilwyn Iserwood” as plaintiff. According to Fox, the misspelling of plaintiff’s name, together with the intentional withholding of the defendants’ true names, precluded discovery of this lawsuit despite ” multiple searches” of the dockets of the Vancouver courts. In addition, plaintiff had testified in his October 2014 deposition that he had never been a plaintiff ” in a lawsuit other than this one.” He also answered ” no” to an interrogatory question about whether, in the past 10 years, he had ” filed an action or made a written claim or demand for compensation for [his] personal injuries.”

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

Forum non conveniens is an argument on where the litigation should be based. In this case, California or British Columbia, Canada. All other defendants that were California based or US based had been dismissed from the case so it was the Canadian plaintiff arguing that a US defendant should be sued in California.

Normally lawsuits are determined one of two ways. Where the accident happened or where the defendant resides. Usually, having the lawsuit in California because the defendant was based there would be enough. However, the way the plaintiff played the courts was a major issue in whether this litigation would be moved to Canada.

Forum non conveniens is an equitable relief available to the court. Equitable means it is the right thing to do. The court can bring the motion on its own or a party to the lawsuit can bring the argument saying that this lawsuit is not in the right place because.

California has a two-step process to determine if a case should be moved for equitable reasons.

Our Supreme Court in Stangvik set forth a two-step analysis for a court considering a forum non conveniens motion. ” A case-by-case examination of the parties, their dispute and the relationship of each to the state of California is the heart of the required analysis.” The court ” must first determine whether the alternate forum is a ‘suitable’ place for trial. If it is, the next step is to consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trial and the enforceability of the ensuing judgment expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses.

The first step is very broad in its meaning. Suitable place for trial means will the trial be fair, is the court system similar to the US system, will both parties get a fair shot at presenting their case. There is also a look at how moving the case will affect the courts and people of California.

The private interests are those of the litigants in the trial. What will the cost be to the parties to move the trial, will any judgment that is received be able to be executed. Meaning If the trial is moved to Canada, can a Canadian judgment be enforced in the US. The major issue is where is the best place to find the evidence and witnesses to help a jury make a decision.

The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts with congested calendars, protecting the interests of potential jurors so that they are not called upon to decide cases in which the local community has little concern, and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction in the litigation.” Also of potential concern is ” the interest in trying the case in a forum familiar with the applicable law, and the interest in avoiding unnecessary conflicts of laws.”

After reviewing the legal and equitable issues involved in making a decision to move the trial, the court looked at the plaintiff’s arguments to not move the case and the plaintiff’s arguments in general. Basically, the court slapped the plaintiff around for trying to stretch the law beyond reason and playing games with the court.

In this part of the opinion the court brought forth several statements about the plaintiff.

We will ignore plaintiff’s inappropriate, two-paragraph discussion of the court’s analysis in that case

The court then went on and told the plaintiff every reason why their legal arguments were not only incorrect, but just plain wrong.

The court had already reviewed the games the plaintiff played in filing two lawsuits in different locations and doing so in a way that made the second lawsuit difficult to find. Then the plaintiff lied under oath about the second lawsuit.

The court found the reasons for having the case in Canada were compelling.

Fox argued that British Columbia, where the Canadian case was ongoing, was a suitable forum because plaintiff was a British Columbia resident, the accident took place in British Columbia, and all relevant evidence, medical personnel, and percipient witnesses were located there. Fox believed it was at an unfair disadvantage because it had ” no way to compel the appearance at trial of any of the crucial Canadian witnesses,” whereas plaintiff would be able to obtain the cooperation of his most favorable witnesses.

The court did not order the case moved to Canada, but sent the case back to the trial court to review the motions of the defendant under the proper legal standard. That means the lower court had to review the issues again and move the case to Canada.

So Now What?

The first rule of winning a lawsuit is represent the honest person in the courtroom. The underlying tone of this entire decision was the court had caught the plaintiff lying to the defendants and playing games with the legal system. That never flies. Judges hate it and juries see through it.

Here the witnesses, evidence, physicians and other health care providers to the plaintiff could easily be brought into court by both sides and for a lot less money.

Also, the standards required to win a case like this in Canada are better for the defendant and the damages if the defendant loses will be much lower in Canada.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

11 Cal.App.5th 197

217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

Fox Factory, Inc., Petitioner,

v.

The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Respondent; PETER ISHERWOOD, Real Party in Interest

No. H043648

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

April 27, 2017

Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No.: 1-13-CV-245098, Beth McGowen, Judge.

11 Cal.App.5th 198

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

11 Cal.App.5th 199

COUNSEL

Paul Rosenlund, Paul J. Killion, Justin Fields and Duane Morris for Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Law Office of Gary L. Simms, Gary L. Simms; Rouda, Feder, Tiejen & McGuinn and Cynthia McGuinn for Real Party in Interest.

Opinion by Elia, J., with Premo, Acting P. J., and Grover, J., concurring.

OPINION

ELIA, J.

11 Cal.App.5th 200

[217 Cal.Rptr.3d 368] Petitioner Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox (Fox), is the defendant in an action for personal injuries brought in Santa Clara County by plaintiff and real party in interest Peter Isherwood. Fox moved to dismiss or stay plaintiff’s lawsuit under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, but the superior court denied the motion, citing authority requiring California to be a ” seriously inconvenient” forum for the motion to succeed. Fox seeks writ review, contending that the court applied the wrong legal standard in denying the motion. We agree. Accordingly, we will grant the petition and direct the superior court to reconsider Fox’s motion under the proper standard.

Background

Plaintiff Isherwood is a Canadian citizen and resident of British Columbia. Fox, a California corporation, manufactures bicycle parts, including front fork racing shocks. On April 24, 2011, plaintiff was mountain biking downhill in British Columbia on a full-suspension mountain bike purchased from Oak Bay Bikes, a retail bicycle shop in British Columbia. The mountain bike was assembled with specialized component parts selected by plaintiff from various manufacturers, including a frame manufactured by Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. (Specialized), [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 369] a California corporation; an adapter made by Full Speed Ahead, Inc., a Washington corporation; a headset made by King Cycle Group, Inc. (King), an Oregon corporation; [1] and Fox Vanilla 36 RC forks which ” a lot of professionals rode.” According to plaintiff’s first amended complaint, the steerer tube used in the Fox racing shocks broke as plaintiff landed a jump. Plaintiff was thrown forward, resulting in a spinal cord injury.

Plaintiff filed this action on April 22, 2013, alleging negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose. Tamara Jayne Bickerton, who later became plaintiff’s wife,[2] also alleged loss of consortium, but she subsequently obtained dismissal of her claim with prejudice. In addition to Fox, plaintiff named Specialized, King, and Full Speed Ahead.

The following day, April 23, 2013, plaintiff filed another court action in Vancouver, British Columbia, naming as defendants SNC Cycles Ltd. (SNC Cycles) and three Doe corporations, as well as three individuals as John Doe defendants. In this pleading plaintiff alleged that the identities of the corporate and individual Doe defendants were unknown to him, even though the

11 Cal.App.5th 201

allegations were the same as those in the California action filed one day earlier. He also alleged that SNC Cycles was the owner and operator of Oak Bay Bicycles. As in the California action, plaintiff claimed that the negligence of these defendants was responsible for the April 24, 2011 accident that had caused his injuries.

The caption of the British Columbia pleading named ” Peter Dilwyn Iserwood” as plaintiff. According to Fox, the misspelling of plaintiff’s name, together with the intentional withholding of the defendants’ true names, precluded discovery of this lawsuit despite ” multiple searches” of the dockets of the Vancouver courts. In addition, plaintiff had testified in his October 2014 deposition that he had never been a plaintiff ” in a lawsuit other than this one.” He also answered ” no” to an interrogatory question about whether, in the past 10 years, he had ” filed an action or made a written claim or demand for compensation for [his] personal injuries.”

Full Speed Ahead obtained summary judgment in the California action on December 18, 2014. Specialized and King likewise obtained summary judgment on February 19, 2016, leaving only Fox as a defendant in this case.

On March 1, 2016, Fox moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, stay all further proceedings in the California case on the ground of forum non conveniens. Citing Code of Civil Procedure sections 410.30, subdivision (a),[3] and 418.10, subdivision (a)(2), Fox argued that British Columbia, where the Canadian case was ongoing, was a suitable forum because plaintiff was a British Columbia resident, the accident took place in British Columbia, and all relevant evidence, medical personnel, and percipient witnesses were located there. Fox believed it was at an unfair disadvantage because it had ” no way to compel the appearance at trial of any of the crucial Canadian witnesses,” whereas plaintiff would be able to obtain the cooperation of his most favorable witnesses. Furthermore, Oak Bay Bikes, the [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 370] British Columbia retailer, was a defendant in the Canadian action. The two cases should be tried together, Fox argued, to prevent piecemeal litigation, assure plaintiff a full recovery, and ensure the participation of Oak Bay Bikes, which was potentially liable. Finally, Fox argued that public interests favored sending this case–which could result in a lengthy, technically complex trial–to Canada, to avoid the further congestion of California’s already ” overburdened” courts by a plaintiff with no connection to this state. Fox stipulated that it would subject itself to jurisdiction in British Columbia.

Plaintiff responded that Fox’s motion was precluded as a matter of law because it had already taken advantage of California’s legal process by conducting discovery in the case. Plaintiff did not dispute that British Columbia was a suitable forum, but he maintained that California was ” equally suitable.” In his view, the private and public interest factors did not support a conclusion that California was a ” seriously inconvenient forum.”

Fox disputed plaintiff’s claims of discovery abuse and pointed to misstatements in plaintiff’s own discovery responses. It explained that despite its docket searches, it had not learned of the British Columbia lawsuit until June 2015, through its communication with Oak Bay Bikes (which had not been named in the California action). Fox asserted that plaintiff had ” deliberately concealed” the British Columbia litigation. Not only was plaintiff’s name misspelled in the caption of the British Columbia complaint, but he had withheld the identities of the defendants by suing them as Doe corporations and alleging that he was unaware of their identities. One of those Doe defendants was Fox itself, through the allegation of the negligent design or manufacture of the steerer tube.[4] Fox also pointed out that even after it learned about the British Columbia lawsuit, it ” lacked universal consensus among defendants” and therefore was unable to seek a stay or dismissal until the other defendants had obtained summary judgment.

On April 19, 2016, the superior court denied Fox’s motion. It rejected plaintiff’s theory that Fox had made an untimely request after conducting extensive discovery: ” Regardless of whether plaintiff was forthcoming about having filed a lawsuit in Canada,” plaintiff did initiate suit there arising from the same facts, and Fox ” could not have brought this motion sooner due to the involvement of other defendants who are no longer in the case.” The court further acknowledged the parties’ stipulation that British Columbia was a suitable forum. It then proceeded to weigh the private and public interest factors it found relevant. Invoking the test articulated in Ford Motor Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 604, 611 [41 Cal.Rptr.2d 342] ( Ford ), the court stated that ” [t]he inquiry is not whether some other state or country provides a better forum than does California, ‘but whether California is a seriously inconvenient forum.’ Ford Motor Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America [ , supra, ] 35 Cal.App.4th 604, 611 (quoting Northrop Corp. v. American Motorists Ins. Co. [(1990)] 220 Cal.App.3d [1553,] 1561 [270 Cal.Rptr. 233]). While there are some factors [that] weigh against maintaining this action in California, others weigh in favor of proceeding here, such as whether a California defendant is manufacturing and selling defective parts. After balancing [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 371] several factors, the Court concludes that California is not an inconvenient forum.” On November 4, 2016, after receiving Fox’s petition for writ of mandate and plaintiff’s preliminary opposition, we issued an order to show cause. Plaintiff filed a return, followed by Fox’s reply.

Discussion

1. Legal Framework

The doctrine of forum non conveniens is rooted in equity. It allows a court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction over a case when it determines that the case ” may be more appropriately and justly tried elsewhere.” ( Stangvik v. Shiley Inc. (1991) 54 Cal.3d 744, 751 [1 Cal.Rptr.2d 556819 P.2d 14] ( Stangvik ).) The Legislature endorsed the application of this principle by enacting section 410.30, which states, in subdivision (a), ” When a court upon motion of a party or its own motion finds that in the interest of substantial justice an action should be heard in a forum outside this state, the court shall stay or dismiss the action in whole or in part on any conditions that may be just.” As explained in the Judicial Council’s comment to this section, the provision ” authorizes a court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction in appropriate instances on the ground that the plaintiff has unfairly or unreasonably invoked the jurisdiction of an inconvenient forum.” (Judicial Council of Cal., com., reprinted at Deering’s Ann. Code Civ. Proc. (2015 ed.) foll. § 410.30, p. 337.)

Our Supreme Court in Stangvik set forth a two-step analysis for a court considering a forum non conveniens motion. ” A case-by-case examination of the parties, their dispute and the relationship of each to the state of California is the heart of the required analysis.” ( National Football League v. Fireman ‘ s Fund Ins. Co. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 902, 921 [157 Cal.Rptr.3d 318] ( National Football League ).) The court ” must first determine whether the alternate forum is a ‘suitable’ place for trial. If it is, the next step is to consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trial and the enforceability of the ensuing judgment expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses. The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts with congested calendars, protecting the interests of potential jurors so that they are not called upon to decide cases in which the local community has little concern, and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction in the litigation.” ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 751, citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno (1981) 454 U.S. 235, 259-261 [70 L.Ed.2d 419102 S.Ct. 252] ( Piper ) and Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947) 330 U.S. 501, 507-509 [91 L.Ed. 105567 S.Ct. 839].) Also of potential concern is ” the interest in trying the case in a forum familiar with the applicable law, and the interest in avoiding unnecessary conflicts of laws.” ( Monegro v. Rosa (9th Cir. 2000) 211 F.3d 509, 512.) These public and private interests are to be ” applied flexibly, without giving undue emphasis to any one element.” ( Stangvik, supra, at p. 753.)

The burden of proof is on the defendant, as the party asserting forum non conveniens. ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 751.) On appeal, the ” threshold” determination–the suitability of the alternative forum–is examined de novo. ( Id. at p. 752, fn. 3; American Cemwood Corp. v. American Home Assurance Co. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 431, 436 [104 Cal.Rptr.2d 670]; [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 372Investors Equity Life Holding Co. v. Schmidt (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1519, 1528 [126 Cal.Rptr.3d 135].) We review the ultimate ruling, however, for abuse of discretion, and the lower court’s ruling is entitled to ” substantial deference.” ( Stangvik, supra, at p. 751.)

Before proceeding to the merits of Fox’s petition, we briefly address plaintiff’s renewed assertion that Fox’s motion was untimely, because it could have sought a stay earlier but simply ” laid [ sic ] back and waited” for the other defendants to secure a favorable dismissal. We reject plaintiff’s argument, as did the superior court. The court was entitled to find that Fox could not practically have brought its motion any sooner while the other defendants remained in the case. Plaintiff fails to show error in either the court’s reasoning or its conclusion on this point.

2. The ” Seriously Inconvenient” Standard

The essence of Fox’s argument is that the superior court applied the wrong legal standard in denying Fox’s motion. Because plaintiff is a Canadian citizen, not a California resident, Fox contends that plaintiff was entitled to less deference in his forum choice, and it should not have been required to show that California was a seriously inconvenient forum in order to obtain a stay or dismissal.[5] Plaintiff responds that whether a plaintiff is a resident or nonresident is not dispositive: although the forum choices of nonresidents enjoy less deference than those of residents, ” both types of plaintiffs [ sic ] have the same burden–to show that California is seriously inconvenient. Fox muddles these two principles.”

In his return, plaintiff clarifies that it is the defendant that has this burden. He nonetheless adheres to the assertion that the required showing is a seriously inconvenient forum, even when the plaintiff is not a resident of California. Plaintiff even urges this court to reach the same result as we did in one of our unpublished decisions, as if withholding the name of the case allows it to rely on that opinion ” [t]o ensure consistency of decisional principle.” We will ignore plaintiff’s inappropriate, two-paragraph discussion of the court’s analysis in that case. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a).) Suffice it to say that this court has never adopted the ” seriously inconvenient” standard advocated by plaintiff.

The primary source of the standard on which the court and plaintiff relied is Ford. In Ford the Second Appellate District, Division One, reversed a dismissal based on forum non conveniens in an action brought by a California plaintiff against multiple liability insurers. The court imposed on the defendants ” the burden of producing sufficient evidence to overcome the strong presumption of appropriateness attending plaintiff’s choice of forum. That is, the inquiry is not whether Michigan provides a better forum than does California, but whether California is a seriously inconvenient forum.” ( Ford, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at p. 611; see also Morris v. AGFA Corp. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1452, 1463-1464 [51 Cal.Rptr.3d 301] [upholding stay based on finding that California was a seriously inconvenient forum for Texas plaintiffs suing for toxic exposure of decedent in Texas]; Hansen v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 753, 760 [59 Cal.Rptr.2d 229] [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 373] [finding balance of public and private interests to favor Montana notwithstanding plaintiffs’ insistence that California was not ” seriously inconvenient” ]; In re Marriage of Taschen (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 681, 691 [36 Cal.Rptr.3d 286] [upholding stay in favor of litigation in Germany based on trial court’s determination that California was a seriously inconvenient forum].)

Plaintiff insists that Ford articulated the proper test for determining Fox’s forum non conveniens motion. We disagree. First, applying the ” seriously inconvenient” standard to plaintiff’s lawsuit would amount to according his forum preference ” great weight,” as did the court in Ford. ( Ford, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at p. 610.) But to do so here would contravene the guidance of our Supreme Court in Stangvik, which clearly explained that the forum choice of a foreign plaintiff is not entitled to a presumption of convenience. ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at pp. 754-755; see Piper, supra, 454 U.S. at pp. 255-256 [approving of distinction between a resident plaintiff’s choice of home forum and a foreign plaintiff’s choice, which ” deserves less deference” ].) In discussing the residence of the parties as a factor in the analysis of private and public interests, the Supreme Court in Stangvik limited the prior appellate holdings that the plaintiff’s forum choice ” should rarely be disturbed unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant.” ( Stangvik, supra, at p. 754.) ” [T]he reasons advanced for this frequently reiterated rule apply only to residents of the forum state: (1) if the plaintiff is a resident of the jurisdiction in which the suit is filed, the plaintiff’s choice of forum is presumed to be convenient [citations]; and (2) a state has a strong interest in assuring its own residents an adequate forum for the redress of grievances [citation]. … Where, however, the plaintiff resides in a foreign country, Piper holds that the plaintiff’s choice of forum is much less reasonable and is not entitled to the same preference as a resident of the state where the action is filed. ( Piper, supra, 454 U.S. at p. 256.)” ( Stangvik, supra, at pp. 754-755.) Accordingly, the choice of California as a forum by the Stangvik plaintiffs–all of whom were residents of Sweden or Norway–was ” not a substantial factor in favor of retaining jurisdiction here.” ( Id. at p. 755.)

Even the court in Ford acknowledged that under Stangvik ” a foreign, noncitizen plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to less deference.” ( Ford, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at p. 611.) Northrop Corp. v. American Motorists Ins. Co., supra, 220 Cal.App.3d at page 1561 ( Northrop ), the case cited by the Ford court in support of its ” seriously inconvenient” language, did not employ such a standard; indeed, the Northrop court did not use that language at all. The focus of the court was on the ” substantial and ‘deeply rooted'” interests and policies according weight to a California resident ‘ s choice of forum. ( Id. at p. 1562.)

National Football League offers a more factually analogous and more cogent analysis than that of Ford. There the plaintiff football league (NFL) had its headquarters and its ” ‘physical center of operations’ ” in New York, and it therefore was deemed not to be a California resident as it had claimed to be, notwithstanding the location of three of its 32 teams. ( National Football League, supra, 216 Cal.App.4th at p. 919.) After the trial court granted the defendant insurers’ motions to stay NFL’s action against them, NFL appealed, contending that the court had abused its discretion in weighing the private and public interest factors. Among [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 374] its arguments was the assertion that the trial court had erred in not requiring the insurers to demonstrate that California was a seriously inconvenient forum. The appellate court (Second Dist., Div. Five) agreed with the trial court that this standard is inapplicable to a nonresident plaintiff.

Plaintiff complains that the National Football League court ” blithely dismissed” the Judicial Council comment to section 410.30, which states, ” Under the doctrine of inconvenient forum, a court, even though it has jurisdiction, will not entertain the suit if it believes that the forum of filing is a seriously inconvenient forum for the trial of the action.” But as noted in National Football League, the Supreme Court in Stangvik clarified that ” the basis of the inconvenient forum doctrine is the need to give preference to California residents and guard against the ‘” unchecked and unregulated importation of transitory causes of action for trial in this state.” ‘” ( National Football League, supra, 216 Cal.App.4th at p. 926, italics added.) We likewise reject plaintiff’s implicit suggestion that in every case great weight is required to overcome a nonresident plaintiff’s forum choice. Even if we were reviewing a dismissal order in a suit brought by a California resident–we would not subscribe to the analysis employed in Ford. And plaintiff’s position is all the more untenable in this case, as he is not even a United States citizen, a distinction highlighted in Stangvik. The superior court therefore erred in imposing a burden on Fox to show that California is a seriously inconvenient forum in order to obtain a dismissal or stay under the forum non conveniens doctrine.

” A trial court abuses its discretion when it applies the wrong legal standards applicable to the issue at hand.” ( Paterno v. State of California (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 68, 85 [87 Cal.Rptr.2d 754]; accord, Doe 2 v. Superior Court (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1504, 1517 [34 Cal.Rptr.3d 458]; see also Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Superior Court (2009) 47 Cal.4th 725, 733 [101 Cal.Rptr.3d 758219 P.3d 736] [” An abuse of discretion is shown when the trial court applies the wrong legal standard” ].) Here, the superior court’s dismissal of Fox’s motion based on the ” seriously inconvenient” standard amounted to an abuse of discretion which cannot stand.

In his preliminary opposition to Fox’s petition plaintiff maintains that if erroneous, the ruling was not prejudicial. He relies on article VI, section 13, of the California Constitution– which precludes reversal absent a miscarriage of justice[6]–and on Soule v. General Motors Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 580 [34 Cal.Rptr.2d 607882 P.2d 298], which affirmed a judgment where the asserted instructional error was harmless. Even if the procedural posture of this case were comparable to that of Soule and judicial applications of article VI, section 13, we would not speculate as to how the court would have ruled had it not believed it was obligated to grant the motion only if California were a seriously inconvenient forum. As noted earlier, it is for the superior court to weigh and flexibly apply the private and public interests at stake. ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 753.) Here it is conceivable that upon [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 375] reconsidering the motion under the correct standard the court will find that equity and the balance of private and public interests compel the granting of the motion.[7] Accordingly, we cannot accede to plaintiff’s request that we deem the error harmless as a matter of law. By the same token, we decline Fox’s request to direct the court to stay or dismiss the California action. Instead, we must remand the matter to permit the proper exercise of the superior court’s discretion.

Disposition

Let a peremptory writ of mandate issue directing respondent court to set aside its April 19, 2016 order denying petitioner Fox’s motion to dismiss or stay plaintiff’s lawsuit, and to reconsider the motion in accordance with the correct standard for evaluating this forum non conveniens motion. The temporary stay is vacated effective upon the finality of this opinion. Costs in this original proceeding are awarded to Fox.

Premo, Acting P. J., and Grover, J., concurred.

———

Notes:

[1]King was erroneously sued as Chris King Precision Components.

[2]Plaintiff and Bickerton did not have any officially recognized relationship until the date of their marriage, which plaintiff testified was July 12, 2014.

[3]All further statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.

[4]The Vancouver ” Notice of Civil Claim” alleged: ” The steerer tube and other components of the SX Trail were designed, manufactured, marketed and distributed by the Defendants Doe Corporations #1, #2 and #3.”

[5]Plaintiff asserts that Fox forfeited its challenge by not presenting it to the superior court. He is incorrect. Fox argued vigorously in its reply that plaintiff was mischaracterizing the applicable standard.

[6]This constitutional provision states: ” No judgment shall be set aside, or new trial granted, in any cause, on the ground of misdirection of the jury, or of the improper admission or rejection of evidence, or for any error as to any matter of pleading, or for any error as to any matter of procedure, unless, after an examination of the entire cause, including the evidence, the court shall be of the opinion that the error complained of has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.” (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 13.)

[7]The court’s written order specifically identified only one of the Stangvik factors, by suggesting the relevance of ” whether a California defendant is manufacturing and selling defective parts.”


Washington Appellate court reviews release law in 2021 and the requirements on when a release is ambiguous and/or conspicuous.

Like most other states, if you signed the release, you read and agree to the release. However, that is about the only similarity to release law in other states as pointed out in this decision.

McCoy v. PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness,

State: Washington, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

Plaintiff: Carol J. McCoy

Defendant: PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2021

Summary

The release used by the health club stopped the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff for her injuries. However, this decision points out two very different requirements Washington’s law requires for a release to be valid. No release will work in all 43 states that allow the use of a release.

Facts

On February 1, 2016, McCoy entered into a membership agreement at Planet Fitness in Lacey. The first page of the two-page membership agreement begins with a section covering personal information, membership rate, and financial terms of the membership. The final sentence of this section states, “Cancellation & Billing Policies: I have read and understand the cancellation rights and billing policies on the front and back of this agreement,” followed by McCoy’s signature/initials. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 25. Below McCoy’s signature/initials is a large box marked “PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION” with McCoy’s bank account information, and her signature after the paragraph authorizing a monthly membership fee payment.

In July 2016, McCoy fell from a stair stepper machine at Planet Fitness. She alleged that the emergency stop button failed to stop the machine, causing her injury. In January 2019, McCoy filed an amended complaint, naming Planet Fitness and the manufacturer of the machine, the Brunswick Corporation, [ 2] as defendants. She alleged claims of negligence and failure to provide a safe product.

Planet Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that McCoy had signed an enforceable liability waiver. In support of its motion, it provided a copy of the membership agreement as well as excerpts from a transcript of McCoy’s deposition testimony. In her deposition, when shown the membership agreement, McCoy stated that she did not remember seeing the membership agreement before and that she did not remember signing it.

McCoy responded to the motion, arguing that the waiver provision in the membership agreement was inconspicuous and ambiguous, and because McCoy was not given an opportunity to read or review the agreement, it was unwittingly signed. In a supporting declaration, McCoy recalled the day she signed the membership agreement: 3.I was there for a short time, and I spoke to a person who appeared to be the manager, or at least was working behind the desk, who presented me with some documents to sign. He identified these documents as mere formalities and that I had to sign them in order to join the club. He showed me where to sign on a couple documents and I signed them, but I was not given an opportunity to read all the language, and when I mentioned that, he told me he would send me copies of these documents in the mail to my home address. He never did. 4.What little I could see of the documents was in very fine, small print which I could not read, at least on one of the documents, and the first time I saw the documents was at my deposition. I did not have time to read them at my deposition and I would have had difficulty anyway because the print was so small. . . . . As I said, the only direction I got from the person who was working behind the counter was to “sign here” and I did. He immediately took the documents back and told me that he would mail them to me, but I never received copies in the mail so I never really had an opportunity to review them before the incident occurred, or any time afterwards.

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

Washington’s law since 1988 has allowed the use of releases to allow parties to stop litigation.

The Washington Supreme Court has recognized the right of parties “‘expressly to agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent.'”

Washington has three ways to void releases, one that is found in most states and two slightly different ways. The first, a release fails if it violates public policy. This means the release is void based on who the release is attempting to protect or the services being offered that are to be covered by the release. However, in Washington, the state has adopted six factors to define public policy.

Six factors are considered in determining whether exculpatory agreements violate public policy. The court considers whether (1) the agreement concerns an endeavor of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation; (2) the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public; (3) such party holds itself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established; (4) because of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks the services; (5) in exercising a superior bargaining power, the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence; and (6) the person or property of members of the public seeking such services must be placed under the control of the furnisher of the services, subject to the risk of carelessness on the part of the furnisher, its employees or agents. Wagenblast v. Odessa Sch. Dist. 105-157-166J, 110 Wash.2d 845, 851-55, 758 P.2d 968 (1988) (citing Tunkl v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 60 Cal.2d 92, 32 Cal.Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 446 (1963)).

The second and third ways are very different from other states. If the negligent act falls below the standard of protection for others, it is void. This phrase is not defined in Washington’s law that I can find, even though it is quoted in several cases. I am guessing it is similar to a gross negligence argument. The act or omission of the defendant was so great as to far exceed negligence. However, I’m not sure.

Generally, a liability waiver or exculpatory clause in a contract is “enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous.” The first two exceptions are not at issue here. A liability waiver provision is not enforceable if the releasing language is “‘so inconspicuous that reasonable persons could reach different conclusions as to whether the document was unwittingly signed.’

The inconspicuous argument was the main argument made by the defendant in this case and discussed by the court. Washington has six factors to determine if the language in a contract is inconspicuous.

Courts look to several factors in deciding whether a liability waiver provision is conspicuous, including: (1) whether the waiver provision is set apart or hidden within other provisions, (2) whether the heading or caption of the provision is clear, (3) whether the waiver provision is set off in capital letters or in bold type, (4) whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, (5) what the language says above the signature line, and (6) whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver provision.

The is far more requirements than most states, in fact; most states only require the waiver or release provisions be set apart or not hidden within the contract. Washington also requires that there be a heading or caption providing notice of the importance of the release or waiver section. That language of the exculpatory provisions must be in capital letters or bold type. The signature on the document must be below the exculpatory provisions. That means if your contract has a signature on the front of the document but references release language on the back, the release will be void.

The language above the signature line must indicate the person is giving up their legal rights or the signature line must be specifically below the release provisions, and the signature must clearly relate to the release provisions.

This six-part analysis of conspicuous is not done individually but looking at the agreement as a whole. Yet the analysis the court made was of each point of the test and reviewed individually, not as a whole.

We do not look to whether the plaintiff unwittingly signed the form from her subjective viewpoint, but whether, “objectively, the waiver provision was so inconspicuous that it is unenforceable.” Essentially, if the waiver provision is hidden, i.e. inconspicuous, it is unenforceable. Nevertheless, even if the waiver provision is conspicuous, and a person signs without reading it, the provision is enforceable unless the signor was not given an opportunity to read it. (“[A] person who signs an agreement without reading it is bound by its terms as long as there was ‘ample opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as he cared, and he failed to do so for his own personal reasons.'”)

The following two pages of analysis in the decision by the court looked at the release in detail to determine if the six factors had been met. The court found the waiver language in the contract was conspicuous and thus valid.

The next argument made by the plaintiff was the plaintiff did not have time to read the release.

McCoy admits that she did not read the agreement. Even though she did not read the agreement, she would be bound by its terms only if there was opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as she cared, and she failed to do so for her own personal reasons. (“Where a party has signed a contract without reading it, that party cannot successfully argue that mutual assent was lacking as long as the party was not deprived of the opportunity to read the contract.”).

Basically, if you signed the agreement, you have read and understood the agreement.

So Now What?

No release or waiver can be written to satisfy the laws of all 50 states or the 43 states that allow the use of a release or waiver. Even though Washington’s law is similar to the law in most states, it is very different in several aspects, enough so that if you operate in or are based in Washington your release must be written to meet Washington’s law.

No other state has the requirements for conspicuous that are required for a waiver or release to be valid like Washington’s law. It is specific and as stated by the court, if all six parts of the requirements are not met the release is void.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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McCoy v. PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness,

McCoy v. PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness,

Carol J. McCoy, a single person, Respondent,

PFWA Lacey, LLC, a Washington limited company, dba Planet Fitness, Petitioner,

and

BRUNSWICK CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

No. 54400-8-II

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

May 11, 2021

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Veljacic, J.

Carol McCoy brought suit against Planet Fitness-Lacey for negligence after she was injured using a fitness machine. Planet Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that McCoy was precluded from bringing suit because she signed a membership agreement that contained a liability waiver provision.[ 1] McCoy argued that the waiver was inconspicuous and that she was not given an opportunity to read the membership agreement.

The court denied Planet Fitness’s motion, determining that material issues of fact remained regarding whether McCoy unwittingly signed the waiver provision because it was inconspicuous. Planet Fitness appeals. We reverse the order denying summary judgment because the waiver provision was conspicuous and McCoy did not demonstrate an issue of material fact bearing on whether she was provided an opportunity to read the membership agreement.

FACTS

On February 1, 2016, McCoy entered into a membership agreement at Planet Fitness in Lacey. The first page of the two-page membership agreement begins with a section covering personal information, membership rate, and financial terms of the membership. The final sentence of this section states, “Cancellation & Billing Policies: I have read and understand the cancellation rights and billing policies on the front and back of this agreement,” followed by McCoy’s signature/initials. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 25. Below McCoy’s signature/initials is a large box marked “PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION” with McCoy’s bank account information, and her signature after the paragraph authorizing a monthly membership fee payment.

The waiver provision is found below the payment authorization box, a little more than halfway down the first page of the agreement. Image Omitted

CPat25.

Below a dark line is a banner containing the bolded, capitalized words “RELEASE OF LIABILITY,” “ASSUMPTION OF RISK,” “CLUB RULES,” and “BUYER’S NOTICE & RIGHT TO CANCEL.” CP at 25. Directly below that banner is a paragraph in the same small sized font as the majority of the agreement that enumerates the waiver of legal rights. The waiver provision states that certain risks are inherent in physical activity and that the signer understands and voluntarily accepts responsibility for risk of injury or loss arising from the use of Planet Fitness facilities. It goes on to state twice that the member agrees that Planet Fitness is not liable for injury resulting from negligent conduct or omission of Planet Fitness or anyone acting on its behalf. The second paragraph of the waiver provision reads: I understand that I am not obligated to sign this agreement and should not do so if there are any unfilled blanks. I understand my right of cancellation and the billing and refund policies. I understand my release of liability, assumption of risk and agreement to indemnify, defend and hold harmless and I have been given the opportunity to review and ask questions related to my use of facilities . . . and other equipment. . . . I agree to comply with Planet Fitness’ membership policies and club rules. . . . Planet fitness may, in its sole discretion, modify any policy or club rule at any time and from time to time without advance notice. Planet Fitness reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to refund the pro-rated cost of unused services. . . . By signing below, I acknowledge and agree to all of the terms contained on the front and back of this agreement.

CP at 25.

McCoy’s signature appears immediately below this paragraph, next to a Planet Fitness authorized signature.

Bold, capital letters at the bottom of the first page and underneath the signature line discuss the nonrefundable initiation fee, then an acknowledgement of receipt of a written description of the health studio services and equipment and a complete copy of the rules on separate lines, followed by lines for initials. Finally, the page details, again in bold capital letters, the process for cancellation of the membership agreement. The second page of the agreement has a large bold heading that reads “PLEASE READ AND UNDERSTAND THIS AGREEMENT BEFORE SIGNING.” CP at 26. The remaining language of the contract is immaterial to this appeal.

In July 2016, McCoy fell from a stair stepper machine at Planet Fitness. She alleged that the emergency stop button failed to stop the machine, causing her injury. In January 2019, McCoy filed an amended complaint, naming Planet Fitness and the manufacturer of the machine, the Brunswick Corporation, [ 2] as defendants. She alleged claims of negligence and failure to provide a safe product.

Planet Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that McCoy had signed an enforceable liability waiver. In support of its motion, it provided a copy of the membership agreement as well as excerpts from a transcript of McCoy’s deposition testimony. In her deposition, when shown the membership agreement, McCoy stated that she did not remember seeing the membership agreement before and that she did not remember signing it.

McCoy responded to the motion, arguing that the waiver provision in the membership agreement was inconspicuous and ambiguous, and because McCoy was not given an opportunity to read or review the agreement, it was unwittingly signed. In a supporting declaration, McCoy recalled the day she signed the membership agreement: 3.I was there for a short time, and I spoke to a person who appeared to be the manager, or at least was working behind the desk, who presented me with some documents to sign. He identified these documents as mere formalities and that I had to sign them in order to join the club. He showed me where to sign on a couple documents and I signed them, but I was not given an opportunity to read all the language, and when I mentioned that, he told me he would send me copies of these documents in the mail to my home address. He never did. 4.What little I could see of the documents was in very fine, small print which I could not read, at least on one of the documents, and the first time I saw the documents was at my deposition. I did not have time to read them at my deposition and I would have had difficulty anyway because the print was so small. . . . . As I said, the only direction I got from the person who was working behind the counter was to “sign here” and I did. He immediately took the documents back and told me that he would mail them to me, but I never received copies in the mail so I never really had an opportunity to review them before the incident occurred, or any time afterwards.

CP at 140-41.

In reply, Planet Fitness argued that the waiver provision was conspicuous under Washington law, and provided a screen shot of an undated e-mail from Planet Fitness to McCoy with a copy of McCoy’s signed membership agreement attached.

The court denied Planet Fitness’s motion for summary judgment. Planet Fitness filed a motion for reconsideration, which the court also denied. We granted Planet Fitness’s motion for discretionary review.

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Chauvlier v. Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc., 109 Wn.App. 334, 338, 35 P.3d 383 (2001). On a motion for summary judgment, we view all evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 338-39. Where different competing inferences may be drawn from the evidence, the issue must be resolved by the trier of fact. Kuyper v. Dep’t. of Wildlife, 79 Wn.App. 732, 739, 904 P.2d 793 (1995). On appeal, we review an order denying summary judgement de novo. Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 339.

On appeal, Planet Fitness argues that the court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment, because McCoy signed an enforceable liability waiver provision. Planet Fitness contends that the liability waiver provision was so conspicuous that it could not have been unwittingly signed and is therefore enforceable. McCoy argues that a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the waiver provision was conspicuous and whether she was given adequate opportunity to read the membership agreement.

II. Legal Principles

The Washington Supreme Court has recognized the right of parties “‘expressly to agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent.'” Wagenblast v. Odessa Sch. Dist., 110 Wn.2d 845, 848, 758 P.2d 968 (1988) (quoting W. Page Keeton, et al, Prosser and Keeton on Torts § 68, at 482 (5th ed. 1984)).

Generally, a liability waiver or exculpatory clause in a contract is “enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous.” Johnson v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, 176 Wn.App. 453, 458, 309 P.3d 528 (2013). The first two exceptions are not at issue here. A liability waiver provision is not enforceable if the releasing language is “‘so inconspicuous that reasonable persons could reach different conclusions as to whether the document was unwittingly signed.'” Johnson v. UBAR, LLC, 150 Wn.App. 533, 538, 210 P.3d 1021 (2009) (quoting McCorkle v. Hall, 56 Wn.App. 80, 83, 782 P.2d 574 (1989)).[ 3]

Courts look to several factors in deciding whether a liability waiver provision is conspicuous including: (1) whether the waiver provision is set apart or hidden within other provisions, (2) whether the heading or caption of the provision is clear, (3) whether the waiver provision is set off in capital letters or in bold type, (4) whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, (5) what the language says above the signature line, and (6) whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver provision. See Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wn.2d 198, 202, 484 P.2d 405 (1971); McCorkle, 56 Wn.App. at 83-84; Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 342; Stokes v. Bally’s Pacwest, Inc., 113 Wn.App. 442, 448, 54 P.3d 161 (2002).

We do not look to whether the plaintiff unwittingly signed the form from her subjective viewpoint, but whether, “objectively, the waiver provision was so inconspicuous that it is unenforceable.” Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 446. Essentially, if the waiver provision is hidden, i.e. inconspicuous, it is unenforceable. Nevertheless, even if the waiver provision is conspicuous, and a person signs without reading it, the provision is enforceable unless the signor was not given an opportunity to read it. Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 341 (“[A] person who signs an agreement without reading it is bound by its terms as long as there was ‘ample opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as he cared, and he failed to do so for his own personal reasons.'”) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Nat’l Bank of Wash. v. Equity Inv’rs, 81 Wn.2d 886, 913, 506 P.2d 20 (1973)).

III. Analysis

A. Conspicuousness of the Waiver Provision

We first consider whether the waiver provision is inconspicuous so as to invalidate the agreement. Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 446. Here, the waiver provision contains some, but not all of the elements that we have found significant in determining the conspicuousness of waiver provisions.

1. The Waiver Provision is Set Apart from Other Provisions

To determine if the waiver provision is conspicuous, we first look at whether it is set apart or hidden within other provisions. In Baker, our Supreme Court held that the waiver provision was unenforceable because it was set in the middle of the agreement without anything to distinguish it from the rest of the terms of the agreement. 79 Wn.2d at 202. Here, the waiver provision is set off by a shaded banner or header with a title indicating that the subject of the following section is a “RELEASE OF LIABILITY” and “ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” CP at 25. The waiver language is not hidden within other provisions. This factor supports a finding of conspicuousness.

2. The Heading of the Waiver Provision is Clear

We also look to whether the heading or caption of the waiver provision is clear. For example, the plaintiff in McCorkle argued that the title “Liability Statement” in the agreement did not allow him to “conclude [that] future negligent conduct was being released.” 56 Wn.App. at 83. This court contrasted the title “Liability Statement” with the release provisions in two earlier cases that were deemed conspicuous because their titles clearly and unambiguously indicated that they dealt with a waiver of liability. Id. In contrast, in Chauvlier, this court found clear and enforceable a waiver provision entitled “LIABILITY RELEASE & PROMISE NOT TO SUE. PLEASE READ CAREFULLY!” 109 Wn.App. at 342.

Here, the shaded header reads: “RELEASE OF LIABILITY,” “ASSUMPTION OF RISK,” “CLUB RULES,” and “BUYER’S NOTICE & RIGHT TO CANCEL.” CP at 25. Although the header indicates that release of liability and assumption of the risk are not the only topics of the following paragraphs, it is clear from the header what the following provision contains-namely, a release of liability and an assumption of the risk. The inclusion of the other two subjects does not make the heading of the provision unclear or the reader ignorant of what is contained below the shaded header. This factor supports a finding of conspicuousness.

3. The Appearance of the Waiver Provision Language is Not Emphasized We then look to the appearance or attributes of the waiver provision itself, like whether the words are emphasized in capital letters or in bold type. For example, in Stokes and Chauvlier, the words indicating release of liability appear in bold or capital letters throughout the provisions. 113 Wn.App. at 448; 109 Wn.App. at 342. Here, the body of the waiver provision is in the same size and type of text as the remainder of the form and has no bold or capital letters. This factor does not support a finding of conspicuousness.

4. The Signature Line

We next consider the signature line and its relation to the waiver provision. Specifically, whether it is located below the waiver provision, what the language above the signature line indicates, and whether it is clear that the required signature is related to the release of liability. Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 342; Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 448; UBAR, LLC, 150 Wn.App. at 538.

a. The Signature Line is Below the Waiver Provision

Here, the signature line is below the waiver provision. This supports a finding of conspicuousness.

b. The Language Immediately Above the Signature Line does Not Relate only to the Waiver Provision

Here, although the signature line is located below the waiver provision, the signature and waiver are separated by an intervening paragraph. The first paragraph underneath the header relates to the waiver of liability. The second paragraph, situated directly above the signature line relates to the club rules and the right to cancel. This second paragraph also states: “By signing below, I acknowledge and agree to all of the terms contained on the front and back of this agreement.” CP at 25.

In Stokes, this court held that reasonable minds could not differ regarding the conspicuousness of a waiver provision contained in a retail installment contract. 113 Wn.App. at 448. This court’s determination relied in part on the fact that a statement immediately below the signature line said that the contract contained a waiver and release to which the signatory would be bound. Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 448. In Chauvlier, this court relied in part on a statement directly above the signature line reading: “I have read, understood, and accepted the conditions of the Liability Release printed above” in making its determination that the waiver provision at issue was conspicuous and enforceable. 109 Wn.App. at 342. Here, the statement above the signature line is unlike those contained in the contracts held to be enforceable in Stokes and Chauvlier, because it relates to all provisions of the membership agreement, rather than only the waiver provision. This factor does not support a finding of conspicuousness.

c. The Required Signature Relates to the Waiver Provision

Although separated by a paragraph, the signature line clearly relates to the waiver provision because it is spatially oriented near the waiver provision. It is within the area set off by the large banner described above and by its own language relates to the “all of the terms contained” in the agreement. CP at 25. This factor also favors a finding of conspicuousness.

In summary, although the signature line does not correspond solely to the waiver provision, the provision is set apart from the other provisions of the contract by a banner, the caption heading within the banner clearly identifies the contents of the waiver, the signature line is below the waiver provision and it clearly relates to the waiver provision. We conclude that the waiver provision is conspicuous.

B. Opportunity to Examine the Agreement

McCoy admits that she did not read the agreement. Even though she did not read the agreement, she would be bound by its terms only if there was opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as she cared, and she failed to do so for her own personal reasons. Yakima County ( W.Valley) Fire Prot. Dist. No. 12 v. City of Yakima, 122 Wn.2d 371, 389, 858 P.2d 245 (1993) (“Where a party has signed a contract without reading it, that party cannot successfully argue that mutual assent was lacking as long as the party was not deprived of the opportunity to read the contract.”).

McCoy asserts that the Planet Fitness employee identified the agreement as a “mere formalit[y]” that she had to sign in order to join the club. CP at 140. The employee “showed [her] where to sign on a couple documents and [she] signed them, but [she] was not given an opportunity to read all the language” because he immediately took the papers back. CP at 140-41. When McCoy mentioned that she had not been able to read them, he told her that he would mail them to her home address. McCoy was apparently satisfied with not reading it before signing. Although McCoy asserts that she was not given the opportunity to read the membership agreement, there is no indication that she could not have read the contract either before or after she signed it if she had asked. Additionally, McCoy sought out the membership and there is no evidence that she was coerced. The waiver was conspicuous as a matter of law, McCoy has not shown that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding her opportunity to read the membership agreement. In any case, even if she felt rushed to sign the document, the waiver language was, as a matter of law, conspicuous enough for her to notice it.

CONCLUSION

The liability waiver was conspicuous. McCoy did not demonstrate an issue of fact regarding her opportunity to read the membership agreement. Accordingly, we reverse.[ 4]

A majority of the panel having determined that this opinion will not be printed in the Washington Appellate Reports, but will be filed for public record in accordance with RCW 2.06.040, it is so ordered.

We concur: Worswick, J. Lee, C.J.

Notes:

[ 1] Alternatively, the parties and witnesses refer to the “membership agreement” as “the documents” and “the contract.” We will refer to it as the “membership agreement” throughout this opinion. The liability waiver provision is contained within the membership agreement. Throughout the remainder of this opinion, we will refer to this provision simply as the “waiver provision.”

[ 2] The claims against Brunswick are not at issue in this appeal.

[ 3] Although the inconspicuousness of a waiver provision appears to be a factual inquiry, the Supreme Court in Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wn.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (1971), determined that a liability waiver provision hidden in the middle of an agreement was so inconspicuous that, as a matter of public policy, it would be unconscionable to enforce it. Subsequent courts of appeal have treated the issue of conspicuousness, as the Baker holding implies, as a matter of law determined by the court. See e.g. Stokes v. Bally’s Pacwest, Inc., 113 Wn.App. 442, 448, 54 P.3d 161 (2002)(“The language is conspicuous, as a matter of law, and it was not unwittingly signed.”).

[ 4] Because we reverse the denial of summary judgment, we do not reach the issue of whether the court abused its discretion in denying the motion for reconsideration.


In a strange round about way, Missouri Appellate Court finds release stops tubing hill claim, but only after release identified the risk the plaintiff complained of.

Court comes to the conclusion the release is valid, but starts at the very beginning of the law and circles continuously to get there.

The Good News is releases are valid under Missouri’s law. The bad news is, you might never know from this decision.

Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

State: Missouri, Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

Plaintiff: Douglas E. Ferbet

Defendant: Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligent maintenance and operation of the tubing hill

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: Release

Year: 2020

Summary

Plaintiff was snow tubing, and his foot got caught in a hole or divot breaking his leg. The plaintiff signed a release, which stopped the lawsuit. The court reviewed all the possible ways the plaintiff could win and lose the lawsuit in this 12-page opinion.

Facts

Hidden Valley’s snow tubing operation, located on a hillside adjacent to its ski resort, consists of a series of parallel and adjacent lanes descending down the hill. Customers slide down the lanes while perched on rubber inner tubes provided to them by Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley maintains the surface of the lanes covered in snow and ice and separates the lanes from each other by raised rows of packed snow and ice.

On January 25, 2013, when Ferbet arrived with his family at the ticket window, he was presented with this one-page, single-spaced, form agreement. He signed and dated the agreement in the spaces designated at the bottom, purchased tickets, and then proceeded to the tubing hill. Hidden Valley provided Ferbet an inner tube to use to slide down any of the tubing lanes he chose. And during what would turn out to be Ferbet’s last slide of the day, his right foot lodged into a crevice in the sliding surface fracturing his tibia and fibula when his momentum carried the rest of his body forward.

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

This court decided to write a law school analysis of the law concerning outdoor recreation injuries. The problem was the decision is extremely difficult to read because it keeps circling back on itself to bring up new legal topics.

The first issue the court reviewed was whether the release contained assumption of the risk language specific to the injury the plaintiff suffered.

Here, since Hidden Valley has asserted the release as an affirmative defense, we review de novo the legal and fact questions (1) whether the release before us is enforceable to release Ferbet’s claims as a matter of law, and (2) whether Hidden Valley has established as a matter of undisputed fact that the injury-causing negligent conduct alleged by Ferbet is within the purview of this release.

I’ve argued that releases need this language for years. However, my argument is based on proving assumption of the risk if the release is thrown out by the court. Here, the appellate court seems to require the language in a release in Missouri, but never comes right out and says so.

The first analysis the court undertook was whether the release met Missouri’s law. This is a common analysis of any case where a release is used to stop the lawsuit. The second analysis, whether the thing that caused the plaintiff’s injury was covered by the release, is also sometimes seen in reviewing releases. In that analysis, the issue is, was the release written broadly enough to cover the injury the plaintiff is complaining about.

However, in this case, the court wanted to know if the release specifically looked at the specific issue that caused the plaintiff’s injury. Did the release cover the cracks and divots in the snow where the plaintiff caught his foot?

First looking at whether the release was valid under Missouri’s law the court reviewed Missouri’s law.

It is a “well-established rule of construction that a contract provision exempting one from liability for his or her negligence will never be implied but must be clearly and explicitly stated.” In doing so, courts must ensure that the exculpatory clause complies with the bright-line test established in Alack, the seminal case on this question, requiring that the words “negligence” or “fault” or their equivalents be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.

Here is where the case starts to veer into new areas. The exact same clause the court is reviewing was already found valid in a prior case involving the same defendant on the same tubing hill with a different plaintiff seven years earlier.

Moreover, this Court has already considered this exact same release in Guthrie v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 642 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (Van Amburg, J., dissenting), in which a divided panel of this Court affirmed summary judgment in Hidden Valley’s favor and found that the language in paragraph 7 releasing Hidden Valley from its future negligence was sufficiently clear and conspicuous. Id. at 648. There, Guthrie’s foot was broken when another snow tuber collided with him in the run-out portion of the hill, the area where all of the snow tubers end their runs. So, Guthrie differs somewhat from this case because of the mechanism of injury which was a collision with another snow tuber, a risk the release covered repeatedly and extensively in paragraph 2 and again in the 8th bullet point of paragraph 3, while here the injury was allegedly caused by the condition of the premises.

Normally once a court finds a release valid in a prior case, they won’t even review the latest decision, they court just issues an order saying the prior decision is controlling. Here, they acknowledge the prior case and still analyzed every possible aspect of release and assumption of risk law in Missouri.

The court found the language of the release was valid. The court also found the word negligence was a necessary requirement of the release.

The court then quoted the decision forming the basis for release law in Missouri, which stated the word negligence was not necessary as long as similar language was used and also requires a notification to the defendant of the specific risks of the activity.

Alack instructs that doing so would be insufficient because the agreement must not only pass the bright-line conspicuity test by employing the word “negligence” or its equivalent, but it also must notify the participant of the specific nature of the claims he or she is releasing.

I believe that the word negligence is not required under Missouri’s law, but I would not bet on it. If you are using a release in Missouri, make sure your release says you are not liable for your own negligence.

The court, after finding the release was valid because it was identical to a release in a prior decision, reviewed all aspects of the document, starting with whether or not the release met Missouri’s requirements for a contract.

Since this is a contract, we apply our rules of contract interpretation to determine whether the language of the agreement should be construed to encompass Ferbet’s specific claim of negligence and whether Hidden Valley is released from that claim. The Supreme Court in Alack framed the issue thusly: “There must be no doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to an exculpatory clause actually understands what future claims he or she is waiving.” “Because standardized contracts address the mass of users, the test for reasonable expectations is objective, addressed to the average member of the public who accepts such a contract, not the subjective expectations of an individual adherent

The cardinal principle of contract interpretation is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intent. The terms of a contract are read as a whole and are given their plain, ordinary, and usual meaning. Courts prefer a contract construction that gives meaning to all contract provisions and we avoid construing the contract so as to leave portions meaningless and inexplicable. Under the doctrine of contra proferentem, the language of the contract is construed against the drafting party. And this doctrine is enhanced in this case because we strictly construe contracts that seek to exonerate a party from acts of future negligence against the party claiming the benefit of that provision.

This is a pretty good analysis of contract law for any state. However, it is pages longer than any other decision reviewing a release as a contract, 99% of which do so in a paragraph.

The court then concluded that it was their job to determine if a reasonable party would have understood what they were signing.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

It is that last section, that departs from all other reviews of releases. Whether the plaintiff knew, by reading the release, that his food could become lodged in a hole in the ice causing him injury. Normally, the analysis is, did the release say the plaintiff could be injured and was that clear and unambiguous.

The court then looked at inherent risk to determine if the risk of a hole in the snow and ice was inherent in tubing. A first in release law, but here the court found a way to tie it back in by including another area of the law never reviewed when looking at release law.

First, it looks at whether term inherent risks as mentioned in the release, define the inherent risks of the sport.

Unfortunately, while Hidden Valley tells its customers in paragraph 1 that “there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport . . .” it does not identify or define in the contract which risks are inherent and which are the “other risks.”

Inherent risks are identified as such because you assume them no matter what. You know the inherent risks of a sport or activity, by law. There is no need to list them in a release.

The court then looks to Missouri’s law to define inherent risks.

Our Supreme Court has defined a risk that is “inherent” to an activity as something “structural” or involving the “constitution or essential character” of the activity. And, generally, a participant is deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood, and the defendant is not liable for injuries stemming from such inherent risks because no duty is owed as to those risks.

The Missouri Supreme Court stated that a participant is “…deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood…” Why would there be any requirement to list them in a release? You know what they are. In fact, any releases that only protects the defendant from the inherent risks are worthless. You can’t sue for the inherent risks of a sport or activity. Therefore, you release does not need to protect you from the inherent risks. A release must protect you from the risks of the sport or activity that are not inherent.

If your release only protects you from claims from the inherent risks of a sport or activity send me a copy. jim@rec-law.us And get a new release written.

The court then veered into assumption of the risk under Missouri’s law. The case that was referenced to define inherent risks, and this court then determined a further review of assumption of the risk was needed.

Judge Wilson expounded on the history and current state of Missouri law regarding assumption of the risk. Coomer [a legal decision] identified three types of assumption of the risk, “express assumption of the risk,” “implied primary assumption of the risk,” and “implied secondary assumption of the risk.” For our purposes, implied primary assumption of the risk and express assumption of the risk are helpful to illustrate the concept of inherent risks raised by Hidden Valley in the participation agreement with Ferbet and the impact of assumption of the risk on duty. Implied primary assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovery when the plaintiff has knowingly and voluntarily encountered risk that is inherent in the nature of the defendant’s activity. In express assumption of the risk, which is directly applicable to this case, the plaintiff makes an express statement that he is voluntarily accepting a specified risk and is barred from recovering damages for an injury resulting from that risk. The plaintiff’s consent relieves the defendant of any duty to protect the plaintiff from injury and as a result, the defendant cannot be negligent.

The definitions are the same as in most other states. What is confusing is why the court is taking this circuitous route to get to its decision? If the release is valid, it stops the claims, whether or not the risk is assumed or not in most states, including Missouri.

The court then attempted “tied” everything together, unsuccessfully.

Application of these principles to this case illustrates the circumstances to which the release here applies and those to which it may not and also the extent to which assumption of the risk principles may apply. It is for that reason that we have incorporated into our legal rationale these assumption of the risk principles even though the trial court relied solely on the release for its grant of summary judgment. Disposition of this case requires application of the release and of assumption of the risk.

The court circled back to the facts in this case by setting forth the analysis of the facts of the case. The court stated if the risk encountered by the plaintiff was an inherent risk of the activity, and the defendant did not increase that risk, there is no duty owed to the plaintiff. No duty, means there cannot be negligence.

Thus, if Ferbet’s injury resulted from a known and understandable risk deemed to be inherent to the sport of snow tubing, and Hidden Valley did not negligently enhance or increase that inherent risk, then the release language in paragraph 7 is not relevant nor applicable because Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty with respect to risks inherent to snow tubing. But if Hidden Valley negligently enhanced or increased that inherent risk, then the release language in the agreement is applicable and operative and we would look to the agreement as a whole to determine whether that enhanced risk was covered by the release.

A defendant owes no duty to anyone for the inherent risks of the activity. That is a basic year two of law school analysis.

However, if the defendant enhanced or increased the risk, then the risk is not inherent and whether or not the defendant is liable is based on the validity of the risk. Again, year two basic law school analysis.

Neither analysis has anything to do with release law. Is the release a valid contract? Doe the release meet the requirements of the state law on releases? If so, case over.

The court then looked at the issue if the risk was not an inherent risk.

In addition, if Ferbet’s injury was not the result of an inherent risk, but was the result of negligence on the part of Hidden Valley, then we apply the release and our analysis is whether that “other risk” was adequately covered by the release such that Ferbet was on notice that he was releasing Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing or creating the risk which resulted in his injury.

The analysis is correct, it is just written in a way that is confusing to read and seems to start a discission, leave it and then circle back to it. On top of that, it does not matter if the release is valid.

The court circled back again and reviewed if the risk suffered by the plaintiff was inherent in the activity.

We turn now to the crevice in the sliding surface that caused Ferbet’s injury and we find that an uneven sliding surface and the potential risks it creates for snow tubers are inherent risks of snow tubing because they are “structural” to the activity and involve the “essential character” of snow tubing.

Then the court changes its mind……. again. “But how uneven can the surface be and still be considered an inherent risk?

After more analysis, the court concluded the risk was not inherent and if the claim was to be stopped it must rely upon the release. Which it could have found in the first paragraph of the decision.

As a result, we find that to the extent the particular variation that resulted in Ferbet’s injury was the result of Hidden Valley’s negligence, then this release extinguished that claim.

The court found the risk was not inherent, and the release stopped the claim. (Inherent risks, if an issue for the decision, are usually determined by the trier of fact, the jury.)

The court took off on another deviation, one which I found entertaining and correct. Many releases have stupid language in them because they are written by attorneys who don’t understand releases or written by non-attorneys. One of those phrases is the person accepts the facilities as is.

Before we turn to Ferbet’s remaining points, we briefly address paragraph 4 in which Hidden Valley seeks to exonerate itself by having the participant accept the snow tubing facility “AS IS” and that “NO WARRANTIES” are being made with respect to the snow tubing facility. These are terms of art with specific meanings in the context of the sale of goods and the sale of real estate. But these concepts have no role in this case involving a business inviting a customer onto their premises for a fee to participate in a recreational activity. Hidden Valley’s customers are not buyers and there is little if any opportunity for them to inspect the snow tubing facility before executing the release and paying their money or even before plunging down the hill.

If your release uses the language “as is” or “no warranties” send me a copy. jim@rec-law.us And get a new release written.

The court points out that the language is from the sale of goods and real estate and has no place in a release. On top of that, you are asking a person, who probably has never seen the activity to agree it is OK. If there is an opportunity for a release to be invalidated, it is by forcing the signor to agree to something that they cannot legally agree to.

The plaintiff argued the snow tubing hill was a common carrier, which requires the highest level of care. The court quickly found a tubing hill is not a common carrier.

In Missouri, neither the common carrier designation nor the application of the highest degree of care has ever been extended to amusement parks or recreation areas such as ski resorts or snow tubing hills.

After that the issue of whether the plaintiff knew what he was signing came back, and the court dismissed the claim with this statement.

It has been uniformly held that a person who can read, and is in no way prevented from reading a written contract before he signs it, is bound by its terms, and cannot void it on the ground that he did not know its contents when he signed it.”). Ferbet testified that nothing prevented him from reading the document.

Which seems to be contrary to its statement where the court determined if the plaintiff would have been fully informed of the possible risks as I quoted above.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

After twelve pages, the court concluded the defendant was not liable.

So Now What?

There is a great analysis of how the legal system looks; it is just rarely done outside of law school. However, reading and understanding the decision the way it jumps around makes it very difficult.

The decision makes several great points; it is just maddening to try to find them and understand them in the circular decision.

What is confusing it the courts’ statement about wanting the release to identify the inherent risks of the activity. Inherent risks are known by people under the law and do not need to be identified. You can’t sue over the inherent risks because they are inherent, and you know them.

The good news is Missouri allows the use of a release, if it is carefully written correctly.

If you email me, a release with either of the language pointed out above, include your mailing address, and I’ll send you a sticker or magnet or something cheap and kitschy!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

Douglas E. Ferbet, Appellant,

v.

Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc., Respondents.

No. ED108495

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

December 15, 2020

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 18SL-CC00050 Honorable Mary Elizabeth Ott.

James M. Dowd, P.J., Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J., and Robin Ransom, J.

James M. Dowd, Presiding Judge.

Introduction

Appellant Douglas Ferbet’s recreational outing with his family on January 25, 2013 to Respondents’ snow tubing hill in Eureka, Missouri ended abruptly when as he slid down the hill seated on a large rubber inner tube, his dangling right foot engaged with a crevice in the sliding surface of the slippery slope breaking his leg in two places. Now, Ferbet appeals the trial court’s summary judgment entered in favor of Respondents Hidden Valley and Peak Resorts (Hidden Valley) on Ferbet’s negligence claim in which he alleged that his injuries were caused by Hidden Valley’s negligent maintenance of the tubing hill. Hidden Valley sought summary judgment based on release-of-liability language in an agreement Hidden Valley required Ferbet to sign before selling snow tubing tickets to him and his family just before they headed to the hill.

The trial court found the agreement enforceable and therefore that Ferbet had released Hidden Valley from his negligence claim based on the document’s references both to specific risks involved in snow tubing and that Ferbet was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for injuries including those caused by Hidden Valley’s own negligence.

We affirm the judgment, but our legal rationale is somewhat different than the trial court’s. We agree with the trial court that while exculpatory clauses like the one here that purport to release a party from its own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited by Missouri public policy, and to the extent Ferbet has adequately pled a negligence claim, the language of this agreement is sufficiently specific to encompass Ferbet’s claim and, importantly, it also clearly and conspicuously states that even claims resulting from Hidden Valley’s negligence are released. We also affirm because to the extent that the risk Ferbet claims caused his injury was a known and understandable inherent risk of snow tubing for which Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty, his claim is without merit under the doctrine of assumption of the risk.

Background

Hidden Valley’s snow tubing operation, located on a hillside adjacent to its ski resort, consists of a series of parallel and adjacent lanes descending down the hill. Customers slide down the lanes while perched on rubber inner tubes provided to them by Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley maintains the surface of the lanes covered in snow and ice and separates the lanes from each other by raised rows of packed snow and ice.

At all relevant times, customers, in order to be permitted to buy tickets, were required to read and sign the following document, which we reproduce verbatim here, purporting to identify certain general and specific injury risks posed by snow tubing. The document also contains language that purports to release Hidden Valley from liability for injuries sustained while snow tubing including for claims arising from Hidden Valley’s own negligence: POLAR PLUNGE SNOW TUBING HIDDEN VALLEY SKI-TUBE-RIDE AREA, WILDWOOD, MISSOURI ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE THIS IS A CONTRACT! * * * * * * * * * * PLEASE READ! 1. I understand and acknowledge that snow tubing is a dangerous, risky sport and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport and that all of these risks can cause serious and even fatal injuries. 2. I understand that part of the thrill, excitement and risks of snow tubing is that the snow tubes all end up in a common, run-out area at various times and speeds and that [sic] is my responsibility to try to avoid hitting another snow tuber, and it is also my responsibility to try to avoid being hit by another snow tuber, but that notwithstanding these efforts by myself and other snow tubers, there is a risk of collisions. 3. I acknowledge that the risks of snow tubing include, but are not limited to, the following: • Variations in the steepness and configuration of the snow tubing chutes and run-out area; • Variations in the surface upon which snow tubing is conducted, which can vary from wet, slushy conditions to hard packed, icy conditions and everything in between; • Fence and/or barriers at or along portions of the snow tubing area, the absence of such fence and/or barriers and the inability of fences and/or barriers to prevent or reduce injury; • Changes in the speed at which snow tubers travel depending on surface conditions, the weight of snow tubers and the inter-linking of snow tubers together to go down the snow tubes runs; • The chance that a patron can fall out, be thrown out or otherwise leave the snow tube; • The chance that a snow tube can go from one run to another run, regardless of whether or not there is a barrier between runs, and the chance that a snow tube can go beyond the run-out area; • The chance that a snow tube can go up the run-out hill and then slide in the general run-out area; • Collisions in the run-out area and other locations of the snow tubing facility, with collisions happening between snow tubes, between a snow tube and another patron, between a snow tube and a snow tubing facility attendant, between a snow tubing patron who may or may not be in or on a snow tube at the time of the collision and other sorts of collisions; collisions with fixed objects, obstacles or structures located within or outside of the snow tube facility; • The use of the snow tubing carpet lift or tow, including falling out of a tube, slipping backwards, becoming entangled with equipment, railing and fencing, slipping and falling on the carpet lift and/or the adjacent deck and other risks. 4. I also acknowledge and understand that I am accepting AS IS the snow tube and any other equipment involved with the snow tubing activity, including lifts and tows, and further acknowledge and understand that NO WARRANTIES are being extended to me with respect to any aspect of the snow tubing facility. 5. I agree and understand that snow tubing is a purely voluntary, recreational activity and that if I am not willing to acknowledge the risk and agree not to sue, I should not go snow tubing. 6. I agree to allow the use of my image or likeness incidental in any photograph, live recorded video display or other transmission or reproduction of the event in any form to which this agreement admits me. 7. IN CONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE AND BEING ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT OF SNOWTUBING, I AGREE THAT I WILL NOT SUE AND WILL RELEASE FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY, HIDDEN VALLEY GOLF AND SKI, INC. OR PEAK RESORTS, INC., THEIR OWNERS, OPERATIONS, LESSORS, LESSEES, OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES IF I OR ANY MEMBER OF MY FAMILY IS INJURED WHILE USING ANY OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITIES OR WHILE BEING PRESENT AT THE FACILITIES, EVEN IF I CONTEND THAT SUCH INJURIES ARE THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITY. 8. I further agree that I WILL INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS HIDDEN VALLEY GOLF AND SKI, INC. AND PEAK RESORTS, INC. THEIR OWNERS, OPERATORS, LESSORS, LESSEES, OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES from any loss, liability, damages or cost of any kind that it may incur as the result of any injury to myself or to any member of my family or to any person for whom I am explaining that meaning of this agreement, even if it is contended that any such injury was caused by the negligence on the part of the snow tubing facility. 9. I understand and agree that this Agreement is governed by the laws of the State of Missouri. I further agree that if any part of this Agreement is determined to be unenforceable, all other parts shall be given full force and effect. 10. I have read and understand the foregoing Acknowledgement of Risks and Agreement Not to Sue. I understand by reading this that I may be giving up the rights of my child and spouse to sue as well as giving up my own right to sue.

On January 25, 2013, when Ferbet arrived with his family at the ticket window, he was presented with this one-page, single-spaced, form agreement. He signed and dated the agreement in the spaces designated at the bottom, purchased tickets, and then proceeded to the tubing hill. Hidden Valley provided Ferbet an inner tube to use to slide down any of the tubing lanes he chose. And during what would turn out to be Ferbet’s last slide of the day, his right foot lodged into a crevice in the sliding surface fracturing his tibia and fibula when his momentum carried the rest of his body forward.

On December 27, 2018, Ferbet filed suit alleging that his injuries and damages were caused by Hidden Valley’s negligent maintenance and operation of the tubing hill, specifically with respect to the dangerous condition of the sliding surface that he claims caused his injuries. After some discovery took place, Respondents filed their motion for summary judgment on the sole basis that Ferbet had released his claim against them by signing the above agreement.

In his response, Ferbet asserted that the release was unenforceable as against public policy. He also alleged that amusement park and recreational area operators such as Hidden Valley should be considered common carriers and therefore held to the highest degree of care, as opposed to ordinary care, and that an exculpatory clause should be unenforceable when the highest degree of care is owed.

After a June 7, 2019 hearing on the motion, the trial court granted summary judgment based on its findings that the facts were undisputed that Ferbet had signed the agreement; that the agreement was enforceable and not against public policy; that its operative release language clearly and explicitly exonerated Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing Ferbet’s injuries; and that Hidden Valley is not a common carrier subject to the highest degree of care. This appeal follows.

Standard of Review

On appeals from summary judgment, our review is essentially de novo and we review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Missouri Supreme Court Rule 74.04 governs summary judgment procedures. The trial court shall grant summary judgment “[i]f the motion, the response, the reply and the sur-reply show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 74.04(c)(6); See also, Id. at 378. The trial court and this Court look to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file together with any affidavits to determine whether the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Miller v. River Hills Development, 831 S.W.2d 756, 757 (Mo. App. E.D. 1992). But “[t]he key to a summary judgment is the undisputed right to a judgment as a matter of law; not simply the absence of a fact question.” Birdsong v. Christians, 6 S.W.3d 218, 223 (Mo. App. S.D. 1999) (quoting Southard v. Buccaneer Homes Corp., 904 S.W.2d 525, 530 (Mo. App. S.D. 1995)).

Where the defending party is the movant, it may establish a right to judgment by showing: (1) facts negating any one of the non-movant’s elements; (2) that the non-movant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not been able and will not be able to produce evidence sufficient to allow the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the non-movant’s elements; or (3) that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support the movant’s properly-pleaded affirmative defense. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381.

Here, since Hidden Valley has asserted the release as an affirmative defense, we review de novo the legal and fact questions (1) whether the release before us is enforceable to release Ferbet’s claims as a matter of law, and (2) whether Hidden Valley has established as a matter of undisputed fact that the injury-causing negligent conduct alleged by Ferbet is within the purview of this release. Alack v. Vic Tanny Intern. of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 337 (Mo. banc 1996); see also Abbott v. Epic Landscape Prods., L.C., 361 S.W.3d 13, 19 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011), as modified (Jan. 31, 2012).

Hidden Valley also asserted assumption of the risk as an affirmative defense. Although it did not seek summary judgment on that basis nor did the trial court rely on assumption of the risk in its grant of summary judgment here, our review is de novo and we may do so. See ITT Commercial, 854 S.W.2d at 387-88 (summary judgment may be “affirmed in this Court on an entirely different basis than that posited at trial”). In fact, for the reasons we provide below, we find it necessary to employ Hidden Valley’s assumption of the risk affirmative defense in addition to the release in order to resolve this case.

Discussion

1. In Missouri, exculpatory clauses are disfavored but not void as against public policy.

In his first point, Ferbet alleges the trial court failed to address his affirmative avoidance that the exculpatory clause before us violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. While we may agree and acknowledge that there continue to be strong policy arguments why these anticipatory releases are problematic, e.g., the party best positioned to prevent the harm is relieved of liability and instead the burden of loss is placed upon the party least able to prevent it, the public policy implications of such releases have been litigated, analyzed, and largely decided by our Supreme Court. See Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334 (“Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.”) In short, that public policy ship has sailed aboard the S.S. Alack.

Thus, our initial analysis is whether the release here complies with the dictates of Alack and its progeny to which we now turn. It is a “well-established rule of construction that a contract provision exempting one from liability for his or her negligence will never be implied but must be clearly and explicitly stated.” Id. (citing Poslosky v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., 349 S.W.2d 847, 850 (Mo. 1961)). In doing so, courts must ensure that the exculpatory clause complies with the bright-line test established in Alack, the seminal case on this question, requiring that the words “negligence” or “fault” or their equivalents be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337.[ 1]

Moreover, this Court has already considered this exact same release in Guthrie v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 642 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (Van Amburg, J., dissenting), in which a divided panel of this Court affirmed summary judgment in Hidden Valley’s favor and found that the language in paragraph 7 releasing Hidden Valley from its future negligence was sufficiently clear and conspicuous. Id. at 648. There, Guthrie’s foot was broken when another snow tuber collided with him in the run-out portion of the hill, the area where all of the snow tubers end their runs. Id. at 646. So, Guthrie differs somewhat from this case because of the mechanism of injury which was a collision with another snow tuber, a risk the release covered repeatedly and extensively in paragraph 2 and again in the 8th bullet point of paragraph 3, while here the injury was allegedly caused by the condition of the premises.

i. Paragraph 7’s release language satisfies Alack’s bright-line test.

Nevertheless, we abide by our previous holding in Guthrie that the release language here satisfies Alack’s conspicuity requirement. Paragraph 7, located three quarters down the one-page agreement, provides in all capital letters that snow tubing participants agree to release Hidden Valley for claims if injured while using or being present at the snow tubing facility “even if … such injuries are the result of negligence on the part of” Hidden Valley.

ii. The word “negligence” is necessary, but we still construe the whole contract.

But our inquiry does not end with the mere inclusion of the word “negligence.” If that was the case, Hidden Valley could have simply presented its customers with a 9-word declaration to sign: “I release Hidden Valley for all claims including negligence.” Alack instructs that doing so would be insufficient because the agreement must not only pass the bright-line conspicuity test by employing the word “negligence” or its equivalent, but it also must notify the participant of the specific nature of the claims he or she is releasing. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337.

Hidden Valley seems to concede this by virtue of its 850-word agreement here in which it endeavors to comprehensively identify the risks associated with, inherent to, or that may arise during snow tubing. And while paragraph 7 sets forth the release language on which Hidden Valley relies, paragraph 7 does not stand alone in this contract. In fact, with its opening phrase “[i]n consideration of the above…,” paragraph 7 incorporates the preceding six numbered paragraphs, the first four of which specifically address the types and nature of the risks involved in snow tubing.[ 2] In this way, Hidden Valley has sought to define and identify the risks of injury from snow tubing for which it not only seeks to obtain a release from its customers but also requests its customers to assume those risks.

Since this is a contract, we apply our rules of contract interpretation to determine whether the language of the agreement should be construed to encompass Ferbet’s specific claim of negligence and whether Hidden Valley is released from that claim. The Supreme Court in Alack framed the issue thusly: “There must be no doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to an exculpatory clause actually understands what future claims he or she is waiving.” Id. at 337-38. “Because standardized contracts address the mass of users, the test for reasonable expectations is objective, addressed to the average member of the public who accepts such a contract, not the subjective expectations of an individual adherent.” Woods v. QC Fin. Servs., Inc., 280 S.W.3d 90, 95 n.1 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008) (citations and quotations omitted).

The cardinal principle of contract interpretation is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intent. Dunn Indus. Group, Inc. v. City of Sugar Creek, 112 S.W.3d 421, 428 (Mo. banc 2003). The terms of a contract are read as a whole and are given their plain, ordinary, and usual meaning. Id.; Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337-38. Courts prefer a contract construction that gives meaning to all contract provisions and we avoid construing the contract so as to leave portions meaningless and inexplicable. Storey v. RGIS Inventory Specialists, LLC, 466 S.W.3d 650, 655 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). Under the doctrine of contra proferentem, the language of the contract is construed against the drafting party. Burns v. Smith, 303 S.W.3d 505, 509 (Mo. banc 2010). And this doctrine is enhanced in this case because we strictly construe contracts that seek to exonerate a party from acts of future negligence against the party claiming the benefit of that provision. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

The first three numbered paragraphs are the focus of our attention. In paragraph 1, Hidden Valley very broadly and generally puts customers on notice that snow tubing is dangerous and risky and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the activity that can cause injury or death. Paragraph 2 explains in detail the risk of collisions during snow tubing. And in paragraph 3 with its nine subparts, Hidden Valley identifies and notifies customers of a myriad of the risks they might face.

iii. Assumption of the risk – the nature of the risk determines whether a duty exists.

Hidden Valley’s reference to “inherent risks” of the sport of snow tubing[ 3] presents an important legal concept that requires our attention because the extent to which the risk that caused Ferbet’s injuries is an inherent risk to snow tubing will determine whether the release here even applies. Unfortunately, while Hidden Valley tells its customers in paragraph 1 that “there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport . . .” it does not identify or define in the contract which risks are inherent and which are the “other risks.”

Our Supreme Court has defined a risk that is “inherent” to an activity as something “structural” or involving the “constitution or essential character” of the activity. Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 437 S.W.3d 184, 202 (Mo. banc 2014). And, generally, a participant is deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood, and the defendant is not liable for injuries stemming from such inherent risks because no duty is owed as to those risks. Id. at 197.

In the Coomer opinion, which doubles as an ode to the national pastime, Judge Wilson expounded on the history and current state of Missouri law regarding assumption of the risk. Coomer identified three types of assumption of the risk, “express assumption of the risk,” “implied primary assumption of the risk,” and “implied secondary assumption of the risk.” Id. at 192. For our purposes, implied primary assumption of the risk and express assumption of the risk are helpful to illustrate the concept of inherent risks raised by Hidden Valley in the participation agreement with Ferbet and the impact of assumption of the risk on duty. Implied primary assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovery when the plaintiff has knowingly and voluntarily encountered risk that is inherent in the nature of the defendant’s activity. Id. at 192. In express assumption of the risk, which is directly applicable to this case, the plaintiff makes an express statement that he is voluntarily accepting a specified risk and is barred from recovering damages for an injury resulting from that risk. Id. at 191. The plaintiff’s consent relieves the defendant of any duty to protect the plaintiff from injury and as a result, the defendant cannot be negligent. Id. at 193.

The rule that a defendant is not liable because it owes no duty for the known and understandable inherent risks of an activity “extends only to those risks” that the defendant “is powerless to alleviate without fundamentally altering” the activity. Id. But the defendant “still owes a duty of reasonable care not to alter or increase such inherent risks.” Id. at 197-198. Coomer illustrates this point with two examples. The first is the baseball spectator injured by a foul ball which he claimed he was prevented from seeing because he was being repeatedly jostled and distracted by the team’s dinosaur mascot. Id. at 198 (citing Lowe v. California League of Professional Baseball, 56 Cal.App.4th 112, 65 Cal.Rptr.2nd 105 (1997)). While getting hit by a foul ball is an inherent risk to attending a baseball game for which implied primary assumption of the risk precludes recovery because the team owes no duty of care, the jury may hold the team liable if the negligence of the mascot altered or increased that otherwise inherent risk and that negligence causes the plaintiff’s injuries. Coomer, at 198.

The second example Coomer cites is from Sheppard v. Midway R-1 Sch. Dist., 904 S.W.2d 257 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995), which involved a high school long-jumper injured during a competition by a bad landing in the landing pit. Id. at 259. The court held that even though the student cannot sue the school district for a bad landing because that is an inherent risk to long-jumping, the jury may hold the school district liable when that inherent risk is altered or increased by the defendant’s negligence in preparing the landing pit. Id. at 264.

Application of these principles to this case illustrates the circumstances to which the release here applies and those to which it may not and also the extent to which assumption of the risk principles may apply. It is for that reason that we have incorporated into our legal rationale these assumption of the risk principles even though the trial court relied solely on the release for its grant of summary judgment. Disposition of this case requires application of the release and of assumption of the risk.

Thus, if Ferbet’s injury resulted from a known and understandable risk deemed to be inherent to the sport of snow tubing, and Hidden Valley did not negligently enhance or increase that inherent risk, then the release language in paragraph 7 is not relevant nor applicable because Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty with respect to risks inherent to snow tubing. But if Hidden Valley negligently enhanced or increased that inherent risk, then the release language in the agreement is applicable and operative and we would look to the agreement as a whole to determine whether that enhanced risk was covered by the release. In addition, if Ferbet’s injury was not the result of an inherent risk, but was the result of negligence on the part of Hidden Valley, then we apply the release and our analysis is whether that “other risk” was adequately covered by the release such that Ferbet was on notice that he was releasing Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing or creating the risk which resulted in his injury.

iv. The risks created by an uneven sliding surface on Hidden Valley’s snow tubing hill are inherent to the activity of snow tubing.

We turn now to the crevice in the sliding surface that caused Ferbet’s injury and we find that an uneven sliding surface and the potential risks it creates for snow tubers are inherent risks of snow tubing because they are “structural” to the activity and involve the “essential character” of snow tubing. Coomer, 437 S.W.3d at 202. The packed snow and ice surface is outdoors at the mercy of both the changing meteorological conditions and the continual battering from plunging snow tubes and tubers. As with traditional snow sledding, an uneven surface and its impact on the participant’s experience and enjoyment seems to be part of the “essential character” of snow tubing.

But how uneven can the surface be and still be considered an inherent risk? Unfortunately, the record below is largely silent. We know little about the size or configuration of the spot on the surface in which Ferbet’s foot became lodged. Ferbet described it as an area of riprap which seemed to be along the raised rows of packed snow and ice that separated the individual lanes. The agreement, for its part, not only identified these rows but mentioned that snow tubers may slide up and over these rows into the next lane. We also know little about Hidden Valley’s care and maintenance of the surface and whether Hidden Valley was aware of the danger of body parts becoming lodged in crevices in the surface or whether there had been any, and if so, how many prior similar instances like Ferbet’s.

As the Supreme Court in Coomer recognized, a risk that is deemed inherent may become actionable if the risk is altered or enhanced by the negligence of the activity operator. Id. at 198. So, an uneven area that simply adds to snow tubers’ thrill by pitching them up, and perhaps occasionally out, of the tube is one thing. But a divot that repeatedly and unexpectedly catches and fractures customers’ limbs may go beyond being an inherent risk and become actionable because it is no longer a known and understandable risk that is part of the structure and essence of the activity.

While the paucity of this record certainly limits the concreteness of our factual findings, it does not prevent us from reaching the following legal conclusions and holdings, each of which ends in the demise of Ferbet’s appeal: First, to the extent the crevice was merely a known and understandable risk inherent to snow tubing, then Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty and the release is inapplicable and irrelevant because there is no claim to release; Second, if the record had demonstrated that the crevice was so big and dangerous that it went beyond what would be deemed an inherent risk to snow tubing and instead would constitute a negligently maintained surface, then Hidden Valley would owe Ferbet a duty and in that circumstance, the release would be triggered. Looking to the contract, specifically, paragraph 3, we find it adequately notified Ferbet that there could be “[v]ariations in the surface upon which snow tubing is conducted, which can vary from wet, slushy conditions to hard packed, icy conditions and everything in between.” As a result, we find that to the extent the particular variation that resulted in Ferbet’s injury was the result of Hidden Valley’s negligence, then this release extinguished that claim.

Before we turn to Ferbet’s remaining points, we briefly address paragraph 4 in which Hidden Valley seeks to exonerate itself by having the participant accept the snow tubing facility “AS IS” and that “NO WARRANTIES” are being made with respect to the snow tubing facility. These are terms of art with specific meanings in the context of the sale of goods and the sale of real estate. Davis Indus. Sales, Inc. v. Workman Const. Co., Inc., 856 S.W.2d 355, 359 (Mo. App. S.D. 1993); Harper v. Calvert, 687 S.W.2d 227, 230 (Mo. App. W.D. 1984). But these concepts have no role in this case involving a business inviting a customer onto their premises for a fee to participate in a recreational activity. Hidden Valley’s customers are not buyers and there is little if any opportunity for them to inspect the snow tubing facility before executing the release and paying their money or even before plunging down the hill.

In light of the above, we deny Ferbet’s first point.

2. Hidden Valley was not a common carrier in that its tubing hill was not a commercial ride for hire.

Ferbet asserts that because they operate rides and slides, recreation area operators such as Hidden Valley should be considered common carriers and should therefore be held to the highest degree of care. Ferbet then alleges without citation to any authority that such a degree of care is inconsistent with the enforcement of an exculpatory clause. We disagree.

Missouri law applies a heightened degree of care only to a very small number of well-defined activities including common carriers, such as railroads, buses, commercial airlines, streetcars, and elevator operators; electric companies; users of explosives; users of firearms; and motor vehicle operators. Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP, 450 S.W.3d 291, 296 (Mo. banc 2014). Otherwise, the applicable standard is the ordinary degree of care. Id. (citing Lopez v. Three Rivers Elec. Co-op., Inc., 26 S.W.3d 151, 158 (Mo. banc 2000)) (“The common law ordinary negligence rule requires a defendant to exercise the degree of care of a reasonable person of ordinary prudence under similar circumstances, now commonly referred to as the ‘ordinary degree of care.'”).

In Missouri, neither the common carrier designation nor the application of the highest degree of care has ever been extended to amusement parks or recreation areas such as ski resorts or snow tubing hills. Id. at 296; see also McCollum v. Winnwood Amusement Co., 332 Mo. 779, 59 S.W.2d 693, 697 (1933) (holding the operator of a place of public amusement operating has a duty of ordinary care to its patrons); Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388, 392 (Mo. App. W.D. 1999) (applying a duty of ordinary care when skiers were injured due to icy conditions). And, since this activity resembles both skiing and an amusement park ride, we decline Ferbet’s invitation to do so. Hidden Valley owed Ferbet a duty of ordinary care in connection with its operation and maintenance of its snow tubing hill.

Point two is denied.

3. The summary judgment entered in this case fully disposed of Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances and did not violate Ferbet’s due process rights.

Ferbet claims the trial court’s grant of summary judgment violated his due process rights because the court failed to address his numerous affirmative avoidances. We have reviewed Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances and find they fall into two groups. The first group attacks the formation of the agreement here by raising such issues as duress and that Ferbet had not actually read or understood the document before signing it. The second group of affirmative avoidances broadly attacks the exculpatory clause on public policy grounds. And we conclude from our review of the record and in our opinion here that Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances have been fully considered and resolved.

With respect to Ferbet’s attacks on the contract’s formation, the trial court’s enforcement of the agreement necessarily signifies that the trial court found as a matter of law that this was a properly formed agreement when Ferbet signed it and dated it. Austin v. Brooklyn Cooperage Co., 285 S.W. 1015, 1017 (Mo. App. 1926) (“It has been uniformly held that a person who can read, and is in no way prevented from reading a written contract before he signs it, is bound by its terms, and cannot void it on the ground that he did not know its contents when he signed it.”). Ferbet testified that nothing prevented him from reading the document.

As for Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances regarding the public policy considerations relevant to exculpatory clauses, we discussed at length above that Missouri case law is settled that though disfavored, exculpatory clauses are not prohibited as against public policy. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334. In effect, Ferbet’s public policy arguments have been baked into the controlling precedent by Alack and its progeny. We decline Ferbet’s invitation to ignore that precedent.

Point three is denied.

Conclusion

The trial court’s grant of summary judgment is affirmed.

Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J. and Robin Ransom, J. concur.

———

Notes:

[ 1] We also note that Alack sought to distinguish between ordinary negligence and gross negligence in the context of exculpatory clauses with the former being disfavored but enforceable and the latter void as against public policy. Id. at 337 (“there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence[.]” (emphasis added)). However, in Decormier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group, Inc., the Supreme Court erased this distinction because “Missouri courts do not recognize degrees of negligence at common law.” 446 S.W.3d 668, 671 (Mo. banc 2014). Decormier permits exculpatory clauses to shield parties from negligence but holds exculpatory clauses provide no protection for reckless conduct or for intentional torts. Id. Here Ferbet’s claims against Hidden Valley were for ordinary negligence.

[ 2] But even if paragraph 7 had not included the phrase “[i]n consideration of the above…”, our rule of contract interpretation require us to consider paragraph 7 in conjunction with the remaining portions of the contract including the paragraphs that seek to identify the risks involved in snow tubing.

[ 3] Hidden Valley refers to snow tubing as a sport. We need not decide whether this is the case, or whether riding a roller coaster is a sport, whether descending the log flume at Six Flags is a sport or, for that matter, whether golf is a sport.

———


Good Samaritan law used to prove injured Samaritan was not liable for automobile accident where he stopped to render aid.

In this Indiana case, the Indiana Good Samaritan law is tested to determine if actions not defined as first aid, still are immune from liability under the law.

McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

State: Indiana, Court of Appeals of Indiana

Plaintiff: Bradley Montes

Defendant: Eric McGowen and Vision Logistics, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Indiana Good Samaritan Law

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2020

Summary

A truck driver pulled over to check on what appeared to be an injured man in a two-car accident. While asking the man if he was OK or needed medical help the plaintiff collided with the stopped truck. The truck driver could not be sued because the actions of the truck driver in checking on the condition of a person, appearing to be injured was protected by the Indiana Good Samaritan law.

Facts

On the morning of November 4, 2016, before the sun had risen, there was heavy fog in rural Tippecanoe County. McGowen was driving a semi-tractor (without a trailer) owned by his employer, Vision, on a two-lane county road. Traffic was sparse, but McGowen drove at thirty-five to forty miles per hour, well below the speed limit of fifty miles per hour, due to poor visibility. As he drove east, McGowen saw a truck in a ditch on the side of the road. The truck was upright and its headlights were on, pointing at McGowen’s semi as he approached. The truck’s roof, windshield, and hood were heavily damaged. McGowen also saw another vehicle stopped in the road near the truck, but that vehicle drove off as McGowen approached. McGowen speculated that there had been a two-car accident, and the other vehicle was leaving the scene.

P4 McGowen saw a man, later identified as Ryan Patton, “kind of wandering around” the truck. McGowen thought Patton “was drunk at first” or possibly injured.

P5 McGowen stopped his semi in the road. He kept his foot on the brake, rather than shifting the semi’s transmission to park. The semi’s rear brake lights activated automatically when the driver pressed on the brake pedal. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of vehicles approaching from behind.

McGowen rolled down the passenger window and asked Patton, “Are you okay?” Id. Patton climbed up to the semi’s passenger-side window and responded, “Yeah.” Id. Next, McGowen asked Patton if he wanted McGowen to call 911. Patton responded, “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

Rebecca Higgins was traveling westbound on the same road and she saw the headlights of McGowen’s semi, stopped in the road. She pulled past the semi, parked on the side of the road opposite the semi, and activated her hazard lights. She saw Patton’s truck after she had passed the semi. Higgins also saw the semi’s brake lights.

Meanwhile, Montes was also driving east on the same county road. Higgins saw Montes’ car traveling in her direction. She activated her vehicle’s high beams to warn Montes, but he did not slow down. Higgins also rolled down her window, waved her arms, and yelled, but Montes still did not slow down. He instead collided with the rear of McGowen’s semi, without braking, immediately after Patton had asked McGowen to call 911. McGowen estimated no more than fifteen to thirty seconds had elapsed from the time he stopped until the time Montes struck the semi. Another vehicle that was also traveling east on the road, behind Montes, saw McGowen’s semi and stopped before hitting Montes’ car.

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

Indiana’s Good Samaritan Laws are spread-out through the Indiana statutes and cover all sorts of individual actions. This happens for several reasons; one judge has narrowly interpreted the original law so that a new statute is added to cover the interpretation of the judge or an individual doesn’t understand the law and believe they need special protection and have the power and money to get it.

In this, case, the court focused on the central Good Sam Law, or GSL as the court identified it, § 34-30-12-1. Because Indiana has so many possibly conflicting statutes, the court tried to eliminate the statutes that did not apply, which, in and of itself, makes the case difficult to read and understand. The court stops its analysis of the Good Samaritan laws and looks at the claims of the defendant as to whether the action of the defendant occurred in an emergency.

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

The defendant truck driver stopped in the road to see if there had been a car accident and to see if the injured driver needed help. The court found the actions of the defendant truck driver fell within the law. Checking to see if someone needed help was covered as providing emergency care.

Based on the plain language of the statute, “emergency care” thus encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment. In addition, the Samaritan Law immunizes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” In the current case, it is undisputed that McGowen stopped his semi to ask Patton if he was okay and if McGowen should contact 911. McGowen was thus seeking to arrange medical treatment, as mentioned in the statute

The plaintiff argued that the Good Samaritan law only applied to the application of first aid to a person, thankfully the court disagreed.

If the General Assembly had intended to specify that “emergency care” meant only medical treatment or first aid, they could have done so. “We cannot add new words to a statute but are bound to apply statutes as the legislature has written them.” Matter of Supervised We conclude from the unambiguous language of the GSL that stopping and asking if a person who has been involved in an accident needs help is “emergency care.”

The plaintiff also argued the actions of the truck driver in stopping to aid where gross, willful and wanton negligence. Gross negligence in Indiana is defined as:

The Indiana Supreme Court has defined gross negligence as “‘[a] conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of . . . the consequences to another party.'” A finding of gross negligence is predicated on a showing of negligence, as it is the intentional failure to perform a duty in reckless disregard of the consequences.

The court found stopping at the scene of an accident in the way that occurred in this case was barely negligence, if that, and not gross negligence.

Willful and wanton conduct in Indiana is:

Turning to willful or wanton conduct, such conduct consists of two elements: “(1) the defendant must have knowledge of an impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury; and (2) the actor’s conduct must have exhibited an indifference to the consequence of his conduct.” “The distinction between constructive willfulness and mere negligence depends on the actor’s state of mind.”

The court in an attempt to point out the futility of the plaintiff’s case stated that driving on a two-lane road in fog at a high rate of speed was closer to willful and wanton conduct than stopping on the road to help someone.

The court then reversed the decision of the trial court and ordered the defendants motion for summary judgment be granted.

So Now What?

Although a very confusing automobile case, this decision has far-reaching effects for the outdoor industry.

  1. Indiana’s Good Samaritan law is to be interpreted broadly to included acts that are more than first aid.
  2. The definitions of gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence are clearly defined.

Having a Good Samaritan law that has a broad definition of what constitutes protection under the law is great. In outdoor recreation cases, many times rescue of the injured puts greater risk on both the injured and the rescuer. Putting your life in danger to save another should not be justification to be sued.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 6, 2020, Decided; August 6, 2020, Filed

Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CT-1707

Reporter

152 N.E.3d 654 *; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335 **; 2020 WL 4516816

Eric McGowen and Vision Logistics, Inc., Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. Bradley Montes, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the Tippecanoe Superior Court. The Honorable Steven P. Meyer, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 79D02-1708-CT-138.

Counsel: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES; William B. Weiler, John A. Masters, Langhenry Gillen Lundquist & Johnson, LLC, Munster, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT: Christopher G. Stevenson, Wilson Kehoe Winningham LLC, Indianapolis, Indiana; Kyle E. Cray, Kisti Good Risse, Bennett Boehning & Clary LLP Lafayette, Indiana; ATTORNEYS FOR AMICUS CURIAE INDIANA TRIAL LAWYERS ASSOCIATION, Brian A. Karle, Sarah M. Wyatt, Ball Eggleston PC, Lafayette, Indiana.

Judges: Friedlander, Senior Judge. May, J., and Tavitas, J., concur.

Opinion by: Friedlander

Opinion

[*656] 
Friedlander, Senior Judge.

P1 Eric McGowen and Bradley Montes were injured in a vehicle accident after McGowen stopped at the scene of a prior vehicle accident and Montes collided with his vehicle. McGowen sued Montes, and Montes sued McGowen and McGowen’s employer, Vision Logistics, Inc.

P2 In this interlocutory appeal, the parties cross-appeal the trial court’s rulings on their cross-motions for summary judgment, in which the court determined that a dispute of material fact remains to be decided at trial. We affirm in part but also reverse [**2]  in part and remand because we conclude there are no disputes of material fact and McGowen and Vision are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

P3 On the morning of November 4, 2016, before the sun had risen, there was heavy fog in rural Tippecanoe County. McGowen was driving a semi-tractor (without a trailer) owned by his employer, Vision, on a two-lane county road. Traffic was sparse, but McGowen drove at thirty-five to forty miles per hour, well below the speed limit of fifty miles per hour, due to poor visibility. As he drove east, McGowen saw a truck in a ditch on the side of the road. The truck was upright and its headlights were on, pointing at McGowen’s semi as he approached. The truck’s roof, windshield, and hood were heavily damaged. McGowen also saw another vehicle stopped in the road near the truck, but that vehicle drove off as McGowen approached. McGowen speculated that there had been a two-car accident, and the other vehicle was leaving the scene.

P4 McGowen saw a man, later identified as Ryan Patton, “kind of wandering around” the truck. Appellee/Cross-Appellant’s App. Vol. II, p. 40. McGowen thought Patton “was drunk at first” or possibly injured. Id.

P5 McGowen stopped [**3]  his semi in the road. He kept his foot on the brake, rather than shifting the semi’s transmission to park. The semi’s rear brake lights activated automatically when the driver pressed on the brake pedal. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of vehicles approaching from behind.

P6 McGowen rolled down the passenger window and asked Patton, “Are you okay?” Id. Patton climbed up to the semi’s passenger-side window and responded, “Yeah.” Id. Next, McGowen asked Patton if he wanted McGowen to call 911. Patton responded, “Yeah, if you don’t mind.” Id.

P7 Rebecca Higgins was traveling westbound on the same road and she saw the headlights of McGowen’s semi, stopped in the road. She pulled past the semi, parked on the side of the road opposite the semi, and activated her hazard lights. She saw Patton’s truck after she had passed the semi. Higgins also saw the semi’s brake lights.

P8 Meanwhile, Montes was also driving east on the same county road. Higgins saw Montes’ car traveling in her direction. She activated her vehicle’s high beams to warn Montes, but he did not slow down. Higgins also rolled down her window, waved her arms, and yelled, but Montes [**4]  still did not slow down. He instead collided with the rear of McGowen’s semi, without braking, immediately after Patton had asked McGowen to call 911. McGowen estimated no more than fifteen to thirty seconds had elapsed from the time he stopped until the time Montes struck the semi. Another vehicle that was also traveling east on the  [*657]  road, behind Montes, saw McGowen’s semi and stopped before hitting Montes’ car.

P9 Both McGowen and Montes suffered injuries from the collision. Montes later recalled seeing the rear of McGowen’s semi prior to the collision, but he was unsure of the distance at which he first saw it.

P10 This case began on August 24, 2017, when McGowen sued Montes, claiming negligence.1 Montes filed an answer, counter-sued McGowen for negligence, and sued Vision as a third-party defendant, alleging McGowen had been working for Vision at the time of the collision.

P11 In January 2019, McGowen and Vision filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to determine that they were immune from Montes’ negligence claims under Indiana Code section 34-30-12-1 (2008), also known as the Good Samaritan Law (“GSL”). Montes responded to the motion and filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, asserting [**5]  the GSL did not apply to McGowen’s conduct.

P12 After a hearing, the trial court issued an order determining: (1) there is no dispute of material fact that McGowen was rendering emergency care, for purposes of the GSL, when he stopped and offered to call 911; but (2) there is a dispute of material fact as to whether McGowen’s act in stopping on the road amounted to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct, for purposes of the GSL. The court granted in part and denied in part McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment, and denied Montes’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment.

P13 Montes, McGowen, and Vision asked the trial court to certify its order for interlocutory review. The court granted the motion. Next, both sides separately asked the Court to accept this appeal. The Court granted the motions, and this appeal followed.

1. Standard of Review

HN1[] P14 Summary judgment orders are reviewed de novo, applying the same standard of review as the trial court. AM General LLC v. Armour, 46 N.E.3d 436 (Ind. 2015). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence designated by the parties demonstrates “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Ind. Trial Rule 56(C).

HN2[] P15 The [**6]  movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000 (Ind. 2014). If the movant bears its burden, then the nonmovant must present contrary evidence showing an issue for the trier of fact. Id. All evidence must be construed in favor of the nonmovant. Mahan v. Am. Standard Ins. Co., 862 N.E.2d 669 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied.

HN3[] P16 Cross-motions for summary judgment do not alter our standard of review. Alexander v. Linkmeyer Dev. II, LLC, 119 N.E.3d 603 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019). Instead, we consider each motion separately to determine whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Mahan, 862 N.E.2d 669.

P17 In addition, this case requires us to review the trial court’s application of the GSL. HN4[] Interpretation of a statute is a question of law reserved for the courts and, as is the case for a summary judgment order, is reviewed under a de novo standard. Ind. State Bd. of Educ. v. Brownsburg Cmty. Sch. Corp., 865 N.E.2d 660 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

 [*658] 
2. The Good Samaritan Law

P18 The GSL provides:

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene [**7]  of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring [**8]  or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1.

P19 The GSL has rarely been addressed by Indiana’s appellate courts. HN5[] The statute’s grant of immunity from civil liability under certain circumstances limits a claimant’s right to bring suit, “in derogation of the common law.” Beckerman v. Gordon, 614 N.E.2d 610, 612 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993), reh’g denied, 618 N.E.2d 56 (1993), trans. denied. We strictly construe such statutes against limitations on the right to sue. Id.

HN6[] P20 When applying a statute to a case, “our first task is to give its words their clear and plain [**9]  meaning, while considering the structure of the statute as a whole.” City of Lawrence Utils. Serv. Bd. v. Curry, 68 N.E.3d 581, 585 (Ind. 2017). If a statute contains clear and unambiguous language, it is not subject to judicial interpretation. Yates v. Kemp, 979 N.E.2d 678 (Ind. 2012).

 [*659] 
3. Cross-Appeal: Emergency Care

P21 We first address Montes’ cross-appeal claim because, if it is meritorious, it would be dispositive of the appeal. He argues the trial court should have granted his motion for partial summary judgment because McGowen was not rendering emergency care for purposes of the GSL when he stopped at the accident scene to ask if Patton was okay and whether he should call 911. Montes argues that the GSL applies only to “persons actively participating in rendering care or assistance,” Appellee/Cross-Appellant’s Br. p. 15, and not to people in McGowen’s situation.2 He further argues the facts demonstrate there was no emergency at the time McGowen stopped his semi.

HN7[] P22 The General Assembly has defined the phrase “gratuitously renders emergency care,” as set forth in the GSL, in relevant part:

[t]he giving of emergency care (including the use of an automatic external defibrillator):

(1) that was volunteered without legal obligation on the part of the person rendering the emergency care; and

(2) for [**10]  which the person rendering the emergency care does not expect remuneration.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-51 (1999). This statute focuses on the element of gratuitousness and does not address what conduct, other than the use of a defibrillator, meets the definition of emergency care.

P23 Similarly, Indiana’s prior cases applying the GSL have not sought to define “emergency care.” In McKinney v. Public Service Company of Indiana, Inc., 597 N.E.2d 1001 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992), trans. denied, a panel of this Court was asked to determine whether a vehicle that was disabled due to a flat tire, where the driver was uninjured, was an “accident” for purposes of the Samaritan Law. The panel determined that those circumstances did not amount to an accident, and the person who stopped to change the flat tire was not immune from civil suit under the GSL. In Beckerman, 614 N.E.2d 610, this Court was similarly asked to determine whether the circumstances of that case amounted to an “accident” for purposes of the GSL. A doctor had been called to a house to treat an ill person, who subsequently died from a heart attack. This Court concluded the victim’s medical condition was not a “sudden calamitous event,” and the GSL did not provide immunity from suit. Id. at 613.

P24 The parties cite several cases from other jurisdictions in support of their claims. Those [**11]  cases are not particularly helpful here because other states’ Good Samaritan laws are drafted differently from Indiana’s, and the courts applying those statutes have reached differing results. See, e.g., McDowell v. Gillie, 2001 ND 91, 626 N.W.2d 666, 675 (N.D. Sup. Ct. 2001) (stopping at an accident to ask if assistance is needed can constitute rendering “aid” for North Dakota’s GSL); Howell v. City Towing Assoc., Inc., 717 S.W.2d 729, 731 (Tex. Ct. App. 1986) (tow truck driver calling his dispatcher after passenger suffered medical emergency did not amount to “emergency care” as defined by Texas’ GSL), writ refused.

P25 In the absence of a statutory definition or prior caselaw, we define “emergency care” in accordance with our principles of statutory application. HN8[] Subsection (b)(2) of the GSL distinguishes between medical treatment and other forms  [*660]  of emergency assistance, providing immunity for persons who “provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1(b)(2) (emphasis added). Based on the plain language of the statute, “emergency care” thus encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment. In addition, the Samaritan Law immunizes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” Id. In the current case, it is undisputed that McGowen stopped his semi to ask Patton if he [**12]  was okay and if McGowen should contact 911. McGowen was thus seeking to arrange medical treatment, as mentioned in the statute.

P26 Montes and amicus curiae argue that, reading the GSL in its entirety, the statute encompasses only medical care or first aid. We disagree. Subsections (c), (d), and (e) of the GSL address the use of a defibrillator to provide medical assistance. The General Assembly clearly knew how to specify medical care, including specific medical treatments, in the GSL. If the General Assembly had intended to specify that “emergency care” meant only medical treatment or first aid, they could have done so. HN9[] “We cannot add new words to a statute but are bound to apply statutes as the legislature has written them.” Matter of Supervised Estate of Kent, 99 N.E.3d 634, 639 (Ind. 2018). HN10[] We conclude from the unambiguous language of the GSL that stopping and asking if a person who has been involved in an accident needs help is “emergency care.”

P27 Next, Montes argues the scene of the vehicle collision did not qualify as an “objective emergency.” Appellee/Cross-Appellant’s Br. p. 13. HN11[] The Beckerman court defined an “accident” as a “sudden calamitous event.” Beckerman, 614 N.E.2d at 613. In this case, McGowen arrived on the scene of an automobile accident, possibly a two-car collision. Further, [**13]  Patton was wandering around the truck, giving McGowen the impression that he was injured or drunk. This is ample, undisputed evidence of a sudden event, with a potentially injured person, that qualified as an emergency for purposes of the GSL. The trial court did not err in denying Montes’ motion for partial summary judgment.

4. Gross Negligence and Willful and Wanton Misconduct

HN12[] P28 The GSL provides that a person is not shielded from civil liability if the person’s acts or omissions while providing emergency care amounted to “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1. The trial court determined there was a dispute of material fact as to whether McGowen’s conduct was grossly negligent or willful or wanton. McGowen and Vision argue that the undisputed facts establish that his acts did not meet either standard, and they conclude the trial court should have granted their motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

P29 The General Assembly has frequently used the phrases “gross negligence” and “willful or wanton misconduct” in statutes granting immunity from civil damages. See, e.g., Ind. Code § 21-44.5-2-6 (2019) (administration of auto-injectable epinephrine); Ind. Code § 31-33-6-2 (2018) (reporting child abuse or neglect); [**14] 
Ind. Code § 10-17-13.5-7 (2018) (physicians’ administration of hyperbaric oxygen treatments to veterans). We have not found a statutory definition of those terms for purposes of the GSL, and the parties have not directed us to any.

HN13[] P30 The Indiana Supreme Court has defined gross negligence as “‘[a] conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of . . . the consequences to another party.'” N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v.  [*661]  Sharp, 790 N.E.2d 462, 465 (Ind. 2003) (quoting BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 1057 (7th ed. 1999)). A finding of gross negligence is predicated on a showing of negligence, as it is the intentional failure to perform a duty in reckless disregard of the consequences. York v. Fredrick, 947 N.E.2d 969 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), trans. denied.

P31 In Miller v. Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 878 N.E.2d 346 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), Miller was driving his employer’s truck when he stopped at a stop sign. Upon driving into the intersection, he collided with a vehicle approaching from his right side. Miller’s employer terminated him after the collision, citing a provision of a labor agreement that permitted instant termination for “gross negligence.” Id. at 350.

P32 Miller sought unemployment benefits, and he appealed the denial of his request. HN14[] A panel of this Court applied the definition of gross negligence set forth above, noting “the question of whether an act or omission constitutes gross negligence is generally [**15]  a question of fact, [but] the question may become one of law if ‘the facts are undisputed and only a single inference can be drawn from those facts.'” Id. at 356 (quoting Sharp, 790 N.E.2d at 466). The Court concluded that Miller’s failure to use due care when entering the intersection after stopping at the stop sign was “negligent, but not grossly negligent.” Id. at 357.

P33 In this case, the undisputed facts establish that McGowen was driving at only thirty-five to forty miles per hour when he stopped his semi in the road at the scene of an accident. McGowen did not put his semi in park but merely pressed on the brake, activating his rear brake lights. He was unaware of any vehicles behind him. McGowen asked Patton if he was okay and whether he should call 911, immediately before Montes collided with the rear of the semi. McGowen stated, without contradiction, that only fifteen to thirty seconds elapsed between him stopping his semi and being rear-ended by Montes. These circumstances resemble at worst the mere negligence at issue in Miller, rather than the reckless disregard for others that characterizes gross negligence.

P34 Montes claims there are several material disputes of fact that justify the trial court’s partial denial [**16]  of McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of gross negligence. We disagree. He points to evidence that McGowen could have pulled off the road, contradicting Montes’ statement during a deposition that there was no space for his semi along the side of the road. This fact is immaterial due to the short duration of the stop prior to the collision and McGowen’s choice to not put the semi in park, allowing him to move on quickly if needed.

P35 There is also a dispute as to whether McGowen activated his vehicle’s hazard lights after stopping, in the brief interval before Montes collided with him. This factual dispute is also immaterial because it is undisputed that McGowen’s brake lights activated when he stopped, and: (1) the brake lights override the hazard lights, and (2) the brake lights are as bright as the hazard lights.

P36 Finally, Montes claims McGowen violated numerous traffic regulations and commercial driver standards when he stopped in the road. HN15[] Even if McGowen’s acts were contrary to statutes, “violation of a statutory duty creates a presumption of negligence that may be rebutted.” Sandberg Trucking, Inc. v. Johnson, 76 N.E.3d 178, 188-89 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017). A presumption of negligence is dissimilar to a presumption of gross negligence. [**17]  We conclude that there is no dispute  [*662]  of material fact as to whether McGowen was grossly negligent.

HN16[] P37 Turning to willful or wanton conduct, such conduct consists of two elements: “(1) the defendant must have knowledge of an impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury; and (2) the actor’s conduct must have exhibited an indifference to the consequence of his conduct.” Witham v. Norfolk and Western Ry. Co., 561 N.E.2d 484, 486 (Ind. 1990). “The distinction between constructive willfulness and mere negligence depends on the actor’s state of mind.” McKeown v. Calusa, 172 Ind. App. 1, 6-7, 359 N.E.2d 550, 554 (1977).

P38 In Frybarger v. Coffelt, 180 Ind. App. 160, 387 N.E.2d 104 (1979), a passenger in Coffelt’s car died when Coffelt chose to race another driver on a two-lane highway at night and collided with a third car attempting to turn left across the highway. On appeal, the passenger’s estate argued that the trial court erred in determining Coffelt’s conduct did not meet the definition of willful or wanton misconduct. A panel of this Court concluded that, although Coffelt was racing at night at a high rate of speed, a dip in the road made it impossible for him to see the car in time to avoid striking it, and there was no evidence of any other reckless behavior by Coffelt. The Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that [**18]  Coffelt had not behaved willfully and wantonly.

P39 In the current case, the standard of review is different, but McGowen’s conduct is far less reckless than Coffelt’s. On a dark, foggy morning, McGowen drove on a two-lane county road at thirty-five to forty miles per hour due to poor visibility. He came to a stop when he saw Patton and the wrecked truck along the side of the road, pressing on the brake rather than shifting into park. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of approaching vehicles. He barely had time to ask Patton if he was okay and whether he should call 911 when Montes collided with the back of the semi. During McGowen’s deposition, when asked if he was concerned that stopping on the road may have been hazardous, he stated, “I was more concerned about [Patton]. I thought it was a two-car accident.” Appellants’/Cross-Appellees’ App. Vol. II, p. 104. There is no evidence that McGowen was indifferent to the results of his conduct. Rather, the undisputed facts demonstrate McGowen was aware of dangerous road conditions and attempted to drive carefully while rendering aid to Patton. As a matter of law, McGowen’s conduct did not [**19]  meet the standard of willful or wanton misconduct. The trial court erred in denying in part McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment, because they are entitled to the protection of the Good Samaritan Law.

P40 For the reasons stated above, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions to grant McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment.

P41 Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded with instructions.

May, J., and Tavitas, J., concur.


Indiana Good Samaritan Laws

Indiana Good Samaritan Laws

Contents

§ 9-26-1-1.5. Duties of passenger of vehicle involved in accident resulting in injury or entrapment; violation    2

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services    3

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services    4

§ 16-31-6-2. Use of defibrillators    4

§ 16-31-6-2.5. Use of overdose intervention drugs; civil immunity    4

§ 16-31-6-3. Advanced life support; liability    5

§ 16-31-6-4. Life support provided in connection with disaster emergency    6

§ 16-31-6.5-2. Exemptions This chapter does not apply to the following:    6

§ 16-31-6.5-3. “Defibrillator” defined    6

§ 16-31-6.5-4. Duties of person or entity acquiring defibrillator    7

§ 16-31-6.5-5. Notice of acquisition and location of defibrillator    7

§ 16-31-6.5-6. Contact with ambulance service provider following use of defibrillator    7

§ 16-31-9-4. Civil UabiUty    7

§ 34-30-4-2. Volunteer or volunteer director; immunity    8

§ 34-30-4-3. Liability of organizations or entity    8

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity    8

§ 34-30-12-2. Gratuitously rendered cardiopulmonary resuscitation; immunity    9

§ 34-30-13-1. Voluntary health care; immunity for providing    10

§ 34-30-13-1.5. Immunity for providing medical direction concerning emergency medical services    10

§ 34-30-13-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct    10

§ 34-30-13.5-1. Immunity    11

§ 34-30-13.5-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct    12

§ 34-30-13.5-3. Immunity of facility    12

§ 34-30-13.5-4.    13

§ 34-30-18-1. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; vicarious civil liability    13

§ 34-30-18-2. Liability of volunteers    14

§ 34-30-18-3. Liability of contributors    14

§ 34-30-19-1. Intentional, wanton, or reckless behavior    14

§ 34-30-19-2. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; licensed individuals; vicarious civil liability    14

§ 34-30-19-3. Liability of volunteers    14

§ 34-30-19-4. Liability of governmental entities, employees, and agents    15

§ 34-30-29-1. Immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle    15

§ 34-30-29-2. Conditions necessary for immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle    15

§ 36-8-23-3. Good Samaritan statute applies to fast responders    16

Title 9. MOTOR VEHICLES Article 26. ACCIDENTS AND ACCIDENT REPORTS Chapter 1. DUTIES OF DRIVERS, OWNERS, AND PASSENGERS AND ACCIDENT REPORTS

§ 9-26-1-1.5. Duties of passenger of vehicle involved in accident resulting in injury or entrapment; violation

(a) If:

(1) the operator of a motor vehicle is physically incapable of determining the need for or rendering assistance to any injured or entrapped person as required under section 1.1(a)(3) of this chapter;

(2) there is another occupant in the motor vehicle at the time of the accident who is:

(A) at least:

(I) fifteen (15) years of age and holds a learner’s permit issued under IC 9-24-7-1 or a driver’s license issued under IC 9-24-11; or

(ii) eighteen (18) years of age; and

(B) capable of determining the need for and rendering reasonable assistance to injured or entrapped persons as provided in section 1.1(a)(3) of this chapter; and

(3) the other occupant in the motor vehicle knows that the operator of the motor vehicle is physically incapable of determining the need for or rendering assistance to any injured or entrapped person; the motor vehicle occupant referred to in subdivisions (2) and (3) shall immediately determine the need for and render reasonable assistance to each person injured or entrapped in the accident as provided in section 1.1(a)(3) of this chapter.

(b) If there is more than one (1) motor vehicle occupant to whom subsection (a) applies, it is a defense to a prosecution of one

(1) motor vehicle occupant under subsection

(a) that the defendant reasonably believed that another occupant of the motor vehicle determined the need for and rendered reasonable assistance as required under subsection (a).

(c) A person who knowingly or intentionally violates this section commits a Class C misdemeanor.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 9-26-1-1.5 History.

Amended by P.L. 188-2015, SEC. 100, eff. 7/1/2015.

Amended by P.L. 217-2014, SEC. 105, eff. 1/1/2015.

Amended by P.L. 125-2012, SEC. 293, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 126-2008, SEC.4.

Chapter 6. Immunity From Liability

Article 31. Emergency Medical Services

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services

(a)    A certified emergency medical responder, a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services to an emergency patient is not liable for an act or omission in providing those services unless the act or omission constitutes gross negligence or willful misconduct. If the certified emergency medical services provider is not liable for an act or omission, no other person incurs liability by reason of an agency relationship with the certified emergency medical services provider.

(b)    This section does not affect the liability of a driver of an ambulance for negligent operation of the ambulance.

(c)    Except as provided in subsections (a) and (b), a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services is not liable for transporting any person to an appropriate health care facility when the certified emergency medical technician, the certified advanced emergency medical technician, or the licensed paramedic makes a good faith judgment that the emergency patient or the emergency patient’s primary caregiver lacks the capacity to make an informed decision about the patient’s:

(1)    safety; or

(2)    need for medical attention; and the emergency patient is reasonably likely to suffer disability or death without the medical intervention available at the facility.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-1

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 2, eff. 7/1/2021.

Amended by P.L. 113-2020, SEC. 2, eff. 7/1/2020.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 46, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14. Amended by P.L. 205-2003, SEC.33.

Note: This section is set out more than once. See also IC 16-31-6-1, effective until 7/1/2021.

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services

(a) A certified emergency medical responder, a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services to an emergency patient is not liable for an act or omission in providing those services unless the act or omission constitutes gross negligence or willful misconduct. If the certified emergency medical services provider is not liable for an act or omission, no other person incurs liability by reason of an agency relationship with the certified emergency medical services provider.

(b) This section does not affect the liability of a driver of an ambulance for negligent operation of the ambulance.

(c) Except as provided in subsections (a) and (b), a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services is not liable for transporting any person to an appropriate health care facility when the certified emergency medical technician, the certified advanced emergency medical technician, or the licensed paramedic makes a good faith judgment that the emergency patient or the emergency patient’s primary caregiver lacks the capacity to make an informed decision about the patient’s:

(1) safety; or

(2) need for medical attention; and the emergency patient is reasonably likely to suffer disability or death without the medical intervention available at the facility.

§ 16-31-6-2. Use of defibrillators

(a)    Except for an act of gross negligence or willful misconduct, a certified emergency medical responder who uses an automatic or semiautomatic defibrillator on an emergency patient according to the training procedures established by the commission under IC 16-31-2-9 is immune from civil liability for acts or omissions when rendering those services.

(b)    If the emergency medical responder is immune from civil liability for the emergency medical responder’s act or omission, a person who has only an agency relationship with the emergency medical responder is also immune from civil liability for the act or omission.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-2

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 3, eff. 7/1/2021.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 47, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14.

Note: This section is set out more than once. See also IC 16-31-6-2, effective until 7/1/2021.

§ 16-31-6-2.5. Use of overdose intervention drugs; civil immunity

(a)    Except for an act of gross negligence or willful misconduct, an advanced emergency medical technician, a community corrections officer, an emergency medical responder, an emergency medical technician, a firefighter or volunteer firefighter, a law enforcement officer, a paramedic, or a probation officer who administers an overdose intervention drug according to standards established by:

(1)    the department or agency that oversees the individual’s employment in providing emergency medical services; or

(2)    the commission under IC 16-31-2-9 ;

to an individual suffering from an overdose is immune from civil liability for acts or omissions when administering the drug.

(b)    If:

(1)    an advanced emergency medical technician;

(2)    a community corrections officer;

(3)    an emergency medical responder;

(4)    an emergency medical technician;

(5)    a firefighter or volunteer firefighter;

(6)    a law enforcement officer;

(7)    a paramedic; or

(8)    a probation officer;

is immune from civil liability for the individual’s act or omission when administering an overdose intervention drug, a person who has only an agency relationship with the advanced emergency medical technician, community corrections officer, emergency medical responder, emergency medical technician, firefighter or volunteer firefighter, law enforcement officer, paramedic, or probation officer is also immune from civil liability for the act or omission.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-2.5

History. Amended by P.L. 4-2018, SEC. 3, eff. 7/1/2018.

Amended by P.L. 32-2015, SEC. 6, eff. 4/17/2015.

Added by P.L. 156-2014, SEC. 9, eff. 3/26/2014.

§ 16-31-6-3. Advanced life support; liability

An act or omission of a paramedic or an advanced emergency medical technician done or omitted in good faith while providing advanced life support to a patient or trauma victim does not impose liability upon the paramedic or advanced emergency medical technician, the authorizing physician, the hospital, or the officers, members of the staff, nurses, or other employees of the hospital or the local governmental unit if the advanced life support is provided:

(1)    in connection with an emergency;

(2)    in good faith; and

(3)    under the written or oral direction of a licensed physician; unless the act or omission was a result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-3

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 4, eff. 7/1/2021.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 48, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14. Amended by P.L. 205-2003, SEC.34.

Note: This section is set out more than once. See also IC 16-31-6-3, effective until 7/1/2021.

§ 16-31-6-4. Life support provided in connection with disaster emergency

(a) This section does not apply to an act or omission that was a result of gross negligence or willful or intentional misconduct.

(b) An act or omission of a paramedic, an advanced emergency medical technician, an emergency medical technician, or a person with equivalent certification or licensure from another state that is performed or made while providing advanced life support or basic life support to a patient or trauma victim does not impose liability upon the paramedic, the advanced emergency medical technician, an emergency medical technician, the person with equivalent certification or licensure from another state, a hospital, a provider organization, a governmental entity, or an employee or other staff of a hospital, provider organization, or governmental entity if the advanced life support or basic life support is provided in good faith:

(1) in connection with a disaster emergency declared by the governor under IC 10-14-3-12 in response to an act that the governor in good faith believes to be an act of terrorism (as defined in IC 35-31.5-2-329 ); and

(2) in accordance with the rules adopted by the Indiana emergency medical services commission or the disaster emergency declaration of the governor.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-4 History. Amended by P.L. 114-2012, SEC. 40, eff. 7/1/2012.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 49, eff. 7/1/2012. As added by P.L. 156-2001, SEC.3.

Amended by P.L. 2-2003, SEC.53; P.L. 205-2003, SEC.35; P.L. 97-2004, SEC.64.

§ 16-31-6.5-2. Exemptions This chapter does not apply to the following:

(1) A licensed physician.

(2) A hospital, an ambulatory outpatient surgical center, an abortion clinic, or a birthing center.

(3) A person providing health care in a hospital, an ambulatory outpatient surgical center, an abortion clinic, or a birthing center licensed under IC 16-21.

(4) A person or entity certified under IC 16-31-3.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-2

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

Amended by P.L. 96-2005, SEC.12.

§ 16-31-6.5-3. “Defibrillator” defined

As used in this chapter, “defibrillator” means an automatic external defibrillator.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-3

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

§ 16-31-6.5-4. Duties of person or entity acquiring defibrillator

A person or entity acquiring a defibrillator shall ensure that the defibrillator is maintained and tested according to the manufacturer’s operational guidelines.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-4

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1. Amended by P.L. 74-2006, SEC.4.

§ 16-31-6.5-5. Notice of acquisition and location of defibrillator

A person or entity in possession of a defibrillator shall notify the:

(1)    ambulance service provider that serves the area where the person or entity is located; or

(2)    emergency medical services commission;

of the acquisition and location of the defibrillator.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-5

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

§ 16-31-6.5-6. Contact with ambulance service provider following use of defibrillator

A person who uses a defibrillator is required to contact:

(1)    the ambulance service provider; or

(2)    a fire department that provides ambulance service;

for the area as soon as practicable following the use of the defibrillator.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-6

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

Article 31. EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES

Chapter 9. EMERGENCY CHOKE SAVING METHODS

§ 16-31-9-4. Civil UabiUty

(a)    A person is not obligated to remove, assist in removing, or attempt to remove food from another person’s throat. A person who in good faith gratuitously removes, assists in removing, or attempts to remove food from another person’s throat in an emergency occurring at a food service establishment is not liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by the person providing the emergency assistance unless the act or omission amounts to willful or wanton misconduct.

(b)    The owner or operator of a food service establishment is not liable for any civil damages that result from an act or omission by a person rendering or attempting the emergency assistance if there is an approved placard posted in the food service establishment.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-9-4

History. As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14.

Chapter 4. CHARITIES: IMMUNITY OF CERTAIN VOLUNTEER DIRECTORS

§ 34-30-4-2. Volunteer or volunteer director; immunity

(a)    This section does not apply to a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14).

(b)    An individual who:

(1)    serves as a volunteer or volunteer director of:

(A)    a nonprofit corporation operating under IC 12-29-3-6;

(B)    an agency providing services under IC 12-12-3; or

(C)    a nonprofit organization that is exempt from federal taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; and

(2)    exercises reasonable care in the performance of the individual’s duties as a volunteer or a volunteer director of an entity described in subdivision (1);

is immune from civil liability arising out of the performance of those duties.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-4-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26. Amended by P.L. 38-2005, SEC.1.

§ 34-30-4-3. Liability of organizations or entity

This chapter does not affect the civil liability of the entity a qualified director serves.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-4-3

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

Chapter 12. HEALTH CARE: IMMUNITY OF PERSONS RENDERING EMERGENCY FIRST AID

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-12-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26. Amended by P.L. 1-1999, SEC.73; P.L. 84-2003, SEC.1 and P.L. 91-2003, SEC.1; P.L. 74-2006, SEC.5; P.L. 126-2008, SEC.11.

Chapter 12. HEALTH CARE: IMMUNITY OF PERSONS RENDERING EMERGENCY FIRST AID

§ 34-30-12-2. Gratuitously rendered cardiopulmonary resuscitation; immunity

(a)    This section applies to a person who has successfully completed a course of training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation according to the standards recommended by the Division of Medical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council.

(b)    This section does not apply to acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c)    An act or omission of the person while attempting to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, without pecuniary charge, to any person who is an apparent victim of acute cardiopulmonary insufficiency shall not impose any liability upon the person attempting the resuscitation.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-12-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

Chapter 13. HEALTH CARE: IMMUNITY OF PERSONS PROVIDING VOLUNTARY HEALTH CARE

§ 34-30-13-1. Voluntary health care; immunity for providing

Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, a person who meets the following criteria is immune from civil liability resulting from any act or omission relating to the provision of health care services:

(1)    Has licensure to provide health care services under Indiana law.

(2)    Voluntarily provides without compensation health care services under IC 36-1-14.2 within the scope of the person’s license to another person.

(3)    Provides the health care services at any medical clinic or health care facility that provides health care services without charge and that:

(A)    purchases professional liability insurance under IC 36-1-14.2; or

(B)    is covered under 42 U.S.C. 233.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26. Amended by P.L. 116-2005, SEC.3.

§ 34-30-13-1.5. Immunity for providing medical direction concerning emergency medical services

Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, a physician licensed under IC 25-22.5 is immune from civil liability resulting from an act or omission related to the provision of medical direction concerning emergency medical services (as defined in IC 16-18-2-110) within the scope of the physician’s license, if the physician provides medical direction concerning emergency medical services:

(1)    to a person who is certified under IC 16-31 to provide the emergency medical services; and

(2)    without compensation.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13-1.5

History. As added by P.L. 101-2006, SEC.37.

§ 34-30-13-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct

A person who provides health care services as described in this chapter is not immune from civil liability if the damages resulting from the provision of the health care services resulted from the person’s gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13-2

History. Amended by P.L. 161-2015, SEC. 5, eff. 7/1/2015.

As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-13.5-1. Immunity

(a)    This subsection does not apply during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, a person who meets the following criteria may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision of health care services in response to an event that is declared a disaster emergency under IC 10-14-3-12, regardless of whether the provision of health care services occurred before or after the declaration of a disaster emergency:

(1)    Has a license to provide health care services under Indiana law or the law of another state.

(2)    Provides a health care service:

(A)    within the scope of the person’s license to another person; and

(B)    at a location where health care services are provided during an event that is declared as a disaster.

(b)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, the following apply to the provision of health care services arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19:

(1)    A person providing health care services or emergency medical services, whether in person or through telemedicine services permitted by IC 25-1-9.5, at a facility or other location where health care services or emergency medical services are provided may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision or delay of health care services or emergency medical services arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19.

(2)    An employer, including an agency that provides or arranges health care services or emergency medical services, of a person described in subdivision (1) may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision or delay of health care services or emergency medical services arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19.

(c)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. The following do not constitute gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, fraud, or intentional misrepresentation under this chapter if arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19:

(1)    Providing services without required personal protective equipment caused by:

(A)    a shortage; or

(B)    an inability to timely acquire personal protective equipment;

in response to or arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19.

(2)    Providing services without access to adequate or reliable testing for COVID-19, even if the COVID-19 testing that was used received emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

(3)    Using equipment, medicine, or supplies to treat or help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in a manner that is not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

(4)    Providing services that are outside of an individual’s expertise or specialty but within the individual’s scope of practice under IC 16 or IC 25.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-1

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 16, eff. 3/1/2020.

As added by P.L. 138-2006, SEC.13.

§ 34-30-13.5-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct

A person described in this chapter is not immune from civil liability if the damages resulting from the act or omission relating to the provision or delay of the health care services resulted from the person’s gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, fraud, or intentional misrepresentation.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-2

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 17, eff. 3/1/2020.

As added by P.L. 138-2006, SEC.13.

§ 34-30-13.5-3. Immunity of facility

(a)    This subsection does not apply during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. A facility or other location that is providing health care services in response to an event that is declared as a disaster emergency may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision of health care services in response to that event by a health professional licensed to provide the health care service under Indiana law or the law of another state if the person is acting during an event that is declared as a disaster emergency, regardless of whether the provision of health care services occurred before or after the declaration of a disaster emergency.

(b)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. A facility or other location, including a location used to provide emergency medical services or used to provide telemedicine services permitted under IC 25-1-9.5, that provides health care services or emergency medical services in response to or arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19 may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision of health care services with respect to which an individual providing health care services, a provider, an agent, or an employee are not liable under this chapter.

(c)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. An individual or an entity that:

(1)    has a financial interest in;

(2)    serves on the board of directors of; or

(3)    provides management or administrative services for;

a facility or other location that provides health care services or emergency medical services in response to or arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19 may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission described in subsection (b).

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-3

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 18, eff. 3/1/2020.

As added by P.L. 138-2006, SEC.13.

§ 34-30-13.5-4.

This section applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. If a claim described in this chapter is:

(1)    a claim for injury or death resulting from medical malpractice; and

(2)    not barred by the immunity provided under this chapter; the claimant is required to comply with all of the provisions of IC 34-18 (medical malpractice act).

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-4

History. Added by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 19, eff. 3/1/2020.

Chapter 18. Sports: Immunity of Persons Involved in the Special Olympics

§ 34-30-18-1. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; vicarious civil liability

(a)    This chapter does not grant immunity from civil damages that are proximately caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

(b)    This chapter does not affect the vicarious civil liability of the entity that the individual serves.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-18-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-18-2. Liability of volunteers

An individual who, without compensation, contributes personal time to the Special Olympics is not liable for civil damages as a result of a negligent act or omission of the individual arising from that contribution.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-18-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-18-3. Liability of contributors

A person who contributes only money to the Special Olympics is not liable for civil damages as a consequence of a negligent act or omission of an individual described in section 2 of this chapter solely because of that contribution.

Cite
as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-18-3

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-1. Intentional, wanton, or reckless behavior

This chapter does not grant immunity from civil liability to a person who engaged in intentional, willful, wanton, or reckless behavior.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-2. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; licensed individuals; vicarious civil liability

(a)    This chapter does not grant immunity from civil damages that are proximately caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

(b)    This chapter does not apply to an individual who is registered, certified, or licensed under IC 25.

(c)    This chapter does not affect the vicarious civil liability of the entity the individual serves.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-3. Liability of volunteers

A volunteer is not liable for civil damages that are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission in the personal services provided by:

(1)    the volunteer; or

(2)    another person selected, trained, supervised, or otherwise under the control of the volunteer;    in the course of a sports or leisure activity.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-3

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-4. Liability of governmental entities, employees, and agents

A governmental entity and the employees and agents of a governmental entity are not liable for civil damages that are proximately caused by:

(1)    the negligent selection, training, or supervision of a volunteer providing personal services in the course of a sports or leisure activity; or

(2)    a negligent act or omission in the personal services provided by:

(A)    the volunteer; or

(B)    another person selected, trained, supervised, or otherwise under the control of the volunteer;

in the course of a sports or leisure activity.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-4

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-29-1. Immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle

(a)    A person whose conduct conforms to subsection (b) is immune from civil liability for any damage resulting from the forcible entry of a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a child from the motor vehicle.

(b)    Subsection (a) applies to a person if the person:

(1)    determines that a motor vehicle is locked or that there is no other reasonable method for a child to exit the motor vehicle;

(2)    has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the motor vehicle is necessary because a child is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed and, based on the circumstances known to the person at the time, the belief is reasonable;

(3)    contacts a local law enforcement agency, fire department, or 911 dispatcher before forcibly entering the motor vehicle, if practicable, or as soon as possible thereafter;

(4)    uses no more force than necessary to enter the motor vehicle and remove the child; and

(5)    remains with the child in a safe location near the entered motor vehicle until a law enforcement officer arrives.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-29-1

History. Added by P.L. 132-2015, SEC. 3, eff. 7/1/2015.

§ 34-30-29-2. Conditions necessary for immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle

Section 1 of this chapter does not grant immunity from civil liability to a person who:

(1)    renders aid to a child beyond what is authorized in section 1 of this chapter; or

(2)    exercises gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-29-2

Article 8. PUBLIC SAFETY

Chapter 23. COMMUNITY FAST RESPONDERS

§ 36-8-23-3. Good Samaritan statute applies to fast responders

IC 34-30-12-1 (the good Samaritan statute) applies to a community fast responder.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 36-8-23-3

History. Added by P.L. 70-2012, SEC. 2, eff. 7/1/2012.


Inherent Risk is the part of any sport and is assumed by participants when undertaking the activity.

A ski trunk just beneath the surface of fresh snow is an inherent risk of skiing in Wyoming.

Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

State: Wyoming, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Thomas A. Standish, IV; Meghan Keiter

Defendant: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Loss of Consortium

Defendant Defenses: Inherent Risk as identified under the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act

Holding: For the Defendant Ski Area

Year: 2021

Summary

While skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (“Jackson Hole”) to recover for his injuries.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precludes liability. We agree with that conclusion. Thus, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

Facts

In January 2017, California residents Thomas Standish and his then-fiancée, Megan Keiter, traveled to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as part of a “bucket list” ski trip. From January 8 through 10-the three days prior to Standish’s arrival-Jackson Hole had received about 27 inches of new snow, and on the morning of January 11, Jackson Hole received an additional 18 inches of snow. Over these four days, the mid-mountain depth of the snow increased from 56 to 80 inches.

On January 11, the couple purchased ski passes for Jackson Hole. The backs of these “J Cards” bear language indicating that the pass-holder “acknowledges that participation in any and all winter recreation activities at [Jackson Hole], including . . . skiing . . . involves SUBSTANTIAL AND INHERENT RISKS, HAZARDS, AND DANGERS THAT MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH or damages to property.” Aplt. App. 41. The couple first skied a few groomed runs. They then ventured down an off-piste run near the Thunder Chairlift line, with Standish-the more experienced skier-leading the way. “Off-piste” is a term for a ski run or area that is ungroomed and left in its natural state. See Roberts v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 884 F.3d 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2018). About halfway down the mountain, Standish’s right ski hit the top of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree stump that was covered with about two inches of fresh snow. His ski came off on impact, and he broke multiple bones in his right leg.

Standish underwent surgery, receiving fourteen screws, two metal plates, and a bone graft. After returning to California a few days later, Standish suffered a pulmonary embolism, a common complication resulting from serious fractures. This required anti-coagulation injections in his abdomen for several months. Because of Standish’s long recovery, he and Keiter pushed their wedding back from June to September 2017. They also sold their business because Standish was unable to work during his recovery.

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

This is a simple case that explains the issues between the two major types of risk as identified under the law, inherent and non-inherent risks. The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act defines for Wyoming what is an inherent risk.

“Inherent risk” with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity;

An inherent risk is a risk that if removed from the activity, would change the activity such that it would not be the same. Or looking at inherent risks another way, remove the inherent risks and the sport would not really exist.

Hitting things under the snow, no matter how they look when the snow is gone, is an inherent risk of skiing.

When a statute defines the inherent risks of an activity, the judge is able to determine in advance if the defendant owes a duty to the injured plaintiff. If the inherent risks are not defined by statute, then a jury decides whether the risk incurred by the plaintiff was inherent, unless the risk is obviously inherent.

Most states that have specific statutes covering outdoor recreation activities do so by listing the risks of the activity and by law makes those inherent so an injured party cannot sue for their injuries. As an example, the Colorado Skier Safety Act has a long list of what is an inherent risk of skiing in Colorado.

(3.5) “Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities. The term “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” does not include the negligence of a ski area operator as set forth in section 33-44-104 (2). Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of the ski area operator for injury caused by the use or operation of ski lifts.

Obviously, since jumps, machine made snow, extreme terrain, lift towers, signs, posts, fences, hydrants, etc. are natural and only on the slope because of the acts of man, those risks are not naturally, inherent. However, since the act defines them as inherent, they now are and cannot be used by an injured plaintiff to make a claim.

The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act covers a multitude of sports, not just skiing and does not list the risks that are inherent. Consequently, the act does not do anything to provide any greater protection than existed in the common law. Therefore, each judge or jury makes the determination if the risk complained of by the plaintiff was inherent in the sport.

Under Wyoming law and the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act removes any duty, the first element to prove negligence, of the defendant to the plaintiff if the risk is inherent.

In other words, because the WRSA provides that a participant has assumed certain risks that are inherent to the activity, the recreational provider typically owes no duty for inherent risks of an activity. In sum, a recreational “provider has no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of an activity, and any person who chooses to take part in a sport or recreational opportunity assumes all inherent risks [that] are associated with that opportunity.”

Under the WRSA, a reasonableness standard is applied to determine if the risk complained of is inherent.

I]f reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether or not a given set of factual circumstances involve an ‘inherent risk’ of skiing (in this particular instance, we are concerned with skiing, or fill in the blank as the case might be), then the protections of the [W]RSA apply, and the litigation of that controversy must come to an end.

Applying that reasonableness standard, the courts looked at the uncontested facts.

Here, the operative facts are undisputed. The mountain had received 45 inches of fresh snow in the four days prior to the accident. The accident took place in an off-piste-and therefore ungroomed-area. Standish’s injury was caused by a collision with the top of the stump, which was lightly covered with the fresh snow and thus not visible to Standish. The stump had been cut to a height of six-and-a-half feet at some point in the past to mitigate some problem.

The court found that the stump was an inherent risk of skiing “…we conclude that encountering a snow-covered stump in an ungroomed area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing.”

A key component of this analysis was the run was off-piste and ungroomed. If the stump was located on a groomed run, the review and conclusion would have been different. The conclusion would have also been different if an employee of the defendant had told the plaintiff’s that the run was safe or free from hazards.

The court concluded:

Standish’s accident was the result of an unfortunate confluence of a stump, an ungroomed run, and the spectacular snow levels of the previous days. The combination of these factors is an inherent risk of skiing, a sport as thrilling as it can be risky. And the WRSA reflects this by limiting the duty owed by an entity offering access to such a sport. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jackson Hole on the basis of the WRSA.

So Now What?

The great thing about this article is the courts clear expression of what constitutes an inherent risk. If the risk is inherent, you cannot sue the defendant because you automatically assume those risks when you engage in the sport.

The second is the risk might not have been inherent if the run was not off-piste. The risk would definitely not have been inherent if the plaintiff had been told by an employee of the defendant that there were no risks.

This second issue is, the cause of many lawsuits when the statements of the employee changes or removes any risk management issues the defendant has in place. Marketing makes promises Risk Management has to pay for.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

Thomas A. Standish, IV; Meghan Keiter, Plaintiffs – Appellants,

v.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, Defendant-Appellees.

No. 20-8045

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 14, 2021

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WYOMING (D.C. NO. 1:19-cv-00004-KHR)

Gary L. Shockey, Gary Shockey Law, Casper, Wyoming, for Appellants.

James K. Lubing (Nathan D. Rectanus with him on the brief), Lubing Law Group, Jackson, Wyoming, for Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, KELLY, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

While skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (“Jackson Hole”) to recover for his injuries.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precludes liability. We agree with that conclusion. Thus, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

I. Background

In January 2017, California residents Thomas Standish and his then-fiancee, Megan Keiter, traveled to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as part of a “bucket list” ski trip. From January 8 through 10-the three days prior to Standish’s arrival-Jackson Hole had received about 27 inches of new snow, and on the morning of January 11, Jackson Hole received an additional 18 inches of snow. Over these four days, the mid-mountain depth of the snow increased from 56 to 80 inches.[ 1]

On January 11, the couple purchased ski passes for Jackson Hole. The backs of these “J Cards” bear language indicating that the pass-holder “acknowledges that participation in any and all winter recreation activities at [Jackson Hole], including . . . skiing . . . involves SUBSTANTIAL AND INHERENT RISKS, HAZARDS, AND DANGERS THAT MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH or damages to property.” Aplt. App. 41. The couple first skied a few groomed runs. They then ventured down an off-piste run near the Thunder Chairlift line, with Standish-the more experienced skier-leading the way. “Off-piste” is a term for a ski run or area that is ungroomed and left in its natural state. See Roberts v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 884 F.3d 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2018). About halfway down the mountain, Standish’s right ski hit the top of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree stump that was covered with about two inches[ 2] of fresh snow. His ski came off on impact, and he broke multiple bones in his right leg.

Standish underwent surgery, receiving fourteen screws, two metal plates, and a bone graft. After returning to California a few days later, Standish suffered a pulmonary embolism, a common complication resulting from serious fractures. This required anti-coagulation injections in his abdomen for several months. Because of Standish’s long recovery, he and Keiter pushed their wedding back from June to September 2017. They also sold their business because Standish was unable to work during his recovery.

In January of 2019, Standish and Keiter brought this diversity suit in the District of Wyoming against Jackson Hole, alleging negligence and loss of consortium, respectively. During discovery, the parties were unable to ascertain when, why, or by whom the tree had been cut. In a deposition, Jackson Hole’s risk safety and environmental manager agreed that the stump had been cut at some point in the past, but no individuals or departments he talked to had any recollection or knowledge of cutting that tree. When asked why it was cut in the way it had been-that is, over six feet high-the manager suggested “it had been cut down during the winter to mitigate a hazard, like the tree blowing over or growing in a particular way that may have been identified to be a hazard.” Aple. App. 63. In October 2019, the stump was cut down completely, apparently as a result of the accident and the ongoing litigation.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The district court concluded that Wyoming law provided immunity from the inherent risks of skiing, including unmarked objects on ungroomed runs-even objects like trees that have been partially cut.

II. Analysis

Standish makes two arguments about why the district court erred in granting summary judgment. First, he contends that the question of whether a subsurface, cut tree in an off-piste area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing should have been submitted to a jury. Second, Standish argues the district court improperly considered inadmissible facts in granting summary judgment. We address each in turn.

A. Inherent Risk

1. Standard of Review

We review a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 971. Summary judgment is proper “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). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

Because this diversity suit arises out of Wyoming, we “must ascertain and apply state law to reach the result the Wyoming Supreme Court would reach if faced with the same question.” Cooperman v. David, 214 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 2000). In doing so, “we rely foremost on decisions of the Wyoming Supreme Court, and then on ‘other state court decisions, federal decisions, and the general weight and trend of authority.'” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972 (quoting Sapone v. Grand Targhee, Inc., 308 F.3d 1096, 1100 (10th Cir. 2002)). We review the district court’s determination of state law de novo. Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1164.

2. The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act

Common-law tort principles typically guide our analysis of personal-injury claims brought on the basis of negligence. When bringing a negligence claim, a plaintiff must sufficiently assert that “(1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to conform to a specified standard of care; (2) the defendant breached the duty of care; (3) the breach proximately caused injury to the plaintiff; and (4) the injury is compensable by money damages.” Dimickv. Hopkinson, 422 P.3d 512, 521 (Wyo. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted).

But in enacting the WRSA, the Wyoming legislature chose to insulate recreational providers from some types of personal-injury claims. In relevant part, the WRSA[ 3] provides that [a]ny person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for any and all damage, injury or death to himself or other persons or property that results from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(a). And a recreational provider “is not required to eliminate, alter or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(b).

a. Duty Under the WRSA

The WRSA limits the first negligence element: duty. Specifically, the WRSA “codifies the common-law concept of primary assumption of the risk,” which limits the recreational provider’s duty to a participant. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972; see also Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995) (“[T]he assumption-of-risk terminology [in the WRSA] is intended to limit the duty which a provider owes to a participant.”). “When primary assumption of the risk applies, as it does under the WRSA, ‘the legal result is that the defendant is simply relieved of the duty which would otherwise exist.'” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972 (quoting W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 481 & n.lO (5th ed. 1984)). In other words, because the WRSA provides that a participant has assumed certain risks that are inherent to the activity, the recreational provider typically owes no duty for inherent risks of an activity. In sum, a recreational “provider has no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of an activity, and any person who chooses to take part in a sport or recreational opportunity assumes all inherent risks [that] are associated with that opportunity.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565.

The district court generally decides whether the defendant owed a duty as a matter of law, see Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565, but the jury typically decides whether a particular risk is an inherent one, see Beckwith v. Weber, 277 P.3d 713, 722 (Wyo. 2012). In the context of whether a hazard is an inherent risk, the “level of factual specificity required . . . will often but not always preclude summary judgment on the duty question.” Creel v. L &L, Inc., 287 P.3d 729, 737 (Wyo. 2012). So “when genuine issues of material fact exist, it is proper to present the issue to the jury of whether a risk is inherent to a particular activity.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566. But in the absence of genuine issues of material fact, “the district court may decide as a matter of law that the provider does not owe a duty to the participant.” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 973 (quoting Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566); see also Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp. v. Rohrman, 150 P.3d 167, 168 (Wyo. 2006) (“If the court can say that, given that evidence, this is an ‘inherent risk’ and reasonable minds cannot differ about that, then summary judgment is appropriate.”).

b. Inherent Risk

The central question here is whether the plaintiff’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of a particular activity. If the injury was caused by an inherent risk, then the recreational provider owes no duty to “eliminate, alter, or control it[, ]” and the entry of summary judgment is appropriate. Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 168.

The WRSA defines “inherent risk” as “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-122; see also Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1166 (discussing definitions of “characteristic,” “intrinsic,” and “integral”). But the WRSA-unlike some other states’ recreational liability statutes-does not list examples of inherent risks. Rather, “[w]hat an ‘inherent risk’ means in any given set of circumstances is a variable that the Wyoming Legislature included in the statute by design.” Muller v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 139 P.3d 1162, 1166 (Wyo. 2006), opinion after certified question answered sub nom. Muller v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 210 Fed.Appx. 792 (10th Cir. 2006).

In order to determine what is an inherent risk under the WRSA, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explained a “reasonableness” inquiry should guide courts. Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170. So, the “central concern … is what ‘reasonable persons’ will view as inherent risks.” Id. “[I]f reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether or not a given set of factual circumstances involve an ‘inherent risk’ of skiing (in this particular instance we are concerned with skiing, or fill in the blank as the case might be), then the protections of the [W]RSA apply, and the litigation of that controversy must come to an end.” Id.

The Wyoming Supreme Court has pointed to several sources of guidance for determining what reasonable persons would view as inherent risks of an activity. One is, of course, jury deliberations on the particular facts of a case. See Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170. Others are safety experts and experienced skiers.[ 4]Id. But the sources most discussed by the Court in this context are analogous statutes from similarly-situated states. See Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170-72; Muller, 139 P.3d at 1166-67. In Rohrman, the Court held that reference to analogous statutes-for example, from Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah-is “a meaningful source of guidance in explaining the inherent risks of skiing to any fact finder.” Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 172.

The explicit citation to these statutes, and the reference to other similar state statutes, is meant to be an expansive guide for courts considering the inherent risk question. For one, the texts of all three analogous state statutes included in Rohrman have non-exhaustive lists of inherent risks of skiing. Each of the three has broad language that includes, for example, trees and forest debris, subsurface conditions, and man-made structures. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5) (2021); N.M. Stat. § 24-15-10 (2021); Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402 (2021). For another, the court expressly did not constrain itself to these lists, stating “those statutes are not the exclusive source of guidance and the factual variations are, in some senses, infinite.” Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 172.[ 5]

In particular, the court’s reference to analogous statutes is significant at the summary judgment stage. In situations with novel or contested facts, of course, the question of reasonableness-that is, whether reasonable minds cannot differ over what is an inherent risk-is appropriate for consideration by the fact-finder, not for determination as a matter of law by the court. But when there are no genuine disputes of material fact, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explicitly held that “[u]nder Wyoming’s statutory construct, which is much broader than that of Colorado, such items as those included in Colorado’s statute may, as a matter of law, be inherent risks of the recreational activity of skiing.” Muller, 139 P.3d at 1167 (emphasis added). “[I]n such cases[, ] a trial court may grant a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment based on the [W]RSA.” Id. In other words, a court may look to the enumerated inherent risks in Colorado’s statute to hold that a particular risk is an inherent one as a matter of law. 3. The Risk to Standish

The district court determined that skiing into an unmarked six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree on an off-piste run-which had been previously altered by Jackson Hole and which was submerged and made invisible by recent, heavy snow fall-was an inherent risk of skiing. We agree with both the framing of the inherent risk and the district court’s conclusion.

With regard to the risk’s framing, we have previously acknowledged “we can not look at the risk in a vacuum.” Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1167. Rather, “we must evaluate the risk at the greatest level of specificity permitted by the factual record.” Id. Here, the operative facts are undisputed. The mountain had received 45 inches of fresh snow in the four days prior to the accident. The accident took place in an off-piste-and therefore ungroomed-area. Standish’s injury was caused by a collision with the top of the stump, which was lightly covered with the fresh snow and thus not visible to Standish. The stump had been cut to a height of six-and-a-half feet at some point in the past to mitigate some problem. The district court’s inherent-risk framing did not employ any disputed facts and accurately captures the facts of the case. Neither party appears to contest this framing on appeal. We therefore adopt this framing of the risk.

With this specific factual scenario in mind, we conclude that encountering a snow-covered stump in an ungroomed area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing. Everyone familiar with the sight of the intertwining runs of a ski area knows that cutting and otherwise managing trees is necessary for the runs’ creation and upkeep. The vast majority of ski-able terrain simply could not exist in the first instance without the ministrations of sawyers and forest managers. And the forested setting of ski areas means that trees may sometimes fall or otherwise present hazards. As the risk safety and environmental manager for Jackson Hole indicated in his deposition, trees can be altered or “removed for various reasons.” Aple. App. 63. These can include creating more space for skiing in a particular run or glade or mitigating a hazard, such as a “tree blowing over or growing in a particular way that may have been identified to be a hazard.” Aple. App. 63. The height at which the tree in this case was cut could have been a function of a high snow-level during winter, or it could have resulted from a decision to cut just below a particular hazard in any season (i.e., the tree broke or became unstable above that height). Whatever the reason, the ability to act to mitigate hazards and cut trees that pose a risk to skiers-or to create new runs or vary the terrain-is essential to effectively managing a ski area.

Moreover, this accident occurred in an off-piste area, in which unmarked obstacles are frequent and inevitable. “[W]e cannot ignore the nature of the run on which he encountered [the stump] and the inherent risks that run presents.” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976 (discussing an accident in an off-piste area). And a changing level of the snow-which here was, by chance, just enough to render the stump invisible-is another inherent risk of skiing. Variable snow conditions are intrinsic to the mountainous setting of ski resorts in the American West. See, e.g., Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Mgmt., LLC, 981 F.Supp.2d 936, 945 (D. Mont. 2013) (“Skiing presents a multitude of dangers and hazards. Notwithstanding an operator’s efforts to tame it, skiing takes place on essentially wild terrain, on a mighty mountain, with fluctuation in weather and snow conditions that constantly change.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, all reasonable people understand that the combination of encountering the remnant stumps of forest-management practices and of changing snow levels at a ski area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing.

Furthermore, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explicitly held that because the WRSA is a broader statutory scheme than Colorado’s analogous law, “such items as those included in Colorado’s statute may, as a matter of law, be inherent risks of the recreational activity of skiing.” Muller, 139 P.3d at 1167 (emphasis added). Colorado’s statute expressly includes stumps-whether snow-covered or not-as inherent risks. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5) (‘”Inherent dangers and risks of skiing’ means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including . . . surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects . . . .”).[ 6] And other states include subsurface stumps or forest debris as inherent risks in their analogous statutes, including Utah, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402 (stumps); New Mexico, see N.M. Stat. § 24-15-10 (“trees or other forms of forest growth or debris”); Idaho, see Idaho Code § 6-1106 (2021) (same); and Montana, see Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702 (2021) (stumps).[ 7]

Similarly, Colorado’s statute-as well as, for example, Utah’s, Idaho’s, and Montana’s-also includes changing snow conditions and levels as inherent risks. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103; Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702; Utah Code § 78B-4-402; Idaho Code § 6-1106; see also Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corp., 372 P.3d 349, 351 (Colo. 2016) (holding an in-bounds avalanche qualifies as an inherent risk of skiing because it is a “changing condition” of snow). The depth of the snow in this case is as integral to the accident as the height of the stump. Any less snow, and the stump would have been visible; any more, and Standish would have passed over the top unharmed. Given that there are no genuine disputes of material facts in this case, holding that a snow-covered stump in an off-piste area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing comports with Wyoming Supreme Court precedent.

This conclusion aligns with both our precedent and public policy. In Cooperman, a Tenth Circuit panel considered whether a slipping saddle that was loosely cinched by the recreational provider is an inherent risk of horseback riding. See Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1168. Cinching a saddle, explained the panel, “is done by hand, and not with scientific precision,” so “a provider must make a judgment call as to how tight or loose to cinch the saddle.” Id. “This imprecision in the cinching of the saddle is characteristic or typical of and therefore inherent in the sport of horseback riding.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The same is true for managing forests. Ski-area managers must make judgment calls about whether and how to cut a tree that has become a hazard. In winter, the height at which a tree is cut is as imprecise and judgment-based as cinching a saddle: it can be cut too tall or too short, and the risk of its being covered lightly with the next snow fall-or being exposed by snow melt-is characteristic of ever-changing mountain conditions at ski areas. So, too, in the summer: a tree could be cut at any height to mitigate a hazard, and a forest manager could decide to leave the stump remnant for a variety of reasons (e.g., impossibility of removal based on terrain, concerns about slope destabilization or damage, or ecological concerns about surrounding flora or fauna). Forest management, just as the saddle-cinching in Cooperman, is based on best practices-not exact practices-and the resulting risks are inherent to skiing in a forested ski area.

In a more recent case, this court held that encountering subsurface boulders-and the gaps between them-in an off-piste ski area in changing snow conditions is an inherent risk of skiing. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976. The panel in Roberts noted that a “critical distinction has emerged in the case law between a provider’s failure to control inherent risks (which is no longer actionable)[] and actions that affirmatively enhance existing risks (which remain actionable).” Id. at 975. Because subsurface boulders are an inherent risk of skiing in an off-piste area, and because Jackson Hole had done nothing to affirmatively enhance the existing risk of the boulders, the panel reasoned, the WRSA limited Jackson Hole’s liability, and summary judgment was appropriate. See id. at 977.

To reach this conclusion, the Roberts panel relied on Creel and Dunbar. See id. at 975-76. The outcomes in both Creel and Dunbar rest on the actions of the employees or agents of the recreational provider affirmatively enhancing existing risks. In Creel, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the danger of being struck with a golf ball is an inherent risk of attending a golf tournament-but the employee who encouraged the golfer to hit despite the golfer’s concern about spectators in the way affirmatively enhanced the existing risk of stray golf balls. See Creel, 287 P.3d at 739. In Dunbar, the Tenth Circuit panel concluded encountering a half-pipe in a terrain park is an inherent risk of skiing-but the “delphic statements” of the employee on how to safely exit the terrain park affirmatively enhanced the existing risks posed by the terrain park features. Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 392 F.3d 1145, 1153 (10th Cir. 2004).

Not so here. Had a Jackson Hole employee represented to Standish that this particular run was groomed or free of obstacles, Jackson Hole might have created a jury question that the resort somehow enhanced the risk of an accident. See, e.g., Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976 (The plaintiff “was not directed to [the area where the accident occurred] by an employee offering ‘delphic statements’ about its safety; in fact advanced skiers in search of fresh untracked and unconsolidated powder are attracted to off-piste terrain . . . because it is ungroomed, untamed, and provided the types of natural obstacles that distinguish such runs from those frequented by less talented skiers.” (quoting Dunbar, 392 F.3d at 1153; emphasis in original)).

But there are no facts in this case to suggest anything of the sort. “[T]here is a difference between the consequences of conduct chosen by [the skier], and risks that are inherent to that choice.” Dunbar, 392 F.3d at 1151. Standish knew that unmarked obstacles could and would exist in this off-piste area, and he chose to proceed down this more-advanced run. Nor did Standish present any evidence that cutting the tree at this particular height affirmatively enhanced the risk or took it “outside the realm of inherent risk.” Creel, 287 P.3d at 737. What made the stump’s height hazardous was the snow level on January 11-and changing snow levels are undoubtedly an inherent risk of mountain recreation. Consequently, the district court properly found that Jackson Hole did not enhance the already-existing risk of the stump.

The outcome in Roberts further supports our decision here. In that case, Roberts’s expert-who had concluded that subsurface boulders were not an inherent risk of off-piste skiing-“put the cart before the horse” by faulting Jackson Hole for not placing warning signs above the area. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976-77′. But this targeted the element of breach without establishing the existence of a duty in the first place. Id. at 977. Conclusory statements that the boulders that had caused Roberts’s injuries were not inherent risks of skiing were insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Id.

The same is true of the expert testimony Standish presents. As the district court noted, Standish’s expert addressed how Jackson Hole breached the duty it supposedly owed Standish by not removing the remnant stump. But a snow- covered stump is itself an inherent risk of alpine skiing, and the expert’s testimony does not address what action by Jackson Hole takes the stump “outside the realm of inherent risk.” Creel, 287 P.3d at 737. The expert’s claim that “[t]he act of removing the top part of the tree was an affirmative act by the Resort which created the risk encountered by Mr. Standish” is unavailing. Aplt. App. 33. If that were true, then every tree cut by Jackson Hole’s forest managers would present a non-inherent risk to skiing-depending on the snow level on a particular day. And the expert’s claim that Jackson Hole’s “failure to finish the job . . . substantially enhanced the risk created by the Resort” improperly imposes a duty on Jackson Hole to remove completely the stumps made by its forest management. Neither the Wyoming legislature nor any court has imposed such a duty on ski areas. And given the Wyoming Supreme Court’s express embrace of the inherent risks in Colorado’s statute, including stumps, the expert testimony fails to preclude summary judgment.[ 8]

This conclusion also aligns with public policy. To hold that Jackson Hole has a duty to cut trees to a particular level or to remove stumps entirely would disincentivize recreational managers from attempting to mitigate hazards for their guests. If a fallen tree in an off-piste area is an inherent hazard of skiing, and cutting it off below the break creates a non-inherent risk, a ski area manager might decide to simply leave the fallen tree so as not to potentially incur liability. The WRSA is meant to limit the liability of recreational providers so that they can, in their judgment, both manage and offer sometimes-risky recreational opportunities.

Moreover, the standard that would arise from the opposite conclusion here would be untenable. Suppose a tree falls in an off-piste ski area during the winter and needs to be cut. The tree is cut to just above the current snow level, 70 inches. For the next week, the snow melts, leaving about 10 inches of the stump exposed and clearly visible to skiers. But then 11 inches of fresh snow falls, just covering the exposed stump. To conclude that the ski area is then liable for a skier’s collision with that stump would expose the ski area to liability the WRSA is clearly meant to limit. In other words, to hold that the WRSA does not preclude liability in this case would impose a duty on ski areas to never allow a tree stump be the same height as the current level of the snow-even in off-piste areas. We decline to reach such a conclusion.

* * *

Standish’s accident was the result of an unfortunate confluence of a stump, an ungroomed run, and the spectacular snow levels of the previous days. The combination of these factors is an inherent risk of skiing, a sport as thrilling as it can be risky. And the WRSA reflects this by limiting the duty owed by an entity offering access to such a sport. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jackson Hole on the basis of the WRSA.

B. Consideration of Inadmissible Facts

Standish also argues that, in evaluating the motion for summary judgment, the district court improperly considered facts that would be inadmissible before a jury. His argument is based on the district court’s discussion of the factual context of analogous and precedential cases-including, for example, Creel, Dunbar, Cooperman, and Roberts. See Aplt. Br. at 12-14.

While we review a district court’s evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion, see, e.g., Wright-Simmons v. City of Oklahoma City, 155 F.3d 1264, 1268 (10th Cir. 1998), we review a district court’s findings of law and entry of summary judgment de novo. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 971. It is true that a district court may consider only admissible evidence from a record in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. See Johnson v. Weld Cty., Colo., 594 F.3d 1202, 1209 (10th Cir. 2010) (“[I]t is well settled in this circuit that we can consider only admissible evidence in reviewing an order granting summary judgment.” (quoting Wright-Simmons, 155 F.3d at 1268)).

But in discussing these cases, the district court here was not making an evidentiary ruling about whether the facts of cases like Creel and Cooperman would be presented to a jury at trial. Rather, it was making a determination of law. In discussing the facts of these analogous cases, the district court was engaging in classic legal analysis: comparing the facts of Standish’s case with the factual context of other inherent-risk cases under the WRSA. See, e.g., Aplt. App. 54 (discussing the facts of Roberts to evaluate Standish’s claims); Aplt. App. 58 (discussing Dunbar to determine Standish’s claim of risk-creation).

To have erred here, the district court would have had to consider facts about Standish ‘s case that were not in the record or would have been otherwise inadmissible before a jury. The district court did not do so, and we reject Standish’s argument.

III. Conclusion

Thomas Standish’s injuries from his accident were severe and painful. This case provides a somber reminder of skiing’s risks to those who enjoy the sport. But Wyoming law does not provide recourse against Jackson Hole for Standish’s accident. We therefore AFFIRM the district court’s entry of summary judgment.

———

Notes:

[ 1] Though the numbers do not add up precisely, this fact is undisputed. The discrepancy may be due to the variance in measurements between lift-base depth and mid-mountain depth, as well as other environmental factors like wind.

[ 2] The district court came to this number by subtracting the height of the tree (78 inches) from the approximate depth of snow (80 inches). Neither party contests this finding on appeal.

[ 3] On July 1, 2017, Wyoming’s Ski Safety Act went into effect. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (2020). This Act takes ski-area skiing out of the purview of the WRSA. In other words, now the Ski Safety Act, rather than the WRSA, sets out the statutory scheme for actions based on skiing at a ski area. But as the district court found, the parties in this case agree the Ski Safety Act is inapplicable to this case because the accident occurred before the law became effective.

[ 4] Though the WRSA is not limited to skiing, many of the precedential cases in this context are results of skiing accidents. Any reference in this opinion to skiing, as opposed to other recreational activities, is merely a reflection of this body of precedent and the particular facts of this case.

[ 5] Though Wyoming’s recent Ski Safety Act is not applicable to this case, see note 3, the Wyoming legislature, in passing the Act, has since provided a definition of “inherent risks” of skiing in a ski area. In doing so, Wyoming’s law now more closely resembles these analogous state statutes. The Ski Safety Act provides that “Inherent risk” with regard to skiing in a ski area means those dangers or conditions which are part of the sport of skiing, including: (A) Changing weather conditions; (B) Falling or surface snow conditions, whether natural or man-made, as they exist or change; (C) Surface or subsurface conditions including bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, trees or other natural objects; (D) Collisions or impacts with natural objects such as the objects specified in subparagraph (C) of this paragraph including encounters with wildlife; (E) Impact with ski lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes or other man-made structures and their components . . .; (F) Variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of ski trail or feature design, or snowmaking or grooming operations such as roads, freestyle terrain, jumps and catwalks or other terrain modifications; and (G) Collisions with other skiers.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (2020) (emphasis added).

[ 6] While the other items in this list are all generally natural, the plain meaning of stump indicates a tree that has been cut. See, e.g., Stump, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stump (defining “stump” as “the part of a plant and especially a tree remaining attached to the root after the trunk is cut”); Stump, Oxford English Dictionary, https://www.oed.com/view/ Entry/192144 (defining “stump” as “[t]he portion of the trunk of a felled tree that remains fixed in the ground; also, a standing tree-trunk from which the upper part and the branches have been cut or broken off). And the remainder of Colorado’s inherent-risks list includes man-made items, including “impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components,” and “terrain modifications.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5).

[ 7] So, too, does Wyoming’s new Ski Safety Act, which went into effect about six months after Standish’s accident. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (including “stumps” as inherent risks of skiing).

[ 8] Standish’s argument that the expert represented the views of at least “one reasonable person” and thus precluded summary judgment, is similarly unavailing. The reasonableness inquiry to determine whether something is an inherent risk of an activity requires, of course, consideration of the inherent risk itself. But, again, Standish’s expert does not discuss or espouse any non-conclusory opinion on the inherent risk of a subsurface stump in an off-piste area; rather, his conclusion is based on Jackson Hole’s failure to remove it. This merely assumes that such a stump is not an inherent risk. Further, the mere existence of a contrary expert opinion-particularly a conclusory expert opinion-does not preclude summary judgment. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 977.


Lost and Confused

Seems like I’m just repeating myself

I haven’t been posting lately, couple of reasons. Working on chapters for two different books Management of Park and Recreation Agencies and Mountain Medicine and Technical Rescue.

But that is not the main reason, not burn out, just writing the same thing over and over again. Almost 3000 articles that say Use a Release or Make Sure your Guest Knows about Assumption of the Risk.

Website managers keep telling me to go back and update what I’ve written, which I should in a few cases, but that seems like a rip off honestly. (Even though no one is paying me to do this.)

I also get zero feedback from anyone 98% of the time. So, I don’t know if you like or dislike what I’m writing.

Right now, the so purpose of this site is to keep me #1 in Google Searches. I can continue to do that by just posting random key words every once in a while.

Recreation Law Assumption of the Risk Release
Waiver Negligence Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor Recreation Law Gross Negligence Negligence Per Se

You get the picture.

What do you want me to write about?

There are tons of lawsuits. Probably 3-5 more lawsuits in the outdoor recreation industry then when I started writing ten years ago. The plaintiff’s bar has found the industry. And found there is money in the industry, which is why you can expect your insurance rates to start climbing, if they have not already. More importantly you are going to see more activities that are not going to be covered by a policy.

Do Something

So, look if you want something specific here let me know! Jim@rec-law.us

If you want something new here, let me know. Jim@rec-law.us

If you want the same thing, let me know. Jim@rec-law.us

Or leave a comment

    Jim

If not, you’ll get key words in the future.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

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



Do Releases Work? Should I be using a Release in my Business? Will my customers be upset if I make them sign a release?

These and many other questions are answered in my book Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Insurance and Law.

Releases, (or as some people incorrectly call them waivers) are a legal agreement that in advance of any possible injury identifies who will pay for what. Releases can and to stop lawsuits.

This book will explain releases and other defenses you can use to put yourself in a position to stop lawsuits and claims.

This book can help you understand why people sue and how you can and should deal with injured, angry or upset guests of your business.

This book is designed to help you rest easy about what you need to do and how to do it. More importantly, this book will make sure you keep your business afloat and moving forward.

You did not get into the outdoor recreation business to worry or spend nights staying awake. Get prepared and learn how and why so you can sleep and quit worrying.

                                              Table of Contents

Chapter 1    Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Law, and Insurance: An Overview

Chapter 2    U.S. Legal System and Legal Research

Chapter 3    Risk 25

Chapter 4    Risk, Accidents, and Litigation: Why People Sue

Chapter 5    Law 57

Chapter 6    Statutes that Affect Outdoor Recreation

Chapter 7    Pre-injury Contracts to Prevent Litigation: Releases

Chapter 8    Defenses to Claims

Chapter 9    Minors

Chapter 10    Skiing and Ski Areas

Chapter 11    Other Commercial Recreational Activities

Chapter 12    Water Sports, Paddlesports, and water-based activities

Chapter 13    Rental Programs

Chapter 14    Insurance

         $99.00 plus shipping

 

 

 

 

Artwork by Don Long donaldoelong@earthlink.net

 


Risk Management in Action combined with the proof people assumed the risk.

Survivor films and shows contestants being given warnings about crocodiles in Guatemala.

The article Find Out How ‘Survivor’ Production Prepared for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit reveals that during the filming of Survivor Guatemala, the contestants were cavalier about the native crocodiles. Fearing for the safety of the contestants and the resulting outcry if a contestant was eaten survivor gathered the contestants together and filmed them being warned about the crocodiles.

The only non-contestant ever seen on the show is the producer and host Jeff Probst. However, for this segment, they brought in and filmed a crocodile expert who explained to the contestants the danger’s crocodiles posed.

For more on the issue or Survivor Guatemala see:

Find Out How ‘Survivor’ Production Prepared For a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Brooke Struck on surviving crocodile attacks in Guatemala

“Previously on Survivor” – Season 11 – Survivor: Guatemala — The Maya Empire

Do Something

Quite Interesting to see how real life intersects with entertainment and how it is handled.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2021 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

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Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

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

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

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



Overturned: Plaintiff loses snow tubing case in PA because their experts could not argue the actions of the defendant were gross negligence.

Association resource guide is used against the defendants to prove the plaintiff’s case.

Bourgeois v. Snow Time, Inc., 2018 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2938; 2018 WL 3868670

State: Pennsylvania, Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Ray M. Bourgeois and Mary Ann I. Bourgeois

Defendant: Snow Time, Inc. and Ski Roundtop Operating Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: failure to state a claim and release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

In the instant matter, Appellant Ray Bourgeois was seriously injured while snow tubing when his tube crossed folded anti-fatigue rubber kitchen mats which Appellees had placed in the deceleration area of the snow tubing run. Appellants’ theory of the case is that Appellees acted recklessly and with gross negligence by placing the mats at the end of the tubing run to aid in tube deceleration.

Facts

This case stems from an incident that occurred while Appellant Ray Bourgeois (Bourgeois) was snow tubing at Roundtop Mountain Resort (the Resort), which is owned and operated by Appellees. As described by the trial court, Bourgeois

went down the hill on his stomach, [head first] on his tube, and proceeded to reach the run-out area at the bottom of the hill. To aid snow tubers in slowing down and stopping at the bottom of the hill, [Appellees] utilized deceleration mats. On his final run, [Bourgeois’s] snow tube came into contact with a deceleration mat, causing his tube to come to an abrupt stop. [Bourgeois’s] body continued forward in motion after his tube stopped, causing him to land [head first] into the snow. The resulting collision caused a hyperextension of [Bourgeois’s] spinal cord in his neck that has left him quadriplegic with limited mobility from his neck down.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted and the plaintiff’s appealed.

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

The first issue the appellate court reviewed was the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims for gross negligence. The appellate court held that “we find that Appellants did not establish a prima facie claim for recklessness or gross negligence

The court came to that conclusion because no one could state the standard of care needed to prove the actions of the defendant rose to the level of gross negligence.

In this case, the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Appellants could not establish a claim for recklessness or gross negligence. The trial court reasoned that since Appellants’ experts had not articulated the standard of care that Appellees failed to meet, a factfinder could not conclude that Appellees were aware of that standard of care and disregarded it and, thus, acted recklessly or with grossly negligence:

The court first looked at the definition of recklessness and gross negligence.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, citing the Restatement (Second) of Torts, found that a defendant acts recklessly, when, inter alia, he owes a duty to the plaintiff and fails to meet that duty. That is, a defendant is reckless when:

he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.

The key point is the failure must be an intentional failure. The plaintiff must establish that the defendant consciously acted or failed to act. “Thus, recklessness is more closely aligned with intentional conduct than with negligence, which suggests “unconscious inadvertence.

To prove gross negligence Pennsylvania laws requires a deviation from the standard of care.

Similarly, an element of gross negligence is the deviation from a standard of care. More precisely, a plaintiff must establish that a defendant’s conduct grossly and flagrantly deviated from “the ordinary standard of care.”

Normally the trier of fact, the jury must make this decision. However, Pennsylvania courts are allowed to decide this issue if the facts are “entirely free from doubt and there is no possibility that a reasonable jury could find gross negligence.”

Normally, to prove the defendant’s duty, expert testimony is required to establish the standard of care that the defendant failed to meet and how the expert deviated from that standard of care.

The plaintiff hired to experts that provided opinions as to the actions of the defendant. The first expert opined that the actions of the defendant were beyond the standard of care, but never provided an opinion about what the standard of care was.

DiNola, however, did not cite or explain the “ordinary standards of conduct for a tubing park operator” from which Appellees’ conduct had departed. He just baldly opined that the use of the mats departs from ordinary standards of conduct.

The second expert did not set forth any standards of care.

Therefore, we are constrained to agree with the trial court that Appellants failed to articulate the appropriate standard of care for the use of deceleration mats. Without such a standard of care, Appellants, as a matter of law, cannot establish Appellees’ duty to Appellants and that Appellees knew or should have known about the standard of care. Since Appellants failed to meet this element of recklessness and gross negligence, the trial court properly granted Appellees’ Motion for Summary Judgment on this issue.

The simple negligence claims were barred by a release. The plaintiff argued on appeal that the release was void because it did not specifically name in the release one of the defendants. However, the court found that the language in the release, “and their owners” was sufficient to cover the defendant when not specifically named in the release.

There was a dissent in this case. The dissent argued the plaintiff should win because the warning on the mats used to decelerate the tubes stated that vinyl tubes were not to be decelerated by mats or other devices. The dissent also argued the opinions of the experts did provide enough information for a decision about the recklessness and gross negligence of the defendants.

In my view, Appellants have put forth enough evidence at this stage for the jury to decide the issue. I disagree with the sole focus of the Majority and trial court on the use of the folded mats, when that is but one piece of Appellants’ claims. See Appellants’ Brief at 45-47 (discussing the facts Appellees knew or should have known, including the conditions contributing to speeds as high as 30-35 miles per hour, the risk of serious injuries when a fast-traveling snow tube abruptly collides with an obstacle, the lack of sufficient run-out area, and the use of mats not designed for use in snow tubing).5 Both experts explained the ways in which Appellees’ conduct deviated from the standard of care, based upon the facts established through depositions of Appellees’ employees and officers. It is clear to me that a jury could have determined that the series of conscious decisions made by Appellees worked together to create an unreasonable risk of physical harm to Bourgeois that was substantially greater than ordinary negligence. Therefore, I would reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for trial.

So Now What?

The plaintiff was rendered a quadriplegic by the accident so a lot of money was at stake. The plaintiff did not hire experts correctly or did not explain what was needed from the experts. This first rule of pleading is proving your case legally on the paperwork and then prove it in the record. The plaintiff failed to do that.

The biggest hurdle was the association resource guide. The National Ski Area Association created a resource guide for tubing hills. The dissenting judge called it the standard of care. The resource guide did not contain any information on using devices to slow tubes. The resource guide said you should have a sufficient run out.

The court did not see the issue as using a mat to slow participants as a violation of the standard to use a run out.

That was the close one in this case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2019 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

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

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South Dakota in Federal District Court decision seems to allow a release to stop the claims for a minor.

Release was effective in stopping ordinary negligence claims; however, the gross negligence claims were allowed to continue.

Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

State: South Dakota, United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division

Plaintiff: Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; and Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor

Defendant: Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For both plaintiff and defendant, but proceeding to trial

Year: 2018

Summary

The minor child was injured on a tubing hill when her tube stopped in the middle of the hill, and she was hit and injured by her brother coming after her. The release the parents signed stopped the ordinary negligence claim but under South Dakota, law did not stop a claim for gross negligence.

There was no discussion in the decision as to whether the release stopped the claims of the minor child, the injured plaintiff. It just seemed to be taken for granted by the court, or at least not argued by the plaintiffs.

Facts

On March 13, 2015, Brad and Tara Reed brought their children to the defendant’s resort near Lead, South Dakota, for an afternoon of recreational snow tubing.1 The resort was owned and operated by Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner. Among the Reeds’ children with them that day was seven-year-old I.R. Accompanying the Reeds were another couple and Alex, a social worker from the Philippines.

Upon arriving shortly before noon, the Reed party entered the lodge area where customers are required to check in and purchase admission tickets for the resort. The Reeds purchased snow tubing day passes for themselves and their children, including I.R. As a condition of allowing I.R. to use the resort, Union required the Reeds to agree to a written release of liability. The Reeds signed the release and printed the names of each of their children, including I.R., as participants.

The Reeds understood the document was a release of liability agreement and that, by signing, they would be relinquishing certain unspecified rights. They did not ask any questions about the release. The release informed resort participants that tubing activities are extremely hazardous and can result in personal injury. The Reeds understood that tubing carried with it a degree of risk, including risk of trauma to the head, and that I.R. would be exposed to this risk.

After signing the release and paying the admission fee, the Reeds and their kids received individual tickets for the tube park. Those tickets included additional warnings.

At the resort, there are numerous bright red signs that provide instructions and warnings to participants. Among the messages on some of the signs was a warning that collisions with other tubers was one of the dangers of tubing. Other signs instructed the tubers to follow the attendant’s instructions and to wait for the attendant’s signal before starting [down the tube run]. The Reeds do not recall whether they saw or read any of these signs.

The Reeds were directed to select tubes from the resort’s selection of tubes, which they did. Defendant had approximately 50 to 70 tubes in inventory at the time, but there is no evidence how many of these tubes had already been selected by prior guests. No employee of defendant selected the tubes for the Reeds. Several defendant employees testified at their depositions that it was a practice at the resort to leave tubes with tears in the bottoms in circulation for guests to use. The employees explained that such tubes were slower and slower equated to safer in their minds.

During the Reeds’ stay at the resort, they went down the tube runs approximately 15 to 20 times. Two of the four tube runs at the resort were open that day. During the Reeds’ runs, there were two defendant employees at the bottom of the tube runs assisting guests with the tow rope (which towed guests to the top of the run).

On approximately two of the Reeds’ 15-20 tubing runs, there was a young man at the top of the tube runs who also appeared to be a resort employee with a radio in his possession. However, the young man never monitored the tube runs, never gave instructions to tubers, and never staged tubers going down the tube runs. “Staging” means controlling the entry of guests onto the tube runs to ensure that the prior tuber has finished the run and cleared the area before the next tuber is allowed to begin his or her descent. There was no staging and, instead, tubers decided themselves when to begin their descent, a situation Brad Reed described as a “free-for-all.”

At approximately 2 p.m., the Reeds decided to take one last run down the tube runs before leaving the resort. Up to this point, the Reeds had experienced no concerns or incidents. Up to this final run, I.R. had always completed her run down the slope as part of a group or with one of her parents. On the final run, she asked to be allowed to go down the tube run by herself, to which her parents agreed. Mrs. Reed told I.R. they would go down the run together, parallel to each other in each of the two open tube runs. At this point, Alex was directly behind I.R. in line for the same tube lane. Mr. Reed was behind Alex in the same line.

Once both lanes were clear, Mrs. Reed and I.R. began their descents. Mrs. Reed went all the way down the run, but I.R.’s tube stopped approximately 3/4 of the way down the slope. While I.R. was stopped, Alex began her descent before I.R. cleared the lane. When Alex’s tube reached I.R.’s tube, they collided. No defendant employee told Alex to begin her descent, but no defendant employee was present at the top of the run to tell her, instruct her, or prevent her from beginning her descent until I.R. cleared the lane.

From the top of the slope, Mr. Reed testified Alex should have been able to see I.R. had not cleared the lane had Alex been paying attention. Mr. Reed himself was able to observe the collision from his vantage point at the top of the slope.

After the accident, the Reeds observed an approximately 8-inch hole in the bottom of I.R.’s tube that had filled with snow. Defendant asserts it was its policy to stow the tubes under the deck each night and to pull them out the next day for guests’ use. Defendant asserts employees were directed to observe the tubes for significant tears or defects and to remove defective tubes during this process. However, several defendant employees testified they left tubes with tears in their bottoms in rotation for guest use because the tears would slow the tuber down as they descended the slope. Employees believed a slower descent was a safer descent.

If a lightweight child descended the slope with a tube with a tear in it, sometimes the tube would stop mid-way down the slope and a defendant employee would have to walk up the slope to retrieve the child. In such an instance, the defendant employee at the bottom of the slope would radio the employee at the top and tell them to stop sending guests down the slope until the child was retrieved and taken to the bottom.

No photograph was taken of I.R.’s tube at the beginning of the day, after the accident, or at any other time on the day of the accident. It is unknown if the tear in the bottom of her tube was there from the start of the day or whether the tear occurred during the Reeds’ use of the tube that day. The Reeds mixed and mingled the various tubes they checked out, so several members of the Reeds’ group could have used the accident tube at various times of the day.

The accident tube was the only tube checked out by the Reed group that had a tear in it. The Reeds did not notice the tear until after I.R.’s injury. The Reeds did not inform anyone at the resort about the tear in the tube after the accident occurred. There is no evidence that any defendant employee had specific knowledge that the Reeds had checked out a tube with a tear in it on the day of the accident, though defendant employees had general knowledge that such tubes were often retained in inventory because they were perceived to be “safer” because they were slower.

From the beginning of the 2010-11 season through the end of the 2014-15 season, defendant had incident reports of 17 collisions of tubers. During that same time frame, there were 72 total incident reports.3 Several of these collisions between tubers occurred within a few weeks and, in two examples, a few days, of I.R.’s collision. Specifically, there were 5 incident reports involving collisions between tubers going down the tube lane between December 30, 2014, and February 27, 2015. None of defendant’s incident reports record whether a hole in a tube contributed to the incident.

Defendant maintains that it had a proper protocol of having at least one employee at the top of the tube run and one employee at the bottom of the tube run at all times. The employee at the top of the tube run was supposed to “stage” the tubers going down. The employee at the bottom of the tube run would retrieve items lost by tubers going down the slope (hats, mittens, etc.) and also retrieve guests whose tubes stopped without fully descending the slope.

The Reeds assert defendant was chronically understaffed and that defendant made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run the day of I.R.’s accident. Defendant asserts the Reeds have no evidence to support the assertion that the decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run was a deliberate decision.

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

The plaintiff’s conceded that the release barred their claims for negligence, the first count in their complaint. That left the issue of whether the release barred their claims for gross negligence and whether they had pled enough facts to support a gross negligence claim.

Gross negligence under South Dakota law is the same as willful and wanton conduct:

Under South Dakota law, the phrase “gross negligence” is synonymous with the phrase “willful and wanton misconduct.” Both phrases refer “to a category of tort that is different in kind and characteristics than negligence.” Negligence occurs when one acts with an “unreasonable risk of harm to another.” Willful and wanton misconduct requires a risk of harm that is “substantially greater than that which is necessary to make the conduct negligent.” The threatened harm “must be an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.”

The major difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is the mental state of the defendant.

In addition, proof of a negligence claim focuses on the ordinary standard of care, while a gross negligence claim focuses on the defendant’s mental state. A defendant acts willfully and wantonly when it knows or has reason to know at the time of its actions of the dire risk and proceeds without concern for the safety of others. The standard does not require proof of intent to harm, but it does “partake to some appreciable extent … of the nature of a deliberate and intentional wrong.” Gross negligence requires “an affirmatively reckless state of mind.” There must be “a conscious realization that a serious physical injury was a probable, as distinguished from a possible (ordinary negligence), result of such conduct.”

That creates a two-step test to determine if the defendant was grossly negligent.

Summarizing the above case law, gross negligence is distinguished from ordinary negligence by two factors. The risk of harm must be greater for gross negligence—whereas under ordinary negligence, the risk of harm can be anything from negligible harm to death, the risk of harm for gross negligence must be death or serious harm. Secondly, the likelihood that harm will come about, phrased in terms of the defendant’s state of mind, must be greater. For example, if there is a 10 percent chance some harm will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure that harm does not come about, he is merely negligent. If there is an 85 percent chance serious harm or death will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure the harm does not occur, he has acted willfully and wantonly or with gross negligence.

The court’s analysis of the chance of the harm occurring is a way of looking at the differences between ordinary and gross negligence that I have never seen before.

The court looked at the facts as presented by both sides and found both lacking the information the court felt would prove the plaintiff’s case. However, the court made this statement.

Under the law of gross negligence, South Dakota has recognized a plaintiff will rarely have direct evidence of the defendant’s state of mind. Rather, state of mind must be inferred from the circumstances. Id. Also, under the law of summary judgment, all inferences from the facts must be made in favor of the nonmoving party, Both sources of law, then, support taking the Reeds’ view of the inference to be drawn from the fact that defendant was chronically understaffed and did not have an employee stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident.

So, with the inferences created by the plaintiffs about the state of mind of the tubing hill, the court held that there was enough information plead to allow the gross negligence claim to continue.

The court then looked at the assumption of the risk argument made by the defendant. There was no case law in South Dakota stating that assumption of the risk was a defense to gross negligence, so the court held that assumption of the risk would not stop the gross negligence claim.

So Now What?

What did not arise in this case is whether the release stopped the claims of the minor child. The case was captioned as the parents suing on behalf of their minor child. In that regard, the release would bar the claims of the parents. However, this is a different way of suing on behalf of a minor, not away normally done in most states any more.

Also, this is a decision by a Federal District Court applying South Dakota law so, whether a not a release stops a minor’s claims is probably still up in the air until the South Dakota Supreme Court decides the issue.

However, it is a decision to lean on if you have participants who are minors in your program.

The other issues are classic situations where the defendant looks at a situation one way as a positive for patrons but the injured patron is able to turn the situation around and use it as a club against the defendant. Torn tubes were regarded by the defendant as good because they were slower than the other tubes. However, a torn tube is not a product that is 100%, in the condition it was received from the manufacturer. It was a defective product. So, the plaintiff was able to show the defendant was derelict in using them.

If they placed the tubes in a different location with a sign that said, slower tubes it might have been helpful.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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What went wrong and how to beat the lawsuit when a guide sues to recover fees, he paid to climb mountain Everest after the trip was cancelled? Several things.

The client was not properly educated pre-trip, and the paperwork did not cover the right issues and/or say the right things.

All over the news, this past ten days is a story about a lawsuit by a Mt. Everest commercial client who is suing his guide service for a refund when the trip was canceled. After arriving in base camp, the trip was canceled because the Khumbu Icefall had a 15 story serac over hanging the route. The outfitter and the other clients decided to bail because of the risk.

I’m even quoted in one article in Outside Magazine.

A Tech CEO Suing His Guide Could Change Everest Travel

CEO Sues Climbing Guide – Could Set a Terrible Precedent for the Travel Industry

It is not the first time that I’ve heard or been involved in these types’ lawsuits. I knew of one from 20+ years ago where the threatened lawsuit was over a refund because the client did not summit Mt. Everest. I never heard what the outcome was.

One of my clients was threatened with a similar lawsuit. The client wanted his money back because he did not summit. I responded to the client’s demand letter listing every Everest summiteers I knew who would testify about the chances of submitting. I never heard anything else.

These refund attempts happen on mountains all over the world.

Usually these start with a guide service needing clients to stay alive or making a profit or not investigating the client thoroughly. When a climbing guide is broke, they have a tendency to say anything to get money in the door or take anyone. Worse are the ones that can right a check without hesitation or who come with a “climbing resume” but only with guide services.

Climbing with a guide is awesome, but the guide makes all the decisions, no matter what the agreement says and how the issue is phrased and the client never engages his brain or understands how decisions are made when climbing a mountain.

Everyone once in a while it is the client who is trying to save face with his friends and neighbors because he did not summit. Getting his money back proves it was not his fault, that he did not summit.

The next step in the process is education. Clients need to learn two things from the start.

  • Their chances of summiting are slim or low based on the mountain.
  • The money they pay to summit is spent way before the client ever sets foot in the country where he is climbing.

No matter the mountain your chances of summiting are based on a lot of factors.

  • The mountain
  • The guide service
    • What the guide service does to get you off the mountain before you can summit

The mountain is obvious, how many days in what conditions and can you survive.

At the same time, there are unscrupulous guide services.

Guide services have been playing games with clients for decades. One game that used to be played on Denali was running the client up the mountain before the client could acclimatize and getting the client sick. This was obvious when you looked at the schedule. There was never enough time between the next load of clients landing on the glacier to acclimatize and summit before the guide had another group to lead.

A different game is still being played on Kilimanjaro. No one tells clients that the hike through the jungle to the base camp is going to leave them and their gear soaking wet. I’ve heard of trips were every single client spent the first two nights shivering in wet sleeping bags before giving up and heading home. No one says to use a waterproof stuff sack or a garbage bag to protect your gear, so thousands each year get to the base of the mountain and turn around.

I’ve not heard of Everest guide services playing any of these games. I do know that your chances of summiting and living are higher based on the amount of money you pay. The past ten years, most of the fatalities have come from guide services that are locally run and very inexpensive compared to everyone else.

I also have only heard great things from the defendant in this case, Garret Madison.

The money paid is gone before you arrive.

Think about the food you will be eating on Mt. Everest. It is purchased in the US, packed for transportation to Katmandu, repacked for shipping to basecamp and repacked for carrying up the mountain. The cost of shipping and packing far outweighs the cost of the food. All of this is done before a US client leaves the US.

Airline tickets, hotel rooms and transportation inside Nepal are paid for in advance. Local guides are hired and paid for, or they find someone different to work for. Competition on Mt. Everest is stiff, so there are plenty of job opportunities for all aspects of getting to basecamp and who you will be climbing with.

Gear is always brought back to the US, cleaned, checked, replaced and then shipped back to Nepal, or used on other mountains in between seasons.

Most of the money you pay to climb a mountain is spent before you leave the US. There are no refunds for food shipped to basecamp, there are no refunds if you can’t summit. I would guess if you wanted some of your money back you can take thirty days of dehydrated food back home with you……. Most is given to the locals and the Sherpa who live on it.

The best way to stop any lawsuit is education and paperwork.

The agreement between the guide and the client must have the following.

  1. The guide is in command, makes mistakes but is in control. Decisions made by the guide are final yet you are in control of your life. You can ignore them at your own risk.
  2. You can’t sue and if you do, you will owe me money for breach of the covenants that go with this contract.
  3. If you do sue, you have to sue me in my little home town a long way from where you live.
  4. You must purchase travel insurance to protect your investment because I’m not going to.

The guide from the articles might have screwed up. To get the client off their back, he might have said something about a refund. The guide also did not do a good job of explaining with the other clients who were leaving what was going on and why. The plaintiff client was left out of the conversation.

However, climbing Everest is not a guaranty, and no guide will ever bet on who will summit and who will not because the odds are stacked and change constantly.

Worse, it is obvious that this plaintiff thinks his luck is pretty good or the amount of money he paid is too much to lose, e way he puts little value on his life.

Guide says to go home, too dangerous! my response is get out of my way!

Do Something

If you want to climb big mountains and intend to hire a guide to do so.

  1. Get in shape
  2. Learn how to climb and climb well. If you can’t run up your local mountains without fear or concern, don’t leave them.
  3. Go climb big mountains with and without guides. Learn how to make decisions and why on when to climb, where to camp, what to do and when to go home.
  4. Expect to spend a lot of money, go cheap you might never go home.
  5. Communicate. Make sure all the promises your guide makes are in writing.
  6. Cowboy up if you can’t get to the top, you probably ignored steps 1-4.
  7. Your money is gone and will not be coming back.

If you are a guide service.

  1. Have enough guts to withstand angry clients because you can’t keep them all happy.
  2. Get good contracts and releases. Get agreements written by an attorney who knows what a mountain is, what making decisions means and has made those decisions and most importantly knows what goes into the agreement and why!
  3. Understand that marketing makes promises that risk management has to pay for is true. You tell a client, he or she will summit, you better have a way to get their butt to the top, or you will be in court.
  4. Make sure your insurance covers advertising, and you have a comprehensive policy to cover those lawsuits that arise more than the negligence lawsuits do.
  5. Tell everyone you cannot guaranty they can get out of basecamp, even get to basecamp, let alone summit.
  6. Get good contracts and releases!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

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In the future, if you are contacted by a member of law enforcement or the Colorado Avalanche Information Center about your backcountry activities, invoke your 5th amendment constitutional right to remain silent and say nothing.

District Attorney is chasing to men who possibly set off an avalanche. District Attorney’s actions will probably kill more people.

What you say may be sued against you in court, as the case with Tyler DeWitt of Silverthorne and Evan Hannibal of Vail. Read the articles listed below to get various facts about what happened. But basically, they were backcountry skiing and set off an avalanche. The debris filled cover a road and took out a remote avalanche triggering device.

“Very large avalanche” buries road near Eisenhower Tunnel

2 men cited for reckless endangerment after triggering avalanche near Eisenhower Tunnel

Because of this, the Summit County District Attorney Charged the two men with Reckless Endangerment. Under Colorado law Reckless Endangerment is:

Colorado Statutes

Title 18. CRIMINAL CODE

Article 3. Offenses Against the Person

Part 2. ASSAULTS

Current through Chapter 326 of the 2020 Legislative Session

§ 18-3-208. Reckless endangerment

A person who recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person commits reckless endangerment, which is a class 3 misdemeanor.

Cite as C.R.S. § 18-3-208

A class three misdemeanor will not ruin your life, but it will make it miserable. Worse, the DA is asking for restitution for the damage done to clear the road and the avalanche triggering device in the amount of $168,000. How many working skiers and boarders in the backcountry have that amount of money sitting around? That too will assist in their running their lives.

The charges and the restitution will not kill anyone. However, Avalanche reporting and research will come to an end. Who knows what DA will decide they don’t like backcountry skiers and just start thumbing through Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) reports looking for ways to eliminate backcountry skiing and boarding?

This is NOT the fault of the CAIC. As a state agency, they have no way to protect the reports that they receive and must turn them over to any other state agency, including district attorneys.

This is also sad; the backcountry ski community has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for CAIC over the years and had a great relationship with the CAIC. The CAIC is a great organization with awesome people, some who are the best in the world at what they do.

But I’m not going to jail to help!

I keep trying to figure out the motivation for the District Attorney’s actions. The chance of getting any money out of these two men is zero. Does he want to keep people from going out in the backcountry? Probably. No doubt there is going to be a lot of Search & Rescue this winter based on sales of backcountry equipment. However, idiots in the backcountry is not a new thing.

Instead of wasting the time, money, and resources to prosecute these two men, which will not stop idiots in the backcountry, why not try to educate them.

Besides, any expert who is going to get on the stand and say that these two triggered the avalanche is possibly wrong. Even with the men saying on tape, they started the slide; they could still be wrong.

If you would like to contribute money to support Evan Hannibal’s attempt to raise money for an attorney, go here: Facing Criminal Charges in the Backcountry.

Do Something

Contribute to Evan Hannibal’s Go Fund Me: Facing Criminal Charges in the Backcountry.

Contact the Fifth judicial District (Summit County) and let the DA know they are not solving problems but creating more: https://www.da5.us/reach-our-offices/summit-county/

Contact Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and tell them to get a bill in the state legislature that would provide immunity for reporting to backcountry skiers: https://www.avalanche.state.co.us/contact/

Contact the Summit Daily News and express your opinion about how stupid and dangerous this is on the part of the District Attorney: https://www.summitdaily.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/

Contact the Denver Post and do the same: https://www.denverpost.com/submit-letter/

Show up at the criminal hearings and support these two men. Be respectful of the court, the judge and court personnel have nothing to do with this mess. It was handed to them by the District Attorney. Be considerate, respectful, quiet, turn off your phones and sit quietly, but be there.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

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Putting a saddle on a horse does not turn a livery into a saddle manufacturer. Release stops negligence claims and law stops product liability claims.

A woman who fell off a horse while on a horseback ride. She sued for negligence, which the release stopped, product liability which the law stopped and willful and wanton conduct, which will proceed to trial.

Messer v. Hi Country Stables Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2675, 2013 WL 93183

State: Colorado; United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Plaintiff: Alva Messer

Defendant: Hi Country Stables Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: negligence; product liability; and, willful and wanton conduct

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Mostly for defendant, however plaintiff could continue on willful and wanton claims

Year: 2013

Summary

A woman purchased a trail ride from the defendant. On the ride, her saddle slipped, and she fell off the horse. She sued for negligence which the release stopped, product’s liability, which failed because the stable is not a manufacturer and willful and wanton conduct. The court allowed the willful and wanton claim to proceed.

Facts

On July 16, 2009, Plaintiff Alva Messer purchased a guided horseback ride from Hi County Stables. Defendant HCS operates commercial horse-back riding at Glacier Creek Stables in Rocky Mountain National Park (“RMNP”). HCS is one of two equestrian companies owned by Rex Walker. The other equestrian company is Sombrero Ranches, Inc. (“SRI”). Before beginning any guided horseback ride, both companies require customers to sign an exculpatory contract, titled “Release” (hereafter “the Release” or “Release Forms”). The Release Forms for HCS and SRI are identical, except for the name of the company being released from liability. The Release Forms for HCS and SRI are printed in tablets containing 100 tear-away forms per tablet. Once printed, the printing company delivers the tablets to the offices of HCS and SRI.

At the start of the 2009 riding season, one tablet of Release Forms labeled SRI was placed in a box of office supplies for delivery to HCS. For reasons that are unexplained by Defendant, those same Release Forms—which Released SRI from liability—were used by HCS at Glacier Creek Stables on July 16, 2009.

Typically, when customers arrive at HCS, they are informed that they must sign a Release. Amongst other employees at HCS, Dallas Marshall informs customers that they are required to sign the Release and “mark their riding ability.”

When the Messers arrived at HCS on July 16, 2009, Marshall followed her normal practice and informed the Messers of the Release. She also requested that they indicate their riding ability, which Plaintiff did. Following this, and before commencing the guided horseback ride, Plaintiff signed the Release. The Release expressly provides that the customer “understands. . .the specific risks. . .arising from riding a horse. . .and that the [customer] nevertheless intentionally agree[s] to assume these risks.”

After signing the Release, Plaintiff entered the corral where she was assigned her horse before commencing the trail ride. The wrangler who led the guests on Plaintiff’s trail ride was Terry Humphrey.

Plaintiff encountered problems with her saddle during the trail ride which required adjustment by Plaintiff and Humphrey.

At the midway point, the Messer group stopped to take a rest break. Plaintiff encountered further problems with her saddle—including slippage of the saddle to the horse’s right.

Sometime later, as Plaintiff’s horse was stepping down a “rock stair” in the trail, Plaintiff fell off the right side of the horse (the “Incident.”) Plaintiff allegedly sustained serious injuries and economic loss resulting from the Incident.

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

The first issue was the fact the release that was signed did not name the proper defendant. Two stables were owned by the same person, each with different names. Each had a release that named it as the entity being protected. Somehow, a pad of the wrong releases ended up at the defendant, and the release signed by the plaintiff had the name of a different stable on it then where she was riding.

To make changes in a contract like this is called reformation. The court can reform a contract if the party’s intention when signing the contract is the same, and the language does not express the correct intention of the parties.

Reformation of a written instrument is appropriate only when the instrument does not represent the true agreement of the parties and the purpose of reformation is to give effect to the parties’ actual intentions.” Mutual mistake of a contract provides grounds for reformation if the written instrument “does not express the true intent or agreement of the parties.”

A mutual mistake must have occurred for a reformation to be effective.

An “essential prerequisite to a court’s power to reform a contract on the ground of mutual mistake is the existence of a prior agreement that represents the actual expectations of the parties and provides the basis upon which a court orders reformation.”

Because it was obvious that the plaintiff intended to go on a horseback ride with the defendant, where she signed the release, where she paid her money and where she took the ride, the court had no problems correcting the mutual mistake and placing the correct language in the release. This meant placing the name of the defendant in the position of the person to be protected by the release.

Accordingly, the Court finds that there was a mutual mistake at the time the Release was entered into. Mutual intent of the parties was to enter into an agreement whereby HCS would be released from certain claims. This provides the equitable basis to grant the relief. The Court orders that the name “Sombrero Ranches, Inc.” (SRI) be deleted and substituted with “Hi Country Stables” (HCS) in the Release.

The next issue was the validity of the release itself. Under Colorado law, there is a four-part test that a release must pass to be valid.

To determine whether the Release bars Plaintiff’s negligence claim, the Court must consider four factors: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

The first three parts of the test the court quickly covered. Prior Colorado Supreme Court cases held that a recreational activity owes no duty to the public; horseback riding is not an essential service that would bar the release under part two of the test and there was no evidence the release was entered into unfairly.

The fourth test the court also found was valid with this release.

With respect to the fourth factor, the Court looks to the language of the Release to elicit its intent. The Court must determine “whether the intent of the parties was to extinguish liability and whether this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed.”

It was obvious that the intent of the parties was to decide in advance who would pay for the injuries of any patron of the ride. The release in this case repeatedly used the word negligence throughout the document so the plaintiff knew the purpose of the release. The release also pointed out specific risks of horseback riding that the signor could suffer.

The release was valid to stop the negligence claims.

The next issue was the product liability claim. The plaintiff argued that since the defendant had placed the saddle in the stream of commerce, by placing it on the horse, it was liable for any injuries caused by the defectiveness of the saddle.

The defendant argued that the release stopped this claim also. However, the law in Colorado is that a release cannot stop a product liability claim.

That case held that an agreement releasing “a manufacturer from strict products liability for personal injury, in exchange for nothing more than an individual consumer’s right to have or use the product, necessarily violates the public policy of this jurisdiction and is void.”

The court found the product liability claim was not barred by the release. However, the court did hold that just placing a saddle on a horse for a trail ride does not create a product liability claim for defective equipment in Colorado. Horseback riding is a service; it is not a manufacturing process. Placing a saddle on the horse does not change that. The horse-riding service could not exist (for 99.9% of the people) without the saddle.

Plaintiff entered into a contract for a guided five-hour horseback ride through RMNP. This service primarily relied upon a horse (which is not a product) and a saddle (which incidental to that service). Without a product, the product liability claims cannot succeed.

The saddle was not an item manufactured by the defendant; it was incidental to the service being offered by the defendant and so the product liability claim failed. Finally, the defendant was not a manufacturer of saddles.

The final issues were the claims for willful and wanton conduct. A release cannot bar claims that are greater than negligence, willful and wanton conduct or gross negligence.

Willful and wanton conduct claims are mental state claims. Meaning the claim goes to the actions, the mental state of the defendant in ignoring or creating the issue. This require conscious thought, not simple failure. “…willful and wanton conduct requires a mental state “consonant with purpose, intent and voluntary choice.”

The court then allowed the plaintiffs claims based on willful and wanton conduct of the defendant to proceed to trial.

So Now What?

First, there is a need to look at the product liability claim. Not in the fact that most recreation businesses are manufacturing items, but because they are repairing them. Although you can find outfitter made items such as old raft frames, most items used now days are manufactured by a third party. However, many outfitters and recreation businesses do repair items.

Repairing an item may bring the outfitter into the trial under a product liability claim in many states. The outfitter by making repairs has entered into the stream of commerce between the manufacturer and the end user. The outfitter is no longer a user of the product, but a manufacturer of the product.

Remember there are some items you should never repair or that may be illegal to repair.

PFD’s cannot be repaired by law. Climbing harnesses or any other item where the failure would result in catastrophic injury or death or where the manufacturing process is protected by statute or standard should never be repaired.

The reformation issue was stupid. The cost of printing one set of releases on tan paper and the other on white would have eliminated this problem. Other examples would be putting the page numbers on the bottom right of one release and the center or top of the other. Locating the logo of the defendant in a different location on each release would have worked. Anything to that any employee can recognize that they are using the wrong release.

Some day there will be a horseback riding case that does not involve a slipping saddle. Why there still are, is a mystery to me, and I grew up with horses.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Email: Jim@Rec-Law.US

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

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