Loosier v. Youth Baseball and Softball, Inc., 142 Ill. App. 3d 313, 491 N.E.2d 933, 1986 Ill. App. LEXIS 2062, 96 Ill. Dec. 654

Loosier v. Youth Baseball & Softball, Inc., 142 Ill. App. 3d 313, 491 N.E.2d 933, 1986 Ill. App. LEXIS 2062, 96 Ill. Dec. 654

Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District

April 11, 1986, Filed

No. 5-84-0640

Counsel: Carroll L. Owens, of Benton, for appellant.

Feirich, Schoen, Mager, Green & Associates, of Carbondale, for appellee.

Judges: PRESIDING JUSTICE KASSERMAN delivered the opinion of the court. KARNS, J., concurs. JUSTICE HARRISON, specially concurring.

Opinion by: KASSERMAN

Opinion

 [*313] 
 [**934] 
 [****655]  This cause of action arose out of personal injuries suffered by the minor plaintiff when he was struck by a truck while trying to cross Interstate Route 57 west of Benton. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that  [*314]  defendant was negligent in that it was guilty of a breach of a duty owed the plaintiff to supervise, watch over, and care for the plaintiff while the plaintiff was selling baseball raffle tickets.

The defendant, Youth Baseball and Softball, Inc., is a not-for-profit organization which raises funds through raffle ticket sales. Each year prizes are given to the baseball participants who sell the most raffle tickets. The minor plaintiff, Jimmy Loosier, was a member of a baseball team which was under the supervision of the [***2]  defendant’s summer baseball program. Members of the baseball team participated voluntarily with their parents’ permission in the sale of raffle tickets to give away a new automobile as a means of financing the costs of the baseball program.

The raffle tickets were issued to the coaches who then issued tickets to the players to be sold by them. The tickets were initially distributed in lots of 10 to each child by the team coach. After the children sold their initial 10 tickets, they could get more tickets only with their parents’ permission. After the initial 10 tickets were issued to a child, Youth Baseball did not issue any more tickets to the children but, rather, gave them to the children’s parents when their parents asked for additional tickets. Selling the raffle tickets was purely the voluntary decision of each child and his parents. If a child did not participate in the fund-raising activities, the child lost no privileges.

Youth Baseball warned the children, upon distributing the initial 10 raffle tickets to each child who participated, not to sell them by themselves and not to go out without their parents’ permission. Although some individual coaches took their baseball [***3]  players out to sell tickets periodically, it was understood that the overall duty of supervision lay with the child’s parents and not with Youth Baseball.

The plaintiff, Jimmy Loosier, was 11 years old at the time of his injury on July 22, 1982. He had been selling raffle tickets for the youth Baseball program for four years when the accident occurred. When Loosier first began selling raffle tickets his mother warned him about places he should not go, people he should not sell to, and streets and highways he should avoid. She had instructed him to stop, look and listen when crossing streets. The minor plaintiff had also been instructed in safety on highway crossing at school.

On July 22, 1982, plaintiff went to the Wal-Mart store, which was approximately  [**935] 
 [****656]  two miles from his home and across Interstate Route 57, west of Benton. Prior to the accident, Jimmy Loosier had gone to the shopping mall where the Wal-Mart store is located on his own or with his friends 10 to 20 times in order to sell raffle tickets or just to “goof off.” The majority of the times the plaintiff had gone to Wal-Mart  [*315]  to sell tickets, he had gone without adult supervision.  [***4]  Jimmy’s mother knew when he went out to the mall by himself or with his friends and that there was no adult with them.

On the particular day the plaintiff was injured while crossing Interstate Route 57, he informed his mother he was going to Wal-Mart to sell raffle tickets. However another reason plaintiff wanted to go to Wal-Mart that day was to simply “get out of the house” because he was bored. Mrs. Loosier saw that Jimmy had his little black bag with the tickets when he left the house. She knew that Youth Baseball was not providing people to accompany her son whenever he went to sell tickets; yet, she permitted him to sell the tickets anyway.

After arriving at the mall the plaintiff sold seven or eight tickets. Then Johnny Hines and some other kids asked Loosier to steal a “hot wheels car” from Wal-Mart. When Loosier refused, they said they were going to “beat the heck out” of plaintiff if he didn’t. Loosier then left Wal-Mart. While he was standing out in the parking lot, Loosier saw the other kids coming outside so he began running. As he was running, he could see Hines and the other children following him on bikes. Loosier ran toward Interstate 57 and made it safely [***5]  across the southbound lanes of the interstate. When he was in the middle of the northbound portion of the interstate, he saw a semi-truck approaching. He slid and then started to scoot back up and the truck ran over his leg.

The plaintiff alleges that Youth Baseball owed a duty of supervision to him at the time and occasion of his injury. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Youth Baseball owed no duty to Loosier under the circumstances because the injuries to Loosier did not arise out of a time in which raffle tickets were being sold due to the fact that the sale of tickets had effectively been terminated prior to the activity which led to the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiff appealed from that portion of the trial court’s order. The trial court further held that the complaint stated a cause of action in that Youth Baseball had a duty to provide supervision for raffle ticket sales. Youth Baseball cross-appealed from this portion of the trial court’s order.

The first issue we must determine is whether the trial court appropriately granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Youth Baseball had no duty to exercise [***6]  ordinary care for Loosier under the circumstances of the instant case.

It is fundamental that HN1[] there can be no recovery in tort for negligence unless the defendant has committed a breach of duty owed to the plaintiff. Whether under the facts of a given case, such a relationship  [*316]  exists between the parties so as to require a legal obligation be imposed upon one for the benefit of another is a question of law to be determined by the court. ( Zimmermann v. Netemeyer (1984), 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1045, 462 N.E.2d 502, 505.) In the absence of any showing upon which the court could infer the existence of a duty, no recovery is possible as a matter of law and summary judgment in favor of the defendant is proper. Keller v. Mols (1984), 129 Ill. App. 3d 208, 210, 472 N.E.2d 161, 163.

Whether the law imposes a duty upon a defendant for injuries to a plaintiff does not depend upon the factor of foreseeability alone but rather the likelihood of injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against it, and the consequences of placing that burden upon the defendant must also be taken into account. (Cf. Lance v. Senior (1967), 36 Ill. 2d 516, 518, 224 N.E.2d 231, 233.)  [***7]  In the case at bar the same standard applies for imposition of a legal duty which we set forth in Zimmermann.  [**936] 
 [****657]  As we noted in Zimmermann, the existence of a legal duty is not dependent on the factor of foreseeability but requires consideration of public policy and social requirements. ( Zimmermann v. Netemeyer (1984), 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1047, 462 N.E.2d 502, 506.) In Zimmermann we stated as follows:

HN2[] “Whether a defendant should have ‘foreseen’ harm to a party injured is the test to be used by a jury in determining negligence. ‘Foreseeability’ enters into the negligence format only after the court has concluded that, at the time of the occurrence in question, the defendant was under a duty to guard against injury to the plaintiff.” 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1048, 462 N.E.2d 502, 507.

Continuing, we stated further:

“‘The duty issue, being one of law, is broad in its implication; the negligence issue is confined to the particular case and has no implications for other cases. There are many factors other than foreseeability that may condition a judge’s imposing or not imposing a duty in the particular case, but the only factors for [***8]  the jury to consider in determining the negligence issue are expressed in the foreseeability formula.’ Green, Foreseeability in Negligence Law, 61 Colum. L. Rev. 1401, 1417-18.” ( Zimmermann v. Netemeyer (1984), 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1048, 462 N.E.2d 502, 507, citing Mieher v. Brown (1973), 54 Ill. 2d 539, 301 N.E. 2d 307.)

In Zimmermann we clarified the role of “foreseeability of harm” and the fact that it enters the negligence format only after the court determines that at the time of the occurrence in question there existed  [*317]  a duty on the part of the defendant to guard against injury to plaintiff. We additionally analyzed the policy basis of duty in Zimmermann. Quoting from Professor Prosser regarding the policy foundation of duty, we stated:

HN3[] “‘”[D]uty” is not sacrosanct in itself, but only an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say the particular plaintiff is entitled to protection.

* * *

[T]he courts have merely ‘reacted to the situation in the way in which the great mass of mankind customarily react,’ and that as our ideas of human relations change the law as to duties has changed with [***9]  them. Various factors undoubtedly have been given conscious or unconscious weight, including convenience of administration, capacity of the parties to bear the loss, a policy of preventing future injuries, the moral blame attached to the wrongdoer, and many others. Changing social conditions lead constantly to the recognition of new duties. No better general statement can be made, than that the courts will find a duty where, in general, reasonable men would recognize it and agree that it exists.’ (Prosser, Torts sec. 54, at 326-27 (4th ed. 1971).)” 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1053, 462 N.E.2d 502, 510.

Using the foregoing analysis which we set forth in Zimmermann as our guide, we turn to the consideration of the issue of whether Youth Baseball owed a duty to Loosier to protect him from injury at all times when he might sell a raffle ticket or be enroute to sell a raffle ticket. Consideration of this issue depends on public policy considerations and not merely foreseeability as we noted in Zimmermann.

To the extent that public policy enters into the analysis, no reasons sounding in public policy would require that a duty of continuous protection be imposed. Youth Baseball [***10]  provides a service to the community by sponsoring sports activities for young people without charge and it raises money for these activities by the sale of raffle tickets by its members on a voluntary basis. The sale of tickets is done only with parental permission. Ticket sales are made by the players at times other than when they are under the supervision of the coaches on the playing field. In fact, the ticket sales are made by the youths who participate in the program at any time when they are not either playing or practicing.  [**937] 
 [****658]  We find that public policy does not require that citizens, who do volunteer work in coaching baseball and softball teams, provide supervision of all team members at the time when a team member is engaged in the activity of selling a raffle ticket. We find that the contrary is dictated by public policy, because  [*318]  such a requirement would impose an unreasonable burden upon those who operate and sponsor the Youth Baseball program.

While defendant has a duty to supervise the activity of baseball and softball games while the players are on the field actively participating in the sport and entrusted by their parents to their [***11]  coaches, we are unwilling to conclude that they are required to supervise those same players at any hour of the day or night when they might decide to sell a raffle ticket while they are under the care of their parents. Under the circumstances of the case at bar, public policy is best served by placing the burden of the care of the children upon their parents who permit them to participate in the raffle ticket sales. In the case at bar, we find that the care and control of the minor was with his parents. At the time of the accident the care of the minor had not been entrusted to youth Baseball. Loosier was selling tickets with the consent of his parents. He had gone to the shopping center with his friends with his mother’s permission to sell tickets which were obtained from the defendant by his father. The only involvement of Youth Baseball was that it had provided the tickets that Loosier was selling with the permission of and while in the care of his parents. Under these circumstances, we find that Youth Baseball had no duty of supervision and affirm the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in defendant’s favor.

As an aside, we note that if foreseeability were to play [***12]  a rule in the determination of duty, it is not reasonable or likely that a boy going to a shopping center with his teammates to sell raffle tickets will be requested by one of those teammates to steal from the store in which they are selling tickets; that when he refuses his teammates will threaten to beat him for not stealing; that his teammates will then chase him; and that in the chase he will run across an interstate highway and be struck by a truck. We find that the likelihood of such an occurrence was not even remotely foreseeable.

In addition to finding that Youth Baseball owed no duty to Loosier under the circumstances of this case, resulting in the entry of a summary judgment in defendant’s favor, the trial court further found that Youth Baseball owed a duty to Loosier to provide supervision of raffle ticket sales, even though it did not define under what circumstances such a duty would exist. Defendant Youth Baseball cross-appealed from this portion of the trial court’s order.

The defendant points out that the single issue before the trial court in the Motion for Summary Judgment was: “Did Youth Baseball owe a duty to Loosier to take measures to protect him from the injury [***13]  he received as a result of the described occurrence?” The trial  [*319]  court determined the answer to that question was no. The defendant notes however that in its order the court seemed to indicate that there would be some other circumstances when the plaintiff would be actively engaged in the sale of tickets under which a duty would be owed. We agree with the defendant that this finding of the trial court was erroneous inasmuch as it did not define under what circumstances such a duty would exist. HN4[] Liability for negligence is predicated upon the requirement that a defendant use reasonable and ordinary care to protect a plaintiff under the circumstances in question. ( Sims v. Chicago Transit Authority (1954), 4 Ill. 2d 60, 122 N.E.2d 221.) As we noted in Zimmermann, the courts in Illinois frequently have been called upon in negligence cases to determine whether a duty exists under the specific facts presented. ( Zimmermann v. Netemeyer (1984), 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1046, 462 N.E.2d 502, 505-06.) HN5[] Although the issue regarding duty is broad in its implication, a duty, when created as a matter of law, is required to have a particular set of  [**938] 
 [****659] 
 [***14]  circumstances as a basis for its creation. In the case at bar, the trial court held that there may be some other circumstances under which the plaintiff would be actively engaged in the sale of tickets under which a duty would be owed by the defendant. We conclude that such portion of the trial court’s order is erroneous inasmuch as the court appears to hold that a duty to use due care may arise under circumstances not presented to it for determination.

Concluding, we find that the trial court appropriately found that Youth Baseball owed no duty to exercise ordinary care for the plaintiff under the circumstances of the case at bar; consequently, that portion of the trial court’s order is affirmed. Furthermore, we reverse that portion of the trial court’s order which denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint inasmuch as it was not based upon circumstances present in the case at bar.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part.

Concur by: HARRISON

Concur

JUSTICE HARRISON, specially concurring.

Although I agree with the result reached in the majority opinion, I cannot accept the majority’s unwillingness to recognize the relevance of foreseeability regarding the duty question for [***15]  the reasons discussed in the dissenting opinion in Zimmermann v. Netemeyer (1984), 122 Ill. App. 3d 1042, 1054-56, 462 N.E.2d 502, 511-12 (Harrison, J., dissenting).


If you have too many cases of Covid-19 at your camp or recreation program will the state force you to quarantine in place?

Meaning will the state not let anyone leave until the quarantine is over?

This game was developed an epidemiologist at U Wisc. https://apl.wisc.edu/beta-testing/zombie-unicorn-outbreak

I started playing it to understand how a quarantine might work, etc. What caught me off guard is playing with the variables dramatically changes the outcome.

Example:

Figure a camp has a low percentage of at-risk people. Based on the ACA model you would want the kids to stick together. Cabins stick together and do not interact with other cabins. However, that model had a 10 times greater infection rate over the never get together model. Obviously, camp would never be neither, so choose mostly and if one carrier arrives in camp at the end of the first week, you have eight infected kids.

What happens if the State Quarantines a Camp?

The next issue that no one has thought about is that I can find in my searching is what is the state going to do if a camp has X cases. Meaning if a camp sends X kids home in one week, what is the state response? At what number of kids going home with Covid-19, will the state quarantine the camp. Not let anyone leave? What happens when a camp is quarantined?

How far reaching will the quarantine go. Will kids be confined to cabins for two weeks like people were confined to rooms on the cruise ships?

What will the results of a quarantine like that be?

Will food be delivered to cabins by kitchen staff? What about laundry? What about exercise? Maybe you can designate times and locations for a cabin to do things?

Think about dealing with parents who are going to insist that they take their kids home? However, I think the state, which will be at the front gate will get to deal with them.

Or will the state just empty the camp and send everyone’s home? I can’t see most states doing this because they will just be spreading the virus out in the community.

Worker’s Compensation

That then leads into the next issue and tomorrow’s discussion, insurance. In this case, Worker’s Compensation. Camp staff will be able to prove they got the quarantine at camp while working. You need to make sure you have coverage for that. See tomorrows article If you are thinking about opening for the summer, before you stock up on PPE, you might check to see if you have insurance coverage. If you get sued by a guest for catching Covid-19 at your business or operation the legal fees to win your case can exceed $100,000.

(We won’t even discuss paying camp staff that can’t leave camp?)

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Pennsylvania No Duty Rule stops lawsuit by underage rider.

A minor with 12 years of riding and competing on dirt bikes could not sue the commercial operation after crashing on the course.

Hawkins v. Switchback MX, LLC, 339 F. Supp. 3d 543, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155249

State: Pennsylvania; United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Kameron Hawkins and Amber Lynn Durbin

Defendant: Switchback MX, LLC d/b/a Switchback Raceway

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and negligence per se

Defendant Defenses: Pennsylvania No Duty Rule (Assumption of the Risk)

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2019

Summary

The Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act specifically identifies downhill skiing and off-road riding as exempt from the comparative negligence act. In both those sports, the participant assumes the risk of their injuries due from the inherent risks of the sports.

Facts

Hawkins [plaintiff] began riding a dirt bike at the age of five or six.. He learned the ins and outs of dirt bike [motorized] riding from his father, who raced dirt bikes and often brought Hawkins to spectate at off-road races Hawkins began participating in races himself at “a young age” and even secured sponsorships. He testified that he was aware of the dangers of riding dirt bikes from early on in his experience, that his father instructed him to avoid jumps that “you don’t think you can handle,” and that he wore protective gear to guard against the risk of injury. He acknowledges that dirt bike riding is “a dangerous sport,” that “you could get hurt” on a dirt bike, and that a fall could cause “injury . . . or even death.” Despite his protective measures, Hawkins has suffered injuries in the past riding a dirt bike. Hawkins had been to Switchback on three prior occasions: once as a spectator, once as pit crew member for his friend Jonathan Franjko, and once as a rider.

The events preceding Hawkins’ accident on January 9, 2016 are disputed by the parties and not fully explored in the Rule 56 record. According to Hawkins, he arrived at Switchback with several friends and met with Brader, who asked them whether they had been to Switchback before. Hawkins relayed that, after the group responded affirmatively, Brader told them to sign in, accepted their payment, and provided them with wristbands to attach to their helmets to indicate they had been authorized to ride. He denied ever being asked to present identification and did not recall being asked his age.

Switchback’s account diverges considerably. According to Brader, Hawkins entered the indoor facility on January 9, 2016 with Franjko, who had a Switchback membership card. Brader did not recognize Hawkins and thought he appeared to be under the age of 18. Brader reported that he told Hawkins he needed to “take home a waiver and fill it out” and that he had to “bring [the waiver] out next time and join us another day.” Brader does not recall Hawkins signing in on Switchback’s sign-in sheet for January 9, 2016, but testified that he told Hawkins he “could not ride” without waiver and consent forms on file. Brader also testified that he does not know how Hawkins ultimately came to access the track on January 9, 2016. It is undisputed that Durbin did not execute a parental consent form allowing Hawkins to participate in dirt bike riding at Switchback.

On January 9, 2016, Hawkins somehow gained access Switchback’s indoor dirt bike racing track. Hawkins “attempted a jump, without enough speed,” on one of the track’s “table top jumps,” which caused the frame of his dirt bike to hit the ground and “flip [the] bike and Hawkins over.” According to Brader, it was only after this wreck that he became aware that Hawkins had accessed the track. Brader testified that Hawkins “didn’t look right” and that he offered to call an ambulance. Franjko confirmed that Brader asked “a couple times” whether Hawkins wanted medical attention. Hawkins left Switchback’s facility with his friends without receiving medical attention. Hawkins was subsequently treated for injuries including a lacerated kidney and pancreas, trauma to his spleen, a broken hip, a concussion, and post-concussion syndrome. The accident occurred four months before Hawkins’ 18th birthday.

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

The court first reviewed the requirements to prove a negligence claim in Pennsylvania.

Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove the “four basic elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. That is, plaintiffs must prove: (1) the existence of a legal duty requiring a certain standard of conduct; (2) breach of that duty by the defendant; (3) a causal connection between defendant’s breach and plaintiffs’ injury; and (4) actual loss or damages.

The court then reviewed the claims of the plaintiff as whether the defendant owed a duty to the minor plaintiff because the plaintiff assumed the risk of his injuries.

The defendant’s position was it had no duty to protect the plaintiff because of the inherent risk set out in the “no duty” rule in the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act.

The plaintiff’s response to that argument was the negligence of the defendant was in allowing the plaintiff to access the track.

The court looked at the conflicting arguments by next reviewing assumption of the risk as applied in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act eliminated the defense of assumption of the risk in all areas except two when it enacted the statute. The two exemptions were downhill skiing and off-road vehicle riding. Meaning in those two situations, the no-duty rule retained the defense of assumption of the risk. The defendant has no duty to protect the plaintiff from the inherent risks of the sport of downhill skiing or off-road riding.

The court then reviewed whether assumption of the risk applied to minors. That is “the court must ask what the “particular minor plaintiff knows, sees, hears, comprehends, and appreciates” with respect to the risk involved.”

Under Pennsylvania law, to prove assumption:

…the court must find that the plaintiff (1) “consciously appreciated the risk” attending the activity, (2) assumed the risk of injury by nonetheless engaging in the activity, and (3) sustained an injury that was “the same risk of injury that was appreciated and assumed.”

A factor in determining whether or not a minor assumed the risk is the minor’s age and experience. In this case that worked for the defendant because the minor was only four months from turning eighteen at the time of the accident and had been riding for twelve years.

The court then defined inherent risk as a risk “which “cannot be removed without altering the fundamental nature” of the activity.”

The court broke down the inherent risks of off-road riding as identified in the statute, to see if the plaintiff’s injury landing on a table-top jump was inherent to the sport.

Common sense dictates that the risk of a fall or collision that does not involve another rider or object is equally inherent in the activity. Indeed, Hawkins’ own experience bears this out—he testified that his accident on January 9, 2016, was not his first; that he knew from personal experience that attempting jumps carried a certain risk; and that he wore protective gear in an attempt to mitigate that risk. We find that the risk of suffering serious injury when attempting a dirt bike jump is one which “cannot be removed without altering the fundamental nature” of dirt bike riding and is thus inherent in the activity.

We further conclude that reasonable persons could not debate whether Hawkins appreciated and knowingly assumed that risk. Hawkins was nearly 18 years old at the time of the accident and had been riding dirt bikes for more than 12 years. He was a vastly experienced rider. He was well aware that dirt bike riding carried the risk of serious injury and even death. Indeed, Hawkins acknowledged that a dirt bike presents a certain danger “even when the bike’s on the ground.” Given this unequivocal record testimony, we have little difficulty finding that this particular rider—plaintiff Kameron Hawkins—knew, appreciated, and assumed the risks attending off-road dirt bike riding.

For these reasons, the court found the minor, because of his age and experience assumed the risk of his injuries, and the defendant was not liable for those injuries because of the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act.

So Now What?

Assumption of the risk in most states is the only defense you have to injuries a minor receives. Unless your state has a specific statute that identifies your activity as one with inherent risk a person assumes, you need to prove the minor in your case assumed those risks.

To do that you must maximize all the avenues to educate and document that education of a minor, in fact, all participants in your activity or business.

Post videos of your activity showing crashes, flips and falls on your website and social media. Point out possible risks on your site and social media. Then confirm in some way that the minor observed that information.

You can go so far as to ask the minor and/or the minor’s parents of their experience in the sport. Have they participated in the sport before, seen it on TV, participated for how many years, etc.

A release is your best defense to a lawsuit, but for minors, in those states where releases are not valid and or minors, assumption of the risk is your best and sometimes only defense.

For more information see:

States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

States that do not Support the Use of a Release

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Grosch v. Anderson, 2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529

Grosch v. Anderson, 2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529

Grosch v. Anderson

Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District

September 12, 2018, Order Filed

No. 2-17-0707

Reporter

2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U *; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529 **

TRACEY GROSCH, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Riley Grosch, a Minor, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant-Appellant, v. BRIAN ANDERSON, JO ANDERSON, CARY-GROVE EVANGELICAL FREE CHURCH, d/b/a Living Grace Community Church of Cary, Defendants and Counterplaintiffs-Appellees.

Notice: THIS ORDER WAS FILED UNDER SUPREME COURT RULE 23 AND MAY NOT BE CITED AS PRECEDENT BY ANY PARTY EXCEPT IN THE LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOWED UNDER RULE 23(e)(1).

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 14-L-619. Honorable James R. Murphy, Judge, Presiding.

Disposition: Affirmed.

Judges: JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court. Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment.

Opinion by: BIRKETT

Opinion

JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court.

Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment.

ORDER

 [*P1] 
Held: The trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants because the fire pole was an open and obvious condition and no exception existed, and there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment.

 [*P2]  Plaintiff, Tracey Grosch, individually and as mother and next friend of Riley Grosch, a minor, appeals the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County, granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, Brian Anderson, Jo Anderson, and the Cary-Grove Evangelical Free Church d/b/a Living Grace Community Church on plaintiff’s claims of negligence related to Riley’s fall as he was attempting to slide down a fire pole in the Andersons’s back yard during an event sponsored by the Church’s youth ministry. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in relying on the open-and-obvious doctrine and in concluding [**2]  that there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment. We affirm.

 [*P3]  I. BACKGROUND

 [*P4]  We summarize the pertinent facts. On November 14, 2016, the Andersons were members of the Church; plaintiff’s family attended the Church, but were not members. According to Pastor Cory Shreve, quite a few more people attended the Church than were members. Shreve was the youth pastor and was responsible for running and administering the Church’s youth ministry. He was in charge of the Radiate program which provided for fellowship and religious mentoring of youths beginning in seventh grade and ending upon high school graduation. Radiate was open to members and attendees, and it incorporated youths from other churches and even the “unchurched” as well. Radiate had contacted the Andersons seeking to hold a bonfire at their home; the group had held a bonfire there previously.

 [*P5]  In the Andersons’ back yard, Brian had constructed a platform in a tree from which he had removed the upper branches and foliage. The platform was about 25 feet above the ground. The platform was reached by a ladder tied to the tree. The platform had a rail around it, but no other fall protection. The [**3]  platform had a triangular hole in it, and through the hole, was a metal “fire pole.” The pole was made out of sprinkler pipe, was affixed in concrete at the base, and was 3 1/2 inches in diameter. The surface of the pole had oxidized. The ground around the pole was grass covered, and no force-absorbing material, such as sand or wood chips, had been placed around the bottom of the pole.

 [*P6]  Brian explained that he built the platform and fire pole for his children. Both Brian and Jo testified in deposition that between 150 to 200 people had used the pole, all without injury. Brian testified that he was a construction contractor and was familiar with fall protection for working above the ground and had employed it in his work; no fall protection was installed or available on the platform. Brian testified that he did not research or follow any building codes for the platform and fire pole.

 [*P7]  On the day of the Radiate event, Shreve arrived 15-30 minutes before the announced start of the event. Some of the parents stayed to socialize, others dropped their children off. Plaintiff dropped off Riley and then went shopping nearby, intending to finish shopping and then return for the balance of the [**4]  event. Jo was inside the house for the event, and she monitored the food and drinks, making sure that there was plenty for all of the guests. She also socialized with the other parents. Brian was also inside socializing. Shreve was monitoring the bonfire. At one point, he intercepted one of the youths who tried to jump over the bonfire and explained to the youth why that was not a wise decision. At the time of Riley’s accident, Shreve had gone inside.

 [*P8]  Riley, the Andersons, and Shreve all testified that it was a cool or cold evening, estimating the temperature was anywhere from the 20s to the 40s. According to Shreve and Brian, the point of the event was the bonfire and indoor fellowship; the youths attending were not expected to play in the back yard, but were expected to roast marshmallows in the bonfire and to play in the basement, where pool, basketball, and board games were available. After about an hour outside, Shreve went inside, planning to steer the event towards worship. One of the youths came inside and alerted Shreve and the adults that Riley was hurt.

 [*P9]  Riley testified that he climbed up the ladder. The ladder had metal rungs, so his hands became cold. At the top, on the [**5]  platform while waiting for his turn, he put on gloves. Riley testified that the gloves were like ski gloves, and believed they were slick, possibly made of nylon. Riley testified that he awaited his turn along with several other youths. On that day, Riley was 13 years of age. He grabbed the pole with his hands, but he did not wrap his arms or legs around the pole. As Riley began his descent, he lost control, grabbed for the edge of the platform but could not hang on, and he plummeted the rest of the way to the ground. Riley suffered a comminuted fracture of his left femur and broke several long bones in his right foot. Riley’s femur was repaired surgically, and he had a rod emplaced in the bone. There is a possibility that the rod may have to be removed at a future date. Riley also developed a foot drop following his fall from the platform.

 [*P10]  The adults came out to investigate after they were notified. One of the youths, an Eagle Scout, obtained a rigid table top, and after they had ascertained that Riley had no apparent head or spinal injuries, placed him on the table top and moved him inside. Their purpose was to get him off of the cold ground; Riley apparently was complaining of resting [**6]  on the cold ground. Plaintiff was informed and told to return to the Andersons’ house. According to Brian, she arrived in minutes; plaintiff and other deponents testified that it was closer to 20 minutes. Eventually, an ambulance was called. It appears that plaintiff made the call for an ambulance as the other adults wanted to defer to her wishes. The ambulance took Riley to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries.

 [*P11]  Shreve and the Andersons testified that, when the plans were made to use the Anderson property for the Radiate bonfire, they did not conduct an inspection of the property to determine if there were any unsafe conditions. Rather, Brian testified that he had a safe house, including the fire pole, because nobody had been injured using it up to that time.

 [*P12]  Plaintiff’s expert, Alan Caskey, a park and recreation planner and consultant, testified that the fire pole was too wide, too high, and the landing area was too hard. Caskey opined that the width of the pole, being almost twice the diameter that industry standards allowed in playground equipment, contributed to Riley’s injury, because the excessive width of the pole decreased the strength of the user’s grip of the [**7]  pole. Caskey did not, however, offer any opinion about the effect of Riley’s gloves on his ability to grip the pole, but noted that any effect would depend on the type of glove, which he could not recall. Caskey also specifically noted that the fall height was much greater than industry standards allowed (five feet is the norm), and the landing area did not contain any force-mitigating substances, and these circumstances caused or contributed to the likelihood and severity of injury. Caskey also opined that the darkness could have contributed to Riley losing his grip on the pole because it obscured the size of the pole and its texture. However, Caskey admitted that these were assumptions on his part, and he conceded that there was no testimony specifically addressing these issues.

 [*P13]  As to the procedural posture of this case, on December 15, 2014, plaintiff timely filed her initial complaint; on February 19, 2015, plaintiff filed the first amended complaint at issue in this case. On April 28, 2016, the Andersons filed their motion for summary judgment followed on June 29, 2016, with the Church’s motion for summary judgment. The motions were stayed while plaintiff procured her expert testimony. [**8]  In November 2016, defendants filed their counterclaims against plaintiff.

 [*P14]  On March 16, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which the trial court granted. On March 31, 2017, the Church, joined by the Andersons, filed a motion to vacate the trial court’s grant of leave to file the second amended complaint. On April 6, 2017, the trial court vacated its order granting leave to file the second amended complaint and reinstated the briefing schedule on defendants’ motions for summary judgment.

 [*P15]  On May 15, 2017, the trial court apparently heard the parties’ arguments regarding defendants’ motions for summary judgment. On that date, the trial court continued the cause until June 2, 2017, for ruling. On June 2, 2017, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiff. The court specifically held that:

“defendants owed no duty to plaintiff based on the open and obvious nature of the subject condition [(the platform and fire pole)] on the property; there being no proximate cause between the condition on the property and the injury to [Riley]; and there being no question of material fact raised by plaintiff.”

The trial court [**9]  entered judgment for defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s case. No transcripts of either the argument or the pronouncement of judgment were included in the record.

 [*P16]  On June 30, 2017, plaintiff filed her motion to reconsider. On August 11, 2017, the trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider, and plaintiff timely appeals.

 [*P17]  II. ANALYSIS

 [*P18]  On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in holding that the platform and fire pole presented open and obvious conditions precluding the imposition of a duty. Plaintiff specifically contends that the design flaws in the construction of the platform and the fire pole and the lack of lighting rendered the dangers hidden rather than open and obvious; alternatively, plaintiff argues that the distraction doctrine should apply. Plaintiff also contends that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding “the true cause” of Riley’s fall. We consider the arguments in turn.

 [*P19]  A. General Principles

 [*P20]  This case comes before us following the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must determine whether the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits in the record [**10]  show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2016). The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a factual issue but to determine if a factual issue exists. Monson v. City of Danville, 2018 IL 122486, ¶ 12. While summary judgment provides an expeditious means to resolve a lawsuit, it is also a drastic means of disposing of litigation. Id. Because of this, the court must construe the record strictly against the moving party and favorably towards the nonmoving party, and the court should grant summary judgment only if the moving party’s right to judgment is clear and free from doubt. Id. We review de novo the trial court’s judgment on a motion for summary judgment. Id.

 [*P21]  Here, plaintiff alleged that defendants were negligent regarding the platform and fire pole. In a negligence action, the plaintiff must plead and prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, that the defendant breached the duty owed, and that an injury proximately resulted from the breach. Bujnowski v. Birchland, Inc., 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 12, 394 Ill. Dec. 906, 37 N.E.3d 385. The existence of a duty is a question of law and may properly be decided by summary judgment. Id. If the plaintiff cannot demonstrate the existence of a duty, no recovery by the plaintiff [**11]  is possible, and summary judgment in favor of the defendant must be granted. Wade v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2015 IL App (4th) 141067, ¶ 12, 396 Ill. Dec. 315, 39 N.E.3d 1141. With these general principles in mind, we turn to plaintiff’s contentions.

 [*P22]  B. Open and Obvious

 [*P23]  Plaintiff argues the trial court erred in determining that the platform and the fire pole were open and obvious conditions precluding the finding of a duty on the part of defendants. As a general matter, the owner or possessor of land owes a visiting child the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe and to warn the visitor of dangerous nonobvious conditions, but if the conditions are open and obvious, the owner or possessor has no duty. Friedman v. Park District of Highland Park, 151 Ill. App. 3d 374, 384, 502 N.E.2d 826, 104 Ill. Dec. 329 (1986). The analysis of duty with respect to children follows the customary rules of negligence. Id. This means that a dangerous condition on the premises is deemed one that is likely to cause injury to a general class of children, who, by reason of their immaturity, might be unable to appreciate the risk posed by the condition. Id. However, the open-and-obvious doctrine may preclude the imposition of a duty. Id.

 [*P24]  Recently, this court gave a thoroughgoing analysis of the open-and-obvious doctrine, how exceptions to that doctrine are accounted for, and, ultimately, how duty is imposed [**12]  in these types of cases. Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140478, ¶¶ 13-46.1 We concluded that, in cases in which the open-and-obvious doctrine applies, the court will consider whether any exception to the doctrine applies, such as the distraction exception (id. ¶ 18 (discussing Ward v. K Mart Corp., 136 Ill. 2d 132, 149-50, 554 N.E.2d 223, 143 Ill. Dec. 288 (1990) (it is reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff’s attention might be distracted so that the plaintiff will not discover or will forget what is obvious)) or the deliberate-encounter exception (id. ¶ 32 (discussing LaFever v. Kemlite Co., 185 Ill. 2d 380, 391, 706 N.E.2d 441, 235 Ill. Dec. 886 (1998) (it is reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff, generally out of some compulsion, will recognize the risk but nevertheless proceed to encounter it because, to a reasonable person in the same position, the advantages of doing so outweigh the apparent risk)). When no exception applies, the court proceeds to the general four-factor test for imposing liability: (1) whether an injury was reasonably foreseeable; (2) the likelihood of injury; (3) the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury; and (4) the consequences of placing that burden on the defendant. Id. ¶ 19 (quoting Ward, 136 Ill. 2d at 151).

 [*P25]  We held that the case law had developed into two approaches in applying the four-factor [**13]  duty test. In one approach, the first two factors will favor the defendant (because the danger is open and obvious), and the court must consider the third and fourth factors which could, at least theoretically, counterbalance the first two factors. Id. ¶ 46. Under the second approach, which we deemed to be more consistent with section 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A (1965)) on which our supreme court had relied, the last two factors could never outweigh the first two factors, so even if the burden and consequences were minimal, the defendant necessarily would not have any duty to the plaintiff. Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140478, ¶ 46.

 [*P26]  Generally, falling from a height is among the dangers deemed to be open and obvious and appreciable even by very young children. Qureshi v. Ahmed, 394 Ill. App. 3d 883, 885, 916 N.E.2d 1153, 334 Ill. Dec. 265 (2009). The risk that confronted Riley as he clambered up to the platform and attempted to use the fire pole was simply a fall from a height, and thus, was an open and obvious risk. We next turn to whether there is an available exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine.

 [*P27]  Plaintiff first argues that the distraction exception applies here. The distraction exception had its genesis in Ward, 136 Ill. 2d 132, 554 N.E.2d 223, 143 Ill. Dec. 288. In that case, a shopper exited the store carrying large mirror he had just purchased and was injured when he walked into a [**14]  concrete post. Id. at 135. The court explained that, even though the post was an open and obvious condition, harm was nevertheless reasonably foreseeable because the store had reason to expect that its customer’s attention may have been distracted so that the customer would not have discovered what is obvious, or would have forgotten what was discovered, or would have failed to protect himself. Id. at 149-50.

 [*P28]  In support of her argument that the distraction exception should apply, plaintiff cites only Ward and Sollami v. Eaton, 201 Ill. 2d 1, 15-16, 772 N.E.2d 215, 265 Ill. Dec. 177 (2002). Ward gave several examples of circumstances in which the distraction exception could apply. As an example, stairs are generally not unreasonably dangerous, but they may be so if, under the circumstances, the plaintiff may fail to see the stairs. Ward, 136 Ill. 2d at 152. Additionally, an open and obvious condition may nevertheless be unreasonably dangerous if it exists in an environment in which the plaintiff is attending to his or her assigned workplace duties and encounters the condition. Id. at 153. For example, a builder carrying roof trusses steps into an open hole in the floor, or a dock worker unloading a truck steps off of a lowered dockplate while unloading a truck, or a customer falls when he or she misses the step off of the stoop [**15]  at the entrance to the store, are all instances in which the defendant should have foreseen the risk of harm caused by the otherwise open and obvious condition.

 [*P29] 
Sollami, by contrast, involved a child “rocket jumping” on a trampoline with several other children when she injured her knee after being “rocketed” to a greater-than-usual height and landing on the surface of the trampoline. Sollami, 201 Ill. 2d at 4. After briefly discussing the parameters of the distraction exception (id. at 15-16), the court held that there was no evidence to show that the child was distracted while jumping on the trampoline (id. at 16). In other words, the child was using the trampoline as she intended to, and she was fully aware of the danger jumping on it may have presented.

 [*P30]  Considering the evidence in the record, we conclude that there was no evidence of distraction presented in the record. Riley climbed up the ladder to the platform, some 25 feet above the ground. Once there, he waited in a line for the fire pole. He did not testify that any of the other persons in the line bothered or distracted him as he prepared to slide down the fire pole. Instead, he put on slick nylon gloves and attempted to slide down the pole by grasping the pole with [**16]  only his hands. As he began his descent, he lost control, attempted to arrest his descent by grabbing the deck of the platform, failed, and fell from a height onto the ground. There is nothing in the evidence in the record to support a conclusion that Riley was distracted. He was not going about his profession or avocation as in the examples in Ward when he encountered the condition. Rather, he was participating in using the fire pole as he intended, as in Sollami. Indeed, Riley attributed his fall to losing his grip when he attempted to slide down the pole using only his hands and not wrapping his arms and legs around the pole. Accordingly, we hold the distraction exception does not apply here.

 [*P31]  Plaintiff argues that the darkness of the evening distracted Riley from perceiving the width of the fire pole and the height of the drop from the platform. We disagree. Riley had to have been acutely aware of the height of the platform, having climbed every inch of the 25-foot height up the ladder. As to the width of the pole, Riley would have perceived it as he grasped it. Brian Anderson testified that everyone he had observed use the pole had instinctually wrapped their arms and legs around [**17]  it. Riley testified that he attempted to use only his hands to grip the pole for his descent, despite the fact that a number of other children had used the pole before him and he apparently had the opportunity to observe them while waiting his turn.

 [*P32]  We also note that there is no evidence that Riley stepped through the opening while trying to use the fire pole, which would, perhaps, have brought the circumstances within the examples in Ward in which workers encountered a condition that was otherwise open and obvious while performing work-related tasks. Instead, Riley testified that he was able to negotiate his way to the pole and grasp it to begin his descent. Thus, there is no evidence that he simply stepped into the opening which went unperceived due to the darkness of the evening. Likewise, there is no evidence that one of the persons waiting for a turn distracted him so he stepped into the opening and fell. There is no evidence of distraction evident, so we reject plaintiff’s contention that Riley was distracted by the darkness and the other children, or that the presence of darkness and other children were sufficient to demonstrate a factual issue in the absence of any evidence [**18]  that these purported distracting circumstances contributed in Riley’s fall.

 [*P33]  The deliberate-encounter exception is usually raised in cases in which an economic compulsion (such as employment) causes the plaintiff to encounter the dangerous condition because, to a reasonable person in that position, the advantages of doing so outweigh the apparent risk. Sollami, 201 Ill. 2d at 15-16. Plaintiff does not contend that the deliberate-encounter exception is applicable to the circumstances. While the deliberate-encounter exception may not be limited to circumstances of economic compulsion, there is no evidence that Riley was under any compulsion, such as peer pressure, to attempt to slide down the fire pole. Because there is no evidence, we hold the deliberate-encounter exception does not apply.

 [*P34]  In the Bujnowski analytical framework, we now turn to the four-factor duty test. Because the condition was open and obvious, namely falling from a height, Riley’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable, because falling from a height is among the risks that even very young children (and Riley was not a very young child but 13 years of age) are capable of appreciating and avoiding that risk. Qureshi, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 885. Likewise, the likelihood of injury is [**19]  small because the risk was apparent. Thus, the first two factors strongly favor defendants.

 [*P35]  The remaining factors appear to be split between plaintiff and defendant. The burden of guarding against the injury appears relatively slight. Defendants could have forbidden the children to use the platform and fire pole. The consequences of placing the burden on defendants are perhaps greater. The Andersons testified that they erected the structure for the amusement of their children. They also testified that of hundreds of users and uses, no one had ever been injured, from young children to older adults. (Plaintiff testified that one of the Andersons told her that one of their children had been injured using the fire pole; the Andersons denied making this statement and denied that any of their children had been injured using the fire pole.) The consequences of forbidding the structure’s use that evening would have been miniscule; the consequences of forbidding access altogether would have been much greater. Even if this calculus on the final two factors favors plaintiff, we cannot say that, in light of the open and obvious nature of the hazard, that they outweigh the first two factors. See [**20] 
Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 55 (no published case has held both that the open-and-obvious doctrine applied without any exception being present and the defendant still owed a duty to the plaintiff). Accordingly, we hold that defendants did not owe Riley any duty in this case.

 [*P36]  Plaintiff argues that the hazard in this case was not open and obvious. Plaintiff argues first that the fire pole, being almost twice the diameter recommended in the industry, was a hidden and dangerous condition. We disagree. The risk posed by the structure was a fall from a height, and the evidence shows that Riley made the climb up to the platform and fell when he had donned slick nylon-shelled ski gloves and did not wrap his arms and legs around the pole.

 [*P37]  Plaintiff argues that the darkness of the evening concealed the width of the pole from Riley. Riley did not testify that he fell through the opening because it was too dark to see. Rather, he testified that he fell when he tried to slide down without wrapping his arms and legs around the pole and when his slick gloves caused his grip to fail. We reject plaintiff’s contentions.

 [*P38]  Plaintiff contends that, due to the construction of the structure and the darkness of the evening, the dangers [**21]  associated with it were not obvious to Riley. We disagree. Riley climbed up to the platform, so he knew that he was very high above the ground. The risk of a fall from a height was therefore clearly apparent, as even very young children are deemed to appreciate the risk of a fall from a height. Qureshi, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 885. We therefore reject plaintiff’s contention and persist in holding that the risk was open and obvious.

 [*P39]  As plaintiff has neither convinced us that the risk was not open and obvious nor that any exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine was applicable, we affirm the judgment of the trial court on this point.

 [*P40]  C. Factual Issues

 [*P41]  Plaintiff argues there is a factual issue whether Riley’s slick gloves or the 3 1/2-inch diameter of the pole caused Riley’s fall. Plaintiff contends that Caskey testified that the pole was so wide that Riley had inadequate grip strength to descend safely (perhaps implying the converse that, if the pole were narrower, Riley’s grip strength would have been adequate). Plaintiff concludes that there is a factual issue regarding the mechanism of Riley’s fall, and this issue should have precluded summary judgment.

 [*P42]  We disagree. Even conceding a factual issue in the mechanism [**22]  of Riley’s fall, defendants did not owe Riley any duty because the risk of a fall from a height was open and obvious, no exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine applied, and the final two factors of the four-factor duty test did not outweigh the first two factors. Thus, the factual issue regarding the mechanism of Riley’s fall was not material in the absence of a duty.

 [*P43]  Plaintiff also contends that defendants owed a duty to instruct Riley on the use of the pole. While this contention is perhaps structurally misplaced in plaintiff’s argument, it is unavailing. The danger of the structure to Riley was open and obvious: a fall from a height. If, as plaintiff appears to contend, Riley did not know how to descend a fire pole, the risk of a fall from a height was still something he could appreciate. Under the law, then, Riley is deemed to be able to appreciate and avoid that risk, including his own limitations on using the fire pole to descend from the height. Accordingly, we reject plaintiff’s contentions.

 [*P44]  We close with the following observation from Bujnowski: “[t]ragic as the facts of this case are, they are not extraordinary in a legal sense and do not call for a result that would [**23]  appear to be without precedent.” Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 55.

 [*P45]  III. CONCLUSION

 [*P46]  For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County.

 [*P47]  Affirmed.

End of Document


What is a Risk Management Plan and What do You Need in Yours?

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Chapter 9    Minors

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Chapter 6    Statutes that Affect Outdoor Recreation

Chapter 7    Pre-injury Contracts to Prevent Litigation: Releases

Chapter 8    Defenses to Claims

Chapter 9    Minors

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Lynam v. Blue Diamond LLC, 2016 Del. Super. LEXIS 495

Lynam v. Blue Diamond LLC, 2016 Del. Super. LEXIS 495

Thomas A Lynam, III and Antoinette M. Lynam, as Parents and Natural Guardians of Thomas A. Lynam, IV, a minor,

v.

Blue Diamond LLC and Parkway Gravel Inc. and Houghton’s Amusement Park, LLC

C.A. No. N14C-11-121 RRC

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

October 4, 2016

Submitted: July 6, 2016

On Defendants Blue Diamond LLC’s and Parkway Gravel, Inc.’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

Tabatha L. Castro, Esquire The Castro Firm, Inc. Attorney for Plaintiffs

Leonard G. Villari, Esquire Villari, Lentz & Lynam, LLC Attorney Pro Hac Vice for Plaintiffs

Marc S. Casarino, Esquire Dana Spring Monzo, Esquire Nicholas Wynn, Esquire White and Williams, LLP Attorneys for Defendants Blue Diamond LLC and Parkway Gravel, Inc.

Dear Counsel:

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before this Court is Defendants Blue Diamond LLC’s and Parkway Gravel, Inc.’s (“Defendants”)[1] Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that minor Thomas Lynam, IV (“Tommy”) was riding his motocross bicycle on Defendants’ motocross track. After riding off a jump, Tommy landed, lost control of his motocross bicycle, and collided with a metal shipping container near the track. Tommy apparently sustained serious injuries. Plaintiffs’ complaint raises one count of “negligence” as a theory for liability.[2]Although not listed as a separate count in their complaint, Plaintiffs allude in their general “negligence” claim to a theory of reckless conduct by Defendants in connection with the operation of the motocross track.

In their motion, Defendants assert that their alleged behavior was, as a matter of fact and law, neither negligent nor reckless. Alternatively, Defendants raise an affirmative defense that they are released from any liability for negligent or reckless conduct due to a release agreement (the “Release”) signed by the Plaintiffs. Additionally, Defendants raise the doctrine of assumption of the risk as a separate affirmative defense as a bar to recovery.

Plaintiffs agree that they released Defendants from liability for Defendants’ own “negligence.” However, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants’ conduct amounted to recklessness, and that Plaintiffs never released Defendants from liability for their allegedly reckless conduct. In response to Defendants’ claim that Plaintiffs assumed the risk of injury, Plaintiffs contend that the risk of a collision with a metal shipping container was not contemplated at either the signing of the Release or when Tommy began using the facilities.

This Court concludes that the Release was not specifically tailored so as to release Defendants from liability for their allegedly reckless conduct. The Court also finds that the factual record is insufficiently developed to make a legal determination of whether Defendants’ conduct as a matter of law amounted to recklessness. Finally, the Court concludes that it is premature at this juncture to consider Defendant’s affirmative defense. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

II.FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 6, 2013, Tommy, then thirteen years old, was riding a motocross bicycle at Blue Diamond Motocross near New Castle. Plaintiffs allege that the track was advertised as being composed of “safe jumps.”[3] While riding, Tommy rode off a jump, made a hard landing, and was unable to stop in time before colliding with a large metal shipping container.

Prior to granting Tommy admission to the Blue Diamond facilities to ride his motocross bicycle, Blue Diamond required Tommy’s father to sign a release agreement. The Release, entitled “Parental Consent, Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement, ” stated that Plaintiffs understood the “risks and dangers of serious bodily injury” posed by motocross and relieved Defendants from liability for their own negligence.[4] The Release also released Defendants from liability for injuries suffered by Plaintiffs through their own negligence.[5]

In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants negligently allowed the container to remain on the premises at an unsafe distance from the motocross track.[6] While Plaintiffs do not specifically allege recklessness as a separate claim for recovery, but rather include it in a single count of “Negligence, ” Plaintiffs’ complaint references reckless conduct as another potential theory of recovery.[7]Plaintiffs, however, now agree that their claims of negligence are barred by the Release.[8] But Plaintiffs assert that the Release did not specifically address or contemplate potential claims against Defendants for “reckless” behavior.[9]

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed.[10] The standard of review in the context of a motion for judgment on the pleadings requires a court to “accept all the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.”[11] “The motion will be granted when no material issues of fact exist, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[12] “The standard for a motion for judgment on the pleadings is almost identical to the standard for a motion to dismiss.”[13]

B. The Parties Agree that the Release Bars Plaintiffs’ Recovery Against Defendants for Any Negligence

Defendants contend that the executed Release bars recovery for negligence. At oral argument on this motion, Plaintiffs agreed (Plaintiffs’ filings were not explicit on this point) that the Release bars recovery for injuries resulting from Defendants’ allegedly negligent conduct.[14] Although Plaintiffs are residents of Pennsylvania, the parties agree that Delaware law applies to the present motion, as Defendants are Delaware businesses and the incident giving rise to the case at bar occurred in Delaware.

Under Delaware law, parties may enter into an agreement that relieves a business owner of liability for injuries to business invitees that result from the owner’s negligent conduct.[15] However, the release must be unambiguous, not unconscionable, and not against public policy. [16] Further, the release must be “‘crystal clear and unequivocal’ to insulate a party from liability for possible future negligence.”[17]

In Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, the Delaware Supreme Court recently determined the validity of a release waiving liability for negligence.[18] The release in Ketler provided:

‘I understand and voluntarily accept this risk and agree that [the defendant] . . . will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury . . . resulting from the negligence of [the defendant] or anyone on [the defendant’s] behalf whether related to exercise or not. Accordingly, I do hereby forever release and discharge [the defendant] from any and all claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions, or causes of action.'[19]

The Delaware Supreme Court held that the release was sufficiently clear and unequivocal, and that it expressly released the defendant from any and all causes of actions relating to the defendant’s own negligence.[20] Defendants rely heavily on this case, asserting that it applies to claims of reckless conduct.[21]

The Release that Plaintiffs executed in this case is also sufficiently “clear and unequivocal.” The Release provides:

3. I consent to the Minor’s participation in the Event(s) and/or entry into restricted areas and HEREBY ACCEPT AND ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS, KNOWN AND UNKNOWN, AND ASSUME ALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE LOSSES, COSTS, AND/OR DAMAGES FOLLOWING SUCH INJURY, DISABILITY, PARALYSIS OR DEATH, EVEN IF CAUSED, IN WHOLE OR IN PART, BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE “RELEASEES” NAMED BELOW.

4. I HEREBY RELEASE, DISCHARGE AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE the . . . track owners, [and] owners and lessees of premises used to conduct the Event(s) . . . all for the purposes herein referred to as “Releasees, ” FROM ALL LIABILITY TO ME, THE MINOR, [and] my and the minor’s personal representatives . . . FOR ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, DEMANDS, LOSSES, OR DAMAGES ON ACCOUNT OF INJRY, including, but not limited to, death or damage to property, CAUSED . . . BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE “RELEASEES” OR OTHERWISE.[22]

Similar to the language at issue in Ketler, the Release expressly states that the signor assumes responsibility for injuries caused by Defendants’ own negligent conduct. The release also expressly states that the Defendants are released from any and all causes of action that may arise from Defendants’ negligent conduct. Accordingly, this Court agrees with the parties that the Release validly exculpates Defendants from liability for their own negligence.

Defendants also rely on Lafate v. New Castle County[23] and Devecchio v. Delaware Enduro Riders, Inc.[24] to support their position that the Release waives claims of reckless conduct. Both Lafate and Devecchio concern agreements that released the tortfeasors from liability for their own negligent conduct. Both cases also discussed whether the language of the releases was sufficiently tailored to release the tortfeasor’s negligent conduct. In Lafate, this Court refused to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on grounds that the release did not clearly and unambiguously release the tortfeasor from claims that it was negligent.[25] In Devecchio, this Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff signed a valid covenant not to sue for injury resulting from the plaintiffs own negligence.[26]

Defendants’ reliance on these cases in light of Plaintiffs’ potential claim of reckless conduct is inapposite. Because the parties have agreed that Defendants are insulated from claims of negligence, the question of whether the release clearly and unambiguously insulates the defendants from liability for their own negligent conduct is moot. Neither the holding in Lafate nor in Devecchio relate to allegations of reckless conduct. Accordingly, because Plaintiffs now assert that Defendant’s conduct was reckless, Lafate and Devecchio are distinguishable from the case at bar.

Finally, the Court considers whether, for purposes of this motion, recklessness is subsumed in negligence, and is therefore barred as a form of negligence. Prosser and Keeton on Torts is particularly informative, providing that “such [exculpatory] agreements [that expressly exempt defendants from liability for their negligent conduct] generally are not construed to cover the more extreme forms of negligence, described as willful, wanton, reckless or gross, and to any conduct which constitutes an intentional tort.”[27] Adopting Prosser and Keeton’s interpretation, this Court finds that although the Release does insulate Defendants from liability for negligent conduct, it does not bar claims of “more extreme forms of negligence, ” such as “reckless” conduct.[28]

C. A Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is Inappropriate at this Juncture in Light of any Undeveloped Claims of Reckless Conduct

Although Tommy’s father’s execution of the Release precludes recovery from Defendants on a theory of “negligence, ” Plaintiffs assert that the Defendants’ conduct was “reckless.” Plaintiffs did not explicitly allege in a separate count of the complaint that Defendant’s conduct was reckless, but Plaintiffs did make it apparent in the complaint that it was an intended theory of liability.[29] In their briefing and at oral argument, Plaintiffs suggested that Defendants, among other things, had been aware of previous collisions with the shipping container, and that their ignorance of these prior incidents amounts to reckless behavior.[30]Accordingly, the Court must determine whether the Release bars Plaintiffs from asserting claims resulting from injuries caused by Defendants’ reckless conduct.

Courts in Delaware have a strong preference for resolving cases on their merits, or at least allowing discovery to proceed such that additional evidence in support of the parties’ contentions can be developed.[31] While this preference is not outcome-determinative, the preference for resolving cases on the merits is a strong factor in determining whether to grant or deny a dispositive motion.

Plaintiffs, at oral argument and in their response to the motion, argue that they are entitled to recovery based on Defendants’ allegedly reckless conduct. The parties agree that this theory is separate from the one count of “negligence” listed in the complaint.[32] The operative language of the Release does not explicitly enumerate or contemplate recklessness as a theory of recovery barred by the Release. Under Delaware law, as provided in Ketler, a release must be “clear and unambiguous” in order to effectively release the business owner from liability.[33]

This Court finds that the language of the release is not “clear and unambiguous” with respect to Defendants’ liability for their own allegedly reckless conduct. In Ketler, the release at issue specifically used the word “negligence, ” and stated that Defendants “will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury . . . resulting from the negligence of [the defendants].” The Delaware Supreme Court held that this language satisfied the “clear and unequivocal” standard and upheld the language of the agreement.

Turning to the Release that Plaintiffs executed, this Court finds that the Release is silent as to claims of recklessness. The Release does not mention “reckless” conduct, and instead only expressly refers to injury caused by Defendants’ “negligence.” In the absence of such language, the Release does not clearly and unambiguously exculpate Defendants from liability for their own reckless conduct. Accordingly, the Release does not operate to bar Plaintiffs’ claim of recklessness.[34]

This Court holds that the Release does not bar claims of reckless conduct. This Court expresses no opinion at this juncture as to whether Plaintiffs ultimately can establish claims against for recklessness. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and will grant Plaintiffs leave to conduct further discovery with the option of potentially amending the complaint in support of their contention that Defendants’ conduct was “reckless.”[35]

D. The Court does Not Reach Defendant’s Argument under the Doctrine of Assumption of the Risk

Finally, Defendants’ contend that Plaintiffs assumed the risk of injury from Defendants’ alleged reckless conduct. However, the record has not been sufficiently developed to determine whether Defendants’ conduct was reckless or whether Plaintiffs assumed the risk of injury from Defendants’ allegedly reckless conduct.[36] Accordingly, the Court does not reach this contention at this stage of the litigation.

IV. CONCLUSION

Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is DENIED. The Court has enclosed an Order establishing a Scheduling Conference in this case.

Very truly yours,

Richard R. Cooch Resident Judge

Notes:

[1] Defendant Houghton’s Amusement Park, LLC did not make an appearance in this case and had a default judgment taken against it on June 21, 2016.

[2]Compl. ¶¶ 79-87.

[3]Compl. ¶ 48.

[4]Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A.

[5]Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A. Tommy also signed an agreement, titled “Minor’s Assumption of the Risk Acknowledgment, ” that Defendants reference in their motion as another reason they are not liable for Plaintiffs’ injuries. However, it appears from the motion and subsequent filings that the release signed by Tommy is only mentioned in passing, and is not relied upon by Defendants. The release signed by Tommy’s father is the determinative release in the case at bar.

[6]Compl. ¶¶ 79-87.

[7]Compl. ¶¶ 49, 51, 77, 87. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that “Defendants’ failure to exercise reasonable care as alleged above comprised outrageous conduct under the circumstances, manifesting a wanton and reckless disregard of the rights of the Plaintiffs.” Compl. ¶ 87. The Complaint also alleges that Tommy’s injuries were caused by the “reckless indifference” of Defendants. Compl. ¶¶ 51, 77. Moreover, the Complaint alleges that the track was “reckless[ly] design[ed].” Compl. ¶ 49.

[8]At oral argument, Plaintiffs’ counsel answered in the affirmative when the Court asked “Am I understanding Plaintiffs’ position correctly when I read the papers to say that Plaintiffs are not alleging ordinary negligence, but rather recklessness?” Lynam et al. v. Blue Diamond LLC Motocross et al, C.A. No. N14C-11-121 RRC, at 6 (Del. Super. July 6, 2016) (TRANSCRIPT) [hereinafter Oral Arg. Tr.].

[9] Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A.

[10] A judgment on the pleadings is based only upon a review of Plaintiffs’ complaint and Defendants’ answer. However, under Rule 12(c), “If, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the Court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.” Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12(c). In the case at bar, Defendants introduced the two executed releases as exhibits to their motion. However, the releases were not a part of the pleadings. Nevertheless, the parties agree that this motion should be treated as a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

[11] Silver Lake Office Plaza, LLC v. Lanard & Axilbund, Inc., 2014 WL 595378, at *6 (Del. Super. Jan. 17, 2014) (quoting Blanco v. AMVAC Chem. Corp., 2012 WL 3194412, at *6 (Del. Super. Aug. 8, 2012)).

[12] Id. (quoting Velocity Exp., Inc. v. Office Depot, Inc., 2009 WL 406807, at *3 (Del. Super. Feb. 4, 2009).

[13] Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

[14] See Oral Arg. Tr. at 6.

[15] Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, 132 A.3d 746 (Del. 2016) (upholding “hold harmless” agreements and releases that relieve a proprietor from liability for its own negligent activities).

[16] Id. at 747-48.

[17] Riverbend Cmty., LLC v. Green Stone Eng’g, LLC, 55 A.3d 330, 336 (Del. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting State v. Interstate Amiesite Corp., 297 A.2d 41, 44 (Del. 1972)).

[18] Ketler, 132 A.3d at 747.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Oral Arg. Tr. at 14-16.

[22] Defs.’ Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, Ex. A (emphasis added).

[23] 1999 WL 1241074 (Del. Super. Oct. 22, 1999).

[24] 2004 Del. Super. LEXIS 444 (Del. Super. Nov. 30, 2004).

[25] The plaintiff in Lafate was injured by a metal bar used to divide a basketball court. This Court found that while the agreement did “speak[] of ‘any and all injuries which may be suffered by [players] during [their] participation, ‘” the absence of the word “negligence” insufficiently insulated the defendants from liability for their own negligent conduct. Lafate, 1999 WL 1241074, at *4.

[26] In Devecchio, the defendant owned a motorcycle race track that required riders to sign agreements releasing the defendant from liability for injuries resulting from both the riders and the defendant’s negligence. The release pertaining to the defendant’s negligence expressly used the word “negligence.” This Court found that the release using the word “negligence” was sufficiently clear and unambiguous, and therefore insulated the defendant from liability for its own negligent conduct. Devecchio v. Enduro Riders, Inc., 2004 Del. Super. LEXIS 444 (Del. Super. Nov. 30, 2004).

[27] W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on Torts, § 68 at 483-84 (5th ed. 1984)). Delaware courts often rely on Prosser and Keeton on Torts in reaching their conclusions. See, e.g., Culver v. Bennett, 588 A.2d 1094, 1097 (Del. 1991); Lafate v. New Castle County, 1999 WL 1241074 (Del. Super. Oct. 22, 1999); Brzoska v. Olson, 668 A.2d 1355, 1360 (Del. 1995).

[28] Additionally, the Delaware Civil Pattern Jury Instructions for negligence and recklessness are substantially different. The Delaware Civil Pattern Jury Instruction for negligence provides:

This case involves claims of negligence. Negligence is the lack of ordinary care; that is, the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. That standard is your guide. If a person’s conduct in a given circumstance doesn’t measure up to the conduct of an ordinarily prudent and careful person, then that person was negligent. On the other hand, if the person’s conduct does measure up to the conduct of a reasonably prudent and careful person, the person wasn’t negligent.

Del. Super. P.J.I. Civ. § 5.1 (2003), http://courts.delaware.gov/forms/download.aspx?id=85928. On the other hand, the Delaware Civil Pattern Jury Instruction for reckless conduct states:

Reckless conduct reflects a knowing disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. It amounts to an “I don’t care” attitude. Recklessness occurs when a person, with no intent to cause harm, performs an act so unreasonable and so dangerous that he or she knows, or should know, that harm will probably result.

Del. Super. P.J.I. Civ. § 5.9 (2003), http://courts.delaware.gov/forms/download.aspx?id=85928. It is apparent from a comparison of the two different jury instructions that negligence conduct requires a departure from the ordinary standard of care exhibited by the reasonably prudent person, an objective standard. However, in contrast, it appears from the pattern jury instructions that reckless conduct requires a subjective “I don’t care” attitude that evidences an even greater departure from the ordinary standard of care, amounting to an unreasonable conscious disregard of a known risk.

[29] Compl. ¶¶ 49, 51, 77, 87. For example, Plaintiffs allege that “The reckless design of the track, which was intentionally constructed next to the pre-existing intermodal container, requires riders to land from a jump and immediately decelerate in order to execute a 90° right turn.” Compl. ¶ 49. Moreover, Plaintiffs allege that Tommy’s injuries were “a direct and proximate result of the negligence, carelessness and reckless indifference of Defendants.” Compl. ¶ 77.

[30] Pl.’s Suppl. Resp. in Opp’n to the Mot. for J. on the Pleadings, at 2.

[31] Keener v. Isken, 58 A.3d 407, 409 (Del. 2013); see also Wallace v. Wood, 2007 WL 3331530 (Del. Ch. Oct. 31, 2007); DeSantis v. Chilkotowsky, 2004 WL 2914314, at *2 (Del. Super. Nov. 18, 2004), Sup. Ct. Civ. R. 56.

[32] Plaintiffs did not plead any explicit claim of recklessness. See, e.g., J.L. v. Barnes, 33 A.3d 902, 916 n.77 (De. 2011) (treating recklessness and gross negligence as interchangeable and noting, “In order for a plaintiff to plead gross negligence with the requisite particularity, the plaintiff must articulate ‘facts that suggest a wide disparity between the process [] used . . . and that which would have been rational.'” J.L. states that a complaint pleading ten pages of facts to support a claim of gross negligence or recklessness was sufficient to meet the pleading standard). Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have not properly pleaded reckless conduct under Superior Court Civil Rule 9(b). However, the Court need not reach that issue since it will give Plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their complaint.

[33] Ketler, 132 A.3d at 747.

[34] Because the Court finds that Defendants’ release does not explicitly bar claims of “reckless” conduct, this Court does not reach the question of whether such a release is potentially permissible under Delaware law. However, this Court notes that other jurisdictions have differing perspectives on whether exculpatory agreements barring claims for recklessness, gross negligence, willful acts, or strict liability are enforceable. See Randy J. Sutton, Annotation, Validity, Construction, and Effect of Agreement Exempting Operator of Amusement Facility from Liability for Personal Injury or Death of Patron, 54 A.L.R.5th 513 (1997). For example, in Barker v. Colo. Region-Sports Car Club of Am., the Colorado Court of Appeals held that exculpatory agreements can release a party only for simple negligence, and not from willful and wanton negligence. 532 P.2d 372, 377 (Colo.App. 1974). Similarly, in Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc., the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii held that a release was invalid with respect to claims of gross negligence and strict liability. 839 F.Supp. 730, 736 (D. Haw. 1993). The above annotation suggests that a common reason to not enforce such an agreement is because they are void against the state’s public policy.

Alternatively, other jurisdictions have upheld agreements that exculpate business owners for reckless conduct or strict liability. For example, in Murphy v. N. Am. River Runners, Inc., the West Virginia Supreme Court discussed the matter, stating:

Generally, in the absence of an applicable safety statute, a plaintiff who expressly and, under the circumstances, clearly agrees to accept a risk of harm arising from the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct may not recover for such harm, unless the agreement is contrary to public policy. When such an express agreement is freely and fairly made, between two parties who are in equal bargaining position, and there is no public interest with which the agreement interferes, it will generally be upheld.

412 S.E.2d 504, 508-09 (W.Va. 1991).

[35]Delaware Courts have previously allowed such an amendment to be made. As this Court held in Guy v. Phillips, a party may amend a complaint following additional discovery when the amended count arises out of the same factual basis for the original complaint. 1997 WL 524124 (Del. Super. July 2, 1997).

[36] In support of this defense, the Court notes that Defendants rely solely on Deuley v. DynCorp Int’l, Inc., 2010 WL 704895 (Del. Super. Feb. 26, 2010). However, Deuley is distinguishable from the case at bar. In Deuley, surviving relatives of decedents killed by an improvised explosive device (“IED”) in Afghanistan filed a wrongful death action. As part of the employment agreement, the decedents signed an agreement that provided employees expressly assumed the risk of injury or death. In reaching its conclusion that the decedents assumed the risk of death, the Court found that “when [the decedents] signed the releases, even a poorly informed American had to have appreciated that working in Afghanistan involved the general risk of insurgent or terrorist attacking by an IED.” Deuley, 2010 WL 704895, at *4. “The complaint offers no reason to find that any plaintiff here was probably unaware of the general risk of being injured or killed by a bomb.” Id. In the case at bar, drawing inferences in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, it is unlikely that Plaintiffs were aware of the risk posed by the shipping container, since they allege that they were unable to inspect the track prior to Tommy using it. Accordingly, Defendants’ reliance on Deuley is inapposite since it could be determined that a collision with the metal shipping container was not contemplated by the Plaintiffs when they signed the Release.


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                                      Table of Contents

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Chapter 2    U.S. Legal System and Legal Research

Chapter 3    Risk 25

Chapter 4    Risk, Accidents, and Litigation: Why People Sue

Chapter 5    Law 57

Chapter 6    Statutes that Affect Outdoor Recreation

Chapter 7    Pre-injury Contracts to Prevent Litigation: Releases

Chapter 8    Defenses to Claims

Chapter 9    Minors

Chapter 10    Skiing and Ski Areas

Chapter 11    Other Commercial Recreational Activities

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Chapter 13    Rental Programs

Chapter 14    Insurance

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Chapter 2    U.S. Legal System and Legal Research

Chapter 3    Risk 25

Chapter 4    Risk, Accidents, and Litigation: Why People Sue

Chapter 5    Law 57

Chapter 6    Statutes that Affect Outdoor Recreation

Chapter 7    PreInjury Contracts to Prevent Litigation: Releases

Chapter 8    Defenses to Claims

Chapter 9    Minors

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Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

Lorianne Weed and Scott Trefero as parents and natural guardians of A.M., a minor, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone Moorestown and/or a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone and David R. Agger, Defendants-Appellants.

No. A-4589-16T1

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

February 22, 2018

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 18, 2018

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-2790-16.

Marco P. DiFlorio argued the cause for appellants (Salmon, Ricchezza, Singer & Turchi LLP, attorneys; Joseph A. Ricchezza and Marco P. DiFlorio, on the briefs).

Iddo Harel argued the cause for respondents (Ross Feller Casey, LLP, attorneys; Joel J. Feller and Iddo Harel, on the brief).

Before Judges Currier and Geiger.

PER CURIAM

Defendants Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a/ Sky Zone Moorestown and David Agger (defendants) appeal from the May 19, 2017 order denying their motion to compel arbitration in this personal injury suit brought by plaintiffs after A.M.[1] suffered severe injuries while jumping on a trampoline at defendants’ facility. After a review of the presented arguments in light of the record before us and applicable principles of law, we affirm.

Plaintiff visited the trampoline facility in July 2016. Entrance to the park is conditioned on all participants signing a “Conditional Access Agreement, Pre-Injury Waiver of Liability, and Agreement to Indemnity, Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate” (the Agreement). Weed executed the agreement on behalf of her son in July 2016.

Plaintiff returned to the facility with a friend in November 2016, and was injured while using the trampolines during a “Glow” event, which plaintiff submits used different and less lighting than was present at his earlier visit. Plaintiff entered the facility in November with an agreement signed by his friend’s mother on behalf of both her daughter and A.M.[2] In an affidavit submitted by Weed in opposition to the motion, she stated that she was unaware that her son was going to the facility at the time of the November visit.

Both agreements required the submission of all claims to binding arbitration and contained the following pertinent language:

I understand that this Agreement waives certain rights that I have in exchange for permission to gain access to the [l]ocation. I agree and acknowledge that the rights I am waiving in exchange for permission to gain access to the [l]ocation include but may not be limited to the following:

a. the right to sue [defendants] in a court of law;

b. the right to a trial by judge or jury;

c. the right to claim money from [defendants] for accidents causing injury within the scope of the risk assumed by myself;

d. the right to claim money from [defendants] for accidents causing injury unless [defendants] committed acts of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct; and

e. the right to file a claim against [defendants] if I wait more than one year from . . . the date of this Agreement.

Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate

IF I AM INJURED AND WANT TO MAKE A CLAIM AND/OR IF THERE ARE ANY DISPUTES REGARDING THIS AGREEMENT, I HEREBY WAIVE ANY RIGHT I HAVE TO A TRIAL IN A COURT OF LAW BEFORE A JUDGE AND JURY. I AGREE THAT SUCH DISPUTE SHALL BE BROUGHT WITHIN ONE YEAR OF THE DATE OF THIS AGREEMENT AND WILL BE DETERMINED BY BINDING ARBITRATION BEFORE ONE ARBITRATOR TO BE ADMINISTERED BY JAMS[3] PURSUANT TO ITS COMPREHENSIVE ARBITRATIONRULES AND PROCEDURES.I further agree that the arbitration will take place solely in the state of New Jersey and that the substantive law of New Jersey shall apply. I acknowledge that if I want to make a claim against [defendants], I must file a demand before JAMS. … To the extent that any claim I have against [defendants] has not been released or waived by this Agreement, I acknowledge that I have agreed that my sole remedy is to arbitrat[e] such claim, and that such claim may only be brought against [defendants] in accordance with the above Waiver of Trial and Agreement to Arbitrate.

After Weed filed suit on behalf of her son, defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement. Defendants argued that the agreements contained “straightforward, clear, and unequivocal” language that a participant was waiving their right to present claims before a jury in exchange for conditional access to the facility. They asserted that the first agreement signed by Weed remained in effect at the time of plaintiff’s subsequent visit in November as there was no indication that it was only valid for the one day of entry in July. Finally, defendants contended that any dispute as to a term of the agreement should be resolved in arbitration.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that nothing in the first agreement alerted Weed that it would remain in effect for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. To the contrary, defendants’ policy of requiring a new agreement to be signed each time a participant entered the park belied its argument that a prior agreement remained valid for a period of time.

On May 19, 2017, Judge Joseph L. Marczyk conducted oral argument and denied the motion in an oral decision issued the same day. The judge determined that the first agreement did not apply to the November visit because it did not contain any language that it would remain valid and applicable to all future visits. Therefore, there was no notice to the signor of the agreement that it would be in effect beyond that specific day of entry, and no “meeting of the minds” that the waiver and agreement to arbitrate pertained to all claims for any future injury.

As for the second agreement, the judge found that there was no precedent to support defendants’ contention that an unrelated person could bind plaintiff to an arbitration clause. This appeal followed.

“[O]rders compelling or denying arbitration are deemed final and appealable as of right as of the date entered.” GMAC v. Pittella, 205 N.J. 572, 587 (2011). We review the judge’s decision to compel arbitration de novo. Frumer v. Nat’1 Home Ins. Co., 420 N.J.Super. 7, 13 (App. Div. 2011). The question of whether an arbitration clause is enforceable is an issue of law, which we also review de novo. Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Group, L.P., 219 N.J. 430, 445-46 (2014). We owe no deference to the trial court’s “interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts.” Manalapan Realty v. Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).

Defendants argue that the trial court erred when it determined that the first arbitration agreement signed by Weed four months before plaintiff’s injury was no longer binding on the parties at the time of plaintiff’s injury. We disagree.

While we are mindful that arbitration is a favored means of dispute resolution in New Jersey, the threshold issue before us is whether Weed’s signature on the July agreement would be binding on plaintiff for all subsequent visits. We apply well-established contract principles, and ascertain the parties’ intent from a consideration of all of the surrounding circumstances. James Talcott, Inc. v. H. Corenzwit & Co., 76 N.J. 305, 312 (1978). “An agreement must be construed in the context of the circumstances under which it was entered into and it must be accorded a rational meaning in keeping with the express general purpose.” Tessmar v. Grosner, 23 N.J. 193, 201 (1957).

It is undisputed that neither agreement contains any reference to a term of validity. The parties submitted conflicting affidavits in support of their respective positions. Weed stated there was nothing in the agreement she signed to apprise a participant that the agreement was in effect for longer than the day of entry. Defendants contend that plaintiff did not need a second agreement signed for the November visit as the initial agreement remained in effect.

There is no evidence in the record before us to support defendants’ argument as the agreements are silent as to any period of validity. Defendants drafted these agreements and required a signature from all participants waiving certain claims and requiring submission to arbitration prior to permitting access to the facility. Any ambiguity in the contract must be construed against defendants. See Moscowitz v. Middlesex Borough Bldq. & Luan Ass’n, 14 N.J.Super. 515, 522 (App. Div. 1951) (holding that where a contract is ambiguous, it will be construed against the drafting party). We are satisfied that Judge Marczyk’s ruling declining enforcement of the July agreement was supported by the credible evidence in the record.

We further find that defendants’ argument regarding the November agreement lacks merit. The signor of that agreement was neither a parent, a legal guardian, nor the holder of a power of attorney needed to bind the minor plaintiff to the arbitration agreement. Defendants’ reliance on Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 346 (2006) is misplaced. While the Court found that a parent had the authority to waive their own child’s rights under an arbitration agreement in Hojnowski, there is no suggestion that such authority would extend to a non-legal guardian. Not only would such a holding bind the minor to an arbitration agreement, it would also serve to bind the minor’s parents, waiving their rights to bring a claim on behalf of their child. We decline to so hold. See Moore v. Woman to Woman Obstetrics & Gynecology, LLC, 416 N.J.Super. 30, 45 (App. Div. 2010) (holding there is no legal theory that would permit one spouse to bind another to an agreement waiving the right to trial without securing consent to the agreement).

As we have concluded the threshold issue that neither the July nor the November agreement is enforceable as to the minor plaintiff, we do not reach the issue of whether the arbitration provision contained within the agreement accords with our legal standards and case law. Judge Marczyk’s denial of defendants’ motion to compel arbitration was supported by the evidence in the record.

Affirmed.

Notes:

[1] Lorianne Weed is A.M.’s mother. Because A.M. is a minor, we use initials in respect of his privacy and we refer to him hereafter as plaintiff.

[2] The agreement required the adult to “certify that [she was] the parent or legal guardian of the child(ren) listed [on the agreement] or that [she had] been granted power of attorney to sign [the] Agreement on behalf of the parent or legal guardian of the child(ren) listed.” There were no proofs presented that the adult met any of these requirements.

[3] JAMS is an organization that provides alternative dispute resolution services, including mediation and arbitration.

 


Need a Handy Reference Guide to Understand your Insurance Policy?

This book should be on every outfitter and guide’s desk. It will answer your questions, help you sleep at night, help you answer your guests’ questions and allow you to run your business with less worry.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1    Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Law, and Insurance: An Overview

Chapter 2    U.S. Legal System and Legal Research

Chapter 3    Risk 25

Chapter 4    Risk, Accidents, and Litigation: Why People Sue

Chapter 5    Law 57

Chapter 6    Statutes that Affect Outdoor Recreation

Chapter 7    PreInjury Contracts to Prevent Litigation: Releases

Chapter 8    Defenses to Claims

Chapter 9    Minors

Chapter 10    Skiing and Ski Areas

Chapter 11    Other Commercial Recreational Activities

Chapter 12    Water Sports, Paddlesports, and water-based activities

Chapter 13    Rental Programs

Chapter 14    Insurance

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States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute

Restrictions

Alaska Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292 Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries
Arizona ARS § 12-553 Limited to Equine Activities
Colorado C.R.S. §§13-22-107
Florida Florida Statute § 744.301 (3) Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue
Virginia Chapter 62. Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202. Liability limited; liability actions prohibited Allows a parent to sign a release for a minor for equine activities
Utah 78B-4-203. Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities Limited to Equine Activities
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign.

By Case Law

California Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)
Florida Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454 Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims
Florida Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147 Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities
Maryland BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897 Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.
Massachusetts Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384
Minnesota Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299
North Dakota McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3 North Dakota decision allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue
Ohio Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998) Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity
Wisconsin Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1 However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 may void all releases in the state

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

Decisions are by the Federal District Courts and only preliminary motions
North Carolina Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations
New York DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695 New York Federal Magistrate in a Motion in Limine, hearing holds the New York Skier Safety Statute allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Paperwork, the death of trees and in this case the only defense the defendant had at this stage of the trial because the paperwork was not taken care of properly.

The youth camp failed to keep a good copy of the registration paperwork. What was presented to the court as a forum selection clause was illegible so the court held it was not valid.

Epps, et al., v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93335, 2007 WL 4463588

State: Pennsylvania, United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Ben Epps, et al.

Defendant: 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Motion to Dismiss because of improper venue

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2007

Summary

Lawsuits are not games; they are not invitations to parties, there is a lot of money riding on the outcome in most cases. Documents needed for the case must be given to the attorneys defending the case in the condition in which they are maintained. In this case, a document was faxed to the defense attorneys and in such a bad way the court could not read the document. Since the court could not read the document, the court assumed the original was the same, and therefore, the document was not valid.

At the same time, if you are collecting and keeping documents that may end up in court, you need to create a system that preserves these documents in perfect condition so if they do get to court the judge can read them.

Finally, you must get the documents from the people you need a signature from in a condition the court will accept.

Facts

Plaintiffs allege that on June 24, 2005, their son, Axel, fell from a bike and was seriously injured while attending Defendant’s Independent Lake Camp located in Orson, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs allege that Axel’s accident was caused by Defendant’s negligence while Defendant was acting in loco parentis. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant: 1) failed to provide proper supervision and safeguards; 2) gave Axel a bike, helmet, and other equipment without properly training him to use them; 3) allowed Axel to use a bike track, which was inappropriate for his age and experience; and 4) failed to obtain parental consent for its actions.

Plaintiffs further allege that Axel suffered serious and permanent physical injuries, including permanent cognitive and psychological damage, several fractures, lacerations resulting in scarring, cervical and lumbar sprain, and a shock to his nervous system. Plaintiffs also claim that Axel’s injuries include severe financial losses in the form of future costs of treatment and therapy, loss of earnings, and loss of earning capacity.

Defendant brought its motion to dismiss for improper venue alleging that the Registration Agreement, which Plaintiffs had to sign for Axel to attend camp, contained a forum selection clause. Defendant attached a blank, unsigned version of the Independent Lake Camp Registration 2005 (“Registration Agreement”) to its motion to dismiss. Defendant alleges that under the Registration Agreement, the proper forum would be a court in Wayne County, which is located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

In Plaintiffs’ response to Defendant’s motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs argued that the blank Registration Agreement was unsigned and thus that Defendant failed to show that Plaintiffs had agreed to the terms in the document, including the forum selection clause. Plaintiffs averred by affidavit that they did not agree and would not have agreed to such a forum selection clause.

Defendant then provided a signed copy of the Registration Agreement, in which the information requested had been filled in and which was signed by Plaintiff Ben Epps. Defendant submitted an affidavit by Daniel Gould, the president of Defendant and Director of Independent Lake Camp. Mr. Gould avers that, after an exhaustive and diligent search, Defendant could only locate a photocopy of the signed Registration Agreement and was unable to locate the original. He avers that the original agreement is presumed lost and/or destroyed through no bad faith or improper act on the part of Defendant. The photocopy of the agreement provided to the court also appears to be a faxed copy, as evident from a fax header across the top margin.

In the copy of the signed Registration Agreement submitted by Defendant, the small print containing the terms of the agreement is blurry and barely legible. As Defendant concedes, the right-side margin, toward the bottom, is cut off, truncating the forum selection clause.

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

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss because the plaintiffs had filed the case in the wrong court according to the agreement, the registration form signed by the parents of the injured youth. The forum selection clause as defined by the courts or agreement to hold the trial at a specific court, allegedly stated the trial was to be held in Wayne County Court, Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs filed the case in the federal district our in Pennsylvania. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss from federal court and force the case to the state court.

The jurisdiction in the case was going to be Pennsylvania law no matter what; however, the trial would not be held in the back yard of the defendant, which is normally a good thing for the defendant.

When in the federal district court system, if a forum selection clause is upheld the case is simply transferred to the proper court. However, in this case because the selection clause stated a state court the case could not be transferred. The case would be dismissed at the federal court. The case could be refiled in the state court at that time if the statute of limitations had not run.

However, here, the document that was presented to the court that was the alleged agreement by the parents to only sue in state court was not legible.

The court agrees that the small print of the forum selection clause in the photocopied and faxed signed Registration Agreement is blurry and illegible, and does not provide reasonable notice of its terms. The court cannot assume that Mr. Epps signed a clear version of the agreement that became blurry and illegible upon subsequently being photocopied and faxed, because such evidence is not before the court. There is no evidence that Plaintiff Ben Epps signed any version of the Registration Agreement other than the document provided to the court.

Further, even if the forum selection clause were legible, it’s essential term, that any cause of action be brought in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, is cut off so as to be incomprehensible. Even if legible, the term “V– County Pennsylvania” in the forum selection clause gives no reasonable notice of the location of any agreed-upon forum.

The court concludes that the forum selection clause is inconspicuous and does not give notice of its terms to a reasonable person in violation of strong Pennsylvania public policy. The forum selection clause therefore is unreasonable, invalid, and unenforceable. Because the court finds that the forum selection clause is unreasonable and invalid, it does not address the private and public factors as transfer considerations under § 1404(a).

The agreement was a copy that had been faxed, was illegible and could not be read by the court.

Since the court could not read the document, the legal wording was incomplete and the entire document had sections missing the court could not find there was an agreement. The motion to change venue was dismissed.

So Now What?

I would guess the camp had received the faxed copy from the parents. There would be no need to fax the documents around the camp. The camp probably had sent the documents to the parents for their signature, and they had faxed them back. This was mistake one, because the camp accepted a badly faxed copy of the document.

  1. When you receive an email, fax, or original where you cannot make out what is going on, signature seems off, the document is unreadable, you must get a good copy. Tell the signor to do it again and make the copy legible.
  2. Set up a system to check documents when they come in.
  3. Set the system up with enough time so that is time to correct problems. Don’t place yourself in a position where you are balancing the money coming in versus proper paperwork you need.

Second, the camp seemed to not locate the original fax, but only had a copy of the faxed document.

  1. Develop a system to store and maintain the documents. Now day’s scanners are so efficient all the documents can be scanned and maintained in seconds. The original paper documents can be preserved and kept for the statue of limitations for the state, and a good electronic copy is also available.

Don’t allow a kid or adult to come to camp, attend the program, participate in the activity unless you have all the paperwork you need, signed and in a good legible condition. Then and only then cash the check and open the gates.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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forum selection clause, venue, parties, improper venue, enforceability, terms, legible, notice, motion to dismiss, conspicuous, applies, factors, invalid, print, 1.I.L., INC., Independent Lake Camp, forum selection clause,


Epps, et al., v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93335, 2007 WL 4463588

Epps, et al., v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93335, 2007 WL 4463588

Ben Epps, et al., Plaintiffs, v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 07-02314

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

December 19, 2007

ORDER

MEMORANDUM

James T. Giles J.

I. Introduction

Before the court is Defendant 1.I.L., Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). Plaintiffs, Bens Epps and Amy Monroe, as parents and natural guardians of Axel Epps and in their own right, bring suit based in diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, against Defendant 1.I.L. Inc. for personal injuries allegedly sustained by their son, Axel, while attending Defendant’s camp.

The primary issue raised by Defendant’s motion and determined by the court is whether the forum selection clause in the Registration Agreement at issue is valid and enforceable. The court finds that the forum selection clause contained in the signed Registration Agreement is not enforceable because it does not provide reasonable notice of its terms. The court concludes that Plaintiffs have brought suit in a proper venue and denies Defendant’s motion to dismiss for the reasons that follow.

II. Factual Background

Plaintiffs allege that on June 24, 2005, their son, Axel, fell from a bike and was seriously injured while attending Defendant’s Independant Lake Camp located in Orson, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs allege that Axel’s accident was caused by Defendant’s negligence while Defendant was acting in loco parentis. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 7.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant: 1) failed to provide proper supervision and safeguards; 2) gave Axel a bike, helmet, and other equipment without properly training him to use them; 3) allowed Axel to use a bike track, which was inappropriate for his age and experience; and 4) failed to obtain parental consent for its actions. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiffs further allege that Axel suffered serious and permanent physical injuries, including permanent cognitive and psychological damage, several fractures, lacerations resulting in scarring, cervical and lumbar sprain, and a shock to his nervous system. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs also claim that Axel’s injuries include severe financial losses in the form of future costs of treatment and therapy, loss of earnings, and loss of earning capacity.

Plaintiffs, citizens of New York, brought suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because Defendant is a citizen of Pennsylvania with offices in both Montgomery County and Wayne County. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 1-4; Pls.’ Br. in Supp. of Ans. to Mot. of Def. to Dismiss for Improper Venue (“Pls.’ Supp. Ans.”) 1; Def.’s Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss for Improper Venue (“Def.’s Supp.”) 1, 5.) Plaintiffs demand damages in excess of $150,000 for each of the two counts in the complaint as well as interest and costs of the suit.

III. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on June 7, 2007. Defendant brought its motion to dismiss for improper venue alleging that the Registration Agreement, which Plaintiffs had to sign for Axel to attend camp, contained a forum selection clause. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss 2.) Defendant attached a blank, unsigned version of the Independent Lake Camp Registration 2005 (“Registration Agreement”) to its motion to dismiss. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.) Defendant alleges that under the Registration Agreement, the proper forum would be a court in Wayne County, which is located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.) The blank Registration Agreement, in which the print is small but clear and legible, provides in part:

It is agreed that any dispute or cause of action arising between the parties, whether out of this agreement or other wise [sic], can only be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction located in Wayne County Pennsylvania [sic] and shall be construed in accordance with the laws of Pennsylvania.

(Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.)

In Plaintiffs’ response to Defendant’s motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs argued that the blank Registration Agreement was unsigned and thus that Defendant failed to show that Plaintiffs had agreed to the terms in the document, including the forum selection clause. Plaintiffs averred by affidavit that they did not agree and would not have agreed to such a forum selection clause. (Pls.’ Supp. Ans. 2, Ex. B ¶¶ 2-3 (Ben Epps Aff.), Ex. C ¶¶ 2-3 (Amy Monroe Aff.).)

Defendant then provided a signed copy of the Registration Agreement, in which the information requested had been filled in and which was signed by Plaintiff Ben Epps. Defendant submitted an affidavit by Daniel Gould, the president of Defendant and Director of Independent Lake Camp. Mr. Gould avers that, after an exhaustive and diligent search, Defendant could only locate a photocopy of the signed Registration Agreement and was unable to locate the original. (Gould Aff. ¶¶ 5, 7-10.) He avers that the original agreement is presumed lost and/or destroyed through no bad faith or improper act on the part of Defendant. (Gould Aff. ¶ 10.) The photocopy of the agreement provided to the court also appears to be a faxed copy, as evident from a fax header across the top margin. (Gould Aff. Ex. A (Signed Registration Agreement).)

In the copy of the signed Registration Agreement submitted by Defendant, the small print containing the terms of the agreement is blurry and barely legible. As Defendant concedes, the right-side margin, toward the bottom, is cut off, truncating the forum selection clause. (Gould Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. A.) Consequently, if the print were clearly legible, when compared with the clear, blank version of the agreement, the forum selection clause would read:

It is agree [sic] any dispute or cause of action arising between the parties, whether out of this agreement or other wise [sic], can only be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction located in V [or three-quarters of a W] County Pennsylvania [sic] and shall be construed in accordance with the laws of Pennsylvania.

(Gould Aff. Ex. A.) Thus, if legible, most or all of the letters in the word “Wayne,” as in “Wayne County Pennsylvania,” are missing. (Gould Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. A.)

In Plaintiffs’ reply to Defendant’s affidavit, Plaintiffs do not dispute that Plaintiff Ben Epps’ signature appears on the copy of the Registration Agreement. Nor do Plaintiffs argue that the entire agreement itself is invalid. (Compare Pls.’ Supp. Ans. 2-3 (arguing, before Defendant’s production of a signed agreement, that the Registration Agreement was not enforceable because there was no objective manifestation of the parties’ intention to be contractually bound), with Pls.’ Reply to Def.’s Aff. 1 (arguing, after Defendant’s production of a signed Registration Agreement, that there was no meeting of the minds as to the forum selection clause because the wording of the clause was truncated and indiscernible).) Thus, the issue determined by the court is the enforceability of the forum selection clause.

III. Discussion

Federal law applies in the determination of the effect given to a forum selection clause in diversity cases. Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 877 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Jones v. Weibrecht, 901 F.2d 17, 19 (2d Cir. 1990)). To evaluate the enforceability of the forum selection clause here, the court determines if the standard for dismissal or transfer is proper.[1] See id. at 877-78. If the standard for transfer applies, the court then determines if the forum selection clause is reasonable. See id. at 880 (citing M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 12-13 (1972)).

A. Dismissal or Transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or 1406.

Although dismissal is a “permissible means of enforcing a forum selection clause that allows suit to be filed in another federal forum,” the Third Circuit cautions that “as a general matter, it makes better sense, when venue is proper but the parties have agreed upon a not- unreasonable forum selection clause that points to another federal venue, to transfer rather than dismiss.” Salovaara v. Jackson Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 246 F.3d 289, 298-99 (3d Cir. 2001); see Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 28-29, 32 (1988) (holding that a federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction should treat a request to enforce a forum selection clause in a contract as a motion to transfer venue under applicable federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)); 15 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3803.1 (2d ed. 1986 & Supp. 2006).

Transfer, however, is not available when a forum selection clause specifies a non-federal forum. Salovaara, 246 F.3d at 298. The forum selection clause in the Registration Agreement, if valid and untruncated, would provide that “any dispute . . . can only be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction located in Wayne County Pennsylvania” and does not limit jurisdiction to state court. The provision’s plain language is construed to permit the action in any court of the county, including the federal court in the federal judicial district encompassing Wayne County, Pennsylvania, regardless of whether the federal court is physically located in the county. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 881 (construing an arbitration provision requiring the action to transpire within a particular county to mean that the action would be permitted in any court, state or federal, with jurisdiction encompassing that county). Transfer is an available remedy because the forum selection clause, if valid and untruncated, includes a federal forum. See id. at 881-83 (applying the § 1404(a) analysis for transfer where a forum selection clause permitted any state or federal forum within a particular county).

Because transfer is the appropriate remedy, the court must then consider whether 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or § 1406 applies. “Section 1404(a) provides for the transfer of a case where both the original venue and the requested venue are proper. Section 1406, on the other hand, applies where the original venue is improper and provides for either transfer or dismissal of the case.” Id. at 878. Whether venue is proper in this district is governed by the federal venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391. Id.

Without considering the forum selection clause, venue is proper in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Neither party disputes that Defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in this district because Defendant transacts business here. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c); Jumara, 55 F.3d at 878-79; Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29 n.8 (“The parties do not dispute that the District Court properly denied the motion to dismiss the case for improper venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) because respondent apparently does business [there].”); see also (Pls.’ Supp. Ans. 1; Def.’s Supp. 3). This court therefore concludes that the appropriate analysis is whether the case should be transferred under § 1404(a). See Salovaara, 246 F.3d at 298-99.

B. Transfer under 1404(a) Is Improper Because the Forum Selection Clause Is Unreasonable and Unenforceable.

Section 1404(a) controls the inquiry of whether to give effect to a forum selection clause and to transfer a case.[2] Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29, 32. Before considering the factors under Section 1404(a), the court first examines the validity or reasonableness of the forum selection clause through application of the test in M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 12-13 (1972). “Where the forum selection clause is valid, which requires that there have been no ‘fraud, influence, or overweening bargaining power,’ the plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating why they should not be bound by their contractual choice of forum.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80 (quoting Bremen, 407 U.S. at 12-13).

A forum selection clause is unreasonable and invalid if the objecting party demonstrates that (1) the forum selection clause is the result of fraud or overreaching, (2) its enforcement would violate a strong public policy of the forum, or (3) its enforcement would result in litigation so seriously inconvenient and unreasonable that it would deprive a litigant of his or her day in court. Bremen, 407 U.S. at 15-17; In re Diaz Contracting, Inc., 817 F.2d 1047, 1051-52 (3d Cir. 1987).

To dispose of this issue, the court need only address whether the enforcement of the forum selection clause violates a strong public policy of the forum. Under Pennsylvania law, a clause in a contract must be conspicuous, so as to provide notice of its terms to a reasonable person. See, e.g., 13 Pa.C.S. § 2316 (requiring that limitation of warranties terms be conspicuous); 13 Pa.C.S. § 1201 (defining “conspicuous”); Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 2006 Pa. Super 159, P23-24 & n.12-13 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006) (relying on the requirement for conspicuous terms in the sale of goods context in a case involving the sale of services, and finding that disclaimer language on a ski ticket was not sufficiently conspicuous to put a purchaser on notice of its contents). Plaintiffs argue that the forum selection clause contained in the signed Registration Agreement is invalid because the wording of the clause is “truncated and indiscernible.” (Pls.’ Reply 1.)

The court agrees that the small print of the forum selection clause in the photocopied and faxed signed Registration Agreement is blurry and illegible, and does not provide reasonable notice of its terms. The court cannot assume that Mr. Epps signed a clear version of the agreement that became blurry and illegible upon subsequently being photocopied and faxed, because such evidence is not before the court. There is no evidence that Plaintiff Ben Epps signed any version of the Registration Agreement other than the document provided to the court.

Further, even if the forum selection clause were legible, its essential term, that any cause of action be brought in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, is cut off so as to be incomprehensible. Even if legible, the term “V– County Pennsylvania” in the forum selection clause gives no reasonable notice of the location of any agreed-upon forum.

The court concludes that the forum selection clause is inconspicuous and does not give notice of its terms to a reasonable person in violation of strong Pennsylvania public policy. The forum selection clause therefore is unreasonable, invalid, and unenforceable. Because the court finds that the forum selection clause is unreasonable and invalid, it does not address the private and public factors as transfer considerations under § 1404(a).

V. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue is denied. An appropriate order follows.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 19th day of December, 2007, upon consideration of Defendant 1.I.L., Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue (Doc. No. 4), Plaintiffs’ Response in opposition thereto, Defendant’s Affidavit of Daniel Gould and Exhibits (Doc. Nos. 8 & 9), and Plaintiffs’ Reply, it is hereby ORDERED that said motion is DENIED for the reasons set forth in the attached memorandum.

Notes:

[1] Prior to Defendant’s production of a signed Registration Agreement, Plaintiffs argued that the forum selection clause should not be enforced because it did not meet the standard of reasonable communicativeness, as set forth in Marek v. Marpan Two, Inc., 817 F.2d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1987), due to the agreement’s small print. Marek applies primarily in cases involving maritime law. See, e.g., Gibbs v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 314 F.3d 125, 130 (3d Cir. 2002); Hodes v. S. N.C. Achille Lauro ed Altri-Gestione, 858 F.2d 905, 906, 909-12 (3d Cir. 1988). As discussed below, the court follows more recent Third Circuit precedent on the enforceability of forum selection clauses.

[2] Section 1404(a) provides that “a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought” for “the convenience of parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29. Courts must adjudicate motions to transfer based on an “individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness,” weighing a number of factors. Id. (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)). A court’s review is not limited to the three enumerated factors in § 1404(a) – convenience of the parties, convenience of witnesses, or interests of justice – and courts may consider various private and public interests. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80.

The parties’ agreement as to the proper forum, although not dispositive, receives “substantial consideration” in the weighing of relevant factors. Id. at 880; see Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29-30 (“The presence of a forum selection clause . . . will be a significant factor that figures centrally in the district court’s calculus. . . . The flexible and individualized analysis Congress prescribed in § 1404(a) thus encompasses consideration of the parties’ private expression of their venue preferences.”). The deference generally given to a plaintiff’s choice of forum is “inappropriate where the plaintiff has already freely chosen an appropriate venue.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 880.


Need a Handy Reference Guide to Understand your Insurance Policy?

This book should be on every outfitter and guide’s desk. It will answer your questions, help you sleep at night, help you answer your guests’ questions and allow you to run your business with less worry.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1    Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Law, and Insurance: An Overview

Chapter 2    U.S. Legal System and Legal Research

Chapter 3    Risk 25

Chapter 4    Risk, Accidents, and Litigation: Why People Sue

Chapter 5    Law 57

Chapter 6    Statutes that Affect Outdoor Recreation

Chapter 7    PreInjury Contracts to Prevent Litigation: Releases

Chapter 8    Defenses to Claims

Chapter 9    Minors

Chapter 10    Skiing and Ski Areas

Chapter 11    Other Commercial Recreational Activities

Chapter 12    Water Sports, Paddlesports, and water-based activities

Chapter 13    Rental Programs

Chapter 14    Insurance

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Plaintiff loses because experts could not prove his claims against a camp used for a football camp.

ACA trained expert witness was hired by injured plaintiff to prove a claim against a summer camp. Again, camp money is used to train expert who then is used against the camp.

Staten Et. Al. v. The City of New York Et. Al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4257; 2013 NY Slip Op 32252(U)

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

Plaintiff: Marvin Staten, an Infant Over the Age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian Cassandra Dozier and Cassandra Dozier, Individually

Defendant: The City of New York, The New York City Department of Education, Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., Louis Cintron, Sr., Louis Cintron, Jr., an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian, Louis Cintron, Sr., Barbara Rose Cintron and Louis Cintron, Jr. an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural guardian, Barbara Rose Cintron, Defendants

Plaintiff Claims: Negligent supervision and maintenance of the premises

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: For the defendant Camp

Year: 2013

Summary

American Camp Association (ACA) trained expert witness used ACA material to try and prove the summer camp was liable for the injuries of a camper. The summer camp had passed the duty to control the kids to the school district that had rented the camp and as such was not liable.

To be able to sue for emotional damages under New York law, the parent must have financial damages also. Lacking that, the mother’s claims were dismissed.

Facts

This ruling is the result of several motions filed by different parties and can be confusing.

The minors were at a summer week long football camp. The camp was rented by the defendant New York Department of Education. The camp, Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., was located in Pennsylvania.

The plaintiff was looking through the cabin window where he was bunking to see if anyone was messing with his stuff. The defendant minor punched the plaintiff through the window, injuring the plaintiff with the broken glass from the window. The plaintiff’s expert identified this action as horseplay?

At his deposition, plaintiff testified that shortly after dinner on the date of the accident, he was standing outside his cabin, looking in through a window to “see if anybody was messing around with [his] stuff” when, after a few seconds, defendant Cintron “punched [through] the glass”

The defendant minor had been disciplined before by the school district for fighting.

There was a written agreement between the Defendant Camp and the school district, where the school district agreed to provide one adult (person over age 19) per cabin. In the cabin where the incident took place, the supervisors were two seniors, one of whom was the defendant minor.

The agreement gave control of the people at the camp, including campers to the school district renting the facilities.

This is the decision concerning the various motions.

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

The camp filed a motion for summary judgment arguing:

(1) it owed no duty to supervise plaintiff or to otherwise protect him from horseplay; (2) no facts have been adduced in support of plaintiffs’ claim that the subject window constituted a “defective condition”; and (3) since the proximate cause of the accident was the sudden, unanticipated independent actions of Cintron (i.e., punching the glass), the Camp cannot be found liable for plaintiff’s injury.

The plaintiff argued the camp was negligent and negligent per se. The negligence per se claim was based on a regulation that required safety glass to be used in windows of bunkhouses. The plaintiff also argued the camp was negligent for failing to exercise risk management and supervise the campers.

I’ve never seen a claim that it was negligent to fail to exercise risk management.

The expert hired by the plaintiff had “44 years in the camping industry and a co-author of the American Camp Association’s ‘2006 Camp Accreditation Process Guide’.” However, the court found the testimony of the expert was conclusory and insufficient to raise a question of fact.

…”conclusory testimony” offered by plaintiff’s expert was “insufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether [the Camp] breached its duty to maintain[] [its] property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the in-jury, and the burden of avoiding the risk” and, further, that the failure of plaintiff’s expert to quote any “authority, treatise [or] standard” in support thereof rendered his ultimate opinion speculative and/or “unsupported by any evidentiary foundation…[sufficient] to withstand summary judgment.

The basis of the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony was based on the 2006 American Camp Association Accreditation Process Guide. However, he failed to demonstrate how, where or when the guide had “been accepted as an authoritative reference work in any court of law, or its applicability to a camp constructed in the 1940s.”

The court also found the expert witnesses reliance on the building codes was misplaced because the camp had been built thirty years prior to the creation of the building code.

The court then stated, “the Camp’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims as against this defendant are hereby severed and dismissed.”

The court then looked at the cities (New York’s) motions. The court found the duty to supervise the youth was contractually assumed by the city in its contract with the camp. The school also had knowledge of the propensity of the defendant minor to get in fights.

In this regard, actual or constructive notice to the school of prior similar conduct is generally required, since school personnel cannot be reasonably expected to guard against all of the sudden and spontaneous acts that take place among students on a daily basis

The it was foreseeable the fight could occur.

The plaintiff’s mothers claim against the city were dismissed.

However, it is well settled that a parent cannot recover for the loss of society and companionship of a child who was negligently injured, while a claim for the loss of a child’s services must be capable of monetarization in order to be compensable. Here, plaintiff’s mother has offered no proof of the value of any services rendered to her by her son. As a result, so much of the complaint as seeks an award of damages in her individual capacity for the loss of her son’s services must be severed and dismissed.

The defendant camp was dismissed from the lawsuit. The mother’s claims were dismissed from the lawsuit because she could not prove actual damages, only emotional damages, which are not a cause of action in New York.

So Now What?

Here again an ACA trained expert witness tries to use ACA material to prove a camp is negligent. The expert would have been successful if he had better training as an expert witness and knew had to get his guide into evidence.

There are great organizations doing great things for their membership. ACA is one of those organizations. However, like others, the attempt to help their membership be better is making their lives in court a living hell.

What would you think if the person sitting across from you being deposed or on the witness stand says you are a crummy operation and negligent. And you know that your association money went into training him and creating the documents he is using to prove you were negligent.

The final issue is many states are reducing or eliminating who can sue for emotional damages when they witness or are relatives of the plaintiff. Here New York has said you can’t sue for emotional damages for the injury your child received if you don’t have financial damages in the game also.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Staten Et. Al. v. The City of New York Et. Al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4257; 2013 NY Slip Op 32252(U)

Staten Et. Al. v. The City of New York Et. Al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4257; 2013 NY Slip Op 32252(U)

[**1] Marvin Staten, an Infant Over the Age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian Cassandra Dozier and Cassandra Dozier, Individually, Plaintiffs, -against- The City of New York, The New York City Department of Education, Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., Louis Cintron, Sr., Louis Cintron, Jr., an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural Guardian, Louis Cintron, Sr., Barbara Rose Cintron and Louis Cintron, Jr. an infant over the age of 14 years by his Parent and Natural guardian, Barbara Rose Cintron, Defendants.

Index No. 104585/07

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, RICHMOND COUNTY

2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4257; 2013 NY Slip Op 32252(U)

August 18, 2013, Decided

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

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed in part and reversed in part by, Summary judgment granted by, Dismissed by, in part Staten v. City of New York, 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3334 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t, Apr. 22, 2015)

PRIOR HISTORY: Staten v. City of New York, 90 A.D.3d 893, 935 N.Y.S.2d 80, 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9134 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t, 2011)

CORE TERMS: window, glass, summary judgment, inter alia, bunk, high school, supervision, severed, horseplay, cabin, spontaneous, hazardous, engaging, breached, sudden, coach, adult, individual capacity, safety glass, building code, constructive notice, supervising, speculative, fighting, infant, fellow, leader, notice, cross claims, negligent supervision

JUDGES: [*1] Present: HON. THOMAS P. ALIOTTA

OPINION BY: THOMAS P. ALIOTTA

OPINION

DECISION AND ORDER

[**2] Upon the foregoing papers, the motion for summary judgment (No. 1415-005) of defendant Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc. (hereinafter the “Camp”) is granted; the cross motion for summary judgment (No. 1471-006) of defendants The City of New York and The New York City Department of Education (hereinafter “City”) is granted to the extent of dismissing the claims of the individual plaintiff, Cassandra Dozier. The balance of the cross motion is denied.

This matter arises out of an incident which occurred on August 25, 2007 at the Camp’s premises in Pennsylvania, where the infant plaintiff, Marvin Staten (hereinafter “plaintiff”) was enrolled in a week-long football camp with the balance of his high school football team. Plaintiff, who was entering his sophomore year at Tottenville High School on Staten Island, claims to have sustained extensive injuries to his left eye when he was struck by glass from a window pane which had allegedly been broken by a punch thrown by defendant and fellow teammate, Louis Cintron, Jr. (hereinafter “Cintron”). It appears undisputed that the window broke while plaintiff and/or Cintron were engaging in [*2] “horseplay.”

At his deposition, plaintiff testified that shortly after dinner on the date of the accident, he was standing outside his cabin, looking in through a window at eye-level to “see if anybody was messing around with [his] stuff” when, after a few seconds, defendant Cintron “punched [through] the glass” (see Plaintiff’s March 27, 2009 EBT, pp 70-71; Camp’s Exhibit F). No criminal charges were filed against plaintiff’s teammate, who was, however, dismissed from the camp, “cut” from his high school team, and suspended from Tottenville High School following the incident.

The claims against the Camp and the City are grounded in allegations of negligent supervision and maintenance of the premises where the incident occurred (see Plaintiffs’ Amended Verified Complaint, Camp’s Exhibit A, para “Thirty-Sixth”).

[**3] It is noted that prior to this incident, i.e., on February 14, 2006, Cintron had been disciplined by Tottenville High School for engaging in disruptive conduct with another student (see City’s Exhibit I; see also Staten v. City of New York, 90 AD3d 893, 935 N.Y.S.2d 80). It is likewise noted that pursuant to a written contract drawn on Camp Chen-A-Wanda letterhead, dated and signed August 20, [*3] 2007, Tottenville High School coach Jim Munson agreed that “each bunk will be supervised by a coach, former player, or other adult who is at least nineteen years of age” (see City’s Exhibit C). To the extent relevant, the bunk “leaders” supervising plaintiff’s bunk were two seniors, one of whom was defendant Cintron.

In moving for summary judgment, Camp argues, inter alia, that: (1) it owed no duty to supervise plaintiff or to otherwise protect him from horseplay; (2) no facts have been adduced in support of plaintiffs’ claim that the subject window constituted a “defective condition”; and (3) since the proximate cause of the accident was the sudden, unanticipated independent actions of Cintron (i.e., punching the glass), the Camp cannot be found liable for plaintiff’s injury.

In opposition to the motion, plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that not only was the Camp negligent in its maintenance of the premises, but that it was negligent: (1) per se in using ordinary or “annealed” glass for the cabin windows rather than safety glass, in violation of Pennsylvania State and International Building Codes (see June 12, 2013 affidavit of Plaintiff’s Expert, Michael J. Peterson, Plaintiff’s Exhibit [*4] H); (2) in failing to properly exercise risk management, and (3) in failing to supervise its post-season campers and protect them against horseplay. Plaintiff further argues that while Cintron’s actions might be considered “intervening,” his conduct was not a superseding cause of the accident. Notably, plaintiff submits the affidavit of Michael J. Peterson (see Plaintiffs’ Exhibit H), an “expert with 44 years in the camping industry and a co-author of the American Camp Association’s ‘2006 Camp Accreditation Process Guide'” (see Plaintiffs’ [**4] Memorandum of Law), who opined, inter alia, “with a reasonable degree of professional certainty of the camping industry…that [the Camp] should have begun and completed replacement of all non-reinforced glass in hazardous or even marginally hazardous locations within [its] camp with safety impact rated glass, plexi glass (plastic),…safety film, or…reinforced…small gauge hardware cloth wire a full two decades before this accident.” The expert further opined that had these steps been taken, the punch “would not [have] shattered safety impact rated glass, plexi-glass, glass covered with safety film or reinforced glass” (id.).

As previously indicated, [*5] the Camp’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims as against this defendant are hereby severed and dismissed.

In the opinion of this Court, it is constrained by the 2005 decision of the Court of Appeals in Buchholz v. Trump 767 Fifth Avenue, (5 NY3d 1, 831 N.E.2d 960, 798 N.Y.S.2d 715) to hold that the “conclusory testimony” offered by plaintiff’s expert was “insufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether [the Camp] breached its duty to maintain[] [its] property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk” and, further, that the failure of plaintiff’s expert to quote any “authority, treatise [or] standard” in support thereof rendered his ultimate opinion speculative and/or “unsupported by any evidentiary foundation…[sufficient] to withstand summary judgment (id. at 9 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Diaz v. New York Downtown Hosp., 99 NY2d 542, 544, 784 N.E.2d 68, 754 N.Y.S.2d 195).1

1 The decedent in Buchholz was pushed and fell through an office window after engaging in “play fighting” with three co-workers following their attendance at a St. Patrick’s Day Parade [*6] in 1999 (id. at 4). Plaintiff alleged that the premises’ owner was negligent, inter alia, in failing to furnish shatterproof glass windows and a safety rail across the window’s face in contravention of certain sections of the New York City Administrative Code, particularly §27-651 (“Panels subject to human impact loads”). Plaintiff’s expert, a registered architect and licensed engineer, submitted an affidavit opining that the window’s very low sill was problematic, and further, that “good and accepted engineering and building safety practices dictated that a protective barrier bar be installed” (id. at 6). Nevertheless, the trial court’s denial of the owner’s summary judgment motion was reversed on appeal (see Buchholz v. Trump 767 Fifth Ave., LLC, 4 AD3d 178, 772 N.Y.S.2d 257) and affirmed by the Court of Appeals based, inter alia, on the speculative nature of the opinion of plaintiff’s expert.

[**5] Here, plaintiff’s expert placed substantial reliance on the language of the 2006 American Camp Association Accreditation Process Guide in formulating his opinion. However, although alleged to have been tested “numerous times in litigation”, Mr. Peterson failed to demonstrate, e.g., where or when this guide has [*7] been accepted as an authoritative reference work in any court of law, or its applicability to a camp constructed in the 1940s. Moreover, his opinion that the failure to replace unannealed windows violated certain Pennsylvania codes or statutes is not compelling or binding upon this Court. To the contrary, Peterson’s reliance on 34 Pa. Admin. Code §47.398, to require the use of “safety glass” in bunk windows represents a misreading of the statute, as the provision in question was not adopted until 1972 (some thirty years after the Camp began its operations), and neither it nor any other Pennsylvania building code or regulation has been cited requiring that bunk windows be retrofitted to conform to the 1972 requirements (cf. Buchholz v. Trump 767 Fifth Avenue, 5 NY3d at 9). Moreover, he failed to show that the window in question was actually in a “hazardous” location for purposes of the cited codes, i.e., within 24 inches of the bunkhouse door. In fact, no measurement was provided. “Although noncompliance with…a customary practice or industry standard may be evidence of negligence, the failure to abide by guidelines or recommendations that are not generally-accepted standards in an [*8] industry will not suffice to raise an issue of fact as to a defendant’s negligence” (Diaz v. New York Downtown Hosp., 287 AD2d 357, 358, 731 N.Y.S.2d 694, affd 99 NY2d 542, 784 N.E.2d 68, 754 N.Y.S.2d 195 [citations omitted]; see also Ambrosio v. South Huntington Union Free School Dist., 249 AD2d 346, 671 N.Y.S.2d 110). This, similarly to Buchholz, is just such a case2.

2 Also worthy of note is the Camp’s uncontroverted representation that no similar incidents (other than, e.g., windows broken by vandalism) occurred during its sixty-year history (see February 3, 2010 EBT of Craig Neier, Camp’s Exhibit C).

The City’s cross motion for summary judgment is granted in part, and denied, in part, as hereinafter provided.

[**6] In arguing for dismissal of the negligent supervision claim, the City argues that (1) it provided more than enough chaperones at the training camp, (2) issued oral and written instructions against the type of conduct which caused plaintiff’s injury; (3) the sudden, spontaneous and unforeseeable nature of defendant Cintron’s actions were such that no reasonable amount of supervision could have prevented the injury, and (4) it had no prior notice of the latter’s propensity to engage in the type of conduct that caused plaintiff’s injury. Moreover, [*9] the City maintains that it did not legally own, occupy, or control the Camp; that Cintron’s independent and spontaneous actions breached any chain of causation connected to the condition or maintenance of the camp and/or its cabin windows; and that it possessed no actual or constructive notice of any dangerous condition regarding the composition of the window itself.

In opposition, plaintiffs argue, inter alia, that the lack of supervision which encouraged the horseplay causing the injury is evident by the City’s failure to (1) place an adult in each cabin, as required under plaintiff’s interpretation of the terms of its contract with the Camp (see City’s Exhibit C); (2) adhere to the Regulations of the Chancellor governing adult supervision on school trips (see City’s Exhibit D), and (3) comply with American Camp Association standard HR-10A and 10B regarding the supervision of campers (see June 12, 2013 affidavit of plaintiffs’ expert, Michael J. Peterson, “Opinions 1”).

Here, the duty of supervising the student/athletes was contractually assumed by the City. In determining whether the duty to provide adequate supervision has been breached in the context of injuries caused by the acts [*10] of fellow students, it must be established that school authorities had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused the injury. Put simply, the third-party acts must reasonably have been anticipated (see Brandy B. v. Eden Cent. School Dist., 15 NY3d 297, 302, 934 N.E.2d 304, 907 N.Y.S.2d 735; Mirand v. City of New York, 84 NY2d 44, 49, 637 N.E.2d 263, 614 N.Y.S.2d 372; [**7] Shannea M. v. City of New York, 66 AD3d 667, 886 N.Y.S.2d 483; Doe v. Department of Educ. of City of NY, 54 AD3d 352, 862 N.Y.S.2d 598). In this regard, actual or constructive notice to the school of prior similar conduct is generally required, since school personnel cannot be reasonably expected to guard against all of the sudden and spontaneous acts that take place among students on a daily basis.

Here, the proof of Cintron’s 2006 suspension for fighting at school serves to preclude the City from demonstrating prima facie that his designation as bunk “leader” was reasonable as a matter of law (see Staten v. City of New York and Camp Chen-A-Wanda, Inc., 90 AD3d 893, 935 N.Y.S.2d 80; see also September 16, 2009 EBT of James Munson, pp 16, 33, 39-42; the Camp’s Exhibit E). Neither is Coach Munson’s investigation purportedly uncovering a conflicting version of the events in which the breaking of the glass [*11] is attributed to plaintiff “put[ting] his face” against it (see EBT of James Munson, p 54) sufficient to warrant dismissal of the cause of action pleaded on behalf of the infant plaintiff.

However, it is well settled that a parent cannot recover for the loss of society and companionship of a child who was negligently injured (see White v. City of New York, 37 AD2d 603, 322 N.Y.S.2d 920), while a claim for the loss of a child’s services must be capable of monetarization in order to be compensable (see DeVito v. Opatich, 215 AD2d 714, 627 N.Y.S.2d 441). Here, plaintiff’s mother has offered no proof of the value of any services rendered to her by her son. As a result, so much of the complaint as seeks an award of damages in her individual capacity for the loss of her son’s services must be severed and dismissed.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED, that the motion for summary judgment of defendant Camp Chen-A-Wanda Inc. is granted, and the complaint and any cross claims as against this defendant are hereby severed and dismissed; and it is further

[**8] ORDERED, that the cross motion for summary judgment of defendants The City of New York and The New York City Department of Education is granted to the extent that the cause(s) of action asserted [*12] by plaintiff Cassandra Dozier in her individual capacity are hereby severed and dismissed, and it is further

ORDERED that the remainder of the cross motion for summary judgment is denied.

ENTER,

/s/

Hon. Thomas P. Aliotta

J.S.C.

Dated: September 18, 2013


You cannot assume the risk of a recreational activity if the defendant alters the activity and adds risk that he does not inform the guest about.

If you run PVC pipe across the slope that blends in with the slope, a skier coming down the hill does not assume the risk of hitting PVC pipe. PVC does not fall from the sky, is not  natural, and in 50 years of skiing it not something I’ve ever seen on a slope.

Zhou, et al., v. Tuxedo Ridge, LLC, et al., 54 Misc. 3d 1213(A); 2017 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 350; 2017 NY Slip Op 50128(U)

State: New York

Plaintiff: Judy Zhou, et al

Defendant: Tuxedo Ridge, LLC, et al.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk and the mother should have watched her daughter more closely

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2017

Summary

There are two defenses in this case. The first is assumption of the risk. The standard defense used for injuries arising from activities in outdoor recreational activities. The second is not discussed by the court but one we have all wanted to argue at least once. 

The defendant makes several arguments in support of summary judgment, including that the mother of the plaintiff should have supervised her daughter more closely and assumption of risk.

The defendant is not at risk because the mother let the child do what the child wanted and did not supervise the child. Ski areas are not baby sitters. If you buy a minor a lift ticket, the ski area knows the lift ticket allows access by the minor to whatever lift the minor wanted to ride and to come down any hill the minor wants to ride.

However, if that child is injured, the ski area should not have allowed that child on the lift because it was too dangerous.

That argument is a landmine to make in court. Mothers of injured children are liked by juries because they feel for the pain the mother is suffering. And who in their right mind would say that a mother is doing a bad job of raising their kids.

The other defense assumption of the risk would have won the case if the defendant had not laid down PVC pipe on the slope in a way that no one could see the pipe. The pipe was there to create a coral to lead skiers back to the lift. However, when you can’t see it, don’t know it’s there, and hit it, it is hard to argue that PVC is a natural risk of skiing.

Facts 

The facts are quite simple. 

…the defendants cut a portion of the Bunny Hill slope by installing white PVC plumbing pipes to create a corral line leading to the  chairlift. The PVC pipes were as hard as metal plumbing pipes and, at the same time, blended into the slope’s white snow and were not clearly visible to a skier in motion, let alone a novice skier such as the plaintiff infant. These obstructions blocked a portion of the snowy slope and were in the path of a skier’s descent. Although the defendants maintained nylon netting at the site, it did not place a fence or netting on the slope above the area to prevent and catch children and novice skiers from coming into contact with the corral line’s PVC posts. 

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

The court started its analysis of the case with the famous Cardozo quote that created the defense of assumption of the risk.

The plaintiff was not seeking a retreat for meditation. Visitors were tumbling about the belt to the merriment of onlookers when he made his choice to join them. He took the chance of a like fate, with whatever damage to his body might ensue from such a fall. The timorous may stay at home.” Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 NY 479, 483, 166 N.E. 173 (1929)

However, the court quickly shifted its analysis to whether the injured minor plaintiff could have assumed the risk.

A seven-year-old skier could not assume the risk of a risk she was not properly educated about. Unless the risk is inherent, part of skiing, or known, understood and accepted by the plaintiff, or part of the risk of the sport, the plaintiff cannot assume the risk. 

So Now What? 

If the PVC pipe were visible; fenced, painted red, behind warning signs, this case would have gone the other direction. However, when you hide a risk not only do you lose the assumption of risk defense, but you might also set yourself up for a reckless or willful charge that could lead to greater damages. 

Seriously, don’t be stupid is the bigger thing to learn from this case. 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Just because you have a piece of paper saying you are an additional insured, it does not mean there is any coverage under any policy to protect you.

Additional insured certificates are limited by two things, what the underlying policy provides coverage for and what the certificate of insurance says it will cover. Lacking  coverage under the policy or lacking the necessary language in the additional insured certificate you are hanging in the wind without any insurance coverage.

For an additional insured certificate to be valid, you must put together three things. A contract which identifies the requirements or insurance you are looking for. An insurance policy that insures those requirements and a certificate of insurance that covers those requirements or better states as the requirements are set forth in the original contract. Lacking any, one of those and you are just wasting paper.

When you get a certificate of insurance, you must then read it to make sure you meet the requirements it may set out. If there is a limitation on the amount of time you have to file a claim or a specific way to notify the insured, make sure you follow those procedures. 

Finally, whenever you file any claim with any insurance company for coverage, follow the procedures the policy requires then follow up with a letter providing notice the insurance company in writing.

Great American Alliance Insurance Company, v. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148

State: Missouri, United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division 

Plaintiff: Great American Alliance Insurance Company 

Defendant: Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al. 

Plaintiff Claims: Great American now moves for summary judgment on its requested declaratory judgment that: (1) no liability coverage exists under its policy issued to Student Life for any claims asserted in the underlying lawsuit against Windermere or Windermere’s employees, including Kendra Brown; (2) Great American owes no duty to defend Windermere, Kendra Brown, or any other Windermere employees in the underlying lawsuit; and
(3) no medical payments coverage exists for Karlee Richards. 

Defendant Defenses:   No coverage provided under the policy or certificate of insurance

Holding: Split decision, however the insurance company will not pay anything under the certificate of insurance 

Year: 2017 

This is a legally complicated case with simple facts. A church rented a camp from Student Life, which had contracted with a church camp called Windermere. The reservation form and simple agreement between the camp and the church required the issuance of a certificate of insurance. 

A camper, part of the church group fell while riding the zip line. She sued. That lawsuit was still pending when this lawsuit was started to determine whose insurance was required to defend against the camper’s lawsuit. 

In that case, damages are being sought against them for injuries sustained by Karlee Richards after she fell while zip-lining at The Edge, a ropes course at Windermere’s Conference Center. Kendra Brown was an employee of Windermere, working at the Edge at the time of  the accident.

 The injured camper Richards was with the Searcy Baptist Church. They rented the camp through Student Life. Student Life rented the camp from Windermere. The contract between Student Life and Windermere is the one at question here. Windermere required a certificate of insurance from Student Life. 

June 2014, Karlee Richards and her Searcy Baptist Church youth group were attending a summer camp at Windermere’s Conference Center, which was sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Conference, d.b.a. Student Life. Student Life contracted with Windermere to hold the church camp at Windermere’s facility in Missouri. Student Life had a liability policy with Great American, and Windermere was an additional insured on that policy. The additional insured endorsement provides that the additional insured, in this case Windermere, is only covered for “liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to Great American contends that Windermere is not entitled to coverage for Kaylee Richards’s injuries because Windermere did not “lease” the Edge to Student Life because the Edge was not specifically mentioned in Student Life’s written agreement with Windermere.

 The first issue the court skipped was the policy that Student Life had, was restrictive and had minimal coverage. It had a requirement that all claims had to be made in one year. This may not be bad, but if the statute of limitations for the type of injury is two years or three, you may not have coverage for a claim because you did not know you had one until after the time period had run. 

Student Life is the named insured on a Commercial General Liability policy with Great American. The policy requires that all requests for medical payments be made within one year of the accident that gives rise to the insurance claim. Also, when there is other valid and collectible excess insurance coverage, the Great American policy provides that Great American will have no duty to defend its insured against a claim for damages.

 On top of the claim limitation period, the coverage was solely excess coverage. Meaning the coverage did on top of any other coverage the insured had and had no duty to defend or pay for attorneys. It only had to pay for a claim after the
limits of the underlying policy were exhausted. No underlying policy was ever mentioned in the case so it is unknown if one existed.

If this is the only policy, Student Life purchased, they bought the wrong one! 

Another issue was whether the student life policy would provide coverage for employees of Windermere that were sued based on the accident. 

This suit was brought by the Student Life insurance company, Great American Alliance Insurance Company, asking the court to tell Student Life it was not going to pay or defend any of the claims brought by the injured camper against Windermere. 

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

 The court first looked at whether the additional insured certificate was ambiguous. If so, then the court had to interpret the ambiguity under Missouri’s law.

An ambiguity is an uncertainty in the meaning of the policy.

  If an ambiguity exists, the policy language will be construed against the insurer. Mendota, “‘An ambiguity exists when there is
duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language of the policy.'” “‘To test whether the language used in the policy is ambiguous, the language is considered in the light in which it would normally be understood by the lay person who bought and paid for the policy.'” Whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law.” 

The burden of proving there is coverage falls on the party seeking it, in this case, Windermere. An ambiguity exists if there are different interpretations of the language in the policy. There are two types of Ambiguities, Latent and patent. 

A policy is ambiguous if it is “fairly open to different interpretations” because it contains “duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty of meaning.” Importantly, there are two types of ambiguities in the law: patent and latent. “A patent ambiguity is detected from the face of the document, whereas a latent ambiguity is found ‘when the particular words of a document apply equally well to two different objects or some external circumstances make their meaning uncertain.'” 

Here the court found that a patent ambiguity existed. 

For these reasons, a patent ambiguity exists. The disputed phrase not only should be interpreted in favor of the Defendants, but the Defendants’ interpretation is arguably the only one that would make sense to an ordinary person under these circumstances. 

The court also found a latent ambiguity existed in the certificate of insurance. 

A latent ambiguity exists when a contract “on its face appears clear and unambiguous, but some collateral matter makes the meaning
uncertain.” Id. In other words, an ambiguity is “latent if language, which is plain on its face, becomes uncertain upon application.”

 If an ambiguity is found in an insurance policy, the ambiguity is construed against the insurance company. “In the
alternative, it is well-settled that an ambiguity within an insurance policy must be construed against the insurer
.”

Consequently, the court ruled on this issue, that there was coverage for Windermere from the Student Life Policy. However, the court found against Student Life and Windermere on the other issues.

Windermere requested coverage for defending its employees, which the court denied. 

Great American argues that no coverage exists for Brown or any other Windermere employee because the Additional Insured Endorsement does not provide additional insured status and/or coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Brown is not identified anywhere in Student Life’s Great American policy nor is she listed as an Additional Insured on a Certificate of Liability. Therefore, any coverage for Brown would necessarily derive from her status as Windermere’s employee, and employees are not covered as insureds by the Additional Insured Endorsement. 

The court agreed with Great American that no coverage was described in the certificate of insurance. 

The next issue was, whether or not there was a duty to defend. A duty to defend is to pay the cost of the lawsuit; attorney fees, expert witness fees, etc. 

Under Missouri law, the duty to defend “arises whenever there is a potential or possible liability to pay based on the facts at the outset of the case and is not dependent on the probable liability to pay based on the facts ascertained through trial.” 

Because there was no coverage for the Windermere employees, there was no duty to defend them either. A duty to defend must be specifically identified in the policy. In this case the policy specifically stated, there was no duty to defend. 

As to whether Great American owes a duty to defend Windermere, the Endorsement makes clear that any coverage for Windermere as an additional insured would be excess, and the policy does not afford a defense when (1) its coverage is excess and (2) when the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier. 

The last issue was whether medical expenses of the injured camper were owed by Great American to Windermere. Again, since the policy specifically stated there was no coverage for medical expenses this was denied. The court also found the
requirement under the policy to make a claim for medical expenses had to be done within one year, and that time had lapsed; therefore, no medical expenses were owed by the Student Life Policy with Great American. 

The decision was split, however, in reality; Windermere got nothing from the decision. If Windermere lost its suit or exhausted its own liability insurance policy protection, it could, then see money from the Student Life policy with Great American, but no other coverage was owed by Great American. However, that meant the camper was going to have to win millions probably to exhaust the Windermere policy and Windermere or its insurance company was going to foot the bill with no help from the policy under the certificate of insurance. 

So Now What? 

This is a classic case were not knowing or checking what happens when you receive an additional insured certificate ends up costing you more money than not having one. 

The underlying policy by the group coming into the camp was crap. On top of that it had major restrictions on when it would pay. Add to those issues the certificate of insurance was badly written and the company receiving the additional insured certificate received a worthless piece of paper. On top of that it cost them a lot of money I’m guessing to sue to find out they were not going to get anything from the policy.

 1.       Issue a request for a Certificate of Insurance in a contract or the contract. Set forth in the contract everything you must have and the type of insurance policy that must be underlying the certificate of insurance.

2.      Request a copy of the insurance policy be delivered with the certificate of insurance. Again, if the policy is crap, you are getting crap. 

3.      Make sure the insurance policy covers what the contract says it should cover. 

4.      Make sure the certificate of insurance covers what the contract says it must cover. 

Just collecting certificates of insurance to put in a box or file cabinet are only killing trees. It is probably not providing you any protection as in this case.

 What do you think? Leave a comment.

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When an organization makes rules and regulations that a subsidiary organization is supposed to obey, and then fails to follow, both organizations are liable to any plaintiff injured due to the failure to follow or enforce the organizational rules, policies, regulations or standards.

In this case, the national organization was also sued for failing to instruct and enforce the regional organization in the rules, regulations, standards or policies. If you are going to make rules, and you say the rules must be followed you have to make sure you train in the rules and that everyone follows the rules.

If you make a rule you have to enforce it if you are in charge of making rules.
Otherwise, don’t make rules!

T.K., a minor, v. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, et. al. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87005 

State: Illinois, United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division

Plaintiff: T.K., a minor, by and through his natural Father and Next Friend, Timothy Killings, and Timothy Killings, individually

Defendant: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boys and Girls Club of Decatur, Inc., and Mary K. Paulin

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and willful and wanton misconduct

Defendant Defenses: Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted filed in a Motion to dismiss

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2017

This case is a federal diversity case. That means the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) were legally residents of different states, and the amount claimed by the plaintiff was greater than $75,000.00. In this case, the plaintiff was from California, and the Defendant was located in Illinois.

The plaintiff was in Illinois and attending the Decatur Boys & Girls Club, which was part of the America Boys & Girls Club. America Boys & Girls Club was based in Georgia.

America Boys & Girls Club provided policies, procedures, rules, guidelines and instructions to the Decatur Boys & Girls Clubs, and all other Boys & Girls Clubs. The Boys & Girls Clubs are required to follow the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions.

While attending the club, the plaintiff was taken to a local farm. Neither of the defendants had permission to transport the minor plaintiff to the farm. While there the plaintiff was riding on a trailer (probably a hay ride)that did not have guardrails, seats, seatbelts or other equipment designed from keeping people from falling off. (But then very few hay rides do.) The tractor and trailer were pulled onto a public highway with 15-20 children on it. While on the highway the plaintiff either jumped or fell off or might have been pushed
off sustaining injuries.

The farm trailer was not designed or intended to transport people, and the trailer lacked guardrails, seats, seatbelts, and other equipment that might prevent people from falling off it. Defendant Paulin pulled the trailer, with T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children riding on it, onto a public highway with a tractor defendant.

The issue that the trailer was not designed to be on a highway and did not have seats, seatbelts or other equipment to keep people from falling off was repeatedly brought up by the court.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and this opinion is court’s response to that motion.

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

A motion to dismiss is a preliminary motion filed when the allegations in the complaint do not meet the minimum requirements to make a legally recognizable claim.

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Plausibility means alleging factual content that allows a court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. A plaintiff’s complaint must suggest a right to relief, “raising that possibility above a speculative level.” “The required level of factual specificity rises with the complexity of the claim.”

When reviewing a motion to dismiss the court must look at the plaintiff’s pleadings as true and any inference that must be drawn from the pleadings is done so in favor of the plaintiff.

To plead negligence under Illinois’s law the plaintiff must prove “…that the defendant owed plaintiff a duty, it breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.” In Illinois, every person owes all other persons “a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury which naturally flows as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of his act.”

Whether this duty arises in a particular context depends on “the reasonable foreseeability of the injury, the likelihood of the injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on defendants.” Id. A child’s caretaker has a duty to protect the child from harm.

It is a legal question to be decided by the court if a legal duty exists.

…the relationship between him and America Boys & Girls Club and Decatur Boys & Girls Club imposed on the two  organizations a duty of care to adequately supervise him and protect him from harm, any unreasonable risk of harm, dangerous instrumentalities, and dangerous conditions.

The plaintiffs argued the duty of care of the two organizations was breached by:

(1) negligently supervising him, (2) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him, (3) failing to warn or failing to adequately warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer, (4) failing to properly supervise the minors they placed on the trailer, and (5) failing to provide enough staff members to monitor the children they placed on the trailer.

The plaintiff’s also argued there was a greater responsibility and as such duty on the part of the America Boys & Girls Club to train the Decatur club on its rules, regulations and policies and failing to train on them was  also negligent.

T.K. further alleges that it failed to properly train Decatur Boys & Girls Club on the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions of America Boys & Girls Club, and that it failed to supervise Decatur Boys & Girls Club to ensure that the operating policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, and instructions were followed.

In this case, the duty of care was created by the rules, regulations, policies and procedures created by the America Boys & Girls Clubs upon the Decatur Boys & Girls Club.

The plaintiff went on to argue, and since it was quoted by the court, accepted by the court that:

Defendant Paulin put him on the farm trailer even though Defendant Paulin did not have the requisite permission to  give him a ride on the trailer. Defendant Paulin towed the trailer, while T.K. and 15 to 20 additional children were on board, with a tractor onto a public highway. According to T.K., Defendant Paulin owed him a duty of care to protect him from any unreasonable risk of harm and breached that duty by (1) allowing and causing him to be placed on a farm trailer that was not designed for transporting children and was therefore dangerous and not reasonably safe for him; (2)
failing to warn him of the potential for injury before putting him on the trailer and pulling the trailer onto a public highway; (3) failing to warn him that the trailer was dangerous and not reasonably safe given that the trailer had no railings, barriers, walls, or seats; and (4) creating a dangerous condition by placing him on the trailer and pulling it onto a public highway.

The court held this was enough to create a duty of care and proved a possible negligence claim.

Furthermore, of note was a statement that a statutory violation of a statute in Illinois does not create a negligence per se claim.

A violation of a statute or ordinance designed to protect human life or property is prima facie evidence of negligence. . . . The violation does not constitute negligence per se, however, and therefore the defendant may prevail by showing that he acted reasonably under the circumstances.”

The court then looked at the minor plaintiff’s father claims to see if those met the requirements to prove negligence in Illinois.

To state a negligence cause of action, Mr. Killings must plead enough facts to make it plausible that he was harmed as a proximate result of Defendants’ breach of a duty they owed to him.

However, the father was not able to prove his claim because it is separate and distinct from the minor’s claim. “The fact that Defendants were responsible for T.K.’s well-being on July 17, 2015, does not mean that Defendants had any duty to Mr. Killings.”

It was T.K., not Mr. Killings, who was placed on an unsafe farm trailer and pulled onto a public road. Defendants, therefore, had a duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury to T.K., not Mr. Killings. Further, Mr. Killings does not claim that he was physically injured as a result of Defendants’ negligence; his only claimed injury is the money he has spent and the money he will spend in the future for T.K.’s past and future medical treatment. In short, Mr. Killings has not met the pleading requirements for a negligence claim against any Defendant.

The father also pleaded a claim for loss of aid, comfort, society and companionship of his child. However, Illinois’s law does not allow for recovery of those emotional damages unless the child’s injury is a fatality.

The claim is not one for damages stemming from the child’s physical injury, but one founded on the parents’ liability for the minor’s medical expenses under the Illinois Family Expense Act.

However, the father did have a claim for the medical expenses the father paid on behalf of his minor son for the injuries he incurred.

The plaintiff also pleaded res ipsa loquitur.

Res ipsa loquitur allows “proof of negligence by circumstantial evidence when the direct evidence concerning cause of injury is primarily within the knowledge and control of the defendant.” The doctrine “is meant to bridge an evidentiary gap when an injury could not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence.” Accordingly, res ipsa lo-quitur applies only when the facts “admit of the single inference that the accident would not have happened unless the defendant had been negligent.”

Res ipsa loquitur is a claim that when an incident has occurred, the control of the instrumentality was solely within the control of the defendant.

Under Illinois law, a plaintiff bringing a negligence claim based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur must plead that he was injured “in an occurrence that ordinarily does not happen in the absence of negligence” and that it was caused “by an agency or instrumentality within the defendant’s exclusive control.

An example of res ipsa loquitur is a passenger in an airplane that crashes. The pilot is the defendant, and the
control of the airplane is solely with the pilot.

Indeed, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can be appropriate if the instrument that caused the injury was in the defendant’s exclusive control “at a time prior to the injury and there is no change in conditions or intervening act that could reasonably have caused the event resulting in the injury.

However, the allegations of the plaintiff did not meet the requirements of res ipsa loquitur in Illinois.

Plaintiff’s final allegation discussed in the opinion was one for willful and wanton misconduct on the part of the defendants. Under Illinois’s law to establish a claim for willful and wanton conduct, the plaintiff must.

…plead facts establishing the elements of a negligence claim–duty, breach, proximate causation, and harm–and “either a deliberate intention to harm or an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.

Generally, this is the same standard to prove willful and wanton conduct in most states. Once the negligence claim is proved, then the allegations only need to support the additional acts as willful and wanton.

Therefore, to state claims for willful and wanton misconduct against Defendants, T.K. need only additionally allege either intentional or reckless willful and wanton misconduct committed by Defendants.

The court defined willful and wanton conduct.

Reckless willful and wanton misconduct is conduct committed with an utter indifference of or a conscious disregard for the safety of others. To meet this standard, the defendant “must be conscious of his conduct, and, though having no intent to injure, must be conscious, from his knowledge of the surrounding circumstances and existing conditions, that his conduct will naturally and probably result in injury.

With the allegations plead, the court found sufficient information to confirm the plaintiff going forward with willful and wanton claims. Those allegations include:

Decatur Boys & Girls Club and America Boys & Girls Club placed him and 15 to 20 other minors on an unsafe farm trailer with no guardrails, sidewalls, barriers, or seats while providing inadequate supervision. T.K. further alleges that the trailer was not designed to transport people.

Putting kids on a trailer was a major issue for the court. Kids on a highway on a vehicle not created to transport people were enough to create willful and wanton conduct.

The defendant argued that the allegations that created the negligence claim were also allowed to be the same facts. No new allegations needed to be plead to support the claims for willful and wanton conduct.

Under Illinois’s law, “[t]he same acts by a defendant, if sufficiently egregious, can constitute both negligence and willful and wanton conduct.” Therefore, “one can plead the same facts in two counts, one characterizing them as negligence and the other as willful and wanton conduct, if the same facts could support both theories.

The plaintiff had pled enough facts that the court found relevant and substantial to continue with the negligence and willful and wanton claim.

So Now What?

The actual rules, regulations, procedures were not identified by the court in making its decision. However, the continuous restatement of the plaintiff’s allegations in the same order and words. However, the court specifically stated the defendants failed to follow their own rules.

If you have rules, regulations, policies, procedures, or you must abide by such you MUST follow them. There are no loop holes, exceptions or “just this one time” when dealing with rules, policies and procedures that affect safety or affect minors. If you make them, you must follow them.

If you make them, you must make sure everyone is trained on them. One of the big issues the plaintiff pleads and the court accepted was the rules made by the parent organization were not known or followed by the subsidiary organization. The parent organization when making rules is under a requirement to make sure
the rules are understood and followed according to this decision in Tennessee.

The other major issue was transporting the plaintiff away from the location where the parents thought the plaintiff would be without their permission and then transporting the plaintiff on a road without meeting the requirements of state law, seats, seat belts, etc.

When you have minors, especially minors under the age of ten, you are only acting within the realm and space permitted by the parents. The line that makes me cringe every time I hear it on the news is “If I would have known they were going to do ______________, I never would have let me kid go.” Listen and you
will realize you will hear it a lot when a minor is injured.

You need to prepare your program and your parents so that line is never spoken about you.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

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Colorado Supreme Court Determines that a Piece of Playground Equipment on School Property Is Not Protected by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act

Colorado Supreme Court Determines that a Piece of Playground Equipment on School Property Is Not Protected by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, Sports Litigation Alert Vol. 14, Iss. 13

In St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. A.R.L., 2014 CO 33; 325 P.3d 1014; 2014 Colo. LEXIS 362, the plaintiff was playing on a piece of school equipment called a zip line when she fell and fractured her wrist. The court described the playground equipment as an apparatus. The defendants, who included the principal of the school where the playground was located, filed a motion to dismiss based on C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) stating the court lacked jurisdiction based on the Colorado Governmental Immunities Act, (CGIA).

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