This is a hard case–hard not in the sense that it is legally difficult or tough to crack, but in the sense that it requires us to deny relief to a plaintiff for whom we have considerable sympathy.

We do what we must, for ‘it is the duty of all courts of justice to take care, for the general good of the community, that hard cases do not make bad law. 

Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

State: Rhode Island, Supreme Court of Rhode Island

Plaintiff: Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al.

Defendant: Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees 

Plaintiff Claims: 

Defendant Defenses: Open and Obvious and Recreational Use Statute 

Holding: for the Defendant 

Year: 2016 

Summary

The title is a quote from another case and states perfectly the situation most judges face when looking at a case. 

In this one, a man dove into a lake at a State Park in Rhode Island. He broke his neck and became a quadriplegic. The Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed his claims because the assumed the risk and the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute prevented his claims. 

Facts 

The state owned the land in question and ran it as a state park. There was a man-made pond in the park that was “treated much like a swimming pool.” Because of changes to the pond, the decision was made to close the pond and now allow swimming. No swimming signs were posted, and no lifeguards were on duty. Other parks of the park were still open, including the bathhouses.

Rhode Island did not allow the operation of a body of water on a swim at your own risk basis. 

The plaintiff was a 29-year-old  husband and father of two. He went to the park with a friend. While at the park he ran and dove into the water breaking his neck and becoming a paraplegic. 

The plaintiff by and through his wife, as Administratrix of the estate of the plaintiff used the state and various agencies for his injuries. The case when to trial and the jury returned a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted and the defendant filed this appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. 

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

The state based its appeal on the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute, and the state owed no duty for an open and obvious natural condition. 

The court first looked at the Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute. The statute provided immunity to landowners and to state and municipalities. The limitation was not absolute. A landowner could be liable if the plaintiff could prove “…[f]or
the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after   discovering the user’s peril…
” 

The state argued nothing it did established proof of willful or malicious failure to warn. The court could not find any evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims. On top of that, the best defense was provided by the plaintiff when he admitted
he knew about the dangers of diving into shallow water, and that he had not checked the depth of the water. Finally, he admitted he was probably irresponsible. 

The court then looked at the open and obvious danger defense. Here again, the plaintiff failed.  

This Court held that the defendants had not owed any duty of care to the plaintiff in that case in part because “requiring citizens to place warnings against[–]and barriers preventing persons from[–]diving into shallow water would provide little disincentive to individuals * * *. As a practical matter, the danger of diving into shallow water is one of common knowledge, and one [the plaintiff] admit he was aware of.” 

The court concluded. 

Because it is our considered opinion that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries–either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because it was protected under the Recreational Use Statute–we conclude that the trial justice erroneously denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law. 

So Now What? 

To many this case might suck, sending this young man to live a life without the financial support he may need. However, as the quote in the beginning said, the law is the law. When you undertake to engage in a sport or activity, you assume
the risks of those activities. 

More importantly when recreating on land for free, the landowner owes no duty to keep you safe from yourself. If not, recreation would only be on federal lands where the chance of proving a claim is negligible. State, City and County Parks and Open Spaces would all close because they could not afford the insurance needed to keep them open.

 What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

Roy v. The State of Rhode Island et al., 139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

Dawn K. Roy, in her capacity as the administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy, et al.1 v. The State of Rhode Island et al.

1 The original plaintiff, Brett A. Roy, passed away while the instant appeal was pending. An order substituting “Dawn K. Roy, the  administratrix of the estate of Brett A. Roy” as a party in this case entered on April 15, 2016. See Rule 25(a) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

No. 2013-213-Appeal. No. 2014-39-Appeal.

SUPREME COURT OF RHODE ISLAND

139 A.3d 480; 2016 R.I. LEXIS 88

June 23, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Providence County Superior Court. (PC 09-2874). Associate Justice Susan E. McGuirl.

Roy v. State, 2013 R.I. Super. LEXIS 54 (2013)

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: For Plaintiffs: Patrick C. Barry, Esq., Douglas E. Chabot, Esq.

For State: Rebecca T. Partington, Department of the Attorney General; Adam J. Sholes, Department of the Attorney General.

JUDGES: Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION BY: Paul A. Suttell

OPINION

[*482] Chief Justice Suttell, for the Court. A wise jurist once wrote:

“This is a hard case–hard not in the sense that it is legally difficult or tough to crack, but in the sense that it requires us * * * to deny relief to a plaintiff for whom we have considerable sympathy. We do what we must, for ‘it is the duty of all courts of justice to take care, for the general good of the community, that hard cases do not make bad law.'” Burnham v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, 873 F.2d 486, 487 (1st Cir. 1989) (Selya, J.) (quoting United States v. Clark, 96 U.S. 37, 49, 24 L. Ed. 696, 13 Ct. Cl. 560 (1877) (Harlan, J., dissenting)).

This is indeed such a hard case. Tragically, on July 10, 2008, twenty-nine-year-old Brett A. Roy broke his neck when diving into the pond at World War II Veterans Memorial Park in Woonsocket, resulting in his paralysis from the neck down. Roy’s injuries were vast and undeniable. Roy and his wife, Dawn K. Roy (plaintiffs), individually and as the parents of their two children, [**2] filed this action against the state, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and two individuals in their official capacities as DEM employees (collectively, the state), alleging several counts of negligence and premises liability. After a multi-week trial and lengthy deliberations, a jury returned a verdict for the state, finding that the state had not “fail[ed] to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity” or against a “non-obvious, latent dangerous condition” at the pond. Subsequently, both parties filed renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial justice denied. However, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted. Thereafter, the state brought the instant appeal arguing that the trial justice erred in granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, and that, as a matter of law, the state owed no duty to Roy. The plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal arguing that their motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted and that the trial justice erred in denying their motion for additur or alternatively their motion for a new trial on damages only. For the reasons set forth herein, [**3] we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

A

World War II Veterans Memorial Park and Pond

In July 2008, the pond at World War II Veterans Memorial Park in Woonsocket [*483] was one of several bodies of water operated by the state as a recreational facility. At trial several state workers testified to the condition and maintenance of the park and pond.

The director of DEM at the time of the incident, W. Michael Sullivan, testified that the man-made pond was “filled mechanically” and “treated much like a swimming pool.” Sullivan testified that, in June 2008, he made the decision to fill the pond, and he appeared at a press conference where he announced his decision.2 Sullivan stated that, in July 2008, there were “no swimming” signs posted, but DEM “expected that there would be people * * * using the park.” Sullivan explained that facilities such as the bathhouses were open, but he stated that he “did not ever consider the beach to be open.” Sullivan agreed that it was prohibited under DEM rules to operate the pond on a “swim-at-your-own-risk” basis, and he explained that, “if there were not lifeguards present at a swimming facility, that the swimming facility was closed.” Sullivan [**4] explained that, in July 2008, staff on-site at the park had been directed “to tell people that the beach — that the water was closed to swimming, to point to signage and refer them to that, but it was not expected that they would stand there and order people out [of the water] * * *.”

2 Sullivan had explained that, in February 2008, World War II Veterans Memorial Park had been “slated for closure” in the budget presented to the Legislature that year. However, at the end of June, after local officials expressed concern, he made the decision as the Director of DEM to fill the pond.

The Associate Director of Natural Resources for DEM, Larry Mouradjian, also testified at trial. He described the pond, explaining that there was a designated lap pool, a swim area, and a diving platform. He testified that he had seen the pond with and without water, and, based on his opinion, diving near the wall into the lap pool would be dangerous because it was too shallow. Mouradjian testified that the pond was typically not filled “until such time as we were able to fully staff the * * * swim area and invite the public to swim at the pond * * *.” Mouradjian stated that he thought the decision to fill the [**5] pond was untimely “[b]ecause the things normally done to prepare the pond to be open to the public had not been done * * *.” He testified that he had spoken to Sullivan and recommended that the pond be drained or left empty until DEM “beg[a]n to acquire the resources necessary.”

The DEM Chief of the Rhode Island Division of Parks and Recreation, Robert Paquette, and the Deputy Chief, John Faltus, also testified at trial. Paquette confirmed that Mouradjian was hesitant to open the pond and that Mouradjian told him that “we should really look into this.” However, Paquette testified that “[Sullivan] was ordering [him] to open up the facility.” Paquette also testified that he had never been told that “there was ever a problem with shallow water [along the wall of the pond].” Faltus testified that he was never “officially informed” that people were diving at the pond, but he had “heard hearsay that there’s possible diving activity after hours.” Faltus stated that generally they did not “allow diving at any [state] swimming areas.” However, he also admitted that “[p]eople [were] allowed to possibly do some shallow entry dives,” explaining that whether diving was allowed “[d]epends on how you define ‘dive.'”

William Mitchell [**6] Jr., the Regional Park Manager for DEM in 2008, testified that there was no “system that was in place to warn people of the depth of the water.” However, he stated that “if a patron * * * [*484] ask[ed] an employee * * * they would advise them as to the depth of the water, [and] if they asked about diving, [they] would tell them the rules and regulations * * *.” Mitchell agreed that Roy’s injury was “[g]enerally” the type of thing that he could foresee and he was concerned that it was the kind of injury that would happen when he was told to fill the pond before lifeguards had been hired.

Peter Lambert, a DEM caretaker supervisor who was employed at World War II Veterans Memorial Park from 1990 to 2008, testified at trial extensively about the physical characteristics and operation of the park and pond. He explained that, as the caretaker supervisor, he was the “acting park manager,” testifying that he “handled pretty much everything that had to do with the park itself: scheduling the staff, supervising the lifeguards, interviewing park rangers, interviewing seasonal people, assigning various work to people.” Essentially he either directly worked on or helped supervise everything that needed to be done at the [**7] park.

Lambert described the park as “16 acres * * * in the center of * * * Woonsocket [with] a man made [sic] pond, * * * two tennis courts, a playground area, horseshoe pits, * * * [an] Olympic pool area, * * * and the beach area * * *.” Lambert described the water depth near the wall where the Olympic pool met the beach area as being “pretty consistent over the years.” He testified that, when the pond was drained, he would try to “smooth the bottom” of it. Lambert explained that the pond “wouldn’t be perfectly level like a pool,” but testified that he “would try to eliminate any erosion, any heels, any high spots.” He testified that he was unable to do “any preparatory work to the bottom” of the pond in 2008 because he had been “informed that the park was closing and the beach wouldn’t be opened that year, and [his] job was being eliminated.” However, Lambert also explained that he did not rake the pond every year because “there were years when there was very little shifting on the bottom.” Subsequently, Lambert testified about the diving policies at the pond. He stated that diving had “never [been] allowed.” However, he admitted to seeing “people periodically dive * * * off of [the] [**8] wall on the pool area, [but] not during hours that [the pond was] in operation.”

B

The Events of July 10, 2008

Kenneth Henderson, a seasonal laborer for DEM who worked as a groundskeeper at the park in 2008, testified at trial that he was working on July 10, 2008. Henderson stated that he saw “about half a dozen” people swimming in the pond that day but did not tell them that swimming was prohibited because, in his words, “[he] had no authority.”

Laura Oliver and Carol Gear had also been at the park on July 10, 2008, and testified at trial. Oliver testified that on July 10 there were no lifeguards, lifeguard chairs, or buoy lines in the pond, and the fountain was off. Oliver said that she allowed her children to go swimming despite the “no swimming” signs “because there [had been] a write-up in the paper, and nobody told [them] different[ly].” She added that there were often “no swimming” signs in place, even when lifeguards were present and watching the swimmers. However, Oliver testified that a DEM employee, who she later learned was a groundskeeper, had told her children not to jump in the water. Oliver explained that she saw people jumping and “do[ing] all kinds of stuff” off the diving platform on July [**9] 10. However, she knew from experience that diving was not allowed in the pond because in previous years if someone [*485] dove into the water, then “lifeguards would be on top of it. If they kept doing it, [the lifeguards] would tell them they had to leave.” She added that she never saw anyone get hurt while diving prior to July 10. Oliver described Roy’s dive as “a belly flop kind of dive; not a complete dive.”

Gear testified that she had been to the pond to swim “[t]hree times” before July 10, 2008, and had seen people dive, but had never seen anyone injured from diving before Roy suffered his injury. Gear described Roy’s actions that she witnessed on July 10, stating: “He threw something on the ground, and [ran], like you run when you bowl, and then he just dove in.” She labeled Roy’s dive as a “[r]egular kind of dive.” She clarified that she would call it “a shallow dive.” She explained that “[i]t was more like he * * * just * * * put his head down and kind of went in. It wasn’t like a real dive like on a diving board.”

Hope Braybon, who accompanied Roy to the pond on July 10, also testified to the events of the day. Braybon stated that she watched Roy “jog” from the car in the parking lot and “d[i]ve in.” She testified [**10] that, as Roy was diving, she “was telling him not to dive over there * * * because it was shallow water.”

Roy was unable to testify at trial but his deposition was read into the record. Roy was six feet tall and twenty-nine years old at the time of the incident. Roy testified that on July 10 he had dropped Braybon, her daughter, and his children at the park and “they * * * walked towards the beach.” He recalled seeing “20 to 30 people, small children, adults, adolescent children in the middle of the pond” swimming, which indicated to him that the park was open. He testified that he “never saw a sign that said ‘[n]o [s]wimming.'” Roy further testified that, when he arrived at the park, he “walked over towards the corner [of the pond], * * * [a]nd * * * wasn’t going to jump in,” but, he described the day as “hot, * * * very hot. So, [he] figured * * * [he would] jump in.” He stated that he looked at the water and “[i]t looked deep enough.” He described the water as “murky” and said that he “definitely couldn’t see the bottom.” He explained that “if the water was too shallow, [he would] be able to see it.” Before jumping in, Roy returned to his car to put his things away and then he “walked down to the end[,] [**11] * * * dove in the water[,] and [he] broke [his] neck.” Roy described his dive as a “shallow dive, just like a normal, flat dive,” meaning, “the only parts that [he] would want to hit the water would be the * * * tops of [his] hand and [his] belly.” Roy testified that around July 2007 he dove in the same spot, and “[n]othing was ever said to [him].” Roy admitted that he knew there was soil erosion in the pond, and, consequently, that soil had been added to the pond in the past. Roy stated that “the way that [he] check[ed] the depth of the water * * * was probably irresponsible * * *.”

C

The Jury Verdict and Posttrial Motions

After the close of evidence, both parties filed motions for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, and the trial justice denied both motions. Subsequently, the jury was charged on May 25, 2011. During the course of deliberations, the jury exchanged over fifty notes with the trial justice. On the morning of the third day of deliberations, the trial justice addressed the jury and asked the jurors to keep deliberating because she was “really confident that the eight [jurors were] going to be able to * * * reach a decision that is fair and just for everyone.”

[*486] On the fourth day of deliberations, [**12] the jury asked the court to “clarify if [six] jurors are for one party and [two] jurors are for another[,] [d]o the questions have to be answered in favor of the way the six jurors feel and the [other two jurors would] not be able to express their own feelings[?]” The trial justice responded that she was “not exactly sure what [they] [were] asking but the jury’s verdict must be unanimous with all [eight] [jurors] agreeing.” Later that day, the trial justice held a chambers conference at which she suggested to counsel that, in light of the jury’s note, the jury might be split six to two.

During the fifth day of deliberations, the jury asked the trial justice to reinstruct them that they needed to follow the instructions of law and not their emotions. After a series of conferences with juror No. 109 and the jury foreperson, individually, the trial justice excused juror No. 109. At approximately 3:50 p.m. that day, the jury sent a note to the trial justice that it could not come to a unanimous agreement. Approximately ten minutes later the trial justice responded: “Is there anything we can do to assist you?” The jury responded that “nothing else will make a difference” and indicated a six-to-one [**13] split. Thereafter, the trial justice released the jurors for the day and asked counsel to think of options and to determine from their respective clients whether they would accept a split verdict.

The following day–day six of deliberations–both parties agreed to accept a six-to-one split decision if the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The parties expressed that they “understood at the time that the jury would be sent to deliberate” and that if the jury “inform[ed] the [c]ourt that it could not reach a unanimous verdict, [the trial justice] would then disclose [to the jury] that the parties [had] agreed to accept a [six] to [one] split decision * * *.” Subsequently, the jury exchanged additional notes with the trial justice and returned for additional instructions on the Recreational Use Statute and the issue of liability, included as questions 1 and 2 on the verdict form. Thereafter, the jury indicated that it had reached a verdict.

The jury reached a unanimous verdict and found that the state had not “willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity at the pond * * *” and therefore was not liable under question 1. However, the jury [**14] found that the state was liable under question 2 for “willfully or maliciously fail[ing] to guard against a non-obvious, latent dangerous condition, knowing that there existed a strong likelihood that a user of the swimming pond would suffer serious injury or death[.]” The jury rejected the assumption-of-the-risk defense and found that both parties were negligent and assigned a 50/50 split with “zero” damages. The trial justice then called counsel to sidebar where plaintiffs argued that the jurors were not following the instructions because they found in favor of them but awarded no damages; the state disagreed. The trial justice instructed the jury that they were required to award damages. At that time, the state moved for a mistrial “based on the inconsistencies of the answers to the questions on the verdict sheet”; plaintiffs objected, and the trial justice denied the motion. The jury then sent a note explaining that they had “reached a unanimous verdict [because] no money was awarded.” They explained that if they had to award damages, “part of [the] jury [would] have one answer [and] part [would] have another. In other words, [they would] have to begin again.” The trial justice clarified [**15] with the jury that they were “referring to the [six-to-one] split/vote” and then released the jury for the day.

[*487] After the jury was sent home, the trial justice held a chambers conference with counsel. The parties discussed four potential options to consider: (1) a mistrial; (2) accept a six-to-one verdict; (3) accept half of the verdict; or (4) allow the verdict to stand. On the seventh day of deliberations, plaintiffs made a motion for additur or, in the alternative, for a new trial on the issue of damages. The trial justice denied plaintiffs’ motion and offered the parties a choice of accepting a split verdict or a mistrial. Both parties agreed to accept a six-to-one split verdict. The trial justice notified the jury that the parties would accept a six-to-one verdict. The jury returned the verdict and answered “no” to questions 1 and 2–finding no liability on behalf of the state, and judgment entered.

Following the jury verdict, both parties made renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law. In support of its motion, the state argued that plaintiffs failed to establish the state’s liability under the Recreational Use Statute and that, as a matter of law, Roy’s conduct was so “highly [**16] dangerous” that “no duty was owed to him.” The plaintiffs argued that the state’s witnesses admitted sufficient facts at trial to establish the state’s liability as a matter of law under the Recreational Use Statute. Additionally, plaintiffs moved for a new trial on damages, or, in the alternative, a new trial on all the issues. The trial justice issued a written decision on March 26, 2013, denying both parties’ motions for judgment as a matter of law, and granting plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial on all the issues. The state timely appealed this decision, and plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal.

II

Parties’ Arguments on Appeal

On appeal, the state argues that the trial justice erred in refusing to apply the decisions in Banks v. Bowen’s Landing Corp., 522 A.2d 1222 (R.I. 1987) and Bucki v. Hawkins, 914 A.2d 491 (R.I. 2007), which, the state contends, “stand for the proposition that the [s]tate owed no duty to Roy to protect him from an open and obvious natural condition * * *.” The state maintains that, “under the proper application of the Recreational Use Statute, the evidence fails to establish that the state willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against a dangerous condition.” The state also argues that “Roy assumed the risk of injury by diving into murky water without first checking [**17] its depth” and that plaintiffs failed to prove the element of causation. Furthermore, the state contends that it is shielded from liability under the theory of discretionary immunity. The state also asserts that “the trial justice misconstrued material evidence and committed significant errors of law in granting plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial.” However, the state adds, if the matter is remanded for a new trial, “the statutory cap on damages should apply.”

In response, plaintiffs argue that the trial justice properly granted their motion for a new trial. The plaintiffs aver that they proved liability under the Recreational Use Statute and that the “open and obvious danger” rule articulated in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 496, is inapplicable here due to distinguishable facts. The plaintiffs maintain that Roy could not have “assumed the risk” under these facts as a matter of law and that plaintiffs proved proximate causation. Furthermore, plaintiffs contend that the trial justice and two motion justices properly applied the law and limited the state’s defenses with respect to governmental immunity and the damages cap. On cross-appeal, plaintiffs argue that the trial justice incorrectly denied their motions for additur, [**18] a new trial on the issue [*488] of damages only, and judgment as a matter of law. Additionally, plaintiffs argue that a new trial was warranted based on other legal errors made by the trial justice and that the second jury verdict was “the result of bias, prejudice, or passion.”

Because we conclude that the state owed no duty to Roy, we shall address only the state’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.

III

Judgment as a Matter of Law

A

Standard of Review

[HN1] “In reviewing a trial justice’s decision on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, this Court is bound to follow the same rules and legal standards as govern the trial justice.” Hough v. McKiernan, 108 A.3d 1030, 1035 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Perry v. Alessi, 890 A.2d 463, 467 (R.I. 2006)). “The trial justice, and consequently this Court, must examine ‘the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, without weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and draw[] from the record all reasonable inferences that support the position of the nonmoving party.'” Id. (quoting Perry, 890 A.2d at 467). Thus, a trial justice should enter judgment as a matter of law “when the evidence permits only one legitimate conclusion in regard to the outcome.” Id. (quoting Long v. Atlantic PBS, Inc., 681 A.2d 249, 252 (R.I. 1996)).

B

Discussion

[HN2] The Rhode Island Recreational Use Statute, G.L. 1956 [**19] chapter 6 of title 32, limits the liability of landowners, declaring that one

“who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge any person to use that property for recreational purposes does not thereby:

“(1) Extend any assurance that the premises are safe for any purpose;

“(2) Confer upon that person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; nor

“(3) Assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to any person or property caused by an act of omission of that person.” Section 32-6-3.

[HN3] The purpose of this statute “is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability to persons entering thereon for those purposes.” Section 32-6-1. In order to achieve this, “the [Recreational Use Statute] modifies the common law by treating users of public and private recreational properties as trespassers, thus greatly reducing the duty of care that owners owe to recreational users.” Symonds v. City of Pawtucket, 126 A.3d 421, 424 (R.I. 2015). As we have noted, “it is clear from the unambiguous language of the 1996 amendment [to the Recreational Use Statute] that the [L]egislature intended to include the state and municipalities among owners entitled to immunity [**20] under the statute.” Id. (quoting Pereira v. Fitzgerald, 21 A.3d 369, 373 (R.I. 2011)).3

3 In 1996, the General Assembly amended the definition of “owner” in G.L. 1956 § 32-6-2(3) to include the state and municipalities. P.L. 1996, ch. 234, § 1.

[HN4] Although the Recreational Use Statute limits liability, this limitation is not absolute. Section 32-6-5 provides, in relevant part: “(a) Nothing in this chapter limits in any way any liability which, but for this chapter, otherwise exists: (1) [f]or the willful or malicious failure to guard or [*489] warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity after discovering the user’s peril * * *.” “Thus, the Legislature declared that all people who use this state’s public recreational resources are classified as trespassers to whom no duty of care is owed, save to refrain from willful or malicious conduct as defined in the [Recreational Use Statute].” Berman v. Sitrin, 991 A.2d 1038, 1044 (R.I. 2010).

On appeal, the state argues that the evidence presented at trial did not establish that the state willfully and/or maliciously failed to warn against a dangerous condition. Specifically, the state argues that “there was no evidence of a substantial number of injuries flowing from a known dangerous condition”; that “the state did not fail to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, [**21] structure, or activity”; and that “no witness made testimonial admissions sufficient to extinguish protection under the Recreational Use Statute.” Conversely, plaintiffs argue that they proved liability under the Recreational Use Statute because the evidence supported a finding that the state “breached the duty to refrain from willful and malicious failures to guard and warn against known latent conditions.” In support of this argument, plaintiffs rely on Berman.

In Berman, 991 A.2d at 1042, the plaintiff was walking on the Newport Cliff Walk when the ground “gave way,” causing the plaintiff to suffer injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic. This Court specifically noted that this was “not * * * a case in which a visitor came too close to the edge of a cliff and fell off, as tragic as that would be.” Id. at 1049. Rather, “the events leading to [the plaintiff’s] tragic injury were caused by latent defects in the structure of the Cliff Walk that [were] not obvious to the occasional visitor.” Id. This Court explained that “the record before [it was] replete with evidence demonstrating that * * * the city knew that the forces of natural erosion were taking a toll on the Cliff Walk.” Id. at 1050. Thus, this Court concluded that “because [**22] of the multiple incidents of death and grievous injury * * * the city [could] not successfully defend [the plaintiff’s] claim based on an assertion that it had no specific knowledge of [the plaintiff] or any peril confronting him.” Id. at 1051. Consequently, this Court held that “the immunity provided by the [Recreational Use Statute] [was] not available to defendant City of Newport, in the context of the Cliff Walk” because a “fact-finder reasonably could find that * * * the city voluntarily and intentionally failed to guard against the dangerous condition, knowing that there existed a strong likelihood that a visitor to the Cliff Walk would suffer serious injury or death.” Id. at 1052, 1053.

The plaintiffs argue that this case is comparable to Berman because the “record is replete with evidence of DEM’s admitted knowledge of numerous unique dangerous conditions, including shallow water in areas where users had been known to dive from the park’s structures, and the historic presence of the sandbar in the same (normally deeper) area.” The plaintiffs maintain that the “shallow water and dangers of diving at this particular facility were not obvious to users * * * yet were in fact known to DEM.”

In the case at bar, [**23] although the state admitted knowledge of the unique features of the pond, Roy also admitted that he was aware of the danger of making a dive into shallow water and that “the way that [he] check[ed] the depth of the water * * * was probably irresponsible * * *.” He confirmed that he knew the soil in the pond was eroding and, consequently, that soil was added to the pond. We would note that, examining the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs as we [*490] must, the actions of the defendants are a far cry from the egregious conduct attributed to the City of Newport in Berman. There, we held that “[i]t is because of the multiple incidents of death and grievous injury that we conclude that the city may not successfully defend this claim based on an assertion that it had no specific knowledge of [the plaintiff] or any peril confronting him.” Berman, 991 A.2d at 1051. Here, there is only one indication in the record of a relatively minor injury reported several days before Roy’s catastrophic injuries. Therefore, we are of the opinion that, under these circumstances, this case is distinguishable from Berman. There is no evidence to support a finding that the state “willful[ly] or malicious[ly] fail[ed] to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, [**24] use, structure, or activity after discovering [a] user’s peril * * *.” See § 32-6-5(a)(1). Thus, the state’s motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted.

Moreover, even if the Recreational Use Statute did not apply, this Court has held that [HN5] the danger of diving in and of itself is an “open and obvious” danger, Bucki, 914 A.2d at 496, one of “common knowledge,” Banks, 522 A.2d at 1225, such that a landowner does not owe a duty of care to warn individuals who enter the premises. In Banks, 522 A.2d at 1224, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim for injuries he suffered after diving off a railing on the defendant’s property into the Newport Harbor. This Court held that the defendants had not owed any duty of care to the plaintiff in that case in part because “requiring citizens to place warnings against[–]and barriers preventing persons from[–]diving into shallow water would provide little disincentive to individuals * * *. As a practical matter, the danger of diving into shallow water is one of common knowledge, and one [the plaintiff] admit he was aware of.” Id. at 1225. Similarly, in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 493, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim for injuries he sustained after diving into a lake while he was a guest at one defendant’s waterfront property. This Court concluded that [**25] the plaintiff’s harm was foreseeable but again held that the defendants did not have a duty to warn of the dangers of diving. Id. at 496-97. This Court stated that:

“It is only reasonable for a diver, who cannot ascertain the water’s depth by looking, to further inspect the area before diving into dark water. The danger of diving into shallow water was open and obvious to a twenty-four-year-old man, regardless of whether a sign was erected alerting him to the danger.” Id. at 496.

Thus, this Court held that “as a matter of law, [the] plaintiff must be held to have had knowledge and an appreciation of this risk [because][,] [u]ltimately, it was [the] plaintiff’s own behavior that caused his injuries.” Id.

We also note that other courts have reached similar conclusions. For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals commented that:

“Bodies of water like the stream involved in this case have historically and consistently been afforded distinctive treatment in the law relating to landowners’ liability. The necessity, or at least desirability, of maintaining such bodies of water, coupled with known inherent dangers and the difficulty of effectively protecting against those dangers, have led courts across the country to pronounce [**26] water an ‘open and obvious danger,’ for which no warning or special precaution is ordinarily needed.” Casper v. Charles F. Smith & Son, Inc., 316 Md. 573, 560 A.2d 1130, 1134-35 (Md. 1989).

[*491] In a case affirming the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Chicago Park District against swimmers who were injured when they dove into Lake Michigan from concrete seawalls, Bucheleres v. Chicago Park District, 171 Ill. 2d 435, 665 N.E.2d 826, 827, 828, 839, 216 Ill. Dec. 568 (Ill. 1996), the Illinois Supreme Court pronounced:

“In cases involving obvious and common conditions, such as fire, height, and bodies of water, the law generally assumes that persons who encounter these conditions will take care to avoid any danger inherent in such condition. The open and obvious nature of the condition itself gives caution and therefore the risk of harm is considered slight; people are expected to appreciate and avoid obvious risks.” Id. at 832.

The Illinois Supreme Court further reasoned that “bodies of water are ordinarily considered to be open and obvious conditions and thereby carry their own warning of possible danger.” Id. at 835. This is clearly the position adopted by this Court in Bucki, 914 A.2d at 497, where this Court stated that “[w]e are of the opinion that in this case [the] defendant did not owe [the] plaintiff a duty of care, but, rather, that [the] plaintiff voluntarily exposed himself to the perils of an open and obvious danger.” [**27] Because it is our considered opinion that the state bore no liability for Roy’s injuries–either because diving is an open and obvious danger or because it was protected under the Recreational Use Statute–we conclude that the trial justice erroneously denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law.

IV

Conclusion

For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court and remand the case with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the state. The record shall be returned to the Superior Court.


TUSA Recalls Diving Computers Due to Drowning and Injury Hazards

Hazard: The dive computer can malfunction and display an incorrect reading to the diver, posing a drowning and injury hazard due to decompression sickness.

Remedy: Replace

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled diving computers and contact TUSA to receive a free replacement diving computer.

Consumer Contact: TUSA at 800-482-2282 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or online at http://www.tusa.com/us-en and click on “Recall” for more information.

Photos available at: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2017/TUSA-Recalls-Diving-Computers

Units: About 175

Description: This recall involves TUSA DC Solar Link IQ1204 diving computers. The black or white and blue wrist-watch style diving computers have a digital screen. TUSA is printed on the front of the diving computer. The model number and serial number is printed on the back of the diving computer below “TUSA DC Solar Link.” Recalled diving computers have serial numbers 6TA0001 – 6TA2864. 

Incidents/Injuries: None reported

Sold at: Sporting goods stores nationwide from March 2016 through June 2016 for about $750.

Importer/Distributor: Tabata USA Inc. (TUSA), of Long Beach, Calif.

Manufactured in: Japan

Retailers: If you are a retailer of a recalled product you have a duty to notify your customers of a recall. If you can, email your clients or include the recall information in your next marketing communication to your clients. Post any Recall Poster at your stores and contact the manufacturer to determine how you will handle any recalls.

For more information on this see:

For Retailers

Recalls Call for Retailer Action

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

Product Liability takes a different turn. You must pay attention, just not rely on the CPSC.

Retailer has no duty to fit or instruct on fitting bicycle helmet

Summary Judgment granted for bicycle manufacturer and retailer on a breach of warranty and product liability claim.

For Manufacturers

The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

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Lawsuit filed against a scuba diving center for failing to properly rescue distressed diver and failing to follow rescue procedures.

Issue is going to be whose procedures. Dive shops own procedures or association? This is going to be interesting.

You need to read the entire article and remember these facts probably came from the plaintiff’s position. How do you know this; the plaintiff’s attorney is quoted in the article saying the dive center’s attorneys declined to comment. Now that is investigative journalism. Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

The deceased died on a recreational scuba diving trip. Allegedly, the deceased surfaced in distress and was not rescued properly: “…dive instructors of negligence and failing to throw Kevin Jerome Kraemer a flotation device and follow emergency procedures.”

Allegedly, the dive staff “…the dive crew tried to rescue and later resuscitate him; they made key errors in the heat of the moment.”

Failing to rescue has never been successful and is very rare. Failing to follow procedures is common. The biggest question from our point of view is whose procedures. If the procedures are the associations, ASTM, etc., nothing like your own group sinking your ship.

See Va. Beach dive center faces lawsuit for failed rescue

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Dive Buddy (co-participant) not liable for death of the diver because the cause of death was too distant from the acts of the plaintiff

This case was brought to my attention because of the suit for the ski buddy fatality in Canada in the news recently. (See Canadian suit would hold you liable for your ski buddy’s death.)Are you liable for your buddy’s death if you are participating in a sport together. The issue pivots on whether or not there is an expected responsibility (duty) on behalf of the buddies.

Rasmussen, et al., v. Bendotti, 107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

Plaintiff: Cully, Adam, and Brandy Jo Rasmussen, children of the deceased and the estate of the deceased

Defendant: Eugene L. Bendotti, husband of the deceased

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: there was no negligence

Holding: for the defendant

This is one of a few cases where a co-participant or in this case dive buddy is held liable for the injuries or deaths of the other participant. In this case, a husband and wife were diving together to recover a snowmobile 100’ deep in a lake. On the fourth dive of the day, the husband realized he had not attached his power inflator to his buoyance compensator. He dropped his weight belt and ascended, leaving his spouse, dive buddy, below.

The wife was found drowned after becoming entangled in a rope.

The buoyance compensator is a PFD (personal floatation device) designed for diving. It is inflated and deflated as you dive to keep your body at the level or depth in the water you want. Many divers will deflate and inflate the buoyance compensator (BC) several times during a dive as they descend, stay at a level and descend or ascend again.

A trial was held to the court which held that the husband did owe a duty to the spouse. However, that duty was terminated once the husband’s emergency occurred. The court also found that the husband’s failure to act as a proper dive buddy was too distant from the cause of death of the spouse to be the proximate cause of her death.

The plaintiff’s appealed.

In this case, the plaintiff’s appealed the errors; they felt the court made in its decision. Those are called “assignment of error(s).” The plaintiff argued that the court came to the incorrect conclusion in the determination of the facts and the application of the law.

Summary of the case

The court accepted several conclusions of fact and law from the trial court that are necessary to understand its analysis and, which are critical legal issues. The first was a dive buddy owes a duty of care to his or her dive buddy. Consequently, a failure to exercise this duty, which results in an injury to the dive buddy, can be negligent.

The existence of a duty is a question of law. Whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, however, turns on the foreseeability of injury; that is, whether the risk embraced by the conduct exposes the plaintiff to injury. “The hazard that brought about or assisted in bringing about the result must be among the hazards to be perceived reasonably and with respect to which defendant’s conduct was negligent.”

The trial court found the defendant had not breached his duty because his personnel emergency ended any duty he owed to his dive buddy. The trial court labeled this as the emergency doctrine. However, the appellate court defined the emergency doctrine as:

The emergency doctrine was developed at common law and states the commonsense proposition that a person faced with an emergency should not be held to the same standards as someone given time for reflection and deliberation.

A defendant is entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine when he or she undertakes the best course of action given an emergency not of his or her own making.

The appellate court did not hold the emergency doctrine did not apply; however, its statements indicate such because it went on to discuss proximate cause.

Proximate cause is the term defined to relate the breach of the duty to the injury.

Proximate cause has two discreet elements. The first, cause in fact, requires some physical connection between the act (the failure to connect the power inflator) and the injury (Bonny’s death). The second element of proximate cause involves legal causation. Id. And that is a policy consideration for the court. The consideration is whether the ultimate result and the defendant’s acts are substantially connected, and not too remote to impose liability. Id. It is a legal question involving logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent.

The court ruled that the cause of the plaintiff’s death was the plaintiff’s own acts, not caused by the defendant. The court questioned, “…if Gene had properly connected his power inflator, would Bonny be alive today?” The trial court stated, and the appellate court accepted that the act of the defendant descending was not the cause of the plaintiff’s death.

An expert witness opined that the cause of the plaintiff’s death was her failure to have a dive knife with her.

There was too much between the ascension of the defendant and the entanglement which caused the drowning to be linked. The ascension was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s death.

So Now What?

The decision in the Canadian court on whether a ski buddy owes a duty of care to another skier will probably not end with the jury’s decision. See Canadian suit would hold you liable for your ski buddy’s death. Ski buddy meaning the guy you don’t know skiing next to you. However, here we have a definitive decision that a dive buddy in a scuba diving owes a duty to their dive buddy.

This is a very different legal relationship than found in competitive sports where someone may be injured due to another participant and the nature of the game. See Indiana adopts the higher standard of care between participants in sporting events in this Triathlon case. Here one participant in the sport is legal responsible, as defined by the sport or activity or sometimes the two people, for the other person.

If you agree to watch or take care of someone in a sport, you may be accepting liability for that person. Be aware.

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Rasmussen, et al., v. Bendotti, 107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

Rasmussen, et al., v. Bendotti, 107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

Cully C. Rasmussen, as Personal Representative, ET AL., Appellants, v. Eugene L. Bendotti, Respondent.

No. 19464-7-III

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION THREE, PANEL ONE

107 Wn. App. 947; 29 P.3d 56; 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 1962

August 21, 2001, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Order Denying Motion and Reconsideration September 26, 2001, Reported at: 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 2165.

SUMMARY: Nature of Action: The children and the estate of a diver who drowned during a scuba diving excursion sought damages from the diver’s diving partner based on the diving partner’s failure to perform a self-equipment check prior to commencing the dive. The failure to perform the equipment check caused the diving partner to make an emergency ascent during the dive. While the diving partner was ascending to the water’s surface, the diver’s equipment became entangled in a rope which led to the diver’s drowning.

Superior Court: After denying the defendant’s motion for a summary judgment, the Superior Court for Chelan County, No. 98-2-00754-5, Lesley A. Allan, J., on June 30, 2000, entered a judgment in favor of the defendant.

Court of Appeals: Holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the defendant’s failure to perform an equipment check prior to the dive was not a proximate cause of the decedent’s death, the court affirms the judgment.

HEADNOTES WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

[1] Appeal — Findings of Fact — Failure To Assign Error — Effect Unchallenged findings of fact are verities before a reviewing court.

[2] Appeal — Conclusions of Law — Review — Standard of Review An appellate court reviews a trial court’s conclusions of law in a civil action by first determining whether the trial court applied the correct legal standard to the facts under consideration. The trial court’s legal conclusions flowing from its findings, or the ultimate facts of the case, are reviewed de novo.

[3] Negligence — Duty — Question of Law or Fact — Review The existence of a duty of care is a question of law that an appellate court reviews de novo.

[4] Negligence — Duty — Breach — Resulting Emergency — Termination of Duty — Question of Law or Fact — Review Whether an emergency created by the breach of a duty of care terminates the duty is a question of law that an appellate court reviews de novo.

[5] Negligence — Duty — Determination — Scope A cause of action for negligence is grounded on the existence of a duty owed specifically to the plaintiff or to a class or group of people to which the plaintiff belongs.

[6] Negligence — Elements — In General A negligence action is comprised of four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) proximate cause, and (4) injury.

[7] Negligence — Duty — Scope — Foreseeability — In General The scope of a duty of care turns on the foreseeability of injury; i.e., it turns on whether the risk embraced by the conduct exposes the claimant to injury.

[8] Negligence — Duty — Scope — Foreseeability — Test An injury is foreseeable if it is among the dangers to be perceived reasonably and with respect to which the defendant’s conduct is negligent.

[9] Sports — Scuba Diving — Duty to Diving Partner — Reasonable Prudence A scuba diver owes a duty to a diving partner to act in the manner of a reasonably prudent diver.

[10] Negligence — Duty — Breach — Question of Law or Fact — In General Whether a legal duty of care has been breached is a question of fact.

[11] Sports — Scuba Diving — Duty to Diving Partner — Breach — Failure To Perform Equipment Check A scuba diver breaches the duty of reasonable prudence in relation to a diving partner by failing to perform a self or buddy equipment check prior to commencing a dive.

[12] Negligence — Emergency Doctrine — In General The emergency doctrine is a common law rule by which a person faced with an emergency is not held to the same standards as a person who has time for reflection and deliberation.

[13] Negligence — Emergency Doctrine — One’s Own Making — Effect The emergency doctrine does not apply to excuse a party’s negligence if that negligence contributed to the emergency.

[14] Negligence — Emergency Doctrine — One’s Own Making — Evaluation of Conduct For purposes determining whether an actor’s own negligence prevents application of the emergency doctrine, the actor’s conduct is evaluated as of the time of the negligent act or omission, not when the actor later discovers the negligent act or omission and reacts to it.

[15] Negligence — Proximate Cause — Elements Proximate cause is divided into two elements: cause-in-fact and legal causation. A cause-in-fact is based on the physical connection between an act and an injury. Legal causation is grounded in a policy determination made by the court. The focus in the legal causation analysis is whether, as a matter of policy, the connection between the defendant’s act and the ultimate result is too remote to impose liability. A determination of legal causation depends on mixed considerations of logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent.

[16] Negligence — Proximate Cause — Question of Law or Fact — Deference to Trial Court The issue of proximate cause in a negligence action presents a mixed question of law and fact. Insofar as a trial court’s determination of proximate cause necessarily entails factual considerations of “but-for” causation, it is accorded deference by a reviewing court.

[17] Negligence — Proximate Cause — Proof — Speculation Speculation is insufficient to establish proximate cause in a negligence action.

COUNSEL: Douglas J. Takasugi (of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward, P.S.), for appellants.

Thomas F. O’Connell (of Davis, Arneil, Dorsey, Kight), for respondent.

JUDGES: Author: DENNIS J. SWEENEY. Concurring: STEPHEN M. BROWN & KENNETH H. KATO.

OPINION BY: DENNIS J. SWEENEY

OPINION

[**58] [*950] Sweeney, J. [HN1] — To hold a defendant liable for negligence, the plaintiff must show that the defendant proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury. Crowe v. Gaston, 134 Wn.2d 509, 514, 951 P.2d 1118 (1998). [HN2] Proximate cause is generally a question of fact. Hertog v. City of Seattle, 138 Wn.2d 265, 275, 979 P.2d 400 (1999). Here, the trial court, sitting as the fact finder, found that any negligence on the part of Eugene Bendotti (Gene) was “too attenuated” from Bonny Jo Bendotti’s death to hold Gene legally liable. Gene was Bonny’s scuba diving buddy. He failed to properly attach a power inflator to his buoyancy compensator. This required an emergency ascent. Bonny then drowned after her equipment became [***2] entangled in a rope. We conclude that the trial court’s finding is adequately supported by the evidence, and affirm the judgment dismissing Cully, Adam, and Brandy Jo Rasmussen’s wrongful death suit.

FACTS

Our factual summary here follows the trial court’s unchallenged findings of fact, including those denominated as conclusions of law. Hagemann v. Worth, 56 Wn. App. 85, 89, 782 P.2d 1072 (1989). We refer to Mr. and Mrs. Bendotti as Gene and Bonny. We intend no disrespect by doing so. We use their first names simply for clarity and ease of reference.

Bonny and Gene were married in 1990. They got interested in scuba diving and completed [**59] the necessary scuba certification in April 1996. Their training included an open water dive course and an advanced open water dive course.

In the fall of 1996, the Bendottis were asked to help recover a snowmobile from Lake Wenatchee. They agreed to [*951] help. On October 4, they made one or two dives, located the snowmobile in approximately 100 feet of water, and marked it with a 50-foot line.

The Bendottis returned to Lake Wenatchee on November 2. At first they were unable to locate the snowmobile or marker line. They located [***3] the snowmobile during the second dive and marked it with a longer line and buoy. They then broke for lunch and refilled their air tanks. After the third dive, the Bendottis and others with them decided to try to attach a line to the snowmobile to drag it from the lake. Both descended for their fourth dive.

Gene had, however, inadvertently failed to reconnect his power inflator to his buoyancy compensator. A power inflator inflates a buoyancy compensator which then allows the diver to rise to the surface. And “[b]ecause he and Bonny did not adequately perform buddy and self-equipment checks, it was not discovered.” Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 561. Once in the water, Gene discovered the equipment problem and immediately surfaced. Bonny, however, became entangled in a rope at the 40-foot level “perhaps while ascending herself.” CP at 561. She was unable to disentangle herself and drowned.

Cully, Adam, and Brandy Jo Rasmussen are Bonny’s children. They sued Gene on behalf of themselves and Bonny’s estate. The court denied Gene’s motion for summary judgment and heard the matter without a jury.

The court concluded that Gene owed a duty to Bonny as her scuba [***4] diving “buddy.” Left unstated, but easily inferable given the court’s other conclusions, is the finding that Gene breached that duty by failing to reconnect his power inflator. The court then goes on to conclude that because Gene’s failure to reconnect his power inflator was an emergency, he acted as a reasonably prudent diver when he ditched his weight belt and ascended. It also concluded that Gene’s duty to Bonny terminated because of this emergency. The court then held that the Rasmussens “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence any breach of duty by Gene to Bonny occurring prior to Gene facing his own personal [*952] emergency.” CP at 562. The court dismissed the Rasmussens’ claims with prejudice.

The Rasmussens moved for reconsideration. The court denied the motion, but supplemented its original conclusions of law. It concluded that both Gene and Bonny should have checked Gene’s scuba equipment prior to their fourth dive. But their failure to do so placed only Gene at risk. In its supplemental conclusions, the court further reiterated that a diver’s primary duty is to himself, or herself, and that Bonny became entangled only after Gene faced his own emergency. And Gene’s [***5] duty to Bonny terminated once he faced his own emergency.

Finally, the court concluded that Gene’s failure to attach his power inflator was “too attenuated” from Bonny’s subsequent entanglement in the rope to hold him legally responsible for her death. CP at 435.

The Rasmussens appeal the judgment dismissing their claims. Gene appeals the denial of his pretrial motion for summary judgment.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

The Rasmussens assign error to a number of the court’s conclusions of law. And those assignments of error delineate the issues before us.

The Rasmussens assign error to the following original conclusions of law, which we paraphrase:

. That Gene’s legal duty to Bonny terminated when he was faced with his own emergency during the fourth dive. Conclusion of Law 4.

. The Rasmussens did not prove any breach of duty by Gene to Bonny prior to Gene’s facing his own personal emergency. Conclusion of Law 5.

[**60] The Rasmussens assign error to the following supplemental conclusions of law, which we also paraphrase:

[*953] Failure to perform equipment checks, their own and their buddy’s, put Gene solely at risk. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 3.

. If Gene had improperly loaded a spear gun [***6] which discharged and struck Bonny, his conduct at the surface would have increased the risk to Bonny. But that did not occur. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 4.

. Gene’s failure to check his equipment did not put Bonny at an increased risk of harm. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 5.

. When Gene surfaced, he acted reasonably and his duty to his dive buddy terminated. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 7.

. The connection between Gene’s failure to attach his power inflator on the surface and Bonny’s subsequent entanglement (and death) is too attenuated to hold Gene legally responsible. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 9.

. To hold Gene responsible would make him a guarantor of Bonny’s safety. Supplemental Conclusion of Law 10.

From these assignments of error, the Rasmussens make four basic arguments:

(1) After concluding that Gene owed a duty of care to Bonny (a duty owed by all dive buddies), the court then inconsistently goes on to conclude that Gene did not breach that duty–despite the fact that Gene negligently failed to reconnect his power inflator and perform adequate equipment checks before the fourth dive, contrary to standard diving practices.

(2) After concluding that Gene owed a duty [***7] to Bonny, the court then goes on to conclude that that duty terminated when Gene was faced with his own emergency. The Rasmussens argue that the duty should not have terminated because the emergency Gene was responding to was one of his own making. Brown v. Spokane County Fire Prot. Dist. No. 1100 Wn.2d 188, 197, 668 P.2d 571 (1983); Pryor [*954] v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 196 Wash. 382, 387-88, 83 P.2d 241 (1938), overruled on other grounds by Blaak v. Davidson, 84 Wn.2d 882, 529 P.2d 1048 (1975).

(3) The court concluded that Gene’s failure to perform a self-equipment check did not put Bonny at any increased risk of harm. The Rasmussens urge that if Gene had a duty, as the court found, then Bonny was certainly within the class of people that the duty was intended to protect.

(4) Finally, the court concluded that the connection between Gene’s negligence and Bonny’s death was too attenuated for the death to proximately flow from the breach of duty. Again, the Rasmussens argue that the very purpose of diving with a buddy, a standard obligatory diving practice, is so one diver is available to assist another who encounters difficulty underwater.

[***8] STANDARD OF REVIEW

[1] The Rasmussens challenge only the court’s conclusions of law. The findings of fact are therefore verities on appeal. Nordstrom Credit, Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, 120 Wn.2d 935, 941, 845 P.2d 1331 (1993).

[2] [HN3] We review the court’s conclusions of law by first determining whether the court applied the correct legal standard to the facts under consideration. Our review is de novo. See State v. Williams, 96 Wn.2d 215, 220, 634 P.2d 868 (1981) (appellate court determines questions of law). Every conclusion of law, however, necessarily incorporates the factual determinations made by the court in arriving at the legal conclusion (or ultimate fact). See Universal Minerals, Inc. v. C.A. Hughes & Co., 669 F.2d 98, 101-02 (3d Cir. 1981) (the logical flow is evidence to basic facts to ultimate facts). For example, the fact that a driver ran a red light is clearly a finding of fact and, therefore, a decision which would demand our deference. But the court’s conclusion of law from that finding that the defendant ran the light and was therefore negligent would be a conclusion (running a red light is negligent), which we [***9] would review de novo.

[**61] [*955] [3] [4] To be more specific, and address the questions raised here, the question of whether Gene had a duty to Bonny as her diving buddy is a question of law which we review de novo. Hertog v. City of Seattle, 138 Wn.2d 265, 275, 979 P.2d 400 (1999). Likewise, [HN4] the question of whether an emergency created by a breach of that duty (failure to check his equipment) terminated that duty to his buddy (Bonny) is also a question of law, which we review de novo. Mains Farm Homeowners Ass’n v. Worthington, 121 Wn.2d 810, 813, 854 P.2d 1072 (1993).

But [HN5] the question of the proximal relationship between any breach of Gene’s duty and Bonny’s subsequent death is a mixed question of law and fact, and so requires our deference. See Bell v. McMurray, 5 Wn. App. 207, 213, 486 P.2d 1105 (1971) [HN6] (proximate cause is a mixed question of law and fact, and “is usually for the trier of facts”).

NEGLIGENCE

[5] [6] We begin with the hornbook statement of elements for a cause of action in negligence. [HN7] Negligence requires a duty specifically to the plaintiff or to the class or group of people which includes the plaintiff. See Rodriguez v. Perez, 99 Wn. App. 439, 444, 994 P.2d 874, [***10] [HN8] (“When a duty is owed to a specific individual or class of individuals, that person or persons may bring an action in negligence for breach of that duty.”), review denied, 141 Wn.2d 1020 (2000); Torres v. City of Anacortes, 97 Wn. App. 64, 73, 981 P.2d 891 (1999), review denied, 140 Wn.2d 1007, 999 P.2d 1261 (2000). The plaintiff must then prove that a breach of the duty proximately caused the injury complained of. Hertog, 138 Wn.2d at 275; Crowe v. Gaston, 134 Wn.2d 509, 514, 951 P.2d 1118 (1998); Schooley v. Pinch’s Deli Mkt., Inc., 134 Wn.2d 468, 474, 951 P.2d 749 (1998). Finally, of course, there must be some injury. Hertog, 138 Wn.2d at 275. But injury is not at issue here.

DUTY

[7] [8] [HN9] The existence of a duty is a question of law. Hertog, [*956] 138 Wn.2d at 275. Whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, however, turns on the foreseeability of injury; that is, whether the risk embraced by the conduct exposes the plaintiff to injury. Rikstad v. Holmberg, 76 Wn.2d 265, 268, 456 P.2d 355 (1969). “The hazard [***11] that brought about or assisted in bringing about the result must be among the hazards to be perceived reasonably and with respect to which defendant’s conduct was negligent.” Id.

[9] And on this question, the trial judge’s conclusions of law, while a bit inconsistent, are nonetheless reconcilable.

First, and foremost, the court concluded unequivocally that:

. “[A] scuba diver owes a duty to his buddy . . . .” Conclusion of Law 2, CP at 562.

. “Because Gene and Bonny were dive buddies on November 2, 1996, Gene owed a duty to Bonny to act in the manner of a reasonably prudent diver.” Conclusion of Law 3, CP at 562.

The court’s conclusions are based on its unchallenged factual finding that: “Bonny and Gene received instruction to always dive with a buddy. One reason for this was safety, as a buddy can assist a diver who encounters difficulties underwater.” Finding of Fact 8, CP at 546.

BREACH OF A DUTY OF CARE

[10] [11] [HN10] Whether a duty of care has been breached is a question of fact. Hertog, 138 Wn.2d at 275. And the court’s findings of fact on this question are instructive. The court found that “[s]tandard diving practices [***12] include performing a buddy check and self equipment check prior to each dive. If these checks had been performed, any problem with Gene’s power inflator would likely have been discovered.” Finding of Fact 25, CP at 555. The court also found that Gene and Bonny did not perform a buddy check before the fourth and fatal dive. Findings of Fact 26 and 47.

Given the duty owed by one diver to his or her buddy and the court’s unchallenged finding of fact that those duties were not performed, the legal conclusion that Gene [*957] breached his duty to Bonny is inescapable. [**62] See Williams, 96 Wn.2d at 221 [HN11] (“Where findings necessarily imply one conclusion of law the question still remains whether the evidence justified that conclusion.” (emphasis omitted)). [HN12] Duties are not owed in the abstract. Nor are duties owed to oneself. Here, the duty owed was to that population intended to be protected by the buddy checks. And that population obviously includes a diver’s buddy–here, Bonny.

Emergency Doctrine

Having concluded that Gene owed a duty to Bonny as her dive buddy, the court then went on to conclude that that duty terminated with Gene’s [***13] own personal emergency. Conclusion of Law 4. The issue raised by the Rasmussens’ assignment of error to this conclusion is whether a duty of care ends with an emergency when the emergency is the result of the defendant’s breach of a duty?

[12] [HN13] The emergency doctrine was developed at common law and states the commonsense proposition that a person faced with an emergency should not be held to the same standards as someone given time for reflection and deliberation. Sandberg v. Spoelstra, 46 Wn.2d 776, 782, 285 P.2d 564 (1955).

The trial judge here concluded that “when Gene was required to so act [because of his personal emergency], his legal duty to Bonny was terminated.” Conclusion of Law 4, CP at 562.

[13] [14] The emergency here was Gene’s discovery of the results of his earlier omission. That is, he discovered that he had failed to properly connect his power inflator to his buoyancy compensator. But that emergency was of his own making. And because of that, he is not entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine. McCluskey v. Handorff-Sherman, 68 Wn. App. 96, 111, 841 P.2d 1300 (1992) [HN14] (“It is a well-established principle that the emergency doctrine [***14] does not apply where a person’s own negligence put him in the emergency situation.”), aff’d, 125 Wn.2d 1, 882 P.2d 157 (1994).

[HN15] [*958] A defendant is entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine when he or she undertakes the best course of action given an emergency not of his or her own making. Brown, 100 Wn.2d at 197. So, for example, if Gene, or for that matter Bonny, had inadvertently disconnected Gene’s power inflator while diving and Gene reacted to the emergency by immediately ascending, his conduct could be judged based on the emergency. But here, the court had already found that he had inadvertently, i.e., negligently, failed to perform his self and buddy checks. His conduct must then be evaluated at that time (when he was obligated to check his equipment) and not when he later discovered his negligent omission and reacted to it.

The court then erred by concluding that Gene’s emergency cut off any duty he owed to Bonny. Brown v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 38 Wn. App. 914, 920, 691 P.2d 577 (1984) (emergency doctrine is applicable only if the defendant’s negligence did not contribute to the emergency).

PROXIMATE CAUSE [***15]

The court concluded that “the connection between Gene Bendotti’s failure to attach his power inflator on the surface and Bonny Bendotti’s subsequent entanglement is too attenuated a connection to hold Gene Bendotti legally responsible for Bonny Bendotti’s death[.]” Suppl. Conclusion of Law 9, CP at 435.

[15] [16] [HN16] Proximate cause has two discreet elements. The first, cause in fact, requires some physical connection between the act (the failure to connect the power inflator) and the injury (Bonny’s death). Meneely v. S.R. Smith, Inc., 101 Wn. App. 845, 862-63, 5 P.3d 49 (2000). The second element of proximate cause involves legal causation. Id. And that is a policy consideration for the court. Id. at 863. The consideration is whether the ultimate result and the defendant’s acts are substantially connected, and not too remote to impose liability. Id. It is a legal question involving logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent. Id.

[HN17] The question of proximate cause then is a mixed question [*959] of law and fact. Bell, 5 Wn. App. at 213. We must then defer to the trial judge’s determination [***16] of proximate cause because it necessarily [**63] entails factual considerations of “but-for” causation. Here, the question simply put is, if Gene had properly connected his power inflator, would Bonny be alive today? The court held that the connection between Gene’s breach and Bonny’s death was too attenuated to say that had he connected his power inflator she would still be alive. The evidence amply supports this fact.

Jon Hardy, a scuba diving expert, testified that there was no connection between Gene’s failure to attach his power inflator and Bonny’s subsequent entanglement. Nor did he believe there was a connection between the loss of buddy contact and Bonny’s death. He further stated that he believed the proximate cause of Bonny’s death was her failure to carry a dive knife.

[17] How Bonny became entangled and why she was not able to free herself is not known. Also unknown is whether Gene could have saved her in any event. So, whether Gene could have saved her is speculation. And [HN18] speculation is not sufficient to establish proximate cause. Jankelson v. Sisters of Charity, 17 Wn.2d 631, 643, 136 P.2d 720 (1943) [HN19] (“‘The cause of an accident may be said to be speculative when, [***17] from a consideration of all the facts, it is as likely that it happened from one cause as another.'”) (quoting Frescoln v. Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Co., 90 Wash. 59, 63, 155 P. 395 (1916)).

CONCLUSION

We affirm the trial court’s judgment in favor of Gene because its conclusion that the result (Bonny’s death) was too attenuated from Gene’s breach of his duty (failure to properly attach his power inflator) is amply supported by the evidence.

Brown, A.C.J., and Kato, J., concur.

Recinsideration denied September 26, 2001.

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