One paragraph would have eliminated this lawsuit.

Badly written release and a bad attempt to tie two documents together almost cost the defendant outfitter.

Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc

State: Colorado, United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

Plaintiff: Alicia Hamric, individually, as representative of the Estate of Robert Gerald Hamric, and as next friend of Ava Hamric, a minor

Defendant: Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2021

Summary

Deceased died while repelling with the defendant and surviving spouse sued Colorado company in Colorado but attempted to use Texas law, where the release was signed, as a way to void the release.

Facts

Members of the Keller Church of Christ in Keller, Texas, scheduled an outdoor excursion to Colorado, contracting with WEI for adventure planning and guide services. WEI is incorporated in Colorado and has its headquarters in Salida, Colorado. Jamie Garner served as the coordinator for the church group and the point-of-contact between the church members and WEI. The experience WEI provided included guides taking participants rappelling. WEI required all participants, before going on the outdoor excursion, to complete and initial a “Registration Form” and complete and sign a “Medical Form.”

WEI made the forms available to Mr. Garner for downloading and completion by the individual church members several months prior to the booked trip. Mr. Hamric initialed both blanks on the Registration Form and signed the Medical Form, dating it April 5, 2017. Andrew Sadousky, FNP-C, completed and signed the “Physician’s Evaluation” section of the Medical Form, certifying that Mr. Hamric was medically capable of participating in the outdoor activities listed on the form, including rappelling. Mr. Hamric’s signed forms were delivered to WEI upon the church group’s arrival in Colorado in July 2017.

After spending a night on WEI property, WEI guides took the church group, including Mr. Hamric, to a rappelling site known as “Quarry High.” Because the rappelling course had a section that WEI guides considered “scary,” the guides did not describe a particular overhang at the Quarry High site during the orientation session or before taking the church group on the rappelling course. [emphasize added]

Several members of the church group successfully descended Quarry High before Mr. Hamric attempted the rappel. As Mr. Hamric worked his way down the overhang portion of the course, he became inverted and was unable to right himself. Efforts to rescue Mr. Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he died of positional asphyxiation.

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

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is an appellate court that sits in Denver. The Tenth Circuit hears cases from Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming federal district courts. The court, consequently, hears a few appeals of recreation cases because of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming recreation activities.

This appealed covered four different legal issues. Three of the issues were procedural and won’t be reviewed here. The fourth was the dismissal of the case by the lower-court magistrate on a motion for summary judgement because of the release.

The plaintiff argued the release should be read using Texas law because the release was read and signed in Texas.

There was no Jurisdiction and Venue Clause in the Release!

The defendant had the deceased sign two forms. One was a release, and the second was a medical form. Neither form had a venue or jurisdiction clause. Having a medical information formed signed is a quick give away that the defendant does not understand the legal issues involved. The defendant wrote both forms, so they conflicted with each other in some cases and attempted to tie the forms together. Neither really worked.

The plaintiff argued the forms were one because they conflicts would have made both forms basically invalid.

Further, language on the Medical Form is conflicting and ambiguous as to whether the two forms comprise a single agreement: Individuals who have not completed these forms will not be allowed to participate. I have carefully read all the sections of this agreement, understand its contents, and have initialed all sections of page 1 of this document. I have examined all the information given by myself, or my child. By the signature below, I certify that it is true and correct. Should this form and/or any wording be altered, it will not be accepted and the participant will not be allowed to participate.

Both the italicized language and the use of “forms” in the plural to describe the agreement support the conclusion that the Registration Form and the Medical Form are a single agreement. But the underlined language, using “form” in the singular, suggests the forms might constitute separate agreements. Otherwise, the singular use of “form” would suggest the unlikely result that a participant could not alter the wording of the Medical Form but could alter the wording of the Registration Form.

However, after a lengthy review, the court found the forms were two different documents and ignored the medical form and the release like language in it.

We conclude, however, that this dispute of fact is not material to resolution of the primarily legal question regarding whether Mr. Hamric entered into a valid liability release with WEI.

The next issue is what law should apply to determine the validity of the release. Choice of laws is a compete course you can take in law school. I still have my Choice of Laws’ textbook after all these years because it is a complicated subject that hinges on minutia in some cases to determine what court will hear a case and what law will be applied.

The case was filed in the Federal Court covering Colorado. Since the defendant was not a Texas business or doing business in Texas, the lawsuit needed to be in the defendant’s state. Federal Court was chosen because disputes between citizens of two states should be held in a neutral court, which is the federal courts. A Texan might not feel they are getting a fair deal if they have to sue in a Colorado state court. That is called the venue. What court sitting where will hear the case.

If the defendant had operated in Texas, been served in Texas or had a history of actively looking for clients in Texas this would have been a Texas lawsuit, probably with a different outcome.

So, the decision on what court to sue was somewhat limited. However, that is not the end. Once the court is picked, venue, the next argument is what law will be applied to the situation. The Plaintiff argued Texas Law. Texas has stringent requirements on releases. If Texas law was applied to the release, there was a chance the release would be void under Texas law. The defendant argued Colorado law, which has much fewer requirements for releases.

Ms. Hamric further contends that under contract principles in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Laws, Texas law applies because Mr. Hamric was a Texas resident who completed the Registration Form and the Medical Form while in Texas.

Here is the court’s analysis on what states laws should apply.

A more specific section of the Restatement addressing contracts lacking a choice-of-law provision provides additional guidance: (1) The rights and duties of the parties with respect to an issue in contract are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the transaction and the parties under the principles stated in § 6. (2) In the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties . . ., the contacts to be taken into account in applying the principles of § 6 to determine the law applicable to an issue include: (a) the place of contracting, (b) the place of negotiation of the contract, (c) the place of performance, (d) the location of the subject matter of the contract, and (e) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties. These contacts are to be evaluated according to their relative importance with respect to the particular issue.

It is not a slam dunk for Colorado law. In this case, the plaintiff made a very good argument that Texas law should apply. The deceased was a Texas resident recruited in Texas by the defendant. The release had been given to the deceased in Texas, and he signed it in Texas. If the analysis ended there Texas law would have applied.

However, there was more to the investigation the court is required to do.

We conclude that, under the Restatement, a Colorado court would apply Colorado law to determine the validity and enforceability of the liability release relied upon by WEI. First looking at § 6 of the Restatement, the liability release was drafted by a Colorado corporation to cover services provided exclusively in Colorado.

Honestly, the trial court and appellate court bent over backwards to help this defendant.

This argument switched the discussion from applying Texas law to Colorado law.

Applying out-of-state law to interpret the liability release would hinder commerce, as it would require WEI and other outdoor-recreation companies to know the law of the state in which a given participant lives. Such a rule would place a significant burden on outdoor-recreation companies who depend on out-of-state tourists for revenue because it would require a company like WEI to match the various requirements of the other forty-nine states. This approach would not give WEI the benefit of having logically molded its liability release to comply with Colorado law, the law of the state where WEI does business. Furthermore, Ms. Hamric’s primary argument for applying Texas law is that Mr. Hamric signed the forms in Texas. But a rule applying out-of-state law on that basis is likely to deter WEI from furnishing the liability release until a participant enters Colorado. And, while not providing participants the forms until arrival in Colorado might lessen WEI’s liability exposure under out-of-state law; such a practice would not benefit participants because it would pressure participants into a last-minute decision regarding whether to sign the liability release after having already traveled to Colorado for the outdoor excursion.

It is significant to note that the court looked at the issue of waiting until customers arrive in the state of Colorado to have them sign the release. The court intimated that doing so would put pressure on them to sign after already traveling to Colorado. Legally, that could be argued as duress, which voids a release or contract.

It is these small statements in decisions that must be watched and remembered so that in the future they are not used to void a release. You must have your clients sign a release as soon as possible and waiting until they travel to Colorado maybe to late to have the release survive in court.

In a rare statement, the court also commented on the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado and the need for releases.

Colorado also has a strong interest in this matter. Colorado has a booming outdoor-recreation industry, in the form of skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, horseback riding, and rafting excursions. Colorado relies on tax receipts from the outdoor-recreation industry. And while many out-of-state individuals partake in these activities within Colorado, they often purchase their tickets or book excursion reservations before entering Colorado. If we applied Texas law because it is the state where Mr. Hamric signed the liability release, we would essentially allow the other forty-nine states to regulate a key industry within Colorado.

The final analysis the court discussed on the issue was the legal issue of binding effect. When a contract does define what is required to create the contract, such as the signature of both parties to the contract, then the last act that gives life or that is necessary to form the contract is considered the point when the contract was valid. Where that last act occurs is the place where the contract should be litigated and the law that should be applied to the contract. Here the last act occurred when the deceased was in Colorado and the church group he was with, handed over the signed releases.

Further, the considerations and contacts listed in § 188 of the Restatement favor application of Colorado law. As to the first contact, in accord with the commentary, a contract is formed in “the place where occurred the last act necessary to give the contract binding effect.” Here, that act occurred when the church group provided the forms to WEI in Colorado; for, before the forms were provided to WEI, Mr. Hamric had not conveyed his acceptance to WEI, and WEI did not know whether Mr. Hamric would complete the forms and agree to the liability release.

The plaintiff then argued the release did not meet the requirements of Colorado or Texas law. The plaintiff argued the contract was ambiguous. Colorado has five factors that must be considered to determine if a contract is ambiguous.

In general accord with this statement, federal district courts in Colorado have discerned five factors from Colorado Supreme Court decisions to determine if a release is unambiguous: (1) “whether the agreement is written in simple and clear terms that are free from legal jargon”; (2) “whether the agreement is inordinately long or complicated”; (3) “whether the release specifically addresses the risk that caused the plaintiff’s injury”; (4) “whether the contract contains any emphasis to highlight the importance of the information it contains”; and (5) “whether the plaintiff was experienced in the activity making risk of that particular injury reasonably foreseeable.”

The court reviewed the release and found it was not ambiguous. Only one factor the last one, whether the plaintiff has experience in the activity, was possible and the Colorado Supreme Court had weakened that requirement.

The sole factor clearly cutting against enforcement of the liability release is Mr. Hamric’s lack of rappelling experience. However, as noted above, the Colorado Supreme Court has not found this consideration to be dispositive against the enforcement of a liability waiver.

So, the court first determined that the release should be reviewed under Colorado law and then determined that under Colorado law, the release was valid and stopped the claims of the plaintiffs.

Finally, I have to comment about one incredibly stupid move on the part of the defendant. As quoted in the facts and by the court.

Because the rappelling course had a section that WEI guides considered “scary,” the guides did not describe a particular overhang at the Quarry High site during the orientation session or before taking the church group on the rappelling course.

Besides eliminating the defense of assumption of the risk by doing this, you have created a situation where you have increased the chance of a participant getting injured or as in this case died. You cannot assume a risk which you don’t know about.

First, what are you doing taking beginners rappelling over an overhang. This is not a beginner move.

Second, you have a scary section you CANNOT hide it from people, especially if they cannot see it or understand it. You MUST inform your participants of the risk.

Third, the defendant did not tell the deceased how to correct the problem if they found themselves in a compromised position. That is the main goal of any safety talk, to tell your participants how to keep themselves safe and how to rescue or be rescue.

Fourth, you need to hire new guides because it is clear your current guides do not understand the gravity of the situation, let alone the legal liability, of doing this to someone.

So Now What?

However, for one simple paragraph, or actually, one sentence, this lawsuit would have never gotten off the ground. The issue is a jurisdiction and venue clause. If the release would have stated any lawsuit must be in Colorado and Colorado law must apply, this lawsuit would not have had a chance.

Of special note in writing a release in Colorado and a few other states, if you do not outline or identify the possible risks to the participant signing the release, the release may be ambiguous. This issue is facing more scrutiny by the plaintiffs, and you are seeing more courts have to deal with the issue. On top of that, failing to identify the possible risks, eliminates the defense of assumption of the risk, which might be needed.

The other issue that the court waded through that could have done the defendant in was the competing language in the two contracts. First why collect information you cannot use, such as medical information? Only a physician and the participant have the ability to make the decision, as to whether or not they can medically undertake an activity. If you, the activity, business or program, decide a person can’t participate because of a medical issue, you are practicing medicine without a license which is a crime.

That does not mean you cannot collect information that you might need if a participant is injured.

Worse the above in this case, was both documents attempted to include release language and neither agreement had language stated which one was controlling. If you have your participants sign multiple documents you need to make sure that the release is not voided by another contract. You need to make sure one contract is primary, and the other contact has nothing in it that cancels, modifies or revokes the release.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2021 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.,

Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.

ALICIA HAMRIC, individually, as representative of the Estate of Robert Gerald Hamric, and as next friend of Ava Hamric, a minor, Plaintiff – Appellant,

v.

WILDERNESS EXPEDITIONS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 20-1250

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

July 26, 2021

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (D.C. No. 1:19-CV-01442-NYW)

William J. Dunleavy, Law Offices of William J. Dunleavy, Allen, Texas (Stephen A. Justino, Boesen Law, Denver, Colorado, on the briefs), for Plaintiff – Appellant.

Malcolm S. Mead (Peter C. Middleton and Jacob R. Woods with him on the brief), Hall & Evans, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant – Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, HOLMES, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

McHUGH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Gerald Hamric, a Texas resident, joined a church group on an outdoor recreation trip to Colorado. The church group employed the services of Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. (“WEI”) to arrange outdoor activities. Before the outdoor adventure commenced, WEI required each participant, including Mr. Hamric, to complete a “Registration Form” and a “Medical Form.” On the first day, WEI led the church group on a rappelling course. In attempting to complete a section of the course that required participants to rappel down an overhang, Mr. Hamric became inverted. Attempts to rescue Mr. Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he died.

Alicia Hamric, Mr. Hamric’s wife, sued WEI for negligence. WEI moved for summary judgment, asserting the Registration Form and the Medical Form contained a release of its liability for negligence. Ms. Hamric resisted WEI’s motion for summary judgment in four ways. First, Ms. Hamric moved for additional time to conduct discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). Second, Ms. Hamric moved for leave to amend her complaint to seek exemplary damages based on willful and wanton conduct. Third, Ms. Hamric filed a motion for leave to disclose an expert out of time. Fourth, Ms. Hamric argued Texas law controlled the validity of the purported liability release in the Registration Form and the Medical Form, and additionally that the release was not conspicuous as required by Texas law.

In a single order, a magistrate judge addressed each of the pending motions. The magistrate judge first declined to grant leave to amend the complaint due to Ms. Hamric’s failure to (1) sustain her burden under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) because the deadline for amendments had passed; and (2) make out a prima facie case of willful and wanton conduct as required by Colorado law to plead a claim seeking exemplary damages. Next, the magistrate judge concluded WEI was entitled to summary judgment, holding the liability release was valid under both Colorado law and Texas law. Finally, the magistrate judge denied as moot Ms. Hamric’s motions for additional discovery and to disclose an expert out of time.

We affirm the magistrate judge’s rulings. As to Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend, a party seeking to amend a pleading after the deadline in a scheduling order for amendment must satisfy the standard set out by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b). But Ms. Hamric concedes she has never sought to satisfy the Rule 16(b) standard. Turning to the discovery motions, where this case hinges on the validity of the liability release and all facts necessary to this primarily legal issue appear in the record, we reject Ms. Hamric’s contentions that further discovery or leave to belatedly disclose an expert were warranted. Finally, while the magistrate judge’s summary judgment analysis was not free of error, we apply de novo review to that ruling. And, under de novo review, we conclude (1) relying on contract law to resolve the choice-of-law issue, as argued for by the parties, Colorado law, rather than Texas law, controls whether the Registration Form and the Medical Form contain a valid liability release; and (2) the forms contain a valid release for negligence by WEI, barring Ms. Hamric’s action.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Rappelling Excursion, Mr. Hamric’s Death, and the Liability Release

Members of the Keller Church of Christ in Keller, Texas, scheduled an outdoor excursion to Colorado, contracting with WEI for adventure planning and guide services. WEI is incorporated in Colorado and has its headquarters in Salida, Colorado. Jamie Garner served as the coordinator for the church group and the point-of-contact between the church members and WEI. The experience WEI provided included guides taking participants rappelling. WEI required all participants, before going on the outdoor excursion, to complete and initial a “Registration Form” and complete and sign a “Medical Form.”[ 1]

The Registration Form has three sections. The first section requires the participant to provide personally identifiable information and contact information. The second section is entitled “Release of Liability & User Indemnity Agreement for Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.” App. Vol. I at 57, 83.[ 2] The text under this bold and underlined header reads, in full: I hereby acknowledge that I, or my child, have voluntarily agreed to participate in the activities outfitted by Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. I understand that the activities and all other hazards and exposures connected with the activities conducted in the outdoors do involve risk and I am cognizant of the risks and dangers inherent with the activities. I (or my child) and (is) fully capable of participating in the activities contracted for and willingly assume the risk of injury as my responsibility whether it is obvious or not. I understand and agree that any bodily injury, death, or loss of personal property and expenses thereof as a result of any, or my child’s, negligence in any scheduled or unscheduled activities associated with Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. are my responsibilities. I understand that accidents or illness can occur in remote places without medical facilities, physicians, or surgeons, and be exposed to temperature extremes or inclement weather. I further agree and understand that any route or activity chosen may not be of minimum risk, but may have been chosen for its interest and challenge. I agree to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless Wilderness Expeditions. Inc., the USDA Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Recreation Department, and any and all state or government agencies whose property the activities may be conducted on, and all of their officers, members, affiliated organizations, agents, or employees for any injury or death caused by or resulting from my or my child’s participation in the activities, scheduled and unscheduled, whether or not such injury or death was caused by my, or their, negligence or from any other cause. By signing my initials below, I certify this is a release of liability.

Id.[ 3] Immediately after this paragraph, the form reads, “Adult participant or parent/guardian initial here:(Initials).” Id. The third and final section of the form is entitled: “Adult Agreement or Parent’s/Guardian Agreement for Wilderness Expeditions, Inc.” Id. The text of this provision states: I understand the nature of the activities may involve the physical demands of hiking over rough terrain, backpacking personal and crew gear, and voluntarily climbing mountains to 14, 433 feet in elevation. Having the assurance of my, or my child’s, good health through a current physical examination by a medical doctor, I hereby give consent for me, or my child, to participate in the activities outfitted by Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. I have included in this form all necessary medical information about myself, or my child, that should be known by the leadership of the program. I assure my, or my child’s, cooperation and assume responsibility for my, or my child’s, actions. I understand that I am responsible for any medical expenses incurred in the event of needed medical attention for myself, or my child. I further agree that I will be financially responsible to repair or replace all items lost or abused by myself or my child. In the event of an emergency, I authorize my consent to any X-ray examination, medica1, dental, or surgical diagnosis, treatment, and/or hospital care advised and supervised by a physician, surgeon, or dentist licensed to practice. I understand that the designated next of kin will be contacted as soon as possible. By signing my initials below, I certify this is a release of liability.

Id. And, as with the second section, the form then provides a line for the participant or the parent or guardian of the participant to initial.

The Medical Form has four sections. The first section seeks information about the participant. The second section is entitled “Medical History.” Initially, this section asks the participant if he suffers from a list of medical conditions, including allergies, asthma, and heart trouble. If the participant does suffer from any medical conditions, the form requests that the participant explain the affirmative answer. Thereafter, the section includes the following language: Note: The staff will not administer any medications, including aspirin, Tums, Tylenol, etc. If you need any over the counter medications, you must provide them. Be sure to tell your staff members what medications you are taking. List any medications that you will have with you: Note about food: Trail food is by necessity a high carbohydrate, high caloric diet. It is high in wheat, milk products, sugar, com syrup, and artificial coloring/flavoring. If these food products cause a problem to your diet, you will be responsible for providing any appropriate substitutions and advise the staff upon arrival. * Doctor’s signature is required to participate. No other form can be substituted. By signing below a physician is verifying the medical history given above and approving this individual to participate.

Id. at 58, 84. The form then includes a section titled “Physician’s Evaluation.” Id. This section seeks certification of the participant’s medical capability to partake in the outdoor activities and asks the physician for contact information. It reads: The applicant will be taking part in strenuous outdoor activities that may include: backpacking, rappelling, hiking at 8-12, 000 feet elevation, and an all day summit climb up to 14, 433 feet elevation. This will include high altitude, extreme weather, cold water, exposure, fatigue, and remote conditions where medical care cannot be assured. The applicant is approved for participation. Physician Signature: ___ Date: ___ Physician Name: ___ Phone Number: ___ Office Address: ___ City: ___ State: ___ Zip: ___

Id. The final section of the form is entitled “Participant or Parent/Guardian Signature – All sections of these forms must be initialed or signed.” Id. The text of the section reads: Individuals who have not completed these forms will not be allowed to participate. I have carefully read all the sections of this agreement, understand its contents, and have initialed all sections of page 1 of this document[.] I have examined all the information given by myself, or my child. By the signature below, I certify that it is true and correct. Should this form and/or any wording be altered, it will not be accepted and the participant will not be allowed to participate.

Id.

WEI made the forms available to Mr. Garner for downloading and completion by the individual church members several months prior to the booked trip. Mr. Hamric initialed both blanks on the Registration Form and signed the Medical Form, dating it April 5, 2017. Andrew Sadousky, FNP-C, completed and signed the “Physician’s Evaluation” section of the Medical Form, certifying that Mr. Hamric was medically capable of participating in the outdoor activities listed on the form, including rappelling. Mr. Hamric’s signed forms were delivered to WEI upon the church group’s arrival in Colorado in July 2017.

After spending a night on WEI property, WEI guides took the church group, including Mr. Hamric, to a rappelling site known as “Quarry High.” Because the rappelling course had a section that WEI guides considered “scary,” the guides did not describe a particular overhang at the Quarry High site during the orientation session or before taking the church group on the rappelling course. Id. at 203.

Several members of the church group successfully descended Quarry High before Mr. Hamric attempted the rappel. As Mr. Hamric worked his way down the overhang portion of the course, he became inverted and was unable to right himself. Efforts to rescue Mr. Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he died of positional asphyxiation.

B. Procedural History

In the District of Colorado, Ms. Hamric commenced a negligence action against WEI, sounding in diversity jurisdiction. As a matter of right, Ms. Hamric amended her complaint shortly thereafter. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(A) (permitting plaintiff to file amended complaint “as a matter of course” within twenty-one days of serving original complaint). The parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), consented to a magistrate judge presiding over the case. WEI answered Ms. Hamric’s First Amended Complaint, in part raising the following affirmative defense: “Decedent Gerald Hamric executed a valid and enforceable liability release. Decedent Gerald Hamric also executed a medical evaluation form which Defendant relied upon. The execution of these document [sic] bars or reduces [Ms. Hamric’s] potential recovery.” Id. at 31-32.

The magistrate judge entered a Scheduling Order adopting several deadlines: (1) August 31, 2019, for amendments to the pleadings; (2) January 31, 2020, for Ms. Hamric to designate her expert witnesses; and (3) April 10, 2020, for the close of all discovery. The Scheduling Order also noted WEI’s defense based on the purported liability release, stating “[t]he parties anticipate that mediation . . . may be useful to settle or resolve the case after meaningful discovery and summary judgment briefing on the issue of the validity and enforceability of the liability release.” Id. at 38 (emphasis added). Finally, the Scheduling Order concluded with language reminding the parties that the deadlines adopted by the order “may be altered or amended only upon a showing of good cause.” Id. at 42 (italicized emphasis added).

In November 2019, after the deadline for amendments to the pleadings but before the discovery deadlines, WEI moved for summary judgment based on its affirmative defense that both the Registration Form and Medical Form contained a liability release that barred Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. In support of its motion, WEI contended Colorado law controlled the interpretation and validity of the liability release. Ms. Hamric opposed summary judgment, arguing that because Mr. Hamric completed the forms in Texas, a Colorado court would apply Texas law and that, under Texas law, the liability release was not adequately conspicuous to be valid.

Ms. Hamric also sought to avoid disposition of WEI’s motion for summary judgment and dismissal of her action by filing three motions of her own. First, Ms. Hamric moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) for additional time to conduct discovery, contending further discovery would, among other things, reveal details about Mr. Hamric’s completion of the forms and whether Colorado or Texas law should control the interpretation and validity of the purported liability release. Second, in February 2020, Ms. Hamric moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), for leave to file a second amended complaint to seek exemplary damages under § 13-21-102 of the Colorado Revised Statutes based on new allegations of WEI’s willful and wanton conduct.[ 4] Ms. Hamric’s motion to amend, however, did not cite Federal Rule Civil Procedure 16(b) or seek leave to amend the August 31, 2019, Scheduling Order deadline for amendments to the pleadings. Third, in March 2020, Ms. Hamric moved for leave to disclose out of time a “‘Rappelling/Recreational Activities Safety’ expert.” App. Vol. II at 37. Ms. Hamric contended the expert’s opinions about the training, knowledge, and rescue efforts of the WEI guides supported her contention in her proposed second amended complaint that WEI acted in a willful and wanton manner.

The magistrate judge disposed of the four pending motions in a single order. Starting with Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint, the magistrate judge concluded Ms. Hamric (1) “failed to meet her burden under Rule 16(b) of establishing good cause to generally amend the operative pleading” and (2) had not made out a prima facie case of wanton and willful conduct. Id. at 94. The magistrate judge then turned to WEI’s motion for summary judgment. The magistrate judge concluded WEI’s affirmative defense raised an issue sounding in contract law such that principles of contract law controlled the choice-of-law analysis. Applying contract principles, the magistrate judge determined that although Texas law imposed a slightly more rigorous standard for enforcing a liability release, the difference between Texas law and Colorado law was not outcome-determinative and the court could, therefore, apply Colorado law. The magistrate judge read Colorado law as holding that a liability release is valid and enforceable “so long as the intent of the parties was to extinguish liability and this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed.” Id. at 106 (citing Heil Valley Ranch v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 785 (Colo. 1989)). Applying this standard, the magistrate judge held the liability release used clear and simple terms such that, even though Mr. Hamric was inexperienced at rappelling, the release was valid and foreclosed Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. Therefore, the magistrate judge granted WEI’s motion for summary judgment. And, having denied Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend and granted WEI’s motion for summary judgment, the magistrate judge denied both of Ms. Hamric’s discovery motions as moot.

Ms. Hamric moved for reconsideration, which the magistrate judge denied. Ms. Hamric timely appealed.

II. DISCUSSION

On appeal, Ms. Hamric contests the denial of her motion for leave to amend and the grant of summary judgment to WEI. Ms. Hamric also tacitly challenges the magistrate judge’s denial of her discovery motions. We commence our analysis with Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend, holding the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the motion where the motion was filed after the Scheduling Order’s deadline for amendments to pleadings and Ms. Hamric did not attempt to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)’s standard for amending a deadline in a scheduling order. Next, we discuss Ms. Hamric’s two discovery motions, concluding the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion by denying the motions because (1) WEI’s motion for summary judgment presented a largely legal issue on which all facts necessary for resolution already appeared in the record; and (2) consideration of the proposed expert’s opinions potentially capable of supporting allegations of willful and wanton conduct was mooted upon Ms. Hamric failing to satisfy Rule 16(b)’s standard for amending her complaint to allege such conduct. Finally, we analyze WEI’s motion for summary judgment. Although the magistrate judge’s decision was not free of error, the errors are not outcome determinative on appeal given our de novo standard of review. Exercising de novo review, we conclude Colorado law governs the validity of the liability release. And considering the entirety of both the Registration Form and the Medical Form, we conclude the liability release satisfies the factors in Colorado law for enforceability. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment.

A. Ms. Hamric’s Motion for Leave to Amend

1. Standard of Review

“We review for abuse of discretion a district court’s denial of a motion to amend a complaint after the scheduling order’s deadline for amendments has passed.” Birch v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 812 F.3d 1238, 1247 (10th Cir. 2015). “An abuse of discretion occurs where the district court clearly erred or ventured beyond the limits of permissible choice under the circumstances.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “A district court also abuses its discretion when it issues an arbitrary, capricious, whimsical or manifestly unreasonable judgment.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

2. Analysis

“A party seeking leave to amend after a scheduling order deadline must satisfy both the [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 16(b) and Rule 15(a) standards.” Tesone v. Empire Mktg. Strategies, 942 F.3d 979, 989 (10th Cir. 2019). Under the former of those two rules, “[a] schedule may be modified only for good cause and with the judge’s consent.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). To satisfy this standard a movant must show that “the scheduling deadlines cannot be met despite the movant’s diligent efforts.” Gorsuch, Ltd., B.C. v. Wells Fargo Nat’l Bank Ass’n, 771 F.3d 1230, 1240 (10th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). We have observed the “good cause” standard for amending deadlines in a scheduling order is “arguably [a] more stringent standard than the standards for amending a pleading under Rule 15.” Bylin v. Billings, 568 F.3d 1224, 1231 (10th Cir. 2009).

In moving for leave to file a second amended complaint, Ms. Hamric discussed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 and how Colorado law did not permit a plaintiff to seek exemplary damages until after commencement of discovery. But Ms. Hamric did not advance an argument for amending the Scheduling Order as required by Rule 16(b). Nor does Ms. Hamric cite Rule 16(b) in her briefs on appeal, much less explain how she satisfied, in her papers before the magistrate judge, the Rule 16(b) standard. In fact, Ms. Hamric conceded at oral argument that, before the magistrate judge, she sought only to amend her complaint and “did not seek to amend the scheduling order.” Oral Argument at 7:42-7:46; see also id. at 7:31-9:10. Ms. Hamric also conceded at oral argument that she had not advanced an argument on appeal regarding satisfying Rule 16(b).

This omission by Ms. Hamric is fatal to her argument. Specifically, when a party seeking to amend her complaint fails, after the deadline for amendment in a scheduling order, to present a good cause argument under Rule 16(b), a lower court does not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Husky Ventures, Inc. v. B55 Invs. Ltd., 911 F.3d 1000, 1019-20 (10th Cir. 2018). Even if a party who belatedly moves for leave to amend a pleading satisfies Rule 15(a)’s standard, the party must also obtain leave to amend the scheduling order. But Rule 16(b) imposes a higher standard for amending a deadline in a scheduling order than Rule 15(a) imposes for obtaining leave to amend a complaint. Thus, as Husky Ventures suggests, a party’s ability to satisfy the Rule 15(a) standard does not necessitate the conclusion that the party could also satisfy the Rule 16(b) standard. Id. at 1020; see also Bylin, 568 F.3d at 1231 (observing that Rule 16(b) imposes “an arguably more stringent standard than the standards for amending a pleading under Rule 15”). Accordingly, where Ms. Hamric did not attempt to satisfy the Rule 16(b) standard for amending the Scheduling Order, we affirm the district court’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend.

B. Ms. Hamric’s Discovery Motions

After WEI moved for summary judgment, Ms. Hamric filed a pair of discovery-related motions-a motion for additional discovery before disposition of WEI’s motion for summary judgment and a motion to disclose an expert out of time. The magistrate judge denied both motions as moot. After stating the applicable standard of review, we consider each motion, affirming the magistrate judge’s rulings.

1. Standard of Review

We review the denial of a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) motion for additional discovery for an abuse of discretion. Ellis v. J.R.’s Country Stores, Inc., 779 F.3d 1184, 1192 (10th Cir. 2015). Likewise, we review the denial of a motion to revisit a scheduling order and allow the disclosure of an expert out of time for an abuse of discretion. Rimbert v. Eli Lilly & Co., 647 F.3d 1247, 1253-54 (10th Cir. 2011). “We will find an abuse of discretion when the district court bases its ruling on an erroneous conclusion of law or relies on clearly erroneous fact findings.” Ellis, 779 F.3d at 1192 (internal quotation marks omitted). “A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is without factual support in the record or if, after reviewing all of the evidence, we are left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

2. Analysis

a. Motion for additional discovery

Before the April 10, 2020, deadline for discovery, WEI filed its motion for summary judgment based on the liability release. Ms. Hamric moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) to delay resolution of WEI’s motion for summary judgment, asserting additional discovery would allow her to learn further information about the liability release. The magistrate judge denied the motion as moot, concluding further discovery was not needed to assess the validity of the liability release.

Under Rule 56(d), a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may seek additional time for discovery. To do so, a party must “submit an affidavit (1) identifying the probable facts that are unavailable, (2) stating why these facts cannot be presented without additional time, (3) identifying past steps to obtain evidence of these facts, and (4) stating how additional time would allow for rebuttal of the adversary’s argument for summary judgment.” Cerveny v. Aventis, Inc., 855 F.3d 1091, 1110 (10th Cir. 2017). “[S]ummary judgment [should] be refused where the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to his opposition.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 n.5 (1986). “Requests for further discovery should ordinarily be treated liberally.” Cerveny, 855 F.3d at 1110. “But relief under Rule 56(d) is not automatic.” Id. And Rule 56’s provision allowing a non-moving party to seek additional discovery before disposition on a motion for summary judgment “is not a license for a fishing expedition.” Lewis v. City of Ft. Collins, 903 F.2d 752, 759 (10th Cir. 1990); see also Ellis, 779 F.3d at 1207-08 (affirming denial of Rule 56(d) motion where party “required no further discovery to respond to the . . . summary-judgment motion” and additional discovery sought was speculative).

Through the affidavit supporting her Rule 56(d) motion, Ms. Hamric sought four areas of additional discovery. First, she sought discovery on “the drafting of the purported liability release forms” and the meaning of language on the forms. App. Vol. I at 94. Regardless of whether Colorado or Texas law applies, the four corners of the Registration Form and Medical Form, not WEI’s thought process when drafting the forms, controls the validity of the liability release. See B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 138 (Colo. 1998) (requiring that intent of parties to extinguish liability be “clearly and unambiguously expressed” (quoting Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785)); Dresser Indus., Inc. v. Page Petroleum, Inc., 853 S.W.2d 505, 508 (Tex. 1993) (“[A] party seeking indemnity from the consequences of that party’s own negligence must express that intent in specific terms within the four corners of the contract.”). Therefore, the drafting process employed by WEI and its understanding of the language of the forms is not relevant to whether the forms included sufficiently specific language to foreclose a claim for negligence.

Second, Ms. Hamric sought to discover information about WEI’s process for distributing the forms and how the church group members, including Mr. Hamric, completed and submitted the forms. Ms. Hamric also requested time to discover matters related to the choice-of-law issue, including the “place of contracting,” “the place of performance,” and “the domicile, residence nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties.” App. Vol. I at 95. Information on these matters, however, was known to Ms. Hamric prior to the magistrate judge’s summary judgment ruling. For instance, the record shows Mr. Hamric received and completed the forms in Texas a few months before the WEI-led excursion and that the church group provided WEI the completed forms upon its arrival at WEI’s location in Colorado. Accordingly, there was no need to delay summary judgment proceedings to discover matters already known to the parties. See Ellis, 779 F.3d at 1207-08.

Third, Ms. Hamric, as part of a challenge to the authenticity of the forms, initially sought to discover information regarding anomalies and alterations on the forms attached to WEI’s motion for summary judgment, as well as evidence of fraud by WEI. Subsequent to Ms. Hamric filing her motion for additional discovery, WEI provided her the original forms signed by Mr. Hamric, and she withdrew her challenge to the authenticity of the forms. Accordingly, by the time the district court ruled on WEI’s motion for summary judgment and Ms. Hamric’s motion for additional discovery, the requests for discovery regarding the authenticity of the forms was moot.

Fourth, Ms. Hamric sought time to discover “evidence of willful and wanton conduct by Defendant WEI and/or by its agents, servants and/or employees.” Id. Discovery on this matter, however, became moot with the magistrate judge’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint to seek exemplary damages and add allegations of willful and wanton conduct, a ruling we affirm. See supra at 12-14, Section II(A).

Having considered each additional discovery request advanced by Ms. Hamric, we conclude the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion by ruling on WEI’s motion for summary judgment without permitting Ms. Hamric additional time for discovery. Accordingly, we affirm the magistrate judge’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s Rule 56(d) motion.

b. Motion for leave to disclose expert out of time

Ms. Hamric moved for leave to disclose a “‘Rappelling/Recreational Activities Safety’ expert” out of time. App. Vol. II at 37. Attached to the motion was a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) expert disclosure, offering opinions about the alleged negligent and/or willful and wanton conduct of WEI and its employees. The magistrate judge denied this motion as moot. Considering the magistrate judge’s other rulings and our holdings on appeal, we conclude the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion. Any opinion offered by the expert as to willful and wanton conduct lost relevance with the denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint to add allegations of willful and wanton conduct and to seek exemplary damages-a ruling we affirmed supra at 12-14, Section II(A). And the expert’s opinion about WEI acting in a negligent manner lost relevance upon the magistrate judge concluding the liability release was valid and barred Ms. Hamric from proceeding on her negligence claim-a ruling we affirm infra at 19-37, Section II(C). Accordingly, we affirm the magistrate judge’s denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to disclose an expert out of time.

C. WEI’s Motion for Summary Judgment

After stating our standard of review, we discuss Ms. Hamric’s contentions that the magistrate judge (1) applied the wrong standard when considering WEI’s affirmative defense based on the liability release and (2) resolved issues of disputed fact in favor of WEI. Although we conclude the magistrate judge’s ruling is not free of error, the errors do not bind us because we need not repeat them when conducting our de novo review of the grant of summary judgment. Thus, we proceed to consider the validity of the liability release. In conducting our analysis, we hold that, where the parties contend contract principles provide the framework for our choice-of-law analysis, Colorado law governs the validity of the release.[ 5] And we conclude that, under Colorado law, the liability release is valid and enforceable so as to foreclose Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment.

1. Standard of Review

We review the district court’s rulings on summary judgment de novo. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Winton, 818 F.3d 1103, 1105 (10th Cir. 2016). Summary judgment is appropriate if “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); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. “In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we need not defer to factual findings rendered by the district court.” Lincoln v. BNSF Ry. Co., 900 F.3d 1166, 1180 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). For purposes of summary judgment, “[t]he nonmoving party is entitled to all reasonable inferences from the record.” Water Pik, Inc. v. Med-Sys., Inc., 726 F.3d 1136, 1143 (10th Cir. 2013). Finally, “we can affirm on any ground supported by the record, so long as the appellant has had a fair opportunity to address that ground.” Alpine Bank v. Hubbell, 555 F.3d 1097, 1108 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

2. Alleged Errors by the Magistrate Judge

Ms. Hamric argues the magistrate judge (1) applied the incorrect standard when considering WEI’s affirmative defense and (2) resolved disputed issues of material fact in favor of WEI. We consider each contention in turn.

a. Standard applicable to affirmative defenses

Ms. Hamric contends the magistrate judge announced an incorrect standard of review and impermissibly shifted evidentiary burdens onto her, as the non-moving party. The disputed language in the magistrate judge’s opinion states: When, as here, a defendant moves for summary judgment to test an affirmative defense, it is the defendant’s burden to demonstrate the absence of any disputed fact as to the affirmative defense asserted. See Helm v. Kansas, 656 F.3d 1277, 1284 (10th Cir. 2011). Once the defendant meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to put forth sufficient evidence to demonstrate the essential elements of her claim(s), see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Simms v. Okla. ex rel. Dep’t of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Servs., 165 F.3d 1321, 1326 (10th Cir. 1999), and to “demonstrate with specificity the existence of a disputed fact” as to the defendant’s affirmative defense, see Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562, 564 (10th Cir. 1997).

App. Vol. II at 100 (emphasis added). Ms. Hamric takes issue with the emphasized phrase.

Nothing on the pages the magistrate judge cited from Anderson and Simms requires a plaintiff responding to a motion for summary judgment based on an affirmative defense to identify evidence supporting each element of her claim. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (requiring nonmoving party in face of “properly supported motion for summary judgment” to “‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial'” (quoting First Nat’l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288 (1968))); Simms, 165 F.3d at 1326, 1328 (discussing summary judgment standard in context of employment discrimination claim and burden-shifting framework from McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)). In fact, the standard announced by the magistrate judge would unnecessarily require a plaintiff, in response to a motion for summary judgment based on an affirmative defense, to identify evidence supporting elements of her claim never drawn into question by the defendant. Placing such a burden on a plaintiff is all the more problematic where, as here, the parties contemplated a bifurcated summary judgment process initially focused on the validity of the liability release, and WEI filed its motion for summary judgment before the close of discovery.

We have previously stated that a district court errs by requiring a party opposing summary judgment based on an affirmative defense to “establish at least an inference of the existence of each element essential to the case.” Johnson v. Riddle, 443 F.3d 723, 724 n.1 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted). We reaffirm that conclusion today. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff, upon the defendant raising and supporting an affirmative defense, need only identify a disputed material fact relative to the affirmative defense. Id.; Hutchinson, 105 F.3d at 564; see also Leone v. Owsley, 810 F.3d 1149, 1153-54 (10th Cir. 2015) (discussing defendant’s burden for obtaining summary judgment based on an affirmative defense). Only if the defendant also challenges an element of the plaintiff’s claim does the plaintiff bear the burden of coming forward with some evidence in support of that element. See Tesone, 942 F.3d at 994 (“The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing an absence of any issues of material fact. Where . . . the burden of persuasion at trial would be on the nonmoving party, the movant may carry its initial burden by providing ‘affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim’ or by ‘demonstrating to the Court that the nonmoving party’s evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.’ If the movant makes this showing, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” (first quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 330, then quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250)); Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir. 1998) (if summary judgment movant carries its initial burden of showing a lack of evidence in support of an essential element of plaintiff’s claim, “the burden shifts to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts” supporting the essential element (internal quotation marks omitted)).

The magistrate judge’s erroneous statement regarding Ms. Hamric’s burden, however, does not foreclose our ability to further review the grant of summary judgment. Rather, in accord with the applicable de novo standard of review, we review WEI’s motion for summary judgment under the standard that “should have been applied by the [magistrate judge].”[ 6] Nance v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Can., 294 F.3d 1263, 1266 (10th Cir. 2002) (quotation marks omitted).

b. Resolution of disputed issues of material fact

Ms. Hamric contends the magistrate judge impermissibly resolved two issues of disputed fact in WEI’s favor. We discuss each asserted factual issue in turn, concluding factual disputes existed and the magistrate judge incorrectly resolved one of the disputes against Ms. Hamric. However, even if this factual dispute were material, we may proceed to analyze the validity of the liability release after resolving the dispute in Ms. Hamric’s favor. See Lincoln, 900 F.3d at 1180 (“In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we need not defer to factual findings rendered by the district court.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

i. Language of Registration Form and Medical Form

In moving for summary judgment, WEI’s brief contained edited versions of the Registration Form and Medical Form that focused the reader’s attention on the language most pertinent to Mr. Hamric’s participation in the outdoor excursion and the release of liability. For instance, the version of the forms in WEI’s brief left out phrases such as “(or my child)” and the accompanying properly-tensed-and-conjugated verb that would apply if the forms were completed by a parent or guardian of the participant, rather than by the participant himself. Compare App. Vol. I at 46, with id. at 57, 83.

Although WEI and Ms. Hamric attached full versions of the forms to their papers on the motion for summary judgment, the magistrate judge’s quotation of the language in the forms mirrored that which appeared in WEI’s brief. Ms. Hamric contends the magistrate judge, in not quoting the full forms, resolved a dispute of fact regarding the language of the forms in WEI’s favor. It is not uncommon for a court to focus on the pertinent language of a contract or liability release when putting forth its analysis. In this case, Ms. Hamric claims the forms should be reviewed on the whole. Although there is no indication the magistrate judge did not review the forms in their entirety, despite her use of incomplete quotations, we attach full versions of the Registration Form and Medical Form completed by Mr. Hamric as an appendix to this opinion. And we consider all the language on the forms when assessing whether the forms contain a valid liability release.

ii. Registration Form and Medical Form as single form

The magistrate judge viewed the Registration Form and the Medical Form as a single, “two-page agreement.” App. Vol. II at 103; see also id. at 101 (“Adult customers are required to execute a two-page agreement with WEI before they are permitted to participate in WEI-sponsored activities. The first page of the agreement is a ‘Registration Form’, followed by a ‘Medical Form’ on page two.”). Ms. Hamric contends the two forms are separate agreements, not a single agreement. While a jury could have concluded that the Registration Form and Medical Form were separate agreements, this dispute of fact is not material given applicable law regarding the construction of agreements that are related and simultaneously executed.

It is clear from the record that a participant needed to complete both forms before partaking in the WEI-lead excursion. Further, while the Medical Form required a signature and a date, the Registration Form required only that a participant place his initials on certain lines, suggesting the forms were part of a single agreement. However, the forms do not contain page numbers to indicate they are part of a single agreement. Further, language on the Medical Form is conflicting and ambiguous as to whether the two forms comprise a single agreement: Individuals who have not completed these forms will not be allowed to participate. I have carefully read all the sections of this agreement, understand its contents, and have initialed all sections of page 1 of this document. I have examined all the information given by myself, or my child. By the signature below, I certify that it is true and correct. Should this form and/or any wording be altered, it will not be accepted and the participant will not be allowed to participate.

App., Vol. I at 58, 84 (emphases added). Both the italicized language and the use of “forms” in the plural to describe the agreement support the conclusion that the Registration Form and the Medical Form are a single agreement. But the underlined language, using “form” in the singular, suggests the forms might constitute separate agreements. Otherwise the singular use of “form” would suggest the unlikely result that a participant could not alter the wording of the Medical Form but could alter the wording of the Registration Form.[ 7] Accord Navajo Nation v. Dalley, 896 F.3d 1196, 1213 (10th Cir. 2018) (describing the cannon of expressio unius est exclusio alterius as providing “that the ‘expression of one item of an associated group or series excludes another left unmentioned'” and that “the enumeration of certain things in a statute suggests that the legislature had no intent of including things not listed or embraced.” (quoting NLRB v. SW Gen., Inc., 137 S.Ct. 929, 940 (2017))). Thus, a reasonable jury could have found the Registration Form and the Medical Form were separate agreements.

We conclude, however, that this dispute of fact is not material to resolution of the primarily legal question regarding whether Mr. Hamric entered into a valid liability release with WEI. Under Colorado law, it is well established that a court may, and often must, construe two related agreements pertaining to the same subject matter as a single agreement. See Bledsoe v. Hill, 747 P.2d 10, 12 (Colo.App. 1987) (“If a simultaneously executed agreement between the same parties, relating to the same subject matter, is contained in more than one instrument, the documents must be construed together to determine intent as though the entire agreement were contained in a single document. Although it is desirable for the documents to refer to each other, there is no requirement that they do so.” (citing In re Application for Water Rights v. N. Colo. Water Conservancy Dist., 677 P.2d 320 (Colo. 1984); Harty v. Hoerner, 463 P.2d 313 (Colo. 1969); Westminster v. Skyline Vista Dev. Co., 431 P.2d 26 (Colo. 1967))).[ 8] Thus, although a jury could conclude the Registration Form and Medical Form technically constitute separate agreements, we consider the agreements together when determining if Mr. Hamric released WEI for its negligent acts.

3. Choice-of-Law Analysis

At the heart of WEI’s motion for summary judgment was whether Colorado or Texas law controls and whether the release is valid under the appropriate law. On appeal, Ms. Hamric contends “contract principles” control the choice-of-law analysis because WEI’s affirmative defense “was a contract issue on a purported agreement to release liability.” Opening Br. at 26-27. Ms. Hamric further contends that under contract principles in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Laws, Texas law applies because Mr. Hamric was a Texas resident who completed the Registration Form and the Medical Form while in Texas. WEI agrees that if contract principles govern the choice-of-law issue, the Restatement (Second) on Conflict of Laws provides the appropriate factors for this court to consider. But WEI contends (1) the liability release is valid under both Colorado and Texas law and (2) the relevant factors in §§ 6 and 188 of the Restatement favor application of Colorado law if this court is inclined to resolve the conflict-of-law issue.

Outdoor recreation and tourism is a growing industry in Colorado, as well as several other states within our circuit. And many outdoor tourism outfitters, like WEI, require participants to complete forms containing liability releases. See Redden v. Clear Creek Skiing Corp., ___ P.3d ___, 2020 WL 7776149, at *2 (Colo.App. Dec. 31, 2020); Hamill v. Cheley Colo. Camps, Inc., 262 P.3d 945, 947-48 (Colo.App. 2011); see also Dimick v. Hopkinson, 422 P.3d 512, 515-16 (Wyo. 2018); Penunuri v. Sundance Partners, Ltd., 301 P.3d 984, 986 (Utah 2013); Beckwith v. Weber, 277 P.3d 713, 716-17 (Wyo. 2012). With the prevalence and recurrence of questions regarding the validity of liability releases in mind, and viewing the choice-of-law issue as sounding in contract law as urged by the parties, we consider whether the law of the state where the outdoor recreation company is based and the outdoor excursion occurs controls or whether the law of the state of residence of the participant controls.

a. Framework for choice-of-law analysis

“In a diversity action we apply the conflict-of-laws rules of the forum state.” Kipling v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 774 F.3d 1306, 1310 (10th Cir. 2014). “This is true even when choice of law determinations involve the interpretation of contract provisions.” Shearson Lehman Brothers, Inc. v. M & L Invs., 10 F.3d 1510, 1514 (10th Cir. 1993). Accordingly, this court must look to Colorado choice-of-law rules to determine if Colorado or Texas law applies.

“Colorado follows the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (1971) . . . for both contract and tort actions,” Kipling, 774 F.3d at 1310 (citing Wood Brothers Homes, Inc. v. Walker Adjustment Bureau, 601 P.2d 1369, 1372 (Colo. 1979); First Nat’l Bank v. Rostek, 514 P.2d 314, 319-20 (Colo. 1973)). Absent a forum-state “statutory directive,” the Restatement advises a court to consider seven factors: (a) the needs of the interstate and international systems, (b) the relevant policies of the forum, (c) the relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue (d) the protection of justified expectations, (e) the basic policies underlying the particular field of law, (f) certainty, predictability and uniformity of result, and (g) ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied.

Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws: Choice-of-Law Principles § 6 (Am. L. Inst. 1971). The commentary to § 6 identifies the first factor as “[p]robably the most important function of choice-of-law rules” because choice-of-law rules are designed “to further harmonious relations between states and to facilitate commercial intercourse between them.” Id. § 6 cmt. d. Meanwhile, the second factor takes into account any special interests, beyond serving as the forum for the action, that the forum state has in the litigation. Id. § 6 cmt. e. As to the fourth factor-“the protection of justified expectations, “- the comments to § 6 note: This is an important value in all fields of the law, including choice of law. Generally speaking, it would be unfair and improper to hold a person liable under the local law of one state when he had justifiably molded his conduct to conform to the requirements of another state.

Id. § 6 cmt. g.

A more specific section of the Restatement addressing contracts lacking a choice-of-law provision provides additional guidance: (1) The rights and duties of the parties with respect to an issue in contract are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the transaction and the parties under the principles stated in § 6. (2) In the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties . . ., the contacts to be taken into account in applying the principles of § 6 to determine the law applicable to an issue include: (a) the place of contracting, (b) the place of negotiation of the contract, (c) the place of performance, (d) the location of the subject matter of the contract, and (e) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties. These contacts are to be evaluated according to their relative importance with respect to the particular issue.

Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws: Law Governing in Absence of Effective Choice by the Parties § 188.

b. Colorado law controls

We conclude that, under the Restatement, a Colorado court would apply Colorado law to determine the validity and enforceability of the liability release relied upon by WEI. First looking at § 6 of the Restatement, the liability release was drafted by a Colorado corporation to cover services provided exclusively in Colorado. Applying out-of-state law to interpret the liability release would hinder commerce, as it would require WEI and other outdoor-recreation companies to know the law of the state in which a given participant lives. Such a rule would place a significant burden on outdoor-recreation companies who depend on out-of-state tourists for revenue because it would require a company like WEI to match the various requirements of the other forty-nine states. This approach would not give WEI the benefit of having logically molded its liability release to comply with Colorado law, the law of the state where WEI does business. Furthermore, Ms. Hamric’s primary argument for applying Texas law is that Mr. Hamric signed the forms in Texas. But a rule applying out-of-state law on that basis is likely to deter WEI from furnishing the liability release until a participant enters Colorado. And, while not providing participants the forms until arrival in Colorado might lessen WEI’s liability exposure under out-of-state law, such a practice would not benefit participants because it would pressure participants into a last-minute decision regarding whether to sign the liability release after having already traveled to Colorado for the outdoor excursion.

Colorado also has a strong interest in this matter. Colorado has a booming outdoor-recreation industry, in the form of skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, horseback riding, and rafting excursions. Colorado relies on tax receipts from the outdoor-recreation industry. And while many out-of-state individuals partake in these activities within Colorado, they often purchase their tickets or book excursion reservations before entering Colorado. If we applied Texas law because it is the state where Mr. Hamric signed the liability release, we would essentially allow the other forty-nine states to regulate a key industry within Colorado. Such an approach is impractical and illogical.

Further, the considerations and contacts listed in § 188 of the Restatement favor application of Colorado law. As to the first contact, in accord with the commentary, a contract is formed in “the place where occurred the last act necessary to give the contract binding effect.” Id. § 188 cmt. e. Here, that act occurred when the church group provided the forms to WEI in Colorado; for, before the forms were provided to WEI, Mr. Hamric had not conveyed his acceptance to WEI and WEI did not know whether Mr. Hamric would complete the forms and agree to the liability release. See Scoular Co. v. Denney, 151 P.3d 615, 619 (Colo.App. 2006) (discussing means of accepting an offer and stating “general rule that communication is required of the acceptance of the offer for a bilateral contract”). The second contact consideration is not applicable because the terms of the Medical Form precluded alteration, and there is no suggestion in the record Mr. Hamric attempted to negotiate the terms of the liability release before signing the forms. The third and fourth factors heavily favor application of Colorado law because WEI provides outdoor excursion services in Colorado, not Texas, and Mr. Hamric knew such when he signed the forms. Finally, the fifth factor is neutral because Mr. Hamric was a resident of Texas and WEI has its place of business in Colorado. With three factors favoring Colorado law, one factor inapplicable, and one factor neutral, the overall weight of the § 188 factors favors application of Colorado law.

Concluding that both § 6 and § 188 of the Restatement strongly support application of Colorado law, we hold that a Colorado court would choose to apply Colorado law, not Texas law, when determining whether the Registration Form and Medical Form contain a valid liability release. We, therefore, proceed to that analysis.

4. The Liability Release Is Valid under Colorado Law

Under Colorado law, “[a]greements attempting to exculpate a party from that party’s own negligence have long been disfavored.” Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 783.But, such “[e]xculpatory agreements are not necessarily void,” as courts recognize that “[t]hey stand at the crossroads of two competing principles: freedom of contract and responsibility for damages caused by one’s own negligent acts.” Id. at 784.In assessing the validity of a release, “a court must consider: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981); see also Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004) (a release agreement “must be closely scrutinized to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language and that the circumstances and the nature of the service involved indicate that the contract was fairly entered into”).

Ms. Hamric challenges only WEI’s ability to show “whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.”[ 9] “To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, [the Colorado Supreme Court has] examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.” Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467. In general accord with this statement, federal district courts in Colorado have discerned five factors from Colorado Supreme Court decisions to determine if a release is unambiguous: (1) “whether the agreement is written in simple and clear terms that are free from legal jargon”; (2) “whether the agreement is inordinately long or complicated”; (3) “whether the release specifically addresses the risk that caused the plaintiff’s injury”; (4) “whether the contract contains any emphasis to highlight the importance of the information it contains”; and (5) “whether the plaintiff was experienced in the activity making risk of that particular injury reasonably foreseeable.” Salazar v. On the Trail Rentals, Inc., Civil Action No. 11-cv-00320-CMA-KMT, 2012 WL 934240, at *4 (D. Colo. Mar. 20, 2012) (deriving factors from Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 785; Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467); see also Eburn v. Capitol Peak Outfitters, Inc., 882 F.Supp.2d 1248, 1253 (D. Colo. 2012) (citing factors set forth in Salazar). Each and every factor, however, need not be satisfied for a court to uphold the validity of a liability release, as the Colorado Supreme Court has upheld the validity of a release where the signor was a novice at the outdoor activity in question. See B & B Livery, Inc., 960 P.2d at 138 (upholding liability release without finding every factor favored validity); id. at 139-40 (Hobbs, J., dissenting) (discussing signor’s inexperience riding horses).

The first four factors taken from Heil Valley Ranch and Chadwick support the validity of the liability release in the Registration Form and Medical Form. The forms span a mere two pages, with language pertinent to the liability release in only four sections of the forms. And those four sections are generally free of legal jargon. For instance, in detailing the scope of the release, the Registration Form required the participant/signor to “hold harmless Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. . . . for any injury or death caused by or resulting from my or my child’s participation in the activities.”[ 10] App. Vol. I at 57, 83. And this language comes after the form describes several of the risks associated with the activities, including “that accidents or illness can occur in remote places without medical facilities” and that “any route or activity chosen [by WEI] may not be of minimum risk, but may have been chosen for its interest and challenge.” Id. The Registration Form also twice places bolded emphasis on the fact that a participant was releasing WEI from liability: “By signing my initials below, I certify this is a release of liability.”Id. Finally, although not explicitly a factor identified by Colorado courts, we observe WEI provided the church group with the forms, and Mr. Hamric completed the forms, months before the booked excursion. Thus, if Mr. Hamric personally had difficulty understanding any of the language on the forms, he had ample time to contact WEI for an explanation or consult legal counsel.

The sole factor clearly cutting against enforcement of the liability release is Mr. Hamric’s lack of rappelling experience. However, as noted above, the Colorado Supreme Court has not found this consideration to be dispositive against the enforcement of a liability waiver. See B & B Livery, Inc., 960 P.2d at 138-39. And, where the liability release between Mr. Hamric and WEI is otherwise clear, specific, and uncomplicated, Mr. Hamric’s lack of experience rappelling is insufficient to defeat the release as a whole.

Accordingly, applying Colorado law, we hold the liability release is valid and its enforcement bars Ms. Hamric’s negligence claim. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment in favor of WEI.

III. CONCLUSION

We affirm the denial of Ms. Hamric’s motion for leave to amend her complaint because the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion where Ms. Hamric did not attempt to satisfy the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) standard for amending the Scheduling Order. We also affirm the denial of Ms. Hamric’s discovery motions, holding the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion where the items Ms. Hamric sought to discover were either already in the record, were not necessary to determine the validity of the liability release, or went to Ms. Hamric’s effort to obtain exemplary damages, which she could not pursue given the denial of her motion for leave to amend her complaint. Finally, applying de novo review to the choice-of-law issue and the issue regarding the validity of the liability release, we conclude Colorado law applies and the release is valid and enforceable under that law. Therefore, we affirm the magistrate judge’s grant of summary judgment to WEI.

———

Notes:

[ 1]Here, we summarize the Registration Form and the Medical Form. Copies of the full forms, taken from the Appendix submitted by Ms. Hamric, are attached to this opinion. We rely on the full forms, and all of the language thereon, when conducting our analysis. Further, as discussed infra at 25-27, Section II(C)(2)(b)(ii), while the Registration Form and Medical Form could be viewed as separate forms, Colorado law requires us to consider both forms together when conducting our analysis.

[ 2]Throughout our opinion, we cite simultaneously to the Registration Form or Medical Form attached to WEI’s motion for summary judgment, App. Vol. I at 57- 58, and the Registration Form or Medical Form attached to Ms. Hamric’s response to WEI’s motion for summary judgment, id. at 83-84. Although the language of the two sets of forms are identical, the clarity of the text varies somewhat, seemingly based on the proficiency of the respective copy machines used by the parties.

[ 3]In quoting the forms, we seek to replicate the font size, spacing, and bolding of the text of the Registration Form and Medical Form completed by Mr. Hamric.

[ 4] Under Colorado law: A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by [§ 13-21-102 of the Colorado Revised Statutes] may not be included in any initial claim for relief. A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by this section may be allowed by amendment to the pleadings only after the exchange of initial disclosures . . . and the plaintiff establishes prima facie proof of a triable issue.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102(1.5)(a).

[ 5]Although Ms. Hamric’s action sounds in tort law, on appeal, the parties do not contend that tort principles provide the framework for the choice-of-law analysis regarding the liability release. Thus, we reach no conclusion as to whether Colorado law or Texas law would govern if tort principles played a role in the choice-of-law analysis.

[ 6]While the magistrate judge incorrectly stated the standard governing WEI’s motion for summary judgment, it is not apparent the magistrate judge’s analysis and conclusion that WEI was entitled to summary judgment hinged on Ms. Hamric’s failure to identify evidence supporting each element of her negligence claim. Rather, the magistrate judge correctly granted WEI summary judgment based on the liability release and WEI’s affirmative defense.

[ 7]WEI has advanced inconsistent positions on whether the Registration Form and Medical Form comprised a single agreement. Although on appeal WEI argues the forms constitute a single agreement releasing liability, WEI’s Answer to Ms. Hamric’s Complaint treats the two forms as separate agreements, stating that “[d]ecedent Gerald Hamric executed a valid and enforceable liability release. Decedent Gerald Hamric also executed a medical evaluation.” App. Vol. I at 32 (emphasis added).

[ 8]Although we conclude that Colorado law, not Texas law, controls the validity of the liability release, infra at 28-33, Section II(C)(3), Texas law likewise permits a court to read separate but related documents together when determining the intent of the parties, see Fort Worth Indep. Sch. Dist. v. City of Fort Worth, 22 S.W.3d 831, 840 (Tex. 2000) (“The City’s argument ignores well-established law that instruments pertaining to the same transaction may be read together to ascertain the parties’ intent, even if the parties executed the instruments at different times and the instruments do not expressly refer to each other, and that a court may determine, as a matter of law, that multiple documents comprise a written contract. In appropriate instances, courts may construe all the documents as if they were part of a single, unified instrument.” (footnotes omitted)).

[ 9]Ms. Hamric also argues that the question of whether Mr. Hamric and WEI entered into a liability release was a question of fact for a jury. But Ms. Hamric withdrew her fact-based challenge to the authenticity of the forms. Further, under Colorado law, “[t]he determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court to determine.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). And, where a liability release has force only if it is “clear and unambiguous,” id., the question of the existence of a liability release and its validity are one in the same because if the language relied on by a defendant does not form a valid release, then no liability release exists.

[ 10] The omitted language marked by the ellipses also required a signor/participant to hold federal and state agencies harmless for injuries or death that might occur as a result of WEI-led activities on federal or state land. Like the rest of the release, this language is plain and clear such that any reasonably educated individual would understand the nature of the release as to these third parties.


This is why you should BOYCOTT NEW HAMPSHIRE! Do not recreate in this state.

New Hampshire charges for Search & Rescue. To be able to charge it must prove you were negligent. If you get hurt or need rescued you are NEGLIGENT in New Hampshire.

N.H. Fish & Game Dep’t v. Bacon, 167 N.H. 591, 116 A.3d 1060, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 34

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: New Hampshire Fish and Game Department

Defendant: Edward Bacon

Plaintiff Claims: Negligent

Defendant Defenses: No proof that the defendants actions were negligent

Holding: For the Plaintiff, state of New Hampshire

Year: 2015

Summary

A law in New Hampshire, which you cannot beat or get around, requires the state to charge you for the costs of search and rescue. The court simply stated the New Hampshire Fish & Game statement that the actions of the defendant were negligent. Proof was the prior injuries the plaintiff had suffered in his life. Boycott New Hampshire.

Facts

On September 16, 2012, the defendant began a five-day solo hiking trip in the White Mountains, during which he planned to hike several mountains with summits over 5,000 feet. At the time of the hike, the defendant was fifty-nine years old, had undergone four hip surgeries since 2005, and had an artificial hip that had dislocated on five occasions, twice during the prior year. The defendant also had a “bad back” and was taking a variety of medications for multiple ailments. In preparation for his hike, the defendant trained in a city park in Michigan, which had 250-foot hills and some “gravelly” spots. The conditions on the Franconia Ridge Trail between Liberty and Little Haystack Mountains, on which the rescuers eventually located the defendant, are rocky and steep in various locations.

On September 18, the defendant left the Liberty Springs campsite to begin a planned hike to the summits of Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette Mountains; he planned to end at the Greenleaf Hut, which provides overnight accommodations to hikers. Days in advance, stormy weather had been forecast for the morning the defendant began the hike, and rain began a few hours after he departed the campsite. A bit later, the defendant’s pack cover “on its own accord came off and flew away in the wind.” Sergeant Brad Morse, a Conservation Officer with the Department who helped rescue the defendant, testified that the winds were among the worst he had ever experienced in that part of the Franconia Ridge Trail and had repeatedly blown him to the ground. Sometime that morning, the defendant slipped on loose gravel, slid down the trail, hit his pack on a rock, and lost his tent which fell down a ravine. At noon time, the defendant took a photograph of two other hikers he encountered on the trail, both of whom were wearing full rain gear with their hoods over their heads.

At around 1:00 p.m., the defendant encountered a waist-high rock ledge that he needed to traverse in order to continue on the trail. He attempted to jump backward up onto the ledge and, in the process, fell and dislocated his hip. Approximately one hour later, Morse received an alert that a hiker had dislocated his hip and needed assistance. He responded immediately and eventually located the defendant on the trail between Little Haystack and Lincoln Mountains. Morse testified that when he found the defendant his left leg was flexed and internally rotated, the very position that the defendant’s orthopedic surgeon had warned him to avoid due to his hip replacement.

Approximately fifteen Department personnel and thirty-five volunteers participated in the defendant’s rescue during the afternoon and evening of September 18 and into the early morning hours of September 19. When Lieutenant James Kneeland visited the defendant in the hospital after his rescue, the defendant explained that he had misread the weather report: he thought the forecast called for 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 70 mph and heavy rain, instead of the actual forecast of 30-40 mph winds increasing to 70 mph and heavy rain. The defendant also told Kneeland that he had caught his left leg while attempting to jump backward up onto a rock ledge and dislocated his artificial hip when he fell.

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

The New Hampshire Supreme Court first looked at the statute in question.

§ 206:26-bb. Search and Rescue Response Expenses; Recovery

I. Any person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response, unless the person shows proof of possessing a current version of any of the following:

(a)    A hunting or fishing license issued by this state under title XVIII.

(b)    An OHRV registration under RSA 215-A, a snowmobile registration under RSA 215-C, or a vessel registration under RSA 270-E.

(c)    A voluntary hike safe card. The executive director shall adopt rules under RSA 541-A for the issuance to purchasers on the department’s Internet site, and subsequent annual renewals, of a hike safe card prior to a person’s need for a search and rescue response. The annual fee for a hike safe card shall be $25 for an individual or $35 for a family. A “family” shall consist of the purchaser, the purchaser’s spouse, and the purchaser’s minor children or stepchildren. In addition, if the purchaser or the purchaser’s spouse has been appointed as a family guardian for an individual under RSA 464-A, that individual shall be considered part of the purchaser’s family. A transaction fee determined by the department shall be for the Internet license agent as provided in RSA 214-A:2. The executive director shall forward to the state treasurer the sum collected from each individual hike safe card purchased and each family hike safe card purchased, less the amount of such transaction fee, for deposit in the fish and game search and rescue fund under RSA 206:42.

I-a.    The executive director shall bill the responsible person for such costs. Payment shall be made to the department within 30 days after the receipt of the bill, or by some other date determined by the executive director. If any person shall fail or refuse to pay the costs by the required date, the department may pursue payment by legal action, or by settlement or compromise, and the responsible person shall be liable for interest from the date that the bill is due and for legal fees and costs incurred by the department in obtaining and enforcing judgment under this paragraph. All amounts recovered, less the costs of collection and any percentage due pursuant to RSA 7:15-a, IV(b), shall be paid into the fish and game search and rescue fund established in RSA 206:42.

II.    If any person fails to make payment under paragraph I, the executive director of the fish and game department may:

(a)    Order any license, permit, or tag issued by the fish and game department to be suspended or revoked, after due hearing.

(b)    Notify the commissioner of the department of health and human services of such nonpayment. The nonpayment shall constitute cause for revocation of any license or certification issued by the commissioner pursuant to RSA 126-A:20 and RSA 151:7.

(c)    Notify the director of motor vehicles of such nonpayment and request suspension of the person’s driver’s license pursuant to RSA 263:56.

III.    Regardless of a person’s possession of a document satisfying subparagraph I(a), (b), or (c), a person shall be liable to the department for search and rescue response expenses if the person is judged to have done any of the actions listed in RSA 153-A:24, I.

As you can see in reading the statute, there is no definition of what a negligent act might be in New Hampshire that would trigger this requirement. To the best of my knowledge and research, neither does the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. EVERY ACT where a rescue is run is negligence and everyone gets charged.

There are four steps to prove negligence in most states. Duty, Breach of the Duty, Injury and Damages. The last to I suppose are the cost of the rescue to New Hampshire. But what is the duty of care and who is the duty of care owed too?

A duty is a level of doing or not doing something, below which the action or in action is actionable if it causes injury. So, a hiker, as in this case, owed a duty to New Hampshire? For what? There is a duty not to get injured? There is a duty not to require assistance in getting out of the backcountry? If the duty is either of those issues, then there is a breach of duty every time and thus negligence every time.

However, at no time, has New Hampshire ever argued or proved any duty. No other state has ever identified a duty of a person away from the city owing a duty to the state to be good.

If the failure to be good is so great it violates a criminal act, that is another story. A criminal act is action so bad it causes harm to an individual or society. So, is New Hampshire arguing that an individual causing a financial loss to the state is breaching a duty to the state? Absurd!

This is how the court explained the duty of care in this case.

Also plain is that the statute imposes as the duty of care the common law standard of negligence, which we have defined as how a reasonable person would be expected to act under the same circumstances. Thus, in order to avoid liability for search and rescue costs, the defendant must have hiked in a manner that was reasonable under all of the circumstances.

Hiking in a manner that is reasonable under all circumstances” If this is the standard of care, then every hiker in New Hampshire is violating the standard of care. What is reasonable? In this case, there was no expert testimony as to the reasonableness of what the defendant did. Is it reasonable to step on a rock that may roll causing the hiker to fall. Or is it reasonable to step in the mud and water between the rocks suffering foot injury, cold and other injuries.

If you can’t Hike in a Manner that is Reasonable under ALL Circumstances, don’t go to New Hampshire.

The court continued to justify its findings.

As previously stated, a person violates RSA 206:26-bb by not acting as a reasonable person would have acted under the same circumstances. The defendant argues that he did not act negligently because he was prepared for the conditions, physically capable, had proper equipment, and had adequately planned his hike. The trial court concluded to the contrary when it found that the defendant did not act as a reasonably prudent hiker would have acted under the same circumstances.

What more is needed to hike other than prepared for the conditions, physically capable and proper equipment? The 10 essentials (which there are hundreds of versions of) seems to be covered here.

However, the court found the defendant was not reasonable because of his prior injuries.

…the defendant had undergone multiple hip surgeries; he had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times, twice within the year prior to his hike; he had trained in a city park that did not remotely resemble the challenging terrain he would experience in the White Mountains; he had continued his hike despite the fact that bad weather had been forecast days in advance and that he encountered high winds and rain early into his hike; and he chose to jump backward over a rock ledge he was unable to pass, despite his artificial hip and experience with hip dislocation.

So, anyone with any prior injury should not hike in New Hampshire because that is proof, they are hiking in a reasonable manner under all circumstances.

I wonder what the Americans with Disabilities Act says about that?

And because the defendant had had prior injuries, it was foreseeable as determined by the NH Fish & Game and the court that he would get injured again.

To the extent that the defendant argues that his injury was not foreseeable, we agree with the trial court’s conclusions that the defendant’s injury was foreseeable and directly caused his need to be rescued by the Department.

This explains why there are no professional sports teams in New Hampshire, they would spend the off-season in court. Fans could sue any team arguing that since they played previously injured players, they were negligent in playing them in New Hampshire.

So Now What?

What is the real issue? The real issue is this puts rescuers at greater risk. Instead of calling at 2:00 PM in the afternoon when the weather is sunny and nice, a victim waits and calls when they are desperate, 2:00 AM. Darkness, bad weather, and little sleep put rescuers at greater risk of becoming injured in a rescue. Charging for a rescue puts rescuers at risk!

Besides the simple fact that charging for rescues increases the risk to the people in trouble and the rescuers, New Hampshire continues to do so. Either to keep people from recreating in the state or because the Legislators & the Courts are not too bright or refuse to understand.

To not pay New Hampshire for a rescue, recreate in a state other than New Hampshire.

Boycott New Hampshire

#BoycottNewHampshire

For additional Articles & Support on this subject see:

Who Charges for Search and Rescue?    http://rec-law.us/xtM6hp

Update: Give me a break! Teen charged $25K for a rescue he did not need    http://rec-law.us/zndiA7

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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N.H. Fish & Game Dep’t v. Bacon, 167 N.H. 591, 116 A.3d 1060, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 34

N.H. Fish & Game Dep’t v. Bacon, 167 N.H. 591, 116 A.3d 1060, 2015 N.H. LEXIS 34 

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

January 15, 2015, Argued; April 30, 2015, Opinion Issued

No. 2014-158

New Hampshire Fish and Game Department v. Edward Bacon

Prior History:  [***1]  6th Circuit Court — Concord District Division.

NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

NH1.[] 1.

Negligence > Standard of Care > Ordinary and Reasonable Care

The search and rescue response statute plainly is intended to create a statutory cause of action in favor of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to recover the costs it incurs in conducting a search and rescue operation for a person whose negligent conduct required such an operation. Whether or not a common law duty exists, a plaintiff may maintain an action directly under a statute if a statutory cause of action is either expressed or implied by the legislature. Also plain is that the statute imposes as the duty of care the common law standard of negligence, which has been defined as how a reasonable person would be expected to act under the same circumstances. Thus, in order to avoid liability for search and rescue costs, the defendant must have acted in a manner that was reasonable under all of the circumstances. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in using the common law standard of negligence to evaluate defendant’s conduct under the statute. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH2.[] 2.

Appeal and Error > Standards of Review > Generally

The court will uphold the trial court’s findings and rulings unless they lack evidentiary support or are legally erroneous. It is within the province of the trial court to accept or reject, in whole or in part, whatever evidence was presented, including that of the expert witnesses. The standard of review is not whether the court would rule differently than the trial court, but whether a reasonable person could have reached the same decision as the trial court based upon the same evidence. Thus, the court defers to the trial court’s judgment on such issues as resolving conflicts in the testimony, measuring the credibility of witnesses, and determining the weight to be given evidence.

NH3.[] 3.

Negligence > Proceedings > Generally

In determining that a hiker was liable under the search and rescue response statute for his rescue costs, the trial court properly found that he was negligent when he had undergone multiple hip surgeries, had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times, had trained in a city park that did not remotely resemble the challenging mountain terrain he [*592]  would experience, had continued his hike despite the fact that bad weather had been forecast days in advance and when he encountered high winds and rain early on, and chose to jump backward over a rock ledge he was unable to pass. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH4.[] 4.

Negligence > Proximate Cause > Tests and Standards

To establish proximate cause a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct caused or contributed to cause the harm.

NH5.[] 5.

Damages > Practice and Procedure > Generally

In reviewing damage awards, the court will consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Furthermore, the court will not disturb the decision of the fact-finder unless it is clearly erroneous. The law does not require absolute certainty for recovery of damages. The court does, however, require an indication that the award of damages was reasonable.

NH6.[] 6.

Negligence > Damages > Particular Cases

The damage award of $9,186.38 against a rescued hiker who was found to have been negligent under the search and rescue response statute was reasonable when it represented the costs for the 15 people who participated in the rescue, including overtime, mileage, and benefits. The hiker’s argument that the Fish and Game Department employees were on duty and would have been paid regardless of their participation in the rescue failed to take into account the overtime paid, and also ignored the fact that by being diverted to the rescue operation, the employees were unable to perform their other assigned duties. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH7.[] 7.

Environment and Natural Resources > Game and Fish > Particular Matters

The search and rescue response statute specifically states that the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is to receive the reasonable costs associated with a rescue. Nothing in the statute otherwise limits the Department’s recovery, and the court will not add limiting language to the statute that the legislature did not include. RSA 206:26-bb.

NH8.[] 8.

Statutes > Generally > Legislative History or Intent

A court interprets legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.

Counsel: Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Philip B. Bradley, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.
Seufert, Davis & Hunt, PLLC, of Franklin (Brad C. Davis on the brief and orally), for the defendant.

Judges: LYNN, J. DALIANIS, C.J., and HICKS, CONBOY, and BASSETT, JJ., concurred.

Opinion by: LYNN

Opinion

 [**1062]  Lynn, J. The defendant, Edward Bacon, appeals an order of the Circuit Court (Boyle, J.), following a bench trial, finding that he violated RSA 206:26-bb (2011) (amended 2014) by acting negligently while hiking, so as to require a search and rescue effort by the plaintiff, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (Department), and that he, thus, was responsible to the Department for the reasonable costs associated with the search and rescue. We affirm.

I

The following facts are established by the record. On September 16, 2012, the defendant began a five-day solo hiking trip in the White [*593]  Mountains, during which he planned to hike several mountains with summits over 5,000 feet. At the time of the hike, the defendant was fifty-nine years old, had undergone four hip surgeries since 2005, and had an artificial hip that had dislocated on five occasions, twice [***2]  during the prior year. The defendant also had a “bad back” and was taking a variety of medications for multiple ailments. In preparation for his hike, the defendant trained in a city park in Michigan, which had 250-foot hills and some “gravelly” spots. The conditions on the Franconia Ridge Trail between Liberty and Little Haystack Mountains, on which the rescuers eventually located the defendant, are rocky and steep in various locations.

 [**1063]  On September 18, the defendant left the Liberty Springs campsite to begin a planned hike to the summits of Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette Mountains; he planned to end at the Greenleaf Hut, which provides overnight accommodations to hikers. Days in advance, stormy weather had been forecast for the morning the defendant began the hike, and rain began a few hours after he departed the campsite. A bit later, the defendant’s pack cover “on its own accord came off and flew away in the wind.” Sergeant Brad Morse, a Conservation Officer with the Department who helped rescue the defendant, testified that the winds were among the worst he had ever experienced in that part of the Franconia Ridge Trail and had repeatedly blown him to the ground. [***3]  Sometime that morning, the defendant slipped on loose gravel, slid down the trail, hit his pack on a rock, and lost his tent which fell down a ravine. At noon time, the defendant took a photograph of two other hikers he encountered on the trail, both of whom were wearing full rain gear with their hoods over their heads.

At around 1:00 p.m., the defendant encountered a waist-high rock ledge that he needed to traverse in order to continue on the trail. He attempted to jump backward up onto the ledge and, in the process, fell and dislocated his hip. Approximately one hour later, Morse received an alert that a hiker had dislocated his hip and needed assistance. He responded immediately and eventually located the defendant on the trail between Little Haystack and Lincoln Mountains. Morse testified that when he found the defendant his left leg was flexed and internally rotated, the very position that the defendant’s orthopedic surgeon had warned him to avoid due to his hip replacement.

Approximately fifteen Department personnel and thirty-five volunteers participated in the defendant’s rescue during the afternoon and evening of September 18 and into the early morning hours of September 19. [***4]  When Lieutenant James Kneeland visited the defendant in the hospital after his rescue, the defendant explained that he had misread the weather report: he thought the forecast called for 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 70 mph and heavy rain, instead of the actual forecast of 30-40 mph winds increasing [*594]  to 70 mph and heavy rain. The defendant also told Kneeland that he had caught his left leg while attempting to jump backward up onto a rock ledge and dislocated his artificial hip when he fell.

The defendant testified to a different version of events at trial. For instance, he testified that he was unaware of the weather conditions on the day of the hike because he did not have his reading glasses with him, and that he did not encounter any significant rain or wind. Additionally, he testified that when he dislocated his hip he had not fallen, as he told Kneeland, but instead had jumped backward over a rock ledge and swung his legs up while perfectly maintaining his left leg to avoid flexion and internal rotation.

At the close of the trial, the court accepted closing memoranda from both parties. Thereafter, the court found for the Department “for all of the reasons cited in the plaintiff’s [***5]  closing memorandum,” and awarded the Department $9,334.86 in damages. The defendant filed a motion to reconsider, to which the Department objected. The court denied the defendant’s motion, stating that “[t]he actions of the defendant were a gross deviation from those of a reasonable person that surpasses the [negligence] standard required.” This appeal followed.

II

The defendant raises three arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the trial  [**1064]  court erred by judging his conduct under an ordinary negligence standard which, he asserts, is not the standard mandated by RSA 206:26-bb. Second, he argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding that his actions while hiking were negligent, thus necessitating his rescue by the Department. Third, he argues that the court’s damages award was improper under RSA 206:26-bb because the award included recovery for expenses that the Department would have incurred regardless of its effort to rescue him. We address each argument in turn.

A

The defendant first argues that the court erred by applying the ordinary negligence standard to determine his liability under RSA 206:26-bb. He characterizes this standard as “incorrect,” and asserts that the court should instead have [***6]  applied “the full and complete” civil standard of negligence, although he fails to articulate how this standard differs from the standard of “ordinary negligence.”

To resolve this issue we must engage in statutory interpretation. HN1[] “Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review de novo.” [*595] 
Appeal of Local Gov’t Ctr., 165 N.H. 790, 804, 85 A.3d 388 (2014). “In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole.” Id. “We first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning.” Id. “We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.” Id. “We construe all parts of a statute together to effectuate its overall purpose and avoid an absurd or unjust result.” Id.

NH[1][] [1] We have not previously had occasion to construe the search and rescue response statute. It provides, in pertinent part:

HN2[] I. [A]ny person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department [***7]  for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response. The executive director shall bill the responsible person for such costs. Payment shall be made to the department within 30 days after the receipt of the bill, or by some other date determined by the executive director. If any person shall fail or refuse to pay the costs … the department may pursue payment by legal action … .

RSA 206:26-bb. HN3[] This statute plainly is intended to create a statutory cause of action in favor of the Department to recover the costs it incurs in conducting a search and rescue operation for a person whose negligent conduct required such an operation. See Marquay v. Eno, 139 N.H. 708, 714, 662 A.2d 272 (1995) (“Whether or not a common law duty exists, … a plaintiff may maintain an action directly under [a] statute if a statutory cause of action is either expressed or implied by the legislature.”). Also plain is that the statute imposes as the duty of care the common law standard of negligence, which we have defined as how a reasonable person would be expected to act under the same circumstances. See Gelinas v. Metropolitan Prop. & Liability Ins. Co., 131 N.H. 154, 161, 551 A.2d 962 (1988). Thus, in order to avoid liability for search and rescue costs, the defendant must have hiked in a manner that was reasonable under [***8]  all of the circumstances. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in using the common law standard of negligence to  [**1065]  evaluate the defendant’s conduct under RSA 206:26-bb.

B

The defendant next argues that there was insufficient evidence upon which to find that he acted negligently, resulting in his need for rescue by [*596]  the Department. In particular, the defendant takes issue with the fact that the trial court’s order stated that it found for the Department “for all of the reasons cited in the plaintiff’s closing memorandum.” He asserts that, in so doing, the court improperly adopted as its findings the facts recited in the Department’s memorandum — which facts, he claims, are not supported by the evidence. We disagree.

NH[2][] [2] HN4[] We will uphold the trial court’s findings and rulings unless they lack evidentiary support or are legally erroneous. Cook v. Sullivan, 149 N.H. 774, 780, 829 A.2d 1059 (2003). “It is within the province of the trial court to accept or reject, in whole or in part, whatever evidence was presented, including that of the expert witnesses.” Id. “Our standard of review is not whether we would rule differently than the trial court, but whether a reasonable person could have reached the same decision as the trial court based upon the same [***9]  evidence.” Id. “Thus, we defer to the trial court’s judgment on such issues as resolving conflicts in the testimony, measuring the credibility of witnesses, and determining the weight to be given evidence.” Id.

We first consider the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s findings are not supported by the evidence because the court adopted the Department’s closing memorandum, which he claims relied upon findings that were also not supported by the evidence. Having reviewed both the evidence presented at trial and the Department’s closing memorandum, we reject the defendant’s argument that the Department’s closing memorandum was not supported by the evidence.

NH[3][] [3] We next consider whether there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s determination that the defendant acted negligently. As previously stated, a person violates RSA 206:26-bb by not acting as a reasonable person would have acted under the same circumstances. The defendant argues that he did not act negligently because he was prepared for the conditions, physically capable, had proper equipment, and had adequately planned his hike. The trial court concluded to the contrary when it found that the defendant did not act as a reasonably [***10]  prudent hiker would have acted under the same circumstances. The following facts, recited by the Department in its memorandum and based upon the evidence, support the trial court’s conclusion: the defendant had undergone multiple hip surgeries; he had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times, twice within the year prior to his hike; he had trained in a city park that did not remotely resemble the challenging terrain he would experience in the White Mountains; he had continued his hike despite the fact that bad weather had been forecast days in advance and that he encountered high winds and rain early into his hike; and he chose to jump backward over a rock ledge he was unable to pass, despite his artificial hip and experience with hip dislocation.

 [*597] NH[4][] [4] To the extent that the defendant argues that his injury was not foreseeable, we agree with the trial court’s conclusions that the defendant’s injury was foreseeable and directly caused his need to be rescued by the Department. See Estate of Joshua T. v. State, 150 N.H. 405, 408, 840 A.2d 768 (2003) (stating that HN5[] to establish proximate cause a plaintiff must show “that the defendant’s conduct caused or contributed to cause the harm”). For the foregoing reasons  [**1066]  we conclude that the trial court’s determination [***11]  that the defendant acted negligently does not lack evidentiary support and is not legally erroneous. See Cook, 149 N.H. at 780. Accordingly, we uphold the trial court’s ruling.

C

Finally, the defendant argues that the court’s damages award was improper because it included wages and mileage for on-duty Department officers who would have been paid regardless of their participation in the rescue operation. In essence, he claims that the damages provide a windfall to the Department. We disagree.

NH[5][] [5] HN6[] “In reviewing damage awards, we will consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.” Gallentine v. Geis, 145 N.H. 701, 703, 765 A.2d 696 (2001) (quotation and brackets omitted). “Furthermore, we will not disturb the decision of the fact-finder unless it is clearly erroneous.” Id. (quotation omitted). “The law does not require ‘absolute certainty’ for recovery of damages.” Id. (quotation omitted). “We do, however, require an indication that the award of damages was reasonable.” Id.
RSA 206:26-bb states that “any person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response.” (Emphasis [***12]  added.)

NH[6][] [6] The trial court awarded $9,186.38 in damages to the Department, plus costs and interest. At trial, Kneeland testified that this amount represented the Department’s costs for the fifteen personnel who participated in the rescue, and included overtime, mileage, and benefits. These figures were contained in a document entitled “Search and Rescue Mission Report,” which was admitted by stipulation as a full exhibit. This detailed, itemized report, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Department, indicates that the trial court’s damages award represented the “reasonable costs” associated with the rescue, as required by RSA 206:26-bb.

NH[7,8][] [7, 8] We reject the defendant’s argument that this sum provides a windfall to the Department because certain officers were on duty and thus would have been paid regardless of their participation in his rescue. Not only does this argument fail to take into account the overtime paid to [*598]  Department employees who would not have worked in the absence of the rescue, but it also ignores the fact that, by being diverted to the rescue operation, Department employees were unable to perform their other assigned duties. HN7[] The statute specifically states that the Department is [***13]  to receive the “reasonable costs” associated with the rescue. RSA 206:26-bb. Nothing in the statute otherwise limits the Department’s recovery, and we will not add limiting language to the statute that the legislature did not include. See Appeal of Local Gov’t Ctr., 165 N.H. at 804 (HN8[] “We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include.”). Because the trial court’s damages award of $9,186.38, plus costs and interest, is reasonable, and thus is not clearly erroneous, we uphold it.

Affirmed.

Dalianis, C.J., and Hicks, Conboy, and Bassett, JJ., concurred.


Forum non conveniens is a legal term meaning the place where the litigation is occurring is not the right place for the lawsuit to occur.

In this case a mountain bike manufacturer sued in California by a Canadian plaintiff for an accident in Canada used the rule to move the case to Canada.

It did not hurt the manufacturer that the plaintiff was playing games with the court and the plaintiff’s attorneys stretched the law in directions the appellate court did not find appropriate.

Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

State: California, California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

Plaintiff At the Appeal: Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox

Defendant at the Appeal: The Superior Court of Santa Clara County

Plaintiff in the base case: Peter Isherwood

Defendant in the base case: Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose

Defendant Defenses: forum non conveniens (the lawsuit is in the wrong place)

Holding: Sent back to the lower court for further evaluation (defendant Fox won)

Year: 2017

Summary

There are rules about where lawsuits can be brought and there are equitable rules on where lawsuits can be brought. The plaintiff wants to sue in the place where he or she has the greatest chance of winning and getting the most money. The defendant wants to be sued where they have the greatest chance of winning or paying the least amount of money. The court wants the lawsuit to be in a place that has the most fairness to both parties to the litigation.

Here the case was moved from California to Canada for equitable reasons, the best place for this lawsuit was Canada.

Facts

Plaintiff Isherwood is a Canadian citizen and resident of British Columbia. Fox, a California corporation, manufactures bicycle parts, including front fork racing shocks. On April 24, 2011, plaintiff was mountain biking downhill in British Columbia on a full-suspension mountain bike purchased from Oak Bay Bikes, a retail bicycle shop in British Columbia. The mountain bike was assembled with specialized component parts selected by plaintiff from various manufacturers, including a frame manufactured by Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. (Specialized), a California corporation; an adapter made by Full Speed Ahead, Inc., a Washington corporation; a headset made by King Cycle Group, Inc. (King), an Oregon corporation; and Fox Vanilla 36 RC forks which ” a lot of professionals rode.” According to plaintiff’s first amended complaint, the steerer tube used in the Fox racing shocks broke as plaintiff landed a jump. Plaintiff was thrown forward, resulting in a spinal cord injury.

Plaintiff filed this action on April 22, 2013, alleging negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose. Tamara Jayne Bickerton, who later became plaintiff’s wife,[2] also alleged loss of consortium, but she subsequently obtained dismissal of her claim with prejudice. In addition to Fox, plaintiff named Specialized, King, and Full Speed Ahead.

The following day, April 23, 2013, plaintiff filed another court action in Vancouver, British Columbia, naming as defendants SNC Cycles Ltd. (SNC Cycles) and three Doe corporations, as well as three individuals as John Doe defendants. In this pleading plaintiff alleged that the identities of the corporate and individual Doe defendants were unknown to him, even though the allegations were the same as those in the California action filed one day earlier. He also alleged that SNC Cycles was the owner and operator of Oak Bay Bicycles. As in the California action, plaintiff claimed that the negligence of these defendants was responsible for the April 24, 2011 accident that had caused his injuries.

The caption of the British Columbia pleading named ” Peter Dilwyn Iserwood” as plaintiff. According to Fox, the misspelling of plaintiff’s name, together with the intentional withholding of the defendants’ true names, precluded discovery of this lawsuit despite ” multiple searches” of the dockets of the Vancouver courts. In addition, plaintiff had testified in his October 2014 deposition that he had never been a plaintiff ” in a lawsuit other than this one.” He also answered ” no” to an interrogatory question about whether, in the past 10 years, he had ” filed an action or made a written claim or demand for compensation for [his] personal injuries.”

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

Forum non conveniens is an argument on where the litigation should be based. In this case, California or British Columbia, Canada. All other defendants that were California based or US based had been dismissed from the case so it was the Canadian plaintiff arguing that a US defendant should be sued in California.

Normally lawsuits are determined one of two ways. Where the accident happened or where the defendant resides. Usually, having the lawsuit in California because the defendant was based there would be enough. However, the way the plaintiff played the courts was a major issue in whether this litigation would be moved to Canada.

Forum non conveniens is an equitable relief available to the court. Equitable means it is the right thing to do. The court can bring the motion on its own or a party to the lawsuit can bring the argument saying that this lawsuit is not in the right place because.

California has a two-step process to determine if a case should be moved for equitable reasons.

Our Supreme Court in Stangvik set forth a two-step analysis for a court considering a forum non conveniens motion. ” A case-by-case examination of the parties, their dispute and the relationship of each to the state of California is the heart of the required analysis.” The court ” must first determine whether the alternate forum is a ‘suitable’ place for trial. If it is, the next step is to consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trial and the enforceability of the ensuing judgment expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses.

The first step is very broad in its meaning. Suitable place for trial means will the trial be fair, is the court system similar to the US system, will both parties get a fair shot at presenting their case. There is also a look at how moving the case will affect the courts and people of California.

The private interests are those of the litigants in the trial. What will the cost be to the parties to move the trial, will any judgment that is received be able to be executed. Meaning If the trial is moved to Canada, can a Canadian judgment be enforced in the US. The major issue is where is the best place to find the evidence and witnesses to help a jury make a decision.

The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts with congested calendars, protecting the interests of potential jurors so that they are not called upon to decide cases in which the local community has little concern, and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction in the litigation.” Also of potential concern is ” the interest in trying the case in a forum familiar with the applicable law, and the interest in avoiding unnecessary conflicts of laws.”

After reviewing the legal and equitable issues involved in making a decision to move the trial, the court looked at the plaintiff’s arguments to not move the case and the plaintiff’s arguments in general. Basically, the court slapped the plaintiff around for trying to stretch the law beyond reason and playing games with the court.

In this part of the opinion the court brought forth several statements about the plaintiff.

We will ignore plaintiff’s inappropriate, two-paragraph discussion of the court’s analysis in that case

The court then went on and told the plaintiff every reason why their legal arguments were not only incorrect, but just plain wrong.

The court had already reviewed the games the plaintiff played in filing two lawsuits in different locations and doing so in a way that made the second lawsuit difficult to find. Then the plaintiff lied under oath about the second lawsuit.

The court found the reasons for having the case in Canada were compelling.

Fox argued that British Columbia, where the Canadian case was ongoing, was a suitable forum because plaintiff was a British Columbia resident, the accident took place in British Columbia, and all relevant evidence, medical personnel, and percipient witnesses were located there. Fox believed it was at an unfair disadvantage because it had ” no way to compel the appearance at trial of any of the crucial Canadian witnesses,” whereas plaintiff would be able to obtain the cooperation of his most favorable witnesses.

The court did not order the case moved to Canada, but sent the case back to the trial court to review the motions of the defendant under the proper legal standard. That means the lower court had to review the issues again and move the case to Canada.

So Now What?

The first rule of winning a lawsuit is represent the honest person in the courtroom. The underlying tone of this entire decision was the court had caught the plaintiff lying to the defendants and playing games with the legal system. That never flies. Judges hate it and juries see through it.

Here the witnesses, evidence, physicians and other health care providers to the plaintiff could easily be brought into court by both sides and for a lot less money.

Also, the standards required to win a case like this in Canada are better for the defendant and the damages if the defendant loses will be much lower in Canada.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

11 Cal.App.5th 197

217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366

Fox Factory, Inc., Petitioner,

v.

The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Respondent; PETER ISHERWOOD, Real Party in Interest

No. H043648

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

April 27, 2017

Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No.: 1-13-CV-245098, Beth McGowen, Judge.

11 Cal.App.5th 198

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

11 Cal.App.5th 199

COUNSEL

Paul Rosenlund, Paul J. Killion, Justin Fields and Duane Morris for Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Law Office of Gary L. Simms, Gary L. Simms; Rouda, Feder, Tiejen & McGuinn and Cynthia McGuinn for Real Party in Interest.

Opinion by Elia, J., with Premo, Acting P. J., and Grover, J., concurring.

OPINION

ELIA, J.

11 Cal.App.5th 200

[217 Cal.Rptr.3d 368] Petitioner Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox (Fox), is the defendant in an action for personal injuries brought in Santa Clara County by plaintiff and real party in interest Peter Isherwood. Fox moved to dismiss or stay plaintiff’s lawsuit under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, but the superior court denied the motion, citing authority requiring California to be a ” seriously inconvenient” forum for the motion to succeed. Fox seeks writ review, contending that the court applied the wrong legal standard in denying the motion. We agree. Accordingly, we will grant the petition and direct the superior court to reconsider Fox’s motion under the proper standard.

Background

Plaintiff Isherwood is a Canadian citizen and resident of British Columbia. Fox, a California corporation, manufactures bicycle parts, including front fork racing shocks. On April 24, 2011, plaintiff was mountain biking downhill in British Columbia on a full-suspension mountain bike purchased from Oak Bay Bikes, a retail bicycle shop in British Columbia. The mountain bike was assembled with specialized component parts selected by plaintiff from various manufacturers, including a frame manufactured by Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. (Specialized), [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 369] a California corporation; an adapter made by Full Speed Ahead, Inc., a Washington corporation; a headset made by King Cycle Group, Inc. (King), an Oregon corporation; [1] and Fox Vanilla 36 RC forks which ” a lot of professionals rode.” According to plaintiff’s first amended complaint, the steerer tube used in the Fox racing shocks broke as plaintiff landed a jump. Plaintiff was thrown forward, resulting in a spinal cord injury.

Plaintiff filed this action on April 22, 2013, alleging negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose. Tamara Jayne Bickerton, who later became plaintiff’s wife,[2] also alleged loss of consortium, but she subsequently obtained dismissal of her claim with prejudice. In addition to Fox, plaintiff named Specialized, King, and Full Speed Ahead.

The following day, April 23, 2013, plaintiff filed another court action in Vancouver, British Columbia, naming as defendants SNC Cycles Ltd. (SNC Cycles) and three Doe corporations, as well as three individuals as John Doe defendants. In this pleading plaintiff alleged that the identities of the corporate and individual Doe defendants were unknown to him, even though the

11 Cal.App.5th 201

allegations were the same as those in the California action filed one day earlier. He also alleged that SNC Cycles was the owner and operator of Oak Bay Bicycles. As in the California action, plaintiff claimed that the negligence of these defendants was responsible for the April 24, 2011 accident that had caused his injuries.

The caption of the British Columbia pleading named ” Peter Dilwyn Iserwood” as plaintiff. According to Fox, the misspelling of plaintiff’s name, together with the intentional withholding of the defendants’ true names, precluded discovery of this lawsuit despite ” multiple searches” of the dockets of the Vancouver courts. In addition, plaintiff had testified in his October 2014 deposition that he had never been a plaintiff ” in a lawsuit other than this one.” He also answered ” no” to an interrogatory question about whether, in the past 10 years, he had ” filed an action or made a written claim or demand for compensation for [his] personal injuries.”

Full Speed Ahead obtained summary judgment in the California action on December 18, 2014. Specialized and King likewise obtained summary judgment on February 19, 2016, leaving only Fox as a defendant in this case.

On March 1, 2016, Fox moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, stay all further proceedings in the California case on the ground of forum non conveniens. Citing Code of Civil Procedure sections 410.30, subdivision (a),[3] and 418.10, subdivision (a)(2), Fox argued that British Columbia, where the Canadian case was ongoing, was a suitable forum because plaintiff was a British Columbia resident, the accident took place in British Columbia, and all relevant evidence, medical personnel, and percipient witnesses were located there. Fox believed it was at an unfair disadvantage because it had ” no way to compel the appearance at trial of any of the crucial Canadian witnesses,” whereas plaintiff would be able to obtain the cooperation of his most favorable witnesses. Furthermore, Oak Bay Bikes, the [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 370] British Columbia retailer, was a defendant in the Canadian action. The two cases should be tried together, Fox argued, to prevent piecemeal litigation, assure plaintiff a full recovery, and ensure the participation of Oak Bay Bikes, which was potentially liable. Finally, Fox argued that public interests favored sending this case–which could result in a lengthy, technically complex trial–to Canada, to avoid the further congestion of California’s already ” overburdened” courts by a plaintiff with no connection to this state. Fox stipulated that it would subject itself to jurisdiction in British Columbia.

Plaintiff responded that Fox’s motion was precluded as a matter of law because it had already taken advantage of California’s legal process by conducting discovery in the case. Plaintiff did not dispute that British Columbia was a suitable forum, but he maintained that California was ” equally suitable.” In his view, the private and public interest factors did not support a conclusion that California was a ” seriously inconvenient forum.”

Fox disputed plaintiff’s claims of discovery abuse and pointed to misstatements in plaintiff’s own discovery responses. It explained that despite its docket searches, it had not learned of the British Columbia lawsuit until June 2015, through its communication with Oak Bay Bikes (which had not been named in the California action). Fox asserted that plaintiff had ” deliberately concealed” the British Columbia litigation. Not only was plaintiff’s name misspelled in the caption of the British Columbia complaint, but he had withheld the identities of the defendants by suing them as Doe corporations and alleging that he was unaware of their identities. One of those Doe defendants was Fox itself, through the allegation of the negligent design or manufacture of the steerer tube.[4] Fox also pointed out that even after it learned about the British Columbia lawsuit, it ” lacked universal consensus among defendants” and therefore was unable to seek a stay or dismissal until the other defendants had obtained summary judgment.

On April 19, 2016, the superior court denied Fox’s motion. It rejected plaintiff’s theory that Fox had made an untimely request after conducting extensive discovery: ” Regardless of whether plaintiff was forthcoming about having filed a lawsuit in Canada,” plaintiff did initiate suit there arising from the same facts, and Fox ” could not have brought this motion sooner due to the involvement of other defendants who are no longer in the case.” The court further acknowledged the parties’ stipulation that British Columbia was a suitable forum. It then proceeded to weigh the private and public interest factors it found relevant. Invoking the test articulated in Ford Motor Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 604, 611 [41 Cal.Rptr.2d 342] ( Ford ), the court stated that ” [t]he inquiry is not whether some other state or country provides a better forum than does California, ‘but whether California is a seriously inconvenient forum.’ Ford Motor Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America [ , supra, ] 35 Cal.App.4th 604, 611 (quoting Northrop Corp. v. American Motorists Ins. Co. [(1990)] 220 Cal.App.3d [1553,] 1561 [270 Cal.Rptr. 233]). While there are some factors [that] weigh against maintaining this action in California, others weigh in favor of proceeding here, such as whether a California defendant is manufacturing and selling defective parts. After balancing [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 371] several factors, the Court concludes that California is not an inconvenient forum.” On November 4, 2016, after receiving Fox’s petition for writ of mandate and plaintiff’s preliminary opposition, we issued an order to show cause. Plaintiff filed a return, followed by Fox’s reply.

Discussion

1. Legal Framework

The doctrine of forum non conveniens is rooted in equity. It allows a court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction over a case when it determines that the case ” may be more appropriately and justly tried elsewhere.” ( Stangvik v. Shiley Inc. (1991) 54 Cal.3d 744, 751 [1 Cal.Rptr.2d 556819 P.2d 14] ( Stangvik ).) The Legislature endorsed the application of this principle by enacting section 410.30, which states, in subdivision (a), ” When a court upon motion of a party or its own motion finds that in the interest of substantial justice an action should be heard in a forum outside this state, the court shall stay or dismiss the action in whole or in part on any conditions that may be just.” As explained in the Judicial Council’s comment to this section, the provision ” authorizes a court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction in appropriate instances on the ground that the plaintiff has unfairly or unreasonably invoked the jurisdiction of an inconvenient forum.” (Judicial Council of Cal., com., reprinted at Deering’s Ann. Code Civ. Proc. (2015 ed.) foll. § 410.30, p. 337.)

Our Supreme Court in Stangvik set forth a two-step analysis for a court considering a forum non conveniens motion. ” A case-by-case examination of the parties, their dispute and the relationship of each to the state of California is the heart of the required analysis.” ( National Football League v. Fireman ‘ s Fund Ins. Co. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 902, 921 [157 Cal.Rptr.3d 318] ( National Football League ).) The court ” must first determine whether the alternate forum is a ‘suitable’ place for trial. If it is, the next step is to consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trial and the enforceability of the ensuing judgment expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses. The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts with congested calendars, protecting the interests of potential jurors so that they are not called upon to decide cases in which the local community has little concern, and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction in the litigation.” ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 751, citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno (1981) 454 U.S. 235, 259-261 [70 L.Ed.2d 419102 S.Ct. 252] ( Piper ) and Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947) 330 U.S. 501, 507-509 [91 L.Ed. 105567 S.Ct. 839].) Also of potential concern is ” the interest in trying the case in a forum familiar with the applicable law, and the interest in avoiding unnecessary conflicts of laws.” ( Monegro v. Rosa (9th Cir. 2000) 211 F.3d 509, 512.) These public and private interests are to be ” applied flexibly, without giving undue emphasis to any one element.” ( Stangvik, supra, at p. 753.)

The burden of proof is on the defendant, as the party asserting forum non conveniens. ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 751.) On appeal, the ” threshold” determination–the suitability of the alternative forum–is examined de novo. ( Id. at p. 752, fn. 3; American Cemwood Corp. v. American Home Assurance Co. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 431, 436 [104 Cal.Rptr.2d 670]; [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 372Investors Equity Life Holding Co. v. Schmidt (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1519, 1528 [126 Cal.Rptr.3d 135].) We review the ultimate ruling, however, for abuse of discretion, and the lower court’s ruling is entitled to ” substantial deference.” ( Stangvik, supra, at p. 751.)

Before proceeding to the merits of Fox’s petition, we briefly address plaintiff’s renewed assertion that Fox’s motion was untimely, because it could have sought a stay earlier but simply ” laid [ sic ] back and waited” for the other defendants to secure a favorable dismissal. We reject plaintiff’s argument, as did the superior court. The court was entitled to find that Fox could not practically have brought its motion any sooner while the other defendants remained in the case. Plaintiff fails to show error in either the court’s reasoning or its conclusion on this point.

2. The ” Seriously Inconvenient” Standard

The essence of Fox’s argument is that the superior court applied the wrong legal standard in denying Fox’s motion. Because plaintiff is a Canadian citizen, not a California resident, Fox contends that plaintiff was entitled to less deference in his forum choice, and it should not have been required to show that California was a seriously inconvenient forum in order to obtain a stay or dismissal.[5] Plaintiff responds that whether a plaintiff is a resident or nonresident is not dispositive: although the forum choices of nonresidents enjoy less deference than those of residents, ” both types of plaintiffs [ sic ] have the same burden–to show that California is seriously inconvenient. Fox muddles these two principles.”

In his return, plaintiff clarifies that it is the defendant that has this burden. He nonetheless adheres to the assertion that the required showing is a seriously inconvenient forum, even when the plaintiff is not a resident of California. Plaintiff even urges this court to reach the same result as we did in one of our unpublished decisions, as if withholding the name of the case allows it to rely on that opinion ” [t]o ensure consistency of decisional principle.” We will ignore plaintiff’s inappropriate, two-paragraph discussion of the court’s analysis in that case. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a).) Suffice it to say that this court has never adopted the ” seriously inconvenient” standard advocated by plaintiff.

The primary source of the standard on which the court and plaintiff relied is Ford. In Ford the Second Appellate District, Division One, reversed a dismissal based on forum non conveniens in an action brought by a California plaintiff against multiple liability insurers. The court imposed on the defendants ” the burden of producing sufficient evidence to overcome the strong presumption of appropriateness attending plaintiff’s choice of forum. That is, the inquiry is not whether Michigan provides a better forum than does California, but whether California is a seriously inconvenient forum.” ( Ford, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at p. 611; see also Morris v. AGFA Corp. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1452, 1463-1464 [51 Cal.Rptr.3d 301] [upholding stay based on finding that California was a seriously inconvenient forum for Texas plaintiffs suing for toxic exposure of decedent in Texas]; Hansen v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 753, 760 [59 Cal.Rptr.2d 229] [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 373] [finding balance of public and private interests to favor Montana notwithstanding plaintiffs’ insistence that California was not ” seriously inconvenient” ]; In re Marriage of Taschen (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 681, 691 [36 Cal.Rptr.3d 286] [upholding stay in favor of litigation in Germany based on trial court’s determination that California was a seriously inconvenient forum].)

Plaintiff insists that Ford articulated the proper test for determining Fox’s forum non conveniens motion. We disagree. First, applying the ” seriously inconvenient” standard to plaintiff’s lawsuit would amount to according his forum preference ” great weight,” as did the court in Ford. ( Ford, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at p. 610.) But to do so here would contravene the guidance of our Supreme Court in Stangvik, which clearly explained that the forum choice of a foreign plaintiff is not entitled to a presumption of convenience. ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at pp. 754-755; see Piper, supra, 454 U.S. at pp. 255-256 [approving of distinction between a resident plaintiff’s choice of home forum and a foreign plaintiff’s choice, which ” deserves less deference” ].) In discussing the residence of the parties as a factor in the analysis of private and public interests, the Supreme Court in Stangvik limited the prior appellate holdings that the plaintiff’s forum choice ” should rarely be disturbed unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant.” ( Stangvik, supra, at p. 754.) ” [T]he reasons advanced for this frequently reiterated rule apply only to residents of the forum state: (1) if the plaintiff is a resident of the jurisdiction in which the suit is filed, the plaintiff’s choice of forum is presumed to be convenient [citations]; and (2) a state has a strong interest in assuring its own residents an adequate forum for the redress of grievances [citation]. … Where, however, the plaintiff resides in a foreign country, Piper holds that the plaintiff’s choice of forum is much less reasonable and is not entitled to the same preference as a resident of the state where the action is filed. ( Piper, supra, 454 U.S. at p. 256.)” ( Stangvik, supra, at pp. 754-755.) Accordingly, the choice of California as a forum by the Stangvik plaintiffs–all of whom were residents of Sweden or Norway–was ” not a substantial factor in favor of retaining jurisdiction here.” ( Id. at p. 755.)

Even the court in Ford acknowledged that under Stangvik ” a foreign, noncitizen plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to less deference.” ( Ford, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at p. 611.) Northrop Corp. v. American Motorists Ins. Co., supra, 220 Cal.App.3d at page 1561 ( Northrop ), the case cited by the Ford court in support of its ” seriously inconvenient” language, did not employ such a standard; indeed, the Northrop court did not use that language at all. The focus of the court was on the ” substantial and ‘deeply rooted'” interests and policies according weight to a California resident ‘ s choice of forum. ( Id. at p. 1562.)

National Football League offers a more factually analogous and more cogent analysis than that of Ford. There the plaintiff football league (NFL) had its headquarters and its ” ‘physical center of operations’ ” in New York, and it therefore was deemed not to be a California resident as it had claimed to be, notwithstanding the location of three of its 32 teams. ( National Football League, supra, 216 Cal.App.4th at p. 919.) After the trial court granted the defendant insurers’ motions to stay NFL’s action against them, NFL appealed, contending that the court had abused its discretion in weighing the private and public interest factors. Among [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 374] its arguments was the assertion that the trial court had erred in not requiring the insurers to demonstrate that California was a seriously inconvenient forum. The appellate court (Second Dist., Div. Five) agreed with the trial court that this standard is inapplicable to a nonresident plaintiff.

Plaintiff complains that the National Football League court ” blithely dismissed” the Judicial Council comment to section 410.30, which states, ” Under the doctrine of inconvenient forum, a court, even though it has jurisdiction, will not entertain the suit if it believes that the forum of filing is a seriously inconvenient forum for the trial of the action.” But as noted in National Football League, the Supreme Court in Stangvik clarified that ” the basis of the inconvenient forum doctrine is the need to give preference to California residents and guard against the ‘” unchecked and unregulated importation of transitory causes of action for trial in this state.” ‘” ( National Football League, supra, 216 Cal.App.4th at p. 926, italics added.) We likewise reject plaintiff’s implicit suggestion that in every case great weight is required to overcome a nonresident plaintiff’s forum choice. Even if we were reviewing a dismissal order in a suit brought by a California resident–we would not subscribe to the analysis employed in Ford. And plaintiff’s position is all the more untenable in this case, as he is not even a United States citizen, a distinction highlighted in Stangvik. The superior court therefore erred in imposing a burden on Fox to show that California is a seriously inconvenient forum in order to obtain a dismissal or stay under the forum non conveniens doctrine.

” A trial court abuses its discretion when it applies the wrong legal standards applicable to the issue at hand.” ( Paterno v. State of California (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 68, 85 [87 Cal.Rptr.2d 754]; accord, Doe 2 v. Superior Court (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1504, 1517 [34 Cal.Rptr.3d 458]; see also Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Superior Court (2009) 47 Cal.4th 725, 733 [101 Cal.Rptr.3d 758219 P.3d 736] [” An abuse of discretion is shown when the trial court applies the wrong legal standard” ].) Here, the superior court’s dismissal of Fox’s motion based on the ” seriously inconvenient” standard amounted to an abuse of discretion which cannot stand.

In his preliminary opposition to Fox’s petition plaintiff maintains that if erroneous, the ruling was not prejudicial. He relies on article VI, section 13, of the California Constitution– which precludes reversal absent a miscarriage of justice[6]–and on Soule v. General Motors Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 580 [34 Cal.Rptr.2d 607882 P.2d 298], which affirmed a judgment where the asserted instructional error was harmless. Even if the procedural posture of this case were comparable to that of Soule and judicial applications of article VI, section 13, we would not speculate as to how the court would have ruled had it not believed it was obligated to grant the motion only if California were a seriously inconvenient forum. As noted earlier, it is for the superior court to weigh and flexibly apply the private and public interests at stake. ( Stangvik, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 753.) Here it is conceivable that upon [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 375] reconsidering the motion under the correct standard the court will find that equity and the balance of private and public interests compel the granting of the motion.[7] Accordingly, we cannot accede to plaintiff’s request that we deem the error harmless as a matter of law. By the same token, we decline Fox’s request to direct the court to stay or dismiss the California action. Instead, we must remand the matter to permit the proper exercise of the superior court’s discretion.

Disposition

Let a peremptory writ of mandate issue directing respondent court to set aside its April 19, 2016 order denying petitioner Fox’s motion to dismiss or stay plaintiff’s lawsuit, and to reconsider the motion in accordance with the correct standard for evaluating this forum non conveniens motion. The temporary stay is vacated effective upon the finality of this opinion. Costs in this original proceeding are awarded to Fox.

Premo, Acting P. J., and Grover, J., concurred.

———

Notes:

[1]King was erroneously sued as Chris King Precision Components.

[2]Plaintiff and Bickerton did not have any officially recognized relationship until the date of their marriage, which plaintiff testified was July 12, 2014.

[3]All further statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.

[4]The Vancouver ” Notice of Civil Claim” alleged: ” The steerer tube and other components of the SX Trail were designed, manufactured, marketed and distributed by the Defendants Doe Corporations #1, #2 and #3.”

[5]Plaintiff asserts that Fox forfeited its challenge by not presenting it to the superior court. He is incorrect. Fox argued vigorously in its reply that plaintiff was mischaracterizing the applicable standard.

[6]This constitutional provision states: ” No judgment shall be set aside, or new trial granted, in any cause, on the ground of misdirection of the jury, or of the improper admission or rejection of evidence, or for any error as to any matter of pleading, or for any error as to any matter of procedure, unless, after an examination of the entire cause, including the evidence, the court shall be of the opinion that the error complained of has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.” (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 13.)

[7]The court’s written order specifically identified only one of the Stangvik factors, by suggesting the relevance of ” whether a California defendant is manufacturing and selling defective parts.”


Washington Appellate court reviews release law in 2021 and the requirements on when a release is ambiguous and/or conspicuous.

Like most other states, if you signed the release, you read and agree to the release. However, that is about the only similarity to release law in other states as pointed out in this decision.

McCoy v. PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness,

State: Washington, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

Plaintiff: Carol J. McCoy

Defendant: PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2021

Summary

The release used by the health club stopped the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff for her injuries. However, this decision points out two very different requirements Washington’s law requires for a release to be valid. No release will work in all 43 states that allow the use of a release.

Facts

On February 1, 2016, McCoy entered into a membership agreement at Planet Fitness in Lacey. The first page of the two-page membership agreement begins with a section covering personal information, membership rate, and financial terms of the membership. The final sentence of this section states, “Cancellation & Billing Policies: I have read and understand the cancellation rights and billing policies on the front and back of this agreement,” followed by McCoy’s signature/initials. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 25. Below McCoy’s signature/initials is a large box marked “PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION” with McCoy’s bank account information, and her signature after the paragraph authorizing a monthly membership fee payment.

In July 2016, McCoy fell from a stair stepper machine at Planet Fitness. She alleged that the emergency stop button failed to stop the machine, causing her injury. In January 2019, McCoy filed an amended complaint, naming Planet Fitness and the manufacturer of the machine, the Brunswick Corporation, [ 2] as defendants. She alleged claims of negligence and failure to provide a safe product.

Planet Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that McCoy had signed an enforceable liability waiver. In support of its motion, it provided a copy of the membership agreement as well as excerpts from a transcript of McCoy’s deposition testimony. In her deposition, when shown the membership agreement, McCoy stated that she did not remember seeing the membership agreement before and that she did not remember signing it.

McCoy responded to the motion, arguing that the waiver provision in the membership agreement was inconspicuous and ambiguous, and because McCoy was not given an opportunity to read or review the agreement, it was unwittingly signed. In a supporting declaration, McCoy recalled the day she signed the membership agreement: 3.I was there for a short time, and I spoke to a person who appeared to be the manager, or at least was working behind the desk, who presented me with some documents to sign. He identified these documents as mere formalities and that I had to sign them in order to join the club. He showed me where to sign on a couple documents and I signed them, but I was not given an opportunity to read all the language, and when I mentioned that, he told me he would send me copies of these documents in the mail to my home address. He never did. 4.What little I could see of the documents was in very fine, small print which I could not read, at least on one of the documents, and the first time I saw the documents was at my deposition. I did not have time to read them at my deposition and I would have had difficulty anyway because the print was so small. . . . . As I said, the only direction I got from the person who was working behind the counter was to “sign here” and I did. He immediately took the documents back and told me that he would mail them to me, but I never received copies in the mail so I never really had an opportunity to review them before the incident occurred, or any time afterwards.

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

Washington’s law since 1988 has allowed the use of releases to allow parties to stop litigation.

The Washington Supreme Court has recognized the right of parties “‘expressly to agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent.'”

Washington has three ways to void releases, one that is found in most states and two slightly different ways. The first, a release fails if it violates public policy. This means the release is void based on who the release is attempting to protect or the services being offered that are to be covered by the release. However, in Washington, the state has adopted six factors to define public policy.

Six factors are considered in determining whether exculpatory agreements violate public policy. The court considers whether (1) the agreement concerns an endeavor of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation; (2) the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public; (3) such party holds itself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established; (4) because of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks the services; (5) in exercising a superior bargaining power, the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence; and (6) the person or property of members of the public seeking such services must be placed under the control of the furnisher of the services, subject to the risk of carelessness on the part of the furnisher, its employees or agents. Wagenblast v. Odessa Sch. Dist. 105-157-166J, 110 Wash.2d 845, 851-55, 758 P.2d 968 (1988) (citing Tunkl v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 60 Cal.2d 92, 32 Cal.Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 446 (1963)).

The second and third ways are very different from other states. If the negligent act falls below the standard of protection for others, it is void. This phrase is not defined in Washington’s law that I can find, even though it is quoted in several cases. I am guessing it is similar to a gross negligence argument. The act or omission of the defendant was so great as to far exceed negligence. However, I’m not sure.

Generally, a liability waiver or exculpatory clause in a contract is “enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous.” The first two exceptions are not at issue here. A liability waiver provision is not enforceable if the releasing language is “‘so inconspicuous that reasonable persons could reach different conclusions as to whether the document was unwittingly signed.’

The inconspicuous argument was the main argument made by the defendant in this case and discussed by the court. Washington has six factors to determine if the language in a contract is inconspicuous.

Courts look to several factors in deciding whether a liability waiver provision is conspicuous, including: (1) whether the waiver provision is set apart or hidden within other provisions, (2) whether the heading or caption of the provision is clear, (3) whether the waiver provision is set off in capital letters or in bold type, (4) whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, (5) what the language says above the signature line, and (6) whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver provision.

The is far more requirements than most states, in fact; most states only require the waiver or release provisions be set apart or not hidden within the contract. Washington also requires that there be a heading or caption providing notice of the importance of the release or waiver section. That language of the exculpatory provisions must be in capital letters or bold type. The signature on the document must be below the exculpatory provisions. That means if your contract has a signature on the front of the document but references release language on the back, the release will be void.

The language above the signature line must indicate the person is giving up their legal rights or the signature line must be specifically below the release provisions, and the signature must clearly relate to the release provisions.

This six-part analysis of conspicuous is not done individually but looking at the agreement as a whole. Yet the analysis the court made was of each point of the test and reviewed individually, not as a whole.

We do not look to whether the plaintiff unwittingly signed the form from her subjective viewpoint, but whether, “objectively, the waiver provision was so inconspicuous that it is unenforceable.” Essentially, if the waiver provision is hidden, i.e. inconspicuous, it is unenforceable. Nevertheless, even if the waiver provision is conspicuous, and a person signs without reading it, the provision is enforceable unless the signor was not given an opportunity to read it. (“[A] person who signs an agreement without reading it is bound by its terms as long as there was ‘ample opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as he cared, and he failed to do so for his own personal reasons.'”)

The following two pages of analysis in the decision by the court looked at the release in detail to determine if the six factors had been met. The court found the waiver language in the contract was conspicuous and thus valid.

The next argument made by the plaintiff was the plaintiff did not have time to read the release.

McCoy admits that she did not read the agreement. Even though she did not read the agreement, she would be bound by its terms only if there was opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as she cared, and she failed to do so for her own personal reasons. (“Where a party has signed a contract without reading it, that party cannot successfully argue that mutual assent was lacking as long as the party was not deprived of the opportunity to read the contract.”).

Basically, if you signed the agreement, you have read and understood the agreement.

So Now What?

No release or waiver can be written to satisfy the laws of all 50 states or the 43 states that allow the use of a release or waiver. Even though Washington’s law is similar to the law in most states, it is very different in several aspects, enough so that if you operate in or are based in Washington your release must be written to meet Washington’s law.

No other state has the requirements for conspicuous that are required for a waiver or release to be valid like Washington’s law. It is specific and as stated by the court, if all six parts of the requirements are not met the release is void.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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McCoy v. PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness,

McCoy v. PFWA Lacey, LLC, dba Planet Fitness,

Carol J. McCoy, a single person, Respondent,

PFWA Lacey, LLC, a Washington limited company, dba Planet Fitness, Petitioner,

and

BRUNSWICK CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

No. 54400-8-II

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

May 11, 2021

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Veljacic, J.

Carol McCoy brought suit against Planet Fitness-Lacey for negligence after she was injured using a fitness machine. Planet Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that McCoy was precluded from bringing suit because she signed a membership agreement that contained a liability waiver provision.[ 1] McCoy argued that the waiver was inconspicuous and that she was not given an opportunity to read the membership agreement.

The court denied Planet Fitness’s motion, determining that material issues of fact remained regarding whether McCoy unwittingly signed the waiver provision because it was inconspicuous. Planet Fitness appeals. We reverse the order denying summary judgment because the waiver provision was conspicuous and McCoy did not demonstrate an issue of material fact bearing on whether she was provided an opportunity to read the membership agreement.

FACTS

On February 1, 2016, McCoy entered into a membership agreement at Planet Fitness in Lacey. The first page of the two-page membership agreement begins with a section covering personal information, membership rate, and financial terms of the membership. The final sentence of this section states, “Cancellation & Billing Policies: I have read and understand the cancellation rights and billing policies on the front and back of this agreement,” followed by McCoy’s signature/initials. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 25. Below McCoy’s signature/initials is a large box marked “PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION” with McCoy’s bank account information, and her signature after the paragraph authorizing a monthly membership fee payment.

The waiver provision is found below the payment authorization box, a little more than halfway down the first page of the agreement. Image Omitted

CPat25.

Below a dark line is a banner containing the bolded, capitalized words “RELEASE OF LIABILITY,” “ASSUMPTION OF RISK,” “CLUB RULES,” and “BUYER’S NOTICE & RIGHT TO CANCEL.” CP at 25. Directly below that banner is a paragraph in the same small sized font as the majority of the agreement that enumerates the waiver of legal rights. The waiver provision states that certain risks are inherent in physical activity and that the signer understands and voluntarily accepts responsibility for risk of injury or loss arising from the use of Planet Fitness facilities. It goes on to state twice that the member agrees that Planet Fitness is not liable for injury resulting from negligent conduct or omission of Planet Fitness or anyone acting on its behalf. The second paragraph of the waiver provision reads: I understand that I am not obligated to sign this agreement and should not do so if there are any unfilled blanks. I understand my right of cancellation and the billing and refund policies. I understand my release of liability, assumption of risk and agreement to indemnify, defend and hold harmless and I have been given the opportunity to review and ask questions related to my use of facilities . . . and other equipment. . . . I agree to comply with Planet Fitness’ membership policies and club rules. . . . Planet fitness may, in its sole discretion, modify any policy or club rule at any time and from time to time without advance notice. Planet Fitness reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to refund the pro-rated cost of unused services. . . . By signing below, I acknowledge and agree to all of the terms contained on the front and back of this agreement.

CP at 25.

McCoy’s signature appears immediately below this paragraph, next to a Planet Fitness authorized signature.

Bold, capital letters at the bottom of the first page and underneath the signature line discuss the nonrefundable initiation fee, then an acknowledgement of receipt of a written description of the health studio services and equipment and a complete copy of the rules on separate lines, followed by lines for initials. Finally, the page details, again in bold capital letters, the process for cancellation of the membership agreement. The second page of the agreement has a large bold heading that reads “PLEASE READ AND UNDERSTAND THIS AGREEMENT BEFORE SIGNING.” CP at 26. The remaining language of the contract is immaterial to this appeal.

In July 2016, McCoy fell from a stair stepper machine at Planet Fitness. She alleged that the emergency stop button failed to stop the machine, causing her injury. In January 2019, McCoy filed an amended complaint, naming Planet Fitness and the manufacturer of the machine, the Brunswick Corporation, [ 2] as defendants. She alleged claims of negligence and failure to provide a safe product.

Planet Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that McCoy had signed an enforceable liability waiver. In support of its motion, it provided a copy of the membership agreement as well as excerpts from a transcript of McCoy’s deposition testimony. In her deposition, when shown the membership agreement, McCoy stated that she did not remember seeing the membership agreement before and that she did not remember signing it.

McCoy responded to the motion, arguing that the waiver provision in the membership agreement was inconspicuous and ambiguous, and because McCoy was not given an opportunity to read or review the agreement, it was unwittingly signed. In a supporting declaration, McCoy recalled the day she signed the membership agreement: 3.I was there for a short time, and I spoke to a person who appeared to be the manager, or at least was working behind the desk, who presented me with some documents to sign. He identified these documents as mere formalities and that I had to sign them in order to join the club. He showed me where to sign on a couple documents and I signed them, but I was not given an opportunity to read all the language, and when I mentioned that, he told me he would send me copies of these documents in the mail to my home address. He never did. 4.What little I could see of the documents was in very fine, small print which I could not read, at least on one of the documents, and the first time I saw the documents was at my deposition. I did not have time to read them at my deposition and I would have had difficulty anyway because the print was so small. . . . . As I said, the only direction I got from the person who was working behind the counter was to “sign here” and I did. He immediately took the documents back and told me that he would mail them to me, but I never received copies in the mail so I never really had an opportunity to review them before the incident occurred, or any time afterwards.

CP at 140-41.

In reply, Planet Fitness argued that the waiver provision was conspicuous under Washington law, and provided a screen shot of an undated e-mail from Planet Fitness to McCoy with a copy of McCoy’s signed membership agreement attached.

The court denied Planet Fitness’s motion for summary judgment. Planet Fitness filed a motion for reconsideration, which the court also denied. We granted Planet Fitness’s motion for discretionary review.

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Chauvlier v. Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc., 109 Wn.App. 334, 338, 35 P.3d 383 (2001). On a motion for summary judgment, we view all evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 338-39. Where different competing inferences may be drawn from the evidence, the issue must be resolved by the trier of fact. Kuyper v. Dep’t. of Wildlife, 79 Wn.App. 732, 739, 904 P.2d 793 (1995). On appeal, we review an order denying summary judgement de novo. Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 339.

On appeal, Planet Fitness argues that the court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment, because McCoy signed an enforceable liability waiver provision. Planet Fitness contends that the liability waiver provision was so conspicuous that it could not have been unwittingly signed and is therefore enforceable. McCoy argues that a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the waiver provision was conspicuous and whether she was given adequate opportunity to read the membership agreement.

II. Legal Principles

The Washington Supreme Court has recognized the right of parties “‘expressly to agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent.'” Wagenblast v. Odessa Sch. Dist., 110 Wn.2d 845, 848, 758 P.2d 968 (1988) (quoting W. Page Keeton, et al, Prosser and Keeton on Torts § 68, at 482 (5th ed. 1984)).

Generally, a liability waiver or exculpatory clause in a contract is “enforceable unless (1) it violates public policy, (2) the negligent act falls greatly below the legal standard for protection of others, or (3) it is inconspicuous.” Johnson v. Spokane to Sandpoint, LLC, 176 Wn.App. 453, 458, 309 P.3d 528 (2013). The first two exceptions are not at issue here. A liability waiver provision is not enforceable if the releasing language is “‘so inconspicuous that reasonable persons could reach different conclusions as to whether the document was unwittingly signed.'” Johnson v. UBAR, LLC, 150 Wn.App. 533, 538, 210 P.3d 1021 (2009) (quoting McCorkle v. Hall, 56 Wn.App. 80, 83, 782 P.2d 574 (1989)).[ 3]

Courts look to several factors in deciding whether a liability waiver provision is conspicuous including: (1) whether the waiver provision is set apart or hidden within other provisions, (2) whether the heading or caption of the provision is clear, (3) whether the waiver provision is set off in capital letters or in bold type, (4) whether there is a signature line below the waiver provision, (5) what the language says above the signature line, and (6) whether it is clear that the signature is related to the waiver provision. See Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wn.2d 198, 202, 484 P.2d 405 (1971); McCorkle, 56 Wn.App. at 83-84; Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 342; Stokes v. Bally’s Pacwest, Inc., 113 Wn.App. 442, 448, 54 P.3d 161 (2002).

We do not look to whether the plaintiff unwittingly signed the form from her subjective viewpoint, but whether, “objectively, the waiver provision was so inconspicuous that it is unenforceable.” Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 446. Essentially, if the waiver provision is hidden, i.e. inconspicuous, it is unenforceable. Nevertheless, even if the waiver provision is conspicuous, and a person signs without reading it, the provision is enforceable unless the signor was not given an opportunity to read it. Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 341 (“[A] person who signs an agreement without reading it is bound by its terms as long as there was ‘ample opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as he cared, and he failed to do so for his own personal reasons.'”) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Nat’l Bank of Wash. v. Equity Inv’rs, 81 Wn.2d 886, 913, 506 P.2d 20 (1973)).

III. Analysis

A. Conspicuousness of the Waiver Provision

We first consider whether the waiver provision is inconspicuous so as to invalidate the agreement. Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 446. Here, the waiver provision contains some, but not all of the elements that we have found significant in determining the conspicuousness of waiver provisions.

1. The Waiver Provision is Set Apart from Other Provisions

To determine if the waiver provision is conspicuous, we first look at whether it is set apart or hidden within other provisions. In Baker, our Supreme Court held that the waiver provision was unenforceable because it was set in the middle of the agreement without anything to distinguish it from the rest of the terms of the agreement. 79 Wn.2d at 202. Here, the waiver provision is set off by a shaded banner or header with a title indicating that the subject of the following section is a “RELEASE OF LIABILITY” and “ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” CP at 25. The waiver language is not hidden within other provisions. This factor supports a finding of conspicuousness.

2. The Heading of the Waiver Provision is Clear

We also look to whether the heading or caption of the waiver provision is clear. For example, the plaintiff in McCorkle argued that the title “Liability Statement” in the agreement did not allow him to “conclude [that] future negligent conduct was being released.” 56 Wn.App. at 83. This court contrasted the title “Liability Statement” with the release provisions in two earlier cases that were deemed conspicuous because their titles clearly and unambiguously indicated that they dealt with a waiver of liability. Id. In contrast, in Chauvlier, this court found clear and enforceable a waiver provision entitled “LIABILITY RELEASE & PROMISE NOT TO SUE. PLEASE READ CAREFULLY!” 109 Wn.App. at 342.

Here, the shaded header reads: “RELEASE OF LIABILITY,” “ASSUMPTION OF RISK,” “CLUB RULES,” and “BUYER’S NOTICE & RIGHT TO CANCEL.” CP at 25. Although the header indicates that release of liability and assumption of the risk are not the only topics of the following paragraphs, it is clear from the header what the following provision contains-namely, a release of liability and an assumption of the risk. The inclusion of the other two subjects does not make the heading of the provision unclear or the reader ignorant of what is contained below the shaded header. This factor supports a finding of conspicuousness.

3. The Appearance of the Waiver Provision Language is Not Emphasized We then look to the appearance or attributes of the waiver provision itself, like whether the words are emphasized in capital letters or in bold type. For example, in Stokes and Chauvlier, the words indicating release of liability appear in bold or capital letters throughout the provisions. 113 Wn.App. at 448; 109 Wn.App. at 342. Here, the body of the waiver provision is in the same size and type of text as the remainder of the form and has no bold or capital letters. This factor does not support a finding of conspicuousness.

4. The Signature Line

We next consider the signature line and its relation to the waiver provision. Specifically, whether it is located below the waiver provision, what the language above the signature line indicates, and whether it is clear that the required signature is related to the release of liability. Chauvlier, 109 Wn.App. at 342; Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 448; UBAR, LLC, 150 Wn.App. at 538.

a. The Signature Line is Below the Waiver Provision

Here, the signature line is below the waiver provision. This supports a finding of conspicuousness.

b. The Language Immediately Above the Signature Line does Not Relate only to the Waiver Provision

Here, although the signature line is located below the waiver provision, the signature and waiver are separated by an intervening paragraph. The first paragraph underneath the header relates to the waiver of liability. The second paragraph, situated directly above the signature line relates to the club rules and the right to cancel. This second paragraph also states: “By signing below, I acknowledge and agree to all of the terms contained on the front and back of this agreement.” CP at 25.

In Stokes, this court held that reasonable minds could not differ regarding the conspicuousness of a waiver provision contained in a retail installment contract. 113 Wn.App. at 448. This court’s determination relied in part on the fact that a statement immediately below the signature line said that the contract contained a waiver and release to which the signatory would be bound. Stokes, 113 Wn.App. at 448. In Chauvlier, this court relied in part on a statement directly above the signature line reading: “I have read, understood, and accepted the conditions of the Liability Release printed above” in making its determination that the waiver provision at issue was conspicuous and enforceable. 109 Wn.App. at 342. Here, the statement above the signature line is unlike those contained in the contracts held to be enforceable in Stokes and Chauvlier, because it relates to all provisions of the membership agreement, rather than only the waiver provision. This factor does not support a finding of conspicuousness.

c. The Required Signature Relates to the Waiver Provision

Although separated by a paragraph, the signature line clearly relates to the waiver provision because it is spatially oriented near the waiver provision. It is within the area set off by the large banner described above and by its own language relates to the “all of the terms contained” in the agreement. CP at 25. This factor also favors a finding of conspicuousness.

In summary, although the signature line does not correspond solely to the waiver provision, the provision is set apart from the other provisions of the contract by a banner, the caption heading within the banner clearly identifies the contents of the waiver, the signature line is below the waiver provision and it clearly relates to the waiver provision. We conclude that the waiver provision is conspicuous.

B. Opportunity to Examine the Agreement

McCoy admits that she did not read the agreement. Even though she did not read the agreement, she would be bound by its terms only if there was opportunity to examine the contract in as great a detail as she cared, and she failed to do so for her own personal reasons. Yakima County ( W.Valley) Fire Prot. Dist. No. 12 v. City of Yakima, 122 Wn.2d 371, 389, 858 P.2d 245 (1993) (“Where a party has signed a contract without reading it, that party cannot successfully argue that mutual assent was lacking as long as the party was not deprived of the opportunity to read the contract.”).

McCoy asserts that the Planet Fitness employee identified the agreement as a “mere formalit[y]” that she had to sign in order to join the club. CP at 140. The employee “showed [her] where to sign on a couple documents and [she] signed them, but [she] was not given an opportunity to read all the language” because he immediately took the papers back. CP at 140-41. When McCoy mentioned that she had not been able to read them, he told her that he would mail them to her home address. McCoy was apparently satisfied with not reading it before signing. Although McCoy asserts that she was not given the opportunity to read the membership agreement, there is no indication that she could not have read the contract either before or after she signed it if she had asked. Additionally, McCoy sought out the membership and there is no evidence that she was coerced. The waiver was conspicuous as a matter of law, McCoy has not shown that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding her opportunity to read the membership agreement. In any case, even if she felt rushed to sign the document, the waiver language was, as a matter of law, conspicuous enough for her to notice it.

CONCLUSION

The liability waiver was conspicuous. McCoy did not demonstrate an issue of fact regarding her opportunity to read the membership agreement. Accordingly, we reverse.[ 4]

A majority of the panel having determined that this opinion will not be printed in the Washington Appellate Reports, but will be filed for public record in accordance with RCW 2.06.040, it is so ordered.

We concur: Worswick, J. Lee, C.J.

Notes:

[ 1] Alternatively, the parties and witnesses refer to the “membership agreement” as “the documents” and “the contract.” We will refer to it as the “membership agreement” throughout this opinion. The liability waiver provision is contained within the membership agreement. Throughout the remainder of this opinion, we will refer to this provision simply as the “waiver provision.”

[ 2] The claims against Brunswick are not at issue in this appeal.

[ 3] Although the inconspicuousness of a waiver provision appears to be a factual inquiry, the Supreme Court in Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wn.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (1971), determined that a liability waiver provision hidden in the middle of an agreement was so inconspicuous that, as a matter of public policy, it would be unconscionable to enforce it. Subsequent courts of appeal have treated the issue of conspicuousness, as the Baker holding implies, as a matter of law determined by the court. See e.g. Stokes v. Bally’s Pacwest, Inc., 113 Wn.App. 442, 448, 54 P.3d 161 (2002)(“The language is conspicuous, as a matter of law, and it was not unwittingly signed.”).

[ 4] Because we reverse the denial of summary judgment, we do not reach the issue of whether the court abused its discretion in denying the motion for reconsideration.


In a strange round about way, Missouri Appellate Court finds release stops tubing hill claim, but only after release identified the risk the plaintiff complained of.

Court comes to the conclusion the release is valid, but starts at the very beginning of the law and circles continuously to get there.

The Good News is releases are valid under Missouri’s law. The bad news is, you might never know from this decision.

Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

State: Missouri, Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

Plaintiff: Douglas E. Ferbet

Defendant: Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligent maintenance and operation of the tubing hill

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: Release

Year: 2020

Summary

Plaintiff was snow tubing, and his foot got caught in a hole or divot breaking his leg. The plaintiff signed a release, which stopped the lawsuit. The court reviewed all the possible ways the plaintiff could win and lose the lawsuit in this 12-page opinion.

Facts

Hidden Valley’s snow tubing operation, located on a hillside adjacent to its ski resort, consists of a series of parallel and adjacent lanes descending down the hill. Customers slide down the lanes while perched on rubber inner tubes provided to them by Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley maintains the surface of the lanes covered in snow and ice and separates the lanes from each other by raised rows of packed snow and ice.

On January 25, 2013, when Ferbet arrived with his family at the ticket window, he was presented with this one-page, single-spaced, form agreement. He signed and dated the agreement in the spaces designated at the bottom, purchased tickets, and then proceeded to the tubing hill. Hidden Valley provided Ferbet an inner tube to use to slide down any of the tubing lanes he chose. And during what would turn out to be Ferbet’s last slide of the day, his right foot lodged into a crevice in the sliding surface fracturing his tibia and fibula when his momentum carried the rest of his body forward.

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

This court decided to write a law school analysis of the law concerning outdoor recreation injuries. The problem was the decision is extremely difficult to read because it keeps circling back on itself to bring up new legal topics.

The first issue the court reviewed was whether the release contained assumption of the risk language specific to the injury the plaintiff suffered.

Here, since Hidden Valley has asserted the release as an affirmative defense, we review de novo the legal and fact questions (1) whether the release before us is enforceable to release Ferbet’s claims as a matter of law, and (2) whether Hidden Valley has established as a matter of undisputed fact that the injury-causing negligent conduct alleged by Ferbet is within the purview of this release.

I’ve argued that releases need this language for years. However, my argument is based on proving assumption of the risk if the release is thrown out by the court. Here, the appellate court seems to require the language in a release in Missouri, but never comes right out and says so.

The first analysis the court undertook was whether the release met Missouri’s law. This is a common analysis of any case where a release is used to stop the lawsuit. The second analysis, whether the thing that caused the plaintiff’s injury was covered by the release, is also sometimes seen in reviewing releases. In that analysis, the issue is, was the release written broadly enough to cover the injury the plaintiff is complaining about.

However, in this case, the court wanted to know if the release specifically looked at the specific issue that caused the plaintiff’s injury. Did the release cover the cracks and divots in the snow where the plaintiff caught his foot?

First looking at whether the release was valid under Missouri’s law the court reviewed Missouri’s law.

It is a “well-established rule of construction that a contract provision exempting one from liability for his or her negligence will never be implied but must be clearly and explicitly stated.” In doing so, courts must ensure that the exculpatory clause complies with the bright-line test established in Alack, the seminal case on this question, requiring that the words “negligence” or “fault” or their equivalents be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.

Here is where the case starts to veer into new areas. The exact same clause the court is reviewing was already found valid in a prior case involving the same defendant on the same tubing hill with a different plaintiff seven years earlier.

Moreover, this Court has already considered this exact same release in Guthrie v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 642 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (Van Amburg, J., dissenting), in which a divided panel of this Court affirmed summary judgment in Hidden Valley’s favor and found that the language in paragraph 7 releasing Hidden Valley from its future negligence was sufficiently clear and conspicuous. Id. at 648. There, Guthrie’s foot was broken when another snow tuber collided with him in the run-out portion of the hill, the area where all of the snow tubers end their runs. So, Guthrie differs somewhat from this case because of the mechanism of injury which was a collision with another snow tuber, a risk the release covered repeatedly and extensively in paragraph 2 and again in the 8th bullet point of paragraph 3, while here the injury was allegedly caused by the condition of the premises.

Normally once a court finds a release valid in a prior case, they won’t even review the latest decision, they court just issues an order saying the prior decision is controlling. Here, they acknowledge the prior case and still analyzed every possible aspect of release and assumption of risk law in Missouri.

The court found the language of the release was valid. The court also found the word negligence was a necessary requirement of the release.

The court then quoted the decision forming the basis for release law in Missouri, which stated the word negligence was not necessary as long as similar language was used and also requires a notification to the defendant of the specific risks of the activity.

Alack instructs that doing so would be insufficient because the agreement must not only pass the bright-line conspicuity test by employing the word “negligence” or its equivalent, but it also must notify the participant of the specific nature of the claims he or she is releasing.

I believe that the word negligence is not required under Missouri’s law, but I would not bet on it. If you are using a release in Missouri, make sure your release says you are not liable for your own negligence.

The court, after finding the release was valid because it was identical to a release in a prior decision, reviewed all aspects of the document, starting with whether or not the release met Missouri’s requirements for a contract.

Since this is a contract, we apply our rules of contract interpretation to determine whether the language of the agreement should be construed to encompass Ferbet’s specific claim of negligence and whether Hidden Valley is released from that claim. The Supreme Court in Alack framed the issue thusly: “There must be no doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to an exculpatory clause actually understands what future claims he or she is waiving.” “Because standardized contracts address the mass of users, the test for reasonable expectations is objective, addressed to the average member of the public who accepts such a contract, not the subjective expectations of an individual adherent

The cardinal principle of contract interpretation is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intent. The terms of a contract are read as a whole and are given their plain, ordinary, and usual meaning. Courts prefer a contract construction that gives meaning to all contract provisions and we avoid construing the contract so as to leave portions meaningless and inexplicable. Under the doctrine of contra proferentem, the language of the contract is construed against the drafting party. And this doctrine is enhanced in this case because we strictly construe contracts that seek to exonerate a party from acts of future negligence against the party claiming the benefit of that provision.

This is a pretty good analysis of contract law for any state. However, it is pages longer than any other decision reviewing a release as a contract, 99% of which do so in a paragraph.

The court then concluded that it was their job to determine if a reasonable party would have understood what they were signing.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

It is that last section, that departs from all other reviews of releases. Whether the plaintiff knew, by reading the release, that his food could become lodged in a hole in the ice causing him injury. Normally, the analysis is, did the release say the plaintiff could be injured and was that clear and unambiguous.

The court then looked at inherent risk to determine if the risk of a hole in the snow and ice was inherent in tubing. A first in release law, but here the court found a way to tie it back in by including another area of the law never reviewed when looking at release law.

First, it looks at whether term inherent risks as mentioned in the release, define the inherent risks of the sport.

Unfortunately, while Hidden Valley tells its customers in paragraph 1 that “there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport . . .” it does not identify or define in the contract which risks are inherent and which are the “other risks.”

Inherent risks are identified as such because you assume them no matter what. You know the inherent risks of a sport or activity, by law. There is no need to list them in a release.

The court then looks to Missouri’s law to define inherent risks.

Our Supreme Court has defined a risk that is “inherent” to an activity as something “structural” or involving the “constitution or essential character” of the activity. And, generally, a participant is deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood, and the defendant is not liable for injuries stemming from such inherent risks because no duty is owed as to those risks.

The Missouri Supreme Court stated that a participant is “…deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood…” Why would there be any requirement to list them in a release? You know what they are. In fact, any releases that only protects the defendant from the inherent risks are worthless. You can’t sue for the inherent risks of a sport or activity. Therefore, you release does not need to protect you from the inherent risks. A release must protect you from the risks of the sport or activity that are not inherent.

If your release only protects you from claims from the inherent risks of a sport or activity send me a copy. jim@rec-law.us And get a new release written.

The court then veered into assumption of the risk under Missouri’s law. The case that was referenced to define inherent risks, and this court then determined a further review of assumption of the risk was needed.

Judge Wilson expounded on the history and current state of Missouri law regarding assumption of the risk. Coomer [a legal decision] identified three types of assumption of the risk, “express assumption of the risk,” “implied primary assumption of the risk,” and “implied secondary assumption of the risk.” For our purposes, implied primary assumption of the risk and express assumption of the risk are helpful to illustrate the concept of inherent risks raised by Hidden Valley in the participation agreement with Ferbet and the impact of assumption of the risk on duty. Implied primary assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovery when the plaintiff has knowingly and voluntarily encountered risk that is inherent in the nature of the defendant’s activity. In express assumption of the risk, which is directly applicable to this case, the plaintiff makes an express statement that he is voluntarily accepting a specified risk and is barred from recovering damages for an injury resulting from that risk. The plaintiff’s consent relieves the defendant of any duty to protect the plaintiff from injury and as a result, the defendant cannot be negligent.

The definitions are the same as in most other states. What is confusing is why the court is taking this circuitous route to get to its decision? If the release is valid, it stops the claims, whether or not the risk is assumed or not in most states, including Missouri.

The court then attempted “tied” everything together, unsuccessfully.

Application of these principles to this case illustrates the circumstances to which the release here applies and those to which it may not and also the extent to which assumption of the risk principles may apply. It is for that reason that we have incorporated into our legal rationale these assumption of the risk principles even though the trial court relied solely on the release for its grant of summary judgment. Disposition of this case requires application of the release and of assumption of the risk.

The court circled back to the facts in this case by setting forth the analysis of the facts of the case. The court stated if the risk encountered by the plaintiff was an inherent risk of the activity, and the defendant did not increase that risk, there is no duty owed to the plaintiff. No duty, means there cannot be negligence.

Thus, if Ferbet’s injury resulted from a known and understandable risk deemed to be inherent to the sport of snow tubing, and Hidden Valley did not negligently enhance or increase that inherent risk, then the release language in paragraph 7 is not relevant nor applicable because Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty with respect to risks inherent to snow tubing. But if Hidden Valley negligently enhanced or increased that inherent risk, then the release language in the agreement is applicable and operative and we would look to the agreement as a whole to determine whether that enhanced risk was covered by the release.

A defendant owes no duty to anyone for the inherent risks of the activity. That is a basic year two of law school analysis.

However, if the defendant enhanced or increased the risk, then the risk is not inherent and whether or not the defendant is liable is based on the validity of the risk. Again, year two basic law school analysis.

Neither analysis has anything to do with release law. Is the release a valid contract? Doe the release meet the requirements of the state law on releases? If so, case over.

The court then looked at the issue if the risk was not an inherent risk.

In addition, if Ferbet’s injury was not the result of an inherent risk, but was the result of negligence on the part of Hidden Valley, then we apply the release and our analysis is whether that “other risk” was adequately covered by the release such that Ferbet was on notice that he was releasing Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing or creating the risk which resulted in his injury.

The analysis is correct, it is just written in a way that is confusing to read and seems to start a discission, leave it and then circle back to it. On top of that, it does not matter if the release is valid.

The court circled back again and reviewed if the risk suffered by the plaintiff was inherent in the activity.

We turn now to the crevice in the sliding surface that caused Ferbet’s injury and we find that an uneven sliding surface and the potential risks it creates for snow tubers are inherent risks of snow tubing because they are “structural” to the activity and involve the “essential character” of snow tubing.

Then the court changes its mind……. again. “But how uneven can the surface be and still be considered an inherent risk?

After more analysis, the court concluded the risk was not inherent and if the claim was to be stopped it must rely upon the release. Which it could have found in the first paragraph of the decision.

As a result, we find that to the extent the particular variation that resulted in Ferbet’s injury was the result of Hidden Valley’s negligence, then this release extinguished that claim.

The court found the risk was not inherent, and the release stopped the claim. (Inherent risks, if an issue for the decision, are usually determined by the trier of fact, the jury.)

The court took off on another deviation, one which I found entertaining and correct. Many releases have stupid language in them because they are written by attorneys who don’t understand releases or written by non-attorneys. One of those phrases is the person accepts the facilities as is.

Before we turn to Ferbet’s remaining points, we briefly address paragraph 4 in which Hidden Valley seeks to exonerate itself by having the participant accept the snow tubing facility “AS IS” and that “NO WARRANTIES” are being made with respect to the snow tubing facility. These are terms of art with specific meanings in the context of the sale of goods and the sale of real estate. But these concepts have no role in this case involving a business inviting a customer onto their premises for a fee to participate in a recreational activity. Hidden Valley’s customers are not buyers and there is little if any opportunity for them to inspect the snow tubing facility before executing the release and paying their money or even before plunging down the hill.

If your release uses the language “as is” or “no warranties” send me a copy. jim@rec-law.us And get a new release written.

The court points out that the language is from the sale of goods and real estate and has no place in a release. On top of that, you are asking a person, who probably has never seen the activity to agree it is OK. If there is an opportunity for a release to be invalidated, it is by forcing the signor to agree to something that they cannot legally agree to.

The plaintiff argued the snow tubing hill was a common carrier, which requires the highest level of care. The court quickly found a tubing hill is not a common carrier.

In Missouri, neither the common carrier designation nor the application of the highest degree of care has ever been extended to amusement parks or recreation areas such as ski resorts or snow tubing hills.

After that the issue of whether the plaintiff knew what he was signing came back, and the court dismissed the claim with this statement.

It has been uniformly held that a person who can read, and is in no way prevented from reading a written contract before he signs it, is bound by its terms, and cannot void it on the ground that he did not know its contents when he signed it.”). Ferbet testified that nothing prevented him from reading the document.

Which seems to be contrary to its statement where the court determined if the plaintiff would have been fully informed of the possible risks as I quoted above.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

After twelve pages, the court concluded the defendant was not liable.

So Now What?

There is a great analysis of how the legal system looks; it is just rarely done outside of law school. However, reading and understanding the decision the way it jumps around makes it very difficult.

The decision makes several great points; it is just maddening to try to find them and understand them in the circular decision.

What is confusing it the courts’ statement about wanting the release to identify the inherent risks of the activity. Inherent risks are known by people under the law and do not need to be identified. You can’t sue over the inherent risks because they are inherent, and you know them.

The good news is Missouri allows the use of a release, if it is carefully written correctly.

If you email me, a release with either of the language pointed out above, include your mailing address, and I’ll send you a sticker or magnet or something cheap and kitschy!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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

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Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

Ferbet v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc.,

Douglas E. Ferbet, Appellant,

v.

Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc. and Peak Resorts, Inc., Respondents.

No. ED108495

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

December 15, 2020

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 18SL-CC00050 Honorable Mary Elizabeth Ott.

James M. Dowd, P.J., Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J., and Robin Ransom, J.

James M. Dowd, Presiding Judge.

Introduction

Appellant Douglas Ferbet’s recreational outing with his family on January 25, 2013 to Respondents’ snow tubing hill in Eureka, Missouri ended abruptly when as he slid down the hill seated on a large rubber inner tube, his dangling right foot engaged with a crevice in the sliding surface of the slippery slope breaking his leg in two places. Now, Ferbet appeals the trial court’s summary judgment entered in favor of Respondents Hidden Valley and Peak Resorts (Hidden Valley) on Ferbet’s negligence claim in which he alleged that his injuries were caused by Hidden Valley’s negligent maintenance of the tubing hill. Hidden Valley sought summary judgment based on release-of-liability language in an agreement Hidden Valley required Ferbet to sign before selling snow tubing tickets to him and his family just before they headed to the hill.

The trial court found the agreement enforceable and therefore that Ferbet had released Hidden Valley from his negligence claim based on the document’s references both to specific risks involved in snow tubing and that Ferbet was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for injuries including those caused by Hidden Valley’s own negligence.

We affirm the judgment, but our legal rationale is somewhat different than the trial court’s. We agree with the trial court that while exculpatory clauses like the one here that purport to release a party from its own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited by Missouri public policy, and to the extent Ferbet has adequately pled a negligence claim, the language of this agreement is sufficiently specific to encompass Ferbet’s claim and, importantly, it also clearly and conspicuously states that even claims resulting from Hidden Valley’s negligence are released. We also affirm because to the extent that the risk Ferbet claims caused his injury was a known and understandable inherent risk of snow tubing for which Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty, his claim is without merit under the doctrine of assumption of the risk.

Background

Hidden Valley’s snow tubing operation, located on a hillside adjacent to its ski resort, consists of a series of parallel and adjacent lanes descending down the hill. Customers slide down the lanes while perched on rubber inner tubes provided to them by Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley maintains the surface of the lanes covered in snow and ice and separates the lanes from each other by raised rows of packed snow and ice.

At all relevant times, customers, in order to be permitted to buy tickets, were required to read and sign the following document, which we reproduce verbatim here, purporting to identify certain general and specific injury risks posed by snow tubing. The document also contains language that purports to release Hidden Valley from liability for injuries sustained while snow tubing including for claims arising from Hidden Valley’s own negligence: POLAR PLUNGE SNOW TUBING HIDDEN VALLEY SKI-TUBE-RIDE AREA, WILDWOOD, MISSOURI ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE THIS IS A CONTRACT! * * * * * * * * * * PLEASE READ! 1. I understand and acknowledge that snow tubing is a dangerous, risky sport and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport and that all of these risks can cause serious and even fatal injuries. 2. I understand that part of the thrill, excitement and risks of snow tubing is that the snow tubes all end up in a common, run-out area at various times and speeds and that [sic] is my responsibility to try to avoid hitting another snow tuber, and it is also my responsibility to try to avoid being hit by another snow tuber, but that notwithstanding these efforts by myself and other snow tubers, there is a risk of collisions. 3. I acknowledge that the risks of snow tubing include, but are not limited to, the following: • Variations in the steepness and configuration of the snow tubing chutes and run-out area; • Variations in the surface upon which snow tubing is conducted, which can vary from wet, slushy conditions to hard packed, icy conditions and everything in between; • Fence and/or barriers at or along portions of the snow tubing area, the absence of such fence and/or barriers and the inability of fences and/or barriers to prevent or reduce injury; • Changes in the speed at which snow tubers travel depending on surface conditions, the weight of snow tubers and the inter-linking of snow tubers together to go down the snow tubes runs; • The chance that a patron can fall out, be thrown out or otherwise leave the snow tube; • The chance that a snow tube can go from one run to another run, regardless of whether or not there is a barrier between runs, and the chance that a snow tube can go beyond the run-out area; • The chance that a snow tube can go up the run-out hill and then slide in the general run-out area; • Collisions in the run-out area and other locations of the snow tubing facility, with collisions happening between snow tubes, between a snow tube and another patron, between a snow tube and a snow tubing facility attendant, between a snow tubing patron who may or may not be in or on a snow tube at the time of the collision and other sorts of collisions; collisions with fixed objects, obstacles or structures located within or outside of the snow tube facility; • The use of the snow tubing carpet lift or tow, including falling out of a tube, slipping backwards, becoming entangled with equipment, railing and fencing, slipping and falling on the carpet lift and/or the adjacent deck and other risks. 4. I also acknowledge and understand that I am accepting AS IS the snow tube and any other equipment involved with the snow tubing activity, including lifts and tows, and further acknowledge and understand that NO WARRANTIES are being extended to me with respect to any aspect of the snow tubing facility. 5. I agree and understand that snow tubing is a purely voluntary, recreational activity and that if I am not willing to acknowledge the risk and agree not to sue, I should not go snow tubing. 6. I agree to allow the use of my image or likeness incidental in any photograph, live recorded video display or other transmission or reproduction of the event in any form to which this agreement admits me. 7. IN CONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE AND BEING ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SPORT OF SNOWTUBING, I AGREE THAT I WILL NOT SUE AND WILL RELEASE FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY, HIDDEN VALLEY GOLF AND SKI, INC. OR PEAK RESORTS, INC., THEIR OWNERS, OPERATIONS, LESSORS, LESSEES, OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES IF I OR ANY MEMBER OF MY FAMILY IS INJURED WHILE USING ANY OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITIES OR WHILE BEING PRESENT AT THE FACILITIES, EVEN IF I CONTEND THAT SUCH INJURIES ARE THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE SNOWTUBING FACILITY. 8. I further agree that I WILL INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS HIDDEN VALLEY GOLF AND SKI, INC. AND PEAK RESORTS, INC. THEIR OWNERS, OPERATORS, LESSORS, LESSEES, OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES from any loss, liability, damages or cost of any kind that it may incur as the result of any injury to myself or to any member of my family or to any person for whom I am explaining that meaning of this agreement, even if it is contended that any such injury was caused by the negligence on the part of the snow tubing facility. 9. I understand and agree that this Agreement is governed by the laws of the State of Missouri. I further agree that if any part of this Agreement is determined to be unenforceable, all other parts shall be given full force and effect. 10. I have read and understand the foregoing Acknowledgement of Risks and Agreement Not to Sue. I understand by reading this that I may be giving up the rights of my child and spouse to sue as well as giving up my own right to sue.

On January 25, 2013, when Ferbet arrived with his family at the ticket window, he was presented with this one-page, single-spaced, form agreement. He signed and dated the agreement in the spaces designated at the bottom, purchased tickets, and then proceeded to the tubing hill. Hidden Valley provided Ferbet an inner tube to use to slide down any of the tubing lanes he chose. And during what would turn out to be Ferbet’s last slide of the day, his right foot lodged into a crevice in the sliding surface fracturing his tibia and fibula when his momentum carried the rest of his body forward.

On December 27, 2018, Ferbet filed suit alleging that his injuries and damages were caused by Hidden Valley’s negligent maintenance and operation of the tubing hill, specifically with respect to the dangerous condition of the sliding surface that he claims caused his injuries. After some discovery took place, Respondents filed their motion for summary judgment on the sole basis that Ferbet had released his claim against them by signing the above agreement.

In his response, Ferbet asserted that the release was unenforceable as against public policy. He also alleged that amusement park and recreational area operators such as Hidden Valley should be considered common carriers and therefore held to the highest degree of care, as opposed to ordinary care, and that an exculpatory clause should be unenforceable when the highest degree of care is owed.

After a June 7, 2019 hearing on the motion, the trial court granted summary judgment based on its findings that the facts were undisputed that Ferbet had signed the agreement; that the agreement was enforceable and not against public policy; that its operative release language clearly and explicitly exonerated Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing Ferbet’s injuries; and that Hidden Valley is not a common carrier subject to the highest degree of care. This appeal follows.

Standard of Review

On appeals from summary judgment, our review is essentially de novo and we review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Missouri Supreme Court Rule 74.04 governs summary judgment procedures. The trial court shall grant summary judgment “[i]f the motion, the response, the reply and the sur-reply show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 74.04(c)(6); See also, Id. at 378. The trial court and this Court look to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file together with any affidavits to determine whether the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Miller v. River Hills Development, 831 S.W.2d 756, 757 (Mo. App. E.D. 1992). But “[t]he key to a summary judgment is the undisputed right to a judgment as a matter of law; not simply the absence of a fact question.” Birdsong v. Christians, 6 S.W.3d 218, 223 (Mo. App. S.D. 1999) (quoting Southard v. Buccaneer Homes Corp., 904 S.W.2d 525, 530 (Mo. App. S.D. 1995)).

Where the defending party is the movant, it may establish a right to judgment by showing: (1) facts negating any one of the non-movant’s elements; (2) that the non-movant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not been able and will not be able to produce evidence sufficient to allow the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the non-movant’s elements; or (3) that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support the movant’s properly-pleaded affirmative defense. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381.

Here, since Hidden Valley has asserted the release as an affirmative defense, we review de novo the legal and fact questions (1) whether the release before us is enforceable to release Ferbet’s claims as a matter of law, and (2) whether Hidden Valley has established as a matter of undisputed fact that the injury-causing negligent conduct alleged by Ferbet is within the purview of this release. Alack v. Vic Tanny Intern. of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 337 (Mo. banc 1996); see also Abbott v. Epic Landscape Prods., L.C., 361 S.W.3d 13, 19 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011), as modified (Jan. 31, 2012).

Hidden Valley also asserted assumption of the risk as an affirmative defense. Although it did not seek summary judgment on that basis nor did the trial court rely on assumption of the risk in its grant of summary judgment here, our review is de novo and we may do so. See ITT Commercial, 854 S.W.2d at 387-88 (summary judgment may be “affirmed in this Court on an entirely different basis than that posited at trial”). In fact, for the reasons we provide below, we find it necessary to employ Hidden Valley’s assumption of the risk affirmative defense in addition to the release in order to resolve this case.

Discussion

1. In Missouri, exculpatory clauses are disfavored but not void as against public policy.

In his first point, Ferbet alleges the trial court failed to address his affirmative avoidance that the exculpatory clause before us violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. While we may agree and acknowledge that there continue to be strong policy arguments why these anticipatory releases are problematic, e.g., the party best positioned to prevent the harm is relieved of liability and instead the burden of loss is placed upon the party least able to prevent it, the public policy implications of such releases have been litigated, analyzed, and largely decided by our Supreme Court. See Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334 (“Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.”) In short, that public policy ship has sailed aboard the S.S. Alack.

Thus, our initial analysis is whether the release here complies with the dictates of Alack and its progeny to which we now turn. It is a “well-established rule of construction that a contract provision exempting one from liability for his or her negligence will never be implied but must be clearly and explicitly stated.” Id. (citing Poslosky v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., 349 S.W.2d 847, 850 (Mo. 1961)). In doing so, courts must ensure that the exculpatory clause complies with the bright-line test established in Alack, the seminal case on this question, requiring that the words “negligence” or “fault” or their equivalents be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337.[ 1]

Moreover, this Court has already considered this exact same release in Guthrie v. Hidden Valley Golf and Ski, Inc., 407 S.W.3d 642 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (Van Amburg, J., dissenting), in which a divided panel of this Court affirmed summary judgment in Hidden Valley’s favor and found that the language in paragraph 7 releasing Hidden Valley from its future negligence was sufficiently clear and conspicuous. Id. at 648. There, Guthrie’s foot was broken when another snow tuber collided with him in the run-out portion of the hill, the area where all of the snow tubers end their runs. Id. at 646. So, Guthrie differs somewhat from this case because of the mechanism of injury which was a collision with another snow tuber, a risk the release covered repeatedly and extensively in paragraph 2 and again in the 8th bullet point of paragraph 3, while here the injury was allegedly caused by the condition of the premises.

i. Paragraph 7’s release language satisfies Alack’s bright-line test.

Nevertheless, we abide by our previous holding in Guthrie that the release language here satisfies Alack’s conspicuity requirement. Paragraph 7, located three quarters down the one-page agreement, provides in all capital letters that snow tubing participants agree to release Hidden Valley for claims if injured while using or being present at the snow tubing facility “even if … such injuries are the result of negligence on the part of” Hidden Valley.

ii. The word “negligence” is necessary, but we still construe the whole contract.

But our inquiry does not end with the mere inclusion of the word “negligence.” If that was the case, Hidden Valley could have simply presented its customers with a 9-word declaration to sign: “I release Hidden Valley for all claims including negligence.” Alack instructs that doing so would be insufficient because the agreement must not only pass the bright-line conspicuity test by employing the word “negligence” or its equivalent, but it also must notify the participant of the specific nature of the claims he or she is releasing. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337.

Hidden Valley seems to concede this by virtue of its 850-word agreement here in which it endeavors to comprehensively identify the risks associated with, inherent to, or that may arise during snow tubing. And while paragraph 7 sets forth the release language on which Hidden Valley relies, paragraph 7 does not stand alone in this contract. In fact, with its opening phrase “[i]n consideration of the above…,” paragraph 7 incorporates the preceding six numbered paragraphs, the first four of which specifically address the types and nature of the risks involved in snow tubing.[ 2] In this way, Hidden Valley has sought to define and identify the risks of injury from snow tubing for which it not only seeks to obtain a release from its customers but also requests its customers to assume those risks.

Since this is a contract, we apply our rules of contract interpretation to determine whether the language of the agreement should be construed to encompass Ferbet’s specific claim of negligence and whether Hidden Valley is released from that claim. The Supreme Court in Alack framed the issue thusly: “There must be no doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to an exculpatory clause actually understands what future claims he or she is waiving.” Id. at 337-38. “Because standardized contracts address the mass of users, the test for reasonable expectations is objective, addressed to the average member of the public who accepts such a contract, not the subjective expectations of an individual adherent.” Woods v. QC Fin. Servs., Inc., 280 S.W.3d 90, 95 n.1 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008) (citations and quotations omitted).

The cardinal principle of contract interpretation is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intent. Dunn Indus. Group, Inc. v. City of Sugar Creek, 112 S.W.3d 421, 428 (Mo. banc 2003). The terms of a contract are read as a whole and are given their plain, ordinary, and usual meaning. Id.; Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337-38. Courts prefer a contract construction that gives meaning to all contract provisions and we avoid construing the contract so as to leave portions meaningless and inexplicable. Storey v. RGIS Inventory Specialists, LLC, 466 S.W.3d 650, 655 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). Under the doctrine of contra proferentem, the language of the contract is construed against the drafting party. Burns v. Smith, 303 S.W.3d 505, 509 (Mo. banc 2010). And this doctrine is enhanced in this case because we strictly construe contracts that seek to exonerate a party from acts of future negligence against the party claiming the benefit of that provision. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334.

Here, our task is to determine whether a reasonable person would clearly understand and be put on notice that he or she was releasing Hidden Valley from liability for a claim arising from an injury suffered as a result of Hidden Valley negligently maintaining in a dangerous condition the surface of the sliding area so that parts of the body extending from the tube would not become lodged in the sliding surface and cause injury.

The first three numbered paragraphs are the focus of our attention. In paragraph 1, Hidden Valley very broadly and generally puts customers on notice that snow tubing is dangerous and risky and that there are inherent and other risks associated with the activity that can cause injury or death. Paragraph 2 explains in detail the risk of collisions during snow tubing. And in paragraph 3 with its nine subparts, Hidden Valley identifies and notifies customers of a myriad of the risks they might face.

iii. Assumption of the risk – the nature of the risk determines whether a duty exists.

Hidden Valley’s reference to “inherent risks” of the sport of snow tubing[ 3] presents an important legal concept that requires our attention because the extent to which the risk that caused Ferbet’s injuries is an inherent risk to snow tubing will determine whether the release here even applies. Unfortunately, while Hidden Valley tells its customers in paragraph 1 that “there are inherent and other risks associated with the sport . . .” it does not identify or define in the contract which risks are inherent and which are the “other risks.”

Our Supreme Court has defined a risk that is “inherent” to an activity as something “structural” or involving the “constitution or essential character” of the activity. Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 437 S.W.3d 184, 202 (Mo. banc 2014). And, generally, a participant is deemed to have assumed the risk of injury from the inherent risks of an activity that are known and understood, and the defendant is not liable for injuries stemming from such inherent risks because no duty is owed as to those risks. Id. at 197.

In the Coomer opinion, which doubles as an ode to the national pastime, Judge Wilson expounded on the history and current state of Missouri law regarding assumption of the risk. Coomer identified three types of assumption of the risk, “express assumption of the risk,” “implied primary assumption of the risk,” and “implied secondary assumption of the risk.” Id. at 192. For our purposes, implied primary assumption of the risk and express assumption of the risk are helpful to illustrate the concept of inherent risks raised by Hidden Valley in the participation agreement with Ferbet and the impact of assumption of the risk on duty. Implied primary assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovery when the plaintiff has knowingly and voluntarily encountered risk that is inherent in the nature of the defendant’s activity. Id. at 192. In express assumption of the risk, which is directly applicable to this case, the plaintiff makes an express statement that he is voluntarily accepting a specified risk and is barred from recovering damages for an injury resulting from that risk. Id. at 191. The plaintiff’s consent relieves the defendant of any duty to protect the plaintiff from injury and as a result, the defendant cannot be negligent. Id. at 193.

The rule that a defendant is not liable because it owes no duty for the known and understandable inherent risks of an activity “extends only to those risks” that the defendant “is powerless to alleviate without fundamentally altering” the activity. Id. But the defendant “still owes a duty of reasonable care not to alter or increase such inherent risks.” Id. at 197-198. Coomer illustrates this point with two examples. The first is the baseball spectator injured by a foul ball which he claimed he was prevented from seeing because he was being repeatedly jostled and distracted by the team’s dinosaur mascot. Id. at 198 (citing Lowe v. California League of Professional Baseball, 56 Cal.App.4th 112, 65 Cal.Rptr.2nd 105 (1997)). While getting hit by a foul ball is an inherent risk to attending a baseball game for which implied primary assumption of the risk precludes recovery because the team owes no duty of care, the jury may hold the team liable if the negligence of the mascot altered or increased that otherwise inherent risk and that negligence causes the plaintiff’s injuries. Coomer, at 198.

The second example Coomer cites is from Sheppard v. Midway R-1 Sch. Dist., 904 S.W.2d 257 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995), which involved a high school long-jumper injured during a competition by a bad landing in the landing pit. Id. at 259. The court held that even though the student cannot sue the school district for a bad landing because that is an inherent risk to long-jumping, the jury may hold the school district liable when that inherent risk is altered or increased by the defendant’s negligence in preparing the landing pit. Id. at 264.

Application of these principles to this case illustrates the circumstances to which the release here applies and those to which it may not and also the extent to which assumption of the risk principles may apply. It is for that reason that we have incorporated into our legal rationale these assumption of the risk principles even though the trial court relied solely on the release for its grant of summary judgment. Disposition of this case requires application of the release and of assumption of the risk.

Thus, if Ferbet’s injury resulted from a known and understandable risk deemed to be inherent to the sport of snow tubing, and Hidden Valley did not negligently enhance or increase that inherent risk, then the release language in paragraph 7 is not relevant nor applicable because Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty with respect to risks inherent to snow tubing. But if Hidden Valley negligently enhanced or increased that inherent risk, then the release language in the agreement is applicable and operative and we would look to the agreement as a whole to determine whether that enhanced risk was covered by the release. In addition, if Ferbet’s injury was not the result of an inherent risk, but was the result of negligence on the part of Hidden Valley, then we apply the release and our analysis is whether that “other risk” was adequately covered by the release such that Ferbet was on notice that he was releasing Hidden Valley for its negligence in causing or creating the risk which resulted in his injury.

iv. The risks created by an uneven sliding surface on Hidden Valley’s snow tubing hill are inherent to the activity of snow tubing.

We turn now to the crevice in the sliding surface that caused Ferbet’s injury and we find that an uneven sliding surface and the potential risks it creates for snow tubers are inherent risks of snow tubing because they are “structural” to the activity and involve the “essential character” of snow tubing. Coomer, 437 S.W.3d at 202. The packed snow and ice surface is outdoors at the mercy of both the changing meteorological conditions and the continual battering from plunging snow tubes and tubers. As with traditional snow sledding, an uneven surface and its impact on the participant’s experience and enjoyment seems to be part of the “essential character” of snow tubing.

But how uneven can the surface be and still be considered an inherent risk? Unfortunately, the record below is largely silent. We know little about the size or configuration of the spot on the surface in which Ferbet’s foot became lodged. Ferbet described it as an area of riprap which seemed to be along the raised rows of packed snow and ice that separated the individual lanes. The agreement, for its part, not only identified these rows but mentioned that snow tubers may slide up and over these rows into the next lane. We also know little about Hidden Valley’s care and maintenance of the surface and whether Hidden Valley was aware of the danger of body parts becoming lodged in crevices in the surface or whether there had been any, and if so, how many prior similar instances like Ferbet’s.

As the Supreme Court in Coomer recognized, a risk that is deemed inherent may become actionable if the risk is altered or enhanced by the negligence of the activity operator. Id. at 198. So, an uneven area that simply adds to snow tubers’ thrill by pitching them up, and perhaps occasionally out, of the tube is one thing. But a divot that repeatedly and unexpectedly catches and fractures customers’ limbs may go beyond being an inherent risk and become actionable because it is no longer a known and understandable risk that is part of the structure and essence of the activity.

While the paucity of this record certainly limits the concreteness of our factual findings, it does not prevent us from reaching the following legal conclusions and holdings, each of which ends in the demise of Ferbet’s appeal: First, to the extent the crevice was merely a known and understandable risk inherent to snow tubing, then Hidden Valley owed Ferbet no duty and the release is inapplicable and irrelevant because there is no claim to release; Second, if the record had demonstrated that the crevice was so big and dangerous that it went beyond what would be deemed an inherent risk to snow tubing and instead would constitute a negligently maintained surface, then Hidden Valley would owe Ferbet a duty and in that circumstance, the release would be triggered. Looking to the contract, specifically, paragraph 3, we find it adequately notified Ferbet that there could be “[v]ariations in the surface upon which snow tubing is conducted, which can vary from wet, slushy conditions to hard packed, icy conditions and everything in between.” As a result, we find that to the extent the particular variation that resulted in Ferbet’s injury was the result of Hidden Valley’s negligence, then this release extinguished that claim.

Before we turn to Ferbet’s remaining points, we briefly address paragraph 4 in which Hidden Valley seeks to exonerate itself by having the participant accept the snow tubing facility “AS IS” and that “NO WARRANTIES” are being made with respect to the snow tubing facility. These are terms of art with specific meanings in the context of the sale of goods and the sale of real estate. Davis Indus. Sales, Inc. v. Workman Const. Co., Inc., 856 S.W.2d 355, 359 (Mo. App. S.D. 1993); Harper v. Calvert, 687 S.W.2d 227, 230 (Mo. App. W.D. 1984). But these concepts have no role in this case involving a business inviting a customer onto their premises for a fee to participate in a recreational activity. Hidden Valley’s customers are not buyers and there is little if any opportunity for them to inspect the snow tubing facility before executing the release and paying their money or even before plunging down the hill.

In light of the above, we deny Ferbet’s first point.

2. Hidden Valley was not a common carrier in that its tubing hill was not a commercial ride for hire.

Ferbet asserts that because they operate rides and slides, recreation area operators such as Hidden Valley should be considered common carriers and should therefore be held to the highest degree of care. Ferbet then alleges without citation to any authority that such a degree of care is inconsistent with the enforcement of an exculpatory clause. We disagree.

Missouri law applies a heightened degree of care only to a very small number of well-defined activities including common carriers, such as railroads, buses, commercial airlines, streetcars, and elevator operators; electric companies; users of explosives; users of firearms; and motor vehicle operators. Chavez v. Cedar Fair, LP, 450 S.W.3d 291, 296 (Mo. banc 2014). Otherwise, the applicable standard is the ordinary degree of care. Id. (citing Lopez v. Three Rivers Elec. Co-op., Inc., 26 S.W.3d 151, 158 (Mo. banc 2000)) (“The common law ordinary negligence rule requires a defendant to exercise the degree of care of a reasonable person of ordinary prudence under similar circumstances, now commonly referred to as the ‘ordinary degree of care.'”).

In Missouri, neither the common carrier designation nor the application of the highest degree of care has ever been extended to amusement parks or recreation areas such as ski resorts or snow tubing hills. Id. at 296; see also McCollum v. Winnwood Amusement Co., 332 Mo. 779, 59 S.W.2d 693, 697 (1933) (holding the operator of a place of public amusement operating has a duty of ordinary care to its patrons); Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388, 392 (Mo. App. W.D. 1999) (applying a duty of ordinary care when skiers were injured due to icy conditions). And, since this activity resembles both skiing and an amusement park ride, we decline Ferbet’s invitation to do so. Hidden Valley owed Ferbet a duty of ordinary care in connection with its operation and maintenance of its snow tubing hill.

Point two is denied.

3. The summary judgment entered in this case fully disposed of Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances and did not violate Ferbet’s due process rights.

Ferbet claims the trial court’s grant of summary judgment violated his due process rights because the court failed to address his numerous affirmative avoidances. We have reviewed Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances and find they fall into two groups. The first group attacks the formation of the agreement here by raising such issues as duress and that Ferbet had not actually read or understood the document before signing it. The second group of affirmative avoidances broadly attacks the exculpatory clause on public policy grounds. And we conclude from our review of the record and in our opinion here that Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances have been fully considered and resolved.

With respect to Ferbet’s attacks on the contract’s formation, the trial court’s enforcement of the agreement necessarily signifies that the trial court found as a matter of law that this was a properly formed agreement when Ferbet signed it and dated it. Austin v. Brooklyn Cooperage Co., 285 S.W. 1015, 1017 (Mo. App. 1926) (“It has been uniformly held that a person who can read, and is in no way prevented from reading a written contract before he signs it, is bound by its terms, and cannot void it on the ground that he did not know its contents when he signed it.”). Ferbet testified that nothing prevented him from reading the document.

As for Ferbet’s affirmative avoidances regarding the public policy considerations relevant to exculpatory clauses, we discussed at length above that Missouri case law is settled that though disfavored, exculpatory clauses are not prohibited as against public policy. Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 334. In effect, Ferbet’s public policy arguments have been baked into the controlling precedent by Alack and its progeny. We decline Ferbet’s invitation to ignore that precedent.

Point three is denied.

Conclusion

The trial court’s grant of summary judgment is affirmed.

Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J. and Robin Ransom, J. concur.

———

Notes:

[ 1] We also note that Alack sought to distinguish between ordinary negligence and gross negligence in the context of exculpatory clauses with the former being disfavored but enforceable and the latter void as against public policy. Id. at 337 (“there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence[.]” (emphasis added)). However, in Decormier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group, Inc., the Supreme Court erased this distinction because “Missouri courts do not recognize degrees of negligence at common law.” 446 S.W.3d 668, 671 (Mo. banc 2014). Decormier permits exculpatory clauses to shield parties from negligence but holds exculpatory clauses provide no protection for reckless conduct or for intentional torts. Id. Here Ferbet’s claims against Hidden Valley were for ordinary negligence.

[ 2] But even if paragraph 7 had not included the phrase “[i]n consideration of the above…”, our rule of contract interpretation require us to consider paragraph 7 in conjunction with the remaining portions of the contract including the paragraphs that seek to identify the risks involved in snow tubing.

[ 3] Hidden Valley refers to snow tubing as a sport. We need not decide whether this is the case, or whether riding a roller coaster is a sport, whether descending the log flume at Six Flags is a sport or, for that matter, whether golf is a sport.

———


Good Samaritan law used to prove injured Samaritan was not liable for automobile accident where he stopped to render aid.

In this Indiana case, the Indiana Good Samaritan law is tested to determine if actions not defined as first aid, still are immune from liability under the law.

McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

State: Indiana, Court of Appeals of Indiana

Plaintiff: Bradley Montes

Defendant: Eric McGowen and Vision Logistics, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Indiana Good Samaritan Law

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2020

Summary

A truck driver pulled over to check on what appeared to be an injured man in a two-car accident. While asking the man if he was OK or needed medical help the plaintiff collided with the stopped truck. The truck driver could not be sued because the actions of the truck driver in checking on the condition of a person, appearing to be injured was protected by the Indiana Good Samaritan law.

Facts

On the morning of November 4, 2016, before the sun had risen, there was heavy fog in rural Tippecanoe County. McGowen was driving a semi-tractor (without a trailer) owned by his employer, Vision, on a two-lane county road. Traffic was sparse, but McGowen drove at thirty-five to forty miles per hour, well below the speed limit of fifty miles per hour, due to poor visibility. As he drove east, McGowen saw a truck in a ditch on the side of the road. The truck was upright and its headlights were on, pointing at McGowen’s semi as he approached. The truck’s roof, windshield, and hood were heavily damaged. McGowen also saw another vehicle stopped in the road near the truck, but that vehicle drove off as McGowen approached. McGowen speculated that there had been a two-car accident, and the other vehicle was leaving the scene.

P4 McGowen saw a man, later identified as Ryan Patton, “kind of wandering around” the truck. McGowen thought Patton “was drunk at first” or possibly injured.

P5 McGowen stopped his semi in the road. He kept his foot on the brake, rather than shifting the semi’s transmission to park. The semi’s rear brake lights activated automatically when the driver pressed on the brake pedal. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of vehicles approaching from behind.

McGowen rolled down the passenger window and asked Patton, “Are you okay?” Id. Patton climbed up to the semi’s passenger-side window and responded, “Yeah.” Id. Next, McGowen asked Patton if he wanted McGowen to call 911. Patton responded, “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

Rebecca Higgins was traveling westbound on the same road and she saw the headlights of McGowen’s semi, stopped in the road. She pulled past the semi, parked on the side of the road opposite the semi, and activated her hazard lights. She saw Patton’s truck after she had passed the semi. Higgins also saw the semi’s brake lights.

Meanwhile, Montes was also driving east on the same county road. Higgins saw Montes’ car traveling in her direction. She activated her vehicle’s high beams to warn Montes, but he did not slow down. Higgins also rolled down her window, waved her arms, and yelled, but Montes still did not slow down. He instead collided with the rear of McGowen’s semi, without braking, immediately after Patton had asked McGowen to call 911. McGowen estimated no more than fifteen to thirty seconds had elapsed from the time he stopped until the time Montes struck the semi. Another vehicle that was also traveling east on the road, behind Montes, saw McGowen’s semi and stopped before hitting Montes’ car.

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

Indiana’s Good Samaritan Laws are spread-out through the Indiana statutes and cover all sorts of individual actions. This happens for several reasons; one judge has narrowly interpreted the original law so that a new statute is added to cover the interpretation of the judge or an individual doesn’t understand the law and believe they need special protection and have the power and money to get it.

In this, case, the court focused on the central Good Sam Law, or GSL as the court identified it, § 34-30-12-1. Because Indiana has so many possibly conflicting statutes, the court tried to eliminate the statutes that did not apply, which, in and of itself, makes the case difficult to read and understand. The court stops its analysis of the Good Samaritan laws and looks at the claims of the defendant as to whether the action of the defendant occurred in an emergency.

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

The defendant truck driver stopped in the road to see if there had been a car accident and to see if the injured driver needed help. The court found the actions of the defendant truck driver fell within the law. Checking to see if someone needed help was covered as providing emergency care.

Based on the plain language of the statute, “emergency care” thus encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment. In addition, the Samaritan Law immunizes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” In the current case, it is undisputed that McGowen stopped his semi to ask Patton if he was okay and if McGowen should contact 911. McGowen was thus seeking to arrange medical treatment, as mentioned in the statute

The plaintiff argued that the Good Samaritan law only applied to the application of first aid to a person, thankfully the court disagreed.

If the General Assembly had intended to specify that “emergency care” meant only medical treatment or first aid, they could have done so. “We cannot add new words to a statute but are bound to apply statutes as the legislature has written them.” Matter of Supervised We conclude from the unambiguous language of the GSL that stopping and asking if a person who has been involved in an accident needs help is “emergency care.”

The plaintiff also argued the actions of the truck driver in stopping to aid where gross, willful and wanton negligence. Gross negligence in Indiana is defined as:

The Indiana Supreme Court has defined gross negligence as “‘[a] conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of . . . the consequences to another party.'” A finding of gross negligence is predicated on a showing of negligence, as it is the intentional failure to perform a duty in reckless disregard of the consequences.

The court found stopping at the scene of an accident in the way that occurred in this case was barely negligence, if that, and not gross negligence.

Willful and wanton conduct in Indiana is:

Turning to willful or wanton conduct, such conduct consists of two elements: “(1) the defendant must have knowledge of an impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury; and (2) the actor’s conduct must have exhibited an indifference to the consequence of his conduct.” “The distinction between constructive willfulness and mere negligence depends on the actor’s state of mind.”

The court in an attempt to point out the futility of the plaintiff’s case stated that driving on a two-lane road in fog at a high rate of speed was closer to willful and wanton conduct than stopping on the road to help someone.

The court then reversed the decision of the trial court and ordered the defendants motion for summary judgment be granted.

So Now What?

Although a very confusing automobile case, this decision has far-reaching effects for the outdoor industry.

  1. Indiana’s Good Samaritan law is to be interpreted broadly to included acts that are more than first aid.
  2. The definitions of gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence are clearly defined.

Having a Good Samaritan law that has a broad definition of what constitutes protection under the law is great. In outdoor recreation cases, many times rescue of the injured puts greater risk on both the injured and the rescuer. Putting your life in danger to save another should not be justification to be sued.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

McGowen v. Montes, 152 N.E.3d 654; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335; 2020 WL 4516816

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 6, 2020, Decided; August 6, 2020, Filed

Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CT-1707

Reporter

152 N.E.3d 654 *; 2020 Ind. App. LEXIS 335 **; 2020 WL 4516816

Eric McGowen and Vision Logistics, Inc., Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. Bradley Montes, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the Tippecanoe Superior Court. The Honorable Steven P. Meyer, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 79D02-1708-CT-138.

Counsel: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES; William B. Weiler, John A. Masters, Langhenry Gillen Lundquist & Johnson, LLC, Munster, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT: Christopher G. Stevenson, Wilson Kehoe Winningham LLC, Indianapolis, Indiana; Kyle E. Cray, Kisti Good Risse, Bennett Boehning & Clary LLP Lafayette, Indiana; ATTORNEYS FOR AMICUS CURIAE INDIANA TRIAL LAWYERS ASSOCIATION, Brian A. Karle, Sarah M. Wyatt, Ball Eggleston PC, Lafayette, Indiana.

Judges: Friedlander, Senior Judge. May, J., and Tavitas, J., concur.

Opinion by: Friedlander

Opinion

[*656] 
Friedlander, Senior Judge.

P1 Eric McGowen and Bradley Montes were injured in a vehicle accident after McGowen stopped at the scene of a prior vehicle accident and Montes collided with his vehicle. McGowen sued Montes, and Montes sued McGowen and McGowen’s employer, Vision Logistics, Inc.

P2 In this interlocutory appeal, the parties cross-appeal the trial court’s rulings on their cross-motions for summary judgment, in which the court determined that a dispute of material fact remains to be decided at trial. We affirm in part but also reverse [**2]  in part and remand because we conclude there are no disputes of material fact and McGowen and Vision are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

P3 On the morning of November 4, 2016, before the sun had risen, there was heavy fog in rural Tippecanoe County. McGowen was driving a semi-tractor (without a trailer) owned by his employer, Vision, on a two-lane county road. Traffic was sparse, but McGowen drove at thirty-five to forty miles per hour, well below the speed limit of fifty miles per hour, due to poor visibility. As he drove east, McGowen saw a truck in a ditch on the side of the road. The truck was upright and its headlights were on, pointing at McGowen’s semi as he approached. The truck’s roof, windshield, and hood were heavily damaged. McGowen also saw another vehicle stopped in the road near the truck, but that vehicle drove off as McGowen approached. McGowen speculated that there had been a two-car accident, and the other vehicle was leaving the scene.

P4 McGowen saw a man, later identified as Ryan Patton, “kind of wandering around” the truck. Appellee/Cross-Appellant’s App. Vol. II, p. 40. McGowen thought Patton “was drunk at first” or possibly injured. Id.

P5 McGowen stopped [**3]  his semi in the road. He kept his foot on the brake, rather than shifting the semi’s transmission to park. The semi’s rear brake lights activated automatically when the driver pressed on the brake pedal. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of vehicles approaching from behind.

P6 McGowen rolled down the passenger window and asked Patton, “Are you okay?” Id. Patton climbed up to the semi’s passenger-side window and responded, “Yeah.” Id. Next, McGowen asked Patton if he wanted McGowen to call 911. Patton responded, “Yeah, if you don’t mind.” Id.

P7 Rebecca Higgins was traveling westbound on the same road and she saw the headlights of McGowen’s semi, stopped in the road. She pulled past the semi, parked on the side of the road opposite the semi, and activated her hazard lights. She saw Patton’s truck after she had passed the semi. Higgins also saw the semi’s brake lights.

P8 Meanwhile, Montes was also driving east on the same county road. Higgins saw Montes’ car traveling in her direction. She activated her vehicle’s high beams to warn Montes, but he did not slow down. Higgins also rolled down her window, waved her arms, and yelled, but Montes [**4]  still did not slow down. He instead collided with the rear of McGowen’s semi, without braking, immediately after Patton had asked McGowen to call 911. McGowen estimated no more than fifteen to thirty seconds had elapsed from the time he stopped until the time Montes struck the semi. Another vehicle that was also traveling east on the  [*657]  road, behind Montes, saw McGowen’s semi and stopped before hitting Montes’ car.

P9 Both McGowen and Montes suffered injuries from the collision. Montes later recalled seeing the rear of McGowen’s semi prior to the collision, but he was unsure of the distance at which he first saw it.

P10 This case began on August 24, 2017, when McGowen sued Montes, claiming negligence.1 Montes filed an answer, counter-sued McGowen for negligence, and sued Vision as a third-party defendant, alleging McGowen had been working for Vision at the time of the collision.

P11 In January 2019, McGowen and Vision filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to determine that they were immune from Montes’ negligence claims under Indiana Code section 34-30-12-1 (2008), also known as the Good Samaritan Law (“GSL”). Montes responded to the motion and filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, asserting [**5]  the GSL did not apply to McGowen’s conduct.

P12 After a hearing, the trial court issued an order determining: (1) there is no dispute of material fact that McGowen was rendering emergency care, for purposes of the GSL, when he stopped and offered to call 911; but (2) there is a dispute of material fact as to whether McGowen’s act in stopping on the road amounted to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct, for purposes of the GSL. The court granted in part and denied in part McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment, and denied Montes’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment.

P13 Montes, McGowen, and Vision asked the trial court to certify its order for interlocutory review. The court granted the motion. Next, both sides separately asked the Court to accept this appeal. The Court granted the motions, and this appeal followed.

1. Standard of Review

HN1[] P14 Summary judgment orders are reviewed de novo, applying the same standard of review as the trial court. AM General LLC v. Armour, 46 N.E.3d 436 (Ind. 2015). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence designated by the parties demonstrates “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Ind. Trial Rule 56(C).

HN2[] P15 The [**6]  movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000 (Ind. 2014). If the movant bears its burden, then the nonmovant must present contrary evidence showing an issue for the trier of fact. Id. All evidence must be construed in favor of the nonmovant. Mahan v. Am. Standard Ins. Co., 862 N.E.2d 669 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied.

HN3[] P16 Cross-motions for summary judgment do not alter our standard of review. Alexander v. Linkmeyer Dev. II, LLC, 119 N.E.3d 603 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019). Instead, we consider each motion separately to determine whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Mahan, 862 N.E.2d 669.

P17 In addition, this case requires us to review the trial court’s application of the GSL. HN4[] Interpretation of a statute is a question of law reserved for the courts and, as is the case for a summary judgment order, is reviewed under a de novo standard. Ind. State Bd. of Educ. v. Brownsburg Cmty. Sch. Corp., 865 N.E.2d 660 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

 [*658] 
2. The Good Samaritan Law

P18 The GSL provides:

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene [**7]  of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring [**8]  or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1.

P19 The GSL has rarely been addressed by Indiana’s appellate courts. HN5[] The statute’s grant of immunity from civil liability under certain circumstances limits a claimant’s right to bring suit, “in derogation of the common law.” Beckerman v. Gordon, 614 N.E.2d 610, 612 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993), reh’g denied, 618 N.E.2d 56 (1993), trans. denied. We strictly construe such statutes against limitations on the right to sue. Id.

HN6[] P20 When applying a statute to a case, “our first task is to give its words their clear and plain [**9]  meaning, while considering the structure of the statute as a whole.” City of Lawrence Utils. Serv. Bd. v. Curry, 68 N.E.3d 581, 585 (Ind. 2017). If a statute contains clear and unambiguous language, it is not subject to judicial interpretation. Yates v. Kemp, 979 N.E.2d 678 (Ind. 2012).

 [*659] 
3. Cross-Appeal: Emergency Care

P21 We first address Montes’ cross-appeal claim because, if it is meritorious, it would be dispositive of the appeal. He argues the trial court should have granted his motion for partial summary judgment because McGowen was not rendering emergency care for purposes of the GSL when he stopped at the accident scene to ask if Patton was okay and whether he should call 911. Montes argues that the GSL applies only to “persons actively participating in rendering care or assistance,” Appellee/Cross-Appellant’s Br. p. 15, and not to people in McGowen’s situation.2 He further argues the facts demonstrate there was no emergency at the time McGowen stopped his semi.

HN7[] P22 The General Assembly has defined the phrase “gratuitously renders emergency care,” as set forth in the GSL, in relevant part:

[t]he giving of emergency care (including the use of an automatic external defibrillator):

(1) that was volunteered without legal obligation on the part of the person rendering the emergency care; and

(2) for [**10]  which the person rendering the emergency care does not expect remuneration.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-51 (1999). This statute focuses on the element of gratuitousness and does not address what conduct, other than the use of a defibrillator, meets the definition of emergency care.

P23 Similarly, Indiana’s prior cases applying the GSL have not sought to define “emergency care.” In McKinney v. Public Service Company of Indiana, Inc., 597 N.E.2d 1001 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992), trans. denied, a panel of this Court was asked to determine whether a vehicle that was disabled due to a flat tire, where the driver was uninjured, was an “accident” for purposes of the Samaritan Law. The panel determined that those circumstances did not amount to an accident, and the person who stopped to change the flat tire was not immune from civil suit under the GSL. In Beckerman, 614 N.E.2d 610, this Court was similarly asked to determine whether the circumstances of that case amounted to an “accident” for purposes of the GSL. A doctor had been called to a house to treat an ill person, who subsequently died from a heart attack. This Court concluded the victim’s medical condition was not a “sudden calamitous event,” and the GSL did not provide immunity from suit. Id. at 613.

P24 The parties cite several cases from other jurisdictions in support of their claims. Those [**11]  cases are not particularly helpful here because other states’ Good Samaritan laws are drafted differently from Indiana’s, and the courts applying those statutes have reached differing results. See, e.g., McDowell v. Gillie, 2001 ND 91, 626 N.W.2d 666, 675 (N.D. Sup. Ct. 2001) (stopping at an accident to ask if assistance is needed can constitute rendering “aid” for North Dakota’s GSL); Howell v. City Towing Assoc., Inc., 717 S.W.2d 729, 731 (Tex. Ct. App. 1986) (tow truck driver calling his dispatcher after passenger suffered medical emergency did not amount to “emergency care” as defined by Texas’ GSL), writ refused.

P25 In the absence of a statutory definition or prior caselaw, we define “emergency care” in accordance with our principles of statutory application. HN8[] Subsection (b)(2) of the GSL distinguishes between medical treatment and other forms  [*660]  of emergency assistance, providing immunity for persons who “provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1(b)(2) (emphasis added). Based on the plain language of the statute, “emergency care” thus encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment. In addition, the Samaritan Law immunizes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” Id. In the current case, it is undisputed that McGowen stopped his semi to ask Patton if he [**12]  was okay and if McGowen should contact 911. McGowen was thus seeking to arrange medical treatment, as mentioned in the statute.

P26 Montes and amicus curiae argue that, reading the GSL in its entirety, the statute encompasses only medical care or first aid. We disagree. Subsections (c), (d), and (e) of the GSL address the use of a defibrillator to provide medical assistance. The General Assembly clearly knew how to specify medical care, including specific medical treatments, in the GSL. If the General Assembly had intended to specify that “emergency care” meant only medical treatment or first aid, they could have done so. HN9[] “We cannot add new words to a statute but are bound to apply statutes as the legislature has written them.” Matter of Supervised Estate of Kent, 99 N.E.3d 634, 639 (Ind. 2018). HN10[] We conclude from the unambiguous language of the GSL that stopping and asking if a person who has been involved in an accident needs help is “emergency care.”

P27 Next, Montes argues the scene of the vehicle collision did not qualify as an “objective emergency.” Appellee/Cross-Appellant’s Br. p. 13. HN11[] The Beckerman court defined an “accident” as a “sudden calamitous event.” Beckerman, 614 N.E.2d at 613. In this case, McGowen arrived on the scene of an automobile accident, possibly a two-car collision. Further, [**13]  Patton was wandering around the truck, giving McGowen the impression that he was injured or drunk. This is ample, undisputed evidence of a sudden event, with a potentially injured person, that qualified as an emergency for purposes of the GSL. The trial court did not err in denying Montes’ motion for partial summary judgment.

4. Gross Negligence and Willful and Wanton Misconduct

HN12[] P28 The GSL provides that a person is not shielded from civil liability if the person’s acts or omissions while providing emergency care amounted to “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1. The trial court determined there was a dispute of material fact as to whether McGowen’s conduct was grossly negligent or willful or wanton. McGowen and Vision argue that the undisputed facts establish that his acts did not meet either standard, and they conclude the trial court should have granted their motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

P29 The General Assembly has frequently used the phrases “gross negligence” and “willful or wanton misconduct” in statutes granting immunity from civil damages. See, e.g., Ind. Code § 21-44.5-2-6 (2019) (administration of auto-injectable epinephrine); Ind. Code § 31-33-6-2 (2018) (reporting child abuse or neglect); [**14] 
Ind. Code § 10-17-13.5-7 (2018) (physicians’ administration of hyperbaric oxygen treatments to veterans). We have not found a statutory definition of those terms for purposes of the GSL, and the parties have not directed us to any.

HN13[] P30 The Indiana Supreme Court has defined gross negligence as “‘[a] conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of . . . the consequences to another party.'” N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v.  [*661]  Sharp, 790 N.E.2d 462, 465 (Ind. 2003) (quoting BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 1057 (7th ed. 1999)). A finding of gross negligence is predicated on a showing of negligence, as it is the intentional failure to perform a duty in reckless disregard of the consequences. York v. Fredrick, 947 N.E.2d 969 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), trans. denied.

P31 In Miller v. Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 878 N.E.2d 346 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), Miller was driving his employer’s truck when he stopped at a stop sign. Upon driving into the intersection, he collided with a vehicle approaching from his right side. Miller’s employer terminated him after the collision, citing a provision of a labor agreement that permitted instant termination for “gross negligence.” Id. at 350.

P32 Miller sought unemployment benefits, and he appealed the denial of his request. HN14[] A panel of this Court applied the definition of gross negligence set forth above, noting “the question of whether an act or omission constitutes gross negligence is generally [**15]  a question of fact, [but] the question may become one of law if ‘the facts are undisputed and only a single inference can be drawn from those facts.'” Id. at 356 (quoting Sharp, 790 N.E.2d at 466). The Court concluded that Miller’s failure to use due care when entering the intersection after stopping at the stop sign was “negligent, but not grossly negligent.” Id. at 357.

P33 In this case, the undisputed facts establish that McGowen was driving at only thirty-five to forty miles per hour when he stopped his semi in the road at the scene of an accident. McGowen did not put his semi in park but merely pressed on the brake, activating his rear brake lights. He was unaware of any vehicles behind him. McGowen asked Patton if he was okay and whether he should call 911, immediately before Montes collided with the rear of the semi. McGowen stated, without contradiction, that only fifteen to thirty seconds elapsed between him stopping his semi and being rear-ended by Montes. These circumstances resemble at worst the mere negligence at issue in Miller, rather than the reckless disregard for others that characterizes gross negligence.

P34 Montes claims there are several material disputes of fact that justify the trial court’s partial denial [**16]  of McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of gross negligence. We disagree. He points to evidence that McGowen could have pulled off the road, contradicting Montes’ statement during a deposition that there was no space for his semi along the side of the road. This fact is immaterial due to the short duration of the stop prior to the collision and McGowen’s choice to not put the semi in park, allowing him to move on quickly if needed.

P35 There is also a dispute as to whether McGowen activated his vehicle’s hazard lights after stopping, in the brief interval before Montes collided with him. This factual dispute is also immaterial because it is undisputed that McGowen’s brake lights activated when he stopped, and: (1) the brake lights override the hazard lights, and (2) the brake lights are as bright as the hazard lights.

P36 Finally, Montes claims McGowen violated numerous traffic regulations and commercial driver standards when he stopped in the road. HN15[] Even if McGowen’s acts were contrary to statutes, “violation of a statutory duty creates a presumption of negligence that may be rebutted.” Sandberg Trucking, Inc. v. Johnson, 76 N.E.3d 178, 188-89 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017). A presumption of negligence is dissimilar to a presumption of gross negligence. [**17]  We conclude that there is no dispute  [*662]  of material fact as to whether McGowen was grossly negligent.

HN16[] P37 Turning to willful or wanton conduct, such conduct consists of two elements: “(1) the defendant must have knowledge of an impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury; and (2) the actor’s conduct must have exhibited an indifference to the consequence of his conduct.” Witham v. Norfolk and Western Ry. Co., 561 N.E.2d 484, 486 (Ind. 1990). “The distinction between constructive willfulness and mere negligence depends on the actor’s state of mind.” McKeown v. Calusa, 172 Ind. App. 1, 6-7, 359 N.E.2d 550, 554 (1977).

P38 In Frybarger v. Coffelt, 180 Ind. App. 160, 387 N.E.2d 104 (1979), a passenger in Coffelt’s car died when Coffelt chose to race another driver on a two-lane highway at night and collided with a third car attempting to turn left across the highway. On appeal, the passenger’s estate argued that the trial court erred in determining Coffelt’s conduct did not meet the definition of willful or wanton misconduct. A panel of this Court concluded that, although Coffelt was racing at night at a high rate of speed, a dip in the road made it impossible for him to see the car in time to avoid striking it, and there was no evidence of any other reckless behavior by Coffelt. The Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that [**18]  Coffelt had not behaved willfully and wantonly.

P39 In the current case, the standard of review is different, but McGowen’s conduct is far less reckless than Coffelt’s. On a dark, foggy morning, McGowen drove on a two-lane county road at thirty-five to forty miles per hour due to poor visibility. He came to a stop when he saw Patton and the wrecked truck along the side of the road, pressing on the brake rather than shifting into park. McGowen checked his side mirrors as he slowed to a halt, but he did not see any sign of approaching vehicles. He barely had time to ask Patton if he was okay and whether he should call 911 when Montes collided with the back of the semi. During McGowen’s deposition, when asked if he was concerned that stopping on the road may have been hazardous, he stated, “I was more concerned about [Patton]. I thought it was a two-car accident.” Appellants’/Cross-Appellees’ App. Vol. II, p. 104. There is no evidence that McGowen was indifferent to the results of his conduct. Rather, the undisputed facts demonstrate McGowen was aware of dangerous road conditions and attempted to drive carefully while rendering aid to Patton. As a matter of law, McGowen’s conduct did not [**19]  meet the standard of willful or wanton misconduct. The trial court erred in denying in part McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment, because they are entitled to the protection of the Good Samaritan Law.

P40 For the reasons stated above, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions to grant McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment.

P41 Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded with instructions.

May, J., and Tavitas, J., concur.


Indiana Good Samaritan Laws

Indiana Good Samaritan Laws

Contents

§ 9-26-1-1.5. Duties of passenger of vehicle involved in accident resulting in injury or entrapment; violation    2

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services    3

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services    4

§ 16-31-6-2. Use of defibrillators    4

§ 16-31-6-2.5. Use of overdose intervention drugs; civil immunity    4

§ 16-31-6-3. Advanced life support; liability    5

§ 16-31-6-4. Life support provided in connection with disaster emergency    6

§ 16-31-6.5-2. Exemptions This chapter does not apply to the following:    6

§ 16-31-6.5-3. “Defibrillator” defined    6

§ 16-31-6.5-4. Duties of person or entity acquiring defibrillator    7

§ 16-31-6.5-5. Notice of acquisition and location of defibrillator    7

§ 16-31-6.5-6. Contact with ambulance service provider following use of defibrillator    7

§ 16-31-9-4. Civil UabiUty    7

§ 34-30-4-2. Volunteer or volunteer director; immunity    8

§ 34-30-4-3. Liability of organizations or entity    8

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity    8

§ 34-30-12-2. Gratuitously rendered cardiopulmonary resuscitation; immunity    9

§ 34-30-13-1. Voluntary health care; immunity for providing    10

§ 34-30-13-1.5. Immunity for providing medical direction concerning emergency medical services    10

§ 34-30-13-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct    10

§ 34-30-13.5-1. Immunity    11

§ 34-30-13.5-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct    12

§ 34-30-13.5-3. Immunity of facility    12

§ 34-30-13.5-4.    13

§ 34-30-18-1. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; vicarious civil liability    13

§ 34-30-18-2. Liability of volunteers    14

§ 34-30-18-3. Liability of contributors    14

§ 34-30-19-1. Intentional, wanton, or reckless behavior    14

§ 34-30-19-2. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; licensed individuals; vicarious civil liability    14

§ 34-30-19-3. Liability of volunteers    14

§ 34-30-19-4. Liability of governmental entities, employees, and agents    15

§ 34-30-29-1. Immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle    15

§ 34-30-29-2. Conditions necessary for immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle    15

§ 36-8-23-3. Good Samaritan statute applies to fast responders    16

Title 9. MOTOR VEHICLES Article 26. ACCIDENTS AND ACCIDENT REPORTS Chapter 1. DUTIES OF DRIVERS, OWNERS, AND PASSENGERS AND ACCIDENT REPORTS

§ 9-26-1-1.5. Duties of passenger of vehicle involved in accident resulting in injury or entrapment; violation

(a) If:

(1) the operator of a motor vehicle is physically incapable of determining the need for or rendering assistance to any injured or entrapped person as required under section 1.1(a)(3) of this chapter;

(2) there is another occupant in the motor vehicle at the time of the accident who is:

(A) at least:

(I) fifteen (15) years of age and holds a learner’s permit issued under IC 9-24-7-1 or a driver’s license issued under IC 9-24-11; or

(ii) eighteen (18) years of age; and

(B) capable of determining the need for and rendering reasonable assistance to injured or entrapped persons as provided in section 1.1(a)(3) of this chapter; and

(3) the other occupant in the motor vehicle knows that the operator of the motor vehicle is physically incapable of determining the need for or rendering assistance to any injured or entrapped person; the motor vehicle occupant referred to in subdivisions (2) and (3) shall immediately determine the need for and render reasonable assistance to each person injured or entrapped in the accident as provided in section 1.1(a)(3) of this chapter.

(b) If there is more than one (1) motor vehicle occupant to whom subsection (a) applies, it is a defense to a prosecution of one

(1) motor vehicle occupant under subsection

(a) that the defendant reasonably believed that another occupant of the motor vehicle determined the need for and rendered reasonable assistance as required under subsection (a).

(c) A person who knowingly or intentionally violates this section commits a Class C misdemeanor.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 9-26-1-1.5 History.

Amended by P.L. 188-2015, SEC. 100, eff. 7/1/2015.

Amended by P.L. 217-2014, SEC. 105, eff. 1/1/2015.

Amended by P.L. 125-2012, SEC. 293, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 126-2008, SEC.4.

Chapter 6. Immunity From Liability

Article 31. Emergency Medical Services

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services

(a)    A certified emergency medical responder, a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services to an emergency patient is not liable for an act or omission in providing those services unless the act or omission constitutes gross negligence or willful misconduct. If the certified emergency medical services provider is not liable for an act or omission, no other person incurs liability by reason of an agency relationship with the certified emergency medical services provider.

(b)    This section does not affect the liability of a driver of an ambulance for negligent operation of the ambulance.

(c)    Except as provided in subsections (a) and (b), a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services is not liable for transporting any person to an appropriate health care facility when the certified emergency medical technician, the certified advanced emergency medical technician, or the licensed paramedic makes a good faith judgment that the emergency patient or the emergency patient’s primary caregiver lacks the capacity to make an informed decision about the patient’s:

(1)    safety; or

(2)    need for medical attention; and the emergency patient is reasonably likely to suffer disability or death without the medical intervention available at the facility.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-1

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 2, eff. 7/1/2021.

Amended by P.L. 113-2020, SEC. 2, eff. 7/1/2020.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 46, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14. Amended by P.L. 205-2003, SEC.33.

Note: This section is set out more than once. See also IC 16-31-6-1, effective until 7/1/2021.

§ 16-31-6-1. Emergency medical technician services

(a) A certified emergency medical responder, a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services to an emergency patient is not liable for an act or omission in providing those services unless the act or omission constitutes gross negligence or willful misconduct. If the certified emergency medical services provider is not liable for an act or omission, no other person incurs liability by reason of an agency relationship with the certified emergency medical services provider.

(b) This section does not affect the liability of a driver of an ambulance for negligent operation of the ambulance.

(c) Except as provided in subsections (a) and (b), a certified emergency medical technician, a certified advanced emergency medical technician, or a licensed paramedic who provides emergency medical services is not liable for transporting any person to an appropriate health care facility when the certified emergency medical technician, the certified advanced emergency medical technician, or the licensed paramedic makes a good faith judgment that the emergency patient or the emergency patient’s primary caregiver lacks the capacity to make an informed decision about the patient’s:

(1) safety; or

(2) need for medical attention; and the emergency patient is reasonably likely to suffer disability or death without the medical intervention available at the facility.

§ 16-31-6-2. Use of defibrillators

(a)    Except for an act of gross negligence or willful misconduct, a certified emergency medical responder who uses an automatic or semiautomatic defibrillator on an emergency patient according to the training procedures established by the commission under IC 16-31-2-9 is immune from civil liability for acts or omissions when rendering those services.

(b)    If the emergency medical responder is immune from civil liability for the emergency medical responder’s act or omission, a person who has only an agency relationship with the emergency medical responder is also immune from civil liability for the act or omission.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-2

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 3, eff. 7/1/2021.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 47, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14.

Note: This section is set out more than once. See also IC 16-31-6-2, effective until 7/1/2021.

§ 16-31-6-2.5. Use of overdose intervention drugs; civil immunity

(a)    Except for an act of gross negligence or willful misconduct, an advanced emergency medical technician, a community corrections officer, an emergency medical responder, an emergency medical technician, a firefighter or volunteer firefighter, a law enforcement officer, a paramedic, or a probation officer who administers an overdose intervention drug according to standards established by:

(1)    the department or agency that oversees the individual’s employment in providing emergency medical services; or

(2)    the commission under IC 16-31-2-9 ;

to an individual suffering from an overdose is immune from civil liability for acts or omissions when administering the drug.

(b)    If:

(1)    an advanced emergency medical technician;

(2)    a community corrections officer;

(3)    an emergency medical responder;

(4)    an emergency medical technician;

(5)    a firefighter or volunteer firefighter;

(6)    a law enforcement officer;

(7)    a paramedic; or

(8)    a probation officer;

is immune from civil liability for the individual’s act or omission when administering an overdose intervention drug, a person who has only an agency relationship with the advanced emergency medical technician, community corrections officer, emergency medical responder, emergency medical technician, firefighter or volunteer firefighter, law enforcement officer, paramedic, or probation officer is also immune from civil liability for the act or omission.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-2.5

History. Amended by P.L. 4-2018, SEC. 3, eff. 7/1/2018.

Amended by P.L. 32-2015, SEC. 6, eff. 4/17/2015.

Added by P.L. 156-2014, SEC. 9, eff. 3/26/2014.

§ 16-31-6-3. Advanced life support; liability

An act or omission of a paramedic or an advanced emergency medical technician done or omitted in good faith while providing advanced life support to a patient or trauma victim does not impose liability upon the paramedic or advanced emergency medical technician, the authorizing physician, the hospital, or the officers, members of the staff, nurses, or other employees of the hospital or the local governmental unit if the advanced life support is provided:

(1)    in connection with an emergency;

(2)    in good faith; and

(3)    under the written or oral direction of a licensed physician; unless the act or omission was a result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-3

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 4, eff. 7/1/2021.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 48, eff. 7/1/2012.

As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14. Amended by P.L. 205-2003, SEC.34.

Note: This section is set out more than once. See also IC 16-31-6-3, effective until 7/1/2021.

§ 16-31-6-4. Life support provided in connection with disaster emergency

(a) This section does not apply to an act or omission that was a result of gross negligence or willful or intentional misconduct.

(b) An act or omission of a paramedic, an advanced emergency medical technician, an emergency medical technician, or a person with equivalent certification or licensure from another state that is performed or made while providing advanced life support or basic life support to a patient or trauma victim does not impose liability upon the paramedic, the advanced emergency medical technician, an emergency medical technician, the person with equivalent certification or licensure from another state, a hospital, a provider organization, a governmental entity, or an employee or other staff of a hospital, provider organization, or governmental entity if the advanced life support or basic life support is provided in good faith:

(1) in connection with a disaster emergency declared by the governor under IC 10-14-3-12 in response to an act that the governor in good faith believes to be an act of terrorism (as defined in IC 35-31.5-2-329 ); and

(2) in accordance with the rules adopted by the Indiana emergency medical services commission or the disaster emergency declaration of the governor.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6-4 History. Amended by P.L. 114-2012, SEC. 40, eff. 7/1/2012.

Amended by P.L. 77-2012, SEC. 49, eff. 7/1/2012. As added by P.L. 156-2001, SEC.3.

Amended by P.L. 2-2003, SEC.53; P.L. 205-2003, SEC.35; P.L. 97-2004, SEC.64.

§ 16-31-6.5-2. Exemptions This chapter does not apply to the following:

(1) A licensed physician.

(2) A hospital, an ambulatory outpatient surgical center, an abortion clinic, or a birthing center.

(3) A person providing health care in a hospital, an ambulatory outpatient surgical center, an abortion clinic, or a birthing center licensed under IC 16-21.

(4) A person or entity certified under IC 16-31-3.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-2

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

Amended by P.L. 96-2005, SEC.12.

§ 16-31-6.5-3. “Defibrillator” defined

As used in this chapter, “defibrillator” means an automatic external defibrillator.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-3

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

§ 16-31-6.5-4. Duties of person or entity acquiring defibrillator

A person or entity acquiring a defibrillator shall ensure that the defibrillator is maintained and tested according to the manufacturer’s operational guidelines.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-4

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1. Amended by P.L. 74-2006, SEC.4.

§ 16-31-6.5-5. Notice of acquisition and location of defibrillator

A person or entity in possession of a defibrillator shall notify the:

(1)    ambulance service provider that serves the area where the person or entity is located; or

(2)    emergency medical services commission;

of the acquisition and location of the defibrillator.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-5

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

§ 16-31-6.5-6. Contact with ambulance service provider following use of defibrillator

A person who uses a defibrillator is required to contact:

(1)    the ambulance service provider; or

(2)    a fire department that provides ambulance service;

for the area as soon as practicable following the use of the defibrillator.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-6.5-6

History. As added by P.L. 24-1998, SEC.1.

Article 31. EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES

Chapter 9. EMERGENCY CHOKE SAVING METHODS

§ 16-31-9-4. Civil UabiUty

(a)    A person is not obligated to remove, assist in removing, or attempt to remove food from another person’s throat. A person who in good faith gratuitously removes, assists in removing, or attempts to remove food from another person’s throat in an emergency occurring at a food service establishment is not liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by the person providing the emergency assistance unless the act or omission amounts to willful or wanton misconduct.

(b)    The owner or operator of a food service establishment is not liable for any civil damages that result from an act or omission by a person rendering or attempting the emergency assistance if there is an approved placard posted in the food service establishment.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 16-31-9-4

History. As added by P.L. 2-1993, SEC.14.

Chapter 4. CHARITIES: IMMUNITY OF CERTAIN VOLUNTEER DIRECTORS

§ 34-30-4-2. Volunteer or volunteer director; immunity

(a)    This section does not apply to a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14).

(b)    An individual who:

(1)    serves as a volunteer or volunteer director of:

(A)    a nonprofit corporation operating under IC 12-29-3-6;

(B)    an agency providing services under IC 12-12-3; or

(C)    a nonprofit organization that is exempt from federal taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; and

(2)    exercises reasonable care in the performance of the individual’s duties as a volunteer or a volunteer director of an entity described in subdivision (1);

is immune from civil liability arising out of the performance of those duties.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-4-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26. Amended by P.L. 38-2005, SEC.1.

§ 34-30-4-3. Liability of organizations or entity

This chapter does not affect the civil liability of the entity a qualified director serves.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-4-3

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

Chapter 12. HEALTH CARE: IMMUNITY OF PERSONS RENDERING EMERGENCY FIRST AID

§ 34-30-12-1. Gratuitously rendered emergency care; immunity

(a) This section does not apply to services rendered by a health care provider (as defined in IC 34-18-2-14 or IC 27-12-2-14 before its repeal) to a patient in a health care facility (as defined in IC 27-8-10-1).

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident, complies with IC 9-26-1-1.5, or is summoned to the scene of an emergency or accident and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from:

(1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or

(2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person;

except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c) This subsection applies to a person to whom IC 16-31-6.5 applies. A person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from liability for any act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct if the person fulfills the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(d) This subsection applies to an individual, business, or organization to which IC 16-31-6.5 applies. An individual, business, or organization that allows a person who is an expected user to use an automatic external defibrillator of the individual, business, or organization to in good faith gratuitously render emergency care is immune from civil liability for any damages resulting from an act or omission not amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct by the user or for acquiring or providing the automatic external defibrillator to the user for the purpose of rendering the emergency care if the individual, business, or organization and the user fulfill the requirements set forth in IC 16-31-6.5.

(e) A licensed physician who gives medical direction in the use of a defibrillator or a national or state approved defibrillator instructor of a person who gratuitously renders emergency care involving the use of an automatic external defibrillator is immune from civil liability for any act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor if the act or omission of the licensed physician or instructor:

(1) involves the training for or use of an automatic external defibrillator; and

(2) does not amount to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-12-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26. Amended by P.L. 1-1999, SEC.73; P.L. 84-2003, SEC.1 and P.L. 91-2003, SEC.1; P.L. 74-2006, SEC.5; P.L. 126-2008, SEC.11.

Chapter 12. HEALTH CARE: IMMUNITY OF PERSONS RENDERING EMERGENCY FIRST AID

§ 34-30-12-2. Gratuitously rendered cardiopulmonary resuscitation; immunity

(a)    This section applies to a person who has successfully completed a course of training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation according to the standards recommended by the Division of Medical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council.

(b)    This section does not apply to acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

(c)    An act or omission of the person while attempting to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, without pecuniary charge, to any person who is an apparent victim of acute cardiopulmonary insufficiency shall not impose any liability upon the person attempting the resuscitation.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-12-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

Chapter 13. HEALTH CARE: IMMUNITY OF PERSONS PROVIDING VOLUNTARY HEALTH CARE

§ 34-30-13-1. Voluntary health care; immunity for providing

Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, a person who meets the following criteria is immune from civil liability resulting from any act or omission relating to the provision of health care services:

(1)    Has licensure to provide health care services under Indiana law.

(2)    Voluntarily provides without compensation health care services under IC 36-1-14.2 within the scope of the person’s license to another person.

(3)    Provides the health care services at any medical clinic or health care facility that provides health care services without charge and that:

(A)    purchases professional liability insurance under IC 36-1-14.2; or

(B)    is covered under 42 U.S.C. 233.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26. Amended by P.L. 116-2005, SEC.3.

§ 34-30-13-1.5. Immunity for providing medical direction concerning emergency medical services

Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, a physician licensed under IC 25-22.5 is immune from civil liability resulting from an act or omission related to the provision of medical direction concerning emergency medical services (as defined in IC 16-18-2-110) within the scope of the physician’s license, if the physician provides medical direction concerning emergency medical services:

(1)    to a person who is certified under IC 16-31 to provide the emergency medical services; and

(2)    without compensation.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13-1.5

History. As added by P.L. 101-2006, SEC.37.

§ 34-30-13-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct

A person who provides health care services as described in this chapter is not immune from civil liability if the damages resulting from the provision of the health care services resulted from the person’s gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13-2

History. Amended by P.L. 161-2015, SEC. 5, eff. 7/1/2015.

As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-13.5-1. Immunity

(a)    This subsection does not apply during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, a person who meets the following criteria may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision of health care services in response to an event that is declared a disaster emergency under IC 10-14-3-12, regardless of whether the provision of health care services occurred before or after the declaration of a disaster emergency:

(1)    Has a license to provide health care services under Indiana law or the law of another state.

(2)    Provides a health care service:

(A)    within the scope of the person’s license to another person; and

(B)    at a location where health care services are provided during an event that is declared as a disaster.

(b)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. Except as provided in section 2 of this chapter, the following apply to the provision of health care services arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19:

(1)    A person providing health care services or emergency medical services, whether in person or through telemedicine services permitted by IC 25-1-9.5, at a facility or other location where health care services or emergency medical services are provided may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision or delay of health care services or emergency medical services arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19.

(2)    An employer, including an agency that provides or arranges health care services or emergency medical services, of a person described in subdivision (1) may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision or delay of health care services or emergency medical services arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19.

(c)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. The following do not constitute gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, fraud, or intentional misrepresentation under this chapter if arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19:

(1)    Providing services without required personal protective equipment caused by:

(A)    a shortage; or

(B)    an inability to timely acquire personal protective equipment;

in response to or arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19.

(2)    Providing services without access to adequate or reliable testing for COVID-19, even if the COVID-19 testing that was used received emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

(3)    Using equipment, medicine, or supplies to treat or help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in a manner that is not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

(4)    Providing services that are outside of an individual’s expertise or specialty but within the individual’s scope of practice under IC 16 or IC 25.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-1

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 16, eff. 3/1/2020.

As added by P.L. 138-2006, SEC.13.

§ 34-30-13.5-2. Liability for gross negligence or willful misconduct

A person described in this chapter is not immune from civil liability if the damages resulting from the act or omission relating to the provision or delay of the health care services resulted from the person’s gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, fraud, or intentional misrepresentation.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-2

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 17, eff. 3/1/2020.

As added by P.L. 138-2006, SEC.13.

§ 34-30-13.5-3. Immunity of facility

(a)    This subsection does not apply during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. A facility or other location that is providing health care services in response to an event that is declared as a disaster emergency may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision of health care services in response to that event by a health professional licensed to provide the health care service under Indiana law or the law of another state if the person is acting during an event that is declared as a disaster emergency, regardless of whether the provision of health care services occurred before or after the declaration of a disaster emergency.

(b)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. A facility or other location, including a location used to provide emergency medical services or used to provide telemedicine services permitted under IC 25-1-9.5, that provides health care services or emergency medical services in response to or arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19 may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission relating to the provision of health care services with respect to which an individual providing health care services, a provider, an agent, or an employee are not liable under this chapter.

(c)    This subsection applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. An individual or an entity that:

(1)    has a financial interest in;

(2)    serves on the board of directors of; or

(3)    provides management or administrative services for;

a facility or other location that provides health care services or emergency medical services in response to or arising from a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19 may not be held civilly liable for an act or omission described in subsection (b).

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-3

History. Amended by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 18, eff. 3/1/2020.

As added by P.L. 138-2006, SEC.13.

§ 34-30-13.5-4.

This section applies during a period of a state disaster emergency declared under IC 10-14-3-12 to respond to COVID-19, if the state of disaster emergency was declared after February 29, 2020, and before April 1, 2022. If a claim described in this chapter is:

(1)    a claim for injury or death resulting from medical malpractice; and

(2)    not barred by the immunity provided under this chapter; the claimant is required to comply with all of the provisions of IC 34-18 (medical malpractice act).

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-13.5-4

History. Added by P.L. 166-2021, SEC. 19, eff. 3/1/2020.

Chapter 18. Sports: Immunity of Persons Involved in the Special Olympics

§ 34-30-18-1. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; vicarious civil liability

(a)    This chapter does not grant immunity from civil damages that are proximately caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

(b)    This chapter does not affect the vicarious civil liability of the entity that the individual serves.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-18-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-18-2. Liability of volunteers

An individual who, without compensation, contributes personal time to the Special Olympics is not liable for civil damages as a result of a negligent act or omission of the individual arising from that contribution.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-18-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-18-3. Liability of contributors

A person who contributes only money to the Special Olympics is not liable for civil damages as a consequence of a negligent act or omission of an individual described in section 2 of this chapter solely because of that contribution.

Cite
as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-18-3

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-1. Intentional, wanton, or reckless behavior

This chapter does not grant immunity from civil liability to a person who engaged in intentional, willful, wanton, or reckless behavior.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-1

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-2. Negligent operation of motor vehicle; licensed individuals; vicarious civil liability

(a)    This chapter does not grant immunity from civil damages that are proximately caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

(b)    This chapter does not apply to an individual who is registered, certified, or licensed under IC 25.

(c)    This chapter does not affect the vicarious civil liability of the entity the individual serves.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-2

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-3. Liability of volunteers

A volunteer is not liable for civil damages that are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission in the personal services provided by:

(1)    the volunteer; or

(2)    another person selected, trained, supervised, or otherwise under the control of the volunteer;    in the course of a sports or leisure activity.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-3

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-19-4. Liability of governmental entities, employees, and agents

A governmental entity and the employees and agents of a governmental entity are not liable for civil damages that are proximately caused by:

(1)    the negligent selection, training, or supervision of a volunteer providing personal services in the course of a sports or leisure activity; or

(2)    a negligent act or omission in the personal services provided by:

(A)    the volunteer; or

(B)    another person selected, trained, supervised, or otherwise under the control of the volunteer;

in the course of a sports or leisure activity.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-19-4

History. As added by P.L. 1-1998, SEC.26.

§ 34-30-29-1. Immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle

(a)    A person whose conduct conforms to subsection (b) is immune from civil liability for any damage resulting from the forcible entry of a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a child from the motor vehicle.

(b)    Subsection (a) applies to a person if the person:

(1)    determines that a motor vehicle is locked or that there is no other reasonable method for a child to exit the motor vehicle;

(2)    has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the motor vehicle is necessary because a child is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed and, based on the circumstances known to the person at the time, the belief is reasonable;

(3)    contacts a local law enforcement agency, fire department, or 911 dispatcher before forcibly entering the motor vehicle, if practicable, or as soon as possible thereafter;

(4)    uses no more force than necessary to enter the motor vehicle and remove the child; and

(5)    remains with the child in a safe location near the entered motor vehicle until a law enforcement officer arrives.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-29-1

History. Added by P.L. 132-2015, SEC. 3, eff. 7/1/2015.

§ 34-30-29-2. Conditions necessary for immunity from civil liability; forcible entry of a motor vehicle

Section 1 of this chapter does not grant immunity from civil liability to a person who:

(1)    renders aid to a child beyond what is authorized in section 1 of this chapter; or

(2)    exercises gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 34-30-29-2

Article 8. PUBLIC SAFETY

Chapter 23. COMMUNITY FAST RESPONDERS

§ 36-8-23-3. Good Samaritan statute applies to fast responders

IC 34-30-12-1 (the good Samaritan statute) applies to a community fast responder.

Cite as (Casemaker) IC 36-8-23-3

History. Added by P.L. 70-2012, SEC. 2, eff. 7/1/2012.


Inherent Risk is the part of any sport and is assumed by participants when undertaking the activity.

A ski trunk just beneath the surface of fresh snow is an inherent risk of skiing in Wyoming.

Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

State: Wyoming, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Thomas A. Standish, IV; Meghan Keiter

Defendant: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Loss of Consortium

Defendant Defenses: Inherent Risk as identified under the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act

Holding: For the Defendant Ski Area

Year: 2021

Summary

While skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (“Jackson Hole”) to recover for his injuries.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precludes liability. We agree with that conclusion. Thus, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

Facts

In January 2017, California residents Thomas Standish and his then-fiancée, Megan Keiter, traveled to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as part of a “bucket list” ski trip. From January 8 through 10-the three days prior to Standish’s arrival-Jackson Hole had received about 27 inches of new snow, and on the morning of January 11, Jackson Hole received an additional 18 inches of snow. Over these four days, the mid-mountain depth of the snow increased from 56 to 80 inches.

On January 11, the couple purchased ski passes for Jackson Hole. The backs of these “J Cards” bear language indicating that the pass-holder “acknowledges that participation in any and all winter recreation activities at [Jackson Hole], including . . . skiing . . . involves SUBSTANTIAL AND INHERENT RISKS, HAZARDS, AND DANGERS THAT MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH or damages to property.” Aplt. App. 41. The couple first skied a few groomed runs. They then ventured down an off-piste run near the Thunder Chairlift line, with Standish-the more experienced skier-leading the way. “Off-piste” is a term for a ski run or area that is ungroomed and left in its natural state. See Roberts v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 884 F.3d 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2018). About halfway down the mountain, Standish’s right ski hit the top of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree stump that was covered with about two inches of fresh snow. His ski came off on impact, and he broke multiple bones in his right leg.

Standish underwent surgery, receiving fourteen screws, two metal plates, and a bone graft. After returning to California a few days later, Standish suffered a pulmonary embolism, a common complication resulting from serious fractures. This required anti-coagulation injections in his abdomen for several months. Because of Standish’s long recovery, he and Keiter pushed their wedding back from June to September 2017. They also sold their business because Standish was unable to work during his recovery.

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

This is a simple case that explains the issues between the two major types of risk as identified under the law, inherent and non-inherent risks. The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act defines for Wyoming what is an inherent risk.

“Inherent risk” with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity;

An inherent risk is a risk that if removed from the activity, would change the activity such that it would not be the same. Or looking at inherent risks another way, remove the inherent risks and the sport would not really exist.

Hitting things under the snow, no matter how they look when the snow is gone, is an inherent risk of skiing.

When a statute defines the inherent risks of an activity, the judge is able to determine in advance if the defendant owes a duty to the injured plaintiff. If the inherent risks are not defined by statute, then a jury decides whether the risk incurred by the plaintiff was inherent, unless the risk is obviously inherent.

Most states that have specific statutes covering outdoor recreation activities do so by listing the risks of the activity and by law makes those inherent so an injured party cannot sue for their injuries. As an example, the Colorado Skier Safety Act has a long list of what is an inherent risk of skiing in Colorado.

(3.5) “Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, jumps, and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities. The term “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” does not include the negligence of a ski area operator as set forth in section 33-44-104 (2). Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of the ski area operator for injury caused by the use or operation of ski lifts.

Obviously, since jumps, machine made snow, extreme terrain, lift towers, signs, posts, fences, hydrants, etc. are natural and only on the slope because of the acts of man, those risks are not naturally, inherent. However, since the act defines them as inherent, they now are and cannot be used by an injured plaintiff to make a claim.

The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act covers a multitude of sports, not just skiing and does not list the risks that are inherent. Consequently, the act does not do anything to provide any greater protection than existed in the common law. Therefore, each judge or jury makes the determination if the risk complained of by the plaintiff was inherent in the sport.

Under Wyoming law and the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act removes any duty, the first element to prove negligence, of the defendant to the plaintiff if the risk is inherent.

In other words, because the WRSA provides that a participant has assumed certain risks that are inherent to the activity, the recreational provider typically owes no duty for inherent risks of an activity. In sum, a recreational “provider has no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of an activity, and any person who chooses to take part in a sport or recreational opportunity assumes all inherent risks [that] are associated with that opportunity.”

Under the WRSA, a reasonableness standard is applied to determine if the risk complained of is inherent.

I]f reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether or not a given set of factual circumstances involve an ‘inherent risk’ of skiing (in this particular instance, we are concerned with skiing, or fill in the blank as the case might be), then the protections of the [W]RSA apply, and the litigation of that controversy must come to an end.

Applying that reasonableness standard, the courts looked at the uncontested facts.

Here, the operative facts are undisputed. The mountain had received 45 inches of fresh snow in the four days prior to the accident. The accident took place in an off-piste-and therefore ungroomed-area. Standish’s injury was caused by a collision with the top of the stump, which was lightly covered with the fresh snow and thus not visible to Standish. The stump had been cut to a height of six-and-a-half feet at some point in the past to mitigate some problem.

The court found that the stump was an inherent risk of skiing “…we conclude that encountering a snow-covered stump in an ungroomed area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing.”

A key component of this analysis was the run was off-piste and ungroomed. If the stump was located on a groomed run, the review and conclusion would have been different. The conclusion would have also been different if an employee of the defendant had told the plaintiff’s that the run was safe or free from hazards.

The court concluded:

Standish’s accident was the result of an unfortunate confluence of a stump, an ungroomed run, and the spectacular snow levels of the previous days. The combination of these factors is an inherent risk of skiing, a sport as thrilling as it can be risky. And the WRSA reflects this by limiting the duty owed by an entity offering access to such a sport. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jackson Hole on the basis of the WRSA.

So Now What?

The great thing about this article is the courts clear expression of what constitutes an inherent risk. If the risk is inherent, you cannot sue the defendant because you automatically assume those risks when you engage in the sport.

The second is the risk might not have been inherent if the run was not off-piste. The risk would definitely not have been inherent if the plaintiff had been told by an employee of the defendant that there were no risks.

This second issue is, the cause of many lawsuits when the statements of the employee changes or removes any risk management issues the defendant has in place. Marketing makes promises Risk Management has to pay for.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation

Thomas A. Standish, IV; Meghan Keiter, Plaintiffs – Appellants,

v.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corporation, Defendant-Appellees.

No. 20-8045

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 14, 2021

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WYOMING (D.C. NO. 1:19-cv-00004-KHR)

Gary L. Shockey, Gary Shockey Law, Casper, Wyoming, for Appellants.

James K. Lubing (Nathan D. Rectanus with him on the brief), Lubing Law Group, Jackson, Wyoming, for Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, KELLY, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

While skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (“Jackson Hole”) to recover for his injuries.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precludes liability. We agree with that conclusion. Thus, exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

I. Background

In January 2017, California residents Thomas Standish and his then-fiancee, Megan Keiter, traveled to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as part of a “bucket list” ski trip. From January 8 through 10-the three days prior to Standish’s arrival-Jackson Hole had received about 27 inches of new snow, and on the morning of January 11, Jackson Hole received an additional 18 inches of snow. Over these four days, the mid-mountain depth of the snow increased from 56 to 80 inches.[ 1]

On January 11, the couple purchased ski passes for Jackson Hole. The backs of these “J Cards” bear language indicating that the pass-holder “acknowledges that participation in any and all winter recreation activities at [Jackson Hole], including . . . skiing . . . involves SUBSTANTIAL AND INHERENT RISKS, HAZARDS, AND DANGERS THAT MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH or damages to property.” Aplt. App. 41. The couple first skied a few groomed runs. They then ventured down an off-piste run near the Thunder Chairlift line, with Standish-the more experienced skier-leading the way. “Off-piste” is a term for a ski run or area that is ungroomed and left in its natural state. See Roberts v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 884 F.3d 967, 970 (10th Cir. 2018). About halfway down the mountain, Standish’s right ski hit the top of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree stump that was covered with about two inches[ 2] of fresh snow. His ski came off on impact, and he broke multiple bones in his right leg.

Standish underwent surgery, receiving fourteen screws, two metal plates, and a bone graft. After returning to California a few days later, Standish suffered a pulmonary embolism, a common complication resulting from serious fractures. This required anti-coagulation injections in his abdomen for several months. Because of Standish’s long recovery, he and Keiter pushed their wedding back from June to September 2017. They also sold their business because Standish was unable to work during his recovery.

In January of 2019, Standish and Keiter brought this diversity suit in the District of Wyoming against Jackson Hole, alleging negligence and loss of consortium, respectively. During discovery, the parties were unable to ascertain when, why, or by whom the tree had been cut. In a deposition, Jackson Hole’s risk safety and environmental manager agreed that the stump had been cut at some point in the past, but no individuals or departments he talked to had any recollection or knowledge of cutting that tree. When asked why it was cut in the way it had been-that is, over six feet high-the manager suggested “it had been cut down during the winter to mitigate a hazard, like the tree blowing over or growing in a particular way that may have been identified to be a hazard.” Aple. App. 63. In October 2019, the stump was cut down completely, apparently as a result of the accident and the ongoing litigation.

Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The district court concluded that Wyoming law provided immunity from the inherent risks of skiing, including unmarked objects on ungroomed runs-even objects like trees that have been partially cut.

II. Analysis

Standish makes two arguments about why the district court erred in granting summary judgment. First, he contends that the question of whether a subsurface, cut tree in an off-piste area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing should have been submitted to a jury. Second, Standish argues the district court improperly considered inadmissible facts in granting summary judgment. We address each in turn.

A. Inherent Risk

1. Standard of Review

We review a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 971. Summary judgment is proper “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). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

Because this diversity suit arises out of Wyoming, we “must ascertain and apply state law to reach the result the Wyoming Supreme Court would reach if faced with the same question.” Cooperman v. David, 214 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 2000). In doing so, “we rely foremost on decisions of the Wyoming Supreme Court, and then on ‘other state court decisions, federal decisions, and the general weight and trend of authority.'” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972 (quoting Sapone v. Grand Targhee, Inc., 308 F.3d 1096, 1100 (10th Cir. 2002)). We review the district court’s determination of state law de novo. Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1164.

2. The Wyoming Recreation Safety Act

Common-law tort principles typically guide our analysis of personal-injury claims brought on the basis of negligence. When bringing a negligence claim, a plaintiff must sufficiently assert that “(1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to conform to a specified standard of care; (2) the defendant breached the duty of care; (3) the breach proximately caused injury to the plaintiff; and (4) the injury is compensable by money damages.” Dimickv. Hopkinson, 422 P.3d 512, 521 (Wyo. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted).

But in enacting the WRSA, the Wyoming legislature chose to insulate recreational providers from some types of personal-injury claims. In relevant part, the WRSA[ 3] provides that [a]ny person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for any and all damage, injury or death to himself or other persons or property that results from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(a). And a recreational provider “is not required to eliminate, alter or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(b).

a. Duty Under the WRSA

The WRSA limits the first negligence element: duty. Specifically, the WRSA “codifies the common-law concept of primary assumption of the risk,” which limits the recreational provider’s duty to a participant. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972; see also Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995) (“[T]he assumption-of-risk terminology [in the WRSA] is intended to limit the duty which a provider owes to a participant.”). “When primary assumption of the risk applies, as it does under the WRSA, ‘the legal result is that the defendant is simply relieved of the duty which would otherwise exist.'” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 972 (quoting W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 481 & n.lO (5th ed. 1984)). In other words, because the WRSA provides that a participant has assumed certain risks that are inherent to the activity, the recreational provider typically owes no duty for inherent risks of an activity. In sum, a recreational “provider has no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks of an activity, and any person who chooses to take part in a sport or recreational opportunity assumes all inherent risks [that] are associated with that opportunity.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565.

The district court generally decides whether the defendant owed a duty as a matter of law, see Halpern, 890 P.2d at 565, but the jury typically decides whether a particular risk is an inherent one, see Beckwith v. Weber, 277 P.3d 713, 722 (Wyo. 2012). In the context of whether a hazard is an inherent risk, the “level of factual specificity required . . . will often but not always preclude summary judgment on the duty question.” Creel v. L &L, Inc., 287 P.3d 729, 737 (Wyo. 2012). So “when genuine issues of material fact exist, it is proper to present the issue to the jury of whether a risk is inherent to a particular activity.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566. But in the absence of genuine issues of material fact, “the district court may decide as a matter of law that the provider does not owe a duty to the participant.” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 973 (quoting Halpern, 890 P.2d at 566); see also Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp. v. Rohrman, 150 P.3d 167, 168 (Wyo. 2006) (“If the court can say that, given that evidence, this is an ‘inherent risk’ and reasonable minds cannot differ about that, then summary judgment is appropriate.”).

b. Inherent Risk

The central question here is whether the plaintiff’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of a particular activity. If the injury was caused by an inherent risk, then the recreational provider owes no duty to “eliminate, alter, or control it[, ]” and the entry of summary judgment is appropriate. Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 168.

The WRSA defines “inherent risk” as “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-122; see also Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1166 (discussing definitions of “characteristic,” “intrinsic,” and “integral”). But the WRSA-unlike some other states’ recreational liability statutes-does not list examples of inherent risks. Rather, “[w]hat an ‘inherent risk’ means in any given set of circumstances is a variable that the Wyoming Legislature included in the statute by design.” Muller v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 139 P.3d 1162, 1166 (Wyo. 2006), opinion after certified question answered sub nom. Muller v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 210 Fed.Appx. 792 (10th Cir. 2006).

In order to determine what is an inherent risk under the WRSA, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explained a “reasonableness” inquiry should guide courts. Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170. So, the “central concern … is what ‘reasonable persons’ will view as inherent risks.” Id. “[I]f reasonable minds cannot differ as to whether or not a given set of factual circumstances involve an ‘inherent risk’ of skiing (in this particular instance we are concerned with skiing, or fill in the blank as the case might be), then the protections of the [W]RSA apply, and the litigation of that controversy must come to an end.” Id.

The Wyoming Supreme Court has pointed to several sources of guidance for determining what reasonable persons would view as inherent risks of an activity. One is, of course, jury deliberations on the particular facts of a case. See Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170. Others are safety experts and experienced skiers.[ 4]Id. But the sources most discussed by the Court in this context are analogous statutes from similarly-situated states. See Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 170-72; Muller, 139 P.3d at 1166-67. In Rohrman, the Court held that reference to analogous statutes-for example, from Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah-is “a meaningful source of guidance in explaining the inherent risks of skiing to any fact finder.” Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 172.

The explicit citation to these statutes, and the reference to other similar state statutes, is meant to be an expansive guide for courts considering the inherent risk question. For one, the texts of all three analogous state statutes included in Rohrman have non-exhaustive lists of inherent risks of skiing. Each of the three has broad language that includes, for example, trees and forest debris, subsurface conditions, and man-made structures. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5) (2021); N.M. Stat. § 24-15-10 (2021); Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402 (2021). For another, the court expressly did not constrain itself to these lists, stating “those statutes are not the exclusive source of guidance and the factual variations are, in some senses, infinite.” Rohrman, 150 P.3d at 172.[ 5]

In particular, the court’s reference to analogous statutes is significant at the summary judgment stage. In situations with novel or contested facts, of course, the question of reasonableness-that is, whether reasonable minds cannot differ over what is an inherent risk-is appropriate for consideration by the fact-finder, not for determination as a matter of law by the court. But when there are no genuine disputes of material fact, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explicitly held that “[u]nder Wyoming’s statutory construct, which is much broader than that of Colorado, such items as those included in Colorado’s statute may, as a matter of law, be inherent risks of the recreational activity of skiing.” Muller, 139 P.3d at 1167 (emphasis added). “[I]n such cases[, ] a trial court may grant a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment based on the [W]RSA.” Id. In other words, a court may look to the enumerated inherent risks in Colorado’s statute to hold that a particular risk is an inherent one as a matter of law. 3. The Risk to Standish

The district court determined that skiing into an unmarked six-and-a-half-foot-tall tree on an off-piste run-which had been previously altered by Jackson Hole and which was submerged and made invisible by recent, heavy snow fall-was an inherent risk of skiing. We agree with both the framing of the inherent risk and the district court’s conclusion.

With regard to the risk’s framing, we have previously acknowledged “we can not look at the risk in a vacuum.” Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1167. Rather, “we must evaluate the risk at the greatest level of specificity permitted by the factual record.” Id. Here, the operative facts are undisputed. The mountain had received 45 inches of fresh snow in the four days prior to the accident. The accident took place in an off-piste-and therefore ungroomed-area. Standish’s injury was caused by a collision with the top of the stump, which was lightly covered with the fresh snow and thus not visible to Standish. The stump had been cut to a height of six-and-a-half feet at some point in the past to mitigate some problem. The district court’s inherent-risk framing did not employ any disputed facts and accurately captures the facts of the case. Neither party appears to contest this framing on appeal. We therefore adopt this framing of the risk.

With this specific factual scenario in mind, we conclude that encountering a snow-covered stump in an ungroomed area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing. Everyone familiar with the sight of the intertwining runs of a ski area knows that cutting and otherwise managing trees is necessary for the runs’ creation and upkeep. The vast majority of ski-able terrain simply could not exist in the first instance without the ministrations of sawyers and forest managers. And the forested setting of ski areas means that trees may sometimes fall or otherwise present hazards. As the risk safety and environmental manager for Jackson Hole indicated in his deposition, trees can be altered or “removed for various reasons.” Aple. App. 63. These can include creating more space for skiing in a particular run or glade or mitigating a hazard, such as a “tree blowing over or growing in a particular way that may have been identified to be a hazard.” Aple. App. 63. The height at which the tree in this case was cut could have been a function of a high snow-level during winter, or it could have resulted from a decision to cut just below a particular hazard in any season (i.e., the tree broke or became unstable above that height). Whatever the reason, the ability to act to mitigate hazards and cut trees that pose a risk to skiers-or to create new runs or vary the terrain-is essential to effectively managing a ski area.

Moreover, this accident occurred in an off-piste area, in which unmarked obstacles are frequent and inevitable. “[W]e cannot ignore the nature of the run on which he encountered [the stump] and the inherent risks that run presents.” Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976 (discussing an accident in an off-piste area). And a changing level of the snow-which here was, by chance, just enough to render the stump invisible-is another inherent risk of skiing. Variable snow conditions are intrinsic to the mountainous setting of ski resorts in the American West. See, e.g., Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Mgmt., LLC, 981 F.Supp.2d 936, 945 (D. Mont. 2013) (“Skiing presents a multitude of dangers and hazards. Notwithstanding an operator’s efforts to tame it, skiing takes place on essentially wild terrain, on a mighty mountain, with fluctuation in weather and snow conditions that constantly change.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, all reasonable people understand that the combination of encountering the remnant stumps of forest-management practices and of changing snow levels at a ski area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing.

Furthermore, the Wyoming Supreme Court has explicitly held that because the WRSA is a broader statutory scheme than Colorado’s analogous law, “such items as those included in Colorado’s statute may, as a matter of law, be inherent risks of the recreational activity of skiing.” Muller, 139 P.3d at 1167 (emphasis added). Colorado’s statute expressly includes stumps-whether snow-covered or not-as inherent risks. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5) (‘”Inherent dangers and risks of skiing’ means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including . . . surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects . . . .”).[ 6] And other states include subsurface stumps or forest debris as inherent risks in their analogous statutes, including Utah, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-402 (stumps); New Mexico, see N.M. Stat. § 24-15-10 (“trees or other forms of forest growth or debris”); Idaho, see Idaho Code § 6-1106 (2021) (same); and Montana, see Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702 (2021) (stumps).[ 7]

Similarly, Colorado’s statute-as well as, for example, Utah’s, Idaho’s, and Montana’s-also includes changing snow conditions and levels as inherent risks. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103; Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702; Utah Code § 78B-4-402; Idaho Code § 6-1106; see also Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corp., 372 P.3d 349, 351 (Colo. 2016) (holding an in-bounds avalanche qualifies as an inherent risk of skiing because it is a “changing condition” of snow). The depth of the snow in this case is as integral to the accident as the height of the stump. Any less snow, and the stump would have been visible; any more, and Standish would have passed over the top unharmed. Given that there are no genuine disputes of material facts in this case, holding that a snow-covered stump in an off-piste area is an inherent risk of alpine skiing comports with Wyoming Supreme Court precedent.

This conclusion aligns with both our precedent and public policy. In Cooperman, a Tenth Circuit panel considered whether a slipping saddle that was loosely cinched by the recreational provider is an inherent risk of horseback riding. See Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1168. Cinching a saddle, explained the panel, “is done by hand, and not with scientific precision,” so “a provider must make a judgment call as to how tight or loose to cinch the saddle.” Id. “This imprecision in the cinching of the saddle is characteristic or typical of and therefore inherent in the sport of horseback riding.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The same is true for managing forests. Ski-area managers must make judgment calls about whether and how to cut a tree that has become a hazard. In winter, the height at which a tree is cut is as imprecise and judgment-based as cinching a saddle: it can be cut too tall or too short, and the risk of its being covered lightly with the next snow fall-or being exposed by snow melt-is characteristic of ever-changing mountain conditions at ski areas. So, too, in the summer: a tree could be cut at any height to mitigate a hazard, and a forest manager could decide to leave the stump remnant for a variety of reasons (e.g., impossibility of removal based on terrain, concerns about slope destabilization or damage, or ecological concerns about surrounding flora or fauna). Forest management, just as the saddle-cinching in Cooperman, is based on best practices-not exact practices-and the resulting risks are inherent to skiing in a forested ski area.

In a more recent case, this court held that encountering subsurface boulders-and the gaps between them-in an off-piste ski area in changing snow conditions is an inherent risk of skiing. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976. The panel in Roberts noted that a “critical distinction has emerged in the case law between a provider’s failure to control inherent risks (which is no longer actionable)[] and actions that affirmatively enhance existing risks (which remain actionable).” Id. at 975. Because subsurface boulders are an inherent risk of skiing in an off-piste area, and because Jackson Hole had done nothing to affirmatively enhance the existing risk of the boulders, the panel reasoned, the WRSA limited Jackson Hole’s liability, and summary judgment was appropriate. See id. at 977.

To reach this conclusion, the Roberts panel relied on Creel and Dunbar. See id. at 975-76. The outcomes in both Creel and Dunbar rest on the actions of the employees or agents of the recreational provider affirmatively enhancing existing risks. In Creel, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the danger of being struck with a golf ball is an inherent risk of attending a golf tournament-but the employee who encouraged the golfer to hit despite the golfer’s concern about spectators in the way affirmatively enhanced the existing risk of stray golf balls. See Creel, 287 P.3d at 739. In Dunbar, the Tenth Circuit panel concluded encountering a half-pipe in a terrain park is an inherent risk of skiing-but the “delphic statements” of the employee on how to safely exit the terrain park affirmatively enhanced the existing risks posed by the terrain park features. Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 392 F.3d 1145, 1153 (10th Cir. 2004).

Not so here. Had a Jackson Hole employee represented to Standish that this particular run was groomed or free of obstacles, Jackson Hole might have created a jury question that the resort somehow enhanced the risk of an accident. See, e.g., Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976 (The plaintiff “was not directed to [the area where the accident occurred] by an employee offering ‘delphic statements’ about its safety; in fact advanced skiers in search of fresh untracked and unconsolidated powder are attracted to off-piste terrain . . . because it is ungroomed, untamed, and provided the types of natural obstacles that distinguish such runs from those frequented by less talented skiers.” (quoting Dunbar, 392 F.3d at 1153; emphasis in original)).

But there are no facts in this case to suggest anything of the sort. “[T]here is a difference between the consequences of conduct chosen by [the skier], and risks that are inherent to that choice.” Dunbar, 392 F.3d at 1151. Standish knew that unmarked obstacles could and would exist in this off-piste area, and he chose to proceed down this more-advanced run. Nor did Standish present any evidence that cutting the tree at this particular height affirmatively enhanced the risk or took it “outside the realm of inherent risk.” Creel, 287 P.3d at 737. What made the stump’s height hazardous was the snow level on January 11-and changing snow levels are undoubtedly an inherent risk of mountain recreation. Consequently, the district court properly found that Jackson Hole did not enhance the already-existing risk of the stump.

The outcome in Roberts further supports our decision here. In that case, Roberts’s expert-who had concluded that subsurface boulders were not an inherent risk of off-piste skiing-“put the cart before the horse” by faulting Jackson Hole for not placing warning signs above the area. Roberts, 884 F.3d at 976-77′. But this targeted the element of breach without establishing the existence of a duty in the first place. Id. at 977. Conclusory statements that the boulders that had caused Roberts’s injuries were not inherent risks of skiing were insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Id.

The same is true of the expert testimony Standish presents. As the district court noted, Standish’s expert addressed how Jackson Hole breached the duty it supposedly owed Standish by not removing the remnant stump. But a snow- covered stump is itself an inherent risk of alpine skiing, and the expert’s testimony does not address what action by Jackson Hole takes the stump “outside the realm of inherent risk.” Creel, 287 P.3d at 737. The expert’s claim that “[t]he act of removing the top part of the tree was an affirmative act by the Resort which created the risk encountered by Mr. Standish” is unavailing. Aplt. App. 33. If that were true, then every tree cut by Jackson Hole’s forest managers would present a non-inherent risk to skiing-depending on the snow level on a particular day. And the expert’s claim that Jackson Hole’s “failure to finish the job . . . substantially enhanced the risk created by the Resort” improperly imposes a duty on Jackson Hole to remove completely the stumps made by its forest management. Neither the Wyoming legislature nor any court has imposed such a duty on ski areas. And given the Wyoming Supreme Court’s express embrace of the inherent risks in Colorado’s statute, including stumps, the expert testimony fails to preclude summary judgment.[ 8]

This conclusion also aligns with public policy. To hold that Jackson Hole has a duty to cut trees to a particular level or to remove stumps entirely would disincentivize recreational managers from attempting to mitigate hazards for their guests. If a fallen tree in an off-piste area is an inherent hazard of skiing, and cutting it off below the break creates a non-inherent risk, a ski area manager might decide to simply leave the fallen tree so as not to potentially incur liability. The WRSA is meant to limit the liability of recreational providers so that they can, in their judgment, both manage and offer sometimes-risky recreational opportunities.

Moreover, the standard that would arise from the opposite conclusion here would be untenable. Suppose a tree falls in an off-piste ski area during the winter and needs to be cut. The tree is cut to just above the current snow level, 70 inches. For the next week, the snow melts, leaving about 10 inches of the stump exposed and clearly visible to skiers. But then 11 inches of fresh snow falls, just covering the exposed stump. To conclude that the ski area is then liable for a skier’s collision with that stump would expose the ski area to liability the WRSA is clearly meant to limit. In other words, to hold that the WRSA does not preclude liability in this case would impose a duty on ski areas to never allow a tree stump be the same height as the current level of the snow-even in off-piste areas. We decline to reach such a conclusion.

* * *

Standish’s accident was the result of an unfortunate confluence of a stump, an ungroomed run, and the spectacular snow levels of the previous days. The combination of these factors is an inherent risk of skiing, a sport as thrilling as it can be risky. And the WRSA reflects this by limiting the duty owed by an entity offering access to such a sport. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jackson Hole on the basis of the WRSA.

B. Consideration of Inadmissible Facts

Standish also argues that, in evaluating the motion for summary judgment, the district court improperly considered facts that would be inadmissible before a jury. His argument is based on the district court’s discussion of the factual context of analogous and precedential cases-including, for example, Creel, Dunbar, Cooperman, and Roberts. See Aplt. Br. at 12-14.

While we review a district court’s evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion, see, e.g., Wright-Simmons v. City of Oklahoma City, 155 F.3d 1264, 1268 (10th Cir. 1998), we review a district court’s findings of law and entry of summary judgment de novo. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 971. It is true that a district court may consider only admissible evidence from a record in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. See Johnson v. Weld Cty., Colo., 594 F.3d 1202, 1209 (10th Cir. 2010) (“[I]t is well settled in this circuit that we can consider only admissible evidence in reviewing an order granting summary judgment.” (quoting Wright-Simmons, 155 F.3d at 1268)).

But in discussing these cases, the district court here was not making an evidentiary ruling about whether the facts of cases like Creel and Cooperman would be presented to a jury at trial. Rather, it was making a determination of law. In discussing the facts of these analogous cases, the district court was engaging in classic legal analysis: comparing the facts of Standish’s case with the factual context of other inherent-risk cases under the WRSA. See, e.g., Aplt. App. 54 (discussing the facts of Roberts to evaluate Standish’s claims); Aplt. App. 58 (discussing Dunbar to determine Standish’s claim of risk-creation).

To have erred here, the district court would have had to consider facts about Standish ‘s case that were not in the record or would have been otherwise inadmissible before a jury. The district court did not do so, and we reject Standish’s argument.

III. Conclusion

Thomas Standish’s injuries from his accident were severe and painful. This case provides a somber reminder of skiing’s risks to those who enjoy the sport. But Wyoming law does not provide recourse against Jackson Hole for Standish’s accident. We therefore AFFIRM the district court’s entry of summary judgment.

———

Notes:

[ 1] Though the numbers do not add up precisely, this fact is undisputed. The discrepancy may be due to the variance in measurements between lift-base depth and mid-mountain depth, as well as other environmental factors like wind.

[ 2] The district court came to this number by subtracting the height of the tree (78 inches) from the approximate depth of snow (80 inches). Neither party contests this finding on appeal.

[ 3] On July 1, 2017, Wyoming’s Ski Safety Act went into effect. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (2020). This Act takes ski-area skiing out of the purview of the WRSA. In other words, now the Ski Safety Act, rather than the WRSA, sets out the statutory scheme for actions based on skiing at a ski area. But as the district court found, the parties in this case agree the Ski Safety Act is inapplicable to this case because the accident occurred before the law became effective.

[ 4] Though the WRSA is not limited to skiing, many of the precedential cases in this context are results of skiing accidents. Any reference in this opinion to skiing, as opposed to other recreational activities, is merely a reflection of this body of precedent and the particular facts of this case.

[ 5] Though Wyoming’s recent Ski Safety Act is not applicable to this case, see note 3, the Wyoming legislature, in passing the Act, has since provided a definition of “inherent risks” of skiing in a ski area. In doing so, Wyoming’s law now more closely resembles these analogous state statutes. The Ski Safety Act provides that “Inherent risk” with regard to skiing in a ski area means those dangers or conditions which are part of the sport of skiing, including: (A) Changing weather conditions; (B) Falling or surface snow conditions, whether natural or man-made, as they exist or change; (C) Surface or subsurface conditions including bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, extreme terrain, trees or other natural objects; (D) Collisions or impacts with natural objects such as the objects specified in subparagraph (C) of this paragraph including encounters with wildlife; (E) Impact with ski lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes or other man-made structures and their components . . .; (F) Variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of ski trail or feature design, or snowmaking or grooming operations such as roads, freestyle terrain, jumps and catwalks or other terrain modifications; and (G) Collisions with other skiers.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (2020) (emphasis added).

[ 6] While the other items in this list are all generally natural, the plain meaning of stump indicates a tree that has been cut. See, e.g., Stump, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stump (defining “stump” as “the part of a plant and especially a tree remaining attached to the root after the trunk is cut”); Stump, Oxford English Dictionary, https://www.oed.com/view/ Entry/192144 (defining “stump” as “[t]he portion of the trunk of a felled tree that remains fixed in the ground; also, a standing tree-trunk from which the upper part and the branches have been cut or broken off). And the remainder of Colorado’s inherent-risks list includes man-made items, including “impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other man-made structures and their components,” and “terrain modifications.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-103(3.5).

[ 7] So, too, does Wyoming’s new Ski Safety Act, which went into effect about six months after Standish’s accident. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123.2 (including “stumps” as inherent risks of skiing).

[ 8] Standish’s argument that the expert represented the views of at least “one reasonable person” and thus precluded summary judgment, is similarly unavailing. The reasonableness inquiry to determine whether something is an inherent risk of an activity requires, of course, consideration of the inherent risk itself. But, again, Standish’s expert does not discuss or espouse any non-conclusory opinion on the inherent risk of a subsurface stump in an off-piste area; rather, his conclusion is based on Jackson Hole’s failure to remove it. This merely assumes that such a stump is not an inherent risk. Further, the mere existence of a contrary expert opinion-particularly a conclusory expert opinion-does not preclude summary judgment. See Roberts, 884 F.3d at 977.


South Dakota in Federal District Court decision seems to allow a release to stop the claims for a minor.

Release was effective in stopping ordinary negligence claims; however, the gross negligence claims were allowed to continue.

Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

State: South Dakota, United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division

Plaintiff: Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; and Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor

Defendant: Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For both plaintiff and defendant, but proceeding to trial

Year: 2018

Summary

The minor child was injured on a tubing hill when her tube stopped in the middle of the hill, and she was hit and injured by her brother coming after her. The release the parents signed stopped the ordinary negligence claim but under South Dakota, law did not stop a claim for gross negligence.

There was no discussion in the decision as to whether the release stopped the claims of the minor child, the injured plaintiff. It just seemed to be taken for granted by the court, or at least not argued by the plaintiffs.

Facts

On March 13, 2015, Brad and Tara Reed brought their children to the defendant’s resort near Lead, South Dakota, for an afternoon of recreational snow tubing.1 The resort was owned and operated by Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner. Among the Reeds’ children with them that day was seven-year-old I.R. Accompanying the Reeds were another couple and Alex, a social worker from the Philippines.

Upon arriving shortly before noon, the Reed party entered the lodge area where customers are required to check in and purchase admission tickets for the resort. The Reeds purchased snow tubing day passes for themselves and their children, including I.R. As a condition of allowing I.R. to use the resort, Union required the Reeds to agree to a written release of liability. The Reeds signed the release and printed the names of each of their children, including I.R., as participants.

The Reeds understood the document was a release of liability agreement and that, by signing, they would be relinquishing certain unspecified rights. They did not ask any questions about the release. The release informed resort participants that tubing activities are extremely hazardous and can result in personal injury. The Reeds understood that tubing carried with it a degree of risk, including risk of trauma to the head, and that I.R. would be exposed to this risk.

After signing the release and paying the admission fee, the Reeds and their kids received individual tickets for the tube park. Those tickets included additional warnings.

At the resort, there are numerous bright red signs that provide instructions and warnings to participants. Among the messages on some of the signs was a warning that collisions with other tubers was one of the dangers of tubing. Other signs instructed the tubers to follow the attendant’s instructions and to wait for the attendant’s signal before starting [down the tube run]. The Reeds do not recall whether they saw or read any of these signs.

The Reeds were directed to select tubes from the resort’s selection of tubes, which they did. Defendant had approximately 50 to 70 tubes in inventory at the time, but there is no evidence how many of these tubes had already been selected by prior guests. No employee of defendant selected the tubes for the Reeds. Several defendant employees testified at their depositions that it was a practice at the resort to leave tubes with tears in the bottoms in circulation for guests to use. The employees explained that such tubes were slower and slower equated to safer in their minds.

During the Reeds’ stay at the resort, they went down the tube runs approximately 15 to 20 times. Two of the four tube runs at the resort were open that day. During the Reeds’ runs, there were two defendant employees at the bottom of the tube runs assisting guests with the tow rope (which towed guests to the top of the run).

On approximately two of the Reeds’ 15-20 tubing runs, there was a young man at the top of the tube runs who also appeared to be a resort employee with a radio in his possession. However, the young man never monitored the tube runs, never gave instructions to tubers, and never staged tubers going down the tube runs. “Staging” means controlling the entry of guests onto the tube runs to ensure that the prior tuber has finished the run and cleared the area before the next tuber is allowed to begin his or her descent. There was no staging and, instead, tubers decided themselves when to begin their descent, a situation Brad Reed described as a “free-for-all.”

At approximately 2 p.m., the Reeds decided to take one last run down the tube runs before leaving the resort. Up to this point, the Reeds had experienced no concerns or incidents. Up to this final run, I.R. had always completed her run down the slope as part of a group or with one of her parents. On the final run, she asked to be allowed to go down the tube run by herself, to which her parents agreed. Mrs. Reed told I.R. they would go down the run together, parallel to each other in each of the two open tube runs. At this point, Alex was directly behind I.R. in line for the same tube lane. Mr. Reed was behind Alex in the same line.

Once both lanes were clear, Mrs. Reed and I.R. began their descents. Mrs. Reed went all the way down the run, but I.R.’s tube stopped approximately 3/4 of the way down the slope. While I.R. was stopped, Alex began her descent before I.R. cleared the lane. When Alex’s tube reached I.R.’s tube, they collided. No defendant employee told Alex to begin her descent, but no defendant employee was present at the top of the run to tell her, instruct her, or prevent her from beginning her descent until I.R. cleared the lane.

From the top of the slope, Mr. Reed testified Alex should have been able to see I.R. had not cleared the lane had Alex been paying attention. Mr. Reed himself was able to observe the collision from his vantage point at the top of the slope.

After the accident, the Reeds observed an approximately 8-inch hole in the bottom of I.R.’s tube that had filled with snow. Defendant asserts it was its policy to stow the tubes under the deck each night and to pull them out the next day for guests’ use. Defendant asserts employees were directed to observe the tubes for significant tears or defects and to remove defective tubes during this process. However, several defendant employees testified they left tubes with tears in their bottoms in rotation for guest use because the tears would slow the tuber down as they descended the slope. Employees believed a slower descent was a safer descent.

If a lightweight child descended the slope with a tube with a tear in it, sometimes the tube would stop mid-way down the slope and a defendant employee would have to walk up the slope to retrieve the child. In such an instance, the defendant employee at the bottom of the slope would radio the employee at the top and tell them to stop sending guests down the slope until the child was retrieved and taken to the bottom.

No photograph was taken of I.R.’s tube at the beginning of the day, after the accident, or at any other time on the day of the accident. It is unknown if the tear in the bottom of her tube was there from the start of the day or whether the tear occurred during the Reeds’ use of the tube that day. The Reeds mixed and mingled the various tubes they checked out, so several members of the Reeds’ group could have used the accident tube at various times of the day.

The accident tube was the only tube checked out by the Reed group that had a tear in it. The Reeds did not notice the tear until after I.R.’s injury. The Reeds did not inform anyone at the resort about the tear in the tube after the accident occurred. There is no evidence that any defendant employee had specific knowledge that the Reeds had checked out a tube with a tear in it on the day of the accident, though defendant employees had general knowledge that such tubes were often retained in inventory because they were perceived to be “safer” because they were slower.

From the beginning of the 2010-11 season through the end of the 2014-15 season, defendant had incident reports of 17 collisions of tubers. During that same time frame, there were 72 total incident reports.3 Several of these collisions between tubers occurred within a few weeks and, in two examples, a few days, of I.R.’s collision. Specifically, there were 5 incident reports involving collisions between tubers going down the tube lane between December 30, 2014, and February 27, 2015. None of defendant’s incident reports record whether a hole in a tube contributed to the incident.

Defendant maintains that it had a proper protocol of having at least one employee at the top of the tube run and one employee at the bottom of the tube run at all times. The employee at the top of the tube run was supposed to “stage” the tubers going down. The employee at the bottom of the tube run would retrieve items lost by tubers going down the slope (hats, mittens, etc.) and also retrieve guests whose tubes stopped without fully descending the slope.

The Reeds assert defendant was chronically understaffed and that defendant made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run the day of I.R.’s accident. Defendant asserts the Reeds have no evidence to support the assertion that the decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run was a deliberate decision.

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

The plaintiff’s conceded that the release barred their claims for negligence, the first count in their complaint. That left the issue of whether the release barred their claims for gross negligence and whether they had pled enough facts to support a gross negligence claim.

Gross negligence under South Dakota law is the same as willful and wanton conduct:

Under South Dakota law, the phrase “gross negligence” is synonymous with the phrase “willful and wanton misconduct.” Both phrases refer “to a category of tort that is different in kind and characteristics than negligence.” Negligence occurs when one acts with an “unreasonable risk of harm to another.” Willful and wanton misconduct requires a risk of harm that is “substantially greater than that which is necessary to make the conduct negligent.” The threatened harm “must be an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.”

The major difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is the mental state of the defendant.

In addition, proof of a negligence claim focuses on the ordinary standard of care, while a gross negligence claim focuses on the defendant’s mental state. A defendant acts willfully and wantonly when it knows or has reason to know at the time of its actions of the dire risk and proceeds without concern for the safety of others. The standard does not require proof of intent to harm, but it does “partake to some appreciable extent … of the nature of a deliberate and intentional wrong.” Gross negligence requires “an affirmatively reckless state of mind.” There must be “a conscious realization that a serious physical injury was a probable, as distinguished from a possible (ordinary negligence), result of such conduct.”

That creates a two-step test to determine if the defendant was grossly negligent.

Summarizing the above case law, gross negligence is distinguished from ordinary negligence by two factors. The risk of harm must be greater for gross negligence—whereas under ordinary negligence, the risk of harm can be anything from negligible harm to death, the risk of harm for gross negligence must be death or serious harm. Secondly, the likelihood that harm will come about, phrased in terms of the defendant’s state of mind, must be greater. For example, if there is a 10 percent chance some harm will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure that harm does not come about, he is merely negligent. If there is an 85 percent chance serious harm or death will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure the harm does not occur, he has acted willfully and wantonly or with gross negligence.

The court’s analysis of the chance of the harm occurring is a way of looking at the differences between ordinary and gross negligence that I have never seen before.

The court looked at the facts as presented by both sides and found both lacking the information the court felt would prove the plaintiff’s case. However, the court made this statement.

Under the law of gross negligence, South Dakota has recognized a plaintiff will rarely have direct evidence of the defendant’s state of mind. Rather, state of mind must be inferred from the circumstances. Id. Also, under the law of summary judgment, all inferences from the facts must be made in favor of the nonmoving party, Both sources of law, then, support taking the Reeds’ view of the inference to be drawn from the fact that defendant was chronically understaffed and did not have an employee stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident.

So, with the inferences created by the plaintiffs about the state of mind of the tubing hill, the court held that there was enough information plead to allow the gross negligence claim to continue.

The court then looked at the assumption of the risk argument made by the defendant. There was no case law in South Dakota stating that assumption of the risk was a defense to gross negligence, so the court held that assumption of the risk would not stop the gross negligence claim.

So Now What?

What did not arise in this case is whether the release stopped the claims of the minor child. The case was captioned as the parents suing on behalf of their minor child. In that regard, the release would bar the claims of the parents. However, this is a different way of suing on behalf of a minor, not away normally done in most states any more.

Also, this is a decision by a Federal District Court applying South Dakota law so, whether a not a release stops a minor’s claims is probably still up in the air until the South Dakota Supreme Court decides the issue.

However, it is a decision to lean on if you have participants who are minors in your program.

The other issues are classic situations where the defendant looks at a situation one way as a positive for patrons but the injured patron is able to turn the situation around and use it as a club against the defendant. Torn tubes were regarded by the defendant as good because they were slower than the other tubes. However, a torn tube is not a product that is 100%, in the condition it was received from the manufacturer. It was a defective product. So, the plaintiff was able to show the defendant was derelict in using them.

If they placed the tubes in a different location with a sign that said, slower tubes it might have been helpful.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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In the future, if you are contacted by a member of law enforcement or the Colorado Avalanche Information Center about your backcountry activities, invoke your 5th amendment constitutional right to remain silent and say nothing.

District Attorney is chasing to men who possibly set off an avalanche. District Attorney’s actions will probably kill more people.

What you say may be sued against you in court, as the case with Tyler DeWitt of Silverthorne and Evan Hannibal of Vail. Read the articles listed below to get various facts about what happened. But basically, they were backcountry skiing and set off an avalanche. The debris filled cover a road and took out a remote avalanche triggering device.

“Very large avalanche” buries road near Eisenhower Tunnel

2 men cited for reckless endangerment after triggering avalanche near Eisenhower Tunnel

Because of this, the Summit County District Attorney Charged the two men with Reckless Endangerment. Under Colorado law Reckless Endangerment is:

Colorado Statutes

Title 18. CRIMINAL CODE

Article 3. Offenses Against the Person

Part 2. ASSAULTS

Current through Chapter 326 of the 2020 Legislative Session

§ 18-3-208. Reckless endangerment

A person who recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person commits reckless endangerment, which is a class 3 misdemeanor.

Cite as C.R.S. § 18-3-208

A class three misdemeanor will not ruin your life, but it will make it miserable. Worse, the DA is asking for restitution for the damage done to clear the road and the avalanche triggering device in the amount of $168,000. How many working skiers and boarders in the backcountry have that amount of money sitting around? That too will assist in their running their lives.

The charges and the restitution will not kill anyone. However, Avalanche reporting and research will come to an end. Who knows what DA will decide they don’t like backcountry skiers and just start thumbing through Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) reports looking for ways to eliminate backcountry skiing and boarding?

This is NOT the fault of the CAIC. As a state agency, they have no way to protect the reports that they receive and must turn them over to any other state agency, including district attorneys.

This is also sad; the backcountry ski community has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for CAIC over the years and had a great relationship with the CAIC. The CAIC is a great organization with awesome people, some who are the best in the world at what they do.

But I’m not going to jail to help!

I keep trying to figure out the motivation for the District Attorney’s actions. The chance of getting any money out of these two men is zero. Does he want to keep people from going out in the backcountry? Probably. No doubt there is going to be a lot of Search & Rescue this winter based on sales of backcountry equipment. However, idiots in the backcountry is not a new thing.

Instead of wasting the time, money, and resources to prosecute these two men, which will not stop idiots in the backcountry, why not try to educate them.

Besides, any expert who is going to get on the stand and say that these two triggered the avalanche is possibly wrong. Even with the men saying on tape, they started the slide; they could still be wrong.

If you would like to contribute money to support Evan Hannibal’s attempt to raise money for an attorney, go here: Facing Criminal Charges in the Backcountry.

Do Something

Contribute to Evan Hannibal’s Go Fund Me: Facing Criminal Charges in the Backcountry.

Contact the Fifth judicial District (Summit County) and let the DA know they are not solving problems but creating more: https://www.da5.us/reach-our-offices/summit-county/

Contact Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and tell them to get a bill in the state legislature that would provide immunity for reporting to backcountry skiers: https://www.avalanche.state.co.us/contact/

Contact the Summit Daily News and express your opinion about how stupid and dangerous this is on the part of the District Attorney: https://www.summitdaily.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/

Contact the Denver Post and do the same: https://www.denverpost.com/submit-letter/

Show up at the criminal hearings and support these two men. Be respectful of the court, the judge and court personnel have nothing to do with this mess. It was handed to them by the District Attorney. Be considerate, respectful, quiet, turn off your phones and sit quietly, but be there.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Putting a saddle on a horse does not turn a livery into a saddle manufacturer. Release stops negligence claims and law stops product liability claims.

A woman who fell off a horse while on a horseback ride. She sued for negligence, which the release stopped, product liability which the law stopped and willful and wanton conduct, which will proceed to trial.

Messer v. Hi Country Stables Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2675, 2013 WL 93183

State: Colorado; United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Plaintiff: Alva Messer

Defendant: Hi Country Stables Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: negligence; product liability; and, willful and wanton conduct

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Mostly for defendant, however plaintiff could continue on willful and wanton claims

Year: 2013

Summary

A woman purchased a trail ride from the defendant. On the ride, her saddle slipped, and she fell off the horse. She sued for negligence which the release stopped, product’s liability, which failed because the stable is not a manufacturer and willful and wanton conduct. The court allowed the willful and wanton claim to proceed.

Facts

On July 16, 2009, Plaintiff Alva Messer purchased a guided horseback ride from Hi County Stables. Defendant HCS operates commercial horse-back riding at Glacier Creek Stables in Rocky Mountain National Park (“RMNP”). HCS is one of two equestrian companies owned by Rex Walker. The other equestrian company is Sombrero Ranches, Inc. (“SRI”). Before beginning any guided horseback ride, both companies require customers to sign an exculpatory contract, titled “Release” (hereafter “the Release” or “Release Forms”). The Release Forms for HCS and SRI are identical, except for the name of the company being released from liability. The Release Forms for HCS and SRI are printed in tablets containing 100 tear-away forms per tablet. Once printed, the printing company delivers the tablets to the offices of HCS and SRI.

At the start of the 2009 riding season, one tablet of Release Forms labeled SRI was placed in a box of office supplies for delivery to HCS. For reasons that are unexplained by Defendant, those same Release Forms—which Released SRI from liability—were used by HCS at Glacier Creek Stables on July 16, 2009.

Typically, when customers arrive at HCS, they are informed that they must sign a Release. Amongst other employees at HCS, Dallas Marshall informs customers that they are required to sign the Release and “mark their riding ability.”

When the Messers arrived at HCS on July 16, 2009, Marshall followed her normal practice and informed the Messers of the Release. She also requested that they indicate their riding ability, which Plaintiff did. Following this, and before commencing the guided horseback ride, Plaintiff signed the Release. The Release expressly provides that the customer “understands. . .the specific risks. . .arising from riding a horse. . .and that the [customer] nevertheless intentionally agree[s] to assume these risks.”

After signing the Release, Plaintiff entered the corral where she was assigned her horse before commencing the trail ride. The wrangler who led the guests on Plaintiff’s trail ride was Terry Humphrey.

Plaintiff encountered problems with her saddle during the trail ride which required adjustment by Plaintiff and Humphrey.

At the midway point, the Messer group stopped to take a rest break. Plaintiff encountered further problems with her saddle—including slippage of the saddle to the horse’s right.

Sometime later, as Plaintiff’s horse was stepping down a “rock stair” in the trail, Plaintiff fell off the right side of the horse (the “Incident.”) Plaintiff allegedly sustained serious injuries and economic loss resulting from the Incident.

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

The first issue was the fact the release that was signed did not name the proper defendant. Two stables were owned by the same person, each with different names. Each had a release that named it as the entity being protected. Somehow, a pad of the wrong releases ended up at the defendant, and the release signed by the plaintiff had the name of a different stable on it then where she was riding.

To make changes in a contract like this is called reformation. The court can reform a contract if the party’s intention when signing the contract is the same, and the language does not express the correct intention of the parties.

Reformation of a written instrument is appropriate only when the instrument does not represent the true agreement of the parties and the purpose of reformation is to give effect to the parties’ actual intentions.” Mutual mistake of a contract provides grounds for reformation if the written instrument “does not express the true intent or agreement of the parties.”

A mutual mistake must have occurred for a reformation to be effective.

An “essential prerequisite to a court’s power to reform a contract on the ground of mutual mistake is the existence of a prior agreement that represents the actual expectations of the parties and provides the basis upon which a court orders reformation.”

Because it was obvious that the plaintiff intended to go on a horseback ride with the defendant, where she signed the release, where she paid her money and where she took the ride, the court had no problems correcting the mutual mistake and placing the correct language in the release. This meant placing the name of the defendant in the position of the person to be protected by the release.

Accordingly, the Court finds that there was a mutual mistake at the time the Release was entered into. Mutual intent of the parties was to enter into an agreement whereby HCS would be released from certain claims. This provides the equitable basis to grant the relief. The Court orders that the name “Sombrero Ranches, Inc.” (SRI) be deleted and substituted with “Hi Country Stables” (HCS) in the Release.

The next issue was the validity of the release itself. Under Colorado law, there is a four-part test that a release must pass to be valid.

To determine whether the Release bars Plaintiff’s negligence claim, the Court must consider four factors: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

The first three parts of the test the court quickly covered. Prior Colorado Supreme Court cases held that a recreational activity owes no duty to the public; horseback riding is not an essential service that would bar the release under part two of the test and there was no evidence the release was entered into unfairly.

The fourth test the court also found was valid with this release.

With respect to the fourth factor, the Court looks to the language of the Release to elicit its intent. The Court must determine “whether the intent of the parties was to extinguish liability and whether this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed.”

It was obvious that the intent of the parties was to decide in advance who would pay for the injuries of any patron of the ride. The release in this case repeatedly used the word negligence throughout the document so the plaintiff knew the purpose of the release. The release also pointed out specific risks of horseback riding that the signor could suffer.

The release was valid to stop the negligence claims.

The next issue was the product liability claim. The plaintiff argued that since the defendant had placed the saddle in the stream of commerce, by placing it on the horse, it was liable for any injuries caused by the defectiveness of the saddle.

The defendant argued that the release stopped this claim also. However, the law in Colorado is that a release cannot stop a product liability claim.

That case held that an agreement releasing “a manufacturer from strict products liability for personal injury, in exchange for nothing more than an individual consumer’s right to have or use the product, necessarily violates the public policy of this jurisdiction and is void.”

The court found the product liability claim was not barred by the release. However, the court did hold that just placing a saddle on a horse for a trail ride does not create a product liability claim for defective equipment in Colorado. Horseback riding is a service; it is not a manufacturing process. Placing a saddle on the horse does not change that. The horse-riding service could not exist (for 99.9% of the people) without the saddle.

Plaintiff entered into a contract for a guided five-hour horseback ride through RMNP. This service primarily relied upon a horse (which is not a product) and a saddle (which incidental to that service). Without a product, the product liability claims cannot succeed.

The saddle was not an item manufactured by the defendant; it was incidental to the service being offered by the defendant and so the product liability claim failed. Finally, the defendant was not a manufacturer of saddles.

The final issues were the claims for willful and wanton conduct. A release cannot bar claims that are greater than negligence, willful and wanton conduct or gross negligence.

Willful and wanton conduct claims are mental state claims. Meaning the claim goes to the actions, the mental state of the defendant in ignoring or creating the issue. This require conscious thought, not simple failure. “…willful and wanton conduct requires a mental state “consonant with purpose, intent and voluntary choice.”

The court then allowed the plaintiffs claims based on willful and wanton conduct of the defendant to proceed to trial.

So Now What?

First, there is a need to look at the product liability claim. Not in the fact that most recreation businesses are manufacturing items, but because they are repairing them. Although you can find outfitter made items such as old raft frames, most items used now days are manufactured by a third party. However, many outfitters and recreation businesses do repair items.

Repairing an item may bring the outfitter into the trial under a product liability claim in many states. The outfitter by making repairs has entered into the stream of commerce between the manufacturer and the end user. The outfitter is no longer a user of the product, but a manufacturer of the product.

Remember there are some items you should never repair or that may be illegal to repair.

PFD’s cannot be repaired by law. Climbing harnesses or any other item where the failure would result in catastrophic injury or death or where the manufacturing process is protected by statute or standard should never be repaired.

The reformation issue was stupid. The cost of printing one set of releases on tan paper and the other on white would have eliminated this problem. Other examples would be putting the page numbers on the bottom right of one release and the center or top of the other. Locating the logo of the defendant in a different location on each release would have worked. Anything to that any employee can recognize that they are using the wrong release.

Some day there will be a horseback riding case that does not involve a slipping saddle. Why there still are, is a mystery to me, and I grew up with horses.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Email: Jim@Rec-Law.US

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

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Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division

November 15, 2018, Decided; November 15, 2018, Filed

5:17-CV-05047-JLV

Reporter

Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; and Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; Plaintiffs, vs. Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner, Defendant.

Subsequent History: Objection overruled by, Adopted by, Summary judgment granted by, in part, Summary judgment denied by, in part Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49327 (D.S.D., Mar. 25, 2019)

Counsel:  [*1] For Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a minor, other, I.R., Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a minor, other, I.R., Plaintiffs: Kenneth E. Barker, LEAD ATTORNEY, Barker Wilson Law Firm, LLP, Belle Fourche, SD.

For Union Resort, LLC, doing business as Mystic Miner, Defendant: Shane E. Eden, LEAD ATTORNEY, Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith, LLP, Sioux Falls, SD.

Judges: VERONICA L. DUFFY, United States Magistrate Judge.

Opinion by: VERONICA L. DUFFY

Opinion

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the amended complaint of Brad and Tara Reed as conservators of I.R., their minor daughter. See Docket No. 16. The Reeds allege claims of negligence and gross negligence against defendant Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner (defendant) arising out of a tubing accident at defendant’s ski resort. Id. This matter rests on the court’s diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Defendant has now filed a motion for summary judgment. See Docket No. 21. The Reeds oppose the motion. See Docket No. 30. The motion was referred to this magistrate judge for a recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the order of referral dated November 11, 2018 (Doc. 42), and the [*2]  October 16, 2014, standing order of the Honorable Jeffrey L. Viken, Chief United States District Judge.

FACTS

Defendant filed a statement of undisputed material facts, Docket No. 22, to which the Reeds have responded, Docket No. 31. The following facts have been drawn from those pleadings with disputes or discrepancies as noted.

On March 13, 2015, Brad and Tara Reed brought their children to the defendant’s resort near Lead, South Dakota, for an afternoon of recreational snow tubing.1 The resort was owned and operated by Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner. Among the Reeds’ children with them that day was seven-year-old I.R. Accompanying the Reeds were another couple and Alex, a social worker from the Philippines.

Upon arriving shortly before noon, the Reed party entered the lodge area where customers are required to check in and purchase admission tickets for the resort. The Reeds purchased snow tubing day passes for themselves and their children, including I.R. As a condition of allowing I.R. to use the resort, Union required the Reeds to agree to a written release of liability. The Reeds signed the release and printed the names of each of their children, including I.R., as participants. [*3] 

The Reeds understood the document was a release of liability agreement and that, by signing, they would be relinquishing certain unspecified rights. They did not ask any questions about the release. The release informed resort participants that tubing activities are extremely hazardous and can result in personal injury. The Reeds understood that tubing carried with it a degree of risk, including risk of trauma to the head, and that I.R. would be exposed to this risk.

After signing the release and paying the admission fee, the Reeds and their kids received individual tickets for the tube park. Those tickets included additional warnings.

At the resort, there are numerous bright red signs that provide instructions and warnings to participants. Among the messages on some of the signs was a warning that collisions with other tubers was one of the dangers of tubing. Other signs instructed the tubers to follow the attendant’s instructions and to wait for the attendant’s signal before starting [down the tube run]. The Reeds do not recall whether they saw or read any of these signs.

The Reeds were directed to select tubes from the resort’s selection of tubes, which they did. Defendant had approximately [*4]  50 to 70 tubes in inventory at the time, but there is no evidence how many of these tubes had already been selected by prior guests. No employee of defendant selected the tubes for the Reeds. Several defendant employees testified at their depositions that it was a practice at the resort to leave tubes with tears in the bottoms in circulation for guests to use. The employees explained that such tubes were slower and slower equated to safer in their minds.

During the Reeds’ stay at the resort, they went down the tube runs approximately 15 to 20 times. Two of the four tube runs at the resort were open that day. During the Reeds’ runs, there were two defendant employees at the bottom of the tube runs assisting guests with the tow rope (which towed guests to the top of the run).

On approximately two of the Reeds’ 15-20 tubing runs, there was a young man at the top of the tube runs who also appeared to be a resort employee with a radio in his possession. However, the young man never monitored the tube runs, never gave instructions to tubers, and never staged tubers going down the tube runs. “Staging” means controlling the entry of guests onto the tube runs to ensure that the prior tuber has [*5]  finished the run and cleared the area before the next tuber is allowed to begin his or her descent. There was no staging and, instead, tubers decided themselves when to begin their descent, a situation Brad Reed described as a “free-for-all.”

At approximately 2 p.m., the Reeds decided to take one last run down the tube runs before leaving the resort. Up to this point, the Reeds had experienced no concerns or incidents. Up to this final run, I.R. had always completed her run down the slope as part of a group or with one of her parents. On the final run, she asked to be allowed to go down the tube run by herself, to which her parents agreed. Mrs. Reed told I.R. they would go down the run together, parallel to each other in each of the two open tube runs. At this point, Alex was directly behind I.R. in line for the same tube lane. Mr. Reed was behind Alex in the same line.

Once both lanes were clear, Mrs. Reed and I.R. began their descents. Mrs. Reed went all the way down the run, but I.R.’s tube stopped approximately 3/4 of the way down the slope. While I.R. was stopped, Alex began her descent before I.R. cleared the lane. When Alex’s tube reached I.R.’s tube, they collided. No defendant [*6]  employee told Alex to begin her descent, but no defendant employee was present at the top of the run to tell her, instruct her, or prevent her from beginning her descent until I.R. cleared the lane.

From the top of the slope, Mr. Reed testified Alex should have been able to see I.R. had not cleared the lane had Alex been paying attention. See Docket No. 25-5 at p. 7 (depo. pp. 25-26). Mr. Reed himself was able to observe the collision from his vantage point at the top of the slope. Id. at p. 6 (depo. pp. 22-24).2

After the accident, the Reeds observed an approximately 8-inch hole in the bottom of I.R.’s tube that had filled with snow. Defendant asserts it was its policy to stow the tubes under the deck each night and to pull them out the next day for guests’ use. Defendant asserts employees were directed to observe the tubes for significant tears or defects and to remove defective tubes during this process. However, several defendant employees testified they left tubes with tears in their bottoms in rotation for guest use because the tears would slow the tuber down as they descended the slope. Employees believed a slower descent was a safer descent.

If a lightweight child descended the slope with [*7]  a tube with a tear in it, sometimes the tube would stop mid-way down the slope and a defendant employee would have to walk up the slope to retrieve the child. In such an instance, the defendant employee at the bottom of the slope would radio the employee at the top and tell them to stop sending guests down the slope until the child was retrieved and taken to the bottom.

No photograph was taken of I.R.’s tube at the beginning of the day, after the accident, or at any other time on the day of the accident. It is unknown if the tear in the bottom of her tube was there from the start of the day or whether the tear occurred during the Reeds’ use of the tube that day. The Reeds mixed and mingled the various tubes they checked out, so several members of the Reeds’ group could have used the accident tube at various times of the day.

The accident tube was the only tube checked out by the Reed group that had a tear in it. The Reeds did not notice the tear until after I.R.’s injury. The Reeds did not inform anyone at the resort about the tear in the tube after the accident occurred. There is no evidence that any defendant employee had specific knowledge that the Reeds had checked out a tube with [*8]  a tear in it on the day of the accident, though defendant employees had general knowledge that such tubes were often retained in inventory because they were perceived to be “safer” because they were slower.

From the beginning of the 2010-11 season through the end of the 2014-15 season, defendant had incident reports of 17 collisions of tubers. During that same time frame, there were 72 total incident reports.3 Several of these collisions between tubers occurred within a few weeks and, in two examples, a few days, of I.R.’s collision. Specifically, there were 5 incident reports involving collisions between tubers going down the tube lane between December 30, 2014, and February 27, 2015. None of defendant’s incident reports record whether a hole in a tube contributed to the incident.

Defendant maintains that it had a proper protocol of having at least one employee at the top of the tube run and one employee at the bottom of the tube run at all times. The employee at the top of the tube run was supposed to “stage” the tubers going down. The employee at the bottom of the tube run would retrieve items lost by tubers going down the slope (hats, mittens, etc.) and also retrieve guests whose [*9]  tubes stopped without fully descending the slope.

The Reeds assert defendant was chronically understaffed and that defendant made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run the day of I.R.’s accident. Defendant asserts the Reeds have no evidence to support the assertion that the decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run was a deliberate decision.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party “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).

The court must view the facts, and inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962)); Helton v. Southland Racing Corp., 600 F.3d 954, 957 (8th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). Summary judgment will not lie if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994).

The burden is placed on the moving party to establish both the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once the movant has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but [*10]  must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (each party must properly support its own assertions of fact and properly address the opposing party’s assertions of fact, as required by Rule 56(c)).

The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are “material” for purposes of a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. (citing 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice And Procedure § 2725, at 93-95 (3d ed. 1983)). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 247-48.

Essentially, the availability of summary judgment turns on whether a proper jury question is presented: “The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial—whether, in other words, there are any genuine [*11]  factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Id. at 250.

B. Does the Release Signed by the Reeds Bar Their Claims?

Defendant’s first argument in favor of its summary judgment motion is that the clear and plain language of the release signed by the Reeds bars their claims and that there is no overriding public policy that serves to neutralize the release.

South Dakota law4 provides that a valid release of liability bars claims for ordinary negligence, but does not bar claims for gross or willful negligence or recklessness. Holzer v. Dakota Speedway, Inc., 2000 SD 65, 610 N.W.2d 787, 792-93 (S.D. 2000). The Reeds do not argue that the release was invalid in any way or that the activity I.R. was engaged in when she was injured was outside the scope of the release. In fact, the Reeds concede that their first claim in their amended complaint for ordinary negligence is barred by defendant’s release. See Docket No. 30 at p. 5. Accordingly, the court recommends that defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to the Reeds’ claim for ordinary negligence, count one of the amended complaint, be granted.

C. Are There Material Factual Disputes as to Gross Negligence?

Defendant argues the facts alleged [*12]  by the Reeds, even if true, allege a claim for ordinary negligence only, not gross negligence. Thus, since ordinary negligence is barred by the release, defendant argues it should be granted summary judgment on the Reeds’ gross negligence claim too.

Under South Dakota law, the phrase “gross negligence” is synonymous with the phrase “willful and wanton misconduct.” Fischer v. City of Sioux Falls, 919 N.W.2d 211, 2018 SD 71, 2018 WL 4779267 at *2 (S.D., 2018). Both phrases refer “to a category of tort that is different in kind and characteristics than negligence.” Id. Negligence occurs when one acts with an “unreasonable risk of harm to another.” Id. (citing W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser & Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 34, at 212 (5th ed. 1984)). Willful and wanton misconduct requires a risk of harm that is “substantially greater than that which is necessary to make the conduct negligent.” Id. The threatened harm “must be an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.” Id. (all quotes from Fischer cleaned up).

In addition, proof of a negligence claim focuses on the ordinary standard of care, while a gross negligence claim focuses on the defendant’s mental state. Id. 2018 SD 71, [WL] at *3. A defendant acts willfully and wantonly when it knows or has reason to know at the time of its actions [*13]  of the dire risk and proceeds without concern for the safety of others. Id. The standard does not require proof of intent to harm, but it does “partake to some appreciable extent … of the nature of a deliberate and intentional wrong.” Id. Gross negligence requires “an affirmatively reckless state of mind.” Id. There must be “a conscious realization that a serious physical injury was a probable, as distinguished from a possible (ordinary negligence), result of such conduct.” Id. (all quotes from Fischer cleaned up).

The evidence must show more than “mere mistake, inadvertence, or inattention . . . there need not be an affirmative wish to injure another, but, instead, a willingness to injure another.” Gabriel v. Bauman, 2014 SD 30, 847 N.W.2d 537, 541 (S.D. 2014)). Generally, whether the facts constitute gross negligence is a question of fact “if reasonable minds might differ in interpreting the facts in arriving at different conclusions on whether the defendant was willful, wanton, or reckless.” Id. at 542. “Because willfulness, wantonness, or recklessness is almost never admitted, and can be proved only by the conduct and the circumstances, an objective standard must of necessity in practice be applied. Id. at 542-43.

Summarizing the above case law, gross negligence [*14]  is distinguished from ordinary negligence by two factors. The risk of harm must be greater for gross negligence—whereas under ordinary negligence, the risk of harm can be anything from negligible harm to death, the risk of harm for gross negligence must be death or serious harm. Fischer, 2018 SD 71, 2018 WL 4779267 at *2. Secondly, the likelihood that harm will come about, phrased in terms of the defendant’s state of mind, must be greater. For example, if there is a 10 percent chance some harm will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure that harm does not come about, he is merely negligent. If there is an 85 percent chance serious harm or death will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure the harm does not occur, he has acted willfully and wantonly or with gross negligence.

The Reeds posit three facts in support of their assertion the defendant in this case acted grossly negligent (or willfully and wantonly) with regard to I.R. First, the defendant had a practice of leaving tubes with tears in the canvas bottoms in rotation for guests to use because the torn tubes were slower and, therefore, in the eyes of defendant’s employees, safer. Second, the defendant knew the importance of staging—having [*15]  an employee at the top of the tube run to meter the guests as they descended the slope so that one guest could clear the run before the next guest began descending—but made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run on the day of I.R.’s accident. And, finally, the existence of prior collisions on the tube run put the defendant on notice of the likelihood of harm.

Neither party speaks to the magnitude of the harm which, as discussed above, is one of the two factors distinguishing ordinary negligence from gross negligence. The defendant does not cite facts or circumstances to show that the prior collisions were minor bump-and-bruise types of encounters. The Reeds do not cite facts or circumstances to show the prior collisions resulted in concussions, closed head injuries, broken bones, surgeries or hospitalizations. The Reeds have supported their assertion that I.R.’s injuries were sufficiently serious—a fractured skull–something defendant does not dispute. Because the moving party has the burden, the court makes all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Accordingly, the court infers that previous accidents were sufficiently severe in nature to [*16]  satisfy the standard required for gross negligence.

Likewise, with regard to the number of prior incidents, neither party has placed into the record what the total number of tubers was during the period of time covered by the incidents. This fact goes to the likelihood of a collision—for gross negligence, there must be a greater probability of harm occurring than is the case with ordinary negligence. If 17 collisions occurred between fall of 2010 and March 15, 2015, and there were 5,000 tubers during that time, the number of prior accidents takes on one type of significance. But the significance of the number of prior accidents is different if the total number of tubers during that time frame is 100, 300, or even 500. There is a significantly bigger risk of harm the smaller the total number of tubers. Although the defendant alleges there were “thousands” of tubers, it has not supported that assertion with citation to an affidavit, deposition, or authenticated document. Again, there is a lack of evidence.

Also, neither party describes the scope of defendant’s incident reports. Do they encompass all kinds of incidents—those attributable to conditions on the slopes within defendant’s control [*17]  as well as incidents attributable to factors not within defendant’s control? Do they encompass heart attacks and strokes as well as collisions? Do the reports include drunken brawls between guests as well as injuries inflicted when a tow bar snaps?

Furthermore, is there any evidence suggesting that not all collisions at defendant’s resort are documented in incident reports? Are the incident reports the tip of the iceberg—or are they truly representative of all injuries occurring at defendant’s resort?

Finally, defendant does not dispute that no employee was stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident. The Reeds assert that defendant was “chronically understaffed” and that defendant made a “deliberate decision” not to place an employee at the top of the tube run that day. The Reeds have amply supported their assertion that defendant was chronically understaffed, with the result that positions that should have been filled by employees were left unattended. See Docket Nos. 33-4, 33-5, & 33-8. The Reeds also supplied testimony that, when there were not enough employees, the defendant prioritized putting an employee at the bottom of the tube slope rather than at the [*18]  top of the slope. See Docket No. 33-4 at p. 5 (depo p. 20). From these two facts, the Reeds infer that defendant made a “deliberate decision” the day of the accident not to place an employee at the top of the tube slope to stage the tubers.

Defendant disputes that it made a “deliberate decision” not to have an employee staging the tubers that day. Defendant’s disagreement with the Reeds’ assertion is based solely on the fact that they do not have testimony from any witness stating outright that a calculated decision was made. Defendant seems to assert that the Reeds may not rely upon an inference, but must have affirmative evidence of the fact a “deliberate decision” was made.

The court makes two observations. Under the law of gross negligence, South Dakota has recognized a plaintiff will rarely have direct evidence of the defendant’s state of mind. Gabriel, 847 N.W.2d at 542-43. Rather, state of mind must be inferred from the circumstances. Id. Also, under the law of summary judgment, all inferences from the facts must be made in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Co., 475 U.S. at 587-88. Both sources of law, then, support taking the Reeds’ view of the inference to be drawn from the fact that defendant was chronically understaffed and did [*19]  not have an employee stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident.

Defendant attempts to eliminate a genuine issue of fact as to the presence of a staging employee by asserting that there was in fact an employee at the top of the tube hill with a radio. See Docket No. 34 at p. 6. In support of this assertion of fact, defendant cites Mr. and Mrs. Reeds’ depositions and argues they cannot claim a version of facts more favorable than their own testimony, an old chestnut of South Dakota Law.

Reading the Reeds’ depositions, however, leads one to conclude defendant’s assertion is, if not outright untrue, certainly misleading. Both Mr. and Mrs. Reed testified no one was at the top of the hill staging the tubers at the time of I.R.’s accident. Docket No. 27-1 at p. 10 (depo. p. 30); Docket No. 27-5 at p. 7 (depo. p. 25). Prior to the accident, both the Reeds had observed a young man with a radio they assumed was defendant’s employee at the top of the hill during one or two of the Reed party’s previous 15-20 tube runs. However, the young man never provided instruction to the tubers about when to go down the slope—he was not staging the tubers. Docket No. 27-1 at p. 10 (depo. [*20]  pp. 39-40). Thus, the Reeds have sustained their assertion of fact that defendant had no employee stationed at the top of the tube hill to stage tubers at the time of I.R.’s accident.

Defendant’s motion is decided with resort to two veins of law. First, the law applicable to summary judgment. As the movant, defendant has the burden to show that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and that, based upon those undisputed facts, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. All of the absences of crucial fact detailed by the court above cut against defendant as the moving party. Furthermore, all of the inferences from the facts that are present in the record must be drawn in favor of the Reeds. Applying those standards to the issue before the court, the conclusion is inescapable that there are genuine issues of material fact existing which prevent summary judgment in defendant’s favor.

The second vein of law which comes into play is the dictate of South Dakota law that, ordinarily, questions of whether a defendant acted with gross negligence are questions of fact for the jury if reasonable minds could differ as to the inferences to draw from the known facts. Gabriel, 847 N.W.2d at 542. That is the situation [*21]  here. The court recommends that defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the Reeds’ gross negligence claim be denied.

D. Are There Material Factual Disputes as to Assumption of the Risk?

Defendant’s final argument in favor of its summary judgment motion is that the Reeds assumed the risk of their daughter’s accident as a matter of law, thereby relieving defendant of any liability. The court addresses the first question apparent by defendant’s argument: whether assumption of the risk is even a defense to a claim of gross negligence. As legal authority for its position, defendant cites only the Restatement (Second) of Torts 496A, cmt. d (1965), and a dissenting opinion in Barger for Wares v. Cox, 372 N.W.2d 161, 170-71 (S.D. 1985) (Wuest, J., dissenting). See Defendant’s Brief, Docket No. 23 at pp. 29-30. Neither of these authorities represent binding South Dakota law.

The Reeds in their brief do not address the issue of whether assumption of the risk is a defense to a claim of gross negligence. They argue only that assumption of the risk is a quintessential issue of fact for the jury. See Docket No. 30 at pp. 13-14.

In the Holzer case discussed previously, the plaintiff signed defendant’s release of liability form which defendant called an “assumption of the risk” form. Holzer, 610 N.W.2d at 790. The court held [*22]  in that case that liability releases only serve to protect defendants from claims of ordinary negligence, not from claims of gross negligence. Id. at 793. However, the title the defendant chose to give its release form is not dispositive of the question in this case.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has said that when a defendant’s actions are merely negligent, the defense of contributory negligence applies. But when the defendant’s conduct is willful and wanton, the defense of contributory negligence does not apply. Carlson v. Johnke, 57 S.D. 544, 234 N.W. 25, 27-28 (S.D. 1931), overruled on other grounds Wittstruck v. Lee, 62 S.D. 290, 252 N.W. 874, 877 (S.D. 1934) (clarifying that it did not adopt the doctrine of comparative negligence in Johnke).

In a dissenting opinion in another case, Justice Henderson stated that while assumption of the risk was a defense to ordinary negligence, the plaintiff would nonetheless have recourse for willful or wanton acts of a defendant. Johnson v. Rapid City Softball Ass’n. , 514 N.W.2d 693, 703 (S.D. 1994) (Henderson, J., dissenting). See Rantapaa v. Black Hills Chair Lift Co., 2001 SD 111, 633 N.W.2d 196, 204 (S.D. 2001) (assumption of the risk is an affirmative defense to an ordinary negligence claim).

The court has found no South Dakota case directly on point addressing whether the defense of assumption of the risk applies to grossly negligent or willful and wanton conduct. Defendant cites § 496A, comment d, of the Restatement (Second) of Torts for the proposition that the defense is [*23]  available here. The section cited stands for the proposition that assumption of the risk is a defense to both ordinary negligence and to reckless conduct. The section does not address gross negligence or willful and wanton conduct. However, it is true that the South Dakota Supreme Court has, at times, used the word “reckless” interchangeably with “gross negligence” and “willful and wanton.”

If assumption of the risk is a defense to a claim of gross negligence, it is a subjective standard. Duda v. Phatty McGees, Inc., 2008 SD 115, 758 N.W.2d 754, 758 (S.D. 2008). Defendant has the burden to prove that “the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates” the specific risk that caused the injury. Id. The defendant must prove three elements: (1) the plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of the risk; (2) the plaintiff appreciated its character; and (3) the plaintiff voluntarily accepted the risk, with the time, knowledge, and experience to make an intelligent choice. Id. “A person is deemed to have appreciated the risk if it is the type of risk that no adult of average intelligence can deny.” Id. (quoting Westover v. East River Elec. Power Coop., Inc., 488 N.W.2d 892, 901 (S.D. 1992)) (cleaned up).

The Restatement states that a plaintiff who knows generally of a danger does not necessarily assume the risk if [*24]  the danger appears to be slight or negligible. See
Restatement (Second) Torts §496D, cmt. b. The Restatement also echoes what South Dakota law establishes: because the standard for assumption of the risk is a subjective one based on whether the plaintiff knows of the existence of the risk as well as understands its magnitude and unreasonable character, the question of assumption of the risk is almost always a question of fact for the jury to decide. Id.; Ray v. Downes, 1998 SD 40, 576 N.W.2d 896, 900 (S.D. 1998).

Here, the Reeds have established that neither they nor their children had ever been tubing before the day they visited defendant’s resort. See Docket No. 27-1 at p.3 (depo. p. 12). They anticipated that tubing at defendant’s resort would be safe, fun and would build family memories. See Docket No. 33-1 at p. 103. Furthermore, there is no evidence produced by defendant showing that the Reeds anticipated, understood, and accepted the risk that defendant would provide no employee at the top of the tube run to stage the tubers—contrary to defendant’s own policy and its prominent signage at the resort (i.e. follow attendant’s instructions when going down the tube run).

The defense of assumption of the risk is a subjective one. There are material issues of fact as to what the [*25]  Reeds knew and appreciated in terms of the risk they and I.R. would encounter when tubing at defendant’s resort. Assuming that the defense applies at all to a claim of gross negligence, the court concludes summary judgment is inappropriate on this record.

Conclusion

Based on the foregoing facts, law and analysis, this magistrate judge respectfully recommends granting in part and denying in part defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Docket No. 21. Specifically, the court recommends defendant’s motion should be granted as to plaintiff’s claim for ordinary negligence, but recommends defendant’s motion should be denied as to plaintiff’s claim for gross negligence.

Notice To Parties

The parties have fourteen (14) days after service of this Report and Recommendation to file written objections pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), unless an extension of time for good cause is obtained. Failure to file timely objections will result in the waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact. Objections must be timely and specific in order to require de novo review by the District Court. Thompson v. Nix, 897 F.2d 356 (8th Cir. 1990); Nash v. Black, 781 F.2d 665 (8th Cir. 1986).

DATED November 15, 2018.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Veronica L. Duffy

VERONICA L. DUFFY

United States Magistrate Judge


Federal District Court applying South Dakota law finds release was ineffective in stopping claims for injury that did not occur because of the risk the plaintiff was anticipating.

The plaintiff in this case signed a release to hunt, but was injured by an ATV waiting to hunt. As such the release did not apply.

Wimmer v. Top Gun Guide Serv., 421 F. Supp. 3d 849, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888, 2019 WL 5558308

State: South Dakota

Plaintiff: Anthony Wimmer

Defendant: Top Gun Guide Service, Inc., John Does 1-5

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2019

Summary

A release must be written to cover all the risks your guests could suffer. Here the release covered hunting and did not cover being hit by an ATV when the plaintiff was not hunting. Write your release to inform your participants and to provide protection for you from all fronts.

Facts

This case arose from injuries that plaintiff Anthony Wimmer sustained while on a hunting trip hosted by defendant Top Gun near Aberdeen, South Dakota in April of 2015. Mr. Wimmer is a California resident and Top Gun is a Minnesota corporation. Id. On or about April 9, 2015, Mr. Wimmer arrived in Aberdeen, though he did not hunt on that day. At some point on April 9th, Mr. Wimmer signed a waiver purporting to release Top Gun from liability arising from the hunting trip.

The parties agree that in his deposition Mr. Wimmer testified that he read the release before signing it and that he did not disagree with anything contained therein. Mr. Wimmer also agreed in his deposition that hunting and fishing is a dangerous activity.

On April 10th, Mr. Wimmer arrived at the hunting site and began setting up hunting decoys. Shortly after having finished setting up the decoys, Mr. Wimmer was standing in the field where the hunt was to take place when he was struck from behind “by either an [all terrain vehicle (ATV)] or sled.” The sled was being towed behind the ATV. Id. The ATV was being operated by a Top Gun guide.

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

The plaintiff argued the normal arguments on why the release should fail. The main one was the release was written specific for the activity of and the risks created by hunting and fishing and at the time of the accident the plaintiff was doing neither of those things. Therefore, the release did not apply, his injuries were outside of the scope of the language of the release.

Plaintiff argues that he had no meaningful opportunity to negotiate the terms of the waiver and so it must be viewed as an “anticipatory release and contract of adhesion, which should be viewed with a skeptical and critical eye,” and any ambiguities should be construed against the drafter. Plaintiff argues that the waiver, by its terms, only applies to the limited activities of hunting and fishing. Plaintiff argues that his are not hunting injuries because, at the time of the accident, he had already finished setting up the decoys and was merely standing in the field waiting to be told what he should do next. Plaintiff urges that such activity should not be considered hunting.

The defendant argued the release was broad and covered the injury the plaintiff sustained and countered the plaintiff’s arguments.

Top Gun’s argument relies on the liability waiver being found to encompass the harm at issue in this case. Defendant then proceeds to argue that the waiver is valid and its enforcement would not contravene South Dakota’s public policy. Defendant argues that releases involving voluntary recreational activities have withstood attacks that they are contrary to South Dakota’s public policy many times before; only an attempted waiver of conduct rising to the level of willful negligence or intentional tort would contravene the state’s public policy. Because Mr. Wimmer does not allege willful negligence or any intentional torts, defendant argues that his claims must fail.

The court then looked at the law of South Dakota where the accident happened and, which law was to be applied, South Dakota law.

Under South Dakota law, a waiver of liability is contractual in nature and is governed by contract law. When interpreting a contract, “[t]he goal . . . is to see that the mutual intent of the parties is carried into effect.” Courts look to the language of the contract to determine the intent of the parties, and afford contractual terms their “plain and ordinary meaning,” “When the meaning of contractual language is plain and unambiguous, construction is not necessary” because the “intent of the parties can be derived from within the four corners of the contract.” (“When the words of a contract are clear and explicit and lead to no absurd consequences, the search for the parties’ common intent is at an end.”).

What most non-lawyers do not understand is a contract must be interrupted solely by the words in the contract. As lawyers say within the four corners of the document. Statements (parol evidence) said before or after the signing of the contract are inadmissible to interpret the contract. The exception to this rule is if the contract is determined by the court to be ambiguous, then evidence outside of the terms of the agreement can be introduced to explain the language of the contract. But only to explain the ambiguous language of the contract.

When a contract is found to be ambiguous, however, “parol evidence is admissible to explain the contract but inadmissible to vary or add terms to the contract.” A contract is not rendered ambiguous merely because the parties now disagree as to their intent at the time of contracting. “Instead, ‘a contract is ambiguous only when it is capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the context of the entire integrated agreement.'”

The court found that the release was not ambiguous so no other evidence could be introduced to explain the meaning of the release.

The release at issue in the instant case is not ambiguous. Although it must be interpreted and read in a common sense manner. The release, by its terms, covers “all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with [plaintiffs] participation in this activity or [plaintiff’s] use of [Top Gun] equipment…”

The plaintiff and the defendant both argued the issues as they needed. The plaintiff stated he was standing around the, and the defendant argued the plaintiff was hunting. However, the court found the plaintiff was not hunting by law. “As a matter of law, plaintiff could not have legally been pursuing waterfowl because the accident happened long before legal shooting time.”

Under South Dakota law, hunting cannot begin until thirty minutes before sunrise. Since the accident happened several hours before sunrise, the plaintiff was not hunting.

This accident could not, as a matter of law, have been a part of legal hunting. In South Dakota, a hunter may not shoot waterfowl until one half hour before sunrise. At the time of the accident, all preparations for hunting had been completed. The parties were in a waiting period. Instead, plaintiff was struck by a motor vehicle. The fact that plaintiff is claimed to be hunting at the time he was struck by the ATV is irrelevant because being struck by an ATV is not a harm arising out of hunting, especially long before sunrise.

Therefore, the release was not written to cover the accident that occurred to the plaintiff.

The court also added that the release did not cover motor vehicle accidents, which is what occurred to the plaintiff. (Any accident that is caused by something with an engine and tires, the courts usually interpret that as a automobile accident and apply automobile law, on or off road.)

The court then looked at releases and how they are interpreted with respect to high-risk activities under South Dakota law.

First, the more inherently dangerous or risky the recreational activity, the more likely that an anticipatory release will be held valid. That is, individuals who engage in activities like mountain climbing, race car driving, parachute jumping, and the like, are more likely to be held to have an understanding of the risky nature of their chosen activity.

Second, releases are deemed more acceptable when they are written on a separate sheet of paper. Id. It is the first line of reasoning that is most relevant to the instant analysis.

The court stated that if you undertake a high-risk activity you cannot sue for your injuries.

The first line of reasoning recognizes that individuals who voluntarily engage in a particularly dangerous activity for recreational purposes must accept a certain amount of risk that is inherent in said activity. That is, when an individual chooses to go skydiving, signs a release with a vendor providing such services, and is injured while hurtling to the earth, he cannot then sue in contravention of that release. Hunting is likewise a dangerous activity; the hunter voluntarily exposes himself to all the dangers of the firearms enthusiast as well as those of the outdoorsman. It is agreed that the release in this case covers liability arising out plaintiff’s participation in the activity of hunting. However, plaintiff’s participation in the hunt did not cause his injury.

Summing the issues up, the court made the statement that in South Dakota, the Supreme Court looked at the validity of the release as it relates to the activity the release was supposed to cover.

Each case the Supreme Court of South Dakota has considered relating to the application of a release from liability has involved harm that arose out of the activity for which liability was waived.

However, here the plaintiff was not undertaking a high-risk recreational activity. He was standing in a field.

In the instant case, plaintiff’s injury did not arise from his participation in the hunt. He was not accidentally shot by a fellow hunter; he did not strain his back while placing a decoy, nor did he twist his ankle while standing around waiting to be told what to do next. Instead, plaintiff was struck from behind by a motor vehicle at a time before legal hunting could commence, something separate and apart from his participation in the hunt.

The release was signed so the plaintiff could hunt. He was not injured hunting, and the release was not written in a way to cover the risks the plaintiff encountered standing in a field.

The release was thrown out by the court and the plaintiff was allowed to continue his lawsuit.

So Now What?

Too many releases are written to cover the risks of the specific activity, hunting, climbing, rafting, etc. Yet accidents occur in the parking lot, on the way to the activity and just standing around waiting for kayaks to be unloaded, belays to be set up or the guides to get organized.

Make sure your release is broad enough to cover all the risks your clients will encounter during the activity.

At the same time, don’t let an idiot drive an ATV and if people are going to be standing around in the dark, put a bicycle light on them so you can find them.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Messer v. Hi Country Stables Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2675, 2013 WL 93183

Messer v. Hi Country Stables Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2675, 2013 WL 93183

United States District Court for the District of Colorado

January 8, 2013, Decided; January 8, 2013, Filed

Civil Action No. 11-cv-01500-WJM-MJW

Reporter

2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2675 *; 2013 WL 93183

ALVA MESSER, Plaintiff, v. HI COUNTRY STABLES CORPORATION, Defendant.

Prior History: Messer v. Hi Country Stables Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170499 (D. Colo., Nov. 30, 2012)

Counsel:  [*1] For Alva Messer, Plaintiff: Donald L. Salem, Feldmann Nagel, LLC-Denver, Denver, CO.

For Hi Country Stables Corporation, Defendant, Counter Claimant: Kenneth H. Lyman, Malcolm S. Mead, Hall & Evans, LLC-Denver, Denver, CO.

For Alva Messer, Counter Defendant: Donald L. Salem, Michael G. Bryan, Feldmann Nagel, LLC-Denver, Denver, CO.

Judges: William J. Martinez, United States District Judge.

Opinion by: William J. Martinez

Opinion

AMENDED ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF. No. 41.) Plaintiff Alva Messer (“Plaintiff”) has filed a Response to this Motion (ECF No. 42.) and Defendant Hi Country Stables Corporation (“HCS” or “Defendant”) has filed a Reply. (ECF No. 45.) The Motion is ripe for adjudication.

Having reviewed the briefs and the relevant portions of the record, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND1

A. Factual Background

On July 16, 2009, Plaintiff Alva Messer purchased a guided horseback ride from Hi County  [*2] Stables. (ECF No. 41 at 3.) Defendant HCS operates commercial horse-back riding at Glacier Creek Stables in Rocky Mountain National Park (“RMNP”). (ECF No. 41 at 7.) HCS is one of two equestrian companies owned by Rex Walker. (Id.) The other equestrian company is Sombrero Ranches, Inc. (“SRI”). (Id.) Before beginning any guided horseback ride, both companies require customers to sign an exculpatory contract, titled “Release” (hereafter “the Release” or “Release Forms”). (Id.) The Release Forms for HCS and SRI are identical, except for the name of the company being released from liability. (Id. at 4.) The Release Forms for HCS and SRI are printed in tablets containing 100 tear-away forms per tablet. Once printed, the printing company delivers the tablets to the offices of HCS and SRI. (Id.)

At the start of the 2009 riding season, one tablet of Release Forms labeled SRI was placed in a box of office supplies for delivery to HCS. (Id. at 5.) For reasons that are unexplained by Defendant, those same Release Forms—which Released SRI from liability—were used by HCS at Glacier Creek Stables on July 16, 2009. (Id. at 5; see also, Exh. C, Walker Dep. at 29:13 – 30:5.)

Typically, when customers  [*3] arrive at HCS, they are informed that they must sign a Release. (Id. at 6; Exh. D, Marshall Dep. at 29.) Amongst other employees at HCS, Dallas Marshall informs customers that they are required to sign the Release and “mark their riding ability.” (Id.)

When the Messers arrived at HCS on July 16, 2009, Marshall followed her normal practice and informed the Messers of the Release. (Id.) She also requested that they indicate their riding ability, which Plaintiff did. (Id.) Following this, and before commencing the guided horseback ride, Plaintiff signed the Release. (Id.) The Release expressly provides that the customer “understands. . .the specific risks. . .arising from riding a horse. . .and that the [customer] nevertheless intentionally agree[s] to assume these risks.” (ECF No. 41, Exh. A.)

After signing the Release, Plaintiff entered the corral where she was assigned her horse before commencing the trail ride. (Id. at 8; see also, Exh B, Alva Messer Dep. at 35:16-24). The wrangler who led the guests on Plaintiff’s trail ride was Terry Humphrey. (Id.)

Plaintiff encountered problems with her saddle during the trail ride which required adjustment by Plaintiff and Humphrey. (ECF No. 41,  [*4] Exh. B, Alva Messer Dep. at 49:1 – 50:1; Exh., Humphrey Dep. at 44:18-25; 45:7 – 46:1; 47:13-22; Exh. F, Donald Messer Dep. at 22:10-17).2

At the midway point, the Messer group stopped to take a rest break. (ECF No. 41, Exh. B, Alva Messer Dep. at 47:10-20). Plaintiff encountered further problems with her saddle—including slippage of the saddle to the horse’s right. (ld. at 50:2-9)

Sometime later, as Plaintiff’s horse was stepping down a “rock stair” in the trail, Plaintiff fell off the right side of the horse (the “Incident.”) (ECF No. 42, Exh. E, Humphrey Dep. at 54:15- 55:10; Exh. F, Donald Messer Dep. at 27:1- 28:6.) Plaintiff allegedly sustained serious injuries and economic loss resulting from the Incident. (ECF No.1 at ¶¶ 14 and 57.)

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 “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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is “material” if under  [*5] the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997). In analyzing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986)). With this approach of resolving factual ambiguities against the moving party, the Court, as it should, thus favors the right to a trial. See Houston v. Nat’l Gen. Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th Cir. 1987).

III. ANALYSIS

Defendant’s instant Motion seeks reformation of the Release and moves for summary judgment as to the Plaintiff’s claims—including: negligence; product liability; and, wilful and wanton conduct. If granted, Defendant argues that the Release should bar the negligence and product liability claims. The Court will first address  [*6] this issue.

A. Effect of the Release on the Negligence and Product Liability Claims

1. Reformation

Defendant seeks to reform the Release to reflect the true intent of the parties by substituting the name HCS for SRI. (ECF No. 41 at 22.)

Reformation of a contract is an “equitable remedy, and the formulation of such remedy rests with the court’s discretion.” May v. Travelers Property Casualty Co. 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80849, 2006 WL 3218852 at *2-3 (D. Colo. 2006, November 6, 2006). “Reformation of a written instrument is appropriate only when the instrument does not represent the true agreement of the parties and the purpose of reformation is to give effect to the parties’ actual intentions.” Maryland Cas. Co. v. Buckeye Gas Prod. Co., 797 P.2d 11, 13 (Colo. 1990).3 Mutual mistake of a contract provides grounds for reformation if the written instrument “does not express the true intent or agreement of the parties.” Segelke v. Kilmer, 145 Colo. 538, 360 P.2d 423, 426-27 (Colo. 1961).

An “essential prerequisite to a court’s power to reform a contract on the ground  [*7] of mutual mistake is the existence of a prior agreement that represents the actual expectations of the parties and provides the basis upon which a court orders reformation.” Maryland Cas. Co., 797 P.2d at 13. Prior agreement must be found from the evidence presented, which must be “clear and unequivocal”, and appropriate under the “circumstances.” Id.
See also, Segelke 360 P.2d at 426-27.

Here, Defendant asserts that the intent of the Release was to bind Plaintiff Alva Messer and Defendant HCS. Defendant contends that reference to SRI on the Release was a mutual mistake and that SRI should be substituted with HCS. The Court agrees. This holding is supported by Plaintiff Messer’s own testimony, which clearly reflects the parties’ common understanding of the signed document and shows acknowledgment by Plaintiff that the Release was, in fact, releasing HCS – not SRI. Such testimony is found in the following passage:

Q. You were told it was a release, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And did you have any conception or understanding of what that meant?

A. Well, I assume a release is to release the people, you know, the stables.

Q. And when you were presented this at Hi Country Stables, was it your understanding  [*8] that you were releasing Hi Country [Stables]?

A. Correct.

(Messer Deposition at 32:3-22).

Because the above testimony is clear and unequivocal, the Court finds that it reflects the parties’ true intentions of the Release that the contract was between Plaintiff Messer and Defendant HCS.

Additionally, Plaintiff signed the Release at a location owned by HCS immediately before embarking on a trail ride guided by HCS employees. (ECF No. 41, Exh A.) Given that Plaintiff signed the document at HCS, it is difficult to see how the Release was intended to apply to any entity other than HCS.

Accordingly, the Court finds that there was mutual mistake at the time the Release was entered into. Mutual intent of the parties was to enter into an agreement whereby HCS would be released from certain claims. This provides the equitable basis to grant the relief. The Court orders that the name “Sombrero Ranches, Inc.” (SRI) be deleted and substituted with “Hi Country Stables” (HCS) in the Release.

2. Application of Release to Plaintiff’s Negligence Claim

As the Court has found that the Release should be reformed, the next issue is whether the Release shields Defendant from Plaintiff’s negligence claim. For the  [*9] reasons below, the Court concludes that it does.

To determine whether the Release bars Plaintiff’s negligence claim, the Court must consider four factors: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981).4

As to the first factor, Colorado law is clear that businesses engaged in recreational services do not perform services that implicate  [*10] a public duty. This favors Defendant’s position as to the validity of the Release. Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 469 (Colo. 2004).

With respect to the second factor, the Court similarly finds for Defendant because horse-back riding is “not an essential service.” Hamill v. Cheley Colorado Camps, 262 P.3d 945, 949-50 (Colo. App. 2011) Horse-back riding is one of choice, not necessity.

As to third factor, this also cuts in favor of Defendant since there is no evidence to suggest that the Release was entered into unfairly. Instead, Plaintiff signed the Release “in consideration for the opportunity” to ride the trail led by HCS wranglers. (ECF No. 41, Exh A.) Plaintiff also indicated her riding ability. This suggests that she had ample time to review the Release and become familiar with its conditions. It is these facts, amongst others, that rebut any notion that the Release was unfair. Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474-475 (D. Colo. 1992).

With respect to the fourth factor, the Court looks to the language of the Release to elicit its intent. The Court must determine “whether the intent of the parties was to extinguish liability and whether  [*11] this intent was clearly and unambiguously expressed.” Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 785 (Colo. 1989). Here, the test is met since the Release specifically uses the word “negligence” throughout the document. Reference to the word negligence expressly indicated that HCS would not be liable for such claims. Also, like the release in Jones, the Release in this case similarly points to the “specific risks” of property and personal injury damage that may “arise out of negligence.” Jones, 623 P.2d at 376. Such language serves to reinforce the intent of the Release and thatPlaintiff agreed to “assume such risks” during the course of the HCS led trail-ride. (ECF No. 41, Exh. A.)

In sum, the Court concludes that the Release shields Defendant from Plaintiff’s negligence claim. To the extent that Defendant’s Motion is directed towards that claim, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.5

3. Application of the Release to Plaintiff’s Strict Product Liability Claims

In addressing whether the Release applies to Plaintiff’s product liability claims, the Court finds this result is controlled by existing case law: Boles v. Sun Ergoline, 223 P.3d 724, 727-728 (Colo. 2010). That case held that an agreement releasing “a manufacturer from strict products liability for personal injury, in exchange for nothing more than an individual consumer’s right to have or use the product, necessarily violates the public policy of this jurisdiction and is void.” Id. (emphasis added). The Court holds that this passage has equal application here. As distinct from the negligence claim, Boles provides that the Release does not shield Defendant from the strict product liability claims.

Alternatively, Defendant argues that the broad language of the Release covers product liability claims.  [*13] Clause 2 provides: “that [the Customer] know[s] and understand[s] that horse riding . . . risks of . . . including the risk that [HCS]. . . may act negligently in . . . preparing or maintaining the horse . . . equipment or premises . . .” (ECF No. 41 Exh A.) Nothing in Clause 2 suggests that the Release covers claims which involve “leasing” or “manufacturing” saddles used in conjunction with Defendant’s trail rides, which would give rise to a products liability claim. Because exculpatory agreements are strictly construed against the party seeking exception, Defendant’s argument that the Release bars this claim must fail. Barker v. Colorado Region-Sports Car Club, 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P.2d 372, 377 (Colo. App., 1974.)6

Accordingly, Plaintiff’s product liability claims are not barred by the HCS Release.7

B. Merits of the Product Liability Claims

Defendant also moves for summary judgment on the merits of Plaintiff’s product liability claim. In these claims, Plaintiff alleges (1) that HCS leased a defective saddle to Plaintiff by placing it in the “stream of commerce” and (2) that HCS manufactured a defective saddle that was used by Plaintiff (ECF No. 41 at 35; ECF No. 25 at ¶ ¶ 36-55.)8 Defendant offers two alternative arguments below as to why grant of summary judgment is justified with respect to these claims. The Court will address each in turn.

1. Horse-Back Riding by HCS is a Service and Does Not Give Rise to Products Liability

Defendant contends that summary judgment should be granted on Plaintiff’s product liability claims because the primary purpose of the contract was the provision of a service—not a product. This, Defendant contends, does not give rise to liability in tort. (ECF No. 41 at 37.) See, Yarbro v. Hilton Hotels, 655 P.2d 822, 828 (Colo. 1982)

To buttress its position, Defendant relies on Kaplan v. C Lazy U Ranch, 615 F. Supp. 234 (D. Colo. 1985). There, Judge John L. Kane of this District Court refused to treat “a saddled horse, or a ride on a horse with a saddle” as a product. Id. at 238. Judge Kane held that it was incongruent with strict product liability doctrine and cited several cases that have refused to extend the concept of strict liability to “persons rendering services.”9
Id. at 238 n.3. Defendant asserts that Kaplan has equal application here.

Plaintiff seeks to distinguish Kaplan by making specific reference to “SADDLE EQUIPMENT” in the Complaint. (See ECF No. 25 at ¶ ¶ 36- 51.) Plaintiff seeks to separate the saddle from the horse, and attempt to succeed on that basis.

The Court finds Kaplan persuasive. Like that case, the Court holds that a saddle (on a horse) is not a product—particularly in the context of horse-back riding services. The Court further finds Plaintiff’s distinction is misplaced because it fails to appreciate that the saddle was incidental to the primary purpose of the contract. Plaintiff entered into a contract for a guided five-hour horse back ride through RMNP. This service primarily relied upon a horse (which is not a product) and a saddle (which incidental to that service).10 Without a product, the product liability claims cannot succeed. Yarbro 655 P.2d at 828.

Because the saddle was only incidental to the contract for services, Plaintiff has failed to show a “trial  [*17] worthy” issue as to her product liability claims. Harper v. Mancos Sch. Dist. RE-6, 837 F.Supp.2d 1211, 1223-24 (D.Colo.2011).

2. Use of the Saddle Did Not Constitute a Lease

In the alternative, Defendant argues that summary judgment is warranted on Plaintiff’s product liability claims because it is not a “seller”of a product. That is, Defendant does not fall within the definition of “seller” under the statute because Defendant is not a “lessor” of products, nor a “manufacturer”. See generally, C.R.S. § 13-21-401; Hidalgo v. Fagen, Inc., 206 F.3d 1013, 1018 (10th Cir. 2000).11 Again, the Court agrees.

Contrary to Plaintiff’s position, the Court finds that Defendant does not “lease” saddles to its customers. Plaintiff signed a Release “in consideration for the opportunity to ride” a horse through RMNP. (ECF No. 41, Exh A.) The “opportunity to ride” does not create a lease. Its use is too short. Nor does it constitute ownership of the saddle itself.

Moreover, HCS cannot be considered a manufacturer because it does not manufacture saddles. (ECF No. 41, Exh. G, Humphrey  [*18] Dep. at ¶11; Exh H, Walker Dep. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff argues that the “offside billet [of the saddle] is a product and that it became defective while in the course of it distribution from the original manufacturer through Defendant to her as the consumer.” (ECF No. 42 at 34-35). The Court treats this as an admission that Defendant never manufactured the billet. It also supports the finding that no product is involved in the present case.

Plaintiff has failed to show a genuine issue of fact as to whether Defendant leased or manufactured a saddle. Thus, Defendant’s Motion as to both of the product liability claims is granted.

3. Plaintiff’s Argument re Blueflame Gas

Plaintiff argues that Defendant placed a defective saddle “in the course of the distribution process” and is, therefore, liable for product liability. (ECF No. 42 at 33. (emphasis added.)) In support, Plaintiff heavily relies on Blueflame Gas, Inc. v. Van Hoose, 679 P.2d 579 (Colo. 1984). There, the defendant purchased propane from Diamond Shamrock. Defendant then transported and sold the propane directly to residential customers. A gas explosion occurred at a residential home. The plaintiff claimed, inter alia, strict liability  [*19] based Defendant’s failure to odorize the propane, making it a defective product. The Supreme Court held that a defective product must have arisen at the time of manufacture or “in the course of the distribution process” to the plaintiff. Id. at 590.

The Court is not compelled to find in Plaintiff’s favor based on Blueflame.12 The saddle in this case was not sold to Plaintiff. The saddle was not part of a distribution process. And, unlike the customers in Blueflame, the Court finds that Plaintiff is not permitted to pursue her product liability claim based on a “distribution process” theory.

Therefore, in addition to the reasons addressed above, Plaintiff’s reliance on Blueflame does not save her product liability claims from summary judgment.

C. Merits of the Wilful and Wanton Claim

Plaintiff’s claim for wilful and wanton conduct is trial worthy. First, a waiver cannot release wilful tortfeasors (alleged or otherwise). The Release has no bearing  [*20] on this claim. Barker v. Colorado Region Sports Car Club, 35 Colo. App. 73, 532 P.2d 372, 377 (Colo. 1974).

Second, willful and wanton conduct requires a mental state “consonant with purpose, intent and voluntary choice.” Brooks v. Timberline Tours, 127 F.3d 1273, 1276 (10th Cir. 1997). Because key facts going to this mental state are disputed, Defendant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For example, Plaintiff contends that Humphrey did not perform the number of saddle “checks” he asserts. (Alva Messer Dep. at 43:4-44:18; 48:3-11; 48:21-49:17.) Plaintiff also disputes whether Humphery noticed the “saddle rolling to the right” during the trail ride. (Id.) These examples reflect material facts ripe for jury determination. If the jury credits Plaintiff’s testimony on these points, it could reasonably find that Defendant’s actions were wilful and wanton.

The Court finds that Plaintiff has shown a genuine dispute of material fact as to her wilful and wanton conduct claim. As to this claim, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied. See Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., 252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001).

III. CONCLUSION

Based on the foregoing, the Court hereby ORDERS as follows:

1. Defendant’s  [*21] Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 41) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART;

2. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to Plaintiff’s claims for negligence and product liability;

3. The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant on Plaintiff’s negligence and product liability claims;

4. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as to Plaintiff’s wilful and wanton claim; and

5. Trial will proceed solely on Plaintiff’s willful and wanton claim, as previously scheduled, on March 11, 2013.

Dated this 8th day of January, 2013

BY THE COURT:

/s/ William J. Martinez

William J. Martinez

United States District Judge


Wimmer v. Top Gun Guide Serv., 421 F. Supp. 3d 849, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888, 2019 WL 5558308

Wimmer v. Top Gun Guide Serv., 421 F. Supp. 3d 849, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888, 2019 WL 5558308

United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Northern Division

October 26, 2019, Decided; October 28, 2019, Filed

1:18-CV-01001-CBK

Reporter

421 F. Supp. 3d 849 *; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888 **; 2019 WL 5558308

ANTHONY WIMMER, Plaintiff, v. TOP GUN GUIDE SERVICE, INC., JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants.

Counsel:  [**1] For Plaintiff Anthony Wimmer: Michael W. Strain, LEAD ATTORNEY, Strain Morman Law Firm, Sturgis, SD; Scott G. Hoy, Hoy Trial Lawyers, Prof. L.L.C., Sioux Falls, SD.

For Defendant Top Gun Guide Service, Inc.: Gordon H. Hansmeier, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rajkowski Hansmeier Ltd., St. Cloud, MN.

Judges: CHARLES B. KORNMANN, United States District Judge.

Opinion by: CHARLES B. KORNMANN

Opinion

 [*851]  MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendant Top Gun Guide Service, Inc.’s (“Top Gun”) motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Doc. 14.

BACKGROUND

This case arose from injuries that plaintiff Anthony Wimmer sustained while on a hunting trip hosted by defendant Top Gun near Aberdeen, South Dakota in April of 2015. Doc. 1 at 2; Doc. 6 at 1. Mr. Wimmer is a California resident and Top Gun is a Minnesota corporation. Id. On or about April 9, 2015, Mr. Wimmer arrived in Aberdeen, though he did not hunt on that day. Doc. 15 at 5; Doc. 22 at 1. At some point on April 9th, Mr. Wimmer signed a waiver purporting to release Top Gun from liability arising from the hunting trip. Doc. 15 at 5; Doc. 22 at 2. The release form provided, in pertinent part:

I acknowledge that hunting and fishing entails known and unanticipated risks which [**2]  could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death, or damage to myself; . . . I understand that such risks are essential qualities of the activity. The risks include, among other things: Accidental shootings, or falls to myself . . . trip or fall accidents to myself . . . medical problems from preexisting conditions . . . to myself . . . I expressly agree and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks to others and myself; I fully understand that hunting and fishing is a dangerous activity. I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless [Top Gun] from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or my use of [Top Gun] equipment or facilities, including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of [Top gun].

Doc. 17, Ex. D. The parties agree that in his deposition Mr. Wimmer testified that he read the release before signing it and that he did not disagree with anything contained therein. Doc. 15 at 6; Doc. 22 [**3]  at 2-4. Mr. Wimmer also agreed in his deposition that hunting and fishing is a dangerous activity. Anthony Wimmer Dep. at 41:7-9.

On April 10th, Mr. Wimmer arrived at the hunting site and began setting up hunting decoys. Doc. 15 at 7; Doc. 22 at 5. Shortly after having finished setting up the decoys, Mr. Wimmer was standing in the field where the hunt was to take place when he was struck from behind “by either an [all terrain vehicle (ATV)] or sled.” Id. The sled was being towed behind the ATV. Id. The ATV was being operated by a Top Gun guide.

Id. The accident  [*852]  occurred between 3:30 a.m. — 4:30 a.m. Doc. 15 at 4. Mr. Wimmer alleges that he sustained severe injuries. Doc. 1 at 2. •

Defendant argues that “[b]ecause Mr. Wimmer knowingly, voluntarily, and fairly signed a release that unambiguously covers the injuries that he suffered and that does not contravene public policy,” his claims should be dismissed with prejudice. Doc. 15 at 8. Defendant contends that the liability waiver Mr. Wimmer signed before participating in the hunt releases Top Gun from all liability in relation to the ATV accident. Id. In short, Top Gun’s argument relies on the liability waiver being found to encompass [**4]  the harm at issue in this case. Defendant then proceeds to argue that the waiver is valid and its enforcement would not contravene South Dakota’s public policy. Id. at 9-11. Defendant argues that releases involving voluntary recreational activities have withstood attacks that they are contrary to South Dakota’s public policy many times before; only an attempted waiver of conduct rising to the level of willful negligence or intentional tort would contravene the state’s public policy. Id. at 11. Because Mr. Wimmer does not allege willful negligence or any intentional torts, defendant argues that his claims must fail. Id.

Plaintiff responds that the harm that befell him was outside the scope of the waiver. Plaintiff argues that he had no meaningful opportunity to negotiate the terms of the waiver and so it must be viewed as an “anticipatory release and contract of adhesion, which should be viewed with a skeptical and critical eye,” and any ambiguities should be construed against the drafter. Doc. 20 at 5. Plaintiff argues that the waiver, by its terms, only applies to the limited activities of hunting and fishing. Id. Plaintiff argues that his are not hunting injuries because, at the time of the accident, [**5]  he had already finished setting up the decoys and was merely standing in the field waiting to be told what he should do next. Id. at 6. Plaintiff urges that such activity should not be considered hunting. Id.

Plaintiff next argues that even if he was hunting at the time of the accident, the release is contrary to South Dakota law as it purports to waive liability for acts of gross negligence and, so, enforcing it would be against South Dakota’s public policy. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also argues that provisions of South Dakota law related to motor vehicle liability preclude enforcement of the waiver as against the state’s public policy. Id. at 9.

Defendant replies that plaintiff’s reading of the waiver is too narrow, the terms of the waiver are broad enough to cover any injury “in any way connected with” the activity of hunting. Doc. 23 at 3. Thus, defendant contends, the terms of the waiver apply to plaintiff’s injury whether or not he was actively shooting or pursuing birds at the time of the injury. Id. Defendant further contends that setting up decoys is a part of pursuing birds, which is within the definition of hunting adopted in South Dakota’s laws. Id. at 4.

Defendant also argues that enforcing the release against [**6]  plaintiff would not violate South Dakota public policy because plaintiff only claims ordinary negligence, liability for which may be waived. Id. at 5. Defendant argues that plaintiff has produced no evidence that defendant’s agent operated the ATV in a reckless or willfully negligent manner. Id. at 6-7. Defendant argues that there was no disparity in bargaining power that would warrant this waiver being viewed as a contract of adhesion. Id. at 7. Finally, defendant argues that the waiver does not allow Top Gun to circumvent South Dakota’s motor vehicle insurance laws, as plaintiff has claimed, and enforcing the waiver would not be  [*853]  contrary to the public policy those laws espouse. Id. at 8.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Knutson v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc., 711 F.3d 911, 913 (8th Cir. 2013). The United States Supreme Court has held that:

The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material [**7]  fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986) (internal quotations omitted).

“As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248. That is, to make summary judgment inappropriate, there must be a factual dispute concerning facts the existence or nonexistence of which would “be outcome determinative under [the] prevailing [substantive] law.” Grey v. City of Oak Grove, Mo., 396 F.3d 1031, 1034 (8th Cir. 2005).

Thus, in accordance with Rule 56(c), the party seeking summary judgment must first identify grounds demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Upon such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-movant to present affirmative evidence, beyond the pleadings, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256-57, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). To meet its burden, the non-movant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). Rather, the non-movant must be able to “show there [**8]  is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in [its] favor.” Nat’l Bank of Commerce v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602, 607 (8th Cir. 1999). After this exercise, “we view the facts and the inferences to be drawn from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Northport Health Servs. of Arkansas, LLC v. Posey, 930 F.3d 1027, 1030 (8th Cir. 2019).

DISCUSSION

“Because this is a diversity action, we apply the substantive law of the forum state.” Vandewarker v. Cont’l Res., Inc., 917 F.3d 626, 629 (8th Cir. 2019), reh’g denied (Apr. 10, 2019) (citing
N. Oil & Gas, Inc. v. Moen, 808 F.3d 373, 376 (8th Cir. 2015). Under South Dakota law, a waiver of liability is contractual in nature and is governed by contract law. Johnson v. Rapid City Softball Ass’n, 514 N.W.2d 693, 697 (S.D. 1994). When interpreting a contract, “[t]he goal . . . is to see that the mutual intent of the parties is carried into effect.” Nelson v. Schellpfeffer, 2003 SD 7, 656 N.W.2d 740, 743 (S.D. 2003). Courts look to the language of the contract to determine the intent of the parties, Roseth v. Roseth, 2013 SD 27, 829 N.W.2d 136, 142 (S.D. 2013), and afford contractual terms their “plain and ordinary meaning,” Bunkers v. Jacobson, 2002 SD 135, 653 N.W.2d 732, 738 (S.D. 2002) (citation  [*854]  and quotation marks omitted). “When the meaning of contractual language is plain and unambiguous, construction is not necessary” because the “intent of the parties can be derived from within the four corners of the contract.” Roseth, 829 N.W.2d at 142 (citation omitted); see also
Nelson, 656 N.W.2d at 743 (“When the words of a contract are clear and explicit and lead to no absurd consequences, the search for the parties’ common intent is at an end.”).

When a contract is found to be ambiguous, however, “parol evidence [**9]  is admissible to explain the contract but inadmissible to vary or add terms to the contract.” Couch v. Lyon, No. CIV. 12-3029-RAL, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160770, 2013 WL 5942607, at *4 (D.S.D. Nov. 5, 2013)
(citing
Roseth, 829 N.W.2d at 142.). A contract is not rendered ambiguous merely because the parties now disagree as to their intent at the time of contracting. Roseth, 829 N.W.2d at 142. “Instead, ‘a contract is ambiguous only when it is capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the context of the entire integrated agreement.'” Id.
(quoting
Vander Heide v. Boke Ranch, Inc., 2007 SD 69, 736 N.W.2d 824, 836 (S.D. 2007)).

The release at issue in the instant case is not ambiguous. Although it must be interpreted and read in a common sense manner. The release, by its terms, covers “all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with [plaintiffs] participation in this activity or [plaintiff’s] use of [Top Gun] equipment…” Doc. 17, Ex. D. Furthermore, plaintiff has not challenged the validity of the release or any of its terms; thus, the Court will apply the release and construe it by its terms, using common sense methods.

Defendant argues that, at the time of injury, plaintiff was in the process of pursuing birds, that is, plaintiff was on a hunting trip, in a hunting field regardless of whether [**10]  he was actively shooting or preparing to shoot at the time. Because plaintiff was pursuing birds at the time he was injured, defendant argues that his injury is “connected with” the activity of hunting. Plaintiff argues that he was done setting up decoys at the time he was injured and, as a result, he was not pursuing birds at the time of the harm—he was merely a man standing in a field. As a matter of law, plaintiff could not have legally been pursuing waterfowl because the accident happened long before legal shooting time. Thus, both parties focused their arguments on what the plaintiff was doing at the time of the accident.

This accident could not, as a matter of law, have been a part of legal hunting. In South Dakota, a hunter may not shoot waterfowl until one half hour before sunrise. At the time of the accident, all preparations for hunting had been completed. The parties were in a waiting period. Instead, plaintiff was struck by a motor vehicle. The fact that plaintiff is claimed to be hunting at the time he was struck by the ATV is irrelevant because being struck by an ATV is not a harm arising out of hunting, especially long before sunrise. In addition, the release makes no [**11]  mention of a motor vehicle accident.

The language in the release, “in any way connected with [plaintiffs] participation in this activity,” is so broad that it necessitates an exercise in line drawing. At some point, it would be absurd to find an activity that, while distantly connected with plaintiff’s participation in the hunt, is covered by a waiver of liability for a hunting trip. For example, if plaintiff had been injured when the car in which he was being transported from the hotel to the hunting grounds was involved in an accident, would any negligence from that activity be covered  [*855]  by the release? It is certainly an activity in some way connected with plaintiff’s participation in the hunt, as the party was on the way to the hunting grounds. But to say that a waiver of liability for a hunting trip covered negligence related to a car trip from the hotel to the hunting grounds would be to stretch the bounds of what general, catch-all provisions of a contract can accomplish.

That is not to say that general contract provisions are not enforceable. Indeed, South Dakota case law has upheld the efficacy of broad waivers of liability. There are generally two lines of reasoning that permeate [**12]  South Dakota case law concerning releases from liability.

First, the more inherently dangerous or risky the recreational activity, the more likely that an anticipatory release will be held valid. That is, individuals who engage in activities like mountain climbing, race car driving, parachute jumping, and the like, are more likely to be held to have an understanding of the risky nature of their chosen activity.

Johnson, 514 N.W.2d at 700 (Wuest, J. concurring) (internal citations omitted). Second, releases are deemed more acceptable when they are written on a separate sheet of paper. Id. It is the first line of reasoning that is most relevant to the instant analysis. 1

The first line of reasoning recognizes that individuals who voluntarily engage in a particularly dangerous activity for recreational purposes must accept a certain amount of risk that is inherent in said activity. That is, when an individual chooses to go skydiving, signs a release with a vendor providing such services, and is injured while hurtling to the earth, he cannot then sue in contravention of that release. Hunting is likewise a dangerous activity; the hunter voluntarily exposes himself to all the dangers of the firearms enthusiast as well [**13]  as those of the outdoorsman. It is agreed that the release in this case covers liability arising out plaintiff’s participation in the activity of hunting. However, plaintiff’s participation in the hunt did not cause his injury. Defendant asserts that setting up decoys is a means of pursuing birds—hunting—but, while that may be true, neither the decoys themselves, nor any part of the process of placing them, caused plaintiff’s injuries.

Each case the Supreme Court of South Dakota has considered relating to the application of a release from liability has involved harm that arose out of the activity for which liability was waived. In Johnson, the signed release concerned the plaintiff’s participation in a softball league. She subsequently “injured her right ankle sliding into third base during a softball game.” Johnson, 514 N.W.2d at 694. In Holzer, the signed release concerned the plaintiff’s presence in the “pit” area of a race track; he was subsequently hit by a tire that flew off one of the racecars and over protective barricades. Holzer, 610 N.W.2d at 789-91. In Lee v. Beauchene, the signed release covered the plaintiff’s participation in an automobile race; subsequently his “car struck a hole [in the track] that he estimated was one [**14]  to one and one-half feet deep. The car flipped.” Lee v. Beauchene, 337 N.W.2d 827, 828 (S.D. 1983). In each of the foregoing cases, the plaintiff’s injury was caused by his or her participation in the activity for which liability was waived. That is, the injury arose from the activity itself. If that were not the case, however, those cases might have turned out quite differently. For instance, if the plaintiff in Holzer had been accidentally shot while working in the pit area, the question of whether he had waived the track’s liability  [*856]  for such harm would have been a different question.

In the instant case, plaintiff’s injury did not arise from his participation in the hunt. He was not accidentally shot by a fellow hunter, he did not strain his back while placing a decoy, nor did he twist his ankle while standing around waiting to be told what to do next. Instead, plaintiff was struck from behind by a motor vehicle at a time before legal hunting could commence, something separate and apart from his participation in the hunt. Thus, while liability was effectively waived for injury arising out of the activities of hunting or fishing, there was no release for the harm that befell plaintiff. The ATV was being driven by Top Gun staff, [**15]  presumably to transport the decoys from the cars to the hunting grounds. At some point in that process, the employee struck plaintiff with the ATV. While such work is in some way connected with the hunt, it is not connected with plaintiff’s participation in the hunt in any way beyond plaintiff’s mere presence on the hunting grounds. When plaintiff signed a release for harm arising out of hunting or fishing, he was simply not there giving up his right to sue for harm arising out of a motor vehicle accident, or any other activity when he could not have been legally hunting.

As the Court finds that the release does not apply to the harm at issue in this case, the parties’ arguments concerning South Dakota’s insurance law and public policy concerning releases of liability in claims for gross negligence, respectively, will not be addressed.

IT IS ORDERED that defendant Top Gun’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Doc. 14, is hereby DENIED.

DATED this 26th day of October, 2019.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ CHARLES B. B. KORNMANN

CHARLES B. B. KORNMANN

United States District Judge


Your release cannot use the term “inherent risk” as the description of the risks, it creates no release at all.

California appellate court reviews numerous issues brought by plaintiff in this skier v. skier fatality. Most important issue is the relationship between Assumption of the Risk in California and a Release.

Tuttle v. Heavenly Valley, L.P., 2020 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 814, 2020 WL 563604

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

Plaintiff: Grant Tuttle et al.

Defendant: Heavenly Valley, L.P.

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: doctrines of primary assumption of the risk, on the ground Tuttle’s accident was the result of the inherent risks of skiing, and express assumption of the risk, based on Tuttle’s signed release of all claims and liability for defendant’s negligence.

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2020

Summary

Skier died after being hit by snowboarder coming out of terrain park. Descendant’s heirs could not sue because the release stated the descendant assumed the risk of her injuries. Case is still ongoing.

Discussion by the court provides great analysis of the different types of risk assumed and the differences between inherent risks and other risks.

Facts

On September 2, 2013, Tuttle purchased a season ski pass from defendant and executed a release.2 The release begins with an all-capital advisement: “WARNING, ASSUMPTION OF RISK, RELEASE OF LIABILITY INDEMNIFICATION AGREEMENT PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING. THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY WAIVER OF CERTAIN LEGAL RIGHTS.”

The accident occurred on December 21, 2013. Snowboarder Anthony Slater was proceeding out of defendant’s terrain park and collided with skier Tuttle after their respective trails merged. The impact of the collision propelled Tuttle into a tree. Tuttle died the following morning. Factors that potentially contributed to the accident included defendant’s signage, fencing, crowd control the day of the accident, Tuttle’s ski path, and Slater’s speed.

It is unknown what happened to the lawsuit against the snowboarder.

The actual facts on how the trial proceeded are convoluted and not in the normal course of trials. The appellate court recognized this and found although the proceedings were different, the outcome was correct.

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

The court first reviewed release law in California. The main issue the court found was the relationship between a release in California and the inherent risks of a sport. The court made this statement, which should be known by everyone in the outdoor industry.

But a release that applies only to the inherent risks of a sport is the legal equivalent of no release at all.

When you play sports, explore the woods or ski, just three examples, you assume the risk of the inherent risks of the sport. If your release only identifies inherent risks as the risks, the release protects against, you release is protecting you from things you are already protected against. A plaintiff cannot sue you for the inherent risks of the activity.

Your release is written, or should be written, to protect you from all the other risks of an activity. Risks such as those created by equipment, guides or decision’s guides or participants make. Those are risks that are probably not inherent to the sport and a such; you are liable for those risks.

The court did an extensive analysis of these issues. The foundation case is Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696, a California Supreme Court decision that has been quoted in hundreds of cases in most states and laid down the definitions of the different types of risk and how a person assumes those different risks.

Knight and its progeny have established that a ski resort operator is not liable for injuries caused by risks inherent in the sport of snow skiing. Instead, pursuant to the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, participants in active sports assume responsibility for injuries sustained as a result of the sport’s inherent risks. Stated another way, the defendant owes no duty of care to protect the plaintiff from the inherent risks of an active sport. Because no duty of care is owed and the plaintiff has assumed the risk of injury, no release is necessary to absolve a defendant of liability when a plaintiff is injured as the result of an inherent risk in an active sport such as skiing.

The issue in the law then becomes has the defendant done something to change the inherent risks or said another way increased the risk to the participants. The participant assumes the inherent risks and others, but not to the extent the risk has been increased. You cannot assume gross negligence, for example.

A ski resort operator “still owe[s] a duty, however, not to increase the risks of injury beyond those that are inherent in the sport. This distinction is closely tied to the policy underlying the finding of no duty, i.e., there should be no liability imposed which would chill normal participation or fundamentally alter the nature of the sport, but liability may be appropriate where the risk is not ‘inherent’ in the sport.” This is the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk, and it is an exception to the complete defense of primary assumption of risk.

The balance between the risks in the sport that create the excitement and define the sport versus actions of the defendant in controlling or presenting the sport in such a way the risks cannot be assumed by the participants.

The court then compared the issues of increasing the risk and comparative fault. Comparative fault is how the jury or trier of fact determines who is actually liable and in what percentages for the injuries of the plaintiff.

Comparative fault principles apply in secondary assumption of the risk cases. The trier of fact considers the “plaintiff’s voluntary action in choosing to engage in an unusually risky sport, whether or not the plaintiff’s decision to encounter the risk should be characterized as unreasonable” and weighs it against the defendant’s breach of the duty not to increase the risks beyond those inherent in the active sport. Where a plaintiff’s “injury has been caused by both a defendant’s breach of a legal duty to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s voluntary decision to engage in an unusually risky sport, application of comparative fault principles will not operate to relieve either individual of responsibility for his or her actions, but rather will ensure that neither party will escape such responsibility.”

The court then reviewed the relationship between comparative fault and how that is affected when a release is used.

A different analysis applies when a skier signs a written release that expressly holds the ski operator harmless for its own negligence. This triggers the doctrine of express assumption of the risk. Unlike secondary assumption of the risk, but like primary assumption of the risk, the doctrine of express assumption of the risk provides a complete defense in a negligence action.

The court then clarified its statement defining how a court looks at how the defenses are applied to the facts.

However, unlike both implied primary and secondary assumption of the risk, which focus on risks inherent in an active sport like skiing, express assumption of the risk focuses on the agreement itself.

Court added further clarification to its statement.

A valid release “operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect to the risks encompassed by the agreement and, where applicable, to bar completely the plaintiff’s cause of action.” The legal issue in an express assumption of the risk case “‘is not whether the particular risk of injury appellant suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies, but simply the scope of the Release.'”

In assumption of the risk, the plaintiff must know the risks they are assuming. A release removes that actual knowledge from the analysis.

Additionally, a plaintiff does not need to have “‘specific knowledge of the particular risk that ultimately caused the injury. [Citation.] If a release of all liability is given, the release applies to any negligence of the defendant [so long as the negligent act that results in injury is] “‘reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.'”

The court then looked at the limits of protection a release provides. That limit is defined as gross negligence.

There is an outer limit to the scope of a release from liability for one’s own negligence in the recreational sports context: As a matter of public policy, if a skier proves the operator unreasonably increased the inherent risks to the level of gross negligence, express assumption of the risk is no longer a viable defense; and the operator will be liable for damages notwithstanding the existence of a valid release of liability for ordinary negligence.

If the defendant engages in gross negligence, that is outside of the protection afforded by the release.

A validly executed express release of liability for a defendant’s ordinary negligence means the only viable theory for a judgment in a plaintiff’s favor is if the defendant acted with gross negligence. There is no inconsistency between findings that a defendant is ordinarily negligent by unreasonably increasing the inherent risks of snow skiing, but not grossly negligent. A finding of gross negligence would necessarily mean a defendant unreasonably increased the inherent risks of snow skiing, so that comparative fault principles apply. But an express release, coupled with an undisputed factual finding that a defendant did not act with gross negligence, necessarily results in a defense judgment.

The court then recapped its comparison of the legal issues in a case involving inherent and other risks and a release.

To recap, snow skiing has inherent risks, and a ski operator does not owe skiers any duty to protect against them. If a skier is injured as a result of a risk inherent in the sport, the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk provides a complete defense to a lawsuit against the ski operator. But a ski resort operator owes a duty not to unreasonably increase the risks beyond those inherent in the sport. If a ski operator breaches this duty, the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk makes the ski resort liable to an injured skier on a comparative fault basis. If the skier executes a release that absolves the ski resort operator of liability for the operator’s negligence, the release is a complete defense, provided the ski operator did not act with gross negligence. That is to say, the ski operator is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the skier has signed a valid release and the ski operator’s conduct, although negligent, was not grossly negligent.

There is a lot more discussion in the case about the procedural issues and how the trial was handled. There is no need to discuss these here.

So Now What?

This is a difficult case to read and understand, however, if you can parse the procedural arguments from the assumption of the risk and release arguments, it is extremely educational in explaining the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant in a case like this.

Simply put there is a hierarchy of defenses available to a business or program in the outdoor recreation industry. There is no fine line between them, in fact, it is a massive gray area, that changes when you move from state to state.

  • Inherent Risks of the Activity
  • Assumption of the Risk
  • Release

Nor are the defenses entirely separate from each other. And if used properly they can be effectively used to support and define each other.

Your website can help explain the risks, inherent and otherwise. Your release can identify specific risks, which may not be apparent to some or for which some may argue they did not know and understand. Your safety talk can define the inherent risks of the activity to make sure those are known by participants.

When writing a release or assumption of the risk agreement, those written documents need to take in all aspects of the risks and make sure nothing in your program or marketing derails your defense wall.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2020 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Indemnification fails again in a release. Parent of child having a birthday at climbing gym signed release for the injured child, not her own child.

Indemnification is rarely if upheld in a release. The language does not meet the requirements needed under the law in most states to be an indemnification agreement.

Cannon v. Rock Climb Fairfield, LLC, 2020 Conn. Super. LEXIS 261

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of, Judicial District of Fairfield At Bridgeport

Plaintiff: Cindy Cannon PPA Emma Cannon

Defendant: Rock Climb Fairfield, LLC, Carabiners Fairfield, LLC and Matthew Conroy

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Indemnification by third party

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2020

Summary

Connecticut climbing gym had mother of a group of girls at a gym for a birthday party sign release for all the girls. After one of the girls was injured and sued, the climbing gym attempted to recover money from the mother who signed the release based on the language of the release in its indemnification clause. That failed.

If failed so badly the court voided the entire release finding it to be an adhesion contract.

Indemnification agreements in releases never work to recover damages from an injured plaintiff.

Facts

We are never made aware of the facts that gave rise to the injury that created this decision. However, since the issue is solely who is liable under contract (release) for the injury it is not really relevant.

The case arises from an incident where the minor plaintiff, Emma Cannon, fell from a climbing wall at the Rock Climb defendant’s indoor rock climbing facility located in Fairfield, Connecticut. The minor plaintiff claims she sustained personal injuries. On behalf of her minor child, Cindy Cannon instituted the present action alleging the facility, its agents and employees were negligent in supervising the rock climbing activities, thereby causing the minor plaintiff’s injuries. The defendants have filed an answer and eight special defenses to the amended complaint.

Thereafter, the Rock Climb defendants filed an apportionment complaint against the defendant Kate Licata, who brought the minor plaintiff, Emma Cannon, and several other girls to the facility for a group birthday party event. The apportionment complaint is dated February 6, 2019.4 The apportionment complaint alleges that Licata was negligent in numerous ways and seeks an apportionment of liability and damages as to Licata for the percentage of negligence attributable to her. The apportionment complaint is not the subject of the motion for summary judgment that is presently before the court. The Rock Climb defendants also filed a cross claim against Licata alleging contractual and common-law indemnity. The cross claim, which is the subject of Licata’s motion for summary judgment, is dated February 22, 2019.

So, the parent of the birthday child signed releases for the children attending the birthday party. When one child was injured and sued the climbing gym, the climbing gym brought the parent who signed the release into the lawsuit based on the indemnification language in the releases she signed.

The release was signed electronically; however, this was not an issue the court seemed interested in looking at.

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

The cross claim alleges that the Rock Climb defendants, who are the third-party plaintiffs, require all invitees to its facility to complete a “Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk” form before participating in rock climbing activities. If the participant is a minor, the form must be signed by the minor’s parent or court-appointed guardian, which Licata was not.

The defendant climbing gym filed a motion for summary judgement arguing the mother should be liable for any damages they pay out on behalf of the injured minor child. This was based on two legal theories the first was the indemnification language found in the release itself.

The release form contains language to the effect that the parent or guardian of the minor has explained the inherent risks of the activity to the minor and the minor understands the said risks and that the minor, nonetheless, wishes to participate in the activities. The release form further provides that “the parent of the minor visitor . . . forever discharge, and agree to indemnify . . . Carabiners Fairfield, LLC, its agents, owners, officers, volunteers, employees, and all other persons or entities acting in any capacity on its behalf . . . from any and all claims, suits, demands, causes of action, which are in any way connected with my or the minor visitor’s visit to the RCF activity site . . . My agreement of indemnity is intended to include claims arising out of losses suffered by me (an adult climber or parent) or the child and losses caused by me or the child. The agreements of indemnity and release include claims of negligence . . . of a Released Party.” The Rock Climb defendants allege that Licata completed an online version of the Release form and electronically signed it on behalf of the minor plaintiff Emma Cannon on October 3, 2016. Thus, Licata is contractually obligated to defend and indemnify the Rock Climb defendants for the injuries and damages resulting from Emma Cannon’s fall at the Rock Climb defendants’ facility pursuant to General Statutes §52-102a.5

The second defense or reason why the mother should be liable was based on common-law indemnification.

The Rock Climb defendants also allege Licata is liable for common-law indemnification, claiming that any injuries sustained by the minor plaintiff were proximately caused, in whole or part, by Licata’s negligence and carelessness in multiple ways. Among these allegations are failing to supervise and monitor the minor; failing to instruct the minor; and failing to warn the minor of the dangerous nature and risks of the activity. Lastly, the Rock Climb defendants argue that a substantial amount of discovery remains outstanding and various issues of fact are yet to be settled, and therefore, it argues that Licata’s summary judgment motion should be denied.

To succeed on an indemnification agreement the court found under Connecticut law the defendant climbing gym must show the following.

A party may bring an indemnification claim based on the terms of an indemnity agreement . . . [A]llegations of contractual indemnification must be supported by the terms of the contract or the contract itself . . . Under Connecticut law, to state a contract-based indemnification claim, the claimant must allege either an express or implied contractual right to indemnification . . . There is no requirement that a party seeking indemnification must assert allegations of exclusive control (or any of the other elements of a claim for indemnification based on active-passive negligence) in order to state a legally sufficient claim for contractual indemnification.

An indemnification agreement in Connecticut has four elements.

“The essential elements for a cause of action based on breach of contract are (1) the formation of an agreement, (2) performance by one party, (3) breach of the agreement by the opposing party, and (4) damages . . . [and] causation.”

The plaintiff argued that the entire release was void because of two prior Connecticut court decisions.

Lastly, the Reardon court noted that the release that the plaintiff signed broadly indemnifying the defendants from liability for damages resulting from the defendants’ own negligence was a classic contract of adhesion of the type that this court found to be in violation of public policy in Hanks.

(See Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, et al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006 Conn. LEXIS 330
and
States that do not Support the Use of a Release.)

The release stated the mother who signed the release knew that “the defendants’ [facilities or equipment] were maintained in a reasonably safe condition. The court found this to be utterly bogus (as do I). The mother had no knowledge or experience rock climbing and no clue, whether the facility was in good condition.

To the contrary, it was the defendants, not the plaintiff or the other customers, who had the “expertise and opportunity to foresee and control hazards, and to guard against the negligence of their agents and employees. They alone [could] properly maintain and inspect their premises, and train their employees in risk management.” In particular, the defendants acknowledged that they were responsible for providing their patrons with safe horses, qualified instructors, as well as properly maintained working equipment and riding surfaces.

This was the same position a Connecticut court in Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corporation et al., 276 Conn. 314; 885 A.2d 734; 2005 Conn. LEXIS 500, that the requirements in the release were absurd because the knowledge necessary to know and understand if the activity was safe or the equipment was in good working order was solely within the knowledge and experience of the defendant.

As we concluded in Hanks, it is illogical to relieve the defendants, as the party with greater expertise and information concerning the dangers associated with engaging in horseback riding at their facility, from potential claims of negligence surrounding an alleged failure to administer properly the activity.

The court then, using the issue of the ability of the mother who signed the release to contract about the equipment found the release to be a contract of adhesion.

Specifically, we have noted that the most salient feature of adhesion contracts is that they are not subject to the normal bargaining processes of ordinary contracts, and that they tend to involve a standard form contract prepared by one party, to be signed by the party in a weaker position, usually a consumer, who has little choice about the terms.

The issue of whether or not the release was an adhesion contract had been touched on lightly; however, the court eventually unloaded on the defendant finding the release to be a contract of adhesion, which voids releases in most states.

…that the release that the plaintiff signed broadly indemnifying the defendants from liability for damages resulting from the defendants’ own negligence was a classic contract of adhesion of the type that this court found to be in violation of public policy in Hanks.

Most states look at recreation, and since it is not a necessity, something needed for the modern survival of a person or family as not being contacts of adhesion. However, in Connecticut, there is no review of why the release is signed, just a review of the specific language in the release to determine if it is an adhesion contract.

The court then looked at the release under the requirements of the Connecticut Supreme Court and found the release lacking as well as the indemnification language in the release.

In the present case, the defendant’s facility was open to the general public regardless of a patron’s experience level. The minor plaintiff was a ten-year-old female. The defendants have admitted that they provided instruction to the group of minors attending the birthday celebration at the defendants’ facility. Neither the minor plaintiff or Licata provided any of the equipment to be used. Licata, herself, did not provide training, guidance or supervision to the minors, including the minor plaintiff. Licata possessed no special knowledge regarding rock climbing or bouldering activities including training and safety procedures other than an initial orientation by RCF employees. Maklad testified at her deposition that the orientation lasted only five to ten minutes. The RCF defendants/third-party plaintiffs admit that there was zero expectation that Licata would “train and guide climbers” or to inspect various facility equipment. RCF argues that they did expect that parents and guardians would supervise children. Thus, there is a question of fact as to whether or not Licata was adequately supervising the minor plaintiff Cannon when she fell. The court disagrees.

And then tore the release apart based on the lack of bargaining power between the parties.

In this case, signing the release provided by RCF was required as a condition of the plaintiff’s participation in the bouldering and rock climbing activities at the RCF facility. There was no opportunity for negotiation by the plaintiff, and if she was unsatisfied with the terms of the release, her only option was to not to allow the minor guests who accompanied her to the birthday party to participate. Licata had no bargaining power with respect to the negotiation of the release and in order to participate in the activity, she was required to assume the risk of the defendants’ negligence. “This condition of participation violates the stated public policy of our tort system because the plaintiff was required to bear an additional risk despite her status as a patron who was not in a position to foresee or control the alleged negligent conduct that she was confronted with, or manage and spread the risk more effectively then the defendants.”

The court then looked at the common-law indemnification argument of the climbing gym. For one party to hold the other party liable under common law, the following facts must be in place.

(1) the third party against whom indemnification is sought was negligent; (2) the third party’s active negligence, rather than the defendant’s own passive negligence, was the direct, immediate cause of the accident and the resulting harm; (3) the third party was in control of the situation to the exclusion of the defendant seeking reimbursement; and (4) the defendant did not know of the third party’s negligence, had no reason to anticipate it, and reasonably could rely on the third party not to be negligent.”

Just looking at these requirements at a climbing wall, you know the mother of a child hosting a birthday party, there is not going to meet any of these requirements.

The defendant climbing wall could not produce any evidence that the mother was in exclusive control of the situation to the exclusion of all others.

The mother’s motion for summary judgment was granted, and the plaintiff’s indemnification claims failed.

So Now What?

Overall, the language in this release did not meet Connecticut law on many counts. However, the court found the language to be so one-sided and so bad that if found multiple ways to void it. Releases must be written for the activity, the guests and the law of the state where the release will be used. When you have a state like Connecticut, where releases are always on a thing line between valid and void, the language is critical to succeed.

Indemnification claims in a release have never worked. The only way that the claims may work, would be against third parties when the liability is created by the guest. An example of something like that might be a guest on a trip starts a forest fire. The special-use permit or concession agreement generally holds the outfitter/permittee/concessionaire liable for the damages caused by the fire. The indemnification clause might work in that situation to recover some of the money to reimburse the outfitter.

(Always make sure your outfitter liability policy provides coverage for actions to third parties by your guests.)

However, I have never found a case where indemnification has worked to recover damages for an injury from parents, friends or the leader of the group of kids. Maine looked at the language of indemnification in a release and seemed to indicate it would be supported if written correctly. See Maine follows the majority and does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

The situation that created this mess is classic. A group of kids is coming to your business or program, and no one has notified the parents of a requirement to sign a release in advance. Upon arrival, someone who does not know or understand or a facility that does not care just has the adult with the kids sign the paperwork. That does not work.

Either get the parent’s signatures on documents or spend most of the time creating an assumption of the risk defense by educating the kids.

Don’t waste the paper or electrons having a youth leader or mother responsible of the group sign the release for the rest of the children in attendance. It just does not work.

This will be the fourth article I’ve written about Connecticut courts voiding releases. If you work or operate in Connecticut you are probably working in a state that does not support the use of a release.

For more information about indemnification see:

Indemnification agreements? What are you signing?

Indemnification between businesses requires a contract outlining the type of indemnification and a certificate of insurance from one party to the other so the insurance company knows it is on the hook

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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