Summer 2016 Commercial Fatalities

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

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

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

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

Blue is an employee fatality

Dark blue is a death of an employee while working

Date

Activity

State

Location

What

Age

Sex

Location 2

Reference

Ref 2

Company

3/22

Cat Skiing

OR

Mt. Bailey

Avalanche hit tree

 

M

 

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

 

Cat Ski Mount Bailey

5/4

Whitewater Rafting

WA

Wenatchee River

Raft Flipped

53

M

Dryden

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

 

Orion River

 

Whitewater Rafting

ME

Dead River

Fell out

52

M

 

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

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

North Country Rivers

5/22

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Arkansas River

Fell out

61

F

Parkdale

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

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

Echo Canyon River Expeditions

6/4

Whitewater Rafting

AK

Lowe River

Fell out

48

F

 

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

 

 

6/15

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Roaring Fork

Flip

50

M

Slaughterhouse section

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

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

Aspen Whitewater Rafting

6/15

Whitewater Rafting

AK

Kongakut River

Flip

69

F

 

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

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

Alaska Alpine Adventures

6/15

Whitewater Rafting

AK

Kongakut River

Flip

67

F

 

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

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

Alaska Alpine Adventures

6/22

Sea Kayaking

ME

Downeast Maine

High Seas

63

M

Corea Harbor

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

 

SeaScape Kayaks

6/22

Sea Kayaking

ME

Downeast Maine

High Seas

 

M

Corea Harbor

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

 

SeaScape Kayaks

6/24/16

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Green River

 

63

F

Disaster Falls

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

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

Adrift Adventures

7/2/16

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Arkansas River

Fell out

51

F

Zoom Flume

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

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

River Runners

7/17

Inflatable Kayak

OR

Rogue River

Fell out & trapped unwater

57

M

Wildcat Rapid

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

 

 

7/21

Canoe Trip

MN

Boundary Waters

Lighting Strike

39

F

Basswood Lake

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

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

BSA Northern Tier High Adventure Base

7/21

Canoe Trip

MN

Boundary Waters

Lighting Strike

13

M

Basswood Lake

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

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

BSA Northern Tier High Adventure Base

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

Copyright 2016 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

What do you think? Leave a comment.

clip_image002 

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

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

 

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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

 

 


Knarr v. Chapman School Of Seamanship, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5351

Knarr v. Chapman School Of Seamanship, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5351

Jean Knarr & Lester Knarr v. Chapman School Of Seamanship

CIVIL ACTION NO. 99-952

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5351

April 14, 2000, Decided

April 14, 2000, Filed

COUNSEL: For JEAN KNARR, LESTER KNARR, PLAINTIFFS: DAVID S. KATZ, DAVID S. KATZ, ESQ., P.C., NORRISTOWN, PA USA.

For CHAMPMAN SCHOOL OF SEAMANSHIP, DEFENDANT: ANDREW P. MOORE, MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, DOYLESTOWN, PA USA.

JUDGES: JACOB P. HART, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

OPINION BY: JACOB P. HART

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JACOB P. HART

UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

April 14, 2000

The Defendant in this personal injury action has filed a motion for summary judgment. It argues that the Plaintiffs have failed to present any expert testimony to support their contention that the Defendant violated Coast Guard regulations and Florida state laws and codes that would constitute negligence per se pursuant to Florida law. Without the ability to prove negligence per se, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs’ claims are all barred by the release Mrs. Knarr signed.

[HN1] Summary judgment is warranted where the pleadings and discovery, as well as any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. Pr. 56. [HN2] The moving [*2] party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). [HN3] When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must construe the evidence and any reasonable inferences drawn from it in favor of the non-moving party. Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987).

Construing the evidence in favor of the Plaintiffs, as we are required to do at this stage of the proceedings, reveals the following. Plaintiff, Jean Knarr, was a student at the Chapman School of Seamanship, (“Chapman”). In March of 1997, Mrs. Knarr slipped and fell on one of the wet, wooden ladder steps, while disembarking from a ship, owned and operated by Chapman. To stop her fall, she attempted to reach for a railing on the right side of the ladder. Unfortunately, there was no railing on the right side of the ladder. As a result of the fall, Mrs. Knarr fractured her right foot, ankle, and leg, and suffered other bruises and lacerations.

Before the accident took place, Mrs. Knarr signed an agreement to indemnify Chapman for any suit or claim arising [*3] from the use of Chapman’s equipment.

I, the undersigned, for myself … and all those claiming by, through or under me, for and in consideration of being allowed to use the equipment, motors and vessels … owned by … the Chapman School of Seamanship, Inc. … hereby forever release and indemnify said Chapman School of Seamanship, Inc. from any … bodily injury … suit or claim arising out of the use of any equipment, motors or vessels, whether or not such … bodily injury … is based upon the sole negligence of Chapman School of Seamanship … .

(Chapman Application/Registration Form).

In denying an earlier motion for summary judgment, the Honorable Marvin Katz concluded that although the indemnification agreement protected the Defendant from liability arising from mere negligence, it could not protect itself from claims arising from negligence per se.

[HN4] While, under Florida law, contracts indemnifying a party against its own negligence will be enforced if the language of the contract is clear and unequivocal, see Charles Poe Masonry v. Spring Lock Scaffolding Rental Equip. Co., 374 So. 2d 487, 489 (Fla. 1979)(citation omitted), a party [*4] cannot indemnify itself against negligence per se. See John’s Pass Seafood Co. v. Weber, 369 So. 2d 616, 618 (Fl. 2d Dist. Ct. App. 1979)(holding such indemnification is against public policy).

(Order, 9/9/99). Judge Katz found that there were unresolved issues of fact regarding Chapman’s conduct and whether such conduct constituted negligence per se.

Chapman has now filed a second motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Plaintiffs have failed to present any expert testimony supporting their contention that certain conditions on the ship constituted statutory violations, establishing negligence per se. In response, the Plaintiffs present the court with a report and a letter from the engineering firm of Goedken, Liss. Specifically, Harold A. Schwartz, P.E., states that Chapman violated Coast Guard Regulations, Florida laws and codes, and the rules of the State Boating Law Administrators for safe boating certification.

In the report, however, Mr. Schwartz fails to identify any specific statute, regulation, or rule, that Chapman violated. In a follow-up letter, Mr. Schwartz refers to a standard adopted by the American National Standards Institute [*5] (“ANSI”), applying to ladders. He opines that the ladder in question fails to comply with the ANSI standard in three respects. First, the top rung is not level with the landing platform. Second, the side rails failed to extend the required 3 feet 6 inches above the top of the landing platform. Finally, the ladder did not have sufficient step across distance (the distance from the centerline of the rungs to the nearest edge of the structure). (Letter of Schwartz, 12/9/99).

The court is left to answer the questions of whether a violation of these ANSI standards is sufficient to constitute negligence per se under Florida law, and if not, are these standards embodied in any governing statutes, a violation of which would constitute negligence per se.

We answer the first question in the negative. [HN5] According to ANSI, it is the “coordinator of the United States private sector voluntary standardization system.” <<UNDERLINE>http://web.ansi.org/public/about.html, 4/11/00> As such, the ANSI standards do not have the force of law, absent adoption by statute, ordinance, or regulation. See Jackson v. H.L. Bouton Co., 630 So. 2d 1173, 1174-75 (Dist. Ct.App.Fl. 1994)(violation [*6] of ANSI standard is “merely evidence of negligence.”); Evans v. Dugger, 908 F.2d 801, 807 (11th Cir. 1990)(ANSI standards regarding handicapped access adopted by Florida regulation); Nicosia v. Otis Elevator Co., 548 So. 2d 854, 855 (Dist. Ct.App.Fl. 1989)(Florida adopted ANSI standard for elevator safety by statute).

However, our own search of Coast Guard regulations reveals that the Coast Guard has adopted the specific ANSI standard regarding the step off space (minimum of 7 inches) for escape ladders on small passenger vessels. 46 C.F.R. § 177.500(k). Therefore, we must determine whether a violation of this Coast Guard regulation constitutes negligence per se pursuant to Florida law.

[HN6] According to the Supreme Court of Florida, negligence per se is established if there is “a violation of any … statute which establishes a duty to take precautions to protect a particular class of persons from a particular injury or type of injury.” DeJesus v. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Co., 281 So. 2d 198, 201 (Fla. 1973). Although we have been unable to find any case arising out of the state courts in Florida which concludes that a violation [*7] of a Coast Guard regulation amounts to negligence per se, [HN7] the Fifth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court have concluded that such a violation does constitute negligence per se. Reyes v. Vantage Steamship Co., Inc., 609 F.2d 140, 143 (5th Cir. 1980)(“the failure to follow any Coast Guard regulation which is a cause of an injury establishes negligence per se.”); Kernan v. American Dredging Co., 355 U.S. 426, 2 L. Ed. 2d 382, 78 S. Ct. 394 (1958). [HN8] Similarly, Florida state courts have concluded that violations of other legal pronouncements, other than statutes, amount to negligence per se. See First Overseas Investment Corp. v. Cotton, 491 So. 2d 293, 295 (Dist.Ct.App.Fl. 1986)(violation of Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Service Rule constitutes negligence per se); Underwriters at La Concorde v. Airtech Services, Inc., 493 So. 2d 428, 430 (Fla. 1986)(Boyd, J. concurring)(acknowledging expansion of negligence per se concept to include violations of administrative regulations); H.K. Corporation v. Miller, 405 So. 2d 218 (Dist.Ct.App.Fl. 1981)(violation of state administrative [*8] regulation constituted negligence per se); Florida Freight Terminals, Inc. v. Cabanas, 354 So. 2d 1222, 1225 (Dist.Ct.App.Fl. 1978)(violation of FAA regulation constitutes negligence per se). But see Murray v. Briggs, 569 So. 2d 476, 480 (Dist.Ct.App.Fl. 1990)(violation of Interstate Commerce Commission regulation not negligence per se); Jupiter Inlet Corp. v. Brocard, 546 So. 2d 1 (Dist.Ct.App.Fl. 1989)(violation of OSHA regulation does not constitute negligence per se). 1 Therefore, we conclude that a violation of a Coast Guard regulation will constitute negligence per se if the plaintiff is a member of the particular class of persons that the regulation sought to protect and she suffered an injury that the regulation was designed to prevent.

1 In Jones v. Spentonbush-Red Star Co., 155 F.3d 587 (2nd Cir. 1998), the Second Circuit distinguished violations of OSHA and Coast Guard regulations. The court explained that OSHA, itself, states that it should not be construed “to enlarge or diminish or affect in any other manner the common law or statutory rights, duties, or liabilities of employers and employees.” Jones, at 595 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 653(b)(4)). Relying on this language, the court explained that imposing negligence per se for an OSHA violation would “enlarge or diminish or affect … the liability of a maritime employer.” Jones, at 595.

[*9] As indicated above, the only ANSI standard relevant to the issues in this case that has actually been adopted by the Coast Guard, is the one dealing with the minimum distance that must be observed between the rungs of the ladder and the nearest permanent object in back of the ladder (here the side of the cabin). 46 C.F.R. § 177.500(k) requires that this distance be at least 7 inches.

The first question we must answer about this regulation is whether the plaintiff is a member of the particular class of persons that the regulation sought to protect. We have little trouble concluding that she is. The regulation appears at Subchapter T of the Coast Guard regulations. This subchapter specifically covers “Small Passenger Vessels (Under 100 Tons).” There is no dispute here that defendant’s boat is such a vessel. The general provisions of subchapter T state that the provisions of the subchapter apply, inter alia, if the vessel carries less than 150 passengers, but more than 6, so long as at least one of the six passengers is “for hire.” Since she was a student of defendant, using defendant’s boat for instruction, clearly Mrs. Knarr was a passenger “for hire.” Finally, the specific ladder [*10] regulation in question appears under the heading “Escape Requirements.” One could hardly imagine a set of ship regulations more specifically written for the benefit of passengers for hire than ones dealing with escape, as evidenced by certain events that occurred 88 years ago today in the North Atlantic. Cf. The Titanic, 233 U.S. 718, 34 S. Ct. 754, 58 L. Ed. 1171 (1914).

The next question — whether plaintiff suffered an injury that the regulation was designed to prevent — is a bit more difficult to answer. We nevertheless conclude that there are present here at least some genuine issues of material fact that prevent the court from ruling, as a matter of law, that Mrs. Knarr’s injuries could not have been avoided had the ladder complied with this regulation.

Defendant urges us to give a literal reading to plaintiffs’ complaint, and to find from such a reading that Mrs. Knarr has not alleged any fact from which a jury could conclude that the distance between the cabin wall and the ladder step could have proximately caused her fall. We decline to do so. In addition to the well known principle of federal pleading that [HN9] the facts alleged in a complaint need only put the defendant on notice of the [*11] plaintiff’s theories of recovery and need not state each element of proof with specificity, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), we have here at least two specific allegations that could relate to the ladder’s set back distance.

In paragraph 10 a. of the complaint, Mrs. Knarr alleges that “the step upon which she was standing was in an unsafe condition.” In the next subparagraph, 10 b., she claims that “there were slippery substances on the steps which were not visible to the plaintiff.” While neither of these allegations specifically attributes negligence to the ladder set-back distance, we think it would be improper, at this point, to preclude plaintiff’s expert from testifying that the setback distance was related to the general “unsafe condition” allegation, or to the plaintiff’s alleged inability to see the condition of the ladder steps themselves.

Our conclusion would be different, of course, if the record contained either some specific information on the ladder’s actual set-back distance, or on the precise features of the ladder that allegedly caused the accident. At this point, however, we have neither. It thus appears that the case will turn on a resolution of disputed facts, some [*12] of which will, no doubt, be the subject of expert opinions. Accordingly, summary judgment is inappropriate at this time.

An appropriate order follows.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 14 day of April, 2000, upon consideration of the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiffs’ response, thereto, including the attached reports of his expert engineer, and for the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion is DENIED.

BY THE COURT:

JACOB P. HART

UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE


No one saw the deceased drown; no one could prove what happened. Campground was not liable for death of a swimmer.

Legally if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see it fall it does not make any noise.

De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport

Plaintiff: Adelson Luiz De Castro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz De Castro

Defendant: Odetah Camping Resort, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: failure to provide lifeguards and knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so.

Defendant Defenses: No proximate causation

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2015

The defendant is a camping area that allows day users in order to access other recreational opportunities at the campground.

The defendant is an approximately 100-acre campground that offers multiple recreational activities. In addition to facilities to accommodate overnight camping, the defendant offers sporting facilities, which include a pool as well as volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. The defendant abuts a large, thirty-two-acre freshwater lake, which includes a small beach, and offers swimming and boating activities. A portion of the lake that is adjacent to the beach has a designated swim area. The boundaries of the swim area are designated by a rope line and buoys. Just beyond the roped off swimming area are two inflatable platforms. One was described as a platform or trampoline, and the other was described as an “iceberg.” Both inflatable devices were attractions to be used by the resort guests. T

The plaintiff and friends entered the defendant’s campground and paid an entrance fee. The campground was adjacent to a large lake. There was a swimming area on the campground and roped off in the lake. Outside of the roped area were two large inflatable platforms, one described as a trampoline and the other described as an “iceberg.”

There were no lifeguards at either the defendant’s pool or the lake area. A single sign was posted that warned that there were no lifeguards at the lake.

The plaintiff and a friend entered the designated swimming area for the purpose of swimming out to the trampoline. The trampoline was just beyond the buoy line. The friend made it to the trampoline. However, the plaintiff, deceased never did.

When it was noticed he was missing 911 was called. A firefighter found the deceased floating just below the surface inside the swimming area. A postmortem autopsy determined the cause of death to be “asphyxia due to submersion.”

No one saw the deceased struggling or in distress, and no one saw him drown.

The case went to trial on two theories:

The first allegation was that the defendant was negligent in failing to provide lifeguards. The second allegation was that the defendant was negligent when it knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so.

The jury returned a verdict based on the second issue. The defendant filed an appeal.

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

Under Connecticut law to establish a basic or prima facie case, the plaintiff must:

[T]o establish a prima facie case, the proponent must submit evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to establish the fact or facts which it is adduced to prove . . . [T]he evidence offered by the plaintiff is to be taken as true and interpreted in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff], and every reasonable inference is to be drawn in [the plaintiff’s] favor.

To win its case the plaintiff must prove negligence.

“In order to make out a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff must submit evidence that, if credited, is sufficient to establish duty, breach of duty, causation, and actual injury . . . A defendant’s duty and breach of duty is measured by a reasonable care standard, which is the care [that] a reasonably prudent person would use under the circumstances . . . After the plaintiff establishes that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct . . . The plaintiff then must show proximate cause . . . Proximate cause requires that the defendant’s conduct [was] a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injuries and that there was an unbroken sequence of events that tied [the plaintiff’s] injuries to the [defendant’s conduct] . . . Proximate cause does not require the plaintiff to remove from the realm of possibility all other potential causes of the accident . . . Instead, the plaintiff must establish that it is more likely than not that the cause on which the plaintiff relies was in fact a proximate cause of the accident. The more likely than not standard ensures that the causal connection . . . [is] based [on] more than conjecture or surmise.”

The defendants’ defense was no one saw the deceased drown. There was thus no proof of causation.

Interrogatories were provided to the jury. Interrogatories are questions the jury must answer in reaching its decision or in deciding the case. The interrogatory answers seemed to focus on the fight the owner’s manual of the trampoline warned that users should wear life jackets. Life jackets were available to swimmers in a shed on the beach; however, they were not required to be worn.

The plaintiff hired an expert witness who opined that the defendant campground was liable for failing to have safety measures in place, failing to have life guards and failing to have an emergency safety plan. However, these breaches of duty, if true, still had no link to how the decedent died. There was no way to say having one of the missing items identified by the expert witness was not proof that the plaintiff might have lived. “To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct…

The court reversed the jury’s decision because there was no evidence of what happened to the plaintiff. Consequently, there was no relationship, no causal link between the failures to require life jackets to the deceased’s death.

The plaintiff failed to present any evidence to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant’s conduct that the jury found negligent to the decedent’s drowning. “The establishment of proximate cause is an essential element of a negligence claim and the parties recognize that if proximate cause is lacking, the plaintiff cannot prevail.”

The appellate court reversed the jury findings.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, based on the evidence presented by the plaintiff, no reasonable juror could find that the negligence of the defendant caused or was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death by drowning. The lack of any evidence as to what caused this drowning is fatal to the plaintiff’s case.

So Now What?

It is sad when someone dies. However, just because someone dies or a bandage is used, does not mean there is liability and the need to write a check. There must be a connection between something the defendant did wrong and the injury to the victim.

That connection in Connecticut must be an unbroken string of events linking the plaintiff’s injuries to the defendant’s conduct.

 

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

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De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

Adelson Luiz De Castro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz De Castro v. Odetah Camping Resort, Inc.

FBTCV126026625

SUPERIOR COURT OF CONNECTICUT, JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF FAIRFIELD AT BRIDGEPORT

2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2297

September 2, 2015, Decided

September 2, 2015, Filed

NOTICE: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.

JUDGES: [*1] Michael P. Kamp, J.

OPINION BY: Michael P. Kamp

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SET ASIDE THE VERDICT AND MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The defendant, Odetah Camping Resort, Inc., has filed a renewal of its motion for directed verdict and a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict.1 The trial commenced on April 28, 2015, and evidence concluded on May 6, 2015, when the defense rested its case. The jury received the charge on the law on May 6, 2015. On May 6, 2015, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Adelson Luiz DeCastro, Administrator of the Estate of Jose Luiz DeCastro, and awarded total damages of $229,155.96. Regarding the question of comparative negligence, the jury found the plaintiff’s decedent, Jose DeCastro, was 49% responsible for his own injuries.

1 The defendant originally moved for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiff’s case in chief. At that time, the court reserved decision, and the defendant commenced its defense. On close of the defendant’s case, the matter was submitted to the jury.

The defendant filed its motion to set aside the verdict on May 15, 2015. The plaintiff filed its objection to the defendant’s motion [*2] on May 19, 2015. On June 22, 2015, the court heard the matter at short calendar and took the papers.

The defendant argues in its motion that the plaintiff failed to prove beyond the realm of surmise and speculation that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the death of the decedent. This argument is based upon a lack of evidence as to what actually caused the decedent to drown.

II

FACTS

After a trial, the jury could have found as follows. On July 7, 2011, the decedent and a group of friends went to the defendant resort located in Bozrah, Connecticut. In order to gain entrance, the decedent paid an entrance fee. The defendant is an approximately 100-acre campground that offers multiple recreational activities. In addition to facilities to accommodate overnight camping, the defendant offers sporting facilities, which include a pool as well as volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. The defendant abuts a large, thirty-two-acre freshwater lake, which includes a small beach, and offers swimming and boating activities. A portion of the lake that is adjacent to the beach has a designated swim area. The boundaries of the swim area are designated by a rope line and buoys. Just [*3] beyond the roped off swimming area are two inflatable platforms. One was described as a platform or trampoline, and the other was described as an “iceberg.” Both inflatable devices were attractions to be used by the resort guests. The defendant did not provide lifeguards at the pool or lake swim area. A single sign was posted at one end of the beach area, indicating: “No Lifeguard on Duty. Swim at Your Own Risk.” No employees of the defendant directly supervised the lake swimming area.

On July 9, 2011, the decedent and his friend, Saulo Sousa, entered the designated swimming area for the purpose of swimming out to the trampoline just beyond the buoy line. When Sousa reached the rope line, he observed the decedent immediately behind him in the water. The depth of the water at this location was approximately six feet. As Sousa lifted the rope line to duck under it, he observed the decedent diving forward and under the rope. When Sousa reached the trampoline, he climbed on it but did not observe the decedent. After spending a few minutes on the trampoline, Sousa reentered the water and swam to the shore. After unsuccessfully attempting to locate the decedent, employees of the defendant [*4] were notified that he was missing. After a brief search, 911 emergency services were dispatched, and Bozrah firefighters and rescue personnel responded to the scene. When notified that the decedent was last seen in the designated swim area near the buoy line, firefighter Colin Laffey entered the water and located the decedent floating unresponsive just below the surface of the water just inside the buoy line. Laffey testified that he located the decedent in an area where the depth of the water was less than six feet. The decedent was brought to shore, and CPR was administered. The decedent was then transported by ambulance to Backus Hospital, but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead. A postmortem autopsy determined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to submersion. The postmortem examination was negative for any signs of illness, traumatic injury, or any preexisting medical condition or disease. A toxicology examination was negative for the presence of any drugs, alcohol, or medication.

The decedent’s drowning was unwitnessed despite the fact that there were numerous people in the water and on the beach. Although other members of the decedent’s group, including his [*5] girlfriend, were on the beach adjacent to the swimming area, no one saw him in distress or struggling in the water. He was identified by his friends as a good or strong swimmer.

III

DISCUSSION

Practice Book §16-37 provides, in relevant part: “Whenever a motion for a directed verdict made at any time after the close of the plaintiff’s case in chief is denied or for any reason is not granted, the judicial authority is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion.” “Directed verdicts are not favored . . . A trial court should direct a verdict only when a jury could not reasonably and legally have reached any other conclusion . . . In reviewing the trial court’s decision to direct a verdict in favor of a defendant we must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . Although it is the jury’s right to draw logical deductions and make reasonable inferences from the facts proven . . . it may not resort to mere conjecture and speculation . . . A directed verdict is justified if . . . the evidence is so weak that it would be proper for the court to set aside a verdict rendered for the other party.” (Internal [*6] quotation marks omitted.) Riccio v. Harbour Village Condominium Assn., Inc., 281 Conn. 160, 163, 914 A.2d 529 (2007). “A verdict may be directed . . . where the claim is that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a favorable verdict.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Beale v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, 89 Conn.App. 556, 565-66, 874 A.2d 259 (2005).

Likewise, “[a] trial court may set aside a verdict on a finding that the verdict is manifestly unjust because, given the evidence presented, the jury mistakenly applied a legal principle or because there is no evidence to which the legal principles of the case could be applied . . . A verdict should not be set aside, however, where it is apparent that there was some evidence on which the jury might reasonably have reached its conclusion . . . This limitation on a trial court’s discretion results from the constitutional right of litigants to have issues of fact determined by a jury.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Deas v. Diaz, 121 Conn.App. 826, 841, 998 A.2d 200, cert. denied, 298 Conn. 905, 3 A.3d 69 (2010), rev’d on other grounds, Saleh v. Ribeiro Trucking, LLC, 303 Conn. 276, 32 A.3d 318 (2011).

“[T]o establish a prima facie case, the proponent must submit evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to establish the fact or facts which it is adduced to prove . . . [T]he evidence offered by the plaintiff is to be taken as true and interpreted in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff], and every reasonable inference is to be drawn in [the plaintiff’s] [*7] favor.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cadle Co. v. Errato, 71 Conn.App. 447, 455-56, 802 A.2d 887, cert. denied, 262 Conn. 918, 812 A.2d 861 (2002). “The credibility and weight to be attributed to any evidence offered [at trial] is solely within the province of the jury.” Murteza v. State, 7 Conn.App. 196, 208-09, 508 A.2d 449, cert. denied, 200 Conn. 803, 510 A.2d 191 (1986). “[I]t is not the function of [the trial] court to sit as the seventh juror when [it] review[s] the sufficiency of the evidence . . . rather, [it] must determine, in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict, whether the totality of the evidence, including reasonable inferences therefrom, supports the [trier’s] verdict . . . In making this determination, [t]he evidence must be given the most favorable construction in support of the verdict of which it is reasonably capable . . . In other words, [i]f the [trier] could reasonably have reached its conclusion, the verdict must stand, even if [the trial] court disagrees with it.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) O’Connor v. Larocque, 302 Conn. 562, 612, 31 A.3d 1 (2011).

“In order to make out a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff must submit evidence that, if credited, is sufficient to establish duty, breach of duty, causation, and actual injury . . . A defendant’s duty and breach of duty is measured by a reasonable care standard, which is the care [that] a reasonably prudent person would use under [*8] the circumstances . . . After the plaintiff establishes that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. To do so, the plaintiff must first establish causation in fact, that is, that the injury would not have occurred but for the actor’s conduct . . . The plaintiff then must show proximate cause . . . Proximate cause requires that the defendant’s conduct [was] a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injuries and that there was an unbroken sequence of events that tied [the plaintiff’s] injuries to the [defendant’s conduct] . . . Proximate cause does not require the plaintiff to remove from the realm of possibility all other potential causes of the accident . . . Instead, the plaintiff must establish that it is more likely than not that the cause on which the plaintiff relies was in fact a proximate cause of the accident. The more likely than not standard ensures that the causal connection . . . [is] based [on] more than conjecture or surmise.” (Citations omitted; emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rawls v. Progressive Northern Insurance Company, 310 Conn. 768, 776-77, 83 A.3d 576 (2014).

The defendant’s primary argument is that no one [*9] witnessed the decedent’s drowning, and there was no evidence offered as to what caused him to drown. The defendant relies on Wu v. Fairfield, 204 Conn. 435, 528 A.2d 364 (1987). In Wu, the plaintiff’s decedent who was fifteen years old, went to Lake Mohegan, a freshwater lake, with her mother and two brothers for an afternoon of swimming. Id., 437. There was a designated swim area marked by a buoy line. At the time of the occurrence, there were four lifeguards on duty. Id. Those lifeguards had observed that the plaintiff’s decedent was a poor swimmer and had warned her twice to return to the shallow portion of the designated swim area. Id. When an approaching storm prompted the lifeguards to clear the water, the plaintiff’s decedent did not return to shore. Id. After a search, one of the lifeguards found the decedent’s body at the bottom of the lake in the designated swim area but beyond the shallow portion. Id., 437-38. The plaintiff alleged that the town and several of its employees, the lifeguards, were negligent in the performance of their duties. Id., 436. A jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Id. The plaintiff then filed a motion to set aside the verdict, which motion was denied. Id. In affirming the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s [*10] motion to set aside the verdict, the court held that “[w]hile it is undisputed that the decedent drowned, there was no evidence tying any negligence on the defendant lifeguards’ part to her death . . . Here, the plaintiff presented no evidence other than that the victim perished in an unwitnessed drowning. The plaintiff failed to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant lifeguards’ arguably negligent supervision to the decedent’s drowning.” Id., 440.

In this case, the plaintiff’s May 4, 2015 amended complaint contained two specifications of negligence as to the conduct of the defendant. The first allegation was that the defendant was negligent in failing to provide lifeguards. The second allegation was that the defendant was negligent when it knew or should have known of the danger associated with encouraging its guests to swim to its recreational flotation devices, yet failed to take reasonable steps to secure their safety in doing so. In response to jury interrogatories submitted by the court the jury found that the defendant was negligent with regard to the second specification but not the first. With regard to the claim of negligence concerning encouraging [*11] swimmers to use the flotation devices, the plaintiff relied on testimony that the owner’s manual for the two devices contained warnings that recommended users wear life vests. Although life vests were available in a shed adjacent to the lake swim area, the defendant did not require guests entering the lake or using any of the flotation devices to wear them. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to properly supervise and monitor the swimming area and had an inadequate emergency rescue plan.

The plaintiff offered the testimony of Gerald Dworkin, an aquatic safety expert. Dworkin offered opinion testimony regarding the defendant’s lack of safety measures including its failure to have lifeguards monitoring the swim area. Dworkin was also critical of the defendant’s lack of an emergency safety plan. Dworkin did not, however, offer any opinion testimony as to what actually caused the decedent to drown. He affirmed that it was an unwitnessed drowning. In addition, although the owner’s manuals for the flotation devices recommended the use of life vests, the decedent was not using either device when he drowned; the little evidence there is indicates he never left the designated [*12] swim area. The flotation devices were located outside that designated area.

Here, as in Wu, the plaintiff presented no evidence other than that the decedent died in an unwitnessed drowning. There was no evidence as to what caused the decedent to drown. In the absence of any such evidence, any number of factual possibilities could explain this accident. Without any evidence as to what caused this unfortunate incident, only speculation and conjecture could link the plaintiff’s drowning to the negligent conduct of the defendant. The plaintiff failed to present any evidence to establish an unbroken sequence of events causally flowing from the defendant’s conduct that the jury found negligent to the decedent’s drowning. “The establishment of proximate cause is an essential element of a negligence claim and the parties recognize that if proximate cause is lacking, the plaintiff cannot prevail.” Wu v. Town Of Fairfield, supra, 204 Conn. 441.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, based on the evidence presented by the plaintiff, no reasonable juror could find that the negligence of the defendant caused or was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death by drowning. The lack of any evidence as to what [*13] caused this drowning is fatal to the plaintiff’s case.

IV

CONCLUSION

Because the plaintiff failed to establish that the negligent conduct of the defendant was the proximate cause of the decedent’s drowning, the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict is granted. Judgment may enter for the defendant.

KAMP, J.


Summer 2015 Commercial Fatalities

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

If this information is incorrect or incomplete please let me know.  This is up to date as of December 31, 2015. Thanks.

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

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

Dark blue is a death of an employee while working

Date

Activity

State

Location

What

Age

Sex

Location 2

Reference

 

Company

3/2

Backcountry Skiing

AK

Chugach Mountains

Calving Glacier

28

M

 

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

 

Chugach Powder Guides

5/22

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Clear Creek

Raft Flipped

47

F

M258.5

rec-law.us/1I3HWx7

 

All American Adventures

5/31

Whitewater Rafting

MT

Gallatin River

Raft Flipped

43

M

House Rock

rec-law.us/1GhQpwm

 

Geyser Whitewater Expedition

6/5

Whitewater Rafting

UT

Colorado River, Westwater

Raft Flipped

50

M

Funnel Falls

rec-law.us/1HduOnS

 

 

6/10

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Arkansas River, Brown’s Canyon,

Raft high sided

11

M

Big Drop

rec-law.us/1GwG51X

 

The Adventure Company

6/11

Zip Line

NC

Camp Cheerio

 

12

F

 

rec-law.us/1FdpyKX

 

YMCA

 

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Arkansas River

 

52

M

Salt Lick

rec-law.us/1KRwN2b

 

 

 

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Animas

 

 

M

 

 

 

Mild to Wild

6/13

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Roaring Fork River

 

44

F

 

rec-law.us/1OgnuIj

rec-law.us/1Kfi2aH

Blazing Adventures

6/22

Hiking on Whitewater Rafting Trip

AZ

Colorado River

Missing after hike

22

M

Pumpkin Springs, Swamper on trip

rec-law.us/1efzCNB

rec-law.us/1VspmmX

Tours West

6/23

Wakeboarding

GA

Carters Lake

 

23

M

 

rec-law.us/1e3wdBF

 

Cohutta Springs Youth Camp

 

Whitewater Rafting

NM

Rio Grande

 

52

M

 

rec-law.us/1LDliwP

 

 

7/4

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Clear Creek

 

20

M

 

rec-law.us/1LWmk7l

 

Mile High Rafting

7/6

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Poudre River

Medical

76

M

 

rec-law.us/1NPBLeT

rec-law.us/1HQm6M7

A1 Wildwater Rafting

7/13

Ropes Course

SC

Freebird

 

16

F

 

rec-law.us/1OdEFep

 

Carolina Point Young Life Camp

7/14

Zip Line

UT

Zip line

Fell off platform

54

M

Grabbed guest who pulled him off

rec-law.us/1CE8fIS

 

Kanab Zipline

7/18

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Dizzy Lizzy

Fell out of raft

35

M

 

rec-law.us/1LkODwd

 

 

9/25/15

Zip Line

MI

Huron County

Fell from zip line

85

M

 

rec-law.us/1R93WYF

 

Bay Shore Camp

9/27

Cycling Time Trial

CA

Yolo County

Hit by car

57

M

County Road 19, west of Interstate 505 near Esparto

rec-law.us/1L1om4S

 

Northern California Nevada Cycling Association

If you are unable to read the chart, you can download a copy of this as a PDF here.

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

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What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

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

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

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

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

Plaintiff: Jaclyn Cobb

Defendant: Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What? 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Parasailing, Release, Admiralty and Maritime Law, Admiralty Law, Nevada, Lake Tahoe, Aramark,

 


10th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Colorado law concerning releases in a whitewater rafting fatality.

Plaintiff’s approach was a unique way of attempting to circumvent the legal protection afforded by the release. Claims of negligence per se and fraud were pled to beat the release.

Citation: Espinoza, Jr., v. Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 39

State: Colorado, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Plaintiff: Jesus Espinoza, Jr.

Defendant: Arkansas Valley Adventures, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence per se and fraud

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: Defendant

Year: 2016

There is a quasi-third party in this case, the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association (CTLA). The CTLA filed an Amicus Curiae brief with the appellate court. An amicus curiae brief is a written argument with legal support saying there are issues in this case that may or may not be brought out by one of the parties that are important to people other than the named parties.

In this case, the CTLA probably wanted to influence the court in favor of the plaintiff.

The plaintiff’s mother went whitewater rafting with the defendant raft company. Upon arrival the plaintiff received “the usual guidance,” signed a release and headed down the river. “The next day(?)” while rafting through Seidel’s Suck Hole the raft flipped. Everyone was “fished out of the river” except the deceased who was swept into a “log jam” (a strainer).

Brown’s Canyon, including Seidel’s Suck Hole is an all-day river trip. However, a few companies run two-day trips on the river stopping mid-way and camping for the night. That is the confusion on what day, relative to the date the deceased signed the release the fatality occurred. 99.9% of the trips are just one-day trips.

Her son brought suit against the raft company for negligence per se and fraud. The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted its motion for summary judgment. The appeal to the Tenth Circuit and this decision followed.

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

The court distilled the plaintiff’s major argument down to one sentence. “…whether Colorado law permits private parties to enforce a contract like this.”

The court first looked at the requirements for a release to be valid in Colorado as set out by the Colorado Supreme Court.

…the Colorado Supreme Court has instructed courts to weigh four factors when deciding whether to give effect to agreements along these lines: “(1) the existence [or nonexistence] of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

The court then analyzed the four different factors breaking them down into sub-groups. The first two factors the court found to be public policy questions.

…asking whether “[t]he party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity [and] . . . [a]s a result of the essential nature of the service . . . the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.”

The last two questions of the four focus on whether the release, as a contract met the requirements to be a contact:

…whether the release was fairly obtained and clearly and unambiguously expressed. If the release satisfies both sets of questions — the more general and the more particular — it may be enforced.”

Generally, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that businesses that perform recreational services are not engaged in essential public services. Essential public services or referred to by other courts as necessities are those are you cannot live without. “So while businesses providing, say, water, electricity, or sanitary services usually may not shield themselves from claims of negligence; recreational service providers often can.”

Under Colorado law, private parties are free to assume the risks associated with recreational activities.

The court then looked at how this test applied to the plaintiff’s argument that the raft company was liable because it was negligent per se. However, the court rejected the negligence per se argument finding that creation of a statute covering a particular business does not therefore create negligence per se actions on all aspects of the statute.

And because whitewater rafting is a recreational activity, a statute could not turn a recreational activity into a necessity.

And the distinction the Jones factors draw between essential and recreational services would break down pretty quickly if the presence of some state regulation were enough to convert an otherwise obviously “recreational” service into a “practically necessary” one.

On top of that, Colorado law has always allowed parties to contract away negligence claims and there is almost no difference between the common law of negligence, and the duty required of a negligence per se claim.

Colorado law has long permitted parties to contract away negligence claims in the recreational context. And negligence per se claims often differ very little from their common law cousins: they usually just substitute a common law duty or standard of care with one prescribed by statute, and all other elements remain the same. In fact, in the case before us, it’s not even clear what duty of care CROA adds to the common law.

Nor did the plaintiff point out how the statute created a new duty that was violated by the defendant. And the court cannot create a new duty. “Indeed, courts generally will not assume that the General Assembly means to displace background common law principles absent some clear legislative expression of that intent.”

He contends that the rafting company misrepresented the nature of the trip to Ms. Apolinar. He points for support to testimony suggesting that, when Ms. Apolinar first made her reservation, she was told by company representatives and read on its website that the trip was appropriate for beginners and involved at most only class III rapids.

However, the court found the deceased was provided information on the risks of the rafting trip.

Whatever the rafting company said about the trip earlier on, when Ms. Apolinar arrived at the outfitter’s office she received a vivid description of the risks she could face. The rafting company provided — and Ms. Apolinar signed — a document titled in part “RAFTING WARNING” explaining that rafting can be “HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH.”

The release also had a clause that voided all other statements or sales pitches and stated only the representations in the release were valid. “The document provided, too, that its representations and warnings about the trip superseded any prior “communications or representations…

The court then restated that in Colorado, courts had consistently upheld releases signed by “competent and reasonably educated” people.

Colorado courts have repeatedly emphasized that individuals engaged in recreational activities are generally expected to read materials like these, and because recreational businesses do not provide “essential” services of “practical necessity” individuals are generally free to walk away if they do not wish to assume the risks described.

Nor would the court allow the claim for fraud to proceed.

To make out a claim for fraud in Colorado, a plaintiff must establish actual and reasonable reliance on a false statement; a party cannot — as a matter of law — continue to rely on a previously expressed false statement after the truth is aired. And, of course, we have just found that the rafting company’s written warnings accomplished just that — adequately airing the truth about the nature of the risks Ms. Apolinar faced.

Here again, the court could not find a false statement that was in the documents, and any false statement made prior to the signing of the release was null and void based on the superseding statement clause in the release.

The court upheld the release and the dismissal of the lawsuit by the trial court.

So Now What?

The issue with the most concern is the dispute between the American Whitewater Association whitewater difficulty rating of the section of river (International Scale of River Difficulty). For decades, the Arkansas River running through Brown’s Canyon was considered a Class III section.

Outfitters believing they could receive one of two benefits; either could receive some marketing value or lawsuit protection, started advertising the section as Class IV yet still marketed it as a beginner section.

A couple of books were published about the river and those books in an effort to protect someone (First Amendment is pretty strong though) also rated the river as a Class IV section.

Now an outfitter almost loses a decision because there is enough contention over the rating of the river that one judge thinks it should go to trial.

THINK people. Your actions today may come back to bite you somewhere in the future.

You can’t say something is a beginner run and then give it a Class IV rating to cover your legal butt. An AWA Class IV rating is advanced. Advanced is not Beginner.

The second issue is how hard the plaintiff’s and the plaintiff’s bar worked to overcome the release. Your release must be written correctly (See Think your release will survive a lawsuit? Test your Release and Find out.) If you stole your release from a competitor, cut and pasted yours from the web or was there when you bought the place you are going to lose a lawsuit.

Releases must fit the experience you are attempting to provide your guests. Your release must not be contradicted by your marketing or your website. Your release must be understood by you and your staff so you don’t void your release by your actions. Finally, your release must meet the legal requirements for a release for your industry and pursuant to your state law.

You then must make sure the information you provide to your guests before during and after their experience does no invalidate your release. Finally deal with the issues a disaster creates, just don’t hide.

Finally, the release was relied upon not only as a release, but as proof of the risks of the activity, for a superseding statement clause to eliminate fraud claims and failure to inform claims.

A well written release work.

Remember!

Marketing makes promises Risk Management must pay for.

Here the marketing was it was a beginner raft trip; however, someone died on it and there was enough controversy over whether the trip was really for beginners that this case was a close call.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Copyright 2016 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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

 

 

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