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

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

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

No. 85-204

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

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

May 12, 1986

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

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

JUDGES: King, C.J.  All concurred.

OPINION BY: KING

OPINION

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

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

“RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affirmed.

 

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Marsh v. Dixon, 707 N.E.2d 998; 1999 Ind. App. LEXIS 372; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P15,479

Marsh v. Dixon, 707 N.E.2d 998; 1999 Ind. App. LEXIS 372; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P15,479

Jason C. Marsh and Rhonda Marsh, Appellant-Plaintiffs, vs. Kirk Dixon, Dyna Soar Aerobatics, Inc., Appellee-Defendants.

No. 49A05-9803-CV-146

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA, FIFTH DISTRICT

707 N.E.2d 998; 1999 Ind. App. LEXIS 372; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P15,479

March 12, 1999, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Richard H. Huston, Judge. Cause No. 49D10-9610-CT-1378.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

COUNSEL: For APPELLANT: JAMES F. LUDLOW, Indianapolis, Indiana.

For APPELLEE: MICHAEL A. ASPY, Landau, Omahana & Kopka, Carmel, Indiana.

JUDGES: ROBB, Judge. BAKER, J., and GARRARD, J., concur.

OPINION BY: ROBB

OPINION

[*999] OPINION

ROBB, Judge

Case Summary

Appellants-Plaintiffs, Jason C. Marsh and Rhonda Marsh (collectively referred to as “Marsh”), appeal the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Appellees, Kirk Dixon and Dyna Soar Aerobatics, Inc. (collectively referred to as “Dyna Soar”) on Marsh’s gross negligence and products liability claim. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

Issues

Marsh raises two issues for our review which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court erred by entering summary judgment in favor of Dyna Soar when it determined that the release signed by Marsh was valid; and

II. Whether the trial court erred by entering summary judgment in favor of Dyna Soar when it determined that the facts of this case do not support a products liability claim.

Facts and Procedural [**2] History

The facts most favorable to the judgment show that on October 9, 1994, Marsh decided to ride in a wind tunnel (“Dyna Soar Machine”) constructed by Kirk Dixon (“Dixon”) for Dyna Soar Aerobatics, Inc. Dixon is the sole officer of this company. The Dyna Soar Ride simulates the experience of free-fall by projecting columns of air through a cable trampoline upon which patrons of the ride levitate. Marsh signed a release which discharged Dyna Soar, its director, and its employees from liability in the event of an accident. While on the Dyna Soar ride, Marsh fell off of a column of air and fractured his ankle. Marsh sued Dyna Soar, bringing both a negligence claim and a products liability claim. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Dyna Soar finding that “the facts do not support a products liability claim or a misrepresentation claim.” (R. 159). This appeal ensued.

Discussion and Decision

Before we reach Marsh’s first issue, we note that Dyna Soar argues in their brief that Marsh waives the issue regarding the validity of the release for two reasons. First, Dyna Soar argues that Marsh failed to make a negligence claim in his original complaint. In [**3] his original complaint, Marsh filed a claim under a gross negligence theory. Second, Marsh failed to raise the same issue in his Motion to Correct Errors.

First, we find that Dyna Soar has waived their argument regarding the fact that Marsh made a gross negligence claim rather than a negligence claim. In their brief, they cite no cases and outline no argument developing this position. [HN1] Ind. Appellate Rule 8.3 requires Dyna Soar to support each contention with an argument, including citations to the authorities, statutes, and record for support. App.R. 8.3(A)(7); Burnett v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 690 N.E.2d 747, 749 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998). Failure of a party to [*1000] present a cogent argument in his or her brief is considered a waiver of that issue. Id.

Second, we conclude that a party does not waive their right to appeal a claim by omitting the same from its Motion to Correct Errors. Marsh raised two issues in its Motion to Correct Errors. He argued that he presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Dyna Soar was grossly negligent, and he argued that he had a viable products liability claim. He did not raise the issue of whether the release [**4] was valid. Indiana Trial Rule 59(A) provides that only two issues must be addressed in a Motion to Correct Errors before they may be appealed to this court: newly discovered material evidence and claims that a jury verdict is excessive or inadequate. T.R. 59(A)(1) and (2). The trial rule states that any other issues that are “appropriately preserved during trial may be initially addressed in the appellate brief.” Id. Trial Rule 59(D) states that a Motion to Correct Errors “need only address those errors found in Trial Rule 59(A)(1) and (2). Id. Based on the plain language of Trial Rule 59, therefore, we conclude that [HN2] a party does not waive its right to appeal a trial court’s decision if it fails to raise an issue in its Motion to Correct Errors which was properly preserved at trial. Dyna Soar’s claims to the contrary are based on cases referring to Trial Rule 59 before it was amended. Accordingly, we conclude that the following issue is properly before this court.

I.

Marsh argues that the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment on his negligence claim. In particular, he argues that the release he signed exculpating Dyna Soar was not sufficient to release [**5] Dyna Soar for its own negligence. We agree.

[HN3] It is well settled in Indiana that exculpatory agreements are not against public policy. Powell v. American Health Fitness Center, 694 N.E.2d 757, 760 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998). Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent. Id. In Powell, however, this court held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve the drafting party from liability unless it “specifically and explicitly refers to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.” 694 N.E.2d at 761. In Powell, the clause at issue stated that Powell released the defendant “from ‘any damages’ and placed the responsibility on Powell for ‘any injuries, damages or losses.” Id. The Powell court concluded:

As a matter of law, the exculpatory clause did not release [the defendant] from liability resulting from injuries she sustained while on its premises that were caused by its alleged negligence. Therefore, the exculpatory clause is void to the extent it purported to release [the defendant] from [**6] liability caused by its own negligence.

694 N.E.2d at 761-62 (emphasis added). This rule is based on the principle that an agreement to release a party from its own negligence “clearly and unequivocally manifest a commitment by [the plaintiff], knowingly and willing [sic] made, to pay for damages occasioned by [the defendant’s] negligence.” Indiana State Highway Commission v. Thomas, 169 Ind. App. 13, 346 N.E.2d 252, 260 (Ind. Ct. App. 1976) (emphasis in original). We note, however, that [HN4] an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity, or, as Powell stated, the exculpatory clause is void only to the extent it purports to release a defendant from liability caused by its own negligence. See Powell, 694 N.E.2d at 761-62. The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence. See 694 N.E.2d at 761.

In this case, we are presented with a similar exculpatory clause as in Powell. The release states in pertinent part:

I hereby fully and forever discharge and release [**7] . . . Dyna-Soar Aerobatics, Inc. and all of the partners, directors, officers, employees, and agents for the aforementioned companies from any and all liability, claims, demands, actions, and causes of action whatsoever arising out of any damages, [*1001] both in law and in equity, in any way resulting from personal injuries, conscious suffering, death or property damage sustained while flying Dyna-Soar.

(R. 275). Obviously, the release fails to specifically and explicitly refer to Dyna Soar’s own negligence. The injury sustained by Marsh was not allegedly derived from a risk which was inherent in the nature of the ride. Dixon instructed Marsh that he would only levitate three to four feet from the ground. When the ride started, however, Marsh was allegedly shot fifteen feet in the air and subsequently dropped to the ground. Such a risk is not inherent in the nature of a wind tunnel ride. Thus, if, indeed, the accident occurred as Marsh describes, the injury must have resulted from the negligence of Dyna-Soar. We conclude that the release is not sufficient to release Dyna-Soar because the release did not specifically and explicitly refer the Dyna-Soar’s “own negligence.” While this [**8] exculpatory clause may act to bar some types of liability, it cannot act to bar liability arising from Dyna Soar’s own negligence. Therefore, the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment in favor of Dyna Soar based on the release.

Dyna Soar argues that the Powell decision should not be applied retroactively. In support of this argument, Dyna Soar cites Sink & Edwards, Inc. v. Huber, Hunt & Nichols, Inc., 458 N.E.2d 291 (Ind. Ct. App. 1984). In Sink, the court held that ” [HN5] pronouncements of common law made in rendering judicial opinions of civil cases have retroactive effect unless such pronouncements impair contracts made or vested rights acquired in reliance on an earlier decision.” Id. at 295 (emphasis added). Dyna Soar argues that Powell changed the common law, and therefore, it should not apply to exculpatory agreements made prior to said decision. We disagree. Before the Powell decision, Indiana courts had never decided whether an exculpatory clause required specific language. In fact, in Powell, this court was careful to distinguish other cases which have upheld exculpatory clauses similar to the clause used by Dyna Soar:

Although [**9] we have upheld exculpatory clauses which have used similar language, those cases can be distinguished. In Shumate [v. Lycan, 675 N.E.2d 749 (Ind.Ct.App.1997), trans. denied] and Terry v. Indiana State University, 666 N.E.2d 87 (Ind.Ct.App.1996), the nonspecificity of the language in the exculpatory clauses was not put at issue nor addressed. In Marshall [v. Blue Springs Corp., 641 N.E.2d 92 (Ind.Ct.App.1994)], the focus of the appeal was that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the releases were signed “willingly” or under economic or other compulsion. The nonspecificity of the language used to effect release for the defendant’s own negligence was not presented as an issue nor addressed. In LaFrenz [v. Lake Cty. Fair Bd., 172 Ind. App. 389, 360 N.E.2d 605 (1977)], we noted “the form and language of the agreement explicitly refers to the appellees’ [party released] negligence.” Therefore, had the issue been raised, the language contained the specific and explicit reference to negligence we now hold to be necessary.

Powell, 694 N.E.2d at 762 (citations omitted). From the language of the Powell decision itself, we [**10] conclude that Powell did not change Indiana common law. Thus, Dyna Soar can not show that they relied on earlier Indiana decisions when drafting its exculpatory agreement.

II.

Marsh also argues that the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment on his products liability claim. In particular, he argues that the Dyna Soar machine is a product for purposes of the Indiana Products Liability Act. 1 We disagree.

1 The Indiana Products Liability was codified at Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-1 et seq. Since the inception of this litigation, however, the Act has been recodified at Ind. Code § 34-20-1-1 et seq. Hereinafter, we shall refer to the Indiana Products Liability Act using its former citation.

[HN6] In order to be subject to liability under the Indiana Products Liability Act, Dyna Soar must be defined as the seller of a product. The Act defines a seller as “a person engaged in the business of selling or leasing a product for resale, use, or consumption.” [*1002] Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-2(5). 2 A product [**11] is defined as follows:

” [HN7] Product” means any item or good that is personalty at the time it is conveyed by the seller to another party. It does not apply to a transaction that, by its nature, involves wholly or predominantly the sale of a service rather than a product.

Ind. Code § 33-1-1.5-2(6). 3 Marsh claims that Dixon created a machine, a product, and provided a service. He argues that his claim should not be barred just because a service was provided in this case. In support of his argument, he points this court to Ferguson v. Modern Farm Systems, Inc., 555 N.E.2d 1379 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990). In Ferguson, a worker fell off of a ladder that was attached to a grain bin. The plaintiffs sued the manufacturers of the grain bin and its component parts under a products liability theory. In determining that the Indiana Products Liability Act applied to the plaintiffs’ claims, the Ferguson court stated: “the legislature did not contemplate a distinction between movable and nonmovable property, but rather sought to exclude transactions which relate primarily to the act of providing a service, such as that provided by an accountant, attorney, or physician.” 555 N.E.2d at 1384-85. [**12] Marsh claims that no such service was provided in his case. We do not find Ferguson dispositive. The crucial issue in Ferguson concerned whether the real estate improvement statute of limitations or the products liability statute of limitations applied to the plaintiffs’ products liability claim. Thus, the Ferguson court discussed whether property affixed to real estate constitutes a product. Such is not the issue in the present case.

2 See now Ind. Code § 34-6-2-136

3 See now Ind. Code § 34-6-2-114

We find Hill v. Rieth-Riley Const. Co., Inc., 670 N.E.2d 940 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996) more applicable to the set of facts presented here. In Hill, the defendants removed and reset guardrails to facilitate the resurfacing of U.S. 31. The plaintiff struck one of these guardrails and brought suit against the defendants under the Indiana Products Liability Act. This court held that the contract between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the plaintiffs was predominantly a contract for [**13] services. The Hill court stated: “even if it were true that 31 new concrete plugs were installed and some rusted rails replaced, the [plaintiffs] have presented no evidence that this contract was not “for the most part” about the service of resurfacing the roadway.” 670 N.E.2d at 943. In this case, the transaction between Marsh and Dyna Soar wholly involved a service. By purchasing a ticket from Dyna Soar, Marsh received the limited right to ride the Dyna Soar machine. He did not receive an interest in any property. In fact, Dyna Soar retained all rights to operate and control the machine in question. We conclude that the trial court did not err by entering summary judgment against Marsh on his products liability claim.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

BAKER, J., and GARRARD, J., concur.


A.M.D., a Minor, vs. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Indianapolis, 2013 Ind. App. Unpub. LEXIS 913; 990 N.E.2d 527

A.M.D., a Minor, vs. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Indianapolis, 2013 Ind. App. Unpub. LEXIS 913; 990 N.E.2d 527

A.M.D., a Minor, by his Parents and Guardians, John Doe and Jane Doe, and John Doe and Jane Doe, individually, Appellants, vs. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Indianapolis, Appellee.

No. 49A04-1211-CT-551

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA

2013 Ind. App. Unpub. LEXIS 913; 990 N.E.2d 527

July 19, 2013, Decided

July 19, 2013, Filed

NOTICE: PURSUANT TO INDIANA APPELLATE RULE 65(D), THIS MEMORANDUM DECISION SHALL NOT BE REGARDED AS PRECEDENT OR CITED BEFORE ANY COURT EXCEPT FOR THE PURPOSE OF ESTABLISHING THE DEFENSE OF RES JUDICATA, COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL, OR THE LAW OF THE CASE.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE NORTH EASTERN REPORTER.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Transfer denied by A.M.D. v. YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, 997 N.E.2d 356, 2013 Ind. LEXIS 883 (Ind., Nov. 7, 2013)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Heather Welch, Judge. Cause No. 49D12-0805-CT-20350.

Taylor v. State, 891 N.E.2d 155, 2008 Ind. App. LEXIS 1678 (Ind. Ct. App., 2008)

CORE TERMS: summary judgment, camper, causation, counselor, bathroom, staff, proximate cause, restroom, superseding, intervening, exculpatory clause, foreseeability, foreseeable, bush, rafting, looked, matter of law, superseding cause, reasonably foreseeable, duty to supervise, chain of causation, omission, sexual assaults, suspicious, violent, negligent act, question of fact, supervision, supervising, designated

COUNSEL: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS:DANIEL S. CHAMBERLAIN, Doehrman Chamberlain, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: MARK D. GERTH, JEFFREY D. HAWKINS, MICHAEL WROBLEWSKI, Kightlinger & Gray, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

JUDGES: FRIEDLANDER, Judge. ROBB, C.J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.

OPINION BY: FRIEDLANDER

OPINION

MEMORANDUM DECISION – NOT FOR PUBLICATION

FRIEDLANDER, Judge

A.M.D., a minor, by his parents and guardians, John Doe and Jane Doe, and John Doe and Jane Doe individually, appeal from the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Indianapolis and YMCA of Greater Indianapolis (collectively, the YMCA) in an action brought by the Does alleging negligence against the YMCA. The following issue is presented in this appeal: Did the trial court err by granting summary judgment in favor of the YMCA under the doctrine of superseding causation?

We reverse.

The facts designated to the trial court for purposes of ruling on the motion for summary judgment follow. When A.M.D. was eight years old, he participated in a summer day camp through the YMCA’s Day Camp [*2] Program at Lions Park in Zionsville, Indiana. The camp was offered to children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. On June 27, 2006, YMCA camp counselors accompanied A.M.D. and the other camp participants to Creekside Park, which is a park immediately adjacent to Lions Park. On that particular day there were fifteen to twenty children, ranging in age from six years old to twelve years old, and three camp counselors at the park.

The purpose of the trip to Creekside Park was to give the children the opportunity to enjoy rafting and playing in and around the water. The camp began that day at 7:00 a.m. and the group walked over to Creekside Park at approximately 2:00 p.m. Until the time of the incident giving rise to this appeal, there was nothing out of the ordinary at the park and there were no activities or individuals that gave anyone at the YMCA cause for concern. In particular, there was no one at the park who was lingering around, looked out of place, or generally looked suspicious.

During the rafting excursion, the counselors were situated such that one counselor, Megan Donaldson, was positioned where the rafting began, and two counselors, Melissa Raab and Jay Binkert, were [*3] positioned where the rafting ended. Shortly after the rafting began, A.M.D. told Raab that he needed to go to the bathroom. Since the public restroom was a ten-to-fifteen minute walk away, Raab allowed A.M.D. to urinate by some bushes that were within Raab’s direct and unobstructed view. Raab instructed A.M.D. to remain by the bush and to return when he was finished. At the time Raab instructed A.M.D. to urinate in the bushes, she knew that the YMCA’s bathroom policy required at least one counselor and one buddy to go with a camper to the restroom. No campers were to go to the bathroom by themselves.

A.M.D. went to the bathroom by the bushes as instructed and was within Raab’s line of sight. Raab momentarily turned her attention towards the creek to check on the other children, and turned her attention away from A.M.D. for less than a minute. When Raab looked back to check on A.M.D., he was gone. Unknown to A.M.D. and the YMCA counselors, there was a sexual predator hiding in the woods near where A.M.D. was going to the bathroom. It was later determined that Stephen Taylor was the person hiding in the woods, and who attacked A.M.D. Taylor was so well hidden that A.M.D. did not see Taylor [*4] approach him from the front until after he had finished going to the bathroom.

Once Taylor emerged from the woods, he approached A.M.D., told him he was a doctor, and offered to give A.M.D. a piggy-back ride, which A.M.D. accepted. Taylor successfully lured A.M.D. farther into the woods where they were both alone and out of sight from any of the YMCA camp counselors. While hidden in the woods, Taylor sexually assaulted A.M.D. Once Raab noticed that A.M.D. was not by the bushes, she immediately began looking for A.M.D. and screaming his name. Ultimately, A.M.D. was found, but the perpetrator had run away. Approximately six months later, Taylor was arrested on an unrelated charge and was subsequently identified as the person who had sexually assaulted A.M.D. Taylor was convicted of a class A felony and was sentenced to fifty years in the Department of Correction. See Taylor v. State, 891 N.E.2d 155 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), trans. denied, cert. denied, 555 U.S. 1142, 129 S. Ct. 1008, 173 L. Ed. 2d 301 (2009), reh’g denied, 556 U.S. 1148, 129 S. Ct. 1665, 173 L. Ed. 2d 1032; Taylor v. State, No. 06A04-1009-PC-557, 951 N.E.2d 312 (July 29, 2011), trans. denied.

Prior to June 27, 2006, the YMCA was not aware of any criminal incidents or crimes that [*5] were committed at the Lions or Creekside Parks. Prior to June of 2006, there were no other incidents of violent or sexual assaults reported at Creekside Park. There have been no incidents of violent or sexual assaults reported at Lions Park for at least the past twenty-five years.

On May 7, 2008, the Does individually, and on behalf of A.M.D., filed a negligence action against the YMCA. The YMCA filed a motion for summary judgment in the action presenting the following two claims: 1) The YMCA was not the proximate cause of A.M.D.’s injuries because Taylor’s criminal actions were not reasonably foreseeable; and 2) the exculpatory clause contained in the camper application signed by Jane Doe released the YMCA from any and all claims. The Does filed their opposition to the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment claiming that the following four theories precluded the entry of summary judgment in the YMCA’s favor: 1) The YMCA negligently supervised A.M.D.; 2) the YMCA failed to prevent foreseeable intentional conduct by a third-party; 3) the YMCA did not have to be the sole cause of A.M.D.’s injuries; and 4) the YMCA is not released from its responsibility to A.M.D. and his parents by virtue [*6] of the exculpatory clause contained in the camper application form signed by Jane Doe.

On September 17, 2012, the trial court held a hearing on the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment. In part, the trial court’s order on summary judgment reads as follows:

The Court hereby finds that the Defendant, YMCA, is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law and the Court hereby GRANTS the Defendant, YMCA’s, Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court hereby DENIES the Plaintiffs’ Partial Motion for Summary Judgment regarding the exculpatory clause. The Court further notes that the Defendant never disputed that they had a duty to supervise A.M.D. Thus, the Court does not find this issue was before the Court and the Court declines to address the Plaintiffs[sic] Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on this issue as it is moot due to the Court’s ruling on the issue of proximate cause. There is no just reason for delay, and [the YMCA] is entitled to judgment in their favor and against A.M.D., a Minor, by His Parents and Guardians, JOHN DOE AND JANE DOE, and JOHN DOE AND JANE DOE, Individually on the Plaintiffs’ Complaint as a matter of law. This Judgment is a full, complete, and final Judgment on the [*7] Plaintiffs’ Complaint as to [the YMCA] in this case. The Clerk of this Court shall enter the Judgment in the Judgment Docket.

Appellant’s Appendix at 21. A.M.D. and the Does appeal. Additional facts will be supplied where necessary.

A.M.D. and the Does contend that the trial court erred by granting the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment and by denying their motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of the impact of the exculpatory clause in the camper application signed by Jane Doe. The trial court included in its summary judgment order specific findings of fact and conclusions of law. A trial court’s specific findings and conclusions are not required, and, while they offer insight into the trial court’s rationale for the judgment entered, and facilitate our review, we are not limited to reviewing the trial court’s reasons for granting or denying summary judgment. Trustcorp Mortg. Co. v. Metro Mortg. Co., Inc., 867 N.E.2d 203 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). A trial court’s order granting summary judgment may be affirmed upon any theory supported by the designated materials. Id. Additionally, the fact that the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment does not alter our standard of [*8] review. Id. In that situation, we consider each motion separately in order to determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

A plaintiff seeking damages for negligence must establish (1) a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant, (2) a breach of the duty, and (3) an injury proximately caused by the breach of duty. Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011). “Absent a duty, there can be no breach, and therefore, no recovery for the plaintiff in negligence.” Vaughn v. Daniels Co. (West Virginia), Inc., 841 N.E.2d 1133, 1143 (Ind. 2006). Where the action involves negligent supervision of a child, we have made the following observation:

[T]here is a well-recognized duty in tort law that persons entrusted with children have a duty to supervise their charges. The duty is to exercise ordinary care on behalf of the child in custody. The duty exists whether or not the supervising party has agreed to watch over the child for some form of compensation. However, the caretaker is not an insurer of the safety of the child and has no duty to foresee and guard against every possible hazard.

Davis v. LeCuyer, 849 N.E.2d 750, 757 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006). Our Supreme [*9] Court announced the three-part test for determining whether to impose a duty at common law in Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E.2d 992 (Ind. 1991), viz. (1) the relationship between the parties, (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured, and (3) public policy concerns, but that analysis is not necessary where the duty is well settled. Northern Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. Sharp, 790 N.E.2d 462 (Ind. 2003). Furthermore, the trial court found and the parties do not contest the finding that the YMCA owed a duty to supervise A.M.D.

In this case, the question presented on appeal concerns the issue of causation. We have held that causation is an essential element of a negligence claim. Bush v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 685 N.E.2d 174, 178 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997). “The injurious act must be both the proximate cause and the cause in fact of an injury. Generally, causation, and proximate cause in particular, is a question of fact for the jury’s determination.” Correll v. Ind. Dep’t of Transp., 783 N.E.2d 706, 707 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002). In the present case, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the YMCA after engaging in an analysis of causation, which we reproduce in pertinent [*10] part as follows:

Summary Judgment Standard

. . . .

11. This Court notes the issue presented by YMCA’s Motion for Summary Judgment only addresses the element of causation. The Court does find under well-settled Indiana Law that the YMCA had a duty to supervise A.M.D. However, the issue for this Court is whether there is a material dispute of fact on the element of proximate cause.

12. In order to prevail in a negligence action, the plaintiff must demonstrate all the requisite elements of a cause of action: “(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty by the defendant, and (3) an injury to the plaintiff as a proximate result of the breach.” Ford Motor Co. v Rushford, 868 N.E.2d 806, 810 (Ind. 2007). The question of whether the defendant owes the plaintiff a legal duty is generally one of law for the court. Stephenson v. Ledbetter, 596 N.E.2d 1369, 1371 (Ind. 1992).

. . . .

17. Causation is an essential element of a negligence claim. Bush v. Northern Indiana Pub. Serv. Co., 685 N.E.2d 174, 178 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), trans. denied (1999). “Proximate cause has two components: causation-in-fact and scope of liability. City of Gary ex rel. King v. Smith & Wesson Corp., 801 N.E.2d 1222, 1243-44 (Ind. 2003). [*11] To establish factual causation, the plaintiff must show that but for the defendant’s allegedly tortious act or omission, the injury at issue would not have occurred. Id. The scope of liability doctrine asks whether the injury was a “natural and probable consequence” of the defendant’s conduct, which in the light of the circumstances, should have been foreseen or anticipated. Id. at 1244. Liability is not imposed on the defendant if the ultimate injury was not “reasonably foreseeable” as a consequence of the act or omission. Id. Therefore, the fundamental test of proximate cause is “reasonable foreseeability”. Lutheran Hospital of Indiana, Inc v. Blaser, 634 N.E.2d 864, 871 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994).

18. Generally, causation, and proximate cause in particular, is a question of fact for the jury’s determination. Adams Twp. Of Hamilton County v. Sturdevant, 570 N.E.2d 87, 90 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991). However, “Where only a single conclusion can be drawn from the set of facts, proximate cause is a question of law for the court to decide.[“] Merchants National Bank v. Simrell’s, 741 N.E.2d 383, 389 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000).

19. In this case, the facts are undisputed and only a single conclusion can be [*12] drawn or inferred from the facts. Therefore, the Court finds that the issue of proximate cause is a question of law not fact.

Appellant’s Appendix at 13-16. The trial court then analyzed cases addressing the issue whether intentional criminal acts of third parties break the chain of causation under the doctrines of superseding and intervening causation.1

1 The Supreme Court described the doctrine as follows:

The doctrine of superseding or intervening causation has long been part of Indiana common law. It provides that when a negligent act or omission is followed by a subsequent negligent act or omission so remote in time that it breaks the chain of causation, the original wrongdoer is relieved of liability. A subsequent act is “superseding” when the harm resulting from the original negligent act “could not have reasonably been foreseen by the original negligent actor.” Whether the resulting harm is “foreseeable” such that liability may be imposed on the original wrongdoer is a question of fact for a jury.

Control Techniques, Inc. v. Johnson, 762 N.E.2d 104 (Ind. 2002) (internal citations omitted)(emphasis supplied).

Our Supreme Court in Control Techniques examined whether Indiana’s Comparative [*13] Fault Act2 had subsumed or abrogated the doctrines of superseding and intervening causation, and the impact of the viability of those doctrines, such that error could be predicated upon the refusal to instruct the jury thereon. In concluding that no instruction on the doctrine of superseding causation was warranted, the Supreme Court stated as follows:

For the reasons expressed below, we agree with the Court of Appeals that no separate instruction is required. In capsule form, we conclude that the doctrines of causation and foreseeability impose the same limitations on liability as the “superseding cause” doctrine. Causation limits a negligent actor’s liability to foreseeable consequences. A superseding cause is, by definition, one that is not reasonably foreseeable. As a result, the doctrine in today’s world adds nothing to the requirement of foreseeability that is not already inherent in the requirement of causation.

Control Techniques, Inc. v. Johnson, 762 N.E.2d at 108. The court went on to hold that the adoption of the Comparative Fault Act did not affect the doctrine of superseding cause. Id.

2 Ind. Code Ann. § 34-51-2-1 et seq. (West, Westlaw current through June 29 2013, excluding [*14] P.L. 205-2013).

The YMCA argues that the trial court correctly found that Taylor’s criminal conduct was a superseding or intervening cause of the harm to A.M.D. and cites Restatement (Second) of Torts § 448 in support. The Restatement provides as follows:

The act of a third person in committing an intentional tort or crime is a superseding cause of harm to another resulting therefrom, although the actor’s negligent conduct created a situation which afforded an opportunity to the third person to commit such a tort or crime, unless the actor at the time of his negligent conduct realized or should have realized the likelihood that such a situation might be created, and that a third person might avail himself of the opportunity to commit such a tort or crime.

The YMCA claims that it was not foreseeable that a sexual predator would be lying in wait in the woods in an attempt to sexually molest one of their campers, and in particular, A.M.D.

Restatement (Second) of Torts §449, known as the very duty doctrine, provides as follows: If the likelihood that a third person may act in a particular manner is the hazard or one of the hazards which makes the actor negligent, such an act whether innocent, [*15] negligent, intentionally tortious, or criminal does not prevent the actor from being liable for harm caused thereby. At the heart of these concepts is the necessity for an analysis of foreseeability.

The YMCA’s bathroom procedure for the camp, as set forth in the camp brochures provides as follows:

No camper is ever alone and no camper is ever alone with a staff member. All campers will take trips to the bathroom with entire camp and/or camp groups and camp staff. Campers will only use bathrooms inspected for safety by camp staff.

Appellant’s Appendix at 179. Additionally, day campers were to go to the bathroom in pairs, with one counselor present. The YMCA’s Code of Conduct for Day Camp Counselors provided as follows with respect to restroom supervision:

3. Restroom supervision: Staff will make sure the restroom is not occupied by suspicious or unknown individuals before allowing children to use the facilities. Staff will stand in the doorway while children are using the restroom. This policy allows privacy for the children and protection for the staff (not being alone with a child). If staff are assisting younger children, doors to the facility must remain open. No child, regardless [*16] of age, should ever enter a restroom alone on a field trip. Always send children in pairs, and whenever possible, with staff.

Id. at 213.

Further, the counselors were instructed that they shall never leave a child unsupervised. In particular, a day camp counselor, the position Raab held with the YMCA at the time of the molestation, has the general function of directly supervising approximately twelve campers and taking responsibility for each child’s safety. Several of the major responsibilities of the Camp Site Director involved the protection of the campers, such as personally supervising the campers at all times, being directly responsible for the daily safety and schedule of the campers, and maintaining a clean, neat, and safe campsite.

Raab’s deposition testimony indicated her understanding that an eight-year-old child should not be allowed to go to the restroom by himself or wander off because the YMCA did not want the child to get lost, suffer any harm, or be attacked. She further attested to the fact that under the YMCA’s rules campers are allowed to use only those bathrooms inspected by staff to make sure there was no one suspicious lurking around or lingering. Another YMCA employee [*17] attested as follows:

Q: What are the bathroom procedures for the YMCA?

A: For one staff person to accompany two children to the restroom.

Q: And why do you have that procedure or policy?

A: To protect children and to protect the staff.

Q: Protect children from what?

A: Potential child-on-child abusers or any interaction of any kind that’s inappropriate, fighting.

Q: Well, you would also have that policy and procedure for the one staff and two children to prevent sexual molestation from third parties, correct?

A: Correct.

Q: And that’s exactly what happened here; Mr. Taylor came upon the scene, found this child and assaulted him?

A: I can’t . . . .

Id. at 181.

Other designated evidence before the trial court suggested that until the time of the incident giving rise to this appeal, there was nothing out of the ordinary at the park and there were no activities or individuals that gave anyone at the YMCA cause for concern on the day in question. In particular, there was no one at the park who was lingering around, looked out of place, or generally looked suspicious. Furthermore, prior to June 27, 2006, the YMCA was not aware of any criminal incidents or crimes that were committed at the Lions or Creekside [*18] Parks. Additionally, prior to June of 2006, there were no other incidents of violent or sexual assaults reported at Creekside Park. There have been no incidents of violent or sexual assaults reported at Lions Park for at least the past twenty-five years.

We disagree that only one conclusion can be drawn or inferred from the undisputed facts. “[A]n actor need not foresee the exact manner in which harm occurs, but must, in a general way, foresee the injurious consequences of his act.” Rauck v. Hawn, 564 N.E.2d 334, 339 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990). Furthermore, a determination of whether Taylor’s act was a superseding or intervening cause of A.M.D.’s harm such that the original chain of causation has been broken depends on a determination of whether it was reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances that an actor would intervene in such a way as to cause the resulting injury. Scott v. Retz, 916 N.E.2d 252 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009).

In order to make that determination, three factors are pertinent to the analysis. First, courts on review have examined whether the intervening actor is independent from the original actor. Id. Next, we examine whether the instrumentality of harm was under the complete [*19] control of the intervening actor. Id. Third, we examine whether the intervening actor as opposed to the original actor is in a better position to prevent the harm. Id. At a minimum, the facts pertinent to the third factor are in dispute. Whether the criminal assault on A.M.D. by a stranger, Taylor, was foreseeable by the YMCA such that the chain of causation was broken, should be decided by a trier of fact and not as a matter of law.3

3 The trial court did not resolve the issue of whether the exculpatory clause in the camper application signed by Jane Doe released YMCA from liability because the issue was moot. We do not address the arguments pertaining to the release of liability because there is no ruling on this issue subject to our review.

Judgment reversed.

ROBB, C.J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.


Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

* Formatting in this case maybe different when finalized by the Court.

Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

Wendy Jane Stone, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., a Minnesota corporation doing business in the State of Colorado, d/b/a Life Time Fitness; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

Court of Appeals No. 15CA0598

COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION I

2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

December 29, 2016, Decided

OPINION

[*1] City and County of Denver District Court No. 14CV33637 Honorable R. Michael Mullins, Judge

Opinion by JUDGE MILLER

Taubman and Fox, JJ., concur

Announced December 29, 2016

Charles Welton P.C., Charles Welton, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Markusson Green & Jarvis, John T. Mauro, H. Keith Jarvis, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees

¶ 1 In this action seeking recovery for personal injuries sustained at a fitness club, plaintiff, Wendy Jane Stone, appeals the summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, Life Time Fitness, Inc.; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc. (collectively, Life Time), on Stone’s negligence and Premises Liability Act (PLA) claims based on injuries sustained when she tripped on a hair dryer cord after washing her hands. The principal issue presented on appeal is whether the district court correctly ruled that Stone’s claims are contractually barred based on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in a member usage agreement (Agreement) she signed when she became a member of Life Time.

¶ 2 We disagree with the district court’s conclusion that the exculpatory provisions of the Agreement are valid as applied [*2] to Stone’s PLA claim. Consequently, we reverse the judgment as to that claim and remand the case for further proceedings. We affirm the district court’s judgment on the negligence claim.

I. Background

¶ 3 Stone was a member of a Life Time fitness club located in Centennial. According to the complaint, she sustained injuries in the women’s locker room after finishing a workout. Stone alleged that she had washed her hands at a locker room sink and then “turned to leave when she tripped on the blow dryer cord that was, unbeknownst to her, hanging to the floor beneath the sink and vanity counter top.” She caught her foot in the cord and fell to the ground, fracturing her right ankle.

¶ 4 Stone alleged that allowing the blow dryer cord to hang below the sink counter constituted a trip hazard and a dangerous condition and that, by allowing the condition to exist, Life Time failed to exercise reasonable care. She asserted a general negligence claim and also a claim under Colorado’s PLA, section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2016.

¶ 5 Life Time moved for summary judgment, relying on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in the Agreement Stone signed when she joined Life Time. Life Time argued that the Agreement was [*3] valid and enforceable, that it expressly covered the type and circumstances of her injuries, and that it barred Stone’s claims as a matter of law. A copy of the Agreement appears in the Appendix to this opinion.

¶ 6 After full briefing, the district court granted Life Time’s motion, concluding that the Agreement was “valid and enforceable” and that Stone had released Life Time from all the claims asserted in the complaint.

II. Discussion

¶ 7 She contends that the district court, therefore, erred in entering summary judgment and dismissing her action.

A. Summary Judgment Standards

¶ 8 Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and supporting documents establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gagne v. Gagne, 2014 COA 127, ¶ 24; see C.R.C.P. 56(c). We review de novo an order granting a motion for summary judgment. Gagne, ¶ 24; see Ranch O, LLC v. Colo. Cattlemen’s Agric. Land Tr., 2015 COA 20, ¶ 12.

B. Negligence Claim

¶ 9 In her complaint, Stone alleged common law negligence and PLA claims, and she pursues both claims on appeal. The trial court’s summary judgment ruled in favor of Life Time without distinguishing between Stone’s negligence and PLA claims. It simply concluded that the [*4] exculpatory clauses in the Agreement were “valid and enforceable” and released Life Time from all claims asserted against it.

¶ 10 We turn to the negligence claim first because we may affirm a correct judgment for reasons different from those relied on by the trial court. English v. Griffith, 99 P.3d 90, 92 (Colo. App. 2004).

¶ 11 The parties agree that the PLA applies to this case. In section

13-21-115(2), the statute provides:

In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.

The PLA thus provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 328-29 (Colo. 2004); Wycoff v. Grace Cmty. Church of Assemblies of God, 251 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Colo. App. 2010). Similarly, it is well

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Section 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2016, defines “landowner” as including “a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.” In its answer, Life Time admitted that it owned and operated the club where Stone was injured and that the PLA governs her [*5] claims.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

established that the PLA abrogates common law negligence claims against landowners. Legro v. Robinson, 2012 COA 182, ¶ 20, aff’d, 2014 CO 40.

¶ 12 Accordingly, albeit for reasons different from those expressed by the trial court, we conclude that Stone could not bring a claim for common law negligence, and the trial court therefore correctly ruled against her on that claim. We now turn to the effect of the exculpatory clauses in the Agreement on Stone’s PLA claim.

C. Application of Exculpatory Clauses to PLA Claim

¶ 13 As we understand Stone’s contentions, she does not dispute that the exculpatory language in the Agreement would preclude her from asserting claims under the PLA for any injuries she might sustain when working out on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise equipment or playing racquetball. We therefore do not address such claims. Instead, Stone argues that the exculpatory clauses do not clearly and unambiguously apply to her injuries incurred after washing her hands in the women’s locker room. We agree.

1. Law

¶ 14 “Generally, exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored.” B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 136 (Colo. 1998). Determining the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court. Id.; Jones [*6] v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 375 (Colo. 1981). This analysis requires close scrutiny of the agreement to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language. Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004). Our supreme court has explained:

To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, we have previously examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.

Id.

¶ 15 Under Jones, a court must consider four factors in determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. 623 P.2d at 375.

2. Analysis

a. The First Three Jones Factors

¶ 16 The first three Jones factors provide little help for Stone’s position. The supreme court has specified that no public duty is implicated if a business provides recreational services. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467 (addressing guided hunting services and noting that providers of recreational activities owe “no special duty [*7] to the public”); Jones, 623 P.2d at 376-78 (skydiving services); see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949 (addressing recreational camping services and noting supreme court authority).

¶ 17 With regard to the second factor, the nature of the services provided, courts have consistently deemed recreational services to be neither essential nor a matter of practical necessity. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 941 F. Supp. 959, 962 (D. Colo. 1996) (snowmobiling not a matter of practical necessity), aff’d, 127 F.3d 1273 (10th Cir. 1997); Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo. 1996) (whitewater rafting not an essential service), aff’d sub nom. Lahey v. Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., 113 F.3d 1246 (10th Cir. 1997). Stone attempts to distinguish those cases by asserting that people join fitness centers “to promote their health, not for the thrill of a dangerous recreational activity.” She cites no authority for such a distinction, and we are not persuaded that such activities as camping and horseback riding, at issue in the cases cited above, are engaged in for a dangerous thrill as opposed to the healthful benefits of outdoor exercise. Consequently, the recreational nature of the services Life Time provides does not weigh against upholding or enforcing the Agreement.

¶ 18 With respect to the third factor, a contract is fairly entered into if one party [*8] is not at such an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to place that party at the mercy of the other party’s negligence. See Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1989). Possible examples of unfair disparity in bargaining power include agreements between employers and employees and between common carriers or public utilities and members of the public. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784. However, this type of unfair disparity is generally not implicated when a person contracts with a business providing recreational services. See id.; see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949-50.

¶ 19 In evaluating fairness, courts also examine whether the services provided could have been obtained elsewhere. Hamill, 262 P.3d at 950. Nothing in the record indicates that Stone could not have taken her business elsewhere and joined a different fitness club or recreation center. Nor is there any other evidence that the parties’ relative bargaining strengths were unfairly disparate so as to weigh against enforcing the Agreement.

¶ 20 We therefore turn to the fourth prong of the Jones test – whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [*9]

b. The Fourth Jones Factor

¶ 21 The validity of exculpatory clauses releasing or waiving future negligence claims usually turns on the fourth Jones factor – whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Wycoff, 251 P.3d at 1263 (applying the Jones factors to a PLA claim). This case also turns on that factor.

¶ 22 The issue is not whether a detailed textual analysis would lead a court to determine that the language, even if ambiguous, ultimately would bar the plaintiff’s claims. Instead, the language must be clear and unambiguous and also “unequivocal” to be enforceable. Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; see also Threadgill v. Peabody Coal Co., 34 Colo. App. 203, 209, 526 P.2d 676, 679 (1974), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378.

¶ 23 We conclude that the Agreement fails this test for numerous reasons.

¶ 24 First, as explained by the New York Court of Appeals, “a provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Gross v. Sweet, 400 N.E.2d 306, 309 (N.Y. 1979), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378. Here, the Agreement consists of extremely dense fine print, for which a great many people would require a magnifying glass or magnifying reading glasses.

¶ 25 Second, the two clauses are replete with legal jargon, using phrases and terms such as “affiliates, subsidiaries, [*10] successors, or assigns”; “assumption of risk”; “inherent risk of injury”; “includes, but is not limited to”; and “I agree to defend, indemnify and hold Life Time Fitness harmless.” The use of such technical legal language militates against the conclusion that the release of liability was clear and simple to a lay person.

¶ 26 Third, the first of the two clauses relied on by Life Time bears the following heading: “under Chapter 458, 459, 460, or Chapter 461 ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” At oral argument, counsel for Life Time conceded that the reference to multiple chapters was ambiguous and confusing, and he could not explain to what the chapters referred. Our research has not enlightened us on the subject. Conscientious lay persons could reasonably have skipped over the fine print appearing under that heading, believing it did not apply to them because they would have no reason to understand that chapters 458, 459, 460, or 461 had any relevance to their situation. Thus, the assumption of risk heading was not clear and unambiguous.

¶ 27 Fourth, the dominant focus of the Agreement is on the risks of strenuous exercise and use of exercise equipment at the fitness center:

  • The opening paragraph [*11] of the Agreement contains the following warning: “All members are strongly encouraged to have a complete physical examination by a medical doctor prior to beginning any work out program or strenuous new activity. If I have a history of heart disease, I agree to consult a physician before becoming a Life Time Fitness member.”
  • Under the confusing assumption of risk heading, the first sentence states, “I understand that there is an inherent risk of injury, whether caused by me or someone else, in the use of or presence at a Life Time Fitness Center, the use of equipment and services at a Life Time Fitness Center, and participation in Life Time Fitness’ programs.”
  • There then follows a listing of types of risks, including the use of “indoor and outdoor pool areas with waterslides, a climbing wall area, ball and racquet courts, cardiovascular and resistance training equipment,” and other specified programs, as well as
  • “[i]njuries arising from the use of Life Time Fitness’ centers or equipment” and from activities and programs sponsored by Life Time; “[i]njuries or medical disorders resulting from exercise at a
  • Life Time Fitness center, including, but not limited to heart attacks, strokes, [*12] heart stress, spr [sic] broken bones and torn muscles or ligaments”; and “[i]njuries resulting from the actions taken or decisions made regarding medical or survival procedures.”

¶ 28 Fifth, the term “inherent risk of injury” that appears in the assumption of risk clause has been applied in various Colorado statutes and case law to address waivers of liability only for activities that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. Thus, the General Assembly has provided for releases from liability in circumstances such as activities involving horses and llamas, section 13-21-119, C.R.S. 2016; being a spectator at baseball games, section 13-21-120, C.R.S. 2016; agricultural recreation or agritourism activities (including hunting, shooting, diving, and operating a motorized recreational vehicle on or near agricultural land), section 13-21-121, C.R.S. 2016; skiing, section 33-44-109, C.R.S. 2016; and spaceflight activities, section 41-6-101, C.R.S. 2016. Significantly, not one of these statutory exemptions from liability extends to the use of locker rooms, rest rooms, or dressing rooms associated with these activities. Rather, the releases of liability extend only to the dangerous or potentially dangerous activities themselves.

¶ 29 Colorado’s published cases concerning the term “inherent risks” similarly concern dangerous or potentially [*13] dangerous activities. For example, the term “inherent risks” has been addressed in cases involving skiing, Graven v. Vail Assocs., Inc., 909 P.2d 514, 519 (Colo. 1995); horseback riding, Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 782; medical procedures or surgical techniques, Mudd v. Dorr, 40 Colo. App. 74, 78-79, 574 P.2d 97, 101 (1977); and attendance at roller hockey games, Teneyck v. Roller Hockey Colo., Ltd., 10 P.3d 707, 710 (Colo. App. 2000). Thus, in reported cases, the term “inherent risks” has been limited to dangerous or potentially dangerous activities, rather than accidents occurring in more common situations, such as using locker rooms.

¶ 30 In light of this statutory and case law backdrop, the use of the inherent risk language in the assumption of risk clause, and the Agreement’s focus on the use of exercise equipment and facilities and physical injuries resulting from strenuous exercise, one could reasonably conclude that by signing the Agreement he or she was waiving claims based only on the inherent risks of injury related to fitness activities, as opposed to washing one’s hands. Indeed, Stone so stated in her affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.

¶ 31 Sixth, Life Time contends that the only relevant language we need consider is that set forth in the second exculpatory clause, labeled “RELEASE OF LIABILITY.” That provision begins [*14] by stating that “I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time . . . as a result of any such injury.” (Emphasis added.) The quoted language, however, is the first use of the term “injury” in the release of liability clause. So the scope of the release can be determined only by referring back to the confusing assumption of risk clause. It is not surprising then that Life Time’s counsel characterized the release’s reference to “such injury” as “squirrely.” In any event, all of the ambiguities and confusion in the assumption of risk clause necessarily infect the release clause.

¶ 32 Seventh, the exculpatory clauses repeatedly use the phrases “includes, but is not limited to” and “including and without limitation,” as well as simply “including.” The repeated use of these phrases makes the clauses more confusing, and the reader is left to guess whether the phrases have different meanings. The problem is compounded by conflicting views expressed by divisions of this court on whether the similar phrase “including, but not limited to” is expansive or restrictive. Compare Maehal Enters., Inc. v. Thunder Mountain Custom Cycles, Inc., 313 P.3d 584, 590 (Colo. App. 2011) (declining to treat the phrase as restrictive and citing Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern [*15] Legal Usage 432 (2d ed. 1995)), with Ridgeview Classical Sch. v. Poudre Sch. Dist., 214 P.3d 476, 483 (Colo. App. 2008) (declining to conclude that the phrase took the statute out of the limiting rule of ejusdem generis). For purposes of deciding this case we need not resolve this conflict; the relevance of the conflict for present purposes is that it creates another ambiguity.

¶ 33 That ambiguity – expansive versus restrictive – is critical because nothing in the Agreement refers to risks of using sinks or locker rooms. The assumption of risk clause refers to the “risk of loss, theft or damage of personal property” for the member or her guests while “using any lockers” at a Life Time fitness center. That is quite a separate matter, however, from suffering a physical injury in a locker room.

¶ 34 Significantly, when Life Time intends to exclude accidental injuries occurring in locker rooms, it knows how to draft a clear waiver of liability doing so. In Geczi v. Lifetime Fitness, 973 N.E.2d 801, 803 (Ohio Ct. App. 2012), the plaintiff entered into a membership agreement with Life Time in 2000 (eleven years before Stone entered into the Agreement), which provided in relevant part:

[T]he undersigned agrees to specifically assume all risk of injury while using any of the [*16] Clubs[‘] facilities, equipment, services or programs and hereby waives any and all claims or actions which may arise against LIFE TIME FITNESS or its owners and employees as a result of such injury. The risks include, but are not limited to

. . . .

(4) Accidental injuries within the facilities, including, but not limited to the locker rooms, . . . showers and dressing rooms.

Id. at 806. Life Time chose not to include similar language in the Agreement signed by Stone.

c. The Agreement Is not Clear, Unambiguous, and Unequivocal

¶ 35 Based on the foregoing discussion, and after scrutinizing the exculpatory clauses, we conclude that the Agreement uses excessive legal jargon, is unnecessarily complex, and creates a likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467. Accordingly, the Agreement does not clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally bar Stone’s PLA claim based on the injuries she alleges she sustained after she washed her hands in the women’s locker room.

III. Conclusion

¶ 36 The judgment on Stone’s negligence claim is affirmed, the judgment on her PLA claim is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings on that claim.

JUDGE [*17] TAUBMAN and JUDGE FOX concur.


Elliott, v. Carter, 2016 Va. LEXIS 151

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

Record No. 160224

SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA

October 27, 2016, Decided

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

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

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

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

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

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

OPINION BY: S. BERNARD GOODWYN

OPINION

PRESENT: All the Justices.

OPINION BY JUSTICE S. BERNARD GOODWYN

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affirmed.

DISSENT BY: McCULLOUGH

DISSENT

JUSTICE McCULLOUGH, with whom JUSTICE MIMS joins, dissenting.

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

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

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


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

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

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

No. 31042-6-III

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION THREE

July 23, 2013, Filed

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

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

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

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

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

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

HEADNOTES WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COUNSEL: Martin A. Peltram, for appellants.

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

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

OPINION BY: Stephen M. Brown

OPINION

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

FACTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CP at 156.

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

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¶23 Affirmed. [***13]

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


Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

Elizabeth Boisson, individually and on behalf of all statutory beneficiaries, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. Arizona Board Of Regents, a public entity; State of Arizona, a public entity; Nanjing American University, L.L.C., an Arizona corporation doing business as, or under the trade name of Yangtze International Study Abroad, Defendants/Appellees.

No. 1 CA-CV 13-0588

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One

236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

March 10, 2015, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Review denied by , , 2015 Ariz. LEXIS 348 (Ariz., Dec. 1, 2015)

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County. No. CV2010-025607. The Honorable Douglas L. Rayes, Judge.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Knapp & Roberts, P.C., Scottsdale, By Craig A. Knapp, Dana R. Roberts, David L. Abney, Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

Garrey, Woner, Hoffmaster & Peshek, P.C., Scottsdale, By Shawna M. Woner, Stephanie Kwan, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Arizona Board of Regents and State of Arizona.

Udall Law Firm, LLP, Tucson, By Peter Akmajian, Janet Linton, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Nanjing American University, L.L.C., dba Yangtze International Study Abroad.

Judge Samuel A. Thumma delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Margaret H. Downie and Judge Andrew W. Gould joined.

JUDGES: THUMMA, Judge.

OPINION BY: THUMMA

OPINION

[*621] [**933] THUMMA, Judge:

P1 Elizabeth Boisson appeals from a judgment dismissing a wrongful death negligence claim arising out of the death of her son Morgan Boisson. The judgment was based on the ground that Defendants owed no duty to Morgan when, while studying abroad in China, he traveled to Tibet and died of altitude sickness. Finding no error, this court affirms.

FACTS1 AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

1 The superior court struck supplemental filings relating to the summary judgment [***2] briefing and, on Elizabeth’s motion, struck portions of certain declarations filed by Defendants. Because the judgment is properly affirmed on other grounds, this court does not address these issues or the finding that there were no disputed issues of material fact. See Monroe v. Basis School, Inc., 234 Ariz. 155, 157 n.1 ¶ 3, 318 P.3d 871, 873 n.1 (App. 2014).

P2 Morgan was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, which is governed by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR). In the fall of 2009, Morgan and 16 other university students spent the semester studying in China at Nanjing American University (NAU). This study-abroad program, sometimes referred to as Yangtze International Study Abroad (YISA), was a collaborative effort between ABOR and NAU.

P3 While in China, the study-abroad program included school-sponsored trips to various cities in China with NAU faculty. At other times, the students organized their own trips. During a student-organized trip, 14 study abroad students — including Morgan — flew to Lhasa, Tibet. The students then drove to the Mount Everest base camp a few days later. While at base camp, which is approximately 18,000 feet above sea level, Morgan developed and then died of altitude sickness.

P4 As relevant here, Elizabeth filed a complaint [***3] against the State of Arizona, ABOR and NAU (collectively Defendants), asserting a wrongful death negligence claim pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) sections 12-611 to -613 (2015).2 After discovery, motion practice and oral argument, the superior court granted Defendants’ motions for summary judgment on the ground that Defendants “owed no affirmative duty of care to Morgan while he was a participant on the subject trip to Tibet.” After entry of judgment, Elizabeth timely appealed. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to the Arizona Constitution, Article 6, Section 9, [*622] [**934] and A.R.S. §§ 12-120.21(A)(1) and -2101(A)(1).

2 Absent material revisions after the relevant dates, statutes and rules cited refer to the current version unless otherwise indicated.

DISCUSSION

I. Duty In An Arizona Common Law Negligence Claim.3

3 Because the parties do not claim that any other law applies, this court applies Arizona law. See Gemstar Ltd. v. Ernst & Young, 185 Ariz. 493, 501, 917 P.2d 222, 230 (1996).

P5 Although described in various ways, [HN1] a plaintiff alleging a claim for negligence under Arizona common law has the burden to show: (1) duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) cause-in-fact; (4) legal (or proximate) causation and (5) resulting damages. See, e.g., Gipson v. Kasey, 214 Ariz. 141, 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d 228, 230 (2007); Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500, 504, 667 P.2d 200, 204 (1983); Wisener v. State, 123 Ariz. 148, 149, 598 P.2d 511, 512 (1979). “The first element, whether a duty exists, is a matter of law for the court to decide.” Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230 (citation omitted).

[HN2] The existence of a duty of care is [***4] a distinct issue from whether the standard of care has been met in a particular case. As a legal matter, the issue of duty involves generalizations about categories of cases. Duty is defined as an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm.” . . . .

Whether the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care is a threshold issue; absent some duty, an action for negligence cannot be maintained. Thus, a conclusion that no duty exists is equivalent to a rule that, for certain categories of cases, defendants may not be held accountable for damages they carelessly cause, no matter how unreasonable their conduct.

Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143–44 ¶¶ 10–11, 150 P.3d at 230–31 (citations omitted).

P6 As noted by the Arizona Supreme Court, pre-2007 case law addressing duty “created ‘some confusion and lack of clarity . . . as to what extent, if any, foreseeability issues bear on the initial legal determination of duty.'” Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231 (citation omitted). Gipson, however, expressly held “that [HN3] foreseeability is not a factor to be considered by courts when making determinations of duty, and we reject any contrary suggestion in [***5] prior opinions.” 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231. Accordingly, foreseeability is not a part of the duty inquiry and those portions of pre-Gipson cases relying on foreseeability when addressing the issue are no longer valid.

P7 Although a duty can arise in various ways, Elizabeth argues: (1) the student-school relationship imposes a duty on Defendants here and (2) public policy imposes such a duty. [HN4] Recognizing the concept of duty is context dependent, Gipson indicates that duty may arise from the relationship between the parties or, alternatively, from public policy considerations. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 145 ¶ 18, ¶ 23, 150 P.3d at 232; accord Monroe v. Basis School, Inc., 234 Ariz. 155, 157, 159 ¶ 5, ¶ 12, 318 P.3d 871, 873, 875 (App. 2014); see also Randolph v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 19 Ariz. App. 121, 123, 505 P.2d 559, 561 (App. 1973) (“No better general statement can be made, than that the courts will find a duty where, in general, reasonable men would recognize it and agree that it exists.”).

A. Duty Based On The Student-School Relationship.

1. Context Of The Duty.

P8 [HN5] “The student-school relationship is one that can impose a duty within the context of the relationship.” Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 5, 318 P.3d at 873. Arizona case law shows the duty most clearly applies in on-campus activities in the primary and secondary school context, where the relationship is custodial. Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 158 ¶ 9, 318 P.3d at 874. Arizona case law is less clear whether and to what extent the duty applies in off-campus [***6] activities in the primary and secondary school context. See Alhambra Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court, 165 Ariz. 38, 41–42, 796 P.2d 470, 473–74 (1990) (holding school district owed duty to high school student injured in elementary school-created crosswalk); Collette v. Tolleson Unified Sch. Dist., No. 214, 203 Ariz. 359, 54 P.3d 828 (App. 2002) (holding school owed no [*623] [**935] duty to third party who was injured by high school student who left campus in violation of school policy).

P9 In the college and university context, courts in other jurisdictions “are split on whether a college owes an affirmative duty to its students.” Restatement (Third) of Torts: Physical and Emotional Harm § 40 Reporters’ Notes cmt. l (2012) (Restatement) (citing cases). [HN6] Arizona case law, however, indicates a college or university does owe its students a duty of reasonable care for on-campus activities. See Jesik v. Maricopa Cnty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 125 Ariz. 543, 611 P.2d 547 (1980); see also Delbridge v. Maricopa Cnty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 182 Ariz. 55, 58–59, 893 P.2d 55, 58–59 (App. 1994) (holding college owed duty to student for injury incurred during college class, even though college did “not have a permanent campus”). It is undisputed that the Tibet trip was not an on-campus activity.

P10 The parties have cited, and the court has found, no Arizona case addressing whether a college or university owes its students a duty of reasonable care for off-campus activities. Section 40(b)(5) of the Restatement, applied by the Arizona Supreme Court in a different context, imposes a “duty of reasonable care with [***7] regard to risks that arise within the scope of the relationship” for “a school with its students.” Restatement § 40(a), (b)(5).4 As framed by the parties, Restatement § 40 provides that a college or university may owe a duty to its student “to risks that occur while the student is at school or otherwise engaged in school activities.” Restatement § 40 cmt. l (emphasis added). No Arizona case has recognized a duty by a university or a college in any context comparable to this case. In addition, Restatement § 40, in its final form, was promulgated in 2012, meaning there is comparatively little guidance in construing “otherwise engaged in school activities.” Restatement § 40 cmt. l. This lack of authority is significant given that Elizabeth has the burden to show the existence of a duty. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230.

4 In the common carrier context, Nunez v. Professional Transit Mgmt. of Tucson, Inc., applied Restatement § 40 Proposed Final Draft No. 1 (2007). 229 Ariz. 117, 121 ¶¶ 17–18 & n.2, , 271 P.3d 1104, 1108 & n.2 (2012); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 5, 318 P.3d at 873 (citing Restatement § 40 in primary school context).

P11 [HN7] Recognizing that the existence of duty is a legal, not a factual, matter, Gipson cautioned against “a fact-specific analysis of the relationship between the parties” in determining whether a duty of care exists. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232 (considering whether duty existed in a case not involving a categorical relationship). Accordingly, [***8] this court does not look at “the parties’ actions” alleged to determine “if a duty exists.” Id. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232. Instead, this court looks to the legal factors identified elsewhere to determine whether the Tibet trip was an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty of reasonable care. See Barkhurst v. Kingsmen of Route 66, Inc., 234 Ariz. 470, 472–75 ¶¶ 10–18, 323 P.3d 753, 755–58 (App. 2014) (citing cases); Wickham v. Hopkins, 226 Ariz. 468, 471–73 ¶¶ 13–23, 250 P.3d 245, 248–50 (App. 2011) (citing cases); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157-59 ¶¶ 5-11, 318 P.3d at 873-75.

2. The Trip Was Not An Off-Campus School Activity For Which Defendants Owed Morgan A Duty.

P12 [HN8] In the college and university setting, duty is not governed by custody or in loco parentis concepts. Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; see also Randolph v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 19 Ariz. App. 121, 123, 505 P.2d 559, 561 (App. 1973) (“There comes a time when an individual must take it upon himself to be responsible for his own education and well-being. No person can be insulated against all the risks of living.”). Similarly, “[t]he scope of the duty imposed by the student-school relationship is not limitless.” Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 6, 318 P.3d at 873. “[T]he duty is tied to expected activities within the relationship. Therefore, in the student-school relationship, the duty of care is bounded by geography and time, encompassing risks such as those that occur while the student is at school or otherwise under the school’s control.” Id. at [*624] [**936] 157–58 ¶ 6, 318 P.3d at 873–74 (citing cases and Restatement § 40(b)(5) cmts. f, l).

P13 In what are at best analogous [***9] contexts, Arizona cases have identified the following factors [HN9] in determining whether an off-campus activity is deemed a school activity: (1) the purpose of the activity, Collette, 203 Ariz. at 363 ¶ 16, 54 P.3d at 832; (2) whether the activity was part of the course curriculum, Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; (3) whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity, id.; Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 161 ¶ 18, 318 P.3d at 877; and (4) whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement, Collette, 203 Ariz. at 365 ¶ 23, 54 P.3d at 834. Courts elsewhere also have looked at whether (5) the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity; (6) whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so and (7) whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. See 5 James A. Rapp & Jonathan M. Astroth, Education Law § 12.09[6][c] (2014) (citing cases).

P14 Applying these factors, the Tibet trip was conceived by exchange students who wanted to see Mount Everest, not for any NAU-related purpose. After doing some research, a student made arrangements directly with Tibettours, a Tibet-based tour company, which then set the itinerary, arranged trip details and served as a guide during the trip. Fourteen [***10] of the 17 study abroad students then went on the trip and paid Tibettours directly, or through the coordinating students. The trip, details of the trip and the cost of the trip were not part of the study-abroad program or any course curriculum, and no academic credit was awarded for the trip. At the students’ request, NAU student liaison Zhang Fan helped the students communicate with Tibettours and arrange flights, and also provided a letter, required by the Chinese government to secure required permits, stating the students were NAU students. At the students’ request, the professors agreed to allow the students to make up classes they missed if they participated in the trip. Defendants had no supervisory authority over, or responsibility for, the trip, and no faculty or staff went on the trip. The risk of altitude sickness was present independent of any involvement by Defendants and the trip did not involve a potentially dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. Accordingly, applying these factors, the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty under Arizona law. See Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 159 ¶ 11, 318 P.3d at 875; Collette, 203 Ariz. at 363 ¶ 16, 54 P.3d at 832; Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; see also Rapp & Astroth, Education [***11] Law § 12.09[6][c] (citing cases).5

5 This does not mean that a university or college lacks a duty to protect its students for activities occurring off campus on property owned or controlled by the university or college, or for off-campus functions controlled or regulated by the university or college. See, e.g., Barkhurst, 234 Ariz. at 473–74 ¶¶ 12–14, 323 P.3d at 756–57 (discussing Estate of Hernandez v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 177 Ariz. 244, 866 P.2d 1330 (1994)); accord Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157–58 ¶ 6 n.2, 318 P.3d at 873–74 n.2 (citing Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59).

P15 Elizabeth argues that the Tibet trip was a school activity because: (1) Defendants “knew that study-abroad programs pose dangers,” and issued students cell phones to “safeguard . . . [them] during their study-abroad program;” (2) 14 of the 17 exchange students participated in the trip; (3) Defendants let students make up the classes they missed during the trip and (4) the trip would not have been possible without Fan’s assistance.

P16 Defendants’ purported knowledge that participating in the study-abroad program would involve “risks not found in study at” the University of Arizona in Tucson does not help answer whether the trip was a school activity. See Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231 (rejecting foreseeability as factor in determining duty). Similarly, providing the students cell phones “with which they can contact faculty and staff to answer [***12] questions and solve problems day or night from any part of China” does not make the Tibet trip a school activity. And although many study-abroad students decided to go on the trip, some did not. Allowing [*625] [**937] classes to be made up at the students’ request similarly does not mean the trip was a school activity and the record suggests that students would have gone to Tibet even if it meant they could not make up classes they missed. Finally, it may be that the trip would not have been possible but for Fan’s assistance in response to the students’ request. That, however, does not mean Defendants owed Morgan a duty while on the trip. No authority cited holds the existence of a duty turns on whether a defendant made something possible. Indeed, such a rule would mean an almost unlimited number of individuals and entities could be found to have owed a duty here, including the airline that flew the students to Tibet, the manufacturer of that airplane and the provider of the airplane fuel. [HN10] Although a “but for” inquiry often is relevant in determining whether a plaintiff has shown causation after a duty and its breach are established, it does not address whether a duty exists. See id. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232.

P17 Nor [***13] does Elizabeth’s reliance on 2007 and 2009 YISA brochures and an affiliation agreement between YISA and the University of Arizona alter the analysis. The substance of the 2009 brochure is not contained in the record. The description attributed to the brochure (“Additional Travel Opportunities,” noting “that students in past programs had visited Tibet”) does not make the trip here a school activity. Presuming the 2007 brochure applied to the Fall 2009 program, that document states: (1) “[i]ncluded in your program fee will be trips to important cities or sites in China;” (2) in addition, “students will have a week or more of time off to travel on their own” and (3) “[o]ur staff will help with all aspects of planning these trips throughout China.” That Defendants may have helped students plan “travel on their own” does not impose on Defendants a duty for the student-planned Tibet trip. Similarly, YISA agreeing to provide “student support services — translation assistance, travel planning, and emergency assistance” — does not impose upon Defendants a duty to protect students from harms in the student-planned Tibet trip.

P18 Elizabeth also argues on appeal that selected excerpts from ABOR’s internal [***14] code of conduct mean the Tibet trip was a school activity. Although Elizabeth cited this document in superior court to show that the exchange program was an ABOR-sponsored activity, she did not argue it established a duty. By not pressing that argument then, Elizabeth cannot do so now. See Fisher v. Edgerton, 236 Ariz. 71, 75 n.2 ¶ 9, 336 P.3d 167, 171 n.2 (App. 2014).6 Even absent waiver, Elizabeth has not shown how ABOR’s code of conduct — addressing “misconduct . . . subject to disciplinary action” and “the promotion and protection” of “an environment that encourages reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, openness to constructive change and respect for the rights of all” at state universities — makes the Tibet trip a school activity imposing a duty on Defendants.

6 Similarly, Elizabeth alleged negligence per se in superior court based on ABOR’s internal code of conduct, but did not further develop that claim. See Fisher, 236 Ariz. at 75 n.2 ¶ 9, 336 P.3d at 171 n.2; see also Steinberger v. McVey, 234 Ariz. 125, 139 ¶ 56, 318 P.3d 419, 433 (App. 2014) (noting negligence per se claim “must be based on a statute enacted ‘for the protection and safety of the public'”) (citation omitted).

P19 Finally, Elizabeth relies on the opinions of Dr. William W. Hoffa, her “standard of care” expert, who took the position that study-abroad programs should categorically owe a duty to students [***15] throughout all aspects of the program. But the question of whether a duty exists is an issue of law for the court to decide, not experts. Badia v. City of Casa Grande, 195 Ariz. 349, 354 ¶ 17, 988 P.2d 134, 139 (App. 1999) ( [HN11] “The issue of whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court, unaffected by expert opinion.”); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 4, 318 P.3d at 873 (existence of duty “is a matter of law for the court to decide”) (citing Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230). Moreover, as Elizabeth concedes, Dr. Hoffa’s testimony goes to the standard of care and other issues that are premised on the existence of a duty. See Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143–44 ¶¶ 10–11, 150 P.3d at 230–31 (citations omitted). Accordingly, Dr. Hoffa’s opinions do not resolve the question of whether a duty exists.

[*626] [**938] P20 For these reasons, the superior court properly concluded that the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty.

B. Duty Based On Public Policy.

P21 In discussing whether public policy should recognize a duty here, Elizabeth

cites no public policy authority, and we are aware of none, supporting a general duty of care against harm away from school premises, absent a school-supervised activity or a particular statute. To hold otherwise would imply that the student-school relationship extends to situations where the school lacks custody [***16] over the student and the student is not participating in a school-sponsored activity. We decline to define the scope of duty in such broad terms.

Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 161 ¶ 20, 318 P.3d at 877. For these reasons, Elizabeth has not shown that public policy considerations result in Defendants owing Morgan a duty for the Tibet trip.

II. Other Issues On Appeal.

P22 Having found Defendants did not owe Morgan a duty for the Tibet trip, this court affirms the judgment and need not address the other issues raised on appeal. ABOR’s request for taxable costs on appeal is granted contingent upon its compliance with Arizona Rule of Civil Appellate Procedure 21.

CONCLUSION

P23 The judgment in favor of Defendants is affirmed.