Massachusetts’s Supreme Court holds that wrongful-death claims are derivative.

A derivative claim can be stopped by any defense of the main claim the derivative claim is dependent on. In this Scuba fatality, a release stopped claims by the heirs.

Doherty v. Diving Unlimited International, Inc., 484 Mass. 193, 2020 Mass. LEXIS 134, 140 N.E.3d 394, 2020 WL 949922

State: Massachusetts, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Margaret C. Doherty, personal representative

Defendant: Diving Unlimited International, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Wrongful Death

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2019

Summary

Under Massachusetts law, a wrongful-death claim is a derivative claim. That means that the defenses available to stop a lawsuit by the deceased, also work against the survivors of the decedent. In this case, the deceased signed a release prior to his death which stopped the wrongful-death claim of his survivors.

Facts

The decedent, who was a certified open-water scuba diver, drowned while participating in a promotional diving equipment event that was sponsored by DUI and held in Gloucester. At this event, where local divers tested DUI’s dry suit, Golbranson was the leader of the dive, overseeing some of the participants.

Prior to participating in the event, the decedent signed two documents. The first was a release from liability which had several subsections that were set forth in all capital letters and underlined, including “effect of agreement,” “assumption of risk,” “full release,” “covenant not to sue,” “indemnity agreement,” and “arbitration.” In capital letters under the subsection titled “effect of agreement,” it said, “Diver gives up valuable rights, including the right to sue for injuries or death.” It also told the decedent to read the agreement carefully and not to sign it “unless or until you understand.” The subsection titled “full release” stated that the decedent “fully release[d] DUI from any liability whatsoever resulting from diving or associated activities,” and the subsection titled “covenant not to sue” stated that the decedent agreed “not to sue DUI for personal injury arising from scuba diving or its associated activities,” and that the decedent’s “heirs or executors may not sue DUI for death arising from scuba diving or its associated activities.”

The decedent also signed an equipment rental agreement which stated, “This agreement is a release of the [decedent’s] rights to sue for injuries or death resulting from the rental and/or use of this equipment. The [decedent] expressly assumes all risks of skin and/or scuba diving related in any way to the rental and/or use of this equipment.”

Golbranson led a group comprised of the decedent and two other divers. During their dive, one of the divers experienced a depleted air supply. Golbranson signaled for the group to surface and to swim back to shore on the surface. Only the decedent resisted, emphasizing his desire to keep diving, thus separating himself from the group that was returning to shore. Shortly thereafter, the decedent surfaced and called for help. The decedent died at the hospital from “scuba drowning after unequal weight belt distribution.”

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

A wrongful-death claim is a statutory claim, created by state legislatures to allow surviving heirs to sue over the death of a loved one who was providing value or benefits to the survivor. In most cases, since there is no duty directed to a survivor, the surviving heirs have limited rights to recover for the loss of a breadwinner in a family, until the wrongful-death statutes were enacted.

In this case, the decedent signed a release and a rental agreement to test the dive equipment. The rental agreement included additional release language.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts determined the sole issue upon review was whether the release signed by the decedent barred the claims of the plaintiff, the heir who had filed the wrongful-death claim.

The decision was simple for the court. A wrongful-death claim is a derivative claim of the wrongful-death statute. That means that a derivative claim does not stand on its own, it only exists because of the main claim. As such, if the main claim, wrongful death is void because of the release, then that claim also stops the derivative claims of the survivors.

Given that the plaintiff does not contest the judge’s determinations that the release from liability and the equipment rental agreement are valid and that those waivers covered Golbranson as an agent of PUI, the only issue before the court is whether the statutory beneficiaries in the action for wrongful death have a right to recover damages that is independent of the decedent’s own cause of action. See G. L. c. 229, §§ 1, 2. In GGNSC, 484 Mass. at, we have resolved that issue: our wrongful death statute creates a derivative right of recovery for the statutory beneficiaries listed in G. L. c. 229, § 1. Therefore, we hold that here, the valid waivers signed by the decedent preclude the plaintiff, as his “executor or personal representative,” from bringing a lawsuit under G. L. c. 229, § 2, for the benefit of the statutory beneficiaries.

A wrongful-death claim is a derivative claim under Massachusetts’s law. Therefore, if the release stops the claims of the decedent, it also stops the claims of the heirs.

So Now What?

Although most states have determined that wrongful-death claims are derivative of the main action of the decedent, you want to make sure your release protects you from wrongful death and other claims that are derivative. Language in your release needs to say that the person signing the release as well as his family and heirs cannot sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Poorly written release in Massachusetts stop lawsuit for falling off a horse during riding lessons.

Release used poor language and was hidden within an application to learn to ride.

Markovitz v. Cassenti, 56 N.E.3d 894, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 1102 (2016)

State: Massachusetts , Appeals Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Joanne Markovitz

Defendant: Christine Cassenti

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2016

Summary

A release stopped a negligence claim for falling off a horse in Massachusetts. The plaintiff had been riding with the stable for more than a year and had been riding this horse for over a month when she fell off. She argued the Massachusetts Equine Liability Act allowed her to sue. The court said not, the release stopped her lawsuit and her arguments about the Massachusetts Equine Liability Act were incorrect.

Facts

On July 16, 2009, the plaintiff filled out and signed an application for riding lessons at Chrislar Farm. In that application, she wrote that she had six months of riding experience in 2001 and that she wanted to continue to learn to ride. The form contained a section entitled ” RELEASE,” which stated: ” I, the Club member/Student (or parent or guardian) recognize the inherent risks of injury involved in horseback riding/driving and being around horses generally, and in learning to ride/drive in particular. In taking lessons at CHRISLAR FARM or participating in Club activities, I assume any and all such risk of injury and further, I voluntarily release CHRISLAR FARM, its owners, instructors, employees and agents from any and all responsibility on account of any injury I (or my child or ward) may sustain for any reason while on the premises of CHRISLAR FARM or participating in Club activities, and I agree to indemnify and hold harmless CHRISLAR FARM, its owners, instructors, employees and agents on account of any such claim.”

The plaintiff signed the form on the signature line immediately below the release.

Between July of 2009 and September of 2010, the plaintiff took thirty-minute private riding lessons on a regular basis. Between September, 2010, and January, 2011, the plaintiff took one-hour group riding lessons and walked, trotted, and cantered several different horses. On September 3, 2010, the defendants leased a horse named Jolee. Christine Cassenti had known this horse for a long time. The trainer conducting the lessons thought that the horse was ” sweet and did everything you asked her to do.”

The plaintiff first rode Jolee during a ” musical horses” exercise. She then rode Jolee during the next three one-hour group lessons on December 23, 2010, December 30, 2010, and January 6, 2011. At one point during the December 23, 2010, lesson, Jolee went from a trot into a canter and stayed in a circle formation instead of performing a figure eight. Following the instructions from the trainer, the plaintiff slowed down and stopped Jolee. The plaintiff rode Jolee without incident on December 30, 2010, and January 6, 2011.

On January 20, 2011, a year and one-half after the plaintiff began taking lessons at Chrislar Farm, the plaintiff rode Jolee for the fourth time. She noticed that Jolee briefly pinned her ears. After finishing a walk, the plaintiff began trotting Jolee. At one point, Jolee sped up into a faster trot and turned left, causing the plaintiff to lose her balance and fall.

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

The argument the plaintiff attempted to make was the Massachusetts Equine Liability Act created a duty on the part of the defendants that was not protected by the release. The act listed risks which a rider of a horse accepted. The statute had an exception to that list

“Nothing in subsection (b) shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person: ” (1) . . . (ii) provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant . . . to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant’s representations of his ability.”

The plaintiff argued this created a new duty which the defendant in this case breached.

However the court found the section did not create a new duty, it only allowed a plaintiff to proceed with a negligence claim in certain exceptional situations. Because the release barred negligence claims the plaintiff’s lawsuit was properly dismissed by the courts.

So Now What?

The odd thing about this case is there was no gross negligence claim to get around the release.

However, the were some risks run by the plaintiff that in other states might have caused problems. They were obvious issues by this court because the court raised them in the facts.

  • The form Application for Riding Lessons also contained the release, hidden in the form.
  • The language in the release was weak and did not contain the word negligence.

But for solid law in Massachusetts supporting releases this case in other states would have gone differently.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Doherty v. Diving Unlimited International, Inc., 484 Mass. 193, 2020 Mass. LEXIS 134, 140 N.E.3d 394, 2020 WL 949922

Doherty v. Diving Unlimited International, Inc., 484 Mass. 193, 2020 Mass. LEXIS 134, 140 N.E.3d 394, 2020 WL 949922

Margaret C. Doherty, personal representative, [ 1]

v.

Diving Unlimited International, Inc., & others.[ 2]

No. SJC-12707

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex

February 27, 2020

Heard: October 4, 2019.

Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on May 5, 2015. The case was heard by Janice W. Howe, J., on a motion for summary judgment The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

Neil Rossman for the plaintiff.

Martin K. DeMagistris for John Golbranson.

Jennifer A. Creedon, for Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

John J. Barter, for Professional Liability Foundation, Ltd., amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

LOWY, J.

Following a fatal scuba diving accident involving the plaintiff’s decedent in May 2014, the plaintiff, as personal representative of the decedent’s estate, brought a wrongful death action under G. L. c. 229, § 2 against the manufacturer of the “dry suit” that the decedent used on his dive, the individual who supplied the decedent his diving equipment and outfitted him, the company that owned and rented that equipment, and the dive leader, John Golbranson. After the plaintiff had settled with all defendants other than Golbranson, a judge of the Superior Court granted summary judgment in his favor based on the release from liability and covenant not to sue that the decedent signed just before his death. The plaintiff appealed, claiming that the statutory beneficiaries have an independent right to a wrongful death action that the decedent could not have waived. We transferred this case from the Appeals Court on our own motion.

As explained in our opinion in GGNSC Admin. Servs., LLCv.Schrader, 484 Mass., (2020) (GGNSC), released today, we conclude that the beneficiaries of a wrongful death action have rights that are derivative of, rather than independent from, any claim the decedent could have brought for the injuries causing his death. Therefore, the waivers the decedent signed control all claims for his wrongful death. Accordingly, we affirm the grant of summary judgment.

1. Background.

a. Facts.

“In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, we view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Meyerv.Veolia Energy N. Am., 482 Mass. 208, 209 (2019). Here, where the plaintiff does not contest on appeal the judge’s determination that the waivers were valid, or that Golbranson was acting as an agent for Diving Unlimited International, Inc. (DUI), the manufacturer of the dry suit that the decedent wore on his dive, we present only the essential facts.

The decedent, who was a certified open-water scuba diver, drowned while participating in a promotional diving equipment event that was sponsored by DUI and held in Gloucester. At this event, where local divers tested DUI’s dry suit, Golbranson was the leader of the dive, overseeing some of the participants.

Prior to participating in the event, the decedent signed two documents. The first was a release from liability which had several subsections that were set forth in all capital letters and underlined, including “effect of agreement,” “assumption of risk,” “full release,” “covenant not to sue,” “indemnity agreement,” and “arbitration.” In capital letters under the subsection titled “effect of agreement,” it said, “Diver gives up valuable rights, including the right to sue for injuries or death.” It also told the decedent to read the agreement carefully and not to sign it “unless or until you understand.” The subsection titled “full release” stated that the decedent “fully release[d] DUI from any liability whatsoever resulting from diving or associated activities,” and the subsection titled “covenant not to sue” stated that the decedent agreed “not to sue DUI for personal injury arising from scuba diving or its associated activities,” and that the decedent’s “heirs or executors may not sue DUI for death arising from scuba diving or its associated activities.”

The decedent also signed an equipment rental agreement which stated, “This agreement is a release of the [decedent’s] rights to sue for injuries or death resulting from the rental and/or use of this equipment. The [decedent] expressly assumes all risks of skin and/or scuba diving related in any way to the rental and/or use of this equipment.”

Golbranson led a group comprised of the decedent and two other divers. During their dive, one of the divers experienced a depleted air supply. Golbranson signaled for the group to surface and to swim back to shore on the surface. Only the decedent resisted, emphasizing his desire to keep diving, thus separating himself from the group that was returning to shore. Shortly thereafter, the decedent surfaced and called for help. The decedent died at the hospital from “scuba drowning after unequal weight belt distribution.”

b. Procedural history.

In her capacity as the decedent’s personal representative, the plaintiff sued for the benefit of the decedent’s statutory beneficiaries. The second amended complaint alleged two counts against Golbranson resulting from his negligence: (1) conscious pain and suffering; and (2) the decedent’s wrongful death under G. L. c. 229, § 2. Golbranson moved for summary judgment, claiming that the release from liability and the equipment rental agreement (collectively waivers) protected him, as an agent of DUI, against any negligence suit or liability. The plaintiff opposed summary judgment, asserting that the waivers did not apply to Golbranson when he was negligent in his individual capacity and that neither waiver would prevent the decedent’s statutory beneficiaries from recovering damages for wrongful death.

The judge determined, and the plaintiff does not contest on appeal, that Golbranson acted as DUI’s agent during the dive. The judge also concluded that the two waivers that the decedent signed prohibited the plaintiff from bringing an action for negligence against Golbranson.[ 3]

As to the wrongful death claim, the judge concluded that G. L. c. 229, § 2, created a right to recovery that is derivative of the decedent’s own cause of action.[ 4] In addition, she concluded that the agreements were valid and, thus, precluded any recovery on behalf of the decedent’s statutory beneficiaries, who had no rights independent of the decedent’s cause of action, which was waived.

2. Discussion.

We review “a grant of summary judgment de novo … to determine whether . . . all material facts have been established and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law” (quotation and citation omitted). Boston Globe Media Partners, LLCv.Pep’t of Pub. Health, 482 Mass. 427, 431 (2019) .

Given that the plaintiff does not contest the judge’s determinations that the release from liability and the equipment rental agreement are valid and that those waivers covered Golbranson as an agent of PUI, the only issue before the court is whether the statutory beneficiaries in the action for wrongful death have a right to recover damages that is independent of the decedent’s own cause of action. See G. L. c. 229, §§ 1, 2. In GGNSC, 484 Mass. at, we have resolved that issue: our wrongful death statute creates a derivative right of recovery for the statutory beneficiaries listed in G. L. c. 229, § 1. Therefore, we hold that here, the valid waivers signed by the decedent preclude the plaintiff, as his “executor or personal representative,” from bringing a lawsuit under G. L. c. 229, § 2, for the benefit of the statutory beneficiaries.[ 5]

3. Conclusion.

We affirm the judgment of the Superior Court granting Golbranson’s motion for summary judgment.

So ordered.

———

Notes:

[ 1] Of the estate of Gregg C. O’Brien.

[ 2] Nicholas Fazah, EC Divers, Inc., and John Golbranson.

[ 3] As to the conscious pain and suffering claim, the judge found that the waivers negated the plaintiff’s ability to recover, because the decedent clearly had the authority to waive those rights.

[ 4] In her analysis, the judge relied on a decision by a judge of the United States Pistrict Court for the Pistrict of Massachusetts that underlay our opinion in GGNSC. See GGNSC, 484 Mass. at

[ 5] Golbranson devotes much time arguing that the release from liability and the equipment rental agreement negate any duty he may have had to the decedent. We note that the release from liability was limited to “claims concern[ing] ordinary negligence,” Sharonv.Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 110 n.l2 (2002), and Golbranson does not contend that the waivers would have applied to other forms of malfeasance, such as gross negligence, or willful, wanton, or reckless acts. We have “consistently recognized that there is a certain core duty — a certain irreducible minimum duty of care, owed to all persons — that as a matter of public policy cannot be abrogated: that is, the duty not to intentionally or recklessly cause harm to others.” Raffertyv.Merck & Co., 479 Mass. 141, 155 (2018). Specifically, “‘while a party may contract against liability for harm caused by its negligence, it may not do so with respect to its gross negligence’ or, for that matter, its reckless or intentional conduct.” I_d., quoting Maryland Cas. Co. v. NS_TAR Elec. Co., 471 Mass. 416, 422 (2015). Nonetheless, only the decedent’s executor or administrator has the right to bring a cause of action for gross negligence, not the statutory beneficiaries.

———


Markovitz v. Cassenti, 56 N.E.3d 894, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 1102 (2016)

Markovitz v. Cassenti, 56 N.E.3d 894, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 1102 (2016)

90 Mass.App.Ct. 1102 (2016)

56 N.E.3d 894

Joanne Markovitz & another [ 1]

Christine Cassenti & another. [ 2]

15-P-1274

Appeals Court of Massachusetts

August 18, 2016

Editorial Note:

This decision has been referenced in an “Appeals Court of Massachusetts Summary Dispositions” table in the North Eastern Reporter. And pursuant to its rule 1:28, As Amended by 73 Mass.App.Ct. 1001 (2009) are primarily addressed to the parties and, therefore, may not fully address the facts of the case or the panel’s decisional rationale. Moreover, rule 1:28 decisions are not circulated to the entire court and, therefore, represent only the views of the panel that decided the case. A summary decision pursuant to rule 1:28, issued after February 25, 2008, may be cited for its persuasive value but, because of the limitations noted above, not as binding precedent. See Chace v. Curran, 71 Mass.App.Ct. 258, 260 N.4, 881 N.E.2d 792 (2008).

Judgment affirmed.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28

In this negligence action arising out of the plaintiff’s injury following her fall off a horse during a group riding lesson at defendants’ Chrislar Farm, a Superior Court judge granted summary judgment for the defendants.[ 3] The plaintiff appealed.

Background.

On July 16, 2009, the plaintiff filled out and signed an application for riding lessons at Chrislar Farm. In that application, she wrote that she had six months of riding experience in 2001 and that she wanted to continue to learn to ride. The form contained a section entitled ” RELEASE,” which stated: ” I, the Club member/Student (or parent or guardian) recognize the inherent risks of injury involved in horseback riding/driving and being around horses generally, and in learning to ride/drive in particular. In taking lessons at CHRISLAR FARM or participating in Club activities, I assume any and all such risk of injury and further, I voluntarily release CHRISLAR FARM, its owners, instructors, employees and agents from any and all responsibility on account of any injury I (or my child or ward) may sustain for any reason while on the premises of CHRISLAR FARM or participating in Club activities, and I agree to indemnify and hold harmless CHRISLAR FARM, its owners, instructors, employees and agents on account of any such claim.”

The plaintiff signed the form on the signature line immediately below the release.[ 4]

Between July of 2009 and September of 2010, the plaintiff took thirty-minute private riding lessons on a regular basis. Between September, 2010, and January, 2011, the plaintiff took one-hour group riding lessons and walked, trotted, and cantered several different horses. On September 3, 2010, the defendants leased a horse named Jolee. Christine Cassenti had known this horse for a long time. The trainer conducting the lessons thought that the horse was ” sweet and did everything you asked her to do.”

The plaintiff first rode Jolee during a ” musical horses” exercise. She then rode Jolee during the next three one-hour group lessons on December 23, 2010, December 30, 2010, and January 6, 2011. At one point during the December 23, 2010, lesson, Jolee went from a trot into a canter and stayed in a circle formation instead of performing a figure eight. Following the instructions from the trainer, the plaintiff slowed down and stopped Jolee. The plaintiff rode Jolee without incident on December 30, 2010, and January 6, 2011.

On January 20, 2011, a year and one-half after the plaintiff began taking lessons at Chrislar Farm, the plaintiff rode Jolee for the fourth time. She noticed that Jolee briefly pinned her ears. After finishing a walk, the plaintiff began trotting Jolee. At one point, Jolee sped up into a faster trot and turned left, causing the plaintiff to lose her balance and fall.

Discussion.

Massachusetts courts have generally upheld release agreements immunizing defendants from future liability for their negligent acts, including in cases related to sports and recreation. See Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., 349 Mass. 544, 550, 552, 209 N.E.2d 329 (1965) (spectator at pit area of speedway); Cormier v. Central Mass. Chapter of the Natl. Safety Council, 416 Mass. 286, 288-289, 620 N.E.2d 784 (1993) (beginner rider in motorcycle safety class); Sharon v. Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 105-107, 769 N.E.2d 738 (2002) (student at cheerleading practice). The challenges to releases from liability have regularly been resolved by summary judgment. See, e.g., Cormier, supra at 287; Sharon, supra at 103; Gonsalves v. Commonwealth, 27 Mass.App.Ct. 606, 606, 541 N.E.2d 366 (1989). In this case, we conclude that the release signed by the plaintiff, which the plaintiff has not challenged as unclear or ambiguous, barred her negligence claim.[ 5]

To avoid the preclusive effect of the release, the plaintiff argues that she was entitled to proceed under G. L. c. 128, § 2D( c )(1)(ii), inserted by St. 1992, c. 212, § 1, which provides one of the exceptions to the exemption from liability: ” Nothing in subsection (b) shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person: ” (1) . . . (ii) provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant . . . to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant’s representations of his ability.” [ 6]

Rather than creating a new duty in addition to those that already exist under our common law, as argued by the plaintiff, this subsection provides an exception to the overall bar to liability established by the statute, and allows a plaintiff to proceed with a negligence claim in certain limited circumstances. Because the statute does not create new duties on the part of the equine professional, the plaintiff cannot rely on it to avoid the preclusive effect of the release she signed. This case is distinguishable from Pinto v. Revere-Saugus Riding Academy, Inc., 74 Mass.App.Ct. 389, 395, 907 N.E.2d 259 (2009), which did not involve a release.

Where the release is dispositive of the plaintiff’s claim, we need not decide if there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the defendants failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the plaintiff’s ability to safely manage Jolee.

Judgment affirmed.

Cohen, Agnes & Henry, JJ.[ 7].

———

Notes:

[1]Gabriel Markovitz. He claimed loss of consortium.

[2]Lawrence Cassenti.

[3]For simplicity, we will refer to Joanne Markovitz as the plaintiff.

[4]The form also contained the following: ” WARNING: Under Massachusetts law, an equine professional is not liable for any injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities, pursuant to Chapter 128, Section 2D of the General Laws.”

[5]” [W]hile a party may contract against liability for harm caused by its negligence, it may not do so with respect to its gross negligence.” Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass.App.Ct. 17, 19, 687 N.E.2d 1263 (1997). In a footnote in her brief, the plaintiff argues that it is a question of fact whether the trainer’s conduct amounted to gross negligence or wilful and wanton conduct. Here, viewing the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, she cannot make out a case of gross negligence.

[6]The complaint contains a negligence count and a loss of consortium count. There is no mention of G. L. c. 128, § 2D.

[7]The panelists are listed in order of seniority.

———


Massachusetts Equine Liability Act

GENERAL LAWS OF MASSACHUSETTS

Part I. ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOVERNMENT

Title XIX. AGRICULTURE AND CONSERVATION

Chapter 128. AGRICULTURE

§ 128:2D. Liability of equine professionals and equine activity sponsors

(a)    For the purposes of this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:

“Engage in an equine activity”, riding, training, assisting in veterinary treatment of, driving, or being a passenger upon an equine, whether mounted or unmounted, visiting or touring or utilizing an equine facility as part of an organized event or activity, or assisting a participant or show management. The term “engage in an equine activity” shall not include being a spectator at an equine activity, except in cases where the spectator places himself in an unauthorized area or in immediate proximity to the equine activity.

“Equine”, a horse, pony, mule, or donkey.

“Equine activity”

(1)    equine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve any or all breeds of equines and any of the equine disciplines, including, but not limited to, dressage, hunter and jumper horse shows, grand prix jumping, three-day events, combined training, rodeos, riding, driving, pulling, cutting, polo, steeplechasing, English and western performance riding, endurance trail riding, gymkhana games, and hunting;

(2)    equine training or teaching activities or both;

(3)    boarding equines; including normal daily care thereof;

(4)    riding, inspecting, or evaluating by a purchaser or an agent an equine belonging to another, whether or not the owner has received some monetary consideration or other thing of value for the use of the equine or is permitting a prospective purchaser of the equine to ride, inspect, or evaluate the equine;

(5)    rides, trips, hunts or other equine activities of any type however informal or impromptu that are sponsored by an equine activity sponsor;

(6)    placing or replacing horseshoes or hoof trimming on an equine; and

(7)    providing or assisting in veterinary treatment.

“Equine activity sponsor”, an individual, group, club, partnership, or corporation, whether or not the sponsor is operating for profit or nonprofit, which sponsors, organizes, or provides the facilities for, an equine activity, including but not limited to: pony clubs, 4-H clubs, hunt clubs, riding clubs, school and college-sponsored classes, programs and activities, therapeutic riding programs, stable and farm owners and operators, instructors, and promoters of equine facilities, including but not limited to farms, stables, clubhouses, pony ride strings, fairs, and arenas at which the activity is held.

“Equine professional”, a person engaged for compensation:

(1)    in instructing a participant or renting to a participant an equine for the purpose of riding, driving or being a passenger upon the equine;

(2)    in renting equipment or tack to a participant;

(3)    to provide daily care of horses boarded at an equine facility; or

(4)    to train an equine.

“Inherent risks of equine activities”, dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities, including but not limited to:

(1)    The propensity of equines to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them;

(2)    the unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;

(3)    certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;

(4)    collisions with other equines or objects;

(5)    the potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within his ability.

“Participant”, any person, whether amateur or professional, who engages in an equine activity, whether or not a fee is paid to participate in such equine activity.

(b)    Except as provided in subsection (c), an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person, which shall include a corporation or partnership, shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities and, except as provided in said subsection (c), no participant nor participant’s representative shall make any claim against, maintain an action against, or recover from an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person for injury, loss, damage, or death of the participant resulting from any of the inherent risks of equine activities.

(c)    This section shall not apply to the racing meetings as defined by section one of chapter one hundred and twenty-eight A.

Nothing in subsection (b) shall prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor, an equine professional, or any other person if the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person:

(1)

(i)    provided the equipment or tack, and knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty, and such equipment or tack was faulty to the extent that it did cause the injury; or

(ii)    provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity, and determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine based on the participant’s representations of his ability;

(2)    owns, leases, rents, has authorized use of, or is otherwise in lawful possession and control of the land, or facilities upon which the participant sustained injuries because of a dangerous latent condition which was known to the equine activity sponsor, equine professional, or person and for which warning signs, pursuant to subsection (d), have not been conspicuously posted;

(3)    commits an act of omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant, and that act of omission caused the injury; or

(4)    intentionally injures the participant.

(d)

(1)    Every equine professional shall post and maintain signs which contain the warning notice specified in paragraph (2). Such signs shall be placed in a clearly visible location in the proximity of the equine activity. The warning notice specified in said paragraph (2) shall appear on the sign in black letters, with each letter to be a minimum of one inch in height. Every written contract entered into by an equine professional for the providing of professional services, instruction, or the rental of equipment or tack or an equine to a participant, whether or not the contract involves equine activities on or off the location or site of the equine professional’s business, shall contain in clearly readable print the warning notice specified in said paragraph (2).

(2)    The signs and contracts described in paragraph (1) shall contain the following notice:

Under Massachusetts law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities, pursuant to section 2D of chapter 128 of the General Laws.

Cite as Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 128, § 2D


Poorly written jurisdiction and venue clause places the defendant in jam when the defendant counter claims for attorney fees and costs.

This case was based on a zip-line accident. The release signed by the plaintiff had a forum selection clause, also known as a jurisdiction and venture clause. However, the clause was limited way so that when the defendant brought a counterclaim for attorney fees, it negated the forum selection clause.

Pittman, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839

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

Plaintiff: Josephine Pittman

Defendant: Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: gross negligence and fraudulent inducement concerning a participant agreement and waiver of liability

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Basically, for the Plaintiff

Year: 2017

Summary

This case was based on a zip line accident at the defendant’s location. The plaintiff filed the case in state court in Massachusetts. The defendant then removed the case to Federal District Court because the parties were from two different states.

After removal, the defendant filed a counterclaim for fees and costs as per the release. The plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the counter claim because it was filed in the wrong court. Meaning the jurisdiction and venue clause was written in such a way it only applied to the complaint and not the counterclaim.

Facts

The facts concerning the actual accident are nowhere in the decision. This decision is based solely on the issues of jurisdiction and venue.

This opinion is based upon a motion to dismiss filed by the plaintiff, to dismiss the counter claim of the defendant for attorney fees and costs for filing the complaint to begin with.

No decision on the facts was made as of the writing of this decision.

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

The court did a thorough analysis of forum selection clauses in its review of the issues.

In that jurisdiction, forum selection clauses, also known as jurisdiction and venue clauses, are valid and usually upheld. “Forum selection clauses “‘are prima facie valid and should be enforced.'”

There are two issues the court must review to determine if the forum selection clause should be followed.

Before giving effect to a forum selection clause, a court must address certain threshold is-sues, including whether: (1) the clause is mandatory or permissive; and (2) the clause governs the claims allegedly subject to it.

There are two types of forum selection clauses, mandatory and permissive. Permissive forum selection clauses allow the parties to change the jurisdiction and venue. Mandatory clauses require the court to follow the contract and change the venue and apply the jurisdiction identified in the forum selection clause.

“‘Permissive forum selection clauses, often described as “consent to jurisdiction” clauses, authorize jurisdiction and venue in a designated forum, but do not prohibit litigation elsewhere. . . . In contrast, mandatory forum selection clauses contain clear language indicating that jurisdiction and venue are appropriate exclusively in the designated forum.'”

Not only is the language in the clause used to determine if it is permissive or mandatory, but also if the forum selection clause refers to a venue. Mandatory forum selection clauses include a required venue.

The next part, whether the clause governs the claims allegedly subject to the clause was the major issue. Consequently, the language of the clause was the difference. The clause stated: “”[i]n the event [Plaintiff] file[s] a lawsuit against Zoar, [Plaintiff] agree[s]” to the venue specified in paragraph 6 of the Participant Agreement

The court interpreted the clause to only apply to the lawsuit brought by the plaintiff, as the clause states. The court found the forum selection clause did not apply to the counterclaim filed by the defendant against the plaintiff.

Thus, by far the most persuasive reading of the forum selection clause is that it dictated the venue where Plaintiff could file suit against Defendant but did not waive Defendant’s right of removal or dictate the forum in which Defendant could bring claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Participant Agreement.

However, here is where the decision starts to twist, and the defendant is saved, but only saved by accident.

The plaintiff in filing their motion to dismiss the counterclaim did not also move to change the venue or send the case back to state court. The plaintiff’s claim was going to be litigated in Federal District court where it has been moved.

The court implies if the plaintiff had moved to dismiss or change venue the court might have been inclined to do so. As it was, the forum selection clause only applied to the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant. The court claim was not subject to the clause.

Thus, by far the most persuasive reading of the forum selection clause is that it dictated the venue where Plaintiff could file suit against Defendant but did not waive Defendant’s right of removal or dictate the forum in which Defendant could bring claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Participant Agreement.

However, since the majority of the lawsuit would be based on the plaintiff’s complaint, it would be jurisdictionally economical to keep both cases together. Furthermore, the plaintiff claimed in her defense to the release that she was fraudulently induced to sign the release. If she prevailed on that claim, the forum selection clause would not apply because the contract, the release would not be valid.

If she succeeds in meeting her burden of proof on this point, she will not be bound by the terms of the Participant Agreement, which is the sole basis for Defendant’s counterclaim for fees and costs. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims and Defendant’s counterclaim “involve a common nucleus of operative fact [and] all claims should be adjudicated together in this court.

So, until the trial is over on the plaintiff’s complaint and the validity of the plaintiff’s defense to the release, the motion to change the venue because the forum selection, clause did not apply to the country claim was denied.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the defendant’s counterclaim.

So Now What?

Here again, not understanding the breath of a lawsuit when writing a release almost cost the defendant. Judicial economy, not wasting the court’s time and money or either of the parties’ time and money is what saved the day.

If you need your release written properly to cover the issues, you have, the people you market too and the activities you offer, please contact me.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Pittman, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839

Pittman, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839

Josephine Pittman, Plaintiff, v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 16-30182-MGM

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107839

June 9, 2017, Decided

June 9, 2017, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Adopted by, Motion denied by Pittman v. Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106873 (D. Mass., July 11, 2017)

COUNSEL: [*1] For Josephine Pittman, Plaintiff, Counter Defendant: Timothy L. O’Keefe, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brittani K. Morgan, Kenny, O’Keefe & Usseglio, P.C., Hartford, CT; Timothy P. Wickstrom, Wickstrom Morse, LLP, Whitinsville, MA.

For Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., Defendant, Counter Claimant: Thomas B. Farrey, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Burns & Farrey, Worcester, MA; Michael W. Garland, Burns & Farrey, P.C., Worcester, MA.

For Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc., Counter Claimant: Thomas B. Farrey, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Burns & Farrey, Worcester, MA.

For Josephine Pittman, Counter Defendant: Timothy L. O’Keefe, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brittani K. Morgan, Kenny, O’Keefe & Usseglio, P.C., Hartford, CT.

JUDGES: KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON

OPINION

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTERLCLAIM FOR IMPROPER VENUE

(Dkt. No. 11)

ROBERTSON, U.S.M.J.

I. Introduction

On or around October 19, 2016, plaintiff Josephine Pittman (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint in the Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Superior Court Department, Franklin County (Dkt. No. 1-1). In summary, the complaint alleged that Plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a participant in a zip [*2] line canopy tour on the premises of defendant Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, Inc. (“Defendant”). Defendant removed the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), which provides for removal of actions where the parties are diverse (Dkt. No. 1). In this court, Defendant answered the complaint and asserted a counterclaim against Plaintiff for fees and costs (Dkt. No. 3). Presently before the court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim for Improper Venue (“Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss”), which was referred to the undersigned for Report and Recommendation by the presiding District Judge (Dkt. No. 27). For the reasons set forth below, the court recommends that Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss be denied.

II. Relevant background

Plaintiff’s initial complaint (“Complaint”) asserted claims of gross negligence (Count I) and fraudulent inducement concerning a participant agreement and waiver of liability (“Participant Agreement”) signed by Plaintiff as a condition of her participation in the zip lining activity (Count II) (Dkt. No. 1-1).1 In its response to the Complaint, Defendant asserted a counterclaim for contractual indemnification based on the contents of the Participation Agreement signed by Plaintiff. [*3] 2 Defendant attached a copy of the Participant Agreement as Exhibit A to Defendant’s Answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint, Counterclaim and Claim for Jury Trial (Dkt. No. 3).

1 With leave of court, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on June 5, 2017 (“Amended Complaint”), adding a claim of ordinary negligence and claims of loss of consortium on behalf of her husband, Ronald Pittman, and her daughter, Lillian Pittman (Dkt. No. 34).

2 The formal title of the document is “Participant Agreement, Release and Acknowledgement of Risk.”

In relevant part, the Participant Agreement provides as follows:

2. I expressly agree to and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity [expressly including zip line canopy tours]. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks.

3. I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless Zoar from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or my use of Zoar’s equipment, vehicles, facilities, or premises before, during, and after this activity including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of Zoar.

4. Should Zoar or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney’s fees and costs to enforce this agreement, I agree to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs.

. . .

6. In the event that I file a lawsuit against Zoar, I agree the Venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement [*4] or otherwise between the parties to which Zoar or its agents is a party shall be either in the town of Charlemont, Massachusetts Justice Court or the County or State Supreme Court in Franklin County, Massachusetts. I further agree that the substantive law of Massachusetts shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict of law rules of that state.3

(Dkt. No. 3-1 at 2).

3 The court takes judicial notice of the fact that a “town of Charlemont Justice Court” does not exist in Charlemont, Massachusetts. The parties agreed at oral argument that the Superior Court in Franklin County is the venue designated by the forum selection clause.

Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss is based solely on the forum selection clause in paragraph 6 of the Participant Agreement (Dkt. No. 11).

III. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

In this circuit, a motion to dismiss based on a forum selection clause is treated “as a motion alleging the failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6).” Rivera v. Centro Medico de Turabo, Inc., 575 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir. 2009) (citing Silva v. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 239 F.3d 385, 387 & n.3 (1st Cir. 2001)). This court “must ‘accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the [counterclaim] plaintiff’s favor, and determine whether the [counterclaim], so read, limns facts sufficient to justify recovery on any cognizable theory.'” Id. (quoting LaChapelle v. Berkshire Life Ins. Co., 142 F.3d 507, 508 (1st Cir. 1998)). A court considering a motion to dismiss “may properly consider only facts and documents that are part of or incorporated into the complaint.” Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar, Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008). In the present [*5] action, Defendant has attached the Participant Agreement in support of its counterclaim, and neither party disputes the authenticity of the document. Accordingly, in ruling on Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss, the court may appropriately take into account the contents of the Participant Agreement, including the choice of forum provision which is the basis of that motion. See Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001) (document sufficiently referred to in the complaint, the authenticity of which is not disputed, properly may be considered on a 12(b)(6) motion).

It remains an unsettled question in this circuit whether “‘forum selection clauses are to be treated as substantive or procedural for Erie purposes.'” Rivera, 575 F.3d at 16 (quoting Lambert v. Kysar, 983 F.2d 1110, 1116 & n.10 (1st Cir. 1993)). This is a question that the court need not address. See id. The forum selection clause in the Participant Agreement provides that Massachusetts law shall apply to legal actions arising out of the agreement or otherwise between the parties (Dkt. No. 35-1 at 1, ¶ 6). This court should, therefore, look to Massachusetts law for principles bearing on interpretation of the Participant Agreement. That said, there is no conflict between federal common law and Massachusetts law regarding the enforceability and interpretation [*6] of forum selection clauses. See generally Boland v. George S. May Int’l Co., 81 Mass. App. Ct. 817, 969 N.E.2d 166, 169-74 (Mass. App. Ct. 2012) (relying on federal and Massachusetts law for purposes of interpreting a forum selection clause). Accordingly, it is also appropriate for this court to apply federal common law in ruling on the enforceability and interpretation of the Participant Agreement’s forum selection clause. See Rivera, 575 F.3d at 16-17; see also OsComp Sys., Inc. v. Bakken Express, LLC, 930 F. Supp. 2d 261, 268 n.3 (D. Mass. 2013) (relying on federal common law where the parties did so; noting that there do not appear to be material discrepancies between federal and Massachusetts law regarding the validity and interpretation of forum selection clauses); Summa Humma Enters., LLC v. Fisher Eng’g, Civil No. 12-cv-367-LM, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 856, 2013 WL 57042, at *3 (D. Me. Jan. 3, 2013) (court would apply Maine law to interpretation of forum selection clauses; because Maine law was co-extensive with federal law concerning the interpretation of a forum selection clause, the court would also apply federal common law to the interpretive task).

IV. Analysis

Notwithstanding citations to cases ruling that forum selection clauses can constitute a waiver of a defendant’s right to remove a case to federal court, Plaintiff has not moved for dismissal or remand of this case to the state court where it was filed. Rather, Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss is limited [*7] to seeking dismissal of Defendant’s counterclaim. On this point, Plaintiff contends that this court is an improper venue for a counterclaim alleging contractual indemnity because the claim is a dispute between the parties that arises out of the Participant Agreement. Plaintiff notes that, in setting forth the designated venue, the forum selection clause uses the word “shall,” which, Plaintiff argues, connotes a mandatory choice of venue which is binding on Defendant (Dkt. No. 12). Defendant opposes Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss on the ground that the forum selection clause was binding on Plaintiff, but by its terms, did not constrain Defendant’s choice of venue for any claims it had against Plaintiff arising from the Participant Agreement (Dkt. No. 15). In the court’s view, Defendant has the better of the arguments.

Forum selection clauses “‘are prima facie valid and should be enforced.'” Silva, 239 F.3d at 386 (quoting M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10, 92 S. Ct. 1907, 32 L. Ed. 2d 513 (1972)). “A forum selection clause ‘does not divest a court of [the] jurisdiction it otherwise retains, rather it constitutes a stipulation in which the parties join in asking the court to give effect to their agreement by declining to exercise jurisdiction.'” Provanzano v. Parker View Farm, Inc., 827 F. Supp. 2d 53, 58 (D. Mass. 2011) (quoting Silva, 239 F.3d at 389 n.6). Before giving effect to [*8] a forum selection clause, a court must address certain threshold issues, including whether: (1) the clause is mandatory or permissive; and (2) the clause governs the claims allegedly subject to it. See id.

1. The Forum Selection Clause is Mandatory as to Claims to Which it Applies

“‘Permissive forum selection clauses, often described as “consent to jurisdiction” clauses, authorize jurisdiction and venue in a designated forum, but do not prohibit litigation elsewhere. . . . In contrast, mandatory forum selection clauses contain clear language indicating that jurisdiction and venue are appropriate exclusively in the designated forum.'” Rivera, 575 F.3d at 17 (quoting 14D C.A. Wright, A.R. Miller & E.H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3803.1 (3d ed. 1998)). “The use of words such as ‘will’ or ‘shall’ demonstrate parties’ exclusive commitment to the named forum.” Provanzano, 827 F. Supp. 2d at 60 (citing Summit Packaging Sys., Inc. v. Kenyon & Kenyon, 273 F.3d 9, 12 (1st Cir. 2001)). Moreover, “[a] crucial distinction between mandatory and permissive clauses is whether the clause only mentions jurisdiction or specifically refers to venue.” Arguss Communs. Group, Inc. v. Teletron, Inc., No. CIV. 99-257-JD, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18085, 2000 WL 36936, at *7 (D.N.H. Nov. 19, 1999). In the present case, “[b]ecause the [Participant] Agreement uses the term ‘shall’ to describe . . . the commitment to resolving . . . [certain] litigation [*9] ‘in [either the town of Charlemont, Massachusetts Justice Court or the County or State Supreme Court in Franklin County, Massachusetts,’] [and because it refers to ‘venue,’ not just ‘jurisdiction,’] it is a mandatory clause.” Xiao Wei Yang Catering Linkage in Inner Mongolia Co., LTD v. Inner Mongolia Xiao Wei Yang USA, Inc., 150 F. Supp. 3d 71, 77 (D. Mass. 2015). Indeed, the parties do not appear to dispute that the forum selection clause in the Participant Agreement is mandatory as to claims to which it applies.

2. The Forum Selection Clause Does Not Apply to Defendant’s Counterclaim

Whether to enforce a forum selection clause depends on whether the clause governs the claims asserted in the lawsuit. See Provanzano, 827 F. Supp. 2d at 60 (citing Huffington v. T.C. Grp., LLC, 637 F.3d 18, 21 (1st Cir. 2011)); see also Pacheco v. St. Luke’s Emergency Assocs., P.C., 879 F. Supp. 2d 136, 140 (D. Mass. 2012). This is a matter of interpreting the terms of the contract between the parties. “The construction of a written contract which is plain in its terms and free from ambiguity presents a question of law for the court,'” Boland, 969 N.E.2d at 173 (quoting Hiller v. Submarine Signal Co., 325 Mass. 546, 91 N.E.2d 667, 669 (Mass. 1950)), and it is “‘the language of the forum selection clause itself that determines which claims fall within its scope.'” Pacheco, 879 F. Supp. 2d at 140 (quoting Rivera, 575 F.3d at 19).

In the present case, the plain language of the forum selection clause mandated venue in the Franklin County Superior Court, but only as to claims asserted by Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s contention that the forum selection clause is binding on Defendant ignores the qualifying introductory clause of the provision, which states [*10] that “[i]n the event [Plaintiff] file[s] a lawsuit against Zoar, [Plaintiff] agree[s]” to the venue specified in paragraph 6 of the Participant Agreement (Dkt No. 3-1 at 2). In this case, as in Rivera, the mandatory venue language “is preceded and informed by a qualifying phrase: ‘In the event that . . . [I file suit against Zoar] . . ., I . . . agree [the Venue] . . . .’ That is, the [Participant Agreement] required [Plaintiff] to assert any causes of action that [she] may have against [Defendant] in the [Franklin County Superior Court].” Rivera, 575 F.3d at 18. There is no comparable venue provision, nor is there any mandatory or restrictive language, in paragraph 4 related to an assertion by Defendant of a claim for recovery of attorney’s fees and costs (Dkt. No. 3-1 at 2). Thus, by far the most persuasive reading of the forum selection clause is that it dictated the venue where Plaintiff could file suit against Defendant but did not waive Defendant’s right of removal or dictate the forum in which Defendant could bring claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Participant Agreement. See Pacheco, 879 F. Supp. 2d at 140; Boland, 969 N.E.2d at 174; cf. Xiao Wei Catering Linkage, 150 F. Supp. 3d at 77 (satisfaction of condition precedent was required to trigger application of a forum selection clause).

Furthermore, because [*11] Plaintiff has not moved for remand and intends to prosecute her claims against Defendant in this court, it would be a waste of judicial resources to require Defendant to seek recovery of fees and costs in a separate state court action. In Count II of Plaintiff’s Complaint (and her amended complaint), she has alleged that she was fraudulently induced to sign the Participant Agreement. “It is black-letter law that an agreement . . . is voidable by a party who is fraudulently induced to enter into it.” Green v. Harvard Vanguard Med. Assocs., Inc., 79 Mass. App. Ct. 1, 944 N.E.2d 184, 193 (Mass. App. Ct. 2011); see also St. Fleur v. WPI Cable Sys./Mutron, 450 Mass. 345, 879 N.E.2d 27, 35 (Mass. 2008) (a party is not bound by a contract she was fraudulently induced to sign). To prevail on the claim of ordinary negligence alleged in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff will be required to prove that she was fraudulently induced to sign the Participant Agreement. See Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., 349 Mass. 544, 209 N.E.2d 329, 332-33 (Mass. 1965). If she succeeds in meeting her burden of proof on this point, she will not be bound by the terms of the Participant Agreement, which is the sole basis for Defendant’s counterclaim for fees and costs. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims and Defendant’s counterclaim “involve a common nucleus of operative fact [and] all claims should be adjudicated together in this court.” Pacheco, 879 F. Supp. 2d at 138.

V. Conclusion

For these reasons, it is this court’s RECOMMENDATION [*12] that Plaintiff’s Motion be DENIED.4

4 The parties are advised that under the provisions of Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b) or Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b), any party who objects to these findings and recommendations must file a written objection with the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of the party’s receipt of this Report and Recommendation. The written objection must specifically identify the portion of the proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and the basis for such objection. The parties are further advised that failure to comply with this rule shall preclude further appellate review by the Court of Appeals of the District Court order entered pursuant to this Report and Recommendation. See Keating v. Secretary of HHS, 848 F.2d 271, 275 (1st Cir. 1988); United States v. Valencia-Copete, 792 F.2d 4, 6 (1st Cir. 1986); Scott v. Schweiker, 702 F.2d 13, 14 (1st Cir. 1983); United States v. Vega, 678 F.2d 376, 378-79 (1st Cir. 1982); Park Motor Mart, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 616 F.2d 603, 604 (1st Cir. 1980). See also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154-55, 106 S. Ct. 466, 88 L. Ed. 2d 435 (1985). A party may respond to another party’s objections within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof.

/s/ Katherine A. Robertson

KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON

United States Magistrate Judge

DATED: June 9, 2017


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.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Releases work for exercise programs when a mall, for free, opens up early to help people age in Massachusetts

Any exception to a release in Massachusetts must be specifically identified in the release. This means that if a plaintiff wants to argue the release does not apply to “this” which caused my injury; “this” must be identified as something the release does not apply to.

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

State: Massachusetts; Superior Court of Massachusetts, at Middlesex

Plaintiff: Rosamond Bastable

Defendant: Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 1996

Outdoor recreation normally does not cover walking indoors; however, it is an important component for a lot of former recreationists (and it is probably in all of our futures). In this case, the local hospital and the mall teamed up to offer seniors the opportunity to exercise indoors in the mall before it opened.

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

While exciting the mall one day after walking, the plaintiff fell. The plaintiff argued cracked tile caused her fall and injuries. She sued, and the court dismissed her complaint based on the release.

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

The first issue addressed by the court was the issue of validity of releases in Massachusetts. Releases are valid in Massachusetts.

The release Bastable signed was a valid and lawful waiver. “There is no rule of general application that a person cannot contract for exemption from liability for his own negligence. Moreover, a release which allocates risk is not against public policy.

In an effect to have the release not apply to the plaintiff’s injuries; she argued the release only applied to “general maintenance activities,’ which she described as now removal and landscaping. The plaintiff’s injuries did not arise from that general maintenance but from specific failed maintenance issues. Meaning the release was written for water on the floor rather than a tile the needed repaired. However, that did not work.

Bastable does not allege that the release was unlawful; rather, she claims that the release applies only to injuries caused by general maintenance activities (such as snow removal and landscaping) and that her injury did not arise from these activities.

Under Massachusetts law, releases are to be interpreted broadly if the language of the release is comprehensive in nature. Any exception to a release must be specifically identified in the release as an exception. “Additionally, Massachusetts courts have held that if the parties intend that an exception to a general release exists, they must include that exception in the release.”

Meaning if the drafters and parties to the release wanted a broadly written comprehensive release not to cover a specific issue or possible risk, it must be identified in the release as not being covered in the release.

If Liberty had intended to limit its liability to only those accidents arising from maintenance tasks, it would have specifically stated so in its release. Instead, the release holds Liberty harmless for “any . . . injury that may take place on mall property” whether or not it results from a maintenance activity.

Because the damaged tile or this type of maintenance was not identified in the release as not being covered by the release, the release prevented the suit for those issues also.

The defendant won this case because the release was written broadly enough to cover all issues.

So Now What?

A policy under release law would eliminate numerous arguments made by plaintiff’s that the release did not affect their claim because their claim was not specifically or generally contemplated by the release. Here, the courts said the release was written broadly, and that breadth covered your injuries.

This is not something can be easily changed in a state, as it is a court policy decided over the years. However, it is possibly an issue that should be brought up and argued in release cases so courts understand it should be an issue they review.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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

Rosamond Bastable v. Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership

95-02505-F

SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, AT MIDDLESEX

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

December 9, 1996, Decided

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

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

OPINION BY: HERMAN J. SMITH, JR.

OPINION

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

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

FINDINGS OF FACT

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

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

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

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

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

[*3] DISCUSSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

ORDER

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

Herman J. Smith, Jr.

Justice of the Superior Court

Dated: December 9, 1996


Indemnification between businesses requires a contract outlining the type of indemnification and a certificate of insurance from one party to the other so the insurance company knows it is on the hook.

Because no certificate of insurance was issued by the third-party insurance company, company, the contract requiring indemnification between the ski area and the manufacturer failed.

Jiminy Peak Mountain Report, LLC, v. Wiegand Sports, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34209

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

Plaintiff: Jiminy Peak Mountain Report, LLC

Defendant: Wiegand Sports, LLC, and, Navigators Specialty Insurance, CO.

Plaintiff Claims:  Indemnification

Defendant Defenses: No contract

Holding: for the Defense

Year: 2016

Obviously, this is not your normal injured guest case. This case looks at the relationship between a resort and a manufacturer who installed a ride at the resort.

In 2006 the defendant Wiegand built an Alpine Coaster for the plaintiff ski area Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, LLC. The construction/purchase agreement (Consulting, Purchase, Delivery, Assembly and Inspection Contract) also contained language requiring the manufacturer to defend any claims that were brought against the plaintiff for injuries after the ride was built.

The construction agreement required Jiminy Peak to pay part of the premiums for the insurance policy. However, the policy was only in the name of the defendant Wiegand, and did not list Jiminy Peak as an additional insured or co-insured.

Section 8 of the Contract, titled “Rights and Obligations of [Jiminy]” included in its final subsection, 8(j), language stating that Wiegand would purchase product liability insurance for the Coaster, but that Jiminy was required to pay a portion of the premium, the amount of which would be determined based on the purchase price of the Coaster, and Jiminy would then be listed as an additional insured.

The agreement also stated that Wiegand would defend and pay for any claim that Jiminy Peak received.

…in the event of a product liability suit against [Wiegand], [Wiegand] “shall, at its own expense, defend any suit or proceeding brought against [Jiminy] and shall fully protect and indemnify [Jiminy] against any and all losses, liability, cost, recovery, or other expense in or resulting from such . . . suit (provided, however, [Jiminy] has fully performed all ongoing maintenance obligations).

In 2012, two minors were seriously injured riding the coaster. Wiegand had a commercial liability policy with the defendant Navigators Insurance Company. However, Navigators did not issue a certificate of insurance covering Jiminy Peak. The parents of the injured minors filed suit against Jiminy Peak and Wiegand. Jiminy Peak sued Wiegand and Navigator seeking a declaratory judgment requiring Wiegand and Navigator to pay the cost of defending those suits.

A declaratory judgment is a quick request for a court to issue an order. Jiminy and Wiegand dismissed their claims against each other and just were fighting the lawsuit against them. The case between Jiminy and Navigator then is the subject of this decision.

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

Navigator argued that there was a duty to defend someone who was not a named insured. Jiminy Peak was not listed on the policy as an insured, co-insured or additional insured. Navigator also argued that it had no legal relationship with Jiminy Peak; therefore, it owed Jiminy Peak no money.

Navigators argues that as an insurer it owes a duty to defend its insured, Wiegand, but it does not owe a direct duty to defend Jiminy because Jiminy is not an additional insured under the Policy. Further, the duty Navigators has under the Policy to pay defense costs to a non-insured party pursuant to a contractual liability of its insured only requires it to make payments to the insured, and only when the insured has actually requested payment. In this case, Navigators asserts that even if Wiegand is found to owe Jiminy its defense costs, it will be up to Wiegand to determine whether it wishes to pay the amount or to make a claim to Navigators. Since Navigators owes no duty directly to Jiminy and it would be up to Wiegand to determine whether to make a claim in the event judgment is entered against it with respect to Jiminy’s defense costs…

Jiminy Peak responded by arguing the contract between it, and Wiegand was enough to force Navigator to pay. (You and I go to dinner and try to convince the waiter that your friend who is not at the table should pay for our meal.)

The court looked into the requirements for an insurance company to defend under Massachusetts law.

The court begins its analysis by considering whether Massachusetts law allows Jiminy to compel payment from Navigators based on Navigators’ obligations to its insured, Wiegand. Massachusetts law imposes on insurers a “broad duty to defend its insured against any claims that create a potential for indemnity.” This duty is broad and attaches whenever the claims in the complaint match up with the language in the policy.

However, the broad language of the policy only applies to the companies named in the policy as an insured. Jiminy Peak was not named in any way under the policy.

The Contract also included provisions regarding both additional insureds and “insured contracts,” suggesting that Jiminy, like Navigators and Wiegand, understood that Wiegand’s promise to pay Jiminy’s defense costs would not grant Jiminy the status of an “additional insured” with respect to Navigators.

If Jiminy Peak had been named in the policy or listed as an additional insured, then coverage would have been provided under Navigator’s policy issued to Wiegand.

In the absence of a contractual relationship between Navigators and Jiminy, the court finds no legal basis for ordering Navigators to pay Jiminy’s defense costs directly. Any obligation upon Navigators to pay such costs will arise only after an insured, in this case Wiegand, makes a claim for payment and then its only obligation will be to Wiegand.

Jiminy Peak may still be indemnified by Navigator’s policy. However, to be covered Wiegand will have to make a claim under the policy and if Wiegand was negligent and did something defined under the policy as an insured, then coverage will be provided.

However, I doubt any coverage will be provided unless Jiminy Peak can prove that Wiegand was negligent in its relationship. The contract only applies to product liability or negligence claims of the insured, Wiegand.

So Now What?

Insurance policies are written so the language is clear. The insured or persons covered by the policy are listed on the first page, the declaration page, or as additional insured on the policy. The coverage provided by a policy is broader than the language usually required by state law. However, the broad coverage is only extended to the people listed in the policy.

If you name is not on a piece of paper issued by the insurance company you are not covered under the policy.

A certificate of insurance request by Jiminy Peak would have solved the problem.

However, requesting a certificate of insurance does not solve all problems, in fact it only solves very limited problems. For a simple certificate of insurance to provide protection, the named insured must have done something to create liability for the insured under the certificate of insurance.

Just requesting a certificate of insurance without an agreement outlining what is to be covered is worthless.

Every day I see situations were one company requests a certificate of insurance believing that provides coverage. It does not. To be effective a certificate of insurance should be issued based on a contract which outlines what is to be covered under the certificate of insurance. The certificate of insurance must confirm to the contract between the parties.

A certificate of insurance, by itself is pretty worthless. (If they had real value would insurance companies issue them so easily?)

clip_image002What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Jiminy Peak Mountain Report, LLC, v. Wiegand Sports, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34209

Jiminy Peak Mountain Report, LLC, v. Wiegand Sports, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34209

Jiminy Peak Mountain Report, LLC, Plaintiff, v. Wiegand Sports, LLC, and, Navigators Specialty Insurance, CO., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 14-40115-MGM

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34209

March 16, 2016, Decided

March 16, 2016, Filed

CORE TERMS: insured, insurer, duty to defend, liability insurance, owe, cross-motions, liability claims, bodily injury’, declaratory, premium, state law, insurance policy, amount in controversy, threshold amount, principal place of business, wholly-owned subsidiary, disclosures, publicly, disputed, traded, judgment ordering, seriously injured, own expense, fully performed, negligence claim, indemnification, cross-claims, contractual, separately, asserting

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, LLC, Plaintiff: Jennifer C. Sheehan, Matthew D. Sweet, Richard J. Shea, Hamel, Marcin, Dunn, Reardon & Shea, P.C., Boston, MA.

For Navigators Specialty Insurance Company, Defendant: David A. Grossbaum, LEAD ATTORNEY, Matthew R. Watson, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Boston, MA.

JUDGES: MARK G. MASTROIANNI, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: MARK G. MASTROIANNI

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

(Dkt. Nos. 40 & 42)

MASTROIANNI, U.S.D.J.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, LLC (“Jiminy”) operates a ski area in Hancock, Massachusetts. In 2005 it entered into a contract with Defendant, Wiegand Sports, LLC (“Wiegand”), to purchase a Wiegand, Alpine Coaster (the “Coaster”). The Coaster opened to the public in 2006. In August of 2012, two minors were seriously injured while riding the Coaster. The parents of the minors subsequently filed two lawsuits (together, the “Underlying Action”), each asserting claims against Jiminy and Wiegand. Jiminy subsequently filed this suit against Wiegand and Defendant, Navigators Specialty Insurance, Co. (“Navigators”), Wiegand’s insurer at the time the minors were injured, seeking a declaratory judgment [*2] ordering Wiegand and Navigators to pay the defense costs incurred by Jiminy in the Underlying Action. Before the court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings from Jiminy and Navigators. Jiminy and Wiegand have stipulated to the dismissal of their cross-claims, agreeing to litigate those claims in the Underlying Action, rather than in this lawsuit.

II. Jurisdiction

In this action, Jiminy seeks an order requiring Navigators to pay Jiminy’s past and future defense costs in the Underlying Action based on the terms of the contract between Jiminy and Wiegand and the insurance policy Navigators issued to Wiegand. The relief is requested pursuant to state law. Federal courts have jurisdiction over suits brought pursuant to state law where there is complete diversity of citizenship between the adversaries and the amount in controversy exceeds a threshold amount of $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513, 126 S. Ct. 1235, 163 L. Ed. 2d 1097 (2006). Based on the content of the complaint and the corporate disclosures filed by the parties (Dkt. Nos. 20, 21, 55), the court finds that (1) Jiminy is a Massachusetts limited liability company, owned by two other Massachusetts limited liability companies, which in turn are owned by members who reside in Massachusetts [*3] and (2) Navigators is incorporated in Delaware, has its principal place of business in Connecticut, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly traded Navigators Group, Inc., less than ten percent (10%) of which is owned by any other single publicly traded corporation.1 Plaintiff asserts the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory threshold amount. In the absence of any challenge from Defendant, the court finds it has jurisdiction in this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

1 Though Jiminy is no longer pursuing its claim against Wiegand, the court notes that Wiegand, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of a German entity with its principal place of business in Salt Lake City, Utah, is also diverse with respect to Jiminy. (Compl. ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 1, Corp. Disclosure, ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 19.)

III. Standard of Review

“‘A motion for judgment on the pleadings [under Rule 12(c)] is treated much like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,’ with the court viewing ‘the facts contained in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw[ing] all reasonable inferences therefrom.'” In re Loestrin 24 Fe Antitrust Litig., No. 14-2071, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 3049, 2016 WL 698077, at *8 (1st Cir. Feb. 22, 2016) (quoting Pérez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008)). Where, as here, the court is presented with cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings, the court’s role is [*4] “to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d 36, 44 (1st Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted)). As in the case of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is permitted to consider documents central to the plaintiff’s claims where the authenticity of the documents is not disputed and the complaint adequately references the documents. Id. (citing Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993)).

IV. Background

In December of 2005, Jiminy and Wiegand entered into a “Consulting, Purchase, Delivery, Assembly and Inspection Contract” (the “Contract”). (Compl. ¶ 9, Dkt. No. 1.) Pursuant to this contract, Jiminy agreed to purchase the Coaster and Wiegand agreed to deliver, assemble, and inspect it. (Id.) Section 8 of the Contract, titled “Rights and Obligations of [Jiminy]” included in its final subsection, 8(j), language stating that Wiegand would purchase product liability insurance for the Coaster, but that Jiminy was required to pay a portion of the premium, the amount of which would be determined based on the purchase price of the Coaster, and Jiminy would then be listed as an additional insured. (Compl. Ex. A, Contract, § 8(j), Dkt. No. 1-1.) (Id.) The Contract did not set forth the term during which Wiegand’s product [*5] liability insurance policy would apply, but did provide that Jiminy would have the option to continue as an additional insured during subsequent periods, provided it continued to pay the “same premium ratio.” Id. The same section also provided that Jiminy would separately maintain a personal injury insurance policy “at its own expense at all times so long as [it] operates [the Coaster].” (Id.) The Complaint does not assert that Jiminy continued to pay premiums to remain an additional insured under Wiegand’s product liability insurance policy.

Separately at Section 12, titled “Indemnification,” the Contract provided that:

in the event of a product liability suit against [Wiegand], [Wiegand] “shall, at its own expense, defend any suit or proceeding brought against [Jiminy] and shall fully protect and indemnify [Jiminy] against any and all losses, liability, cost, recovery, or other expense in or resulting from such . . . suit (provided, however, [Jiminy] has fully performed all ongoing maintenance obligations).

(Id. at § 12(A)(1).)

The following paragraph then provided that Jiminy would

protect, indemnify, defend and hold [Wiegand] harmless from and against any and all losses of [Wiegand] arising out of or sustained, [*6] in each case, directly or indirectly, from . . . any default by [Jiminy] . . . including without limitation, from defective/bad maintenance and/or operation of the Alpine Coaster caused by [Jiminy’s] gross negligence or willful misconduct.

(Id. at § 12(A)(2).)

Under Section 18, the Contract is to be interpreted in accordance with Massachusetts law.

(Id. at § 18.)

The Coaster was installed and became operational in 2006. In August of 2012, two minors were seriously injured while riding the Coaster. At the time of the accident, Wiegand had a general commercial liability insurance policy with Navigators (“Policy”). (Policy, Ex. C, Dkt. No. 1-3.) The Policy Period ran from March 1, 2012 through March 1, 2013. Id. Pursuant to Section I(1)(a), the Policy provided that Navigators would “pay those sums that [Wiegand] becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’ . . . to which [the Policy] applies.” (Id. at Section I(1)(a).) The obligation established under Section I(1)(a) is further defined in Section I(2)(b) as excluding certain types of damages, including those assumed in a contract, unless assumed in an “insured contract.” (Id. at Section I(2)(b).) In the case of an “insured contract,” “reasonable [*7] attorney fees and necessary litigation expenses incurred by or for a party other than an insured [was] deemed to be damages because of ‘bodily injury’ . . . , provided . . . that the party’s defense [had] also been assumed in the same ‘insured contract'” and the damages arise in a suit to which the Policy applied. (Id.) An “insured contract” is defined in the Policy as including “[t]hat part of any other contract or agreement pertaining to [Wiegand’s] business . . . under which [Wiegand] assume[d] the tort liability of another party to pay for ‘bodily injury’ . . . to a third person or organization.” (Id. at Section V(9)(f)). “Tort liabililty” is, in turn, defined as “a liability that would be imposed by law in the absence of any contract or agreement.” (Id.)

The parents of the minors injured on the Coaster in August of 2012 subsequently filed the Underlying Action against Jiminy and Wiegand.2 (Compl., Ex. B, Compls. in Underlying Action, Dkt. No. 1-2.) The six-count complaints3 both include a negligence claim against Jiminy (Count I), a negligence claim against Wiegand (Count II), products liability claims against Wiegand (Counts III and IV), breach of implied warranty of merchantability claim against [*8] Wiegand (Count V), and a loss of consortium claim against Wiegand and Jiminy (Count VI). (Id.) After the Underlying Action was filed, Jiminy filed this action against Wiegand and Navigators, seeking a declaratory judgment ordering Wiegand and Navigators to pay the defense costs incurred by Jiminy in connection with the Underlying Action. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) As mentioned above, Jiminy and Wiegand agreed to the dismissal of Jiminy’s claim seeking declaratory judgment from Wiegand in this action and instead are litigating the issues in the Underlying Action.

2 These suits were initially filed in the Eastern District of New York, but have since been transferred to this court where they are proceeding as a consolidated case – 13-cv-30108-MGM. The claims brought on behalf of the minors have already been settled. The only remaining claims in those cases are the cross-claims between Jiminy and Wiegand.

3 In both complaints, the claims are actually labeled 1-5 and 7.

V. Discussion

Both Jiminy and Navigators have moved for judgment on the pleadings. Navigators argues that as an insurer it owes a duty to defend its insured, Wiegand, but it does not owe a direct duty to defend Jiminy because Jiminy [*9] is not an additional insured under the Policy.4 Further, the duty Navigators has under the Policy to pay defense costs to a non-insured party pursuant to a contractual liability of its insured only requires it to make payments to the insured, and only when the insured has actually requested payment. In this case, Navigators asserts that even if Wiegand is found to owe Jiminy its defense costs, it will be up to Wiegand to determine whether it wishes to pay the amount or to make a claim to Navigators. Since Navigators owes no duty directly to Jiminy and it would be up to Wiegand to determine whether to make a claim in the event judgment is entered against it with respect to Jiminy’s defense costs, Navigators argues judgment on the pleadings should enter in its favor.

4 In its filings and at oral argument, Jiminy was clear that it was not claiming to be an additional insured under the Policy.

For its part, Jiminy begins its argument with the Contract, asserting first that the language in the Contract at § 12(A)(1) clearly establishes that Wiegand has a duty to pay Jiminy’s defense costs regardless of any potential factual disputes between Jiminy and Wiegand, provided (1) the defense costs are incurred [*10] in litigation in which there is a product liability claim against Wiegand and (2) Jiminy is also a defendant named in the action.5 As the Underlying Action includes product liability claims against Wiegand, as well as other claims against Jiminy, Jiminy asserts the two requirements are met. Jiminy then turns to the Policy, arguing that the Contract is an “insured contract” for purposes of the Policy. Finally, Jiminy argues that since the Policy provides coverage for liability assumed by Wiegand in an “insured contract,” Navigator, as an insurer, is required under Massachusetts law, to pay for Jiminy’s defense, without regard to the resolution of the dispute between Wiegand and Jiminy.

5 Initially, in its memorandum in support of its motion for judgment on the pleadings, Jiminy argued that it would also be necessary to establish that there were no disputes as to whether Jiminy had “fully performed all ongoing maintenance obligations.” (Compl., Ex. B, Contract §12(A)(1).) Subsequently, in its opposition to Navigators’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, Jiminy instead argued that the requirement regarding maintenance obligations applied only to indemnification claims.

Navigators has not contested, [*11] at least relative to the purpose of the motions currently before the court, that the Contract between Jiminy and Wiegand is an “insured contract” for purposes of the Policy. Also, Navigators does not dispute or that the Underlying Action is the type of litigation covered under the Policy. The court begins its analysis by considering whether Massachusetts law allows Jiminy to compel payment from Navigators based on Navigators’ obligations to its insured, Wiegand. Massachusetts law imposes on insurers a “broad duty to defend its insured against any claims that create a potential for indemnity.” Doe v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 423 Mass. 366, 667 N.E.2d 1149, 1151 (Mass. 1996). This duty is broad and attaches whenever the claims in the complaint match up with the language in the policy. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. SCA Services, Inc., 412 Mass. 330, 588 N.E.2d 1346, 1347 (Mass. 1992). However, the cases cited by the parties all involve cases in which the court discussed the duty in the context of the insured.

Jiminy has not cited any cases in which a court imposed on an insurer a duty to defend a third-party beneficiary of a policy. Instead, Jiminy argues the language of the Policy providing coverage for defense costs of a third-party pursuant to an “insured contract” shows the parties’ intention that Navigators would pay such costs and, therefore, such language [*12] should be construed to impose upon Navigators a duty to make payment directly to Jiminy. The court disagrees. As demonstrated by the provisions in the Policy that allow for the designation of an additional insured, Navigators and Wiegand knew how to extend Navigators’ duties as an insurer to other parties. Damages, including defense costs, associated with “insured contracts” were handled differently, indicating that Navigators and Wiegand did not, in fact, intend that in a case like this one Navigators would have any direct obligations to Jiminy based on the Contract. The Contract also included provisions regarding both additional insureds and “insured contracts,” suggesting that Jiminy, like Navigators and Wiegand, understood that Wiegand’s promise to pay Jiminy’s defense costs would not grant Jiminy the status of an “additional insured” with respect to Navigators.

In the absence of a contractual relationship between Navigators and Jiminy, the court finds no legal basis for ordering Navigators to pay Jiminy’s defense costs directly. Any obligation upon Navigators to pay such costs will arise only after an insured, in this case Wiegand, makes a claim for payment and then its only obligation [*13] will be to Wiegand. Judgment on the pleadings in favor of Navigators is, therefore, appropriate.

VI. Conclusion

For the Foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is hereby DENIED and Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is hereby ALLOWED.

It is So Ordered.

/s/ Mark G. Mastroianni

MARK G. MASTROIANNI

United States District Judge


Do you have contracts with all of your athletes? Manufacturers who provide more than swag to athletes may be sued without a written agreement.

In this case the manufacturer one because the damages were not able to be proven, however, this is just the tip of the iceberg on what could happen. What if the rider was injured, and you were their largest contributor to their income?

Rogatkin v. Raleigh America Inc., 69 F. Supp. 3d 294; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164154

State: Massachusetts, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAS-SACHUSETTS

Plaintiff: Nicholi Rogatkin, Minor by His Father and Next Friend, Vladmir Rogatkin

Defendant: Raleigh America Inc./Diamondback BMX, and John Does 1-8

Plaintiff Claims: : unauthorized use of name and portrait or picture in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 214 § 3A (Count I); unfair and/or deceptive business practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, §§ 2 & 11 (Count II); defamation (Count III); negligent misrepresentation (Count IV); unjust enrichment (Count V); promissory estoppel (Count VI); and intentional misrepresentation (Count VII).

Defendant Defenses: No evidence and No damages

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiff was a very talented BMX rider starting at a very early age. The defendant started sponsoring him at age 11 in 2007. That sponsorship continued for five years until 2012 when the plaintiff moved on to another sponsorship. During that time, the sponsorship started as a bike and other equipment and grew to a monthly income and travel expenses. During that time the plaintiff wore the defendant’s logos and sent photographs and videos to the defendant to be used on their website.

The plaintiff one year flew out to the defendants, at the defendant’s expense to be photographed for the defendant’s catalog. The defendant started asking for in 2010 and was told that he had a great career ahead of him.

Prior to receiving income, the plaintiff and defendant did not have any contract between them. Once the defendant started receiving a monthly income the plaintiff signed a Team Rider Sponsorship Agreement. The agreement was signed by the plaintiff’s father on behalf of the plaintiff. The agreement provided the plaintiff with a monthly payment, and the defendant got unlimited promotional use of the plaintiff’s name and likeness.

At no time, was the plaintiff restricted from receiving sponsorship from other manufacturers. Eventually, the plaintiff was picked up by other manufacturers, including other bike manufacturers. Eventually, he went to one of the manufacturers as a high-paid rider and left the defendant. Soon thereafter the plaintiff, by and through his father, sued the defendant. The claims total seven counts.

unauthorized use of name and portrait or picture in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 214 § 3A (Count I);

unfair and/or deceptive business practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, §§ 2 & 11 (Count II);

defamation (Count III);

negligent misrepresentation (Count IV);

unjust enrichment (Count V);

promissory estoppel (Count VI);

and intentional misrepresentation (Count VII).

Basically, the plaintiff sued to get more money believing that he was not compensated enough by the defendant for his work prior to leaving. He did not win any of these arguments. The judge granted the defendants motion for summary judgment.

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

The decisions starts with an analysis of the defamation claim. To prove defamation on Massachusetts law the plaintiff must prove:

…the defendant was at fault for the publication of a false statement regarding the plaintiff, capable of damaging the plaintiff’s reputation in the community, which either caused economic loss or is actionable without proof of economic loss.

The plaintiff based his claims on the theory that the defendant did not change the photos on its website fast enough to match the growth of the plaintiff and his riding larger bikes. For a year or so after he had advanced from a 16” (wheel size) bike to 18” then 20” bikes he was pictured on the website riding 16” bikes.

Although Rogatkin admits that the accused material was accurate and non-defamatory when published, he contends that as he grew in age and skill, his static portrayal by Raleigh took on a defamatory undertone.

Because the information was valid at the time it was posted, and the plaintiff’s date of birth was on the site, the court found no major issue with not changing photographs as quickly as the plaintiff wanted. The court even had fun with this argument.

Although Raleigh did not update Rogatkin’s biography with the march of time (the court knows of no duty the law imposes to do as much), it published Rogatkin’s accurate date of birth on the same page — a reasonable assurance that the public would never confuse Rogatkin with, say, Peter Pan or Benjamin Button.

More importantly the plaintiff could not offer any evidence showing that by failing to change the photographs, he had suffered an injury.

A false statement is defamatory if it “would tend to hold the plaintiff up to scorn, hatred, ridicule or contempt, in the minds of any considerable and respectable segment in the community

The court then had fun and brought in Shirley Temple in its analysis of the negative publicity claimed by the plaintiff.

The publication of Rogatkin’s age (12) and characterizing him as a “kid” in a biography is no more susceptible to a defamatory meaning than biographical references to Ambassador Shirley Temple as a child actor or as “America’s Little Darling.

A biography, like a photograph, is a faithful snapshot of a person taken at a particular time in his or her life.

The court also looked at the argument made by the plaintiff as one of not suffering injury from not showing him riding larger bikes, but of failing to post more images of him on larger bikes, which could not be actionable.

Rogatkin alleges that Raleigh’s continued publication of images of him as a 16-inch bike rider led to ridicule and scorn because he was not shown riding a larger bike. This is not an objection to the publications, but to the lack of publication of photos showing Rogatkin riding larger bikes. Rogatkin has not identified any support for the novel proposition that the absence of publication may form the basis of a defamation claim.

The court then looked at the first count, unauthorized use of the name and image of the plaintiff.

The statute at issue allows a private right of action when an image had been used for commercial advertising without the consent of the person. The defendant argued that the emails between them showed consent to use the images. The court agreed.

…Rogatkin does not disagree that he condoned Raleigh’s use of his name and images for purposes of advertising at the time of publication, or that he attended the various photo shoots (such as the one in Seattle in 2008) with any expectation other than that his name and image would be used by Raleigh to promote sales of its bikes.

The court also brought up the fact the emails from the plaintiff complained they were not posting enough photographs of him on the defendant’s website. Again, the plaintiff could not show any damages from the posting of his images. Just because Raleigh made money from using his injuries is not damages for injury upon the plaintiff. “Because Rogatkin has adduced no material evidence of damages attributable to the use of his name and image, Raleigh is entitled to summary judgment on Count I.”

Next the court took on claims IV, VI and VII, Intentional/Negligent Misrepresentation, and Promissory Estoppel.

Under Massachusetts’s law to win a claim of misrepresentation, the plaintiff had to show false statement that induced him to do something.

To sustain a claim of misrepresentation, a plaintiff must show a false statement of material fact made to induce the plaintiff to act, together with reliance on the false statement by the plaintiff to the plaintiff’s detriment. . . . The speaker need not know ‘that the statement is false if the truth is reasonably susceptible of actual knowledge, or otherwise expressed, if, through a modicum of diligence, accurate facts are available to the speaker.’

However, even if the defendant had made a false representation, the plaintiff had to prove he was worse off based on the false representation.

…a plaintiff must allege that (1) a promisor makes a promise which he should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee, (2) the promise does induce such action or forbearance, and (3) injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise.

The plaintiff could have rejected the sponsorship from the defendant, and the plaintiff was free to contract with other manufacturers for sponsorship.

On top of that, the plaintiff could not prove a promissory estoppel claim because he could not prove any terms or elements to create a legal claim.

Under Massachusetts law, “as with a claim for breach of contract, [i]n order to establish the existence of an enforceable promise under promissory estoppel, the plaintiff must show that the defendants’ promise included enough essential terms so that a contract including them would be capable of being enforced.”

Count V, unjust enrichment was reviewed by the court next.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant unfairly profited from his work and photographs by paying him minimally. To prove an unjust enrichment claim the plaintiff must show:

(1) a benefit conferred upon the defendant by the plaintiff;

(2) an appreciation or knowledge of the benefit by the defendant; and

(3) the acceptance or retention of the benefit by the defendant under circumstances which make such acceptance or retention inequitable.

Damages from an unjust enrichment claim are the disgorgement of the property unjustly appropriated.

Because unjust enrichment is a theory of equitable recovery, and not a separate cause of action, a court may not order restitution as a form of damages; it may only require a party to disgorge property that has been wrongfully appropriated from the rightful possession of the other party.

First because the relationship between the parties was voluntary there were no fraud or “unjust” actions by the defendant. On top of that, the plaintiff benefited from the relationship just as the defendants did.

He also benefited materially from the relationship in terms of equipment, gear, and travel expenses. If Rogatkin found the terms of his association with Raleigh unsatisfactory, he was free to renegotiate, or leave to pursue other opportunities (both of which he eventually did). Because Raleigh did not unfairly retain any benefit conferred by Rogatkin,….

Here again, the plaintiff could show no damages nor could he even show injury in this case.

The court looked at Count II then, Unfair and/or Deceptive Business Practices under Chapter 93A, a Massachusetts statute.

Here again, the plaintiff did not successfully argue this claim because he could not prove that the defendant was unethical, unscrupulous and a fraud.

Rogatkin has not shown that Raleigh’s actions fell within “the penumbra of some common-law, statutory, or other established concept of unfairness . . . or [was] immoral, unethical, oppressive or unscrupulous . . . [or] cause[d] substantial injury to consumers (or competitors or other businessmen).

These arguments were all based in fraud or contract. In all cases, the damages cannot be what the defendant got from third parties but what it cost the plaintiff in dealing with the defendant. Here the plaintiff could not show any damages that qualified, in fact, the court found the plaintiff had benefited from the relationship and at worse was a bad negotiator.

So Now What?

Once you put someone’s image on your website or your give something, specifically to someone based upon their relationship with your product you better have that relationship in writing.

Once you hand product to someone to sue in an effort to promote your product and create a long-term relationship with that person that is not defined by other facts, such as product testers, writers, reviewers, etc., you might look at immortalizing that relationship in writing.

Most states have laws concerning the unauthorized use of someone’s likeness without their permission. That is an easy reason to see why you should have an agreement.

The facts here are another reason. A written contract outlining the relationship from the beginning would have eliminated this lawsuit.

However, this can get worse.

The IRS wants to know what your relationship is. Without an agreement, the IRS is free to determine that relationship on its own with little help. (Although a contract is not persuasive, it helps when dealing with the IRS.) If the sponsored athlete is only sponsored by you and uses your equipment and does not pay taxes, the IRS can look to you for failing to pay withholding for the “employee.” The IRS wants it money and will work hard to get it from anyone who can write a check easily.

Another group that wants money is the athlete’s health insurance carrier or the unpaid hospital and doctors if the athlete does not have any insurance. The health insurance carrier through its subrogation clause can look to anyone it believes is legally responsible for the damages it paid out for the injured athlete’s medical bills. The insurer may see the action as the same way the IRS does; the injured athlete was an employee and should have been covered under your worker’s compensation insurance. A successful lawsuit on this issue will not only cost you money in paying the health insurance company, but double more for penalties to your worker’s comp carrier for not listing the athlete.

The health insurance carrier could also come after you if it believes the bike or another product was defective. Again, a contract with the athlete would eliminate both arguments.

Unpaid medical bills can also trigger claims based on either an employee theory or on the legal theory that you were legally responsible for encouraging the athlete.

It is easy to get these contracts written. You need to specify general issues like medical coverage, health insurance, taxes and the legal definition of the parties and that relationship. More importantly you need to define what you are going to do and all limits to that relationship so that no matter who or what, they cannot exceed the limits placed in the agreement.

You want to get your product out there, and you want to help up-and-coming athletes. However, taking the time to establish legally the relationship will make everyone’s life easier from the start.

Who knows, fifty years from now, that signature on an athlete’s first contract might have value in itself.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Rogatkin v. Raleigh America Inc., 69 F. Supp. 3d 294; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164154

Rogatkin v. Raleigh America Inc., 69 F. Supp. 3d 294; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164154

Nicholi Rogatkin, Minor by His Father and Next Friend, Vladmir Rogatkin1 v. Raleigh America Inc./Diamondback Bmx, and John Does 1-8

1 Nicholi Rogatkin was a minor at the commencement of this lawsuit. As he has since reached his majority, the court will regard him as the proper plaintiff.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 13-11574

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

69 F. Supp. 3d 294; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164154

November 24, 2014, Decided

November 24, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Rogatkin v. Raleigh Am., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130561 (D. Mass., Sept. 12, 2013)

CORE TERMS: team, bike, summary judgment, rider, photograph, advertising, sponsorship, biography, website, defamatory, bicycle, travel, written consent, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, defamatory meaning, false statement, email, reasonably susceptible, misrepresentation, defamation, portrait, catalog, greatly increased, business practices, negligent misrepresentation, material fact, unauthorized, benefitted, discovery

COUNSEL: [**1] For Nicholi Rogatkin, Plaintiff: Stephen J. Atkins, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Atkins & Goulet LLC, Nashua, NH; Shane D. Goulet, Atlas Tack Corporation, Boston, MA.

For Raleigh America, Inc./Diamondback BMX, Defendant: Patrick M. Curran, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Nicole S. Corvini, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, Boston, MA.

JUDGES: Richard G. Stearns, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: Richard G. Stearns

OPINION

[*296] MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT RALEIGH AMERICA, INC.’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

STEARNS, D.J.

Plaintiff Nicholi Rogatkin, a professional freestyle BMX (bicycle motocross) rider, alleges that defendant Raleigh America, Inc., a bicycle manufacturer and the sponsor of the Diamondback BMX Team, unfairly exploited his youth and inexperience during his 5-year stint as a rider for Team Diamondback. Discovery having been completed, Raleigh moves for summary judgment on all seven counts of the Amended Complaint. For the reasons stated, the motion will be allowed.

BACKGROUND2

2 The facts are viewed most favorably to Rogatkin as the nonmoving party.

Rogatkin became an accomplished BMX rider at an early age. In 2007, at age 11, Rogatkin joined Team Diamondback. At the time of his enlistment, Rogatkin and Raleigh did not [**2] enter into any written agreement, nor did Rogatkin request or receive any monetary compensation from Raleigh.

While competing for Team Diamondback, Rogatkin used equipment provided by Raleigh and wore Raleigh’s logo. Raleigh, in turn, used images of Rogatkin in its catalogs and advertisements,3 and publicized Rogatkin on its diamondbackbmx.com website. A mini-biography of Rogatkin, published on the website until at least November of 2011, described Rogatkin as 12 years old, 4 feet 10 inches tall, and sporting the monikers “little dude” and/or “little kid.” The website featured several photographs of Rogatkin performing tricks on a 16-inch bicycle, see Pl.’s Opp’n Ex. Q, and included a link to Rogatkin’s personal Youtube page.

3 In 2008, Raleigh paid for Rogatkin to travel to and from a photo shoot, where photos of Rogatkin were taken for Raleigh’s catalog. Raleigh also furnished Rogatkin a new bicycle expressly for the photo shoot.

Periodically, Rogatkin sent photos, videos, and biographical information about himself to Raleigh for use on the website. Rogatkin complained on occasion that Raleigh was giving him too little attention on the website. He also repeatedly asked Raleigh to update [**3] his biography and photos to reflect his coming-of-age, and particularly [*297] his switch to bigger bicycles.4 Raleigh, however, delayed in doing so because it used Rogatkin’s image to promote sales of its 16-inch bikes.

4 Rogatkin began competing on an 18-inch bike in 2009. He first competed on a 20-inch bike in 2010, and by 2011 was competing exclusively on 20-inch bikes.

Sometime in 2009 and 2010, Rogatkin broached the topic of compensation with Raleigh for his efforts on behalf of Team Diamondback. Although Raleigh stated that it would only consider limited financial support for the time being, it hinted at a bright future for Rogatkin. Rogatkin relates several oral and email5 conversations with Raleigh representatives Mike Hammond, Trevor Knesal, Sharon Robinson, and Kristian Jamieson6 in which he was assured that he would receive “greatly increased support,” that he had a “green light” to feel optimistic about his career at Team Diamondback, and that he could look forward to a “golden life” if he stayed with Raleigh. Rogatkin Dep. at 39:19-23; 108:15-17; & 71:11-22.

5 Rogatkin believes that certain of these emails have been deleted from his account.

6 Jamieson was not employed by Raleigh. He rather [**4] served as athletic manager for TAOW Productions, LLC and Windells Camps/NW School of Freeride, the promotors Raleigh had contracted to manage Team Diamondback through June of 2009.

In 2010, Raleigh agreed to provide Rogatkin with a $2,000 travel budget.7 In June of 2011, Rogatkin and Raleigh executed a Diamondback Team Rider Sponsorship Agreement effective from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.8 The Sponsorship Agreement provided that Rogatkin would receive a monthly retainer of $416.66, and up to $5,000 in result-based incentive bonuses from Raleigh.9 Rogatkin Dep. Ex. 8 at Addendum A. In return, Raleigh was permitted to make unlimited promotional use of Rogatkin’s name and likeness. Id. ¶ 2.

7 Rogatkin invested substantially more than $2,000 to travel to competitions with his father.

8 Rogatkin’s father, Vladmir Rogatkin, signed on Rogatkin’s behalf.

9 It is undisputed that Rogatkin received the full amount he was entitled to under the Sponsorship Agreement.

Rogatkin left Team Diamondback in June of 2012.10 While still at Team Diamondback, Rogatkin was approached by Bulldog Bikes (in 2009), DK Bikes (in 2010), and KHE (in 2011), with sponsorship nibbles. Out of loyalty to Team Diamondback, Rogatkin [**5] did not pursue any of these overtures.11 After leaving Team Diamondback, however, Rogatkin became a fulltime rider for KHE. At present, KHE pays Rogatkin a $30,000 annual salary and $8,000 in travel expenses. On or about June 6, 2012, Raleigh removed any references to Rogatkin from the Team Diamondback webpage.

10 Rogatkin made the following public statement concerning his departure from Raleigh.

After five great years, I am sad to say I’m leaving Diamondback. I’ve had the best time with the company and with my forever teammates. I want to especially thank Trevor Knesal, who signed me on to the pro team when I was only 11 and sent me on the best trips and the biggest contests around the world. However, a great opportunity has come up for me outside of DB and I will keep you guys updated when it’s final. Thanks again to everyone at Diamondback.

Rogatkin Dep. Ex. 6.

11 Rogatkin began promoting Kali Protectives and Monster Energy in 2009. Both Kali and Monster have provided Rogatkin with travel expenses. Rogatkin began a limited relationship with KHE in 2011.

[*298] Rogatkin brought this lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court in May of 2013. The Amended Complaint lists seven counts: unauthorized use of name [**6] and portrait or picture in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 214 § 3A (Count I); unfair and/or deceptive business practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, §§ 2 & 11 (Count II); defamation (Count III); negligent misrepresentation (Count IV); unjust enrichment (Count V); promissory estoppel (Count VI); and intentional misrepresentation (Count VII). Invoking diversity jurisdiction, Raleigh removed the Complaint to this court in July of 2013. Raleigh filed its motion for summary judgment in July of 2014, following the completion of discovery.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A material fact is one which has the “potential to affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law.” Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993). For a dispute to be “genuine,” the “evidence relevant to the issue, viewed in the light most flattering to the party opposing the motion, must be sufficiently open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the issue in favor of either side.” Nat’l Amusements v. Town of Dedham, 43 F.3d 731, 736 (1st Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

Defamation (Count III)

Rogatkin alleges as defamatory Raleigh’s repeated publication of a biography characterizing him as a 12-year old “kid” and of [**7] photographs depicting him as a 16-inch bike rider.12 To prove defamation, a plaintiff must establish that “the defendant was at fault for the publication of a false statement regarding the plaintiff, capable of damaging the plaintiff’s reputation in the community, which either caused economic loss or is actionable without proof of economic loss.” White v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mass., Inc., 442 Mass. 64, 66, 809 N.E.2d 1034 (2004); see also Phelan v. May Dep’t Stores Co., 443 Mass. 52, 56, 819 N.E.2d 550, (2004).

12 Although Rogatkin admits that the accused material was accurate and non-defamatory when published, he contends that as he grew in age and skill, his static portrayal by Raleigh took on a defamatory undertone.

A false statement is defamatory if it “would tend to hold the plaintiff up to scorn, hatred, ridicule or contempt, in the minds of any considerable and respectable segment in the community.” Phelan, 443 Mass. at 56. “[WJhether a communication is reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning [] is a question of law for the court.” Id. “The court [must] examine the statement in its totality in the context in which it was uttered or published. The court must consider all the words used, not merely a particular phrase or sentence.” Amrak Prods., Inc. v. Morton, 410 F.3d 69, 73 (1st Cir. 2005).

The publication of Rogatkin’s age (12) and characterizing him as a “kid” in a biography is no more susceptible to a defamatory [**8] meaning than biographical references to Ambassador Shirley Temple as a child actor or as “America’s Little Darling.” A defamatory statement must be false. There is no dispute that Rogatkin’s biographical details were accurate when initially published (Rogatkin supplied Raleigh with the biography). The publication of true but historical facts (even if outdated) about a person cannot be defamatory as a matter of law. A biography, like a photograph, is a faithful snapshot of a [*299] person taken at a particular time in his or her life. Although Raleigh did not update Rogatkin’s biography with the march of time (the court knows of no duty the law imposes to do as much), it published Rogatkin’s accurate date of birth on the same page — a reasonable assurance that the public would never confuse Rogatkin with, say, Peter Pan or Benjamin Button.

By the same principle, the authentic photographs of Rogatkin performing and riding on a 16-inch bike are also not reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning. Although photographs may take on a defamatory cast if published in a demeaning or derogatory context, see, e.g., Stanton v. Metro Corp., 438 F.3d 119, 125-129 (1st Cir. 2006) (concluding that photograph of high school student juxtaposed with article on teenage [**9] sex was reasonably susceptible of defamatory meaning), or manipulated as in Soviet days to depict something other than reality, there is no suggestion that Raleigh published photographs of Rogatkin that lent themselves to any interpretation other than that he was an accomplished 16-inch bike rider.13 Because the accused publications are not reasonably susceptible for defamatory meaning, Raleigh is entitled to summary judgment on Count III.

13 Rogatkin alleges that Raleigh’s continued publication of images of him as a 16-inch bike rider led to ridicule and scorn because he was not shown riding a larger bike. This is not an objection to the publications, but to the lack of publication of photos showing Rogatkin riding larger bikes. Rogatkin has not identified any support for the novel proposition that the absence of publication may form the basis of a defamation claim.

Unauthorized Use of Name and Portrait/Image (Count I)

Rogatkin alleges that because no written contract governed his relationship with Raleigh outside of the April of 2011 to March of 2012 Sponsorship Agreement, Raleigh’s use of his name and image on its website and in its catalogs and other advertising violates Chapter 214, Section 3A [**10] of Massachusetts General Laws. Section 3A grants a right of private action to “[a]ny person whose name, portrait or picture is used within the commonwealth for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without his written consent . . . to prevent and restrain the use thereof; and [to] recover damages for any injuries sustained by reason of such use.” (emphasis added).

Raleigh contends that Rogatkin’s email communications constitute sufficient written consent because Section 3A does not require that written consent be memorialized in any particular format. See, e.g., Rogatkin Dep. Ex. 12 (3/10/2007 email from Rogatkin to Knesal) (“Trevor, whatever you’re saying in your letter — make a frame for me?!!, having me in a Diamondback Catalog?!! already sounds like a dream come true. What can I do for Diamondback?”). Moreover, Rogatkin does not disagree that he condoned Raleigh’s use of his name and images for purposes of advertising at the time of publication, or that he attended the various photo shoots (such as the one in Seattle in 2008) with any expectation other than that his name and image would be used by Raleigh to promote sales of its bikes. Rogatkin supplied Raleigh photographs and videos of himself for use on the Raleigh website over the course of his career at Team Diamondback, and if he complained of anything, it was that Raleigh was posting too few of his feats.14

14 Section 3A protects [**11] “the interest in not having the commercial value of one’s name, portrait or picture appropriated to the benefit of another.” Tropeano v. Atl. Monthly Co., 379 Mass. 745, 749, 400 N.E.2d 847 (1980). As the title of Section 3A makes clear, that interest is infringed only when the use is “unauthorized.” To protect the interests of the parties, consent is optimally memorialized in a written instrument. However, at common law, consent may be given orally or through a course of conduct. Although the language of Section 3A references “written consent,” nothing in the statute suggests a legislative intent to displace common law or the equitable defenses of acquiescence and waiver.

[*300] Even if the court were to adopt Rogatkin’s argument for purposes of summary judgment, that his enthusiastic emails, voluntary participation in the production of his images, and his condonation of their publication are insufficient to satisfy the formalities of the “written consent” required by Section 3A, Rogatkin cannot show any personal damages resulting in Raleigh’s use of his image in its advertisements. His complaint rather is that Raleigh benefitted more from the sales of bikes generated by his image than he did from the exposure. The court knows of no theory of quasi-contract (other than unjust enrichment, [**12] see discussion of Count V infra) that would permit a party to recoup the benefits that the other acquires from an otherwise consensual relationship.15 Moreover, the only evidence that Rogatkin submits in support of the claim that Raleigh benefitted disproportionately from the association — a chart showing Raleigh’s total sales of 16-inch and 18-inch bikes from October of 2008 to September of 2013 — offers no basis on which a finder of fact could determine what, if any, percentage of these sales is reasonably attributable to the use of Rogatkin’s image in Raleigh’s advertising “in the commonwealth” (or anywhere else). See Bonacorso Const. Co. v. Master Builders, Inc., 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6057, 1991 WL 72796, at *10 (D. Mass. Apr. 24, 1991) (“The plaintiff has not demonstrated that it will be able to analyze this data [of variable year-to-year sales in Massachusetts] to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that any of the amount of the increase was due to use of its name and likeness.”).16 Because Rogatkin has adduced no material evidence of damages attributable to the use of his name and image, Raleigh is entitled to summary judgment on Count I.

15 Rogatkin’s testimony that Raleigh treated other riders more generously is inadmissible hearsay, and at best, simply evidence that other riders struck more advantageous [**13] bargains with Raleigh (as Rogatkin later did with KHE). So too with Rogatkin’s complaint that he suffered harm from his failure to pursue sponsorships with other bike companies because of his loyalty to Team Diamondback. There is no evidence of the terms of any concrete competing offer that Rogatkin received and rejected, or any evidence that Raleigh forbid or restrained Rogatkin from entering a relationship with another team or bicycle manufacturer.

16 Raleigh also contends that its use of Rogatkin’s name and images for advertising was not “within the commonwealth.” It is undisputed, however, that Rogatkin’s rider page, featuring his biography and photographs, was accessible in Massachusetts over the internet. Moreover, advertising for Diamondback featuring Rogatkin appeared in BMX magazines that circulated in Massachusetts. See Rogatkin Dep. Ex. 10.

Intentional/Negligent Misrepresentation, and Promissory Estoppel, (Counts IV, VI, and VII)

Rogatkin’s claims of intentional and negligent misrepresentation and promissory estoppel also fail for the lack of any evidence of damages. “To sustain a claim of misrepresentation, a plaintiff must show a false statement of material fact made to induce [**14] the plaintiff to act, together with reliance on the false statement by the plaintiff to the plaintiff’s detriment. . . . The speaker need not know ‘that the statement is false if the truth is reasonably susceptible of actual knowledge, or otherwise [*301] expressed, if, through a modicum of diligence, accurate facts are available to the speaker.'” Zimmerman v. Kent, 31 Mass. App. Ct. 72, 77, 575 N.E.2d 70 (1991), quoting Acushnet Fed. Credit Union v. Roderick, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 604, 605, 530 N.E.2d 1243 (1988)). “Where a plaintiff does not prove that he is worse off than if there had been no misrepresentation he has not made out a case of deceit.” Connelly v. Bartlett, 286 Mass. 311, 315, 190 N.E. 799 (1934). To prove a claim of promissory estoppel under Massachusetts law,

a plaintiff must allege that (1) a promisor makes a promise which he should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee, (2) the promise does induce such action or forbearance, and (3) injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise.

Neuhoff v. Marvin Lumber & Cedar Co., 370 F.3d 197, 203 (1st Cir. 2004).

These theories, as with tort claims generally, require proof of actual damages — here based on reasonable reliance on Raleigh’s representations17 or promises.18 There is no evidence that Rogatkin was required by Raleigh to reject other (unspecified) sponsorship offers or that Rogatkin was contractually bound to represent Raleigh [**15] exclusively. As Rogatkin himself admits, he did represent other companies, including KHE, his current primary sponsor, while still a member of Team Diamondback. Without any showing of material damages, Raleigh is entitled to summary judgment on Counts IV, VI, and VII.

17 The statements Rogatkin allegedly relied upon — “greatly increased support,” “green light,” and “golden life” — “fall[] within the ordinary rule that false statements of opinion, of conditions to exist in the future, or of matters promissory in nature are not actionable” as misrepresentations. Yerid v. Mason, 341 Mass. 527, 530, 170 N.E.2d 718 (1960); see also Deming v. Darling, 148 Mass. 504, 505, 20 N.E. 107 (1889) (Holmes, J.).

18 Under Massachusetts law, “as with a claim for breach of contract, [i]n order to establish the existence of an enforceable promise under promissory estoppel, the plaintiff must show that the defendants’ promise included enough essential terms so that a contract including them would be capable of being enforced.” Armstrong v. Rohm & Haas Co., 349 F. Supp. 2d 71, 82 (D. Mass. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although Rogatkin alleges that Raleigh gave him assurances of future compensation, he cannot recall a specific number that was ever discussed. General statements of optimism such as “greatly increased support,” “green light” and “golden life” are simply too vague to [**16] form the basis of an enforceable promise.

Unjust Enrichment (Count V)

Rogatkin alleges that Raleigh unfairly profited from his efforts to promote Raleigh (both by appearing in Raleigh advertising and competing with Team Diamondback) while compensating him minimally for his efforts. To establish a claim of unjust enrichment, Rogatkin must prove

(1) a benefit conferred upon the defendant by the plaintiff;

(2) an appreciation or knowledge of the benefit by the defendant; and

(3) the acceptance or retention of the benefit by the defendant under circumstances which make such acceptance or retention inequitable.

Stevens v. Thacker, 550 F. Supp. 2d 161, 165 (D. Mass. 2008). Because unjust enrichment is a theory of equitable recovery, and not a separate cause of action, Lopes v. Commonwealth, 442 Mass. 170, 179, 811 N.E.2d 501 (2004), a court may not order restitution as a form of damages; it may only require a party to disgorge property [*302] that has been wrongfully appropriated from the rightful possession of the other party. Santagate v. Tower, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 324, 336, 833 N.E.2d 171 (2005).

The court here sees no inequity in any benefit that Raleigh may have derived from its association with Rogatkin. The undisputed evidence is that Rogatkin’s relationship with Raleigh was voluntary from its inception and throughout. Rogatkin is an avid BMX athlete and he competed not only to promote [**17] Raleigh as his sponsor, but to also to gain experience and advance his standing in the world of BMX biking. Rogatkin was aware of Raleigh’s use of his name and image in advertising and never objected for the obvious reason that he was a direct beneficiary of the publicity. He also benefitted materially from the relationship in terms of equipment, gear, and travel expenses. If Rogatkin found the terms of his association with Raleigh unsatisfactory, he was free to renegotiate, or leave to pursue other opportunities (both of which he eventually did). Because Raleigh did not unfairly retain any benefit conferred by Rogatkin, Raleigh in entitled to summary judgment on Count V.

Unfair and/or Deceptive Business Practices under Chapter 93A (Count II)

Having found that Raleigh is entitled to summary judgment on all of the foundational claims, the court also finds that Raleigh is entitled to summary judgment on the unfair and deception business practices (Chapter 93A) claim. Rogatkin has not shown that Raleigh’s actions fell within “the penumbra of some common-law, statutory, or other established concept of unfairness . . . or [was] immoral, unethical, oppressive or unscrupulous . . . [or] cause[d] substantial [**18] injury to consumers (or competitors or other businessmen).” PMP Assocs., Inc. v. Globe Newspaper Co., 366 Mass. 593, 596, 321 N.E.2d 915 (1975).

ORDER

For the foregoing reasons, Raleigh’s motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED. The claims against the John Doe defendants are also DISMISSED.19 The Clerk will enter judgment for Raleigh and close the case.

19 This case was removed to this court in July of 2013. Fact discovery closed in April of 2014. Plaintiff has yet to identify and serve the John Doe defendants. “[A] district court otherwise prepared to act on dispositive motions is not obligated to wait indefinitely for [the plaintiff] to take steps to identify and serve . . . unknown defendants.” Figueroa v. Rivera, 147 F.3d 77, 83 (1st Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted).

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Richard G. Stearns

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE


Duty of care for a Massachusetts campground is to warn of dangerous conditions.

Plaintiff assumes the risk of his injury at a commercial campground if there is not dangerous condition and/or he knows about the condition because he walks the trail during the day.

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

State: Massachusetts, Appeals Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Anthony Monaco

Defendant: Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

This case involves a commercial campground. The plaintiff was walking up to the restroom at night and fell on the path. He sued for his injuries. The plaintiff sued the campground and others who were never clearly identified in the appellate decision.

The lower court stated the plaintiff assumed the risk based upon the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first reviewed the requirements for a negligence suit to succeed under Massachusetts law and condensed the four steps to one sentence. “To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages.” The duty of care is only owed to those who are foreseeably endangered by the contact with the defendant.

Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.

The duty of a land owner in Massachusetts is that of reasonable care “under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.”

Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. That is, an open and obvious danger negates the existence of a duty of care.

The fact that the plaintiff was injured does not create a legal obligation or duty on the part of the defendant. Evidence is needed to support the lack of care or proof the landowner k of the dangerous condition.

…evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards.

The plaintiff had descended the hill earlier and had not seen a dangerous condition. In fact, the plaintiff had been using the campground for eighteen years and had used the path three times the day he fell.

Nor had a dangerous condition on the hillside been identified or spotted during the camps annual inspection.

Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

The court held the defendants owed not duty to protect the plaintiff from the conditions on the pathway.

So Now What?

The requirement that a landowner is not obligated to consistently and constantly check for dangerous conditions is not found in all states. In most states if the dangerous condition exists, the landowner must fix it or warn of it.

The obligations or duties owed to people on your land are usually based upon the reasons why the injured person was originally upon your land. In Massachusetts that issue is not discussed.

Here the obligation was to warn or correct dangerous conditions. It did not matter why the person was on the land.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Anthony Monaco vs. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., & another.1

1 Jayne Cohen.

14-P-141

APPEALS COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS

86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

December 18, 2014, Entered

NOTICE: DECISIONS ISSUED BY THE APPEALS COURT PURSUANT TO ITS RULE 1:28 ARE PRIMARILY ADDRESSED TO THE PARTIES AND, THEREFORE, MAY NOT FULLY ADDRESS THE FACTS OF THE CASE OR THE PANEL’S DECISIONAL RATIONALE. MOREOVER, RULE 1:28 DECISIONS ARE NOT CIRCULATED TO THE ENTIRE COURT AND, THEREFORE, REPRESENT ONLY THE VIEWS OF THE PANEL THAT DECIDED THE CASE. A SUMMARY DECISION PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28, ISSUED AFTER FEBRUARY 25, 2008, MAY BE CITED FOR ITS PERSUASIVE VALUE BUT, BECAUSE OF THE LIMITATIONS NOTED ABOVE, NOT AS BINDING PRECEDENT.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE MASSACHUSETTS APPEALS COURT REPORTS.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE NORTH EASTERN REPORTER.

DISPOSITION: [*1] Judgment affirmed.

CORE TERMS: pathway, campground, landowners, summary judgment, favorable, allowance, obvious danger, duty of care, citation omitted, unreasonably dangerous, obstructions, deposition, anticipate, precautions, unexpected, invitees, uneven, slope, fault, owe, shower, paved, path, owed

JUDGES: Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28

Anthony Monaco seeks to recover for serious injuries he sustained when he fell down a grassy hill that campers used to reach a shower building located on Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground in New Hampton, New Hampshire. The plaintiff alleges that VCRI and Jayne Cohen2 were negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place. A Superior Court judge allowed the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, reasoning that traversing the shortcut in lieu of existing paved pathways, and in darkness, is an “obvious baseline danger,” and that the defendants therefore owed no duty. We affirm.

2 Cohen served as president of Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., during the time of the incident in question.

3 Construing the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and noting that the shower building was marked with a “restroom” sign visible from the paved road above, we accept the plaintiff’s characterization [*2] of the route between the road and the building as a pathway.

In reviewing the trial court judge’s allowance of a motion for summary judgment, we consider the evidence submitted with the motion, which may include “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits.” Highlands Ins. Co. v. Aerovox, Inc., 424 Mass. 226, 232, 676 N.E.2d 801 (1997) (citation omitted). See Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). We construe inferences drawn from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and review de novo the trial court judge’s application of the law to the facts. LeBlanc v. Logan Hilton Joint Venture, 463 Mass. 316, 318, 974 N.E.2d 34 (2012). Allowance of the motion will survive appellate review so long as there is “no genuine issue” of “material fact” and “the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 325-326. Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages. Ronayne v. State, 137 N.H. 281, 284, 632 A.2d 1210 (1993).4 “[P]ersons owe a duty of care ‘only to those who they foreseeably endanger by their conduct.'” Manchenton v. Auto Leasing Corp., 135 N.H. 298, 304, 605 A.2d 208 (1992) [*3] (citation omitted). “Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.” Id. at 305.

4 The trial court judge determined that New Hampshire’s substantive law governed this action. The parties do not dispute that the choice of New Hampshire law is appropriate under the circumstances of this case.

“[O]wners and occupiers of land owe plaintiffs a duty of reasonable care under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.” Werne v. Exec. Women’s Golf Assn., 158 N.H. 373, 376, 969 A.2d 346 (2009). Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. See Pesaturo v. Kinne, 161 N.H. 550, 555, 20 A.3d 284 (2011). The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. Ibid. Lawrence v. Hollerich, 394 N.W.2d 853, 855 (Minn. App. Ct. 1986). That is, an open and obvious danger negates the [*4] existence of a duty of care. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 422, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002).

The mere fact that the plaintiff was injured does not trigger a legal duty on the defendants. He must produce some evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. Lawrence, 394 N.W.2d at 856. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards. However, other evidence revealed that the condition of the pathway, as it appeared to both parties, posed no greater risk than walkways maintained by landowners in their ordinary exercise of care. Cf. Paquette v. Joyce, 117 N.H. 832, 835, 379 A.2d 207 (1977). Monaco testified at his deposition that he was not aware of any treacherous condition as he was descending the hill, and Cohen never observed any “unexpected,” unreasonably dangerous condition, Ahern v. Amoskeag Mfg. Co., 75 N.H. 99, 101, 102, 71 A. 213 (1908), during her annual visual inspections of the campground. Thus, Monaco’s inattention to obvious dangers on the pathway was the only risk presented, which did not impose on the [*5] defendants a duty to exercise precautions. Contrast Hacking v. Belmont, 143 N.H. 546, 553, 736 A.2d 1229 (1999) (defendant liable for “unreasonably increased or concealed” risks not inherent in the game of basketball).

Moreover, “[t]here is nothing unfamiliar about the inability to perceive in the dark obstructions to the course of one who walks without light.” Ahern, supra at 101. That is, “[i]f there may be obstructions whose presence cannot be ascertained by the eye, due care requires the use of some other sense to detect them.” Ibid. When the evidence is “uncontradicted” that the plaintiff was familiar with the area where the accident occurred and that the injury occurred because of an “unexpected” condition, the defendant is not at fault for failing to anticipate it. Ibid. Unless the defendant had superior knowledge of the danger, “[i]t cannot reasonably be found that of two persons of equal knowledge and of equal ability to appreciate and understand a danger, one is in fault for not apprehending the danger and the other is not.” Id. at 102.

In this case, Monaco’s knowledge and appreciation of the condition of the pathway was equal to the defendants’. Monaco had camped on the campground once per [*6] year for eighteen years and had used the pathway three times without incident on the day of his fall. Likewise, VCRI had been operating the campground for over two decades, and Cohen was VCRI’s president for approximately six years. Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

Conclusion. Drawing all inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we conclude that the defendants owed no duty to protect him against the injury-causing condition of the pathway. The allowance of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was proper.

Judgment affirmed.

By the Court (Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.5),

5 The panelists are listed in order of seniority.

Entered: December 18, 2014.


A federal district court in Massachusetts upholds indemnification clause in a release.

All prior decisions have found that indemnification clauses in releases are not effective because it creates a conflict of interest within a family.

Angelo, v. USA Triathlon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

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

Plaintiff: Cheryl Angelo, Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard Angelo,

Defendant: USA Triathlon

Plaintiff Claims: wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress

Defendant Defenses: Release and indemnification

Holding: not a final ruling

Year: 2014

I cannot determine if this case is over, however, the ruling is quite interesting and worth the risk in having to reverse this post.

The deceased joined the USA Triathlon (USAT) and in doing so signed a Waiver and Release of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement. The deceased signed the document electronically. The deceased registered online for the National Age Group Championship in Vermont and again signed an “indemnity agreement” electronically. The two releases were identical.

The deceased died during the triathlon during the swim portion of the event. The deceased wife and personal representative of his estate brought this lawsuit in Federal District Court of Massachusetts.

The defendant USAT filed a motion for summary judgment, and this review is of the court’s ruling on that motion.

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

The motion for Summary Judgment was a partial motion on the counterclaim of the defendant based on the indemnity provisions in the two releases.

The court refers to the releases as “the indemnity agreements” which create a lot of confusion when reading the decision. The court first examined Massachusetts law relating to releases.

Under Massachusetts law, “[c]ontracts of indemnity are to be fairly and reasonably construed in order to ascertain the intention of the parties and to effectuate the purpose sought to be accomplished.”

And then Massachusetts law on indemnity agreements.

Indemnity contracts that exempt a party from liability arising from their own ordinary negligence are not illegal. Further, contracts of indemnity can survive a decedent’s death and become an obligation of a decedent’s estate.

The language in the indemnification agreement was deemed by the court to be broad. The plaintiff argued the release was ambiguous as to who the release applied to. However, the court disagreed finding the release:

…clearly states that “I . . . agree to Indemnify, Defend and Hold Harmless” the released parties from liability “of any kind or nature . . . which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the Event.” Both the scope of the indemnity and the party bound by the agreement are clear and unambiguous.

The court then looked at how the release affected the specific claims of the plaintiff. The first count in the complaint was based on wrongful death, and the third was for wrongful death because of gross negligence of the defendant and included a claim for punitive damages.

The court looked at the damages that might be recoverable under these two theories because how the money was identified would determine if the money could be recovered on the indemnification claim.

That means the indemnification claim is against the person who signed the release or in this case their estate. The deceased could not pledge his wife’s assets to the indemnification because he could not sign for her, only his assets. “The decedent, while having authority to bind his estate, lacked authority to bind his surviving family members who did not sign the indemnity agreements and are not bound thereby.” The wrongful-death claim money is not an asset of the state; it is held by the personal representative on behalf of the heirs to the estate. So any money recovered under the wrongful-death statute or claim would not be subject to indemnification.

That is because “w]rongful death is not, in any traditional sense, a claim of the decedent.”

Accordingly, to satisfy the indemnity obligation, USAT may look to the assets of the decedent’s estate. (noting that a contract of indemnity agreed to by a decedent became an obligation of the decedent’s estate). USAT may not, however, look to any recovery on the wrongful death claim for satisfaction, as that recovery would be held in trust for the statutory beneficiaries and would not become an asset of the estate.

Then the court looked to see if the release would stop gross negligence claims. The court found no “controlling authority” on this issue, but held that it would not stop a claim for gross negligence based on the law of appellate decisions in the state.

In the closely analogous context of releases, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has held that, for reasons of public policy, a release would not be enforced to exempt a party from liability for grossly negligent conduct, though otherwise effective against ordinary negligence.

So the court found the release would stop the negligence claims and dismissed count one of the complaints and found that the release would not stop a claim for gross negligence and allowed count three to proceed.

However, the court also stated the motion was denied if the indemnification provision in the release attempted to be satisfied from the wrongful-death proceeds. Alternatively, the indemnification clause would apply to any money’s received for any successful claim other than wrongful death.

The second claim was for conscious pain and suffering of the decedent. Under Massachusetts law, conscious pain and suffering is a claim of the decedent, brought on behalf of the decedent by his estate. The release barred this claim and would allow the defendant to be indemnified by it. “By executing the two agreements, the decedent both released his claim of conscious pain and suffering caused by USAT’s negligence and indemnified USAT for any losses occasioned by such a claim.”

Putting aside the release for a moment, if the personal representative of the decedent received any recovery for his conscious suffering, USAT would be able to reach that recovery to satisfy the decedent’s indemnity obligation. Thus, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED insofar as the claim for conscious suffering caused by USAT’s negligence was both released and indemnified.

The fourth count was for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, which was inflicted on the wife of the decedent who was present at the race. The original complaint was only brought in the name of the personal representative, not her name individually. Consequently, the court agreed to allow the plaintiff to amend her complaint to bring this claim.

However, the court also found that any money received by the plaintiff on her claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress would also be subject to the indemnification claims of the defendant.

The indemnity language in those agreements is broad enough to reach a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a claim “aris[ing] out of” the decedent’s participation in the triathlon. Thus, USAT is entitled to indemnification on any losses resulting from such a claim.

However, the indemnification claim was only applicable to any money paid on this claim to the decedent, not the decedent’s wife. Again, the decedent could not pledge his wife’s assets by his signature.

The court looked at the defendants claim that the defense costs of the action should be paid based on the indemnification clause. The court agreed with the defendant’s argument for the costs to.

The language of the indemnity agreements does clearly obligate the decedent’s estate to make USAT whole on these losses. As with the claims discussed above, USAT may seek indemnity from the decedent’s estate for their defense costs, which predate this Motion as well as prospective costs to the extent that the plaintiff chooses to proceed on at least one claim, which is subject to indemnification.

So any money the lawsuit received that was payable to the estate was subject to the indemnification clause in the release, and that money could be received based on money paid or the cost of defending the lawsuit and recovering the money. Money held in trust, based on a wrongful-death claim was not subject to indemnification.

The release blocked all claims of the decedent and any claims of the wife that were derivative of the decedent’s claims.

Effectively, the case is over because there is no way to get any money, that would not be subject to indemnification. Then any other asset of the estate would be subject to the indemnification due to the cost of defending the lawsuit.

So Now What?

The reasoning for the motion for summary judgment is simple. If the defendant is able to act on the indemnification, any money received by the plaintiff will just turn around and go back to the defendant. Consequently, the damages are reduced to about zero and the chances of settling sky rocket.

However, the importance of the motion is the court upheld the indemnification clause! Normally courts through these out as being a violation of the doctrine or parental immunity, or because they create a conflict of interest between members of a family.

I have never seen an indemnification clause upheld in a recreational release.

See Indemnification agreements? What are you signing?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Release, Indemnification. Triathlon, Swimming, Race, Estate, Wrongful Death, Personal Representative,

 


Angelo, v. USA Triathlon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

Angelo, v. USA Triathlon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

Cheryl Angelo, Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard Angelo, Plaintiff, v. USA Triathlon, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 13-12177-LTS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131759

September 18, 2014, Decided

September 19, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Cheryl Angelo, Plaintiff: Alan L. Cantor, LEAD ATTORNEY, Joseph A. Swartz, Peter J. Towne, Swartz & Swartz, Boston, MA.

For USA TRIATHLON, Defendant: Douglas L. Fox, Shumway, Giguere, Fox PC, Worcester, MA.

JUDGES: Leo T. Sorokin, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Leo T. Sorokin

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SOROKIN, D.J.

This action arises from a tragic set of facts in which Richard Angelo died while participating in the swim portion of a triathlon organized by the defendant, USA Triathlon (“USAT”). Plaintiff Cheryl Angelo (“the plaintiff”), as personal representative of Richard Angelo (“Angelo” or “the decedent”), has brought claims of wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. USAT has counterclaimed for indemnity against any liability and legal costs associated with this action pursuant to indemnity agreements executed by the decedent prior to his participation in the triathlon. USAT has now moved for partial summary judgment on its claim for indemnity. Doc. No. 18. The plaintiff has opposed the Motion. Doc. No. 19. For the reasons stated below, USAT’s Motion is ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. [*2] STATEMENT OF FACTS

The following facts are stated in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmoving party, although the key facts for the purposes of this motion are not disputed. Angelo was a member of USAT since, at the latest, 2011. Doc. No. 18-1 at 1 ¶ 3. When Angelo last renewed his membership on August 12, 2011, he agreed to and electronically signed a “Waiver and Release of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.” Id. at 1 ¶ 3, 4. That agreement only required the member to execute the document, and, accordingly, the plaintiff did not sign the form. Id. at 4-5. That document contained a provision that, in its entirety, reads as follows:

4. I hereby Release, Waive and Covenant Not to Sue, and further agree to Indemnify, Defend and Hold Harmless the following parties: USAT, the Event Organizers and Promoters, Race Directors, Sponsors, Advertisers, Host Cities, Local Organizing Committees, Venues and Property Owners upon which the Event takes place, Law Enforcement Agencies and other Public Entities providing support for the Event, and each of their respective parent, subsidiary and affiliated companies, officers, directors, partners, shareholders, members, agents, employees [*3] and volunteers (Individually and Collectively, the “Released Parties” or “Event Organizers”), with respect to any liability, claim(s), demand(s), cause(s) of action, damage(s), loss or expense (including court costs and reasonable attorneys [sic] fees) of any kind or nature (“Liability”) which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the Event, including claims for Liability caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the Released Parties. I further agree that if, despite this Agreement, I, or anyone on my behalf, makes a claim for Liability against any of the Released Parties, I will indemnify, defend and hold harmless each of the Released Parties from any such Liability which any [sic] may be incurred as the result of such claim.

Id. at 4.

USAT arranged to hold its National Age Group Championship on August 18, 2012, in Burlington, Vermont. Id. at 2 ¶ 5. On February 17, 2012, Angelo registered for the championship and, as part of his registration, electronically signed an indemnity agreement identical to the one excerpted above. Id. at 2 ¶ 6. As with the prior agreement, only Angelo as the participant was required to, and in fact did, sign the form. Doc. Nos. 18-1 at 33-34, 19-2 [*4] at 3. Angelo competed in that triathlon and died during his participation in the swim portion of that event or shortly thereafter. Doc. No. 18-2 at 11-12.

The plaintiff, the decedent’s wife and the personal representative of his estate, then brought this action in Essex Superior Court, alleging wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering by the decedent, gross negligence resulting in the decedent’s death, and negligent infliction of emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff, who was present at the site of the race. Doc. No. 6 at 12-16. USAT subsequently removed the action to this Court. Doc. No. 1.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once a party “has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who ‘may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Barbour v. Dynamics Research Corp., 63 F.3d 32, 37 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)). The Court is “obliged to []view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences [*5] in the nonmoving party’s favor.” LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993). Even so, the Court is to ignore “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Prescott v. Higgins, 538 F.3d 32, 39 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)). A court may enter summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

USAT has moved for partial summary judgment on their counterclaim for indemnity.1 USAT asserts that the decedent’s execution of the two release and indemnity agreements (“the indemnity agreements”) released or indemnified, or both, all claims that arise from his participation in the National Age Group Championship, including all claims brought by the plaintiff in this action. The plaintiff counters that the indemnity agreements could not function to release her claims for wrongful death or negligent infliction of emotional distress, and that an indemnity agreement is not enforceable insofar as it exempts the indemnitee from liability for its own grossly negligent conduct.

1 The Court understands this motion for summary judgment to be limited to the scope of the release and indemnity agreement [*6] and its application to the plaintiff’s claims as raised in the Complaint and as amplified in the motion papers. Despite USAT’s argument to the contrary, the Court does not believe this motion to be an appropriate vehicle to address the substantive merits of the plaintiff’s pleadings or claims.

Under Massachusetts law,2 “[c]ontracts of indemnity are to be fairly and reasonably construed in order to ascertain the intention of the parties and to effectuate the purpose sought to be accomplished.” Post v. Belmont Country Club, Inc., 60 Mass. App. Ct. 645, 805 N.E.2d 63, 69 (Mass. App. Ct. 2004) (quoting Shea v. Bay State Gas Co., 383 Mass. 218, 418 N.E.2d 597, 600 (Mass. 1981)). Indemnity contracts that exempt a party from liability arising from their own ordinary negligence are not illegal. Id. at 70. Further, contracts of indemnity can survive a decedent’s death and become an obligation of a decedent’s estate. Id. at 71.

2 The parties do not contend that the law of any other state applies.

Here, the language in the indemnity provision is broad. The plaintiff argues, briefly, that the indemnity agreements are ambiguous as to who is bound by the agreements. The Court disagrees. The agreement clearly states that “I . . . agree to Indemnify, Defend and Hold Harmless” the released parties from liability “of any kind or nature . . . which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation [*7] in the Event.” Doc. No. 18-1 at 4. By the plain language of the provision, the signatory of the agreement agreed to indemnify USAT for any losses arising from his participation in the triathlon, including losses and damages associated with lawsuits arising from his participation. See Post, 805 N.E.2d at 70. Both the scope of the indemnity and the party bound by the agreement are clear and unambiguous. A close examination is required, however, to ascertain the applicability of the provision to the specific claims raised and the sources available to satisfy the indemnity.

A. Counts 1 and 3: Wrongful Death

The first count in the plaintiff’s Complaint alleges wrongful death due to USAT’s negligence. The third count alleges wrongful death due to USAT’s gross negligence and seeks punitive damages. Under Massachusetts law, an action for wrongful death is “brought by a personal representative on behalf of the designated categories of beneficiaries” set forth by statute. Gaudette v. Webb, 362 Mass. 60, 284 N.E.2d 222, 229 (Mass. 1972); see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, §§ 1, 2. “The money recovered upon a wrongful death claim is not a general asset of the probate estate, but constitutes a statutory trust fund, held by the administratrix as trustee for distribution to the statutory beneficiaries.”3 Marco v. Green, 415 Mass. 732, 615 N.E.2d 928, 932 (Mass. 1993) (quoting Sullivan v. Goulette, 344 Mass. 307, 182 N.E.2d 519, 523 (Mass. 1962)). These [*8] aspects of Massachusetts law have led another judge of this Court to the conclusion that “[w]rongful death is not, in any traditional sense, a claim of the decedent.” Chung v. StudentCity.com, Inc., Civ. A. 10-10943-RWZ, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102370, 2011 WL 4074297, at *2 (D. Mass. Sept. 9, 2011).

3 The Massachusetts Legislature has created limited statutory exceptions whereby the recovery on a wrongful death claim may be reached to pay certain specified expenses. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 6A. None of those exceptions are implicated by the present Motion. See id.

As stated above, the indemnity agreements signed by the decedent, by their terms, clearly were intended to indemnify losses arising from an action for wrongful death as a claim “aris[ing] out of” the decedent’s participation in the triathlon. Thus, USAT is entitled to indemnity on losses resulting from that claim. That does not end the matter, however, because the parties raise the question of where USAT may look in order to satisfy the indemnity obligation. The decedent, while having authority to bind his estate, see Post, 805 N.E.2d at 71, lacked authority to bind his surviving family members who did not sign the indemnity agreements and are not bound thereby, see Chung, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102370, 2011 WL 4074297, at *2. Accordingly, to satisfy the indemnity obligation, USAT may look to the assets of the decedent’s estate. See [*9] Post, 805 N.E.2d at 71 (noting that a contract of indemnity agreed to by a decedent became an obligation of the decedent’s estate). USAT may not, however, look to any recovery on the wrongful death claim for satisfaction, as that recovery would be held in trust for the statutory beneficiaries and would not become an asset of the estate. See Estate of Bogomolsky v. Estate of Furlong, Civ. A. 14-12463-FDS, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86998, 2014 WL 2945927, at *2 (D. Mass. June 26, 2014).4 USAT concedes this outcome as to the plaintiff’s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, Doc. No. 20 at 11-12, and given the structure of wrongful death claims in Massachusetts, there is no reason for a different result as to the wrongful death claims.5

4 In Estate of Bogomolsky, a recent decision of another session of this Court, Judge Saylor came to the same conclusion, finding that a judgment creditor of a decedent’s estate would not be able to restrain the proceeds of an insurance policy distributed pursuant to the wrongful death statute, as the proceeds of the policy were held in trust for the decedent’s next of kin and did not belong to the decedent’s estate. Estate of Bogomolsky, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86998, 2014 WL 2945927, at *2.

5 While the plaintiff notes that the Massachusetts Appeals Court has reserved the question of whether an indemnification provision would be [*10] enforced to effectively release the claims of people who were not signatories of such an agreement, see Post, 805 N.E.2d at 70-71, this case, as in Post, does not present that circumstance, as the indemnity agreements in this case do not purport to extinguish the plaintiff’s right to bring her claims nor her right to recover on those claims.

Count three of the plaintiff’s Complaint, alleging that the decedent’s death was a result of USAT’s gross negligence, raises the issue of whether Massachusetts courts would enforce an indemnity contract to the extent it functioned to indemnify a party’s own gross negligence. The Court has uncovered no controlling authority from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on this issue, nor any case of the Massachusetts Appeals Court on point. In such a case, “[w]here the state’s highest court has not definitively weighed in, a federal court applying state law ‘may consider analogous decisions, considered dicta, scholarly works, and any other reliable data tending convincingly to show how the highest court in the state would decide the issue at hand.'” Janney Montgomery Scott LLC v. Tobin, 571 F.3d 162, 164 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting N. Am. Specialty Ins. Co. v. Lapalme, 258 F.3d 35, 38 (1st Cir. 2001)).

In the closely analogous context of releases, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has held that, for reasons of public policy, [*11] a release would not be enforced to exempt a party from liability for grossly negligent conduct, though otherwise effective against ordinary negligence. Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 687 N.E.2d 1263, 1265 (Mass. App. Ct. 1997). The Supreme Judicial Court, although not adopting that holding, has noted that public policy reasons exist for treating ordinary negligence differently from gross negligence when enforcing releases. Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738, 748 n.12 (Mass. 2002). Finally, Judge Saylor of this Court, examining this caselaw, has concluded that the Supreme Judicial Court would not enforce an indemnity agreement to the extent it provided for indemnification of a party’s own gross negligence. CSX Transp., Inc. v. Mass. Bay Transp. Auth., 697 F. Supp. 2d 213, 227 (D. Mass. 2010).

This Court, having studied the caselaw, agrees with and reaches the same conclusion as Judge Saylor: specifically that Massachusetts courts would not enforce an indemnity provision insofar as it relieved a party from liability stemming from its own gross negligence. Thus, the indemnity agreements executed by the decedent are not enforceable to the extent they would require the decedent’s estate to indemnify losses arising from USAT’s grossly negligent conduct.6

6 This conclusion would gain significance if the plaintiff were to be awarded punitive damages owing to USAT’s alleged gross negligence. Punitive damages [*12] awarded under the wrongful death statute, unlike compensatory damages under that statute, are considered general assets of the decedent’s estate. Burt v. Meyer, 400 Mass. 185, 508 N.E.2d 598, 601-02 (Mass. 1987). Any punitive damages, however, could not be reached in satisfaction of the indemnity obligation because gross negligence or more culpable conduct is the predicate upon which an award of punitive damages is based under the statute. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2.

Accordingly, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to the plaintiff’s claims of wrongful death is ALLOWED insofar as it seeks indemnity from the decedent’s estate for USAT’s allegedly negligent conduct. The Motion is DENIED insofar as it seeks to satisfy the indemnity obligation from any amounts recovered on the wrongful death claim and insofar as the agreement would require the decedent’s estate to indemnify liability arising from USAT’s grossly negligent conduct.

B. Count 2: Conscious Pain and Suffering

The second count of the plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that USAT’s negligence caused the decedent’s conscious pain and suffering. Under Massachusetts law, a claim for conscious pain and suffering is a claim of the decedent, which may be brought on the decedent’s behalf by his or her personal representative. [*13] Gaudette, 284 N.E.2d at 224-25; see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 6. Any recovery on such a claim is held as an asset of the decedent’s estate. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 6. By executing the two agreements, the decedent both released his claim of conscious pain and suffering caused by USAT’s negligence and indemnified USAT for any losses occasioned by such a claim. Putting aside the release for a moment, if the personal representative of the decedent received any recovery for his conscious suffering, USAT would be able to reach that recovery to satisfy the decedent’s indemnity obligation. See Estate of Bogomolsky, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86998, 2014 WL 2945927, at *2. Thus, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED insofar as the claim for conscious suffering caused by USAT’s negligence was both released and indemnified.

In response to this argument, however, the plaintiff has stated her intent to proceed on the conscious suffering count only on a theory of gross negligence, and not to proceed upon ordinary negligence. As noted above, both the release and the indemnity provisions of the agreements are unenforceable to exempt USAT from liability for their own grossly negligent conduct. See CSX, 697 F. Supp. 2d at 227; Zavras, 687 N.E.2d at 1265. Thus, insofar as the plaintiff chooses to proceed on the conscious pain and suffering count only on a theory of gross negligence, USAT’s Motion for Summary [*14] Judgment is DENIED. If she chooses to so proceed, the plaintiff shall amend her Complaint accordingly.

C. Count 4: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

The fourth and final count of the plaintiff’s Complaint alleges USAT’s negligent infliction of emotional distress on the plaintiff, who was present at the race venue. As an initial matter, the plaintiff, as currently denominated in the Complaint, only brings claims as personal representative of the estate of the decedent. Negligent infliction of emotional distress, however, alleges a harm directly against the plaintiff in her individual capacity, see Cimino v. Milford Keg, Inc., 385 Mass. 323, 431 N.E.2d 920, 927 (Mass. 1982), and thus cannot be brought in a representative capacity.

In response, the plaintiff has indicated her intent to amend her Complaint to bring this claim in her individual capacity. The Court will allow the amendment, as it is not futile in light of the Court’s rulings on the indemnity agreements. The indemnity language in those agreements is broad enough to reach a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a claim “aris[ing] out of” the decedent’s participation in the triathlon. Thus, USAT is entitled to indemnification on any losses resulting from such a claim. As conceded by [*15] USAT, however, any recovery on the emotional distress claim would belong to the plaintiff individually, and thus USAT would not be able to use that recovery to satisfy the indemnity and may look only to the estate of the decedent. Doc. No. 20 at 11-12. Accordingly, the plaintiff may so amend her Complaint to perfect her claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

D. Defense Costs

USAT also claims an entitlement to defense costs arising from the provisions in the indemnity agreements obligating the signatory to defend and hold harmless USAT. The language of the indemnity agreements does clearly obligate the decedent’s estate to make USAT whole on these losses. As with the claims discussed above, USAT may seek indemnity from the decedent’s estate for their defense costs which predate this Motion as well as prospective costs to the extent that the plaintiff chooses to proceed on at least one claim which is subject to indemnification.7 See Mt. Airy Ins. Co. v. Greenbaum, 127 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 1997) (“[U]nder Massachusetts law, if an insurer has a duty to defend one count of a complaint, it must defend them all.” (citing Aetna Cas. & Surety Co. v. Continental Cas. Co., 413 Mass. 730, 604 N.E.2d 30, 32 n.1 (Mass. 1992)).

7 Should the plaintiff decide to proceed only on those claims that, following the reasoning of this Order, are not subject to the [*16] indemnity obligation, the parties may request leave to brief the issue of USAT’s entitlement to prospective defense costs at that time.

IV. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, USAT’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. No. 18, is ALLOWED as set forth above insofar as USAT seeks to establish the release of the conscious pain and suffering claim and indemnity from the decedent’s estate for the claims wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress caused by USAT’s ordinary negligence. USAT’s Motion is DENIED, however, insofar as it argues for release of or indemnity on any claims caused by their own gross negligence and insofar as it seeks satisfaction of the indemnity obligation from any recovery on the wrongful death or emotional distress claims. The plaintiff shall amend the Complaint within seven days to more clearly specify the capacity in which each claim is brought and add the allegations of gross negligence, both as described in the plaintiff’s papers. The defendant shall respond to the Amended Complaint within seven days of its filing. The Court will hold a Rule 16 conference on October 21, 2014 at 1 p.m.

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Leo T. Sorokin

Leo T. Sorokin

United [*17] States District Judge


Zip line put away for the season still found and plaintiff gets injured on rigged system.

4H Camp not liable for group of people who rig a zip line and borrow a ladder to get to the platform.

(Permanent URL)

Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al., 1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

Date of the Decision: 1999

Plaintiff: Alicia Herberchuk

Defendant: Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc and Teleglobe Communications, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: no duty owed

Holding: for the defendants

The plaintiff attended an event with other employees at a 4H camp that had been rented for the event. The event was not sponsored by the defendant employer Teleglobe but was an event for employees of Teleglobe.

The camp had a zip wire which had been closed for the season. The ladder leading up to the platform for the launch of the zip line had been removed and there was no pulley, harness or other equipment at the zip wire. The plaintiff had noticed upon her arrival that there was no ladder leading up to the platform.

A ladder had been found, and other people at the event were using the zip wire by holding on to a green nylon rope to ride down the wire. The plaintiff decided she wanted to ride the wire. She climbed up the ladder. The ladder that had been found did not reach the platform, and the plaintiff had to pull herself up to the platform.

The plaintiff grabbed the nylon roped and leaped off the platform where she fell injuring herself. The plaintiff sued the 4H camp and her employer. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The first issue presented was the duty of the landowner, the 4H camp to the attendees.

A property owner has a duty to maintain its property “in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk.” A defendant is not required to “supply a place of maximum safety, but only one, which would be safe to a person who exercises such minimum care as the circumstances reasonably indicate.” “A landowner has no duty to protect lawful visitors on his property from risks that would be obvious to persons of average intelligence.”

The court took notice that the camp had removed all the equipment to operate the zip wire, including the ladder. The plaintiff still decided to use the zip wire knowing this. The 4H camp did not have a duty to warn the plaintiff of the dangers of the zip wire because the dangers were obvious with no safety equipment or instruction on how to use it. “There is no duty to warn of dangers obvious to persons of average intelligence.”

The appellate court agreed with the trial court and dismissed the claims against the landowner, the 4H camp.

The next claim was against the employer of the plaintiff. This claim was thrown out even faster. The event was not sponsored by Teleglobe; the money for the event came from employees through a raffle. Finally, the plaintiff was not required to attend the event as part of her employment and was not paid to be there.

So Now What?

As we all know, if there is a way to have more fun or get injured humans can find it and do it.  About the only thing you could do in this case is taking the platform down or hiding all ladders at the camp.

As a landowner always understand your obligations to people on your land, whether they pay to be there or not.

If your employees want to do something like this, understand your corporate responsibilities in assisting or not assisting in the event.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

 

Call or Email me if you need legal services around these issues.

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

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Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

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Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al., 1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al., 1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

Alicia Herberchuk v. Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. et al.

96-4863

SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, AT MIDDLESEX

1999 Mass. Super. LEXIS 99

March 11, 1999, Decided

JUDGES: [*1] Raymond J. Brassard, Justice of the Superior Court.

OPINION BY: RAYMOND J. BRASSARD

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Plaintiff, Alicia Herberchuk (“Ms. Herberchuk”), brought this action for recovery of damages for injuries sustained while on land owned by defendant, Essex County 4H Club Camp, Inc. (“4H”), while attending an outing accompanied by co-workers employed by defendant, Teleglobe Communications, Inc. (“Teleglobe”). The plaintiff alleges that the injuries were caused by the negligence of the defendants and that there are genuine issues of material fact which preclude the entry of summary judgment on the issue of liability. For the reasons set forth below, defendants’ motions for summary judgment are ALLOWED.

BACKGROUND

Viewing the facts available at this summary judgment stage in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Ms. Herberchuk, the undisputed facts are as follows.

On August 28, 1993, Ms. Herberchuk attended an employee outing at a campground owned by 4-H. The campground had been rented through a third party under the name of Teleglobe by certain of its employees, but not by Teleglobe itself. At the cookout [*2] Ms. Herberchuk observed other guests using an apparatus known as a zipwire. The zipwire was used by children who attended the 4H’s camp during the summer months. Using the zipwire involved climbing up a ladder which reached to a platform mounted on a tree, and then leaving the platform to traverse the entire length of the wire. Proper use of the zipwire required a safety helmet, a safety harness, a drag line, and several people assisting the rider. The zipwire also included an 8 inch square 2,000 pound-test pulley to which the safety harness was attached. At the end of the camping season all removable equipment, including the safety equipment, was required to be removed from the zipwire, leaving only the cable and the platform.

On the date in question, a ladder found on or near the campground was propped against the tree upon which the platform was mounted by unidentified parties allowing guests to access the zipwire. Hanging from the zipwire was a nylon rope described as green in color which other guests were using to slide down the wire. No rules or instructions on how to use the zipwire were posted on or near the apparatus on the day in question. After watching several other [*3] people use the zipwire, Ms. Herberchuk decided she wanted to use the apparatus. In order to reach the zipwire, the plaintiff climbed the ladder. Although the ladder did not reach the platform at the end of the wire, Ms. Herberchuk was able to reach the platform by pulling herself up by her hands. Once on the platform Ms. Herberchuk wrapped the rope around her hands as she had seen others do and pushed herself off. Instead of traveling down the wire, however, Ms. Herberchuk fell to the ground sustaining serious injuries, including two elbow fractures and a fractured jaw. As result of these events Ms. Herberchuk commenced this lawsuit against 4H and Teleglobe. Both 4H and Teleglobe have moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

DISCUSSION

[HN1] Summary judgment shall be granted where there are no issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to as a matter of law. Kourouvacilis v. General Motors Corp., 410 Mass. 706, 716, 575 N.E.2d 734 (1991); Cassesso v. Comm’r of Correction, 390 Mass. 419, 422, 456 N.E.2d 1123 (1983); Community Nat’l Bank v. Dawes, 369 Mass. 550, 553, 340 N.E.2d 877 (1976); Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of affirmatively demonstrating the [*4] absence of a triable issue and that, therefore, she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pederson v. Time, Inc., 404 Mass. 14, 17, 532 N.E.2d 1211 (1989). If the moving party establishes the absence of a triable issue, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must respond and allege facts which would establish the existence of disputed material facts. Id.

[HN2] A judge, when ruling on a motion for summary judgment must consider “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate.” Flesner v. Technical Communications Corporation et al., 410 Mass. 805, 807, 575 N.E.2d 1107 (1991). Where no genuine issue of material fact exists, “the judge must ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented.” Id. citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

1. The Claim Against 4-H.

[HN3] A property owner has a duty to maintain its property [*5] “in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk.” Mounsey v. Ellard, 363 Mass. 693, 708, 297 N.E.2d 43 (1973). A defendant is not required to “supply a place of maximum safety, but only one which would be safe to a person who exercises such minimum care as the circumstances reasonably indicate.” Toubiana v. Priestly, 402 Mass. 84, 88, 520 N.E.2d 1307 (1988). “A landowner has no duty to protect lawful visitors on his property from risks that would be obvious to persons of average intelligence.” Id. at 89.

In the present case, Ms. Herberchuk claims there are genuine issues of fact concerning the condition in which the zipwire was kept, as well as, what actions 4-H took to prevent unauthorized use of the apparatus. The evidence on the record, for the purposes of this motion, includes affidavits from both Ms. Herberchuk and Mr. Charles G. Ingersoll, a member of the 4-H Board of Trustees, as well as exhibits, including photographs of the area immediately before the accident.

In his affidavit, Mr. Ingersoll states that, while not having [*6] a specific memory of doing so the summer during which Ms. Herberchuk was injured, it was his practice to remove and put away for the winter all those removable parts and safety equipment associated with the zipwire at the end of each camping season (before the outing). Mr. Ingersol also stated that the ladder used by the plaintiff to get to the platform was not one of those presently used by the camp and that the pulley was not on the line the day of the outing. Ms. Herberchuk admitted in her affidavit that when she first arrived at the outing there was no ladder attached to the tree and that when she attempted to make her way to the platform she had to pull herself up because the wooden ladder placed there did not reach the platform. Ms. Herberchuk stated further that she did not know if the pulley was attached to the wire or where the strap had come from.

[HN4] “The question to be decided is whether the jury reasonably could have concluded that, in view of all the circumstances, an ordinarily prudent person in the defendant’s position would have taken steps, not taken by the defendant, to prevent the accident that occurred.” Id. at 89. In this case the evidence shows that 4-H [*7] had removed both the ladder and the safety equipment used with the zipwire during the camping season. Upon arriving at the outing Ms. Herberchuk saw no ladder allowing entry to the platform rendering the zipwire inaccessible, it being twenty feet above the ground. Ms. Herberchuk chose to use the zipwire without the benefit of safety equipment or instructions on the use of the device. Ms. Herberchuk also admitted in her deposition that she knew there was a chance she could be injured but decided to use the apparatus. Further, 4-H did not have a duty to warn Ms. Herberchuk of the obvious dangers involved with using the zipwire without safety equipment or instruction. “There is no duty to warn of dangers obvious to persons of average intelligence.” Thorson v. Mandell, 402 Mass. 744, 749, 525 N.E.2d 375 (1988). On this evidence, a fair minded jury could not return a verdict for the plaintiff.

2. The Claim Against Teleglobe.

[HN5] “Before liability for negligence can be imposed there must first be a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, and a breach of that duty proximately resulting in the injury.” Davis v. Westwood Group, 420 Mass. 739, 743, 652 N.E.2d 567 (1995). [*8] Ms. Herberchuk urges that Teleglobe played a part in the organization and funding of the outing at which the plaintiff was injured. The evidence, however, is to the contrary. First, the outing was organized by Teleglobe employees because the company no longer sponsored such events. Second, the money to pay for the outing was raised by a group of employees independent of Teleglobe through the use of a raffle. Finally, Ms. Herberchuk’s attendance was not required by her employment and she received no compensation for attending. On this evidence a reasonable jury could not find that Teleglobe owed any duty to Ms. Herberchuk.

ORDER

For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that defendants’, 4-H and Teleglobe, motions for summary judgment are ALLOWED.

Raymond J, Brassard

Justice of the Superior Court

Dated: March 11, 1999


Industry standards are proof of gross negligence and keep defendant in lawsuit even with good release

If the industry says you should and calls it a standard you better

Lautieri v. Bae, 17 Mass. L. Rep. 4; 2003 Mass. Super. LEXIS 290 (Mass. Sup 2003)

Plaintiff: Derek A. Lautieri

Defendant: Jorun G. Bae

Third Party Defendants: defendants USA Triathlon, Inc., William Fiske d/b/a Fiske Independent Race Management, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metrowest, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and court added gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Holding release released defendants who could not be held to gross negligence.

This decision is from a trial court in Massachusetts. It has limited value in Massachusetts and other states.

If you have read many of these articles, you understand that releases do not bar claims for gross negligence. In this case, the release did not bar the claim for gross negligence, even when the plaintiff did not plead gross negligence.

This is a car/bike accident case during a triathlon. The plaintiff was cycling in a triathlon with several other cyclists. The defendant Bae, driver pulled out in front of the cyclists resulting in a collision. The course was not closed to traffic.

The defendant car driver brought in as third party defendants the race organizer, William Fiske d/b/a Fiske Independent Race Management (Fiske), the race charity Boys and Girls Clubs of Metrowest, Inc. (BGC) and the triathlon association sanctioning body USA Triathlon, Inc., (USTA).

The third party defendants were brought in for “contribution.” Contribution is defined in Massachusetts as:

Where two or more persons become jointly liable in tort for the same injury to person or property, there shall be a right of contribution among them.” The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has consistently interpreted the language of this statute to mean that an “action for contribution is not barred if, at the time the accident occurred, the party for whom contribution is sought could have been held liable in tort.”

For the defendant, Bae to enable to enforce contribution against the third party defendants she must show that the third party defendants could be held liable at trial in tort. Any defenses available to the third party defendants against the original plaintiff will also be a defense to the contribution claim of the defendant Bae.

Therefore, in order for Bae to be able to enforce a right of contribution against any of the third-party defendants, she must be able to show that the particular third-party defendant could have been found tortiously liable to the plaintiff at the time the accident occurred.

Fiske was the person who put the triathlon together. Even though Fiske was operating as Fiske Independent Race Management, the court indicated that Fiske was not a corporation or company (LLC). USTA sanctioned the race, including providing liability insurance and standards, according to the court, on how the race should be run.

The defendant Bae argued that the third party defendants should be liable for failing to “a safe layout for the race course, failure to provide warning signs and directions, and failure to place volunteers and/or police personnel at the intersection where the incident occurred.”

The court determined that USTA was:

…the governing body of triathlon races and promulgates safety requirements for use by organizers of sanctioned triathlon races.

USTA is the governing body of triathlon races and promulgates safety requirements for use by organizers of sanctioned triathlon races.

In that position, USTA created regulations for running triathlons which the court quoted:

2. It is highly recommended to close the [bike race] road to traffic. If not possible, cone bike lanes with a minimum width of six feet from vehicles . . . 9. Control stoplights/stop sign intersections, traffic hazards and turnarounds with police and an ample amount of volunteers . . . 12. Use ‘Race in Progress’ or ‘Watch for Cyclists’ signs placed along the course to help warn motorists about conditions . . . 23. All turns, turn-arounds, traffic hazards and intersections must be monitored and marked with signs and volunteers. Any intersections with stop signs or stop lights must be controlled by police or professional traffic personnel.

Fiske did not follow any of the guidelines offered by the USTA.

…it does not appear that Fiske, as Race Director, heeded any of the guidelines described above for the triathlon at issue; rather, he left the intersection at which Lautieri collided with Bae open to traffic, uncontrolled by police or volunteers, unmarked with warnings, and unmonitored.

Summary of the case

The defense raised by the third party defendants was “release.” The plaintiff signed a release to join the USTA and receive a license. The plaintiff also signed an application which contained language similar to that of a release when she entered the race.

Under Massachusetts law, the enforceability of a release is a question (issue) of law to be decided by the court. “Massachusetts law favors the enforcement of releases.”

There can be no doubt . . . that under the law of Massachusetts . . . in the absence of fraud a person may make a valid contract exempting himself from any liability to another which he may in the future incur as a result of his negligence or that of his agents or employees acting on his behalf.” While any doubts about the interpretation of a release must be resolved in the favor of the plaintiff, an unambiguous and comprehensive release will be enforced as drafted.

Nor does the word negligence have to be found in the release. Releases, like all other states, do not bar claims of gross negligence. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant complained of any gross negligence. The court, however, stated that even though not pled, gross negligence could be found later against Fiske. If that was the case, then the releases signed by the plaintiff did not bar the claim against Fiske. “While these waivers are sufficient to release Fiske from all liability for harm caused by his own negligence, they do not release him from his own gross negligence.” The court found that the actions of Fiske could rise to the level of gross negligence.

The basis of that finding was Fiske did not follow the guidelines or regulations of the governing body, the USTA in running the race. “As this definition is necessarily vague, it is important to note that courts have found that “industry standards may be some evidence of negligence.”

To some extent, the court must have thought that Fiske’s failure to follow the standards of the USTA was very egregious to raise the issue of gross negligence in the case.

The court quoted the regulations cited above as evidence that what Fiske did when ignoring the industry standards was sufficient to void the release because it raised the possibility that Fiske was grossly negligent.

…it does not appear that Fiske, as Race Director, heeded any of the guidelines described above for the triathlon at issue; rather, he left the intersection at which Lautieri collided with Bae open to traffic, uncontrolled by police or volunteers, unmarked with warnings, and unmonitored.

The court further defined negligence and gross negligence under Massachusetts law.

Negligence, without qualification and in its ordinary sense, is the failure of a responsible person, either by omission or by action, to exercise that degree of care, vigilance and forethought which, in the discharge of the duty then resting on him, the person of ordinary caution and prudence ought to exercise under the particular circumstances. It is a want of diligence commensurate with the requirement of the duty at the moment imposed by the law.

Gross negligence is substantially and appreciably higher in magnitude than ordinary negligence. It is materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence. It is an act or omission respecting legal duty of an aggravated character as distinguished from a mere failure to exercise ordinary care. It is very great negligence, or the absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care. It amounts to indifference to present legal duty and to utter forgetfulness of legal obligations so far as other persons may be affected. It is a heedless and palpable violation of legal duty respecting the rights of others. The element of culpability which characterizes all negligence is in gross negligence magnified to a high degree as compared with that present in ordinary negligence. Gross negligence is a manifestly smaller amount of watchfulness and circumspection than the circumstances require of a person of ordinary prudence . . . It falls short of being such reckless disregard of probable consequences as is equivalent to a wilful and intentional wrong. Ordinary and gross negligence differ in degree of inattention, while both differ in kind from wilful and intentional conduct which is or ought to be known to have a tendency to injure.”

The court’s justification for not letting Fiske out of the case and for allowing the possibility of a claim for gross negligence was interesting.

While Bae has specifically pled negligence, and not gross negligence, this Court has considered the summary judgment motion as if a claim for gross negligence against the third-party defendants has been made.

Accordingly, because gross negligence may be considered an alternative theory of a standard negligence claim, Bae should be permitted to proceed with her claim of gross negligence against the third-party defendants.

The court then looked at the allegations against the USTA.

In order for Lautieri to establish that USTA owed him a duty of care at the time the accident occurred, Lautieri would have to establish that such a duty has a “source existing in social values and customs,” or that USTA voluntarily, or for consideration, assumed a duty of care to Lautieri. This is a burden that Lautieri–or, more appropriately, Bae, standing in Lautieri’s shoes–cannot meet.

There was no evidence that showed USTA participated or was supposed to participate in the planning, operation, supervision or running of the race. USTA did not even have a representative of USTA attend the race. Consequently, because there was no duty and USTA created no duty to the plaintiff the release barred the claims of the third party defendant.

The court’s discussion of the Boys and Girls Club was shorter.

A similar finding regarding the B&G Clubs is mandated. While there is evidence that the B&G Clubs provided volunteers for the triathlon, there is no evidence to support a claim of gross negligence against the B&G Clubs or any of its members.

USTA and the Boys and Girls Club were dismissed from the lawsuit.

So Now What?

The “release” or as identified by the court, application, was extremely weak. If the release had identified the course as being an open course, not closed to cars, this might have changed the outcome of the case for Fiske. No matter, the document was too weak not to create problems rather than resolve them in this case.

However, even if the release was stronger, it might not have gotten Fiske out of the case because of the court raised allegations of gross negligence. The USTA created regulations for running a race. By requesting and receiving sanctioning for the race, Fiske knowingly or unknowingly, became burdened or bound by those regulations. The court called them standards, regulations and guidelines throughout the decision, but the simple fact is they were a noose around the third party defendant’s neck.

You cannot look at your industry and not understand the standard of care in the industry or not find and follow the guidelines the industry is creating.

These “regulations” are fairly simple and appear to be commons sense. However, they substantially increase the cost of running an event. Closing a street requires government paperwork, government employees and usually help from law enforcement. All significantly increase the cost of running the event.

However, the regulations more importantly are proof that if an industry association creates regulations, standards, guidelines or rules, they are the standard of care against which members of the same industry will be judged in court.

For more articles on how standards created by an association are used to harm association members see:

ACA Standards are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp

Expert Witness Report: ACA “Standards” are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp

Plaintiff uses standards of ACCT to cost defendant $4.7 million

Trade Association Standards sink a Summer Camp when plaintiff uses them to prove Camp was negligent

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Lautieri v. Bae, 17 Mass. L. Rep. 4; 2003 Mass. Super. LEXIS 290

Lautieri v. Bae, 17 Mass. L. Rep. 4; 2003 Mass. Super. LEXIS 290

Derek A. Lautieri v. Jorun G. Bae 1

1 The Town of Hudson was also named as a third-party defendant in the complaint. Count IV against the Town has been dismissed. Memorandum of Decision, dated June 7, 2002 (Bohn, J.).

01-4078

SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, AT MIDDLESEX

17 Mass. L. Rep. 4; 2003 Mass. Super. LEXIS 290

October 29, 2003, Decided

October 29, 2003, Filed

DISPOSITION: Third party defendants’ motions for summary judgment allowed in part and denied in part.

JUDGES: [*1] Kenneth J. Fishman, Justice of the Superior Court.

OPINION BY: Kenneth J. Fishman

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Derek A. Lautieri (“Lautieri”), was injured during a triathlon held in Hudson, Massachusetts. Lautieri brought this action against the defendant/third-party plaintiff, Jorun G. Bae (“Bae”), claiming negligence for Bae’s failure to exercise reasonable care in the operation of her motor vehicle. Bae in turn brought an action against third-party defendants USA Triathlon, Inc. (“USAT”) (Count I of Third-Party Complaint), William Fiske (“Fiske”) d/b/a Fiske Independent Race Management (Count II) 2 and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metrowest, Inc. (“B&G Clubs”) (Count III), seeking contribution in the event that the plaintiff recovers damages for his alleged injuries. 3 Specifically, Bae claims negligence on part of the third-party defendants for failure to provide a safe layout for the race course, failure to provide warning signs and directions, and failure to place volunteers and/or police personnel at the intersection where the incident occurred. This matter is before this Court on the third-party [*2] defendants’ motions for summary judgment as to all counts. For the reasons described below, the third party defendants’ motions are ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

2 Bae’s complaint uses the spelling “Fisk” in the caption. As all the parties, including Bae, have since used the spelling “Fiske”, this Court will use the latter spelling.

3 Bae initially also claimed a duty of indemnification, but has since stipulated that no privity of contract existed between himself and any of the third-party defendants, and, therefore, that no right of indemnification exists.

BACKGROUND

On June 4, 2000, Lautieri participated in an organized triathlon, one leg of which was competitive bicycling. Bae, while operating a motor vehicle, came to the intersection of Main Street and Lewis Street in Hudson. Bae stopped, looked to her left, looked to her right, and then looked to her left again for approaching traffic. Seeing no vehicles approaching, Bae proceeded straight through the intersection. Lautieri, [*3] then approaching the intersection with four or five other bicyclists, turned to avoid Bae’s vehicle but did not have sufficient time to prevent a collision. Lautieri suffered significant injuries as a result of the accident.

On May 12, 2000, prior to the race, Lautieri completed and signed a “USA Triathlon Annual Licence Application Waiver.” That waiver contained the following language in the form duplicated below:

I acknowledge that a triathlon or bisport/duathlon event is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss. I HEREBY ASSUME THE RISKS OF PARTICIPATING IN TRIATHLONS OR BISPORT/DUATHLON EVENTS. I certify that I am physically fit and have sufficiently trained for participating in this event(s), and have not been advised against participating by a qualified health professional. I acknowledge that my statements in this AWRL are being accepted by the USAT in consideration for allowing me to become a member in USAT and are being relied upon by USAT and the various race sponsors, organizers and administrators in permitting me to participate in any USAT sanctioned event . . . (b) I AGREE that [*4] prior to participating in an event I will inspect the race course, facilities, equipment and areas to be used and if I believe they are unsafe I will immediately advise the person supervising the event activity or area; (c) I waive, release, AND DISCHARGE for any and all claims, losses or liabilities for death, personal injury, partial or permanent disability, property damage, medical or hospital bills, theft, or damage of any kid, including economic losses, which may in the future arise out of or relate to my participation in or my traveling to and from a USAT sanctioned event, THE FOLLOWING PERSONS OR ENTITIES: USAT, EVENT SPONSORS, RACE DIRECTORS, EVENT PRODUCERS, VOLUNTEERS, ALL STATES, CITIES, COUNTIES, OR LOCALITIES IN WHICH EVENTS OR SEGMENTS OR EVENTS ARE HELD, AND THE OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, REPRESENTATIVES AND AGENTS OF ANY OF THE ABOVE, EVEN IF SUCH CLAIMS, LOSSES OR LIABILITIES ARE CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENT ACTS OF OMISSIONS OF THE PERSONS I AM HEREBY RELEASING OR ARE CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY; (d) I ACKNOWLEDGE that there may be traffic or persons on the course route, and I ASSUME THE RISK OF RUNNING, BIKING, SWIMMING [*5] OR PARTICIPATING IN ANY OTHER EVENT SANCTIONED BY USAT.

(e) I AGREE NOT TO SUE any of the persons or entities mentioned above in paragraph (c) for any of the claims, losses or liabilities that I have waived, released or discharged herein; (f) I INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS the persons or entities mentioned above in paragraph (c) for any and all claims made or liabilities assessed against them as a result of my acts or inactions (ii) the actions, inactions or negligence of others including those parties hereby indemnified (iii) the conditions of the facilities, equipment or areas where the event or activity is being conducted (iv) the Competitive Rules (v) any other harm caused by an occurrence related to a USAT event . . .

Prior to the race, Lautieri also completed and signed a “Wet ‘N’ Wild Triathlon Application,” which contained the following language:

In consideration of the entry being accepted, I do hereby forever waive and release Fiske Independent Race Management, the sponsoring organization, companies, agents, representatives, assigns and successors from all claims of action, which I at any time acquire as a result of participation in the event for which this entry relates.

[*6] USTA is the governing body of triathlon races and promulgates safety requirements for use by organizers of sanctioned triathlon races. The subject triathlon was sanctioned by USTA based upon an application submitted by Fiske. On that application, William Fiske is identified as the Race Director. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Metrowest, Inc. provided a number of volunteers for the event.

DISCUSSION

[HN1] A party is entitled to summary judgment, “if pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material facts and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The burden of the moving party “is not sustained by the mere filing of the summary judgment motion,” but “must be supported by one or more of the materials listed in rule 56(c) . . .” Kourouvacilis v. General Motors Corp., 410 Mass. 706, 714, 575 N.E.2d 734, citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 328, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). That party may satisfy this burden either by submitting affirmative evidence that negates an essential [*7] element of the opposing party’s case or by demonstrating that the opposing party has no reasonable expectation of proving an essential element of his case at trial. Flesner v. Technical Communications Corp., 410 Mass. 805, 809, 575 N.E.2d 1107 (1991); Kourouvacilis, 410 Mass. at 716. “If the moving party establishes the absence of a triable issue, the party opposing the motion must respond and allege specific facts which would establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Pederson v. Time, Inc., 404 Mass. 14, 17, 532 N.E.2d 1211 (1989), citing O’Brion, Russell & Co. v. LeMay, 370 Mass. 243, 245, 346 N.E.2d 861 (1976).

General Laws c. 231B, § 1, [HN2] provides in pertinent part: “Where two or more persons become jointly liable in tort for the same injury to person or property, there shall be a right of contribution among them.” The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has consistently interpreted the language of this statute to mean that an “action for contribution is not barred if, at the time the accident occurred, the party for whom [*8] contribution is sought could have been held liable in tort.” McGrath v. Stanley, 397 Mass. 775, 781, 493 N.E.2d 832 (1986) (emphasis in original). See also, Correia v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 388 Mass. 342, 346-50, 446 N.E.2d 1033 (1983); Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Westerlind, 374 Mass. 524, 526, 373 N.E.2d 957 (1978); O’Mara v. H.P. Hood & Sons, Inc., 359 Mass. 235, 238, 268 N.E.2d 685 (1971). 4 Therefore, in order for Bae to be able to enforce a right of contribution against any of the third-party defendants, she must be able to show that the particular third-party defendant could have been found tortiously liable to the plaintiff at the time the accident occurred. Each third-party defendant will be discussed separately below.

4 In McGrath, where a plaintiff’s failure to comply with the particular jurisdictional requirements of G.L.c. 258, § 4 was held not sufficient to bar a right of contribution, the SJC noted that the “contribution statute is aimed at eliminating the unfairness of allowing a disproportionate share of a plaintiff’s recovery to be borne by one of several joint tortfeasors.” 397 Mass. at 777-78. The third-party defendants in the instant case, however, are not claiming a lack of jurisdiction, but instead that the plaintiff’s signature on certain waivers releases them from all liability. The SJC has approved the denial of the right of contribution in similar cases. See O’Mara, 359 Mass. at 238 (denying contribution to defendant company from the driver of car in which plaintiff was a passenger when company truck hit driver’s car); Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 374 Mass. at 526 (denying contribution of plaintiff’s employer for work related injury on grounds that the employer’s contributions to workers’ compensation benefits released the employer from all tort claims that might have resulted from the accident).

[*9] A. William Fiske d/b/a/ Fiske Independent Race Management

Fiske argues that he was released from all liability regarding the Wet ‘N’ Wild Triathlon when Lautieri signed the USA Triathlon Annual Licence Application Waiver and the Wet ‘N’ Wild Triathlon Application. [HN3] Whether the waivers signed by the plaintiff are enforceable to bar any claims in tort against Fiske is a question of law to be decide by this Court.

[HN4] “Massachusetts law favors the enforcement of releases.” Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 105, 769 N.E.2d 738 (2002). “There can be no doubt . . . that under the law of Massachusetts . . . in the absence of fraud a person may make a valid contract exempting himself from any liability to another which he may in the future incur as a result of his negligence or that of his agents or employees acting on his behalf.” Id., quoting Schell v. Ford, 270 F.2d 384, 386 (1st Cir. 1959). While any doubts about the interpretation of a release must be resolved in the favor of the plaintiff, an unambiguous and comprehensive release will be enforced as drafted. Cormier v. Central Massachusetts Chapter of the National Safety Council, 416 Mass. 286, 288, 620 N.E.2d 784 (1993). [*10]

Thus, in Cormier, the SJC upheld summary judgment against a plaintiff who executed a waiver of liability prior to sustaining injuries while riding on a motorcycle safety course. The Court found the waiver sufficient to bar a claim in negligence, even though the word negligence never appeared in the document. Id. at 288. The SJC also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that she believed that she was only relieving the defendant for liability for any accidental injury, not for any injury caused by the defendant’s negligence, holding that her “subjective intent not to release any claim for negligence, does not furnish a basis for avoiding the release on the ground of mistake.” Id. at 289.

Upon examination of the two releases signed by Lautieri prior to the subject triathlon, it is evident that he executed an unambiguous release of the third-party defendant, William Fiske. The USA Triathlon Annual Licence Application Waiver clearly and unambiguously releases “RACE DIRECTORS” from “any and all claims, losses or liabilities . . .” Fiske is listed as the “Race Director” on the 2000 USA Triathlon Event Sanction Application submitted to USAT. Furthermore, [*11] the Wet ‘N’ Wild Triathlon Application releases “Fiske Independent Race Management, the sponsoring organization, companies, agents, representatives, assigns and successors from all claims of action . . .” To the extent that Bae argues that the phrase “agents, representatives, assigns and successors” might refer to the phrase “sponsoring organization,” and that Fiske Independent Race Management–while not a legal entity–does not actually refer to William Fiske, individually, such interpretations are not reasonable given the plain meaning of the waiver language. 5 Nevertheless, even if this Court were to hold that the Wet ‘N’ Wild Triathlon Application was sufficiently ambiguous to render the waiver unenforceable, the language of the USA Triathlon Annual Licence Application Waiver is unambiguous and releases Fiske from liability. Thus, Fiske’s motion for summary judgment, as it relates to Bae’s claim of negligence against him, is well founded.

5 William Fiske used the name “Fiske Independent Race Mgt.” and “F.I.R.M” on the 2000 USA Triathlon Event Sanction Application regarding the Wet ‘N’ Wild Triathlon. Since there is no evidence in the record that “Fiske Independent Race Mgt.” or “F.I.R.M” are incorporated entities, or that William Fiske filed a business certificate in Massachusetts under these names, William Fiske is not afforded any legal protection by virtue of the use of these fictional business entities. See Pedersen v. Leahy, 397 Mass. 689, 691, 493 N.E.2d 486 (1986).

[*12] This analysis, however, does not end the matter. [HN5] Both the SJC and the Appeals Court “have noted that releases are effective against liability for ordinary negligence.” Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass.App.Ct 17, 18, 687 N.E.2d 1263 (1997) (emphasis in original), citing Lee v. Allied Sports Associates, Inc., 349 Mass. 544, 551, 209 N.E.2d 329 (1965). In Zavras, the Appeals Court, citing reasons of public policy, held that the owner of a premises at which organized dirt bike races were held did not exempt itself from liability for gross negligence by requiring participants in races to sign a release as a condition of participating. 44 Mass.App.Ct. at 18-19. See also, Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195 (1981) (“A term exempting a party from tort liability for harm caused intentionally or recklessly is unenforceable on grounds of public policy”). The Zavaras court noted that there is “substantial authority . . . [for] the position that while a party may contract against liability for harm caused by its negligence, it may not do so with respect to its gross [*13] negligence.” 44 Mass.App.Ct. at 19.

The present case is indistinguishable from Zavras. Here, Lautieri signed two valid waivers releasing Fiske, among others, from any and all liability that might arise from his participation in the subject triathlon race. While these waivers are sufficient to release Fiske from all liability for harm caused by his own negligence, they do not release him from his own gross negligence.

Thus, for purposes of determining contribution, the question for this Court becomes whether a finder of fact could find Fiske liable to Lautieri for gross negligence. Based on the summary judgment record viewed in a light most favorable to Bae, a genuine issue of material fact exists concerning whether the accident resulted from Fiske’s gross negligence.

[HN6] Gross negligence is defined as “very great negligence, or the absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care.” Zavras, 44 Mass.App.Ct. at 20, quoting Altman v. Aronson, 231 Mass. 588, 591, 121 N.E. 505 (1919). 6 As this definition is necessarily vague, it is important to note that courts have found that “industry standards may be some evidence of negligence. [*14] ” Fidalgo v. Columbus McKinnon Corp., 56 Mass.App.Ct. 176, 184, 775 N.E.2d 803 (2002), citing Poirier v. Plymouth, 374 Mass. 206, 211, 372 N.E.2d 212 (1978); Resendes v. Boston Edison Co., 38 Mass.App.Ct. 344, 358, 648 N.E.2d 757 (1995). Bae has submitted the USAT 2000 Event Sanctioning Guidelines & Requirements as evidence of the negligence of Fiske and the other third-party defendants. In the section entitled “Bike,” the USAT triathlon regulations state: “2. It is highly recommended to close the [bike race] road to traffic. If not possible, cone bike lanes with a minimum width of six feet from vehicles . . . 9. Control stoplights/stop sign intersections, traffic hazards and turnarounds with police and an ample amount of volunteers . . . 12. Use ‘Race in Progress’ or ‘Watch for Cyclists’ signs placed along the course to help warn motorists about conditions . . . 23. All turns, turn-arounds, traffic hazards and intersections must be monitored and marked with signs and volunteers. Any intersections with stop signs or stop lights must be controlled by police or professional traffic personnel.” Based on the record before this Court, [*15] it does not appear that Fiske, as Race Director, heeded any of the guidelines described above for the triathlon at issue; rather, he left the intersection at which Lautieri collided with Bae open to traffic, uncontrolled by police or volunteers, unmarked with warnings, and unmonitored. Therefore, this Court cannot say that there is no genuine dispute as to whether a failure to heed any of the triathlon industry guidelines regarding intersections, which left oncoming drivers totally unaware of the possible dangers that awaited them, constitutes gross negligence. See Chiacchia v. Lycott Environmental Research, Inc., 4 Mass. L. Rptr. 399, 1995 WL 1146824, *10 (Mass.Super.) (finding that the multiple ways in which the defendant’s investigation of certain property “failed to conform to established standards in the industry lead the court to conclude that [defendant’s] negligence in this matter [amounted] to gross negligence”).

6 [HN7] “Negligence, without qualification and in its ordinary sense, is the failure of a responsible person, either by omission or by action, to exercise that degree of care, vigilance and forethought which, in the discharge of the duty then resting on him, the person of ordinary caution and prudence ought to exercise under the particular circumstances. It is a want of diligence commensurate with the requirement of the duty at the moment imposed by the law.

[HN8] “Gross negligence is substantially and appreciably higher in magnitude than ordinary negligence. It is materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence. It is an act or omission respecting legal duty of an aggravated character as distinguished from a mere failure to exercise ordinary care. It is very great negligence, or the absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care. It amounts to indifference to present legal duty and to utter forgetfulness of legal obligations so far as other persons may be affected. It is a heedless and palpable violation of legal duty respecting the rights of others. The element of culpability which characterizes all negligence is in gross negligence magnified to a high degree as compared with that present in ordinary negligence. Gross negligence is a manifestly smaller amount of watchfulness and circumspection than the circumstances require of a person of ordinary prudence . . . It falls short of being such reckless disregard of probable consequences as is equivalent to a wilful and intentional wrong. Ordinary and gross negligence differ in degree of inattention, while both differ in kind from wilful and intentional conduct which is or ought to be known to have a tendency to injure.” Altman, 231 Mass. at 591-92.

[*16] While Bae has specifically pled negligence, and not gross negligence, this Court has considered the summary judgment motion as if a claim for gross negligence against all of the third-party defendants has been made. [HN9] “Under current Massachusetts State practice there is no requirement that a complaint state the correct substantive theory of the case.” Gallant v. Worcester, 383 Mass. 707, 709, 421 N.E.2d 1196 (1981), citing Mass.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Mass.R.Civ.P. 54 (c). Even though it is sound practice to state all possible claims, the SJC has held that “a complaint is not subject to dismissal if it would support relief on any theory of law.” Whitinsville Plaza, Inc. v. Kotseas, 378 Mass. 85, 89, 390 N.E.2d 243 (1979) (emphasis in original), citing Thompson v. Allstate Ins. Co., 476 F.2d 746, 749 (5th Cir. 1973). Thus, courts are generally “obligated to consider each of the alternative theories of law . . . on which [the complaining party’s] action might be maintained.” Id. Several courts in other jurisdictions have permitted a plaintiff to proceed with a claim for gross negligence after having only pled a claim for negligence. [*17] See, e.g., McTavish v. Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Co., 485 F.2d 510, 512 (4th Cir.1973) (holding that Kentucky law permitted a claim of gross negligence to flow from an allegation of “negligence and carelessness”); Smith v. Hill, 510 F. Supp. 767, 775 (D.Utah 1981) (upon review of pleading and briefs court assumed that plaintiff “intended to plead that the [defendants] were grossly negligent”). Accordingly, because gross negligence may be considered an alternative theory of a standard negligence claim, Bae should be permitted to proceed with her claim of gross negligence against the third-party defendants. See Altman, 231 Mass. at 593 (holding that a plaintiff has the right to insist that a jury be instructed on the distinction between negligence and gross negligence at trial).

Accordingly, Fiske may be held liable for contribution to any successful claim for gross negligence that Lautieri could have made against Fiske at the time of the accident.

B. USAT

USAT argues that no duty exists between itself and the individuals who choose to participate in the triathlon. [HN10] Neither the SJC nor the Appeals Court has specifically ruled [*18] on whether a duty of care is owned to participants in an athletic event by a sanctioning body of the subject sport when that race takes place on public property.

USAT argues that the reasoning in Gauvin v. Clark, 404 Mass. 450, 537 N.E.2d 94 (1989), compels the application of a recklessness standard in the present case. In Gauvin, the SJC held that “personal injury cases arising out of an athletic event must be predicted on reckless disregard of safety,” on grounds that “vigorous and active participation in sporting events should not be chilled by the threat of litigation.” Id. at 454, citing Kabella v. Bouschelle, 100 N.M. 461, 465, 672 P.2d 290 (1983). The Gauvin case is not controlling here. Bae is not seeking to hold another participant in the triathlon responsible for Lautieri’s injuries. Instead, he is seeking damages from those who organized and sanctioned the event.

[HN11] Whether a defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff is a question of law. O’Sullivan v. Shaw, 431 Mass. 201, 204, 726 N.E.2d 951 (2000). In order for Lautieri to establish that USAT owed him a duty of care at the time the accident [*19] occurred, Lautieri would have to establish that such a duty has a “source existing in social values and customs,” Yakubowicz v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 404 Mass. 624, 629, 536 N.E.2d 1067 (1989), or that USAT voluntarily, or for consideration, assumed a duty of care to Lautieri. Mullins v. Pine Manor College, 389 Mass. 47, 52-53, 449 N.E.2d 331 (1983). This is a burden that Lautieri–or, more appropriately, Bae, standing in Lautieri’s shoes–cannot meet. The only involvement of USAT with the subject triathlon was its approval of Fiske’s application, which, in essence, effectively permitted Fiske to be eligible for insurance coverage from the USAT Triathlon liability policy. There is no evidence in the record that suggests that USAT had any obligation or was expected to participate in the planning, operation, or supervision of the race, much less have a representative attend the Wet ‘N’ Wild triathlon. Accordingly, there is no basis on which to conclude that USAT owed Lautieri a duty of care. Assuming, arguendo, that USAT did owe a duty of care to Lautieri, the summary judgment record is devoid of any evidence that would permit a finder of fact [*20] to conclude that USAT acted with gross negligence with regard to Lautieri or the subject triathlon. Therefore, summary judgment in favor of third-party defendant USAT must be allowed.

C. Boys and Girls Clubs of Metrowest, Inc.

A similar finding regarding the B&G Clubs is mandated. While there is evidence that the B&G Clubs provided volunteers for the triathlon, there is no evidence to support a claim of gross negligence against the B&G Clubs or any of its members. Thus, the waivers are operative to release the B&G Clubs from liability. Accordingly, summary judgment for the third-party defendant B&G Clubs must also be allowed.

ORDER

For the foregoing reasons, USA Triathlon, Inc’s and Boys and Girls Clubs of Metrowest, Inc.’s motions for summary judgment are ALLOWED, and, accordingly, judgment shall enter for the third-party defendants on Counts I and III of the third-party complaint, as they relate to claims of contribution, and on Counts I, II, and III of the third-party complaint, as they relate to indemnification. William Fiske, d/b/a Fiske Independent Race Management’s motion for summary judgment on Count II of the third-party complaint is DENIED as it relates [*21] to a claim for contribution.

Kenneth J. Fishman

Justice of the Superior Court

Date: October 29, 2003

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Massachusetts Ski Safety Act

Massachusetts Ski Safety Act

ANNOTATED LAWS OF MASSACHUSETTS

PART I ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOVERNMENT

TITLE XX PUBLIC SAFETY AND GOOD ORDER

Chapter 143 Inspection and Regulation of, and Licenses for, Buildings, Elevators and Cinematographs

GO TO MASSACHUSETTS CODE ARCHIVE DIRECTORY

ALM GL ch. 143, § 71I (2012)

§ 71I. Recreational Tramways — Definitions.

As used in sections seventy-one H to seventy-one S, inclusive, the following words shall, unless the context otherwise requires, have the following meanings:

“Recreational tramway”, a device used to transport passengers uphill on skis, or in cars on tracks or suspended in the air, by the use of steel cables, chains or belts or by ropes, and usually supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans. The term recreational tramway shall include the following:

(1) Two-car aerial passenger tramway, a device used to transport passengers in two open or enclosed cars attached to, and suspended from, a moving wire rope, or attached to a moving wire rope and supported on a standing wire rope, or similar devices.

(2) Multi-car aerial passenger tramway, a device used to transport passengers in several open or enclosed cars attached to, and suspended from, a moving wire rope, or attached to a moving wire rope and supported on a standing wire rope, or similar devices.

(3) Skimobile, a device in which a passenger car running on steel or wooden tracks is attached to and pulled by a steel cable, or similar devices.

(4) Chair lift, a type of transportation on which passengers are carried on chairs suspended in the air and attached to a moving cable, chain or link belt supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans, or similar devices.

(5) J bar, T bar or platter pull, so-called, and similar types of devices, means of transportation which pull skiers riding on skis by means of an attachment to a main overhead cable supported by trestles or towers with one or more spans.

(6) Rope tow, a type of transportation which pulls the skiers riding on skis as the skiers grasp the rope manually, or similar devices.

“Operator”, a person, including the commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof, who owns or controls the operation of a recreational tramway.

“Board”, the recreational tramway board.

“Skier”, any person utilizing the ski area under control of a ski area operator for the purpose of skiing, whether or not that person is a passenger on a recreational tramway, including riders during a non-skiing season.

“Ski area”, all of the slopes and trails under the control of the ski area operator, including cross-country ski areas, slopes and trails, and any recreational tramway in operation on any such slopes or trails administered or operated as a single enterprise but shall not include base lodges, motor vehicle parking lots and other portions of ski areas used by skiers when not actually engaged in the sport of skiing.

“Ski area operator”, the owner or operator of a ski area, including an agency of the commonwealth or a political subdivision thereof, or the employees, agents, officers or delegated representatives of such owner or operator, including the owner or operator of a cross-country ski area, slope or trail, and of any recreational tramway in operation on any such slope or trail administered or operated as a single enterprise.

“Ski slope or trail”, an area designed by the person or organization having operational responsibility for the ski area as herein defined, including a cross-country ski area, for use by the public in furtherance of the sport of skiing, meaning such designation as is set forth on a trail map or as otherwise designated by a sign indicating to the skiing public the intent that the area be used by skiers for purpose of participating in the sport.

HISTORY: 1968, 565, § 1; 1978, 455, §§ 1, 2; 1996, 58, § 28; 1996, 151, § 528.

NOTES: Editorial Note

The 1978 amendment, in the first sentence, extended the applicability of definitions through § 71S, and added the definitions of “Skier,” “Ski area,” “Ski area operator,” and “Ski slope or trail.”

The first 1996 amendment, (ch 58), effective July 1, 1996, repealed this section.

The second 1996 amendment, (ch 151), effective July 1, 1996, repealed the provisions of Acts 1996, Ch. 58, § 28, that repealed this section, thereby restoring this section.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Recreational tramway board; adopting administrative regulations. 526 CMR 2.01 et seq.

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing. 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Law Reviews

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

CASE NOTES

Language of ALM GL c 143, § 71I limits the definition of skier to any person utilizing a ski area for the purpose of skiing, and shows that the Massachusetts Ski Safety Act (Act), ALM GL c 143, §§ 71N, 71O, was not intended to include a non-skiing sport like snow tubing; the Act did not relieve a ski operator from a claim for injuries from a snow tubing accident, and the ski operator’s summary judgment motion was denied. Burden v. Amesbury Sports Park, Inc. (2003, Super Ct) 16 Mass L Rep 744, 2003 Mass Super LEXIS 276.

Snowboarders falls within the definition of skiers. Rich v. Tamarack Ski Corp. (2008) 24 Mass L Rep 448, 2008 Mass. Super. LEXIS 324.

Because snowboarders were included within the definition of “skiers” found in ALM GL c 143, § 71I, under ALM GL c 143, § 71O, a ski area operator and an instructor were not liable to a snowboarder who was injured when she ran into the instructor who was standing at the side of a ski hill. Rich v. Tamarack Ski Corp. (2008) 24 Mass L Rep 448, 2008 Mass. Super. LEXIS 324.

Because a racing skier’s collision with a lift tower stanchion was off the race course and off the trail–as defined in ALM GL c 143, § 71I– ALM GL c 143, § 71O, placed the duty to avoid collisions on the skier alone. Brush v. Jiminy Peak Mt. Resort, Inc. (2009) 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204.

§ 71J. Recreational Tramways — Board to Adopt Rules and Regulations for Construction, Maintenance; Licensing of Inspectors.

After a hearing, the board shall adopt, and may from time to time amend or revoke, rules and regulations for the construction, operation and maintenance of recreational tramways and for the inspection, licensing and certification of inspectors thereof. The board shall in like manner adopt, and from time to time amend or revoke, rules and regulations for a system of signs to be used by a ski area operator in order to promote the safety of skiers. Such system shall incorporate standards in general use in the skiing industry to evaluate the difficulty of slopes and trails and to adequately alert skiers to the known danger of any slope or trail or the ski area. The attorney general shall assist the board in framing such rules and regulations.

HISTORY: 1968, 565, § 1; 1978, 455, § 3; 1996, 58, § 28; 1996, 151, § 528.

NOTES: Editorial Note

The 1978 amendment, added the second and third sentences, relative to sign systems.

The first 1996 amendment, (ch 58), effective July 1, 1996, repealed this section.

The second 1996 amendment, (ch 151), effective July 1, 1996, repealed the provisions of Acts 1996, Ch. 58, § 28, that repealed this section, thereby restoring this section.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Recreational tramway board. 526 CMR 1.01 through 3.04; , 4.00 (1.1-1.8), 5.00 (2.1-2.6), 6.00 (3.1-3.6), 7.00 (4.1, 4.2), 8.01, 8.02.

Law Review References

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

§ 71K. Recreational Tramways — to Be Licensed.

No recreational tramway shall be operated unless a license for such operation has been issued by the board. Such license shall be issued for a term of not longer than one year, upon application therefor on a form furnished by the board, and upon a determination by the board that the recreational tramway conforms to the rules and regulations of the board. In making such determination the board may rely upon the report of an inspector certified by it in accordance with its rules and regulations.

HISTORY: 1968, 565, § 1; 1996, 58, § 28; 1996, 151, § 528.

NOTES: Editorial Note

The first 1996 amendment, (ch 58), effective July 1, 1996, repealed this section.

The second 1996 amendment, (ch 151), effective July 1, 1996, repealed the provisions of Acts 1996, Ch. 58, § 28, that repealed this section, thereby restoring this section.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Recreational tramway board; adopting administrative regulations. 526 CMR 2.01 et seq.

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing. 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Jurisprudence

51 Am Jur 2d, Licenses and Permits §§ 10, 11, 64-68, 74, 76.

Law Review References

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

§ 71M. Recreational Tramways — Appeals to Superior Court from Orders of Board.

Any operator who is aggrieved by any order of the board may appeal therefrom to the superior court. No such appeal shall suspend the operation of the order made by the board; provided that the superior court may suspend the order of the board pending the determination of such appeal whenever, in the opinion of the court, justice may require such suspension. The superior court shall hear such appeal at the earliest convenient day and shall enter such decree as justice may require.

HISTORY: 1968, 565, § 1; 1996, 58, § 28; 1996, 151, § 528.

NOTES: Editorial Note

The first 1996 amendment, (ch 58), effective July 1, 1996, repealed this section.

The second 1996 amendment, (ch 151), effective July 1, 1996, repealed the provisions of Acts 1996, Ch. 58, § 28, that repealed this section, thereby restoring this section.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Recreational tramway board; adopting administrative regulations. 526 CMR 2.01 et seq.

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing. 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Jurisprudence

18C Am Jur Pl & Pr Forms (Rev), Occupations, Trades, and Professions, Forms 20, 21.

Law Review References

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

§ 71N. Recreational Tramways — Posting of Signs and Notices by Ski Area Operator.

A ski area operator shall:

(1) whenever maintenance or snow-making equipment is being employed on any ski slope or trail open to the public, conspicuously place or cause to be placed, notice at or near the top of any ski slope or trail being maintained that such equipment is being so employed, and shall conspicuously indicate the location of any such equipment in a manner to afford skiers reasonable notice of the proximity of such equipment;

(2) mark and identify all trail maintenance and emergency vehicles, including snowmobiles, and furnish such vehicles with flashing or rotating lights, which shall be operated during the time that said vehicles are in operation within the ski area;

(3) with respect to the emergency use of vehicles within the ski area, including but not limited to uses for purposes of removing injured or stranded skiers, or performing emergency maintenance or repair work to slopes, trails or tramway equipment, not be required to post such signs as is required by clause (1), but shall be required to maintain such lighting equipment required by clause (2);

(4) mark the location of any hydrants used in snow-making operations and located within or upon a slope or trail;

(5) conspicuously place within the ski area, in such form, size and location as the board may require, and on the back of any lift ticket issued notice, in plain language, of the statute of limitations and notice period established in section seventy-one P; and

(6) maintain a sign system on all buildings, recreational tramways, ski trails and slopes in accordance with rules and regulations promulgated by the board and shall be responsible for the maintenance and operation of ski areas under its control in a reasonably safe condition or manner; provided, however, that ski area operators shall not be liable for damages to persons or property, while skiing, which arise out of the risks inherent in the sport of skiing.

HISTORY: 1978, 455, § 4; 1996, 58, § 28; 1996, 151, § 528.

NOTES: Editorial Note

Acts 1978, Ch. 455, § 4, replaced former §§ 71N and 71O with sections 71N through 71S; the former provisions of §§ 71N and 71O are now contained in §§ 71R and 71S, respectively. Section 5 of the inserting act provides as follows:

Section 5. The provisions of clause (5) of section seventy-one N of chapter one hundred and forty-three of the General Laws, inserted by section three of this act, relative to the printing on lift tickets of a notice of the statute of limitations, shall not apply to a ski area operator who has a supply of such tickets already printed for the nineteen hundred and seventy-eight and nineteen hundred and seventy-nine skiing season, insofar as he may exhaust such supply. Such ski area operator shall, however, comply with said notice requirements beginning with the nineteen hundred and seventy-nine and nineteen hundred and eighty skiing season.

The first 1996 amendment, (ch 58), effective July 1, 1996, repealed this section.

The second 1996 amendment, (ch 151), effective July 1, 1996, repealed the provisions of Acts 1996, Ch. 58, § 28, that repealed this section, thereby restoring this section.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Recreational tramway board; adopting administrative regulations. 526 CMR 2.01 et seq.

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing. 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Jurisprudence

57A Am Jur 2d, Negligence § 32.

15 Am Jur Trials 147, Skiing Accident Litigation.

20 Am Jur Proof of Facts 2d 1, Liability for Skiing Accident.

Law Reviews

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

CASE NOTES

One year limitation period in GL c 143 § 71P is not applicable only to action for violation of duty prescribed by GL c 143 § 71N but applies to all personal injury actions brought by skiers against ski area operator arising out of skiing injuries. Atkins v. Jiminy Peak, Inc. (1987) 401 Mass 81, 514 NE2d 850, 1987 Mass LEXIS 1497.

ALM GL c 143 § 71O does not exempt ski area operator from liability for injuries caused by its agent. Tilley v. Brodie Mountain Ski Area, Inc. (1992) 412 Mass 1009, 591 NE2d 202, 1992 Mass LEXIS 273.

Summary judgment in favor of ski area operator was appropriate where plaintiff was skier, who slipped while approaching ski lift, since ALM GL c 143 § 71N specifically excludes liability for injury to skier arising out of risks inherent in sport of skiing, and a skier accepts, as a matter of law, risk that he or she might be injured in manner that falls within statutorily specified risks as well as risks contemplated by statutory scheme. Fetzner v. Jiminy Peak, The Mountain Resort (1995) 1995 Mass App Div 55, 1995 Mass App Div LEXIS 30.

Ski area operator was not liable for injuries sustained by skier who, after skiing over clumps of ice on trail, lost control and skied off trail edge into woods, since injuries arose out of risks inherent in skiing, and skier failed to control speed and direction. Spinale v. Pam F., Inc. (1995) 1995 Mass App Div 140, 1995 Mass App Div LEXIS 66.

Massachusetts Ski Safety Act (Act), ALM GL c 143, §§ 71N, 71O, was not intended to include a non-skiing sport like snow tubing; the Act did not relieve a ski operator from a claim for injuries from a snow tubing accident, and the ski operator’s summary judgment motion was denied. Burden v. Amesbury Sports Park, Inc. (2003, Super Ct) 16 Mass L Rep 744, 2003 Mass Super LEXIS 276.

Although a ski area operator had a general duty to operate the ski areas under its control in a reasonably safe manner, pursuant to ALM GL c 143, § 71N(6), because a racing skier’s collision with a lift tower stanchion was off the race course and off the trail, ALM GL c 143, § 71O, placed the duty to avoid collisions on the skier alone. Brush v. Jiminy Peak Mt. Resort, Inc. (2009) 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204.

In a negligence action brought by an inexperienced skier who was seriously injured when she struck a snow gun while skiing on a low intermediate trail, even though the ski area operator’s trail markings did not violate the Massachusetts Ski Safety Act, ALM GL c 143, § 71N, or contribute to the accident and even though the skier had an obligation under ALM GL c 143, § 71O to avoid collisions with an object so long as the object was not improperly marked, the ski area operator was not entitled to summary judgment on all the negligence claims because there were factual disputes remaining as to whether the snow gun was adequately marked and padded. Peresypa v. Jiminy Peak Mt. Resort, Inc. (2009) 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84417.

Reasonable jury could find that ski area operator breached its general duty under ALM GL c 143 § 71N(6), even though statute provides exception protecting operators from “damages…which arise out of risks inherent in sport of skiing,” where examples of inherent risks enumerated by statute include “variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow, ice conditions or bare spots,” because presence of snow gun in middle of ski trail does not appear to fall into category of inherent risk. Eipp v. Jiminy Peak, Inc. (2001) 154 F Supp 2d 110, 2001 US Dist LEXIS 11229.

§ 71O. Recreational Tramways — Conduct, Responsibilities, and Duties of Skiers.

No skier shall embark or disembark upon a recreational tramway except at a designated location and during designated hours of operation, throw or expel any object from any recreational tramway while riding thereon, act in any manner while riding on a recreational tramway that may interfere with its proper or safe operation, engage in any type of conduct which may injure any person, or place any object in the uphill ski track which may cause another to fall while traveling uphill on a ski lift, or cross the uphill track of a recreational tramway except at designated locations. A skier shall maintain control of his speed and course at all times, and shall stay clear of any snow-grooming equipment, any vehicle, towers, poles, or other equipment.

A skier who boards a recreational tramway shall be presumed to have sufficient abilities to use the same, and shall follow any written or oral instruction given regarding its use and no skier shall embark on a recreational tramway without authority of the operator. A skier skiing down hill shall have the duty to avoid any collision with any other skier, person or object on the hill below him, and, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the responsibility for collisions by any skier with any other skier or person shall be solely that of the skier or person involved and not that of the operator, and the responsibility for the collision with any obstruction, man-made or otherwise, shall be solely that of the skier and not that of the operator, provided that such obstruction is properly marked pursuant to the regulations promulgated by the board. No skier shall ski on any ski slope or trail or portion thereof which has been designated closed, nor ski on other than an identified trail, slope or ski area. Any person skiing on other than an open slope or trail within the ski area shall be responsible for any injuries resulting from his action. A skier shall be presumed to know the range of his own ability to ski on any slope, trail or area. A skier shall be presumed to know of the existence of certain unavoidable risks inherent in the sport of skiing, which shall include, but not be limited to, variations in terrain, surface or subsurface snow, ice conditions or bare spots, and shall assume the risk of injury or loss caused by such inherent risks. A skier shall, prior to his entrance onto the slope or trail, other than one designated for cross-country skiing, or embarking on any recreational tramway, have attached on his skis, a strap or other device for the purpose of restraining or preventing a runaway ski. A ski area operator who finds a person in violation of this section, may issue an oral warning to that individual. A person who fails to heed the warning issued by such ski area operator shall forfeit his recreational tramway ticket and recreational tramway use privileges and may be refused issuance of another such ticket to the recreational tramway.

HISTORY: 1978, 455, § 4; 1987, 287.

NOTES: Editorial Note

Acts 1978, Ch. 455, § 4, replaced former §§ 71N and 71Owith §§ 71N through 71S; the former provisions of §§ 71N and 71Oare now contained in §§ 71R and 71S, respectively.

The 1987 amendment, added the fifth and sixth sentences of the second paragraph, relating to the areas of knowledge presumed to be possessed by skiers.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Recreational tramway board; adopting administrative regulations, 526 CMR 2.01 et seq.

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing, 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Jurisprudence

57A Am Jur 2d, Negligence §§ 258 et seq., 272 et seq.

15 Am Jur Trials 147, Skiing Accident Litigation.

Law Reviews

Dahlstrom, From Recreational Skiing to Criminally Negligent Homicide: A Comparison of United States’ Ski Laws in the Wake of People v. Hall.30 NE J on Crim & Civ Con 209 (Summer, 2004)

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

CASE NOTES

ALM GL c 71O, insulating ski area operator from liability for collisions between skiers, did not apply where plaintiff/skier was struck from behind by ski patrol member. Tilley v. Brodie Mountain Ski Area, Inc. (1992) 412 Mass 1009, 591 NE2d 202, 1992 Mass LEXIS 273.

ALM GL c 143 § 71O does not exempt ski area operator from liability for injuries caused by its agent. Tilley v. Brodie Mountain Ski Area, Inc. (1992) 412 Mass 1009, 591 NE2d 202, 1992 Mass LEXIS 273.

Summary judgment in favor of ski area operator was appropriate where plaintiff was skier, who slipped while approaching ski lift, since ALM GL c 143 § 71N specifically excludes liability for injury to skier arising out of risks inherent in sport of skiing, and a skier accepts, as a matter of law, risk that he or she might be injured in manner that falls within statutorily specified risks as well as risks contemplated by statutory scheme. Fetzner v. Jiminy Peak, The Mountain Resort (1995) 1995 Mass App Div 55, 1995 Mass App Div LEXIS 30.

Ski area operator was not liable for injuries sustained by skier who, after skiing over clumps of ice on trail, lost control and skied off trail edge into woods, since injuries arose out of risks inherent in skiing, and skier failed to control speed and direction. Spinale v. Pam F., Inc. (1995) 1995 Mass App Div 140, 1995 Mass App Div LEXIS 66.

Massachusetts Ski Safety Act (Act), ALM GL c 143, §§ 71N, 71O, was not intended to include a non-skiing sport like snow tubing; the Act did not relieve a ski operator from a claim for injuries from a snow tubing accident, and the ski operator’s summary judgment motion was denied. Burden v. Amesbury Sports Park, Inc. (2003, Super Ct) 16 Mass L Rep 744, 2003 Mass Super LEXIS 276.

Because snowboarders were included within the definition of “skiers” found in ALM GL c 143, § 71I, under ALM GL c 143, § 71O, a ski area operator and an instructor were not liable to a snowboarder who was injured when she ran into the instructor who was standing at the side of a ski hill. Rich v. Tamarack Ski Corp. (2008) 24 Mass L Rep 448, 2008 Mass. Super. LEXIS 324.

Although a ski area operator had a general duty to operate the ski areas under its control in a reasonably safe manner, pursuant to ALM GL c 143, § 71N(6), because a racing skier’s collision with a lift tower stanchion was off the race course and off the trail, ALM GL c 143, § 71O, placed the duty to avoid collisions on the skier alone. Brush v. Jiminy Peak Mt. Resort, Inc. (2009) 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204.

In applying ALM GL c 143, § 71O, while it may be unreasonable to presume that a child learning to ski knows the range of his own ability to ski on any slope, trail or area, a similar presumption cannot be applied to collegiate competitive skiers. Brush v. Jiminy Peak Mt. Resort, Inc. (2009) 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204.

In a negligence action brought by an inexperienced skier who was seriously injured when she struck a snow gun while skiing on a low intermediate trail, even though the ski area operator’s trail markings did not violate the Massachusetts Ski Safety Act, ALM GL c 143, § 71N, or contribute to the accident and even though the skier had an obligation under ALM GL c 143, § 71O to avoid collisions with an object so long as the object was not improperly marked, the ski area operator was not entitled to summary judgment on all the negligence claims because there were factual disputes remaining as to whether the snow gun was adequately marked and padded. Peresypa v. Jiminy Peak Mt. Resort, Inc. (2009) 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84417.

§ 71P. Recreational Tramways — Actions Against Ski Area Operators.

For the purpose of sections seventy-one I to seventy-one R, inclusive, in any action brought against a ski area operator based on negligence, it shall be evidence of due care where the conduct of an operator has conformed with the provisions of this chapter or rules or regulations of the board made pursuant to section seventy-one J.

No action shall be maintained against a ski area operator for injury to a skier unless as a condition precedent thereof the person so injured shall, within ninety days of the incident, give to such ski area operator notice, by registered mail, of the name and address of the person injured, the time, place and cause of the injury. Failure to give the foregoing notice shall bar recovery, unless the court finds under the circumstances of the particular case that such ski area operator had actual knowledge of said injury or had reasonable opportunity to learn of said injury within said ninety-day period, or was otherwise not substantially prejudiced by reason of not having been given actual written notice of said injury within said period. In a case where lack of written notice, actual knowledge, or a reasonable opportunity to obtain knowledge of any injury within said ninety-day period is alleged by such ski area operator, the burden of proving substantial prejudice shall be on the operator.

An action to recover for such injury shall be brought within one year of the date of such injury.

HISTORY: 1978, 455, § 4.

NOTES: Cross References

Limitation of actions, generally, ALM GL c 260 § 1 et seq.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing, 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Jurisprudence

57A Am Jur 2d, Negligence § 9.

58 Am Jur 2d, Notice §§ 1-4, 27.

15 Am Jur Trials 177, Skiing Accident Litigation.

20 Am Jur Proof of Facts 2d 1, Liability for Skiing Accident.

46 Am Jur Proof of Facts 3d 1, Liability of Skier for Collision with Another Skier.

Law Review References

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

CASE NOTES

Word “injury” as used in section does not include death. Grass v. Catamount Dev. Corp. (1983) 390 Mass 551, 457 NE2d 627, 1983 Mass LEXIS 1783.

Legislature did not intend to give ski industry same degree of protection from wrongful death claims as from claims of personal injury. Grass v. Catamount Dev. Corp. (1983) 390 Mass 551, 457 NE2d 627, 1983 Mass LEXIS 1783.

Statute of limitations for action for wrongful death arising out of injury to skier and brought against operator of ski area is GL c 229 § 2, the wrongful death statute, not GL c 143 § 71P. Grass v. Catamount Dev. Corp. (1983) 390 Mass 551, 457 NE2d 627, 1983 Mass LEXIS 1783.

Action by injured skier against ski area operator is governed by one-year limitations of action provision of GL c 143 § 71P, where plaintiff’s theories of recovery were negligence and breach of warranty as well as breach of contract, in renting defective ski equipment. Atkins v. Jiminy Peak, Inc. (1987) 401 Mass 81, 514 NE2d 850, 1987 Mass LEXIS 1497.

One-year limitation period in GL c 143 § 71P is not applicable only to action for violation of duty prescribed by GL c 143 § 71N but applies to all personal injury actions brought by skiers against ski area operator arising out of skiing injuries. Atkins v. Jiminy Peak, Inc. (1987) 401 Mass 81, 514 NE2d 850, 1987 Mass LEXIS 1497.

Legislature concluded that short period for commencement of action against ski area operator was in public interest, because of threat to economic stability of owners and operators of ski areas from personal injury claims. Atkins v. Jiminy Peak, Inc. (1987) 401 Mass 81, 514 NE2d 850, 1987 Mass LEXIS 1497.

One-year limitation period applies to actions brought against ski area operators seeking compensation for injuries sustained while skiing. Atkins v. Jiminy Peak, Inc. (1987) 401 Mass 81, 514 NE2d 850, 1987 Mass LEXIS 1497.

Personal injury action against ski area operators is barred by ALM GL c 143 § 71P, where Massachusetts resident on March 1, 1991 sued New Hampshire ski resort corporation in Massachusetts federal district court for injury suffered at resort on March 2, 1989, because Massachusetts conflict rules call for application of one-year Massachusetts limitations period for actions against ski area operators, instead of New Hampshire’s 2-year statute of limitations. Tidgewell v. Loon Mountain Recreation Corp. (1993, DC Mass) 820 F Supp 630, 1993 US Dist LEXIS 6457.

§ 71Q. Recreational Tramways — Leaving Scene of Skiing Accident.

Any person who is knowingly involved in a skiing accident and who departs from the scene of such accident without leaving personal identification or otherwise clearly identifying himself and obtaining assistance knowing that any other person involved in the accident is in need of medical or other assistance shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars.

HISTORY: 1978, 455, § 4.

NOTES: Cross References

Fine and or imprisonment for leaving scene of accident involving automobiles, ALM GL c 90 § 24.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing, 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Law Review References

Centner, Equestrian Immunity and Sport Responsibility Statutes: Altering Obligations and Placing Them on Participants. 13 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 37 (2006).

§ 71R. Recreational Tramways — Penalties for Violations of §§ 71K and 71N or of Regulations Promulgated Under § 71J.

Whoever violates any provision of section 71K, 71N, or any rule or regulation made under the provisions of section 71J, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars; provided, however, that any person who operates a recreational tramway, after the license therefor has been suspended or revoked, shall be punished by a fine of one hundred dollars for each day of such operation.

HISTORY: 1968, 565, § 1; 1978, 455, § 4.

NOTES: Editorial Note

This section incorporates the provisions of former § 71N, 25 renumbered and amended by the 1978 act, to include the reference to violations of new § 71N and to increase the fine from $100 to $200 for violations other than operating on a suspended or revoked license, for which the daily fine was increased from $50 to $100.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing, 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Law Review References

§ 71S. Recreational Tramways — Applicability of Other Chapters; Jurisdiction of Public Utilities Department.

Recreational tramways shall not be subject to the provisions of chapters one hundred and fifty-nine, one hundred and sixty, one hundred and sixty-one, and one hundred and sixty-two, and shall not be subject to the jurisdiction or control of the department of telecommunications and energy.

HISTORY: 1968, 565, § 1; 1978, 455, § 4; 1997, 164, § 114.

NOTES: Editorial Note

This section contains the provisions of former § 71O, as renumbered by the 1978 act without amendment, except for 2 minor corrective changes.

The 1997 amendment, effective Nov 25, 1997, substituted “telecommunications and energy” for “public utilities”. Section 1 of the amending act provides as follows:

Section 1. It is hereby found and declared that:

(a) electricity service is essential to the health and well-being of all residents of the commonwealth, to public safety, and to orderly and sustainable economic development;

(b) affordable electric service should he available to all consumers on reasonable terms and conditions;

(c) ratepayers and the commonwealth will be best served by moving from (i) the regulatory framework extant on July 1, 1997, in which retail electricity service is provided principally by public utility corporations obligated to provide ultimate consumers in exclusive service territories with reliable electric service at regulated rates, to (ii) a framework under which competitive producers will supply electric power and customers will gain the right to choose their electric power supplier;

(d) the existing regulatory system results in among the highest, residential and commercial electricity rates paid by customers throughout the United States;

(e) such extraordinary high electricity rates have created significant adverse effects on consumers and on the ability of businesses located in the commonwealth to compete in regional, national, and international markets;

(f) the introduction of competition in the electric generation market will encourage innovation, efficiency, and improved service from all market participants, and will enable reductions in the cost of regulatory oversight;

(g) competitive markets in generation should (i) provide electricity suppliers with the incentive to operate efficiently, (ii) open markets for new and improved technologies, (iii) provide electricity buyers and sellers with appropriate price signals, and (iv) improve public confidence in the electric utility industry;

(h) since reliable electric service is of utmost importance to the safety, health, and welfare of the commonwealth’s citizens and economy, electric industry restructuring should enhance the reliability of the interconnected regional transmission systems, and provide strong coordination and enforceable protocols for all users of the power grid;

(i) it is vital that sufficient supplies of electric generation will be available to maintain the reliable service to the citizens and businesses of the commonwealth; and that.

(j) the commonwealth should ensure that universal service are energy conservation policies, activities, and services are appropriately funded and available throughout the commonwealth, and should guard against the exercise of vertical market power and the accumulation of horizontal market power;

(k) long-term rate reductions can be achieved most effectively by increasing competition and enabling broad consumer choice in generation service, thereby allowing market forces to play the principal role in determining the suppliers of generation for all customers;

(l) the primary elements of a more competitive electricity market will be customer choice, preservation and augmentation of consumer protections, full and fair competition in generation, and enhanced environmental protection goals;

(m) the interests of consumers can best be served by an expedient and orderly transition from regulation to competition in the generation sector consisting of the unbundling of prices and services and the functional separation of generation services from transmission and distribution services;

(n) the restructuring of the existing electricity system should not undermine the policy of the commonwealth that electricity bills for low income residents should remain as affordable as possible;

(o) the commonwealth should enter into a compact with the other New England states and New York State, that provides incentives for the public and investor owned electricity utilities located in such states to sell energy to retail customers in Massachusetts which adheres to enforceable standards and protocols and protects the reliability of interconnected regional transmission and distribution systems;

(p) since reliable electricity service depends on conscientious inspection and maintenance of transmission and distribution systems, to continue and enhance the reliability of the delivery of electricity, the regional network and the commonwealth, the department of telecommunications and energy should set stringent and comprehensive inspection, maintenance, repair, replacement, and system service standards;

(q) the transition to expanded customer choice and competitive markets may produce hardships for employees whose working lives were dedicated to their employment;

(r) it is preferable that possible reductions in the workforce directly caused by electricity restructuring be accomplished through collective bargaining negotiations and offers of voluntary severance, retraining, early retirement, outplacement, and related benefits;

(s) the transition to a competitive generation market should be orderly and be completed as expeditiously as possible, should protect electric system reliability, and should provide electricity corporation investors with a reasonable opportunity to recover prudently incurred costs associated with generation-related assets and obligations, within a reasonable and fair deregulation framework consistent with the provisions of this act;

(t) the recovery of such prudently incurred costs shall occur only after such electric companies take all practicable measures to mitigate stranded investments during the transition to a competitive market;

(u) such charges associated with the transition should be collected over a specific period of time on a non-bypassable basis and in a manner that does not result in an increase in rates to customers of electricity corporations;

(v) financial mechanisms should be available that allow electricity corporations to securitize that portion of their transition costs which cannot be divested in the marketplace and which concurrently minimize transition charges to consumers;

(w) the initial benefit of this transition to a competitive market shall result in consumer electricity rate reductions of at least 10 per cent beginning on March 1, 1998, as part of an aggregate rate reduction totaling at least 15 per cent upon the subsequent approval of divestiture and securitization; and.

(x) the general court seeks, through the enactment of this legislation, to establish the parameters upon which a restructuring of the electricity industry shall be based and which reflects the public policy decisions for the commonwealth designed to balance the needs of all participants in the existing and future systems;

Therefore, it is found that it is in the public interest of the commonwealth to promote the property and general welfare of its citizens, a public purpose for which public money may be expended, by restructuring the electricity industry in the commonwealth to foster competition and promote reduced electricity rates through the enactment of the following statutory changes.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations

Ski safety signs for downhill and cross-country skiing, 526 CMR 8.01 et seq.

Law Review References


Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384

Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384

Merav Sharon vs. City of Newton.

SJC-08671

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384

April 2, 2002, Argued

June 10, 2002, Decided

Prior History: [***1] Middlesex. Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 5, 1998. A motion to amend answer was heard by Martha B.

Sosman, J., and the case was heard by Leila R. Kern, J., on a motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

Disposition: Affirmed.

Headnotes: Practice, Civil, Answer, Amendment, Motion to amend. Parent and Child, Education. Release. School and School Committee, Liability for tort.

Public Policy. Contract, Minor, Release from liability, Consideration.

Negligence, Contractual limitation of liability, School. Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. Governmental Immunity.

Counsel: Jeffrey Petrucelly for the plaintiff.

Richard G. Chmielinski, Assistant City Solicitor, for the defendant.

The following submitted briefs for amici curiae: Thomas J. Urbelis for Massachusetts City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association.

Michael K. Gillis & John J. St. Andre for The Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys.

Leonard H. Kesten & Patricia M. Malone for Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Judges: Present (Sitting at Barnstable): Marshall, C.J., Greaney, Ireland, Spina, & Cordy, JJ.

Opinion by: Cordy

Opinion: [**741]

[*100] CORDY, J. In this case, we consider the question of the validity of a release signed by the parent of a minor child for the purpose of permitting her to engage in public school extra-curricular sports activities. The question is one of first impression in the Commonwealth.

A. Background.

On November 8, 1995, sixteen year old Merav Sharon [***2] was injured while participating in a cheerleading practice at Newton North High School. Merav fell from a teammate’s shoulders while rehearsing a pyramid formation cheer and sustained a serious compound fracture to her left arm that required surgery. n1 At the time of her injury, Merav had had four seasons of cheerleading experience at the high school level.

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n1 Merav Sharon’s injury occurred during a cheerleading squad practice in the school’s dance studio that was equipped with one-inch thick mats on the floor.

The team used members of the squad as spotters while performing difficult stunts or cheers. While such spotters were in place at the time of Merav’s injury, her spotter was not able to catch her or break her fall from the top of the pyramid.

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On November 5, 1998, having reached the age of majority, Merav filed suit against the city of Newton, alleging negligence (Count I) and the negligent hiring and retention of the cheerleading coach (Count II). n2 The city filed its answer on December 24, 1998. In late [***3] October, 1999, during the course of discovery, the city came across a document entitled “Parental Consent, Release from Liability and Indemnity Agreement” signed by Merav and her father in August, 1995, approximately three months prior to the injury. The relevant part of the release reads as follows:

“[I] the undersigned [father] . . . of Merav Sharon, a [*101] minor, do hereby consent to [her] participation in voluntary athletic programs and do forever RELEASE, acquit, discharge, and covenant to hold harmless the City of Newton . . . from any and all actions, causes of action, [and] claims . . . on account of, or in any way growing out of, directly or indirectly, all known and unknown personal injuries or property damage which [I] may now or hereafter have as the parent . . . of said minor, and also all claims or right of action for damages which said minor has or hereafter may acquire, either before or after [she] has reached [her] majority resulting . . . from [her] participation in the Newton Public Schools Physical Education Department’s athletic programs . . . .”

The city filed a motion for summary judgment raising the signed release as a defense.

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n2 The negligence claims were brought against the city of Newton pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G. L. c. 258.

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Merav filed an opposition to the city’s motion for summary judgment in which she argued that, because the release had not been raised as an affirmative defense in the city’s answer, it should be deemed waived. Shortly thereafter, the city filed a motion to amend its answer in order to add the release as an affirmative defense. One judge in the Superior Court allowed the city’s motion to amend on June 30, 2000, and a second judge subsequently allowed the city’s motion for summary judgment based on the validity of the release. n3 [**742] In her ruling, the judge concluded that “[a] contrary ruling would detrimentally chill a school’s ability to offer voluntary athletic and other extra -curricular programs.”

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n3 The city also filed a motion to implead Merav’s father as a third-party defendant based on the release. This motion was granted but the third-party complaint was subsequently dismissed as moot.

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Merav filed a timely appeal claiming that (1) the motion judge abused her discretion by allowing the city to amend its [***5] answer late; (2) the grant of summary judgment was inappropriate because genuine issues of material fact remained in dispute; and (3) the release signed by Merav and her father was invalid because (a) she disavowed it on attaining her majority n4; (b) the release violates public policy; (c) the release is contrary to the [*102] Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G. L. c. 258, § 2; and (d) the release is invalid for lack of consideration. We transferred the case here on our own motion and now affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city. n5

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n4 The city concedes that minors may ratify or disaffirm their own contracts on reaching the age of majority. It prevailed below on the theory that Merav’s father could effectively waive her claim by signing the release.

n5 We acknowledge amicus briefs of the Massachusetts City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and The Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys.

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B. Discussion.

1. Amendment [***6] of the city’s answer. Merav claims that the allowance of the city’s untimely motion to amend its answer was prejudicial error and that, because the city failed to raise the release as an affirmative defense in its original answer, the defense should be deemed waived.

It is well established that the defense of a release must be raised as an affirmative defense and that the omission of an affirmative defense from an answer generally constitutes a waiver of that defense. See Mass. R. Civ. P. 8 (c), 365 Mass. 749 (1974); Leahy v. Local 1526, Am. Fed’n of State, County & Mun. Employees, 399 Mass. 341, 351, 504 N.E.2d 602-352 (1987), citing J.W. Smith & H.B. Zobel, Rules Practice § 8.6, at 797-798 (1974 & Supp. 1986); Coastal Oil New England, Inc. v. Citizens Fuels Corp., 38 Mass. App. Ct. 26, 29 n.3, 644 N.E.2d 258 (1995). It is equally well settled that a party may amend its pleading by leave of court and that such leave “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Mass. R. Civ. P. 15 (a), 365 Mass. 761 (1974). See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 9 L. Ed. 2d 222, 83 S. Ct. 227 (1962) (interpreting identical language [***7] in Federal rule and stating mandate that leave to amend “shall be freely given when justice so requires” is to be heeded).

Merav contends that the combination of undue delay and prejudice to her case should have led the judge to deny the city’s motion to amend. While we have often upheld a judge’s discretion to deny leave to amend based in part on undue delay, such denials have generally been coupled with consideration of other factors such as imminence of trial and futility of the claim sought to be added. See, e.g., Leonard v. Brimfield, 423 Mass. 152, 157, 666 N.E.2d 1300 (1996); Mathis v. Massachusetts Elec. Co., 409 Mass. 256, 264, 565 N.E.2d 1180 (1991); Castellucci v. United States Fid. & Guar. Co., 372 Mass. 288, 292, 361 N.E.2d 1264 (1977). Given that the amendment in this [*103] case did not raise a new issue on the eve of trial and could not be considered futile or irrelevant to the city’s defense, the judge did not abuse her discretion in granting the motion to amend the city’s answer.

2.

Summary Judgment.

By proffering the release signed by Merav and her father releasing the city [**743] from any claims that Merav [***8] might acquire from her participation in the city’s athletic program, the city has met its initial burden of demonstrating that Merav’s negligence claim is likely to be precluded at trial.

n6 In response, Merav contends both that there are issues of material fact in dispute regarding the validity of the release, and that it is unenforceable as a matter of law and public policy. We conclude that the facts Merav contends are in dispute are not material, enforcement of the release is consistent with our law and public policy, and Newton is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

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n6 When a release is raised in defense of such a claim, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that it is not a valid bar to her suit. See Gannett v. Lowell, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 325, 327, 450 N.E.2d 1121 (1983).

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a. Merav’s factual contentions. Merav first argues that there are disputed issues of material fact regarding her understanding of the release and its voluntariness. She contends that neither she nor her father [***9] realized that by signing the release they were waiving their future claims against the school, and that their understanding of what they signed is a matter of fact to be decided by a jury. As the motion judge properly noted, “it is a rule in this Commonwealth that the failure to read or to understand the contents of a release, in the absence of fraud or duress, does not avoid its effects.” Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., 349 Mass. 544, 550, 209 N.E.2d 329-551 (1965). The undisputed evidence supports the conclusion that both Merav and her father had ample opportunity to read and understand the release before signing it, and they are therefore deemed to have understood it. Cormier v. Central Mass. Chapter of the Nat’l Safety Council, 416 Mass. 286, 289, 620 N.E.2d 784 (1993).

The release is a clearly labeled, two-sided document, which Merav brought home from school for her parents to review. Merav and her father both signed the front of the release, which they indicated was for the sport of “cheerleading.”

In addition, [*104] they filled out the back of the release that called for information regarding Merav’s address, date of birth, health insurance provider, and emergency [***10] contacts, and which provided for the purchase of optional student accident insurance through the school (an option which they explicitly declined on the form). Her father also signed the back of the release giving parental consent to a physical examination of Merav prior to her participation in the cheerleading program. In these respects, the circumstances differ substantially from the so-called “baggage check” or “ticket” cases relied on by Merav in which a customer merely purchases a ticket or receives a receipt that contains release language. See Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., supra; O’Brien v. Freeman, 299 Mass. 20, 11 N.E.2d 582 (1937); Kushner v. McGinnis, 289 Mass. 326, 194 N.E. 106 (1935).

In these “baggage check” and “ticket” cases, we have ruled that the “type of document which the patron receives and the circumstances under which he receives it are not such that a person of ordinary intelligence would assume that the ticket limits the proprietor’s liability unless the patron becomes actually aware of that limitation.” Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., supra at 549-550.

Therefore, we have [***11] held in those cases that actual notice of the limitation of liability may be a question of fact properly submitted to the jury. This is not such a case. The release at issue here was clearly labeled as such and was filled out and signed by Merav and her father for the purpose of ensuring that she would be permitted to [**744] participate in an ongoing extracurricular activity. These are not circumstances likely to mislead a person of ordinary intelligence as to whether a limitation of liability might be included in the type of document being executed. There is no dispute that Merav and her father had ample opportunity to review and understand the release. Their failure to do so does not avoid its effects as a matter of law. Id. Cormier v. Central Mass. Chapter of the Nat’l Safety Council, supra. Merav further argues that a jury should consider whether the release was signed under duress because, had she refused to sign it, she would not have been allowed to participate in cheerleading. This argument was not made to the motion judge, and is waived. But see Minassian v. Ogden Suffolk Downs, Inc., [*105] 400 Mass. 490, 492, 509 N.E.2d 1190 (1987) (“take it [***12] or leave it” release as condition of voluntary participation enforceable).

b. Public policy. Merav next contends that enforcement of the release against her claims would constitute a gross violation of public policy. This argument encompasses at least three separate public policy contentions: first, that it is contrary to public policy to permit schools to require students to sign exculpatory agreements as a prerequisite to participation in extracurricular school sports; second, that public policy prohibits a parent from contracting away a minor child’s right to sue for a future harm; and third, that the enforcement of this release would undermine the duty of care that public schools owe their students.

In weighing and analyzing Merav’s public policy arguments, we must also consider other important public policies of the Commonwealth implicated in the resolution of this issue, including policies favoring the enforcement of releases, and the encouragement of extracurricular athletic programs for school-aged children.

(1) Releases. Massachusetts law favors the enforcement of releases. Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., 349 Mass. 544, 550 (1965), citing MacFarlane’s Case, 330 Mass. 573, 576, 115 N.E.2d 925 (1953); [***13] Clarke v. Ames, 267 Mass. 44, 47, 165 N.E. 696 (1929). A party may, by agreement, allocate risk and exempt itself from liability that it might subsequently incur as a result of its own negligence. See, e.g., Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., supra at 550; Barrett v. Conragan, 302 Mass. 33, 18 N.E.2d 369 (1938); Ortolano v. U-Dryvit Auto Rental Co., 296 Mass. 439, 6 N.E.2d 346 (1937). See also J.W. Smith & H.B. Zobel, Rules Practice § 8.18 (1974). “There can be no doubt . . . that under the law of Massachusetts . . . in the absence of fraud a person may make a valid contract exempting himself from any liability to another which he may in the future incur as a result of his negligence or that of his agents or employees acting on his behalf.” Schell v. Ford, 270 F.2d 384, 386 (1st Cir. 1959).

Whether such contracts be called releases, covenants not to sue, or indemnification agreements, they represent “a practice our courts have long found acceptable.” Minassian v. Ogden Suffolk Downs, Inc., supra at 493. See Shea v. Bay State Gas Co., 383 Mass. 218, 223-224, 418 N.E.2d 597 (1981); [***14] Clarke v. Ames, supra at 47.

[*106] The context in which such agreements have been upheld range beyond the purely commercial. In Lee v. Allied Sports Assocs., Inc., supra, we upheld a release signed as a prerequisite to a spectator entering the pit area of an automobile race, and in Cormier v. Central Mass. Chapter of the Nat’l Safety Council, 416 Mass. 286, 620 N.E.2d 784 (1993), we similarly [**745] upheld a release signed by a beginner rider as a condition of her enrollment in a motorcycle safety class. In both cases, the plaintiffs were subsequently injured by the allegedly negligent acts of the other party to the release. In the Lee case, supra, we concluded that the denial of the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict was error on the basis of the validity of the release. In the Cormier case, supra, we upheld the granting of summary judgment on the same basis, holding that “placing the risk of negligently caused injury on a person as a condition of that person’s voluntary choice to engage in a potentially dangerous activity ordinarily contravenes no public policy of the Commonwealth.” Id. at 289. [***15] There is little that distinguishes the activity in the present case from those in the Lee and the Cormier cases.

Although Merav has suggested that, if the release at issue here is valid, there is nothing to prevent cities or towns from requiring releases for “simply allowing a child to attend school,” such a conclusion does not necessarily follow. We have not had occasion to rule on the validity of releases required in the context of a compelled activity or as a condition for the receipt of essential services (e.g., public education, medical attention, housing, public utilities), and the enforceability of mandatory releases in such circumstances might well offend public policy. See Cormier v. Central Mass. Chapter of the Nat’l Safety Council, supra at 289 n.1, citing Gonsalves v. Commonwealth, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 606, 608, 541 N.E.2d 366 (1989) (exacting release of liability for negligence from public employee who was under compulsion to enroll in training course might offend public policy). See also Recent Case, 102 Harv. L. Rev. 729, 734 (1989) (importance of service to public should be paramount factor in deciding whether [***16] to invalidate exculpatory release on public policy grounds). In this case, Merav’s participation in the city’s extracurricular activity of cheerleading was neither compelled nor essential, and we conclude that [*107] the public policy of the Commonwealth is not offended by requiring a release as a prerequisite to that participation.

(2) Parent’s waiver of a minor’s claim. Merav contends that a parent cannot waive, compromise, or release a minor child’s cause of action, and that enforcement of such a release against the child would violate public policy. She relies on a series of decisions from other jurisdictions. n7 The city on the other hand relies on a series of cases holding to the contrary. n8 While these cases are instructive and emblematic of the difficulty in balancing [**746] the important interests and policies at stake, we first look to our own law.

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n7 See Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of Am., Inc., 21 Conn. Supp. 38, 143 A.2d 466 (1958) (release signed by parent waiving child’s future claims violates public policy); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 262 Ill. App. 3d 141, 146, 199 Ill. Dec. 572, 634 N.E.2d 411 (1994) (parent cannot waive, compromise, or release minor child’s cause of action); Doyle v. Bowdoin College, 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 n.3 (Me. 1979) (release signed by parent before son’s hockey injury void as to child’s cause of action); Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1, 7 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989) (release signed by mother void as to son’s rights but valid as to mother’s); Scott v. Pacific W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn. 2d 484, 494, 834 P.2d 6 (1992) (en banc) (preinjury release signed by parent does not bar child’s cause of action). [***17] n8 See Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (1990) (parent may execute release on behalf of minor child); Cooper v. United States Ski Ass’n, 32 P.3d 502, 29 Colo. Law. No. 10 166 (Colo. Ct. App. 2000) (mother’s release of minor child’s claims for negligence valid and enforceable); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 696 N.E.2d 201 (1998) (mother had authority to bind minor child to exculpatory agreement).

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Under our common law, “any contract, except one for necessaries, entered into by an unemancipated minor could be disaffirmed by him before he reached the age of [eighteen] or within a reasonable time thereafter.” Slaney v. Westwood Auto, Inc., 366 Mass. 688, 692, 322 N.E.2d 768 (1975). This long-standing principle has been applied to releases executed by a minor as far back as 1292. See 5 S. Williston, Contracts § 9.2, at 5 (4th ed. 1993), citing Y.B. 20 and 21 Edw. At 318 (1292) (release by minor “would not bar him from suing when he came of age”). While the common-law rule [***18] has been narrowed somewhat by statute, n9 it remains our law that the contract of a minor is generally [*108] voidable when she reaches the age of majority. Merav unequivocally repudiated the release (to the extent it might be deemed a contract executed by her) by filing suit against the city. See G.E.B. v. S.R.W., 422 Mass. 158, 164, 661 N.E.2d 646 (1996) (minor’s filing of suit is direct repudiation of contract not to sue signed by minor). The city concedes that Merav effectively disaffirmed the release, but contends that insofar as the release is signed by the parent and purports to release the school from any claim that might accrue to the minor, it remains valid because the parent can do what the minor cannot.

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n9 See, e.g., G. L. c. 167E, § 10 (student under eighteen years of age admitted to institution of higher learning has full legal capacity to act on her own behalf in contracts and other transactions regarding financing of education); G. L. c. 175, § 128 (certain contracts for life or endowment insurance may not be voided by minor over fifteen years of age); G. L. c. 175, § 113K (minor over sixteen years of age permitted to contract for motor vehicle liability insurance); G. L. c. 112, § 12E (minor over twelve years of age found to be drug dependent may consent to treatment for dependency); G. L. c. 112, § 12F (minor may consent to medical or dental treatment if she meets criteria outlined in statute).

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The purpose of the policy permitting minors to void their contracts is “to afford protection to minors from their own improvidence and want of sound judgment.” Frye v. Yasi, 327 Mass. 724, 728, 101 N.E.2d 128 (1951). This purpose comports with common sense and experience and is not defeated by permitting parents to exercise their own providence and sound judgment on behalf of their minor children. Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101, 99 S. Ct. 2493 (1979) (“The law’s concept of the family rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions”). See 1 W. Blackstone Commentaries 452 (9th ed. 1783) (minor’s consent to marriage void unless accompanied by parental consent; one of many means by which parents can protect children “from the snares of artful and designing persons”). Moreover, our law presumes that fit parents act in furtherance of the welfare and best interests of their children, Petition of the Dep’t of Pub. Welfare to Dispense with Consent to Adoption, 383 Mass. 573, 587-589, 421 N.E.2d 28 (1981); Sayre v. Aisner, 51 Mass. App. Ct. 794, 799 n.8, 748 N.E.2d 1013 (2001), [***20] and with respect to matters relating to their care, custody, and upbringing have a fundamental right to make those decisions for them. See Parham v. J.R., supra at 603 (parents can and must make judgments and decisions regarding risks to their children).

In the instant case, Merav’s father signed the release in his [*109] capacity as parent because he wanted his child to benefit from participating in cheerleading, as she had done for four previous seasons. He made an important family decision cognizant of the risk of physical injury to his [**747] child and the financial risk to the family as a whole. In the circumstance of a voluntary, nonessential activity, we will not disturb this parental judgment.

This comports with the fundamental liberty interest of parents in the rearing of their children, and is not inconsistent with the purpose behind our public policy permitting minors to void their contracts. n10

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n10 Our conclusion that parents may execute an enforceable preinjury release on behalf of their minor children is not inconsistent with our policy regarding discretionary court approval of settlement releases signed by minors. See ½ G. L. c. 231, § 140C ½ (allowing judge to approve settlement for damages stemming from personal injury to minor where parties have petitioned for such approval).

This statute applies only to postinjury releases, and the policy considerations underlying it are distinct from those at issue in the preinjury context. A parent asked to sign a preinjury release has no financial motivation to comply and is not subject to the types of conflicts and financial pressures that may arise in the postinjury settlement context, when simultaneously coping with an injured child. Such pressure can create the potential for parental action contrary to the child’s ultimate best interests. In short, in the preinjury context, there is little risk that a parent will mismanage or misappropriate his child’s property. See Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 373, 696 N.E.2d 201 (1998).

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c. The encouragement of athletic activities for minors. Our views with respect to the permissibility of requiring releases as a condition of voluntary participation in extracurricular sports activities, and the enforceability of releases signed by parents on behalf of their children for those purposes, are also consistent with and further the public policy of encouraging athletic programs for the Commonwealth’s youth. This policy is most clearly embodied in statutes that exempt from liability for negligence: nonprofit organizations and volunteer managers and coaches who offer and run sports programs for children under eighteen years of age ( G. L. c. 231, § 85V), and owners of land (including municipalities) who permit the public to use their land for recreational purposes without imposing a fee ( G. L. c. 21, § 17C). See Anderson v. Springfield, 406 Mass. 632, 549 N.E.2d 1127 (1990) (city not liable for injuries to softball player resulting from negligently caused defect in city-owned baseball field).

To hold that releases of the type in question here are [*110] unenforceable would expose public schools, who offer [***22] many of the extracurricular sports opportunities available to children, to financial costs and risks that will inevitably lead to the reduction of those programs. n11 It would also create the anomaly of a minor who participates in a program sponsored and managed by a nonprofit organization not having a cause of action for negligence that she would have had had she participated in the same program sponsored as an extracurricular activity by the local public school. This distinction seems unwarranted, inevitably destructive to school-sponsored programs, and contrary to public interest.

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n11 The fact that G. L. c. 258, § 2, limits the financial exposure of municipalities to $ 100,000 an occurrence (plus defense costs) does not insulate them from the deleterious impact of inherently unquantifiable financial risk.

Public schools are not required by State law to offer voluntary extracurricular sports programs. Compare G. L. c. 71, § 3 (“physical education shall be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students in the public schools . ..” [emphasis added]) with G. L. c. 71, § 47 (cities and towns “may appropriate” money for employment of coaches and for support of extracurricular activities).

Consequently, in times of fiscal constraint, those programs are often the targets of budget reductions. A decision exposing school systems to further financial costs and risk for undertaking such programs cannot help but accelerate their curtailment.

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Merav contends that to enforce the release would convey the message that public school programs can be run negligently, in contravention of the well-established responsibility of schools to protect their students. We disagree. There are many reasons aside from potential tort liability why public schools will continue to take steps to ensure well-run and safe extracurricular programs—not the least of which is their ownership by, and accountability to, the citizens of the cities and towns they serve. Moreover, the Legislature has already made the judgment that the elimination of liability for negligence in nonprofit sports programs is necessary to the encouragement and survival of such programs. It can hardly be contended that the enactment of G. L. c. 231, § 85V, was an endorsement by the Legislature of the negligent operation of nonprofit programs or an act likely to encourage the proliferation of negligence. School extracurricular programs are similarly situated. n12 The enforcement of the release is consistent with the Commonwealth’s policy of [*111] encouraging athletic programs for youth and does not contravene the responsibility that schools have to protect [***24] their students.

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n12 Our holding is not intended to abrogate or qualify the special relationship that exists between a school and its students recognized in prior decisions, but not involving the validity of an exculpatory release required for participation in an extracurricular activity. See, e.g., Whitney v. Worcester, 373 Mass. 208, 366 N.E.2d 1210 (1977) (sight-impaired student injured by defective door during school hours); Alter v. Newton, 35 Mass. App. Ct. 142, 617 N.E.2d 656 (1993) (student hit in eye by lacrosse ball while waiting in school yard for parent).

It is also limited to the claims before us—and those claims concern ordinary negligence. The city specifically disavows any contention that the release here would relieve it from liability for gross negligence or reckless or intentional conduct. See Zavras v. Capeway Rovers Motorcycle Club, Inc., 44 Mass. App. Ct. 17, 18-19, 687 N.E.2d 1263 (1997), citing Gillespie v. Papale, 541 F. Supp. 1042, 1046 (D. Mass. 1982) (releases effective against liability for ordinary negligence but substantial outside authority holds same not true for gross negligence). Commentators have readily distinguished the public policy implications of exculpatory releases whose only effect is relief from ordinary negligence from those intended to relieve a party from gross negligence, or reckless or intentional conduct. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195(1) (1981) (“A term exempting a party from tort liability for harm caused intentionally or recklessly is unenforceable on grounds of public policy”); 6A A. Corbin, Contracts § 1472, at 596-597 (1962) (“such an exemption [from liability] is always invalid if it applies to harm wilfully inflicted or caused by gross or wanton negligence”); W.L. Prosser & W.P. Keeton, Torts § 68, at 484 (5th ed. 1984) (“such agreements generally are not construed to cover the more extreme forms of negligence, described as willful, wanton, reckless or gross”).

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d. Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. Merav’s reliance on G. L. c. 258, § 2, to support her claim that cities and towns should not be permitted to require or enforce releases regarding their negligent conduct, is misplaced. While the purpose of the Act may be to provide a remedy for persons injured as a result of the negligence of government entities, see Vasys v. Metropolitan Dist. Comm’n, 387 Mass. 51, 55, 438 N.E.2d 836 (1982), it does so by abrogating sovereign immunity only within a narrow statutory framework. The Act does “not create any new theory of liability for a municipality,” Dinsky v. Framingham, 386 Mass. 801, 804, 438 N.E.2d 51 (1982), but rather, specifically provides that they are liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” G. L. c. 258, § 2. Outside of the procedural limitations and exceptions contained within the Act, cities and towns are afforded the same defenses as private parties in tort claims. See Dinsky v. Framingham, supra.

[**749] Because releases of liability for ordinary negligence involving private [***26] parties are valid as a general proposition in the Commonwealth, [*112] it is not contrary to the purposes of the Act to allow municipalities to use releases as a precondition for the participation in voluntary, nonessential activities they may sponsor.

e. Consideration. Merav last argues that the release she signed is void because it was not supported by proper consideration. The motion judge properly concluded that the benefit bargained for, in this case Merav’s participation in the cheerleading program, was adequate consideration for the release. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B (1965) (not essential that agreements to assume risk of negligence be for consideration. Consent by participation in activity may be sufficient).

C. Conclusion.

For the reasons set forth above, we conclude that Merav’s father had the authority to bind his minor child to an exculpatory release that was a proper condition of her voluntary participation in extracurricular sports activities offered by the city. Summary judgment for the city that was entered on the basis of the validity of that release is therefore affirmed.

So ordered.

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Colleges, Officials, and a Ski Area are all defendants in this case.

Brush, v. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Inc., Et Al, 626 F. Supp. 2d 139; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52204

MA Ski Safety Act and a release prevent the plaintiff’s suit.

As the court said, this is a sad case; the plaintiff was a student ski racer. She hit a lift tower during a race and became a paraplegic. She sued the ski area, Jimmy Peak Mountain Resort, Williams College, its coaches and several other officials of the race.

The race was part of a weekend Williams Winter Carnival. The carnival was at Jimmy Peak and included ski races. The plaintiff examined the Giant Slalom course. She exited the course during a run and struck an unprotected lift tower. The factual issues resolved around whether the tower was supposed to be protected by B-Netting (the red netting you see on the sides of ski races) or padding.

The race was on a homologated hill (a slope that met FIS regulations). The race organizers prepared a plan for the netting on the course which showed the netting in the area where the plaintiff left the course. When the plaintiff left the course, there was no netting to slow her down or stop her.

The plaintiff argued the “plan” was a requirement to run the race as required by FIS. The defendants argued the plan was where safety equipment might need to be necessary. The B-netting was not set up according to the plan.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff claimed the defendant ski area was liable for “…negligent operation of a ski area in violation of the MSSA (Count I); negligent failure to undertake duties assumed under a contract with Williams (Count II); and negligent inspection (Count III).

The court fist looked at the definition of Negligence and what the plaintiff must prove under Massachusetts law:

To prevail in a negligence action under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care; (2) the defendant breached this duty; (3) damage to the plaintiff resulted; and (4) the breach of the duty caused this damage.

The court reading the MSSA found the act served two “somewhat contradictory purposes “(1), to limit the liability of ski operators in order to ensure their economic survival and (2) to ensure skier safety.”

Reading the act the court found the duty that caused the plaintiff’s injuries was on the plaintiff, not the ski area. The lift tower was off the ski trail and therefore, under the MSSA the ski area had no duty to set up netting or pad it. If the netting had been set up voluntarily, then the court found there would still be no liability because negligence in a voluntary act does not create liability under the MSSA.

Indeed, this court has previously noted that “imposing liability on ski area operators for duties voluntarily assumed but negligently performed would undercut a key goal of the MSSA,” because it would discourage ski area operators from adding safety features.

The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims that the agreements of the college to use the ski area which was enveloped in two contracts created contractual duties that the defendant ski area breached. Under Massachusetts law, a tort can be created from a contractual relationship. (This is a minority view in most states.) However, the court could not find language in the contracts that created a duty to undertake steps to keep the competition safe as possible.

The court found that the defendant ski area had not been negligent and had not violated a duty to the plaintiff and dismissed the defendant Jimmy Peak Ski Area.

The court then looked at the remaining defendants, the colleges and the race officials, most of whom were employees of the colleges. These defendants relied upon the release as their defense. The release was required by the USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association) to race in USSA events, which this race was. The release had a venue clause that required Colorado law be applied to interpret the release. Choice of law provisions (jurisdiction and venue clauses) absent substantial Massachusetts public policy reasons are upheld in Massachusetts.

The court then examined the release under Colorado law and found the release to be enforceable. The plaintiff argued the release was ambiguous. The waiver was clear to the signor that signing the release waived all claims against the USSA. The USSA waiver listed every possible person to be protected by the release.

United States Ski and Snowboard Association and “its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, volunteers, employees, coaches, contractors and representatives, local ski clubs, competition organizers and sponsors, and ski and snowboard facility operators.”

Consequently, the waiver protected the remaining defendants. The third party defendants were also released by the waiver because their liability was contingent on the liability of the first party defendants. If the first party defendants were not liable, the third party defendants could not be liable.

The final argument the court reviewed was the claim the actions of the defendants amounted to gross negligence. Under Colorado law a waiver does not protect against gross negligence.

…under Colorado law an exculpatory agreement cannot “provide a shield against a claim for willful and wanton negligence.” In Colorado an individual who “purposefully committed an affirmative act which he knew was dangerous to another’s person and which he performed heedlessly, without regard to the consequences or rights and safety of another’s person” can be found to have acted with willful and wanton negligence.

The court defined gross negligence as “Gross negligence involves “materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence,” though “it is something less than willful, wanton and reckless conduct.”

The court found the defendants had not acted in a way that was gross negligence, and no jury could find gross negligence on the part of any defendants.

There is no evidence in the record, and indeed, no allegation, that any of the Defendants, or anyone at the competition, became aware that there was an area of the trail without netting where netting was normally placed and declined to remedy the situation. At most, there was a collective failure to take a step that might have lessened the injuries suffered by Plaintiff. No reasonable jury could find that this simple inadvertence, no matter how tragic its consequences, constituted gross negligence.

So Now What?

The first issue was what was the plan? Actually, a point that was not addressed in the decision which should be addressed here was why was there a plan?

How can you create a plan, call it a safety plan and not execute it 100%? If it just a draft, or if it is just ideas, you better label it that way. You cannot create documents like that, that are not going to come back and fry you.

Paperwork is the easiest way for a plaintiff to find something to prove you did something wrong. If your paperwork says you will do something that you did not do, or not do something that you did, the plaintiff will work hard to connect it to the injury. You set your own standards, defined your duty to the customers and/or guests (future plaintiffs) and then violated, breached those duties you created.

The choice of laws clause, jurisdiction and venue clause, did not work as it normally would have in this case. The case was brought in federal court because there were parties to the suit from two different states (called diversity jurisdiction cases). No one seemed to want to argue the jurisdiction and venue clause in the release should be enforced. That is difficult to do in some diversity jurisdiction cases in federal court; however, it is not impossible. The case would have had the same outcome under Colorado law, whether or not it would have been filed at all in Colorado after being dismissed in Massachusetts is the question.

Another flaw in how the defendants could have provided more protection is there was not a separate release for the event or the race. Between the Williams College Outing Club, the ski area and the college, someone should have required the participants to sign a release for the event. It could have been based on the course, not all possible courses in the US. It could have named the colleges and their employees to provide better protection. It could have been based on the facts and law of Massachusetts.

It is sad when a young woman has her life upended and changed. However, the law is the law. As the court stated:

It would, however, be false compassion now to ignore the undisputed facts and the unavoidable law. The Massachusetts Ski Safety Act, in the case of Jiminy Peak, and the USSA waiver, in the case of the other Defendants, forecloses any possibility of liability for payment of damages to Plaintiff in these circumstances. To encourage pursuit of a lawsuit lacking a legal basis would only serve to compound the tragedy.

 

Plaintiff: Kelly Brush

 

Defendant: Jiminy Peak, Inc., the operator of the ski area where the accident occurred; Williams College and two of its ski coaches, Edward Grees and Oyestein Bakken, who organized the competition; St. Lawrence University and its ski coach, Jeffrey Pier, who was the referee of the race during which Brush was injured; and Barry Bryant, who served as the competition’s Technical Delegate from the Federation Internationale de Ski (“FIS”). Pier and St. Lawrence University have also filed a third-party complaint seeking contribution from Brush’s school, Middlebury College, and its ski coach Forest Carey, who was a race referee for a race

 

Plaintiff Claims: negligence or gross negligence, negligent operation of a ski area in violation of the MSSA (Count I); negligent failure to undertake duties assumed under a contract with Williams (Count II); and negligent inspection (Count III).

 

Defendant Defenses: Massachusetts Ski Safety Act and Release

 

Holding: For all Defendants

 

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