Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)

Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)

Sara Hohe, a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. San Diego Unified School District, Defendant and Respondent; Mission Bay High School Parent, Teacher and Student Association, Defendant and Appellant.

Docket No. D010796.

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth District, Division One.

November 8, 1990.

Appeal from Superior Court of San Diego County, No. 598500,

Kevin W. Midlam, Judge.

Page 1560

[Editors’ Note: This Page Contained Headnotes And Headnotes Are Not An Official Product Of The Court, Therefore They Are Not Displayed.]

Page 1561

[Editors’ Note: This Page Contained Headnotes And Headnotes Are Not An Official Product Of The Court, Therefore They Are Not Displayed.]

Page 1562

Counsel

Robert P. Irwin for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Lewis, D’Amato, Brisbois & Bisgaard, Peter L. Garchie and Philip

A. Book for Defendant and Appellant.

McInnis, Fitzgerald, Rees, Sharkey & McIntyre and Steven J.

Cologne for Defendant and Respondent.

Opinion

Lim, J.[fn*]

[fn*] Assigned by the Chairperson of the Judicial Council.

Plaintiff Sara Hohe (Hohe), a minor, by her guardian ad litem, Steven Hohe, appeals after the court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants San Diego Unified School District (School District) and Mission Bay High School Parent, Teacher and Student Association (PTSA). The court found the releases signed by Hohe and Steven Hohe on his daughter’s behalf barred her personal injury lawsuit. Hohe contends the court erred because the releases are contrary to public policy, unenforceable because of her minority and unenforceable because of fraud in the inducement. She also argues the written release did not clearly notify her or her parent of its effect. We conclude a triable issue of fact exists regarding the releases’ scope and effect. We therefore reverse the judgment. Accordingly, PTSA is not entitled to attorney fees or costs.

FACTS

Hohe, a 15-year-old junior at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, was injured during a campus hypnotism show sponsored by the PTSA as a fund-raiser

Page 1563

for the senior class. Hypnotism shows had been held annually since 1980.

Hohe was one of 18 or 20 subjects selected at random from a group of many volunteers. Her participation in the “Magic of the Mind Show” was conditioned on signing two release forms. Hohe’s father signed a form entitled “Mission Bay High School PTSA Presents Dr. Karl Santo.”[fn1] Hohe and her father both signed a form entitled “KARL SANTO HYPNOTIST.”[fn2]

Hohe saw the prior year’s hypnotism show. She explained to her father that it would be fun, the show was popular and discussed at least one previous stunt where a subject was suspended between two objects while another person stood on the subject’s stomach.

She also said people sang.

During the course of the show, Hohe slid from her chair and also fell to the floor about six times.

DISCUSSION

I

(1) Hohe argues the releases she and her father signed are contrary to public policy. We disagree. “[N]o public policy opposes private, voluntary transactions in which one party, for a consideration, agrees to shoulder a risk which the law would otherwise have placed upon the other party. . . .” (Tunkl v. Regents of University of California (1963) 60 Cal.2d 92, 101 [32 Cal.Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 6 A.L.R.3d 693]; Madison v. Superior Court (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 589, 598 [250 Cal.Rptr. 299] ; see Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 333, 343 [214 Cal.Rptr. 194] [parachuting]; Kurashige v. Indian Dunes, Inc. (1988) 200 Cal.App.3d 606, 612 [246 Cal.Rptr. 310] [dirt biking].)

Page 1564

An attempted but invalid exemption from liability “involves a transaction which exhibits some or all of the following characteristics. It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.” (Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, supra, 60 Cal.2d at pp. 98-100, fns. omitted.)

The circumstances here present an entirely different situation.

Hohe volunteered to be part of a PTSA activity because it would be “fun.” There was no essential service or good being withheld by PTSA. Hohe, like thousands of children participating in recreational activities sponsored by groups of volunteers and parents, was asked to give up her right to sue. The public as a whole receives the benefit of such waivers so that groups such as Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League, and parent-teacher associations are able to continue without the risks and sometimes overwhelming costs of litigation. Thousands of children benefit from the availability of recreational and sports activities.

Those options are steadily decreasing — victims of decreasing financial and tax support for other than the bare essentials of an education. Every learning experience involves risk. In this instance Hohe agreed to shoulder the risk. No public policy forbids the shifting of that burden.

II

(2) Hohe also argues the release from liability cannot be enforced against her because she is a minor. The permission and waiver forms were signed on her behalf by her parent. Hohe also signed one of the release documents.

It is true, with certain limited exceptions, a minor can disaffirm his or her contract. Civil Code section 35 Civ. provides, in relevant part, “the contract of a minor may be disaffirmed by the minor himself, either before his majority or within a reasonable time afterwards. . . .” (Doyle v. Giuliucci (1965) 62 Cal.2d 606,

609 [43 Cal.Rptr. 697, 401 P.2d 1].) The purpose of Civil Code section 35 Civ. is to protect the minor from his own improvidence. It is often said, “he who affirmatively deals with a minor, does so at his peril.” (Holland v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. (1969) 270 Cal.App.2d 417, 422 [75 Cal.Rptr. 669].) However, the releases signed here were signed on

Page 1565

Hohe’s behalf by her parent. A parent may contract on behalf of his or her children. Civil Code section 35 Civ. was not intended to affect contracts entered into by adults on behalf of their children. (Doyle v. Giuliucci, supra, 62 Cal.2d at p. 609.)

The court in Celli v. Sports Car Club of America, Inc. (1972) 29 Cal.App.3d 511, 517 [105 Cal.Rptr. 904], found a release signed by a nine-year-old invalid because, among other reasons, the minor’s signature was the only signature on the release. We therefore hold Hohe cannot disaffirm the release based on her minority.

III

(3a) Hohe also attacks the release based on fraud because the permission form bore the heading “Mission Bay High School PTSA Presents Dr. Karl Santo.” It was undisputed the hypnotist was not a medical doctor. Hohe and her father signed a second release form which was simply captioned “KARL SANTO HYPNOTIST.” The question facing the court was whether a material and triable factual issue existed based on the alleged fraudulent content of the release. We think not.

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted if all the papers submitted show there is no triable issue as to any material fact. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c Civ. Proc., subd. (c); Slivinsky v. Watkins-Johnson Co. (1990) 221 Cal.App.3d 799, 804 [270 Cal.Rptr. 585].) (4) The necessary elements of fraud are (1) misrepresentation; (2) knowledge of falsity; (3) intent to defraud, i.e., induce reliance; (4) justifiable reliance; and (5) resulting damage. (Seeger v. Odell (1941) 18 Cal.2d 409, 414 [115 P.2d 977, 136 A.L.R. 1291]; Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1108 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46].)

(3b) The record before us does not disclose evidence which creates a triable and material issue of fact. Use of the title “Dr.” did not falsely represent the hypnotist as a medical doctor or show PTSA intended such a representation. There is also no evidence PTSA intended to induce reliance or Hohe justifiably relied in any way. Hohe has not presented a triable issue of fact on the question of fraud to defeat the summary judgment.

IV

(5a) The more troublesome issue before us is the scope and effect of the release forms. (6a) Hohe contends the executed forms do not clearly and unequivocally release School District and PTSA from liability for negligence.

“[T]o be effective, an agreement which purports to release, indemnify or exculpate the party who prepared it from liability for that party’s own

Page 1566

negligence or tortious conduct must be clear, explicit and comprehensible in each of its essential details. Such an agreement, read as a whole, must clearly notify the prospective releasor or indemnitor of the effect of signing the agreement.”

(Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 309, 318 [195 Cal.Rptr. 90]; Madison v. Superior Court, supra, 203 Cal.App.3d at p. 598; Celli v. Sports Car Club of America, Inc., supra, 29 Cal.App.3d at pp. 518-519.)

(5b) The permission form signed by Steven Hohe “waive[d] all liability against PTSA, its members, Mission Bay High School, and the San Diego Unified School District.” The form began with precautionary language stating children with mental disorders or of a nervous disposition were not allowed to participate. The parent was advised to exercise parental discretion because the anticipated program might contain an adult theme. The additional form signed by both Hohe and her father stated “I agree to indemnify and hold you and any third parties harmless from any and all liability, loss or damage (including reasonable attorney fees) caused by or arising in any manner from my participation in the Magic of the Mind Show. . . .” This second document signed at the same time as the permission form granted Karl Santo the authority to broadcast and record Hohe’s performance and to use her name and likeness for promotional purposes. It also specifically indemnified Santo from any liability due to Hohe’s utterances while participating in the show.

(6b) A valid release must be simple enough for a layperson to understand and additionally give notice of its import. A drafter of such a release faces two difficult choices. His Scylla is the sin of oversimplification and his Charybdis a whirlpool of convoluted language which purports to give notice of everything but as a practical matter buries its message in minutiae.

In Celli v. Sports Car Club of America, Inc., supra,

29 Cal.App.3d at page 525, appendix, a release printed on the back of a race car pit pass in six point type attempted to “[release, remise and forever discharge] from any and every claim, demand, action or right of action whatsoever kind or nature, in law or in equity, arising from or by reason of any injury to or death of any person, . . . resulting or alleged to result from or arise out of any accident or other occurrence during or in connection with the foregoing event and/or any practice session in connection therewith, and/or any use of the course and/or facilities provided for such event.” The Celli court found the release invalid.

In Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd., supra, 147 Cal.App.3d at page 319, a release consisting of a convoluted 147-word

Page 1567

sentence contained no releasing words such as “‘release,’ ‘remise,’ ‘discharge,’ ‘waive’ or the like.” The Ferrell court found the release invalid.

(5c) The question here is whether the release and waiver language in the documents signed by Hohe and her father exculpates PTSA and School District from the consequences of its own breach of duty.

A line of cases exists suggesting a release to be effective against “active” negligence must specifically refer to “negligence” in the language of the contract. In other words, a general release will not protect a party from liability unless the negligent acts are ones of nonfeasance or “passive” negligence. (Vinnell Co. v. Pacific Elec. Ry. Co. (1959) 52 Cal.2d 411, 415 [340 P.2d 604]; Markley v. Beagle (1967) 66 Cal.2d 951, 962 [59 Cal.Rptr. 809, 429 P.2d 129]; MacDonald & Kruse, Inc. v. San Jose Steel Co. (1972) 29 Cal.App.3d 413, 422 [105 Cal.Rptr. 725].)

However, an analysis based on the “active-passive dichotomy” or on the absence or presence of a specific reference to “negligence” is not dispositive. (See Rossmoor Sanitation, Inc. v. Pylon, Inc. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 622, 632 [119 Cal.Rptr. 449, 532 P.2d 97].) (7) “[I]t is manifest that it is the intent of the parties which the court seeks to ascertain and make effective. Where . . . the circumstances of the claimed wrongful conduct dictate that damages resulting therefrom were intended to be dealt with in the agreement, there is no room for construction of the agreement. It speaks for itself.” (Harvey Mach. Co. v. Hatzel & Buehler, Inc. (1960) 54 Cal.2d 445, 449 [6 Cal.Rptr. 284, 353 P.2d 924] distinguishing Vinnell Co. v. Pacific Elec. Ry. Co., supra, at p. 415.) Whether a release bars recovery against a negligent party “turns primarily on contractual interpretation, and it is the intent of the parties as expressed in the agreement that should control.” (Rossmoor Sanitation, Inc. v. Pylon, Inc., supra, 13 Cal.3d at p. 633.)

(5d) The permission form signed by Hohe’s father and the additional indemnification and “hold harmless” form signed by both Hohe and her father are general releases. There is no language which specifically speaks to a release from liability for negligence. Nor is there any language which specifically alerts the parent his child is barred from a recovery based on her bodily injury. It is true, “[t]o require that an express indemnity clause be cast in (a) rote form . . . is to compel contracting parties to lie upon a [P]rocrustean bed of linguistic formalism that inhibits the clear meaning of plain English.”

(C.I. Engineers & Constructors, Inc. v. Johnson & Turner Painting Co. (1983) 140 Cal.App.3d 1011, 1018 [189 Cal.Rptr. 824] .) Our analysis is not based on the mechanical application of some formula. The presence or absence of the words “negligence” or “bodily injury” is not dispositive. We look instead to the intention of the parties as it appears in

Page 1568

the release forms before the court. In this instance, the intention as expressed in the releases signed by the parent for his child is not clear. Although the parent waived all liability it was in the context of two documents which focused on mental and nervous disorders, defamation and broadcast rights. The scope of the waiver is ambiguous. Where the intention of the parties on the face of the releases is ambiguous, a triable factual issue is presented. (8) Any doubts as to the propriety of granting the motion for summary judgment should be resolved in favor of the party opposing the motion. (Stationers Corp. v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (1965) 62 Cal.2d 412, 417 [42 Cal.Rptr. 449, 398 P.2d 785]; Slivinsky v. Watkins-Johnson Co., supra, 221 Cal.App.3d at p. 804.) We are mindful of the salutary purposes sometimes served by releases in diminishing the risk of litigation to groups and entities sponsoring student and recreational activities. However we cannot say the release documents signed by Hohe and her parent bar recovery for her personal injuries as a matter of law. Accordingly, we must reverse the summary judgment.

V

Finally, Hohe contends hypnotism is an ultrahazardous activity.

It is unnecessary to reach this issue in deciding whether or not the court properly granted summary judgment. We decline Hohe’s invitation to direct the court on how it should receive evidence on that issue.

VI

We similarly need not decide whether or not the attorney fees provision found in the release forms would entitle PTSA to attorney fees. The court denied PTSA its attorney fees and costs on its motion for summary judgment. Since we have decided the court erred in granting judgment to PTSA, it follows PTSA is not entitled to attorney fees or costs.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed. The order denying attorney fees and costs is affirmed. All parties to bear their own costs on appeal.

Huffman, Acting P.J., concurred.

[fn1] The release form read as follows: “CAUTION [¶] Children with any mental disorder or of a nervous disposition are not allowed to participate. A portion of the program occasionally contains adult theme; parental discretion is advised.

“SUBJECTS ARE REQUIRED TO ARRIVE AT 6:30 p.m.

“My son/daughter Sarah Hohe, grade 11 has my permission to be hypnotized by Dr. Karl Santo during his program at Mission Bay High School. I waive all liability against the PTSA, its members, Mission Bay High School, and the San Diego Unified School District.”

[fn2] The form read in part: “I agree to indemnify and hold you and any third parties harmless from any and all liability, loss or damage (including reasonable attorney fees) caused by or arising in any manner from my participation in the Magic of the Mind Show including any utterances made by me during the above named show or material furnished by me in connection with my participation in the show. I am solely responsible for my appearance in the show and for any loss to any party arising therefrom. [¶] I acknowledge that I am not receiving any compensation from my participation or the above authorization; and that you are relying on the above understandings in your use and broadcasting of my participation and in the production and promotion of the Magic of the Mind Show.”

NARES, J., Dissenting.

Although I agree completely with sections I through III of the majority opinion, I dissent from the conclusion[fn1] reached Page 1569 in section IV. The release signed here clearly, plainly, and unambiguously informs a signer it is a release of “all liability, loss or damage . . . caused by or arising in any manner from my participation in the Magic of the Mind Show.”

(Italics added.) In all fairness, it is difficult to imagine what more any drafter could do to advise a layperson the release covers all types of liability than to say so.

Of course, I acknowledge the series of cases stating the word “negligence” must be used if negligence is to be released. (See, e.g., Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 309, 319 [195 Cal.Rptr. 90].)

However, as the majority correctly notes, the validity of a release should not turn on “magic” words. Instead, the issue is whether a layperson such as Hohe understood, from whatever language used, that she was releasing persons from negligence liability.

With this in mind, I turn (as does the majority) to the question of the parties’ intention when these release forms were signed. In resolving this question, the following facts are undisputed: (1) Sara had seen the hypnotism show before; (2) part of the show involved hypnotized persons falling down; (3) Sara solicited the opportunity to be hypnotized; and (4) prior to the show she (and her father) released the hypnotist and any third parties “from any and all liability.” (Italics added.)

I am unable to discern, as does the majority, the existence of any ambiguity in the phrase “any and all liability.”[fn2] Sara had seen the show, was aware that participants would fall down, and elected to be among them. She now seeks compensation for injuries allegedly incurred when she fell down. The alleged harm is precisely that for which she released all others from liability. (Cf. Madison v. Superior Court (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 589 [250 Cal.Rptr. 299]; Kurashige v. Indian Dunes, Inc. (1988) 200 Cal.App.3d 606 [246 Cal.Rptr. 310]; Coates v. Newhall Land & Farming, Inc. (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 1 [236 Cal.Rptr. 181]; Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 333 [214 Cal.Rptr. 194] .) Based upon the foregoing, I would hold the release effective and affirm the judgment.

[fn1] I agree with the majority’s statements in section IV regarding the social value of releases and the difficulties which face the successful drafter of a release.

[fn2] The release, quoted in footnote 2 of the majority opinion, ante, page 1563, is not written in legalese or insurance company double-talk.

Page 1570

WordPress Tags: Hohe,Diego,Dist,Rptr,Sara,Minor,Plaintiff,Appellant,School,District,Defendant,Respondent,Mission,High,Parent,Teacher,Student,Association,Docket,Court,Appeal,California,Fourth,Division,November,Superior,Kevin,Midlam,Judge,Page,Editors,Note,Headnotes,Official,Product,Counsel,Robert,Irwin,Lewis,Amato,Brisbois,Bisgaard,Peter,Garchie,Philip,Book,McInnis,Fitzgerald,Rees,Sharkey,McIntyre,Steven,Cologne,Opinion,Chairperson,Judicial,Council,guardian,judgment,defendants,PTSA,daughter,injury,lawsuit,policy,fraud,inducement,fact,scope,attorney,FACTS,campus,Hypnotism,participation,Magic,Mind,Presents,Karl,Santo,HYPNOTIST,person,DISCUSSION,transactions,Tunkl,Regents,Madison,Hulsey,Parachute,Center,Kurashige,Indian,Dunes,dirt,exemption,transaction,characteristics,regulation,exculpation,importance,member,advantage,strength,situation,parents,waivers,Girl,Scouts,Little,League,litigation,Thousands,options,victims,essentials,education,instance,permission,waiver,exceptions,Civil,Code,Doyle,Giuliucci,purpose,improvidence,peril,Holland,Universal,Underwriters,adults,Celli,Sports,Club,America,signature,papers,Proc,Slivinsky,Watkins,Johnson,misrepresentation,knowledge,reliance,Seeger,Odell,Molko,Spirit,Assn,representation,negligence,agreement,Ferrell,Southern,Nevada,Road,Enthusiasts,disposition,discretion,theme,manner,performance,purposes,utterances,layperson,Scylla,oversimplification,Charybdis,whirlpool,message,minutiae,appendix,action,death,accident,occurrence,connection,event,session,facilities,consequences,Vinnell,Pacific,Elec,Markley,Beagle,MacDonald,Kruse,Jose,Steel,analysis,dichotomy,absence,presence,reference,Rossmoor,Sanitation,Pylon,Where,room,construction,Harvey,Mach,Hatzel,Buehler,Whether,recovery,interpretation,clause,rote,English,Engineers,Constructors,Turner,formula,intention,Although,context,defamation,Stationers,Corp,Bradstreet,entities,injuries,invitation,provision,Huffman,CAUTION,Children,SUBJECTS,ARRIVE,Sarah,appearance,compensation,authorization,production,promotion,NARES,conclusion,Italics,series,Instead,existence,participants,Coates,Newhall,Land,statements,footnote,ante,legalese,insurance,behalf,unenforceable,triable,upon,himself,supra,disaffirm,third,drafter,remise,dispositive,therefrom


Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Teresa Perry, Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., Appellee-Defendant.

No. 92A03-1002-CT-101

Court Of Appeals Of Indiana

931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

August 16, 2010, Decided

August 16, 2010, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

APPEAL FROM THE WHITLEY CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable James R. Heuer, Judge. Cause No. 92C01-0809-CT-652.

COUNSEL: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SARAH E. RESER, Glaser & Ebbs, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CARRIE KOONTZ GAINES, Kopka, Pinkus Dolin & Eads, L.L.C., Mishawaka, Indiana.

JUDGES: ROBB, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.

OPINION BY: ROBB

OPINION

[*934] OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION

ROBB, Judge

Case Summary and Issue

Teresa Perry appeals the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Whitley County 4-H Clubs, Inc. (the “4-H Club”) on Perry’s negligence complaint for personal injuries suffered during a horse competition sponsored by the 4-H Club. For our review, Perry raises two issues, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. Concluding there is no genuine issue of material fact and the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim for injuries resulting from inherent risks of equine activities, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

The undisputed facts and those most favorable to Perry as the non-movant are as follows. At all relevant times, Perry, an adult, was a member of the 4-H Clubs Equine Advisory [**2] Board, which provides guidance and instruction to children participating in the 4-H Club’s horse events, and was herself a regular participant in those [*935] events. Perry was also the owner of seven horses. In July 2007, the 4-H Club held horse practices and competitions at the Whitley County Fairgrounds as part of the Whitley County Fair. These events were generally held in the 4-H Club’s Horse Barn, but one event, the Large Animal Round Robin Competition, was held in the 4-H Club’s Show Barn, located next to the Horse Barn. The Horse Barn is over 100 feet wide but the Show Barn is approximately thirty-six feet wide along its shorter side. Horses were generally familiar with the Horse Barn but unfamiliar with the Show Barn, where they were “not allowed any other time” besides the Round Robin Competition. Appellant’s Appendix at 88. At all entrances to the Horse Barn, the 4-H Club had posted “Equine Activity warning signs” that were “clearly visible.” Id. at 18-19 (affidavit of Bill Leeuw, 4-H Club’s President of the Board).

On July 25, 2007, the Round Robin Competition was held. The Equine Advisory Board and volunteers selected the horses to be shown, and Perry herself selected one of those [**3] horses “at the last minute.” Id. at 93. Perry was present at the Round Robin Competition as an Equine Advisory Board member responsible for the safety of children handling the horses. As part of the event, seven horses were led from the Horse Barn into the Show Barn and lined up approximately two and one-half feet apart along the shorter side of the Show Barn. The horses were then turned over to children who did not normally handle horses but had experience handling animals such as pigs and cows and had received brief instruction on how to handle a horse. After one of the children finished leading a horse through a series of maneuvers, the child left the horse facing away from the center of the Show Barn, in the opposite direction from the neighboring horses and with its rear next to the head of a neighboring horse. The horse facing backwards began sniffing the rear of the neighboring horse, which pinned its ears against its head as a sign it was agitated. Perry realized this situation posed a danger to the child handling the horse facing backwards. Perry therefore approached the child and told the child to turn the horse around. As the child was doing so, the neighboring horse kicked [**4] Perry in the knee. Perry was thrown back and suffered personal injuries.

In September 2008, Perry filed a complaint against the 4-H Club alleging her injuries were caused by the 4-H Club’s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” Id. at 6. As specifically argued by Perry at the summary judgment hearing, she alleged the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn, as the smaller Show Barn “requires horses to be placed close together, increasing the chances that a child near the horse will be injured by one. It’s also an environment the horses aren’t familiar with, which makes it more likely that a horse will get spooked and kick someone.” Transcript at 4. Among the 4-H Club’s affirmative defenses, it alleged in its answer that Perry’s claim was barred by the Indiana Equine Activity Statute.

The 4-H Club filed a motion for summary judgment based in part on the Equine Activity Statute. Following a hearing, the trial court on January 27, 2010, issued its order granting summary judgment to the 4-H Club. The trial court found and concluded in relevant part:

14. [**5] The [4-H Club] was a sponsor of an equine activity when the accident occurred.

15. [Perry] was a participant in the equine activity in her capacity as a safe [*936] keeper when she approached the horses and was kicked.

16. The Equine Activities Act . . . is applicable to this case.

17. Being kicked by a horse is an inherent risk of equine activity.

18. There is no evidence in the designation of material facts that [the 4-H Club] committed an act or omission which constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of [Perry] or that any other conditions set in [Indiana Code section] 34-31-5-2 existed at the time of the accident.

Appellant’s App. at 5. Perry now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

I. Standard of Review

[HN1] We review a summary judgment order de novo. Tri-Etch, Inc. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 909 N.E.2d 997, 1001 (Ind. 2009). In so doing, we stand in the same position as the trial court and must determine whether the designated evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Dreaded, Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Ins. Co., 904 N.E.2d 1267, 1269-70 (Ind. 2009). In making this determination, we construe [**6] the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine factual issue against the moving party. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. Bloom, 847 N.E.2d 175, 180 (Ind. 2006). Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated by the parties to the trial court. Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). The movant has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine factual dispute as to an outcome-determinative issue and only then must the non-movant come forward with evidence demonstrating genuine factual issues that should be resolved at trial. Jarboe v. Landmark Cmty. Newspapers of Ind., Inc., 644 N.E.2d 118, 123 (Ind. 1994).

Because this case turns on the proper application of the Equine Activity Statute, we also recite our well-established standard of review for interpretation of statutes:

[HN2] When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. [**7] We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.

Cooper Indus., LLC v. City of South Bend, 899 N.E.2d 1274, 1283 (Ind. 2009) (citations omitted).

II. Equine Activity Statute

A. Warning Signs

Perry argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. We address this sub-issue first because it bears on the threshold applicability of the Equine Activity Statute as a bar to Perry’s claim. See Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a) (providing [HN3] “[t]his chapter does not apply unless” equine activity sponsor has posted at least one complaint warning sign). In response to Perry’s argument, the 4-H Club initially [*937] contends Perry waived the argument by not raising it to the trial court prior to the summary judgment hearing. We disagree. In general, arguments [**8] by an appellant are waived if not presented to the trial court on summary judgment, see Cook v. Ford Motor Co., 913 N.E.2d 311, 322 n.5 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied, and summary judgment may not be reversed on the grounds of a genuine factual issue “unless the material fact and the evidence relevant thereto shall have been specifically designated to the trial court,” T.R. 56(H). However, Perry did argue at the summary judgment hearing that the evidence designated by the 4-H Club was insufficient to establish its compliance with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. Moreover, this issue was already before the trial court based upon the 4-H Club’s motion for summary judgment and designation of material facts.

Proceeding to Perry’s claim, [HN4] the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black [**9] letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c). The warning must state: “Under Indiana law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-5.

The undisputed evidence is that the 4-H Club, on the day of the incident, maintained “Equine Activity warning signs” on all entrances to the Horse Barn, and the signs were “clearly visible.” Appellant’s App. at 18-19. The 4-H Club’s equine activities were regularly held inside the Horse Barn, except for the Round Robin Competition held in the Show Barn located next to the Horse Barn. Perry acknowledged in her deposition she had seen “those signs” on the Horse Barn, id. at 114, and did not designate any evidence the signs were absent on the day of the incident or lacked the specific warning required by Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5. Perry argues, in effect, that because the only photographs the 4-H Club properly designated to the trial court do not directly show the signs contained the specific warning required, 1 the 4-H Club did not meet its burden of making a prima facie case of compliance [**10] with the statute. We decline Perry’s invitation to, in effect, interpret the Equine Activity Statute to require an equine activity sponsor to submit such photographic or documentary evidence in order to support its claim of immunity. Rather, we conclude the affidavit the 4-H Club properly designated established its prima facie case that it maintained proper warning signs, such that the burden shifted to Perry to come forward with evidence the signs were deficient. Because she did not do so, there is no genuine issue of fact as to the warning signs, and the trial court [*938] properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute applies to this case.

1 The parties dispute, and it is unclear from the record, whether a photograph identified as Defendant’s Exhibit A at Perry’s deposition, and allegedly included along with the deposition in the 4-H Club’s designation of evidence, was actually part of the designated material submitted to the trial court. That photograph, unlike those included as the 4-H Club’s Exhibit C in support of summary judgment and to which the 4-H Club referred at the summary judgment hearing, shows a warning sign containing the text specified in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5.

B. [**11] Inherent Risk of Equine Activities

Perry also argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether her injuries resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. The Equine Activity Statute provides:

[HN5] Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:

(1) an injury to a participant; or

(2) the death of a participant;

resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2 [HN6] The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:

the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:

(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.

(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.

(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.

(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the [**12] animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:

[HN7] Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:

(1) who:

(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and

(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;

(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:

(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and

(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;

(3) who:

(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and

(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;

if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;

(4) who committed an act or omission that:

(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and

(B) caused the injury; or

[*939] (5) who intentionally [**13] injured the participant.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-2(b). As Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute has not previously been interpreted in any reported case, 3 we will cite for their persuasive value the decisions of other jurisdictions that have interpreted similar statutes.

2 “Equine activity,” pursuant to its statutory definition, includes among other things “[e]quine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve equines.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-41(a). “Equine activity sponsor” means “a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-42. Perry does not dispute that the 4-H Club qualifies as an equine activity sponsor.

3 In Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied, the only reported case citing the Equine Activity Statute, this court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on the alternative grounds of waiver and release of liability. Id. at 585. We concluded the waiver applied because the plaintiff’s fall from a horse that moved while the plaintiff was attempting to mount it resulted from a risk “inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding.” Id. at 584. However, [**14] we did not explicitly base that conclusion upon the text of the Equine Activity Statute.

Perry’s argument is that a reasonable trier of fact could find the cause of her injury was not an inherent risk of equine activities, but negligence of the 4-H Club in staging the Round Robin Competition. Perry makes no argument that any of the exceptions to immunity spelled out in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-2(b) (“Section 2(b)”) — faulty equipment or tack, provision of the equine and failure to make reasonable and prudent efforts to match the participant to the particular equine and equine activity, a latent premises defect, reckless disregard, or intentional injury — apply in this case. Therefore, we must examine whether and to what extent, consistent with the Equine Activity Statute, an equine activity sponsor may be liable for simple negligence allegedly causing injury to a participant.

Initially we note that negligence of an equine activity sponsor neither is one of the exceptions to immunity listed in Section 2(b), nor is it included in the non-exclusive list of inherent risks of equine activity under Indiana Code section 34-6-2-69. Thus, Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute, like equine activity [**15] statutes in some states but unlike some others, is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability. Compare Lawson v. Dutch Heritage Farms, Inc., 502 F.Supp.2d 698, 700 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (noting Ohio’s Equine Activity Liability Act, like some other states?, is “silent as to simple negligence as an inherent risk”) (quotation omitted); with Beattie v. Mickalich, 486 Mich. 1060, 1060 784 N.W.2d 38, 2010 Mich. LEXIS 1452, 2010 WL 2756979, at *1 (Mich., July 13, 2010) (per curiam) (Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act abolishes strict liability for equines but expressly provides liability is not limited “‘if the . . . person . . . [c]ommits a negligent act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury?” (quoting Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1665)). Because it is as important to recognize what a statute does not say as what it does say, City of Evansville v. Zirkelbach, 662 N.E.2d 651, 654 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied, and [HN8] statutes granting immunity, being in derogation of the common law, are strictly construed, see Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind. 1994), we conclude the Equine Activity Statute was not intended by the general assembly [**16] to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an equine activity sponsor. However, pursuant to the clear text of the statute, a negligence action is precluded if the injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities and the facts do not fit one of the exceptions to immunity provided by Section 2(b). Stated differently, if none of the Section 2(b) exceptions apply, then an equine activity sponsor is not liable for failing to use reasonable care to mitigate an already inherent risk of equine activities that ultimately resulted in a participant’s injury.

[*940] Turning to Perry’s claim, she was injured when unexpectedly kicked by a horse that became agitated during the 4-H Club’s Round Robin Competition. The horse became agitated because another horse was standing too close nearby and began sniffing its rear, and to remove the danger to the child handling the other horse, Perry intervened. The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways [**17] that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn. See Kangas v. Perry, 2000 WI App 234, 239 Wis.2d 392, 620 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Wis. Ct. App. 2000) (based on Wisconsin’s similar definition of inherent risks, concluding “horses? propensity to move without warning is an inherent risk of equine activity contemplated by the statute”), review denied. We therefore conclude Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities within the meaning of the Equine Activity Statute.

Perry argues the likelihood of a horse becoming agitated and kicking, and a child becoming endangered and needing to be rescued by a supervisor such as Perry, were unreasonably increased by the 4-H Club’s decision to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn, a cramped space unfamiliar to the horses. Even if that is true, however, the 4-H Club’s conduct would have contributed to Perry’s injury only by heightening the already inherent risk that a horse might [**18] behave unpredictably and in an injury-causing manner. Thus, Perry’s argument that her injury resulted not from an inherent risk of equine activities, but from the 4-H Club’s negligence in its manner of staging the Round Robin Competition, amounts to hair splitting irrelevant to the Equine Activity Statute. As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent. See Ind. Code §§ 34-6-2-69; 34-31-5-1.

Perry also relies on cases from other jurisdictions that, while involving similar statutes, are distinguishable on their facts. In Steeg v. Baskin Family Camps, Inc., 124 S.W.3d 633 (Tex. App. 2003), review dismissed, the court held summary judgment for the defendant improper where there was evidence the proximate causes of the rider’s fall included the saddle slipping and the defendant’s negligent failure to secure the saddle. Id. at 639-40. In Fielder v. Academy Riding Stables, 49 P.3d 349 (Colo. Ct. App. 2002), [**19] cert. denied, the court held the defendant was not entitled to immunity where the defendant’s wranglers negligently failed to remove a screaming child from a horse, an “obvious danger” the wranglers had notice of well before the horse bolted. Id. at 351-52. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence the 4-H Club ignored an obvious, imminent danger or that Perry’s injury directly resulted from anything other than unpredictable horse behavior.

In sum, the facts viewed most favorably to Perry as the party opposing summary judgment show her injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities and the 4-H Club was negligent, if at all, only for [*941] failing to mitigate those inherent risks. Therefore, the trial court properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim and properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.

Conclusion

There are no genuine issues of material fact that the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute and that Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. Therefore, Perry’s claim is barred by the Equine Activity Statute and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.

Affirmed.

FRIEDLANDER, [**20] J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.


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.

WordPress Tags: Palmer,Lakeside,Center,LEXIS,April,Appellant,Alegent,Health,Precor,Appellees,SUPREME,COURT,NEBRASKA,June,PRIOR,HISTORY,Appeal,District,Douglas,JOSEPH,TROIA,Judge,DISPOSITION,HEADNOTES,Summary,Judgment,Error,inferences,Contracts,Parties,Intent,beneficiaries,stipulation,provision,instrument,Negligence,Words,Phrases,Gross,absence,performance,Whether,definition,COUNSEL,Heather,Voegele,Andersen,Brenda,George,Koley,Jessen,David,Welch,Ashley,Dieckman,Hogan,Ernst,Bachman,Albert,Engles,Cory,Kerger,Ketcham,Olson,Keith,JUDGES,HEAVICAN,GERRARD,STEPHAN,MCCORMACK,MILLER,LERMAN,OPINION,INTRODUCTION,treadmill,FACTUAL,BACKGROUND,Accident,husband,November,March,workout,Unaware,machine,panel,area,treadmills,woman,gyms,instruction,trainer,testimony,Membership,Agreement,Questionnaire,WAIVER,RELEASE,attendance,limitation,participation,equipment,facilities,transportation,injury,heirs,executors,administrators,officers,directors,employees,agents,successors,Releasees,action,Further,theft,machinery,addition,payment,injuries,omission,strength,death,knowledge,dangers,chest,Both,ASSIGNMENTS,STANDARD,REVIEW,Wilson,Fieldgrove,ANALYSIS,argument,waivers,instances,misconduct,beneficiary,Podraza,Century,Physicians,Authorities,status,Willful,Wanton,Conduct,virtue,allegations,markings,installation,Bennett,Labenz,fact,handrails,incident,response,affidavit,director,product,development,Greg,guidelines,American,Materials,specifications,Though,user,precaution,cord,consultant,mechanisms,mechanism,absolutes,references,compliance,Assumption,Risk,assignment,CONCLUSION,appellate,pleadings,whom,deducible,third,appellee,hereby,behalf


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.

WordPress Tags:

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

Lewis,Creek,LEXIS,Carrie,Lesa,Moffatt,Appellants,Respondent,COURT,APPEALS,MISSOURI,WESTERN,DISTRICT,March,Opinion,SUBSEQUENT,HISTORY,Motion,Transfer,Supreme,June,Mandate,January,PRIOR,Appeal,Circuit,Platte,Honorable,Ward,Stuckey,Judge,DISPOSITION,COUNSEL,Fritz,Edmunds,Overland,Park,Thomas,Magee,Louis,JUDGES,Albert,Riederer,Lowenstein,Stith,judgments,plaintiffs,Pursuant,possessor,Appellant,assumption,judgment,Factual,Procedural,Background,Area,Rental,Form,owners,agents,employees,manufacturers,distributors,equipment,injury,death,person,selection,installation,maintenance,adjustment,negligence,theory,Both,Defendant,plaintiff,failure,bindings,premises,response,affidavit,Standard,Review,Lawrence,Bainbridge,Apartments,Commercial,Finance,Corp,America,Marine,inferences,fact,accordance,arguments,dangers,Second,Third,Fourth,Land,presence,danger,Invitee,status,Peterson,Summit,purpose,dealings,Harris,Niehaus,Restatement,Torts,exception,knowledge,Given,Thus,purposes,Rule,areas,landowner,accident,jury,Risk,determination,injuries,Sheppard,Midway,School,Recovery,addition,reference,clause,Although,clauses,policy,Alack,Tanny,International,Hornbeck,American,Indoor,Sports,emphasis,precedent,decisions,General,equivalents,waiver,Whether,paragraph,action,Here,Rodriguez,provision,resort,lexicon,categories,relationship,incident,context,Under,basis,Martin,Buzan,existence,factors,Colorado,Idaho,Maine,Michigan,Montana,Hampshire,Jersey,Mexico,Ohio,West,Virginia,statutes,statute,finder,Shepard,Release,Enterprises,Hollrah,Artificial,Count,precautions,Conclusion,proceedings,skis,hereby,upon,banc,invitees,skiers,exculpatory


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.