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T.K., a minor, by and through his natural Father and Next Friend, Timothy Killings, and Timothy Killings, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc., and Mary K. Paulin, Defendants.
Case No. 16-cv-03056
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS, SPRINGFIELD DIVISION
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87005
June 6, 2017, Decided
June 7, 2017, E-Filed
CORE TERMS: trailer, willful, farm, wanton misconduct, res ipsa loquitur, negligence claims, pleaded, cognizable, exclusive control, wanton, medical expenses, supervision, pulled, negligence per se, public road, legal conclusions, pulling, seat, factual allegations, right to relief, conscious disregard, indifference, speculative, supervise, reckless, notice, owed, public highway, guidelines, transport
COUNSEL: [*1] For T.K., a Minor, By And Through His Natural Father and Next Friend, Timothy Killings, Timothy Killings, Plaintiffs: Christopher Ryan Dixon, THE DIXON INJURY FIRM, St Louis, MO.
For Boys & Girls Club of America, Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc., Defendants: Randall A Mead, LEAD ATTORNEY, DRAKE NARUP & MEAD PC, Springfield, IL.
For Mary K Paulin, Defendant: Daniel R Price, LEAD ATTORNEY, WHAM & WHAM, Centralia, IL.
JUDGES: SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OPINION BY: SUE E. MYERSCOUGH
SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, U.S. District Judge:
Before the Court are Defendants Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Boys & Girls Club of Decatur, Inc.’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 32) and Defendant Mary K. Paulin’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 33). The motion filed by Defendants Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc. (Decatur Boys & Girls Club) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (America Boys & Girls Club) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Defendant Paulin’s motion is DENIED. In the Second Amended Complaint, T.K., a [*2] minor, through his father, Timothy Killings, sufficiently pleads negligence and willful and wanton misconduct causes of action against all Defendants. In addition, Mr. Killings pleads cognizable claims for T.K.’s past and future medical expenses against all Defendants. However, the allegations of the Second Amended Complaint are not sufficient to render the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable against Decatur Boys & Girls Club or America Boys & Girls Club.
The following facts come from Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint. The Court accepts them as true at the motion to dismiss stage. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).
On July 17, 2015, T.K., a then-eight-year-old resident of California, was a member of Decatur Boys & Girls Club, a corporate citizen of Illinois and a licensed child-care facility. On that same date, Decatur Boys & Girls Club was operating a summer camp through its agents and employees, and T.K. was under the paid care and supervision of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club. America Boys & Girls Club, a corporate citizen of Georgia, provides operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions regarding how Decatur Boys & Girls Club is to operate. Decatur [*3] Boys & Girls Club is required to follow these operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions.
On July 17, 2015, T.K. was taken from the premises of Decatur Boys & Girls Club in Decatur, Illinois, to property in Clinton, Illinois, owned by Defendant Paulin, an Illinois citizen. Neither Decatur Boys & Girls Club nor America Boys & Girls Club had permission to transport T.K. from Decatur to Defendant Paulin’s property in Clinton. Defendants,1 again without permission, put T.K. on a farm trailer owned by Defendant Paulin and located on Defendant Paulin’s property. The farm trailer was not designed or intended to transport people, and the trailer lacked guardrails, seats, seatbelts, and other equipment that might prevent people from falling off it. Defendant Paulin pulled the trailer, with T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children riding on it, onto a public highway with a tractor Defendant Paulin owned. The trailer was not being used in connection with a parade or a farm-related activity.
1 The use of “Defendants” in this Opinion will refer collectively to Decatur Boys & Girls Club, America Boys & Girls Club, and Mary K. Paulin.
While riding on the trailer, T.K. fell or jumped off the trailer or was pushed off. As a result, T.K. sustained injuries to his head, face, eyes, chest, neck, back, arms, lungs, hands, legs, [*4] and feet. T.K. underwent medical treatment for his injuries and will have to undergo additional treatment in the future. T.K’s father, Timothy Killings, a citizen of California, has incurred expenses related to his son’s medical care and will incur additional expenses in the future for his son’s future medical care.
On March 3, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint (d/e 1) against Defendants. Plaintiffs subsequently filed their First Amended Complaint (d/e 26) on May 23, 2016, and their Second Amended Complaint (d/e 31) on June 17, 2016. The Second Amended Complaint contains five counts. Counts 1 through 3 allege claims against Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club for, respectively, negligence, negligence based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, and willful and wanton misconduct. Counts 4 and 5 allege negligence and willful and wanton misconduct claims, respectively, against Defendant Paulin.
On June 27, 2016, Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club filed their Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, asking the Court to dismiss Counts 1 through 3 for failing to [*5] state cognizable claims or, in the alternative, to strike certain paragraphs of the Second Amended Complaint. On June 30, 2017, Defendant Paulin filed her Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint, asking the Court to dismiss Counts 4 and 5 for failing to state cognizable claims or, in the alternative, to strike certain paragraphs of the Second Amended Complaint.
This Court has original jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims because no Plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any Defendant and Plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1); McMillian v. Sheraton Chi. Hotel & Towers, 567 F.3d 839, 844 (7th Cir. 2009) (“When the jurisdictional threshold is uncontested, we generally will accept the plaintiff’s good faith allegation of the amount in controversy unless it appear[s] to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
III. LEGAL STANDARD
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). Plausibility means alleging factual content that allows a court to reasonably infer [*6] that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). A plaintiff’s complaint must suggest a right to relief, “raising that possibility above a speculative level.” Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 480 (7th Cir. 2016). “The required level of factual specificity rises with the complexity of the claim.” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616-17 (7th Cir. 2011).
When faced with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court “accept[s] as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Roberts v. City of Chicago, 817 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2016). “[L]egal conclusions and conclusory allegations merely reciting the elements of the claim are not entitled to this presumption of truth.” McCauley, 671 F.3d at 616. Further, the Court is “not obliged to ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff’s claim.” R.J.R. Servs., Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir. 1989). The Court may “strike from a pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(f).
A. Count I and Count IV Sufficiently Plead Negligence and Medical Expense Claims Against All Defendants.
1. T.K. has pleaded cognizable negligence claims against all Defendants.
In a case where federal jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, “[s]tate substantive law applies, but federal procedural rules govern.” Doermer v. Callen, 847 F.3d 522, 529 (7th Cir. 2017). “To state a claim for negligence under Illinois law, a plaintiff must plead [*7] that the defendant owed plaintiff a duty, it breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.” Allstate Indem. Co. v. ADT LLC, 110 F. Supp. 3d 856, 862-63 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (citing Simpkins v. CSX Transp., Inc., 2012 IL 110662, 965 N.E.2d 1092, 1097, 358 Ill. Dec. 613 (Ill. 2012). In Illinois, “every person owes to all other persons a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury which naturally flows as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of his act.” Jane Doe-3 v. McLean Cnty. Unit Dist. No. 5 Bd. of Dirs., 2012 IL 112479, 973 N.E.2d 880, 890, 362 Ill. Dec. 484 (Ill. 2012). Whether this duty arises in a particular context depends on “the reasonable foreseeability of the injury, the likelihood of the injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on defendants.” Id. A child’s caretaker has a duty to protect the child from harm. Ryan v. Yarbrough, 355 Ill. App. 3d 342, 823 N.E.2d 259, 262, 291 Ill. Dec. 249 (Ill. App. Ct. 2005). Whether a duty exists is a question of law to be decided by the Court. Simpkins, 965 N.E.2d at 1096.
In support of his negligence claims against America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club, T.K.2 alleges that he was a member of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and was entrusted to the care of both organizations on July 17, 2015. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 15-16. America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club agreed to accept the “care, custody, and control” of T.K. for the purpose of providing child care. Id. ¶ 16. T.K. also alleges [*8] that on July 17, 2015, the relationship between him and America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club imposed on the two organizations a duty of care to adequately supervise him and protect him from harm, any unreasonable risk of harm, dangerous instrumentalities, and dangerous conditions. Id. ¶¶ 42-43.
2 Plaintiffs do not separate T.K’s claims from Mr. Killings’ claims in the Second Amended Complaint. To avoid confusion, the Court will address the allegations of the Second Amended Complaint as those of T.K. when analyzing T.K’s claims and as those of Mr. Killings when analyzing Mr. Killings’ claims.
Further, according to T.K., America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club breached the duty of care they owed him in several ways, including by (1) negligently supervising him, (2) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him, (3) failing to warn or failing to adequately warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer, (4) failing to properly supervise the minors they placed on the trailer, and (5) failing to provide enough staff members to monitor the children they placed on the trailer. Id. ¶ 45. With respect to America Boys & Girls Club, T.K. further alleges that it failed to properly train Decatur Boys & Girls Club on the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions of America Boys & Girls Club and [*9] that it failed to supervise Decatur Boys & Girls Club to ensure that the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions were followed. Id. ¶¶ 46-47. In addition, T.K. claims that the actions of America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club proximately caused his injuries. Id. ¶¶ 33-39, 49.
In support of his negligence claim against Defendant Paulin, T.K. alleges that on July 17, 2015, Defendant Paulin put him on the farm trailer even though Defendant Paulin did not have the requisite permission to give him a ride on the trailer. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 21, 23. Defendant Paulin towed the trailer, while T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children were on board, with a tractor onto a public highway. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. According to T.K., Defendant Paulin owed him a duty of care to protect him from any unreasonable risk of harm and breached that duty by (1) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him; (2) failing to warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer and pulling the trailer onto a public highway; (3) failing to warn [*10] him that the trailer was dangerous and not reasonably safe given that the trailer had no railings, barriers, walls, or seats; and (4) creating a dangerous condition by placing him on the trailer and pulling it onto a public highway. Id. ¶¶ 72-73. In addition, T.K. alleges that the actions of Defendant Paulin proximately caused his injuries. Id. ¶¶ 33-39, 75.
Based on these allegations, T.K. has sufficiently pleaded negligence claims against Decatur Boys & Girls Club, America Boys & Girls Club, and Defendant Paulin. The allegations in Count I and Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint give Defendants notice of the basis for T.K.’s negligence claims against them and are sufficient to establish that T.K. has a plausible, as opposed to speculative, right to relief against Defendants. This is all that is required of a plaintiff under the federal notice pleading regime. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547.
Defendants do not seem to dispute such a finding. Indeed, their arguments for the dismissal of Count I and Count IV focus on the allegations in the Second Amended Complaint relating to an alleged violation of 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-1408, a provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code, and claims that their alleged statutory violations constitute [*11] negligence per se. See Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 32), at 1-2; Memorandum of Law (d/e 21), at 4-6; Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 33), at 1-2; Memorandum of Law (d/e 34), at 1-2. Defendants are correct that Illinois does not recognize statutory violations as negligence per se. See Kalata v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., 144 Ill. 2d 425, 581 N.E.2d 656, 661, 163 Ill. Dec. 502 (Ill. 1991) (“A violation of a statute or ordinance designed to protect human life or property is prima facie evidence of negligence. . . . The violation does not constitute negligence per se, however, and therefore the defendant may prevail by showing that he acted reasonably under the circumstances.”). But the inclusion of allegations regarding violations of 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-1408 and negligence per se do not require the dismissal of Count I or Count IV. As the Court has explained above, T.K. has sufficiently pleaded negligence claims against Defendants without the allegations relating to statutory violations. Cf. Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992) (“[T]he complaint need not identify a legal theory, and specifying an incorrect theory is not fatal.”).
2. Timothy Killings has pleaded cognizable medical expense claims against all Defendants.
Just because T.K. has cognizable negligence claims against Defendants does not mean that Timothy Killings, T.K.’s father, also has such claims. To state a [*12] negligence cause of action, Mr. Killings must plead enough facts to make it plausible that he was harmed as a proximate result of Defendants’ breach of a duty they owed to him. Allstate, 110 F. Supp. 3d at 862-63. Mr. Killings has failed to meet his burden. The fact that Defendants were responsible for T.K.’s well-being on July 17, 2015, does not mean that Defendants had any duty to Mr. Killings. See Bruntjen v. Bethalto Pizza, LLC, 2014 IL App (5th) 120245, 385 Ill. Dec. 215, 18 N.E.3d 215, 231 (Ill. App. Ct. 2014) (“The criterion in a duty analysis is whether a plaintiff and a defendant stood in such a relationship to each other that the law imposed an obligation upon the defendant to act for the protection of the plaintiff.”). It was T.K., not Mr. Killings, who was placed on an unsafe farm trailer and pulled onto a public road. Defendants therefore had a duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury to T.K., not Mr. Killings. Further, Mr. Killings does not claim that he was physically injured as a result of Defendants’ negligence; his only claimed injury is the money he has spent and the money he will spend in the future for T.K.’s past and future medical treatment. See Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 38-39. In short, Mr. Killings has not met the pleading requirements for a negligence claim against any Defendant.
But just because Mr. [*13] Killings has not pleaded cognizable negligence claims against Defendants does not mean that he has pleaded no cognizable claims against them. In Illinois, parents have a cause of action against a tortfeasor who injures their child and causes them to incur medical expenses. Pirrello v. Maryville Acad., Inc., 2014 IL App (1st) 133964, 386 Ill. Dec. 108, 19 N.E.3d 1261, 1264 (Ill. App. Ct. 2014). The claim is not one for damages stemming from the child’s physical injury, but one founded on the parents’ liability for the minor’s medical expenses under the Illinois Family Expense Act. Id.; see also 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/15(a)(1) (obligating parents to pay for the “expenses of the family”). T.K. has pleaded cognizable negligence claims against Defendants. Mr. Killings alleges that he has been saddled with bills stemming from T.K.’s medical care, some of which he has paid, and that he will incur additional medical bills in the future as a result of the injuries T.K. suffered on account of Defendants’ negligence. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 38-39. Mr. Killings is the father of T.K., a minor, and is required by law to pay for T.K.’s medical expenses, Mr. Killings has adequately pleaded claims against Defendants for the recovery of the amounts paid or to be paid for T.K.’s past and future medical expenses stemming from Defendants’ negligence.
One [*14] final point merits a brief discussion. In the Second Amended Complaint, Mr. Killings alleges that he has suffered, as a result of T.K.’s injuries, “loss of aid, comfort, society, companionship, pleasure, and the family relationship.” Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶ 40. However, in Illinois, a parent may not “recover for loss of the society and companionship of a child who is nonfatally injured.” Vitro v. Mihelcic, 209 Ill. 2d 76, 806 N.E.2d 632, 633, 282 Ill. Dec. 335 (Ill. 2004). Therefore, Mr. Killings has no valid claim for loss of society and companionship in this case.
3. The Court strikes paragraph 27 from Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint.
As an alternative to the dismissal of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, Defendants Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club ask the Court to strike paragraphs 50 through 55 of the Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 32), at 2. Similarly, Defendant Paulin asks the Court, as an alternative to the dismissal of Count IV, to strike paragraphs 76 through 81 of the Second Amended Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 33), at 1-2. According to Defendants, the Court should strike these paragraphs because they are ultimately used to claim that Defendants’ alleged statutory violations constitute negligence per se.
Additionally, Defendants [*15] Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club request that the Court strike paragraph 27 from the Second Amended Complaint for being duplicative of paragraph 25 and strike paragraphs 42, 43, 44, 48, 68, 69, and 70 because those paragraphs are legal conclusions. Mot. to Dismiss (d/e 32), at 4. But even assuming that the aforementioned paragraphs are legal conclusions, as opposed to factual allegations, that is no reason to strike them from the Second Amended Complaint. Although Plaintiffs are required to plead facts that indicate they have a plausible, as opposed to a speculative, right to relief, see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, they are not prohibited from also pleading legal conclusions that might help to provide Defendants with notice of the claims brought against them or provide context for the factual allegations. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Riley, 199 F.R.D. 276, 278 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S. Ct. 1827, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1989)) (noting that “legal conclusions are an integral part of the federal notice pleading regime” and that Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires parties to respond to all allegations contained within a pleading, including legal conclusions). Therefore, the Court strikes only paragraph 27 of the Second Amended Complaint, as it is duplicative of paragraph 25.
B. The Allegations of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended [*16] Complaint Are Insufficient to Render the Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur Applicable Against Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club.
Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence applicable to a negligence claim, not a distinct theory of recovery. Rice v. Burnley, 230 Ill. App. 3d 987, 596 N.E.2d 105, 108, 172 Ill. Dec. 826 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992). Res ipsa loquitur allows “proof of negligence by circumstantial evidence when the direct evidence concerning cause of injury is primarily within the knowledge and control of the defendant.” Metz v. Cent. Ill. Elec. & Gas Co., 32 Ill. 2d 446, 207 N.E.2d 305, 307 (Ill. 1965). The doctrine “is meant to bridge an evidentiary gap when an injury could not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence.” Buechel v. United States, 746 F.3d 753, 765 (7th Cir. 2014). Accordingly, res ipsa loquitur applies only when the facts “admit of the single inference that the accident would not have happened unless the defendant had been negligent.” Britton v. Univ. of Chi. Hosps., 382 Ill. App. 3d 1009, 889 N.E.2d 706, 709, 321 Ill. Dec. 441 (Ill. App. Ct. 2008). Whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies is a question of law to be determined by the Court. Imig v. Beck, 115 Ill. 2d 18, 503 N.E.2d 324, 329, 104 Ill. Dec. 767 (Ill. 1986).
Under Illinois law, a plaintiff bringing a negligence claim based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur must plead that he was injured “in an occurrence that ordinarily does not happen in the absence of negligence” and that it was caused “by an agency or instrumentality within the defendant’s exclusive control.” Avalos-Landeros v. United States, 50 F. Supp. 3d 921, 927 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (citing Heastie v. Roberts, 226 Ill. 2d 515, 877 N.E.2d 1064, 1076, 315 Ill. Dec. 735 (Ill. 2007)). Although, in the past, [*17] a plaintiff had to allege that the “the injury occurred under circumstances indicating that it was not due to any voluntary act or neglect on the part of the plaintiff,” this requirement was removed due to the adoption of comparative fault principles in Illinois. Heastie, 877 N.E.2d at 1076. With respect to the requirement of “exclusive control,” a defendant’s control over the instrumentality “at the time of the alleged negligence is not defeated by lack of control at the time of the injury.” Darrough v. Glendale Heights Cmty. Hosp., 234 Ill. App. 3d 1055, 600 N.E.2d 1248, 1252-53, 175 Ill. Dec. 790 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992). Indeed, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can be appropriate if the instrument that caused the injury was in the defendant’s exclusive control “at a time prior to the injury and there is no change in conditions or intervening act that could reasonably have caused the event resulting in the injury.” Id. at 1253.
T.K. alleges that “a minor child under the care and supervision of a registered, licensed professional child care facility does not ordinarily sustain serious injuries when properly supervised in the absence of negligence.” Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶ 60. Further, T.K. claims that at the time he sustained his injuries, the farm trailer that injured him was under the exclusive control of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys [*18] & Girls Club. Id. ¶ 61. These allegations are not sufficient to render the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable here. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545 (noting that “a formulaic recitation of a cause of action’s elements” will not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss). And although the Second Amended Complaint contains numerous factual allegations regarding the incident in which T.K. was injured, those allegations do not indicate a plausible right to relief for T.K. under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
Because the facts pleaded in Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint provide no support for the second prong in the res ipsa loquitur analysis–whether an injury was caused by an object within the defendant’s exclusive control–the Court’s res ipsa loquitur analysis will begin and end with that prong. Even assuming that the incident in which T.K. was injured was one that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence, T.K.’s account of the circumstances surrounding the accident indicate that it was Defendant Paulin, not Decatur Boys & Girls Club or America Boys & Girls Club, who had exclusive control of the farm trailer. According to the Second Amended Complaint, the farm trailer that injured T.K. was owned [*19] by Defendant Paulin and located on Defendant Paulin’s property. Defendant Paulin was the one who pulled the trailer onto a public road with T.K. and several other minor children on board. Defendant Paulin owned the tractor with which the trailer was pulled. Although T.K. claims that Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club were responsible for placing him on the farm trailer, he makes the same allegation with respect to Defendant Paulin. See Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 22-23. In short, there is nothing in the Second Amended Complaint to support T.K.’s allegation that Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club were in exclusive control of the farm trailer at any time.
Based on this analysis, the Court has determined that the factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint are not sufficient to render the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable. In doing so, the Court again notes that res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary rule, not a distinct theory of recovery. If facts uncovered through the discovery process sufficiently support the application of res ipsa loquitur against any Defendant, the Court will allow T.K. to rely on the doctrine at the summary judgment [*20] stage and will allow the trier of fact to consider and apply the doctrine as to that Defendant.
C. Count III and Count V Sufficiently Plead Willful and Wanton Misconduct Claims Against the Defendants.
To state a claim under Illinois law for willful and wanton misconduct, a plaintiff must plead facts establishing the elements of a negligence claim–duty, breach, proximate causation, and harm–and “either a deliberate intention to harm or an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.” Kirwan v. Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protections Dist., 349 Ill. App. 3d 150, 811 N.E.2d 1259, 1263, 285 Ill. Dec. 380 (Ill. App. Ct. 2004) (quoting Adkins v. Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Ctr., 129 Ill. 2d 497, 544 N.E.2d 733, 743, 136 Ill. Dec. 47 (Ill. 1989)). As noted above, T.K. has sufficiently pleaded negligence causes of action against all Defendants. T.K. has incorporated the allegations comprising his negligence claims into his willful and wanton misconduct claims against Defendants. Therefore, to state claims for willful and wanton misconduct against Defendants, T.K. need only additionally allege either intentional or reckless willful and wanton misconduct committed by Defendants. Reckless willful and wanton misconduct is conduct committed with an utter indifference of or a conscious disregard for the safety of others. Kirwan, 811 N.E.2d at 1263. To meet this standard, the defendant “must be conscious of his conduct, [*21] and, though having no intent to injure, must be conscious, from his knowledge of the surrounding circumstances and existing conditions, that his conduct will naturally and probably result in injury.” Id.
In the Second Amended Complaint, T.K. alleges that on July 17, 2015, Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club placed him and 15 to 20 other minors on an unsafe farm trailer with no guardrails, sidewalls, barriers, or seats while providing inadequate supervision. Sec. Am. Complaint, ¶¶ 22, 65. T.K. further alleges that the trailer was not designed to transport people. Id. ¶ 24. T.K claims that Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club failed to take necessary safety precautions and operated their summer camp recklessly or with gross negligence. Id. ¶¶ 64, 68. According to T.K., the actions and inaction of Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club were “willful, wanton, grossly negligent, careless, [and] reckless” and “showed an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of [T.K.].” Id. ¶ 70.
T.K. also includes several allegations in Count III about what Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club “knew or should have [*22] known.” Specifically, according to T.K., Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club knew or should have known that the farm trailer was unreasonably dangerous, that additional supervision was required for the 15 to 20 children riding on the farm trailer, and that there was no way for the children to be properly seated on the farm trailer. Id. ¶¶ 66-68. Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club also knew or should have known that placing children on the farm trailer and pulling it with a tractor without proper supervision posed a high probability of serious physical harm to T.K. Id. ¶ 69.
With respect to Defendant Paulin, T.K. alleges that Defendant Paulin placed T.K. on a farm trailer that was not designed or intended to transport people and had no guardrails, seats, or seat belts to prevent people from falling off it. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25-26. Further, T.K. claims that Defendant Paulin had no intention of making sure that T.K. was safe when she placed him on the farm trailer and pulled it onto a public road. Id. ¶ 83. T.K. also claims that Defendant Paulin failed to take necessary safety precautions. Id. ¶ 85. Defendant Paulin’s conduct, according to T.K., was “willful, [*23] wanton, grossly negligent, careless, [and] reckless” and showed a “conscious disregard for the safety of [T.K.].” Id. ¶ 87.
As with Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club, T.K. includes allegations in the Second Amended Complaint regarding what Defendant Paulin “knew or should have known.” Specifically, T.K. alleges that Defendant Paulin knew or should have known that the farm trailer was unreasonably dangerous, that pulling children onto a public road while on the trailer was unreasonably dangerous, and that placing children on the farm trailer and pulling the trailer onto a public roadway without proper supervision posed a high probability of serious physical harm or death. Id. ¶¶ 83-84, 86.
T.K.’s allegations are sufficient to plead willful and wanton misconduct claims against Defendants. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a pleading include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not plead enough facts to show that he is likely to prevail on his claim; rather, he is required only to include enough facts to raise his claim from speculative to plausible. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The allegations set forth [*24] above are sufficient to make it plausible that Defendants committed willful and wanton misconduct when they put T.K. on an unsafe farm trailer not designed for transporting people, failed to take necessary safety precautions, and either failed to properly supervise T.K. or pulled the trailer, with T.K. on it, onto a public road. See Worthem v. Gillette Co., 774 F. Supp. 514, 517 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (holding that the plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded willful and wanton misconduct claims where she alleged that “willful and wanton acts or omissions [were] committed or omitted with conscious indifference to existing circumstances and conditions” and went on to “enumerate specific instances of willful and wanton conduct”).
Although T.K.’s “knew or should have known” allegations against Defendants may have been insufficient to meet his pleading burden with respect to willful and wanton misconduct claims, see id. (admitting that the court “might agree” with the defendant’s arguments that “knew or should have known” allegations are mere negligence allegations insufficient to merit punitive damages), T.K. does not rely solely on these allegations in his willful and wanton misconduct claims against Defendants. Indeed, as the Court has noted above, Count III [*25] and Count V of the Second Amended Complaint, which incorporate the allegations from the counts preceding them, contain specific factual allegations regarding the actions Defendants took. Further, the Court does not view T.K.’s “knew or should have known” allegations as completely irrelevant to a willful and wanton misconduct claim under Illinois law, which holds that willful and wanton misconduct can be found where there is a failure to discover a danger through carelessness when it could have been discovered through the exercise of ordinary care. Ziarko v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 161 Ill. 2d 267, 641 N.E.2d 402, 406, 204 Ill. Dec. 178 (Ill. 1994).
The fact that T.K. bases his willful and wanton claims on the same facts as his negligence claims is of no concern. Under Illinois law, “[t]he same acts by a defendant, if sufficiently egregious, can constitute both negligence and willful and wanton conduct.” Bastian v. TPI Corp., 663 F. Supp. 474, 476 (N.D. Ill. 1987) (citing Smith v. Seiber, 127 Ill. App. 3d 950, 469 N.E.2d 231, 235, 82 Ill. Dec. 697 (Ill. App. Ct. 1984). Therefore, “one can plead the same facts in two counts, one characterizing them as negligence and the other as willful and wanton conduct, if the same facts could support both theories.” Bastian, 663 F. Supp. at 476 (citing O’Brien v. Twp. High Sch. Dist. 214, 83 Ill. 2d 462, 415 N.E.2d 1015, 1018, 47 Ill. Dec. 702 (Ill. 1980).
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants Boys & Girls Club of America and Boys & Girls Club of Decatur, Inc.’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion [*26] to Strike Portions of Count I of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 32) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Count II of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Further, the Court STRIKES paragraph 27 of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint as duplicative. Defendant Mary K. Paulin’s Combined Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Alternative Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint (d/e 33) is DENIED. Pursuant to Rule 12(a)(4)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants have 14 days from the date they receive a copy of this Order to file an answer to Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint.
ENTER: June 6, 2017.
/s/ Sue E. Myerscough
SUE E. MYERSCOUGH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
What happens if you fail to follow the requirements of your insurance policy and do not get a release signed? In New Hampshire, you have no coverage.Posted: July 17, 2017
You either have to create an absolutely fool proof system or take your release
online. If they don’t sign they don’t climb!
State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire
Plaintiff: Colony Insurance Company
Defendant: Dover Indoor Climbing Gym& a.
Plaintiff Claims: There was no insurance coverage because the insured did not get a release signed by the injured claimant
Defendant Defenses: The insurance policy endorsement requiring a release to be signed was ambiguous
Holding: For the Plaintiff Insurance Company
This is a scary case, yet the outcome is correct. The plaintiff insurance company issued a policy to the defendant climbing gym. An endorsement (an added amendment to the contract) to the policy said there would only be coverage if the gym all customers sign a release.
An endorsement to the policy stated: “All ‘participants’ shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in
your favor prior to engaging in any ‘climbing activity.’ “It further stated: “Failure to conform to this warranty will render this policy null and void as [sic] those claims brought against you.”
A climber came to the gym with a group of friends. The gym asked everyone if they had a release on file, and no one said no. (Yes really stupid procedures!) Bigelow was part of the group and did not have a release on file and had not signed a release. While climbing Bigelow fell and was injured.
Bigelow accompanied friends to the climbing gym, but did not sign a waiver. He testified that he was never asked to sign a waiver; the gym owner’s affidavit stated that the owner asked the group of climbers if they had waivers on file and received no negative answers. It is undisputed; however, that Bigelow did not sign a waiver or release. While climbing, Bigelow fell and sustained serious injuries.
The defendant climbing gym put the plaintiff insurance company on notice of the claim. When the insurance company found out no release was signed, the insurance company filed a declaratory judgment motion. A declaratory judgment is a way to go into a court and say there is no coverage under this policy because there was no release. It is an attempt to be a quick interpretation of the contract so the bigger issue can be resolved quickly.
The gym then put Colony on notice to defend and pay any verdict obtained by Bigelow. In response, Colony filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the gym’s failure to obtain a release from Bigelow absolved Colony of any duty to defend or indemnify the gym.
Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted the climbing gym’s motion for summary judgment saying the endorsement requiring the signed release was ambiguous. The ambiguity was created because the insurance company had not provided the gym with a sample waiver to use.
The trial court found that Colony’s failure to provide the gym with a sample waiver rendered the endorsement provision ambiguous. The trial court therefore denied Colony’s motion for summary judgment, and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment.
This analysis by the court was absurd. Releases need to be written for the gym, for the gym’s clients and for the state law of the state where it is to be used. A “sample” release is a guaranteed loser in most cases. However, I suspect the court was looking for anyway it could find to provide coverage for the gym.
The trial court’s ruling meant the plaintiff insurance company had to provide coverage to the defendant for any claims made by the injured climber Bigelow.
The insurance company appealed the decision. New Hampshire does not have an intermediary appellate court system so the appeal went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
Insurance policies are contracts and are interpreted as such. However, because have been written in a specific way and are always offered on a take it or leave it basis, as well as the fact the insurance company has all the cards (money) insurance policies have additional legal interpretations in addition to contract law.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court started its analysis by looking at how insurance policies are interpreted. That means the policy is read as a whole objectively. Terms are given their natural meaning, meaning there is no special interpretation of any term, and if the policy is clear and unambiguous is it enforced. No special reading of the policy is allowed based on any party to the policy’s expectations.
We construe the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, we accord the language its natural and ordinary meaning. We need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, our search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy.
The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists as defined by the policy rests on the insurance company. That means coverage exists under the policy unless the insurance company can prove no coverage was written.
If an insurance company wants to limit its coverage, it is allowed to do so. However, that limitation must be clear and unambiguous. An ambiguity exists if a reasonable disagreement exists between the insurance company and the policyholder and that disagreement could lead to two or more, interpretations.
Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so “through clear and unambiguous policy language. Ambiguity exists if “reasonable disagreement between contracting parties” leads to at least two interpretations of the language.
Ambiguities will be examined in the appropriate context and the words construed in their plain, ordinary and popular meaning. If the interpretation of the ambiguity favors the policyholder, then the coverage will favor the insured.
In determining whether an ambiguity exists, we will look to the claimed ambiguity, consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer.
If, however, the language in the policy is clear, the court will not bend over backward or as written in this case “perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics” to find an ambiguity and create coverage.
Where, however, the policy language is clear, this court “will not perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity” simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended.
The court then looked at the determination of the trial court which found an ambiguity because the insurance company did not provide a sample insurance policy. The Supreme Court found that was an incorrect interpretation of the policy. Even the defendant climbing gym agreed with the court on this
Even the gym, however, contends that the trial court “reached the correct result for the wrong reasons.” Thus, the gym does not argue that the endorsement creates an ambiguity by its failure to provide the insured with a sample waiver form, but, rather, that the exclusionary language is ambiguous because it states that participants shall “be required” to sign waivers as opposed to mandating that the gym obtain signed waivers.
The court then applied to the law of New Hampshire in interpreting insurance policies to the facts of this case. The court found the language requiring a release was clear and that a reasonable person could only read it.
The clear meaning of the policy language is that the gym is required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. The gym’s interpretation is unreasonably narrow, and is therefore not the type of alternative interpretation that renders policy language ambiguous.
Simply put the policy requires the defendant climbing gym to have everyone sign a release. If no release is signed, there was no coverage for the gym. The trial court was overturned, and the climbing gym faced the claims of the injured climber without insurance coverage.
So Now What?
One of the first cases I was involved with was very similar. A Montana stable was insured by an insurance company with an endorsement just as this one; all riders were required to sign a release. In Montana all guides, including horseback guides had to be licensed by the state. A state employee was checking out the
stable and found the releases. In Montana, you cannot use a release. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release andMontana Statute Prohibits Use of a Release)
The state employee had the stable quit using the release, or they would lose their license to operate in Montana. A rider was injured and sued the stable, and the insurance company denied coverage. I was contacted by the law firm representing the insurance company and was floored by the facts and how the insurance company could deny coverage when it violated state regulations.
However, in that situation as well as this one, there is not much you can do to get around the situation if the policy clearly states you must have a release signed. In the Montana case, the stable owner should have immediately contacted his insurance company when he was told he could not use a release and pay to have the endorsement removed or found another insurance company to write him a policy.
In this case, a proper procedure should have been put in place to confirm signed releases rather than relying on the honesty of someone walking through the doors to the gym.
When you purchase insurance make sure you and your insurance agent are speaking clearly to each other, and you both understand what you are looking for. When the policy arrives, read the policy or pay a professional to read the policy for you looking for the coverage’s you need as well as looking for problems with the coverage.
If you ask the agent or broker to clarify the coverage you are wanting, to make sure you get that clarification in writing (or an email), so you can take that to court if necessary.
Most importantly create a system to make sure that everyone who comes to your facility, activity or business when you use a release, signs a release.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Robert J. Milne, an individual; Timothy K. Sorrow, individually and as personal representative on behalf of his deceased son, Samuel B. Hall, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. USA Cycling Inc., a Colorado corporation, d/b/a National Off-road Bicycle Association; Cycle Cyndicate Inc., a Colorado Corporation; Eric Jean, an individual, Defendants-Appellees.
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT
575 F.3d 1120; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17822
August 10, 2009, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah. (D.C. No. 2:05-CV-00675-TS).
Milne v. USA Cycling, Inc., 489 F. Supp. 2d 1283, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42579 (D. Utah, 2007)
COUNSEL: Steve Russell (Jordan Kendall with him on the briefs) of Eisenberg & Gilchrist, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Allan L. Larson (Richard A. Vazquez with him on the briefs) of Snow, Christensen, & Martineau, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Defendants-Appellees.
JUDGES: Before McCONNELL, EBEL, and GORSUCH, Circuit Judges. GORSUCH, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
OPINION BY: EBEL
[*1122] EBEL, Circuit Judge.
This diversity jurisdiction case involves Utah state law claims of negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death based on a tragic accident that occurred during a bicycle race called the “Tour of Canyonlands” near Moab, Utah. During the race, one or more of the racers collided with an SUV and trailer driving in the opposite direction. One racer was killed, and another was badly injured. The injured rider and the decedent’s mother–in her own capacity and on behalf of her son’s estate–filed suit against the race’s organizers and the entities responsible for promoting and overseeing the race.
The district court granted defendants’ motion to strike plaintiffs’ expert’s second [**2] affidavit, and granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. On appeal, the plaintiffs only challenge the district court’s decision to exclude their expert’s opinion and to grant summary judgment for the defendants on the plaintiffs’ claims of gross negligence.
Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we AFFIRM.
I. BACKGROUND 1
1 Because this case comes to us on defendants’ motion for summary judgment, we construe all facts in plaintiffs’ favor. See Beardsley v. Farmland Co-Op, Inc., 530 F.3d 1309, 1313 (10th Cir. 2008) ( [HN1] “This court reviews the district court’s summary judgment decision de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party . . . .” (quoting Herrera v. Lufkin Indus., Inc., 474 F.3d 675, 679-80 (10th Cir. 2007)) (ellipses in original).
The “Tour of the Canyonlands” (“TOC”) is a cross-country mountain bike race [*1123] through the canyons outside Moab, Utah. The race begins on six miles of an “open course” dirt road, where racers share the road with automobile traffic, and continues for another nineteen miles on rugged off-road paths. On April 25, 2005, two racers–Samuel B. Hall and Robert J. Milne–were racing the TOC when they [**3] struck a Ford Excursion SUV, and the trailer it was pulling, on the six-mile open course portion of the race. Mr. Hall died at the scene from severe head trauma. Mr. Milne was seriously injured, but survived the accident.
Following the accident, Plaintiff-Appellant Timothy Sorrow brought negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful deaths claims personally and on behalf of the estate of her deceased son, Mr. Hall, against the people and entities responsible for organizing the race. Plaintiff-Appellant Robert J. Milne brought claims of negligence and gross negligence on his own behalf against the same defendants.
The three Defendants-Appellees were responsible for organizing, promoting, and overseeing the TOC race on April 25, 2005. U.S.A. Cycling Inc., d/b/a the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (“NORBA”), oversaw the race and drafted the rules governing the race, Cycle Cyndicate organized and promoted the race, and Eric Jean–the president and CEO of Cycle Cyndicate–played a large role in administering and supervising the race.
A. Open Course Mountain Bike Racing
Although a portion of this race took place on an open road, the race was governed exclusively by the mountain bike racing [**4] rules developed by NORBA. These rules differ significantly from road racing rules. For example, road racers must obey a “center-line rule,” and may be disqualified if they cross over the line painted in the middle of the road. Mountain bike racers, on the other hand, will not be disqualified for crossing the center-line. This distinction is based at least in part on the fact that, unlike the roads used for road racing, open-course mountain bike races often take place on dirt roads that do not have a clearly marked center line. Thus, a center-line rule would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
Despite the fact that a mountain bike racer may not be disqualified for crossing the center line, there was evidence that the race organizers told the racers to obey a center-line rule. Even where no center-line rule is in effect, however, racers are expected to be aware of their surroundings, and to veer right if they see oncoming traffic.
Open-course bicycle races are apparently not uncommon in the mountain bike racing world and are especially common in Utah. Mr. Milne testified that about 25% of the mountain bike races he participated in were “open course” races. The TOC itself has taken [**5] place in part on an open course since at least 1998.
Automobile-bicycle accidents are very uncommon at TOC. Mr. Jean stated that throughout the more than ten-year history of the race, with races in many of those years having nearly 500 participants, he is aware of only one accident involving a bicyclist and an automobile–the accident that led to this case. Perhaps because of the low frequency of vehicular accidents, NORBA has no rules dictating that race organizers must regulate traffic on open-course trails to avoid automobile-bicycle [*1124] collisions. There was some evidence that, despite the fact that NORBA has no such requirement, Mr. Jean requested permission to close the road to traffic on the day of the race. Whether or not he made those efforts, it is clear that the permit obtained for the race stated that the race could not stop traffic for more than 15 minutes at a time. 2
2 The race organizers obtained a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) for [**6] the race. However, the record indicates that there was a conflict at the time between the BLM and some of the County governments regarding who had control over the roads in the area. This court expresses no opinion on that conflict.
B. The Racers
Both Mr. Hall and Mr. Milne were classified as “expert” racers, and had extensive mountain bike racing experience. They had raced the TOC before, and were familiar with the course. Before each of these races, they knowingly signed liability release forms, which provided that the parties had waived all claims against the race organizers, including claims premised on the organizers’ negligence. The releases also specifically mentioned that racers were assuming the risk of collision with vehicles. Those warnings, in combination with the race organizers’ pre-race announcements that the first six miles would be on an open course shared with other vehicles, make it clear that Mr. Hall and Mr. Milne knew they could encounter vehicles during their race.
C. Safety Precautions Taken by the Race Organizers
The race organizers took a number of safety precautions both before and during the race. For example, the race organizers posted a sign warning people [**7] in the area of the upcoming race, although that sign had been knocked down at least once during the week the leading up to the race.
On the day of the race, the organizers posted, about a mile and half from the starting line, some attendants whose job it was to warn drivers that a race was taking place, that they might encounter some temporary road closures, and that they would be sharing the road with hundreds of cyclists. Some race organizers also testified that they approached people camped in the area to warn them that a race would be taking place that day. Mr. Konitshek, the driver of the SUV involved in the accident, testified that no one ever came to his campground to warn of the race that morning, despite the fact that his campground was clearly visible from the road. However, the other members of his party testified that the race organizers warned them about the race as they drove away from their campground.
The race organizers also arranged for 25 “course marshals” to help supervise the race. Some of those marshals were posted near intersections or sharp turns in order to mitigate some of the risks associated with the automobile traffic the racers might encounter. However, [**8] no one was assigned to the area right near the accident site, which was relatively straight and wide. Further, even though some course marshals had been assigned to areas between the starting line and the place of the accident, some witnesses testified that they did not notice anyone directing traffic in that area. In addition to the course marshals, Mr. Jean had a few people available to administer first aid to injured riders. Mr. Jean himself also carried a backpack with some medical equipment.
Finally, the race organizers made significant efforts to inform the racers that they might encounter vehicles during the race. In order to ride, race participants had to sign a liability release waiver that specifically mentioned the potential for vehicular [*1125] accidents. Further, before the race began, the race organizers announced that the TOC was an open course race, and that racers might encounter automobile traffic.
D. The Accident
Mr. Konitshek was driving a 2001 Ford Excursion with a 30-foot trailer about five miles from the starting line when he noticed that a group of bikers were approaching his car from the opposite direction. The bikers were spread out too wide for their lane of travel. [**9] That portion of the road was relatively wide, open, and fast. The visibility there was also relatively good. Although the view was partially blocked by some rocks, Mr. Konitshek’s SUV and trailer were visible to racers from at least 150 feet away. Mr. Konitshek testified that, when he saw the oncoming bikers, he veered as far right in his lane of travel as possible, and remained on the right side of the road the entire time. 3 He was going about 5 miles per hour when one of the bikers hit his left sideview mirror, causing it to bang into his window and shatter.
3 There was conflicting evidence on whether Mr. Konitshek or the racers had crossed the center line of the road. Mr. Konitshek was adamant that he had remained on his side. However, one of the riders witnessing the accident testified that the riders remained on their side of the road, although he then recanted his testimony to some extent, stating that it was hard to tell whether the riders and/or the truck had remained on their respective sides of the road. Another rider testified at his deposition that he was certain that Mr. Konitshek’s SUV extended beyond the center line. Still another testified that the SUV certainly remained [**10] on its side of the road the entire time. For purposes of this appeal, we will assume the facts most favorable to Plaintiffs’ argument.
Casey Byrd, a rider who was just behind Mr. Hall and Mr. Milne when the accident occurred, testified that right before the accident, Mr. Hall had attempted to pass both himself and Mr. Milne. Mr. Byrd was immediately behind Mr. Milne, so Mr. Hall passed him first. Mr. Byrd testified that Mr. Hall passed very closely and, because of his proximity and his speed–Mr. Hall was riding about 25 miles per hour at that time–Mr. Casey could feel the wind coming off him as he passed. Then, as Mr. Hall began to pass Mr. Milne, their handlebars locked together, causing them to veer left and strike Mr. Konitshek’s camper. It is not entirely clear what happened next, but at least one racer testified that he saw the trailer run over Mr. Hall.
E. The District Court’s Decision
The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. On the plaintiff’s gross negligence claims, the court determined that the undisputed facts showed that defendants had taken a number of steps to protect the racers’ safety, and even if those steps were taken negligently, [**11] they were not grossly negligent. The district court also struck plaintiffs’ expert’s second affidavit, finding that plaintiffs’ witness was not qualified to testify as an expert on mountain bike races. This appeal, challenging the district court’s grant of summary judgment on plaintiffs’ gross negligence claims and the court’s decision to strike plaintiffs’ expert, timely followed.
A. Federal Law Dictates Summary Judgment Standard
Before turning to the facts of this case, this court must address whether Utah’s summary judgment rules preclude this court from upholding the district court’s grant of summary judgment. [HN2] Under federal law, a defendant may be granted summary judgment whenever plaintiffs fail adequately to “support one of the elements of [*1126] their claim upon which they ha[ve] the burden of proof.” Jensen v. Kimble, 1 F.3d 1073, 1079 (10th Cir. 1993).
[HN3] Utah’s approach to summary judgment is generally parallel to the federal courts’ approach. See, e.g., Burns v. Cannondale Bicycle Co., 876 P.2d 415, 418-20 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (affirming summary judgment for defendants because plaintiff failed to bring evidence supporting one of the elements regarding which it had the burden [**12] of proof). However, Utah has a special rule for summary judgment in negligence cases that differs significantly from federal law. Under Utah law, “[s]ummary judgment in negligence cases, including gross negligence cases, is inappropriate unless the applicable standard of care is fixed by law.” Pearce v. Utah Athletic Foundation, 2008 UT 13, 179 P.3d 760, 767 (Utah 2008) (emphasis added) (internal quotation omitted). In other words, Utah courts would prevent either party to a negligence dispute from obtaining summary judgment where the standard of care applicable to that dispute has not been “fixed by law.” See Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, 171 P.3d 442, 449 (Utah 2007) (explaining that Utah courts will not grant summary judgment in a gross negligence case where the applicable standard of care has not been fixed by law because “[i]dentification of the proper standard of care is a necessary precondition to assessing the degree to which conduct deviates, if at all, from the standard of care–the core test in any claim of gross negligence”); but see RJW Media, Inc. v. CIT Group/Consumer Finance, Inc., 202 P.3d 291, 296, 2008 UT App 476 (Utah Ct. App. 2008) (affirming grant of summary judgment for defendant in a [**13] negligence case where the standard of care had not been “fixed by law” but the defendant had presented uncontested evidence of the appropriate standard of care).
In Pearce, 2008 UT 13, 179 P.3d 760, the most recent Utah Supreme Court case to consider this issue, the plaintiff brought gross negligence claims arising out of injuries that occurred during a bobsled ride. The Utah court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that summary judgment was inappropriate because the applicable standard of care had not been “fixed by law.” The court held that the generally applicable “reasonably prudent person” standard was insufficiently specific to constitute a standard of care “fixed by law.” Id. at 768 n.2. Rather, for the standard of care in that case to be “fixed by law,” a statute or judicial precedent must articulate “specific standards for designing, constructing, and testing a bobsled run for the public or for operating a public bobsled ride.” Id.; see also Berry, 171 P.3d at 449 (denying motion for summary judgment in negligence case involving a skiercross course because the applicable standard of care was not “fixed by law”); Wycalis v. Guardian Title of Utah, 780 P.2d 821, 825 (Utah. Ct. App. 1989) [**14] (stating that “the applicable standard of care in a given case may be established, as a matter of law, by legislative enactment or prior judicial decision”). Since no statute or precedent provided a standard of care for bobsled rides, the Utah court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Pearce, 179 P.3d at 768.
Applying Utah law to this case would probably require that we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment. It is undisputed that no Utah precedent or legislative enactment specifically establishes the standard of care for running mixed-course bicycle races. Thus, under Utah law, the standard of care in this case is not “fixed by law,” and summary judgment would be inappropriate.
[HN4] Under federal law, on the other hand, a defendant need not establish that the standard of care specific to the factual [*1127] context of the case has been “fixed by law” in order to be granted summary judgment. See Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 342 (3rd Cir. 1985) (holding that defendant moving for summary judgment in a legal malpractice claim need not present expert testimony establishing a standard of care even though a plaintiff in that position would need to do so, because the case [**15] law establishing the plaintiff’s duty to provide expert testimony “cannot fairly be characterized as applying to a defendant’s motion under Rule 56″) (emphasis in original); see also id. at 343 (“[T]he party moving for summary judgment has the ultimate burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. But once the appellees averred facts and alleged that their conduct was not negligent, a burden of production shifted to the appellant to proffer evidence that would create a genuine issue of material fact as to the standard of care.”) (citations omitted); see generally Young v. United Auto. Workers Labor Employment and Training Corp., 95 F.3d 992, 996 (10th Cir. 1996) (“A party who moves for summary judgment under Rule 56 is not required to provide evidence negating an opponent’s claim. Rather, the burden is on the nonmovant, who must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.”) (citations and quotations omitted).
On the contrary, [HN5] federal courts will sometimes grant summary judgment to defendants on negligence claims precisely because of the plaintiff’s failure to present evidence establishing a standard of [**16] care as part of its burden of proof on an element of plaintiff’s case. See, e.g., Briggs v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 481 F.3d 839, 841, 375 U.S. App. D.C. 343 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (affirming grant of summary judgment for defendants on a negligence claim where plaintiff, who under state law had the burden to provide expert testimony on the standard of care, failed to “offer creditable evidence sufficient to establish a controlling standard of care”); Keller v. Albright, 1 F. Supp. 2d 1279, 1281-82 (D. Utah 1997) (granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim asserted under Utah law because the plaintiff failed to provide expert testimony regarding the standard of care, and the case did not involve circumstances “within the common knowledge and experience of lay jurors”) (citation and quotation omitted), aff’d, No. 97-4205, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 7134, 1998 WL 163363 (10th Cir. Apr. 8, 1998) (unpublished) (affirming “for substantially those reasons set out in the district court’s [opinion]”). Thus, even when Utah substantive law was involved, the federal district court of Utah and the Tenth Circuit have held that the federal courts may grant a defendant summary judgment on a negligence [**17] claim even if the parameters of the standard of care in the relevant industry have not been previously established by precedent or statute. 4 See also Noel v. Martin, No. 00-1532, 21 Fed. Appx. 828, 836 *7 (10th Cir. Oct. 19, 2001) (unpublished) (upholding summary judgment for defendants in a legal malpractice case where the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s only expert on the issue of the standard of care).
4 Admittedly, there is no indication in Keller v. Albright, 1 F. Supp. 2d 1279, that the plaintiff there argued that the Utah standard for granting summary judgment in a negligence claim should apply.
In Foster v. Alliedsignal, Inc., 293 F.3d 1187 (10th Cir. 2002), this court addressed a closely analogous set of facts involving a conflict between federal and state law standards for granting summary judgment. Foster involved a retaliatory discharge case brought pursuant to Kansas law. Id. at 1190-91. Under Kansas law, a plaintiff can prevail at trial if she establishes [*1128] her case with “clear and convincing evidence.” Id. at 1194 (internal quotation omitted). However, Kansas law provides that “a plaintiff in a retaliation case . . . . can successfully oppose a motion for summary [**18] judgment by a preponderance of the evidence.” Id. at 1194 (internal quotation and citation omitted). In Foster, this court rejected the plaintiff’s efforts to have that lower evidentiary standard apply at the summary judgment stage in federal court. Id. at 1194-95. Instead, this court held that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986), [HN6] required that courts “view the evidence through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden.” Id. at 254; see also Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 769 F.2d 1451, 1454-55 (10th Cir. 1985) (stating, in the context of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, that “the question of the sufficiency of the evidence needed to go to the jury in a diversity case is a matter of federal law”); Bank of Cali., N.A. v. Opie, 663 F.2d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1981) (“[F]ederal law alone governs whether evidence is sufficient to raise a question for the trier-of-fact.”). Applying that standard to the case before it, this court in Foster held that, at summary judgment, the plaintiff “must set forth evidence of a clear and convincing nature that, if believed by the ultimate factfinder, would establish that plaintiff was [**19] more likely than not the victim of illegal retaliation by her employer.” Foster, 293 F.3d at 1195. See also Conrad v. Bd. of Johnson County Comm’rs, 237 F. Supp. 2d 1204, 1266-67 (D. Kan. 2002) (holding that, for state law retaliatory discharge claims, the “clear and convincing standard is applied at the summary judgment stage–at least when the claim is brought in a federal court sitting in diversity”). Thus, although the state law dictated that a plaintiff alleging retaliatory discharge could avoid summary judgment under a preponderance of the evidence standard, [HN7] federal law required that the substantive standard applied at trial (i.e., clear and convincing evidence) governs summary judgment determinations. See Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 85 S. Ct. 1136, 14 L. Ed. 2d 8 (1965); McEwen v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 919 F.2d 58, 60 (7th Cir. 1990) (“Federal courts may grant summary judgment under Rule 56 on concluding that no reasonable jury could return a verdict for the party opposing the motion, even if the state would require the judge to submit an identical case to the jury.”); 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, and Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2712 (3d ed. 1998) (“[I]n diversity-of-citizenship [**20] actions questions relating to the availability of summary judgment, such as whether there is a disputed issue of fact that is sufficient to defeat the motion, are procedural and therefore governed by Rule 56, rather than by state law.”).
The circumstances of this case are very similar to what we addressed in Foster. Like the evidentiary rule in Foster, [HN8] Utah’s rule foreclosing summary judgment in cases where the standard of care has not been fixed by law applies exclusively at summary judgment. This is clear because Utah law provides that, at trial, the plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating the appropriate standard of care. See Webb v. Univ. of Utah, 2005 UT 80, 125 P.3d 906, 909 (Utah 2005) (“To establish a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must establish . . . that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty [and] that the defendant breached that duty . . . .”) (citations and quotations omitted); Sohm v. Dixie Eye Ctr., 166 P.3d 614, 619, 2007 UT App 235 (Utah Ct. App. 2007) (“To sustain a medical malpractice action, a plaintiff must demonstrate . . . the standard of care by which the [physician’s] conduct is to be measured . . . .” (quoting Jensen v. IHC Hosps., Inc., [*1129] 2003 UT 51, 82 P.3d 1076, 1095-96 (Utah 2003)) (alteration [**21] in original)); see also Model Utah Jury Instructions, Second Edition, CV301B (2009), http://www.utcourts.gov/resources/muji/ (stating that “to establish medical malpractice” a plaintiff “has the burden of proving,” inter alia, “what the standard of care is”); id. at CV302 (putting the same burden of proof on a plaintiff attempting to prove nursing negligence). By allowing the plaintiff to avoid summary judgment in cases where the standard of care has not been fixed by law, Utah has created a rule very similar to Kansas’s rule allowing plaintiffs to avoid summary judgment under a lesser standard of proof than they would carry at trial. We are, therefore, bound to treat Utah’s unique summary judgment rule in the same way that we treated the rule in Foster, and conclude that, although we will look to Utah law to determine what elements the plaintiffs must prove at trial to prevail on their claims, see Oja v. Howmedica, Inc., 111 F.3d 782, 792 (10th Cir. 1997) (stating that “in a diversity action we examine the evidence in terms of the underlying burden of proof as dictated by state law”), we will look exclusively to federal law to determine whether plaintiffs have provided enough evidence [**22] on each of those elements to withstand summary judgment. 5 As we discuss in the following section, this approach leads us to concur with the district court’s decision granting summary judgment for the defendants.
5 Even if the defendants have some burden to establish that the race was run in accordance with the standard of care in order to be granted summary judgment, they have met that burden controlling. The defendants put on evidence from a number of experienced biking participants that this race was carefully run in accordance with the standard of care they have come to expect in mountain-bike races. Once the testimony of plaintiffs’ expert Sean Collinsworth is excluded, as we hold later was appropriate, plaintiffs put on no conflicting evidence from any witness qualified to articulate a proper standard of care for a mountain bike race. Further, under Utah law, it would probably be unnecessary for defendants to present expert testimony to establish compliance with the standard of care in this case. Compare Collins v. Utah State Dev. Ctr., 992 P.2d 492, 494-95, 1999 UT App 336 (Utah Ct. App. 1999) (holding that expert testimony was not necessary in case involving claim that a center working with the [**23] developmentally disabled was negligent for allowing a resident to ride a swing without any safety devices designed to ensure that she would not fall off), and Schreiter v. Wasatch Manor, Inc., 871 P.2d 570, 574-75 (Utah Ct. App. 1994) (holding that expert testimony was not necessary in a case involving allegations that a senior living center was negligent for failing to install a fire sprinkler system), with Macintosh v. Staker Paving and Const. Co., 2009 UT App 96, 2009 WL 953712, *1 (Utah Ct. App. 2009) (unpublished) (holding that expert testimony was needed to establish the standard of care in a case involving traffic control at a construction site because of the complex rules governing traffic control in that context); see generally Preston & Chambers, P.C. v. Koller, 943 P.2d 260, 263 (Utah Ct. App. 1997) (“Expert testimony is required where the average person has little understanding of the duties owed by particular trades or professions, as in cases involving medical doctors, architects, and engineers.”) (citations and quotations omitted). In any event, plaintiffs have cited no law establishing that Utah would require an expert in this case, and have not addressed this question in their [**24] briefs, so this issue is not before us on appeal. Thus, even if the defendants have the burden at summary judgment to establish that there is no genuine dispute of fact that their conduct satisfied the applicable standard of care, we hold that on this summary judgment record, defendants satisfied that burden.
B. Plaintiffs Failed to Provide Evidence of Gross Negligence
1. Standard of Review
[HN9] “This court reviews the district court’s summary judgment decision de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party . . . .” Beardsley v. Farmland Co-Op, Inc., 530 F.3d 1309, 1313 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Herrera v. Lufkin Indus., Inc., 474 F.3d 675, 679-80 [*1130] (10th Cir. 2007)) (ellipses in original). “Summary judgment is appropriate if the record evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Praseuth v. Rubbermaid, Inc., 406 F.3d 1245, 1255 (10th Cir. 2005) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). This court will grant summary judgment for a defendant if the plaintiff fails adequately “to support one of the elements of their claim upon which they ha[ve] the burden of proof.” Jensen, 1 F.3d at 1079. [**25] A plaintiff “cannot avoid summary judgment merely by presenting a scintilla of evidence to support her claim; she must proffer facts such that a reasonable jury could find in her favor.” Turner v. Public Serv. Co. of Colo., 563 F.3d 1136, 1142 (10th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).
The parties agree that, under Utah law, the liability releases signed by Mr. Milne and Mr. Hall preclude the plaintiffs from bringing ordinary negligence claims against the defendants. See Pearce, 179 P.3d at 765 (stating that [HN10] “people may contract away their rights to recover in tort for damages caused by the ordinary negligence of others”); see also id. at 766 (holding that “recreational activities do not constitute a public interest and that, therefore, preinjury releases for recreational activities cannot be invalidated under the public interest exception”). However, the plaintiffs argue–and, on appeal, the defendants do not contest–that, under Utah law, a liability release will not prevent a plaintiff from bringing claims of gross negligence. Cf. Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062, 1065 (Utah 2001) (stating in dicta that a liability release “is always invalid if it applies to harm [**26] wilfully inflicted or caused by gross or wanton negligence”) (quoting 6A Arthur L. Corbin, Corbin on Contracts, § 1472, at 596-97 (1962)). Thus, the only merits issue raised on appeal is whether plaintiffs have offered enough evidence in support of their claims of gross negligence to withstand a motion for summary judgment. 6
6 Aside from her negligence and gross negligence claims, Plaintiff Sorrow also brought wrongful death claims relating to Mr. Hall’s death. However, the appellants have not adequately addressed those claims on appeal, so they will be deemed to have been waived. See United States v. Abdenbi, 361 F.3d 1282, 1289 (10th Cir. 2004) ( [HN11] “The failure to raise an issue in an opening brief waives that issue.”).
[HN12] Under Utah law, “[g]ross negligence is the failure to observe even slight care; it is carelessness or recklessness to a degree that shows utter indifference to the consequences that may result.” Moon Lake Elec. Ass’n, Inc. v. Ultrasystems W. Constructors, Inc., 767 P.2d 125, 129 (Utah Ct. App. 1988) (quoting Atkin Wright & Miles v. Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co., 709 P.2d 330, 335 (Utah 1985)) (emphasis added); see also Pearce, 179 P.3d at 767 (same). Thus, “the task [**27] confronting a plaintiff who claims injury due to a defendant’s gross negligence is markedly greater than that of a plaintiff who traces his injury to ordinary negligence. Gross negligence requires proof of conduct substantially more distant from the appropriate standard of care than does ordinary negligence.” Berry, 171 P.3d at 449.
[HN13] “Whether an actor’s conduct constitutes negligence is generally a factual question left to a jury. The question should only be answered by the court in rare cases where the evidence is susceptible to only one possible inference.” Roberts v. Printup, 422 F.3d 1211, 1218 (10th Cir. 2005) (citations and quotations omitted). However, appeals courts have affirmed grants of summary judgment on gross negligence claims where the undisputed evidence showed that the defendants [*1131] took precautionary measures and did not ignore known and obvious risks. Cf. Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1069 (Wyo. 1988) (affirming summary judgment for defendants on “willful and wanton misconduct” claim, holding that the defendants “did not act in utter disregard of” plaintiffs’ safety in organizing a ski race where the race organizers had taken a number of safety precautions, [**28] plaintiffs presented no evidence that there was a preexisting requirement to take additional precautions, and the racers had been notified in advance of the dangers of the race); Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App. 3d 27, 2006 Ohio 3656, 857 N.E.2d 1255, 1262-63 (Ohio Ct. App. 2006) (affirming directed verdict on claim of recklessness arising from an ice skating race in part because race organizers took some safety precautions and there was no evidence that organizer had knowingly disregarded any specific dangers or contravened any industry standards).
Moon Lake Elec. Ass’n, Inc., 767 P.2d at 129. In this case, the plaintiffs have fallen short of producing evidence upon which a jury could conclude that the defendants failed to exercise “even slight care” in organizing and administering this race.
Mountain bike racing is an inherently dangerous sport, so the defendants cannot be considered grossly negligent merely because they organized a race that placed the racers at risk of injury and even death. Rather, the court must look at the specific steps the defendants took to ensure the racers’ safety in order to determine whether a jury could decide that they were grossly negligent.
As discussed above, the undisputed evidence [**29] shows that the race organizers took a number of steps to warn of, and protect against, the risk of an automobile accident during the race. The race organizers posted a sign warning people in the area of the upcoming race, posted attendants near the starting line to warn drivers about the race taking place that day, and approached people camped in the area to warn them that the road would be clogged with bikers that morning.
The race organizers also provided 25 course marshals, some of which were assigned to areas like intersections and sharp turns specifically because of the unique risks of automobile traffic in those areas. No one was assigned to the area right near the accident, but that choice was not grossly negligent in light of the fact that the stretch of road where the accident occurred was relatively straight and wide. The race organizers also had some first aid personnel standing by, in addition to Mr. Jean, who carried a backpack with some medical supplies.
Finally, the racers were warned–both in writing and verbally–that they might encounter traffic during the race. The racers’ decision to compete on a course that they knew they would be sharing with automobiles strongly [**30] undercuts their ability to claim after the fact that it was grossly negligent for the race organizers to conduct an open course race. Cf. Walton v. Oz Bicycle Club of Wichita, No. 90-1597-K, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17655, 1991 WL 257088, *4 (D. Kan. Nov. 22, 1991) (granting defendants summary judgment on negligence claim arising from plaintiff striking an automobile during a bicycle race organized by the defendants in part because “the fact that the course was open to normal traffic was explicitly made known to the participants”).
Mr. Konitshek claimed that the organizers’ efforts to warn people in the area of the upcoming race were ineffective, because he did not know about the race until moments before the accident. Mr. Konitshek’s complaints about the sufficiency of the race organizers’ warnings do not rise to the level of creating a material issue of [*1132] fact with regard to gross negligence for two reasons. First, even if the race organizers’ warnings were imperfect, that does not negate the fact that they made rather substantial efforts to warn people, and their failure to reach every person in the area is insufficient to show gross negligence. Second, although Mr. Konitshek testified that he would have changed [**31] his plans if he had known about the race in advance, the plaintiffs presented no reason for this court to think that most drivers would change their plans to avoid a bicycle race on a 6-mile stretch of open road.
[HN14] Utah requires a very high level of disregard for safety in order to constitute gross negligence. See Pearce, 179 P.3d at 767; Atkin Wright & Miles, 709 P.2d at 335; Moon Lake Elec. Ass’n, Inc., 767 P.2d at 129. The undisputed steps that defendants took to enhance the safety of the TOC would prevent any reasonable juror from finding gross negligence under Utah substantive law. Many of the precautions discussed above were specifically designed to prevent accidents with automobiles. Further, there was no evidence that automobile accidents posed a particularly serious risk in this case. On the contrary, the race had been conducted on an open course for over a decade, and this is the first instance of an accident involving a racer and a vehicle. Thus, the organizers’ failure to shut down the road, mark and enforce a center line on the road, more closely monitor vehicular traffic, or more thoroughly warn other area drivers of the upcoming race cannot, as a matter of law, amount to [**32] gross negligence in light of the other safety steps taken by the organizers of this race. Cf. Holzer v. Dakota Speedway, Inc., 2000 SD 65, 610 N.W.2d 787, 793-94 (S.D. 2000) (affirming summary judgment for defendants on reckless conduct claim relating to harm caused to a pit crew member during an automobile race in part because the allegedly reckless conduct that led to the harm in that case had been present during races for three years prior to this accident, and had never before caused anyone any harm).
An examination of cases in other jurisdictions shows that [HN15] courts have been reluctant to find that race organizers have been grossly negligent for failing to take every precaution that 20/20 hindsight might counsel. See Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1069 (affirming summary judgment for defendants on “willful and wanton misconduct” claim arising out of a ski race where the race organizers had taken a number of safety precautions, plaintiffs presented no evidence that there was a preexisting requirement to take additional precautions, and the racers had been notified in advance of the dangers of the race); Santho, 857 N.E.2d at 1262-63 (affirming directed verdict on claim of recklessness arising from an [**33] ice skating race in part because race organizers took some safety precautions and there was no evidence that organizer had knowingly disregarded any specific dangers or contravened any industry standards); Holzer, 610 N.W.2d at 793-94 (affirming summary judgment for defendants on reckless conduct claim relating to harm caused to a pit crew member during an automobile race in part because plaintiff failed to show that, at the time of the accident, the defendants “knew or had reason to know of an unreasonable risk of harm” to the defendant); Walton, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17655, 1991 WL 257088 at *4 (granting defendants summary judgment on negligence claim arising from plaintiff striking an automobile during a bicycle race organized by the defendants in part because “the fact that the course was open to normal traffic was explicitly made known to the participants”).
We therefore agree with the district court’s determination that the plaintiffs in this case have failed to provide evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude [*1133] that the race organizers were grossly negligent. 7 See Turner, 563 F.3d at 1142 (stating that, [HN16] to avoid summary judgment, a plaintiff “must proffer facts such that a reasonable jury could [**34] find in her favor”).
7 Because we decide this case on the grounds that plaintiffs have failed to present evidence of gross negligence, we do not reach the defendants’ separate argument that, even if they were grossly negligent, their negligence could not have proximately caused the harms complained of in this case.
C. District Court did not Abuse its Discretion by Excluding Plaintiffs’ Expert
1. Standard of Review
[HN17] “Like other evidentiary rulings, [the court] review[s] a district court’s decision to exclude evidence at the summary judgment stage for abuse of discretion.” Sports Racing Servs. v. Sports Car Club of Am.., 131 F.3d 874, 894 (10th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). “[A] district court abuses its discretion when it renders an arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or manifestly unreasonable judgment.” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1163 (10th Cir. 2000) (citations and quotations omitted).
[HN18] When testing the admissibility of expert testimony, courts must first determine whether an expert is “qualified by ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education’ to render an opinion.” Ralston v. Smith & Nephew Richards, Inc., 275 F.3d 965, 969 (10th Cir. 2001) [**35] (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 702). Second, if the court determines that a witness is qualified, it must then “determine whether her opinions [a]re ‘reliable.'” Id.
The district court struck the second affidavit of plaintiffs’ expert Sean Collinsworth, concluding that he was “not sufficiently qualified to render expert testimony on the applicable standards of care for mountain bike racing, particularly regarding the TOC[, and] that any such testimony would be speculative and not sufficiently reliable . . . .” (Appx. at 9.)
Plaintiffs rely heavily on their expert’s testimony to support their claim that the race organizers were grossly negligent. However, plaintiffs’ expert, Sean Collinsworth, admittedly had no experience in organizing, supervising, or studying mountain bike races and, therefore, was not qualified to offer expert testimony on the standard of care for mountain bike races. At his deposition, Mr. Collinsworth was asked, “As a matter of fact–just so we’re clear, you’re not an expert on mountain bike racing . . . Is that a fair statement?” (Appx. at 641.) He answered, “Yes, it is.” (Id.) Nor was he even an experienced mountain bike rider. He had only participated in one [**36] or two mountain bike races, and those were more than 15 years ago. He had never published any articles about bicycle racing of any sort, let alone mountain bike racing. He testified that, as a police officer, he investigated hundreds of vehicle-bicycle collisions, but there was no indication that any of those took place on a dirt road or in the course of a race.
Although Mr. Collinsworth had experience organizing and supervising paved road bike races, the district court reasonably concluded that his experience was insufficient to qualify him to testify about mountain bike races. The facts of this case make it clear that the rules and practices that prevail at mountain bike races–even the on-the-road portion of mountain bike races–are different from the rules and practices that prevail at traditional road races. Most importantly, road racers are always required to obey a center-line [*1134] rule, while mountain bikers racing on dirt roads will generally cross the center-line when there is no oncoming traffic, but are expected to veer right if they see any traffic approaching. Furthermore, the conditions of a road race on paved streets with clearly marked center lines differ significantly from [**37] the conditions of the open-course portion of the TOC, which took place on a dirt road with no clearly marked center line. Given the differences between road races and mountain bike races, we conclude that the district court’s finding that Mr. Collinsworth was unqualified to offer expert testimony on the standard of care for mountain bike races was not “arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or manifestly unreasonable.” Atlantic Richfield Co., 226 F.3d at 1163; cf. Ralston, 275 F.3d at 970-71 (upholding district court’s determination that a board certified orthopaedic surgeon was not qualified to testify about an orthopaedic device that she had never worked with or studied); Bertotti v. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Inc., 893 F. Supp. 565, 569-70 (W.D.N.C. 1995) (striking expert testimony regarding design of go-kart track where expert had experience in automobile racing, but not go-kart racing).
Even if Mr. Collinsworth was qualified to offer an expert opinion on the standard of care for mountain bike races, the district court correctly determined that his testimony in this case was unreliable. [HN19] “To determine whether an expert opinion is admissible, the district court performs a two-step analysis. [**38] First, the court must determine whether the expert is qualified by ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education’ to render an opinion. See Fed. R. Evid. 702. Second, if the expert is sufficiently qualified, the court must determine whether the expert’s opinion is reliable . . . .” 103 Investors I, L.P. v. Square D Co., 470 F.3d 985, 990 (10th Cir. 2006). “In reviewing whether an expert’s testimony is reliable, the trial court must assess the reasoning and methodology underlying the expert’s opinion.” United States v. Rodriguez-Felix, 450 F.3d 1117, 1123 (10th Cir. 2006) (citations and quotations omitted). Mr. Collinsworth’s opinions in this case were not based on a study of other similar races, an analysis of precautionary measures used in mountain bike races and the risks and benefits of such measures, or any other empirical or quantitative studies. Instead, he relied almost exclusively on his experience in paved road racing–experience that the district court reasonably determined was inapplicable to the context of mountain bike racing–to form his conclusions about the standard of care that should have been used in this case. Mr. Collinsworth’s conclusions about the safety [**39] precautions that should have been taken in this case are, therefore, mere speculation, and [HN20] “[i]t is axiomatic that an expert, no matter how good his credentials, is not permitted to speculate.” Goebel v. Denver and Rio Grande Western R.R. Co., 215 F.3d 1083, 1088 (10th Cir. 2000). Without their expert’s testimony, the plaintiffs’ claims fall apart. See Bertotti, 893 F. Supp. at 570 (granting summary judgment for defendants on plaintiffs’ claim that defendants were grossly negligent in designing and maintaining a go-kart track where the only evidence plaintiffs provided in support of their claims of gross negligence was inadmissible expert testimony). 8
8 The district court’s holding on this matter was limited to Mr. Collinsworth’s second affidavit because the defendants did not also move to strike plaintiffs’ expert’s initial report or his deposition testimony. However, the district court’s ruling clearly indicated that it would not allow this expert to testify as an expert on any of the issues in this case. Therefore, we do not consider either of Mr. Collinsworth’s affidavits or his deposition testimony in deciding the merits of plaintiffs’ claims.
[*1135] III. Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, [**40] we AFFIRM the district court’s decisions to strike the plaintiff’s expert’s second affidavit and to grant summary judgment for the defendants.
CONCUR BY: GORSUCH (In Part)
GORSUCH, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
I join all but Section II.C of Judge Ebel’s fine opinion. That section concerns the admissibility of testimony by the plaintiffs’ expert, Sean Collinsworth. The majority upholds the district court’s decision to exclude Mr. Collinsworth’s testimony on the ground that he wasn’t an expert in the relevant field. I have my doubts. Mr. Collinsworth may not be a professional mountain bike racer, but he does have substantial experience in organizing and conducting traffic control operations for bicycle racing and similar events — and the adequacy of the defendants’ traffic control operations lie at the heart of this case.
Still, I would affirm the district court’s exclusion of Mr. Collinsworth for a different reason. The only question in this case is gross negligence — namely, whether defendants took any precautions against the accident that took place. See, e.g., Pearce v. Utah Athletic Found., 2008 UT 13, 179 P.3d 760, 767 (Utah 2008) (Gross negligence is “the failure to [**41] observe even slight care; it is carelessness or recklessness to a degree that shows utter indifference to the consequences that may result.”) (emphasis added); cf. Berry v. Greater Park City Co., 2007 UT 87, 171 P.3d 442, 449 (Utah 2007) (“Gross negligence requires proof of conduct substantially more distant from the appropriate standard of care than does ordinary negligence.”). Mr. Collinsworth’s proffered testimony faults the sufficiency of the defendants’ precautions, but doesn’t dispute that the defendants did exercise some degree of care, however slight, in preparing for and managing this race. His testimony, thus, might well have been relevant to a negligence claim, but it doesn’t illuminate the plaintiffs’ gross negligence claim. And a district court is not obliged to entertain evidence, expert or otherwise, irrelevant to the claims before it. See Fed. R. Evid. 402 (“Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.”). With this minor caveat, I am pleased to join.
These signs will allow regulators and politicians to say we told you so, but they will not help save lives. South Platte River Safety Signs was a good idea until the politicians/regulators thought they knew more.Posted: July 12, 2017
A warning sign must pop, tell you one maybe two important things. You are moving on, and you are not going to stop to read more than that. The information has to enter the brain of the person who sees it, without having to be studied. If you want more information, it should be there, but you have to get the point across the first time.
These signs don’t do that. Unless someone is lost and looking at the trail map, these signs will never be noticed by anyone.
These signs were designed to be located along the South Platte River as it leaves the Chatfield Reservoir and heads north through Arapahoe County, Littleton and eventually Denver. From the dam to the confluence with Cherry Creek (where the down town REI is located) is around 15 miles. A beautiful path follows the trail from the reservoir past the confluence connecting with more than a dozen other trails. Some sections are a little industrial, but overall it is a fun place to ride, run, walk your dog, watch birds and during hot summer, days float down the river.
The river has been designed over the decades to allow for access and use. Dams all have spillways and can be easily navigated by hard-shell kayak or inflatable tube. Three more river side parks have been added, one with two surfing holes just in the past year. On a cool day, you can see stand up paddleboarders, surfers in wetsuits and kayakers playing in the holes at the river. On a hot day, the river is wall to wall people in a short 5-mile section. On the Fourth of July, I counted 300 people surfing, kayaking, inflatable kayaking and 90% of the tubing. Of the tubers, 50% had a cooler floating down the river also. On that day, I counted 18 PFDs.
The original intent of the signs was to give information and warning to the people recreating on the river. I was part of the
South Platte Signage group that created a group of signs to be ready to go early in 2017. The sign above was posted sometime after the Fourth of July and more than 20 days above 90 degrees.
When the South Platte Signage committee was done the designs were handed over to the governing body for this section of the South Platte. That was seven months ago. Someone did not like the original signs and had them done. What they ended up with is busy artwork that you can’t comprehend unless you concentrate. That is not a sign that gets your attention or makes you think.
The original signs were made to stand out. You can understand their purpose from a distance. They work as a standalone product, each little sign meaning one thing or as a grouping as needed. This one was placed below the access point for the biggest wave on the river. Not really great planning, it needed to be above, or it needs to be where people leave the parking lot wherever they intend to get on the river.
The “Float Sober” sign completely misses the mark. There are other items legal in Colorado besides alcohol and a lot of thing’s people on the river use that are not. Sober refers to alcohol. “Be Smart” covers everything.
I’m I complaining because they changed the work I helped produce. Probably there are some hurt feelings. More importantly as an attorney in the outdoor recreation industry that has litigated sign issues; I see another set of signs that will only be seen by a jury.
As you well know, signs are hard to create, other than to produce a CYA in a courtroom. Although there were a lot of discussion and research into those issues, the most important thing, the signs were developed for was to keep people safe. To make them take 2 seconds to think.
The original design was intended to be a national model and still is. Anyone can get permission to use the system. The South Platte signs might cost you, no one is sure.
The design can even be used as a two-color system if money becomes an issue.
The original work is available to anyone who wants to use it free of charge. If you are interested contact Risa Shimoda, Executive Director of the River Management Society. email@example.com (301) 585-4677 http://www.river-management.org/
The otter in the new signs is not wearing a PFD in three of the pictures. In the duck ones, the duck is wearing a PFD. The most important point to get across on any body of water is to wear a PFD.
I was riding my bike when I saw the sign, in fact I had ridden past the sign before I realized what it was and I was constantly looking for the signs. Rangers were probably getting tired of me asking when the river safety signs were going up. When I turned around to go back to read the signs I could not read them or recognize what they were saying standing on the bike path. I walked to the path leading down to the river, (not a put in, just closer to the river.), which was closer to the signs and how people might try to access the river. I finally ended up standing on the grass in front of the sign to see the designs and read the sign.
Why am I writing this? Because a lot of people in the parks and recreation industry face this every day. Professionals are hired to do a job, which always includes the park employees and some politician or bureaucrat mess’s things up. They might think the sign is prettier; they think an otter is better than a duck. (Ducks which are found up and down the South Platte and most rivers in North America.)
Worse, their changes add months to the final project which put people at risk.
Is the otter that much better of a symbol to save lives that a lot of people got to miss it, and based on where this sign is, continue to miss it?
Show this to the politician/manager/bureaucrat getting on your way, or send me their contact info, and I’ll send it to them so you don’t have to put your head on the chopping block. (Remember an attorney-client privilege.
Let the experts, the employees you employ to run our parks, our open spaces, our state parks, our national forests, and our national monuments and parks do what they have been educated in and trained to do. Run the parks, you run the country…..or at least your little fiefdom and stay out of the parks, unless you are there to enjoy the day.
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