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

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

Rosamond Bastable v. Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership

95-02505-F

SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, AT MIDDLESEX

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

December 9, 1996, Decided

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

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

OPINION BY: HERMAN J. SMITH, JR.

OPINION

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

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

FINDINGS OF FACT

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

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

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

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

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

[*3] DISCUSSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

ORDER

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

Herman J. Smith, Jr.

Justice of the Superior Court

Dated: December 9, 1996


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

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

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

Civil No. SX-11-CV-353

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

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

January 26, 2015, Decided

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

JUDGES: [*1] BRADY, Judge

OPINION BY: DOUGLAS A. BRADY

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

(January 26, 2015)

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

BACKGROUND

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

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

Order, at 13.

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

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

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

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

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

DISCUSSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Id. at 363.

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

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

Id. at 149-50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

ORDER

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

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


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

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

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

No. 2-243 / 01-1058

COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA

2002 Iowa App. LEXIS 1136

October 30, 2002, Filed

NOTICE:

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

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

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

 

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

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

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

OPINION BY: HECHT

OPINION

HECHT, P.J.

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

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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

III. ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. CONCLUSION

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

AFFIRMED.


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

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

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

NO. 2014-CA-00589-COA

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

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

April 21, 2015, Decided

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: D. BRIGGS SMITH JR.

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

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

OPINION BY: LEE

OPINION

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

LEE, C.J., FOR THE COURT:

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

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

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

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

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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

DISCUSSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

Wilkerson, v. The City of SeaTac, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

Jon L. Wilkerson, Appellant, v. The City of SeaTac, Respondent.

No. 66524-3-I

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE

2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592

April 17, 2012, Oral Argument

November 5, 2012, Filed

NOTICE:

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

OPINION

¶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.

FACTS

¶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?

A Yes.

Q You were looking to see if the composition of the surfaces was adequate, correct?

A Yes.

Q You were looking to see if the jump was safe before you went off of it, correct?

A Yes.

¶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).

ANALYSIS

¶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]

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]

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]

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

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

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

OPINION

SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

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.

II. BACKGROUND

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.

III. DISCUSSION

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.

CONCLUSION

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

DATE

/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 301

Decker, v. City of Imperial Beach, 209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301

Glenn A. Decker, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. City of Imperial Beach, Defendant and Respondent

No. D007375

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

OPINION

[*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.

Facts

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.

Discussion

I

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.)

II

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.

III

(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.

Rescue Options

(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.

IV

Special Relationship

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)

DISSENT

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.