Grosch v. Anderson, 2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529Posted: October 29, 2019 Filed under: Activity / Sport / Recreation, Assumption of the Risk, Illinois, Legal Case, Minors, Youth, Children | Tags: adults, appreciate, argues, Assumption of risk, bonfire, Carey-Grove Evangelical Free Church, church, circumstances, conditions, consequences, darkness, deliberate-encounter, distraction, evening, factors, factual issue, Fire Pole, gloves, grip, height, inside, ladder, Living Grace Community Church of Cary, material fact, no evidence, Open and Obvious, Open and Obvious Doctrine, Platform, pole, reasonably foreseeable, Slide, Summary judgment, summary judgment motion, Tree Platform, Trial court, younger child, youths Leave a comment
Grosch v. Anderson, 2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529
Grosch v. Anderson
Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District
September 12, 2018, Order Filed
2018 IL App (2d) 170707-U *; 2018 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1529 **
TRACEY GROSCH, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Riley Grosch, a Minor, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant-Appellant, v. BRIAN ANDERSON, JO ANDERSON, CARY-GROVE EVANGELICAL FREE CHURCH, d/b/a Living Grace Community Church of Cary, Defendants and Counterplaintiffs-Appellees.
Notice: THIS ORDER WAS FILED UNDER SUPREME COURT RULE 23 AND MAY NOT BE CITED AS PRECEDENT BY ANY PARTY EXCEPT IN THE LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOWED UNDER RULE 23(e)(1).
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 14-L-619. Honorable James R. Murphy, Judge, Presiding.
Judges: JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court. Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment.
JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court.
Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment.
Held: The trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants because the fire pole was an open and obvious condition and no exception existed, and there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment.
[*P2] Plaintiff, Tracey Grosch, individually and as mother and next friend of Riley Grosch, a minor, appeals the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County, granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, Brian Anderson, Jo Anderson, and the Cary-Grove Evangelical Free Church d/b/a Living Grace Community Church on plaintiff’s claims of negligence related to Riley’s fall as he was attempting to slide down a fire pole in the Andersons’s back yard during an event sponsored by the Church’s youth ministry. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in relying on the open-and-obvious doctrine and in concluding [**2] that there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment. We affirm.
[*P3] I. BACKGROUND
[*P4] We summarize the pertinent facts. On November 14, 2016, the Andersons were members of the Church; plaintiff’s family attended the Church, but were not members. According to Pastor Cory Shreve, quite a few more people attended the Church than were members. Shreve was the youth pastor and was responsible for running and administering the Church’s youth ministry. He was in charge of the Radiate program which provided for fellowship and religious mentoring of youths beginning in seventh grade and ending upon high school graduation. Radiate was open to members and attendees, and it incorporated youths from other churches and even the “unchurched” as well. Radiate had contacted the Andersons seeking to hold a bonfire at their home; the group had held a bonfire there previously.
[*P5] In the Andersons’ back yard, Brian had constructed a platform in a tree from which he had removed the upper branches and foliage. The platform was about 25 feet above the ground. The platform was reached by a ladder tied to the tree. The platform had a rail around it, but no other fall protection. The [**3] platform had a triangular hole in it, and through the hole, was a metal “fire pole.” The pole was made out of sprinkler pipe, was affixed in concrete at the base, and was 3 1/2 inches in diameter. The surface of the pole had oxidized. The ground around the pole was grass covered, and no force-absorbing material, such as sand or wood chips, had been placed around the bottom of the pole.
[*P6] Brian explained that he built the platform and fire pole for his children. Both Brian and Jo testified in deposition that between 150 to 200 people had used the pole, all without injury. Brian testified that he was a construction contractor and was familiar with fall protection for working above the ground and had employed it in his work; no fall protection was installed or available on the platform. Brian testified that he did not research or follow any building codes for the platform and fire pole.
[*P7] On the day of the Radiate event, Shreve arrived 15-30 minutes before the announced start of the event. Some of the parents stayed to socialize, others dropped their children off. Plaintiff dropped off Riley and then went shopping nearby, intending to finish shopping and then return for the balance of the [**4] event. Jo was inside the house for the event, and she monitored the food and drinks, making sure that there was plenty for all of the guests. She also socialized with the other parents. Brian was also inside socializing. Shreve was monitoring the bonfire. At one point, he intercepted one of the youths who tried to jump over the bonfire and explained to the youth why that was not a wise decision. At the time of Riley’s accident, Shreve had gone inside.
[*P8] Riley, the Andersons, and Shreve all testified that it was a cool or cold evening, estimating the temperature was anywhere from the 20s to the 40s. According to Shreve and Brian, the point of the event was the bonfire and indoor fellowship; the youths attending were not expected to play in the back yard, but were expected to roast marshmallows in the bonfire and to play in the basement, where pool, basketball, and board games were available. After about an hour outside, Shreve went inside, planning to steer the event towards worship. One of the youths came inside and alerted Shreve and the adults that Riley was hurt.
[*P9] Riley testified that he climbed up the ladder. The ladder had metal rungs, so his hands became cold. At the top, on the [**5] platform while waiting for his turn, he put on gloves. Riley testified that the gloves were like ski gloves, and believed they were slick, possibly made of nylon. Riley testified that he awaited his turn along with several other youths. On that day, Riley was 13 years of age. He grabbed the pole with his hands, but he did not wrap his arms or legs around the pole. As Riley began his descent, he lost control, grabbed for the edge of the platform but could not hang on, and he plummeted the rest of the way to the ground. Riley suffered a comminuted fracture of his left femur and broke several long bones in his right foot. Riley’s femur was repaired surgically, and he had a rod emplaced in the bone. There is a possibility that the rod may have to be removed at a future date. Riley also developed a foot drop following his fall from the platform.
[*P10] The adults came out to investigate after they were notified. One of the youths, an Eagle Scout, obtained a rigid table top, and after they had ascertained that Riley had no apparent head or spinal injuries, placed him on the table top and moved him inside. Their purpose was to get him off of the cold ground; Riley apparently was complaining of resting [**6] on the cold ground. Plaintiff was informed and told to return to the Andersons’ house. According to Brian, she arrived in minutes; plaintiff and other deponents testified that it was closer to 20 minutes. Eventually, an ambulance was called. It appears that plaintiff made the call for an ambulance as the other adults wanted to defer to her wishes. The ambulance took Riley to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries.
[*P11] Shreve and the Andersons testified that, when the plans were made to use the Anderson property for the Radiate bonfire, they did not conduct an inspection of the property to determine if there were any unsafe conditions. Rather, Brian testified that he had a safe house, including the fire pole, because nobody had been injured using it up to that time.
[*P12] Plaintiff’s expert, Alan Caskey, a park and recreation planner and consultant, testified that the fire pole was too wide, too high, and the landing area was too hard. Caskey opined that the width of the pole, being almost twice the diameter that industry standards allowed in playground equipment, contributed to Riley’s injury, because the excessive width of the pole decreased the strength of the user’s grip of the [**7] pole. Caskey did not, however, offer any opinion about the effect of Riley’s gloves on his ability to grip the pole, but noted that any effect would depend on the type of glove, which he could not recall. Caskey also specifically noted that the fall height was much greater than industry standards allowed (five feet is the norm), and the landing area did not contain any force-mitigating substances, and these circumstances caused or contributed to the likelihood and severity of injury. Caskey also opined that the darkness could have contributed to Riley losing his grip on the pole because it obscured the size of the pole and its texture. However, Caskey admitted that these were assumptions on his part, and he conceded that there was no testimony specifically addressing these issues.
[*P13] As to the procedural posture of this case, on December 15, 2014, plaintiff timely filed her initial complaint; on February 19, 2015, plaintiff filed the first amended complaint at issue in this case. On April 28, 2016, the Andersons filed their motion for summary judgment followed on June 29, 2016, with the Church’s motion for summary judgment. The motions were stayed while plaintiff procured her expert testimony. [**8] In November 2016, defendants filed their counterclaims against plaintiff.
[*P14] On March 16, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which the trial court granted. On March 31, 2017, the Church, joined by the Andersons, filed a motion to vacate the trial court’s grant of leave to file the second amended complaint. On April 6, 2017, the trial court vacated its order granting leave to file the second amended complaint and reinstated the briefing schedule on defendants’ motions for summary judgment.
[*P15] On May 15, 2017, the trial court apparently heard the parties’ arguments regarding defendants’ motions for summary judgment. On that date, the trial court continued the cause until June 2, 2017, for ruling. On June 2, 2017, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiff. The court specifically held that:
“defendants owed no duty to plaintiff based on the open and obvious nature of the subject condition [(the platform and fire pole)] on the property; there being no proximate cause between the condition on the property and the injury to [Riley]; and there being no question of material fact raised by plaintiff.”
The trial court [**9] entered judgment for defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s case. No transcripts of either the argument or the pronouncement of judgment were included in the record.
[*P16] On June 30, 2017, plaintiff filed her motion to reconsider. On August 11, 2017, the trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider, and plaintiff timely appeals.
[*P17] II. ANALYSIS
[*P18] On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in holding that the platform and fire pole presented open and obvious conditions precluding the imposition of a duty. Plaintiff specifically contends that the design flaws in the construction of the platform and the fire pole and the lack of lighting rendered the dangers hidden rather than open and obvious; alternatively, plaintiff argues that the distraction doctrine should apply. Plaintiff also contends that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding “the true cause” of Riley’s fall. We consider the arguments in turn.
[*P19] A. General Principles
[*P20] This case comes before us following the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must determine whether the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits in the record [**10] show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2016). The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a factual issue but to determine if a factual issue exists. Monson v. City of Danville, 2018 IL 122486, ¶ 12. While summary judgment provides an expeditious means to resolve a lawsuit, it is also a drastic means of disposing of litigation. Id. Because of this, the court must construe the record strictly against the moving party and favorably towards the nonmoving party, and the court should grant summary judgment only if the moving party’s right to judgment is clear and free from doubt. Id. We review de novo the trial court’s judgment on a motion for summary judgment. Id.
[*P21] Here, plaintiff alleged that defendants were negligent regarding the platform and fire pole. In a negligence action, the plaintiff must plead and prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, that the defendant breached the duty owed, and that an injury proximately resulted from the breach. Bujnowski v. Birchland, Inc., 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 12, 394 Ill. Dec. 906, 37 N.E.3d 385. The existence of a duty is a question of law and may properly be decided by summary judgment. Id. If the plaintiff cannot demonstrate the existence of a duty, no recovery by the plaintiff [**11] is possible, and summary judgment in favor of the defendant must be granted. Wade v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2015 IL App (4th) 141067, ¶ 12, 396 Ill. Dec. 315, 39 N.E.3d 1141. With these general principles in mind, we turn to plaintiff’s contentions.
[*P22] B. Open and Obvious
[*P23] Plaintiff argues the trial court erred in determining that the platform and the fire pole were open and obvious conditions precluding the finding of a duty on the part of defendants. As a general matter, the owner or possessor of land owes a visiting child the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe and to warn the visitor of dangerous nonobvious conditions, but if the conditions are open and obvious, the owner or possessor has no duty. Friedman v. Park District of Highland Park, 151 Ill. App. 3d 374, 384, 502 N.E.2d 826, 104 Ill. Dec. 329 (1986). The analysis of duty with respect to children follows the customary rules of negligence. Id. This means that a dangerous condition on the premises is deemed one that is likely to cause injury to a general class of children, who, by reason of their immaturity, might be unable to appreciate the risk posed by the condition. Id. However, the open-and-obvious doctrine may preclude the imposition of a duty. Id.
[*P24] Recently, this court gave a thoroughgoing analysis of the open-and-obvious doctrine, how exceptions to that doctrine are accounted for, and, ultimately, how duty is imposed [**12] in these types of cases. Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140478, ¶¶ 13-46.1 We concluded that, in cases in which the open-and-obvious doctrine applies, the court will consider whether any exception to the doctrine applies, such as the distraction exception (id. ¶ 18 (discussing Ward v. K Mart Corp., 136 Ill. 2d 132, 149-50, 554 N.E.2d 223, 143 Ill. Dec. 288 (1990) (it is reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff’s attention might be distracted so that the plaintiff will not discover or will forget what is obvious)) or the deliberate-encounter exception (id. ¶ 32 (discussing LaFever v. Kemlite Co., 185 Ill. 2d 380, 391, 706 N.E.2d 441, 235 Ill. Dec. 886 (1998) (it is reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff, generally out of some compulsion, will recognize the risk but nevertheless proceed to encounter it because, to a reasonable person in the same position, the advantages of doing so outweigh the apparent risk)). When no exception applies, the court proceeds to the general four-factor test for imposing liability: (1) whether an injury was reasonably foreseeable; (2) the likelihood of injury; (3) the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury; and (4) the consequences of placing that burden on the defendant. Id. ¶ 19 (quoting Ward, 136 Ill. 2d at 151).
[*P25] We held that the case law had developed into two approaches in applying the four-factor [**13] duty test. In one approach, the first two factors will favor the defendant (because the danger is open and obvious), and the court must consider the third and fourth factors which could, at least theoretically, counterbalance the first two factors. Id. ¶ 46. Under the second approach, which we deemed to be more consistent with section 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A (1965)) on which our supreme court had relied, the last two factors could never outweigh the first two factors, so even if the burden and consequences were minimal, the defendant necessarily would not have any duty to the plaintiff. Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140478, ¶ 46.
[*P26] Generally, falling from a height is among the dangers deemed to be open and obvious and appreciable even by very young children. Qureshi v. Ahmed, 394 Ill. App. 3d 883, 885, 916 N.E.2d 1153, 334 Ill. Dec. 265 (2009). The risk that confronted Riley as he clambered up to the platform and attempted to use the fire pole was simply a fall from a height, and thus, was an open and obvious risk. We next turn to whether there is an available exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine.
[*P27] Plaintiff first argues that the distraction exception applies here. The distraction exception had its genesis in Ward, 136 Ill. 2d 132, 554 N.E.2d 223, 143 Ill. Dec. 288. In that case, a shopper exited the store carrying large mirror he had just purchased and was injured when he walked into a [**14] concrete post. Id. at 135. The court explained that, even though the post was an open and obvious condition, harm was nevertheless reasonably foreseeable because the store had reason to expect that its customer’s attention may have been distracted so that the customer would not have discovered what is obvious, or would have forgotten what was discovered, or would have failed to protect himself. Id. at 149-50.
[*P28] In support of her argument that the distraction exception should apply, plaintiff cites only Ward and Sollami v. Eaton, 201 Ill. 2d 1, 15-16, 772 N.E.2d 215, 265 Ill. Dec. 177 (2002). Ward gave several examples of circumstances in which the distraction exception could apply. As an example, stairs are generally not unreasonably dangerous, but they may be so if, under the circumstances, the plaintiff may fail to see the stairs. Ward, 136 Ill. 2d at 152. Additionally, an open and obvious condition may nevertheless be unreasonably dangerous if it exists in an environment in which the plaintiff is attending to his or her assigned workplace duties and encounters the condition. Id. at 153. For example, a builder carrying roof trusses steps into an open hole in the floor, or a dock worker unloading a truck steps off of a lowered dockplate while unloading a truck, or a customer falls when he or she misses the step off of the stoop [**15] at the entrance to the store, are all instances in which the defendant should have foreseen the risk of harm caused by the otherwise open and obvious condition.
Sollami, by contrast, involved a child “rocket jumping” on a trampoline with several other children when she injured her knee after being “rocketed” to a greater-than-usual height and landing on the surface of the trampoline. Sollami, 201 Ill. 2d at 4. After briefly discussing the parameters of the distraction exception (id. at 15-16), the court held that there was no evidence to show that the child was distracted while jumping on the trampoline (id. at 16). In other words, the child was using the trampoline as she intended to, and she was fully aware of the danger jumping on it may have presented.
[*P30] Considering the evidence in the record, we conclude that there was no evidence of distraction presented in the record. Riley climbed up the ladder to the platform, some 25 feet above the ground. Once there, he waited in a line for the fire pole. He did not testify that any of the other persons in the line bothered or distracted him as he prepared to slide down the fire pole. Instead, he put on slick nylon gloves and attempted to slide down the pole by grasping the pole with [**16] only his hands. As he began his descent, he lost control, attempted to arrest his descent by grabbing the deck of the platform, failed, and fell from a height onto the ground. There is nothing in the evidence in the record to support a conclusion that Riley was distracted. He was not going about his profession or avocation as in the examples in Ward when he encountered the condition. Rather, he was participating in using the fire pole as he intended, as in Sollami. Indeed, Riley attributed his fall to losing his grip when he attempted to slide down the pole using only his hands and not wrapping his arms and legs around the pole. Accordingly, we hold the distraction exception does not apply here.
[*P31] Plaintiff argues that the darkness of the evening distracted Riley from perceiving the width of the fire pole and the height of the drop from the platform. We disagree. Riley had to have been acutely aware of the height of the platform, having climbed every inch of the 25-foot height up the ladder. As to the width of the pole, Riley would have perceived it as he grasped it. Brian Anderson testified that everyone he had observed use the pole had instinctually wrapped their arms and legs around [**17] it. Riley testified that he attempted to use only his hands to grip the pole for his descent, despite the fact that a number of other children had used the pole before him and he apparently had the opportunity to observe them while waiting his turn.
[*P32] We also note that there is no evidence that Riley stepped through the opening while trying to use the fire pole, which would, perhaps, have brought the circumstances within the examples in Ward in which workers encountered a condition that was otherwise open and obvious while performing work-related tasks. Instead, Riley testified that he was able to negotiate his way to the pole and grasp it to begin his descent. Thus, there is no evidence that he simply stepped into the opening which went unperceived due to the darkness of the evening. Likewise, there is no evidence that one of the persons waiting for a turn distracted him so he stepped into the opening and fell. There is no evidence of distraction evident, so we reject plaintiff’s contention that Riley was distracted by the darkness and the other children, or that the presence of darkness and other children were sufficient to demonstrate a factual issue in the absence of any evidence [**18] that these purported distracting circumstances contributed in Riley’s fall.
[*P33] The deliberate-encounter exception is usually raised in cases in which an economic compulsion (such as employment) causes the plaintiff to encounter the dangerous condition because, to a reasonable person in that position, the advantages of doing so outweigh the apparent risk. Sollami, 201 Ill. 2d at 15-16. Plaintiff does not contend that the deliberate-encounter exception is applicable to the circumstances. While the deliberate-encounter exception may not be limited to circumstances of economic compulsion, there is no evidence that Riley was under any compulsion, such as peer pressure, to attempt to slide down the fire pole. Because there is no evidence, we hold the deliberate-encounter exception does not apply.
[*P34] In the Bujnowski analytical framework, we now turn to the four-factor duty test. Because the condition was open and obvious, namely falling from a height, Riley’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable, because falling from a height is among the risks that even very young children (and Riley was not a very young child but 13 years of age) are capable of appreciating and avoiding that risk. Qureshi, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 885. Likewise, the likelihood of injury is [**19] small because the risk was apparent. Thus, the first two factors strongly favor defendants.
[*P35] The remaining factors appear to be split between plaintiff and defendant. The burden of guarding against the injury appears relatively slight. Defendants could have forbidden the children to use the platform and fire pole. The consequences of placing the burden on defendants are perhaps greater. The Andersons testified that they erected the structure for the amusement of their children. They also testified that of hundreds of users and uses, no one had ever been injured, from young children to older adults. (Plaintiff testified that one of the Andersons told her that one of their children had been injured using the fire pole; the Andersons denied making this statement and denied that any of their children had been injured using the fire pole.) The consequences of forbidding the structure’s use that evening would have been miniscule; the consequences of forbidding access altogether would have been much greater. Even if this calculus on the final two factors favors plaintiff, we cannot say that, in light of the open and obvious nature of the hazard, that they outweigh the first two factors. See [**20]
Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 55 (no published case has held both that the open-and-obvious doctrine applied without any exception being present and the defendant still owed a duty to the plaintiff). Accordingly, we hold that defendants did not owe Riley any duty in this case.
[*P36] Plaintiff argues that the hazard in this case was not open and obvious. Plaintiff argues first that the fire pole, being almost twice the diameter recommended in the industry, was a hidden and dangerous condition. We disagree. The risk posed by the structure was a fall from a height, and the evidence shows that Riley made the climb up to the platform and fell when he had donned slick nylon-shelled ski gloves and did not wrap his arms and legs around the pole.
[*P37] Plaintiff argues that the darkness of the evening concealed the width of the pole from Riley. Riley did not testify that he fell through the opening because it was too dark to see. Rather, he testified that he fell when he tried to slide down without wrapping his arms and legs around the pole and when his slick gloves caused his grip to fail. We reject plaintiff’s contentions.
[*P38] Plaintiff contends that, due to the construction of the structure and the darkness of the evening, the dangers [**21] associated with it were not obvious to Riley. We disagree. Riley climbed up to the platform, so he knew that he was very high above the ground. The risk of a fall from a height was therefore clearly apparent, as even very young children are deemed to appreciate the risk of a fall from a height. Qureshi, 394 Ill. App. 3d at 885. We therefore reject plaintiff’s contention and persist in holding that the risk was open and obvious.
[*P39] As plaintiff has neither convinced us that the risk was not open and obvious nor that any exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine was applicable, we affirm the judgment of the trial court on this point.
[*P40] C. Factual Issues
[*P41] Plaintiff argues there is a factual issue whether Riley’s slick gloves or the 3 1/2-inch diameter of the pole caused Riley’s fall. Plaintiff contends that Caskey testified that the pole was so wide that Riley had inadequate grip strength to descend safely (perhaps implying the converse that, if the pole were narrower, Riley’s grip strength would have been adequate). Plaintiff concludes that there is a factual issue regarding the mechanism of Riley’s fall, and this issue should have precluded summary judgment.
[*P42] We disagree. Even conceding a factual issue in the mechanism [**22] of Riley’s fall, defendants did not owe Riley any duty because the risk of a fall from a height was open and obvious, no exception to the open-and-obvious doctrine applied, and the final two factors of the four-factor duty test did not outweigh the first two factors. Thus, the factual issue regarding the mechanism of Riley’s fall was not material in the absence of a duty.
[*P43] Plaintiff also contends that defendants owed a duty to instruct Riley on the use of the pole. While this contention is perhaps structurally misplaced in plaintiff’s argument, it is unavailing. The danger of the structure to Riley was open and obvious: a fall from a height. If, as plaintiff appears to contend, Riley did not know how to descend a fire pole, the risk of a fall from a height was still something he could appreciate. Under the law, then, Riley is deemed to be able to appreciate and avoid that risk, including his own limitations on using the fire pole to descend from the height. Accordingly, we reject plaintiff’s contentions.
[*P44] We close with the following observation from Bujnowski: “[t]ragic as the facts of this case are, they are not extraordinary in a legal sense and do not call for a result that would [**23] appear to be without precedent.” Bujnowski, 2015 IL App (2d) 140578, ¶ 55.
[*P45] III. CONCLUSION
[*P46] For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County.
End of Document
Just because you have a piece of paper saying you are an additional insured, it does not mean there is any coverage under any policy to protect you.Posted: August 14, 2017 Filed under: Challenge or Ropes Course, Insurance, Minors, Youth, Children, Missouri, Summer Camp, Youth Camps, Zip Line | Tags: Additional Insured, Ambiguity, Ambiguous, Camper, certificate, Certificate of Insurance, challenge course, church, Church Camp, coverage, declarations, denial letter, dining hall, duty to defend, endorsement, Guest, Insurance policy, insured, latent ambiguity, Lawsuit, lease, leased, liability arising, liability coverage, Liability insurance, lodge, lodging, meal, named insured, ordinary person, owes, Ropes course, space, Summary judgment, tenant, Youth Camp, zip line Leave a comment
Additional insured certificates are limited by two things, what the underlying policy provides coverage for and what the certificate of insurance says it will cover. Lacking coverage under the policy or lacking the necessary language in the additional insured certificate you are hanging in the wind without any insurance coverage.
For an additional insured certificate to be valid, you must put together three things. A contract which identifies the requirements or insurance you are looking for. An insurance policy that insures those requirements and a certificate of insurance that covers those requirements or better states as the requirements are set forth in the original contract. Lacking any, one of those and you are just wasting paper.
When you get a certificate of insurance, you must then read it to make sure you meet the requirements it may set out. If there is a limitation on the amount of time you have to file a claim or a specific way to notify the insured, make sure you follow those procedures.
Finally, whenever you file any claim with any insurance company for coverage, follow the procedures the policy requires then follow up with a letter providing notice the insurance company in writing.
Great American Alliance Insurance Company, v. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148
State: Missouri, United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division
Plaintiff: Great American Alliance Insurance Company
Defendant: Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al.
Plaintiff Claims: Great American now moves for summary judgment on its requested declaratory judgment that: (1) no liability coverage exists under its policy issued to Student Life for any claims asserted in the underlying lawsuit against Windermere or Windermere’s employees, including Kendra Brown; (2) Great American owes no duty to defend Windermere, Kendra Brown, or any other Windermere employees in the underlying lawsuit; and
(3) no medical payments coverage exists for Karlee Richards.
Defendant Defenses: No coverage provided under the policy or certificate of insurance
Holding: Split decision, however the insurance company will not pay anything under the certificate of insurance
This is a legally complicated case with simple facts. A church rented a camp from Student Life, which had contracted with a church camp called Windermere. The reservation form and simple agreement between the camp and the church required the issuance of a certificate of insurance.
A camper, part of the church group fell while riding the zip line. She sued. That lawsuit was still pending when this lawsuit was started to determine whose insurance was required to defend against the camper’s lawsuit.
In that case, damages are being sought against them for injuries sustained by Karlee Richards after she fell while zip-lining at The Edge, a ropes course at Windermere’s Conference Center. Kendra Brown was an employee of Windermere, working at the Edge at the time of the accident.
The injured camper Richards was with the Searcy Baptist Church. They rented the camp through Student Life. Student Life rented the camp from Windermere. The contract between Student Life and Windermere is the one at question here. Windermere required a certificate of insurance from Student Life.
June 2014, Karlee Richards and her Searcy Baptist Church youth group were attending a summer camp at Windermere’s Conference Center, which was sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Conference, d.b.a. Student Life. Student Life contracted with Windermere to hold the church camp at Windermere’s facility in Missouri. Student Life had a liability policy with Great American, and Windermere was an additional insured on that policy. The additional insured endorsement provides that the additional insured, in this case Windermere, is only covered for “liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to Great American contends that Windermere is not entitled to coverage for Kaylee Richards’s injuries because Windermere did not “lease” the Edge to Student Life because the Edge was not specifically mentioned in Student Life’s written agreement with Windermere.
The first issue the court skipped was the policy that Student Life had, was restrictive and had minimal coverage. It had a requirement that all claims had to be made in one year. This may not be bad, but if the statute of limitations for the type of injury is two years or three, you may not have coverage for a claim because you did not know you had one until after the time period had run.
Student Life is the named insured on a Commercial General Liability policy with Great American. The policy requires that all requests for medical payments be made within one year of the accident that gives rise to the insurance claim. Also, when there is other valid and collectible excess insurance coverage, the Great American policy provides that Great American will have no duty to defend its insured against a claim for damages.
On top of the claim limitation period, the coverage was solely excess coverage. Meaning the coverage did on top of any other coverage the insured had and had no duty to defend or pay for attorneys. It only had to pay for a claim after the
limits of the underlying policy were exhausted. No underlying policy was ever mentioned in the case so it is unknown if one existed.
If this is the only policy, Student Life purchased, they bought the wrong one!
Another issue was whether the student life policy would provide coverage for employees of Windermere that were sued based on the accident.
This suit was brought by the Student Life insurance company, Great American Alliance Insurance Company, asking the court to tell Student Life it was not going to pay or defend any of the claims brought by the injured camper against Windermere.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court first looked at whether the additional insured certificate was ambiguous. If so, then the court had to interpret the ambiguity under Missouri’s law.
An ambiguity is an uncertainty in the meaning of the policy.
If an ambiguity exists, the policy language will be construed against the insurer. Mendota, “‘An ambiguity exists when there is
duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language of the policy.'” “‘To test whether the language used in the policy is ambiguous, the language is considered in the light in which it would normally be understood by the lay person who bought and paid for the policy.'” Whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law.”
The burden of proving there is coverage falls on the party seeking it, in this case, Windermere. An ambiguity exists if there are different interpretations of the language in the policy. There are two types of Ambiguities, Latent and patent.
A policy is ambiguous if it is “fairly open to different interpretations” because it contains “duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty of meaning.” Importantly, there are two types of ambiguities in the law: patent and latent. “A patent ambiguity is detected from the face of the document, whereas a latent ambiguity is found ‘when the particular words of a document apply equally well to two different objects or some external circumstances make their meaning uncertain.'”
Here the court found that a patent ambiguity existed.
For these reasons, a patent ambiguity exists. The disputed phrase not only should be interpreted in favor of the Defendants, but the Defendants’ interpretation is arguably the only one that would make sense to an ordinary person under these circumstances.
The court also found a latent ambiguity existed in the certificate of insurance.
A latent ambiguity exists when a contract “on its face appears clear and unambiguous, but some collateral matter makes the meaning
uncertain.” Id. In other words, an ambiguity is “latent if language, which is plain on its face, becomes uncertain upon application.”
If an ambiguity is found in an insurance policy, the ambiguity is construed against the insurance company. “In the
alternative, it is well-settled that an ambiguity within an insurance policy must be construed against the insurer.”
Consequently, the court ruled on this issue, that there was coverage for Windermere from the Student Life Policy. However, the court found against Student Life and Windermere on the other issues.
Windermere requested coverage for defending its employees, which the court denied.
Great American argues that no coverage exists for Brown or any other Windermere employee because the Additional Insured Endorsement does not provide additional insured status and/or coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Brown is not identified anywhere in Student Life’s Great American policy nor is she listed as an Additional Insured on a Certificate of Liability. Therefore, any coverage for Brown would necessarily derive from her status as Windermere’s employee, and employees are not covered as insureds by the Additional Insured Endorsement.
The court agreed with Great American that no coverage was described in the certificate of insurance.
The next issue was, whether or not there was a duty to defend. A duty to defend is to pay the cost of the lawsuit; attorney fees, expert witness fees, etc.
Under Missouri law, the duty to defend “arises whenever there is a potential or possible liability to pay based on the facts at the outset of the case and is not dependent on the probable liability to pay based on the facts ascertained through trial.”
Because there was no coverage for the Windermere employees, there was no duty to defend them either. A duty to defend must be specifically identified in the policy. In this case the policy specifically stated, there was no duty to defend.
As to whether Great American owes a duty to defend Windermere, the Endorsement makes clear that any coverage for Windermere as an additional insured would be excess, and the policy does not afford a defense when (1) its coverage is excess and (2) when the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier.
The last issue was whether medical expenses of the injured camper were owed by Great American to Windermere. Again, since the policy specifically stated there was no coverage for medical expenses this was denied. The court also found the
requirement under the policy to make a claim for medical expenses had to be done within one year, and that time had lapsed; therefore, no medical expenses were owed by the Student Life Policy with Great American.
The decision was split, however, in reality; Windermere got nothing from the decision. If Windermere lost its suit or exhausted its own liability insurance policy protection, it could, then see money from the Student Life policy with Great American, but no other coverage was owed by Great American. However, that meant the camper was going to have to win millions probably to exhaust the Windermere policy and Windermere or its insurance company was going to foot the bill with no help from the policy under the certificate of insurance.
So Now What?
This is a classic case were not knowing or checking what happens when you receive an additional insured certificate ends up costing you more money than not having one.
The underlying policy by the group coming into the camp was crap. On top of that it had major restrictions on when it would pay. Add to those issues the certificate of insurance was badly written and the company receiving the additional insured certificate received a worthless piece of paper. On top of that it cost them a lot of money I’m guessing to sue to find out they were not going to get anything from the policy.
1. Issue a request for a Certificate of Insurance in a contract or the contract. Set forth in the contract everything you must have and the type of insurance policy that must be underlying the certificate of insurance.
2. Request a copy of the insurance policy be delivered with the certificate of insurance. Again, if the policy is crap, you are getting crap.
3. Make sure the insurance policy covers what the contract says it should cover.
4. Make sure the certificate of insurance covers what the contract says it must cover.
Just collecting certificates of insurance to put in a box or file cabinet are only killing trees. It is probably not providing you any protection as in this case.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff, vs. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148Posted: August 13, 2017 Filed under: Challenge or Ropes Course, Insurance, Legal Case, Missouri, Zip Line | Tags: Ambiguity, Ambiguous, Camper, certificate, challenge course, church, Church Camp, coverage, declarations, denial letter, dining hall, duty to defend, endorsement, Guest, Insurance policy, insured, latent ambiguity, Lawsuit, lease, leased, liability arising, liability coverage, Liability insurance, lodge, lodging, meal, named insured, ordinary person, owes, Ropes course, space, Summary judgment, Summer Camp, tenant, zip line Leave a comment
Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff, vs. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148
Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff, vs. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., et al., Defendants.
United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103148
July 5, 2017, Decided
July 5, 2017, Filed
PRIOR HISTORY: Great Am. Alliance Ins. Co. v. Windermere Baptist Conf. Ctr., Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92701 (W.D. Mo., July 18, 2016)
COUNSEL: [*1] For Great American Alliance Insurance Company, Plaintiff: John S. Sandberg, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kenneth R. Goleaner, Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, PC-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.
For Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Inc., Defendant: Amber Joy Simon, Lauren E. Tucker McCubbin, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lisa A. Weixelman, Polsinelli PC – KCMO, Kansas City, MO.
For Kendra Brown, Defendant: Christopher P. Rackers, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kaci R Peterson, Schreimann, Rackers & Francka, LLC, Jefferson City, MO.
For Jeremy Richards, Karlee Richards, Defendants: Patrick M. Martucci, LEAD ATTORNEY, Johnson, Vorhees & Martucci – Joplin, Joplin, MO.
JUDGES: NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
This case principally concerns whether Defendants, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Kendra Brown, have insurance coverage under a Great American policy for potential liability in a suit pending in Morgan County. In that case, damages are being sought against them for injuries sustained by Karlee Richards after she fell while zip-lining at The Edge, a ropes course at Windermere’s Conference Center. Kendra Brown was an employee of Windermere, working at the Edge at the time of the accident.
In [*2] June 2014, Karlee Richards and her Searcy Baptist Church youth group were attending a summer camp at Windermere’s Conference Center, which was sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Conference, d.b.a. Student Life.1 Student Life contracted with Windermere to hold the church camp at Windermere’s facility in Missouri. Student Life had a liability policy with Great American, and Windermere was an additional insured on that policy. The additional insured endorsement provides that the additional insured, in this case Windermere, is only covered for “liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to [Student Life] [by Windemere].” [Doc. 35-17, p.1 (“Endorsement”)]. Great American contends that Windermere is not entitled to coverage for Kaylee Richards’s injuries because Windermere did not “lease” the Edge to Student Life because the Edge was not specifically mentioned in Student Life’s written agreement with Windermere.
1 Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention does business as Student Life. The Court refers to Lifeway and Student Life interchangeably throughout the remainder of this Order as simply, “Student Life.”
Pending before the Court is Great American’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. 34]. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
I. Undisputed Facts2
2 Unless otherwise noted, the facts recited are those which are properly supported and undisputed.
A. The Student Life [*3] Camp at Windermere
Windermere Baptist Conference Center is a large Conference Center on the Lake of the Ozarks with over 300 acres and 126 buildings, including group lodging, a dining hall, conference space, cabins, a chapel, and a gift shop. Windermere also offers various recreational facilities and activities at its campus, including the Edge. Organizations like Student Life use Windermere’s facilities for summer church camps.
Student Life had been conducting camps at Windermere for about ten years prior to its June 2014 camp. In January 2014, Student Life and Windermere executed an Amended Conference Contract. The “Amended Conference Contract,” provides:
Amended Conference Contract
. . .
Event Name: Student Life #1 ’14 (June 2-6, 2014)
Expected #: 1000
Arrive Date: Saturday, May 31, 2014
(Check in begins at 3:00 PM. Rooms may not be available until 6:00 PM. . .)
Depart Date: Saturday, June 7, 2014
Lodging Check out time is 11:00 AM. Keys must be turned in by this time. . .)
|Per Person (Student Life Extra)||5/31/14||6/2/14||2||25||$17.50||$825.00|
|Per Person (Student Life Extra)||6/1/14||6/2/14||1||15||$17.50||$262.50|
|Per Person (Student Life [*4] ’14)||6/2/14||6/5/14||4||1,000||$70.00||$70,000|
|Total for Lodging: $71,137.50||$56,910.00|
You will need to provide Windermere a rooming list (names of individuals occupying each room) and a copy of your conference or retreat schedule at the time of check-in.
. . .
|Total for Meals: $76,570.00||$61,733.00|
. . .
All guests eating in the dining hall must have a meal ticket or wrist band to be
admitted into the Dining Hall.
. . .
CONFERENCE SPACE INFORMATION
|Wilderness Creek Auditorium (1500)||6/1/14 8:00am||6/6/14 12:00pm|
|Deer Ridge Conf Rm 1 (30)||6/2/14 3:00pm||6/6/14 12:00pm|
|Total for Conference Space: $0.00|
. . .
Use of conference space and facilities begins at the start time stated in the contract. Conference or facility space usage time ends at the time stated in the contract and must be empty of all guests and guest items.
. . .
|Estimated Total Payment||$147,707.50|
|Total Minimum Payment||$118,643.00|
The above named group will have financial responsibility for any damages and excessive wear and tear it incurs to the Windermere grounds, facilities or property to the extent that such damage or excessive wear and tear arises [*5] from the negligence or willful misconduct of the above named group. Cleanup of any facilities or grounds that are excessively dirty will be the financial responsibility of the group.
[Doc. 35-5 (“Amended Conference Contract”)].
The parties’ Amended Conference Contract does not identify every building or activity that was available to campers during Student Life’s camp at Windermere. For example, the chapel, which is made available to any group attending a camp at Windermere, is not listed. In addition, the dining hall is not specifically listed under the “Conference Space Information” heading, despite the Amended Conference Contract listing a price for meals Windermere is to provide.
In addition, it is undisputed that Windermere offered various free recreational activities to its guest campers, including those who attended the Student Life camp. Windermere also offered some special recreational activities that required an additional fee and reservations. The Edge was one such activity. The Edge, a ropes and zip-lining course, is not accessible to campers at Windermere without special scheduling, the purchase of tickets, and the execution of a “Recreational Release” form. Student Life [*6] advertised Windermere’s recreational facilities, including “The Edge,” as available for use to its campers, and it was Student Life’s expectation that these facilities would be available.
In addition to the Amended Conference Contract, Student Life also completed a Facilities Request Form, and Windermere completed a Fax Back Response Sheet. [Docs. 40-3 and 40-4]. The Fax Back Response Sheet provides:
Student Life Camp
Windermere Conference Center
. . .
What are some free-time options on your campus?
o Sand Volleyball, Outdoor Basketball, Tennis, Mini Golf, Disc Golf, Pool, Hiking, The Edge (low/high ropes course), Paintball, Waterfront Activities (Inflatable water park, kayak, canoe, paddle boats, fishing, etc) (See attached PDF on available Recreation Packages).
[Doc. 40-4, p. 3].
B. Great American Insurance Policy
Student Life is the named insured on a Commercial General Liability policy with Great American. The policy requires that all requests for medical payments be made within one year of the accident that gives rise to the insurance claim. [Doc. 42-2, p. 62 of 166]. Also, when there is other valid and collectible excess insurance coverage, the Great American policy provides [*7] that Great American will have no duty to defend its insured against a claim for damages. [Doc. 42-2, p. 67-68 of 166].
Because Student Life was contracting with Windermere for its event, Windermere was named as an additional insured on Student Life’s Great American policy. The Certificate of Liability Insurance was issued by Great American on May 8, 2014, and Windermere accepted. The Certificate referenced Great American’s policy issued to Student Life, Policy No.: GLP 0310189 and stated:
Event: Student Life Event Dates: May 31-June 7 and June 14-20, 2014 Windermere Conference Center is included as Additional Insured on the General Liability policy, as per endorsement #CG 82 24, ed. 12/01, and on the Automobile Liability policy, as per endorsement #CA 8518, ed. 6/09.
[Doc. 35-7 (“Certificate of Liability Insurance”)].
C. The Underlying Lawsuit
The Searcy Baptist Church youth group was one of the groups of campers that attended Student Life’s camp at Windermere in June of 2014. Karlee Richards and the rest of the Searcy youth group were scheduled to ride The Edge on June 4, 2014. They paid Windermere an additional fee for this activity. While zip-lining at The Edge that day, Richards fell [*8] and was injured. Kendra Brown, a Windermere employee, was working at the Edge at the time of the accident.
Following Karlee Richards’s accident at The Edge, her father, Jeremy Richards, both individually and as Next Friend, brought suit against Windermere and several of Windermere’s employees, including Kendra Brown. This lawsuit is currently pending in the Circuit Court of Morgan County, Missouri and seeks damages for Karlee Richards’s physical injuries sustained at The Edge.
On November 17, 2015, Windermere and Kendra Brown tendered claims to Great American for defense and indemnity of the underlying lawsuit, seeking coverage as additional insureds under Student Life’s Great American policy. [Doc. 35-15 (“Demand Letter”)]. The letter also demanded Medical Payments coverage for Karlee Richards’s medical expenses. The demand for Medical Payments coverage was made more than one year after Richards’s June 4, 2014 accident at The Edge. [Docs. 35-15 (“Demand Letter”) and 35-18 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)].
Great American responded to the parties’ demand letter with a request for additional information, including information regarding Windermere’s coverage through Church Mutual Insurance [*9] Company. Windermere’s insurer, Church Mutual, was defending Windermere in the underlying lawsuit. [Doc. 35-14, p. 1 of 7 (“Dec. 17, 2015 Letter”)]. In subsequent correspondence with Great American, Windermere also stated, “Church Mutual, the insurer for ‘Windermere’ has tendered its full two million dollars in liability insurance.” [Doc. 35-14, p. 1 of 7 (“Dec. 17, 2015 Letter”)].
In its February 4, 2016 denial letter to Windermere and Brown, Great American concluded that Richards’s accident did not arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the premises Windermere leased to Student Life and denied Windermere’s tender. Great American’s letter also provided that:
[E]ven if indemnity coverage did exist for Windermere and Kendra Brown under the Lifeway Policy, it is also clear that that [sic] Great American owes no defense obligation of the pending lawsuit. Your December 17, 2015 correspondence renewing the tender of defense on behalf of both Windermere and Kendra Brown makes clear that Windermere is being afforded a defense by Church Mutual and that Kendra Brown is being defended by both Church Mutual and Shelter. . . . [T]he Social Service Agency General Liability Broadening Endorsement [*10] makes clear that any coverage that did exist would be excess over all other insurance, including both the Church Mutual and Shelter policies. The “Other Insurance” provision of the Lifeway Policy makes clear that, where its coverage is excess and a defense is being provided by another carrier, Great American owes no duty to defend. Hence, Windermere’s and Kendra Brown’s tender of the defense of the pending lawsuit is denied for this additional reason.
[Doc. 35-18, p. 6 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)]. Great American also denied Brown’s tender, stating that she was not an additional insured on the policy. Id.
Windermere seeks coverage in the underlying Morgan County lawsuit as an additional insured under the Great American policy issued to Student Life. After denying Windermere’s tender, Great American filed suit before this Court seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its obligations under the policy. Great American now moves for summary judgment on its requested declaratory judgment that: (1) no liability coverage exists under its policy issued to Student Life for any claims asserted in the underlying lawsuit against Windermere or Windermere’s employees, including Kendra [*11] Brown; (2) Great American owes no duty to defend Windermere, Kendra Brown, or any other Windermere employees in the underlying lawsuit; and (3) no medical payments coverage exists for Karlee Richards.
A movant is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The rule requires summary judgment to be entered “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).
A federal court sitting in diversity applies the choice-of-law rules of the state where the court sits, in this case, Missouri. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941); American Guarantee Liability Ins. Co. v. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 668 F.3d 991, 996 (8th Cir.2012). But a court need not undertake a choice-of-law inquiry unless an actual conflict of law is demonstrated. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Kamrath, 475 F.3d 920, 924 (8th Cir.2007) (citation omitted). Because the parties do not raise any actual conflict and because they do not dispute that Missouri law applies, the Court applies Missouri law.3
3 Plaintiff Great American contends no choice of law analysis is necessary because the outcome is the same under the law of the three states that could potentially apply: Missouri, Tennessee, and Alabama. Because Defendants Windermere, Brown, and the Richards contend Missouri law should apply, the Court concludes that the parties agree to the application of Missouri law.
A. Interpretation of Insurance Policies in Missouri
The interpretation [*12] of an insurance policy is a question of law to be determined by the Court. Mendota Ins. Co. v. Lawson, 456 S.W.3d 898, 903 (Mo. Ct. App. 2015). The ultimate goal of contract interpretation is to determine the intent of the parties. Bolinger v. Clarks Mut. Ins. Co., 485 S.W.3d 803, 809 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016). To determine the intent of the parties, the language in the contract is to be read according to its plain and ordinary meaning. Mendota, 456 S.W.3d at 903.
In interpreting an insurance policy, “[t]he key is whether the contract language is ambiguous or unambiguous.” Todd v. Mo. United Sch. Ins. Council, 223 S.W.3d 156, 160 (Mo. banc 2007). If an ambiguity exists, the policy language will be construed against the insurer. Mendota, 456 S.W.3d at 904. “‘An ambiguity exists when there is duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language of the policy.'” Fanning v. Progressive Northwestern Ins. Co., 412 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013) (quoting Seeck v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 132 (Mo. banc 2007)). “‘To test whether the language used in the policy is ambiguous, the language is considered in the light in which it would normally be understood by the lay person who bought and paid for the policy.'” Blumer v. Automobile Club Inter–Ins, 340 S.W.3d 214, 219 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Heringer v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 140 S.W.3d 100, 102 (Mo. Ct. App. 2004)). “Whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law.” Todd, 223 S.W.3d at 160.
“[T]he parties seeking to establish coverage under the insurance policy have the burden of proving that the claim is within the coverage afforded by the policy . . . even though they are denominated as defendants in a declaratory judgment action.” State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. D.T.S., 867 S.W.2d 642 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993).
B. Liability Coverage [*13] for Windermere as Additional Insured
The Great American policy’s declarations page lists Student Life as the named insured. Windermere is listed as an additional Insured as follows:
5. AUTOMATIC ADDITIONAL INSURED(S)
a. Additional Insured — Manager or Lessor of Premises
(1) This policy is amended to include as an insured any person or organization (hereinafter called Additional Insured) from whom you lease or rent property and which requires you to add such person or organization as an Additional Insured
(2) With respect to the insurance afforded the Additional Insured identified in Paragraph A.(1) of this endorsement, the following additional provisions apply:
(a) This insurance applies only to liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that portion of the premises leased to [Student Life].
[Doc. 35-17, p. 1 (“Endorsement”)]
Great American contends that the reference in Section 5.a.(2)(a) to “premises leased to you” refers to the specific places identified in the Amended Conference Contract between Windermere and Student Life. According to Great American, because the Edge is not listed, Windermere’s potential liability for the accident at the Edge is not covered. In contrast, Windermere [*14] argues that “premises lease” includes all the places on its property that Student Life campers were authorized to access, including the Edge.
1. Interpretation of Section 5.a.(2)(a)4
4 Defendants Brown and the Richards argue that the limitation of liability in Section 5.a.(2)(a) does not apply to Windermere because that section refers to Paragraph A.(1), and Windermere is identified as an Additional Insured by Paragraph a.(1). In other words, these Defendants reason that the parties must be referring to something other than the preceding paragraph a.(1) because capital A.(1) rather than lower case a.(1) was used. Defendants further reason that the only “Paragraph A.(1)” in the endorsement is located in Section 7A.(1) which limits liability to $300,000 for personal property and building damage rented to an additional insured. The Court rejects this argument because the reference to “A” instead of “a” is clearly a minor typographical error, and the Defendants’ strained interpretation of Section 7 in this context makes no sense. In Mendota Insurance Company v. Ware, 348 S.W.3d 68 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011), the Missouri Court of Appeals rejected a similar argument based on a typographical error because the “policy’s intended meaning, would be apparent to an ordinary reader.” Id. at 73. In the context of the Great American policy, it would not be reasonable for an ordinary reader to think that the use of A.(1), immediately after a section labeled a.(1), would be referring to 7A.(1) when 7A.(1) has nothing to do with identifying an additional insured and is not located in close proximity to the paragraph that does deal with the additional insured.
Whether an insurance provision is ambiguous is a question of law for the Court. General Am. Life Ins. Co. v. Barrett, 847 S.W.2d 125, 131 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993). A policy is ambiguous if it is “fairly open to different interpretations” because it contains “duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty of meaning.” Id. Importantly, there are two types of ambiguities in the law: patent and latent. Cent. United Life Ins. Co. v. Huff, 358 S.W.3d 88, 95 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). “A patent ambiguity is detected from the face of the document, whereas a latent ambiguity is found ‘when the particular words of a document apply equally well to two different objects or some external circumstances make their meaning uncertain.'” Id. (quoting Jake C. Byers, Inc. v. J.B.C. Invs., 834 S.W.2d 806, 816 (Mo. Ct. App. 1992)).
a. Patent Ambiguity
The key phrase that this Court must interpret and apply is “portion of the premises leased to [Student Life].” “The words of a policy must be given their plain and ordinary meaning consistent with the reasonable expectation and objectives of the parties, unless it is obvious that a technical meaning was intended.” Bolinger v. Clarks Mut. Ins. Co., 485 S.W.3d 803, 809 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016). (internal quotation marks removed). Counsel for Great American argues that the term “lease” is understood by everyone [*15] to be a premise over which one has exclusive or near exclusive control. [Oral Argument Transcript, p. 3]. Therefore, the word “lease” would only cover the property over which Student Life had exclusive control by the terms of the Amended Conference Contract. In contrast, Windermere effectively argues that all of the documents surrounding the formation of the insurance policy demonstrate that an ordinary person would not intend the technical meaning of the term “lease,” i.e. exclusive possession, but instead, would expect it to cover all of the Windermere property to which Student Life campers had authorized access.
Under Missouri law, a lease gives exclusive5 use of property for a determined period of time to the lessee. Chubb Group of Ins. Cos. v. C.F. Murphy & Associates, Inc., 656 S.W.2d 766, 777 (Mo. Ct. App. 1983). The term “lease” gives rise to a landlord-tenant relationship, whereby the tenant has “exclusive possession of the premises as against all the world,” including the landlord. Santa Fe Trail Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. v. W.F. Coen & Co., 154 S.W.3d 432, 439 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citations removed). In contrast, “[a] license is only a privilege to enter certain premises for a specific purpose. Kimack v. Adams, 930 S.W.2d 505, 507 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996). The difference between a lease and a license is technical and difficult to determine. Santa Fe, 154 S.W.3d at 439.
5 Great American did not cite to a case that says “near exclusive” possession is enough, and the Court has found no such statement in Missouri law.
When there is a conflict between the technical definition [*16] of a term in a policy and what a reasonable person would understand, the lay definition controls unless it is obvious that a technical definition was intended. Mansion Hills Condo. Ass’n v. Am. Fam. Mut. Ins. Co., 62 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Mo. Ct. App. 2001). “To determine the [lay definition] of a term, courts will consult standard English language dictionaries.” Id. Merriam Webster’s New College Dictionary defines “leased” as “property occupied or used under the terms of a lease.” Webster’s II New College Dictionary (1995). “Lease” is defined as “a contract granting occupation or use of property during a certain period in exchange for a specified rent.” Id. “Premises” is defined as “land and the buildings on it.” Id. Those definitions do not indicate possession is exclusive.
In this context, did the parties intend the phrase “premises leased to you” to have a technical meaning–i.e. the formation of a landlord-tenant relationship between Windermere and Student Life whereby Student Life would have exclusive control over the property listed in the Amended Conference Contract, even as to Windermere? The Certificate of Insurance6 suggests otherwise. [Doc. 35-7]. It states:
Event: Student Life Event Dates: May 31-June 7 and June 14-20, 2014 Windermere Conference Center is included as [*17] Additional Insured on the General Liability policy, as per endorsement #CG 82 24, ed. 12/01, and on the Automobile Liability policy, as per endorsement #CA 8518, ed. 6/09.
This language does not suggest that the parties intended a landlord-tenant relationship being created between Student Life and Windermere. Rather, it suggests that Great American knew it was providing liability insurance to Windermere for an event — the camp — being held by Student Life on the Windermere campus. At a minimum, there is a conflict between the technical meaning of the word lease and what an ordinary person would understand under these circumstances, taking into account the dictionary definitions. In those circumstances, the technical definition does not control. See Mansion Hills Condo. Ass’n v. Am. Fam. Mut. Ins. Co., 62 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Mo. Ct. App. 2001).
6 Because the Certificate of Liability was issued to Windermere for the purpose of adding Windermere as an additional insured, “as per endorsement #CG 82 24 ed. 12/01,” the Certificate arguably became a part of the insurance contract. See Corder v. Morgan Roofing Co., 355 Mo. 127, 195 S.W.2d 441 (Mo. 1946) (finding certificate of insurance that doubled liability coverage, added insurance for property damage, and certified complete coverage of all operations in connection with the insured’s construction contract was part of the insurance contract); see also, Section 1.5.a.(1) of this endorsement:
This policy is amended to include as an insured any person or organization (hereinafter called Additional Insured) from whom you lease or rent property and which requires you to add such person or organization as an Additional Insured on this policy.
Further, State ex rel. State Highway Commission v. Johnson, 592 S.W.2d 854, 857-8 (Mo. Ct. App. 1979), says that a court may consider the circumstances under which the contract was made. These circumstances, as discussed below in the section on latent ambiguity, also support [*18] a finding that an ordinary person would expect to be covered for camp activities, not just for dorm rooms and conference space.
For these reasons, a patent ambiguity exists. The disputed phrase not only should be interpreted in favor of the Defendants, but the Defendants’ interpretation is arguably the only one that would make sense to an ordinary person under these circumstances.
b. Latent Ambiguity
Even if there were no patent ambiguity, the Court can look at extrinsic evidence to determine if there is a latent ambiguity.7 Royal Banks of Mo. v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. banc 1991) (“A latent ambiguity . . . must be developed by extrinsic evidence.”).
7 Although Defendants do not use the term latent ambiguity, this appears to be the crux of Defendants’ argument: that even if the “premises leased” term is not ambiguous on its face, it is ambiguous when applied to the facts at hand.
A latent ambiguity exists when a contract “on its face appears clear and unambiguous, but some collateral matter makes the meaning uncertain.” Id. In other words, an ambiguity is “latent if language, which is plain on its face, becomes uncertain upon application.” Gen. Am. Life Ins. Co. v. Barrett, 847 S.W.2d 125, 131 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993). For example, “[a] latent ambiguity may be one in which the description of the property is clear upon the face of the instrument, but it turns out that there is more than one estate to which the description applies; or it may be one where the property is imperfectly or in some respects erroneously described, so as not to refer with precision [*19] to any particular object.” Muilenburg, Inc. v. Cherokee Rose Design & Build, LLC, 250 S.W.3d 848, 854-55 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008) (quoting Prestigiacamo v. Am. Equitable Assur. Co. of N.Y., 240 Mo. App. 839, 221 S.W.2d 217, 221 (1949) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The case of Royal Banks of Mo. v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. banc 1991) provides another example. In Royal Banks, the Missouri Supreme Court found a latent ambiguity in an otherwise unambiguous contract where the contract described a $10,000.00 promissory note but where no $10,000.00 promissory note actually existed. Id. Looking to extrinsic evidence, the court concluded, “Evidence of a promissory note that fits the description in the guaranty in all respects except for principal amount, coupled with the fact that a $10,000.00 note did not exist, is a collateral matter that renders the meaning of the guaranty uncertain. Once it became apparent that there was no $10,000.00 note but instead only a $50,000.00 note, a latent ambiguity existed.” Id.
Although parol evidence may not ordinarily be considered to create an ambiguity, the Court may consider such evidence to demonstrate the existence of collateral matters that create a latent ambiguity. Royal Banks of Mo. v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. banc. 1991) (“A latent ambiguity is not apparent on the face of the writing and therefore, must be developed by extrinsic evidence.”). Therefore, the Court may consider extrinsic evidence to determine if a latent ambiguity exists. In this case, [*20] in the absence of a definition of “premises leased,” the surrounding facts suggest a latent ambiguity about what was intended by this term.
The plain language of the Amended Conference Contract alludes to Student Life’s use of and access to many more properties than merely conference space and lodging units during its event. For example, the Contract’s plain language contemplates Student Life’s use of a dining hall8 because the meals they contracted for were to be served there. Yet, the Contract does not specifically list the dining hall. Likewise, the Contract does not mention the chapel, despite Windermere’s title as Windermere Baptist Conference Center and its practice of contracting with church groups to conduct summer church camps. At a minimum, a jury could find the parties intended that campers would have access to the chapel, even though it was not listed. Finally, the Contract, like the Certificate of Insurance, refers to an “Event,” and Great American’s interpretation of the Contract considers only part of what was going to occur at that event.
8 The Contract’s “Meal Information” section provides start and end times for specific meals and alludes to Student Life’s use of the Dining Hall, stating, “All guests eating in the dining hall must have a meal ticket or wrist band to be admitted into the Dining Hall.” [Doc. 35-5, p. 2].
The Court also considers the parties’ Fax Back Response Sheet. [Doc. 40-4]. This document confirms that the purpose of the parties’ [*21] agreement was to host an event, referred to by the Sheet as “Student Life Camp.” [Doc. 40-4]. In addition, the Sheet shows the parties’ understanding that Student Life’s campers would have access to not only conference and dorm space, but also a church for worship, recreational fields, a gymnasium, hiking trails, a body of water for “waterfront activities,” and as is relevant in this case, The Edge ropes course:
What are some free-time options on your campus?
o Sand Volleyball, Outdoor Basketball, Tennis, Mini Golf, Disc Golf, Pool, Hiking, The Edge (low/high ropes course), Paintball, Waterfront Activities (Inflatable water park, kayak, canoe, paddle boats, fishing, etc) . . .
See generally [Doc. 40-4 and p. 3 (emphasis added)]. Because Student Life was contracting with Windermere for an event–to host a camp complete with various camp activities and facilities–the Court cannot find that a reasonable insured would have intended the term, “premises leased,” to limit its coverage only to liability arising out of conference rooms and lodging units.
There is no dispute that Student Life camper, Karlee Richards, was authorized to access The Edge at the time of her accident. Based on the Fax [*22] Back Response Sheet, alone, which suggests that Student Life would expect to have access to The Edge during its event, a reasonable juror could conclude that The Edge was a “portion of the premises leased,” which would entitle Windermere to coverage as an additional insured for its liability to Richards. Therefore, summary judgment must be denied.9
9 Although Defendants did not file their own motions for summary judgment, Defendants ask the Court to grant summary judgment in their favor, citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f)(1), which provides: “After giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, the court may: (1) grant summary judgment for a nonmovant.” [Doc. 53]. Granting summary judgment for the non-movants under this rule is discretionary. Due to the fact that the focus of this briefing has been on Great American’s request for summary judgment, the Court declines to exercise its discretion under this provision. However, the Court will permit Defendants to file their own motions for summary judgment within 20 days of the date of this Order, not inconsistent with this order as to the issues ruled against them.
In the alternative, it is well-settled that an ambiguity within an insurance policy must be construed against the insurer. Krombach v. Mayflower Ins. Co., Ltd., 827 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Mo. banc 1992). As already discussed, an ambiguity exists as to what the parties intended “premises leased” to refer to. Therefore, construing this ambiguous term against Great American requires the Court to apply the meaning “which would be attached by an ordinary person of average understanding if purchasing insurance.” Id. An ordinary insured could reasonably understand this phrase to refer to the areas to which Student Life had access during its event at Windermere. Therefore, Great American’s Motion for Summary Judgement must be denied on this issue.
Great American’s cited authorities do not require a different outcome. First, the coverage disputes in many of Great American’s authorities center on how to interpret “arising out of,” [*23] without any dispute as to what properties the parties understood to be the “leased premises” covered by the additional insured endorsement at issue. In contrast to the facts before this Court, each of these cases involved an undisputed lease contract between a landlord and tenant, rather than an event contract between two organizations, and there was no dispute or ambiguity surrounding what property was meant by the “premises leased” or a similar term. See, e.g., Belz Park Place v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc., 2015 WL 11145058 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 23, 2015) (within context of landlord-tenant relationship, involving a lease contract, and no dispute about the leased premises); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Michigan Mut. Ins. Co., 891 N.E.2d 99 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008) (same); Northbrook Ins. Co. v. American States Ins. Co., 495 N.W.2d 450 (Minn. Ct. App. 1993) (same); Hilton Hotels Corp v. Employers Ins. of Wausau, 629 So.2d 1064 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1994) (same); SFH, Inc. v. Millard Refrigerated Svcs., Inc., 339 F.3d 738 (8th Cir. 2003) (same).
For example, in U.S. Fidelity & Guar. v. Drazic, 877 S.W.2d 140 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994). the Missouri Court of Appeals considered additional insured coverage within the context of a landlord-tenant relationship and an unambiguous lease contract. The Drazics leased a portion of their basement to the Brewers, and the Drazics were named as additional insureds under the Brewers’ liability insurance policy. Id. at 141. After the Brewers’ employee fell in a parking lot near the Drazics’ building and injured herself, she filed suit alleging that the Drazics negligently discharged steam from their dry cleaning business, which formed ice on the parking area [*24] causing her fall. Id. at 141-42. The policy’s additional insured endorsement provided coverage to the Drazics as additional insureds “but only with respect to liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that part of the premises designated below leased to the named insured.” Id. at 142-43 (emphasis added). The court considered the parties’ lease contract, which identified the premises leased as a “designated portion of a commercial building known and numbered as 418 Manchester Road, Ballwin, Missouri 63011, plus the area adjacent to the entrance of Brewer’s Quilt Shop for installation of their office.” Id. at 142. The court reasoned that the endorsement’s “plain language contemplated coverage for the Drazics as additional insureds for liability arising out of incidents taking place in that part of the building leased to the Brewers pursuant to the lease contract” and that there was no coverage because the accident at issue “took place on a parking area outside the building.” Id. at 143.
In contrast to Drazic, the Great American policy does not limit coverage to the “premises designated below” accompanied by a lease that specifically identifies an address or description of the area unambiguously covered by this [*25] clause. Also unlike the facts before this Court, there is no dispute or uncertainty in Drazic about what is meant by the “premises [leased].”
In addition, the Court rejects Great American’s reliance on Drazic for the separate proposition that “the purpose of additional insured endorsements obtained in a landlord-tenant context is to provide landlords protection from vicarious liability due to a tenant‘s action which takes place on the premises that the tenant has leased.” [Doc. 35, p. 16 (quoting Drazic, 877 S.W.2d at 143)]. Despite articulating this theory, the Drazic court did not resolve the coverage question based on vicarious liability: “The injury to Leary occurred due to alleged negligence on the part of the landlords’ business . . . and it did not occur on the premises leased to the [tenants].” Drazic, 877 S.W.2d at 143 (emphasis added). Furthermore, to the extent Great American contends that additional insured coverage is limited to acts for which Windermere is vicariously liable, the Court disagrees. The case from which this theory originated involved an insurance contract materially different from the one at issue here because the policy language in that case specifically limited coverage for additional insureds “against [*26] vicarious liability for the acts of the named insured.” See Hormel Foods Corp. v. Northbrook Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 938 F. Supp. 555, 558-560 (D. Minn. 1996) (quoting Harbor Ins. Co. v. Lewis, 562 F. Supp. 800, 802 (E.D. Pa. 1983) and explaining the origins and inapplicability of this theory). In contrast, coverage under the Great American policy cannot be said to turn on “vicarious liability” because the policy provision does not use this language.
As for other cases cited by Great American, these cases are distinguishable because they involve starkly different contract language than the term, “premises leased,” which this Court has found to be ambiguous. See, e.g., Lancaster v. Ferrell Paving, Inc., 397 S.W.3d 606 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) (involving different endorsement language: “liability arising out of your ongoing operations performed for the [additional] insured”) (emphasis added). Finally, Great American’s reliance on contract cases outside of the insurance context is misplaced because these cases also interpret contract provisions that are unlike the policy language at issue here. See, e.g., Once Upon a Time, LLC v. Chappelle Properties, LLC, 209 So. 3d 1094, 2016 WL 3031347 (Ala. 2016) (applying Alabama law to an indemnity agreement that did not contain the language “arising out of” or “premises leased” and did not involve insurance policy); Union Realty Co., Ltd. v. Family Dollar Stores of Tennessee, Inc., 255 S.W.3d 586 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008) (interpreting contract language regarding the landlord’s and tenant’s obligations to procure insurance but no interpretation of insurance policy language at [*27] issue); Pilla v. Tom-Boy, Inc., 756 S.W.2d 638 (Mo. Ct. App. 1988) (interpreting indemnity provision in a lease that did not contain the language “arising out of” outside of insurance context and no dispute surrounding what constituted the leased premises).
Finally, the Court rejects Great American’s separate argument that whether a tenant has “shared” versus “exclusive” use of an area controls whether that area is part of the “premises leased” covered by an insurance endorsement. For example, in Colony Ins. Co. v. Pinewoods Enterprises, Inc., 29 F. Supp. 2d 1079 (E.D. Mo. 1998), a district court found insurance coverage for liability arising out of an area shared between the additional insured and other parties. In Colony, Bledsoe and Pinewoods entered a leasing contract in which Bledsoe (the lessee) leased portions of Pinewood’s campgrounds for a concert. Id. at 1081. Pinewoods was named as an additional insured under Bledsoe’s general liability policy with Colony Insurance. Id. During the concert, a rain storm caused many of the concert goers to take shelter on and under a deck attached to a lodge at the campground. Id. The lodge’s deck collapsed, injuring numerous concertgoers. Id. At issue was whether Colony Insurance’s coverage of Pinewoods as an additional insured extended to this accident. Id.
The court considered both the insurance [*28] policy endorsement and the parties’ lease contract. The endorsement provided additional insured coverage “but only with respect to liability arising out of your [Bledsoe’s] operations or premises owned by or rented to you.” Id. at 1082. The leasing contract specifically provided that Bledsoe “shall have the exclusive use of the Pinewoods Park” for a specific time period with the exception of the Lodge area. Id. at 1081-82. The contract also provided:
(5) LESSEE [Bledsoe], its customers, guests and invitees will share the Lodge area and facilities, i.e. store, gift shop, bait and tackle area . . . with the fishermen and permanent guests and any campers reserved prior to June 10, 1995.
Id. at 1082. The court concluded that Bledsoe leased the lodge area because the contract “specifically (albeit not exclusively) lease[d] the lodge area to Bledsoe,” and the endorsement provided that coverage extended to “the premises owned by or rented to you.” Id. at 1083 (emphasis added). The court concluded that “Colony’s additional insured endorsement extend[ed] coverage to Pinewoods for any liability arising out of the collapse of the lodge’s deck because the lodge was part of the premises leased to Bledsoe.” Id. In contrast to Great American’s contention that exclusivity [*29] is required, the Colony court still found the lodge premises to be “rented to” Bledsoe for purposes of additional insured coverage, despite the fact that the parties’ lease agreement provided that Bledsoe would “share” the lodge area premises at issue “with the fishermen and permanent guests and any campers.” Id. (emphasis added).
C. Liability Coverage for Kendra Brown or Other Windermere Employees
Great American also moves for summary judgment on the issue of coverage for Kendra Brown, Windermere’s employee. Great American argues that no coverage exists for Brown or any other Windermere employee because the Additional Insured Endorsement does not provide additional insured status and/or coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Brown is not identified anywhere in Student Life’s Great American policy nor is she listed as an Additional Insured on a Certificate of Liability. Therefore, any coverage for Brown would necessarily derive from her status as Windermere’s employee, and employees are not covered as insureds by the Additional Insured Endorsement.
Brown does not dispute that the Additional Insured Endorsement fails to provide coverage for an additional insured’s employees. Instead, [*30] Brown argues that Windermere should be considered a “Named Insured,” which in turn, makes the provisions applicable to “Named Insureds” also applicable to Windermere, including the provision that expands coverage for “Named Insureds” to their employees. The Court rejects this argument as based on an unreasonable interpretation of the policy.
Brown contends that the policy does not define “Named Insured,” and thus, it must be given the meaning that would be attached by an ordinary person. Brown reasons that an ordinary person would define “Named Insured” as a person or entity that is actually named as an insured. In turn, Brown says, because the Certificate of Liability names Windermere as an additional insured, Windermere must be a “Named Insured.” Brown next points to the following provision:
Throughout this Policy the words “you” and “your” refer to the Named Insured shown in the Declarations, and any other person or organization qualifying as a named insured under this Policy.
The word “insured” means any person or organization qualifying as such under
SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED.
[Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. Brown contends that because she has established that Windermere [*31] is a “Named Insured,” “you” and “your” throughout the policy must also refer to Windermere. Next, Brown points to Section II of the policy:
SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED
2. Each of the following is also an Insured:
a. Your . . . “employees,” . . . but only for acts within the scope of their employment by you or while performing duties related to the conduct of your business.
[Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. Brown argues that if the Court accepts her contention as true that Windermere is a “Named Insured,” then “your” refers to Windermere, which means that Brown “is also an Insured” as “[y]our [Windermere’s] ’employee,'” according to Section II.2.a.
Brown’s argument fails because it is based on an unreasonable interpretation that Windermere is somehow a “Named Insured,” a status unsupported by the policy’s clear language.10 First, the policy distinguishes between mere “insureds” and those insureds that are “Named Insureds.” Compare “The word ‘insured’ means any person or organization qualifying as such under SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED” with “Throughout this Policy the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ refer to the Named Insured shown in the Declarations, and any other person or organization qualifying [*32] as a named insured under this Policy.” [Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. The fact that the policy differentiates between the two statuses shows that they are different terms, despite Brown’s contention that all insureds named are “Named Insureds.”
10 Furthermore, even if the Court accepted Brown’s contention that Windermere, an Additional Insured, was in fact, a Named Insured, Brown still has not shown that she is entitled to coverage under the policy as a Windermere employee because she has not alleged any facts or argument that her liability to Richards arose from “acts within the scope of [her] employment . . . or while performing duties related to the conduct of [Windermere’s] business.” Section II.(2).a.; [Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)].
Furthermore, the policy’s plain language identifies which insureds are “Named Insureds.” First, the top of the policy’s Declarations page states:
NAMED INSURED LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION
[Doc. 42-2, p. 29 of 166]. Therefore, because Student Life is “shown in the Declarations,” it is a “Named Insured.” The policy also includes a Named Insured Endorsement, which amends the Declarations by providing, “It is agreed that the Named Insured shown in the Declarations is amended to read as follows.” [Doc. 42-2, p. 41 of 166]. This statement is followed by a list of various organizations’ names related to Lifeway, which the endorsement provides are also included as Named Insureds. Id. Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude that these organizations constitute “any other . . . organization qualifying as a named insured under this Policy” and therefore are also “Named Insureds.” [Doc. 42-2, p. 65 of 166 (“CGL [*33] Policy”)]. Based on the policy’s plain language, an ordinary person would understand “Named Insured” to refer to those insureds identified on the Declarations Page next to “NAMED INSURED” and those insureds identified in the Named Insured Endorsement. To interpret the policy to mean that anyone named as an insured, including those named as Additional Insureds, were also entitled to the same expansive level of coverage as the “Named Insureds” would be unreasonable.
In contrast to those entities that are clearly designated as “Named Insureds,” Windermere is not listed as a Named Insured on either the Declarations page or on the endorsement adding Named Insureds to the Declarations page. Instead, the policy’s only reference to Windermere is located in the Certificate of Liability it was issued prior to Student Life’s 2014 camp, which included it as an “Additional Insured,” providing:
Windermere Conference Center is included as Additional Insured on the General Liability policy, as per endorsement #CG 82 24, ed. 12/01, and on the Automobile Liability policy, as per endorsement #CA 8518, ed. 6/09.
[Doc. 35-7 (“Certificate of Liability Insurance”) (emphasis added)]. The Additional Insured Endorsement [*34] provides that it “is added to SECTION II — WHO IS AN INSURED, 5. AUTOMATIC ADDITIONAL INSURED(S).” [Doc. 35-17, p.1 (“Endorsement”).] Had Great American intended to make Windermere a “Named Insured,” it could have identified it as a “Named Insured” within the Certificate of Liability, or it could have provided that Windermere be added to the Named Insured Endorsement, rather than merely “Section II — Who is an Insured.” It did neither. For these reasons, an ordinary person would understand Windermere to be an “insured,” not a “Named Insured,” and thus, the words “you” and “your” throughout the policy do not refer to Windermere. Accordingly, the provision that expands coverage for “Named Insureds” to cover their employees as insureds does not apply to Windermere. Because Brown is not an insured under the policy and therefore not entitled to coverage, summary judgment is granted in favor of Great American on this point.
D. Duty to Defend
Great American also contends that it owes no duty to defend Windermere or Brown and it should be granted summary judgment on this claim. Under Missouri law, the duty to defend “arises whenever there is a potential or possible liability to pay based on [*35] the facts at the outset of the case and is not dependent on the probable liability to pay based on the facts ascertained through trial.” Columbia Cas. Co. v. HIAR Holding, L.L.C., 411 S.W.3d 258, 265 n.10 (Mo. 2013) (internal quotation marks removed). Because the Court has already found that Brown and other Windermere employees are not insureds under Great American’s policy and thus, not entitled to coverage, it follows that Great American has no duty to defend Brown.11
11 This rationale was also articulated in Great American’s denial letter, which provided:
First, as to Kendra Brown, she is not listed as an additional insured on the Certificate of Liability Insurance, nor is there any indication on the [Certificate] that additional insured status is to be afforded to employees of Windermere. Finally, there is nothing in the specific form referenced on the Certificate . . . nor anywhere else in the Lifeway Policy, that affords additional insured status to Kendra Brown or any other Windermere employee. . . . Kendra Brown is simply not an additional insured under the Lifeway Policy such that Great American is denying the tender made on behalf of Kendra Brown.
[Doc. 35-18, p. 5-6 of 12 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)].
As to whether Great American owes a duty to defend Windermere, the Endorsement makes clear that any coverage for Windermere as an additional insured would be excess, and the policy does not afford [*36] a defense when (1) its coverage is excess and (2) when the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier.12 Under Missouri law, “‘an insurer’s duty to defend is purely contractual.'” Markel Am. Ins. Co. v. Unnerstall, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3430, 2009 WL 57451 at *4 (E.D. Mo. 2009) (quoting Crown Ctr. Redevelopment Corp. v. Occidental Fire, 716 S.W.2d 348 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986)). “If there is no contract to defend, there is no duty to defend.” Id. In relevant part, the Endorsement provides:
5. AUTOMATIC ADDITIONAL INSURED(S)
a. Additional Insured — Manager or Lessor of Premises
(2) With respect to the insurance afforded the Additional Insured identified in Paragraph A.(1) of this endorsement, the following additional provisions apply:
(d) Coverage provided herein is excess over any other valid and collectible insurance available to the Additional Insured whether the other insurance is primary, excess, contingent or on any other basis unless a written contractual arrangement specifically requires this insurance to be primary.
12 This rationale was also articulated in Great American’s denial letter, which provided:
[E]ven if indemnity coverage did exist for Windermere and Kendra Brown under the Lifeway Policy, it is also clear that that [sic] Great American owes no defense obligation of the pending lawsuit. Your December 17, 2015 correspondence renewing the tender of defense on behalf of both Windermere and Kendra Brown makes clear that Windermere is being [*37] afforded a defense by Church Mutual and that Kendra Brown is being defended by both Church Mutual and Shelter. . . . [T]he Social Service Agency General Liability Broadening Endorsement makes clear that any coverage that did exist would be excess over all other insurance, including both the Church Mutual and Shelter policies. The “Other Insurance” provision of the Lifeway Policy makes clear that, where its coverage is excess and a defense is being provided by another carrier, Great American owes no duty to defend. Hence, Windermere’s and Kendra Brown’s tender of the defense of the pending lawsuit is denied for this additional reason.
[Doc. 35-18, p. 6 (“Feb. 4, 2016 Denial Letter”)].
The Additional Insured Endorsement’s Section 5.a.(2)(d) is clear that any coverage afforded is “excess over any other valid and collectible insurance,” regardless of the priority of coverage of the insurance–be it “primary, excess, [or] contingent.” In this case, Church Mutual had already tendered, or attempted to tender its policy limits on Windermere’s behalf in the underlying lawsuit. Therefore, although Windermere is entitled to coverage under the Great American policy, this coverage is excess.
The Other Insurance provision then states that where coverage is excess [*38] and the insured is being provided a defense by another carrier, Great American has no defense obligation. [Doc. 42-2, p. 66-68 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)]. Specifically, this provision provides:
SECTION IV — COMMERCIAL GENERAL LIABILITY CONDITIONS
4. Other Insurance
(2) When this insurance is excess we will have no duty under Coverages A or B to defend the Insured against any “suit” if any other insurer has a duty to defend the Insured against the “suit.” . . .
Windermere is currently being defended by its own insurance carrier, Church Mutual. Because the policy is clear that there is no defense obligation where coverage is excess and a defense is being provided by another carrier, which is the case here, the Court rejects Windermere’s contention that it is entitled to a defense based on a potential for coverage. Therefore, summary judgment is granted for Great American on its duty to defend.
E. Medical Payments Coverage
Finally, Great American moves for summary judgment as to the Medical Payments coverage for Richards’s medical expenses. In its November 17, 2015 letter to Great American, Windermere demanded the Coverage C Medical Payments limits for Richards. The provision governing Medical [*39] Payments provides in relevant part:
COMMERCIAL GENERAL LIABILITY COVERAGE FORM
Coverage C — Medical Payments
1. Insuring Agreement
a. We will pay medical expenses as described below for “bodily injury” caused by an accident:
(b) the expenses are incurred and reported to us within one year of the date of the accident; and
[Doc. 42-2, p. 62 of 166 (“CGL Policy”)].
Great American argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as to this coverage because medical expenses were not reported to Great American within the time limit provided in Paragraph 1.a.(b). This provision provides that Great American will pay medical expenses for bodily injury “provided that . . . (b) the expenses are incurred and reported to us within one year of the date of the accident.” Section 1.a.(b) (emphasis added).
Richards’s accident occurred on June 4, 2014. Neither she nor anyone on her behalf made claim for Medical Payments coverage until Windermere’s November 17, 2015 demand letter more than one year after the date of the accident. Therefore, Great American is entitled to summary judgment as to the Medical Payments coverage.
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff Great American Alliance [*40] Insurance Company’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. [Doc. 34]. Summary judgment is granted on Great American’s liability coverage for Kendra Brown, individually, as an additional insured; Great American’s duty to defend Kendra Brown and Windermere; and Great American’s Medical Payments coverage for Karlee Richards’s injuries. Summary judgment is denied on Great American’s coverage for Windermere as an additional insured. It is further ordered that on or before July 25, 2017, Defendants may file any motions for summary judgment not inconsistent with this order as to the issues ruled against them.
/s/ Nanette K. Laughrey
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
United States District Judge
Dated: July 5, 2017
Jefferson City, Missouri
Cole v. Boy Scouts of America, 2011 S.C. LEXIS 383Posted: December 12, 2011 Filed under: Legal Case, Minors, Youth, Children, Sports, Youth Camps | Tags: Boy Scouts, BSA, camping, church, softball Leave a comment
Cole v. Boy Scouts of America, 2011 S.C. LEXIS 383
Karen Cole, as Guardian ad litem for David C., Appellant, v. Boy Scouts of America, Indian Waters Council, Pack 48, Faith Presbyterian Church and Jeff Wagner, Defendants, of whom Jeff Wagner is, Respondent. David Cole and Karen Cole, Appellants v. Boy Scouts of America, Indian Waters Council, Pack 48, Faith Presbyterian Church and Jeff Wagner, Defendants, of whom Jeff Wagner is, Respondent.
Opinion No. 27072
SUPREME COURT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
2011 S.C. LEXIS 383
October 5, 2011, Heard
December 5, 2011, Filed
THIS DECISION IS NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Appeal From Richland County. G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.
COUNSEL: Arthur K. Aiken, of Aiken & Hightower, P.A., of Columbia, for Appellants.
John M. Grantland, Alice P. Adams, and Ashley B. Stratton, of Murphy & Grantland, of Columbia, for Respondent.
JUDGES: JUSTICE HEARN. TOAL, C.J., BEATTY and KITTREDGE, JJ., concur. PLEICONES, J., concurring in a separate opinion.
OPINION BY: HEARN
JUSTICE HEARN: David Cole, the primary appellant, was injured while catching during a father-son game of softball at a Cub Scout outing when a baserunner collided with him at home plate. He brought this action alleging negligence and recklessness against the baserunner and the sponsors of the game. The circuit court judge granted summary judgment to the baserunner, and we affirm.
In March 2004, David Cole and his son, David Jr., who was a member of Cub Scout Pack 48, attended a Cub Scout family camping trip. During the course of the trip, Cole and David Jr. participated in a father-son, pick-up softball game. Jeff Wagner and his son were also on the camping trip and were playing on the opposite team from the Coles in the softball game. Although one of the older boys had been playing [*2] catcher, Cole took over the position because he was afraid the boy would be hit by a foul ball or by the batter.
Neither of the teams kept score, and during each inning everyone was allowed to bat. Apparently, some of the fathers were playing too aggressively in the minds of some participants and hitting the ball with full swings. One of the Scout leaders, Keith Corley, briefly interrupted the game and asked them to play more safely, fearing that they were putting the scouts in danger.
During Wagner’s next turn at bat, he hit a double. Another father came up to bat after him and hit the ball into the outfield, potentially allowing Wagner to score. As Wagner reached home plate, he collided with Cole, who had moved on top of the plate, thereby placing his body directly in the baseline. Wagner was running so fast that he was unable to stop or change directions in time to avoid Cole. Upon impact, Wagner flipped in the air and landed on a bat, breaking a rib. Cole suffered a closed head injury and was rendered semiconscious. He then began bleeding and went into convulsions. Cole had to be airlifted to Palmetto Richland Hospital where he spent two days in the intensive care unit. David Jr. [*3] witnessed the entire accident in fear that his father was going to die.
Cole and his wife Karen, personally and as guardian ad litem for David Jr. (collectively, Appellants), brought this action against Wagner, the Boy Scouts of America, Indian Waters Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Pack 48, and Faith Presbyterian Church for personal injury, loss of consortium, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Wagner 1 moved for summary judgment, contending he owed no duty to Cole because Cole assumed the risks incident to the sport of softball. The circuit court granted Wagner’s motion, and this appeal followed.
1 The Coles settled with all the other defendants.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
[HN1] An appellate court reviewing a grant of summary judgment applies the same standard used by the trial court. Doe ex rel. Doe v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 393 S.C. 240, 244, 711 S.E.2d 908, 910 (2011). Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Rule 56(c), SCRCP. [HN2] In determining whether a triable issue of material fact exists, the Court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Wogan v. Kunze, 379 S.C. 581, 585, 666 S.E.2d 901, 903 (2008) [*4] [HN3] “In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment in cases applying the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof, the non-moving party is only required to submit a mere scintilla of evidence.” Turner v. Milliman, 392 S.C. 116, 122, 708 S.E.2d 766, 769 (2011). [HN4] “A motion for summary judgment on the basis of the absence of a duty is a question of law for the court to determine.” Oblachinski v. Reynolds, 391 S.C. 557, 560, 706 S.E.2d 844, 845 (2011). If a legal duty is established, whether the defendant breached that duty is a question of fact. Singletary v. S.C. Dept. of Educ., 316 S.C. 153, 157, 447 S.E.2d 231, 233 (Ct. App. 1994).
Appellants argue that the circuit court erred in finding Cole assumed the risk of his injury by engaging in a game of softball because Wagner’s conduct was outside the scope of the game. Specifically, Appellants argue Wagner’s behavior was inconsistent with the ordinary risks of softball because the game was intended to be noncompetitive, Wagner violated a rule of the game, and he acted recklessly. We disagree.
[HN5] “Primary implied assumption of risk arises when the plaintiff impliedly assumes those risks that are inherent in a [*5] particular activity.” Davenport v. Cotton Hope Plantation Horizontal Prop. Regime, 333 S.C. 71, 81, 508 S.E.2d 565, 570 (1998). The doctrine of primary implied assumption of risk “goes to the initial determination of whether the defendant’s legal duty encompasses the risk encountered by the plaintiff.” Id. [HN6] To establish a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. Doe, 393 S.C. at 246, 711 S.E.2d at 911. Absent a legally recognized duty, the defendant in a negligence action is entitled to a judgment as matter of law. Hurst v. East Coast Hockey League, 371 S.C. 33, 37, 637 S.E.2d 560, 562 (2006).
In Hurst, we considered the application of assumption of risk in a sports context. The plaintiff was injured when a hockey puck struck him in the face while he was watching a professional hockey game. 371 S.C. at 36, 673 S.E.2d at 561. The plaintiff sued the hockey team for negligence, and we affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the team finding that “a flying puck is inherent to the game of hockey and is also a common, expected, and frequent risk of hockey.” Id. at 38, 673 S.E.2d at 562-63. We held that by attending the hockey [*6] game, the plaintiff implicitly assumed the risks inherent in the sport and the defendant had no duty to protect him from those risks. Id. at 38, 673 S.E.2d at 562.
Appellants argue that Hurst is factually distinguishable, and therefore inapplicable, since the plaintiff in Hurst was a spectator and the game was being played by a professional team. Both of these arguments are unavailing. We acknowledge that the duty owed by a player to a spectator may differ in form to a duty owed to a coparticipant in a sport, but only because a duty owed to a spectator would be greater. Thus, if anything, by playing the game, Cole assumed a greater risk than the plaintiff in Hurst who was a mere spectator.
Furthermore, it is legally inconsequential that Hurst involved a professional sport. Hurst contained no qualifying language to limit its holding to the professional sports context, and we take this opportunity to emphasize that the critical fact is not the level of play, but the nature of the sport itself. See Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St. 3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699, 702 (Ohio 1990) ( [HN7] “Whether the activity is organized, unorganized, supervised or unsupervised is immaterial to the standard of liability.“). A risk inherent [*7] in a sport can be found at any level of play, possibly more so in a non-professional arena where the players engage with less skill and athleticism. While Cole was playing a casual game in which the teams did not even keep score, he was still playing softball, which is a contact sport. 2 Where a person chooses to participate in a contact sport, whatever the level of play, he assumes the risks inherent in that sport. See Landrum v. Gonzalez, 257 Ill. App. 3d 942, 629 N.E.2d 710, 714, 196 Ill. Dec. 165 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994) (noting that the relative inquiry into the standard of care is whether the sport is a contact sport, which should be determined “by examining the objective factors surrounding the game itself, not on the subjective expectations of the parties”); Keller v. Mols, 156 Ill. App. 3d 235, 509 N.E.2d 584, 586, 108 Ill. Dec. 888 (Ill. App. Ct. 1987) (“[I]n determining whether a sports participant may be liable for injuries to another player caused by mere negligence, the relevant inquiry is whether the participants were involved in a contact sport, not whether they were organized and coached.”). Therefore by playing softball, Cole assumed those risks that are integral to the sport of softball, which includes the risk of a collision at home plate.
2 Numerous [*8] courts across the country have similarly acknowledged softball is a contact sport. See, e.g., D’Agostino v. Easton Sports, Inc., No. X04HHDCV085026631S, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3200, 2010 WL 5492731, at *3 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 9, 2010) (unpublished decision) (noting that “softball is a contact sport” (internal citation omitted)); Gonzalez, 629 N.E.2d at 715 (finding [HN8] softball is a contact sport in a case involving an employee pick-up game, noting that “physical contact is part of the game”); Feld v. Borkowski, 790 N.W.2d 72, 79 (Iowa 2010) (concluding that softball is a contact sport and noting that this was the conclusion of other courts that have considered this question); Crawn v. Campo, 136 N.J. 494, 643 A.2d 600, 606 (N.J. 1994) (applying the standard of care applied for contact sports across most states to softball); Licitra v. Inc. Vill. of Garden City, 4 Misc. 3d 1022[A], 798 N.Y.S.2d 345, 2004 NY Slip Op 50993[U], 2004 WL 2034999, at *2 (N.Y. App. Div. 2004) (unpublished opinion) (“The risk of injury is clearly inherent in contact sports such as softball.”); Kalan v. Fox, 187 Ohio App. 3d 687, 2010 Ohio 2951, 933 N.E.2d 337, 341-42 (Ohio Ct. App. 2010) (noting that physical contact is inevitable in contact sports like softball).
Appellants accordingly contend that Wagner violated a rule of softball [*9] by “running over the catcher during a play at home plate,” and therefore his conduct was outside the scope of the game. However, [HN9] the risk of someone violating a rule of the game is one of the risks taken when engaging in a sport. See Landrum, 629 N.E.2d at 714 (citing Oswald v. Township High Sch. Dist. No. 214, 84 Ill. App. 3d 723, 406 N.E.2d 157, 160, 40 Ill. Dec. 456 (Ill. Ct. App. 1980)) (noting that “rule infractions, deliberate or unintentional, are virtually inevitable in contact games” and thus a different standard of care in such sports is justified). If no one ever violated the rules, then there would be no need for penalty shots in basketball, a penalty box in hockey, or flags on the field in football. Collisions at home plate are common, mainly because catchers often attempt to keep a runner from scoring by blocking the plate with their body. Even if a rule prohibits running into the catcher, that fact alone is insufficient evidence to show the injury resulting from the violation of the rule was not inherent in the sport.
As a final matter, Appellants argue that even if mere negligence may be outside the duty of care, Wagner’s conduct was reckless and therefore outside the scope of risks assumed in the game of [*10] softball. [HN10] “[R]ecklessness or willfulness may be inferred from conduct so grossly negligent that a person of ordinary reason and prudence would then have been conscious of the probability of resulting injury.” Yaun v. Baldridge, 243 S.C. 414, 419, 134 S.E.2d 248, 251 (1964). “[R]ecklessness implies the doing of a negligent act knowingly . . . [or] the conscious failure to exercise due care.” Id. (quoting State v. Rachels, 218 S.C. 1, 8, 61 S.E.2d 249, 252 (1950)). “Due care” can be defined as “that degree of care which a person of ordinary prudence and reason would exercise under the same circumstances.” Berberich v. Jack, 392 S.C. 278, 287, 709 S.E.2d 607, 612 (2011) (quoting Hart v. Doe, 261 S.C. 116, 122, 198 S.E.2d 526, 529 (1973)).
Even assuming, arguendo, that Wagner’s conduct could be characterized as reckless, it was not so reckless as to involve risks outside the scope of softball. [HN11] The likelihood of someone running too fast to stop or playing more aggressively than anticipated is part of the competitive atmosphere of athletics. Almost all contact sports, especially ones that require protective gear as part of their equipment, involve conduct that a reasonably prudent person [*11] would recognize may result in injury. To the extent these risks inhere in the sport involved, we hold some recklessness by copaticipants in a contact sport must be assumed as part of the game. Accordingly, a player assumes the risk of ordinary recklessness committed within the course of the game.
We emphasize that this holding is limited to recklessness committed within the scope of the game and does not include intentional conduct by a coparticipant of a sport, or conduct so reckless as to be outside the scope of the game. 3 Even within the context of a contact sport, players owe reciprocal duties to not intentionally injure each other. Cole does not allege that Wagner’s conduct was intentional nor does he allege such recklessness as would fall outside the scope of the game of softball. Thus, Wagner’s conduct fell within the duty of care he owed to Cole as a coparticipant in the game.
3 While other courts have carved out exceptions for both reckless and intentional conduct, a viable recklessness claim must embrace conduct inconsistent with the game. See Rudzinski v. BB, No. 0:09-1819-JFA, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68471, 2010 WL 2723105 at *3 (D.S.C. 2010) (finding one boy had not acted recklessly in hitting another [*12] boy with the backswing of his golf club because he had not “engaged in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport of golf”); Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696, 710 (Cal. 1992) (failing to find defendant liable for recklessness for knocking over plaintiff and stepping on her hand during a game of touch football, stating that defendant’s conduct was not “so reckless as to be totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport”); Bourque v. Duplechin, 331 So. 2d 40, 42-43 (La. Ct. App. 1976) (finding defendant liable under a theory of recklessness where he had run several feet outside the baseline to collide with the second baseman in an effort to break up a double play and noting that such unsportsmanlike behavior was not incidental to playing softball).
Based on the foregoing, we affirm the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Wagner.
TOAL, C.J., BEATTY and KITTREDGE, JJ., concur. PLEICONES, J., concurring in a separate opinion.
CONCUR BY: PLEICONES
JUSTICE PLEICONES: I concur in the decision to affirm the grant of summary judgment because I would find that Wagner owed no duty to Cole under these [*13] circumstances, relying on the doctrine of implied primary assumption of the risk. Hurst v. East Coast Hockey League, 371 S.C. 33, 637 S.E.2d 560 (2006). I also note that I am not convinced that a game of pick-up softball is a contact sport.
Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832Posted: February 28, 2011 Filed under: Colorado, Legal Case, Minors, Youth, Children, Release (pre-injury contract not to sue) | Tags: ATV, church, Church Group, Exculpatory clause, Intertube, Release Leave a comment
Wycoff v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832
Taylor Wycoff, Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant, and American Medical Security Life Insurance Company, a Wisconsin insurance company, Intervenor-Appellee and Cross-Appellant, v. Grace Community Church of the Assemblies of God, a Colorado nonprofit corporation, Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
Court of Appeals Nos. 09CA1151, 09CA1200 & 09CA1222
COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION SIX
2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1832
December 9, 2010, Decided
THIS OPINION IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION AND SUBJECT TO REVISION UPON FINAL PUBLICATION
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Related proceeding at Wycoff v. Seventh Day Adventist Ass’n of Colo., 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1826 (Colo. Ct. App., Dec. 9, 2010)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
Boulder County District Court No. 07CV35. Honorable M. Gwyneth Whalen, Judge.
DISPOSITION: JUDGMENT AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS.
COUNSEL: Wilcox & Ogden, P.C., Ralph Ogden, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant.
David Lichtenstein, Denver, Colorado, for Intervenor-Appellee and Cross-Appellant.
Cooper & Clough, P.C., Paul D. Cooper, Jeremy L. Swift, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
JUDGES: Opinion by JUDGE CONNELLY. Carparelli, J., concurs. Furman, J., dissents.
OPINION BY: CONNELLY
Plaintiff, Taylor Wycoff, was seriously injured at a winter event held by defendant, Grace Community Church (Grace). Plaintiff and her insurer, intervenor American Medical Security Life Insurance Company (insurer), sued Grace and another defendant. Claims against that other defendant are addressed in Wycoff v. Seventh Day Adventist Ass’n, P.3d , 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1826 (Colo. App. Nos. 09CA1034 & 09CA1065, Dec. 9, 2010).
The jury returned verdicts against Grace totaling more than $ 4 million. The court reduced the total to $ 2 million (the limits of Grace’s insurance), awarding some $ 1.775 million to plaintiff and $ 225,000 to insurer. After prejudgment interest and costs, the court [*2] entered judgment of $ 2.6 million for plaintiff and $ 324,000 for insurer. We generally affirm but vacate the judgment, and we order the trial court to enter judgment in the higher amounts unreduced by any insurance limits.
Plaintiff was seventeen years old at the time of the accident. Though not a church member, she was one of sixty youths to attend a three-day, two-night event that Grace called “Winterama 2005.”
Grace contracted with Seventh Day Adventist Association of Colorado (SDA) to hold the event at Glacier View Ranch, in Ward, Colorado. Grace paid SDA for rooms, meals, and use of the ranch.
Plaintiff’s father paid Grace $ 40 for plaintiff to attend the event. Grace states that plaintiff did not pay more because it awarded her a “partial scholarship.” Plaintiff and her mother signed Grace’s one-page “Registration and information” form, which Grace contends released the personal injury claims now at issue.
After arriving and checking in at the ranch, plaintiff participated in church-sponsored activities. One activity was riding an inner tube tied to an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) driven around a frozen lake. This activity had been conducted in past years by Grace, and [*3] also by SDA, without incident.
A large boulder was embedded in the lake some thirty-five feet from shore. A Grace chaperone, accompanied by another man, drove the ATV towing youth participants around the frozen lake. Plaintiff got on an inner tube, and the chaperone began towing her. On plaintiff’s second loop around the lake, the Grace chaperone drove the ATV between the boulder and shoreline. Plaintiff’s inner tube, still tied to the ATV, veered off and crashed into the boulder.
The crash broke plaintiff’s back. She was rushed to intensive care and was hospitalized for several weeks. She suffered loss of bowel and bladder control, loss of vaginal sensation, and numbness in both legs making it difficult for her to walk and unable to run, bend, or squat.
II. Enforceability of the Alleged Release
The purported release was in a one-page “Registration and information” form. It consisted of the third sentence (emphasis not in the original) in the following paragraph:
I give permission for my child to participate in [Grace’s] Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it. I further give consent for any medical treatment necessary to be given to my child in case of injury [*4] or sickness. I will not hold Grace Community Church or it’s [sic] participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation. I also agree to come and pick up my child should they not obey camp rules.
The form was the subject of trial testimony after the court denied Grace’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff testified that she knew the activities would include riding on an ATV-towed inner tube but that her mother did not know this. The trial court denied Grace’s C.R.C.P. 50 motion for directed verdict at the close of plaintiff’s case-in-chief, ruling that the jury could find either that plaintiff’s mother had not made an informed release or alternatively that Grace had acted in a reckless manner not covered by any release.
Grace did not call plaintiff’s mother to testify in the defense case. At the close of all the evidence, and outside the jury’s presence, the parties discussed whether and how the jury should be instructed on the purported release. The trial court, for reasons not reflected in the record, ruled as a matter of law that the permission slip did not release Grace. It instructed the jury that the purported release was out of the case and should no [*5] longer be considered.
B. Overview of Exculpatory Clauses Affecting Minors
[HN1] The validity of exculpatory clauses purporting to release or waive future negligence claims is governed by four factors set out in Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). Usually, the issue turns on the final factor: “whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” Id.
In 2002, our supreme court held as a matter of public policy that parents cannot prospectively waive liability on behalf of minor children. Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229 (Colo. 2002). The next year, [HN2] the General Assembly superseded Cooper by enacting a statute allowing parents to “release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.” § 13-22-107(3), C.R.S. 2010.
The statute superseding Cooper declared that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions on behalf of their children, including deciding whether the children should participate in risky activities. § 13-22-107(1)(a)(I)-(V), C.R.S. 2010. It added that “[s]o long [*6] as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education.” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(V). But it further provided that the statute does not permit a parent to waive a child’s prospective claim for “willful and wanton, … reckless, … [or] grossly negligent” acts or omissions. § 13-22-107(4).
C. Standard of Review
[HN3] The relevant facts are undisputed, and our review is de novo. See Wolf Ranch, LLC v. City of Colorado Springs, 220 P.3d 559, 563 (Colo. 2009) (de novo review of statutory issues); Jones, 623 P.2d at 376 [HN4] (de novo review of validity of exculpatory clause prospectively releasing liability claims). Thus, while the record does not reflect the trial court’s reasoning, we are able independently to review the form to determine whether it was a legally effective release.
The statute does not elucidate what is necessary to render a parent’s decision to release a child’s prospective claims “voluntary and informed,” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(V). Grace contends this statutory language simply adopts the Jones standards for adults’ prospective releases of their own claims. We disagree.
The statute [*7] uses language not found in Jones or its progeny. The supreme court in Jones noted that the release there did not “fall within the category of agreements affecting the public interest.” 623 P.2d at 377. The inquiry relevant to this case — “whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language,” id. at 376 — does not expressly require that the decision to release one’s own prospective claims be an “informed” one. [HN5] We presume the legislature was aware of case law in this area, see Specialty Restaurants Corp. v. Nelson, 231 P.3d 393, 403-04 (Colo. 2010), and that its use of a new term was intended to have some significance. Thus, the statutory requirement that the parental decision be an “informed” one must mean something more than that, as already required by Jones, the form’s language be sufficiently clear to manifest intent to release liability.
We need not set forth in this case precisely how much information is required for a parental release to satisfy the statute. An “informed” decision — whether involving a legal or medical consent — typically means the “agreement to allow something to happen, [was] made with full knowledge of the risks involved [*8] and the alternatives.” Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 346 (9th ed. 2009) (defining “informed consent”); cf. People v. Maestas, 199 P.3d 713, 717 & n.9 (Colo. 2009) (“informed consent” for decisions waiving conflict-free counsel); Garhart ex rel. Tinsman v. Columbia/Healthone, L.L.C., 95 P.3d 571, 587 (Colo. 2004) (“informed consent” for medical decisions). In the present context, however, the legislature allowed parental releases “to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state.” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(VI), C.R.S. 2010. Arguably, this legislative aim could be undercut if courts required the same level of information to release a claim as to consent to a medical procedure.
There is no information in Grace’s one-page registration form describing the event activities, much less their associated risks. Stating that the children would participate in “Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it” does not indicate what the activities would involve and certainly does not suggest they would include ATV-towed inner-tube excursions around a frozen lake.
We are not persuaded by Grace’s argument that it was denied an opportunity to offer evidence — [*9] in particular, testimony of plaintiff’s mother — that the parental waiver was informed. We will assume for purposes of this case that a facially deficient exculpatory contract could be cured by extrinsic evidence. But cf. Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 127 F.3d 1273, 1275 n.2 (10th Cir. 1997) (noting “some dispute in the Colorado case law about whether a plaintiff’s experience or lack of experience should be considered when determining the ambiguity of a release”). Even so, the trial court did not preclude Grace from offering any evidence bearing on the validity of the purported release. And it took this issue away from the jury only after the close of all the evidence. Grace thus could have called plaintiff’s mother (whom it had listed as a potential trial witness), but it chose not to do so.
Finally, Grace’s clause does not pass muster even under Jones. [HN6] Such clauses “must be closely scrutinized,” Jones, 623 P.2d at 376, because they are “disfavored.” Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004); accord Boles v. Sun Ergoline, Inc., 223 P.3d 724, 726 (Colo. 2010). A release need not contain any magic words to be valid; in particular, it need not specifically [*10] refer to waiver of “negligence” claims. Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784-85 (Colo. 1989). But, in every Colorado Supreme Court case upholding an exculpatory clause, the clause contained some reference to waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in. See, e.g., Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 468 (release detailed risks of hunting trip with animals and participant agreed to “‘RELEASE [outfitter] FROM ANY LEGAL LIABILITY … for any injury or death caused by or resulting from” participation in hunt); Heil Valley Ranch, 784 P.2d at 782 (release form stated that riding horse involved inherent risks, and participant “EXPRESSLY ASSUMES SUCH RISK AND WAIVES ANY CLAIM HE SHE MIGHT STATE AGAINST THE STABLES AS A RESULT OF PHYSICAL INJURY INCURRED IN SAID ACTIVITIES”); Jones, 623 P.2d at 372 (skydiving plaintiff released company “from any and all liability, claims, demands or actions or causes of action whatsoever arising out of any damage, loss or injury” resulting from “negligence … or from some other cause”).
Grace’s form made no reference to the relevant activity or to waiving personal injury claims. The operative sentence (the third one in a paragraph) states [*11] only that plaintiff will not hold Grace “responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Surrounding sentences address other issues: the first gives permission to attend; the second consents to medical treatment; and the fourth agrees to pick up disobedient children.
Grace contends its “waiver included liability for ‘any’ injuries related to ‘all activities’ conducted at Winterama 2005.” But the form does not say this. And nowhere does the form provide parents with information allowing them to assess the degree of risk and the extent of possible injuries from any activity. The form is legally insufficient to release plaintiff’s personal injury claims.
III. Issues Under the Premises Liability Act
Grace contends the court made two errors under the Premises Liability Act, § 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2010. First, Grace denies being a “landowner” covered by the Act. Second, it contends that plaintiff was a “licensee” rather than an “invitee.” Because the facts relevant to these issues are undisputed, our review is de novo. Lakeview Associates, Ltd. v. Maes, 907 P.2d 580, 583-84 (Colo. 1995).
[HN7] The Act provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 328-29 (Colo. 2004). [*12] A landowner’s duties turn on a trial court’s determination of whether the plaintiff was an “invitee,” a “licensee,” or a “trespasser.” § 13-21-115(3) & (4), C.R.S. 2010. The greatest duty is owed to an “invitee”: a landowner must “exercise reasonable care” to protect such a person from dangers of which the landowner knew or should have known. Lombard v. Colorado Outdoor Educ. Center, Inc., 187 P.3d 565, 575 (Colo. 2008) (construing § 13-21-115(3)(c)(I)). In contrast, a “licensee” is owed lesser, and a “trespasser” owed the least, duties. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328.
A. Grace was a “Landowner”
[HN8] The Act’s definition of a “landowner” is broader than the term might suggest. See § 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2010 (“‘landowner’ includes, without limitation, an authorized agent or a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property”). Thus, a “person need not hold title to the property to be considered a ‘landowner.'” Burbach v. Canwest Investments, LLC, 224 P.3d 437, 441 (Colo. App. 2009) (citing Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1219 (Colo. 2002)).
It [*13] is not apparent why Grace seeks to avoid landowner status under the Act. The Act, meant to “protect landowners,” § 13-21-115(1.5)(e), C.R.S. 2010 (emphasis added), eliminates common law negligence claims while imposing only a duty of reasonable care toward invitees and even lesser duties toward licensees and trespassers. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328-29. If Grace were correct that it was not covered by the Act, it still would have owed plaintiff a duty of reasonable care and could not argue that plaintiff was a mere licensee owed only lesser duties under the Act.
In any event, we have little difficulty concluding that Grace was a landowner as defined by the Act. A landowner includes one “legally responsible … for the activities conducted … on real property.” § 13-21-115(1). This definition, which covers one “who is legally conducting an activity on the property,” Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1221, plainly encompassed Grace. It was clear, from Grace’s reservations agreement and understandings with SDA, that Grace was authorized to conduct (if not principally responsible for conducting) activities involving its group on the ranch property.
Grace’s arguments against this straightforward conclusion [*14] are unpersuasive. Its argument that SDA owned the property fails, because the Act is not limited to property owners. See Burbach, 224 P.3d at 441.
Grace further argues that it was “only present on the property for a short time” and thus “in a much worse position than SDA to know of the conditions of the property, or to know whether a particular activity would be dangerous on the property.” But [HN9] the Act is not limited to those in exclusive possession of land, see Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1220, and the Act expressly contemplates that there may be multiple landowners in a case. See § 13-21-115(4). There accordingly is no need for a binary choice as to which entity, as between Grace and SDA, was better able to protect plaintiff against injury. If Grace in fact had no reason to know of the relevant danger, that could provide a factual defense at trial rather than an exemption from the Act’s coverage.
Grace finally suggests that treating it as a landowner would lead to absurd results because everyone engaged in activities on the ranch, including plaintiff herself, would also be a landowner. The instant appeal does not present any issue regarding who, other than Grace, might have been a landowner. [*15] We note, however, that the Act’s definition of a landowner does not extend to everyone lawfully participating in activities on land; rather, it covers those “legally responsible … for the activities conducted” on land. § 13-21-115(1). It is doubtful that a mere participant such as plaintiff was “legally responsible” for the activities conducted at the ranch. Regardless, we are convinced there is nothing unfair, much less absurd, in applying the Act to Grace — an entity that indisputably was responsible for the ATV activity conducted on the ranch.
B. Plaintiff was an “Invitee” rather than “Licensee”
Grace’s contention that plaintiff was not an “invitee” but was merely a “licensee” affects the duty owed by Grace to plaintiff. If plaintiff was an invitee, then the trial court correctly instructed the jury that Grace had to use reasonable care to protect against dangers of which it knew or reasonably should have known. Lombard, 187 P.3d at 570-71, 575. In contrast, had plaintiff been a mere licensee, Grace’s duties would have been limited to actually known dangers. See Vigil, 103 P.3d at 328. We conclude that plaintiff was an invitee and, therefore, that the trial court correctly instructed [*16] the jury regarding Grace’s obligations toward her.
[HN10] An “invitee” is one who enters or remains on another’s land “to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested or … in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.” § 13-21-115(5)(a), C.R.S. 2010. [HN11] A “licensee” is one who enters or remains on another’s land “for the licensee’s own convenience or to advance his own interests, pursuant to the landowner’s permission or consent.” § 13-21-115(5)(b). The statute expressly provides that the latter category “includes a social guest.” Id.
[HN12] The principal distinction between an “invitee” and a “licensee” turns on whether that person’s presence on the land was affirmatively invited or merely permitted. The Second Restatement distinguishes an “invitation” from “mere permission” as follows: “an invitation is conduct which justifies others in believing that the possessor desires them to enter the land; permission is conduct justifying others in believing that the possessor is willing that they shall enter if they desire to do so.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. b (1965).
The Second Restatement [*17] gives examples of licensees whose presence is merely permitted rather than encouraged. “Examples of licensees” include those “taking short cuts across land with the consent of the possessor,” “[l]oafers, loiterers, and those who enter only to get out of the weather, with permission to do so,” and “[s]pectators and sightseers not in any way encouraged to come.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 reporter’s notes (1965).
Here, Grace affirmatively encouraged, and did not simply permit, the presence of plaintiff and other youth attendees. Grace sponsored the event, secured access to the land and lodgings, and arranged for meals. It took affirmative steps — including driving plaintiff and the others to the ranch — to facilitate their attendance and participation. To further encourage plaintiff’s attendance, Grace provided her with what it describes as a “partial scholarship.”
Simply put, Grace invited plaintiff and the other youths to attend its organized event. Grace’s actions demonstrate that Grace was affirmatively interested in having youths attend the event. Plaintiff’s situation was not comparable to that of a licensee merely permitted but not invited to be on another’s land.
[HN13] Only [*18] one type of licensee is categorically deemed not to be an invitee despite having affirmatively been encouraged to enter another’s land: a “social guest.” See § 13-21-115(5)(b). As one treatise puts it, such a guest “is an invitee who is not an invitee.” 5 Harper, Gray, and James on Torts § 27.11, at 234 (3d ed. 2008).
We are not persuaded by Grace’s contention that plaintiff was merely its social guest. Social hosts do not typically require their guests to sign permission slips and pay for their hospitality. Here, unlike a social guest accepting a host’s unrequited hospitality, plaintiff attended an organized group event — for which her father paid Grace $ 40 — intended to serve the mutual interests of the attendees and sponsor.
In contrast to the inapposite licensee categories, plaintiff falls more naturally within the Premises Liability Act’s definition of an invitee. [HN14] The Act creates two sometimes overlapping subcategories of invitees: (1) those present to transact business of mutual interest, and (2) public invitees. § 13-21-115(5)(a); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 & cmt. a (1965) (creating two similar subcategories, of “business visitors” and “public invitees,” but [*19] explaining that many invitees could be placed in either class).
Grace contends that plaintiff was not an invitee because her invitation did not involve transacting business and was not extended to the general public. We disagree.
As to the former subcategory, commercial business was transacted between Grace and plaintiff: plaintiff’s father paid Grace $ 40 so plaintiff could attend the event. [HN15] That Grace ultimately may not have profited (because the $ 40 was included among monies paid over to SDA or because Grace defrayed remaining costs through award of a “partial scholarship”) is not relevant under the Premises Liability Act.
Moreover, [HN16] those present on land “to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested,” § 13-21-115(5)(a), need not invariably be engaged in commercial activity. See generally Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 226 (9th ed. 2009) (definition of “business” can include “transactions or matters of a noncommercial nature”); cf. In re Parental Responsibilities of H.Z.G., 77 P.3d 848, 851-53 (Colo. App. 2003) (holding that Colorado’s long-arm statute, extending personal jurisdiction based on “[t]he transaction of any business within this state,” § 13-21-124(1)(a), C.R.S. 2010, [*20] applies to noncommercial activities; following out-of-state cases). Thus, other courts have extended “business invitee” status where nonprofit entities encouraged attendance by individuals whose presence provided no apparent economic benefit. See, e.g., Thomas v. St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, 283 N.W.2d 254, 258 (S.D. 1979) (visiting high school basketball player injured at a church school gymnasium was the church’s “business invitee”); Home v. N. Kitsap School Dist., 92 Wn. App. 709, 965 P.2d 1112, 1118 (Wash. Ct. App. 1998) (visiting assistant football coach at game where no admission was charged was an invitee because “[h]is presence was related to [public school district’s] business of running its schools”).
As to the latter subcategory, [HN17] one can be a “public” invitee where an invitation is extended to “the public, or classes or members of it.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. c (emphasis added). Thus, a garden club member was an invitee of an estate “opened to those members of the public who were on the Palm Beach Garden Club tour of homes.” Post v. Lunney, 261 So. 2d 146, 148 (Fla. 1972). And a girl-scout leader was an invitee where a bank allowed the troop (“a segment of the public”) [*21] free use of its facilities. McKinnon v. Washington Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 68 Wn.2d 644, 414 P.2d 773, 777-78 (Wash. 1966).
Ultimately, plaintiff was an invitee because Grace’s invitation carried an implicit assurance that Grace would act with reasonable care to protect her. See Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts 600 (2000) (“The real point is that [HN18] anyone who receives implicit or explicit assurance of safety is entitled to the invitee status and the reasonable care that goes with it.”). Grace’s post hoc denials of such implicit assurances are unpersuasive. Few youths would attend — and even fewer parents would allow and pay for their child’s attendance at — an overnight event whose sponsor disclaimed any intent or ability to make the event reasonably safe.
IV. Pretrial and Trial Proceedings
A. Pretrial Election
Though the case went to the jury only on a Premises Liability Act (PLA) claim, Grace argues that plaintiff should have been required to elect before trial between PLA and negligence claims. But it would have been unfair to compel such an election before resolving Grace’s contentions that it was not subject to the PLA. In any event, Grace was not prejudiced by lack of an earlier election. Cf. Thornbury v. Allen, 991 P.2d 335, 340 (Colo. App. 1999) [*22] (harmless error to instruct jury on both negligence and PLA claims).
B. Evidentiary Ruling
The trial court, over Grace’s objection, allowed into evidence the rental agreement that prohibited Grace from using the ATVs to tow anything. Grace renews its CRE 401-403 contentions that this contract was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.
[HN19] Trial courts have “broad discretion” to decide if documentary evidence should be admitted over relevancy and unfair prejudice objections. Uptain v. Huntington Lab, Inc., 723 P.2d 1322, 1329 (Colo. 1986). Here, it was within the trial court’s broad discretion to conclude that the rental contract was relevant and had probative value that was not significantly outweighed by any danger of unfair prejudice. That Grace used the rented ATVs for a contractually prohibited activity — the very activity that injured plaintiff — could properly be considered by the jury in evaluating whether Grace used reasonable care under all the circumstances of this case.
C. Closing Argument
Grace contends that plaintiff’s counsel’s closing argument was improper in various respects. None of Grace’s current objections was timely raised in the trial court. Indeed, after the case had [*23] been submitted, Grace’s counsel noted just one alleged error in plaintiff’s closing argument; as to that single argument, he stated, “I don’t know what a remedy for that is, but I think the record should reflect that [this argument] did occur.” The trial court responded that “[t]he record reflects what it was.”
Our review of these unpreserved objections is exceptionally limited. [HN20] There is no civil rule analogue to the criminal rule, Crim. P. 52(b), allowing plain error review. In civil damages cases, moreover, liberty is not at stake and there is no constitutional right to effective counsel. Thus, only in a “rare” civil case, involving “unusual or special” circumstances — and even then, only “when necessary to avert unequivocal and manifest injustice” — will an appellate court reverse based on an unpreserved claim of error. Harris Group, Inc. v. Robinson, 209 P.3d 1188, 1195 (Colo. App. 2009) (discussing Blueflame Gas, Inc. v. Van Hoose, 679 P.2d 579, 586-87 (Colo. 1984), and Robinson v. City & County of Denver, 30 P.3d 677, 684 (Colo. App. 2000)).
Grace’s unpreserved challenges to plaintiff’s closing arguments do not come close to meeting this demanding standard. The closing arguments [*24] were not plainly improper and did not result in any manifest injustice.
V. Amount of Judgment
The final issue is whether judgment should have entered in the full amount of the jury verdicts or a lesser amount covered by Grace’s insurance. The trial court reduced the judgment to $ 2 million total but, because it construed Grace’s policy to cover them, added prejudgment interest and costs. All sides challenge this amount. Grace contends the trial court acted erroneously (or at least precipitously) in construing the policy to cover prejudgment interest on top of the $ 2 million policy limits, while plaintiff and insurer contend that the amount of judgment should have been tied to the higher jury verdicts regardless of any lesser insurance coverage carried by Grace. We agree with plaintiff and insurer.
The issue turns on a construction of section 7-123-105, C.R.S. 2010. That statute dates to 1967, a year after a fractured supreme court case (generating a majority opinion, a separate concurrence, two separate dissents, and an “addendum” by the author of the majority opinion) grappled with the common law doctrine of charitable trust immunity. See Hemenway v. Presbyterian Hospital Ass’n, 161 Colo. 42, 419 P.2d 312 (1966). [*25] Surprisingly, the statute has never been construed in a published appellate opinion.
Before addressing the statute, we summarize the common law backdrop against which it was enacted. One thing was clear under Colorado common law: funds held in “trust” for charitable purposes could not be “depleted” by a tort judgment. St. Mary’s Academy v. Solomon, 77 Colo. 463, 468, 238 P. 22, 24 (1925). Later cases also stated, however, that while this “trust-fund rule does not bar an action against a charitable institution based on the tort of its agents,” “it does prohibit the levying of an execution under a judgment procured against it in such a suit on any property which is a part of the charitable trust.” O’Connor v. Boulder Colorado Sanitarium Ass’n, 105 Colo. 259, 261, 96 P.2d 835, 835 (1939), quoted and followed in St. Luke’s Hospital Ass’n v. Long, 125 Colo. 25, 28-29, 240 P.2d 917, 920 (1952).
Colorado cases thus distinguished between a permissible tort suit or judgment against a charity and the exemption of trust funds from levy or execution. In 1960, our supreme court wrote that “so-called charitable immunity does not protect from suit or judgment” and “immunity from attachment of trust [*26] funds does not come into play until such attachment is attempted.” Michard v. Myron Stratton Home, 144 Colo. 251, 258, 355 P.2d 1078, 1082 (1960).
The distinction became blurred, and confusion was spawned, where it was undisputed a defendant charity had no non-trust-fund assets available to satisfy any judgment. That was the situation in Hemenway, where the justices divided over the propriety of pretrial dismissal. Compare 161 Colo. at 45, 419 P.2d at 313 (affirming dismissal because “no useful purpose would be served by directing this action to proceed to judgment” where parties stipulated there were no non-trust-fund assets available), with id. at 46, 419 P.2d at 314 (McWilliams, J., concurring) (agreeing dismissal should be affirmed, but only because parties had stipulated to it if trust-fund doctrine remained viable), and with id. (Pringle, J., dissenting) (issue was “premature” because “in this State charitable immunity is not immunity from suit or liability for tort, but only a recognition that trust funds cannot be seized upon by execution nor appropriated to the satisfaction of tort liability”).
That confusion should not have extended to the present case, where Grace indisputably [*27] had a $ 2 million insurance policy. Even under common law it was clear that insurance funds could be executed on to satisfy a tort judgment. See O’Connor, 105 Colo. at 261-62, 96 P.2d at 836.
In any event, the author of Hemenway invited Colorado’s legislature to address the issue. See 161 Colo. at 49-53, 419 P.2d at 316-17 (addendum of Moore, J.). The General Assembly accepted this invitation a year later when it enacted the predecessor of the statute now codified as section 7-123-105. See Ch. 327, sec. 1, § 31-24-110, 1967 Colo. Sess. Laws 655.
[HN21] The statute, titled “Actions against nonprofit corporations,” does two things by its express terms. First, it removes any possible immunity from suit by providing that “[a]ny other provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, any civil action permitted under the law of this state may be brought against any nonprofit corporation.” § 7-123-105. Second, it allows for levy and execution against otherwise immune assets of nonprofit entities “to the extent” the entity would be reimbursed by liability insurance. See id. (“the assets of any nonprofit corporation that would, but for articles 121 to 137 of this title, be immune from levy and execution [*28] on any judgment shall nonetheless be subject to levy and execution to the extent that such nonprofit corporation would be reimbursed by proceeds of liability insurance policies carried by it were judgment levied and executed against its assets”).
Thus, under the statute’s plain terms, there is no longer (if there ever was) any impediment to suits against nonprofit organizations. The statute, moreover, does not limit the amount of any resulting judgment, but simply addresses “the extent” to which any such judgment is “subject to levy and execution.” Id.
We conclude, under the plain language of the statute and under the prior common law, that the existence and amount of liability insurance provides no basis for limiting a judgment against a nonprofit or charitable defendant. Rather, the issue of liability insurance is relevant only when a plaintiff seeks to levy and execute on a judgment.
Here, therefore, it is premature to construe Grace’s insurance policy to determine the extent of its coverage, including whether the policy would cover prejudgment interest in addition to any liability limit. Regardless of insurance coverage, plaintiff and insurer were entitled to entry of judgment against [*29] Grace to the full amount of a judgment that would have been entered against a for-profit entity. Whether and to what extent plaintiff and insurer ultimately can execute on their judgment is a separate issue that need not be decided at this juncture.
The judgment is vacated as to the amount, and the case is remanded for entry of a new judgment unreduced by any limits on Grace’s insurance coverage. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects.
JUDGE CARPARELLI concurs.
JUDGE FURMAN dissents.
DISSENT BY: FURMAN
JUDGE FURMAN dissenting.
Plaintiff was seriously injured at a youth retreat (Winterama 2005) sponsored by Grace Community Church. She sued Grace for negligence. The jury returned verdicts against Grace totaling more than $ 4 million. I disagree with the majority as to
(1) the duties Grace owed plaintiff under the premises liability statute,
(2) the interpretation of the parental waiver statute, and
(3) various evidentiary errors.
Therefore, I respectfully dissent.
I. Colorado’s Premises Liability Statute
I agree with the majority that Grace was a landowner under Colorado’s premises liability statute. Section 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2010, of Colorado’s premises liability statute provides: “For [*30] the purposes of this section, ‘landowner’ includes, without limitation, an authorized agent or a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.” See Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates, Inc., 48 P.3d 1215, 1221 (Colo. 2002)(construing the word “and” to distinguish between two broad classes of landowners).
As a landowner, Grace owed plaintiff duties depending on whether plaintiff was a “licensee” or an “invitee.” Subsections (3)(b) and (c) of section 13-21-115 state, in relevant part:
(3)(b) A licensee may recover only for damages caused:
(I) By the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which the landowner actually knew . . . .
(c)(I). . . [A]n invitee may recover for damages caused by the landowner’s unreasonable failure to exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers of which he actually knew or should have known.
The landowner’s intent in offering the invitation determines the status of the visitor and establishes the duty of care the landowner owes the visitor. See § 13-21-115(5)(a), [*31] (b); see also Carter v. Kinney, 896 S.W.2d 926, 928 (Mo. 1995). The status of the visitor and duty of care the landowner owes are questions of law for the court to decide. § 13-21-115(4) (“In any action to which this section applies, the judge shall determine whether the plaintiff is a trespasser, a licensee, or an invitee . . . .”).
If a landowner invites a person to enter his land, and the landowner either expects a commercial benefit from that person or has extended an invitation to the public at large, the person is an invitee. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332(2), (3) & cmts. c, d, e (1965); see Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928; see also Wolfson v. Chelist, 284 S.W.2d 447, 448 (Mo. 1955)(invitee status arises “when the owner invites the use of his premises for purposes connected with his own benefit, pleasure and convenience,” and when this occurs, “the duty to take ordinary care to prevent [the invitee’s] injury is at once raised and for the breach of that duty an action lies” (emphasis in original)(quoting Glaser v. Rothschild, 221 Mo. 180, 120 S.W. 1, 3, (Mo. 1909))). Conversely, if a landowner either permits a person’s entry onto his land or invites that person as his social guest, but the landowner [*32] does not expect a commercial benefit, that person is a licensee. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 cmts. a, h (1965). I conclude plaintiff was not an invitee because Grace neither expected a commercial benefit from plaintiff nor extended an invitation to the public at large.
A. Invitee Status
Section 13-21-115(5)(a) defines “invitee” as
a person who enters or remains on the land of another to transact business in which the parties are mutually interested or who enters or remains on such land in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.
The two categories of invitees in section 13-21-115(5)(a) track those identified in the Second Restatement of Torts. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332(2), (3) (creating categories of “business visitor” and “public invitee”). I conclude plaintiff did not satisfy either category.
1. Business Visitor
Concerning the “business visitor” category, the majority concludes noncommercial activity can confer invitee status. However, the majority’s conclusion conflicts with the opinion of another division of this court, which expressly recognized that “the General Assembly [*33] intended the ‘invitee’ status to apply in circumstances in which the ‘landowner’ receives a financial benefit from the relationship.” Maes v. Lakeview Assocs., Ltd., 892 P.2d 375, 377 (Colo. App. 1994)(citing legislative history), aff’d, 907 P.2d 580 (Colo. 1995); see also Wolfson, 284 S.W.2d at 450 (invitation to invitee must confer some “material benefit motive”); Brian A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 226 (9th ed. 2009)(defining “business” as “[a] commercial enterprise carried on for profit,” “commercial enterprises,” or “[a] [c]ommercial transaction”).
The majority quotes a portion of Black’s definition of “business” for the proposition that “‘business’ can include ‘transactions or matters of a noncommercial nature.'” However, that definition has as its example, “the courts’ criminal business occasionally overshadows its civil business.” Hence, in that context, “business” means some type of purposeful activity not related to the other party, rather than business transactions “in which the parties are mutually interested.” § 13-21-115(5)(a).
Thus, I believe the majority’s holding that the “business” contemplated by section 13-21-115(5)(a) includes “transactions or matters of a noncommercial [*34] nature” (an activity that confers no commercial benefit) irreconcilably conflicts with the legislature’s carefully chosen language. Moreover, in the two out-of-state cases relied on by the majority, there is little to no analysis of this issue. In Thomas v. St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the court baldly concludes the plaintiff was a “business invitee.” 283 N.W.2d 254, 258 (S.D. 1979). And in Home v. North Kitsap School District, the court merely recites its adoption of the Second Restatement to conclude that the plaintiff was an invitee without discussing the fact that the activity was noncommercial. 92 Wn. App. 709, 965 P.2d 1112, 1118 (Wash. App. 1998); see id. at 1117 nn. 17-19.
Grace’s then-youth pastor testified at trial, and it is not disputed, that when Grace received the monies from the youth for Winterama, he transferred those monies to SDA as a matter of course. Grace was thus a mere intermediary for the business transaction that occurred between plaintiff and SDA. Accordingly, because Grace derived no commercial benefit from the visit, I conclude plaintiff was not a business visitor. See Maes, 892 P.2d at 377; see also Mooney v. Robinson, 93 Idaho 676, 471 P.2d 63, 65 (Idaho 1970)(holding that the “rendition [*35] by a social guest of an incidental economic benefit to the occupier of the premises will not change the licensee’s status to that of an invitee”).
Moreover, no evidence was adduced at trial to support the trial court’s finding that plaintiff rendered financial compensation–a commercial benefit–to Grace for its supervision of her. Rather, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that every dollar Grace received it remitted to SDA, and that the chaperones were not compensated. Thus, the trial court’s conclusion that plaintiff was an invitee because “she entered on the property to transact business which was namely the promotion of spirituality, positive youth relationships for which she paid Grace to provide the supervision,” which conferred no commercial benefit on Grace, was error. See Maes, 892 P.2d at 377; see also Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928.
2. Public Invitee
Concerning the “public invitee” category, the majority concludes invitee status may lie where the invitation applies merely to “classes or members of” the public.
However, in discussing situations where a landowner extends an invitation to “classes or members of” the public, the Second Restatement includes the term “classes or members [*36] of” in the context of a variety of landowners inviting the public at large to enter:
The nature of the use to which the possessor puts his land is often sufficient to express to the reasonable understanding of the public, or classes or members of it, a willingness or unwillingness to receive them. Thus the fact that a building is used as a shop gives the public reason to believe that the shopkeeper desires them to enter or is willing to permit their entrance, not only for the purpose of buying, but also for the purpose of looking at the goods displayed therein or even for the purpose of passing through the shop.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. c (emphasis added).
Moreover, section 13-21-115(5)(a) defines “invitee” as “a person who enters or remains on the land of another . . . in response to the landowner’s express or implied representation that the public is requested, expected, or intended to enter or remain.” The commonly accepted and understood meaning of “public” is “the people as a whole: populace, masses.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1836 (2002). Hence, in a “public invitee” situation the landowner must invite the public at large or imply that the public [*37] at large is expected to enter or remain. This construction satisfies the legislative purpose “to clarify and to narrow private landowners’ liability.” Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1219.
Trial evidence reveals Grace did not extend its invitation to attend Winterama 2005 to the public at large, but limited its invitation to Grace’s youth group and their friends. Grace’s then-youth pastor testified that the Winterama waiver forms were mailed only to those youth who were on a list that the church had on file, that youth group students “would pick [the forms] up Wednesday night during a program,” and that “[s]ome students took permission slips home to give to their friends.” Likewise, when plaintiff was asked how she perceived Winterama 2005 before the event occurred, she confirmed that she understood Winterama to be “essentially a church retreat.” Accordingly, I conclude plaintiff could not be a “public invitee” because there simply was no invitation to the public at large.
The majority’s reliance on out-of-state cases, to conclude the invitation may apply only to select classes or members of the public, is misplaced. In Post v. Lunney, the plaintiff was declared to be a public invitee because she [*38] had been “invited to enter [land] which had been opened to those members of the public” who were on a tour of area homes. 261 So. 2d 146, 148 (Fla. 1972). There is no indication that the small subset of the public of which the plaintiff was a part was the only group or type of group that was allowed to tour the homes. The Post court expressly relied on subsection 2 of section 332 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which reads, “A public invitee is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.” Id. (emphasis added). And in McKinnon v. Washington Federal Savings & Loan Ass’n, where the court determined the plaintiff also was a public invitee, the defendant held its premises open “for the free use of local clubs and organized groups for meetings and conferences, either during regular office hours or in the evenings,” 68 Wn.2d 644, 414 P.2d 773, 774 (Wash. 1966), and not solely for the plaintiff’s select group. Thus, in both Post and McKinnon, the premises were otherwise held open to the public at large.
B. Licensee (Social Guest) Status
A member of Grace’s youth group asked plaintiff to attend Winterama 2005, [*39] and Grace provided its permission (after it received the parental consent form) before she could do so. Thus, I conclude plaintiff was a social guest (licensee) of Grace, and Grace owed plaintiff the duty to make safe dangers of which it was aware. § 13-21-115(3)(b), (5)(b); see Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928.
Section 13-21-115(5)(b) defines “licensee” as “a person who enters or remains on the land of another for the licensee’s own convenience or to advance [the licensee’s] own interests.” A social guest is one who has received a social invitation, and is a subclass of licensees. § 13-21-115(5)(b) (“‘Licensee’ includes a social guest.”); see Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 928.
The majority concludes plaintiff was not a social guest because “social hosts do not typically require their guests to sign permission slips and pay for their hospitality.” Although the majority implies that social hosts may require their guests to sign permission slips, I believe the majority’s conclusion overlooks the important difference between “invitation” and “permission.” When courts decide if an individual is an invitee or a licensee, the distinction between invitation and permission is critical:
Although invitation does [*40] not in itself establish the status of an invitee, it is essential to it. An invitation differs from mere permission in this: an invitation is conduct which justifies others in believing that the possessor desires them to enter the land; permission is conduct justifying others in believing that the possessor is willing that they shall enter if they desire to do so. . . .
Mere permission, as distinguished from invitation, is sufficient to make the visitor a licensee . . . ; but it does not make him an invitee, even where his purpose in entering concerns the business of the possessor.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. b. Thus, if there is no invitation extended to the prospective plaintiff as would be extended to the general public, he or she is not an invitee, but rather a licensee who is on the land “pursuant to the landowner’s permission or consent.” § 13-21-115(5)(b).
Grace restricted its permission to attend Winterama 2005 to its own youth and their friends whose parents had waived in writing their right to hold Grace responsible for “any liability which may result from participation.” Grace consented to the attendance of the youth on condition that the waiver was signed. The [*41] precondition of a waiver demonstrates that the Winterama participants were permitted to come rather than invited, which “is sufficient to make the visitor a licensee.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. b.
The Second Restatement’s definition of “social guest” affirms that:
[A]lthough a social guest normally is invited, and even urged to come, he is not an “invitee,” within the legal meaning of that term . . . . He does not come as a member of the public upon premises held open to the public for that purpose, and he does not enter for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor. The use of the premises is extended to him merely as a personal favor to him.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 cmt. h(3).
Plaintiff was not a member of Grace, and her attendance at Winterama 2005 was due solely to the influence of a male classmate of hers at the Denver School of the Arts, who expressly persuaded her to come to Winterama. She testified that her perception of Winterama 2005 was that “we would leave our everyday lives and go try to further our spiritual enlightenment.” See Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 776 (social guest is “[a] guest who is invited [*42] to enter or remain on another person’s property primarily for private entertainment as opposed to entertainment open to the general public”); Webster’s Third New International Dictionary at 1008 (a guest is “a person to whom hospitality . . . is extended”).
Further, the majority surmises that Grace’s invitation carried an “implicit or explicit assurance” that Grace would act with reasonable care to protect plaintiff. The majority reasons that “[f]ew youths would attend — and even fewer parents would allow and pay for their child’s attendance at — an overnight event whose sponsor disclaimed any intent or ability to make the event reasonably safe.” However, in its section on licensees, the Second Restatement explains that
there is a common understanding that the guest is expected to take the premises as the possessor himself uses them, and does not expect and is not entitled to expect that they will be prepared for his reception, or that precautions will be taken for his safety, in any manner in which the possessor does not prepare or take precautions for his own safety, or that of the members of his family.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 330 cmt. h(3). Thus, as a social guest, plaintiff [*43] could rely on precautions that a landowner would take as he would for himself or for his family.
The evidence reveals the leaders regarded the youth attending Winterama 2005 as “social guests” because the leaders took precautions for the safety of the attendees as they would for their own safety. One chaperone testified he personally rode the inner tube towed by the ATV around the lake three or four times before plaintiff rode the inner tube. And the then-youth pastor testified that the leaders “walk[ed] pretty much the entirety of the lake, or [they] [would] get on the ATVs and drive it, too,” to inspect the lake for “potential hazards” exhaustively before the ATV activity started. He said these hazards were the type that “could cause a safety issue with the activities that [they] were going to do on the ice” and that included sharp objects that could “cause the tube to puncture.”
Another chaperone who drove the ATV–and who also participated in the inspection of the lake–testified that he had used an ATV and inner tubes to tow people “700 to 1000 times” and that he had in fact towed his own daughter behind the ATV on the lake such that “[he] treated [his daughter] just like any of [*44] the other students.” Because the evidence shows Grace’s chaperones not only took precautions that they would have for their own safety, but also took the same care for members of their own families as for other attendees, plaintiff was a licensee of Grace at Winterama 2005.
Because plaintiff was a licensee, Grace was entitled to additional protections under the premises liability statute. See Pierson, 48 P.3d at 1219 (overriding purpose of premises liability statute was “to clarify and to narrow private landowners’ liability to persons entering their land, based upon whether the entrant is a . . . licensee or invitee”). Accordingly, Grace was liable to plaintiff only “with respect to dangers created by the landowner of which the landowner actually knew.” § 13-21-115(3)(b)(I). Because the jury was not so instructed, I would reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.
II. Colorado’s Parental Waiver Statute
The majority interprets the word “informed” in section 13-22-107, C.R.S. 2010, Colorado’s parental waiver statute, to mean “made with full knowledge of the risks involved and the alternatives” (quoting Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary at 346). The majority implies Grace’s waiver [*45] form was facially deficient because it delineated neither the specific activities in which the youth would engage nor the risks associated with each activity. Because I conclude the majority’s resolution of this issue vitiates the legislative intent expressed in the statute, I respectfully dissent.
The legislature explicitly stated the purpose of Colorado’s parental waiver statute:
(I) Children of this state should have the maximum opportunity to participate in sporting, recreational, educational, and other activities where certain risks may exist;
(II) Public, private, and non-profit entities providing these essential activities to children in Colorado need a measure of protection against lawsuits, and without the measure of protection these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide the activities;
(III) Parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. The law has long presumed that parents act in the best interest of their children.
(IV) Parents make conscious choices every day on behalf of their children concerning the risks and benefits of participation in activities that may involve risk;
(V) These [*46] are proper parental choices on behalf of children that should not be ignored. So long as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education; and
(VI) It is the intent of the general assembly to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state by permitting a parent of a child to release a prospective negligence claim of the child . . . .
§ 13-22-107(1)(a)(I)-(VI). Hence, the legislature intended (1) to afford children the “maximum opportunity” to engage in “essential activities” having “certain risks”; (2) to uphold and effectuate the choices of parents for their children “concerning the risks and benefits of participation in” potentially risky activities; and (3) to give “public, private, and non-profit entities . . . a measure of protection” by insulating them from liability for negligent conduct during “activities that may involve risk.” Id. Based on these purposes, the legislature stated, “A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.” § 13-22-107(3). Accordingly, the word “informed” [*47] ought to be construed in light of the statutory scheme, which is geared toward expanding children’s access to activities involving risk yet simultaneously contracting the liability exposure of entities providing those activities, so that those entities might have a “measure of protection” and not be “unwilling or unable to provide the activities.” § 13-22-107(1)(a)(I), (II), (VI).
A. Informed Consent
Section 13-22-107 does not define the term “informed.” I agree with the majority that “informed” as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary at 346–“made with full knowledge of the risks involved and the alternatives”–should govern this analysis. Accordingly, I conclude the term “informed” in section 13-22-107 means only that a parent be “informed” as to the possible risks involved.
Applying this definition, I conclude the waiver in this case was sufficient, for several reasons. First, the waiver identified the general nature of the activities to which the waiver applied: “Winterama 2005 and all activities associated with it.” Second, the waiver identified the possible risks associated with Winterama 2005–“injury or sickness”–and even required the parent to consent to any medical treatment Grace [*48] might need to administer or pay for in the event of such injury or sickness. Third, even though the waiver did not state verbatim, “I recognize I have the right to sue Grace in the event the negligence of Grace or its agents causes my child personal injury, but I give up that right voluntarily,” the waiver nevertheless more than accomplished this purpose–by stating the signing parent “will not hold [Grace] or it’s [sic] participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Thus, I conclude the waiver was sufficient to give Grace the “measure of protection” from legal liability that section 13-22-107 envisions.
In canvassing the case law where the supreme court upheld the validity of waivers, the majority concludes that a waiver must “contain some reference to waiving personal injury claims based on the activity being engaged in.” I disagree with this conclusion because I believe the majority reads the statute more broadly than the legislature intended. The majority would require public, private, or nonprofit organizations to include in their waiver forms a plethora of activities and, with respect to each, “assess the degree of risk and the extent of possible [*49] injuries from any activity.” I believe the logical result would be absurd disclosure requirements, such as,
Children attending Winterama 2005 will be staying in cabins. The paths and steps leading to each cabin may be snow-packed and icy. There is a risk that your child may slip and fall on the paths or steps and a fall may result in serious injuries including, without limitation, broken bones, concussions, and paralysis,
or lengthy booklets describing every conceivable activity and associated possible injury. I disagree with this approach because, in my opinion, it would unduly expose those entities to liability for activities that the entities inadvertently failed to identify and include in their parental waiver forms, or for activities that they could not possibly know or anticipate. Further, such an approach runs contrary to the legislative intent of providing “a measure of protection against lawsuits,” and without that measure of protection, these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide these “essential activities” to children in Colorado. I believe it is not reasonable to expect organizations operating under section 13-22-107 to anticipate every permutation of a recreational [*50] event.
Moreover, I would not engage in what I respectfully believe to be the majority’s parsing of the waiver. The waiver at issue is addressed to the everyday, commonsense parent. I submit the everyday, commonsense parent would not analyze what each sentence of a waiver specifically addresses apart from each other sentence, but rather would comprehend what the waiver addresses en toto: a release of his or her child’s prospective claim for negligence. See § 13-22-107(3).
B. The Parental Waiver Affirmative Defense
In addition, I conclude the trial court committed reversible error when, on the morning of closing arguments, it sua sponte precluded the jury from considering the affirmative defense of parental waiver. See Pollock v. Highlands Ranch Community Ass’n, 140 P.3d 351, 354 (Colo. App. 2006).
The day before closing arguments occurred, the trial court originally determined that a jury instruction concerning the effect of the waiver could not be given because the supreme court assigned the determination of the effect of the waiver to the trial court as a question of law. Cf. Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1989). But after counsel for Grace pointed out the [*51] court’s resolution of this issue essentially would be “to take that from the jury” and that the court “need[ed] to state the basis” for its ruling, the court said it would “hold off on the jury instruction piece.”
When the issue arose again late that same day, after the close of evidence and during the jury instructions conference, plaintiff’s counsel argued the language in the waiver did not suffice to make plaintiff’s mother “informed.” The court asked plaintiff’s counsel to state his position on the affirmative defense of waiver, and he said,
What I think — what I would like to see the Court do, Your Honor, is to declare the effect of this release, and I think the effect of this permission slip doesn’t say this, does not have the effect of releasing the defendant’s [sic] from the premises liability claims.
The court responded, “I want to take a few minutes to think about this. . . . We’ll be in recess.” After that exchange and a brief statement from counsel for SDA, the record abruptly ceases. There is nothing about the court’s thoughts on the waiver until early the next day during its instructions to the jury right before closing arguments. At this time, the court announced to the [*52] jury that “the Court has ruled as a matter of law that Exhibit 85 [the parental waiver] is not a defense to Plaintiff’s claims in this case” and struck the waiver from the record with no further elaboration.
In my view, the trial court erred in taking the issue away from the jury. I acknowledge that “[t]he determination of the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is [primarily] a question of law for the court to determine.” Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 (Colo. 1981). However, contrary to the majority, I conclude Grace presented sufficient evidence for the trial court to submit to the jury the parental waiver as an affirmative defense.
“An affirmative defense ‘is a legal argument that a defendant, who is capable of being sued, may assert to require the dismissal of a claim or to prevail at trial.'” Paratransit Risk Retention Group Ins. Co. v. Kamins, 160 P.3d 307, 319 (Colo. App. 2007)(quoting State v. Nieto, 993 P.2d 493, 507 (Colo. 2000)). The parental waiver defense, if successful, would allow Grace to avoid premises liability. Accordingly, it is an affirmative defense.
Because waiver is an affirmative defense, the defendant has the burden to prove waiver. C.R.C.P. 8(c); [*53] see City of Westminster v. Centric-Jones Constructors, 100 P.3d 472, 480 (Colo. App. 2003)(“Failure to mitigate damages is an affirmative defense under C.R.C.P. 8(c) on which the defendant bears the burden of proof.”); see also Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. Colo. Ice & Storage Co., 45 Colo. 443, 449, 103 P. 383, 386 (1909)(defendant had burden of proof to sustain proffered affirmative defense); Tracz v. Charter Centennial Peaks Behavioral Health Sys., Inc., 9 P.3d 1168, 1174 (Colo. App. 2000)(concluding defendants “met their initial burden of production to establish their affirmative defense”). And section 13-22-107 is an affirmative defense to premises liability because section 13-21-115 “does not exclusively limit defenses and does not abrogate statutorily created defenses, which were available to landowners before the 2006 amendment and afterward.” Tucker v. Volunteers of Am. Colo. Branch, 211 P.3d 708, 711 (Colo. App. 2008), aff’d sub nom. Volunteers of Am. v. Gardenswartz, P.3d , 2010 Colo. LEXIS 861 (Colo. No. 09SC20, Nov. 15, 2010).
At trial, under C.R.C.P. 8(c), the trial court’s only responsibility was to assess whether Grace presented sufficient evidence to support the affirmative defense of [*54] parental waiver. See Fair v. Red Lion Inn, 943 P.2d 431, 437 (Colo. 1997)(holding that failure to mitigate damages, an affirmative defense under C.R.C.P. 8(c), “will not be presented to the jury unless the trial court determines there is sufficient evidence to support it”); cf. Stauffer v. Karabin, 30 Colo. App. 357, 363-64, 492 P.2d 862, 865 (1971)(where doctor in malpractice suit presented evidence that his failure to inform plaintiff of all risks attendant to an operation was consistent with community medical standards, “the determination then becomes one for the jury and a directed verdict in favor of plaintiff would not be warranted”).
I believe the trial court misapprehended its duty with regard to the legal sufficiency of Grace’s parental waiver. The question whether a parental waiver is “voluntary” is answered if the parent is shown to have signed the waiver. The question whether a parental waiver is “informed” is answered if the waiver on its face defines the possible risks and the general nature of the activities to which the waiver applied. See Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary at 346 (“informed” is “made with full knowledge of the risks involved and the alternatives”). To this [*55] end, the parental waiver statute focuses on the risks involved in recreational activities for children as it affirms the conscious choices that parents make for their children. § 13-22-107(1)(a)(I), (IV). Thus, if the parental waiver is both “voluntary” and “informed,” the trial court must submit the affirmative defense of parental waiver to the jury.
I would conclude Grace presented sufficient evidence to support its affirmative defense of parental waiver. The parental waiver was signed voluntarily because, as plaintiff herself testified, her mother signed the waiver two days before Winterama 2005 occurred. And the parental waiver on its face not only informed mother of the possible risks associated with Winterama 2005– “injury or sickness”–but also revealed her willingness to “not hold [Grace] or it’s [sic] participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation.” Thus, I conclude the trial court should have permitted the jury to consider Grace’s affirmative defense of parental waiver, and believe it erred in not doing so.
Moreover, the way the trial court ruled on the evidence of waiver throughout the case–until it removed Exhibit 85 from the trial evidence [*56] and jury’s consideration–reveals that Grace had no reason to expect it had to clear up any lingering questions of fact for the jury to consider the affirmative defense of parental waiver. For example, before trial, Grace moved for summary judgment on the issue of waiver, but the court ruled there was a question of fact “as to whether a permission slip was signed on behalf of Plaintiff.” (The original apparently was lost by the hospital.) In response, during plaintiff’s case-in-chief, counsel for Grace established that plaintiff’s mother in fact had signed the waiver, and that Grace received the waiver before the Winterama event.
Based on this uncontroverted testimony, at the close of plaintiff’s case Grace moved for a directed verdict. But the court found “the jury could conclude that there was inadequate notice to the mother” and “a jury could conclude that the activity [in question] was a reckless act or grossly negligent act for which a parent is not permitted to waive the child’s prospective claim for such conduct.” The court concluded this despite the fact that plaintiff in her complaint did not assert any claim for tortious conduct rising above the level of simple negligence. [*57] Again, in response, Grace used both expert testimony and lay testimony in its case to establish that the ATV activity was done in a safe manner. Nevertheless, as noted, on the morning of closing arguments the court told the jury that it could not consider the parental waiver. At that point, its role should have been limited to deciding whether Grace had presented sufficient evidence to support the existence of the parental waiver as an affirmative defense. The court did not so limit its role.
Accordingly, I would reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.
III. The ATV Rental Contract
The majority concludes the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the ATV rental contract into evidence over Grace’s objection. I respectfully disagree. There was nothing in the contract, and no evidence regarding the parties’ intent was adduced, to suggest plaintiff’s injury was a danger that Blue Sky Motors–who was not a party to this case–and Grace, the two parties to the ATV contract, knew about or should have known about in this premises liability case.
For all these reasons, I would reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.