Kearney, v. Okemo Limited Liability Company, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106011
Walker v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934
Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson, Appellants v. UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers, Appellees
Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 5934
June 3, 2016, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF COMAL COUNTY, 433RD JUDICIAL DISTRICT. NO. C2012-0796D, HONORABLE DIB WALDRIP, JUDGE PRESIDING.
JUDGES: Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field.
OPINION BY: David Puryear
Appellants Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson1 filed suit against appellees UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers for injuries sustained when the Guadalupe River overran its banks during a flash flood in June 2010.2 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees. We affirm the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment.
1 Cynthia Walker was married to Norman Walker, and Stephen Walker, Stephanie Walker Hatton, and Jordan Walker are their children. Caren Johnson is married to Terry Johnson, Cynthia’s brother. Cynthia, Norman, Caren, and Terry were camping together at Camp Huaco Springs when they were caught in the flood. Norman died, while Cynthia, Terry, and Caren were injured. Caren and Cynthia sued for their own injuries. Cynthia also sued as a representative of [*2] Norman’s estate and, along with her children, as a wrongful death beneficiary.
2 UME, Inc. operates Camp Huaco Springs, WWGAF operates Rockin ‘R’ River Rides, a river-tubing and recreation outfitter, and William and Richard Rivers own the two businesses.
In June 2010, Cynthia and Norman Walker and Terry and Caren Johnson went to Camp Huaco Springs in their RV campers for a weekend of camping and river rafting. When they arrived at the campground, they were assigned two parking spaces. The Walkers and the Johnsons parked their campers as directed. On Saturday, the Walkers and the Johnsons took a canoe trip on the river and went to tour nearby caverns. When they returned to the campsite and went to bed, it was not raining. They had not heard any weather reports and did not know heavy rain was forecast for that night. Cynthia woke at about 6:00 a.m. to thunder and lightning. She looked out the window and saw Terry was screaming that they had to leave. Cynthia looked down and noticed that the river had risen to surround the two campers, causing them to begin floating. The Walkers and Johnsons were all swept downstream in the flood. Norman died in the flood. Cynthia, Terry, and [*3] Caren were rescued miles downstream from the campsite and all required medical attention.
Appellants filed suit alleging negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence. They asserted that WWGAF was liable because it was a joint enterprise with UME and that the Rivers brothers were liable under a theory of alter ego. Appellants asserted that appellees knew that the campground was prone to flooding and failed: to warn appellants of that fact; to warn of the approaching storm; to prepare a plan for flood awareness, communication, and evacuation; to have and use speakers or sirens to warn of flooding; to employ someone to monitor the weather and warn and evacuate guests; to have an employee on site during severe weather; and to make reasonable modifications, have emergency communications, or educate guests about severe-weather risks.
UME and the Rivers brothers filed a traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment, asserting that the Texas Recreational Use Statute3 limited appellants to asserting a gross-negligence claim and that appellants could not show various elements of gross negligence; that there was no evidence that they had a duty to warn that the campground was in [*4] a flood zone, to warn that severe weather was approaching, or to plan and prepare for flooding; that there was no evidence they had a duty to have and use speakers or sirens to warn guests; and that there was no evidence that appellants’ injuries were caused by any negligence on the part of UME or the Rivers brothers. UME and the Rivers brothers filed a separate motion for traditional and no-evidence summary judgment addressing appellants’ theories of alter ego and joint enterprise. WWGAF filed its own motion for summary judgment, asserting that it did not own or operate Camp Huaco, that it did not owe a duty to the Walkers and the Johnsons, and that it was a separate entity from Camp Huaco and could not be held liable under theories of joint enterprise or vicarious liability. The trial court signed several orders granting appellees’ motions for summary judgment without specifying the grounds.
3 See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 75.002 (owner, lessee, or occupant of agricultural land who invites another onto premises for recreation owes invitee same duty that would be owed to trespasser and only owes duty not to injure invitee wilfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence); see generally id. §§ 75.001-.007 (chapter 75, titled [*5] “Limitation of Landowners’ Liability”).
The first question to be addressed, the answer to which is dispositive of this appeal, is whether appellees owed any duty to the Walkers and the Johnsons. Even if we assume that the recreational use statute does not apply, we hold, as a matter of law, that appellees did not owe the Walkers and Johnsons a duty to warn of or ensure against rising river waters. Without such a duty, appellants’ premises-liability claims must fail.4
4 Although appellants alleged both negligence and premises-defect claims, “negligent activity encompasses a malfeasance theory based on affirmative, contemporaneous conduct bythe owner that caused the injury, while premises liability encompasses a nonfeasance theory based on the owner’s failure to take measures to make the property safe.” Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 776 (Tex. 2010); see Scurlock v. Pennell, 177 S.W.3d 222, 224-25 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, no pet.) (citing Timberwalk Apartments, Partners, Inc. v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749, 753 (Tex. 1998)) (“Recovery for a negligent activity requires that a person have been injured by the activity itself, rather than by a condition created by the activity; in contrast, recovery for premises liability depends upon a failure to use ordinary care to reduce or to eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition about which the owner or occupier [of [*6] land] knows or, in the exercise of ordinary care, should know.”). The claims raised by appellants clearly alleged that appellees had failed to take various measures that would have made the campsite safe; they did not allege “contemporaneous conduct . . . that caused the injur[ies].” See Smith, 307 S.W.3d at 776. We therefore consider appellants’ claims under a theory of premises liability. Regardless of the theory under which they are analyzed, appellants’ claims would fail because, as we explain below, appellees did not owe the duty that appellants claim was breached. See General Elec. Co. v. Moritz, 257 S.W.3d 211, 217 (Tex. 2008) (“Like any other negligence action, a defendant in a premises case is liable only to the extent it owes the plaintiff a legal duty.”).
When an injured invitee asserts a premises-liability claim, she must show that the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk and that such failure proximately caused her injury. CMH Homes, Inc. v. Daenen, 15 S.W.3d 97, 99 (Tex. 2000). We initially note that appellants do not assert that a condition on the premises caused the tragedy and thus was the basis for liability. Instead, the injuries suffered by appellants were caused by a rain-swollen [*7] river that inundated the campground, a condition that came to the premises.
Regardless of that fact, Texas courts have consistently held as a matter of law that naturally occurring or accumulating conditions such as rain, mud, and ice do not create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm. M.O. Dental Lab v. Rape, 139 S.W.3d 671, 675-76 (Tex. 2004); see Scott & White Mem. Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.3d 411, 412-14 (Tex. 2010) (“Because we find no reason to distinguish between the mud in M.O. Dental and the ice in this case, we hold that naturally occurring ice that accumulates without the assistance or involvement of unnatural contact is not an unreasonably dangerous condition sufficient to support a premises liability claim.”); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Surratt, 102 S.W.3d 437, 445 (Tex. App.–Eastland 2003, pet. denied) (landowner “does not have a duty to protect its invitees from conditions caused by a natural accumulation of frozen precipitation on its parking lot because such an accumulation does not constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition”).5 The basis for those rulings is that rain, dirt, and mud are naturally occurring conditions beyond a landowner’s control. See, e.g., M.O. Dental Lab, 139 S.W.3d at 676 (“rain is beyond the control of landowners” and “accidents involving naturally accumulating mud and dirt are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners”). Requiring a landowner to protect an invitee [*8] from precipitation or other acts of nature would place an enormous burden on the landowner. See id.; see also Fair, 310 S.W.3d at 414 (requiring landowners “to guard against wintery conditions would inflict a heavy burden because of the limited resources landowners likely have on hand to combat occasional ice accumulations”).
5 See also State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp. v. Kitchen, 867 S.W.2d 784, 786 (Tex. 1993) (per curiam) (in premises defect case under Texas Tort Claims Act, supreme court held that “[w]hen there is precipitation accompanied by near-freezing temperatures, . . . an icy bridge is neither unexpected nor unusual, but rather, entirely predictable [and] is something motorists can and should anticipate when the weather is conducive to such a condition”); Brownsville Navigation Dist. v. Izaguirre, 829 S.W.2d 159, 160 (Tex. 1992) (“Plain dirt which ordinarily becomes soft and muddy when wet is not a dangerous condition of property for which a landlord may be liable.”); Lee v. K&N Mgmt., Inc., No. 03-15-00243-CV, 2015 WL 8594163, at *3-4 (Tex. App.–Austin Dec. 11, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.) (plant that extended over edge of flowerbed was not unreasonably dangerous condition; “The Texas Supreme Court has held that certain naturally occurring substances generally do not pose an unreasonable risk of harm. . . . Under the facts of this case, the plant, like mud and dirt, may have formed a condition that posed a risk of harm, [*9] but on this record, we cannot conclude that it was an unreasonable risk of harm.”); City of Houston v. Cogburn, No. 01-11-00318-CV, 2014 WL 1778279, at *4 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] May 1, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.) (“as a matter of law, naturally occurring conditions that are open and obvious do not create an unreasonable risk of harm for purposes of premises liability”; tree roots over which plaintiff tripped were “open and obvious and were a naturally occurring condition”).
Further, an invitee is or should be “at least as aware” as the landowner of visible conditions that have “accumulated naturally outdoors” and thus “will often be in a better position to take immediate precautions against injury.” M.O. Dental Lab, 139 S.W.3d at 676. In other words, as the supreme court has explained:
When the condition is open and obvious or known to the invitee, however, the landowner is not in a better position to discover it. When invitees are aware of dangerous premises conditions–whether because the danger is obvious or because the landowner provided an adequate warning–the condition will, in most cases, no longer pose an unreasonable risk because the law presumes that invitees will take reasonable measures to protect themselves against known risks, which may include a decision not to accept the invitation to enter onto the landowner’s premises. [*10] This is why the Court has typically characterized the landowner’s duty as a duty to make safe or warn of unreasonably dangerous conditions that are not open and obvious or otherwise known to the invitee
Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 465 S.W.3d 193, 203 (Tex. 2015) (citations omitted). Texas courts have repeatedly observed that a landowner “‘is not an insurer'” of an invitee’s safety and generally “has no duty to warn of hazards that are open and obvious or known to the invitee.” Id. at 203-04 (quoting Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 769 (Tex. 2010)). Texas courts have held in various contexts that flooding due to heavy rains is an open and obvious hazard. See, e.g., State v. Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 288 (Tex. 2006) (“[T]he owner may assume that the recreational user needs no warning to appreciate the dangers of natural conditions, such as a sheer cliff, a rushing river, or even a concealed rattlesnake. But a landowner can be liable for gross negligence in creating a condition that a recreational user would not reasonably expect to encounter on the property in the course of the permitted use.”); City of Austin v. Leggett, 257 S.W.3d 456, 475 (Tex. App.–Austin 2008, pet. denied) (flooded intersection was readily apparent and presented obstacle that would be open and obvious to ordinary motorists).
We see no useful distinction to be drawn between ice and mud, which are natural conditions caused by rain and freezing temperatures, and rising [*11] river waters, caused by a natural weather event over which appellees could exercise no control. See Fair, 310 S.W.3d at 414. The June 2010 flood was not a condition inherent in or on the land in question. Instead, the flooding was a condition that came to the campground as the adjacent river, the same river that made the land an attractive place to camp, rose due to heavy rains. The Walkers and the Johnsons had gone canoeing on the river the day before the flooding occurred, and thus they were obviously aware of the river’s proximity to their campsite. This situation is indeed a tragic one, but it is not one for which appellees can be held to bear legal responsibility. We hold that as a matter of law appellees had no duty to warn the Walkers and Johnsons of the possibility that the river they were camping beside might rise in the event of heavy rain, posing a risk to the campground.6
6 We further note that, even if the campground had posted warnings or issued flood cautions when the Walkers and Johnsons checked into the campsite, there is nothing in this record to indicate that events would have turned out any differently. The Walkers and Johnsons went to bed not having heard that heavy rains would approach [*12] and slept heavily enough that none of them woke up during the storm or to warnings by the local sheriff’s officers, who drove through the campsite at about 4:00 a.m., blowing an airhorn and flashing their car’s lights as they announced over their PA system that the river was rising.
Because appellees did not owe a duty to warn of or attempt to make the campground safe against flooding of the adjacent river due to torrential rain, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. We affirm the trial court’s orders.
David Puryear, Justice
Before Justices Puryear, Goodwin, and Field
Filed: June 3, 2016
Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829
Wendy Jane Stone, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., a Minnesota corporation doing business in the State of Colorado, d/b/a Life Time Fitness; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.
Court of Appeals No. 15CA0598
COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION I
2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829
December 29, 2016, Decided
[*1] City and County of Denver District Court No. 14CV33637 Honorable R. Michael Mullins, Judge
Opinion by JUDGE MILLER
Taubman and Fox, JJ., concur
Announced December 29, 2016
Charles Welton P.C., Charles Welton, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant
Markusson Green & Jarvis, John T. Mauro, H. Keith Jarvis, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees
¶ 1 In this action seeking recovery for personal injuries sustained at a fitness club, plaintiff, Wendy Jane Stone, appeals the summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, Life Time Fitness, Inc.; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc. (collectively, Life Time), on Stone’s negligence and Premises Liability Act (PLA) claims based on injuries sustained when she tripped on a hair dryer cord after washing her hands. The principal issue presented on appeal is whether the district court correctly ruled that Stone’s claims are contractually barred based on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in a member usage agreement (Agreement) she signed when she became a member of Life Time.
¶ 2 We disagree with the district court’s conclusion that the exculpatory provisions of the Agreement are valid as applied [*2] to Stone’s PLA claim. Consequently, we reverse the judgment as to that claim and remand the case for further proceedings. We affirm the district court’s judgment on the negligence claim.
¶ 3 Stone was a member of a Life Time fitness club located in Centennial. According to the complaint, she sustained injuries in the women’s locker room after finishing a workout. Stone alleged that she had washed her hands at a locker room sink and then “turned to leave when she tripped on the blow dryer cord that was, unbeknownst to her, hanging to the floor beneath the sink and vanity counter top.” She caught her foot in the cord and fell to the ground, fracturing her right ankle.
¶ 4 Stone alleged that allowing the blow dryer cord to hang below the sink counter constituted a trip hazard and a dangerous condition and that, by allowing the condition to exist, Life Time failed to exercise reasonable care. She asserted a general negligence claim and also a claim under Colorado’s PLA, section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2016.
¶ 5 Life Time moved for summary judgment, relying on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in the Agreement Stone signed when she joined Life Time. Life Time argued that the Agreement was [*3] valid and enforceable, that it expressly covered the type and circumstances of her injuries, and that it barred Stone’s claims as a matter of law. A copy of the Agreement appears in the Appendix to this opinion.
¶ 6 After full briefing, the district court granted Life Time’s motion, concluding that the Agreement was “valid and enforceable” and that Stone had released Life Time from all the claims asserted in the complaint.
¶ 7 She contends that the district court, therefore, erred in entering summary judgment and dismissing her action.
A. Summary Judgment Standards
¶ 8 Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and supporting documents establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gagne v. Gagne, 2014 COA 127, ¶ 24; see C.R.C.P. 56(c). We review de novo an order granting a motion for summary judgment. Gagne, ¶ 24; see Ranch O, LLC v. Colo. Cattlemen’s Agric. Land Tr., 2015 COA 20, ¶ 12.
B. Negligence Claim
¶ 9 In her complaint, Stone alleged common law negligence and PLA claims, and she pursues both claims on appeal. The trial court’s summary judgment ruled in favor of Life Time without distinguishing between Stone’s negligence and PLA claims. It simply concluded that the [*4] exculpatory clauses in the Agreement were “valid and enforceable” and released Life Time from all claims asserted against it.
¶ 10 We turn to the negligence claim first because we may affirm a correct judgment for reasons different from those relied on by the trial court. English v. Griffith, 99 P.3d 90, 92 (Colo. App. 2004).
¶ 11 The parties agree that the PLA applies to this case. In section
13-21-115(2), the statute provides:
In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.
The PLA thus provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 328-29 (Colo. 2004); Wycoff v. Grace Cmty. Church of Assemblies of God, 251 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Colo. App. 2010). Similarly, it is well
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Section 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2016, defines “landowner” as including “a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.” In its answer, Life Time admitted that it owned and operated the club where Stone was injured and that the PLA governs her [*5] claims.
– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –
established that the PLA abrogates common law negligence claims against landowners. Legro v. Robinson, 2012 COA 182, ¶ 20, aff’d, 2014 CO 40.
¶ 12 Accordingly, albeit for reasons different from those expressed by the trial court, we conclude that Stone could not bring a claim for common law negligence, and the trial court therefore correctly ruled against her on that claim. We now turn to the effect of the exculpatory clauses in the Agreement on Stone’s PLA claim.
C. Application of Exculpatory Clauses to PLA Claim
¶ 13 As we understand Stone’s contentions, she does not dispute that the exculpatory language in the Agreement would preclude her from asserting claims under the PLA for any injuries she might sustain when working out on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise equipment or playing racquetball. We therefore do not address such claims. Instead, Stone argues that the exculpatory clauses do not clearly and unambiguously apply to her injuries incurred after washing her hands in the women’s locker room. We agree.
¶ 14 “Generally, exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored.” B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 136 (Colo. 1998). Determining the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court. Id.; Jones [*6] v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 375 (Colo. 1981). This analysis requires close scrutiny of the agreement to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language. Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004). Our supreme court has explained:
To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, we have previously examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.
¶ 15 Under Jones, a court must consider four factors in determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. 623 P.2d at 375.
a. The First Three Jones Factors
¶ 16 The first three Jones factors provide little help for Stone’s position. The supreme court has specified that no public duty is implicated if a business provides recreational services. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467 (addressing guided hunting services and noting that providers of recreational activities owe “no special duty [*7] to the public”); Jones, 623 P.2d at 376-78 (skydiving services); see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949 (addressing recreational camping services and noting supreme court authority).
¶ 17 With regard to the second factor, the nature of the services provided, courts have consistently deemed recreational services to be neither essential nor a matter of practical necessity. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 941 F. Supp. 959, 962 (D. Colo. 1996) (snowmobiling not a matter of practical necessity), aff’d, 127 F.3d 1273 (10th Cir. 1997); Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo. 1996) (whitewater rafting not an essential service), aff’d sub nom. Lahey v. Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., 113 F.3d 1246 (10th Cir. 1997). Stone attempts to distinguish those cases by asserting that people join fitness centers “to promote their health, not for the thrill of a dangerous recreational activity.” She cites no authority for such a distinction, and we are not persuaded that such activities as camping and horseback riding, at issue in the cases cited above, are engaged in for a dangerous thrill as opposed to the healthful benefits of outdoor exercise. Consequently, the recreational nature of the services Life Time provides does not weigh against upholding or enforcing the Agreement.
¶ 18 With respect to the third factor, a contract is fairly entered into if one party [*8] is not at such an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to place that party at the mercy of the other party’s negligence. See Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1989). Possible examples of unfair disparity in bargaining power include agreements between employers and employees and between common carriers or public utilities and members of the public. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784. However, this type of unfair disparity is generally not implicated when a person contracts with a business providing recreational services. See id.; see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949-50.
¶ 19 In evaluating fairness, courts also examine whether the services provided could have been obtained elsewhere. Hamill, 262 P.3d at 950. Nothing in the record indicates that Stone could not have taken her business elsewhere and joined a different fitness club or recreation center. Nor is there any other evidence that the parties’ relative bargaining strengths were unfairly disparate so as to weigh against enforcing the Agreement.
¶ 20 We therefore turn to the fourth prong of the Jones test – whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [*9]
b. The Fourth Jones Factor
¶ 21 The validity of exculpatory clauses releasing or waiving future negligence claims usually turns on the fourth Jones factor – whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Wycoff, 251 P.3d at 1263 (applying the Jones factors to a PLA claim). This case also turns on that factor.
¶ 22 The issue is not whether a detailed textual analysis would lead a court to determine that the language, even if ambiguous, ultimately would bar the plaintiff’s claims. Instead, the language must be clear and unambiguous and also “unequivocal” to be enforceable. Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; see also Threadgill v. Peabody Coal Co., 34 Colo. App. 203, 209, 526 P.2d 676, 679 (1974), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378.
¶ 23 We conclude that the Agreement fails this test for numerous reasons.
¶ 24 First, as explained by the New York Court of Appeals, “a provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Gross v. Sweet, 400 N.E.2d 306, 309 (N.Y. 1979), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378. Here, the Agreement consists of extremely dense fine print, for which a great many people would require a magnifying glass or magnifying reading glasses.
¶ 25 Second, the two clauses are replete with legal jargon, using phrases and terms such as “affiliates, subsidiaries, [*10] successors, or assigns”; “assumption of risk”; “inherent risk of injury”; “includes, but is not limited to”; and “I agree to defend, indemnify and hold Life Time Fitness harmless.” The use of such technical legal language militates against the conclusion that the release of liability was clear and simple to a lay person.
¶ 26 Third, the first of the two clauses relied on by Life Time bears the following heading: “under Chapter 458, 459, 460, or Chapter 461 ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” At oral argument, counsel for Life Time conceded that the reference to multiple chapters was ambiguous and confusing, and he could not explain to what the chapters referred. Our research has not enlightened us on the subject. Conscientious lay persons could reasonably have skipped over the fine print appearing under that heading, believing it did not apply to them because they would have no reason to understand that chapters 458, 459, 460, or 461 had any relevance to their situation. Thus, the assumption of risk heading was not clear and unambiguous.
¶ 27 Fourth, the dominant focus of the Agreement is on the risks of strenuous exercise and use of exercise equipment at the fitness center:
- The opening paragraph [*11] of the Agreement contains the following warning: “All members are strongly encouraged to have a complete physical examination by a medical doctor prior to beginning any work out program or strenuous new activity. If I have a history of heart disease, I agree to consult a physician before becoming a Life Time Fitness member.”
- Under the confusing assumption of risk heading, the first sentence states, “I understand that there is an inherent risk of injury, whether caused by me or someone else, in the use of or presence at a Life Time Fitness Center, the use of equipment and services at a Life Time Fitness Center, and participation in Life Time Fitness’ programs.”
- There then follows a listing of types of risks, including the use of “indoor and outdoor pool areas with waterslides, a climbing wall area, ball and racquet courts, cardiovascular and resistance training equipment,” and other specified programs, as well as
- “[i]njuries arising from the use of Life Time Fitness’ centers or equipment” and from activities and programs sponsored by Life Time; “[i]njuries or medical disorders resulting from exercise at a
- Life Time Fitness center, including, but not limited to heart attacks, strokes, [*12] heart stress, spr [sic] broken bones and torn muscles or ligaments”; and “[i]njuries resulting from the actions taken or decisions made regarding medical or survival procedures.”
¶ 28 Fifth, the term “inherent risk of injury” that appears in the assumption of risk clause has been applied in various Colorado statutes and case law to address waivers of liability only for activities that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. Thus, the General Assembly has provided for releases from liability in circumstances such as activities involving horses and llamas, section 13-21-119, C.R.S. 2016; being a spectator at baseball games, section 13-21-120, C.R.S. 2016; agricultural recreation or agritourism activities (including hunting, shooting, diving, and operating a motorized recreational vehicle on or near agricultural land), section 13-21-121, C.R.S. 2016; skiing, section 33-44-109, C.R.S. 2016; and spaceflight activities, section 41-6-101, C.R.S. 2016. Significantly, not one of these statutory exemptions from liability extends to the use of locker rooms, rest rooms, or dressing rooms associated with these activities. Rather, the releases of liability extend only to the dangerous or potentially dangerous activities themselves.
¶ 29 Colorado’s published cases concerning the term “inherent risks” similarly concern dangerous or potentially [*13] dangerous activities. For example, the term “inherent risks” has been addressed in cases involving skiing, Graven v. Vail Assocs., Inc., 909 P.2d 514, 519 (Colo. 1995); horseback riding, Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 782; medical procedures or surgical techniques, Mudd v. Dorr, 40 Colo. App. 74, 78-79, 574 P.2d 97, 101 (1977); and attendance at roller hockey games, Teneyck v. Roller Hockey Colo., Ltd., 10 P.3d 707, 710 (Colo. App. 2000). Thus, in reported cases, the term “inherent risks” has been limited to dangerous or potentially dangerous activities, rather than accidents occurring in more common situations, such as using locker rooms.
¶ 30 In light of this statutory and case law backdrop, the use of the inherent risk language in the assumption of risk clause, and the Agreement’s focus on the use of exercise equipment and facilities and physical injuries resulting from strenuous exercise, one could reasonably conclude that by signing the Agreement he or she was waiving claims based only on the inherent risks of injury related to fitness activities, as opposed to washing one’s hands. Indeed, Stone so stated in her affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.
¶ 31 Sixth, Life Time contends that the only relevant language we need consider is that set forth in the second exculpatory clause, labeled “RELEASE OF LIABILITY.” That provision begins [*14] by stating that “I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time . . . as a result of any such injury.” (Emphasis added.) The quoted language, however, is the first use of the term “injury” in the release of liability clause. So the scope of the release can be determined only by referring back to the confusing assumption of risk clause. It is not surprising then that Life Time’s counsel characterized the release’s reference to “such injury” as “squirrely.” In any event, all of the ambiguities and confusion in the assumption of risk clause necessarily infect the release clause.
¶ 32 Seventh, the exculpatory clauses repeatedly use the phrases “includes, but is not limited to” and “including and without limitation,” as well as simply “including.” The repeated use of these phrases makes the clauses more confusing, and the reader is left to guess whether the phrases have different meanings. The problem is compounded by conflicting views expressed by divisions of this court on whether the similar phrase “including, but not limited to” is expansive or restrictive. Compare Maehal Enters., Inc. v. Thunder Mountain Custom Cycles, Inc., 313 P.3d 584, 590 (Colo. App. 2011) (declining to treat the phrase as restrictive and citing Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern [*15] Legal Usage 432 (2d ed. 1995)), with Ridgeview Classical Sch. v. Poudre Sch. Dist., 214 P.3d 476, 483 (Colo. App. 2008) (declining to conclude that the phrase took the statute out of the limiting rule of ejusdem generis). For purposes of deciding this case we need not resolve this conflict; the relevance of the conflict for present purposes is that it creates another ambiguity.
¶ 33 That ambiguity – expansive versus restrictive – is critical because nothing in the Agreement refers to risks of using sinks or locker rooms. The assumption of risk clause refers to the “risk of loss, theft or damage of personal property” for the member or her guests while “using any lockers” at a Life Time fitness center. That is quite a separate matter, however, from suffering a physical injury in a locker room.
¶ 34 Significantly, when Life Time intends to exclude accidental injuries occurring in locker rooms, it knows how to draft a clear waiver of liability doing so. In Geczi v. Lifetime Fitness, 973 N.E.2d 801, 803 (Ohio Ct. App. 2012), the plaintiff entered into a membership agreement with Life Time in 2000 (eleven years before Stone entered into the Agreement), which provided in relevant part:
[T]he undersigned agrees to specifically assume all risk of injury while using any of the [*16] Clubs[‘] facilities, equipment, services or programs and hereby waives any and all claims or actions which may arise against LIFE TIME FITNESS or its owners and employees as a result of such injury. The risks include, but are not limited to
. . . .
(4) Accidental injuries within the facilities, including, but not limited to the locker rooms, . . . showers and dressing rooms.
Id. at 806. Life Time chose not to include similar language in the Agreement signed by Stone.
c. The Agreement Is not Clear, Unambiguous, and Unequivocal
¶ 35 Based on the foregoing discussion, and after scrutinizing the exculpatory clauses, we conclude that the Agreement uses excessive legal jargon, is unnecessarily complex, and creates a likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467. Accordingly, the Agreement does not clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally bar Stone’s PLA claim based on the injuries she alleges she sustained after she washed her hands in the women’s locker room.
¶ 36 The judgment on Stone’s negligence claim is affirmed, the judgment on her PLA claim is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings on that claim.
JUDGE [*17] TAUBMAN and JUDGE FOX concur.
Seth Wilson, by and Through His Mother and Next Friend, Suzette Wilson Purser, appellant v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Appellee
Court of Appeals of Mississippi
161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216
April 21, 2015, Decided
COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: D. BRIGGS SMITH JR.
FOR APPELLEE: THOMAS M. LOUIS, LEO JOSEPH CARMODY JR.
JUDGES: BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND MAXWELL, JJ. IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.
OPINION BY: LEE
[*1129] NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – PERSONAL INJURY
LEE, C.J., FOR THE COURT:
P1. In this premises-liability case, we must determine whether summary judgment was appropriately granted in favor of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. We find summary judgment was proper; thus, we affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
P2. On April 29, 2012, ten-year-old Seth Wilson, his brother, Wyatt Purser, and his stepfather, Jim Purser, went to a Wal-Mart [*1130] store in Batesville, Mississippi, to purchase a basketball. While Jim was paying for the basketball at a nearby register, Seth and his brother started looking at the bicycles. They both got on bicycles that were on the bicycle rack, and started riding up and down the aisles nearby. The bicycle Seth rode was on the ground when he found [**2] it, with its front wheel pushed under the rack and its back wheel in the aisle. Seth was following Wyatt on his bicycle when Wyatt slowed down to put the bicycle he was riding away. Seth was forced to go around him because he was “going real fast” and “[could not] figure out how to stop.” He tried to brake using the pedals, but the bicycle only had handbrakes. Unable to stop, Seth ran into a wall and cut his leg on a shelf. The cut was deep and required stitches. The employee assigned to the department was outside at the time of the accident, and no signs were posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles or otherwise warning of any danger.
P3. Suzette Purser, Seth’s mother, filed suit on his behalf on September 14, 2012, alleging negligence on the part of Wal-Mart in failing to keep the premises reasonably safe and warn of danger. After discovery was completed, Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment. Seth filed a response, and Wal-Mart replied. After a hearing, the trial court granted Wal-Mart’s motion, finding that no genuine issue of material fact existed because Seth failed to show the existence of a dangerous condition. Seth filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. Seth [**3] now appeals asserting the trial court erred in granting Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
P4. [HN1] In considering a trial court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment, this Court conducts a de novo review and “examines all the evidentiary matters before it — admissions in pleadings, answers to interrogatories, depositions, affidavits, etc.” City of Jackson v. Sutton, 797 So. 2d 977, 979 (¶7) (Miss. 2001) (citation omitted). [HN2] The Mississippi Supreme Court recently clarified the summary-judgment standard, explaining that “[t]he movant bears the burden of persuading the trial judge that: (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, and (2) on the basis of the facts established, he is entitled to [a] judgment as a matter of law.” Karpinsky v. Am. Nat’l Ins. Co., 109 So. 3d 84, 88 (¶11) (Miss. 2013) (citation omitted). The supreme court further stated that “[t]he movant bears the burden of production if, at trial, he would bear the burden of proof on the issue raised. In other words, the movant only bears the burden of production where [he] would bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 88-89 (¶11) (citations omitted). The supreme court again clarified that “while [d]efendants carry the initial burden of persuading the trial judge that no issue of material fact exists and that they are entitled to summary judgment based upon the established [**4] facts, [the plaintiff] carries the burden of producing sufficient evidence of the essential elements of [his] claim at the summary-judgment stage, as [he] would carry the burden of production at trial.” Id. at 89 (¶13).
P5. [HN3] To determine whether Wal-Mart is entitled to summary judgment on Seth’s premises-liability claim, this Court must (1) determine the status of the injured person as either an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, (2) assess, based on the injured party’s status, what duty the landowner or business operator owed to the injured party, and (3) determine whether the landowner or business operator breached the duty owed to the injured [*1131] party. Titus v. Williams, 844 So. 2d 459, 467 (¶28) (Miss. 2003).
P6. It is undisputed that Seth was a business invitee. [HN4] “A business owner/operator owes to invitees the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe, and when not reasonably safe, to warn only where there is hidden danger or peril that is not in plain and open view.” Rod v. Home Depot USA Inc., 931 So. 2d 692, 694 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To succeed in a premises-liability action, Seth must prove one of the following: “(1) a negligent act by [Wal-Mart] caused [his] injury; or, (2) that [Wal-Mart] had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, but failed to warn [him] [**5] of the danger; or, (3) the dangerous condition remained long enough to impute constructive knowledge to [Wal-Mart].” Byrne v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 877 So. 2d 462, 465 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (citation omitted). A business owner, however, is not an insurer of an invitee’s injuries. Id. at (¶6).
P7. Whether Wal-Mart breached its duty to keep the premises reasonably safe or otherwise warn of a hidden danger necessarily depends on whether a dangerous condition existed. Seth argues that whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle on the sales floor constituted a dangerous condition was a genuine issue of material fact that should have been submitted to a jury. To avoid summary judgment, however, Seth must produce sufficient evidence of the essential elements of a claim of negligence – duty, breach, causation, and damages.
P8. Seth contends that leaving unlocked or readily accessible bicycles on the sales floor created a dangerous condition. He argues that (1) Wal-Mart’s possession of a rack on which to clamp the bicycles, (2) the assignment of an employee to the toy department, and (3) evidence of other children on bicycles in the same aisle at the same Wal-Mart show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles created a dangerous condition, and that Wal-Mart [**6] knew about it and failed to warn its patrons. He cites to no authority to support his position, and nothing in the record supports these allegations.
P9. Seth refers to the rack where the bicycles could be clamped as a safety rack, but there is nothing in the record to indicate that the purpose for the rack was to protect its patrons from the alleged danger posed by unlocked or readily accessible bicycles. The record contains installation instructions for the rack, which were prepared by VIDIR Machine Inc., a vertical storage company, and refers to the rack as a carrier or bike-merchandising system only. The rack does not contain a locking mechanism, and holds bicycles in place utilizing a tire clamp. While the bicycles are still accessible to patrons, Seth argues that the rack was designed to make it difficult for patrons to remove the bicycle from the rack, prompting a need for employee assistance, but fails to offer sufficient evidence of this assertion.
P10. Additionally, there is nothing in the record to indicate the assignment of an employee to the toy department was for the purpose of guarding against any known danger; and evidence that other children rode bicycles in the same [**7] aisle in the same Wal-Mart without incident does not, in and of itself, tend to show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles pose a danger. Seth provided no evidence of the industry’s standards, no expert reports, and no evidence of Wal-Mart’s policy regarding who may remove the bicycles from the rack and whether its employees were required to return the bicycles to the rack immediately after each use. Because Wilson failed to produce sufficient evidence that unlocked or readily accessible [*1132] bicycles on the sales floor created a dangerous condition, this issue is without merit.
P11. Seth also argues that the trial court erred in finding that Seth’s age was immaterial. This appears to be an attack on the applicability of Orr v. Academy Louisiana Co., 157 So. 3d 44, 2013 WL 1809878 (La. Ct. App. 2013), an unpublished opinion the trial court cited in support of its conclusion that an unlocked or readily accessible bicycle does not constitute a dangerous condition. In Orr, a woman was injured when she was struck by an adult male riding a bicycle in Academy Sports and Outdoors. 157 So. 3d 44, Id. at *1.
P12. It is not disputed that Seth was an invitee at the time of his injury, and he acknowledges that the duty owed him was not in any way heightened due to his status as a minor. What Seth [**8] appears to be arguing is that the trial court incorrectly considered evidence of contributory negligence in determining whether a dangerous condition existed. Seth had learned how to ride a bicycle by the age of five and had been involved in other bicycle accidents prior to the one at Wal-Mart. Again, Seth’s argument necessarily depends on whether an unlocked or readily available bicycle constitutes a dangerous condition. If an unlocked or readily accessible bicycle does not constitute a dangerous condition, it does not matter whether a person of Seth’s age, experience, and intelligence could have perceived the danger because the danger did not exist. Because Seth failed to show how an unlocked or readily available bicycle constituted a dangerous condition, this issue is without merit.
P13. THE JUDGMENT OF THE PANOLA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT IS AFFIRMED. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED TO THE APPELLANT.
IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.
Jon L. Wilkerson, Appellant, v. The City of SeaTac, Respondent.
COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE
2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2592
April 17, 2012, Oral Argument
November 5, 2012, Filed
As amended by order of the Court of Appeals March 27, 2013. RULES OF THE WASHINGTON COURT OF APPEALS MAY LIMIT CITATION TO UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS. PLEASE REFER TO THE WASHINGTON RULES OF COURT.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reported at Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 171 Wn. App. 1023, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2614 (2012)
Reconsideration denied by, Modified by Wilkerson v. City of SeaTac, 2013 Wash. App. LEXIS 797 (Wash. Ct. App., Mar. 27, 2013)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Appeal from King County Superior Court. Docket No: 09-2-23226-1. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 12/10/2010. Judge signing: Honorable Michael C Hayden.
CORE TERMS: jump, recreational, latent, land use, bike, landowner, gap, summary judgment, immunity, dirt, speed, wanton, injury-causing, willful, trail, pitch, lead-in, user, parking lot, “appreciate”, creek, softies, owed, mountain, readily apparent, artificial, recreation, channel, posted, stump
COUNSEL: Noah Christian Davis, In Pacta PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Appellant(s).
Francis Stanley Floyd, Nicholas L. Jenkins, Floyd Pflueger & Ringer PS, Seattle, WA; Mary E. Mirante Bartolo, City of Seatac, Seatac, WA; Mark Sterling Johnsen, City of Seatac Legal Dept, Seatac, WA, for Respondent(s).
JUDGES: AUTHOR: Ann Schindler, J. WE CONCUR: Anne Ellington, JPT., C. Kenneth Grosse, J.
OPINION BY: Ann Schindler
¶1 Schindler, J. — Jon Wilkerson challenges the decision on summary judgment to dismiss his lawsuit against the City of SeaTac based on the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210. We affirm.
¶2 The Des Moines Creek Trail Park is a 96-acre woodland preserve open to the public for recreational use. The City of SeaTac (City) owns and operates the portion of the park located within the City, 1 including dirt mounds in the park that bicyclists use as bike jumps. The dirt jumps, known as “the Softies,” are located about a quarter-mile off a paved trail in the park. The City did not create or maintain the dirt jumps.
1 The City of Des Moines and [*2] the Port of Seattle own and operate other portions of the park.
¶3 In June 2006, 30-year-old Jon Wilkerson moved from Arkansas to Kent, Washington to work as a physical therapist. Wilkerson had plans to go mountain biking at Whistler in British Columbia with friends in July. Wilkerson testified that he considered himself an “experienced mountain biker” and had previously used BMX 2 and mountain bikes to do ramp and dirt jumps.
2 (Bicycle motocross.)
¶4 About a week after moving to Kent, Wilkerson went to a bike shop to buy a new helmet. Wilkerson asked the bike shop manager “about nearby parks that had dirt jumps — where I could ride my bike and practice making jumps in anticipation of [the] bike trip to Whistler with friends.” The bike shop manager told Wilkerson about the Des Moines Creek Trail Park and the “BMX style dirt jump[s],” and “told [him] how to get to [the Softies].”
¶5 On June 21, Wilkerson drove to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. Wilkerson arrived at the park between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and parked his Ford Expedition in the parking lot located at South 200th Street. Wilkerson left his cell phone in his car. Wilkerson testified that he went to the park that day to train and “work [*3] on jumps that I knew that I would need to be able to clear at Whistler. . . . I was working that day to prepare to do more advanced techniques at Whistler.”
¶6 After riding around the park for about 30 to 45 minutes on “single [bike] track trails,” Wilkerson testified that he followed the directions he received from the bike shop manager to get to the Softies. Wilkerson said he “rode down a ravine, crossed a creek, walked [his] bike up and the softies were on the right.” When he arrived at the Softies, no one else was there.
¶7 Wilkerson testified that he examined the dirt jumps and understood the importance of the “approach speed,” as well as the condition of the track and the height and pitch of the jumps. Wilkerson said that he rode his bike over the jumps to “try some of them out” before selecting a smaller “gap jump.” Wilkerson said he decided the other jumps “weren’t within my skill set” because they were “too steep” and “too close together,” and concluded the smaller gap jump was “within my skill set.”
¶8 The dirt jump Wilkerson selected contained “two mounds with a gap in between.” Wilkerson testified that he inspected the jump before attempting it, and rode down the approach to check [*4] the pitch and surface composition.
Q But you did check the jump out before you went off of it, correct?
A I did.
Q And, you rode down and actually, with the intention of checking it out before you went off of it, correct?
A I did.
Q And, you were looking for things like the pitch of the jump, correct?
Q You were looking to see if the composition of the surfaces was adequate, correct?
Q You were looking to see if the jump was safe before you went off of it, correct?
¶9 Wilkerson testified that he concluded “there was enough of a grade to [carry] me into [sic] with a moderate to fast amount of speed.” Wilkerson admitted that it had been at least a couple of years “since I’d done a gap jump.” But Wilkerson said that he had no concerns about his ability to accomplish the jump.
¶10 In his declaration in opposition to summary judgment, Wilkerson states he “reviewed” the jump, including “the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok,” but “did not take a practice ‘run in.'” The declaration states, in pertinent part:
14. I then rode over to a smaller jump (which had a crevice or drop in the middle) called a gap jump and felt that it was well within my “skill set”;
15. I then generally reviewed the jump, including the pitch of the take-off jump itself and the size of the jump and the gap and thought everything looked ok;
16. That is, looking at the jump itself, it looked fine for me to take;
17. I did not measure the gap width, nor the pitch of the jump nor the pitch of the landing;
23. I also did not take a practice “run in” leading up to the jump because I had no reason to think that there was some danger to me from the approach to the jump or that the approach would be problematic or prevent me from clearing the jump.
¶11 Wilkerson testified that he “gauged the speed to be appropriate for the gap” and approached the jump “moderate to fast, the speed needed to get over the gap.” Wilkerson missed the jump and “[t]umbled forward” over the front of the bike. Wilkerson testified, in pertinent part:
On the back side of the jump for some reason my back wheel didn’t make it all the way over the berm of the back side of the jump. So, [*5] it impacted the top of the berm, rebounded and knocked me over the front of the bicycle.
¶12 Wilkerson hit the ground head-first and landed on his back five or six feet beyond the jump. Wilkerson was unable to move. Wilkerson called for help for some time before losing consciousness.
¶13 At about 1:00 a.m., a City employee reported seeing Wilkerson’s car in the parking lot. Two bicyclists found Wilkerson at about 11:00 a.m. and called 911. Emergency personnel immediately responded and transported Wilkerson to Harborview Medical Center. Wilkerson suffered from hypothermia and went into cardiac arrest. During “life-saving efforts,” Wilkerson’s lung was lacerated. Wilkerson successfully underwent surgery for the laceration. The doctors at Harborview diagnosed Wilkerson with a C4-C6 vertebra fracture. Wilkerson is quadriplegic.
¶14 After an assessment in Arkansas in September 2006, Wilkerson participated in the program at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Texas. During the assessment, Wilkerson said that although he was an experienced mountain biker, as he went over the jump, he came down “wrong” because he ” ‘was a bit out of practice’ ” and ” ‘a little too bold.’ ”
¶15 Wilkerson filed a lawsuit [*6] against the City alleging the City breached the duty to use reasonable care in failing to maintain the park and “allowing man-made jumps to remain despite the . . . inherent danger the jumps posed.” The complaint also alleged the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report Wilkerson’s vehicle “to authorities.” Wilkerson claimed the failure to report seeing his car in the parking lot caused him to suffer hypothermia and injury to his lungs. The City denied the allegations and asserted a number of affirmative defenses, including immunity under the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210.
¶16 The City filed a motion for partial summary judgment to dismiss the claim that the City breached the duty to remove the dirt jumps. The City argued that because there was no evidence of a known dangerous artificial latent condition, the claim was barred by the recreational land use statute.
¶17 Wilkerson argued there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the approach to the gap jump was a known dangerous artificial latent condition. Wilkerson also argued that the City’s failure to remove, redesign, or maintain the dirt jumps was “willful and wanton conduct [that] rises to [*7] the level of intentional conduct.”
¶18 In support of his argument that the approach to the gap jump was a latent condition, Wilkerson submitted the declarations of Samuel Morris, Jr., a professional mountain bike racer; Lee Bridgers, the owner of a company that conducts mountain bike jumping clinics; and his own declaration. 3
3 In support of his assertion that the approach to the gap jump was a “known” and “dangerous” condition, Wilkerson submitted excerpts from the deposition of the City’s Acting Fire Chief and incident reports of bicycle accidents.
¶19 In his declaration, Wilkerson states that he did not “see or appreciate the S-curved, angled lead-in to the jump.” Morris states that in his opinion,
it was not the jump itself that caused Jon to crash, but the curvy nature of the lead-in, or approach, to the jump, which more probably than not reduced his speed enough to prevent him from successfully completing the jump. . . . While Jon testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would mostly likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and [*8] the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. These conditions would not be apparent to a rider of Jon’s skill level.
¶20 Bridgers testified that the cause of the crash was the “lack of speed due to the twists and turns in the approach.”
[T]he curvy lead-in to the jump prevented Jon from successfully attaining the speed necessary to complete the jump and was the primary cause of Jon’s injury.
Bridgers stated that in his opinion, Wilkerson did not appreciate the S-curve approach.
While the S-curve after the berm is not visibly dramatic, it affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump and therefore has a significant impact on the rider’s ability to successfully clear the jump, especially on a first attempt. This is something that Jon obviously did not notice or appreciate and which clearly had an impact on his ability to make the jump.
¶21 The court granted the motion for partial summary judgment. Even assuming the effect of the S-curve approach to the jump was not readily apparent to Wilkerson, the court concluded it was not a latent condition. The court ruled that as a matter of law, the inability to appreciate the [*9] risk does not constitute a latent condition.
So for purposes of the summary judgment, I am assuming that the trail, the approach leading to the jump was curved in some fashion such that it would have limited the speed of a biker who arrived at the jump site.
I am going to further conclude, for purposes of the summary judgment, that it would not have been readily apparent to the biker that he could not acquire sufficient speed to clear the jump.
[T]here is no testimony that you couldn’t see the path. The path was there. The path was not submerged; it was not invisible. Whether it was straight or curved, it was the path that one could see.
. . . .
[T]here are no cases where the courts have said you can look directly at it, you can see what is there to be seen, and the inability to appreciate the risk posed constitutes latency. I didn’t see any cases like that.
I find as a matter of law that the lead up, whether it was curved or straight, is not the latent condition required under the statute, and it does not abrogate the statutory immunity.
¶22 The court also concluded there was no evidence that the City acted with willful and wanton disregard for a danger posed by the Softies.
I would also suggest [*10] that there is no evidence here that would rise to the level of willful and wanton disregard, if indeed that is the standard in Washington.
I will accept for a summary judgment proposition that the city knew or should have known these jumps were out there, they knew or should have known that they were dangerous and there have been prior accidents, and that they did not go in and sign it or remov[e them i]s not the standard for recreational use immunity.
¶23 The “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Recreational Use Immunity” dismisses the claim that “the City of SeaTac owed [Wilkerson] a duty to protect him from his failed mountain bike jump” at the Des Moines Creek Trail Park. The court denied Wilkerson’s motion for reconsideration.
¶24 The City then filed a motion for summary judgment dismissal of Wilkerson’s claim that the City breached the duty to supervise the park and report seeing Wilkerson’s vehicle in the parking lot. The City argued that the recreational land use statute and the public duty doctrine barred these claims.
¶25 Wilkerson argued the recreational land use statute did not apply to the cardiac and lung injuries he suffered as a result of remaining in [*11] the park overnight because he was no longer engaged in recreation. Wilkerson also argued that the City assumed a duty to users of the park to exercise reasonable care in patrolling the park.
¶26 The court granted summary judgment. The court ruled that the recreational land use statute barred Wilkerson’s claim that the City was liable for the injuries Wilkerson suffered as a result of the crash. The court’s oral ruling states, in pertinent part:
I mean to suggest that a landowner is immune from someone using their land for recreation, but if they get hurt, then a new duty arises to come take care of them and to use reasonable efforts to make sure they are safe after they are injured, as opposed to being safe before they are injured, really stretches it too far.
[T]o suggest the landowner has a duty not to protect the person from injury, but to treat them after they are injured, or to be alert to the fact of injury, even though they are not alert to prevent the injury, makes no sense.
So I am ruling that in the circumstances of having failed to detect him injured on site and failed to having brought medical services to him fast enough, the city is still acting in its capacity as landowner.
The [*12] “Order Granting Defendant SeaTac’s Motion for Summary Judgment Re: Duty to Rescue” dismisses Wilkerson’s claim that the City “owed him a duty to supervise and rescue him sooner.” 4
4 Wilkerson filed a motion to compel the City to produce discovery, which the court denied. Wilkerson appeals the order denying the motion to compel but does not assign error to the order or address it in the briefs. Accordingly, the issue is waived. RAP 10.3(a)(4); Hollis v. Garwall, Inc., 137 Wn.2d 683, 689 n.4, 974 P.2d 836 (1999).
¶27 Wilkerson contends the trial court erred in dismissing his negligence claims against the City under the recreational land use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, and the court erred in concluding that the statute barred his claim for “hypothermia and cardiac and lung injuries.”
¶28 We review summary judgment de novo and consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hearst Commc’ns, Inc. v. Seattle Times Co., 154 Wn.2d 493, 501, 115 P.3d 262 (2005). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bulman v. Safeway, Inc., 144 Wn.2d 335, 351, 27 P.3d 1172 (2001). [*13] A party cannot rely on allegations in the pleadings, speculation, or argumentative assertions that factual issues remain. White v. State, 131 Wn.2d 1, 9, 929 P.2d 396 (1997).
¶29 The recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.200-.210, grants immunity to landowners for unintentional injuries to recreational users of the land.
¶30 The statute modifies a landowner’s common law duty in order “to encourage landowners to open their lands to the public for recreational purposes.” Davis v. State, 144 Wn.2d 612, 616, 30 P.3d 460 (2001). Because the recreational land use statute is in derogation of common law, it is strictly construed. Matthews v. Elk Pioneer Days, 64 Wn. App. 433, 437, 824 P.2d 541 (1992).
¶31 Under RCW 4.24.200, the purpose of the recreational land use statute is to
encourage owners or others in lawful possession and control of land and water areas or channels to make them available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon and toward persons who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the acts or omissions of persons entering thereon. 
5 The legislature amended the statute several times between 2006 and 2012. Laws of 2006, ch. 212, § 6; [*14] Laws of 2011, ch. 53, § 1; Laws of 2011 ch. 171, § 2; Laws of 2011 ch. 320, § 11; Laws of 2012 ch. 15, § 1. The amendments are not pertinent to this appeal.
¶32 Under RCW 4.24.210, a landowner is immune from liability for unintentional injuries unless the injury is caused by a known dangerous artificial latent condition “for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.” RCW 4.24.210 states, in pertinent part:
(1) [A]ny public or private landowners . . . or others in lawful possession and control of any lands whether designated resource, rural, or urban, or water areas or channels and lands adjacent to such areas or channels, who allow members of the public to use them for the purposes of outdoor recreation, which term includes, but is not limited to, . . . bicycling, . . . without charging a fee of any kind therefor, shall not be liable for unintentional injuries to such users.
. . . .
(4)(a) Nothing in this section shall prevent the liability of a landowner or others in lawful possession and control for injuries sustained to users by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted.
¶33 To establish the City was not immune [*15] from suit under RCW 4.24.210, Wilkerson must show the City charged a fee for the use of the land, the injuries were intentionally inflicted, or the injuries were sustained by reason of a known dangerous artificial latent condition for which no warning signs were posted. Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.
¶34 Here, there is no dispute that the Des Moines Creek Trail Park was open to the public for recreational purposes and no fee was charged. The parties dispute whether the injury-causing condition was latent. Each of the four elements of a known dangerous artificial latent injury-causing condition must be present in order to establish liability under the recreational land use statute. Ravenscroft v. Wash. Water Power Co., 136 Wn.2d 911, 920, 969 P.2d 75 (1998). “If one of the four elements is not present, a claim cannot survive summary judgment.” Davis, 144 Wn.2d at 616.
¶35 Wilkerson asserts there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the S-curve lead-in was a latent condition, and whether a recreational user would recognize the danger of the S-curve approach. Wilkerson contends the S-curve “lead-in to the jump” caused his injuries.
¶36 For purposes of the recreational land use statute, RCW 4.24.210, [*16] “latent” means ” ‘not readily apparent to the recreational user.’ ” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924 (quoting Van Dinter v. City of Kennewick, 121 Wn.2d 38, 45, 846 P.2d 522 (1993)). In determining whether the injury-causing condition is latent, the question is not whether the specific risk is readily apparent but, instead, whether the injury-causing condition itself is readily apparent. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 924. A landowner will not be held liable where a patent condition posed a latent, or unobvious, danger. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. Although latency is a factual question, when reasonable minds could reach but one conclusion from the evidence presented, summary judgment is appropriate. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 47.
¶37 Even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Wilkerson, as a matter of law, the S-curve lead-in was not a latent condition. At most, the S-curve approach is a patent condition that “posed a latent, or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.
¶38 In Van Dinter, the Washington Supreme Court addressed the difference between a latent condition and a latent danger. In Van Dinter, Van Dinter struck his eye on a protruding metal antenna of a caterpillar-shaped [*17] playground toy located next to the grassy area at the park where he was engaged in a water fight. Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter stated that “he did not realize someone on the grass could collide with any part of the caterpillar.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 40. Van Dinter asserted “a condition is latent for purposes of RCW 4.24.210 if its injury-producing aspect is not readily apparent to the ordinary recreational user,” and argued that “while the caterpillar was obvious, its injury-causing aspect was not.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 45.
¶39 The court disagreed with Van Dinter and held that “RCW 4.24.210 does not hold landowners potentially liable for patent conditions with latent dangers. The condition itself must be latent.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46. While the court expressly acknowledged that “it may not have occurred to Van Dinter that he could injure himself in the way he did,” the court concluded that “this does not show the injury-causing condition — the caterpillar’s placement — was latent. . . . The caterpillar as well as its injury-causing aspect — its proximity to the grassy area — were obvious.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.
¶40 Here, Wilkerson’s experts testified that the [*18] danger posed by the S-curve approach was not “obvious” to “beginning to intermediate” bike jumpers.
[T]he S-curve . . . affects the direction, physics, and speed of the rider attempting to take the jump . . . . It is my opinion that the dangers posed by the S-curved lead-in to the jump were not obvious for [Wilkerson] and other beginning to intermediate jumpers. 
6 (Emphases added.)
¶41 Morris testified that it was unlikely that Wilkerson or other jumpers would “consider . . . the effect that the approach would have.”
While [Wilkerson] testified that he reviewed the size of the gap and the pitch of the jump, what he did not consider and what a beginner to even an intermediate jumper would most likely not consider because of the subtleness is the curved approach leading into the jump and the effect that the approach would have on the ability of the rider to complete the jump. 
7 (Emphases added.)
¶42 The testimony that Wilkerson did not “appreciate” the danger of the S-curve approach to the jump does not establish a latent condition. As in Van Dinter, at most, Wilkerson’s failure to “appreciate” the S-curve lead-in “shows that the present situation is one in which a patent condition posed a latent, [*19] or unobvious, danger.” Van Dinter, 121 Wn.2d at 46.
¶43 The cases Wilkerson relies on, Ravenscroft and Cultee v. City of Tacoma, 95 Wn. App. 505, 977 P.2d 15 (1999), are distinguishable. In Ravenscroft, a man was injured when the boat he was riding in hit a rooted tree stump submerged in a channel of water that formed part of a dam reservoir. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 915. The driver of the boat testified that “he saw nothing that would indicate the presence of any submerged objects or hazards in the direction he was traveling.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 916. Other witnesses testified that other boats had hit the stumps. Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 925.
¶44 The court identified the injury-causing condition as the “man-created water course, containing a submerged line of tree stumps” that was “created by [the Washington Water Power Company] cutting down trees, leaving stumps near the middle of a water channel, then raising the river to a level which covered the stumps.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 923. The court concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate because “[t]he record does not support a conclusion that the submerged stumps near the middle of the channel were obvious or visible as [*20] a matter of law.” Ravenscroft, 136 Wn.2d at 926.
¶45 In Cultee, a five-year-old girl rode a bicycle on a road with an eroded edge that was partially flooded by the Hood Canal tidal waters. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 509. The girl fell into the water and drowned at a point where the road and the eroded edge were covered by two to four inches of muddy water and the adjacent fields were covered with several feet of water. Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 510. The court held there were material issues of fact about whether the condition that killed the girl was “the depth of the water alone, or a combination of the muddy water obscuring the eroded edge of the road and an abrupt drop into deep water;” and whether ” ‘recreational users’ would have been able to see the edge of the road, given that it was eroded and covered with a two-to-four-inch layer of muddy water.” Cultee, 95 Wn. App. at 523.
¶46 Wilkerson also argues that the trial court erred in concluding the recreational land use statute bars his claim for cardiac and lung injuries. Wilkerson argues the statute does not apply to the injuries he suffered after he missed the jump because he was not “engaged in recreation” or “using” the land when he suffered [*21] cardiac and lung injuries.
¶47 Wilkerson relies on Wisconsin law in support of his argument that the recreational land use statute does not apply to secondary injuries. But unlike RCW 4.24.210(1), the Wisconsin statute predicates landowner immunity on recreational use. The Wisconsin statute states, in pertinent part: “[N]o owner . . . is liable for . . . any injury to . . . a person engaging in recreational activity on the owner’s property.” Wis. Stat. § 895.52(2)(b). By contrast, RCW 4.24.200-.210 grants a broader immunity to landowners “who allow members of the public to use [their lands] for the purposes of outdoor recreation.” RCW 4.24.210(1); see also Gaeta v. Seattle City Light, 54 Wn. App. 603, 608-10, 774 P.2d 1255 (1989) (because landowner “open[ed] up the lands for recreational use without a fee,” and thereby “brought itself under the protection of the immunity statute,” landowner was immune from liability regardless of whether “a person coming onto the property may have some commercial purpose in mind”).
¶48 Next, Wilkerson argues that the City’s willful and wanton or intentional conduct precludes immunity under the recreational land use statute because the City knew that other bicyclists [*22] had been injured. Jones v. United States, 693 F.2d 1299 (9th Cir. 1982), does not support Wilkerson’s argument.
¶49 In Jones, the plaintiff went to Hurricane Ridge located in Olympic National Park as part of a church-sponsored event. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff was severely injured while riding on an inner tube at Hurricane Ridge. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The plaintiff sued the church and the federal government. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300. The jury returned a verdict against the church but found the plaintiff was also negligent. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the federal government under Washington’s recreational land use statute on the grounds that the plaintiff did not establish the government’s conduct was willful or wanton. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1300-01. 8
The evidence established that the extent of the danger was not actually or reasonably known to the Government. Its failure to put up signs and ropes was negligence which proximately contributed to the plaintiff’s accident but it did not constitute “an intentional failure to do an act” nor was it “in reckless disregard of the consequences.”
Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304 (internal quotation marks [*23] omitted).
¶50 On appeal, the plaintiff argued the court erred in concluding the government’s conduct was not willful or wanton under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1301. The plaintiff asserted that the government’s failure to ” ‘put up signs and ropes’ ” was deliberate and the government ” ‘knew or should have known’ ” of the dangerous condition. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1304.
¶51 The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305. The Court distinguished cases that involved specific acts of the government that create a dangerous condition, and held that ” ‘[w]anton misconduct is not negligence since it involves intent rather than inadvertence, and is positive rather than negative.’ ” Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305 n.21 (quoting Adkisson v. City of Seattle, 42 Wn.2d 676, 687, 258 P.2d 461 (1953)). Because the government did not create the injury-causing condition, and the ” ‘impact of tubing and the inherent dangers . . . were not apparent to the public or the Government,’ ” the Court concluded the failure to put up signs or ropes was not intentional and willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use statute. Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.
We agree with the district court that, [*24] “While it was negligence on the Government’s part not to put up signs or ropes, its failure to do so does not rise to the status of willful and wanton conduct under the law of Washington.”
Jones, 693 F.2d at 1305.
¶52 Here, as in Jones, there is no dispute that the City did not create the dirt jumps or S-curve approach. While the alleged failure of the City to “bulldoze the Softies” or post warning signs may constitute negligence, it is not willful or wanton conduct under the recreational land use immunity statute.
¶53 Wilkerson also claims the City assumed a duty to supervise and patrol the park. Wilkerson points to the sign the City posted in the parking lot and the failure to take some action after the City employee saw his car in the parking lot at 1:00 a.m. The sign posted at the entry to the Des Moines Creek Trail Park parking lot stated:
Park is patrolled by City of SeaTac Police Department . . .
Park is operated by City of SeaTac Parks & Recreation Department . . .
. . . .
Park is closed from dusk to dawn unless otherwise posted
. . . .
Parking . . . is only permitted during park hours.
. . . .
Unauthorized vehicles will be impounded.
¶54 But in order to establish liability, Wilkerson must show there [*25] is a duty owed to him and not a duty owed to the public in general. Babcock v. Mason County Fire Dist. No. 6, 144 Wn.2d 774, 785, 30 P.3d 1261 (2001).
“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”
Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785 (quoting Taylor v. Stevens County, 111 Wn.2d 159, 163, 759 P.2d 447 (1988) 9). Because the record shows that the City did not assume a duty or make express assurances to Wilkerson, the public duty doctrine bars his claim that the City owed him a duty of care. Babcock, 144 Wn.2d at 785-86.
9 (Internal quotation marks and citation omitted.)
¶55 We affirm dismissal of Wilkerson’s lawsuit against the City.
Grosse, J., and Ellington, J. Pro Tem., concur.
After modification, further reconsideration denied March 27, 2013.
Poorly written release on a sign-in sheet barely passes protecting Ohio defendant swimming area from suit.Posted: August 15, 2016
Willful and Wanton actions by a defendant are hard to prove unless the defendant actually did something. Mere failure to do something is rarely a willful and wanton act; it requires an act to prove.
State: Ohio, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh Appellate District, Portage County
Plaintiff: Robert Bishop, Executor of the Estate of Eric E. Bishop, Deceased, et al.,
Defendant: Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Limited, et al.,
Plaintiff Claims: The trial court erred in failing to apply the standards for determination of motions for summary judgment. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of appellee Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Ltd. based on alleged lack of possession or control of leased premises. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment for appellees on the ground that a valid release executed by Eric Bishop released appellees from liability.”
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: For the Defendant
The deceased was an 18-year-old man who went swimming at the plaintiff’s swimming area with several other friends. Nelson Ledges is like many swimming “holes” in Ohio, old quarries that have flooded or dammed areas that are privately owned and turned into swimming, camping and boating recreation areas. They are open to the public, like this one, for a fee. Here the fee was $5.00 per person.
Upon arriving at the defendants, the decedent and his friends paid their fee and signed a release. From the description, the release might have been on a sign-in sheet. Besides being on a sign-in sheet with multiple signatures, it was poorly written.
The deceased and his friends skipped the beach where a life guard was located and went to another area that people did swim. The deceased and a few friends swam out to an island; however, the deceased did not make it, drowning 15’ from the island shore.
The decedent’s estate sued. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. The trial court held:
That, even when reviewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, including the report of Tom Griffiths, defendants’ conduct did not rise to a level of reckless, willful or wanton conduct, but at most, suggested there may be a genuine issue of material fact as to negligence. 3) The waiver was valid, as a matter of law, thus, Eric waived all claims of negligence, and Bishop was barred from recovering on the wrongful death claim.
The plaintiff’s appealed.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court first set forth the requirements to prove a wrongful-death claim.
1) a wrongful act, neglect or default of defendant which proximately caused the death and which would have entitled the decedent to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued; 2) that a decedent was survived by a spouse, children, parents, or other next of kin; and 3) that the survivors suffered damages by reasons of the wrongful death.
Than the Court took the arguments out of order, from the plaintiff’s appeal, starting with the validity of the release. (Ohio’s law is probably the most supportive of all states on release law.)
It is well-settled in Ohio that participants in recreational activities and the proprietor of a venue for such an activity are free to enter into contracts designed to relieve the proprietor from responsibility to the participant for the proprietor’s acts of negligence, but not for his willful or wanton misconduct.
Clauses limiting liability shall ordinarily be construed strictly against the drafting party. Moreover, matters involving the interpretation of contract terms, when such terms are unambiguous, are questions of law.
The issue then was whether the acts of the defendants were willful and wanton, which would void the release. The court first looked at the release which it found wanting to an extent. “While inartfully drafted, the sheet Eric signed is clearly labeled at the top as a “Liability Waiver Form” in bold type.”
The court followed up a review of the release with this statement.
…although “the better practice would certainly be to expressly state the word ‘negligence’ somewhere in the exculpatory provision the absence of that term does not automatically render the provision fatally flawed.
The plaintiff also argued the release was no clear because the type was small. However, the court found this argument not to be valid under Ohio’s law and not an issue in this case.
Ohio has no such provisions. While we agree in broad principle that contract provisions, particularly those which purport to waive liability, should be printed in type large enough for a person of normal vision to read easily, the waiver in the case at bar satisfies these requirements. As we already mentioned, we find the terms of the waiver in this case were sufficiently clear to put the person signing it on notice. We agree with the trial court that Eric effectively waived all claims based on negligence by signing the waiver form. Thus, Bishop’s third assignment of error is without merit.
The court found the release to be valid and blocked the negligence claims of the plaintiff’s. The court then looked at the plaintiff’s argument that the actions of the defendants were willful and wanton.
Willful and wanton misconduct has been defined by the Ohio Supreme Court as the equivalent to reckless conduct. An actor’s conduct is reckless when “he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty *** to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which could lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.” “An act is negligent if it ‘falls below a standard established by the law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.” While the act must be intended by the actor to be reckless, “the actor does not intend to cause the harm which results from it.”
Consequently, the court found the actions did not rise to the level of being willful and wanton.
The plaintiff also argued, through its expert witness that the release was void for violating several state and county rules and regulations. The court spent a fair amount of time reviewing this and basically said not a chance.
The first regulations were not in place at the time of the accident, so they could not be used to prove negligence. “This court has held that “subsequent remedial measures are not admissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with the event at issue.”
The next issue was the health department of the county where the accident occurred, based upon a state statute issued regulations requiring additional lifeguards and life boats. The court again through this out because the statute did not require it, and the health department did not have statutory requirement to issue safety rules. (This section seemed down right fishy!)
A plain reading of both statutes clearly indicates that neither expressly delegates to public health departments the authority to regulate public swimming areas. Moreover, even if we were to presume that public swimming areas fell under the ambit of the more general authority of R.C. 3709.21, the authority to regulate under this statute is limited only to public health matters, and not matters of public safety.
The court then when back and looked at the willful and wanton conduct issue because the decedent was a business invitee under Ohio’s Land Owner Liability laws.
The threshold issue in determining willful and wanton misconduct is to determine what legal duty Kelley owed Eric as a visitor to the park. Since Eric paid an admission charge to Kelley for the purpose of swimming at the park, it is clear that Eric was a business invitee on the day of his drowning. The Supreme Court of Ohio has defined a business invitee as “one rightfully on the premises of another for the purposes in which the possessor of the premises has a beneficial interest.”
A landowner owes a business invitee the duty to exercise ordinary care and to maintain the premises in a safe condition.
Under common law, the duty owed by an owner of a premises to a business invitee is to “exercise ordinary care and to protect [the invitee] by maintaining the premises in a safe condition.
Again, the court could not find the actions of the defendants amounted to willful and wanton care.
The difference between negligence and willfulness is a difference in kind and not merely a difference in degree *** in order to establish wantonness; the conduct must be supported by evidence that shows a disposition to perversity, such as acts of stubbornness, obstinacy or persistency in opposing that which is right, reasonable, correct or generally accepted as a course to follow in protecting the safety of others”) (emphasis added). Though the circumstances surrounding Eric’s death are, indeed, unfortunate, “willful conduct implies design, set purpose, intention, or deliberation,” and “wanton conduct comprehends an entire absence of all care for the safety of others and a complete indifference to the consequences of the allegedly negligent act.”
There were two dissenting opinions in the case. Both dissenting judges approved the majority’s reasoning in counts one and three of the opinion. However, they both found fault with the second count. The second issue was the requirements by the state to have more lifeguards and a boat on the water. One found the way the argument was raised was insufficient; the second found that there was a genuine issue of fact.
So Now What?
You know you have a bad release when an appellate court tells you so. In this case the defendant squeaked by and still won. The release language needed to be corrected, by an attorney. The release needed to be in larger print and now as a sign-in sheet but as a proper release. The decision also mentioned the decedent, and his friends were not given a copy of the release.
The other issue was the rules adopted by the county and the state. It does not matter who adopts the rules, State, County or if labeled standards groups of people, if they require you to operate a different way, you better change your ways. Here two judges felt the case should be sent back to trial, even though the way the rules were implemented was declared invalid by the majority.
You may not have the luxury of having a court tell you those rules you can ignore. If it is issued by someone with a seal in the letterhead, you better follow it.
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