Willhide-Michiulis v. Mammoth Mt. Ski Area, LLC, 2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4363Posted: September 12, 2018 Filed under: Assumption of the Risk, California, Release (pre-injury contract not to sue), Ski Area, Skiing / Snow Boarding | Tags: collided, Collision, conditions, declarations, driver's, Driving, expert testimony, extreme departure, grooming, Gross negligence, industry standard, Inherent Risk, mambo, Mammoth, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Mammoth Mt. Ski Area, Mammoth Mt. Ski Area LLC, Mountain, ordinary standard, plaintiffs', Risks, Season Pass, skier's, skiing, Snow, snow grooming, snow-grooming vehicle, snowboarding, Snowcat, Sport, Summary judgment, tiller, Trial court, Venue, Warning Leave a comment
Willhide-Michiulis v. Mammoth Mt. Ski Area, LLC
Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District
June 27, 2018, Opinion Filed
2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4363 *; 2018 WL 3134581KATHLEEN WILLHIDE-MICHIULIS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN SKI AREA, LLC, Defendant and Respondent.
Notice: NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 8.1115(a), PROHIBITS COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 8.1115(b). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 8.1115.
Subsequent History: The Publication Status of this Document has been Changed by the Court from Unpublished to Published July 18, 2018 and is now reported at 2018 Cal.App.LEXIS 638.
Ordered published by, Reported at Willhide-Michiulis v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, LLC, 2018 Cal. App. LEXIS 638 (Cal. App. 3d Dist., June 27, 2018)
Prior History: [*1] Superior Court of Mono County, No. CV130105.
Judges: Robie, Acting P. J.; Murray, J., Duarte, J. concurred.
Opinion by: Robie, Acting P. J.
Plaintiff Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis was involved in a tragic snowboarding accident at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. On her last run of the day, she collided with a snowcat pulling a snow-grooming tiller and got caught in the tiller. The accident resulted in the amputation of her left leg, several skull fractures and facial lacerations, among other serious injuries. She and her husband, Bruno Michiulis, appeal after the trial court granted defendant Mammoth Mountain Ski Area‘s (Mammoth) motion for summary judgment finding the operation of the snowcat and snow-grooming tiller on the snow run open to the public was an inherent risk of snowboarding and did not constitute gross negligence. Plaintiffs contend the trial court improperly granted Mammoth’s motion for summary judgment and improperly excluded the expert declarations plaintiffs submitted to oppose the motion. They also assert the trial court improperly denied their motion to transfer venue to Los Angeles County.
We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the expert declarations. Further, [*2] although snowcats and snow-grooming tillers are capable of causing catastrophic injury, as evidenced by Willhide-Michiulis’s experience, we conclude this equipment is an inherent part of the sport of snowboarding and the way in which the snowcat was operated in this case did not rise to the level of gross negligence. Because of this conclusion, the trial court properly granted Mammoth’s summary judgment motion based on the liability waiver Willhide-Michiulis signed as part of her season-pass agreement. With no pending trial, plaintiffs cannot show they were prejudiced by the court’s denial of their motion to transfer venue; thus we do not reach the merits of that claim. Accordingly, we affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Mammoth owns and operates one of the largest snowcat fleets in the United States to groom snow and maintain snow runs throughout Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. A snowcat is a large snow-grooming vehicle — 30 feet long and 18 feet wide. It has five wheels on each side of the vehicle that are enclosed in a track. In front of the snowcat is a plow extending the width of the snowcat. In back is a 20-foot wide trailer containing a tiller. A tiller “spins at a [*3] high [speed] br[e]aking up the snow and slightly warming it and allowing it to refreeze in a firm skiable surface.” Mammoth strives not to have snowcats operating when the resort is open to the public; however, it may be necessary at times. Mammoth’s grooming guide instructs drivers that generally snowcats are operated at night or in areas closed to the public, except during: (1) emergency operations, (2) extremely heavy snow, or (3) transportation of personnel or materials. If a driver “must be on the mountain while the public is present,” however, the snowcat’s lights, safety beacon, and audible alarm must be on. The guide further directs drivers not to operate the tiller if anyone is within 50 feet or if on a snow run open to the public. In another section, the guide directs drivers not to operate the snowcat’s tiller when anyone is within 150 feet and “[n]ever . . . when the skiing public is present.”
Although the grooming guide directs drivers not to use the tiller on snow runs open to the public, there are exceptions to these rules. Snowcats use two large tracks, instead of wheels, to travel on the snow. If the tiller is not running, then the snowcat leaves behind berms and holes created by the [*4] tracks, also known as track marks. Mammoth’s grooming guide explains that “[t]rack marks are not acceptable anywhere on the mountain and back-ups or extra passes should be used to remove them.” Track marks are not safe for the skiing public, so whenever the snowcat is justified to be on an open run, drivers commonly operate the tiller to leave behind safe conditions.
In fact, it is common for skiers and snowboarders to chase snowcats that operate on public snow runs. For example, Taylor Lester, a Mammoth season-pass holder, has seen snowcats with tillers operate on snow runs open to the public. She, her friends, and her family, commonly ride close behind these snowcats so they can take advantage of the freshly tilled snow the snowcats produce. Freshly-tilled snow is considered desirable and “more fun” because it has not been tarnished by other skiers.
There is a blind spot in the snowcat created by the roll cage in the cab of the vehicle. This blind spot is mitigated by the driver using the mirrors of the snowcat and turning his or her head to look out the windows. Snowcats are also equipped with turn signals.
At the top and bottom of every chair lift, Mammoth posts signs warning of the presence [*5] of snowcats throughout the resort and on snow runs. Mammoth also includes these warnings in trail maps. Further, in Willhide-Michiulis’s season-pass agreement, she acknowledged she understood “the sport involves numerous risks including, but not limited to, the risks posed by variations in terrain and snow conditions, . . . unmarked obstacles, . . . devices, . . . and other hazards whether they are obvious or not. I also understand that the sport involves risks posed by loss of balance . . . and collisions with natural and man-made objects, including . . . snow making equipment, snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles.” Willhide-Michiulis further agreed to release Mammoth from liability “for any damage, injury or death to me and/or my child arising from participation in the sport or use of the facilities at Mammoth regardless of cause, including the ALLEGED NEGLIGENCE of Mammoth.”
On March 25, 2011, Clifford Mann, the general manager of mountain operations, had to dig out various buildings using a snowcat during Mammoth’s hours of operation because between 27 and 44 inches of snow fell the night before. At approximately 3:15 p.m., Mann was digging out a building when a Mammoth employee [*6] called to ask him to fill in a hole she had created with her snowmobile on Old Boneyard Road. Less than an hour before her call, the employee had been driving her snowmobile on the unmarked service road and got it stuck in the snow. She called for assistance and she and another Mammoth employee dug out the snowmobile. Once the machine had been dug out of the snow, there was too big of a hole for her and her coworker to fill in. They decided to call Mann to have him fill in the hole with the snowcat because it was near the end of the day and the hole was a safety hazard for all other snowmobiles that would use the service road at closing. Mann agreed and drove his snowcat with the tiller running to Old Boneyard Road, which branched off of the bottom of mambo snow run. Before leaving for the Old Boneyard Road location, Mann turned on the snowcat’s warning beacon, lights, and audible alarm.
Around this same time, Willhide-Michiulis, a Mammoth season-pass holder, and her brother went for their last snowboard run of the day while Willhide-Michiulis’s husband went to the car. It was a clear day and Willhide-Michiulis and her brother split up after getting off the chair lift. Willhide-Michiulis [*7] snowboarded down mambo, while her brother took a neighboring run. While Willhide-Michiulis rode down mambo, she was in control of her snowboard and traveling on the left side of the run. She saw the snowcat about 150 feet ahead of her on the trail. It was traveling downhill and in the middle of the run. Willhide-Michiulis initiated a “carve” to her left to go further to the left of the snowcat. When she looked up, the snowcat had “cut off her path” and she could not avoid a collision. Willhide-Michiulis hit the back left corner of the snowcat and her board went into the gap between the tracks of the snowcat and the tiller. Willhide-Michiulis was then pulled into the tiller.
Mann did not use a turn signal before initiating the turn onto Old Boneyard Road. Before the collision, Mann had constantly been checking around the snowcat for people by utilizing the snowcat’s mirrors and by looking over his shoulders and through the windows. The snowcat did not have a speedometer, but Mann thought he was going less than 10 miles an hour. When he had nearly completed the turn from lower mambo onto Old Boneyard Road, Mann saw a “black flash” in his rearview mirror. He immediately stopped the snowcat, [*8] which also stopped the tiller.
Mann got out of the snowcat and lifted the protective flap to look under the tiller. He saw Willhide-Michiulis stuck in the tiller and called for help. When help arrived, it took 30 minutes to remove Willhide-Michiulis from the tiller. She suffered a near-complete amputation of her left leg above the knee, which doctors amputated in a subsequent surgery. Her right leg sustained multiple fractures and lacerations, and she dislocated her right hip. The tiller also struck Willhide-Michiulis’s face, leaving multiple facial fractures and lacerations.
Plaintiffs initially filed suit against Mammoth and Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles, the manufacturer of the snowcat and tiller, in Los Angeles County.1 As to Mammoth, plaintiffs alleged breach of contract, gross negligence, negligence, and loss of consortium. Venue was later transferred to Mono County, where the trial court dismissed multiple causes of action pertaining to Mammoth.2 The operative complaint alleges two causes of action against Mammoth — gross negligence and loss of consortium. At the same time plaintiffs filed the operative complaint, they also filed a motion to transfer venue back [*9] to Los Angeles County because it was more convenient for the parties and because plaintiffs could not receive a fair trial in Mono County. The trial court denied plaintiffs’ motion to transfer venue without prejudice and we denied the petition for writ of mandate plaintiffs filed challenging that ruling.
Mammoth later moved for summary judgment on the two remaining causes of action arguing that plaintiffs’ case was barred by the primary assumption of risk doctrine and the express assumption of risk agreement Willhide-Michiulis signed as part of her season-pass contract. The court agreed and granted Mammoth’s motion for summary judgment finding primary assumption of risk and the waiver in Willhide-Michiulis’s season-pass agreement barred plaintiffs relief. It found there was no dispute over the material facts of plaintiffs’ claims and that Willhide-Michiulis was injured when “she fell and slid under a [Mammoth] operated snowcat and was caught in the operating tiller. [Willhide-Michiulis] was snowboarding on an open run as the snowcat was operating on the same run. It appears that the collision occurred as the snowcat operator was negotiating a left turn from the run to the service road.” [*10] It also found that accepting plaintiffs’ factual allegations as true, i.e., Mann operated a snowcat and tiller on an open run, he failed to use a turn signal when making a sharp left turn from the center of the run, he failed to warn skiers of his presence, and no signs marked the existence of Old Boneyard Road — plaintiffs could not show Mammoth was grossly negligent or lacked all care because Mann took several safety precautions while driving the snowcat, and warning signs were posted throughout Mammoth Mountain, on trail maps, and in Willhide-Michiulis’s season-pass contract. Because plaintiffs could not show gross negligence, the waiver of liability they signed as part of their season-pass agreement barred recovery.
The court further found plaintiffs’ factual allegations did not support a finding that Mann’s conduct increased the inherent risks of snowboarding and, in fact, colliding with snow-grooming equipment is an inherent risk of the sport. Citing Souza v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp. (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 262, 41 Cal. Rptr. 3d 389, the court explained snowcats are plainly visible and generally avoidable and serve as their own warning sign because they are an obvious danger. The snowcat is equally obvious when it is moving as when it is stationary. Thus, the [*11] primary assumption of risk doctrine also barred plaintiffs from recovery.
The court also excluded the declarations of three experts plaintiffs attached to their opposition to dispute Mammoth’s claim that it did not act with gross negligence. The first expert, Michael Beckley, worked in the ski industry for 25 years and was an “expert of ski resort safety and snow cat safety.” He held multiple positions in the industry, including ski instructor, snowcat driver, and director of mountain operations. Beckley based his opinions on the topography of the snow run, Mammoth’s snow grooming manual and snow grooming equipment, and accounts of Mann’s conduct while driving the snowcat. He opined the operation of a snowcat on an open run with its tiller running was “extremely dangerous,” “an extreme departure from an ordinary standard of conduct,” and “violate[d] the industry standard.” He believed Mann increased the risk of injury to skiers and violated industry standards by driving down the middle of a snow run and failing to signal his turn. Mammoth’s failure to close the snow run, provide spotters, or comply with its own safety rules, Beckley declared, violated industry standards and the ordinary standard [*12] of conduct.
Plaintiffs’ second expert, Eric Deyerl, was a mechanical engineer for over 20 years, with a specialization in vehicle dynamics and accident reconstruction. In forming his opinions, Deyerl inspected the snow run and snowcat equipment and relied on photographs and various accounts of the incident. Relying on those accounts, Deyerl opined that the circumstances leading to Willhide-Michiulis’s collision were different than those related by eyewitnesses. Deyerl believed that before initiating his turn, Mann failed to activate his turn signal, monitor his surroundings, and verify that he was clear — especially in the blind spot at the back left portion of the snowcat. No signs indicated the existence of Old Boneyard Road, and skiers like Willhide-Michiulis would not know to expect a snowcat to stop and turn from the middle of the snow run. All of these circumstances in isolation and together increased “the potential for a collision” and the risk of injury. Deyerl also disputed the accounts of eyewitnesses to Willhide-Michiulis’s collision with the snowcat.
The third expert, Brad Avrit, was a civil engineer who specialized in evaluating “safety practices and safety issues.” He was [*13] also an “avid skier for over thirty years.” He based his opinions on the topography of the snow run, Mammoth’s snow grooming manual and equipment, and accounts of Mann’s driving. Avrit opined that operating a snowcat on an open snow run with an active tiller was “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct that reasonable persons would follow in order to avoid injury to others.” He also believed Mann’s conduct of failing to drive down the left side of the snow run, failing to monitor his surroundings, and failing to signal his left turn or verify he was clear to turn, “increase[d] the risk of collision and injury.” Avrit also thought the risk to skiers was increased by Mammoth’s failure to either close the snow run or use spotters while operating the snowcat when open to the public, or alternatively waiting the 30 minutes until the resort was closed to fix the hole on Old Boneyard Road.
Mammoth lodged both general and specific objections to these declarations. Generally, Mammoth asserted the experts’ opinions were irrelevant to the assumption of risk and gross negligence legal determinations before the court, the opinions lacked proper foundation, and the opinions were improper [*14] conclusions of law. Specifically, Mammoth objected to several paragraphs of material on predominantly the same grounds. Finding the experts’ opinions irrelevant and citing Towns v. Davidson (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 461, 54 Cal. Rptr. 3d 568 (Towns), the trial court sustained Mammoth’s general objections and numerous specific objections.
The Court Properly Granted Mammoth’s Motion For Summary Judgment
Plaintiffs contend the trial court improperly granted Mammoth’s motion for summary judgment. They first contend the trial court abused its discretion when excluding their experts’ declarations, and thus improperly ruled on Mammoth’s motion without considering relevant evidence. They also contend primary assumption of risk does not apply because Mann’s negligent driving and operation of a tiller on an open run increased the inherent risks associated with snowboarding. Further, plaintiffs argue these same facts establish Mammoth’s conduct was grossly negligent and fell outside of the liability waiver Willhide-Michiulis signed as part of her season-pass agreement.
We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion when excluding plaintiffs’ experts’ declarations. Additionally, plaintiffs cannot show Mammoth was grossly negligent and violated [*15] the terms of the release of liability agreement found in Willhide-Michiulis’s season-pass contract. Because the express assumption of risk in the release applies, we need not consider the implied assumption of risk argument also advanced by plaintiffs. (Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 577, 590, fn. 2, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 370; Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1374-1375, 59 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813; Allabach v. Santa Clara County Fair Assn. (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 1007, 1012-1013, 54 Cal. Rptr. 2d 330.)
The Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion When Excluding The Expert Declarations Attached To Plaintiffs’ Opposition
As part of their argument that the court improperly granted Mammoth’s motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs contend the trial court abused its discretion when excluding the expert declarations attached to their opposition. Specifically, plaintiffs argue expert testimony was appropriate under Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 990, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 103, 75 P.3d 30, because “the facts here certainly warrant consideration of the expert testimony on the more esoteric subject of assessing whether a negligently-driven snowcat is an inherent risk of recreational skiing.” Mammoth counters that the evidence was properly excluded because it was irrelevant and “offered opinions of legal questions of duty for the court to decide.” We agree with Mammoth.
“Generally, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may use declarations by an expert to raise a triable issue of fact on an element of the [*16] case provided the requirements for admissibility are established as if the expert were testifying at trial. [Citations.] An expert’s opinion is admissible when it is ‘[r]elated to a subject that is sufficiently beyond common experience that the opinion of an expert would assist the trier of fact . . . .’ [Citation.] Although the expert’s testimony may embrace an ultimate factual issue [citation], it may not contain legal conclusions.” (Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at p. 472.)
“In the context of assumption of risk, the role of expert testimony is more limited. ‘It is for the court to decide whether an activity is an active sport, the inherent risks of that sport, and whether the defendant has increased the risks of the activity beyond the risks inherent in the sport.’ [Citation.] A court in its discretion could receive expert factual opinion to inform its decision on these issues, particularly on the nature of an unknown or esoteric activity, but in no event may it receive expert evidence on the ultimate legal issues of inherent risk and duty.” (Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at pp. 472-473.)
In Kahn, the plaintiff was a 14-year-old member of a school swim team who broke her neck after diving in shallow water. (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 998.) Her coach had previously assured her she would not have to dive [*17] at meets and she never learned how to dive in shallow water. Minutes before a meet, however, the coach told the plaintiff she would have to dive and threatened to kick her off the team if she refused. With the help of some teammates, the plaintiff tried a few practice dives but broke her neck on the third try. She sued based on negligent supervision and training. (Ibid.)
The court determined the case could not be resolved on summary judgment as there was conflicting evidence whether the coach had provided any instruction or, if so, whether that instruction followed the recommended training sequence, and whether plaintiff was threatened into diving. (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at pp. 1012-1013.) The court concluded the trial court was not compelled to disregard the opinions of a water safety instructor about the proper training a swimmer requires before attempting a racing dive in shallow water. (Id. at pp. 999, 1017.) In so ruling, the Kahn court stated, “[c]ourts ordinarily do not consider an expert’s testimony to the extent it constitutes a conclusion of law [citation], but we do not believe that the declaration of the expert in the present case was limited to offering an opinion on a conclusion of law. We do not rely upon expert opinion testimony to [*18] establish the legal question of duty, but ‘we perceive no reason to preclude a trial court from receiving expert testimony on the customary practices in an arena of esoteric activity for purposes of weighing whether the inherent risks of the activity were increased by the defendant’s conduct.'” (Id. at p. 1017.) Thus, while the Kahn court did not preclude the trial court from considering expert testimony about the “‘customary practices in an arena of esoteric activity,'” it did not mandate a court to consider it either.
Here, plaintiffs argue their experts’ declarations were necessary to inform the trial court of the “more esoteric subject” of whether Mann’s negligent driving of the snowcat increased the inherent risks of recreational snowboarding. The problem with plaintiffs’ argument is that the experts’ declarations did not inform the court “‘on the customary practices'” of the esoteric activity of snowcat driving. (See Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 1017.) While stating that Mann and Mammoth violated industry standards and increased the potential for collision, no expert outlined what the industry standards were for operating a snowcat and thus provided no context for the trial court to determine the legal question of duty. The [*19] expert in Kahn provided this type of context by declaring the proper procedures for training swimmers to dive, making it so the trial court could compare the defendant’s conduct to the industry standard. (Kahn, at pp. 999.) The declarations here merely repeated the facts contained in the discovery materials and concluded the risk of injury and collision was increased because of those facts.
The conclusory statements in the expert declarations make plaintiffs’ case like Towns, where the trial court did not abuse its discretion when excluding an expert’s opinion. (Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at pp. 472-473.) In Towns, the plaintiff sued the defendant after he collided with her on a ski run. (Id. at p. 465.) In opposition to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff submitted the declaration of her expert, a member of the National Ski Patrol and a ski instructor. (Id. at pp. 466, 471-472.) In his declaration, the expert opined that the defendant’s behavior was reckless and “‘outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport of skiing.'” (Id. at p. 472.)
The trial court excluded the declaration in its entirety and granted the motion for summary judgment. The appellate court affirmed explaining, “[t]he nature and risks of downhill skiing are commonly understood, the [*20] demarcation of any duty owed is judicially defined, and, most significantly, the facts surrounding the particular incident here are not in dispute. Thus, the trial court was deciding the issue of recklessness as a matter of law.” (Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at pp. 472-473.)
The court also noted the expert’s declaration “added nothing beyond declaring the undisputed facts in his opinion constituted recklessness. In short, he ‘was advocating, not testifying.’ [Citation.] He reached what in this case was an ultimate conclusion of law, a point on which expert testimony is not allowed. [Citation.] ‘Courts must be cautious where an expert offers legal conclusions as to ultimate facts in the guise of an expert opinion.’ [Citation.] This is particularly true in the context of assumption of risk where the facts are not in dispute.” (Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at p. 473.)
Like the expert in Towns, plaintiffs’ experts only provided ultimate conclusions of law. Although Beckley declared to be an expert in snowcat safety, he shed no light on the subject except to say Mann’s conduct was “an extreme departure from an ordinary standard of conduct,” and “violate[d] the industry standard.” Similarly, Avrit, who was an expert in evaluating safety practices, did nothing more than declare [*21] that Mann’s driving and Mammoth’s grooming practices “increase[d] the risk of collision and injury.” Deyerl, an expert in accident reconstruction, disputed the accounts of percipient witnesses and declared Mann’s driving and Mammoth’s grooming practices increased “the potential for a collision” and the risk of injury. In short, plaintiffs’ experts provided irrelevant opinions more akin to “‘advocating, not testifying.'” (Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at p. 473.) Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion when excluding the expert declarations attached to plaintiffs’ opposition.
Summary Judgment Was Proper
We review a trial court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. (Dore v. Arnold Worldwide, Inc. (2006) 39 Cal.4th 384, 388-389, 46 Cal. Rptr. 3d 668, 139 P.3d 56.) “In performing our de novo review, we must view the evidence in a light favorable to [the] plaintiff as the losing party [citation], liberally construing [the plaintiff’s] evidentiary submission while strictly scrutinizing [the] defendant[‘s] own showing, and resolving any evidentiary doubts or ambiguities in [the] plaintiff’s favor.” (Saelzler v. Advanced Group 400 (2001) 25 Cal.4th 763, 768-769, 107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 617, 23 P.3d 1143.)
Summary judgment is proper when “all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that [defendant] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) A defendant moving for summary judgment meets [*22] its burden of showing there is no merit to a cause of action by showing one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or there is a complete defense to that cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2).) Once the defendant has made the required showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or defense. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849, 853, 107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841, 24 P.3d 493.)
Mammoth Met Its Burden Of Showing There Was No Merit To Plaintiffs’ Claim
As described, plaintiffs signed a season-pass agreement, which included a term releasing Mammoth from liability “for any damage, injury or death . . . arising from participation in the sport or use of the facilities at Mammoth regardless of cause, including the ALLEGED NEGLIGENCE of Mammoth.” The agreement also contained a paragraph describing the sport as dangerous and involving risks “posed by loss of balance, loss of control, falling, sliding, collisions with other skiers or snowboarders and collisions with natural and man-made objects, including trees, rocks, fences, posts, lift towers, snow making equipment, snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles.” “While often referred to as a defense, a release of future liability is [*23] more appropriately characterized as an express assumption of the risk that negates the defendant’s duty of care, an element of the plaintiff’s case.” (Eriksson v. Nunnink (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 708, 719, 183 Cal. Rptr. 3d 234.) Express assumption of risk agreements are analogous to the implied primary assumption of risk doctrine. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 308, fn. 4, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696; Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, Inc. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 217, 227-228, 132 Cal. Rptr. 3d 567.) “‘”The result is that the defendant is relieved of legal duty to the plaintiff; and being under no duty, he cannot be charged with negligence.”‘” (Eriksson, at p. 719, italics omitted.)
Generally, in cases involving an express assumption of risk there is no cause to analyze the activity the complaining party is involved in or the relationship of the parties to that activity. (Allabach v. Santa Clara County Fair Assn., supra, 46 Cal.App.4th at p. 1012; see also Cohen v. Five Brooks Stable (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1484, 72 Cal. Rptr. 3d 471 [“With respect to the question of express waiver, the legal issue is not whether the particular risk of injury appellant suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies [citations], but simply the scope of the Release“]; see also Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co., supra, 118 Cal.App.4th at p. 590, fn. 2 [“if the express assumption of risk in the release applies, the implied assumption of risk principles . . . would not come into play”].) However, where, as here, plaintiffs allege defendant’s conduct fell outside the scope of the agreement and a more detailed analysis of the scope of a defendant’s duty [*24] is necessary.
“[T]he question of ‘the existence and scope’ of the defendant’s duty is one of law to be decided by the court, not by a jury, and therefore it generally is ‘amenable to resolution by summary judgment.'” (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at pp. 1003-1004.) A release cannot absolve a party from liability for gross negligence. (City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 750-751, 776-777, 62 Cal. Rptr. 3d 527, 161 P.3d 1095.) In Santa Barbara, our Supreme Court reasoned that “the distinction between ‘ordinary and gross negligence‘ reflects ‘a rule of policy’ that harsher legal consequences should flow when negligence is aggravated instead of merely ordinary.” (Id. at p. 776, quoting Donnelly v. Southern Pacific Co. (1941) 18 Cal.2d 863, 871, 118 P.2d 465.) The issue we must determine here is whether, with all facts and inferences construed in plaintiffs’ favor, Mammoth’s conduct could be found to constitute gross negligence. Plaintiffs alleged in the operative complaint that Mammoth was grossly negligent in the “operation of the subject snow cat,” by operating the tiller on an open run without utilizing spotters and failing to warn skiers of the snowcat’s presence on the run and the danger posed by its tiller. These allegations are insufficient to support a finding of gross negligence.
Ordinary negligence “consists of the failure to exercise the degree of care in a given situation that a reasonable person [*25] under similar circumstances would employ to protect others from harm.” (City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court, supra, 41 Cal.4th at pp. 753-754.) “‘”[M]ere nonfeasance, such as the failure to discover a dangerous condition or to perform a duty,”‘ amounts to ordinary negligence. [Citation.] However, to support a theory of ‘”[g]ross negligence,”‘ a plaintiff must allege facts showing ‘either a “‘”want of even scant care”‘” or “‘”an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘” [Citations.]’ [Citations.] ‘”‘[G]ross negligence‘ falls short of a reckless disregard of consequences, and differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, and not in kind. . . .”‘” (Anderson v. Fitness Internat., LLC (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 867, 881, 208 Cal. Rptr. 3d 792.)
“[T]he nature of a sport is highly relevant in defining the duty of care owed by the particular defendant.” (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 315.) “‘[I]n the sports setting . . . conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part of the sport itself.’ [Citation.] [Our Supreme Court has] explained that, as a matter of policy, it would not be appropriate to recognize a duty of care when to do so would require that an integral part of the sport be abandoned, or would discourage vigorous participation in sporting events.” (Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 1004.) But the question of duty depends not only on the nature of the sport, but also on the [*26] role of the defendant whose conduct is at issue in a given case. (Ibid.) “‘[A] purveyor of recreational activities owes a duty to a patron not to increase the risks inherent in the activity in which the patron has paid to engage.'” (Id. at p. 1005.) Thus, in cases involving a waiver of liability for future negligence, courts have held that conduct that substantially or unreasonably increased the inherent risk of an activity or actively concealed a known risk could amount to gross negligence, which would not be barred by a release agreement. (See Eriksson v. Nunnink (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 826, 856, 120 Cal. Rptr. 3d 90.)
Numerous cases have pondered the factual question of whether various ski resorts have increased the inherent risks of skiing or snowboarding. (See Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co., supra, 118 Cal.App.4th at p. 591 [redesign of snowboarding jump]; Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 354, 366, 114 Cal. Rptr. 2d 265 [construction of the unmarked race start area on the ski run]; Van Dyke v. S.K.I. Ltd. (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1310, 1317, 79 Cal. Rptr. 2d 775 [placement of signs in ski run].) It is well established that “‘”‘[e]ach person who participates in the sport of [snow] skiing accepts the dangers that inhere in that sport insofar as the dangers are obvious and necessary. Those dangers include, but are not limited to, injuries which can result from variations in terrain; surface or subsurface snow or ice conditions; bare spots; rocks, trees and other forms of natural [*27] growth or debris; collisions with ski lift towers and their components, with other skiers, or with properly marked or plainly visible snow-making or snow-grooming equipment.'”‘” (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 8, 12, 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 855, italics omitted; see also Lackner v. North (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1188, 1202, 37 Cal. Rptr. 3d 863; Towns, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at p. 467.)
Plaintiffs argue the above language is simply dicta and no authority has ever held that colliding with snow-grooming equipment is an inherent risk in snowboarding or skiing. Because there is no authority specifically addressing the inherent risk of snow-grooming equipment, plaintiffs argue, colliding with a snowcat is not an inherent risk of snowboarding. Further, even if it were, Mammoth increased the inherent risk of snowboarding by operating a snowcat and tiller on an open run. We disagree.
The main problem with plaintiffs’ argument that common law has not recognized collisions with snow-grooming equipment as an inherent risk of skiing, is that plaintiffs’ season-pass agreement did. When signing their season-pass agreement, both Willhide-Michiulis and her husband acknowledged that skiing involved the risk of colliding with “over-snow vehicles.” Willhide-Michiulis testified she read the agreement but did not know an “over-snow vehicle” included a snowcat. Plaintiffs, however, [*28] did not argue in the trial court or now on appeal that this term is ambiguous or that the parties did not contemplate collisions with snowcats as a risk of snowboarding. “Over-snow vehicles” is listed in the contract along with “snow making equipment” and “snowmobiles,” indicating a clear intent to include any vehicle used by Mammoth for snow maintenance and snow travel.
Moreover, common law holds that collisions with snow-grooming equipment are an inherent risk of skiing and snowboarding. In Connelly, the plaintiff collided with an unpadded ski lift tower while skiing. (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, supra, 39 Cal.App.4th at p. 8.) In affirming summary judgment for the defendant, the court found this risk was inherent in the sport and the obvious danger of the tower served as its own warning. (Id. at p. 12.) In concluding that contact with the tower was an inherent risk of the sport, the Connelly court relied on Danieley v. Goldmine Ski Associates, Inc. (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 111, 266 Cal. Rptr. 749. (Connelly, at p. 12.) In Danieley, a skier collided with a tree. (Danieley, at p. 113.) The Danieley court, in turn, relied on a Michigan statute that set forth certain inherent risks of skiing, including both trees and “‘collisions with ski lift towers and their components'” along with properly marked or plainly visible “‘snow-making or snow-grooming equipment.'” (Id. at p. 123.) “[B]ecause the Michigan [*29] Ski Area Safety Act purports to reflect the preexisting common law, we regard its statutory pronouncements as persuasive authority for what the common law in this subject-matter area should be in California.” (Danieley, at p. 123.)
Although there may not be a published case specifically addressing the inherent risk of snowcats to skiers and snowboarders, a snowcat, otherwise known as snow-grooming equipment, is one of the risks explicitly adopted as California common law by the Danieley and Connelly courts. (Danieley v. Goldmine Ski Associates, Inc., supra, 218 Cal.App.3d at p. 123; Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, supra, 39 Cal.App.4th at p. 12.) Thus, in California, colliding with snow-grooming equipment is an inherent risk of the sport of snowboarding.
Nevertheless, plaintiffs argue operating the tiller of the snowcat on an open snow run increased the inherent risk snowcats pose to snowboarders. We recognize assumption of the risk, either express or implied, applies only to risks that are necessary to the sport. (Souza v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp., supra, 138 Cal.App.4th at pp. 268-269.) In Souza, a child skier collided with a plainly visible aluminum snowmaking hydrant located on a ski run. (Id. at p. 262.) Following Connelly, we affirmed summary judgment for the defendant, finding the snowmaking hydrant was visible and a collision with it was an inherent risk of skiing. (Souza, at pp. 268-272.) The snowmaking equipment in Souza was necessary [*30] and inherent to the sport of skiing because nature had failed to provide adequate snow. (Id. at p. 268.)
Here, plaintiffs claim snowcats operating on open runs are not necessary or inherent to the sport because “[p]recluding a snowcat from operating on an open run would minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport one whit.” As in Souza, we find the following quote apt: “‘”As is at least implicit in plaintiff’s argument, . . . the doctrine of [primary] assumption of risk . . . would not apply to obvious, known conditions so long as a defendant could feasibly have provided safer conditions. Then, obviously, such risks would not be ‘necessary’ or ‘inherent’. This would effectively emasculate the doctrine, . . . changing the critical inquiry . . . to whether the defendant had a feasible means to remedy [the dangers].”‘” (Souza v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp., supra, 138 Cal.App.4th at p. 269.)
Snow-grooming equipment, including the snowcat and tiller at issue here, are necessary to the sport of snowboarding because the snowcat grooms the snow needed for snowboarding into a skiable surface. Without the tiller also grooming the snow, the snowcat leaves behind an unusable and unsafe surface riddled with berms and holes. This surface is so unsafe that Mammoth’s grooming [*31] guide prohibits snowcat drivers from leaving behind such hazards. Given the purpose of the snowcat and tiller, it cannot be said that they are not inherent and necessary to the sport of snowboarding.
The fact that the snowcat and tiller Willhide-Michiulis collided with was operating during business hours and on an open run does not affect our analysis. Willhide-Michiulis’s husband testified that, although uncommon, he had seen snowcats operating at Mammoth during business hours transporting people. Further, Taylor Lester, a witness to Willhide-Michiulis’s collision and a longtime Mammoth season-pass holder, testified that she had seen snowcats operating at Mammoth on prior occasions as well. Out of the 10 years she has been a season-pass holder, Lester had seen snowcats operating during business hours at Mammoth 20 to 40 times, half of which had been using their tillers.
In fact, Lester testified that it was common for her and her friends, and also her sister and father, to ride close behind snowcats that were tilling so that they could take advantage of the freshly tilled snow the snowcats produced. Freshly-tilled snow is considered desirable and “more fun” because it has not been tarnished [*32] by other skiers. Lester’s sister also testified she liked to “sneak behind” snowcats while they groom runs to ride on the freshly-tilled snow. Even after Willhide-Michiulis’s collision, Lester’s sister still snowboarded behind snowcats to ride the freshly groomed snow.
Given this testimony, we conclude that the use of snowcats and their tillers on ski runs during business hours is inherent to the sport of snowboarding, the use of which does not unreasonably increase the risks associated with the sport. To find Mammoth liable because it operated a snowcat and tiller during business hours would inhibit the vigorous participation in the sport Lester and her sister testified about. Instead of racing to freshly tilled snow to take advantage of its unspoiled status, snowboarders and skiers alike would be prohibited from chasing snowcats and instead have to settle for inferior skiing conditions. Further, snowcats would no longer be used as modes of transportation at ski resorts, a common practice testified to by Willhide-Michiulis’s husband. Or snowcats would operate, but without their tiller, leaving behind unsafe skiing conditions that would doubtlessly interfere with full and vigorous participation [*33] in the sport. (See Kahn v. East Side Union High School Dist., supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 1004 [“it would not be appropriate to recognize a duty of care when to do so would require that an integral part of the sport be abandoned, or would discourage vigorous participation in sporting events”].)
Regardless of the fact that snowcats and tillers are inherent in the sport of snowboarding, plaintiffs also allege the snowcat Willhide-Michiulis collided with was not obvious and Mammoth was grossly negligent because it failed to provide spotters or warn skiers of the snowcat’s presence on the run or the dangerousness of its tiller. As described, gross negligence requires a showing of “‘either a “‘”want of even scant care”‘” or “‘”an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘”‘” (Anderson v. Fitness Internat., LLC., supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at p. 881.)
Here, Mammoth did warn plaintiffs of the presence of snowcats and other snow-grooming equipment at the ski resort. At the top and bottom of every chair lift, Mammoth posts signs warning of the presence of snowcats throughout the resort and on snow runs. Mammoth also included these warnings in its trail maps. These warnings were also apparent in plaintiffs’ season-pass agreement, which warned that “the sport involves numerous risks including, but not limited to, the risks [*34] posed by . . . collisions with natural and man-made objects, including . . . snow making equipment, snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles.” Willhide-Michiulis acknowledged that she saw the warning contained in her season-pass agreement.
Not only were plaintiffs warned about the possible presence of snow-grooming equipment throughout the ski resort, but Willhide-Michiulis was warned of the presence of the specific snowcat she collided with. Before going down the mambo run to fix the pothole on Old Boneyard Road, Mann turned on the safety beacon, warning lights, and audible alarm to the snowcat. This provided warning to all those around the snowcat, whether they could see it or not, to the snowcat’s presence. Further, the snowcat Willhide-Michiulis collided with is large, bright red, and slow-moving, making it generally avoidable by those around it. Indeed, Willhide-Michiulis testified that she saw the snowcat about 150 feet before she collided with it. Although she claims the snowcat cut off her path, the snowcat was traveling less than ten miles an hour before standing nearly motionless while turning onto Old Boneyard Road downhill from Willhide-Michiulis. As the trial court found, [*35] “‘the very existence of a large metal plainly-visible [snowcat] serves as its own warning.'” (Citing Souza v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp., supra, 138 Cal.App.4th at p. 271.) Upon seeing such a warning, it was incumbent upon Willhide-Michiulis to avoid it — nothing was hidden from Willhide-Michiulis’s vision by accident or design.
Given these facts, we cannot conclude, as plaintiffs would have us do, that Mann’s failure to timely signal his turn or Mammoth’s failure to provide spotters or warn of the specific dangers of a tiller constituted gross negligence. Given all the other warnings provided by Mammoth and Mann, plaintiffs cannot show “‘either a “‘”want of even scant care”‘” or “‘”an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘”‘” (Anderson v. Fitness Internat., LLC., supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at p. 881.) Accordingly, Mammoth was successful in meeting its burden to show the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint lacked merit.
No Triable Issue Of Fact Exists To Preclude Summary Judgment
Because Mammoth met its initial burden, plaintiffs now have the burden to show that a triable issue of fact exists. Plaintiffs argue that one does exist because the way Mann drove the snowcat at the time of the collision was grossly negligent. In addition to the allegations in the complaint — that operating a snowcat and tiller [*36] on an open run was grossly negligent — plaintiffs alleged in their opposition that Mann was grossly negligent also for failing to use a turn signal when making a sharp left turn from the center of a snow run onto an unmarked service road without warning skiers of his presence or the possibility that a snowcat would turn at the locations of Old Boneyard Road. They point to their experts’ declarations and Mann’s violations of Mammoth’s safety standards as support for this contention.
“‘Generally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence [citation] but not always.'” (Chavez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 632, 640, 189 Cal. Rptr. 3d 449, quoting Decker v. City of Imperial Beach (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 349, 358, 257 Cal. Rptr. 356; see also City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 767 [“we emphasize the importance of maintaining a distinction between ordinary and gross negligence, and of granting summary judgment on the basis of that distinction in appropriate circumstances”].) Where the evidence on summary judgment fails to demonstrate a triable issue of material fact, the existence of gross negligence can be resolved as a matter of law. (See Honeycutt v. Meridian Sports Club, LLC (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 251, 260, 179 Cal. Rptr. 3d 473 [stating a mere difference of opinion regarding how a student should be instructed does not amount to gross negligence]; Frittelli, Inc. v. 350 North Canon Drive, LP (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 35, 52-53, 135 Cal. Rptr. 3d 761 [no triable issue of material fact precluding summary [*37] judgment, even though the evidence raised conflicting inferences regarding whether measures undertaken by the defendants were effective to mitigate effects on commercial tenant of remodeling project]; Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 631, 639, 184 Cal. Rptr. 3d 155 [no triable issue of material fact where defendant took several measures to ensure that its exercise equipment, on which plaintiff was injured, was well maintained].)”
As described, Mann’s driving of the snowcat with a tiller on an open run was not grossly negligent and was, in fact, an inherent part of the sport of snowboarding and conduct contemplated by the parties in the release of liability agreement. The question now is whether the additional conduct alleged in plaintiffs’ opposition — Mann’s failure to use a turn signal, making of a sharp left turn from the middle of the snow run, failure to warn skiers on mambo of his presence, and failure to warn skiers of the existence of Old Boneyard Road — elevated Mann’s conduct to gross negligence. We conclude it does not.
We have already described why plaintiffs’ claims that Mann failed to provide adequate warning of his existence on the snow run and of his turn did not rise to the level of gross negligence. His additional alleged conduct [*38] of driving down the middle of the snow run and making a sharp left turn onto an unmarked service road also do not justify a finding of gross negligence in light of the precautions taken by both Mammoth and Mann. Mammoth warned plaintiffs of the possible presence of snow-grooming equipment in its season-pass contracts, trail maps, and throughout the ski resort. Mann also turned on the snowcat’s warning lights, beacon, and audible alarm before driving down mambo. Mann testified he constantly looked for skiers and snowboarders while driving the snowcat down mambo and that he checked through the snowcat’s mirrors and windows to make sure he was clear before making the turn onto Old Boneyard Road. He also testified he did not drive the snowcat faster than ten miles an hour while on mambo and was traveling even slower during the turn. This fact was confirmed by Lester. Given these affirmative safety precautions, Mann’s failure to use a turn signal when turning from the middle of the run onto an unmarked service road did not equate to “‘either a “‘”want of even scant care”‘” or “‘”an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘”‘” (See Anderson v. Fitness Internat., LLC, supra, 4 Cal.App.5th at p. 881.)
Plaintiffs dispute this conclusion by [*39] citing to their expert declarations and Mammoth’s grooming guide as support that Mann’s conduct was an extreme departure from industry standards and Mammoth’s own safety policies. Evidence of conduct that evinces an extreme departure from safety directions or an industry standard could demonstrate gross negligence. (See Jimenez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 546, 561, 188 Cal. Rptr. 3d 228.) Conversely, conduct demonstrating the failure to guard against, or warn of, a dangerous condition typically does not rise to the level of gross negligence. (See DeVito v. State of California (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 264, 272, 248 Cal. Rptr. 330.)
To illustrate this point, plaintiffs cite two cases. First, they rely on Jimenez. In Jimenez, one of the plaintiffs was injured when she fell backwards off of a moving treadmill and hit her head on an exercise machine that was approximately four feet behind the treadmill. (Jimenez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., supra, 237 Cal.App.4th at p. 549.) The plaintiffs presented evidence “indicating a possible industry standard on treadmill safety zones,” including the manufacturer’s statement in its manual that a six-foot space behind the treadmill was necessary for user safety and an expert’s statement that placing other equipment so close to the back of the treadmill greatly increased the risk of injury. (Id. at p. 556.) The court concluded, based on this evidence, a jury could reasonably find [*40] the failure to provide the minimum safety zone was an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care, and thus a triable issue of fact existed to preclude summary judgment. (Id. at p. 557.)
In Rosencrans v. Dover Images, Ltd. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1072, 122 Cal. Rptr. 3d 22, also relied upon by plaintiffs, the plaintiff was riding a motorcycle when he fell near a platform in an area out of view of other riders at a motocross facility, and was struck by another cyclist. (Id. at pp. 1072, 1077.) The caution flagger, who was supposed to have staffed the platform to alert riders to the presence of fallen cyclists, was not on duty when plaintiff fell. The court found the release plaintiff signed unenforceable against a claim of gross negligence. (Id. at pp. 1077, 1081.) It noted the dangerous nature of the sport, and also found a specific duty on the part of the course operator to provide some form of warning system such as the presence of caution flaggers. (Id. at p. 1084.) Also, the course owner had a safety manual requiring flaggers to stay at their stations whenever riders were on the course, and expert testimony was presented that caution flaggers were required at all such times. (Id. at p. 1086.) Because the evidence could support a finding that the absence of a caution flagger was an extreme and egregious departure from the standard of [*41] care given the applicable safety manual and in light of knowledge of the particular dangers posed, the claim of gross negligence should have survived summary judgment. (Id. at p. 1089.)
Plaintiffs’ reliance on these cases is misplaced for two reasons. First, unlike Jimenez and Rosencrans, plaintiffs presented no expert evidence regarding the safety standards applicable to snowcat drivers. (See Rosencrans v. Dover Images, Ltd., supra, 192 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1086-1087 [triable issue of fact as to gross negligence where a safety expert’s declaration described common safety precautions for motocross and stated that the defendant’s failure to take those safety precautions constituted an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct and showed a blatant disregard for the safety of the participants].) And second, plaintiffs did not produce evidence showing that Mammoth failed to take any safety precautions required by company safety policies.
As described, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the experts’ declarations from evidence. The declarations did nothing more than to provide conclusions that Mann’s and Mammoth’s conduct violated industry standards and constituted gross negligence. The experts did not articulate what the industry standards [*42] for driving a snowcat or for protecting the skiing public from a snowcat actually were, let alone how Mann and Mammoth violated them. Instead, the experts merely provided their opinions that Mammoth and Mann failed to guard from or warn of the dangerous condition the snowcat and tiller posed. This is insufficient for a showing of gross negligence. (See DeVito v. State of California, supra, 202 Cal.App.3d at p. 272.)
Plaintiffs’ reliance on Mammoth’s grooming guide is likewise misplaced. Plaintiffs characterize the grooming guide as containing “safety standard[s],” which Mann violated by operating the snowcat’s tiller while the public was present. The grooming guide, however, does not purport to be a safety guide or to set safety standards for Mammoth’s snowcat operators. Instead, it is a “manual” where snowcat operators “will find a basis for all training that is a part of the Slope Maintenance Department.” While “all training” may also include safety training, nothing submitted by plaintiffs indicate that the excerpts they rely on are industry or company-wide safety standards as opposed to Mammoth’s guide to “acceptable high quality” grooming.
For example, the grooming guide instructs drivers to “[n]ever operate the tiller when the skiing public is present.” But [*43] the guide also justifies a snowcat’s presence in areas open to the public during emergencies, periods of extremely heavy snow, or for transportation of personnel or materials. Here, there was extremely heavy snow and a hazardous condition requiring Mann to drive a snowcat on public snow runs. The guide further instructs drivers that track marks left behind by a snowcat without a tiller are “not acceptable” and must be removed. It was Mann’s understanding from these guidelines that once a snowcat’s presence was justified in an area open to the public, the tiller also had to be running to leave behind safe skiing conditions.
Further, the guide instructs snowcat drivers to travel on a groomed snow run instead of on ungroomed snow on either side of the run. This is because ungroomed snow is made of unstable soft snow that cannot support the weight of a snowcat. According to the grooming guide, driving on a finished groomed run “is better than risking your cat or your life” on the ungroomed snow on the sides of the run. Thus, Mann did not violate Mammoth’s safety policy by driving down the center of a snow run when traveling to Old Boneyard Road and operating the snowcat’s tiller on a public [*44] run. Because it is not reasonable a jury would find Mann violated safety policies contained in the grooming guide, let alone that that violation constituted more than mere negligence, plaintiffs have not shown that Mann’s or Mammoth’s conduct rose to the level of gross negligence.
Plaintiffs contend the trial court abused its discretion when denying their motion to transfer venue to Los Angeles County where they initially filed their suit. Specifically, plaintiffs argue their motion should have been granted because it was more convenient for the parties and their witnesses to have trial in Los Angeles County and because plaintiffs could not receive a fair trial in Mono County. Thus, plaintiffs argue, “upon reversal of summary judgment, the trial court should be directed to issue an order transferring this action back to Los Angeles.”
As plaintiffs acknowledge, a reversal of the court’s summary judgment order is a vital initial step to reversal of the trial court’s order regarding venue. This is because without first showing that their case is active and trial is pending, plaintiffs cannot show a miscarriage of justice resulting from the denial of their venue motion.
We are enjoined [*45] by our Constitution not to reverse any judgment “for any error as to any matter of procedure, unless, after an examination of the entire cause, including the evidence, the court shall be of the opinion that the error complained of has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.” (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 13; see also Code Civ. Proc., § 475.) Prejudice is not presumed, and “our duty to examine the entire cause arises when and only when the appellant has fulfilled his duty to tender a proper prejudice argument.” (Paterno v. State of California (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 68, 106, 87 Cal. Rptr. 2d 754.)
Plaintiffs cannot show prejudice resulting from the denial of their venue motion because we upheld the trial court’s summary judgment ruling and their case has been dismissed. Thus, even if the venue motion should have been granted and venue transferred to Los Angeles for trial, there is no trial to be had. Accordingly, we need not address plaintiffs’ claim of error regarding their motion to transfer venue.
The judgment is affirmed. Costs are awarded to defendants. (Cal. Rule of Court, rule 8.278, subd. (a)(1).)
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.
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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