Jon L. Wilkerson, Appellant, v. The City of SeaTac, Respondent.
COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE
2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592
April 17, 2012, Oral Argument
November 5, 2012, Filed
As amended by order of the Court of Appeals March 27, 2013. RULES OF THE WASHINGTON COURT OF APPEALS MAY LIMIT CITATION TO UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS. PLEASE REFER TO THE WASHINGTON RULES OF COURT.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 171 Wn. App. 1023, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2614 (2012)
Reconsideration denied by, Modified by Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 797 (Wash. Ct. App., Mar. 27, 2013)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Appeal from King County Superior Court. Docket No: 09-2-23226-1. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 12/10/2010. Judge signing: Honorable Michael C Hayden.
CORE TERMS: jump, recreational, latent, land use, bike, landowner, gap, summary judgment, immunity, dirt, speed, wanton, injury-causing, willful, trail, pitch, lead-in, user, parking lot, “appreciate”, creek, softies, owed, mountain, readily apparent, artificial, recreation, channel, posted, stump
COUNSEL: Noah Christian Davis, In Pacta PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Appellant(s).
Francis Stanley Floyd, Nicholas L. Jenkins, Floyd Pflueger & Ringer PS, Seattle, WA; Mary E. Mirante Bartolo, City of Seatac, Seatac, WA; Mark Sterling Johnsen, City of Seatac Legal Dept, Seatac, WA, for Respondent(s).
JUDGES: AUTHOR: Ann Schindler, J. WE CONCUR: Anne Ellington, JPT., C. Kenneth Grosse, J.
OPINION BY: Ann Schindler
¶1 Schindler, J. — Jon Wilkerson challenges the decision on summary judgment to dismiss his lawsuit against the City of SeaTac based on the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210. We affirm.
¶2 The Des Moines Creek Trail Park is a 96-acre woodland preserve open to the public for recreational use. The City of SeaTac (City) owns and operates the portion of the park located within the City, 1 including dirt mounds in the park that bicyclists use as bike jumps. The dirt jumps, known as “the Softies,” are located about a quarter-mile off a paved trail in the park. The City did not create or maintain the dirt jumps.
1 The City of Des Moines and [*2] the Port of Seattle own and operate other portions of the park.
¶3 In June 2006, 30-year-old Jon Wilkerson moved from Arkansas to Kent, Washington to work as a physical therapist. Wilkerson had plans to go mountain biking at Whistler in British Columbia with friends in July. Wilkerson testified that he considered himself an “experienced mountain biker” and had previously used BMX 2 and mountain bikes to do ramp and dirt jumps.
2 (Bicycle motocross.)
¶4 About a week after moving to Kent, Wilkerson went to a bike shop to buy a new helmet. Wilkerson asked the bike shop manager “about nearby parks that had dirt jumps — where I could ride my bike and practice making jumps in anticipation of [the] bike trip to Whistler with friends.” The bike shop manager told Wilkerson about the Des Moines Creek Trail Park and the “BMX style dirt jump[s],” and “told [him] how to get to [the Softies].”
¶5 On June 21, Wilkerson drove to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. Wilkerson arrived at the park between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and parked his Ford Expedition in the parking lot located at South 200th Street. Wilkerson left his cell phone in his car. Wilkerson testified that he went to the park that day to train and “work [*3] on jumps that I knew that I would need to be able to clear at Whistler. . . . I was working that day to prepare to do more advanced techniques at Whistler.”
¶6 After riding around the park for about 30 to 45 minutes on “single [bike] track trails,” Wilkerson testified that he followed the directions he received from the bike shop manager to get to the Softies. Wilkerson said he “rode down a ravine, crossed a creek, walked [his] bike up and the softies were on the right.” When he arrived at the Softies, no one else was there.
¶7 Wilkerson testified that he examined the dirt jumps and understood the importance of the “approach speed,” as well as the condition of the track and the height and pitch of the jumps. Wilkerson said that he rode his bike over the jumps to “try some of them out” before selecting a smaller “gap jump.” Wilkerson said he decided the other jumps “weren’t within my skill set” because they were “too steep” and “too close together,” and concluded the smaller gap jump was “within my skill set.”
¶8 The dirt jump Wilkerson selected contained “two mounds with a gap in between.” Wilkerson testified that he inspected the jump before attempting it, and rode down the approach to check [*4] the pitch and surface composition.
Q But you did check the jump out before you went off of it, correct?
A I did.
Q And, you rode down and actually, with the intention of checking it out before you went off of it, correct?
A I did.
Q And, you were looking for things like the pitch of the jump, correct?
Q You were looking to see if the composition of the surfaces was adequate, correct?
Q You were looking to see if the jump was safe before you went off of it, correct?
¶9 Wilkerson testified that he concluded “there was enough of a grade to [carry] me into [sic] with a moderate to fast amount of speed.” Wilkerson admitted that it had been at least a couple of years “since I’d done a gap jump.” But Wilkerson said that he had no concerns about his ability to accomplish the jump.
¶10 In his declaration in opposition to summary judgment, Wilkerson states he “reviewed” the jump, including “the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok,” but “did not take a practice ‘run in.'” The declaration states, in pertinent part:
14. I then rode over to a smaller jump (which had a crevice or drop in the middle) called a gap jump and felt that it was well within my “skill set”;
15. I then generally reviewed the jump, including the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok;
16. That is, looking at the jump itself, it looked fine for me to take;
17. I did not measure the gap width, nor the pitch of the jump nor the pitch of the landing;
23. I also did not take a practice “run in” leading up to the jump because I had no reason to think that there was some danger to me from the approach to the jump or that the approach would be problematic or prevent me from clearing the jump.
¶11 Wilkerson testified that he “gauged the speed to be appropriate for the gap” and approached the jump “moderate to fast, the speed needed to get over the gap.” Wilkerson missed the jump and “[t]umbled forward” over the front of the bike. Wilkerson testified, in pertinent part:
On the back side of the jump for some reason my back wheel didn’t make it all the way over the berm of the back side of the jump. So, [*5] it impacted the top of the berm, rebounded and knocked me over the front of the bicycle.
¶12 Wilkerson hit the ground head-first and landed on his back five or six feet beyond the jump. Wilkerson was unable to move. Wilkerson called for help for some time before losing consciousness.
¶13 At about 1:00 a.m., a City employee reported seeing Wilkerson’s car in the parking lot. Two bicyclists found Wilkerson at about 11:00 a.m. and called 911. Emergency personnel immediately responded and transported Wilkerson to Harborview Medical Center. Wilkerson suffered from hypothermia and went into cardiac arrest. During “life-saving efforts,” Wilkerson’s lung was lacerated. Wilkerson successfully underwent surgery for the laceration. The doctors at Harborview diagnosed Wilkerson with a C4-C6 vertebra fracture. Wilkerson is quadriplegic.
¶14 After an assessment in Arkansas in September 2006, Wilkerson participated in the program at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Texas. During the assessment, Wilkerson said that although he was an experienced mountain biker, as he went over the jump, he came down “wrong” because he ” ‘was a bit out of practice’ ” and ” ‘a little too bold.’ ”
¶15 Wilkerson filed a lawsuit [*6] against the City alleging the City breached the duty to use reasonable care in failing to maintain the park and “allowing man-made jumps to remain despite the . . . inherent danger the jumps posed.” The complaint also alleged the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report Wilkerson’s vehicle “to authorities.” Wilkerson claimed the failure to report seeing his car in the parking lot caused him to suffer hypothermia and injury to his lungs. The City denied the allegations and asserted a number of affirmative defenses, including immunity under the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210.
¶16 The City filed a motion for partial summary judgment to dismiss the claim that the City breached the duty to remove the dirt jumps. The City argued that because there was no evidence of a known dangerous artificial latent condition, the claim was barred by the recreational land use statute.
¶17 Wilkerson argued there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the approach to the gap jump was a known dangerous artificial latent condition. Wilkerson also argued that the City’s failure to remove, redesign, or maintain the dirt jumps was “willful and wanton conduct [that] rises to [*7] the level of intentional conduct.”
¶18 In support of his argument that the approach to the gap jump was a latent condition, Wilkerson submitted the declarations of Samuel Morris, Jr., a professional mountain bike racer; Lee Bridgers, the owner of a company that conducts mountain bike jumping clinics; and his own declaration. 3
3 In support of his assertion that the approach to the gap jump was a “known” and “dangerous” condition, Wilkerson submitted excerpts from the deposition of the City’s Acting Fire Chief and incident reports of bicycle accidents.
¶19 In his declaration, Wilkerson states that he did not “see or appreciate the S-curved, angled lead-in to the jump.” Morris states that in his opinion,
it was not the jump itself that caused Jon to crash, but the curvy nature of the lead-in, or approach, to the jump, which more probably than not reduced his speed enough to prevent him from successfully completing the jump. . . . While Jon testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would mostly likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and [*8] the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. These conditions would not be apparent to a rider of Jon’s skill level.
¶20 Bridgers testified that the cause of the crash was the “lack of speed due to the twists and turns in the approach.”
[T]he curvy lead-in to the jump prevented Jon from successfully attaining the speed necessary to complete the jump and was the primary cause of Jon’s injury.
Bridgers stated that in his opinion, Wilkerson did not appreciate the S-curve approach.
While the S-curve after the berm is not visibly dramatic, it affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump and therefore has a significant impact on the rider’s ability to successfully clear the jump, especially on a first attempt. This is something that Jon obviously did not notice or appreciate and which clearly had an impact on his ability to make the jump.
¶21 The court granted the motion for partial summary judgment. Even assuming the effect of the S-curve approach to the jump was not readily apparent to Wilkerson, the court concluded it was not a latent condition. The court ruled that as a matter of law, the inability to appreciate the [*9] risk does not constitute a latent condition.
So for purposes of the summary judgment, I am assuming that the trail, the approach leading to the jump was curved in some fashion such that it would have limited the speed of a biker who arrived at the jump site.
I am going to further conclude, for purposes of the summary judgment, that it would not have been readily apparent to the biker that he could not acquire sufficient speed to clear the jump.
[T]here is no testimony that you couldn’t see the path. The path was there. The path was not submerged; it was not invisible. Whether it was straight or curved, it was the path that one could see.
. . . .
[T]here are no cases where the courts have said you can look directly at it, you can see what is there to be seen, and the inability to appreciate the risk posed constitutes latency. I didn’t see any cases like that.
I find as a matter of law that the lead up, whether it was curved or straight, is not the latent condition required under the statute, and it does not abrogate the statutory immunity.
¶22 The court also concluded there was no evidence that the City acted with willful and wanton disregard for a danger posed by the Softies.
I would also suggest [*10] that there is no evidence here that would rise to the level of willful and wanton disregard, if indeed that is the standard in Washington.
I will accept for a summary judgment proposition that the city knew or should have known these jumps were out there, they knew or should have known that they were dangerous and there have been prior accidents, and that they did not go in and sign it or remov[e them i]s not the standard for recreational use immunity.
¶23 The “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Recreational Use Immunity” dismisses the claim that “the City of SeaTac owed [Wilkerson] a duty to protect him from his failed mountain bike jump” at the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. The court denied Wilkerson’s motion for reconsideration.
¶24 The City then filed a motion for summary judgment dismissal of Wilkerson’s claim that the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report seeing Wilkerson’s vehicle in the parking lot. The City argued that the recreational land use statute and the public duty doctrine barred these claims.
¶25 Wilkerson argued the recreational land use statute did not apply to the cardiac and lung injuries he suffered as a result of remaining in [*11] the park overnight because he was no longer engaged in recreation. Wilkerson also argued that the City assumed a duty to users of the park to exercise reasonable care in patrolling the park.
¶26 The court granted summary judgment. The court ruled that the recreational land use statute barred Wilkerson’s claim that the City was liable for the injuries Wilkerson suffered as a result of the crash. The court’s oral ruling states, in pertinent part:
I mean to suggest that a landowner is immune from someone using their land for recreation, but if they get hurt, then a new duty arises to come take care of them and to use reasonable efforts to make sure they are safe after they are injured, as opposed to being safe before they are injured, really stretches it too far.
[T]o suggest the landowner has a duty not to protect the person from injury, but to treat them after they are injured, or to be alert to the fact of injury, even though they are not alert to prevent the injury, makes no sense.
So I am ruling that in the circumstances of having failed to detect him injured on site and failed to having brought medical services to him fast enough, the city is still acting in its capacity as landowner.
The [*12] “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Duty to Rescue” dismisses Wilkerson’s claim that the City “owed him a duty to supervise and rescue him sooner.” 4
4 Wilkerson filed a motion to compel the City to produce discovery, which the court denied. Wilkerson appeals the order denying the motion to compel but does not assign error to the order or address it in the briefs. Accordingly, the issue is waived. RAP 10.3(a)(4); Hollis v. Garwall, Inc., 137 Wn.2d 683, 689 n.4, 974 P.2d 836 (1999).
¶27 Wilkerson contends the trial court erred in dismissing his negligence claims against the City under the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, and the court erred in concluding that the statute barred his claim for “hypothermia and cardiac and lung injuries.”
¶28 We review summary judgment de novo and consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hearst Commc’ns, Inc. v. Seattle Times Co., 154 Wn.2d 493, 501, 115 P.3d 262 (2005). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bulman v. Safeway, Inc., 144 Wn.2d 335, 351, 27 P.3d 1172 (2001). [*13] A party cannot rely on allegations in the pleadings, speculation, or argumentative assertions that factual issues remain. White v. State, 131 Wn.2d 1, 9, 929 P.2d 396 (1997).
¶29 The recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, grants immunity to landowners for unintentional injuries to recreational users of the land.
¶30 The statute modifies a landowner’s common law duty in order “to encourage landowners to open their lands to the public for recreational purposes.” Davis v. State, 144 Wn.2d 612, 616, 30 P.3d 460 (2001). Because the recreational land use statute is in derogation of common law, it is strictly construed. Matthews v. Elk Pioneer Days, 64 Wn. App. 433, 437, 824 P.2d 541 (1992).
¶31 Under RCW 4.24.200, the purpose of the recreational land use statute is to
encourage owners or others in lawful possession and control of land and water areas or channels to make them available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon and toward persons who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the acts or omissions of persons entering thereon. 
5 The legislature amended the statute several times between 2006 and 2012. Laws of 2006, ch. 212, § 6; [*14] Laws of 2011, ch. 53, § 1; Laws of 2011 ch. 171, § 2; Laws of 2011 ch. 320, § 11; Laws of 2012 ch. 15, § 1. The amendments are not pertinent to this appeal.
¶32 Under RCW 4.24.210, a landowner is immune from liability for unintentional injuries unless the injury is caused by a known dangerous artificial latent condition “for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.” RCW 4.24.210 states, in pertinent part:
(1) [A]ny public or private landowners . . . or others in lawful possession and control of any lands whether designated resource, rural, or urban, or water areas or channels and lands adjacent to such areas or channels, who allow members of the public to use them for the purposes of outdoor recreation, which term includes, but is not limited to, . . . bicycling, . . . without charging a fee of any kind therefor, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to such users.
. . . .
(4)(a) Nothing in this section shall prevent the liability of a landowner or others in lawful possession and control for injuries sustained to users by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.
¶33 To establish the City was not immune [*15] from suit under RCW 4.24.210, Wilkerson must show the City charged a fee for the use of the land, the injuries were intentionally inflicted, or the injuries were sustained by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which no warning signs were posted. Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.
¶34 Here, there is no dispute that the Des Moines Creek Trail Park was open to the public for recreational purposes and no fee was charged. The parties dispute whether the injury-causing condition was latent. Each of the four elements of a known dangerous artificial latent injury-causing condition must be present in order to establish liability under the recreational land use statute. Ravenscroft v. Wash. Water Power Co., 136 Wn.2d 911, 920, 969 P.2d 75 (1998). “If one of the four elements is not present, a claim cannot survive summary judgment.” Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.
¶35 Wilkerson asserts there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the S-curve lead-in was a latent condition, and whether a recreational user would recognize the danger of the S-curve approach. Wilkerson contends the S-curve “lead-in to the jump” caused his injuries.
¶36 For purposes of the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.210, [*16] “latent” means ” ‘not readily apparent to the recreational user.’ ” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924 (quoting Van Dinter v. City of Kennewick, 121 Wn.2d 38, 45, 846 P.2d 522 (1993)). In determining whether the injury-causing condition is latent, the question is not whether the specific risk is readily apparent but, instead, whether the injury-causing condition itself is readily apparent. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924. A landowner will not be held liable where a patent condition posed a latent, or unobvious, danger. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. Although latency is a factual question, when reasonable minds could reach but one conclusion from the evidence presented, summary judgment is appropriate. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 47.
¶37 Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Wilkerson, as a matter of law, the S-curve lead-in was not a latent condition. At most, the S-curve approach is a patent condition that “posed a latent, or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.
¶38 In Van Dinter, the Washington Supreme Court addressed the difference between a latent condition and a latent danger. In Van Dinter, Van Dinter struck his eye on a protruding metal antenna of a caterpillar-shaped [*17] playground toy located next to the grassy area at the park where he was engaged in a water fight. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter stated that “he did not realize someone on the grass could collide with any part of the caterpillar.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter asserted “a condition is latent for purposes of RCW 4.24.210 if its injury-producing aspect is not readily apparent to the ordinary recreational user,” and argued that “while the caterpillar was obvious, its injury-causing aspect was not.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 45.
¶39 The court disagreed with Van Dinter and held that “RCW 4.24.210 does not hold landowners potentially liable for patent conditions with latent dangers. The condition itself must be latent.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. While the court expressly acknowledged that “it may not have occurred to Van Dinter that he could injure himself in the way he did,” the court concluded that “this does not show the injury-causing condition — the caterpillar’s placement — was latent. . . . The caterpillar as well as its injury-causing aspect — its proximity to the grassy area — were obvious.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.
¶40 Here, Wilkerson’s experts testified that the [*18] danger posed by the S-curve approach was not “obvious” to “beginning to intermediate” bike jumpers.
[T]he S-curve . . . affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump . . . . It is my opinion that the dangers posed by the S-curved lead-in to the jump were not obvious for [Wilkerson] and other beginning to intermediate jumpers. 
6 (Emphases added.)
¶41 Morris testified that it was unlikely that Wilkerson or other jumpers would “consider . . . the effect that the approach would have.”
While [Wilkerson] testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would most likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. 
7 (Emphases added.)
¶42 The testimony that Wilkerson did not “appreciate” the danger of the S-curve approach to the jump does not establish a latent condition. As in Van Dinter, at most, Wilkerson’s failure to “appreciate” the S-curve lead-in “shows that the present situation is one in which a patent condition posed a latent, [*19] or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.
¶43 The cases Wilkerson relies on, Ravenscroft and Cultee v. City of Tacoma, 95 Wn. App. 505, 977 P.2d 15 (1999), are distinguishable. In Ravenscroft, a man was injured when the boat he was riding in hit a rooted tree stump submerged in a channel of water that formed part of a dam reservoir. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 915. The driver of the boat testified that “he saw nothing that would indicate the presence of any submerged objects or hazards in the direction he was traveling.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 916. Other witnesses testified that other boats had hit the stumps. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 925.
¶44 The court identified the injury-causing condition as the “man-created water course, containing a submerged line of tree stumps” that was “created by [the Washington Water Power Company] cutting down trees, leaving stumps near the middle of a water channel, then raising the river to a level which covered the stumps.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 923. The court concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate because “[t]he record does not support a conclusion that the submerged stumps near the middle of the channel were obvious or visible as [*20] a matter of law.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 926.
¶45 In Cultee, a five-year-old girl rode a bicycle on a road with an eroded edge that was partially flooded by the Hood Canal tidal waters. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 509. The girl fell into the water and drowned at a point where the road and the eroded edge were covered by two to four inches of muddy water and the adjacent fields were covered with several feet of water. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 510. The court held there were material issues of fact about whether the condition that killed the girl was “the depth of the water alone, or a combination of the muddy water obscuring the eroded edge of the road and an abrupt drop into deep water;” and whether ” ‘recreational users’ would have been able to see the edge of the road, given that it was eroded and covered with a two-to-four-inch layer of muddy water.” Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 523.
¶46 Wilkerson also argues that the trial court erred in concluding the recreational land use statute bars his claim for cardiac and lung injuries. Wilkerson argues the statute does not apply to the injuries he suffered after he missed the jump because he was not “engaged in recreation” or “using” the land when he suffered [*21] cardiac and lung injuries.
¶47 Wilkerson relies on Wisconsin law in support of his argument that the recreational land use statute does not apply to secondary injuries. But unlike RCW 4.24.210(1), the Wisconsin statute predicates landowner immunity on recreational use. The Wisconsin statute states, in pertinent part: “[N]o owner . . . is liable for . . . any injury to . . . a person engaging in recreational activity on the owner’s property.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b). By contrast, RCW 4.24.200-.210 grants a broader immunity to landowners “who allow members of the public to use [their lands] for the purposes of outdoor recreation.” RCW 4.24.210(1); see also Gaeta v. Seattle City Light, 54 Wn. App. 603, 608-10, 774 P.2d 1255 (1989) (because landowner “open[ed] up the lands for recreational use without a fee,” and thereby “brought itself under the protection of the immunity statute,” landowner was immune from liability regardless of whether “a person coming onto the property may have some commercial purpose in mind”).
¶48 Next, Wilkerson argues that the City’s willful and wanton or intentional conduct precludes immunity under the recreational land use statute because the City knew that other bicyclists [*22] had been injured. Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299 (9th Cir. 1982), does not support Wilkerson’s argument.
¶49 In Jones, the plaintiff went to Hurricane Ridge located in Olympic National Park as part of a church-sponsored event. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff was severely injured while riding on an inner tube at Hurricane Ridge. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff sued the church and the federal government. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The jury returned a verdict against the church but found the plaintiff was also negligent. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the federal government under Washington’s recreational land use statute on the grounds that the plaintiff did not establish the government’s conduct was willful or wanton. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300-01. 8
The evidence established that the extent of the danger was not actually or reasonably known to the Government. Its failure to put up signs and ropes was negligence which proximately contributed to the plaintiff’s accident but it did not constitute “an intentional failure to do an act” nor was it “in reckless disregard of the consequences.”
Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304 (internal quotation marks [*23] omitted).
¶50 On appeal, the plaintiff argued the court erred in concluding the government’s conduct was not willful or wanton under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The plaintiff asserted that the government’s failure to ” ‘put up signs and ropes’ ” was deliberate and the government ” ‘knew or should have known’ ” of the dangerous condition. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304.
¶51 The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305. The Court distinguished cases that involved specific acts of the government that create a dangerous condition, and held that ” ‘[w]anton misconduct is not negligence since it involves intent rather than inadvertence, and is positive rather than negative.’ ” Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305 n.21 (quoting Adkisson v. City of Seattle, 42 Wn.2d 676, 687, 258 P.2d 461 (1953)). Because the government did not create the injury-causing condition, and the ” ‘impact of tubing and the inherent dangers . . . were not apparent to the public or the Government,’ ” the Court concluded the failure to put up signs or ropes was not intentional and willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.
We agree with the district court that, [*24] “While it was negligence on the Government’s part not to put up signs or ropes, its failure to do so does not rise to the status of willful and wanton conduct under the law of Washington.”
Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.
¶52 Here, as in Jones, there is no dispute that the City did not create the dirt jumps or S-curve approach. While the alleged failure of the City to “bulldoze the Softies” or post warning signs may constitute negligence, it is not willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use immunity statute.
¶53 Wilkerson also claims the City assumed a duty to supervise and patrol the park. Wilkerson points to the sign the City posted in the parking lot and the failure to take some action after the City employee saw his car in the parking lot at 1:00 a.m. The sign posted at the entry to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park parking lot stated:
Park is patrolled by City of SeaTac Police Department . . .
Park is operated by City of SeaTac Parks & Recreation Department . . .
. . . .
Park is closed from dusk to dawn unless otherwise posted
. . . .
Parking . . . is only permitted during park hours.
. . . .
Unauthorized vehicles will be impounded.
¶54 But in order to establish liability, Wilkerson must show there [*25] is a duty owed to him and not a duty owed to the public in general. Babcock v. Mason County Fire Dist. No. 6, 144 Wn.2d 774, 785, 30 P.3d 1261 (2001).
“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”
Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785 (quoting Taylor v. Stevens County, 111 Wn.2d 159, 163, 759 P.2d 447 (1988) 9). Because the record shows that the City did not assume a duty or make express assurances to Wilkerson, the public duty doctrine bars his claim that the City owed him a duty of care. Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785-86.
9 (Internal quotation marks and citation omitted.)
¶55 We affirm dismissal of Wilkerson’s lawsuit against the City.
Grosse, J., and Ellington, J. Pro Tem., concur.
After modification, further reconsideration denied March 27, 2013.
Gwinner, v. Michael Matt, et al., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108827
Sheila Gwinner and Horst Gwinner, Plaintiffs, v. Michael Matt, et al., Defendants.
Civil No. 10-3001 (JBS/AMD)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108827
August 2, 2012, Decided
August 3, 2012, Filed
COUNSEL: [*1] Appearances: Thomas Sacchetta, Esq., SACCHETTA & BALDINO, Marlton, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiffs.
Barbara J. Davis, Esq., Jessica D. Wachstein, Esq., MARSHALL, DENNEHY, MARSHALL, COLEMMAN & GOGGIN, Cherry Hill, NJ, Attorneys for the Defendants.
JUDGES: HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: JEROME B. SIMANDLE
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
This matter involving the alleged negligence of a motorist opening his car door on a roadway with a designated bike lane is before the Court on Defendant’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). [Docket Item 17.] The principal issue to be determined is whether a dispute of fact exists that Defendant breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiff when she collided with his car door as he was exiting his vehicle. As will be explained at length below, the Court finds Plaintiff’s negligence claim raises a question of material fact to be decided by a jury. Plaintiff has also raised a dispute of fact that her alleged injuries are permanent and causally related to the accident for purposes of the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold of the New Jersey Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act, so Defendant’s motion will be [*2] denied.
Plaintiff, Sheila Gwinner, filed this lawsuit against Defendant, Michael Matt, based on an accident that occurred in June 2008, when Ms. Gwinner collided with Mr. Matt’s car door while she was bicycling on Dune Drive in Avalon, New Jersey. Ms. Gwinner alleges Mr. Matt negligently opened his car door into the bike lane where she was traveling, striking her and causing her to suffer serious personal injuries.
On June 14, 2010, Plaintiff commenced a civil action against Defendant in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey based on diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). 1 [Docket Item 1.] According to Ms. Gwinner’s Complaint, Mr. Matt’s negligence consisted of, in part, “failing to observe [her] bicycle on the bicycle path” and “failing to keep a reasonable lookout for other vehicles lawfully on the road.” Compl. at ¶ 12. Ms. Gwinner then claims that, as a result of Mr. Matt’s negligence, she suffered “severe and painful injuries,” which required medical treatment, restricted her personal and work activities, and resulted in permanent injuries. Id. at ¶ 13.
1 Both Plaintiffs are citizens of Pennsylvania, and Defendant is a citizen of [*3] New Jersey. Compl. at ¶ 1.
On the morning of June 15, 2008 Mr. Matt parked his vehicle in front of his father’s house, in the parking lane along Dune Drive. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 17:23-24. At this location, Dune Drive is a four-lane roadway, two lanes north and two lanes south, with a bike lane and a parking lane. Id. at 19:4-7. When Mr. Matt opened his door, he “heard a loud bang,” and then observed a “young lady  on the ground with her bicycle in front of the car to the left a little bit.” Id. at 28:5-8. Ms. Gwinner was traveling at fifteen miles per hour along Dune Drive on the morning of the accident, and she did not observe Mr. Matt’s vehicle prior to the collision. Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 34:5-10. Additionally, Ms. Gwinner testified that, when the accident occurred, she was riding within the bike lane (id. at 34:20-21); however, she did not observe and does not know whether Mr. Matt’s car door actually extended into the bike lane. Id. at 40:7-13.
Ms. Gwinner carries automobile insurance provided by Progressive Insurance, an insurance company authorized to conduct business in the State of New Jersey. She alleges that as a result of the accident, she suffered “traumatic multi level [*4] disc herniation/protrusion/radiculopathy, traumatic right knee fracture/contusion/anterior horn tear, and traumatic right hand/thumb tendonitis with radial/median nerve neuritis and joint inflammation.” Compl. at ¶ 13. 2 Plaintiff claims that these injuries demonstrate a “permanent injury” as set forth in the New Jersey Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (“AICRA”) at N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:6A-8(a) and that she has produced sufficient objective medical evidence to support her claim. Pl.’s Opp’n Br. at 4.
2 Plaintiff includes a medical report in support of this allegation. Pl. Ex. D.
In the present motion, Defendant argues that he is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to “establish proof a negligence claim as a matter of law.” Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. at 2. Specifically, Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to establish the alleged breach of duty, as she “produced no evidence that Mr. Matt’s car door extended into the bike lane.” Id. at 3. Defendant also argues that Plaintiff is barred from pursuing noneconomic damages 3 because she has failed to produce objective medical evidence demonstrating she suffered permanent injuries, as a result the accident in question, [*5] to her neck, right knee, and right wrist. Id. at 15-16.
3 “Noneconomic damages” are defined by statute as “pain, suffering and inconvenience.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:6A-2(i). By contrast, “economic loss” is defined as “uncompensated loss of income or property, or other uncompensated expenses, including, but not limited to, medical expenses.” Id. at § 39:6A-2(k). The Court notes that Plaintiff appears to claim only noneconomic losses. Additionally, Defendant requests dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim in its entirety, not just dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim for noneconomic losses. Plaintiff does not refute this by presenting economic losses and arguing that, should the Court find in Defendant’s favor, her claims for economic losses must survive. Therefore, dismissal is the result of finding for Defendant.
For the following reasons, the Court finds Plaintiff has sufficiently raised a question of material fact regarding her breach of duty claim; Defendant’s motion is denied on this issue. Additionally, the Court finds Plaintiff has provided sufficient objective medical evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that she suffered permanent injuries as a result of the accident; therefore, [*6] Plaintiff has met AICRA’s limitation-on-lawsuit threshold, and Defendant’s motion is denied.
A. Standard of Review
[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment will not be denied based on mere allegations or denials in the pleadings; instead, some evidence must be produced to support a material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A); United States v. Premises Known as 717 S. Woodward Street, Allentown, Pa., 2 F.3d 529, 533 (3d Cir. 1993). However, the Court will view any evidence in favor of the nonmoving party and extend any reasonable favorable inferences to be drawn from that evidence to that party. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552, 119 S. Ct. 1545, 143 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1999). Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may be entitled to summary judgment merely by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of [*7] the nonmoving party’s case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).
B. Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s Negligence Claim
[HN2] Under New Jersey law, for a plaintiff to establish a negligence claim she must show that the defendant “breached a duty of reasonable care, which constituted a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.” Brown v. Racquet Club of Bricktown, 95 N.J. 280, 288, 471 A.2d 25, 29 (1984). Furthermore, ” [HN3] negligence must be proved and will never be presumed,  indeed there is a presumption against it, and  the burden of proving negligence is on the plaintiff.” Buckelew v. Grossbard, 87 N.J. 512, 525, 435 A.2d 1150 (1981) (citing Hansen v. Eagle-Picher Lead Co., 8 N.J. 133, 139, 84 A.2d 281 (1951)).
Plaintiff claims Defendant acted negligently when he opened his car door “into the bike lane where [she] was operating her bicycle.” Pl.’s Opp’n Br. 2. She also alleges she suffered injuries as a result of Defendant’s negligence. Id.
Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to present a valid negligence claim because she has not alleged a breach of duty that was the proximate cause of her injuries. Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. 2. Defendant [*8] argues Plaintiff has not produced evidence showing his car door entered into or obstructed the bike lane. Id. at 3. Defendant also claims the evidence shows Ms. Gwinner was solely responsible for her injuries because she was riding her bicycle outside of the bike lane when she collided with his car door. Id. To support this claim, Defendant argues that after the accident, he fully opened his door to see if it extended into the bike lane, which, he claims, it did not. Id. at 1.
1. Duty of Care
Neither party has addressed the existence of a duty of care in the instant case. Because the existence of a duty is essential to all negligence claims, however, the Court must tackle the issue.
[HN4] “The question of whether a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid the risk of harm to another exists is one of fairness and policy that implicates many factors.” Carvalho v. Toll Bros. and Developers, 143 N.J. 565, 573, 675 A.2d 209, 212. (citing Dunphy v. Gregor, 136 N.J. 99, 110, 642 A.2d 372 (1994)). Foreseeability is the first factor considered, as it is “the predicate for the duty to exercise reasonable care.” Id. at 573. While foreseeability is needed to determine whether a duty of care exists, it [*9] is not the only factor. Id. at 572. Courts also consider fairness and policy factors such as “the relationship of the parties, the nature of the attendant risk, the opportunity and ability to exercise care, and the public interest in the proposed solution.” Id. at 573 (quoting Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426, 439, 625 A.2d 1110. (1993)).
The Court will first address foreseeability. Mr. Matt was a resident of Avalon, who was aware of the existence of the bike lane along Dune Drive, and who had used the Dune Drive bike lane prior to the accident in question. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 9:20; 20:16-19, 22-23; 21:1-2. Mr. Matt was also aware that the Dune Drive bike lane was regularly used during the summer months, Avalon’s tourist season. Id. at 46:3-7. The risk of harm posed by a collision between a cyclist and an automobile, or automobile door, is obvious. As a result, where bicycles and motor vehicles are in close proximity, the risk of harm presented by obstructing or entering into the bike lane, or, more generally a bicyclist’s lane of travel, was clearly foreseeable to Mr. Matt at the time of the accident.
” [HN5] Once the foreseeability of an injured party is established, . . . considerations [*10] of fairness and policy govern whether the imposition of a duty is warranted.” Carvalho at 573, 675 A.2d at 212 (quoting Carter Lincoln Mercury, Inc. v. EMAR Group, Inc., 135 N.J. 182, 194-95, 638 A.2d 1288 (1994)). In Carvalho, a construction worker was killed when trench walls collapsed on him. Id. at 571-572, 675 A.2d at 212. In a suit against the site engineer, the New Jersey Supreme Court, after determining the risk of harm was foreseeable, held that imposing a duty of care on the engineer was warranted because there was a contractual relationship between the parties; the engineer was responsible for monitoring work progress, which implicated worksite safety; the engineer had control to change work conditions; and the engineer had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition because other trench walls had collapsed at the site. Id. at 575-578, 675 A.2d at 214-15.
Here, Mr. Matt and Ms. Gwinner had no prior existing relationship. In fact, their first actual encounter occurred after Ms. Gwinner had already collided with Mr. Matt’s car door. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 28:4-15; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 37:4-10. Additionally, Mr. Matt had never previously been involved in an automobile accident [*11] involving a bicyclist. Ex. F at 46:12-16. But their relationship was a functional one: both were using vehicles on the limited roadway space of a public thoroughfare. Imposing a duty of care on Mr. Matt in terms of obstructing or otherwise interfering with a bicyclist’s lane of travel is fair as a matter of public policy. The City of Avalon has created bike lanes presumably to promote bicycling generally and as an attempt to attract visitors. The explicit purpose of a bike lane is to minimize the risks inherent in roadways that accommodate automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians by providing bicyclists an exclusive lane of travel. Finally, imposing a duty of care in terms of keeping a proper lookout before crossing, entering into, or otherwise obstructing a bicyclists’ lane of travel does not unduly burden motorists. At most, this duty requires a driver to ensure his automobile is parked fully in the parking lane and to check his review mirrors, or otherwise look out for bicyclists, prior to opening his car door and exiting his vehicle.
In conclusion, the possibility of a collision between a cyclist and a car or car door on roadways shared by cyclists and motorists, is foreseeable. Moreover, [*12] the public interest in promoting bicycle safety and the minimal burden placed on motorists to exercise reasonable care can lead only to the conclusion that Mr. Matt owed Ms. Gwinner a duty of care when parking and exiting his vehicle along Dune Drive.
2. Breach of Duty
[HN6] Because breach of duty is an essential element of a negligence claim, facts relating to a defendant’s breach are material to the success of the claim. In the instant case, the material fact regarding breach of duty is whether Defendant Matt’s car door entered into the bike lane, causing the collision. Because Ms. Gwinner has the burden of proving negligence at trial, Mr. Matt would be “entitled to summary judgment merely by showing that there is an absence of evidence” supporting Ms. Gwinner’s negligence claim. Celotex Corp. at 325. The Court finds Plaintiff has minimally succeeded in providing evidence to support her claim that Defendant breached a duty of care.
Ms. Gwinner alleges Mr. Matt breached the duty by negligently opening his car door into the bike lane, causing her to collide with the door and suffer injuries. Mr. Matt claims Ms. Gwinner has failed to produce evidence his car door entered the bike lane. Mr. [*13] Matt also claims the evidence in the record shows that Ms. Gwinner was actually the sole cause of the collision and her injuries because his car door did not extend into the bike lane, so, he infers, Ms. Gwinner must have been riding her bicycle in the parallel parking lane at the time of the accident.
The evidence in the record pertaining to Plaintiff’s negligence claim is scant. There were no witnesses to the accident, aside from Mr. Matt and Ms. Gwinner. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 35:5-7; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 44:14-15. Neither Mr. Matt nor Ms. Gwinner took photographs or made measurements of the accident scene; more specifically, there are no photographs 4 or measurements relating to the distance of Mr. Matt’s passenger side tires from the curb or how far Mr. Matt’s car door extended when opened on the day of the incident. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 37:22-24, 38:1-2; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 47:1-5. Finally, though both parties independently visited the Avalon Police Station after the accident, no police report was produced. Matt Dep., Ex. F at 43:19-22, 44:1-3; Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 70:13-15, 71:18-21.
4 There is photographic evidence of Dune Drive at the accident site as of February 2011. While [*14] the photographs tell us little about the actual scene of the accident in June 2008, they do confirm that a Honda Accord parked close enough to the curb in the parking lane can fully open its driver side door without the door entering into the bike lane. However, the photographer used a Honda Accord to make this demonstration. Ex. G. On the day of the accident, Mr. Matt was driving a Cadillac CTS. Ex. F at 23:5-6. Car width and door length vary from make to make and model to model; as a result, the Court notes that Defendant’s photographs are of limited value on the relevant question of whether Mr. Matt’s Cadillac could similarly park in the parking lane and fully open his car door without obstructing the bike lane. The demonstrative Honda exhibit’s materiality also depends upon how close to the curb Defendant’s vehicle was parked at the time of the accident.
Ms. Gwinner’s recitation of what she remembers from the date of the accident is also meager. Though she claims to have been riding in the bike lane along the right side of the lane, at no time before, during or after the accident did she observe Mr. Matt’s car door extending into the bike lane. 5 Gwinner Dep., Ex. H at 34:8-10, [*15] 40:7-10, 19-23. Additionally, she did not observe and does not know how close to the curb Mr. Matt parked his car. Id. at 48:2-5.
5 During her deposition, Ms. Gwinner participated in the following exchange with Defense attorney Barbara J. Davis:
Q: But did you see at all how far the car door extended out?
A: No, I didn’t.
Q: As you sit here today, do you know if the car door extended out into the bike lane, Mr. Matt’s car door?
A: I don’t.
However, Ms. Gwinner’s deposition testimony describing the accident is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a question of material fact, which should be decided by a jury. She states, “Is all I know I was [sic] riding my bike. And the poor man was as startled as I was. The door started opening and I just went into it.” Id. at 34:6-10. When Ms. Gwinner’s description of the accident is considered along with her testimony that she was riding her bike within the bike lane when she collided with Mr. Matt’s car door (id. at 36:15-17), a fact finder could reasonably infer Mr. Matt’s car door must have entered the bike lane and caused the collision, and choose to believe Ms. Gwinner’s account of the accident rather than Mr. Matt’s.
Because all reasonable inferences [*16] must be given to the nonmovant, the Court finds Ms. Gwinner has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Matt breached a duty of care by negligently opening his car door into a bicyclist’s lane of travel, or otherwise failing to reasonably look out for bicyclists before exiting his vehicle. Therefore, Mr. Matt has failed to meet the summary judgment standard set forth under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B) and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986) and his motion will be denied as to Plaintiff’s negligence claim.
C. Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s Inability to Satisfy AICRA’s Limitation-on-Lawsuit Threshold
1. The Applicability of the New Jersey’s “Deemer Statute” and AICRA
Because Ms. Gwinner is insured by Progressive Insurance, an insurance company authorized to conduct business in the State of New Jersey, Defendant argues, and Plaintiff does not dispute, Plaintiff is subject to New Jersey’s “Deemer Statute” and the “limitation-on-lawsuit threshold” set forth in AICRA.
[HN7] The Deemer Statute, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 17:28-1.4, “requires insurers authorized to transact automobile insurance business in New Jersey to provide coverage to out-of-state residents consistent [*17] with New Jersey law ‘whenever the automobile or motor vehicle insured under the policy is used or operated in this State.'” Zabilowicz v. Kelsey, 200 N.J. 507, 513-514, 984 A.2d 872, 875-876 (2009). The Deemer Statute also requires affected insurance companies “to provide personal injury protection [(“PIP”)] benefits pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. [§] 39:6A-4.” Id. at 514, 984 A.2d at 876. “In short, the Deemer Statute furnishes the covered out-of-state driver with New Jersey’s statutory no-fault PIP and other benefits and, in exchange, deems that driver to have selected the limitation-on-lawsuit option of [N.J. Stat. Ann. §] 39:6A-8(a).” Id. Because Plaintiff conceded to Defendant’s assertion that Plaintiff is subject to the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold via the Deemer Statute, even though Plaintiff was riding her bicycle rather than driving an automobile at the time the accident, the Court assumes that the Deemer Statute applies to the facts of this case.
AICRA represents an effort by the New Jersey’s Legislature to curb rising auto insurance costs by limiting the opportunities for accident victims to sue for noneconomic damages. This effort began with New Jersey’s implementation of [*18] a no-fault insurance scheme in 1972 when New Jersey passed the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Act and has since undergone numerous revisions, in a process described as “tortured,” which need not be recounted here. See, e.g., Branca v. Matthews, 317 F. Supp. 2d 533, 537-539 (D.N.J. 2004). The New Jersey Legislature passed AICRA in 1998 with three distinct goals “containing [insurance premium] costs, rooting out fraud within the system, and ensuring a fair rate of return for insurers.” DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 488, 874 A.2d 1039, 1046 (2005).
2. The Limitation-on-Lawsuit Threshold
[HN8] To contain automobile insurance costs, AICRA established the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold, which “bars recovery for pain and suffering unless the plaintiff suffers an injury that results in (1) death; (2) dismemberment; (3) significant disfigurement or significant scarring; (4) displaced fractures; (5) loss of fetus; or (6) permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability ….” Id. (quoting N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:6A-8(a))(internal quotation marks omitted).
[HN9] An insured bound by the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold is barred from suing for noneconomic damages unless her injuries fall [*19] within AICRA’s six categories. Johnson v. Scaccetti, 192 N.J. 256, 261, 927 A.2d 1269, 1273 (2007). In the summary judgment context, a plaintiff can proceed to trial if she demonstrates that her alleged injuries, if proven, fall into one of the six threshold categories. Davidson v. Slater, 189 N.J. 166, 187, 914 A.2d 282, 295 (2007) (citing Oswin v. Shaw, 129 N.J. 290, 294, 609 A.2d 415, 417 (1992)). A plaintiff must also prove that the alleged statutory injury was caused by the accident in question or “risk dismissal on summary judgment if the defendant can show that no reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the defendant’s negligence caused plaintiff’s alleged … injury.” Id. at 188, 914 A.2d at 295. However, where, as here, a plaintiff alleges she suffered more than one injury as a result of the accident in question, the plaintiff need only establish one of her injuries meets the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold for the jury to consider all of the injuries when calculating noneconomic damages. Johnson at 279, 927 A.2d at 1282.
3. Permanent Injury
[HN10] AICRA defines “permanent injury” as “[w]hen the body part or organ, or both, has not healed to function normally and will not heal to [*20] function normally with further medical treatment.” N.J. Stat. Ann. 39:6A-8(a). Additionally, in adopting AICRA, the New Jersey Legislature explicitly adopted a threshold requirement, the objective medical evidence standard, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Oswin v. Shaw, 129 N.J. 290, 609 A.2d 415 (1992). DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 495, 874 A.2d 1039, 1050 (2005). A plaintiff’s alleged limitation-on-lawsuit injury “must be based on and refer to objective medical evidence.” Id. (emphasis removed).
Plaintiff claims her neck, right wrist, and right knee injuries are permanent injuries within the meaning of AICRA. See supra pp. 4-5. Additionally, Ms. Gwinner claims the medical report created by Dr. James F. Bonner, her physical therapy physician (Pl.’s Opp’n Br., Ex. D), “sets forth his opinion within a reasonable degree of certainty as to the permanency of [her] injuries and their relatedness to the accident”; as such, she has satisfied the limitation-on-lawsuit threshold. Pl.’s Opp’n Br. 4.
Mr. Matt argues that Ms. Gwinner has failed to produce objective medical evidence demonstrating she suffered permanent injuries, as a result the accident in question, to her neck, [*21] right knee, and right wrist. Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. at 11. First, Defendant claims Dr. Bonner’s report shows that Ms. Gwinner had a pre-existing cervical injury and that the report fails to present evidence showing Ms. Gwinner’s cervical condition is causally connected to the accident. Id. at 11-12. Second, Defendant argues Plaintiff’s alleged knee injuries fail to meet the threshold because there is evidence of pre-existing injuries and surgeries, a failure to connect the injuries to the accident, and Plaintiff “has testified she has full use of her right knee and is not restricted in any of her physical activities.” Id. 12-14. Finally, Defendant claims Plaintiff has not presented objective medical evidence of a permanent injury to her right wrist because the medical reports show that she had been treated for right wrist problems prior to the accident and that the reports alleging a right wrist injury after the accident are based on Ms. Gwinner’s subjective complaints and not objective medical testing. Id. at 14-15.
Because Ms. Gwinner need only demonstrate that one of her injuries, if proven, is permanent under AICRA’s definition, the Court will evaluate each alleged injury [*22] individually. First, however, the Court will address Defendant’s broader assertion that Plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed because she did not provide a comparative analysis distinguishing the injuries allegedly caused by the accident from other, preexisting injuries, as required by Davidson v. Slater, 189 N.J. 166, 914 A.2d 282 (2007). In Davidson, The New Jersey Supreme Court did not create a blanket rule. Instead, it held,
When a plaintiff alleges aggravation of preexisting injuries as the animating theory of the claim, then plaintiff must produce comparative evidence to move forward with the causation element of that tort action. When a plaintiff does not plead aggravation of preexisting injuries, a comparative analysis is not required to make that demonstration.
189 N.J. at 179, 914 A.2d at 284. The New Jersey Supreme Court then cautioned plaintiffs with preexisting injuries not required to provide such a report, stating, ” [HN11] [T]he plaintiff who does not prepare for comparative medical evidence is at risk of failing to raise a jury-worthy factual issue about whether the subject accident caused the injuries.” Davidson, at 188, 914 A.2d at 295.
As was the case in Davidson, Plaintiff [*23] Gwinner has not explicitly alleged that her injuries were aggravations of preexisting injuries. 6 The only medical report provided by Ms. Gwinner to support her claim that she suffered permanent injuries as a result of the accident, however, makes no mention of new injuries. Pl. Ex. D. Instead, the one-page report prepared in 2009 by Dr. Bonner states Ms. Gwinner had previous injuries or previously received medical treatment to the alleged injured areas and that she suffered “advanced impairment … as a direct result of her 6/15/08 trauma.” Id. Moreover, the report specifically mentions Plaintiff’s “old knee problem” and concludes the accident caused “a higher pain/dysfunction level.” Id. While this report might appear to indicate all of Plaintiff’s alleged injuries are exacerbations, Dr. Bonner produced a more detailed report on July 1, 2008, on which the 2009 report partially relies. 7 Reviewing the medical reports referenced in Dr. Bonner’s report reveals some of the injuries described are in fact new injuries.
6 Plaintiff did not allege her injuries were either new or exacerbations of previous injuries and conditions; she was silent on this issue. Compl. at ¶ 13. However, Plaintiff’s [*24] allegations regarding her injuries appear to be direct quotes from Dr. Bonner’s 2009 report. See supra. p. 4. and note 2.
7 In addition to his July 1, 2008 report, Dr. Bonner also referenced a July 9, 2008 report created by Dr. Philip S. Yussen of Mainline Open MRI (Def. Ex. I). Both reports discuss new injuries Ms. Gwinner suffered as a result of the accident. See infra pp. 23-26.
When considering Ms. Gwinner’s complaint and supporting evidentiary documents, it is clear some of her alleged injuries are aggravations of previously existing injuries and medical conditions. But because she has not alleged aggravation injuries in her Complaint, she is not required to provide a comparative report to support the causation element of her tort claim. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s warning in Davidson, however, is pertinent to the instant case because the lack of a comparative analysis has clouded the Court’s effort to properly evaluate whether Plaintiff provided sufficient evidence of causation. Nevertheless, the surplus of medical reports provided has allowed the Court to satisfactorily investigate which alleged injuries are sufficiently supported by evidence of causation and which are not.
a. [*25] Cervical Injury
Though Ms. Gwinner claims to have suffered permanent injury in the form of traumatic multi level disc herniation, protrusion, and radiculopathy, there is no evidence suggesting the alleged injuries are permanent. First, Ms. Gwinner had an MRI done in 2007, prior to the accident, because she was experiencing pain in her neck dating back to 2000. Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 13:15-21, 14:15-23. At the request of Dr. Bonner, Ms. Gwinner received another MRI in July 2008. The report written by Dr. Philip S. Yussen states, “Current examination demonstrates the cervical vertebral bodies to maintain normal stature. There is partial straightening of the cervical lordosis, which may be related to patient positioning, muscle spasm, or even a chronic finding given that this was evident on the previous MRI study as well.” Def. Ex. O (emphasis added). The report goes on to conclude,
There has not been a significant change in the MRI appearance of the cervical spine as compared to the previous MRI study of 8/9/07. The previously noted fatty marrow island at C7 and small low signal presumed development focus at C5 right of midline are again noted, and are stable. No new osseous abnormalities [*26] are seen referable to the cervical vertebrae as compared to the previous study.
Id. Dr. Yussen’s report can only be read to state that the condition of Ms. Gwinner’s neck has not changed, let alone deteriorated, as a result of the accident.
Additionally, Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Brian K. Zell examined Ms. Gwinner in May of 2011, two years after the medical report provided by Plaintiff, and produced a report (Def. Ex. N). According to Dr. Zell, Ms. Gwinner suffered from a preexisting degenerative disease of the cervical spine, and “[t]he automobile accident in question is not considered a responsible event for the progression of preexisting degenerative changes in the cervical spine.” Def. Ex. N. at 17. Ms. Gwinner has not offered any evidence to rebut these findings. As a result, Plaintiff’s cervical injury cannot serve as a basis for her noneconomic claims. See Kauffman v. McCann, Civ. No. 05-3687, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23514, 2007 WL 1038696 at *4 (D.N.J. March 29, 2007) (” [HN12] Because it is plaintiff’s burden at trial to show Defendant caused her permanent injuries within the meaning of AICRA, Plaintiff may not merely rest on her pleadings once Defendant has come forward with evidence tending to show that Plaintiff [*27] is not suffering permanent injury.”). Plaintiff has offered no evidence raising a dispute of fact that, since at least 2008, she has suffered from any spinal injury caused by the 2008 accident.
b. Right Knee Injury
Plaintiff also claims her “traumatic right knee fracture/contusion/anterior horn tear” constitutes a permanent injury under AICRA. The evidence in the record is very close as to whether Ms. Gwinner’s right knee injuries are permanent; however, there is insufficient evidence demonstrating the injuries are causally related to the accident.
Ms. Gwinner underwent medial meniscus surgery to her right knee in 1999. Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 8:23-24, 9:1-4. After the accident, Ms. Gwinner was first evaluated Dr. Bonner on July 1, 2008. Regarding Ms. Gwinner’s right knee, Dr. Bonner wrote, “Her past medical history is remarkable for a medical meniscetomy seven years ago for which she recovered had not had problems involving the right knee.” Def. Ex. K. Dr. Bonner then concluded that, “as a direct result of the accident,” Ms. Gwinner suffered a “contusion to the distal one third of the medial subcutaneous surface of the tibia.” Id. Thus, Dr. Bonner’s initial evaluation attributed only a contusion [*28] to the accident in question.
Eight days later, Ms. Gwinner received an MRI and evaluation at Main Line MRI. In a report dated July 9, 2008, Dr. Philip S. Yussen also noted symptoms consistent with “mild strain or subtle contusion.” Def. Ex. I. Dr. Yussen further noted that the MRI revealed there were no tears to the posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, or medial collateral ligament. Id. Additionally, “no lateral meniscal tear or significant degenerative signal change” was apparent. Id. Finally, while Dr. Yussen’s examination did reveal “free edge blunting of the posterior horn region” as well as some “small” tears in the medial meniscus region, he was unable to determine the cause of these injuries. Id. He stated, “Given the provided history, the appearance may in part be related to previous partial meniscus tear.” Id.
An orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Marc S. Zimmerman, then evaluated Ms. Gwinner’s right knee. In a report dated July 28, 2008, Dr. Zimmerman stated, “[Ms. Gwinner’s] right knee gives out on her. She denies popping and clicking. She does not think it is swollen at this time.” Def. Ex. J at 1. Dr. Zimmerman described his evaluation of Ms. Gwinner’s right knee [*29] as follows:
Evaluation of the right knee reveals no swelling or effusion. She has full range of motion without pain. There is minimal tenderness over the lateral joint line with no tenderness over the medial joint line. On the McMurray’s test on internal rotation, there is a click appreciated over the lateral joint line. There is a negative Lachman’s test. There is no varus/vulgus laxity.
Id. at 2. Dr. Zimmerman found there “appear[ed] to be a tear in the posterior horn of the medial meniscus,” but concluded the possible tear was “most likely related to the previous surgery and injury.” Id. As with the two previous evaluations, Dr. Zimmerman noted a bone contusion “at the lateral plateau in the anterolateral aspect.” Id.
In conclusion, because Plaintiff has failed to provide a comparative analysis detailing her previous right knee injuries and then distinguishing any preexisting conditions from the injuries she allegedly suffered as a result of the accident in question, the Court is only able to find causation with regards to the bone contusion. This injury was consistently reported in all three medical evaluations conducted in 2008 and was the only injury explicitly connected to the [*30] accident. However, this injury cannot be considered permanent. Plaintiff’s medical report was prepared on December 16, 2009. Regarding Ms. Gwinner’s right knee, the report merely states, “She also injured her right knee.” It then concludes Ms. Gwinner suffered “traumatic right knee fracture/contusion/anterior horn tear.” Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Zell, examined Ms. Gwinner’s right knee approximately one-and-a-half years later in May 2011. This represents the most recent evaluation of Ms. Gwinner’s right knee. Dr. Zell noted that the MRI taken by Main Line MRI in 2008 revealed a contusion, but concluded that as of May 2011, the right knee “is entirely within normal limits … [and] further intervention with respect to the patient’s right knee as a consequence of the bicycle versus automobile collision is not warranted.” Def. Ex. N. at 17.
Again, Plaintiff has not offered any evidence to rebut the evidence offered by Defendant showing Plaintiff’s right knee is within normal limits and does not require further treatment. Moreover, Plaintiff offers no additional evidence permitting the reasonable inference that the right knee contusion is permanent. Therefore, it is insufficient to [*31] support a claim for noneconomic damages under AICRA.
c. Right Wrist Injury
Ms. Gwinner alleges that, as a result of the accident, she suffered traumatic right hand/thumb tendonitis with radial/median nerve neuritis and joint inflammation. After reviewing the many doctors’ reports discussing Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist, the Court finds Ms. Gwinner has successfully demonstrated that, if proven, these injuries constitute a causally related permanent injury with the meaning of AICRA.
Dr. Bonner was the first medical professional to evaluate Ms. Gwinner’s wrist after the June 2008 accident. On July 1, 2008, Dr. Bonner wrote that Ms. Gwinner reports “numbness in the right thumb, index finger, and long finger primarily on the tip.” Def. Ex. K. Dr. Bonner then noted Ms. Gwinner had been previously treated for numbness in her right hand and that she stopped treatment in November 2007, prior to the accident. Id. Relevant to causation, this report stated, the “condition had resolved until following this accident.” Id. Dr. Bonner also found “positive phalen’s 8 and tinel’s sign 9 [sic] at the right wrist with tenderness over the … carpal metacarpal joint of the thumb.” Id. The report concludes that [*32] “as a direct result” of the accident in question Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist is indicative of “[p]ost traumatic sprain of the carpal/metacarpal joint of the right thumb with carpal tunnel syndrome being evident.” Id.
8 Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1714 (Elsevier Saunders 32nd ed. 2012) defines “Phalen sign” as the “appearance of numbness or paresthesias within 30 to 60 seconds during the Phalen test, a positive sign for carpal tunnel syndrome.” A Phalen sign is detected by performing a Phalen test, which is a “[a] test for carpal tunnel syndrome. The patient flexes the wrist for 1 minute. Carpal tunnel syndrome is confirmed if the patient experiences a tingling that radiates into the thumb, index finger and the middle and lateral half of the ring finger.” Volume 4 M-PQ, J.E. Schmidt, M.D., Attorney’s Dictionary of Medicine P-208 (Matthew Bender). In light of these definitions, the Court interprets positive Phalen sign to represent that carpal tunnel syndrome was detected.
9 Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1716 (Elsevier Saunders 32nd ed. 2012) defines “Tinel sign” as “a tingling sensation in the distal end of a limb when percussion is made over the site of a divided [*33] nerve. It indicates a partial lesion or the beginning regeneration of the nerve.” The Court thus interprets Positive Tinel sign to indicate possible presence of a lesion(s) in the tested area.
Dr. Zimmerman also evaluated Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist during her July 28, 2008 visit because she reported “some numbness and tingling in the thumb and second finger of her right hand.” Def. Ex. J. Dr. Zimmerman’s report sheds light on the issues of previous existing injuries and causation. He states that while Ms. Gwinner’s past medical history includes numbness and tingling in her right hand, that condition “had resolved but is now present again . . . since the most recent accident.” Id. Moreover, an EMG was performed on Ms. Gwinner in 2007, and “she was told there was no permanent damage.” 10
10 It should be noted, however, that Dr. Zimmerman determined there were “negative Tinel’s and negative Phalen’s signs.” Def. Ex. J.
In December of 2008, Ms. Gwinner visited Dr. William H. Kirkpatrick of Hand Surgical Associates. Def. Ex. L. In his report, Dr. Kirkpatrick similarly noted, “[Ms. Gwinner] had approximately six months of tingling in the thumb, index and long fingers before her bike accident [*34] for which she was treated by a chiropractor” but that the symptoms resolved prior to the June 2008 collision. Id. Dr. Kirkpatrick saw no swelling in the right wrist, full active range of motion, and no tenderness. However, the report found positive Tinel signs “over the superficial radial nerve several centimeters proximal to the wrist” and ultimately diagnosed Ms. Gwinner with right “superficial radial nerve neuritis, probably right median neuritis, and right thumb joint CMC joint inflammation.” Id. This report also noted that Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist injuries were her “primary concern.” Id.
The Court finds the reports of Dr. Bonner, Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Kirkpatrick sufficient to demonstrate that while Ms. Gwinner had experienced some numbness and tingling prior to the June 2008, that condition had ceased and was deemed nonpermanent prior to the accident. Because both Dr. Bonner and Dr. Zimmerman’s reports noted positive Phalen and Tinel signs, among other injuries, a reasonable fact finder could determine that any injuries found in Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist in these post-accident reports are causally connected to the June 2008 collision. Therefore, Ms. Gwinner has sufficiently demonstrated [*35] causation.
Dr. Bonner’s December 16, 2009 report and Dr. Zell’s May 31, 2011 report are relevant to the Court’s inquiry into the permanency of Ms. Gwinner’s alleged right wrist injuries. Dr. Bonner’s 2009 report described Ms. Gwinner’s injuries as “traumatic right hand/thumb tendonitis with radial/median nerve neuritis and joint inflammation.” Pl. Ex. D. The report stated these injuries have resulted in “permanent restriction to no impact forces to those affected areas.” Id.
Again, the Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Zell, was the last doctor to evaluate Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist. As of May 2011, Ms. Gwinner’s still complained of tightness and numbness in her right wrist. Def. Ex. N. at 5. Dr. Zell found, “The bicycle versus automobile collision in question has a chronological association with ongoing complaints referable to the median nerve at the right wrist.” Id. And while he found “the absence of a Tinel at the carpal tunnel on the right side,” Dr. Zell did not entirely rule out carpal tunnel syndrome, concluding, “If this patient does in fact have a carpal tunnel syndrome, it is subclinical.” Id.
There is substantially more evidence regarding Ms. Gwinner’s alleged right wrist injury. [*36] While some of the medical reports seem to contradict each other, particularly in regard to Phalen and Tinel signs, all reasonable inferences must be given to the nonmovant. Thus, the Court finds Plaintiff has provided evidence sufficient for a reasonable fact finder to determine her right wrist injuries are permanent and causally connected to the June 2008 accident.
Defendant’s final argument in support of his motion for summary judgment is that Ms. Gwinner’s deposition testimony indicates “she does not have any physical restrictions or limitations.” Def.’s Br. in Supp. Summ. J. at 15. Defendant claims Ms. Gwinner experiences no restrictions in her ability to “perform all of her household chores, go skiing, and … ride her bike approximately 50 miles.” Id. While Ms. Gwinner did state she did not miss any time from work as a result of the accident (Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 7:12-14) and she is able to conduct her life somewhat normally, Defendant has not provided a full picture of Ms. Gwinner’s statements. Regarding her ability to perform household chores, Ms. Gwinner participated in the following exchange:
Q: Are you able to do all your household chores?
A: I can do almost everything I that [*37] want. It’s–I’m losing dexterity in this hand because of numbness.
Q: Indicating your right hand?
A: Yes. Like I have good strength it in to go like this.
Q: To make a fist?
A: To make a fist. And if you put your hand, I can break your fingers with my strength, but it dwindles, it doesn’t stay.
Gwinner Dep., Ex. H 66:18-24, 67:1-6. And while Ms. Gwinner stated that she is able to ride her bike, she also stated that when she is finished her hands are numb. Id. at 67:23-24. When viewing Ms. Gwinner’s statements in their entirety, it appears they are supportive of the proposition that the injuries suffered to her wrist are permanent within the meaning of AICRA, especially because, as of the deposition date, May 16, 2011, Ms. Gwinner’s right wrist had not healed to function normally.
In conclusion, the Court finds Ms. Gwinner has provided evidence sufficient to demonstrate injuries suffered to her right wrist were permanent and caused by the accident in question. Because Plaintiff need only demonstrate one of her injuries, if proven, satisfies AICRA’s limitation-on-lawsuit threshold, and she has done so, the Court will allow all of her noneconomic claims to go to a jury.
For the reasons [*38] set forth above, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment shall be denied. The accompanying Order will be entered, and the case will be scheduled for trial.
August 2, 2012
/s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
Decker, v. City of Imperial Beach, 209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301Posted: September 18, 2016
Glenn A. Decker, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. City of Imperial Beach, Defendant and Respondent
Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301
April 4, 1989
PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]
Superior Court of San Diego County, No. 526147, Andrew G. Wagner, Judge.
DISPOSITION: The judgment is affirmed.
COUNSEL: Schall, Boudreau & Gore, W. Lee Hill and Robert J. Trentacosta for Plaintiff and Appellant.
Hollywood & Neil and Anton C. Gerschler for Defendant and Respondent.
JUDGES: Opinion by Kremer, P. J., with Nares, J., concurring. Separate concurring and dissenting opinion by Wiener, J.
OPINION BY: KREMER
[*352] [**357] Glenn A. Decker appeals a summary judgment in favor of the City of Imperial Beach on his complaint for the wrongful death of his son, Gary Decker. On appeal, Decker contends the court erred in finding Imperial Beach was immune from liability because the death arose out of Gary’s participation in a “hazardous recreational activity” and in finding no “special relationship” existed between Gary and Imperial Beach. We conclude the trial court properly granted summary judgment and therefore affirm.
Around 5:30 p.m. on March 15, 1984, Gary and his friend Victor Hewitt went surfing off the 1600 block of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. There were no lifeguard services provided at this beach during the nonsummer months. Soon after Gary entered the water, Gary’s surfboard leash became [***3] entangled in a nylon rope tether connecting a submerged lobster trap to a small floating surface buoy.
Bystanders noticed Gary appeared to be in trouble. They contacted Hewitt and called the county sheriff’s department. Hewitt twice attempted to paddle out to Gary on his surfboard to render assistance, but was unable to reach him. The sheriff’s department, which provided law enforcement support to Imperial Beach, called the City of Imperial Beach Fire Department to assist at the scene. Both agencies responded to the beach. 1 An announcement by bullhorn was made to Gary, telling him “help [was] on the way.”
1 Imperial Beach, in its brief, seems to suggest it had no liability because only county employees (i.e., sheriff department deputies) were involved. The record indicates, however, that the Imperial Beach Fire Department responded to the scene and participated in the rescue operation and that Imperial Beach contracted with the sheriff’s department to provide police services to the city. Thus, liability cannot be precluded on this basis.
An Imperial Beach firefighter, Olin Golden, who was a water safety instructor and life guard, contacted Hewitt about the situation and [*353] borrowed [***4] Hewitt’s wet suit and surfboard. Imperial Beach Fire Chief Ronald Johnston ordered Hewitt and Golden and all other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach and not to attempt a rescue.
At about 6:45 p.m., an ASTREA helicopter arrived and hovered over Gary for 15 to 20 minutes, shining a bright light on him. Eventually, a helicopter rescue was rejected. The sheriff’s dive team attempted to rescue Gary by tying a rope around one diver’s waist and anchoring him to the shore while he waded into the surf. There was evidence that this was an antiquated method of surf rescue that has been abandoned because it is ineffective. Shortly [**358] after this rescue attempt, Gary’s surf leash became disentangled and he floated to shore, unconscious. All attempts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at University of California at San Diego Medical Center.
Summary Judgment Standard
(1) [HN1] The aim of the summary judgment procedure is to discover whether the parties possess evidence requiring the fact-weighing procedures of a trial. ( Chern v. Bank of America (1976) 15 Cal.3d 866, 873 [127 Cal.Rptr. 110, 544 P.2d 1310]; Corwin v. Los Angeles Newspaper Service Bureau, Inc. (1971) 4 Cal.3d 842, 851 [94 Cal.Rptr. 785, 484 P.2d 953].) [***5] “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1107 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].) (2) [HN2] In reviewing the propriety of a summary judgment, the appellate court must resolve all doubts in favor of the party opposing the judgment. (Palma v. U.S. Industrial Fasteners, Inc. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 171, 183 [203 Cal.Rptr. 626, 681 P.2d 893].) The reviewing court conducts a de novo examination to see whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. ( Lichty v. Sickels (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 696, 699 [197 Cal.Rptr. 137].) (3) While “[summary] judgment is a drastic procedure, should be used with caution [citation] and should be granted only if there is no issue of triable fact” ( Brose v. Union-Tribune Publishing Co. (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 1079, 1081 [228 Cal.Rptr. 620]), it is also true “[justice] requires that a defendant be as much entitled to be rid of an unmeritorious lawsuit as a plaintiff is entitled to maintain a good [***6] one.” ( Larsen v. Johannes (1970) 7 Cal.App.3d 491, 507 [86 Cal.Rptr. 744].) “A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the record establishes as a matter of law that none of the plaintiff’s asserted causes of action [*354] can prevail. [Citation.]” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., supra, 46 Cal.3d at p. 1107.)
Hazardous Recreational Activities Immunity
(4a) Imperial Beach argues it has no liability for Gary’s death because it arose out of Gary’s participation in a “hazardous recreational activity.”
[HN3] Government Code 2 section 831.7 provides a public entity is not “liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity . . . for any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” Surfing is specifically included as a “hazardous recreational activity.” (§ 831.7, subd. (b)(3).)
2 All statutory references are to the Government Code unless otherwise specified.
Decker argues section 831.7 does not bar his suit because Gary’s death was not “solely attributable” to surfing but was also due to Imperial Beach’s conduct during the rescue and section 831.7 provides immunity only for injuries caused by the hazardous recreational activity [***7] itself.
(5) ” [HN4] ‘The fundamental rule of statutory construction is that the court should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. [Citations.]'” ( T.M. Cobb Co. v. Superior Court (1984) 36 Cal.3d 273, 277 [204 Cal.Rptr. 143, 682 P.2d 338].) “In determining such intent, the court turns first to the words of the statute.” ( Regents of University of California v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 601, 607 [224 Cal.Rptr. 631, 715 P.2d 590].) The court attempts to give effect to the usual, ordinary import of the language and seeks to avoid making any language mere surplusage. ( Fontana Unified School Dist. v. Burman (1988) 45 Cal.3d 208, 219 [246 Cal.Rptr. 733, 753 P.2d 689].) The words must be construed in context in light of the nature and obvious purpose of the statute where they appear. (Palos Verdes Faculty [**359] Assn. v. Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified Sch. Dist. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 650, 658-659 [147 Cal.Rptr. 359, 580 P.2d 1155].) (6) The various parts of a statutory enactment must be harmonized in context of the statutory framework as a whole. ( Moyer v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1973) 10 Cal.3d 222, 230-231 [110 Cal.Rptr. 144, 514 P.2d 1224]; [***8] Long Beach Police Officers Assn. v. City of Long Beach (1988) 46 Cal.3d 736, 746 [250 Cal.Rptr. 869, 759 P.2d 504].) (7) The statute “. . . must be given a reasonable and commonsense interpretation consistent with the apparent purpose and intention of the Legislature, practical rather than technical in nature, and which, when [*355] applied, will result in wise policy rather than mischief or absurdity. [Citations.]” ( Beaty v. Imperial Irrigation Dist. (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 897, 902 [231 Cal.Rptr. 128]; see also Webster v. Superior Court (1988) 46 Cal.3d 338, 344 [250 Cal.Rptr. 268, 758 P.2d 596].)
(4b) In defining the scope of the hazardous recreational activities immunity, the Legislature did not choose narrow language; the Legislature did not limit the immunity to injuries “solely attributable” to the hazardous recreational activity. Instead, the Legislature used expansive language to describe the scope of the immunity, stating it applied to “any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” (Italics added.) This broad language is reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that it was intended to preclude liability for negligently [***9] inflicted injuries while rescuing a person who has been participating in a hazardous recreational activity since it can be said the rescue effort “arises out of” the individual’s participation in the hazardous recreational activity.
Such an interpretation — that the immunity extends to rescue efforts, a foreseeable result of participating in a hazardous recreational activity — is consistent with the statutory scheme. Section 831.7 contains a number of exceptions to the rule of immunity. [HN5] Subdivision (c) of section 831.7 provides: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (a), this section does not limit liability which would otherwise exist for any of the following:
“(1) Failure of the public entity or employee to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition or of another hazardous recreational activity known to the public entity or employee that is not reasonably assumed by the participant as inherently a part of the hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.
“(2) Damage or injury suffered in any case where permission to participate in the hazardous recreational activity was granted for a specific fee. For the purpose of this paragraph, a ‘specific [***10] fee’ does not include a fee or consideration charged for a general purpose such as a general park admission charge, a vehicle entry or parking fee, or an administrative or group use application or permit fee, as distinguished from a specific fee charged for participation in the specific hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.
“(3) Injury suffered to the extent proximately caused by the negligent failure of the public entity or public employee to properly construct or maintain in good repair any structure, recreational equipment or machinery, or substantial work of improvement utilized in the hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.
[*356] “(4) Damage or injury suffered in any case where the public entity or employee recklessly or with gross negligence promoted the participation in or observance of a hazardous recreational activity. For purposes of this paragraph, promotional literature or a public announcement or advertisement which merely describes the available facilities and services on the property does not in itself constitute a reckless or grossly negligent promotion.
“(5) An act of gross negligence by a public entity or [***11] a public employee which is the proximate cause of the injury.
“Nothing in this subdivision creates a duty of care or basis of liability for personal injury or for damage to personal property.”
[**360] In reading the exceptions to the immunity, it is first apparent that the Legislature did not expressly exempt from the immunity liability for injuries caused by negligent rescue efforts. Liability for negligent conduct is provided for certain conduct by a public entity (failure to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition that is not reasonably assumed by a participant as an inherent part of the activity, sponsorship of a hazardous recreational activity by charging a fee, failure to maintain structures, equipment or improvements used in the activity) but not for a public entity’s conduct during a rescue.
[HN6] The language of subdivision (c)(5) of section 831.7 is sufficiently broad to encompass rescue activity. It states immunity is not limited for “[an] act of gross negligence by a public entity or a public employee which is the proximate cause of the injury.” (Italics added.) Clearly, the “act” delineated in this subdivision is not intended to duplicate those mentioned in the other immunity exemptions, [***12] i.e., a public entity’s promotion or sponsorship of a hazardous recreational activity, provision of improvements or equipment, or failure to warn of known risks which are not inherently a part of the sport. Among the most obvious other “acts” which would involve a public entity with hazardous recreational activity is the act of rescuing a person who has been injured by participation in a hazardous recreational activity.
An interpretation of section 831.7 that it was intended to grant immunity for emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence is consistent with other statutes providing immunity to persons providing emergency assistance. The Legislature has enacted numerous statutes, both before and after the enactment of section 831.7, which provide immunity to persons providing emergency assistance except when there is gross negligence. (See Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2727.5 [immunity for licensed nurse who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency occurring outside the [*357] place and course of nurse’s employment unless the nurse is grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2395.5 [immunity for a licensed physician who serves on-call in a hospital emergency [***13] room who in good faith renders emergency obstetrical services unless the physician was grossly negligent, reckless, or committed willful misconduct]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2398 [immunity for licensed physician who in good faith and without compensation renders voluntary emergency medical assistance to a participant in a community college or high school athletic event for an injury suffered in the course of that event unless the physician was grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 3706 [immunity for certified respiratory therapist who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency occurring outside the place and course of employment unless the respiratory therapist was grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 4840.6 [immunity for a registered animal health technician who in good faith renders emergency animal health care at the scene of an emergency unless the animal health technician was grossly negligent]; Civ. Code, § 1714.2 [immunity to a person who has completed a basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation course for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiac care who in good faith renders emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene of an emergency [***14] unless the individual was grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.105 [immunity for poison control center personnel who in good faith provide emergency information and advice unless they are grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.106 [immunity for a firefighter, police officer or other law enforcement officer who in good faith renders emergency medical services at the scene of an emergency unless the officer was grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107 [immunity for public entity and emergency rescue personnel acting in good faith within the scope of their employment unless they were grossly negligent].)
Further, there are policy reasons supporting an interpretation extending immunity to public entities for negligence occurring during the course of a rescue effort. It is a matter of strong public policy to [**361] encourage emergency assistance and rescue. Just three months after the incident involved here, the Legislature enacted Health and Safety Code section 1799.107 expressly granting immunity to emergency rescue personnel for any action taken within the scope of their employment to provide emergency services unless the personnel acted in bad faith or in a grossly [***15] negligent manner. ( Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107, subd. (b).) In enacting this statute, the Legislature declared: “The Legislature finds and declares that a threat to the public health and safety exists whenever there is a need for emergency services and that public entities and emergency rescue personnel should be encouraged to provide emergency services.” ( Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107, subd. (a).)
[*358] An interpretation of the hazardous recreational activities immunity to immunize public entities and their employees for acts of emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence furthers the strong public policy encouraging rescues and emergency assistance.
We conclude summary judgment was properly granted to Imperial Beach on Decker’s cause of action for negligence.
(8a) The question remains whether Decker may recover on a theory of gross negligence pursuant to subdivision (c)(5) of section 831.7.
In Gore v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1980) 110 Cal.App.3d 184, 197 [167 Cal.Rptr. 881], the court examined the meaning of the term “gross negligence”: “Prosser on Torts (1941) page 260, also cited by the Van Meter court [ Van Meter v. Bent Construction Co. (1956) 46 Cal.2d 588 [297 P.2d 644]] [***16] for its definition of gross negligence, reads as follows: ‘Gross Negligence. This is very great negligence, or the want of even scant care. It has been described as a failure to exercise even that care which a careless person would use. Many courts, dissatisfied with a term so devoid of all real content, have interpreted it as requiring wilful misconduct, or recklessness, or such utter lack of all care as will be evidence of either — sometimes on the ground that this must have been the purpose of the legislature. But most courts have considered that “gross negligence” falls short of a reckless disregard of consequences, and differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, and not in kind. So far as it has any accepted meaning, it is merely an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.’ (Italics added.)”
(9) [HN7] California courts require a showing of “‘the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct'” in order to establish gross negligence. ( Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1982) 31 Cal.3d 124, 138 [181 Cal.Rptr. 732, 642 P.2d 792]; De Vito v. State of California (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 264, 272 [248 Cal.Rptr. 330].) [***17] (10) Generally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence ( Pacific Bell v. Colich (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 1225, 1240 [244 Cal.Rptr. 714]) but not always. ( De Vito v. State of California, supra, at p. 272.)
(8b) Decker argues Imperial Beach is liable because their rescue personnel responded to the scene within minutes in their official capacity to give aid to Gary; they took both actual and ostensible control of the rescue efforts, they required other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach, including firefighter Golden; and “[the] promise to ‘help’ arrived in the [*359] form of the Sheriff’s Department Dive Team which was not trained in surf rescue techniques” and used a technique which “was abandoned by life guards trained in surf rescue in the 1920’s.” Decker concludes: “Unfortunately, Gary Decker would have been better off if the City of Imperial Beach had not responded. Their presence (by creating the illusion of competent assistance and by preventing other rescue efforts) proved fatal to Gary.”
Precluding Other Assistance
The facts show Imperial Beach firefighter Olin Golden borrowed Hewitt’s wet [**362] suit and requested [***18] permission to attempt a surf rescue of Gary. Decker states Golden “was a water safety instructor and a life guard trained in surf rescue.” While Decker presented evidence showing Golden was a water safety instructor and lifeguard, nothing in the record indicates Golden was experienced in surf rescue. Rather, the record indicates Golden had given swimming lessons at a high school pool and had guarded the pool; this was the information known to the fire chief at the time he told Golden to stay on the beach. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said the fire chief’s refusal to allow Golden to attempt a surf rescue constituted gross negligence. Sending Golden, a person not known to be trained or experienced in surf rescue, into the water could have endangered Golden’s safety and been the basis for finding negligence had Golden been injured. Since the facts suggest negligence could be based on either the act or the omission, a finding of gross negligence by virtue of the omission is not warranted; the case is too closely balanced. In such a case, it cannot be said there is a “‘want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”
This same reasoning [***19] applies even more strongly to the fire chief’s refusal to allow Hewitt or other bystanders to attempt a surf rescue. Hewitt had already demonstrated his lack of qualifications to rescue Gary; he had tried twice and failed both times. (11) As to other would-be rescuers, their training and experience was unknown and it certainly cannot be said that it is gross negligence to discourage persons with unknown qualifications from attempting a dangerous surf rescue.
(8c) Decker presented testimony by Charles Chase, an experienced lifeguard supervisor. Chase testified about the rescue method used by the Sheriff’s dive team (sending out a diver tethered to a rope) as follows: “A life line type rescue is used in special circumstances, but it would never be used with a strong side current [as was the case here] and it would never be [*360] used if you could get there quicker in a better way, and it’s a specialized form of rescue. Years and years ago the life line rescue was quite common, and that was prior to the use or the availability of, say, fins and also the availability of good swimmers. If you go back to the 20’s, they had a limited amount of people that could swim as well as [***20] a lot of people can swim now and fins weren’t available.”
When asked why he thought the dive team was unable to reach Gary, Chase explained that “[the] buoyancy of the full dive suit would have made it hard to submerge one’s self and/or dive under the waves while you’re swimming out but also slow you down.” He stated the line tethering the diver to the shore would be pulled down by the side current, a “force which would impede the progress towards the rescue as far as getting to him.” When asked if he had any other opinions about why the attempts to reach Gary were unsuccessful, Chase responded: “Well, it would obviously be the lack of — the dive team’s lack of training in open surf conditions and what would have been a routine rescue for a lifeguard. I’d have to qualify that a little bit. The routine rescue meaning to reach the victim would have not been a difficult task at all. Whether they could have untangled the victim is — that’s hard to judge from a Monday morning quarterback type of situation.”
This testimony could support a finding that use of the lifeline rescue method is a disfavored surf rescue method and would not be used by an experienced, trained surf rescuer but it [***21] does not support a finding the sheriff’s dive team was grossly negligent for having used this method given their lack of training or experience in surf rescue.
Nor did Decker present evidence which would support a finding Imperial Beach was grossly negligent in its selection of rescue techniques, in particular, its failure to call off-duty lifeguards trained in surf rescue for assistance.
[**363] To the extent Decker seeks to impose liability based on Imperial Beach’s failure to adopt a policy requiring the training of firefighters and sheriff’s deputies in surf rescue or the calling of trained lifeguards for assistance, his claim must fail. The Legislature has provided immunity to public entities for such policy decisions. (§ 820.2; Nunn v. State of California (1984) 35 Cal.3d 616, 622 [200 Cal.Rptr. 440, 677 P.2d 846].)
Nor can a finding of gross negligence be premised on the failure of the Imperial Beach rescue personnel at the beach to call for the assistance of the off-duty lifeguards. First, the facts show the rescue personnel diligently pursued attempts to rescue Gary, both by helicopter and by use of the sheriff’s dive team. Decker presented no evidence contesting the validity of [***22] [*361] decision to first attempt a helicopter rescue. He does not claim the Imperial Beach rescue personnel were grossly negligent in calling for the helicopter or attempting to effectuate a rescue by helicopter. Decker appears to treat the helicopter rescue as a valid rescue method. Second, the record shows there were no existing procedures or centralized dispatcher available for contacting off-duty lifeguards. Thus, the rescue personnel cannot be said to have been grossly negligent for having failed to follow established procedures or for having failed to pursue a readily available option (i.e., the record indicates the lifeguards were not readily and easily accessible). (Compare Lowry v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 188, 196, fn. 7 [229 Cal.Rptr. 620, 64 A.L.R.4th 1191] [affirming summary judgment based on immunity under Health & Saf. Code, § 1317 for a hospital rescue team because there were no facts showing bad faith or gross negligence for deviating from American Heart Association guidelines].)
Decker’s argument would find gross negligence because the rescue personnel elected to try two methods to rescue Gary but failed to try a third method, i.e., [***23] contacting off-duty lifeguards. This failure to pursue this alternative, which may or may not have succeeded in saving Gary’s life, does not constitute gross negligence. (12) [HN8] To avoid a finding of gross negligence, it is not required that a public entity must pursue all possible options. It is required only that they exercise some care, that they pursue a course of conduct which is not “‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'” ( Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance, supra, 31 Cal.3d 124, 138.)
(8d) The essence of Decker’s complaint is not that the Imperial Beach rescue personnel were grossly negligent in failing to try to rescue Gary, but that they were not timely in their rescue of Gary. To the extent Decker’s claim is essentially that Imperial Beach was not timely in providing lifeguard services, his case is similar to County of Santa Cruz v. Superior Court (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 999 [244 Cal.Rptr. 105]. In the Santa Cruz case, the court found summary judgment was properly granted on a claim for gross negligence for injuries due to diving into shallow water. The court explained: “The only basis for liability that Magana alleged against City . . . [***24] was that City lifeguards failed to provide adequate and safe extrication and first aid to him promptly after he was injured. . . . The allegation here is that the lifeguard assigned to the area where the injury occurred did not respond and offer aid for 20 minutes. This is insufficient to raise a triable issue of gross negligence or bad faith.” ( Id. at p. 1007.)
Here the facts supporting gross negligence are even weaker. In contrast to the Santa Cruz case where no rescue efforts were made for 20 minutes, here [*362] the rescue personnel arrived promptly and they diligently and continuously tried to rescue Gary. The facts in this case do not warrant a finding of gross negligence. Summary judgment was properly granted on Decker’s cause of action for gross negligence.
Imperial Beach also argues it had no liability for Gary’s death because no special [**364] relationship existed between Imperial Beach and Gary. We need not resolve this issue since we have held Imperial Beach has immunity under section 831.7.
The judgment is affirmed.
CONCUR BY: WIENER (In Part)
DISSENT BY: WIENER (In Part)
WIENER, J., Concurring and Dissenting. I agree that absent gross negligence, Government Code section 831.7 [***25] immunizes the City of Imperial Beach (City) from emergency rescue service. I disagree, however, that there are no triable factual issues as to the City’s gross negligence.
In the interest of brevity I will not belabor what I believe is the misapplication of the standards governing summary judgment to the facts here. (See maj. opn., ante, pp. 353-354.) I prefer to focus on the human aspects of this case.
Understanding the meaning of gross negligence in the context of this case does not require scholarly insight into an arcane legal subject. The simple question before us is whether there are triable factual issues relating to the City’s gross negligence. Significantly we are not asked to decide, as the majority would have us believe, whether Decker successfully established gross negligence. That determination is not required in a summary judgment proceeding. “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1107 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].)
Here without sufficient factual support the majority say as a [***26] matter of law that the action taken by the fire chief to prevent any rescue effort was perfectly proper. Perhaps they are correct. It may well be that the chief made a prudent judgment call or at worse acted only negligently. But from [*363] the information in the record before us I cannot say that this conduct did not represent a substantial departure from ordinary care. I do not know what objective criteria, if any, the fire chief used to formulate his decision barring everyone on the beach from trying to save Gary. What investigation did the fire chief take before issuing his blanket directive preventing anyone from attempting to rescue this drowning young man? What authority did he have to effectively intimidate those who were willing to be Good Samaritans from acting as such when there is nothing in this record to support a finding that their efforts would not have been successful? I would hate to think that bureaucratic considerations dominated the chief’s decision. We may never know. The summary judgment remedy, characterized as a drastic remedy to be used with caution, has replaced a trial on the merits.
Although the appellate record is purportedly cold I cannot leave this [***27] case without admitting that I will remain haunted by the specter of this young man’s lengthy, unsuccessful struggle against the power of the sea, fighting to stay afloat, emotionally assisted by what can only be described as a callous call from the beach that “help was on the way.” In no way can this case be compared to the drowning described in City of Santa Cruz v. Superior Court (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 999 [244 Cal.Rptr. 105] where lifeguards came to assist the victim as soon as they were able to do so, about 20 minutes after the accident occurred. All those participating in the rescue efforts were certified emergency technicians. It was also undisputed that the lifeguard assigned to the area was elsewhere properly attending to another problem when the accident happened. (At p. 1002.) I agree the facts in City of Santa Cruz do not present triable factual issues on the question of the City’s gross negligence. I cannot agree here. This case should be decided on the evidence presented in a trial and not on the documents before us.
Hines v. City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)Posted: September 11, 2016
[**1] Helene Hines and George Hines, Plaintiffs, -against- City of New York, Korff Enterprises, Inc., and Central Park Conservancy, Defendants. Index No. 151542-2012
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY
2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1015; 2016 NY Slip Op 30504(U)
March 24, 2016, Decided
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.
CORE TERMS: triathlon, cones, marshal, issues of fact, non-participant, collision, summary judgment, participating, placement, signature, triable, expert’s opinion, prima facie, enforceable, admissible, proponent, sport, feet, matter of law, personal injuries, party opposing, causes of action, grossly negligent, intentional wrongdoing, inherent risk, unanticipated, collectively, para-athlete, experienced, entitlement
JUDGES: [*1] HON. GEORGE J. SILVER, J.S.C.
HON. GEORGE J. SILVER, J.S.C.
In this action to recover for personal injuries allegedly sustained by plaintiff Helene Hines (Hines) in the 2011 Nautical New York City Triathlon (triathlon) defendants City of New York, Korpff Enterprises, Inc. and Central Park Conservancy (collectively defendants) move pursuant to CPLR § 3212 for an order granting them summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Hines and her husband, plaintiff George Hines (collectively plaintiffs), who asserts a derivative claim, oppose the motion.
Hines, an experienced para-athlete, claims she was injured during the running portion of the triathlon when she was operating a push-rim racer and was struck by an alleged non-participant jogger. The accident occurred in Central Park at or around West 100th Street and West Drive. The bill of particulars alleges that the defendants were negligent in the ownership, operation, management, maintenance, control and supervision of the incident location in that defendants negligently permitted and/or allowed a non-participant jogger to enter upon the race course and violently collide with Hines. Prior to the triathlon, all participants were required [*2] to sign a liability waiver in person before receiving their race packet and race bibs. Defendants argue that Hines signed the waiver and by doing so expressly assumed the risk of a collision. The waiver, entitled “Event Registration, Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement”, states:
[**2] I HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE AND ASSUME ALL OF THE RISKS OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS EVENT. . . . I also assume any and all other risks associated with participating in this Event, including but not limited to the following: falls, dangers of collisions with vehicles, pedestrians, other participants and fixed objects; the dangers arising from surface hazards, tides, equipment failure, inadequate safety equipment; and hazard that may be posed by spectators or volunteers; and weather conditions. I further acknowledge that these risks include risks that may be the result of ordinary negligent acts, omissions, and/or carelessness of the Released Parties, as defined herein. I understand that I will be participating in the Event at my own risk, that I am responsible for the risk of participation in the Event.
The waiver further states:
I WAIVE, RELEASE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE Event Producer, [*3] World Triathlon Corporation, the Race Director, USA Triathlon . . . the City of New York, Event sponsors, Event Organizers, Event promoters, Event producers, race directors . . . all other persons or entities involved with the Event, and all state, city, town, county, and other governmental bodies, and/or municipal agencies whose property and/or personnel are used and/or in any way assist in locations in which the Event or segments of the Event take place . . . from any and all claims, liabilities of every kind, demands, damages . . . , losses . . . and causes of action, of any kind or any nature, which I have or may have in future . . . that may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the Event . . . including my death, personal injury, partial or permanent disability, negligence, property damage and damages of any kind, . . . even if any of such claims Claims are caused by the ordinary negligent acts, omissions, or the carelessness of the Released Parties.
Hines denies signing the waiver and argues in the alternative that the waiver violates General Obligations Law § 5-326 because she paid a fee to participate in the triathlon. Hines also contends that defendants created and enhanced an unanticipated [*4] risk within the running portion of the triathlon by inappropriately situating cones and improperly stationing marshals in the area of her accident. Hines argues that she expected, based upon her past triathlon experience, that cones would be separated 20 feet apart and that marshals would be readily apparent within the areas between the cones. Instead, plaintiff claims the cones were separated 70 feet apart and there were no marshals present in the area where her accident occurred. Hines contends that defendants, through there setup of the race course, heightened the risk of non-participants interfering with the race and that she did not assume such heightened risks when she entered the triathlon. According to Hines’ athletic administration and safety management expert, [**3] the placement of cones 70 feet apart limited the sight lines of bystanders walking toward the race and increased the probability of confusion and misapprehension. Hines’ expert also contends that on a race course that traverses a highly populated area marshals must be easily seen and heard on the course. According to Hines’ expert, defendants’ failure to properly delineate the race course with appropriately spaced [*5] cones and to properly position marshals between the cones were deviations from accepted sports safety practices which proximately caused Hines’ accident.
To obtain summary judgment, the movant must establish its cause of action or defense sufficiently to warrant the court as a matter of law in directing judgment in its favor (CPLR § 3212 [b]; Bendik v Dybowski, 227 AD2d 228, 642 N.Y.S.2d 284 [1st Dept 1996]). This standard requires that the proponent of a motion for summary judgment make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by advancing sufficient “evidentiary proof in admissible form” to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853, 476 NE2d 642, 487 NYS2d 316 ; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562, 404 NE2d 718, 427 NYS2d 595 ; Silverman v Perlbinder, 307 AD2d 230, 762 N.Y.S.2d 386 [1st Dept 2003]; Thomas v Holzberg, 300 AD2d 10, 11, 751 N.Y.S.2d 433 [1st Dept 2002]). Thus, the motion must be supported “by affidavit [from a person having knowledge of the facts], by a copy of the pleadings and by other available proof, such as depositions” (CPLR § 3212 [b]).
To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must show facts sufficient to require a trial of any issue of fact (CPLR § 3212 [b]). Thus, where the proponent of the motion makes a prima facie showing of entitlement to summary judgment, the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion to demonstrate by admissible evidence the existence of a factual issue requiring a trial of the action, or to tender an acceptable [*6] excuse for his or her failure to do so (Vermette v Kenworth Truck Co., 68 NY2d 714, 717, 497 NE2d 680, 506 NYS2d 313 ; Zuckerman, 49 NY2d at 560, 562; Forrest v Jewish Guild for the Blind, 309 AD2d 546, 765 N.Y.S.2d 326 [1st Dept 2003]). Like the proponent of the motion, the party opposing the motion must set forth evidentiary proof in admissible form in support of his or her claim that material triable issues of fact exist (Zuckerman, 49 NY2d at 562). The opponent “must assemble and lay bare [its] affirmative proof to demonstrate that genuine issues of fact exist” and “the issue must be shown to be real, not feigned, since a sham or frivolous issue will not preclude summary relief” (Kornfeld v NRX Technologies, Inc., 93 AD2d 772, 461 N.Y.S.2d 342 [1st Dept 1983], affd, 62 NY2d 686, 465 NE2d 30, 476 NYS2d 523 ). Mere conclusions, expressions of hope or unsubstantiated allegations or assertions are insufficient (Alvord and Swift v Stewart M Muller Constr. Co., 46 NY2d 276, 281-82, 385 NE2d 1238, 413 NYS2d 309 ; Fried v Bower & Gardner, 46 NY2d 765, 767, 386 NE2d 258, 413 NYS2d 650 ; Plantamura v Penske Truck Leasing, Inc., 246 AD2d 347, 668 N.Y.S.2d 157 [1st Dept 1998]). Summary judgment is a drastic remedy that should only be employed where no doubt exists as to the absence of triable issues (Leighton v Leighton, 46 AD3d 264, 847 N.Y.S.2d 64 [1st Dept 2007]). The key to such procedure is issue-finding, rather than issue-determination (id.).
Contractual agreements to waive liability for a party’s negligence, although frowned upon, are generally enforceable where not expressly prohibited by law (Gross v Sweet, 49 NY2d 102, 105, 400 NE2d 306, 424 NYS2d 365 ). Language relieving one from liability must be unmistakable and easily understood. (id. at 107). The waiver at issue here clearly and [**4] unequivocally expresses the intention of the parties to relieve defendants of liability for their own negligence (Schwartz v Martin, 82 AD3d 1201, 919 N.Y.S.2d 217 [2d Dept 2011]) and [*7] because the entry fee paid by Hines was for her participation in the triathlon, not an admission fee allowing her to use the public park and roadway where her accident allegedly occurred, the waiver does not violate General Obligations Law § 5-326 (see Brookner v New York Roadrunners Club, Inc., 51 AD3d 841, 858 N.Y.S.2d 348 [2d Dept 2008]).
With respect to the signature on the waiver, while the opinion of defendants’ forensic expert is inadmissible, an expert’s opinion is not required to establish that the signature on the waiver is Hines’ (see John Deere Ins. Co. v GBE/Alasia Corp., 57 AD3d 620, 869 N.Y.S.2d 198 [2d Dept 2008] [defendant failed to submit an affidavit of a handwriting expert or of a lay witness familiar with defendant’s handwriting to establish that the signature on the agreement was not hers]). George Hines, who as a party to the action is an interested witness, testified that he believed the signature on the waiver was Hines’. Moreover, as defendants point out, athletes could not participate in the triathlon without signing the waiver in person and presenting photographic identification at a pre-race expo and Hines was seen by non-party witness Kathleen Bateman of Achilles International, Inc. at the expo waiting in line with her handlers to pick up her race bib. In opposition to defendants’ prima facie showing that Hines signed the enforceable waiver, Hines’ bald, [*8] self-serving claim that she did not sign it, which is not supported by an expert’s opinion, does not raise a triable issue of fact (see Abrons v 149 Fifth Ave. Corp., 45 AD3d 384, 845 N.Y.S.2d 299 [1st Dept 2007]; Peyton v State of Newburgh, Inc., 14 AD3d 51, 786 N.Y.S.2d 458 [Pt Dept 2004]).
Although an enforceable release will not insulate a party from grossly negligent conduct, the alleged acts of defendants with respect to the placement of cones and the stationing of marshals in the area where Hines’ accident occurred do not rise to the level of intentional wrongdoing or evince a reckless indifference to the rights of others (Schwartz, 82 AD3d at 1202 [alleged acts of negligence did not rise to the level of intentional wrongdoing where a marshal at a bicycle race was injured by a non-participant bicyclist]). Hines’ expert expressly states that defendants’ actions with respect to the placement of cones and marshals were deviations from accepted sports safety practices. Thus, Hines’ expert’s opinion is that defendants were merely negligent, not grossly negligent.
Hines has also failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the placement of cones and marshals by defendants improperly enhanced an unanticipated risk of collision. Hines’ expert’s affidavit fails to establish the foundation or source of the standards underlying the expert’s conclusion that [*9] the placement and positioning of cones and marshals along the running portion of the triathlon was negligent and, as such, the affidavit lacks probative value (see David v County of Suffolk, 1 NY3d 525, 526, 807 NE2d 278, 775 NYS2d 229 ). Moreover, the primary assumption of the risk doctrine provides that a voluntary participant in a sporting or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” (Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 484, 685 NE2d 202, 662 NYS2d 421 ) and it is “not necessary to the application of [the doctrine] that the injured plaintiff have foreseen the exact manner in which his or her injury occurred, so long as the he or she is aware of the potential for injury of the mechanism from which the injury results” (Maddox, 66 NY2d 270, 278, 487 NE2d 553, 496 NYS2d 726 ). Awareness of risk, including risks created by less than optimal conditions [**5] (Latimer v City of New York, 118 AD3d 420, 987 N.Y.S.2d 58 [1st Dept 2014]), “is not to be determined in a vacuum” (Morgan, 90 NY2d at 486) but, rather, “against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff” (id.). Hines is a highly decorated and highly experienced para-athlete who participated in dozens races over her career, many of which took place in Central Park. Hines’ testimony that other race courses in Central Park were set up differently and delineated with [*10] cones and marshals differently than the way in which defendants allegedly set up the triathlon course establishes that Hines was aware that collisions with non-participants were an inherent risk in participating in a triathlon in Central Park. Hines also testified that she was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, further proof that she was aware that collisions of some type, whether with participants, non-participants or objects, were an inherent risk of participating in the race. “Inherency is the sine qua non” (Morgan, 90 NY2d at 484-486) and regardless of how defendants situated cones and marshals along the race course, Hines was fully aware of and fully appreciated the inherent risk of injury resulting from a collision during the triathlon. Defendants, therefore, are entitled to summary dismissal of the complaint.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted and the complaint is dismissed in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly; and it is further
ORDERED that movants are to serve a copy of this order, with notice of entry, upon plaintiffs within 20 days of entry.
New York County
/s/ [*11] George J. Silver
George J. Silver, J.S.C.
Cassidy Almquist, Plaintiff, v. Synergo, LLC, an Oregon limited liability company, Synergo, an Oregon corporation; Association For Challenge Course Technology, a Delaware non-profit corporation, Defendants.
Case No. 3:15-cv-01281-SB
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79261
May 20, 2016, Decided
May 20, 2016, Filed
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Adopted by, Motion denied by Almquist v. Synergo, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79002 (D. Or., June 9, 2016)
CORE TERMS: website, personal jurisdiction, swing, purposeful, forum state, weigh, http, www, inspector, jurisdictional, purposefully, inspection, acctinfo, visited, org, exercise of jurisdiction, interactive, prong, resident, direction’ test, alternative forum, quotation, consumers, litigate, comport, accreditation, adhere–, prima facie, citation omitted, general jurisdiction
COUNSEL: [*1] For Cassidy Almquist, Plaintiff: James E. Horne, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, LLP, Seattle, WA; Mario Interiano, Norma Rodriguez, Scott E. Rodgers, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Rodriguez Interiano Hanson Rodgers PLLC, Kennewick, WA; Reuben Schutz, Salvador A. Mungia, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Gordon Thomas Honeywell LLP, Tacoma, WA.
For Synergo, LLC, an Oregon limited liability company, Synergo, an Oregon corporation, Defendants, ThirdParty Plaintiffs: Jennifer L. Crow, LEAD ATTORNEY, Scheer & Zehnder, Portland, OR; Mark P. Scheer, Robert P. Schulhof , Jr, Scheer & Zehnder LLP, Portland, OR.
For Association for Challenge Course Technology, a Delaware non-profit corporation, Defendant: Matthew C. Casey, Bullivant Houser Bailey, PC, Portland, OR.
JUDGES: STACIE F. BECKERMAN, United States Magistrate Judge.
OPINION BY: STACIE F. BECKERMAN
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
BECKERMAN, Magistrate Judge.
Cassidy Almquist (“Almquist”) filed an Amended Complaint against Synergo, LLC, an Oregon limited liability company, Synergo, an Oregon corporation (collectively “Synergo”), and the Association for Challenge Course Technology, a Delaware non-profit corporation (“ACCT”), alleging claims for negligence. Almquist’s [*2] action arises from an accident at the Bar-M-Ranch, in which she fell from a Giant Swing and was paralyzed. With respect to ACCT, Almquist alleges that ACCT was negligent (1) in promulgating standards for its certified inspectors, that allow them to certify challenge courses as safe when the inspector knows that untrained challenge course workers will operate the course, and (2) by failing to include in the inspection standards a provision directing an inspector to recommend that a course be closed until workers receive proper training. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16, 17 and 26.)
Synergo filed an Answer to Almquist’s Amended Complaint, and ACCT filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On April 5, 2016, this Court heard oral argument on ACCT’s request for dismissal. For the reasons set forth below, the district judge should deny ACCT’s Rule 12(b)(2) motion.
ACCT, a professional trade association for the challenge course industry, develops and publishes standards for installing, inspecting, and maintaining challenge courses. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 25.) ACCT trains and certifies professional challenge course inspectors. (Am. Compl. ¶ 25.) Synergo relied on ACCT’s standards [*3] in inspecting the Giant Swing at issue in this litigation. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28.)
Synergo is in the business of, among other things, inspecting challenge courses. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.) Synergo is located in Tigard, Oregon, and is a dues-paying member of ACCT. Synergo is the only accredited Professional Vendor Member (“PVM”) of ACCT in Oregon.1 Synergo’s founder and manager, Erik Marter, served on the Board of Directors of ACCT, and is the only certified ACCT professional inspector in Oregon. http://www.teamsynergo.com/our-story/ ; and http://www.acctinfo.org/?PVMList%20 (lasted visited May 20, 2016). Synergo conducts inspections of challenge courses according to ACCT standards. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28.)
1 According to ACCT, “[a] PVM of ACCT is a company which has successfully completed the Professional Vendor Member Application, including the Accreditation, process. The process includes a stringent review which determines an applicant’s adherence to ACCT Accreditation Policies and Procedures and its good faith commitment to ACCT Standards. Successful completion of this process distinguishes a PVM from other vendors, identifying the PVM as having been found to be highly experienced and competent.” http://www.acctinfo.org/?PVMList (last visited May 20, 2016).
In February 2012, Cavalry Church Tri-Cities (“Cavalry”) [*4] constructed an “adventure course” on its Bar-M-Ranch property located in Richland, Oregon that included a Giant Swing. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) Calvary hired Synergo to inspect the Giant Swing after construction of the challenge course was complete. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Synergo sent an employee to inspect the Giant Swing in June 2012. (Am. Compl.¶ 12.) During the inspection, Synergo discovered that the Cavalry and Bar-M-Ranch staffs were not trained to operate the swing. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) Synergo did not direct or recommend that Calvary close the Giant Swing until the operators of the swing were trained. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17.) If recommended by Synergo, Calvary would have closed the Giant Swing. (Am. Compl ¶ 19.)
During the week of July 15, 2013, Calvary hosted a summer camp at the Bar-M-Ranch. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) Almquist was a counselor at the summer camp. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) The camp director asked Almquist to demonstrate the use of the Giant Swing for the children attending the camp. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) Almquist agreed to do so and a camp employee, who was not trained to operate the Giant Swing, improperly connected her to the Giant Swing. Almquist fell 50 feet to the ground, paralyzing her from [*5] the waist down. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD
“In opposing a defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction is proper.” CollegeSource, Inc. v. AcademyOne, Inc., 653 F.3d 1066, 1073 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Boschetto v. Hansing, 539 F.3d 1011, 1015 (9th Cir. 2008)). “Where, as here, the defendant’s motion is based on written materials rather than an evidentiary hearing, ‘the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts to withstand the motion to dismiss.'” Id. (quoting Brayton Purcell LLP v. Recordon & Recordon, 606 F.3d 1124, 1127 (9th Cir. 2010)). “Although the plaintiff cannot simply rest on the bare allegations of its complaint, uncontroverted allegations in the complaint must be taken as true[,] [and] [c]onflicts between parties over statements contained in affidavits must be resolved in the plaintiff’s favor.” Schwarzenegger v. Fred Martin Motor Co., 374 F.3d 797, 800 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
ACCT moves to dismiss Almquist’s Amended Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. ACCT argues that it lacks sufficient contacts with Oregon to permit the Court’s exercise of either general or specific jurisdiction. Almquist acknowledges that general jurisdiction is not present here, but contends that the extent and nature of ACCT’s contacts with Oregon permit the Court to exercise specific jurisdiction over ACCT. [*6]
A. Constitutional Personal Jurisdiction Standards
“Federal courts ordinarily follow state law in determining the bounds of their jurisdiction over [defendant].” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 753, 187 L. Ed. 2d 624 (2014). Oregon law authorizes personal jurisdiction over defendants to the full extent permitted by the United States Constitution. See Or. R. Civ. P. 4(L); Gray & Co. v. Firstenberg Mach. Co., Inc., 913 F.2d 758, 760 (9th Cir. 1990) (“Oregon’s long-arm statute confers jurisdiction to the extent permitted by due process.”). The Court must therefore inquire whether its exercise of jurisdiction over ACCT “comports with the limits imposed by federal due process.” Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 753.
“Due process requires that defendants ‘have certain minimum contacts’ with the forum state ‘such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Picot v. Weston, 780 F.3d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 90 L. Ed. 95 (1945)). “The strength of contacts required depends on which of the two categories of personal jurisdiction a litigant invokes: specific jurisdiction or general jurisdiction.” Ranza v. Nike, Inc., 793 F.3d 1059, 1068 (9th Cir. 2015). Specific jurisdiction is sometimes referred to as “case-specific” or “case-linked” jurisdiction, meaning it depends on an affiliation between the forum state and the underlying controversy, whereas general jurisdiction is sometimes referred to as “all-purpose” jurisdiction, [*7] meaning the court may assert jurisdiction over a defendant based on a forum connection unrelated to the underlying lawsuit (e.g., domicile, place of incorporation, or principal place of business). Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115, 1121 n.6, 188 L. Ed. 2d 12 (2014). Almquist argues that specific jurisdiction exists over ACCT.
The Ninth Circuit employs the following three-prong test to determine if a defendant has sufficient minimum contacts to be subject to specific jurisdiction:
(1) The non-resident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or resident thereof; or perform some act by which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws;
(2) the claim must be one which arises out of or relates to the defendant’s forum-related activities; and
(3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice, i.e., it must be reasonable.
Picot, 780 F.3d at 1211 (quotations and citation omitted). Plaintiff bears the burden of satisfying the first two prongs. CollegeSource, 653 F.3d at 1076. The burden then shifts to the moving defendant to present “a ‘compelling case’ that the exercise of jurisdiction would not be reasonable.” Id. (quoting Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 476-78, 105 S. Ct. 2174, 85 L. Ed. 2d 528 (1985)) [*8] .
“The exact form of [a court’s] jurisdictional inquiry depends on the nature of the claim at issue.” Picot, 780 F.3d at 1212. For claims sounding in contract, courts in this circuit “generally apply a ‘purposeful availment’ analysis and ask whether a defendant has ‘purposefully avail[ed] [himself] of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.'” Id. (quoting Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d at 802). For claims sounding in tort, courts in this circuit “instead apply a ‘purposeful direction’ test and look to evidence that the defendant has directed his actions at the forum state, even if those actions took place elsewhere.” Id. Almquist asserts a tort claim against ACCT. Accordingly, ACCT’s motion to dismiss implicates only the purposeful direction test.
B. Specific Jurisdiction over ACCT
1. Purposeful Direction Test2
2 Almquist alleges a state negligence action against ACCT. As such, the “effects” test of Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 788-89, 104 S. Ct. 1482, 79 L. Ed. 2d 804 (1984), is inapplicable to the Court’s purposeful direction analysis in this case. See Holland America Line Inc. v. Wartsila North America, Inc., 485 F.3d 450, 460 (9th Cir. 2007) (holding that “it is well established that the Calder test applies only to intentional torts, not to the breach of contract and negligence claims presented here” (citing Calder, 465 U.S. at 789)); Bancroft & Masters, Inc. v. Augusta Nat’l Inc., 223 F.3d 1082, 1088 (9th Cir. 2000) (emphasizing that Calder requires [*9] the defendant to individually and wrongfully target the plaintiff).
“A showing that a defendant purposefully directed his conduct toward a forum state . . . usually consists of evidence of the defendant’s actions outside the forum state that are directed at the forum, such as the distribution in the forum state of goods originating elsewhere.” Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d at 803; see also World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297-98, 100 S. Ct. 559, 62 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1980) (“The forum State does not exceed its powers under the Due Process Clause if it asserts personal jurisdiction over a corporation that delivers its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will be purchased by consumers in the forum State.”). Due process permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant who “purposefully direct[s]” his activities at residents of a forum, even in the “absence of physical contacts” with the forum. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476.
ACCT argues that it did not purposefully direct its activities toward Oregon.3 By Declaration, Todd Domeck, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors with ACCT, informed the Court that ACCT is a Delaware non-profit corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. (Todd Domeck Decl. ¶ 3, Oct. 4, 2015.) ACCT has no office or registered agent in Oregon, and no employees who reside in Oregon. [*10] (Domeck Decl. ¶¶ 4-6.) Domeck also states that “ACCT was not consulted during the construction of the ‘Giant Swing,'” nor did ACCT provide training for “any employees of the Bar-M-Ranch who were to be operators of the ‘Giant Swing.'” (Domeck Decl. ¶¶ 9-10.)
3 ACCT also argues that “there has been absolutely no evidence submitted that plaintiff, the camp, or the specific ride operator . . . ever had any interaction with ACCT . . . or that they in any way relied on any information promulgated by ACCT.” (Def.’s Reply 10.) With regard to ACCT’s claim that Almquist cannot show that ACCT directed activity toward the people involved in the accident, this argument is foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Walden. 134 S. Ct. at 1122 (“[O]ur “minimum contacts” analysis looks to the defendant’s contacts with the forum State itself, not the defendant’s contacts with persons who reside there.”) With regard to ACCT’s contention that Almquist has not shown reliance on the “information promulgated by ACCT,” that evidence is relevant to the merits of Almquist’s claim for negligence, and not to the jurisdictional question presently before the Court.
In light of those facts, the jurisdictional analysis here turns on the extent [*11] to which ACCT, as a non-profit trade association, acted by way of its website and its certification of Synergo to create a presence in Oregon. In aid of the Court’s analysis of ACCT’s purposeful direction in Oregon, the Court relies on the uncontroverted allegations of the Amended Complaint, the Micah Henderson Declaration, and the Internet websites of ACCT and Synergo.4 See Boschetto, 539 F.3d at 1015 (“plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts” (quotations and citation omitted)).
4 ACCT argues that the websites are not authenticated and, thus, should not be considered by the Court. ACCT’s and Synergo’s websites were created and are maintained by Defendants in this case. Further, there is no challenge to the accuracy of the content presented on the websites. The parties dispute the sufficiency of ACCT’s contacts with Oregon, including contacts made through ACCT’s website. In the context of Almquist’s prima facie showing on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the Court may consider the information provided by ACCT and Synergo on their commercial websites. See, e.g., West Marine, Inc. v. Watercraft Superstore, Inc., No. C11-04459 HRL, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18973, 2012 WL 479677, at *10 (Feb. 14, 2012) (“Courts have taken notice of defendants’ [*12] websites or characteristics thereof when determining personal jurisdiction.”); Coremetrics, Inc. v. Atomic Park.com, LLC, 370 F. Supp. 2d 1013, 1021 (N.D. Cal. 2005) (taking judicial notice of defendants’ website in personal jurisdiction analysis).
a. ACCT’s Website
The Ninth Circuit has established a sliding scale analysis to consider how interactive an Internet website is for the purpose of determining its jurisdictional effect. Cybersell, Inc. v. Cybersell, Inc., 130 F.3d 414, 419 (9th Cir. 1997) (“In sum, the common thread, well stated by the district court in Zippo, is that the ‘likelihood that personal jurisdiction can be constitutionally exercised is directly proportionate to the nature and quality of the commercial activity that an entity conducts over the Internet.'”) (quoting Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, 952 F. Supp. 1119, 1124 (W.D. Pa. 1997)); see also ALS Scan, Inc. v. Digital Service Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 714 (4th Cir. 2002) (holding that a state may assert jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant “when that person (1) directs electronic activity into the State, (2) with the manifested intent of engaging in business or other interactions within the State, and (3) that activity creates, in a person within the State, a potential cause of action cognizable to the State’s courts”).
On its website, ACCT describes itself as “the world’s leading and largest American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited Standards Developer focused specifically and solely on the [*13] challenge course industry.” http://www.acctinfo.org (last visited May 20, 2016). Through its website, ACCT represents that it “develops, refines, and publishes standards for installing, maintaining, and managing challenge courses; provides forums for education and professional development; and advocates for the challenge course and adventure industry.” Id. ACCT’s website is an interactive commercial website, and ACCT uses it to advertise and sell its services and merchandise. Specifically, individuals and businesses may purchase memberships and ACCT’s standards book, apply and register for inspector certification courses and exams, and access challenge course related employment listings.
As of November 2015, ACCT had 2,524 total members, with 136 of those members located in Oregon. (Micah Henderson Decl. ¶ 7, Jan. 7, 2016.) As such, slightly over 5% of ACCT’s worldwide members are located in Oregon. In addition, three of ACCT’s 129 certified inspectors (2.3%) are located in Oregon. (Henderson Decl. ¶ 9.) During the period from June 1, 2014 through November 24, 2015, seven of the 200 standards (3.5%) sold by ACCT were delivered within Oregon. (Henderson Decl. ¶ 10.) ACCT attributes less than one percent of [*14] its 2015 annual dues to members located in Oregon. (Henderson Decl. ¶ 8.) Finally, as of November 12, 2015, two of the 100 job postings (2%) on ACCT’s website were related to jobs in Oregon. (Henderson Decl. ¶ 11.) ACCT solicited and transacted these sales and services through its website.
Although the business ACCT conducts in Oregon is not overwhelming, the Court concludes that the nature and quality of ACCT’s contacts with Oregon via its website are sufficient to satisfy the purposeful direction test. See Tech Heads, Inc. v. Desktop Serv. Cntr., Inc., 105 F. Supp. 2d 1142, 1150-51 (D. Or. 2000) (finding personal jurisdiction proper where plaintiff presented evidence of a transaction involving an Oregon resident made through the defendant’s interactive website); see also Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 891-892 (6th Cir. 2002) (holding that quantity and specifically a “‘percentage of business’ analysis” is not the proper test for personal jurisdiction; rather the proper test is “whether the absolute amount of business conducted . . . [in the forum state] represents something more than ‘random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts’ with the state”) (quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475); Zippo Mfg. Co., 952 F. Supp. at 1126-1127 (recognizing that 3,000 subscriptions, or 2 percent of total subscriptions, was a sufficient basis for jurisdiction because the Supreme Court emphasizes the nature and [*15] quality of contacts with the forum rather than the quantity of contacts); cf. Millennium Enterprises, Inc. v. Millennium Music, LP, 33 F. Supp. 2d 907, 923 (D. Or. 1999) (declining to find personal jurisdiction based on an interactive website when there was no evidence of transactions with forum residents or evidence that the forum was targeted).
In any event, even if ACCT’s reach into Oregon via its website was not sufficient, standing alone, to confer personal jurisdiction, the Court finds that ACCT’s reach into Oregon went beyond mere solicitation of members and sales through its website. See Brayton Purcell, 606 F.3d at 1129 (“operating even a passive website in conjunction with something more — conduct directly targeting the forum — is sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction” (quotations and citation omitted)).
b. ACCT’s Contacts Directed at Synergo
The Court finds that ACCT directly targeted Oregon through the following actions: ACCT’s certification of Oregon-based Synergo as a PVM, advertising Oregon-based Synergo as a PVM (including recommending that consumers hire Synergo), and setting standards for the inspection of challenge courses, to which ACCT required Synergo to adhere. Specifically, ACCT established and promoted PVM designations for companies, including Synergo, that successfully complete [*16] the application and accreditation process, which can take up to 18 months to complete, and includes a site visit of one-to-three days in duration. http://www.acctinfo.org/page/PVMApplication (last visited May 20, 2016). ACCT describes the process as “a stringent review which determines an applicant’s adherence to ACCT Accreditation Policies and Procedures and its good faith commitment to ACCT Standards.” Id. After the stringent review process and onsite visit, ACCT endorses the PVMs as ” highly experienced and competent . ” http://www.acctinfo.org/?page=PVMList (last visited May 20, 2016). ACCT’s website directs consumers to PVMs, including providing a link to Synergo’s website. In turn, Synergo prominently displays its ACCT membership on its website, and advertises its ACCT-certified services, including inspection services in Oregon. http://www.teamsynergo.com (last visited May 20, 2016). Finally, ACCT has utilized Oregon-based Synergo personnel in the ranks of its leadership, including Synergo’s owner, Marter (ACCT’s Board of Directors), and Lindsay Wiseman James (ACCT’s Chair of the Public Relations/Marketing Committee). http://www.acctinfo.org/?92; http://www.acctinfo.org/?page=140&hhSearchTerms=%22 synergo%22 (last visited May 20, 2016).
The Court finds that ACCT’s close relationship with and promotion of Oregon-based Synergo establishes purposeful direction [*17] into Oregon, especially when considered in conjunction with the reach of ACCT’s interactive website to Oregon members and consumers. Accordingly, the first prong of the specific jurisdiction test (purposeful direction), is satisfied here.
2. Arising out of or Relating to the Forum Activities
The second prong of the specific personal jurisdiction test requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that the claims arise out of, or are related to, defendant’s forum-related activities. Ziegler v. Indian River County, 64 F.3d 470, 474 (9th Cir. 1995). Courts apply a “but for” test — that is, a showing that the claims would not have arisen but for ACCT’s contacts with Oregon. Doe v. Unocal Corp., 248 F.3d 915, 924 (9th Cir. 2001); Ballard v. Savage, 65 F.3d 1495, 1500 (9th Cir. 1995) (“We rely on a ‘but for’ test to determine whether a particular claim arises out of forum-related activities and thereby satisfies the second requirement for specific jurisdiction.”).
Almquist contends that ACCT “sent Synergo its standards book in Oregon and understood that, as a certified ACCT professional inspector, Synergo would adhere to ACCT standards when it inspected challenge courses.” (Pl.’s Opp. 7.) Almquist alleges that Synergo did adhere to ACCT standards and, as a result, she was injured. (Pl.’s Opp. 7-8.) Conversely, ACCT argues that Almquist’s negligence claim is barred by Oregon [*18] statutes and administrative rules that regulate the duties owed, and by whom, when operating an amusement ride in this state. (Def.’s Reply 5-6.) ACCT contends that, under Oregon law, it does not owe a duty to Almquist. As such, her negligence claim cannot arise from ACCT’s activities in the forum as a matter of law.
Whether Almquist may prevail on the merits of her negligence claim against ACCT is not before the Court at this time. For the purpose of the Court’s jurisdictional analysis, Almquist’s claims, as alleged, arise from ACCT’s contacts with Oregon. Almquist has alleged that “but for” ACCT promulgating deficient safety standards, she would not have fallen and sustained injuries in Oregon. Thus, the contacts ACCT had with Oregon–i.e., certifying Synergo and allegedly setting inadequate course inspection standards to which Synergo was required to adhere–are also the conduct that give rise to Almquist’s claims. Accordingly, the second prong of the specific personal jurisdiction test is satisfied here.
The third prong of the Ninth Circuit’s specific personal jurisdiction test “requires a finding that assertion of jurisdiction is reasonable,” meaning “the court must [*19] determine whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction would comport with traditional notions of ‘fair play and substantial justice.'” Unocal Corp., 248 F.3d at 925 (quoting Int’l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 326). To determine reasonableness, courts analyze seven fairness factors:
(1) the extent of a defendant’s purposeful interjection [into the forum]; (2) the burden on the defendant in defending in the forum; (3) the extent of conflict with the sovereignty of the defendant’s state; (4) the forum state’s interest in adjudicating the dispute; (5) the most efficient judicial resolution of the controversy; (6) the importance of the forum to the plaintiff’s interest in convenient and effective relief; and (7) the existence of an alternative forum.
Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476-77. No one factor is dispositive; a court must balance all seven. Core-Vent Corp. v. Nobel Industries AB, 11 F.3d 1482, 1486 (9th Cir. 1993).
ACCT argues that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable because it has not reached out to Oregon in any way, defending in Oregon would be a burden since it is based in Illinois, and Almquist cannot show that alternative forums are unavailable. (Mot. Dismiss 12-13.)
a. Purposeful Interjection
As discussed above, ACCT purposefully directed itself into Oregon by maintaining an interactive commercial website and by certifying and promoting [*20] Synergo. The Court finds the purposeful interjection factor weighs in favor of Almquist.
b. Burden on ACCT
Next, the court considers ACCT’s burden of litigating in Oregon. However, “unless the inconvenience is so great as to constitute a deprivation of due process, it will not overcome clear justifications for the exercise of jurisdiction.” Caruth v. Int’l Psychoanalytical Ass’n., 59 F.3d 126, 128-29 (9th Cir. 1995). This is a high standard to meet, as courts have consistently held that modern technological advances reduce the burden of litigating in remote jurisdictions. See, e.g., Panavision Intern., L.P. v. Toeppen, 141 F.3d 1316, 1323 (9th Cir. 1998); Autobidmaster, LLC. V. Alpine Auto Gallery, LLC, No. 3:14-cv-1083-AC, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65202, 2015 WL 2381611, at * 11 (D. Or. May 19, 2015) (“modern technological advances greatly reduce the burden of litigating in remote jurisdictions”).
ACCT is located in Illinois and does not have offices in Oregon. As such, there is some burden on ACCT to litigate in Oregon. However, ACCT does not contend the burden is so significant as to violate Due Process. The Court finds this factor weighs only slightly in favor of ACCT.
c. Conflict with Illinois Law
The parties agree this factor is neutral.
d. Oregon’s Interest
Oregon has a significant interest in providing a forum for people who are tortiously injured while working in the state. See Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770, 776, 104 S. Ct. 1473, 79 L. Ed. 2d 790 (1984) (“It is beyond dispute that [*21] New Hampshire has a significant interest in redressing injuries that actually occur within the State.”) This interest extends to actions brought by nonresidents. Id.
Almquist was working in Oregon at the time of her injury. This factor weighs in favor of Almquist.
e. Efficient Judicial Resolution
The Court must also consider which forum can most efficiently resolve the dispute. To make this determination, the Court focuses on the location of the evidence and witnesses. Caruth, 59 F.3d at 129. The evidence and potential witnesses reside in Oregon, Washington, California, and Illinois. As such, one party must litigate in a foreign venue. While ACCT argues that its witnesses are located in “other states,” it does not contend that its burden is greater than Almquist’s were she forced to litigate elsewhere. In addition, this factor is “no longer weighed heavily given the modern advances in communication and transportation.” Harris Rutsky & Co. Ins. Services, Inc. v. Bell & Clements Ltd., 328 F.3d 1122, 1133 (9th Cir. 2003).
Conversely, Almquist argues that almost all of the witnesses and evidence are located in Oregon or Washington. In addition, the accident occurred in Oregon, and the witnesses who ran the challenge course are likely residents of Oregon. Synergo is based in Oregon and performed its inspection [*22] of the Bar-M-Ranch in Oregon. The initial healthcare providers who treated Almquist are located in Oregon. Moreover, this action will go forward regardless of the outcome of the motion to dismiss because Synergo remains a defendant in this litigation. See Core-Vent Corp., 11 F.3d at 1489 (finding that efficiency factor tipped in plaintiff’s favor because the lawsuit would continue in the forum state with other parties); see also Washington State University Foundation v. Oswald, No. 3:99-cv-907-AS, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21232, 2000 WL 251661, at *3 (D. Or. Jan. 3, 2000) (exercising personal jurisdiction where the forum state “appeare[d] to be the only jurisdiction in which the parties may totally resolve the action”).
This factor weighs in favor of Almquist.
f. Convenience and Effective Relief for Almquist
The Court next considers the importance of the forum to Almquist’s interests in convenient and effective relief. If Oregon is not a proper forum, Almquist will be forced to litigate its claim against ACCT in Illinois or Delaware, which presents inconvenience for Almquist in light of her medical condition and her claim against Synergo that will be litigated in this Court.
Traditionally, courts have not given a lot weight to this factor. See Ziegler, 64 F.3d at 476. However, the factor must be considered and it weighs in favor [*23] of Almquist.
g. Existence of an Alternative Forum
Finally, the Court must determine whether an adequate alternative forum exists. Almquist acknowledges that Illinois and Delaware are appropriate forums.5 This factor weighs in favor of ACCT.
5 At oral argument, counsel for Almquist informed the Court that the statute of limitations in both those forums likely foreclose the opportunity for Almquist to refile her negligence claim against ACCT in either Illinois or Delaware. The Court notes that savings statutes in both Illinois and Delaware may toll the statute of limitations, if this Court were to dismiss the claims against ACCT for lack of personal jurisdiction. See 10 Del. C. § 8118; 735 ILCS 5/13-217.
h. Balance of the Reasonableness Factors
Applying the seven-factor test, the Court concludes that exercising personal jurisdiction over ACCT is reasonable, and comports with fair play and substantial justice. The first, fourth, fifth, and sixth factors weigh in favor of Almquist, although the sixth factor is given little weight. The second and seventh factors weigh in favor of ACCT. The third factor is neutral. Although some factors weigh in favor of ACCT, it did not present a “compelling case” that exercising jurisdiction in [*24] this Court is unreasonable. See Boschetto, 539 F.3d at 1016 (“If the plaintiff establishes both prongs one and two, the defendant must come forward with a ‘compelling case’ that the exercise of jurisdiction would not be reasonable.”)
All of the requirements for specific jurisdiction are satisfied here. Accordingly, the district judge should deny ACCT’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction.
For the reasons set forth above, the district judge should DENY ACCT’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (ECF No. 31).
V. SCHEDULING ORDER
The Findings and Recommendation will be referred to a district judge. Objections, if any, are due fourteen (14) days from service of the Findings and Recommendation. If no objections are filed, then the Findings and Recommendation will go under advisement on that date. If objections are filed, then a response is due fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy of the objections. When the response is due or filed, whichever date is earlier, the Findings and Recommendation will go under advisement.
Dated this 20th day of May 2016.
/s/ Stacie F. Beckerman
STACIE F. BECKERMAN
United States Magistrate Judge
Robert Bishop, Executor of the Estate of Eric E. Bishop, Deceased, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, – vs – Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Limited, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CASE NO. 2004-P-0008
COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, ELEVENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, PORTAGE COUNTY
2005-Ohio-2656; 2005 Ohio App. LEXIS 2504
May 27, 2005, Decided
COUNSEL: J. W. Fodor, Warren, OH (For Plaintiffs-Appellants).
James T. Millican, II, Weston, Hurd, Fallon, Paisley & Howley, Cleveland, OH (For Defendants-Appellees).
JUDGES: DIANE V. GRENDELL, J. DONALD R. FORD, P.J., concurs with a Concurring Opinion. CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE, J., concurs in part, dissents in part, with a Concurring/Dissenting Opinion.
OPINION BY: DIANE V. GRENDELL
DIANE V. GRENDELL, J.
[*P1] Plaintiff-appellant, Robert Bishop (“Bishop”), appeals from the judgment of the Portage County Common Pleas Court granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees, Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Ltd. (“Nelson Ledges”) and Evan Kelley (“Kelley”). We affirm the decision of the trial court.
[*P2] The appeal before this court arises from the tragic drowning death of Eric Bishop (“Eric”), which occurred at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park (“the park”) on July 31, 2000.
[*P3] The park is a campground, situated on approximately 110 acres, and includes a 30 acre swimming lake for its patrons. The park is owned by Nelson Ledges, an Ohio Limited Liability Corporation, owned by Joretta (“Joretta”) [**2] and Glenn (“Glenn”) Frohring. The park is operated by J&E Management, (“J&E”), a sole proprietorship owned and operated by Kelley, Joretta’s son and Glenn’s stepson.
[*P4] The relevant facts of the incident are as follows. On the afternoon of July 31, 2000, Eric and five of his friends came to Nelson Ledges to swim. Upon entry to the park, each vehicle is stopped at the gate. A fee of $ 5 is collected from each visitor and each visitor is required by a park employee to sign a sign-in sheet, containing a waiver of liability clause, before entry to the park is granted. If some of the visitors are children, their parent, or another responsible adult, is required to sign the form.
[*P5] The top portion of the sign-in sheet contains a waiver of liability statement in print which fits within the top approximately two-and-a-half to three inches of the sheet, including margin spaces, with rectangular spaces for the signatures of park patrons contained below. The sign-in sheet is kept with park employees. The waiver language at the top of the sign-in sheet, states as follows:
NELSON LEDGES QUARRY PARK LIABILITY WAIVER FORM
Persons under 18 years of age must have an adult/guardian [**3] sign for them
CUSTOMERS AND COMPANY AGREE: When you enter Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, LLC, you agree that it is at your sole risk; that you will abide by all the park rules; that you will retain care and control of your car: its parts and contents. Company is not responsible for your car, articles left in your car, loss of use; all liability for any loss including but not limited to, any loss arising from bodily injury, personal injury or drowning. (Emphasis added). We the company do not accept responsibility of any personal injury or loss caused due to the influence of alcohol or other mind altering substances, or food consumed from private vendors. NO ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES ARE PERMITTED IN THE CAMPGROUND. I/We hearby (sic) release Nelson Ledges Quarry Park LLC and J&E Management from any liability whatsoever arising from use of the park. No employee may modify any of the terms herein. 1
1 The language of the waiver is reproduced verbatim. No attempt is made herein to reproduce the type or font size as they actually appear on the sign-in sheet. This is a matter of argument in the respective briefs submitted to this court.
[*P6] [**4] It is undisputed that Eric, who was eighteen years of age, and his friends all signed the sheet prior to their admission to the park on the day of the incident. Once inside the park, Eric and his friends decided not to go to the designated beach area, but instead decided to go to another area, called the “stony outcropping” or alternatively, the “drive-down area”. There is a small island located in the water about 40 to 50 yards from the shore of the “drive down” area. Shortly after arriving, Eric and two of his friends decided to swim out to the island.
[*P7] Eric began to experience difficulty about 10 to 15 feet short of the island, and began thrashing about and calling for help. His friends, who had reached the island before Eric, at first thought that he was goofing around. When they realized he was serious, his friends dove into the water to try to save him. Despite his friends’ efforts to save him, Eric slipped under the water. People on the shore who witnessed the incident ran off to summon park personnel for help.
[*P8] Within a few minutes after arriving, park personnel, who were certified in lifesaving, located Eric about 10-15 feet away from the spot where [**5] he had initially gone under the water. Park personnel then took Eric back toward the island, so that they could try to resuscitate him, but they were unsuccessful. All of these events, from the time Eric began to experience trouble, to the time park personnel attempted to revive him, took place within the span of 17 to 20 minutes.
[*P9] On June 10, 2002, Bishop and his wife Janine, as co-executors of their son Eric’s estate, filed wrongful death action, pursuant to R.C. 2125.01 et. seq. against Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, LLC, Glenn and Joretta, and Kelley, alleging that all named defendants were negligent, and that their negligence was the direct and proximate cause of Eric’s death.
[*P10] On October 1, 2003, Nelson Ledges, Glenn and Joretta, and Kelley collectively moved for summary judgment.
[*P11] Bishop then filed a memorandum in opposition to summary judgment, attaching as support an affidavit from Tom Griffiths, Ed.D. (“Griffiths”), an aquatic safety expert, along with a report, incorporated by reference, in which Griffiths testified to “a high degree of aquatic certainty,” that “the conduct of allowing swimming in unrestricted areas, given the [**6] numerous instances highlighted in this report regarding the failure of the defendants to comply with even the most basic water safety requirements *** created a risk that was substantially greater than that which is necessary to make their conduct simply negligent.”
[*P12] On January 12, 2004, the trial court, after reviewing all of the pleadings, motions, and evidence filed, issued a four page order and judgment entry granting summary judgment in favor of all of the defendants. After setting forth the standards for summary judgment, the court made the following conclusions of law: 1) That defendants Glenn and Joretta Frohring are entitled to summary judgment, pursuant to R.C. 1705.48(A) and (B), since they are principals of a limited liability company 2. 2) That, even when reviewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, including the report of Tom Griffiths, defendants’ conduct did not rise to a level of reckless, willful or wanton conduct, but at most, suggested there may be a genuine issue of material fact as to negligence. 3) The waiver was valid, as a matter of law, thus, Eric waived all claims of negligence, and Bishop [**7] was barred from recovering on the wrongful death claim.
2 On appeal, Bishop’s counsel admitted at oral argument and in their brief that Glenn and Joretta Frohring would not be personally liable as principals of a limited liability company under R.C. 1705.48 (A). Therefore, this court, sua sponte, formally dismisses the Frohrings as parties to this appeal.
[*P13] Bishop timely appealed and raised the following assignments of error:
[*P14] “[1.] The trial court erred in failing to apply the standards for determination of motions for summary judgment.
[*P15] “[2.] The trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of appellee Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Ltd. based on alleged lack of possession or control of leased premises.
[*P16] “[3.] The trial court erred in granting summary judgment for appellees on the ground that a valid release executed by Eric Bishop released appellees from liability.”
[*P17] As all of Bishop’s assignments of error question the propriety [**8] of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, we will first address the applicable standards of review.
[*P18] [HN1] “Summary judgment is a procedural device to terminate litigation and to avoid formal trial when there is nothing to try. It must be awarded with caution.” Murphy v. Reynoldsburg (1992), 65 Ohio St.3d 356, 358-359, 1992 Ohio 95, 604 N.E.2d 138. Summary judgment is proper when three conditions are satisfied: 1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; 2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law; and 3) reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, and that conclusion is adverse to the party against whom the motion form summary judgment is made. See, Harless v. Willis Day Warehousing Co. (1976), 54 Ohio St.2d 64, 66, 375 N.E.2d 46; Civ.R. 56(C). [HN2] “If the moving party fails to satisfy its initial burden, the motion for summary judgment must be denied. However, if the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the nonmoving party then has a reciprocal burden outlined in Civ.R.56(E) to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, and if the nonmovant does not so respond, summary judgment, [**9] if appropriate, shall be entered against the nonmoving party.” Dresher v. Burt, 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 293, 1996 Ohio 107, 662 N.E.2d 264. [HN3] In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Doe v. Shaffer, 90 Ohio St.3d 388, 390, 2000 Ohio 186, 738 N.E.2d 1243. Moreover, an appellate court conducts a de novo review of the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment. Id. Thus, we, as an appellate court, owe no deference to the conclusions of the trial court.
[*P19] [HN4] In order to prevail in a wrongful death cause of action, the personal representative of the decedent must prove these elements: “1) a wrongful act, neglect or default of defendant which proximately caused the death and which would have entitled the decedent to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued; 2) that a decedent was survived by a spouse, children, parents, or other next of kin; and 3) that the survivors suffered damages by reasons of the wrongful death.” McCormac, Wrongful Death in Ohio § 2.02. Bishop’s assignments of error challenge the court’s conclusions related to the first element, which may sound in either [**10] negligence or willful misconduct.
[*P20] For the purposes of judicial economy, Bishop’s assignments of error will be discussed out of order.
[*P21] In his third assignment of error, Bishop claims that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment, because there is a genuine issue of material fact with respect to the validity of the release executed by Eric on the day he drowned. We note at the outset, that Bishop does not argue that Eric did not sign the waiver form. However, Bishop does argue that if the exculpatory provisions in this waiver were strictly construed, the waiver would fail as a matter of law, because the intent to release the party was not expressed in clear and unequivocal terms. We disagree.
[*P22] [HN5] It is well-settled in Ohio that participants in recreational activities and the proprietor of a venue for such an activity are free to enter into contracts designed to relieve the proprietor from responsibility to the participant for the proprietor’s acts of negligence, but not for his willful or wanton misconduct. See, Bowen v. Kil-Kare, Inc. (1992), 63 Ohio St.3d 84, 585 N.E.2d 384 (auto racing); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St.3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 [**11] (soccer); King v. United Skates of America (Nov. 10, 1994), 11th Dist. No. 93-L-199, 1994 Ohio App. LEXIS 5089 (roller skating); Cain v. Cleveland Parachute Training Ctr. (1983), 9 Ohio App.3d 27, 9 Ohio B. 28, 457 N.E.2d 1185 (skydiving); Schwartzentruber v. Wee-K Corp. (1997), 117 Ohio App. 3d 420, 690 N.E.2d 941 (horseback riding). Clauses limiting liability shall ordinarily be construed strictly against the drafting party. Glaspell v. Ohio Edison Co. (1987), 29 Ohio St.3d 44, 29 Ohio B. 393, 505 N.E.2d 264 at paragraph one of syllabus, ; Cain, 9 Ohio App.3d at 28. Moreover, [HN6] matters involving the interpretation of contract terms, when such terms are unambiguous, are questions of law. See, Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Guman Bros. Farm, 73 Ohio St.3d 107, 108, 1995 Ohio 214, 652 N.E.2d 684.
[*P23] Reviewing the terms of the waiver language in the light most favorable to Bishop, we hold that there is no genuine issue of material fact related to the validity of the waiver that Eric signed. While inartfully drafted, the sheet Eric signed is clearly labeled at the top as a “Liability Waiver Form” in bold type. Moreover, the form states, in relevant part, that the company and [**12] customers agree that the company is not responsible for, “all liability for any loss, including, *** any loss arising from *** drowning.” (Emphasis added). Thus, any person signing the waiver sheet was on notice that the company was attempting to disclaim all liability for drowning, which is certainly a foreseeable risk of the activity. The term, “all liability” in this case is sufficient to encompass a loss from drowning due to any alleged negligence on the part of Nelson Ledges or Kelley. See, e.g. Schwartzentruber, 117 Ohio App.3d at 425 [HN7] (although “the better practice would certainly be to expressly state the word ‘negligence’ somewhere in the exculpatory provision *** the absence of that term does not automatically render the provision fatally flawed.”) For the reasons mentioned in Bowen, such a broad disclaimer of liability would not, as a matter of law, operate to relieve them from willful or wanton misconduct. Moreover, the obvious purpose of the writing on the document was to release Nelson Ledges and Kelley, d.b.a. J&E, from liability. This argument is not well-taken.
[*P24] Bishop additionally argues that the waiver cannot pass [**13] the test of clarity, since the exculpatory provisions appear in extremely small type. We disagree. Bishop, relying on the California case, Link v. NASCAR, Inc., (Cal.App.1984), 158 Cal. App. 3d 138, 205 Cal. Rptr. 513, argues that if an express release is not easily readable, then it is not enforceable. Bishop’s reliance on Link is misplaced.
[*P25] We first note that [HN8] the rules of law from other states are not controlling in Ohio, but may be used as persuasive authority, particularly when deciding a case of first impression. Certain facts of Link are similar to the instant case, in that the suit was brought for wrongful death as the result of injuries the deceased received after he had signed a waiver sheet which had places for multiple signatures. However, the purported releases that the deceased in Link signed were printed in five-and-one-half point type and could not easily be read by persons of ordinary vision. Furthermore, the court in Link found that the language was so lengthy and convoluted, it was almost incomprehensible to the average person. In deciding the case, the court in Link relied heavily on numerous provisions of the California Civil Code, which [**14] regulate the size of the type to be used in contract provisions, to support their argument. [HN9] Ohio has no such provisions. While we agree in broad principle that contract provisions, particularly those which purport to waive liability, should be printed in type large enough for a person of normal vision to read easily, the waiver in the case at bar satisfies these requirements. As we already mentioned, we find the terms of the waiver in this case were sufficiently clear to put the person signing it on notice. We agree with the trial court that Eric effectively waived all claims based on negligence by signing the waiver form. Thus, Bishop’s third assignment of error is without merit.
[*P26] Under Bishop’s first assignment of error, he argues that even if the court was correct in declaring that the waiver is valid as a matter of law, summary judgment should not have been granted, since the report of Bishop’s aquatic safety expert raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Kelley and Nelson Ledges engaged in willful and wanton misconduct. We disagree.
[*P27] We note at the outset, that since we have found Eric’s waiver of liability to be effective against negligence claims, [**15] Griffiths’ report may only be used to demonstrate willful and wanton misconduct. [HN10] Willful and wanton misconduct has been defined by the Ohio Supreme Court as the equivalent to reckless conduct. Thompson v. McNeill (1990), 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 104 n.1, 559 N.E.2d 705. An actor’s conduct is reckless when “he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty *** to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which could 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.” Id. at 104-105 (citation omitted) (emphasis added). [HN11] “An act is negligent if it ‘falls below a standard established by the law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.” Id. at 103 (citation omitted). While the act must be intended by the actor to be reckless, “the actor does not intend to cause the harm which results from it.” Id. at 105 (citation omitted). Moreover, the risk itself must be “an unreasonable one under the circumstances.” Id. (emphasis sic).
[*P28] [**16] [HN12] An expert opinion may be incorporated by reference into a motion for summary judgment by means of a properly framed affidavit. See, e.g., Rogoff v. King (1993), 91 Ohio App.3d 438, 446, 632 N.E.2d 977. However, it is axiomatic that facts presented in affidavits supporting or opposing summary judgment must be of the type which would be admissible at trial. Civ.R. 56(E); Nu-Trend Homes, Inc. v. Law Offices of DeLibera, Lyons, & Bibbo, 10th Dist. No. 01AP-1137, 2003 Ohio 1633, at P71.
[*P29] Griffiths’ report makes reference to recommendations made by the Portage County Health Department (“the Department”), which is responsible for establishing licensing and health requirements for bathing beaches in the county. Kelley’s duty as operator of the park is predicated by regulations set by the Department. The referenced recommendations were suggested improvements made by the Department in 2001, almost an entire year after Eric’s accident, and a major portion of Griffiths’ report is devoted to Kelley’s response to these recommendations.
[*P30] This court has held that [HN13] “subsequent remedial measures are not admissible to prove negligence [**17] or culpable conduct in connection with the event at issue.” DiCesare v. Trumbull Cty. Bd. of Commrs. (Dec. 19, 1986), 11th Dist. Nos. 3620 & 3622, 1986 Ohio App. LEXIS 9404, at *6, citing Evid.R. 407. Thus, none of the evidence of subsequent measures in Griffiths’ report is admissible under Evid.R. 407 to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with Eric’s drowning.
[*P31] Griffiths’ report also bases its conclusion, in part, on Resolution 95-01, which was promulgated by the Department and in effect at the time of the accident. Specifically, Griffiths’ points to the provisions of Resolution 95-01 which called for “one or more qualified lifeguards for each 300 linear feet of occupied bathing beach” to be on duty and “when swimming outside of designated swimming and diving areas *** is permitted *** at least one rescue boat, or rescue board shall be provided and manned with a qualified lifeguard.”
[*P32] Kelley and Nelson Ledges do not dispute that there was only one lifeguard on the beach and no one patrolling in a kayak, at the time of the accident, even though there were staff working at the park [**18] that day who were certified lifeguards. The reason given for only one lifeguard on duty that day was that it was a slow day, as it had rained earlier that morning. The sole lifeguard on duty that day was stationed at the beach, watching over children who were swimming in the designated swimming area.
[*P33] However, the absence of a rescue boat on duty on the date of Eric’s drowning, as required by Resolution 95-01 does not create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Kelley’s or Nelson Ledges’ conduct was willful and wanton. To hold otherwise would misconstrue the meaning of the term “standard established by law for the protection of others,” pursuant to Thompson.
[*P34] The threshold issue in determining willful and wanton misconduct is to determine what legal duty Kelley owed Eric as a visitor to the park. Since Eric paid an admission charge to Kelley for the purpose of swimming at the park, it is clear that Eric was a business invitee on the day of his drowning. [HN14] The Supreme Court of Ohio has defined a business invitee as “one rightfully on the premises of another for the purposes in which the possessor of the premises has a beneficial interest.” Scheibel v. Lipton (1951), 156 Ohio St. 308, 102 N.E.2d 453, [**19] at paragraph one of the syllabus; Monaco v. Red Fox Gun Club, Inc., 11th Dist. No. 2000-P-0064, 2001 Ohio App. LEXIS 6008, at *21, 2001 Ohio 4040.
[*P35] [HN15] Under common law, the duty owed by an owner of a premises to a business invitee is to “exercise ordinary care and to protect [the invitee] by maintaining the premises in a safe condition.” Id. at *21-*22. Thus, the next question then becomes, whether Resolution 95-01 imposes an additional legal duty on Kelley over and above the common-law duty of ordinary care.
[*P36] [HN16] Courts in Ohio uniformly recognize that the violation of legislative enactments which create a specific and mandatory duty for the protection of others constitutes negligence per se. Klyn v. Aruta (1986), 34 Ohio App.3d 152, 154, 517 N.E.2d 992; Tome v. Berea Pewter Mug, Inc. (1982), 4 Ohio App.3d 98, 103, 4 Ohio B. 181, 446 N.E.2d 848; Parker v. Copey’s Butcher Shop (Dec. 14, 1992), 2nd Dist. No. 2820, 1992 Ohio App. LEXIS 6496, at *6; Starost v. Bradley (Jan. 29, 1999), 2nd Dist. No. 17319, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 324, at *12 (“proof of negligence per se means that the Defendant possessed a duty imposed by statute [**20] and breached that duty”). Thus, in cases where a mandatory legal duty is imposed by statute, the “specific requirements of the statute or ordinance replace the rule of ordinary care.” Kehrer v. McKittrick (1964), 176 Ohio St. 192, 198 N.E.2d 669. (emphasis sic).
[*P37] [HN17] According to their express terms, Resolution 95-01 and the regulations created thereunder were adopted by the Portage County Department of Health for the licensing and health requirements of bathing beaches. The resolution purportedly derives its power to adopt regulations under the authority of R.C. 3707.01 and R.C. 3709.21, as well as under Ohio Administrative Code 3701-31-10.
[*P38] [HN18] R.C. 3707.01 charges boards of health of cities or general health districts with the obligation of “abating and removing all nuisances within its jurisdiction,” granting such boards the authority to “regulate the location, construction, and repair *** of yards, pens, and stables, and of water closets, privies, cesspools, sinks, plumbing and drains.”
[*P39] R.C. 3709.21 provides, in relevant part, that [HN19] “the board of health [**21] of a general health district may make such orders and regulations as are necessary for *** the public health, the prevention and restriction of disease, and the prevention, abatement, or suppression of nuisances.”
[*P40] [HN20] A plain reading of both statutes clearly indicates that neither expressly delegates to public health departments the authority to regulate public swimming areas. Moreover, even if we were to presume that public swimming areas fell under the ambit of the more general authority of R.C. 3709.21, the authority to regulate under this statute is limited only to public health matters, and not matters of public safety. Jackson v. City of Franklin (1991), 72 Ohio App.3d 431, 446, 594 N.E.2d 1018 (“R.C. 3709.21 does not authorize a board of health to regulate matters pertaining to public safety.”) Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the regulation also purports to rely on [HN21] former Ohio Adm. Code 3701-31-10 3, regulating “other public bathing places,” which was repealed in January of 1996, over four years before the current incident occurred. See 1995-1996 Ohio Monthly Record 1-1110, eff. Jan. 1, 1996. Thus, any attempt [**22] by the Portage County Board of Health to promulgate and enforce safety regulations under either of the aforementioned statutes or the administrative code section, would be without legal effect.
3 [HN22] Ohio Adm. Code 3701-31-01 et. seq. is authorized by R.C. Chapter 3749.02, which was enacted in 1987. R.C. 3749.02 grants public health departments the right to regulate “the issuance of licenses, *** sanitation, safety, and operation of public swimming pools, public spas, and special use pools.” R.C. 3749.02 (emphasis added). We note, however, that according to R.C. 3749.01, “public swimming pools”, “spas,” and “special purpose pools” have specifically defined meanings. Although 3749.01(J) defines “public bathing areas” as “an impounding reservoir, basin, lake, pond, creek, river, or other similar natural body of water,” no other section within R.C. Chapter 3749 makes any mention of “public bathing areas.” Thus, we can only conclude that a public health department’s regulation of “public bathing areas” is not specifically authorized by this chapter. See also, 1994 Ohio Atty. Gen. Ops. No. 94-044. (“A public bathing beach *** is not subject to regulation under R.C. Chapter 3749, unless such beach constitutes a ‘public swimming pool,’ as defined in R.C. 3749.01(G), a ‘public spa,’ as defined in R.C. 3749.01(H), or a ‘special use pool,’ as defined in R.C. 3749.01(I).”
[*P41] [**23] Even if we were to assume that the administrative code section to which Resolution 95-01 cites was a valid means of enacting sufficiently specific safety regulations, [HN23] administrative code sections cannot, as a matter of law, be used to support a finding of negligence per se. Jaworowski v. Medical Radiation Consultants (1991), 71 Ohio App.3d 320, 329, 594 N.E.2d 9 (“The only ‘laws’ in Ohio which historically have been held to create specific and mandatory duties the violation of which constitutes negligence per se are legislative enactments, not administrative regulations.”) (citations omitted); see also, Whitener v. Firwood Investment Co. (Sep. 13, 1995), 2nd Dist. No. 14938, 1995 Ohio App. LEXIS 3986, at *22. Thus, we find that in the absence of valid and enforceable safety regulations, Kelley’s legal duty was one of ordinary care, i.e., an ordinary negligence standard of care.
[*P42] Since we have already determined that Eric validly waived all claims sounding in negligence, we see no conceivable means by which the requirements of Resolution 95-01 may be used, to find that Kelley’s conduct rose to the level of willful and wanton misconduct. See [**24] Roszman v. Sammett, (1971), 26 Ohio St.2d 94, 96-97, 269 N.E.2d 420 [HN24] (“The difference between negligence and willfulness is a difference in kind and not merely a difference in degree *** in order to establish wantonness, the conduct must be supported by evidence that shows a disposition to perversity, such as acts of stubbornness, obstinacy or persistency in opposing that which is right, reasonable, correct or generally accepted as a course to follow in protecting the safety of others”) (emphasis added). Though the circumstances surrounding Eric’s death are, indeed, unfortunate, [HN25] “willful conduct implies design, set purpose, intention, or deliberation,” and “wanton conduct comprehends an entire absence of all care for the safety of others and a complete indifference to the consequences of the allegedly negligent act.” Rinehart v. Federal Nat’l Mortgage Assn. (1993), 91 Ohio App. 3d 222, 229, 632 N.E.2d 539 (citations omitted). Since there is nothing in the record supporting a finding that Kelley’s conduct was willful or wanton as a matter of law, Bishop’s first assignment of error is without merit.
[*P43] In his second assignment of error, Bishop alleges that Nelson Ledges maintained [**25] significant possession and control over the park as lessor and is therefore liable for Eric’s death. Since we determined in assignments of error one and three that Eric validly waived all claims sounding in negligence, and Kelley’s conduct as operator and lessee of the park did not rise to the level of willful and wanton misconduct, there is no liability to be imputed to Nelson Ledges. Bishop’s second assignment of error is without merit.
[*P44] For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas.
DONALD R. FORD, P.J., concurs with a Concurring Opinion.
CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE, J., concurs in part, dissents in part, with a Concurring/Dissenting Opinion.
CONCUR BY: DONALD R. FORD; CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE (In Part)
DONALD R. FORD, P.J., concurring.
[*P45] Although I concur with the majority, I believe that the following language cited in the opinion is subject to further qualification. The majority states that: “an expert opinion may be incorporated by reference into a motion for summary judgment by means of a properly framed affidavit. See e.g., Rogoff v. King (1993), 91 Ohio App.3d 438, 446, 632 N.E.2d 977. However, it is axiomatic that [**26] facts presented in affidavits supporting or opposing summary judgment must be of the type which would be admissible at trial. Civ.R. 56(E), Nu-Trend Homes, Inc. v. Law Offices of DeLibera, Lyons, and Bibbo, 10th Dist. No. 01AO-1137, 2003 Ohio 1633, at 71.”
[*P46] This writer notes that when there is no timely objection to submissions that otherwise could be excluded, the trial court might include such material in its analysis regarding a decision on a motion for summary judgment. Rodger v. McDonald’s Restaurants of Ohio, Inc. (1982), 8 Ohio App.3d 256, 8 Ohio B. 347, 456 N.E.2d 1262, at paragraph one of the syllabus; Chiles v. Cuyahoga Community College (Dec. 5, 1996), 8th Dist. No. 70658, 1996 Ohio App. LEXIS 5466, at *4; Christe v. GMS Mgt. Co., Inc. (1997), 124 Ohio App. 3d 84, 90, 705 N.E.2d 691; Sreshta v. Kaydan (May 6, 1999), 8th Dist. No. 74081, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 2066, at *6-*7; Jarrell v. Englefield (Mar. 17, 2000), 11th Dist. No. 98-P-0105, 2000 Ohio App. LEXIS 1076, at *2; Ryser v. Conrad (Mar. 31, 2000), 11th Dist. No. 98-T-0088, 2000 Ohio App. LEXIS 1428, at *8; Kanu v. George Dev., Inc., 6th Dist. Nos. L-02-1140 and L-02-1139, 2002 Ohio 6356, at P13. [**27] (Citations omitted.)
DISSENT BY: CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE (In Part)
CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part.
[*P47] I concur with the majority’s resolution of appellant’s first and third assignments of error as they relate to the validity of the waiver Eric signed and its release of appellees from claims sounding in negligence. I dissent with respect to the resolution of appellant’s second assignment of error.
[*P48] As Judge Ford correctly notes in his concurring opinion, “when there is no timely objection to submissions that might otherwise be excluded, the trial court might include such material in its analysis regarding a decision on a motion for summary judgment.”
[*P49] Here, appellees failed to raise any objection to Griffith’s reference to recommendations made by the Portage County Health Department and the trial court could include such material in its analysis.
[*P50] Further, the majority concedes appellees were in violation of Resolution 95-01 at the time Eric drowned, yet summarily conclude that this evidence, “while likely sufficient to support a finding of negligence per se *** [is] insufficient as a matter of law, to find Kelly’s conduct [**28] rose to the level of willful and wanton misconduct.”
[*P51] The majority defines willful and wanton conduct as equivalent to reckless conduct and then states:
[*P52] “An actor’s conduct is reckless when ‘he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty *** to do knowing or having reason to know of facts which could lead a reasonable man to realize not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.’ *** An act is negligent if it ‘falls below a standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.’ *** While the act must be intended by the actor to be reckless, ‘the actor must not intend to cause the harm which results from it.’ *** Moreover, the risk itself must be ‘an unreasonable one under the circumstances.‘” (Emphasis sic.) Supra, at 10.
[*P53] Here, Resolution 95-01 required a manned rescue boat to be on duty. Appellees concede no manned rescue boat was on duty and this decision was an intentional one. Thus, appellees concede they intentionally failed to do an act they were [**29] required by law to do. Appellant’s expert opined that appellees’ failure “to comply with even the most basic water safety requirements *** created a risk that was substantially greater than that which is necessary to make their conduct simple negligence.”
[*P54] Appellant’s expert’s opinion establishes a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether appellees’ conduct was willful or wanton. For these reasons, I find appellant’s second assignment of error has merit.
Moser v. Ratinoff, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1211; 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198; 2003 Cal. App. LEXIS 138; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 987; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 1320Posted: July 31, 2016
Christian Moser, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Joanne Ratinoff, Defendant and Respondent.
COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION FIVE
January 31, 2003, Decided
January 31, 2003, Filed
CALIFORNIA OFFICIAL REPORTS SUMMARY A participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways brought an action against a coparticipant, alleging that defendant was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. (Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC225431, Gregory C. O’Brien, Judge.)
A participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways brought an action against a coparticipant, alleging that defendant was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. (Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC225431, Gregory C. O’Brien, Judge.)
The Court of Appeal affirmed. It held that a waiver, signed by plaintiff prior to participating in the ride, that released the event holders, sponsors, and organizers and acknowledged the risks of the ride, including those caused by other participants, did not inure to the benefit of defendant. However, the court held, the primary assumption of the risk doctrine was applicable. Organized, long-distance bicycle rides are an activity to which the doctrine applies, since they are engaged in for enjoyment or thrill, require physical exertion and skill, and involve a challenge containing a risk of injury. Further, the risk that one cyclist will swerve into another is inherent in such rides. The court also held that the fact that defendant’s movements may have violated various Vehicle Code sections did not preclude application of the doctrine. (Opinion by Mosk, J., with Turner, P.J., and Grignon, J., concurring.)
CALIFORNIA OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES
Classified to California Digest of Official Reports
(1) Summary Judgment § 26–Appellate Review–Scope of Review. — –A grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. The appellate court makes an independent assessment of the correctness of the trial court’s ruling, applying the same legal standard as the trial court in determining whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Under Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2), a defendant moving for summary judgment meets its burden of showing that there is no merit to a cause of action by showing that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. Once the defendant has made such a showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or as to a defense to the cause of action.
(2) Negligence § 98–Actions–Trial and Judgment–Questions of Law and Fact–Assumption of Risk–Summary Judgment. — –When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains. Determining whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies is a legal question to be decided by the court.
(3) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk. — –A defense to a claim of negligence is that the plaintiff either expressly or impliedly assumed the risk.
(4) Negligence § 38–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Effect of Express Waiver. — –A participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways did not assume the risk of negligence by a coparticipant in the ride by signing, prior to taking part in the ride, a waiver that released the event holders, sponsors, and organizers and acknowledged the risks of the ride, including those caused by other participants. An express assumption of risk agreement does not inure to the benefit of those not parties to that agreement.
(5) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Effect. — –The doctrine of primary assumption of the risk embodies a legal conclusion that there is no duty on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk. Where the doctrine applies, the plaintiff’s assumption of the risk acts as a complete bar to liability.
(6) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons-Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Competitive Sports. — –Under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, a defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport voluntarily played by the plaintiff, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct, but does owe a duty not to increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. Whether the doctrine applies depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties’ general relationship to the activity. The overriding consideration in the application of the doctrine is to avoid imposing a duty that might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.
(7) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Analytical Frameword. — –In assumption of the risk analysis, the question whether the defendant owed a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm does not turn on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct, but rather on the nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.
(8a) (8b) Negligence § 38–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Orgainzed Bicycle Ride. — –In an action by a participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways, in which plaintiff alleged that defendant, a coparticipant, was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries, the trial court properly granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. Such organized, long-distance bicycle rides are an activity to which the doctrine applies, since they are engaged in for enjoyment or thrill, require physical exertion and skill, and involve a challenge containing a risk of injury. Further, the risk that one cyclist will swerve into another is inherent in such rides. Defendant’s movements may have been negligent, but they were not intentional, wanton, or reckless, nor were they totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport. Thus, the accident was within the risks assumed by plaintiff and defendant when they chose to participate.
[See 6 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (9th ed. 1988) Torts, § 1090C.]
(9) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Risks Not Assumed. — –Even if an activity is one to which the primary assumption of the risk doctrine applies, there are certain risks that are deemed not assumed and certain injury-causing actions that are not considered assumed risks of the activity. An activity that is not inherent in the sport is not subject to the doctrine. Drinking alcoholic beverages, for example, is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. On the other hand, in various sports, going too fast, making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, and proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports.
(10) Negligence § 40–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Violation of Safety Law–Vehicle Code Provisions Applicable to Bicycle Riding. — –In an action by a participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways, in which plaintiff alleged that defendant, a coparticipant, was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries, the fact that defendant’s movements may have violated various Vehicle Code sections did not preclude application of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. The doctrine is not displaced by a violation of a statute that does not evince legislative intent to eliminate the assumption of the risk defense.
COUNSEL: Law Offices of Michael L. Oran, Michael L. Oran, Kathy B. Seuthe; Law Offices of Garry S. Malin and Garry S. Malin for Plaintiff and Appellant.
Barry Bartholomew & Associates, Michael A. Nork and Kathryn Albarian for Defendant and Respondent.
JUDGES: (Opinion by Mosk, J., with Turner, P. J., and Grignon, J., concurring.)
OPINION BY: MOSK
[*1214] [**200] MOSK, J.
Plaintiff and appellant Christian Moser (Moser) and defendant and respondent Joanne Ratinoff (Ratinoff) participated in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways involving hundreds of participants. Moser signed an “Accident Waiver and Release of Liability” form for the benefit of the event holders, sponsors and organizers in which Moser expressly assumed the risk of various injuries, including those caused by other participants. During the ride, Ratinoff swerved into Moser, causing him to crash and sustain injuries. Moser sued Ratinoff for general negligence. Ratinoff filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that a collision between bicycle riders was an inherent risk in the ride, and [*1215] therefore the action was barred by [***2] the primary assumption of risk doctrine enunciated in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696] (Knight). Moser opposed the motion on the grounds that the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not apply because the collision was not an inherent risk of the activity and because Ratinoff’s violation of provisions of the California Vehicle Code precluded application of the doctrine. The trial court granted summary judgment in Ratinoff’s favor. We hold that the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies to the organized bicycle ride, and that a violation of a statute does not displace that doctrine. Accordingly, we affirm the summary judgment.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 1
1 We state the facts in accordance with the standard of review stated post.
Moser and Ratinoff collide during a bicycle ride
In February 1999, Moser registered to participate in the Death Valley Double Century bicycle ride, a 200-mile, noncompetitive bicycle ride on public [***3] highways. Hugh Murphy Productions organized the ride in which approximately 600 bicycle riders participated. 2 Before participating in the ride, Moser signed a document provided by the organizers entitled “Accident Waiver and Release of Liability” (the release), releasing the organizers and stating, “I acknowledge that this athletic event is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss. The risks include, but are not limited to those caused by . . . actions of other people including but not limited to participants. . . . I hereby assume all of the risks of participating &/or volunteering in this event.” The organizer required riders to wear helmets and to have bicycle lights.
2 One of the forms refers to the promoter as “Badwater Adventure Sports.”
The ride had no designated start time. On the day of the accident, Moser and his friend, David Warshawsky (Warshawsky), began the ride at 4:00 a.m. At a rest stop, [***4] Moser and Warshawsky encountered Ratinoff, another participant in the ride. The three cyclists left the rest stop together, with Warshawsky and Ratinoff riding side-by-side and Moser riding behind them. At some point, they began riding single file.
Moser was cycling close to the right-hand side of the road. Ratinoff said that she came from behind Moser’s left side and passed him or rode at his left side. Moser said Ratinoff came up from behind him and rode next to him on his left side. While she was riding on Moser’s left side, an Inyo County Sheriff’s Deputy pulled his car approximately four or five car lengths behind [*1216] them and stayed there for several minutes. Ratinoff turned to look at the [**201] police car, and she then told Moser, “I have to come over.” According to Ratinoff, a “split second” later, she moved to her right toward Moser.
As Ratinoff moved to her right, she made contact with Moser, who nevertheless was able to retain control of his bicycle. Within seconds, Ratinoff again collided with Moser, causing him to fall off his bike and to sustain injuries. At the time of the collision, Ratinoff and Moser were riding at an approximate speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour.
Moser [***5] sues Ratinoff, and Ratinoff files a motion for summary judgment
Moser commenced an action against Ratinoff and in his complaint alleged that Ratinoff “negligently, recklessly and carelessly operated, owned, controlled and maintained” her bicycle “so as to collide with” Moser’s bicycle. Ratinoff alleged assumption of risk as an affirmative defense.
Ratinoff filed a motion for summary judgment in which she contended that she was not liable to Moser because under the primary assumption of risk doctrine she did not breach a duty of care owed to him. Moser, in opposition to the motion, argued that the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not apply to noncompetitive bicycle riding and that Ratinoff violated Vehicle Code sections 21202, subdivision (a) (operating a bicycle as close “as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”), and 22107 (moving a vehicle to the left or right “with reasonable safety”), thereby giving rise to a presumption of negligence and rendering the primary assumption of risk doctrine inapplicable.
The trial court granted the summary judgment motion and entered judgment against Moser. The trial court denied Moser’s motion [***6] for new trial. Moser does not raise the denial of his new trial motion as a basis for his appeal.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
(1) [HN1] We review the grant of summary judgment de novo. (Szadolci v. Hollywood Park Operating Co. (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 16, 19 [17 Cal. Rptr. 2d 356].) We make “an independent assessment of the correctness of the trial court’s ruling, applying the same legal standard as the trial court in determining whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Iverson v. Muroc Unified School Dist. (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 218, 222 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 35].) A defendant moving for summary judgment meets its burden of showing that [*1217] there is no merit to a cause of action by showing that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2).) Once the defendant has made such a showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or as to a defense to the cause of action. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849, 853 [107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841, 24 P.3d 493].) [***7] (2))
[HN2] “When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains.” (Freeman v. Hale (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 1388, 1395 [36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 418].) Determining whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies is a legal question to be decided by the court. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313; Record v. Reason (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 472, 479 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547].) [**202]
[HN3] A person is generally responsible “for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.” (Civ. Code, § 1714.(3)) But a defense to a claim of negligence is that the plaintiff either expressly or impliedly assumed the risk. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 308, fn. 4, 309-321.)
I. Express assumption of risk
Before reaching the issue of implied assumption of risk, we must determine if Moser expressly assumed the risk of a collision based [***8] on the release he signed. [HN4] An express assumption of risk is a complete defense to a negligence claim. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308, fn. 4; Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1372 [59 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813]; Allabach v. Santa Clara County Fair Assn. (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 1007, 1012 [54 Cal. Rptr. 2d 330].) Moser released the “event holders, sponsors and organizers,” and also acknowledged the risks of the ride, including those caused by other participants. The document does not purport to be a release of anyone other than the “event holders, sponsors and organizers.”
In Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc. (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 1715 [22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 781] (Westlye), the plaintiff, who was injured skiing, filed an action against the ski shop from which he rented allegedly defective ski [*1218] equipment and the distributors of the equipment. He had signed a written agreement with the ski shop in which he accepted the equipment for use “as is”; agreed that he understood that there ” ‘are no guarantee[s] for the user’s safety’ “; acknowledged that there is ” ‘an inherent risk of injury in the sport of skiing, and the use of any ski equipment, and expressly assume[d] the risks for any [***9] damages to any persons or property resulting from the use of this equipment’ “; and released the ski shop from any liability. (Id. at p. 1725.)
The distributors of the equipment contended that “as a matter of law an express assumption of risk is good as against the whole world” and therefore precluded any liability against the distributors. (Westlye, supra, 17 Cal.App.4th at p. 1729.) In holding that the plaintiff had not released the distributors of the equipment, the court said, “defendants fail to submit, and we have not discovered, any authority for [the distributors’] proposition. The doctrine of express assumption of the risk is founded on express agreement. [Citations.] ‘Although in the academic literature “express assumption of risk” often has been designated as a separate, contract-based species of assumption of risk . . ., cases involving express assumption of risk are concerned with instances in which, as the result of an express agreement, the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from an injury-causing risk.’ [Citations.] Such an agreement, if valid, ‘operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect [***10] to the risks encompassed by the agreement. . . .’ [Citation.] That express assumption of risk is founded on an express agreement undercuts the distributor defendants’ claim that it is good as against the world. [P] . . . [P] We conclude the distributor defendants have failed to establish that they are entitled to the benefit of the written agreement between plaintiff and [the ski shop].” (Id. at pp. 1729-1730.)(4))
Westlye, supra, 17 Cal.App.4th 1715, states the existing law that [HN5] an express assumption of risk agreement does not inure to the benefit of those not parties to that agreement. Accordingly, [**203] Moser did not expressly assume the risk of negligence by a coparticipant in the ride. A person’s written acknowledgment of the risks inherent in an activity may, however, have an effect on determinations concerning implied assumption of risk. (See discussion post.)
II. Implied assumption of risk
The subject of implied assumption of risk has generated much judicial attention. Its modern history began when California eliminated contributory negligence and adopted a comparative negligence system in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804 [119 Cal. Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226].. [***11] [*1219] Thereafter, the California Supreme Court–in two companion cases, Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, and Ford v. Gouin (1992) 3 Cal.4th 339 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724] (Ford)–considered the “proper application of the ‘assumption of risk’ doctrine in light of [the] court’s adoption of comparative fault principles.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 300.) (5))
In Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, the Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion, set forth the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. That doctrine, which is now established as “the controlling law” (Cheong v. Antablin (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1063, 1067 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 859, 946 P.2d 817] (Cheong)), “embodies a legal conclusion that [HN6] there is ‘no duty’ on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk. . . .” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308.) When the doctrine applies, the plaintiff’s assumption of the risk acts as a complete bar to liability. (Ibid.) 3
3 But see the Restatement Third of Torts, section 2 and comment i, pages 19, 25 (“Most courts have abandoned implied assumptions of risk as an absolute bar to a plaintiff’s recovery”).
[***12] (6) In Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, the court concluded that a defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport (in that case, an informal touch football game) voluntarily played by the plaintiff, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct, but does owe a duty not to increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. The court said that “[i]n some situations . . . the careless conduct of others is treated as an ‘inherent risk’ of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.” (Id. at p. 316.) In Ford, the court applied the rule to noncompetitive, non-team-sporting activities–in that case waterskiing. (Ford, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339.)
[HN7] Whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies–which issue is, as noted above, a question of law–“depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties’ general relationship to the activity.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) “The overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated [***13] activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.” (Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 248, 253 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65].)
III. Activity subject to primary assumption of risk
(7) In Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at page 309, the court said that “whether the defendant owed a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from a [**204] particular risk [*1220] of harm does not turn on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct, but rather on the nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.” The court suggested that generally, the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies in a “sports setting.” (Id. at pp. 309-310, fn. 5.) (8a)) Thus, the issue in the instant case is whether an organized, noncompetitive, long-distance bicycle ride is one of those sports activities to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies.
The court in Staten v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1628, 1635 [53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 657], stated, “Knight may require a court to determine a question of duty in sports settings while factually uninformed of how the sport is [***14] played and the precise nature of its inherent risks.” To make a decision concerning duty we must know the nature of a particular sport, and even if we do have such knowledge, we still may have no idea how imposing liability will affect or “chill” the sport–which is a major factor in making a determination of duty. (See American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 30, 37 [93 Cal. Rptr. 2d 683] [court said “expert opinion may inform the court on these questions”].) Nevertheless, under the current state of the law established by Knight, we must somehow make such a determination.
As guidance, there are cases in which courts have determined whether or not the primary assumption of risk applies to a particular activity. There are a number of cases involving sports activities in which the court found a primary assumption of risk. (Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063 [snow skiing]; Ford, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339 [waterskiing]; Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296 [touch football]; Sanchez v. Hillerich & Bradsby (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 703 [128 Cal. Rptr. 2d 529] [collegiate baseball]; Distefano v. Forester (2001) 85 Cal.App.4th 1249 [102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813] [***15] (Distefano) [off-roading]; Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108 [96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 394] [skateboarding]; American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 79 Cal.App.4th 30 [golf]; Lupash v. City of Seal Beach (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 1428 [89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 920] [lifeguard training]; Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th 472 [tubing behind a motorboat]; Lilley v. Elk Grove Unified School Dist. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 939 [80 Cal. Rptr. 2d 638] [wrestling]; Aaris v. Las Virgenes Unified School Dist. (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1112 [75 Cal. Rptr. 2d 801] [gymnastics stunt during cheerleading]; Balthazor v. Little League Baseball, Inc. (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 47 [72 Cal. Rptr. 2d 337] [little league baseball]; Domenghini v. Evans (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 118 [70 Cal. Rptr. 2d 917] [cattle roundup]; Mosca v. Lichtenwalter (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 551 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 58] [sport fishing]; Staten v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.App.4th 1628 [ice skating]; [*1221] Fortier v. Los Rios Community College Dist. (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 430 [52 Cal. Rptr. 2d 812] [football practice drill]; Bushnell v. Japanese-American Religious & Cultural Center (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 525 [50 Cal. Rptr. 2d 671] [***16] [judo]; Regents of University of California v. Superior Court (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 1040 [48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 922] [rock climbing]; Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, supra, 32 Cal.App.4th 248 [river rafting]; O’Donoghue v. Bear Mountain Ski Resort (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 188 [35 Cal. Rptr. 2d 467] [snow skiing]; Stimson v. Carlson (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1201 [14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 670] [sailing].) In some other recreational activities, [**205] courts have held that there was no primary assumption of risk. (Shannon v. Rhodes (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 792 [112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217] [boating passenger]; Bush v. Parents Without Partners (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 322 [21 Cal. Rptr. 2d 178] [recreational dancing].)
We have found no case that considers primary assumption of risk in connection with organized, noncompetitive, recreational bicycle riding. Nevertheless, this sport appears to fall within those activities to which these cases apply the assumption of risk doctrine. As the court in Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at page 482, said upon “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors” from the cases, [HN8] an activity is a “sport” to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies if that [***17] activity “is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.” That delineation is a useful one and covers the bicycle ride here.
It is true that bicycle riding is a means of transportation–as is automobile driving. Normal automobile driving, which obviously is not an activity covered by the assumption of risk doctrine, requires skill, can be done for enjoyment, and entails risks of injury. But [HN9] organized, long-distance bicycle rides on public highways with large numbers of riders involve physical exertion and athletic risks not generally associated with automobile driving or individual bicycle riding on public streets or on bicycle lanes or paths. 4 Bicycle rides of the nature engaged in by the parties here are activities done for enjoyment and a physical challenge. Moser acknowledged in the release he signed that the activity is “an athletic event that is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss.” In view of these considerations, the organized, long-distance, group bicycle ride qualifies [***18] as a “sport” for purposes of the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine.
4 We express no opinion as to such other forms of recreational bicycle riding.
IV. Inherent risk
(9) [HN10] Even if the activity is one to which the primary assumption of risk applies, there are certain risks that are deemed not assumed, and certain [*1222] injury-causing actions that are not considered assumed risks of the activity. The primary assumption of risk rule “does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.’ ([Knight, supra,] 3 Cal.4th at pp. 315-316, italics added.) Thus, even though ‘defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,’ they may not increase the likelihood [***19] of injury above that which is inherent. (Id. at p. 315.)” (Campbell v. Derylo (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 823, 827 [89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 519].) Conduct is not inherent in the sport if that conduct is “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport . . . [and] if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” (Freeman v. Hale, supra, 30 Cal.App.4th at p. 1394.) A participant injured in a sporting activity by another participant may recover from that coparticipant for intentional infliction of injury or tortious behavior “so [**206] reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport” but not for mere negligence. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 320-321.)
[HN11] Certain activities have been held not to be inherent in a sport and thus not subject to the primary assumption of risk doctrine. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. (Freeman v. Hale, supra, 30 Cal.App.4th at p. 1388.) On the other hand, in various sports, going too fast, [***20] making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, or proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports. (See Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063; Distefano, supra, 85 Cal. App. 4th 1249; Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th 472.)(8b))
The analogies derived from the risks in other sports suggest that one cyclist riding alongside another cyclist and swerving into the latter is a risk that is inherent in a long-distance, recreational group bicycle ride. 5 The release Moser signed warns of the risk of accidents caused by the participants, thus indicating that such accidents are an inherent risk of the activity. If liability attached to entanglements and collisions among 600 bicycle riders, the recreational sport of an organized bicycle ride likely would be adversely affected.
5 Compare Mark v. Moser (Ind. Ct.App. 2001) 746 N.E.2d 410 (inherent risk in a competitive cycling race is that a competitor may attempt to cut in front of a coparticipant to advance position).
[***21] Ratinoff’s movements toward the right side of the road that caused her to collide with Moser may have been negligent, but they were not intentional, [*1223] wanton or reckless or conduct “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 320-321.) Therefore, the accident at issue in this case is within the assumed risks of the organized bicycle ride in which Moser and Ratinoff were engaged. 6
6 There are traffic-related risks that might not be considered inherent in the activity involved here, such as those involving automobile negligence. (See Story v. Howes (N.Y. App. Div. 1973) 41 A.D.2d 925 [344 N.Y.S.2d 10] [“mere riding of a bicycle does not mean the assumption of risk by the rider that he may be hit by a car”]; Bell v. Chawkins (Tenn. Ct.App. 1970) 62 Tenn. App. 213 [460 S.W.2d 850] [bicyclist did not assume risk dog would bite her].)
V. Effect of statute
Moser asserts that the primary [***22] assumption of risk doctrine does not bar a claim when, as here, Ratinoff has violated statutes.
A. Pleading requirement
Moser’s failure to allege in his complaint that defendant’s conduct violated any statutory duties owed to plaintiff would, under Distefano, supra, 85 Cal. App. 4th at page 1266, procedurally bar plaintiff from raising the effect of a statutory violation in opposing a motion for summary judgment. Although this holding in Distefano appears inconsistent with long-standing authority that a plaintiff’s allegations of negligence include statutory violations that constitute negligence per se (Brooks v. E. J. Willig Truck Transp. Co. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 669, 680 [255 P.2d 802]; Karl v. C. A. Reed Lumber Co. (1969) 275 Cal. App. 2d 358, 361-362 [79 Cal. Rptr. 852]), we need not determine this procedural issue because of our conclusion that the statutory violations do not, under present [**207] law, preclude the assumption of risk doctrine.
B. Statutory violations do not displace the Knight rule
(10) Moser contends that defendant’s violations of various Vehicle Code sections constitute negligence per se, and thus preclude the application [***23] of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The California Supreme Court has addressed this issue in two cases–Ford, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339, and Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063–and has produced a number of opinions, leading one court to say “there appears to be no clear consensus on the high court about this issue.” (Campbell v. Derylo, supra, 75 Cal.App.4th at p. 829, fn. 3.) Nevertheless, a majority of the present California Supreme Court have expressed the view that a violation of a statute such as involved here does not displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine.
[*1224] The lead opinion in Ford, supra, 3 Cal. 4th 339, which case involved a waterskiing accident, dealt with whether Harbors and Navigation Code section 658, subdivision (d), 7 coupled with the negligence per se doctrine (as codified in Evid. Code, § 669), 8 established a rebuttable presumption that the defendant breached his duty of care to the plaintiff. That opinion concluded that the violation of Harbors and Navigation Code section 658 was inapplicable because the plaintiff [***24] did not fall within the statute’s protected class. (Id. 3 Cal.4th at p. 350.) Three of the justices found that the plaintiff was within the class of persons Harbors and Navigation Code section 658 was intended to protect, and therefore, under Evidence Code section 669, the defendant violated a legal duty of care to the plaintiff. (Id. at pp. 364-369 (conc. & dis. opn. of George, J.); id. at p. 369 (dis. opn. of Mosk, J.).) 9 Three other justices who had disagreed with the Knight plurality opinion and would have “adhere[d] to the traditional consent approach” to assumption of risk (id. at p. 351, fn. 1 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.)), stated that the statute is not “the type of safety enactment that would preclude defendant . . . from asserting assumption of risk as a defense barring plaintiff . . . from recovering damages in his negligence action.” (Id. at p. 363 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.).)
7 Harbors and Navigation Code section 658 provides that no person shall operate a vessel so as to cause, among other things, water skis to collide with any object or person.
8 Evidence Code section 669, subdivision (a), provides: “The failure of a person to exercise due care is presumed if: [P] (1) He violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity; [P] (2) The violation proximately caused death or injury to person or property; [P] (3) The death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and [P] (4) The person suffering the death or the injury to his person or property was one of the class of persons for whose protection the statute, ordinance, or regulation was adopted.” (See also Vesely v. Sager (1971) 5 Cal.3d 153, 164-165 [95 Cal. Rptr. 623, 486 P.2d 151].)
9 “Justice Arabian’s [lead] opinion in Ford implicitly assumed, and the opinions of Justice George, joined by Chief Justice Lucas, and Justice Mosk expressly concluded, that if the four elements of section 669(a) were satisfied, that statute creates tort liability between coparticipants in an active sport despite the Knight doctrine of primary assumption of risk.” (Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th at p. 1071.)
[***26] In Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063, two friends were skiing together and collided, resulting [**208] in litigation. The trial court granted summary judgment in the defendant’s favor on the ground that a collision is an inherent risk of downhill skiing. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the defendant’s violation of a county ordinance delineating the duties of skiers resulted in liability under Evidence Code section 669 and foreclosed the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The ordinance expressly provided that a skier assumes the “inherent risks” of skiing, including the risk of collision with other skiers. (Id. at pp. 1069-1070.) The majority held that the ordinance did not create any duty other than that available under common law. The court said that “a number of the justices who have signed this [*1225] majority opinion” in Cheong questioned the conclusion of four justices in Ford that if the elements of Evidence Code section 669 were satisfied, a “statute creates tort liability between coparticipants in an active sport despite the Knight doctrine of primary assumption of risk.” (Id. at p. 1071.) [***27] The court added that the point need not be resolved because the elements of Evidence Code section 669 had not been met–the plaintiff had “not demonstrated that he is one of the class of persons the ordinance was intended to protect.” (Ibid.) The court therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment.
A concurring opinion, joined by two justices, expressed the view that “[t]he Knight standard of primary assumption of risk still applies even if the violation of an ordinance or statute, combined with Evidence Code section 669, creates a presumption of negligence.” (Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th at p. 1079 (conc. opn. of Chin, J., 10 joined by Baxter, J. and Brown, J.).) A fourth justice stated that statutory obligation along with Evidence Code section 669 did not impose a duty of care when Knight eliminated a sports participant’s duty of care. (Id. at p. 1074 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.).) Three justices took a contrary view, with one stating that the violation of a statute displaces the “no-duty rule of Knight” (id. at p. 1073 & fn. 1 (conc. opn. of [***28] Mosk, J.)) and the others stating that Evidence Code section 669 “may transform an appropriate statute into a legal duty of due care upon the defendant.” (Id. at p. 1077 (conc. opn. of Werdegar, J., joined by George, C. J.).)
10 Justice Chin also authored the majority opinion.
The Supreme Court has not conclusively determined whether or not a violation of law can displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Nevertheless, four justices presently sitting on the California Supreme Court 11 –a majority–expressed the view that Evidence Code section 669 does not itself override Knight, but rather that one must ascertain whether the violated statute was intended to do so. Only two justices now on the court 12 have concluded that the violation of a safety statute or ordinance designed to protect persons in the position of a plaintiff precludes the application of the implied assumption of risk doctrine.
11 Justices Baxter, Kennard, Chin and Brown.
12 Chief Justice George and Justice Werdegar.
The appellate court in Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th 1249, addressed this question. In that case, two men, one on a motorcycle and another in a dune buggy, were “off-roading.” After [**209] coming up opposite sides of a blind hill, they collided. Plaintiff contended that the Knight rule did not bar his action because defendant owed him statutory duties under Vehicle Code sections 38305 (proscribing driving off-road vehicles at an unreasonable or [*1226] imprudent speed) and 38316 (proscribing driving off-road vehicles with a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other persons or property). (Id at p. 1265.)
Although the court held that a claim based on a violation of a statute was barred for procedural reasons, the court proceeded to address the merits of the contention that the Vehicle Code, along with Evidence Code section 669, imposed a tort duty that rendered the primary assumption of risk doctrine unavailable. (Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1266-1267.) [***30] The court stated that Vehicle Code sections 38305 and 38316, which provisions were enacted before the Supreme Court’s decision in Knight, did not evince any legislative intent to supersede or modify an assumption of risk doctrine later declared by Knight. (Distefano, at p. 1273.) The court therefore concluded that the statutory provisions “do not abrogate the Knight primary assumption of the risk doctrine, and thus do not impose on participants in the sport of off-roading a higher or different duty in tort than is established under Knight.” (Id. at p. 1274.)
Because a majority of the current Supreme Court justices have expressed the view that [HN12] a violation of a statute that indicates no legislative intent to eliminate the assumption of risk defense does not displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine, and because there are no cases inconsistent with that view, we adopt the Distefano court’s conclusion. (Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th 1249.) Although the facts show that Ratinoff violated provisions of the Vehicle Code designed to protect persons using public roads, based on our conclusion [***31] as to the present state of the law, such violations do not nullify Moser’s assumption of the risk.
Under the present state of the law, as applied here, the result is reasonable. By knowingly participating in a sporting event in which what occurred is an evident risk, Moser is not entitled to a recovery from Ratinoff.
The judgment is affirmed. Respondent shall recover costs on appeal.
Turner, P. J., and Grignon, J., concurred.
Appellant’s petition for review by the Supreme Court was denied April 23, 2003.