Elliott, v. Carter, 2016 Va. LEXIS 151

Chancy M. Elliott, Administrator of the Estate of Caleb Mckinley Smith, Deceased v. Trevor Carter

Record No. 160224

SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA

October 27, 2016, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF RICHMOND COUNTY. Harry T. Taliaferro, III, Judge.

Elliott v. Carter, 2016 Va. LEXIS 49 (Va., Apr. 12, 2016)

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: David R. Simonsen, Jr. (Keith B. Marcus; ParisBlank, on briefs), for appellant.

W.F. Drewry Gallalee (Harold E. Johnson; Williams Mullen, on brief), for appellee.

JUDGES: OPINION BY JUSTICE S. BERNARD GOODWYN. JUSTICE McCULLOUGH, with whom JUSTICE MIMS joins, dissenting.

OPINION BY: S. BERNARD GOODWYN

OPINION

PRESENT: All the Justices.

OPINION BY JUSTICE S. BERNARD GOODWYN

In this appeal, we consider the evidence required to submit a question of gross negligence to a jury.

Background

This matter arises from a wrongful death suit brought by Chancy M. Elliott (Elliott) on behalf of the estate of Caleb McKinley Smith (Caleb), alleging gross negligence on the part of Trevor Carter (Carter), the peer leader of Caleb’s Boy Scout troop, after Caleb drowned on a Scout camping trip. The material facts are not in dispute.

On June 25, 2011, Caleb was a 13-year-old Boy Scout on an overnight camping trip with his troop along the Rappahannock River near Sharps, Virginia. Carter, then 16 years old, was the Senior Patrol Leader, the troop’s peer leader. Caleb had been taking lessons to learn how to swim–he had had one from Carter that morning–but he could [*2] not yet swim.

At about 11:00 a.m., Carter led Caleb and two other Boy Scouts into the river along a partially submerged sandbar. One of the other two Scouts could swim (Scott), and the other could not (Elijah).

When they were approximately 150 yards into the river, Carter and Scott decided to swim back to shore. Carter told Caleb and Elijah to walk back to shore the way they had come, along the sandbar. As Caleb and Elijah walked back to shore along the sandbar, they both fell into deeper water. Caleb yelled to Carter for help and Carter attempted to swim back and rescue him. Although Elijah was rescued, neither Carter nor three adult Scout leaders, who attempted to assist, were able to save Caleb.

Elliott filed a wrongful death action in the Circuit Court of Richmond County against Carter, four adult Scout leaders, the Boy Scouts of America, and the affiliated Heart of Virginia Council, Inc. (collectively, Defendants), alleging that they had failed to adequately supervise Caleb. The court granted the Defendants’ demurrer asserting charitable immunity.

Elliott amended her complaint to allege both gross and willful and wanton negligence by Carter and gross negligence by the four adult Scout [*3] leaders, and demanded a jury trial.* Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that, based upon undisputed material facts, there was no gross negligence because there was no complete lack of care alleged and the danger of drowning was open and obvious. Defendants relied upon Elliott’s responses to requests for admission and allegations in the amended complaint in establishing the undisputed material facts.

* Elliott non-suited the actions against the Boy Scouts of America and the Heart of Virginia Council, Inc.

Following a hearing and supplemental briefing, the court granted the motion for summary judgment as to all Defendants. It found that, while the undisputed material facts would be sufficient to submit the question regarding a claim of simple negligence to a jury, the facts did not support a claim for gross negligence, because in Virginia, “there is not gross negligence as a matter of law where there is even the slightest bit of care regardless of how insufficient or ineffective it may have been,” and there was evidence that Carter did try to save Caleb.

Elliott appeals the ruling of the circuit court only as to Carter. On appeal, she argues that the circuit court erred [*4] in granting summary judgment and in concluding that, as a matter of law, a jury could not find Carter’s actions constituted gross negligence.

Analysis

[HN1] “In an appeal from a circuit court’s decision to grant or deny summary judgment, this Court reviews the application of law to undisputed facts de novo.” St. Joe Co. v. Norfolk Redev’t & Hous. Auth., 283 Va. 403, 407, 722 S.E.2d 622, 625 (2012).

[HN2] Gross negligence is “a degree of negligence showing indifference to another and an utter disregard of prudence that amounts to a complete neglect of the safety of such other person.” Cowan v. Hospice Support Care, Inc., 268 Va. 482, 487, 603 S.E.2d 916, 918 (2004).

It is a heedless and palpable violation of legal duty respecting the rights of others which amounts to the absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care. Several acts of negligence which separately may not amount to gross negligence, when combined may have a cumulative effect showing a form of reckless or total disregard for another’s safety. Deliberate conduct is important evidence on the question of gross negligence.

Chapman v. City of Virginia Beach, 252 Va. 186, 190, 475 S.E.2d 798, 800-01 (1996) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). [HN3] Gross negligence “requires a degree of negligence that would shock fair-minded persons, although demonstrating something less than willful recklessness.” Cowan, 268 Va. at 487, 603 S.E.2d at 918; see also Thomas v. Snow, 162 Va. 654, 661, 174 S.E. 837, 839 (1934) (“Ordinary and gross negligence differ in degree of inattention”; [*5] while “[g]ross negligence is a manifestly smaller amount of watchfulness and circumspection than the circumstances require of a person of ordinary prudence,” “it is something less than . . . willful, wanton, and reckless conduct.”).

[HN4] “Ordinarily, the question whether gross negligence has been established is a matter of fact to be decided by a jury. Nevertheless, when persons of reasonable minds could not differ upon the conclusion that such negligence has not been established, it is the court’s duty to so rule.” Frazier v. City of Norfolk, 234 Va. 388, 393, 362 S.E.2d 688, 691, 4 Va. Law Rep. 1220 (1987). Because “the standard for gross negligence [in Virginia] is one of indifference, not inadequacy,” a claim for gross negligence must fail as a matter of law when the evidence shows that the defendants exercised some degree of care. Kuykendall v. Young Life, 261 Fed. Appx. 480, 491 (4th Cir. 2008) (relying on Frazier, 234 Va. at 392, 362 S.E.2d at 690-91, Chapman, 252 Va. at 190, 475 S.E.2d at 801, and Cowan, 268 Va. at 486-87, 603 S.E.2d at 918 to interpret Virginia law); see, e.g., Colby v. Boyden, 241 Va. 125, 133, 400 S.E.2d 184, 189, 7 Va. Law Rep. 1368 (1991) (affirming the circuit court’s ruling that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of gross negligence when the evidence showed that the defendant “‘did exercise some degree of diligence and care’ and, therefore, as a matter of law, his acts could not show ‘utter disregard of prudence amounting to complete neglect of the safety of another'”).

Here, even viewing the evidence in the [*6] light most favorable to Elliott, the non-moving party, as required in considering a motion for summary judgment, Commercial Business Systems v. Bellsouth Services, 249 Va. 39, 41-42, 453 S.E.2d 261, 264 (1995), the undisputed material facts support the conclusion that Carter exercised some degree of care in supervising Caleb. Therefore, his conduct did not constitute gross negligence.

First, it is not alleged that Caleb had any difficulty walking out along the sandbar with Carter. Second, there is no allegation that Carter was aware of any hidden danger posed by the sandbar, the river or its current. Third, Carter instructed Caleb to walk back to shore along the same route he had taken out into the river, and there was no evidence that conditions changed such that doing so would have been different or more dangerous than initially walking out, which was done without difficulty. Finally, Carter tried to swim back and assist Caleb once Caleb slipped off the sandbar, which is indicative that Carter was close enough to attempt to render assistance when Caleb fell into the water, and that Carter did attempt to render such assistance. Thus, although Carter’s efforts may have been inadequate or ineffectual, they were not so insufficient as to constitute the indifference and utter disregard [*7] of prudence that would amount to a complete neglect for Caleb’s safety, which is required to establish gross negligence.

Because a claim of gross negligence must fail as a matter of law when there is evidence that the defendant exercised some degree of diligence and care, the circuit court did not err in finding that no reasonable jurist could find that Carter did nothing at all for Caleb’s care. As such, there was no question for the jury, and the circuit court properly granted Carter’s motion for summary judgment.

Accordingly, the judgment of the circuit court will be affirmed.

Affirmed.

DISSENT BY: McCULLOUGH

DISSENT

JUSTICE McCULLOUGH, with whom JUSTICE MIMS joins, dissenting.

Ordinarily, whether gross negligence has been established is a matter of fact to be decided by a jury. Frazier v. City of Norfolk, 234 Va. 388, 393, 362 S.E.2d 688, 691, 4 Va. Law Rep. 1220 (1987). Of course, when “persons of reasonable minds could not differ upon the conclusion that such negligence has not been established, it is the court’s duty to so rule.” Id. In my view, the facts presented in this tragic case were sufficient to present a jury question. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.

Here, Caleb could not swim, a fact that was known to the defendants. He did not walk out on his own into the river. Rather, he was [*8] led, without a life jacket or other safety equipment, over a partially submerged sandbar far into the river. The complaint alleges that “the Rappahannock River . . . is a major river with a strong current.” Caleb was then abandoned on a sandbar in the middle of the river and told to walk back. A partially submerged sandbar in the middle of a river with a strong current is a very dangerous place to be, particularly for a non-swimmer without a life vest. Ever-shifting sandbars, obviously, are not stable structures. They can easily dissipate. A major river with strong currents like the Rappahannock presents a different situation than a tranquil pond. Carter then swam away too far to effectuate a rescue should Caleb slip and fall into the river. In my view, “reasonable persons could differ upon whether the cumulative effect of these circumstances constitutes a form of recklessness or a total disregard of all precautions, an absence of diligence, or lack of even slight care.” Chapman v. City of Virginia Beach, 252 Va. 186, 191, 475 S.E.2d 798, 801 (1996).

I would also find that the purported acts of slight care, separated in time and place from the gross negligence at issue, do not take the issue away from the jury. The only two acts of slight care the defendants identify [*9] are the fact that Caleb was given a swimming lesson before he drowned — but there is no indication that Caleb could swim — and that Carter, after swimming too far away to make any rescue effectual, tried to swim back to save Caleb after he had fallen into the river. Significantly, Carter led Caleb into danger in the first place. When the defendant has led the plaintiff into danger, an ineffectual and doomed to fail rescue attempt does not in my judgment take away from the jury the question of gross negligence. Accordingly, I would reverse and remand the case for a trial by jury.

Advertisements

Summer 2016 Commercial Fatalities

This list is not guaranteed to be accurate. The information is found from web searches and news dispatches. Those references are part of the chart. If you have a source for information on any fatality please leave a comment or contact me. Thank you.

If this information is incorrect or incomplete please let me know.  This is up to date as of July 20, 2016. Thanks.

Rafting, Mountaineering, Skiing out of bounds and other sports are probably still safer than your kitchen or bathroom. This information is not to scare you away from any activity but to help you understand the risks and to study.

Red is a probable death due to medical issues unrelated to the activity

Blue is an employee fatality

Dark blue is a death of an employee while working

Date

Activity

State

Location

What

Age

Sex

Location 2

Reference

Ref 2

Company

3/22

Cat Skiing

OR

Mt. Bailey

Avalanche hit tree

 

M

 

http://rec-law.us/1XSFbT7

 

Cat Ski Mount Bailey

5/4

Whitewater Rafting

WA

Wenatchee River

Raft Flipped

53

M

Dryden

http://rec-law.us/1TuBuzC

 

Orion River

 

Whitewater Rafting

ME

Dead River

Fell out

52

M

 

http://rec-law.us/22B3zeY

http://rec-law.us/1U0HrbU

North Country Rivers

5/22

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Arkansas River

Fell out

61

F

Parkdale

http://rec-law.us/1r4zOp3

http://rec-law.us/1O75mWC

Echo Canyon River Expeditions

6/4

Whitewater Rafting

AK

Lowe River

Fell out

48

F

 

http://rec-law.us/1Yemxbd

 

 

6/15

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Roaring Fork

Flip

50

M

Slaughterhouse section

http://rec-law.us/1WOcnyo

http://rec-law.us/1UkzCwI

Aspen Whitewater Rafting

6/15

Whitewater Rafting

AK

Kongakut River

Flip

69

F

 

http://rec-law.us/1UU3Ma6

http://rec-law.us/1UC2MZv

Alaska Alpine Adventures

6/15

Whitewater Rafting

AK

Kongakut River

Flip

67

F

 

http://rec-law.us/1UU3Ma6

http://rec-law.us/1UC2MZv

Alaska Alpine Adventures

6/22

Sea Kayaking

ME

Downeast Maine

High Seas

63

M

Corea Harbor

http://rec-law.us/28RNpuw

 

SeaScape Kayaks

6/22

Sea Kayaking

ME

Downeast Maine

High Seas

 

M

Corea Harbor

http://rec-law.us/28RNpuw

 

SeaScape Kayaks

6/24/16

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Green River

 

63

F

Disaster Falls

http://rec-law.us/295dJ7a

http://rec-law.us/290uTwS

Adrift Adventures

7/2/16

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Arkansas River

Fell out

51

F

Zoom Flume

http://rec-law.us/29h5oxj

http://rec-law.us/29hYin3

River Runners

7/17

Inflatable Kayak

OR

Rogue River

Fell out & trapped unwater

57

M

Wildcat Rapid

http://rec-law.us/2a9iiKF

 

 

7/21

Canoe Trip

MN

Boundary Waters

Lighting Strike

39

F

Basswood Lake

http://rec-law.us/29X5ve3

http://rec-law.us/2a1jHUx

BSA Northern Tier High Adventure Base

7/21

Canoe Trip

MN

Boundary Waters

Lighting Strike

13

M

Basswood Lake

http://rec-law.us/29X5ve3

http://rec-law.us/2a1jHUx

BSA Northern Tier High Adventure Base

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like a PDF of this chart please click here.

Our condolences go to the families of the deceased. Our thoughts extend to the families and staff at the areas who have to deal with these tragedies.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2016 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

What do you think? Leave a comment.

clip_image002 

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

 

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Fatality, Avalanche, Cat Skiing, Oregon, Whitewater Rafting,

 

 


New York Summer Camp cases are examples of helicopter parenting; I gave you a perfect child, and no injuries shall occur to my child in your care, if one occurs, I will sue.

A minor at a Scout camp runs out of a shower house and falls down. The parents sue for his injuries claiming he was not supervised. At the same time, the BSA Youth Protection Training prevented adults in showers with youth. The court in this case realized the absurdity of the plaintiff’s claims and held for the defendants.

Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

State: New York, Supreme Court of New York, New York County

Plaintiff: Davide E. Gomes

Defendant: Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America (Council) and Boy Scout Troop 141 (troop)

Plaintiff Claims: negligent supervision

Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk, no duty

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2016

The thirteen-year-old  plaintiff was a Boy Scout. He and his troop from New Jersey were at a Scout Camp in the Adirondacks of New York for a canoe trip. While at the camp, the youth walked a few minutes to a bath house. While in the bath house, the plaintiff was fooling around and ran out of the bath house and fell suffering a head injury.

According to plaintiff, the main purpose of the trip to Floodwood was to take a 15-mile canoe trip. On the day of the accident, the scouts and the Troop leaders spent time outside in their campsite within the camp, where “there was a little bit of horsing around,” “a little bit of pushing, playing around,” and all of the scouts were pushing and shoving each other during and after a game of touch football, which the leaders told them to stop. As he walked to the shower house the night of his accident, plaintiff wore a functioning headlamp; the area around the shower house was dark. He does not recall what happened from the time the group walked to the shower house to when he regained consciousness on the ground, bleeding from his head.

The plaintiff does not remember the incidence.

Other Scouts at the shower house reported the incident this way.

It is undisputed that other scouts reported that while they were in the shower house, plaintiff took a water pump from the wall and squirted water on them. When one of the scouts told him to stop, plaintiff ran out of the shower house and fell to the ground. None of the scouts knew what had caused the fall.

The plaintiff had been in Scouting since he was 9. He participated  in monthly camp outs with his scout troop.

The plaintiffs brought claims against the troop, the New Jersey Boy Scout council where the troop was chartered and who owned the camp and the Boy Scouts of America and the individual unit leaders.

The claims where the youth were not properly supervised, and the area around the shower house were full of roots, sticks, rocks, etc.

One issue that runs throughout the decision which is not explained is the BSA Youth Protection Program. The program requires youth to always do things in groups or at least two and prohibit adults from actively being in a position where they can observe the youth in the shower.  Even if an adult was with the youth, there would have to be two adults.

This program was put in place to protect both the youth and the adults in the Scouting program.

Another issue in this case is the camp was located in New York. The New York State Department of Health (DOH) had massive and strict rules for children’s camps and substantial ability to issue sanctions for violations of those rules. Some of those rules violate or make conforming to the BSA Youth Protection Program difficult.

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

The court first looked at the New York State Department of Health (DOH) rules concerning this case.

As pertinent here, the regulations require adequate supervision, and that “as a minimum . . . there shall exist visual or verbal communications capabilities between camper and counselor during activities and a method of accounting for the camper’s whereabouts at all times.”

The council had a written plan to confirm to the DOH rules.

Council’s written plan for Floodwood requires that supervision of campers “be maintained for the duration (24/7) of their stay at the camp.” Council’s Leaders Guide for Floodwood provides that “running and horseplay have no place at Scout Camps,” and all scout units must have two adult leaders with the unit at all times.

DOH did find issues with the camp’s plan. The Camp and DOH reached a settlement on those issues. However, by law the information and the settlement cannot be entered into evidence in court.

DOH investigated the incident, after which it and Council entered into a stipulation providing that DOH had alleged that Council had violated various camp regulations, including those relating to the supervision of scouts, and that the parties were thereby settling the matter by Council agreeing not to contest it, paying a fine, and submitting a revised camp safety plan. Additionally, by its terms, the stipulation is

not intended for use in any other forum, tribunal or court, including any civil or criminal proceeding in which the issues or burden of proof may differ, and is made without prejudice to [Council’s] rights, defenses and/or claims in any other matter, proceeding, action, hearing or litigation not involving [DOH] [and] is not intended to be dispositive of any allegations of negligence that may be made in a civil action for monetary damages.

The DOH requires that after any incident, a form be completed. In this case, the form was completed by a camp staffer who had no training in completing the form and had never completed a form before. DOH requires that after any incident a form be completed. In this case the form was completed by a camp staffer who had no training in completing the form and had never completed a form before.

Richard Saunders testified at an EBT that at the time of plaintiff’s accident, he was 18 years old and employed at Floodwood as a camp health officer. He described Floodwood as a “high-adventure base” for scouts older than 13 to do back-country exploring. After the accident, he completed a form as required by the DOH, on which he noted, under the category “Supervision During Incident,” that the “activity was inadequately addressed in the written plan,” by which he intended to convey that he had reviewed the scout’s written plan for the trip and saw nothing therein related to super-vision of the scouts while in the shower house. He also wrote that no camp staff was present when the accident occurred. Although Saunders had first written that the supervision was “adequate,” he changed it to “inadequate” based on the absence of an adult when plaintiff was injured. Saunders had never before filled out such a form, nor was it part of his job.

The plaintiff argued that because he was unable to remember the accident, a relaxed standard of care applied to the plaintiff’s case.

Plaintiff argues that his inability to remember the accident permits a relaxed standard of proof on summary judgment, and contends that there are two possible explanations for his accident: (1) that he was struck over the head with a blunt object by a fellow scout, or (2) that he tripped and fell while running over the uneven and non-illuminated area around the shower house, and that in either scenario, the accident would not have happened if defendants had adequately supervised that night.

The court found issues with this.

A plaintiff who, due to a failure of memory, cannot describe what led to his injury is not held to as high a degree of proof on his or her cause of action.

However, even when a plaintiff suffers from amnesia, he is not relieved of the obligation to provide “some proof from which negligence can be reasonably inferred.”

The court then looked at the duty owed by the defendants.

A “summer camp is duty-bound to supervise its campers as would a parent of ordinary prudence in comparable circumstances” And, while the degree of supervision required depends on the surrounding circumstances, “constant supervision in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable.”

The New York requirement for supervision allowed for reality in not requiring constant supervision. The court then looked at the applicable standard of care.

The standard for determining whether a duty to supervise a minor has been breached is “whether a parent of ordinary prudence placed in the identical situation and armed with the same information would invariably have provided greater supervision.”

Moreover, this standard requires prior knowledge on the part of the camp of dangerous conduct.

Moreover, “in determining whether the duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached in the context of injuries caused by the acts of fellow [campers], it must be established that [camp] authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury, that is, that the third-party acts could reasonably have been anticipated.”

Lack of supervision alone is not enough to create a cause of action. The court found the supervision was adequate. The scouts walked to the shower house as a group without incident. Until the plaintiff started horsing around, there were no supervision issues.

The court then looked at why kids go to camps and how parents should deal with those issues.

Moreover, a parent who permits his or her child to attend an overnight camping trip in the woods where the child will be taught skills related to understanding and surviving outdoor conditions, is presumably aware of the hazards and risks of injury associated with such conditions, and it would be illogical for that same parent to require or believe it necessary for the child to be escorted personally to and from every area within the camp. Such a degree of supervision “in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable” and camps “cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of [the campers] movements and activities”

Quoting another case the court stated:

The Court observed that ” [r]emembering that this is a Summer camp, it will be seen that constant supervision is not feasible . . . Nor is it desirable. One of the benefits of such an institution is to inculcate self-reliance in the campers which an overly protective supervision would destroy.”

The DOH report was also dismissed by the court because the person who had completed the report:

…because he had no authority to bind defendants to his conclusion, but also based on the circumstances that he was an 18-year old who had never before filled out or even seen a DOH report, and who had received no training or guidance as to how it should be filled out or the meanings of the terms therein.

The court reasoned. The DOH report also had failures because it stated there lacked supervision just because an adult was not present. Supervision is not only based on an adult’s presence.

Reliance on the DOH requirement of “visual or verbal communication” between campers and counselors and Council’s plan for Floodwood which required the supervision of campers “24/7” is misplaced as neither requires that the Troop leaders be constantly present with the scouts

At the same time, the supervision issue was irrelevant if the accident was not foreseeable. There was no evidence presented that the scouts would engage in dangerous conduct or misbehave. Even if some of the misbehavior was foreseeable, there was no evidence that, and it was not foreseeable that the plaintiff would bolt from the shower house, trip and fall and receive an injury.

As it is undisputed that defendants had no notice of the possibility of misbehavior among the scouts, they have established that plaintiff’s accident was not foreseeable.

Even if the Troop leaders had escorted the scouts to the shower house and stood outside while they showered, the alleged misbehavior occurred inside the shower house, and thus the leaders would neither have observed it nor been in a position to stop it. And unless the leaders blocked the entrance, they would not have been able to stop plaintiff from running out of the shower house and falling down.

On top of all of that, even if leaders were present the accident happened too quickly for anyone to have stopped it. Besides, the acts leading to the injury were solely done by the plaintiff, without interference or prodding from anyone other youth or leader. “Moreover, it was plaintiff’s own impulsive and reckless conduct in squirting the other scouts with the water pump and then running out of the shower house, that led to his injury.”

Thus, as the accident occurred in a very short time span and as plaintiff’s own impulsive conduct led to his injury, defendants have demonstrated that there is no proximate cause between their allegedly inadequate supervision and plaintiff’s accident.

The final issue tackled by the courts was the lighting and conditions of the area where the shower house was located. Because the plaintiff could not identify what caused him to fall, it could not be said the fall was caused by inadequate lighting.

Thus, as the accident occurred in a very short time span and as plaintiff’s own impulsive conduct led to his injury, defendants have demonstrated that there is no proximate cause between their allegedly inadequate supervision and plaintiff’s accident.

On top of that, the plaintiff was wearing a headlamp at the time of the accident so even if lighting were to blame the plaintiff had brought his own. Identifying the area around the shower house without being able to identify which of those conditions caused his injury is not enough to argue a legal claim.

Plaintiff was able, however, to recall the conditions outside of the shower house, which consisted of typical conditions in any wooded or camp area, i.e., rocks, dirt, branches, etc., and having been on several camp trips, was presumably aware of the existence and risks of such conditions. He did not identify or recall any unusual, unexpected, or dangerous conditions, nor have any such conditions been alleged.

The decision of the trial court was upheld, and the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.

So Now What?

First, more information needs to be given to parents to try to educate them of the risks of any youth activity. On top of this, programs designed to protect kids need to be explained both to why they are used and what the adults can and cannot do, like the BSA YPT program.

On top of that, you need to develop proof that your parents knew the risks of the activity. New York does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. (See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.) As such the only real defense you would have would be assumption of the risk. (See Assumption of the Risk and Assumption of Risk — Checklist)

I would include in that assumption of the risk form statements about the kid’s age and prior camping/outdoor experience as in this case. Ask the parents to relate or checkbox their outdoor experience.

You can use the form to determine who else can help your unit or program, and you can use the form to prove the parents knew and assumed the risk.

clip_image002[4]What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Copyright 2016 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, BSA, Boy Scouts of America, Youth, YPT, YPP, Headlamp, Shower House, Supervision, Adequate Supervision, Negligent Supervision,

 


Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

Davide E. Gomes, Plaintiff, against Boy Scouts of America, et al., Defendants.

115435/10

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

51 Misc. 3d 1206(A); 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1088; 2016 NY Slip Op 50444(U)

March 10, 2016, Decided

NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

PRIOR HISTORY: Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4622 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Oct. 9, 2013)

COUNSEL: [*1] For plaintiff: Scott W. Epstein, Esq., Antich, Erlich & Epstein, LLP, New York, NY.

For Council and Troop 141: Brian P. Morrissey, Esq., Connell Foley, LLP, New York, NY.

JUDGES: Barbara Jaffe, JSC.

OPINION BY: Barbara Jaffe

OPINION

Barbara Jaffe, J.

By notice of motion, defendants Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America (Council) and Boy Scout Troop 141 (troop) (collectively, defendants) move pursuant to CPLR 3212 for an order granting them summary dismissal of the complaint against them. Plaintiff opposes.

I. PERTINENT BACKGROUND

By decision and order dated October 8, 2013 (NYSCEF 110), I granted defendant Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) motion for an order summarily dismissing the complaint against it. As set forth therein, the background of the case is as follows:

On July 24, 2005, plaintiff, then a 13-year-old Boy Scout, was participating in a Boy Scout excursion at Floodwood Mountain Scout Reservation in the Adirondacks. Plaintiff was a member of Boy Scout Troop 141. He and other scouts were accompanied by volunteer [**2] adult leaders. Near or in the shower house at the Reservation, plaintiff sustained head injuries.

In accident and witness reports created after the accident, the other scouts who were at the showers [*2] at the time of plaintiff’s accident stated that they saw plaintiff run from the shower area and discovered him lying prone on the ground and bleeding. None of them saw him fall.

In his amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that as he was walking along the common area and/or grassy area at or near the showers, he fell due to defendants’ failure to keep the area safe, in good repair, well-lit and free from obstruction or defect and supervise him and the other scouts.

In plaintiff’s supplemental verified bill of particulars, he describes the dangerous condition which caused his fall as follows: “that the area in front of the showers where the [ ] accident occurred was not lit, and/or was poorly lit, and/or was inadequately lit; was raised and un-leveled, and had rocks and/or tree limbs/branches strewn about it,” all of which defendants had constructive notice.

At an examination before trial held on December 16, 2011, plaintiff testified that he did not recall his accident or what had caused his fall, and that his last memory before falling was of walking to the showers. At the time of his accident, it was dark outside and there was no lighting outside the showers, although it was lit inside, [*3] and he noticed that there were many rocks on the ground around the shower house. He was wearing a working head lamp as he approached the showers.

(NYSCEF 110).

On this motion, the following relevant facts are undisputed:

(1)Council owns and operates Floodwood and Troop made reservations to attend camp there;

(2)plaintiff had been a scout for several years and had attended previous camping trips;

(3)defendants Lopes and Figueiredo were the two adult Troop leaders in charge of plaintiff’s troop at Floodwood;

(4)the night of plaintiff’s accident, he and the other Troop members were told to put equipment into the Troop’s van and take showers at the camp’s shower house;

(5)of the five other Troop members that accompanied plaintiff to the shower house that night, one was 14 years old, one was 15 years old, and three were 16 years [**3] old;

(6)the adult leaders did not accompany them to the van or the shower house;

(7)the shower house was used by both female and males at alternating hours, and the Troop members had to wait until 10 pm to use it; and

(8)there had been no prior incidents of misbehavior during the trip or among the Troop members.

(NYSCEF 151).

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) promulgates [*4] specific rules for children’s camps. (10 NYCRR § 7-2 et al.). As pertinent here, the regulations require adequate supervision, and that “as a minimum . . . there shall exist visual or verbal communications capabilities between camper and counselor during activities and a method of accounting for the camper’s whereabouts at all times.” (10 NYCRR § 7-2.5[o]).

Council’s written plan for Floodwood requires that supervision of campers “be maintained for the duration (24/7) of their stay at the camp.” (NYSCEF 174). Council’s Leaders Guide for Floodwood provides that “running and horseplay have no place at Scout Camps,” and all scout units must have two adult leaders with the unit at all times. (NYSCEF 175).

At a deposition held on December 16, 2011, plaintiff testified that he had been a scout since age nine, and that while a scout he participated in monthly weekend scout camping trips. During the trips, the Troop leaders would show the scouts how to use tools, and gather firewood; when gathering firewood, the scouts would go into the woods using the buddy system, which requires that scouts be accompanied by at least one other scout. When the scouts went to the bathroom, they also used the buddy system. At a camp attended [*5] by the Troop the week before the one at Floodwood, plaintiff visited the shower facilities using the buddy system or with several scouts. At Floodwood too, the buddy system was used. (NYSCEF 162).

According to plaintiff, the main purpose of the trip to Floodwood was to take a 15-mile canoe trip. On the day of the accident, the scouts and the Troop leaders spent time outside in their campsite within the camp, where “there was a little bit of horsing around,” “a little bit of pushing, playing around,” and all of the scouts were pushing and shoving each other during and after a game of touch football, which the leaders told them to stop. As he walked to the shower house the night of his accident, plaintiff wore a functioning headlamp; the area around the shower house was dark. He does not recall what happened from the time the group walked to the shower house to when he regained consciousness on the ground, bleeding from his head. (NYSCEF 162).

It is undisputed that other scouts reported that while they were in the shower house, plaintiff took a water pump from the wall and squirted water on them. When one of the scouts told him to stop, plaintiff ran out of the shower house and fell to [*6] the ground. None of the scouts knew what had caused the fall. (NYSCEF 167-171, 176).

Pictures taken by the parties at Floodwood after the accident depict the shower house as a building stationed in a large clearing or space in front of a wooded area. (NYSCEF 161; 192).

According to the Troop leaders present that day, it was not scouts’ practice to have adult leaders accompany scouts to camp showers. Both leaders testified that they had known plaintiff and the other scouts for several years, had been with them at another camp the week before they went to Floodwood, and had had no disciplinary issues or previous incidents of misbehavior between them. The leaders testified that Scout protocol differentiated between active activities, such as swimming or rock climbing, and passive activities, such as going to shower or the bathroom or retrieving firewood, and that active activities required adults to be present while passive activities did not necessarily require an adult presence. (NYSCEF 163, 164).

Lopes testified that they defined supervision as permitting the scouts to travel throughout the camp as long as the leaders knew their whereabouts, and that he believed that Scout guidelines [*7] prohibited the leaders from walking the scouts to the shower house and waiting outside while they showered in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety. He testified that it was a three to five-minute walk from the Troop’s campsite to the shower house. (NYSCEF 164).

Figueiredo testified that the Troop’s campsite was located approximately a three-minute walk from the parking lot, that the shower house was located in the general camp, and that it was a three to four-minute walk from the Troop’s campsite to the shower house. He found out about plaintiff’s accident when two of the scouts found him at their campsite, and when he arrived at the shower house, he found plaintiff sitting on the ground in front of the shower house. He investigated the incident by interviewing the other scouts, and concluded that the other scouts were inside the shower house when plaintiff fell outside the shower house. (NYSCEF 163).

Figueiredo testified that although they did not accompany the scouts to the bathroom or shower, they had them use the buddy system and knew their whereabouts and when to expect them to return, which he defined as their supervision of the scouts:

[t]hey were not in a vast wilderness, they [*8] were in a camp. So there are other people in camp, so they’re within earshot of a number of people that are in camp. It is not like . . . I sent them out into the African plains; there were other people around. They were reasonably within earshot to a bunch of people and I knew their whereabouts.

(NYSCEF 163).

At an examination before trial held on March 16, 2012, Grey Rolland, Council’s director of support services, testified, as pertinent here, that he was unaware of any other injuries to scouts at Floodwood before or after plaintiff’s accident, and that plaintiff and the other scouts used the buddy system, which Rolland considers adequate. He did not believe that the adult Troop leaders should have accompanied the scouts to the shower house given the BSA prohibition against permitting adults and youths in shower houses together, and he asserted that it would not be considered “appropriate” for the adults to escort the scouts to the shower house. He acknowledged that if a Troop leader observed scouts running around or engaging in horseplay, it was incumbent upon the leader to tell them to stop. (NYSCEF 165).

Richard Saunders testified at an EBT that at the time of plaintiff’s accident, [*9] he was 18 years old and employed at Floodwood as a camp health officer. He described Floodwood as a “high-adventure base” for scouts older than 13 to do back-country exploring. After the accident, he completed a form as required by the DOH, on which he noted, under the category “Supervision During Incident,” that the “activity was inadequately addressed in the written plan,” by which he intended to convey that he had reviewed the scout’s written plan for the trip and saw [**4] nothing therein related to supervision of the scouts while in the shower house. He also wrote that no camp staff was present when the accident occurred. Although Saunders had first written that the supervision was “adequate,” he changed it to “inadequate” based on the absence of an adult when plaintiff was injured. Saunders had never before filled out such a form, nor was it part of his job.

Saunders described Floodwood as consisting of a main camp area, which includes the buildings where food is organized and meetings occur, and the individual campsites which are approximately a five-minute walk away. The shower house was located between the campsites and the camp buildings. He estimated that the shower house was [*10] a two-minute walk from the Troop’s campsite and in “an area where boys don’t want to have adults and it would be illegal to have them being watched while showering.” As a scout and troop member attending camps like Floodwood, Saunders recalled that adult leaders did not escort scouts to the showers or stand outside while the scouts showered. (NYSCEF 166).

DOH investigated the incident, after which it and Council entered into a stipulation providing that DOH had alleged that Council had violated various camp regulations, including those relating to the supervision of scouts, and that the parties were thereby settling the matter by Council agreeing not to contest it, paying a fine, and submitting a revised camp safety plan. Additionally, by its terms, the stipulation is

not intended for use in any other forum, tribunal or court, including any civil or criminal proceeding in which the issues or burden of proof may differ, and is made without prejudice to [Council’s] rights, defenses and/or claims in any other matter, proceeding, action, hearing or litigation not involving [DOH] [and] is not intended to be dispositive of any allegations of negligence that may be made in a civil action for [*11] monetary damages.

(NYSCEF 177).

By affidavit dated August 3, 2015, Michael J. Peterson states that he is an expert on camp and conference center management, and opines, based on his experience and review of relevant documentation in this case, that defendants violated the DOH regulation which requires, at a minimum, visual or verbal communications capabilities between a camper and a counselor, and that plaintiff’s accident was reasonably foreseeable as the scouts were allowed to remain “totally unsupervised and unregulated for a lengthy period of time in a potentially dangerous/hazardous environment.” He also posits that if the Troop leaders had accompanied the scouts to the shower house, “the level of horse play outside the shower house would have been minimal to non-existent, the boys would have taken their showers without incident, and safely returned to their camp site.” He also states that the defendants should have provided adequate lighting around the shower house. (NYSCEF 193).

II. CONTENTIONS

Defendants deny that they were negligent in any manner related to the physical conditions outside the shower house as they were the ordinary and expected conditions present in a wooded camp. [*12] Troop denies having had any obligation to maintain the area. Defendants also deny having breached a duty to supervise plaintiff absent any prior incidents between plaintiff and any [**5] other Troop member that would have put them on notice of the need to supervise them more closely, and argue that plaintiff’s injury or misbehavior was not reasonably foreseeable. They observe that plaintiff cannot remember how he was injured or whether his injuries were caused by a premises condition or an assault by another scout, and deny having had notice of any prior incidents or accidents around the shower house. (NYSCEF 151).

Plaintiff argues that his inability to remember the accident permits a relaxed standard of proof on summary judgment, and contends that there are two possible explanations for his accident: (1) that he was struck over the head with a blunt object by a fellow scout, or (2) that he tripped and fell while running over the uneven and non-illuminated area around the shower house, and that in either scenario, the accident would not have happened if defendants had adequately supervised that night. He asserts that a jury could conclude that a reasonably prudent parent would not permit [*13] six minors “to wander around the woods at 10:00 pm, for an indefinite period of time, without any adult supervision whatsoever,” and maintains that any “horseplay” should have and would have been discouraged by the Troop leaders. He also observes that defendants violated their own policies by failing to have a troop leader with the troop “at all times” or “for the duration (24/7)” of their trip. (NYSCEF 190).

Plaintiff relies on the stipulation entered into between defendants and DOH, Saunders’s conclusion that factors contributing to the incident included inadequate supervision, and Peterson’s opinion, to demonstrate the lack of adequate supervision. He also argues that Council had a duty to illuminate the area around the shower house, which he characterizes as a “rugged” and “uneven and unpaved camp area containing, inter alia, grass, dirt, rocks, trees, and tree roots.” (Id.).

In reply, defendants maintain that they established, prima facie, their lack of prior knowledge or notice of any scout misbehavior at the camp or any dangerous condition around the shower house. They deny that plaintiff offers evidence that he suffers from any medical condition causing a failure of memory, and [*14] assert that his inability to remember the incident does not warrant relieving him of his burden of proof. They also dispute that the scouts were “traipsing or wandering” through the woods, observing that both Troop leaders testified that they were within the camp, not the woods, where they were within earshot, and were directed to go to the shower house, which they did. (NYSCEF 200).

Defendants also contend that Peterson’s expert affidavit is based on speculation, and that his reliance on the DOH requirement of visual or verbal communication capabilities during “activities” is inapplicable as showering or walking to the shower house is not an activity within the meaning of the rule. They observe that Peterson cites no regulations that defendants allegedly violated relating to the lighting around the shower house, that Peterson never inspected the area, and that in any event, the conditions alleged are ordinary elements of a wooded area. They also deny that Saunders’s statements in the DOH form constitute party admissions, as his completion of the form was not within the scope of his authority at Floodwood. (Id.).

III. ANALYSIS

“The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima [*15] facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact.” (Ayotte v Gervasio, 81 NY2d 1062, 1062, 619 N.E.2d 400, 601 N.Y.S.2d 463 [1993] [citation [**6] omitted]; Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316 [1985]). “Failure to make such showing requires denial of the motion, regardless of the sufficiency of the opposing papers.” (Winegrad, 64 NY2d at 853; see also Lesocovich v 180 Madison Ave. Corp., 81 NY2d 982, 985, 615 N.E.2d 1010, 599 N.Y.S.2d 526 [1993]).

Once the proponent’s prima facie burden is satisfied, the opposing party bears the burden of presenting evidentiary facts sufficient to raise triable issues of fact. (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595 [1980]; CitiFinancial Co. [DE] v McKinney, 27 AD3d 224, 226, 811 N.Y.S.2d 359 [1st Dept 2006]). Summary judgment may be granted only when it is clear that no triable issues of fact exist (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 [1986]), and “should not be granted where there is any doubt as to the existence of a triable issue” of fact (Am. Home Assur. Co. v Amerford Intl. Corp., 200 AD2d 472, 473, 606 N.Y.S.2d 229 [1st Dept 1994]; see also Color by Pergament, Inc. v Pergament, 241 AD2d 418, 420, 660 N.Y.S.2d 431 [1st Dept 1997] [“Summary judgment is an exercise in issue-finding, not issue determination, and may not be granted when material and triable issues of fact are presented”]). The court must examine the evidence in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. (Martin v Briggs, 235 AD2d 192, 196, 663 N.Y.S.2d 184 [1st Dept 1997]).

A plaintiff who, due to a failure of memory, cannot describe what led to his injury is not held to as high a degree of proof on his or her cause of action. (Noseworthy v City of New York, 298 NY 76, 80 N.E.2d 744 [1948]; see Bah v Benton, 92 AD3d 133, 936 N.Y.S.2d 181 [1st Dept 2012] [plaintiff who presented medical evidence establishing loss of memory due [*16] to accident at issue entitled to lesser standard of proof applicable to party unable to present party’s version of facts]). However, even when a plaintiff suffers from amnesia, he is not relieved of the obligation to provide “some proof from which negligence can be reasonably inferred.” (Alotta v Diaz, 130 AD3d 660, 11 N.Y.S.3d 868 [2d Dept 2015]; see Schechter v Klanfer, 28 NY2d 228, 269 N.E.2d 812, 321 N.Y.S.2d 99 [1971] [even if amnesiac plaintiff is held to lesser degree of proof, it does not “shift the burden of proof or eliminate the need for plaintiffs to introduce evidence of a prima facie case”]; Santiago v Quattrociocchi, 91 AD3d 747, 937 N.Y.S.2d 119 [2d Dept 2012] [same]).

A. Did defendants breach their duty to supervise plaintiff?

A person, other than a parent, who undertakes to control, care for, or supervise an infant, is required to use reasonable care to protect the infant . . . Such a person may be liable for any injury sustained by the infant which was proximately caused by his or her negligence. While a person caring for entrusted children is not cast in the role of an insurer, such an individual is obligated to provide adequate supervision and may be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately resulting from the negligent failure to do so.

(Alotta v Diaz, 130 AD3d 660, 11 N.Y.S.3d 868 [2d Dept 2015], quoting Appell v Mandel, 296 AD2d 514, 745 N.Y.S.2d 491 [2d Dept 2002]).

A “summer camp is duty-bound to supervise its campers as would a parent of ordinary prudence in comparable [*17] circumstances.” (Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am., 305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]). And, while the degree of supervision required depends on the surrounding circumstances, “constant supervision in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable.” (Id. at 335-6).

The standard for determining whether a duty to supervise a minor has been breached is “whether a parent of ordinary prudence placed in the identical situation and armed with the same [**7] information would invariably have provided greater supervision.” (Mayo v New York City Tr. Auth., 124 AD3d 606, 3 N.Y.S.3d 36 [2d Dept 2015], quoting Mary KK v Jack LL, 203 AD2d 840, 611 N.Y.S.2d 347 [3d Dept 1994]).

Moreover, “in determining whether the duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached in the context of injuries caused by the acts of fellow [campers], it must be established that [camp] authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury, that is, that the third-party acts could reasonably have been anticipated.” (Ragusa v Town of Huntington, 54 AD3d 743, 864 N.Y.S.2d 441 [2d Dept 2008], quoting Mirand v City of New York, 84 NY2d 44, 637 N.E.2d 263, 614 N.Y.S.2d 372 [1994]). Although if an accident occurs in “so short a span in time that even the most intense supervision could not have prevented it, any lack of supervision is not the proximate cause of the injury and summary judgment in favor of the . . . defendants is warranted.'” (Atehortua v Lewin, 90 AD3d 794, 935 N.Y.S.2d 102 [2d Dept 2011], quoting Nash v Port Wash. Union Free School Dist., 83 AD3d 136, 922 N.Y.S.2d 408 [2d Dept 2011]).

1. Was the supervision adequate?

Even though plaintiff does not remember the accident, the [*18] other boys’ versions of it are consistent and uniform, and present the following picture: Plaintiff and the other scouts walked to the shower house and went inside without incident, whereupon plaintiff obtained a water pump and started spraying water on them. When one of the scouts told plaintiff to stop, he ran out of the shower house, and fell.

Plaintiff’s contention is that for defendants’ supervision to have been adequate that night, the Troop leaders should have escorted or walked the scouts to the shower house, waited outside while they showered, and then walked them back to their campsite. As it is undisputed that the scouts ranged in age from 13 to 16, that they were at Floodwood to learn skills related to survival in the woods and to partake in a 15-mile canoe trip, that the scouts utilized a buddy system when at various camps and that Troop leaders never escorted them to the bathrooms or showers, that the shower house was approximately a three to five-minute walk from their campsite, and that the shower house was located within the camp area where other campers and adults were present and within earshot, defendants have demonstrated that a parent of ordinary prudence placed [*19] in the identical situation and armed with the same information would not have provided greater supervision than that provided by defendants.

Moreover, a parent who permits his or her child to attend an overnight camping trip in the woods where the child will be taught skills related to understanding and surviving outdoor conditions, is presumably aware of the hazards and risks of injury associated with such conditions, and it would be illogical for that same parent to require or believe it necessary for the child to be escorted personally to and from every area within the camp. Such a degree of supervision “in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable” (Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am., 305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]), and camps “cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all of [the campers] movements and activities” (Harris v Five Point Mission – Camp Olmstedt, 73 AD3d 1127, 901 N.Y.S.2d 678 [2d Dept 2010]).

On point is Kosok v Young Men’s Christian Assn. of Greater New York, where a group of boys at a summer camp injured the plaintiff while playing a prank involving attaching a pail to a fishing rod and letting it descend onto the heads of other unsuspecting boys. The group of boys, ranging in age from 12 to 15, occupied a cabin by themselves; the camp counselor did not stay [*20] in [**8] the cabin with them during the midday break. The Court dismissed the case, finding that there was no negligence by defendants in failing to supervise “the rest period of boys of high-school age for a short period.” (24 AD2d 113, 264 N.Y.S.2d 123 [1st Dept 1965], affd 19 NY2d 935, 228 N.E.2d 398, 281 N.Y.S.2d 341 [1967]). The Court observed that ” [r]emembering that this is a Summer camp, it will be seen that constant supervision is not feasible . . . Nor is it desirable. One of the benefits of such an institution is to inculcate self-reliance in the campers which an overly protective supervision would destroy.” (24 AD2d at 115; see also Gustin v Assn. of Camps Farthest Out, Inc., 267 AD2d 1001, 700 N.Y.S.2d 327 [4th Dept 1999] [same]).

Plaintiff’s reliance on Phelps v Boy Scouts of Am. is misplaced. As I held in granting summary judgment to Boy Scouts of America:

In Phelps . . . “very young campers” were placed in bunks at a camp with “much older campers,” who allegedly assaulted the young campers . . . The court also allowed that very young campers often require closer supervision than older campers, and that placing the younger campers in the bunks with the older campers was an apparent violation of camp policy.

Here, there is no issue of very young campers being unsupervised or placed in risky circumstances as plaintiff and his fellow scouts were all teenagers and there is no evidence that [*21] any camp policy was violated . . .

(305 AD2d 335, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 [1st Dept 2003]).

Moreover, plaintiff’s reliance on Saunders’s conclusion or opinion in the DOH report that the accident was caused by inadequate supervision is not conclusive here, not only because he had no authority to bind defendants to his conclusion, but also based on the circumstances that he was an 18-year old who had never before filled out or even seen a DOH report, and who had received no training or guidance as to how it should be filled out or the meanings of the terms therein. In any event, Saunders testified that he wrote that there was inadequate supervision based only on the fact that the Troop leaders were not physically present at the time of the accident, which is an insufficient basis for the conclusion.

Plaintiff’s submission of the stipulation between DOH and defendants to establish that there was inadequate supervision is barred by the stipulation’s own terms.

Peterson’s expert opinion is based on speculation and is conclusory, and he cites no regulation or requirement that specifies that adequate supervision in this context means that the Troop leaders were required to escort the scouts to the shower house and wait outside until they finished [*22] showering. Indeed, any claim that such supervision is required in camps is undermined by the undisputed fact that at the camp that the scouts attended a week before going to Floodwood, the scouts went to the shower house unescorted and used only the buddy system. Reliance on the DOH requirement of “visual or verbal communication” between campers and counselors and Council’s plan for Floodwood which required the supervision of campers “24/7” is misplaced as neither requires that the Troop leaders be constantly present with the scouts. (See eg, Harris v Five Point Mission – Camp Olmstedt, 73 AD3d 1127, 901 N.Y.S.2d 678 [2d Dept 2010] [while expert concluded that camp was negligent in failing to provide plaintiff with shin guards during soccer game in which he was injured, he failed to allege that camps generally provide shin guards during games or that rules requiring use of shin guards in soccer leagues have been implemented by or [**9] accepted as accepted practice at camps]; Cherry v State of New York, 42 AD2d 671, 344 N.Y.S.2d 545 [4th Dept 1973], affd 34 NY2d 872, 316 N.E.2d 713, 359 N.Y.S.2d 276 [1974] [where camper was injured when nail he struck with hammer while building tent platform struck him, expert’s opinion that the camp was required to provide campers with safety goggles was expert’s personal opinion and neither statute nor regulations required goggles]). [*23]

References to the “traipsing” or “wandering” in the woods unsupervised have no basis in the record; the scouts remained in the camp and never went into the woods. Moreover, the accident did not occur in the woods, and there is no correlation between the woods and plaintiff’s accident.

In any event, whether or not defendants’ supervision of plaintiff was adequate is irrelevant if the accident was not foreseeable or was not proximately caused by the allegedly inadequate supervision.

2. Was plaintiff’s accident foreseeable?

As it is reasonably inferred that the accident occurred as described by the other scouts, there is no evidence suggesting that defendants were on notice that plaintiff and/or the scouts would engage in any dangerous conduct or misbehavior at the shower house. Moreover, even if some of the behavior was foreseeable, plaintiff’s bolting from the shower house, and subsequent fall, was not a foreseeable consequence of any misbehavior.

Kosok is again on point here, with the Court finding that “[a]ssuming that the boys were reasonably quiet – and there is no indication that they were not – no occasion for looking in on them was presented.” The Court also observed that:

[a] certain amount [*24] of horseplay is almost always to be found in gatherings of young people, and is generally associated with children’s camps. It is only to be discouraged when it becomes dangerous. Nothing in the incident itself or surrounding circumstances indicates any notice to defendant that such was likely to result here.

(24 AD2d at 115; see also Gibbud v Camp Shane, Inc., 30 AD3d 865, 817 N.Y.S.2d 435 [3d Dept 2006] [same]).

Even if plaintiff had been assaulted by a fellow scout rather than having tripped and fallen, there is no evidence that defendants were on notice of the possibility of an assault. (See eg Alvero v Allen, 262 AD2d 434, 692 N.Y.S.2d 116 [2d Dept 1999] [boy scout sued troop leader for injury caused by snowball fight; absent proof that leader had notice of ongoing and dangerous snowball fight, plaintiff could not prevail on inadequate supervision claim]; see also Osmanzai v Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, Inc., 116 AD3d 937, 983 N.Y.S.2d 848 [2d Dept 2014] [injury caused by impulsive, unanticipated act of fellow camper ordinarily will not give rise to negligence claim absent proof of prior conduct that would have given notice to protect against injury-causing act]).

As it is undisputed that defendants had no notice of the possibility of misbehavior among the scouts, they have established that plaintiff’s accident was not foreseeable.

3. Was plaintiff’s accident proximately caused by defendants’ allegedly inadequate [*25] supervision?

Even if the Troop leaders had escorted the scouts to the shower house and stood outside while they showered, the alleged misbehavior occurred inside the shower house, and thus the leaders would neither have observed it nor been in a position to stop it. And unless the leaders blocked the entrance, they would not have been able to stop plaintiff from running out of the shower house and falling down.

Plaintiff’s and Peterson’s belief that the mere presence of the Troop leaders outside the shower house would have been sufficient to stop any horseplay from taking place inside is not only speculative, but unwarranted as the scouts had engaged in horseplay earlier that day while the leaders were with them. (See eg, Stephenson v City of New York, 85 AD3d 523, 925 N.Y.S.2d 71 [1st Dept 2011], affd 19 NY3d 1031, 978 N.E.2d 1251, 954 N.Y.S.2d 782 [2012] [suggestion that student’s assault on plaintiff would have been prevented by his mother accompanying her almost 14-year-old son to school every day did not rise above speculation]; see also Lizardo v Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 77 AD3d 437, 908 N.Y.S.2d 395 [1st Dept 2010] [rejecting plaintiff’s expert’s assertion that collision between children would have been preventable by teacher watching play more closely, and opinion that incident might have been prevented by closer supervision valid only in retrospect]; Walsh v City School Dist. of Albany, 237 AD2d 811, 654 N.Y.S.2d 859 [3d Dept 1997] [finding unpersuasive allegation [*26] that presence of supervisor could have kept plaintiff and fellow student attentive and injury would have been prevented]).

In any event, the accident occurred too quickly to enable the Troop leaders to prevent it had they been outside the shower house. As in Kosok, “[e]ven if the cabin counsellor had been within earshot of the cabin, it is difficult to see how the accident would have been prevented.” (24 AD2d at 115; see Harris v Five Point Mission – Camp Olmstedt, 73 AD3d 1127, 901 N.Y.S.2d 678 [2d Dept 2010] [as plaintiff was injured at camp during 15-second time span, camp established that it did not negligently supervise him]; see also Jorge C. v City of New York, 128 AD3d 410, 8 N.Y.S.3d 307 [1st Dept 2015] [defendant established that student’s injury did not arise from inadequate supervision, but from impulsive and unanticipated acts of fellow student of finding balloon, filling it with water, and attempting to throw it at plaintiff, and plaintiff running away and looking backwards rather than ahead]).

Moreover, it was plaintiff’s own impulsive and reckless conduct in squirting the other scouts with the water pump and then running out of the shower house, that led to his injury. (See Gibbud v Camp Shane, Inc., 30 AD3d 865, 817 N.Y.S.2d 435 [3d Dept 2006] [plaintiff’s own impulsive and reckless act in grabbing camp counselor from behind, causing counselor to drop plaintiff and fracture plaintiff’s [*27] ankle, led to his injury]).

Thus, as the accident occurred in a very short time span and as plaintiff’s own impulsive conduct led to his injury, defendants have demonstrated that there is no proximate cause between their allegedly inadequate supervision and plaintiff’s accident.

B. Did Council breach their duty to illuminate adequately the area around the shower house?

Plaintiff has not identified what caused him to fall, whether it was part of the shower house or something on the ground, either a rock or tree branch or uneven patch of dirt. Absent any such evidence and even if plaintiff is unable to recall, there is no basis on which it may be found that plaintiff’s injury was proximately caused by the lack of lighting around the area. (See Lynn v Lynn, 216 AD2d 194, 628 N.Y.S.2d 667 [1st Dept 1995] [plaintiff’s amnesia did not reduce her burden of proving that allegedly defective condition of stairway was proximate cause of fall]).

Moreover, plaintiff was wearing a working headlamp at the time of the incident, and neither plaintiff nor his expert identified a regulation or rule requiring defendants to light the area around the shower house at all or in any particular manner.

Plaintiff was able, however, to recall the conditions outside of the [*28] shower house, which consisted of typical conditions in any wooded or camp area, i.e., rocks, dirt, branches, etc., and [**10] having been on several camp trips, was presumably aware of the existence and risks of such conditions. He did not identify or recall any unusual, unexpected, or dangerous conditions, nor have any such conditions been alleged.

In Kimbar v Estis, a young camper had wandered off a camp path at night and hit a tree. The Court found that the camp owners had no duty to illuminate the path in the absence of any particular danger on the path, finding:

We have before us a simple camper-camp relationship and the rustic, outdoor camp life that is the very raison d’e tre [sic] of summer establishments such as defendants’. There are certain risks incidental to camping, but these are part of an adventurous summer camp life, and are necessarily assumed by those who would participate therein . . .

Indeed, it is expected that a camp will have trees, that paths will lead through woods and that woods will be dark at night. It is not to be anticipated that floodlights will be supplied for campers through woodland paths. One naturally assumes many ordinary risks when in the woods and in [*29] the country trails are not smooth sidewalks, paths are not paved, trees, brush and insects are to be expected, and even snakes may appear occasionally. These and more are all a part of accepted camp life.

To hold summer camps to a duty of floodlighting woods would not only impose upon them a condition almost impracticable under many circumstances but would be unfair, as well, to the youth who seek the adventure of living closer to nature, participating in outdoor astronomical study at night or bird study before dawn, or when overnight hikes take them for study and adventure far from any source of electrical power. Such a duty, in short, would frequently compel camps to keep boys confined after dark and thereby effectively spell the end of some of the most desirable activities of real camping life.

1 NY2d 399, 135 N.E.2d 708, 153 N.Y.S.2d 197 [1956]).

Defendants thus establish that they breached no duty to illuminate the area around the shower house and that, in any event, the area did not constitute a dangerous condition for which they may be held liable. (See Torres v State of New York, 18 AD3d 739, 795 N.Y.S.2d 710 [2d Dept 2005] [park owner not liable for injury sustained when plaintiff tripped over tree stump in park; “landowners will not be held liable for injuries arising from a condition on the property [*30] that is inherent or incidental to the nature of the property, and that could be reasonably anticipated by those using it”]; Mazzola v Mazzola, 16 AD3d 629, 793 N.Y.S.2d 59 [2d Dept 2005] [dismissing claim by infant plaintiff who tripped and fell over exposed tree roots in backyard as alleged defect was inherent to nature of land]; Moriello v Stormville Airport Antique Show & Flea Market, Inc., 271 AD2d 664, 706 N.Y.S.2d 463 [2d Dept 2000] [owner of field not liable for injuries to plaintiff who tripped on flat rock while walking on unpaved roadway; rock was inherent to nature of unpaved roadway]; Csukardi v Bishop McDonnell Camp, 148 AD2d 657, 539 N.Y.S.2d 408 [2d Dept 1989] [campground owner not liable to person who tripped over grass-covered stump in wooded area, as stump was incidental to nature of campground and could be reasonably anticipated by persons traversing wooded area]; Alcantara v Fed. Girl Scout Councils of Nassau County, Inc., 24 AD2d 585, 262 N.Y.S.2d 190 [2d Dept 1965] [plaintiff could not recover for injury sustained at camp when she tripped over tree stump; [**11] defendant conducted rustic outdoor camp and paths were unpaved, and condition of premises was thus incidental to nature of camp and to be ordinarily expected by plaintiff]).

IV. CONCLUSION

For all of these reasons, it is hereby

ORDERED, that the motion of defendants Northern New Jersey Council, Inc., Boy Scouts of America and Boy Scout Troop 141 for summary judgment dismissing the action against them is granted, and the complaint is dismissed as against them, [*31] with costs and disbursements to said defendants as taxed by the Clerk upon the submission of an appropriate bill of costs, and is further

ORDERED, that the clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

ENTER:

Barbara Jaffe, JSC

DATED: March 10, 2016

New York, New York


Clean Trails

Clean Trails News
Our Amazing Volunteers
Collaboration is Our Middle Name
Hot Spots to Hike
Postcards From the Trail
Outdoor Photo Tips
Volunteer Spotlight

Amanda Wallander Roberts is on a mission to bring some organization to the Clean Trails organization-if that makes any sense! Amanda is the pulse of the organizational and program development for Clean Trails. She works on the systems and processes that allow individuals to get involved with Clean Trails and determine what they do once they are on board.

Collaborative Spotlight

LIONSHARES (Lionsgate Entertainment)

Who says cleaning up can’t be fun and productive? Another great collaboration this weekend with LIONSHARES (Lionsgate Entertainment’s volunteer program) at Solstice Canyon in the Malibu National Recreation area. A crew of 25 collected a 55 gallon bag of roughly 500 pieces of litter comprised of water bottles, labels, lids, and security seals at the regularly maintained trail.LIONSHARES is a volunteer program that seeks to provide opportunities for employees within the Lionsgate Entertainment family to partner with a diverse range of charitable organizations. The program not only enriches the Lionsgate work experience through cultural and educational outreach, but also positively interacts and invests in the local and global community.

Corporate Social Responsibility is an important cornerstone of our outreach strategy. If your company is looking for a way to give back to its community, contact our CSR Director Annette Poliwka to learn how your company can participate.

Visit Our Sponsor

We really like this company! In addition to excellent customer service and an extensive selection of products, they offer small grants to Jeep clubs and other organizations to promote responsible recreation and to clean up after themselves and others. Here’s a little more about this great company…

ExtremeTerrain is a collection of dedicated enthusiasts striving to bring you the best Jeep Wrangler aftermarket parts and accessories at the best prices possible. When shopping for Jeep parts online, you want to know you’re ordering from a reliable and trustworthy company that has extensive experience with both OEM and aftermarket Jeep parts. ExtremeTerrain was founded as an outlet for Jeep enthusiasts to seek advice from like-minded people and get the best Jeep Wrangler parts on the market without paying for ridiculous shipping and handling costs. We’re experts on anything and everything Wrangler as we stock the Jeep parts you seek and have the experience to back it up.

Order a free catalog, read a review or two and give us a call if you have any questions. Whether you’re into crawling canyons, climbing mountains, wheeling a tough trail, exploring the off-road, or just cruising the open highway give us a call to chat about your next modification-we’ll be happy to help recommend the right Wrangler parts for your project and your budget!

Things We Like

GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. Our independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has committed more than $825 million in lottery proceeds to more than 4,500 projects in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support.

LinksClean Trails

Extreme Terrain

Great Outdoors Colorado
Lionshares

Trail Talk
Dear JIM,Clean Trails is on the move! We hope you enjoy this month’s newsletter. Along with a bit about what we’ve been up to, we’ve selected some interesting content we hope you will appreciate . Let us know what you think…
15 Best Day Hikes

Here they are: GP’s best day hikes, as told by our readers. All of the words and images below are straight from your submissions to our GP best hikes competition. We edited and condensed as necessary (some of you really like to type) and shot for widest possible range of locations and types of stories. What we were left with is a diverse hodgepodge of outdoor activity, organized from west to east, starting with Hawaii in the Pacific and ending with St. John in the Atlantic. Without further ado: 15 favorite hiking destinations, as told by GP readers, for GP readers.

Postcard From the Trail
The Grand Canyon

Introducing our new blog series, Postcards from the Trail. It gives our readers, supporters, and volunteers the opportunity to share their outdoor adventures, experiences, and memories with the Clean Trails community.

This post in our series is from Chris Fortunato. Chris is a Clean Trails volunteer in San Diego, CA. He recently spent some time at the Grand Canyon. Here’s an excerpt:

“Often times it’s the little details that make an adventure special and add a personal element to a trip. It could be the unexpected memories you create after taking that wrong turn and getting lost. Or maybe that morning cup of coffee while overlooking the view outside your tent. Even the smell of dusty gear when you get home, jolting you back to the trail for just a moment. These little gems make a huge impact, even when visiting overwhelming locations like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. They may not make the trip, considering the world class sights to be seen, but they add another level of satisfaction.”

If you have something that you would like to contribute, Please contact our Web/Blog Editor Tim Brown.

Wildlife Photo Tips

We bet everyone has tried to get that perfect wildlife shot on one of their hikes. We found these great tips at Backpacker Magazine that should help you improve your photography.

“Practice at home, zoom in, and follow these other simple rules to score an intimate shot that captures an animal’s character.”

“We believe that people are naturally responsible; if we encourage them to care for their favorite places, to pick up after themselves and others, then our trails will become self-sufficient, clean, and more enjoyable. Our job is to show them the way. Thanks for joining us!”Sincerely,

Richard L. P. Solosky
Interim Executive Director, Clean Trails

What if everyone picked up just one piece of litter?Trails that are littered tend to get more littered, but trails that are clean remain that way. If you know of a trail or area that is in need of clean up and would like to coordinate an event, please let us know.

Oh, and please like and follow us on your favorite social media channel.


Duty of care for a Massachusetts campground is to warn of dangerous conditions.

Plaintiff assumes the risk of his injury at a commercial campground if there is not dangerous condition and/or he knows about the condition because he walks the trail during the day.

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

State: Massachusetts, Appeals Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Anthony Monaco

Defendant: Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

This case involves a commercial campground. The plaintiff was walking up to the restroom at night and fell on the path. He sued for his injuries. The plaintiff sued the campground and others who were never clearly identified in the appellate decision.

The lower court stated the plaintiff assumed the risk based upon the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first reviewed the requirements for a negligence suit to succeed under Massachusetts law and condensed the four steps to one sentence. “To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages.” The duty of care is only owed to those who are foreseeably endangered by the contact with the defendant.

Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.

The duty of a land owner in Massachusetts is that of reasonable care “under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.”

Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. That is, an open and obvious danger negates the existence of a duty of care.

The fact that the plaintiff was injured does not create a legal obligation or duty on the part of the defendant. Evidence is needed to support the lack of care or proof the landowner k of the dangerous condition.

…evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards.

The plaintiff had descended the hill earlier and had not seen a dangerous condition. In fact, the plaintiff had been using the campground for eighteen years and had used the path three times the day he fell.

Nor had a dangerous condition on the hillside been identified or spotted during the camps annual inspection.

Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

The court held the defendants owed not duty to protect the plaintiff from the conditions on the pathway.

So Now What?

The requirement that a landowner is not obligated to consistently and constantly check for dangerous conditions is not found in all states. In most states if the dangerous condition exists, the landowner must fix it or warn of it.

The obligations or duties owed to people on your land are usually based upon the reasons why the injured person was originally upon your land. In Massachusetts that issue is not discussed.

Here the obligation was to warn or correct dangerous conditions. It did not matter why the person was on the land.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2015 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground, Camper, Campground, Landowner, Land Owner, Pathway, Restroom, Shower, Commercial Campground,

 


Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Anthony Monaco vs. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., & another.1

1 Jayne Cohen.

14-P-141

APPEALS COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS

86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

December 18, 2014, Entered

NOTICE: DECISIONS ISSUED BY THE APPEALS COURT PURSUANT TO ITS RULE 1:28 ARE PRIMARILY ADDRESSED TO THE PARTIES AND, THEREFORE, MAY NOT FULLY ADDRESS THE FACTS OF THE CASE OR THE PANEL’S DECISIONAL RATIONALE. MOREOVER, RULE 1:28 DECISIONS ARE NOT CIRCULATED TO THE ENTIRE COURT AND, THEREFORE, REPRESENT ONLY THE VIEWS OF THE PANEL THAT DECIDED THE CASE. A SUMMARY DECISION PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28, ISSUED AFTER FEBRUARY 25, 2008, MAY BE CITED FOR ITS PERSUASIVE VALUE BUT, BECAUSE OF THE LIMITATIONS NOTED ABOVE, NOT AS BINDING PRECEDENT.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE MASSACHUSETTS APPEALS COURT REPORTS.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE NORTH EASTERN REPORTER.

DISPOSITION: [*1] Judgment affirmed.

CORE TERMS: pathway, campground, landowners, summary judgment, favorable, allowance, obvious danger, duty of care, citation omitted, unreasonably dangerous, obstructions, deposition, anticipate, precautions, unexpected, invitees, uneven, slope, fault, owe, shower, paved, path, owed

JUDGES: Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28

Anthony Monaco seeks to recover for serious injuries he sustained when he fell down a grassy hill that campers used to reach a shower building located on Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground in New Hampton, New Hampshire. The plaintiff alleges that VCRI and Jayne Cohen2 were negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place. A Superior Court judge allowed the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, reasoning that traversing the shortcut in lieu of existing paved pathways, and in darkness, is an “obvious baseline danger,” and that the defendants therefore owed no duty. We affirm.

2 Cohen served as president of Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., during the time of the incident in question.

3 Construing the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and noting that the shower building was marked with a “restroom” sign visible from the paved road above, we accept the plaintiff’s characterization [*2] of the route between the road and the building as a pathway.

In reviewing the trial court judge’s allowance of a motion for summary judgment, we consider the evidence submitted with the motion, which may include “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits.” Highlands Ins. Co. v. Aerovox, Inc., 424 Mass. 226, 232, 676 N.E.2d 801 (1997) (citation omitted). See Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). We construe inferences drawn from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and review de novo the trial court judge’s application of the law to the facts. LeBlanc v. Logan Hilton Joint Venture, 463 Mass. 316, 318, 974 N.E.2d 34 (2012). Allowance of the motion will survive appellate review so long as there is “no genuine issue” of “material fact” and “the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 325-326. Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages. Ronayne v. State, 137 N.H. 281, 284, 632 A.2d 1210 (1993).4 “[P]ersons owe a duty of care ‘only to those who they foreseeably endanger by their conduct.'” Manchenton v. Auto Leasing Corp., 135 N.H. 298, 304, 605 A.2d 208 (1992) [*3] (citation omitted). “Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.” Id. at 305.

4 The trial court judge determined that New Hampshire’s substantive law governed this action. The parties do not dispute that the choice of New Hampshire law is appropriate under the circumstances of this case.

“[O]wners and occupiers of land owe plaintiffs a duty of reasonable care under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.” Werne v. Exec. Women’s Golf Assn., 158 N.H. 373, 376, 969 A.2d 346 (2009). Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. See Pesaturo v. Kinne, 161 N.H. 550, 555, 20 A.3d 284 (2011). The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. Ibid. Lawrence v. Hollerich, 394 N.W.2d 853, 855 (Minn. App. Ct. 1986). That is, an open and obvious danger negates the [*4] existence of a duty of care. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 422, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002).

The mere fact that the plaintiff was injured does not trigger a legal duty on the defendants. He must produce some evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. Lawrence, 394 N.W.2d at 856. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards. However, other evidence revealed that the condition of the pathway, as it appeared to both parties, posed no greater risk than walkways maintained by landowners in their ordinary exercise of care. Cf. Paquette v. Joyce, 117 N.H. 832, 835, 379 A.2d 207 (1977). Monaco testified at his deposition that he was not aware of any treacherous condition as he was descending the hill, and Cohen never observed any “unexpected,” unreasonably dangerous condition, Ahern v. Amoskeag Mfg. Co., 75 N.H. 99, 101, 102, 71 A. 213 (1908), during her annual visual inspections of the campground. Thus, Monaco’s inattention to obvious dangers on the pathway was the only risk presented, which did not impose on the [*5] defendants a duty to exercise precautions. Contrast Hacking v. Belmont, 143 N.H. 546, 553, 736 A.2d 1229 (1999) (defendant liable for “unreasonably increased or concealed” risks not inherent in the game of basketball).

Moreover, “[t]here is nothing unfamiliar about the inability to perceive in the dark obstructions to the course of one who walks without light.” Ahern, supra at 101. That is, “[i]f there may be obstructions whose presence cannot be ascertained by the eye, due care requires the use of some other sense to detect them.” Ibid. When the evidence is “uncontradicted” that the plaintiff was familiar with the area where the accident occurred and that the injury occurred because of an “unexpected” condition, the defendant is not at fault for failing to anticipate it. Ibid. Unless the defendant had superior knowledge of the danger, “[i]t cannot reasonably be found that of two persons of equal knowledge and of equal ability to appreciate and understand a danger, one is in fault for not apprehending the danger and the other is not.” Id. at 102.

In this case, Monaco’s knowledge and appreciation of the condition of the pathway was equal to the defendants’. Monaco had camped on the campground once per [*6] year for eighteen years and had used the pathway three times without incident on the day of his fall. Likewise, VCRI had been operating the campground for over two decades, and Cohen was VCRI’s president for approximately six years. Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

Conclusion. Drawing all inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we conclude that the defendants owed no duty to protect him against the injury-causing condition of the pathway. The allowance of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was proper.

Judgment affirmed.

By the Court (Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.5),

5 The panelists are listed in order of seniority.

Entered: December 18, 2014.