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Balloon ride in California is not a common carrier, and the release signed by the plaintiff bars the plaintiff’s claims even though she did not read or speak English

An outfitter must follow industry norms when dealing with guests. If the rest of the industry gives guests a safety talk, then you better give guests a safety talk. The problem arises when your guest cannot understand what you are saying.

Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., 14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two 

Plaintiff: Erika Grotheer 

Defendant: Escape Adventures, Inc., the pilot and Escape’s agent, Peter Gallagher, and Wilson Creek Vineyards, Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: negligently or recklessly operated the balloon by (1) failing to properly slow its descent during landing and (2) failing to give the passengers safe landing instructions before the launch. Grotheer alleged the hot air  balloon company is a common carrier, and as such, owed its passengers a heightened duty of care 

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff could not satisfy the elements of a negligence claim and, even if she could, she had waived the right to assert such a claim by signing Escape’s liability waiver.

Holding: For the Defendant 

Year: 2017 

Summary

Being labeled a common carrier means you owe a higher degree of care to your guests than normal. However, a hot-air balloon ride is not classified as a common carrier because the analysis used under California law, whether the operator has control over the activity, is not met in ballooning. A balloon pilot can only control the ascent and descent of the balloon, all else is left to Mother Nature.

Assumption of risk under California law eliminates a duty that might be owed by the outfitter or in this case the balloon operator. However, not giving a safety talk before the ride is not an inherent risk assumed by the plaintiff. Since the industry, the ballooning industry, gives safety talks, then there is a duty on a balloon operator to give a safety talk to its guests.

However, if no safety talk was given, that still does not mean the outfitter is liable if the injury the plaintiff received was not proximately caused by the failure to give a safety talk.

Facts

The plaintiff is German and does not speak English. Her son signed her up for a balloon flight in the California wine country. The ride crash landed, as most balloon flights do and the plaintiff suffered a broken leg.

The three defendants were the balloon company, the balloon pilot and the winery where the launch and crash occurred. 

The plaintiff sued alleging negligence and because the defendant was a common carrier, the defendant owed the plaintiff a higher duty of care. 

A common carrier in most states is a business operating moving people from one place to another for a fee. The transportation company owes a higher degree of care to its passengers because the passenger has no control over the way the transportation is provided or how the transportation is maintained. 

A good example of this is a commercial airline. You have no idea if the plane is maintained, and you cannot fly the plane. Consequently, your life is totally in the hands of a commercial airline.

The other component of a common carrier is usually the movement is from point A to point B and the main reason is the passenger needs to get from point A to point B. In California the movement is not as important as it is in the other states.  In California, the decided factor is the control factor. California’s definition of a common carrier is much broader and  encompasses many more types of transportation, including transportation for recreation or thrills, not necessarily for getting from one place to the next. 

However, in California the analysis is not who has control but who has what control. 

For additional articles about common carriers see Zip line accused of being a common carrier who makes releases unenforceable. Issue still not decided, however, in all states common carriers cannot use a release as a defense and California case examines the relationship between a common carrier and public policy when applied to a ski area chair lift

The plaintiff based her claim on failing to instruct her in the risks of ballooning and what to do if the balloon were to crash. The balloonists met at the winery and then drove to the launch site. All but the plaintiff rode with the balloon company where the defendants claim they gave a safety speech. The plaintiff rode with her son to the launch site and did not hear the speech. 

More importantly, the plaintiff did not speak or understand English so even if she would have heard the safety talk, whether or not she could have understood it would be a question. 

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims find the plaintiff could not prove the element of duty; One of the four requirements to prove negligence. The trial court also found the plaintiff had assumed the risk and as such the defendants did not owe her any duty of care. The plaintiff appealed. 

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

The court started with the Common Carrier analysis.  

California law imposes a heightened duty of care on operators of transportation who qualify as “common carriers” to be as diligent as possible to protect the safety of their passengers. A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.

The court defined common carrier by statute as “A common carrier of persons is anyone “who offers to the public to carry persons.” This higher degree of care only applies to carriers who hold themselves out to the public for hire.

A carrier of persons without reward must use ordinary care and diligence for their safe carriage.” (Civ. Code, § 2096.) But “[c]arriers of persons for reward have long been subject to a heightened duty of care.” Such carriers “must use the utmost care and diligence for [passengers’] safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill. 

The level of care is not absolute; common carriers are not insurers of the safety of their passengers. However, they are required to do all that “human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances.” This heightened duty originated in England, prior to the US becoming a country and was based on: 

This duty originated in English common law and is “based on a recognition that the privilege of serving the public as a common carrier necessarily entails great responsibility, requiring common carriers to exercise a high duty of care towards their customers. 

In California, the common carrier status started with stage coaches. Since then the application of the term and the heightened duty has evolved and broadened to include recreational transportation, “scenic airplane and railway tours, ski lifts, and roller coasters “have all been deemed common carriers under California law.”

In California, the degree of care is defined more by the control the passenger has over the transportation. Roller Coasters are common carriers because the passenger has no control over the speed of the coaster or the maintenance on the coaster. At the same time, bumper cars are not common carriers because the passenger is able to steer and control the speed and direction of the bumper car. 

In California, the “inquiry in the common carrier analysis is whether passengers expect the transportation to be safe because the operator is reasonably capable of controlling the risk of injury.”

The court found the hot-air balloon was not a common carrier. Although the passenger has little if any control over the flight of the balloon, neither does the pilot of the balloon. The only control the pilot has is changing the altitude of the balloon. 

…balloon pilots do not maintain direct and precise control over the speed and direction of the balloon. A pilot directly controls only the balloon’s altitude, by monitoring the amount of heat added to the balloon’s envelope. A pilot has no direct control over the balloon’s latitude, which is determined by the wind’s speed and direction. A balloon’s lack of power and steering poses risks of midair collisions and crash landings, making ballooning a risky activity.

The analysis the court applied then turned on how much control the operator of the transportation had, not how little the passenger had. 

But there is a significant difference between the dangers of riding those conveyances and the dangers involved in ballooning. The former can be virtually eliminated through engineering design and operator skill, whereas the latter cannot be mitigated without altering the fundamental nature of a balloon. 

Thus a balloon pilot does not owe his or her customer a heightened duty of care. 

Assumption of the risk was the next defense the court examined. Under California law if the plaintiff assumes the risk, then the defendant does not owe the plaintiff any duty of care. 

Under California law, a balloon operator does not owe his or her passengers a duty of care for the inherent risks of the activity. “The doctrine applies to any activity “done for enjoyment or thrill … [that] involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.”

Because the pilot of a hot-air balloon can only control the ascent and descent of the balloon and no other control of the balloon, the passenger must assume the risk of all things ballooning. 

We therefore hold the doctrine applies to crash landings caused by the failure to safely steer a hot air balloon. We further hold Grotheer’s claim of pilot error falls under the primary assumption of risk doctrine because the claim goes to the core of what makes balloon landings inherently risky–the challenge of adjusting the balloon’s vertical movement to compensate for the unexpected changes in horizontal movement. As a result, Escape had no legal duty to protect Grotheer from crash landings caused by its pilot’s failure to safely manage the balloon’s descent. 

Consequently, the pilot and the balloon company owed no duty to the plaintiff. The inherent risks of ballooning include crashing. 

The court then looked at the issue of whether or not the plaintiff received any safety instructions prior to the flight. A guide, outfitter or operator of a balloon which is an inherently dangerous activity still owes a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the inherent risks. However, those steps must not fundamentality alter the activity. “The primary assumption of risk doctrine is limited to those steps or safety measures that would have a deleterious effect on recreational activities that are, by nature, inherently dangerous.” 

What the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not do, however, is absolve operators of any obligation to protect the safety of their customers. As a general rule, where an operator can take a measure that would increase safety and minimize the risks of the activity  without also altering the nature of the activity, the operator is required to do so. 

The issue then becomes whether or not the balloon operator owes a duty to provide safety instructions. 

Courts consider several factors in determining the existence and scope of a duty of care, including the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the policy of preventing future harm, and the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing the duty.

Foreseeability is a primary factor in determining whether a duty exists. In this case, the court concluded that providing a safety briefing was custom in the industry. Nor would giving a safety lecture be overly burdensome to the balloon operator or pilot.

The duty we recognize here does not compel anything so lengthy or complex as commercial airlines’ preflight instructions. It requires
only that a commercial balloon operator provide a brief set of safe landing procedures, which Escape’s pilot said is already his custom. Safety instructions are a common practice among operators of recreational activities, and we do not believe requiring balloon operators to set aside a few moments before launch to advise passengers how to position themselves in the basket and what to do in the event of a rough landing will have a negative impact on the ballooning industry. 

So the balloon operator did owe the plaintiff a duty to provide her with a safety instruction. However, that was not the end of the analysis. To prove negligence you must prove a duty, a breach of the duty an injury that was proximately caused by the breach of the duty and damages. In this case, the failure to provide a safety breeching was not the reason why the plaintiff broke her leg, or at least, the plaintiff could not prove the proximate causation. 

Examined another way, for the injury of the plaintiff to be proximately caused by the breach of duty of the defendant, the acts of the defendant must be a substantial factor in that injury. 

To be considered a proximate cause of an injury, the acts of the defendant must have been a “substantial factor” in contributing to the injury. Generally, a defendant’s conduct is a substantial factor if the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. If the injury “‘would have happened anyway, whether the defendant was negligent or not, then his or her negligence was not a cause in fact, and of course cannot be the legal or responsible cause.”

The balloon landing was called a jarring and violent crash by all witnesses. The plaintiff was on the bottom of the pile of people when the basket stopped moving, lying on its side. Any safety talk probably would not have helped the plaintiff prevent her leg from breaking in such a landing. “The accounts of the crash satisfied defendants’ burden of demonstrating the violence of the crash, not any lack of instructions, was the proximate cause of Grotheer’s injury.” 

Consequently, although the balloon operator breached his duty of care to the plaintiff, the injury that occurred to the plaintiff was due to the crash of the balloon which was a violent event rather than the plaintiff being able to deal with a normal landing properly.

So Now What? 

The safety instruction duty is troublesome. How is an outfitter supposed to provide a safety instruction if the customer  cannot comprehend what is being said. In this case, there might have been a way around it if the son could translate for  the plaintiff. However, in many cases a family from a foreign country with little or no English shows up for a recreational  activity with little or no understanding of the activity or the risks. The outfitter has no way of making sure the customer  understands the safety briefing if the outfitter does not speak the customer’s language. 

In California, if you have a customer who does not understand what you are saying, you must probably turn them away.

 What do you think? Leave a comment. 

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., 14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., 14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

Erika Grotheer, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Escape Adventures, Inc., et al., Defendants and Respondents.

E063449

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two

14 Cal. App. 5th 1283; 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 764

August 31, 2017, Opinion Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County, No. RIC1216581, John W. Vineyard, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: The Law Office of Robert J. Pecora and Robert J. Pecora for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Agajanian, McFall, Weiss, Tetreault & Crist and Paul L. Tetreault for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: Opinion by Slough, J., with Ramirez, P. J., and Codrington, J., concurring.

OPINION BY: Slough, J.

OPINION

SLOUGH, J.–Plaintiff and appellant Erika Grotheer is a non-English speaking German citizen who took a hot air balloon ride in the Temecula [*1288] wine country and suffered a fractured leg when the basket carrying her and seven or eight others crash-landed into a fence. Grotheer sued three defendants for her injuries: the balloon tour company, Escape Adventures, Inc. (Escape), the pilot and Escape’s agent, Peter Gallagher (Gallagher), and Wilson Creek Vineyards, Inc. (Wilson Creek) (collectively, defendants or respondents). Grotheer alleged Escape and Gallagher negligently or recklessly operated the balloon by (1) failing to properly slow its descent during landing and (2) failing to give the passengers safe landing instructions before the launch. Grotheer alleged the hot air balloon company is a common carrier, and as such, owed [**2] its passengers a heightened duty of care. (Civ. Code, § 2100.) Grotheer also alleged Wilson Creek was vicariously liable for Escape and Gallagher’s conduct because the vineyard shared a special relationship with the balloon company.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing Grotheer could not satisfy the elements of a negligence claim and, even if she could, she had waived the right to assert such a claim by signing Escape’s liability waiver before the flight. The trial court agreed Grotheer could not establish the element of duty, finding Grotheer had assumed the risk of her injury under the primary assumption of risk doctrine and, as a result, Escape and Gallagher owed her no duty of care whatsoever. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696] (Knight).) The trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants, and Grotheer appealed.

Grotheer contends the trial court erred in concluding her claim was barred by primary assumption of risk and reasserts on appeal that Escape is a common carrier. We affirm the judgment, but on a different ground than relied on by the trial court. We hold: (1) a balloon tour company like Escape is not a common carrier subject to a heightened duty of care; (2) the primary assumption of risk doctrine bars [**3] Grotheer’s claim that Gallagher negligently failed to slow the balloon’s descent to avoid a crash landing; and (3) Escape does have a duty to provide safe landing instructions to its passengers, but the undisputed evidence regarding the crash demonstrates that any failure on Escape’s part to provide such instructions was not the cause of Grotheer’s injury.

I

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Preflight

Grotheer’s son, Thorsten, purchased his mother a ticket for a hot air balloon tour with Escape during her visit to California, as a present for her [*1289] 78th birthday. On the morning of the tour, Grotheer and Thorsten met with the Escape crew and the other passengers in the parking lot of the vineyard owned by Wilson Creek, near the field where Escape launched its balloons. Thorsten later testified at his deposition that when they arrived to check in, he tried to explain his mother’s language barrier to the flight crew so Escape could ensure she understood any safety instructions. Thorsten said Gallagher, the pilot, responded by waving him away and saying, “Everything is going to be fine.” Thorsten tried telling two more Escape employees his mother could not understand English, but they appeared to be in [**4] a rush and told him he could not be in the immediate launch vicinity if he had not purchased a ticket. At some point during this check-in activity, Grotheer signed Escape’s liability waiver, which purported to release the company and its agents from claims based on “ordinary negligence.”

Gallagher then drove the passengers to the nearby launchsite. Grotheer drove over separately, with Thorsten. In his declaration, Gallagher said he gave the passengers safety instructions during the drive, as is his custom. He said the instructions covered what to do during landing: “I described to my passengers what to expect in terms of lifting off … and landing … I told them to bend their knees and hold on upon landing, and not to exit the basket until told to do so.”

According to passengers Boyd and Kristi Roberts, however, neither Escape nor Gallagher provided safety instructions. Boyd declared he sat in the front passenger seat next to Gallagher during the drive, which lasted a little over a minute and during which Gallagher described his credentials and years of experience. Boyd remembered receiving “a very general informational talk … about what to expect on [the] flight,” but said [**5] “[t]here was no mention of safety issues or proper techniques for take-off and landing.” Boyd’s wife, Kristi, also rode to the launchsite with Gallagher and said she never heard him give instructions, “other than to hold on as we took off.”

B. The Crash

The tour proceeded without incident until the landing. According to the four accounts in the record, as the balloon descended at a high rate of speed, the basket crashed into a fence then crashed into the ground and bounced and skidded for about 40 yards before finally coming to a stop, on its side. By all accounts, the event was forceful and caused the passengers to be tossed about the basket.

Boyd Roberts described the crash landing as follows: “The balloon was being pushed at a good clip by the wind and we were travelling in a horizontal direction as we were also descending. We were going sideways, [*1290] and … [b]efore we landed, we actually crashed into and took out several sections of [a] 3 rail fence.” After the basket collided with the fence, it hit the ground “with a hard bump and a bounce.” The passengers were “taken for a wild ride as [the basket] was getting dragged downwind [by the balloon].” The basket “became more and more horizontal” as [**6] it was being dragged. “We easily skipped 30 or 40 yards, with a couple of hard impacts along the way.” When the basket finally came to rest, it was “on its side, not its bottom,” with Grotheer’s section on the bottom and Boyd’s on top. He recalled that Grotheer was below him “lying on what was the side of the [basket] which was now the floor.”

Kristi Roberts’s account of the crash landing matches Boyd’s. She said, “we were going pretty fast towards the ground and it looked like we might hit the fence. We did hit the fence, as the [basket] crashed in the top of the three rails, and knocked it right apart.” After that, the basket “hit the ground hard.” Kristi recalled, “I was holding on as tight as I could to the [b]asket, but we were all standing up and it was hard to keep from falling over when we crashed into the ground.”

Gallagher described the landing similarly, though not in as much detail. He said the balloon had been “descending more quickly than anticipated” and the “passenger compartment of the balloon made a hard landing, first on a fence, then on the ground.” He believed the balloon’s descent had been hastened by a “false lift,” which he described as a condition where the wind travels [**7] faster over the top of the balloon than the rest of the balloon. The faster wind creates lift, but when the wind slows the aircraft can quickly lose altitude unless the pilot adds more heat to the balloon’s envelope. In his declaration, Gallagher said he “applied as much heat as possible to the envelope to add buoyancy,” but the additional heat was not sufficient to arrest the descent before the balloon hit the fence.

In her deposition, Grotheer said the balloon basket experienced two forceful impacts, first with the fence, then with the ground. She recalled she had been holding on to the metal rod in the basket when it hit the fence, but despite holding on, she was “still sliding.” She believed her leg broke upon the second impact–when the balloon hit the ground after the collision with the fence. She described her injury as follows: “The people in the balloon, they were all holding. It was hard. It hit the ground hard. And one woman just came like this (indicating).” Grotheer added, “[a]nd the lady is innocent because even her, she was pushed. She was pushed around by the other people in the basket.” Grotheer did not think anyone collided with her after that initial impact with the ground. [**8] She explained, “I just got myself real quick together. [The injury] was just at the beginning.” [*1291]

James Kitchel, Grotheer’s expert who has piloted balloons for over 25 years, concluded the cause of the crash landing was Gallagher’s “failure to maintain safe control over the ‘delta’ temperature[,] anticipate changing pressure differentials[,] and counterbalance the effects on the rate of descent.” He disagreed with Gallagher’s false lift theory, opining instead the balloon had likely simply experienced a wind shear. He believed all Gallagher had to do “to avoid this crash entirely” was add “sufficient heat” to the envelope “before the Balloon was already about to crash.”

Kitchel explained that many people perceive ballooning as a gentle, peaceful experience, but in reality, balloon rides “can be violent, high speed events with tragic results.” What makes a balloon a risky conveyance is the pilot’s inability to directly control the balloon’s movement. A pilot can directly control only the balloon’s altitude, which is done by managing the amount of heat added to the balloon’s envelope. The direction and speed of the wind determines lateral movement. Kitchel stated, “There is no way of steering [**9] a Balloon, such as by having a rudder. … [A] Balloon pilot never truly knows where the Balloon is going to land. He is at the mercy of the wind speed and direction.”

Kitchel also opined that the industry standard of care requires a commercial balloon operator to give “at the very least, one detailed safety presentation.” According to Kitchel, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Balloon Flying Handbook (FAA Handbook) suggests the following safety instructions to prepare passengers for a “firm impact” upon landing: (1) “Stand in the appropriate area of the basket”; (2) “Face the direction of travel”; (3) “Place feet and knees together, with knees bent”; (4) “‘Hold on tight’ in two places”; and (5) “Stay in the basket.” Kitchel did not believe any one particular set of instructions was required and he described the FAA Handbook’s safe landing procedures as a “good minimum standard.”

C. The Complaint

Grotheer’s complaint against defendants alleged she was injured when the balloon “crash land[ed] into a fence located on WILSON CREEK property.” She alleged her injury was a result of negligent piloting and failure to provide safety instructions. She also alleged Escape is a common carrier and [**10] has a duty to ensure the safety of its passengers.

D. The Summary Judgment Motion

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Grotheer’s negligence claim failed as a matter of law because she had assumed the risk of her injury under the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Defendants also [*1292] sought summary judgment on their liability waiver affirmative defense, claiming Grotheer had expressly waived her right to assert a negligence claim. In opposition, Grotheer argued: (1) the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not apply to common carriers like Escape; (2) the doctrine did not relieve Escape and Gallagher of a duty to avoid the crash landing and to provide safety instructions; and (3) the liability waiver was invalid because Escape knew she did not speak English and could not understand it. Grotheer also argued Wilson Creek was vicariously liable for Escape’s breach because the two companies were in a “symbiotic business relationship.”

After a hearing, the court concluded it was undisputed hot air ballooning is a risky activity that can involve crash landings, Grotheer assumed the risk of injury from a crash landing by voluntarily riding in the balloon, and defendants [**11] owed no duty whatsoever to protect her from her injury. The court also concluded Wilson Creek was not vicariously liable for Escape and Gallagher’s conduct. However, the court denied the motion for summary judgment on the liability waiver defense, stating, “there is at least an arguable duress in being separated from her son who was her translator at the time and not understanding the circumstances based on the language. I think that’s a triable issue of fact.” Based on its finding of no duty, the court concluded Grotheer’s negligence claim failed as a matter of law, and it entered judgment in favor of defendants.

II

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

[HN1] A trial court properly grants summary judgment when there are no triable issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) “The purpose of the law of summary judgment is to provide courts with a mechanism to cut through the parties’ pleadings in order to determine whether, despite their allegations, trial is in fact necessary to resolve their dispute.” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 843 [107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841, 24 P.3d 493] (Aguilar).)

[HN2] A defendant who moves for summary judgment bears the initial burden to show the action has no merit–that is, “one or more elements of the [**12] cause of action, even if not separately pleaded, cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to [that] cause of action.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subds. (a), (p)(2).) Once the defendant meets this initial burden of production, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of [*1293] material fact. (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 850-851.) “From commencement to conclusion, the moving party defendant bears the burden of persuasion that there is no triable issue of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Laabs v. Southern California Edison Co. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1260, 1268-1269 [97 Cal. Rptr. 3d 241].) [HN3] We review the trial court’s ruling on a summary judgment motion de novo, liberally construing the evidence in favor of the party opposing the motion and resolving all doubts about the evidence in favor of the opponent. (Miller v. Department of Corrections (2005) 36 Cal.4th 446, 460 [30 Cal. Rptr. 3d 797, 115 P.3d 77].) We consider all of the evidence the parties offered in connection with the motion, except that which the court properly excluded.1 (Merrill v. Navegar, Inc. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 465, 476 [110 Cal. Rptr. 2d 370, 28 P.3d 116].)

1 Without supporting argument, Grotheer claims the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to consider her objections to defendants’ evidence, and her responses to defendants’ objections to her evidence, on the ground they were untimely filed on the day of the hearing. We will not consider this claim, however, because Grotheer has not explained why any of her objections or responses had merit, or how she was prejudiced by the court’s failure to consider them. (City of Santa Maria v. Adam (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 266, 287 [149 Cal. Rptr. 3d 491] [“we may disregard conclusory arguments that … fail to disclose [appellant’s] reasoning”].)

B. Escape Is Not a Common Carrier and Did Not Owe Grotheer a Heightened Duty To Ensure Her Safe Carriage

Grotheer claims Escape is a common carrier and therefore owed its passengers a heightened duty of care to ensure their safe carriage during the balloon tour. We conclude a hot air balloon operator like Escape is not a common [**13] carrier as a matter of law.

[HN4] (1) In general, every person owes a duty to exercise “reasonable care for the safety of others,” however, California law imposes a heightened duty of care on operators of transportation who qualify as “common carriers” to be as diligent as possible to protect the safety of their passengers. (See Civ. Code, §§ 1714, subd. (a), 2100, 2168.) “A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.” (Civ. Code, § 2100.) Contrary to Escape’s contention, it is necessary to resolve whether Escape is a common carrier because the heightened duty of care in Civil Code section 2100 precludes the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. (Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P. (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1148, 1161 [150 Cal. Rptr. 3d 551, 290 P.3d 1158] (Nalwa).) [*1294]

Whether a hot air balloon operator is a common carrier is an issue of first impression in California.2 It is also a question of law, as the material facts regarding Escape’s operations are not in dispute.3 (Huang v. The Bicycle Casino, Inc. (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 329, 339 [208 Cal. Rptr. 3d 591] (Huang).)

2 The only published case addressing the issue is Balloons Over the Rainbow, Inc. v. Director of Revenue (Mo. 2014) 427 S.W.3d 815, where a hot air balloon operator argued it was a common carrier under Missouri law for tax purposes. The Supreme Court of Missouri upheld the administrative hearing commissioner’s determination the operator was not a common carrier because it exercised discretion regarding which passengers to fly and therefore did not “carry all people indifferently,” as the statutory definition required. (Id. at pp. 825-827.)

3 Escape claims it stipulated to being a common carrier in its motion for summary judgment. Actually, Escape stated was it was not “controvert[ing] at [that] time the assertion that it is a common carrier.” But even if it had so stipulated, [HN5] we are not bound by agreements that amount to conclusions of law. (E.g., People v. Singh (1932) 121 Cal.App. 107, 111 [8 P.2d 898].)

[HN6] (2) A common carrier of persons is anyone “who offers to the public to carry persons.” (Civ. Code, § 2168.) The Civil Code treats common carriers differently depending on whether they act gratuitously or for reward. (Gomez v. Superior Court (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1125, 1130 [29 Cal. Rptr. 3d 352, 113 P.3d 41] (Gomez).) “A carrier of persons without [**14] reward must use ordinary care and diligence for their safe carriage.” (Civ. Code, § 2096.) But “[c]arriers of persons for reward have long been subject to a heightened duty of care.” (Gomez, at p. 1128.) Such carriers “must use the utmost care and diligence for [passengers’] safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.” (Civ. Code, § 2100; accord, Gomez, at p. 1130.) While common carriers are not insurers of their passengers’ safety, they are required “‘to do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances.'” (Squaw Valley Ski Corp. v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 1499, 1507 [3 Cal. Rptr. 2d 897].) This duty originated in English common law and is “based on a recognition that the privilege of serving the public as a common carrier necessarily entails great responsibility, requiring common carriers to exercise a high duty of care towards their customers.” (Ibid.)

Common carrier status emerged in California in the mid-19th century as a narrow concept involving stagecoaches hired purely for transportation. (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1131.) Over time, however, the concept expanded to include a wide array of recreational transport like scenic airplane and railway tours, ski lifts, and roller coasters. (Id. at pp. 1131-1136.) This expansion reflects the policy determination [**15] that a passenger’s purpose, be it recreation, thrill-seeking, or simply conveyance from point A to B, should not control whether the operator should bear a higher duty to protect the passenger. (Id. at p. 1136.)

In Gomez, the California Supreme Court concluded roller coasters are common carriers, despite their purely recreational purpose, because they are [*1295] “‘operated in the expectation that thousands of patrons, many of them children, will occupy their seats'” and are “held out to the public to be safe.” (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136.) As with other recreational transportation like ski lifts, airplanes, and trains, “‘the lives and safety of large numbers of human beings'” are entrusted to the roller coaster operator’s “‘diligence and fidelity.'” (Ibid., quoting Treadwell v. Whittier (1889) 80 Cal. 574, 591 [22 P. 266].)

Despite the consistent trend toward broadening the common carrier definition to include recreational vehicles, almost a decade after Gomez the California Supreme Court refused to apply the heightened duty of care to operators of bumper cars, finding them “dissimilar to roller coasters in ways that disqualify their operators as common carriers.” (Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1161.) Crucial to the analysis in Nalwa was that bumper car riders “‘exercise independent control over the steering and acceleration,'” [**16] whereas roller coaster riders “‘ha[ve] no control over the elements of thrill of the ride; the amusement park predetermines any ascents, drops, accelerations, decelerations, turns or twists of the ride.'” (Ibid.) This difference in control convinced the court that “[t]he rationale for holding the operator of a roller coaster to the duties of a common carrier for reward–that riders, having delivered themselves into the control of the operator, are owed the highest degree of care for their safety–simply does not apply to bumper car riders’ safety from the risks inherent in bumping.” (Ibid., italics added.)

(3) This precedent teaches that [HN7] the key inquiry in the common carrier analysis is whether passengers expect the transportation to be safe because the operator is reasonably capable of controlling the risk of injury. (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136; Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1161.) While a bumper car rider maintains a large degree of control over the car’s speed and direction, a roller coaster rider recognizes the thrills and unpredictability of the ride are manufactured for his amusement by an operator who in reality maintains direct control over the coaster’s speed and direction at all times. (Gomez, at p. 1136.) As our high court explained, the roller coaster rider “expects [**17] to be surprised and perhaps even frightened, but not hurt.” (Ibid.)

It is in this critical regard we find a hot air balloon differs from those recreational vehicles held to a common carrier’s heightened duty of care. Unlike operators of roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, and trains, balloon pilots do not maintain direct and precise control over the speed and direction of the balloon. A pilot directly controls only the balloon’s altitude, by monitoring the amount of heat added to the balloon’s envelope. A pilot has no direct control over the balloon’s latitude, which is determined by the wind’s speed and direction. A balloon’s lack of power and steering poses risks of midair collisions and crash landings, making ballooning a risky activity. (See [*1296] Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 333, 345-346 [214 Cal. Rptr. 194] [hot air ballooning “involve[s] a risk of harm to persons or property” because pilots cannot “direct their paths of travel … [or] land in small, targeted areas”]; Note, Negligence in the [Thin] Air: Understanding the Legal Relationship Between Outfitters and Participants in High Risk Expeditions Through Analysis of the 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy (2008) 40 Conn. L.Rev. 769, 772 [“hot air ballooning” is a “high-risk activity”].) As Kitchel, Grotheer’s expert, [**18] put it, a balloon pilot “is at the mercy of the wind speed and direction.” (See Note, On a Wind and a Prayer (1997) 83 A.B.A. J. 94, 95 [“winds … can transform a wondrous journey into a life-or-death struggle”].)

[HN8] (4) The mere existence of risk is not sufficient to disqualify a vehicle as a common carrier, however. Roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, and trains all pose “‘inherent dangers owing to speed or mechanical complexities.'” (Gomez, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1136.) But there is a significant difference between the dangers of riding those conveyances and the dangers involved in ballooning. The former can be virtually eliminated through engineering design and operator skill, whereas the latter cannot be mitigated without altering the fundamental nature of a balloon.

Operators of roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, and trains can take steps to make their conveyances safer for passengers without significantly altering the transportation experience. For example, roller coaster operators can invest in state-of-the-art construction materials and control devices or task engineers with designing a ride that provides optimal thrills without sacrificing passenger safety. With a balloon, on the other hand, safety measures and pilot training [**19] go only so far toward mitigating the risk of midair collisions and crash landings. The only way to truly eliminate those risks is by adding power and steering to the balloon, thereby rendering vestigial the very aspect of the aircraft that makes it unique and desirable to passengers.

(5) Because no amount of pilot skill can completely counterbalance a hot air balloon’s limited steerability, ratcheting up the degree of care a tour company must exercise to keep its passengers safe would require significant changes to the aircraft and have a severe negative impact on the ballooning industry. For that reason, we conclude [HN9] Escape is not a common carrier as a matter of law.

C. The Trial Court Incorrectly Determined Escape Owed Grotheer No Duty of Care

Having concluded a hot air balloon company does not owe its passengers a heightened duty of care, we must decide whether Escape owed Grotheer any [*1297] duty of care to protect her from her injury. Grotheer claims Escape and Gallagher had a duty to safely pilot the balloon and to provide safety instructions. Escape contends it owed neither duty under the primary assumption of risk doctrine. We analyze each separately.

1. Balloon piloting and primary assumption [**20] of risk

Grotheer alleges her injury was caused in part by Gallagher’s subpar piloting. Her expert opined the cause of the crash was Gallagher’s failure to control the speed and direction of the balloon’s descent by anticipating changing pressure differentials and maintaining the proper amount of heat in the balloon’s envelope. According to Kitchel, Gallagher could have avoided the crash entirely by “adding sufficient heat … in a timely manner.”

[HN10] (6) “‘Although persons generally owe a duty of due care not to cause an unreasonable risk of harm to others … , some activities … are inherently dangerous,'” such that “‘[i]mposing a duty to mitigate those inherent dangers could alter the nature of the activity or inhibit vigorous participation.'” (Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1154, citation omitted.) Primary assumption of risk is a doctrine of limited duty “developed to avoid such a chilling effect.” (Ibid.) If it applies, the operator is not obligated to protect its customers from the “inherent risks” of the activity. (Id. at p. 1162.)

“‘Primary assumption of risk is merely another way of saying no duty of care is owed as to risks inherent in a given sport or activity. The overriding consideration in the application of this principle is to avoid imposing a duty [**21] which might chill vigorous participation in the sport and thereby alter its fundamental nature.'” (Jimenez v. Roseville City School Dist. (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 594, 601 [202 Cal. Rptr. 3d 536].) “Although the doctrine is often applied as between sports coparticipants, it defines the duty owed as between persons engaged in any activity involving inherent risks.” (Ibid.) The doctrine applies to any activity “done for enjoyment or thrill … [that] involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.” (Record v. Reason (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 472, 482 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547]; see Beninati v. Black Rock City, LLC (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 650, 658 [96 Cal. Rptr. 3d 105] [by attending Burning Man festival plaintiff assumed risk of being burned during ritual burning of eponymous effigy].)

The test is whether the activity “‘involv[es] an inherent risk of injury to voluntary participants … where the risk cannot be eliminated without altering the fundamental nature of the activity.'” (Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1156.) As we concluded above in the section on common carriers, a balloon’s limited steerability creates risks of midair collisions and crash landings. Moreover, those risks cannot be mitigated except by adding power [*1298] and steering, which would fundamentally alter the free-floating nature of a balloon, turning it into a dirigible.4 “‘[T]he excitement of [ballooning] is that you never know exactly where you’re going to land. [¶] … [¶] … It’s taking something that is unsteerable [**22] and trying to steer it. That’s the challenge.'” (Note, On a Wind and a Prayer, supra, 83 A.B.A. J. at pp. 95, 94; cf. Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at pp. 1157-1158 [refusing to impose liability on bumper car operators for injuries caused in collisions as doing so would have the effect of “‘decreasing the speed'”–and ultimately the fun–of the ride].)

4 The term “dirigible” literally means “steerable.” It comes from the Latin verb dirigere, meaning “to direct,” and refers to lighter-than-air aircraft capable of being steered, like blimps and zeppelins. (Webster’s 3d New Internat. Dict. (1993) p. 642.)

(7) We therefore hold [HN11] the doctrine applies to crash landings caused by the failure to safely steer a hot air balloon. We further hold Grotheer’s claim of pilot error falls under the primary assumption of risk doctrine because the claim goes to the core of what makes balloon landings inherently risky–the challenge of adjusting the balloon’s vertical movement to compensate for the unexpected changes in horizontal movement. As a result, Escape had no legal duty to protect Grotheer from crash landings caused by its pilot’s failure to safely manage the balloon’s descent.

(8) To avoid this outcome, Grotheer alleged Gallagher’s piloting was not only negligent, but grossly negligent, thereby increasing the inherent risk of crash landing. Grotheer is correct [HN12] the primary assumption of risk does not eliminate an operator’s duty to refrain from engaging in reckless conduct that “unreasonably increase[s] the risks of injury beyond those inherent in the activity.” ( [**23] Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1162.) However, she has provided no evidence Gallagher’s piloting fell so outside the range of ordinary it unreasonably increased the inherent risk of crash landing.

Gross negligence is a want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct. (City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 754 [62 Cal. Rptr. 3d 527, 161 P.3d 1095].) In this context, such extreme conduct might be, for example, launching without sufficient fuel, in bad weather, or near electrical towers; using unsafe or broken equipment; or overloading the passenger basket. In the absence of evidence of such conduct, we hold the primary assumption of risk doctrine bars Grotheer’s piloting claim.

Grotheer compares Gallagher’s piloting to the conduct of the skier defendant in Mammoth Mountain Ski Area v. Graham (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1367 [38 Cal. Rptr. 3d 422] (Mammoth Mountain), but the analogy is inapt. In Mammoth Mountain, a snowboarding instructor was injured when he collided with a skier who had stopped midslope to throw snowballs at his brother. The [*1299] court reversed summary judgment granted on the basis of primary assumption of risk, concluding there was a factual issue as to whether the skier’s behavior was so “outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport of snowboarding” that it increased the inherent risk of colliding with others on the slope. [**24] (Id. at pp. 1373-1374.) Gallagher’s alleged failure to control the balloon’s descent is nothing like the skier’s conduct in Mammoth Mountain. Skiing does not entail throwing snowballs, whereas managing speed and direction in the face of changing wind conditions is the principal challenge in ballooning. As a result, the failure to surmount that challenge falls squarely within the range of ordinary activity for ballooning.

2. Safety instructions and the duty to take reasonable steps to minimize inherent risks

(9) Grotheer also claims her injury was caused, at least in part, by Escape’s failure to give safety instructions. The trial court rejected this theory of liability when it concluded ballooning was an inherently risky activity and, as a result, Escape owed Grotheer no duty at all to protect her from injury. We conclude that ruling was too broad. Under Knight, [HN13] even an operator of an inherently risky activity owes a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize those inherent risks, if doing so would not fundamentally alter the activity. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 317.) As we explain, instructing passengers on safe landing procedures takes little time and effort, and can minimize the risk of passenger injury in the event of a rough landing. [**25]

The primary assumption of risk doctrine is limited to those steps or safety measures that would have a deleterious effect on recreational activities that are, by nature, inherently dangerous. (Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at pp. 484-485; Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1162 [“The primary assumption of risk doctrine helps ensure that the threat of litigation and liability does not cause such recreational activities to be abandoned or fundamentally altered in an effort to eliminate or minimize inherent risks of injury”].) For example, an obligation to reduce a bumper car’s speed or the rider’s steering autonomy would impede the most appealing aspect of the ride–the ability to collide with others. (Id. at pp. 1157-1158.) “‘Indeed, who would want to ride a tapper car at an amusement park?'” (Id. at p. 1158.) Similarly, in the context of white water rafting, an obligation to design the rafts to minimize the “risk of striking objects both inside and outside the raft,” would transform the activity into “a trip down the giant slide at Waterworld.” (Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 248, 256 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65].) Safety is important, but so is the freedom to engage in recreation and challenge one’s limits. The primary assumption of risk doctrine balances these competing concerns by absolving operators of activities with inherent risks from an obligation to protect [**26] their customers from those risks. [*1300]

(10) What the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not do, however, is absolve operators of any obligation to protect the safety of their customers. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 317-318.) As a general rule, where an operator can take a measure that would increase safety and minimize the risks of the activity without also altering the nature of the activity, the operator is required to do so. As the court explained in Knight, “in the sports setting, as elsewhere, the nature of the applicable duty or standard of care frequently varies with the role of the defendant whose conduct is at issue in a given case.” (Knight, at p. 318.) [HN14] When the defendant is the operator of an inherently risky sport or activity (as opposed to a coparticipant), there are “steps the sponsoring business entity reasonably should be obligated to take in order to minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport [or activity].” (Id. at p. 317.)

Even before Knight, tort law imposed on operators a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the inherent risks of their activity. (See Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 317, citing Quinn v. Recreation Park Assn. (1935) 3 Cal.2d 725, 728-729 [46 P.2d 144]; Shurman v. Fresno Ice Rink (1949) 91 Cal.App.2d 469, 474-477 [205 P.2d 77].) Within our own appellate district we find precedent for imposing on hot air balloon operators and their pilots a duty of care to instruct passengers [**27] on how to position themselves for landing.

In Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 127 [40 Cal. Rptr. 2d 249] (Morgan), Division One of our appellate district held a golf course owner had a duty to design its course to minimize the risk of being hit by a golf ball, despite the fact such a risk is inherent to golfing, because doing so was possible “‘without altering the nature of [golf].'” (Id. at p. 134.) Our colleagues explained this duty stemmed from the fact the defendant was the golf course owner. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff had sued the golfer who had hit the errant ball, the action would have been barred by the primary assumption of risk doctrine. (Id. at pp. 133-134.)

Nearly a decade after Morgan, the same court held a race organizer had a duty to minimize the risks of dehydration and hyponatremia5–risks inherent to marathons–by “providing adequate water and electrolyte fluids along the 26-mile course” because “[s]uch steps are reasonable and do not alter the nature of the sport [of marathon running].” (Saffro v. Elite Racing, Inc. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 173, 179 [119 Cal. Rptr. 2d 497].) Faced with a similar situation in Rosencrans v. Dover Images, Ltd. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1072 [122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 22], this court held an owner of a motocross track had a duty to provide a system for signaling when riders have fallen in order to minimize the risk of collisions. (Id. at p. 1084.) Track owners could satisfy this duty by employing “caution flaggers,” [**28] or some similar device, which [*1301] would be relatively easy to implement and would not alter the nature of motocross. (Ibid.) As these cases demonstrate, the primary assumption of risk doctrine has never relieved an operator of its duty to take reasonable steps to minimize inherent risks without altering the nature of the activity.

5 A condition which occurs as a result of decreased sodium concentration in the blood.

(11) Having determined the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not absolve Escape of a duty to exercise reasonable care in all aspects of its operations, we turn to the existence and scope of the duty at issue here–safety instructions. (Castaneda v. Olsher (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1205, 1213 [63 Cal. Rptr. 3d 99, 162 P.3d 610] [HN15] [the existence and scope of a duty of care are questions of law for the trial court to determine in the first instance and the appellate court to independently review].) [HN16] Courts consider several factors in determining the existence and scope of a duty of care, including the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the policy of preventing future harm, and the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing the duty. (See, e.g., Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center (1993) 6 Cal.4th 666, 675, fn. 5 [25 Cal. Rptr. 2d 137, 863 P.2d 207].)

[HN17] (12) Foreseeability is the primary factor in the duty analysis. (Pedeferri v. Seidner Enterprises (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 359, 366 [163 Cal. Rptr. 3d 55].) Our task in evaluating foreseeability “‘is not to decide whether a particular plaintiff’s injury was reasonably foreseeable [**29] in light of a particular defendant’s conduct, but rather to evaluate more generally whether the category of negligent conduct at issue is sufficiently likely to result in the kind of harm experienced that liability may appropriately be imposed.'” (Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Co. (2011) 51 Cal.4th 764, 772 [122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 313, 248 P.3d 1170].) The existence and scope of a duty of care “is to be made on a more general basis suitable to the formulation of a legal rule” to be applied in a broad category of cases. (Id. at p. 773; see Huang, supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at pp. 342-343.)

In this case, the evidence is undisputed that giving passengers a brief presentation on safe landing procedures (such as the instructions Grotheer’s expert cites from the FAA Handbook) is a customary and standard practice in the ballooning industry. To paraphrase Grotheer’s expert, these safe landing procedures are: (1) stand in the appropriate area of the basket; (2) face toward or away from the direction of travel, but not sideways (to minimize the risk of a side-impact injury to the hips or knees); (3) place the feet and knees together, and bend the knees; (4) hold on tightly to the rope, handles, or other stabilizing device, and (5) stay inside the basket. Gallagher himself agreed safety instructions are crucial. He said he always explains what passengers can [**30] expect during launch and landing. In preparation for landing, he tells them to hold on to the handles, bend their knees, and not to exit the basket until told to do so. [*1302]

As to foreseeability, undisputed evidence in the record tells us that rough landings are a risk of ballooning and instructing passengers on proper landing positioning can reduce, though not eliminate, the likelihood of injury in the event the landing does not go smoothly. Additionally, we see no public policy reason why balloon operators should not be required to give safe landing instructions. (Huang, supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at p. 342.) As Kitchel, an experienced balloon pilot, owner, and operator, explained, “[a] detailed safety briefing takes no more than 5 minutes and is time well spent.” While “[m]any balloon landings are gentle, stand-up landings … the pilot should always prepare passengers for the possibility of a firm impact,” as rough landings can result in severe injuries.

(13) Escape contends the duty to provide safe landing instructions will be overly burdensome to balloon operators, citing the complexity of the preflight instructions operators of passenger-carrying airplanes are required to give under federal regulation. (See 14 C.F.R. § 121.571 (2017).) We find the concern misplaced. [**31] [HN18] The duty we recognize here does not compel anything so lengthy or complex as commercial airlines’ preflight instructions. It requires only that a commercial balloon operator provide a brief set of safe landing procedures, which Escape’s pilot said is already his custom. Safety instructions are a common practice among operators of recreational activities, and we do not believe requiring balloon operators to set aside a few moments before launch to advise passengers how to position themselves in the basket and what to do in the event of a rough landing will have a negative impact on the ballooning industry. (Cf. Nalwa, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1161 [noting bumper car operator “enforce[d] various riding instructions and safety rules” before giving control of the car’s speed and steering to riders]; Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, supra, 32 Cal.App.4th at p. 251 [operator of white water rafting tour gave plaintiff “safety instructions,” such as “where to sit, that it was necessary to hold onto the raft while navigating rapids and where to hold on, and how to react if thrown out of the raft into the water”].) Because the evidence supports Grotheer’s allegation Escape failed to give safety instructions of any kind to any of its passengers, we need not go into precisely what warnings are required, [**32] including whether a commercial balloon operator must ensure passengers with known language barriers understand the safety instructions.

We therefore conclude the court incorrectly applied the primary assumption of risk doctrine to absolve Escape of a duty to provide safe landing procedures. However, this conclusion does not end our analysis. We must also consider whether Grotheer’s negligence claim fails as a matter of law because she has not demonstrated the existence of a triable issue of fact on causation. (Coral Construction, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco (2010) 50 Cal.4th 315, 336 [113 Cal. Rptr. 3d 279, 235 P.3d 947] [“‘[i]t is axiomatic that [HN19] we review the trial court’s rulings and not its reasoning'” and [*1303] “[t]hus, a reviewing court may affirm a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment for an erroneous reason”].)

D. Any Lack of Safety Instructions Was Not a Substantial Factor in Causing Grotheer’s Injury

[HN20] (14) “The elements of actionable negligence, in addition to a duty to use due care, [are] breach of that duty and a proximate or legal causal connection between the breach and plaintiff’s injuries.” (Onciano v. Golden Palace Restaurant, Inc. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 385, 394 [268 Cal. Rptr. 96] (Onciano).) [HN21] (15) To be considered a proximate cause of an injury, the acts of the defendant must have been a “substantial factor” in contributing to the injury. (Rutherford v. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 953, 969 [67 Cal. Rptr. 2d 16, 941 P.2d 1203].) Generally, a defendant’s conduct is a substantial [**33] factor if the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. (Ibid.) If the injury “‘would have happened anyway, whether the defendant was negligent or not, then his or her negligence was not a cause in fact, and of course cannot be the legal or responsible cause.'” (Toste v. CalPortland Construction (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 362, 370 [199 Cal. Rptr. 3d 522], quoting 6 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 1185, p. 552.) As our high court has explained, “‘a force which plays only an “infinitesimal” or “theoretical” part in bringing about injury, damage, or loss is not a substantial factor.'” (Bockrath v. Aldrich Chemical Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 71, 79 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 846, 980 P.2d 398].)

[HN22] While proximate cause ordinarily is a question of fact, it may be decided as a question of law if “‘”‘under the undisputed facts, there is no room for a reasonable difference of opinion.'”‘” (Onciano, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at p. 395.) As noted, once a defendant claiming the plaintiff cannot satisfy an element of his or her claim meets the initial burden of production, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate a triable issue of fact. (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 850-851.) When the evidence supports only one reasonable inference as to the cause of the plaintiff’s injury, courts should not engage in “unreasonable speculation that other contradictory evidence exists but was not adduced in the summary judgment proceedings.” (Constance B. v. State of California (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 200, 211 [223 Cal. Rptr. 645] [dismissal [**34] of negligence claim was proper because no reasonable fact finder could find a causal nexus between defendant store owner’s improper lighting and the assault on plaintiff based on the evidence presented during the summary judgment proceedings].)

As explained in the previous part, the purpose of the safety instructions is to reduce injury in the event of rough landings. Here, however, the undisputed descriptions of the landing establish it was not merely rough, but rather [*1304] was a forceful and violent event–a crash. According to Boyd and Kristi Roberts, whose uncontested descriptions are the most detailed, the basket was descending “pretty fast” when it hit the fence with such force it “knocked it right apart,” taking out several fence sections. The basket then hit the ground “hard” and skidded for about 40 yards, becoming more and more horizontal as it was dragged, before coming to a stop on its side with Grotheer’s section on the bottom. Gallagher, the pilot, said the balloon had been descending more quickly than he had anticipated when the basket made a “hard landing, first on the fence and then on the ground.” Grotheer too described both impacts as “hard.” Both Grotheer and Kristi [**35] said they had been holding on to the handles (Kristi as tightly as she could) but were unable to keep from slipping or falling.

From these descriptions, we gather the crash landing was a jarring and violent experience, a “wild ride” so forceful that several passengers fell–even one who had tried desperately not to fall by gripping the basket handles as tightly as possible. (See Endicott v. Nissan Motor Corp. (1977) 73 Cal.App.3d 917, 926 [141 Cal. Rptr. 95] [“If the violence of a crash is the effective efficient cause of plaintiff’s injuries to the extent that it supersedes other factors … and makes them immaterial, plaintiff cannot recover”].) The accounts of the crash satisfied defendants’ burden of demonstrating the violence of the crash, not any lack of instructions, was the proximate cause of Grotheer’s injury. The burden then shifted to Grotheer to explain how things may have played out differently had everyone been instructed on proper body positioning during landing. She produced no such evidence. Instead, she said at her deposition she believed everyone had in fact been holding on to the basket handles during the descent. While one could speculate that Kristi had been the only passenger holding the handles correctly and the woman who fell into Grotheer [**36] had employed an improper grip (say, using only one hand or not holding “tight,” as the FAA Handbook instructs), Grotheer presented no evidence to support such a theory. As a result, she did not meet her burden of demonstrating an evidentiary dispute about whether the provision of instructions would have produced a different outcome.

(16) We conclude any failure to instruct on Escape’s part was not a proximate cause of Grotheer’s injury, and we affirm the grant of summary judgment on that ground. Given our holding that defendants are not liable for negligence, it is unnecessary to review the trial court’s ruling on Wilson Creek’s vicarious liability or its ruling on defendants’ liability waiver defense.6

6 Defendants asked us to review the ruling on their affirmative defense in the event we reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 906, which allows a respondent, without appealing from a judgment, to seek appellate review (at the court’s discretion) of any ruling that “substantially affects the rights of a party,” for “the purpose of determining whether or not the appellant was prejudiced by the error … upon which he relies for reversal.” Because we do not reverse the grant of summary judgment, we need not reach the issue of defendants’ affirmative defense.

[*1305]

III

DISPOSITION

We affirm the judgment. The parties shall bear their costs on appeal.

Ramirez, P. J., and Codrington, J., concurred.


States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute Restrictions
Alaska Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292 Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries
Arizona ARS § 12-553 Limited to Equine Activities
Colorado C.R.S. §§13-22-107
Florida Florida Statute § 744.301 (3) Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue
Virginia Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited Allows a parent to sign a release for a minor for equine activities
Utah 78B-4-203.  Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities Limited to Equine Activities
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign.
 

By Case Law

California Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)
Florida Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454 Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims
Florida Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147 Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities
Maryland BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897 Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.
Massachusetts Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384
Minnesota Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299
North Dakota McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3 North Dakota decision allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue
Ohio Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998) Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity
Wisconsin Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1 However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 may void all releases in the state
 

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

Decisions are by the Federal District Courts and only preliminary motions
North Carolina Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741 North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations
New York DiFrancesco v. Win-Sum Ski Corp., Holiday Valley, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39695 New York Federal Magistrate in a Motion in Limine, hearing holds the New York Skier Safety Statute allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

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Defendants awarded attorney fees in California cycling race. One unique argument was raised; the plaintiff signed the release on the wrong line

Plaintiff sued for her injuries she occurred when she crashed with male rider in the race. The release she signed was upheld including the provision that the plaintiff pay the defendant’s costs and fees if they won the case.

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

State: California; Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Eight

Plaintiff: Judith Kendall

Defendant: for USA Cycling, Inc. and Huntsman World Senior Games

Plaintiff Claims: Release not valid

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2005

The legal issues in this case are not ground breaking, except for where the plaintiff signed the release. The court did a good job of explaining the reasoning for opposing the plaintiff’s arguments on why the release should be thrown out. However, the court did award attorney fees to the defendant for having to defend this case as per the release.

The plaintiff was cycling in the defendant Huntsman World Senior Games. The race was in Utah, and the plaintiff lived in California. To enter the race, the plaintiff signed a release for USA Cycling, and one for the Huntsman race.

The race was started at different starting times for the different categories and sexes of racers. Senior female racers started first with senior male racers starting five minutes later. During the race, a male racer overtook the plaintiff, and they tangled with the plaintiff falling and receiving injuries.

The plaintiff sued for her injuries and the two defendants, USA Cycling and the Huntsman filed motions for summary judgment based on the releases the plaintiff had signed. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion. One of the releases, the USA Cycling release included a provision that said the plaintiff if she sued would pay the defendant’s attorney fees and costs. The judge awarded $32,000 in fees against the plaintiff also.

The plaintiff appealed the dismissal and the award of attorney fees.

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

The first issue the plaintiff argued was the court should have applied Utah’s law to the case because that is where the accident occurred. (Remember the plaintiff started the lawsuit in California.) In order to determine what law that is to be applied to a case, the court must first look at whether or not there is a difference between the laws of the two states, California and Utah.

The plaintiff argued that Utah’s law was different because it prohibited cycling road races. However, the court investigated this claim and found that bicycle races were not prohibited; they only had to have the requisite permits. The permit process did not affect the facts in this case according to the judge, only traffic control so this issue had no effect on the outcome of the case.

Outside of traffic effects, and the concomitant general safety concerns whenever bicycles and motor vehicles are in close proximity, nothing within the permitting scheme suggests Utah authorities concerned themselves with a race’s details beyond its being “reasonably safe” for all concerned. Nothing hints that the approval of Utah authorities depended on the number of riders, their gender, or their starting times

The plaintiff also brought up that Utah treats releases differently. However, the court found although that may be true, the release in question would pass muster both in Utah and California so this issue was also not going to affect the outcome of the case.

But even if suspicion of preinjury releases existed in Utah law, the releases here would pass muster. Hawkins noted that Utah permits preinjury releases except when the activity affects the public interest. The Hawkins court explained, “It is generally held that those who are not engaged in public service may properly bargain against liability for harm caused by their ordinary negligence in performance of contractual duty . . . . Thus, most courts allow release of liability for prospective negligence, except where there is a strong public interest in the services provided.”

The court then looked into the requirements for a release to be valid.

The elements of a valid release are well established. First, it must be clear and unambiguous. Second, it must not violate public policy-an element we can quickly pass over here because a release covering recreational sports is not against public policy or the public interest. [bicycle racing does not involve public interest].) And third, the injury at issue must be reasonably related to the release’s object and purpose.

The plaintiff then argued the USA Cycling release was ambiguous because it had two signature lines. One line was for racers, and one line was for the parents of racers if the racer was a minor. The plaintiff signed the wrong line, signing as a parent for a racer.

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

This is a unique and new argument I’ve never seen before in arguing the validity of a release. It may be something to look for in the future, as some states may not rule the same as this court.

This argument did not matter also because the plaintiff could not argue that signing at the wrong place on a contract invalidated the release. Nor could she argue that she intended to sign the release to enter the event.

She offers no explanation to challenge the obvious inference that she simply misplaced her signature. She does not deny that she wanted to enter the race, and does not dispute that she needed to sign the form to be allowed in. Never does she claim she was signing on a minor’s behalf. In short, she offers no interpretation of her signature’s placement on the parental consent line other than her innocent mistake. As such, her signature is not susceptible to more than one interpretation.

The plaintiff then argued that the release should be viewed based on her intent, not the subjective intent. Again, the court rejected this argument finding that her intent was to sign the release to enter the race which required her to sign the release to do so.

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

This argument rarely, if ever, works because the intent of a contract that is signed is evidenced by the contract. No other intent or even testimony on the intent can be taken except for what is found “within the four corners of the document.”

We conclude that the objective manifestation of Kendall’s intent cuts the other way. Although the face of the release shows she signed as a parent, she offers no explanation for her signature being there other than her desire to join the race. The objective manifestation of her intent, therefore, is she signed as an entrant-albeit on the wrong line.

In another interesting argument, actually a more interesting response the plaintiff argued the Huntsman release should be thrown out because it was ambiguous. (And possibly was.) However, the court said it did not matter because the USA Cycling release was enough.

We need not address possible drafting errors in the Huntsman release because the USA Cycling release covered all organizations involved in the race. The USA Cycling release stated it covered the “organizations . . . and their respective agents, officials, and employees through or by which the events will be held . . . .” Such language encompassed Huntsman, making Huntsman’s own release superfluous as to this point.

The plaintiff then argued she thought she would be in a women’s only race and by allowing men into the race the organizers substantially increased the risk. The court found this argument to miss the mark because the foreseeability issue was not whether it was foreseeable men would be in the race but whether or not it was foreseeable that she could crash.

Kendall contends the releases did not apply to her because she did not know or reasonably foresee she would be sharing the road with male racers in what she believed was a women-only race. She argues respondents thus wrongfully increased the risk she had assumed in entering an all-female race. Kendall’s focus on whether she could have foreseen colliding with a male racer misses the mark because foreseeability is irrelevant when a tortfeasor relies on an express, written release.

The court found this argument to miss the mark because the foreseeability issue was not whether it was foreseeable men would be in the race but whether or not it was foreseeable that she could crash.

For a written release, the focus instead is whether Kendall’s injuries related to the release’s object and purpose. When a risk is expressly assumed, the assumption is a complete defense against a negligence claim. Here, the release covered anyone participating in the Huntsman World Senior Games and included collisions with “other racers,” not just female racers. The release’s language thus covered Kendall’s accident.

On top of this, the plaintiff knew she would be on the same course as male racers. Additionally, being hit by another racer is inherent in bicycle racing.

Kendall received a race map and brochure when she submitted her race application. Those documents showed men and women would be using the same road course, and would be segregated by age, but not sex. That Kendall apparently chose not to read the documents (an inference we draw from her professed ignorance that men would be on the same course) does not make male racers unforeseeable or the scope of the release narrower. Moreover, the court here found the risk of being hit by another racer is inherent to bicycle racing.

The final issue was the award of attorney fees to the defendants as based on the language in the release.

The plaintiff argued that the award of attorney fees should be denied because only the USA Cycling release that the attorney fee award language in it, therefore, the issue should be thrown out. “Kendall notes that only the USA Cycling release had an attorney’s fee provision. She contends that even if USA Cycling is entitled to its fees, the motion should have been denied as to Huntsman.”

The plaintiff also argued the attorney fees should be thrown out because the award was for two releases and only one awarded attorney fees. The amount should be reduced for the work down for the release that did not have the language in the release.

Neither argument prevailed. The same law firm defended both motions and the work to defend both motions was indistinguishable from one motion to the other. The legal and factual issues in defending both releases overlapped legally and factually. It would be impossible to separate out the work, and the law does not require it.

Kendall filed one complaint against respondents, to which they replied with a shared answer and defeated with a shared motion for summary judgment. The evidence and legal arguments in support of respondents’ motion for summary judgment overlapped substantively and procedurally. The record does not show that respondents’ counsel would have spent any less time or that its arguments would have been any different if only USA Cycling had been a defendant. Because it is not fatal to a fee award if apportionment between issues and arguments is difficult, or even impossible, the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees for counsel’s work representing USA Cycling and Huntsman.

The dismissal of the complaint based on a release, the USA Cycling release, and the award of attorney fees and costs was upheld by the California Appellate Court.

So Now What?

There were some interesting issues in this case. Two releases are always a possible way to lose a case, as well as win one in this case. (See Too many contracts can void each other out; two releases signed at different times can render both releases void.) In fact, the race organizer should be happy his race was a USA Cycling release, or he may have been writing a check.

The award of attorney fees is rare, and arises occasionally. (Federal Court in Texas upholds clause in release requiring the plaintiff to pay defendants costs of defending against plaintiff’s claims.) Only California does not quibble about the specific language in the release. Most courts discourage the award of legal fees in release cases and examine the language in the document to find anyway not to award the fees.

At the same time, but for the USA Cycling release, this case would have gone the other direction.

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

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

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

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

B168004

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

2005 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5025

June 8, 2005, Filed

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION BY: RUBIN

OPINION

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

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

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

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

The USA Cycling release stated:

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

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

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

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

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

DISCUSSION

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

1. Utah Law Did Not Apply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Releases Are Enforceable

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

a. Not Ambiguous

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Injury Within Scope of Release

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

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

3. Attorney’s Fees

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

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

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

DISPOSITION

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

RUBIN, J.

We concur:

COOPER, P.J.

FLIER, J.


Sometimes you wish the defendant would lose when a fireman prevents a rescue by someone who probably could have saved the deceased’s life

At the same time, any claim for “negligent rescue” would put thousands of SAR volunteers at risk.

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

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One

Plaintiff: Glenn A. Decker

Defendant: City of Imperial Beach

Plaintiff Claims: Failure to properly rescue and failure to allow rescue

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: For the Defendants

Year: 1989

The deceased and a friend went surfing off the city beach. There were no lifeguards on duty because it was not summer. Lifeguards were only at work during the summer season. The defendant city does not provide lifeguards for the beach except in the summer.

The defendant’s leash for his surfboard got caught on a line for a lobster trap and he eventually drowned.

While the deceased was still alive several people attempted to assist the deceased until the fire department showed up. On the scene the Fire Chief ordered no more rescues.

An Imperial Beach firefighter, Olin Golden, who was a water safety instructor and life guard, contacted Hewitt about the situation and borrowed Hewitt’s wet suit and surfboard.  Imperial Beach Fire Chief Ronald Johnston ordered Hewitt and Golden and all other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach and not to attempt a rescue.

Eventually, the deceased died without being rescued and his body floated to shore. His mother sued the city for the botched rescue or actually no rescue. The trial court granted the cities motion for summary judgment.

This appeal then occurred.

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

The court first started looking at the requirements for summary judgment in California.

The aim of the summary judgment procedure is to discover whether the parties possess evidence requiring the fact-weighing procedures of a trial. “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” In reviewing the propriety of a summary judgment, the appellate court must resolve all doubts in favor of the party opposing the judgment.

A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the record establishes as a matter of law that none of the plaintiff’s asserted causes of action can prevail.

The city first argued that it owed no duty because surfing was a hazardous recreational activity and there was a statute that protected it from liability issues of such activities.

Government Code 2 section 831.7 provides a public entity is not “liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity . . .  for any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” Surfing is specifically included as a “hazardous recreational activity.” (§ 831.7, subd. (b)(3).)

In reviewing the statute the court found the legislature had you broad language in creating the statute in order to provide the broadest protection for the municipalities.

Instead, the Legislature used expansive language to describe the scope of the immunity, stating it applied to “any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” (Italics added.) This broad language is reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that it was intended to preclude liability for negligently inflicted injuries while rescuing a person who has been participating in a hazardous recreational activity since it can be said the rescue effort “arises out of” the individual’s participation in the hazardous recreational activity.

The court looked at the issues in the case and found the statute was created to encourage rescue. If any rescue was subject to litigation afterwards, no rescues would occur.

The act did seem to have an exception for gross negligence.

An interpretation of the hazardous recreational activities immunity to immunize public entities and their employees for acts of emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence furthers the strong public policy encouraging rescues and emergency assistance.

However, no gross negligence claim was pled, and none was found in this case.

The court then looked at the Fire Chief “precluding other assistance.”

The facts show Imperial Beach firefighter Olin Golden borrowed Hewitt’s wet suit and requested permission to attempt a surf rescue of Gary.  Decker states Golden “was a water safety instructor and a life guard trained in surf rescue.” While Decker presented evidence showing Golden was a water safety instructor and lifeguard, nothing in the record indicates Golden was experienced in surf rescue. Rather, the record indicates Golden had given swimming lessons at a high school pool and had guarded the pool; this was the information known to the fire chief at the time he told Golden to stay on the beach. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said the fire chief’s refusal to allow Golden to attempt a surf rescue constituted gross negligence.

Here the court found the duty of the fire chief in precluding the rescue was based on protecting the rescuer. As such the acts of preventing a possible rescue were not grossly negligent.

The next argument made by the plaintiff, was, the rescue technique used was antiquated and prevented a proper rescue.

Decker presented testimony by Charles Chase, an experienced lifeguard supervisor.  Chase testified about the rescue method used by the Sheriff’s dive team (sending out a diver tethered to a rope) as follows: “A life line type rescue is used in special circumstances, but it would never be used with a strong side current [as was the case here] and it would never be used if you could get there quicker in a better way, and it’s a specialized form of rescue. Years and years ago the life line rescue was quite common, and that was prior to the use or the availability of, say, fins and also the availability of good swimmers.  If you go back to the 20’s, they had a limited amount of people that could swim as well as a lot of people can swim now and fins weren’t available.”

The court found the technique was disfavored, but did not rise to the level of gross negligence in this case.

This testimony could support a finding that use of the lifeline rescue method is a disfavored surf rescue method and would not be used by an experienced, trained surf rescuer but it does not support a finding the sheriff’s dive team was grossly negligent for having used this method given their lack of training or experience in surf rescue.

Finding no gross negligence on the part of the fire chief or the fire department the appellate court upheld the trial court’s granting of the motion for summary judgment.

So Now What?

This is one of those cases that frustrated the heck out of me. Yet, overall, in hundreds of other situations, this is the good outcome. It will save a lot more other people because rescuing someone will not be a liability nightmare.

This is how the law is to be applied both as it applies to the individual parties who are in the case and future litigants, searches and victims of the city.

Sad, but true.

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

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

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

No. D007375

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One

209 Cal. App. 3d 349; 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; 1989 Cal. App. LEXIS 301

April 4, 1989

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Superior Court of San Diego County, No. 526147, Andrew G. Wagner, Judge.

DISPOSITION: The judgment is affirmed.

COUNSEL: Schall, Boudreau & Gore, W. Lee Hill and Robert J. Trentacosta for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Hollywood & Neil and Anton C. Gerschler for Defendant and Respondent.

JUDGES: Opinion by Kremer, P. J., with Nares, J., concurring. Separate concurring and dissenting opinion by Wiener, J.

OPINION BY: KREMER

OPINION

[*352] [**357] Glenn A. Decker appeals a summary judgment in favor of the City of Imperial Beach on his complaint for the wrongful death of his son, Gary Decker. On appeal, Decker contends the court erred in finding Imperial Beach was immune from liability because the death arose out of Gary’s participation in a “hazardous recreational activity” and in finding no “special relationship” existed between Gary and Imperial Beach. We conclude the trial court properly granted summary judgment and therefore affirm.

Facts

Around 5:30 p.m. on March 15, 1984, Gary and his friend Victor Hewitt went surfing off the 1600 block of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. There were no lifeguard services provided at this beach during the nonsummer months. Soon after Gary entered the water, Gary’s surfboard leash became [***3] entangled in a nylon rope tether connecting a submerged lobster trap to a small floating surface buoy.

Bystanders noticed Gary appeared to be in trouble. They contacted Hewitt and called the county sheriff’s department. Hewitt twice attempted to paddle out to Gary on his surfboard to render assistance, but was unable to reach him. The sheriff’s department, which provided law enforcement support to Imperial Beach, called the City of Imperial Beach Fire Department to assist at the scene. Both agencies responded to the beach. 1 An announcement by bullhorn was made to Gary, telling him “help [was] on the way.”

1 Imperial Beach, in its brief, seems to suggest it had no liability because only county employees (i.e., sheriff department deputies) were involved. The record indicates, however, that the Imperial Beach Fire Department responded to the scene and participated in the rescue operation and that Imperial Beach contracted with the sheriff’s department to provide police services to the city. Thus, liability cannot be precluded on this basis.

An Imperial Beach firefighter, Olin Golden, who was a water safety instructor and life guard, contacted Hewitt about the situation and [*353] borrowed [***4] Hewitt’s wet suit and surfboard. Imperial Beach Fire Chief Ronald Johnston ordered Hewitt and Golden and all other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach and not to attempt a rescue.

At about 6:45 p.m., an ASTREA helicopter arrived and hovered over Gary for 15 to 20 minutes, shining a bright light on him. Eventually, a helicopter rescue was rejected. The sheriff’s dive team attempted to rescue Gary by tying a rope around one diver’s waist and anchoring him to the shore while he waded into the surf. There was evidence that this was an antiquated method of surf rescue that has been abandoned because it is ineffective. Shortly [**358] after this rescue attempt, Gary’s surf leash became disentangled and he floated to shore, unconscious. All attempts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at University of California at San Diego Medical Center.

Discussion

I

Summary Judgment Standard

(1) [HN1] The aim of the summary judgment procedure is to discover whether the parties possess evidence requiring the fact-weighing procedures of a trial. ( Chern v. Bank of America (1976) 15 Cal.3d 866, 873 [127 Cal.Rptr. 110, 544 P.2d 1310]; Corwin v. Los Angeles Newspaper Service Bureau, Inc. (1971) 4 Cal.3d 842, 851 [94 Cal.Rptr. 785, 484 P.2d 953].) [***5] “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1107 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].) (2) [HN2] In reviewing the propriety of a summary judgment, the appellate court must resolve all doubts in favor of the party opposing the judgment. (Palma v. U.S. Industrial Fasteners, Inc. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 171, 183 [203 Cal.Rptr. 626, 681 P.2d 893].) The reviewing court conducts a de novo examination to see whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. ( Lichty v. Sickels (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 696, 699 [197 Cal.Rptr. 137].) (3) While “[summary] judgment is a drastic procedure, should be used with caution [citation] and should be granted only if there is no issue of triable fact” ( Brose v. Union-Tribune Publishing Co. (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 1079, 1081 [228 Cal.Rptr. 620]), it is also true “[justice] requires that a defendant be as much entitled to be rid of an unmeritorious lawsuit as a plaintiff is entitled to maintain a good [***6] one.” ( Larsen v. Johannes (1970) 7 Cal.App.3d 491, 507 [86 Cal.Rptr. 744].) “A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the record establishes as a matter of law that none of the plaintiff’s asserted causes of action [*354] can prevail. [Citation.]” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., supra, 46 Cal.3d at p. 1107.)

II

Hazardous Recreational Activities Immunity

(4a) Imperial Beach argues it has no liability for Gary’s death because it arose out of Gary’s participation in a “hazardous recreational activity.”

[HN3] Government Code 2 section 831.7 provides a public entity is not “liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity . . . for any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” Surfing is specifically included as a “hazardous recreational activity.” (§ 831.7, subd. (b)(3).)

2 All statutory references are to the Government Code unless otherwise specified.

Decker argues section 831.7 does not bar his suit because Gary’s death was not “solely attributable” to surfing but was also due to Imperial Beach’s conduct during the rescue and section 831.7 provides immunity only for injuries caused by the hazardous recreational activity [***7] itself.

(5) ” [HN4] ‘The fundamental rule of statutory construction is that the court should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. [Citations.]'” ( T.M. Cobb Co. v. Superior Court (1984) 36 Cal.3d 273, 277 [204 Cal.Rptr. 143, 682 P.2d 338].) “In determining such intent, the court turns first to the words of the statute.” ( Regents of University of California v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 601, 607 [224 Cal.Rptr. 631, 715 P.2d 590].) The court attempts to give effect to the usual, ordinary import of the language and seeks to avoid making any language mere surplusage. ( Fontana Unified School Dist. v. Burman (1988) 45 Cal.3d 208, 219 [246 Cal.Rptr. 733, 753 P.2d 689].) The words must be construed in context in light of the nature and obvious purpose of the statute where they appear. (Palos Verdes Faculty [**359] Assn. v. Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified Sch. Dist. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 650, 658-659 [147 Cal.Rptr. 359, 580 P.2d 1155].) (6) The various parts of a statutory enactment must be harmonized in context of the statutory framework as a whole. ( Moyer v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1973) 10 Cal.3d 222, 230-231 [110 Cal.Rptr. 144, 514 P.2d 1224]; [***8] Long Beach Police Officers Assn. v. City of Long Beach (1988) 46 Cal.3d 736, 746 [250 Cal.Rptr. 869, 759 P.2d 504].) (7) The statute “. . . must be given a reasonable and commonsense interpretation consistent with the apparent purpose and intention of the Legislature, practical rather than technical in nature, and which, when [*355] applied, will result in wise policy rather than mischief or absurdity. [Citations.]” ( Beaty v. Imperial Irrigation Dist. (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 897, 902 [231 Cal.Rptr. 128]; see also Webster v. Superior Court (1988) 46 Cal.3d 338, 344 [250 Cal.Rptr. 268, 758 P.2d 596].)

(4b) In defining the scope of the hazardous recreational activities immunity, the Legislature did not choose narrow language; the Legislature did not limit the immunity to injuries “solely attributable” to the hazardous recreational activity. Instead, the Legislature used expansive language to describe the scope of the immunity, stating it applied to “any damage or injury to property or persons arising out of that hazardous recreational activity.” (Italics added.) This broad language is reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that it was intended to preclude liability for negligently [***9] inflicted injuries while rescuing a person who has been participating in a hazardous recreational activity since it can be said the rescue effort “arises out of” the individual’s participation in the hazardous recreational activity.

Such an interpretation — that the immunity extends to rescue efforts, a foreseeable result of participating in a hazardous recreational activity — is consistent with the statutory scheme. Section 831.7 contains a number of exceptions to the rule of immunity. [HN5] Subdivision (c) of section 831.7 provides: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (a), this section does not limit liability which would otherwise exist for any of the following:

“(1) Failure of the public entity or employee to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition or of another hazardous recreational activity known to the public entity or employee that is not reasonably assumed by the participant as inherently a part of the hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.

“(2) Damage or injury suffered in any case where permission to participate in the hazardous recreational activity was granted for a specific fee. For the purpose of this paragraph, a ‘specific [***10] fee’ does not include a fee or consideration charged for a general purpose such as a general park admission charge, a vehicle entry or parking fee, or an administrative or group use application or permit fee, as distinguished from a specific fee charged for participation in the specific hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.

“(3) Injury suffered to the extent proximately caused by the negligent failure of the public entity or public employee to properly construct or maintain in good repair any structure, recreational equipment or machinery, or substantial work of improvement utilized in the hazardous recreational activity out of which the damage or injury arose.

[*356] “(4) Damage or injury suffered in any case where the public entity or employee recklessly or with gross negligence promoted the participation in or observance of a hazardous recreational activity. For purposes of this paragraph, promotional literature or a public announcement or advertisement which merely describes the available facilities and services on the property does not in itself constitute a reckless or grossly negligent promotion.

“(5) An act of gross negligence by a public entity or [***11] a public employee which is the proximate cause of the injury.

“Nothing in this subdivision creates a duty of care or basis of liability for personal injury or for damage to personal property.”

[**360] In reading the exceptions to the immunity, it is first apparent that the Legislature did not expressly exempt from the immunity liability for injuries caused by negligent rescue efforts. Liability for negligent conduct is provided for certain conduct by a public entity (failure to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition that is not reasonably assumed by a participant as an inherent part of the activity, sponsorship of a hazardous recreational activity by charging a fee, failure to maintain structures, equipment or improvements used in the activity) but not for a public entity’s conduct during a rescue.

[HN6] The language of subdivision (c)(5) of section 831.7 is sufficiently broad to encompass rescue activity. It states immunity is not limited for “[an] act of gross negligence by a public entity or a public employee which is the proximate cause of the injury.” (Italics added.) Clearly, the “act” delineated in this subdivision is not intended to duplicate those mentioned in the other immunity exemptions, [***12] i.e., a public entity’s promotion or sponsorship of a hazardous recreational activity, provision of improvements or equipment, or failure to warn of known risks which are not inherently a part of the sport. Among the most obvious other “acts” which would involve a public entity with hazardous recreational activity is the act of rescuing a person who has been injured by participation in a hazardous recreational activity.

An interpretation of section 831.7 that it was intended to grant immunity for emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence is consistent with other statutes providing immunity to persons providing emergency assistance. The Legislature has enacted numerous statutes, both before and after the enactment of section 831.7, which provide immunity to persons providing emergency assistance except when there is gross negligence. (See Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2727.5 [immunity for licensed nurse who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency occurring outside the [*357] place and course of nurse’s employment unless the nurse is grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2395.5 [immunity for a licensed physician who serves on-call in a hospital emergency [***13] room who in good faith renders emergency obstetrical services unless the physician was grossly negligent, reckless, or committed willful misconduct]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2398 [immunity for licensed physician who in good faith and without compensation renders voluntary emergency medical assistance to a participant in a community college or high school athletic event for an injury suffered in the course of that event unless the physician was grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 3706 [immunity for certified respiratory therapist who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency occurring outside the place and course of employment unless the respiratory therapist was grossly negligent]; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 4840.6 [immunity for a registered animal health technician who in good faith renders emergency animal health care at the scene of an emergency unless the animal health technician was grossly negligent]; Civ. Code, § 1714.2 [immunity to a person who has completed a basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation course for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiac care who in good faith renders emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene of an emergency [***14] unless the individual was grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.105 [immunity for poison control center personnel who in good faith provide emergency information and advice unless they are grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.106 [immunity for a firefighter, police officer or other law enforcement officer who in good faith renders emergency medical services at the scene of an emergency unless the officer was grossly negligent]; Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107 [immunity for public entity and emergency rescue personnel acting in good faith within the scope of their employment unless they were grossly negligent].)

Further, there are policy reasons supporting an interpretation extending immunity to public entities for negligence occurring during the course of a rescue effort. It is a matter of strong public policy to [**361] encourage emergency assistance and rescue. Just three months after the incident involved here, the Legislature enacted Health and Safety Code section 1799.107 expressly granting immunity to emergency rescue personnel for any action taken within the scope of their employment to provide emergency services unless the personnel acted in bad faith or in a grossly [***15] negligent manner. ( Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107, subd. (b).) In enacting this statute, the Legislature declared: “The Legislature finds and declares that a threat to the public health and safety exists whenever there is a need for emergency services and that public entities and emergency rescue personnel should be encouraged to provide emergency services.” ( Health & Saf. Code, § 1799.107, subd. (a).)

[*358] An interpretation of the hazardous recreational activities immunity to immunize public entities and their employees for acts of emergency rescue services unless there is gross negligence furthers the strong public policy encouraging rescues and emergency assistance.

We conclude summary judgment was properly granted to Imperial Beach on Decker’s cause of action for negligence.

III

(8a) The question remains whether Decker may recover on a theory of gross negligence pursuant to subdivision (c)(5) of section 831.7.

In Gore v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1980) 110 Cal.App.3d 184, 197 [167 Cal.Rptr. 881], the court examined the meaning of the term “gross negligence”: “Prosser on Torts (1941) page 260, also cited by the Van Meter court [ Van Meter v. Bent Construction Co. (1956) 46 Cal.2d 588 [297 P.2d 644]] [***16] for its definition of gross negligence, reads as follows: ‘Gross Negligence. This is very great negligence, or the want of even scant care. It has been described as a failure to exercise even that care which a careless person would use. Many courts, dissatisfied with a term so devoid of all real content, have interpreted it as requiring wilful misconduct, or recklessness, or such utter lack of all care as will be evidence of either — sometimes on the ground that this must have been the purpose of the legislature. But most courts have considered that “gross negligence” falls short of a reckless disregard of consequences, and differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, and not in kind. So far as it has any accepted meaning, it is merely an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.’ (Italics added.)”

(9) [HN7] California courts require a showing of “‘the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct'” in order to establish gross negligence. ( Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1982) 31 Cal.3d 124, 138 [181 Cal.Rptr. 732, 642 P.2d 792]; De Vito v. State of California (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 264, 272 [248 Cal.Rptr. 330].) [***17] (10) Generally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence ( Pacific Bell v. Colich (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 1225, 1240 [244 Cal.Rptr. 714]) but not always. ( De Vito v. State of California, supra, at p. 272.)

(8b) Decker argues Imperial Beach is liable because their rescue personnel responded to the scene within minutes in their official capacity to give aid to Gary; they took both actual and ostensible control of the rescue efforts, they required other would-be rescuers to remain on the beach, including firefighter Golden; and “[the] promise to ‘help’ arrived in the [*359] form of the Sheriff’s Department Dive Team which was not trained in surf rescue techniques” and used a technique which “was abandoned by life guards trained in surf rescue in the 1920’s.” Decker concludes: “Unfortunately, Gary Decker would have been better off if the City of Imperial Beach had not responded. Their presence (by creating the illusion of competent assistance and by preventing other rescue efforts) proved fatal to Gary.”

Precluding Other Assistance

The facts show Imperial Beach firefighter Olin Golden borrowed Hewitt’s wet [**362] suit and requested [***18] permission to attempt a surf rescue of Gary. Decker states Golden “was a water safety instructor and a life guard trained in surf rescue.” While Decker presented evidence showing Golden was a water safety instructor and lifeguard, nothing in the record indicates Golden was experienced in surf rescue. Rather, the record indicates Golden had given swimming lessons at a high school pool and had guarded the pool; this was the information known to the fire chief at the time he told Golden to stay on the beach. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said the fire chief’s refusal to allow Golden to attempt a surf rescue constituted gross negligence. Sending Golden, a person not known to be trained or experienced in surf rescue, into the water could have endangered Golden’s safety and been the basis for finding negligence had Golden been injured. Since the facts suggest negligence could be based on either the act or the omission, a finding of gross negligence by virtue of the omission is not warranted; the case is too closely balanced. In such a case, it cannot be said there is a “‘want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”

This same reasoning [***19] applies even more strongly to the fire chief’s refusal to allow Hewitt or other bystanders to attempt a surf rescue. Hewitt had already demonstrated his lack of qualifications to rescue Gary; he had tried twice and failed both times. (11) As to other would-be rescuers, their training and experience was unknown and it certainly cannot be said that it is gross negligence to discourage persons with unknown qualifications from attempting a dangerous surf rescue.

Rescue Options

(8c) Decker presented testimony by Charles Chase, an experienced lifeguard supervisor. Chase testified about the rescue method used by the Sheriff’s dive team (sending out a diver tethered to a rope) as follows: “A life line type rescue is used in special circumstances, but it would never be used with a strong side current [as was the case here] and it would never be [*360] used if you could get there quicker in a better way, and it’s a specialized form of rescue. Years and years ago the life line rescue was quite common, and that was prior to the use or the availability of, say, fins and also the availability of good swimmers. If you go back to the 20’s, they had a limited amount of people that could swim as well as [***20] a lot of people can swim now and fins weren’t available.”

When asked why he thought the dive team was unable to reach Gary, Chase explained that “[the] buoyancy of the full dive suit would have made it hard to submerge one’s self and/or dive under the waves while you’re swimming out but also slow you down.” He stated the line tethering the diver to the shore would be pulled down by the side current, a “force which would impede the progress towards the rescue as far as getting to him.” When asked if he had any other opinions about why the attempts to reach Gary were unsuccessful, Chase responded: “Well, it would obviously be the lack of — the dive team’s lack of training in open surf conditions and what would have been a routine rescue for a lifeguard. I’d have to qualify that a little bit. The routine rescue meaning to reach the victim would have not been a difficult task at all. Whether they could have untangled the victim is — that’s hard to judge from a Monday morning quarterback type of situation.”

This testimony could support a finding that use of the lifeline rescue method is a disfavored surf rescue method and would not be used by an experienced, trained surf rescuer but it [***21] does not support a finding the sheriff’s dive team was grossly negligent for having used this method given their lack of training or experience in surf rescue.

Nor did Decker present evidence which would support a finding Imperial Beach was grossly negligent in its selection of rescue techniques, in particular, its failure to call off-duty lifeguards trained in surf rescue for assistance.

[**363] To the extent Decker seeks to impose liability based on Imperial Beach’s failure to adopt a policy requiring the training of firefighters and sheriff’s deputies in surf rescue or the calling of trained lifeguards for assistance, his claim must fail. The Legislature has provided immunity to public entities for such policy decisions. (§ 820.2; Nunn v. State of California (1984) 35 Cal.3d 616, 622 [200 Cal.Rptr. 440, 677 P.2d 846].)

Nor can a finding of gross negligence be premised on the failure of the Imperial Beach rescue personnel at the beach to call for the assistance of the off-duty lifeguards. First, the facts show the rescue personnel diligently pursued attempts to rescue Gary, both by helicopter and by use of the sheriff’s dive team. Decker presented no evidence contesting the validity of [***22] [*361] decision to first attempt a helicopter rescue. He does not claim the Imperial Beach rescue personnel were grossly negligent in calling for the helicopter or attempting to effectuate a rescue by helicopter. Decker appears to treat the helicopter rescue as a valid rescue method. Second, the record shows there were no existing procedures or centralized dispatcher available for contacting off-duty lifeguards. Thus, the rescue personnel cannot be said to have been grossly negligent for having failed to follow established procedures or for having failed to pursue a readily available option (i.e., the record indicates the lifeguards were not readily and easily accessible). (Compare Lowry v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 188, 196, fn. 7 [229 Cal.Rptr. 620, 64 A.L.R.4th 1191] [affirming summary judgment based on immunity under Health & Saf. Code, § 1317 for a hospital rescue team because there were no facts showing bad faith or gross negligence for deviating from American Heart Association guidelines].)

Decker’s argument would find gross negligence because the rescue personnel elected to try two methods to rescue Gary but failed to try a third method, i.e., [***23] contacting off-duty lifeguards. This failure to pursue this alternative, which may or may not have succeeded in saving Gary’s life, does not constitute gross negligence. (12) [HN8] To avoid a finding of gross negligence, it is not required that a public entity must pursue all possible options. It is required only that they exercise some care, that they pursue a course of conduct which is not “‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'” ( Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance, supra, 31 Cal.3d 124, 138.)

(8d) The essence of Decker’s complaint is not that the Imperial Beach rescue personnel were grossly negligent in failing to try to rescue Gary, but that they were not timely in their rescue of Gary. To the extent Decker’s claim is essentially that Imperial Beach was not timely in providing lifeguard services, his case is similar to County of Santa Cruz v. Superior Court (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 999 [244 Cal.Rptr. 105]. In the Santa Cruz case, the court found summary judgment was properly granted on a claim for gross negligence for injuries due to diving into shallow water. The court explained: “The only basis for liability that Magana alleged against City . . . [***24] was that City lifeguards failed to provide adequate and safe extrication and first aid to him promptly after he was injured. . . . The allegation here is that the lifeguard assigned to the area where the injury occurred did not respond and offer aid for 20 minutes. This is insufficient to raise a triable issue of gross negligence or bad faith.” ( Id. at p. 1007.)

Here the facts supporting gross negligence are even weaker. In contrast to the Santa Cruz case where no rescue efforts were made for 20 minutes, here [*362] the rescue personnel arrived promptly and they diligently and continuously tried to rescue Gary. The facts in this case do not warrant a finding of gross negligence. Summary judgment was properly granted on Decker’s cause of action for gross negligence.

IV

Special Relationship

Imperial Beach also argues it had no liability for Gary’s death because no special [**364] relationship existed between Imperial Beach and Gary. We need not resolve this issue since we have held Imperial Beach has immunity under section 831.7.

The judgment is affirmed.

CONCUR BY: WIENER (In Part)

DISSENT BY: WIENER (In Part)

DISSENT

WIENER, J., Concurring and Dissenting. I agree that absent gross negligence, Government Code section 831.7 [***25] immunizes the City of Imperial Beach (City) from emergency rescue service. I disagree, however, that there are no triable factual issues as to the City’s gross negligence.

In the interest of brevity I will not belabor what I believe is the misapplication of the standards governing summary judgment to the facts here. (See maj. opn., ante, pp. 353-354.) I prefer to focus on the human aspects of this case.

Understanding the meaning of gross negligence in the context of this case does not require scholarly insight into an arcane legal subject. The simple question before us is whether there are triable factual issues relating to the City’s gross negligence. Significantly we are not asked to decide, as the majority would have us believe, whether Decker successfully established gross negligence. That determination is not required in a summary judgment proceeding. “[The] trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is merely to determine whether such issues of fact exist, and not to decide the merits of the issues themselves.” ( Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1107 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].)

Here without sufficient factual support the majority say as a [***26] matter of law that the action taken by the fire chief to prevent any rescue effort was perfectly proper. Perhaps they are correct. It may well be that the chief made a prudent judgment call or at worse acted only negligently. But from [*363] the information in the record before us I cannot say that this conduct did not represent a substantial departure from ordinary care. I do not know what objective criteria, if any, the fire chief used to formulate his decision barring everyone on the beach from trying to save Gary. What investigation did the fire chief take before issuing his blanket directive preventing anyone from attempting to rescue this drowning young man? What authority did he have to effectively intimidate those who were willing to be Good Samaritans from acting as such when there is nothing in this record to support a finding that their efforts would not have been successful? I would hate to think that bureaucratic considerations dominated the chief’s decision. We may never know. The summary judgment remedy, characterized as a drastic remedy to be used with caution, has replaced a trial on the merits.

Although the appellate record is purportedly cold I cannot leave this [***27] case without admitting that I will remain haunted by the specter of this young man’s lengthy, unsuccessful struggle against the power of the sea, fighting to stay afloat, emotionally assisted by what can only be described as a callous call from the beach that “help was on the way.” In no way can this case be compared to the drowning described in City of Santa Cruz v. Superior Court (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 999 [244 Cal.Rptr. 105] where lifeguards came to assist the victim as soon as they were able to do so, about 20 minutes after the accident occurred. All those participating in the rescue efforts were certified emergency technicians. It was also undisputed that the lifeguard assigned to the area was elsewhere properly attending to another problem when the accident happened. (At p. 1002.) I agree the facts in City of Santa Cruz do not present triable factual issues on the question of the City’s gross negligence. I cannot agree here. This case should be decided on the evidence presented in a trial and not on the documents before us.