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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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Plaintiff failed to prove her injuries were due to the construction of the water park slide, and she also assumed the risk.

An injury is not enough; you must be able to relate your injury to the exact cause, and that cause must be based on a failure to do or not do a duty by the defendant.

Stolting, et al., v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

State: Maryland, United States District Court for the District of Maryland

Plaintiff: Beth Stolting, et al.

Defendant: Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc. d/b/a Splash Mountain Water Park et al

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: Defendant

Year: 2001

The plaintiff and a boyfriend, who eventually became her husband, went to the defendant’s water park. She had been to water parks 15-20 times over the years, and ridden water slides hundreds of times. However, she had never visited this park.

At the entrance of the park was a sign which warned of the risks of the park.

The attractions contained within the Splash Mountain Waterpark are of a participatory nature and, as such, carry with them an inherent risk of injury. All guests agree, as a condition of admission, to use these facilities at their own risk.

The plaintiff admitted that she read the sign when she entered the park. After entering the park the plaintiff went on several water slides before going down the slide that injured her. Before riding that slide, she watched others go down the slide.

There were no warning signs posted at the slide. Nor were there instructions on how to ride the slide. As the plaintiff prepared to go down the slide, she placed herself in the positions; she had seen other riders with her knees bent about 40 degrees.

After exiting the slide, she hit the bottom of the pool. The plaintiff was assisted out of the pool by a lifeguard who suggested she go to a hospital. The plaintiff transported herself to the hospital. Eventually, she was diagnosed with several broke vertebrae, which required several months of recovery.

The plaintiff sued for her injuries.

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

Under Maryland law, to prove negligence the plaintiff must prove:

Plaintiffs must establish four elements in order to prevail on a negligence claim: 1) that a duty was owed to the Plaintiffs by the Defendants; 2) a breach of that duty owed by the Defendants; 3) a causal relationship between the breach of that duty and the harm suffered; and 4) that damages were sustained.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant had notice of the dangerous condition because two prior claims had been filed for similar injuries on the same water slide. The plaintiff then claimed that notice of those injuries created a duty on the part of the defendant to post warning signs.

The next issue was the standard of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The rule in Maryland is a water park owes business invitees a duty to use ordinary care.

The general rule is that the operator of a place of amusement owes to business invitees a non-delegable duty to use ordinary care and caution to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.” An amusement park is not an insurer of the safety of persons using devices at the place of amusement, but only a proprietor bound to use ordinary care for the safety and protection of its patrons. Hence, the Park’s duty towards its patrons is only to provide “ordinary and diligent care” in keeping the Shotgun slide in a “reasonabl[y] safe condition.”

The plaintiff then argued the defendant breached its duty to provide ordinary and diligent care by not posting warning signs informing patrons of the danger of the slide.

The plaintiff failed on this claim because she presented no admissible evidence that the angle of the slide was too steep. The plaintiff relied upon the opinion of the other injured patrons on the same slide. “The Plaintiffs have not presented evidence sufficient to establish that the Defendants had reason to believe the slide was so dangerous as to require a special warning next to it.”

The park had the slide evaluated after the prior injuries by a licensed professional from the state. Since the plaintiff could not present any evidence of the dangerousness of the slide, the review by the professional was sufficient to defeat this claim. “There is no evidence adequate to establish that a pertinent standard of care required additional warnings.”

On top of that, the plaintiff had read the warnings at the entrance of the park which placed the plaintiff on notice of the dangerous condition, required by the duty owed to business-invitees.

The plaintiff hired an expert witness to assist in her case; however, the expert’s opinion was ruled inadmissible in a prior motion. Consequently, she could not provide any evidence to support here claim that the defendant breached its duty by not posting instructions on how to ride the slide.

Even if her expert’s opinion had been admissible, there was no evidence posted that the way the plaintiff rode the slide was the cause of her injury. There was no connection between riding the slide and riding the slide a specific way that might have caused or would not have caused her injuries.

The final issue was the depth of the pool at the bottom of the slide. Again, she could offer not expert testimony to support that claim. The engineer from the state had inspected the pool and found that its depth was adequate. “There is no evidence sufficient to prove to a reasonable fact finder that Defendants negligently pro-vided too shallow an exit pool.”

The court then found the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries. In Maryland, assumption of the risk is a complete bar to a negligence claim. To prove assumption of the risk the defendant must prove:

To establish an assumption of risk defense, the Defendants have the burden of demonstrating that the Plaintiffs: 1) had knowledge of the risk of danger; 2) appreciated the risk; and 3) voluntarily confronted the risk of danger.

To determine if the plaintiff knew, appreciated and voluntarily confronted the risk, the court used an objective standard.

An objective standard must be used in deciding “whether a plaintiff had knowledge and appreciation of the risk, . . . and a plaintiff . . . [cannot] say that he did not comprehend a risk which must have been obvious to him.” Overall, the question of whether the plaintiff assumed the risk is usually a question for the jury, however, when it is clear that by using an objective test, “a person of normal intelligence in the position of the plaintiff must have understood the danger, the issue is for the court.”

The defendant met this standard based on the plaintiff’s experience in riding other water slides and watching people ride this slide. “Those who participate or sit as spectators at sports and amusements may be taken to assume the known risks of being hurt by roller coasters, flying baseballs, [or] hockey pucks . . . .

Additionally, the plaintiff’s a person of normal intelligence would have understood the risks of this slide. “In the case at Bar, Stolting’s age, education and experience on water slides clearly establishes that she was able to appreciate the risk.”

Finally, the plaintiff voluntarily confronted the risk.

After reading the disclaimer at the front of the Park, watching other patrons maneuver themselves down the slide, and relying on her prior experiences on water slides, Stolting chose to ride the Shotgun slide. Of her own free will, Stolting voluntarily made the decision to go on the ride and take her chances even though, as she was specifically warned, the rides in the Park “carry with them an inherent risk of injury.”

The court found that any reasonable jury would find the plaintiff assumed the risk.

The court concludes that any reasonable jury would have to find that Stolting assumed the risk of injury on the Shotgun slide by having knowledge of the risk, appreciating the risk, and voluntarily confronting the risk of danger. Hence, Stolting’s negligence claim, even if viable, would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine.

In a rare issue in a decision, the court found two complete and valid defenses to the plaintiff’s claims. Normally, courts only find one reason to support or over throw a decision and stop there.

So Now What?

A lot of this win for the defendant was based on three things. The plaintiff admitted having gone to water parks and down water slides before, she admitted reading the warning sign at the entrance, and she watched other riders before going down the slide herself. That proved she has knowledge and appreciation of the risk and voluntarily assumed the risk.

The second issue was the defendant hired an expert after just a few incidents to check out its slide. Again, acting prior to the lawsuit was better and probably a lot cheaper in the long run to see if the problem was real or isolated incidents.

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Stolting, et al., v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

Stolting, et al., v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

Beth Stolting, et al., Plaintiffs vs. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc. d/b/a Splash Mountain Water Park et al, Defendants

CIVIL ACTION NO. MJG-00-299

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND

2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

August 24, 2001, Decided

August 24, 2001, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Motion granted by Stolting v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26573 (D. Md., Aug. 24, 2001)

Affirmed by Stolting v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 37 Fed. Appx. 80, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 11925 (4th Cir. Md., 2002)

CORE TERMS: slide, pool, exit, patrons, ride, riding, water slides, warning, bottom, summary judgment, amusement park, feet, legs, intelligence, splash, depth, posted, notice, bent, risk of injury, moving party, reasonable jury, appreciated, disclaimer, non-moving, shallow, warned, owed, dangerousness, negligently

COUNSEL: [*1] For Beth Stolting, Plaintiff: Paul D Bekman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Salsbury Clements Bekman Marder and Adkins LLC, Baltimore, MD; Andrew M. Moskowitz, William D. Sanders, Alpert Butler and Sanders, P.C., West Orange, NJ.

For Rohan Cassells, Plaintiff: Andrew M. Moskowitz, LEAD ATTORNEY, Alpert Butler and Sanders, P.C., West Orange, NJ.

For Jollyroger Amusement Park, Inc., doing business as Splash Mountain Water Park, Defendant: J Paul Mullen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Phoenix, MD; Kathleen M Bustraan, Ward and Bustraan LLC, Towson, MD.

JUDGES: Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Marvin J. Garbis

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The Court has before it Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and the materials submitted by the parties relating thereto. The Court finds that a hearing is unnecessary.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff’s Injury on the Shotgun Slide

On June 2, 1999, Plaintiffs Beth Stolting (hereinafter “Stolting”) and Rohan Cassells 1 (hereinafter “Cassells”), went to the Jolly Roger Amusement Park/Splash Mountain Park (hereinafter the “Park”) in Ocean City, Maryland. Stolting had been to water parks on “fifteen to twenty ” separate occasions and had been on water slides “hundreds of times,” [*2] but had never visited the Park. Stolting Dep. 29.

1 Now her husband and a plaintiff in the case.

At the entrance of the amusement park, a prominent disclaimer was posted. The sign read as follows:

The attractions contained within the Splash Mountain Water[]park are of a participatory nature and, as such, carry with them an inherent risk of injury. All guests agree, as a condition of admission, to use these facilities at their own risk.

Stolting read the sign upon entering the amusement park. She went on several water slides before arriving at the “Shotgun” 2 water slide (hereinafter “slide” or “ride”), which is the slide at issue in the instant case. Stolting Dep. 37. There were no posted instructions on how to ride the slide or any signs warning of the possible dangers posed by the slide. However, there were signs containing height restrictions, signs banning the use of inner tubes, and depth markers displaying the depth of the entry pool 3. Prior to riding the slide, Stolting watched others go down it. As Stolting prepared to go down the slide, she imitated the body positioning of those people who had previously been on the slide. With her knees bent at a “forty degree angle,” Stolting [*3] descended down the slide, hitting the bottom of the exit pool with her feet. Stolting Dep. 39- 40. Stolting does not remember how she landed or the positioning of her legs as she hit the water. Stolting Dep. 40- 41. However, she does allege that she felt her feet “hit the bottom of the pool . . . immediately” upon entering the exit pool. Stolting Dep. 44.

2 Also known as “the Cannonball Slide.”

3 The pool of water at the bottom of the slide is also referred to as the “entry” or “splash” pool.

At that point, Stolting lost her breath. She went to the side of the exit pool and was helped out of the pool and into a chair by lifeguards. At that time, Stolting complained of pain in her back, feet, and legs. The lifeguards gave Stolting ice and suggested that she should go to a hospital.

After resting for ten minutes, Stolting asked Cassells to take her to the Atlantic General Hospital in Ocean City, Maryland. 4 Stolting told the attending physician at the hospital that she was experiencing back and heal pain. The doctor took x-rays of Stolting’s heals, and then “told [her that] if [she] could walk out on crutches that [she] could leave.” 5 [*4] Stolting Dep. 50. Stolting was not given any medication.

4 Stolting never requested an ambulance.

5 No diagnosis was given.

During the next few days, she continued to rest and take Advil. Approximately one week later, Stolting was still experiencing pain and so, she decided to see Dr. Fischer (hereinafter “Fischer”). Fischer diagnosed Stolting with three fractured vertebrae. Stolting was told to remain on Advil and to continue bed rest. Fischer stated that it would take at least six months for her back to heal.

B. Prior Injuries on the Shotgun Slide

In recent years, several other patrons have complained of injuries allegedly sustained while riding the Shotgun slide. In 1997, Myron Custer (hereinafter “Custer”) reported a bruised heel from contacting the bottom of the exit pool of the Shotgun slide. Custer accused the Park of maintaining an unsafe ride.

In 1998, Michael Agnello Jr.(hereinafter “Agnello”), reported receiving injuries from riding the slide. Agnello Affi. After contacting the bottom of the exit pool, Michael complained of bruised legs and walking with a limp for a few days. The Park responded to complaints by stating that a licensed inspector from the Department of Labor Safety [*5] Inspection had investigated the slide and concluded that the slide met all of Maryland’s standards of safety.

C. Procedural Posture

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs sue Defendants, Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., Splash Mountain Water Park, and Bayshore Development Corporation. Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants’ negligence caused Stolting’s injuries. The Defendants deny negligence and assert an affirmative defense of the assumption of risk doctrine. By the instant motion, Defendants seek summary judgment on all claims.

II LEGAL STANDARD

In order for the Court to grant a motion for summary judgment, the evidence submitted to the Court must “show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact is one which might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

The burden of proof weighs heavily on the moving party to establish that there is a lack of evidence in support of the non-moving party’s claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The moving party [*6] must demonstrate to the Court that, viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable jury could not find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the moving party has carried its burden of proof, then the non-moving party must produce more than a “mere scintilla of evidence in support of an essential element” in order to prevent the court from granting summary judgment. Id. at 251.

III DISCUSSION

A. Negligence claim

The Plaintiffs’ claim is based on three purported acts of negligence:

1) After being put on notice that patrons had been injured on the Shotgun slide, Defendants negligently failed to post signs warning of the dangerousness of the ride;

2) Defendants negligently failed to post instructions on how patrons should position their bodies when riding the slide; and,

3) Defendants negligently provided too shallow an exit pool at the bottom of the slide.

Under Maryland 6 law, Plaintiffs must establish four elements in order to prevail on a negligence claim: 1) that a duty was owed to the Plaintiffs by the Defendants; 2) a breach of that duty owed by the Defendants; 3) a causal relationship between the breach of that duty [*7] and the harm suffered; and 4) that damages were sustained. Yousef v. Trustbank Sav., F.S.B., 81 Md.App. 527, 536-36, 568 A.2d 1134 (1990).

6 This case is a diversity action. Since Stolting’s cause of action took place in Maryland, that state’s substantive law applies. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938).

1) Failure to Warn of Dangerousness

The Plaintiffs contend that the Park was on notice of the dangerousness of the Shotgun slide and should have posted signs warning of the dangers because other patrons had been injured on the slide. In support of their claim, Plaintiffs rely on prior injuries received by Custer and Agnello while they were on the Shotgun slide. The Plaintiffs maintain that notice of such injuries imposed a duty on the Park to post warning signs next to the ride.

The Plaintiffs argue that, as patrons of the Park, they were owed the highest standard of care. Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse MD Corp., 115 Md.App. 381, 388, 693 A.2d 370 (1997), (citing Casper v. Chas F. Smith & Son, Inc., 71 Md.App. 445, 457, 526 A.2d 87 (1987), aff’d, 316 Md. 573, 578, 560 A.2d 1130 (1989)). According to Casper, however, reasonable or ordinary care is the highest standard of care owed to a business invitee. 71 Md. App. at 457. “The general [*8] rule is that the operator of a place of amusement owes to business invitees a non-delegable duty to use ordinary care and caution to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.” Hawkins v. Southern Maryland Agricultural Fair Ass’n, 237 Md. 90, 94 (1964), 205 A.2d 286. An amusement park is not an insurer of the safety of persons using devices at the place of amusement, but only a proprietor bound to use ordinary care for the safety and protection of its patrons. See Carlin v. Krout, 142 Md. 140, 147, 120 A. 232 (1923). Hence, the Park’s duty towards its patrons is only to provide “ordinary and diligent care” in keeping the Shotgun slide in a “reasonabl[y] safe condition.” Id. at 146.

At issue is whether the Park breached this duty to provide “ordinary and diligent care” by not posting signs warning of the dangerousness of the Shotgun slide. The Plaintiffs contend that reports of injuries sustained from former patrons who used the ride put the Park on notice that the slide was dangerous. The Plaintiffs base their claim particularly on the testimony of Custer, who was allegedly injured from riding the Shotgun slide in 1997.

When Custer reported his injuries to the Park, he insisted that the slide [*9] was dangerous because the angle of slope was too steep. Custer’s claim is unsubstantiated. Indeed, a licensed inspector from Maryland investigated the ride and found that the Shotgun slide met the safety standards set out by Maryland law. In any event, Custer is by no means qualified to provide admissible opinion testimony that the angle of the slide was “too steep.” Moreover, his opinion is not based on any scientific principles and is no more than his grossly unqualified ipse dixit.

Although the Plaintiffs correctly state that “Maryland has gone almost as far as any state in holding that meager evidence of negligence is sufficient to submit the case to a jury,” the opinion offered by Custer is not enough to take the issue to a jury. State v. Thurston, 128 Md. App. 656, 662, 739 A.2d 940 (1999). The Plaintiffs have not presented evidence sufficient to establish that the Defendants had reason to believe the slide was so dangerous as to require a special warning next to it.

The Park did all it need have done by having the slide evaluated and vouched for by a licensed professional. Moreover, even if the Park were on notice of a dangerous condition posed by the Shotgun slide, the Park adequately warned [*10] patrons of the dangers of water slides by posting a disclaimer at the entrance of the amusement park. Stolting admitted in her deposition that she saw the disclaimer and that although she did not remember what it said, she read it. Stolting Dep. 90. The sign posted at the entrance of the Park expressly warned patrons that all rides within the Water park “carr[ied] with them an inherent risk of injury.” There is no evidence adequate to establish that a pertinent standard of care required additional warnings. Defs.’ Reply to Pls.’ Mot. for Summ. J. at 4.

2) No Posted Instructions

The Plaintiffs argue that the Park had an obligation to post instructions on how to ride the Shotgun slide. They offered Hanst’s purported “expert” opinion in support of this contention that patrons should have been told to keep their knees bent when riding down the slide 7. For the reasons stated in its Memorandum and Order re: Motion In Limine, issued this date, Hanst’s “expert” opinion has been held inadmissible.

7 Plaintiffs claim that riding with straight legs as opposed to bent knees caused the accident.

Moreover, even if Hanst’s opinion were considered, and there has been a duty to warn Plaintiff to keep her [*11] legs bent, the “negligent” failure to give the advice would be irrelevant. Stolting cannot establish causation. Stolting testified that her legs were bent at a “forty-degree angle” as she slid down the slide. Stolting Dep. 39-40. Thus, even if Plaintiffs had established a duty to instruct a breach of that duty, Plaintiffs cannot establish that the failure to instruct was a proximate cause of her injuries.

3) Depth of the Exit Pool

The Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants were negligent because the exit pool at the bottom of the Shotgun slide was too shallow. Plaintiffs base this claim on the opinion of Hanst who asserted that the exit pool should have been eight to ten feet. 8 As held in the Memorandum and Order re: Motion in Limine issued this date, Hanst’s expert opinion is inadmissible.

8 The exit pool is four to five feet deep. Hanst opined that it should have been four to five feet deeper than it was.

Additionally, both Olsen, the engineer, and the inspector from the Department of Inspection and Safety verified that the slide met the safety standards enforced by the state of Maryland. Even Hanst verified in his deposition that there was nothing in the inspector’s or the engineer’s [*12] reports with which he disagreed. In fact, Hanst’s own investigation of the slide, which consisted of riding the slide himself and watching others on the slide, did not produce any findings contradictory to those of the Defendants. Neither Hanst nor any of the people he watched on the slide were injured after making contact with the bottom of the exit pool.

There is no evidence sufficient to prove to a reasonable fact finder that Defendants negligently provided too shallow an exit pool. No reasonable jury could find that the Park was negligent by virtue of having an exit pool with a depth of “only” between four and five feet. 9

9 Indeed, a reasonable jury might even find that an eight to ten foot deep exit pool, as suggested by Hanst, could create a danger of drowning.

B, Assumption of Risk

The Court notes that even if Plaintiffs were able to establish that some negligence by Defendants caused the accident at issue, Defendants would still be entitled to summary judgment.

In Maryland, assumption of risk is an affirmative defense to a claim of negligence. ADM P’ship v. Martin, 348 Md. 84, 91, 702 A.2d 730 (1997). To establish an assumption of risk defense, the Defendants have the burden of demonstrating [*13] that the Plaintiffs: 1) had knowledge of the risk of danger; 2) appreciated the risk; and 3) voluntarily confronted the risk of danger. Id. at 90-91. An objective standard must be used in deciding “whether a plaintiff had knowledge and appreciation of the risk, . . . and a plaintiff . . . [cannot] say that he did not comprehend a risk which must have been obvious to him.” Id. (quoting Gibson v. Beaver, 245 Md. 418, 421, 226 A.2d 273 (1967)). Overall, the question of whether the plaintiff assumed the risk is usually a question for the jury, however, when it is clear that by using an objective test, “a person of normal intelligence in the position of the plaintiff must have understood the danger, the issue is for the court.” Schroyer v. McNeal, 323 Md. 275, 283-84, 592 A.2d 1119 (1991).

1) Knowledge of the Risk of Danger

Stolting’s experience riding water slides establishes that Stolting had knowledge of the risks she faced when she chose to ride the Shotgun slide. “Those who participate or sit as spectators at sports and amusements may be taken to assume the known risks of being hurt by roller coasters, flying baseballs, [or] hockey pucks . . . .” Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 68, at 485-86 (5th ed. 1984). [*14] Moreover, Stolting in fact read the sign warning of the danger.

2) Appreciation of the Risk

If any person of normal intelligence in [one’s same] position would have understood the danger one faced, then one has appreciated the risk. Leakas v. Columbia Country Club, 831 F.Supp. 1231, 1236 (D. Md. 1993). The Court determined in Leakas that a “twenty-six year old, experienced swimmer,” had the “knowledge and appreciation of the risk of diving into shallow water because any person of normal intelligence in Leakas’ position must have understood the danger.” Leakas, 831 F.Supp. at 1236. Moreover in Casper, the court held that a stream covered over by a sheet of ice was an “open and obvious danger,” which every child could understand and appreciate. Casper v. Chas F. Smith & Son, Inc., 71 Md.App. 445, 458, 526 A.2d 87 (1987), aff’d, 316 Md. 573, 578, 560 A.2d 1130 (1989).

In the case at Bar, Stolting’s age, education and experience on water slides clearly establishes that she was able to appreciate the risk.

Plaintiffs, relying on Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, Inc., argue that even though Stolting might have had knowledge of a risk based on her experience, she did not appreciate the risk posed by the Shotgun [*15] slide. Md. State Fair and Agric. Soc’y, Inc. v. Lee, 29 Md.App. 374, 380-81, 348 A.2d 44 (1964) (holding that racetrack owners’ negligence in leaving track sandy created a hidden and unforeseeable danger, which caused plaintiff’s injuries). The facts of Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, Inc., however, are distinguishable from those in the instant case.

In Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, Inc., the Court held that the dangers posed by the negligent conditions (in particular a sandy track) would not necessarily have been comprehended by “any person of normal intelligence in [the plaintiff’s] position.” 29 Md.App. at 381. In the instant case, there is no danger that a person of ordinary intelligence could not have fully appreciated. There is no evidence of any hidden or unforeseeable dangerous condition that caused Stolting’s injuries. In fact, the evidence establishes that the risk posed by the water slide was an open and obvious risk of which Plaintiff (and all other park patrons) was expressly warned. The risk could be, and should have been, appreciated by Stolting and any other reasonable person.

3) Voluntarily Confronted the Risk of Danger

Finally, the Defendants argue that [*16] in addition to knowing and appreciating the risk, Stolting voluntarily confronted the risk. The Defendants rely on the decision in Leakas in which the Court determined that Leakas assumed the risk when he chose to dive into a pool “of unknown depth.” 831 F.Supp. at 1237. Like the plaintiff in Leakas, Stolting “voluntarily encounter[ed] the danger.” Id. After reading the disclaimer at the front of the Park, watching other patrons maneuver themselves down the slide, and relying on her prior experiences on water slides, Stolting chose to ride the Shotgun slide. Of her own free will, Stolting voluntarily made the decision to go on the ride and take her chances even though, as she was specifically warned, the rides in the Park “carry with them an inherent risk of injury.”

The court concludes that any reasonable jury would have to find that Stolting assumed the risk of injury on the Shotgun slide by having knowledge of the risk, appreciating the risk, and voluntarily confronting the risk of danger. Hence, Stolting’s negligence claim, even if viable, would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons:

1. [*17] Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

2. Judgment shall be entered by separate ORDER.

SO ORDERED this 24th day of August, 2001.

/s/ Marvin J. Garbis

Marvin J. Garbis

United States District Judge

JUDGMENT ORDER

By separate Order issued this date, the Court has granted summary judgment to the Defendants.

Accordingly:

1. Judgment shall be, and hereby is, entered in favor of Defendants JOLLY ROGER AMUSEMENT PARK, INC. d/b/a SPLASH MOUNTAIN WATER PARK and Bayshore Development Corporation against Plaintiffs Beth Stolting and Rohan Cassells dismissing all claims with prejudice with costs.

2. Any and all prior rulings disposing of any claims against any parties are incorporated by reference herein.

3. This Order shall be deemed to be a final judgment within the meaning of Rule 58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

SO ORDERED this 24th day of August, 2001.

/s/ Marvin J. Garbis

Marvin J. Garbis

United States District Judge


Spectators; they do not sign a release. They may not be able to assume the risk, what duty is owed to a spectator?

Organizers of a rugby tournament owed no duty to spectators at the tournament who were free to do at any time from the dangers and risks of lighting.

Patton v. United States Of America Rugby Football, Union, LTD., 381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

State: Maryland, Court of Appeals for Maryland

Plaintiff: Judith Edwards Patton (wife of Donald Patton), acting in both an individual capacity and as personal representative of the estate of Donald Patton; Sophia P. Patton and Robert C. Patton (the parents of Donald Patton); Robert Carson Patton, II; and Meredith Patton (Donald’s daughter).

Defendant: United States of America Rugby Football Union, Ltd., d/b/a USA Rugby (“USA Rugby”), the Mid- Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. ( “MARFU”), the Potomac Rugby Union, Inc. (“PRU”), the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees, Inc. (“Referees’ Society”), Kevin Eager, n2 and Steven Quigg,

Plaintiff Claims: liable in tort for the death of Donald Patton and the injuries suffered by Robert Patton. This liability, Appellants contended, was due to Defendants’/Appellees’ failure to employ proper policies and procedures to protect players and spectators at the tournament from lightning strikes

Defendant Defenses: No duty, Maryland Recreational Use Statute and release signed by the survivor plaintiff/rugby player

Holding:

Year: 2004

This case is a little different for this site; it concerns a rugby game. However, the instrumentality causing the injury was a lighting strike to a player and a spectator.

The plaintiff’s father and son attended a rugby match for the son to play and the father to cheer. A game commenced which the son was playing. The father was on the sidelines watching the game. During the game, a thunderstorm developed and lightning struck in the area. The rugby match was continued even though several other games in the tournament had been ended because of the weather.

Eventually, the match ended. The two plaintiffs’ then ran to some trees where they had left their belongings and took off for their car. On the way, lightning struck killing the father and severely injuring the son.

The plaintiffs were the surviving player and the relatives of the deceased. The defendants were the sponsoring organization, the local organization, the referee association and individual defendants. The plaintiff’s claimed the defendants should have:

(a) Have and implement proper policies and procedures regarding the protection of players and spectators from adverse weather conditions and lightning;

“(b) Have and implement a policy regarding the safe evacuation of players and spectators from the fields of play at its matches when lightning is present;

“(c) Safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the players and spectators at its matches;

“(d) Terminate the rugby match and tournament when lightning is present;

“(e) Monitor and detect dangerous conditions associated with its matches; and

“(f) Train, supervise, monitor and control actions of officials prior to ensure the safety of the participants and spectators from dangerous lightning strikes.”

Several motions to dismiss were filed and the complaint was amended to defeat the motions. Eventually, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, and the appellate court stepped in after the dismissal and issued a writ of certiorari removing it from the Court of Special Appeals to the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court is the top court in Maryland, similar to the Supreme Court in other states.

A supreme court rarely issues a writ to remove a case before the intermediary appellate court has had a chance to review the case.

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

Under Maryland law, the plaintiffs have to prove one or more of the defendants were negligent. That means:

“(1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury,

(2) that the defendant breached that duty,

(3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and

(4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty

The requirements to prove negligence in Maryland are similar or identical to most other states.

The issue thought court stated was whether a legal duty was owed in this case.

As established in Maryland jurisprudence over a century ago: there can be no negligence where there is no duty that is due; for negligence is the breach of some duty that one person owes to another.

The first and most important step in determining whether a duty exists is to asses several issues in the relationship between the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) to determine if a legal duty is owed.

In determining the existence of a duty, we consider, among other things: the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered the injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

Of these, the major test is one of foreseeability. “The foreseeability test “is simply intended to reflect current societal standards with respect to an acceptable nexus between the negligent act and the ensuing harm.”” At the same time, a legal duty does not necessarily exist because of a moral duty.

Even if the foreseeability test is passed by the plaintiff that alone does not prove the existence of a duty.

Duty can be created by ““(1) by statute or rule; (2) by contractual or other private relationship; or (3) indirectly or impliedly by virtue of the relationship between the tortfeasor and a third party.”

Whether a duty exists is also based on policy reasons; whether a type of behavior should be encouraged or discouraged for the benefit of all.

The plaintiffs argued that a special relationship existed between the defendants and the injured, the third way a duty is created set forth above. The plaintiff’s argued this based on their idea that a special relationship exists as spectators at sporting events.

A participant in a sporting event, by the very nature of the sport, trusts that his personal welfare will be protected by those controlling the event. Stated another way, it is reasonably foreseeable that both the player, and the player’s father, will continue to participate in the match, as []long as the match is not stopped by the governing bodies in charge. It also is reasonably foreseeable that, when matches are played in thunderstorms, there is a substantial risk of injury from lightning. And finally, it is reasonably foreseeable that a father will not abandon his son, when he sees those who have assumed responsibility for his son’s welfare placing his son in a perilous condition . . . .

Honestly, I would suspect that most spectators at most sporting events would believe the above to be true.

Here the court did not agree with the idea that a special relationship had been created or existed with spectators.

…the creation of a ‘special duty’ by virtue of a ‘special relationship’ between the parties can be established by either (1) the inherent nature of the relationship between the parties; or (2) by one party undertaking to protect or assist the other party, and thus often inducing reliance upon the conduct of the acting party.”

The court stated that generally, for a duty to exist, there must be an element of dependence, which is lacking in this case. The court raised another case that failed to find a special duty. IN that case a woman died of hypothermia because the emergency telephone operator gave an incorrect address to the policeman looking for the woman.

..“for a “special relationship” to exist between an emergency telephone operator and a person in need of assistance, it must be shown that the telephone operator affirmatively acted to protect the decedent or a specific group of individuals like the decedent, thereby inducing specific reliance by an individual on the telephone operator’s conduct.

There must be an element of ceding self-control by the injured party to the defendant to create a duty which is lacking in the present case.

In a special relationship, one person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself. The duty to protect is imposed upon the person in control because he is in the best position to provide a place of safety. Thus, the determination whether a duty-imposing special relationship exists in a particular case involves the determination whether the plaintiff entrusted himself to the control and protection of the defendant, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself.

The court then looked at the risk presented by thunderstorms and found that there was less liability owed by a defendant to the risk created by lightning. The court, quoting another state court found “…risks and dangers associated with playing golf in a lightning storm are rather obvious to most adults.”

The Court concluded that “it is reasonable to infer that a reasonably prudent adult can recognize the approach of a severe thunderstorm and know that it is time to pack up the clubs and leave before the storm begins to wreak havoc.”

The court agreed with the trial court and found the defendants did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs based on their relationship and because the risks of thunderstorms were known to all.

So Now What?

Would this case have had a different outcome of the plaintiff had paid to attend the event and was at a specific location because the defendant told the spectator they paid to be at that location, or they were only allowed at a particular location?

In this case, the plaintiffs were free to leave the tournament at any time.

Spectators create a very different risk for event organizers. Do spectators at ski races understand a skier can leave the course and hit them? Do spectators at any match with a ball understand the ball always leaves the field of play and can cause injury to them?

Bicycle races are famous for spectators being allowed on the track where they commonly interfere with racers, but do they understand that they may also receive an injury by being there.

However, once the event organizer attempts to provide additional safeguards or warnings for the spectators, they may change the relationship between themselves and the spectators crating liability. You can protect the participants in the event, match or race and at the same time provide protection to spectators, but providing protection for spectators may increase your liability and in some cases increase the risk to players of the game.

Spectators for a risk manager are a difficult risk to understand and deal with.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Patton v. United States Of America Rugby Football, Union, LTD., 381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

Patton v. United States Of America Rugby Football, Union, LTD., 381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

Judith Edwards Patton, Individually, and as the surViving Spouse of Donald Lee Patton, and as Personal Representative and Executor for the Estate of Donald Lee pattOn, et al. V. United States of America Rugby Football, Union, ltd. D/b/a USA Rugby, et al.

No. 113, September Term, 2003

Court of Appeals of Maryland

381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

June 10, 2004, Filed

Prior History: [***1] Appeal from the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County pursuant to certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals. Rodney C. Warren, JUDGE.

Patton v. USA Rugby, 379 Md. 224, 841 A.2d 339, 2004 Md. LEXIS 61 (2004)

Disposition: Affirmed.

Headnotes: Torts – Negligence – Duty – Special Relationship

An amateur rugby player and his father, who was a spectator, were struck by lightning at a rugby tournament. The player was injured and the spectator killed. Various members of the family filed suit alleging negligence against the rugby tournament organizers, the game referee, and related organizations for not taking precautions to avert the incident.

Held: The element of dependence and ceding of control by the injured party that is needed to find a “special relationship” is absent in this case. Our decision is consistent with our view of narrowly construing the “special relationship” exception so as not to impose broad liability for every group activity. The rugby player and spectator were free to leave the voluntary, amateur tournament at any time and their movements were not restricted by the tournament organizers. An amateur sporting event is a voluntary affair, and the participants are capable of leaving the field under their own volition if they feel their lives are in danger. The changing weather conditions were visible to all competent adults. The spectators and participants could have sought shelter at any time they deemed it appropriate to do so. It is unreasonable to impose a duty on the organizers of amateur outdoor events to warn spectators or adult participants of a weather condition that everyone present is fully able to observe and react to on his or her own. The approach of a thunderstorm is readily apparent to reasonably prudent adults and, therefore, it is every adult ‘s responsibility to protect himself or herself from the weather. There was no “special relationship” and, therefore, no legal duty to protect spectators and participants from the storm.

Counsel: Argued by W. David Allen of Crofton, MD. for Appellants.

Argued BY Kristine A. Crosswhite (Crosswhite, McKenna, Limbrick & Sinclair, LLP of Baltimore, MD) on brief for Appellees.

Judges: Bell, C.J., Raker, Wilner, Cathell, Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, JJ.

Opinion by Harrell, J. Bell, C.J., joins in judgment only.

Opinion by: Harrell

Opinion:

[*630] [**567] Opinion by Harrell, J.

On 17 June 2000, Robert Carson Patton, II, and his father, Donald Lee Patton, while at an amateur rugby tournament in Annapolis, were struck by lightning. Robert, a player in the tournament, was seriously injured, but survived. Donald, a spectator watching his son play, died. Robert and various other members of the Patton family filed suit in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County alleging negligence against the rugby tournament organizers, referee, and related organizations with regard to the episode.

Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss arguing they owed no legal duty to Robert and Donald Patton. A hearing was held and, on 10 July 2003, the Circuit Court dismissed the action. The Patton family appealed. This Court, on its own initiative and before the appeal could be decided in the Court of Special Appeals, issued a writ of certiorari to determine whether any of the defendants, under the circumstances alleged in the complaint, owed a legal duty [***2] to Robert and Donald Patton. Patton v. USA Rugby, 379 Md. 224, 841 A.2d 339 (2004).

I.

A. The Lightning Strike

Based on Appellants’ amended complaint, we assume the [*631] truth of the following factual allegations: n1

[**568] Sometime during the early morning of 17 June 2000, Robert and Donald Patton arrived at playing fields adjacent to the Annapolis Middle School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Robert was to play rugby for the Norfolk Blues Rugby Club. Donald intended to support his son as a spectator. Robert and Donald, along with other participants and spectators, placed their equipment and belongings under a row of trees adjacent to the playing fields.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 See Valentine v. On Target, Inc., 353 Md. 544, 548, 727 A.2d 947, 949 (1999) (“as the result of the trial court’s granting a motion to dismiss, as opposed to the granting of summary judgment or judgment entered after trial, the Court will assume the truth of all well- pleaded facts and any reasonable inferences that can be properly drawn therefrom”) (citations omitted).

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***3]

The rugby tournament was coordinated by Steven Quigg and was sanctioned by the United States of America Rugby Football Union, Ltd., d/b/a USA Rugby, and Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. Rugby matches involving over two dozen teams began at approximately 9:00 a.m. and were planned to continue throughout the day. It was a warm, muggy day. The weather forecast for Annapolis was for possible thunderstorms. At some point prior to the start of the twenty minute match between the Norfolk Blues and the Washington Rugby Football Club (“the match”), a thunderstorm passed through the area surrounding the Annapolis Middle School. At the start of the match, rain commenced; lightning could be seen and thunder could be heard proximate to the lightning flashes. By this time, the National Weather Service had issued a thunderstorm “warning” for the Annapolis area.

Kevin Eager, a member of the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees, Inc., was the volunteer referee for the afternoon match in which Robert Patton was a participant. Under the direction of Eager, the match continued as the rain increased in intensity, the weather conditions deteriorated, and the lighting flashed directly overhead. [***4] Other matches at [*632] the tournament ended. Robert Patton continued to play the match through the rain and lightning and his father continued to observe as a spectator until the match was stopped just prior to its normal conclusion.

Upon the termination of the match, Robert and Donald fled the playing fields to the area under the trees where they left their possessions. As they began to make their exit from under the trees to seek the safety of their car, each was struck by lightning. Donald died. Robert Patton sustained personal injuries and was hospitalized, but recovered.

B. Circuit Court Proceedings

Appellants here and Plaintiffs below are Judith Edwards Patton (wife of Donald Patton), acting in both an individual capacity and as personal representative of the estate of Donald Patton; Sophia P. Patton and Robert C. Patton (the parents of Donald Patton); Robert Carson Patton, II; and Meredith Patton (Donald’s daughter). They sued the United States of America Rugby Football Union, Ltd., d/b/a USA Rugby (“USA Rugby”), the Mid- Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. ( “MARFU”), the Potomac Rugby Union, Inc. (“PRU”), the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees, Inc. (“Referees’ Society”), [***5] Kevin Eager, n2 and Steven Quigg, alleging that Defendants were liable in tort for the death of Donald Patton and the injuries suffered by Robert Patton. This liability, Appellants contended, was due to Defendants’/Appellees’ failure to employ proper policies and procedures to protect players and spectators at the tournament from lightning strikes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n2 Kevin Eager never was served with process.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Appellants alleged that Appellees each had a duty to, but failed to, do one or more of the following acts:

“(a) Have and implement proper policies and procedures regarding the protection [**569] of players and spectators from adverse weather conditions and lightning; [*633]

“(b) Have and implement a policy regarding the safe evacuation of players and spectators from the fields of play at its matches when lightning is present;

“(c) Safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the players and spectators at its matches;

“(d) Terminate the rugby match and tournament when lightning is present;

“(e) Monitor and detect dangerous conditions [***6] associated with its matches; and

“(f) Train, supervise, monitor and control actions of officials prior to ensure the safety of the participants and spectators from dangerous lightning strikes.”

On 26 August 2002, the Referees’ Society filed a Motion to Dismiss all claims pending against it on the ground that the Referees’ Society owed no tort duty to Robert or Donald Patton as a matter of law. Thereafter, on 16 September 2002, USA Rugby, MARFU, and Steven Quigg filed a joint Motion to Dismiss in which they adopted the arguments of the Referees’ Society and advanced the additional argument that Maryland’s Recreational Land Use Statute, found in Maryland Code (1974, 2000 Repl. Vol., 2003 Supp.), § 5-1101, et seq. of the Natural Resources Article, conferred tort immunity on them for injuries arising from recreational use of premises, i.e., playing rugby on the Annapolis Middle School fields. n3

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n3 PRU was not served with process at the time that USA Rugby, MARFU, and Mr. Quigg filed their Motion to Dismiss and, consequently, PRU was not included in that motion as a moving party. PRU timely filed an Answer to Appellants’ original Complaint on 15 October 2002, and thereafter, was included as a moving party on all pending defense motions.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***7]

Appellants, on 30 December 2002, filed an amended complaint. On 9 January 2003, USA Rugby, MARFU, PRU, and Mr. Quigg filed a second Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment. The Motion to Dismiss argued that: (1) Appellees owed the Pattons no legally cognizable tort duty as a matter of law; (2) Appellees are immune from tort liability under Maryland’s Recreational Land Use Statute; [*634] and (3) the claims of Robert were barred by waiver. On 13 January 2002, the Referees’ Society also filed a Motion to Dismiss the amended complaint.

The pending motions were heard on 5 February 2003. The Circuit Court, subsequently, issued an order granting the pending motions to dismiss and, on 17 November 2003, issued a Memorandum Opinion explaining the reasons for the dismissal.

Based on Maryland precedents and caselaw from other jurisdictions, the Circuit Court concluded that Appellees did not owe a duty of care to Robert or Donald Patton. The Circuit Court noted generally that courts in other jurisdictions have found that “landowners” or their equivalent do not have a duty to warn invitees of the risk of lightning. As regards Donald Patton, the Circuit Court stated:

“Decedent [***8] Donald Patton was a nonpaying spectator at a rugby match organized and overseen by [Appellees]. There is no indication from the record that Decedent had entrusted himself to the control and protection of [Appellees], indeed he was free to leave the tournament at any time. Additionally, there is no indication that he had lost the ability to monitor changing weather conditions and act accordingly. While [Appellants] allege the storm began near the beginning of the match, it was not until the conclusion of the game, that Decedent and plaintiff Robert Patton, attempted to escape the storm by running towards [**570] the tree line adjacent to the open field to retrieve their belongings. It was here that both were struck by lightning.

“The inherently unpredictable nature of weather and the patent dangerousness of lightning make it unreasonable to impose a duty upon [Appellees] to protect spectators from the type [of] injury that occurred here.”

As regards Robert Patton, the Circuit Court stated that “while it is arguable that [Appellees] had a greater duty to protect plaintiff Robert Patton, a player/participant from injury, they were under no duty to protect and warn him of [***9] lightening strikes and other acts of nature.” The hearing [*635] judge relied on cases from other jurisdictions involving lightning strikes on golf courses to conclude that “lightning is a universally known danger created by the elements” and, in the absence of evidence that Appellants created a greater hazard than brought about by natural causes, there is no duty to warn and protect. The Circuit Court expressly rejected as grounds for its grant of Appellees’ motions to dismiss both Maryland’s Recreational Land Use Statute, and waiver argument based on language contained in Robert Patton’s alleged execution of a USA Rugby Participant Enrollment Form. This appeal follows, therefore, from a dismissal of the amended complaint based solely on the ground that there was no legal duty owed to Robert or Donald Patton. Appellants present the following question for our consideration:

Did the trial court err, when it found that Appellees had no duty to protect Appellants from lightning injuries and granted Appellees’ motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted?

II.

Maryland Rule 2-322(b)(2) provides for the filing of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a [***10] claim upon which relief can be granted. We have stated that:

The granting of a motion to dismiss is proper when, even if the facts and allegations as set forth in the complaint were proven to be true, the complaint would nevertheless fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. . . . It will be affirmed if the record reveals any legally sound reason for the decision.

Valentine v. On Target, Inc., 353 Md. 544, 548-49, 727 A.2d 947, 949 (1999) (citations omitted).

III.

A.

For a plaintiff to state a prima facie claim in negligence, he or she must prove the existence of four elements by [*636] alleging facts demonstrating

“(1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty.” Remsburg v. Montgomery, 376 Md. 568, 582, 831 A.2d 18, 26 (2003) (quoting Muthukumarana v. Montgomery Co., 370 Md. 447, 486, 805 A.2d 372, 395 (2002), and cases cited therein). Generally, whether there is adequate proof of the required [***11] elements to succeed in a negligence action is a question of fact to be determined by the fact-finder. The existence of a legal duty, however, is a question of law to be decided by the court. Valentine, 353 Md. at 549, 727 A.2d at 949. As established in Maryland jurisprudence over a century ago: there can be no negligence where there is no duty that is due; for negligence is the breach of some duty that one person [**571] owes to another. It is consequently relative and can have no existence apart from some duty expressly or impliedly imposed. In every instance before negligence can be predicated of a given act, back of the act must be sought and found a duty to the individual complaining, the observance of which duty would have averted or avoided the injury. . . . As the duty owed varies with circumstances and with the relation to each other of the individuals concerned, so the alleged negligence varies, and the act complained of never amounts to negligence in law or in fact; if there has been no breach of duty. Bobo v. State, 346 Md. 706, 714, 697 A.2d 1371, 1375 (1997) (quoting West Virginia Cent. & P.R. v. State ex rel. Fuller, 96 Md. 652, 666, 54 A. 669, 671-72 (1903)). [***12] “Our analysis of a negligence cause of action usually begins with the question of whether a legally cognizable duty existed.” Remsburg , 376 Md. at 582, 831 A.2d at 26.

When assessing whether a tort duty may exist, we often have recourse to the definition in W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts § 53 (5th ed. 1984), which characterizes “duty” as “an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular [*637] standard of conduct toward another.” Id. In determining the existence of a duty, we consider, among other things: the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered the injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

Ashburn v. Anne Arundel County, 306 Md. 617, 627, 510 A.2d 1078, 1083 (1986) [***13] (citation omitted). Where the failure to exercise due care creates risks of personal injury, “the principal determinant of duty becomes foreseeability.” Jacques v. First Nat’l Bank of Maryland, 307 Md. 527, 535, 515 A.2d 756, 760 (1986) (citations omitted). The foreseeability test “is simply intended to reflect current societal standards with respect to an acceptable nexus between the negligent act and the ensuing harm.” Dobbins v. Washington Suburban Sanitary Comm’n, 338 Md. 341, 348, 658 A.2d 675, 678 (1995) (quoting Henley v. Prince George’s County, 305 Md. 320, 333, 503 A.2d 1333, 1340 (1986)).

In determining whether a duty exists, “it is important to consider the policy reasons supporting a cause of action in negligence. The purpose is to discourage or encourage specific types of behavior by one party to the benefit of another party.” Valentine, 353 Md. at 550, 727 A.2d at 950. “While foreseeability is often considered among the most important of these factors, its existence alone does not suffice to establish a duty under Maryland law.” Remsburg, 376 Md. at 583, 831 A.2d at 26. As we clarified [***14] in Ashburn: the fact that a result may be foreseeable does not itself impose a duty in negligence terms. This principle is apparent in the acceptance by most jurisdictions and by this Court of the general rule that there is no duty to control a third person’s conduct so as to prevent personal harm to another, unless a “special relationship” exists either between [*638] the actor and the third person or between the actor and the person injured. Ashburn, 306 Md. at 628, 510 A.2d at 1083 (citations omitted). In addition, “a tort [**572] duty does not always coexist with a moral duty.” Jacques, 307 Md. at 534, 515 A.2d at 759 (citing W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts § 56 (5th ed. 1984)). We have held that such a “special duty” to protect another may be established “(1) by statute or rule; (2) by contractural or other private relationship; or (3) indirectly or impliedly by virtue of the relationship between the tortfeasor and a third party.” Bobo, 346 Md. at 715, 697 A.2d at 1376 (internal citations omitted).

B.

Appellants allege that a “special relationship” existed between Appellees (USA Rugby, MARFU, [***15] PRU, the Referees’ Society, and Steven Quigg) and Robert and Donald Patton sufficient to recognize the existence of a duty to protect the latter, the breach of which gave rise to an action for negligence.

Appellants argue that:

A participant in a sporting event, by the very nature of the sport, trusts that his personal welfare will be protected by those controlling the event. Stated another way, it is reasonably foreseeable that both the player, and the player’s father, will continue to participate in the match, as []long as the match is not stopped by the governing bodies in charge. It also is reasonably foreseeable that, when matches are played in thunderstorms, there is a substantial risk of injury from lightning. And finally, it is reasonably foreseeable that a father will not abandon his son, when he sees those who have assumed responsibility for his son’s welfare placing his son in a perilous condition . . . .

Appellants essentially contend that the tournament organizers had a duty to protect Robert and Donald, and to extricate them, from the dangers of playing in and viewing, respectively, a sanctioned rugby match during a thunderstorm. [*639] Appellees counter that [***16] “there is no ‘special relationship’ between Mr. Patton, Sr., Mr. Patton and the Appellees which would require the Appellees to protect and warn these individuals of the dangers associated with lightning.” Appellees argue that they “had no ability to control the activities of players or spectators at any time,” and “there is no evidence in the record that Mr. Patton, Sr. and Mr. Patton were dependent upon or relied upon the Appellees in any way, shape or form.”

We said in Remsburg that “the creation of a ‘special duty’ by virtue of a ‘special relationship’ between the parties can be established by either (1) the inherent nature of the relationship between the parties; or (2) by one party undertaking to protect or assist the other party, and thus often inducing reliance upon the conduct of the acting party.” Remsburg, 376 Md. at 589-90, 831 A.2d at 30. We conclude that Appellants here did not establish by either of these methods a triable issue as to the existence of a “special relationship.” Id.

In Remsburg, among other issues, we focused on whether a “special relationship” was created because of an implied or indirect relationship between the parties. [***17] Id. We held that the leader of a hunting party was under no special duty to protect a property owner who was shot by a member of the leader’s hunting party. We found insufficient the relationship of dependence between the leader of the hunting party and the injured property owner. This meant there was no duty on the part of the leader to protect the property owner from being accidentally shot by a hunting party member. 376 Md. at 593, 831 A.2d at 33. In holding that the inherent nature of the relationship between the parties did not give rise to a “special relationship” and, hence, a tort duty, we again approved [**573] the traditional “special relationships” that consistently have been associated with the “special relationship” doctrine. 376 Md. at 593-94, 831 A.2d at 32-33. We adopted previously as Maryland common law § 314A of the Restatement, entitled “Special Relations Giving Rise to a Duty to Aid or Protect,” which provides that:

[*640] (1) [a] common carrier is under a duty to its passengers to take reasonable action

(a) to protect them against unreasonable risk of physical harm . . . .

(2) An innkeeper is under a similar duty to his guests.

(3) [***18] A possessor of land who holds it open to the public is under a similar duty to members of the public who enter in response to his invitation.

(4) One who is required by law to take or who voluntarily takes the custody of another under circumstance such as to deprive the other of his normal opportunities for protection is under a similar duty to the other.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A (1965); see Southland Corp. v. Griffith, 332 Md. 704, 719, 633 A.2d 84, 91 (1993). Although the foregoing list is not exhaustive, our caselaw where we have found a duty arises consistently requires an element of dependence that is lacking in the present case. See, e.g., Todd v. Mass Transit Admin., 373 Md. 149, 165, 816 A.2d 930, 939 (2003) (finding that an employee of a common carrier has a legal duty to take affirmative action for the aid or protection of a passenger under attack by another passenger); Southland, 332 Md. at 720, 633 A.2d at 91 (finding that a convenience store, through its employee and by virtue of a special relationship between the business and its customers, owed a legal duty to a customer being [***19] assaulted in store parking lot to call the police for assistance when requested to do so).

As stated in Remsburg, “while we have permitted some flexibility in defining this limited exception, such as including the employer-to-employee relationship and also that of business owner-to-patron, we have been careful not to expand this class of ‘special relationships’ in such a manner as to impose broad liability for every group outing.” Remsburg, 376 Md. at 594, 831 A.2d at 33. Similarly, in Muthukumarana v. Montgomery County, 370 Md. 447, 805 A.2d 372 (2002), we declined to recognize that a “special relationship” existed between two child victims of the sequelae of a domestic dispute and an emergency telephone operator. In Muthukumarana, the operator, [*641] a police services aide, received a frantic call from Ms. Muthukumarana reporting that her husband had assaulted her in their house and then run upstairs. 370 Md. at 468-70, 805 A.2d at 384-86. The police services aide talked with Ms. Muthukumarana on the phone for one minute and forty seconds until the husband returned downstairs and shot and killed the two children huddled at her side [***20] and then himself. Id. Ms. Muthukumarana sued the police services aide and her supervisors alleging that they had a tort duty of care to the decedent children and herself and that that duty was breached by, among other things, a failure to timely advise her to leave the premises. Id.

In Fried v. Archer, the companion case to Muthukumarana, we also declined to find that a “special relationship” existed between a woman who died of hypothermia due to exposure to the elements and an emergency telephone system operator who erroneously reported the location of the woman to police officers on patrol who therefore failed to discover the victim before her demise. In Fried, a communications officer employed by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous [**574] call n4 reporting a female laying semi- conscious in the woods behind a particular building. 370 Md. at 458, 805 A.2d at 379. The communications officer, however, provided police officers with the wrong location of the woman. 370 Md. at 460, 805 A.2d at 379. The responding officers were unable to locate the victim, who died of hypothermia. 370 Md. at 460, 805 A.2d at 380. [***21] The decedent’s mother sued the communications officer and her supervisors alleging that they had a tort duty of care to the decedent and that that duty was breached by the failure to provide the police officers with the decedent’s correct location. 370 Md. at 461, 805 A.2d at 380.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n4 The call, it turned out, was placed by one of the young men who caused the young woman to become unconscious and placed her in the vulnerable location outdoors on a cold, rainy night.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

We applied the “special relationship” doctrine to the circumstances surrounding the emergency telephone operators in both cases and held that no “special relationship” existed [*642] between them and the plaintiffs. 370 Md. at 486, 805 A.2d at 395. We reasoned that for a “special relationship” to exist between an emergency telephone operator and a person in need of assistance, it must be shown that the telephone operator affirmatively acted to protect the decedent or a specific group of individuals like the decedent, thereby inducing [***22] specific reliance by an individual on the telephone operator’s conduct. 370 Md. at 496, 805 A.2d at 401.

The element of dependence and ceding of self-control by the injured party that is needed under Remsberg and Muthukumarana/Fried is absent in the present case. n5 There is no credible evidence that the two adults, Robert and Donald Patton, entrusted themselves to the control and protection of Appellees.

Accordingly, we follow our admonition in Remsburg to avoid expanding the “special relationship” exception in such a manner as to impose broad liability for every group activity. Remsburg, 376 Md. at 594, 831 A.2d at 33. Our decision here, in line with Remsberg and Muthukumarana/Fried, is consistent with our view of narrowly construing the “special relationship” exception.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n5 There may be a degree of dependency and ceding of control that could trigger a “special relationship” in, for example, a Little League game where children playing in the game are reliant on the adults supervising them.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***23]

Of the relevant cases from our sister states, we find Dykema v. Gus Macker Enters., Inc., 196 Mich. App. 6, 492 N.W.2d 472 (Mich. Ct. App. 1992) to be particularly persuasive in the present case. In Dykema, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the sponsors of an outdoor basketball tournament had no duty to warn a tournament spectator of an approaching thunderstorm that ultimately caused his injury. Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 474-75. A thunderstorm struck the area of the tournament. The plaintiff, while running for shelter, was struck by a falling tree limb and paralyzed. Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 473.

Like Maryland, Michigan recognizes the general rule that there is no tort duty to aid or protect another in the absence [*643] of a generally recognized “special relationship.” Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 474. The Michigan court stated that:

The rationale behind imposing a legal duty to act in these special relationships is based on the element of control. In a special relationship, one person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself. The duty to protect is [***24] imposed upon the person in control because he is in the best position to provide a place of safety. Thus, the determination whether a duty-imposing special relationship exists in a particular [**575] case involves the determination whether the plaintiff entrusted himself to the control and protection of the defendant, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself.

Id. (citations omitted). Like the situation of the plaintiff and tournament sponsors in Dykema, Appellants here cannot be said to have entrusted themselves to the control and protection of the rugby tournament organizers. Id. ( “Plaintiff was free to leave the tournament at anytime, and his movements were not restricted by Defendant.”). We do not agree that, as Appellants argue, “the participants in the tournament, in effect, cede control over their activities to those who are putting on the event.” Robert and Donald Patton were free to leave the voluntary, amateur tournament at any time and their ability to do so was not restricted in any meaningful way by the tournament organizers. An adult amateur sporting event is a voluntary affair, and the participants are capable of leaving the playing field on their [***25] own volition if they feel their lives or health are in jeopardy. The changing weather conditions in the present case presumably were observable to all competent adults. Robert and Donald Patton could have sought shelter at any time they deemed it appropriate to do so. n6

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n6 The Dykema court continued its reasoning by assuming that, “even if [Dykema] had succeeded in establishing that a special relationship existed . . . we are unable to find precedent for imposing a duty upon an organizer of an outdoor event such as this basketball tournament to warn a spectator of approaching severe weather.” Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 475. Citing Hames v. State, 808 S.W.2d 41, 45 (Tenn. 1991), the Michigan Court of Appeals alternatively held that, because the “approach of a thunderstorm is readily apparent to reasonably prudent people . . . it would be unreasonable to impose a duty . . . to warn . . . of a condition that the spectator is fully able to observe and react to on his own.” Id.

There is a line of cases, not dependent on analysis of whether a special relationship existed, that rely on the ability of competent adults to perceive the approach of thunderstorms and to appreciate the natural risks of lightning associated with thunderstorms to justify finding no breach of an ordinary duty of care owed to a plaintiff, whether that duty is recognized by common law, undertaken by the conduct of a defendant, or implied from the conduct of a defendant. For example, in Hames, the Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the State’s failure to provide lightning proof shelters and lightning warning devices at a State-owned golf course was not actionable in negligence. Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 45. Like Robert and Donald Patton, the golfer in Hames began to play his sport of choice on an overcast day. On the day that the golfer was struck by lightning, no signs were posted informing patrons what to do in the event of a thunderstorm and no effort was made to clear the golf course by course employees. Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 42. Approximately 25 minutes after the golfer began to play golf, a thunderstorm moved through the area. He was struck and killed by lightning while seeking cover on a small hill underneath some trees.

The plaintiff in Hames argued that the U.S. Golf Association’s Rules and Regulations created a golf course standard of care that required posting of lightning warnings and precautions. Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 43. The plaintiff’s argument in Hames is analogous to Appellants’ argument in the present case, i.e., the National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines constitute a lightning safety standard of care for outdoor sporting events.

As well as finding no proximate cause, the Tennessee Court found that the “risks and dangers associated with playing golf in a lightning storm are rather obvious to most adults.” Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 45. The Court noted that it would have taken the decedent golfer two minutes to reach the relative safety of the clubhouse, but instead he remained on the golf course. Id. The Court concluded that “it is reasonable to infer that a reasonably prudent adult can recognize the approach of a severe thunderstorm and know that it is time to pack up the clubs and leave before the storm begins to wreak havoc.” Id. Accordingly, even though the State, as owner-operator of the golf course, owed Hames a general duty “to exercise reasonable care under all the attendant circumstances to make the premises safe . . . the defendant’s conduct did not fall below the applicable standard of care.” Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 44-46.

In Caldwell v. Let the Good Times Roll Festival, 717 So. 2d 1263, 1274 (La. Ct. App. 1998), the Louisiana Court of Appeals held that the City of Shreveport and two co-sponsors of an outdoor festival had neither a general nor specific duty to warn spectators of an approaching severe thunderstorm that caused injuries due to its high winds. The court in Caldwell observed that:

Most animals, especially we who are in the higher order, do not have to be told or warned about the vagaries of the weather, that wind and clouds may produce a rainstorm; that a rainstorm and wind and rain may suddenly escalate to become more severe and dangerous to lives and property. A thundershower may suddenly become a thunderstorm with destructive wind and lightning. A thunderstorm in progress may escalate to produce either or both tornadoes and hail, or even a rare and unexpected micro burst . . . all of which are extremely destructive to persons and property. Caldwell, 717 So. 2d at 1271. See also Seelbinder v. County of Volusia, 821 So. 2d 1095, 1097 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2002) (“We begin by joining the almost universally agreed view that the County, in its capacity as “landowner” or the equivalent, did not have a duty to warn invitees, including beachgoers that there was a risk of being struck by lightning.”) (citations omitted); Grace v. City of Oklahoma City, 1997 OK CIV APP 90, 953 P.2d 69, 71 (Okla. Civ. Ct. App. 1997) (“Lightning is a universally known danger created by the elements. [The golf course owner] has no duty to warn its invitees of the patent danger of lightning or to reconstruct or alter its premises to protect against lightning[,]” and “all persons on the property are expected to assume the burden of protecting themselves from them.”); McAuliffe v. Town of New Windsor, 178 A.D.2d 905, 906, 577 N.Y.S.2d 942 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991) (upon the commencement of rain and thunder, the danger of lightning was admittedly apparent to plaintiff and there is no special duty to warn a specific swimmer against a condition that is readily observable by the reasonable use of one’s senses). The reasoning in the foregoing cases, although not explicated in terms of special relationship analysis as such, is consistent with the result reached in the present case.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***26]

[*645] [**576] JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY AFFIRMED. COSTS TO BE PAID BY APPELLANTS.

Chief Judge Bell joins in the judgment only.


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

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

 

Ohio

Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998)

 

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

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.

 

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

 

North Carolina

Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741
Kelly , v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

Ruling is by the Federal District Court and only a preliminary motion
And final decision dismissing the case

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.

Parent’s signed a release to drop kids off at a “kids’ club” while they shopped in the defendant’s store (wholesale club). The release was in the agreement to use the club. Also included in the agreement was an indemnification clause which the court did not rule on.

BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897

Date of the Decision: November 27, 2013

Plaintiff: (Original) Russell Rosen, et. al.

Defendant: (Original) BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect its patrons in the play area from injury. Defendant agents and employees knew or should have known that placing an elevated play structure directly over carpet adhered to a concrete floor would pose a danger to children playing there. Defendant breached its duty of care by placing.

Defendant Defenses: Release and indemnification

Holding: For the defendant (plaintiff in the appeal)

In this Maryland Supreme Court decision, the party named first in the citation to the case is the party that appealed the lower-court opinion. So the original defendant is the party that appealed the decision in the last court and thus is listed as the plaintiff in the citation.

The defendant is a wholesale club. Generally, you pay a yearly fee to shop in the club which sells items for lower prices. As an incentive, this club had a play area called the BJ’s Incredible Kids’ Club. To be able to leave your kids at the club while you shopped you had to sign “BJ’s Incredible Kids’ Club Rules.”

The rules contained a release and indemnification clause.

In the kid’s club, there was an elevated plastic play apparatus called Harry the Hippo. Harry the Hippo was approximately 38” high at its peak. The injured plaintiff was a five-year-old boy who fell off the hippo landing on the floor. The floor was carpeted with no padding covering concrete. The young boy suffered a severe “acute epidural hematoma.” This required surgery to save his life.

The family sued. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint based on the release. The next level of court in Maryland, the Court of Special Appeals, reversed the trial court. The case was appealed and accepted by the highest court, in this case the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

Summary of the case

The court first examined the club agreement which contained the release. The release language was just one paragraph long but did contain a clause which released the negligence of the club. The agreement also had rules, one of which was you could not leave your kid in the club for more than 90 minutes.

Right below the release, or exculpatory clause as it was called by the court, was an indemnification clause. The indemnification clause was in smaller font but printed in bold right above the signature line.

The court then worked through the requirements for releases to be valid in Maryland as reviewed by the lower courts in their decisions.

Generally, Maryland Courts will uphold exculpatory clauses that are executed by adults on their own behalf. “There are circumstances, however, under which the public interest will not permit an exculpatory clause in a contract.” “Public policy will not permit exculpatory agreements in transactions affecting the public interest.” “The ultimate determination of what constitutes the public interest must be made considering the totality of the circumstances of any given case against the backdrop of current societal expectations.”

The court then specifically reviewed exculpatory clauses under Maryland law.

An exculpatory clause is a “contractual provision relieving a party from liability resulting from a negligent or wrongful act.” By entering into an exculpatory agreement, “the parties expressly . . . agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent.”

…”[i]n the absence of legislation to the contrary, exculpatory clauses are generally valid, and the public policy of freedom of contract is best served by enforcing the provisions of the clause.” We also have opined that exculpatory clauses are to be construed strictly, requiring that the language of any such clause “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”

The court then reviewed when exculpatory clauses would not be upheld in Maryland. An exculpatory will not protect from liability from intentional harm or extreme forms of negligence. Extreme forms of negligence are generally referred to herein as greater than normal negligence and in Maryland include reckless, wanton or gross negligence.

Second an exculpatory clause cannot be part of a contract that was the product of grossly unequal bargaining power. That means when a party has no choice but to sign the agreement, because that person has no bargaining power so that he is at the mercy of the other’s negligence.

Remember, for the argument of unequal bargaining power to be a valid defense to a release, the agreement must be for something necessary for the health, welfare or safety of the person signing the agreement. Baby sitting or recreational activities are not such necessities that create a true unequal bargaining power that would void a release.

The final group that would void a release are transactions affecting the public interest. Transactions affecting the public interest seem to be very similar to the unequal bargaining power argument, but are viewed by the court from the context of why rather than who. Two were not at issue in this case; public service obligations such as an agreement between a consumer and an electric company and “other transactions “so important to the public good that an exculpatory clause would be patently offensive.”” The example the court gave to explain the second type of contract was in the reverse; an agreement between a health club and a consumer “of no great public importance or practical necessity.”

The court went into depth is reasoning on rejecting the public service obligation because it was the basis for the dissent in the case from two other justices.

The third category of public service exceptions to releases, the court and the dissent stated were not easily defined. In a prior Maryland case, this exception was developed by referring to the California decision in Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 444-46 (Cal. 1963). However, the court found that Tunkl was not valid in defining this exception.

We declined, however, to adopt the Tunkl factors, determining that the “fluid nature of the public interest” renders strict reliance on “the presence or absence of six fixed factors” arbitrary and inappropriate. We recognized, instead, that while the factors may be persuasive to evaluate the public interest, “[t]he ultimate determination of what constitutes the public interest must be made considering the totality of the circumstances of any given case against the backdrop of current societal expectations.”

The best description the court could identify was “societal expectations.” These expectations are best found by looking at the statute and common law. Here the court examined the laws defining the relationship between the parent and the child. Under Maryland law, the parents are given almost absolute control over the acts, welfare, growth and raising of their child. The presumption in Maryland is the parents are going to act in the best interest of the child.

The societal expectation that parents should make significant decisions pertaining to a child’s welfare is manifest in statutes that enable parents to exercise their authority on behalf of their minor child in the most important aspects of a child’s life, including significant physical and mental health decisions. Parents are empowered, on behalf of their children to: consent to medical treatment, consent to having their children give blood, consent to the use of a tanning device by their child, and to authorize another family member to consent to the immunization of a minor child. Parents are also empowered to commit a child, under certain conditions, to: a public or private service that provides treatment for individuals with mental disorders, as well as a private therapeutic group home that provides access to a range of diagnostic and therapeutic mental health services.

Parents also are empowered to permit a fifteen to seventeen-year old child to marry.” Based on the court’s review of these and other statutes, the court found parents in Maryland were empowered to make significant decisions on behalf of children. The next argument was then whether the courts had a duty or obligation to step in and replace the decision making of a parent and when.

The major argument to support this argument is courts in Maryland approve settlements affecting children who were injured as plaintiffs in lawsuits. This is normal in most states and has been developed for many reasons; the main one is to prevent a negligent defendant from taking advantage of a naïve or unknowing parent. However, in Maryland there were exceptions to this law, which allowed parents to settle some claims without judicial review. Based on that exception the court found this argument was not controlling.

We conclude, therefore, that Mr. Rosen’s execution of an exculpatory agreement on behalf of Ephraim to allow him to use the Kids’ Club was not a transaction affecting the public interest within the meaning of Wolf, which otherwise would have impugned the effect of the agreement.

The next argument presented by the injured parties was a commercial entity was better able to bear the risk of loss by purchasing insurance than these parents. The court found several flaws with this argument. Basically, was who was going to determine what a commercial enterprise was. The court used this example to make its point.

For example, is a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, YMCA, or church camp a commercial establishment or a community-based activity? Is a band trip to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade a school or commercial activity? What definition of commercial is to be applied?

The final argument was that the state had a parens patriae obligation to the children of the state. Parens patriae is the legal power of the state to protect those who do not have the legal authority to protect themselves. Minor’s incapacitated adults or adults who mental status is not at the state’s minimum level.

However, under Maryland law the obligation of the state under parens patriae only arises if the parental rights have been abrogated pursuant to a statute. No statute required the courts to intervene, and no statute had removed the injured minor from the legal authority of his parents. Finally, parens patriae is applied when a minor has been adjudicated or become involved in the juvenile delinquency system, which was not present in this case.

The court reversed the lower court’s ruling and sent the case back to the trial court for dismissal.

So Now What?

Maryland now joins the slowing growing ranks of states that allow a parent to sign a release and give up their minor child’s right to sue.

For a complete list see: States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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