New York judge uses NY law to throw out claim for gross negligence because the facts did not support the claim. The release stopped the claims the plaintiff suffered running in a half marathon.Posted: March 3, 2014
The plaintiff slipped and fell on ice while trying to leave the course to tie his shoe. He sued the City of New York, NYC Department of Parks, New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Runners Club of America for his injuries. He alleged gross negligence for having him leave the course if he had a problem where he fell on ice.
Plaintiff: Jonathan Zuckerman
Defendant: The City of New York, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, New York Road Runners, Inc. and Road Runners Club Of America
Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence
Defendant Defenses: release
Holding: for the defendants
At the beginning of this half marathon that ran through Central Park in New York City, the plaintiff was instructed with other runners to leave the course if they had a problem. This was done so runners would not run into each other.
The plaintiff was an experienced runner who had participated in 100 events. During the race, he left the course to tie his shoe. He slipped on ice next to the course suffering this injury.
The release in this case was short; however, it was long enough to cover the important points according to the court. The release specifically mentioned “falls” as a risk of the activity and had the plaintiff agree to release claims due to negligence.
The release was signed by the plaintiff electronically. The signors had to elect to accept the terms or reject the terms. If they runner rejected the terms of the release, they could not register for the race.
Summary of the case
The court started by looking at the legal requirements in New York that affect the validity of a release.
Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable were not expressly prohibited by law.
Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood.
Agreements to indemnify for gross negligence or willful behavior, however, are void.
The court also defined the requirements to support a claim for gross negligence in an effort to overcome a release. “Gross negligence, when invoked to pierce an agreed-upon limitation of liability . . . must smack of intentional wrongdoing . . . that evinces a reckless indifference to the rights of others.”
It is refreshing to see the court recognize the claim as one trying to evade the release as a defense. The court stated, “I need only address whether there exist factual issues as to whether NYRR was grossly negligent and whether the accident was outside the scope of the waiver.”
The court reviewed the release and found the risk the plaintiff undertook was specifically identified in the release, a fall. The court also found the instructions the race official gave to the participants to leave the race course were reasonable. There was no greater liability attributed to the race promoter for having runners leave the course because to fail to do so would have runners running into each other on the course.
Having looked at the facts and the release, the court found that gross negligence could not reasonably be drawn from those facts.
City of New York’s Motions
The City of New York moved to amend its complaint to include the defense of Release. The city was named in the release as an entity to be protected by the release but had not pled the defense of release. As such the court had to grant the cities motion to amend its answer so it could plead the additional defense.
In another action that is rarely done in courts, the court reviewed the law on granting motions to amend and then granted the motion. The court then said since it had already ruled that a release stopped the plaintiff’s claims against the sponsor, it would also stop the plaintiff’s claims against the city and dismissed the city from the case.
So Now What?
It is rare to see a court take the initiative to do undertake these two actions. The first to throw out the gross negligence claims and the second to throw out the negligence claims of the city without a motion for summary judgment. Courts are reluctant to take such acts or the rules of civil procedure will not allow a court to do so.
The decision is also valuable because it defines what gross negligence is in New York.
Here an electronic release that was well written stopped the plaintiff’s claims against the race promoter and the entities the release also protected.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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