Marino v. Morrison, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2016 NY Slip Op 31876(U

Marino v. Morrison, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 10971, 2016 NY Slip Op 31876(U

Michael Marino, an infant under the age of 18, by his Mother and Natural Guardian, Elena Marino, and Elena Marino, Individually, Plaintiffs,

v.

Richard Morrison, Jr, Carmela Morrison and Richard Bedrosian, Defendants.

No. 2016-31876

Index No. 10-11831

CAL. No. 15-00738OT

Supreme Court, Suffolk County

September 8, 2016

Unpublished Opinion

MOTION DATE 9-15-15

ADJ. DATE 3-1-16

SURIS & ASSOCIATES, P.C. Attorney for Plaintiffs.

JOHN T. McCARRON, PC Attorney for Defendant C. Morrison.

PENINO & MOYNIHAN, LLP Attorney for Defendant Bedrosian.

PRESENT: Hon. PETER H. MAYER, Justice

PETER H. MAYER, J.S.C.

Upon the reading and filing of the following papers in this matter: (1) Notice of Motion/Order to Show Cause by defendant Carmela Morrison, dated August 19, 2015, and supporting papers; (2) Notice of Cross Motion by defendant Richard Bedrosian, dated August 19, 2015, and supporting papers; (3) Affirmation in Opposition by plaintiffs, dated December 1, 2015, and supporting papers; (4) Reply Affirmations by defendants, dated February 28, 2016 and January 4, 2016, and supporting papers; (and after hearing counsels’ oral arguments in support of and opposed to the motion); and now

UPON DUE DELIBERATION AND CONSIDERATION BY THE COURT of the foregoing papers, the motion is decided as follows: it is

ORDERED that the motion (seq. 001) by defendant Carmela Morrison and the motion (seq, 002) by defendant Richard Bedrosian are consolidated for purposes of this determination; and it is

ORDERED that the motion by defendant Carmela Morrison for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against her is granted; and it is further

ORDERED that the motion by defendant Richard Bedrosian for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against him is granted.

This action was commenced by plaintiff to recover damages for injuries infant plaintiff Michael Marino allegedly sustained as a result of an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on July 28. 2009. The complaint alleges that Mr. Marino was a passenger on the rear seat of the ATV, that he was caused to be ejected from the ATV, and that the accident took place on property located behind the address known as 29 Buckingham Drive, Dix Hills, New York. Elena Marino individually asserts a derivative claim for loss of love, services, companionship, and household support. Defendant Richard Bedrosian asserts cross claims against defendant Richard Morrison, Jr., who has tailed to appear in this action.

Defendant Carmela Morrison now moves for summary judgment in her favor on the grounds that she is exempt from liability pursuant to General Obligations Law §9-103. that Mr. Marino assumed the risk inherent in the activity, and that plaintiffs lack knowledge as to the location of the alleged accident or the manner in which it occurred. In support of her motion, Ms. Morrison submits copies of the pleadings and transcripts of the deposition testimony of Michael Marino, Richard Bedrosian, and herself.

Defendant Richard Bedrosian also moves for summary judgment in his favor on the grounds that he is exempt from liability pursuant to General Obligations Law § 9-103, plaintiffs lack knowledge as to the location of the alleged accident or die maimer in which it occurred, and he had no knowledge that Mr. Marino was present on his property, and Mr. Marino assumed the risk inherent in the activity. In support of his motion, he submits copies of the pleadings and transcripts of the deposition testimony of himself and Michael Marino.

At his deposition, infant plaintiff Michael Marino testified that, on the date in question, he was 15 years old and was spending time at the house of his school friend, Richie Morrison. Mr. Marino indicated that Mr. Morrison’s father purchased an ATV for Mr. Morrison “a few years” prior, which was parked on the premises next to a shed. Mr. Marino explained that he, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Morrison’s cousin were waiting for a few friends to arrive at Morrison’s house. Mr. Marino testified that at some point, after it had gotten dark outside and when Mr. Morrison’s parents were not home, Mr. Morrison and his cousin began drinking liquor they had stolen from Mr. Morrison’s parents’ liquor cabinet, Mr. Marino explained that the young men had been playing video games in Mr. Morrison’s basement for a number of hours, but eventually went into the backyard, at which time Mr. Morrison and Mr. Morrison’s cousin began driving the ATV in question around the backyard of the premises. Mr. Marino, upon being offered a ride on the ATV, stated that he climbed aboard and sat behind Mr. Morrison and that neither one of them wore a helmet. Mr. Marino testified that after he sat down on the ATV, Mr. Morrison began driving it on the premises and the next thing he remembers is waking up in a basement with people “picking branches out of [his] head.” He stated that although they started out riding the ATV in Mr. Morrison’s backyard, due to his losing consciousness he is unable to identify exactly where the accident took place. Mr. Marino testified that he later came to learn from “mutual friends” that the accident occurred due to the ATV’s brakes failing, the ATV hitting something, and he and Mr. Morrison being thrown off the ATV. Mr. Marino further testified that he was later informed by his friend, Peter Frisina, that he, too, was injured in a similar way on that same ATV.

Regarding his experience with ATVs. Mr. Marino testified that his father owned one and he had both driven it and been a passenger on it “since [he] was young, ” Mr. Marino stated that neither Carmela Morrison nor Richard Bedrosian ever gave him permission to ride on Mr. Morrison’s ATV, and that neither parent was aware of any alcohol consumption by the young men.

At her deposition, Carmela Morrison testified that her partner, Richard Bedrosian, owns the subject premises. She further testified that she was not home at the time of the alleged ATV accident, but was told by various parties that, contrary to plaintiffs’ allegations, Mr. Marino had been the driver of the ATV and that her son was the rear passenger. Ms. Morrison indicated that she had taken her son and Mr. Marino to the beach earlier in the day with Mr. Marino’s mother’s permission. She stated that at approximately 6:00 p.m., after they all had returned to the subject premises, she left the house in order to attend a networking event. She explained that she asked Mr, Marino if his mother was coming to pick him up and he said “yes.” She informed him that he was welcome to stay to eat some pizza that she had recently ordered. She testified that she then left the young men at the premises with Mr. Morrison’s 20-year-old sister, Kristina, who was preparing to go out and was not present at the time of the accident. Carmela Morrison indicated that at approximately 8:00 p.m. she received a call saying that there had been an accident at the premises and she went home immediately. When asked whether her son obtained permission from her to use the ATV on the date in question, she replied “[a]bsolutely not.” Regarding prior accidents involving the ATV, Ms. Morrison testified that a few months prior to the date in question, Mr. Morrison’s friend, Peter, was driving it, fell off of it, and sustained scratch to his face. She further testified that after Peter’s fall, she “took the key and gave it to Bedrosian and said T don’t want this ATV used at alt.'”

At his deposition, Richard Bedrosian testified that he is the owner of the subject premises, but does not know exactly where the accident in question occurred, although he was told by his girlfriend, Carmela Morrison, that it happened “off property, ” on state land behind his backyard. He stated that his property is approximately 1.9 acres in size, completely fenced, with the backyard consuming % of that land. Of that backyard, he explained, Vi of it is ungroomed woods. Regarding the ATV in question, Mr. Bedrosian testified that it was a Christmas gift from Mr. Morrison’s biological father, defendant Richard Morrison, Jr., to Mr. Morrison, which he received approximately seven months before the accident. Mr. Bedrosian testified that he strongly disapproved of the ATV being on his property, but was told by Mr. Morrison’s father that he had no place to store it. Mr. Bedrosian indicated that Mr. Morrison would occasionally drive it around the backyard in circles or into the wooded area, but that Mr. Morrison’s father promised Mr. Bedrosian that he would take Mr. Morrison to off-premises locations to ride it and, based on that proviso, Mr. Bedrosian allowed the ATV to be stored on his property. Mr. Bedrosian testified that Mr. Morrison was forbidden from operating it if he or Carmela Morrison were not home.

Regarding the date in question, Mr. Bedrosian testified that he was told by Carmela Morrison, Mr. Morrison, and Tony Yacende that Mr. Marino was the driver of the ATV at the time and that Mr. Morrison was the passenger. Also, Mr. Bedrosian explained that no one was permitted to operate the ATV on the date in question because he had taken its only key and put it in a desk in his home office- a location that was “off limits to everybody.”

A party moving for summary judgment must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact (Nomura Asset Capital Corp. v Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, 26 NY3d 40, 19 N.Y.S.3d 488 [2015]; Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 [1986]). If the moving party produces the requisite evidence, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action (Nomura, supra; see also Vega v Restani Constr. Corp., 18 N.Y.3d 499, 942 N.Y.S.2d 13 [2012]). Mere conclusions or unsubstantiated allegations are insufficient to raise a triable issue (Daliendo v Johnson, 147 A.D.2d 312, 543 N.Y.S.2d 987 [2d Dept 1989]). In deciding the motion, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party (Nomura, supra; see also Ortiz v. Varsity Holdings, LLC, 18 N.Y.3d 335, 339, 937 N.Y.S.2d 157 [2011]).

It is axiomatic that for a plaintiff to recover against a defendant in a negligence action, plaintiff must prove defendant owed plaintiff a duty and that the breach of that duty resulted in the injuries sustained by plaintiff (see Lugo v Brentwood Union Free School Dist, 212 A.D.2d 582, 622 N.Y.S.2d 553 [2d Dept 1995]; Kimbar v.Estis, 1 N.Y.2d 399, 153 N.Y.S.2d 197 [1956]).

“The doctrine of primary assumption of risk provides that a voluntary participant in a sporting or recreational activity consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of die sport generally and flow from such participation” (Shivers v Elwood Union Free Sch. Dist, 109 A.D.3d 977, 978 [2d Dept 2013] [internal quotation omitted]; see Trupia v Lake George Cent. School Dist, 14 N.Y.3d 392, 901 N.Y.S.2d 127 [2010]; Morgan v State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 [1997]). “A plaintiff is barred from recovery for injuries which occur during voluntary sporting or recreational activities if it is determined that he or she assumed the risk as a matter of law” (id at 978; see Leslie v. Splish Splash at Adventureland, 1 A.D.3d 320, 766 N.Y.S.2d 599 [2d Dept 2003]; Morgan v State of New York, supra). “It is not necessary to the application of the doctrine that the injured plaintiff should have foreseen the exact manner in which the injury occurred so long as he or she is aware of the potential for injury of the mechanism from which the injury results” (Cruz v Longwood Cent Sch. Dist., 110 A.D.3d 757, 758, 973 N.Y.S.2d 260 [2d Dept 2013] [internal quotation omitted]).

“There is … a duty by a parent to protect third parties from harm resulting from [his or her] infant child’s improvident use of a dangerous instrument, at least, and perhaps especially, when the parent is aware of and capable of controlling its use” (Nolechek vGesuale, 46 N.Y.2d 332, 336, 413 N.Y.S.2d 340 [1978]), “Parents are permitted to delegate to their children the decision to participate in dangerous activities, but they are not absolved from liability for harm incurred by third parties when the parents as adults unreasonably, with respect to such third parties, permit their children to use dangerous instruments” (id. at 339). “In order for a third-party claim of this kind against a parent or guardian . . . negligence must be alleged and pleaded with some reasonable specificity, beyond mere generalities” (LaTorre v Genesee Mgmt, 90 N.Y.2d 576, 584, 665 N.Y.S.2d 1 [1997]).

Defendants Carmela Morrison and Richard Bedrosian, both relying on nearly identical arguments in support of their motions, have established a prima facie case of entitlement to summary judgment by offering sufficient proof that Mr. Marino voluntarily assumed die risks inherent in riding an ATV (see Shivers v Elwood Union Free Sch. Dist., supra; see generally Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., supra). Moving defendants proved that Mr. Marino voluntarily boarded the ATV, either as a driver or a passenger, having possessed significant prior experience with such machines. Further, there is nothing in the record indicating that Mr. Marino did not have full awareness of Mr. Morrison’s consumption of alcohol, if true, the weather and lighting conditions, and the landscaping of the backyard prior to riding on the ATV. Even if the Court were to assume, for the purposes of this decision, that Mr. Morrison’s consumption of alcohol, or some other factor, exceeded the level of risk Mr. Marino can be said to have assumed, plaintiffs have not proven the manner in which Mr. Marino allegedly sustained his injuries or even that Mr. Marino’s injuries were sustained on Mr. Bedrosian’s property. Accordingly, moving defendants, having established their entitlement to summary judgment on the ground of Mr. Marino’s primary assumption of the risk, the Court need not reach defendants’ other arguments.

Defendant having established a prima facie case entitlement to summary judgment, the burden shifted to plaintiff to raise an issue of fact necessitating a trial (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., supra). Plaintiffs argue that: (1) General Obligations Law § 9-103 does not apply to the facts of this case; (2) that enhanced risks were present at the time of Mr. Marino’s alleged injury, which he cannot be expected to assume; and (3) defendants owed a duty of care to Mr. Marino and failed to supervise him properly. In opposition, plaintiffs submit a copy of the Bill of Particulars and Michael Marino’s own affidavit.

Generally, “a plaintiff who suffers from amnesia as the result of the defendant’s conduct is not held to as high a degree of proof in establishing [his or her] right to recover for [his or her] injuries as a plaintiff who can describe the events in question” (Menekou v Crean, 222 A.D.2d 418, 419, 634 N.Y.S.2d 532 [2d Dept 1995]; Sawyer v Dreis & Krump Mfg. Co., 67 N.Y.2d 328, 502 N.Y.S.2d 696 [1986]; Santiago v Quattrociocchi, 91 A.D.3d 747, 937 N.Y.S.2d 119 [2d Dept 2012]). However, in order to invoke that lower burden of proof, plaintiff must not only make a prima facie case, but must also submit an expert’s affidavit demonstrating the amnesia through clear and convincing evidence (Menekou v Crean, supra). Plaintiffs have failed to meet that burden here. Therefore, plaintiffs’ attempts to raise triable issues will be evaluated in the usual manner (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., supra).

As Richie Morrison, Tony Yacende, and Peter Frisina have not been deposed, the Court must decide this matter solely on the three deposition transcripts and single affidavit submitted by the parties herein. The undisputed facts can be summarized as follows: (I) Mr. Bedrosian owned the subject premises, but was unaware of Mr. Marino’s presence there at the time of the incident; (2) Mr. Marino, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Yacende were unsupervised for a period of time on the evening in question; (3) Mr. Marino voluntarily rode on an ATV while not wearing protective equipment; (4) Mr. Marino was knocked unconscious at some point in the evening and awoke in a basement surrounded by friends and his father; (5) Mr. Marino was transported to the hospital via ambulance; (6) Peter Frisina sustained an injury while riding the subject ATV on an occasion prior to plaintiffs alleged injuries; and (7) Ms. Morrison and Mr. Bedrosian took the keys for the ATV away from Mr. Morrison and forbade Mr, Morrison using the ATV after Peter Frisina’s injury.

Here, plaintiffs rely almost entirely on hearsay not subject to any exception, in an attempt to raise triable issues. Any reference by plaintiffs’ counsel to “defective” brakes is unfounded and speculative (see Daliendo v Johnson, supra). Further, plaintiffs have failed to provide any proof as to the mechanism of Mr. Marino’s alleged injury (see Passaro v Bouquio, 79 A.D.3d 1114, 914 N.Y.S.2d 905 [2d Dept 2010]}. Based upon the admissible, non-hearsay evidence submitted, it is just as likely that Mr. Marino jumped from the moving ATV; took an uneventful ride on the ATV, then attempted to climb a tree and fell to the ground; or was hit in the head by some unknown object, causing him to become unconscious, as it is that the ATV crashed and he was thrown from it. Furthermore, the “dangerous instrument” exception is inapplicable here, as plaintiffs have not submitted evidence that movants gave Mr. Morrison permission to use the ATV or supplied him with access to it (see Nolechek v Gesuale, supra). Instead, uncontroverted evidence has been submitted that movants took affirmative steps to deny use of the ATV to Richie Morrison.

Accordingly, the motions by defendants Carmela Morrison and Richard Bedrosian for summary judgment in their favor dismissing the complaint against them is granted.


Get check boxes and initials out of your release!

If the defendants release did not have a catch all phrase at the bottom of the document the release would be invalid because an initial had not been signed by the plaintiff.

Scott-Moncrieff v. Lost Trails, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146936 *; 2018 WL 4110742

State: Pennsylvania: United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Patrice Scott-Moncrieff

Defendant: The Lost Trails, LLC, et al

Plaintiff Claims: Plaintiff argues that Plaintiff did not sign a waiver on the date of the accident, and therefore did not waive any liability or assume any risk; that she was rushed and unable to read the original waiver in its entirety; that the waiver is unenforceable as not properly conspicuous; and finally, that because the earlier waiver signed by Plaintiff was “for all time thereafter” it should not be enforced.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

The plaintiff did not initial one of the initial boxes on the release she signed. This gave the plaintiff enough of an argument to make an appellate argument. But for a final paragraph that covered the uninitialed box language this release would have failed.

Facts

On October 20, 2013, Plaintiff visited Defendant’s ATV facility for the first time and, prior to using the facility, executed a waiver of liability. Plaintiff did not read the waiver in its entirety prior to signing it, and claims she was rushed during the process. On June 22, 2014, Plaintiff returned to the facility, at which time she alleged suffered injuries when she was thrown from the ATV she was riding.

Plaintiff initialed all of the above provisions. She did not initial paragraph 10 on the next page, however, which states as follows:

l0. Having had ample time and opportunity to raise any concerns or questions that I may have, and having read and understood the information, I certify my acceptance of the aforementioned provisions by signing below.

I am in good health and physical condition. I am voluntarily participating with knowledge that dangers are involved and agree to assume all risks. I also understand that if I am injured or become ill, I agree that Lost Trails LLC, or any of its employees, volunteers or guests will not be held liable should they render medical assistance to me or my minor child.

Despite not specifically initialing paragraph 10, Plaintiff did sign the agreement, indicating her acceptance and understanding of the exculpatory clauses.

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

The court first reviewed the validity of releases under Pennsylvania law. Pennsylvania has a three-part test to determine if releases are valid.

An exculpatory clause is valid if the following conditions are met: 1) the clause does not contravene public policy; 2) the contract is between parties relating entirely to their own private affairs; and 3) the contract is not one of adhesion. A valid exculpatory clause is only enforceable if “the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.”. A waiver of liability violates public policy only if it involves “a matter of interest to the public or the state. Such matters of interest to the public or the state include the employer-employee relationship, public service, public utilities, common carriers, and hospitals.” The exculpatory clause at issue in this case does not contravene public policy because it does not affect a matter of interest to the public or the state.

The three requirements all evolve around the public policy argument. It is against public policy to have someone sign a release for a necessity, where the bargaining power is not equal or if the contract is so nasty it should not be signed by anyone. A release, a contract, to ride an ATV is valid because it is not a necessity, it is between parties of equal bargaining power and it is voluntary.

The contract meets the third prong of the Topp Copy validity standard because it is not a contract of adhesion. Agreements to participate in “voluntary sporting or recreational activities” are not contracts of adhesion because “[t]he signer is a free agent who can simply walk away without signing the release and participating in the activity, and thus the contract signed under such circumstances is not unconscionable.” “The signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.”

If the release passes the first three tests, it still must be scrutinized by the court to determine if it clearly relieves the defendant of liability. If the language of the agreement sets forth the requirements necessary for the plaintiff to understand she is liable for her injuries.

Even if an exculpatory clause is facially valid, it is enforceable only if it clearly relieves a party of liability for its own negligence. The following standards guide a court’s determination of the enforceability of an exculpatory clause:

1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.

If the release, or any contract under Pennsylvania law meets those tests it is finally reviewed to determine if both parties clearly understood the intent of the agreement. In the case of a release, both parties must understand that the possible plaintiff is giving up his or her right to sue the possible defendant.

Further, the language of the waiver is clear. In interpreting the language of a contract, courts attempt to ascertain the intent of the parties and give it effect. When a writing is clear and unequivocal, its meaning must be determined by its contents alone. “[I]t is not the function of this Court to re-write it, or to give it a construction in conflict with … the accepted and plain meaning of the language used.” Here, the language of the waiver form is unequivocal in stating the intent that it is binding for all time thereafter.

In this case, the court found the release passed all of the tests.

As such, the Court finds that the October 2013 waiver executed by Plaintiff was in effect during her June 2014 visit to Defendant’s property.1

Once the release was found to be valid the next issue was whether or not the plaintiff had signed the release. The plaintiff argued because she had not initialed an initial box, had not read the release in its entirety

One who is about to sign a contract has a duty to read that contract first.” In the absence of fraud, the failure to read a contract before signing it is “an unavailing excuse or defense and cannot justify an avoidance, modification or nullification of the contract.” (Under Pennsylvania law, the failure to read a contract does not nullify the contract’s validity.)

The court did look at situations were the release was enforceable even if the plaintiff did not read the release or could not read the release.

…(written release found to be enforceable even when the agreement was in English but the plaintiff only read and spoke Spanish, noting that the “[p]laintiff cannot argue that the release language was inconspicuous or somehow hidden from his attention…. Nor did Defendant have an obligation to verify that [p]laintiff had read and fully understood the terms of the document before he signed his name to it.”). In this case, there is no allegation or evidence of fraud, and as such, Plaintiff’s argument is without merit.

The plaintiff argued the release was unenforceable because it was inconspicuous. However, the argument seemed to be based on case law that found waivers to be void then the real facts of this case.

The waiver form in this case was two pages in length, and initialed and signed by Plaintiff. It was not, like the waiver in Beck-Hummel, printed in small font on the back of a tubing ticket. This was a waiver that was reviewed, initialed and signed by Plaintiff. As such, the requirements of conspicuity set forth in Beck-Hummel would not necessarily apply.

The saving language of the release that covered the un-initialed section 10 was. Even though paragraph 10 was not initialed, the heading clearly stated what the document was and the intentions of the parties. The language that covered the un-initialed paragraph 10 was:

I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE OF LIABILITY, WAIVER OF LEGAL RIGHTS AND ASSUMPTIONS OF RISK AND FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS CONTENTS. I SIGN IT WILLINGLY, VOLUNTARILY AND HAVING HAD AMPLE OPPORTUNITY TO RAISE ANY QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS THAT I MAY HAVE, I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I AM PARTICIPATING VOLUNTARILY WITH KNOWLEDGE THAT DANGERS ARE INVOLVED AND I AGREE TO ASSUME ALL THE RISKS.

The court found that the entire agreement was covered by this saving language above. So, the failure to initial one paragraph was not enough to void the release.

The court summarized its reasoning for finding the release valid and upholding the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims because of the release.

These clauses are conspicuously set apart, appearing in capital letters, and in the case of the final paragraph, fully set apart, in all bold and all capitals. Further, the agreement itself is titled “Waiver Form” which notifies the reader of the purpose of the form. Plaintiff initialed the paragraphs setting forth the exculpatory clauses,2 and signed the agreement directly underneath the final, most prominent waiver clause. As such, the Court finds that the exculpatory clauses are valid and enforceable.

So Now What?

But for language at the bottom of the release which the court found to cover for the language that was not initialed the release would have failed. It is important to note; the court analysis stated the language that was not initialed was not part of the release.

If you have initial boxes, initials, etc., and one box is not initialed, in Pennsylvania that paragraph that is not initialed or initialed is invalid. Dependent upon the language, your release maybe void, if you don’t have the boxes checked or initialed.

Why use them anyway. Here the court explains why they are unnecessary, the language at the bottom of your release should tie everything together. Once you sign you acknowledge that you have read and understood the entire document. The checkboxes or initials can only hurt you in a release, not help you.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Scott-Moncrieff v. Lost Trails, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146936 *; 2018 WL 4110742

Scott-Moncrieff v. Lost Trails, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146936 *; 2018 WL 4110742

Scott-Moncrieff v. Lost Trails, LLC

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

August 29, 2018, Decided; August 29, 2018, Filed

CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:16-CV-1105

Reporter

2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146936 *; 2018 WL 4110742

PATRICE SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, Plaintiff v. THE LOST TRAILS, LLC, et al, Defendants

Subsequent History: Appeal filed, 09/13/2018

Core Terms

exculpatory clause, parties, enforceable, material fact, summary judgment, conspicuity, activities, minor child, initialed, non-moving, Trails, signing, Sports, waiver form, font, summary judgment motion, recreational activity, assumption of risk, intent of a party, genuine issue, legal right, requirements, membership, adhesion, rushed, ticket, ride, gym

Counsel: [*1] For Patrice Scott-Moncrieff, Plaintiff: James W. Sutton, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF VIASAC & SHMARUK, FEASTERVILLE, PA.

For The Lost Trails, LLC, d/b/a Lost Trails ATV Adventures, Defendant, Cross Claimant, Cross Defendant: John T. McGrath, Jr., Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Scranton, PA; Michael J. Connolly, Moosic, PA.

Judges: KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, United States Magistrate Judge.

Opinion by: KAROLINE MEHALCHICK

Opinion

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant, The Lost Trails, LLC (“Lost Trails”) in this matter. The motion (Doc. 50) was filed on November 14, 2017, together with a brief in support (Doc. 52), and Statement of Facts (Doc. 53). Plaintiff, Patrice Scott-Moncrieff, filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 54) on November 28, 2017, a reply brief (Doc. 55) was filed on December 6, 2017, and a sur reply brief (Doc. 62) was filed on January 17, 2018. This motion is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

The factual background is taken from Defendant’s Statements of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 53). Where the parties dispute certain facts, [*2] those disputes are noted. In addition, the facts have been taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the non-moving party, with all reasonable inferences drawn in her favor. This is in accordance with the Local Rules of this Court, which state, in pertinent part, as follows:

LR 56.1 Motions for Summary Judgment.

A motion for summary judgment filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.56, shall be accompanied by a separate, short and concise statement of the material facts, in numbered paragraphs, as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried.

The papers opposing a motion for summary judgment shall include a separate, short and concise statement of the material facts, responding to the numbered paragraphs set forth in the statement required in the foregoing paragraph, as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried.

Statements of material facts in support of, or in opposition to, a motion shall include references to the parts of the record that support the statements.

All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement required to be served by the opposing [*3] party.

Local Rule 56.1 (emphasis added).

To comply with Local Rule 56.1, Plaintiff should (1) clearly and unequivocally admit or deny whether each fact contained in Defendant’s statement of facts is undisputed and/or material, (2) set forth the basis for any denial if any fact is not admitted in its entirety, and (3) provide a citation to the record that supports any such denial. Occhipinti v. Bauer, No. 3:13-CV-1875, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136082, 2016 WL 5844327, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2016); Park v. Veasie, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50682, 2011 WL 1831708, *4 (M.D. Pa. 2011). As such, where Plaintiff disputes a fact set forth by Defendant, but fails to provide a citation to the record supporting their denial, that fact will be deemed to be admitted. “Unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions” are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Schaar v. Lehigh Valley Health Servs., Inc., 732 F.Supp.2d 490, 493 (E.D.Pa. 2010). In this matter, Plaintiff, though including a statement of fact in her brief in opposition to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 54), does not comply with the local rules and submit a separate statement of material facts in opposition to Defendant’s statement of material facts. Notably, despite being given the opportunity to file a sur-reply brief in this matter, after Defendant raises the issue of Plaintiff’s failure to file a statement of facts in its Reply Brief (Doc. 55), Plaintiff still [*4] did not file a separate statement of fact. As such, the facts set forth in Defendant’s statement of material facts will be deemed admitted.

On October 20, 2013, Plaintiff visited Defendant’s ATV facility for the first time and, prior to using the facility, executed a waiver of liability. (Doc. 50-2, at 4-5; DOC. 53, AT ¶¶ 5, 9). Plaintiff did not read the waiver in its entirety prior to signing it, and claims she was rushed during the process. (Doc. 53, at ¶ 7; Doc. 50-2, at 71). On June 22, 2014, Plaintiff returned to the facility, at which time she alleged suffered injuries when she was thrown from the ATV she was riding. (Doc. 1).

The release from liability signed by Plaintiff on October 20, 2013 reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

In consideration for the opportunity for event participation and utilization of general admission, all facilities, equipment and premises of Lost Trails, LLC (LT), North American Warhorse Inc, (NAW) Theta Land Corp. (TLC), 1000 Dunham Drive LLC (DD), and their respective affiliates, members, agents, employees, heirs and assigns and other associates in furtherance of the sport of Off-Road Riding, racing and any other activities, scheduled or unscheduled, [*5] (hereinafter collectively called “Off-Roading.”) This Waiver shall commence on the date first signed and shall remain binding for all time thereafter.

By signing this document, I hereby understand and agree for me and/or my minor child to this Release of Liability, Wavier of Legal rights and Assumption of Risk and to the terms hereof as follows:


2. I hereby RELEASE AND DISCHARGE LT, NAW, TLC, DD and all related parties, event volunteers, company officers, directors, elected officials, agents, employees, and owners of equipment, the land used for Off-Roading activities and any owners of adjourning lands to the premises (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Released parties”) from any and all liability claims, demands or causes of action that I, my minor child or my representatives and my heirs may hereafter have for injuries, loss of life, and all other forms of damages arising out of my voluntary participation in Off-Roading activities.

3. I understand and acknowledge that Off-Road riding and racing 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 [*6] OR OTHER FORMS OF DAMAGES SUSTAINED WHILE PARTICIPATING IN OFF-ROADING ACTIVITIES WHETHER OR NOT CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASE PARTIES.

4. I further agree that I WILL NOT SUE OR OTHERWISE MAKE A CLAIM on behalf of me and/or on behalf of my minor child, against the Released Parties for damages or other losses sustained as a result of my participation in Off-Roading activities.

5. I also agree to INDEMNIFY AND HOLD THE RELEASED PARTIES HARMLESS from all claims, judgments and costs, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in the connection with any action brought against them, jointly or severally, as a result of my or my minor child’s participation in “Off-Roading” activities.

6. I take full responsibility for, and hold harmless Released Parties for any injury, property damage, or death that I or my minor child may suffer or inflict upon others .or their property as a result of my engaging in Off-Roading activities.

7. I further represent that I am at least 18 years of age, or that as the parent or (adult) legal guardian, I waive and release any and all legal rights that may accrue to me, to my minor child or to the minor child for whom I am (adult) legal guardian, as the result of [*7] any injury or damage that my minor child, the minor child for whom I am (adult) legal guardian, or I may suffer while engaging in Off-Roading activities.

8. I hereby expressly recognize that this Release of Liability, Waiver of Legal Rights and Assumption of Risks is a contract pursuant to which I have released any and all claims against the Released Parties resulting from participation in Off-Roading activities including any claims related to the negligence of the Released Parties by any of the undersigned.

9. I further expressly agree that the foregoing Release of Liability, Waiver of Legal Rights and Assumption of Risks is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by law of the province or state in which services, materials and/or equipment are provided and the course of business is conducted, and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full legal force and effect. I agree that, should any claim or action arise from my participation as described herein, including any issue as to the applicability of this Release or any provision contained within it, proper Jurisdiction and Venue will lie only in Monroe [*8] County, Pennsylvania and I waive Jurisdiction and Venue anywhere else.

(Doc. 54-1, at 20-21).

Plaintiff initialed all of the above provisions. She did not initial paragraph 10 on the next page, however, which states as follows:

l0. Having had ample time and opportunity to raise any concerns or questions that I may have, and having read and understood the information, I certify my acceptance of the aforementioned provisions by signing below.

I am in good health and physical condition. I am voluntarily participating with knowledge that dangers are involved and agree to assume all risks. I also understand that if I am injured or become ill, I agree that Lost Trails LLC, or any of its employees, volunteers or guests will not be held liable should they render medical assistance to me or my minor child.

(Doc. 54-1, at 21).

Despite not specifically initialing paragraph 10, Plaintiff did sign the agreement, indicating her acceptance and understanding of the exculpatory clauses. (Doc. 54-1).

II. Legal Standard

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is “material” only [*9] if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all inferences “should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party’s evidence contradicts the movant’s, then the non-movant’s must be taken as true.” Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

A federal court should grant summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court’s function is not to make credibility determinations, weigh evidence, or draw inferences from the facts. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Rather, the court must simply “determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,” and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). If the movant makes [*10] such a showing, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits or declarations, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The non-movant must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Furthermore, mere conclusory allegations and self-serving testimony, whether made in the complaint or a sworn statement, cannot be used to obtain or avoid summary judgment when uncorroborated and contradicted by other evidence of record. See Lujan v. Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S. Ct. 3177, 111 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1990); see also Thomas v. Delaware State Univ., 626 F. App’x 384, 389 n.6 (3d Cir. 2015) (not precedential) (“[U]nsupported deposition testimony, which is contradicted by the record, is insufficient to defeat summary judgment.”); NLRB v. FES, 301 F.3d 83, 95 (3d Cir. 2002) (“[The plaintiff’s] testimony . . . amounts to an unsupported, conclusory assertion, which we have held is inadequate to satisfy the movant’s burden of proof on summary judgment.”).

As this jurisdiction of this Court is sounded in the diversity of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), Pennsylvania substantive [*11] law will apply. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938).

III. Discussion

Defendant submits that it is entitled to judgment in its favor because Plaintiff executed a valid waiver of all liability prior to ever engaging in any recreational activities on Defendant’s property; because such releases and waivers are recognized under Pennsylvania law; and because within the waiver, Plaintiff specifically acknowledged that she was assuming all of the risks associated with these activities. (Doc. 52, at 2). In response, Plaintiff argues that Plaintiff did not sign a waiver on the date of the accident, and therefore did not waive any liability or assume any risk; that she was rushed and unable to read the original waiver in its entirety; that the waiver is unenforceable as not properly conspicuous; and finally, that because the earlier waiver signed by Plaintiff was “for all time thereafter” it should not be enforced. (Doc. 54).

A. The Exculpatory Clause is Valid

An exculpatory clause is valid if the following conditions are met: 1) the clause does not contravene public policy; 2) the contract is between parties relating entirely to their own private affairs; and 3) the contract is not one of adhesion. Evans v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC, No. CV 15-4095, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133490, 2016 WL 5404464, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2016); [*12] Topp Copy Prods., Inc. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 626 A.2d 98, 99 (Pa. 1993). A valid exculpatory clause is only enforceable if “the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.” Id. A waiver of liability violates public policy only if it involves “a matter of interest to the public or the state. Such matters of interest to the public or the state include the employer-employee relationship, public service, public utilities, common carriers, and hospitals.” Seaton v. E. Windsor Speedway, Inc., 400 Pa. Super. 134, 582 A.2d 1380, 1382 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1990); see also Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 603 A.2d 663, 665 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992). The exculpatory clause at issue in this case does not contravene public policy because it does not affect a matter of interest to the public or the state. See Kotovsky, 603 A.2d at 665-66 (holding that releases did not violate public policy because “[t]hey were [in] contracts between private parties and pertained only to the parties’ private rights. They did not in any way affect the rights of the public.”). Thus, the exculpatory clause meets the first two prongs of the Topp Copy standard for validity.

The contract meets the third prong of the Topp Copy validity standard because it is not a contract of adhesion. Agreements to participate in “voluntary sporting or recreational activities” are not contracts of adhesion because “[t]he signer is a free agent [*13] who can simply walk away without signing the release and participating in the activity, and thus the contract signed under such circumstances is not unconscionable.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1190-91 (Pa. 2010). “The signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.” Id. The Agreement at issue here is not a contract of adhesion because it is a contract to participate in voluntary recreational activities. The Agreement does not relate to an essential service, and Plaintiff was free to engage in the activity, or not, as she wished. She was under no compulsion to do so. See Chepkevich, supra; see also Hinkal v. Pardoe, 2016 PA Super 11, 133 A.3d 738, 741-2 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2016) (en banc), appeal denied, 636 Pa. 650, 141 A.3d 481 (Pa. 2016) (citing the “thorough and well-reasoned opinion” of the trial court, which held that the plaintiff’s gym membership agreement was not a contract of adhesion because exercising at a gym is a voluntary recreational activity and the plaintiff was under no compulsion to join the gym). The Agreement meets all three prongs of the Topp Copy standard for validity, and thus the exculpatory clause is facially valid.

B. The Exculpatory Clause is Enforceable

Even if an exculpatory clause is [*14] facially valid, it is enforceable only if it clearly relieves a party of liability for its own negligence. Evans v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC, No. CV 15-4095, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133490, 2016 WL 5404464, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2016). The following standards guide a court’s determination of the enforceability of an exculpatory clause:

1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing the immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.

Topp Copy, 626 A.2d at 99.

The Court now turns to Plaintiff’s arguments against the enforceability of the exculpatory clause.

1. Plaintiff’s first waiver is enforceable, including the clause “for all time thereafter.”

Plaintiff submits that the waiver she executed in October 2013 did not apply to her visit to Defendant on June 22, 2014, because “it is uncontroverted that the Defendant has a policy that dictates all [*15] riders must sign a waiver every time they ride an ATV at their park” (Doc. 54, at 4), and Plaintiff did not sign a waiver when she visited the park in June 2014. Defendant counters that Plaintiff is misconstruing the record in making this assertion. (Doc. 55, at 2). Specifically, Defendant submits that the testimony cited by Plaintiff is that of a former maintenance man who has nothing to do with policy or procedure at Defendant’s property, and further, that he neither testifying as a representative of, nor acting on behalf of, Lost Trails, LLC. (Doc. 55-1, at 4). The testimony offered by the Plaintiff on this issue is that of Matthew Anneman, who testified as follows:

Q: Everybody that goes there is supposed sign the waiver before they go out on the trails, is that fair to say?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you know if Miss Moncrieff signed a waiver before she went on the trail that day?

A: Yes. It is imperative that everybody who comes to ride on that mountain is to fill out a waiver.


Q: So every single time somebody comes to the facility, before they go out there, they go in and sign a waiver.

A: Yes.

Q: And you’re not involved in that part of it, the sign in, and the waiver.

A: No, no. Leslie or one [*16] of her employees would work the front desk.

(Doc. 54-1, at 12; Anneman Dep. at 36).

The Court finds this testimony to have little to no bearing on the validity and applicability of the October 2013 waiver. Even construing the evidence in the record in Plaintiff’s favor, Mr. Anneman’s testimony does not change the fact Plaintiff did sign a waiver in October 2013, one which indicated that it “shall remain binding for all time thereafter.” (Doc. 54-1, at 20) (emphasis added). Nothing in the record before the Court indicates that Mr. Anneman was responsible for either policy at Defendant’s facility, or in any way even involved with the waiver process. Further, the language of the waiver is clear. In interpreting the language of a contract, courts attempt to ascertain the intent of the parties and give it effect. Sycamore Rest. Grp., LLC v. Stampfi Hartke Assocs., LLC, 2017 Pa. Super. 221, 174 A.3d 651, 656 (2017); LJL Transp., Inc. v. Pilot Air Freight Corp., 599 Pa. 546, 962 A.2d 639, 648 (2009). When a writing is clear and unequivocal, its meaning must be determined by its contents alone. Synthes USA Sales, LLC v. Harrison, 2013 Pa. Super. 324, 83 A.3d 242, 250-51 (2013); Murphy v. Duquesne Univ. of the Holy Ghost, 565 Pa. 571, 591, 777 A.2d 418, 429 (2001) (citations and quotation marks omitted). “[I]t is not the function of this Court to re-write it, or to give it a construction in conflict with … the accepted and plain meaning of the language used.” Id.; citing Robert F. Felte, Inc. v. White, 451 Pa. 137, 144, 302 A.2d 347, 351 (1973) (citation omitted). Here, the language of the waiver form (Doc. 54-1, [*17] at 20) is unequivocal in stating the intent that it is binding for all time thereafter. As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated,

The word “all” needs no definition; it includes everything, and excludes nothing. There is no more comprehensive word in the language, and as used here it is obviously broad enough to cover liability for negligence. If it had been the intention of the parties to exclude negligent acts they would have so written in the agreement. This paragraph of the lease is clear and unambiguous. No rules of construction are required to ascertain the intention of the parties.

Topp Copy Prods. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 472, 626 A.2d 98, 100 (1993); citing Cannon v. Bresch, 307 Pa. 31, 34, 160 A. 595, 596 (1932).

As such, the Court finds that the October 2013 waiver executed by Plaintiff was in effect during her June 2014 visit to Defendant’s property.1

2. Plaintiff’s argument that she was rushed and unable to read the original waiver in its entirety is without merit.

Plaintiff next argues that, should the Court find that the 2013 waiver was in effect in June 2014, she was rushed and therefore did not have time to read the waiver before signing it. “The law of Pennsylvania is clear. One who is about to sign a contract has a duty to read that contract [*18] first.” Hinkal v. Pardoe, 2016 Pa. Super. 11, 133 A.3d 738, 743, appeal denied, 636 Pa. 650, 141 A.3d 481 (2016); In re Estate of Boardman, 2013 PA Super 300, 80 A.3d 820, 823 (Pa.Super.2013); citing Schillachi v. Flying Dutchman Motorcycle Club, 751 F.Supp. 1169, 1174 (E.D.Pa.1990) (citations omitted). In the absence of fraud, the failure to read a contract before signing it is “an unavailing excuse or defense and cannot justify an avoidance, modification or nullification of the contract.” Germantown Sav. Bank v. Talacki, 441 Pa.Super. 513, 657 A.2d 1285, 1289 (1995) (citing Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. American Emp. Ins. Co., 503 Pa. 300, 469 A.2d 563, 566 note (1983)); see also Wroblewski v. Ohiopyle Trading Post, Inc., No. CIV.A. 12-0780, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119206, 2013 WL 4504448, at *7 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 22, 2013) (Under Pennsylvania law, the failure to read a contract does not nullify the contract’s validity.); Arce v. U-Pull-It Auto Parts, Inc., No. 06-5593, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10202, 2008 WL 375159, at *5-9 (E.D.Pa. Feb.11, 2008) (written release found to be enforceable even when the agreement was in English but the plaintiff only read and spoke Spanish, noting that the “[p]laintiff cannot argue that the release language was inconspicuous or somehow hidden from his attention…. Nor did Defendant have an obligation to verify that [p]laintiff had read and fully understood the terms of the document before he signed his name to it.”). In this case, there is no allegation or evidence of fraud, and as such, Plaintiff’s argument is without merit.

3. The waiver is properly conspicuous.

Finally, Plaintiff avers that summary judgment should be denied because the waiver was not properly conspicuous, and relies on the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s decision in Beck-Hummel in making [*19] this assertion. The Beck-Hummel court addressed the enforceability of a waiver of liability printed on the back of a tubing ticket. The exculpatory language appeared in a font that was “just barely readable,” and smaller than the font used for some other portions of the ticket. Id. at 1274-75. The Beck-Hummel court looked to the conspicuousness of the waiver of liability as a means of establishing whether or not a contract existed, setting forth three factors to consider in determining conspicuousness: 1) the waiver’s placement in the document; 2) the size of the waiver’s font; and 3) whether the waiver was highlighted by being printed in all capital letters or a different font or color from the remainder of the text. Beck-Hummel, 902 A.2d at 1274. After considering these factors, the Beck-Hummel court could not conclude as a matter of law that the exculpatory clause was enforceable because the language of the ticket was not sufficiently conspicuous as to put the purchaser/user on notice of the waiver. Id.at 1275.

However, in a more recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case, the court held that, as in the case presently before this Court, where the exculpatory clause was part of a signed contract between the parties, the requirements of [*20] conspicuity set forth in Beck-Hummel would not necessarily apply. In Hinkal v. Pardoe, the en banc Superior Court of Pennsylvania examined whether the Beck-Hummel conspicuity requirements for the enforcement of exculpatory clauses applies to signed valid written contracts. Hinkal v. Pardoe, 2016 Pa. Super. 11, 133 A.3d 738, 743-745, appeal denied, 636 Pa. 650, 141 A.3d 481 (2016). In Hinkal, the plaintiff had signed a membership agreement with Gold’s Gym that contained a waiver of liability for negligence claims on the back page. Id. at 741. The Hinkal court found the plaintiff’s comparison of her case to Beck-Hummel “inapposite” because, unlike a waiver printed on the back of a tubing ticket that did not require a signature; the gym waiver was part of a signed agreement. Id. at 744-45. Further, the court noted that conspicuity is generally not required to establish the formation of a contract, but “has been resorted to as a means of proving the existence or lack of a contract,” where it is unclear whether a meeting of the minds occurred, and imposing such a requirement would allow a properly executed contract to be set aside through one party’s failure to do what the law requires – reading a contract. Id. at 745. The Hinkal court concluded that the waiver of liability was valid and enforceable because [*21] the plaintiff had signed the agreement. Similarly, in Evans v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC, the District Court determined that the exculpatory clauses contained in a fitness club’s membership agreements were valid and enforceable where the plaintiff had signed both a membership and personal training agreement, including an acknowledgement that the plaintiff had read and understood the entire agreement, including the release and waiver of liability, appears directly above the plaintiff’s signature on the first page of each agreement. Evans v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC, No. CV 15-4095, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133490, 2016 WL 5404464, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2016).

The Court finds the agreement at issue in this case to be far more in line with the waivers discussed by the Pennsylvania Superior and Eastern District of Pennsylvania courts in Hinkal and Evans. The waiver form in this case was two pages in length, and initialed and signed by Plaintiff. It was not, like the waiver in Beck-Hummel, printed in small font on the back of a tubing ticket. This was a waiver that was reviewed, initialed and signed by Plaintiff. As such, the requirements of conspicuity set forth in Beck-Hummel would not necessarily apply. Hinkal v. Pardoe, 133 A.3d at 743-745.

Even if those conspicuity requirements applied, however [*22] the exculpatory clauses in the Waiver Form would still be enforceable. The document is titled, in larger font, bold, underlined, and all capital letters “LOST TRAILS ATV ADVENTURES WAIVER FORM.” The language specifically indicating release and discharge, assumption of the risk, an agreement not to sue, and indemnification, are set of in all capitals in the numbered paragraphs, and were acknowledged by Plaintiff initialing each paragraph. (Doc. 54-1, at 20). Immediately above the signature line, in all capital bold letters, the release reads:

I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE OF LIABILITY, WAIVER OF LEGAL RIGHTS AND ASSUMPTIONS OF RISK AND FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS CONTENTS. I SIGN IT WILLINGLY, VOLUNTARILY AND HAVING HAD AMPLE OPPORTUNITY TO RAISE ANY QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS THAT I MAY HAVE, I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I AM PARTICIPATING VOLUNTARILY WITH KNOWLEDGE THAT DANGERS ARE INVOLVED AND I AGREE TO ASSUME ALL THE RISKS.

(Doc. 54-1, at 21).

These clauses are conspicuously set apart, appearing in capital letters, and in the case of the final paragraph, fully set apart, in all bold and all capitals. Further, the agreement itself is titled “Waiver Form” which notifies the reader of the purpose of the form. [*23] Plaintiff initialed the paragraphs setting forth the exculpatory clauses,2 and signed the agreement directly underneath the final, most prominent waiver clause. As such, the Court finds that the exculpatory clauses are valid and enforceable. See Evans, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133490, 2016 WL 5404464, at n. 6.

IV. Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, the undisputed material facts in the record establish that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment. Viewing the record in light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the Court finds that the exculpatory clauses at issue are valid and enforceable. As such, Defendant’s motion will be granted, and judgment will be entered in favor of Defendant.

An appropriate Order follows.

Dated: August 29, 2018

/s/ Karoline Mehalchick

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK

United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

AND NOW, this 29th day of August, 2018, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that for the reasons set forth in the memorandum filed concurrently with this Order, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 50) is GRANTED, and judgment is entered in favor of Defendant. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this matter.

BY THE COURT:

Dated: August 29, 2018

/s/ Karoline Mehalchick

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK

United States Magistrate Judge


No written signature on the release so there is no release, even though the plaintiff acknowledged she would have signed one.

A contract requires a meeting of the minds and the agreement to contract. Even though the defendant proved the plaintiff had the intent, the defendant could not prove their own intent.

Soucy, v. Nova Guides, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95438

State: Colorado

Plaintiff: Megan Soucy

Defendant: Nova Guides, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2015

Warning, this case is probably not over so any decision, here can be altered, changed or appealed. However, the decision is so interesting it was worth the review.

The case involves an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) accident. Normally, engines are outside the scope of these articles. However, the facts surrounding the incident are not at issue or even discussed. The main issue is the defense of release raised by the plaintiff.

The plaintiff, her mother and sister were visiting Colorado. While there the party contracted with the defendant for a jeep tour. During that tour, all three signed a release. Two days later, the parties came back and contracted for an ATV tour. The mother and sister signed the release, but the plaintiff did not.

The release for both activities was identical, in fact, it covered, Jeep Tours, ATV, Mtn. Bike, and Hiking in one document. Dependent upon what activity the person signed up for the appropriate box was checked. For the first tour, the box Jeep Tour was checked. The mother and sisters ATV box was checked for the second tour.

The release in the language even spoke the risks of ATV tours but all in the same sentence as the other tours.

I/We have asked to participate in the sports of mountain biking, all terrain vehicle riding, hiking, and jeep touring and related activities with Nova Guides, Inc. I understand mountain biking, all terrain vehicle use, hiking and jeep touring also include the risk of falling from said vehicles.

However, because the box for the only release the plaintiff signed was for a jeep tour, the court did not by the argument it also applied to the ATV tour.

The interrogatory answers of the plaintiff and her testimony in deposition indicated she knew releases were required, understood them, had signed them in the past and would have signed one if asked for the ATV tour.

Moreover, with respect to the tours with Nova in July 2012, Soucy testified that, had a waiver of liability been presented to her on July 11, 2012, she would have signed it. In fact, Soucy attested that she believed the waiver of liability she executed on July 9, 2012 for the Jeep tour carried over for her participation in the July 11, 2012 ATV tour.

This decision is based on a Motion for Summary judgment filed by the defendant based on “release” which was denied by the court.

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

Under Colorado law contracts can be formed orally and based on the party’s intent.

Under Colorado law, contractual conditions may be express or implied. When interpreting a contract, courts consider “the facts and circumstances attending its execution, so as to learn the intentions of the parties.

A release is an agreement that follows the rules of interpretation and construction of contracts.

By her acts of paying for and taking the ATV tour after admitting she would have signed a release the court found the necessary intent on the part of the plaintiff.

Accordingly, the Court concludes it is not disputed that Soucy paid for a commercial service, willingly received that service, and believed the waiver she signed on July 9, 2012 — in which she “assume[d] the risk of personal injury, death, and property damage … which may result from [her] participation … in … all terrain vehicle riding” and waived “any claims based on negligence or breach of warranty [she] might assert on [her] own behalf … against Nova Guides, Inc.” — was valid and necessary for her participation in the ATV tour on July 11, 2012.

However, the reason why the court dismissed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was the court could not find the same intent on the part of the defendant.

A contract implied in fact arises from the parties’ conduct that evidences a mutual intention to enter into a contract, and such a contract has the same legal effect as an express contract. … [thus, t]o be enforceable, a contract requires mutual assent to an exchange for legal consideration.” (emphasis added). Nova has proffered no evidence of its intention that Soucy be bound by an agreement to waive liability for the ATV tour on July 11, 2012; that is, nothing in the record demonstrates that either Hilley or any Nova personnel asked Soucy to execute or otherwise agree to a waiver for that tour, either by verbally asking her or by presenting her with a written agreement. Nor has Nova provided any affidavit evidencing, or even an argument by Nova concerning, its intent for this verbal agreement.

Because the defendant could not and did not offer any evidence that it had the same intent as the plaintiff, there was no proof of the intent to contract by the defendant, and the motion was denied.

However, for an oral agreement to be enforceable, there must be mutual assent from both parties. The evidence proffered by the parties does not show that Nova intended to be bound by an agreement with Soucy to waive liability for the ATV tour on July 11, 2012. Because an issue as to this material fact exists, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

Again, this is not a final decision. The issue can be reargued before or at trial with the defendant showing the intent to contract.

So Now What?

There are several major flaws in this case by the defendant besides not being able to prove the intent to contract. This is a classic case of making your release complicated thinking it will save your butt, and the complications created a nightmare.

The first is the defendant is using a release with check boxes. If the wrong box is checked or not checked, then the release has no value. The same thing could have been accomplished, and the case ended if the boxes were eliminated.

The second is no system to make sure the release is signed by all adults and by adults for all children before the trip starts. The classic example was a rafting company that required participants to hand in their release to receive their PFD. No release, no PFD. No PFD you could not board the bus to go to the put in.

While working for one whitewater rafting company the shop manager realized one person had not signed a release. She ran and caught the bus before it pulled out and asked who had not signed the release. No one said anything. She said OK, everyone off the bus; you can get back on when I call your name. She had every release with her, and the bus was not leaving until everyone had signed.

The non-signer, not pretty sheepish, raised his hand and was handed a release to sign.

Normally, I write releases around activities. You can cover the risks of most paddlesports in one release for kayaking, rafting, stand up paddleboards, etc. Oceans pose different threats than lakes and streams so ocean activities are on a different release.

Here, however, the release combined the risks of human powered and motorized activities. Jeep tours and ATV tours probably run similar risks. However, they also have different state laws applicable to them. Mountain biking has different risks than hiking. Dependent upon the area where the mountain biking occurs and the hiking you might be able to cover the risks in one document.

However, to be on the safe side, I think three different releases should be used. Jeep and ATV tours on one, mountain biking on the second and hiking on the third. It would be easy to track them, having each one printed on a separate color of paper. You know based upon the color of the paper on the release what the customers are expecting and where they should be going.

Don’t make your release complicated in an attempt to make it work, or make it cover too much. This is one instance where killing a few more trees to write the release may save a hundred trees in defending a lawsuit.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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Soucy, v. Nova Guides, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95438

Soucy, v. Nova Guides, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95438

Megan Soucy, Plaintiff, v. Nova Guides, Inc., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 14-cv-01766-MEH

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95438

July 20, 2015, Decided

July 20, 2015, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Megan Soucy, Plaintiff: Gregory A. Gold, Sommer D. Luther, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Gold Law Firm, L.L.C, The, Greenwood Village, CO; Joel Stuart Rosen, Cohen Placitella & Roth, Philadelphia, PA.

For Nova Guides, Inc., Defendant: David James Nowak, Tracy Lynn Zuckett , White & Steele, P.C., Denver, CO.

JUDGES: Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION BY: Michael E. Hegarty

OPINION

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [filed May 28, 2015; docket #18]. The motion is fully briefed, and the Court finds that oral argument will not assist in its adjudication of the motion. Based on the record herein and for the reasons that follow, the Court denies the Defendant’s motion.1

1 On September 8, 2014, the parties consented to this Court’s jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Megan Soucy (“Soucy”) initiated this action on June 24, 2014, alleging essentially that Defendant Nova Guides, Inc. (“Nova”) was negligent in causing her injuries when the all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) she was driving overturned during a trail ride. Complaint, docket #1. In response to the Complaint, Nova filed [*2] an Answer asserting 13 affirmative defenses, including “Plaintiff’s claims may be barred or limited by contracts entered into by the parties.” Answer, docket #7.

Thereafter, the Court held a Scheduling Conference on September 22, 2014 at which the Court set deadlines for discovery and the filing of dispositive motions. Dockets ## 12, 13. Discovery progressed and, well before the deadline, Nova filed the present motion for summary judgment arguing no triable issues exist as to whether Soucy contractually waived her claims in this action. See docket #18. Specifically, Nova contends that its Waiver of Liability is valid pursuant to Colorado law and the waiver is enforceable despite lacking Plaintiff’s signature. Id.

Soucy counters that she was never presented with nor signed a Waiver of Liability before the July 11, 2012 tour during which she was injured. She argues that the July 9, 2012 waiver she signed before a Jeep tour did not apply to the July 11 ATV tour, since only the Jeep tour was referenced in the July 9 waiver. She further asserts that any release that may be construed as signed on her behalf by her mother is unenforceable. Finally, Soucy contends that any evidence of her intent [*3] is factually and legally irrelevant.

Nova replies arguing that Soucy’s own testimony demonstrates she intended to be bound by the Waiver of Liability, despite its lack of her signature.

II. Findings of Fact

The Court makes the following findings of fact viewed in the light most favorable to Soucy, who is the non-moving party in this matter.

1. While vacationing in Vail, Colorado in July 2012, Soucy, her mother, and her sisters participated in a jeep tour on July 9, 2012 and an ATV tour on July 11, 2012, both guided by Ben Hilley of Nova Guides, Inc. Deposition of Megan Soucy, April 6, 2015 (“Soucy Depo”), 97: 20-25; 129: 12 – 130: 16, docket #19-1.

2. Soucy was 20 years old in July 2012. Id., 136: 23 – 137: 4.

3. Based on her past experience, Soucy understood she must typically execute a waiver of liability before engaging in activities such as “ATVing” and the “safari trip” (also referred to as the “Jeep tour”). Id., 143: 13-20; 145: 16-20.

4. Prior to participating in the Jeep tour on July 9, 2012, Soucy signed a Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability, on which a handwritten check mark appears next to “Jeep tour” as the type of tour selected (the other options are “ATV,” “Mtn. Bike,” and “Hiking”). Id., 144: [*4] 4-145: 7; see also Nova Guides Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability, July 9, 2012, docket #19-2.

5. Nova’s Waiver of Liability includes the following language:

PARTICIPANT’S AGREEMENT TO ASSUME THE RISKS OF PERSONAL INJURY AND PROPERTY DAMAGE ASSOCIATED WITH MOUNTAIN BIKING, ALL TERRAIN VEHICLE RIDING, HIKING, AND JEEP TOURS AND TO RELEASE NOVA GUIDES, INC., ITS OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES AND AGENTS, THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE, AND THE U.S. GOVERNMENT FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY IN CONNECTION WITH MOUNTAIN BIKING, ALL TERRAIN VEHICLE RIDING, HUMMER AND JEEP TOURING ACTIVITIES.

*THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY. PLEASE READ BEFORE SIGNING. DO NOT SIGN OR INITIAL THE RELEASE IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR DO NOT AGREE WITH ITS TERMS.

1. I/We have asked to participate in the sports of mountain biking, all terrain vehicle riding, hiking, and jeep touring and related activities with Nova Guides, Inc. … I understand mountain biking, all terrain vehicle use, hiking and jeep touring also include the risk of falling from said vehicles. I understand that accidents or illness can occur in remote places without medical facilities. … I understand that route or activity, chosen as a part of our outdoor [*5] adventure may not be the safest, but has been chosen for its interest. I UNDERSTAND THAT THE ACTIVITIES OF MOUNTAIN BIKING, ALL TERRAIN VEHICLE RIDING, HIKING, JEEP TOURING, like all outdoor activities involve the risk of contact with wild animals, falls, equipment failure, collisions and/or contact with manmade or natural objects and other riders and drivers which can result in personal injury, property damage and death.

2. I expressly assume all risk of personal injury, death, and property damage set forth in paragraph 1 above which may result from my participation and my minor children’s participation in mountain biking, all terrain vehicle riding, hiking, and jeep touring and waive any claims based on negligence or breach of warranty I might assert on my own behalf or on behalf of my minor children against Nova Guides, Inc., its officers, directors, agents and employees, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Government for personal injuries, death, and/or property damage sustained while participating in mountain biking activities, all terrain vehicle riding, hummer and jeep touring with Nova Guides, Inc.

Nova Guides Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability, docket #19-2.

6. Soucy recognized [*6] that operating an ATV involves a risk of injury. Id.; see also Soucy Depo, 154: 8-13.

7. Prior to Soucy’s and her family’s participation in the ATV tour on July 11, 2012, Soucy’s mother, Susan Pesot, completed and signed a Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability, on which a handwritten check mark appears next to “ATV” as the type of tour selected. Deposition of Susan Pesot, April 7, 2015 (“Pesot Depo”), 92: 2 – 93: 7; see also Nova Guides Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability, July 11, 2012, docket #19-3.

8. Soucy did not sign the July 11, 2012 Waiver of Liability. Id.

9. Pesot signed the waiver only on behalf of herself and her two minor children (Soucy’s sisters). Pesot Depo, 92: 12-17. She listed Soucy and Soucy’s other sister as participants on the ATV tour “because Ben told [her] to write down all the people who will be driving the vehicles.” Id., 93: 2-13.

10. Pesot did not sign the waiver on behalf of Soucy, who was not a minor, nor asked Soucy to sign the waiver because “that was not [her] responsibility to have [Soucy] sign it.” Id., 92: 12-25, 93: 1.

11. Also, Hilley did not ask Soucy to sign the waiver; however, Soucy would have signed the Waiver of Liability completed by Pesot on July 11, [*7] 2012, had it been presented to her by Hilley or Pesot and she were asked specifically to sign it. Soucy Depo, 215: 4-8 and 217: 7-15.

12. Soucy thought the Waiver of Liability she signed on July 9, 2012 “carried over” for the ATV tour in which she participated on July 11, 2012. Id., 144: 4 – 145:14.

13. Soucy participated in the ATV tour on July 11, 2012. Id., 171: 17-21.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion for summary judgment serves the purpose of testing whether a trial is required. Heideman v. S. Salt Lake City, 348 F.3d 1182, 1185 (10th Cir. 2003). The Court shall grant summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, or affidavits show there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial responsibility of providing to the Court the factual basis for its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). “The moving party may carry its initial burden either by producing affirmative evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim, or by showing that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence to carry its burden of persuasion at trial.” Trainor v. Apollo Metal Specialties, Inc., 318 F.3d 976, 979 (10th Cir. 2002). Only admissible evidence [*8] may be considered when ruling on a motion for summary judgment. World of Sleep, Inc. v. La-Z-Boy Chair Co., 756 F.2d 1467, 1474 (10th Cir. 1985).

The non-moving party has the burden of showing there are issues of material fact to be determined. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. That is, if the movant properly supports a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party may not rest on the allegations contained in his complaint, but must respond with specific facts showing a genuine factual issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007) (“[t]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.”) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted); see also Hysten v. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry., 296 F.3d 1177, 1180 (10th Cir. 2002). These specific facts may be shown “‘by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves.'” Pietrowski v. Town of Dibble, 134 F.3d 1006, 1008 (10th Cir. 1998) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). “[T]he content of summary judgment evidence must be generally admissible and . . . if that evidence is presented in the form of an affidavit, the Rules of Civil Procedure specifically require a certain type of admissibility, i.e., the evidence must be based on personal knowledge.” Bryant v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 432 F.3d 1114, 1122 (10th Cir. 2005). “The court views the record and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” [*9] Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Pittsburg, Inc. v. Pepsico, Inc., 431 F.3d 1241, 1255 (10th Cir. 2005).

ANALYSIS

Here, it is undisputed that Soucy did not sign a form waiver of liability for the ATV tour guided by Nova on July 11, 2012. According to Soucy, that is the end of the story. However, Nova argues the lack of a signature on a written agreement “is not always necessary to create a binding agreement.” Motion, docket #18 at 10. Nova contends that Colorado law allows consideration of the parties’ intent in the formation of a contract. Id. Soucy counters that extrinsic evidence, such as the parties’ intent, “is not admissible in a case where the court properly determines as a matter of law that an agreement is unambiguous.” Response, docket #19 at 17. Soucy argues alternatively that, “whether the parties have entered a contract is a question of fact.” Id. at 18.

The Court finds that, because Soucy does not challenge the validity and enforceability of Nova’s waiver of liability, the question is not whether terms of a formal contract are ambiguous (since no formal contract exists between Soucy and Nova from July 11, 2012), but whether an agreement between Soucy and Nova was formed on July 11, 2012 before Soucy was injured on the tour.

Under Colorado law, contractual conditions may be express [*10] or implied. Lane v. Urgitus, 145 P.3d 672, 679 (Colo. 2006) (determining whether an agreement to arbitrate existed between the parties) (citing Goodson v. Am. Standard Ins. Co., 89 P.3d 409, 414 (Colo. 2004)). When interpreting a contract, courts consider “the facts and circumstances attending its execution, so as to learn the intentions of the parties.” Id. (quoting Eisenhart v. Denver, 27 Colo. App. 470, 478, 150 P. 729, (1915), aff’d, 64 Colo. 141, 170 P. 1179 (1918)). “In contractual settings, [courts] can look to the circumstances surrounding the contract’s formation in construing the contract, in order to carry out the intent of the contracting parties.” Id. (citing Lazy Dog Ranch v. Telluray Ranch Corp., 965 P.2d 1229, 1235 (Colo. 1998)); see also James H. Moore & Assocs. Realty, Inc. v. Arrowhead at Vail, 892 P.2d 367, 372 (Colo. App. 1994) (“Generally, whether a contract exists is a question of fact to be determined by all of the surrounding circumstances.”).

Whether the parties to an oral agreement become bound prior to the drafting and execution of a contemplated formal writing is a question largely of intent on their part. Mohler v. Park Cnty. Sch. Dist. RE-2, 32 Colo. App. 388, 515 P.2d 112, 114 (Colo. App. 1973). “That intent can be inferred from their actions and may be determined by their conduct prior to the time the controversy arose.” Id. (citing Coulter v. Anderson, 144 Colo. 402, 357 P.2d 76 (Colo. 1960)); see also Moore, 892 P.2d at 372.

“A release [of liability] is an agreement to which the general rules of interpretation and construction apply.” Squires v. Breckenridge Outdoor Educ. Ctr., 715 F.3d 867, 878 (10th Cir. 2013). In Squires, the court analyzed extrinsic evidence including a letter and the plaintiff’s statements of belief to determine whether a waiver of liability was [*11] procured through fraudulent inducement. Id. at 878-79.

Here, in response to questions by Nova’s counsel, Soucy testified during her deposition that:

o Based on her past experience, she understood she must typically execute a waiver of liability before engaging in activities such as “ATVing” and the “Jeep tour”;

o Prior to participating in the Jeep tour on July 9, 2012, she signed a Nova Guides Lease Agreement and Waiver of Liability;

o She recognized that operating an ATV involves a risk of injury;

o She did not sign an identical form Waiver of Liability prior to participating in the ATV tour on July 11, 2012;

o She would have signed the Waiver of Liability completed by her mother on July 11, 2012, had it been presented to her by Hilley or her mother and she were asked specifically to sign it; and

o She thought the Waiver of Liability she signed on July 9, 2012 “carried over” for the ATV tour in which she participated on July 11, 2012.

While Soucy’s counsel asked her questions during the deposition, his questions did not concern any waiver of liability. Soucy Depo, 254: 9 – 255: 17. In addition, Soucy did not provide an affidavit or other testimony in response to the present motion. Nova argues that [*12] “the clear, undisputed evidence from plaintiff’s own testimony is that she intended to assent and be bound by Nova Guide’s Waiver of Liability when she participated in the July 11, 2012 ATV tour.” Reply, docket #22 at 5. The Court must agree.

At her deposition, Soucy confirmed not only that she understood the concept of a waiver of liability, but also that she was familiar with such a document, as she had executed waivers in the past.

Q. Are you familiar with the concept of a waiver of liability?

A. Yes.

Q. Have you executed those type of documents in certain situations where you wanted to do an activity and it required a waiver?

A. Yes, yes.

Soucy Depo, 125: 1-7. Moreover, with respect to the tours with Nova in July 2012, Soucy testified that, had a waiver of liability been presented to her on July 11, 2012, she would have signed it. Id., 215: 4-8 and 217: 7-15. In fact, Soucy attested that she believed the waiver of liability she executed on July 9, 2012 for the Jeep tour carried over for her participation in the July 11, 2012 ATV tour.

Q. — did you understand before engaging in an activity such as ATV’ing, that you would typically execute a waiver of liability?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

Q. So that’s [*13] something you were familiar with. Did you at the time think that that was the document that he gave your mother?

A. I think, actually, the day before, when we got on that thing, Melissa and I filled something out.

Q. So you think that when you kind of took the safari trip —

A. Right.

Q. — where you were in a vehicle, that you actually filled something out?

A. We may have, yeah.

Q. You, yourself, as opposed to your mother?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you read it?

A. I don’t remember.

Q. Do you remember what it was or what it said?

A. No.

Q. And when you say “we,” do you mean you and all your sisters?

A. Melissa and I, separate from my mom.

Q. Did your mother also execute a document on the safari trip?

A. I believe so.

Q. And did Mr. Hilley, on the safari trip, explain what you were executing?

A. I don’t remember.

Q. Did you at the time think it was a waiver of liability?

A. Yeah. I think– and that’s why when we were in the car the next day, I just thought that kind of carried over or something.

Q. So when you were in the bus, going to do the ATV tour, you thought that what you had signed the day before carried over?

THE WITNESS: Right.

Q. But you generally understood that with respect to these type of activities, [*14] you did need to execute a waiver of liability?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

Soucy Depo, 143: 16 – 145: 20. Importantly, Soucy then participated in the ATV tour on July 11, 2012, which presumes that Soucy paid the required fee and Nova performed the requested service of guiding the tour. Soucy’s testimony does not appear to be vague. She assents to the proposition that she believed a waiver of liability she actually signed relating to one activity applied to another activity as well. She does not attempt to contradict that sworn testimony, so it was uncontroverted.

Accordingly, the Court concludes it is not disputed that Soucy paid for a commercial service, willingly received that service, and believed the waiver she signed on July 9, 2012 — in which she “assume[d] the risk of personal injury, death, and property damage … which may result from [her] participation … in … all terrain vehicle riding” and waived “any claims based on negligence or breach of warranty [she] might assert on [her] own behalf … against Nova Guides, Inc.” — was valid and necessary for her participation in the ATV tour on July 11, 2012.

However, an agreement requires intent to be bound by all parties. “A contract implied in [*15] fact arises from the parties’ conduct that evidences a mutual intention to enter into a contract, and such a contract has the same legal effect as an express contract. … [thus, t]o be enforceable, a contract requires mutual assent to an exchange for legal consideration.” Winter v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 321 P.3d 609, 614, 2013 COA 126 (Colo. App. 2013) (citations omitted) (emphasis added). Nova has proffered no evidence of its intention that Soucy be bound by an agreement to waive liability for the ATV tour on July 11, 2012; that is, nothing in the record demonstrates that either Hilley or any Nova personnel asked Soucy to execute or otherwise agree to a waiver for that tour, either by verbally asking her or by presenting her with a written agreement. Nor has Nova provided any affidavit evidencing, or even an argument by Nova concerning, its intent for this verbal agreement. Under the circumstances presented here, the Court will not infer such intention. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323 (the moving party bears the initial responsibility of providing to the court the factual basis for its motion).

Accordingly, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether an agreement was formed by both parties on July 11, 2012 before Soucy participated in the ATV tour and, thus, summary judgment is [*16] improper.

CONCLUSION

Soucy’s deposition testimony reflects her conduct, beliefs and intent regarding whether she agreed to waive Nova’s liability for any negligence claims resulting from the ATV tour on July 11, 2012. No genuine issues of material fact arise from this testimony or any other evidence provided by Soucy as to whether her assent to such agreement existed. The Court must conclude, then, that the evidence demonstrates Soucy’s agreement to waive Nova’s liability for the injuries she suffered on July 11, 2012.

However, for an oral agreement to be enforceable, there must be mutual assent from both parties. The evidence proffered by the parties does not show that Nova intended to be bound by an agreement with Soucy to waive liability for the ATV tour on July 11, 2012. Because an issue as to this material fact exists, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [filed May 28, 2015; docket #18] is denied.

Entered and dated at Denver, Colorado, this 20th day of July, 2015.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Michael E. Hegarty

Michael E. Hegarty

United States Magistrate Judge


“Sportsmen” bill working through congress would allow ATVs in Wilderness

ATVsComing to Your Favorite Wilderness Area

Thousand Island Lake (2997m) and Banner Peak (...

May 29, 2012

The misleadingly-named “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act” has wilderness-busting
provisions that could be coming to any and all of America’s wilderness
areas.

“It’s possibly the biggest threat to this nation’s wilderness areas since
the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964,” says Tom Martin, Co-Director of
River Runners for Wilderness, “even long time wilderness defenders who
thought they’d seen it all are shocked.”

HR4089 is a combination of 4 previous bills. Although there are many
debatable elements, the worst allows what were previously illegal activities
to now occur in all areas managed as wilderness under the National Park
Service, the Forest Service, and all of the nation’s Federal land agencies.

Among activities that could be allowed are ATV use, new road construction,
mining, logging and the construction of fixed structures. In fact, the most
dangerous element of this bill is that it gives managers a blank check to
allow any activities they construe as beneficial to sportsmen.

The bill has passed the House of Representatives and a Senate Companion Bill
S2066 has been introduced with supporters such as the National Rifle
Association and sports industry groups urging a quick passage.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a branch of the Library of
Congress that provides in depth analysis to members of Congress and others,
outlined the threats in a recent review of the proposal. The CRS noted that
the bill’s “..language could be construed as opening wilderness areas to
virtually any activity related to hunting and fishing, even if otherwise
inconsistent with wilderness values. Despite the Wilderness Act’s explicit
ban on temporary and permanent roads, if H.R. 4089 were passed, roads
arguably could be constructed in wilderness areas.”

The report also noted that “.while it appears that timber harvest could be
allowed, it would seem difficult to harvest timber without roads or
machines.”

The entire CRS’ brief (4 page) memo is on the River Runners for Wilderness
website at http://rrfw.org/sites/default/files/CRSreport.pdf

The wilderness destroying language in this bill could easily be omitted
before final passage and we urge you to take action to insist that this is
done:

Contact your state’s Senators and ask that they not support S2066 and to
protect all provisions of The Wilderness Act.

You are also encouraged to contact lobbying supporters of HR4089 & S2066,
such as the National Rifle Association at their website, particularly if you
are a member: https://www.nraila.org/secure/contact-us.aspx and let them
know that you support the Wilderness Act as written.

You are also encouraged to write a letter to the editor of your local
newspaper. National media has largely ignored these bills and you could be
instrumental in raising awareness of the threat.

To learn more about the threats posed by this legislation, visit:
Wilderness Watch’s analysis:
http://www.wildernesswatch.org/pdf/HR%204089%20Analysis–WW.pdf.
Other advocacy group sites:
http://wilderness.org/content/sneak-attack-wilderness and
http://conservationlands.org/time-to-stop-hr-4089-in-its-tracks.

Surveys show that wilderness enjoys very broad support by our country’s
citizens and should be protected. River Runners for Wilderness will keep you
apprised of this looming disaster for our country’s precious wilderness
lands.

__._,_.___

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Kirton vs. Fields, No. SC07-1739, No. SC07-1741, No. SC07-1742 (FL 2008)

SCOTT COREY KIRTON, etc., et al., Petitioners, vs. JORDAN FIELDS, etc., et al., Respondents. DEAN DYESS, Petitioner, vs. JORDAN FIELDS, etc., et al., Respondents. H. SPENCER KIRTON, et al., Petitioners, vs. JORDAN FIELDS, etc., et al., Respondents.

No. SC07-1739, No. SC07-1741, No. SC07-1742

SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

2008 Fla. LEXIS 2378; 33 Fla. L. Weekly S 939

December 11, 2008, Decided

NOTICE:

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF FILED, DETERMINED.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal – Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions. (Okeechobee County). Fourth District – Case No. 4D06-1486.

Fields v. Kirton, 961 So. 2d 1127, 2007 Fla. App. LEXIS 12241 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist., 2007)

COUNSEL: William J. Wallace of William J. Wallace, P.A., Okeechobee, Florida, Richard Lee Barrett and Ralph Steven Ruta, of Barrett, Chapman and Ruta, P.A., Orlando, Florida, and Alan C. Espy of Alan C. Espy, P.A., Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for Petitioners.

Bard d. Rockenbach of Burlington and Rockenbach, P.A., West Palm Beach, and Laurence C. Huttman of Rubin and Rubin, Stuart, Florida, for Respondents.

Timothy J. Owens of Christensen, Christensen, Donchatz, Kettlewell, and Owens, LLP, Columbus, Ohio, on behalf of The American Motorcyclist Association, for Amicus Curiae.

JUDGES: QUINCE, C.J. ANSTEAD, PARIENTE, and LEWIS, JJ., concur. ANSTEAD, J., specially concurs with an opinion. PARIENTE, J., concurs with an opinion. WELLS, J., dissents with an opinion. CANADY and POLSTON, JJ., did not participate.

OPINION BY: QUINCE

OPINION

QUINCE, C.J.

We have for review the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Fields v. Kirton, 961 So. 2d 1127 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), which certified the following question to be of great public importance:

WHETHER A PARENT [*2] MAY BIND A MINOR’S ESTATE BY THE PRE-INJURY EXECUTION OF A RELEASE.

We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. 1 For the reasons discussed below, we answer the certified question in the negative and hold that [HN1] a parent does not have the authority to execute a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child when the release involves participation in a commercial activity. 2

1 The Fourth District also certified conflict with the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Lantz v. Iron Horse Saloon, Inc., 717 So. 2d 590 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998). However, subsequent to its decision in Lantz and subsequent to the certification of conflict, the Fifth District decided Applegate v. Cable Water Ski, L.C., 974 So. 2d 1112 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008), where the Fifth District aligned itself with the Fourth District in Kirton. For those reasons and because the Fourth District certified a question providing us for any independent basis for jurisdiction, we do not address the certified conflict.

2 We answer the certified question as to pre-injury releases in commercial activities because that is what this case involves. Our decision in this case should not be read as limiting our reasoning only [*3] to pre-injury releases involving commercial activity; however, any discussion on pre-injury releases in noncommercial activities would be dicta and it is for that reason we do not discuss the broader question posed by the Fifth District.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE AND FACTS

The instant action arises from the decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Fields v. Kirton, 961 So. 2d 1127 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). The facts of the underlying action were detailed in the opinion of that court:

Pursuant to a final judgment of dissolution of marriage, Bobby Jones was the primary residential parent for his fourteen year old son, Christopher. On May 10, 2003, the father took Christopher to Thunder Cross Motor Sports Park to ride his all terrain vehicle (ATV). To gain entry to the facility and be allowed to participate in riding the ATV, Bobby Jones, as Christopher’s natural guardian, signed a release and waiver of liability, assumption of risk, and indemnity agreement. While attempting a particular jump, Christopher lost control of his ATV, causing himself to be ejected. Tragically, he hit the ground with the ATV landing on top of him. He got up, walked a short distance, then collapsed and died. Christopher’s [*4] mother, Bette Jones, was unaware that the father was permitting their son to engage in this activity. She was also unaware that approximately one month prior to the accident causing Christopher’s death, he had attempted the same jump, resulting in a fractured rib and mild concussion.

Id. at 1128.

Subsequently, Fields, as personal representative of the estate of Christopher Jones, filed suit for wrongful death against Spencer Kirton, Scott Corey Kirton, Dudley Kirton, and the Kirton Brother Lawn Service, Inc. (“the Kirtons”) as owners and operators of Thunder Cross Motor Sports. The amended complaint also named Dean Dyess as a defendant for his participation in the management of the park. The Kirtons then filed an answer and affirmative defenses to the amended complaint. In one of the affirmative defenses, the Kirtons argued that the claims raised by Fields were barred by the release and waiver executed by Mr. Jones on behalf of his son. The Kirtons thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release and waiver. 3 The trial court entered an order granting the Kirtons’ motion for summary judgment on the wrongful death claim, finding that there was no genuine issue of material [*5] fact because the release executed by Mr. Jones on behalf of his minor child, Christopher, barred the claim.

3 Mr. Jones filed an affidavit in support of the Kirtons’ motion for summary judgment. In that affidavit, he admitted that he willfully and with full understanding executed the release on behalf of his minor child at Thunder Cross Motor Sports Park. He also stated that he understood that it was his intention to waive the right to sue for the death of Christopher and to be banned by the other terms as set forth in the general release. He further stated that he understood that by signing the general release, he was forever discharging the Kirtons for any and all loss or damage and any claim or demands on account of injury to Christopher or his property or resulting in the death of Christopher arising out of or related to the events, whether caused by the negligence of the releasees or otherwise.

On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the trial court’s order granting the motion for summary judgment. In doing so, the district court emphasized that the issue was not about a parent’s decision on what activities are appropriate for his or her minor child, which is properly left to the [*6] parent. Instead, the issue concerned the “decision to absolve the provider of an activity from liability for any form of negligence . . . [which] goes beyond the scope of determining which activity a person feels is appropriate for their child.” Id. at 1129. This is because the “effect of the parent’s decision in signing a pre-injury release impacts the minor’s estate and the property rights personal to the minor.” As a result, the district court found that these rights could not be waived by the parents absent a basis in common law or statute. Id. at 1129-30. The district court found that there was no statutory scheme governing the issue of pre-injury releases signed by parents on behalf of minor children. Because there is no basis in common law or statute, the district court found that the courts do not have the authority to “judicially legislate that which necessarily must originate, if it is to be law, with the legislature.” Id. at 1130. Accordingly, the district court held that a parent could not bind a minor’s estate by the parent’s execution of a pre-injury release. In doing so, the Fourth District also certified the above question to be of great public importance and certified [*7] conflict with the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Lantz v. Iron Horse Saloon, Inc., 717 So. 2d 590 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998).

ANALYSIS

The issue in this case is the enforceability of a pre-injury release executed by a parent on behalf of a minor child that binds a minor child’s estate and releases an activity provider from liability. Because the enforceability of the pre-injury release is a question of law arising from undisputed facts, the standard of review is de novo. See D’Angelo v. Fitzmaurice, 863 So. 2d 311, 314 (Fla. 2003) (stating that [HN2] the standard of review for pure questions of law is de novo and no deference is given to the judgment of the lower courts).

The Kirtons and the amicus curiae 4 supporting their position assert that a parent has a fundamental right to make decisions relating to the care of a minor child, and that right includes executing a pre-injury release on behalf of the minor child. The Kirtons also argue that enforcing the validity of a pre-injury release is consistent with Florida courts that have ruled that a parent has the prelitigation right to forego settlement awards in favor of pursuing a lawsuit without court approval or appointment of a guardian [*8] ad litem. On the other hand, Fields contends that pre-injury releases are invalid because neither the common law nor the Legislature has given parents the authority to waive these substantive rights of a minor child.

4 The American Motorcyclist Association.

Parental Authority and the State’s “Parens Patriae” Authority

The enforceability of a pre-injury release concerns two compelling interests: that of the parents in raising their children and that of the state to protect children. [HN3] Parental authority over decisions involving their minor children derives from the liberty interest contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the guarantee of privacy in article I, section 23 of the Florida Constitution. See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49 (2000) (plurality opinion) (“In light of this extensive precedent, it cannot now be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”); see also Beagle v. Beagle, 678 So. 2d 1271, 1275 (Fla. 1996) (“The fundamental liberty interest in parenting is protected by both the Florida and federal [*9] constitutions. In Florida, it is specifically protected by our privacy provision.”). In fact, beginning with Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 43 S. Ct. 625, 67 L. Ed. 1042 (1923), the United States Supreme Court has recognized that [HN4] parents have a constitutionally protected interest in child rearing. In Troxel, the United States Supreme Court further pointed to [HN5] a presumption that

fit parents act in the best interests of their children. . . . Accordingly, so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children (i.e., is fit), there will normally be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.

530 U.S. at 68-69; see also Von Eiff v. Azicri, 720 So. 2d 510, 514 (Fla. 1998) (“Neither the legislature nor the courts may properly intervene in parental decision-making absent significant harm to the child threatened by or resulting from those decisions.”).

However, these [HN6] parental rights are not absolute and the state as parens patriae may, in certain situations, usurp parental control. In Global Travel Marketing, Inc. v. Shea, 908 So. 2d 392, 399 (Fla. 2005), we explained [*10] the concept of parens patriae as applied in this State:

[HN7] “Parens patriae,” which is Latin for “parent of his or her country,” describes “the state in its capacity as provider of protection to those unable to care for themselves.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1144 (8th ed. 2004). The doctrine derives from the common-law concept of royal prerogative, recognized by American courts in the form of legislative prerogative. See Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc. v. Puerto Rico ex rel. Barez, 458 U.S. 592, 600, 102 S.Ct. 3260, 73 L.Ed.2d 995 (1982). The United States Supreme Court, upholding a state child labor law in Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 64 S.Ct. 438, 88 L.Ed. 645 (1944), recognized the parens patriae power when it stated that [HN8] although the “custody, care, and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, . . . the state as parens patriae may restrict the parent’s control by requiring school attendance, regulating or prohibiting the child’s labor and in many other ways.” Id. at 166, 64 S.Ct. 438 (footnotes omitted).

In decisions over the past three decades, this Court has expressly relied on the state’s parens patriae authority to protect children in two areas: (1) juvenile delinquency [*11] and dependency, see P.W.G. v. State, 702 So.2d 488, 491 (Fla.1997); State v. D.H., 340 So. 2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.1976); In re Camm, 294 So.2d 318, 320 (Fla.1974); and (2) child custody and support. See Schutz v. Schutz, 581 So.2d 1290, 1293 (Fla.1991); Lamm v. Chapman, 413 So.2d 749, 753 (Fla.1982); Kern v. Kern, 333 So.2d 17, 19 (Fla.1976). Pervasive statutory schemes cover each of these areas. See generally ch. 39, Fla. Stat. (2004) (“Proceedings Relating to Children”); ch. 61, Fla. Stat. (2004) (“Dissolution of Marriage; Support; Custody”); ch. 984, Fla. Stat. (2004) (“Children and Families in Need of Services”); ch. 985, Fla. Stat. (2004) (“Delinquency; Interstate Compact on Juveniles”).

Although there is no statutory scheme governing pre-injury releases, the Kirtons argue that a parent’s execution of a pre-injury release falls squarely within the parent’s authority to settle pursuant to section 744.301(2), Florida Statutes (2007). This statutory provision allows a parent, acting as the natural guardian of a minor child, to settle the child’s claim for amounts up to $ 15,000. The Kirtons reason that because at the time a parent signs a pre-injury release, the claim is worth less than [*12] $ 15,000, the parent’s authority to execute a pre-injury release for a minor child falls within this section. Contrary to the Kirtons’ assertion, a parent’s authority to execute a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child does not fall within the purview of section 744.301(2). Section 744.301, Florida Statutes (2007), applies to situations where a minor child already has a cause of action against another party. A pre-injury release is executed before any cause of action accrues and extinguishes any possible cause of action.

The absence of a statute governing parental pre-injury releases demonstrates that the Legislature has not precluded the enforcement of such releases on behalf of a minor child. See Global Travel Mktg., Inc. v. Shea, 908 So. 2d 392, 400 (Fla. 2005) (noting that the absence of a statutory scheme governing a parent’s agreement to binding arbitration on behalf of a minor child demonstrates that the Legislature has not precluded the enforcement of such agreements). However, we find that public policy concerns cannot allow parents to execute pre-injury releases on behalf of minor children.

Florida Courts

Although this is an issue of first impression for this Court, the [*13] district courts of Florida have addressed this matter, but their decisions have not been consistent. In Lantz v. Iron Horse Saloon, Inc., 717 So. 2d 590 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998), the minor child’s natural guardian filed suit against Iron Horse Saloon after the child was injured while operating a “pocket bike” on the Iron Horse premises. Id. at 591. The trial court granted Iron Horse’s motion to dismiss the complaint based on the pre-injury release executed by the minor child’s guardian. On appeal, the Fifth District affirmed the trial court’s order granting the motion, finding that the release was sufficient to bar the child’s claim. Id. at 591-92. However, the Fifth District’s decision was based on the finding that the release clearly and unequivocally relieved Iron Horse from liability. The district court did not focus on whether the guardian had authority to execute the pre-injury release on behalf of the minor. Id.

In Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So. 2d 1067 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004), the mother signed a pre-injury release so that the minor child could participate in the Coral Gables Fire Rescue Explorer Program. After the child was injured, the mother filed suit and the trial court [*14] entered summary judgment in favor of the city based on the release the mother had signed. The Third District affirmed and found that the release barred the mother’s claim on behalf of the minor child. Id. at 1067-68. The district court relied on a distinction the Fourth District made in Shea v. Global Travel Marketing, Inc., 870 So. 2d 20, 24 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003), quashed, 908 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2005), between community and school-supported activities and commercial activities. The Third District found that because the explorer program was a community-supported activity, the release was enforceable. Gonzalez, 871 So. 2d at 1067. 5 The Third District similarly found a parent’s execution of a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child, for participation on the high school cheerleading squad, enforceable. See Krathen v. School Bd. of Monroe Cty., 972 So. 2d 887 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007). In Krathen, the Third District again discussed the Fourth District’s distinction in Shea between school-supported activities and commercial activities. Id. at 889. However, the Third District’s decision ultimately relied on this Court’s finding in Shea that “parents have the authority to make the decision whether [*15] to waive a child’s litigation rights in exchange for participation in an activity the parent feels is beneficial for the child.” Id. at 889 (citing Global Travel Mktg., Inc. v. Shea, 908 So. 2d 392, 404 (Fla. 2005)).

5 This Court in Shea found such a distinction arbitrary as applied to parents’ agreements to arbitrate but, in doing so, noted that it would not address this distinction as applied to pre-injury releases. Shea, 908 So. 2d at 403-04 & n.9.

On the other hand, in Applegate v. Cable Water Ski, L.C., 974 So. 2d 1112 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008), a case decided after Lantz, the Fifth District aligned itself with the Fourth District in the instant case and held that pre-injury releases are unenforceable as against public policy. Applegate involved a minor child who was injured while wakeboarding at a camp. In finding the parent’s execution of the pre-injury release unenforceable, the district court emphasized that its decision was limited to commercial enterprises because “[t]hey can insure against the risk of loss and include these costs in the price of participation.” Id. at 1115.

In Global Travel Marketing, Inc. v. Shea, the father brought a wrongful death action against a safari operator [*16] for the death of his son who was mauled by hyenas while on the safari. 908 So. 2d at 395. Before the safari, the child’s mother signed a travel contract on behalf of herself and her son, which included a release of liability and an arbitration agreement provision. Based on the travel contract, Global Travel moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of the father’s claim, which the trial court granted. Id. On appeal, the Fourth District reversed and found the arbitration clause unenforceable as to the child based on public policy grounds. Id. at 396. However, this Court quashed the Fourth District’s decision and found the arbitration agreement enforceable against the minor or minor’s estate in a tort action arising from the contract. 6 In doing so, this Court reasoned that if the courts required parents to seek court approval before entering into travel contracts that included arbitration agreements, courts would be second guessing a fit parent’s decision. Id. at 404. The Court emphasized that parents who decide which activities their children can participate in may also decide on behalf of their children “to arbitrate a resulting tort claim if the risks of these activities [*17] are realized.” Id.

6 This Court noted at the beginning of its decision that the issue, as phrased by the Fourth District, only touched “upon binding arbitration and not on any broader contractual waiver of a tort claim brought on behalf of a minor.” Id. at 394. It also distinguished pre-injury releases from arbitration agreements: “Whether a parent may waive his or her child’s substantive rights is a different question from whether a parent may agree that any dispute arising from the contract may be arbitrated rather than decided in a court of law.” Id. at 401. We emphasized this distinction by noting that the nature of the waiver, whether it concerns a waiver of a legal claim or right or a waiver of the forum in which the claim is presented, “is a crucial consideration in determining whether the state’s interest in protecting children renders the waiver unenforceable.” Id. at 403.

A federal district court in Florida in two separate cases also found that pre-injury releases signed by parents on behalf of their minor children were invalid. See In re Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 459 F. Supp. 2d 1275 (S.D. Fla. 2006); In re Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 403 F. Supp. 2d 1168 (S.D. Fla. 2005) [*18] (where both the father and minor child were injured on a jet ski that was owned by Royal Caribbean on the island of Coco Cay, Bahamas). In both cases, the federal district court reviewed out-of-state precedent and found that in cases involving school-sponsored or community-run activities the courts upheld pre-injury releases, and in cases involving commercial activities the courts have found the releases unenforceable. In re Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 459 F. Supp. 2d at 1280; In re Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 403 F. Supp. 2d at 1172.

Out-of-State Precedent

Other states and federal courts have also addressed the propriety of a parent or guardian’s execution of a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child. In holding that pre-injury releases executed by parents on behalf of minor children are unenforceable for participation in commercial activities, we are in agreement with the majority of other jurisdictions. See, e.g., Johnson v. New River Scenic Whitewater Tours, Inc., 313 F. Supp. 2d 621 (S.D.W.Va. 2004) (finding a parent could not waive liability on behalf of a minor child and also could not indemnify a third party against the parent’s minor child for liability for conduct that [*19] violated a safety statute such as the Whitewater Responsibility Act); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 262 Ill. App. 3d 141, 634 N.E.2d 411, 199 Ill. Dec. 572 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994) (finding a parental pre-injury waiver unenforceable in a situation where the minor child was injured after falling off a horse at a horseback riding school); Doyle v. Bowdoin Coll., 403 A.2d 1206, 1208 n.3 (Me. 1979) (stating in dicta that a parent cannot release a child’s cause of action); Smith v. YMCA of Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, 216 Mich. App. 552, 550 N.W.2d 262, 263 (Mich. Ct. App. 1996) (“It is well settled in Michigan that, as a general rule, a parent has no authority, merely by virtue of being a parent, to waive, release, or compromise claims by or against the parent’s child.”); Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 901 A.2d 381, 383 (N.J. 2006) (finding that where a child was injured while skateboarding at a skate park facility, “a parent may not bind a minor child to a pre-injury release of a minor’s prospective tort claims resulting from the minor’s use of a commercial recreational facility”); Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989) (extending the law that a parent could not execute a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child to a mentally [*20] handicapped twenty-year-old student who was injured while training for the Special Olympics at a YMCA swimming pool); Munoz v. II Jaz, Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207 (Tex. App. 1993) (finding that giving parents the power to waive a child’s cause of action for personal injuries is against public policy to protect the interests of children); Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062, 1066 (Utah 2001) (concluding that “a parent does not have the authority to release a child’s claims before an injury,” where the child was injured as a result of falling off a horse provided by a commercial business); Hiett v. Lake Barcroft Cmty. Ass’n., 244 Va. 191, 418 S.E.2d 894, 8 Va. Law Rep. 3381 (Va. 1992) (concluding that public policy prohibits the use of pre-injury waivers of liability for personal injury due to future acts of negligence, whether for minor children or adults); Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 834 P.2d 6 (Wash. 1992) (holding that the enforcement of an exculpatory agreement signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child participating in a ski school is contrary to public policy).

Although there are jurisdictions where pre-injury releases executed by parents on behalf of minor children have been found enforceable, we note that the only [*21] published decisions where they have been upheld involved a minor’s participation in school-run or community-sponsored activities. See, e.g., Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (Cal. Ct. App. 1990) (finding the pre-injury release executed by the father on behalf of the minor child enforceable against any claims resulting from the child’s participation in a school-sponsored event); Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738 (Mass. 2002) (holding that a parent has the authority to bind a minor child to a waiver of liability as a condition of a child’s participation in public school extracurricular sports activities); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 205 (Ohio 1998) (concluding that a parent may bind a minor child to a release of volunteers and sponsors of a nonprofit sports activity from liability for negligence because the threat of liability would strongly deter “many individuals from volunteering for nonprofit organizations” because of the potential for substantial damage awards).

While this particular case involves a commercial activity, we note that these jurisdictions that have upheld pre-injury releases have done so because community-run and [*22] school-sponsored type activities involve different policy considerations than those associated with commercial activities. As the Ohio Supreme Court explained in Zivich, in community and volunteer-run activities, the providers cannot afford to carry liability insurance because “volunteers offer their services without receiving any financial return.” 696 N.E.2d at 205. If pre-injury releases were invalidated, these volunteers would be faced with the threat of lawsuits and the potential for substantial damage awards, which could lead volunteers to decide that the risk is not worth the effort.

This Case

The trial court in this case specifically relied on the case law that has upheld the enforceability of the pre-injury release executed by the father on behalf of the deceased minor child in granting a motion for summary judgment in favor of the Kirtons. In reversing the trial court’s order, the Fourth District first acknowledged that as part of the liberty interest contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the guarantee of privacy in article I, section 23 of the Florida Constitution, parents have a right to determine what activities may be appropriate for [*23] the minor child’s participation. However, the district court determined that the “decision to absolve the provider of an activity from liability for any form of negligence (regardless of the inherent risk or danger in the activity) goes beyond the scope of determining which activity a person feels is appropriate for their child.” Fields, 961 So. 2d at 1129. We agree.

Although parents undoubtedly have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, upbringing, and control of their children, Troxel, 530 U.S. at 67, the question of whether a parent should be allowed to waive a minor child’s future tort claims implicates wider public policy concerns. See Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 390. While a parent’s decision to allow a minor child to participate in a particular activity is part of the parent’s fundamental right to raise a child, this does not equate with a conclusion that a parent has a fundamental right to execute a pre-injury release of a tortfeasor on behalf of a minor child. It cannot be presumed that a parent who has decided to voluntarily risk a minor child’s physical well-being is acting in the child’s best interest. Furthermore, we find that there is injustice [*24] when a parent agrees to waive the tort claims of a minor child and deprive the child of the right to legal relief when the child is injured as a result of another party’s negligence. When a parent executes such a release and a child is injured, the provider of the activity escapes liability while the parent is left to deal with the financial burden of an injured child. If the parent cannot afford to bear that burden, the parties who suffer are the child, other family members, and the people of the State who will be called on to bear that financial burden. Therefore, when a parent decides to execute a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child, the parent is not protecting the welfare of the child, but is instead protecting the interests of the activity provider. Moreover, [HN9] a “parent’s decision in signing a pre-injury release impacts the minor’s estate and the property rights personal to the minor.” Fields, 961 So. 2d at 1129-30. For this reason, the state must assert its role under parens patriae to protect the interests of the minor children.

[HN10] Business owners owe their patrons a duty of reasonable care and to maintain a safe environment for the activity they provide. See Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 388. [*25] If pre-injury releases were permitted for commercial establishments, the incentive to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of minor children would be removed. Id. Moreover, as a provider of the activity, a commercial business can take precautions to ensure the child’s safety and insure itself when a minor child is injured while participating in the activity. On the other hand, a minor child cannot insure himself or herself against the risks involved in participating in that activity. As the New Jersey Supreme Court stated in Hojnowski:

[HN11] The operator of a commercial recreational enterprise can inspect the premises for unsafe conditions, train his or her employees with regard to the facility’s proper operation, and regulate the types of activities permitted to occur. Such an operator also can obtain insurance and spread the costs of insurance among its customers. Children, on the other hand, are not in a position to discover hazardous conditions or insure against risks. Moreover, the expectation that a commercial facility will be reasonably safe to do that which is within the scope of the invitation, is especially important where the facility’s patrons are minor children. [*26] If we were to permit waivers of liability, we would remove a significant incentive for operators of commercial enterprises that attract children to take reasonable precautions to protect their safety.

Id. (citations omitted).

Based on these public policy concerns, it is clear that the pre-injury release executed by Bobby Jones on behalf of his now deceased son was unenforceable because it prevented the minor’s estate from bringing a cause of action against the commercial establishment that provided the activity which resulted in the minor’s death.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, we hold that a pre-injury release executed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is unenforceable against the minor or the minor’s estate in a tort action arising from injuries resulting from participation in a commercial activity. Accordingly, we answer the certified question in the negative, approve the decision of the Fourth District, disapprove the Fifth District’s decision in Lantz, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

ANSTEAD, PARIENTE, and LEWIS, JJ., concur.

ANSTEAD, J., specially concurs with an opinion.

PARIENTE, J., concurs with an opinion.

WELLS, J., dissents [*27] with an opinion.

CANADY and POLSTON, JJ., did not participate.

CONCUR BY: ANSTEAD; PARIENTE

CONCUR

ANSTEAD, J., specially concurring.

I concur in the majority opinion and write separately to emphasize that our holding is narrowly directed at those commercial operators who wrongfully and negligently cause injury to a child but seek to be relieved of liability for their misconduct by securing a pre-activity release from the child’s parent. Of course, under today’s holding commercial operators who properly conduct their operations and cannot be demonstrated to have acted negligently will continue to be free of liability. On the other hand, Florida’s children and parents need not worry, after today’s decision, that careless commercial operators may be immunized from their carelessness by the presence of an exculpatory clause in a ticket for admission.

Finally, I also find the articulation of the policy considerations supporting today’s decision set out in Judge Torpy’s opinion for the Fifth District in Applegate to be particularly instructive and persuasive:

Exculpatory contracts are, by public policy, disfavored in the law because they relieve one party of the obligation to use due care and shift the risk of [*28] injury to the party who is probably least equipped to take the necessary precautions to avoid injury and bear the risk of loss. Cain v. Banka, 932 So. 2d 575, 578 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006). Nevertheless, because of a countervailing policy that favors the enforcement of contracts, as a general proposition, unambiguous exculpatory contracts are enforceable unless they contravene public policy. Id.; Ivey Plants, Inc. v. FMC Corp., 282 So. 2d 205, 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 496B.

Appellants concede that the contract at issue here is unambiguous but urge that the general rule should give way to an overriding public policy of protecting children from damages caused by negligently imposed injuries. This argument finds considerable support in the decisional law across the country. We are persuaded by some of the reasoning advanced by these authorities and also offer our own rationale for our holding.

Indisputably, Florida’s public policy manifests a strong intent to protect children from harm. As parens patriae, the state’s authority is broader than that of a parent’s and may be invoked to limit parental authority when necessary to protect children. Global Travel Mktg., Inc. v. Shea, 908 So. 2d 392, 399 (Fla. 2005). [*29] The expression of that policy most relevant here is the legislative limitation on parental authority to settle post-injury claims contained in section 744.301(2), Florida Statutes (2007). By requiring judicial approval of settlements over $ 15,000, the legislature has manifested a policy of protecting children from parental imprudence in the compromise of their claims for injury. Because parents’ legal duty to support their children ends at or near the age of majority, the potential societal burden of an imprudent settlement justifies judicial oversight of the settlement contract.

The case of a pre-injury exculpatory clause may be distinguished from a post-injury settlement in one respect. In a pre-injury situation, there is no risk that financial pressure will induce parental imprudence. Instead, the parents’ motivation is the potential benefit to the child derived from the child’s participation in the activity. Theoretically, the prudent parent can weigh this benefit against the potential consequence of a negligently caused injury and determine whether it is in the child’s best interest to execute an exculpatory clause and permit the activity. Motivations aside, however, the consequence [*30] of an imprudent decision is the same as in the post-injury context: a child will suffer injury for which society might ultimately bear the burden. Thus, the parents’ interest is not necessarily consonant with those of society and the child.

Although this potential societal cost is arguably a justification to invalidate all pre-injury exculpatory clauses, we discern significant reasons for a distinction when a child is the subject. A consenting adult has the ability to avoid potential injury by exercising personal caution and mitigate the impact of future economic loss by purchasing disability and health insurance policies. Conversely, children tend to throw caution to the wind during risky activities, resulting in a decreased chance of avoiding injury caused by the negligence of others. More importantly, children have no ability to indemnify themselves for future economic losses like their adult counterparts, making them especially vulnerable after the parents’ support obligation ends. As parens patriae, the state also has an interest in protecting children from the non-economic consequences of negligently-caused injury. A policy that enforces exculpatory clauses fosters an increased [*31] risk of injury through carelessness. For these reasons, although the scales of public policy might tip in favor of the enforcement of exculpatory contracts involving consenting adults, we think they tip the other way when children are the subject.

We emphasize that our holding is limited to commercial enterprises. They can insure against the risk of loss and include these costs in the price of participation.

Applegate, 974 So. 2d at 1114-15 (footnote and citation omitted).

PARIENTE, J., concurring.

I fully concur with the majority’s conclusion that the pre-injury release signed by the father on behalf of his fourteen-year-old son, executed in order to “gain entry to the facility and be allowed to participate in riding the ATV in the Thunder Cross Motor Sports Park,” is invalid. The owners and operators of the sports park, the Kirtons, raised the execution of this release as a complete defense to the wrongful death action brought on behalf of the estate.

I write to emphasize several points. First, as pointed out by the Fourth District, “[t]here is no basis in common law for a parent to enter into a compromise or settlement of a child’s claim, or to waive substantive rights of the child without [*32] court approval.” Fields, 961 So. 2d at 1130.

Second, the release in this case was all-encompassing, as it covered not just injuries occurring as a result of the activity of ATV riding, which itself could be considered inherently dangerous, but all negligent acts. The allegations of the complaint in this case, which we must accept as true, asserted in pertinent part that the ATV fourteen-year-old Christopher Jones was “racing and jumping” on “the course set up and maintained by Defendants” was recommended “only for use by those over the age of 16” by the manufacturer. Significantly, the allegations also asserted that “the subject four wheel all terrain vehicle was not designed by the manufacturer or recommended for racing or jumping on a course such as the course constructed and maintained by Defendants and/or Defendants’ agents and employees.”

Moreover, the amended complaint alleged that the Kirtons had prior knowledge of Christopher Jones’s limited experience based on a serious injury he sustained on the same course with the same ATV approximately one month before:

Defendants and/or their agents and employees knew or should have known that a fourteen year old with limited experience [*33] as a rider, such as CHRISTOPHER JONES, should not have been permitted to operate the subject 350 cc four wheel all terrain vehicle in the manner it was being operated by him on the course constructed and maintained by THUNDER CROSS MOTOR SPORTS PARK on May 10, 2003. This is particularly the case given the fact that the last time CHRISTOPHER JONES operated the subject 350 cc four wheel all terrain vehicle he operated it in the same manner and “missed the jump” while riding on the identical course constructed and maintained by THUNDER CROSS MOTOR SPORTS PARK on April 6, 2003. On that date he was seriously injured such that he was removed from the Defendant’s property by Fire Rescue personnel and was transported to the hospital for treatment.

The amended complaint further alleged that the negligent design of the course and the failure to have a “flag man” to alert riders to the dangers of the course and to prevent the fatal injuries directly caused or substantially contributed to the death of Christopher Jones. As explained in the amended complaint:

On May 10, 2003 while attempting to jump on Defendants’ course which was negligently constructed and/or maintained by Defendants through their [*34] agents and their employees, CHRISTOPHER JONES “missed the jump” so that he came up short and did not clear the jump. The front tires of the four wheel all terrain vehicle he was operating hit the ground first and CHRISTOPHER JONES bounced over the handlebars, flipped off the four-wheeler to the right and the four-wheeler went to the left and then came back directly at him.

Although there was supposed to be a flag man stationed at the jump to alert riders of dangers on the course and to assist in rendering assistance to injured riders such as CHRISTOPHER JONES, there was no flag man stationed at the jump that CHRISTOPHER JONES was attempting to navigate when the accident occurred on May 10, 2003. Because the four-wheeler came back at CHRISTOPHER JONES after he was thrown off the vehicle, had a flag man been close enough to the jump, he would have been able to remove CHRISTOPHER JONES from harm’s way before the vehicle hit and killed him.

In distinguishing between risks inherent in the activity and separate acts of negligence, the Fourth District explained:

The decision to absolve the provider of an activity from liability for any form of negligence (regardless of the inherent risk or danger [*35] in the activity) goes beyond the scope of determining which activity a person feels is appropriate for their child. The decision to allow a minor to participate in an activity is properly left to the parents or natural guardian. For instance, the decision to allow one’s child to engage in scuba diving or sky diving involves the acceptance of certain risks inherent in the activity. This does not contemplate that a dive instructor will permit or encourage diving at depths beyond safe recreational limits, or that the pilot of the plane on a sky diving venture is intoxicated or otherwise impaired, both situations which could cause injury to the minor.

Id. at 1129. I agree with this distinction. Although the father accepted the risks inherent in ATV riding by allowing his son to participate in the activity, his acceptance did not contemplate that the defendants would act negligently as described in the amended complaint.

Finally, I write to emphasize that this Court limits its decision to activities provided by commercial establishments because those were the facts presented by this case. However, I do not agree with the reasoning of those cases cited by the majority that have found that [*36] all releases from liability for noncommercial activities are automatically valid. To me there is an important distinction between a release to allow a child to participate in school activities, such as cheerleading or football, which could be considered inherently dangerous, and a blanket release that absolves the sponsor of liability from all negligent acts. As with commercial activities, when a parent allows his or her child to participate in an inherently dangerous noncommercial activity, his or her acceptance does not contemplate that the activity provider will act negligently.

DISSENT BY: WELLS

DISSENT

WELLS, J., dissenting.

While I agree that it would be a good policy to limit parental pre-injury releases of minors’ claims for injuries or death arising out of dangerous activities operated by commercial entities, until today this Court has never held that such a pre-injury release knowingly executed by a parent is unenforceable. Nor until this case was decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, had a district court of appeal held such a pre-injury release unenforceable. Furthermore, when the parent in this case signed such a release, the Legislature had not prohibited or regulated pre-injury parental [*37] releases of a minor’s claims, though the Legislature had legislated as to post-injury parental releases of a minor’s claims. See §§ 744.301, 744.387, Fla. Stat. (2003). The Legislature has not subsequently acted to regulate pre-injury releases. Thus, at the time of this parental agreement which permitted the minor to participate in this activity, there was no law in Florida, either statutory or court-declared, enunciating the public policy that the majority now determines makes this agreement unenforceable. Absent the majority’s decision that such an agreement is against public policy, the agreement would without question be enforceable. See Ivey Plants, Inc. v. FMC Corp., 282 So. 2d 205, 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973) (explaining that exculpatory clauses are generally valid and enforceable absent public policy requiring nonenforcement). I believe that it is fundamentally unfair to now declare a new public policy and then apply it to the defendants in this case.

Moreover, I conclude that the majority opinion highlights why the decision as to the enforceability of a parent’s pre-injury release of a minor’s claim is and should be a legislative decision. The majority opinion creates many questions [*38] and provides few answers. The answers will have to be gleaned from further costly case-by-case litigation, and if the particular circumstances of other releases are found to be against the declared public policy, the result will be additional after-the-fact determinations of liability without sufficient notice to the parties involved.

The majority opinion draws a distinction between “commercial establishments” and “community based or school activities,” which is precisely the distinction that this Court’s majority criticized in quashing the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Global Travel Marketing, Inc. v. Shea, 908 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2005). The Court expressly stated:

[T]he line dividing commonplace activities from commercial travel opportunities is far from clear, given that some commonplace school or community activities might also involve commercial travel. The Fourth District decision might prevent arbitration of claims of minors arising from their parents’ decisions in individually authorizing activities that involve commercial travel, but not from the decisions of school authorities in arranging for the same activity.

We see no basis in fact or law for this distinction, [*39] nor a reliable standard by which to apply it without making value judgments as to the underlying activity that the parent has deemed appropriate for the child to engage in. Moreover, the alternative of requiring parents to seek court approval before entering into commercial travel contracts that include arbitration agreements would place courts in a position of second guessing the decision-making of a fit parent.

Id. at 404 (footnote omitted). In reaching our decision, we relied upon and quoted from Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 68-69, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49 (2000) (“Accordingly, so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children (i.e., is fit), there will normally be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.”).

I recognize that in Shea the majority said in a footnote that it was not addressing the distinction between commercial and community-based and school-related activities as applied to pre-injury waivers of liability. See 908 So. 2d at 395 n.3. However, in this case, the majority does not have any more of a reasonable “basis in law [*40] or fact for this distinction, nor a reliable standard by which to apply it without making value judgments as to the underlying activity that the parent has deemed appropriate for the child to engage in” than the majority had in Shea. As found in Shea, the line dividing commercial activities from community-based and school-related activities is far from clear. For example, is a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, YMCA, or church camp a commercial establishment or a community-based activity? Is a band trip to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade a school or commercial activity? What definition of commercial is to be applied?

The importance of this issue cannot be overstated because it affects so many youth activities and involves so much monetary exposure. Bands, cheerleading squads, sports teams, church choirs, and other groups that often charge for their activities and performances will not know whether they are a commercial activity because of the fees and ticket sales. How can these groups carry on their activities that are so needed by youth if the groups face exposure to large damage claims either by paying defense costs or damages? Insuring against such claims is not a realistic [*41] answer for many activity providers because insurance costs deplete already very scarce resources. The majority’s decision seems just as likely to force small-scale activity providers out of business as it is to encourage such providers to obtain insurance coverage.

If pre-injury releases are to be banned or regulated, it should be done by the Legislature so that a statute can set universally applicable standards and definitions. When the Legislature acts, all are given advance notice before a minor’s participation in an activity as to what is regulated and as to whether a pre-injury release is enforceable. In contrast, the majority’s present opinion will predictably create extensive and expensive litigation attempting to sort out the bounds of commercial activities on a case-by-case basis.

The majority opinion also does not explain the reason why after years of not finding pre-injury releases to be against public policy, it today finds a public policy reason to rule pre-injury releases unenforceable when the Legislature has not done so. Again, the present majority opinion conflicts with the reasoning expressed just three years ago in Shea:

Further, the lack of a statutory requirement [*42] for court involvement in pre-injury arbitration agreements provides a basis for treating these agreements differently from settlements of lawsuits involving minors’ claims, for which appointment of a guardian ad litem and court approval are necessary under certain circumstances pursuant to sections 744.301 and 744.387, Florida Statutes (2004). The Legislature has chosen to authorize court protection of children’s interests as to extant causes of action, but has not exercised its prerogative as parens patriae to prohibit arbitration of those claims.

908 So. 2d at 403. Similarly, though the Legislature has acted in respect to the settlement of accrued claims, the Legislature has not acted in respect to pre-injury releases. There can be no question that the Legislature adopts legislation when it concludes that the interests of minors are best served by statutory protection. The Legislature has chosen to act in respect to many matters in which the Legislature concluded that minors should have the protection of a guardian ad litem. See Tallahassee Mem’l Reg’l Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Petersen, 920 So. 2d 75, 78 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006) (listing circumstances in which trial court may or must appoint [*43] a guardian ad litem: § 39.402(8)(c) (shelter hearings); § 39.807(2)(a) (termination of parental rights proceedings); § 73.021(4) (eminent domain proceedings); § 390.01115(4)(a) (termination of pregnancy without parental notification); § 731.303(4) (probate proceedings); § 743.09(3) (contract for artistic or creative services or professional sport contract); § 744.446 (parental conflict of interests with minor child), Florida Statutes (2004)). Thus, as we did in respect to arbitration agreements, it is reasonable to conclude that the Legislature has chosen not to act in respect to pre-injury releases.

The Legislature may have chosen not to act on the issue of pre-injury releases out of respect for the authority of parents to make choices involving their children, which again we recognized in Shea:

Parents’ authority under the Fourteenth Amendment and article I, section 23 [of the Florida Constitution] encompasses decisions on the activities appropriate for their children–whether they be academically or socially focused pursuits, physically rigorous activities such as football, adventure sports such as skiing, horseback riding, or mountain climbing, or, as in this case, an adventure vacation [*44] in a game reserve. Parents who choose to allow their children to engage in these activities may also legitimately elect on their children’s behalf to arbitrate a resulting tort claim if the risks of these activities is realized.

908 So. 2d at 404. Without the ability to execute pre-injury releases, a parent may find that his or her minor child will not be able to participate in activities because the operators of the activities will not accept the financial exposure of the minor’s participation, regardless of whether the parent would decide that the benefit to the minor outweighed the risk of injury.

The majority opinion raises other serious questions. If a parent does not have the authority to execute a pre-injury release, does a parent have the authority to execute an enforceable consent for medical treatment on behalf of a minor child? Florida courts have long recognized the authority of the parent to execute an enforceable consent for medical treatment on behalf of a minor child, see Ritz v. Fla. Patient’s Comp. Fund, 436 So. 2d 987, 989 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983) (holding that parent could consent to medical treatment on behalf of incompetent child), but medical consents and pre-injury [*45] releases have substantial similarities. Plainly, without the giving of consent, health care providers in most instances will not provide medical services. The majority’s decision also calls into question whether a parent has authority to turn down an offer of settlement for an injury to a minor as was upheld in Petersen.

In sum, I conclude that the questions presented by this case demonstrate a need for the Court to exercise judicial restraint, recognize that the Legislature is the policy-making branch of government, and defer to the Legislature by respecting the Legislature’s non-action to date.