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Last Updated April 24, 2018
Results of this injury during a sailing race are scary. Federal judge unloaded on the defendant when a girl could not figure out to move when the boom shifts. Judge wanted to see safety orientation and warning labels on a personal sailboat!Posted: April 9, 2018
The liability created by this decision will hopefully remain off shore and solely related to sailing and admiralty law; If not, never take someone outdoors again.
When your buddy wants to bring his bartender your boat for a sailing race, don’t let him. Court created liability when it found no safety training or warning labels for a group of people going sailing.
State: South Carolina, United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division
Plaintiff: Raven Renee Ray
Defendant: Steve A. Lesniak
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence
Defendant Defenses: never could figure that out
Holding: for the plaintiff
Either the defendant failed to present a defense or the court ignored it. Either way, this decision creates massive liability on the part of a trip leader in what was once referred to as common adventure activities. A group of people going out to recreate together on the weekend.
It is going to be easier to pull quotes from the decision than to outline the facts in this case. It will also give you a better understanding of the court’s position from the beginning.
At the time of the incident at issue, Ray was a 29-year-old female working two jobs in the food and beverage industry, volunteering at an acupuncture clinic, and simultaneously pursuing advanced degrees in psychology and clinical counseling at The Citadel. Ray had never been on a sailboat before the day of the incident.
Colin Skinner (“Skinner”), who Ray knew as a “regular” customer at the Oak Bar Tavern where she worked. Skinner was a crew member on the Celadon. Skinner has been sailing with Lesniak for “[r]oughly five years.” Lesniak allowed Skinner to invite a guest on the boat.
Lesniak did not give safety instructions to any of the guests, including Ray, who was on the Celadon. He also did not give any written instructions to guests. Furthermore, he did not have a written safety checklist or conduct a safety and operational briefing before the Celadon left the marina. At the time of the incident, there were no safety placards or visual displays on the Celadon stating that there were dangerous places to sit on the boat, such as “around any rope, boom.” Lesniak delegated the giving of safety instructions to two crew members, neither of whom testified during the trial.
Lesniak testified that members of his crew told Ray to move “several times” and that the crew members were aware that she did not move–even after Lesniak had called for the gybe maneuver. For example, Truog was aware that Ray was sitting in front of the main sheet when Lesniak gybed. Truog saw “the boom [come] over, and that [Ray] was pushed down to the side of the boat.”
If Lesniak had waited to gybe or made sure that Ray was in a safe location, Ray would not have been hit by the main sheet.
After Lesniak did the gybe maneuver, Ray was hit by the main sheet, the force of which threw her from her seated position onto the deck of the boat.
The plaintiff said she was OK; the race continued. Later that day and the next week she again said she was OK. However, eventually, she sued.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The defendant, owner of the board, did not put up a good defense. In fact, the way the court restated his positions, it seemed the court thought he was pretty arrogant. The plaintiff hired an expert witness who started out stating the personal sailboat should be labeled like an amusement ride.
There were also no written instructions on the “hull or deck of the boat or bow or the stern, starboard side” that said where to sit, and no one gave written instructions to Ray when she was on the boat. There was also no formal verbal safety briefing.
The plaintiff’s expert further stated that only experts should have been on the boat.
Wahl opined that competitive sailboat racing “requires a large number of experienced crew to adequately handle the fast-paced activities normally observed during this often dangerous and close quarters style of competitive sailing.” Wahl further opined that “[o]nly highly experienced persons should be aboard for these events.” Id. Based on his review of the evidence, Wahl testified that “there appeared to be a lot of people” on the Celadon, and that “safe places . . . were probably a little bit difficult to find.”
Based on the one-sided statement of facts and testimony only from the plaintiff’s expert, the court easily found the defendant liable.
Lesniak had a duty to: (1) properly administer safety briefings to Ray that included where the safe places to sit on the boat were during the race; (2) warn Ray that the gybe maneuver was going to be undertaken; (3) not gybe until Ray was no longer sitting in front of the main sheet; and (4) not hit Ray with the main sheet rope during the gybe maneuver.
The court then piled it on, following basic first-year law school tort classes in explaining why the defendant was liable.
The court further finds that it was completely foreseeable to Lesniak that Ray could be injured by his failure to warn her that a gybe maneuver was going to be undertaken that would involve moving the main sheet that she was sitting directly in front of, and his failure to prevent the main sheet from hitting Ray. Lesniak’s negligence was a proximate cause of Ray’s injuries; but for this breach of duty, Ray’s injuries would not have occurred.
The court then proceeded to find all four required components of negligence were proven. The first was whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty.
It is well-established in general maritime law that a vessel operator has a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of his passengers. Lesniak was the captain, and so was in charge of the vessel at the time of Ray’s injury. As such, he was charged with a duty of care to his passengers. This standard of care owed to a passenger by a vessel operator under maritime law is reasonable care under the circumstances at that particular time in each case. “The extent to which circumstances surrounding maritime travel are different than those encountered in daily life and involve more danger to passengers, will deter-mine how high a degree is reasonable in each case.
However, the court’s findings were just out there. The court found the defendant had a duty to determine if the plaintiff had any prior sailing experience.
In this case, the circumstances surrounding a sailboat participating in a race in the Charleston harbor call for a heightened degree of care. Additionally, before stepping on board the Celadon, Ray had never before been on a sailboat, a fact of which Lesniak was unaware of and failed to inquire about.
Second was whether the defendant had breached that duty to the plaintiff.
The court finds that Lesniak failed to act as a prudent mariner in failing to: (1) provide adequate posted, written, or verbal warnings to Ray regarding the potential dangers of movement and position on the Celadon and how to avoid those dangers; and (2) in failing to make sure that his passengers were in a safe location at all times, especially before performing a gybe maneuver which causes the boom and its related parts to swing quickly from port to starboard or vice versa. The court finds that these acts and omissions constitute a breach of Rule 5 of the Inland Navigation Rules, the common-law lookout duty, and the general duty of due care under Admiralty and South Carolina law.
For causation, the court determined it was the defendant’s job to prove there was no causation. That is not how causation normally works!
The court’s determination that Lesniak breached his duty to keep a proper lookout imposes upon him the burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that his breach of duty did not contribute to the incident. The record here does not support such a showing. Therefore, the court concludes that Lesniak’s negligence caused the main sheet to strike Ray’s head and, therefore, Ray’s resulting injuries.
The judge did find the plaintiff was 25% liable for her injuries under the theory of comparative negligence.
Specifically, Ray failed to pay attention to warnings from multiple crew members to move from her position in front of the main sheet rope. Ray was to blame, in part, for being hit by the main sheet. The court finds that Ray was 25% to blame, and so reduces her damages by 25%.
The court found the following four specific times when the plaintiff was liable.
1. Ray was told to move away from the main sheet by multiple crew members, including Truog and Becker, but did not move.
2. After getting hit by the main sheet, Ray did not ask anyone for medical attention and did not appear to be in need of any medical attention.
3. When Ray got off the Celadon at the conclusion of the race, Lesniak asked her if she was “okay” and she replied that “she was fine.”
4. A few days after the incident, Lesniak contacted Ray to give her the option of going to see Bill Lynch, a crew member on the Celadon during the incident and a doctor, at no cost. Ray declined.
The judge then started looking at damages and found every single medical damage the plaintiff had presented had been proved and gave the plaintiff all the damages she requested including pain and suffering, past and future emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life. Basically, the trifecta of damages.
Those damages totaled:
$958,758.15,6 plus prejudgment interest in the amount of twenty-two thousand, nine-hundred and fifty-two dollars and forty-four cents $22,151.44, and postjudgment interest at the legal rate from the date of this order.
So Now What?
The defendant did not put up a fight, or if he did it was ignored by the court. In fact, the entire decision is a review of the plaintiff’s case and nothing more.
What is scary, is the requirements that a trip leader on a common adventure now has a duty to enquire, duty to educate and a duty to warn.
Sailboats are not going to come with stickers and warning labels.
Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529
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Raven Renee Ray, Plaintiff, v. Steve A. Lesniak, Defendant.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA, CHARLESTON DIVISION
2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28301
February 22, 2018, Decided
February 22, 2018, Filed
CORE TERMS: sheet, boat, brain, crew members, traumatic, pain, sailboat, captain, gybe, admiralty, passenger, maneuver, sailing, vessel, medication, symptoms, present value, guest, experienced, emotional, headaches, safe, hit, suffering, lookout, sit, citation omitted, concussion, sitting, opined
COUNSEL: [*1] For Raven Renee Ray, Plaintiff: Benjamin Catlett Smoot, II, William P Early, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pierce Herns Sloan and McLeod, Charleston, SC; Theodore Augustus Consta Hargrove, II, Pierce Herns Sloan and Wilson LLC, Charleston, SC.
For Steve A Lesniak, Defendant: Joseph R Weston, Stephanie A Phillips, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Weston Law Firm, Mt Pleasant, SC.
JUDGES: DAVID C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OPINION BY: DAVID C. NORTON
Plaintiff Raven Renee Ray (“Ray”) brought this admiralty action against Defendant Steve A. Lesniak (“Lesniak”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h). Ray is suing Lesniak for personal injuries and other damages she sustained as a result of being struck by the main sheet during a sailing race on Lesniak’s boat “the Celadon.”
The court tried this case without a jury on September 18, 2017. Having considered the testimony and the exhibits admitted at trial, as well as the parties’ pre-trial briefs and post-trial proposed findings and conclusions, the court now makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). It finds that Lesniak was negligent in his captaining of the Celadon, that Ray suffered an injury while an invited guest on the Celadon as a result of Lesniak’s negligence, and [*2] that as a result of this injury Ray has a permanent traumatic brain injury. It awards $958,758.15 in damages. This award, in the court’s eyes, gives Ray what she deserves–“just some justice, some recognition and help.” Tr. 135:24.
FINDINGS OF FACT1
1 These findings are based on the preponderance of the evidence presented to the court.
1. At the time of the incident at issue, Ray was a 29-year-old female working two jobs in the food and beverage industry, volunteering at an acupuncture clinic, and simultaneously pursuing advanced degrees in psychology and clinical counseling at The Citadel. Ray had never been on a sailboat before the day of the incident.
2. At the time of the incident, 57-year-old Lesniak was the owner, operator, and captain of the sailboat Celadon on which the incident occurred. Lesniak is an experienced captain, who has 35 years of sailing experience–including 25 years of sailing experience in Charleston. Tr. 205:15-17. He has captained “several hundred, maybe a thousand” sailboat races. Tr. 205:18-20. He has been sailing with some of the crew members that were on the Celadon at the time of the incident for “15, 20 years.” Tr. 205:24-206:7.
3. The sailboat Celadon on which the incident occurred is a fifty-one foot, 1995 Beneteau Oceanis 510 registered in [*3] Charleston County, South Carolina. At the time of the incident, Lesniak had owned and operated the Celadon for approximately fifteen years.
4. Operation of the sailboat during a race requires several crewmembers. Thirteen crewmembers and a number of guests were aboard the sailboat on the day of the incident. Tr. 182:1-183:1.
A. The Accident:
1. The court now turns to the day of the incident, May 21, 2014. Ray was invited to a sailboat race by Colin Skinner (“Skinner”), who Ray knew as a “regular” customer at the Oak Bar Tavern where she worked. Tr. 106:14-20. Skinner was a crew member on the Celadon. Tr. 184:3-6. Skinner has been sailing with Lesniak for “[r]oughly five years.” Tr. 206:20-22. Lesniak allowed Skinner to invite a guest on the boat. Tr. 184:5-6.
2. The other crew members who were on the Celadon during the incident had years of sailing experience, many as crew members with Lesniak. Tr. 206:10-208:4. Of the crew members on the boat at the time of the incident, at least three had medical backgrounds, ranging from Emergency Room nurse to thoracic surgeon. Tr. 206:10-208:9. Lesniak testified that these crew members had previously taken action if anyone suffered an injury on the [*4] boat during sailing races and trips. Tr. 209:21-210:5.
3. Lesniak testified that all of his crew members “[knew] to look after new people.” Tr. 208:18-21.
4. Lesniak authorized crew members to perform tasks during the race, including telling guests when and where to move during the course of the race. Tr. 209:1-20.
5. Ray and Skinner arrived at the Carolina Yacht Club, the marina where the yacht was docked. Tr. 107:7-12. When she got to the boat, there were “many” people on the boat, including crew members and guests. Tr. 108:1-4. Ray testified that she did not know anyone on the boat other than Skinner. Tr. 108:5-6.
6. Before May 21st, 2014, Ray had never been on a sailboat. Tr. 106:21-107:1. She knew nothing about how a sailboat worked. Tr. 107:2-4.
7. Lesniak did not give safety instructions to any of the guests, including Ray, who was on the Celadon. Tr. 184:12-17. He also did not give any written instructions to guests. Tr. 187:2-6. Furthermore, he did not have a written safety checklist or conduct a safety and operational briefing before the Celadon left the marina. Tr. 187:16-21. At the time of the incident, there were no safety placards or visual displays on the Celadon stating [*5] that there were dangerous places to sit on the boat, such as “around any rope, boom.” Tr. 186:20-187:1. Lesniak delegated the giving of safety instructions to two crew members, neither of whom testified during the trial. Tr. 14:16-185:6. Lesniak did not hear what safety talks were given to guests because he was at the helm of the boat. Tr. 185:5-9.
8. Ray was late to the start of the boat race and was given an abbreviated version of the “safety talk” by crew members, which involved an instruction on where not to sit on the boat. Tr. 192:10-18.
9. Upon arriving on the Celadon, Skinner placed Ray at the position where she was sitting when the main sheet hit her. Tr. 264:8-265:19. Ray was seated on the deck of the Celadon, near the main sheet. Ex. 13.
10. The crew was aware of where Ray was sitting. Tr. 204:4-6.
11. Within 5-10 minutes of Ray stepping on board the Celadon, the incident occurred. Tr. 194:2-5.
12. Before she was hit, Ray was given instructions by crew members to “get more neighborly, get closer together.” Tr. 114:2-3. Specifically, crew member Dawn Truog (“Truog”) asked Ray, who was sitting in front of the main sheet, to “move back from the [main] sheet.” Tr. 250:16-25. There [*6] was no evidence presented that Ray knew what a “main sheet” was. Crew member Mary Anne Becker (“Becker”) also testified, stating that she “told [Ray] specifically to move, move up front, move forward” multiple times, because Ray “was going to be brushed by the sheets” when the boat gybed. Tr. 257:6-12. Becker further testified that even after these verbal warnings to move, Ray “didn’t move,” and “the next thing” Becker knew was Ray “down on the gutter” of the boat. Tr. 257:17-20.
13. Lesniak made the decision to gybe, which is the action that caused the main sheet to strike Ray. Tr. 199:16-17. When the captain executes a gybe maneuver, as Lesniak did here, the main sheet moves across the deck of the boat. Tr. 221:14-25.
14. Lesniak testified that members of his crew told Ray to move “several times” and that the crew members were aware that she did not move–even after Lesniak had called for the gybe maneuver. Tr. 213:22-214:5. For example, Truog was aware that Ray was sitting in front of the main sheet when Lesniak gybed. Tr. 254:25-255:3. Truog saw “the boom [come] over, and that [Ray] was pushed down to the side of the boat.” Tr. 251:9-18.
15. If Lesniak had waited to gybe or made sure [*7] that Ray was in a safe location, Ray would not have been hit by the main sheet. Tr. 202:9-13.
16. After Lesniak did the gybe maneuver, Ray was hit by the main sheet, the force of which threw her from her seated position onto the deck of the boat. Tr. 115:14-20. The main sheet carries a significant amount of pressure, “absolutely” enough to cause a serious injury. Tr. 237:6-25. Lesniak saw the main sheet strike Ray. Tr. 198:25-199:6.
17. The court considered the testimony of various crew members who were on the Celadon during the incident. For example, Dr. Bill Lynch testified about the main sheet hitting Ray. Additionally, he testified that he did not give any safety instructions to Ray, and was not aware of any sailing experience that she had. Tr. 247:1-6.
18. Ray was left with an abrasion on her forehead as a result of the main sheet hitting her. Pl.’s Ex. 2.
19. After Ray was injured, Lesniak did not turn the boat around. Tr. 117:5-12. Lesniak continued with the boat race. Tr. 148:10-18.
B. Breach of Safety Protocol:
1. Ray testified about the instructions she was given when she got on the Celadon. Specifically, Ray stated that she was “told where the lines were” and where to sit. Tr. [*8] 109:18-23. She was given these instructions and told where to sit by a crew member, “Peggy.” Tr. 110:6-9. She was not warned that she “might get hit in the head with a boom or a rope or anything like that.” Tr. 110:10-17. There were also no written instructions on the “hull or deck of the boat or bow or the stern, starboard side” that said where to sit, and no one gave written instructions to Ray when she was on the boat. Tr. 110:18-24. There was also no formal verbal safety briefing. Tr. 111:4-7.
2. Ray did not hear, and “wouldn’t have understood” any instructions on whether the boom or main sheet were going to swing during the course of the race. Tr. 115:1-4.
3. The court also credits the testimony of Ray’s expert Captain Ken Wahl (“Wahl”), who the court qualified as a boating expert and marine safety consultant. Tr. 214:20-215:9. Wahl opined that competitive sailboat racing “requires a large number of experienced crew to adequately handle the fast-paced activities normally observed during this often dangerous and close quarters style of competitive sailing.” Ex. 1 at 8. Wahl further opined that “[o]nly highly experienced persons should be aboard for these events.” Id. Based on his [*9] review of the evidence, Wahl testified that “there appeared to be a lot of people” on the Celadon, and that “safe places . . . were probably a little bit difficult to find.” Tr. 220:1-9.
4. Wahl opined that Lesniak, who had captained hundreds of races, became “complacent” by delegating the “safety orientation” for guests to crew members. Tr. 225:9-226:3.
5. Wahl testified that when a boat race begins, “[t]here’s some very dangerous places to be on board the boat . . . [a]nd it’s certainly not a safe place to be right near the main sheet.” Tr. 221:10-13. Accordingly, Ray, who was seated on the deck of the boat near the main sheet, was in a dangerous position. Tr. 222:1-6.
6. Specifically, Wahl opined that “[m]oving isn’t quite enough” “when somebody doesn’t know anything about a sailboat, because they don’t know where to move to.” Tr. 223:23-25. The proper procedure for a crew member to ensure that Ray was moved safely to another area of the boat was for Lesniak or a crew member to physically ensure that she had been moved to a safer place. Tr. 226:14-227:16. Simply telling a novice passenger like Ray who had never been on a sailboat to move was insufficient, and a breach of safety protocol. [*10] Tr. 227:9-21.
7. Wahl further opined that it was in contravention of boat safety protocol for Lesniak to gybe while Ray was sitting next to the main sheet, as gybing the boat necessarily causes a movement of the main sheet. Tr. 223:14-19. Wahl offered suggestions on what safety protocol Lesniak should have followed in that scenario, such as “[d]elay the gybe, get somebody to move that person, tell them where to sit, where the safe spot is.” Tr. 223:16-22. Lesniak did none of these things.
8. When a captain changes the position of the sails, such as the gybe maneuver that Lesniak performed, Wahl testified that the captain “typically” will call out to the crew and let the crew members know that he will be changing the position of the sails. Tr. 238:16-239:4.
C. Comparative Negligence:
1. Ray was told to move away from the main sheet by multiple crew members, including Truog and Becker, but did not move. Tr. 257:17-20.
2. After getting hit by the main sheet, Ray did not ask anyone for medical attention and did not appear to be in need of any medical attention. Tr. 210:6-23.
3. When Ray got off the Celadon at the conclusion of the race, Lesniak asked her if she was “okay” and she replied that [*11] “she was fine.” Tr. 210:24-25.
4. A few days after the incident, Lesniak contacted Ray to give her the option of going to see Bill Lynch, a crew member on the Celadon during the incident and a doctor, at no cost. Tr. 210:1-5. Ray declined. Tr. 210:1-5.
D. Causation of Traumatic Brain Injury:
1. Two days after the incident, Ray went to Nason Medical Center because she was experiencing “extreme body pain.” Tr. 119:17-24. Within seven days of the incident, Ray began experiencing different symptoms–namely, debilitating nausea and headaches. Tr. 120:11-21. Ray was “extremely” confused when she went to the Medical University of South Carolina (“MUSC”) the week after the incident as a result of her new symptoms. Tr. 121:1-6. At MUSC, Ray was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed Ray with a concussion and prescribed medications for a head injury. Tr. 121:7-25.
2. The only medical expert who testified during the trial was Dr. Marshall Allen White (“Dr. White”), a board-certified neurologist.2 Tr. 8:15-16. Dr. White treats patients with traumatic brain injuries as part of his practice on “nearly a daily basis,” and has done so since 1991. Dr. White has testified in the past as to both the diagnoses [*12] and causation of traumatic brain injuries. The court credits Dr. White as an expert in the field of traumatic brain injuries. Tr. 9:21-10:17. Dr. White examined Ray, and reviewed the following medical records: (1) Nason Medical Center; (2) MUSC; (3) Dr. Jeffrey Buncher, a pain management physician in Charleston, South Carolina; (4) physical therapy records; (5) acupuncture records; (6) neuropsychological testing performed by Dr. Randolph Waid; and (7) psychiatric records from Dr. Kurtzman. Tr. 11:1-21. Dr. White testified that, based on his examination of Ray, a review of her medical records, and consulting with peer-reviewed articles, Ray sustained a traumatic brain injury. Tr. 12:5-12. Specifically, Dr. White testified that Ray had the symptoms of a concussion immediately following the incident, in that she was “dazed, confused,” and the morning after the event she felt “that she was not going to be able to wake up,” which Dr. White testified indicated “a level of hypersomnolence, which is typical following a concussion.” Tr. 12:17-13:1. Dr. White further testified that compared to “baseline records” that were “pretty close in proximity” to the incident, he observed that Ray had [*13] “heightened levels of anxiety, trepidation, moodiness, difficulty sleeping after the period of hypersomnolence, difficulty focusing, poor memory, and anxiety levels which were dramatically increased from her baseline levels.” Tr. 13:2-10. All of these symptoms of traumatic brain injury, according to Dr. White, were caused by the head trauma that Ray suffered during the incident. Tr. 13:11-15.
3. According to Dr. White, Ray’s traumatic brain injury is “permanent.” Tr. 13:16-18. All three of these opinions–that Ray had a traumatic brain injury, that the brain injury was permanent, and that the brain injury was the result of the incident on the Celadon–Dr. White testified that he held to a “reasonable degree of medical certainty.” Tr. 13:19-22. Specifically, in his report, Dr. White states that:
It is my opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Ms. Ray experienced traumatic brain injury as a result of her sailing incident, which occurred in 2014. There is ample evidence of headache, nausea, vomiting, and worsening in her neuropsychiatric syndrome and cognitive abilities following the incident . . . It is further my opinion that Ms. Ray would clearly have academic, social [*14] and occupational difficulties throughout every facet of her life.
Pl.’s Ex. 4. Dr. White further testified that when he examined Ray, she was having emotional and concentration issues that he attributed to her “residual [traumatic brain injury] symptomology,” and that this was consistent with a patient with her level of brain injury. Tr. 28:13-23.
4. Dr. White also testified at length about Ray’s post-incident treatment in the week after the incident, based on his review of her medical records. At Nason, Dr. White testified that no diagnostic testing was performed, and instead Nason “basically gave her pain medicine and sent her home.” Tr. 17:9-11. Then, Ray went to the MUSC emergency room, where she was “evaluated and treated” for “neck and back pain.” Tr. 17:14-15. Ray then returned to MUSC with “complaints of pain,” and returned once again within five days of the injury “complaining of headaches” as well as nausea and vomiting. Tr. 17:19-23. These symptoms of headaches, nausea, and vomiting, were, Dr. White testified, symptoms of a concussion. Tr. 18:11-14. Based on his review of Ray’s medical records and after taking her medical history, Dr. White concluded that Ray had “a lot” of [*15] the symptoms of the postconcussive syndrome. Tr. 20:5-9.
5. Lesniak argued at various points during the bench trial that Ray did not immediately experience any symptoms of headaches, nausea, and vomiting while on the Celadon or the next day. However, Dr. White testified that there can be “delayed effects from concussion.” Tr. 35:24. Furthermore, Ray had consumed at least one beer immediately before the incident. Alcohol consumption, Dr. White testified, would impair Ray’s ability to recognize her symptoms. Tr. 36:6-11.
6. Dr. White testified that postconcussive headaches such as the ones that Ray experienced can be developed “within seven days of the concussion itself.” Tr. 18:22-24. Indeed, Dr. White testified on the types of symptoms during the “days and weeks” after a concussion, and stated that there can be “difficulty concentrating, moodiness, hypersomnolence . . . [a]nxiety . . . headaches, nausea, and vomiting.” Tr. 19:1-17.
7. Ray had a CT scan done at MUSC, which had normal results, but Dr. White testified that the normal CT scan did not disturb his opinion that Ray had a traumatic brain injury, as mild traumatic brain injury patients will have “under almost all circumstances [*16] . . . normal imaging.” Tr. 21:18-22:2. Indeed, Dr. White testified that a normal CT scan was “expected” for patients with mild traumatic brain injury. Tr. 22:3-6.
8. The court considered that Ray was not diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or indeed any injury at all, by any emergency room physicians in her visits to Nason or the MUSC ER. But, according to Dr. White, the peer-reviewed literature in the field is clear that mild traumatic brain injuries “can be overlooked,” even by emergency room physicians. Tr. 36:2-5. Furthermore, in none of the medical visits that Ray had in the immediate aftermath of the incident did she have any cognitive testing done that would have detected such cases of traumatic brain injury. Tr. 52:11-60:4.
9. Dr. Kurtzman, a psychiatrist who examined Ray on May 1st before the incident, indicated that Ray was working on her graduate thesis and had no “uncontrolled anxiety or crying spells.” This psychiatric record is closest in proximity to the incident. Tr. 14:13-15:11. Dr. Kurtzman’s psychiatric record further indicates that as of May 1st, Ray was a “student, working doing marketing, volunteering, and doing research–all while supporting herself financially.” [*17] Tr. 15:12-20. In his treatment notes for Ray after the incident, Dr. Kurtzman stated that Ray had “suffered . . . emotionally and physically from an injury sustained from being hit by a sailboat boom . . . I’m concerned about her emotional prognosis and her emotional upset secondary to the accident.” Tr. 23:6-24:4. Dr. Kurtzman also prescribed Ray the medication Adderall, which Dr. White testified is an “amphetamine stimulant” that is “used for patients with [traumatic brain injury] who are having difficulty concentrating.” Tr. 24:5-15. Concentration and attention problems such as those treated with Adderall are consistent with the diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury, Dr. White testified. Tr. 24:16. Dr. White further testified that during his examination and interview with Ray, she stated that she experienced those symptoms for the first time after the date of the incident. Tr. 24:19-22. Ray testified that she had never been prescribed Adderall or psychostimulants before the incident. Tr. 101:14-102:7. At the direction of her doctor, Ray has been taking Adderall in increasing doses since the incident. Tr. 126:22-11.
10. The court acknowledges that prior to the incident, Ray was [*18] on the medication Klonopin to treat anxiety. Tr. 16:2-9. However, Dr. Kurtzman was on a successful program to wean Ray off of Klonopin. Tr. 16:10-16. Ray testified that she was in the process of “taper[ing] off” the anti-anxiety medication. Tr. 102:16-103:4. The court also acknowledges that Ray suffered from general anxiety disorder, which can have symptoms similar to those found in someone with a concussion. Relatedly, the court has considered Ray’s testimony about the circumstances of her unfortunate upbringing, including her time in foster care and her intermittent history with prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Tr. 92:1-99:3. The court credits Dr. White’s opinion–that the temporal relationship between the incident and the onset of symptoms supports a finding that Ray was not suffering from her historical general anxiety disorder, but from the head trauma she received as a result of the incident. Tr. 48:4-20.
11. Ray was seen by Dr. Woodard, a neurologist at MUSC, “several months” after the incident. Dr. Woodard also diagnosed Ray as having postconcussion syndrome, and placed her on gabapentin and nortriptyline. Nortriptyline is used to treat headaches, while [*19] gabapentin is used to treat headaches, mood disturbances, and sleep. Tr. 20:12-21:14.
12. On July 28, 2015, Ray had neuropsychological testing, which discerns whether there are “cognitive or emotional deficits related to injury” performed by Dr. Randolph Waid. Tr. 25:1-14. Specifically, Dr. Waid employed the Conners Continuous Performance Test II to assess Ray’s “attentional abilities.” Tr. 25:14-24. Based on Ray’s pre-incident level of functioning, Dr. Waid felt that Ray’s concentration abilities, which were in the ninth percentile, were low. Tr. 26:2-5. Ray had a “very high GPA” in her college and graduate work before the incident. Tr. 26:11-12. Ray had a 3.7 GPA at the College of Charleston. Tr. 101:5-7. The cause of the decrease in Ray’s attention between college and the day that Dr. Waid performed his neurophysical testing was, in Dr. White’s opinion, the traumatic brain injury that she suffered as a result of the incident. Tr. 26:15-18.
13. Ray also saw Dr. Jeffrey Buncher for injuries related to the incident. Ray had pain management issues before the incident, specifically with chronic neck and back pain. Ex. 8. But Ray’s pain problems with her sacrum were, in Dr. White’s opinion, [*20] “exacerbated” by the incident. Tr. 27:1-21.
14. Dr. White offered a future treatment plan to treat Ray’s permanent condition and opined that “there are a number of interventions that ought to be taken in her care that are currently not being taken” and that Ray was not receiving treatment from any doctors who treated traumatic brain injuries. Tr. 30:1-32:2. Dr. White also testified about the cash prices of the drugs necessary for the future treatment plan. Tr. 32:14-33:15.
15. The court also considered the testimony of Chad Houfek (“Houfek”), an acupuncturist and the owner of Charleston Community Acupuncture. Tr. 81:11-23. Houfek knew Ray as a patient as well as a volunteer at Charleston Community Acupuncture. Tr. 82:2. In her capacity as a volunteer, Ray worked answering phones, scheduling appointments, and also helped with bookkeeping. Tr. 82:11-83:8. Houfek testified about how Ray was different after the incident, from a treatment perspective, explaining that she came in for acupuncture a week after the incident, and that “she had a big mark on her temple, and she was very upset, she was crying and very scared, didn’t really know what to do, and she had a lot of neck pain.” Tr. 83:9-19. [*21] When Ray had her acupuncture appointment on May 28th, approximately one week after the incident, Houfek recorded in his session notes that Ray was “postconcussion,” and that what she was experiencing included sensitivity to stimulus and headaches. Tr. 84:9-18. After the incident, Houfek continued to treat Ray, and stated that he was treating her mostly for neck pain and lower back pain, as well as insomnia, and “extreme emotional.” Tr. 87:4-9.
16. Houfek also testified about the changes in Ray as a volunteer after the incident. Before the incident, Houfek described Ray as “awesome,” as an employee who was “very friendly,” who “always showed up on time,” and “took initiative.” Tr. 85:7-15. But after the incident, Houfek testified that Ray was “always late,” “very very scattered,” and that “communicating with her was difficult.” Tr. 85:17-25. Houfek further testified that he had not experienced any of those problems with Ray before the incident. Tr. 86:2-4.
17. The court has considered the reports and treatments notes of the doctors, including pain management specialists and neurologists, that Ray has seen since the incident. Ex. 10. In conjunction with Dr. White’s testimony, these medical [*22] documents support the conclusion that Ray suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the injury she suffered on the Celadon.
18. Prior to the incident, Ray testified that “[l]ife was great,” and that she “was excited for finishing” her master’s thesis at the Citadel and continuing on for her Ph.D. Tr. 103:18-25. In addition to being in the master’s program at the Citadel, Ray was also working at the restaurant Oak Barrel four nights a week, Tr. 104:19-24, in the tasting room at the restaurant Freehouse two nights a week, Tr. 104:15-105:1. She was also volunteering with Charleston Community Acupuncture and doing research. Tr. 105:17-24. She testified that despite this busy schedule she never had any problems with attention before the incident. Tr. 106:1-11.
19. Since the incident, Ray has had suicidal ideations. Tr. 124:22-125:9. She has also been suffering from giggling issues and other inappropriate responses to stimuli, which never occurred before the incident. Tr. 127:19-25. As a result of these issues, as well as the problems in concentration and attention, her professors at the Citadel have expressed “legitimate concerns” about her ability to complete the graduate program. [*23] Tr. 127:19-25; 132:1-9. Furthermore, since the incident Ray has lost her jobs at the Oak Barrel and the Freehouse. Tr. 128:16-19. Ray attributes both of these job losses to the incident. For example, as a result of the injuries she sustained, Ray has had to ask her customers and friends to come and help her while she was at the bar. Tr. 129:1-10. Additionally, when there were stimuli such as music or “certain sounds,” Ray would run out of the bar and “leave the entire bar empty, and cry in the alley.” Tr. 129:4-11. Before the incident, Ray did not have these problems at work.
20. Since the incident, Ray has had physical and psychological problems. Physically, she has had trouble sleeping, has “nerve pain down the back of her leg,” and tension headaches. Tr. 130:13-131:21. She now also has communication issues, which have affected her interpersonal, professional, and educational goals. Tr. 136:21-137:13.
21. The court considered the medical bills that Ray has incurred, between the date of the incident and present. Pl.’s Ex. 10. Ray does not have health insurance. Tr. 123:4-7. The total medical bills for her injury totaled $20, 480.70. Pl.’s Ex. 10. By the time of trial, Ray had incurred [*24] the following expenses to treat her injuries:
|a.||Nason Medical Center||$127.00|
|g.||Charleston Community Acunpuncture||$3,130.00|
2 Lesniak objects to allowing Dr. White to testify on the subject of future treatment. However, Ray disclosed Dr. White as one of her treating physicians and produced Dr. White’s medical evaluation of Ray, wherein Dr. White opined that Ray had sustained a permanent traumatic brain injury. The court is convinced that Dr. White’s written report and opinion of Ray’s permanent injury gave Lesniak adequate notice that Ray would need continued medical evaluation and treatment for her condition for the rest of her life. Ray disclosed Dr. White as an expert in neurological medicine and pain management in compliance with all relevant expert disclosure requirements and deadlines. Lesniak made the decision to decline to take Dr. White’s deposition, offer his own medical expert disputing the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury or offer an alternative future treatment plan, or to request any additional information from Dr. White regarding his evaluation of Ray. At the very least, Lesniak was on notice that as a result of the incident, Ray had already spent a significant amount of money on medical treatment including $2,255.70 on medication alone. Certainly, Ray’s medical bills were turned over during discovery. Therefore, the court overrules Lesniak’s objection.
III. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Based on the testimony of all of Lesniak’s crew members and all experts, including Ray’s expert Captain Wahl, Lesniak was negligent in doing a gybe maneuver when he and his crew members knew or should have known that Ray was sitting in front of the main sheet which is a dangerous place to sit. Prior to undertaking the gybe maneuver during the sailboat race, Lesniak had a duty to: (1) properly administer safety briefings to Ray that included where the safe places to sit on the boat were during the race; (2) warn Ray that the gybe maneuver was going to be undertaken; (3) not gybe until Ray was no longer sitting in front of the main sheet; and (4) not hit Ray with the main sheet rope during the gybe maneuver. A failure to follow safety precautions, including telling Ray where to move and delaying the gybe maneuver until Ray had moved to a safe place, was [*25] a breach of Lesniak’s duty to Ray. The court further finds that it was completely foreseeable to Lesniak that Ray could be injured by his failure to warn her that a gybe maneuver was going to be undertaken that would involve moving the main sheet that she was sitting directly in front of, and his failure to prevent the main sheet from hitting Ray. Lesniak’s negligence was a proximate cause of Ray’s injuries; but for this breach of duty, Ray’s injuries would not have occurred.
However, Lesniak has presented sufficient evidence to support the allegation in his Answer that Ray was comparatively negligent. Specifically, Ray failed to pay attention to warnings from multiple crew members to move from her position in front of the main sheet rope. Ray was to blame, in part, for being hit by the main sheet. The court finds that Ray was 25% to blame, and so reduces her damages by 25%.
As a direct result of Lesniak’s failure to exercise the proper degree of skill required, Ray sustained injuries and damages, as discussed below. In making the above findings of fact, reference has been made to pertinent portions of the testimony and exhibits introduced into evidence; however, the court has taken [*26] into consideration all of the evidence presented. The court specifically finds the evidence, after considering the appearance, demeanor and qualifications of the witnesses and the testimony as a whole, supports each of its findings by a preponderance of the evidence.
A. Jurisdiction and Applicable Law
Federal admiralty jurisdiction exists where, as here, conditions of both (1) location and (2) a connection with maritime activity are satisfied. Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534, 115 S. Ct. 1043, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1024, (1995). Admiralty jurisdiction extends to injuries involving recreational vessels such as the Celadon. See Oliver by Oliver v. Hardesty, 745 F.2d 317, 320 (4th Cir. 1984) (admiralty jurisdiction exists over a case involving a collision between a swimmer and a pleasure boat because the claim was based on an allegation of negligent navigation of the boat). The portion of the Charleston Harbor where the incident occurred constitutes navigable waters of the United States, and being struck by the main sheet of a racing sailboat has a connection to maritime activity. Accordingly, the court has subject matter jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333. See Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 364-65, 110 S. Ct. 2892, 111 L. Ed. 2d 292 (1990).
Cases involving a tort committed on navigable waters are governed by federal admiralty law. Byrd v. Byrd, 657 F.2d 615, 617 (4th Cir. 1981) (citation omitted). However, if there is no admiralty rule for a particular [*27] issue, the court looks to state law to supply the rule of decision. Id. “This rule is especially true in negligence causes of action,” which is the cause of action that Ray asserts. Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438, 447 (D.S.C. 1994) (citation omitted). Therefore, to the extent admiralty law is not directly on point, ordinary negligence law applies.
B. Lesniak’s Liability
To establish her claim, Ray must prove that Lesniak’s negligent operation of the Celadon harmed her. The elements of negligence are duty, a breach of that duty, proximate cause, and resulting injury. Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 447 (internal citations omitted).
It is well-established in general maritime law that a vessel operator has a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of his passengers. See Bubla v. Bradshaw, 795 F.2d 349, 353 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 630, 79 S. Ct. 406, 3 L. Ed. 2d 550 (1959)). Lesniak was the captain, and so was in charge of the vessel at the time of Ray’s injury. As such, he was charged with a duty of care to his passengers. This standard of care owed to a passenger by a vessel operator under maritime law is reasonable care under the circumstances at that particular time in each case. Id. “The extent to which circumstances surrounding maritime travel are different than those encountered in daily life and involve more danger to passengers, will determine [*28] how high a degree is reasonable in each case.” Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 867 F.2d 1318, 1322 (11th Cir. 1989) (quoting Rainey v. Paquet Cruises, Inc., 709 F.2d 169, 172 (2nd Cir. 1983)). In this case, the circumstances surrounding a sailboat participating in a race in the Charleston harbor call for a heightened degree of care. Additionally, before stepping on board the Celadon, Ray had never before been on a sailboat, a fact of which Lesniak was unaware of and failed to inquire about.
A vessel operator also “has a duty to maintain a proper lookout by sight and by hearing” while the boat is travelling through navigable waters. Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 447. “This duty stems from general concepts of prudent seamanship as well as from the [regulations] governing the navigation of vessels.” Id. As a matter of prudent seamanship, “the performance of lookout duty is an inexorable requirement of prudent navigation.” Anthony v. Int’l Paper Co., 289 F.2d 574, 580 (4th Cir. 1961). Rule 5 of the Inland Navigation Rules states that “[e]very vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.” 33 C.F.R. § 83.05. Rule 5 perpetuates the common-law duty discussed in Anthony. Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 448 (citation omitted). It imposes a duty of proper lookout upon the operator of a pleasure [*29] craft such as the Celadon. See Todd v. Schneider, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25192, 2003 WL 23514560, at *11 (D.S.C. Dec. 8, 2003). Importantly, “[w]hoever is keeping a lookout must be able to give proper attention to that task and should not . . . undertake duties that would interfere with this function.” Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 448 (citation omitted).
“The duty to maintain a proper look-out, whether regulatory or customary, varies with the circumstances of each situation. When circumstances demand unusual care in navigation, such care should be used.” Id. at 449-50 (internal citations omitted). That higher level of care was required here, as Ray was an invited guest aboard a sailboat involved in a race in the Charleston harbor.
Lesniak was the owner, captain, and operator of the sailboat and was in control of its operation at all times. Ray was Lesniak’s passenger and guest. Although Lesniak designated his crewmembers to administer safety instructions to the passengers, as captain, Lesniak was ultimately responsible for the safety of the crewmembers and guests. Thus, Lesniak owed Ray a duty to maintain a proper lookout at all times during the Celadon’s outing.
Ray offered the testimony of Captain Wahl as her liability expert with regard to safe vessel operation. Captain Wahl has extensive knowledge about the safe [*30] operation of vessels. He obtained this knowledge from his many years of personally operating vessels, obtaining credentials, holding an array of maritime positions, authoring several books, and teaching well over 18,000 students in the subject. The court finds the testimony of Captain Wahl to be credible. Lesniak offered no liability expert at trial.
Captain Wahl testified that as the captain of the Celadon at the time of the incident, good seamanship practices required Lesniak to have the ultimate responsibility to look out for persons aboard his vessel–even if he delegated some of those responsibilities to crew members. Wahl testified that this ultimate responsibility includes providing adequate instructions, warnings, guidance, or lessons to all passengers, including late arriving ones, regarding the potential dangers of movement and position on his vessel and how to avoid those dangers. He also testified that looking out for passengers aboard a vessel includes refraining from performing a gybe maneuver until ensuring that all of the passengers are seated safely out of the path of the boom and its related parts such as the main sheet. Captain Wahl further testified that, even if [*31] a passenger is told verbally to move from a certain spot before a maneuver is performed, it would be a best practice to physically ensure that the person, especially if that person is a novice passenger with no sailing experience, has been moved to a safer place on the sailboat before proceeding to perform the maneuver. It is also Captain Wahl’s opinion that only highly experienced persons should be aboard for racing events, because inexperienced persons may not be able to handle the fast-paced activities normally observed during competitive sailing.
The court finds that Lesniak failed to act as a prudent mariner in failing to: (1) provide adequate posted, written, or verbal warnings to Ray regarding the potential dangers of movement and position on the Celadon and how to avoid those dangers; and (2) in failing to make sure that his passengers were in a safe location at all times, especially before performing a gybe maneuver which causes the boom and its related parts to swing quickly from port to starboard or vice versa. The court finds that these acts and omissions constitute a breach of Rule 5 of the Inland Navigation Rules, the common-law lookout duty, and the general duty of due care [*32] under Admiralty and South Carolina law.
General tort principles require a plaintiff asserting a negligence claim to show that the defendant’s breach of duty proximately caused her injuries. Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 451. However, a finding that the defendant breached his duty to maintain a proper lookout imposes upon him the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that such failure did not contribute to the accident. Id. This burden shift occurs regardless of whether the breach is viewed as a violation of Rule 5 or as breach of the common-law lookout duty. Id.
The court’s determination that Lesniak breached his duty to keep a proper lookout imposes upon him the burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that his breach of duty did not contribute to the incident. The record here does not support such a showing. Therefore, the court concludes that Lesniak’s negligence caused the main sheet to strike Ray’s head and, therefore, Ray’s resulting injuries.
d. Comparative Negligence
Since jurisdiction is premised upon admiralty, federal common law governs. As such, the doctrine of comparative negligence applies. See, e.g., Mullenix v. United States, 984 F.2d 101, 104 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing United States v. Reliable Transfer Co., 421 U.S. 397, 407, 411, 95 S. Ct. 1708, 44 L. Ed. 2d 251, (1975)). Thus, in the context of an admiralty case, damages should “[b]e allocated [*33] among the parties proportionately to the comparative degree of their fault.” Reliable Transfer Co., Inc. 421 U.S. at 411, 95 S.Ct. 1708.
The court finds that Ray’s recovery should be reduced because Ray shares in the fault attributable as a result of the incident. Lesniak is required to prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and injury as to Ray’s alleged negligence. Schumacher, 850 F. Supp. at 452 (citing Wilson v. Marshall, 260 S.C. 271, 195 S.E.2d 610, 612 (S.C. 1973)). Namely, an individual has a “duty to exercise due care for one’s own safety.” Id. The court finds that Ray’s conduct contributed to her injuries, and reduces her damages by 25%.
The court finds that Ray was instructed by multiple crew members on multiple occasions on safety protocol, including where to sit. Ray admits that she was aware of potential dangers on the Celadon, and that she was told to “get closer together” and to “get more neighborly” in the moments immediately before the main sheet hit her. Lesniak and all four members of his crew who testified at trial indicated that there was a safety protocol, that Becker, an individual with sixty plus years of sailing experience, and her fellow crew member Truog, were delegated the duty of administering safety instructions and watching out for new, inexperienced passengers. Becker and Truog testified at trial [*34] that these were duties bestowed by their captain, Lesniak, and that they had a present-day recollection of communicating with Ray directly. The court further finds that Ray did not follow the instructions to move. Thus, Ray failed to take responsibility for herself, a duty which is imposed under the law. However, the court considers Ray’s inaction against the backdrop of Captain Wahl’s testimony that Ray as a novice passenger would not know what the safe places were on the boat without being physically guided to those places.
Substantive admiralty law governs all cases brought under federal admiralty jurisdiction; however, it does not automatically displace state law. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 116 S. Ct. 619, 133 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1996). If there is no admiralty law on point, the court may look to the laws enacted by the state legislature or declared to be law by the state’s highest courts. Byrd v. Byrd, 657 F.2d 615, 617 (4th Cir. 1981). Accordingly, the court may look to the law of the State of South Carolina in regard to the award of damages arising out of a negligence cause of action in admiralty. Id.
In a personal injury case such as this, the elements of damages potentially recoverable “include past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, past and future loss [*35] of income and earning power, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of family services.” Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 453 (citing Watson v. Wilkinson Trucking Co., 244 S.C. 217, 136 S.E.2d 286, 291 (S.C. 1964)). Mathematical precision in ascertaining damages is not required. Brooks v. United States, 273 F.Supp. 619, 629 (D.S.C. 1967). Instead, the injured party must be awarded damages sufficiently proportionate to the injuries sustained. Drennan v. Southern Railway, 91 S.C. 507, 75 S.E. 45 (S.C. 1912).
The evidence in this case reveals Ray has suffered and will suffer such past and future damages, and she is entitled to recover for all of them.
a. Past Medical Expenses
Ray seeks to recover certain expenses for her prior medical care. At trial, she submitted a medical bill summary totaling $20,480.70 in prior care. Those expenses are recoverable, as they consist of services such as emergency medical treatment, imaging, physical therapy, psychiatric treatment, and pain management. Those expenses resulted from Lesniak’s negligence and were reasonably necessary. See Sossamon v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 243 S.C. 552, 135 S.E.2d 87, 91 (S.C. 1964). Moreover, the court is satisfied that the invoiced amounts are reasonable. See Haselden v. Davis, 353 S.C. 481, 579 S.E.2d 293, 295 (S.C. 2003) (citation omitted). Therefore, the court awards Ray $20,480.70 in past medical expenses.
b. Future Medical Expenses
Ray seeks damages to cover her anticipated future medical expenses. “[R]ecovery of damages based on future consequences of an injury may be had only if [*36] such consequences are reasonably probable or reasonably certain.” Lohrmann v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 782 F.2d 1156, 1160 (4th Cir. 1986). “Reasonably certain” is “a consequence ‘which follows the original act complained of in the usual, ordinary, and experienced course of events.'” Rabb v. Orkin Exterminating Co., 677 F.Supp. 424, 426 (D.S.C. 1987) (quoting Ford v. AAA Highway Express, Inc., 204 S.C. 433, 29 S.E.2d 760, 762 (S.C. 1944)). In other words, damages can be recovered only if there is “[a] greater than 50% chance that a future consequence will occur.” Lohrmann, 782 F.2d at 1160.
Dr. White, the only medical expert offered in this case, testified at trial that Ray’s condition is permanent and will require ongoing future treatment and medication. The court concludes that Ray has established a reasonable certainty that her condition is permanent and will require ongoing future treatment, including seeing a psychiatrist and a neurologist quarterly, and medication, potentially including anti-inflammatories (anti-inflammatory patch), amphetamines or an amphetamine substitute (Nuvigil), a benzodiazepine (Klonopin), a sedative-hypnotic (Belsomra), an anxiolytic (Buspar), and a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (Cymbalta). Dr. White testified that Nuvigil costs approximately $800.00 per month, Cymbalta costs approximately $200.00-300.00 per month, and Belsomra costs approximately $400.00-500.00 per month.
Ray’s birthday [*37] is May 8, 1985. At the time of the incident she was 29 years old. Thus, at the time of the incident, Ray had a life expectancy of 52.53 years, or 630.36 months, under S.C. Code Ann. § 19-1-150.
Adjusted for present value,3 the future medications, frequency, current cost, duration, and present value are as follows:
|Medication||Frequency||Current Cost||Duration||Present Value|
3 Lesniak contends that Ray needs an expert economist on the issue of present value of future damages and needed to present evidence at trial on the calculation of present value discounts. However, he cites no caselaw–and the court is aware of none–that there is a requirement of obtaining expert testimony on the issue of present value of future damages. The court can find no clear requirement in relevant federal case law that plaintiff must present expert evidence of the present value of her claim for future damages. The court draws guidance from the Western District of North Carolina’s recent opinion in Talley v. City of Charlotte, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17604, 2016 WL 1212369, at *2 (W.D.N.C. Feb. 12, 2016), appeal dismissed (Aug. 31, 2016), which observed:
[t]he courts are split on whether it is necessary to introduce expert testimony to explain the concept of discounting an award to present value or to supply suggested discount and inflation rates and/or mathematical calculations. While some courts have permitted, for example, a local banker to testify as to the fair return on a safe investment, or a mathematician an actuary, or an accountant to testify concerning the procedure by which the reduction to present value should be calculated, other courts have held that expert testimony is permitted but not required, and that the jury should generally be left to its own discretion as to what discount factors should be used.
Here, the court calculated the present value discounts employing a discount rate of five percent to damages for future medical care. See Faust v. S.C. State Highway Dep’t, 527 F. Supp. 1021, 1036 (D.S.C. 1981), rev’d on other grounds, 721 F.2d 934 (4th Cir. 1983) (“I find that he is entitled to be properly compensated for his pain, suffering, damages and permanent partial disability, before and after trial, and taking into consideration future pain and suffering and discomfort, and reducing that amount to its present cash value by use of a discount rate of five (5%) percent, which this court feels is reasonable and fair.”).
Future [*38] medication costs are increased at an expected inflation rate for prescription drugs of 3.61 percent, compounded annually.4 The present value of the total future medications that Dr. White opined were reasonable and necessary for Ray’s treatment ranges in cost from $578,100 (using the low figures of the cost of medicine needed) to $660,689 (using the high figures of the cost of medicine needed).5 The court awards the average of the cost of medicine needed, and so awards $619,394.50 for future medical expenses associated with her injuries resulting from the May 21, 2014, incident.
4 This rate is based on inflation rates as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the period 1992-2016.
5 All future medication costs are discounted to present value at a rate of 5 percent, compounded annually. This is a rate that an ordinary person with average financial knowledge, with access to commonly available investment outlets, and facing the full range of financial risks might be expected to earn over a long period of time.
d. Pain and Suffering
Ray’s pain and suffering because of this incident is well documented through her deposition and trial testimony as well as her medical records. She endured months of frequent headaches, nausea, muscle pain, and back pain as a result of her physical injuries. Raven Ray seeks $75,000.00 for past and future pain and suffering. Based on the entire record, the court concludes that $50,000.00 is the appropriate amount of compensation for both past and future pain and suffering. See Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 453.
e. Past and Future Emotional Distress
Injured plaintiffs are entitled to recover for mental anguish and permanent emotional [*39] scarring. Steeves v. United States, 294 F. Supp. 446, 458 (D.S.C. 1968). Ray’s severe psychological and emotional injuries because of this incident are well-documented by Houfek. Testimony from Ray and Houfek, in addition to Dr. Kurtzman’s and Dr. Waid’s records, show the extent and severity of Ray’s psychological and emotional injuries proximately caused by Lesniak’s negligence. After a careful review of the entire record, the court finds $75,000.00 for her psychological and emotional injuries reasonable. Therefore, it awards judgment against Lesniak in the amount of $75,000.00 for Ray’s past and future psychological and emotional injuries.
f. Loss of Enjoyment of Life and Permanent Impairment
Next, Ray seeks $100,000.00 as compensation for losing her ability to enjoy the athletic and recreational activities in which she used to participate, as well as her loss of enjoyment of other normal activities of life. Based on the entire record, the court concludes that $100,000.00 is the appropriate amount of compensation for this loss.
Additionally, Ray is permanently impaired due to this traumatic brain injury and must be compensated for her permanent impairment. Ray’s birthday is May 8, 1985. At the time of the incident, she was 29 years old. Thus, [*40] at the time of the incident, Ray had a life expectancy of 52.53 years, or 19,173.45 days, under S.C. Code Ann. § 19-1-150. Finding a valuation of a traumatic brain injury at $20.00 per day to be reasonable, the court awards Ray $383,469.00 for her impairment. In sum, the Court awards Raven Ray $483,469.00 for her loss of enjoyment of life and permanent impairment.
g. Lost Wages/Inconvenience and Disruption of Normal Daily Life
At the time of the incident, Ray was working in the food and beverage industry and attending The Citadel to obtain a graduate degree. Because of her injuries resulting from Lesniak’s negligence, Ray was forced to miss work and experienced difficulty in completing her graduate coursework at The Citadel. The court finds $30,000.00 to be appropriate compensation for Ray’s lost wages and difficulties experienced in completing her graduate coursework at The Citadel. See Schumacher, 850 F.Supp. at 453.
D. Prejudgment Interest
Ray asks the court to add prejudgment interest to her damages. In maritime injury cases, “the awarding of prejudgment interest is the rule rather than the exception, and, in practice, is well-nigh automatic.” U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. Allied Towing Corp., 966 F.2d 820, 828 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The court may decline to award prejudgment interest when it finds that “peculiar [*41] circumstances” would make such relief inequitable. Id. This is an action instituted under the court’s admiralty jurisdiction and no peculiar or exceptional circumstances existed that would prevent Ray from recovering pre-judgment interest. This court, in its discretion, finds no such peculiar circumstances here and finds that Ray is entitled to pre-judgment interest in the amount of $22,952.44 from the date of the accident until the date of this order.
Based on the foregoing, it is ORDERED that judgment be entered for Ray against Lesniak in the sum of nine-hundred and fifty-eight, and seven-hundred and fifty-eight dollars and fifteen cents $958,758.15,6 plus prejudgment interest in the amount of twenty-two thousand, nine-hundred and fifty-two dollars and forty-four cents $22,151.44, and postjudgment interest at the legal rate from the date of this order.
6 The tabulation of damages is $1,278,344.20 before the application of a 25% reduction in proportion to Ray’s comparative negligence. After applying the 25% reduction, the total damages award is $958, 758.15.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ David C. Norton
DAVID C. NORTON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
February 22, 2018
Charleston, South Carolina
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.Posted: October 23, 2017
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.
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
Defendant Defenses: Open and Obvious and Recreational Use Statute
Holding: for the Defendant
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.
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.
Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529
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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)
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
[*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.
Facts and Travel
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.”
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 * * *.”
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.
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.
Judgment as a Matter of Law
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)).
[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.
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.