South Dakota in Federal District Court decision seems to allow a release to stop the claims for a minor.

Release was effective in stopping ordinary negligence claims; however, the gross negligence claims were allowed to continue.

Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

State: South Dakota, United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division

Plaintiff: Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; and Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor

Defendant: Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For both plaintiff and defendant, but proceeding to trial

Year: 2018

Summary

The minor child was injured on a tubing hill when her tube stopped in the middle of the hill, and she was hit and injured by her brother coming after her. The release the parents signed stopped the ordinary negligence claim but under South Dakota, law did not stop a claim for gross negligence.

There was no discussion in the decision as to whether the release stopped the claims of the minor child, the injured plaintiff. It just seemed to be taken for granted by the court, or at least not argued by the plaintiffs.

Facts

On March 13, 2015, Brad and Tara Reed brought their children to the defendant’s resort near Lead, South Dakota, for an afternoon of recreational snow tubing.1 The resort was owned and operated by Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner. Among the Reeds’ children with them that day was seven-year-old I.R. Accompanying the Reeds were another couple and Alex, a social worker from the Philippines.

Upon arriving shortly before noon, the Reed party entered the lodge area where customers are required to check in and purchase admission tickets for the resort. The Reeds purchased snow tubing day passes for themselves and their children, including I.R. As a condition of allowing I.R. to use the resort, Union required the Reeds to agree to a written release of liability. The Reeds signed the release and printed the names of each of their children, including I.R., as participants.

The Reeds understood the document was a release of liability agreement and that, by signing, they would be relinquishing certain unspecified rights. They did not ask any questions about the release. The release informed resort participants that tubing activities are extremely hazardous and can result in personal injury. The Reeds understood that tubing carried with it a degree of risk, including risk of trauma to the head, and that I.R. would be exposed to this risk.

After signing the release and paying the admission fee, the Reeds and their kids received individual tickets for the tube park. Those tickets included additional warnings.

At the resort, there are numerous bright red signs that provide instructions and warnings to participants. Among the messages on some of the signs was a warning that collisions with other tubers was one of the dangers of tubing. Other signs instructed the tubers to follow the attendant’s instructions and to wait for the attendant’s signal before starting [down the tube run]. The Reeds do not recall whether they saw or read any of these signs.

The Reeds were directed to select tubes from the resort’s selection of tubes, which they did. Defendant had approximately 50 to 70 tubes in inventory at the time, but there is no evidence how many of these tubes had already been selected by prior guests. No employee of defendant selected the tubes for the Reeds. Several defendant employees testified at their depositions that it was a practice at the resort to leave tubes with tears in the bottoms in circulation for guests to use. The employees explained that such tubes were slower and slower equated to safer in their minds.

During the Reeds’ stay at the resort, they went down the tube runs approximately 15 to 20 times. Two of the four tube runs at the resort were open that day. During the Reeds’ runs, there were two defendant employees at the bottom of the tube runs assisting guests with the tow rope (which towed guests to the top of the run).

On approximately two of the Reeds’ 15-20 tubing runs, there was a young man at the top of the tube runs who also appeared to be a resort employee with a radio in his possession. However, the young man never monitored the tube runs, never gave instructions to tubers, and never staged tubers going down the tube runs. “Staging” means controlling the entry of guests onto the tube runs to ensure that the prior tuber has finished the run and cleared the area before the next tuber is allowed to begin his or her descent. There was no staging and, instead, tubers decided themselves when to begin their descent, a situation Brad Reed described as a “free-for-all.”

At approximately 2 p.m., the Reeds decided to take one last run down the tube runs before leaving the resort. Up to this point, the Reeds had experienced no concerns or incidents. Up to this final run, I.R. had always completed her run down the slope as part of a group or with one of her parents. On the final run, she asked to be allowed to go down the tube run by herself, to which her parents agreed. Mrs. Reed told I.R. they would go down the run together, parallel to each other in each of the two open tube runs. At this point, Alex was directly behind I.R. in line for the same tube lane. Mr. Reed was behind Alex in the same line.

Once both lanes were clear, Mrs. Reed and I.R. began their descents. Mrs. Reed went all the way down the run, but I.R.’s tube stopped approximately 3/4 of the way down the slope. While I.R. was stopped, Alex began her descent before I.R. cleared the lane. When Alex’s tube reached I.R.’s tube, they collided. No defendant employee told Alex to begin her descent, but no defendant employee was present at the top of the run to tell her, instruct her, or prevent her from beginning her descent until I.R. cleared the lane.

From the top of the slope, Mr. Reed testified Alex should have been able to see I.R. had not cleared the lane had Alex been paying attention. Mr. Reed himself was able to observe the collision from his vantage point at the top of the slope.

After the accident, the Reeds observed an approximately 8-inch hole in the bottom of I.R.’s tube that had filled with snow. Defendant asserts it was its policy to stow the tubes under the deck each night and to pull them out the next day for guests’ use. Defendant asserts employees were directed to observe the tubes for significant tears or defects and to remove defective tubes during this process. However, several defendant employees testified they left tubes with tears in their bottoms in rotation for guest use because the tears would slow the tuber down as they descended the slope. Employees believed a slower descent was a safer descent.

If a lightweight child descended the slope with a tube with a tear in it, sometimes the tube would stop mid-way down the slope and a defendant employee would have to walk up the slope to retrieve the child. In such an instance, the defendant employee at the bottom of the slope would radio the employee at the top and tell them to stop sending guests down the slope until the child was retrieved and taken to the bottom.

No photograph was taken of I.R.’s tube at the beginning of the day, after the accident, or at any other time on the day of the accident. It is unknown if the tear in the bottom of her tube was there from the start of the day or whether the tear occurred during the Reeds’ use of the tube that day. The Reeds mixed and mingled the various tubes they checked out, so several members of the Reeds’ group could have used the accident tube at various times of the day.

The accident tube was the only tube checked out by the Reed group that had a tear in it. The Reeds did not notice the tear until after I.R.’s injury. The Reeds did not inform anyone at the resort about the tear in the tube after the accident occurred. There is no evidence that any defendant employee had specific knowledge that the Reeds had checked out a tube with a tear in it on the day of the accident, though defendant employees had general knowledge that such tubes were often retained in inventory because they were perceived to be “safer” because they were slower.

From the beginning of the 2010-11 season through the end of the 2014-15 season, defendant had incident reports of 17 collisions of tubers. During that same time frame, there were 72 total incident reports.3 Several of these collisions between tubers occurred within a few weeks and, in two examples, a few days, of I.R.’s collision. Specifically, there were 5 incident reports involving collisions between tubers going down the tube lane between December 30, 2014, and February 27, 2015. None of defendant’s incident reports record whether a hole in a tube contributed to the incident.

Defendant maintains that it had a proper protocol of having at least one employee at the top of the tube run and one employee at the bottom of the tube run at all times. The employee at the top of the tube run was supposed to “stage” the tubers going down. The employee at the bottom of the tube run would retrieve items lost by tubers going down the slope (hats, mittens, etc.) and also retrieve guests whose tubes stopped without fully descending the slope.

The Reeds assert defendant was chronically understaffed and that defendant made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run the day of I.R.’s accident. Defendant asserts the Reeds have no evidence to support the assertion that the decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run was a deliberate decision.

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

The plaintiff’s conceded that the release barred their claims for negligence, the first count in their complaint. That left the issue of whether the release barred their claims for gross negligence and whether they had pled enough facts to support a gross negligence claim.

Gross negligence under South Dakota law is the same as willful and wanton conduct:

Under South Dakota law, the phrase “gross negligence” is synonymous with the phrase “willful and wanton misconduct.” Both phrases refer “to a category of tort that is different in kind and characteristics than negligence.” Negligence occurs when one acts with an “unreasonable risk of harm to another.” Willful and wanton misconduct requires a risk of harm that is “substantially greater than that which is necessary to make the conduct negligent.” The threatened harm “must be an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.”

The major difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is the mental state of the defendant.

In addition, proof of a negligence claim focuses on the ordinary standard of care, while a gross negligence claim focuses on the defendant’s mental state. A defendant acts willfully and wantonly when it knows or has reason to know at the time of its actions of the dire risk and proceeds without concern for the safety of others. The standard does not require proof of intent to harm, but it does “partake to some appreciable extent … of the nature of a deliberate and intentional wrong.” Gross negligence requires “an affirmatively reckless state of mind.” There must be “a conscious realization that a serious physical injury was a probable, as distinguished from a possible (ordinary negligence), result of such conduct.”

That creates a two-step test to determine if the defendant was grossly negligent.

Summarizing the above case law, gross negligence is distinguished from ordinary negligence by two factors. The risk of harm must be greater for gross negligence—whereas under ordinary negligence, the risk of harm can be anything from negligible harm to death, the risk of harm for gross negligence must be death or serious harm. Secondly, the likelihood that harm will come about, phrased in terms of the defendant’s state of mind, must be greater. For example, if there is a 10 percent chance some harm will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure that harm does not come about, he is merely negligent. If there is an 85 percent chance serious harm or death will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure the harm does not occur, he has acted willfully and wantonly or with gross negligence.

The court’s analysis of the chance of the harm occurring is a way of looking at the differences between ordinary and gross negligence that I have never seen before.

The court looked at the facts as presented by both sides and found both lacking the information the court felt would prove the plaintiff’s case. However, the court made this statement.

Under the law of gross negligence, South Dakota has recognized a plaintiff will rarely have direct evidence of the defendant’s state of mind. Rather, state of mind must be inferred from the circumstances. Id. Also, under the law of summary judgment, all inferences from the facts must be made in favor of the nonmoving party, Both sources of law, then, support taking the Reeds’ view of the inference to be drawn from the fact that defendant was chronically understaffed and did not have an employee stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident.

So, with the inferences created by the plaintiffs about the state of mind of the tubing hill, the court held that there was enough information plead to allow the gross negligence claim to continue.

The court then looked at the assumption of the risk argument made by the defendant. There was no case law in South Dakota stating that assumption of the risk was a defense to gross negligence, so the court held that assumption of the risk would not stop the gross negligence claim.

So Now What?

What did not arise in this case is whether the release stopped the claims of the minor child. The case was captioned as the parents suing on behalf of their minor child. In that regard, the release would bar the claims of the parents. However, this is a different way of suing on behalf of a minor, not away normally done in most states any more.

Also, this is a decision by a Federal District Court applying South Dakota law so, whether a not a release stops a minor’s claims is probably still up in the air until the South Dakota Supreme Court decides the issue.

However, it is a decision to lean on if you have participants who are minors in your program.

The other issues are classic situations where the defendant looks at a situation one way as a positive for patrons but the injured patron is able to turn the situation around and use it as a club against the defendant. Torn tubes were regarded by the defendant as good because they were slower than the other tubes. However, a torn tube is not a product that is 100%, in the condition it was received from the manufacturer. It was a defective product. So, the plaintiff was able to show the defendant was derelict in using them.

If they placed the tubes in a different location with a sign that said, slower tubes it might have been helpful.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225856, 2018 WL 8332583

United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division

November 15, 2018, Decided; November 15, 2018, Filed

5:17-CV-05047-JLV

Reporter

Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; and Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a Minor; Plaintiffs, vs. Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner, Defendant.

Subsequent History: Objection overruled by, Adopted by, Summary judgment granted by, in part, Summary judgment denied by, in part Reed v. Union Resort, LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49327 (D.S.D., Mar. 25, 2019)

Counsel:  [*1] For Brad Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a minor, other, I.R., Tara Reed, Individually and as Joint Limited Conservators of I.R., a minor, other, I.R., Plaintiffs: Kenneth E. Barker, LEAD ATTORNEY, Barker Wilson Law Firm, LLP, Belle Fourche, SD.

For Union Resort, LLC, doing business as Mystic Miner, Defendant: Shane E. Eden, LEAD ATTORNEY, Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith, LLP, Sioux Falls, SD.

Judges: VERONICA L. DUFFY, United States Magistrate Judge.

Opinion by: VERONICA L. DUFFY

Opinion

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the amended complaint of Brad and Tara Reed as conservators of I.R., their minor daughter. See Docket No. 16. The Reeds allege claims of negligence and gross negligence against defendant Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner (defendant) arising out of a tubing accident at defendant’s ski resort. Id. This matter rests on the court’s diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Defendant has now filed a motion for summary judgment. See Docket No. 21. The Reeds oppose the motion. See Docket No. 30. The motion was referred to this magistrate judge for a recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the order of referral dated November 11, 2018 (Doc. 42), and the [*2]  October 16, 2014, standing order of the Honorable Jeffrey L. Viken, Chief United States District Judge.

FACTS

Defendant filed a statement of undisputed material facts, Docket No. 22, to which the Reeds have responded, Docket No. 31. The following facts have been drawn from those pleadings with disputes or discrepancies as noted.

On March 13, 2015, Brad and Tara Reed brought their children to the defendant’s resort near Lead, South Dakota, for an afternoon of recreational snow tubing.1 The resort was owned and operated by Union Resort, LLC, dba Mystic Miner. Among the Reeds’ children with them that day was seven-year-old I.R. Accompanying the Reeds were another couple and Alex, a social worker from the Philippines.

Upon arriving shortly before noon, the Reed party entered the lodge area where customers are required to check in and purchase admission tickets for the resort. The Reeds purchased snow tubing day passes for themselves and their children, including I.R. As a condition of allowing I.R. to use the resort, Union required the Reeds to agree to a written release of liability. The Reeds signed the release and printed the names of each of their children, including I.R., as participants. [*3] 

The Reeds understood the document was a release of liability agreement and that, by signing, they would be relinquishing certain unspecified rights. They did not ask any questions about the release. The release informed resort participants that tubing activities are extremely hazardous and can result in personal injury. The Reeds understood that tubing carried with it a degree of risk, including risk of trauma to the head, and that I.R. would be exposed to this risk.

After signing the release and paying the admission fee, the Reeds and their kids received individual tickets for the tube park. Those tickets included additional warnings.

At the resort, there are numerous bright red signs that provide instructions and warnings to participants. Among the messages on some of the signs was a warning that collisions with other tubers was one of the dangers of tubing. Other signs instructed the tubers to follow the attendant’s instructions and to wait for the attendant’s signal before starting [down the tube run]. The Reeds do not recall whether they saw or read any of these signs.

The Reeds were directed to select tubes from the resort’s selection of tubes, which they did. Defendant had approximately [*4]  50 to 70 tubes in inventory at the time, but there is no evidence how many of these tubes had already been selected by prior guests. No employee of defendant selected the tubes for the Reeds. Several defendant employees testified at their depositions that it was a practice at the resort to leave tubes with tears in the bottoms in circulation for guests to use. The employees explained that such tubes were slower and slower equated to safer in their minds.

During the Reeds’ stay at the resort, they went down the tube runs approximately 15 to 20 times. Two of the four tube runs at the resort were open that day. During the Reeds’ runs, there were two defendant employees at the bottom of the tube runs assisting guests with the tow rope (which towed guests to the top of the run).

On approximately two of the Reeds’ 15-20 tubing runs, there was a young man at the top of the tube runs who also appeared to be a resort employee with a radio in his possession. However, the young man never monitored the tube runs, never gave instructions to tubers, and never staged tubers going down the tube runs. “Staging” means controlling the entry of guests onto the tube runs to ensure that the prior tuber has [*5]  finished the run and cleared the area before the next tuber is allowed to begin his or her descent. There was no staging and, instead, tubers decided themselves when to begin their descent, a situation Brad Reed described as a “free-for-all.”

At approximately 2 p.m., the Reeds decided to take one last run down the tube runs before leaving the resort. Up to this point, the Reeds had experienced no concerns or incidents. Up to this final run, I.R. had always completed her run down the slope as part of a group or with one of her parents. On the final run, she asked to be allowed to go down the tube run by herself, to which her parents agreed. Mrs. Reed told I.R. they would go down the run together, parallel to each other in each of the two open tube runs. At this point, Alex was directly behind I.R. in line for the same tube lane. Mr. Reed was behind Alex in the same line.

Once both lanes were clear, Mrs. Reed and I.R. began their descents. Mrs. Reed went all the way down the run, but I.R.’s tube stopped approximately 3/4 of the way down the slope. While I.R. was stopped, Alex began her descent before I.R. cleared the lane. When Alex’s tube reached I.R.’s tube, they collided. No defendant [*6]  employee told Alex to begin her descent, but no defendant employee was present at the top of the run to tell her, instruct her, or prevent her from beginning her descent until I.R. cleared the lane.

From the top of the slope, Mr. Reed testified Alex should have been able to see I.R. had not cleared the lane had Alex been paying attention. See Docket No. 25-5 at p. 7 (depo. pp. 25-26). Mr. Reed himself was able to observe the collision from his vantage point at the top of the slope. Id. at p. 6 (depo. pp. 22-24).2

After the accident, the Reeds observed an approximately 8-inch hole in the bottom of I.R.’s tube that had filled with snow. Defendant asserts it was its policy to stow the tubes under the deck each night and to pull them out the next day for guests’ use. Defendant asserts employees were directed to observe the tubes for significant tears or defects and to remove defective tubes during this process. However, several defendant employees testified they left tubes with tears in their bottoms in rotation for guest use because the tears would slow the tuber down as they descended the slope. Employees believed a slower descent was a safer descent.

If a lightweight child descended the slope with [*7]  a tube with a tear in it, sometimes the tube would stop mid-way down the slope and a defendant employee would have to walk up the slope to retrieve the child. In such an instance, the defendant employee at the bottom of the slope would radio the employee at the top and tell them to stop sending guests down the slope until the child was retrieved and taken to the bottom.

No photograph was taken of I.R.’s tube at the beginning of the day, after the accident, or at any other time on the day of the accident. It is unknown if the tear in the bottom of her tube was there from the start of the day or whether the tear occurred during the Reeds’ use of the tube that day. The Reeds mixed and mingled the various tubes they checked out, so several members of the Reeds’ group could have used the accident tube at various times of the day.

The accident tube was the only tube checked out by the Reed group that had a tear in it. The Reeds did not notice the tear until after I.R.’s injury. The Reeds did not inform anyone at the resort about the tear in the tube after the accident occurred. There is no evidence that any defendant employee had specific knowledge that the Reeds had checked out a tube with [*8]  a tear in it on the day of the accident, though defendant employees had general knowledge that such tubes were often retained in inventory because they were perceived to be “safer” because they were slower.

From the beginning of the 2010-11 season through the end of the 2014-15 season, defendant had incident reports of 17 collisions of tubers. During that same time frame, there were 72 total incident reports.3 Several of these collisions between tubers occurred within a few weeks and, in two examples, a few days, of I.R.’s collision. Specifically, there were 5 incident reports involving collisions between tubers going down the tube lane between December 30, 2014, and February 27, 2015. None of defendant’s incident reports record whether a hole in a tube contributed to the incident.

Defendant maintains that it had a proper protocol of having at least one employee at the top of the tube run and one employee at the bottom of the tube run at all times. The employee at the top of the tube run was supposed to “stage” the tubers going down. The employee at the bottom of the tube run would retrieve items lost by tubers going down the slope (hats, mittens, etc.) and also retrieve guests whose [*9]  tubes stopped without fully descending the slope.

The Reeds assert defendant was chronically understaffed and that defendant made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run the day of I.R.’s accident. Defendant asserts the Reeds have no evidence to support the assertion that the decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run was a deliberate decision.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

The court must view the facts, and inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962)); Helton v. Southland Racing Corp., 600 F.3d 954, 957 (8th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). Summary judgment will not lie if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994).

The burden is placed on the moving party to establish both the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once the movant has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but [*10]  must set forth specific facts, by affidavit or other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (each party must properly support its own assertions of fact and properly address the opposing party’s assertions of fact, as required by Rule 56(c)).

The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are “material” for purposes of a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. (citing 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice And Procedure § 2725, at 93-95 (3d ed. 1983)). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 247-48.

Essentially, the availability of summary judgment turns on whether a proper jury question is presented: “The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial—whether, in other words, there are any genuine [*11]  factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Id. at 250.

B. Does the Release Signed by the Reeds Bar Their Claims?

Defendant’s first argument in favor of its summary judgment motion is that the clear and plain language of the release signed by the Reeds bars their claims and that there is no overriding public policy that serves to neutralize the release.

South Dakota law4 provides that a valid release of liability bars claims for ordinary negligence, but does not bar claims for gross or willful negligence or recklessness. Holzer v. Dakota Speedway, Inc., 2000 SD 65, 610 N.W.2d 787, 792-93 (S.D. 2000). The Reeds do not argue that the release was invalid in any way or that the activity I.R. was engaged in when she was injured was outside the scope of the release. In fact, the Reeds concede that their first claim in their amended complaint for ordinary negligence is barred by defendant’s release. See Docket No. 30 at p. 5. Accordingly, the court recommends that defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to the Reeds’ claim for ordinary negligence, count one of the amended complaint, be granted.

C. Are There Material Factual Disputes as to Gross Negligence?

Defendant argues the facts alleged [*12]  by the Reeds, even if true, allege a claim for ordinary negligence only, not gross negligence. Thus, since ordinary negligence is barred by the release, defendant argues it should be granted summary judgment on the Reeds’ gross negligence claim too.

Under South Dakota law, the phrase “gross negligence” is synonymous with the phrase “willful and wanton misconduct.” Fischer v. City of Sioux Falls, 919 N.W.2d 211, 2018 SD 71, 2018 WL 4779267 at *2 (S.D., 2018). Both phrases refer “to a category of tort that is different in kind and characteristics than negligence.” Id. Negligence occurs when one acts with an “unreasonable risk of harm to another.” Id. (citing W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser & Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 34, at 212 (5th ed. 1984)). Willful and wanton misconduct requires a risk of harm that is “substantially greater than that which is necessary to make the conduct negligent.” Id. The threatened harm “must be an easily perceptible danger of death or substantial physical harm.” Id. (all quotes from Fischer cleaned up).

In addition, proof of a negligence claim focuses on the ordinary standard of care, while a gross negligence claim focuses on the defendant’s mental state. Id. 2018 SD 71, [WL] at *3. A defendant acts willfully and wantonly when it knows or has reason to know at the time of its actions [*13]  of the dire risk and proceeds without concern for the safety of others. Id. The standard does not require proof of intent to harm, but it does “partake to some appreciable extent … of the nature of a deliberate and intentional wrong.” Id. Gross negligence requires “an affirmatively reckless state of mind.” Id. There must be “a conscious realization that a serious physical injury was a probable, as distinguished from a possible (ordinary negligence), result of such conduct.” Id. (all quotes from Fischer cleaned up).

The evidence must show more than “mere mistake, inadvertence, or inattention . . . there need not be an affirmative wish to injure another, but, instead, a willingness to injure another.” Gabriel v. Bauman, 2014 SD 30, 847 N.W.2d 537, 541 (S.D. 2014)). Generally, whether the facts constitute gross negligence is a question of fact “if reasonable minds might differ in interpreting the facts in arriving at different conclusions on whether the defendant was willful, wanton, or reckless.” Id. at 542. “Because willfulness, wantonness, or recklessness is almost never admitted, and can be proved only by the conduct and the circumstances, an objective standard must of necessity in practice be applied. Id. at 542-43.

Summarizing the above case law, gross negligence [*14]  is distinguished from ordinary negligence by two factors. The risk of harm must be greater for gross negligence—whereas under ordinary negligence, the risk of harm can be anything from negligible harm to death, the risk of harm for gross negligence must be death or serious harm. Fischer, 2018 SD 71, 2018 WL 4779267 at *2. Secondly, the likelihood that harm will come about, phrased in terms of the defendant’s state of mind, must be greater. For example, if there is a 10 percent chance some harm will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure that harm does not come about, he is merely negligent. If there is an 85 percent chance serious harm or death will happen and the defendant fails to take steps to ensure the harm does not occur, he has acted willfully and wantonly or with gross negligence.

The Reeds posit three facts in support of their assertion the defendant in this case acted grossly negligent (or willfully and wantonly) with regard to I.R. First, the defendant had a practice of leaving tubes with tears in the canvas bottoms in rotation for guests to use because the torn tubes were slower and, therefore, in the eyes of defendant’s employees, safer. Second, the defendant knew the importance of staging—having [*15]  an employee at the top of the tube run to meter the guests as they descended the slope so that one guest could clear the run before the next guest began descending—but made a deliberate decision not to station an employee at the top of the tube run on the day of I.R.’s accident. And, finally, the existence of prior collisions on the tube run put the defendant on notice of the likelihood of harm.

Neither party speaks to the magnitude of the harm which, as discussed above, is one of the two factors distinguishing ordinary negligence from gross negligence. The defendant does not cite facts or circumstances to show that the prior collisions were minor bump-and-bruise types of encounters. The Reeds do not cite facts or circumstances to show the prior collisions resulted in concussions, closed head injuries, broken bones, surgeries or hospitalizations. The Reeds have supported their assertion that I.R.’s injuries were sufficiently serious—a fractured skull–something defendant does not dispute. Because the moving party has the burden, the court makes all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Accordingly, the court infers that previous accidents were sufficiently severe in nature to [*16]  satisfy the standard required for gross negligence.

Likewise, with regard to the number of prior incidents, neither party has placed into the record what the total number of tubers was during the period of time covered by the incidents. This fact goes to the likelihood of a collision—for gross negligence, there must be a greater probability of harm occurring than is the case with ordinary negligence. If 17 collisions occurred between fall of 2010 and March 15, 2015, and there were 5,000 tubers during that time, the number of prior accidents takes on one type of significance. But the significance of the number of prior accidents is different if the total number of tubers during that time frame is 100, 300, or even 500. There is a significantly bigger risk of harm the smaller the total number of tubers. Although the defendant alleges there were “thousands” of tubers, it has not supported that assertion with citation to an affidavit, deposition, or authenticated document. Again, there is a lack of evidence.

Also, neither party describes the scope of defendant’s incident reports. Do they encompass all kinds of incidents—those attributable to conditions on the slopes within defendant’s control [*17]  as well as incidents attributable to factors not within defendant’s control? Do they encompass heart attacks and strokes as well as collisions? Do the reports include drunken brawls between guests as well as injuries inflicted when a tow bar snaps?

Furthermore, is there any evidence suggesting that not all collisions at defendant’s resort are documented in incident reports? Are the incident reports the tip of the iceberg—or are they truly representative of all injuries occurring at defendant’s resort?

Finally, defendant does not dispute that no employee was stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident. The Reeds assert that defendant was “chronically understaffed” and that defendant made a “deliberate decision” not to place an employee at the top of the tube run that day. The Reeds have amply supported their assertion that defendant was chronically understaffed, with the result that positions that should have been filled by employees were left unattended. See Docket Nos. 33-4, 33-5, & 33-8. The Reeds also supplied testimony that, when there were not enough employees, the defendant prioritized putting an employee at the bottom of the tube slope rather than at the [*18]  top of the slope. See Docket No. 33-4 at p. 5 (depo p. 20). From these two facts, the Reeds infer that defendant made a “deliberate decision” the day of the accident not to place an employee at the top of the tube slope to stage the tubers.

Defendant disputes that it made a “deliberate decision” not to have an employee staging the tubers that day. Defendant’s disagreement with the Reeds’ assertion is based solely on the fact that they do not have testimony from any witness stating outright that a calculated decision was made. Defendant seems to assert that the Reeds may not rely upon an inference, but must have affirmative evidence of the fact a “deliberate decision” was made.

The court makes two observations. Under the law of gross negligence, South Dakota has recognized a plaintiff will rarely have direct evidence of the defendant’s state of mind. Gabriel, 847 N.W.2d at 542-43. Rather, state of mind must be inferred from the circumstances. Id. Also, under the law of summary judgment, all inferences from the facts must be made in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Co., 475 U.S. at 587-88. Both sources of law, then, support taking the Reeds’ view of the inference to be drawn from the fact that defendant was chronically understaffed and did [*19]  not have an employee stationed at the top of the tube run at the time of I.R.’s accident.

Defendant attempts to eliminate a genuine issue of fact as to the presence of a staging employee by asserting that there was in fact an employee at the top of the tube hill with a radio. See Docket No. 34 at p. 6. In support of this assertion of fact, defendant cites Mr. and Mrs. Reeds’ depositions and argues they cannot claim a version of facts more favorable than their own testimony, an old chestnut of South Dakota Law.

Reading the Reeds’ depositions, however, leads one to conclude defendant’s assertion is, if not outright untrue, certainly misleading. Both Mr. and Mrs. Reed testified no one was at the top of the hill staging the tubers at the time of I.R.’s accident. Docket No. 27-1 at p. 10 (depo. p. 30); Docket No. 27-5 at p. 7 (depo. p. 25). Prior to the accident, both the Reeds had observed a young man with a radio they assumed was defendant’s employee at the top of the hill during one or two of the Reed party’s previous 15-20 tube runs. However, the young man never provided instruction to the tubers about when to go down the slope—he was not staging the tubers. Docket No. 27-1 at p. 10 (depo. [*20]  pp. 39-40). Thus, the Reeds have sustained their assertion of fact that defendant had no employee stationed at the top of the tube hill to stage tubers at the time of I.R.’s accident.

Defendant’s motion is decided with resort to two veins of law. First, the law applicable to summary judgment. As the movant, defendant has the burden to show that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and that, based upon those undisputed facts, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. All of the absences of crucial fact detailed by the court above cut against defendant as the moving party. Furthermore, all of the inferences from the facts that are present in the record must be drawn in favor of the Reeds. Applying those standards to the issue before the court, the conclusion is inescapable that there are genuine issues of material fact existing which prevent summary judgment in defendant’s favor.

The second vein of law which comes into play is the dictate of South Dakota law that, ordinarily, questions of whether a defendant acted with gross negligence are questions of fact for the jury if reasonable minds could differ as to the inferences to draw from the known facts. Gabriel, 847 N.W.2d at 542. That is the situation [*21]  here. The court recommends that defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the Reeds’ gross negligence claim be denied.

D. Are There Material Factual Disputes as to Assumption of the Risk?

Defendant’s final argument in favor of its summary judgment motion is that the Reeds assumed the risk of their daughter’s accident as a matter of law, thereby relieving defendant of any liability. The court addresses the first question apparent by defendant’s argument: whether assumption of the risk is even a defense to a claim of gross negligence. As legal authority for its position, defendant cites only the Restatement (Second) of Torts 496A, cmt. d (1965), and a dissenting opinion in Barger for Wares v. Cox, 372 N.W.2d 161, 170-71 (S.D. 1985) (Wuest, J., dissenting). See Defendant’s Brief, Docket No. 23 at pp. 29-30. Neither of these authorities represent binding South Dakota law.

The Reeds in their brief do not address the issue of whether assumption of the risk is a defense to a claim of gross negligence. They argue only that assumption of the risk is a quintessential issue of fact for the jury. See Docket No. 30 at pp. 13-14.

In the Holzer case discussed previously, the plaintiff signed defendant’s release of liability form which defendant called an “assumption of the risk” form. Holzer, 610 N.W.2d at 790. The court held [*22]  in that case that liability releases only serve to protect defendants from claims of ordinary negligence, not from claims of gross negligence. Id. at 793. However, the title the defendant chose to give its release form is not dispositive of the question in this case.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has said that when a defendant’s actions are merely negligent, the defense of contributory negligence applies. But when the defendant’s conduct is willful and wanton, the defense of contributory negligence does not apply. Carlson v. Johnke, 57 S.D. 544, 234 N.W. 25, 27-28 (S.D. 1931), overruled on other grounds Wittstruck v. Lee, 62 S.D. 290, 252 N.W. 874, 877 (S.D. 1934) (clarifying that it did not adopt the doctrine of comparative negligence in Johnke).

In a dissenting opinion in another case, Justice Henderson stated that while assumption of the risk was a defense to ordinary negligence, the plaintiff would nonetheless have recourse for willful or wanton acts of a defendant. Johnson v. Rapid City Softball Ass’n. , 514 N.W.2d 693, 703 (S.D. 1994) (Henderson, J., dissenting). See Rantapaa v. Black Hills Chair Lift Co., 2001 SD 111, 633 N.W.2d 196, 204 (S.D. 2001) (assumption of the risk is an affirmative defense to an ordinary negligence claim).

The court has found no South Dakota case directly on point addressing whether the defense of assumption of the risk applies to grossly negligent or willful and wanton conduct. Defendant cites § 496A, comment d, of the Restatement (Second) of Torts for the proposition that the defense is [*23]  available here. The section cited stands for the proposition that assumption of the risk is a defense to both ordinary negligence and to reckless conduct. The section does not address gross negligence or willful and wanton conduct. However, it is true that the South Dakota Supreme Court has, at times, used the word “reckless” interchangeably with “gross negligence” and “willful and wanton.”

If assumption of the risk is a defense to a claim of gross negligence, it is a subjective standard. Duda v. Phatty McGees, Inc., 2008 SD 115, 758 N.W.2d 754, 758 (S.D. 2008). Defendant has the burden to prove that “the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates” the specific risk that caused the injury. Id. The defendant must prove three elements: (1) the plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of the risk; (2) the plaintiff appreciated its character; and (3) the plaintiff voluntarily accepted the risk, with the time, knowledge, and experience to make an intelligent choice. Id. “A person is deemed to have appreciated the risk if it is the type of risk that no adult of average intelligence can deny.” Id. (quoting Westover v. East River Elec. Power Coop., Inc., 488 N.W.2d 892, 901 (S.D. 1992)) (cleaned up).

The Restatement states that a plaintiff who knows generally of a danger does not necessarily assume the risk if [*24]  the danger appears to be slight or negligible. See
Restatement (Second) Torts §496D, cmt. b. The Restatement also echoes what South Dakota law establishes: because the standard for assumption of the risk is a subjective one based on whether the plaintiff knows of the existence of the risk as well as understands its magnitude and unreasonable character, the question of assumption of the risk is almost always a question of fact for the jury to decide. Id.; Ray v. Downes, 1998 SD 40, 576 N.W.2d 896, 900 (S.D. 1998).

Here, the Reeds have established that neither they nor their children had ever been tubing before the day they visited defendant’s resort. See Docket No. 27-1 at p.3 (depo. p. 12). They anticipated that tubing at defendant’s resort would be safe, fun and would build family memories. See Docket No. 33-1 at p. 103. Furthermore, there is no evidence produced by defendant showing that the Reeds anticipated, understood, and accepted the risk that defendant would provide no employee at the top of the tube run to stage the tubers—contrary to defendant’s own policy and its prominent signage at the resort (i.e. follow attendant’s instructions when going down the tube run).

The defense of assumption of the risk is a subjective one. There are material issues of fact as to what the [*25]  Reeds knew and appreciated in terms of the risk they and I.R. would encounter when tubing at defendant’s resort. Assuming that the defense applies at all to a claim of gross negligence, the court concludes summary judgment is inappropriate on this record.

Conclusion

Based on the foregoing facts, law and analysis, this magistrate judge respectfully recommends granting in part and denying in part defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Docket No. 21. Specifically, the court recommends defendant’s motion should be granted as to plaintiff’s claim for ordinary negligence, but recommends defendant’s motion should be denied as to plaintiff’s claim for gross negligence.

Notice To Parties

The parties have fourteen (14) days after service of this Report and Recommendation to file written objections pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), unless an extension of time for good cause is obtained. Failure to file timely objections will result in the waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact. Objections must be timely and specific in order to require de novo review by the District Court. Thompson v. Nix, 897 F.2d 356 (8th Cir. 1990); Nash v. Black, 781 F.2d 665 (8th Cir. 1986).

DATED November 15, 2018.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Veronica L. Duffy

VERONICA L. DUFFY

United States Magistrate Judge


Federal District Court applying South Dakota law finds release was ineffective in stopping claims for injury that did not occur because of the risk the plaintiff was anticipating.

The plaintiff in this case signed a release to hunt, but was injured by an ATV waiting to hunt. As such the release did not apply.

Wimmer v. Top Gun Guide Serv., 421 F. Supp. 3d 849, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888, 2019 WL 5558308

State: South Dakota

Plaintiff: Anthony Wimmer

Defendant: Top Gun Guide Service, Inc., John Does 1-5

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2019

Summary

A release must be written to cover all the risks your guests could suffer. Here the release covered hunting and did not cover being hit by an ATV when the plaintiff was not hunting. Write your release to inform your participants and to provide protection for you from all fronts.

Facts

This case arose from injuries that plaintiff Anthony Wimmer sustained while on a hunting trip hosted by defendant Top Gun near Aberdeen, South Dakota in April of 2015. Mr. Wimmer is a California resident and Top Gun is a Minnesota corporation. Id. On or about April 9, 2015, Mr. Wimmer arrived in Aberdeen, though he did not hunt on that day. At some point on April 9th, Mr. Wimmer signed a waiver purporting to release Top Gun from liability arising from the hunting trip.

The parties agree that in his deposition Mr. Wimmer testified that he read the release before signing it and that he did not disagree with anything contained therein. Mr. Wimmer also agreed in his deposition that hunting and fishing is a dangerous activity.

On April 10th, Mr. Wimmer arrived at the hunting site and began setting up hunting decoys. Shortly after having finished setting up the decoys, Mr. Wimmer was standing in the field where the hunt was to take place when he was struck from behind “by either an [all terrain vehicle (ATV)] or sled.” The sled was being towed behind the ATV. Id. The ATV was being operated by a Top Gun guide.

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

The plaintiff argued the normal arguments on why the release should fail. The main one was the release was written specific for the activity of and the risks created by hunting and fishing and at the time of the accident the plaintiff was doing neither of those things. Therefore, the release did not apply, his injuries were outside of the scope of the language of the release.

Plaintiff argues that he had no meaningful opportunity to negotiate the terms of the waiver and so it must be viewed as an “anticipatory release and contract of adhesion, which should be viewed with a skeptical and critical eye,” and any ambiguities should be construed against the drafter. Plaintiff argues that the waiver, by its terms, only applies to the limited activities of hunting and fishing. Plaintiff argues that his are not hunting injuries because, at the time of the accident, he had already finished setting up the decoys and was merely standing in the field waiting to be told what he should do next. Plaintiff urges that such activity should not be considered hunting.

The defendant argued the release was broad and covered the injury the plaintiff sustained and countered the plaintiff’s arguments.

Top Gun’s argument relies on the liability waiver being found to encompass the harm at issue in this case. Defendant then proceeds to argue that the waiver is valid and its enforcement would not contravene South Dakota’s public policy. Defendant argues that releases involving voluntary recreational activities have withstood attacks that they are contrary to South Dakota’s public policy many times before; only an attempted waiver of conduct rising to the level of willful negligence or intentional tort would contravene the state’s public policy. Because Mr. Wimmer does not allege willful negligence or any intentional torts, defendant argues that his claims must fail.

The court then looked at the law of South Dakota where the accident happened and, which law was to be applied, South Dakota law.

Under South Dakota law, a waiver of liability is contractual in nature and is governed by contract law. When interpreting a contract, “[t]he goal . . . is to see that the mutual intent of the parties is carried into effect.” Courts look to the language of the contract to determine the intent of the parties, and afford contractual terms their “plain and ordinary meaning,” “When the meaning of contractual language is plain and unambiguous, construction is not necessary” because the “intent of the parties can be derived from within the four corners of the contract.” (“When the words of a contract are clear and explicit and lead to no absurd consequences, the search for the parties’ common intent is at an end.”).

What most non-lawyers do not understand is a contract must be interrupted solely by the words in the contract. As lawyers say within the four corners of the document. Statements (parol evidence) said before or after the signing of the contract are inadmissible to interpret the contract. The exception to this rule is if the contract is determined by the court to be ambiguous, then evidence outside of the terms of the agreement can be introduced to explain the language of the contract. But only to explain the ambiguous language of the contract.

When a contract is found to be ambiguous, however, “parol evidence is admissible to explain the contract but inadmissible to vary or add terms to the contract.” A contract is not rendered ambiguous merely because the parties now disagree as to their intent at the time of contracting. “Instead, ‘a contract is ambiguous only when it is capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the context of the entire integrated agreement.'”

The court found that the release was not ambiguous so no other evidence could be introduced to explain the meaning of the release.

The release at issue in the instant case is not ambiguous. Although it must be interpreted and read in a common sense manner. The release, by its terms, covers “all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with [plaintiffs] participation in this activity or [plaintiff’s] use of [Top Gun] equipment…”

The plaintiff and the defendant both argued the issues as they needed. The plaintiff stated he was standing around the, and the defendant argued the plaintiff was hunting. However, the court found the plaintiff was not hunting by law. “As a matter of law, plaintiff could not have legally been pursuing waterfowl because the accident happened long before legal shooting time.”

Under South Dakota law, hunting cannot begin until thirty minutes before sunrise. Since the accident happened several hours before sunrise, the plaintiff was not hunting.

This accident could not, as a matter of law, have been a part of legal hunting. In South Dakota, a hunter may not shoot waterfowl until one half hour before sunrise. At the time of the accident, all preparations for hunting had been completed. The parties were in a waiting period. Instead, plaintiff was struck by a motor vehicle. The fact that plaintiff is claimed to be hunting at the time he was struck by the ATV is irrelevant because being struck by an ATV is not a harm arising out of hunting, especially long before sunrise.

Therefore, the release was not written to cover the accident that occurred to the plaintiff.

The court also added that the release did not cover motor vehicle accidents, which is what occurred to the plaintiff. (Any accident that is caused by something with an engine and tires, the courts usually interpret that as a automobile accident and apply automobile law, on or off road.)

The court then looked at releases and how they are interpreted with respect to high-risk activities under South Dakota law.

First, the more inherently dangerous or risky the recreational activity, the more likely that an anticipatory release will be held valid. That is, individuals who engage in activities like mountain climbing, race car driving, parachute jumping, and the like, are more likely to be held to have an understanding of the risky nature of their chosen activity.

Second, releases are deemed more acceptable when they are written on a separate sheet of paper. Id. It is the first line of reasoning that is most relevant to the instant analysis.

The court stated that if you undertake a high-risk activity you cannot sue for your injuries.

The first line of reasoning recognizes that individuals who voluntarily engage in a particularly dangerous activity for recreational purposes must accept a certain amount of risk that is inherent in said activity. That is, when an individual chooses to go skydiving, signs a release with a vendor providing such services, and is injured while hurtling to the earth, he cannot then sue in contravention of that release. Hunting is likewise a dangerous activity; the hunter voluntarily exposes himself to all the dangers of the firearms enthusiast as well as those of the outdoorsman. It is agreed that the release in this case covers liability arising out plaintiff’s participation in the activity of hunting. However, plaintiff’s participation in the hunt did not cause his injury.

Summing the issues up, the court made the statement that in South Dakota, the Supreme Court looked at the validity of the release as it relates to the activity the release was supposed to cover.

Each case the Supreme Court of South Dakota has considered relating to the application of a release from liability has involved harm that arose out of the activity for which liability was waived.

However, here the plaintiff was not undertaking a high-risk recreational activity. He was standing in a field.

In the instant case, plaintiff’s injury did not arise from his participation in the hunt. He was not accidentally shot by a fellow hunter; he did not strain his back while placing a decoy, nor did he twist his ankle while standing around waiting to be told what to do next. Instead, plaintiff was struck from behind by a motor vehicle at a time before legal hunting could commence, something separate and apart from his participation in the hunt.

The release was signed so the plaintiff could hunt. He was not injured hunting, and the release was not written in a way to cover the risks the plaintiff encountered standing in a field.

The release was thrown out by the court and the plaintiff was allowed to continue his lawsuit.

So Now What?

Too many releases are written to cover the risks of the specific activity, hunting, climbing, rafting, etc. Yet accidents occur in the parking lot, on the way to the activity and just standing around waiting for kayaks to be unloaded, belays to be set up or the guides to get organized.

Make sure your release is broad enough to cover all the risks your clients will encounter during the activity.

At the same time, don’t let an idiot drive an ATV and if people are going to be standing around in the dark, put a bicycle light on them so you can find them.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wimmer v. Top Gun Guide Serv., 421 F. Supp. 3d 849, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888, 2019 WL 5558308

Wimmer v. Top Gun Guide Serv., 421 F. Supp. 3d 849, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888, 2019 WL 5558308

United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Northern Division

October 26, 2019, Decided; October 28, 2019, Filed

1:18-CV-01001-CBK

Reporter

421 F. Supp. 3d 849 *; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185888 **; 2019 WL 5558308

ANTHONY WIMMER, Plaintiff, v. TOP GUN GUIDE SERVICE, INC., JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants.

Counsel:  [**1] For Plaintiff Anthony Wimmer: Michael W. Strain, LEAD ATTORNEY, Strain Morman Law Firm, Sturgis, SD; Scott G. Hoy, Hoy Trial Lawyers, Prof. L.L.C., Sioux Falls, SD.

For Defendant Top Gun Guide Service, Inc.: Gordon H. Hansmeier, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rajkowski Hansmeier Ltd., St. Cloud, MN.

Judges: CHARLES B. KORNMANN, United States District Judge.

Opinion by: CHARLES B. KORNMANN

Opinion

 [*851]  MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendant Top Gun Guide Service, Inc.’s (“Top Gun”) motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Doc. 14.

BACKGROUND

This case arose from injuries that plaintiff Anthony Wimmer sustained while on a hunting trip hosted by defendant Top Gun near Aberdeen, South Dakota in April of 2015. Doc. 1 at 2; Doc. 6 at 1. Mr. Wimmer is a California resident and Top Gun is a Minnesota corporation. Id. On or about April 9, 2015, Mr. Wimmer arrived in Aberdeen, though he did not hunt on that day. Doc. 15 at 5; Doc. 22 at 1. At some point on April 9th, Mr. Wimmer signed a waiver purporting to release Top Gun from liability arising from the hunting trip. Doc. 15 at 5; Doc. 22 at 2. The release form provided, in pertinent part:

I acknowledge that hunting and fishing entails known and unanticipated risks which [**2]  could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death, or damage to myself; . . . I understand that such risks are essential qualities of the activity. The risks include, among other things: Accidental shootings, or falls to myself . . . trip or fall accidents to myself . . . medical problems from preexisting conditions . . . to myself . . . I expressly agree and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks to others and myself; I fully understand that hunting and fishing is a dangerous activity. I hereby voluntarily release, forever discharge, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless [Top Gun] from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity or my use of [Top Gun] equipment or facilities, including any such claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of [Top gun].

Doc. 17, Ex. D. The parties agree that in his deposition Mr. Wimmer testified that he read the release before signing it and that he did not disagree with anything contained therein. Doc. 15 at 6; Doc. 22 [**3]  at 2-4. Mr. Wimmer also agreed in his deposition that hunting and fishing is a dangerous activity. Anthony Wimmer Dep. at 41:7-9.

On April 10th, Mr. Wimmer arrived at the hunting site and began setting up hunting decoys. Doc. 15 at 7; Doc. 22 at 5. Shortly after having finished setting up the decoys, Mr. Wimmer was standing in the field where the hunt was to take place when he was struck from behind “by either an [all terrain vehicle (ATV)] or sled.” Id. The sled was being towed behind the ATV. Id. The ATV was being operated by a Top Gun guide.

Id. The accident  [*852]  occurred between 3:30 a.m. — 4:30 a.m. Doc. 15 at 4. Mr. Wimmer alleges that he sustained severe injuries. Doc. 1 at 2. •

Defendant argues that “[b]ecause Mr. Wimmer knowingly, voluntarily, and fairly signed a release that unambiguously covers the injuries that he suffered and that does not contravene public policy,” his claims should be dismissed with prejudice. Doc. 15 at 8. Defendant contends that the liability waiver Mr. Wimmer signed before participating in the hunt releases Top Gun from all liability in relation to the ATV accident. Id. In short, Top Gun’s argument relies on the liability waiver being found to encompass [**4]  the harm at issue in this case. Defendant then proceeds to argue that the waiver is valid and its enforcement would not contravene South Dakota’s public policy. Id. at 9-11. Defendant argues that releases involving voluntary recreational activities have withstood attacks that they are contrary to South Dakota’s public policy many times before; only an attempted waiver of conduct rising to the level of willful negligence or intentional tort would contravene the state’s public policy. Id. at 11. Because Mr. Wimmer does not allege willful negligence or any intentional torts, defendant argues that his claims must fail. Id.

Plaintiff responds that the harm that befell him was outside the scope of the waiver. Plaintiff argues that he had no meaningful opportunity to negotiate the terms of the waiver and so it must be viewed as an “anticipatory release and contract of adhesion, which should be viewed with a skeptical and critical eye,” and any ambiguities should be construed against the drafter. Doc. 20 at 5. Plaintiff argues that the waiver, by its terms, only applies to the limited activities of hunting and fishing. Id. Plaintiff argues that his are not hunting injuries because, at the time of the accident, [**5]  he had already finished setting up the decoys and was merely standing in the field waiting to be told what he should do next. Id. at 6. Plaintiff urges that such activity should not be considered hunting. Id.

Plaintiff next argues that even if he was hunting at the time of the accident, the release is contrary to South Dakota law as it purports to waive liability for acts of gross negligence and, so, enforcing it would be against South Dakota’s public policy. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also argues that provisions of South Dakota law related to motor vehicle liability preclude enforcement of the waiver as against the state’s public policy. Id. at 9.

Defendant replies that plaintiff’s reading of the waiver is too narrow, the terms of the waiver are broad enough to cover any injury “in any way connected with” the activity of hunting. Doc. 23 at 3. Thus, defendant contends, the terms of the waiver apply to plaintiff’s injury whether or not he was actively shooting or pursuing birds at the time of the injury. Id. Defendant further contends that setting up decoys is a part of pursuing birds, which is within the definition of hunting adopted in South Dakota’s laws. Id. at 4.

Defendant also argues that enforcing the release against [**6]  plaintiff would not violate South Dakota public policy because plaintiff only claims ordinary negligence, liability for which may be waived. Id. at 5. Defendant argues that plaintiff has produced no evidence that defendant’s agent operated the ATV in a reckless or willfully negligent manner. Id. at 6-7. Defendant argues that there was no disparity in bargaining power that would warrant this waiver being viewed as a contract of adhesion. Id. at 7. Finally, defendant argues that the waiver does not allow Top Gun to circumvent South Dakota’s motor vehicle insurance laws, as plaintiff has claimed, and enforcing the waiver would not be  [*853]  contrary to the public policy those laws espouse. Id. at 8.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Knutson v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc., 711 F.3d 911, 913 (8th Cir. 2013). The United States Supreme Court has held that:

The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material [**7]  fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986) (internal quotations omitted).

“As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248. That is, to make summary judgment inappropriate, there must be a factual dispute concerning facts the existence or nonexistence of which would “be outcome determinative under [the] prevailing [substantive] law.” Grey v. City of Oak Grove, Mo., 396 F.3d 1031, 1034 (8th Cir. 2005).

Thus, in accordance with Rule 56(c), the party seeking summary judgment must first identify grounds demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Upon such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-movant to present affirmative evidence, beyond the pleadings, showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256-57, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). To meet its burden, the non-movant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). Rather, the non-movant must be able to “show there [**8]  is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in [its] favor.” Nat’l Bank of Commerce v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602, 607 (8th Cir. 1999). After this exercise, “we view the facts and the inferences to be drawn from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Northport Health Servs. of Arkansas, LLC v. Posey, 930 F.3d 1027, 1030 (8th Cir. 2019).

DISCUSSION

“Because this is a diversity action, we apply the substantive law of the forum state.” Vandewarker v. Cont’l Res., Inc., 917 F.3d 626, 629 (8th Cir. 2019), reh’g denied (Apr. 10, 2019) (citing
N. Oil & Gas, Inc. v. Moen, 808 F.3d 373, 376 (8th Cir. 2015). Under South Dakota law, a waiver of liability is contractual in nature and is governed by contract law. Johnson v. Rapid City Softball Ass’n, 514 N.W.2d 693, 697 (S.D. 1994). When interpreting a contract, “[t]he goal . . . is to see that the mutual intent of the parties is carried into effect.” Nelson v. Schellpfeffer, 2003 SD 7, 656 N.W.2d 740, 743 (S.D. 2003). Courts look to the language of the contract to determine the intent of the parties, Roseth v. Roseth, 2013 SD 27, 829 N.W.2d 136, 142 (S.D. 2013), and afford contractual terms their “plain and ordinary meaning,” Bunkers v. Jacobson, 2002 SD 135, 653 N.W.2d 732, 738 (S.D. 2002) (citation  [*854]  and quotation marks omitted). “When the meaning of contractual language is plain and unambiguous, construction is not necessary” because the “intent of the parties can be derived from within the four corners of the contract.” Roseth, 829 N.W.2d at 142 (citation omitted); see also
Nelson, 656 N.W.2d at 743 (“When the words of a contract are clear and explicit and lead to no absurd consequences, the search for the parties’ common intent is at an end.”).

When a contract is found to be ambiguous, however, “parol evidence [**9]  is admissible to explain the contract but inadmissible to vary or add terms to the contract.” Couch v. Lyon, No. CIV. 12-3029-RAL, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160770, 2013 WL 5942607, at *4 (D.S.D. Nov. 5, 2013)
(citing
Roseth, 829 N.W.2d at 142.). A contract is not rendered ambiguous merely because the parties now disagree as to their intent at the time of contracting. Roseth, 829 N.W.2d at 142. “Instead, ‘a contract is ambiguous only when it is capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the context of the entire integrated agreement.'” Id.
(quoting
Vander Heide v. Boke Ranch, Inc., 2007 SD 69, 736 N.W.2d 824, 836 (S.D. 2007)).

The release at issue in the instant case is not ambiguous. Although it must be interpreted and read in a common sense manner. The release, by its terms, covers “all claims, demands, or causes of action, which are in any way connected with [plaintiffs] participation in this activity or [plaintiff’s] use of [Top Gun] equipment…” Doc. 17, Ex. D. Furthermore, plaintiff has not challenged the validity of the release or any of its terms; thus, the Court will apply the release and construe it by its terms, using common sense methods.

Defendant argues that, at the time of injury, plaintiff was in the process of pursuing birds, that is, plaintiff was on a hunting trip, in a hunting field regardless of whether [**10]  he was actively shooting or preparing to shoot at the time. Because plaintiff was pursuing birds at the time he was injured, defendant argues that his injury is “connected with” the activity of hunting. Plaintiff argues that he was done setting up decoys at the time he was injured and, as a result, he was not pursuing birds at the time of the harm—he was merely a man standing in a field. As a matter of law, plaintiff could not have legally been pursuing waterfowl because the accident happened long before legal shooting time. Thus, both parties focused their arguments on what the plaintiff was doing at the time of the accident.

This accident could not, as a matter of law, have been a part of legal hunting. In South Dakota, a hunter may not shoot waterfowl until one half hour before sunrise. At the time of the accident, all preparations for hunting had been completed. The parties were in a waiting period. Instead, plaintiff was struck by a motor vehicle. The fact that plaintiff is claimed to be hunting at the time he was struck by the ATV is irrelevant because being struck by an ATV is not a harm arising out of hunting, especially long before sunrise. In addition, the release makes no [**11]  mention of a motor vehicle accident.

The language in the release, “in any way connected with [plaintiffs] participation in this activity,” is so broad that it necessitates an exercise in line drawing. At some point, it would be absurd to find an activity that, while distantly connected with plaintiff’s participation in the hunt, is covered by a waiver of liability for a hunting trip. For example, if plaintiff had been injured when the car in which he was being transported from the hotel to the hunting grounds was involved in an accident, would any negligence from that activity be covered  [*855]  by the release? It is certainly an activity in some way connected with plaintiff’s participation in the hunt, as the party was on the way to the hunting grounds. But to say that a waiver of liability for a hunting trip covered negligence related to a car trip from the hotel to the hunting grounds would be to stretch the bounds of what general, catch-all provisions of a contract can accomplish.

That is not to say that general contract provisions are not enforceable. Indeed, South Dakota case law has upheld the efficacy of broad waivers of liability. There are generally two lines of reasoning that permeate [**12]  South Dakota case law concerning releases from liability.

First, the more inherently dangerous or risky the recreational activity, the more likely that an anticipatory release will be held valid. That is, individuals who engage in activities like mountain climbing, race car driving, parachute jumping, and the like, are more likely to be held to have an understanding of the risky nature of their chosen activity.

Johnson, 514 N.W.2d at 700 (Wuest, J. concurring) (internal citations omitted). Second, releases are deemed more acceptable when they are written on a separate sheet of paper. Id. It is the first line of reasoning that is most relevant to the instant analysis. 1

The first line of reasoning recognizes that individuals who voluntarily engage in a particularly dangerous activity for recreational purposes must accept a certain amount of risk that is inherent in said activity. That is, when an individual chooses to go skydiving, signs a release with a vendor providing such services, and is injured while hurtling to the earth, he cannot then sue in contravention of that release. Hunting is likewise a dangerous activity; the hunter voluntarily exposes himself to all the dangers of the firearms enthusiast as well [**13]  as those of the outdoorsman. It is agreed that the release in this case covers liability arising out plaintiff’s participation in the activity of hunting. However, plaintiff’s participation in the hunt did not cause his injury. Defendant asserts that setting up decoys is a means of pursuing birds—hunting—but, while that may be true, neither the decoys themselves, nor any part of the process of placing them, caused plaintiff’s injuries.

Each case the Supreme Court of South Dakota has considered relating to the application of a release from liability has involved harm that arose out of the activity for which liability was waived. In Johnson, the signed release concerned the plaintiff’s participation in a softball league. She subsequently “injured her right ankle sliding into third base during a softball game.” Johnson, 514 N.W.2d at 694. In Holzer, the signed release concerned the plaintiff’s presence in the “pit” area of a race track; he was subsequently hit by a tire that flew off one of the racecars and over protective barricades. Holzer, 610 N.W.2d at 789-91. In Lee v. Beauchene, the signed release covered the plaintiff’s participation in an automobile race; subsequently his “car struck a hole [in the track] that he estimated was one [**14]  to one and one-half feet deep. The car flipped.” Lee v. Beauchene, 337 N.W.2d 827, 828 (S.D. 1983). In each of the foregoing cases, the plaintiff’s injury was caused by his or her participation in the activity for which liability was waived. That is, the injury arose from the activity itself. If that were not the case, however, those cases might have turned out quite differently. For instance, if the plaintiff in Holzer had been accidentally shot while working in the pit area, the question of whether he had waived the track’s liability  [*856]  for such harm would have been a different question.

In the instant case, plaintiff’s injury did not arise from his participation in the hunt. He was not accidentally shot by a fellow hunter, he did not strain his back while placing a decoy, nor did he twist his ankle while standing around waiting to be told what to do next. Instead, plaintiff was struck from behind by a motor vehicle at a time before legal hunting could commence, something separate and apart from his participation in the hunt. Thus, while liability was effectively waived for injury arising out of the activities of hunting or fishing, there was no release for the harm that befell plaintiff. The ATV was being driven by Top Gun staff, [**15]  presumably to transport the decoys from the cars to the hunting grounds. At some point in that process, the employee struck plaintiff with the ATV. While such work is in some way connected with the hunt, it is not connected with plaintiff’s participation in the hunt in any way beyond plaintiff’s mere presence on the hunting grounds. When plaintiff signed a release for harm arising out of hunting or fishing, he was simply not there giving up his right to sue for harm arising out of a motor vehicle accident, or any other activity when he could not have been legally hunting.

As the Court finds that the release does not apply to the harm at issue in this case, the parties’ arguments concerning South Dakota’s insurance law and public policy concerning releases of liability in claims for gross negligence, respectively, will not be addressed.

IT IS ORDERED that defendant Top Gun’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Doc. 14, is hereby DENIED.

DATED this 26th day of October, 2019.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ CHARLES B. B. KORNMANN

CHARLES B. B. KORNMANN

United States District Judge


Great analysis of the “Rescue Doctrine” in a ballooning case from South Dakota

The rescue doctrine was created so that the person causing the injury or putting the plaintiff in peril also is responsible for any rescuer of the plaintiff.

Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

State: South Dakota, Supreme Court of South Dakota

Plaintiff: Marvin Thompson

Defendant: Charles Summers

Plaintiff Claims: General negligence claims

Defendant Defenses: no duty

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 1997

This is an interesting case that never fully played out so we don’t know the outcome of the case. A balloonist, eventual defendant, was teaching a student to fly and was attempting to land. Another balloon instructor on the ground, who had taught the instructor in the balloon, thought the landing was not going to be good and attempted to help with the landing.

The balloonist on the ground thought the balloon was going to hit high-voltage power lines. As the balloon got lower to the ground, the balloonist on the ground, the plaintiff, ran over and grabbed the balloon in an attempt to stop the balloon. The balloon hit the power lines and the plaintiff, rescuer, suffered burns over 60% of his body. The two people in the balloon were not injured.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for not employing the rip cord, which opens the balloon to release the hot air. The plaintiff argued failing to employ the rip cord was negligence. (The obvious issue here is what duty was owed by the balloonist to the plaintiff on the ground, other than to not land on him.)

This is confusing, in that failing to protect yourself from injury is a negligent act to one who is injured rescuing you? It is difficult to understand in this case the liability owed to an intervener for your failure to act. Stated another way, your liability because the intervener expected you to act in a certain way?

South Dakota only has one appellate court, the South Dakota Supreme Court. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, and the plaintiff appealed to the supreme court of South Dakota.

The trial court dismissed the complaint on the defendant’s motion to dismiss. Meaning this case was dismissed prior to any discovery or even an answer from the defendant. Therefore, when the appellate court reviews the issues, it must do so to look for any allegations by the plaintiff that may support a claim. This analysis is not whether a claim was supported or could be won in court, just whether or not it, there was any possibly that the case could be.

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

The court started its analysis by looking at the rescue doctrine. The rescue doctrine is an odd, but arguably valid legal argument. If you attempt to assist someone who needs rescued, are injured during that assistance, the person who caused the accident is also responsible for your injuries.

This theory provides that one who, through negligence, jeopardizes the safety of another, may be held liable for injuries sustained by a “rescuer” who attempts to save the other from injury.

A rescuer’s right of action against the initial negligent actor rests upon the view that one who imperils another at a place where there may be bystanders, must take into account the chance that some bystander will yield to the impulse to save life or even property from destruction and will attempt a rescue; negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.

There is an argument that the rescue doctrine was not properly raised at the trial court level and a variation of the rescue doctrine   a dissenting opinion. The dissenting opinion agreed with the outcome of the majority, but felt the analysis of the rescue doctrine was premature. Either way, the court looked at the argument and found it applied to this case.

One argument made by the defendant was that he could not be liable, unless he requested the assistance or at least knew about the assistance.

Summers claims that he would have had to request Thompson’s assistance to establish a duty under these circumstances. At the very least, he argues, Summers must have been aware of Thompson’s presence. At oral argument, counsel for Summers went so far as to state there must be a “relationship” between the plaintiff and the defendant before a duty can be established. On the contrary, it is foreseeability of injury to another, not a relationship with another, which is a prerequisite to establishing a duty necessary to sustain a negligence cause of action. See SDCL 20-9-1, wherein the Legislature codified the common law of negligence: “Every person is responsible for injury to the person, property, or rights of another caused by his willful acts or caused by his want of ordinary care or skill, subject in the latter cases to the defense of contributory negligence.”

The court did not buy this argument. “As indicated above, “negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well

Not only, that unconscious victims or rescuers the victim does not know about would leave rescuers risking their cost of their own injuries.

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer.

The court also looked at other theories how the plaintiff’s claim may have merit.

One was the argument that the defendant breached federal regulations created by the Federal Aviation Administration. Breaching a statute creates a negligence per se action. “This court has consistently held that “an unexcused violation of a statute enacted to promote safety constitutes negligence per se.”

Whether Summers violated one or more of these statutes and regulations, and if so, whether the violation was the proximate cause of Thompson’s injuries constitutes a question for the factfinder.

However, here again, any breach of an FAA regulation would inure to the passenger, not the rescuer; I would think? However it was held to support the claim of the plaintiff/rescuer here.

However, the court seemed to circle back to that argument when it stated:

With regard to the proximate cause issue, this court has recognized that the mere violation of a statute is insufficient to support an action for damages. Rather, a plaintiff must show that the violation of a statutory duty was the proximate cause of his injury to support a recovery in negligence.

The court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings and closed with this summary.

Negligence is the breach of a legal duty imposed by statute or common law.” Thompson clearly outlined a claim under a common-law negligence theory. (“The three necessary elements of actionable negligence are: (1) A duty on the part of the defendant; (2) a failure to perform that duty; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff resulting from such a failure.”). The rescue doctrine is part of the common law of negligence.

So Now What?

The biggest issue which is confusing is the original claim must be based on a negligent act which never occurred to the possible plaintiff, just the defendant. How can the defendant be liable for his own rescue? What negligent act on the part of the defendant created the liability to create the liability for the rescuer?

Where the rescue doctrine comes into play in the outdoor recreation and adventure travel field that creates problems is when other guests attempt to help. Whenever someone is in a jam, everyone wants to help, and you may need everyone’s help. If another guest is injured when helping, and you were the legally the cause of the original accident, you could be liable for the guests who helped also.

Does that mean guests cannot help? No, many times you may need the guests to assist in rescuing someone. Just make sure they know their job, are doing it in a safe way and keep your eyes on them.

Will a release work to stop the claims of the injured guest/rescuer? I have no idea, maybe, but no court that I know of has ever looked at the issue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

Thompson v. Summers, 1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

Marvin Thompson, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Charles Summers, Defendant and Appellee.

# 19940

Supreme Court of South Dakota

1997 SD 103; 567 N.W.2d 387; 1997 S.D. LEXIS 103

June 4, 1997, Argued

August 13, 1997, Opinion Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT. PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE THOMAS L. TRIMBLE Judge.

DISPOSITION:

Reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL:

DAVE L. CLAGGETT of Claggett & Madsen, Spearfish, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

DONALD A. PORTER of Costello, Porter, Hill, Heisterkamp & Bushnell, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

JUDGES: SABERS, Justice. KONENKAMP, Justice, concurs. MILLER, Chief Justice, and AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON, Justices, concur in result.

OPINION BY: SABERS

OPINION: [**389]

SABERS, Justice.

¶2 On September 4, 1993, Charles Summers was piloting a hot air balloon in an instructional flight over Rapid City, accompanied by flight student Matt McCormick. At about 8:25 a.m., Summers attempted to land the balloon in a public recreational area of Rapid City’s flood plain known as the “greenway.” Marvin Thompson, also a hot air balloon pilot, was at the greenway and recognized the balloon as one he sold to Summers. As Thompson observed Summers’ descent, he became concerned the wind was going to drag the balloon into nearby high voltage power lines. As the balloon skimmed across the ground toward the power lines, Thompson ran over and seized the basket of the balloon, hoping to prevent it from making contact with the power lines. Despite his efforts, Thompson suffered severe electrical burns to over 60% of his body. Summers and McCormick were apparently not injured.

¶3 Thompson sued Summers for his injuries, claiming he was negligent in not employing the rip cord to “rip out” the balloon, a procedure which instantly deflates and stops the balloon. Failure to do so, he claims, was negligence and the cause of his injuries. He argues that, under the “rescue doctrine,” it was foreseeable to Summers that a bystander might intervene when Summers’ negligence put others in peril. In addition, Thompson claims Summers violated several state and federal statutory duties of care pertaining to hot air balloon piloting and landing safety, including proper use of the ripcord.

¶4 Without submitting an answer, Summers made a motion to dismiss the complaint, alleging that Thompson failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted according to SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5) [hereinafter Rule 12(b)(5) ], which provides:

Every defense, in law or fact, to a claim for relief in any pleading, whether a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, shall be asserted in the responsive pleading thereto if one is required, except that the following defenses may at the option of the pleader be made by motion:

(5) Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.] [1]

The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Thompson appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶5 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) tests the law of a plaintiff’s claim, not the facts which support it. Stumes v. Bloomberg, 1996 SD 93, p 6, 551 N.W.2d 590, 592; Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993) (citations omitted). The motion is viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted. Schlosser directs the trial court to consider the complaint’s allegations and any exhibits which are attached. The court accepts the pleader’s description of what happened along with any conclusions reasonably drawn therefrom. The motion may be directed to the whole complaint or only specified counts contained in it…. “In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow, of course, the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” [quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) ]. The question is whether in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with doubt resolved in his or her behalf, the complaint states any valid claim of relief. The court must go beyond the allegations for relief and “examine the complaint to determine if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory.” [quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (1971) ].

506 N.W.2d at 418 (emphasis added). As this appeal presents a question of law, our review is de novo, with no deference given to the trial court’s legal conclusions. City of Colton v. Schwebach, 1997 SD 4, p 8, 557 N.W.2d 769, 771.

¶6 WHETHER ANY LEGAL THEORY EXISTS TO SUPPORT THOMPSON’S CLAIM.

¶7 Thompson advances at least three legal theories which may support his cause of action. We need not, and do not, decide whether he will ultimately succeed on any of these theories. See Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418:

[P]leadings should not be dismissed merely because the court entertains doubts as to whether the pleader will prevail in the action as this is a matter of proof, not pleadings. The rules of procedure favor the resolution of cases upon the merits by trial or summary judgment rather than on failed or inartful accusations.

(Quoting Janklow v. Viking Press, 378 N.W.2d 875, 877 (S.D.1985) (citing Federal Practice and Procedure, supra )).

¶8 First, Thompson argues that the common law of negligence, particularly the “rescue doctrine,” is applicable to this case. [2] That doctrine is simply an adjunct of the common law of negligence. It is “nothing more than a negligence doctrine addressing the problem of proximate causation.” Lowery v. Illinois Cent. Gulf R.R. Co., 891 F.2d 1187, 1194 (5th Cir.1990); accord Stuart M. Speiser et al., The American Law of Torts § 9:23, at 1147 (1985) (“In considering the rescue doctrine and its ramifications, it must be always kept in mind that many–if, indeed not most–American courts regard it in terms of proximate causation.”). This theory provides that one who, through negligence, jeopardizes the safety of another, may be held liable for injuries sustained by a “rescuer” who attempts to save the other from injury. See 57A AmJur2d Negligence § 689 (1989):

A rescuer’s right of action against the initial negligent actor rests upon the view that one who imperils another at a place where there may be bystanders, must take into account the chance that some bystander will yield to the impulse to save life or even property from destruction and will attempt a rescue; negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.

(Footnotes & citations omitted). Interestingly, the rescue doctrine can be traced to an 1822 case involving a crowd rushing to assist a descending balloonist. See W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser & Keeton on the Law of Torts § 44, at 307 & n.63 (5th ed.1984) (citing Guille v. Swan, 19 Johns. 381 (N.Y.1822), and noting that since that case, the concept of the rescuer is “nothing abnormal”).

¶9 Summers argues that Thompson cannot raise this theory in this appeal because he did not present it to the trial court. We disagree for two reasons: First, Thompson’s complaint and his brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss adequately set forth his reliance on the rescue doctrine. [3] In his complaint, he stated:

Plaintiff perceived the situation to be an imminent threat to the general public on land and further perceived Defendant and Matt McCormick to be in imminent danger of severe physical harm or death. Plaintiff, in an attempt to prevent the same, went to the location of the balloon and grabbed on to it to help prevent it from drifting into the power lines.

(Emphasis added). In his brief, he reiterates the foregoing portion of his complaint, and adds: “Thompson responded to the emergency. In attempting to prevent an accident from happening, he grabbed the balloon to help prevent it from hitting the power lines.”

¶10 In opposing the motion to dismiss, Thompson briefed the case of Olson v. Waitman, 88 S.D. 443, 221 N.W.2d 23 (S.D.1974), which is not precisely on point, but somewhat analogous to the rescue doctrine, and certainly a common law negligence case. That case held that the jury was properly instructed that a plaintiff may have been contributory negligent when she was pinned under a car after she got behind it to push it from a ditch. However, it was error to so instruct the jury on the plaintiff’s second claim of negligence (she was severely burned after the defendant attempted to drive the car off of her). This court held that the plaintiff had two separate claims of negligence against the defendant and stated:

Regardless of how negligent the plaintiff may have been in getting into this predicament, she did not thereby give the defendant license to thereafter injure her with impunity. Id. at 446, 221 N.W.2d at 25 (remanding for new trial with proper instructions).

¶11 Clearly, Thompson adequately outlined his claim even if he did not include the term “rescue doctrine”. See, e.g., Thomas W. Garland, Inc. v. City of St. Louis, 596 F.2d 784, 787 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 899, 100 SCt 208, 62 L.Ed.2d 135 (1979) (stating that a complaint should not be dismissed because it does not state with precision all elements that give rise to a legal basis for recovery); accord Jackson Sawmill Co., Inc., v. United States, 580 F.2d 302, 306 (8th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1070, 99 S.Ct. 839, 59 L.Ed.2d 35 (1979).

¶12 The second reason we disagree with Summers’ argument that Thompson cannot raise a legal theory for the first time on appeal concerns the nature of a Rule 12(b)(5) motion. It is settled law that the trial court is under a duty to determine if the plaintiff’s allegations provide for relief on any possible theory, regardless of whether the plaintiff considered the theory. Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418; Eide v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., 1996 SD 11, p 7, 542 N.W.2d 769, 771; Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357; Seeley v. Brotherhood of Painters, 308 F.2d 52, 58 (5thCir.1962) (“[T]he theory of the plaintiff in stating his claim is not so important and the complaint should not be dismissed on motion unless, upon any theory, it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff would be entitled to no relief under any state of facts that could be proved in support of his claim.”); cf. Doss v. South Cent. Bell Tel. Co., 834 F.2d 421, 424 (5th Cir.1987) (“[T]he fact that a plaintiff pleads an improper legal theory does not preclude recovery under the proper theory.”); Oglala Sioux Tribe of Indians v. Andrus, 603 F.2d 707, 714 (8th Cir.1979) (“The ‘theory of the pleadings’ doctrine, under which a plaintiff must succeed on those theories that are pleaded or not at all, has been effectively abolished under the federal rules.”).

¶13 Summers argues the motion to dismiss was properly granted because Thompson cannot establish a duty owed by Summers to Thompson. Summers claims that he would have had to request Thompson’s assistance to establish a duty under these circumstances. At the very least, he argues, Summers must have been aware of Thompson’s presence. [4] At oral argument, counsel for Summers went so far as to state there must be a “relationship” between the plaintiff and the defendant before a duty can be established. On the contrary, it is foreseeability of injury to another, not a relationship with another, which is a prerequisite to establishing a duty necessary to sustain a negligence cause of action. See SDCL 20-9-1, wherein the Legislature codified the common law of negligence: “Every person is responsible for injury to the person, property, or rights of another caused by his willful acts or caused by his want of ordinary care or skill, subject in the latter cases to the defense of contributory negligence.” See also Muhlenkort v. Union County Land Trust, 530 N.W.2d 658, 662 (S.D.1995), where this court stated, “To establish a duty on the part of the defendant, it must be foreseeable that a party would be injured by the defendant’s failure to discharge that duty.”

¶14 Additionally, Summers misapprehends the principles of the rescue doctrine. The basic theory of this doctrine is that the defendant’s negligence in placing another in a position of imminent peril is not only a wrong to that person, but also to the rescuing plaintiff. Wharf v. Burlington N. R.R. Co., 60 F.3d 631, 635 (9th Cir.1995); Dinsmoore v. Board of Trustees of Memorial Hosp., 936 F.2d 505, 507 (10thCir.1991); Lowery, 891 F.2d at 1194; Bonney v. Canadian Nat’l Ry. Co., 800 F.2d 274, 276 (1st Cir.1986); Barger v. Charles Mach. Works, Inc., 658 F.2d 582, 587 (8th Cir.1981); Barnes v. Geiger, 15 Mass.App.Ct. 365, 446 N.E.2d 78, 81-82 (1983) (collecting cases); Metzger v. Schermesser, 687 S.W.2d 671, 672 (Mo.Ct.App.1985); see generally The American Law of Torts, supra § 9:23; Prosser & Keeton, supra § 44, at 307-09 (collecting cases from nearly every state). The rescuer may also recover from the imperiled party if that party’s negligence caused the peril. Wharf, 60 F.3d at 635. As indicated above, “negligence which creates peril invites rescue and, should the rescuer be hurt in the process, the tortfeasor will be held liable not only to the primary victim, but to the rescuer as well.” 57A AmJur2d Negligence § 689 (1989). Judge Cardozo’s statement regarding the rescue doctrine is often quoted in these cases:

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer. Wagner v. International Ry. Co., 232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437, 437 (1921).

¶15 This theory of “duty” comports with the well-established view of this court. See, e.g., Mark, Inc. v. Maguire Ins. Agency, Inc., 518 N.W.2d 227, 229-30 (S.D.1994) (“Whether a duty exists depends on the foreseeability of injury.”); accord Muhlenkort, 530 N.W.2d at 662; see also Mid-Western Elec., Inc. v. DeWild Grant Reckert & Assocs. Co., 500 N.W.2d 250, 254 (S.D.1993) (“We instruct trial courts to use the legal concept of foreseeability to determine whether a duty exists.”).

¶16 Under Thompson’s second theory, he claims that Summers violated a standard of care as provided in SDCL chapter 50-13, “Air Space and Operation of Aircraft.” “Aircraft” includes balloons. SDCL 50-13-1. SDCL 50-13-4 provides:

Flight in aircraft over the lands and waters of this state is lawful, unless … so conducted as to be imminently dangerous to persons or property lawfully on the land or water beneath.

See also SDCL 50-13-6, which provides, in relevant part:

The owner and the pilot, or either of them, of every aircraft which is operated over lands or waters of this state shall be liable for injuries or damage to persons or property on the land or water beneath, caused by the ascent, descent, or flight of the aircraft, or the dropping or falling of any object therefrom in accordance with the rules of law applicable to torts in this state.

Additionally, SDCL 50-13-16 provides:

It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to operate an aircraft within the airspace over, above and upon the lands and waters of this state, carelessly and heedlessly in intentional disregard of the rights or safety of others, or without due caution and circumspection in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.

All of these statutes were presented to the trial court. This court has consistently held that “an unexcused violation of a statute enacted to promote safety constitutes negligence per se.” Bell v. East River Elec. Power Coop., Inc., 535 N.W.2d 750, 755 (S.D.1995) (citing Engel v. Stock, 88 S.D. 579, 225 N.W.2d 872, 873 (1975); Bothern v. Peterson, 83 S.D. 84, 155 N.W.2d 308 (1967); Blakey v. Boos, 83 S.D. 1, 153 N.W.2d 305 (1967)).

¶17 Third, Thompson argues that Summers violated certain federal regulations [5] relating to hot air balloon piloting and landing safety, including proper use of the ripcord in emergency operations. See, e.g., 14 C.F.R. § 61.125(e)(5), which requires applicants for a commercial certificate for piloting balloons to have knowledge in

Operating principles and procedures for free balloons, including emergency procedures such as crowd control and protection, high wind and water landings, and operations in proximity to buildings and power lines.

Additionally, id. § 61.127(f) sets minimum proficiency requirements for balloon pilots and requires competence in, among other procedures, landing and emergency operations, including the use of the ripcord. See also id. § 91.13 (“No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”). These regulations were presented to the trial court.

¶18 Whether Summers violated one or more of these statutes and regulations, and if so, whether the violation was the proximate cause of Thompson’s injuries constitutes a question for the factfinder. Violation of the statute “alone is not sufficient to render them liable to the plaintiff. Before they may be held to respond in damages it must further appear that their violation of the duty placed on them by this rule was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury. The burden of establishing this is on the plaintiff.” Blakey, 83 S.D. at 8, 153 N.W.2d at 309 (citation omitted); accord Musch v. H-D Coop., Inc., 487 N.W.2d 623, 625-26 (S.D.1992):

With regard to the proximate cause issue, this court has recognized that the mere violation of a statute is insufficient to support an action for damages. Rather, a plaintiff must show that the violation of a statutory duty was the proximate cause of his injury to support a recovery in negligence. Serles v. Braun, 79 S.D. 456, 113 N.W.2d 216 (1962); Zeller v. Pikovsky, 66 S.D. 71, 278 N.W. 174 (1938). In Leslie v. City of Bonesteel, 303 N.W.2d 117, 119 (S.D.1981), we stated: “For proximate cause to exist, ‘the harm suffered must be found to be a foreseeable consequence of the act complained of…. The negligent act must be a substantial factor in bringing about the harm.’ Williams v. United States, 450 F.Supp. 1040, 1046 (D.S.D.1978).”

(Emphasis & alterations omitted). Questions of proximate cause are for the jury in “all but the rarest of cases.” Bauman v. Auch, 539 N.W.2d 320, 325 (S.D.1995); Nelson v. Nelson Cattle Co., 513 N.W.2d 900, 903 (S.D.1994); Holmes v. Wegman Oil Co., 492 N.W.2d 107, 114 (S.D.1992).

CONCLUSION

¶19 “Negligence is the breach of a legal duty imposed by statute or common law.” Stevens v. Wood Sawmill, Inc., 426 N.W.2d 13, 14 (S.D.1988) (citing Walz v. City of Hudson, 327 N.W.2d 120, 122 (S.D.1982)). Thompson clearly outlined a claim under a common-law negligence theory. See id. (“The three necessary elements of actionable negligence are: (1) A duty on the part of the defendant; (2) a failure to perform that duty; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff resulting from such a failure.”). The rescue doctrine is part of the common law of negligence. Therefore, under the law governing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5), it was improper to dismiss Thompson’s lawsuit even if the doctrine was not yet addressed in South Dakota. [6]

¶20 Additionally, Thompson set out South Dakota statutes and federal regulations which establish the standard of care for a hot air balloon pilot. The question is “whether in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and with doubt resolved in his or her behalf, the complaint states any valid claim of relief.” Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418 (emphasis added). Thompson asserts at least three theories which may support his cause of action. Therefore, the trial court erred in holding as a matter of law that Thompson did not allege a duty owed by Summers. Whether he can ultimately succeed presents questions not capable of resolution by a motion to dismiss. We reverse and remand for trial.

¶21 KONENKAMP, J., concurs.

¶22 MILLER, C.J., and AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON, JJ., concur in result.

MILLER, Chief Justice (concurring in result).

¶23 I agree with Justice Sabers’ ultimate result and his discussion noting that Thompson’s complaint states various theories which may support the cause of action (common-law negligence, state statutes and federal regulations). I must merely concur in result, however, because I disagree with and disassociate myself from the discussion and analysis of the rescue doctrine, specifically pp 8-16 supra.

¶24 Analysis of the propriety and applicability of the rescue doctrine at this juncture in these proceedings is premature at best. The doctrine was not argued or advanced by Thompson as a theory to support his cause of action below. It is well settled that we will not review issues which have not been presented to the trial court. Boever v. Board of Accountancy, 526 N.W.2d 747, 750 (S.D.1995); Fullmer v. State Farm Ins. Co., 514 N.W.2d 861, 866 (S.D.1994) (citations omitted). Matters not determined by the trial court are not appropriate for appellate review. See Schull Construction Co. v. Koenig, 80 S.D. 224, 229, 121 N.W.2d 559, 561 (1963). The parties agree and the trial court’s memorandum indicates that the rescue doctrine was not considered in the trial court’s grant of the motion to dismiss. [7] Accordingly, we need not and should not examine the doctrine at this time. [8]

¶25 Any contention that the rescue doctrine was presented to the trial court via the language of the complaint is not persuasive reasoning for reviewing the rescue doctrine as a possible theory of recovery, especially when Thompson specifically concedes he failed to consider the doctrine or present it for the trial court’s consideration. While pleadings need not be so artfully drafted as to specifically list each and every possible claim, the complaint must set forth the facts alleged and contain the essential elements of the cause of action pursued in order to be sufficient. Harmon v. Christy Lumber, Inc., 402 N.W.2d 690, 693 (S.D.1987). See also Weller v. Spring Creek Resort, Inc., 477 N.W.2d 839, 841-42 (S.D.1991). Our deferential standard of review allowing complaints to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim so long as the “complaint states any valid claim for relief …. ‘on any possible theory,’ ” Schlosser v. Norwest Bank South Dakota, 506 N.W.2d 416, 418 (S.D.1993) (citations omitted), does not require the trial court to ferret out and advance a theory on behalf of a party which has not been recognized in this jurisdiction. Such a requirement would put the trial court in the inappropriate position of advocating on behalf of a party and would unduly strain judicial resources in an effort to explore every conceivable theory, whether recognized in this jurisdiction or not.

¶26 Thompson’s complaint states sufficient theories to support his cause of action; therefore, the trial court’s grant of the motion to dismiss was in error and I agree with Justice Sabers that it should be reversed. However, I respectfully assert that the issue of whether the rescue doctrine is a valid theory of common-law negligence in this jurisdiction should be left until another day when the issue has been properly presented for our review.

¶27 I am authorized to state that Justices AMUNDSON and GILBERTSON join in this concurrence in result.

———

Notes:

[1] SDCL 15-6-12(b)(5) is identical to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

[2] In response to Chief Justice Miller’s special writing, we are reversing on precisely the three theories which he lists as meriting reversal. The rescue doctrine is not, standing alone, a viable theory. It is part of negligence in the same way that respondeat superior, vicarious liability, imputed negligence, and concurrent negligence are a part of negligence. Whether the rescue doctrine will be adopted in South Dakota is premature at this state of the proceedings and must await proper disposition upon remand.

However, the rescue doctrine was pled, argued, and reached even if the precise term “rescue doctrine” was not employed. The complaint clearly demonstrates that Thompson set forth the facts and essential elements of this cause of action. The sum total of the trial court’s decision is as follows:

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is hereby granted. In order for a negligence action to stand, there must be a duty on the part of the defendant running to the plaintiff; the existence of such a duty is a question of law for the Court. This Court finds that no such duty has been established by the Plaintiff in the case at bar, and therefore the case is dismissed. Defendant is requested to draft and submit the appropriate Order.

By determining that no duty existed, the trial court rejected all three theories, including the common law of negligence, of which the rescue doctrine is a part.

[3] While Thompson’s complaint did not include the term “rescue doctrine”, it pleads a legally sufficient cause of action for negligence under “notice pleading” theory. See SDCL 15-6-8(a):

A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, whether an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim, shall contain

(1) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and

(2) a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled.

Relief in the alternative or of several different types may be demanded.

(Emphasis added); see also Norwest Bank Black Hills v. Rapid City Teachers Fed. Credit Union, 433 N.W.2d 560, 563 (S.D.1988) (“Under SDCL 15-6-8(a) it is not necessary to plead ‘duty’ in negligence cases where the existence of a duty may be logically inferred from the claim stated in one’s complaint.”); accord Korstad-Tebben, Inc. v. Pope Architects, Inc., 459 N.W.2d 565, 568 (S.D.1990). Thompson claimed that Summers breached a duty to him by failing to rip out the balloon. It did not require the trial court to “explore every conceivable theory” (infra p 25 (Miller, C.J., concurring in result)) to ascertain whether a duty was indeed owed. Duty is based upon foreseeability of injury to another. Analysis of this case depends upon whether injury to Thompson was foreseeable to Summers, and the rescue doctrine simply facilitates the analysis.

[4] Although not material on a motion to dismiss, Summers claims he did not know until afterward that Thompson tried to help him land safely. As noted, the court accepts the pleader’s description of events. Schlosser, 506 N.W.2d at 418.

[5] “The reasons which persuaded us to hold that the violation of a safety statute or ordinance is negligence as a matter of law apply with equal validity to safety rules and regulations[.]” Blakey, 83 S.D. at 7, 153 N.W.2d at 308.

[6] While this is the first time issues involving the rescue doctrine have been presented to this court, the public policy inherent in the doctrine is already in our statutes. The policy underlying the rescue doctrine is the public’s need for quick and courageous action in emergency situations. Compare SDCL 20-9-4.1, which provides individuals general immunity from liability for their actions in emergency situations:

No peace officer, conservation officer, member of any fire department, police department and their first aid, rescue or emergency squad, or any citizen acting as such as a volunteer, or any other person is liable for any civil damages as a result of their acts of commission or omission arising out of and in the course of their rendering in good faith, any emergency care and services during an emergency which is in their judgment indicated and necessary at the time. Such relief from liability for civil damages shall extend to the operation of any motor vehicle in connection with any such care or services….

(Emphasis added). By adopting this “Good Samaritan” statute, the Legislature adopted the public policy of encouraging persons, and–as the emphasized language indicates–not just professional persons, to act on their instinct when confronted with emergency situations. Of course, persons paid to act in emergencies cannot recover from the tortfeasor under the rescue doctrine. See, e.g., Gray v. Russell, 853 S.W.2d 928, 931 (Mo.1993) (en banc) (explaining the rationale for the “firefighter rule”):

Firefighters and police officers are hired, trained, and compensated to deal with dangerous situations affecting the public as a whole. Because of their exceptional responsibilities, when firefighters and police officers are injured in the performance of their duties the cost of their injuries should also be borne by the public as a whole, through the workers’ compensation laws and the provision of insurance benefits and special disability pensions.

(Citation omitted).

[7] At oral argument, Summers argued and Thompson conceded that the trial court was never presented with the rescue doctrine theory and did not reach the issue.

[8] There are a number of reasons for leaving an analysis of the rescue doctrine for another day. The rescue doctrine presents an issue of first impression in this jurisdiction. The failure to raise the doctrine below foreclosed the opportunity for full briefing and presentation of argument on the issue. The rescue doctrine should not be analyzed without the benefit of all the pertinent authorities and public policy arguments if a complete and informed decision is to be reached.

Additionally, “[p]rinciples of judicial restraint dictate that when an issue effectively disposes of the case, other issues that are presented should not be reached.” Poppen v. Walker, 520 N.W.2d 238, 248 (S.D.1994). The conclusion that the trial court’s motion to dismiss should be reversed on other theories negates the necessity of addressing the rescue doctrine on this appeal.

———


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

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

State

By Statute

Restrictions

Alaska

Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292

Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries

Arizona

ARS § 12-553

Limited to Equine Activities

Colorado

C.R.S. §§13-22-107

 

Florida

Florida Statute § 744.301 (3)

Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue

Virginia

Chapter 62.  Equine Activity Liability § 3.2-6202.  Liability limited; liability actions prohibited

Allows a parent to sign a release for a minor for equine activities

Utah

78B-4-203.  Limitations on Liability for Equine and Livestock Activities

Limited to Equine Activities
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign.

 

By Case Law

 

California

Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)

 

Florida

Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454

Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims

Florida

Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147

Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities

Massachusetts

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

 

Minnesota

Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299

 

North Dakota

McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3

 

Ohio

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

 

Wisconsin

Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1

However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 may void all releases in the state

Maryland

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

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

 

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

 

North Carolina

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Presentation: National Cave Association Risk Management and Law

I gave this presentation to the National Cave Association at its 2012 Annual Conference in Deadwood, SD. A great group of people.

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