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

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

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

No. 15AP-685

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

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

June 7, 2016, Rendered

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

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

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

OPINION BY: DORRIAN

OPINION

[**1287] (REGULAR CALENDAR)

DECISION

DORRIAN, P.J.

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

I. Facts and Procedural History

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Assignments of Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Discussion

A. Second Assignment of Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Id. at ¶ 25.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. First and Third Assignments of Error

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

C. Fourth Assignment of Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Conclusion

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

Judgment affirmed.

BROWN and SADLER, JJ., concur.


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

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

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

No. 05AP-341

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

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

July 18, 2006, Rendered

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION BY: TRAVIS

OPINION

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

TRAVIS, J.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment affirmed.

BROWN and SADLER, JJ., concur.


Kendall v. USA Cycling, Inc. et al., 2005 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5025

Kendall v. USA Cycling, Inc. et al., 2005 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5025

Judith Kendall, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. USA Cycling, Inc. et al., Defendants and Respondents.

B168004

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION EIGHT

2005 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5025

June 8, 2005, Filed

NOTICE: [*1] NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 977(a), PROHIBIT COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 977(B). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 977.

PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL from judgments of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC 259296. Jon M. Mayeda, Judge.

COUNSEL: Gelfand and Gelfand, Robert E. Fisher, Gary B. Gelfand, and Raymond J. Feinberg for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Manning & Marder, Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Anthony J. Ellrod and Sylvia Havens for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: RUBIN, J.; COOPER, P.J., FLIER, J. concurred.

OPINION BY: RUBIN

OPINION

Judith Kendall appeals from the summary judgment and attorney’s fee award entered for USA Cycling, Inc. and Huntsman World Senior Games in her negligence lawsuit against them. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In October 2000, Judith Kendall was 59 years old and living in California when she entered a bicycle road race in Utah. The race was part of the Huntsman World Senior Games (Huntsman), organized and sponsored by Huntsman and USA [*2] Cycling, Inc. To participate in the race, Kendall, who had in the previous ten years ridden in about 30 bicycle races, tours, and endurance events, signed two release and waiver forms. The Huntsman release stated:

Recitals [P] I, the undersigned, acknowledge and fully understand that by participating in the World Senior Games, Inc. I will be engaging in activities or competition that may involve serious risks including bodily injury, permanent disability and death . . . which might result not only from my own actions, inactions or negligence, but the actions, inactions or negligence of others . . .; and that there may be other risks not known or not reasonably foreseeable. [P] . . . [P] Assumption of Risks. Except as otherwise specifically agreed herein, I assume all of the risks described in the Recitals section above and accept personal responsibility for any and all damages of any kind resulting from any injury, permanent disability and/or death. [P] Release of Liability. I hereby release, waive all claims of liability against, discharge and hold harmless the World Senior Games, Inc., its affiliated organizations, [and] its sponsors, including [*3] but not limited to Huntsman Corporation . . . from any and all liability of the undersigned, my heirs and next of kin, for any claims, demands, causes of action, losses or damages, on account of bodily injury [or] death . . . caused or alleged to be caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the persons or entities hereby released, and/or by the negligence of other participants . . . in connection with my participation in the World Senior Games events or activities.”

The USA Cycling release stated:

“I acknowledge that cycling is an inherently dangerous sport and fully realize the dangers of participating in a bicycle race and FULLY ASSUME THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH SUCH PARTICIPATION INCLUDING, by way of example, and not limitation, the following: the dangers of collision with . . . other racers . . .; THE RELEASEES’ OWN NEGLIGENCE; . . . and the possibility of serious physical and/or mental trauma or injury associated with athletic cycling competition. [P] . . . I HEREBY WAIVE, RELEASE, DISCHARGE, HOLD HARMLESS, AND PROMISE TO INDEMNIFY AND NOT SUE organizations . . . and their respective agents, officials, and employees through or by which the events will be [*4] held, (the foregoing are also collectively deemed to be Releasees), FROM ANY and all rights and CLAIMS INCLUDING CLAIMS ARISING FROM THE RELEASEES’ OWN NEGLIGENCE, which I have or which may hereafter accrue to me and from any and all damages which may be sustained by me directly or indirectly in connection with, or arising out of, my participation in or association with the event . . . .”

The race began at the appointed time, with Kendall and her female competitors starting first, followed five minutes later by the senior male racers. During the race, a male racer overtook Kendall and, in passing her, their bike wheels tangled. Kendall vainly struggled to keep her balance, but fell and suffered severe injuries.

Kendall sued USA Cycling Inc. and Huntsman for negligence in starting the men’s race on the same road five minutes after the women’s race began. Huntsman and USA Cycling moved for summary judgment, arguing that even if they had been negligent, the waiver and releases were a complete defense barring Kendall’s complaint. The court agreed, and entered judgment for respondents.

Respondents moved under the attorney’s fee clause of the USA Cycling release to recover more [*5] than $ 32,000 in attorney’s fees. 1 Kendall opposed the motion, claiming respondents had not supported it with sufficient admissible evidence. She also opposed any fee award for Huntsman in particular because the Huntsman release did not have an attorney’s fee clause. In response, the court ordered respondents to support their motion with detailed billing statements. After respondents filed their billing statements, the court overruled Kendall’s evidentiary objections and awarded respondents slightly less than $ 32,000 in fees. Kendall appeals from the judgment and the fee award.

1 Respondents also sought and recovered their costs, but those costs are not at issue in this appeal.

DISCUSSION

Kendall contends the court erred when it enforced the releases. She attacks the releases on several grounds. None is persuasive.

1. Utah Law Did Not Apply

Kendall contends the court erred by not applying Utah law to reject the releases. Her contention raises the question of which state’s laws apply: [*6] Utah-where the injury occurred-or California-where Kendall lives and filed suit. Under governing choice of law principles which weigh Utah’s and California’s governmental interests in seeing their laws enforced, we first consider whether a material difference exists between the two states’ laws. If their laws do not differ, we need not address whether Utah law applies, and may instead look solely to California law. (Washington Mutual Bank v. Superior Court (2001) 24 Cal.4th 906, 919-920; Reich v. Purcell (1967) 67 Cal.2d 551, 555, 63 Cal. Rptr. 31; Tucci v. Club Mediterranee (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 180, 189.)

Kendall asserts two material differences exist between Utah and California law that are important to her lawsuit against respondents. The central difference, according to her, is Utah prohibits bicycle road races. It follows, she argues, that Utah would not enforce the releases because they violate public policy by waiving liability for an unlawful activity. Kendall’s contention fails, however, because she mischaracterizes Utah law. Utah does not ban bicycle road races outright; instead, it merely requires that organizers of a [*7] road race get permission from state or local highway officials for the race. The pertinent Utah statute states, “(1) Bicycle racing on highways is prohibited . . . except as authorized in this section. [P] (2) Bicycle racing on a highway is permitted when a racing event is approved by state or local authorities on any highway under their respective jurisdictions. . . .” (Utah Code Annotated (1953) 41-6-87.9.) Kendall cites no evidence that respondents did not get permission for the race, and indeed all the evidence in the record which touches on the subject points the other way.

But, even if the absence of a permit in the record means the race was unpermitted, the result would not change. The permit’s purpose is traffic control, not micromanaging the particulars of how the race is conducted. In its entirety, the statute states,

“(1) Bicycle racing on highways is prohibited under Section 41-6-51, except as authorized in this section. [P] (2) Bicycle racing on a highway is permitted when a racing event is approved by state or local authorities on any highway under their respective jurisdictions. Approval of bicycle highway racing events may be granted only under conditions which [*8] assure reasonable safety for all race participants, spectators, and other highway users, and which prevent unreasonable interference with traffic flow which would seriously inconvenience other highway users. [P] (3) By agreement with the approving authority, participants in an approved bicycle highway racing event may be exempted from compliance with any traffic laws otherwise applicable, if traffic control is adequate to assure the safety of all highway users.”

Emphasizing the focus on traffic, the statute cross-references only one section in the Utah Administrative Code. That regulation, entitled “Permit Required for Special Road Use or Event: Special Road Use,” states in its entirety that the Utah Department of Transportation:

“. . . shall promote safe utilization of highways for parades, marathons, and bicycle races. Special Road Use permits shall be required for any use of state routes other than normal traffic movement. Permits may be obtained by fulfilling requirements of DOT [Department of Transportation] form ‘Special Road Use Permit’. Policy applies to all routes under jurisdiction of DOT. Permittee shall hold DOT harmless in event of litigation. A traffic control plan, [*9] in accordance with latest edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and Barricading and Construction Standard Drawings, shall be provided to, and approved by Dept. District Traffic Engineer or Permittee shall restore the particular road segment to its original condition, free from litter, etc. All applications for permits shall be made a minimum of 15 days prior to the specified activity.” (UT ADC R920-4-1)

Outside of traffic effects, and the concomitant general safety concerns whenever bicycles and motor vehicles are in close proximity, nothing within the permitting scheme suggests Utah authorities concerned themselves with a race’s details beyond its being “reasonably safe” for all concerned. Nothing hints that the approval of Utah authorities depended on the number of riders, their gender, or their starting times. Thus, Kendall’s injuries were not within the scope of the permitting statute’s purpose. Consequently, there was no legal nexus between the statutory violation of an unpermitted race (assuming that occurred) and Kendall’s damages.

A second difference, according to Kendall, between Utah and California law is Utah views preinjury liability releases more [*10] skeptically than does California. In support, she cites Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart (Utah 2001) 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062 (Hawkins). That decision refused to enforce a preinjury release signed by a parent for her child because Utah expressly prohibits parents from signing away their children’s rights. (Id. at pp. 1065-1066.) In its discussion, Hawkins noted courts must scrutinize preinjury releases to make sure they are fairly bargained. (Id. at p. 1066.) Hawkins does not, however, as Kendall states, prohibit preinjury releases.

But even if suspicion of preinjury releases existed in Utah law, the releases here would pass muster. Hawkins noted that Utah permits preinjury releases except when the activity affects the public interest. The Hawkins court explained, “It is generally held that those who are not engaged in public service may properly bargain against liability for harm caused by their ordinary negligence in performance of contractual duty . . . . Thus, most courts allow release of liability for prospective negligence, except where there is a strong public interest in the services provided.” (Hawkins, supra, 37 P.3d at p. 1065, [*11] fn. omitted; see also Russ v. Woodside Homes, Inc. (Utah App. 1995) 905 P.2d 901, 905 [preinjury releases lawful in Utah].) Kendall cites no authority, and we know of none, that a voluntary recreational activity such as a bike race implicates the public interest.

In sum, Kendall’s two examples of differences between Utah and California law are unavailing. Accordingly, the trial court did not err when it applied California law below. (Washington Mutual Bank v. Superior Court (2001) 24 Cal.4th 906, 919-920; Reich v. Purcell, supra, 67 Cal.2d at p. 555; Tucci v. Club Mediterranee, supra, 89 Cal.App.4th at p. 189.)

2. The Releases Are Enforceable

The elements of a valid release are well established. First, it must be clear and unambiguous. Second, it must not violate public policy-an element we can quickly pass over here because a release covering recreational sports is not against public policy or the public interest. (Lund v. Bally’s Aerobic Plus, Inc. (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 733, 739 (Lund); Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1373 (Allan); Buchan v. United States Cycling Federation, Inc. (1991) 227 Cal. App. 3d 134, 277 Cal. Rptr. 887 [*12] [bicycle racing does not involve public interest].) And third, the injury at issue must be reasonably related to the release’s object and purpose. (Lund, at pp. 738-739; Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 757.) Kendall contends the USA Cycling and Huntsman releases are unenforceable because (1) they are ambiguous, and (2) did not cover the risk of her sharing the road with male racers.

a. Not Ambiguous

Kendall’s assertion that the USA Cycling release was ambiguous turns on its placement of two signature lines: a signature line for the entrant, and, if the entrant were a minor, a signature line for the minor’s parent or guardian. Kendall signed on the parent’s line, not, as one might suppose, the entrant’s line. She argues her signature’s placement makes the release ambiguous.

The test for ambiguity is whether Kendall’s placement of her signature is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation. (Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 354, 360.) She offers no explanation to challenge the obvious inference that she simply misplaced her signature. She does not deny that she wanted to enter [*13] the race, and does not dispute that she needed to sign the form to be allowed in. Never does she claim she was signing on a minor’s behalf. In short, she offers no interpretation of her signature’s placement on the parental consent line other than her innocent mistake. As such, her signature is not susceptible to more than one interpretation.

Kendall notes that we must interpret the release by objective manifestations of her intent, not her subjective intent. Hence, according to her, it does not matter what she subjectively intended when she signed the release; what matters is the objective manifestation of her signature on the parental release line, which she argues compels us to find the release did not bind her (or at best was ambiguous) because she did not sign it as an entrant.

We conclude that the objective manifestation of Kendall’s intent cuts the other way. Although the face of the release shows she signed as a parent, she offers no explanation for her signature being there other than her desire to join the race. The objective manifestation of her intent, therefore, is she signed as an entrant-albeit on the wrong line. (Lopez v. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 1224, 1233-1234 [*14] [“The test is ‘what the outward manifestations of consent would lead a reasonable person to believe.’ [Citation.]”].)

Kendall’s reliance on Roth v. Malson (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 552 (Roth), does not change the result because the facts are distinguishable. Roth involved a real estate sale agreement with two signature lines: one to accept the agreement and one to make a counteroffer. The real estate buyer signed on the counteroffer line and returned the agreement to the seller. The seller rejected the ostensible “counteroffer” and sold the property to someone else. The buyer sued to enforce the agreement, claiming he had signed on the counteroffer line by mistake, and had intended to sign on the acceptance line. He argued his signature was subject to no reasonable interpretation other than an acceptance because he did not add any new conditions to the counteroffer, meaning the counteroffer was not truly a counter. The Roth court rejected that argument, noting that divining the buyer’s intent as an acceptance with no new conditions would have required a time consuming comparison of the offers and counteroffers exchanged between the parties, a comparison [*15] no one was obligated to make. The court therefore refused to enforce the agreement because it was plausible the buyer intended to counter, instead of accept, the seller’s offer. (Id. at pp. 558-559.) Here, in contrast, Kendall offers no plausible explanation for her signature on the parental release line-in a senior’s race no less-than that she intended her signature to show her acceptance of the release’s terms.

Kendall contends the Huntsman release is also ambiguous, and therefore cannot be enforced against her. In support, she notes language in the release suggests she was releasing herself as the release’s “undersigned” from any liability: “I hereby release, waive all claims of liability against, discharge and hold harmless the World Senior Games, Inc. [and others], . . . from any and all liability of the undersigned, my heirs and next of kin, for any claims, demands, causes of action, losses or damages . . . .” (Italics added.) We need not address possible drafting errors in the Huntsman release because the USA Cycling release covered all organizations involved in the race. The USA Cycling release stated it covered the “organizations . . . and their [*16] respective agents, officials, and employees through or by which the events will be held . . . .” Such language encompassed Huntsman, making Huntsman’s own release superfluous as to this point.

b. Injury Within Scope of Release

Kendall contends the releases did not apply to her because she did not know or reasonably foresee she would be sharing the road with male racers in what she believed was a women-only race. She argues respondents thus wrongfully increased the risk she had assumed in entering an all-female race. Kendall’s focus on whether she could have foreseen colliding with a male racer misses the mark because foreseeability is irrelevant when a tortfeasor relies on an express, written release. (Allan, supra, 51 Cal.App.4th at p. 1372.) For a written release, the focus instead is whether Kendall’s injuries related to the release’s object and purpose. (Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1357.) When a risk is expressly assumed, the assumption is a complete defense to a negligence claim. (Allan, at p. 1372.) Here, the release covered anyone participating in the Huntsman World Senior Games and included collisions [*17] with “other racers,” not just female racers. The release’s language thus covered Kendall’s accident.

In support of limiting an express waiver to foreseeable risks, Kendall cites Bennett v. United States Cycling Federation (1987) 193 Cal. App. 3d 1485, 239 Cal. Rptr. 55 (Bennett), a case involving a release in a bicycle race on closed roads where a car struck the plaintiff. Finding that the release applied only to obvious or foreseeable hazards, the Bennett court held it was a triable issue whether an automobile on the race course was a reasonably foreseeable risk within the scope of the release. (Id. at pp. 1490-1491.) Likening her collision with a male racer in what she thought was a female only race to a collision with a car on closed roads, Kendall argues she could not have reasonably foreseen respondents would permit male racers on the same course only five minutes after she started. We conclude that even if one accepts Bennett’s injection of foreseeability into an express written release (but see Madison v. Superior Court (1988) 203 Cal. App. 3d 589, 601, fn. 9, 250 Cal. Rptr. 299 [criticizing Bennett for confusing [*18] foreseeability with scope of release]), the result would not change here. Kendall received a race map and brochure when she submitted her race application. Those documents showed men and women would be using the same road course, and would be segregated by age, but not sex. That Kendall apparently chose not to read the documents (an inference we draw from her professed ignorance that men would be on the same course) does not make male racers unforeseeable or the scope of the release narrower. Moreover, the court here found the risk of being hit by another racer is inherent to bicycle racing. The Bennett court itself notes the foreseeability of such collisions. It stated: “There is little doubt that a subscriber of the bicycle release at issue here must be held to have waived any hazards relating to bicycle racing that are obvious or that might reasonably have been foreseen. . . . these hazards include ‘collisions with other riders . . . .’ ” (Bennett, supra, 193 Cal. App. 3d at 1490; see also Buchan v. United States Cycling Federation, Inc., supra, 227 Cal. App. 3d at pp. 148, 151-152 [collisions and falls are foreseeable risk in bike racing]. [*19] ) The trial court thus did not err in concluding Kendall’s accident was legally foreseeable.

3. Attorney’s Fees

The trial court awarded respondents $ 31,978.50 in attorney’s fees. We review the award for abuse of discretion. (PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1095; Avikian v. WTC Financial Corp. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 1108, 1119.)

Respondents supported their motion for fees with billing statements and a declaration by a partner in their counsel’s firm. The billing statements showed the hours worked, the rates charged, and the work done (with privileged information redacted). The partner stated he was familiar with how his firm generated its bills and that the fees stated on the bills had been incurred. Kendall contends the bills and declaration were inadmissible hearsay. Courts have held otherwise. The trial court is best placed to assess the appropriateness of the work done and the fees incurred. A verified bill on which the items appear proper is sufficient to support a fee award. (Melnyk v. Robledo (1976) 64 Cal. App. 3d 618, 624, 134 Cal. Rptr. 602.) Indeed, given a trial court’s first-hand familiarity [*20] with the work done by counsel, billing statements themselves can be superfluous. (Steiny & Co. v. California Electric Supply Co. (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 285, 293 [“there is no legal requirement that [billing ] statements be offered in evidence. An attorney’s testimony as to the number of hours worked is sufficient evidence to support an award of attorney fees, even in the absence of detailed time records.”].)

Kendall notes that only the USA Cycling release had an attorney’s fee provision. She contends that even if USA Cycling is entitled to its fees, the motion should have been denied as to Huntsman. In support, she cites Super 7 Motel Associates v. Wang (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 541 (Super 7 Motel), for the proposition that a party in a multiple contract transaction involving several parties cannot recover its attorney’s fees unless its particular contract has a fee provision. (Id. at pp. 545-547.) Super 7 Motel is distinguishable, however, because its facts permitted allocation of the legal work and fees to the various parties. Super 7 Motel did not address fee awards when the legal work and fees cannot be allocated. Here, [*21] allocation appears difficult, if not impossible. Kendall filed one complaint against respondents, to which they replied with a shared answer and defeated with a shared motion for summary judgment. The evidence and legal arguments in support of respondents’ motion for summary judgment overlapped substantively and procedurally. The record does not show that respondents’ counsel would have spent any less time or that its arguments would have been any different if only USA Cycling had been a defendant. Because it is not fatal to a fee award if apportionment between issues and arguments is difficult, or even impossible, the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees for counsel’s work representing USA Cycling and Huntsman. (Liton Gen. Engineering Contractor, Inc. v. United Pacific Insurance (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 577, 588 [no allocation of two parties’ liability required]; accord Reynolds Metals Co. v. Alperson (1979) 25 Cal.3d 124, 129-130, 158 Cal. Rptr. 1 [“Attorney’s fees need not be apportioned when incurred for representation on an issue common to both a cause of action in which fees are proper and one in which they are not allowed.”); [*22] Abdallah v. United Savings Bank (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 1101, 1111 [multiple causes of action may be so intertwined that it would be “impracticable, if not impossible, to separate the multitude of conjoined activities into compensable or noncompensable time units.”].)

DISPOSITION

The judgment and fee award are affirmed. Each side to bear its own costs on appeal.

RUBIN, J.

We concur:

COOPER, P.J.

FLIER, J.


Bastable v. Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership, 6 Mass. L. Rep. 217; 1996 Mass. Super. LEXIS 64

Bastable v. Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership, 6 Mass. L. Rep. 217; 1996 Mass. Super. LEXIS 64

Rosamond Bastable v. Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership

95-02505-F

SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, AT MIDDLESEX

6 Mass. L. Rep. 217; 1996 Mass. Super. LEXIS 64

December 9, 1996, Decided

DISPOSITION: [*1] Defendant’s Motion For Summary Judgment is ALLOWED.

JUDGES: Herman J. Smith, Jr., Justice of the Superior Court.

OPINION BY: HERMAN J. SMITH, JR.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The plaintiff, Rosamond Bastable (“Bastable”), commenced this action against the defendant, Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership (“Liberty”), alleging that Liberty’s negligent maintenance of its property caused her to slip and fall and sustain injury. Liberty has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure. The motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED.

FINDINGS OF FACT

On September 12, 1993, Bastable enrolled in the “STEPPIN’ OUT!” walking program sponsored by Liberty Tree Mall and Beverly Hospital. The program permitted people in the community to walk in the mall for exercise each day prior to the mall opening to the public. In order to participate in the program, Bastable was required to sign a release. The clauses of the release pertinent to this summary judgment motion read as follows:

We are pleased to extend use of Liberty Tree Mall premises during non-operational hours, however, please be advised [*2] that certain hazardous conditions may exist as this is the time during which normal maintenance and housekeeping tasks are performed. This includes exterior landscaping and snow removal activities.

Therefore, please understand that you must hold the Mall harmless for any loss, cost, damage or injury that may take place on Mall property during the time you are on the site as part of the STEPPIN’ OUT WALKING PROGRAM. In addition, you must agree to indemnify the Mall for any loss, any injury that may take place during the time you are on the property for the purpose of the STEPPIN’ OUT WALKING PROGRAM.

On January 10, 1994, Bastable arrived at the Liberty Tree Mall to participate in the STEPPIN’ OUT program. As she was leaving the mall, Bastable fell and fractured her leg. Bastable now brings a negligence action against Liberty alleging that a cracked tile caused her to slip and fall. Liberty maintains that the release Bastable signed expressly bars her negligence action because the release holds Liberty harmless for injuries that occur while the walkers are participating in the STEPPIN’ OUT program. 1

1 Bastable claims that because she had completed the program at the time of her fall the release does not apply. This court finds that Bastable was on the premises exclusively for the purposes of participating in the program and that the release applies to Bastable’s injury. The plaintiff’s affidavit and other submissions do not raise a material issue of fact on this point.

[*3] DISCUSSION

[HN1] Summary judgment shall be granted where there are no genuine issues as to any material fact in dispute and where the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Cassesso v. Commissioner of Correction, 390 Mass. 419, 422, 456 N.E.2d 1123 (1983); Community Nat’l Bank v. Dawes, 369 Mass. 550, 553, 340 N.E.2d 877 (1976); Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of affirmatively demonstrating the absence of a triable issue “and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Pederson v. Time, Inc., 404 Mass. 14, 17, 532 N.E.2d 1211 (1989).

The release Bastable signed was a valid and lawful waiver. [HN2] “There is no rule of general application that a person cannot contract for exemption from liability for his own negligence.” Clarke v. Ames, 267 Mass. 44, 47, 165 N.E. 696 (1929). See also Cormier v. Central Massachusetts Chapter of the National Safety Council, 416 Mass. 286, 288, 620 N.E.2d 784 (1993) (organizer of motorcycle safety course can exempt itself from liability for its own negligence by requiring participants to sign a release). Id. at 289; Clark v. Ames at 48.

Bastable does not allege that the [*4] release was unlawful; rather, she claims that the release applies only to injuries caused by general maintenance activities (such as snow removal and landscaping) and that her injury did not arise from these activities. She argues that because Liberty specifically mentioned the maintenance activities in the first paragraph of the release, Liberty intended to limit its liability only in regard to injuries caused by those particular activities.

[HN3] Massachusetts courts will broadly interpret a release if the language in the release is comprehensive in nature. In Cormier, the plaintiff signed a release which exempted the defendant “from any and all liability . . . for . . . injuries arising out of participation in the motorcycle training course.” Id. at 287. While the plaintiff was participating in the course, she sustained injury due to the defendant’s negligence. The court held that while the release did not mention the term negligence, the release was unambiguous and comprehensive enough to bar a claim in negligence although the release did not specifically mention the term. Id. at 288. Similarly, in Clark v. Ames, a lessee signed a lease which “saved the lessor harmless [*5] and indemnified from . . . any injury . . . to any person . . . while in transit thereto or therefrom upon the hallways, stairways, elevators or other approaches to the demised premises.” 267 Mass. at 46. The plaintiff was injured in an elevator due to the negligence of the lessor’s agent. The court ruled that although the lessor’s agent was not specifically mentioned in the lease, the language of the lease was broad enough to exempt the lessor’s agent from liability. Id.

Additionally, Massachusetts courts have held that [HN4] if the parties intend that an exception to a general release exist, they must include that exception in the release. In Tupper v. Hancock, 319 Mass. 105, 106 n.1, 64 N.E.2d 441 (1946), the creditor plaintiffs, under the assumption that the estate was bankrupt, signed a release discharging the estate administrator “from all debts, demands . . . [and] causes of action.” When the estate later received additional assets, the plaintiffs sued to recover their debts. The court held that the release language was unequivocal and that if the plaintiffs had wanted to reserve their right to collect debts when additional assets became available, they should have included this [*6] exception in the release. Id. at 108. [HN5] A release “is to be given effect even if the parties did not have in mind all the wrongs which existed at the time of the release . . . If exceptions to the scope of the [release] were intended, they should have been stated.” Schuster v. Baskin, 354 Mass. 137, 140, 236 N.E.2d 205 (1968). See also Naukeag Inn, Inc. v. Rideout, 351 Mass. 353, 356, 220 N.E.2d 916 (1966).

Liberty’s release states that the walker must “hold the Mall harmless for any loss, cost, damage or injury that may take place on Mall property during the time [the walker is] on the site as part of the STEPPIN’ OUT WALKING PROGRAM.” (Emphasis added.) The release clearly states that Liberty can not be held liable for any injury that occurs while the walker is participating in the program. The paragraph regarding maintenance activities which precedes the paragraph regarding indemnification merely serves as a notice to the participant of the type of hazardous conditions that may exist on the premises while the walkers are participating in the program. The mere mention of the maintenance activities in the first paragraph does not limit Liberty’s liability to only those accidents which arise [*7] from maintenance activities. If Liberty had intended to limit its liability to only those accidents arising from maintenance tasks, it would have specifically stated so in its release. Instead, the release holds Liberty harmless for “any . . . injury that may take place on mall property” whether or not it results from a maintenance activity. Because the release does not specifically limit Liberty’s liability to injuries arising from maintenance tasks but instead exempts Liberty’s liability for all injuries no matter how they occur, the plaintiff’s negligence action is barred.

CONCLUSION

Bastable’s negligence action is barred by the release she signed when she enrolled in the STEPPIN’ OUT walking program. Because the release holds Liberty harmless for all injuries which occur while the walker is participating in the program, Liberty is not liable for Bastable’s injuries.

ORDER

For the above reasons, the court hereby ORDERS that the defendant’s Motion For Summary Judgment is ALLOWED.

Herman J. Smith, Jr.

Justice of the Superior Court

Dated: December 9, 1996


Walker vs. Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, Government of the Virgin Islands, 2015 V.I. LEXIS 8; 62 V.I. 109

Walker vs. Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, Government of the Virgin Islands, 2015 V.I. LEXIS 8; 62 V.I. 109

Brandon Walker, Plaintiff vs. Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Human Services, Latrell Jacobs and Kareem Casimir, Defendants

Civil No. SX-11-CV-353

Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Croix

2015 V.I. LEXIS 8; 62 V.I. 109

January 26, 2015, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: Walker v. V.I. Waste Mgmt. Auth., 2014 V.I. LEXIS 58 (V.I. Super. Ct., Aug. 7, 2014)

JUDGES: [*1] BRADY, Judge

OPINION BY: DOUGLAS A. BRADY

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

(January 26, 2015)

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority’s (“VIWMA”) Supplemental Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment on Count II (“Motion Supplement”), filed August 29, 2014. Plaintiff has not filed a response to VIWMA’s [**111] Supplemental Brief. For the reasons that follow, Defendant VIWMA’s Motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

The history of this case was thoroughly reviewed in this Court’s August 7, 2014 Memorandum Opinion and Order (“Order”), granting VIWMA partial summary judgment on Count I of Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint — Assault and Battery. With respect to Count II, the Court held that

Genuine issues of material fact remain unresolved and prevent entry of judgment as a matter of law against VIWMA as to Count II — Negligent Hiring, Retention, Training and Supervision. The employment status of Casimir and Jacobs with VIWMA at the time of the incident, giving rise to a different standard of care for VIWMA, is a matter to be determined by a jury. Further, Defendant VIWMA’s reasonableness in hiring Casimir [*2] and Jacobs, and in supervising activities of the YES Program participants are unresolved questions of material fact to be determined by the trial jury.

Order, at 13.

The Court found that neither party had adequately addressed the “issue of the effect, if any, of the Release Agreement upon the rights and obligations of the parties …” and declined to rule on the issue, while ordering further briefing. Id. at 14.1

1 Plaintiff’s mother, Alesia Jerrels, executed a Release, Hold Harmless and Indemnity Agreement (“Release Agreement”), dated June 28, 2010, wherein on behalf of her then-minor son she “releases and holds harmless” VIWMA and related parties “FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, DAMAGES (INCLUDING PERSONAL INJURY, PROPERTY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES), LIABILITY AND/OR CAUSES OF ACTION, whether resulting from negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability or otherwise arising out of or in any way related to the Youth Environmental Summer Program.

“I understand that it is the intention of this Agreement that neither I nor my child will file a claim or law suit against VIWMA … except if the VIWMA is grossly negligent which negligence caused me or my child injury.” VIWMA Motion and Brief Requesting Summary [*3] Judgment on Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint (“Original Motion”), Exhibit 6, emphasis in original.

Defendant VIWMA complied with the Order and submitted its Supplemental Brief on August 29, 2014. Plaintiff declined the Order’s invitation to respond to VIWMA’s supplemental briefing on the issues in [**112] dispute and the Court accepts Plaintiff’s silence despite the passing of more than four months as his indication that he relies upon the record and his arguments previously presented.

At issue is whether the June 28, 2010 Release Agreement, executed by Plaintiff’s mother before the incident while Plaintiff was still a minor, shields VIWMA from liability on Count II — Negligent Hiring, Retention, Training and Supervision, notwithstanding the existence of disputed facts relating to VIWMA’s hiring, training and supervision of individual Defendants Jacobs and Casimir who allegedly assaulted Plaintiff, giving rise to his claims.

DISCUSSION

[HN1] A moving party will prevail on a motion for summary judgment where the record shows that there is no unresolved genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), applicable pursuant to Super. Ct. R. 7; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The reviewing court must [*4] determine whether there exists a dispute as to a material fact, the determination of which will affect the outcome of the action under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Such a dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. In analyzing the evidence, the court must consider the pleadings and full factual record, drawing all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, to determine whether the movant has met its burden of showing that there is no unresolved genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986).

[HN2] A party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the allegations or denials within its pleadings, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, such that the jury or judge as fact finder could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. The nonmoving party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record …” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). See also Williams v. United Corp., 50 V.I. 191, 194 (V.I. 2008), citing Rule 56(e) prior to its 2010 amendment. “As to materiality, only those facts that ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the [**113] governing law will properly preclude the entry [*5] of summary judgment.’ ” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248).

Defendant VIWMA is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Count II of Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint — Negligent Hiring, Retention, Training and Supervision.

a. There are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute.

The parties have presented no allegations that there remain unresolved issues of material fact regarding the circumstances surrounding the execution of the Release Agreement, or its substance. VIWMA has not addressed the factual circumstances that resulted in the execution of the Release Agreement by Plaintiff’s mother, Alesia Jerrels. In executing the Release Agreement, however, Ms. Jerrels confirmed: “I agree to the terms of this agreement as a condition precedent to permit me and/or my child to participate in the YES Summer Program.” Original Motion, Exhibit 6.

Plaintiff has never challenged the substance or terms of the Release Agreement, or the circumstances giving rise to its execution.2 Plaintiff does not contest that Alesia Jerrels signed the Release Agreement on his behalf when he was a minor and, as his mother, she was acting as his custodial parent.

2 Plaintiff’s only reference to the Release Agreement is set out in [*6] his original response to VIWMA’s Original Motion, wherein he stated that “We disagree” with VIWMA’s assertion that the Release Agreement “precludes liability,” apparently on the basis that “[o]nly persons who have attained the age of majority can execute a binding contract” and that “any document signed by Plaintiff while under the age of eighteen is none binging [sic] upon him.” Plaintiff’s Response to VIWMA’s Original Motion, at 5. As noted in the Order, “Plaintiff ignores the fact that he, as an unemancipated minor, did not sign the Release Agreement, but that his mother, as his custodial parent obligated for his support (16 V.I. Code § 342(a)(2)), executed the Release Agreement on his behalf.” Order, at 13.

Accordingly, the Court will examine whether the Release Agreement, by operation of law, prevents Plaintiff from suing VIWMA, effectively shielding Defendant VIWMA, even in the event of its own negligence (but not in the event of its gross negligence).

b. As a matter of law, the Release Agreement shields Defendant VIWMA from liability for negligence.

Defendant VIWMA cites Joseph v. Church of God (Holiness) Academy, 47 V.I. 419 (Super. Ct. 2006) in which then Presiding Judge [**114] Cabret denied two defendants’ motion for summary judgment based upon a properly executed release, finding [*7] the “exculpatory contract clause … to be ambiguous, or susceptible to at least two different interpretations.” Id. at 427. The Court did not examine the public policy implications of enforcing the release agreement in question because the agreement could not “… withstand the less demanding test for indemnity agreements,” namely whether “… the language is sufficiently broad and unambiguous.” Id. at 426 (citing Eastern Airlines v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 758 F.2d 132, 134 (3d Cir. 1985)).

[1] First, the Court examines the language of the Release Agreement pursuant to basic contract law to determine if it is “clear and unequivocal.” Joseph, 47 V.I. at 425. [HN3] A contract is ambiguous “if it is reasonably susceptible of different constructions and capable of being understood in more than one sense.” Booth v. Bowen, Civ. No. 2006-217, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1678, *5, [WL], at *2 (D.V.I. January 10, 2008) (unpublished) (citing Church Mut. Ins. Co. v. Palmer Constr. Co., 153 Fed. Appx. 805, 808 (3d Cir.2005)).

The Release Agreement is less than one page long and contains the following relevant language: “In consideration for being permitted to participate in the Youth Environmental Summer Program (YES) the undersigned hereby releases and holds harmless the Virgin Islands Waste Management authority … as well as their employees, agents … FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS, DAMAGES (INCLUDING PERSONAL INJURY, PROPERTY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES), LIABILITY AND/OR CAUSES OF ACTION, whether resulting from negligence, [*8] breach of warranty, strict liability, or otherwise arising out of or in any way related to the Youth Environmental Summer Program.” Original Motion, Exhibit 6 (italicized emphasis added).

The Release Agreement further states that “I understand that it is the intention of this Agreement that neither I nor my child will file a claim or law suit against VIWMA … except if the VIWMA is grossly negligent which negligence caused me or my child injury.” Id.

In Joseph, the Court found that the release agreement at issue was not sufficiently broad and unambiguous because it simply “… provided that a signer ‘absolve the school from liability to [the signer] or [his/her] child because of any injury to [his/her] child at school.’ ” Joseph, 47 V.I. at [**115] 421.3 The release agreement was deemed to be “… ambiguous on the issue of whether it releases the liability of the Academy and Ingrid Jeffers to the Plaintiff for negligence in the supervision of the after-school program.” Id. at 427.4 The Court held further that the release language was ambiguous as to what type of negligence was covered: “there is no mention of the agents or employees of the school and thus an imputed negligence theory premised on their actions may be outside [*9] the scope of this agreement.” Id.

3 The Court found that, “although there are circumstances where an ‘any or all liability’ provision has been interpreted to protect a party from actions based on the party’s own negligence, such a determination relied on other clear language within the agreement or circumstances that made the intent clear from the context.” Joseph, 47 V.I. at 427.

4 The Court found that “the release only purports to protect the school, the Academy, not its agents or employees like Ingrid Jeffers. While the Statement of Cooperation may be read to protect all such entities, that is neither the only permissible reading, nor the most reasonable.” Id. at 427.

[2, 3] With respect to the Release Agreement in this case, there are no such ambiguities. Ms. Jerrels, lawfully signing for her son Plaintiff Brandon Walker,5 agreed in no uncertain terms that she was giving up the right to sue VIWMA (“releases and holds harmless”) in exchange for Plaintiff’s participation in the YES program. The Release Agreement specifically extended coverage to VIWMA’s “employees, agents, contractors, subcontractors.”6 The Release Agreement sets forth its broad scope with specific language that provides greater context than the ambiguous exculpatory [*10] clause in Joseph, and provides clarity as to its intent by referencing that it covers “any and all claims, damages (including personal injury, property or consequential damages), liability and/or causes of action,” including claims “resulting from negligence [**116] [excepting gross negligence], breach of warranty, strict liability, or otherwise arising out of or in any way related to the Youth Environmental Summer Program,” while specifically confirming that Ms. Jerrels was waiving potential future claims and legal rights on behalf of her son. While the Release Agreement does not specifically release VIWMA from the negligent acts of its employees and agents, it broadly and clearly absolves VIWMA from liability stemming from acts of negligence in connection with the YES program. The average person can clearly comprehend, from the express language of the Release Agreement, that she is waiving her right to sue VIWMA for any act not arising from the gross negligence of VIWMA.

5 Ms. Jerrels lawfully bound her minor child to a contract by executing the Release Agreement in her capacity as his custodial guardian. See 16 V.I.C. § 342(a)(2).

6 [HN4] Courts in the Virgin Islands have held that broad terms may be enforceable in a release [*11] agreement: “The intent of the parties to the Release here is similarly clear. Indeed, there is only one way to interpret the Release’s clause exempting the defendants of liability ‘from all … causes of action of whatever kind or nature.’ … (‘The term “any and all” … is all-encompassing and leaves little doubt as to the liability from which the boat owners released the Yacht Club. In short, “all” means all.’ … ; Royal Ins. Co. v. Southwest Marine, 194 F.3d 1009, 1014 (9th Cir. 1999) (holding that a clause releasing the defendant from liability for ‘all claims, losses, damages, liabilities or expenses … resulting directly or indirectly from the performance of this Agreement’ clearly exempted the defendant from liability for breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence).” Piché v. Stockdale Holdings, LLC, 51 V.I. 657, 668 (D.V.I. 2009).

On the basis of the record, the Court finds that the Release Agreement contains broad and unambiguous language that specifically, clearly and unequivocally releases VIWMA from any liability for claims resulting from negligence related to its Youth Environmental Summer Program.

c. The best public policy for the Virgin Islands is to uphold release agreements signed by custodial guardians which waive claims for ordinary negligence against non-profit institutions working to service [*12] the community of the Virgin Islands.

Even though the Release Agreement is broad and unambiguous, the Court will examine “public policy considerations to determine the enforceability of an exculpatory clause,” where a custodial guardian waives a minor’s right to litigate his simple negligence claim. Joseph, 47 V.I. at 424 (citing Umali v. Mount Snow Ltd., 247 F. Supp. 2d 567, 573 (D.Vt. 2003)). VIWMA urges that case law from other jurisdictions draws a public policy distinction between release agreements provided in the context of civic or educational activities, as opposed to those provided in connection with participation in a commercial venture. Motion Supplement, at 4-6.

[4] There is no statute or binding common law rule in the Virgin Islands addressing the public policy concerns implicated when a parent or guardian waives a minor’s right to sue based on ordinary negligence. In the absence of binding Virgin Islands law, it is necessary to conduct a Banks analysis to determine the appropriate common law rule to apply to Plaintiff’s claim. See Banks v. International Rental & Leasing Corp., 55 V.I. 967, 977-78 (V.I. 2011); see also Gov’t of the Virgin Islands v. Connor, 60 V.I. 597 (V.I. 2014). [HN5] As long as the Court undertakes a Banks [**117] analysis, the Virgin Islands Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that this Court is vested with the authority to create common law. (“The Superior Court possesses, in the [*13] absence of binding precedent from this Court, concurrent authority with this Court to shape Virgin Islands common law.” Banks, 55 V.I. at 977-78.)

The Court considers three factors in deciding what common law rule to adopt as the applicable standard for an issue in dispute: “(1) whether any Virgin Islands courts have previously adopted a particular rule; (2) the position taken by a majority of courts from other jurisdictions; and (3) most importantly, which approach represents the soundest rule for the Virgin Islands.” Connor, 60 V.I at 600 (quoting Simon v. Joseph, 59 V.I. 611, 623 (V.I. 2013)).

[5, 6] As to the first factor, while no court in the Virgin Islands has addressed this specific question of whether a parental guardian can waive a minor’s pre-injury tort claims, several courts have examined the public policy implications of a release agreement barring the signor’s personal injury claims against a defendant. In Booth v. Bowen, the District Court upheld the traditional standard that any portion of a release barring claims of gross negligence is unenforceable, but did not address acts of ordinary negligence. 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1678 at *10, [WL], at *4. However, [HN6] “[u]nder the applicable Virgin Islands law, generally a party may exempt itself from liability for its own negligence.” Delponte v. Coral World Virgin Islands, Inc., 233 Fed. Appx. 178, 180 (3d Cir. 2007), citing Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195 [*14] (1981). In an admiralty personal injury claim, the District Court upheld the rule that [HN7] “to be valid, the release must: (1) clearly and unequivocally indicate the intentions of the parties, and (2) not be inflicted by a monopoly, or a party with excessive bargaining power.” Piché v. Stockdale Holdings, LLC, 51 V.I. 657, 667 (D.V.I. 2009) (citations omitted).

[7] While the specific issue at hand of a custodial parent’s execution of a release on behalf of her minor child has not been addressed in the Virgin Islands, [HN8] ample case law from the Virgin Islands has upheld releases and waivers as effective hold-harmless clauses that bar a plaintiff from seeking damages as a result of ordinary negligence.

Second, the Court examines the position taken by a majority of courts from other jurisdictions. Persuasive authority regarding public policy concerns pertaining to releases is set forth in Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195 (1981), but the specific issue of whether a parental [**118] guardian can waive a minor’s future right to bring an action for ordinary negligence is not addressed. A brief survey of case law throughout the United States follows to ascertain how other jurisdictions have handled this specific question.

In Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 901 A.2d 381 (2006), a parental guardian signed a pre-injury release [*15] on behalf of her minor son which purported to hold the owner of a private skate park harmless for acts of ordinary negligence resulting in injury on the defendant’s premises. Shortly after, the minor was injured and his guardian commenced an action for negligence. In responding to the defendant’s invocation of the clear and explicit release, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that “… in view of the protections that our State historically has afforded to a minor’s claims and the need to discourage negligent activity on the part of commercial enterprises attracting children, we hold that a parent’s execution of a pre-injury release of a minor’s future tort claims arising out of the use of a commercial recreational facility is unenforceable.” Id. at 338.

The New Jersey Court noted the important distinction between commercial enterprises and non-profit organizations which reflects the view held by the majority of jurisdictions:

The only published decisions in which such agreements have been upheld are in connection with non-commercial ventures, such as volunteer-run or non-profit organizations. Without expressing an opinion on the validity of parental liability releases in such settings, it [*16] suffices to note that volunteer, community, and non-profit organizations involve different policy considerations than those associated with commercial enterprises. Such a distinction is buttressed by the fact that the Legislature has afforded civil immunity from negligence to certain volunteer athletic coaches, managers, officials, and sponsors of non-profit sports teams, while not providing similar immunities from negligence in the commercial realm.

Id. at 337-38 (citations omitted).7

7 The New Jersey Supreme Court conducted a survey similar to that required in a Banks analysis identifying other courts throughout the country which have upheld minors’ release agreements for non-profit organizations: See, e.g., Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647, 648-50 (1990) (upholding parental agreement releasing any claims of minor child resulting from child’s participation in school-sponsored event); Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So. 2d 1067, 1067 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004) (upholding parental liability release in context of “community or school supported activities”); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 207 (1998) (holding that parent may bind minor child to provision releasing volunteers and sponsors of non-profit sports activity from liability for negligence); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738, 741, 745 (2002) (concluding that parent had authority to bind minor child to exculpatory release as condition of child’s participation [*17] in public school extracurricular sports activities). Id. at 337-38.

[**119] In Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d. 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (1998), the Supreme Court of Ohio came to a similar conclusion when examining a release agreement indemnifying the non-profit Mentor Soccer Club from a minor’s ordinary negligence claims. The Court held that “… parents have the authority to bind their minor children to exculpatory agreements in favor of volunteers and sponsors of nonprofit sport activities where the cause of action sounds in negligence. These agreements may not be disaffirmed by the child on whose behalf they were executed.” Id. at 374.

Similarly, in Kirton v. Fields, 997 So. 2d 349 (Fla. 2008), the Supreme Court of Florida discussed and adopted the public policy considerations laid out in Zivich, stating:

These jurisdictions that have upheld pre-injury releases have done so because community-run and school-sponsored type activities involve different policy considerations than those associated with commercial activities. As the Ohio Supreme Court explained in Zivich, in community and volunteer-run activities, the providers cannot afford to carry liability insurance because volunteers offer their services without receiving any financial return. If pre-injury releases were invalidated, these volunteers would be faced [*18] with the threat of lawsuits and the potential for substantial damage awards, which could lead volunteers to decide that the risk is not worth the effort.

Id. at 363.

In Woodman v. Kera, LLC, 280 Mich. App. 125, 760 N.W.2d 641 (Mich. 2008), the Michigan Court of Appeals applied the rationale of Zivich, distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial activities in reviewing public policy considerations:

[**120] Concurrently, I acknowledge the public-policy concerns and reasoning underlying distinctions developed in other jurisdictions pertaining to the validity of such waivers dependent on the nature of the activity engaged in regarding for-profit and nonprofit activities or services. However, even following the reasoning of other jurisdictions, the exceptions recognized in those cases are not applicable given the for-profit nature of defendant’s business.

Id. at 149-50.

A survey of how other jurisdictions approach the public policy considerations involving a parental guardian’s waiver of her minor child’s future right to bring an action for ordinary negligence suggests that a majority of courts uphold such waivers in the limited circumstance when a waiver protects a non-profit institution from lawsuits based on ordinary negligence.

Finally, and most importantly, this Court must [*19] examine which approach represents the soundest rule for the Virgin Islands. In this regard, the public policy considerations of the noted jurisdictions are persuasive. The Court notes that there are limited opportunities in the Virgin Islands for elementary and secondary school children to participate in summer and afterschool activities. Many parents do not have the financial resources to take advantage of programs and activities requiring payment of fees or tuition of participants.

Fortunately, government-affiliated entities and non-profit organizations do provide certain opportunities for students free of charge, such as Defendant VIWMA’s YES Program. The YES Program promotes a range of important skills, allows teenagers to remain actively and positively engaged during the summer months and gives parents peace of mind in the knowledge of students’ participation in an educational and character-building program, all at no cost to them.8 It is important and in the public interest that opportunities for teens such as the YES Summer Program exist without cost to student participants and their parents.

8 Workshops included Character Building, Career Business, Career Hydroponics, Tool and Equipment [*20] Usage, Work Ethics and Career Bio Technology. See Defendant’s Original Motion, Exhibit 8.

As an activity of VIWMA, the YES Program is ultimately taxpayer funded. Defendant VIWMA would be exposed to liability if the Court [**121] were to hold its release for ordinary negligence invalid. Such a result would shift liability and costs to VIWMA and, by extension, the Virgin Islands government and taxpayers. This potential for liability could result in the discontinuation of the tuition-free YES Program. “[I]n community and volunteer-run activities, the providers cannot afford to carry liability insurance because volunteers offer their services without receiving any financial return. If pre-injury releases were invalidated, these volunteers would be faced with the threat of lawsuits and the potential for substantial damage awards, which could lead volunteers to decide that the risk is not worth the effort.” Kirton, 997 So. 2d at 363.

[8] Because the risk of exposure to liability carries with it the real possibility that VIWMA may be unable or unwilling to provide YES Program tuition-free to its participants, the Court finds that the public interest is best served by upholding the Release Agreement according to its terms.

[9] [HN9] Custodial [*21] parents may, as did Alesia Jerrels in this case, lawfully prosecute personal injury claims on behalf of their minor children who have been harmed by the tortious act of third parties, as part of their obligation to provide support.9 The same provisions that allow a custodial parent to sue on behalf of a minor child conversely permit the parent to enter into a contractual agreement on behalf of the child to agree to forgo the right to sue in exchange for the right to participate in a not-for-profit educational program.

9 See 16 V.I.C. § 342(a)(2). Also by 15 V.I.C. § 824 (“Rights of guardians and parents”), parents “shall be entitled to the custody of the person of the minor and the care of his education.”

The release from liability provided in this case in exchange for the right to participate in the YES Program sufficiently protected Plaintiff’s interests from overreaching on the part of VIWMA. To be effective, the Release Agreement must be clear and unambiguous. It may only shield VIWMA from ordinary negligence, but not from gross negligence or the reckless conduct of VIWMA, its agents or employees. The Release Agreement in favor of VIWMA is upheld only because and to the extent that VIWMA acts as a non-profit providing [*22] a program of benefit to the community.

In balancing the benefits and potential detriments to upholding the Release Agreement, the Court concludes that the soundest rule for the [**122] Virgin Islands, and the common law rule it adopts follows the majority of other jurisdictions to uphold the Release Agreement signed by Plaintiff’s custodial parental guardian during his minority which waives his claims for ordinary negligence against VIWMA, operating as a not-for-profit organization providing a service benefitting the community of the Virgin Islands.

CONCLUSION

There are no genuine issues of material fact that preclude entry of judgment as a matter of law dismissing with prejudice Count II of Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint against VIWMA, alleging Negligent Hiring, Retention, Training and Supervision. In the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the Release Agreement is a clear and unequivocal exculpatory agreement, containing broad and unambiguous language that releases VIWMA from all ordinary negligence. On the basis of the existing record, the Court cannot conclude that public policy considerations preclude enforcement of the Release Agreement.

In light of the foregoing, Defendant [*23] VIWMA’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Count II — Negligent Hiring, Retention, Training and Supervision will be is granted and Count II will be dismissed with prejudice as to Defendant VIWMA only. An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will enter forthwith.

ORDER

In accordance with the Memorandum Opinion in this matter entered this date, it is hereby

ORDERED that Defendant Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority’s (VIWMA) Motion for Summary Judgment on Count II — Negligent Hiring, Retention, Training and Supervision is GRANTED and Count II is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as to Defendant VIWMA.


Lathrop vs. Century, Inc., 2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

Lathrop vs. Century, Inc., 2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

Pamela J. Lathrop, Individually and as Next Friend of D. Scott Lathrop, a Minor, and Sarah N. Lathrop, a Minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, vs. Century, Inc., d/b/a Mt. Crescent, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 2-243 / 01-1058

COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA

2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

October 30, 2002, Filed

NOTICE:

NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE ON PUBLICATION OF THIS OPINION. THE OPINION IS SUBJECT TO MODIFICATION OR CORRECTION BY THE COURT AND IS NOT FINAL UNIL THE TIME FOR REHEARING OR FURTHER REVIEW HAS PASSED. AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION MAY BE CITED IN A BRIEF; HOWEVER, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS SHALL NOT CONSTITUTE CONTROLLING LEGAL AUTHORITY.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Timothy O’Grady, Judge. The plaintiffs appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

 

COUNSEL: James E. Harris and Britany S. Shotkoski of Harris Feldman Law Offices, Omaha, Nebraska, and Laura Laubenthal Pattermann of Law Offices of Gallner & Pattermann, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellants.

John M. McHale of Peters Law Firm, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellee.

JUDGES: Heard by Hecht, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Eisenhauer, JJ.

OPINION BY: HECHT

OPINION

HECHT, P.J.

The plaintiffs appeal from a district court order granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

On December 30, 1999, Pamela Lathrop and her two minor children, Scott and Sarah, visited the Mt. Crescent tubing park. Before they were allowed to enter the premises, [*2] they signed a form entitled “Release and Waiver of Liability Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.” Key portions of the release read as follows.

In consideration of being permitted to compete, officiate, observe, work for, or participate in any way in the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, skiing, snowboarding), being permitted to enter for any purpose any RESTRICTED AREA (defined as any area requiring special authorization, credentials, or permission TO enter or an area to which admission by the general public is restricted or prohibited), EACH OF THE UNDERSIGNED, for himself, his personal representatives, heirs, and next of kin:

. . . .

2. HEREBY RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE the . . . operators, owners, officials . . . of premises used to conduct the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) . . . FROM ALL LIABILITY TO THE UNDERSIGNED, his personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin FOR ANY AND ALL LOSS OR DAMAGE, AND ANY CLAIM OR DEMANDS THEREOF ON ACCOUNT OF INJURY TO THE PERSON OR PROPERTY OR RESULTING IN DEATH OF THE UNDERSIGNED ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) WHETHER CAUSED [*3] BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE.

. . . .

4. HEREBY ASSUMES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY RISK OF BODILY INJURY, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE arising out of or related to the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) whether caused by the NEGLIGENCE OF RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE.

5. HEREBY acknowledges that THE ACTIVITIES OF THE EVENT(S) (i.e., snow-tubing, snowboarding, skiing) ARE VERY DANGEROUS and involve the risk of serious bodily injury and/or death and/or property damage. . . .

6. HEREBY agrees that this Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement extends to all acts of negligence by the Releasees . . . and is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the County or State in which the EVENT(S) (i.e., snow tubing, snowboarding, skiing) is/are conducted and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full legal force and effect.

I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY, ASSUMPTION OF RISK AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT, FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS TERMS, UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE GIVEN UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS BY SIGNING IT, AND HAVE SIGNED IT FREELY [*4] AND VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT ANY INDUCEMENT, ASSURANCE, OR GUARANTEE BEING MADE TO ME AND INTEND MY SIGNATURE TO BE A COMPLETE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL LIABILITY TO THE GREATEST EXTENT ALLOWED BY LAW.

All three signed the form. They entered, and took several trips up and down the hill. After they had been snow tubing for roughly an hour, Pamela, on a trip down the hill, traveled faster than she expected. She went over a bump at a high speed, became airborne and was thrown from the snow tube. She landed on her back and hit her head on the ramp. She was later diagnosed with a compression/explosion fracture of L2 with canal compromised.

Pamela, individually and on behalf of her two children, filed a lawsuit against Mt. Crescent alleging negligence. Mt. Crescent moved the court for summary judgment. The district court granted this motion and dismissed the case on June 18, 2001. Plaintiffs appealed, alleging the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

[HN1] A grant of summary judgment is reviewed for correction of errors of law. Wright v. American Cyanamid Co., 599 N.W.2d 668, 670 (Iowa 1999). “Summary [*5] judgment is only appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. “We review the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and the moving party carries the burden of showing the absence of a material fact issue.” Id. (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

Lathrop makes six allegations of error by the district court in granting summary judgment. We will address each in turn.

A. The release is ambiguous. Lathrop argues that the language of the release is ambiguous. Specifically, she contends the references in the release to “EVENT” and “RESTRICTED AREA” are subject to differing interpretations. For example, she argues “EVENT” can be understood to refer to a competition or special occurrence, and that she never participated in a competition while at Mt. Crescent. She also argues that “RESTRICTED AREA” is ambiguous and that she at no time entered any restricted areas, as she understood them. She contends then, that the district court erred by applying the terms of the release to her. We, however, find no error by the district court. The two terms Lathrop [*6] points to are defined in the release. An “EVENT” is defined as “snow tubing, snowboarding, [or] skiing” and “RESTRICTED AREA” is defined as “any area requiring . . . permission . . . to enter or an area to which admission by the general public is restricted or prohibited.” There is no doubt that Lathrop participated in snow tubing. Lathrop entered a restricted area, as defined by the release, when she entered the tubing park. She was not allowed to enter until she paid the admission price and signed the release and the area was therefore restricted from the general public. We find no error with the district court’s conclusion that the release applied to Lathrop.

B. Lathrop’s lack of awareness of the risks involved in snow tubing rendered the release void. Lathrop acknowledges that Korsmo v. Waverly Ski Club, 435 N.W.2d 746 (Iowa Ct. App. 1988) provides the guiding principles when determining the applicability of releases. [HN2] “Parties need not have contemplated the precise occurrence which occurred as long as it is reasonable to conclude the parties contemplated a similarly broad range of accidents.” Id. at 749. Lathrop, however, contends [*7] she was unaware of the risks involved in snow tubing because she had never snow tubed before. She argues that she could not, and did not, contemplate the accident that occurred while she was snow tubing at Mt. Crescent. She contends then that the district should have permitted a jury to decide whether this type of accident was within her contemplation. We conclude a reasonable juror could not find the Lathrop’s assertion of ignorance plausible. One need not be an experienced snow tuber to anticipate that, while sliding down a snow-covered hill at a fast rate on an inflated tube, one might be thrown from the tube. Accordingly, we find no error on this issue by the district court.

C. The release is contrary to applicable provisions of Iowa Code chapter 88A and is void and unenforceable. Lathrop argues Mt. Crescent is a carnival and the tubing sponsored by Mt. Crescent is an amusement device or ride as contemplated by Iowa Code chapter 88A (2001). Because the statute requires carnivals to carry liability insurance, Lathrop argues it is against public policy to allow them to waive their liability in a release.

Mt. Crescent contends Lathrop failed to preserve error on this [*8] issue. Lathrop first raised this issue in her supplemental resistance to Mt. Crescent’s motion for summary judgment, presented to Mt. Crescent a mere four days before the scheduled hearing. It was argued in the hearing, and the district court ruled on it. We conclude the issue was preserved for our review.

Iowa Code section 88A.1 defines a carnival as [HN3] “an enterprise offering amusement or entertainment to the public in, upon, or by means of amusement devices or rides or concession booths.” Clearly, Mt. Crescent offers entertainment and amusement. The question, then, is whether it accomplishes this by means of amusement devices or rides. [HN4] An amusement device is “any equipment or piece of equipment, appliance or combination thereof designed or intended to entertain or amuse a person.” Iowa Code § 88A.1 (2001). An amusement ride is “any mechanized device or combination of devices which carries passengers along, around, or over a fixed or restricted course for the purpose of giving its passengers amusement, pleasure, thrills or excitement.” Iowa Code § 88A.1. The [HN5] snow tubing runs at Mt. Crescent are not mechanized [*9] and do not carry its passengers over a fixed or restricted course. We agree with the ruling of the district court that the Mt. Crescent snow tubing facilities do not fall under the definition of carnival or amusement ride or device in Iowa Code section 88A. We therefore need not decide whether the provisions of this code chapter implicitly preclude the use of releases of liability by such facilities.

D. This release falls within a public policy exception to the general enforceability of releases. [HN6] “Contracts exempting a party from its own negligence are enforceable, and are not contrary to public policy.” Huber v. Hovey, 501 N.W.2d 53, 54 (Iowa 1993). Despite this clear statement from our supreme court, Lathrop argues the Mt. Crescent release falls within a public policy exception to this rule. Lathrop relies upon language found in Bashford v. Slater, 250 Iowa 857, 96 N.W.2d 904 (Iowa 1959) and Baker v. Stewarts’ Inc., 433 N.W.2d 706 (Iowa 1988). Both of these cases acknowledge the possibility of an exception to the general enforceability of releases in Iowa, but neither case finds a public policy exception [*10] applicable. Baker provides guidance for the recognition of a public policy exception. [HN7] “We will not ‘curtail the liberty to contract by enabling parties to escape their valid contractual obligation on the ground of public policy unless the preservation of the general public welfare imperatively so demands.'” Id. at 707 (quoting Tschirgi v. Merchants Nat’l Bank of Cedar Rapids, 253 Iowa 682, 113 N.W.2d 226, 231 (Iowa 1962). While the court in Baker does not provide a precise framework for analyzing the appropriateness of a public policy exception in a specific situation, it does suggest, as an example, that a professional providing a service of great importance to the public would not be allowed to contract to avoid liability for negligence. See id. We conclude [HN8] snow tubing, a purely recreational activity, is not of such great importance to the public as to justify an exception to the general rule. The district court did not err by failing to recognize a public policy exception to the general enforceability of releases of liability in this case.

E. If the release is enforceable, it only releases Mt. Crescent from unavoidable and inherent [*11] risks of snow tubing. Lathrop argues that if the exculpatory contract is enforceable, it only releases Mt. Crescent from unavoidable and inherent risks of snow tubing and not from unnecessarily dangerous conditions or general negligence. However, Lathrop cites no controlling authority for the proposition that broad exculpatory contracts which purport to release the drafters from “all liability … for any and all loss or damage … arising out of snow tubing … whether caused by the negligence of releasees or otherwise” should not be interpreted as written. [HN9] The appellate courts of this state have consistently upheld the validity of broadly worded releases. See Huber, 501 N.W.2d at 55; Bashford, 96 N.W.2d at 909-910; Weik v. Ace Rents, 249 Iowa 510, 87 N.W.2d 314, 317 (Iowa 1958); and Korsmo, 435 N.W.2d at 748. We find no error by the district court for applying the clear language of the release.

F. The children’s claims cannot be dismissed because a parent cannot waive a child’s future cause of action. The final claim of district court error urged by Lathrop is that the district court erred by dismissing [*12] Lathrop’s children’s causes of action. She argues that a parent cannot waive a child’s right to bring a future cause of action. However, as Lathrop acknowledges in her brief, the [HN10] district court did not address this issue in its ruling. Lathrop did not move the court to enlarge its findings under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). Therefore, Lathrop has failed to preserve error on this issue and cannot raise it now on appeal. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Pflibsen, 350 N.W.2d 202, 206-207 (Iowa 1984).

IV. CONCLUSION

We conclude the district court committed no legal error in granting Mt. Crescent’s motion for summary judgment, and therefore affirm.

AFFIRMED.


Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

Seth Wilson, by and Through His Mother and Next Friend, Suzette Wilson Purser, appellant v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Appellee

NO. 2014-CA-00589-COA

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

April 21, 2015, Decided

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: D. BRIGGS SMITH JR.

FOR APPELLEE: THOMAS M. LOUIS, LEO JOSEPH CARMODY JR.

JUDGES: BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND MAXWELL, JJ. IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION BY: LEE

OPINION

[*1129] NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – PERSONAL INJURY

LEE, C.J., FOR THE COURT:

P1. In this premises-liability case, we must determine whether summary judgment was appropriately granted in favor of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. We find summary judgment was proper; thus, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

P2. On April 29, 2012, ten-year-old Seth Wilson, his brother, Wyatt Purser, and his stepfather, Jim Purser, went to a Wal-Mart [*1130] store in Batesville, Mississippi, to purchase a basketball. While Jim was paying for the basketball at a nearby register, Seth and his brother started looking at the bicycles. They both got on bicycles that were on the bicycle rack, and started riding up and down the aisles nearby. The bicycle Seth rode was on the ground when he found [**2] it, with its front wheel pushed under the rack and its back wheel in the aisle. Seth was following Wyatt on his bicycle when Wyatt slowed down to put the bicycle he was riding away. Seth was forced to go around him because he was “going real fast” and “[could not] figure out how to stop.” He tried to brake using the pedals, but the bicycle only had handbrakes. Unable to stop, Seth ran into a wall and cut his leg on a shelf. The cut was deep and required stitches. The employee assigned to the department was outside at the time of the accident, and no signs were posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles or otherwise warning of any danger.

P3. Suzette Purser, Seth’s mother, filed suit on his behalf on September 14, 2012, alleging negligence on the part of Wal-Mart in failing to keep the premises reasonably safe and warn of danger. After discovery was completed, Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment. Seth filed a response, and Wal-Mart replied. After a hearing, the trial court granted Wal-Mart’s motion, finding that no genuine issue of material fact existed because Seth failed to show the existence of a dangerous condition. Seth filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. Seth [**3] now appeals asserting the trial court erred in granting Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

P4. [HN1] In considering a trial court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment, this Court conducts a de novo review and “examines all the evidentiary matters before it — admissions in pleadings, answers to interrogatories, depositions, affidavits, etc.” City of Jackson v. Sutton, 797 So. 2d 977, 979 (¶7) (Miss. 2001) (citation omitted). [HN2] The Mississippi Supreme Court recently clarified the summary-judgment standard, explaining that “[t]he movant bears the burden of persuading the trial judge that: (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, and (2) on the basis of the facts established, he is entitled to [a] judgment as a matter of law.” Karpinsky v. Am. Nat’l Ins. Co., 109 So. 3d 84, 88 (¶11) (Miss. 2013) (citation omitted). The supreme court further stated that “[t]he movant bears the burden of production if, at trial, he would bear the burden of proof on the issue raised. In other words, the movant only bears the burden of production where [he] would bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 88-89 (¶11) (citations omitted). The supreme court again clarified that “while [d]efendants carry the initial burden of persuading the trial judge that no issue of material fact exists and that they are entitled to summary judgment based upon the established [**4] facts, [the plaintiff] carries the burden of producing sufficient evidence of the essential elements of [his] claim at the summary-judgment stage, as [he] would carry the burden of production at trial.” Id. at 89 (¶13).

DISCUSSION

P5. [HN3] To determine whether Wal-Mart is entitled to summary judgment on Seth’s premises-liability claim, this Court must (1) determine the status of the injured person as either an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, (2) assess, based on the injured party’s status, what duty the landowner or business operator owed to the injured party, and (3) determine whether the landowner or business operator breached the duty owed to the injured [*1131] party. Titus v. Williams, 844 So. 2d 459, 467 (¶28) (Miss. 2003).

P6. It is undisputed that Seth was a business invitee. [HN4] “A business owner/operator owes to invitees the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe, and when not reasonably safe, to warn only where there is hidden danger or peril that is not in plain and open view.” Rod v. Home Depot USA Inc., 931 So. 2d 692, 694 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To succeed in a premises-liability action, Seth must prove one of the following: “(1) a negligent act by [Wal-Mart] caused [his] injury; or, (2) that [Wal-Mart] had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, but failed to warn [him] [**5] of the danger; or, (3) the dangerous condition remained long enough to impute constructive knowledge to [Wal-Mart].” Byrne v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 877 So. 2d 462, 465 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (citation omitted). A business owner, however, is not an insurer of an invitee’s injuries. Id. at (¶6).

P7. Whether Wal-Mart breached its duty to keep the premises reasonably safe or otherwise warn of a hidden danger necessarily depends on whether a dangerous condition existed. Seth argues that whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle on the sales floor constituted a dangerous condition was a genuine issue of material fact that should have been submitted to a jury. To avoid summary judgment, however, Seth must produce sufficient evidence of the essential elements of a claim of negligence – duty, breach, causation, and damages.

P8. Seth contends that leaving unlocked or readily accessible bicycles on the sales floor created a dangerous condition. He argues that (1) Wal-Mart’s possession of a rack on which to clamp the bicycles, (2) the assignment of an employee to the toy department, and (3) evidence of other children on bicycles in the same aisle at the same Wal-Mart show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles created a dangerous condition, and that Wal-Mart [**6] knew about it and failed to warn its patrons. He cites to no authority to support his position, and nothing in the record supports these allegations.

P9. Seth refers to the rack where the bicycles could be clamped as a safety rack, but there is nothing in the record to indicate that the purpose for the rack was to protect its patrons from the alleged danger posed by unlocked or readily accessible bicycles. The record contains installation instructions for the rack, which were prepared by VIDIR Machine Inc., a vertical storage company, and refers to the rack as a carrier or bike-merchandising system only. The rack does not contain a locking mechanism, and holds bicycles in place utilizing a tire clamp. While the bicycles are still accessible to patrons, Seth argues that the rack was designed to make it difficult for patrons to remove the bicycle from the rack, prompting a need for employee assistance, but fails to offer sufficient evidence of this assertion.

P10. Additionally, there is nothing in the record to indicate the assignment of an employee to the toy department was for the purpose of guarding against any known danger; and evidence that other children rode bicycles in the same [**7] aisle in the same Wal-Mart without incident does not, in and of itself, tend to show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles pose a danger. Seth provided no evidence of the industry’s standards, no expert reports, and no evidence of Wal-Mart’s policy regarding who may remove the bicycles from the rack and whether its employees were required to return the bicycles to the rack immediately after each use. Because Wilson failed to produce sufficient evidence that unlocked or readily accessible [*1132] bicycles on the sales floor created a dangerous condition, this issue is without merit.

P11. Seth also argues that the trial court erred in finding that Seth’s age was immaterial. This appears to be an attack on the applicability of Orr v. Academy Louisiana Co., 157 So. 3d 44, 2013 WL 1809878 (La. Ct. App. 2013), an unpublished opinion the trial court cited in support of its conclusion that an unlocked or readily accessible bicycle does not constitute a dangerous condition. In Orr, a woman was injured when she was struck by an adult male riding a bicycle in Academy Sports and Outdoors. 157 So. 3d 44, Id. at *1.

P12. It is not disputed that Seth was an invitee at the time of his injury, and he acknowledges that the duty owed him was not in any way heightened due to his status as a minor. What Seth [**8] appears to be arguing is that the trial court incorrectly considered evidence of contributory negligence in determining whether a dangerous condition existed. Seth had learned how to ride a bicycle by the age of five and had been involved in other bicycle accidents prior to the one at Wal-Mart. Again, Seth’s argument necessarily depends on whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle constitutes a dangerous condition. If an unlocked or readily accessible bicycle does not constitute a dangerous condition, it does not matter whether a person of Seth’s age, experience, and intelligence could have perceived the danger because the danger did not exist. Because Seth failed to show how an unlocked or readily available bicycle constituted a dangerous condition, this issue is without merit.

P13. THE JUDGMENT OF THE PANOLA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT IS AFFIRMED. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED TO THE APPELLANT.

IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.