University climbing wall release along with Texas Recreational Use Act and Texas Tort Claims Act defeat injured climber’s lawsuit

Court looks at whether a release will defeat a claim for gross negligence but does not decide the case on that issue. Case is confusing, because court discussed defenses that were not applicable. Plaintiff waived all but the gross negligence claims.

Benavidez v. The University of Texas — Pan American, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 11940

State: Texas, Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Rolando Benavidez

Defendant: The University of Texas — Pan American

Plaintiff Claims: failure to properly use the climbing equipment and properly supervise [Benavidez] during the climb, Under the theory of respondeat superior, Benavidez claimed that his injuries were caused by the negligence and gross negligence of UTPA (University of Texas– Pan American), negligent use of tangible personal property in that UTPA breached its “legal duty to [Benavidez] to provide supervision of [Benavidez], use safe equipment with [Benavidez], and to properly secure [Benavidez’s] harness prior to climbing.” negligent use or condition of real property in that UTPA breached its duty to provide a safe climbing wall for Benavidez and failed to use ordinary care to protect Benavidez from an unreasonably dangerous condition. UTPA had subjective awareness of a high degree of risk and acted with “conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of [Benavidez] or others similarly situated.

Defendant Defenses: Release, Recreational Use Statute and the Texas Tort Claims Act

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiff was climbing at the university’s climbing wall. He signed a release to climb. On the back of the release was a set of rules about climbing that the plaintiff also had to sign. i.e. Two legal documents on one sheet of paper.

The plaintiff argued the rules on the backside of the agreement were part of the contract. Because the climbing wall had not followed the rules, the release was no longer valid and the defendant had acted negligently and gross negligently.

While climbing the plaintiff reached the top of the wall and was told to lean back while he was lowered. The plaintiff fell 33’ suffering injuries. Based on witness statements of other employees of the wall, it appeared the figure 8 (knot) used to tie the plaintiff’s harness to the rope had been tied incorrectly.

The trial court dismissed the case, awarded costs against the plaintiff based on the Texas Tort Claims Act, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at the Texas Tort Claim Act and its application to the case.

As a governmental unit, UTPA is immune from both suit and liability unless the Tort Claims Act has waived that immunity. Section 101.021 of the Tort Claims Act has been interpreted as waiving sovereign immunity in three general areas: “use of publicly owned automobiles, premises defects, and injuries arising out of conditions or use of property.”

The court then brought in the Texas Recreational Use Statute. Under the Texas Recreational Use Statute, a state landowner (governmental entity) can only be liable for gross negligence.

When injury or death results on state-owned, recreational land, the recreational use statute limits the state’s duty even further to that owed by a landowner to a trespasser, which means that the State only waives immunity for conduct that rises to the level of gross negligence.

The university is state land, and the climbing wall is on the land. It was used for recreation and probably as a student for free, although this was not discussed in the case. Consequently, the Texas Recreational Use Act protected the university from negligence claims.

With the ordinary negligence claims gone, the court turned to the gross negligence claims and looked at the release. Under Texas law to be valid, a release must:

(1) provide fair notice by being conspicuous, and (2) comply with the express negligence doctrine. To be conspicuous, a release must be written, displayed, or presented such that a reasonable person against whom it is to operate ought to have noticed it. A release satisfies the express negligence doctrine if it expresses the intent of the parties to exculpate a party for its own negligence.

The burden is on the defendant, the person relying on the defense of release, to prove the validity of the release and the requirements set forth by the court.

The court then looked at whether the release then barred the claim for gross negligence. The court reviewed several Texas cases; however, the court did not decide whether a release in this situation barred a claim for gross negligence. The court found the gross negligence claim was not raised on the appeal.

For a legal argument to be argued in the court, there are two basic components that must be met before any argument can be made. The argument must be made in the trial court and in many cases an objection to the court’s ruling made. Second the issue must be argued in the statements (pleadings) at the appellate court also. Here, although argued in the trial court the issue was not argued or probably raised at the appellate court.

The court then went back to the release to see if the release was still valid. The plaintiff claimed the defendant violated the release because it failed to follow the rules on the reverse side of the release. Because the rules were on the document called the release the plaintiff argued they were part of the release. Those rules set forth how the climbers and allegedly the gym was supposed to act. One of the rules required all knots to be checked by specific persons at the gym, which was not done in this case, and allegedly not done at all until after the plaintiff’s injury.

Arguing the rules and release were one document, the plaintiff stated the failure to follow the rules was a material breach of the contract. A material breach or avoidance of the contract voids it.

Under Texas law, a release is a contract and is subject to avoidance just like any other contract. When construing a contract, the court’s primary concern is to give effect to the written expression of the parties’ intent. This court is bound to read all parts of a contract together to ascertain the agreement of the parties. The contract must be considered as a whole. Moreover, each part of the contract should be given full effect.

A prior material breach one that occurs before the execution of the contract discharges the parties from the contractual obligations. “Under the theory of prior material breach, a party is discharged from its contractual obligations based on the other party’s material breach of the contract.”

Execution of the contract means the contract by its terms has not been completed. Meaning there is part so the contract that have not been complied with by one or more parties. Here the failure of the gym to check the plaintiff’s knot was prior to the climbing of the plaintiff. “Under the theory of prior material breach, a party is discharged from its contractual obligations based on the other party’s material breach of the contract.”

Under Texas law for a court to determine if a prior material breach to occur the court must determine the following:

(1) the extent to which the injured party will be deprived of the benefit which he reasonably expected;

(2) the extent to which the injured party can be adequately compensated for the part of that benefit of which he will be deprived;

(3) the extent to which the party failing to perform or to offer performance will suffer forfeiture;

(4) the likelihood that the party failing to perform or to offer to perform will cure his failure, taking account of all the circumstances including any reasonable assurances; and

(5) the extent to which the behavior of the party failing to perform or to offer to perform comports with standards of good faith and fair dealing.

This court also examined whether or not checking the knot was a condition precedent. A condition precedent requires one thing to occur before the rest of the contract must be done.

Alternatively, a condition precedent is an event that must occur or act that must be per-formed before rights can accrue to enforce an obligation. Ordinarily, terms such as “if,” “provided that,” “on condition that,” or similar conditional language indicate the intent to create a condition precedent. Conditions precedent, which can cause forfeiture of a contractual right, are not favored under the law, and we will not construe a contract provision as a condition precedent unless we are compelled to do so by language that may be construed in no other way.

However, the court found that the language of the safety rules did not relate to the language of the release. The safety rules, overall, were simply rules the plaintiff was to follow and was not part of the contract. “…the safety policy’s side of the document, by its clear language, does not indicate that UTPA promised to comply with the policies or that compliance with the policies by UTPA…

However, reading the safety policies document as a whole, we find that the language of the agreement placed the sole responsibility on the climber to ensure that the procedures in the safety polices were followed.

Because we find that, by its clear language, the waiver and release form did not express the intent of either party to condition the release from liability on any performance by UTPA and did not include a promise by UTPA to follow the safety policies as consideration for the contract, we conclude that UTPA did not breach or fail to satisfy a condition of the release contract.

The remaining issues before the court were dismissed because without a negligence claim, they were also decided. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims and the award of costs under the Texas rules of civil procedure.

Costs are not attorney fees. Costs are the cost of going to trial, the filing fee, witness fees, possibly deposition costs, etc. Most states allow the winning side to recover costs of a trial.

So Now What?

This was close. It was obvious by the amount of time the court spend discussing the issue of a material breach that the language on the back of the release was an issue for the court. Always remember a release is a contract. You don’t buy a house with a laundry list on the back. You don’t rent an apartment with state driving laws on the back. Releases are contracts, and you need to make sure there is no issue that the document you are having your guests sign. A Release must be a contract and nothing else.

The university, because it was a state college was subject to broader and more protective statutes that provided defenses, than a private commercial gym or a private college. A state’s tort claims act provides a broad range for protection.

Whether or not a state’s recreational use statute provides protection for governmental agencies is different in each state. If you are in this position, you should check with counsel to see what protection any state statutes may provide.

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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Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al.

A13A1778.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

March 25, 2014, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: Negligence, etc. Richmond Superior Court. Before Judge Annis.

DISPOSITION: [***1] Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Richard H. Goolsby, Sr., for appellants.

Dodson & Associates, Charles R. Beans, for appellees.

JUDGES: ANDREWS, Presiding Judge. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

[*522] [**147] Andrews, Presiding Judge.

James and Jennifer Goins sued The Family YMCA (the Y) after their 16-year-old son Brant collapsed while walking on a treadmill at its facility. Brant died before EMTs arrived, and it was later determined that he suffered from a congenital heart disease. The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment on the Goins’ claims of negligence and fraud. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

The following facts are undisputed. The Goins brought their son Brant to the Y to get him into shape for baseball season and to lose some weight. Brant began training with Greg Mason, a certified personal trainer, and there was no indication at the time that Brant was not in good physical condition. The Goins do not contend that there was anything inappropriate in the level or intensity of the workouts suggested by Mason.

On the day in question, Brant had been walking on the treadmill for a short time when he collapsed. An employee who saw him fall immediately called 911. This employee was trained in CPR, but stated that she did not go over to Brant because there were two “paramedics” [***2] with him. One of the two men was a deputy sheriff who had been a first responder for eight years, was trained in advanced CPR, first aid, and also had life saving training in the Marine Corps. The deputy said that he checked for a pulse and saw that Brant was still breathing. The other man who went over to Brant after he collapsed was an EMT who testified that the deputy was with Goins when he went over to see if he could help. He stated that Brant’s airway was open and he saw him take a breath, but then Brant [*523] appeared to stop breathing. The deputy also testified that he saw Brant take a large breath and then stop breathing. At that point, the deputy and the EMT began CPR. Simultaneously, the ambulance and EMTs arrived on the scene.

The Goins filed this suit, claiming that the Y was negligent in the death of their son because he was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was [***3] also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment in a two-sentence order. This appeal followed.

[HN1] To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). A [***4] defendant may do this by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of plaintiff’s case. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out by reference to the affidavits, depositions and other documents in the record that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. If the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but rather must point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue.

Boller v. Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, 311 Ga. App. 693, 693-694 (716 SE2d 713) (2011).

1. The Goins first argue that the trial court erred in finding there was no duty to render first aid to a minor child in the Y’s care when false representations had been made to the child’s parents.

[HN2] The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence [*524] action is whether and to what extent the defendant [***5] owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

Boller, supra at 695-696. In Boller, plaintiff

claimed that the Arts Center breached its duty of care to her husband, an [**148] invitee, by its failure to have on site either an ambulance or an officer operating an automatic external defibrillator device (“AED”) and by its failure to maintain a safety and security plan to govern the actions of employees and security personnel during a medical emergency.

Id. at 695. This Court held that

the long-established general rule is that [HN3] “[a] person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused,” even when the peril is foreseeable. We conclude that this case is controlled by our decision in Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, where we held that the defendant innkeeper had no legal duty to comply with a wife’s requests that it attempt a rescue of its guest, her husband, from his medical peril. In that case, the defendant did not create the decedent’s underlying medical condition. Similarly, in the case at bar, Boller does not allege that the Arts Center or the concert it sponsored caused her husband’s sudden attack of cardiac arrest.

(Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 696.

Nevertheless, [***6] the Goins argue that a “special relationship” existed in this case, because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The Goins cite to several cases not on point. See, e.g., Bull Street Church of Christ v. Jensen, 233 Ga. App. 96 (504 SE2d 1) (1998) (four-year-old victim molested at church); Wallace v. Boys Club of Albany, 211 Ga. App. 534 (439 SE2d 746) (1993) (five-year-old boy abducted from summer camp after employees assured parents that they would watch child and keep track of his whereabouts). (1) Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.1 There is no merit to this enumeration.

1 The Goins claim that when they signed their son up for a personal trainer at the YMCA, Greg Mason was misrepresented to them as a “certified” personal fitness trainer. This argument is puzzling. The undisputed evidence was that Mason was a certified personal trainer.

[*525] 2. Likewise, for the same reasons discussed in Division 1, the (2) trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellants’ negligence claim. Further, and equally important, the Goins [***7] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death. The Goins’ statement of facts does not refer to the deposition testimony of the deputy sheriff or the EMT. It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician and a deputy sheriff trained as a first responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

3. Next, the Goins claim that the trial court erred in finding no issues of fact on their fraud claim. The Goins alleged in their complaint that they were told that “THE FAMILY Y was a safe and positive environment.” (3) They contend that it was represented to them that there would be adequate well-trained employees on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.

[HN4] To survive a motion for summary judgment on a fraud count, some evidence must support each of the five elements, which are: a false representation by a defendant; scienter; intention to induce the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting; justifiable reliance [***8] by plaintiff; and damage to the plaintiff.

Wertz v. Allen, 313 Ga. App. 202, 207-208 (721 SE2d 122) (2011).

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing. The Y was entitled to summary judgment on this claim, and there was no error.

Judgment affirmed. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.


Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 986 F. Supp. 2d 555; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161029

Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 986 F. Supp. 2d 555; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161029

Colleen Barillari and William Barillari, Plaintiffs, v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., Defendant.

Civ. No. 3:12-CV-00034

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

986 F. Supp. 2d 555; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161029

November 12, 2013, Decided

November 12, 2013, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Barillari v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4998 (M.D. Pa., Jan. 17, 2012)

CORE TERMS: skiing, sport, downhill, skier, spectator, no-duty, summary judgment, ski, hit, ball, SKIER’S RESPONSIBILITY ACT DOES, risk doctrine, foul ball, amusement, matter of law, inherent risks, slope, baseball game, baseball, genuine, snow, ski lift, collision, mountain, ski resorts, risks inherent, nonmoving party, frequent, sporting, player

COUNSEL: [**1] For Colleen Barillari, William Barillari, h/w, Plaintiffs: Edward Shensky, Jeffrey A. Krawitz, Stark & Stark, Newtown, PA.

JUDGES: Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Matthew W. Brann

OPINION

[*557] MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Ski Shawnee, Inc.’s (“Defendant”) motion for summary judgment in the negligence action filed by Colleen Barillari and William Barillari (“Plaintiffs”). The complaint alleges Colleen Barillari suffered an injury and William Barillari suffered a corresponding loss of consortium, both caused by the Defendant’s alleged negligence. See Pls.’ Compl. 9-13, Jan. 6, 2012, ECF No. 1.

The Defendant moves for summary judgment in its favor on two related, but alternative theories relying on the assumption of the risk doctrine: first, that the Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the Pennsylvania Skier’s Responsibility Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(c); or, alternatively, that the claims are barred by the traditional common law assumption of the risk doctrine. See Def.’s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 5-9, Dec. 3, 2012, ECF No. 17 [hereinafter Def.’s Br.]. The Court hereby denies the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on both theories for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from [**2] an accident Mrs. Barillari suffered at the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 2010. Def.’s Statement Material Facts ¶ 1, Dec. 3, 2012, ECF No. 18 [hereinafter Def.’s SOF]. Although Mrs. Barillari had skied previously, she was not a ticketed skier that day. Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 3-4; Pls.’ Answer Statement Facts ¶ 3, Dec. 19, 2012, ECF No. 19 [hereinafter Pls.’ SOF]. On that particular occasion, she came to the ski area to watch her husband and her children take ski lessons. Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 6-13.

The accident occurred while Mrs. Barillari was standing on the snow of the slope close to tape that divided a ski run from the instruction area where Mr. Barillari was taking a lesson. See Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 12-13; Pls.’ SOF ¶¶ 10-11. There was a sign that read: “ATTENTION A Ticket or a Pass is Required to be on the Snow.” Def.’s SOF ¶ 19. Nevertheless, Ski Shawnee, Inc. employees admitted that the sign may be ambiguous and that its stated policy was not routinely enforced. Pls.’ SOF ¶ 19.

Mrs. Barillari was generally aware of the risks of collision between skiers. [*558] Def.’s SOF ¶ 7. At the time, however, she was not worried about skiers colliding with her because she believed [**3] that she was close enough to the dividing tape and there were other spectators in the area. Def.’s SOF ¶¶ 15-17; Pls.’ SOF ¶¶ 15-17. Unfortunately for Mrs. Barillari, a skier did collide with her and caused an injury to her left leg. Pls.’ SOF, at 2. The Court considers the legal arguments in light of these facts.

II. DISCUSSION

A. LEGAL STANDARDS

1. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the court is satisfied that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). When the court considers the evidence on summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.” Id. at 255.

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the nonexistence of a “genuine issue” of material fact. In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 237 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and [**4] citations omitted). The moving party may satisfy this burden by either submitting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim, or demonstrating the other party’s evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of its claim. Id. at 231.

Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, the nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). To do so, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). Rather, to survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, “[w]hen opposing summary judgment, the non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations, but rather must identify those facts of record which would contradict the facts identified by the movant.” Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal [**5] quotations and citation omitted).

In deciding the merits of a party’s motion for summary judgment, the court’s role is to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial, not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the factfinder, not the district court. BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). Consequently, summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that 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. 54(a).

2. Pennsylvania Law Must Be Applied In This Case

This case is before the Court as a diversity of citizenship action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Plaintiffs are citizens of New [*559] Jersey, the Defendant is a Pennsylvania corporation with a principal place of business in Pennsylvania, and the amount in controversy is alleged to be over $75,000–consequently, diversity jurisdiction is proper. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Pls.’ Compl., ¶¶ 1, 2, 46.

As this is a diversity action and Pennsylvania was the situs of the injury, this Court “must apply Pennsylvania law to the facts of [**6] this case.” Berrier v. Simplicity Mfg., Inc., 563 F.3d 38, 46 n. 11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938)).

B. THE PENNSYLVANIA SKIER’S RESPONSIBILITY ACT DOES NOT APPLY TO THIS CASE

The Defendant asserts that the Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the assumption of the risk doctrine. Def.’s Br., at 6. The Pennsylvania General Assembly expressly provided this doctrine as a defense in downhill skiing cases in the Comparative Negligence Statute. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(c). The pertinent portion of the statute, commonly known as the Skier’s Responsibility Act, reads:

(c) Downhill skiing.–

(1) The General Assembly finds that the sport of downhill skiing is practiced by a large number of citizens of this Commonwealth and also attracts to this Commonwealth large numbers of nonresidents significantly contributing to the economy of this Commonwealth. It is recognized that as in some other sports, there are inherent risks in the sport of downhill skiing.

(2) The doctrine of voluntary assumption of risk as it applies to downhill skiing injuries and damages is not modified by subsections (a) and (a.1). 1

42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(c).

1 As a general rule, subsections (a) and (a.1) [**7] supplant the assumption of the risk doctrine with a system of comparative fault in most negligence cases. Nevertheless, assumption of the risk was expressly preserved for injuries arising from downhill skiing, as noted. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102; Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 341 (2000).

The Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, summarizes the essence of the assumption of the risk doctrine: “[a] plaintiff who voluntarily assumes a risk of harm arising from the negligent or reckless conduct of the defendant cannot recover for such harm.” As the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania elucidated, “[t]he assumption of the risk defense, as applied to sports and places of amusement, has also been described as a ‘no-duty’ rule, i.e., as the principle that an owner or operator of a place of amusement has no duty to protect the user from any hazards inherent in the activity.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1186 (2010) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. C, 2).

Applying those principles to the Skier’s Responsibility Act, that same court “made clear that this ‘no-duty’ rule applies to the operators of ski resorts, so that [**8] ski resorts have no duty to protect skiers from risks that are ‘common, frequent, and expected,’ and thus ‘inherent’ to the sport of downhill skiing.” Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1186 (citing Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 343-44 (2000)). Consequently, “[w]here there is no duty, there can be no negligence, and thus when inherent risks are involved, negligence principles are irrelevant–the Comparative Negligence Act is inapplicable–and there can be no recovery based on allegations of negligence.” Id.

[*560] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania established a two-part analysis to determine whether a plaintiff was subject to the assumption of the risk doctrine adopted in the Skier’s Responsibility Act. See Huges v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc. 762 A.2d at 343-44. “First, this Court must determine whether [the Plaintiff] was engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of her injury. If that answer is affirmative, we must then determine whether the risk of being hit . . . by another skier . . . is one of the ‘inherent risks’ of downhill skiing . . . .” Id. at 344. If both of these prerequisites are met, then summary judgment is appropriate because, as a matter of law, [**9] the Defendant would have had no duty to Mrs. Barillari. See id.

First, the Court considers whether Mrs. Barillari was “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing at the time of her injury.” Id. As the court noted in Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc.:

the sport of downhill skiing encompasses more than merely skiing down a hill. It includes those other activities directly and necessarily incident to the act of downhill skiing. Such activities include boarding the ski lift, riding the lift up the mountain, alighting from the lift, skiing from the lift to the trail and, after a run is completed, skiing towards the ski lift to start another run or skiing toward the base lodge or other facility at the end of the day.

Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344.

In that case, the court held that a plaintiff who was skiing towards the chair lift through an area at the base of the mountain where several trails converged when she was struck from behind by another skier could not recover because the assumption of risk doctrine applied. Hughes, 762 A.2d at 340, 345. Although the plaintiff “was not in the process of skiing downhill, but rather was propelling herself towards the ski lift at the base of the mountain,” the [**10] court found this action was within the scope of engaging “in the sport of downhill skiing.” Id. at 344-45. The court noted that to decide otherwise would “interpret the Act, as well as the sport of downhill skiing, in an extremely narrow, hypertechnical and unrealistic manner.” Id. at 344.

In Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174 (2010), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that a skier’s negligence action based on her fall from a ski lift was barred by the doctrine of assumption of the risk because she was engaged in the sport of downhill skiing and the fall was an inherent risk of that sport. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1194-95. The court noted that “the clear legislative intent to preserve the assumption of the risk doctrine in this particular area, as well as the broad wording of the Act itself, dictates a practical and logical interpretation of what risks are inherent to the sport.” Id. at 1187-88.

A number of other courts have addressed the scope of the Skier’s Responsibility Act as well. See, e.g., Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, LP, 550 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that a skier’s claim based on the lack of safety netting, improper course plotting, or [**11] soft loose snow was barred because those were risks inherent in skiing); Burke v. Ski America, Inc., 940 F.2d 95 (4th Cir. 1991) (interpreting Pennsylvania law to find ski resort had no duty of care to injured skier because a “double black diamond” slope with rocks and trees was an obvious inherent danger of skiing); Smith v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 716 F.2d 1002 (3d Cir. 1983) (Aldisert, J.) (finding that a skier’s claim was barred by assumption of the risk when he chose to ski a steep, icy expert slope with unpadded poles for snowmaking equipment); Lin v. Spring Mountain Adventures, Inc., CIV. [*561] A. 10-333, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136090, 2010 WL 5257648 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2010) (holding that the Act barred a skier’s claim because colliding with snow making equipment was an inherent risk); Savarese v. Camelback Ski Corp., 417 F. Supp. 2d 663, (M.D. Pa. 2005) (Caputo, J.) (holding that a skier was barred from recovery where the injury occurred when he attempted to board the ski lift when the bottom of the chair was not folded down for seating); Bell v. Dean, 2010 PA Super 151, 5 A.3d 266 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010) (finding that a skier assumed the risk of collision with a snowboarder such that the snowboarder could not be found negligent); [**12] Crews v. Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 2005 PA Super 138, 874 A.2d 100 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005) (holding that the risk of colliding with a drunk underage snowboarder was not a risk inherent in the sport of downhill skiing).

The case before the Court, however, is distinguishable from all of these cases–Mrs. Barillari was not “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing” at the time of her collision, as required by the statute. 2 Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344. Although someone wearing skis and standing in the area of Mrs. Barillari and the other spectators on a momentary pause in their run may well have been “engaged in the sport,” that is an entirely different matter from someone who is purely a spectator. See id. Even though a collision with a skier is a prominent injury considered to be inherent in the sport of skiing as contemplated by the statute and the courts, the fact remains that Mrs. Barillari was merely a spectator not engaged in the sport. See id.

2 The Court recognizes that “engaged” may be defined as “greatly interested,” which could suggest that spectators are “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing.” Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary (3d ed. 2013). As is apparent from the context of the [**13] relevant Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decisions, however, this is not the manner in which the court used the term “engaged.” See, e.g., Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344. Rather, the context surrounding the court’s usage of the term indicates a meaning closer to “occupied” or “employed” when using the phrase “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing.” See id.; Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary (3d ed. 2013).

If this Court were to include Mrs. Barillari as a person subject to the Skier’s Responsibility Act, it would necessarily extend the confines of Pennsylvania’s law beyond the scope of its current applicability. That is not this Court’s place, and the Court declines to do so. Instead, the Court must apply the law as Pennsylvania’s own Supreme Court has instructed. See, e.g., Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344-45. Consequently, the Court finds that the assumption of the risk doctrine, as articulated in the statue and interpreted by courts, does not apply to bar Mrs. Barillari’s claim, because she was not “engaged in the sport of downhill skiing” at the time of her accident. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 344-45.

C. TRADITIONAL ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK DOES NOT BAR THE PLAINTIFFS’ CLAIMS

The Defendant [**14] asserts that, in the alternative, the traditional common law defense of assumption of the risk should bar the claim. Def.’s Br., at 6. Although Pennsylvania has severely limited the traditional assumption of the risk doctrine and some courts have questioned its ongoing viability, the fact remains that Pennsylvania courts continue to apply assumption of the risk in a variety of cases outside the context of downhill skiing. See, e.g., Zinn v. Gichner Systems Grp., 880 F. Supp. 311 (M.D. Pa. 1995) (Caldwell, J.) (holding assumption of the risk barred plaintiff’s claim when he continued to work after landowner refused to cover opening in which he was injured); Howell v. Clyde, [*562] 533 Pa. 151, 620 A.2d 1107 (1993) (finding that the plaintiff guest who helped secure gunpowder for a firework cannon and participate in lighting it assumed the risk of his injury); see also Rutter v. Ne. Beaver Cnty. Sch. Dist., 496 Pa. 590, 437 A.2d 1198, 1212 (1981) (Nix, C.J., dissenting) (“[T]his doctrine constitutes a necessary and viable component of tort law.”).

Borrowing Justice Antonin Scalia’s memorable phrase concerning a similarly limited but resurgent doctrine in another area of law, assumption of the [**15] risk survives “[l]ike some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried.” Lamb’s Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 398, 113 S. Ct. 2141, 124 L. Ed. 2d 352 (1993). Nevertheless, the doctrine remains viable in certain circumstances, a monstrous hydra though it may be.

There are four different theoretical species of assumption of the risk–two of which are at issue in this case. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 341-42; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c. One form of this polymorphic doctrine is a voluntary assumption of the risk, where the plaintiff makes a conscious, voluntary decision to encounter a risk of which he is aware. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 342; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c, 3.

A second related corollary of the assumption of risk doctrine 3 is sometimes titled the “no-duty rule.” It applies when a plaintiff tacitly agrees to relieve the defendant of a duty by entering a certain relationship with the defendant, when the plaintiff is then injured by an inherent risk of that activity, such as a spectator at a sporting event. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 342; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c, 3 [**16] . As both of these manifestations of that intractable doctrine are at issue here, the Court addresses them in turn, first analyzing voluntary assumption of the risk. 4

3 See Berman v. Radnor Rolls, Inc., 374 Pa. Super. 118, 542 A.2d 525, 531 (1988) (discussing the discrete conceptual differences between voluntary assumption of the risk as an affirmative defense to a breached duty and the “no-duty” theory with its inherent absence of a duty).

4 The two remaining forms of assumption of the risk do not apply to this case. These are i) express assumption of the risk; and, ii) situations in which the plaintiff’s conduct in voluntarily encountering a known risk is itself unreasonable. See Hughes, 762 A.2d at 341-42; Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496A, cmt. c, 1, 4.

1. Voluntary Assumption of the Risk Does Not Bar Plaintiff’s Claim in this Case

As Judge A. Richard Caputo articulated when considering a case involving voluntary assumption of the risk: “[t]o grant summary judgement on [that basis] the court must conclude, as a matter of law: (1) the party consciously appreciated the risk that attended a certain endeavor; (2) assumed the risk of injury by engaging in the endeavor despite [**17] the appreciation of the risk involved; and (3) that injury sustained was, in fact, the same risk of injury that was appreciated and assumed.” Bolyard v. Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, Inc., 3:10-CV-87, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2012) (Caputo, J.). This assumption of risk defense is established as a matter of law “only where it is beyond question that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly proceeded in the face of an obvious and dangerous condition.” Barrett v. Fredavid Builders, Inc., 454 Pa. Super. 162, 685 A.2d 129, 131 (1996). Moreover, “[t]he mere fact one engages in activity that has some inherent [*563] danger does not mean that one cannot recover from a negligent party when injury is subsequently sustained.” Bullman v. Giuntoli, 2000 PA Super 284, 761 A.2d 566, 573 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2000).

The dispositive analytical point in the case before this Court is determining what constitutes a plaintiff’s conscious appreciation of the risk. It is not enough that the plaintiff was generally aware that the activity in which he was engaged had accompanying risks. See Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at * 6 (citing Handschuh v. Albert Dev., 393 Pa. Super. 444, 574 A.2d 693 (1990)). Rather, the plaintiff must be [**18] aware of “the particular danger” from which he is subsequently injured in order to voluntarily assume that risk as a matter of law. Id.

For example, in Bolyard v. Wallenpaupack Law Estates, Inc., 3:10-CV-87, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5-6 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2012), Judge Caputo held, inter alia, that assumption of the risk did not apply to a plaintiff who went snow-tubing on an old ski slope, hit a rut, and crashed into a tree. Judge Caputo recognized that, while the plaintiff “was generally aware that snow tubing on a tree-lined trail was dangerous, there [was] no evidence in the record that she had any knowledge of the specific hazards of that particular slope.” Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *6. This was a material distinction, such that the elements of voluntary assumption of the risk remained unsatisfied–therefore, as a matter of law, the plaintiff did not assume the risk. Id.

Similarly, in Handschuh v. Albert Dev., 393 Pa. Super. 444, 574 A.2d 693, 696 (1990), the court held that assumption of the risk did not apply when a plumbing contractor sustained injuries and died because a trench in which he was laying pipe collapsed. The court noted that the plaintiff was aware of the general [**19] risk of ditch collapses and that the particular job would be delicate. Handschuh, 574 A.2d at 694. Nevertheless, that awareness of the general risks was not sufficient “to compel a finding of a waiver of an individual’s right to complain about a breach of duty of care to the risk taker.” Id. at 696 (original punctuation altered).

In the case before the Court, Mrs. Barillari did not voluntarily assume the risk of her injury under this doctrine because there are no facts demonstrating she was specifically aware of the risk of the type of harm she suffered–namely, a skier crashing into a spectator. See Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5-6; Handschuh, 574 A.2d at 694, 696; Pls.’ SOF ¶ 5. It is undisputed that Mrs. Barillari was aware of the general risks and dangers inherent in the sport of skiing. She was aware collisions between skiers occurred and she “was worried about [her] children with that.” Def.’s SOF, Oral Dep. Mrs. Barillari 23, Dec. 03, 2012, ECF No. 18, Exh. 5. There is not, however, anything in the record that indicates Mrs. Barillari was specifically aware of the danger that later befell her.

Rather, Mrs. Barillari stated she was not worried about a skier crashing into her, “because [**20] [she] was close enough to the ribbon and [she] was with other people that were just watching. [She] wasn’t standing with a bunch of skiers. [She] was standing with spectators.” Id. at 63-64. Like the plaintiffs in Bolyard and Handschu, Mrs. Barillari did not possess the requisite conscious appreciation of the specific risk of harm that caused her injury. Bolyard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24598, 2012 WL 629391, at *5-6; Handschuh, 574 A.2d at 694, 696. Therefore, the doctrine of voluntary assumption of the risk is inapplicable to this case. See id.

2. The “No-Duty” Rule Does Not Apply

The “no-duty” theory, a corollary species of assumption of the risk discussed [*564] previously in the context of the Skier’s Responsibility Act, applies at common law when: “the plaintiff has entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk, and so is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve the defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.” Hughes, 762 A.2d at 341 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, §496A, cmt. c, 2). “Again the legal result is that the defendant is relieved of his duty to the plaintiff.” Id.

The no-duty rule applies most prominently in the context of a spectator [**21] at a sporting event, such as a fan hit by a foul ball at a baseball game. See, e.g., Schentzel v. Philadelphia Nat’l League Club, 173 Pa. Super. 179, 96 A.2d 181 (1953). As the Restatement observes, “a spectator entering a baseball park may be regarded as consenting that the players may proceed with the game without precautions to protect him from being hit by the ball.” Restatement (Second) of Torts, §496A, cmt. c, 2.

“In Pennsylvania, the law imposes ‘no duty’ to protect spectators from risks that are common, frequent, and expected [in the sport].” Petrongola v. Comcast-Spectacor, L.P., 2001 PA Super 338, 789 A.2d 204, 210 (2001). “However, a facility may be held liable if the design of the facility deviates from the established custom in some relevant way.” Id. “The central question, then, is whether [a plaintiff’s] case is governed by the ‘no-duty’ rule applicable to common, frequent and expected risks of [the sport] or by the ordinary rules applicable to all other risks which may be present [at a sporting facility].” Jones v. Three Rivers Mgmt. Corp., 483 Pa. 75, 394 A.2d 546, 551 (1978).

For example, in Schentzel v. Philadelphia National League Club, 173 Pa. Super. 179, 186-92, 96 A.2d 181 (1953), [**22] the no-duty rule barred the claim of a plaintiff hit by a foul ball in the stands at a baseball game. The court noted that, even though there was scant evidence the plaintiff knew about the prevalence of foul balls, the defendant owed her no duty because foul balls are an inherent risk of attending a baseball game. Schentzel,173 Pa. Super. at 186-92.

In Loughran v. The Phillies, 2005 PA Super 396, 888 A.2d 872, 876-77 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005), a majority of the court held that the no-duty rule barred a spectator’s claim for injuries suffered in the stands at a baseball game. There, the center-fielder threw the ball into the stands after catching it for the final out of the inning–as is customarily done to provide souvenirs for fans–when the unsuspecting plaintiff was hit and injured by the ball. Loughran, 888 A.2d at 874. Although this was not the typical foul ball hit into the stands, the majority considered this custom to be inherent in the sport. Id. at 877. They noted that the plaintiff failed to establish the defendants “deviated from the common and expected practices of the game of baseball.” 5 Id.

5 Judge John T. Bender dissented from this majority opinion, writing:

since the act of tossing a ball to fans [**23] as a souvenir is extraneous to the game and not necessary to the playing of the game, a spectator does not “assume the risk” of being struck by a ball entering the stands for this purpose, nor is there any valid reason in law or policy to extend the immunity of the “no duty” rule to this practice. Rather, if a baseball player wants to go beyond the confines of the game . . . he should be charged with the obligation of doing it in a reasonably safe and prudent manner.

Loughran, 888 A.2d at 882.

By contrast, in Jones v. Three Rivers Management Corporation, 483 Pa. 75, 394 A.2d 546, 548, 552-553 (1978), the court held that the no-duty rule did not apply because the patron was hit by a ball while using an interior walkway to the concessions [*565] area, rather than while seated in the stands. The court noted that “in a ‘place of amusement’ not every risk is reasonably expected.” Jones, 394 A.2d at 551. That particular injury was due to a failure in the ballpark’s design such that the no-duty rule should not apply. Id. at 551-52.

The Jones court also drew a distinction between risks that are merely inherent in the activity, and those risks that are not only inherent but also necessary to the activity. See id.; [**24] see also Loughran, 888 A.2d at 880 (Bender, J., dissenting) (“A careful reading of Jones, reveals that the no-duty rule applies not just when one’s injury is caused by a risk inherent to the activity, but also when the risk in question is necessary to the activity.”). For example, while foul balls in the stands are an inherent and necessary part of any baseball game, a bat flying into the stands is an inherent risk of baseball but not a necessary component of the game. Jones, 394 A.2d at 551; see also Schentzel, 96 A.2d at 182 (“There is a million foul balls, maybe three or four or five an inning, goes into the stand [sic].”).

The court further illuminated this distinction with analogies, writing that: “[m]ovies must be seen in a darkened room, roller coasters must accelerate and decelerate rapidly and players will bat balls into the grandstand.” Id. at 550-51. As Judge John T. Bender poignantly extrapolated in his Loughran dissent:

if movie houses are made to lighten the theatres so that no one trips, the movie-going experience would be greatly diminished if not destroyed. If amusement parks are made to design roller coasters so as to eliminate all jerkiness and smooth out all changes [**25] in direction they would no longer be capable of being classified as “thrill rides” and the word “amusement” might be deleted from the term “amusement parks.” But if baseball players and their employers, are charged with exercising reasonable care in the practice of providing souvenir balls to patrons, the “Fall Classic” will remain a classic sporting contest and all those regular season and playoff games preceding it would still be played in a manner consistent with Abner Doubleday’s original intent.

Loughran, 888 A.2d at 881.

According to the principles discussed in Jones and Loughran, the no-duty rule can be said to apply when, to avoid injury, a “place of amusement” must alter conditions at the facility in such a way that would change the very essence of the activity for which it is made. See Loughran, 888 A.2d at 881; Jones, 394 A.2d at 550-52. This does not affect the duty of sports facilities and places of amusement to protect patrons against foreseeable risks not inherent and necessary such that they are “common, frequent, and expected” in the very essence of that central activity. Jones, 394 A.2d at 551

Applying these principles to the case before the Court, the no-duty rule cannot [**26] protect the Defendant and bar Mrs. Barillari’s claim. The Defendant asserts that this case is directly analogous to the example of a spectator at a baseball game being hit by a foul ball–Mrs. Barillari was a spectator by a ski slope that was hit by a skier. See Def.’s Br., at 8-10. Although a skier crashing into spectators may be a foreseeable risk inherent in the sport of skiing, it is not a necessary and inherent element of that sport. See Jones, 394 A.2d at 551-52.

A majority of fans attend a baseball game expecting to see a number of foul balls hit into the stands. See Schentzel, 96 A.2d at 182. The Court is not aware of a similar majority that assumes they will see [*566] a number of skiers crash violently into spectators on a day trip to the mountain.

Furthermore, charging ski facilities with the ordinary duty of care to protect spectators from ski crashes, rather than shielding them with “no-duty,” will not in any way affect the essence of skiing. See Loughran, 888 A.2d at 881. The ski resort may erect mesh fences, snow walls, ropes, and other sorts of precautions around the sides and at the base of the slopes without impeding the rhythmic descent of countless alpine enthusiasts.

Therefore, [**27] the issues in this case do not present an instance where the “no-duty” rule applies. Rather, the existence of any negligence by either or both parties should be submitted to a jury.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Ski Shawnee Inc.’s motion for summary judgment is denied.

An appropriate Order follows.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Matthew W. Brann

Matthew W. Brann

United States District Judge

ORDER

AND NOW, this 12th day of November, 2013, it is hereby ORDERED, in accordance with a Memorandum of this same date, that the Defendant, Ski Shawnee, Inc.’s motion for summary judgment is hereby DENIED.

BY THE COURT:

/s/ Matthew W. Brann

Matthew W. Brann

United States District Judge


Timmer, et al., v. Shamineau Adventures, 2005 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 576

Timmer, et al., v. Shamineau Adventures, 2005 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 576

Linda Timmer, et al., Respondents, vs. Shamineau Adventures, Appellant.

A04-2458

COURT OF APPEALS OF MINNESOTA

2005 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 576

December 13, 2005, Filed

NOTICE: [*1] THIS OPINION WILL BE UNPUBLISHED AND MAY NOT BE CITED EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY MINNESOTA STATUTES.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Review denied by Timmer v. Shamineau Adventures, 2006 Minn. LEXIS 73 (2006)

Subsequent appeal at, Remanded by Timmer v. Shamineau Adventures, 2007 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 351 (2007)

PRIOR HISTORY: Morrison County District Court. File No. CX-03-261. Hon. John H. Scherer.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: For Appellant: Robert G. Haugen, Jason M. Hill, Johnson & Lindberg, P.A., Minneapolis, MN.

For Respondent: Luke M. Seifert, Michael, T. Milligan, Heidi N. Thoennes, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., St. Cloud, MN.

JUDGES: Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge. 1

1 Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

OPINION BY: RANDALL

OPINION

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

RANDALL, Judge

This is an appeal from the district court order denying a motion for JNOV but granting a new trial on damages and a conditional remittitur of the damages awarded for future pain and suffering. After respondents accepted the conditional remittitur, appellant brought this appeal contending: (a) it is entitled to a Schwartz hearing based on a juror’s allegations of misconduct in reaching the verdict; (b) it is entitled to an unconditional new trial because of juror misconduct on the face of the special [*2] verdict form; (c) it is entitled to a new trial on liability due to the erroneous admission into evidence of an unqualified expert’s opinions; and (d) the court erred in allowing respondent’s expert to testify to opinions undisclosed prior to trial and denying appellant’s request for a continuance. Respondents filed a notice of review arguing that the conditional remittitur was unsupported by the evidence. We affirm on all issues.

FACTS

This appeal stems from a tort action brought by respondents Linda Timmer and her husband Jere Timmer (collectively “respondents”) against appellant Shamineau Adventures. Appellant is one of five subdivisions that are collectively referred to as “Shamineau Ministries.” Appellant’s subdivision consists of a ropes course that includes various elements and obstacle courses. One of the elements of the ropes course is a zip line that consists of a 300-foot cable that is secured to a tower structure on a hill, traverses a valley, and ends at a tree located at a lower point on the opposite side. The cable drapes across the valley, and gradually rises as it nears the landing area in front of the tree to which it is attached. The cable is threaded through [*3] a pulley system and a lanyard rope is attached to the pulley. At the end of the lanyard is a carabiner that has a hinged gate on one side that is spring loaded. A zip line rider is specially body-harnessed by camp personnel, and connected to another carabiner clip attached to the harness. Both carabiners are equipped with screw-lock devices and spring tension hinges that prevent them from opening accidentally.

To ride the zip line, the rider’s harness carabiner is attached to the zip line carabiner. The rider then steps from the higher end platform, gliding down the cable across the valley. The rider slows as the calibrated slack in the cable and the resulting incline brings the rider to a slow landing on the gradual upslope of the lower end hill. The harness carabiner is then disconnected from the zip line by an assistant stationed at the lower end of the hill, and the pulley and lanyard assembly is walked back up to the higher end platform by the rider using a tow-rope attached to the lanyard.

In October 2001, a group of students and teachers from the Little Falls School District went to Camp Shamineau. Included in the group was Timmer, a special education teacher in the Little [*4] Falls School District. On October 11, while “roving” the ropes course and generally supervising her students, Timmer was approached by Troy Zakariasen, the ropes course director. Zakariasen asked Timmer if she would be willing to help uncouple students at the receiving end of the zip line while he briefly attended to other duties. Timmer agreed, and Matthew Stanghelle, a Shamineau staff member, showed Timmer how to unhook the zip line riders. Stanghelle spent approximately five minutes with Timmer, showing her the procedure by demonstrating on incoming zip line riders. Stanghelle then left the landing area to assist other students, teachers, and staff. Although Timmer had been to Camp Shamineau three or four times prior to October 11, she had never attended any training relative to the ropes course, which typically includes two to three weeks of training riders.

After Stanghelle left, the next rider on the zip line was 14-year old Tracie Boser. When Boser arrived at the landing area, Timmer grabbed Boser and tried to unhook her from the harness. As Timmer tried to unscrew the safety harness, Boser began drifting backwards. Timmer instinctively grabbed onto Boser to prevent her from [*5] coasting back to the sender, but Timmer was unable to maintain her footing. Boser then glided back toward the middle of the zip line with Timmer hanging onto Boser’s harness. When they reached the mid-point, approximately 25 feet above the valley, Timmer was unable to maintain her grip on the harness, and she fell to the ground, sustaining serious injuries. Timmer brought this tort action alleging negligence on the part of Shamineau Adventures. Jere Timmer filed a claim for loss of consortium.

Four days prior to the commencement of trial, respondents served upon appellant a memorandum issued by Richard Gauger, an engineer retained by respondents to serve as an expert witness. Gauger’s memorandum concluded that, in his opinion, the landing area of the zip line was unsafe, and that the landing area should involve one or more trained persons working together to assist the rider in arriving safely. Appellants moved for an order excluding Gauger’s new opinions, or, in the alternative, for a continuance due to the untimely disclosure of the new evidence. The district court denied the motion, holding that the issue of the landing area could reasonably have been anticipated in light of the [*6] nature of the case.

A jury trial was held from June 21, 2004, through June 29, 2004. At trial, Gauger testified that he has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, and that he is a consulting engineer licensed as a professional engineer. Gauger also testified that his work history included assisting with design and development of construction projects, and some investigative work with regard to recreational activities. Appellant objected to Gauger’s testimony on the basis that he was unqualified as an expert witness. The district court overruled the objection, and Gauger testified in accordance with his June 17 memorandum, that the zip line was dangerous because the slope exceeded the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for ramps and other standards typically used on construction projects.

The jury heard extensive testimony concerning Timmer’s injuries and her present physical condition. Dr. Joseph Nessler testified that as a result of her accident, Timmer suffered “multiple injuries, including pelvic fractures, sacral or tailbone fractures, spinal fracture, left femur fracture, left tibia fracture, and right calcaneus fracture.” Dr. Nessler, Dr. Jeffrey Gerdes, [*7] and Dr. Gregory Schlosser all testified that Timmer suffers from various permanent disabilities as a result of the accident, and all agreed she will have problems lifting, bending, stooping, twisting, and standing. Timmer testified that she is medically disabled and was forced to retire from teaching as a result of the fall.

On the verdict form, the jury determined that appellant was 60% at fault and Timmer was 40% at fault. The jury awarded appellant damages in excess of $ 4.5 million, and after applying the mathematical formula called for by the jury allocation of fault, the net verdict to respondents was $ 2,783,949. Shortly thereafter, James Albrecht, a juror in the case, sent a letter to the district court and the attorneys for both parties. Albrecht stated that the jury had made a mistake in selecting the damages. According to Albrecht, the jury had selected the damages believing that respondents would recover 20% of the damages awarded; deriving this figure by taking appellant’s 60% fault and subtracting respondent’s 40% fault. Appellant subsequently moved the district court for a Schwartz 2 hearing based on Albrecht’s letter. The district court first ruled the letter [*8] inadmissible, and then denied the motion for a Schwartz hearing.

2 See Schwartz v. Minneapolis Suburban Bus Co., 258 Minn. 325, 104 N.W.2d 301 (1960).

Following the district court’s order denying the request for a Schwartz hearing, appellant moved for a new trial and JNOV. The district court denied the motion for JNOV, but granted a new trial on damages and a conditional remittitur of the damages awarded for future pain and suffering, reducing the amount of the recoverable verdict from $ 3,000,000 to $ 1,650,000. Respondents accepted the conditional remittitur. Shamineau appealed. Respondents then served and filed their own notice of review objecting to the remittitur.

DECISION

I.

Appellant argues that it is entitled to a Schwartz hearing based on Albrecht’s letter stating that the jury had made a mistake in selecting the damages. [HN1] “The standard of review for denial of a Schwartz hearing is abuse of discretion.” State v. Church, 577 N.W.2d 715, 721 (Minn. 1998). [*9]

In Schwartz, the supreme court established a method for inquiring into allegations of juror misconduct. 258 Minn. at 328, 104 N.W.2d at 303. A Schwartz hearing may also be conducted to correct a clerical error in a jury verdict. Erickson by Erickson v. Hammermeister, 458 N.W.2d 172, 175 (1990), review denied (Minn. Sept. 20, 1990).

[HN2] Although trial courts are urged to be fairly lenient in the granting of Schwartz hearings, their purpose is to determine juror misconduct, such as outside influence improperly brought to bear on jurors. The purpose of a Schwartz hearing does not include the correction of a miscomprehension by a juror or jurors. The assertion that the jury was confused and did not understand the effect of the verdict has been rejected as a basis for a Schwartz hearing. Jurors may not impeach their verdict on the basis that they did not understand the legal effect of that verdict.

Senf v. Bolluyt, 419 N.W.2d 645, 647 (Minn. App. 1988) (quoting Frank v. Frank, 409 N.W.2d 70, 72-73 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Sept. 30, 1987)), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 1988).

[*10] Here, the district court reviewed the letter for purposes of the Schwartz hearing motion, and concluded that:

There has been no evidence of juror misconduct in this matter. The evidence received did not relate to actions outside of the deliberations that would constitute misconduct. On the contrary, the evidence reveals that during deliberations the jury may have misunderstood or misapplied the law as presented in the jury instructions. However, under Minnesota cases, this does not constitute juror misconduct such that a Schwartz hearing must be held.

The record supports the district court’s conclusion that there were no clerical errors and no evidence of jury misconduct. Albrecht’s letter fails to demonstrate evidence of juror misconduct, but, instead, indicates that the jury may have misapplied the law. The district court properly denied appellant’s request for a Schwartz hearing. See Senf, 419 N.W.2d at 648.

For purposes of the motion, appellant concedes that even if Albrecht is correct and that the jury misunderstood the instructions regarding comparative fault, that “misunderstanding” is not grounds for a new trial. Instead, appellant [*11] argues that the letter is evidence of a “compromise verdict,” and that a compromise verdict is grounds for a new trial. Appellant argues that because a compromise verdict constitutes juror misconduct, it is entitled to a Schwartz hearing.

[HN3] A “compromise” verdict occurs when the jury awards an amount that reflects a compromise between liability and proven damages. See Schore v. Mueller, 290 Minn. 186, 190, 186 N.W.2d 699, 702 (1971). When there is an indication that inadequate damages were awarded because the jury compromised between the right of recovery and the amount of damages, a new trial on damages is appropriate. Seim v. Garavalia, 306 N.W.2d 806, 813 (Minn. 1981).

We agree with the district court that [HN4] just a claim that the jury misapplied jury instructions in apportioning damages does not equate to a compromised verdict. Case law uniformly revolves around allegations by plaintiffs that damages were compromised too low based on proven liability. See, e.g., Vermes v. American Dist. Tele. Co., 312 Minn. 33, 44, 251 N.W.2d 101, 106-07 (Minn. 1977) (holding that because the jury simply misunderstood proof of damages and gave [*12] an inadequate award, it was not a compromise verdict);Schore, 290 Minn. at 190, 186 N.W.2d at 702 (remanding for a new trial because the jury’s award of damages was not supported by the evidence in light of the plaintiff’s proven damages and represented a compromise verdict); Kloos v. Soo Line R.R., 286 Minn. 172, 177-78, 176 N.W.2d 274, 278 (1970) (ordering a new trial on the basis that the jury’s award of inadequate damages constituted a compromise verdict). This case is novel. Appellant does not argue that the damages were inadequate, but rather argues that the damages awarded were in excess of the jury’s intent. We conclude that even if the jury did not fully grasp the mathematics of comparative negligence (an unfortunate but true syndrome that goes back decades to the origins of comparative negligence), plaintiffs and defendants have understood for all those years that if even after careful argument by attorneys in their closing arguments, juries do not exactly “get” comparative negligence. It is not “misconduct” and does not call for a Schwartz hearing.

Appellant next argues that in light of Albrecht’s letter indicating that the jury made [*13] a mistake in apportioning damages, its due process rights to a fair trial were violated. Appellant argues that except for purposes of the Schwartz hearing motion, the district court held that under Minn. R. Evid. 606(b), 3 the letter was inadmissible for purposes relative to other post-trial motions, such as a motion for a new trial, remittitur, or JNOV. Appellant argues that it cannot be granted a new trial for juror misconduct without the excluded evidence, and a Schwartz hearing is only available when admissible evidence of juror misconduct is already in the record to justify the proceeding. Thus, appellant contends that the district court’s ruling of inadmissibility under Rule 606(b) denied it the opportunity to prove jury misconduct through a Schwartz hearing, thereby depriving appellant of the opportunity to develop a record supporting its right to a new trial.

3 Minn. R. Evid. 606(b) states:

[HN5] Upon an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury’s deliberations or to the effect of anything upon that or any other juror’s mind or emotions as influencing the juror to assent or to dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning the juror’s mental processes in connection therewith, except that a juror may testify on the question whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury’s attention, or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or as to any threats of violence or violent acts brought to bear on jurors, from whatever source, to reach a verdict. Nor may a juror’s affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror concerning a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying be received for these purposes.

[*14] [HN6] The Minnesota Supreme Court set forth the rationale for the exclusion of juror testimony about a verdict or the deliberation process. See State v. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d 724, 731 (Minn. 2000). In Pederson, the supreme court explained: “The rationale for the exclusion of juror testimony about a verdict or the deliberation process is to protect juror deliberations and thought processes from governmental and public scrutiny and to ensure the finality and certainty of verdicts.” Id. The court further explained the rationale of rule 606(b) by noting the concern that jurors be protected from harassment by counsel after the verdict. Id. These are legitimate public policy concerns that support Minn. R. Evid. 606(b). The accepted fact that from time to time juries make mathematical mistakes in rendering their verdict does not rise to the constitutional level of a due process violation of a party’s right to a fair trial. In essence, this second argument of appellant is a remake of the first argument that there was a compromise verdict. Since we conclude there was not a compromise verdict, the judge properly did not order a Schwartz hearing based on either theory.

[*15] II.

Appellant argues that it is entitled to an unconditional new trial due to evidence of juror misconduct on the face of the special verdict form. Appellant argues that the special verdict form is evidence of misconduct because, appellant claims, certain listed damages are irreconcilable. Specifically, appellant points out that: (1) the jury awarded Linda Timmer $ 3,000,000 in future pain and suffering, but only $ 150,000 in past pain and suffering; and (2) Linda Timmer’s award of $ 150,000 for past pain and suffering is the same as Jere Timmer’s past loss of consortium. Appellant asserts that the only logical explanation for the jury’s irrational damages awards is that the jury carefully attempted to engineer respondents’ net recovery, which constitutes misconduct.

[HN7] Anew trial may be granted when, among other things, the verdict is not supported by the evidence, errors of law occurred at the trial, or the damages awarded are excessive. Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01. The district court has the discretion to grant a new trial and this court will not disturb its decision absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Halla Nursery, Inc. v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990). [*16] An appellate court will uphold the denial of a motion for a new trial unless the verdict “is manifestly and palpably contrary to the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict.” ZumBerge v. N. States Power Co., 481 N.W.2d 103, 110 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1992).

The district court did take note of the difference between future and past pain and granted appellant’s motion for a new trial on the issue of future pain and suffering if respondents declined the court’s remittitur reducing that portion of the verdict from $ 3,000,000 to $ 1,650,000. However, respondents accepted the court’s remittitur, and that benefited appellants in the amount of $ 1,350,000. As an appellate court on review, we cannot now conclude that the remaining verdict is too high as a matter of law. Appellant is not entitled to a new trial based on its allegation that jury misconduct in calculating damages denied it of its right to a fair trial.

III.

Appellant argues that under the Frye-Mack, Daubert, and Kumho standards for expert testimony, it is entitled to a new trial because the district court erroneously admitted Gauger’s expert [*17] testimony. 4 [HN8] The decision to admit expert opinion testimony is within the broad discretion of the district court. Dunshee v. Douglas, 255 N.W.2d 42, 47 (Minn. 1977). To obtain a new trial based on evidentiary error, a claimant must show not only that the ruling was erroneous, but also that it resulted in prejudice. Kroning v. State Farm Auto Ins. Co., 567 N.W.2d 42, 46 (Minn. 1997).

4 See Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923); State v. Mack, 292 N.W.2d 764 (Minn. 1980); Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993); Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999).

[HN9] Recently, the Minnesota Supreme Court reaffirmed its adherence to the Frye-Mack standard. See Goeb v. Tharaldson, 615 N.W.2d 800, 813-14 (Minn. 2000). 5 Under the Frye-Mack standard, a novel scientific theory may be admitted if two requirements are satisfied. [*18] Id. at 814. But if the expert’s opinions do not relate to “novel scientific methods,” a Frye-Mack analysis is not necessary. See State v. DeShay, 645 N.W.2d 185, 191 (Minn. App. 2002) (holding that a Frye/Mack analysis was not necessary where expert testimony based on the ten-point gang-identification criteria did not constitute novel scientific evidence), aff’d 669 N.W.2d 878 (Minn. 2003).

5 The court in Goeb also refused to adopt the principals of Daubert and its progeny, and, therefore, appellant’s reliance on the Daubert is misguided. 615 N.W.2d at 814-15.

Based on the scope of Gauger’s testimony, his opinions related to the safety of the zip line landing site, not the actual zip line itself, as claimed by appellant. An expert opinion as to whether the zip line landing area was unsafe, and whether there is something in the condition of the work site that is inherently dangerous does not involve a novel scientific theory. [*19] Gauger’s expert opinion testimony did not constitute “novel scientific testimony” and a complete Frye/Mack analysis was not necessary.

Although a Frye/Mack analysis was not necessary to be admissible, Gauger’s testimony must at least meet the requirements of Minn. R. Evid. 702. This rule provides [HN10] “if scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.” Minn. R. Evid. 702.

Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting Gauger’s testimony, claiming Gauger was not qualified to be an expert witness. We affirm the district court. The district court found that: (1) Gauger is a professional engineer and has completed investigative work involving recreational facilities; (2) Gauger has reviewed hundreds of sites for safety purposes; and (3) Gauger has a background and familiarity with work sites and recreational facilities such as playgrounds and the Camp Snoopy amusement park at the Mall of America. The record [*20] reflects that Gauger visited the accident site on more than one occasion and viewed the zip line and landing area in use. The record reflects that Gauger reviewed a manual from the camp and criteria developed by the Association of Challenge Course Technology. Gauger testified extensively as to his opinion that the landing area was unsafe, and explained his reasoning. We find there was proper foundation for Gauger’s expert opinions, and the district court properly admitted his testimony.

IV.

Appellant argues that it is entitled to a new trial because the district court failed to grant appellant’s motion for a continuance after respondents’ late disclosure of Gauger’s opinion testimony. [HN11] When a district court denies a continuance at trial, this court reviews the ruling for a clear abuse of discretion. Dunshee v. Douglas, 255 N.W.2d 42, 45 (Minn. 1977). Denial of a continuance shall be reversed only if the decision prejudiced the outcome of the trial. Chahla v. City of St. Paul, 507 N.W.2d 29, 31-32 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Dec. 14, 1993).

The record shows that, four days prior to the commencement of trial, respondents served [*21] upon appellant a memorandum issued by Gauger stating his opinions that the landing area was unsafe. In denying appellant’s motion for a new trial on the basis of the district court’s refusal to grant a continuance, the district court stated that “the late or new disclosures regarding Mr. Gauger’s testimony were really nothing more that a re-disclosure of what had previously been disclosed.” The court further noted that:

Previous disclosures indicated that Mr. Gauger felt that the workplace or landing site was unsafe because Linda Timmer was required to stand on a slope. This opinion did not change. The only disclosure that appeared to be at all new and different was a reference to the ADA slope percentage recommendations, and that Mr. Gauger adopted this slope percentage as a reasonable standard.

In addressing appellant’s claim that it could not respond to the new information because of the fact that its expert had already been deposed and the testimony was established, the court stated:

the fact of the matter is that [appellant’s] expert simply expressed the opinion that the zip line was safe and reasonable, and that the design of the landing area was necessary for [*22] the zip line to function properly. He did not offer any opinion as to what would have been a safe grade for the landing area of the zip line. If there had been a disagreement as to the actual percentage of slope or the standard to be applied, then there may be some basis for the argument. However, that is clearly not the situation at hand. Additionally, [appellant] was aware that the slope grade of the landing area was a basis for the negligence claim prior to the deposition of its expert witness, Bart Broderson. [Appellant] had the opportunity to ask Mr. Broderson his opinion relative to the degree or percentage slope of the landing area. No inquiry was made. [Appellant] cannot later claim prejudice when the subsequent disclosure differed little from the prior disclosure.

The record supports the district court’s decision. We conclude the district court properly denied appellant’s motion for a continuance.

V.

As is their right, even though respondents agreed to the conditional remittitur, once appellant challenged the verdict, respondents cross-reviewed on the issue of the remittitur. Respondents argue that the district court abused its discretion by granting a conditional [*23] remittitur of the damages awarded for future pain and suffering. The district court did reduce the amount of recoverable damages by approximately $ 1,350,000. Respondents argue that reduction was uncalled for in light of the medical testimony.

[HN12] Generally, a district court has broad discretion in determining if damages are excessive and whether the cure is a remittitur. Hanson v. Chicago, Rock Island & Pac. R. Co., 345 N.W.2d 736, 739 (Minn. 1984). When a district court has examined the jury’s verdict and outlined the reasons for its decision on a motion for remittitur, an appellate court is unlikely to tamper with that decision absent an abuse of discretion. Sorenson v. Kruse, 293 N.W.2d 56, 62-63 (Minn. 1980).

In ordering the conditional remittitur, the district court explained that:

The jury awarded $ 150,000 for past pain and suffering. Approximately 2.7 years had transpired from the date of the injury to the date of trial. Therefore, the $ 150,000 award equates to $ 55,555.56 per year for her past pain and suffering. On the other hand, the jury was advised that Linda Timmer had a 29-year life expectancy. The award of $ 3,000,000 for future [*24] pain and suffering, divided among those 29 years, would result in an annual award of damages for future pain and suffering in the amount of $ 103,448.28.

The district court addressed all the of the doctors’ expert testimony on future pain and suffering, and concluded that “although the medical testimony spoke of the need for future care or treatment, and the possibility of some degeneration, there was no specific testimony regarding future pain and suffering associated with any future surgery, care, or degeneration. Thus, the district court concluded that the drastic difference between the annual damages for past pain and suffering and future pain and suffering were not supported by the record.

In support of their claim that the remittitur was an abuse of discretion, respondents cited an exhaustive list of problems or potential problems and potential problems that Timmer will experience as a direct result of the accident. Respondents present a good argument. The record does not jump out on appellate review, as a record where a lack of a remittitur would be a miscarriage of justice. But, as noted, the decision to grant or deny a conditional remittitur is a highly discretionary [*25] decision within the purview of the district judge’s examination and weighing of the evidence. We conclude the district court’s conditional remittitur was reasoned and supported by the record.

Affirmed.


Utah Skier Safety Act

Utah Skier Safety Act

UTAH CODE ANNOTATED

TITLE 78B.  JUDICIAL CODE 

CHAPTER 4.  LIMITATIONS ON LIABILITY 

PART 4.  INHERENT RISKS OF SKIING

Go to the Utah Code Archive Directory

Utah Code Ann. § 78B-4-401  (2012)

§ 78B-4-401.  Public policy

   The Legislature finds that the sport of skiing is practiced by a large number of residents of Utah and attracts a large number of nonresidents, significantly contributing to the economy of this state. It further finds that few insurance carriers are willing to provide liability insurance protection to ski area operators and that the premiums charged by those carriers have risen sharply in recent years due to confusion as to whether a skier assumes the risks inherent in the sport of skiing. It is the purpose of this act, therefore, to clarify the law in relation to skiing injuries and the risks inherent in that sport, to establish as a matter of law that certain risks are inherent in that sport, and to provide that, as a matter of public policy, no person engaged in that sport shall recover from a ski operator for injuries resulting from those inherent risks.

§ 78B-4-402.  Definitions

   As used in this part:

   (1) “Inherent risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of the sport of recreational, competitive, or professional skiing, including, but not limited to:

      (a) changing weather conditions;

      (b) snow or ice conditions as they exist or may change, such as hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, or machine-made snow;

      (c) surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, trees, and other natural objects;

      (d) variations or steepness in terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, and other terrain modifications such as terrain parks, and terrain features such as jumps, rails, fun boxes, and all other constructed and natural features such as half pipes, quarter pipes, or freestyle-bump terrain;

      (e) impact with lift towers and other structures and their components such as signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, or water pipes;

      (f) collisions with other skiers;

      (g) participation in, or practicing or training for, competitions or special events; and

      (h) the failure of a skier to ski within the skier’s own ability.

   (2) “Injury” means any personal injury or property damage or loss.

   (3) “Skier” means any person present in a ski area for the purpose of engaging in the sport of skiing, nordic, freestyle, or other types of ski jumping, using skis, sled, tube, snowboard, or any other device.

   (4) “Ski area” means any area designated by a ski area operator to be used for skiing, nordic, freestyle, or other type of ski jumping, and snowboarding.

   (5) “Ski area operator” means those persons, and their agents, officers, employees or representatives, who operate a ski area.

§ 78B-4-403.  Bar against claim or recovery from operator for injury from risks inherent in sport

   Notwithstanding anything in Sections 78B-5-817 through 78B-5-823 to the contrary, no skier may make any claim against, or recover from, any ski area operator for injury resulting from any of the inherent risks of skiing.

§ 78B-4-404.  Trail boards listing inherent risks and limitations on liability

   Ski area operators shall post trail boards at one or more prominent locations within each ski area which shall include a list of the inherent risks of skiing, and the limitations on liability of ski area operators, as defined in this part.

§ 72-11-201.  Passenger ropeways — Purpose and scope

   (1) In order to safeguard the life, health, property, and welfare of citizens while using passenger ropeways, it is the policy of the state to:

   (a) protect citizens and visitors from unnecessary mechanical hazards in the design, construction, and operation of passenger ropeways, but not from the hazards inherent in the sports of mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking, or from the hazards of the area served by passenger ropeways, all of which hazards are assumed by the sportsman; and

   (b) require periodic inspections of passenger ropeways to ensure that each passenger ropeway meets “The United States of America Standard Institute Safety Code for Aerial Passenger Tramways,” or an equivalent standard established by rule under Section 72-11-210.

(2) (a) Except as provided in Subsection (2)(b), the committee, through the Department of Transportation, shall:

      (i) register all passenger ropeways in the state;

      (ii) establish reasonable standards of design, construction, and operational practices; and

      (iii) make inspections as necessary to implement this section.

   (b) The committee has no jurisdiction over the construction, modification, registration, or inspection of a private residence passenger ropeway.

 


Azad v. Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11218

Azad v. Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11218

Nicole Azad, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc., Defendant and Respondent.

B169611

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION EIGHT

2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11218

December 13, 2004, Filed

NOTICE: [*1] NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 977(a), PROHIBIT COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 977(B). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 977.

PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. SC070887. Paul G. Flynn, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS: equestrian, gross negligence, lesson, ring, dive, misconduct, summary judgment, extreme departure, training, riding, sport, horse, standard of conduct, ordinary negligence, instructor, willful, rider, risks inherent, recommended, dismount, manual, horseback riding, jumping, notice of appeal, material fact, totally outside, triable issue, inappropriate, inherently, correctly

COUNSEL: Law Offices of Diane Goldman and Diane Goldman for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Clinton & Clinton, David A. Clinton and Katherine M. Fesler for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: COOPER, P. J.; RUBIN, J., FLIER, J. concurred.

OPINION BY: COOPER

OPINION

Appellant injured herself falling off a horse during a horseback riding lesson. In this appeal, she challenges the award of summary judgment entered in favor of the equestrian center. Reviewing the record de novo, we find Azad released all claims other than gross negligence and willful misconduct. She does not allege any willful misconduct. Because she provides no evidence of gross negligence, the trial court correctly entered summary judgment. We shall affirm.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

[*2] The facts interpreted in the light most favorable to Azad indicate the following. On March 16, 2001, Nicole Azad, an inexperienced rider, had a private horseback riding lesson at Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc. (MCEC). Prior to her lesson, she signed a release of liability, which was part of a two page document. Each page of the release contained a heading identifying it as a release.

During Azad’s lesson, she rode a horse named Bruno and was instructed by Sandra Samel. Samel chose to hold the lesson in a ring known as the jumping ring even though it was not the ring commonly used for beginning lessons. At the same time as Azad’s lesson, other riders were in the jumping ring including Courtney Leonard. Leonard rode a horse named Dan, who had been injured. Leonard fell off Dan, and Dan started running. In response to Dan, Bruno started running. Azad was unable to gain control over Bruno. Samel did not instruct Azad to immediately dismount and did not grab Bruno’s reins. Bruno jumped the fence, which was not as high as the standard in the industry. Azad fell off Bruno and fractured her leg.

Azad’s expert, Jill Cooke, opined that the height of the railings in the jumping ring [*3] ranged from two to two and a half feet where industry standard was three and a half feet. Cooke also concluded that “separated schooling areas are recommended.” According to Cooke, Samel should have chosen a different ring for Azad’s lesson, one dedicated to inexperienced riders. Cooke also concluded that Samel should have instructed Azad to dismount Bruno and should have held Bruno’s reigns. Cooke opined that “Ms. Samel’s failure to act promptly and appropriately to protect her student thereby created new risk to [Ms. Azad], over and above those inherent in the sport.”

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Azad filed a complaint for negligence against MCEC and alleged that MCEC committed both negligence and gross negligence. MCEC moved for summary judgment.

The trial court granted MCEC’s motion for summary judgment. The court found that Azad’s express waiver was valid and that the assumption of risk doctrine applied. Azad appealed. The notice of appeal was filed after the order granting summary judgment but before judgment was entered. Construing the notice of appeal liberally, we deem this an appeal from the judgment which was subsequently entered. (Levy v. Skywalker Sound (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 753, 761, fn 7.) [*4]

DISCUSSION

Azad argues there are material issues of fact regarding whether the release was clear and whether it exempted the challenged conduct. She also argues MCEC increased the risk to Azad beyond that inherent in horseback riding.

I. Express Assumption of Risk

Prior to her horse back riding lesson, Azad signed the following release:

“I agree that in consideration for this stable allowing my participation in this activity, under the terms set forth herein and in the MILL CREEK RULES AND REGULATIONS of which I received a copy, read, and understand, I the rider and the parent or legal guardian thereof if a minor, and on behalf of my heirs, administrators, personal representative or assigns, do agree to hold harmless, release and discharge MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER, its owners, agents, employees, officers, directors, representatives, assigns, members, owner(s) of premises and trails, affiliated organizations, insurers, and others acting on its behalf (hereinafter collectively referred to as associates) of and from all claims, demands, causes of action and legal liability whether the same be known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated, due to MILL CREEK [*5] EQUESTRIAN CENTER’S and/or its associates ordinary negligence; and I do further agree that except in the event of MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER’S gross negligence and willful and wanton misconduct, I shall not bring any claims, demands, legal actions and causes of action against MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER and ITS ASSOCIATES as stated above in this clause, for any economic and non-economic losses due to bodily injury, death, property damage sustained by me and/or my minor child and/or legal ward in relation to the premises and operations of MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER to include while riding, handling, or otherwise being near horses owned by or in the care, custody and control of MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER, whether on or off the premises of MILL CREEK EQUISTRIAN CENTER. I further understand that all riding engaged in at MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER is solely at my own risk and that MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER is not liable for any injury which may occur to me on its premises, whether bodily injury or otherwise. I further agree to release MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER, its agents and employees from any and all liability for any injuries I may sustain while riding and agree to [*6] indemnify and hold MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER harmless as to all claims, actions, damages, costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees, arising therefrom. [P] The aforesaid release and limitation of liability includes, without limitation, any obligations of MILL CREEK EQUESTRIAN CENTER with respect to consequential damage and negligent behavior of any of its employees. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

A. Validity of the Release

Citing Conservatorship of Estate of Link (1984) 158 Cal. App. 3d 138, 141-142, 205 Cal. Rptr. 513 (Link), Azad argues that the release is not enforceable because it is not readily identifiable as a release. In Link, the court found that a release should be distinguished from other paragraphs of the document; a release should be conspicuous; and a release must clearly convey that rights are being released. (Ibid.)

The release satisfies the Link criteria. It contains the title “LIABILITY RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT.” Each page of the two page document contains a heading which is printed in bold print and underlined “RIDING INSTRUCTION AGREEMENT AND LIABILITY RELEASE FORM.” Above the signature line, in a paragraph [*7] titled “signer statement of awareness,” there is an acknowledgment of understanding the liability release, which Azad signed. Unlike in Link, the release does not appear to be “calculated to conceal and not to warn the unwary.” (Link, supra, 158 Cal. App. 3d at p. 141.)

Azad claims that it is not clear “what conduct is exempted from liability.” She faults the release for “simultaneously purporting to encompass claims based upon [ordinary negligence] and excluding claims based upon [gross negligence].” Azad points out that, in Continental Ins. Co. v. American Protection Industries (1987) 197 Cal. App. 3d 322, 242 Cal. Rptr. 784, a case not involving a release, the court held “in light of the adoption of the doctrine of comparative negligence in California, any attempt to categorize gross negligence separately from ordinary negligence is unnecessary.” (Id. at p. 330.) Continental Insurance Co., however, did not hold that the distinction between ordinary and gross negligence never is relevant or is inherently ambiguous. To the contrary, it recognized that the distinction remained viable where a statute proscribes gross negligence. [*8] (Id. at p. 329.) The express contractual provision distinguishing between ordinary and gross negligence is not inherently ambiguous.

Thus, the release covers conduct other than gross negligence and intentional misconduct. 1 Azad does not allege intentional misconduct. In the next section, we consider whether Azad has provided any evidence of gross negligence.

1 MCEC argues that the “Release was specific enough to warn Appellant, and to convey that Respondents would not be held liable for any physical injury to Appellant.” While the release discusses liability for “any injury” it expressly excludes “gross negligence and willful and wanton misconduct.”

II. Implied Assumption of Risk

By consenting to participate in a sport that includes risks, a person consents to assume the risks inherent in the sport. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 311.) A person does not consent to a breach of a duty by another that increases the risks inherent in the sport. (Ibid.) [*9] “‘[A] purveyor of recreational activities owes a duty to a patron to not increase the risks inherent in the activity in which the patron has paid to engage. . . .'” (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, 1005 (Kahn).)

In Kahn, supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 996, our high court considered the doctrine of assumption of the risk in the context of a lawsuit against a swimming instructor. The court held that a sports instructor breaches a duty of care only “‘if the instructor intentionally injures the student or engages in conduct that is reckless in the sense that it is ‘totally outside the range of the ordinary activity.'” (Ibid.) The court further found evidence of reckless conduct sufficient to raise a triable issue of material fact where a swim coach required a student to dive into a shallow pool without providing her any training, after promising she would not be required to dive. (Id. at p. 996.) The court specifically relied on the following evidence: “the lack of training in the shallow-water dive disclosed by plaintiff’s evidence, especially in the face of the sequences training recommended in the [*10] Red Cross manual submitted by plaintiff; the coach’s awareness of plaintiff’s deep-seated fear of such diving; his conduct in lulling her into a false sense of security through a promise that she would not be required to dive, thereby eliminating any motivation on her part to learn to dive safely; his last-minute breach of that promise under the pressure of a competitive meet; and his threat to remove her from the team or at least the meet if she refused to dive.” (Id. at p. 1012.)

Here, Azad has alleged gross negligence on the part of both her instructor and the equestrian center. Gross negligence is defined as “‘”the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘” (Eastburn v. Regional Fire Protection Authority (2003) 31 Cal.4th 1175, 1185-1186, quoting Franz v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1982) 31 Cal.3d 124, 138, 181 Cal. Rptr. 732.) This definition is similar to the standard employed in Kahn – conduct totally outside the range of ordinary activity. Therefore, we consider whether Azad has provided any evidence of an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct. [*11] 2

2 Both parties cite numerous cases decided under an ordinary negligence standard, including this division’s decision in Giardino v. Brown (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 820. We need not assess the applicability of these cases in light of Kahn because here Azad expressly released claims of ordinary negligence.

Azad relies almost exclusively on evidence from her expert, Cooke. However Cooke’s testimony does not demonstrate an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct. Cooke states that the railing should have been higher, it was “recommended” that a ring be used for only one lesson, the choice of rings was “inappropriate,” and Samel’s response was “inappropriate.” Samel should have “immediately had her student dismount.” Cooke also states that Samel was “inadequately trained,” but provides no basis for this conclusion. Thus, this case is not like Kahn, where the plaintiff provided an established training manual and showed an extreme departure from this manual in that there was [*12] evidence she received no training at all. Because Azad identifies no extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct, she fails to raise a triable issue of material fact. The trial court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of MCEC. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 850.)

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed.

COOPER, P. J.

We concur:

RUBIN, J.

FLIER, J.

WordPress Tags: Release,defendant,plaintiff,Azad,Mill,Creek,Equestrian,Center,Unpub,LEXIS,Nicole,Claims,negligence,Defenses,beginner,rider,lessons,instructor,Another,horse,signature,judgment,Summary,fact,MCEC,arguments,AGREEMENT,INSTRUCTION,FORM,Above,statement,California,instructors,person,purveyor,patron,injury,student,participant,statements,departure,Gross,definition,Kahn,dismissal,complaint,Here,Leave,FaceBook,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,RecreationLaw,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,James,Moss,Authorrank,author,Outside,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Paddlesports,Recreational,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,Horseback,Equine,signor,whether


Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

April Palmer, Appellant, v. Lakeside Wellness Center, Doing Business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc., Appellees.

No. S-10-974.

SUPREME COURT OF NEBRASKA

281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

June 24, 2011, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: JOSEPH S. TROIA, Judge.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

HEADNOTES

1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will affirm a lower court’s granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

2. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

3. Contracts: Parties: Intent. In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them.

4. Contracts: Parties. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly inter preted or construed.

5. Negligence: Words and Phrases. Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty.

6. Negligence. Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule.

7. Negligence: Summary Judgment. The issue of gross negligence is susceptible to resolution in a motion for summary judgment.

COUNSEL: Heather Voegele-Andersen and Brenda K. George, of Koley Jessen, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.

David L. Welch and Ashley E. Dieckman, of Pansing, Hogan, Ernst & Bachman, L.L.P., for appellee Lakeside Wellness Center.

Albert M. Engles and Cory J. Kerger, of Engles, Ketcham, Olson & Keith, P.C., for appellee Precor, Inc.

JUDGES: HEAVICAN, C.J., CONNOLLY, GERRARD, STEPHAN, and MCCORMACK, JJ. WRIGHT and MILLER-LERMAN, JJ., not participating.

OPINION BY: HEAVICAN

OPINION

[**847] [*781] Heavican, C.J.

INTRODUCTION

The appellant, April Palmer, was injured while on a treadmill at Lakeside Wellness Center (Lakeside). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Lakeside, doing business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc. Palmer appeals. We affirm.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Palmer’s Accident.

Palmer and her husband joined Lakeside in November 2006. The accident occurred several months later, on March 7, 2007. On that date, Palmer approached the treadmill in question to begin her workout. Unaware that the treadmill belt was running, Palmer stepped onto the treadmill from the back and was thrown off the belt and into an elliptical training [**848] machine located behind [***2] her. During her deposition, Palmer stated that she looked at the treadmill’s control panel before getting on, but did not look at the belt of the treadmill. Palmer indicated that had she looked at the belt, she probably would have been able to see that it was operating, but that since she assumed the treadmill was off, she did not look further. According to Palmer, she thought the area was poorly lit, though she had never complained about it to any Lakeside staff members. And Palmer indicated that the facility was loud and that she was unable to hear whether the machine was operating.

This treadmill was located in a row of treadmills, and the treadmills to the right and left of the machine in question were [*782] being used at the time of the accident. In Palmer’s husband’s deposition, he testified that the woman on a neighboring treadmill told him she had been on that treadmill briefly before switching to the neighboring machine and had mistakenly thought she had turned it off.

Palmer’s Familiarity With Treadmills.

During her deposition, Palmer was asked about her exercise history and her familiarity with treadmills. Palmer testified that she and her husband had been members of other gyms prior [***3] to joining Lakeside. Palmer testified that she received instruction from a trainer after joining Lakeside, though she stated that she did not need specific instruction on how to operate a treadmill. According to Palmer’s testimony, she had been using treadmills for approximately 21 years. At the time of the accident, Palmer had been using the Lakeside facility at least 5 times a week and had used that actual treadmill 10 to 15 times total prior to the accident. Palmer also testified that she had a treadmill in her home.

Palmer’s Membership Agreement and Health History Questionnaire.

At the time Palmer and her husband became members at Lakeside, Palmer filled out and signed a membership agreement and a health history questionnaire. The membership agreement provided:

WAIVER AND RELEASE–You acknowledge that your attendance or use of [Lakeside] including without limitation to your participation in any of [Lakeside’s] programs or activities and your use of [Lakeside’s] equipment and facilities, and transportation provided by [Lakeside] could cause injury to you. In consideration of your membership in [Lakeside], you hereby assume all risks of injury which may result from or arise out of your [***4] attendance at or use of [Lakeside] or its equipment, activities, facilities, or transportation; and you agree, on behalf of yourself and your heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns to fully and forever release and discharge [Lakeside] and affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, [*783] successors and assigns, and each of them (collectively the “Releasees”) from any and all claims, damages, rights of action or causes of action, present or future, known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated, resulting from or arising out of your attendance at or use of [Lakeside] or its equipment, activities, facilities or transportation, including without limitation any claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action resulting from or arising out of the negligence of the Releasees. Further, you hereby agree to waive any and all such claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action. Further you hereby agree to release and discharge the Releasees from any and all liability for any loss or theft of, or damage to, personal property. You acknowledge that you have [**849] carefully read this waiver and release and fully understand that it is a waiver [***5] and release of liability.

The health history questionnaire signed by Palmer stated in relevant part as follows:

1. In consideration of being allowed to participate in the activities and programs of [Lakeside] and to use its facilities, equipment and machinery in addition to the payment of any fee or charge, I do hereby waive, release and forever discharge [Lakeside] and its directors, officers, agents, employees, representatives, successors and assigns, administrators, executors and all other [sic] from any and all responsibilities or liability from injuries or damages resulting from my participation in any activities or my use of equipment or machinery in the above mentioned activities. I do also hereby release all of those mentioned and any others acting upon their behalf from any responsibility or liability for any injury or damage to myself, including those caused by the negligent act or omission of any way arising out of or connected with my participation in any activities of [Lakeside] or the use of any equipment at [Lakeside]. . . .

2. I understand and am aware that strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise, including the use of equipment are a potentially hazardous activity. [***6] I also understand that fitness activities involve the risk of injury and even death, [*784] and that I am voluntarily participating in these activities and using equipment and machinery with knowledge of the dangers involved. I hereby agree to expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death. . . .

Palmer sued Lakeside and Precor for her injuries, which generally consisted of an injured hand and chest. Both Lakeside and Precor filed motions for summary judgment, which were granted. Palmer appeals.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

Palmer assigns that the district court erred in (1) granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor; (2) holding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire signed by Palmer were clear, understandable, and unambiguous; and (3) holding that Palmer assumed the risk of using the treadmill.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[1] [HN1] An appellate court will affirm a lower court’s granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as [***7] a matter of law. 1

1 Wilson v. Fieldgrove, 280 Neb. 548, 787 N.W.2d 707 (2010).

[2] [HN2] In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence. 2

2 Id.

ANALYSIS

Waiver and Release.

Palmer first argues that the district court erred in finding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire she completed and signed when joining Lakeside were clear, understandable, and unambiguous. We read Palmer’s argument as contending that the waivers, [**850] while perhaps applicable to instances of ordinary negligence, [*785] could not operate to relieve Lakeside or Precor from gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. We further understand Palmer to argue that both Lakeside and Precor committed gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct–Precor by delivering a treadmill without proper safety features, and Lakeside by not providing adequate space or lighting around the treadmill and by modifying the treadmill’s belt such that the treadmill became unsafe.

[3,4] Before reaching the merits [***8] of Palmer’s argument, we note that contrary to Precor’s argument, Precor is not protected from liability as a result of the waivers signed by Palmer. Precor contends in its brief that it is a third-party beneficiary of these waivers. This court recently addressed a similar issue in Podraza v. New Century Physicians of Neb. 3 In Podraza, we noted that we have traditionally strictly construed who has the right to enforce a contract as a third-party beneficiary.

[HN3] In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue thereon must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly interpreted or construed.

Authorities are in accord that one suing as a third-party beneficiary has the burden of showing that the provision was for his or her direct benefit. Unless one can sustain this burden, a purported third-party beneficiary will be deemed merely incidentally benefited and will not be permitted [***9] to recover on or enforce the agreement. 4

3 Podraza v. New Century Physicians of Neb., 280 Neb. 678, 789 N.W.2d 260 (2010).

4 Id. at 686, 789 N.W.2d at 267.

A review of the record shows that Precor was not explicitly mentioned in the language of the waiver. Nor is there any other evidence that Precor was an intended third-party beneficiary. Precor has the burden to show its status as a third-party beneficiary, and it has failed to meet that burden. As such, Precor [*786] is not shielded from liability as a result of the waivers signed by Palmer.

Lakeside’s Gross Negligence or Willful and Wanton Conduct.

At oral argument, Palmer conceded that by virtue of these waivers, Lakeside was not liable to Palmer for damages caused by ordinary negligence. But, as noted above, Palmer contends that Lakeside is nevertheless liable, because its actions were grossly negligent or were willful and wanton.

Having examined the record in this case, we find that as a matter of law, Palmer’s allegations against Lakeside do not rise to the level of gross negligence. Palmer alleges that the Lakeside facility had inadequate lighting and inadequate spacing between equipment and that Lakeside’s employees modified the treadmill [***10] in question by installing a treadmill belt that did not contain markings.

[5-7] [HN4] Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty. 5 Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule. 6 [**851] The issue of gross negligence is susceptible to resolution in a motion for summary judgment. 7 We simply cannot conclude that the allegations against Lakeside–inadequate lighting and spacing and the installation of a new treadmill belt–rise to such a level. We therefore conclude that as a matter of law, any negligence by Lakeside was not gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct. As such, the district court did not err in granting Lakeside’s motion for summary judgment.

5 Bennett v. Labenz, 265 Neb. 750, 659 N.W.2d 339 (2003).

6 Id.

7 Id.

Precor’s Negligence.

We next turn to the question of whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Precor. Because we concluded above that the waiver signed by Palmer did not [*787] act to relieve Precor from liability, we address whether there was a genuine issue of material [***11] fact on the issue of whether Precor breached any duty it had to Palmer.

In arguing that Precor was liable, Palmer alleges that Precor breached its duty by not equipping the treadmill with (1) a safety feature that would prevent the treadmill from operating when no one was on it and (2) handrails extending down the sides toward the back of the treadmill. Palmer originally argued that Precor was also liable because the belt on its treadmill failed to contain adequate markings, but it is this court’s understanding that Palmer no longer makes such allegations with regard to Precor because the belt on the treadmill at the time of the incident was not original to the treadmill and had been installed by Lakeside.

In response to Palmer’s allegations, Precor introduced evidence in the form of an affidavit from its director of product development, Greg May. May averred that at the time of manufacture and delivery, the treadmill met or exceeded the voluntary guidelines set by the American Society for Testing and Materials in that group’s international standard specifications for motorized treadmills in all ways, including handrails. Though there was no specific feature on this treadmill designed [***12] to stop the treadmill from running when no one was operating it, the machine was manufactured with a clip to be attached to the user’s clothing. The manual for this treadmill noted that “by taking this precaution, a tug on the safety switch cord trips the safety switch and slows the running speed to a safe stop.” May also averred that the treadmill in question left Precor’s control on July 29, 1999, or over 7 years prior to the date of the incident.

In addition to May’s affidavit, Precor also introduced photographs of the treadmill at issue, which photographs showed that the treadmill did have front handrails, though not side handrails.

In an attempt to rebut May’s affidavit and show a genuine issue of material fact, Palmer introduced the affidavit of a fitness consultant. That affidavit noted in part that

based on [the consultant’s] experience, in order for treadmills to meet appropriate safety standards from the late [*788] 1990s forward, treadmills should contain adequate safety features, emergency/safety stop mechanisms, warning labels, and markings on a treadmill belt. A treadmill should contain a safety stop mechanism such that the treadmill will turn off if no one is currently on the [***13] treadmill, adequate handrails extending towards the back of the treadmill and warning labels at the rear of the treadmill.

Even after drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Palmer, we conclude that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Precor’s alleged breach of duty. While the fitness consultant’s affidavit indicates that treadmills “should” contain [**852] various safety features, he does not speak in absolutes and does not refer specifically to this treadmill. On the other hand, May’s affidavit references the treadmill at issue in this case and details the safety features this treadmill possessed, as well as Precor’s compliance with all applicable, though voluntary, safety standards when manufacturing the treadmill. Because the record affirmatively shows that Precor did not breach any duty it owed to Palmer, we conclude that the district court did not err in granting Precor’s motion for summary judgment.

Assumption of Risk.

Palmer also argues that the district court erred in finding that she assumed the risk of injury when she used the treadmill. Because we conclude that the district court did not err in granting Lakeside’s and Precor’s motions for summary judgment for the [***14] foregoing reasons, we need not address Palmer’s assignment of error regarding the assumption of the risk.

CONCLUSION

The district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor is affirmed.

AFFIRMED.

Wright and Miller-Lerman, JJ., not participating.

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Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

Lewis v. Snow Creek, Inc., 6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

Carrie Lewis, Lesa Moffatt, Appellants, v. Snow Creek, Inc., Respondent.

WD 55070

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT

6 S.W.3d 388; 1999 Mo. App. LEXIS 421

March 31, 1999, Opinion Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [**1] Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Passed June 1, 1999. Respondent’s Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to the Supreme Court Denied July 27, 1999. Opinion Readopted and Mandate Issued January 6, 2000, Reported at: 2000 Mo. App LEXIS 7.

PRIOR HISTORY: Appeal from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Honorable Ward B. Stuckey, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

COUNSEL: Fritz Edmunds, Jr., Overland Park, KS, for Appellants.

Thomas Magee, St. Louis, MO, for Respondent.

JUDGES: Albert A. Riederer Judge. Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ALBERT A. RIEDERER

OPINION

[*391] This is an appeal from summary judgments granted in each of two separate suits filed by two different plaintiffs making identical claims against Respondent. Pursuant to a motion filed by Appellants and Respondent, the cases have been consolidated on appeal. Because we find that there is disputed evidence regarding both Respondent’s liability as a possessor of land and Appellant’s implied assumption of the risk, and because we find that express assumption of the risk did not apply under the facts in this record, we reverse on those issues. However, because there is no disputed evidence regarding count III of the petitions, and because Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that count, we affirm as to that count.

Factual and Procedural Background

On January 8, 1995, Appellant Lesa Moffatt rented skis at Snow [**2] Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” On January 21, 1995, Appellant Carrie Lewis rented skis at Snow Creek Ski Area and signed a “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” The form states in pertinent part:

10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.

This document was signed by both Lewis and Moffatt during the process of renting equipment. Lewis and Moffatt both stood in line with people in front of and behind them when they received this form. The form had to be completed before obtaining skis and equipment. Both Lewis and Moffatt claim that they felt pressured to move along and did not have an adequate opportunity to read and fully comprehend the rental form.

Lewis [**3] and Moffatt both fell on ice at Snow Creek and were injured. Lewis and Moffatt each filed a separate petition against Respondent which included the same four counts: I. Defendant owed a duty to plaintiff as a business invitee, and breached that duty by failure to warn of the icy condition where the fall occurred; II. Defendant negligently adjusted and maintained the bindings on Plaintiff’s skis because they failed to properly release when plaintiff fell, injuring plaintiff’s leg; III. Defendant created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow; and IV. Defendant was grossly negligent in failing to warn plaintiff of the dangerous condition on its premises. Respondent generally [*392] denied Appellant’s claims in its answer and asserted affirmative defenses of comparative fault and assumption of the risk.

Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment in each case. Respondent submitted as evidence the “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form” and the deposition of the plaintiff in each case. In response to Respondent’s motions for summary judgment, each Appellant submitted additional evidence in the form of her own affidavit. Both motions for summary judgment were granted. Lewis’ and Moffatt’s [**4] claims are identical, and they have been consolidated on appeal.

Standard of Review

[HN1] Our standard of review of a summary judgment is essentially de novo. Lawrence v. Bainbridge Apartments, 957 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1997) (citing, ITT Commercial Finance Corp., v. Mid-America Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993)). We review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered and grant the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record. Id. [HN2] To be entitled to summary judgment a movant must demonstrate that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

In accordance with the law, we analyze whether summary judgment is appropriate on the record developed by the parties and presented to this court. The Respondent advances several arguments why summary judgment is appropriate. First, it claims as a possessor of land, it has no duty to warn a business invitee of dangers which are open and obvious as a matter of law and that the ice alleged to have caused the fall and injury was [**5] open and obvious as a matter of law. Second, it claims Appellants expressly assumed the risk of this injury by signing the Rental Form. Third, it claims Appellants impliedly assumed the risk of this injury by engaging in the sport of skiing. Fourth, it claims the Rental Form operates as a release.

I. Duty of the Possessor of Land

Respondent claims that the presence of ice on a ski slope should be determined to be an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.

A. Duty Owed To A Business Invitee

” [HN3] The standard of care owed by a possessor of land is dependent upon the status of the injured party.” Peterson v. Summit Fitness, Inc., 920 S.W.2d 928, 932 (Mo. App. 1996). An invitee “is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.” Harris v. Niehaus, 857 S.W.2d 222, 225 (Mo. banc 1993) (quoting, Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 332 (1965). As [HN4] business invitees, the Appellants were entitled to reasonable and ordinary care by Respondent to make its premises safe. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 932. A possessor of land is [**6] liable to an invitee only if the possessor:

(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and

(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger or will fail to protect themselves against it, and

(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

Id. Generally, [HN5] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Id. at 933. “The exception to this rule is where ‘the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.'” Id. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id.

Given the preceding principles, the pivotal question is whether the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land [*393] as a matter of law. If we determine the ice was an open and obvious condition on the land as a matter of law, Respondent as possessor has no liability – unless he should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Id. [**7] Thus, the next question would be whether Respondent could reasonably rely on its invitees – skiers – to protect themselves from the danger of ice or whether Respondent should have expected that skiers would not appreciate the danger thus posed. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. We need not reach the second question because this court is unwilling, under the facts as developed in this case, to declare that the conditions on Respondent’s property, which allegedly caused the fall, were open and obvious as a matter of law. To the contrary, we find there is a genuine dispute regarding a material fact: the nature and character of the ice alleged to have caused the fall. “For purposes of Rule 74.04, [HN6] a ‘genuine issue’ exists where the record contains competent materials that evidence two plausible, but contradictory, accounts of the essential facts.” ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 382. “A ‘genuine issue’ is a dispute that is real, not merely argumentative, imaginary or frivolous.” Id. In this case, Appellants characterized the ice as large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow. The evidence is that the Appellants fell on ice which they did not see because [**8] of the snow. Respondent maintained that both Appellants encountered ice on trails that the Appellants had been down several times before they fell. This is not sufficient evidence for this court to find that the ice Appellants encountered was an open and obvious danger as a matter of law. It is not clear that the Appellants should have reasonably been expected to have discovered the icy condition. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. ” [HN7] When there is disputed evidence – as in this case – on whether the landowner had reason to expect this type of accident . . ., the case properly belongs to the jury.” Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 229. Therefore, we find that Respondent was not entitled to summary judgment because there is a genuine issue regarding the ice, and the ice in question was not an open and obvious danger as a matter of law.

II. Assumption of Risk

Appellants claim that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the defense of assumption of the risk requires a jury determination as to disputed material facts. Specifically, Appellants claim that a jury should decide whether they knew of the ice and whether they understood and appreciated the [**9] danger posed by the ice. Respondent claims that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of a risk inherent in the sport of skiing, and therefore, the Appellants assumed the risk, or in the alternative, that Appellants expressly assumed the risk by signing the rental form. [HN8] Assumption of risk is generally categorized as express, implied primary, and implied secondary (reasonable and unreasonable). Sheppard v. Midway R-1 School District, 904 S.W.2d 257, 261-62 (Mo. App. 1995).

A. Express Assumption of Risk

[HN9] Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff expressly agrees in advance that the defendant owes him no duty. Id. Recovery is completely barred since there is no duty in the first place. Id. Respondent argues that the Rental Form, signed by both Appellants, specifically mentioned the snow. Respondent correctly argues that the Rental Form relieves it of liability for injury due to snow. The evidence is that the Appellants knew about the snow and voluntarily assumed that risk. However, we cannot agree that the Rental Form relieves Respondent from injury liability due to ice. First, the Rental Form did not mention injury due to ice. [**10] In addition, the Rental Form could only relieve Respondent of such liability if the general reference to “negligence” is sufficient to do so. The clause of the Rental Form reads as follows:

[*394] 10. I hereby release from any legal liability the ski area and its owners, agents and employees, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of this equipment from any and all liability for damage and injury or death to myself or to any person or property resulting from the selection, installation, maintenance, adjustment or use of this equipment and for any claim based upon negligence, breach of warranty, contract or other legal theory, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage, injury or death which may result.

” [HN10] Although exculpatory clauses in contracts releasing an individual from his or her own future negligence are disfavored, they are not prohibited as against public policy.” Alack v. Vic Tanny International of Missouri, Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. 1996). “However, contracts exonerating a party from acts of future negligence are to be ‘strictly construed against the party claiming the benefit of the contract, and clear and explicit language [**11] in the contract is required to absolve a person from such liability.'” Id. (quoting, Hornbeck v. All American Indoor Sports, Inc., 898 S.W.2d 717, 721 (Mo. App. 1995)).

“Historically, [HN11] Missouri appellate courts have required that a release from one’s own future negligence be explicitly stated.” 923 S.W.2d at 336 (emphasis in original). The Court in Alack determined that the best approach was to follow precedent and decisions from our state as well as others and to require [HN12] clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and conspicuous language in order to release a party from his or her own future negligence. 923 S.W.2d at 337. The language of the exculpatory clause must effectively notify a party that he or she is releasing the other party from claims arising from the other party’s own negligence. Id. General language will not suffice. Id. “The words ‘negligence’ or ‘fault’ or their equivalents must be used conspicuously so that a clear and unmistakable waiver and shifting of risk occurs.” Id. [HN13] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law to be decided by the court. Id. “An ambiguity arises when there is [**12] duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the words used in the contract.” Id.

Respondent’s exculpatory clause uses the term “negligence.” However, that does not end our inquiry. We must determine whether the exculpatory clause uses “clear, unmistakable, unambiguous and conspicuous language.” Id. The exculpatory clause purports to shield Respondent from “any claim based on negligence and . . . any claim based upon . . . other legal theory. . . .” Alack teaches us that “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Id. Respondent argues that the language from paragraph 8 of the rental form “does not purport to release defendant from liability for intentional torts, gross negligence, or activities involving the public interest ” and that use of the word “negligence” results in a clear understanding of the acts for which liability is released. We disagree. The exculpatory clause uses general language, to wit, “any claim based on . . . other legal theory.” This language includes intentional torts, [**13] gross negligence or any other cause of action not expressly listed. ” [HN14] A contract that purports to relieve a party from any and all claims but does not actually do so is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain.” Id. Here, the Rental Form purports to relieve Respondent of all liability but does not do so. Thus, it is duplicitous, indistinct and uncertain, Id., and thence arises an ambiguity. Rodriguez v. General Accident, 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991).

In addition, the exculpatory language and its format did not effectively notify the Appellants that they were releasing Respondent from claims arising from its negligence. The form the Appellants signed was entitled “Snow Creek Ski Area Rental Form.” It did not indicate it [*395] was a release. This title was in large type and could not be reasonably construed to include release of liability. By contrast, the exculpatory clause is in approximately 5 point type at the bottom of the form. “[ [HN15] A] provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 335. The Appellants had to sign [**14] the Rental Form to receive ski equipment and had to do so while in a line. The language and format of the exculpatory clause leaves doubt that a reasonable person agreeing to the clause actually would understand what future claims he or she is waiving. Id. at 337-38. The language drafted by Respondent is not “unambiguous” or “conspicuous,” and thus does not meet the standard of Alack. Id.

Thus, Respondent cannot rely on that language to claim the Appellants expressly assumed the risk of the injury complained of in the petition.

B. Implied Assumption of Risk

[HN16] Implied assumption of risk includes two sub-categories, implied primary and implied secondary. Implied primary assumption of risk involves the question of whether the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from the risk of harm. Sheppard, 904 S.W.2d at 261. It applies where the parties have voluntarily entered a relationship in which the plaintiff assumes well-known incidental risks. Id. The plaintiff’s consent is implied from the act of electing to participate in the activity. Id. Implied primary assumption of the risk is also a complete bar [**15] to recovery. Id. at 262. On the other hand, [HN17] implied secondary assumption of the risk occurs when the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff but the plaintiff knowingly proceeds to encounter a known risk imposed by the defendant’s breach of duty. Id. In implied secondary assumption of the risk cases, the question is whether the plaintiff’s action is reasonable or unreasonable. Id. If the plaintiff’s action is reasonable, he is not barred from recovery. Id. If the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering a known risk is unreasonable, it is to be considered by the jury as one element of fault. Id. This case involves implied primary assumption of the risk.

Appellants claim the trial court erred when it ruled, “the court finds that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by skiing on the Defendant’s ski slope and that Plaintiff’s injuries were of a type inherent to the sport of skiing and that this incident involves dangers so obvious that the Defendant does not owe a duty to the Plaintiff and therefore is not required to warn the Plaintiff of such danger.” Respondent argues that the Appellants are barred by [**16] implied primary assumption of risk because by engaging in the sport of skiing, they impliedly assumed the risk of falling on the ice.

“Generally, [HN18] assumption of risk in the sports context involves primary assumption of risk because the plaintiff has assumed certain risks inherent in the sport or activity.” Id.

[HN19] Under comparative fault, if the plaintiff’s injury is the result of a risk inherent in the sport in which he was participating, the defendant is relieved from liability on the grounds that by participating in the sport, the plaintiff assumed the risk and the defendant never owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from that risk. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff’s injury is the result of negligence on the part of the defendant, the issue regarding the plaintiff’s assumption of that risk and whether it was a reasonable assumption of risk, is an element of fault to be compared to the defendant’s negligence by the jury.

Id. at 263-64. [HN20] The basis of implied primary assumption of risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk. Id. “If the risks of the activity are perfectly obvious or fully comprehended, plaintiff has consented to [**17] them and defendant has performed [*396] his or her duty.” Martin v. Buzan, 857 S.W.2d 366, 369 (Mo. App. 1993).

[HN21] As a “defending party,” Respondent may establish a right to summary judgment by showing that there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support its properly pleaded affirmative defense and that those factors show Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 381. In order for Respondent to have established its right to summary judgment based upon implied primary assumption of the risk, Respondent had to show that there was no genuine dispute that the Appellants’ injuries were the result of falling on ice, and that ice was a risk inherent in the sport of skiing. While there is no question that the Appellants’ injuries were a result of falling on ice, there is a genuine dispute regarding whether encountering the ice in this case is an inherent risk of skiing. Respondent notes that many states including Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia have all enacted statutes which codify assumption of the risk as is pertains to the sport [**18] of snow skiing. However, there is no such statute in Missouri, and this court is not willing to say, as a blanket rule, that all ice encountered on Respondent’s property is an inherent risk in the sport of snow skiing. There is a genuine dispute as to the nature of the ice. Was it “large areas of thick impenetrable ice hidden under a dusting of snow on the ski slopes,” as the Appellants claim, or was it ice on the slopes that the Appellants had been over several times prior to falling. These are questions which must be answered by a fact-finder. [HN22] While the basis of implied primary assumption of the risk is the plaintiff’s consent to accept the risk, the plaintiff must be aware of the facts that create the danger and they must appreciate the danger itself. Shepard, 904 S.W.2d at 264. Thus, the standard is a subjective one: “what the particular plaintiff in fact sees, knows, understands and appreciates.” Id. Here, the record does not include evidence that the Appellants were aware of the facts that created the danger or that they appreciated the danger itself. In fact, there was only evidence to the contrary, that the Appellants did not know, understand or appreciate [**19] the ice because it was under snow.

Therefore, we find that summary judgment cannot, on this record, be based upon express or implied primary assumption of the risk.

III. Release

Respondent argues on appeal that the “Rental Form” operated as a release. Respondent did not plead release as an affirmative defense in its answer. [HN23] Release is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded in an answer. Rule 55.08. Failure to plead an affirmative defense constitutes a waiver of the defense. Leo’s Enterprises, Inc. v. Hollrah, 805 S.W.2d 739, 740 (Mo. App. 1991). Since Respondent did not plead the affirmative defense of release, summary judgment would not be proper based upon the theory of release.

Artificial Snow

We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on Count III of the Appellants’ petitions. The Appellants state in Count III of their petitions that Respondent created a dangerous condition by making artificial snow and dispersing it on the ski slope and that Respondent owed a duty to them as business invitees not to create dangerous conditions on the premises. The trial court was correct in granting Respondent’s summary judgment [**20] on Count III, because [HN24] a possessor of land does not have a duty to protect invitees against conditions that are open and obvious as a matter of law. Peterson, 920 S.W.2d at 933. A condition is open and obvious if invitees should reasonably be expected to discover it. Id. Respondent could be liable only if it was not reasonable [*397] for it to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk and to take reasonable precautions. Harris, 857 S.W.2d at 226. Artificial snow at Snow Creek is an open and obvious condition, and it is reasonable for Respondent to expect the Appellants to see and appreciate the risk of artificial snow and to take appropriate precautions.

Conclusion

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed as to Count III of each of the petitions. It is reversed and remanded for further proceedings on counts I, II, & IV.

Albert A. Riederer, Judge

Lowenstein and Stith, JJ., concur.

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

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If you really are bad, a judge will figure out a way to void your release

Davis, v. 3 Bar F Rodeo, 2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423

Appellate court sends back to trial court on issue that release did not protect against Gross Negligence, and the deceased did not have time to read the release.

I guess I knew that these contests happened. I grew up in a rural community where we had greased pig contests, but nothing like this. The plaintiff entered a contest where he went into a rodeo and stood in a white circle. There were other participants also standing in circles. A bull was released into the ring. The last person standing in a white circle won. Prize money was $50.00. The contest was called the “Ring of Fear.” The bull struck the deceased bursting his liver.

$50.00?

The plaintiff’s spouse sued. The deceased prior to entering the ring signed a release. The release was comprehensive but apparently had all participant signatures on one form. Allegedly, the deceased was not given any time to read the release.

Prior to the bull being released into the ring, the bull was allegedly provoked by jabbing him with a wooden object and beating sticks against the bull’s cage. (I’m guessing PETA is not big in this part of Kentucky…….)

The trial court dismissed the complaint based on the release signed by the deceased. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The appellate court first looked at the Kentucky Farm Animals Activities Act (FAAA) KRS 247.401 through KRS 247.4029. The court found the statute was applicable to the facts in this case. The court also found that the warnings found in the act provided immunity to defendants who posted the warnings. Failure to post the warnings did not create a claim of negligence per se or strict liability as the plaintiff argued. Failing to post the warnings simply failed to provide the immunity under the statute.

The court also found that the FAAA allowed farm animal event sponsors to sue the act if they posted the warning signs.

The court found that the FAAA had no duty to reduce or eliminate the inherent risks found in farm animal activities. The court also found that act did not protect sponsors that intentionally mistreat or aggravate a farm animal. That would be the antithesis of the purpose of the act.

The court then looked at the issue of the release and stated,

While agreements to exempt future liability for either ordinary or gross negligence are not invalid per se, they are generally disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying upon them. [Emphasize added]

Although not a definitive statement on the issue, it appears that under Kentucky law, a release will protect a defendant against a claim of gross negligence.

Releases in Kentucky will be upheld if they meet the following tests if:

(1) it explicitly expresses an intention to exonerate by using the word “negligence;” or

(2) it clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release a party from liability for a personal injury caused by that party’s own conduct; or

(3) protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract language; or

(4) the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.

From a legal point, this is an extremely broad language about how a release will be interpreted by the courts.

The court then examined the release and found no language the court could interpret that could be used to say the release was going to stop a gross negligence claim. The court also found that intentionally mistreating the bull would “at the very least constitute gross negligence.”

The court followed up by stating that infuriating a bull would constitute willful of wanton conduct which “a party may not contract away any liability through a release.”

Finally, the court looked at a laundry list of additional issues raised by the plaintiff:

..that Appellees should have inquired as to the abilities of the participants to participate in the Ring of Fear. Finally, Susan contends that Charles did not have an opportunity to read the release prior to signing it.

The court stated that those were all factual issues to be resolved by a trier of fact.

So Now What?

Although the issue that a release in Kentucky may protect against gross negligence is great as well as the broad language that can be used in a release in Kentucky, the last two issues mentioned by the court allow numerous ways to void releases in Kentucky and place a burden upon the business or program operating in Kentucky and using a release.

That is requiring an outfitter to see if a guest has the sufficient skills, ability and desire to undertake the activities and making sure the person signing a release has sufficient time to read the release.

Solving the problems of the Defendant

First, I would have raised an assumption of risk argument, although I am not sure of the status of A/R in Kentucky. However, I believe that it is pretty obvious that you can get gored by a bull in a ring. The deceased and the plaintiff were going to the event for a rodeo so it had to have been obvious, to some extent.

Second by having separate releases rather than one sign-up sheet, the argument that the deceased did not have time to read the release could have been diffused if not eliminated. If each person has a sheet of paper, then there is no rush to get all the signatures on one sheet of paper.

Still to be resolved

The issue that the defendant did not enquire as to the ability of the participant to participate in the Ring of Fire is an open-ended opportunity for every lawsuit in Kentucky to go to trial.

How are you going to determine the requirements for a participant to undertake an activity? No matter what system, test or determination you make, you did not do a good job if someone is hurt or injured on your trip. Nor can you use medical information to determine if someone can participate because unless you are a physician, that would require diagnosis which you cannot do.

The only solution you can come up with to create a system so the participants can self-determine if they are able to participate. Show a video or create a checklist.  Make sure your release states that the person has watched the video, seen your website and reviewed the checklist and understands it is their responsibility to determine if they are able to participate in the activity.

This could be a nightmare in Kentucky.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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SW, a minor v. Towers Boat Club, Inc., 2012 COA 77; 2012 Colo. App. LEXIS 642

SW, a minor v. Towers Boat Club, Inc., 2012 COA 77; 2012 Colo. App. LEXIS 642

SW, a minor by and through his parents and next friends, David and Rhonda Wacker; David Wacker; and Rhonda Wacker, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Towers Boat Club, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

Court of Appeals No. 11CA0935

COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION THREE

2012 COA 77; 2012 Colo. App. LEXIS 642

April 26, 2012, Decided

NOTICE:

THIS OPINION IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION AND SUBJECT TO REVISION UPON FINAL PUBLICATION

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

Jefferson County District Court No. 10CV1507. Honorable Jane A. Tidball, Judge.

DISPOSITION: JUDGMENT AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Purvis Gray, LLP, John Purvis, Boulder, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Senter Goldfarb & Rice, L.L.C., Arthur Kutzer, Joel Palmer, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee.

JUDGES: Opinion by JUDGE TERRY. Roy, J., concurs. Gabriel, J., specially concurs.

OPINION BY: TERRY

OPINION

[*P1] As an issue of first impression, we address whether, under the premises liability statute, section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2011, a child licensee may assert a claim based on the attractive nuisance doctrine. We conclude that a child licensee may not maintain such a claim.

[*P2] Plaintiffs, SW, David Wacker, and Rhonda Wacker, appeal the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of defendant, Towers Boat Club, Inc. (landowner). We affirm.

I. Background

[*P3] On August 2, 2008, SW, then eleven years old, attended a social gathering at Poudre Reservoir Number 6. While he was playing on an inflatable structure rented by landowner for the gathering, wind lifted the structure into the air and SW fell to the ground, sustaining severe injuries. Plaintiffs eventually settled the claims that they asserted against other defendants.

[*P4] Plaintiffs asserted two claims against [**2] landowner, one for negligence and the other under Colorado’s premises liability statute, section 13-21-115. Landowner moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion as to plaintiffs’ negligence and premises liability claims. However, the court construed the complaint to include a claim for attractive nuisance, and denied summary judgment as to that claim.

[*P5] Landowner moved for reconsideration, arguing that the attractive nuisance doctrine was inapplicable to SW. The court agreed and dismissed plaintiffs’ attractive nuisance claim. Plaintiffs appeal only the trial court’s dismissal of the attractive nuisance claim.

II. Standard of Review

[*P6] [HN1] We review de novo an order granting a motion for summary judgment. Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1218 (Colo. 2002). [HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate only where no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The nonmoving party is entitled to the benefit of all favorable inferences reasonably drawn from the undisputed facts, and all doubts are resolved against the moving party. A.C. Excavating v. Yacht Club II Homeowners Ass’n, 114 P.3d 862, 865 (Colo. 2005).

[*P7]

III. [**3] Discussion

[*P8] We are not persuaded by plaintiffs’ contention that the trial court erred in granting landowner’s motion for summary judgment.

[*P9] [HN3] Section 13-21-115(3), C.R.S. 2011, classifies entrants upon the land of another as trespassers, licensees, or invitees. As relevant here, that subsection outlines the respective duties that a landowner owes to each class, as follows:

[HN4] (3)(a) A trespasser may recover only for damages willfully or deliberately caused by the landowner.

(b) A licensee may recover only for damages caused:

(I) By the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which the landowner actually knew; or

(II) By the landowner’s unreasonable failure to warn of dangers not created by the landowner which are not ordinarily present on property of the type involved and of which the landowner actually knew.

(c)(I). . . [A]n invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known.

§ 13-21-115(3).

[*P10] The trial court ruled that SW was a licensee, and plaintiffs do not contest that ruling on appeal. Instead, [**4] they argue that the trial court erred in ruling that, because SW was not a trespassing child who was enticed onto the property by an attractive nuisance, he could not assert a claim for attractive nuisance. Plaintiffs contend this ruling contravenes the supreme court’s holding in Gallegos v. Phipps, 779 P.2d 856, 859 (Colo. 1989). We disagree.

A. Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

[*P11] Plaintiffs argue that no Colorado appellate decision expressly holds that the attractive nuisance doctrine is limited to trespassing children. They contend that the Colorado decisions addressing attractive nuisance all involve factual scenarios in which a child was trespassing, and thus the issue of whether the doctrine can apply to licensees such as SW has not previously been decided. They further contend that, although SW has been determined to be a licensee, he should be able to invoke the attractive nuisance doctrine.

[*P12] We disagree that existing Colorado decisions, when construed together with the premises liability statute, leave any doubt about the application of the attractive nuisance doctrine, and conclude [HN5] the doctrine unequivocally applies only to children enticed by an attractive nuisance to trespass on [**5] another’s property. Thus, the doctrine cannot be applied to SW.

1. History of Attractive Nuisance Doctrine in Colorado

[*P13] The attractive nuisance doctrine developed to provide legal relief to certain trespassing children who otherwise would be barred from recovery because of Colorado’s rule that a landowner owes no duty to make or keep premises safe for a trespasser. See Hayko v. Colorado & Utah Coal Co., 77 Colo. 143, 147, 235 P. 373, 374 (1925), overruled in part by Mile High Fence Co. v. Radovich, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308 (1971), superseded by § 13-21-115 as noted in Gallegos, 779 P.2d at 861; see also John W. Grund & J. Kent Miller, 7 Colo. Prac., Personal Injury Practice — Torts and Insurance § 19.5, at 314-15 (2d ed. 2000).

[*P14] The doctrine has since been modified, both by ensuing case law and by statute. Because the history of attractive nuisance doctrine is tied to the general history of premises liability law in Colorado, we briefly summarize the unique history of Colorado premises liability law.

[*P15] The supreme court described some of that history in Gallegos, as follows:

Until 1971, the law in Colorado governing landowner[s’] liability followed the common law’s emphasis on whether [**6] the injured party was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. See [Mile High Fence, 175 Colo. at 541, 489 P.2d at 311]; Husser v. School Dist. No. 11, 159 Colo. 590, 593, 413 P.2d 906, 908 (1966). Under the common law, the landowner’s liability depended exclusively upon the injured party’s status. For example, a landowner had no duty to make or keep his premises safe for a trespasser. Staley v. Security Athletic Ass’n, 152 Colo. 19, 21, 380 P.2d 53, 54 (1963). If, however, the person was a licensee, the owner had a duty not to willfully or wantonly injure the person. Gotch v. K & B Packing & Provision Co., 93 Colo. 276, 278, 25 P.2d 719, 720 (1933), overruled [by Mile High Fence, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308]. An even higher standard was owed if the person was an invitee; where an invitee was upon the owner’s land, the owner had a duty to have the land in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of concealed defects that might have been discovered in the exercise of reasonable care. Id. at 278, 25 P.2d at 720.

In 1971, Colorado’s common-law scheme governing landowner’s liability was abolished by [Mile High Fence], 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308. In [that case], the court held that the classification [**7] of one who is upon the property of another as invitee, licensee, or trespasser was no longer dispositive of the landowner’s liability or the degree of care owed by the landowner. 175 Colo. at 548, 489 P.2d at 314. Rather, the relevant inquiry was whether the landowner, in the management of the property, acted as a reasonable person in view of the probability or foreseeability of injuries to others. Id. A person’s status as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser might have some bearing on the issue of liability, but it was only one factor among many to be considered in making the determination. 175 Colo. at 548, 489 P.2d at 314-15.

Mile High Fence remained in effect until May 16, 1986, when the General Assembly enacted [the first version of] section 13-21-115 . . ., for the explicit purpose of resurrecting the common-law classification scheme laid to rest by [Mile High Fence]. Under the statute, categories analogous to trespasser, licensee, and invitee were established . . . . According to the legislators who sponsored House Bill 1205, which later became section 13-21-115, the common-law categories were reestablished because the reasonable person standard created by Mile High Fence led [**8] to unpredictable and inequitable results. Of particular concern to legislators was the perception that under Mile High Fence, the responsibility for a trespasser’s injuries was unfairly shifted from the trespasser to the landowner. Section 13-21-115 was, as one legislator put it, designed so that “responsibility falls upon the trespasser.”

Gallegos, 779 P.2d at 860-61 (footnotes omitted).

[*P16] In Gallegos, the supreme court concluded that the then-current version of section 13-21-115 was unconstitutional because it created an “inverted hierarchy” of duties, with a higher duty owed to licensees than to invitees. Applying the rational basis test for constitutional scrutiny, the court concluded that this statutory scheme was contrary to well-established common law principles, lacked a rational basis, and was unconstitutional. Id. at 862-63.

[*P17] After Gallegos was announced, the General Assembly amended section 13-21-115. As pertinent to our historical analysis, that amended section states:

[HN6] (1.5) The general assembly hereby finds and declares:

(a) That the provisions of this section were enacted in 1986 to promote a state policy of responsibility by both landowners and those upon the land as well [**9] as to assure that the ability of an injured party to recover is correlated with his status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee;

(b) That these objectives were characterized by the Colorado supreme court as “legitimate governmental interests” in [Gallegos];

(c) That the purpose of amending this section in the 1990 legislative session is to assure that the language of this section effectuates these legitimate governmental interests by imposing on landowners a higher standard of care with respect to an invitee than a licensee, and a higher standard of care with respect to a licensee than a trespasser;

(d) That the purpose of this section is also to create a legal climate which will promote private property rights and commercial enterprise and will foster the availability and affordability of insurance;

(e) That the general assembly recognizes that by amending this section it is not reinstating the common law status categories as they existed immediately prior to [Mile High Fence,] but that its purpose is to protect landowners from liability in some circumstances when they were not protected at common law and to define the instances when liability will be imposed in the manner most consistent [**10] with the policies set forth in paragraphs (a), (c), and (d) of this subsection (1.5).

§ 13-21-115(1.5)(a)-(e).

[*P18] As part of the reenactment of section 13-21-115, the legislature revived the common law doctrine of attractive nuisance, which had been rendered unnecessary by Mile High Fence. See Grund and Miller, § 19.5, at 314; see also Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 331 (Colo. 2004) (as reenacted in 1990, § 13-21-115(2) “expressly provided for the attractive nuisance doctrine”); Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Martin, 209 P.3d 185, 188 (Colo. 2009) (in reenacting § 13-21-115, legislature “specifically singl[ed] out for continued vitality the common law doctrine of attractive nuisance”). But see Salazar v. City of Sheridan, 44 Colo. App. 443, 445-46, 618 P.2d 708, 709-10 (1980) (mentioning attractive nuisance claim brought by plaintiff); Cent. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wilson, 533 P.2d 57, 58 (Colo. App. 1975) (not published pursuant to C.A.R. 35(f)) (same).

Subsection (2) states:

[HN7] In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on [**11] such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section. Sections 13-21-111, 13-21-111.5, and 13-21-111.7 shall apply to an action to which this section applies. This subsection (2) shall not be construed to abrogate the doctrine of attractive nuisance as applied to persons under fourteen years of age. A person who is at least fourteen years of age but is less than eighteen years of age shall be presumed competent for purposes of the application of this section.

§ 13-21-115(2) (emphasis added).

2. Revival of Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

[*P19] Plaintiffs contend that the amendment to section 13-21-115(2) changed not just the upper age limit of the children to whom it could be applied, from age eighteen to age fourteen. They contend it also did away with the attractive nuisance doctrine as it had previously existed in Colorado. In its place, they argue that principles reflected in CJI-Civ. 4th 12:4 (1998) and the Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 299 and 343B control. We disagree.

[*P20] [HN8] The premises liability statute gives no indication that the attractive nuisance doctrine as applied in the publications cited by plaintiffs, or in jurisdictions other than Colorado, [**12] is intended to supplant preexisting Colorado precedents. The only logical interpretation of subsection (2)’s incorporation of the attractive nuisance doctrine is that it is to be applied in accordance with preexisting Colorado precedents, to the extent they do not conflict with the provisions of section 13-21-115. See Grund & Miller, § 19.5, at 314 (in enacting section 13-21-115, “the legislature expressly revived the attractive nuisance doctrine”); see also Vaughan v. McMinn, 945 P.2d 404, 409 (Colo. 1997) (legislature “is presumed to be aware of the judicial precedent in an area of law when it legislates in that area”); State Engineer v. Castle Meadows, Inc., 856 P.2d 496, 504 (Colo. 1993) (same).

[*P21] We reject plaintiffs’ argument that the provisions of CJI-Civ. 12:4 should guide us in the application of attractive nuisance law. As relevant here, CJI-Civ. 12:4 provides that a plaintiff may recover on a claim for attractive nuisance if, among other things, the plaintiff “(was attracted onto the premises by [an unusual activity being carried on on the premises] [or] [by an unusual condition, other than a natural condition, existing on the premises]) (or) (was on the premises with the [**13] express or implied consent of the defendant)” (emphasis added). The italicized language is not consistent with Colorado case law, as discussed herein, and we disapprove it. See Krueger v. Ary, 205 P.3d 1150, 1154 (Colo. 2009) ( [HN9] pattern jury instructions are not law, not authoritative, and not binding on Colorado courts; they are not to be used if they do not reflect the prevailing law).

[*P22] The sections of the Restatement cited by plaintiffs do not reflect Colorado law and have not been adopted by Colorado courts, and thus are not binding here. See Bayer v. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc., 960 P.2d 70, 79 (Colo. 1998). The same is true of plaintiffs’ citation to 62 Am. Jur. 2d Premises Liability § 299. We note that both 62 Am. Jur. 2d Premises Liability § 299 and the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343B indicate that [HN10] Colorado is in the minority of states that require a trespass in order for the attractive nuisance doctrine to apply. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 339 cmt. e (1965) (citing Esquibel v. City & County of Denver, 112 Colo. 546, 151 P.2d 757 (1944)); 62 Am. Jur. 2d Premises Liability § 299 n.9 (citing Denver Tramway Corp. v. Callahan, 112 Colo. 460, 150 P.2d 798 (1944)).

[*P23] [**14] We conclude that historical Colorado attractive nuisance doctrine can easily be harmonized with other provisions of the premises liability statute, and that [HN11] the attractive nuisance doctrine has been modified by the statute only to the extent that the doctrine can no longer be applied to persons above age fourteen. § 13-21-115(2).

B. Inapplicability of Attractive Nuisance Doctrine to SW

[*P24] Plaintiffs contend that the attractive nuisance doctrine should be interpreted to apply to child trespassers, licensees, and invitees. Because such an interpretation would be inconsistent with Colorado law, we disagree.

[*P25] Colorado courts without exception have held that [HN12] the attractive nuisance doctrine may be invoked only where an attraction on land “entices children to trespass.” Hayko, 77 Colo. at 146, 235 P. at 374 (“While he [the owner of the premises] owes a duty to one invited, and some attractive agencies may amount to an invitation to a child, yet such an agency must invite to trespass and not merely after trespass.”); see also Esquibel v. City & County of Denver, 112 Colo. 546, 549, 151 P.2d 757, 758 (1944) (“[The] doctrine consists in maintaining an attraction which entices to trespass, not merely [**15] entices one after he has become a trespasser.”), overruled in part by Mile High Fence, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308; Denver Tramway Corp. v. Garcia, 154 Colo. 417, 423, 390 P.2d 952, 956 (1964) (same); Staley v. Sec. Athletic Ass’n, 152 Colo. 19, 22-25, 380 P.2d 53, 55 (1963) (same), overruled in part by Mile High Fence, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308; accord Garel v. Jewish Cmty. Centers, 163 Colo. 110, 112, 428 P.2d 714, 715 (1967) (noting that the Hayko rule on attractive nuisance has been “consistently followed” by the Colorado Supreme Court); Guilfoyle v. Missouri, Kansas & Texas R.R. Co., 812 F.2d 1290, 1292 (10th Cir. 1987) (attractive nuisance doctrine “imposes a duty of care on landowners to prevent serious harm to trespassing children”).

[*P26] Moreover, contrary to plaintiffs’ argument, the supreme court has explicitly stated that [HN13] “the attractive-nuisance doctrine is only an exception to the general rule limiting the liability of landowners as to [child] trespassers.” Niernberg v. Gavin, 123 Colo. 1, 3, 224 P.2d 215, 216 (1950) (emphasis added).

[*P27] Recognizing the continued vitality of that rule is consistent with the legislature’s intent. As the supreme court stated in Gallegos, by amending [**16] the premises liability statute to “re-link a landowner’s duty and an injured party’s ability to recover damages with the party’s status as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser,” the legislature intended “that a landowner’s liability should once again depend upon the landowner’s knowledge of the other person’s presence and the reason for the presence on the property.” 779 P.2d at 861.

[*P28] We therefore conclude that the common law doctrine of attractive nuisance applies only to trespassing children.

C. Equal Protection

[*P29] Plaintiffs further contend that limiting the application of the attractive nuisance doctrine to child trespassers would result in an “inverted hierarchy” of landowner duties and would thus contravene Gallegos and be unconstitutional. We are not persuaded.

[*P30] Initially, the majority notes our respectful disagreement with the assertion in the special concurrence that we need not reach the plaintiffs’ constitutional argument. Plaintiffs in essence assert that, to avoid an equal protection problem, a licensee must always receive better treatment in the law than would a trespasser, regardless of the reason for entry on the land, and that is the linchpin of their argument that they are [**17] entitled to assert an attractive nuisance claim here. Thus, we conclude that the necessity to analyze the constitutional question is not dispelled by that fact that, as recognized by the special concurrence, plaintiffs cannot establish but one element of an attractive nuisance claim, namely, enticement by an attractive nuisance to trespass.

[*P31] In Gallegos, the supreme court held that the pre-1990 version of the premises liability statute violated the plaintiffs constitutional equal protection guarantees because it “impose[d] on landowners a higher standard of care with respect to a licensee than an invitee.” 779 P.2d at 862. The court held that “[s]uch an inverted hierarchy of duties bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest,” and would deny the plaintiff equal protection of the laws. Id. (citing U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Colo. Const. art. II, § 25).

[*P32] In response to Gallegos, the General Assembly repealed and reenacted the premises liability statute to impose higher duties on landowners with respect to licensees than to trespassers, and higher still duties with respect to invitees than to trespassers. Vigil, 103 P.3d at 326.

[*P33] Here, in essence, plaintiffs contend [**18] that, as applied by the trial court, the attractive nuisance doctrine would violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws and thus would be unconstitutional. See Gallegos, 779 P.2d at 863. We are not persuaded.

[*P34] ” [HN14] Because section 13-21-115 does not infringe upon a fundamental right, a suspect class, or a classification triggering an intermediate standard of review, the statute need only have some rational basis in fact and bear a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest to be valid.” Gallegos, 779 P.2d at 860.

[*P35] Plaintiffs argue that the duty to exercise reasonable care owed by a landowner to trespassing children under the attractive nuisance doctrine is a more expansive, general, and higher standard of care than that owed to child licensees, and that because trespassers should be the least favored of all entrants on land, such a higher standard would bear no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest. As support for this proposition, plaintiffs cite only CJI-Civ. 12:4, which they contend imposes on a landowner a duty to “exercise reasonable care to protect persons like [the] plaintiff from injury.” As noted above, this jury instruction [**19] is not binding Colorado law, Krueger, 205 P.3d at 1154, and plaintiffs have not provided us with any Colorado precedent that would establish that duty of care.

[*P36] We disagree that [HN15] the “reasonable care” standard imposed on landowners as to trespassing children under the attractive nuisance doctrine is a higher standard of care than is owed to child invitees under the premises liability statute. Rather, section 13-21-115 sets forth standards of reasonable care applicable to landowners, and those standards of care vary depending on the status of the entrant on land. Compare § 13-21-115(3)(b)(I)-(II) (licensee may recover only for damages caused by landowner’s “unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which landowner actually knew,” or “unreasonable failure to warn of” described dangers of which landowner actually knew) (emphasis added) and § 13-21-115(3)(c)(I)-(II) (invitee may recover for damages caused by a “landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known,” except that, as to agricultural or vacant land, invitee may recover for damages “caused [**20] by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew”) (emphasis added), with § 13-21-115(3)(a) (trespasser may recover only for damages “willfully or deliberately caused by the landowner”).

[*P37] The logical implication of plaintiffs’ argument is that, to avoid the “inverted hierarchy” equal protection problem identified in Gallegos, invitees and licensees must always receive more favorable treatment than trespassers. See § 13-21-115(3.5) (“It is the intent of the general assembly in enacting the provisions of subsection (3) of this section that the circumstances under which a licensee may recover include all of the circumstances under which a trespasser could recover and that the circumstances under which an invitee may recover include all of the circumstances under which a trespasser or a licensee could recover.”).

[*P38] However, by incorporating attractive nuisance doctrine in section 13-21-115, the legislature necessarily accepted that doctrine’s treatment of young children trespassers, who were enticed onto property by an attractive nuisance, as invitees. See United Zinc & Chem. Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 275, 42 S. Ct. 299, 66 L. Ed. 615 (1922) (“knowingly [**21] to establish and expose . . . something that is certain to attract [children], has the legal effect of an invitation to them”); see also Denver Tramway Corp. v. Callahan, 112 Colo. at 464-65, 150 P.2d at 799-800 (“[T]here is no question but that the boy was a trespasser on the private property of defendant, unless he was ‘invited’ by an ‘attractive nuisance,’ as recognized by our decisions.”); Kopplekom v. Colorado Cement-Pipe Co., 16 Colo. App. 274, 277, 64 P. 1047, 1048 (1901) (citing with approval cases from other jurisdictions that treat children enticed by an attractive nuisance to trespass as invitees); accord Concrete Constr., Inc. v. Petterson, 216 So. 2d 221, 222 (Fla. 1968) (under attractive nuisance doctrine, a “child who enters upon another’s property in response to a special attraction is classified as an implied invitee”).

[*P39] In other words, [HN16] under the attractive nuisance doctrine, children enticed to trespass by an attractive nuisance are treated as invitees, and not as trespassers. Thus, it would not violate equal protection to treat such children more favorably than licensees such as SW if there is a rational basis for doing so. See Gallegos, 779 P.2d at 860 (applying [**22] rational basis test to classifications under premises liability act).

[*P40] We conclude that [HN17] section 13-21-115’s liability scheme reflects a rational basis for treating children induced to trespass by an attractive nuisance more favorably than child licensees. As the supreme court recognized in Gallegos, the legislature could rationally choose to treat entrants on land differently depending upon their reasons for entry on the land. Id. at 861.

[*P41] We note that the rational basis for disparate treatment of entrants on land is reflected in more than seven decades of Colorado appellate precedent. Even among trespassing children, some received the elevated treatment of invitees, while others did not. A child who was enticed by an attractive nuisance to trespass could recover for ensuing injuries, while a trespassing child already on the premises could not recover, even though the latter child who had already entered on the land might also find a dangerous feature on the land to be enticing after entry. See Esquibel, 112 Colo. at 550, 151 P.2d at 759 (where evidence showed that the plaintiff had previously trespassed on land and had used it as a playground before the alleged attractive nuisance appeared [**23] there, she could not recover because the attractive nuisance did not entice her to enter the land); see also Garel, 163 Colo. at 112, 428 P.2d at 715; Denver Tramway Corp. v. Garcia, 154 Colo. at 423, 390 P.2d at 956; Staley, 152 Colo. at 23, 380 P.2d at 55; Hayko, 77 Colo. at 146-47, 235 P. at 374.

[*P42] These precedents rest on the rationale that the attractive nuisance itself acts as the invitation to the child to enter on the land. See Denver Tramway Corp. v. Callahan, 112 Colo. at 464-65, 150 P.2d at 799-800. The supreme court noted its approval of this concept in Lovejoy v. Denver & Rio Grande R.R. Co., 59 Colo. 222, 225-26, 146 P. 263, 264 (1915):

The leaving or maintaining of a dangerous and attractive machine, or other instrument or agency upon one’s premises, under circumstances which naturally tend to attract or allure young children of immature judgment, and to induce them to believe that they are at liberty to enter and handle or play with it, is tantamount to an implied invitation to enter. Hence a corresponding duty is imposed upon the owner or occupant of the premises to prevent the intrusion, or to protect from personal injury such children as may be so attracted and thus [**24] induced to enter, and who are incapable of appreciating the attending dangers. The doctrine is founded upon the principle that when one sets a temptation before young children under circumstances which in law is equivalent to holding out of an inducement to enter, he must use ordinary care to protect them from harm. It is but applying the general rule that when one induces or invites another upon his premises, he must use ordinary care to avoid injuring him.

[*P43] These precedents establish that [HN18] a child who is enticed to trespass on the land by an attractive nuisance is accorded the preferential treatment reserved in the law for invitees. Thus, we conclude there is no constitutional infirmity in treating such a child preferentially to one in SW’s position who is a mere licensee, and we affirm the judgment in landowner’s favor.

[*P44] Because of our conclusion, we need not address landowner’s contention that the trial court erred in construing the complaint to assert an attractive nuisance claim.

[*P45] Judgment affirmed.

JUDGE ROY concurs.

JUDGE GABRIEL specially concurs.

CONCUR BY: GABRIEL

CONCUR

JUDGE GABRIEL specially concurring.

[*P46] I agree with my colleagues that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant [**25] Towers Boat Club, Inc. (the landowner) on plaintiffs’ attractive nuisance claim. I respectfully write separately, however, because unlike my colleagues, I would rule on narrower grounds and not reach any of the constitutional issues. See Developmental Pathways v. Ritter, 178 P.3d 524, 535 (Colo. 2008) (noting that the principle of judicial restraint requires courts to avoid reaching constitutional questions that need not be decided); People v. Lybarger, 700 P.2d 910, 915 (Colo. 1985) (“Axiomatic to the exercise of judicial authority is the principle that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless and until such issue is actually raised by a party to the controversy and the necessity for such decision is clear and inescapable.”).

[*P47] Plaintiffs contend that the district court erred in holding that the attractive nuisance doctrine applies only to trespassers, because in plaintiffs’ view, it must apply equally to invitees, licensees, and trespassers. If it did not, plaintiffs say, the premises liability statute would allow the type of “inverted hierarchy” that our supreme court found unconstitutional in Gallegos v. Phipps, 779 P.2d 856, 862-63 (Colo. 1989).

[*P48] Unlike the majority, [**26] I see no reason to decide this issue, or the constitutional questions that it necessarily implicates. Assuming without deciding that plaintiffs are correct and that the attractive nuisance doctrine applies to invitees, licensees, and trespassers alike, plaintiffs’ attractive nuisance claim fails as a matter of law for another reason.

[*P49] It has long been settled in Colorado that for the attractive nuisance doctrine to apply, the attraction must have enticed the child to trespass; it is not enough if the attraction enticed the child only after he or she became a trespasser. Hayko v. Colo. & Utah Coal Co., 77 Colo. 143, 145, 235 P. 373, 375 (1925); accord Adams v. Warren Analytical Labs., Inc., No. 05-cv-01536-EWN-MEH, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88129, 2006 WL 3512044, at *5 (D. Colo. Dec. 6, 2006); Denver Tramway Corp. v. Garcia, 154 Colo. 417, 423, 390 P.2d 952, 956 (1964). Indeed, plaintiffs concede that, even under their view of the attractive nuisance doctrine, the attraction must have enticed the child to enter the landowner’s property. Here, however, it is undisputed that the bungee run attraction did not entice SW to enter the landowner’s property. Accordingly, even if the attractive nuisance doctrine could be read [**27] to apply to invitees, licensees, and trespassers alike, as a matter of law, plaintiffs cannot prevail on their attractive nuisance claim. I would thus affirm the district court’s judgment on that narrow ground and not reach the broader and constitutional questions that plaintiffs have raised.

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Dearnley v. Mountain Creek, 2012 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 527

Dearnley v. Mountain Creek, 2012 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 527

Derek Dearnley and Vicky Dearnley, his wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Mountain Creek, its agents, servants and employees, Defendant-Respondent.

Docket no. A-5517-10T1

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

2012 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 527

February 29, 2012, Argued

March 12, 2012, Decided

Notice: not for publication without the approval of the appellate division.

Please consult new jersey rule 1:36-3 for citation of unpublished opinions.

Prior History: [*1]

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County, Docket No. L-540-09.

CORE TERMS: season, summary judgment, ski area, unconscionability, unconscionable, affirmative defenses, resort, Law Division, contract of adhesion, exculpatory provisions, releasor’s, surgery, ski, pass holder, bold, tort liability, de novo, contracting party’s, public policy, sliding scale, unenforceable, snowboarding, exculpatory, non-moving, favorable, equitable, adhesion, binding, bargain, quod

COUNSEL: Evan D. Baker argued the cause for appellants (Law Offices of Rosemarie Arnold, attorneys; Mr. Baker, of counsel and on the brief).

Samuel J. McNulty argued the cause for respondent (Hueston McNulty, P.C., attorneys; Mr. McNulty, of counsel and on the brief; John F. Gaffney and Stephen H. Shaw on the brief).

JUDGES: Before Judges Harris and Koblitz.

OPINION

PER CURIAM

Plaintiffs Derek Dearnley and Vicky Dearnley appeal from the June 16, 2011, summary judgment dismissal of their six-count complaint. Plaintiffs sought tort remedies for injuries suffered by Mr. Dearnley while snowboarding at defendant Mountain Creek Resort, Inc.’s ski area in Vernon. We affirm.

I.1

1 This appeal arises from the motion court’s grant of summary judgment in defendant’s favor. Accordingly, we present the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. See Durand v. The Nutley Sun, N.J. , (2012) (slip op. at 3 n.1) (citing G.D. v. Kenny, 205 N.J. 275, 304 (2011) (citations omitted); R. 4:46-2(c)).

Between 1998 and 2010, Mrs. Dearnley was employed by defendant in its retail department. As part of her compensation benefits, [*2] she and her family members were entitled to apply for, and obtain, a free season pass to use defendant’s facilities at its Vernon ski resort. On November 25, 2008, because her husband desired to take advantage of this benefit for the 2008-2009 winter season, Mrs. Dearnley applied for, and obtained, the pass. She signed, on his behalf, a document entitled, “Season Pass Contract, Student Ski & Ride Voucher Program, Rules and Conditions of Sale, Release of Liability and Indemnity Agreement” (the 2008 agreement). The 2008 agreement contained exculpatory provisions purporting to release tort claims before they occurred. For example, the pass holder “fully release[d] Mountain Creek FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY for personal injury, death or property damage arising out of or resulting from [the pass holder’s] participation in this sport, MOUNTAIN CREEK’S NEGLIGENCE, conditions on or about the premises and facilities or the operations of the ski area” (capitalization in the original). The outcome of this appeal, however, does not turn on this language.

On January 4, 2009, Mr. Dearnley was snowboarding at the Mountain Creek ski area when he suffered an accident that he attributes to defendant’s [*3] negligence and breach of its duties under N.J.S.A. 5:13-1 to -11 (the Ski Act). As a result of the accident, Mr. Dearnley incurred serious injuries, which required immediate emergency surgery to stabilize his back by the implantation of metal rods and screws. According to his answers to interrogatories, Mr. Dearnley ultimately spent approximately six weeks in the hospital, had to endure three surgeries, and underwent weeks of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

On October 13, 2009, plaintiffs filed their personal injury and per quod complaint against defendant in the Law Division, Sussex Vicinage. Defendant’s answer listed ten affirmative defenses, but did not assert that the 2008 agreement’s exculpatory provisions barred the action.

Two months later, on December 21, 2009, while his wife was still employed by defendant, Mr. Dearnley applied for a season pass for the 2009-2010 winter season. He was presented with, and signed, a two-page document entitled, “Mountain Creek Resort, Inc. 2009-’10 Season Pass Wavier” (the 2009 agreement). In bold, capitalized print at the top of the first page, the 2009 agreement stated, “RELEASE, WARNINGS AND DISCLAIMERS ON SKIING.”

At the top of the second [*4] page, to which Mr. Dearnley affixed his signature, the following appeared in bold typeface:

I FURTHER RELEASE AND GIVE UP ANY AND ALL CLAIMS AND RIGHTS THAT I MAY NOW HAVE AGAINST MOUNTAIN CREEK RESORT, INC. THIS RELEASES ALL CLAIMS, INCLUDING THOSE OF WHICH I AM NOT AWARE AND THOSE NOT MENTIONED IN THIS RELEASE. THIS RELEASE APPLIES TO CLAIMS RESULTING FROM ANYTHING WHICH HAS HAPPENED UP TO NOW.

The 2009 agreement also stated in bold typeface: “I AM AWARE THAT THIS CONTRACT IS LEGALLY BINDING AND THAT I AM RELEASING LEGAL RIGHTS BY SIGNING IT.”

During discovery, the 2008 and 2009 agreements were exchanged between the parties’ attorneys. Upon the realization of what Mr. Dearnley had signed, plaintiffs filed a motion “for an Order barring the affirmative defenses related to two adhesion contracts.” Defendant filed a cross-motion seeking (1) summary judgment, (2) permission to file an amended answer, and (3) denial of plaintiffs’ motion.

On April 29, 2011, Judge Edward V. Gannon heard oral argument. The judge granted defendant’s motion to amend its answer to permit the pleading of (1) release and (2) accord and satisfaction as affirmative defenses. The judge noted that the 2009 agreement [*5] was executed after both the filing of plaintiffs’ complaint and defendant’s answer, and therefore could not have been contemplated by the first exchange of pleadings. Reciprocally, he denied plaintiff’s motion to bar the affirmative defenses. Finally, he reserved decision on what he called “a matter of first impression with regard to this particular type of release.”

On June 16, 2011, Judge Gannon entered an order granting summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice. He explained his decision in a thorough ten-page statement of reasons, taking pains to carefully explicate the two agreements and then analyze them under the lens of applicable law. This appeal ensued.

II.

Orders granting summary judgment pursuant to Rule 4:46-2 are reviewed de novo, and we apply the same legal standard employed by the Law Division. Canter v. Lakewood of Voorhees, 420 N.J. Super. 508, 515 (App. Div. 2011). In performing our appellate function we consider, as did the motion court, “‘whether the competent evidential materials presented, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, are sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in [*6] favor of the non-moving party.'” Advance Hous., Inc. v. Twp. of Teaneck, 422 N.J. Super. 317, 327 (App. Div. 2011) (quoting Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995)), certif. granted, N.J. (Jan. 24, 2012).

Similarly, when the legal conclusions of a motion court’s Rule 4:46-2 summary judgment decision are reviewed on appeal, “‘[a] trial court’s interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special deference[,]’ and, hence, an ‘issue of law is subject to de novo plenary appellate review.'” Estate of Hanges v. Metro. Prop. Cas. Ins. Co., 202 N.J. 369, 382-83 (2010) (quoting City of Atl. City v. Trupos, 201 N.J. 447, 463 (2010)).

Judge Gannon dismissed plaintiffs’ claims based upon the release contained in the 2009 agreement, which was personally executed by Mr. Dearnley months after his injuries and surgeries, months after he hired a lawyer, and months after he filed suit. From our review of the undisputed factual record, we are satisfied that this case does not present any novel or first impression issues. Rather, it revolves around an ordinary release —- not exculpatory —- clause and is governed [*7] by familiar principles of contract interpretation. As Judge Gannon stated,

Invalidating the agreed upon waiver would signal judicial mistrust of our citizen’s ability to intelligently enter contracts, in which benefits derive from the assumptions of burdens. In this case, Mr. Dearnley surrendered his right to maintain this suit in exchange for the benefits afforded to season pass holders. A contracting party’s assumption of a substantial burden is no basis for interfering with our citizens’ right to freely contract.

We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Gannon, and add only the following brief comments.

Plaintiffs condemn the 2009 agreement as a contract of adhesion, fraught with unconscionabilty, and contrary to public policy. We emphasize that our review is limited to the 2009 agreement, not the 2008 agreement. We are not concerned with defendant’s efforts to exculpate itself from tort liability before an invitee becomes injured at its ski area. Instead, we parse Mr. Dearnley’s release of a claim after it allegedly accrued.

We begin our analysis of the enforceability of the release contained in the 2009 agreement with recognition of the deep-seated principle that [*8] contracts will be enforced as written. Vasquez v. Glassboro Serv. Ass’n, Inc., 83 N.J. 86, 98-100 (1980). Ordinarily, courts will not rewrite contracts to favor a party, for the purpose of giving that party a better bargain. Relief is not available merely because enforcement of the contract causes oppression, improvidence, or unprofitability, or because it produces hardship to one of the parties. Brunswick Hills Racquet Club, Inc. v. Route 18 Shopping Ctr. Assocs., 182 N.J. 210, 223 (2005). A court cannot “‘abrogate the terms of a contract unless there is a settled equitable principle, such as fraud, mistake, or accident, allowing for such intervention.'” Id. at 223-24 (quoting Dunkin’ Donuts of America, Inc. v. Middletown Donut Corp., 100 N.J. 166, 183-84 (1985)).

Rational personal and economic behavior in the modern post-industrial world is only possible if agreements between parties are respected. The reasonable expectations created by mutual assent ought to receive the protection of the law and courts should not be encouraged to fashion a better arrangement for a party because of a gaffe to which the other party is not privy. In other words, avoidance of a contract is a very stern [*9] remedy that requires clear evidence demonstrating that the consequences of the mistake are so grave that enforcement of the contract would be unconscionable. That formidable threshold has not been surmounted here.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, a contract provision that is procedurally and substantively unconscionable can be set aside. See Muhammad v. Cnty. Bank of Rehoboth Beach, 189 N.J. 1, 15 (2006), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1338, 127 S. Ct. 2032, 167 L. Ed. 2d 763 (2007). “[P]rocedural unconscionability . . . ‘can include a variety of inadequacies, such as age, literacy, lack of sophistication, hidden or unduly complex contract terms, bargaining tactics, and the particular setting existing during the contract formation process[.]'” Ibid. (quoting Sitogum Holdings, Inc. v. Ropes, 352 N.J. Super. 555, 564-66 (Ch. Div. 2002). A contract of adhesion, presented by the drafting party to the other party on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, as here, typically involves “some characteristics of procedural unconscionability[.]” Id. at 16. The determination “that a contract is one of adhesion, however, ‘is the beginning, not the end, of the inquiry’ into whether a contract, or any specific term therein, [*10] should be deemed unenforceable based on policy considerations.” Id. at 28 (citing Rudbart v. N. Jersey Dist. Water Supply Comm., 127 N.J. 344 (1992)).

Substantive unconscionability essentially refers to the inclusion within a contract of “harsh or unfair one-sided terms.” Id. at 15 (citing Sitogum, supra, 352 N.J. Super. at 564-66). It is also described as “‘the exchange of obligations so one-sided as to shock the court’s conscience.'” B & S Ltd., Inc. v. Elephant & Castle Intern., Inc., 388 N.J. Super. 160, 176 (Ch. Div. 2006)(quoting Sitogum, supra, 352 N.J. Super. at 565).

Generally, courts must undertake “a careful fact sensitive examination into [claims of] substantive unconscionability.” Id. at 16 (footnote omitted). “When making the determination that a contract of adhesion is unconscionable and unenforceable, we consider, using a sliding scale analysis, the way in which the contract was formed and, further, whether enforcement of the contract implicates matters of public interest.” Stelluti v. Casapenn Enters., LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 301 (2010).

The release provisions of the 2009 agreement are not the analytical equivalent of its exculpatory provisions. “The law does not favor exculpatory [*11] agreements because they encourage a lack of care.” Gershon v. Regency Diving Ctr., Inc., 368 N.J. Super. 237, 247 (App. Div. 2004). For that reason, courts closely scrutinize attempts to contract in advance to release tort liability. “‘[C]ourts have not hesitated to strike limited liability clauses that are unconscionable or in violation of public policy.'” Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 333 (2004) (quoting Lucier v. Williams, 366 N.J. Super. 485, 491 (App. Div. 2004)).

The subject release does not call forth any of the foregoing concerns. Mr. Dearnley’s 2009 agreement with defendant neither eroded defendant’s duty of care nor did it incentivize negligence. Each of the contracting parties gained or gave away something of value. There was no coercion, duress, fraud, or sharp practices afoot. Public policy is not offended by requiring a non-incapacitated adult to honor the type of promise given here. See Raroha v. Earle Fin. Corp., 47 N.J. 229, 234 (1966) (holding that in the absence of fraud, misrepresentation or overreaching by the releasee, in the absence of a showing that the releasor was suffering from an incapacity affecting his ability to understand the meaning of [*12] the release and in the absence of any other equitable ground, it is the law of this State that the release is binding and that the releasor will be held to the terms of the bargain he willingly and knowingly entered).

Judge Gannon properly calibrated the “sliding scale” of our unconscionabilty jurisprudence and correctly determined that the 2009 agreement’s release was enforceable. Mr. Dearnley’s releasor’s remorse is an insufficient basis to return this matter to the Law Division for trial.2

2 Mrs. Dearnley’s claims are entirely derivative of her husband’s and consequently her per quod action must fall in the wake of Mr. Dearnley’s release. See Ryan v. Renny, 203 N.J. 37, 62 n.1 (2011) (noting that “the viability of [that claim] is subject to the survival of [her husband]’s claim” (quoting Sciarrotta v. Global Spectrum, 194 N.J. 345, 350 n.3 (2008)).)

Affirmed.

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Pagel v. Marcus Corporation, 2008 WI App 110; 313 Wis. 2d 78; 756 N.W.2d 447; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 423

Pagel v. Marcus Corporation, 2008 WI App 110; 313 Wis. 2d 78; 756 N.W.2d 447; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 423

Briane F. Pagel, Jr. and Joy Pagel, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Marcus Corporation d/b/a Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Defendant, Milwaukee City Center LLC, Defendant-Respondent.

Appeal No. 2007AP1369

COURT OF APPEALS OF WISCONSIN, DISTRICT ONE

2008 WI App 110; 313 Wis. 2d 78; 756 N.W.2d 447; 2008 Wisc. App. LEXIS 423

June 3, 2008, Decided

June 3, 2008, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY:

APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Milwaukee County: RICHARD J. SANKOVITZ, Judge. Cir. Ct. No. 2006CV1145.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: On behalf of the plaintiff-appellant, the cause was submitted on the briefs of J. David Krekeler and Anthony Baer of Krekeler Strother, S.C., of Madison.

On behalf of the defendant-respondent, the cause was submitted on the brief of Ronald G. Pezze, Jr. and Ahndrea R. Van Den Elzen of Peterson, Johnson & Murray, S.C., of Milwaukee.

JUDGES: Before Curley, P.J., Fine and Kessler, JJ.

OPINION BY: KESSLER

OPINION

[**81] [***448] [*P1] KESSLER, J. Briane F. Pagel, Jr., and Joy Pagel (individually and collectively, Pagel) appeal from an order granting summary judgment to Milwaukee City Center LLC (MCC), dismissing all claims by Pagel against it. Pagel asserts that the trial court erred when it applied § 388 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS to the [***449] facts here, and concluded that the hazard, which Pagel claims caused his injury, was open and obvious to Pagel, thus relieving MCC of a duty to provide signs warning of the open and obvious hazard. We affirm.

Background

[*P2] Pagel and his family visited an indoor water park owned by MCC in a hotel in Milwaukee. Among the water attractions used by Pagel and his family was a “Lily Pad Walk” which Pagel described as:

The lily pads were a couple of large floating cushions underneath a cargo-style net. Each pad was about [four feet] in diameter and had a vinyl-like coating on them.

….

You grabbed the cargo net and stepped onto the lily pads, holding yourself by your arms as you used the lily pads to try to go ahead. The lily pads were chained to the bottom but loosely so they could float around, and they didn’t float well enough to hold up even a little kid.

[*P3] Pagel testified that before he used the Lily Pad Walk, he “knew the lily pads could tip to cause you to fall into the water.” When he used the Lily Pad Walk the first time, Pagel said his hand slipped off the ropes, the lily pad moved away from his feet, and, as a result, he dropped into the water rather than hanging from the [**82] ropes. Pagel testified about his observation of the mechanics of the Lily Pad Walk during his first time across:

Q: When you used the Lily Pad attraction the first time, why didn’t you continue to hold on to the rope when the lily pad tipped?

A: Because I was going to drop into the water.

Q: Well, you did drop into the water. But my question was, why didn’t you continue holding on to the rope?

A: I didn’t want to be just be [sic] hanging from the rope. When I couldn’t get it by the foot, your only option at that point would be just to hang by the rope and try to go across just with your arms, I guess. And I – that didn’t seem like a smart move, so I just dropped.

Pagel acknowledged that before using the Lily Pad Walk he watched other people using it, saw people fall into the water using it, and saw people trying to traverse across the Lily Pad Walk while he was waiting in line to use it.

[*P4] Pagel alleged that he was injured when he used the Lily Pad Walk when his foot slipped from the lily pad, he lost his grip on the cargo net ropes above the water and lily pads, and fell into the water, injuring his back. The injury occurred the second time he used the Lily Pad Walk. His amended complaint alleged, as material to this appeal, negligence by MCC for failure “to provide a warning of the unsafe condition of the lily pad section of its water park.”

[*P5] Relying on Kessel ex rel. Swenson v. Stansfield Vending, Inc., 2006 WI App 68, 291 Wis. 2d 504, 714 N.W.2d 206, and § 388 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) [**83] OF TORTS, the trial court observed that [HN1] “where an injured person already knows what he or she needs to know to avoid a danger, the law does not impose a duty to warn on a person who provides a product for the use of another.” Based on the undisputed facts, the trial court then granted summary judgment dismissing Pagel’s negligence claim against MCC. Pagel appeals.

Standard of Review

[*P6] [HN2] In reviewing motions for summary judgment, we apply the standards set forth in WIS. STAT. § 802.08 (2005-06), 1 in [***450] the same manner as the trial court. Moua v. Northern States Power Co., 157 Wis. 2d 177, 184, 458 N.W.2d 836 (Ct. App. 1990). “Summary judgment is [properly] granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact and only a question of law is at issue.” Id. The historical facts here are not in dispute. “Whether facts fulfill a particular legal standard is a question of law to which we give de novo review.” Bantz v. Montgomery Estates, Inc., 163 Wis. 2d 973, 978, 473 N.W.2d 506 (Ct. App. 1991); see also DOR v. Exxon Corp., 90 Wis. 2d 700, 713, 281 N.W.2d 94 (1979), aff’d, 447 U.S. 207, 100 S. Ct. 2109, 65 L. Ed. 2d 66 (1980).

1 All references to the Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2005-06 version unless otherwise noted.

[*P7] [HN3] “Where the facts alleged to give rise to a duty are agreed upon, the question of the existence of a duty is one of law.” Rockweit v. Senecal, 197 Wis. 2d 409, 419, 541 N.W.2d 742 (1995) (quoting Olson v. Ratzel, 89 Wis. 2d 227, 251, 278 N.W.2d 238 (Ct. App. 1979)). Where the undisputed facts establish that a danger is open and obvious to the user of the product, as a matter [**84] of law there is no duty to warn the user of that danger and summary judgment is proper. Griebler v. Doughboy Recreational, Inc., 160 Wis. 2d 547, 561, 466 N.W.2d 897 (1991).

Analysis

[*P8] The role an open and obvious danger plays in our tort law has evolved over a long period of time. Describing the open and obvious nature of the danger as a “defense,” the trial court in Griebler granted summary judgment, dismissing a claim of injury in a shallow water diving accident. Id. at 551, 554. The court of appeals reversed, relying on § 343A(1) of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS (1965) and a related comment which required not only that the reasonable person/user must recognize that an open and obvious danger exists, but that person must also appreciate the gravity of the harm threatened by that danger. Griebler, 160 Wis. 2d at 556-57. Our supreme court rejected § 343A(1), noting that, as in all of the earlier diving cases, the condition of the water is the obvious danger, the risk is that the person diving will hit bottom, and the type of injury that might result (or the person’s knowledge thereof) is irrelevant. Griebler, 160 Wis. 2d at 558. The supreme court reversed our decision and reinstated summary judgment dismissing Griebler’s complaint, stating:

We hold that the open and obvious danger defense applies whenever a plaintiff voluntarily 2 confronts an open and obvious condition and a reasonable person in [**85] the position of the plaintiff would recognize the condition and the risk the condition presents.

Id. at 551 (footnote modified). Relying on “nearly twenty years of Wisconsin law holding that diving into water of unknown depth is an open and obvious danger,” 3 id. at 557, where Griebler admitted that he dove headfirst [***451] into water, whose depth he did not know, id. at 557, the supreme court described such conduct as “unreasonable as a matter of law,” id. at 561.

2 By footnote, the court recognized two conditions which would preclude invoking the open and obvious danger defense, namely if the injured person was distracted or if the injured person could not avoid the condition. Griebler v. Doughboy Recreational, Inc., 160 Wis. 2d 547, 551, 466 N.W.2d 897 (1991) (citing Waters v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 124 Wis. 2d 275, 369 N.W.2d 755 (Ct. App. 1985), and Maci v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 105 Wis. 2d 710, 314 N.W.2d 914 (Ct. App. 1981), overruled on other grounds by Rockweit v. Senecal, 197 Wis. 2d 409, 423, 541 N.W.2d 742 (1995)).

3 The Griebler court relied on Scheeler v. Bahr, 41 Wis. 2d 473, 164 N.W.2d 310 (1969), and Davenport v. Gillmore, 146 Wis. 2d 498, 431 N.W.2d 701 (Ct. App. 1988), for the duration of these holdings. Griebler, 160 Wis. 2d at 557.

[*P9] Four years later, in Rockweit, when a small child walking with his mother fell into a campground fire pit with smoldering embers, our supreme court noted that in previous cases it had

abrogated the common law immunity [for owners of premises] by subsuming the concept of open and obvious danger into the consideration of common law negligence. In the ordinary negligence case, if an open and obvious danger is confronted by the plaintiff, it is merely an element to be considered by the jury in apportioning negligence and will not operate to completely bar the plaintiff’s recovery.

Id., 197 Wis. 2d at 423. This holding placed the characterization of an open and obvious danger as a defense to negligence in the context of applying a comparative negligence analysis. Pagel relies on specific Rockweit [**86] language 4 [4] to argue that summary judgment was not proper here because the lack of warning is merely a fact to be considered in apportioning the negligence attributable to MCC. Pagel argues that a jury must decide whether MCC’s common law duty of care is overcome by the defense that there was an open and obvious danger which Pagel recognized before he was injured.

4 [HN4] “In the ordinary negligence case, if an open and obvious danger is confronted by the plaintiff, it is merely an element to be considered by the jury in apportioning negligence ….” Rockweit, 197 Wis. 2d at 423.

[*P10] Pagel’s reliance on this isolated language in Rockweit is misplaced. In Rockweit, a fire pit at a commercial campground was used in common by the large extended family of the child victim, who were camping together. Id. at 414. A family friend, who was staying at a different area of the campground, was invited to a social gathering with the extended family at a fire pit the night before the accident occurred. Id. at 415. The friend, who was also named as a defendant, did not select the fire pit site, took no part in setting, controlling or managing the fire, and did not use that fire pit while she was camping. Id. Her only connection with the fire pit was attending the social gathering to which she was invited. Id. at 415. When the friend and two members of the child’s extended family were the last to leave the social gathering, no one extinguished the embers. Id. at 415-16. The next morning the child was walking with his mother when he stumbled into the pit which still contained live embers. Id. at 416. The child alleged negligence by the friend and the others who were the last to leave and did not extinguish the embers. Id. The jury found the campground owner, the family members present, the child’s mother, and the friend were all negligent. Id.

[**87] [*P11] On appeal, our supreme court concluded that public policy considerations precluded imposing liability on the invited friend. Id. at 429. The court noted that fire is commonly known to be dangerous, id. at 427 (“The dangerous propensities akin to fire are commonplace to a campsite.”), and that the child’s mother, who was with the child when he fell into the pit, knew as much about the danger of the fire pit as the invited friend, id. at 428 (“[Mother] testified that she was fully aware that the fire pit constituted a hazard at the time of the accident and had not relied on a supposition that someone the [***452] night before might have doused the embers ….”). These considerations foreshadowed the court’s later decision to adopt § 388 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS in the context of the open and obvious danger of a chattel which is alleged to have caused injury.

[*P12] Five years after Rockweit, our supreme court in Strasser v. Transtech Mobile Fleet Service, Inc., 2000 WI 87, PP57-59, 236 Wis. 2d 435, 613 N.W.2d 142, adopted the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 (1965), which provides:

[HN5] One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for another to use is subject to liability to those whom the supplier should expect to use the chattel with the consent of the other or to be endangered by its probable use, for physical harm caused by the use of the chattel in the manner for which and by a person for whose use it is supplied, if the supplier

(a) knows or has reason to know that the chattel is or is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied, and

[**88] (b) has no reason to believe that those for whose use the chattel is supplied will realize its dangerous condition, and

(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to inform them of its dangerous condition or of the facts which make it likely to be dangerous.

Strasser involved personal property–a ladder fabricated without safety treads on the rungs–which Strasser used many times before he slipped on a rung and fell. Id., 236 Wis. 2d 435, P19. Our supreme court did not overrule Rockweit (which involved only real property–a fire pit in the ground). Strasser, 2000 WI 87, 236 Wis. 2d 435, P60, 613 N.W.2d 142. Rather, by adopting § 388, the supreme court adopted the law of a real property owner’s responsibility to invitees to codify the common law duty of due care owed by the provider of personal property to the user of personal property when the use for which the property is intended causes injury. Although somewhat awkwardly stated in the negative, § 388(1) establishes that when the danger is open and obvious to a reasonable person, warning of what the reasonable person already knows is unnecessary; thus, the failure to warn cannot be negligent. Strasser, 2000 WI 87, 236 Wis. 2d 435, PP59-60, 613 N.W.2d 142.

[*P13] The adoption of RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 moved the open and obvious danger to the level of being not only a jury issue as a defense to negligence when the material facts of whether the danger is open and obvious are disputed, but also removed any duty to warn from the negligence calculus when the undisputed material facts establish that the danger is open and obvious and the user recognizes/observes/knows of the danger. Approximately four years after Strasser, in Mohr v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., 2004 WI App 5, 269 Wis. 2d 302, 674 N.W.2d 576 (Ct. App. 2003), we discussed § 388(b), noting that:

[**89] As the court explained in Strasser, one of the situations under § 388(b) in which a supplier or manufacturer has no duty to warn of a danger is when “‘a mere casual looking over will disclose [the dangerous condition] unless the circumstances under which the chattel is supplied are such as to make it likely that even so casual an inspection will not be made.'” … When danger is obvious from a mere casual looking over, the supplier or manufacturer has reason to believe that the user will realize the danger.

Mohr, 2004 WI App 5, 269 Wis. 2d 302, P23, 674 N.W.2d 576 (citing Strasser, 2000 WI 87, 236 Wis. 2d 435, PP58-59, 613 N.W.2d 142).

[***453] [*P14] Mohr presented a factual dispute as to whether a diving platform used by a high school for racing dives into 3.5 feet of water, rather than 5 feet of water, was something that a casual observation would disclose as dangerous. Id., P3 (discussing RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 cmt. k). We concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate, not because a jury must always decide whether a danger is open and obvious, but because the facts material to that question were disputed–one high school swim coach had one view, and another swim coach at the same high school had a different view. Id., PP17-18, 25.

[*P15] Later, in Kessel, we held there was no duty to warn of danger from steaming water coming from a hot water dispenser (provided in a hospital waiting room to let patients’ families make hot chocolate) where the hot temperature was obvious from the steam, and both parents admitted they took precautions because they knew that hot water could injure their young child (who tipped the cup and was injured by the scalding water). Id., 291 Wis. 2d 504, PP3-4, 23, 32. We discussed whether Strasser held that RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388(1) inevitably required a warning to comply with the duty of care:

[**90] In essence, the court in Strasser concluded that RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 and cmt. k defined the standard of ordinary care in that situation: “This exception in cmt. k recognizes that a warning is not necessary to satisfy the standard of ordinary care when the condition at issue is known to the user.

Kessel, 2006 WI App 68, 291 Wis. 2d 504, P21, 714 N.W.2d 206 (citation and brackets omitted; emphasis added).

[*P16] As we explained in Kessel, where the supplier of the tangible property has reason to believe that casual inspection will disclose the danger, and the user is aware of the danger, RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 does not require a warning. Kessel, 2006 WI App 68, 291 Wis. 2d 504, P21, 714 N.W.2d 206. Here, it is undisputed that Pagel used the Lily Pad Walk once without injury. It is also undisputed that before, or during, his first use, Pagel personally observed how the Lily Pad Walk worked, knew from observation and experience that the lily pads were not stable, knew that they could not hold up even a small child, and that because of their obvious instability, the only alternatives available to users of the Lily Pad Walk were to drop or fall into the water 5 or use their hands to hold on to the cargo net ropes above to cross the area hand over hand. On his first use of the Lily Pad Walk, Pagel chose to get wet rather than travel by hand on the cargo net ropes. Thus, he knew both from experience and from observation that when the pad moved, the only two choices were to drop or fall into the water or to use his hands to hold onto the cargo net ropes to cross the [**91] area. The danger–that the pads would move–was open and obvious. The only ways to avoid the danger while using the Lily Pad Walk–get wet or travel hand over hand on the cargo net ropes–were equally open and obvious.

5 It would seem that the primary purpose of a water park is to get into the water. One would expect that the possibility of getting wet, or even drenched, is the very attraction that brings visitors to these facilities.

[*P17] The terms of RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388 apply here. MCC supplied the Lily Pad Walk in the water park for use by visitors to the water park. Section 388(1) (“One who supplies … a chattel for another to use is subject to liability to those whom the supplier should expect to use the chattel” under certain conditions.). MCC is liable if it “has reason to know [***454] that the chattel is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied.” Id. The lily pads were obviously unstable, tending to cause (or allow) users to fall into the water, or to traverse the area using their hands on the cargo net ropes. The “danger” of falling into the water or the “danger” of crossing by hands on ropes is the very purpose of the Lily Pad Walk. These “dangers” are not hidden in any way. These properties were apparent to Pagel before and/or during his uneventful first use of the Lily Pad Walk. Section 388(b) imposes liability if the supplier of the product “has no reason to believe that those for whose use the chattel is supplied will realize its dangerous condition.” Id. (emphasis added). Here, the converse is the fact. Because the mechanics of the moving lily pads and cargo net ropes for hand use were open and obvious to anyone who looked, MCC had reason to believe these “dangers” would be immediately apparent to any reasonable person. Hence, as in Strasser, where the lack of safety treads on the ladder was obvious to anyone who looked, and specifically known to Strasser who used the treadless ladder multiple times before his injury, the liability imposed by § 388(b) is not applicable here, where MCC had no [**92] reason to believe these conditions would not be immediately apparent to users of the Lily Pad Walk, and these dangers were specifically known to Pagel, in part because he had used the Lily Pad Walk before the use during which he was injured.

[*P18] Pagel urges us to adopt RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 343A(1) and apply it to his case. As we explained above, when we relied on the § 343A(1) analysis in Griebler, our supreme court rejected our analysis and overruled our conclusion. See P8, supra. [HN6] It is not our role to reject our supreme court’s policy conclusions. See Cook v. Cook, 208 Wis. 2d 166, 189, 560 N.W.2d 246 (1997):

[HN7] [T]he supreme court’s primary function is that of law defining and law development. The supreme court, unlike the court of appeals, has been designated by the constitution and the legislature as a law-declaring court. The purpose of the supreme court is to oversee and implement the statewide development of the law. The supreme court is the only state court with the power to overrule, modify or withdraw language from a previous supreme court case.

(Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.)

[*P19] Where, based on the undisputed facts, the dangerous condition of a chattel is open and obvious to the reasonable user, no warning is required under RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 388(1), and summary judgment dismissing a negligence claim premised on failure to warn is proper.

By the Court.–Judgment affirmed.

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Buck, v. Camp Wilkes, Inc. 906 So. 2d 778; 2004 Miss. App. LEXIS 1141

Buck, v. Camp Wilkes, Inc. 906 So. 2d 778; 2004 Miss. App. LEXIS 1141

Debbie Buck, as mother and natural guardian of Jamie Buck, Appellant, v. Camp Wilkes, Inc.; Girl Scouts of Gulf Pines Council, Inc.; and Deborah Boozer, Appellees.

NO. 2003-CA-01065-COA

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSISSIPPI

906 So. 2d 778; 2004 Miss. App. LEXIS 1141

December 14, 2004, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT: 4/17/2003. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JERRY O. TERRY, SR. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: TRIAL JUDGE GRANTED SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS DEBORAH BOOZER AND GIRL SCOUTS OF GULF PINES COUNCIL, INC. AND DISMISSED APPELLANTS’ CLAIM WITH PREJUDICE.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JAMES CLAYTON GARDNER, DAVID C. FRAZIER, and WILLIAM L. DENTON.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: DORRANCE DEE AULTMAN, ROGER T. CLARK, PATRICK R. BUCHANAN, KIMBERLY DAWN SAUCIER ROSETTI, and SAMUEL TRENT FAVRE.

JUDGES: BEFORE KING, C.J., LEE, P.J., AND IRVING, J. KING, C.J., BRIDGES AND LEE, P.JJ., CHANDLER, GRIFFIS, BARNES AND ISHEE, JJ., CONCUR. MYERS, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION BY: IRVING

OPINION

[*779] NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – PERSONAL INJURY

IRVING, J., FOR THE COURT:

P1. Debbie Buck filed a personal injury action on behalf of her minor daughter, Jamie, against Camp Wilkes, Girl Scouts of Gulf Pine Council, Inc., and troop leader Deborah Boozer, for injuries sustained when the child fell out of a bunk bed at camp. In her complaint, Buck alleged that the defendants’ negligent conduct caused Jamie to sustain multiple damages. [**2] In response, Boozer filed a motion for summary judgment, and Girl Scouts filed a joinder, adopting Boozer’s motion. On April 17, 2003, after a hearing on the matter, the trial judge granted Boozer and Girl Scouts’s motion and found that Buck failed to show that the defendants’ actions caused or contributed to Jamie’s fall. On May 14, Buck filed a notice of appeal of the judge’s grant of Boozer and Girl Scouts’s motion.

P2. On May 28, Camp Wilkes filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court entered a final judgment of dismissal, granting Camp Wilkes’s motion, and Buck again filed a notice of appeal. Buck’s first and second appeal were consolidated.

P3. In this appeal, Buck seeks review of whether the trial court committed reversible error (1) in failing to follow existing standards in granting the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, (2) in finding no merit to Buck’s argument that a causal relationship existed between Boozer’s temporary absence at the time of the accident and Jamie’s falling from the bed, and in applying the wrong standard when considering Boozer and the Girl Scouts’s lack of supervision, and (3) in ruling as a matter of law that a bunk bed is [**3] not a dangerous instrumentality and that Appellees’ use of bunk beds did not amount to a failure on their part to use reasonable care in providing Jamie a reasonably safe place to sleep.

[*780] P4. We find no reversible error; therefore, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Appellees.

FACTS

P5. In June 2000, thirteen-year-old Jamie Buck attended a Girl Scouts camping trip with her troop at Camp Wilkes. The chaperones for the trip were troop leader, Deborah Boozer, and assistant leader, Jenny White. Upon arriving at the camp, Jamie’s mother helped Jamie set up Jamie’s bed. 1 The next day, however, the troop moved to another cabin because their refrigerator was not working. 2 That night, all of the girls decided to sleep on the top bunks, and everyone, except Jamie, pulled their beds together to make a single bed. The following night, Jamie was asleep on the top bunk when she rolled out of her bed and sustained injuries to her face. Boozer was not present at the time of the accident because she had gone to retrieve supplies but had left the troop’s assistant leader with the girls while she was gone. Additional facts will be related during our discussion [**4] of the issues.

1 The camp furnished bunk beds for the girls to sleep on. The beds did not have any guard rails.

2 The second cabin had a similar layout as the first cabin and also had bunk beds for the girls to sleep on.

DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF THE ISSUES

(1)Standard of Review

P6. Buck first contends that by granting the defendants’ summary judgment motions, the trial judge failed to view the facts and issues in the light most favorable to her.

P7. The law is well established with respect to the grant or denial of summary judgments. [HN1] A summary judgment is proper “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.” M.R.C.P. 56(c). “All that is required of an opposing party to survive a motion for summary judgment is to establish a genuine issue of material fact by the means available under [**5] the rule.” Lowery v. Guaranty Bank and Trust Co., 592 So. 2d 79, 81 (Miss. 1991) (citing Galloway v. Travelers Ins. Co., 515 So. 2d 678, 682 (Miss. 1987)). [HN2] “In determining whether the entry of summary judgment [is] appropriate, [the appellate court] reviews the judgment de novo, making its own determination on the motion, separate and apart from that of the trial court.” Lowery, 592 So. 2d at 81. “The evidentiary matters are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. “If after this examination, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, then summary judgment is affirmed, but if after examining the evidentiary matters there is a genuine issue of material fact, the grant of summary judgment is reversed.” Lowery, 592 So. 2d at 81 (citing Newell v. Hinton, 556 So. 2d 1037, 1041 (Miss. 1990)).

P8. A thorough examination of the record reveals that Buck failed to meet her burden of producing significant evidence to rebut the defendants’ showing that no genuine issue of material fact existed. Buck also produced [**6] no evidence to show that the defendants’ breached the established standard of care and that such breach was the cause of Jamie’s injuries. As a result, the trial judge appropriately granted the defendants’ summary judgment motions.

[*781] (2) Breach of Duty

P9. Buck argues that the trial court erred in finding that there was no causal relationship between Boozer’s temporary absence at the time of the accident and Jamie’s falling from the bed. Buck also argues that Boozer and Girl Scouts failed to properly supervise Jamie and the other minor children by not requiring the children to sleep on the bottom bunks, or at least, on bunk beds with side rail protectors. 3

3 Buck argues that the beds were donated by the U.S. Navy, and therefore the beds were designed for adults, not minors.

P10. [HN3] “In this negligence action, [Buck] bears the burden of producing evidence sufficient to establish the existence of [a] duty, breach, proximate causation, and damages.” Simpson v. Boyd, 880 So. 2d 1047, 1050 [**7] (P 12) (Miss. 2004) (citing Palmer v. Anderson Infirmary Benevolent Ass’n, 656 So. 2d 790, 794 (Miss. 1995)).

P11. At the conclusion of the motion hearing, the trial judge found that Buck did not produce any evidence to indicate negligence by Boozer or Girl Scouts. We agree with the trial judge’s findings. However, assuming arguendo that Boozer was negligent in leaving the troop with the assistant troop leader, Buck has failed to demonstrate how Boozer’s absence contributed to Jamie’s injuries.

P12. Similarly, Buck has presented no authority that would substantiate her claim that the troop should not have been allowed to sleep on the beds without guard rails, or at least should have been made to sleep on the bottom bunks. Therefore, this argument is without merit.

(3) Dangerous Instrumentality

P13. Buck’s next allegation of error concerns the trial judge’s failure to find that a bunk bed constituted a dangerous instrumentality. The trial judge, relying on the New York case of Rueben v. Olympic Resort, Inc., 24 Misc. 2d 131, 198 N.Y.S. 2d 408 (N.Y. 1960), coupled with Buck’s lack of proof, found no merit in Buck’s contention [**8] that a bunk bed is a dangerous instrumentality. In Reuben, a six-year-old child was vacationing with her family at a hotel when she fell out of the top bunk and was injured. Id. at 409. The bunk bed had no guard rails. Id. Although the court denied the child’s parents recovery on other grounds, it commented that:

This Court is not prepared to state that a bunk bed without a guard rail is a dangerous instrumentality in and of itself. Such a bed, even with a guard rail, might be very dangerous to a child six months of age. Without a guard rail such a bed may be entirely safe for a child of fourteen years. It is for the parents of the child to determine what equipment is necessary or suitable for their own children. The hotel keeper cannot be presumed to know.

Id. at 409-10.

P14. We, like the trial judge and the Reuben court, [HN4] are not prepared to say that a bunk bed being used by a thirteen-year old without guard rails is a dangerous instrumentality. As noted by Camp Wilkes, Buck has failed to show any defect in the design of the bed or offered any evidence that the bed failed to comply with applicable standards, regulations, or guidelines. [**9] Buck even testified in a deposition that she knew what type bed her daughter was sleeping on and that she had no concerns about her daughter sleeping on the top bunk. Buck further stated that she did not inform anyone that she did not want her daughter sleeping on the top [*782] bunk. For the forgoing reasons, we find this issue to be without merit.

P15. Buck also argues that Camp Wilkes, by its use of bunk beds, failed to use reasonable care in providing a safe place for Jamie to sleep and also failed to adequately maintain and inspect its premises in a reasonably prudent manner. Buck further contends that Camp Wilkes failed to warn Jamie of a dangerous condition which the camp knew, or should have known, existed on their premises.

P16. [HN5] Camp Wilkes properly advances that it owed Jamie, as an invitee, the duty of exercising reasonable care to keep its premises safe, or to warn Jamie of any hidden or concealed perils of which it knew, or should have known, in the exercise of reasonable care. Lucas v. Buddy Jones Ford Lincoln Mercury, Inc., 518 So. 2d 646, 648 (Miss. 1988) (citing Downs v. Corder, 377 So. 2d 603, 605 (Miss. 1979)). However, Camp [**10] Wilkes argues that a bunk bed is an item normally encountered on the business premises of camps like Camp Wilkes and that a bunk bed is not a hidden or concealed peril.

P17. We have already found that a bunk bed is not an inherently dangerous instrumentality. We now find that Buck has failed to demonstrate or show that the bunk bed in question was in any way defective. Therefore, we find no merit in Buck’s argument that Camp Wilkes, by its use of bunk beds, failed to use reasonable care in providing a safe place for Jamie to sleep.

P18. Finally, Buck asserts that the Appellees’ actions constituted negligence per se because Jamie was less than fourteen years old at the time of the accident. The record reveals that Buck failed to cite any case law in support of this proposition. [HN6] “Issues cannot be decided based on assertions from the briefs alone.” Pulphus v. State, 782 So. 2d 1220, 1224 (Miss. 2001) (P 15) (citing Robinson v. State, 662 So. 2d 1100, 1104 (Miss. 1995)). Similarly, a failure to cite legal authority in support of a proposition precludes this Court from considering the issue on appeal. Grey v. Grey, 638 So. 2d 488, 491 (Miss. 1994) [**11] (citing Matter of Estate of Mason v. Fort, 616 So. 2d 322, 327 (Miss. 1993)).

P19. However, notwithstanding Buck’s failure to supply any authority in support of her proposition that allowing a thirteen-year old to sleep in a bunk bed not equipped with guard rails constitutes negligence per se, we refuse to embrace such a proposition. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the trial court granting summary judgment to the Appellees.

P20. THE JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HARRISON COUNTY IS AFFIRMED. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED TO THE APPELLANT.

KING, C.J., BRIDGES AND LEE, P.JJ., CHANDLER, GRIFFIS, BARNES AND ISHEE, JJ., CONCUR. MYERS, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

 


Bossi v. Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation et al, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1992

Bossi v. Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation et al, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1992

Vittoria M. Bossi, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation et al., Defendants and Respondents.

C042558

Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District

2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1992

March 4, 2004, Filed

Notice: [*1] not to be published in official reports California rules of court, rule 977(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 977(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for the purposes of rule 977.

Prior History: Calaveras. Super. Ct. No. CV25839.

Disposition: Affirmed.

Judges: Davis, J. We concur: BLEASE, Acting P.J., SIMS, J.

Opinion By: Davis

Opinion: Despite executing a comprehensive release and covenant not to sue before rappelling to the floor of Moaning Cavern, attorney Vittoria Bossi brought this action for the injuries she sustained during an uncontrolled descent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation and two of its employees (Eric Gutierrez and Bruce Brand). The jury also returned a verdict for over $ 100,000 in damages on Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation’s cross-complaint for the plaintiff’s breach of her covenant not to sue. The plaintiff filed a timely appeal. n1

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

n1 We dismissed the defendants’ purported cross-appeal from certain nonappealable orders.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [*2]

On appeal, the plaintiff challenges the exclusion of the deposition testimony of an unavailable witness, the admission of lay testimony interpreting the release and covenant, and the trial court’s refusal to instruct on assumption of the risk. In a conclusory one-paragraph argument, the plaintiff also contends we must reverse the judgment against her for the breach of the covenant not to sue because she has “clearly demonstrated” that the defendants breached their duty toward her. We shall affirm.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff’s arguments on appeal do not require us to relate the entirety of the testimony in this matter. Center stage in this case is the release and covenant not to sue. It contains acknowledgments that rappelling is an activity with “inherent dangers that no amount of . . . caution . . . can eliminate”; that she “expressly and voluntarily assumes all risk of death[ and] personal injury . . . including the risk of passive or active negligence of the released parties; or . . . defects or hazards in the equipment”; that she “forever releases, waives, discharges and covenants not to sue Sierra Nevada Recreation . . . for any and all loss or damage, or from any [*3] and all liabilities . . . for injuries and damages arising out of participation . . . on the Rappel . . ., including . . . losses caused by the passive or active negligence of the released parties or . . . defects or hazards in the equipment”; that “this Release . . . extends to all acts of negligence by the Releasees . . . and is intended to be as broad . . . as is permitted by the laws of the State of California”; and that “I have read this Release . . ., fully understand its terms, understand that I have given up substantial rights . . ., and intend my signature to be a complete and unconditional release of all liability to the greatest extent allowed by law.”

The plaintiff, a lawyer since 1991, initialed all of the paragraphs except the last one (regarding reading the document and intending an unconditional relinquishment of any negligence claim), and signed it. She had previously rappelled into Moaning Cavern in 1991 and 1994.

On the date of the accident in July 1998, defendant Eric Gutierrez was acting as a belay person on the cavern floor (among other duties). His function was to slow the fall of rappelers. After he helped people who had just descended, Nicole Hamilton relieved [*4] him at the belay post. As Gutierrez walked toward the stairs, he heard the sound of rope sliding rapidly through the rappelling apparatus. He saw the plaintiff descending quickly, bouncing off the rock face. He grabbed the line, which had swung in his direction, and took up the slack. Although this slowed the fall, plaintiff still hit the floor.

In its special verdict, the jury found that the defendants did not intentionally or negligently misrepresent any facts to the plaintiff, that the plaintiff executed a written agreement releasing the defendants from all liability, that the plaintiff breached a contract with Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation, and that this breach resulted in damages of over $100,000.

DISCUSSION

Before trial, the plaintiff filed a declaration in which she asserted that Nicole Hamilton was no longer available as a witness because she now was living in Oregon and had started a new job, the demands of which precluded her from appearing at trial. The plaintiff moved to admit her deposition testimony pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 2025, subdivision (u). In denying the motion, the trial court cited a criterion [*5] for admission pursuant to Evidence Code section 1291, which requires a defendant to have had an interest and motive at the time of the deposition similar to that at trial. It found that the defendants did not have any indication that their employee would be unavailable at the time of trial.

On appeal, the plaintiff focuses solely on whether the witness was unavailable, relying on Chavez v. Zapata Ocean Resources, Inc. (1984) 155 Cal. App. 3d 115, 118, 201 Cal. Rptr. 887 (where the parties stipulated to unavailability) and Nizinski v. State Bar (1975) 14 Cal.3d 587, n2 590, 121 Cal. Rptr. 824 (deponent more than 150 miles from court). The defendants claim the trial court did not abuse its discretion (People v. Waidla (2000) 22 Cal.4th 690, 717) under Evidence Code section 1291 in excluding the deposition.

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

n2 We note both parties have incorrectly cited this case as appearing at “14 Cal. App. 3d 560.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [*6]

Evidence Code section 1291, however, is inapplicable. It apples only to depositions taken in another action, not the same action, the use of which is covered “comprehensively” in the discovery statutes. (Recommendation Proposing an Evidence Code, 7 Cal. Law Revision Com. Rep. (1965) p. 250; 1 Witkin, Cal. Evidence (4th ed. 2000) Hearsay, § 262, p. 980.)

We need not belabor the question of whether the trial court might have properly exercised its discretion in resolving the criteria of unavailability and diligence (e.g., Code Civ. Proc., § 2025, subds. (u)(3)(B)(iv), (u)(3)(B)(v)); plainly, this was not the basis of its ruling, so we have no way of discerning the result of a properly informed exercise of its discretion. Nor need we determine whether the deposition was admissible as a matter of law under some other provision (e.g., id., subd. (u)(3)(A) [witness more than 150 miles from court]). The short answer is the utter harmlessness of excluding the deposition at trial.

The plaintiff does not at any point suggest the deposition included any evidence relevant [*7] to the validity of the release that she had executed before rappelling. Instead, the plaintiff adverts only to the relevance of the deposition to the issue of whether the defendants had increased the risk of the activity. As we explain subsequently, this issue is relevant only in cases involving an implied assumption of the risk. An effective release that manifests an express assumption of the risk is a complete defense to a negligence action. (Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1372 (Allan).)

II

In her brief, the plaintiff asserts the trial court erred in permitting “several” witnesses “over objection” to testify regarding their opinion of the effect of an unspecified release that they signed before rappelling into Moaning Cavern. Her citation to the record, however, is to the testimony of two witnesses, n3 and the plaintiff does not in either instance voice an objection to the topic.

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

n3 According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “several” refers to “an indefinite number more than two and fewer than many.” (Webster’s 10th Collegiate Dict. (2001) p. 1070.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [*8]

If an appellant does not provide a citation to the record in support of an argument, we are not obliged to independently search through the transcripts to find the facts on which the argument rests. (City of Lincoln v. Barringer (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 1211, 1239; Duarte v. Chino Community Hospital (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 849, 856.) Here, defendants have represented in their brief that plaintiff never objected. Plaintiff did not file a reply contesting that assertion. Absent any proof that plaintiff registered an objection to this testimony, the issue is waived on appeal. (Evid. Code, § 353, subd. (a).)

III

The plaintiff initially offered an instruction stating the abstractly correct proposition that the defendants had a duty (under the doctrine of “assumption of the risk”) not to increase the risks inherent in a sport. Without providing any citation to the record, the plaintiff contends that the trial court refused to instruct on assumption of the risk (also without providing the basis for the court’s ruling), for which reason she withdrew the proposed instruction. The defendants do not dispute this account. [*9]

The plaintiff’s argument grows out of a misreading of Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 354, where, in an appeal from summary judgment for the defendant, we first found that the release was ambiguous as to whether it applied on the day that the plaintiff was skiing (id. at pp. 363-364), and then held that there was conflicting evidence about whether the defendant had increased the risk of recreational skiing through a failure to warn recreational skiers that it had modified the ski run with jumps for a racing event later that day (id. at pp. 365-367). Solis does not provide any support for the plaintiff’s proposition that she was entitled to a special instruction on the “increased risk” limit on assumption of the risk where there was a threshold issue of a valid release.

Rather, the plaintiff’s posture is akin to the appellant’s in Allan, supra: “All Allan’s discussion of . . . assumption of the risk . . . is essentially beside the point for one very fundamental reason: Knight v. Jewett[ (1992)] 3 Cal.4th 296 [Knight], and its discussion of . . . assumption of [*10] the risk, referred to implied assumption of the risk. Here, it is beyond dispute that Allan signed an express assumption of the risk, which warned him in no uncertain terms that he could . . . suffer serious injury. Knight itself recognized that express assumption of the risk remains a complete defense in negligence actions.” (51 Cal.App.4th at p. 1372; see also Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308, fn. 4; Moser v. Ratinoff (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 1211, 1217-1218; Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc. (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 1715, 1729-1730.) Since the jury in the present case upheld the validity of the execution of the release, plaintiff’s complaint about the alleged instructional error is moot.

IV

The entirety of the plaintiff’s attack on the judgment on the cross-complaint against her for breach of the covenant not to sue rests on the viability of her claim of negligence. Having failed to demonstrate any basis for invalidating the judgment enforcing the release, she has failed to provide a basis for reversing the judgment on the cross-complaint.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed.

DAVIS, J.

We [*11] concur:

BLEASE, Acting P.J.

SIMS, J.

Jim Moss\r\nJHMoss@Earthlink.net\r\n