Ronald Tassinari, an individual, Sheila Silva, individually, and as next best friend of Ashley Silva, a minor, Plaintiffs, vs. Key West Water Tours, L.C., a Florida corporation, Defendant. Key West Water Tours, L.C., a Florida corporation, Third-Party Plaintiff, vs. Jeffrey Wilkerson, Third-Party Defendant.
Case No. 06-10116-CIV-MOORE/GARBER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46490
June 27, 2007, Decided
June 27, 2007, Entered
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Judgment entered by, Motion denied by Tassinari v. Key W. Water Tours, L.C., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80872 (S.D. Fla., Oct. 31, 2007)
PRIOR HISTORY: Tassinari v. Key West Water Tours, L.C., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43858 (S.D. Fla., June 18, 2007)
CORE TERMS: watercraft, maritime law’s, collision, boater, fault, summary judgment, boating, unseaworthiness, admiralty, maritime, handling, genuine, rental, vessel, safe, statutory rule, tour guide, public policy, per se, exoneration, privity, renters, ship, panicked, State Boating Law Administrators Betz Depo, liability arising, negligence per se, negligence cases, statutes enacted, standard of care
COUNSEL: [*1] For Ronald Tassinari, an individual, Sheila Silva, an individual and next best friend of Ashley Silva, Ashley Silva, a minor, Plaintiffs: Domingo Carlos Rodriguez, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rodriguez Aronson & Essington, Miami, FL; Patricia Leigh McMillan Minoux, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rodriguez, Aronson & Essington, P.A., Coral Gables, FL.
For Key West Water Tours, L.C., a Florida Corporation, Defendant: Bruce Michael Trybus, Joshua William Brankamp, Cooney Mattson Lance Blackburn Richards & O’Connor, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
For Key West Water Tours, L.C., a Florida Corporation, ThirdParty Plaintiff: Joshua William Brankamp, Cooney Mattson Lance Blackburn Richards & O’Connor, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
JUDGES: K. MICHAEL MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OPINION BY: K. MICHAEL MOORE
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO DEFENDANT’S LIABILITY
THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant Key West Water Tours, L.C.’s Motion for Summary Judgment (DE # 44) and Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to Defendant’s Liability (DE # 46).
UPON CONSIDERATION of the Motions, the pertinent portions of the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, the Court enters the following Order.
Plaintiffs are residents [*2] of Massachusetts. Defendant Key West Water Tours, L.C. (“Defendant” or “Water Tours”) is a Florida corporation doing business in Monroe County, Florida, as a personal watercraft (jet skis and/or waverunners) rental agency and provider of guided personal watercraft tours to the public. On or about July 9, 2004, Defendant rented personal watercraft to Plaintiffs at or near Key West, Monroe County, Florida. Defendant then took a group of personal watercraft renters, including Plaintiffs and Third-Party Defendant Jeffrey Wilkerson, on a guided tour from its marina out to the area’s surrounding waters.
During the tour, the watercraft operated by Third-Party Defendant Jeffrey Wilkerson collided with the watercraft operated by Plaintiffs Ronald Tassinari and Ashley Silva, injuring Plaintiffs Ronald Tassinari and Ashley Silva.
Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on the following issues: (1) it is entitled to exoneration from liability because there is no evidence of negligence or unseaworthiness; (2) alternatively, it is entitled to have its liability limited to the value of the watercraft (approx. $ 3,000.00) because it was without privity or knowledge of any negligence [*3] or unseaworthiness; (3) Florida statutory law does not apply; and (4) Plaintiff Tassinari’s claims are barred by the waiver and “hold harmless” provisions of the rental agreement. Plaintiffs argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Defendant violated certain Florida State statutes making Defendant negligent per se. Plaintiffs further argue that if Defendant is negligent per se, then Defendant is not entitled to have its liability limited to the value of the watercraft.
II. Standard of Review
The applicable standard for reviewing a summary judgment motion is unambiguously stated in Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:
The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Summary judgment may be entered only where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Twiss v. Kury, 25 F.3d 1551, 1554 (11th Cir. 1994). The moving party has the burden of meeting this exacting standard. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970). [*4] An issue of fact is “material” if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case. Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). It is “genuine” if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Id.
In applying this standard, the district court must view the evidence and all factual inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Id. However, the nonmoving party:
may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party’s pleading, but the adverse party’s response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant’s] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).
A. The Pennsylvania Rule and Florida Statutory Law
Plaintiffs argue that Defendant is negligent per se because Defendant violated [*5] Florida State statutes enacted to protect the safety of personal watercraft renters. Pl. Mot. at 9-14. Federal maritime law’s unique version of negligence per se is embodied in what is called the “Pennsylvania Rule.” In re Superior Constr. Co., 445 F.3d 1334, 1340 (11th Cir. 2006). “Under the Pennsylvania Rule, when a ship at the time of an allision is in actual violation of a statutory rule intended to prevent allisions, it is no more than a reasonable presumption that the fault, if not the sole cause, was at least a contributory cause of the disaster and in such a case the burden rests upon the ship of showing not merely that her fault might not have been one of the causes, or that it probably was not, but that it could not have been.” Id. (citing The Pennsylvania, 86 U.S. 125, 136, 22 L. Ed. 148 (1873)).
Defendant argues that State law does not apply in a case brought under federal maritime law; therefore, the Pennsylvania rule does not apply to violations of Florida statutes. Def. Resp. at 6-8. However, the Seventh Circuit recognized that “[s]everal courts have applied the Pennsylvania rule to the violation of state statutes or local ordinances.” Complaint of Wasson, 495 F.2d 571, 583 (7th Cir. 1974) [*6] (citations omitted); see also Protectus Alpha Nav. Co., Ltd. v. North Pacific Grain Growers, Inc., 767 F.2d 1379, 1382-83 (9th Cir. 1985) (violation of Washington State statute would support negligence per se).
Further, State law has been applied in admiralty cases where there is no direct conflict with established federal maritime law. Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Insur. Co., 348 U.S. 310, 75 S. Ct. 368, 99 L. Ed. 337 (1955); 1 T. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 4-2 (4th ed.); see also Smith v. Haggerty, 169 F. Supp. 2d 376 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (applying State law regulations to negligence claims arising from a boating accident) (vacated on other grounds). The Supreme Court has recognized that “[i]n the field of maritime contracts, as in that of maritime torts, the National Government has left much regulatory power in the States.” Wilburn Boat, 348 U.S. at 313 (the Supreme Court ultimately declined to adopt a federal admiralty rule governing insurance policy provisions and decided to leave that area up to State regulation).
In the present case, Plaintiffs cite to several Florida statutes that were enacted, in part, in response to an act of Congress intended to “encourage greater State participation and [*7] uniformity in boating safety efforts, and particularly to permit the States to assume the greater share of boating safety education, assistance, and enforcement activities.” 46 U.S.C. § 13102 (2007). The Court is not persuaded that statutes enacted in response to Congress’s stated purpose of permitting the states to assume more responsibility in regulation of recreational boat safety are inapplicable merely because they were enacted by a state government.
Further, Defendant has not pointed to any established federal maritime law directly conflicting with and preempting these State statutes. In cases where a State statute conflicts with established federal maritime law or would materially frustrate a tenant of admiralty law, the State statutes should generally not be applied. Steelmet, Inc. v. Caribe Towing Corp., 779 F.2d 1485, 1488 (11th Cir. 1986); Branch v. Schumann, 445 F.2d 175 (5th Cir. 1971); Miami Valley Broadcasting Corp. v. Lang, 429 So. 2d 1333 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983). Defendant overstates the holdings in Branch and Lang, arguing that State law can never be used in maritime negligence cases. Branch and Lang merely stand for the principle that State law cannot change established [*8] substantive maritime law. In Branch and Lang, the State law would have imposed a stricter burden than that established by federal maritime law; because it conflicted with federal maritime law and would have effectively changed the accepted maritime standard of care, the State law could not be applied. The Florida statutes at issue were not designed to circumvent federal maritime law or substitute a stricter standard of care in negligence cases; rather, they were designed to help regulate recreational boating safety. The Pennsylvania rule is an established principle of federal maritime law, which may be applied to violations of Florida State statutes; this application does not, in and of itself, conflict with federal maritime law.
Florida Statute § 327.39 makes it unlawful for the owner of a personal watercraft to “authorize or knowingly permit the [watercraft] to be operated by any person who has not received instruction in the safe handling of personal watercraft, in compliance with rules established by the commission.” Florida Statute § 327.54 requires that the instruction in the safe handling of personal watercraft with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater be delivered by a person [*9] who has “successfully completed a boater safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and this state.” These statutes, under Chapter 327 Vessel Safety, were enacted to protect boater safety, including the prevention of collisions. Further, these statutes were enacted, in part, to protect the safety of renters of watercraft (see e.g. § 327.54), so Plaintiffs are among the class of persons intended to be protected by the statutes.
In this case, Defendant owned or had control over the personal watercraft involved in the collision. At the time of the collision, Defendant employed Chris Betz (“Betz”) as a personal watercraft tour guide and allowed Betz to provide the safety instruction to persons operating the personal watercraft on the tour, including Jeffrey Wilkerson. Def. Mot. at 4-6. Betz admitted in his deposition that he had never completed a boater’s safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Betz Depo. at 12. Co-owner Gerald Grogan admitted that Key West Water Tours does not require its tour guides to have passed a safe boating course. Grogan Depo. at 19. Therefore, Defendant violated Florida [*10] statutes designed to protect boater safety and prevent collisions, by entrusting personal watercraft to persons who were not instructed in the safe handling of the personal watercraft as the law requires. Co-owner Jeremy Ray indicated that he was not very familiar with the Florida statutes at issue. Ray Depo. at 9, 20-21. However, ignorance of the law is not a defense.
Applying the Pennsylvania rule, because Defendant violated statutory rules intended to prevent boat collisions, the Court presumes that Defendant’s fault caused the collision and the burden shifts to Defendant to show this violation could not have caused the accident. Defendant argues that “[t]he sole cause of the subject accident was the negligent operation of a personal watercraft by Third-Party Defendant Jeffrey Wilkerson.” Def. Mot. at 11. Defendant asserts that “[t]here is not a single additional instruction that would have prevented the subject accident.” Id. Betz gave safety instructions. Betz Depo. at 32-33. According to Betz, Jeffrey Wilkerson “was coming in way too fast . . . just like an old lady in a car, panicked, eyes wide open, completely wide open, staring straight at the group and a panic in his face [*11] because he’s going too fast, and never let off the throttle until he hit.” Def. Mot. at 7. Defendant further asserts that Defendant had never had an accident previously and that Jeffrey Wilkerson had operated the watercraft without problem for about two hours before the accident. It is undisputed that Jeffrey Wilkerson panicked and that the watercraft was at full throttle until impact. However, greater knowledge often gives a greater sense of control. Therefore, it is possible that if Jeffrey Wilkerson had received proper instruction in handling the watercraft, he might not have panicked. Defendant has not shown that its violation of statutory rules “could not” have contributed to the accident. Therefore, Defendant’s fault is presumed.
C. Exoneration From Liability
“An owner will be exonerated from liability when he, his vessel, and crew are found to be completely free of fault.” In re Complaint of Caribbean Sea Transport, 748 F.2d 622, 626 (11th Cir. 1984) (citing Tittle v. Aldacosta, 544 F.2d 752, 755 (5th Cir. 1977)). As discussed above, Defendant cannot be said to be completely free of fault; therefore, Defendant is not entitled to exoneration.
D. Limitation of Liability Under Limitation [*12] Act
The Eleventh Circuit has held that the determination of whether the owner of a vessel is entitled to limitation of liability requires a two-step analysis: (1) “the court must determine what acts of negligence or conditions of unseaworthiness caused the accident;” and (2) “the court must determine whether the ship owner had knowledge or privity of those same acts of negligence or conditions of unseaworthiness.” Keys Jet Ski, Inc. v. Kays, 893 F.2d 1225, 1230 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Farrell Lines, Inc. v. Jones, 530 F.2d 7, 10 (5th Cir. 1976)). “Privity and knowledge are deemed to exist where the owner had the means of knowledge or, as otherwise stated, where knowledge would have been obtained from reasonable inspection.” China Union Lines, Ltd. v. A.O. Andersen & Co., 364 F.2d 769, 792-93 (5th Cir. 1966). Under the Pennsylvania rule, as discussed above, Defendant’s violation of Florida statutes regarding proper instruction in safely operating the personal watercraft is presumed to have caused the collision. The owners of Key West Water Tours, L.C. knew, should have known, and could have discovered upon minimal investigation whether its tour guides, who they hired, had completed [*13] approved boater safety courses and whether the requirements of Florida law regarding proper safety and instruction were being met. Therefore, Defendant is not entitled to limitation of liability to the value of the watercraft.
E. Waiver and Hold Harmless Provisions of the Rental Agreement
“[A] clause in an agreement exempting a party from tort liability is unenforceable on grounds of public policy if the agreement would exempt a party from liability arising from that party’s failure to comply with a safety statute, as the safety obligation created by the statute for such purpose is an obligation owed to the public at large and is not within the power of any private individual to waive.” Johnson v. New River Scenic Whitewater Tours, Inc., 313 F. Supp. 2d 621, 631 (S.D.W. Va 2004) (citations omitted); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 195 comment a (1981) (“If, for example, a statute imposes a standard of conduct, a court may decide on the basis of an analysis of the statute, that a term exempting a party from liability for failure to conform to that standard is unenforceable.”). In this case, the Florida statutes violated are boater safety statutes imposing a standard of conduct on [*14] owners and liveries of vessels. It would be against public policy to enforce contract clauses purporting to exempt liveries from liability for violating these statutes. While the release and waiver provisions in the rental contracts are sufficient to release Defendant from liability for ordinary negligence, the provisions are invalid as against public policy when applied to liability arising from violation of these statutes.
For the foregoing reasons, it is
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Defendant Key West Water Tours, L.C.’s Motion for Summary Judgment (DE # 44) is DENIED. It is further
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to Defendant’s Liability (DE # 46) is GRANTED. The pretrial conference to discuss remaining issues will be held as scheduled, on June 28, 2007.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Miami, Florida, this 27th day of June, 2007.
K. MICHAEL MOORE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Schorpp et al., Respondents, v Oak Mountain, LLC, et al., 143 A.D.3d 1136; 39 N.Y.S.3d 296; 2016 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6784; 2016 NY Slip Op 06932Posted: June 6, 2017
Schorpp et al., Respondents, v Oak Mountain, LLC, et al., 143 A.D.3d 1136; 39 N.Y.S.3d 296; 2016 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6784; 2016 NY Slip Op 06932
Ron W. Schorpp et al., Respondents, v Oak Mountain, LLC, et al., Appellants.
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, THIRD DEPARTMENT
143 A.D.3d 1136; 39 N.Y.S.3d 296; 2016 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6784; 2016 NY Slip Op 06932
October 20, 2016, Decided
October 20, 2016, Entered
COUNSEL: [***1] Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, Albany (Matthew J. Kelly of counsel), for appellants.
Horigan, Horigan & Lombardo, PC, Amsterdam (Peter M. Califano of counsel), for respondents.
JUDGES: Before: Peters, P.J., McCarthy, Garry, Clark and Aarons, JJ. Peters, P.J., McCarthy, Garry and Clark, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: Aarons
[*1136] [**296] Aarons, J.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Appeal from an order of the Supreme Court (Sise, J.), entered November 5, 2015 in Fulton County, which denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
Plaintiff Ron W. Schorpp, a self-described “expert skier,” was [*1137] injured while skiing down a trail at defendant Oak Mountain Ski Center (hereinafter Oak Mountain), which is operated by defendant Oak Mountain, LLC in the Village of Speculator, Hamilton County. Schorpp testified that an Oak Mountain employee recommended [**297] a black-diamond trail to him. Schorpp and his daughter planned to ski down this trail and meet his wife and other children at a subsequent juncture of trails. Approximately three quarters of the way down the trail, Schorpp skied into a “depression” that was filled with snow. The skis got caught in the depression causing Schorpp to flip over and fall out of his skis. Schorpp, and [***2] his wife derivatively, subsequently commenced this negligence action against defendants. Following joinder of issue and discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. Supreme Court denied the motion and defendants now appeal. We reverse.
Under the assumption of risk doctrine, a person who elects to engage in a sport or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” (Morgan v State of New York, 90 NY2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 ; see Martin v State of New York, 64 AD3d 62, 63-64, 878 N.Y.S.2d 823 , lv denied 13 NY3d 706, 915 N.E.2d 1181, 887 N.Y.S.2d 3 ; Youmans v Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 53 AD3d 957, 958, 862 N.Y.S.2d 626 ). Regarding downhill skiing, an individual “assumes the inherent risk of personal injury caused by ruts, bumps or variations in the conditions of the skiing terrain” (Ruepp v West Experience, 272 AD2d 673, 674, 706 N.Y.S.2d 787 ; see General Obligations Law § 18-101; Hyland v State of New York, 300 AD2d 794, 794-795, 752 N.Y.S.2d 113 , lv denied 100 NY2d 504, 793 N.E.2d 411, 762 N.Y.S.2d 874 ; Dicruttalo v Blaise Enters., 211 AD2d 858, 859, 621 N.Y.S.2d 199 ). The application of the assumption of risk doctrine must be measured “against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff” (Maddox v City of New York, 66 NY2d 270, 278, 487 N.E.2d 553, 496 N.Y.S.2d 726 ; see Sharrow v New York State Olympic Regional Dev. Auth., 307 AD2d 605, 607, 762 N.Y.S.2d 703 ).
We conclude that defendants satisfied their moving burden by demonstrating that Schorpp assumed the risk of injury associated with downhill skiing (see Jordan v Maple Ski Ridge, 229 AD2d 756, 757, 645 N.Y.S.2d 598 ). Although this was his first time on the particular black-diamond trail, Schorpp had “decades of skiing experience” and had skied at Oak Mountain on a weekly basis prior to his accident. [***3] Taking into account his experience and skill level, Schorpp was aware of the risk of injury that could be caused by the depression on the ski slope (see Painter v Peek’N Peak Recreation, 2 AD3d 1289, 1289-1290, 769 N.Y.S.2d 678 ; Ruepp v West Experience, 272 AD2d at 674; Giordano v Shanty [*1138] Hollow Corp., 209 AD2d 760, 761, 617 N.Y.S.2d 984 , lv denied 85 NY2d 802, 648 N.E.2d 792, 624 N.Y.S.2d 372 ; Calabro v Plattekill Mt. Ski Ctr., 197 AD2d 558, 559, 602 N.Y.S.2d 655 , lv denied 83 NY2d 754, 634 N.E.2d 979, 612 N.Y.S.2d 378 ). In opposition, plaintiffs failed to raise an issue of fact as to whether defendants concealed or unreasonably increased the risks to which Schorpp was exposed (see Sontag v Holiday Val., Inc., 38 AD3d 1350, 1351, 832 N.Y.S.2d 705 ; Ruepp v West Experience, 272 AD2d at 674). Accordingly, Supreme Court erred in denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
Peters, P.J., McCarthy, Garry and Clark, JJ., concur.
ORDERED that the order is reversed, on the law, with costs, and motion granted.
The Idaho Supreme Court holds there is no relationship between signs posted on the side of the indoor trampoline park, and a duty owed to the injured plaintiffPosted: April 24, 2017
The Plaintiff in attempting to do a triple front flip broke his neck. Plaintiff argued that the manual of the indoor trampoline park, and the signs on the walls created a duty on the part of the employees of the defendant to stop him from doing the flips.
State: Idaho, Supreme Court of Idaho
Plaintiff: Seth Griffith
Defendant: Jumptime Meridian, LLC
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence
Defendant Defenses: No Causation
Holding: For the Defendant
This is a sad case; the 17-year-old plaintiff was injured attempting front flips at the defendants’ indoor trampoline park. The plaintiff went there with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s siblings. Eventually, the plaintiff ended up near a foam pit where you could land after attempting maneuvers on the trampoline. The pit was near where his girlfriend was located.
He had been performing several double flips successfully. At two different time’s employees of the defendant commented about his double flips. One said it was pretty cool and the other one said, “oh that was pretty sweet.” At no time, did anyone from the defendant admonished him to not to perform the flips he was doing. He was landing in the foam pit with his legs extended downward and on his butt, so he wouldn’t hit his face on his knees. Signs are on the wall said that the plaintiff could not land that way.
The plaintiff filed this complaint alleging that because he was under the age of 18, the defendant had a duty to supervise him. He could show that the defendant’s written policy manual instructed employees to enforce the rules written on the walls of the defendants trampoline park in several places.
The defendant moved for summary judgment alleging that there was no relationship between the duty allegedly owned to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s accident. In proving negligence one must prove duty, a breach the duty, an injury, and the injury was proximately caused by the breach of the duty.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. The plaintiff appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. Idaho does not have an intermediate appellate court.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court first looked at the requirements under Idaho law to prove negligence.
The elements of common law negligence have been summarized as (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage.
The court then reviewed the actions of the plaintiff leading up to his injury. He did not tell anyone that is going to attempt to do the flip that caused his injury. Nor was any evidence introduced stating that the employee of the defendant could have or should have known that the plaintiff was going to do a triple flip. The plaintiff argued that he should be entitled to reasonable inference that if the defendant had enforced its rules when he was landing improperly, then he would have never attempted the triple flip.
…Plaintiff attempted the triple front flip. He did not tell anyone he was going to attempt it, nor is there any evidence indicating that the monitor knew or should have known that he would try a triple front flip. Plaintiff argues on appeal that he is “entitled to the reasonable inference that had JumpTime enforced its rules and interceded when [he] was landing improperly and dangerously on his back, [he] would not have felt emboldened and would never have attempted a triple flip.”
However, the court did not buy that argument. The court did find that there was no evidence that landing on your back was more dangerous than landing any other way. The plaintiff even testified that he felt safer to land the way he was because it avoided the risk of hitting his face of his knees.
Nor could the plaintiff prove or produce any evidence that he would’ve changed his actions if he had been admonished by an employee. Nothing in the record of the depositions of the plaintiff remotely suggested that idea.
The court simply held that there was no way the defendant could be responsible for the accident giving rise to his injury because it was solely the decision of the injured plaintiff.
Plaintiff’s testimony does not support an inference that JumpTime was in any way responsible for his decision to try the triple front flip. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to JumpTime based upon the lack of evidence regarding causation.
So Now What?
Honestly, it takes a tough court to look at an injured plaintiff, possibly one wheelchair, and not want to award him some damages for his injuries. However, in this case the action of the plaintiff was such a stretch in trying to tie in his injury to something that the defendant had done.
What was of interest in this case was one of the arguments the plaintiff made saying that the signs on the wall describing to the patrons of the defendant how to land in the foam pit established a standard of care that was the defendant’s employee’s duty to monitor and enforce.
In response, Plaintiff contended that the signs on the wall stating how to land in the foam pit established the standard of care and that because of the attendant’s failure to admonish him for landing incorrectly, he was not discouraged from attempting a more difficult maneuver like a triple front flip.
Thankfully, the court did not buy this argument. It is a fine line we walk when we’re trying to train young employees and having them work with even younger patrons to keep safe. You write the rules, tell the employees to enforce the rules, but in some cases there is no way that you can guess what a patron is going to do. Here the plaintiff expected the defendant to guess what his actions would be and the court would not accept that.
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The Estate of Joseph R. Kane, v. Epley’s Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48179
The Estate of Joseph R. Kane, deceased; Stacie Kane, individually, and as guardian of Joseph P. Kane; and Thomas Kane, individually, Plaintiffs, vs. Epley’s Inc., an Idaho corporation, Defendant.
Case No.: 3:15-cv-00105-EJL-REB
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48179
March 28, 2017, Decided
March 28, 2017, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: Estate of Kane v. Epley’s Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170316 (D. Idaho, Dec. 5, 2016)
COUNSEL: [*1] For Estate of Joseph R Kane, deceased, Stacie Kane, individually, and as guardian of Joseph P Kane, Joseph P Kane, Thomas Kane, individually, Plaintiffs: Theron A Buck, LEAD ATTORNEY, Frey Buck, P.S., Seattle, WA; Thomas Daniel Frey, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Frey Buck, P.S., Seattle, WA.
For Epley’s, Inc., an Idaho corporation, Defendant: Caitlin Elizabeth O’Brien, LEAD ATTORNEY, Winston & Cashatt, Lawyers, Coeur d’Alene, ID; Patrick J Cronin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Winston & Cashatt, Lawyers, Spokane, WA.
JUDGES: Honorable Ronald E. Bush, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
OPINION BY: Ronald E. Bush
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE:
PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT TO ASSERT PUNITIVE DAMAGE CLAIM
(Docket No. 17)
PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO STRIKE DEFENDANT’S “SUR REPLY” TO PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT TO ADD PUNITIVE DAMAGES
(Docket No. 39)
Now pending before the Court is Plaintiffs’ (1) Motion to Amend Complaint to Assert Punitive Damage Claim (Docket No. 17), and (2) Motion to Strike Defendant’s “Sur Reply” to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Complaint to Add Punitive Damages (Docket No. 39). Having carefully considered the record, heard oral argument, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the [*2] following Memorandum Decision and Order:
Joseph R. Kane died after being ejected from a raft on a section of the Lower Salmon River known as “Slide Rapid.” Mr. Kane was part of a Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) group, composed of minors and other adults — the majority of whom had no “whitewater” experience whatsoever. The group booked their trip with Defendant Epley’s Inc. (“Epley’s”), a licensed outfitter in the state of Idaho that offers guided rafting tours on the Salmon River and Snake River.
Through this action, Plaintiffs (to include the estate of Mr. Kane, his wife Stacie Kane, and sons Thomas and Joseph P. Kane) claim that Epley’s conduct — in particular, its decision to run the Slide Rapid at flows above 23,000 cubic feet per second (“cfs”) — breached the standard of care applicable to outfitters and guides under chapter 12, Title 6, Idaho Code and that said breach was a direct and proximate result of Mr. Kane’s death. See generally Pls.’ Compl., ¶¶ 4.1-4.12 (Docket No. 1). Plaintiffs specifically allege:
Defendant’s conduct was wrongful and otherwise breached its standard of care by taking Joseph R. and Thomas down the river and through the Slide when they knew or [*3] should have known that the river’s flow was in excess of 23,500 cfs, and knowing that these extreme conditions would produce incredibly dangerous Class V or Class VI rapids. Defendant’s guides’ decision to run these rapids not only ignored the rafter’s inexperience, it was also contrary to the express written recommendations of the BLM’s published handbook for rafting the Lower Salmon River. Defendant’s actions were wrongful in the face of a known, significant risk that was unknown to the Plaintiffs.
Id. at ¶ 4.5. Since the action’s inception, the above-referenced breach-of-the-standard-of-care allegations have further evolved into the bases for Plaintiff’s at-issue Motion to Amend Complaint to Assert Punitive Damage Claim.1
1 Even so, these allegations were preliminarily tested in the context of Defendant’s intervening Motion for Summary Judgment. See MSJ (Docket No. 16). U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge denied that Motion, concluding that questions of fact populated the interwoven issues of (1) the proper standard of care involved, (2) whether Defendant breached such standard of care, and (3) whether Defendant’s conduct proximately caused Plaintiffs’ injury and/or any actual loss or damage. See generally 12/6/16 MDO, pp. 16-30 (Docket No. 44).
According to Plaintiffs, Epley’s not only ignored and misrepresented to the group the extreme risks presented by the water levels forecasted to be encountered at Slide Rapid on June 27, 2014 (thus permitting the trip’s June 24, 2014 launch in the first instance), its later decision to actually continue through Slide Rapid on June 27, 2014 at flows in excess of 23,500 cfs represented an extreme deviation from industry standards. See generally Mem. in [*4] Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 5-17 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1). Plaintiffs argue:
Despite the dangerous conditions produced by the high flow levels, Defendant authorized the trip to commence as planned on June 24, 2014. Defendant’s manager [(Blackner)] admits that he told the group that the river level would slacken by the time they reached the Slide on the fourth day of the trip, a fact admitted by Blackner and reflected in pre-trip emails by group members. Notably, Blackner told the group he expected the river would be down to 17,000 cfs by the time they hit the Slide. Blackner asserts he was relying on on-line river forecasts by the National Weather Service (“NWS”) vis-a-vis [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] (“NOAA”) and [U.S. Geological Survey] (“USGS”), in making this claim.
In fact, however, the water level forecasted by the NWS model as of the morning of the trip launch (June 24) for June 27 — the day the group was scheduled to hit the Slide — was not 17,000; it was approximately 21,000 cfs, Class V-VI water. Moreover, while earlier forecast modeling had predicted that the flow levels might recede below 20,000 cfs, the actual flow measurements taken by the . . . USGS show [*5] that the river had remained steadily above 23,000 cfs for the four days before launch date, flatly belying the earlier forecast models. Defendant’s manager and guides were aware of this flow before the trip began. Moreover, rain was forecast for the area during the trip. In short, there was no earthly reason to believe the water level would decrease significantly from the 23,400 cfs level on launch date by the time the Boy Scouts hit the Slide; all extant evidence and forecasts unequivocally established the Slide would be Class V water on June 27. Notwithstanding the extreme water level, the inexperienced, unfit passengers and the want of cause to believe the river volume would drop, Defendant launched the excursion.
Prior to launch, the Defendant prepared no plan whatsoever to avoid or safely transit the Slid should the water level remain at ClassV level. There were several options available. Defendant could have arranged to take the group off the river at Eagle Creek, the last overnight stop before the Slide. It could have arranged for a larger, motorized raft to transit the group. It could have arranged for jet boat transit at the Slide. Defendant took none of these prudent steps. [*6]
On June 26,2014, the scout group landed and took out at Eagle Creek to spend the night. This was the group’s last overnight location before reaching the Slide. Eagle Creek was also the last place where the group could have readily exited the river on land. The guides were aware that the river had not changed appreciably since the launch level of 23,400 cfs. Indeed, on the morning of June 27, after spending the night at Eagle Creek, Epley’s guides could see with the naked eye that the river flow had actually increased overnight. Defendant’s guides knew that these extreme flows would produce Class V or VI rapids at the Slide. Despite this knowledge, prior to and after reaching Eagle Creek, the Defendant’s agents made no plan to avoid the Slide in the event the water level did not recede, no plan to remove the group at Eagle Creek, and no plan to bring extra assets to the area of the Slide to relieve the obvious risk posed by the rapid. The guides had access to a satellite phone, but they opted to not use it to verify water levels or explore options for avoiding the Slide, notwithstanding that it had “constantly” rained following the June 24 launch. . . . .
Id. at pp. 5-6 (internal citations omitted, [*7] italics in original, underlining added); see also id. at pp. 14, 16 (“Based on the evidence presented here, it can be inferred that Blackner intentionally or with gross negligence misled the group (and possibly his lead guide) to believe the Slide would be safely navigable by June 27. . . . . There [was] no rational justification for allowing this group to launch on June 24, other than for financial gain.”); id. at p. 16 (“Simply put, once the group left on June 24, Epley’s plan was to send the group through the Slide regardless of conditions, risk of injury or death to riders, or industry standards. . . . . The decision by the guides to authorize the trip to continue through the Slide after reaching Eagle Creek on June 26 also constitutes an extreme deviation from industry standards. The trip should have unquestionably been terminated when the guides recognized that the flows had not dropped since June 24.”).2
2 Plaintiffs also claims that Epley’s use of inexperienced and inadequately trained guides contributes to the milieu of conduct auguring in favor of a punitive damages claim against Epley’s. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 14, 16 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (“There is no dispute that the guides selected by lead boatman Mike Cornforth for the trip had never transited the Slide at levels near 23,000 cfs. Accordingly, they lacked any training or experience whatsoever to manage the extreme conditions presented by the Slide at that level. . . . . Epley’s decision to permit commencement of the trip on June 24, with minors as young as 14 and unfit 50-year-olds, at flows in excess of 23,000 cfs, under the supervision of inexperienced and unqualified guides, with no alternative safety plan in place, constituted an extreme deviation from the standard of care.”).
Epley’s disputes these claims outright, but alternatively argues that, even if true, they operate only to support claims that it was grossly negligent or reckless. See generally Opp. to Mot. to Am., pp. 12-19 (Docket No. 22). In short, attacking the quantum of Plaintiffs’ proffered evidence, Epley’s argues [*8] that, “[t]he mere fact of a tragic death during a high risk recreational activity does not create the necessary fraud, malice, outrage, or oppression” to warrant a claim for punitive damages. Id. at p. 12; see also id. at p. 15 (“Ultimately, even Plaintiffs’ evidence regarding the water levels do not rise to any necessary level of proof that Epley’s acted maliciously, outrageously, fraudulently, or oppressively.”); id. at p. 17 (“The Plaintiffs’ evidence fails to rise to the level of reasonable likelihood of proving fraud, oppression, malice, or outrage.”); id. at p. 19 (“[Plaintiffs’] evidence in this motion at best claims that [Epley’s] was grossly negligent or reckless, but nowhere explains or establishes fraud, oppression, malice, or outrage necessary to amend to add punitives.”).
A. Punitive Damages: Legal Standard
Claims for punitive damages are governed by Idaho Code § 6-1604, which provides:
In any action seeking recovery of punitive damages, the claimant must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, oppressive, fraudulent, malicious or outrageous conduct by the party against whom the claim for punitive damages is asserted.
I.C. § 6-1604(1).
Whether to allow a claim of punitive damages is a substantive question controlled by Idaho law. See Windsor v. Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co., 684 F. Supp. 630, 633 (D. Idaho 1988). Ultimately, [*9] an award of punitive damages requires a bad act and a bad state of mind. See Todd v. Sullivan Const. LLC, 146 Idaho 118, 191 P.3d 196, 201 (Idaho 2008). The defendant must (1) act in a manner that was an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct with an understanding of — or disregard for — the likely consequences, and must (2) act with an extremely harmful state of mind, described variously as with malice, oppression, fraud, or outrageousness. See Myers v. Workmen’s Auto Ins. Co., 140 Idaho 495, 95 P.3d 977, 983 (Idaho 2004); see also I.C. § 6-1604.3
3 The Idaho Supreme Court has recognized that, since the enactment of Idaho Code § 6-1604 in 1987, gross negligence or deliberate or willful conduct is not sufficient for an award of punitive damages. See Cummings v. Stephens, 157 Idaho 348, 336 P.3d 281, 296, n.5 (Idaho 2014) (“Since the enactment of the statute, gross negligence or deliberate or willful conduct is not sufficient for an award of punitive damages.”). Accordingly, the undersigned disagrees with Plaintiffs’ to the extent they ask the Court to infer that a harmful state of mind can be satisfied by a defendant’s gross negligence. See, e.g., Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., p. 10 (Docket no. 17, Att. 1); compare with Opp. to Mot. to Am., p. 10 (Docket No. 22) (“A party seeking punitive damages must prove defendant’s action constituted an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct, which was done with knowledge of the likely consequences, and an ‘extremely harmful state of mind.’ However, that ‘extremely harmful state’ can no longer be termed gross negligence or recklessness.”) (internal citations omitted, emphasis in original).
At trial, the party alleging punitive damages must satisfy this standard by clear and convincing evidence. See I.C. § 6-1604(1). However, for purposes of a motion to amend, the party seeking to add a claim for punitive damages does not need to meet this high burden; rather, the party need only show “a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial sufficient to support an award of punitive damages.” See I.C. § 6-1604(2). Therefore, although FRCP 15(a) encourages the trial court to liberally grant motions to amend pleadings, this policy is substantially tempered by the requirements under Idaho law. That is, plaintiff may add a claim for punitive damages only if they establish a reasonable likelihood of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant’s conduct was oppressive, fraudulent, [*10] malicious, or outrageous.
Since plaintiffs are only required to demonstrate a “reasonable likelihood” of establishing their entitlement to punitive damages, on motions to amend to assert a claim for punitive damages under Idaho Code § 6-1604(2), courts apply the same standard it would apply in resolving an FRCP 50 motion at the close of plaintiffs’ case. See Bryant v. Colonial Sur. Co., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22414, 2016 WL 707339, *3 (D. Idaho 2016). That is, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, with the benefit of all legitimate inferences without assessing credibility. See id. (citing E.E.O.C. v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009)).
It is in the trial court’s discretion to decide whether to submit the punitive damages issue to the jury. See Manning v. Twin Falls Clinic & Hosp., Inc., 122 Idaho 47, 830 P.2d 1185, 1190 (Idaho 1992). As a matter of substantive law, it is well established in Idaho that punitive damages are not favored and should be awarded only in the most unusual and compelling circumstances, and are to be awarded cautiously and within narrow limits. See id. at 1185; see also Jones v. Panhandle Distribs., Inc., 117 Idaho 750, 792 P.2d 315 (Idaho 1990); Soria v. Sierra Pac. Airlines, Inc., 111 Idaho 594, 726 P.2d 706 (Idaho 1986); Cheney v. Palos Verdes Inv. Corp., 104 Idaho 897, 665 P.2d 661 (Idaho 1983); Linscott v. Rainier Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 100 Idaho 854, 606 P.2d 958 (Idaho 1980).
B. Plaintiffs May Assert a Claim for Punitive Damages Against Epley’s
This lawsuit and the instant Motion to Amend are focused on the decisions surrounding the events leading up to June 27, 2014 — the day Mr. Kane, his son, and the rest of the rafters in their group encountered Slide Rapid. The evidentiary record about such decisions [*11] (viewed in light most favorable to Plaintiffs), gives rise to a reasonable likelihood of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Epley’s engaged in a bad act, with a bad state of mind, so as to warrant a claim for punitive damages.
1. Bad Act: Extreme Deviation From Reasonable Standards of Conduct
Plaintiffs point out that, in the days leading up to, and including, the June 24, 2014 launch, Defendant’s manager and guides were aware that water levels on the Salmon River consistently measured higher than 23,000 cfs and that, on June 24, 2014, the water level forecasted for June 27, 2014 (the day the group was scheduled to reach Slide Rapid) was approximately 21,000 cfs. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 2-6, 11, 14 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (citing Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at p. 96) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. F (Cornforth Dep. at p. 21) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. L (USGS Discharge Data), to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 4); Ex. M (Northwest River Forecast Center (“NWRFC”) River Flow Forecast), to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 24)).4 Still, Epley’s decided to proceed with the trip and, according to Plaintiffs, did so with “no plan whatsoever” to address the [*12] anticipated flow levels at Slide Rapid in the event water flow volumes remained dangerously high. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 6-7, 15-16 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (citing Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at pp. 107-08) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3)).5
4 It is undisputed that, at levels over 20,000 cfs, Slide Rapid represents either Class V (expert) or Class VI (extreme and exploratory) waters. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 4, 7, 14 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (citing Ex. B (BLM Guide) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at p. 86) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. Q (Ranck Dep. at pp. 16-17) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 6); Ex. E (Estes Dep. at pp. 18-19) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3)).
5 According to Defendant’s lead guide, Mr. Cornforth, “regardless of the height of the river when [the party] got to Slide [Rapid],” his only plan was “to try to stay river left and go through it.” Ex. F (Cornforth Dep. at p. 22) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3).
Flow levels did not appreciably change over the course of the trip and, on the morning of June 27, 2014, Defendant’s guides could see that the river flow had actually increased overnight as the party camped at Eagle Creek (the last overnight location before reaching Slide Rapid). See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., p. 7 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (citing Ex. F (Cornforth Dep. at pp. 59-60) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. G (Sharp Dep. at pp. 34-36) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 4); Ex. P (Sharp Witness Statement) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 6)). Still, Defendant decided to proceed through Slide Rapid with allegedly unqualified guides, foregoing options to use an available satellite phone to discuss potentially safer options for the relatively inexperienced group, portage around Slide Rapid,6 or altogether exit the river on land at Eagle Creek (the last place where the group could have readily done so). See Mem. in [*13] Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 6-7, 15-16 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (citing Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at p. 154) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3; Ex. F (Cornforth Dep. at pp. 22, 29-30) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. O (Sears Expert Report, p. 6) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 6); Ex. W (Nicolazzo Report, p. 3), to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. ).
6 Plaintiffs claim that another outfitter, Exodus River Adventures, ran the Lower Salmon River during the same time frame and, on June 26, 2014, portaged around Slide Rapid rather than running it at similar flows. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Am., p. 7 (Docket No. 17, Att. 1) (citing Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at p. 154) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3)); but see Ex. Q (Ranck Dep. at p. 30) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 6) (testifying that portaging Slide Rapid was not a viable option: “It is a steep slope with sharp rocks. Lots of ledges. Loose rocks. Having middle-aged parents. Some of which were overweight. They would have been more than capable to do so on maybe a beach or a smaller rock outcropping. But they wouldn’t have been able to get safely over that rock slide by themselves. Especially carrying gear.”).
For its part, Epley’s disputes Plaintiffs’ contentions about forecasted flows for Slide Rapid in the days leading up to June 27, 2014, believing them to be lower. See Opp. to Mot. to Am., pp. 4-5, 14 (Docket No. 22) (“Despite Plaintiffs’ incorrect assertions, the Northwest River Forecast website continued to predict that the Lower Salmon River water level would drop to below 20,000 cfs by the time the group was to reach the Slide.”) (citing Ex. L (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, Northwest River Forecast Center River Flow and Stage Forecasts) to Cronin Decl. (Docket No. 22, Att. 3). Consistent with this, the BLM officials present at the launch site on June 24, 2014, neither warned the group not to go, nor stated any concern about the water levels whatsoever. See Opp. to Mot. to Am., [*14] p. 6 (Docket No. 22) (citing Ex. A (Blackner Dep. at p. 113) to Cronin Decl. (Docket No. 22, Att. 2). And, as to precautions taken before hitting Slide Rapid itself, Epley’s notes that its guides (who it contends were state-licensed and experienced) conducted a safety talk on the morning of June 27, 2014 and, before reaching the rapids, pulled the group’s rafts to shore to scout and pick the safest line to run — the “Sneak” down the left bank, with identified spots to “eddy out” at the bottom of the run “in case any individuals fell out during the rapid and they needed to perform a rescue.” Opp. to Mot. to Am., pp. 6, 15-17 (Docket No. 22) (citing Ex. P (Ranck Dep. at pp. 29-31) to Cronin Decl. (Docket No. 22, Att. 3)).
The extent to which the parties’ above-referenced arguments define the standard of care orbiting Defendant’s actions leading up to Mr. Kane’s death is clearly disputed. Judge Lodge stated as much when considering Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, discussing the relevant standard of care as follows:
A question of fact exists, however, concerning what the standard of care is in this case; i.e., what ordinary care Epley’s, as an outfitter, owed to Plaintiffs, as its [*15] customers/participants. The parties dispute the testimony of the expert witnesses offered to opine regarding the standards of the profession and the use/relevance of certain public information and industry publications to define the standard of care — in particular the standard of care in the profession for outfitters running the Slide Rapid above 20,000 cfs.
Each sides’ expert witnesses offer differing opinions concerning the standard of care applicable to the circumstances presented in this case. In his report, the Defendant’s expert, Gary Lane, states that he used a 25,000 cfs cut-off for running commercial trips at the Slide Rapid but that “it has long been the standard practice and is the practice today for commercial outfitters on the Lower Salmon River to take commercial trips down the Lower Salmon, including the Slide Rapid, at flows up to and exceeding 25,000 cfs” and concludes that Epley’s conformed to the standard of care expected of outfitters and guides rafter the Lower Salmon at the Slide Rapid with this group, gear, and at water levels higher than 20,000 cfs. Plaintiffs’ expert, on the other hand, conclude the Defendant violated the standard of care with regard to running [*16] the Slide Rapid above 20,000 cfs under the circumstances of this case. Resolving the disputed questions presented by the experts’ testimonies requires the weighing of evidence and credibility determinations which must be done at trial.
12/6/16 MDO, pp. 19-20 (Docket No. 44) (internal citations omitted).7 And, whether these same arguments reflect Defendant’s breach of any duty owed to Plaintiffs is also disputed, with Judge Lodge similarly ruling:
For the same reasons discussed above with regard to duty, the Court finds a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Defendant breached the standard of care applicable in this case. This case presents the classic example of a battle of experts where both sides have presented contradicting testimony from experts concerning whether the Defendant breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiffs. Further, the facts surrounding events in question relevant to the breach issue are in dispute. For instance, the conditions presented on the day in question; what the guides knew regarding the water flow level of the Slide Rapid; whether there was a rescue plan and if that plan was followed; and any safety procedures in place and used by the guides. [*17] The jury, as the finder of fact, must consider all of the disputed facts, the credibility of the witnesses, and the weight of the evidence in order to determine whether Defendant breached its duty. Therefore, summary judgment is denied on this question.
Id. at p. 23.
7 Judge Lodge also considered the “public information and industry publications” for the purposes of determining the appropriate standard of care for Idaho outfitters running commercial trips on the Lower Salmon River generally, and when Slide Rapid experiences high flows. See 12/6/16 MDO, pp. 20-22 (Docket No. 44). This examination included the BLM’s Lower Salmon River Boater’s Guide, the American Whitewater Safety Code, outfitter websites, and industry blogs (including one by Defendant’s expert, Gary Lane). However, they also didn’t highlight the standard of care as a matter of law. See id. at p. 22 (“While these materials do not, in and of themselves, define the standard of care, and their admissibility and/or use at trial is not decided here, the materials do show a genuine issue of material fact is present in this case concerning the applicable standard of care.”).
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, and giving Plaintiff the benefit of all legitimate inferences without assessing credibility, Plaintiffs have established a reasonable likelihood of proving by clear and convincing evidence that Defendant acted in a manner that was an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct with an understanding (as an experienced outfitter) of — or disregard for — the likely consequences of those actions. See, e.g., Morningstar Holding Corp. v. G2, LLC, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12355, 2012 WL 287517, at *14 (D. Idaho 2012) (“It is true that ‘[w]here evidence is conflicting, and where it can be said that if one theory of the case is correct there may be ground for the imposition of exemplary damages, the matter is properly submitted to the jury’ to determine the correct theory.”) (quoting Williams v. Bone, 74 Idaho 185, 259 P.2d 810, 813 (Idaho 1953)). As already indicated by Judge Lodge, it will be for the jury to resolve the issue of the actual standard of care involved and, relatedly, whether Epley’s breached [*18] that same standard in the days and moments leading up to Mr. Kane’s death. See supra.
2. Bad State of Mind: Acting With An Extremely Harmful State of Mind
Plaintiffs assert that Epley’s, through its manager, Mr. Blackner, told Marelene Schaefer, who organized the event for the BSA, that (1) Defendant followed “BLM criteria” in determining whether to launch on the Lower Salmon Rive, and (2) they would not launch if the water was above 20,000 cfs. See Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Am., p. 2 (Docket No. 27) (citing Ex. B (Schaefer Dep. at pp. 25-28, 30) to Buck Decl. (Docket No. 21, Att. 3)). Plaintiffs also contend that Mr. Blackner assured Ms. Schaefer that he was monitoring river flows, even expressing concern that they might not be able to launch on the date planned and that they may have to “take an alternative trip if the water was over 20,000 cfs.” See Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Am., p. 2 (Docket No. 27) (citing Ex. B (Schaefer Dep. at pp. 27-29) to Buck Decl. (Docket No. 21, Att. 3)).
But, according to Plaintiffs, at the June 24, 2014 launch Mr. Blackner did not tell Ms. Schaefer (who was also present with the inspection team at the launch) that the water level was above 23,000 cfs, but [*19] did say that the water levels would be dropping to 17,000 cfs at Slide Rapid and, if they did not drop in time, they could alter the plan and take out at Eagle Creek or run a different route. See Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Am., p. 2 (Docket No. 27) (citing Ex. B (Schaefer Dep. at p. 46) to Buck Decl. (Docket No. 21, Att. 3);8 Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at pp. 91- 93) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3)). Mr. Blackner allegedly made these representations despite the fact that river level forecasts for June 27, 2014 (the day the group was scheduled to reach Slide Rapid) was, in reality, approximately 21,000 cfs. See Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Am., pp. 2-3 (Docket No. 27) (“Blackner admitted that he checked the USGS website that provided actual and forecasted river levels; consequently, he knew his statement that the river would be at 17,000 cfs by June 27 was false.”) (citing Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at pp. 91-93) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3); Ex. M (NWRFC River Flow Forecast), to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 24)). In other words, Plaintiffs argue that Mr. Blackner purposely misled Ms. Schaefer and, thus, the group by failing to inform them of actual (as of the June 24, 2014 launch date) and [*20] projected (for the anticipated encounter with Slide Rapid on June 27, 2014) river flows — that is, it was fraudulent and outrageous for Mr. Blackner to say that the forecasted flow for Slide Rapid on June 27, 2014 was 17,000 cfs, when, in actuality, it was much higher.
8 Whether Ms. Schaefer actually understood if Defendant would either take out at Eagle Creek or cancel the as-planned trip altogether is unclear, with Ms. Schaefer testifying:
Q: Okay. And that if [the river levels did not drop], according to what you’ve testified earlier, they could alter the plan and take out before they got to the Slide?
A: Well, their alternate plan was to run a different route, not to pull out before the Slide. There’s a place to pull out I think.
Ex. B (Schaefer Dep. at p. 46) to Buck Decl. (Docket No. 21, Att. 3). Even so, the gist of this testimony is that Ms. Schaefer understood that, at certain flows, there would be no launch. See id. at p. 63 (“Well, I’m saying you saw where [Mr. Blackner] had an alternative if they could not launch and run the river the way that we had planned.”). The Court understands that the alternative trip was from Vinegar Creek to Pine Bar. See Ex. D (Blackner Dep. at pp. 92-93) to Frey Decl. (Docket No. 17, Att. 3).
Again, Epley’s takes issue with Plaintiffs’ representation of what was actually forecasted for Slide Rapid as of June 24, 2014. See supra. Epley’s does acknowledge the dueling factual accounts of what was said between Mr. Blackner and Ms. Schaefer surrounding the circumstances in which the group would (or would not) proceed with the as-planned trip, in the face of dangerous high river flow levels. See Reply in Supp. of MSJ, p. 3 (Docket No. 25) (“While it is disputed what Roger Blackner may have told Marlene Schaefer regarding what level he would run the Slide Rapid at prior to the June 24, 2014 trip, nothing [*21] that the Plaintiffs cite establishes that Roger, or any other Epley’s personnel, testified the water was over the Epley’s limit, or the industry standard.”).
And, as before, such evidence and inferences must be viewed to Plaintiffs’ benefit when considering Plaintiffs’ efforts to amend their Complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. When doing so, Plaintiffs have established a reasonable likelihood of proving by clear and convincing evidence that Epley’s not only acted in a manner that was an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct with an understanding of — or disregard for — the likely consequences of those actions (see supra), but also did so with a harmful state of mind when viewing Mr. Blackner’s statements to Ms. Schaefer as fraudulent and/or outrageous. See Morningstar, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12355, 2012 WL 287517 at *14 (discussing role of jury to resolve conflicting evidence in context of exemplary damages). Whether Epley’s actually acted with such a harmful state of to support an award of punitive damages is therefore a question for the jury, and not the subject of this Memorandum Decision and Order.9
9 To be clear, the undersigned is granting Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Complaint to Assert Punitive Damages Claim. However, the fact of doing so does not guarantee the claim will go to the jury. Judge Lodge will preside over the trial of the case and it will be within Judge Lodge’s province to decide, after hearing the evidence, whether the jury should decide the issue of punitive damages at trial. See, e.g., Clark v. Podesta, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103637, 2016 WL 4179851, at *8 (D. Idaho 2016) (Judge Lodge stating on that facts of that case: “It is premature for the Court to make a binding decision on punitive damages until the close of evidence. Only then can the Court determine if evidence has been presented that Podesta acted with the requisite state of mind to allow punitive damages to be considered by the jury. Accordingly, the Court will allow the motion to amend the Complaint but will reserve ruling on whether such claim will be decided by the jury. . . .”).
Based on the foregoing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Complaint to [*22] Assert Punitive Damage Claim (Docket No. 17) is GRANTED; and
2. Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike Defendant’s “Sur Reply” to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Complaint to Add Punitive Damages (Docket No. 39) is DENIED as moot.
DATED: March 28, 2017
/s/ Ronald E. Bush
Honorable Ronald E. Bush
Chief U. S. Magistrate Judge
Griffith v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, 2017 Ida. LEXIS 90
Seth Griffith, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, an Idaho Limited Liability Company, Defendant-Respondent.
Docket No. 44133-2016, 2017 Opinion No. 29
SUPREME COURT OF IDAHO
2017 Ida. LEXIS 90
April 10, 2017, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Ada County. Hon. Deborah A. Bail, District Judge.
DISPOSITION: The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
COUNSEL: Eric Clark, Clark & Associates, Eagle, argued for appellant.
William Fletcher, Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley LLP, Boise, argued for respondent.
JUDGES: EISMANN, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices JONES, HORTON and BRODY CONCUR.
OPINION BY: EISMANN
This is an appeal out of Ada County from a judgment dismissing an action brought against JumpTime Meridian, LLC, by Seth Griffith seeking damages for an injury he received while attempting a triple front flip when he was seventeen years of age. We affirm the judgment of the district court.
On January 11, 2014, seventeen-year-old Seth Griffith (“Plaintiff”) was seriously injured when he attempted a triple front flip into a pit filled with foam blocks (“foam pit”) at an indoor trampoline park owned and operated by JumpTime Meridian, LLC (“JumpTime”). Plaintiff went to the facility with his girlfriend and her younger brother and sister. Plaintiff initially played with the brother on trampolines for about ten or fifteen minutes, and [*2] then they went to an area where there were runway trampolines. Plaintiff spent about fifteen to twenty minutes doing front flips, back flips, and cartwheels on the runway trampolines, and he taught the brother to do a front flip. He then started showing off to the brother, doing various gymnastic tricks. He jumped up, did a back flip, jumped up, and did another back flip, and a female JumpTime employee, who was monitoring the foam pit area, told him it was pretty cool.
The facility had foam pits, one large (sixteen feet by eighteen feet) and one small (nine feet by sixteen feet). The large foam pit had twin trampolines that were each twelve feet long leading to it, and the small foam pit had a 58-foot-long trampoline runway leading to it.
Plaintiff’s girlfriend and her sister were near the large foam pit. He walked over to where they were and talked to them. While he was there, he jumped into the large foam pit a few times. He then spent about 45 minutes “kind of horsing around on both the runway trampoline and the foam pit and the twin trampolines.” After he did a double front flip into the small foam pit, the monitor came up to him and asked if he had ever done a double before. He [*3] answered that he had, and she said, “Oh, that was pretty sweet.” As he continued performing double front flips into the small foam pit, he noticed that doing them was easier than it used to be for him. He decided to try a triple front flip. When he attempted it, he did not rotate far enough and landed on his head and neck, suffering a cervical dislocation and fracture, which required a fusion of his C6 and C7 vertebrae.
Plaintiff filed this action alleging that JumpTime negligently caused his injury. He contended that because he was under the age of eighteen, JumpTime had a duty to supervise him. He had been intentionally landing the double front flips on his back in the pit. He testified that he did so “because you don’t want to land on your feet because you can bash your head against your knees.” JumpTime’s written policy manual instructed its employees with respect to the foam pit to “[f]ollow the rules outlined on the wall and continuously enforce it.” There were signs on the walls near the two pits that instructed customers to land on their feet. A large sign painted on the wall next to where the runway trampoline ended at the small foam pit said:
• Jump feet first into the pit
• Land on [*4] your feet and seat
• No landing on your head or Stomach
Just past the small foam pit was a sign titled “FOAM PIT RULES,” which included the admonition: “WHILE YOU JUMP: DO NOT land on head, neck or belly. NO DIVING; FEET FIRST.” A third sign located on the wall near the large foam pit was titled “FOAM PIT PATRON RESPONSIBILITY CODE,” and it included the admonition, “Jump and land on two feet.” Plaintiff contended that had the attendant told him to land on his feet, he would not have attempted the triple front flip.
JumpTime moved for summary judgment alleging that there was no negligence, based upon the opinion of an expert that industry standards permitted landing a front flip into a foam pit on one’s feet, buttocks, or back, and that there was no evidence of causation. In response, Plaintiff contended that the signs on the wall stating how to land in the foam pit established the standard of care and that because of the attendant’s failure to admonish him for landing incorrectly, he was not discouraged from attempting a more difficult maneuver like a triple front flip. The district court granted JumpTime’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Plaintiff had failed to produce evidence [*5] of negligence and causation. Plaintiff then timely appealed.
Did the District Court Err in Granting JumpTime’s Motion for Summary Judgment?
When reviewing on appeal the granting of a motion for summary judgment, we apply the same standard used by the trial court in ruling on the motion. Infanger v. City of Salmon, 137 Idaho 45, 46-47, 44 P.3d 1100, 1101-02 (2002). We construe all disputed facts, and draw all reasonable inferences from the record, in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 47, 44 P.3d at 1102. Summary judgment is appropriate only if the evidence in the record and any admissions show that there is no genuine issue of any material fact regarding the issues raised in the pleadings and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.
The elements of common law negligence have been summarized as (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage.” Alegria v. Payonk, 101 Idaho 617, 619, 619 P.2d 135, 137 (1980). In this case, there were no facts in the record showing a causal connection between JumpTime’s alleged negligence and Plaintiff’s injury.
The issue of causation is why Plaintiff attempted the triple front flip. He did not tell [*6] anyone he was going to attempt it, nor is there any evidence indicating that the monitor knew or should have known that he would try a triple front flip. Plaintiff argues on appeal that he is “entitled to the reasonable inference that had JumpTime enforced its rules and interceded when [he] was landing improperly and dangerously on his back, [he] would not have felt emboldened and would never have attempted a triple flip.”
First, there is no evidence that it was dangerous to land on one’s back. Even Plaintiff testified that he believed it was safer because it avoided the risk of hitting his face with his knees.
Second, Plaintiff did not testify during his deposition that had the monitor admonished him to land on his feet that he would not have attempted the triple front flip, nor did he testify that the conduct of the monitor was part of that decision. He testified that he decided to attempt the triple front flip because completing the double front flips was easier than previously had been for him, that he was having to come out of his rotation earlier than he previously had to, and that he was confident he was in the air long enough to do a triple front flip, which would be exciting. [*7]
Plaintiff testified that performing the double front flips was easier than it previously had been for him.
Q. Well, tell me everything. Let’s just move in chronological order about what is happening and work up to the incident. So if you are at that point, then go ahead.
A. After about 45 minutes of just kind of horsing around on both the runway trampoline and the foam pit and the twin trampolines, I got onto the runway trampoline, plus the foam pit, and I kind of noticed I had been doing doubles easier than what I was normally used to, like I was just either spinning faster or getting higher. It was just easier than what I was accustomed to. So I decided to go for a triple.
He was asked why he attempted the triple front flip, and he did not answer that JumpTime was in any way responsible for that decision. He said that when doing double front flips he had to come out of his rotation earlier than he previously had to and he thought he had enough air to perform a triple front flip.
Q. Okay. So was the reason that you attempted this triple flip in the small foam pit just because it had a longer runway?
A. No. I had been doing doubles easier, like I was—I had to break from my rotation earlier [*8] than I previously would have to. So it was like I was having more time in the air to actually do the flips. So I kind of thought that I would be able to have enough air to do a triple.
He also stated that he was confident he could perform the triple front flip and was excited to try.
Q. Did you have any concerns about being able to do the triple without hurting yourself?
A. No. The time when I was about to do it I was pretty confident that I could.
. . . .
Q. Were you nervous at all before attempting the triple?
A. No. I was actually pretty excited about it.
Q. Why would you say that?
A. Just because, like I used to be an avid gymnastics person, so doing a new trick, like if I could—like if I added a 360 onto a front flip, I’d get pretty excited. If I did like an aerial for the first time, like I got excited. So new things kind of excited me.
Plaintiff’s testimony does not support an inference that JumpTime was in any way responsible for his decision to try the triple front flip. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to JumpTime based upon the lack of evidence regarding causation.
Is Either Party Entitled to an Award of Attorney Fees on Appeal?
Both parties [*9] request an award of attorney fees on appeal pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-121..An award of attorney fees under that statute will be awarded to the prevailing party on appeal only when this Court is left with the abiding belief that the entire appeal was brought, pursued, or defended frivolously, unreasonably, or without foundation. McGrew v. McGrew, 139 Idaho 551, 562, 82 P.3d 833, 844 (2003); Benz v. D.L. Evans Bank, 152 Idaho 215, 231-32, 268 P.3d 1167, 1183-84 (2012). Because Plaintiff is not the prevailing party on appeal, he is not entitled to an award of attorney fees under that statute. VanderWal v. Albar, Inc., 154 Idaho 816, 824, 303 P.3d 175, 183 (2013). Although it is a close question, we decline to award attorney fees on appeal to JumpTime because we do not find that this appeal meets the requirements for such an award.
We affirm the judgment of the district court, and we award Respondent costs, but not attorney fees, on appeal.
Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices JONES, HORTON and BRODY CONCUR.
The Federal District Court found the boat rental operation was negligent to defeat damages defenses provided by admiralty law. Causation, the relationship between what the defendant did and the accident giving rise to the claim seems to be stretched in this case.
State: Utah, United States District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division
Defendant: In re Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, as owner of a certain 20′ 2007 Baja Islander 202 for exoneration from or limitation of liability
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence
Defendant Defenses: Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30512
Holding: for the Plaintiff
This case is a little out of the unusual for me because it concerns a powerboat. However, the legal issues could apply to any boat; whitewater raft, sea kayak, kayak or whatever. More importantly, it could affect canoe liveries or boat rentals if the decision is accepted by other courts.
One way of defending against claims due to boating accidents is by using federal law. If a river or body of water is determined to be navigable as defined under federal law, then a defendant can use a federal statute and admiralty law to limit any possible claims. The reason you would want to do this is the maximum that can be recovered against someone using this section of admiralty law, is the value of the vessel after the accident plus the value of the cargo. So most cases, when there has been a catastrophic loss the value of the raft zero, as the boat is destroyed or sunk. Even a raft that is recovered with all of its gear would still be limited to $10 to $20,000.00 in value.
The first issue you have to overcome when using admiralty law limits is to establish jurisdiction. The body of water or river has to qualify as being a navigable river under a specific section of the law. The problem is there are 17 different definitions of navigable under federal law, plus who knows how many more under state law. You must apply the correct definition of navigable to the case.
In this case, the accident occurred on Lake Powell. Because Lake Powell spans two states and is used for commercial traffic it was declared to be navigable under the law.
The basis for this claim is three couples rented a boat from the concessionaire at the marina. Eventually, the boat sank with four of them drowning. The winds picked up and exceeded the maximum wind speed the boat should have been operated at. The defendant filed this action in federal court claiming the value the vessel after the accident was zero and therefore, there was no recovery available to the plaintiffs. The court disagreed.
The boat that sunk was only rated to be workable at wind speeds of 31 miles an hour or less. At 31 miles an hour the boat manual stated the driver should have had a lot of boating skills. The boat was also not positively buoyant; meeting that if the boat filled with water, it would sink and would not stay on the surface. There was also no law or requirement that the boat be buoyant.
One of the main issues facing the defendant in this case was they normally handed out a weather report both at the time of the rental of the boat and the time the boat left the dock. The plaintiffs received a weather report when they completed the paperwork but not in the day they left. However, they did leave the docks a half-hour earlier than when the rental operations normally open.
One risk of using admiralty law to avoid liability in a boating accident is admiralty law does not allow the defendant to use a release. I suspect that a release might’ve been used in this case because the paperwork and renting a boat usually go hand in hand.
The plaintiffs were three couples from Florida, who came to Arizona to vacation. They rented a boat from the marina the intention of going up to see natural bridges and coming back on the same day. They rented the boat before the day they left on their trip. That day they received a weather forecast from the boat rental agent. The forecast changed in the middle of the night and when they picked up the boat, they did not receive a new forecast. On the way back from visiting the Natural Bridges Arch they had to stop at another marina to refill. After leaving that marina they went out into the Lake Powell and on the way back the boat sunk due to high winds.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
One of the first main issues the court looked at was who could determine if boat rentals should stop because of the weather. Several employees of the defendant testified that wind speeds from 25 to 30 miles an hour, boat rentals were stopped. However, there was no written policy on when boat rentals were stopped and each employee answered with a slightly different answer. More importantly nothing in the transcript indicated that there is any reliable way to determine what the weather forecast was for the wind speed was at the rental operations.
A sub argument of this was not reviewed by the court or raised by the defendant was, whether or not there was a duty on the part of the rental operation to contact the other marina and warn the people not to go back out on the lake. No phone call was made by the rental operation to the other marina.
This argument was futile though because the only way to contact the boat drivers before, or after they left the second marina was by radio. The plaintiff’s never turned the radio turned on.
Ms. Ambrosius did not attempt to call Dangling Rope Marina to have personnel there warn the Prescott Party of the high winds although she knew that the Prescott Party would stop there to refuel. She did not notify any of the tour captains to watch for Boat 647 and alert them of the danger. She did not attempt to call the Prescott Party on the marine radio. (Although that would have been futile because Mr. Brady did not turn on Boat 647’s radio.) In sum, the court finds that Ms. Ambrosius did nothing to locate Boat 647.
The federal statute that the defendant relied upon was the Limitation of Liability Act, 40 6U. S. §§ 30501 – 30512. This statute provides exoneration of liability for the boat owner up to the value of the vessel and freight after the accident. There is an exception to the rule if there is knowledge or is in the law states privity with the owner of the vessel to the possibility of the damage.
The Act does, however, create an exception to that general rule by defining “claim, debt, or liability”: “claims, debts, and liabilities subject to limitation under subsection (a) are those arising from any embezzlement, loss, or destruction of any property, goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board the vessel, any loss, damages, or injury by collision, or any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture, done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of the owner.”
It is this knowledge or privity that allows the plaintiff to argue that the plaintiff defendant could have stopped them and save their lives.
Admiralty law was created for the transportation of goods and people across the oceans. It was adopted as uniform laws among countries with interests in shipping. As such, many parts of admiralty law make more sense when viewed in this light a boat on the high seas.
There’s a two-step inquiry to determine whether the act shall apply based on the privity or knowledge of the owner of the boat.
Courts use a two-step inquiry to determine whether a petitioner is entitled to exoneration or limitation of liability when sued for negligence. “First, the court must determine what acts of negligence . . . caused the accident. Second, the court must determine whether the shipowner had knowledge [of] or privity [with the person who committed] those same acts of negligence . . . The claimant bears the burden of proving negligence and if successful, the burden shifts to the shipowner to prove lack of knowledge or privity.
In this case, the court held that negligence on the land is similar to negligence in the water. The plaintiffs had to prove that there was a connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury.
Torts occurring on navigable waters are governed by maritime law. “The elements of a maritime negligence cause of action are essentially the same as land-based negligence under the common law.” A claimant must prove “a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, breach of that duty, injury sustained by [the] plaintiff, and a causal connection between [the] defendant’s conduct and the plain-tiff’s injury.”
The ship owner owes a duty of reasonable care to all passengers on his ship. Or, in this case, the court held the rental operation owes a duty of reasonable care to the people renting his boat.
“Under Maritime law, a plaintiff is owed a duty of ordinary care under the circumstances.” “We hold that the owner of a ship in navigable waters owes to all who are on board for purposes not inimical to his legitimate interests the duty of exercising reasonable care under the circumstances of each case.”
The court found that the defendant breached his duty of reasonable care when it allowed plaintiffs to leave the morning of the accident. “Here, the court concludes that Aramark breached its duty of reasonable care when it allowed the Prescott Party to leave the morning of April 25, 2009.”
This conclusion was reached because the defendant had a duty to warn the renters of the weather issues. This is where this case takes on some concerns that exceed those of the normal rental situation. Hertz never gives your weather forecast when you leave its rental operation with their car.
I suspect that duty was created by the defendant normally providing all renters of its boats with a copy of the weather forecast because that was not done, then it created a duty.
Aramark, primarily Ms. Ambrosius, had a duty to be advised of the current weather forecasts and wind advisories before allowing any party to leave the marina in an Aramark power boat. This is particularly true because, as Aramark knew, in the spring, the weather changed constantly. Phyllis Coon testified that in the spring, shutting down rentals was considered almost on “an hourly basis” because of the erratic weather. And “[s]pringtime is al-ways windy on the lake.”
The second issue the court found or had an issue with, was the boat owner’s manual cautioned that when the winds exceeded 31 miles an hour, the boat should not be driven. Aramark’s only requirement when renting a boat was to make sure that the person was 18 years or older and had a valid driver’s license. Again, the same requirements to rent a car as Hertz used. The court held that a person’s prior ability and experience were important.
The boat owner’s manual cautioned that when wind speeds reached 31 miles an hour, only experienced operators might be able to safely operate the boat. Yet Aramark rented to anyone eighteen years or older, with a valid driver’s license, without regard to that person’s previous boating experience.
All these facts allow the court to conclude that Aramark could possibly be negligent.
The court, when it considers these facts, concludes that Aramark had frequently in the past recognized that high winds could be dangerous to boaters. Aramark should have been aware, if it was not, that high winds were forecast for April 25, 2009. And it was foreseeable to Aramark that if those who had rented Baja 202 Islanders for a trip on Lake Powell the morning of April 25, 2009, were allowed to depart, the boats could sink because of the high winds. It was further foreseeable to Aramark that if the boats sank, particularly in the cold April water, the passengers could suffer injury and even death. Aramark breached that duty when it allowed the Prescott Party to leave.
The next issue is whether or not breach of the duty of the boat renter/defendant was the cause of the injury. Here the court found that by allowing the boating party to leave the other marina that was a factor in the sinking of the boat. “Here, the court concludes that Aramark’s failure to stop the Prescott Party from leaving was a substantial factor in the sinking of Boat 647 and the resulting harm.”
(Which begs the questions, how were you going to stop someone from leaving a marina when their car and lodging were at their destination?)
Both marinas were owned and operated by the same defendant.
The final issue the court was, whether or not there was privity between the defendant and what happened. Privity in admiralty law is a weird definition of the word. In this case, the defendant must prove that they did not have any knowledge of the negligence. Normally, this would make sense when the owner of the boat is sitting on shore thousands of miles away and the captain or a member of the crew does something that was negligent causing the sinking of the boat.
In this case because the boat was a rental and owned by a defendant Corporation the court held all the employees had a duty or had privity to the negligent acts. “When a corporation owns the vessel, the test is whether culpable participation or neglect of duty can be attributed to an officer, managing agent, supervisor, or other high-level employee of the corporation.”
Because the general manager and several employees of the defendant could stop the rental, the court said the discretionary authority to close the boat rentals, was held to have been a negligent act.
Finding this the court held that Aramark could not exonerate or limit its liability in this case. The case would then proceed to trial for the full amount of damages claimed by the plaintiffs. This decision is not a finding of negligence against the defendant only that there was enough negligent for the court to conclude Aramark could be liable.
So Now What?
Here’s a situation whereby trying to be good and help people renting your boats you created your own liability.
The experience of the person running the boat also creates its own nightmares as you well know someone is going to lie to you when they fill out a form asking for experience. The will tell you they have plenty experience when want to rent a boat. The experience issue is a nightmare. no way you can test someone’s experience or trust them. If they say they can rent a boat, and it sinks, the rental operation is liable for not testing them. If they don’t test now, they are liable.
All six people were from Florida, which is surrounded by water and has thousands of boat able canals, rivers and lakes, and only one person of the six had any boating experience.
The causation issue is another issue that is disturbing. Normally, causation is defined as a closer or more direct relationship between what the defendant does in creating the injury of the plaintiff. Here causation was found by allowing them to leave the marina.
However, that was not the cause of the sinking of the boat. The boat sunk because it was driven improperly in high winds. However, the court then came back and said earlier, that because they didn’t check the boating experience and didn’t hand out the weather report that was also part of the accident. The court created circuitous routes to get to the fact that they wanted the defendant liable in this case.
It is disturbing when it can quickly become a nightmare for any program or business in attempting to help the people coming to its business. Probably in the future the weather forecasts will be in a stack on the desk with a little sign that says weather forecasts take one if you want one. There will be a sign that says the boat should not be operated if the wind speed is above XX miles an hour and there will be a wind gauge nearby.
None of which will do anything save anyone’s life. Boats are rented for weeks and the weather changes. The wind in on a cove could be calm, and you hit the open part of the lake, and the wind is catastrophic. The information you obtained earlier, a day or a week will have no value where you are when trouble starts.
Besides, how many people can effectively guess the wind speed?
I think another issue here, but not written in the opinion is the boat operation’s manual had a specific wind speed where the boat should not be used. Consequently, since the manufacturer suggested the boat not be used at that speed, probably the court thought the rental operation should not rent boats when speeds exceeded the manufacturer’s recommendations.
I also suspect that some type of wind meter will be installed on the marina property so that the rental people can look at the wind and see if it should be rented. But again then who has the ability to make that call to the wind meter when the person rents the boat says the winds find, but by the time they go back to the car get their items they want to take with them and walk out the winds kicked up does the 18-year-old summer intern holding the boat for the people as they enter it have the ability to say hey it’s too windy can’t go. How’s he going to know at the end of the dock? In the future, more people may become injured because they didn’t pick up a weather forecast and didn’t understand what they’re getting into because nobody the defendant is going to stick their neck that is to tell them.
In the past rental, operations have had no liability once the equipment rented leaves the renter’s operation.
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McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc. 2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45
Marcella McGrath f/k/a Marcella Widger v. SNH Development, Inc. and John Doe, an unnamed individual
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY
2008 N.H. Super. LEXIS 45
May 19, 2008, Decided
THE ORDERS ON THIS SITE ARE TRIAL COURT ORDERS THAT ARE NOT BINDING ON OTHER TRIAL COURT JUSTICES OR MASTERS AND ARE SUBJECT TO APPELLATE REVIEW BY THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Affirmed by McGrath v. SNH Dev., Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 969 A.2d 392, 2009 N.H. LEXIS 43 (2009)
JUDGES: [*1] GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.
OPINION BY: GILLIAN L. ABRAMSON
The plaintiff commenced the instant action alleging negligence against the defendants, SNH Development, Inc. (“SNH Development”) and John Doe, an unnamed individual. The defendants now move for summary judgment, and the plaintiff objects.
For purposes of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the parties do not appear to dispute the following facts. SNH Development is a subsidiary of Peak Resorts, Inc. and owns and operates the Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington, New Hampshire. On October 23, 2003, the plaintiff signed an application (the “application”) for a season pass to the Crotched Mountain Ski Area. The application provides:
I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the ski area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death of property damage, release Crotched Mountain its owners and its agents, employees, directors, officers and shareholders from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage [*2] which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operations of the ski area including, but not limited to, grooming snow making, ski lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or age the area, or my participation in skiing, accepting myself the full responsibility
Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. Moreover, on December 20, 2003, the plaintiff signed a Liability Release Agreement, which provides:
I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing in its various forms is a hazardous sport, and I realize that injuries are a common occurrence. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the area facility, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury or death or property damage, and release Peak Resorts, Inc, all of its subsidiaries, and its agents, employees, directors, officers, shareholders and the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment and the school and group organizers (collective “providers’), from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises, the operation of the area including, but not limited to grooming, [*3] snowmaking, lift operations, actions or omissions of employees or agents of the areas, or my participating in skiing, snowboarding, blading, accepting myself the full responsibility.
Id. On February 20, 2004, the plaintiff was skiing 1 a trail at the Crotched Mountain Ski Area when an employee of SNH Development drove a snowmobile into the plaintiff’s path, causing a collision.
1 Some of the pleadings state that the plaintiff was skiing, while other’s state that the plaintiff was snowboarding.
The defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff signed the application and the Liability Release Agreement, both of which are valid, enforceable exculpatory contracts. The plaintiff objects, arguing that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy and that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim.
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court “consider[s] the affidavits and other evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” White v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 151 N.H. 544, 547, 864 A.2d 1101 (2004). [*4] The Court must grant a motion for summary judgment if its “review of the evidence does not reveal a genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law Id. A fact is material “if it affects the outcome of the litigation under the applicable substantive law.” Palmer v. Nan King Restaurant, 147 N.H. 681, 683, 798 A.2d 583 (2002).
New Hampshire law generally prohibits exculpatory contracts, but the Court will enforce them if; “(1) do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in his position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims were within the contemplation of the parties when they executed the contract.” Dean v. MacDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-267, 786 A.2d 834 (2001). Thus, the Court considers each of these requirements in turn.
Regarding the first requirement, an exculpatory contract violates public policy if a special relationship existed between the parties or if there was some other disparity in bargaining power. See Barnes v. N.H. Karting Assoc., 128 N.H. 102, 106, 509 A.2d 151 (1986) (“A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does [*5] not contravene public policy i.e that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there was no other disparity in bargaining power.”).
A special relationship exists “[w]here the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service….” Id. The plaintiff contends that a special relationship existed between the parties because any person operating a snowmobile has a statutory duty to yield the right of way, RSA 215-C:49, XII (Supp. 2007), and because the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public. Assuming that RSA 215-C:49, XII applies to the operation of a snowmobile on a privately owned ski area, the plaintiff has not offered any legal support for the conclusion that this statute somehow charges the defendants with a duty of public service. Moreover, the fact that the Crotched Mountain Ski Area serves the public is not conclusive. For example, Barnes, involved a negligence claim arising from a collision at an enduro kart racing facility. In Barnes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted that the defendant’s served the public but held that the defendant’s were not charged with a duty of public service because [*6] Endurokart racing is not “affected with a public interest.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108. Similarly, skiing is a recreational activity not affected with a public interest, and the Court finds that the defendant’s are not charged with a duty of public service.
The Plaintiff also contends that she was at an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power because all ski areas require skiers to sign releases. The Court disagrees.
This case … does not have any hallmarks of a disparity in bargaining power. The [skiing] service offered by the defendant is not a “matter of practical necessity.” Nor did the defendant in this ease have monopoly control over this service such that the plaintiff could not have gone elsewhere.
Audley v. Melton, 138 N.H. 416, 418, 640 A.2d 777 (1994) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108). 2
2 The Plaintiff also argues that the application and the Liability Release Agreement violate public policy because they relieve the defendant’s from compliance with RSA chapter 215-C, which governs snowmobiles. Assuming that RSA chapter 215-C applies to the operation of a snowmobile on privately owned ski area, the application and the Liability Release Agreement would have no bearing on the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C. [*7] See RSA 215-C-32 (Supp.2007) (providing for the enforcement of RSA chapter 215-C).
“Once an exculpatory agreement is found unobjectionable as a matter of public policy, it will be upheld only if it appears that the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or that reasonable person in his position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107. “The plaintiff’s understanding presents an issue of fact, and the plaintiff should have an opportunity to prove the fact at trial unless the exculpatory language was clear and a misunderstanding was unreasonable.” Wright v. Loon Mt. Recreation Corp., 140 N.H. 166, 169, 663 A.2d 1340 (1995). The Court
therefore examine[s] the language of the release to determine whether “a reasonable person in [the plaintiff’s] position would have known of the exculpatory provision.” A reasonable person would understand the provision if its language “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence….”
Id. (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107). The Court “will assess the clarity. the contract by evaluating it as a whole, not by examining [*8] isolated words and phrases. Id. at 169-170.
The plaintiff does not appear to dispute that she understood the import of the application or the Liability Release Agreement. Rather, the plaintiff argues that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim. Thus, the Court turns to the third requirement.
“[T]he plaintiff’s claims must have been within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the execution of the agreement. The parties need not, however, have contemplated the precise occurrence that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. They may adopt language to cover, a broad range of accidents….” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107 (citation omitted). To determine the scope of a release, the Court examines its language, strictly construing it against the defendant. Dean, 147 N.H. at 267.
Thus, in order to effectively release a defendant from liability for his own negligence, “the contract must clearly state that the defendant is not responsible for the consequences of his negligence.” There is no requirement that the term “negligence” or any other magic words appear in the release as long “as the language of [*9] the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”
Audley, 138 N.H. at 418 (citations omitted) (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107).
The plaintiff contends that the parties did not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because neither the application nor the Liability Release Agreement reference snowmobiles. As rioted above, the parties need not have contemplated a negligence claim arising from a snowmobile accident. Rather, it is sufficient that the parties adopted language to cover a broad range of accidents. The application releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence,” and the Liability Release Agreement releases the defendants “from any and all liability for personal injury, death or property damage which results in from negligence.” Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B. This language clearly states that the defendants are not responsible for the consequences of their negligence.
The Plaintiff also contends that the parties did [*10] not contemplate that the application or the Liability Release Agreement would bar the plaintiff’s negligence claim because snowmobiles are not an inherent hazard of skiing. The plaintiff relies on Wright. In Wright, the New Hampshire Supreme Court noted:
The paragraphs preceding the exculpatory clause emphasize the inherent hazards of horseback riding. Because the exculpatory clause is prefaced by the term “therefore,” a reasonable person might understand its language to relate to the inherent dangers of horseback riding and liability for injuries that occur “for that
Wright, 140 N.H. at 170. Here, however, the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not mention the inherent hazards of skiing. Rather, the application and the Liability Release Agreement note that skiing is a hazardous sport and that injuries are a common occurrence and then, without using the term “therefore,” release the defendants from any and all liability. Because the application and the Liability Release Agreement do not use the phrase “inherent hazards of skiing” or the term “therefore,” this case is distinguishable from Wright. A reasonable person would have contemplated that the application and the [*11] Liability Release Agreement would release the defendants from a negligence claim, whether nor not that claim arouse from an inherent hazard of skiing.
Based on the foregoing, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.