West Virginia Supreme Court upholds a release signed to obtain a season pass at a ski area

The plaintiff’s inability to produce any evidence to support his allegations also went a long way in defeating his claims.

Citation: Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353 (W. Va. 2013)

State: West Virginia, Supreme Court of West Virginia

Plaintiff: Glen Addis and Pamela Addis

Defendant: Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and Release

Holding: For the Defendants

Year: 2013

Summary

Injury received by experienced season pass holder and former ski instructor was barred by the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and a release he had signed when he bought his season pass.

Facts

Plaintiff was a former ski instructor and a season pass holder at Snowshoe Mountain ski area in Southern West Virginia. On the second run on Lower Shay’s revenge, a double black diamond, he fell, slid into some trees and was severely injured. His argument was based on the idea that the snow making equipment was shooting water rather than snow because of the temperature creating extremely icy conditions.

On the first run down Lower Shay’s Revenge, he noticed the icy conditions, but he did not notify anyone of the conditions.

The plaintiff lost at the trial court level after the defendant Snowshoe Mountain filed a motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at the application of the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act to this incident. The plaintiff argued:

…respondent lost the protection of the Act by failing to monitor weather information, failing to stop malfunctioning snowmaking equipment, failing to train ski patrol, and failing to mark hazards.

(Respondent meaning the ski area.) This argument was predicated on the temperatures that day being above freezing. The snow making equipment was shooting water rather than snow according to the plaintiff.

Central to each of petitioners’ assertions is their supposition that the air temperature was warmer than 32 degrees Fahrenheit at key times on the days around the petitioner’s accident, causing respondents snowmaking equipment to blow water, rather than snow, which created ice on the trail.

The court throughout the weather argument because the plaintiff did not produce any exhibits or evidence that proved the weather that day caused the issues or that the ski area’s snow making equipment malfunctioned because of the temperatures.

The only evidence of the temperature, however, is a three-page climate data report of the National Weather Service setting out the minimum and maximum daily area temperatures for the month of January of 2009. While that report shows that the maximum temperature reached 42 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of petitioner’s accident, there is no evidence that respondent’s equipment malfunctioned as a result of that temperature, or that the equipment was improvidently used.

The court found the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act protected the defendant ski area, because the plaintiff could not prove the resort’s equipment malfunctioned.

The second argument was the release should fail. West Virginia has a history of finding releases void for narrow reasons. In fact, I’ve listed West Virginia as a state where releases are suspect. See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.

Here the plaintiff argued because the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act had been violated, the release was void. A negligence per se argument that a release cannot protect against violation of a rule, regulations or statute designed to protect someone. Since the court found the statute had not been violated, the Supreme Court upheld the release.

Their sole argument before this Court is that the circuit court failed to recognize, based on Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc, that exculpatory clauses do not provide immunity to operators who violate a statutory safety standard. Inasmuch as we have determined herein that there is no evidence of respondents acting contrary to its duty set forth in the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, petitioners cannot prevail on this ground.

So Now What?

What makes this case so interesting is the decision by the WV Supreme Court to uphold a release. In numerous release cases that have come before the court over the past decades, the court has uniformly found the releases void.

Of course, it helps if the plaintiff fails to place into evidence any information or facts that can support his or her case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353 (W. Va. 2013)

Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353 (W. Va. 2013)

Glen Addis and Pamela Addis, Plaintiffs Below, Petitioners

v.

Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, Defendant Below, Respondent

No. 12-1537

Supreme Court of West Virginia

November 22, 2013

(Pocahontas County 10-C-69)

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioners Glen and Pamela Addis, by counsel John F. McCuskey, Roberta F. Green, and Heather B. Osborn, appeal the order of the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County, entered November 28, 2012, granting summary judgment in favor of Respondent Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. Respondent appears by counsel Robert M. Steptoe, Amy M. Smith, and Matthew B. Hansberry.

This Court has considered the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Petitioners filed a complaint and amended complaint in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County based on injuries Petitioner Glen Addis received after skiing over and slipping on ice on a double black diamond trail called Lower Shay’s Revenge at respondent’s ski resort.[1] The civil action was transferred to the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County upon the court’s grant of respondent’s motion to dismiss for improper venue, or in the alternative, transfer. Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment after the close of discovery, and the circuit court granted the motion by order entered November 28, 2012, on the grounds that petitioners’ claims are barred by the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and by release and waiver language contained in an agreement signed by petitioner.[2] Petitioners appealed the grant of summary judgment to this Court.

The material facts are not in dispute. Petitioner Glen Addis entered respondent’s resort the day of his accident using a season pass. In obtaining that pass, petitioner signed the following agreement:

I understand and accept the fact that skiing, snowboarding, bicycling, and golf in their various forms are INHERENTLY DANGEROUS AND HAZARDOUS sports that have many dangers and risks. I realize that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of these sports. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the resort’s facilities and premises, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. and its agents, employees, directors, officers, and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises and facilities, the operations of the resort including, but not limited to, grooming, snowmaking, ski lift operations, trail maintenance, golf operations, the actions or omissions of employees or agents of Snowshoe or my participation in skiing or other activities in the area, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury of any kind which may result.

I further understand and accept that there may be exposure to other dangers or hazards including, but not limited to, the following: riding and disembarking the ski lifts, changing weather conditions, loss of balance or control, rocks, roots, stumps, trees, forest debris, creeks and streams, natural and manmade objects, bare spots, blind spots, reduced visibility (for any reason), and the actions of other guests or employees.

I, the undersigned, have read, understood, and agree to accept the terms of this RELEASE AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE. I am signing it freely and of my own accord realizing it is binding upon my heirs, my assigns, and myself. . . .

I shall support the Responsibility Code and understand that skiing, snowboarding, bicycling and golf are inherently dangerous sports and I freely and voluntarily accept all of the inherent risks and responsibilities associated with these sports.

Petitioner is an experienced skier and former ski instructor, and he had skied Lower Shay’s Revenge many times prior to the accident that is the subject of this claim. His fall occurred on his second run on that trail on the morning of January 24, 2009. On his earlier run, petitioner observed that the trail was not well-groomed, was icy, and had large mounds of snow.[3]He did not, however, report the condition of the trail to ski patrol. Petitioner approached an icy mound on his second run, and his right ski became dislodged. He then stopped on a “very steep slope” and, while attempting to put his ski back on, he slipped on ice, over a drop-off, and into the nearby wooded area. Petitioner struck a tree, fracturing both femurs and his pelvis.

On appeal, petitioners assert two assignments of error. First, they argue that the circuit court improperly construed the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act. Second, they argue that the circuit court misapplied West Virginia law on pre-injury exculpatory clauses and thereby violated their constitutional rights in granting summary judgment. “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syl. Pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192, W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). The non-moving party may only defeat a motion for summary judgment by offering some concrete evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict in his favor. See Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995). Mindful of this standard, we consider petitioners’ arguments.

The West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act provides in part:

§20-3 A-3. Duties of ski area operators with respect to ski areas. Every ski area operator shall:

(8) Maintain the ski areas in a reasonably safe condition, except that such operator shall not be responsible for any injury, loss or damage caused by the following: variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris; collisions with pole lines, lift towers or any components thereof; or, collisions with snowmaking equipment which is marked by a visible sign or other warning implement in compliance with subdivision (2) of this section.

§20-3 A-5. Duties of skiers.

(a) It is recognized that skiing as a recreational sport is hazardous to skiers, regardless of all feasible safety measures which can be taken. Each skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury, loss or damage to person or property which results from participation in the sport of skiing including, but not limited to, any injury, loss or damage caused by the following: Variations in terrain including freestyle terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris; collisions with pole lines, lift towers or any component thereof; or, collisions with snowmaking equipment which is marked by a visible sign or other warning implement in compliance with section three of this article. Each skier shall have the sole individual responsibility for knowing the range of his or her own ability to negotiate any ski slope or trail, and it shall be the duty of each skier to ski within the limits of the skier’s own ability, to maintain reasonable control of speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings, to ski only on a skiing area designated by the ski area operator and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of anyone. If while actually skiing, any skier collides with any object or person, except an obviously intoxicated person of whom the ski area operator is aware, the responsibility for such collision shall be solely that of the skier or skiers involved and not that of the ski area operator.

Petitioners argue that respondent lost the protection of the Act by failing to monitor weather information, failing to stop malfunctioning snowmaking equipment, failing to train ski patrol, and failing to mark hazards. We find no evidence in the record to support any such asserted failure, and petitioners direct our attention to none.[4] Central to each of petitioners’ assertions is their supposition that the air temperature was warmer than 32 degrees Fahrenheit at key times on the days around petitioner’s accident, causing respondent’s snowmaking equipment to blow water, rather than snow, which created ice on the trail. The only evidence of the temperature, however, is a three-page climate data report of the National Weather Service setting out the minimum and maximum daily area temperatures for the month of January of 2009. While that report shows that the maximum temperature reached 42 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of petitioner’s accident, there is no evidence that respondent’s equipment malfunctioned as a result of that temperature, or that the equipment was improvidently used.

Petitioners liken their situation to Hardin v. Ski Venture, Inc., 848 F.Supp. 58 (N.D. W.Va. 1994), a case in which a defendant ski resort was denied summary judgment because there was evidence that defendant’s malfunctioning snowmaking equipment blew “excessively wet snow” into plaintiff’s goggles, obstructing his vision and ultimately causing the collision that rendered him quadriplegic.[5] But here, where petitioners have made only broad accusations of “failure, ” and offered unsupported conjecture, petitioners have presented no facts to significantly distinguish this case from Pinson v. Canaan Valley Resorts, Inc., 196 W.Va. 436, 473 S.E.2d 151 (1996), wherein a plaintiff sued a ski resort for injuries she received while skiing on ungroomed, natural snow. In that case, we ultimately determined that “skiers, rather than ski area operators, are responsible for injuries caused by ‘variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions’ and that such variations or conditions . . . caused the injury to” that plaintiff. Similarly, we find that petitioner is responsible for his injury, inasmuch as the evidence shows only that it was caused by conditions of the terrain.

Petitioners’ second assignment of error is that the circuit court misapplied our law on pre-injury exculpatory clauses. Their sole argument before this Court is that the circuit court failed to recognize, based on Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W.Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991), that exculpatory clauses do not provide immunity to operators who violate a statutory safety standard. Inasmuch as we have determined herein that there is no evidence of respondent’s acting contrary to its duty set forth in the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, petitioners cannot prevail on this ground.

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.

Affirmed.

CONCURRED IN BY:

Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin Justice Robin Jean Davis Justice Margaret L. Workman Justice Menis E. Ketchum Justice Allen H. Loughry II

Notes:

[1]The “double black diamond” designation indicates that the trail is “extremely difficult” and is intended for “advanced” skiers.

[2]The sole claim of Petitioner Pamela Addis was loss of consortium. The circuit court correctly noted that it was entirely derivative of her husband’s claims.

[3]Petitioner was also aware, however, that other nearby trails were groomed, inasmuch as he had skied several earlier that morning.

[4]Petitioners’ citations to their own pleadings or arguments below, rather than specific testimony or evidence, to establish the events giving rise to this action is insufficient.

[5]In their reply brief, petitioners state that they, like the Hardin plaintiffs, “had retained an expert who was prepared to identify the operator’s failures that led to the injuries alleged.” They further explain that it was that expert testimony in Hardin that created a factual dispute concerning the cause of the accident. The Court has been unable to find such expert testimony in the appendix record for this case.


More than allegations and plaintiff’s testimony to sustain a motion for summary judgment for a binding defect in West Virginia

Failure of the plaintiff to keep the broken binding or have any other proof the binding broke would have changed the outcome of the case.

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

State: West Virginia

Plaintiff: Daniel Mrotek

Defendant: Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and product liability

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant. Alternatively, the court found that plaintiff signed a valid release.

Year: 2003

Holding: for the defendant

The plaintiff from Florida with a group of friends went to Snowshoe Ski Area in West Virginia for four days of skiing. He first rented skis from the defendant. While renting he signed a release.

While skiing he fell. He claimed the toe piece of one of the bindings came off. Both the plaintiff and one of his friends testified they through the toe piece away.

The plaintiff exchanged the skis for another pair with the defendant. The defendant testified the skis were in good condition and rented out the next day. The plaintiff did not report the ski binding failed nor did he report an accident to anyone.

Upon the plaintiff’s return to Florida, he was suffering head aches and blurred vision. He eventually needed four surgeries and had a permanent shunt placed in his head.

The plaintiff sued the defendant rental business. The rental business filed claims against the ski and binding manufacturer as third party defendants. The trial court, called a Circuit Court in West Virginia dismissed the claims of the plaintiff against the defendant. By doing so the third party claims are also dismissed against the third party defendants. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The basis of the court’s ruling in favor of the defendant was the plaintiff “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO, which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” In a negligence claim, the negligence must be proved, it cannot be imputed or presumed.  

Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”

After examining all the evidence the court found” The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing.”

The defendant had no evidence of a broken ski or binding. The plaintiff had not told the defendant the binding was broken and had not registered a claim. No third party saw the broken binding other than the friend who testified it had been thrown away.

The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.

In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case.

So Now What?

This case would have been totally different if the plaintiff had kept the toe piece, photographed it or pointed out the problem to a third party or the defendant; anything to support his claim other than his statements.

The main reason for this statement is releases in West Virginia have been disfavored whenever they reach the West Virginia Supreme Court. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.)

The defendant did the correct thing by following the protocol set up by the ski rental industry. The ski was examined, and nothing was found to be defective so the ski and binding were rented out the next day. If necessary, the defendant could have brought in the rental receipts showing the ski and bindings had been rented and how often after the plaintiff’s incident.

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Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

Daniel Mrotek, an Individual, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Defendants below, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., A Corporation, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Below, Appellees, v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc., Third-Party Defendants Below, Appellees.

No. 31395

SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA

214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

November 18, 2003, Submitted

December 3, 2003, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County. Honorable James J. Rowe, Judge. Civil Action No. 99-C-37.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syllabus point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

2. “Summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syllabus point 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

COUNSEL: Larry E. Losch, William A. McCourt, Jr., Summersville, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellant.

William J. Hanna, Robert P. Lorea, Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee, Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc.

Rob J. Aliff, Jackson & Kelly, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellee, Skis Dynastar.

Robert M. Steptoe, Jr. [***2] , Steptoe & Johnson, Clarksburg, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee, Adidas American, Inc.

M. Hance Price, Steptoe & Johnson, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorney for Adidas American, Inc.

OPINION

[*491] [**684] Per Curiam:

This appeal was filed by Daniel Mrotek, appellant/plaintiff below (hereinafter referred to as “Mr. Mrotek”), from an order of the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County granting summary judgment in favor of Coal River Canoe, Ltd., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as “EMO”), appellee/defendant below. Mr. Mrotek filed an action against EMO alleging that he sustained injuries as a result of his use of an allegedly defective ski that he rented from EMO. The circuit court granted summary judgment on two alternative grounds. The circuit court found that Mr. Mrotek did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of EMO. Alternatively, the court found that Mr. Mrotek signed a valid release of his right to sue EMO for any injury caused by its equipment. In this appeal, Mr. Mrotek contends that genuine issues of material fact are in dispute as to whether EMO supplied him with a defective ski and that the release from liability he signed was unenforceable. [***3] Upon review of the briefs and record in this case, we affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Mrotek is a resident of Florida. On December 28, 1997, Mr. Mrotek and a group of seven friends came to Snowshoe, West Virginia, for a four day skiing vacation. Upon their arrival, Mr. Mrotek and some of his companions rented skiing equipment from EMO. As part of the rental transaction, EMO required all customers to read and execute a document releasing EMO from any harm caused by its equipment. Mr. Mrotek signed the release.

Shortly after renting the ski equipment, Mr. Mrotek and his companions ventured off to engage in night skiing. During the first run of the evening Mr. Mrotek fell and apparently hit his head. A skiing companion, Herman Serpa, saw Mr. Mrotek fall and came to his aid. Mr. Serpa states that he noticed that a toe binding on Mr. Mrotek’s right ski was missing. Mr. Serpa states that he found the toe binding with three rusty screws protruding from it. The toe binding was allegedly thrown away by either Mr. Serpa or Mr. Mrotek. However, neither man appears to have recalled who threw away the toe binding.

Mr. Serpa allegedly returned the defective ski and received [***4] a replacement. Mr. Mrotek did not report the incident to EMO even though, as a result of the fall, he allegedly “became very dizzy, sick at his stomach with vomiting along with severe headaches.”

Upon returning to Florida, Mr. Mrotek sought medical treatment for blurred vision, nausea and exhaustion. A medical examination revealed Mr. Mrotek suffered from Papilledema, i.e., fluid on the brain caused by a damaged ventricle. On February 16, 1998, Mr. Mrotek underwent surgery to place a shunt in his skull to drain the excess fluid. Due to complications, Mr. Mrotek eventually underwent three more surgeries. Although Mr. Mrotek has recovered from the problems caused by the excess fluid, he must permanently have “a small tube running underneath his skin from his brain down his neck and into his heart to maintain the pressure and stability inside his skull.”

Mr. Mrotek filed this action against EMO [**685] [*492] in 1999, 1 alleging EMO supplied him with a defective ski which caused him to fall and sustain a head injury. 2 After a period of discovery, EMO moved for summary judgment. By order entered June 17, 2002, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of EMO. 3 This appeal is a result [***5] of the circuit court’s ruling.

1 The record submitted on appeal is extremely sparse and does not contain the pleadings.

2 EMO filed a third-party complaint against the suppliers of the ski, Skis Dynastar, Inc. and Salomon North American, Inc., for indemnity or contribution.

3 The circuit court’s order also dismissed EMO’s third-party complaint.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard for our review of an order granting summary judgment is well established. [HN1] “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). Insofar as “‘appellate review of an entry of summary judgment is plenary, this Court, like the circuit court, must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.'” Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co. v. Bennett, 199 W. Va. 236, 238, 483 S.E.2d 819, 821 (1997) (quoting [***6] Asaad v. Res-Care, Inc., 197 W. Va. 684, 687, 478 S.E.2d 357, 360 (1996)). We have made clear that [HN2] “summary judgment is appropriate [only] if ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Pritt v. Republican Nat’l Comm., 210 W. Va. 446, 452, 557 S.E.2d 853, 859 (2001) (quoting W. Va.R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Further, [HN3] “summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syl. pt. 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). With these standards as our guide, we now address the issues asserted on appeal.

III.

DISCUSSION

The dispositive issue in this case is the determination by the circuit court that Mr. Mrotek “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” [HN4] This Court has observed that “it is an elementary principle [***7] of law that negligence will not be imputed or presumed. The bare fact of an injury standing alone, without supporting evidence, is not sufficient to justify an inference of negligence.” Walton v. Given, 158 W. Va. 897, 902, 215 S.E.2d 647, 651 (1975). 4 Moreover, [HN5] “negligence . . . is a jury question when the evidence is conflicting or the facts are such that reasonable men may draw different conclusions from them.” Burgess v. Jefferson, 162 W. Va. 1, 3, 245 S.E.2d 626, 628 (1978).

4 Mr. Mrotek contends that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should be applied to the facts of this case to overcome summary judgment. [HN6] “Pursuant to the evidentiary rule of res ipsa loquitur, it may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by negligence of the defendant when (a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and (c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.” Syl. pt. 4, Foster v. City of Keyser, 202 W.Va. 1, 501 S.E.2d 165 (1997). Clearly, under the Foster formulation of [HN7] res ipsa loquitur, the doctrine simply has no application to falling while skiing–which is an extremely frequent incident that can occur without any negligence. See Syl. pt. 2, Farley v. Meadows, 185 W.Va. 48, 404 S.E.2d 537 (1991) [HN8] (“The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur cannot be invoked where the existence of negligence is wholly a matter of conjecture and the circumstances are not proved, but must themselves be presumed, or when it may be inferred that there was no negligence on the part of the defendant. The doctrine applies only in cases where defendant’s negligence is the only inference that can reasonably and legitimately be drawn from the circumstances.”).

[***8] The primary evidence relied upon by Mr. Mrotek was the deposition [**686] testimony of Mr. Serpa. Mr. Mrotek presented the deposition [*493] testimony of Mr. Serpa to show that the toe binding on the right ski came loose. Mr. Serpa testified that he found a piece of the binding with three rusty screws protruding from it. There was also testimony by Mr. Serpa that he returned the defective ski to EMO and was given a replacement. There was also evidence to show that the skis rented by Mr. Mrotek were not tested for weakness by EMO prior to 1997-98 ski season.

EMO took the position that nothing happened to the skis that were rented to Mr. Mrotek. According to EMO’s records the skis rented to Mr. Mrotek were returned in good condition and were rented out again the day after Mr. Mrotek returned them. EMO presented an affidavit from its management employee, Charlie McDaniels. Mr. McDaniels indicated that the bindings used on the skis rented by EMO were made of aluminum or were galvanized and would not rust.

In looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Mrotek, we do not find a material issue of fact in dispute. EMO presented evidence to establish that no defect existed in the skis rented [***9] to Mr. Mrotek. In fact, there was evidence that Mr. Mrotek examined the skis before renting them and found nothing wrong. EMO also established that they had no record to show that Mr. Serpa or Mr. Mrotek turned in a broken ski. Mr. Mrotek presented bare testimonial evidence to show that a toe binding broke loose from the right ski. No actual evidence was introduced showing the defective ski or the parts that were allegedly broken from the ski. See Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W. Va. 52, 61 n.14, 459 S.E.2d 329, 338 n.14 (1995) [HN9] (“Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”). The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing. [HN10] The mere fact of falling while skiing is not actionable negligence. See Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 192-93, 451 S.E.2d 755, 758-59 (1994) [HN11] (“The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.”); Syl. pt.1, in part, Parsley v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 167 W. Va. 866, 280 S.E.2d 703 (1981) [***10] [HN12] (“In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case. 5

5 Because we affirm the circuit court’s initial reason for granting summary judgment, we need not address the issue involving the release signed by Mr. Mrotek.

IV.

CONCLUSION

In view of the foregoing, the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of EMO is affirmed.

Affirmed.


Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353

Addis v. Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., 2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353

Glen Addis and Pamela Addis, Plaintiffs Below, Petitioners vs Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, Defendant Below, Respondent

No. 12-1537

SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA

2013 W. Va. LEXIS 1353

November 22, 2013, Filed, Issued

NOTICE:

Memorandum decisions are subject to the rehearing procedures set forth in Revised Rule 25. Unless otherwise provided, the memorandum decision is not final until the Court has issued a mandate under Rule 26. SEE WEST VIRGINIA RULE 21 OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE FOR CITATION OF MEMORANDUM OPINIONS.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

(Pocahontas County 10-C-69).

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS: skier, skiing, ski, trail, ski area, summary judgment, snow, snowmaking, collision, sport, ice, terrain, temperature, West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, variations, lift, spots, ski resort, exculpatory clauses, subsurface, inasmuch, surface, warning, resort, forest, debris, times, rocks, bare, weather

JUDGES: CONCURRED IN BY: Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin, Justice Robin Jean Davis, Justice Margaret L. Workman, Justice Menis E. Ketchum, Justice Allen H. Loughry II.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioners Glen and Pamela Addis, by counsel John F. McCuskey, Roberta F. Green, and Heather B. Osborn, appeal the order of the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County, entered November 28, 2012, granting summary judgment in favor of Respondent Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. Respondent appears by counsel Robert M. Steptoe, Amy M. Smith, and Matthew B. Hansberry.

This Court has considered the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Petitioners filed a complaint and amended complaint in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County based on injuries Petitioner Glen Addis received after skiing over and slipping [*2] on ice on a double black diamond trail called Lower Shay’s Revenge at respondent’s ski resort.1 The civil action was transferred to the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County upon the court’s grant of respondent’s motion to dismiss for improper venue, or in the alternative, transfer. Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment after the close of discovery, and the circuit court granted the motion by order entered November 28, 2012, on the grounds that petitioners’ claims are barred by the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act and by release and waiver language contained in an agreement signed by petitioner.2 Petitioners appealed the grant of summary judgment to this Court.

1 The “double black diamond” designation indicates that the trail is “extremely difficult” and is intended for “advanced” skiers.

2 The sole claim of Petitioner Pamela Addis was loss of consortium. The circuit court correctly noted that it was entirely derivative of her husband’s claims.

The material facts are not in dispute. Petitioner Glen Addis entered respondent’s resort the day of his accident using a season pass. In obtaining that pass, petitioner signed the following agreement:

I understand and accept the fact [*3] that skiing, snowboarding, bicycling, and golf in their various forms are INHERENTLY DANGEROUS AND HAZARDOUS sports that have many dangers and risks. I realize that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of these sports. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the resort’s facilities and premises, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. and its agents, employees, directors, officers, and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises and facilities, the operations of the resort including, but not limited to, grooming, snowmaking, ski lift operations, trail maintenance, golf operations, the actions or omissions of employees or agents of Snowshoe or my participation in skiing or other activities in the area, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury of any kind which may result.

I further understand and accept that there may be exposure to other dangers or hazards including, but not limited to, the following: riding and disembarking [*4] the ski lifts, changing weather conditions, loss of balance or control, rocks, roots, stumps, trees, forest debris, creeks and streams, natural and manmade objects, bare spots, blind spots, reduced visibility (for any reason), and the actions of other guests or employees.

I, the undersigned, have read, understood, and agree to accept the terms of this RELEASE AND AGREEMENT NOT TO SUE. I am signing it freely and of my own accord realizing it is binding upon my heirs, my assigns, and myself. . . .

I shall support the Responsibility Code and understand that skiing, snowboarding, bicycling and golf are inherently dangerous sports and I freely and voluntarily accept all of the inherent risks and responsibilities associated with these sports.

Petitioner is an experienced skier and former ski instructor, and he had skied Lower Shay’s Revenge many times prior to the accident that is the subject of this claim. His fall occurred on his second run on that trail on the morning of January 24, 2009. On his earlier run, petitioner observed that the trail was not well-groomed, was icy, and had large mounds of snow.3 He did not, however, report the condition of the trail to ski patrol. Petitioner approached [*5] an icy mound on his second run, and his right ski became dislodged. He then stopped on a “very steep slope” and, while attempting to put his ski back on, he slipped on ice, over a drop-off, and into the nearby wooded area. Petitioner struck a tree, fracturing both femurs and his pelvis.

3 Petitioner was also aware, however, that other nearby trails were groomed, inasmuch as he had skied several earlier that morning.

On appeal, petitioners assert two assignments of error. First, they argue that the circuit court improperly construed the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act. Second, they argue that the circuit court misapplied West Virginia law on pre-injury exculpatory clauses and thereby violated their constitutional rights in granting summary judgment. “A circuit court’s entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.” Syl. Pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W. Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). The non-moving party may only defeat a motion for summary judgment by offering some concrete evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict in his favor. See Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995). Mindful of this standard, we consider petitioners’ [*6] arguments.

The West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act provides in part:

§20-3A-3. Duties of ski area operators with respect to ski areas. Every ski area operator shall:

(8) Maintain the ski areas in a reasonably safe condition, except that such operator shall not be responsible for any injury, loss or damage caused by the following: variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris; collisions with pole lines, lift towers or any components thereof; or, collisions with snowmaking equipment which is marked by a visible sign or other warning implement in compliance with subdivision (2) of this section.

… §20-3A-5. Duties of skiers.

(a) It is recognized that skiing as a recreational sport is hazardous to skiers, regardless of all feasible safety measures which can be taken. Each skier expressly assumes the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury, loss or damage to person or property which results from participation in the sport of skiing including, but not limited to, any injury, loss or damage caused by the following: Variations in terrain including freestyle terrain; surface or subsurface snow [*7] or ice conditions; bare spots, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris; collisions with pole lines, lift towers or any component thereof; or, collisions with snowmaking equipment which is marked by a visible sign or other warning implement in compliance with section three of this article. Each skier shall have the sole individual responsibility for knowing the range of his or her own ability to negotiate any ski slope or trail, and it shall be the duty of each skier to ski within the limits of the skier’s own ability, to maintain reasonable control of speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings, to ski only on a skiing area designated by the ski area operator and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of anyone. If while actually skiing, any skier collides with any object or person, except an obviously intoxicated person of whom the ski area operator is aware, the responsibility for such collision shall be solely that of the skier or skiers involved and not that of the ski area operator.

Petitioners argue that respondent lost the protection of the Act by failing to monitor weather information, failing to [*8] stop malfunctioning snowmaking equipment, failing to train ski patrol, and failing to mark hazards. We find no evidence in the record to support any such asserted failure, and petitioners direct our attention to none.4 Central to each of petitioners’ assertions is their supposition that the air temperature was warmer than 32 degrees Fahrenheit at key times on the days around petitioner’s accident, causing respondent’s snowmaking equipment to blow water, rather than snow, which created ice on the trail. The only evidence of the temperature, however, is a three-page climate data report of the National Weather Service setting out the minimum and maximum daily area temperatures for the month of January of 2009. While that report shows that the maximum temperature reached 42 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of petitioner’s accident, there is no evidence that respondent’s equipment malfunctioned as a result of that temperature, or that the equipment was improvidently used.

4 Petitioners’ citations to their own pleadings or arguments below, rather than specific testimony or evidence, to establish the events giving rise to this action is insufficient.

Petitioners liken their situation to Hardin v. Ski Venture, Inc., 848 F.Supp. 58 (N.D. W.Va. 1994), [*9] a case in which a defendant ski resort was denied summary judgment because there was evidence that defendant’s malfunctioning snowmaking equipment blew “excessively wet snow” into plaintiff’s goggles, obstructing his vision and ultimately causing the collision that rendered him quadriplegic.5 But here, where petitioners have made only broad accusations of “failure,” and offered unsupported conjecture, petitioners have presented no facts to significantly distinguish this case from Pinson v. Canaan Valley Resorts, Inc., 196 W.Va. 436, 473 S.E.2d 151 (1996), wherein a plaintiff sued a ski resort for injuries she received while skiing on ungroomed, natural snow. In that case, we ultimately determined that “skiers, rather than ski area operators, are responsible for injuries caused by ‘variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions’ and that such variations or conditions . . . caused the injury to” that plaintiff. Similarly, we find that petitioner is responsible for his injury, inasmuch as the evidence shows only that it was caused by conditions of the terrain.

5 In their reply brief, petitioners state that they, like the Hardin plaintiffs, “had retained an expert who [*10] was prepared to identify the operator’s failures that led to the injuries alleged.” They further explain that it was that expert testimony in Hardin that created a factual dispute concerning the cause of the accident. The Court has been unable to find such expert testimony in the appendix record for this case.

Petitioners’ second assignment of error is that the circuit court misapplied our law on pre-injury exculpatory clauses. Their sole argument before this Court is that the circuit court failed to recognize, based on Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W.Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991), that exculpatory clauses do not provide immunity to operators who violate a statutory safety standard. Inasmuch as we have determined herein that there is no evidence of respondent’s acting contrary to its duty set forth in the West Virginia Skiing Responsibility Act, petitioners cannot prevail on this ground.

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.

Affirmed.

ISSUED: November 22, 2013

CONCURRED IN BY:

Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin

Justice Robin Jean Davis

Justice Margaret L. Workman

Justice Menis E. Ketchum

Justice Allen H. Loughry II


Whitewater rafting, 13 injuries one death and release in WV are upheld. Management-level employees of DC health care company rafted river in allegedly high water causing injuries.

West Virginia Supreme court holds that admiralty or maritime law does not apply to whitewater rafting.

River Riders, Inc., v. Steptoe, et al, 223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157

Date of the Decision: December 10, 2008

Plaintiff on Appeal, Defendants at the trial court: River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, Petitioners

Defendant: The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe

Third parties on appeal: plaintiff’s at the trial court: Executor of the estate of the deceased and the 13 injured plaintiffs

Plaintiff Claims: failed to meet the statutory “standard of care” expected of members of the whitewater guide profession in direct violation of the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act, W. Va. Code

Defendant Defenses: release

Issue on Appeal: Whether the trial court had improperly held the whitewater rafting trip was subject to federal admiralty law.

Holding:

This is an interesting case from a procedural perspective as well as a factual one. The issue on appeal is not a review of a complete ruling by the trial court but of a ruling that the defendants, and the court felt would influence the final decision. Meaning the defendant could convince the appellate court that the trial court’s ruling was probably wrong and unless corrected now, the entire trial would have to be done again.

The facts are people went rafting on the Shenandoah River in West Virginia. Before embarking on the trip each person signed a “Release, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement.” The water was higher than average on the day of the raft trip; 12.5 feet compared to an average of 2 to 4 feet. During the raft trip four of the rafts dumped, sending several people into the water, including the deceased and thirteen other rafters into the river.

Two separate lawsuits were filed over the incident. The first was by the estate of the deceased. The second lawsuit was filed by the other thirteen injured rafters.

The complaints of the plaintiff allege several issues:

…River Riders failed to meet the statutory “standard of care” expected of members of the whitewater guide profession in direct violation of the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act, W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b) (1987).

…that running a raft trip on September 30, 2004, simply was not reasonable under the circumstances, and that the expected standard of care would have obligated River Riders to cancel or reschedule the whitewater expedition on that day because of the river’s high and turbulent waters caused by a recent hurricane that had swept through the area.

…failing to call off or postpone the trip until conditions were safe to go out on the river, by failing to recognize that the operating capabilities of its rafts with the inexperienced customers would be unsafe and hazardous in high, swift and rough water conditions; and by wrongfully electing to navigate the Shenandoah River and in particular the Shenandoah Staircase.

The complaint for the wrongful death included the following claims:

two separate counts: one for negligence, gross negligence, reckless and wanton conduct; the other for negligence per se. Citing fifteen alleged acts or omissions, Count One alleges that the duties owed by River Riders to Mr. Freeman included the duty to conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession, the duty to conform to safety and other requirements set forth in the West Virginia Code, the duty to conform to rules promulgated by the commercial whitewater advisory board, and the duty not to act in a reckless or wanton manner. Count Two alleges two additional acts or omissions constituting negligence per se, including citations by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resource for failure to mark a commercial water craft and failure to have a valid CPR card as required by W. Va. Code §20-2-23a

Prior to trial, the plaintiff’s filed a motion in limine to exclude the release agreement which the court granted. The court relied upon a prior West Virginia Supreme Court case that held since there was a statute supporting and providing defenses for the whitewater rafting industry, a release was no long available as a defense. Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991)

Another motion in limine was filed by the plaintiff’s arguing that assumption of risk could not be a defense because the case was governed by maritime law.

Finally, the plaintiff’s filed a motion to consolidate both lawsuits into one and have one trial. This motion was also granted by the court.

The defendants then filed motions with the West Virginia Supreme court arguing that the motions of the trial court were wrong, and the court had to intervene for a fair trial to occur. This motion was called a Writ of Prohibition.

The West Virginia Supreme Court granted the Writ but only as to the issue of whether or not maritime law applied to a whitewater rafting case in West Virginia.

This Court has, on limited occasions, considered challenges from evidentiary rulings in unique circumstances where the matter at issue rose to a level of considerable importance and compelling urgency.

The court declined to review the other issues because a writ of prohibition was not the proper way to argue the issues and timing of those issues were best left to the appeal of the case.

Summary of the case

To be subject to Federal maritime law a two-prong test must be met, “whether the rafting mishap and ensuing tort claims arising therefrom satisfied both prerequisite conditions of 1) location on the navigable waters and 2) connection with maritime activity.”

In determining whether or not the accident occurred on navigable waters the trial court should have included an analysis of “…whether the incident constituted “a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce” and that it had a “substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity” and determined the “the activity of whitewater rafting does not constitute traditional maritime activity and is therefore, not governed by maritime law.”

…given the fact that the Shenandoah River maintains average depths of two feet, 18 it is hard to envision how the act of whitewater rafting could have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, to  the extent that this area was unlikely a highly traveled thoroughfare over which trade and travel is conducted.

Nor could the court find any decision where admiralty law had been applied to whitewater rafting.

Whitewater rafting is a recreational activity where participants seek the adventure of paddling a rubber raftin rapidly moving whitewater streams and rivers. Such use of streams and rivers carrying people, not as traveling passengers, but rather as participants seeking adventure, makes it difficult to conceive that whitewater rafting bears a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.

The appellate court sent the case back down with two of the rulings intact.

So Now What?

Admiralty law is a separate area of the law. It was developed prior to the formation of the United States for commerce between countries. It has very different rules for liability, worker’s compensation and other legal issues. In the US, admiralty law also applies to travel on major rivers and waterways. When and how admiralty law is applied is dependent upon the federal statute and the type of admiralty activity. As an example there are more than a dozen different definitions of navigable for different maritime activities.

Admiralty law came from commerce. Admiralty law has been applied to recreational activities in the past, such as using personal water craft, however, in all of those cases; the activity was on the ocean or large bodies of water.

Admiralty law could be used in some states on some rafting rivers as a defense, if handled by a law firm knowledgeable in admiralty law. If the jurisdictional issues are met, a defendant can go to court within six months of an accident and file a notice (open a case) and post a bond. The reason for doing this is, under admiralty law, the damages available to the plaintiff’s is limited to the value of the vessel and its contents after the accident. However, by doing this the raft company may be admitting liability and must prove it was an admiralty issue.

This law as created to limit the damages of a ship owner to not bankrupt the owner or the industry. A $10,000 raft, frame and gear are a relatively cheap and easy way to get out from under a potential claim. However, if you fail to meet the requirements but are still subject to admiralty law, you do not have several defenses normally relied upon to stop claims: releases and assumption of the risk.

To some extent, we are left hanging by the decision on whether a release is valid as a defense in a rafting accident in West Virginia. However, the decision on whether the federal maritime law is applicable is valuable.

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River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, v. The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe, et al, 223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157

River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, v. The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe, et al, 223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157

River Riders, Inc., and Matthew Knott, Petitioners v. The Honorable Thomas W. Steptoe, all Plaintiffs in the Christopher et al v. River Riders, Inc., Civil Action No. 06-C-328, And All Plaintiffs in Freeman Civil Action NO. 06-C-325, Respondents

No. 34206

SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA

223 W. Va. 240; 672 S.E.2d 376; 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 116; 2009 AMC 2157

October 28, 2008, Submitted

December 10, 2008, Filed

SYLLABUS

[**378] [*242] BY THE COURT

1. “In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal’s order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal’s order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal’s order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight.” Syllabus Point 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W. Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).

2. [***2] “In determining whether to grant a rule to show cause in prohibition when a court is not acting in excess of its jurisdiction, this Court will look to the adequacy of other available remedies such as appeal and to the over-all economy of effort and money among litigants, lawyers and courts; however, this Court will use prohibition in this discretionary way to correct only substantial, clear-cut, legal errors plainly in contravention of a clear statutory, constitutional, or common law mandate which may be resolved independently of any disputed facts and only in cases where there is a high probability that the trial will be completely reversed if the error is not corrected in advance.” Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Tucker County Solid Waste Authority v. West Virginia Division of Labor, 222 W. Va. 588, 668 S.E.2d 217, 2008 WL 2523591 (W. Va. 2008).

3. “In the absence of compelling evidence of irremediable prejudice, a writ of prohibition will not lie to bar trial based upon a judge’s pretrial ruling on a matter of evidentiary admissibility.” Syllabus Point 3, State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside, 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124 (2002).

4. “A writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of [***3] discretion by a [**379] [*243] trial court.” Syllabus Point 4, State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124 (2002).

5. “A party seeking to petition this Court for an extraordinary writ based upon a non-appealable interlocutory decision of a trial court, must request the trial court set out in an order findings of fact and conclusions of law that support and form the basis of its decision. In making the request to the trial court, counsel must inform the trial court specifically that the request is being made because counsel intends to seek an extraordinary writ to challenge the court’s ruling. When such a request is made, trial courts are obligated to enter an order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. Absent a request by the complaining party, a trial court is under no duty to set out findings of fact and conclusions of law in non-appealable interlocutory orders.” Syllabus Point 6, State ex rel. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Gaughan, 203 W. Va. 358, 508 S.E.2d 75 (1998).

6. Federal admiralty law governs a tort action if the wrong occurred on navigable waters, and if the incident involved had the potential to disrupt maritime activity and the general character of the activity [***4] giving rise to the incident had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.

7. “[A] party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333(1) over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity. A court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. 46 U.S.C. App. §740. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must ‘assess the general features of the type of incident involved,’ 497 U.S., at 363, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, to determine whether the incident has ‘a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce,’ id., at 364, n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, n. 2. Second, a court must determine whether ‘the general character’ of the ‘activity giving rise to the incident’ shows a ‘substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.’ Id., at 365, 364, and n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2897, 2896, and n. 2.” Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, 513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 1048, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024 (1995).

8. The activity of whitewater rafting does not constitute traditional maritime activity [***5] and is therefore not governed by federal admiralty law.

COUNSEL: For Petitioners: Robert P. Martin, Esq., Justin C. Taylor, Esq., Jared M. Tully, Esq., Bailey & Wyant, P.L.L.C., Charleston, West Virginia; Michael A. Barcott, Esq., Holmes Weddle & Barcott, P.C., Seattle, Washington.

For Kathy L. Freeman, Respondent: Stephen G. Skinner, Esq., Laura C. Davis, Esq., Skinner Law Firm, Charles Town, West Virginia.

For The Christopher Plaintiffs, Respondent: Michael P. Smith, Esq., Salsbury, Clements, Beckman, Marder & Adkins, LLC, Baltimore, Maryland; Mark Jenkinson, Esq., Burke, Schultz, Harman, and Jenkinson, Martinsburg, West Virginia.

JUDGES: JUSTICE BENJAMIN delivered the Opinion of the Court. CHIEF JUSTICE MAYNARD concurs and reserves the right to file a concurring opinion. JUSTICE ALBRIGHT not participating. SENIOR STATUS JUSTICE McHUGH sitting by temporary assignment.

OPINION BY: BENJAMIN

OPINION

Petition for a Writ of Prohibition

WRIT GRANTED AS MOULDED

BENJAMIN, Justice: 1

1 Pursuant to an administrative order entered on September 11, 2008, the Honorable Thomas E. McHugh, Senior Status Justice, was assigned to sit as a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia commencing September 12, 2008, and continuing until [***6] the Chief Justice determines that assistance is no longer necessary, in light of the illness of Justice Joseph P. Albright.

Petitioners, River Riders, Inc. and Matthew Knott, seek a writ of prohibition to vacate three pre-trial orders of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County that (1) excluded from the forthcoming trial the Release and Assumption of Risk Agreements that had been signed by fourteen plaintiffs prior to embarking on a whitewater rafting expedition provided by the Petitioners; (2) ruled that the rafting incident was governed by [**380] [*244] general maritime law, thus, precluding assumption of the risk as a defense; and (3) consolidated the civil action of the personal representative of the estate of the decedent with the civil action brought by thirteen injured persons. After careful consideration of the memoranda 2 and arguments in this proceeding, as well as the pertinent legal authorities, we grant the writ sought only to the extent of vacating the circuit court’s ruling finding that the rafting incident is governed by maritime law.

2 We wish to acknowledge the participation of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters amicus curiae in support of Petitioners and appreciate their [***7] participation in this action.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This original proceeding in prohibition arose out of a commercial whitewater rafting accident on the Shenandoah River in Jefferson County, West Virginia, which resulted in the death of one person and injuries to thirteen others, all paying participants in a rafting expedition taken with River Riders, Inc., a licensed commercial whitewater outfitter. 3 As a result of the accident, two separate lawsuits against River Riders ensued. The first action was filed by Kathy L. Freeman [hereinafter referred to as the “Freeman plaintiff”], as personal representative of the estate of her husband, the decedent, Roger Freeman. 4 The second action was filed by the thirteen injured persons and seven of their spouses [hereinafter collectively referred to as the “Christopher plaintiffs”] who claimed loss of consortium. 5

3 The accident, which occurred on September 30, 2004, involved four inflatable rafts which dumped Roger Freeman and thirteen of the Christopher plaintiffs into the Shenandoah River, causing Mr. Freeman to drown, and causing various personal injuries to the others. All but two of the fourteen were management employees of Kaiser [***8] Permanente of suburban Washington, D.C. It is claimed that on this particular day, the level of water on the Shenandoah River was approximately 12.5 feet, compared to a normal average level of 2 to 4 feet during that time of year.

4 The Freeman lawsuit also names Matthew Knott, owner of River Riders, as a defendant. Mr. Knott is also alleged to have been a commercial whitewater guide who guided one of the rafts on the ill-fated expedition and who served as the trip’s leader.

5 In the second of the complaints, Timothy Friddle, husband of Cristina Renee Friddle, is named as a plaintiff. They claim “loss of consortium and services, and interference with and injury to their marital relationship.” Timothy Friddle is not, however, named as a spouse and as plaintiff in the Memorandum which these plaintiffs filed with this Court in this proceeding. The Petitioners represent that Mr. Friddle has been voluntarily dismissed from the action.

Prior to embarking on the rafting expedition, Roger Freeman and each of the injured Christopher plaintiffs signed a “Release, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement” [hereinafter sometimes referred to as “Release Agreement”] provided to them by River Riders. [***9] In that agreement, each signatory (1) acknowledged that he or she had requested to be allowed to participate in whitewater rafting provided by River Riders; and expressed his or her understanding, among other things, that “[whitewater rafting] activities and services pose substantial risks of injury or death. . . as the result of exposure; . . . or being in whitewater rivers and streams; . . . the negligence, gross negligence, or bad judgment by [the signatory], River Riders, Inc., or other participants; the failure or misuse of equipment; . . . and other known and foreseeable risks of [whitewater rafting].” (Emphasis in original). The signatories to the Release Agreement also agreed, in part, that:

In consideration of and as partial payment for being allowed to participate in [whitewater rafting] provided by River Riders, Inc., I ASSUME, to the greatest extent permitted by law, all of the risks, whether or not specifically identified herein, of all the activities in which I participate and services I use [whitewater rafting]; I RELEASE River Riders, Inc. from any and all liability, including, but not limited to, liability arising from negligence, gross negligence, willful and wanton [***10] and intentional conduct; . . .

[**381] [*245] The Freeman plaintiff and the Christopher plaintiffs contend that River Riders failed to meet the statutory “standard of care” expected of members of the whitewater guide profession in direct violation of the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act, W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b) (1987). 6 In both actions, they assert that running a raft trip on September 30, 2004, simply was not reasonable under the circumstances, and that the expected standard of care would have obligated River Riders to cancel or reschedule the whitewater expedition on that day because of the river’s high and turbulent waters caused by a recent hurricane that had swept through the area. 7 Specifically, Respondents argue that River Riders was negligent and careless and failed to conform to the standard of care by failing to call off or postpone the trip until conditions were safe to go out on the river, by failing to recognize that the operating capabilities of its rafts with the inexperienced customers would be unsafe and hazardous in high, swift and rough water conditions; and by wrongfully electing to navigate the Shenandoah River and in particular the Shenandoah Staircase. 8

6 In 1987, [***11] the Legislature enacted the Whitewater Responsibility Act, codified as W. Va. Code §§20-3B-1 et seq.(1987). Therein, [HN1] the Legislature stated that it “recognizes that there are inherent risks in the recreational activities provided by commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides which should be understood by each participant. It is essentially impossible for commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides to eliminate these risks. It is the purpose of this article to define those areas of responsibility and affirmative acts for which commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides are liable for loss, damage or injury.” W. Va. Code §20-3B-1.

The Act [HN2] declares that “[n]o licensed commercial whitewater outfitter or commercial whitewater guide acting in the course of his employment is liable to a participant for damages or injuries to such participant unless such damage or injury was directly caused by failure of the commercial whitewater outfitter or commercial whitewater guide to comply with duties placed on him by article two of this chapter, by the rules of the commercial whitewater advisory board, or by the duties placed on such [***12] commercial whitewater outfitters or commercial whitewater guide by the provisions of this article.” W. Va. Code §20-3B-5(a).

Among the duties imposed by the Whitewater Responsibility Act upon all commercial whitewater guides providing services for whitewater expeditions in this state is that they “while providing such services, conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession.” W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b).

7 The Freeman plaintiff represents to the Court that the liability issues are exactly the same in both cases.

8 The wrongful death complaint filed by the Freeman plaintiff contains two separate counts: one for negligence, gross negligence, reckless and wanton conduct; the other for negligence per se. Citing fifteen alleged acts or omissions, Count One alleges that the duties owed by River Riders to Mr. Freeman included the duty to conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession, the duty to conform to safety and other requirements set forth in the West Virginia Code, the duty to conform to rules promulgated by the commercial whitewater advisory board, and the duty not to act in a reckless or wanton manner. Count Two alleges two additional acts [***13] or omissions constituting negligence per se, including citations by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resource for failure to mark a commercial water craft and failure to have a valid CPR card as required by W. Va. Code §20-2-23a (1999) and 58 C.S.R. 12 (2008).

The complaint filed by the Christopher plaintiffs contains twenty counts, seven of which assert loss of consortium claims. The remaining thirteen counts are negligence claims under general maritime law, one for each injured plaintiff.

Prior to the forthcoming trial in this matter, the Freeman plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine to exclude the Release Agreement 9 that had been signed by Mr. Freeman. On January 30, 2008, the circuit court, in finding that the issues at trial on liability were whether the defendants met the standard of care required under the Whitewater Responsibility Act, entered an order granting the Motion in Limine prohibiting the defendants from introducing the Release Agreement, making any reference to it, or eliciting any information regarding it at trial. The circuit court based it ruling on the language of W. Va. Code §20-3B-3(b), and on this Court’s prior decision in Murphy v. North American River Runners, Inc., 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991) [***14] 10 and on Johnson v. New [**382] [*246] River Scenic Whitewater Tours, Inc., 313 F.Supp.2d. 621 (S.D. W.Va. 2004).

9 The Freeman Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings which the circuit court denied.

10 In Murphy, this Court held that generally, [HN3] in the absence of an applicable statute, a plaintiff who expressly and, under the circumstances, clearly agrees to accept a risk of harm arising from a defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct may not recover for such harm, unless the agreement is invalid as contrary to public policy. 186 W. Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504.

Thereafter, on April 15, 2008, the circuit court likewise granted a Motion in Limine Regarding Release and Assumption of the Risk filed by the Christopher plaintiffs, which excluded the release agreement from trial. The circuit court, finding that maritime law governed the case, held that assumption of the risk was not an available defense. Specifically, the court held:

Second, this Court is of the opinion that assumption of the risk is not an available defense in this maritime action. Because the incident occurred on the Shenandoah River, a navigable body of water, it is governed by general maritime law. Yamaha Motor Corp. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 206, 116 S. Ct. 619, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1996). [***15] Assumption of the risk is not a defense in admiralty or maritime law. DeSole v. United States, 947 F.2d 1169, 1175 (4th Cir. 1991). In fact, “[t]he tenants of admiralty law, which are expressly designed to promote uniformity, do not permit assumption of risk in cases of person [sic] injury whether in commercial or recreational situation.” Id. The foundation of this principle has been recognized for more than 70 years. In The Arizona v. Anelich, Justice Harlan F. Stone, stated in support of his position that assumption of the risk was not a proper defense in cases of unseaworthiness, “No American case appears to have recognized assumption of risk as a defense by such a suit.” 298 U.S. 110, 122, 56 S. Ct. 707, 80 L. Ed. 1075 (1936). Accordingly, Defendant is prohibited from asserting the defense of assumption of the risk or making any argument in support of this defense at trial.

To the left of the judge’s signature on the order, there appeared a stamped “Note to Counsel”, which reads, “[t]he court has received no pleadings in opposition to this motion during the time period contemplated by trial court rule 22 order.” Subsequent to the circuit court’s ruling on those issues, Petitioners filed a Motion for Relief from [***16] the circuit court’s order on April 23, 2008, to clarify that it had in fact filed a response to plaintiffs’ motion in limine, but that it was untimely filed due to excusable neglect. 11 Petitioners urged the circuit court to consider its reply.

11 Petitioners contended that the mailing, rather than faxing, of their responses to the motion on the last day of filing was a clerical error that should not result in completely ignoring their response to the motion, which resulted in the exclusion of a recognized common law defense in West Virginia, among other findings.

In a third order entered on May 19, 2008, the circuit court granted the Christopher plaintiffs’ motion to consolidate their case with the case of the Freeman plaintiff under Case No. 06-C-328. In granting the motion, the circuit court considered the four factors set forth in Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Appalachian Power Company v. Ranson, 190 W. Va. 429, 438 S.E.2d 609 (1993) in exercising its discretion when deciding issues of consolidation under Rule 42(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. The circuit court expressly declined Petitioner’s request to bifurcate the cases on the issue of damages, stating that [***17] “the issue of liability and damages are intertwined and not reasonably susceptible of being bifurcated.”

Following the entry of the third order, Petitioners invoked the original jurisdiction of this Court in prohibition seeking a writ to vacate the three circuit court orders of January 30, 2008, April 15, 2008, and May 19, 2008. Petitioners assert that the circuit court’s rulings are incorrect for several reasons: (1) the Release Agreements are admissible as evidence because they contain warnings of the inherent risks of participating in whitewater rafting, and to the extent the Agreements contain inadmissible or unenforceable provisions, those provisions could be redacted therefrom; (2) maritime jurisdiction does not extend to this whitewater rafting case on the Shenandoah River because the Whitewater Responsibility Act is controlling, as the Shenandoah River is not a navigable waterway since it cannot be used for [**383] [*247] commercial shipping; (3) the circuit court failed to make any findings of fact regarding the navigability of the Shenandoah River; (4) assumption of the risk would be an available defense of the actions pursuant to controlling West Virginia law; (5) mandating the application [***18] of maritime law negates the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act, and deprives the defendants of the defense of assumption of the risk, thus rendering all whitewater outfitters uninsurable and crippling a vital State industry; and (6) consolidating the two cases for trial will cause unfair prejudice and insure juror confusion as a result of the intertwining of unrelated legal, factual and damage issues in that one case is a wrongful death case, and the others are personal injury cases. Specifically, Petitioners claim that the circuit court’s consolidation of the two cases will result in the application of maritime law to both actions, prohibiting the defense of assumption of the risk in both.

Conversely, the Christopher plaintiffs argue (1) that maritime law applies because the tort they complain of has a nexus to traditional maritime activity, and because the Shenandoah River is a navigable waterway; (2) that since there is no well- developed substantive maritime law of the issue of whitewater rafting safety, maritime law permits the circuit court to properly look to the West Virginia Whitewater Responsibility Act for guidance 12 and (3) that “[b]ecause there is no federal statute [***19] stating otherwise, the duty under maritime law is the same duty established under West Virginia’s Whitewater Responsibility Act – that commercial whitewater outfitters and commercial whitewater guides ‘conform to the standard of care expected of members of their profession.’ W. Va. Code §20-3B-3.” It appears that the only facet of maritime law that the Respondents wish to have applied to this case is that assumption of the risk is not a defense.

12 Citing Tassinari v. Key West Water Tours, L.C., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46490, 2007 WL 1879172 (S.D. Fla. 2007)(unpublished opinion); Smith v. Haggerty, 169 F.Supp.2d 376 (E.D.Pa. 2001); and Coastal Fuels Marketing, Inc. v. Florida Exp. Shipping Co., Inc., 207 F.3d 1247, 1251 (11th Cir. 2000).

II.

STANDARD OF ISSUANCE OF WRIT OF PROHIBITION

[HN4] The standard for the issuance of a writ of prohibition is set forth in W. Va. Code §53-1-1 (1882): “The writ of prohibition shall lie as a matter of right in all cases of usurpation and abuse of power, when the inferior court has not jurisdiction of the subject matter in controversy, or having such jurisdiction, exceeds its legitimate powers.” In syllabus point 4 of State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W. Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996) we [***20] held:

[HN5] In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal’s order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal’s order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal’s order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight.

Id., Syl. Pt. 4.

This Court has stated that “. . . [HN6] prohibition. . . against judges [***21] [is a] drastic and extraordinary remed[y] . . . As [an] extraordinary remed[y], [it is] reserved for really extraordinary causes.” State ex rel. United States Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Canady, 194 W. Va. 431, 436, 460 S.E.2d 677, 682 (1995)(citations omitted); State ex rel. Tucker County Solid Waste Authority v. West Virginia Division of Labor, 222 W. Va. 588, 668 S.E.2d 217, [**384] [*248] 2008 WL 2523591 (W. Va. 2008). Thus, we have held that:

[HN7] In determining whether to grant a rule to show cause in prohibition when a court is not acting in excess of its jurisdiction, this Court will look to the adequacy of other available remedies such as appeal and to the over-all economy of effort and money among litigants, lawyers and courts; however, this Court will use prohibition in this discretionary way to correct only substantial, clear-cut, legal errors plainly in contravention of a clear statutory, constitutional, or common law mandate which may be resolved independently of any disputed facts and only in cases where there is a high probability that the trial will be completely reversed if the error is not corrected in advance.

Id. at Syl. Pt. 2 (citing Syllabus Point 1, Hinkle v. Black, 164 W. Va. 112, 262 S.E.2d 744 (1979)).

In [***22] syllabus point 3, State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside, 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124 (2002), this Court recognized “[i]n [HN8] the absence of compelling evidence of irremediable prejudice, a writ of prohibition will not lie to bar trial based upon a judge’s pretrial ruling on a matter of evidentiary admissibility.” (quoting Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel. Williams v. Narick, 164 W. Va. 632, 264 S.E.2d 851 (1980)). “A writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of discretion by a trial court.” Syl. Pt. 4, 212 W. Va. 514, 575 S.E.2d 124. “The writ does not lie to correct ‘mere errors’ and . . . it cannot serve as a substitute for appeal, writ of error or certiorari.” Narick, 164 W. Va. at 635, 264 S.E.2d at 854.

This Court further stated in Burnside that:

[t]here is a practical reason for not allowing challenges, by use of the writ of prohibition, to every pre-trial discretionary evidentiary ruling made by trial courts. Such use of the writ would effectively delay trials interminably while parties rushed to this Court for relief every time they disagree with a pre-trial ruling. The fact remains that “[t]he piecemeal challenge of discretionary rulings through writs of prohibition [***23] does not facilitate the orderly administration of justice.” Woodall, 156 W. Va. at 713, 195 S.E.2d at 721. Said another way, “writs of prohibition should not be issued nor used for the purpose of appealing cases upon the installment plan.” Wimberly v. Imel, 1961 OK CR 25, 358 P.2d 231, 232 (Okla. Crim. App., 1961).

212 W. Va. at 519, 575 S.E.2d at 129. Guided by these principles, we proceed to consider the parties’ arguments.

III.

DISCUSSION

Petitioners raise questions regarding three pretrial rulings made by the circuit court on two motions in limine and one motion to consolidate. We note as a preliminary matter that it is this Court’s general practice and procedure to decline to consider rulings on motions in limine. This Court has recognized that “[t]hese [HN9] motions necessarily involve the exercise of discretion, and the correctness of discretionary rulings should ordinarily be challenged at a time when the entire record is available to an appellate court. The piecemeal challenge of discretionary rulings through writs of prohibition does not facilitate the orderly administration of justice.” Woodall v. Laurita, 156 W. Va. 707, 713, 195 S.E.2d 717, 720-21 (1973). Thus, in the absence of jurisdictional [***24] defect, the administration of justice is not well served by challenges to discretionary rulings of an interlocutory nature. These matters are best saved for appeal. State ex rel. Allen v. Bedell, 193 W. Va. at 37, 454 S.E.2d at 82 (Cleckley, J. concurring). As Justice Cleckley cautioned in his concurrence in State ex rel. Allen v. Bedell:

[HN10] Mere doubt as to the correctness of a trial court’s ruling on a motion in limine regarding an evidentiary issue is an insufficient basis to invoke this Court’s writ power. To justify this extraordinary remedy, the petitioner has the burden of showing that the lower court’s jurisdictional usurpation was clear and indisputable and, because there is no adequate relief at law, the extraordinary writ provides the only available and adequate remedy. Thus, writs of prohibition, as well as writs of [**385] [*249] mandamus and habeas corpus, should not be permitted when the error is correctable by appeal.

193 W. Va. at 37, 454 S.E.2d at 82.

This Court has, on limited occasions, considered challenges from evidentiary rulings in unique circumstances where the matter at issue rose to a level of considerable importance and compelling urgency. 13 In reviewing the claims asserted [***25] by Petitioners herein, which allege that the circuit court, by virtue of a motion in limine, made jurisdictional rulings that serve to have a significant and lasting negative impact on the question of liability for an important segment of business within this State, we find it appropriate to accept this matter for consideration at this stage in the proceedings. 14

13 See State ex rel. Foster v. Luff, 164 W. Va. 413, 419, 264 S.E.2d 477, 481 (1980)(prohibition granted where trial court abused discretion in failing to authorize expenditure of adequate funds to allow defense to secure experts); State ex rel. Register-Herald v. Canterbury, 192 W. Va. 18, 449 S.E.2d 272 (1994)(prohibition granted to reverse order constituting prior restraint against newspaper); State ex rel. Tyler v. MacQueen, 191 W. Va. 597, 447 S.E.2d 289 (1994)(prohibition used to review disqualification of prosecutor’s office); State ex rel. Leach v. Schlaegel, 191 W. Va. 538, 447 S.E.2d 1 (1994)(prohibition granted to prevent relitigation of case which was foreclosed because of collateral estoppel); State ex rel. DeFrances v. Bedell, 191 W. Va. 513, 446 S.E.2d 906 (1994)(prohibition used to review decision on lawyer’s [***26] disqualification).

14 Respondents contend that the circuit court’s order of April 15, 2008, cannot be challenged by the Petitioners, or is not before this Court in this extraordinary proceeding, because the Petitioners did not timely oppose the Christopher plaintiffs’ motion in limine asking the circuit court to find that maritime law governed the case. Petitioners admit that a scheduling order required them to file their response to the motion in limine by April 10, 2008, but that through “clerical error” their response was mailed, not faxed, to the clerk and the court on April 10, 2008. Five days later, on April 15, 2008, the circuit court, having not received the mailed response, entered an order granting the motion. To the left of the judge’s signature on the order, there appears a stamped “Note to Counsel”, which reads, “[t]he court has received no pleadings in opposition to this motion during the time period contemplated by trial court rule 22 order.” Petitioners contend that the mailing, rather than faxing, of their responses to the motion on the last day of filing was a clerical error that should not result in completely ignoring their response to the motion, which resulted in [***27] the exclusion of a recognized common law defense in West Virginia, among other findings.

Rule 6(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure [HN11] provides, in part, that “[w]hen . . . by order of court an act is required or allowed to be done at or within a specified time . . . the court for cause shown may at any time in its discretion . . . (2) upon motion made after the expiration of the specified period permit the act to be done when the failure to act was the result of excusable neglect. . .” In Pritt v. Vickers, 214 W. Va. 221, 227, 588 S.E.2d 210, 216 (2003), the Court approvingly quotes this statement in 3 Moore’s Federal Practice §16.14: “[a] trial court may modify or amend a scheduling order only when ‘good cause’is shown and the court grants leave to modify.” See also Walker v. Option One Mortgage Corporation, 220 W. Va. 660, 665, 649 S.E.2d 233, 238 (2007)(trial courts should not permit parties to obtain extensions absent a showing of good cause). The record before us does not reveal that Petitioners filed a motion with the circuit court after the April 10, 2008, deadline to permit the belated filing of their response. If they did not, we cannot condone their failure, and [***28] their argument that this Court should, nevertheless, hear their argument that the circuit court incorrectly concluded that maritime law applies and that assumption of the risk is not a defense under that law. We will, however, consider the circuit court’s order of April 15, 2008, in this regard because it raises questions of whether the circuit court has jurisdiction of the subject matter in controversy. Issues of jurisdiction may be raised by this Court sua sponte. Ray v. Ray, 216 W. Va. 11, 13, 602 S.E.2d 454, 456 (2004). Also, “[t]his Court may, sua sponte, in the interest of justice, notice plain error.” Syl. Pt.1, Cartwright v. McComas, 223 W. Va. 161, 672 S.E.2d 297, 2008 W. Va. LEXIS 81, 2008 WL 4867068 (W. Va. 2008).

Having made the determination to consider this matter, we limit our review herein to the specific jurisdictional issue of the circuit court’s finding that the rafting incident is governed by maritime law. We decline to address on a writ of prohibition the other issues presented regarding the exclusion of the Releases signed by the plaintiffs and the circuit court’s consolidation of the two cases, to the extent that the circuit court’s rulings were discretionary. As stated above, this Court’s general rule provides that [***29] [HN12] prohibition is ordinarily inappropriate in matters involving a trial court’s pretrial ruling on the admissibility of evidence. State ex rel. Shelton v. Burnside, 212 W. Va. at 518, 575 S.E.2d at 128. Furthermore, “[a] [HN13] decision by a trial court to consolidate civil actions on [**386] [*250] any or all matters in issue under Rule 42(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure will be deferentially reviewed under an abuse of discretionary standard.” State ex rel. Appalachian Power Company v. MacQueen, III, 198 W. Va. 1, 4, 479 S.E.2d 300, 303 (1996).

[HN14] A trial court, pursuant to provisions of Rule 42, has a wide discretionary power to consolidate civil actions for joint hearing or trial and the action of a trial court in consolidating civil actions for a joint hearing or trial will not be reversed in the absence of a clear showing of abuse of such discretion and in the absence of a clear showing of prejudice to any one or more of the parties to civil actions which have been so consolidated.

Syl. Pt. 1, Holland v. Joyce, 155 W. Va. 535, 185 S.E.2d 505 (1971); State ex rel. Appalachian Power Company v. MacQueen, III, 198 W. Va. 1, 4, 479 S.E.2d 300, 303 (1996).

Herein, Respondents allege that the instant [***30] petition should not be considered because Petitioners never requested that the circuit court set forth a detailed order including findings of fact and conclusions of law that support and form the basis of its decision, or informed the circuit court that it intended to seek an extraordinary writ to challenge the court’s ruling. We held in State ex rel. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Gaughan, 203 W. Va. 358, 367, 508 S.E.2d 75, 84:

[HN15] A party seeking to petition this Court for an extraordinary writ based upon a non-appealable interlocutory decision of a trial court, must request the trial court set out in an order findings of fact and conclusions of law that support and form the basis of its decision. In making the request to the trial court, counsel must inform the trial court specifically that the request is being made because counsel intends to seek an extraordinary writ to challenge the court’s ruling. When such a request is made, trial courts are obligated to enter an order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. Absent a request by the complaining party, a trial court is under no duty to set out findings of fact and conclusions of law in non-appealable interlocutory orders.

Syl. Pt. [***31] 6, 203 W. Va. 358, 508 S.E.2d 75.

While we recognize that there is generally a duty on the part of a party petitioning this Court for an extraordinary writ based upon a non-appealable interlocutory decision of a trial court to make a request that the trial court set forth findings of fact and conclusions of law prior to seeking prohibition, we will proceed to consider the maritime issue before us since it concerns a distinct issue of law involving the interpretation and application of a federal statute which may be resolved on the pleadings, orders and arguments before us. This Court has, on prior occasions, recognized that [HN16] when we are able to resolve issues before the Court without a detailed order, it is not necessary to remand for the circuit court to provide findings of fact and conclusions of law. See, e.g., Pruitt v. W. Va. Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 222 W. Va. 290, 664 S.E.2d 175 (2008)(citing Fayette County National Bank v. Lilly, 199 W. Va. 349, 484 S.E.2d 232 (1997))(this Court is able to resolve issues before us without a detailed order and thus have no reason to remand for the circuit court to provide findings of fact and conclusions of law). See also Toth v. Board of Parks and Recreation Com’rs, 215 W. Va. 51, 55, 593 S.E.2d 576, 580 (2003); [***32] Ward v. Cliver, 212 W. Va. 653, 656, 575 S.E.2d 263, 266 (2002). [HN17] Based upon the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court and the statutory laws of the State of West Virginia, we find, as a matter of law, that the activity of whitewater rafting does not invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction.

The question of whether or not the rafting accident on September 30, 2004, is governed by general maritime law presents a federal admiralty jurisdictional question. 15 Herein, [**387] [*251] the circuit court concluded that because the incident occurred on the Shenandoah River, a navigable body of water, it is governed by general maritime law. The circuit court order cites to the decision Yamaha Motor Corp. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 206, 116 S.Ct. 619, 623, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1996), as support for its ruling.

15 [HN18] The United States Constitution provides in relevant part that “[t]he judicial Power shall extend. . . to all Cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. . .” U.S. Const. Art. III, §2, cl. 1. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. §1333(1948 and 1949), “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of: (1) Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in [***33] all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” The United States Supreme Court interpreted this section in Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 222, 106 S.Ct. 2485, 2494, 91 L. Ed. 2d 174 (1986) stating:

[HN19] the “savings to suitors” clause . . . allows litigants to bring in personam maritime actions in state courts. See Judiciary Act of 1789, §9, 1 Stat. 76 (“savings to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it”); 28 U.S.C. §1333 . . . See also Madruga v. Superior Court, 346 U.S. 556, 560, n. 12, 74 S.Ct. 298, 300, n. 12, 98 L.Ed. 290 (1954) . . . The “savings to suitors” clause leaves state courts competent to adjudicate maritime causes of action in proceedings in personam and means that “a state, ‘having concurrent jurisdiction, is free to adopt such remedies, and to attach to them such incidents, as it sees fit’ so long as it does not attempt to [give in rem remedies or] make changes in the ‘substantive maritime law.'” [citations omitted]. Stated another way, the “savings to suitors” clause allows state courts to entertain in personam maritime causes of action, but in such cases the extent to which state [***34] law may be used to remedy maritime injuries is constrained by a so-called “reverse-Erie” doctrine which requires that the substantive remedies afforded by the States conform to governing federal maritime standards.

477 U.S. at 222, 106 S.Ct. at 2494. See also Wright, Miller, Cooper, 14A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris.3d §3672, and Am.Jur.2d Admiralty §108.

Yamaha, 516 U.S. 199, 116 S.Ct. 619, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578, involved a collision between a twelve-year-old on a rented jet-ski and another recreational vehicle in territorial waters of the United States off a hotel frontage in Puerto Rico. The Yamaha Court found that because the case involved a watercraft collision on navigable waters, it fell within admiralty’s domain. 516 U.S. at 206, 116 S.Ct. at 623. The Yamaha Court then cited to its other previous decisions in Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 361-367, 110 S.Ct. 2892, 2895-2898, 111 L. Ed. 2d 292 (1990), and Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668, 677, 102 S.Ct. 2654, 2659, 73 L. Ed. 2d 300 (1982), which set forth [HN20] the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction test for tort claims. “The test ‘comprises two functional inquiries: first, the traditional “situs” analysis determining whether the tort was committed or the alleged injury occurred on navigable [***35] waters, and second, the more recently developed “nexus” analysis determining whether the alleged tort bears a significant relationship to traditional maritime activities.” Sisson, 497 U.S. at 361-367, 110 S.Ct. at 2895-2898.

Subsequently, in Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024 (1995), the Supreme Court stated:

After Sisson, then, [HN21] a party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333(1) over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity. A court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. 46 U.S.C. App. §740. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must “assess the general features of the type of incident involved,” 497 U.S., at 363, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, to determine whether the incident has “a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce,” id., at 364, n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2896, n. 2. Second, a court must determine whether “the general character” of the “activity giving rise to the incident” shows a “substantial relationship to [***36] traditional maritime activity.” Id., at 365, 364, and n. 2, 110 S.Ct., at 2897, 2896, and n. 2.

513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S.Ct. 1043, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024. Thus, according to Grubart, federal admiralty law governs a tort action if the wrong occurred on navigable waters, and if the incident involved had the potential to disrupt maritime activity and the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. 16

16 The Fourth Circuit has recognized the Grubart jurisdictional test. See Brock v. Lewis, 86 F.3d 1148 (4th Cir. 1996)(unpublished opinion). Other publications that provide discussion of the criteria for determining admiralty jurisdiction include:1 The Law of Maritime Personal Injuries §10.1 (5th ed.)(2007)(stating that “[t]here is no doubt that [HN22] under the current law recreational boating activities that give rise to personal injuries or death fall within admiralty jurisdiction if they satisfy the locus and nexus criteria for admiralty tort jurisdiction.”; See also Wright, Miller, Cooper, 14A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris.3d §3676; Admiralty Jurisdiction: Maritime Nature of Torts – Modern Cases, 80 A.L.R. Fed. 105 (2008).

[**388] [*252] Based upon the United [***37] States Supreme Court’s holding in Grubart, [HN23] in order for the circuit court to find that general maritime law applies, it should have properly determined whether the rafting mishap and ensuing tort claims arising therefrom satisfied both prerequisite conditions of 1) location on the navigable waters and 2) connection with maritime activity. Failing to conduct such an analysis, the circuit court’s order of April 15, 2008, concluded, in a single sentence, that “because the incident occurred on the Shenandoah River, a navigable body of water, it is governed by general maritime law.” From its order, the circuit court appears to have only considered the first prong of the Grubart test in arriving at its conclusion that maritime law applied. 17

17 It is not necessary for this Court to discuss the propriety of the circuit court’s findings regarding the location requirement to the extent that we find that the second part of the Grubart test is not satisfied. [HN24] A party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333(1) over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and of connection with maritime activity. With that said, we note that the circuit court provided [***38] no standards whereby it determined that the Shenandoah River is in fact a navigable river, and no facts to which it applied standards to make that determination. Based on the limited set of facts we have reviewed herein, we question how a river with average relevant depths of two feet that was used for whitewater rafting purposes could possibly be considered a navigable waterway for purposes of maritime jurisdiction.

In addition to determining whether the incident occurred on navigable waters, the circuit court should have also analyzed whether the incident constituted “a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce” and that it had a “substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity” in order to satisfy the second nexus criterion. Applying the second prong of the Grubart test to the circumstances of the instant case, we find that [HN25] the activity of whitewater rafting does not constitute traditional maritime activity and is therefore not governed by maritime law.

First, given the fact that the Shenandoah River maintains average depths of two feet, 18 it is hard to envision how the act of whitewater rafting could have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, to [***39] the extent that this area was unlikely a highly traveled thoroughfare over which trade and travel is conducted. 19 However, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the incident that occurred during this whitewater rafting trip had a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, it still did not bear a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.

18 This fact was represented by both the Petitioners and the Respondents.

19 See Grubart, 115 S.Ct. at 1051 (the relevant inquiry is whether the general features of the mishap place it within a class of incidents that pose more than a fanciful risk to commercial shipping.)

The cases before us involve an unfortunate incident that occurred during the course of a recreational outing on a river that was unusually swollen with flood waters resulting from a hurricane. They do not concern piloting, shipping, or navigational error, or other aspects of traditional maritime activity. Foster v. Peddicord, 826 F.2d 1370, 1376 (4th Cir. 1987). The requisite maritime connection is therefore missing.

It is particularly relevant that there is no existing federal or state precedent applying admiralty jurisdiction to the activity of whitewater [***40] rafting. Perhaps this is because the very nature of the activity of whitewater rafting is not the customary mode of travel or transportation with which maritime law has ever been concerned. Whitewater rafting is a recreational activity where participants seek the adventure of paddling a rubber raft in rapidly moving whitewater streams and rivers. Such use of streams and rivers carrying people, not as traveling passengers, but rather as participants seeking adventure, makes it difficult to conceive that whitewater rafting bears a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. For these reasons, we conclude that the circuit court committed clear error in determining [**389] [*253] that maritime law applies to the instant cases.

IV.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, we grant the writ sought only to the extent of vacating the circuit court’s ruling finding that the rafting incident is governed by maritime law. We remand this matter to the circuit court for entry of an order consistent with this opinion.

Writ granted as moulded.

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