Texas appellate court upholds release for claims of gross negligence in trampoline accident that left plaintiff a paraplegic.Posted: October 8, 2018
However, the decision is not reasoned and supported in Texas by other decisions or the Texas Supreme Court.
State: Texas, Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
Plaintiff: Graciela Quiroz, Individually, a/n/f of Xxxx (“John Doe 1”) and Xxxx (“John Doe 2”), Minors, and Robert Sullivan, Individually, a/n/f of Xxxx (“John Doe 3”)
Defendant: Jumpstreet8, Inc., Jumpstreet, Inc. and Jumpstreet Construction, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence and as next friend of two minor children for their loss of parental consortium and their bystander claims for mental anguish.
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: for the Defendant
Adult paralyzed in a trampoline facility sues for her injuries. The release she signed before entering stopped all of her claims, including her claim for gross negligence.
However, the reasoning behind the support for the release to stop the gross negligence claim was not in the decision, so this is a tenuous decision at best.
The plaintiff and her sixteen-year-old son went to the defendant’s business. Before entering she signed a release. While on a trampoline, the plaintiff attempted to do a back flip, landed on her head and was rendered a paraplegic from the waist down.
The plaintiff sued on her behalf and on behalf of her minor. Her claim was a simple tort claim for negligence. Her children’s claims were based on the loss of parental consortium and under Texas law bystander claims for seeing the accident or seeing their mother suffer. The plaintiff’s husband also joined in the lawsuit later for his loss of consortium claims.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted and the plaintiff appealed.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The original entity named on the release was a corporation that was no longer in existence. Several successor entities now owned and controlled the defendant. The plaintiff argued the release did not protect them because the release only spoke to the one defendant.
The court did not agree, finding language in the release that stated the release applied to all “jumpstreet entities that engaged in the trampoline business.”
…it also stated the Release equally applied to “its parent, subsidiaries, affiliates, other related entities, successors, owners, members, directors, officers, shareholders, agents, employees, servants, assigns, investors, legal representatives and all individuals and entities involved in the operation of Jumpstreet.”
The next argument was whether the release met the requirements on Texas law for a release. The court pointed out bold and capital letters were used to point out important parts of the release. An assumption of the risk section was separate and distance from the release of liability section, and the release warned people to read the document carefully before signing.
Texas also has an express negligence rule, the requirements of which were also met by the way the release was written.
Further, on page one in the assumption of risk paragraphs, the person signing the Release acknowledges the “potentially hazardous activity,” and the Release lists possible injuries including “but not limited to” sprains, heart attack, and even death. Although paralysis is not specifically named as an injury, it is certainly less than death and thus would be included within the “but not limited to” language. Also, the release of liability paragraph above Quiroz’s signature expressly lists the types of claims and causes of action she is waiving, including “negligence claims, gross negligence claims, personal injury claims, and mental anguish claims.
Next the plaintiff argued that the release covered her and her sixteen-year-old minor son. As such the release should be void because it attempted to cover a minor and releases in Texas do not work for minors.
The court ignored this argument stating it was not the minor who was hurt and suing; it was the plaintiff who was an adult. The court then also added that the other plaintiffs were also covered under the release because all of their claims, loss of parental consortium and loss of consortium are derivative claims. Meaning they only succeed if the plaintiff s claim succeeds.
The final argument was the plaintiff plead negligence and gross negligence in her complaint. A release in Texas, like most other states, was argued by the plaintiff to not be valid.
The appellate court did not see that argument as clearly. First, the Texas Supreme Court had not reviewed that issue. Other appellate courts have held that there is no difference in Texas between a claim for negligence and a claim for gross negligence.
The Texas Supreme Court has not ruled on whether a pre-injury release as to gross negligence is against public policy when there is no assertion that intentional, deliberate, or reckless acts cause injury. Some appellate courts have held that negligence, and gross negligence are not separable claims and a release of liability for negligence also releases a party from liability for gross negligence.
(For other arguments like this see In Nebraska a release can defeat claims for gross negligence for health club injury.)
The court looked at the release which identified negligence and gross negligence as claims that the release would stop.
Quiroz’s Release specifically stated that both negligence and gross negligence claims were waived. The assumption of risk paragraph that lists the specific types of claims/causes of actions that were included in the Release was encased in a box, had all capital lettering, and appeared above the signature line. As noted above, Quiroz received fair notice regarding the claims being waived.
Although not specifically writing in the opinion why the release stopped the gross negligence claims, the court upheld the release for all the plaintiff claims.
…Quiroz’s Release specifically stated that both negligence and gross negligence claims were waived. The assumption of risk paragraph that lists the specific types of claims/causes of actions that were included in the Release was encased in a box, had all capital lettering, and appeared above the signature line. As noted above, Quiroz received fair notice regarding the claims being waived.
The court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.
So Now What?
First this case is a great example of believing that once you have a release you don’t have to do anything else. If the defendant’s release would have been checked every year, someone should have noticed that the named entity to be protected no longer existed.
In this case that fact did not become a major issue, however, in other states the language might not have been broad enough to protect everyone.
Second, this case is also proof that being specific with possible risks of the activities and have an assumption of risk section pays off.
Finally, would I go out and pronounce that Texas allows a release to stop claims for gross negligence. No. Finger’s crossed until the Texas Supreme Court rules on the issue or another appellate court in Texas provides reasoning for its argument, this is thin support for that statement.
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PHILMONT SCOUT RANCH ANNOUNCES CLOSURE FOR 2018 SUMMER SEASON – 7/5/18
After careful consideration of the situation and available options, the difficult but prudent decision has been made that the Philmont backcountry will remain closed for treks and individual programs for the remainder of the 2018 summer season. This means that the following programs scheduled for this summer are canceled: 7- and 12-day treks; and individual backcountry programs, including Rayado, ROCS, Trail Crew, STEM and Ranch Hands.
Refund Checks for all affected crews will be sent to the lead contact advisor on Monday, July 9, 2018. Over the next few days, our staff will be contacting the lead advisor or contingent leader of these crews confirming the refund, offering a trek at Philmont for the 2020 season, and answering any questions. Please wait and allow the Philmont team to contact your crew – your assistance will help make sure that Philmont phone lines remain open. Your cooperation will be most appreciated. While High Adventure opportunities are at capacity at Northern Tier and the Florida Sea Base, there are opportunities at The Summit and they would be happy to accommodate your crew.
This has been a difficult and at the same time inspiring summer at Philmont. For the first time in its history, Philmont is closing its backcountry. As difficult as this situation has been for our Philmont family and for Scouts across our country, we have been truly inspired by the incredible enthusiasm and perseverance shown by our staff, the resourcefulness displayed by displaced crews to find other summer adventures, and the understanding and good wishes from thousands of Scouts and Scouters from around the world. For all of these blessings, we are truly grateful.
Fire danger in northern New Mexico is currently classified as “extreme.”
The fire danger has led to closure of most public lands near Philmont. The Carson National Forest’s nearby Questa and Camino Real Ranger Districts, including the Valle Vidal area that Philmont utilizes, have been closed to public access. The New Mexico Game and Fish Department has similarly closed all of its properties that border Philmont, including the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area on our western border and the Elliott S.
Barker Wildlife Management Area adjacent to our North Country. Links to these closure notices are included at the end of this release.
On Friday, June 29, 2018, the Morris (Moras) Creek fire started south of the Philmont property line on private neighboring property near the Rayado River Canyon. This fire is currently more than 1500 acres and is burning on Philmont property.
Our ranch managers, volunteer leaders, and national staff have monitored the situation since the Ute Park fire began and attempted to plan alternate trek routes and procedures required by Philmont to manage backcountry emergencies. Because of the Morris (Moras) Creek fire, these alternate trek routes have now been eliminated. The safety of our youth participants, volunteers and staff is the priority at Philmont Scout Ranch and for the Boy Scouts of America.
This decision applies only to Philmont’s backcountry programs. Philmont’s Camping Headquarters and Base Camp area, the Philmont Training Center, the new National Scouting Museum, the Chase Ranch, and the Kit Carson Museum at Rayado will remain open all summer. Training courses at the Philmont Training Center and the National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience
(NAYLE) will proceed as scheduled. This decision does not affect Philmont’s fall programs, including Autumn Adventure and fall PTC training conferences.
The Philmont ranger motto is “scramble – be flexible.” That’s what we at Philmont have been doing all summer as we deal with these unexpected and unfortunate circumstances. Our terrific summer staff has embraced challenges that they didn’t anticipate when they signed on. They expected to be delivering awesome backcountry programs and inspiring high adventure experiences to thousands of Scouts and Scouters. Instead, they have enthusiastically taken on difficult and physically taxing timber stand improvement projects, backcountry fire abatement work, community service projects, and staff jobs at other camps. They are making sure we will be ready to re-open next year! Their willingness to roll up their sleeves, pitch in and meet the challenges we have faced reflects the very best on Scouting and our nation’s youth. They have our sincere thanks!
Our National BSA leadership has been working with airlines to assist crews with refunds, changes, and credits. Please refer to the following contacts for support.