Even hikers sue for their injuries.

Although I would guess this is a subrogation claim because the plaintiff is now a quadriplegic.

Citation: Kalter, et al., v. Grand Circle Travel, et al., 631 F.Supp.2d 1253 (C.D.Cal. 2009)

State: California, United States District Court, C.D. California

Plaintiff: Jill and Scott Kalter

Defendant: Grand Circle Travel

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2009

Summary

The plaintiff fell trying to climb wet stone steps in Machu Pichu. She sued the travel agency she hired to take her there and lost. Climbing wet stones is an open and obvious risk and the doctrine of assumption of the risk prevented the plaintiff’s recovery.

Facts

Grand Circle is a tour operator that arranges vacation packages to destinations around the world. Jill Kalter (” Kalter” ) purchased a Grand Circle ” Amazon River Cruise & Rain Forest” tour, along with an optional post-trip extension to visit the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Prior to departing on her trip, Kalter received from Grand Circle an itinerary of the Machu Picchu trip extension (the ” Itinerary” ), which stated that her group would visit Machu Picchu on two consecutive days, and that on the second day she would have the option of remaining with a guide or exploring the ruins on her own. The Itinerary also stated: ” [t]hese Inca sites are not like ancient squares in Europe; they are spread out over steep hillsides with large stone steps and uneven surfaces…. In the ruins, there are no handrails some places where you might like one.” Kalter received and read the itinerary prior to departing on her trip. In addition, the tour guide, Jesus Cardenas, distributed a map of Machu Picchu to the tour participants prior to entering the park. The map includes a section entitled ” Visit Regulations,” which states, among other things, ” Do not climb the walls,” and ” Follow only designated routes according to arrows.”

It was raining on both days Kalter was at Machu Picchu. The first day, she remained with Cardenas and walked on the stone paths The second day, she opted to explore on her own, and ventured off the established paths. states that he gave verbal warnings to the group to use caution due to wet and slippery conditions. Kalter states that she did not hear Cardenas give these warnings, but that she ” has no reason to doubt” that he did so. Kalter went to an area known as the ” terraces,” filled with vertical rock walls that contain small stone protrusions called ” floating steps.” Some of these terraces are along paths color-coded by length, and no paths at Machu Picchu require traversing floating steps. Approximately one hour after venturing out on her own, Kalter became lost and disoriented, and was concerned about connecting with her group so that she would not miss the train. In an effort to get a better view of where she was, Kalter stepped up onto the bottom two floating steps of a vertical wall. Kalter did not think this was a dangerous act. As a result, Kalter fell and suffered serious injuries, and is now a quadriplegic.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, which was granted.

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

The defense raised by the plaintiff’s was assumption of the risk.

The doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies where ” the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury.” To determine if primary assumption of the risk applies, courts look to the nature of the activity, and the parties’ relationship to that activity. The question turns on whether the plaintiff’s injury is within the ” inherent” risk of the activity. A risk is inherent to an activity if its elimination would chill vigorous participation in the activity and thereby alter the fundamental nature of the activity. Accordingly, ” the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applies where ‘ conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part’ of the activity itself.” When primary assumption of the risk applies, a defendant is only liable for a plaintiff’s injuries ” if the defendant ‘ engages in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport or activity’ or increases the inherent risk involved in the activity.”

However…

If, on the other hand, ” the defendant does owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, but the plaintiff proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty,” the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk applies, which is analyzed under comparative fault principles.

The court found that inherent in the activity of hiking on uneven terrain among ancient ruins is the risk of falling and becoming injured.

The court then looked at the information the plaintiff received prior to going to Machu Picchu.

The Itinerary Kalter received prior to the tour informed her that the Inca sites at Machu Picchu ” are spread out over steep hillsides with large stone steps and uneven surfaces.” (Itinerary 65.) Eliminating tour participants’ access to these large stone steps and uneven surfaces in an attempt to protect against the risk of falling would eliminate the ability to view the Inca sites, and thus ” alter the fundamental nature of the activity.”

…Kalter did not fall while engaging in the activities condoned by Defendants-she chose to leave the established stone pathway, and further endangered herself by stepping onto the floating steps. Accordingly, the Court finds that primary assumption of the risk applies to Kalter’s injuries from falling while hiking at Machu Picchu.

The defendant would be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries only if the defendant’s conduct was so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in hiking among ancient ruins or uneven terrain.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant was liable for encouraging the plaintiff to roam the ruins on her own.

…Grand Circle’s act of allowing Kalter to explore on her own areas she had not been to with Cardenas was not ” so reckless as to be totally outside the range of ordinary activity” involved in the excursion, nor did it increase the inherent risk of falling and sustaining injury involved in hiking in this region.

The next issue was whether or not the defendant had a duty to warn the plaintiff of the dangers equally obvious to both the plaintiff and others. The plaintiff admitted it was raining and admitted the steps were wet. The map she received told her not to climb the walls.

The court found the risks of the floating steps the plaintiff climbed leading to her fall were open and obvious, and she assumed the risk when climbing on them. “Moreover, numerous courts have held that tour companies and guides have no duty to warn of obvious dangers their customer’s encounter on trips.” Consequently, the defendant had no duty to warn the plaintiff of the dangers of climbing on the steps that lead to her fall.

The court held for the defendant.

As explained above, neither Grand Circle nor Cardenas are liable for Kalter’s injuries because the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk applies, and because neither had a duty to warn her of the open and obvious danger of falling while climbing wet stone steps protruding from a vertical wall.

So Now What?

The plaintiff was a quadriplegic, so I suspect here health or disability insurance carrier started the lawsuit to recover the paid on behalf of the plaintiff. Alternatively, the plaintiff could have started the litigation because so much money was involved if they won that it might have been a lottery.

However the simple fact the plaintiff fell while on her own exploring, a ruin in Peru does not give rise to liability in this case.

What keeps coming to the surface in cases over the past couple of years is the defense of assumption of the risk. Looking at this from a different perspective. The more you educate your client, the less likely you will be sued and the less likely you will lose that lawsuit.

I’ve been saying that for more than thirty years, and it seems to come back with greater defenses and benefits for both the guests and the outfitters.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Stolting, et al., v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

Stolting, et al., v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

Beth Stolting, et al., Plaintiffs vs. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc. d/b/a Splash Mountain Water Park et al, Defendants

CIVIL ACTION NO. MJG-00-299

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND

2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26572

August 24, 2001, Decided

August 24, 2001, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Motion granted by Stolting v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26573 (D. Md., Aug. 24, 2001)

Affirmed by Stolting v. Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., 37 Fed. Appx. 80, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 11925 (4th Cir. Md., 2002)

CORE TERMS: slide, pool, exit, patrons, ride, riding, water slides, warning, bottom, summary judgment, amusement park, feet, legs, intelligence, splash, depth, posted, notice, bent, risk of injury, moving party, reasonable jury, appreciated, disclaimer, non-moving, shallow, warned, owed, dangerousness, negligently

COUNSEL: [*1] For Beth Stolting, Plaintiff: Paul D Bekman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Salsbury Clements Bekman Marder and Adkins LLC, Baltimore, MD; Andrew M. Moskowitz, William D. Sanders, Alpert Butler and Sanders, P.C., West Orange, NJ.

For Rohan Cassells, Plaintiff: Andrew M. Moskowitz, LEAD ATTORNEY, Alpert Butler and Sanders, P.C., West Orange, NJ.

For Jollyroger Amusement Park, Inc., doing business as Splash Mountain Water Park, Defendant: J Paul Mullen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Phoenix, MD; Kathleen M Bustraan, Ward and Bustraan LLC, Towson, MD.

JUDGES: Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Marvin J. Garbis

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The Court has before it Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and the materials submitted by the parties relating thereto. The Court finds that a hearing is unnecessary.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff’s Injury on the Shotgun Slide

On June 2, 1999, Plaintiffs Beth Stolting (hereinafter “Stolting”) and Rohan Cassells 1 (hereinafter “Cassells”), went to the Jolly Roger Amusement Park/Splash Mountain Park (hereinafter the “Park”) in Ocean City, Maryland. Stolting had been to water parks on “fifteen to twenty ” separate occasions and had been on water slides “hundreds of times,” [*2] but had never visited the Park. Stolting Dep. 29.

1 Now her husband and a plaintiff in the case.

At the entrance of the amusement park, a prominent disclaimer was posted. The sign read as follows:

The attractions contained within the Splash Mountain Water[]park are of a participatory nature and, as such, carry with them an inherent risk of injury. All guests agree, as a condition of admission, to use these facilities at their own risk.

Stolting read the sign upon entering the amusement park. She went on several water slides before arriving at the “Shotgun” 2 water slide (hereinafter “slide” or “ride”), which is the slide at issue in the instant case. Stolting Dep. 37. There were no posted instructions on how to ride the slide or any signs warning of the possible dangers posed by the slide. However, there were signs containing height restrictions, signs banning the use of inner tubes, and depth markers displaying the depth of the entry pool 3. Prior to riding the slide, Stolting watched others go down it. As Stolting prepared to go down the slide, she imitated the body positioning of those people who had previously been on the slide. With her knees bent at a “forty degree angle,” Stolting [*3] descended down the slide, hitting the bottom of the exit pool with her feet. Stolting Dep. 39- 40. Stolting does not remember how she landed or the positioning of her legs as she hit the water. Stolting Dep. 40- 41. However, she does allege that she felt her feet “hit the bottom of the pool . . . immediately” upon entering the exit pool. Stolting Dep. 44.

2 Also known as “the Cannonball Slide.”

3 The pool of water at the bottom of the slide is also referred to as the “entry” or “splash” pool.

At that point, Stolting lost her breath. She went to the side of the exit pool and was helped out of the pool and into a chair by lifeguards. At that time, Stolting complained of pain in her back, feet, and legs. The lifeguards gave Stolting ice and suggested that she should go to a hospital.

After resting for ten minutes, Stolting asked Cassells to take her to the Atlantic General Hospital in Ocean City, Maryland. 4 Stolting told the attending physician at the hospital that she was experiencing back and heal pain. The doctor took x-rays of Stolting’s heals, and then “told [her that] if [she] could walk out on crutches that [she] could leave.” 5 [*4] Stolting Dep. 50. Stolting was not given any medication.

4 Stolting never requested an ambulance.

5 No diagnosis was given.

During the next few days, she continued to rest and take Advil. Approximately one week later, Stolting was still experiencing pain and so, she decided to see Dr. Fischer (hereinafter “Fischer”). Fischer diagnosed Stolting with three fractured vertebrae. Stolting was told to remain on Advil and to continue bed rest. Fischer stated that it would take at least six months for her back to heal.

B. Prior Injuries on the Shotgun Slide

In recent years, several other patrons have complained of injuries allegedly sustained while riding the Shotgun slide. In 1997, Myron Custer (hereinafter “Custer”) reported a bruised heel from contacting the bottom of the exit pool of the Shotgun slide. Custer accused the Park of maintaining an unsafe ride.

In 1998, Michael Agnello Jr.(hereinafter “Agnello”), reported receiving injuries from riding the slide. Agnello Affi. After contacting the bottom of the exit pool, Michael complained of bruised legs and walking with a limp for a few days. The Park responded to complaints by stating that a licensed inspector from the Department of Labor Safety [*5] Inspection had investigated the slide and concluded that the slide met all of Maryland’s standards of safety.

C. Procedural Posture

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs sue Defendants, Jolly Roger Amusement Park, Inc., Splash Mountain Water Park, and Bayshore Development Corporation. Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants’ negligence caused Stolting’s injuries. The Defendants deny negligence and assert an affirmative defense of the assumption of risk doctrine. By the instant motion, Defendants seek summary judgment on all claims.

II LEGAL STANDARD

In order for the Court to grant a motion for summary judgment, the evidence submitted to the Court must “show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact is one which might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

The burden of proof weighs heavily on the moving party to establish that there is a lack of evidence in support of the non-moving party’s claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The moving party [*6] must demonstrate to the Court that, viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable jury could not find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the moving party has carried its burden of proof, then the non-moving party must produce more than a “mere scintilla of evidence in support of an essential element” in order to prevent the court from granting summary judgment. Id. at 251.

III DISCUSSION

A. Negligence claim

The Plaintiffs’ claim is based on three purported acts of negligence:

1) After being put on notice that patrons had been injured on the Shotgun slide, Defendants negligently failed to post signs warning of the dangerousness of the ride;

2) Defendants negligently failed to post instructions on how patrons should position their bodies when riding the slide; and,

3) Defendants negligently provided too shallow an exit pool at the bottom of the slide.

Under Maryland 6 law, Plaintiffs must establish four elements in order to prevail on a negligence claim: 1) that a duty was owed to the Plaintiffs by the Defendants; 2) a breach of that duty owed by the Defendants; 3) a causal relationship between the breach of that duty [*7] and the harm suffered; and 4) that damages were sustained. Yousef v. Trustbank Sav., F.S.B., 81 Md.App. 527, 536-36, 568 A.2d 1134 (1990).

6 This case is a diversity action. Since Stolting’s cause of action took place in Maryland, that state’s substantive law applies. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938).

1) Failure to Warn of Dangerousness

The Plaintiffs contend that the Park was on notice of the dangerousness of the Shotgun slide and should have posted signs warning of the dangers because other patrons had been injured on the slide. In support of their claim, Plaintiffs rely on prior injuries received by Custer and Agnello while they were on the Shotgun slide. The Plaintiffs maintain that notice of such injuries imposed a duty on the Park to post warning signs next to the ride.

The Plaintiffs argue that, as patrons of the Park, they were owed the highest standard of care. Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse MD Corp., 115 Md.App. 381, 388, 693 A.2d 370 (1997), (citing Casper v. Chas F. Smith & Son, Inc., 71 Md.App. 445, 457, 526 A.2d 87 (1987), aff’d, 316 Md. 573, 578, 560 A.2d 1130 (1989)). According to Casper, however, reasonable or ordinary care is the highest standard of care owed to a business invitee. 71 Md. App. at 457. “The general [*8] rule is that the operator of a place of amusement owes to business invitees a non-delegable duty to use ordinary care and caution to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.” Hawkins v. Southern Maryland Agricultural Fair Ass’n, 237 Md. 90, 94 (1964), 205 A.2d 286. An amusement park is not an insurer of the safety of persons using devices at the place of amusement, but only a proprietor bound to use ordinary care for the safety and protection of its patrons. See Carlin v. Krout, 142 Md. 140, 147, 120 A. 232 (1923). Hence, the Park’s duty towards its patrons is only to provide “ordinary and diligent care” in keeping the Shotgun slide in a “reasonabl[y] safe condition.” Id. at 146.

At issue is whether the Park breached this duty to provide “ordinary and diligent care” by not posting signs warning of the dangerousness of the Shotgun slide. The Plaintiffs contend that reports of injuries sustained from former patrons who used the ride put the Park on notice that the slide was dangerous. The Plaintiffs base their claim particularly on the testimony of Custer, who was allegedly injured from riding the Shotgun slide in 1997.

When Custer reported his injuries to the Park, he insisted that the slide [*9] was dangerous because the angle of slope was too steep. Custer’s claim is unsubstantiated. Indeed, a licensed inspector from Maryland investigated the ride and found that the Shotgun slide met the safety standards set out by Maryland law. In any event, Custer is by no means qualified to provide admissible opinion testimony that the angle of the slide was “too steep.” Moreover, his opinion is not based on any scientific principles and is no more than his grossly unqualified ipse dixit.

Although the Plaintiffs correctly state that “Maryland has gone almost as far as any state in holding that meager evidence of negligence is sufficient to submit the case to a jury,” the opinion offered by Custer is not enough to take the issue to a jury. State v. Thurston, 128 Md. App. 656, 662, 739 A.2d 940 (1999). The Plaintiffs have not presented evidence sufficient to establish that the Defendants had reason to believe the slide was so dangerous as to require a special warning next to it.

The Park did all it need have done by having the slide evaluated and vouched for by a licensed professional. Moreover, even if the Park were on notice of a dangerous condition posed by the Shotgun slide, the Park adequately warned [*10] patrons of the dangers of water slides by posting a disclaimer at the entrance of the amusement park. Stolting admitted in her deposition that she saw the disclaimer and that although she did not remember what it said, she read it. Stolting Dep. 90. The sign posted at the entrance of the Park expressly warned patrons that all rides within the Water park “carr[ied] with them an inherent risk of injury.” There is no evidence adequate to establish that a pertinent standard of care required additional warnings. Defs.’ Reply to Pls.’ Mot. for Summ. J. at 4.

2) No Posted Instructions

The Plaintiffs argue that the Park had an obligation to post instructions on how to ride the Shotgun slide. They offered Hanst’s purported “expert” opinion in support of this contention that patrons should have been told to keep their knees bent when riding down the slide 7. For the reasons stated in its Memorandum and Order re: Motion In Limine, issued this date, Hanst’s “expert” opinion has been held inadmissible.

7 Plaintiffs claim that riding with straight legs as opposed to bent knees caused the accident.

Moreover, even if Hanst’s opinion were considered, and there has been a duty to warn Plaintiff to keep her [*11] legs bent, the “negligent” failure to give the advice would be irrelevant. Stolting cannot establish causation. Stolting testified that her legs were bent at a “forty-degree angle” as she slid down the slide. Stolting Dep. 39-40. Thus, even if Plaintiffs had established a duty to instruct a breach of that duty, Plaintiffs cannot establish that the failure to instruct was a proximate cause of her injuries.

3) Depth of the Exit Pool

The Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants were negligent because the exit pool at the bottom of the Shotgun slide was too shallow. Plaintiffs base this claim on the opinion of Hanst who asserted that the exit pool should have been eight to ten feet. 8 As held in the Memorandum and Order re: Motion in Limine issued this date, Hanst’s expert opinion is inadmissible.

8 The exit pool is four to five feet deep. Hanst opined that it should have been four to five feet deeper than it was.

Additionally, both Olsen, the engineer, and the inspector from the Department of Inspection and Safety verified that the slide met the safety standards enforced by the state of Maryland. Even Hanst verified in his deposition that there was nothing in the inspector’s or the engineer’s [*12] reports with which he disagreed. In fact, Hanst’s own investigation of the slide, which consisted of riding the slide himself and watching others on the slide, did not produce any findings contradictory to those of the Defendants. Neither Hanst nor any of the people he watched on the slide were injured after making contact with the bottom of the exit pool.

There is no evidence sufficient to prove to a reasonable fact finder that Defendants negligently provided too shallow an exit pool. No reasonable jury could find that the Park was negligent by virtue of having an exit pool with a depth of “only” between four and five feet. 9

9 Indeed, a reasonable jury might even find that an eight to ten foot deep exit pool, as suggested by Hanst, could create a danger of drowning.

B, Assumption of Risk

The Court notes that even if Plaintiffs were able to establish that some negligence by Defendants caused the accident at issue, Defendants would still be entitled to summary judgment.

In Maryland, assumption of risk is an affirmative defense to a claim of negligence. ADM P’ship v. Martin, 348 Md. 84, 91, 702 A.2d 730 (1997). To establish an assumption of risk defense, the Defendants have the burden of demonstrating [*13] that the Plaintiffs: 1) had knowledge of the risk of danger; 2) appreciated the risk; and 3) voluntarily confronted the risk of danger. Id. at 90-91. An objective standard must be used in deciding “whether a plaintiff had knowledge and appreciation of the risk, . . . and a plaintiff . . . [cannot] say that he did not comprehend a risk which must have been obvious to him.” Id. (quoting Gibson v. Beaver, 245 Md. 418, 421, 226 A.2d 273 (1967)). Overall, the question of whether the plaintiff assumed the risk is usually a question for the jury, however, when it is clear that by using an objective test, “a person of normal intelligence in the position of the plaintiff must have understood the danger, the issue is for the court.” Schroyer v. McNeal, 323 Md. 275, 283-84, 592 A.2d 1119 (1991).

1) Knowledge of the Risk of Danger

Stolting’s experience riding water slides establishes that Stolting had knowledge of the risks she faced when she chose to ride the Shotgun slide. “Those who participate or sit as spectators at sports and amusements may be taken to assume the known risks of being hurt by roller coasters, flying baseballs, [or] hockey pucks . . . .” Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 68, at 485-86 (5th ed. 1984). [*14] Moreover, Stolting in fact read the sign warning of the danger.

2) Appreciation of the Risk

If any person of normal intelligence in [one’s same] position would have understood the danger one faced, then one has appreciated the risk. Leakas v. Columbia Country Club, 831 F.Supp. 1231, 1236 (D. Md. 1993). The Court determined in Leakas that a “twenty-six year old, experienced swimmer,” had the “knowledge and appreciation of the risk of diving into shallow water because any person of normal intelligence in Leakas’ position must have understood the danger.” Leakas, 831 F.Supp. at 1236. Moreover in Casper, the court held that a stream covered over by a sheet of ice was an “open and obvious danger,” which every child could understand and appreciate. Casper v. Chas F. Smith & Son, Inc., 71 Md.App. 445, 458, 526 A.2d 87 (1987), aff’d, 316 Md. 573, 578, 560 A.2d 1130 (1989).

In the case at Bar, Stolting’s age, education and experience on water slides clearly establishes that she was able to appreciate the risk.

Plaintiffs, relying on Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, Inc., argue that even though Stolting might have had knowledge of a risk based on her experience, she did not appreciate the risk posed by the Shotgun [*15] slide. Md. State Fair and Agric. Soc’y, Inc. v. Lee, 29 Md.App. 374, 380-81, 348 A.2d 44 (1964) (holding that racetrack owners’ negligence in leaving track sandy created a hidden and unforeseeable danger, which caused plaintiff’s injuries). The facts of Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, Inc., however, are distinguishable from those in the instant case.

In Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, Inc., the Court held that the dangers posed by the negligent conditions (in particular a sandy track) would not necessarily have been comprehended by “any person of normal intelligence in [the plaintiff’s] position.” 29 Md.App. at 381. In the instant case, there is no danger that a person of ordinary intelligence could not have fully appreciated. There is no evidence of any hidden or unforeseeable dangerous condition that caused Stolting’s injuries. In fact, the evidence establishes that the risk posed by the water slide was an open and obvious risk of which Plaintiff (and all other park patrons) was expressly warned. The risk could be, and should have been, appreciated by Stolting and any other reasonable person.

3) Voluntarily Confronted the Risk of Danger

Finally, the Defendants argue that [*16] in addition to knowing and appreciating the risk, Stolting voluntarily confronted the risk. The Defendants rely on the decision in Leakas in which the Court determined that Leakas assumed the risk when he chose to dive into a pool “of unknown depth.” 831 F.Supp. at 1237. Like the plaintiff in Leakas, Stolting “voluntarily encounter[ed] the danger.” Id. After reading the disclaimer at the front of the Park, watching other patrons maneuver themselves down the slide, and relying on her prior experiences on water slides, Stolting chose to ride the Shotgun slide. Of her own free will, Stolting voluntarily made the decision to go on the ride and take her chances even though, as she was specifically warned, the rides in the Park “carry with them an inherent risk of injury.”

The court concludes that any reasonable jury would have to find that Stolting assumed the risk of injury on the Shotgun slide by having knowledge of the risk, appreciating the risk, and voluntarily confronting the risk of danger. Hence, Stolting’s negligence claim, even if viable, would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons:

1. [*17] Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

2. Judgment shall be entered by separate ORDER.

SO ORDERED this 24th day of August, 2001.

/s/ Marvin J. Garbis

Marvin J. Garbis

United States District Judge

JUDGMENT ORDER

By separate Order issued this date, the Court has granted summary judgment to the Defendants.

Accordingly:

1. Judgment shall be, and hereby is, entered in favor of Defendants JOLLY ROGER AMUSEMENT PARK, INC. d/b/a SPLASH MOUNTAIN WATER PARK and Bayshore Development Corporation against Plaintiffs Beth Stolting and Rohan Cassells dismissing all claims with prejudice with costs.

2. Any and all prior rulings disposing of any claims against any parties are incorporated by reference herein.

3. This Order shall be deemed to be a final judgment within the meaning of Rule 58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

SO ORDERED this 24th day of August, 2001.

/s/ Marvin J. Garbis

Marvin J. Garbis

United States District Judge


Really neat assumption of the risk agreement. But will it work? Should it be a release?

Without the word negligence or giving up your right to sue it is not a release.

A friend sent me this assumption of the risk form. You can find it here. It is on the WaterTribe website. It is fun to read and well written. Three long pages of warnings about the risks of boating.

However there is no place to sign. So there is no way to prove that anyone signed the form.

There is also no use of the magic word negligence or language where the party is giving up the right to sue.

The document says you have to sign a release, however searching the site did not turn one up. However it might be a member’s only location on the site. Does the release tie into or relate back to this form. That would provide great assumption of risk proof.

Do Something

However this is nothing wrong with this document. It tells the truth that if you don’t read and pay attention to what it says you can get hurt or die.

Maybe we need more documents that drive home the risk, rather than legally dance around it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Most references in case law to assumption of the risk are to this California decision. The basis for understanding Assumption of the Risk is this decision based on an injured finger during a pickup football game.

The definition of primary and secondary assumption of the risk was clearly set forth in this decision. This decision also related primary assumption of the risk with the inherent risk of an activity. The decision also eliminated the equally confusing reasonable implied assumption of risk, unreasonable implied assumption of risk theories.

Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296; 834 P.2d 696; 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2; 1992 Cal. LEXIS 3969; 92 Cal. Daily Op. Service 7261; 92 Daily Journal DAR 11765; 92 Daily Journal DAR 11870

Date of the Decision: 1992

Plaintiff: Kendra Knight

Defendant: Michael Jewett

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and assault and battery

Defendant Defenses: assumption of the risk

Holding: for the defendant

Most references to assumption of the risk when needed to clarify the definition in a decision come back to this seminal case: Knight v. Jewett.

The injury in this case occurred during a football game during half time of a super bowl game. The plaintiff and defendant were guests invited to watch the game. Each team had 4-5 players of both sexes. It was purely a pick-up football game. The plaintiff and defendant were on opposite teams.

The court never determined which set of facts were controlling in the case. Generally, the plaintiff and defendant ran into each other during a play. The plaintiff maintained she told the defendant not to play so hard. On the next play, the defendant stepped on the plaintiff’s hand while she was on the ground, injuring her finger.

The injury resulted in three operations and eventual amputation of the finger.

The plaintiff filed suit, which the trial court dismissed based upon the defendant’s motion for summary judgment where he argued assumption of the risk by the plaintiff prevented her recover. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court decision, and the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court which led to this discussion.

Summary of the case

The California Supreme Court wrote extensively about the history and nature of assumption of the risk. A little of that decision will be reviewed here.

The court ruled the basics of negligence claims. “As a general rule, persons have a duty to use due care to avoid injury to others, and may be held liable if they’re careless conduct injures another person.” It then looked at this in comparison of sports and recreation.

In the sports setting, however, conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part of the sport itself. Thus, although moguls on a ski run pose a risk of harm to skiers that might not exist were these configurations removed, the challenge and risks posed by the moguls are part of the sport of skiing, and a ski resort has no duty to eliminate them. 

The court then examined the issue of inherent risk of a sport or activity. An inherent risk is one that without those risks, the sport would not exist. Another way of looking at it is you cannot participate in the sport without possibly experiencing the inherent risks of the sport.

Although defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself, it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.

As sports evolved, the actions of other parties in an activity might exceed or be considered careless, but still part of the sport. “In some situations, however, the careless conduct of others is treated as an “inherent risk” of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.”

This then leads to the variations in how the courts interpreted the defense.

“The divergent results of the foregoing cases lead naturally to the question how courts are to determine when careless conduct of another properly should be considered an “inherent risk” of the sport that (as a matter of law) is assumed by the injured participant.

The issue of the careless coparticipant in a sport or recreational activity has generally been resolved in the US as a risk of the sport.

The overwhelming majority of the cases, both within and outside California, that have addressed the issue of coparticipant liability in such a sport, have concluded that it is improper to hold a sports participant liable to a coparticipant for ordinary careless conduct committed during the sport–for example, example, for an injury resulting from a carelessly thrown ball or bat during a baseball game–and that liability properly may be imposed on a participant only when he or she intentionally injures another player or engages in reckless conduct that is totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.

The court looked at the history of the defense and found that it has been used in several different ways and was a very confusing defense.

Indeed, almost a half-century ago, Justice Frankfurter described the term “assumption of risk” as a classic example of a felicitous phrase, “undiscriminatingly used to express different and sometimes contradictory ideas,” and whose uncritical use “bedevils the law.”

The defense had been applied in California to cases where spectators were injured at sporting events where it was determined that no duty was owed to the spectator. In other cases, it was used in sport and other activities where:

… it was clear that the defendant had breached a legal duty of care to the plaintiff, and the inquiry focused on whether the plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily had chosen to encounter the specific risk of harm posed by the defendant’s breach of duty.

The court then reviewed comparative fault or the doctrine of contributory negligence. Until the adoption of the doctrine, it did not matter what assumption of risk theory was used, both prevented recovery. However, after the adoption of the doctrine it became important to define which theory applied. One was merged with contributory negligence and the other either by exemption in a statute or by court decision was allowed to survive.

Contributory Negligence was the result of a change in how liability and consequently, damages were applied by a jury. Instead of determining who won or lost, completely, the jury was tasked with determining what percentage of fault applied to the parties in a case. If the plaintiff was less at fault than the defendant, the percentage of fault is different in each state, and then the defendant recovered that percentage of the damages.

However, that division of the fault left many in the sports and recreation field at a loss when the plaintiff did assume the risk of injuries which the court felt should bar a claim.

The court then started to define the new approach of assumption of the risk.

First, in “primary assumption of risk” cases–where the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm–a plaintiff who has suffered such harm is not entitled to recover from the defendant, whether the plaintiff’s conduct in undertaking the activity was reasonable or unreasonable.

Second, in “secondary assumption of risk” cases–involving instances in which the defendant has breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff–the defendant is not entitled to be entirely relieved of liability for an injury proximately caused by such breach, simply because the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering the risk of such an injury was reasonable rather than unreasonable.

The basic distinction results in a totally different result. The first prevents the plaintiff from recovering, and the second may affect the plaintiff’s recovery. By that I mean one is a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery and the second, because of comparative negligence may reduce or limit the plaintiff’s recovery.

This third classification is different. However, if you look at the injuries of different sports it makes sense; compare the risks of jump rope versus the risk of boxing.

Third and finally, the question, whether the defendant owed a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm does not turn on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct, but rather on the nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.

The court reached the following conclusions with respect to how the two different applications of the theory would be applied to the facts and the result.

In cases involving “primary assumption of risk”–where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury–the doctrine continues to operate as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.

Secondary assumption of risk was defined as:

In cases involving “secondary assumption of risk”–where the defendant does owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, but the plaintiff proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty–the doctrine is merged into the comparative fault scheme, and the trier of fact, in apportioning the loss resulting from the injury, may consider the relative responsibility of the parties.

Coparticipants in sports were then defined to be protected from their careless acts because the injured participant assumed the risk.

Accordingly, we conclude that a participant in an active sport breaches a legal duty of care to other participants–i.e., engages in conduct that properly may subject him or her to financial liability–only if the participant intentionally injures another player or engages in conduct that is so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.

As such the defendant in this case was found not to be liable to the plaintiff because the defendant’s carelessness was a risk of the activity, and the plaintiff assumed the risk under the primary assumption of risk doctrine.

So Now What?

First, this court wrote a decision that is still referenced today and is used by the majority of states to define assumption of the risk; primary and secondary for a state.

The real issue, and the one that courts face every day, is to determine the inherent risks of an activity and what defines careless acts on the part of coparticipant. Leaving this decision to a judge or a jury that does not understand the activity could lead to confusion and losing decisions.

In that vein, when a statute is written such as equine or ski safety acts, then the statute defines the inherent risks of the activity. A long and comprehensive list such as that in the Colorado Ski Safety Act broadens the risks inherent in skiing.

In that vein, make sure you release does not limit the risks that are covered by your release. If your release just prevents suits for the inherent risks of the activity, those risks that in many states, the plaintiff must accept and assume any way you may be limiting the scope of your release.

Always educate your guests on all of the risks of the activity or as many as you possibly can. You want your guests to be informed of the risks, the more a guest knows and understands the better the experience. At the same time, the more the guest knows, the more the issue becomes primary assumption of the risk, a complete bar rather than secondary assumption of the risk.

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

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