Louisiana court holds a tubing operation is not liable for drowning or failure to properly perform CPR. Court finds (or confuses) both no duty owed to prove negligence and assumption of the risk on the part of the deceased.Posted: June 16, 2014
Louisiana is one state that does not allow the use of a release. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.) This limits the possible defenses in LA.
Date of the Decision: March 23, 2012
Plaintiff: Neelam Parveen, Individually and on Behalf of Mansoor Raja and their Minor Children
Defendant: Tiki Tubing, LLC and Abc Insurance Company
Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, duty to maintain the river so that its guests would not be injured by the river’s vices and defects, a duty to train Tiki employees in emergency rescue and life-saving procedures, and a duty to properly warn Tiki customers of the hazards associated with tubing on the Amite River. Also failure of the employees of the defendant to perform CPR properly.
Holding: for the defendant tubing livery
The plaintiff is the husband of the deceased and mother of their children.
The defendant was a tubing rental (livery) operation on the Amite River in Louisiana. For the fee the defendant provides parking, a bus ride to the put in, tubes and a beach entry and exit. The Amite River is advertised by the defendant on it’s website at 1” to 3” deep with 6”-8” holes. The river is slow moving and smooth.
The defendant also states “Tiki . . . and its affiliates assume no liability for personal injury or loss of personal property.” The defendant provides life jackets free of charge however customers are not required to wear them. No one was aware of a prior drowning on the river. No employees of the defendant were trained in life saving or first aid or CPR.
The deceased was accompanied by two other companions. One of the three printed the other names on the release. The deceased did not sign the release. The three were also given safety instructions.
The men started leaving their tubes and swimming downstream for a short distance before waiting for the current to bring their tube to them. At some point the deceased went under the surface and did not come up. Eventually an employee found the deceased and got him to the surface.
A companion started CPR and was assisted by four other people including some employees of the defendant.
The plaintiff filed suit which was dismissed after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.
Summary of the case
The court outlined the plaintiff’s claims as:
Broadly stated, the plaintiff maintains that Tiki had custody of the tubing route on the Amite River and, accordingly, that Tiki owed its patrons a duty to maintain the river so that its guests would not be injured by the river’s vices and defects, a duty to train Tiki employees in emergency rescue and life-saving procedures, and a duty to properly warn Tiki customers of the hazards associated with tubing on the Amite River.
The plaintiff also alleges that once Tiki employees involved themselves in attempted life-saving procedures on Raja, those employees assumed a duty to perform those life-saving measures properly.
Under Louisiana law a tort is defined as:
The elements of a cause of action in tort are fault, causation, and damage. The existence of a legal duty and a breach of that duty are prerequisites to any determination of fault. Although the determination of whether to assign a legal duty is fact-specific, the issue of whether there is a duty ultimately is a question of law.
The court found that to prove her case the plaintiff must prove:
(1) Tiki is the custodian of the portion of the Amite River that includes the tubing route; (2) that portion of the Amite River is defective and that the defect presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) Tiki knew or should have known of the defect; (4) the plaintiff was damaged by the defect; and (5) Tiki could have prevented the damage to the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable care, which Tiki failed to exercise.
Failure to prove one element defeats the plaintiff’s claims.
The court first looked at whether or not the defendant had control over the river to be liable for it. The court defines this as the defendant having custody and control over the river. To determine whether the defendant had the requisite custody and control the court held it had to consider:
(1) whether the person bears such a relationship as to have the right of direction and control over the thing; and (2) what, if any, kind of benefit the person derives from the thing. “The person who has custody or garde of a thing is he who has the legal duty to prevent its vice or defect from harming another.” This court has held that a state-owned river cannot be in the custody of a landowner.
Even if the plaintiff could prove the defendant’s “custody” of the river, the plaintiff would also have to prove that the river section at issue was defective.
This court has held that the “existence of a hole in a natural lake, that renders the depth of the lake deeper than other portions, would not, ipso facto, constitute a defective. Further, “variations in water depth within natural swimming areas are standard.” Citing this court in Johnson, the Fourth Circuit has concluded that there is no distinction between a hole in a lake and a drop off in a river. The plaintiff fails to establish that the deeper pocket in this natural body of water constitutes a defect for purposes of Article 2317.1.
The conditions of the river at the time of the decedents drowning were all conditions that under Louisiana law were inherent risks and thus assumed by the deceased.
The court next looked the risks of tubing.
Tubing has been defined as an activity that is obviously and inherently dangerous. Drowning because of currents is a natural and inevitable risk to swimmers in a natural body of water. When a risk is obvious, there is no duty to warn or protect against it.
The court concluded the deceased voluntarily left this tube to swim in the river without a life jacket.
The court then looked at the issue of failure to perform CPR properly. Under Louisiana law if a person voluntarily undertakes a “task that he otherwise has no duty to perform, he must nevertheless perform that task in a reasonable or prudent manner.”
Although the plaintiff’s expert witness stated that CPR was performed improperly, no one was able to claim that the actions of the defendant employees were “unreasonable, imprudent, or, more importantly, a cause-in-fact of Raja’s death or that there was a reasonable probability that proper CPR would have been lifesaving in these circumstances.”
The court found since no one could point that a specific employee or employees had done something wrong in performing CPR then that claim must also fail.
The court upheld the trial courts motion for summary judgment with this statement.” Despite not being a good swimmer, Raja willingly entered the river without a life jacket and chose to swim away from his tube. It was Raja’s own imprudent actions that led to his tragic death.”
So Now What?
Louisiana law came from the Napoleonic code. Consequently the laws in Louisiana are generally different, other than the protections afforded by the US constitution. Louisiana does not allow the use of a release to stop claims.
C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)
Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.
Here the court seemed to combine the issue to find the defendant owed no duty to the deceased and the deceased assumed the risk of the activity which lead to his death, without using the terms specifically.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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