Doctrine of Primary Assumption of Risk precludes a student for suing for injuries in a for credit college karate class

Ohio holds there is no difference between a sport and recreation and a for credit class sport, assumption of the risk applies evenly to both.

Morgan, v. Kent State University et al., 2016-Ohio-3303; 54 N.E.3d 1284; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 2160

State: Ohio, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County

Plaintiff: Aaron S. Morgan

Defendant: Kent State University et al.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: primary assumption of the risk and release

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2016

The plaintiff enrolled in a for credit karate class with the defendant university. The syllabus stated the students would be using holds, releases, throwing punches and kicks, that the students were expected to protect themselves from. Students were also expected to wear a mouth guard and padded gloves.

The course syllabus for beginning karate listed objectives for the students, including: “[d]emonstrat[ing] basic self-defense techniques including release from various holds and counter attacks, joint locks and throws.” Additionally, the syllabus listed a variety of fighting techniques, including punches and kicks, that the students were expected to perform. Students enrolled in the class were required to wear a mouth guard and padded gloves.

One day the plaintiff was sparring with the instructor. The instructor was not wearing padded gloves. The student was expected to protect himself from punches. If the student dropped their guard, normally the exercise was paused till the student was able to protect themselves again.

In this case as the plaintiff lost his footing he dropped his guard and the instructor punched him in the face.

On October 24, 2012, while appellant was sparring with Malecki, he lost his balance and dropped his guard. When appellant dropped his guard, Malecki punched appellant in the face. According to appellant, Malecki’s palm struck him on the nose. Malecki was not wearing padded gloves when he struck appellant. Appellant’s nose immediately started bleeding. Malecki and a student employee helped to stop appellant’s bleeding and then filled out an incident report. Appellant later sought medical care and was told that he suffered a nasal fracture.

The student suffered injuries from the punch and sued. Lawsuits in against the State of Ohio are brought in the Ohio Court of Claims. Kent State University is a state school, owned by the State of Ohio.

The Court of Claims granted the defendants motion for summary judgment and the student appealed to the Ohio Appellate Court.

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

The plaintiff argued four different reasons why the Court of Claims decision should be reversed. The appellate court looked at the second argument first. That argument was the doctrine of primary assumption of risk as defined in Ohio did not apply to his claim.

The court first examined the requirements to establish a negligence claim under Ohio law.

“[I]n order to establish actionable negligence, one seeking recovery must show the existence of a duty, the breach of the duty, and injury resulting proximately therefrom.” “Under the law of negligence, a defendant’s duty to a plaintiff depends on the relationship between the parties and the foreseeability of injury to someone in the plaintiff’s position.”

A defendant has a duty to plead assumption of the risk if it is applicable in a case. That duty means the defense is an affirmative defense and must be plead with the answer or lost.

Ohio recognizes three different Assumption of the Risk defenses.

Ohio law recognizes three categories of assumption of the risk as defenses to a negligence claim: express, primary, and implied or secondary.” Ohio courts have historically applied the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities.

Primary assumption of the risk is the defense that is argued when a participant in a sporting event is injured by an inherent risk of the activity.

“Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries.”

An inherent risk in a sport or activity is one that is so much a part of the sport that to eliminate the risk, the sport would not exist. If there is not inherent risk, then a claim of negligence may occur.

When applied to sporting events in Ohio, the knowledge or consent of the injured plaintiff is not at issue. It is not what the plaintiff knew or assumed that is important, it is solely a question of the risks of the sport.

When considering a defense of primary assumption of the risk, “the injured plaintiff’s subjective consent to and appreciation for the inherent risks are immaterial to the analysis.” Thus, even persons “‘entirely ignorant of the risks of a sport, still assume the risk * * * by participating in a sport or simply by attending the game. The law simply deems certain risks as accepted by plaintiff regardless of actual knowledge or consent.

Primary assumption of the risk is a look at the sport or activity, not the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s knowledge or ascent to the activity.

…’primary assumption of [the] risk requires an examination of the activity itself and not plaintiff’s conduct. If the activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, then a finding of primary assumption of [the] risk is appropriate.’

If the risk is an inherent risk of the activity, then the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies and the defendant did not owe a duty to the plaintiff. If no duty is owed, then no breach occurred. If no duty is owed then no negligence occurred.

“The affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk completely negates a negligence claim because the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff against the inherent risks of the recreational activity in which the plaintiff engages.” “‘Because a successful primary assumption of risk defense means that the duty element of negligence is not established as a matter of law, the defense prevents the plaintiff from even making a prima facie case.'”

The court found the risks the plaintiff suffered were an inherent risk of karate and the plaintiff assumed the inherent risks of the sport.

The Court of Claims found that “[t]here is no question that the martial arts class was a sports or recreational activity with an inherent risk of injury.” Furthermore, the Court of Claims found that “[p]hysical contact between participants during karate sparring is simply a foreseeable hazard of the activity.”

Karate is a recreational activity involving physical contact in the form of punches, kicks, and other techniques as detailed in the course outline for the beginning karate course in which appellant was enrolled. Thus, by its very nature, karate, as a martial art, is an inherently dangerous activity from which the risk of harm cannot be eliminated. Indeed, the course outline notes that a “mouthguard; sparring gloves; athletic supporter w/cup” are required. As danger is inherent in karate, it is common knowledge that such danger exists, and appellant’s injury occurred during the course of participating in the inherently dangerous activity, we find that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies in this case.

Because the risk was inherent, it was assumed and the plaintiff had no claim because there was no negligence.

Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, KSU owed no duty to protect appellant from the inherent risks of the activity. As a result, appellant is precluded from establishing a prima facie case of negligence, and the trial court did not err in granting KSU’s motion for summary judgment.

After making this finding, the court held that the plaintiff’s first and third assignment of error were moot. Moot meaning no longer at issue because of the finding on the second assignment of error by the court.

The fourth assignment of error was a procedural claim for attorney fees and the court ruled no attorney fees were to be paid to the plaintiff.

The appellate court agreed with the lower courts and the case was dismissed.

So Now What?

First it is always interesting to see how a court will rule when a student is injured in a for credit class at a college or university. The syllabus is always entered as an exhibit. Consequently, as a professor, lecturer, instructor, adjunct or whatever word someone has coined to describe the person in front of a classroom out of high school, make sure you syllabus includes the risk of the activity.

This might mean your syllabus becomes an assumption of the risk document. A syllabus in many states is an agreement between the student and the college (without a signature, but never the less a contract). Consequently use that opportunity to inform the student of the risks they may encounter in your class.

Second, if you are doing an activity where the court may not fully understand the risks of the activity, you need to prepare that defense in advance of any litigation. Do not limit your documents to identifying just the inherent risks of an activity, but all of the risks of an activity. Have videos available or on your website for your guests to review so they understand what is going to happen and what the real risks are.

Most importantly, do what you do best. Educate. The more your students know before their desks, they should fully understand all aspects of what they are going to encounter.

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Connecticut court determines that a release will not bar a negligent claim created by statute.

Statute requires ski area to mark equipment on the slope. The ski area argued the release protected them from negligence claims based on the statute, and the court disagreed.

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

Plaintiff: Alexandra Laliberte

Defendant: White Water Mountain Resorts

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Connecticut Skier Safety Act & release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2004

The plaintiff was skiing as part of a high school varsity ski team. She hit a snow making device which was inadequately identified and placed on the trail according to the plaintiff.

The defendant moved for summary judgment based on the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and a release the plaintiff had signed to participate on the ski team.

The release had been signed when the plaintiff was a minor, however, she did not rescind the release when she became an adult.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution.

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

The first argument was whether the Connecticut Skier Safety Act shielded the defendant from liability. The act requires the ski area operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow making equipment.

Sec. 29-211.  (Formerly Sec. 19-418k). Duties of operator of passenger tramway or ski area.

In the operation of a passenger tramway or ski area, each operator shall have the obligation to perform certain duties including, but not limited to: (1) Conspicuously marking all trail maintenance vehicles and furnishing the vehicles with flashing or rotating lights which shall be operated whenever the vehicles are working or moving within the skiing area; (2) conspicuously marking the entrance to each trail or slope with a symbol, adopted or approved by the National Ski Areas Association, which identifies the relative degree of difficulty of such trail or slope or warns that such trail or slope is closed; (3) ensuring that any lift tower that is located on a trail or slope is padded or otherwise protected; (4) maintaining one or more trail boards, at prominent locations within the ski area, displaying such area’s network of ski trails and slopes, designating each trail or slope in the same manner as provided in subdivision (2) of this section and notifying each skier that the wearing of ski retention straps or other devices used to prevent runaway skis is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; (5) in the event maintenance personnel or equipment are being employed on any trail or slope during the hours at which such trail or slope is open to the public, conspicuously posting notice thereof at the entrance to such trail or slope; (6) conspicuously marking trail or slope intersections; (7) ensuring that passenger tramways, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, are equipped with restraint devices; (8) at the entrance of a passenger tramway, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, conspicuously posting instructions regarding the proper use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway and notice that the use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; and (9) ensuring that any hydrant, snow-making equipment and pipes that are located within the borders of a designated slope, trail or area that is approved and open for skiing by the operator and regularly groomed as part of the operator’s normal maintenance activities are padded or marked by portable fencing or a similar device.

Emphasize (bold) added

The plaintiff’s argued it was not marked. The ski area argued that the snow making device was not located on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, the court held that because there was a factual dispute, this matter had to go to trial.

The next issue was whether the release stopped claims created or based upon the statute. Normally, these claims are called negligence per se claims. (See Instructional Colorado decision Negligence, Negligence Per Se and Premises Liability or Motion for Summary Judgement failed because the plaintiff’s claim was based upon a failure to follow a statute or rule creating a negligence per se defense to the release in this Pennsylvania sailing case for more on Negligence Per Se claims.) Negligence per se claims are negligence claims based on a statute or rule created to protect people. Normally, releases do not work against negligence per se claims. That wording or pleading in describing the claim was not used in this case.

The parties agreed that the release itself was valid. The issue was what the release applied to.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.”

Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The court first looked at the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and found the act was silent on the effect of a release. The court then reviewed other Connecticut cases and decisions from other states where a release was raised as a defense to a negligence claim based upon a statute. Generally, the court found “… the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Quoting from another case the court found ““parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.”

The court found two bases for invalidating releases when argued to bar claims like this.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member.

Here the court found using a release to avoid liability for a statutory duty would allow defendants to have free reign to ignore the statute.

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

The motion for summary judgment was denied and the case set for trial.

So Now What?

This result is probably the result you will find in all cases where the release is raised as a defense to a statutory duty. The only way to avoid this is to have the statute that creates the duty, include a clause that states the release is still valid.

Similar arguments are used by courts when they have determined that a statute that may have statutory duties and also has statutory protections eliminates the use of a release in full. Meaning the statute provided the protection the legislature wanted, that is all you get. Hawaii did this (Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release) and New Mexico in Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332; 2002 NMCA 60; 48, P.3d 70; 2002 N.M. App. 39; 41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25.

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BSA (Cub Scout) volunteer was not liable for injuries to cub because cub assumed the risk of his injuries. The BSA & Council were not liable because volunteer was not an agent.

A volunteer is not an employee or under the control of the sponsoring organization or BSA councils. Additionally, the plaintiff was injured due to an inherent risk of the sport and therefore the defendants owed him no duty because of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.

Santho et al., v. Boy Scouts of America et al., 168 Ohio App. 3d 27; 2006-Ohio-3656; 857 N.E.2d 1255; 2006 Ohio App. LEXIS 3606

State: Ohio, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County

Plaintiff: Lynn and Rick Santho, on behalf of their son, Jamie Santho

Defendant: Boy Scouts of America, Simon Kenton Council, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, and the Chiller Ice Rink

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, reckless/intentional conduct, respondeat superior, and loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk, No Duty

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2006

A Cub Scout & his family went on a Cub Scout event at a skating rink. The Defendant volunteer of the Cub Scout Pack was a contractor for the skating rink, but not working at the time. She was a Den Mother in the Cub Pack.

The plaintiff played hockey. On the night in question, the plaintiff was racing with his friends, and he crashed into the boards suffering a concussion. The Defendant Ice Rink had rules that prohibited racing.

The plaintiff sued the Ice Rink, the Volunteer, the BSA Council and the Chartered Organization, a church.

The defendants filed various motions for summary judgment, but not all. A trial was held and at close of arguments, the court granted the defendant volunteer a directed verdict.

A directed verdict is one that after all the evidence has been presented at trial, the plaintiff has failed to prove their case, and the court directs a verdict for the defendant.

Motions for summary judgment and for directed verdict address the same issue, albeit at different times during the process of litigation. Whether in summary judgment proceedings or during trial, the ultimate issue under either Civ.R. 56 or 50 is whether the evidence is sufficient to present an issue for determination by the trier of fact. Summary judgment raises this question prior to trial; directed verdict raises the question during trial.  A court does not consider the weight of the evidence or credibility of the witnesses in ruling on either a motion for summary judgment under Civ.R. 56, or in ruling on a motion for directed verdict under Civ.R. 50. The question is whether there is sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue for a jury to decide.

The plaintiff appealed the directed verdict and various motions for summary judgment that were granted.

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

The appellate court started by reviewing the motions for summary judgment based on primary assumption of the risk. In Ohio, primary assumption of risk is a defense to claims for injuries from recreational activities.

Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, an individual injured in the course of a recreational activity is presumed to have assumed the ordinary risks of that activity unless it can be shown that another actor acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injury. The doctrine serves to remove liability for negligence under these circumstances.

Proof of primary assumption of the risk is a three-part test.

The test requires that: (1) the danger is ordinary to the game; (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.

The court found that it was foreseeable that anytime a person was ice skating or stepping on ice that falls or coming into contact with barriers was real.

There is no question that Jamie was participating in a recreational activity at the time he was injured. Falling is an ordinary danger of ice-skating. Colliding with the perimeter boards is an ordinary danger of ice rink skating. It was during the course of ice-skating and participating in the relay race that Jamie was injured.

In reviewing the facts of the defense presented and the arguments made supporting the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, the age of the plaintiff as well as the knowledge of the plaintiff are not factors. Meaning in primary assumption of the risk there is no requirement to prove the plaintiff knew in advance of the risks they may encounter in the activity.

The appellant’s age and ability to appreciate the danger involved is immaterial to the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. Only the conduct of defendant is relevant to recovery.

If the court finds that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk has been found, then there is not negligence. That is because the first requirement to prove negligence, a duty, does not exist. If the recreational activity has risks, the plaintiff assumes those risks; consequently, there is no duty to protect the plaintiff from the risks on the part of the defendant.

However, a recreation provider ordinarily owes no duty to a participant or spectator of an active sport to eliminate the risks inherent in the sport. Here, Bennett organized the fun skate for Pack 210, as she had on several previous occasions. That was her main project for the pack. Therefore, Bennett qualifies as a recreation provider.

The next issue was whether the volunteer acted recklessly. In Ohio, recklessness is defined as:

The actor’s conduct is in reckless disregard of the safety of another if he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.

Violating a rule or a statute is not enough to create a recklessness claim. Recklessness is an intentional act in creating a higher risk resulting in serious harm.

Furthermore, the Restatement notes that simply violating a statute or rule is not enough to constitute a reckless disregard for safety. The violation of the rule must (1) be intentional; and (2) be recognized as resulting in a significantly higher risk that serious harm will occur. A plaintiff cannot recover from any injuries that stemmed from “conduct that is a foreseeable, customary part” of the activity in which the plaintiff was injured.

Because the defendant volunteer did not increase the risk of harm by organizing the event or the race that injured the plaintiff, the defendant was not reckless. Nor did not require the plaintiff to wear a helmet constitute recklessness.

Appellants further argue that Bennett was reckless in not requiring Jamie to wear a helmet. No evidence was submitted to support this claim. Jamie’s father testified that he allowed his son to participate in the recreational skate without a helmet. Other testimony presented at trial showed that no fun skate participants were wearing helmets and that helmets are typically worn only while playing hockey. Finally, there was evidence that requiring helmets is not an industry standard.

The remaining defendants were part of the case because the plaintiff argued they were liable based on vicarious liability. There was no evidence that the defendant was an agent because they had no control over the volunteer defendant.

In contrast, there is no evidence to suggest that Bennett was acting as the agent of the BSA, SKC or POPLC. Bennett organized the family fun skate outside the framework of the BSA organization. The fun skate was held at a facility completely independent of the BSA. There is no evidence that the BSA, SKC or POPLC were aware of or had any control over the conduct of either Bennett or the fun skate. There is no evidence that Bennett acted as an agent of the Boy Scouts or any of the other organizations.

The ice rink was also not liable for the defendant based on the theory of respondeat superior. Respondeat superior states an employer is liable for the acts of its employee. However, at the time of the accident, the defendant ice rink was not paying or employing the defendant volunteer.

At the time of the fun skate, Bennett was not being paid by the Chiller. She was not acting as a rink guard. According to the evidence presented by the trial court, rink guards wore distinctive clothing that identified them in that capacity. There is no evidence that Bennett was acting as, or held herself out as a rink guard for the Chiller. Instead, the evidence supports only that Bennett was acting as a den mother of Pack 210 and organized the fun skate for Pack 210. She was there as a volunteer for Pack 210 and as a parent. Therefore, the trial court did not err in finding that there was insufficient evidence to show that Bennett was an agent of the Chiller and acting on behalf of the Chiller at the time Jamie was injured.

Because the volunteer defendant was found not to be reckless, the remaining defendants were not liable based on claims of vicarious liability.

So Now What?

The outcome of this case was first based upon an understanding of the relationship between a volunteer, the chartering organization, the BSA Council and the Boy Scouts of America by the appellate court. It is always important for the court to understand the legal relationship between the parties.

Volunteers are under the supervision and control, if any, of the chartering organization. The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America grants to the chartering organization the right to use its program. That grant is through, he local council who approves the chartering organization. Neither the National Council nor the local council have any real control over the volunteers the chartering organization approves.

Again primary assumption of the risk prevented the claims of the plaintiff because the plaintiff was participating in a sport or recreational activity and the injury the plaintiff suffered was an inherent risk of the sport or recreational activity.

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Morgan, v. Kent State University et al., 2016-Ohio-3303; 54 N.E.3d 1284; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 2160

Morgan, v. Kent State University et al., 2016-Ohio-3303; 54 N.E.3d 1284; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 2160

Aaron S. Morgan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Kent State University et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 15AP-685

COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, TENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, FRANKLIN COUNTY

2016-Ohio-3303; 54 N.E.3d 1284; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 2160

June 7, 2016, Rendered

COUNSEL: On brief: David B. Spalding, for appellant.

On brief: Michael DeWine, Attorney General, and Lee Ann Rabe, for appellee Kent State University.

JUDGES: DORRIAN, P.J. BROWN and SADLER, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: DORRIAN

OPINION

[**1287] (REGULAR CALENDAR)

DECISION

DORRIAN, P.J.

[*P1] Plaintiff-appellant, Aaron S. Morgan, appeals the June 19, 2015 judgment of the Court of Claims of Ohio granting summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee Kent State University (“KSU”). For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Claims.

I. Facts and Procedural History

[*P2] During the period of time relevant to the present matter, appellant was a student at KSU’s Stark campus. In the fall semester 2012, appellant enrolled in a beginning karate class taught by Edward C. Malecki, an employee of KSU. Appellant had no experience in martial arts before enrolling in the beginning karate class, but had a general idea of what karate entailed through movies and television.

[*P3] The course syllabus for beginning karate listed objectives for the students, including: “[d]emonstrat[ing] basic self defense techniques including release from various holds and counter attacks, joint [***2] locks and throws.” (Apr. 17, 2015 KSU Mot. for Summ. Jgmt., Ex. D.) Additionally, the syllabus listed a variety of fighting techniques, including punches and kicks, that the students were expected to perform. Students enrolled in the class were required to wear a mouth guard and padded gloves.

[*P4] As part of the class, students were required to spar with one another and with the instructor using only “light physical contact.” (Malecki Dep. at 52.) According to Malecki, there was no bodily or facial contact permitted either by the students or the instructor. During the sparring, students practiced guarding themselves using their hands in defensive postures in front of their body. It was not uncommon for students to make mistakes, such as dropping their guard by lowering their hands. When a student would drop his or her guard, the instructor would stop the sparring procedure until the student resumed guarding himself or herself.

[*P5] On October 24, 2012, while appellant was sparring with Malecki, he lost his balance and dropped his guard. When appellant dropped his guard, Malecki punched appellant in the face. According to appellant, Malecki’s palm struck him on the nose. Malecki was not wearing [***3] padded gloves when he struck appellant. Appellant’s nose immediately started bleeding. Malecki and a student employee helped to stop appellant’s bleeding and then filled out an incident report. Appellant later sought medical care and was told that he suffered a nasal fracture.

[*P6] On July 15, 2014, appellant filed a complaint in the Court of Claims asserting claims for negligence and negligent hiring against KSU. On March 31, 2015, appellant filed a motion for partial summary judgment and attorney fees and expenses pursuant to Civ.R. 37(C). On April 17, 2015, KSU filed a motion for summary judgment and a memorandum contra appellant’s motion for partial summary judgment. On April 28, 2015, appellant filed a supplemental brief in support of his motion for attorney fees and expenses. On April 28, 2015, appellant filed a reply brief in support of his motion for summary judgment.

[*P7] On June 19, 2015, the Court of Claims filed an entry granting KSU’s motion for summary judgment and denying appellant’s motion for attorney fees and expenses.

II. Assignments of Error

[*P8] Appellant appeals and assigns the following four assignments of error for our review:

[**1288] [I.] The trial court erred in holding that the broad and general [***4] language contained in the Waiver, which neither Kent State University nor Aaron Morgan intended to apply to academic or physical education classes, effectively released the Appellee from liability resulting from the Appellant being struck in the face by his instructor during a class the Appellant subsequently enrolled in through the University.

[II.] The trial court erred in holding that the Appellant’s claim against Kent State University is barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.

[III.] The trial court erred in failing to grant Plaintiff-Appellant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, as to the issue of liability.

[IV.] The trial court erred by its failure to rule on Plaintiff-Appellant’s Motion for Attorney Fees and Expenses pursuant to Civ.R. 37(C).

For ease of discussion, we consider appellant’s assignments of error out of order.

III. Discussion

A. Second Assignment of Error

[*P9] In his second assignment of error, appellant asserts the Court of Claims erred in holding that his claim for negligence was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk.

[*P10] [HN1] “[I]n order to establish actionable negligence, one seeking recovery must show the existence of a duty, the breach of the duty, and injury [***5] resulting proximately therefrom.” Strother v. Hutchinson, 67 Ohio St.2d 282, 285, 423 N.E.2d 467 (1981), citing Feldman v. Howard, 10 Ohio St.2d 189, 193, 226 N.E.2d 564 (1967). “Under the law of negligence, a defendant’s duty to a plaintiff depends on the relationship between the parties and the foreseeability of injury to someone in the plaintiff’s position.” Morgan v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-405, 2012-Ohio-453, ¶ 11, citing Simmers v. Bentley Constr. Co., 64 Ohio St.3d 642, 645, 1992 Ohio 42, 597 N.E.2d 504 (1992).

[*P11] [HN2] “Ohio law recognizes three categories of assumption of the risk as defenses to a negligence claim: express, primary, and implied or secondary.” Schnetz v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 195 Ohio App.3d 207, 2011-Ohio-3927, ¶ 21, 959 N.E.2d 554 (10th Dist.), citing Crace v. Kent State Univ., 185 Ohio App.3d 534, 2009-Ohio-6898, ¶ 10, 924 N.E.2d 906 (10th Dist.). Ohio courts have historically applied the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities. Crace at ¶ 12, citing Ballinger v. Leaniz Roofing, Ltd., 10th Dist. No. 07AP-696, 2008-Ohio-1421, ¶ 8, citing Anderson v. Ceccardi, 6 Ohio St.3d 110, 114, 6 Ohio B. 170, 451 N.E.2d 780 (1983).

[*P12] [HN3] “Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries.” Morgan at ¶ 13, citing Crace at ¶ 13, citing Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App.3d 27, 2006-Ohio- 3656, ¶ 12, 857 N.E.2d 1255 (10th Dist.). See Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699 (1990), paragraph one of the syllabus. Underlying the doctrine is the rationale that certain risks are [***6] so inherent in some activities that they cannot be eliminated, and therefore a person participating in such activities tacitly consents to the risks involved. Crace at ¶ 13, citing Collier v. Northland Swim Club, 35 Ohio App.3d 35, 37, 518 N.E.2d 1226 (10th Dist. [**1289] 1987). “The test for applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to recreational activities and sporting events requires that ‘(1) the danger is ordinary to the game, (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists, and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.'” Morgan at ¶ 13, quoting Santho at ¶ 12.

[*P13] “‘To be covered under the [primary-assumption-of-the-risk] doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.'” Horvath v. Ish, 134 Ohio St.3d 48, 2012-Ohio-5333, ¶ 19, 979 N.E.2d 1246, quoting Konesky v. Wood Cty. Agricultural Soc., 164 Ohio App.3d 839, 2005-Ohio-7009, ¶ 19, 844 N.E.2d 408 (6th Dist.), citing Westray v. Imperial Pools & Supplies, Inc., 133 Ohio App.3d 426, 432, 728 N.E.2d 431 (6th Dist.1999). “Where the risk at issue is not inherent, then a negligence standard applies.” Id.

[*P14] [HN4] The Supreme Court of Ohio has explained the applicability of the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk and the rationale underlying it as follows:

Acts that would give rise to tort liability for negligence on a city street or in a backyard are not negligent in the context of a game where such an act is foreseeable and within the rules. For instance, a golfer who hits practice balls in his backyard [***7] and inadvertently hits a neighbor who is gardening or mowing the lawn next door must be held to a different standard than a golfer whose drive hits another golfer on a golf course. A principal difference is the golfer’s duty to the one he hit. The neighbor, unlike the other golfer or spectator on the course, has not agreed to participate or watch and cannot be expected to foresee or accept the attendant risk of injury. Conversely, the spectator or participant must accept from a participant conduct associated with that sport. Thus a player who injures another player in the course of a sporting event by conduct that is a foreseeable, customary part of the sport cannot be held liable for negligence because no duty is owed to protect the victim from that conduct. Were we to find such a duty between co-participants in a sport, we might well stifle the rewards of athletic competition.

Thompson v. McNeill, 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 104, 559 N.E.2d 705 (1990), modified on other grounds by Anderson v. Massillon, 134 Ohio St.3d 380, 2012-Ohio-5711, 983 N.E.2d 266. See also Crace at ¶ 14.

[*P15] [HN5] When considering a defense of primary assumption of the risk, “the injured plaintiff’s subjective consent to and appreciation for the inherent risks are immaterial to the analysis.” Crace at ¶ 16, citing Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004-Ohio- 379, ¶ 9, 802 N.E.2d 1116, citing Ramos v. Countryside, 137 Ill.App.3d 1028, 1031-32, 485 N.E.2d 418, 92 Ill. Dec. 607 (1985). Thus, even persons “‘entirely ignorant [***8] of the risks of a sport, still assume the risk * * * by participating in a sport or simply by attending the game. The law simply deems certain risks as accepted by plaintiff regardless of actual knowledge or consent.'” (Footnotes omitted.) Gentry at ¶ 12, quoting Susan M. Gilles, From Baseball Parks to the Public Arena: Assumption of the Risk in Tort Law and Constitutional Libel Law, 75 Temple L.Rev. 231, 236 (2002). In accordance with these principles, this court has stated that “‘primary assumption of [the] risk requires an examination of the activity itself and not plaintiff’s conduct. If the activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, then a finding of primary assumption of [the] risk is appropriate.'” Morgan at ¶ 15, quoting Gehri v. Capital Racing [**1290] Club, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 96APE10-1307, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527 (June 12, 1997).

[*P16] [HN6] “The affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk completely negates a negligence claim because the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff against the inherent risks of the recreational activity in which the plaintiff engages.” Id. at ¶ 14, citing Crace at ¶ 15, citing Gentry at ¶ 11, citing Prosser & Keeton, The Law of Torts, Section 68, at 496 (5th Ed.1984). [***9] “‘Because a successful primary assumption of risk defense means that the duty element of negligence is not established as a matter of law, the defense prevents the plaintiff from even making a prima facie case.'” Wolfe v. Bison Baseball, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-905, 2010-Ohio-1390, ¶ 21, quoting Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 432, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996). “Because of the great impact a ruling in favor of a defendant on primary assumption of risk grounds carries, a trial court must proceed with caution when contemplating whether primary assumption of risk completely bars a plaintiff’s recovery.” Gallagher at 432.

[*P17] In Crace, this court considered the applicability of the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. In that case, Angela Crace, a student cheerleader at KSU, asserted a claim for negligence against KSU after she was severely injured during a cheerleading practice. On the day Crace was injured, the KSU cheerleading coach assigned members of the cheerleading squad, including Crace, to various positions in a maneuver known as a the “Big K.” The Big K was essentially a human pyramid that consisted of a base, a middle layer/base, and flyers; the pyramid was two and one-half people high. Spotters were positioned on the ground to catch the flyers when they dismounted the [***10] pyramid.

[*P18] Crace and several other members of the KSU cheerleading squad had successfully performed the Big K during the previous season. However, many other members of the team had neither performed nor seen the maneuver. On the day Crace was injured, the coach assigned Crace to the position of flyer. The first two attempts at the mount failed, resulting in Crace falling from about 15 feet in the air. However, the front spotter caught Crace when she fell. Before the third attempt, the coach substituted as the rear spotter a team member who had neither seen nor participated in the Big K. On the third attempt, the substitute rear spotter failed to catch Crace as she fell from approximately 15 feet in the air. As a result, Crace’s fall was unbroken, and she fell to the ground, resulting in immediate paraplegia.

[*P19] At issue in Crace was whether the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applied to relieve KSU of liability based on the conduct of the cheerleading coach. Crace argued that the doctrine applied only to co-participants in a recreational activity. We disagreed, finding that [HN7] the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies to co-participants and non-participants alike. [***11] In so finding, we noted that the analysis of the doctrine focuses exclusively on the activity itself. Thus, if the activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which risks cannot be eliminated, primary assumption of the risk is applicable. Id. at ¶ 16, citing Gehri. In so finding, we stated:

A holding to the contrary would likely shift the focus of the analysis away from the activity and its inherent risks. The analysis would then unnecessarily focus upon the extent of the defendant’s involvement and the defendant’s classification [**1291] as a participant, nonparticipant, coach, instructor, official, operator, owner, sponsor, provider, or otherwise. Injured participants would frame their allegations sufficiently to cast a liability net just beyond the reach of Marchetti and Thompson, with no regard for the inherent risks of the activity.

Id. at ¶ 25.

[*P20] We thus rejected Crace’s argument that primary assumption of the risk could not relieve a university of liability for negligence based on the conduct of one of its coaches in a cheerleading practice. Having so concluded, we next determined based on the evidence presented at trial that suffering an injury due to a fall is an inherent risk [***12] of cheerleading. Therefore, we found that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applied, and, as such, KSU owed no duty to protect Crace from the inherent risk of injury related to a fall while participating in cheerleading, absent a demonstration of recklessness or intentional misconduct.

[*P21] Here, appellant contends that the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk because “the facts of this case manifestly establish that the injury sustained by [appellant] on October 24, 2012 was * * * not a ‘foreseeable’ consequence of participating in the subject Beginning Karate class.” (Emphasis omitted.) (Appellant’s Brief at 28-29.) Appellant cites the following circumstances in support of his contention: (1) all of the students in the class were “novices in martial arts”; (2) “the students were specifically assured by the instructor that there would be no bodily contact during the class and that facial contact was explicitly prohibited”; (3) “the instructor was required to wear padded, protective gloves as a further safeguard against injury”; and (4) “when a student dropped his or her guard, the instructor was required to stop the session until the [***13] student raised his or her guard.” (Appellant’s Brief at 28.)

[*P22] Appellant suggests the court consider that he had no experience in the martial arts. However, such a suggestion “shift[s] the focus of the analysis away from the activity and its inherent risks.” Crace at ¶ 25. Appellant further suggests the court consider the instructor’s actions. This essentially is a claim that the instructor was reckless. However, appellant’s complaint did not allege reckless or intentional conduct.

[*P23] Therefore, we decline to consider the same and limit our analysis to whether the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies to appellant’s claim for negligence. Thus, we consider whether karate is an inherently dangerous activity from which the risks cannot be eliminated. Morgan at ¶ 15; Crace at ¶ 16.

[*P24] The Court of Claims found that “[t]here is no question that the martial arts class was a sports or recreational activity with an inherent risk of injury.” (Jgmt. Entry at 5.) Furthermore, the Court of Claims found that “[p]hysical contact between participants during karate sparring is simply a foreseeable hazard of the activity.” (Jgmt. Entry at 5.) Other courts have found that participating in martial arts involves inherent risk. Levine v. Gross, 123 Ohio App.3d 326, 330, 704 N.E.2d 262 (9th Dist.1997) (finding that the plaintiff [***14] understood the “kind of risk posed by sparring and grappling in the course of a karate lesson”); Barakat v. Pordash, 164 Ohio App.3d 328, 2005-Ohio-6095, ¶ 12, 842 N.E.2d 120 (8th Dist.) (finding in the context of martial arts that “being injured in the course of a hold or maneuver is a risk that is a foreseeable and customary risk of the sport”).

[*P25] Karate is a recreational activity involving physical contact in the form of punches, kicks, and other techniques as [**1292] detailed in the course outline for the beginning karate course in which appellant was enrolled. Thus, by its very nature, karate, as a martial art, is an inherently dangerous activity from which the risk of harm cannot be eliminated. Indeed, the course outline notes that a “mouthguard; sparring gloves; athletic supporter w/cup” are required. (KSU Mot. for Summ. Jgmt., Ex. D.) As danger is inherent in karate, it is common knowledge that such danger exists, and appellant’s injury occurred during the course of participating in the inherently dangerous activity, we find that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies in this case. Morgan at ¶ 13, citing Santho at ¶ 12. Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, KSU owed no duty to protect appellant from the inherent risks of the activity. Id. at ¶ 27 [***15] . As a result, appellant is precluded from establishing a prima facie case of negligence, and the trial court did not err in granting KSU’s motion for summary judgment. Barakat at ¶ 13, citing Gentry (“Because an inherent risk was involved, recovery is dependent upon whether the defendant’s conduct was either reckless or intentional.”); Wolfe at ¶ 21.

[*P26] Accordingly, appellant’s second assignment of error is overruled.

B. First and Third Assignments of Error

[*P27] In his first assignment of error, appellant asserts that the Court of Claims erred by holding that the waiver signed by appellant released KSU from liability for the incident on October 24, 2012. In his third assignment of error, appellant asserts that the Court of Claims erred by failing to grant appellant’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. Having overruled appellant’s second assignment of error, appellant’s first and third assignments of error are rendered moot.

C. Fourth Assignment of Error

[*P28] In his fourth assignment of error, appellant asserts that the Court of Claims erred by failing to rule on his motion for attorney fees and expenses pursuant to Civ.R. 37(C). We begin by noting that the Court of Claims in its June 19, 2015 judgment entry granting KSU’s motion for summary judgment did in fact rule on appellant’s March 31, 2015 motion for attorney fees and expenses. [***16] Specifically, the court stated: “The court finds that there was either a good reason for [KSU’s] failure to admit or the admissions sought were of no substantial importance. The court further finds that [appellant] has not suffered prejudice regarding the responses at issue. Accordingly, [appellant’s] motion for attorney fees and expenses is denied.” (Emphasis omitted.) (Jgmt. Entry, fn. 1.)

[*P29] Civ.R. 37(C) provides as follows:

Expenses on failure to admit. [HN8] If a party, after being served with a request for admission under Rule 36, fails to admit the genuineness of any documents or the truth of any matter as requested, and if the party requesting the admissions thereafter proves the genuineness of the document or the truth of the matter, he may apply to the court for an order requiring the other party to pay him the reasonable expenses incurred in making that proof, including reasonable attorney’s fees. Unless the request had been held objectionable under Rule 36(A) or the court finds that there was good reason for the failure to admit or that the admission sought was of no substantial importance, the order shall be made.

[*P30] Thus, [HN9] “[a] party may deny a request for admissions, but, upon motion pursuant to Civ.R. 37(C), improper [**1293] denials [***17] may subject the responding party to sanctions.” Salem Med. Arts & Dev. Corp. v. Columbiana Cty. Bd. of Revision, 82 Ohio St.3d 193, 195, 1998 Ohio 248, 694 N.E.2d 1324 (1998). “Whether such denials are subject to Civ.R. 37(C) sanctions depends upon whether the proof at trial contradicts the denial.” Id. The party denying a later-proved matter has the burden of proving that: “(1) the request for admissions was objectionable under Civ.R. 36 (A); (2) there was a good reason for the failure to admit; or (3) the matter was of no substantial importance.” Itskin v. Restaurant Food Supply Co., 7 Ohio App.3d 127, 129, 7 Ohio B. 161, 454 N.E.2d 583 (10th Dist.1982), paragraph one of the syllabus.

[*P31] “The determination of whether to award expenses and the amount thereof, pursuant to Civ.R. 37(C), necessarily involves a matter of discretion and, thus, is a matter lying within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Id. “‘[A]buse of discretion’ connotes more than an error of law or judgment; it implies that the court’s attitude is unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable.” Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219, 5 Ohio B. 481, 450 N.E.2d 1140 (1983).

[*P32] Here, the Court of Claims found that there was either a good reason for the failure to admit or that the admissions were of no substantial importance. Appellant fails to demonstrate that the Court of Claims abused its discretion by denying the motion. Accordingly, we overrule appellant’s fourth assignment of error.

IV. Conclusion

[*P33] Having overruled appellant’s second and fourth assignments of error [***18] and rendered moot appellant’s first and third assignments of error, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Claims of Ohio.

Judgment affirmed.

BROWN and SADLER, JJ., concur.


Santho et al., v. Boy Scouts of America et al., 168 Ohio App. 3d 27; 2006-Ohio-3656; 857 N.E.2d 1255; 2006 Ohio App. LEXIS 3606

Santho et al., v. Boy Scouts of America et al., 168 Ohio App. 3d 27; 2006-Ohio-3656; 857 N.E.2d 1255; 2006 Ohio App. LEXIS 3606

Lynn T. Santho et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Boy Scouts of America et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 05AP-341

COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, TENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, FRANKLIN COUNTY

168 Ohio App. 3d 27; 2006-Ohio-3656; 857 N.E.2d 1255; 2006 Ohio App. LEXIS 3606

July 18, 2006, Rendered

COUNSEL: Kemp, Schaeffer, Rowe and Lardiere Co., L.P.A., Steven D. Rowe and Darren A. McNair, for appellants.

Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, and Theodore P. Mattis, for appellees Boy Scouts of America, Simon Kenton Council, and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

Reminger & Reminger, Paul Michael LaFayette and Michael V. Valentine, for appellee Central Ohio Ice Rink, Inc./Chiller Ice Rink.

Bale, Begin & Associates, Ltd., David G. Bale and Christopher R. Cave, for appellee Margaret Bennett.

JUDGES: TRAVIS, J. BROWN and SADLER, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: TRAVIS

OPINION

[*31] [***1258] (REGULAR CALENDAR)

TRAVIS, J.

[**P1] Lynn and Rick Santho, on behalf of their son, Jamie Santho (“appellants”), appeal from summary judgment entered by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on July 8, 2004 in favor of Boy Scouts of America, Simon Kenton Council, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, and the Chiller Ice Rink (“Chiller”), and a directed verdict entered by the same court on March 2, 2005 in favor of Margaret Bennett.

[**P2] Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) issued a charter to the Simon Kenton Council (“SKC”), which in turn issued a charter to the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (“POPLC”) for the purpose of sponsoring Troop 210. The pack committee, which was made up of parents and organized by POPLC, supervised all [*32] everyday operations and the planning of activities of Troop 210. Jamie Santho (“Jamie”), age nine, was a Cub Scout in Troop 210. His Cub Scout Master was Fred Bigney (“Bigney”). Margaret Bennett (“Bennett”) was a den leader in the troop.

[**P3] In addition to her role as a den leader, Bennett also had significant ice-skating experience. Prior to her employment with the Chiller, Bennett was employed by the Ice Skating Institute of America as program and educational coordinator. Following that, she taught ice-skating at Ohio State University. At the time of the incident giving rise to this action, Bennett was a salaried employee of the Chiller, an ice rink located in Dublin, Ohio, and run by Central Ohio Ice Rinks, Inc. At the Chiller, Bennett served as the Skating School Director. Her duties included organizing class schedules and training instructors. On occasion, she also taught hourly lessons for a fee.

[**P4] On November 13, 1994, Bennett organized a family fun skate at the Chiller for the members and parents of Troop 210. She filled out the “Agreement for Ice Rental” and provided information and fliers to the members at their Pack meeting.

[**P5] Jamie Santho, his father, and his siblings attended the fun skate. Jamie was an avid skater, participated in hockey leagues, and took hockey lessons at the Chiller. Jamie’s father was a volunteer hockey coach at the Chiller. On the night of the event, Jamie’s father permitted Jamie to skate without his hockey helmet. Shortly after arriving, Jamie was racing with his friend, Colin Innes, from board to board. When Jamie looked over his shoulder to see where Colin was, he crashed into the boards and suffered a skull fracture and concussion. Appellants allege that Bennett had organized the relay race against the rules of the Chiller.

[**P6] Appellants filed suit against BSA, POPLC, SKC, the Chiller, and Bennett in 1997. Appellants dismissed their suit pursuant to Civ.R. 41 and re-filed on October 1, 2002, seeking recovery for claims of negligence, reckless/intentional conduct, respondeat superior, and loss of consortium. The trial court granted summary judgment to all appellees on the claim for negligence, under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. The trial court also granted summary judgment to BSA, SKC and POPLC for the claim of recklessness on the grounds that Bennett was not an agent of the organizations, and therefore, no liability could be imputed. [***1259] The Chiller also was granted summary judgment on plaintiffs’ recklessness claim. The trial court denied Bennett summary judgment on the recklessness claim and the issue proceeded to trial.

[**P7] The matter was tried on February 28, March 1, and March 2, 2005. At the close of arguments on March 2, the trial court granted Bennett’s motion for a directed verdict.

[**P8] Appellants timely appealed and assert four assignments of error:

[*33] I. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY GRANTING DEFENDANT MARGARET BENNETT A DIRECTED VERDICT AFTER THE CLOSE OF PLAINTIFFS’ CASE. PLAINTIFFS PRESENTED SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO PERMIT THE JURY TO CONSIDER THE ISSUE OF WHETHER DEFENDANT BENNETT’S CONDUCT WAS RECKLESS.

II. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFFS’ RECKLESSNESS CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, SIMON KENTON COUNCIL, PRINCE OF PEACE LUTHERAN CHURCH AND CENTRAL OHIO ICE RINKS, INC./THE CHILLER BECAUSE IT ERRONEOUSLY HELD THAT MARGARET BENNETT WAS NOT AN AGENT OF ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED DEFENDANTS, BUT ASSUMING ARGUENDO SHE WAS, THE COURT ERRONEOUSLY HELD FURTHER THAT PRINCIPALS ARE NOT VICARIOUSLY LIABILE [sic] FOR THE RECKLESS ACTS OF ITS AGENTS.

III. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFF’S [sic] NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS BENNETT, BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, SIMON KENTON COUNCIL, PRINCE OF PEACE LUTHERAN CHURCH, AND CENTRAL OHIO ICE RINKS, INC./THE CHILLER BECAUSE THE COURT ERRONEOUSLY RELIED ON GENTRY V. CRAYCRAFT (2004), 101 OHIO ST. 3D 141, 2004 OHIO 379, 802 N.E.2D 1116, AND MISAPPLIED THE DOCTRINE OF PRIMARY ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK TO THE FACTS IN THIS CASE.

IV. GENTRY V. CRAYCRAFT (2004) 101 OHIO ST.3D 141 [sic] IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL BECAUSE IT DEPRIVES CITIZENS OF THE STATE OF OHIO, AND IN THIS CASE PLAINTIFFS, RIGHTS UNDER ARTICLE I, SECTIONS 5 AND 16 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.

[**P9] [HN1] Appellate review of motions for summary judgment is de novo. [HN2] The moving party bears the burden of proving that: (1) no genuine issues of material fact exist; (2) the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law; and (3) reasonable minds can come to only one conclusion, which is adverse to the nonmoving party. Civ.R. 56. Where the evidence supports a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must present specific facts beyond the pleadings to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists and therefore, the moving party is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dresher v. Burt (1996), 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 1996 Ohio 107, 662 N.E.2d 264.

[**P10] [HN3] Appellate review of directed verdicts is also de novo. [HN4] Under Civ.R. 50(A)(1), a motion for directed verdict may be made upon the opening statement of the opponent, at the close of opponent’s evidence, or at the close of all evidence. If, after construing the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the trial court finds that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, which is adverse to the nonmoving party, the trial court may direct a verdict in favor of the moving party. Civ.R. 50(A)(4). When considering the evidence, the trial court may not evaluate the weight of the evidence or the credibility of the witnesses. Only the relevancy of the testimony may be [*34] considered. Gibbs v. Village of Girard (1913), 88 Ohio St. 34, 102 N.E. 299, 11 Ohio L. Rep. 39. A directed verdict presents a question of law, not one of fact. O’Day v. Webb (1972), 29 Ohio St.2d 215, 280 N.E.2d 896. Therefore, the sole determination [***1260] for the court is whether the evidence presented is sufficient to present the case to the jury. Ruta v. Breckenridge-Remy Co. (1982), 69 Ohio St.2d 66, 430 N.E.2d 935.

[**P11] Assignments of error one and three contest the trial court’s determination on summary judgment that the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applied to the facts of this case and its subsequent grant of a directed verdict in Bennett’s favor on the sole remaining issue of recklessness, an exception to primary assumption of the risk. Due to the interrelated nature of these two issues, we consider them first.

[**P12] In their third assignment of error, appellants object to the trial court’s application of primary assumption of the risk to this case. [HN5] Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, an individual injured in the course of a recreational activity is presumed to have assumed the ordinary risks of that activity unless it can be shown that another actor acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injury. Marchetti v. Kalish (1990), 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699; Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004 Ohio 379, 802 N.E.2d 1116. The doctrine serves to remove liability for negligence under these circumstances. The trial court applied the three-part test for primary assumption of the risk in sporting events set forth in Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., Inc. (1994), 93 Ohio App.3d 449, 638 N.E.2d 1082, reversed on other grounds, 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232. The test requires that: (1) the danger is ordinary to the game; (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.

[**P13] It is foreseeable that any time an individual, regardless of skill, steps onto ice, they risk falling or coming into contact with the barriers that set the perimeter of the skating surface. It is foreseeable that anytime an individual falls on ice, or strikes the perimeter boards, they risk injury. Therefore, every time Jamie Santho went onto the ice, either to play hockey or participate in any other activity, he assumed the risk of falling or running into the perimeter boards and injuring himself. There is no question that Jamie was participating in a recreational activity at the time he was injured. Falling is an ordinary danger of ice-skating. Colliding with the perimeter boards is an ordinary danger of ice rink skating. It was during the course of ice-skating and participating in the relay race that Jamie was injured. The appellant’s [HN6] age and ability to appreciate the danger involved is immaterial to the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. Only the conduct of defendant is relevant to recovery. Gentry, supra.

[**P14] [*35] Appellants further argue that the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to the facts herein because Bennett was not a participant in the relay race. 1 They argue that case law has only applied the doctrine in circumstances where the [***1261] defendant is another participant. However, [HN7] a recreation provider ordinarily owes no duty to a participant or spectator of an active sport to eliminate the risks inherent in the sport. Gallagher, supra. Here, Bennett organized the fun skate for Pack 210, as she had on several previous occasions. That was her main project for the pack. Therefore, Bennett qualifies as a recreation provider. Bennett is relieved of liability under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk even though she was a non-participant in the relay race. Based upon the case law and the facts of this case, we find that the trial court properly applied the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk and properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on appellants’ negligence claim. Appellants’ third assignment of error is not well-taken and is overruled.

1 The Santhos’ argue that negligent supervision should apply instead. [HN8] For a non-participant to be found liable in a recreational activity, it must be found that the non-participant either (1) allowed an activity to take place absent any management, or (2) allowed a participant with a known propensity for violence to engage in the activity. Rodriguez v. O.C.C.H.A. (2000), Mahoning App. No. 99 C.A. 30, 2000 Ohio App. LEXIS 4608; Kline v. OID Associates, Inc. (1992), 80 Ohio App.3d 393, 609 N.E.2d 564. Bennett managed the first race and the evidence indicates Richard Pretzloff supervised the second race. Furthermore, none of the participants exhibited violent behavior. Therefore, negligent supervision does not apply in this case.

[**P15] Under the first assignment of error, we must determine whether sufficient evidence was presented at trial to raise a jury question of whether Bennett acted recklessly when she organized the fun skate relay race. Appellants argue that the evidence presented on motion for summary judgment and the evidence presented at trial was substantially the same. Appellants state that if the trial court found a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of recklessness when ruling on the motion for summary judgment, that same evidence was sufficient to present a question for the jury on the same issue at trial. Appellants reason that the trial court could not be correct in both instances.

[**P16] [HN9] Motions for summary judgment and for directed verdict address the same issue, albeit at different times during the process of litigation. Whether in summary judgment proceedings or during trial, the ultimate issue under either Civ.R. 56 or 50 is whether the evidence is sufficient to present an issue for determination by the trier of fact. Summary judgment raises this question prior to trial; directed verdict raises the question during trial. A court does not consider the weight of the evidence or credibility of the witnesses in ruling on either a motion for summary judgment under Civ.R. 56, or in ruling on a motion for directed verdict under Civ.R. 50. Turner v. Turner (1993), 67 Ohio St.3d 337, [*36] 1993 Ohio 176, 617 N.E.2d 1123; Strother v. Hutchinson (1981), 67 Ohio St.2d 282, 423 N.E.2d 467. 2 The question is whether there is sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue for a jury to decide.

2 Appellants point out that, at trial, during discussions of the court and counsel on the question of directing a verdict, the court commented on the credibility of the testimony of a witness and noted reactions of the faces of the jurors during testimony. However, when the comments are viewed in the context of the discussion between court and counsel, we are satisfied that the comments were not a factor in the determination to grant a directed verdict.

[**P17] Where a motion for summary judgment is denied because the evidence demonstrates that a jury issue exists, and that same evidence is later presented at trial, logically, it would appear that the same result should obtain and a motion for directed verdict should be overruled. 3 However, the result of the first assignment of error is not dictated by a pre-trial decision on summary judgment or by whether the same or additional [***1262] evidence was available at trial. Instead, the ultimate issue presented by the first assignment of error is whether the trial court was correct in granting a directed verdict at the close of appellants’ case. As discussed from the evidence presented at trial, we find that reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion upon the evidence and that conclusion is that Bennett did not act recklessly during the fun skate relay race.

3 Compare Dupler v. Mansfield Journal Co., Inc. (1980), 64 Ohio St. 2d 116, at 126, 413 N.E.2d 1187, fn. 8, Brown, J., Concurring. “The same quantum of evidence can require that a motion for summary judgment be denied under Civ.R. 56(C) because there exists ‘a genuine issue as to * * * (a) material fact,’ and that a motion for directed verdict under Civ.R. 50(A)(4) be granted because ‘reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion upon the evidence.’ ”

[**P18] Appellants’ claim that Bennett acted recklessly arises from the relay race itself and what appellants feel were the violation of a posted rule that prohibited racing. Based on the evidence presented in the proceedings for summary judgment, the trial court determined that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Bennett was reckless in organizing the relay race and in permitting Jamie to participate without a helmet. 4 The trial court determined that there was a genuine issue of whether Bennett acted recklessly based primarily upon two factors; the sign at the ice rink that prohibited racing and the lack of helmets for the participants.

4 While the evidence on whether Bennett organized the relay race was in conflict, we must construe that evidence in the light most favorable to appellants and therefore assume that Bennett did organize the race.

[**P19] [HN10] Ohio has adopted the definition of recklessness contained in the Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts (1965), Section 500 . Marchetti, 96, at fn. 2: [*37]

The actor’s conduct is in reckless disregard of the safety of another if he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.

Furthermore, the Restatement notes that [HN11] simply violating a statute or rule is not enough to constitute a reckless disregard for safety. The violation of the rule must (1) be intentional; and (2) be recognized as resulting in a significantly higher risk that serious harm will occur. Id. at Section 500(e). A plaintiff cannot recover from any injuries that stemmed from “conduct that is a foreseeable, customary part” of the activity in which the plaintiff was injured. Thompson v. McNeill (1990), 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 104, 559 N.E.2d 705.

[**P20] Turning to the facts of this case, the question presented is whether Bennett was reckless in organizing the relay race in which Jamie was injured. More specifically, did Jaime’s injury stem from conduct-the relay race-that was a foreseeable part of the activity? We have already determined that Jamie assumed the risk of falling or coming into contact with the perimeter boards and injuring himself when he began skating and again when he voluntarily took part in the relay race. To be considered reckless, Bennett’s conduct in organizing the fun skate relay race had to create an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another; a risk substantially greater than that which is necessary to make that conduct negligent.

[**P21] From trial testimony and evidence, we know that there is a sign posted in the Chiller that prohibits racing. Warren Weber, the building supervisor at the time of Jamie’s accident, stated that the “no racing” rule applied to both public and private skating events. However, Weber also testified that the rule was relaxed during private parties. He further stated that even if the private party did not have [***1263] rink guards, “[w]e would never knowingly allow an unsafe condition. I think our employees knew what unsafe and safe were or were not and would not allow an unsafe condition to go on.” (Tr. at 79.) Weber said that if he saw individuals racing from board to board, he would take into account the ability of the skaters in determining whether the activity was safe enough to continue. Weber testified that, at the time of the fun skate, there were other people working at the Chiller, even though they were not working as rink guards for the fun skate. There was no evidence that anyone on duty at the time of the accident thought the activities were unsafe. Indeed, Richard Pretzloff, a Chiller employee and father of one of the Cub Scouts attending the fun skate was present during the relay races. Pretzloff testified that he allowed his own son to participate in the relay race.

[**P22] [*38] Additionally, it is undisputed that Bennett took certain precautions when she initiated the relay race. Bennett organized the activity and divided up the ice because the more skilled skaters were being disruptive and posed a threat of harm to parents and children who were not as proficient at ice-skating. Furthermore, only those of certain skill levels were allowed to participate in the races. Bennett set the rules and supervised the first race. According to her testimony, there was no evidence of dangerous activity. After the first race, she left the immediate area and left Mr. Pretzloff in charge of the second race. Even if events in the second race increased the risk of harm, there is no evidence that Bennett was aware of them, or that she allowed the races to continue despite some increased risk to the participants. In sum, we cannot say that Bennett’s conduct in organizing the relay race was in reckless disregard of the safety of another.

[**P23] Appellants further argue that Bennett was reckless in not requiring Jamie to wear a helmet. No evidence was submitted to support this claim. Jamie’s father testified that he allowed his son to participate in the recreational skate without a helmet. Other testimony presented at trial showed that no fun skate participants were wearing helmets and that helmets are typically worn only while playing hockey. Finally, there was evidence that requiring helmets is not an industry standard.

[**P24] We find that, as a matter of law, the evidence does not support a claim of recklessness regardless of how generously it may be viewed in favor of appellants. Therefore, the trial court did not err in granting a directed verdict for Bennett on the issue of recklessness. Appellants’ first assignment of error is not well-taken and is overruled.

[**P25] Under their second assignment of error, appellants contest the trial court’s determination on summary judgment that BSA, SKC, POPLC, and the Chiller were not vicariously liable for Bennett’s reckless acts because she was not an agent of those organizations. Because we have found as a matter of law that Bennett did not act recklessly, this argument has been rendered moot.

[**P26] Even if the evidence supported a finding that Bennett was reckless, under the facts of this case, BSA, SKC and POPLC were not vicariously liable because the evidence supports the trial court’s determination that Bennett was not an agent of those organizations. Appellants rely on Mayfield v. Boy Scouts of America (1994), 95 Ohio App.3d 655, 643 N.E.2d 565, a case involving injuries to a scout while on a camping trip under the direction of a Boy Scout volunteer. In Mayfield, the campout was at a facility controlled and operated by the Boy Scouts [***1264] and located on land owned by the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts required all volunteers who were in charge of campouts to purchase and wear official Boy Scout uniforms, accessories and supplies and to follow Boy Scouts [*39] policies, procedures, rules and regulations. Additionally, in Mayfield, there was evidence that the Boy Scouts retained a degree of direction and control over the volunteer who supervised the campout and Boy Scout insurance policies covered the acts of the volunteer. Finally, in that case, there was evidence that the plaintiffs relied upon the affirmative acts and representations of the Boy Scouts, which led the plaintiffs to believe that the volunteer was acting as an agent of the Boy Scouts.

[**P27] In contrast, there is no evidence to suggest that Bennett was acting as the agent of the BSA, SKC or POPLC. Bennett organized the family fun skate outside the framework of the BSA organization. The fun skate was held at a facility completely independent of the BSA. There is no evidence that the BSA, SKC or POPLC were aware of or had any control over the conduct of either Bennett or the fun skate. There is no evidence that Bennett acted as an agent of the Boy Scouts or any of the other organizations. We find Mayfield to be distinguishable on it facts.

[**P28] Appellants also argue that the Chiller is liable for Bennett’s actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Appellants contend that, because Bennett was an employee of the Chiller, the Chiller was liable for her actions committed during the course and scope of her employment with the Chiller. However, at the time of the accident, Bennett was not being paid by the Chiller. [HN12] Actions within the “course of employment” are, by definition:

Events that occur or circumstances that exist as a part of one’s employment; esp., the time during which an employee furthers an employer’s goals through employer-mandated directives.

Black’s Law Dictionary (7 Ed.1999) 356. Bennett’s employment duties as a director of ice-skating at the Chiller consisted of training instructors and scheduling. She also gave private skating lessons. However, all of these activities were directed by the Chiller, by whom she was paid. At the time of the fun skate, Bennett was not being paid by the Chiller. She was not acting as a rink guard. According to the evidence presented by the trial court, rink guards wore distinctive clothing that identified them in that capacity. There is no evidence that Bennett was acting as, or held herself out as a rink guard for the Chiller. Instead, the evidence supports only that Bennett was acting as a den mother of Pack 210 and organized the fun skate for Pack 210. She was there as a volunteer for Pack 210 and as a parent. Therefore, the trial court did not err in finding that there was insufficient evidence to show that Bennett was an agent of the Chiller and acting on behalf of the Chiller at the time Jamie was injured. 5 Appellants’ second assignment of error is not well-taken and is overruled.

5 Weber indicated that anywhere from four to ten people could have been working during the fun skate. The fun skate was not held as an after hours event. If it were, there would be some argument as to whether Bennett was an agent of the Chiller by virtue of being the only employee of the Chiller in the building, aside from Richard Pretzloff. However, this was not the case.

[**P29] [*40] In their fourth assignment of error, appellants contend that Gentry is a violation of Sections 5 and 16, Article I, Ohio Constitution. Appellants assert that, by relying on Gentry, the trial court violated their right [***1265] to trial by jury and a remedy by due course of law. Gentry is a decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio. [HN13] It is not within our authority to declare that a determination of a superior court is invalid.

[**P30] Furthermore, appellants failed to raise this issue at the trial court. Therefore, the issue has been waived for purposes of appeal. “It is a general rule that [HN14] an appellate court will not consider any error which counsel for a party complaining of the trial court’s judgment could have called but did not call to the trial court’s attention at a time when such error could have been avoided or corrected by the trial court.” State v. Childs (1968), 14 Ohio St.2d 56, 61, 236 N.E.2d 545 citing State v. Glaros (1960), 170 Ohio St. 471, 166 N.E.2d 379, paragraph one of syllabus. Appellants’ fourth assignment of error is overruled.

[**P31] Based upon the foregoing, appellants’ four assignments of error are overruled and the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas is affirmed.

Judgment affirmed.

BROWN and SADLER, JJ., 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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This California decision looks at assumption of the risk as it applies to non-competitive long distance bicycle rides and also determines that assumption of the risk also overcomes a violation of a statute (negligence per se).

A negligence per se claim can be stopped if the plaintiff assumed the risk under California law. This is probably a rare look at negligence per se in the fifty states.

Moser v. Ratinoff, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1211; 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198; 2003 Cal. App. LEXIS 138; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 987; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 1320

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Five

Plaintiff: Christian Moser

Defendant: Joanne Ratinoff

Plaintiff Claims: negligently, recklessly and carelessly operated, owned, controlled and maintained” her bicycle “so as to collide with the defendant.

Defendant Defenses: Primary Assumption of the Risk and Secondary Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2003

The plaintiff and the defendant participated in an “organized long-distance bicycle ride on public highways involving hundreds of participants.” The ride, the Death Valley Double Century was a 200-mile ride (double century). During the ride, the defendant swerved from the right side along the curb to the left into the plaintiff causing a collision. The plaintiff suffered injuries.

Prior to the ride, both participants signed releases. The releases explained several of the risks of the activity, but did not protect participants from claims of other participants. “The document does not purport to be a release of anyone other than the “event holders, sponsors and organizers.”

The case was dismissed at the trial court level because collisions are an inherent risk of cycling. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at the requirements for the defendant to prove assumption of the risk by motion.

When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains.

Under California law, a participant is generally responsible for their own injuries caused by the ordinary care or skill of another.

The court then looked at whether the plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of his injuries.

When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains.

Express assumption of the risk is usually considered a written assumption of the risk. The court set out the definitions that must be met to prove express assumption of the risk in California.

The doctrine of express assumption of the risk is founded on express agreement. ‘Although in the academic literature “express assumption of risk” often has been designated as a separate, contract-based species of assumption of risk . . ., cases involving express assumption of risk are concerned with instances in which, as the result of an express agreement, the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from an injury-causing risk.’ Such an agreement, if valid, ‘operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect to the risks encompassed by the agreement. . . .’ That express assumption of risk is founded on an express agreement undercuts the distributor defendants’ claim that it is good as against the world.

The court found that express assumption of the risk could not be applied to this case, as the defendants failed to prove that she was entitled to use the release signed by both parties before entering the race. However, the court found there could still be some value to the defendant from the release. “A person’s written acknowledgment of the risks inherent in an activity may, however, have an effect on determinations concerning implied assumption of risk.”

The court then looked at implied assumption of the risk, also known as secondary assumption of the risk, and whether it could be proved in this case. Under California law, implied assumption of the risk “embodies a legal conclusion that there is ‘no duty’ on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk”

Implied assumption of the risk was defined by the California Supreme Court as:

…a defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport (in that case, an informal touch football game) voluntarily played by the plaintiff, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct, but does owe a duty not to increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. The court said that “[i]n some situations . . . the careless conduct of others is treated as an ‘inherent risk’ of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.”

The reasoning for this is to impose a duty would place a chill on most sporting activities so that participants would not vigorously compete.

The test for implied assumption of the risk is not whether the defendant must protect the plaintiff from a known risk, but the nature of the activity.

The court then looked to determine if prior decisions had applied the defense of implied assumption of the risk to “organized non-competitive recreational bicycle riding.” However, the court did find that the risks and other factors made this type of cycling the same as other sports that implied assumption of the risk had been applied too by other California courts.

Nevertheless, this sport appears to fall within those activities to which these cases apply the assumption of risk doctrine. As the court said upon “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors” from the cases,  an activity is a “sport” to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies if that activity “is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.” That delineation is a useful one and covers the bicycle ride here.

The court also found that although bicycles are vehicles under California law, this type of activity was not the same as driving a car. This was done for enjoyment and physical activity.

However, the assumption of risk is not a blanket defense to all claims.

The primary assumption of risk rule “does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.’

Defendants have no legal duty to eliminate the risk or protect a plaintiff to the risks inherent in a sport. The next issue becomes what then are the inherent risks of a sport.

Conduct is not inherent in the sport if that conduct is “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport . . . [and] if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” A participant injured in a sporting activity by another participant may recover from that coparticipant for intentional infliction of injury or tortious behavior “so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport” but not for mere negligence.

The court then gave examples of non-inherent risks and inherent risks in sports as determined by other California courts.

Certain activities have been held not to be inherent in a sport and thus not subject to the primary assumption of risk doctrine. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. On the other hand, in various sports, going too fast, making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, or proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports.

The court then found that two riders riding side by side, a collision between the two, or one rider riding into the other was an inherent risk of cycling.

The analogies derived from the risks in other sports suggest that one cyclist riding alongside another cyclist and swerving into the latter is a risk that is inherent in a long-distance, recreational group bicycle ride. The release Moser signed warns of the risk of accidents caused by the participants, thus indicating that such accidents are an inherent risk of the activity.

The defendant in this case the court determined was negligent, but was not wanton or reckless or conduct so totally outside of the range of ordinary activity involved in cycling.

The final issue the court looked at is whether the claim of negligence per se is barred by express or implied assumption of the risk. Court looked at precedent, prior case law, to determine the issue and found none. There were several California Supreme Court decisions that looked at the issue but did not rule on it. On the court today, this court determined from those prior decisions that a majority, four, of the justices on the court would argue that a negligence per se claim is blocked by express assumption of the risk. “Nevertheless, a majority of the present California Supreme courts have expressed the view that a violation of a statute such as involved here does not displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine.”

The court upheld the ruling of the trial court, and the case was dismissed.

So Now What?

First do not assume that assumption of the risk, in any form can bar a negligence per se claim. There are several states were this would not be true.

Second, the court’s analysis of the facts and the law are easily understood and supported by the case law quoted. This is a great case to understand the two types of assumption of the risk allowed in California.

Finally, in California of two or more people riding together is that one of those people assumes the inherent risk of colliding with the other.

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

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