Barnes and a. v. New Hampshire Karting Association, Inc, 128 N.H. 102; 509 A.2d 151; 1986 N.H. LEXIS 254

Barnes & a. v. New Hampshire Karting Association, Inc, 128 N.H. 102; 509 A.2d 151; 1986 N.H. LEXIS 254

John E. Barnes & a. v. New Hampshire Karting Association, Inc. & a.

No. 85-204

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

128 N.H. 102; 509 A.2d 151; 1986 N.H. LEXIS 254

May 12, 1986

COUNSEL: David J. KillKelley, of Laconia, by brief and orally, for the plaintiffs.

Sulloway Hollis & Soden, of Concord (Edward M. Kaplan and Robert J. Lanney on the brief, and Mr. Kaplan orally), for the defendants.

JUDGES: King, C.J.  All concurred.

OPINION BY: KING

OPINION

[*104]   [**152]  The plaintiffs, John E. and Virginia A. Barnes, sued the New Hampshire Karting Association (NHKA), David E. Whitesell, Midway Raceway, Inc. d/b/a Bryar Motorsport Park (Bryar), the World Karting Association (WKA) and International Insurance Company (International) for damages arising from injuries sustained by John Barnes (Barnes, or the plaintiff) in an Enduro kart collision at Bryar in 1981.  Defendants Whitesell, NHKA, WKA and Bryar moved for summary judgment, claiming that the release executed by Barnes barred him from seeking recovery.  Following a hearing, the Master (Louie C. Elliott, Jr., Esq.) recommended that the defendants’ motion for summary judgment be granted as to all counts asserted by John Barnes against Whitesell, NHKA, WKA and Bryar.  The master recommended denial of the motion for summary judgment as to the [***2]  claims asserted by Virginia Barnes and ruled that the release did not bar claims against International.  The Superior Court (DiClerico, J.) approved the master’s recommendations.  We affirm.

On August 29, 1981, before entering the pit area at the Bryar Motorsport Park, John Barnes signed a “pit pass” containing the release at issue.  The pass comprised three parts; the participant was given the top portion, which stated “THE HOLDER ACKNOWLEDGES SIGNING WAIVER & RELEASE FROM LIABILITY BEFORE ENTERING TRACK AREA.” The middle section, which each participant was required to sign in order to receive a number for the race, provided:

“RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT

IN CONSIDERATION of being permitted to enter for any purpose any RESTRICTED AREA (herein defined as including but not limited to, the racing surface, pit areas, infield, burn out area, approach area, shut down area, and all walkways, concessions and other areas appurtenant to  [*105]  any area where any activity related to the event shall take place), or being permitted to compete, officiate, observe, work for, or for any purpose participate in any way in the event, EACH OF THE UNDERSIGNED [***3]  . . .

  1. HEREBY RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES AND COVENANTS NOT [**153] TO SUE . . . from all liability to the undersigned . . . for any and all loss or damage, and any claim or demands therefor on account of injury to the person or property or resulting in death of the undersigned, whether caused by the negligence of the releases [sic] or otherwise while the undersigned is in or upon the restricted area, and/or competing, officiating in, observing, working for, or for any purpose participating in the event;

. . .

  1. HEREBY ASSUMES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR AND RISK OF BODILY INJURY, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE due to the negligence of releasees or otherwise while in or upon the restricted area and/or while competing, officiating, observing, or working for or for any purpose participating in the event.

EACH OF THE UNDERSIGNED expressly acknowledges and agrees that the activities of the event are very dangerous and involve the risk of serious injury and/or death and/or property damage.  . . .

THE UNDERSIGNED HAS READ AND VOLUNTARILY SIGNS THE RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT, and further agrees that no oral representations, statements of inducements [sic]  [***4]  apart from the foregoing written agreement have been made.”

The master found that Barnes did not read the release portion before signing the pit pass on this occasion or on the previous occasions he had raced at the track. Nonetheless, Barnes admitted that he had read the top portion and understood that the document he was signing was “[s]ome sort of waiver or release.”

Barnes proceeded to take a practice run.  As he rounded a blind turn, his kart collided with a disabled kart on the track. No flagman was present to warn drivers of hazards out of view beyond that turn.  John Barnes and his wife, Virginia, sued the defendants for injuries and loss of consortium, respectively, alleging liability for ordinary and gross negligence.

[*106]  The question presented for review is whether the plaintiff’s causes of action are barred by the release and waiver of liability and indemnity agreement he signed.  Barnes contends that the release does not bar his claims because it violates public policy, is ambiguous, and does not apply to risks not inherent in the sport, which were not within the contemplation of the parties.  He further argues that the release does not cover gross negligence,  [***5]  and that it is void because it involves an illegal tying arrangement.

[HN1] Exculpatory agreements call into conflict two tenets of the law.  First, a party should be liable for the consequences of the negligent breach of a duty owed another.  As this court stated in a recent case involving an amusement ride accident, the owner of a place of public amusement “must exercise that degree of care which, under the same or similar circumstances, would be exercised by an ordinarily careful or prudent individual.” Siciliano v. Capitol City Shows, Inc., 124 N.H. 719, 730, 475 A.2d 19, 25 (1984). Failure to do so will result in liability for injuries proximately caused by the breach of duty.

Contraposed against this basic rule of tort law is the principle that,  [HN2] as a matter of efficiency and freedom of choice, parties should be able to contract freely about their affairs.  ABA Special Committee on the Tort Liability System, Towards a Jurisprudence of Injury: The Continuing Creation of a System of Substantive Justice in American Tort Law § 5-27 (Nov. 1984); Morrow v. Auto Championship Racing Ass’n, Inc., 8 Ill. App. 3d 682, 685, 291 N.E.2d 30, 32 (1972). Under this rule, parties may bargain [***6]  for various levels of risk and benefit as they see fit.  Thus, a plaintiff may agree in advance that the defendant has no legal duty toward him and thereby assume the risk of injury arising from the defendant’s conduct.  See W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, D. Owen,  [**154]  Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 480-81 (5th ed. 1984) (hereinafter cited as Prosser & Keeton).

In New Hampshire, exculpatory contracts are generally prohibited.   [HN3] A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does not contravene public policy; i.e., that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power. Where the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service, the defendant cannot by contract rid itself of its obligation of reasonable care.  Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B, comment g (1965); Restatement of Contracts § 575 (1932); see Wessman v. Railroad, 84 N.H. 475, 152 A. 476 (1930).

[*107]  Courts have refused to uphold such agreements because one party is at an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power. Prosser [***7]  & Keeton, supra § 68, at 482.

“The disparity in bargaining power may arise from the defendant’s monopoly of a particular field of service, from the generality of use of contract clauses insisting upon assumption of risk by all those engaged in such a field, so that the plaintiff has no alternative possibility of obtaining the service without the clause; or it may arise from the exigencies of the needs of the plaintiff himself, which leave him no reasonable alternative to the acceptance of the offered terms.”

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B, comment j (1965).  Cf.  Cailler v. Humble Oil & Refining Co., 117 N.H. 915, 919, 379 A.2d 1253, 1256 (1977). Where there is a disparity in bargaining power, the plaintiff may not be deemed to have freely chosen to enter into the contract; accordingly, courts refuse to enforce the agreement.  See Shaer Shoe Corporation v. Granite State Alarm, Inc., 110 N.H. 132, 135, 262 A.2d 285, 287 (1970).

[HN4] Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that a reasonable person in his position [***8]  would have known of the exculpatory provision.  Furthermore, the plaintiff’s claims must have been within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the execution of the agreement.  Arnold v. Shawano County Agr. Society, 106 Wis. 2d 464, 470, 317 N.W.2d 161, 164 (1982), aff’d, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 330 N.W.2d 773 (1983). The parties need not, however, have contemplated the precise occurrence that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.  They may adopt language to cover a broad range of accidents, as they did in this case by specifying injuries involving negligence on the part of the defendants.

Nonetheless, since the terms of the contract are strictly construed against the defendant, the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.  Prosser & Keeton, supra § 68, at 483-84.  As long as the language of the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence, the agreement will be upheld.  Cf.  Commercial Union Assurance Co. v. Brown Co., 120 N.H. 620, 623, 419 A.2d 1111, 1113 (1980).

[*108]  As a preliminary [***9]  matter, we note that the plaintiff’s failure to read the entire release does not preclude enforcement of the agreement.  Barnes testified that he was in a line of people waiting to pay money and obtain numbers for the race and that the workers wanted to “get [them] on [their] way.” There was no evidence, however, that Barnes was denied the opportunity to read the body of the release.  “[H]aving failed to avail himself of that opportunity, yet gaining the admission to which his signature was a condition precedent, he cannot now complain that he had no notice of the import of the paper . . . he signed.” Lee v. Allied Sports Associates, Inc., 349 Mass. 544, 550, 209 N.E.2d 329, 332 (1965).

[**155]  With these principles in mind, we now consider whether the release bars the plaintiff’s claims in this case.  The first question is whether the release is contrary to public policy. The defendants do not fall within any of the commonly-recognized classes of persons charged with a duty of public service. The record indicates that the 1981 Enduro kart races at Bryar were organized by the NHKA, which is associated with the WKA and which manages its races in accordance with WKA [***10]  rules and regulations.  Although the defendants serve a segment of the public, we cannot say that Enduro kart racing is affected with a public interest.  Provision of racing facilities is not a service of great importance to the public, nor is racing a matter of practical necessity.  Winterstein v. Wilcom, 16 Md. App. 130, 138, 293 A.2d 821, 825 (1972).

Moreover, there was no substantial disparity in bargaining power among the parties, despite the fact that Barnes was required to sign the release in order to use the racetrack. The plaintiff was under no physical or economic compulsion to sign the release.  Since the defendants’ service is not an essential one, the defendants had no advantage of bargaining strength over Barnes or others who sought to participate in Enduro kart racing. Cailler, 117 N.H. at 919, 379 A.2d at 1256; Schlessman v. Henson, 83 Ill. 2d 82, 86-87, 413 N.E.2d 1252, 1254 (1980). Barnes wished to compete and voluntarily agreed not to hold others liable for his injuries.  Hence, we conclude that the release was not barred by public policy and may be upheld.

The plaintiff cites a number of cases from other jurisdictions that hold on public policy grounds [***11]  that an exculpatory agreement does not release defendants from liability for gross negligence. These cases are inapposite because New Hampshire law does not distinguish causes of action based on ordinary and gross negligence. “[T]he doctrine of definitive degrees of negligence is not recognized as a part of our common law.  . . .” Lee v. Chamberlin, 84 N.H. 182, 188,  [*109]  148 A. 466, 469 (1929). The plaintiff advances no reasons for abandoning this rule and we decline to create an exception to allow him to pursue his claims of gross negligence.

We now examine the language of the release to determine the extent of its coverage.  Barnes contends that the accident did not occur in a “restricted area” because, although he was on the racing surface, the area did not become restricted until numbers were given and racing had begun, and he was merely taking a practice lap at the time of the accident.  In interpreting this contract, we will give language used by the parties its common meaning, Murphy v. Doll-Mar, Inc., 120 N.H. 610, 611-12, 419 A.2d 1106, 1108 (1980), and will give the contract itself the meaning that would be attached to it by a reasonable person.  [***12]  Kilroe v. Troast, 117 N.H. 598, 601, 376 A.2d 131, 133 (1977).

The first paragraph of the release states that the release is given “IN CONSIDERATION of being permitted to enter for any purpose any RESTRICTED AREA . . . or being permitted to compete . . . or for any purpose participate in any way in the event . . . .” The agreement defines “restricted area” as including “the racing surface, pit areas, infield, burn out area, approach area, shut down area, and all walkways, concessions and other areas appurtenant to any area where any activity related to the event shall take place.” Finally, the agreement states that the defendants are released “from all liability to the undersigned . . . whether caused by the negligence of the releases [sic] or otherwise while the undersigned is in or upon the restricted area, and/or competing . . . or for any purpose participating in the event.”

We find that participation in practice laps on the racing surface comes within the terms of the release.  The restricted areas are defined in terms of physical spaces, not in terms of function, and the reference to “enter[ing] for any purpose” contemplates that the racing surface is a restricted area [***13]   [**156]  during practice runs and during the actual race.  Although the plaintiff testified that he had practiced on occasion without signing a release, he signed the release prior to taking a practice lap on the day in question.  One can contemplate that racers are exposed to a variety of hazards while in the racing arena regardless of whether the actual race is taking place.  We believe that the practice run taken by Barnes in preparation for the race later that day may reasonably be construed as part of “participat[ion] in the event.” We therefore uphold the master’s conclusion that the language of the agreement was not ambiguous and that the release applied to practice laps.

[*110]  Barnes contends that the release is unenforceable because it involves an illegal tying arrangement. He asserts that, in violation of RSA 417:4, XIII, the pit pass and certain insurance coverage were offered at a single price, without an option to take one “product” and not the other.   [HN5] RSA 417:4, XIII provides that it is an unfair method of competition and an unfair and deceptive act and practice in the business of insurance to:

“Arrang[e] or participat[e] in any plan to offer [***14]  or effect in this state as an inducement to the purchase or rental by the public of any property or services, any insurance for which there is no separate charge to the insured.  . . .”

Although it appears that no separate charge was made for the insurance, we find that the insurance was not offered as an inducement to the purchase of the pit pass or the use of the Bryar Motorsport Park.

Affirmed.

 

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185 Mile Running Race release was clear and under Washington, law was sufficient to beat a Public Policy & ambiguous argument by plaintiff

Decision clearly sets forth the requirements for the plaintiff to prove her claims which she failed to do.

Johnson et al., v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, et al., 176 Wn. App. 453; 309 P.3d 528; 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 1696

State: Washington, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division Three

Plaintiff: Robin Johnson and Craig Johnson

Defendant: Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, et al.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence & Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2013

The plaintiff, an attorney signed up for the Spokane to Sandpoint race. The race is a team race run over two days and nights. The race is 185 miles long and an open course, meaning there is traffic on the course.

Spokane to Sandpoint promotes a long-distance relay race from the Spokane area to Sandpoint, Idaho, involving teams running a 185-mile course over two days, day and night. The course is open, meaning it is not closed to public traffic.

The racers sign up online and sign an electronic release. The racers also receive a race handbook. The handbook explains the race and includes sections on crossing roads, highways and train tracks.

The plaintiff was crossing a highway, and she was hit by a car. The driver of the car stated the plaintiff walked out in front of her without looking. The plaintiff settled with the driver before this appeal.

As Ms. Johnson was crossing U.S. Route 2, Madilyn Young was driving about 63 miles per hour southbound in the outside lane on U.S. Route 2, approaching the Colbert Road intersection. Ac-cording to Ms. Young’s statement to the police, she saw Ms. Johnson crossing the northbound lanes of U.S. Route 2 and saw her continue into the southbound lanes without looking for cars. Ms. Young was unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. Ms. Johnson suffered severe injuries.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted and this appeal followed.

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

The appellate court first looked at the requirements for the plaintiff to survive and proceed to trial.

To prevail on a negligence claim against Spokane to Sandpoint, the Johnsons must establish Spokane to Sandpoint owed them a duty. Whether such a duty exists is a question of law. Id. The parties may, subject to certain exceptions, expressly agree in advance that one party is under no obligation of care to the other, and shall not be held liable for ordinary negligence.

The court then looked at the requirements for releases to be valid under Washington’s law. (Of note, the court calls the exculpatory clause a waiver clause. However, the court refers to the agreement as a release.)

The function of a waiver provision is “to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from the person negligently causing the injury.” The general rule in Washington is that a waiver provision is enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous.

Under Washington’s law, releases are valid, unless they violate public policy. There are six different factors identified as attributable to public policy in Washington.

Six factors are considered in determining whether exculpatory agreements violate public policy. The court considers whether (1) the agreement concerns an endeavor of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation; (2) the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public; (3) such party holds itself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards; (4) because of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks the services; (5) in exercising a superior bargaining power, the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence; and (6) the person or property of members of the public seeking such services must be placed under the control of the furnisher of the services, subject to the risk of carelessness on the part of the furnisher, its employees, or agents.

The court then went through all six factors and eliminated them all in one paragraph.

First, 185-mile relay races are not regulated; second, Spokane to Sandpoint is not performing an important public service such as a school; third, not all members of the public participate in relay races, unlike schools; fourth, Spokane to Sandpoint had no control over how Ms. Johnson ran or when she decided to cross U.S. Route 2; fifth, there was no inequality of bargaining since Ms. Johnson could have easily chosen not to participate and could have selected a different event; and sixth, while Spokane to Sandpoint set up the course, it did not control in what manner Ms. Johnson ran the race.

Generally, Washington law looks at whether the issues that identify a public policy issue are those that affect the majority of the public in Washington. The court also found that other Washington decisions have found that recreational activities were not a public interest.

The second issue was the plaintiff’s claim the defendant was grossly negligent. Like most states, a release in Washington will not stop a claim for gross negligence. Gross negligence is greater than ordinary negligence and is care appreciably less than care required in an ordinary negligence claim.

“Gross negligence” is “negligence substantially and appreciably greater than ordinary negligence,” i.e., “care substantially or appreciably less than the quantum of care inhering in ordinary negligence.” (“gross negligence” is “the failure to exercise slight care”). A plaintiff seeking to overcome an exculpatory clause by proving gross negligence must supply “substantial evidence” that the defendant’s act or omission represented care appreciably less than the care inherent in ordinary negligence. To meet this burden of proof on summary judgment, the plaintiff must offer something more substantial than mere argument that the defendant’s breach of care rises to the level of gross negligence.

The court then went through the facts and found that nothing required the defendant to do more than what the defendant did. Consequently, since there was no duty to do more, there was no breach of a duty, let alone acts, which were substantially below the duty.

The final argument the plaintiff argued was the release was ambiguous and not conspicuous. Here again, Washington’s law set forth the requirements for ambiguous and conspicuous quite clearly.

Factors in deciding whether a waiver and release provision is conspicuous include whether the waiver is set apart or hidden within other provisions, whether the heading is clear, whether the waiver is set off in capital letters or in bold type, whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, what the language says above the signature line, and whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver.

The requirements basically require the release to be seen by the signor and not hidden. The exculpatory provisions must be evident, conspicuous and not hidden. The language must stand out so it is easily recognized with capital letters and/or bold type and there must be a signature line below the exculpatory provisions so that you can see your signature is related to the exculpatory provisions.

In this case, the release provisions were found not to be ambiguous. Additionally, the plaintiff admitted in her deposition that she understood from a legal perspective that the release would release her from claiming damages for any injuries.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court and affirmed the decision.

So Now What?

This decision is refreshing because it clearly sets out the requirements needed to prove a release valid and invalid. The definition of gross negligence also easily defined to that you can understand your duties and a substantial breach of your duties leading to a gross negligence claim.

Also of note, which the court pointed out was the information provided to the plaintiff and other racers in the racer handbook. Although not an express assumption of risk agreement, the handbook was still proof, the plaintiff assumed the risk, even though that issue was not argued. The risks of the race were set forth as well as the steps taken by the defendant to protect the runners in the handbook.

Again, the more information you provide to your clients, the more information you give them the better your chances of winning if your release fails.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Johnson et al., v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, et al., 176 Wn. App. 453; 309 P.3d 528; 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 1696

Johnson et al., v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, et al., 176 Wn. App. 453; 309 P.3d 528; 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 1696

Robin Johnson et al., Appellants, v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, et al., Respondents.

No. 31042-6-III

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION THREE

July 23, 2013, Filed

NOTICE: Order Granting Motion to Publish September 10, 2013.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Johnson v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, 175 Wn. App. 1054, 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 1835 (2013)

Ordered published by Johnson v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 2129 (Wash. Ct. App., Sept. 10, 2013)

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Appeal from Spokane Superior Court. Docket No: 10-2-05387-0. Date filed: 07/09/2012. Judge signing: Honorable Gregory D Sypolt.

SUMMARY:

WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS SUMMARY Nature of Action: A participant in a long-distance relay race who was struck by a moving vehicle sought damages for personal injury from the race promoter.

Nature of Action: A participant in a long-distance relay race who was struck by a moving vehicle sought damages for personal injury from the race promoter.

Superior Court: The Superior Court for Spokane County, No. 10-2-05387-0, Gregory D. Sypolt, J., on July 9, 2012, entered a summary judgment in favor of the race promoter.

Court of Appeals: Holding that a preinjury release and waiver signed by the runner precluded her recovering for ordinary negligence, the court affirms the judgment.

HEADNOTES WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

[1] Negligence — Duty — Necessity. The threshold question in a negligence action is whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.

[2] Negligence — Duty — Question of Law or Fact — In General. For purposes of a negligence cause of action, the existence of a duty of care is a question of law.

[3] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Validity — In General. Subject to certain exceptions, parties may expressly agree in advance that one is under no obligation of care to the other and shall not be liable for ordinary negligence.

[4] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Purpose. The function of a contractual waiver of negligence liability is to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from the person negligently causing the injury.

[5] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Validity — Test. A contractual waiver of negligence liability is enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for the protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous.

[6] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Validity — Public Policy — Factors. In determining whether an agreement exculpating a party from liability for its future conduct violates public policy, a court will consider whether (1) the agreement concerns an endeavor of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation; (2) the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public; (3) such party holds itself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards; (4) because of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks the services; (5) in exercising a superior bargaining power, the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence; and (6) the person or property of members of the public seeking such services must be placed under the control of the furnisher of the services, subject to the risk of carelessness on the part of the furnisher, its employees, or its agents.

[7] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Validity — Public Policy — Public Interest — Recreational Activities. For purposes of determining the validity of a liability release clause under a public policy analysis, Washington courts do not favor finding a public interest in adult recreational activities.

[8] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Applicability — Gross Negligence. A preinjury waiver and release will not exculpate a defendant from liability for damages resulting from gross negligence. “Gross negligence” is negligence substantially and appreciably greater than ordinary negligence, i.e., care substantially or appreciably less than the quantum of care inhering in ordinary negligence, or a failure to exercise slight care. A plaintiff seeking to overcome an exculpatory clause by proving gross negligence must supply substantial evidence that the defendant’s act or omission represented care appreciably less than the care inherent in ordinary negligence. To meet this burden of proof on summary judgment, a plaintiff must offer something more substantial than mere argument that the defendant’s breach of care rises to the level of gross negligence.

[9] Negligence — Proof — Higher Standard — Summary Judgment — Prima Facie Case — Necessity. When the standard of proof in a negligence action is higher than ordinary negligence, in order to avoid an adverse summary judgment, a plaintiff must show that it can support its claim with prima facie proof supporting the higher level of proof.

[10] Torts — Limitation of Liability — Validity — Conspicuous Nature — Factors. The conspicuousness of a contractual liability waiver or release provision is determined by considering such factors as whether the provision is set apart or hidden within other provisions, whether the provision heading is clear, whether the waiver is set off in capital letters or in bold type, whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, what the language says above the signature line, and whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver. Brown, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous court.

COUNSEL: Martin A. Peltram, for appellants.

Thomas C. Stratton (of Rockey Stratton PS), for respondents.

JUDGES: Authored by Stephen M. Brown. Concurring: Laurel H. Siddoway, Kevin M. Korsmo.

OPINION BY: Stephen M. Brown

OPINION

[*455] [**530] ¶1 Brown, J. — Robin Johnson and Craig Johnson appeal the dismissal of their personal injury suit against Spokane to Sandpoint LLC after the trial court ruled the preinjury release and waiver Ms. Johnson signed precluded recovery. The Johnsons contend the release is unenforceable because it is ambiguous, offends public policy, and because Spokane to Sandpoint was grossly negligent. We disagree and affirm.

FACTS

¶2 Spokane to Sandpoint promotes a long-distance relay race from the Spokane area to Sandpoint, Idaho, involving teams running a 185-mile course over two days, day and [**531] night. The course is open, meaning it is not closed to public traffic.

¶3 When registering on line, the runners must electronically acknowledge a release of liability and waiver, which states:

I understand that by registering I have accepted and agreed to the waiver [***2] and release agreement(s) presented to me during registration and that these documents include a release of liability and waiver of legal rights and deprive me of the right to sue certain parties. By agreeing electronically, I have acknowledged that I have both read and understood any waiver and release agreement(s) presented to me as part of the registration process and accept the inherent dangers and risks which may or may not be readily foreseeable, including without limitation personal injury, property damage or death that arise from participation in the event.

[*456] Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 246. Ms. Johnson, an attorney, registered on line for the 2010 Spokane to Sandpoint race and acknowledged the above waiver, plus she agreed to “waive and release Spokane to Sandpointfrom any and all claims or liability of any kind arising out of my participation in this event, even though that liability may arise out negligence or carelessness on the part of persons on this waiver.” CP at 246. Ms. Johnson agreed she read the agreement carefully and understood the terms and she signed the agreement, “FREELY AND VOLUNTARILY, WITHOUT ANY INDUCEMENT, ASSURANCE OR GUARANTEE” and that her signature was [***3] “TO SERVE AS CONFIRMATION OF MY COMPLETE AND UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE OF THE TERMS, CONDITIONS, AND PROVISIONS OF THIS AGREEMENT.” CP at 248.

¶4 Spokane to Sandpoint provided a race handbook to Ms. Johnson, explaining all facets of the race, including crossing public highways and train tracks. The fourth leg of the race crossed U.S. Route 2 at its intersection with Colbert Road. At that location, U.S. Route 2 is a divided highway that runs north and south. It has two lanes in each direction, separated by a median strip. A sign was posted on Colbert Road telling the runners “caution crossing highway.” CP at 128. Signs were posted along the race route informing drivers that runners were running along the race route roads.

¶5 As Ms. Johnson was crossing U.S. Route 2, Madilyn Young was driving about 63 miles per hour southbound in the outside lane on U.S. Route 2, approaching the Colbert Road intersection. According to Ms. Young’s statement to the police, she saw Ms. Johnson crossing the northbound lanes of U.S. Route 2 and saw her continue into the southbound lanes without looking for cars. Ms. Young was unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. Ms. Johnson suffered severe injuries.

¶6 The Johnsons sued Spokane [***4] to Sandpoint, Ms. Young, and Ms. Young’s parents. The Johnsons dismissed their [*457] claims against Ms. Young and her parents following a settlement.

¶7 During Ms. Johnson’s deposition, counsel for Spokane to Sandpoint asked her if she understood that the release she signed “would … release the entities for any personal injury that might occur to you during the activity?” CP at 138. Ms. Johnson replied, “Yes, I understand that from a legal perspective completely.” CP at 139. When questioned about the on line registration process, counsel asked:

Q. Do you recall whether you clicked yes to the waiver language at all on the registration process?

A. On the registration process I assume I must have clicked because all that information is there and I did it. Nobody else did it for me.

CP at 156.

¶8 Spokane to Sandpoint requested summary judgment dismissal, arguing the preinjury waiver and release agreed to by Ms. Johnson was conspicuous and not against public policy and the Johnsons lacked the evidence of gross negligence necessary to overcome the release. The trial court agreed and dismissed the Johnsons’ complaint.

ANALYSIS

¶9 The issue is whether the trial court erred in summarily dismissing the [**532] Johnsons’ [***5] negligence complaint. The Johnsons contend the release and waiver signed by Ms. Johnson prior to her injury was invalid and unenforceable because it was ambiguous and against public policy, and because Spokane to Sandpoint was grossly negligent.

¶10 [HN1] We review summary judgment de novo and engage in the same inquiry as the trial court. Heath v. Uraga, 106 Wn. App. 506, 512, 24 P.3d 413 (2001). [HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate if, in view of all the evidence, reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion. Hansen v. Friend, 118 Wn.2d 476, 485, 824 P.2d 483 (1992). Where different [*458] competing inferences may be drawn from the evidence, the issue must be resolved by the trier of fact. Kuyper v. Dep’t of Wildlife, 79 Wn. App. 732, 739, 904 P.2d 793 (1995).

[1-3] ¶11 [HN3] To prevail on a negligence claim against Spokane to Sandpoint, the Johnsons must establish Spokane to Sandpoint owed them a duty. Chauvlier v. Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc., 109 Wn. App. 334, 339, 35 P.3d 383 (2001) (citing Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Soc’y, 124 Wn.2d 121, 128, 875 P.2d 621 (1994)). Whether such a duty exists is a question of law. Id. The parties may, subject to certain exceptions, expressly agree in advance that one [***6] party is under no obligation of care to the other, and shall not be held liable for ordinary negligence. Chauvlier, 109 Wn. App. at 339.

[4, 5] ¶12 [HN4] The function of a waiver provision is “to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from the person negligently causing the injury.” Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 491, 834 P.2d 6 (1992). The general rule in Washington is that a waiver provision is enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous. Stokes v. Bally’s Pacwest, Inc., 113 Wn. App. 442, 445, 54 P.3d 161 (2002).

[6] ¶13 [HN5] In Washington, contracts releasing liability for negligence are valid unless a public interest is involved. Hewitt v. Miller, 11 Wn. App. 72, 521 P.2d 244 (1974). [HN6] Six factors are considered in determining whether exculpatory agreements violate public policy. The court considers whether (1) the agreement concerns an endeavor of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation; (2) the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members [***7] of the public; (3) such party holds itself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established [*459] standards; (4) because of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks the services; (5) in exercising a superior bargaining power, the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence; and (6) the person or property of members of the public seeking such services must be placed under the control of the furnisher of the services, subject to the risk of carelessness on the part of the furnisher, its employees, or agents. Wagenblast v. Odessa Sch. Dist. 105-157-166J, 110 Wn.2d 845, 851-55, 758 P.2d 968 (1988) (citing Tunkl v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 60 Cal. 2d 92, 98-101, 383 P.2d 441, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33 (1963)). The Johnsons fail to establish all six factors.

¶14 First, 185-mile relay races are not regulated; [***8] second, Spokane to Sandpoint is not performing an important public service such as a school; third, not all members of the public participate in relay races, unlike schools; fourth, Spokane to Sandpoint had no control over how Ms. Johnson ran or when she decided to cross U.S. Route 2; fifth, there was no inequality of bargaining since Ms. Johnson could have easily chosen not to participate and could have selected a different event; and sixth, while Spokane to Sandpoint set up the course, it did not control in what manner Ms. Johnson ran the race.

[7] ¶15 [HN7] Washington courts have not favored finding a public interest in adult recreational activities. As noted in Hewitt, 11 Wn. App. [**533] at 74, “[e]xtended discussion is not required to conclude that instruction in scuba diving does not involve a public duty.” Similarly, “[a]lthough a popular sport in Washington, mountaineering, like scuba diving, does not involve public interest.” Blide v. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., 30 Wn. App. 571, 574, 636 P.2d 492 (1981). Washington courts have come to the same conclusion regarding [*460] tobogganing and demolition car racing. Broderson v. Rainer Nat’l Park Co., 187 Wash. 399, 406, 60 P.2d 234 (1936), overruled in part by [***9] Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wn.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (1971); Conradt v. Four Star Promotions, Inc., 45 Wn. App. 847, 853, 728 P.2d 617 (1986).

[8] ¶16 [HN8] A preinjury waiver and release will not exculpate a defendant from liability for damages resulting from gross negligence. Vodopest v. MacGregor, 128 Wn.2d 840, 853, 913 P.2d 779 (1996). “Gross negligence” is “negligence substantially and appreciably greater than ordinary negligence,” i.e., “care substantially or appreciably less than the quantum of care inhering in ordinary negligence.” Nist v. Tudor, 67 Wn.2d 322, 331, 407 P.2d 798 (1965); see 6 Washington Practice: Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Civil 10.07 (6th ed. 2012) (“gross negligence” is “the failure to exercise slight care”). A plaintiff seeking to overcome an exculpatory clause by proving gross negligence must supply “substantial evidence” that the defendant’s act or omission represented care appreciably less than the care inherent in ordinary negligence. Boyce v. West, 71 Wn. App. 657, 665, 862 P.2d 592 (1993). To meet this burden of proof on summary judgment, the plaintiff must offer something more substantial than mere argument that the defendant’s breach of care rises [***10] to the level of gross negligence. CR 56(e); Boyce, 71 Wn. App. at 666.

¶17 Spokane to Sandpoint marked the roadways to warn both drivers and runners of danger and provided a handbook to each runner advising about crossing busy roadways and highways. Nothing in this record establishes any duty to do more.

¶18 Our case is somewhat like Conradt, where Mr. Conradt was hurt in an auto race. 45 Wn. App. at 848. He signed a release before being told of a change in the race direction. Id. Mr. Conradt argued the risk had been materially altered by that change after he signed the release. Id. at 850. He explained he could not corner as well and he had not understood the additional risk. Id. The race promoter [*461] requested summary judgment based on the release. Id. at 848. The trial court dismissed Mr. Conradt’s complaint, finding the release was valid and the promoter’s action did not amount to gross negligence. Id. at 852. The Conradt court affirmed, holding the promoter’s “conduct was not so substantially and appreciably substandard that it rendered the release invalid.” Id.

[9] ¶19 Similarly, the Johnsons fail to show Spokane to Sandpoint committed gross negligence by failing to exercise slight care. See Woody v. Stapp, 146 Wn. App. 16, 22, 189 P.3d 807 (2008) [***11] (When a standard of proof is higher than ordinary negligence, the nonmoving parties must show that they can support their claim with prima facie proof supporting the higher level of proof.). Spokane to Sandpoint’s conduct does not reach gross negligence under the circumstances presented here.

[10] ¶20 Finally, the Johnsons argue the release was ambiguous and not conspicuous. Several Washington courts have analyzed waiver provisions to determine whether the language was conspicuous. [HN9] Factors in deciding whether a waiver and release provision is conspicuous include whether the waiver is set apart or hidden within other provisions, whether the heading is clear, whether the waiver is set off in capital letters or in bold type, whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, what the language says above the signature line, and whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver. See Baker, 79 Wn.2d at 202; McCorkle v. Hall, 56 Wn. App. 80, 83, 782 P.2d 574 (1989); Chauvlier, 109 Wn. App. at 342; Stokes, 113 Wn. App. at 448.

[**534] ¶21 The release executed by Ms. Johnson on line clearly sets apart the release language in either italicized letters or in all capital letters or both. The [***12] document was conspicuous with a header stating, “WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY, ASSUMPTION OF RISK AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT.” CP at 246. The waiver repeatedly warned Ms. Johnson that she was giving up her legal rights by [*462] signing the waiver, with this clearly indicated above the signature line. Although the Johnsons argue the waiver was ambiguous and, therefore, inconspicuous, Ms. Johnson (an attorney) acknowledged in her deposition that from a “legal perspective” she understood the release she signed “would … release the entities for any personal injury that might occur … during the activity.” CP at 138-39. Thus, no genuine issues of material fact remain regarding ambiguity or conspicuousness.

¶22 Given our analysis, we hold reasonable minds can reach but one conclusion; the preinjury release and waiver signed by Ms. Johnson precludes her from claiming an ordinary negligence duty by Spokane to Sandpoint, thus preventing her from seeking liability damages for her injuries. The trial court correctly concluded likewise in summarily dismissing the Johnsons’ complaint.

¶23 Affirmed. [***13]

Korsmo, C.J., and Siddoway, J., concur.


Release and assumption of the risk are both used to defeat a para-athlete’s claims when she collided with a runner on the cycling portion of the course

A good procedure for tracking releases and bibs help prove the plaintiff had signed the release when she denied that fact in her claims.

Hines v. City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

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

Plaintiff: SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

Defendant: City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., and Central Park Conservancy

Plaintiff Claims: negligently permitted and/or allowed a non-participant jogger to enter upon the race course and violently collide with Hines.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2016

This was a simple case where a triathlon course was closed, but a jogger ran into a cyclist. However, there was one quirk. The cyclist was para-athlete riding a push-rim racer.

Hines, an experienced para-athlete, claims she was injured during the running portion of the triathlon when she was operating a push-rim racer and was struck by an alleged non-participant jogger. The accident occurred in Central Park at or around West 100th Street and West Drive.

Although the rights of a para-athlete are identical to those of any other athlete, it is interesting to see if either side used the issue legally to their advantage. Neither did.

The plaintiff sued for her injuries.

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

The court first looked at how releases are viewed under New York law. New York has a statute voiding releases if those places using them are places of amusement charging for admission. See New York Law Restricting the Use of Releases.

§ 5-326.  Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

However, the court found since this was a race it was not an admission fee but a participation fee; the statute did not apply.

Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable where not expressly prohibited by law Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood. The waiver at issue here clearly and unequivocally ex-presses the intention of the parties to relieve defendants of liability for their own negligence and because the entry fee paid by Hines was for her participation in the triathlon, not an admission fee allowing her to use the public park and roadway where her accident allegedly occurred, the waiver does not violate General Obligations Law § 5-326

The next issue was the plaintiff claimed that she did not sign the release. However, the husband under oath testified that the release could have been his wife’s. “George Hines, who as a party to the action is an interested witness, testified that he believed the signature on the waiver was Hines’.”

In addition, the procedures at the beginning of the race required a racer’s signature. A racer did not get a bib until they had signed the release and proving their identify.

Moreover, as defendants point out, athletes could not participate in the triathlon without signing the waiver in person and presenting photographic identification at a pre-race expo and Hines was seen by non-party witness Kathleen Bateman of Achilles International, Inc. at the expo waiting in line with her handlers to pick up her race bib.

Whether the identification and procedures are in place to prevent fraud in case of an accident and subsequent suit or to prevent fraud among the racers is not clear.

The plaintiff also claimed the defendant was negligent in their cone placement and location of race marshals. She argued the cones should have been placed closer together.

On this claim, the court argued the plaintiff had assumed the risk by racing.

Moreover, the primary assumption of the risk doctrine provides that a voluntary participant in a sporting or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” and it is “not necessary to the application of [the doctrine] that the injured plaintiff have foreseen the exact manner in which his or her injury occurred, so long as the he or she is aware of the potential for injury of the mechanism from which the injury results”

The application of the doctrine of assumption of risk is to be applied based upon the background, skill and experience of the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff had considerable experience racing in triathlons.

Awareness of risk, including risks created by less than optimal “is not to be determined in a vacuum” but, rather, “against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff”. Hines is a highly decorated and highly experienced para-athlete who participated in dozens races over her career, many of which took place in Central Park. Hines’ testimony that other race courses in Central Park were set up differently and delineated with cones and marshals differently than the way in which defendants allegedly set up the triathlon course establishes that Hines was aware that collisions with non-participants were an inherent risk in participating in a triathlon in Central Park.

Because the plaintiff was experienced in racing in triathlons and signed a release her claims were barred.

So Now What?

This case resolved around whether or not the defendant could prove the plaintiff had signed a release, when denied she had signed it. By having procedures set that proved who the person was and not allowing the person to receive a bib, and consequently, race, until a release had been signed was pivotal.

On top of that when a party to the suit, in this case the husband admitted the signature could have been the plaintiffs the court took that statement as an admittance against interest. The husband was a litigant because he was claiming damages as a spouse. A spouse’s claim, as in this case are derivative of the other spaces main claims. That means the plaintiff spouse must prove her claims or the derivative claims also fail.

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Hines v. City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

Hines v. City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

[**1] Helene Hines and George Hines, Plaintiffs, -against- City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., and Central Park Conservancy, Defendants. Index No. 151542-2012

151542-2012

SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY

2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)

March 24, 2016, Decided

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

CORE TERMS: triathlon, cones, marshal, issues of fact, non-participant, collision, summary judgment, participating, placement, signature, triable, expert’s opinion, prima facie, enforceable, admissible, proponent, sport, feet, matter of law, personal injuries, party opposing, causes of action, grossly negligent, intentional wrongdoing, inherent risk, unanticipated, collectively, para-athlete, experienced, entitlement

JUDGES: [*1] HON. GEORGE J. SILVER, J.S.C.

OPINION

DECISION/ORDER

HON. GEORGE J. SILVER, J.S.C.

In this action to recover for personal injuries allegedly sustained by plaintiff Helene Hines (Hines) in the 2011 Nautical New York City Triathlon (triathlon) defendants City of New York, Korpff Enterprises, Inc. and Central Park Conservancy (collectively defendants) move pursuant to CPLR § 3212 for an order granting them summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Hines and her husband, plaintiff George Hines (collectively plaintiffs), who asserts a derivative claim, oppose the motion.

Hines, an experienced para-athlete, claims she was injured during the running portion of the triathlon when she was operating a push-rim racer and was struck by an alleged non-participant jogger. The accident occurred in Central Park at or around West 100th Street and West Drive. The bill of particulars alleges that the defendants were negligent in the ownership, operation, management, maintenance, control and supervision of the incident location in that defendants negligently permitted and/or allowed a non-participant jogger to enter upon the race course and violently collide with Hines. Prior to the triathlon, all participants were required [*2] to sign a liability waiver in person before receiving their race packet and race bibs. Defendants argue that Hines signed the waiver and by doing so expressly assumed the risk of a collision. The waiver, entitled “Event Registration, Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement”, states:

[**2] I HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE AND ASSUME ALL OF THE RISKS OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS EVENT. . . . I also assume any and all other risks associated with participating in this Event, including but not limited to the following: falls, dangers of collisions with vehicles, pedestrians, other participants and fixed objects; the dangers arising from surface hazards, tides, equipment failure, inadequate safety equipment; and hazard that may be posed by spectators or volunteers; and weather conditions. I further acknowledge that these risks include risks that may be the result of ordinary negligent acts, omissions, and/or carelessness of the Released Parties, as defined herein. I understand that I will be participating in the Event at my own risk, that I am responsible for the risk of participation in the Event.

The waiver further states:

I WAIVE, RELEASE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE Event Producer, [*3] World Triathlon Corporation, the Race Director, USA Triathlon . . . the City of New York, Event sponsors, Event Organizers, Event promoters, Event producers, race directors . . . all other persons or entities involved with the Event, and all state, city, town, county, and other governmental bodies, and/or municipal agencies whose property and/or personnel are used and/or in any way assist in locations in which the Event or segments of the Event take place . . . from any and all claims, liabilities of every kind, demands, damages . . . , losses . . . and causes of action, of any kind or any nature, which I have or may have in future . . . that may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the Event . . . including my death, personal injury, partial or permanent disability, negligence, property damage and damages of any kind, . . . even if any of such claims Claims are caused by the ordinary negligent acts, omissions, or the carelessness of the Released Parties.

Hines denies signing the waiver and argues in the alternative that the waiver violates General Obligations Law § 5-326 because she paid a fee to participate in the triathlon. Hines also contends that defendants created and enhanced an unanticipated [*4] risk within the running portion of the triathlon by inappropriately situating cones and improperly stationing marshals in the area of her accident. Hines argues that she expected, based upon her past triathlon experience, that cones would be separated 20 feet apart and that marshals would be readily apparent within the areas between the cones. Instead, plaintiff claims the cones were separated 70 feet apart and there were no marshals present in the area where her accident occurred. Hines contends that defendants, through there setup of the race course, heightened the risk of non-participants interfering with the race and that she did not assume such heightened risks when she entered the triathlon. According to Hines’ athletic administration and safety management expert, [**3] the placement of cones 70 feet apart limited the sight lines of bystanders walking toward the race and increased the probability of confusion and misapprehension. Hines’ expert also contends that on a race course that traverses a highly populated area marshals must be easily seen and heard on the course. According to Hines’ expert, defendants’ failure to properly delineate the race course with appropriately spaced [*5] cones and to properly position marshals between the cones were deviations from accepted sports safety practices which proximately caused Hines’ accident.

To obtain summary judgment, the movant must establish its cause of action or defense sufficiently to warrant the court as a matter of law in directing judgment in its favor (CPLR § 3212 [b]; Bendik v Dybowski, 227 AD2d 228, 642 N.Y.S.2d 284 [1st Dept 1996]). This standard requires that the proponent of a motion for summary judgment make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by advancing sufficient “evidentiary proof in admissible form” to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853, 476 NE2d 642, 487 NYS2d 316 [1985]; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562, 404 NE2d 718, 427 NYS2d 595 [1980]; Silverman v Perlbinder, 307 AD2d 230, 762 N.Y.S.2d 386 [1st Dept 2003]; Thomas v Holzberg, 300 AD2d 10, 11, 751 N.Y.S.2d 433 [1st Dept 2002]). Thus, the motion must be supported “by affidavit [from a person having knowledge of the facts], by a copy of the pleadings and by other available proof, such as depositions” (CPLR § 3212 [b]).

To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must show facts sufficient to require a trial of any issue of fact (CPLR § 3212 [b]). Thus, where the proponent of the motion makes a prima facie showing of entitlement to summary judgment, the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion to demonstrate by admissible evidence the existence of a factual issue requiring a trial of the action, or to tender an acceptable [*6] excuse for his or her failure to do so (Vermette v Kenworth Truck Co., 68 NY2d 714, 717, 497 NE2d 680, 506 NYS2d 313 [1986]; Zuckerman, 49 NY2d at 560, 562; Forrest v Jewish Guild for the Blind, 309 AD2d 546, 765 N.Y.S.2d 326 [1st Dept 2003]). Like the proponent of the motion, the party opposing the motion must set forth evidentiary proof in admissible form in support of his or her claim that material triable issues of fact exist (Zuckerman, 49 NY2d at 562). The opponent “must assemble and lay bare [its] affirmative proof to demonstrate that genuine issues of fact exist” and “the issue must be shown to be real, not feigned, since a sham or frivolous issue will not preclude summary relief” (Kornfeld v NRX Technologies, Inc., 93 AD2d 772, 461 N.Y.S.2d 342 [1st Dept 1983], affd, 62 NY2d 686, 465 NE2d 30, 476 NYS2d 523 [1984]). Mere conclusions, expressions of hope or unsubstantiated allegations or assertions are insufficient (Alvord and Swift v Stewart M Muller Constr. Co., 46 NY2d 276, 281-82, 385 NE2d 1238, 413 NYS2d 309 [1978]; Fried v Bower & Gardner, 46 NY2d 765, 767, 386 NE2d 258, 413 NYS2d 650 [1978]; Plantamura v Penske Truck Leasing, Inc., 246 AD2d 347, 668 N.Y.S.2d 157 [1st Dept 1998]). Summary judgment is a drastic remedy that should only be employed where no doubt exists as to the absence of triable issues (Leighton v Leighton, 46 AD3d 264, 847 N.Y.S.2d 64 [1st Dept 2007]). The key to such procedure is issue-finding, rather than issue-determination (id.).

Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable where not expressly prohibited by law (Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 105, 400 NE2d 306, 424 NYS2d 365 [1979]). Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood. (id. at 107). The waiver at issue here clearly and [**4] unequivocally expresses the intention of the parties to relieve defendants of liability for their own negligence (Schwartz v Martin, 82 AD3d 1201, 919 N.Y.S.2d 217 [2d Dept 2011]) and [*7] because the entry fee paid by Hines was for her participation in the triathlon, not an admission fee allowing her to use the public park and roadway where her accident allegedly occurred, the waiver does not violate General Obligations Law § 5-326 (see Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., 51 AD3d 841, 858 N.Y.S.2d 348 [2d Dept 2008]).

With respect to the signature on the waiver, while the opinion of defendants’ forensic expert is inadmissible, an expert’s opinion is not required to establish that the signature on the waiver is Hines’ (see John Deere Ins. Co. v GBE/Alasia Corp., 57 AD3d 620, 869 N.Y.S.2d 198 [2d Dept 2008] [defendant failed to submit an affidavit of a handwriting expert or of a lay witness familiar with defendant’s handwriting to establish that the signature on the agreement was not hers]). George Hines, who as a party to the action is an interested witness, testified that he believed the signature on the waiver was Hines’. Moreover, as defendants point out, athletes could not participate in the triathlon without signing the waiver in person and presenting photographic identification at a pre-race expo and Hines was seen by non-party witness Kathleen Bateman of Achilles International, Inc. at the expo waiting in line with her handlers to pick up her race bib. In opposition to defendants’ prima facie showing that Hines signed the enforceable waiver, Hines’ bald, [*8] self-serving claim that she did not sign it, which is not supported by an expert’s opinion, does not raise a triable issue of fact (see Abrons v 149 Fifth Ave. Corp., 45 AD3d 384, 845 N.Y.S.2d 299 [1st Dept 2007]; Peyton v State of Newburgh, Inc., 14 AD3d 51, 786 N.Y.S.2d 458 [Pt Dept 2004]).

Although an enforceable release will not insulate a party from grossly negligent conduct, the alleged acts of defendants with respect to the placement of cones and the stationing of marshals in the area where Hines’ accident occurred do not rise to the level of intentional wrongdoing or evince a reckless indifference to the rights of others (Schwartz, 82 AD3d at 1202 [alleged acts of negligence did not rise to the level of intentional wrongdoing where a marshal at a bicycle race was injured by a non-participant bicyclist]). Hines’ expert expressly states that defendants’ actions with respect to the placement of cones and marshals were deviations from accepted sports safety practices. Thus, Hines’ expert’s opinion is that defendants were merely negligent, not grossly negligent.

Hines has also failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the placement of cones and marshals by defendants improperly enhanced an unanticipated risk of collision. Hines’ expert’s affidavit fails to establish the foundation or source of the standards underlying the expert’s conclusion that [*9] the placement and positioning of cones and marshals along the running portion of the triathlon was negligent and, as such, the affidavit lacks probative value (see David v County of Suffolk, 1 NY3d 525, 526, 807 NE2d 278, 775 NYS2d 229 [2003]). Moreover, the primary assumption of the risk doctrine provides that a voluntary participant in a sporting or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” (Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 484, 685 NE2d 202, 662 NYS2d 421 [1997]) and it is “not necessary to the application of [the doctrine] that the injured plaintiff have foreseen the exact manner in which his or her injury occurred, so long as the he or she is aware of the potential for injury of the mechanism from which the injury results” (Maddox, 66 NY2d 270, 278, 487 NE2d 553, 496 NYS2d 726 [1985]). Awareness of risk, including risks created by less than optimal conditions [**5] (Latimer v City of New York, 118 AD3d 420, 987 N.Y.S.2d 58 [1st Dept 2014]), “is not to be determined in a vacuum” (Morgan, 90 NY2d at 486) but, rather, “against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff” (id.). Hines is a highly decorated and highly experienced para-athlete who participated in dozens races over her career, many of which took place in Central Park. Hines’ testimony that other race courses in Central Park were set up differently and delineated with [*10] cones and marshals differently than the way in which defendants allegedly set up the triathlon course establishes that Hines was aware that collisions with non-participants were an inherent risk in participating in a triathlon in Central Park. Hines also testified that she was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, further proof that she was aware that collisions of some type, whether with participants, non-participants or objects, were an inherent risk of participating in the race. “Inherency is the sine qua non” (Morgan, 90 NY2d at 484-486) and regardless of how defendants situated cones and marshals along the race course, Hines was fully aware of and fully appreciated the inherent risk of injury resulting from a collision during the triathlon. Defendants, therefore, are entitled to summary dismissal of the complaint.

Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted and the complaint is dismissed in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly; and it is further

ORDERED that movants are to serve a copy of this order, with notice of entry, upon plaintiffs within 20 days of entry.

Dated: 3/24/16

New York County

/s/ [*11] George J. Silver

George J. Silver, J.S.C.


A federal district court in Massachusetts upholds indemnification clause in a release.

All prior decisions have found that indemnification clauses in releases are not effective because it creates a conflict of interest within a family.

Angelo, v. USA Triathlon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

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

Plaintiff: Cheryl Angelo, Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard Angelo,

Defendant: USA Triathlon

Plaintiff Claims: wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress

Defendant Defenses: Release and indemnification

Holding: not a final ruling

Year: 2014

I cannot determine if this case is over, however, the ruling is quite interesting and worth the risk in having to reverse this post.

The deceased joined the USA Triathlon (USAT) and in doing so signed a Waiver and Release of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement. The deceased signed the document electronically. The deceased registered online for the National Age Group Championship in Vermont and again signed an “indemnity agreement” electronically. The two releases were identical.

The deceased died during the triathlon during the swim portion of the event. The deceased wife and personal representative of his estate brought this lawsuit in Federal District Court of Massachusetts.

The defendant USAT filed a motion for summary judgment, and this review is of the court’s ruling on that motion.

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

The motion for Summary Judgment was a partial motion on the counterclaim of the defendant based on the indemnity provisions in the two releases.

The court refers to the releases as “the indemnity agreements” which create a lot of confusion when reading the decision. The court first examined Massachusetts law relating to releases.

Under Massachusetts law, “[c]ontracts of indemnity are to be fairly and reasonably construed in order to ascertain the intention of the parties and to effectuate the purpose sought to be accomplished.”

And then Massachusetts law on indemnity agreements.

Indemnity contracts that exempt a party from liability arising from their own ordinary negligence are not illegal. Further, contracts of indemnity can survive a decedent’s death and become an obligation of a decedent’s estate.

The language in the indemnification agreement was deemed by the court to be broad. The plaintiff argued the release was ambiguous as to who the release applied to. However, the court disagreed finding the release:

…clearly states that “I . . . agree to Indemnify, Defend and Hold Harmless” the released parties from liability “of any kind or nature . . . which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the Event.” Both the scope of the indemnity and the party bound by the agreement are clear and unambiguous.

The court then looked at how the release affected the specific claims of the plaintiff. The first count in the complaint was based on wrongful death, and the third was for wrongful death because of gross negligence of the defendant and included a claim for punitive damages.

The court looked at the damages that might be recoverable under these two theories because how the money was identified would determine if the money could be recovered on the indemnification claim.

That means the indemnification claim is against the person who signed the release or in this case their estate. The deceased could not pledge his wife’s assets to the indemnification because he could not sign for her, only his assets. “The decedent, while having authority to bind his estate, lacked authority to bind his surviving family members who did not sign the indemnity agreements and are not bound thereby.” The wrongful-death claim money is not an asset of the state; it is held by the personal representative on behalf of the heirs to the estate. So any money recovered under the wrongful-death statute or claim would not be subject to indemnification.

That is because “w]rongful death is not, in any traditional sense, a claim of the decedent.”

Accordingly, to satisfy the indemnity obligation, USAT may look to the assets of the decedent’s estate. (noting that a contract of indemnity agreed to by a decedent became an obligation of the decedent’s estate). USAT may not, however, look to any recovery on the wrongful death claim for satisfaction, as that recovery would be held in trust for the statutory beneficiaries and would not become an asset of the estate.

Then the court looked to see if the release would stop gross negligence claims. The court found no “controlling authority” on this issue, but held that it would not stop a claim for gross negligence based on the law of appellate decisions in the state.

In the closely analogous context of releases, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has held that, for reasons of public policy, a release would not be enforced to exempt a party from liability for grossly negligent conduct, though otherwise effective against ordinary negligence.

So the court found the release would stop the negligence claims and dismissed count one of the complaints and found that the release would not stop a claim for gross negligence and allowed count three to proceed.

However, the court also stated the motion was denied if the indemnification provision in the release attempted to be satisfied from the wrongful-death proceeds. Alternatively, the indemnification clause would apply to any money’s received for any successful claim other than wrongful death.

The second claim was for conscious pain and suffering of the decedent. Under Massachusetts law, conscious pain and suffering is a claim of the decedent, brought on behalf of the decedent by his estate. The release barred this claim and would allow the defendant to be indemnified by it. “By executing the two agreements, the decedent both released his claim of conscious pain and suffering caused by USAT’s negligence and indemnified USAT for any losses occasioned by such a claim.”

Putting aside the release for a moment, if the personal representative of the decedent received any recovery for his conscious suffering, USAT would be able to reach that recovery to satisfy the decedent’s indemnity obligation. Thus, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED insofar as the claim for conscious suffering caused by USAT’s negligence was both released and indemnified.

The fourth count was for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, which was inflicted on the wife of the decedent who was present at the race. The original complaint was only brought in the name of the personal representative, not her name individually. Consequently, the court agreed to allow the plaintiff to amend her complaint to bring this claim.

However, the court also found that any money received by the plaintiff on her claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress would also be subject to the indemnification claims of the defendant.

The indemnity language in those agreements is broad enough to reach a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a claim “aris[ing] out of” the decedent’s participation in the triathlon. Thus, USAT is entitled to indemnification on any losses resulting from such a claim.

However, the indemnification claim was only applicable to any money paid on this claim to the decedent, not the decedent’s wife. Again, the decedent could not pledge his wife’s assets by his signature.

The court looked at the defendants claim that the defense costs of the action should be paid based on the indemnification clause. The court agreed with the defendant’s argument for the costs to.

The language of the indemnity agreements does clearly obligate the decedent’s estate to make USAT whole on these losses. As with the claims discussed above, USAT may seek indemnity from the decedent’s estate for their defense costs, which predate this Motion as well as prospective costs to the extent that the plaintiff chooses to proceed on at least one claim, which is subject to indemnification.

So any money the lawsuit received that was payable to the estate was subject to the indemnification clause in the release, and that money could be received based on money paid or the cost of defending the lawsuit and recovering the money. Money held in trust, based on a wrongful-death claim was not subject to indemnification.

The release blocked all claims of the decedent and any claims of the wife that were derivative of the decedent’s claims.

Effectively, the case is over because there is no way to get any money, that would not be subject to indemnification. Then any other asset of the estate would be subject to the indemnification due to the cost of defending the lawsuit.

So Now What?

The reasoning for the motion for summary judgment is simple. If the defendant is able to act on the indemnification, any money received by the plaintiff will just turn around and go back to the defendant. Consequently, the damages are reduced to about zero and the chances of settling sky rocket.

However, the importance of the motion is the court upheld the indemnification clause! Normally courts through these out as being a violation of the doctrine or parental immunity, or because they create a conflict of interest between members of a family.

I have never seen an indemnification clause upheld in a recreational release.

See Indemnification agreements? What are you signing?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Is your local race a fund-raiser for a charity or an event for an out of state corporation? This lawsuit might decide

Lawsuit claims that race organizer; make money from volunteers and volunteers should be paid. Entire US race and event “business” could change or disappear.

Most events that we love to participate in, attend or watch are owned by for-profit corporations. They make money for a business. Those events are dependent upon hundreds if not thousands of volunteers. Many state or imply a charity, whose name is in the title of the event is the reason for the event, and thus the volunteers are working for the charity.

This lawsuit says that is not quite so. In fact, this lawsuit says most of what I believed and probably a lot of what you believe about these events are not true.

The lawsuit on its face says that the volunteers at these events were misled and should have been paid. On its face, it’s hard to ask for money when you sign up as a volunteer. You agree to volunteer and you are a volunteer, and you don’t get paid.

However, that is not the bottom line here. Based on the article:

·         The entire operation is fraudulent.

·         The volunteers were recruited to provide community service when, in fact, they were not, they were working for a for-profit corporation, not a charity.

·         Charities pay to have their name attached to the event.

·         The more a charity pays, the more the charity is recognized by the event.

·         Teams that raise money for these events Charites, the base money goes to the event, and only the money raised over the minimum goes to the charity.

·         The event then uses the charities name to recruit volunteers for the event.

Is the plaintiff going to win the lawsuit? I have no idea, but allegations of fraud change litigation, throw out the normal defenses and generally create a different courtroom drama. It is never good to be defending someone who looks bad.

However, the major impact may have already occurred. Will people volunteer to sign up for these events as volunteers? Will charities continue to associate with these events and will those charities be linked with the fraud or for the good they do?

Without the thousands of volunteers, these events won’t happen. Entry fees will either skyrocket or go away. Charities may no longer be associated with any of these events because they are simply bad news.

However, I think this lawsuit may have a chance; the plaintiff is an associate professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law.

The damage is already done. Those races and events that have been upfront from the beginning are not going to be affected except by a few volunteers who are not paying attention or confused. However, the big events which rely on thousands of volunteers are either going to change, evolve or go away.

See Lawsuit alleges CGI exploited race volunteers and This Marathon Lawsuit May Shake Up the Running World

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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