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Release fails under Florida’s law because it is only an assumption of risk form, not a release in a Go-Kart case.

Release probably not written by an attorney and never had specific language that stated that the plaintiff’s claims for negligence would be barred by signing the agreement.

Gillette v. All Pro Sports, LLC., 2013 Fla. App. LEXIS 19432; 38 Fla. L. Weekly D 2573

State: Florida, Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District

Plaintiff: Carol Ann Gillette

Defendant: All Pro Sports, LLC., D/B/A Family Fun Town

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Plaintiff

Year: 2013

This is a very short decision by the Florida appellate court about a release used in a Go Kart case.

The plaintiff crashed into the barrier suffering injuries. She claimed, “Appellee’s employee negligently increased the Go-Kart speed during a race, causing her to lose control of the Go-Kart and crash into the railing.”

Prior to riding the Go-Karts the plaintiff signed a release. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims because of the release. The plaintiff appealed, and the appellate court reversed finding the release did not meet the necessary requirements under Florida’s law.

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

The court put the entire release in its opinion and said under Florida, as in all other states, a contract is construed against the person who wrote it, or a release is construed against the person the release is supposed to protect. “Clauses that purport to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from another who negligently causes injury are strictly construed against the party seeking to be relieved of liability.”

That means that the author bears the burden and the loss if the contract is written poorly. That applies to all contracts and releases. What that means, unless the parties agree in advance in the document, any mistakes in the document are held against the person who wrote the document.

Under Florida’s law, a release, a release must clearly state that the person signing it is giving up their legal right to sue. “To be effective, the wording of such clauses must be so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he or she is contracting away.”

There was no language in the alleged release that specifically states the plaintiff is giving up their legal rights.

Here, the release does not expressly state that it includes Appellee’s negligence and, when the document is considered in its totality, it is not clear that negligence of the sort here was intended to be within the scope of the release.

There is language pointing out to the plaintiff that she cannot sue if she is injured due to the negligence of the defendant.

So Now What?

This was a simple case. The release was not a release. It did not have the necessary language to provide notice to people signing it that they were giving up their legal right to sue.

At the trial court, the defendant might still be able to win by using the failed release as an assumption of risk document. The assumption of risk document will be effective if the injury the plaintiff complains of is identified in the assumption of risk document as a risk the plaintiff agreed to assume.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Release lacked language specifying the length of time it was valid. Since the court could not determine the time the case was sent to a jury for that determination.

Release lacked one clause and consequently, failed to protect the defendant sending the case to trial.

Weinrich v. Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Inc, 2015 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 79

State: Pennsylvania: Common Pleas Court of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, Civil Division

Plaintiff: Nicholas Weinrich

Defendant: Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Inc, incorrectly Identified As Lehigh Valley Grand Prix LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release & Premises Liability

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2015

This is an interesting case. The activity is outside the normal area of the law covered by this site; however, the legal issues are very important to everyone reading these posts.

The plaintiff was injured driving a go-kart around the defendant’s go-kart track. This was the second time the plaintiff had been at the go-kart track; the first time was about six months prior.

While driving around the track a piece of plastic from the guard rail was sticking into the track. The plaintiff drove past it and it hit is leg giving him a two-inch laceration.

The plaintiff had signed a release the first time he attended the go-kart track which was six months prior to the date of his injury. He did not sign one the second time when he was injured. The defendant stated that people who have already signed a release are not asked to sign one again.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release the Pennsylvania Premises Liability Act. The act stated that a defendant’s business did not owe a duty to the business invitee for open and obvious hazards.

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

First, the court reviewed the requirements for a release to be valid in Pennsylvania.

First, the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly; each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.

The next issue was whether a release for recreational issues violates public policy in Pennsylvania. Again, releases for recreational activities do not violate Pennsylvania public policy concerns. Participants are free to go to any recreational facility or none at all.

In the context of recreational activities, releases generally function as a bar to liability because the party executing the release is free to choose whether or not he or she wants to participate in the activity. Such releases do not contravene public policy. However, where the injury was caused by recklessness or gross negligence, enforcement of the release would contravene public policy and the releases are thereby rendered void under those circumstances.

The court then got into the real issue. The plaintiff argued the release was not valid because he had signed the release six months prior to the date of his injury. The issue then resolved around when a contract terminates. Normally, a contract terminates based on a date or time frame which is based on language within the contract itself. This release had no language as to how long the release was supposed to last. “The salient issue in evaluating the instant waiver is that the language on the form neither limits the time for its applicability nor specifies the event or occasion to which it applies.”

Generally, time frames are to be determined by the parties to the agreement. If not by the parties, then the language of the release is to be examined for an indication of time. Failing language in the release terminating the agreement, the court can infer from the parties intended performance, which must be within a reasonable amount of time.

Since the release had no language on termination, then the court determined the release terminated within a reasonable amount of time. Since this was not defined, then a term, phrase or clause was missing from the release.

If an essential term is left out of a contract, the court can infer the term. (An essential term is always the one that the issue resolves around in court.)

In this case, the release Plaintiff executed is silent as to duration. Based on the foregoing case law, the Court determines that this is an essential term which is left out of the agreement. Therefore, a reasonable term is to be imposed instead of invalidating the release as a whole. Id. Because contract principles further dictate that contractual duration is presumed to be for a reasonable amount of time in the absence of a specified time for performance, the parties’ release must therefore be deemed to apply for a reasonable period of time.

However, since the reasonable period of time is not set forth by the industry, parties, the release or the law, that time period must be determined by the factfinder. The fact finder when a case has been set for a jury trial is the jury. “What constitutes a reasonable time, however, is generally a question of fact to be resolved by the factfinder.”

Consequently, Defendant’s argument in support of summary judgment based on the existence of a release must be denied. Summary judgment is only appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Whether six months following the execution of a release for a recreational activity constitutes a reasonable amount of time is a question more appropriately posed to a finder of fact. The reasonableness of the duration in question is therefore, a genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment is inappropriate.

The simple phrase stating the release is valid for a year or more sent this case back to the jury for trial.

The other issue argued by the defendant was the definition of a business invitee which as defined did not create liability on the part of the defendant. A landowner does not owe a duty for open and obvious conditions on the land. In this case, the open and obvious condition would be the piece of plastic sticking out into the track.

As a general rule, possessors of land are not liable to invitees for physical harm caused to them by activities or conditions on the land whose danger is known or obvious to them unless the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.

The issue of open and obvious then was reviewed as it is defined in Pennsylvania.

A danger is deemed to be “obvious” when “both the condition and the risk are apparent to and would be recognized by a reasonable man, in the position of the visitor, exercising normal perception, intelligence, and judgment.” “For a danger to be ‘known,’ it must not only be known to exist, but … also be recognized that it is dangerous and the probability and gravity of the threatened harm must be appreciated.”

Generally in Pennsylvania, a landowner has no duty to protect business invitees from open and obvious dangers. “In the context of amusement facilities, Pennsylvania courts have held that there is no duty to protect participants against the typical risks attendant to those activities.”

However, here again whether something is open and obvious in this case, a plastic part peeling off a guard rail is something that must be determined by the factfinder.

Nonetheless, the question of whether conditions on land were, in fact, open and obvious is generally a question of fact for a jury to decide. Id. It may be decided by a court where reasonable minds could not differ as to the conclusion.

Because in both cases, the release and the definition of the law required completion by the fact finder, the case was sent back for trial.

Summary judgment would not be appropriate on these grounds because there are factual issues regarding constructive notice and whether there were appropriate steps undertaken by Defendant. Testimony before a factfinder is necessary to assess whether and to what extent the employees were aware in advance of the existence of the dangerous condition. These are all factual questions to be resolved by a factfinder.

So Now What?

Here again, the release failed either because of a lazy program, an ineffective system or with both those failing a release that is missing components.

Either every time someone comes to your facility, event or business, they sign a release, or you have a system that tracks when people have signed the release and not and a release that covers that period of time.

At a minimum, you should have someone sign your release yearly. Season’s change, activities change and you might change your business, program, activities, anything and everything. That change may need to be placed in your release and at least follows up on.

This change in your program or start of the new year or season is the perfect opportunity to have an attorney review your release. Inform your attorney of any changes in your operation. Have your release checked to make sure it will do the job you and your insurance company expect it to do.

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

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Release, Open and Obvious, Time, Business Invitee, Go Kart, Go Kart Racing, Contract, Missing Term, Missing Phrase, FactFinder,

 


Weinrich v. Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Inc, 2015 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 79

Weinrich v. Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Inc, 2015 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 79

Nicholas Weinrich, Plaintiff -VS- Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Inc, incorrectly Identified As Lehigh Valley Grand Prix LLC, Defendant

File No. 2014-C-0226

COMMON PLEAS COURT OF LEHIGH COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, CIVIL DIVISION

2015 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 79

August 14, 2015, Decided

CORE TERMS: summary judgment, track, plastic, depositions, public policy, citations omitted, duration, genuine, issue of material fact, question of fact, reasonable amount, contravene, factfinder, covering, invitee, silent, rink, dangerous condition, constructive notice, protruding, inspection, customer, go-kart’s, execute, notice, repeat, snap, general rule, moving party’s, liability theory

COUNSEL: [*1] Robert G. Bauer, Esq. for Plaintiff.

Ian T. Baxter, Esq. for Defendant.

JUDGES: Douglas G. Reichley, J.

OPINION BY: Douglas G. Reichley

OPINION

ORDER

AND NOW, this 14 day of August, 2015, upon consideration of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, filed May 19, 2015, and after argument conducted August 12, 2015,

IT IS ORDERED Defendant’s Motion is DENIED for the reasons set forth in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion.

By the Court:

Douglas G. Reichley, J.

Memorandum Opinion

Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, Inc., Defendant, owns and operates a go-kart track located at 649 South 10th Street, Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Nicholas Weinrich, Plaintiff, filed the instant action alleging he was injured while patronizing the facility. On May 19, 2015, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant’s motion is denied.

Factual and Procedural History

According to the Complaint, on June 4, 2012 at approximately 8:15 p.m, Plaintiff was operating a go-kart on Defendant’s track during which time a piece of the plastic covering the guardrail broke and was sticking out toward the track. As Plaintiff drove around the track, the plastic caught his go-kart’s bumper causing it to snap into his [*2] left leg. Plaintiff sustained a laceration on his leg less than two inches wide.

During depositions, Plaintiff testified that six months prior to the incident, he patronized Defendant’s facility without issue. On the date in question, Plaintiff completed two laps and did not notice the plastic covering jutting out. On his third lap, Plaintiff came around the adjacent turn and maintained momentum. He was near the wall, and the piece of the plastic guard was hanging out, bent toward him. He heard a loud snap, and subsequently felt pain in his calf.

Deposition testimony from Defendant’s staff indicated that the protrusion onto the track was common enough that employees were trained on how to repair it. Defendant’s owner conceded that it was possible for the plastic piece on the wall to snap and protrude onto the track.

Six months before the incident in question, on December 4, 2011, Plaintiff patronized Defendant’s establishment. At that time he was required to execute a waiver in order to participate in the race. When he returned in June of 2012, he was not presented with his original waiver, nor was he asked to execute a second one. Testimony from Michael Achey, the manager of Defendant’s [*3] establishment, indicated that repeat customers are not asked to re-execute the waiver. (N.T. Deposition of Michael P. Achey, February 25, 2015, at 45.) Mr. Achey acknowledged that while he has indicated to some repeat customers that they did not need to execute another waiver because one was already on file, he did not say that to every repeat customer. (Id. at 45-46.)

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on April 4, 2014. Defendant filed its Answer on April 29, 2014. On May 19, 2015, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed his response on June 19, 2015. Defendant filed a sur-reply brief on August 6, 2015. The Court heard oral argument on August 12, 2015, after which time the matter was taken under advisement.

This Opinion follows.

Discussion

The standard of review for a motion seeking summary judgment is as follows:

A trial court properly enters summary judgment if “there is no genuine issue of any material fact as to a necessary clement of the cause of action.” Pa.R.C.P. 1035.2(1). The moving party’s right to summary judgment has to be clear and free from doubt after examination of the record in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolution of all doubts as to the existence [*4] of a genuine issue of material fact against the moving party

Liss & Marion, P.C. v. Recordex Acquisition Corp., 603 Pa. 198, 983 A.2d 652, 657 (Pa. Super. 2009).

Defendant seeks summary judgment on two grounds. First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff executed a voluntary waiver which bars his recovery. Second, Defendant argues that even if the release were not binding and valid, as a landowner, Defendant cannot be held liable under these circumstances under a premises liability theory.

In Pennsylvania, exculpatory agreements must be strictly construed. Employers Liability Assurance Corp. v. Greenville Business Men’s Assoc., 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620, 623 (1966). Releases from liability are disfavored as a matter of public policy, but are nonetheless “valid where three conditions are met. First, the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1189 (Pa. 2010) (quoting Topp Copy Products, Inc. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 626 A.2d 98, 99 (Pa. 1993)).

The courts of Pennsylvania have traditionally determined the effect of a release using the ordinary meaning of its language and interpreted the release as covering only such matters as can fairly be said to have been within the contemplation of the parties when the release was given. Moreover, releases [*5] are strictly construed so as not to bar the enforcement of a claim that had not accrued at the date of the execution of the release.

Fortney v. Callenberger, 2002 PA Super 182, 801 A.2d 594, 597 (Pa. Super. 2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

In the context of recreational activities, releases generally function as a bar to liability because the party executing the release is free to choose whether or not he or she wants to participate in the activity. Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., Inc., 616 Pa. 385, 47 A.3d 1190, 1197 (Pa. 2012). Such releases do not contravene public policy. Id. However, where the injury was caused by recklessness or gross negligence, enforcement of the release would contravene public policy and the releases are thereby rendered void under those circumstances. Id.

The relevant language of the release in question provides:

IN CONSIDERATION of being permitted to compete, officiate, observe, work, or participate in the EVENT(s), use the equipment, premises, facilities and/or services of Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, LLC., [the undersigned agrees to the release terms] …

Plaintiff argues that the waiver was no longer valid on the date in question because he executed it six months prior to the date of the accident. In support of this argument, Plaintiff does not cite any case law from Pennsylvania or any federal [*6] authority interpreting Pennsylvania law on this matter. The sole case upon which Plaintiff relics is a Florida case, Cain v. Banka, 932 So.2d 575 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006), which held a release unenforceable because the release contained no express language advising the plaintiff that it covered every future visit to a motocross track.

There are not any Pennsylvania cases reflecting the Florida court’s holding. Federal cases interpreting Pennsylvania law merely look at the language of the release to gauge its degree of applicability. See Savarese v. Camelback Ski Corp., 417 F.Supp.2d 663, 667 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (applying Pennsylvania law, language on the back of a ski lift ticket constituted a valid exculpatory agreement once the plaintiff purchased the ticket).

The salient issue in evaluating the instant waiver is that the language on the form neither limits the time for its applicability nor specifies the event or occasion to which it applies. When asked about the release’s duration during oral argument, Defendant’s counsel maintained that the waiver would be effective forever without limitation.

“As a general rule, releases encompass only such matters as may fairly be said to have been within the contemplation of the parties when the release was given.” Farrell v. Lechmanik, Inc., 417 Pa. Super. 172, 611 A.2d 1322, 1323 (Pa. Super. 1992). “[I]t is axiomatic that releases are construed in accordance [*7] with traditional principles of contract law, fundamental to which is the directive that the effect of a release must be determined from the ordinary meaning of its language.” Maloney v. Valley Med. Facilities, Inc., 2008 PA Super 32, 946 A.2d 702, 706 (Pa. Super. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Under contract principles, where a contract is silent as to the time for performance, courts must infer that the parties intended that performance occur within a reasonable amount of time. Cashdollar v. Mercy Hosp. of Pittsburgh, 406 Pa. Super. 606, 595 A.2d 70, 76 (Pa. Super. 1991) (“When the exact period for which the parties intended to contract cannot be ascertained, the agreement is not vitiated; rather, an agreement for a ‘reasonable time’ will be inferred.”).

In construing a contract, courts must adopt “an interpretation which under all circumstances ascribes the most reasonable, probable, and natural conduct of the parties, bearing in mind the objects manifestly to be accomplished.” Metzger v. Clifford Realty Corp., 327 Pa. Super. 377, 476 A.2d 1, 5 (Pa. Super. 1984) (citation omitted). “If an essential term is left out of the agreement, the law will not invalidate the contract but will include a reasonable term.” Stephan v. Waldron Elec. Heating & Cooling LLC, 2014 PA Super 205, 100 A.3d 660, 668 (Pa. Super. 2014) (quoting RegScan, Inc. v. Con-Way Transp. Services, Inc., 2005 PA Super 176, 875 A.2d 332 (Pa. Super. 2005)).

In this case, the release Plaintiff executed is silent as to duration. Based on the foregoing case law, the Court determines that this is an essential term which is left out of the agreement. Therefore, a reasonable [*8] term is to be imposed instead of invalidating the release as a whole. Id. Because contract principles further dictate that contractual duration is presumed to be for a reasonable amount of time in the absence of a specified time for performance, Metzger, 476 A.2d at 5, the parties’ release must therefore be deemed to apply for a reasonable period of time. What constitutes a reasonable time, however, is generally a question of fact to be resolved by the factfinder. See, e.g., Yates v. Clifford Motors, Inc., 283 Pa. Super. 293, 423 A.2d 1262, 1268 (Pa. Super. 1980) (in the Uniform Commercial Code context, whether goods were rejected within a reasonable amount of time where contract was silent as to time for rejection was question of fact for jury).

Consequently, Defendant’s argument in support of summary judgment based on the existence of a release must be denied. Summary judgment is only appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Whether six months following the execution of a release for a recreational activity constitutes a reasonable amount of time is a question more appropriately posed to a finder of fact. The reasonableness of the duration in question is therefore a genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment is inappropriate.

Defendant also argued in its motion [*9] that even if the release was not binding and valid, as a landowner, Defendant cannot be held liable under these circumstances under a premises liability theory. Plaintiff in this case was an invitee for premises liability purposes. An invitee is someone 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.” Restatement (Second) of Torts §332 (1965).

As a general rule, possessors of land are not liable to invitees for physical harm caused to them by activities or conditions on the land whose danger is known or obvious to them unless the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 343A. A danger is deemed to be “obvious” when “both the condition and the risk are apparent to and would be recognized by a reasonable man, in the position of the visitor, exercising normal perception, intelligence, and judgment.” Carrender v. Fitterer, 503 Pa. 178, 469 A.2d 120, 123-24 (Pa. 1983) (citation omitted). “For a danger to be ‘known,’ it must not only be known to exist, but … also be recognized that it is dangerous and the probability and gravity of the threatened harm must be appreciated.” Id. at 124.

Nonetheless, the question of whether conditions on land were in fact open and obvious is generally [*10] a question of fact for a jury to decide. Id. It may be decided by a court where reasonable minds could not differ as to the conclusion. Id.; see also Long v. Manzo, 452 Pa. Super. 451, 682 A.2d 370, 373 (Pa. Super. 19%) (citation omitted) (issues of plaintiff’s knowledge of condition creating unreasonable risk of harm usually for jury to decide, but may be decided by court where reasonable minds could not differ).

In the context of amusement facilities, Pennsylvania courts have held that there is no duty to protect participants against the typical risks attendant to those activities. See Berman v. Radnor Rolls, Inc., 374 Pa. Super. 118, 542 A.2d 525 (Pa. Super. 1983) (roller rink has no obligation to protect patrons from falling down or being bumped by other skaters). A duty arises only where the risks at play are atypical. See id. (liability found where accident attributable to a condition unique to defendant skating rink, i.e. a 60-foot wide opening in the rink and a 6″ drop-off on its side).

With respect to the requirement for notice, Plaintiff argued that Defendant’s employees’ depositions demonstrate an acute awareness that the sort of dangerous condition at issue–the broken plastic piece protruding into the racetrack–was something for which they were trained. While the record is devoid of evidence supporting [*11] actual notice, Plaintiff argued Defendant had constructive notice.

Neither the witnesses who were deposed nor Plaintiff testified that the plastic was protruding into the track for an extended period of time. The testimony at the depositions indicated that there are three scheduled inspections of the racetrack per day: morning, noon, and night. None of those inspections revealed the dangerous condition. There is also a visual inspection of the track in between each race according to the testimony offered by Michael McCreary, Defendant’s owner. Defendant’s employees, Michael Achey (manager) and Corey Dewalt (track marshal) conceded that it was possible that the protruding plastic could have been missed.

Summary judgment would not be appropriate on these grounds because there are factual issues regarding constructive notice and whether there were appropriate steps undertaken by Defendant. Testimony before a factfinder is necessary to assess whether and to what extent the employees were aware in advance of the existence of the dangerous condition. These are all factual questions to be resolved by a factfinder.

Conclusion

Because there is an outstanding factual issue concerning whether six [*12] months after execution of the subject release is a reasonable period of time for the release to remain in effect, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the ground of the release must fail. Further, there are outstanding factual questions concerning constructive notice which render summary judgment inappropriate on that basis. Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

By the Court:

Douglas G. Reichley, J.

8/14/15


Too many contracts can void each other out; two releases signed at different times can render both releases void.

Upon signing the second release the first is void based on Novation and the second is void because there is not consideration for the second release.

Example I: You sign a release electronically to participate in an activity. Upon arrival, the outfitter of the activity has you sign a paper release.

Example II: You sign up with a rec center to go skiing. The rec center has you sign a release and when you get to the activity, the ski area has you sign a release. Both releases stop lawsuits for skiing accidents but one protects the rec center, and one protects the ski area. Each release has different language.

Novation is a legal term that states that once you sign a second identical or similar contract to the first contract the second contract voids the first contract based on Novation. Terms such as the amount due, interest owed, etc., can be different as long as the basic agreement is the same, and the parties are generally the same.

Law.com defines Novation as:

An agreement of parties to a contract to substitute a new contract for the old one. It extinguishes (cancels) the old agreement. A novation is often used when the parties find that payments or performance cannot be made under the terms of the original agreement, or the debtor will be forced to default or go into bankruptcy unless the debt is restructured.

Nolo.com defines Novation as:

The voluntary substitution of a new contract for an old one, usually to change the parties, duties, or payment terms.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines Novation as:

A contract that (1) immediately discharges either a previous contractual duty or a duty, (2) creates a new contractual duty, and (3) includes as a party one who neither owed the previous duty nor was entitled to its performance.

Many definitions of Novation include the word debt, meaning an obligation to repay, a promissory note, but not all definitions do. One argument to make is the Novation does not apply to a release because it is not a debt.

In the first example, Novation could be argued to void the first release. A new agreement has been signed, which then cancels the first agreement.

In the second example, if the parties are the same or similar and the intent of the release is the same, then it is possible that one can argue that a novation occurred canceling the first release.

In the second agreement if the group is a Youth Group that is taking kids skiing, the youth group release includes the ski area as a released party the signature on the ski area release may cancel the youth group release.

Consideration is the second issue. For a contract to be valid, something of value must flow both ways in the contract. Normally, this means one side gives the other side money, and the other side provides a service or a thing of value. You give a ski area money, and the ski area gives you access to their lifts and ski area.

Law.com defines Novation as:

2) a vital element in the law of contracts, consideration is a benefit which must be bargained for between the parties, and is the essential reason for a party entering into a contract. Consideration must be of value (at least to the parties), and is exchanged for the performance or promise of performance by the other party (such performance itself is consideration). In a contract, one consideration (thing given) is exchanged for another consideration. Not doing an act (forbearance) can be consideration, such as “I will pay you $1,000 not to build a road next to my fence.” Sometimes consideration is “nominal,” meaning it is stated for form only, such as “$10 as consideration for conveyance of title,” which is used to hide the true amount being paid. Contracts may become unenforceable or rescindable (undone by rescission) for “failure of consideration” when the intended consideration is found to be worth less than expected, is damaged or destroyed, or performance is not made properly (as when the mechanic does not make the car run properly).

Nolo defines Novation as:

A benefit or right for which the parties to a contract must bargain. In order to be valid, a contract must be founded on an exchange of one form of consideration for another. Consideration may be a promise to perform a certain act — for example, a promise to fix a leaky roof in return for a payment of $1,000 — or a promise not to do something, such as build a second story on a house that will block the neighbor’s view (in return for money or something else). Whatever its particulars, consideration must be something of value to the people who are making the contract, even if the value is very low.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines Consideration as:

Something (such as an act, a forbearance, or a return promise) bargained for and received by a promisor from a promisee; that which motivates a person to do something. Consideration or a substitute such as promissory estoppel, is necessary for an agreement to be enforceable.

If you paid your money for the activity in Example, I when you signed up and you do not pay more money when you signed the second release OR what you received when you signed the second release was no different than what you received when you signed the first, there was no consideration or no new consideration. Without new or additional consideration, the second agreement is void.

The second Example is quite interesting based on consideration. If you paid the ski area directly for your lift ticket, then there might not be any consideration for the release you signed with the rec center. If you paid the rec center for the lift ticket and the rec center did not receive any of the money, there might be an issue of consideration to the ski area. The rec center would argue as a non-profit they are not supposed to make money or the taxes paid by the person who signed up covered the consideration.

If the rec center bought 2 dozen tickets from the ski area and paid the ski area and then resold them to the participants, then the ski area release would not have any consideration, and the second release would be void. The contract with consideration was between the rec center and the ski area.

If the rec center took the money and had a guest sign their release, then took the money to the ski area which gave the rec center a lift ticket for the people who had signed up, then there would be a contract between the parties, the guest, the rec center and the ski area, however, whether or not the consideration went the right way and to the right people for the right agreement is best determined by an Ouija board or a judge.

Now, if both contracts are signed at the same time, then the consideration may not be an issue, and novation is not an issue. If you have no choice but to use two releases, then have them signed at the same place at the same time.

The decision in Forman v. Brown, d/b/a Brown’s Royal Gorge Rafting, 944 P.2d 559; 1996 Colo. App. LEXIS 343, the dissent argued that the two different contracts signed at the same time cancelled each other out. One was a release, the second contract  was titled “On River Prohibitions.” The act which caused the injury to the plaintiff in Forman was prohibited in the On River Prohibitions. Because the two contracts were in conflict and the plaintiff was encouraged to jump in the river, the prohibited act, the dissenting judge felt the release was void.

Do Something

If you are an outfitter working with business, programs or non-profits brining groups to you, then offer to have everyone sign your release, (if it is a well-written  release) and specifically include the group, program, business and/or non-profit in your release. You can sell this as a benefit that you have provided them with a well-written document that provides protection for everyone.

If you have your guests, sign releases electronically, then set up your system so you are comfortable with the system, and you know that someone has signed. That means if they have paid, they have signed the release. They can’t pay without signing the release.

You do have a problem then you need to write a new release so that it takes into account the novation and consideration issues in the new agreement. You have a client who swears they sent you a signed release. However, you do not have a copy. Get a paper copy of the release and write on it that the guest is signing the new release because the old one was lost and the consideration for the new release was the $XX paid to go rafting paid on XX day of XXX month 2015. Have the guest sign the release, and the additional language added the release. However, doing this is extremely risky.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Colorado Electronic Signature Act

Colorado Electronic Signature Act

24-71-101. Electronic signatures – construction with other laws

(1)        As used in this article, “electronic signature” means an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.

(2)        In any written communication in which a signature is required or used, any party to the communication may affix a signature by use of an electronic signature that complies with the requirements of article 71.3 of this title for electronic signatures.

(3)        The use or acceptance of an electronic signature shall be at the option of the parties. Nothing in this section shall require any person to use or permit the use of an electronic signature.

(4)        In the event of any conflict between article 71.3 of this title and this article, said article 71.3 shall control, but only to the extent of such conflict.

24-71.3-102. Definitions

As used in this article, unless the context otherwise requires:

(1)        “Agreement” means the bargain of the parties in fact, as found in their language or inferred from other circumstances and from rules, regulations, and procedures given the effect of agreements under laws otherwise applicable to a particular transaction.

(2)        “Automated transaction” means a transaction conducted or performed, in whole or in part, by electronic means or electronic records in which the acts or records of one or both parties are not reviewed by an individual in the ordinary course in forming a contract, performing under an existing contract, or fulfilling an obligation required by the transaction.

(3)        “Computer program” means a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in an information processing system in order to bring about a certain result.

(4)        “Contract” means the total legal obligation resulting from the parties’ agreement as affected by this article and other applicable law.

(5)        “Electronic” means relating to technology having electrical, digital, magnetic, wireless, optical, electromagnetic, or similar capabilities.

(6)        “Electronic agent” means a computer program or an electronic or other automated means used independently to initiate an action or respond to electronic records or performances, in whole or in part, without review or action by an individual.

(7)        “Electronic record” means a record created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means.

(8)        “Electronic signature” means an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.

(9)        “Governmental agency” means an executive agency, department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality of the federal government or of a state or of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision of a state.

(10)      “Information” means data, text, images, sounds, codes, computer programs, software, databases, or the like.

(11)      “Information processing system” means an electronic system for creating, generating, sending, receiving, storing, displaying, or processing information.

(12)      “Person” means an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, limited liability company, association, joint venture, governmental agency, public corporation, or any other legal or commercial entity.

(13)      “Record” means information that is inscribed on a tangible medium or that is stored in an electronic or other medium and is retrievable in perceivable form.

(14)      “Security procedure” means a procedure employed for the purpose of verifying that an electronic signature, record, or performance is that of a specific person or for detecting changes or errors in the information in an electronic record. The term includes a procedure that requires the use of algorithms or other codes, identifying words or numbers, encryption, or callback or other acknowledgment procedures.

(15)      “State” means a state of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, or any territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The term includes an Indian tribe or band, or Alaskan native village, that is recognized by federal law or formally acknowledged by a state.

(16)      “Transaction” means an action or set of actions occurring between two or more persons relating to the conduct of business, commercial, charitable, or governmental affairs.  For the purpose of this article, “transaction” shall not mean any ballot cast in any election or any petition related to any department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality of the state or any county, municipality, or of their political subdivisions, or any of their instrumentalities.

24-71.3-103. Scope

(1)        Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section, this article applies to electronic records and electronic signatures relating to a transaction.

(2)        This article does not apply to a transaction to the extent it is governed by:

(a)  A law governing the creation and execution of wills, codicils, or testamentary trusts;

(b)  The “Uniform Commercial Code”, title 4, C.R.S., other than sections 4-1-107 and 4-1-206, C.R.S., and articles 2 and 2.5 of title 4, C.R.S.

(3)        Additional exceptions. This article shall not apply to:

(a)  Court orders or notices or official court documents, including briefs, pleadings, and other writings, required to be executed in connection with court proceedings;

(b)  Any notice of:

(I)         The cancellation or termination of utility services, including water, heat, and power;

(II)        Default, acceleration, repossession, foreclosure, or eviction, or the right to cure, under a credit agreement secured by, or a rental agreement for, a primary residence of an individual;

(III)      The cancellation or termination of health insurance or benefits or life insurance benefits, excluding annuities; or

(IV)      Recall of a product, or material failure of a product, that risks endangering health or safety; or

(c)  Any document required to accompany any transportation or handling of hazardous materials, pesticides, or other toxic or dangerous materials.

(4)        This article applies to an electronic record or electronic signature otherwise excluded from the application of this article under subsection (2) of this section to the extent it is governed by a law other than those specified in said subsection (2).

(5)        A transaction subject to this article is also subject to other applicable substantive law.

(6)        (a) This article is not intended to limit, modify, or supercede the requirements of section 101 (d), 101 (e), 102 (c), 103 (a), or 103 (b) of the federal “Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act”, 15 U.S.C. sec. 7001 (d), 7001 (e), 7002 (c), 7003 (a), and 7003 (b).

(b) The consumer disclosures contained in section 101 (c) of the federal “Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act”, 15 U.S.C. sec. 7001 (c), are incorporated by reference and shall also apply to intrastate transactions.

24-71.3-104. Prospective application

This article applies to any electronic record or electronic signature created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored on or after May 30, 2002.

24-71.3-105. Use of electronic records and electronic signatures – variation by agreement

(1)        This article does not require a record or signature to be created, generated, sent, communicated, received, stored, or otherwise processed or used by electronic means or in electronic form.

(2)        This article applies only to transactions between parties each of which has agreed to conduct transactions by electronic means. Whether the parties agree to conduct a transaction by electronic means is determined from the context and surrounding circumstances, including the parties’ conduct.

(3)        A party that agrees to conduct a transaction by electronic means may refuse to conduct other transactions by electronic means. The right granted by this subsection (3) may not be waived by agreement.

(4)        Except as otherwise provided in this article, the effect of any of its provisions may be varied by agreement. The presence in certain provisions of this article of the words “unless otherwise agreed”, or words of similar import, does not imply that the effect of other provisions may not be varied by agreement.

(5)        Whether an electronic record or electronic signature has legal consequences is determined by this article and other applicable law.

24-71.3-106. Construction and application

(1) This article must be construed and applied:

(a) To facilitate electronic transactions consistent with other applicable law;

(b) To be consistent with reasonable practices concerning electronic transactions and with the continued expansion of those practices; and

(c) To effectuate its general purpose to make uniform the law with respect to the subject of this article among states enacting it.

24-71.3-107. Legal recognition of electronic records, electronic signatures, and electronic contracts

(1)        A record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.

(2)        A contract may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because an electronic record was used in its formation.

(3)        If a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law.

(4)        If a law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies the law.

24-71.3-108. Provision of information in writing – presentation of records

(1) If parties have agreed to conduct a transaction by electronic means and a law requires a person to provide, send, or deliver information in writing to another person, the requirement is satisfied if the information is provided, sent, or delivered, as the case may be, in an electronic record capable of retention by the recipient at the time of receipt. An electronic record is not capable of retention by the recipient if the sender or its information processing system inhibits the ability of the recipient to print or store the electronic record.

(2) If a law other than this article requires a record to be posted or displayed in a certain manner, to be sent, communicated, or transmitted by a specified method, or to contain information that is formatted in a certain manner, the following rules apply:

(a) The record must be posted or displayed in the manner specified in the other law.

(b) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of subsection (4) of this section, the record must be sent, communicated, or transmitted by the method specified in the other law.

(c) The record must contain the information formatted in the manner specified in the other law.

(3) If a sender inhibits the ability of a recipient to store or print an electronic record, the electronic record is not enforceable against the recipient.

(4) The requirements of this section may not be varied by agreement, but:

(a) To the extent a law other than this article requires information to be provided, sent, or delivered in writing but permits that requirement to be varied by agreement, the requirement under subsection (1) of this section that the information be in the form of an electronic record capable of retention may also be varied by agreement; and

(b) A requirement under a law other than this article to send, communicate, or transmit a record by first-class mail, postage prepaid, or regular United States mail may be varied by agreement to the extent permitted by the other law.

24-71.3-109. Attribution and effect of electronic record and electronic signature

(1)        An electronic record or electronic signature is attributable to a person if it was the act of the person. The act of the person may be shown in any manner, including a showing of the efficacy of any security procedure applied to determine the person to which the electronic record or electronic signature was attributable.

(2)        The effect of an electronic record or electronic signature attributed to a person under subsection (1) of this section is determined from the context and surrounding circumstances at the time of its creation, execution, or adoption, including the parties’ agreement, if any, and otherwise as provided by law.

24-71.3-110. Effect of change or error

(1) If a change or error in an electronic record occurs in a transmission between parties to a transaction, the following rules apply:

(a) If the parties have agreed to use a security procedure to detect changes or errors and one party has conformed to the procedure, but the other party has not, and the nonconforming party would have detected the change or error had that party also conformed, the conforming party may avoid the effect of the changed or erroneous electronic record.

(b) In an automated transaction involving an individual, the individual may avoid the effect of an electronic record that resulted from an error made by the individual in dealing with the electronic agent of another person if the electronic agent did not provide an opportunity for the prevention or correction of the error and, at the time the individual learns of the error, the individual:

(I) Promptly notifies the other person of the error and that the individual did not intend to be bound by the electronic record received by the other person;

(II) Takes reasonable steps, including steps that conform to the other person’s reasonable instructions, to return to the other person or, if instructed by the other person, to destroy the consideration received, if any, as a result of the erroneous electronic record; and

(III) Has not used or received any benefit or value from the consideration, if any, received from the other person.

(c) If neither paragraph (a) nor paragraph (b) of this subsection (1) applies, the change or error has the effect provided by other law, including the law of mistake, and the parties’ contract, if any.

(d) Paragraphs (b) and (c) of this subsection (1) may not be varied by agreement.

24-71.3-111. Notarization and acknowledgment

If a law requires a signature or record to be notarized, acknowledged, verified, or made under oath, the requirement is satisfied if the electronic signature of the person authorized to perform those acts, together with all other information required to be included by other applicable law, is attached to or logically associated with the signature or record.

24-71.3-112. Retention of electronic records – originals

(1) If a law requires that a record be retained, the requirement is satisfied by retaining an electronic record of the information in the record that:

(a) Accurately reflects the information set forth in the record after it was first generated in its final form as an electronic record or otherwise; and

(b) Remains accessible for later reference.

(2) A requirement to retain a record in accordance with subsection (1) of this section does not apply to any information the sole purpose of which is to enable the record to be sent, communicated, or received.

(3) A person may satisfy subsection (1) of this section by using the services of another person if the requirements of said subsection (1) are satisfied.

(4) If a law requires a record to be presented or retained in its original form, or provides consequences if the record is not presented or retained in its original form, that law is satisfied by an electronic record retained in accordance with subsection (1) of this section.

(5) If a law requires retention of a check, that requirement is satisfied by retention of an electronic record of the information on the front and back of the check in accordance with subsection (1) of this section.

(6) A record retained as an electronic record in accordance with subsection (1) of this section satisfies a law requiring a person to retain a record for evidentiary, audit, or like purposes unless a law enacted after May 30, 2002, specifically prohibits the use of an electronic record for the specified purpose.

(7) This section does not preclude a governmental agency of this state from specifying additional requirements for the retention of a record subject to the agency’s jurisdiction.

24-71.3-113. Admissibility in evidence

In a proceeding, evidence of a record or signature may not be excluded solely because it is in electronic form.

24-71.3-114. Automated transaction

(1) In an automated transaction, the following rules apply:

(a) A contract may be formed by the interaction of electronic agents of the parties, even if no individual was aware of or reviewed the electronic agents’ actions or the resulting terms and agreements.

(b) A contract may be formed by the interaction of an electronic agent and an individual, acting on the individual’s own behalf or for another person, including by an interaction in which the individual performs actions that the individual is free to refuse to perform and that the individual knows or has reason to know will cause the electronic agent to complete the transaction or performance.

(c) The terms of the contract are determined by the substantive law applicable to it.

24-71.3-115. Time and place of sending and receipt

(1) Unless otherwise agreed between the sender and the recipient, an electronic record is sent when it:

(a) Is addressed properly or otherwise directed properly to an information processing system that the recipient has designated or uses for the purpose of receiving electronic records or information of the type sent and from which the recipient is able to retrieve the electronic record;

(b) Is in a form capable of being processed by that system; and

(c) Enters an information processing system outside the control of the sender or of a person that sent the electronic record on behalf of the sender or enters a region of the information processing system designated or used by the recipient that is under the control of the recipient.

(2) Unless otherwise agreed between a sender and the recipient, an electronic record is received when:

(a) It enters an information processing system that the recipient has designated or uses for the purpose of receiving electronic records or information of the type sent and from which the recipient is able to retrieve the electronic record; and

(b) It is in a form capable of being processed by that system.

(3) Subsection (2) of this section applies even if the place the information processing system is located is different from the place the electronic record is deemed to be received under subsection (4) of this section.

(4) Unless otherwise expressly provided in the electronic record or agreed between the sender and the recipient, an electronic record is deemed to be sent from the sender’s place of business and to be received at the recipient’s place of business. For purposes of this subsection (4), the following rules apply:

(a) If the sender or recipient has more than one place of business, the place of business of that person is the place having the closest relationship to the underlying transaction.

(b) If the sender or the recipient does not have a place of business, the place of business is the sender’s or recipient’s residence, as the case may be.

(5) An electronic record is received under subsection (2) of this section even if no individual is aware of its receipt.

(6) Receipt of an electronic acknowledgment from an information processing system described in subsection (2) of this section establishes that a record was received but, by itself, does not establish that the content sent corresponds to the content received.

(7) If a person is aware that an electronic record purportedly sent under subsection (1) of this section or purportedly received under subsection (2) of this section was not actually sent or received, the legal effect of the sending or receipt is determined by other applicable law. Except to the extent permitted by the other law, the requirements of this subsection (7) may not be varied by agreement.

24-71.3-116. Transferable records

(1) In this section, “transferable record” means an electronic record that:

(a) Would be a note under article 3 of the “Uniform Commercial Code”, title 4, C.R.S., or a document under article 7 of the “Uniform Commercial Code”, if the electronic record were in writing; and

(b) The issuer of the electronic record expressly has agreed is a transferable record.

(2) A person has control of a transferable record if a system employed for evidencing the transfer of interests in the transferable record reliably establishes that person as the person to which the transferable record was issued or transferred.

(3) A system satisfies subsection (2) of this section, and a person is deemed to have control of a transferable record, if the transferable record is created, stored, and assigned in such a manner that:

(a) A single authoritative copy of the transferable record exists that is unique, identifiable, and, except as otherwise provided in paragraphs (d), (e), and (f) of this subsection (3), unalterable;

(b) The authoritative copy identifies the person asserting control as:

(I) The person to which the transferable record was issued; or

(II) If the authoritative copy indicates that the transferable record has been transferred, the person to which the transferable record was most recently transferred;

(c) The authoritative copy is communicated to and maintained by the person asserting control or its designated custodian;

(d) Copies or revisions that add or change an identified assignee of the authoritative copy can be made only with the consent of the person asserting control;

(e) Each copy of the authoritative copy and any copy of a copy is readily identifiable as a copy that is not the authoritative copy; and

(f) Any revision of the authoritative copy is readily identifiable as authorized or unauthorized.

(4) Except as otherwise agreed, a person having control of a transferable record is the holder, as defined in section 4-1-201 (20), C.R.S., of the transferable record and has the same rights and defenses as a holder of an equivalent record or writing under the “Uniform Commercial Code”, title 4, C.R.S., including, if the applicable statutory requirements under section 4-3-302 (a), 4-7-501, or 4-9-308, C.R.S., are satisfied, the rights and defenses of a holder in due course, a holder to which a negotiable document of title has been duly negotiated, or a purchaser, respectively. Delivery, possession, and indorsement are not required to obtain or exercise any of the rights under this subsection (4).

(5) Except as otherwise agreed, an obligor under a transferable record has the same rights and defenses as an equivalent obligor under equivalent records or writings under the “Uniform Commercial Code”, title 4, C.R.S.

(6) If requested by a person against which enforcement is sought, the person seeking to enforce the transferable record shall provide reasonable proof that the person is in control of the transferable record. Proof may include access to the authoritative copy of the transferable record and related business records sufficient to review the terms of the transferable record and to establish the identity of the person having control of the transferable record.

24-71.3-117. Creation and retention of electronic records by political subdivisions

Each department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality of the state, in accordance with the policies, standards, and guidelines set forth by the office of innovation and technology of this state, may determine whether, and the extent to which, such department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality shall create and retain electronic records and convert written records to electronic records. A county, municipality, or other political subdivision, or any of their instrumentalities, shall have the general power, in relation to the administration of the affairs of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision, or any of their instrumentalities, to determine the extent to which it will create and retain electronic records and electronic signatures.

24-71.3-118. Acceptance and distribution of electronic records by governmental agencies – rules

(1) Except as otherwise provided in section 24-71.3-112 (6), each department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality of the state may determine the extent to which such department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality shall send and accept electronic records and electronic signatures to and from other persons and otherwise create, generate, communicate, store, process, use, and rely upon electronic records and electronic signatures. A county, municipality, or other political subdivision, or any of their instrumentalities, shall have the general power, in relation to the administration of the affairs of a county, municipality, or of their political subdivision, or any of their instrumentalities, to determine the extent to which it will send and accept electronic records and electronic signatures to and from other persons and otherwise create, generate, communicate, store, process, use, and rely upon electronic records and electronic signatures.

(2) Except in relation to electronic payments, which shall be governed by the state treasurer, to the extent that a department, board, commission, authority, institution, or instrumentality of this state uses electronic records and electronic signatures under subsection (1) of this section, the secretary of state, giving due consideration to security, shall by rule specify:

(a) The manner and format in which the electronic records must be created, generated, sent, communicated, received, and stored and the systems established for those purposes;

(b) If electronic records must be signed by electronic means, the type of electronic signature required, the manner and format in which the electronic signature must be affixed to the electronic record, and the identity of, or criteria that must be met by, any third party used by a person filing a document to facilitate the process;

(c) Control processes and procedures as appropriate to ensure adequate preservation, disposition, integrity, security, confidentiality, and auditability of electronic records; and

(d) Any other required attributes for electronic records that are specified for corresponding nonelectronic records or reasonably necessary under the circumstances.

(3) Except as otherwise provided in section 24-71.3-112 (6), this article does not require a governmental agency of this state to use or permit the use of electronic records or electronic signatures.

(4) Repealed.

24-71.3-119. Interoperability

The secretary of state may, in adopting rules promulgated pursuant to section 24-71.3-118, encourage and promote consistency and interoperability with similar requirements adopted by other governmental agencies of this and other states and the federal government and nongovernmental persons interacting with governmental agencies of this state. If appropriate, such rules may specify differing levels of standards from which governmental agencies of this state may choose in implementing the most appropriate standard for a particular application.

24-71.3-120. Severability clause

If any provision of this article or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of this article that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this article are hereby expressly declared to be severable.

24-71.3-121. Construction with other laws

In the event of any conflict between article 71 of this title and this article, this article shall control, but only to the extent of such conflict.

13-25-134. Electronic records and signatures – admissibility in evidence – originals

Pursuant to the provisions of article 71.3 of title 24, C.R.S., in any legal proceeding, nothing in the application of the rules of evidence shall apply so as to deny the admissibility of an electronic record or electronic signature into evidence on the sole ground that it is an electronic record or electronic signature or on the grounds that it is not in its original form or is not an original.

 


Alaskan Supreme Court upholds releases for climbing gym and sets forth requirements on how releases will be upheld in AK

Decision points out what not to do in a release which has great information for everyone.

Donahue v. Ledgends, Inc., 2014 Alas. LEXIS 153 State

Plaintiff: Claire A. Donahue

Defendant: Ledgends, Inc. d/b/a Alaska Rock Gym

Plaintiff Claims: negligent failure to adequately train and supervise its instructors and violations of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA)

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

In three prior cases, the Alaskan Supreme Court had stated that releases were valid under Alaskan law; however, the releases in front of the court for review, failed for specific reasons. In this case, all the requirements to write a release according to the court were present.

The plaintiff in this case had decided that learning to climb was her next goal. The plaintiff’s second class was bouldering. At one point, she was 3-4’ off the ground and told to jump down by a gym instructor. The gym used mats for its landing padding. She jumped breaking her tibia in four places.

The plaintiff then sued the climbing gym for negligence and violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Protection Act (UTPA). The trial court upheld the release and dismissed the claims of the plaintiff, and the plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

This case is full of interesting and useful information. I’ll tackle it by subject matter rather than the order the court goes through it.

UTPA

The UTPA as identified in Alaska can be found in some form in all states. It is a consumer protection statute to provide consumers with greater benefits and damages if they are ripped off by someone or a business. Most are called consumer protection acts. Alaska joined the majority of states and said that consumer protection statutes did not apply to personal injury claims. The court dismissed this claim.

Offer of Judgment

The court also looked at the offer of judgment made by the defendant and resulting attorney fees awarded to the defendants. In Colorado and Alaska and probably most states, if the defendant makes an offer of settlement or offer of judgment, they are stating we will give the plaintiff $XX in this amount, and the case ends. However, if the plaintiff does not win that amount or a percentage of that amount, then the defendant can be awarded attorney fees or a percentage of its attorney fees.

The statute has a two-prong approach. First, it eliminates a lot of lawsuits quite quickly when the damages are close enough to the offer made by the defendant to get the plaintiff to think. It also makes the plaintiff to do an honest evaluation of the amount of money they can realistically receive in a lawsuit.

Here the plaintiff did not recover any money so the defendant was awarded 20% of their attorney fees per the statute.

Relevant Facts of the Case

The actual facts are stated in the decision are important.

Donahue completed her first class on harnessed climbing on March 23, 2008, and returned for a second class on May 11. When class began she was told that the day’s focus would be on bouldering, or unharnessed climbing on low walls. She did not express any hesitation. She climbed for almost two hours, successfully ascending and descending a number of routes. During this time, she saw other people drop from the wall without injury. After another successful ascent at the end of the lesson, she felt unable to climb down using the available holds. Her feet were somewhere between three and four-and-a-half feet from the ground. Her instructor suggested that she drop to the mat and told her to be sure to bend her knees. Donahue landed awkwardly and broke her tibia in four places. She was attended to immediately by Rock Gym personnel and a physician who happened to be present.

The court pointed out several facts surrounding the case. The ones in favor of the defendant were:

There were signs posted around the gym warning of the dangers of climbing. The plaintiff had never climbed before, but she was a runner, cyclists, kite boarder and had worked as a commercial river guide in Colorado. The plaintiff testified that she understood the risks of the activities and felt competent to make decisions about that risk for herself.

The ones in favor of the plaintiff were: Advertising of the gym gave the impression to the plaintiff that learning with the defendant was a safe way to learn how to climb. The defendant had run ads in the newspaper that stated:

[T]the only safe place in town to hang out.

Trust us, it still exists. . . . [E]very child in your family will be reminded of what it’s all about — friends and fun.

[Y]ou have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

(Marketing makes promises that risk management must pay for?)

Analysis of Prior Release law by the Court

The court outlined the three reasons it had thrown out releases in three earlier cases. The first decision, a release was used as a defense to a claim by a passenger in a plane that crashed.

We ruled that “[i]ntent to release a party from liability for future negligence must be conspicuously and unequivocally expressed.” We also held that a release must use the word “negligence” to establish the required degree of clarity, something the release in Kissick did not do. Further, since liability for “death” was not specifically disclaimed and the term “injury” was ambiguous, we held that the release did not apply to claims for wrongful death, construing it against the drafter.

The second release was thrown out in a case involving driving all-terrain vehicles. The public policy argument was reviewed in this case, and the court found a recreational release did not violate public policy. The court did find, however:

We did decide, however, that the release did not conspicuously and unequivocally express an intent to release the defendants from liability for the cause of the exact injury that occurred — a rollover when the plaintiff drove over a big rock hidden in tall grass. The release covered the inherent risks of ATV riding, but we found that it also included “an implied and reasonable presumption that the course [was] not unreasonably dangerous.” We found there to be fact questions about whether “the course posed a risk beyond ordinary negligence related to the inherent risks of off-road ATV riding assumed by the release,” and we held that summary judgment for the defendants on the basis of the release was therefore, improper.

The third decision involved the same defendant as in the present case, Ledgends, Inc. In that case the plaintiff fell and her foot slipped through two floor mats injuring her.

…language in the release that was problematic because it was internally inconsistent: the release stated that the gym would try to keep its facilities safe and its equipment in good condition, but it simultaneously disclaimed liability for actions that failed to meet such standards.

This last issue is critical to review when writing a release. See below.

Requirements for a Release to be Valid under Alaskan law

The court then outlined the six things a release under Alaskan law must meet to be valid.

(1) the risk being waived must be specifically and clearly set forth (e.g. death, bodily injury, and property damage);

(2) a waiver of negligence must be specifically set forth using the word “negligence”;

(3) these factors must be brought home to the releasor in clear, emphasized language by using simple words and capital letters;

(4) the release must not violate public policy;

(5) if a release seeks to exculpate a defendant from liability for acts of negligence unrelated to inherent risks, the release must suggest an intent to do so; and

(6) the release agreement must not represent or insinuate standards of safety or maintenance.

Simply put the requirements of a release in Alaska are simple clear and very precise. I would surmise that 90% of the releases written in the US would fail to meet one or more of the requirements required in Alaska.

A review of the specifics required by the court is educational.

1.       You can’t just have a one-paragraph release waiving negligence. Under Alaskan law, you have to list the possible risks. Here the court found the list describing what can happen to you in a climbing gym adequate. Falling is an obvious one for rock climbing but you probably also have to list rope burns, different ways you can fall, belayer issues as well as equipment failure.

You also cannot use one release to cover a multitude of risks anymore. The risks of rock climbing do not include drowning (outside of Thailand) which are a part of rafting. You will have to have a release for each group of risks to identify those risks.

2.      You have to have a release that releases the defendant from negligence. Alaska is not going to allow you to skirt the issue. Your release must use the word negligence and have the signor, sign away their right to sue for your negligent acts.

3.      The important language cannot be hidden, small type, etc. More importantly; the entire document must be a standalone document, and the releasing language set out, emphasized and capitalized.

Under Alaskan law, I would suspect that most “health club” releases found in the membership sign up may not meet these requirements. Those are documents were the majority of the language covers your promise to pay and there is a paragraph or two in the middle waiving any claims you may have.

(The language concerning payment allows the health club to sell the contract to a third party. The health club receives a fixed amount, usually about 50% of the total value immediately. The third party is then the one sending you the demand letter and trying to collect from you when you quit going to the club.)

4.      The release of liability language must be specific. This issue is similar to the first issue, but it requires specific action in the release. You must state you are not liable for negligence AND the risks you outline in the release and others. This requires you to have more than a simple negligence clause. Your negligence clause must be written to cover all aspects of the risk you are required to put in your release.

5.       The Fifth and Sixth requirements are similar. This is one I’ve been arguing for years. You can’t promise one thing and then not meet the promise. The court specifically stated you cannot say your state you follow a standard and then fail to meet that standard. (Sound familiar?)

If you say you follow the standards of the ACA, AEE, CWA or any other organization that writes standards for your activity you must meet those standards! You cannot say your equipment is kept up to date and then have shoddy equipment. You can’t say your employees are all trained in first aid and have a custodian who is not. No longer can you say you meet 80% of the standards or hope your release will get you out of those you don’t meet. If you state you meet the standards, yours or others, Alaska release law (contract law) states you must meet the standards.

If you marketing is making a promise that you fail to meet, in Alaska your release cannot get you out of failing to meet the promise. Whether or not this applies to advertising not found in the release will be interesting. However, I suspect if the plaintiff says I want to the defendant because their door said they meet the standards of ABC, and they failed to meet those standards; the defense in Alaska may not include a release.

The defendant was successful; the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed, and we have a decision providing an outline on how releases should be written in Alaska.

So Now What?

Many times in an effect to “soften” the way the release sounds to your clients you may make statements or promises in the release about how you or your equipment will operate or be maintained. In this decision, the court pointed out in its prior decision that those promises in a release will void the release if they are not kept.

There is no way to “soften” a release. Any time you do you are creating a contract with cross purposes. On one hand, you are attempting to prevent a lawsuit if someone is injured. On the other hand, you are promising that people won’t be injured. If you are promising someone won’t be injured why have the release? More importantly the courts have found that you can’t promise safety and when you fail to meet your promise, use the release to prevent the lawsuit over your promise.

A release is a contract. This court looked at the entire contract and found that promises in the contract were met. Promises in prior contracts that were not met voided the release.

This decision places stricter requirements on releases then in several other courts; however, the decision outlines how to be successful when writing a release in Alaska and all other states.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Lift tickets are not contracts and rarely work as a release in most states

Nor can they be used to prove assumption of the risk. At best, a lift ticket is another sign informing someone of the risk. If you are relying upon a lift ticket to stop lawsuits, get a release.

In most states where a statute requires language on the back of a lift ticket that warns of the risk, the language is simply that, warning language.

Two decisions have held that a lift ticket is valid to stop a claim at a ski area: Oregon and North Carolina.

These decisions have upheld the use of a lift ticket to bar a claim.

Oregon: Silva v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55942

North Carolina: Strawbridge v. Sugar Mountain Resort, 320 F. Supp. 2d 425; 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14, Strawbridge, v. Sugar Mountain Resort, Incorporated, 152 Fed. Appx. 286; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 23459

In most states, the lift ticket is just a warning. To create a contract, a release, the lift ticket would have been a meeting of the minds. The purchaser of the lift ticket would have to understand they are entering a contract and agree to the terms of the contract.

That means the skier or boarder would have to read the back of the lift ticket and say, yes, I agree to the terms of the contract (or “sure.”).

You can’t rely on a lift ticket or any ticket to stop a lawsuit in most states and even in those four states that have held that in these cases, I would not rely on them until additional decisions support the claims.

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