Admiralty law did not stop a release from barring a claim for negligence for a parasailing injury.

Aramark sued for parasailing accident when it booked the trip with an “affiliate.”

Cobb v. Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC, 933 F. Supp. 2d 1295; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20139; 2013 AMC 2563

State: Nevada, United States District Court for the District of Nevada

Plaintiff: Jaclyn Cobb

Defendant: Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2013

The plaintiff signed up to go parasailing on Lake Tahoe with Zephyr Cove Resort. Zephyr Cove Resort is described by the court as being an “affiliate of the defendant Aramark. Aramark is well known as a large concessionaire operating hotel and services in National Parks.

After signing up the plaintiff signed a release (waiver). The plaintiff went parasailing and was sailing when the weather turned bad. She was being reeled back to the boat when she struck her knee causing injury.

The plaintiff filed this claim against Aramark. (It is not stated what the relationship is between Aramark and Zephyr Cove Resort or why the plaintiff did not sue Zephyr Cove Resort.)

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which the court granted with this opinion.

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

Most legal decisions based where a motion for summary judgment is filed to review the requirements on what must be proved by the defendant (generally), for the motion to be granted. Generally, that occupies one to five paragraphs in the order. Most are either too succinct to explain the process or too wordy to make deciphering the process worth the effort. This court did a great job of explaining what the defendant must prove to succeed in its motion for summary judgment. The court then reviewed what the plaintiff must do to rebut the motion for summary judgment.

The party filing a motion for summary judgment must argue the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the opposing party when applied to the law show there is no genuine issue of material fact. Those facts must show that no reasonable trier of fact (a jury normally), could find any other way.

The moving party bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, along with evidence showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. On those issues for which it bears the burden of proof, the moving party must make a showing that is “sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.

To rebut the motion for summary judgment the non-moving party must point to facts in the record which so issues. The record is the evidence, depositions, responses to interrogatories and information that met the rules of evidence to be presented to the court.

To successfully rebut a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must point to facts supported by the record which demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact.

If a reasonable mind could see the facts in a different way, then a motion for summary judgment is not appropriate. The issues must go to trial and be presented to a jury. The evidence presented in the motion must be genuine that means a reasonable jury can only see the evidence as pointing in one direction, saying one thing. The evidence that is not proved must be more than a scintilla; it must show there is a real dispute in how the facts can be seen.

Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, summary judgment is not appropriate. A dispute regarding a material fact is considered genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff’s position will be insufficient to establish a genuine dispute; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.

Consequently, when a court grants a motion for summary judgment, the evidence presented is such the court can see that evidence only proving one view of the issue and there is no other evidence that refutes that evidence sufficient to change the mind, or even make the person waiver in his or her thoughts on how the evidence is viewed.

In this case, the court found that admiralty law did apply in this case. Admiralty law is federal law that controls the seas or waters moving between two states. Lake Tahoe has shores on both Nevada and California so admiralty law was the law to be applied to the case.

The action giving rise to the admiralty law claim must be based on maritime activity. The Supreme Court and other federal courts have a very broad definition of maritime activity, and paragliding has been found to be a maritime activity.

An action falls within the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts under 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) when: (1) the underlying tort occurred on navigable waters; and (2) the actions giving rise to the tort claim bear a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity.

Where, as here, a body of water forms a border between two states and is capable of supporting maritime commerce, it is considered navigable for the purpose of establishing admiralty jurisdiction. Second, parasailing bears a significant relationship to traditional maritime activities sufficient to establish admiralty jurisdiction. (“Careful and safe navigation of vessels in navigable waters have always been a fundamental admiralty concern. Navigation is an essential component in the parasailing activity.”)

Assumption of the risk is not a defense that can be used in a case covered by admiralty law. However, release is a valid defense.

In her opposition, Cobb argues that the liability waiver is unenforceable because under federal maritime law assumption of the risk is not a valid defense. Cobb is correct that assumption of the risk is not an available defense in maritime cases involving personal injury. However, this does not preclude Aramark from raising the defense of express waiver in this case. Waiver and assumption of the risk are two distinct affirmative defenses and are addressed separately under federal admiralty law.

Under Admiralty law, a release must meet a two-part test.

First, Cobb concedes that she knowingly and voluntarily signed the liability waiver. Second, the court finds that the express waiver in this action is clear and unambiguous as it contains specific language releasing Zephyr and its affiliates, including defendant Aramark, for injuries sustained in carrying out the parasailing activities as a result of Zephyr’s negligence

An unambiguous waiver is one that specifically bars the claims of the plaintiff and protects all the defendants. “A waiver is clear and unambiguous if it specifically bars the plaintiff’s negligence claim and explicitly exonerates all defendants in the lawsuit.”

The court then specifically pointed out that the injury the plaintiff is complaining of was specifically listed in the release. “Further, the very injuries Cobb is suing for are specifically precluded by the waiver including “drowning, sprained or broken bones.

Nor does the release violate public policy. Voluntary recreational activities do not violate public policy under admiralty law.

Third, the underlying express waiver is not inconsistent with public policy because waivers of liability on navigable waters do not contravene federal public policy.

The waiver is also not an adhesion contract because again, it is for a voluntary recreational activity.

Finally, the court finds that the express waiver signed by Cobb is not an adhesion contract because it concerns a voluntary recreational activity. Under federal admiralty law, liability waivers for recreational sporting activities like parasailing are not contracts of adhesion because they are not essential services.

Finding that Admiralty law was the law to be applied, finding that admiralty law allowed the use of a release to stop claims for negligence and finding the release in this matter was valid, the court granted the defendants motion for summary judgment.

Therefore, the court finds that the underlying pre-accident waiver is valid and enforceable and absolves the defendant Aramark of any liability arising from the recreational parasailing activity. Accordingly, the court shall grant Aramark’s motion for summary judgment.

So Now What? 

This is another decision that you should keep handy if your recreational activity could be viewed as subject to admiralty law. Scuba diving, whitewater rafting, and as here parasailing, dependent on the location of the activity, can all be subject to admiralty law.

The decision is also good because its explanation of the law is simple and succinct. You want nothing better than to point to a sentence in a case to support your position that is easy to read and easily understood; no matter how intelligent the judges and attorneys are that may be reading it.

Of major importance for everyone is the court specifically pointed out that the injury the plaintiff was complaining about was one the release specifically pointed out as one that could occur in the release.

Whenever those two issues occur, the injury the plaintiff received was in writing in the release courts point it out. That should be a major flag to anyone writing a release that you need to list the risks of the activity in your release. You must list the major accidents that can occur like death and the common accidents that can occur, like sprains and strains for the activity, you are running.

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