§ 27-1-753. Limitation on liability in sport or recreational opportunity

Montana Statutes

Title 27. CIVIL LIABILITY, REMEDIES, AND LIMITATIONS

Chapter 1. AVAILABILITY OF REMEDIES – LIABILITY

Part 7. Liability

§ 28-2-702. Contracts that violate policy of law – exemption from responsibility – exception    1
§ 27-1-753. Limitation on liability in sport or recreational opportunity    1

§ 27-1-754. Recreational activity – applicability exceptions    2

§ 28-2-702. Contracts that violate policy of law – exemption from responsibility – exception

Except as provided in 27-1-753, all contracts that have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for the person’s own fraud, for willful injury to the person or property of another, or for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.

Cite as § 28-2-702, MCA

History. Amended by Laws 2015, Ch. 410, Sec. 2, eff. 5/5/2015.

En. Sec. 2241, Civ. C. 1895; re-en. Sec. 5052, Rev. C. 1907; re-en. Sec. 7554, R.C.M. 1921; Cal. Civ. C. Sec. 1668; Field Civ. C. Sec. 828; re-en. Sec. 7554, R.C.M. 1935; R.C.M. 1947, 13-802; amd. Sec. 780, Ch. 56, L. 2009.

§ 27-1-753. Limitation on liability in sport or recreational opportunity

(1)    A person who participates in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for all injury or death to the person and for all damage to the person’s property that result from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

(2)    A provider is not required to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity that is provided.

(3)(a)    Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-754 do not preclude an action based on the negligence of the provider if the injury, death, or damage is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity.

(b)    This section does not prohibit a written waiver or release entered into prior to engaging in a sport or recreational opportunity for damages or injuries resulting from conduct that constitutes ordinary negligence or for risks that are inherent in the sport or recreational opportunity.

(c)    Any waiver or release for a sport or recreational opportunity must:

(i)    state known inherent risks of the sport or recreational opportunity; and

(ii)    contain the following statement in bold typeface: By signing this document you may be waiving your legal right to a jury trial to hold the provider legally responsible for any injuries or damages resulting from risks inherent in the sport or recreational opportunity or for any injuries or damages you may suffer due to the provider’s ordinary negligence that are the result of the provider’s failure to exercise reasonable care.

(d)    Any waiver or release for a sport or recreational opportunity may still be challenged on any legal grounds.

(e)    Any waiver or release for a sport or recreational opportunity executed in compliance with this section is not prohibited by or subject to the provisions of 28-2-702.

(4)    Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-754 do not apply to a cause of action based on the design, manufacture, provision, or maintenance of sports or recreational equipment or products or safety equipment used incidental to or required by the sport or recreational activity.

Cite as § 27-1-753, MCA

History. Amended by Laws 2015, Ch. 410, Sec. 1, eff. 5/5/2015.

En. Sec. 3, Ch. 331, L. 2009.

§ 27-1-754. Recreational activity – applicability exceptions

Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-753 do not apply to duties, responsibilities, liability, or immunity related to:

(1)    recreational use of waters or land, as provided in 23-2-321;

(2)    snowmobiling, as provided in 23-2-653 and 23-2-654;

(3)    skiing, as provided in Title 23, chapter 2, part 7;

(4)    off-highway vehicle operation, as provided in 23-2-822;

(5)    instruction in firearms and hunter safety or hunter education, as provided in 27-1-721;

(6)    equine activity, as provided in 27-1-727;

(7)    sponsored rodeo and similar events, as provided in 27-1-733;

(8)    amusement rides, as provided in 27-1-743 and 27-1-744;

(9)    recreational use of land, as provided in 23-2-907, 70-16-302, 77-1-805, 87-1-265, and 87-1-286;

(10)    wildcrafting, as provided in 76-10-106; and

(11)    placement of a sign or marker warning of a hazard in water legally accessible to the public, as provided in 87-1-287.

Cite as § 27-1-754, MCA

History. Amended by Laws 2019, Ch. 63, Sec. 1, eff. 3/19/2019.

En. Sec. 4, Ch. 331, L. 2009.


A fly-fishing lawsuit, a first.

Montana Federal Court covers a lot of interesting legal issues for the OR industry in this decision. However, defendant is in a tough position because the statutes provide no help, he can’t use a release and probably like most fly-fishing guides; he believes he won’t be sued.

McJunkin v. James Yeager d/b/a Jim Yeager Outfitters, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169321

State: Montana

Plaintiff: Charles P. McJunkin, deceased, by and through his executor and personal representative, Rhett McJunkin, and Rhett McJunkin, executor and personal representative, on behalf of the heirs of Charles P. McJunkin

Defendant: James Yeager d/b/a Jim Yeager Outfitters

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: Montana Recreation Responsibility Act

Holding: Split, mostly for the defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

At the end of a float fly fishing trip, the boat hit a rock throwing the deceased into the river. While attempting to get the deceased back in the boat the deceased partner fell in. The deceased yelled to grab her because she could not swim. The defendant grabbed the girlfriend and maneuvered the boat through rapids.

The deceased drowned, (supposedly). Neither were wearing PFDs.

Facts

Yeager is a professional fishing guide and outfitter. On July 17, 2014, Yeager took a paying client, Charles P. McJunkin on a guided fishing trip in a raft on the Stillwater River. As Yeager was guiding and operating the raft, McJunkin fell into the river and drowned. McJunkin was 81 years old at the time of his death.

McJunkin had gone on similar guided fishing trips with Yeager for approximately 20 years. In fact, in the week preceding the July 17, 2014 accident, McJunkin had floated and fished the Stillwater River three times with Yeager. On each occasion, Yeager put-in at the Johnson Bridge Fishing Access, and used the Swinging Bridge Fishing Access Site for a take-out at the end of the day. The Swinging Bridge take-out is approximately one-quarter mile above a set of rapids known as the Beartooth Drop. Yeager had never floated through the Beartooth Drop with McJunkin.

On the date of the accident, Yeager was guiding McJunkin and his partner, Julia Garner (“Garner”). The plan was to again float from Johnson Bridge to the Swinging Bridge take-out. The river conditions encountered by Yeager that day were characteristic of, and consistent with conditions he previously encountered on that stretch of the river. Yeager approached the Swinging Bridge take-out in the same manner as he had on the three earlier days of fishing. As he approached the take-out, the raft crossed an underwater shelf of rocks. When the rear of the raft passed the shelf, the boat rocked and McJunkin fell into the water. Although the raft was equipped with personal floatation devices (PFDs), McJunkin was not wearing one at the time.

McJunkin swam toward the raft, and Yeager attempted to position the raft so that McJunkin could grab ahold of the side. During this process, the party floated past the Swinging Bridge take-out. To complicate matters further, as Yeager attempted to pull McJunkin into the raft, Garner fell into the water. The parties dispute what caused Garner’s fall. Plaintiffs contend Yeager accidentally hit her with an oar. Yeager indicated he didn’t know what caused her to fall in, testifying “I don’t know if I hit a rock or a wave or whatever, Julie went in.” Garner yelled to Yeager that she could not swim. Yeager made the split-second decision to let go of McJunkin and attempt to save Garner, fearing she would drown otherwise. Yeager was able to pull her back into the raft as they entered the Beartooth Drop. Meanwhile, McJunkin lost contact with Yeager and the raft and floated through the rapid. He ultimately did not survive.

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

Only the legal issues affecting fly fishing or the outdoor industry will be reviewed. This decision is a result of both parties filing motions for summary judgment, so there is no chronological hierarchy of how the decision is written. Each motion is tackled by the judge in the order to make the following arguments more manageable.

A few things to remember. Montana does not allow an outfitter or guide to use a release. See Montana Statutes Prohibits Use of a Release.

Both parties filed motions concerning the Montana Recreation Responsibility Act (MRRA). The MRRA is similar to the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act, both of which are solely assumption of the risk statutes and weak overall. The plaintiff argued the MRRA was unconstitutional on several grounds, all of which were denied. The defendant argued the MRRA should bar the plaintiff’s claims which were also denied.

The first issue was inherent risks under the MRRA are not defined per activity or in general.

Under the plain language of the MRRA, a risk must satisfy two requirements to constitute an “inherent risk” and thus fall within the Act’s protection. There must be (1) a danger or condition that is characteristic of, or intrinsic to the activity, and (2) the danger or condition must be one that cannot be prevented by the use of reasonable care. Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-752(2).

This leaves a monstrous gap in the protection it affords, in fact, does not afford outfitters and guides in Montana any real protection.

The court did not agree that the MRRA was broad enough to protect the defendant in this case.

Here, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the risk encountered by McJunkin was an inherent risk to the sport of float fishing, or whether Yeager could have prevented the risk using reasonable care. Yeager’s expert opined that drowning is an inherent risk of floating in a raft on a river, and McJunkin’s death was a result of that inherent risk. But Plaintiffs’ expert states the risk of drowning can be prevented by the use of reasonable care. Plaintiffs’ expert also opined that Yeager increased the risks to McJunkin, and failed to adhere to industry standards by not taking basic safety precautions and not having a plan or equipment to retrieve McJunkin from the water.

Because there was a genuine issue of material fact (a mix of plausible opinions) the MRRA was not broad or strong enough to stop the plaintiff’s claims and the defendant’s motion failed.

The plaintiff argued the MRRA was void because it was vague, it did not define inherent risk.

The void-for-vagueness doctrine chiefly applies to criminal statutes, but can apply to civil laws as well. Civil statutes, however, generally receive less exacting vagueness scrutiny. The United States Supreme Court has held “[t]o find a civil statute void for vagueness, the statute must be so vague and indefinite as really to be no rule or standard at all.” The Montana Supreme Court has similarly declared that a statute is unconstitutionally vague on its face only if it is shown “that the statute is vague ‘in the sense that no standard of conduct is specified at all.'” “[P]erfect clarity and precise guidance are not required.” A statute is not vague “simply because it can be dissected or subject to different interpretations.”

The plaintiff also argued that because the MRRA did not define risk that it was void.

A person of common intelligence can understand the risks associated with river sports or activities. There is no indication McJunkin would not have been able to appreciate such risks, including the potential risk involved in floating and fishing. Indeed, in their depositions Plaintiffs were able to articulate risks associated with floating on a river, such as falling out of the boat and drowning.

The plaintiff argued they should be able to sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NEID”).

To constitute ‘serious’ or ‘severe,’ the emotional distress must be ‘so severe no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.'” The question of whether the threshold level of emotional dis-tress can be found is for the Court to determine. (“It is for the court to determine whether on the evidence severe [serious] emotional distress can be found; it is for the jury to determine whether, on the evidence, it has in fact existed.”).

In Feller, the Montana Supreme Court considered several factors in determining whether there is sufficient evidence of severe emotional distress, including: (1) whether the plaintiff had any physical manifestations of grief; (2) whether counseling was sought or recommended; (3) whether the plaintiff took medication or the use of medication dramatically increased; (4) whether the plain-tiff had continuous nights of sleeplessness or days without appetite; (5) whether the plaintiff maintained close relationships with family members and friends; (6) the duration of the emotional dis-tress; and (7) the circumstances under which the infliction incurred, including whether the plaintiff witnessed the distressing event.

The plaintiff also argued they should be able to sue for loss of consortium.

Montana law recognizes loss of consortium claims by an adult child of an injured parent. In Stucky, the Montana Supreme Court held an adult child must meet the following two-part test to establish a claim for loss of parental consortium: “1) a third party tortuously caused the parent to suffer a serious, permanent and disabling mental or physical injury compensable under Montana law; and 2) the parent’s ultimate condition of mental or physical impairment was so overwhelming and severe that it has caused the parent-child relationship to be destroyed or nearly destroyed.”

In establishing a loss of parental consortium claim, the plaintiff may present evidence of the following factors, which the jury may consider in determining both whether the two-part test has been satisfied, and what damages are appropriate: “the severity of injury to the parent; the actual effect the parent’s injury has had on the relationship and is likely to have in the future; the child’s age; the nature of the child’s relationship with the parent; and the child’s emotional, physical and geographic characteristics.”

The court then looked at the issue of abnormally dangerous. A finding of that an activity is abnormally dangerous brings more damages and fewer requirements to prove part of the negligence of the defendant.

“Whether an activity is abnormally dangerous is a question of law.” No court has held float fly fishing is an abnormally dangerous activity, and this Court declines Plaintiffs’ invitation to be the first to do so.

So Now What?

A statute that protects defendants based on assumption of the risk does so because it identifies specific risk and broadens the definitions of what an inherent risk is. An example would be the Colorado Skier Safety Act. That act describes the inherent risk of skiing and then adds dozens of more risk, which are beyond the normal scope of inherent.

Both the MRRA and the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act statutorily defines the common law but does nothing to broaden or strengthen the common law. They could better be defined as politically pandering, an attempt by a politician to make constituents feel better by giving them something, which, in reality, has no value.

The fly-fishing outfitter was caught in Montana’s lack of available defenses, no statutory protection and no availability of a release. He might be able to strengthen his defenses by having his clients sign an Assumption of the Risk Document. He also might offer them PFDs.

Furthermore, remember in most whitewater or cold-water deaths drowning is not the cause of the death. Most people die of a heart attack. risk or Wikipedia: Cold Shock Response.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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McJunkin v. James Yeager d/b/a Jim Yeager Outfitters, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169321

McJunkin v. James Yeager d/b/a Jim Yeager Outfitters, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169321

Charles P. Mcjunkin, deceased, by and through his executor and personal representative, Rhett Mcjunkin, and Rhett Mcjunkin, executor and personal representative, on behalf of the heirs of Charles P. Mcjunkin, Plaintiffs, vs. James Yeager d/b/a Jim Yeager Outfitters, Defendant.

CV 17-12-BLG-TJC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA, BILLINGS DIVISION

2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169321

September 28, 2018, Decided

September 28, 2018, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Charles P. McJunkin, deceased, by and through his executor and personal representative, Rhett McJunkin, Rhett McJunkin, executor and personal representative, on behalf of the heirs of Charles P. McJunkin, Plaintiffs: Philip L. McGrady, LEAD ATTORNEY, McGRADY LAW, Whitefish, MT.

For James Yeager, doing business as, Jim Yeager Outfitters, Defendant: Ross Daniel Tillman, LEAD ATTORNEY, John M. Newman, BOONE KARLBERG, P.C., Missoula, MT.

JUDGES: TIMOTHY J. CAVAN, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: TIMOTHY J. CAVAN

OPINION

ORDER

Rhett McJunkin, as personal representative of the estate of Charles P. McJunkin, and on behalf of the heirs of Charles P. McJunkin (“Plaintiffs”), brings this action against Defendant James Yeager, doing business as Jim Yeager Outfitters (“Yeager” or “Defendant”), in relation to a fatal boating accident that occurred on the Stillwater River near Columbus, Montana. Plaintiffs assert claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium. (Doc. 1.)

Presently before the Court are Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Complaint (Doc. 23), Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Regarding the Constitutionality of the Montana Recreation Responsibility Act [*2] (Doc. 28), and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 31). The motions are fully briefed and ripe for the Court’s review.

Having considered the parties’ submissions, the Court finds Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend should be DENIED, Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be DENIED, and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND1

1 The background facts set forth here are relevant to the Court’s determination of the pending motions for summary judgment and are taken from the parties’ submissions and are undisputed except where indicated.

Yeager is a professional fishing guide and outfitter. On July 17, 2014, Yeager took a paying client, Charles P. McJunkin (“McJunkin”), on a guided fishing trip in a raft on the Stillwater River. As Yeager was guiding and operating the raft, McJunkin fell into the river and drowned. McJunkin was 81 years old at the time of his death.

McJunkin had gone on similar guided fishing trips with Yeager for approximately 20 years. In fact, in the week preceding the July 17, 2014 accident, McJunkin had floated and fished the Stillwater River three times with Yeager. On each occasion, Yeager put-in at the Johnson Bridge Fishing Access, and used the Swinging Bridge Fishing Access Site for a take-out at the end of the day. The Swinging Bridge take-out is approximately one-quarter mile above a set [*3] of rapids known as the Beartooth Drop. Yeager had never floated through the Beartooth Drop with McJunkin.

On the date of the accident, Yeager was guiding McJunkin and his partner, Julia Garner (“Garner”). The plan was to again float from Johnson Bridge to the Swinging Bridge take-out. The river conditions encountered by Yeager that day were characteristic of, and consistent with conditions he previously encountered on that stretch of the river. Yeager approached the Swinging Bridge take-out in the same manner as he had on the three earlier days of fishing. As he approached the take-out, the raft crossed an underwater shelf of rocks. When the rear of the raft passed the shelf, the boat rocked and McJunkin fell into the water. Although the raft was equipped with personal floatation devices (PFDs), McJunkin was not wearing one at the time.

McJunkin swam toward the raft, and Yeager attempted to position the raft so that McJunkin could grab ahold of the side. During this process, the party floated past the Swinging Bridge take-out. To complicate matters further, as Yeager attempted to pull McJunkin into the raft, Garner fell into the water. The parties dispute what caused Garner’s fall. Plaintiffs [*4] contend Yeager accidentally hit her with an oar. Yeager indicated he didn’t know what caused her to fall in, testifying “I don’t know if I hit a rock or a wave or whatever, Julie went in.” Garner yelled to Yeager that she could not swim. Yeager made the split-second decision to let go of McJunkin and attempt to save Garner, fearing she would drown otherwise. Yeager was able to pull her back into the raft as they entered the Beartooth Drop. Meanwhile, McJunkin lost contact with Yeager and the raft and floated through the rapid. He ultimately did not survive.

II. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. “Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass’n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

[HN2] The party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine [*5] issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party’s case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322-23. If the moving party fails to discharge this initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party’s evidence. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970).

[HN3] If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party must “go beyond the pleadings and by ‘the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,’ designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). The opposing party cannot defeat summary judgment merely by demonstrating “that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995) (“The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [*6] nonmoving party’s position is not sufficient.”) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment Related to the Montana Recreation Responsibility Act

Plaintiffs assert Yeager’s negligence caused McJunkin’s death. Yeager contends Plaintiffs’ negligence claim fails as a matter of law because it is barred by Montana’s Recreation Responsibility Act (the “MRRA”), Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-751, et seq. Thus, Yeager argues summary judgment on the negligence claim is warranted.

Plaintiffs counter that the MRRA is unconstitutionally vague, and violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and right to full legal redress. Plaintiffs, therefore, move for partial summary judgment declaring the MRRA unconstitutional. Plaintiffs further assert that even if the MRRA is constitutional, there are genuine issues of material fact which preclude summary judgment.

1. Yeager’s Motion for Summary Judgment under the MRRA

[HN4] The MRRA limits the liability of recreational opportunity providers for injuries resulting from the inherent risks of sports or recreational opportunities.2 Specifically, the MRRA provides in relevant part:

(1) A person who participates in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in [*7] that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for all injury or death to the person and for all damage to the person’s property that result from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

(2) A provider is not required to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity that is provided.

(3)(a) Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-754 do not preclude an action based on the negligence of the provider if the injury, death, or damage is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity.

Mont. Code. Ann. § 27-1-753.

2 “Sport or recreational opportunity” is defined broadly in the MRRA as “any sporting activity, whether undertaken with or without permission, include but not limited to baseball, softball, football, soccer, basketball, bicycling, hiking, swimming, boating, hockey, dude ranching, nordic or alpine skiing, snowboarding, snow sliding, mountain climbing, river floating, whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, target shooting, hunting, fishing, backcountry trips, horseback riding and other equine activity, snowmobiling, off-highway vehicle use, agritourism, an on-farm educational opportunity, and any similar recreational activity.” Mont. Code. Ann. § 27-1-752(4).

The MRRA defines “Inherent risks” as:

[T]hose dangers or conditions that are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational activity and that cannot be prevented by the use of reasonable care.

Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-752(2).

[HN5] When interpreting a statute, a court is required to look to the plain meaning of the words. Clarke v. Massey, 271 Mont. 412, 897 P.2d 1085, 1088 (1995). A court will only resort to the legislative history of a statute if the legislative intent cannot be determined from the statute’s plain wording. Id. “[T]he office of judge is simply to ascertain and declare what is in terms or in substance contained therein, not to insert [*8] what has been omitted or to omit what has been inserted.” Mont. Code Ann. § 1-2-101.

Yeager maintains that the statute has a simple, straight-forward application to the facts of this case. He argues McJunkin’s death was caused by drowning; falling out of a boat and drowning is an inherent risk of fishing from a raft; therefore, Plaintiffs’ negligence claim is barred under the MRRA as a matter of law. In short, Yeager asserts because the injury in this case involved drowning while fishing from a raft, the MRRA precludes Plaintiffs’ claim. (Doc. 32 at 15.)

Yeager reads the MRRA much too broadly. Construing the statute in this fashion would immunize providers of recreational activities from their own negligence. The Court finds that such a construction would be contrary to the statute’s plain words, the legislative intent in enacting the legislation, and would likely render the MRRA unconstitutional.

[HN6] Under the plain language of the MRRA, a risk must satisfy two requirements to constitute an “inherent risk” and thus fall within the Act’s protection. There must be (1) a danger or condition that is characteristic of, or intrinsic to the activity, and (2) the danger or condition must be one that cannot be prevented [*9] by the use of reasonable care. Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-752(2). Therefore, the MRRA does not insulate a provider from all risks which are characteristic of, or intrinsic to the activity. It only provides protection for those risks which cannot be prevented with the use of reasonable care. In order to make this determination, it is necessary to look at the facts and circumstances of each case and the specific risk or condition involved.

Wyoming has a similar “Recreation Safety Act.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 through 1-1-123. Like the MRRA, the Wyoming Act provides that “[a]ny person who takes part in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risk in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown . . . .” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(a). It also similarly states that a provider of the “recreational opportunity is not required to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks” of the activity. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-123(b). One critical difference between the two acts, however, is the definition of an inherent risk. The MRRA and the Wyoming Act both define inherent risk to mean “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part” of the activity. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-1-122(a)(i). But the Wyoming Act’s definition does not also include the MRRA’s requirement [*10] that the risk “cannot be prevented by the use of reasonable care.”

Nevertheless, the construction of the Wyoming Act is instructive as far as the similarities go. Courts which have construed and applied the Wyoming statute have rejected the broad, general interpretation advanced by Yeager in this case. To determine what risks are inherent, decisions under the Wyoming Act have consistently required that a court “go beyond a broad characterization and inquire into the specific circumstances of both [the plaintiff’s] actions and those of the recreation provider.” Creel v. L & L, Inc., 2012 WY 124, 287 P.3d 729, 736 (Wyo. 2012).

In Cooperman v. David, 214 F.3d 1162 (10th Cir. 2000), for example, the plaintiff was injured during a guided horseback trail ride. The injury occurred when the plaintiff’s saddle slipped around to the belly of the horse, causing the plaintiff to fall to the ground. The defendant moved for summary judgment under the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act, arguing that a slipping saddle is an inherent risk of horseback riding. In determining the application of the Act, the Tenth Circuit made clear that the risk in question must be not be evaluated broadly or generally, but in the context of the specific factual setting presented.

Horseback riding undoubtedly carries some inherent risk [*11] that the rider will fall off the horse and get injured. A horse could stumble on an uneven path, or rear, or simply begin to gallop for no apparent reason. All of these risks clearly would qualify as inherent risks of horseback riding. Simply because some risks are inherent in horseback riding, however, does not mean that all risks of falling from a horse are necessarily inherent; instead, it is necessary to look factually at the specific risk to which the rider was exposed. When attempting to determine whether a risk is inherent to a sport, we can not look at the risk in a vacuum, apart from the factual setting to which the rider was exposed. And, we must evaluate the risk at the greatest level of specificity permitted by the factual record. See Madsen, 31 F.Supp.2d at 1328 (“The Court believes that one must look to the specific facts of a case to see whether there is a duty, and not simply look to the abstract character of the risk.”).

Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1167.

The same evaluation must be conducted under the MRRA. It is not enough to find that falling out of a boat and drowning is a general risk of fishing from a raft; therefore, drowning is an inherent risk in fishing. Although there may be circumstances where the risk of drowning [*12] cannot be prevented with the use of reasonable care, it is undoubtedly true the risk may be prevented in many other circumstances.

Therefore, each case must be examined in light of the specific factual context of the case to determine whether the specific risk involved could have been prevented using reasonable care. As the Wyoming Supreme Court points out, “[s]ome risks may occur from the choices a recreation provider makes on behalf of the participant and from the conditions in which the recreational opportunity is provided. Thus, atypical or uncharacteristic risks can arise even in those specific sports the Wyoming legislature clearly intended to exempt from liability for inherent risks.” Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mtn. Resort Corp., 392 F.3d 1145, 1148–49 (10th Cir.2004).

In addition, Yeager’s broad interpretation of the MRRA would effectively immunize providers of a recreational opportunity from their own negligence. If providers were protected from all fishing-related drownings under the MRRA, they would be relieved of liability where the death was caused by negligence, or even by willful or wanton misconduct. For example, it would apply not only to situations where a participant falls out of a raft and drowns without negligent conduct by the provider; it would [*13] also apply where the provider negligently causes a raft to collide with a bridge abutment or other known obstruction in the river.

Such an application would be contrary to the legislative intent of the MRRA, which expressly provides that the Act does not “preclude an action based on the negligence of the provider. . . .” Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-753. As recognized under the Wyoming Act, the “intent behind the Recreation Safety Act was not to preclude parties from suing for a provider’s negligence, it was merely to stop people from suing providers for those risks that were inherent to a sport.” Madsen v. Wyoming River Trips, 31 F.Supp.2d 1321, 1328 (D. Wyo. 1999).

Finally, construing the MRRA as Yeager urges would likely render the Act unconstitutional. [HN7] Statutes should be construed “to avoid an unconstitutional interpretation if possible.” Hernandez v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, 2008 MT 251, 345 Mont. 1, 189 P.3d 638, 642 (Mont. 2008). The Montana Supreme Court found a prior version of Montana’s Skier Responsibility Act unconstitutional because it prohibited a skier “from obtaining legal recourse against an operator even if the injury is proximately caused by the negligent or even intentional actions of the operator.”3
Brewer v. Ski-Lift, Inc., 234 Mont. 109, 762 P.2d 226, 230 (Mont. 1988). The Court found that although the state had a legitimate interest in protecting the economic vitality of the ski industry, there was no rational relationship [*14] between that purpose and requiring that skiers assume all risks for injuries regardless of the presence of negligence by the ski area operator. Id. at 230. See also, Oberson v. U.S. Dept. of Ag., Forest Serv., 2007 MT 293, 339 Mont. 519, 171 P.3d 715 (Mont. 2007) (snowmobile liability statute’s gross negligence standard, which relieved snowmobile operators from their negligent conduct, violated equal protection).

3 The statute at issue in Brewer barred recovery from a ski area operator if the skier suffered an injury resulting “from participating in the sport of skiing.” Brewer, 762 P.2d at 229 (citing Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-736(1)).

The purpose of the MRRA is substantially the same as the skier and snowmobile liability statutes — protection of providers of recreational activities from liability for risks over which the provider has no control. Under Yeager’s interpretation of the MRRA, providers of float fly fishing would be immune from liability for drownings, even when caused by the provider’s own negligence. Under Brewer and Oberson, such a construction would violate Plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection, due process, and access to the courts.

Therefore, whether the MRRA protects a provider of recreational opportunities from certain risks cannot be determined by looking at the broad, abstract character of the risk. Instead, the specific facts and circumstances in each case must be examined to determine whether the risk involved can be prevented by the use of reasonable care. If so, the MRRA does not [*15] shield the provider from liability.

That being established, the determination of whether McJunkin’s drowning resulted from an inherent risk of floating and fly fishing is not appropriate for summary judgment. While there may be cases where there are no genuine issue of material fact, and the issue may be appropriately decided as a matter of law, [HN8] the determination of whether a risk is an inherent risk is generally a factual determination for the jury to decide. See e.g. Mead v. M.S.B., Inc., 264 Mont. 465, 872 P.2d 782, 788-89 (Mont. 1994) (holding whether an inherent risk had been established under the Skier Responsibility Act was a question of fact to be resolved by the trier of fact); Cooperman, 214 F.3d at 1169 (noting the question of what is an inherent risk is normally a question of fact for the jury); Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 566 (Wyo. 1995) (“when genuine issues of material fact exist, it is proper to present the issue to the jury of whether a risk is inherent to a particular activity.”).4

4 At the time the Halpern case was decided, the Wyoming Act’s definition of inherent risk was similar to the MRRA. It was defined as “any risk that is characteristic of or intrinsic to any sport or recreational opportunity and which cannot reasonably be eliminated, altered or controlled.” Halpern, 890 P.2d at 564. The highlighted portion of the definition was subsequently removed by the Wyoming legislature.

Here, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the risk encountered by McJunkin was an inherent risk to the sport of float fishing, or whether Yeager could have prevented the risk using reasonable care. Yeager’s expert opined that drowning [*16] is an inherent risk of floating in a raft on a river, and McJunkin’s death was a result of that inherent risk. But Plaintiffs’ expert states the risk of drowning can be prevented by the use of reasonable care. Plaintiffs’ expert also opined that Yeager increased the risks to McJunkin, and failed to adhere to industry standards by not taking basic safety precautions and not having a plan or equipment to retrieve McJunkin from the water.

Accordingly, the Court finds there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the risks encountered by McJunkin could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care.

As such, Yeager’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as to Count I of the Complaint.

2. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment

McJunkin challenges the constitutionality of the MRRA on due process and equal protection grounds. [HN9] Statutes are presumed to be constitutional, and “the party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of proving the statute unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.” Globe v. Montana State Fund, 2014 MT 99, 374 Mont. 453, 325 P.3d 1211, 1216 (Mont. 2014). “‘The question of constitutionality is not whether it is possible to condemn, but whether it is possible to uphold the legislative action . . . .'” Davis v. Union Pac. R. Co., 282 Mont. 233, 937 P.2d 27, 31 (1997) (quoting Fallon County v. State 231 Mont. 443, 753 P.2d 338, 340 (Mont. 1988). “[E]very [*17] possible presumption must be indulged in favor of the constitutionality of the Act.” Id. Thus, courts “will construe a statute to further, rather than to frustrate, the Legislature’s intent according to the plain meaning of the statute’s language.” In re Custody and Parental Rights of D.S., 2005 MT 275, 329 Mont. 180, 122 P.3d 1239, 1243 (Mont. 2005). See also Hernandez, 189 P.3d at 642 (stating it is the court’s duty “to avoid an unconstitutional interpretation if possible”).

a. The MRRA is not Unconstitutionally Vague

Plaintiffs argue the MRRA is unconstitutionally vague on its face, and as applied. Plaintiffs contend the MRRA purports to limit liability for injuries that result from inherent risks, but it does not define “inherent risk” in any clear manner. Thus, Plaintiffs argue there is no fair way to apply the statute because it is unclear what constitutes an “inherent risk.”

[HN10] The void-for-vagueness doctrine chiefly applies to criminal statutes, but can apply to civil laws as well. Civil statutes, however, generally receive less exacting vagueness scrutiny. Vill. of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, 455 U.S. 489, 498-99, 102 S. Ct. 1186, 71 L. Ed. 2d 362 (1982). The United States Supreme Court has held “[t]o find a civil statute void for vagueness, the statute must be so vague and indefinite as really to be no rule or standard at all.” Boutilier v. INS, 387 U.S. 118, 123, 87 S. Ct. 1563, 18 L. Ed. 2d 661 (1967). The Montana Supreme Court has similarly declared that a statute is unconstitutionally [*18] vague on its face only if it is shown “that the statute is vague ‘in the sense that no standard of conduct is specified at all.'” In re Custody, 2005 MT 275, 329 Mont. 180, 122 P.3d 1239, 1243 (Mont. 2005). “[P]erfect clarity and precise guidance are not required.” Id. A statute is not vague “simply because it can be dissected or subject to different interpretations.” Montana Media, Inc. v. Flathead Cty., 2003 MT 23, 314 Mont. 121, 63 P.3d 1129, 1140 (Mont. 2003).

Here, the Court finds the MRRA is not unconstitutionally vague on its face. Section 27-1-752(2) plainly provides a standard for assessing what constitutes an “inherent risk.” The standard is established with common, readily-understood terms, and it incorporates the familiar negligence standard of reasonable care. Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-752(2).

Further, contrary to Plaintiffs’ argument, the fact the MRRA does not specifically enumerate the risks inherent in each of the 30 recreational activities listed in the statute does not make the Act unconstitutional. [HN11] The Montana Supreme Court has recognized that even if a term in a statute is not exhaustively defined, and allows the court some discretion in determining whether the evidence presented satisfies the statute, the statute will not be rendered unconstitutionally vague. See In re Custody, 122 P.3d at 1243 (holding that although § 41-3-423(2)(a) did not contain an exhaustive list of conduct that constitutes the term “aggravated circumstances,” [*19] the statute was not void for vagueness). Moreover, even the more specific recreational liability statutes that Plaintiffs uses for comparison, provide non-exclusive lists of inherent risks. See e.g. Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-702(2) (“‘Inherent dangers and risks of skiing’ means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including: . . .”); § 23-2-822(2) (“Risks inherent in the sport of off-highway vehicle operation include . . .”); § 27-1-726(7) (“‘Risks inherent in equine activities’ means dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including but not limited to: . . .”).

The Court further finds the MRRA is not unconstitutionally vague as applied. A person of common intelligence can understand the risks associated with river sports or activities. There is no indication McJunkin would not have been able to appreciate such risks, including the potential risk involved in floating and fishing. Indeed, in their depositions Plaintiffs were able to articulate risks associated with floating on a river, such as falling out of the boat and drowning. Therefore, McJunkin could have understood that the MRRA may limit Yeager’s liability for accidents on the river.

Accordingly, the Court finds the MRRA is not [*20] void for vagueness.

b. The MRRA Does Not Violate the Constitutional Guarantee of Equal Protection

Plaintiffs also argue the MRRA violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection in two ways. First, Plaintiffs assert the Act eliminates any theory of negligence on the part of recreational providers, essentially excusing them from the consequences of their own negligence. Second, Plaintiffs argue the MRRA arbitrarily treats certain groups of recreationalists differently. Plaintiffs assert that participants in activities covered by the MRRA are treated differently from those participating in activities covered under other activity-specific recreation statutes because the MRRA is vague, whereas the other statutes are not. Plaintiffs further assert the MRRA treats recreationists covered by the Act differently because the MRRA attempts to resurrect the “secondary” assumption of risk defense, and inserts a “primary” assumption of risk defense.

i. The MRRA Does not Eliminate All Theories of Negligence

As discussed above, although a provider is not liable for, or required to eliminate, alter, or control inherent risks under the MRRA, the provider still owes a duty of care for risks that [*21] can be prevented by the use of reasonable care. Thus, the Court finds the MRRA continues to permit negligence claims against a provider if the risk could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care. Thus, the MRRA does not violate Plaintiffs’ equal protection rights by immunizing providers from their own negligence.

ii. The MRRA Does Not Arbitrarily Treat Groups of Recreationists Differently

The MRRA is drawn broadly and defines “sport or recreational opportunity” by reference to a non-exhaustive list of 30 activities. Mont. Code. Ann. § 27-1-752(4). Some of the listed activities are also covered by their own activity-specific recreation liability statutes, such as skiing, snowmobiling and off-road vehicle use. Id.; §§ 23-2-651, et seq.; 23-2-702, et seq.; 23-2-822. Therefore, the MRRA goes on to exclude those activities from its scope. Mont. Code Ann § 27-1-754 (stating the MRRA does “not apply to duties, responsibilities, liability, or immunity related to” activities that are already subject to an activity-specific recreational statute).

Plaintiffs assert that this statutory scheme causes different groups of recreationists to be treated differently. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert the recreationists who fall under the MRRA are disadvantaged in several [*22] respects.

First, Plaintiffs argue the MRRA’s alleged vagueness only affects the subset of recreationists who participate in activities covered by the Act. Whereas, recreationists engaging in other sports, such as skiing or snowmobiling, have specific notice of their rights and the provider’s responsibilities. The Court has determined, however, that the MRRA is not unconstitutionally vague. Further, as noted above, even the activity-specific recreation statutes that specifically identify certain inherent risks do so in a non-exhaustive fashion. Thus, there is no significant difference in treatment between the recreationists who fall under the MRRA, and those who fall under other recreational statutes with respect to notice.

Next, Plaintiffs assert the MRRA departs from other recreational statutes by attempting to revive the “secondary” assumption of risk defense and by suggesting a “primary” assumption of risk defense. Historically, Montana has not used the terms “primary” and “secondary” assumption of risk. Nevertheless, legal commentators have explained [HN12] “primary” assumption of risk refers to the concept of duty, and “secondary” assumption of risk refers to contributory negligence.
[*23] See Dan B. Dobbs, et al., Dobbs’ Law of Torts § 238 (2d ed. 2018) (“[T]he term ‘primary assumption of risk’ is used to indicate the no-duty or no-breach conception and its attendant complete-bar effect; and the term ‘secondary assumption of risk’ is used to indicate the contributory negligence conception.”); 65A C.J.S. Negligence § 398 (2018) (“Primary assumption of risk limits the duty which a person owes to another. Secondary assumption of risk, on the other hand, which is a type of contributory negligence and is an affirmative defense, may be raised by the defendant after the plaintiff has met the burden of showing that the defendant breached a legal duty owed to the plaintiff.”); W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, 480-81 (5th Ed. 1984) (stating “primary” assumption of risk “is really a principle of no duty,” and explaining that under the duty perspective, “the plaintiff voluntarily enters into some relation with the defendant, with knowledge that the defendant will not protect him against one or more future risks that may arise from the relation . . . the legal result is that the defendant is simply relieved of the duty which would otherwise exist.”).

With regard to [*24] “secondary” assumption of risk, Plaintiffs assert the MRRA, “unlike any other recreation act in Montana,” resurrects the “secondary” assumption of risk defense, without articulating any specific inherent risks the participant would be assuming. (Doc. 29 at 15.) As Yeager points out, however, the MRRA is in fact similar to the other recreation statutes in that they also provide that the participant assumes the risks inherent in the particular activity. See e.g. Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-736(4) (“A skier shall accept all legal responsibility for injury or damage of any kind to the extent that the injury or damage results from inherent dangers and risks of skiing.”); § 23-2-822 (1) (“An off-highway vehicle operator shall accept all legal responsibility for injury or damage of any kind to the extent that the injury or damage results from risks inherent in the sport of off-highway vehicle use. . . .”); 23-2-654(3) (“A snowmobiler shall accept all legal responsibility for injury or damage of any kind to the extent that the injury or damage results from risks inherent in the sport of snowmobiling.”). Further, as discussed in regard to Plaintiff’s vagueness challenge, the MRRA does not fail to put participants on notice of the inherent [*25] risks they are assuming. As such, recreationists participating in activities that fall under the MRRA are not on significantly different legal footing than participants in other recreational activities. Finally, Plaintiffs contend the MRRA’s suggestion of a “primary” assumption of risk defense amounts to an end-run around comparative negligence. As used here, the assumption of risk terminology in the MRRA refers to a principle of no duty. In Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995), the Wyoming Supreme Court found the assumption of risk language in the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act, “was intended to limit the duty to which a provider owes to a participant.” The Court explained that because primary assumption of risk was only intended to limit the provider’s duty, it did not affect the comparative negligence scheme. Id. Likewise, here, the Court finds the assumption of risk language in the MRRA affects only the provider’s duty. It does not revive contributory negligence or undermine Montana’s comparative negligence law. Moreover, as noted, the other activity-specific recreation statutes contain similar assumption of risk language. Thus, recreationists are treated the same under both the MRRA and other activity-specific recreation [*26] statutes, and there is no violation of equal protection.

c. The MRRA Does Not Unconstitutionally Interfere With the Right to Trial by Jury

Finally, Plaintiffs argue the MRRA infringes upon the province of the jury by injecting questions of ultimate fact into preliminary legal questions. As discussed above, however, whether McJunkin’s death was the result of an inherent risk of float fly fishing, and whether it could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care, are jury questions. Thus, the Court finds the MRRA does not unconstitutionally interfere with Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to trial by jury.

B. Yeager’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs’ Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

Yeager contends Plaintiffs’ claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NEID”) fails as a matter of law because there is insufficient evidence for a jury to find Plaintiffs suffered serious or severe emotional distress.5 The Court agrees.

5 Yeager also asserts Plaintiffs’ NIED claim fails because there is no actionable predicate act of negligence since the MRRA bars Plaintiffs’ negligence claim. As discussed, however, the Court has found there are disputed issues of material fact regarding Plaintiff’s negligence claim. Accordingly, Yeager’s argument fails in this regard.

[HN13] Under Montana law, an independent cause of action for NIED arises “under circumstances where serious or severe emotional distress to the plaintiff was the reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligent act or omission.” Sacco v. High Country Ind. Press, Inc., 271 Mont. 209, 896 P.2d 411, 426 (Mont. 1995). [*27] “To constitute ‘serious’ or ‘severe,’ the emotional distress must be ‘so severe no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.'” Feller v. First Interstate Bancsystem, Inc., 2013 MT 90, 369 Mont. 444, 299 P.3d 338, 344 (Mont. 2013). The question of whether the threshold level of emotional distress can be found is for the Court to determine. Sacco, 896 P.2d at 425 (“It is for the court to determine whether on the evidence severe [serious] emotional distress can be found; it is for the jury to determine whether, on the evidence, it has in fact existed.”) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 46, comment j at 78).

In Feller, the Montana Supreme Court considered [HN14] several factors in determining whether there is sufficient evidence of severe emotional distress, including: (1) whether the plaintiff had any physical manifestations of grief; (2) whether counseling was sought or recommended; (3) whether the plaintiff took medication or the use of medication dramatically increased; (4) whether the plaintiff had continuous nights of sleeplessness or days without appetite; (5) whether the plaintiff maintained close relationships with family members and friends; (6) the duration of the emotional distress; and (7) the circumstances under which the infliction incurred, including whether the plaintiff witnessed the distressing event. Feller, 299 P.3d at 345.

Here, the Court finds [*28] Plaintiffs have not presented evidence of the type of emotional distress necessary to demonstrate serious or severe compensable emotional distress. Rhett McJunkin and Charles McJunkin, Jr. testified at deposition that they have both experienced grief, trouble sleeping and have had nightmares. Rhett McJunkin also testified he took sleep medication approximately one year after the accident, but could not recall what the medication was, who prescribed the medication, or how long own long it was taken. Rhett McJunkin also stated he has also experienced “angst” and “anxiety,” and Charles McJunkin, Jr. indicated his focus has been affected.

Nevertheless, there is no indication of any physical manifestation of grief, and neither has sought counseling, taken or increased medication to manage their emotional distress, have suffered a loss of appetite, are unable to maintain close family relationships, and neither witnessed the accident. The Court finds that consideration of the Feller factors does not lead to the conclusion that Plaintiffs’ emotional distress rises to the level where severe emotional distress may be found.

The Court certainly sympathizes with Plaintiffs’ grief for their loss [*29] of their father. Nevertheless, their testimony does not show their emotional distress was so severe that “no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.” Feller, 299 P.3d at 344.

Accordingly, Yeager’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED on Count II of the Complaint.

C. Yeager’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs’ Loss of Consortium Claim

Yeager argues Plaintiffs’ loss of consortium claim also fails as a matter of law because there is insufficient evidence to support the claim.6 The Court finds there are disputed issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment.

6 Yeager again asserts Plaintiffs’ loss of consortium claim fails because there is no actionable predicate act of negligence. As discussed, this argument is again rejected because there are disputed issues of material fact regarding Plaintiffs’ negligence claim.

[HN15] Montana law recognizes loss of consortium claims by an adult child of an injured parent. N. Pac. Ins. Co. v. Stucky, 2014 MT 299, 377 Mont. 25, 338 P.3d 56, 61 (Mont. 2014). In Stucky, the Montana Supreme Court held an adult child must meet the following two-part test7 to establish a claim for loss of parental consortium: “1) a third party tortuously caused the parent to suffer a serious, permanent and disabling mental or physical injury compensable under Montana law; and 2) the parent’s ultimate condition of mental or physical impairment was so overwhelming and severe that it has caused the parent-child relationship to be destroyed or nearly destroyed.” Id. at 66.

7 The Court adopted the two-part test from Keele v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., 258 Mont. 158, 852 P.2d 574 (Mont. 1993), which recognized parental loss of consortium claims by minor children. The Montana Supreme Court stated it found no reason to adopt a different standard for an adult child’s claim of loss of parental consortium. Stucky, 338 P.3d at 65. The Court specifically rejected adopting the more stringent “extraordinarily close and interdependent relationship” test from Hern v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Ill., 2005 MT 301, 329 Mont. 347, 125 P.3d 597 (Mont. 2005), which applies to loss of consortium claims brought by the parent of an adult child.

[HN16] In establishing a loss of parental consortium claim, the plaintiff [*30] may present evidence of the following factors, which the jury may consider in determining both whether the two-part test has been satisfied, and what damages are appropriate: “the severity of injury to the parent; the actual effect the parent’s injury has had on the relationship and is likely to have in the future; the child’s age; the nature of the child’s relationship with the parent; and the child’s emotional, physical and geographic characteristics.” Id.

Stucky involved an injury to a parent, rather than the death of a parent. Nevertheless, an adult child’s loss of a parent would readily meet the requirements established in Stucky for the maintenance of a consortium claim. The fact McJunkin died is sufficient to establish the first prong of the test, which requires serious permanent injury. Second, death is obviously an injury so “overwhelming and severe” as to destroy the parent-child relationship. Thus, the second prong of the test is clearly established.

Yeager points out that Plaintiffs are in their late 50’s/early 60’s, they lived hundreds of miles away from their father, received no financial support from him, and saw him only occasionally. Plaintiffs counter that they had [*31] a tight bond with their father, and that Charles McJunkin, Jr. talked to his father on a regular basis. This is evidence for the jury to assess. Stucky, 338 P.3d at 65.

Accordingly, the Court finds there are disputed issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ loss of consortium claim. Yeager’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Count III of the Complaint is therefore, DENIED.

III. MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

Plaintiffs have also filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint. (Doc. 23.) Plaintiffs seek to add a new theory of liability to the existing negligence claim. In particular, Plaintiffs seek to add the theory of strict liability based upon an abnormally dangerous activity. Yeager opposes the motion, arguing Plaintiffs were not diligent in moving to amend, and the proposed amendment is futile.

On June 1, 2017, the Court issued a Scheduling order setting the deadline to amend pleadings for July 3, 2017. (Doc. 20.) Plaintiffs filed the instant motion seeking leave to amend on November 29, 2017. (Doc. 23.)

[HN17] In situations where the deadline for amendments to pleadings has passed, a party must show good cause for not seeking leave to amend within the Court’s scheduling order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4) (“[a] schedule may [*32] only be modified for good cause and with the judge’s consent”); Coleman v. Quaker Oats Co., 232 F.3d 1271, 1294 (9th Cir. 2000).

In Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d 604, 609 (9th Cir. 1992), the Ninth Circuit explained that “[u]nlike Rule 15(a)’s liberal [HN18] amendment policy which focuses on the bad faith of the party seeking to interpose an amendment and the prejudice to the opposing party, Rule 16(b)’s ‘good cause’ standard primarily considers the diligence of the party seeking the amendment.” Good cause to excuse noncompliance with the scheduling order exists if the pretrial schedule “cannot reasonably be met despite the diligence of the party seeking the extension.” Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 16 Advisory Committee’s Notes (1983 Amendment)).

Prejudice to the opposing party may provide an additional reason to deny a motion to amend, but “the focus of the inquiry is upon the moving party’s reasons for seeking modification.” Id. at 609. “If that party was not diligent, the inquiry should end.” Id.; see also In re Western States Wholesale Natural Gas Antitrust Litigation, 715 F.3d 716, 737 (9th Cir. 2013) (upholding denial of motion to amend where “the party seeking to modify the scheduling order has been aware of the facts and theories supporting amendment since the inception of the action”).

[HN19] If good cause exists for seeking amendment after the scheduling order’s deadline, the Court then turns to Rule 15(a) to determine whether amendment should be allowed. [*33] “Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to amend ‘shall be freely given when justice so requires,’ it ‘is not to be granted automatically.'” In re Western States, 715 F.3d at 738 (quoting Jackson v. Bank of Hawaii, 902 F.2d 1385, 1387 (9th Cir.1990)). Under Rule 15(a), the Ninth Circuit directs that courts consider the following five factors to assess whether to grant leave to amend: “(1) bad faith, (2) undue delay, (3) prejudice to the opposing party, (4) futility of amendment; and (5) whether plaintiff has previously amended his complaint.” Id. Each of these factors is not given equal weight, however. “Futility of amendment can, by itself, justify the denial of a motion for leave to amend.” Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995).

A. Lack of Diligence

As noted above, Plaintiffs seek to amend the Complaint to include an additional theory of strict liability. The Court finds that Plaintiffs did not act diligently in seeking to amend the Complaint. The motion to amend was filed nearly five months after the Court’s deadline to amend pleadings. Plaintiffs’ explanation for the delay is that the additional theory of liability is premised upon Yeager’s expert report, which they did not receive until November 13, 2017.

The Court finds, however, that Plaintiffs were aware of the facts and theories supporting the amendment long prior to receipt of [*34] Yeager’s expert report. The expert report did not provide any new facts, but rather offered opinion evidence that fly fishing from a raft is inherently dangerous, and that the danger cannot be eliminated by reasonable precautions. But Plaintiffs have been aware that Yeager intended to raise an inherent risk defense since Yeager filed his answer on March 6, 2017, and raised the MRRA as an affirmative defense. (Doc. 4 at 7.) Yeager also filed a Preliminary Pretrial Statement approximately six months before the expert report was produced that put Plaintiffs on further notice of this theory of defense. (See Doc. 18 at 6) (stating that “[f]alling out of a raft on a river is a danger that cannot be prevented by the use of reasonable care.”) Therefore, Plaintiffs’ argument that they did not possess information supporting the abnormally dangerous activity theory of liability until after they received the expert report is not persuasive. See Bonin, 59 F.3d at 845 (holding a motion to amend may be denied “where the movant presents no new facts but only new theories and provides no satisfactory explanation for his failure to fully develop his contentions originally”).

B. Futility of Amendment

Even if the Court found “good cause,” under [*35] Rule 16, application of the Rule 15 factors dictate denial of the motion to amend. Although there is no indication Plaintiffs are acting in bad faith, or that amendment would unduly prejudice Yeager, the Court has found undue delay. Moreover, the Court finds the amendment would be futile.

In seeking to impose strict liability, Plaintiffs conflate the concept of inherent risk with an abnormally dangerous activity. The activity at issue here — fly fishing from a raft — is not the kind of activity that has been recognized as abnormally dangerous. [HN20] Simply because an activity has inherent risks, does not mean the activity is abnormally dangerous for purposes of strict liability. A comparison of activities that are considered abnormally dangerous illustrates the point. See e.g. Beckman v. Butte-Silver Bow Cty., 2000 MT 112, 299 Mont. 389, 1 P.3d 348 (Mont. 2000) (trenching); Sunburst Sch. Dist. No. 2 v. Texaco, Inc., 2007 MT 183, 338 Mont. 259, 165 P.3d 1079 (Mont. 2007) (operating a gas refinery near residences and a school); Ulmen v. Schwieger, 92 Mont. 331, 12 P.2d 856 (Mont. 1932) (highway construction); and Stepanek v. Kober Const., 191 Mont. 430, 625 P.2d 51 (Mont. 1981) (construction scaffolding). The Court does not find the characteristics and risks of fly fishing equate in any meaningful way with these types of activities.8

8 Likewise, the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 519, which has been adopted by the Montana Supreme Court, identifies the following as abnormally dangerous activities: “Water collected in quantity in unsuitable or dangerous place,” “Explosives in quantity in a dangerous place,” “Inflammable liquids in quantity in the midst of a city,” “Blasting, in the midst of a city,” “Pile driving, with abnormal risk to surroundings,” “Release into air of poisonous gas or dust,” “Drilling oil wells or operating refineries in thickly settled communities,” and “production of atomic energy.” Again, these activities are of a wholly different nature than float fly fishing.

“Whether an activity is abnormally dangerous is a question of law.” Chambers v. City of Helena, 2002 MT 142, 310 Mont. 241, 49 P.3d 587, 591 (Mont. 2002), overruled on other grounds, Giambra v. Kelsey, 2007 MT 158, 338 Mont. 19, 162 P.3d 134 (Mont. 2007). No court has held float fly fishing is an abnormally dangerous activity, and [*36] this Court declines Plaintiffs’ invitation to be the first to do so.

In addition, the Court has determined the MRRA is constitutional and applies to Plaintiff’s negligence claim. The MRRA limits a recreational provider’s liability. Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-752(3); 27-1-753. The Montana Legislature enacted the MRRA to protect recreational providers from liability for injuries that are caused by the very characteristics of a particular activity that make it attractive to participants. 2009 Mt. Laws Ch. 331 (H.B. 150), preamble. The Legislature specifically intended to limit providers’ liability and to discourage claims based on damages that result from inherent risks in a sport or activity. Id. The Legislature enacted the MRRA to further the State’s interest in maintaining the economic viability of Montana’s sports and recreational industries. Id.

Imposing strict liability would eviscerate the purpose of the MRRA. Instead of limiting recreational provider’s liability for inherent risks, it would render them strictly liable for those risks. See Christian v. Atl. Richfield Co., 2015 MT 255, 380 Mont. 495, 358 P.3d 131, 150 (Mont. 2015) (“A claim based upon strict liability for the conduct of an abnormally dangerous activity . . . means that the defendant is liable for harm resulting from the activity, even [*37] if the defendant acted with reasonable care.”). In short, it would accomplish the exact opposite of what the MRRA was intended to do.

Therefore, because Plaintiffs have not shown good cause for their delay in seeking amendment, and because the amendment would be futile, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Complaint is DENIED.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the Court ORDERS as follows: (1) Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend (Doc. 23) is DENIED;

(2) Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 28) is DENIED; and

(3) Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 31) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

IT IS ORDERED.

DATED this 28th day of September, 2018.

/s/ Timothy J. Cavan

TIMOTHY J. CAVAN

United States Magistrate Judge


One box was unchecked in the release which was signed online, and the court would not grant the motion for summary judgment of the defendant because whether or not the release was valid was a decision for the jury.

This judge was either not going to make a decision or only allow the plaintiff to win. However, the defendants set themselves up to lose by having a check box in the release.

Moore v. North America Sports, Inc., et al., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134557

State: Florida: United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Panama City Division

Plaintiff: Brian Moore

Defendant: North America Sports, Inc., USA Triathlon

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the risk, Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2009

Summary

Having a box unchecked on a release sent the case to trial because the judge would not decide if that made the release valid. Having no jurisdiction and venue clause also created an opening, left unresolved on whether Florida or Montana’s law would apply. If Montana’s law, the releases would be void.

Overall, a poorly prepared or thought-out motion and supporting documents that helped the plaintiff more than the defendant left the defendant in a worse position than before they filed the motion.

Facts

The deceased lived in Montana and signed up in Montana to enter a triathlon in Panama City Beach Florida. In the process of signing up, he signed two releases. One for the website and one for the triathlon. The defendant also stated that the deceased signed two more releases upon registering for the event in Florida. The release signed for the website was not a factor in this decision.

During the swim portion of the triathlon the deceased experienced distress and died three days later.

His survivors filed this lawsuit.

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

The first issue reviewed by the court was the defense of assumption of the risk. The court resolved this issue in favor of the plaintiff in a short paragraph. Whether or not the deceased assumed the risk of his injury is a question for the jury. It cannot be resolved in a Motion for Summary Judgment.

When a participant volunteers to take certain chances, he waives his right to be free from those bodily contacts inherent in the chances taken.” However, it is the jury’s function to determine whether a participant should have anticipated the particular risk, and whether the defendant made the activity as safe as possible.

The second argument made by the plaintiff was whether or not the USA Triathlon was liable as a sanctioning body. “In order for a sanctioning organization, or sponsoring organization, to be liable, it must have some control over the event.” USA Triathlon argued they did not control the event and should be dismissed.

Again, the court stated whether or not USA Triathlon had any control over the event was a question of fact for the jury.

The next issues were the releases. The first issue was what law applied to the releases. There was obviously no jurisdiction and venue clause in the release or because there was an issue of the validity of the release, the court took it upon itself to determine what law applied.

The plaintiff’s argued that Montana’s law should apply. Montana does not allow the use of a release. See Montana Statutes Prohibits Use of a Release.

All contracts which have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for his own fraud, for willful injury to the person or property of another, or for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.” Mont. Code Ann. § 28-2-702 (2007). However, Plaintiff fails to take into account that first the applicable choice-of-law must be determined, and then the contract is interpreted according to that state’s substantive law.

Since this decision, the statute has been amended to allow the use of releases for sport or recreational opportunities. See Montana Recreation Responsibility Act.

However, the court never made a definitive statement as to whose law would be applied to the releases in this situation.

The next issue was a review of the releases signed on-line when the deceased registered for the event. The on-line release required a box to be checked. In the discovery process, the defendant provided a copy of the release signed by the deceased that had a box that was unchecked.

Defendants provide a printout showing an electronic signature. However, in order to properly exe-cute the waiver, the waivers state that the participant must check the box. Defendants fail to pro-vide any evidence to show a connection between checking the box and an electronic signature appearing in the printout. This lack of evidence leaves us just short of the finish line. Had a proper showing been made, summary judgment for the Defendants might have been warranted. Whether the online wavier was properly executed is a material fact for the jury to decide.

Again, the court saved this issue for the jury. Somehow the deceased was able to register for the event and leave a box unchecked; consequently, the court found one unchecked box was enough to deny a motion for summary judgment as to the validity of the release.

The defendant then argued that there were two additional releases signed by the deceased that would have stopped the plaintiff’s claims. However, the copies the defendant provided did not have signatures on them.

Defendants claim that Rice would have been required to sign two additional waivers in order to complete the onsite registration and be allowed to participate. Defendants do not provide signed copies of these waivers, only blank copies. Plaintiff denies that Rice signed any waiver on the day of the race. The fact that Defendants cannot provide a signed waiver does not exclude testimony on this matter; it merely goes to the weight of the evidence for the jury to consider.

This allowed the plaintiff to plead the deceased never signed the documents and the court again through the decision to the jury.

So Now What?

Remember this decision was decided nine years ago. At that time, the law concerning assumption of the risk has changed, and more courts are determining that the risk the plaintiff suffered was inherent in the sport. Therefore, the plaintiff assumed the risk. Whether or not that evolution in the law has occurred in Florida. I have not researched.

I suspect that USA Triathlon now has written agreements with all races it sanctions setting forth the legal requirements of the relationship. Absent an agreement, an industry practice can easily be proven, but not in a motion for summary judgement. A contract outlining the legal responsibilities between the parties can be used in a motion for summary judgment.

Check Boxes in a Release are landmines waiting to explode.

Why do you have boxes to be checked in a release? They do not support a contract, they only support the theory that the unchecked section is not valid or as in this case the entire release is not valid.

It was just stupid not to have your ducks in a row as a defendant when filing or defending motions for summary judgment. Here the defendants looked bad. Their arguments were strong, but they had no proof to support their arguments. For more on how check boxes can void your release see Trifecta of stupidity sinks this dive operation. Too many releases, operation standards and dive industry standards, along with an employee failing to get releases signed, sunk this ship on appeal.

You can prove the deceased signed a release if you don’t have a copy of the signature on the release, however, to do so you have to be able to prove that your system would not have allowed the deceased to race unless he signed. Nothing like that was introduced for all three of the releases the defense argued the decedent signed.

That does not even take into account novation. The second and third release might have been void because they were not signed for consideration. Only the first release had consideration, a benefit flowing to the decedent, entrance into the race. The decedent was in the race when he signed the second and third release, so there was no new consideration. See Too many contracts can void each other out; two releases signed at different times can render both release’s void.

Two many releases, no contracts between the defendants and this order made the defendants look bad and guaranteed a trial.

Honestly, the decision reads like either a judge, who does not want to make a decision or one that was heavily leaning towards the Plaintiff. At the same time, the defendants made easy for the judge to rule this way. However, there is not much choice, you have to play with the cards the court clerk gives you.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Montana Recreation Responsibility Act

Title 27 Civil Liability, Remedies, and Limitations

Chapter 1 Availability of Remedies — Liability

Part 7 Liability

27-1-753, MCA (2017)

27-1-751 Short title.

Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-754 may be cited as the “Montana Recreation Responsibility Act”.

HISTORY: En. Sec. 1, Ch. 331, L. 2009.

NOTES:

27-1-752 Definitions.

As used in 27-1-751 through 27-1-754, the following definitions apply:

(1) “Agritourism” means a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production or agricultural processing with tourism in order to attract visitors to a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for purposes of entertaining or educating the visitors.

(2) “Inherent risks” means those dangers or conditions that are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational activity and that cannot be prevented by the use of reasonable care.

(3) “Provider” means a person, corporation, partnership, or other business entity, including a governmental entity as defined in 2-9-111, that promotes, offers, or conducts a sport or recreational opportunity for profit or otherwise.

(4) “Sport or recreational opportunity” means any sporting activity, whether undertaken with or without permission, including but not limited to baseball, softball, football, soccer, basketball, bicycling, hiking, swimming, boating, hockey, dude ranching, nordic or alpine skiing, snow boarding, snow sliding, mountain climbing, river floating, whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, target shooting, hunting, fishing, backcountry trips, horseback riding and other equine activity, snowmobiling, off-highway vehicle use, agritourism, an on-farm educational opportunity, and any similar recreational activity.

HISTORY: En. Sec. 2, Ch. 331, L. 2009; amd. Sec. 1, Ch. 137, L. 2017.

27-1-753 Limitation on liability in sport or recreational opportunity.

(1) A person who participates in any sport or recreational opportunity assumes the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity, whether those risks are known or unknown, and is legally responsible for all injury or death to the person and for all damage to the person’s property that result from the inherent risks in that sport or recreational opportunity.

(2) A provider is not required to eliminate, alter, or control the inherent risks within the particular sport or recreational opportunity that is provided.

(3) (a) Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-754 do not preclude an action based on the negligence of the provider if the injury, death, or damage is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity.

(b) This section does not prohibit a written waiver or release entered into prior to engaging in a sport or recreational opportunity for damages or injuries resulting from conduct that constitutes ordinary negligence or for risks that are inherent in the sport or recreational opportunity.

(c) Any waiver or release for a sport or recreational opportunity must:

(i) state known inherent risks of the sport or recreational opportunity; and

(ii) contain the following statement in bold typeface: By signing this document you may be waiving your legal right to a jury trial to hold the provider legally responsible for any injuries or damages resulting from risks inherent in the sport or recreational opportunity or for any injuries or damages you may suffer due to the provider’s ordinary negligence that are the result of the provider’s failure to exercise reasonable care.

(d) Any waiver or release for a sport or recreational opportunity may still be challenged on any legal grounds.

(e) Any waiver or release for a sport or recreational opportunity executed in compliance with this section is not prohibited by or subject to the provisions of 28-2-702.

(4) Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-754 do not apply to a cause of action based on the design, manufacture, provision, or maintenance of sports or recreational equipment or products or safety equipment used incidental to or required by the sport or recreational activity.

HISTORY: En. Sec. 3, Ch. 331, L. 2009; amd. Sec. 1, Ch. 410, L. 2015.

NOTES:

Amendment Notes

The 2015 amendment redesignated former (3) as (3)(a); and added (3)(b) through (3)(e).

27-1-754 Recreational activity — applicability exceptions.

Sections 27-1-751 through 27-1-753 do not apply to duties, responsibilities, liability, or immunity related to:

(1) recreational use of waters or land, as provided in 23-2-321;

(2) snowmobiling, as provided in 23-2-653 and 23-2-654;

(3) skiing, as provided in Title 23, chapter 2, part 7;

(4) off-highway vehicle operation, as provided in 23-2-822;

(5) instruction in firearms and hunter safety or hunter education, as provided in 27-1-721;

(6) equine activity, as provided in 27-1-727;

(7) sponsored rodeo and similar events, as provided in 27-1-733;

(8) amusement rides, as provided in 27-1-743 and 27-1-744;

(9) recreational use of land, as provided in 23-2-907, 70-16-302, 77-1-805, 87-1-266, 87-1-267, and 87-1-286;

(10) wildcrafting, as provided in 76-10-106; and

(11) placement of a sign or marker warning of a hazard in water legally accessible to the public, as provided in 87-1-287.

HISTORY: En. Sec. 4, Ch. 331, L. 2009.

NOTES:


Hitting a rock while skiing in Montana is an inherent risk of the sport. Other interesting statements by the court though create an interesting decision.

Decision looks at whether rocks are an inherent risk when they have been moved by the resort and determined the plaintiff was responsible for his injuries.

Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Management, LLC, 90 F. Supp. 3d 1103; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15348

State: Montana, United States District Court for the District of Montana, Butte Division

Plaintiff: Brian Kopeikin, M.D.                                     

Defendant: Moonlight Basin Management, LLC, D/B/A Moonlight Ba In Resort

Plaintiff Claims: for negligence sounding in premises liability and a claim for negligent hiring, training, supervision and management

Defendant Defenses: Montana Ski Safety Act

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2015

This is a basic case. The guest was skiing at the resort, hit a rock and was injured. The court looked at the facts, the Montana’s Skier Responsibility Statute and dismissed the case on a motion for summary judgment. What is interesting and educational about this case are the facts the court reports in its opinion.

Near the ticket booth where Kopeikin purchased his ticket is a sign warning skiers of unmarked hazards. Kopeikin is a very experienced skier, having skied at several ski resorts throughout the Rocky Mountain West over the past 36 years, and he had seen similar signs at other ski resorts warning patrons of unmarked hazards.

Skiing conditions at Moonlight on February 5, 2012, were generally good, with clear skies, calm winds, and temperatures near thirty-two degrees. However, it was a low snow coverage year, and Kopeikin acknowledges that prior to his accident he saw uncovered rocks on the sides of the ski runs. Rocks are prevalent at Moonlight.

Immediately before the entrance to Elkhorn, there is a sign indicating, again, that Elkhorn is designated a black diamond, or “most difficult,” run. As Kopeikin began skiing down Elkhorn, plainly visible grass and rocks could be seen poking through the snow on the side of the run.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on these facts, and the court granted the motion. Here is the court’s analysis in granting the motion.

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

The court first looked at the inherent risks and dangers of skiing. “The “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” are statutorily defined as “those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing“…” The court then compared this statement with the general requirements set forth in the Montana’s Skier Responsibility Statute.

However, the court also found the Montana’s Skier Responsibility Statute did not protect ski areas from their own negligence. “Montana’s skier responsibility statutes cannot be read to immunize ski resorts from their own negligent or intentional acts, because such an interpretation would violate Montana’s constitution.”

However, the stated purpose of Montana’s skier responsibility statutes is to “discourage claims based on damages resulting from the inherent risks of skiing.”

The court also looked at the ski area’s actions in warning its guests of the risks.

Moonlight warned generally of unmarked hazards. It posted multiple signs designating the run on which Kopeikin was injured a black diamond, or most difficult, run. With respect to the cat track, Moonlight had taken efforts to remove it and return the slope back to its natural condition.

In looking at the facts, the court concluded the plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries.

Furthermore, Kopeikin failed to negotiate the terrain safely and without injury. Notwithstanding his years of experience and expertise, he failed to ski in manner that avoided injury to himself and to be aware of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.

The rock that the plaintiff hit was a natural rock, naturally occurring. (When you figure out how to make rocks let me know?) “…the rocks that Kopeikin collided with, like all the rocks on the Elkhorn run, were naturally occurring.

The plaintiff argued the rocks were created when the ski area attempted to eliminate the cat track.

Without citation to any record evidence, Kopeikin asks the Court to infer that some of the rocks in the area where he fell unnaturally accumulated there through the process of removing the cat track back in 2007. The record evidence, however, establishes the opposite — the process of removing the cat track reduced the number of rocks in the area because many of the rocks were covered up during the cat track removal process.

The issue obviously is whether or not the Montana’s Skier Responsibility Statute. However, the statute specifically identifies rock as an inherent risk.

23-2-702  Definitions.

(d) collisions with natural surface or subsurface conditions, such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, trees, and other natural objects; [Emphasize added]

Another fact pointed out by the court and obviously placed in the record were there had never been an accident at that location before. “Furthermore, with over 700,000 skier visits, there had never been another reported accident at the location of Kopeikin’s accident caused by a collision with rocks.

The court also pointed out that the plaintiff was skiing the run he was injured on because he did not want to ski the run he had originally planned because of the rocks.

Because the rock the plaintiff encountered was an inherent risk of skiing under the Montana’s Skier Responsibility Statute, the motion for summary judgment of the defendant was granted.

Because Kopeikin’s injuries resulted only from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing and because Moonlight did not breach its duty of reasonable care, Moonlight is entitled to judgment as matter of law.

So Now What?

Remember Montana is a state that does not allow the use of a release and limits most defenses in most outdoor recreation activities. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release. This prohibition is set forth in the Montana constitution.

The decision makes sense; however, some of the statements in the decision were confusing.

Tracking where accidents happen can be good as in this case, or bad in most other cases. Remember foreseeability. If the accident which caused the injury was foreseeable, then the defendant might owe a duty to the plaintiff. Tracking accidents can prove foreseeability. If other accidents had occurred at this location, then having accident location information available would have proven that there was at least a problem and probably a place where the ski area might have owed a duty to its guests because of the number of accidents.

Tracking accidents can be good or be bad. Most times I would guess the tracking could be a problem not a help.

The argument that the rocks were not naturally occurring because they had been created in eliminating the cat track was very novel. The rock was there with, without or after the creation and removal of the cat track. A rock is a rock (I think?). Consequently, whether or not the rock was moved to the surface by actions of the ski area should not have been at issue. However, the court looked at the issue.

The final issue of interest was the statement from the court that the plaintiff had not skied the run safely. “…Kopeikin failed to negotiate the terrain safely and without injury.” Very rarely do courts state the plaintiff was at fault for their injury. Normally, the most the court states is that the defendant was not at fault and you can surmise from that statement the plaintiff was at fault.

However, to have the court state it is interesting and rare.

By the way, second post from Hawaii while on vacation. That is above and beyond for you guys, you owe me!  Smile

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Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Management, LLC, 90 F. Supp. 3d 1103; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15348

Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Management, LLC, 90 F. Supp. 3d 1103; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15348

Brian Kopeikin, M.D., Plaintiff, vs. Moonlight Basin Management, LLC, D/B/A Moonlight Ba In Resort, Defendant.

CV 13-C45-CBU-CDLC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA, BUTTE DIVISION

90 F. Supp. 3d 1103; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15348

February 9, 2015, Decided

February 9, 2015, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Mgmt., LLC, 981 F. Supp. 2d 936, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160390 (D. Mont., 2013)

CORE TERMS: skier, skiing, rock, snow, elkhorn, ski, track, cat, terrain, inherent dangers, summary judgment, ski area, hazard, reasonable care, mountain, sport, hit, injuries resulted, surface, slope, skis, visible, ski resort, disputed, safely, skied, unmarked, matter of law, entitled to judgment, legal responsibility

COUNSEL: [**1] For Brian Kopeikin, M.D., Plaintiff: Edward P. Moriarity, MORIARITY BADARUDDIN & BOOKE, LLC, Missoula, MT.

For Moonlight Basin Management, LLC doing business as Moonlight Basin Resort, Defendant: Ian McIntosh, LEAD ATTORNEY, CROWLEY FLECK, Bozeman, MT.

JUDGES: Dana L. Christensen, Chief United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Dana L. Christensen

OPINION

[*1104] ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons explained, the Court grants the motion.

Synopsis

Plaintiff Dr. Brian Kopeikin (“Kopeikin”) was injured in a skiing accident in Montana. Kopeikin is a resident of California. He brought this diversity action against Defendant Montana ski area operator Moonlight Basin Management, LLC (“Moonlight”) asserting a claim for negligence sounding in premises liability and a claim for negligent hiring, training, supervision and management.

Earlier in the litigation, Moonlight moved to dismiss the Complaint asserting that it failed to state a claim under Montana’s skier responsibility statute, Montana Code Annotated § 23-2-736, because even as alleged all of Kopeikin’s injuries resulted from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. The Court denied the motion.

Now before the Court is Moonlight’s motion for summary judgment, and a [**2] fully-developed record in which several of Kopeikin’s key allegations from the Complaint are conclusively rebutted. On this updated evidentiary record, the Court concludes that Moonlight acted consistent with its duty of reasonable care and that all of Kopeikin’s injuries resulted from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. Accordingly, Moonlight is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and its motion for summary judgment is granted.

Factual Background1

1 Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on June 23, 2014, and Kopeikin responded on July 25, 2014. In accordance with Local Rule 56.1(b), Kopeikin simultaneously filed a separate Statement of Disputed Facts with his brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Then, on the afternoon of January 28, 2015, less than 24 hours prior to a hearing on the motion, Kopeikin filed a document styled as a “Supplement to Statement of Disputed Facts.” (Doc. 41.) Kopeikin did not seek leave of Court to file the “Supplement,” and the filing is not contemplated by Local Rules. Indeed, it is contrary to the Local Rule’s requirement that a Statement of Disputed Facts be filed “simultaneously with” the brief in opposition. L.R. 56.1(b). The filing is untimely by [**3] at least six months, and Kopekin has not sought leave to file it. Accordingly, its contents are not considered for purposes of deciding this motion.

On February 5, 2012, Kopeikin and his skiing partner, Sven Rose, purchased lift tickets to ski Moonlight Basin ski resort. Near the ticket booth where Kopeikin purchased his ticket is a sign warning skiers of unmarked hazards. Kopeikin is a very experienced skier, having skied at several ski resorts throughout the Rocky Mountain West over the past 36 years, and he had seen similar signs at other ski resorts warning patrons of unmarked hazards. Kopeikin knew that the presence of rocks is common at ski areas in the Rocky Mountains, such as Moonlight, and he did not expect that all hazards at Moonlight would be marked.

Skiing conditions at Moonlight on February 5, 2012, were generally good, with [*1105] clear skies, calm winds, and temperatures near thirty-two degrees. However, it was a low snow coverage year, and Kopeikin acknowledges that prior to his accident he saw uncovered rocks on the sides of the ski runs. Rocks are prevalent at Moonlight.

After skiing several easier warm-up runs, Kopeikin and Rose decided to take the Six Shooter chairlift up [**4] the mountain in an effort to access an area of more challenging, expert terrain known as Headwaters. Upon learning that hiking was required to access the terrain, and due to their concern about a lack of sufficient snow coverage, the two men decided not to ski Headwaters.

Instead, Kopeikin and Rose decided to ski a run called “Elkhorn.” At the unloading area for the Six Shooter chairlift there is a sign identifying Elkhorn as a black diamond, or “most difficult,” run. (Doc. 21-9; 30-7.) To access Elkhorn, Kopeikin and Rose began by skiing on an intermediate run called “Fast Lane.” On Fast Lane, there were plainly visible rocks above the snow surface that Kopeikin admits that he likely saw.

The two then approached the entrance to Elkhorn. Immediately before the entrance to Elkhorn, there is a sign indicating, again, that Elkhorn is designated a black diamond, or “most difficult,” run. (Doc. 21-13.) Kopeikin and Rose skied past this sign and onto Elkhorn. At this point, the terrain steepened and narrowed, and the ski run was occupied by obstacles such as moguls and snowdrifts.2 As Kopeikin began skiing down Elkhorn, plainly visible grass and rocks could be seen poking through the snow on [**5] the side of the run.

2 A snowdrift, or wind drift, is defined as “a heap of snow piled up by the wind.” Webster’s New World Dictionary (4th Ed., Wiley Publishing 2002). In his deposition, Kopeikin referred to the snowdrifts as “drift lumps.” (Doc. 25-4 at 93.)

Approximately 200 yards below the entrance of Elkhorn, there is an area where a cat track, or its remains, crosses Elkhorn. In 2007, after determining the cat track was not being used regularly, Moonlight removed the edges of the cat track where it crossed Elkhorn in an attempt to return the slope to its natural condition. The cat track, or what remains of it, partially obscures the terrain immediately below it.

Rose skied in front of Kopeikin and successfully navigated the cat track and the terrain immediately below it. Kopeikin estimates that he was skiing behind Rose at approximately 10 to 15 miles per hour. Kopeikin “came over the cat track and absorbed it[] and when [his] skis touched down both hit rocks,” and he was ejected from his skis. (Doc. 25-4 at 120.) He fell forward and landed in other rocks that were either visible or buried under the snow. As a result of his fall, Kopeikin suffered serious and disabling injuries that [**6] necessitated extensive medical care and treatment.

Kopeikin testified that he “would not have fallen because of the cat track,” id. at 124:1-2, but fell because his “skis hit rocks.” Id. at 124:2-3. The particular rock that caused him to be ejected from his ski was one that he could not see because it was under the snow and was “something you had to penetrate and hit with a little force.” Id. at 146:14-15.

From 2003, when Moonlight opened, through the end of the 2012 ski season, Moonlight had approximately 700,000 skier visits. Other than Kopeikin’s accident, there have been no other reported accidents due to rocks in the location of the subject accident.3

3 Kopeikin disputes whether any other accidents had been reported at the location of his accident, but he presents no contrary evidence. In an effort to show that the fact is disputed, Kopeikin cites to the Court three incident reports involving skiing or snowboarding accidents on the Elkhorn run generally. These include: (1) a 2013 accident that occurred somewhere on Elkhorn in which a woman with “no vision on one side” bumped into her daughter on her blind side and fell, (Doc. 25-11 at 3); (2) a 2011 accident in which a snowboarder “was [**7] going down of [sic] the second hill of elkhorn [and] rolled forward,” (Doc. 25-9 at 2-3.); and (3) a 2008 accident that occurred on the “left side on skiers L of Lower Elkhorn” in which a snowboarder “caught [his] edge on ice [and] fell forward,” (Doc. 25-10 at 2-3). None of these accident appear to have occurred at the location of Kopeikin’s accident, and all of them are, in any case, of such dissimilar nature as to be immaterial to the Court’s analysis.

[*1106] Legal Standard

A party is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate 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). Summary judgment is warranted where the documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the lawsuit will preclude entry of summary judgment; factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary to the outcome are not considered. Id. at 248. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. The “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff’s [**8] position” is insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id. at 252.

Discussion

In this diversity action, the Court applies Montana substantive law. Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 79, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938).

Pursuant to Montana statute, “[a] skier shall accept all legal responsibility for injury or damage of any kind to the extent that the injury or damage results from inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-736(4). The “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” are statutorily defined as “those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing,” including in pertinent part:

. . .

(b) snow conditions as they exist or as they may change, . . .

. . .

(d) collisions with natural surface or subsurface conditions, such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps . . . and other natural objects;

. . .

(f) variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or the result of slope design, snowmaking, or snow grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, ski jumps, catwalks,4 and other terrain modifications.

Id. at § 702(2).

4 Consistent with its Order of November 7, 2013, the Court interprets the term “catwalk” to be synonymous with the term “cat track.” No objection to this interpretation has been raised by the parties. [**9]

Under Montana statute, “[a] skier has the duty to ski at all times in a manner that avoids injury to the skier and others and to be aware of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Id. at § 736(1). Additionally, Montana statute requires a skier to “know the range of the skier’s ability and safely ski within the limits of that ability . . . so as to negotiate any section of terrain or ski slope and trail safely and [*1107] without injury or damage.” Id. at 736(2)(a). A skier is also statutorily required to “know that the skier’s ability may vary because of ski slope and trail changes caused by weather, grooming changes, or skier use.” Id.

A ski area operator must act “consistent with the duty of reasonable care owed by a ski area operator to a skier.” Id. at § 733. Montana’s skier responsibility statutes cannot be read to immunize ski resorts from their own negligent or intentional acts, because such an interpretation would violate Montana’s constitution. Mead v. M.S.B., Inc., 264 Mont. 465, 872 P.2d 782, 788 (Mont. 1994). However, the stated purpose of Montana’s skier responsibility statutes is to “discourage[] claims based on damages resulting from the inherent risks of skiing.” Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-731.

In ruling on Defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court articulated an interpretation of Montana’s skier [**10] responsibility statutes that harmonizes the definition of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing with the requirement that a ski area operator act consistent with its duty of reasonable care. In so doing, the Court rejected the notion that a court’s only role in ski area liability cases is to inquire whether the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from a collision with a particular object appearing on the statutory list of inherent risks of skiing, because such an application would produce absurd results and render the statute unconstitutional. Kopeikin v. Moonlight Basin Management, LLC, 981 F.Supp.2d 936, 945 (D. Mont. 2013). At the same time, not every case involving hazards on a ski mountain presents a genuine dispute of fact appropriate for trial, and summary judgment will sometimes be appropriate. Id. at 943.

Ultimately, Montana’s skier responsibility statutes make clear that the duty of reasonable care owed by a ski area operator to a skier “must be viewed in the unique context of skiing.” Id. at 945. Skiing is a sport in which thrill-seeking skiers embrace its inherent dangers and risks. It is a sport that occurs on “a mighty mountain, with fluctuation in weather and snow conditions that constantly change.” Wright v. Mt. Mansfield Lift, Inc., 96 F.Supp. 786, 791 (D. Vt. 1951). “[A] ski area operator cannot be expected to expend all of its resources [**11] making every hazard or potential hazard safe, assuming such an end is even possible,” or desirable. Kopeikin, 981 F.Supp.2d at 946. “Ski areas encompass vast and unwieldy terrain and mother nature is always at play.” Id. The act of skiing in such terrain presents an obvious array of dangers to a skier, many of which the ski area operator has no duty to protect against under Montana law. Fundamentally, a skier bears much of the responsibility for avoiding injury to himself, which is a principal that is consistent with Montana law.

In this case, Kopeikin’s injuries resulted from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. Without question, applying a plain language interpretation of Montana’s skier responsibility statutes leads to this conclusion. In snow conditions as they existed on February 4, 2012, Kopeikin skied over a variation in terrain and collided with a subsurface rock that caused him to fall and collide with other surface or subsurface rocks. Thus, the accident falls clearly within the definition of the inherent dangers and risks that are part of the sport of skiing. Mont. Code Ann. § 23-2-701(2)(b)(d)&(f). Furthermore, Kopeikin failed to negotiate the terrain safely and without injury. Notwithstanding his years of experience and expertise, [**12] he failed to ski in manner that avoided injury to himself and to be aware of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. See id. at § 23-2-736. Accordingly, so long as Moonlight [*1108] acted consistent with its duty of reasonable care owed to Kopeikin, Kopeikin must accept all legal responsibility for his injuries. Id. at § 23-2-736(4).

It is clear that Moonlight acted consistent with its duty of reasonable care as a ski area operator with respect to Kopeikin. Moonlight warned generally of unmarked hazards. It posted multiple signs designating the run on which Kopeikin was injured a black diamond, or most difficult, run. With respect to the cat track, Moonlight had taken efforts to remove it and return the slope back to its natural condition.

Kopeikin did not suddenly and blindly encounter an unmarked cat track. Rather, Kopeikin admits that what remained of the cat track could be clearly seen from above. Also, the rocks that Kopeikin collided with, like all of the rocks on the Elkhorn run, were naturally occurring. Without citation to any record evidence, Kopeikin asks the Court to infer that some of the rocks in the area where he fell unnaturally accumulated there through the process of removing the cat track back [**13] in 2007. The record evidence, however, establishes the opposite — the process of removing the cat track reduced the number of rocks in the area because many of the rocks were covered up during the cat track removal process.

Furthermore, with over 700,000 skier visits, there had never been another reported accident at the location of Kopeikin’s accident caused by a collision with rocks. According to Kopeikin, the rock that he hit with his skis, which caused him to fall, was buried under the snow and “was something you had to penetrate and hit with a little force and then it was there.” (Doc. 25-4 at 147.) Thus, Kopeikin’s theory that Moonlight had a duty to warn of these specific rocks, is undermined by this specific accident’s unforeseeability, despite the fact that accidents of this general nature were foreseeable to skiers that were skiing on the mountain in low snow conditions. To impose a duty on Moonlight to mark or remove all submerged rocks, which are not readily visible, would be to require Moonlight to undertake an impossibility.

Kopeikin himself recognized that it was a low snow year. He had seen other rocks on other runs prior to skiing Elkhorn. He elected not to ski Headwaters [**14] in part because there was “no snow.” (Doc. 25-4 at 90.) He rightly did not expect that all hazards on the mountain would be marked. On Elkhorn, rocks and grass were plainly visible. When he approached the area of Elkhorn where the remains of the cat track obscured the terrain immediately below, he did not stop and assess what was below.

It is clear that Montana’s skier responsibility statutes apply to these facts, that Kopeikin encountered the inherent dangers and risks of skiing, and that he must therefore accept all legal responsibility for his injuries and damages. As was eloquently stated by Judge Gibson in granting a directed verdict for the defendant ski area operator against a claim by a plaintiff injured when her skis unexpectedly hit a tree stump buried under the snow:

Skiing is a sport; a sport that entices thousands of people; a sport that requires an ability on the part of the skier to handle himself or herself under various circumstances of grade, boundary, mid-trail obstructions, corners and varied conditions of the snow. Secondly, it requires good judgment on the part of the skier and recognition of the existing circumstances and conditions. Only the skier knows his own [**15] ability to cope with a certain piece of trail. Snow, ranging from powder to ice, can be of infinite kinds. Breakable crust may be encountered where soft snow is expected. [*1109] Roots and rocks may be hidden under a thin cover. A single thin stubble of cut brush can trip a skier in the middle of a turn. Sticky snow may follow a fast running surface without warning. Skiing conditions may change quickly. What was, a short time before, a perfect surface with a soft cover on all bumps may fairly rapidly become filled with ruts, worn spots and other manner of skier created hazards.

Wright, 96 F.Supp. at 790-91 (emphasis added).

The Montana Legislature has recognized these truths about skiing and codified them, so that a skier has a duty to ski safely and within his abilities, and accepts all responsibility for injuries resulting from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. Because Kopeikin’s injuries resulted only from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing and because Moonlight did not breach its duty of reasonable care, Moonlight is entitled to judgment as matter of law.

IT IS ORDERED that Moonlight’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 20) is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all other motions are DENIED AS MOOT. The [**16] clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff. This case is CLOSED.

Dated this 9th day of February 2015.

/s/ Dana L. Christensen

Dana L. Christensen, Chief District Judge

United States District Court


Summer 2015 Commercial Fatalities

This list is not guaranteed to be accurate. The information is found from web searches and news dispatches. Those references are part of the chart. If you have a source for information on any fatality please leave a comment or contact me. Thank you.

If this information is incorrect or incomplete please let me know.  This is up to date as of June 1, 2015. Thanks.

Rafting, Mountaineering and other summer sports are probably still safer than your kitchen or bathroom. This information is not to scare you away from any activity but to help you understand the risks and to study.

Red is a probable death due to medical issues unrelated to the activity

Dark blue is a death of an employee while working

Date

Activity

State

Location

What

Age

Sex

Location 2

Reference

Company

3/2

Backcountry Skiing

AK

Chugach Mountains

Calving Glacier

28

M

 

http://rec-law.us/1CpcDtI

Chugach Powder Guides

5/23

Whitewater Rafting

CO

Clear Creek

Raft Flipped

47

F

M258.5

rec-law.us/1I3HWx7

All American Adventures

5/31

Whitewater Rafting

MT

Gallatin River

Raft Flipped

43

M

House Rock

rec-law.us/1GhQpwm

Geyser Whitewater Expedition

If you are unable to read the chart, email me at jim@rec-law.us and I’ll send it to you as a PDF.

Our condolences go to the families of the deceased. Our thoughts extend to the families and staff at the areas who have to deal with these tragedies.

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Montana Statutes Prohibits Use of a Release

TITLE 27  CIVIL LIABILITY, REMEDIES, AND LIMITATIONS

CHAPTER 1  AVAILABILITY OF REMEDIES — LIABILITY

PART 7  LIABILITY

Mont. Code Anno., § 27-1-701 (2012)

27-1-701  Liability for negligence as well as willful acts.

   Except as otherwise provided by law, each person is responsible not only for the results of the person’s willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by the person’s want of ordinary care or skill in the management of the person’s property or person except so far as the person has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon the person.

 

Title 28 Contracts and other Obligations

Chapter 2 Contracts
Part 7 Illegal Objects and Provisions

Mont. Code Anno., § 28-2-702, MCA (2017)

28-2-702  Contracts that violate policy of law — exemption from responsibility.

   All contracts that have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for the person’s own fraud, for willful injury to the person or property of another, or for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.

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

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Montana Ski Statues

TITLE 23  PARKS, RECREATION, SPORTS, AND GAMBLING

CHAPTER 2  RECREATION

PART 7  PASSENGER ROPEWAYS — SKI AREAS

Mont. Code Anno., § 23-2-701 (2012)

23-2-701  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-702  Definitions.

As used in this part, the following definitions apply:

(1)  “Freestyle terrain” means terrain parks and terrain features, including but not limited to jumps, rails, fun boxes, half-pipes, quarter-pipes, and freestyle bump terrain, and any other constructed features.

(2)  “Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions that are part of the sport of skiing, including:

(a)  changing weather conditions;

(b)  snow conditions as they exist or as they may change, including ice, hardpack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn snow, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow;

(c)  avalanches, except on open, designated ski trails;

(d)  collisions with natural surface or subsurface conditions, such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, trees, and other natural objects;

(e)  collisions with lift towers, signs, posts, fences, enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, or other artificial structures and their components;

(f)  variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or the result of slope design, snowmaking, or snow grooming operations, including but not limited to roads, freestyle terrain, ski jumps, catwalks, and other terrain modifications;

(g)  collisions with clearly visible or plainly marked equipment, including but not limited to lift equipment, snowmaking equipment, snow grooming equipment, trail maintenance equipment, and snowmobiles, whether or not the equipment is moving;

(h)  collisions with other skiers;

(i)  the failure of a skier to ski within that skier’s ability;

(j)  skiing in a closed area or skiing outside the ski area boundary as designated on the ski area trail map; and

(k)  restricted visibility caused by snow, wind, fog, sun, or darkness.

(3)  “Passenger” means any person who is being transported or conveyed by a passenger ropeway.

(4)  “Passenger ropeway” means a device used to transport passengers by means of an aerial tramway or lift, surface lift, surface conveyor, or surface tow.

(5)  “Ski area operator” or “operator” means a person, firm, or corporation and its agents and employees having operational and administrative responsibility for ski slopes and trails and improvements.

(6)  “Ski slopes and trails” means those areas designated by the ski area operator to be used by skiers for skiing.

(7)  “Skier” means a person who is using any ski area facility for the purpose of skiing, including but not limited to ski slopes and trails.

(8)  “Skiing” means any activity, including an organized event, that involves sliding or jumping on snow or ice while using skis, a snowboard, or any other sliding device.

23-2-703  Ropeways not common carriers or public utilities.

Passenger ropeways may not be construed to be common carriers or public utilities for the purposes of regulation within the meaning of the laws of the state of Montana.

23-2-704  Unlawful to endanger life or cause damage.

(1)  It is unlawful for a passenger riding or using a passenger ropeway to endanger the life and safety of other persons or cause damage to passenger ropeway equipment.

(2)  A person who purposely or knowingly violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.

23-2-705  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-706  through 23-2-710 reserved.

23-2-711  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-712  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-713  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-714  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-715  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-716  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-717  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-718  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-719  and 23-2-720 reserved.

23-2-721  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-722  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-723  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-724  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-725  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-726  through 23-2-730 reserved.

23-2-731  Purpose.

The legislature finds that skiing is a major recreational sport and a major industry in the state and recognizes that among the attractions of the sport are the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. The state has a legitimate interest in maintaining the economic viability of the ski industry by discouraging claims based on damages resulting from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing, defining the inherent dangers and risks of skiing, and establishing the duties of skiers and ski area operators.

23-2-732  Repealed.

Sec. 4, Ch. 346, L. 1997.

23-2-733  Duties of operator regarding ski areas.

(1)  Consistent with the duty of reasonable care owed by a ski area operator to a skier, a ski area operator shall:

(a)  mark all trail grooming vehicles by furnishing the vehicles with flashing or rotating lights that must be in operation whenever the vehicles are working or are in movement in the ski area;

(b)  mark with a visible sign or other warning implement the location of any hydrant or similar equipment used in snowmaking operations and located on ski slopes and trails;

(c)  maintain one or more trail boards at prominent locations at each ski area displaying a map of that area’s network of ski slopes and trails, the boundaries of the ski area, and the relative degree of difficulty of the ski slopes and trails at that area;

(d)  post a notice requiring the use of ski-retention devices;

(e)  designate at the start of each day, by trail board or otherwise, which ski slopes and trails are open or closed and amend those designations as openings and closures occur during the day;

(f)  post in a conspicuous location the current skier responsibility code that is published by the national ski areas association;

(g)  post a copy of 23-2-736 in a conspicuous location; and

(h)  mark designated freestyle terrain with a symbol recognized by the national ski areas association.

(2)  Nothing in this part may be construed to impose any duty owed by a ski area operator to a trespasser or an unauthorized user of a ski area.

23-2-734  Duties of operator with respect to passenger ropeways.

A ski area operator shall construct, operate, maintain, and repair any passenger ropeway. An operator has the duty of taking responsible actions to properly construct, operate, maintain, and repair a passenger ropeway in accordance with current standards.

23-2-735  Duties of passenger.

A passenger may not:

(1)  board or disembark from a passenger ropeway except at an area designated for those purposes;

(2)  throw or expel any object from a passenger ropeway;

(3)  interfere with the running or operation of a passenger ropeway;

(4)  use a passenger ropeway unless the passenger has the ability to use it safely without any instruction on its use by the operator or requests and receives instruction before boarding;

(5)  embark on a passenger ropeway without the authority of the operator.

23-2-736  Duties of skier.

(1)  A skier has the duty to ski at all times in a manner that avoids injury to the skier and others and to be aware of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.

(2)  A skier:

(a)  shall know the range of the skier’s ability and safely ski within the limits of that ability and the skier’s equipment so as to negotiate any section of terrain or ski slope and trail safely and without injury or damage. A skier shall know that the skier’s ability may vary because of ski slope and trail changes caused by weather, grooming changes, or skier use.

(b)  shall maintain control of speed and course so as to prevent injury to the skier or others;

(c)  shall abide by the requirements of the skier responsibility code that is published by the national ski areas association and that is posted as provided in 23-2-733;

(d)  shall obey all posted or other warnings and instructions of the ski area operator; and

(e)  shall read the ski area trail map and must be aware of its contents.

(3)  A person may not:

(a)  place an object in the ski area or on the uphill track of a passenger ropeway that may cause a passenger or skier to fall;

(b)  cross the track of a passenger ropeway except at a designated and approved point; or

(c)  if involved in a skiing accident, depart from the scene of the accident without:

(i)  leaving personal identification; or

(ii)  notifying the proper authorities and obtaining assistance when the person knows that a person involved in the accident is in need of medical or other assistance.

(4)  A skier shall accept all legal responsibility for injury or damage of any kind to the extent that the injury or damage results from inherent dangers and risks of skiing. Nothing in this part may be construed to limit a skier’s right to hold another skier legally accountable for damages caused by the other skier.

23-2-737  Repealed.

Sec. 5, Ch. 429, L. 1989.

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

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Equine laws stop suit against horse, outfitter still sued.

Those familiar with the legal system are more likely to sue, and physicians are very familiar with the system.

The plaintiff and her family went to Montana to vacation and rented horses from the defendant. During the ride, the plaintiff fell off her horse. The article describes numerous damages and loss of income claims before getting to the legal issues of the case. I suspect the plaintiff’s attorney is pushing this issue or even issued a press release to validate to the jury pool how valuable this claim is. (Jury Pool is the group of potential jurors who could be called for a trial.)

Before the trail ride the plaintiff told the guide she had previous experience. Allegedly, she told the guide before the start that her horse was difficult to control. During the ride, her horse “crowded” the horse in front of her. “Eventually, the horse in front of Plaskon [plaintiff] got tired of being crowded and kicked at her horse, which started bucking and threw her off.” The allegations went on to claim:

She claims the lodge, and outfitters were negligent and displayed “willful or wanton disregard” for her safety. Along with seeking actual damages for her medical costs and loss of income, [plaintiff] is asking to be awarded punitive damages.

The defense attorney responded to the reporter by stating that the plaintiff “…signed a waiver of liability and indemnity agreement prior to going on the horseback ride.”

The first problem not brought up in this article is Montana has two statutes that seem to prohibit the use of a release, Mont. Code Anno., § 27-1-701 Liability for negligence as well as willful acts. Which states:

Except as otherwise provided by law, each person is responsible not only for the results of the person’s willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by the person’s want of ordinary care or skill in the management of the person’s property or person except so far as the person has willfully or by want of ordinary care brought the injury upon the person.

“Want of ordinary care or skill” is a term that could be closely defined as negligence.

And Mont. Code Anno., § 28-2-702 Contracts that violate policy of law — exemption from responsibility.

All contracts that have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for the person’s own fraud, for willful injury to the person or property of another, or for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.

This statute says that releases, or waivers, are void in Montana. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.) And although in most states, a definition of willful injury would mean greater than normal negligence, the statute later says negligence.

Trail_riding_pic_8

Montana does have an equine liability statute that may provide a defense in this case.

Where is this going? Its litigation so that it can go anywhere. Probably, the case will settle, but possibly we may see this posted here after a trial or hearing, and the case is appealed. Either way there was a probably a lack of understanding or too much involvement in the legal profession. (See People familiar with the legal system are more likely to sue) Physicians between training and experience are very familiar with the legal system and in some surveys is the most frequent group of plaintiffs in the US. Lawyers and people with lawyers in their family are also very likely to sue. Be aware when dealing with groups of people familiar with the legal system.

Furthermore, understand what state you are in and what laws may apply to your situation.

See Chico Hot Springs, outfitter sued by surgeon who fell from horse

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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In this cycle race case, the release was void by state law, but could still be used to prove assumption of the risk.

Ganz vs. United States Cycling Federation, 1994 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 756

At trial it is too late to find out that the release you had everyone sign has no value.

This is a motion hearing in Federal District Court for the great Western Stage Race held in Missoula. Montana by statute does not allow the use of a release. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release. The plaintiff was attempting to have two issues precluded from the trail:

·        The fact the defendant was a non-profit.

·        The fact the plaintiff signed  a release which is void under Montana’s law.

To do that, you file a motion in limine. A motion in limine argues before the judge that because of a statute or the laws of evidence something the other side is going to try to say or introduce as evidence should be excluded. See Why accident reports can come back to haunt youfor more on motions in limine.

The facts that gave rise to the case are the plaintiff was a competitor in the bicycle race. During the race, a pedestrian darted out in front of him and caused him to crash. He was claiming, “alleges negligence on the part of the Defendants for failure to create, establish, follow, and/or enforce appropriate safety standards on the race course.”

The first issue, the non-profit status of the defendant was quickly granted. Because most states have statutes, which state a non-profit is the same as a for-profit corporation, the issue of the defendant being a non-profit would only prejudice the jury.

The second issue, the release is of more interest. Pursuant to Montana’s law, a release is void and against public policy.

M.C.A. § 28-2-702  Contracts that violate policy of law — exemption from responsibility.

All contracts that have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for the person’s own fraud, for willful injury to the person or property of another, or for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.

So the release signed by the plaintiff in this case could not be used as a release. The plaintiff’s motion in limine was to exclude the release for any purpose; the jury would never know a release was signed.

So?

The court held the release could be used but only to the extent to show the portion of the release which showed that he was aware of the risks of the race.

The mention of the release form for the purpose of proving that no liability exists is prohibited.  However, the Defendants should be allowed to show that Mr. Ganz [the plaintiff] signed that portion of the release which shows that he was aware of the dangers on the race course, without actually showing the release in its entirety to the jury.

Dependent upon how the release was written and the statement of the risks in the release, this could be a powerful document showing the plaintiff knew of and assumed the risks.

So Now What?

Make sure your release is written to include the risks of the activity or program. There are several reasons for doing this.

·        Guests who have no clue will have a better time if they understand the risks.

·        Guests who read about the risks have a better understanding of the risks and decided if this is the type of opportunity they want to take.

·        If your release is thrown out, you can still use the release as proof the plaintiff assumed the risk.

You can’t write all the risks into a release. However, you can write in the following:

1.      Those injuries that are common to the activity or program.

2.    Those injuries that can cause permanent injury or death.

3.    Those risks which are different in your activity from the normal or competitive activities.

The second group is easy to identify. If it is rock climbing, it is falling or having something fall on you resulting in permanent injury or death. In paddlesports it is drowning, hypothermia, or a “near-drowning” resulting in brain injury.

The first is also easy. Look at every injury you have ever seen in your activity. Injuries from falling on the hike to the base of the climb or falling down carrying a boat to the river. After lunch on the river, people sit on a hot raft getting a burn or rope burn while belaying. Those injuries that are not life threatening but occur regularly and deplete your stock of band aids.

The third category is a little harder. How is your program or activity different from the rest of the people in your industry. If the majority of climbing walls have padding on the floor, and yours does not you should identify this as a risk. In cycling, you need to identify if you have a closed course, a race course without cars on it is critical for participants to know.

As always, you have to have your release created by someone who understands your risks, your sport your activity and knows how to write a release.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Ganz vs. United States Cycling Federation, 1994 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 756

Ganz vs. United States Cycling Federation, 1994 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 756

Adam Ganz, Plaintiff, vs. United States Cycling Federation; Missoula Downtown Association; The City of Missoula; and John Does as employees and/or agents of United States Cycling Federation, Missoula Downtown Association, and/or the City of Missoula, Defendants.

Cause No. 74659

FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF MONTANA, MISSOULA COUNTY

1994 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 756

May 17, 1994, Decided

CORE TERMS: non-profit, admissible, limine, release form, limine to exclude, corporate status, feasibility, bicycle

JUDGES: [*1] Douglas G. Harkin, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: Douglas G. Harkin

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court upon a motion in limine submitted by the Plaintiff, Adam Ganz, and a motion in limine submitted by Defendants United States Cycling Federation and the Missoula Downtown Association. The parties have briefed the motions and they are deemed submitted and ready for ruling.

BACKGROUND

This action arose out of the alleged personal injuries Mr. Ganz received while involved in the Great Western Stage Race held in Missoula on July 16, 1988. Mr. Ganz alleges that a pedestrian darted out in front of him on the race course and caused him to crash his bicycle. He alleges negligence on the part of the Defendants for failure to create, establish, follow, and/or enforce appropriate safety standards on the race course. Mr. Ganz filed a motion in limine to exclude any mention of: (1) the Defendants’ non-profit corporate status, or (2) a waiver of liability that he signed. The Defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude the mention of insurance.

NON-PROFIT STATUS

Mr. Ganz contends that any mention of the non-profit corporate status of Defendants Missoula Downtown [*2] Association and the United States Cycling Federation should be prohibited, as non-profit corporations are subject to the same liability as individuals. He contends that the mention of the non-profit status would be prejudicial to his case.

The Defendants argue that the feasibility of providing protection [i.e., a fence along the entire race course] is at issue, therefore, the non-profit corporate status is a consideration and should be held admissible. In addition, the Defendants contend that the non-profit status should be admissible for general background purposes in order to challenge Mr. Ganz’s testimony that the Defendants had the ability to protect the entire race course.

35-2-118, M.C.A. provides that a non-profit corporation has all the powers as an individual to do all things necessary or convenient to carry out its affairs, including, without limitation, the power to sue and be sued in its corporate name.

Any admission of the non-profit status for general background purposes is prohibited, as it may improperly imply that there is a lack of funds to pay a judgment, or that a non-profit business should be held to a lesser standard under a negligence claim. If the [*3] feasibility of protection arises, after obtaining leave of the Court, the Defendants can show what funds were available for protection without showing the corporations’ non-profit status.

WAIVER

Mr. Ganz contends that there should be no mention of the waiver which Mr. Ganz signed prior to the race, as it is void and in violation of public policy. The Defendants contend that Mr. Ganz’s signature on the release form conveys his acknowledgement that various conditions could exist on the race course, and that it is contrary to his testimony that bicycle racing is a safe sport, therefore, the release should be admissible for impeachment purposes.

28-2-702, M.C.A. provides that an entity cannot contractually exculpate itself from liability for willful or negligent violations of legal duties. Miller v. Fallon County, 222 Mont. 214, 221, 721 P.2d 342 (1986). The mention of the release form for the purpose of proving that no liability exists is prohibited. However, the Defendants should be allowed to show that Mr. Ganz signed that portion of the release which shows that he was aware of the dangers on the race course, without actually showing the release in its entirety [*4] to the jury.

INSURANCE

The Defendants request that the mention of insurance be prohibited pursuant to Rule 411, M.R.E. Mr. Ganz contends that the rule does not require the exclusion of the mention of insurance if it is offered for other purposes, such as to prove agency, ownership, control, or bias of a witness. Heisler v. Boule, 226 Mont. 332, 735 P.2d 516 (1987); and Massman v. City of Helena, 237 Mont. 234, 773 P.2d 1206 (1989).

Mr. Ganz has not clearly enunciated how the exceptions to Rule 411, M.R.E. are applicable to the facts of this case, therefore, the mention of insurance is prohibited unless Mr. Ganz obtains prior approval of this Court.

ORDER

Based upon the foregoing, the Plaintiff’s and the Defendants’ motions in limine are GRANTED as provided herein.

DATED this 17th day of May, 1994.

Douglas G. Harkin

District Judge

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Upky v. Marshall Mountain, Llc, 2008 MT 90; 342 Mont. 273; 180 P.3d 651; 2008 Mont. LEXIS 94

Upky v. Marshall Mountain, Llc, 2008 MT 90; 342 Mont. 273; 180 P.3d 651; 2008 Mont. LEXIS 94

CHAD UPKY, Plaintiff, v. MARSHALL MOUNTAIN, LLC, Defendant, and MARSHALL MOUNTAIN, LLC, Third-Party Plaintiff and Appellant, v. BOARD OF MISSOULA, INC. and BOARD OF MISSOULA, LLC, Third-Party Defendants and Appellees.
DA 06-0109
SUPREME COURT OF MONTANA
2008 MT 90; 342 Mont. 273; 180 P.3d 651; 2008 Mont. LEXIS 94
May 16, 2007, Submitted on Briefs
March 18, 2008, Decided
April 3, 2008, Released for Publication
PRIOR HISTORY:
APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV 02-112. Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge.
Upky v. Marshall Mt., 2004 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 3716 (2004)
CASE SUMMARY:
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiff accident victim brought a negligence suit against defendant ski area owner, which in turn filed a complaint against third-party defendant ski jump builder for contribution or indemnification. After a jury trial on the third-party complaint, the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, County of Missoula (Montana), entered judgment in favor of the builder. The owner appealed.
OVERVIEW: After the ski area owner and the accident victim came to a settlement, the ski jump builder was allowed to amend its answer to the owner’s complaint, pursuant to M.R. Civ.P. 15(a), to include a claim that the victim’s negligence, in combination with that of the owner, caused his injuries. The supreme court held that the trial court did not err when it permitted the builder to amend its answer, and that even if there was error, it was harmless because: (1) the jury, in determining that the builder was not negligent, did not reach the question whether the victim was negligent; and (2) thus there was no prejudice to the owner. The supreme court also held that the record demonstrated that substantial credible evidence supported the jury’s verdict that the builder was not negligent; because the evidence was conflicting; the supreme court deferred to the jury’s determination as to which evidence was more credible.
OUTCOME: The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
CORE TERMS: jump, amend, bamboo, poles, jury verdict, comparative negligence, skiers, ski, credible evidence, constructed, prejudiced, snowboard, morning, jury’s decision, conflicting evidence, unfinished, harmless, ski area, snowboarders, patrol, verdict form, responsive pleading, reasonable mind, inspected, non-party, apportion, predicate, credible, manager, marked
COUNSEL: For Appellant: Gig A. Tollefsen, Berg, Lilly & Tollefsen, P.C., Bozeman, Montana.
For Appellees: Maxon R. Davis, Davis, Hatley, Haffeman & Tighe, Great Falls, Montana.
JUDGES: JOHN WARNER. We Concur: JIM RICE, JAMES C. NELSON, PATRICIA COTTER, BRIAN MORRIS.
OPINION BY: John Warner
OPINION
[***652] [**274] Justice John Warner delivered the Opinion of the Court. [*P1] Third-party plaintiff Marshall Mountain, LLC (Marshall Mountain) appeals from a judgment entered in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, in favor of third-party defendants Board of Missoula, Inc. and Board of Missoula, LLC (Board of Missoula), dismissing its third party complaint after a jury verdict in Board of Missoula’s favor.
[*P2] We restate and address the issues on appeal as follows:
[*P3] 1. Did the District Court err when it granted Board of Missoula’s motion to amend its answer to allege comparative negligence by Chad Upky?
[*P4] 2. Was the jury’s verdict that Board of Missoula was not negligent supported by substantial credible evidence?
BACKGROUND
[*P5] On February 12, 1999, eighteen year old Chad Upky was rendered a paraplegic in a skiing accident at Marshall Mountain ski area. The injuries occurred when Upky skied over a ski jump ramp constructed at Marshall Mountain for use in an upcoming snowboard competition. Upky became inverted when he skied over the jump and was injured when he landed.
[**275] [*P6] Board of Missoula was a local snowboard shop that in the years before Upky’s accident had worked with Marshall Mountain to construct jumps for use in snowboard competitions at the ski area. In prior years, the jumps had been constructed up to two weeks before the competition and had remained open for use by skiers at Marshall Mountain. In 1999, Marshall Mountain’s [***653] owner, Bruce Doering, and Board of Missoula’s co-owner, Wright Hollingsworth, agreed to construct a jump for use in that year’s competition. The ski jump on which Upky was injured was constructed two days before the accident. Doering later claimed, on behalf of Marshall Mountain, that he understood the jump would be open for use before the February 1999 competition. To the contrary, Hollingsworth asserted that he and Doering had agreed the jump would be closed prior to the 1999 competition.
[*P7] On Wednesday, February 10, 1999, before the snowboard competition scheduled for the next Saturday, Hollingsworth went to Marshall Mountain after the ski area closed for the evening and built the jump with the help of Marshall Mountain’s snowcat operator, Tyson Miller. Miller and Hollingsworth worked on the jump from about 10:00 p.m. Wednesday night until 2:00 a.m. the next morning. Hollingsworth later said that he wanted to hand finish the jump in the daylight using shovels. It was his opinion that the jump should not be opened for use until it was finished. He said that before he left early Thursday morning he laid bamboo poles across the jump to indicate that it was closed. Hollingsworth said that he believed the ski patrol would see the bamboo poles when they inspected the area in the morning and would keep the jump closed. Later, members of the ski patrol and other employees of Marshall Mountain disagreed about whether there were bamboo poles across the jump on Thursday morning.
[*P8] No matter whether Hollingsworth had marked the jump as closed with bamboo poles, the jump was open for use by skiers and snowboarders that Thursday and again on Friday. Doering and the ski patrol examined the jump, and it was left open for skiers and snowboarders. Doering stated that he had ultimate authority on whether or not to allow Marshall Mountain patrons to use the jump. Several employees of Marshall Mountain used the jump with no problem.
[*P9] On Friday, the day of Upky’s accident, the jump was open throughout the day. Late in the day, a Marshall Mountain employee suggested to Doering that they close the jump due to changing snow [**276] and lighting conditions. However, Doering decided to keep the jump open. Chris Laws, Board of Missoula’s retail manager, was at Marshall Mountain on Friday. He noticed the jump was open, even though he understood it was supposed to be closed.
[*P10] On Friday evening, Upky and some friends approached the jump. Upky claimed that he tried to slow himself going into the jump by snowplowing with his skis and went over the jump at a controlled speed. Other witnesses to the accident, including Doering and Laws, stated the Upky “bombed” the jump by going into it extremely fast. Upky suffered severe injuries as a result of his fall, including a broken neck that resulted in his paraplegia.
[*P11] In 2002, Upky brought suit against Marshall Mountain, alleging that its negligence was the cause of his injuries. Upky made no claim against Board of Missoula. In its answer, Marshall Mountain denied any negligence and asserted affirmative defenses, including Upky’s comparative negligence. Marshall Mountain filed a third-party complaint against Board of Missoula seeking contribution or indemnification, asserting that Board of Missoula was responsible for any negligence in the construction of the jump. In its answer, Board of Missoula denied it had been negligent and went on to claim that the jump was unfinished when Upky used it and that it had cordoned off the jump to prevent its use prior to the competition, but Marshall Mountain negligently allowed the use of the jump on the day of Upky’s accident. Subsequently, Board of Missoula, in response to a request for admission, admitted that it had left the jump in an unfinished condition and that it was dangerous. However, it qualified the admission to state that the actions of Marshall Mountain in removing the bamboo poles marking the jump closed and allowing its patrons to use the jump were careless and caused Upky’s injuries.
[*P12] Following discovery, Board of Missoula moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not negligent as a matter of law. The District Court denied the motion for summary judgment in November 2003.
[***654] [*P13] In December 2003, Marshall Mountain and Upky settled Upky’s claim. In March 2004, the District Court noted that because of the settlement only Marshall Mountain’s claims against Board of Missoula remained to be litigated; Upky’s claims against Marshall Mountain were later dismissed.
[*P14] In July 2004, Board of Missoula moved to amend its answer, pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 15(a), to include a claim that Upky’s negligence, in combination with that of Marshall Mountain, caused his [**277] injuries, and to have the jury determine the extent of his negligence as a non-party under § 27-1-703, MCA. Board of Missoula’s amended answer reasserted the claim in the original answer that Board of Missoula was not negligent and Marshall Mountain was negligent for allowing skiers to use the unfinished jump. The amended answer only added the assertion that both Upky and Marshall Mountain caused or contributed to the damages alleged by Upky. Board of Missoula did not attempt to withdraw its admission that the jump was dangerous. Marshall Mountain opposed the motion, arguing that it came too late and the amendment adding a claim of comparative negligence by Upky would be unfairly prejudicial. The District Court granted the motion to amend.
[*P15] A jury trial on the third-party complaint began December 5, 2005. At trial, numerous witnesses provided conflicting evidence on the events surrounding Upky’s injuries. The witnesses’ testimony varied widely on whether Doering and Hollingsworth had agreed to close the jump prior to the competition, whether Hollingsworth placed bamboo poles on the jump, and how dangerous, if at all, the jump was for skiers and snowboarders. There was also conflicting evidence regarding the exact circumstances of Upky’s fall, specifically how far away he was when he began approaching the jump and how fast he went over the jump.
[*P16] The special verdict form submitted to the jury first instructed it to determine if Board of Missoula was negligent. Only if the jury found that Board of Missoula was negligent was it to decide if Upky and Marshall Mountain were also negligent and fix the percentages of negligence. The jury returned its verdict finding that Board of Missoula was not negligent. Thus, it did not apportion fault. The District Court entered a final judgment in favor of Board of Missoula. Marshall Mountain appeals.
DISCUSSION
[*P17] Issue 1: Did the District Court err when it granted Board of Missoula’s motion to amend its answer to allege comparative negligence by Chad Upky?
[*P18] The Montana Rules of Civil Procedure provide for amendments to pleadings:
[HN1] A party may amend the party’s pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served or, if the pleading is one to which no responsive pleading is permitted and the action has not been placed upon the trial calendar, the party [**278] may so amend it at any time within 20 days after it is served. Otherwise a party may amend the party’s pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.
M. R. Civ. P. 15(a). [HN2] While amendments are not permitted in every circumstance, we have emphasized that, as Rule 15(a) states, leave to amend should be “freely given” by district courts. Loomis v. Luraski, 2001 MT 223, P 41, 306 Mont. 478, P 41, 36 P.3d 862, P 41. District courts should permit a party to amend the pleadings when, inter alia, allowing an amendment would not cause undue prejudice to the opposing party. Prentice Lumber Co. v. Hukill, 161 Mont. 8, 17, 504 P.2d 277, 282 (1972) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S. Ct. 227, 230, 9 L. Ed. 2d 222 (1962)).
[*P19] Marshall Mountain claims it was prejudiced by the amendment to the pleadings which allowed the jury to consider Upky’s negligence. However, the jury heard all of the evidence concerning the actions of Board of Missoula presented by Marshall Mountain, which included the admission that the jump was dangerous, and nevertheless determined that Board of Missoula was not negligent. Thus, it did not reach the question [***655] of whether Upky was negligent. As the jury did not consider any negligence on the part of Upky in reaching its verdict, there was no prejudice to Marshall Mountain. [HN3] When a special verdict requires a jury to answer a question only if it first determines that a predicate question is answered in the affirmative, and the jury answers the predicate question in the negative, we have consistently held that the party objecting to the submission of the second, unanswered question is not prejudiced. Under such circumstances we consider any error harmless, and decline to interfere with the jury’s decision. See e.g. Payne v. Knutson, 2004 MT 271, PP 17-18, 323 Mont. 165, PP 17-18, 99 P.3d 200, PP 17-18 (concluding there was no prejudice to the plaintiff where the jury was not instructed to apportion negligence among the defendants because the jury found the plaintiff was more than 50% negligent and thus could not recover); Peschke v. Carroll College, 280 Mont. 331, 343, 929 P.2d 874, 881 (1996) (concluding that although a district court erred in admitting a videotape, it went to the issue of causation, which the jury did not reach, and the error was thus harmless); Drilcon, Inc. v. Roil Energy Corp., 230 Mont. 166, 173, 749 P.2d 1058, 1062 (1988) (declining to address appellant’s argument that the special verdict form erroneously included non-parties because the jury apportioned negligence only among the parties to the action and appellant was not prejudiced).
[**279] [*P20] We affirm the District Court’s order allowing Board of Missoula to amend the pleadings to allege Upky’s comparative negligence because Marshall Mountain was not prejudiced by it and any error was harmless.
[*P21] Issue 2: Was the jury’s verdict that Board of Missoula was not negligent supported by substantial credible evidence?
[*P22] [HN4] This Court does not review a jury verdict to determine if it was correct. We review a jury’s decision only to determine if substantial credible evidence in the record supports the verdict. Campbell v. Canty, 1998 MT 278, P 17, 291 Mont. 398, P 17, 969 P.2d 268, P 17; Wise v. Ford Motor Co., 284 Mont. 336, 343, 943 P.2d 1310, 1314 (1997). Substantial evidence is “evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion” and may be less than a preponderance of the evidence but must be more than a “mere scintilla.” Campbell, P 18.
[*P23] [HN5] It is the role of the jury to determine the weight and credibility of the evidence, and this Court will defer to the jury’s role. Seeley v. Kreitzberg Rentals, LLC, 2007 MT 97, P 21, 337 Mont. 91, P 21, 157 P.3d 676, P 21, overruled on other grounds, Giambra v. Kelsey, 2007 MT 158, P 27, 338 Mont. 19, P 27, 162 P.3d 134, P 27. [HN6] We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Where conflicting evidence exists, we will not overturn a jury’s decision to believe one party over another. Samson v. State, 2003 MT 133, P 11, 316 Mont. 90, P 11, 69 P.3d 1154, P 11.
[*P24] The record before us demonstrates that substantial credible evidence supports the jury’s verdict that Board of Missoula was not negligent. Hollingsworth testified that he and Doering agreed the jump would be closed prior to the competition. Hollingsworth also testified that he had marked the jump closed with bamboo poles the night it was constructed, and other testimony supported this assertion. There was also evidence that only Marshall Mountain had the ultimate decision-making authority to open or close the jump. Marshall Mountain’s manager, Doering, testified he inspected the jump and thought it was safe. This evidence, which does not include the testimony describing Upky’s actions, provided the jury with an adequate basis to support its decision that Board of Missoula was not negligent. Campbell, P 18.
[*P25] There is also evidence which would tend to show Board of Missoula was negligent. However, because the evidence is conflicting we defer to the jury’s determination as to which evidence is more credible. Seeley, P 21. We conclude that the record contains sufficient [**280] evidence for reasonable minds to conclude that Board of Missoula was not negligent.
[***656] CONCLUSION
[*P26] The District Court did not err when it permitted Board of Missoula to amend its answer, and the jury verdict is supported by substantial credible evidence.
[*P27] Affirmed.
/S/ JOHN WARNER
We Concur:
/S/ JIM RICE
/S/ JAMES C. NELSON
/S/ PATRICIA COTTER
/S/ BRIAN MORRIS


States that do not Support the Use of a Release

Assumption of the risk is your best defense in these states

These states do not allow a recreational business or program to use a release to stop litigation.

State

Citation

Issues

Releases are Void

Louisiana

C.C. Art. 2004 (2005)

Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for intentional or gross fault that causes damage to the other party. Any clause is null that, in advance, excludes or limits the liability of one party for causing physical injury to the other party.

Montana

MCA § 27-1-702

   All contracts that have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for the person’s own fraud, for willful injury to the person or property of another, or for violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.

Virginia

Johnson’s Adm’x v. Richmond and Danville R.R. Co., 86 Va. 975, 11 S.E. 829 (1890)

Use of a Release is Restricted

Arizona

Phelps v. Firebird Raceway, Inc., 2005 Ariz. LEXIS 53

New Mexico

Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332;2002 NMCA 60;48

P.3d 70;2002 N.M. App. 39;41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25

West Virginia

Kyriazis v. University of West Virginia; 192 W. Va. 60; 450 S.E.2d 649;

1994 W. Va. LEXIS 161

Use of Releases is Probably Void

Connecticut

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 276 Conn. 314, 885 A.2d 734 (2005) and Reardon v. Windswept Farm, LLC, Et Al., 280 Conn. 153; 905 A.2d 1156; 2006

Conn. LEXIS 330

Wisconsin

Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2

Vermont

Dalury v. S-K-I, Ltd, 164 Vt 329; 670 A.2d 795; 1995 Vt. Lexis 127

Specific uses of Releases are Void

Alaska

Sec. 05.45.120(a).  Use of liability releases

A ski area operator may not require a skier to sign an agreement releasing the ski area operator from liability in exchange for the right to ride a ski area tramway and ski in the ski area. A release that violates this subsection is void and may not be enforced.

Hawaii

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511 (D. Haw. 2004)

Found that Hawaii statute § 663-1.54.  Recreational activity liability prevented the use of a release

New York

General Obligation Law §  5-326. Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable

Every covenant, agreement or understanding in or in connection with, or collateral to, any contract, membership application, ticket of admission or similar writing, entered into between the owner or operator of any pool, gymnasium, place of amusement or recreation, or similar establishment and the user of such facilities, pursuant to which such owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for the use of such facilities, which exempts the said owner or operator from liability for damages caused by or resulting from the negligence of the owner, operator or person in charge of such establishment, or their agents, servants or employees, shall be deemed to be void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.

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