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Sanctioning body said you must do XYZ, which creates a standard of care you will be judged by
Plaintiff: Arthur Mcdonough and Linda Mcdonough, in their own right and as Parents of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, deceased
Defendant: National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), U.S. Cycling Fed., and Delaware Trail Spinners
Plaintiff Claims: negligence
Defendant Defenses: release
Holding: for the plaintiff, sent back for trial
In this case the deceased was racing in an Off Road [Mountain] Bike Race when he died of dehydration. The lawsuit was started by his parents against the organizations that sanctioned the race, NORBA, the race, and the race course owner. The suit alleged failure of the standards created by the sanctioning organization even though race had agreed to follow the standards.
The decedent died racing in a mountain bike race after being discovered along the race course unconscious. This was the deceased second NORBA race. There were no water or aid stations along the course. However the riders had access to their own water bottles on their bikes.
The plaintiffs argued there was no way for a beginner to access their water bottle on the course because it was so difficult unless they stopped riding. The only water available was what the participants brought with them. No physician, ambulance or emergency medical personnel at the race.
As a sanctioned race, NORBA provided defendant Delaware Trail Spinners the race organizer, with a “Pre-Event Planning Checklist.” In order to host the event the defendant Trail Spinners had to go through the checklist and agree to abide or provide the items on the checklist. The race director for Trail Spinners specifically stated that “there would be an ambulance on site and adequate water or fluids for participants and spectators before, during, and after the race.” NORBA also sends an official who according to the checklist will confirm issues and sign off on the checklist. In this case the NORBA representative did not sign off on the checklist.
To be able to race participants had to sign a one day membership to NORBA and sign a release. The court pointed out that no one explained the release to the participants. The back of the trial membership form said that everyone had to carry 8 ounces of water and that if the race exceeded sixty minutes NORBA would provide water to the race participants.
Before the race began one of the Trail Spinners race organizers, spoke to the 80 to 100 race participants. He told them without a bullhorn or PA system that there was no ambulance on site, but that one could be called if needed. He also told the contestants to be “”careful, . . . take their time” and not to “ride over your head, which means going beyond your ability.” McGroerty also told them to “watch their bodies, make sure they didn’t push themselves too hard because it was hot out.” Finally, he told them that “if they felt dizzy or nauseous, to back off, stay cool and keep from going too hard.”
The deceased was found after a search in an unconscious state off the trail. The friend called 911 from his cell phone and went and got assistance back at the race headquarters. When he arrived back with two people to help him they started CPR. The deceased bike still had a water bottle with water in it. The deceased died of heat stroke fifteen days later.
Summary of the case
Delaware law, the state where the race was held, was the law applied to this case. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release and the defense of primary assumption of the risk. Delaware merged secondary assumption of risk with comparative negligence, however Primary or express (written) assumption of risk is still a defense. The court defined the differences as:
Primary assumption, sometimes referred to as express assumption of risk, “involves the express consent to relieve the defendant of any obligation of care while secondary assumption [of risk] consists of voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk which is out of proportion to the advantage gained.”
The court quickly concluded that the summary judgment granted by the lower court should be overturned. The court felt that
…genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race.
The court reviewed the record of the case pointing out every place where the requirements set forth by the sanctioning body, NOBA were not met by the race. (Whether those issues would have made a difference was never discussed.)
The court then shifted and wrote that because it could be argued that the deceased did not understand the release was a waiver of the risks that it was a material fact, which voided the release.
In the present case, plaintiffs assert that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race. The court agrees.
The court arrived at this decision by stating the law and then interpreting it differently than all other courts had interpreted the law.
However, for the release to be effective, it must appear that the plaintiff understood the terms of the agreement, or that a reasonable person in his position would have understood the terms.
Thus, the understanding of the parties when the release was executed, in light of all the facts and circumstances, is paramount in determining whether the language is clear and unambiguous.
If you don’t understand what you are signing, then the release was not clear and unambiguous. I know of no other case that has argued that before.
So Now What?
The obvious issue here was the written documentation that required water and first aid and the documentation given to the deceased that stated water would be available where not available. Every race, camp, organization needs to develop a checklist or risk management plan so they can operate. However, as in this case, failing to follow any checklist was enough to lose the defenses of Primary Assumption of the Risk and Release and send your case to trial.
ØIf it is written down and you agree to it, you must follow it.
ØIf it is written down by an organization that you belong to or are sanctioned by, then you must agree to it.
ØIf an organization that you belong to writes a standard, then you must meet the standard!
The court then looked at these facts and was not happy. It then applied the facts in such a way that the court could find the release invalid and send it back for trial.
To see other cases where the defendant lost because they violated their trade associations standard of care see:
ACA Standards are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp http://rec-law.us/zmKgoi
Expert Witness Report: ACA “Standards” are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp http://rec-law.us/y7QlJ3
Marketing Makes Promises that Risk Management (or in this case an insurance policy) must pay for. http://rec-law.us/14MebM4
Plaintiff uses standards of ACCT to cost defendant $4.7 millionhttp://rec-law.us/11UdbEn
Trade Association Standards sink a Summer Camp when plaintiff uses them to prove Camp was negligent http://rec-law.us/wszt7N
To Read other articles about standards see:
Can a Standard Impeded Inventions? http://rec-law.us/yOcca2
Playgrounds will be flat soon http://rec-law.us/zGC4DZ
Staying Current http://rec-law.us/ArdsVk
Stop Feuding, I doubt, move forward anyway, I think you can. http://rec-law.us/P763zu
This is how a standard in the industry changes http://rec-law.us/w76X3K
Words: You cannot change a legal definition http://rec-law.us/AbJ540
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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McDonough v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036 (Dist. Del 1997)
Arthur Mcdonough and Linda Mcdonough, in their own right and as Parents of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, deceased, and Arthur Mcdonough in his own right and as Administrator of the Estate of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, Plaintiffs, v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), U.S. Cycling Fed., and Delaware Trail Spinners, Defendants.
C.A. No. 95-504-SLR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036
June 2, 1997, Decided
NOTICE: [*1] FOR ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION ONLY
DISPOSITION: Defendants’ motion for summary judgment denied.
COUNSEL: For plaintiffs: Donald Eilhu Evans, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware. Of Counsel: Edwin F. McCoy, Esquire., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
For defendants: Mason E. Turner, Esquire, of Prickett, Jones, Elliott, Kristol & Schnee, Wilmington, Delaware.
JUDGES: Sue L. Robinson, District Judge
OPINION BY: Sue L. Robinson
Date: June 2, 1997
ROBINSON, District Judge
This case is a wrongful death/survival action filed as a result of Bradley McDonough’s (“McDonough”) death on August 30, 1993. Plaintiffs are Arthur and Linda McDonough, the parents of the decedent (collectively referred to as “plaintiffs”). Defendants are The National Off-Road Bicycle Association (“NORBA”), United States Cycling Federation (“Federation”), and the Delaware Trail Spinners (“Trail Spinners”). The court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Presently before the court is defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 66) For the following reasons, defendants’ motion for summary judgment shall be denied.
[*2] In the summer of 1993, Bradley McDonough developed an interest in off-road bicycle competition. In the spring or early summer of 1993, McDonough acquired an off-road bike (also known as a mountain bike) and rode with his college friends, Randall Blaker (“Blaker”), Michael Odenwald (“Odenwald”), and Kenny Steidle (“Steidle”). (D.I. 71 at A51-A52) On August 8, 1993, McDonough, Blaker, Odenwald and Steidle participated in a NORBA sanctioned event in Windham, New York (“Windham race”). (D.I. 71 at A51) In all NORBA events, participants are required to obtain a permanent membership or a one-day trial membership. The application for the one-day membership contains a section entitled “Agreement and Release of Liability” (“release”). (D.I. 68 at A3)
On the day of the Windham race, McDonough, along with his friends, paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 71 at A 54-55; D.I. 68 at A5) In signing the release, Blaker stated that he did not really read it, but simply skimmed through it. (D.I. 71 at A54) Blaker stated that he assumed it was a release “to some degree and we understood that we were involved in a sport.” (D.I. 71 at A54-A55)
The Windham race course was [*3] basically a two lap course. (D.I. 71 at A56) McDonough and Steidle quit after one lap because they were tired. (D.I. 71 at A56) Blaker, who was behind McDonough and Steidle, also stopped after the first lap since his friends had stopped. (D.I. 71 at A56) Odenwald did not complete the race either, because his bicycle broke. (D.I. 71 at A56) All four friends had water bottles on their bikes during the race. (D.I. 71 at A54)
On August 15, 1993, McDonough and Blaker participated in another NORBA sanctioned event in Delaware, called the C & D Canal Classic (“C & D race”). (D.I. 84 at A109) The C & D race consisted of three race levels: (1) Beginners’; (2) Sport; and (3) Pro/Expert. (D.I. 71 at A22) McDonough and Blaker both entered the Beginners’ level. (D.I. 71 at A23 and A59) The Beginners’ course was a 14 mile course “over the local terrain which included steep and gradual hills, open gravel and dirt roads, and wooded trails.” (D.I. 71 at A23) The Sport and Pro/Expert courses also used the same 14 miles designated for the Beginners’ course. (D.I. 71 at A38)
The Beginners’ course was difficult because of its layout. (D.I. 71 at A38) The terrain on the Beginners’ course made it difficult [*4] for riders to access their own water without stopping. (D.I. 71 at A38) Some areas on the course were smoothed out so that riders could stop or ride slowly and access their water bottles. (D.I. 71 at 38) The course, however, did not have any neutral area where water was given out to the race contestants. (D.I. 71 at A38) The only water the race contestants could drink was the water that they brought themselves. (D.I. 71 at A38) No physician was present at the race. (D.I. 71 at A24) There was neither an ambulance nor emergency medical personnel present at the race site. (D.I. 71 at A23) Denise Dowd (“Dowd”), another participant in the Beginners’ level, stated that the course was “difficult due to the heat and humidity and layout.” (D.I. 71 at A87) Although Dowd is an avid biker and had participated in approximately 20 mountain bike races, it took her over an hour and fifteen minutes to complete the course. (D.I. 71 at A87)
Defendant Trail Spinners, a NORBA club member, received sanctioning from NORBA to promote the C & D race. In order to receive sanctioning, defendant Trail Spinners had to complete a “Pre-Event Planning Checklist” (“Checklist”) provided by NORBA. (D.I. 84 at A109-A110) [*5] The Checklist contains several questions relating to the safety precautions taken for the event. Trail Spinners, through its race director William Bowen (“Bowen”), represented on the Checklist that there would be, inter alia, emergency medical assistance on site and adequate water for the participants and spectators. (D.I. 84 at A110) Bowen specifically represented that there would be an ambulance on site and adequate water or fluids for participants and spectators before, during, and after the race. (D.I. 84 at A110) The Checklist also provided that: “A NORBA Official must be present at your event. The NORBA Official will complete their portion of the checklist before allowing the event to proceed.” (D.I. 84 at A109) The Checklist identifies Elizabeth Small (“Small”) as the NORBA Official. Small, however, did not complete her portion of the Checklist and did not sign it. (D.I. 84 at A110)
When McDonough arrived at the race site, he again paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 68 at A7) Blaker also paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 71 at A59) No one at the race site explained the documents to the race participants. (D.I. [*6] 71 at A41) The release provides in part:
I acknowledge that cycling is an inherently dangerous sport in which I participate at my own risk and that NORBA is a non-profit corporation formed to advance the sport of cycling, the efforts of which directly benefit me. In consideration of the agreement with NORBA to issue an amateur license to me, hereby on behalf of myself, my heirs, assigns and personal representatives, I release and forever discharge NORBA and the United States Cycling Federation, its employees, agents, members, sponsors, promoters, and affiliates from any and all liability, claim, loss, cost or expense, and waive any such claims against any such person or organization, arising directly or indirectly from or attributable in any legal way to any action or omission to act of any such person or organization in connection with sponsorship, organization or execution of any bicycle racing or sporting event, in which I may participate as a rider, team member or spectator.
(D.I. 68 at A5) On the back of the trial membership and release certain “Racing Regulations” are set forth. (D.I. 68 at A8). At section 4.6, NORBA recommends that each participant carry “at least [*7] 8 ounces of water.” (D.I. 68 at A8) Section 5.6 provides that neutral water will be provided for any race that exceeds 60 minutes in length. (D.I. 68 at A8)
According to James McGroerty (“McGroerty”), the President, Officer, and Co-Founder of Trail Spinners, it is commonly understood by those who participate in races that they are required to sign the release. (D.I. 71 at A45) McGroerty stated that: “Most of [his] friends who are avid racers look at the form as you are signing this paper basically saying yes, I am doing this race at my own risk on the course. If I get hurt, it’s my own fault. It’s basically the way we look at it when we sign these forms and compete in an event.” (D.I. 71 at A45) Dowd, who also signed the release that day, stated that she understood that the release was intended to protect the defendants from liability. (D.I. 71 at A89) Dowd, however, did not believe that the release was intended to relieve the defendants from providing “common sense safety precautions, particularly on site trained medical personnel with an ambulance.” (D.I. 71 at A89) Dowd stated that she would not have signed the release if she had known there was no medical assistance immediately [*8] available. (D.I. 71 at A89)
Before the start of the race, McGroerty addressed the race contestants from the hood of his car. (D.I. 71 at A38 and A42) He addressed the participants without a bullhorn. (D.I. 71 at A37) There were approximately 80 to 100 total participants in the group that raced with McDonough and Blaker. (D.I. 71 at A37 and A62) McGroerty told the race contestants that there was no ambulance on site, but that one could be called. (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty did not specifically warn the participants about heat exhaustion. (D.I. 71 at A42) Instead, McGroerty told the contestants to be “careful, . . . take their time” and not to “ride over your head, which means going beyond your ability.” (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty also told them to “watch their bodies, make sure they didn’t push themselves too hard because it was hot out.” (D.I. 71 at A42) Finally, he told them that “if they felt dizzy or nauseous, to back off, stay cool and keep from going too hard.” (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty did not get any questions after he addressed the participants. (D.I. 71 at A37) McGroerty testified that he does not have Red Cross, CPR or EMT certification of any kind. (D.I. 71 at A43) He [*9] also does not know the signs of exertional heat stroke. (D.I. 71 at A43)
At approximately 9:00 a.m., McDonough and Blaker left the starting line with other contestants. (D.I. 71 at A23 and A62) Both McDonough and Blaker had brought water bottles with them. (D.I. 71 at A61) The temperature on that day was “extremely hot  with high humidity.” (D.I. 71 at A85) Although McDonough and Blaker began the race together, they were separated because Blaker had a flat tire. (D.I. 71 at A63) After Blaker changed his flat tire, he continued in the race and eventually completed the course. (D.I. 71 at A64) McDonough, however, did not. (D.I. 71 at A64)
McGroerty found McDonough when he went to investigate whether some participants had accidently or deliberately missed the course markings. (D.I. 71 at A44) McGroerty first saw McDonough’s bike. As he approached the bike, he saw McDonough who was about five or six feet from his bike. (D.I. 71 at A44) According to McGroerty, other participants would not have seen McDonough since he was off to the side of the course, but could have seen his bike. (D.I. 71 at A44)
When McGroerty found McDonough, he was on the ground lying on his side and his breathing [*10] was heavy and labored. (D.I. 71 at A44) McDonough appeared to have trouble breathing and was not responsive. (D.I. 71 at A44) According to McGroerty, McDonough appeared to be unconscious. (D.I. 71 at A44) Based on these observations, McGroerty called 911 from his cellular phone. (D.I. 71 at A44) After calling 911, McGroerty went to the start/finish area and sought assistance. (D.I. 71 at A42 and A87) He led two people back to where McDonough was found and they administered CPR until an ambulance arrived. (D.I. 71 at A42 and A87-A88) According to Dowd, one of the two people who administered CPR, no one gave McDonough any water before the ambulance arrived because no water was provided. (D.I. 71 at A88) Blaker, however, testified that when McDonough’s bike was brought back from where McDonough had been found, it still had a water bottle attached to it that was half full. (D.I. 71 at A65)
Dowd stated that the race was “generally disorganized” and that there was a lot of confusion. (D.I. 71 at A86) According to Dowd, the race was delayed for 30 minutes and no maps of the course were given to the participants or posted. (D.I. 71 at A87-A88) Small, the NORBA official on duty at the race, [*11] reported to NORBA that the “race director [Bowen] was ‘light’ in the emergency medical area.” (D.I. 84 at A110) Small also reported that no course maps were available, but that the course was adequately marked. (D.I. 84 at A110) Overall, Small stated that mistakes were made since no water was provided, no emergency medical personnel were on site, and the course was too long. (D.I. 84 at A114)
Dowd stated that it took her about 5 minutes to reach McDonough and that the ambulance arrived 10 to 15 minutes after she began administering CPR. (D.I. 71 at A88) When the ambulance arrived, McDonough was treated by paramedics and helicoptered to the Medical Center of Delaware in Christiana, Delaware. (D.I. 71 at A23) Although hospitalized, McDonough died of heat stroke on August 30, 1993. (D.I. 70 at 1)
1. Summary Judgment Standard
[HN1] Summary judgment should be granted only if a court concludes that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). [HN2] The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact is in dispute. Matsushita Elec. Indus. [*12] Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its initial burden, the nonmoving party “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 587. “Facts that could alter the outcome are ‘material,’ and disputes are ‘genuine’ if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct.” Horowitz v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 n.1 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury reasonably to find for the nonmoving party on that factual issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, [*13] Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). This court, however, must “view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Pennsylvania Coal Ass’n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
2. Express or Primary Assumption of Risk
[HN3] Since Delaware adopted a comparative negligence statute, 1 it has become necessary to distinguish between primary and secondary assumption of the risk. Koutoufaris v. Dick, 604 A.2d 390, 397 (Del. 1992); cf. Bib v. Merlonghi, 252 A.2d 548, 550 (Del. 1969) Primary assumption, sometimes referred to as express assumption of risk, “involves the express consent to relieve the defendant of any obligation of care while secondary assumption [of risk] consists of voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk which is out of proportion to the advantage gained.” Koutoufaris, 604 A.2d at 397-398. With the adoption of the comparative negligence statute in Delaware, secondary assumption of risk became “totally subsumed within comparative negligence.” Id. at 398. Primary assumption of risk, however, still exists as [*14] a complete bar to recovery. See id. (stating that primary assumption of risk “might well constitute a complete bar to recover, as a matter of law, even in a comparative negligence jurisdiction”) (citation omitted); see also Patton v. Simone, 626 A.2d 844, 852 (Del. Super. Ct. 1992); see also Staats v. Lawrence, 576 A.2d 663, 668 (Del. Super. Ct. 1990).
1 In 1984, Delaware adopted a modified comparative negligence statute, which allows a jury to apportion liability where both parties are negligent only if the plaintiff’s negligence is less than fifty percent. 10 Del. C. § 8132 (1984).
Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ action is barred, as a matter of law, because McDonough expressly assumed the risks inherent in an off-road bicycle race when he signed the release. Defendants contend that the release, in plain and unambiguous language, is intended to protect defendants from all liability arising out of any hazards encountered in an off-road bike race. (D.I. 78 at 9) Defendants assert that McDonough, [*15] as a college graduate and former participant in a NORBA event, must have had an understanding of the these inherent dangers when he signed the release. As further support, defendants note that McDonough signed an identical Agreement and Release just one week prior to the C & D race. Based on these facts, defendants assert that summary judgment is appropriate.
In considering the facts and making all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs’ favor, the court finds to the contrary. [HN4] A release will not be set aside if the language is clear and unambiguous. Hallman v. Dover Downs, Inc., 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15708, Civ. A. No. 85-618 CMW, 1986 WL 535 at *2 (D. Del., Dec. 31, 1986) (citing Chakov v. Outboard Marine Corp., 429 A.2d 984, 985 (Del. 1981); see Bennett v. United States Cycling Federation, 193 Cal. App. 3d 1485, 239 Cal. Rptr. 55, 58 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987). [HN5] Where the language of a release is ambiguous, it must be construed strongly against the party who drafted it. Hallman, 1986 WL 535 at *2; Bennett, 239 Cal. Rptr. at 58. [HN6] In an express agreement to assume a risk, a plaintiff may undertake to assume all risks of a particular relation or situation, whether they are known or unknown to him. [*16] Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496D, cmt. a, (1965). However, for the release to be effective, it must appear that the plaintiff understood the terms of the agreement, or that a reasonable person in his position would have understood the terms. Bennett, 239 Cal. Rptr. at 58. As the Bennett court stated, “there is little doubt that a subscriber of a bicycle release . . . must be held to have waived any hazards relating to bicycle racing that are obvious or that might reasonably have been foreseen.” Id. These hazards include “collisions with other riders, negligently maintained equipment, bicycles which were unfit for racing but nevertheless passed by organizers, [and] bad road surfaces . . . .” Id. Thus, the understanding of the parties when the release was executed, in light of all the facts and circumstances, is paramount in determining whether the language is clear and unambiguous. Hallman, 1986 WL 535 at *2. The evidence must establish that the parties intended the release to apply to the particular conduct of the defendant which has caused the harm. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496B, cmt. d, (1965).
In the present case, plaintiffs assert that [*17] a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race. The court agrees.
For the reasons stated above, the court shall deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment. An order will issue consistent with this memorandum opinion.
Records help prove even if your release is weak, the plaintiff really understood the risks.
Plaintiff: Eric Walton
Defendant: Oz Bicycle Club
Plaintiff Claims: negligence
Defendant Defenses: (1) that the release signed by Walton bars the present action; (2) that Walton assumed the risk of the injuries received; and (3) that Oz assumed no duty of due care towards Walton
Holding: for the defendant
In Walton v. Oz Bicycle Club of Wichita, the federal district court upheld a release used in a bicycle race. The race was held in Wichita Kansas, by the Oz Bicycle Club of Wichita. The plaintiff was rounding a corner in the lead on an open race course when he swerved to miss a car and crashed. An open bicycle race course means cars are on the roadway. An open course is not closed to traffic or pedestrians. A closed course, all cars have been prohibited on the course.
The defendant bicycle club filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the court. The plaintiff when he signed up for the race was handed a release which he signed. The plaintiff had raced twenty to thirty times before and signed releases each time. He did not read this release but had read others and knew what he was signing. Prior to the start of the race the plaintiff had been informed that the course was not closed. The plaintiff encountered traffic on the race course at least twice prior to his crash.
The plaintiff was an employee of a bicycle manufacturing company which was also a sponsor of the race.
Summary of the case
The court first reviewed the issue of whether Assumption of Risk was a defense at this time in Kansas. The court concluded it probably not because the Kansas Supreme Court had not handed down a decision that was specific in stating assumption of risk was a defense in Kansas.
The court quoted the heading and four paragraphs of the release in its decision. The heading of the release read: “NOTICE: THIS ENTRY BLANK AND RELEASE FORM IS A CONTRACT WITH LEGAL CONSEQUENCES. READ IT CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING.”
The plaintiff argued that releases were not favored under Kansas law; however, the plaintiff never showed how the release at issue, was void under Kansas law.
The court in one paragraph summed up the requirements for the release to be valid under Kansas law:
Although exculpatory agreements have an inherent potential for abuse and overreaching, and hence are subjected to close scrutiny by the courts, these agreements have a vital role to play in allowing the individual to participate in activities of his own choice. If the individual has entered into an exculpatory clause freely and knowingly, and the application of the clause violates no aspect of fundamental public policy, the individual’s free choice must be respected. Here, public policy supports, rather than detracts from, the application of the exculpatory clause. “Unless courts are willing to dismiss such actions without trial, many popular and lawful recreational activities are destined for extinction.”
The court looked at the release and found it to be valid. The release lacked the word negligence; however, it spoke to “rights and claims” for “any and all damages” sustained by participating in the event. The court concentrated on the fact the plaintiff had signed more than 20 other releases, participated in more than 20 races and had crashed in at least two races. This is another situation where the facts and knowledge of the plaintiff helped seal the release in the mind of the court.
So Now What?
It was obvious that the defendant’s ability to show the court 20-30 other releases for bicycle racing signed by the plaintiff was instrumental in proving the arguments of the plaintiff did not matter. You need to hold on to releases, you never know when one many years old maybe valuable in proving your case.
That does not require that you hold onto each paper copy of a release. Electronic copies are equally valid. Invest in a scanner and take all of your old releases and scan them. You can organize them by date or race or activity. You do not need to identify each release at the time. You cans scan them in a way that they are searchable later, and if you ever need to find one, you can.
Also instrumental was the fact the plaintiff was informed at the beginning of the race that the course was open, going to have cars on the course. Add to that the defendant could prove the plaintiff had avoided cars on the course during the race and had raced on open courses in the past. I would suggest putting important information such as the course being open into the release, so you can prove you gave the rider the information. Having that information in the release, should not, however, remove the responsibility to tell the people about the open course also.
While working at a ski area, we threw in the weather report and an area map into all big accident files. We never knew if any accident would lead to a suit, however, why worry about it. Make sure the file has everything you need, every back reference or proof needed when you build the file so you don’t have to search for it. We had a lot of stored weather reports and ski area maps, but if one was needed in a lawsuit, they were easy to find.
We also included all of the skiing history we had on the injured guest. Any logs from his skiing that year, each time his pass had been scanned if the injured guest had a season pass. Prior season pass or skiing history if we had it. Proof that the injured guest knew how to ski and assumed the risk or proof that the injured guest had signed numerous releases.
That ability to find information, electronically or on paper, saved the day in this bicycle race case.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Walton v. Oz Bicycle Club Of Wichita, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17655 (Dist Kan 1991)
Eric Walton, Plaintiff, vs. Oz Bicycle Club Of Wichita, Defendant.
United States District Court For The District Of Kansas
1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17655
November 21, 1991, Decided
November 22, 1991, Filed
COUNSEL: PLAINTIFF COUNSEL: David P. Calvert, Focht, Hughey, Hund & Calvert, 807 North Waco, Suite 300, Wichita, KS 67203
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Don D. Gribble, II, Donald N. Peterson, II, Kahrs, Nelson, Fanning, Hite & Kellogg, 200 West Douglas, Suite 630, Wichita, KS 67202
OPINION BY: PATRICK F. KELLY
OPINION: Nearing the end of the sixth lap of the seven-lap bicycle race held in Hutchinson, Kansas on August 12, 1989, Eric Walton began to pull into the lead. Closely pursued by two other racers, Walton approached the intersection of Crazy Horse and Snokomo Streets. The course of the race required the racers traveling east on Crazy Horse to make a left turn at the intersection onto Snokomo.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Leaning into the turn at about 30 miles per hour, Walton cut the northwest corner of the intersection about two feet from the curb. Flying past the corner, Walton was able to see for the first time the car stopped at the stop sign at the intersection and which had been hidden by the crowd of spectators lining Crazy Horse. Walton turned to the right to avoid the car. His bike went off the roadway, striking the open door of the van owned by the race’s referee, Gaylen Medders. As a result of this accident, Walton sustained injuries which have formed the basis for the present action.
The defendant, Oz Bicycle Club of Wichita, Kansas, has moved for summary judgment on the claims advanced by Walton. Oz presents three arguments in support of its motion: (1) that the release signed by Walton bars the present action; (2) that Walton assumed the risk of the injuries received; and (3) that Oz assumed no duty of due care towards Walton.
[HN1] Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). [HN2] In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine all evidence in a light most favorable to the opposing party. McKenzie v. Mercy Hospital, 854 F.2d 365, 367 (10th Cir. 1988). [HN3] The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate its entitlement to summary judgment beyond a reasonable doubt. Ellis v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., 754 F.2d 884, 885 (10th Cir. 1985). The moving party need not disprove plaintiff’s claim; it need only establish that the factual allegations have no legal significance. Dayton Hudson Corp. v. Macerich Real Estate Co., 812 F.2d 1319, 1323 (10th Cir. 1987).
[HN4] In resisting a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials contained in its pleadings or briefs. Rather, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing the presence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial and significant probative evidence supporting the allegation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the party opposing summary judgment must do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. “In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis in Matsushita). [HN5] One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and the rule should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).
Walton was an employee of the Continental Cyclery Company in Hutchinson, Kansas, and participated in the race as a member of the Continental Cyclery team. An experienced racer, Walton had participated in 20 to 30 prior races, and had experienced two prior accidents while racing.
The August 12 race in Hutchinson was sponsored by Continental Cyclery, as well as a local pizzeria and mortuary. The race was conducted under the auspices of defendant Oz Bicycle Club of Wichita, which conducts periodic bicycle races as a part of its “Toto Racing Series.” For the August 12 race, local sponsors arranged for standby emergency medical and law enforcement services, planned the course of the race, and arranged for corner marshals along the route. Medders, the chairman of Oz, took participant applications, and served as the official and timer of the race.
Entrants in the race paid an $ 8.00 fee to Oz. In addition, entrants were required to sign a release. This release provides in part:
NOTICE: THIS ENTRY BLANK AND RELEASE FORM IS A CONTRACT WITH LEGAL CONSEQUENCES. READ IT CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING.
In consideration of the acceptance of my application for entry in the above event, I hereby freely agree to and make the following contractural [sic] representations and agreements.
I fully realize the dangers of participating in a bicycle race and fully assume the risks associated with such participation including, by way of example, and not limitation, the following: the dangers of collision with pedestrians, vehicles, other racers, and fixed or moving objects; the dangers arising from surface hazards, equipment failure, inadequate safety equipment, and weather conditions; and the possibility of serious physical and/or mental trauma or injury associated with athletic cycling competition.
I hereby waive, release and discharge for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators, legal representatives, assigns, and successors in interest (hereinafter collectively “successors”) any and all rights and claims which I have or which may hereafter accrue to me against the sponsors of this event, the Oz Bicycle Club, the promoter and any promoting organization(s), property owners, law enforcement agencies, all public entities, special districts, and properties (and their respective agents, officials, and employees) through or by which the events will be held for any and all damages which may be sustained by me directly or indirectly in connection with, or arising out of, my participation in or association with the event, or travel to or return from the event.
Similar releases were contained in the registration forms for each of the 20 to 30 prior races in which Walton had participated. Walton was given an opportunity to read the release. Having read similar forms on prior occasions, Walton did not read this release. Walton was aware of what was in the release and understood its terms.
Walton’s participation in the race was not required. However, Walton voluntarily wished to enter the race and knew that signing the release was a requirement for participation. Walton recognized the dangers of participating in a bike race. Walton signed the release.
Prior to the start of the race, Medders had warned the participants that the course of the race was not closed to traffic, and during the course of the race Walton had encountered other cars on the course. However, as he cut the corner at the end of the sixth lap, Walton had not thought of the possibility of a car, hidden by the crowd, laying in his path on the other side of the intersection.
The status of the doctrine of assumption of risk is not clear under present Kansas law. In Shufelberger v. Worden, 189 Kan. 379, 385, 369 P.2d 382 (1962), the court indicated that the doctrine of assumption of risk was generally limited to situations involving an “employment relationship or [a] contractual relationship, express or implied.” By a process of slow osmosis, the Kansas Supreme Court has held most recently that the doctrine of assumption of risk is “limited to cases such as this where a master-servant relationship is involved.” Borth v. Borth, 221 Kan. 494, 499, 561 P.2d 408 (1977). To what extent this evolution, reflected in Smith v. Blakey, 213 Kan. 91, 101, 515 P.2d 1062 (1973); Ballhorst v. Hahner-Forman-Cale, Inc., 207 Kan. 89, 484 P.2d 38 (1971); Perry v. Schmitt, 184 Kan. 758, 339 P.2d 36 (1959); George v. Beggs, 1 Kan.App.2d 356 Syl para. 1, 564 P.2d 593 (1977), is the result of an intentional, conscious modification of the law is uncertain. At no time have the state courts considered the impact of the adoption of comparative fault in relation to the continued validity of the doctrine of assumption of risk. But it is unnecessary to resolve the issue of assumption of risk here, since the court finds that the release signed by Walton is a valid exculpatory agreement which bars the present action.
In his brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Walton presents several arguments in opposition to the application of the release agreement. Walton contends that the agreement reflects “overreaching” by the defendant, and cites the long list of persons protected by the agreement, including property owners in the area, law enforcement officers, and all public entities. This argument might be considered if the defendant were such a party, unconnected with either the race or the release agreement. Here, however, Oz is the bicycle club which helped to organize the race, took the applications of participants, and required the release agreements to be signed by those participants. In inserted, typed language, the agreement specifically lists “Oz Bicycle Club” as one of the parties protected by the release agreement.
Citing several Kansas cases, Walton contends that the law does not favor exculpatory agreements. This is certainly correct. But the cases cited by Walton merely establish that such agreements are disfavored and therefore are to be strictly construed. They do not establish that exculpatory agreements are inherently void as contrary to law. Mid-America Sprayers, Inc., v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 8 Kan.App.2d 451, 660 P.2d 1380 (1979).
It is correct, as Walton notes, that exculpatory agreements are void where they are contrary to established public interests. Hunter v. American Rentals, 189 Kan. 615, 371 P.2d 131 (1962); In re Estate of Shirk, 186 Kan. 311, 350 P.2d 1 (1960). Yet, despite this suggestion, Walton does not attempt to explain how bicycle racing affects important and established public interests.
The position advanced by Walton has been expressly rejected elsewhere. [HN6] Voluntary sporting competitions are not matters of important public interest, as that term is used in considering which matters may not be the subject of exculpatory agreements. “There is no compelling public interest in facilitating sponsorship and organization of the leisure activity of bicycle racing for public participation.” Okura v. United States Cycling Fed., 186 Cal.App.3d 1462, 231 Cal. Rptr. 429 (1986). See also Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis.2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991) (water skiing); Barnes v. Birmingham Intern. Raceway, Inc., 551 So.2d 929 (Ala. 1989) (automobile racing); Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063 (Wyo. 1988) (downhill skiing); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704 (Wyo. 1987) (mock gunfight conducted by gun club); McAtee v. Newhall Land & Farming, 169 Cal.App.3d 1031, 216 Cal.Rptr. 465 (1985) (motorcross racing); Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center, 168 Cal.App.3d 333, 214 Cal.Rptr. 194 (1985) (sky diving); Williams v. Cox Enternrises, Inc., 159 Ga.App. 333, 283 S.E.2d 367 (1981) (10,000 meter foot race). Even the fact that a participant considers the sport to be more than a “hobby” and hopes to someday participate at an Olympic level, will not raise the matter to a compelling public interest. Buchan v. U.S. Cycling Fed., 227 Cal. App.3d 134, 277 Cal. Rptr. 887 (1991).
Walton also argues that the danger herein — an automobile on the course of the race — was not a hazard normally associated with bicycle competitions, and cites the decision of the California Court of Appeals in Bennett v. United States Cycling Fed., 193 Cal.App.3d 1485, 239 Cal. Rptr. 55 (1987), in which the court found that an automobile’s presence on the course of the raceway was found to be a risk not normally associated with bicycle racing, and therefore not within the contemplation of an exculpatory agreement signed by the plaintiff. Unlike Bennett, where the bicycle race involved a “closed race” in which automobiles were not to be permitted on the raceway, the uncontradicted facts herein establish that the presence of automobiles on the course of the Toto race in Hutchinson was not unknown to the participants. Rather, the fact that the course was open to normal traffic was explicitly made known to the participants. Under the factual background of the case, there is no basis for the contention that the plaintiff could not or should not have anticipated the presence of automobiles on the raceway as a danger reflected in the release agreement.
[HN7] Although exculpatory agreements have an inherent potential for abuse and overreaching, and hence are subjected to close scrutiny by the courts, these agreements have a vital role to play in allowing the individual to participate in activities of his own choice. If the individual has entered into an exculpatory clause freely and knowingly, and the application of the clause violates no aspect of fundamental public policy, the individual’s free choice must be respected. Here, public policy supports, rather than detracts from, the application of the exculpatory clause. “Unless courts are willing to dismiss such actions without trial, many popular and lawful recreational activities are destined for extinction.” Buchan, 227 Cal.App.3d at 147.
IT IS ACCORDINGLY ORDERED this 21 day of November, 1991, that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 35) is hereby granted.
PATRICK F. KELLY, JUDGE