Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release

Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release

Wheelock vs. Sport Kites, 839 F. Supp. 730 (9th Cir. 1993); and,

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 663-1.54

Badly written statute which was already full of holes was turned absolutely worthless by Hawaiian Federal District Court Decision. You cannot give up the best defense you have when you try and gain more defenses.

In Wheelock vs. Sport Kites

Plaintiff: Mary Rose Wheelock, individually, as Administratrix of the Estate of David William Wheelock, as Guardian Ad Litem for Maggie Wheelock and David William Wheelock, minors

Defendant: Sport Kites, Inc., a foreign corporation, dba Wills Wing, Rob Kells, an individual, Kualoa Ranch, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, and Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., a Hawaii corporation

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence, Gross Negligence and Product Liability

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Holding for the Defendant on the Negligence claim and for the Plaintiff on the Gross Negligence and Product Liability claims.

In King v. CJM Country Stables

Plaintiff: John King and Patricia King

Defendant: CJM Country Stables

Plaintiff’s Claims: Negligence, Negligence Per Se, Strict Liability, Intentional, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Loss of Consortium, Punitive Damages, Respondeat Superior

Defendant Defenses: release and the Hawaiian Recreational Activity Liability Statute

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Tourists are the life blood of the outdoor recreation industry. No place does that ring any truer than Hawaii. Without tourists who are there for a vacation or as a stop on a cruise ship, Hawaii’s economy would grind to a stop.

In an effort to limit liability for outdoor recreation activities, the recreation providers passed a law attempting to reduce or prevent lawsuits for injuries tourists received recreating.  However, this Hawaiian law backfired by eliminating the use of releases a defense against a claim in the statute.

To set the stage for Hawaii’s move towards recreation legislation, it is important to acknowledge the development of Hawaiian common law.  The landmark case, Wheelock vs. Sport Kites, 839 F. Supp. 730 (9th Cir. 1993), was the first time the Hawaiian courts dealt with whether an express release of liability bars all claims of negligence.  Wheelock plunged to his death while paragliding when all the lines connecting the canopy to his harness broke.  Wheelock’s wife sued, even though her husband signed a waiver releasing Sport Kites.  The court upheld the release for negligence, declaring that Wheelock assumed the risk of paragliding.

The court did not allow the release to bar claims for gross negligence and the product liability claim.

Despite the Wheelock decision, the statewide Activity Owners Association of Hawaii believed litigation over recreation accidents needed to be reduced. The belief was it would lower insurance premiums and promote business growth. (See Ammie Roseman-Orr, Recreational Activity Liability in Hawai’i: Are Waiver Worth the Paper on Which They Are Written?, 21 U. Haw. L. Rev. 715.) Without a law, every accident had the opportunity to test the waters of the legal system in hopes of a reward.  The Recreational Activity Liability Statute was enacted in 1997 to reduce recreation accident litigation’

§ 663-1.54.  Recreational activity liability.

(a) Any person who owns or operates a business providing recreational activities to the public, such as, without limitation, scuba or skin diving, sky diving, bicycle tours, and mountain climbing, shall exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of patrons and the public, and shall be liable for damages resulting from negligent acts or omissions of the person which cause injury.

(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a), owners and operators of recreational activities shall not be liable for damages for injuries to a patron resulting from inherent risks associated with the recreational activity if the patron participating in the recreational activity voluntarily signs a written release waiving the owner or operator’s liability for damages for injuries resulting from the inherent risks. No waiver shall be valid unless:

(1) The owner or operator first provides full disclosure of the inherent risks associated with the recreational activity; and

(2) The owner or operator takes reasonable steps to ensure that each patron is physically able to participate in the activity and is given the necessary instruction to participate in the activity safely.

(c) The determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the trier of fact. As used in this section an “inherent risk”:

(1) Is a danger that a reasonable person would understand to be associated with the activity by the very nature of the activity engaged in;

(2) Is a danger that a reasonable person would understand to exist despite the owner or operator’s exercise of reasonable care to eliminate or minimize the danger, and is generally beyond the control of the owner or operator; and

(3) Does not result from the negligence, gross negligence, or wanton act or omission of the owner or operator.

This statute superseded the common law, which developed through Wheelock and the cases preceding it.

The first case to review the statute was King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511. In this case, the plaintiff was on a seven-day cruise that left Vancouver and went to Hawaii. While in Hawaii, the plaintiff booked a horseback ride through the cruise, with the defendant stable. While riding, the plaintiff was bit by another rider’s horse. She sued.

The court immediately reviewed the above Hawaiian Recreational Activity Liability Statute. Reading the statute the court concluded:

…these sections provide that a trier of fact must determine if injuries were caused by the “inherent risks” of a recreational activity. And if the trier of fact finds that the injuries were “caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature” of a horse, then there is a rebuttable presumption that the defendant’s negligence did not cause the injuries.

The court looked at the language of the release which states the trier of fact must determine if the injuries were caused by the activity, or in this case, the horse. The court found that under the statute, the court could not support the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because the statute “…explicitly precludes waiving liability for negligence.”

Since there was a genuine issue of material fact, meaning there were facts important to the case that had two different versions or interpretations (duh!) then the jury had to decide the case no matter what. The statute placed a burden on the plaintiff that was greater than the normal burden of proof, however the decision placed a greater burden on defendants in the increased cost of litigating cases.

…whether Defendant was negligent; and the Release Form’s validity as a waiver of liability, which depends on whether the horse-biting incident was an “inherent risk” of the recreational activity that Defendant provided to Plaintiffs. Defendant cannot satisfy its burden and thus, is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

So?

The statute left an enormous hole that will allow every injured party to recover something. The statute states that an “inherent risk” must be determined by the trier of fact, and that negligence cannot be an inherent risk. Consequently, the statute is worthless.

It gets worse. Under the previous common law, the judge could determine the inherent risk and grant summary judgment. In the case of Wheelock, the judge determined that, as a matter of law, equipment failure is an obvious risk of paragliding and set this as a precedent for future paragliding cases.  The recreation statute, on the contrary, declares that the trier of fact must determine the inherent risks of the activity. The trier of fact is the jury. Therefore, every claim will go to trial. That increases the cost and increases the chance that a settlement will occur to reduce the cost of litigation.

Summary judgment cannot be granted because a jury trial must be held to determine if the risk is inherent.  The cost of litigating jury trials will be substantially higher than the cost of a motion for summary judgment.  A precedent cannot be set because it is determined, as a matter of fact, so the inherent risks must be determined in every case.

Even cases with identical inherent risks and injuries must be brought before a trier of fact, with the possibility for differing results.  Second, the statute explicitly states that providers will be liable for negligence.  Wheelock previously determined negligence could be an inherent risk that customers assumed when they signed the waiver for, thereby releasing the provider from liability.  The statute no longer allowed the customer to assume the risk of negligence, making the statute a major step backward for activity providers.

So Now What?

Although a good effort by the Activity Owners Association of Hawaiian, they probably wrote the legislation without help from attorneys or those knowledgeable in how the statute would be applied (someone who had been in a courtroom with a suit and briefcase).

The statute is great in its intent; the actual way it was written makes the statute the best thing that could happen for any injured person in Hawaii. No matter what, this statute is going to allow the plaintiff to recover because the cost of fighting every claim through trial is at least $50,000 or more. Consequently, it will always be cheaper to settle than to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

King v. CJM Country Stables, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

John King and Patricia King, Plaintiffs, vs. CJM Country Stables, Defendant.

Civ. No. 03-00240 ACK/BMK

United States District Court for the District of Hawaii

315 F. Supp. 2d 1061; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7511

February 18, 2004, Decided

February 18, 2004, Filed

DISPOSITION: [**1] Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment denied.

COUNSEL: For JOHN KING, PATRICIA KING, plaintiffs: David C. Schutter, Christopher A. Dias, Schutter Dias Smith & Wong, Honolulu, HI.

For CJM COUNTRY STABLES, INC., defendant: Gale L.F. Ching, Mitzi A. Lee, Jane Kwan, Hisaka Stone Goto Yoshida Cosgrove & Ching, Honolulu, HI.

JUDGES: Alan C Kay, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Alan C Kay

OPINION:

[*1062] ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BACKGROUND

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant CJM Country Stables’ (“CJM” or “Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion for Summary Judgment argues that Patricia and John King (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) signed a valid waiver that releases CJM from liability for the injuries Plaintiffs allegedly suffered when they participated in a recreational horseback riding activity provided by the Defendant.

I. Factual History.

On September 16, 2001, Plaintiffs began an 11-night Royal Caribbean cruise sailing from Vancouver to and around the Hawaiian islands. On September 26, 2001, the cruise ship docked in Nawiliwili, on the Island of Kauai. That day, Plaintiffs participated in an organized horseback ride that [**2] they arranged through the shore excursion desk on board their ship.

Upon arriving at the stables, the horseback riding participants were asked to read and sign a form entitled “Participant Agreement, Release, and Acknowledgement of Risk,” (hereinafter the “Release Form”). Both Plaintiffs signed this Release Form. (Motion for Summary Judgment, Exs. A, D). The Release Form provides, in relevant part, that “in consideration of the services of CJM Country Stables, Inc.” the signatory agrees “to release and discharge C.J.M., on behalf of [himself or herself] … as follows:

1. I acknowledge that horseback trailrides entails known and unanticipated risks which could result in physical or emotional injury, … to myself … I understand that such risks simply cannot [*1063] be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of the activity. The risks include, among other things: … horses, irrespective of their previous behavior and characteristics, may act or react unpredictably based upon instinct, fright, or lack of proper control by rider; latent or apparent defects or conditions in … animals …; acts of other participants in this activity;… contact with plants or animals; [**3] … Furthermore, C.J.M. guides have difficult jobs to perform. They seek safety, but they are not infallible … They may give inadequate warnings or instructions, and the equipment being used might malfunction.

2. I expressly agree and promise to accept and assume all of the risks existing in this activity. My participation in this activity is purely voluntary, and I elect to participate in spite of the risks.

3. I hereby voluntarily release … and hold harmless C.J.M. from any and all claims, demands, or causes of action which are in any way connected with my participation in this activity … including any such Claims which allege negligent acts or omissions of C.J.M … I have had sufficient opportunity to read this entire document, I have read and understood it, and I agree to be bound by its terms.”

Motion for Summary Judgment, Exs. A, D.

After signing the Release Forms, each of the riders was assigned a horse and proceeded on the trail ride. The parties agree that at some point during the ride Mrs. King was bitten by another rider’s horse. Plaintiffs allege that as a result of this incident they have suffered severe and permanent bodily injuries, pain [**4] and suffering, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and other special and general damages. Plaintiffs claim that Defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of these damages. Defendant argues that the signed Release Forms validly waive its liability for the Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

II. Procedural History.

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in state court on February 27, 2003 and it was removed to this Court on May 14, 2003. The Complaint sets forth claims of:

I. Negligence; II. Negligence Per Se; III. Strict Liability; IV. Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; V. Loss of Consortium; VI. Punitive Damages; and VII. Respondeat Superior.

On January 14, 2004, CJM filed this Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion for Summary Judgment argues that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Plaintiffs signed a valid waiver of liability. Plaintiffs filed their Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment on January 30, 2004.

The Opposition argues that the Motion for Summary Judgment should be denied because the Release Form is unenforceable as a waiver and in any event, does not include negligence claims. If the Court [**5] is inclined to grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff alternatively requests that the Court order a continuance of the motion pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 56(f). n1 Defendant filed its Reply on February 5, 2004. The Reply argues that negligence is explicitly covered by the waiver. The Reply does not address Plaintiff’s alternative request for a Rule 56(f) continuance.

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n1 The Court need not address this alternative request because it is denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

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STANDARD

The purpose of summary judgment is to identify and dispose of factually unsupported [*1064] claims and defenses. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving [**6] party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” n2 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n2 Affidavits made on personal knowledge and setting forth facts as would be admissible at trial are evidence. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Legal memoranda and oral argument are not evidence and do not create issues of fact. See British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 952 (9th Cir. 1978).

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“A fact is ‘material’ when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact arises if ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” n3 Thrifty Oil Co. v. Bank of America Nat’l Trust & Sav. Ass’n, 310 F.3d 1188, 1194 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Union Sch. Dist. v. Smith, 15 F.3d 1519, 1523 (9th Cir. 1994)) (internal citations omitted). Conversely, where the evidence “could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no [**7] ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986) (quoting First Nat’l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289, 20 L. Ed. 2d 569, 88 S. Ct. 1575 (1968)).

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n3 Disputes as to immaterial issues of fact do “not preclude summary judgment.” Lynn v. Sheet Metal Workers’ Int’l Ass’n, 804 F.2d 1472, 1478 (9th Cir. 1986).

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The moving party has the burden of persuading the Court as to the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party may do so with affirmative evidence or by “’showing’—that is pointing out to the district court—that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325. All evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., T.W. Elec. Serv. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass’n, 809 F.2d 626,

630-31 (9th Cir. 1987). [**8] So, too, the Court’s role is not to make credibility assessments. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Accordingly, if “reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence,” summary judgment will be denied. Id. at 250-51.

Once the moving party satisfies its burden, however, the nonmoving party cannot simply rest on the pleadings or argue that any disagreement or “metaphysical doubt” about a material issue of fact precludes summary judgment. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265; Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586; California Arch. Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987). Nor will uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarmo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002); see also T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630. The nonmoving party must instead set forth “significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.” T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630. Summary judgment [**9] will thus be granted against a party who fails to demonstrate facts’ sufficient to establish an element essential to his case when that party will ultimately bear the burden of proof at proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

[*1065] DISCUSSION

At issue in this Motion for Summary Judgment is whether the Release Form signed by Plaintiffs waives Defendant’s liability for the Plaintiffs’ alleged horseback riding injuries. Plaintiffs assert that the Release Form is unenforceable as a waiver and regardless, does not waive Defendant’s liability for its own negligent conduct allegedly contributing to their injuries.

Defendant claims that the Release Form constitutes a valid waiver of liability for Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries because the form clearly lists the risks associated with horseback riding and the horse-biting incident at issue constitutes one of these risks. Defendant also argues that the waiver explicitly waives liability for negligence.

As movant, Defendant has the burden of establishing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law by showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Release Form validly waives its liability [**10] for the Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

I. Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 663-1.54.

Although neither party cites or discusses it, the Court finds that Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 663-1.54, addressing “Recreational activity liability, “ applies to this case. Section 663-1.54 provides:

(a) Any person who owns or operates a business providing recreational activities to the public, such as, without limitation, scuba or skin diving, sky diving, bicycle tours, and mountain climbing, shall exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of patrons and the public, and shall be liable for damages resulting from negligent acts or omissions of the person which cause injury.

(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a), owners and operators of recreational activities shall not be liable for damages for injuries to a patron resulting from inherent risks associated with the recreational activity if the patron participating in the recreational activity voluntarily signs a written release waiving the owner or operator’s liability for damages for injuries resulting from the inherent risks. No waiver shall be valid [**11] unless:

(1) The owner or operator first provides full disclosure of the inherent risks associated with the recreational activity; and

(2) The owner or operator takes reasonable steps to ensure that each patron is physically able to participate in the activity and is given the necessary instruction to participate in the activity safely.

(c) The determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the

trier of fact. As used in this section an “inherent risk”:

(1) Is a danger that a reasonable person would understand to be associated with the activity by the very nature of the activity engaged in;

(2) Is a danger that a reasonable person would understand to exist despite the owner or operator’s exercise of reasonable care to eliminate or minimize the danger, and is generally beyond the control of the owner or operator; and

(3) Does not result from the negligence, gross negligence, or wanton act or omission of the owner or operator.

HRS § 663-1.54 (emphasis added).

A. Legislative History.

There is no Hawaii case law interpreting Section 663-1.54. The Standing Committee that drafted Section 663-1.54, described its [**12] purpose and function as follows:

“This measure is necessary to more clearly define the liability of providers of commercial recreational activities by statutorily validating inherent risk waivers signed by the participants. Your [*1066] Committee further finds that these inherent risk waivers … do not extend immunity to providers for damages resulting from negligence.”

Haw. Stand. Comm. Rep. No. 1537, in 1997 Senate Journal, at 1476. In substituting the provisions of Senate Bill 647 with those of House Bill number 581, which was codified into Section 663-1.54, the Standing Committee eliminated “the substantive provisions of S.B. No. 647, S.D.1, the Senate companion measure,” including a section “exempting the provisions of Chapter 663B, existing law regarding equine liability.” Id. n4 Thus, equine activities, such as the one at issue here, are covered by Section 663-1.54. n5

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n4 Section 663B-2(a) provides: “In any civil action for injury … of a participant, there shall be a presumption that the injury … was not caused by the negligence of an equine activity sponsor … or their employees or agents, if the injury … was caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature of the equine. An injured person … may rebut the presumption of no negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.” HRS § 663B-2(a). [**13]

n5 Section 663-1.54, addressing recreational activity liability, and Section 663B, addressing equine activities, are not mutually exclusive. Read together, these sections provide that a trier of fact must determine if injuries were caused by the “inherent risks” of a recreational activity. And if the trier of fact finds that the injuries were “caused solely by the inherent risk and unpredictable nature” of a horse, then there is a rebuttable presumption that the defendant’s negligence did not cause the injuries. The injured plaintiff may then rebut the presumption of no negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.

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Subsection (c), providing that “the determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the trier of fact,” is pertinent to the resolution of this Motion for Summary Judgment. HRS § 663-1.54(c). Unfortunately, legislative materials specifically addressing this part of Section 663-1.54 are not helpful to this analysis as they consist of the following: “Now let me say that we have, and I supposed admirably, set out to define what inherent risks are in subsection (c), but whether [**14] this is sufficient is not clear.” Debate on Haw. Stand. Comm. Rep. No. 753, in 1997 House Journal, at 408 (statement of Rep. Pendleton).

It is clear that given the statute’s 1997 enactment and specific focus on exculpatory agreements made with those “who own[ ] or operate[ ] a business providing recreational activities to the public” that on the issue of written waivers, Section 663-1.54 supplants every single case on which the parties rely to make their substantive arguments. These cases, however, may be pertinent to other possibly relevant claims and defenses such as negligence and implied assumption of risk. Most of the cases cited were decided prior to the statute’s enactment n6 and those that [*1067] were decided after 1997 do not address the effect of waivers on recreational activity liability as in Section 663-1.54. n7 Moreover, most of these cases do not interpret Hawaii law. Likewise, Defendant’s citation to Section 663-10.95, addressing the liability of “motorsports facility “ owners and operators, is inapplicable to this case. Motion for Summary Judgment, at 13 (citing HRS § 663-10.95). Based on the foregoing, the Court will apply Section 663-1.54 in resolving Defendant’s Motion [**15] for Summary Judgment.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n6 See Grbac v. Reading Fair Co., 688 F.2d 215 (3rd Cir. 1982); Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 730 (D. Haw. 1993); Marshall v. Blue Springs Corp., 641 N.E.2d 92 (1994); Huber v. Hovey, 501 N.W.2d 53 (1993); Masciola v. Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, 257 Ill. App. 3d 313, 628 N.E.2d 1067, 195 Ill. Dec. 603 (1993); Swierkosz v. Starved Rock Stables, 239 Ill. App. 3d 1017, 607 N.E.2d 280, 180 Ill. Dec. 386 (1993); Buchan v. U.S. Cycling Federation, Inc., 227 Cal. App. 3d 134, 277 Cal. Rptr. 887 (1991); Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991); Guido v. Koopman, 1 Cal. App. 4th 837, 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 437 (1991); Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 276 Cal. Rptr. 672, 226 Cal. App. 3d 758 (1990); Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781 (Colo. 1989); Harris v. Walker, 119 Ill. 2d 542, 519 N.E.2d 917, 116 Ill. Dec. 702 (1988); Kurashige v. Indian Dunes, Inc., 200 Cal. App. 3d 606, 246 Cal. Rptr. 310 (1988); Madison v. Superior Court, 203 Cal. App. 3d 589, 250 Cal.

Rptr. 299 (1988); Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center, 168 Cal. App. 3d 333, 214 Cal. Rptr. 194 (1985); McAtee v. Newhall Land & Farming Co., 169 Cal. App. 3d 1031, 216 Cal. Rptr. 465 (1985); Krohnert v. Yacht Systems Hawaii, Inc., 4 Haw.

App. 190, 664 P.2d 738 (1983); Hewitt III v. Miller, 11 Wn. App. 72, 521 P.2d

244 (1974); Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Douglas Aircraft Co., 238 Cal. App. 2d 95,

47 Cal. Rptr. 518 (1965); Lee v. Allied Sports Associates, Inc., 349 Mass. 544,

209 N.E.2d 329 (1965); Ciofalo v. Vic Tanney Gyms, Inc., 10 N.Y.2d 294, 177 N.E.2d 925, 220 N.Y.S.2d 962 (1961). [**16]

n7 Foronda v. Hawaii International Boxing Club, 96 Haw. 51, 25 P.3d 826 (2001) (holding that primary implied assumption of risk, evidenced by a signed waiver and plaintiff’s free participation in a boxing match, is a complete defense to claims of negligence where defendant’s conduct is an inherent risk of the sports activity); Fujimoto v. Au, 95 Haw. 116, 19 P.3d 699 (2001) (finding contract waiving general partners and landowners’ liability unenforceable where limited partners with unequal bargaining power sought to recover their investment in limited partnerships formed to develop real estate).

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

B. Application.

Under Section 663-1.54, the Court must deny Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment for two reasons. First, Defendant argues that the Release Form validly waives Plaintiffs’ negligence claims but Section 663-1.54(a) explicitly precludes waiving liability for negligence. Thus, paragraph three (3) of the Release Form is void as to negligence.

Secondly, Section 663-1.54(c)’s provision that the “determination of whether a risk is inherent or not is for the [**17] trier of fact” automatically creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the horse-biting incident was an inherent of the horseback riding activity in which Plaintiffs participated. This statutorily-imposed genuine issue of fact precludes summary judgment as a matter of law. The trier of fact will have to decide whether the Release Form constitutes a valid waiver of Defendant’s liability. n8

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n8 The legislative history indicates that the statute’s proponents did not aim for this result. See Ammie I. Roseman-Orr, Comment, Recreational Activity Liability in Hawai’i: Are Waivers Worth The Paper On Which Thev Are Written?, 21. U. Haw. L. Rev. 715, 743-44 (1999) (“From the legislative testimony, it is apparent that the industry did not intend, nor was it aware, that this new law might eliminate summary judgment determinations of whether waivers are valid … Hawai’i’s new recreational activity liability statute, championed by the activity providers to protect the industry has instead eroded the common law protection it otherwise enjoyed.”).

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The Court finds that there are genuine issues of material fact as to: [1] whether Defendant was negligent; and [2] the Release Form’s validity as a waiver of liability, which depends on whether the horse-biting incident was an “inherent risk” of the recreational activity that Defendant provided to Plaintiffs. Defendant cannot satisfy its burden and thus, is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

CONCLUSION

The Court holds that there are genuine issues of material fact as to Defendant’s negligence and as to whether the Release Form constitutes a valid waiver of Defendant’s liability and accordingly DENIES Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: Honolulu, Hawii, 18 FEB 2004

Alan C Kay

United States District Judge

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Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc, 839 F. Supp. 730; 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050

Wheelock v. Sport Kites, Inc, 839 F. Supp. 730; 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050

Mary Rose Wheelock, individually, as Administratrix of the Estate of David William Wheelock, as Guardian Ad Litem for Maggie Wheelock and David William Wheelock, minors, Plaintiff, v. Sport Kites, Inc., a foreign corporation, dba Wills Wing, Rob Kells, an individual, Kualoa Ranch, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, and Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, Defendants.

Civ. No. 92-00768 HMF

United States District Court for the District of Hawaii

839 F. Supp. 730; 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050

December 1, 1993, Decided

December 1, 1993, Filed

Counsel: [**1] For Mary Rose Wheelock, individually gal, Maggie Wheelock, minor gal, David William Wheelock, minor, plaintiff: Jeffrey R. Buchli, Carroll Smith & Buchli, Honolulu, HI. John S. Carroll, Carroll Smith & Buchli, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Kites, Inc., a foreign corporation dba Wills Wing, Rob Kells, an individual, defendants: Leighton K. Oshima, Patrick I. Wong, Wong Oshima & Kondo, Honolulu, HI. For Kualoa Ranch, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, defendant:

Sidney K. Ayabe, a, Rodney S. Nishida, Libkuman Ventura Ayabe Chong & Nishimoto, Honolulu, HI. For Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., a Hawaii corporation, defendant:

Randolph R. Slaton, Law Offices of Randolph R. Slaton, Honolulu, HI.

For Kualoa Ranch, Inc., cross-claimant: Sidney K. Ayabe, a, Libkuman Ventura Ayabe Chong & Nishimoto, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Kites, Inc. dba Wills Wing, ROB KELLS, cross-defendants: Leighton K.

Oshima, Patrick I. Wong, Wong Oshima & Kondo, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Aviation Hawaii, Inc., cross-claimant: Randolph R. Slaton, Law Offices of Randolph R. Slaton, Honolulu, HI.

For Sport Kites, Inc. dba Wills Wing, ROB KELLS, cross-defendants: Leighton K.

Oshima, Patrick I. Wong, Wong Oshima & Kondo, Honolulu, [**2] HI.

Judges: Fong

Opinion by: Harold M. Fong

Opinion:

[*733] Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion To Dismiss Non-Diverse Parties And Denying Defendants’ Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Diversity Jurisdiction; Order Granting In Part And Denying In Part Defendants’ Motion For Summary Judgment

Introduction

This is a wrongful death action. On November 1, 1993, the court heard arguments on three motions: (1) defendant Kualoa Ranch, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment; (2) Kualoa Ranch’s motion to dismiss for lack of diversity jurisdiction; and (3) plaintiff’s motion to dismiss non-diverse parties to the complaint to preserve diversity jurisdiction.

Background

This action arises from the accidental death of David Wheelock (“David”). On July 14, 1991, David was paragliding at Kualoa Ranch. He was at a height of between 1,000 and 1,500 feet when the lines connecting him to the parachute-like canopy simultaneously broke, detaching him. He plunged to the earth and died.

Mary Rose Wheelock, David’s wife, brought this action n1 against Kualoa Ranch, owner of the premises where the activity occurred, Sport Aviation Hawaii, provider of the equipment, and Sport Kites, Inc., dba Wills Wing, and Rob Kells, an individual, manufacturers [**3] of the equipment.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 Mrs. Wheelock brought the action individually, as administratrix of her husband’s estate, and as guardian ad litem for their children.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Kualoa Ranch filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for lack of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff concedes that there is currently a lack of diversity: plaintiff is a citizen of California and defendant Sports Kites is a California corporation. On July 29, 1993, however, plaintiff reached a settlement agreement with Wills Wing and Rob Kells voluntarily dismissing all claims against them with prejudice. Plaintiff has thus filed a motion to dismiss Sport Kites, Inc., the sole non-diverse party to the complaint, to preserve diversity jurisdiction.

Kualoa Ranch has also filed a motion for summary judgment, joined by Sport Aviation Hawaii, on the grounds that plaintiff is barred from recovery because of an agreement and release of liability signed by David. On June 16, 1991, David signed the agreement as a precondition to use of the facilities and paragliding [**4] equipment. The agreement is a one-page, pre-printed, fill-in-the-blank form. Under its terms, David agreed to release and discharge Kualoa Ranch, Sport Ranch, and others from liability for injuries suffered while paragliding. n2

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n2 The agreement, entitled an ‘Agreement and Release of Liability,” provides, in relevant part, that:

1. I hereby RELEASE AND DISCHARGE [defendants and others] . . . from any and all liability, claims, demands or causes of action that I may have for injuries and damages arising out of my participation in Ultralight activities, including but not limited to, losses CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASED PARTIES.

2. I further agree that I WILL NOT SUE OR MAKE A CLAIM against the Released Parties for damages or other losses sustained as a result of my participation in Ultralight activities. I also agree to INDEMNIFY AND HOLD THE RELEASED PARTIES HARMLESS from all claims, judgments and costs, including attorney’s fees, incurred in connection with any action brought as a result of my participation in Ultralight activities.

3. I understand and acknowledge that Ultralight activities have inherent dangers that no amount of care, caution, instruction, or expertise can eliminate and I EXPRESSLY AND VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISK OF DEATH OR PERSONAL INJURY SUSTAINED WHILE PARTICIPATING IN ULTRALIGHT ACTIVITIES WHETHER OR NOT CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASED PARTIES.

5. I hereby expressly recognize that this Agreement & Release of Liability is a contract pursuant to which I have released any and all claims against the Released Parties . . . .

I HAVE READ THIS AGREEMENT & RELEASE OF LIABILITY, FULLY UNDERSTAND

ITS CONTENTS AND MEANING, AND SIGN IT OF MY OWN FREE WILL.

David signed and dated it at the bottom, and initialed at nine pre-printed blank spaces, including one at each paragraph.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**5]

DISCUSSION

I. KUALOA RANCH’S MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT FOR LACK OF DIVERSITY JURISDICTION AND MARY ROSE WHEELOCK’S COUNTER-MOTION TO DISMISS NON-DIVERSE PARTIES.

The principal requirements of diversity jurisdiction are that the amount in controversy exceed $ 50,000 and that the parties be citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. There is no dispute as to the citizenship of the parties for purposes of diversity: plaintiff n3 and defendant Sport Kites, Inc. are citizens of California, and defendants Kualoa Ranch and Sport Aviation are citizens of Hawaii.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n3 The relevant citizenship of plaintiffs in a wrongful death action is that of the decedent. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2). It is undisputed that the domicile of David, the decedent, was in California.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The court will dismiss Sport Kites unless doing so will prejudice the remaining defendants. Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which sets forth the rules for joinder [**6] of persons needed for a just adjudication, provides that in determining whether a party is indispensable, the court should consider “whether in equity and good conscience the action should proceed among the parties before it, or be dismissed.” A dispensable non-diverse party may be dismissed to perfect retroactively the district court’s original jurisdiction. Continental Airlines, Inc. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 819 F.2d 1519, 1522-23 (9th Cir. 1987); Othman v. Globe Indem. Co., 759 F.2d 1458, 1463 (9th Cir. 1985); Inecon Agricorporation v. Tribal Farms, Inc., 656 F.2d 498, 500 (9th Cir. 1981). Refusal by the court to dismiss a dispensable, non-diverse party may constitute an abuse of discretion. Kerr v. Compagnie de Ultramar, 250 F.2d 860, 864 (2d Cir. 1958).

Defendants claim that they will be prejudiced because Sports Kites, Inc. designed and manufactured the allegedly defective paraglider, and unless they remain as defendants, they will not be part of the special verdict form submitted to the jury, pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes § 663-11 et seq., [**7] for determination of comparative fault. The court, however, may include a non-party on the special verdict form for apportionment of fault. See, e.g., In re Hawaii Federal Asbestos Cases, 960 F.2d 806 (9th Cir. 1992) (where the jury attributed a percentage of fault to non-parties). The statute does not require that fault be apportioned only among parties to the lawsuit.

Plaintiff has already settled with Rob Kells and Wills Wing, the parties destroying diversity, and will not be prejudiced by their dismissal. Defendants are not prejudiced because they may bring a third-party complaint against Sport Kites for indemnification, and their ability to defend plaintiff’s suit is unimpaired. The greatest source of potential prejudice is to plaintiff if the court dismisses for lack of diversity jurisdiction because the statute of limitations has expired on her claims.

II. KUALOA RANCH’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT.

Plaintiff in a wrongful death action is subject to defenses which could be asserted against the decedent. See Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 226 Cal. App.3d 758, 763-64, 276 Cal. Rptr. 672 (Cal. App. 1990); [**8] Madison v. Superior Court, 203 Cal. App.3d 589, 250 Cal. Rptr. 299 (Cal. App. 1988).

Defendants thus raise the defense which they would have had against David—his agreement. The agreement provided, inter alia, that David agreed to release and discharge defendants Kualoa Ranch, Sport Aviation, and others from any liability, including “losses caused by the negligence of the released parties.”

The issue before the court on the motion for summary judgment is whether to give effect to the release of liability signed by David (and initialed at each paragraph).

A. David Wheelock Expressly Assumed the Risk of Death.

Defendants contend that signing the agreement constituted an assumption of risk by David. If the agreement is valid, they argue, it operates to relieve them of any legal [*735] duty to protect David from the injury-causing risk.

The agreement signed by David was a standardized, pre-printed form. It was an adhesion contract of the sort frequently offered to consumers of goods and services on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis. In Leong v. Kaiser Found, Hospitals, 71 Haw. 240, 247-48, 788 P.2d 164 (1990), [**9] the Hawaii Supreme Court addressed the problem of such contracts:

An adhesion contract is a form contract created by the stronger of the contracting parties. It is offered on a “take this or nothing” basis. Consequently, the terms of the contract are imposed on the weaker party who has no choice but to conform. These terms unexpectedly or unconscionably limit the obligations of the drafting party. Because of these circumstances, some courts look past the wording of the contract and consider the entire transaction in order to effectuate the reasonable expectations of the parties. Ambiguities in the contract will be construed against the drafters and in plaintiff’s favor. (citing Robin v. Blue Cross Hosp. Serv., Inc., 637 S.W.2d 695, 697 (Mo. 1982).

While the agreement in the case at bar was an adhesion contract, it is not unconscionable. It is of a sort commonly used in recreational settings. See, e.g., Saenz v. Whitewater Voyages, Inc., 226 Cal. App.3d 758, 276 Cal. Rptr. 672 (Cal. App. 1990) (whitewater rafting); Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc., 17 Cal. App. 4th 1715, 22 Cal. Rptr.2d 781 (Cal. App. 1993) [**10] (skiing). Such agreements are generally held to be valid. Adhesion contracts are fully enforceable provided that they are not unconscionable and do not fall outside the reasonable expectations of the weaker or adhering party. See Graham v. Scissor-Tail, Inc., 28 Cal.3d 807, 820, 623 P.2d 165, 171 Cal. Rptr. 604, 612 (1981).

In Saenz, 226 Cal. App.3d at 758, the court barred recovery in a wrongful death action because plaintiff had signed a release expressly assuming the risk of the activity. Saenz had signed a “release and assumption of risk” agreement in order to participate in a three-day whitewater rafting trip on which he drowned. The court found that the release constituted an express assumption of risk and acted as a bar to a wrongful death action. Id. at 765.

Plaintiff argues that Saenz is distinguishable in the extent of the decedent Saenz’s knowledge of the assumed risk. He received extensive warning regarding the risk, extensive preparation, and several opportunities to avoid the particular rapids in which he drowned. [**11] n4 In contrast, David received some, less extensive explanation of the dangers of paragliding. n5 Although David did sign and initial the agreement providing that he assumed all risks, plaintiff argues that there is a question of fact as to David’s state of mind and the parties’ understanding.

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n4 He was given several safety talks on emergency procedures, lessons, explanations of how to run the particular rapid, and a number of opportunities to opt out of riding the rapid in which he drowned. 276 Cal. Rptr. at 678.

n5 William Fulton, president of defendant Sport Aviation, avers that he warned David and informed him of the dangers of paragliding before he signed the release.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Plaintiff also argues that Saenz is distinguishable in terms of the nature of the risk assumed. The Saenz court referred to the risk of drowning in treacherous rapids as “inherent in whitewater rafting and apparent to anyone.” Id. at 766. According [**12] to plaintiff, while injury or death caused by treacherous winds, improper landings, or collision with an obstacle are “apparent” risks, the risk which befell David—the simultaneous breaking of all lines connecting him to the parachute—was not apparent. The Saenz court held that defendant’s assumption of all risks, known and unknown, made knowledge of the particular risk (death by drowning) unnecessary. Id. The court need not adopt so broad a holding. A risk must be a known risk for it to be properly assumed. Prosser & Keaton, Torts, § 68 at 480-81 (5th ed. 1984).

The court is satisfied that David knowingly assumed the risk at issue. The agreement provided that David “expressly [*736] and voluntarily assume[d] all risk of death or personal injury sustained while participating in ultralight activities whether or not caused by the negligence of the released parties.” (capitalization omitted). The risk which befell David was the risk of death.

David expressly assumed this risk. Plaintiff could characterize it in many different ways, but the fact is that David assumed the risk of death. Moreover, the apparent cause of David’s fall and subsequent death—equipment failure — [**13] is an obvious risk in paragliding and other “air” sports.

B. The Agreement Does Not Affect Plaintiff’s Gross Negligence and Strict Liability Claims.

1. Plaintiff’s Negligence Claims Are Barred.

David’s assumption of risk relieves defendants from any legal duty towards him, except insofar as the law nullifies such a waiver. Plaintiff is thus barred from bringing any negligence claims against defendants.

Hawaii courts permit a waiver of negligence claims. In Krohnert v. Yacht Systems Hawaii, Inc., 4 Haw. App. 190, 198, 664 P.2d 738 (Haw. App. 1983), the court declared that absent a public interest, “a party can contract to exempt himself for harm caused by his negligence.” (citing Restatement (Second) of Contracts and Williston on Contracts). Accord, Madison v. Superior Court, 203 Cal. App.3d 589, 599, 250 Cal. Rptr. 299, 305 (Cal. App. 1988). Although Hawaii courts have not specifically addressed the issue, courts in other jurisdictions have rejected the notion that the public interest is at stake in sport- or recreational-related waivers. See Saenz, supra. [**14] Plaintiff’s claims under negligence theories are effectively barred, and defendants are entitled to summary judgment vis-a-vis these claims.

2. Plaintiff’s Gross Negligence Claims Are Unaffected.

Plaintiff alleges gross negligence on defendant’s part in misrepresenting the safety of the paraglider. This is a distinct theory of liability from negligence. Negligence is the failure to use such care as a reasonably prudent and careful person would use under similar circumstances. Gross negligence, by contrast, is a failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences. “Gross negligence involves a risk substantially greater in amount than that which is necessary to make conduct negligent.” Bunting v. United States, 884 F.2d 1143, 1147 (9th Cir. 1989). The Restatement (Second) describes the difference between gross and ordinary negligence as follows: “[Gross negligence] differs from that form of negligence which consists of mere inadvertence, incompetence, unskillfulness, or a failure to take precautions to enable the actor to cope with a possible or probable future emergency.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 cmt. g (1965). [**15]

Hawaii courts have not addressed the issue of whether a party can contract away liability for his own gross negligence. Because this is a diversity action, the court applies the substantive law of the forum state, Hawaii, and uses its best judgment in predicting how the Hawaii Supreme Court would decide this issue. See Takahashi v. Loomis Armored Car Serv., 625 F.2d 314, 316 (9th Cir. 1980). In Krohnert, 4 Haw. App. at 198, the court enunciated the principle that a party can only contract away liability for negligence in the absence of a public interest. The public interest is at stake when a party attempts to contract to exempt himself for harm caused by his gross negligence. See Stuart Rudnick, Inc. v. Jewelers Protection Servs., Ltd., 194 A.D.2d 317, 598 N.Y.S.2d 235, 236 (N.Y. App. Div. 1993); see also Saenz, 226 Cal. App.3d at 765 (“everything short of gross negligence is covered by the release . . . .”). The agreement in the instant case is therefore void against public policy to the extent that it attempts to relieve defendants of liability [**16] for their gross negligence. n6

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n6 Alternatively, the court has grounds to find that the contract is ambiguous as to gross negligence. While the release and discharge agreement is a valid contract, it is an adhesion contract, and the court will interpret it accordingly. Adhesion contracts are construed liberally in favor of the adhering party and any ambiguities are resolved against the drafting party. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fermahin, 73 Haw. 552, 556, 836 P.2d 1074 (1993) (interpreting an insurance contract) (citation omitted). The court applies this rule only if there is a true ambiguity, and not merely because the parties disagree over its interpretation. Id. at 556. “Ambiguity exists ‘only when the contract taken as a whole, is reasonably subject to differing interpretation. A court must respect the plain terms of the policy and not create ambiguity where none exists.’” Id. at 556-57 (citations omitted). The release agreement, however, addresses only negligence and not gross negligence. The court will construe this as not barring a claim in gross negligence.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**17]

[*737] 3. Plaintiff’s Strict Liability Claims.

The remaining question is whether the waiver of plaintiff’s strict products liability claims is effective. This is also an issue of first impression in Hawaii. See Takahashi v. Loomis Armored Car Serv., 625 F.2d at 316.

In Madison, 203 Cal. App.3d at 596, the California court of appeals held that the waiver constituted a “complete defense” to any claims in plaintiff’s actions. Accord, Saenz, 226 Cal. App.3d at 763. Neither court addressed the issue of strict products liability claims. More recently, however, a California appellate court held that an agreement relieving a product supplier from strict products liability is void. In Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc., 17 Cal. App. 4th 1715, 22 Cal. Rptr.2d 781 (Cal. App. 1993), the court held that a release agreement did not bar plaintiff who suffered skiing injuries from suing under a strict products liability theory in tort:

there is a strong policy against allowing product suppliers to disclaim liability for injuries caused [**18] by defects in products they place on the market. To allow product suppliers to achieve this prohibited result merely by substituting assumption of risk language for disclaimer language would too easily allow circumvention of these policies. In effect, such an agreement is nothing more than a disclaimer. Id. at 17-18.

The court rejected defendants’ argument that the express assumption of risk was good against the whole world. Id. at 1716 (“we have not discovered any authority for this proposition. The doctrine of express assumption is founded on express agreement.”). Westlye is well reasoned and solidly grounded in relevant policy considerations. The essence of the doctrine of strict liability, as enunciated by Justice Traynor in Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co., 24 Cal.2d 453, 461, 150 P.2d 436 (1944) (Traynor, J., concurring), is that a manufacturer who places a product on the market should be absolutely liable if it knows that the product will be used without inspection and is shown to have an injury-causing defect. See also Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., 59 Cal.2d 57, 62, 377 P.2d 897, 27 Cal. Rptr. 697 (1963) [**19] (applying the doctrine of strict liability as formulated by Traynor in Escola). The doctrine of strict liability is based not only on the public policy of discouraging the marketing and distribution of defective products, but also on the reasoning that a manufacturer is in a far better position than individual consumers to insure against the risk of injury and to distribute costs among consumers.

The court sees no reason to permit defendants to insulate themselves from strict liability by means of a release when they could not do so otherwise.

Insofar as the agreement signed by David attempts to relieve product suppliers of their responsibility for injuries caused by defective products, it is squarely at odds with the strict products liability doctrine. The very reason for the growth of products liability law was a perceived need to protect consumers from defective products and from attempts by product suppliers to disclaim responsibility for such defects by way of contractual provisions. See Seely v. White Motor Co., 63 Cal.2d 9, 16-17, 403 P.2d 145, 45 Cal. Rptr. 17 (1965); Vandermark v. Ford Motor Co., 61 Cal.2d 256, 391 P.2d 168, 37 Cal. Rptr. 896 (1964) [**20] (“since [the dealer] is strictly liable in tort, the fact that it restricted its contractual liability to [plaintiff] is immaterial.”); Greenman, 59 Cal.2d at 57, 377 P.2d at 897. With respect to claims for strict liability, David’s waiver is thus void as against public policy.

Hawaii courts have recognized that lessors of products who are in the business of leasing are subject to strict products liability. Stewart [*738] v. Budget Rent-A-Car Corp., 52 Haw. 71, 75, 470 P.2d 240 (1970). Accord, Price v. Shell Oil Co., 2 Cal.3d 245, 250, 466 P.2d 722, 725, 85 Cal. Rptr. 178, 181 (1970). Plaintiff’s claims in strict liability against Kualoa Ranch and Sport Aviation are not precluded by the release agreement.

C. The Agreement Is Not Ambiguous.

Plaintiff claims that the agreement is ambiguous because it includes the following paragraph:

6. It is understood that the purchase of this waiver does not constitute a contract of insurance but only a waiver of the contractual defenses that would otherwise be available to the Released Parties.

[**21]

Plaintiff claims that this paragraph indicates that David was purchasing a waiver of the contractual defenses available to defendants, and that the agreement itself would constitute a defense which is being waived. She argues that it is thus ambiguous as to whether such defenses are being waived.

Plaintiff points out correctly that courts regard attempts to contract away tort liability with skepticism, Gardner v. Downtown Porsche Audi, 180 Cal. App.3d 713, 716, 225 Cal. Rptr. 757 (Cal. App. 1986), and that an attempt to do so must be “clear, explicit, and comprehensible in each of its details.” Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd., 147 Cal. App.3d 309, 319, 195 Cal. Rptr. 90 (Cal. App. 1983). The court will resolve ambiguities in such contracts against the drafting party. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fermahin, 73 Haw. 552, 556, 836 P.2d 1074 (1992) (interpreting an insurance contract) (citation omitted).

Before an exculpatory clause may be enforced against a party, it must be established that he clearly and unequivocally [**22] agreed to the disclaimer with knowledge of its contents. Krohnert, 4 Haw. App. at 200, 664 P.2d at 744 (citations omitted). The court, however, only applies this rule in the event of a true ambiguity, and not merely because of a confusing passage. “Ambiguity exists ‘only when the contract taken as a whole, is reasonably subject to differing interpretation. A court must respect the plain terms of the policy and not create ambiguity where none exists.’” Id. at 556-57 (citations omitted). In this case, the contract, taken as a whole is unambiguous.

D. There Is No Genuine Issue of Material Fact as to Whether the Decedent Agreed to the Release with Knowledge of Its Contents.

Plaintiff contends that it is unclear whether David signed the agreement with clear and unequivocal knowledge of its terms. David is dead and thus unavailable to testify.

Defendants have come forward, however, with the affidavit of William Fulton, president of Sport Aviation, averring that he explained and warned David of the dangers at length before David signed the agreement. Moreover, there is no dispute that David signed the agreement and initialed it at the [**23] title and each paragraph. Plaintiff has not come forward with any evidence contradicting the Fulton affidavit and the signed agreement. There thus appears to be no genuine issue of material fact as to whether David signed the agreement with knowledge of its terms and of the dangers involved in paragliding.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons given, the court GRANTS plaintiff’s motion to dismiss non-diverse parties and DENIES defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff has already settled with Sport Kites, Inc., dba Wills Wing and Rob Kells, the non-diverse defendants, and Sport Kites is not indispensable within the meaning of Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. n7

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n7 The court understands that the remaining defendants will seek to prosecute a third-party complaint against Sport Kites as designers and manufacturers of the equipment. In the event that a third-party complaint may not be prosecuted, Sport Kites may still be included as non-parties on the special jury forms for assessment of its share of liability under Hawaii’s comparative negligence framework.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [**24]

For the reasons given, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part defendants ‘ [*739] motion for summary judgment. The release and discharge agreement signed by David Wheelock is valid and enforceable, and a plain reading of the agreement indicates that David expressly assumed the risk of death—the risk which befell him—and waived his right to any negligence claims against defendant. Plaintiff’s negligence claims are barred on this basis. The release and discharge is void, however, as it applies to plaintiff’s claims for gross negligence and strict liability, because the assumption of risk is ineffective vis-a-vis these claims.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: Honolulu, Hawaii, December 1, 1993

Harold M. Fong

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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