Camp held liable when a camper misunderstands instructions, and plaintiff was not paying attention.Posted: May 13, 2013
Would you have ever guessed that capture the flag would lead to a lawsuit?
This case was dismissed by the trial court on a summary disposition which is called a motion for summary judgment in most jurisdictions. The case had been dismissed before trial because the trial court found that:
I can’t see where the camp and Mr. Schulman did anything wrong. I can’t see where this individual’s grabbing of the marker was a foreseeable event by the camp and those in charge of this particular camp and the camp’s owner.
The case arose at a summer camp when the campers were play capture the flag. At either end of the field, there was a circle with a pole and a flag on top of the pole. The pole was to locate the flag. The flag was a piece of cloth lying at the base on the ground within the circle.
One of the girls either was not told what the flag was or misunderstood what the flag was and instead of grabbing the flag lying on the ground grabbed the pole and started running. The plaintiff ran into the bottom of the pole which had a metal stake which hit her in the mount. The plaintiff lost one tooth, and three other teeth were broken.
The plaintiff sued claiming negligence and claims for premise’s liability. Premise’s liability is the legal theory that based on the type of person you are the duty owed by the land owner changes. Since the plaintiff was on the land, she claimed the landowner/defendant had not kept her safe to the legal standard required.
Summary of the case
The court first looked at the Definition of Negligence under Michigan Law. The elements to prove negligence in Michigan are identical to the majority of other states. “The elements of a negligence claim are “(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.”
The court then determined that the issue the trial court had decided was that there was no duty owed to the plaintiff. The court then defined how a duty was to be determined.
“When determining whether a duty should be imposed, the ultimate inquiry is “whether the social benefits of imposing a duty outweigh the social costs of imposing a duty.””
“This inquiry involves considering, among any other relevant considerations, the relationship of the parties, the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant, and the nature of the risk presented.” But the most important factor is the relationship of the parties.
The court found that the defendant owed a duty to provide proper instructions on how the game of capture the flag was to be played.
In 2007, Gamze was a summer camper at the Camp. She and her family entrusted defendants with her safety during her stay. It was foreseeable that if the campers were not properly instructed, then a camper could pick up the actual flagpole instead of picking up the flag/towel lying on the ground next to the flagpole. It is also foreseeable that, if a camper did remove the flagpole from the ground, the camper could injure another camper while running with the pole. Finally, the burden to properly instruct the campers to pick up the towel from the ground is negligible.
Once it is determined that the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care, then the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct is a question of fact for the jury.
The court also looked at whether the injury was proximately caused by the actions of the defendant. “Proximate cause normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences and whether a defendant should be held liable for those consequences.” However, the court held that proximate cause was a question for the jury.
The final issue was the premise’s liability claim. The court agreed with the trial court and upheld the dismissal of the claim. The plaintiff was an invitee to the land, and as such she was owed a “duty to “‘exercise reasonable care to protect [her] from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.‘””
The court found that the plaintiff was not harmed by a dangerous condition on the land. The danger was solely caused by the actions of the other campers not an inherent condition of the premises.
The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court on the issue of whether the camp was negligent in the way it instructed and ran the capture the flag game.
So Now What?
Kids get hurt. There is not much you can do about that, and if you can, you have probably stopped the earth from rotating. There was not much you can do here from a legal perspective to stop this litigation except tell parent’s things they should already know.
Kids get hurt. When your bring child to this camp, we will do everything we can to keep your child safe. However, we cannot protect your child from everything, much of anything. Between the outdoors, you not being here and other campers all sorts of injuries occur.
Do you understand that when you bring your child to this camp, your child can be hurt?
You could keep campers from playing games, or you could keep young girls who are being chased from running without looking where they are going. However, I think that earth rotation thing will be easier.
Plaintiff: Jonathan C. Gamze, as Next Friend for Julie Gamze,
Defendant: Camp Sea-Gull, Inc. and William P. Schulman, Defendants-Appellees, and Emily Lisner, Defendant
Plaintiff Claims: negligence and premises liability
Defendant Defenses: No duty and injury not caused by the premises
Holding: Premises liability claim was dismissed and the case was returned for trial on the negligence claim.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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