DeLamar v. Fort Worth Mt. Biker’s Ass’n, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 466

DeLamar v. Fort Worth Mt. Biker’s Ass’n, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 466

Norman Delamar, Appellant

v.

Fort Worth Mountain Biker’s Association, Appellee

No. 02-17-00404-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

January 24, 2019

On Appeal from the 348th District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 348-283758-16

Before Sudderth, C.J.; Gabriel and Pittman, JJ.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Bonnie Sudderth, Chief Justice.

I. Introduction

Appellant Norman DeLamar filed the underlying lawsuit against Appellee Fort Worth Mountain Biker’s Association (the Association) to recover for injuries he sustained when he was knocked off of his mountain bike after he struck a downed tree across a mountain bike trail at Gateway Park (Gateway). Norman claimed that the Association was negligent in failing to properly maintain a safe mountain bike trail as purportedly required by its contractual agreement with the City of Fort Worth (City). The trial court granted summary judgment on Norman’s claims against the Association. We will affirm.

II. Background

On July 12, 2014, Norman was riding his mountain bike on a trail in Gateway, a park owned by the City, when he came upon a downed tree resting across the trail at head level. Although known to be a “really good rider,” Norman asserts that because he did not have time to stop or avoid the tree, the tree “clotheslined” his head and neck and knocked him off of his bicycle, causing him injuries.

Norman sued the City, asserting claims of general negligence and gross negligence. In a single pleading, the City filed an answer and identified the Association as a responsible third party because of an “Adopt-A-Park Agreement” (Contract) that made the Association “responsible for constructing and maintaining the bike trail in question.” Norman then amended his petition and added the Association as a defendant in the suit.[1] Norman asserted that through the Contract, the Association agreed to “assume responsibility for maintenance, construction and safety of the trails,” and as such owed “a duty to protect the general public from dangerous conditions such as falling trees.” Norman claimed that the Association had breached this alleged duty by

• failing to make any effort to ensure that the trees alongside of the bicycle trail were not a danger to cyclists;

• failing to implement any sort of safety procedure with respect to the danger of falling trees in high bicycle (and pedestrian) traffic areas;

• failing to maintain the trails to prevent dangerous conditions from occurring despite knowing the dangers associated with cycling;

• failing to provide cyclists with adequate safeguards, or any safeguards at all, to prevent dangerous conditions from occurring; and

• consciously disregarding the heath of the trees and the danger that they pose.

The Contract provides that the Association “shall perform all work and services hereunder as an independent contractor . . . . [and] shall have exclusive control of, and the exclusive right to control the details of the work performed hereunder[.]” The Contract specifically provides that the Association “shall, at its sole cost and expense, construct and maintain the Trails in accordance with [the] Agreement,” and it defines “trail maintenance” as including, but not limited to, “repairing, replacing, and rebuilding trails or sections of trails that are eroding or in disrepair; pruning of trees; [and] removal of brush[.]” However, the Contract prohibits the Association from “trimming and pruning, until written approval is obtained from the Director [of the Parks and Community Services Department],” and from “remov[ing] any tree without prior written permission from the City Forester.” [Emphasis added.] Finally, the Contract expressly reserves the City’s right to control and access all portions of Gateway: “The City does not relinquish the right to control the management of the Parks, or the right to enforce all necessary and proper rules for the management and operation of the same. The City . . . has the right at any time to enter any portion of the Parks[.]”

The Association answered and then filed a no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the Association asserted that there was no evidence that

• the Association was negligent as it owed Norman no duty with respect to the condition of the premises; or

• the Association owed a duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition, inspect the premise to discover any defects, or to make safe any defect or give an adequate warning of any dangers.

Although the Association clearly challenged the existence of any legal duty it owed to Norman, the Association’s motion primarily argued that Norman’s claim sounded in premises liability rather than general negligence and that he could not artfully plead a general negligence claim when his injuries were caused by a premises defect. Norman filed a response and attached, inter alia, a short affidavit and an expert report from an arborist, Matthew Clemons. In his response, Norman appeared to adopt the Association’s characterization of his claim as one for premises liability and in doing so focused on his status, arguing that he was an invitee. Indeed, Norman’s “Conclusion” sought denial of the summary judgment motions because there was “more than enough credible evidence to find that the [Association] is liable under a premises liability theory for this incident[.]” [Emphasis added.] The Association filed a reply and objected to the expert report from Clemons as inadmissible hearsay.

Following the hearing on the Association’s no evidence and traditional motions for summary judgment, the trial court requested letter briefs and took the matter under advisement. In his letter brief, Norman altered his prior position and for the first time asserted that the Association’s summary judgment theory was flawed because his suit against the Association was based on a general negligence theory, not a premises liability theory. The trial court signed an order sustaining the Association’s objections to Clemons’s expert report and a separate order granting the Association’s no evidence and traditional motions for summary judgment.

On appeal, Norman contends the trial court erred by construing his claim as one for premises liability rather than general negligence and abused its discretion by sustaining the Association’s hearsay objection to Clemons’s report.

III. Norman’s Negligence Claim

A. Standard of Review

The movant for traditional summary judgment has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c); Nixon v. Mr. Prop. Mgmt. Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548 (Tex. 1985). A defendant who conclusively negates at least one essential element of the nonmovant’s cause of action is entitled to summary judgment as to that cause of action. Randall’s Food Mkts., Inc. v. Johnson, 891 S.W.2d 640, 644 (Tex. 1995). Once the movant has established a right to summary judgment, the nonmovant has the burden to respond to the motion and present to the trial court any issues that would preclude summary judgment. City of Houston v. Clear Creek Basin Auth., 589 S.W.2d 671, 678-79 (Tex. 1979). The only question is whether an issue of material fact is presented. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c).

After an adequate time for discovery, a party without the burden of proof at trial may move for summary judgment on the ground that there is no evidence of one or more essential elements of a claim or defense. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(i). Once a no evidence motion has been filed in accordance with Rule 166a(i), the burden shifts to the nonmovant to bring forth evidence that raises a fact issue on the challenged evidence. See Macias v. Fiesta Mart, Inc., 988 S.W.2d 316, 317 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1999, no pet.). We review a no evidence motion for summary judgment under the same legal sufficiency standards as a directed verdict. King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 750-51 (Tex. 2003). A no evidence motion is properly granted if the nonmovant fails to bring forth more than a scintilla of probative evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to an essential element of the nonmovant’s claim on which the nonmovant would have the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 751. If the evidence supporting a finding rises to a level that would enable reasonable, fair-minded persons to differ in their conclusions, then more than a scintilla of evidence exists. Id. A mere scintilla of evidence exists when the evidence is so weak as to do no more than create a mere surmise or suspicion of a fact, and the legal effect is that there is no evidence. See id.

When reviewing traditional and no evidence summary judgments, we perform a de novo review of the entire record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, indulging every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts against the motion. See Sudan v. Sudan, 199 S.W.3d 291, 292 (Tex. 2006); KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison Cty. Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex. 1999). We are not required to ascertain the credibility of affiants or to determine the weight of evidence in the affidavits, depositions, exhibits and other summary judgment proof. See Gulbenkian v. Penn, 252 S.W.2d 929, 932 (Tex. 1952); Palestine Herald-Press Co. v. Zimmer, 257 S.W.3d 504, 508 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2008, pet. denied).

All grounds in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment must be presented in writing to the trial court. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c). “When a trial court’s order granting summary judgment does not specify the ground or grounds relied on for the ruling, summary judgment will be affirmed on appeal if any of the theories advanced are meritorious.” State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. S.S., 858 S.W.2d 374, 380 (Tex. 1993).

When a party moves for both a traditional and a no evidence summary judgment, we generally first review the trial court’s summary judgment under the no evidence standard of Rule 166a(i). See Ford Motor Co. v. Ridgway, 135 S.W.3d 598, 600 (Tex. 2004). If the no evidence summary judgment was properly granted, we need not reach arguments under the traditional motion for summary judgment. See id.

B. General Negligence vs. Premises Liability Theories of Recovery

Although premises liability is a form of negligence, “[n]egligence and premises liability claims . . . are separate and distinct theories of recovery, requiring plaintiffs to prove different, albeit similar, elements to secure judgment in their favor.” United Scaffolding, Inc. v. Levine, 537 S.W.3d 463, 471 (Tex. 2017); Clayton W. Williams, Jr., Inc. v. Olivo, 952 S.W.2d 523, 529 (Tex. 1997) (stating that “[b]ecause premises defect cases and negligent activity cases are based on independent theories of recovery, a simple negligence [jury] question . . . cannot support a recovery in a premises defect case”); E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. v. Roye, 447 S.W.3d 48, 57-58 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. dism’d) (“Because [claimant] was limited to a premises liability theory of recovery, . . . the trial court erred when it submitted an ordinary negligence cause of action against [appellant] to the jury. . . . Accordingly, the jury’s finding that [appellant] was negligent is immaterial and cannot support a judgment against [appellant].”). As our sister court has explained, premises liability is a “special form of negligence in which the duty owed to the plaintiff depends upon the plaintiff’s status on the premises at the time of the incident.” Wyckoff v. George C. Fuller Contracting Co., 357 S.W.3d 157, 163-64 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.) (citing Scott & White Mem’l Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.3d 411, 412 (Tex. 2010)).[2]

While, theoretically, a litigant may maintain causes of action for both general negligence and premises liability, to be viable, the general negligence theory of recovery must be based not upon an injury resulting from the condition of the property, but upon the defendant’s contemporaneous activity. See Mangham v. YMCA of Austin, Texas-Hays Comtys., 408 S.W.3d 923, 929 (Tex. App.-Austin 2013, no pet.); see also W. Invs., Inc. v. Urena, 162 S.W.3d 547, 550 (Tex. 2005) (analyzing claimant’s negligence and premises liability claims together). If the injury is one caused by a premises defect, rather than a defendant’s contemporaneous activity, a plaintiff cannot circumvent the true nature of the premises defect claim by pleading it as one for general negligence. Sampson v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin, 500 S.W.3d 380, 389 (Tex. 2016).

Because the lines between negligent activity and premises liability are “sometimes unclear,” Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 776 (Tex. 2010), determining whether a claim is one for a premises defect or general negligence “can be tricky.” Austin v. Kroger Tex. L.P., 746 F.3d 191, 196 (5th Cir. 2014), certified question answered, 465 S.W.3d 193 (Tex. 2015). The policy undergirding this distinction is that negligence encompasses a malfeasance theory based on affirmative, contemporaneous conduct that caused the injury, whereas premises liability encompasses a nonfeasance theory based on the owner’s failure to take measures to make the property safe. See Del Lago Partners, 307 S.W.3d at 776; Timberwalk Apartments, Partners, Inc. v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749, 753 (Tex. 1998) (explaining negligent activity concerns “simply doing or failing to do what a person of ordinary prudence in the same or similar circumstances would have not done or done” while premises liability concerns the “failure to use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition which the owner or occupier [of land] knows about or in the exercise of ordinary care should know about” and quoting Keetch v. Kroger Co., 845 S.W.2d 262, 266-67 (Tex. 1992)).

C. Discussion

In his first issue, Norman argues that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on a premises liability theory when his claims sounded in general negligence: “The Association characterized [my] lawsuit against it as one for premises liability. This argument is flawed because the Association was not the possessor of the premises when [I] was injured[.]” Norman argues that his “petition is fairly constructed as advancing an ordinary negligence claim” because he pleaded that the Association is liable for “failing to employ any procedure to ensure safety from falling trees, and for failing to maintain a safe bike path and the trees along it.” The Association responds that regardless of how Norman pleaded his claim, he is limited to a premises liability theory of recovery because Norman was injured by an unsafe or dangerous condition on the premises-not by contemporaneous negligent activity.[3]

1. Summary Judgment was Not Granted on an Unaddressed Claim Because the Association’s Motion for Summary Judgment Challenged the Existence of a Legal Duty

As a preliminary matter, we consider Norman’s contention that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment on his negligence claim when the Association’s motion for summary judgment actually addressed only an unpleaded premises-liability claim. See Chessher v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 658 S.W.2d 563, 564 (Tex. 1983) (stating it is reversible error to grant summary judgment on a claim not addressed in the motion). Three of our sister courts have addressed similar instances in which defendants filed summary judgment motions on the theory that the plaintiff had impermissibly pleaded a premises defect claim as a general negligence claim. See Griffin v. Shell Oil Co., 401 S.W.3d 150 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2011, pet. denied); Somoza v. Rough Hollow Yacht Club, Ltd., No. 03-09-00308-CV, 2010 WL 2867372, at *4 (Tex. App.-Austin July 20, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.); Kalinchuk v. JP Sanchez Construction Co., No. 04-15-00537-CV, 2016 WL 4376628, at *3 (Tex. App.- San Antonio Aug. 17, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.).

In Griffin, the First District Court of Appeals considered whether “the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Shell and CH2M on his negligent-activity claims because neither Shell nor CH2M sought summary judgment on these claims.” 401 S.W.3d at 157. After stating that a trial court errs by granting more relief requested by disposing of issues not presented to it in the summary judgment motion, the First court analyzed each defendant’s summary-judgment motion and held that based “upon the plain language,” the defendants sought summary judgment “only on [appellant’s] premises-defect claim” and not his negligent activity claim. Id. at 158-59. Thus, the First court reversed summary judgment on appellant’s negligence claim and remanded the case. Id. The First court did note, however, that “[a] legal duty must be established in order for [appellant] to ultimately recover on his negligent-activity claim[, ]” id. at 163 n.4, thus signaling its concern over the viability of appellant’s negligence claim.

In Somoza, the plaintiff had been injured while operating a jet ski when he allegedly ran into a partially submerged steel cable tethered to a floating dock, near the marina owned and operated by a yacht club. Somoza, 2010 WL 2867372, at *1. He filed suit against the yacht club and alleged negligence and premises liability claims. Id. The yacht club filed a hybrid no evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment, asserting, in part, that the plaintiff “has no claim for general negligence . . . because his negligence claim sounds solely in premises liability,” and that the plaintiff has “produced no evidence of the essential elements of duty, breach, or proximate cause.” Id. The trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeals considered the plaintiff’s contention that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment on his general negligence claim. Id. at *4. The Third court “assum[ed] without deciding that [the plaintiff] could bring a claim for general negligence despite his failure to allege injury resulting from any contemporaneous activity by the Yacht Club” and nevertheless concluded that “he has still failed to establish the existence of a duty to support a claim in negligence.” Id. at *5.

In Kalinchuk, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his putative employer for negligence and gross negligence after he was injured at a baseball field renovation site by a section of bleachers that fell on him. 2016 WL 4376628, at *1. The employer moved for traditional and no evidence summary judgment, and alleged, inter alia, that the plaintiff did not have more than a scintilla of evidence to establish the existence of a legal duty. Id. In its motion, the employer relied on cases involving premises liability claims and asserted that the plaintiff purported to state a claim for negligence when his claim was “actually based on the theory of premises liability because he [sought] to recover for an injury allegedly created by a condition on the premises rather than for an injury created as a result of an activity.” Id. at *3. The plaintiff responded that the employer owed him a common law duty to exercise reasonable care and avoid a foreseeable risk of harm. Id. The trial court granted summary judgment. Id.

On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reasoned that “[w]hether [plaintiff’s] claim is a claim for negligence as he argues or a premises liability claim as [employer] contends, the question of whether a duty exists remains the same in that it requires a balancing of interrelated factors that make up the risk-utility balancing test.” Id. After applying the risk-utility balancing test to the facts of the case, the Fourth court concluded that the plaintiff had “failed to produce a scintilla of evidence creating a fact issue to support the existence of [a] legal duty owed to him by [the employer.]” Id. at *3-4.

We do not quarrel with the First court’s strict approach in refusing to read into the summary judgment motion a ground that was not clearly articulated. However, we view the approach by the Third and Fourth courts as allowing for a more expedient disposition while maintaining fidelity to Rule 166a(c)’s requirement that summary judgment motions “state the specific grounds therefor.” Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); Somoza, 2010 WL 2867372, at *5; Kalinchuk, 2016 WL 4376628, at *3-4.

The existence of a legal duty is a threshold issue generally decided as a matter of law. Fort Bend Cty. Drainage Dist. v. Sbrusch, 818 S.W.2d 392, 395 (Tex. 1991). And even assuming under these facts that Norman could bring a claim for general negligence, the Association in its motion for summary judgment challenged the existence of a legal duty owed to him regarding the downed tree and maintenance of trail safety regardless of whether the duty arose under a premises liability theory based on Norman’s status at the time of the injury or a general negligence theory balancing test.[4] See Kalinchuk, 2016 WL 4376628, at *3-4 (explaining whether the plaintiff’s claim is a claim for negligence as he argued or a premises liability claim as the defendant contended, “the question of whether a duty exists remains the same in that it requires a balancing of interrelated factors that make up the risk-utility balancing test”); cf. Del Lago Partners, 307 S.W.3d at 767 (applying risk-utility balancing factors to determine duty in premises liability case); Wyckoff, 357 S.W.3d at 164 (“General negligence principles apply to a contractor who has left [a] premises in an unsafe condition.”). Therefore, because the summary judgment motion fairly challenged the existence of a legal duty, we reject Norman’s contention that the trial court erred by granting the motion on an unchallenged ground, and we now analyze whether the Association owed Norman a legal duty under a general negligence theory.

2. No Legal Duty Under a General Negligence Theory

The question of legal duty is a “multifaceted issue” requiring courts to balance a number of factors such as the risk and foreseeability of injury, the social utility of the actor’s conduct, the consequences of imposing the burden on the actor, and any other relevant competing individual and social interests implicated by the facts of the case. Tex. Home Mgmt., Inc. v. Peavy, 89 S.W.3d 30, 33 (Tex. 2002). “Although the formulation and emphasis varies with the facts of each case, three categories of factors have emerged: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured; and (3) public policy considerations.” Id. at 34. Of these factors, the Supreme Court of Texas has identified “foreseeability as the ‘foremost and dominant consideration’ in the duty analysis.” Id. at 36 (quoting El Chico Corp. v. Poole, 732 S.W.2d 306, 311 (Tex. 1987)). “Foreseeability means that a person who possesses ordinary intelligence should have anticipated the danger that his negligent act would create for others.” Midwest Emp’rs Cas. Co. ex rel. English v. Harpole, 293 S.W.3d 770, 779 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2009, no pet.). However, foreseeability alone is not sufficient to impose a duty. Id.

Here, Norman pleaded that the Association contractually assumed “responsibility for maintenance, construction and safety of the trails,” and as such, owed a duty to “protect the general public from dangerous conditions[.]” The record, which contains the Contract and deposition excerpts, evidences the Association’s agreement to, and exercise of, some limited control over the construction and maintenance of Gateway’s bike trails by having monthly meetings to discuss maintenance issues and by building trails in the months between May and October. The summary judgment evidence also provided that the Association holds an annual work day in June to make sure the trails are in “tiptop shape” for their annual “fat tire festival.” This workday consists of going through the entire trail to look for places that needed to be trimmed or pruned.

Lawrence “Larry” Colvin, the Association’s president at the time of Norman’s crash, testified that during the monthly meetings, the Association’s members discussed safety of the trees in general as well as identified certain problem trees to City employees who “were the only ones that [could] operate the chainsaws.” Larry also testified that the Association had once asked the City to close the trail because of “so many trees down,” but that the City refused. Larry testified that the Association worked with Melinda Adams, an “urban forester” with the City, who “[took] a look at the trees.” Although Larry acknowledged that the Association had no “tree safety plan” and had never consulted an arborist, he concluded that even retaining a certified arborist to walk Gateway once a week would still not prevent falling trees in a park “hundreds of thousands of trees.”

Larry’s testimony concerning the existence of “hundreds of thousands of trees” along the mountain bike trail provided proof that the danger of a falling tree was plausible. And in his deposition, Larry acknowledged that the likelihood of falling trees would increase in “an unprecedented drought like we were in in 2014”-the year of Norman’s injury.

However, Norman testified in his deposition that he had ridden the same trail “no more [than] two days” earlier and that he had not seen the downed tree, so it was possible that the tree had fallen only a day or two before his crash. Indeed, Norman conceded that it was possible that the tree could have actually fallen only a few hours before his crash. Moreover, the Contract expressly prohibits the Association from pruning trees without the Director’s prior written approval and expressly prohibits the Association from removing any tree without prior written permission from the Forester. Norman does not direct us to any part of the Contract showing that the Association had agreed to assume a legal duty to maintain the safety of the trails for the general public.

Based on our de novo review of the record, we hold that Norman failed to establish that the Association owed him a legal duty to protect him from the downed tree across the trail that the Association did not cause to fall, that may have fallen only hours-but no later than a day or two-before Norman struck it, and that the Association was not even authorized to unilaterally remove.[5] See Felts v. Bluebonnet Elec. Coop., Inc., 972 S.W.2d 166, 169 (Tex. App.-Austin 1998, no pet.) (rejecting complainant’s argument that an electrical co-op’s tree-trimming agreement creating a limited right to trim or clear trees for the purpose of protecting its power lines “created a broader duty to maintain the area for the protection of the general public traveling on the nearby county road”); Jacobs-Cathey Co. v. Cockrum, 947 S.W.2d 288, 292 (Tex. App.-Waco 1997, writ denied) (holding that “a defendant’s policy to remedy dangerous conditions he may come across does not impose a legal duty on him to these third parties” and that a defendant bears “no common law duty to remove debris . . . that was left by some other party”); see also J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Tex. Contract Carpet, Inc., 302 S.W.3d 515, 530-32 (Tex. App.-Austin 2009, no pet.) (holding a contractual agreement did not create a legal duty to a third party when the contractual benefit to the third party was not clearly intended by the contract and was merely incidental to the agreement).

Therefore, the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment on Norman’s negligence and gross negligence claims. See Gonzalez v. VATR Constr., LLC, 418 S.W.3d 777, 789 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2013, no pet.) (holding that because summary judgment was proper on negligence claim, it was also proper on gross negligence claim). We overrule Norman’s first issue.

IV. Norman’s Excluded Summary Judgment Evidence

Norman’s second issue challenges the trial court’s decision to sustain the Association’s hearsay objection and strike Matthew Clemons’s report. Norman’s contention is that because he submitted an affidavit from Clemons in which Clemons swore that the attached report was a true and correct copy of the report that he had personally prepared, the report was authenticated, “which overcomes the hearsay problem.” The Association responds that Norman misunderstands its objection, which was that the report was inadmissible hearsay, not that it was not properly authenticated.

A. Standard of Review

A trial court’s rulings on the admissibility of evidence are reviewable under an abuse of discretion standard. Gharda USA, Inc. v. Control Sols., Inc., 464 S.W.3d 338, 347 (Tex. 2015). An appellate court must uphold the trial court’s evidentiary ruling if there is any legitimate basis in the record for the ruling. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. v. Malone, 972 S.W.2d 35, 43 (Tex. 1998). A trial court’s discretion in determining whether an expert is qualified to testify on a matter is broad but not unbounded. In re Commitment of Bohannan, 388 S.W.3d 296, 307 (Tex. 2012). A trial court abuses its discretion by excluding expert testimony if the testimony is relevant to the issues in the case and is based on a reliable foundation. Id.; State v. Cent. Expressway Sign Assocs., 302 S.W.3d 866, 870 (Tex. 2009) (op. on reh’g).

B. Analysis

Norman attached a short affidavit from Matthew Clemons which stated, in relevant part, as follows:

I certify that the ‘Initial Assessment of Tree Conditions; Gateway Park Mountain Bike Trail’ was prepared on March 21, 2017 for Jackson Davis regarding Norman DeLamar’s bicycle incident, which is attached as an Exhibit to Plaintiff’s Response to Fort Worth Biker’s Association Traditional and No Evidence Motions for Summary Judgment, is a true and correct copy of the report which I personally prepared and provided Mr. Davis.

The March 21, 2017 letter was attached to Norman’s summary judgment response as Exhibit D.

The Association asserts that Clemons’s affidavit (which was not objected to), may authenticate the attached report, but it does not remove the report from the ambit of hearsay. We agree. See Tex. R. Evid. 801, 802; cf. Petty v. Children’s WorldLearning Ctrs., Inc., No. 05-94-00998-CV, 1995 WL 379522, at *5 (Tex. App.-Dallas May 31, 1995, writ denied) (explaining that “[a]uthenticity is separate and apart from qualification as an exception under the hearsay rule”). Further, the report does not obviously fall within any of the exclusions from hearsay (Tex. R. Evid. 801(e)) or exceptions to the rule against hearsay (Tex. R. Evid. 803)-indeed, Norman does not assert any exclusion or exception.

Accordingly, we hold that the court did not abuse its discretion by sustaining the Association’s hearsay objection to Clemons’s report, and we overrule Norman’s second issue.

V. Conclusion

Having held that the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment on Norman’s negligence and gross negligence claims and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding Norman’s expert’s report as inadmissible hearsay, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

—–

Notes:

[1]Norman’s suit against the Association for negligence and gross negligence was eventually severed from his suit against the City.

[2]To prevail on a premises-liability claim, a plaintiff must prove (1) actual or constructive knowledge of some condition on the premises by the owner; (2) that the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the owner did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and (4) that the owner’s failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Gonzalez, 968 S.W.2d 934, 936 (Tex. 1998), whereas under the common law doctrine of negligence, a plaintiff must prove (1) a legal duty owed by one person to another; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) damages proximately resulting from the breach. Helbing v. Hunt, 402 S.W.3d 699, 702 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, pet. denied).

[3]The Association asserts it is a “non-possessory interest holder” which is “the legal equivalent of the occupier” of the bike trail portion of Gateway. Put differently, the Association contends it has rights akin to that of an easement holder. See Brookshire Katy Drainage Dist. v. Lily Gardens, LLC, 333 S.W.3d 301, 309 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, pet. denied) (“[A]n easement is a nonpossessory interest in another’s property that authorizes its holder to use that property for a particular purpose.”).

[4]Although we do not reach the issue, we believe that Norman’s claim sounds in premises liability in any event. See United Scaffolding, 537 S.W.3d at 472 (“We have recognized that slip/trip-and-fall cases have consistently been treated as premises defect causes of action. In such cases, the plaintiff alleges injury as a result of a physical condition or defect left on the premises, not as a contemporaneous result of someone’s negligence.” (internal citation and quotation marks omitted)); Sampson, 500 S.W.3d at 389-90 (citing Univ. of Tex. at Austin v. Hayes, 327 S.W.3d 113 (Tex. 2010) (per curiam), a case with injuries caused by a bicycle crash after the cyclist ran over a metal chain stretched across a college campus driveway as illustrating a “quintessential premises defect claim”); Tex. Dept. of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 230 (Tex. 2004) (concluding that the “allegation of an injury caused by a tree limb falling on [plaintiff] constitutes an allegation of a condition or use of real property and is an allegation of a premises defect”).

[5]Norman also does not persuade us that we should create a legal duty regarding the downed tree and trail safety based on public policy considerations. See Kalinchuk, 2016 WL 4376628, at *4. Indeed, public policy considerations weigh heavily against imposing such a legal duty on what is essentially a group of volunteer mountain bike enthusiasts who have been granted such limited oversight over the safety of the bike trails, if any.

trail, summary judgment, general negligence, premises liability, premises, trial court, legal duty, no evidence, summary judgment motion, pet, hearsay, grant summary judgment, premises liability theory, mountain bike, balancing, nonmovant, falling, dangerous condition, gross negligence, negligence claim, downed tree, contemporaneous, foreseeability, factors, cause of action, yacht club, scintilla, injuries, bicycle, cases


Indoor trampoline park company held liable for its actions in creating safety rules for its sub-groups creating liability for itself from the sub-group’s customers.

The parent company knew the employee handbook, which contained safety rules, which was given to the companies operating trampoline parks would be used to keep the customers of the parks safe. When the employee handbook was badly written, the parent company was liable to the injured plaintiff.

We have seen this before in Bad luck or about time, however, you look at this decision, you will change the way you work in the Outdoor Recreation Industry. A second case will create greater concern and liability for actions of “safety” experts in the outdoor recreation industry.

Citation: Haines v. Get Air Tucson Incorporated, et al., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 180500, 2018 WL 5118640

State: Arizona, United States District Court, D. Arizona

Plaintiff: Blake Haines

Defendant: Get Air Tucson Incorporated, et al

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: for the Plaintiff on the negligence claim and for the defendants on the Gross Negligence claim

Year: 2018

Summary

A prior company of some sort created safety rules in an employee handbook which were poorly written. The prior or parent company gave these rules to the trampoline parks to use. A plaintiff argued, successfully, the parent company was liable to him because the rules were poorly written, and the court agreed.

Third party contractors are increasingly brought into lawsuits because of their actions. The contractors are hired to decrease the risk to the customers, and the courts are holding when they fail, they are liable for their actions.

Facts

These facts on how the injury occurred, and the relationship between the parties came from a different decision in this case.

On September 8, 2013 Haines was at the Get Air Tucson indoor trampoline park and performed a move where he flipped multiple times off of a platform and into a foam pit. Haines “suffered catastrophic injuries from the maneuver, including fractured cervical vertebrae resulting in paralysis.” Following this incident, Haines filed suit in Pima County Superior Court on September 5, 2014 against the following defendants: Get Air Tucson, Inc.; Get Air Tucson Trampolines, LLC; Get Air Management, Inc.; Get Air, LLC; Trampoline Parks, LLC; Patti Goodell; Jacob Goodell; Kiersten Goodell; Scott Goodell; Alan McEwan Jr.; Val Iverson, individually and as owner or operator of Trampoline Parks, LLC; Jane and/or John Does #s 1-20; ABC Corporations 1-10; XYZ Partnerships 1-10; and ABC Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) 1-10. Haines alleged claims for negligence, negligent design, negligence in safety standards, negligent supervision, negligent hiring and training of personnel, piercing the corporate veil, and punitive damages. Id.

There are three parties to this lawsuit. The plaintiff who was injured at the Defendant Get Air Tucson’s facility, Get Air Tucson and GALLC. GALLC was a former trampoline park that is no longer in business but seemingly a parent company?

GALLC created an employee handbook to be used by its clients (trampoline parks or franchisors). The plaintiff claims he was injured because of the “allegedly deficient safety rules contained in the Employee Handbook.” The handbook does not clearly define what a somersault is. The plaintiff was injured when he did a flip.

As previously found by this Court, Plaintiff has presented evidence that GALLC developed a generic employee handbook (“EH”) for use in other Get Air trampoline parks as part of its support for the expansion of the Get Air business enterprise, and that the EH was used by Get Air Tucson.

The case had been referred to a magistrate who created an order dismissing the gross negligence claims but keeping the negligence claims. That magistrate’s order was then reviewed, which is the decision this article is based on.

Judge Markovich recommended that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment be granted with respect to Plaintiff’s punitive-damages claim. Judge Markovich rejected Defendant’s other arguments. He found that, as a result of “the special business-customer relationship that was created when GALLC performed an undertaking to develop the EH [employee handbook] as part of its support work for the Get Air entities, ” GALLC owed Plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care in developing the safety rules in the EH. Judge Markovich found that summary judgment on the issue of a breach of the standard of care is precluded because there is a material factual dispute concerning whether the rule prohibiting somersaults in the EH was sufficient to prohibit the flip maneuver attempted by Plaintiff.

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

The defendant GALLC argued it had no duty to the plaintiff.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant argues (1) it owed no duty to Plaintiff, (2) even if it owed a duty, it was not negligent because the EH prohibited the maneuver that led to Plaintiff’s injuries, (3) it no longer has any potential legal liability because the employee involved in the creation of the EH was dismissed with prejudice; (4) Plaintiff cannot prove causation, and (5) Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages is factually unsupported.

The court then reviewed how a duty was created and what the courts looked for in making that decision.

To establish a defendant’s liability for a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove: (1) a duty requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of care; (2) breach of that standard; (3) a causal connection between the breach and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages.

Whether or not a duty exists is a legal question to be determined by a court of law. A duty can arise if a special relationship exists between the parties or because of an “undertaking” of the defendant.

Although there is evidence that the various Get Air enterprises were operated as a closely linked network, the Court does not find that Plaintiff and GALLC had a traditional business-customer relationship.

So, the relationship alone between the plaintiff and GALLC was not enough to create a duty. However, the court did find a relationship because of GALLC’s attempt to create safety rules in the employee handbook for its customers.

However, even though there was no direct business-customer relationship, Plaintiff and GALLC, nevertheless, had a special relationship based on GALLC undertaking to create safety rules for other Get Air trampoline parks, which GALLC included in a generic EH developed as part of its support work for the Get Air entities. Imposition of a duty based on this special relationship is supported by Arizona’s case law as well as sections 323 and 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.

The Restatement (Second) of Torts states:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking, if

(a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or

(b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or

(c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or the third person upon the undertaking.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A (1965).

The court found that GALLC undertook to render services, the creation of the employee handbook, which contained safety rules, which were necessary to protect the customers of Get Air Tucson. Plaintiff alleged in its complaint that GALLC failed to exercise reasonable care for the creation of the safety rules, thus creating liability.

GALLC, failing to exercise reasonable care in developing the safety rules increased the harm to Get Air Tucson’s’ customers, like the plaintiff.

Additionally, the failure to perform a duty, development of reasonable safety rules, which Get Air Tucson owed to its customers, created liability.

The Court agrees with Judge Markovich that GALLC owed Plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care in the development of the safety rules contained in the generic EH supplied to Get Air Tucson.

The court also found that there was a genuine issue of material fact because GALLC allegedly breached its duty to exercise reasonable care in the creation of the safety rules when the definition of a somersault which was used in the rules, and the definition was not clear. The issue was, did the actions of the plaintiff flipping constitute a somersault?

On top of that, when the manual or rules are not clear or are ignored, this creates greater liability on the companies involved.

Even if the maneuver attempted by Plaintiff falls within a technical definition of the term “somersault, “as Defendant argues, Plaintiff has identified evidence showing that Get Air employees did not consider flips to be encompassed by the EH’s safety rule prohibiting somersaults.

The court found GALLC was liable not because of its relationships between the parties, but because its actions constituted an independent undertaking that created a duty.

However, as Judge Markovich found, Plaintiff is not asserting vicarious liability; rather, Plaintiff alleges that GALLC is independently negligent for undertaking to create a generic EH for use in other Get Air parks, including Get Air Tucson, and including allegedly deficient safety rules in that EH. The dismissal with prejudice of Val Iverson does not preclude Plaintiff from asserting a claim against GALLC for its own independent negligence, even if establishing the independent negligence of GALLC may require proof of Val Iverson’s negligence.

So Now What?

Safety is always scary. How much do you write? If you don’t write enough, you don’t cover everything, and you could be found liable. If you write too much you don’t cover everything, and you are still found liable because either you did not cover the issue at hand, or you did not follow the rules you created.

You can’t follow the rules if the rules are too much to remember. You can’t handle an incident with a notebook in one hand trying to figure out what to do next.

Worse, you are a third party, and you inspect or write safety issues, and you are now liable to the customers of your customer who you were trying to protect. In Bad luck or about time, however, you look at this decision, you will change the way you work in the Outdoor Recreation Industry the defendant did an inspection of the property. The injured plaintiff argued the inspection was insufficient, and the defendant owed her a duty.

In this case the rules where insufficient, badly written, and seemingly not enforced, creating a duty to the injured plaintiff.

If you are an inspector or a rule writer, a third-party contractor hired to teach, inspect or write you had better to it correctly and completely. On top of that you better have a great liability insurance policy and contract with your client to protect you.

If you are a third-party contractor, expect to see more claims like this in the future.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Assumption of the Risk is a defense to negligence and gross negligence claims in this case against a college offering for credit tour abroad study.

Student died swimming in the Pacific Ocean and his parents sued the college for his death. College was dismissed because student was an adult and assumed the risk that killed him.

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals of Georgia

Plaintiff: Elvis Downes and Myrna Lintner (parents of the deceased)

Defendant: Oglethorpe University, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2017

Summary

There are some risks that the courts say you understand and accept the risks because we know of them. Examples are cliffs and water. Here, the family of a student who died on a study abroad trip while swimming in the ocean could not sue because the student assumed the risks of swimming.

What is interesting is the assumption of the risk defense was used to defeat a claim of negligence and Gross Negligence.

Facts

During the 2010-2011 academic year, Oglethorpe offered to their students a 12-day study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The students were charged a fee for the trip to pay for expenses such as airfare, lodging, and food. The students were also required to pay the ” per credit tuition rate” and were to receive four credits toward their degree for academic work associated with the trip. Oglethorpe retained Horizontes, a Costa Rican tour operator, to coordinate the trip and to provide transportation and an English-speaking guide.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins was then the director of Oglethorpe’s study-abroad program. According to Collins, Oglethorpe tried to follow ” best practices,” which is ” defined as those protocols, procedures that as best and as far as possible ensure[ ] the safety of students.” He acknowledged that students would swim on the trips. Collins was not aware of any potential dangers in Costa Rica and did no investigation to ascertain if there were potential dangers in Costa Rica.

During pre-trip meetings with Downes and the five other students who had registered for the program, Dr. Roark Donnelly and Dr. Cassandra Copeland, the two professors who accompanied the students on the trip, asked the students if everyone was a good swimmer, and the students agreed that they were. The group also discussed swimming in the ocean, including ” that there are going to be currents.” One of the professors told the students that, during a previous study-abroad trip to another location, a student had recognized that he was a weak swimmer and was required to wear a life jacket during all water activities. After hearing this, the students continued to express that they were good swimmers. Before leaving on the trip, the students were required to sign a release agreement which included an exculpatory clause pertaining to Oglethorpe.

The students and professors flew to Costa Rica on December 28, 2010. During the course of the trip, on the afternoon of January 4, 2011, the group arrived at a hotel on the Pacific coast. The six students, two professors, the guide, and the driver got into their bus and drove to a nearby beach, Playa Ventanas, which had been recommended by the hotel. Upon their arrival, there were other people on the beach and in the water. There were no warning signs posted on the beach, nor any lifeguards or safety equipment present.

The students swam in the ocean, staying mostly together, and eventually ventured out into deeper water. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Donnelly yelled for the students to move closer to shore. Shortly thereafter, student Robert Cairns, a former lifeguard, heard a female student screaming. Cairns swam toward the screams, and the student informed him that Downes needed help. Cairns realized that ” some kind of current … had pulled us out.” Cairns swam to within ten feet of Downes and told him to get on his back and try to float. Downes could not get on his back, and Cairns kept telling him he had to try. After some time, Downes was struck by a wave, went under the water, and disappeared from Cairns’s view. Downes’s body was recovered from the ocean three days later.

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

The deceased student signed a release in this case, however the trial court and the appellate court made their decisions based on assumption of the risk.

Under Georgia law, assumption of the risk is a complete bra to a recovery.

The affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovering on a negligence claim if it is established that he[,] without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not.

Absent a showing by the plaintiff of coercion or a lack of free choice assumption of the risk prevents the plaintiff from recovery any damages for negligence from the defendant.

To prove the deceased assumed the risk the college must show:

A defendant asserting an assumption of the risk defense must establish that the plaintiff (i) had knowledge of the danger; (ii) understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger; and (iii) voluntarily exposed himself to those risks.

The plaintiff does not have to know and understand every aspect and facet of the risk. The knowledge can be that there are inherent risks in an activity even if the specifics of those risks are not known.

The knowledge requirement does not refer to a comprehension of general, non-specific risks. Rather, the knowledge that a plaintiff who assumes the risk must subjectively possess is that of the specific, particular risk of harm associated with the activity or condition that proximately causes injury.

Assumption of the risk is usually a jury decision because the jury must weigh whether or not the plaintiff truly understood the risks. However, if the risk is such that there is undisputed evidence that it exists and the plaintiff knew or should have known about it, the court can act.

As a general rule, whether a party assumed the risk of his injury is an issue for the jury that should not be decided by summary judgment unless the defense is conclusively established by plain, palpable and undisputed evidence.

Drowning is a known and understood risk under Georgia law of being in the water.

It is well established under Georgia law that ” [t]he danger of drowning in water is a palpable and manifest peril, the knowledge of which is chargeable to [persons] in the absence of a showing of want of ordinary capacity.

Because the deceased student was a competent adult, meaning over the age of 18 and not mentally informed or hampered, the risk was known to him. “As Downes was a competent adult, he was necessarily aware of the risk of drowning when he voluntarily entered the Pacific Ocean.”

The plaintiff’s argued the college created the risk because they did not investigate the beach, have an emergency preparedness plan, ensure the professors had adequate training and did not supply safety equipment. However, the court did not buy this because there was nothing in the record to show the College created or agreed to these steps to create an additional duty on the colleges part.

Assuming that Oglethorpe, having undertaken a study-abroad program, was under a duty to act with reasonable care, and that there is evidence of record that Oglethorpe failed to do so, assumption of risk is nevertheless a defense to negligence.

The college was under not statutory or common law duty to provide any of the issues the plaintiff argued. Nor did the college create a duty by becoming an insurer of the students.

Appellants do not show, however, that Oglethorpe was under a statutory or common law duty to provide safety equipment to its students during an excursion to the beach, or that the ocean is analogous to a nonresidential swimming pool. Nor can we conclude that Oglethorpe became an insurer for the safety of its students by undertaking a study-abroad program, or that it was responsible for the peril encountered by Downes in that it transported him to the beach.

Even then the assumption of the risk defense would apply because assuming the risk relieves the defendant of any negligence.

Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was wilfully and wantonly inflicted.

The defendant was not liable because the student, as an adult would have appreciated the risks of drowning in the Pacific Ocean.

Because he was a competent adult, Downes would have appreciated the specific risk of drowning posed by entering a body of water so inherently dangerous as the Pacific Ocean. As Downes voluntarily did so, Oglethorpe established that he assumed that risk. Although Downes’s death was undeniably tragic, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court correctly granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

So Now What?

There are two important points in this decision.

First, although not discussed, the court allowed assumption of the risk to stop a claim for gross negligence. Normally, like assumption of the risk, whether or not a defendant was grossly negligent requires a review by the jury to determine if the facts alleged meet the definition of gross negligence in the state.

Second is the issue that the less you do the less liability you create. In the pre-trip briefing with the students the risks of swimming in the ocean were discussed. The students all stated they were strong swimmers and nothing more was done.

If the college had made them take a swim test, further questioned their swimming skills by requiring more information or making sure a professor who was a lifeguard was on the trip, the college would have created an additional duty owed to the students.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2019 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Word Count: 166

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

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Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

802 S.E.2d 437

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc

A17A0246

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 30, 2017

Assumption of the risk. DeKalb State Court. Before Judge Polk, pro hac vice.

Katherine L. McArthur, Caleb F. Walker, for appellants.

Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, David M. Atkinson, for appellee.

OPINION

[802 S.E.2d 438]

Ellington, Presiding Judge.

Erik Downes, then a 20-year-old college student, drowned in the Pacific Ocean on January 4, 2011, while he was in Costa Rica attending a study-abroad program organized by Oglethorpe University, Inc. Elvis Downes and Myrna Lintner (the ” Appellants” ), as Downes’s parents and next of kin, and in their capacity as administrators of Downes’s estate, brought this wrongful death action alleging that Oglethorpe’s negligence and gross negligence were the proximate cause of Downes’s drowning. The trial court granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment, and the Appellants appeal. We affirm because, as a matter of law, Downes assumed [802 S.E.2d 439] the risk of drowning when he chose to swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Under OCGA § 9-11-56 (c), [s]ummary judgment is warranted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. We review the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment de novo, and we view the evidence, and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in a light most favorable to the nonmovant. (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Assaf v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 327 Ga.App. 475, 475-476 (759 S.E.2d 557) (2014). See also Johnson v. Omondi, 294 Ga. 74, 75-76 (751 S.E.2d 288) (2013) (accord).

So viewed, the evidence shows the following. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Oglethorpe offered to their students a 12-day study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The students were charged a fee for the trip to pay for expenses such as airfare, lodging, and food. The students were also required to pay the ” per credit tuition rate” and were to receive four credits toward their degree for academic work associated with the trip. Oglethorpe retained Horizontes, a Costa Rican tour operator, to coordinate the trip and to provide transportation and an English-speaking guide.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins was then the director of Oglethorpe’s study-abroad program. According to Collins, Oglethorpe tried to follow ” best practices,” which is ” defined as those protocols, procedures that as best and as far as possible ensure[ ] the safety of students.” He acknowledged that students would swim on the trips. Collins was not aware of any potential dangers in Costa Rica and did no investigation to ascertain if there were potential dangers in Costa Rica.

During pre-trip meetings with Downes and the five other students who had registered for the program, Dr. Roark Donnelly and Dr. Cassandra Copeland, the two professors who accompanied the students on the trip, asked the students if everyone was a good swimmer, and the students agreed that they were. The group also discussed swimming in the ocean, including ” that there are going to be currents.” One of the professors told the students that, during a previous study-abroad trip to another location, a student had recognized that he was a weak swimmer and was required to wear a life jacket during all water activities. After hearing this, the students continued to express that they were good swimmers. Before leaving on the trip, the students were required to sign a release agreement which included an exculpatory clause pertaining to Oglethorpe.

The students and professors flew to Costa Rica on December 28, 2010. During the course of the trip, on the afternoon of January 4, 2011, the group arrived at a hotel on the Pacific coast. The six students, two professors, the guide, and the driver got into their bus and drove to a nearby beach, Playa Ventanas, which had been recommended by the hotel. Upon their arrival, there were other people on the beach and in the water. There were no warning signs posted on the beach, nor any lifeguards or safety equipment present.

The students swam in the ocean, staying mostly together, and eventually ventured out into deeper water. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Donnelly yelled for the students to move closer to shore. Shortly thereafter, student Robert Cairns, a former lifeguard, heard a female student screaming. Cairns swam toward the screams, and the student informed him that Downes needed help. Cairns realized that ” some kind of current … had pulled us out.” Cairns swam to within ten feet of Downes and told him to get on his back and try to float. Downes could not get on his back, and Cairns kept telling him he had to try. After some time, Downes was struck by a wave, went under the water, and disappeared from Cairns’s view. Downes’s body was recovered from the ocean three days later.

The Appellants filed this wrongful death action claiming that Downes’s death was the proximate result of Oglethorpe’s negligence and gross negligence. Evidence adduced during discovery included the testimony of Dr. John Fletemeyer, the Appellants’ expert in [802 S.E.2d 440] coastal sciences, that Downes had been caught in a ” rip current” [1] when he became distressed and ultimately drowned. Dr. Fletemeyer opined that some beaches on the western coast of Costa Rica are particularly dangerous ” mainly [because of] the lack of lifeguards,” but also because of physical conditions such as ” high wave energy force” and ” pocket beaches,” and that Playa Ventanas was a pocket beach.[2] He also testified that, in the context of the ocean, ” every beach you go to is extremely dangerous.” Other testimony showed that a continuing problem with drownings on beaches along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica was well publicized in Costa Rica, and that the United States Consular Authority in Costa Rica had ” published statistics about the danger of swimming on Costa Rica’s beaches and identified specifically the west coast beaches as being the most dangerous.” [3]

Following discovery, Oglethorpe moved for summary judgment and argued that (i) Oglethorpe owed no legal duty to Downes; (ii) the Appellants’ negligence claims are barred by Downes’s written waiver of liability and there is a lack of evidence that Oglethorpe was grossly negligent; and (iii) Downes assumed the risk of swimming in the ocean. The trial court granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

1. The Appellants contend that Oglethorpe was not entitled to summary judgment on the ground that Downes, as a matter of law, assumed the risk of drowning when he swam in the ocean.[4]

The affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovering on a negligence claim if it is established that he[,] without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Vaughn v. Pleasent, 266 Ga. 862, 864 (1) (471 S.E.2d 866) (1996).

A defendant asserting an assumption of the risk defense must establish that the plaintiff (i) had knowledge of the danger; (ii) understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger; and (iii) voluntarily exposed himself to those risks. The knowledge requirement does not refer to a comprehension of general, non-specific risks. Rather, the knowledge that a plaintiff who assumes the risk must subjectively possess is that of the specific, particular risk of harm associated with the activity or condition that proximately causes injury.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Gilreath v. Smith, 340 Ga.App. 265, 268 (1) (797 S.E.2d 177) (2017). ” As a general rule, whether a party assumed the risk of his injury is an issue for the jury that should not be decided by summary judgment unless the defense is conclusively established by plain, palpable and undisputed evidence.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Findley v. Griffin, 292 Ga.App. 807, 809 (2) (666 S.E.2d 79) (2008).

[342 Ga.App. 254] It is well established under Georgia law that ” [t]he danger of drowning in water is a palpable and manifest peril, the knowledge of which is chargeable to [persons] in the absence of a showing of want of ordinary capacity.” Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. 67, 69 (2) (166 S.E.2d 89) (1969). See, e.g., White v.

[802 S.E.2d 441]Ga. Power Co., 265 Ga.App. 664, 666 (1) (595 S.E.2d 353) (2004) (the ” [p]erils of deep water are instinctively known” ). The record does not show that Downes was aware of the presence of rip currents in the waters off the beach; however, ” [i]t is the body of water per se that presents an obvious risk of drowning, not its attendant conditions such as a strong unseen current or a deep unknown hole.” Id. at 667 (1). As Downes was a competent adult, he was necessarily aware of the risk of drowning when he voluntarily entered the Pacific Ocean.

The Appellants contend that Oglethorpe had a duty to exercise ordinary care in the planning and implementing of its study-abroad program to avoid exposing the students to a risk of drowning. Because Oglethorpe owed this duty, they contend, the fact that Downes entered the water voluntarily does not establish as a matter of law that he assumed the risk of drowning. Rather, they contend, Oglethorpe created the dangerous situation by taking Downes to the beach without investigating its dangers, adopting an emergency preparedness plan, ensuring the professors in charge had adequate training and procedures for supervising swimming students, and supplying safety equipment.

Assuming that Oglethorpe, having undertaken a study-abroad program, was under a duty to act with reasonable care, and that there is evidence of record that Oglethorpe failed to do so, assumption of risk is nevertheless a defense to negligence. ” Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was wilfully and wantonly inflicted.” (Citation omitted.) City of Winder v. Girone, 265 Ga. 723, 724 (2) (462 S.E.2d 704) (1995). In Rice v. Oaks Investors II, 292 Ga.App. 692, 693-694 (1) (666 S.E.2d 63) (2008), the defendant was entitled to a directed verdict where, notwithstanding evidence that the defendants were negligent per se in failing to properly enclose the pool in which the ten-year-old decedent drowned, the child’s own negligence was the sole proximate cause of her death because the risk of swimming in the pool was obvious as a matter of law. Similarly, notwithstanding whether a defendant breached a duty to care for or supervise a decedent, the decedent’s assumption of the risk of injury may bar recovery. See Sayed v. Azizullah, 238 Ga.App. 642, 643-644 (519 S.E.2d 732) (1999) (finding no need to reach the issue [342 Ga.App. 255] of whether a duty was owed by the defendant to care for the 17-year-old decedent because the decedent was charged with appreciating the risk of swimming in the lake as a matter of law, and he voluntarily assumed that risk); Riley v. Brasunas, 210 Ga.App. 865, 868 (2) (438 S.E.2d 113) (1993) (any failure of the defendant to exercise the duty of an ordinary responsible guardian in watching over the seven-year-old child, who was injured using a trampoline, could not be the proximate cause of the child’s injuries where the child knowingly exposed himself to the obvious danger). See also Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. at 69-70 (2) (as the decedent, who was over 14 years old, was chargeable with diligence for his own safety against palpable and manifest peril, plaintiff could not recover against defendants for failure to exercise ordinary care in supervising the decedent in and around the lake in which he drowned).

As Appellants show, a decedent’s decision to enter a body of water with awareness of the physical circumstances is not necessarily determinative of whether the decedent assumed the risk of drowning. For example, the breach of a duty to provide statutorily required safety equipment may be ” inextricable from the proximate cause of the damage.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Holbrook v. Exec. Conference Center, 219 Ga.App. 104, 107 (2) (464 S.E.2d 398) (1995) (finding that a jury could determine that the absence of statutorily mandated safety equipment was the proximate cause of the decedent’s drowning in the defendant’s pool). See Alexander v. Harnick, 142 Ga.App. 816, 817 (2) (237 S.E.2d 221) (1977) (where the decedent drowned after she jumped from the defendant’s houseboat into the water in an attempt to rescue her dog, and the defendant did not have any throwable life preservers on board, nor readily accessible life vests, as required by law, ” a jury would not be precluded [802 S.E.2d 442] from finding that the absence of the safety equipment was the proximate cause of the decedent’s death merely because she entered the water voluntarily” ). And in premises liability actions, the general rule is ” that owners or operators of nonresidential swimming facilities owe an affirmative duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety and protection of invitees swimming in the pool.” Walker v. Daniels, 200 Ga.App. 150, 155 (1) (407 S.E.2d 70) (1991).

Appellants do not show, however, that Oglethorpe was under a statutory or common law duty to provide safety equipment to its students during an excursion to the beach, or that the ocean is analogous to a nonresidential swimming pool. Nor can we conclude that Oglethorpe became an insurer for the safety of its students by undertaking a study-abroad program, or that it was responsible for the peril encountered by Downes in that it transported him to the beach. Compare Alexander v. Harnick, 142 Ga.App. at 817 (3) (an issue of fact remained as to whether, by taking decedent onto the water without the statutorily required safety equipment, defendant helped to create her peril). Because he was a competent adult, Downes would have appreciated the specific risk of drowning posed by entering a body of water so inherently dangerous as the Pacific Ocean. As Downes voluntarily did so, Oglethorpe established that he assumed that risk. Although Downes’s death was undeniably tragic, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court correctly granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

2. The Appellants’ other claims of error are moot.

Judgment affirmed.

Andrews and Rickman, JJ., concur.

Notes:

[1]The evidence showed that ” [a] rip current is a strong outflow or stream of water usually beginning at the beach, moving perpendicular to the beach, beginning with the neck and then terminating at some point beyond the surf line[.]”

[2]Fletemeyer’s testimony is not explicit as to why pocket beaches are dangerous to swimmers, although, in the context of the line of questioning, his testimony implies that the physical characteristics of pocket beaches are associated with the formation of rip currents.

[3]The evidence did not show that Playa Ventanas, in particular, had an unusually high number of drownings.

[4]The Appellants also contend that the trial court erred in granting Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment (1) because Oglethorpe owed a duty to exercise ordinary care for the safety of its students in the planning and implementation of its study-abroad program, and material issues of fact remain regarding Oglethorpe’s negligence, (2) the exculpatory clause in the release agreement signed by Downes is not enforceable, and (3) gross negligence cannot be waived by an exculpatory clause, and material issues of fact remain as to whether Oglethorpe was grossly negligent.


Levine v USA Cycling, Inc., 2018 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 6063 *; 2018 NY Slip Op 33177(U)

Levine v USA Cycling, Inc., 2018 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 6063 *; 2018 NY Slip Op 33177(U)

Supreme Court of New York, Kings County

December 4, 2018, Decided

515257/15

Reporter

2018 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 6063 *; 2018 NY Slip Op 33177(U) **

[**1] STEVEN LEVINE, Plaintiff(s), -against-USA CYCLING, INC. & KISSENA CYCLING CLUB, INC., Defendant(s). Index No: 515257/15

Notice: THIS OPINION IS UNCORRECTED AND WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE PRINTED OFFICIAL REPORTS.

Core Terms

Cycling, sanctioned, organizer, summary judgment, deposition, duty to plaintiff, participants, recreation, supervise, injuries, signs

Judges: [*1] Present: Hon. Judge Bernard J. Graham, Supreme Court Justice.

Opinion by: Bernard J. Graham

Opinion

DECISION / ORDER

Defendant, USA Cycling, Inc. (“USA Cycling”) has moved, pursuant to CPLR §3212, for an Order awarding summary judgment to the defendant and a dismissal of the plaintiff’s, Steven Levine, (“Mr. Levine”) complaint upon the grounds that the defendant was not negligent, and thus not liable for plaintiff’s injuries as they owed no duty to the plaintiff. The plaintiff opposes the relief sought by the defendant, USA Cycling, and maintains that the latter was negligent in that they had a greater involvement than just sanctioning the race in which the plaintiff was injured, and they failed to properly supervise, maintain and control the race in which the plaintiff who was not a participant in the race was seriously injured.

[**2] Background:

In the underlying matter, the plaintiff seeks to recover for personal injuries allegedly sustained while cycling in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 2014. At the same time the plaintiff was cycling as a recreational activity, a cycling event was taking place in the same area of Prospect Park. The plaintiff was cycling the same route as those participating in the event [*2] when he collided with another cyclist who was a participant in the bike race.

As a result of injuries sustained by the plaintiff, which included a fractured and displaced clavicle that required surgical intervention, an action was commenced on behalf of the plaintiff by the filing of a summons and complaint on or about December 21, 2015. Issue was joined by the service of a verified answer by USA Cycling on or about March 15, 2016. The plaintiff served a response to defendant’s Demand for a Verified Bill of Particulars dated March 24, 2016. Depositions of the plaintiff, as well as Todd Sowl, the chief financial officer of USA Cycling, were conducted on September 27, 2016.

In October 2016, the plaintiff moved to amend their complaint to add Kissena Cycling Club Inc., (“Kissena Cycling Club”) as an additional defendant. Kissena Cycling Club did not appear nor answer the complaint, but a default judgment had not been sought against said party.

In April 2017, plaintiff commenced a separate action against Kissena Cycling Club under index # 507066/2017. Plaintiff then filed a Note of Issue in the underlying action on July 25, 2017.

Defendant’s contention (USA Cycling, Inc.):

The defendant, in [*3] moving for summary judgment and a dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint, maintains that the relief sought herein should be granted because in the absence of a [**3] duty to the plaintiff there cannot be a breach and without a breach they cannot be liable for negligence.

The defendant maintains that USA Cycling merely sanctioned the event that was run by Kissena Cycling Club. They issued a permit to allow Kissena Cycling Club to use the name of USA Cycling during the event.

Defendant asserts that there is no evidence to support an argument as to the existence of a principal-agent relationship between USA Cycling and Kissena Cycling Club nor was there any evidence of control by USA Cycling or consent by USA Cycling to act on its behalf. In addition, there is no written agreement between the two entities.

In support of defendant’s motion, is the affidavit of Todd Sowl in which he stated that USA Cycling did not coordinate the Prospect Park event; did not control or employ any of the people organizing or managing or working the race; did not select the location of the race nor supervise the race. They did not have any employees or representatives at the race. In addition, they are not the parent [*4] company of Kissena Cycling Club nor is Kissena Cycling Club a subsidiary of USA Cycling.

Mr. Sowl testified at his deposition that while USA Cycling sanctions events in the United States they do not run cycling events. Mr. Sowl stated that while there are benefits to a third party such as Kissena Cycling Club for having an event sanctioned by USA Cycling which includes that a cyclist participating in the event can use the results for upgrading their national results and rankings and the third-party event organizers can independently obtain liability insurance for their event through USA Cycling, he nevertheless maintained that they have no involvement in the operation of the race or the design of the course.

[**4] Plaintiff’s contention:

In opposing the motion of USA Cycling for summary judgment, plaintiff maintains that USA Cycling was sufficiently involved with the cycling event that caused plaintiff’s injuries that would result in their owing a duty to the plaintiff. Plaintiff contends that USA Cycling was negligent in their failure to properly operate, supervise, maintain, manage and control the bicycle race.

The plaintiff asserts that USA Cycling by its chief operating officer, Mr. Sowl, [*5] in both his deposition and his supporting affidavit stated that his organization sanctioned the cycling event in Prospect Park. They collect some fees to compensate for sanctioning the event and provide insurance for the event.

The plaintiff maintains that the defendant did more than just sanction the race as they issued safety guidelines, rule books, post event forms, permits, an event checklist and insurance information to the Kissena Cycling Club, and even received a copy of the incident report.

The plaintiff asserts that negligence cases by their very nature do not lend themselves to summary dismissal since the issue of negligence is a question for jury determination. The plaintiff maintains that the proof submitted by USA Cycling does not satisfy their initial burden of establishing the absence of a material issue of fact.

Discussion:

This Court has considered the submissions of counsel’ for the respective parties, the arguments presented herein, as well as the applicable law, in making a determination with respect to the motion by defendant, USA Cycling, for summary judgment and a dismissal of plaintiff’s action.

[**5] At issue in this matter, is whether defendant USA Cycling owed a duty [*6] to the plaintiff and by virtue thereof is liable to the plaintiff for the injuries sustained during the bike tour.

The moving party in a motion for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating a prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issue of fact (Drago v. King, 283 AD2d 603, 725 NYS2d 859 [2nd Dept. 2001]).

In support of USA Cycling’s motion for summary judgment, the defendant offers the deposition testimony of Todd Sowl, as well as Charles Issendorf, the event director of Kissena Sports Project Inc. d/b/a Kissena Cycling Club, who was deposed on June 14, 2018 in the related action, as well as case law which examined whether a party under similar circumstances would have been found to be negligent and thus liable to an injured party.

To establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate (a) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach thereof, and (3) injury proximately resulting therefrom (Akins v Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 333, 424 N.E.2d 531, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644 [1981]. In the absence of a duty, there is no breach and without a breach there is no liability (see Light v. Antedeminico, 259 A.D.2d 737, 687 N.Y.S.2d 422; Petito v. Verrazano Contr. Co., 283 A.D.2d 472, 724 N.Y.S.2d 463 [2nd Dept. 2001]).

In determining whether USA Cycling had a duty to the plaintiff, this Court examined the role of USA Cycling and specifically [*7] its involvement in this race, as well as that of the Kissena Cycling Club. The Court further considered the deposition testimony of Todd Sowl as well as Charles Issendorf.

USA Cycling is the national governing body for cycling in the United States. They oversee the discipline of road, mountain bike, Cyc-cross, BMS and track cycling. Mr. Sowl testified that except for a few national championships, they do not actually run events. While [**6] they sanction events, the events are generally owned and operated by a third party (such as the Kissena Cycling Club). In sanctioning the race at Prospect Park, USA Cycling recognized the event as an official event and the results when considering national rankings. However, while they sanction events they do not sponsor them. The chief referee at the event is an independent contractor who works for the event organizer and not USA Cycling. Mr. Sowl further testified that USA Cycling does not share in any portion of the fees that are generated by the local events.

This lack of control over the event by USA Cycling and by contrast the control exhibited by the Kissena Cycling Club is further demonstrated through the deposition testimony of Charles Issendorf. [*8] Mr. Issendorf as the race director for Kissena Cycling Club has been organizing races for fourteen years. Mr. Issendorf characterized his club as more of a social club where its members race together. There are generally thirty races conducted between the months of March and September with the venues being in both Prospect Park and Floyd Bennett Field which is also situated in Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Issendorf testified that he obtains the permit for the subject race directly from the representatives of Prospect Park. Mr. Issendorf is instructed to have certain safety measures implemented at all races. He sets up the course by putting out the safety measures which includes the safety signs that are needed for the race. He also organizes the race marshals, and the pace and follow motorcycles to ensure that there is a motorcycle in both the front and back of each group.1 Mr. Issendorf further testified that Prospect Park has rules in terms of the placement of safety cones and signs that are needed, as well as the race marshals. Kissena Cycling club provides what could be characterized as “lawn signs” and Mr. Issendorf personally places these signs in the grass along the bike route. There [*9] are also traffic safety cones throughout the course that contain a sign which bear the words “caution, bicycle [**7] race”, that are placed there by Mr. Issendorf. The signs are generally situated one hundred meters apart and they are placed at crosswalks, entrances to the park, as well as at high traffic areas where there is a concentration of people. As to the course, the two lanes to the right of a double white line is where the participants are allowed to race. To the left of the double white line is the location of the pedestrian or the recreation lane. There are written instructions on the website of the club which states that at all times the participants are not allowed to enter the pedestrian or recreation lane. The race organizers also make use of a portable PA system at the race in which the chief referee warns the riders to stay to the right of the white right lane, and if they were to cross into the recreation lane it would result in their disqualification.

This Court finds that while USA Cycling sanctioned the race of June 14, 2014, the plaintiff has not sufficiently refuted the assertion and proof offered by USA Cycling that the latter did not organize, direct, control, supervise [*10] or select the venue nor did they have any employees or agents at the cycling event, and thus, had no duty to the plaintiff. Courts have addressed situations that are akin to the case at bar. The Court in Chittick v. USA Cycling Inc., 54 AD3d 625, 863 NYS2d 679 [1st Dept. 2008]), in finding that an award of summary judgment and a dismissal of the action against USA Cycling was warranted, in which spectators were injured during a bicycle race when struck by the rear pace vehicle, determined that USA Cycling had no duty to prevent any negligence involved therein. The Court in Chittick determined that USA Cycling merely sanctioned the race by lending its name to the race. The fact that USA Cycling provided the rule book to the organizer of the race did not impose a duty upon them to enforce any of the rules thereon. There was also no inference drawn as to the existence of a principal-agency relationship between USA Cycling and the race organizer.

[**8] The Court in Megna v. Newsday, Inc., 245 AD2d 494, 666 NYS2d 718 [2nd Dept. 1997], in granting summary judgment to the defendant, determined that the defendant merely sponsored the race in which the injured plaintiff had participated. It was determined that the defendant owed no duty of care to the plaintiff as the defendant was not in any way involved in the design, layout, maintenance [*11] or control of the race course, and was not in a position to assume such control (see also Mongello v. Davos Ski Resort, 224 A.D.2d 502, 638 N.Y.S.2d 166 [2nd Dept. 1966]; Johnson v. Cherry Grove Island Management Inc., 175 AD2d 827, 573 NYS2d 187 [2nd Dept. 1991]).

This Court finds that the plaintiff has not established a prima facie case that the defendant USA Cycling had a duty to the plaintiff, and not having a duty was not negligent, and thus, not liable to the plaintiff. This Court finds that USA Cycling was not responsible for the layout and design of the race course, and all of the safety precautions that were in place on the day of the race were supervised by the employees and volunteers of Kissena Cycling Club. USA Cycling had no involvement in the positioning of the plaintiff, who was a recreational cyclist, and the riders in the race. The fact that USA Cycling sanctioned the race, provided safety guidelines on its website and assisted the local race organizers in obtaining insurance does not result in a finding that they are liable for an incident that occurred in a local race that is fully operated and managed by a local racing club.

Conclusion:

The motion by defendant, USA Cycling, Inc. for summary judgment and a dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint is granted.

[**9] This shall constitute the decision and order of this Court.

Dated: December 4, 2018 [*12]

Brooklyn, New York

ENTER

/s/ Bernard J. Graham

Hon. Bernard J. Graham, Justice

Supreme Court, Kings County


Backcountry skier sues in Small Claims Court in San Miguel County Colorado for injuries she received when a backcountry snowboarder triggered an Avalanche that injured her.

The defendant snowboarder had agreed not to descend the slope until the lower parties had called and told them they had cleared the area. The defendant failed to wait and admitted he had triggered the Avalanche.

BEFORE COMMENTING READ EVERYTHING. I WAS NOT THE ATTORNEY FOR EITHER PARTY IN THIS CASE. The defendant in his comments about this article made that statement that I was the plaintiff’s attorney. He was the one in court, not me. How he made that mistake I don’t know. But Sober Up!

State: Colorado, San Miguel Small Claims Court

Plaintiff: Jayleen Troutwin

Defendant: Christopher Parke

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2017

Facts

Under Colorado law, you can create a duty when you agree to act or not act. Here the defendant created a duty when he agreed not to descend the slope until he had received a phone call from the first party that they had cleared the danger area.

This is a first of its kind suit that I have found, and the judge’s decision in this case is striking in its clarity and reasoning. At the same time, it might open up backcountry injuries to more litigation. The facts that created this lawsuit are specific in how the duty was created, and that will be rare in 90% of the backcountry accidents.

I have attached the written decision of the court to this analysis, and I encourage you to read it.

Facts: taken from the complaint, the CAIC Report and The Order of Judgment

The plaintiff was skiing out of bounds in Bear Creek outside of the Telluride Ski Area. While skiing they ran into the defendant and his friend. The defendant and friend were not ready to go, so the plaintiff and friend took off. The plaintiff and friend stated they would call the defendant when they were out of the danger zone at the bottom of the chute they both intended to ski.

The defendant and his friend did not wait, and triggered an avalanche. Plaintiff was still repelling when the avalanche hit her sweeping her off the rappel, and she fell 1200 feet down the slope riding the avalanche. She survived on top of the snow with several injuries.

The defendant admitted that it was his fault, and he would pay for the plaintiff’s medical bills. He made one payment and no others. The Plaintiff’s medical bills were in excess of $50,000. However, she still skied out after the incident.

The plaintiff sued the defendant in Small Claims Court. Small Claims court is for parties without attorneys, and the judge can grant a maximum of $7500.00 in damages.

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

Normally, participants in sporting or outdoor recreation events assume the risks inherent in the sport. Avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing. The Colorado Supreme Court has stated that in Colorado Supreme Court rules that an inbounds Avalanche is an inherent risk assumed by skiers based upon the Colorado Skier Safety Act.

Under most circumstances, the plaintiff in this situation would have assumed the risk of her injuries. What sets this decision apart was the agreement at the top of the mountain between the two groups of people. One group agreed not to descend into the chute until the other group had cleared the chute.

This creates an assumed duty on the part of the defendant. By agreeing to the acts, the plaintiff assumed a duty to the defendant.

The assumed duty doctrine “must be predicated on two factual findings.” “A plaintiff must first show that the defendant, either through its affirmative acts or through a promise to act, undertook to render a service that was reasonably calculated to prevent the type of harm that befell the plaintiff.” “Second, a plaintiff must also show either that he relied on the defendant to perform the service or that defendant’s undertaking increased plaintiff’s risk.”

This assumed duty was done specifically to prevent injuries to the other skiers. The skiers also relied on this agreement when they skied down the slope.

This Court, therefore, finds that the Defendant assumed a duty of care in agreeing not to ski his chosen route while Troutwin and Hope were still skiing theirs in an effort to avoid a skier-triggered avalanche.

Thus, when the defendant started down the chute, he violated the agreed to duty of care to the skiers below them.

The next issue to prove negligence in this case is causation or proximate causation. The breach of the duty by the defendant must be related to the injury the plaintiff received. The court simply found but for the actions of the defendant, the injuries of the plaintiff would not have occurred.

The defendant admitted triggering the avalanche, and the avalanche is what swept the plaintiff off the rappel.

The defendant raised two defenses at trial. Comparative Negligence and Assumption of Risk.

Comparative negligence asks, “did the actions of the plaintiff create or expose the plaintiff to an unreasonable risk of harm?” Comparative negligence is applied to reduce the damages the plaintiff might receive if both parties are at fault in causing the injuries to the plaintiff.

The defendant argued the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries and was a partial cause of her injuries when she did not use a backup device on her rappel.

The court looked at the failure to use a backup system on rappel as the same as failing to wear a seatbelt in a car or failing to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. Both have been determined by the Colorado Supreme Court to not be a component contributing to comparative negligence.

The reasoning behind this is simple. The plaintiff should not be required to determine in advance the negligence of any third party. Meaning it is not the injured parties’ duty, in advance to determine and then deal with any possible negligence of any other person. If that was the case, you could never leave the house because you never guessed what injury you might have received.

…[f]irst, a defendant should not diminish the consequences of his negligence by the failure of the injured party to anticipate defendant’s negligence in causing the accident itself. Second, a defense premised on an injured party’s failure to wear a protective helmet would result in a windfall to tortfeasors who pay only partially for the harm their negligence caused. Third, allowing the defense would lead to a veritable battle of experts as to what injuries would have or have not been avoided had the plaintiff been wearing a helmet.

The court found that neither comparative negligence, nor assumption of the risk applied to these facts and were not a defense to the plaintiff’s claims.

The court also added a section to its opinion about the future of backcountry skiing and the Policy issues this decision might create. It is well-written and worth quoting here.

51. This Court has determined that Parke’s duty of care is a result of his express assumption of that duty, rather than broader policy concerns that are typically addressed in protracted discussions of legal duty. It is nevertheless, worth noting that given the increasing popularity of backcountry skiing and skiing into Bear Creek, in particular, the risk of skiers triggering avalanches above one-another is likely increasing. In situations where skiers have no knowledge of whether a group is below, the legal outcome of an accident may be different than the result reached here. A liability rule that thus encourages skiers to avoid investigating whether their descent might pose a risk to those below feels averse to sound public policy. Communication and coordination between groups of backcountry skiers is surely good practice.

52. But meaningful communication is not necessarily impossible in these circumstances. This Court is swayed by the availability of radios like that which Troutwin and Hope carried. These radios are a communication option that appears more reliable than cellular telephones. Perhaps if they become more prevalent, more communication between parties will take place. And it follows and is foreseeable that other communications platforms or safety standards will develop to address this specific risk. The liability rule discussed here does not necessarily foreclose those developments.

53. The ethics and liability rules associated with backcountry skiing are likely to continue to evolve as its popularity increases and safety standards emerge. The law is likely to continue to evolve in kind.

It is refreshing to see a judge look at the broader aspect of his or her decision as it applies to an evolving sport.

The court found that the plaintiff suffered $9,660.00 in damages. The jurisdictional limit a Colorado Small Claims court can issue is a maximum of $7,500.00, which is the amount the plaintiff was awarded.

So Now What?

If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you say you are going to wait, wait. It is that simple.

More importantly, litigation has now entered the realm of backcountry skiing. Will it create more litigation, probably? Backcountry skiers who have no health insurance or no income while they recover will be looking for a way to get hospital bill collectors off their phone and pizza coming to the front door. Worse, health insurance companies will look at a way through their subrogation clauses to try to recover the money they pay out on behalf of their insureds.

At the same time, based upon these facts, the defendant was the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injuries not because he triggered an avalanche, but because he agreed not to trigger an avalanche.

Documents Attached:

Notice, Claim and Summons to Appear for a Trial.   

Answer

Trial Exhibits 1 through 9

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 4

Exhibit 5

Exhibit 6

Exhibit 7

Exhibit 8

Exhibit 9

Order of Judgment

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Arizona University did not owe student a duty of care during a study abroad program when the students organized an “off campus” trip, which resulted in a student’s death

Two different issues determine most outcomes in lawsuits against college & universities, whether the class was for credit or not and whether the incident occurred off campus or on campus.

Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

State: Arizona, Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One

Plaintiff: Elizabeth Boisson

Defendant: Arizona Board Of Regents, a public entity; State of Arizona, a public entity; Nanjing American University, L.L.C., an Arizona corporation doing business as, or under the trade name of Yangtze International Study Abroad

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: no duty owed

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2015

The deceased signed up for an international study abroad trip in China through the defendant university. While in China, the deceased and several other students organized a trip to Everest base camp. While at Everest base camp the deceased suffered altitude sickness and died.

From China, you can drive to the North Side base camp of Everest, which is at 19,000 feet.

During a student-organized trip, 14 study abroad students — including Morgan — flew to Lhasa, Tibet. The students then drove to the Mount Everest base camp a few days later. While at base camp, which is approximately 18,000 feet above sea level, Morgan developed and then died of altitude sickness.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.

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

The court first looked at the requirements to prove negligence in Arizona.

Although described in various ways, a plaintiff alleging a claim for negligence under Arizona common law has the burden to show: (1) duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) cause-in-fact; (4) legal (or proximate) causation and (5) resulting damages.

Arizona uses a five-step test for negligence when most other states use a four-point test. The difference is Arizona expands the definition of proximate causation requiring an actual cause and a proximate cause to prove negligence.

Of the five steps, the first, whether or not there was a duty, is a decision that is made by the court.

The existence of a duty of care is a distinct issue from whether the standard of care has been met in a particular case. As a legal matter, the issue of duty involves generalizations about categories of cases. Duty is defined as an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm.” . . . .

Whether the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care is a threshold issue; absent some duty, an action for negligence cannot be maintained. Thus, a conclusion that no duty exists is equivalent to a rule that, for certain categories of cases, defendants may not be held accountable for damages they carelessly cause, no matter how unreasonable their conduct.

Foreseeability is not an issue under Arizona’s law. Whether or not the defendant could foresee the injury to the plaintiff does not come into play when determining if a duty existed.

The court then looked at the duties owed by a college in Arizona to a student. Most duties arise when the relationships between the school and the student are custodial. Arizona does owe students a duty of reasonable care for on campus activities.

However, the duties owed for off-campus  activities by a university to a student are different.

Therefore, in the student-school relationship, the duty of care is bounded by geography and time, encompassing risks such as those that occur while the student is at school or otherwise under the school’s control.

This analysis has seven steps to determine the duty owed, if any, by an Arizona college.

…Arizona cases have identified the following factors in determining whether an off-campus activity is deemed a school activity: (1) the purpose of the activity, (2) whether the activity was part of the course curriculum, (3) whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity, and (4) whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement. Courts elsewhere also have looked at whether (5) the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity; (6) whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so and (7) whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus.

Here the trip was conceived and organized by the students. The students dealt with a Chinese tour company to make the arrangements. Not all the students in the study abroad program undertook the trip. The college offered no academic credit for the trip, and the trip was not in the curriculum of the program.

Defendants had no supervisory authority over, or responsibility for, the trip, and no faculty or staff went on the trip. The risk of altitude sickness was present independent of any involvement by Defendants and the trip did not involve a potentially dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. Accordingly, applying these factors, the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty under Arizona law.

The plaintiff hired an expert witness who stated that the university absolutely had a duty to the plaintiff. However, the court ignored the expert finding the determination of a duty was solely within the province of the court, and the expert witness’s opinion did not matter.

The trial court’s determination was upheld because the appellate court found that the school owed no duty to the deceased.

So Now What?

One important thing that parents seem to forget when their sons and daughters leave for college is not only are they leaving home, but they are also leaving any real supervision, custody or control. Colleges and universities are not baby sitters or parents and parents probably should be reminded of that fact.

Here, the effects were disastrous; however, the issues were clear. A group of students left campus to do something. Where campus is, did not matter and where the students went did not matter. Whether or not the effects of altitude on a student at 19, 000 did also not matter because the college did not arrange, run, manage or control the students.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

Boisson v. Arizona Board Of Regents, et. al., 236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

Elizabeth Boisson, individually and on behalf of all statutory beneficiaries, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. Arizona Board Of Regents, a public entity; State of Arizona, a public entity; Nanjing American University, L.L.C., an Arizona corporation doing business as, or under the trade name of Yangtze International Study Abroad, Defendants/Appellees.

No. 1 CA-CV 13-0588

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One

236 Ariz. 619; 343 P.3d 931; 2015 Ariz. App. LEXIS 36; 708 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7

March 10, 2015, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Review denied by , , 2015 Ariz. LEXIS 348 (Ariz., Dec. 1, 2015)

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County. No. CV2010-025607. The Honorable Douglas L. Rayes, Judge.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Knapp & Roberts, P.C., Scottsdale, By Craig A. Knapp, Dana R. Roberts, David L. Abney, Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

Garrey, Woner, Hoffmaster & Peshek, P.C., Scottsdale, By Shawna M. Woner, Stephanie Kwan, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Arizona Board of Regents and State of Arizona.

Udall Law Firm, LLP, Tucson, By Peter Akmajian, Janet Linton, Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Nanjing American University, L.L.C., dba Yangtze International Study Abroad.

Judge Samuel A. Thumma delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Margaret H. Downie and Judge Andrew W. Gould joined.

JUDGES: THUMMA, Judge.

OPINION BY: THUMMA

OPINION

[*621] [**933] THUMMA, Judge:

P1 Elizabeth Boisson appeals from a judgment dismissing a wrongful death negligence claim arising out of the death of her son Morgan Boisson. The judgment was based on the ground that Defendants owed no duty to Morgan when, while studying abroad in China, he traveled to Tibet and died of altitude sickness. Finding no error, this court affirms.

FACTS1 AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

1 The superior court struck supplemental filings relating to the summary judgment [***2] briefing and, on Elizabeth’s motion, struck portions of certain declarations filed by Defendants. Because the judgment is properly affirmed on other grounds, this court does not address these issues or the finding that there were no disputed issues of material fact. See Monroe v. Basis School, Inc., 234 Ariz. 155, 157 n.1 ¶ 3, 318 P.3d 871, 873 n.1 (App. 2014).

P2 Morgan was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, which is governed by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR). In the fall of 2009, Morgan and 16 other university students spent the semester studying in China at Nanjing American University (NAU). This study-abroad program, sometimes referred to as Yangtze International Study Abroad (YISA), was a collaborative effort between ABOR and NAU.

P3 While in China, the study-abroad program included school-sponsored trips to various cities in China with NAU faculty. At other times, the students organized their own trips. During a student-organized trip, 14 study abroad students — including Morgan — flew to Lhasa, Tibet. The students then drove to the Mount Everest base camp a few days later. While at base camp, which is approximately 18,000 feet above sea level, Morgan developed and then died of altitude sickness.

P4 As relevant here, Elizabeth filed a complaint [***3] against the State of Arizona, ABOR and NAU (collectively Defendants), asserting a wrongful death negligence claim pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) sections 12-611 to -613 (2015).2 After discovery, motion practice and oral argument, the superior court granted Defendants’ motions for summary judgment on the ground that Defendants “owed no affirmative duty of care to Morgan while he was a participant on the subject trip to Tibet.” After entry of judgment, Elizabeth timely appealed. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to the Arizona Constitution, Article 6, Section 9, [*622] [**934] and A.R.S. §§ 12-120.21(A)(1) and -2101(A)(1).

2 Absent material revisions after the relevant dates, statutes and rules cited refer to the current version unless otherwise indicated.

DISCUSSION

I. Duty In An Arizona Common Law Negligence Claim.3

3 Because the parties do not claim that any other law applies, this court applies Arizona law. See Gemstar Ltd. v. Ernst & Young, 185 Ariz. 493, 501, 917 P.2d 222, 230 (1996).

P5 Although described in various ways, [HN1] a plaintiff alleging a claim for negligence under Arizona common law has the burden to show: (1) duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) cause-in-fact; (4) legal (or proximate) causation and (5) resulting damages. See, e.g., Gipson v. Kasey, 214 Ariz. 141, 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d 228, 230 (2007); Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500, 504, 667 P.2d 200, 204 (1983); Wisener v. State, 123 Ariz. 148, 149, 598 P.2d 511, 512 (1979). “The first element, whether a duty exists, is a matter of law for the court to decide.” Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230 (citation omitted).

[HN2] The existence of a duty of care is [***4] a distinct issue from whether the standard of care has been met in a particular case. As a legal matter, the issue of duty involves generalizations about categories of cases. Duty is defined as an “obligation, recognized by law, which requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm.” . . . .

Whether the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care is a threshold issue; absent some duty, an action for negligence cannot be maintained. Thus, a conclusion that no duty exists is equivalent to a rule that, for certain categories of cases, defendants may not be held accountable for damages they carelessly cause, no matter how unreasonable their conduct.

Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143–44 ¶¶ 10–11, 150 P.3d at 230–31 (citations omitted).

P6 As noted by the Arizona Supreme Court, pre-2007 case law addressing duty “created ‘some confusion and lack of clarity . . . as to what extent, if any, foreseeability issues bear on the initial legal determination of duty.'” Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231 (citation omitted). Gipson, however, expressly held “that [HN3] foreseeability is not a factor to be considered by courts when making determinations of duty, and we reject any contrary suggestion in [***5] prior opinions.” 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231. Accordingly, foreseeability is not a part of the duty inquiry and those portions of pre-Gipson cases relying on foreseeability when addressing the issue are no longer valid.

P7 Although a duty can arise in various ways, Elizabeth argues: (1) the student-school relationship imposes a duty on Defendants here and (2) public policy imposes such a duty. [HN4] Recognizing the concept of duty is context dependent, Gipson indicates that duty may arise from the relationship between the parties or, alternatively, from public policy considerations. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 145 ¶ 18, ¶ 23, 150 P.3d at 232; accord Monroe v. Basis School, Inc., 234 Ariz. 155, 157, 159 ¶ 5, ¶ 12, 318 P.3d 871, 873, 875 (App. 2014); see also Randolph v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 19 Ariz. App. 121, 123, 505 P.2d 559, 561 (App. 1973) (“No better general statement can be made, than that the courts will find a duty where, in general, reasonable men would recognize it and agree that it exists.”).

A. Duty Based On The Student-School Relationship.

1. Context Of The Duty.

P8 [HN5] “The student-school relationship is one that can impose a duty within the context of the relationship.” Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 5, 318 P.3d at 873. Arizona case law shows the duty most clearly applies in on-campus activities in the primary and secondary school context, where the relationship is custodial. Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 158 ¶ 9, 318 P.3d at 874. Arizona case law is less clear whether and to what extent the duty applies in off-campus [***6] activities in the primary and secondary school context. See Alhambra Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court, 165 Ariz. 38, 41–42, 796 P.2d 470, 473–74 (1990) (holding school district owed duty to high school student injured in elementary school-created crosswalk); Collette v. Tolleson Unified Sch. Dist., No. 214, 203 Ariz. 359, 54 P.3d 828 (App. 2002) (holding school owed no [*623] [**935] duty to third party who was injured by high school student who left campus in violation of school policy).

P9 In the college and university context, courts in other jurisdictions “are split on whether a college owes an affirmative duty to its students.” Restatement (Third) of Torts: Physical and Emotional Harm § 40 Reporters’ Notes cmt. l (2012) (Restatement) (citing cases). [HN6] Arizona case law, however, indicates a college or university does owe its students a duty of reasonable care for on-campus activities. See Jesik v. Maricopa Cnty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 125 Ariz. 543, 611 P.2d 547 (1980); see also Delbridge v. Maricopa Cnty. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 182 Ariz. 55, 58–59, 893 P.2d 55, 58–59 (App. 1994) (holding college owed duty to student for injury incurred during college class, even though college did “not have a permanent campus”). It is undisputed that the Tibet trip was not an on-campus activity.

P10 The parties have cited, and the court has found, no Arizona case addressing whether a college or university owes its students a duty of reasonable care for off-campus activities. Section 40(b)(5) of the Restatement, applied by the Arizona Supreme Court in a different context, imposes a “duty of reasonable care with [***7] regard to risks that arise within the scope of the relationship” for “a school with its students.” Restatement § 40(a), (b)(5).4 As framed by the parties, Restatement § 40 provides that a college or university may owe a duty to its student “to risks that occur while the student is at school or otherwise engaged in school activities.” Restatement § 40 cmt. l (emphasis added). No Arizona case has recognized a duty by a university or a college in any context comparable to this case. In addition, Restatement § 40, in its final form, was promulgated in 2012, meaning there is comparatively little guidance in construing “otherwise engaged in school activities.” Restatement § 40 cmt. l. This lack of authority is significant given that Elizabeth has the burden to show the existence of a duty. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230.

4 In the common carrier context, Nunez v. Professional Transit Mgmt. of Tucson, Inc., applied Restatement § 40 Proposed Final Draft No. 1 (2007). 229 Ariz. 117, 121 ¶¶ 17–18 & n.2, , 271 P.3d 1104, 1108 & n.2 (2012); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 5, 318 P.3d at 873 (citing Restatement § 40 in primary school context).

P11 [HN7] Recognizing that the existence of duty is a legal, not a factual, matter, Gipson cautioned against “a fact-specific analysis of the relationship between the parties” in determining whether a duty of care exists. Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232 (considering whether duty existed in a case not involving a categorical relationship). Accordingly, [***8] this court does not look at “the parties’ actions” alleged to determine “if a duty exists.” Id. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232. Instead, this court looks to the legal factors identified elsewhere to determine whether the Tibet trip was an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty of reasonable care. See Barkhurst v. Kingsmen of Route 66, Inc., 234 Ariz. 470, 472–75 ¶¶ 10–18, 323 P.3d 753, 755–58 (App. 2014) (citing cases); Wickham v. Hopkins, 226 Ariz. 468, 471–73 ¶¶ 13–23, 250 P.3d 245, 248–50 (App. 2011) (citing cases); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157-59 ¶¶ 5-11, 318 P.3d at 873-75.

2. The Trip Was Not An Off-Campus School Activity For Which Defendants Owed Morgan A Duty.

P12 [HN8] In the college and university setting, duty is not governed by custody or in loco parentis concepts. Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; see also Randolph v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 19 Ariz. App. 121, 123, 505 P.2d 559, 561 (App. 1973) (“There comes a time when an individual must take it upon himself to be responsible for his own education and well-being. No person can be insulated against all the risks of living.”). Similarly, “[t]he scope of the duty imposed by the student-school relationship is not limitless.” Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 6, 318 P.3d at 873. “[T]he duty is tied to expected activities within the relationship. Therefore, in the student-school relationship, the duty of care is bounded by geography and time, encompassing risks such as those that occur while the student is at school or otherwise under the school’s control.” Id. at [*624] [**936] 157–58 ¶ 6, 318 P.3d at 873–74 (citing cases and Restatement § 40(b)(5) cmts. f, l).

P13 In what are at best analogous [***9] contexts, Arizona cases have identified the following factors [HN9] in determining whether an off-campus activity is deemed a school activity: (1) the purpose of the activity, Collette, 203 Ariz. at 363 ¶ 16, 54 P.3d at 832; (2) whether the activity was part of the course curriculum, Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; (3) whether the school had supervisory authority and responsibility during the activity, id.; Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 161 ¶ 18, 318 P.3d at 877; and (4) whether the risk students were exposed to during the activity was independent of school involvement, Collette, 203 Ariz. at 365 ¶ 23, 54 P.3d at 834. Courts elsewhere also have looked at whether (5) the activity was voluntary or was a required school activity; (6) whether a school employee was present at or participated in the activity or was expected to do so and (7) whether the activity involved a dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. See 5 James A. Rapp & Jonathan M. Astroth, Education Law § 12.09[6][c] (2014) (citing cases).

P14 Applying these factors, the Tibet trip was conceived by exchange students who wanted to see Mount Everest, not for any NAU-related purpose. After doing some research, a student made arrangements directly with Tibettours, a Tibet-based tour company, which then set the itinerary, arranged trip details and served as a guide during the trip. Fourteen [***10] of the 17 study abroad students then went on the trip and paid Tibettours directly, or through the coordinating students. The trip, details of the trip and the cost of the trip were not part of the study-abroad program or any course curriculum, and no academic credit was awarded for the trip. At the students’ request, NAU student liaison Zhang Fan helped the students communicate with Tibettours and arrange flights, and also provided a letter, required by the Chinese government to secure required permits, stating the students were NAU students. At the students’ request, the professors agreed to allow the students to make up classes they missed if they participated in the trip. Defendants had no supervisory authority over, or responsibility for, the trip, and no faculty or staff went on the trip. The risk of altitude sickness was present independent of any involvement by Defendants and the trip did not involve a potentially dangerous project initiated at school but built off campus. Accordingly, applying these factors, the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty under Arizona law. See Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 159 ¶ 11, 318 P.3d at 875; Collette, 203 Ariz. at 363 ¶ 16, 54 P.3d at 832; Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59; see also Rapp & Astroth, Education [***11] Law § 12.09[6][c] (citing cases).5

5 This does not mean that a university or college lacks a duty to protect its students for activities occurring off campus on property owned or controlled by the university or college, or for off-campus functions controlled or regulated by the university or college. See, e.g., Barkhurst, 234 Ariz. at 473–74 ¶¶ 12–14, 323 P.3d at 756–57 (discussing Estate of Hernandez v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 177 Ariz. 244, 866 P.2d 1330 (1994)); accord Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157–58 ¶ 6 n.2, 318 P.3d at 873–74 n.2 (citing Delbridge, 182 Ariz. at 59, 893 P.2d at 59).

P15 Elizabeth argues that the Tibet trip was a school activity because: (1) Defendants “knew that study-abroad programs pose dangers,” and issued students cell phones to “safeguard . . . [them] during their study-abroad program;” (2) 14 of the 17 exchange students participated in the trip; (3) Defendants let students make up the classes they missed during the trip and (4) the trip would not have been possible without Fan’s assistance.

P16 Defendants’ purported knowledge that participating in the study-abroad program would involve “risks not found in study at” the University of Arizona in Tucson does not help answer whether the trip was a school activity. See Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 144 ¶ 15, 150 P.3d at 231 (rejecting foreseeability as factor in determining duty). Similarly, providing the students cell phones “with which they can contact faculty and staff to answer [***12] questions and solve problems day or night from any part of China” does not make the Tibet trip a school activity. And although many study-abroad students decided to go on the trip, some did not. Allowing [*625] [**937] classes to be made up at the students’ request similarly does not mean the trip was a school activity and the record suggests that students would have gone to Tibet even if it meant they could not make up classes they missed. Finally, it may be that the trip would not have been possible but for Fan’s assistance in response to the students’ request. That, however, does not mean Defendants owed Morgan a duty while on the trip. No authority cited holds the existence of a duty turns on whether a defendant made something possible. Indeed, such a rule would mean an almost unlimited number of individuals and entities could be found to have owed a duty here, including the airline that flew the students to Tibet, the manufacturer of that airplane and the provider of the airplane fuel. [HN10] Although a “but for” inquiry often is relevant in determining whether a plaintiff has shown causation after a duty and its breach are established, it does not address whether a duty exists. See id. at 145 ¶ 21, 150 P.3d at 232.

P17 Nor [***13] does Elizabeth’s reliance on 2007 and 2009 YISA brochures and an affiliation agreement between YISA and the University of Arizona alter the analysis. The substance of the 2009 brochure is not contained in the record. The description attributed to the brochure (“Additional Travel Opportunities,” noting “that students in past programs had visited Tibet”) does not make the trip here a school activity. Presuming the 2007 brochure applied to the Fall 2009 program, that document states: (1) “[i]ncluded in your program fee will be trips to important cities or sites in China;” (2) in addition, “students will have a week or more of time off to travel on their own” and (3) “[o]ur staff will help with all aspects of planning these trips throughout China.” That Defendants may have helped students plan “travel on their own” does not impose on Defendants a duty for the student-planned Tibet trip. Similarly, YISA agreeing to provide “student support services — translation assistance, travel planning, and emergency assistance” — does not impose upon Defendants a duty to protect students from harms in the student-planned Tibet trip.

P18 Elizabeth also argues on appeal that selected excerpts from ABOR’s internal [***14] code of conduct mean the Tibet trip was a school activity. Although Elizabeth cited this document in superior court to show that the exchange program was an ABOR-sponsored activity, she did not argue it established a duty. By not pressing that argument then, Elizabeth cannot do so now. See Fisher v. Edgerton, 236 Ariz. 71, 75 n.2 ¶ 9, 336 P.3d 167, 171 n.2 (App. 2014).6 Even absent waiver, Elizabeth has not shown how ABOR’s code of conduct — addressing “misconduct . . . subject to disciplinary action” and “the promotion and protection” of “an environment that encourages reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, openness to constructive change and respect for the rights of all” at state universities — makes the Tibet trip a school activity imposing a duty on Defendants.

6 Similarly, Elizabeth alleged negligence per se in superior court based on ABOR’s internal code of conduct, but did not further develop that claim. See Fisher, 236 Ariz. at 75 n.2 ¶ 9, 336 P.3d at 171 n.2; see also Steinberger v. McVey, 234 Ariz. 125, 139 ¶ 56, 318 P.3d 419, 433 (App. 2014) (noting negligence per se claim “must be based on a statute enacted ‘for the protection and safety of the public'”) (citation omitted).

P19 Finally, Elizabeth relies on the opinions of Dr. William W. Hoffa, her “standard of care” expert, who took the position that study-abroad programs should categorically owe a duty to students [***15] throughout all aspects of the program. But the question of whether a duty exists is an issue of law for the court to decide, not experts. Badia v. City of Casa Grande, 195 Ariz. 349, 354 ¶ 17, 988 P.2d 134, 139 (App. 1999) ( [HN11] “The issue of whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court, unaffected by expert opinion.”); see also Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 157 ¶ 4, 318 P.3d at 873 (existence of duty “is a matter of law for the court to decide”) (citing Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143 ¶ 9, 150 P.3d at 230). Moreover, as Elizabeth concedes, Dr. Hoffa’s testimony goes to the standard of care and other issues that are premised on the existence of a duty. See Gipson, 214 Ariz. at 143–44 ¶¶ 10–11, 150 P.3d at 230–31 (citations omitted). Accordingly, Dr. Hoffa’s opinions do not resolve the question of whether a duty exists.

[*626] [**938] P20 For these reasons, the superior court properly concluded that the Tibet trip was not an off-campus school activity for which Defendants owed Morgan a duty.

B. Duty Based On Public Policy.

P21 In discussing whether public policy should recognize a duty here, Elizabeth

cites no public policy authority, and we are aware of none, supporting a general duty of care against harm away from school premises, absent a school-supervised activity or a particular statute. To hold otherwise would imply that the student-school relationship extends to situations where the school lacks custody [***16] over the student and the student is not participating in a school-sponsored activity. We decline to define the scope of duty in such broad terms.

Monroe, 234 Ariz. at 161 ¶ 20, 318 P.3d at 877. For these reasons, Elizabeth has not shown that public policy considerations result in Defendants owing Morgan a duty for the Tibet trip.

II. Other Issues On Appeal.

P22 Having found Defendants did not owe Morgan a duty for the Tibet trip, this court affirms the judgment and need not address the other issues raised on appeal. ABOR’s request for taxable costs on appeal is granted contingent upon its compliance with Arizona Rule of Civil Appellate Procedure 21.

CONCLUSION

P23 The judgment in favor of Defendants is affirmed.


Mississippi decision requires advance planning and knowledge of traveling in a foreign country before taking minors there.

Based upon this Mississippi decision a greater burden is not placed upon groups taking minor’s out of the country. Those requirements are to research all the possible risks the student may face and to include those risks in the release.

Colyer v. First United Methodist Church of New Albany, 2016 Miss. App. LEXIS 160

State: Mississippi: Court of Appeals of Mississippi

Plaintiff: Deliah Colyer, as Natural Mother and Next Friend of Marshuan Braxton, Deceased, and on Behalf of all Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Marshuan Braxton, Deceased

Defendant: First United Methodist Church of New Albany and John Does 1-15

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: no negligence and release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2016

This case concerns a young man who died during a mission trip to Costa Rica. A mission trip is where US citizens, generally go to a third world (or in their mind’s third-world country and perform public service. In this case, the mission was to fly to Costa Rica and construct a sanctuary in Villa Briceno.

The trip was led by the associate pastor of the defendant church. The trip had nine adults and six minors, including the deceased. There were also another four adults and one minor from another church on the trip.

The participants or their parents had to sign a “New Albany First United Methodist Church Youth Medical / Parent Consent form and a Parental Consent form. Braxton also signed a document entitled “Int. Missionary Profile and Release of Claim.”

On the way to the site after landing, the group stopped to pick up lunch. The group then proceeded to a beach to have lunch. The group split up into several smaller groups and went different directions along the beach. The deceased and another boy and two adults when to a rock formation and climbed it. A large wave crashed over them and swept the deceased off the rock into the ocean. Two people were able to swim back to the rock and eventually get out of the ocean.

A lawsuit was filed by the deceased mother, who was not the guardian of the deceased. The trial court, in Mississippi called the circuit court, dismissed the case and the plaintiff’s filed this appeal.

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

The court reviewed what was required in Mississippi to prove a negligence claim. “The elements of a prima facie case of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages.”

The first issue was the duty owed by the church to the deceased. The defendants admitted that they owed a duty to the deceased; however, the defendant argued that duty was diminished due to the age of the deceased, 17. However, the court found under Mississippi law the age of the victim was not at issue. The duty was the same under the law to anyone who was not an adult. The issue was one for the jury to decide what constituted proper and adequate supervision over the deceased.

The court also gave credence to the idea that the church failed to supervise the deceased by not researching the ocean and rocks first.

Additionally, Colyer alleges other acts of negligence: (1) failure to research the dangers of the Pacific coast and (2) allowing the children, including Braxton, to go onto a dangerous rock structure on the coast of the Pacific Ocean without any knowledge of oceanic activities in Costa Rica.

The next issue was whether the documents signed by the deceased family were valid. The court determined the legal issue in a very scary way.

The deceased’s grandmother was his guardian and signed the documents. However, a guardian does acquire all the legal interests in a minor that a parent has. The guardian has legal control and responsibility of the minor but may not have any other valid interest. In this case, the mother still maintained a recognizable interest in the deceased, a consortium type of claim loss of love, future earnings in some states, etc. She is the plaintiff in the case, and thus the release was not written broadly enough, in fact, probably could not be written broadly enough, for the release to stop the mother’s lawsuit, when it was signed by the guardian. The guardian can sign for the minor but not the parents. One adult cannot sign away another adult’s right to sue.

It is undisputed that the parties in this appeal are not the same parties that executed the waivers. It appears that one of the waivers was signed by Howell, who was Braxton’s grandmother. She signed a “parental consent form,” but she is not a party to this action. Braxton, a seventeen-year-old minor at the time, appeared to have signed the release waiver.

The court then looked into this issue. First because the deceased was a minor, he could not, by law sign the contract (release).

The defendant argued that because the mother was a third party beneficiary of the contract to send the deceased on the trip, she was bound by the contract. However, the court referred to basic contract law that said there was no meeting of the minds. Because the mother did not sign the contract or was not mentioned in the contract she did not have the requirements necessary to be a party to the contract. Therefore, she was not bound by the contract.

The appellate court overruled the trial court find the release did not meet the necessary requirements to stop a lawsuit under Mississippi law.

There was a concurring opinion this decision. That means one of the judges agreed with the decision but wanted to emphasize some point of the law or agreed with the decision overall but for a different legal reasoning. The concurring decision put more emphasize the duties owed to the deceased.

In this case, a duty clearly arose from the relationship between Braxton, a seventeen-year-old minor, and Amanda, the associate pastor and leader of FUNA’s youth mission trip. At the very least, FUNA, by and through its employee, Amanda, bore a duty to use ordinary care to plan and supervise this international mission trip composed of church members to Costa Rica and its shores on the Pacific Ocean. As the facts of this case reflect, a duty also arose and existed to supervise Braxton on the rock formations of the Costa Rica Pacific coastline.

Consequently, the concurring decision believed there was a real issue as to whether the church through its employee, failed to warn against the risk of the beaches and Pacific Ocean. Then the judge seemed to have piled on for failing to check US State Department for travel advisories.

…but she admitted to failing to check with the United States State Department online travel advisory warnings, or any other travel advisories, as to any unsafe beach, tide, or surf conditions in Costa Rica.

(Since when as the state department issued warnings about beaches, the ocean or surf?)

In planning and supervising this trip, a duty existed to warn of the hidden dangers and perils not in plain view that FUNA and its mission trip leader, Amanda, knew, or should have known, existed. Additionally, once the tide rose and the large waves knocked the adults down, Amanda bore a duty to supervise and warn Braxton of the dangerous conditions.

The concurring opinion then addressed the releases in the case. The courts’ reasoning on why the releases where void is because they contained no language warning of the risks of the trip, specifically the risk of the ocean.

The waivers contained no language regarding the liability or risks of recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, or rock climbing on Costa Rica’s beaches on the Pacific Ocean or the risks of the dangerous riptides and dangerous ocean surf.

This requirement is occurring more frequently lately. The courts want to see a list of the risks that can cause injury to the plaintiff in the release. That means there must be more than the legalese necessary for the release to be valid under state law, there must be a list of the risks to the plaintiff. More importantly the risks must include the risk that caused injury to the plaintiff.

The concurring opinion also found that the requirements for a release under Mississippi law had not been met.

Public policy prohibits the use of preinjury waivers of liability for personal injury due to future acts of a defendant’s own negligence. (waiver unenforceable where it did not express intent of student to accept any heightened exposure to injury caused by malfeasance of instructor’s failure to follow safety guidelines); For a waiver to be valid and enforceable, it must not be ambiguous, and it must be specific in wording as to the liability. Waivers will be strictly construed against the defendant. When a waiver contains ambiguous language, it cannot be construed as a waiver of liability for injuries that result from the negligence of the defendant.

Here the lack of information in the release about the risks of the trip and the ocean would have made the release unenforceable according to the concurring judge.

So Now What?

The first issue of concern is the court gave the plaintiff’s a lot of room to bring in far-flung claims of negligence to the trial. Basically, if this stands, you will have to have gone to a site and researched the risks of the site and getting to and from a site before ever taking kids from Mississippi there.

Although this is considered normal when in the outdoors, it has not been the standard of care for travel in communities, cities or normal life. Even though the defendant worked with a local missionary before the trip, the court thought that might not have been enough. The employee of the defendant in charge of the trip had not been to the site and examined it where the deceased died.

The release issue is next and creates a nightmare for recreation providers. If a minor is under the court-ordered  control of a guardian, both the guardian and the minor’s parent, at least in Mississippi, must sign the release as both have an interest that can be used to sue for the minor’s injuries or as in this case, death.

Overall, the appellant decision is scary in the burdens it places upon people organizing trips for minors, which leave the country or possibly even go next door. The entire trip must be researched in advance, the risks researched and examined, and those risks must be provided to the minors and their parents traveling on the trip, or included in the release.

The overview of the case sums the issue up. A hazardous condition was sitting on a rock near the ocean.

It was an error to grant appellee church summary judgment in a wrongful-death suit filed by the appellant, a deceased minor’s mother, because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the church adequately supervised the minor, whether the child should have been warned of a known hazardous condition, and whether the minor was negligently allowed to engage in dangerous activity….

What is not brought up in this decision is whether or not the release, if valid, would have stopped the suit.

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Colyer v. First United Methodist Church of New Albany, 2016 Miss. App. LEXIS 160

Colyer v. First United Methodist Church of New Albany, 2016 Miss. App. LEXIS 160

Deliah Colyer, as Natural Mother and Next Friend of Marshuan Braxton, Deceased, and on Behalf of all Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Marshuan Braxton, Deceased, Appellant v. First United Methodist Church of New Albany and John Does 1-15, APPELLEES

NO. 2014-CA-01636-COA

COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSISSIPPI

2016 Miss. App. LEXIS 160

March 29, 2016, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/22/2014. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT WILLIAM ELLIOTT. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: SUMMARY JUDGMENT GRANTED TO APPELLEES.

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED.

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: JOSHUA A. TURNER.

FOR APPELLEES: WILTON V. BYARS III, JOSEPH LUKE BENEDICT.

JUDGES: BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND JAMES, JJ. LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ., JOIN THIS OPINION. WILSON, J., JOINS THIS OPINION IN PART. CARLTON, J., SPECIALLY CONCURRING.

OPINION BY: JAMES

OPINION

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL – WRONGFUL DEATH

BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND JAMES, JJ.

JAMES, J., FOR THE COURT:

P1. This case arises out of a wrongful-death action filed by Deliah Colyer on behalf of her deceased son, Marshuan Braxton. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of First United Methodist Church of New Albany. On appeal, Colyer argues that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment. Finding error, we reverse and remand this case for a trial.

FACTS

P2. On June 20, 2009, Braxton, along with other minors and adult chaperones, flew from Memphis, Tennessee, to Costa Rica on a mission trip. Braxton, a seventeen-year-old, was expecting to begin his senior year at New Albany High School when classes [*2] resumed for the 2009-2010 school year. The purpose of the mission trip was to construct a sanctuary in Villa Briceno, Costa Rica, and conduct other mission activities. The trip was led by Amanda Gordon, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of New Albany, Mississippi (FUNA). Amanda coordinated the trip with missionary Wil Bailey through the regional United Methodist missions group. There were fifteen members on the mission trip from FUNA, with nine adults and six minors. Five other individuals, four adults and one minor, from First United Methodist Church of Brandon, Mississippi, also joined.

P3. Before leaving for the mission trip, Elnora Howell, Braxton’s legal guardian and grandmother, signed two documents before a notary public as a condition of Braxton participating. These documents included a New Albany First United Methodist Church Youth Medical / Parent Consent form and a Parental Consent form. Braxton also signed a document entitled “Int. Missionary Profile and Release of Claim” that contained warnings about the dangers associated with participating in the mission trip.

P4. The group arrived in San Isidro, Costa Rica, on June 20. On June 21, 2009, the group left [*3] San Isidro to travel to the worksite in Villa Briceno. Since they expected to ride on the bus for several hours, Bailey suggested they stop for lunch at a scenic site on their way to Villa Briceno. The group stopped and ate at a roadside café. After leaving the café, they stopped at the Dominicalito, a beach, located near the Pacific Ocean. The weather was clear, and there were a few picnic tables in the area. A few locals were also there. The group intended to go on a brief excursion and take photographs. The bus driver suggested two or three areas on the beach for the group to visit.

P5. The group separated into two or three smaller groups and headed to the suggested areas. Braxton, Mattie Carter, and Josh Creekmore, along with adult chaperones, Sam Creekmore and Mike Carter, went to a rock formation and climbed onto it to observe crabs. The adults eventually climbed down and walked behind the rock formation. Braxton, Mattie, and Josh stayed up top and continued to observe the crabs. While Braxton, Mattie, and Josh were still up top, a large wave crashed into the rock formation and knocked them into the ocean.

P6. Mike and Sam immediately climbed back on the rock formation and saw [*4] Braxton, Mattie, and Josh swimming with their heads above water. The wave current, however, began to wash the minors away from the rock formation. Sam instructed them to swim around the rocks into an inlet area to reach safety on the beach. Mike climbed down closer to the water level. A second wave rose and knocked Mike into the ocean, and the current took him in the opposite direction of Braxton, Mattie, and Josh. Mike was eventually rescued by a local Costa Rican resident that had a life jacket and rope. Braxton, unfortunately, disappeared into the water before Mike was rescued. Mattie and Josh, however, were able to swim out onto the beach after being in the water for about five minutes.

P7. Adam Gordon and his wife, Amanda, went to a different area of the beach, but because of the distance and obstructions blocking their view they were unable to see the minors. Adam testified that he was knocked down by a wave at the same time that the wave reached the area where Braxton, Josh, and Mattie were located. Amanda was standing nearby and saw the wave approaching Adam. Amanda yelled to her husband and then saw the wave knock him down. According to the Gordons, only one or two minutes [*5] passed before they had turned the corner of the taller rock formation and could see the rock where Braxton had been located. And it was at that time that they saw Mattie and Josh getting out of the water and Mike being rescued. However, according to Josh, fifteen to twenty minutes passed between Adam being knocked down by the large wave and the minors being swept into the water by another large wave.

P8. The mission-trip members immediately began to seek help after seeing people on the beach reacting and in the water. The locals contacted emergency services by telephone, and residents in the area helped. The ambulance and local authorities arrived. Thereafter, everyone at the beach began to look for Braxton. The mission-trip group stayed on the beach for over three hours after the incident until darkness ended their search. Regrettably, Braxton’s body was found the next day and identified by Amanda, Adam, and Sam.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

P9. The complaint was filed on November 10, 2011, in the Circuit Court of Union County, Mississippi. FUNA filed its answer and defenses on March 16, 2012, and, after conducting discovery, filed it motion for summary judgment on March 5, 2014. A hearing was [*6] held on April 28, 2014, and resulted in the circuit court granting Colyer’s request for additional time to conduct discovery. Colyer conducted additional discovery and depositions followed by the parties providing supplemental briefing. Another hearing was held on September 16, 2014. After considering all of the sworn evidence and the arguments of counsel, the circuit court found that no genuine issue of material fact existed to support Colyer’s claims of negligence. The circuit court entered an order granting FUNA’s motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2014.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

P10. [HN1] We review the trial court’s grant or denial of summary judgment under a de novo standard. Moss Point Sch. Dist. v. Stennis, 132 So. 3d 1047, 1049-50 (P10) (Miss. 2014).

[HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate and shall be rendered if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Importantly, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific [*7] facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, will be entered against him.

Karpinsky v. Am. Nat’l Ins., 109 So. 3d 84, 88 (P10) (Miss. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). “[T]he evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion has been made.” One S. Inc. v. Hollowell, 963 So. 2d 1156, 1160 (P6) (Miss. 2007).

I. The trial court erred by granting summary judgment, as genuine issues of material fact existed.

P11. Colyer alleges that FUNA was negligent and FUNA owed a duty to supervise Braxton while the group was on the mission trip. FUNA’s position is that no negligence existed and that summary judgment was proper. [HN3] The elements of a prima facie case of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages. Grisham v. John Q. Long V.F.W. Post, No. 4057 Inc., 519 So. 2d 413, 416 (Miss. 1988); Burnham v. Tabb, 508 So. 2d 1072, 1074 (Miss. 1987). Colyer contends that FUNA owed a duty to Braxton to provide ordinary care while supervising him during this trip. Colyer alleges that the duty was breached, and that the negligent acts or omissions of FUNA caused the death of Braxton.

P12. FUNA agrees that a duty was owed to supervise Braxton, but FUNA contends that Braxton’s age at the time of his death diminishes that duty. Nevertheless, our supreme court has held that [HN4] adequacy of supervision is a question for the jury. Summers v. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Sch., 759 So. 2d 1203, 1215 (PP48-50) (Miss. 2000); see also James v. Gloversville Enlarged Sch. Dist., 155 A.D.2d 811, 548 N.Y.S.2d 87, 88-89 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989). Therefore, [*8] regardless of Braxton’s age, a jury must decide what constitutes proper and adequate supervision. See Todd v. First Baptist Church of W. Point, 993 So. 2d 827, 829 (P12) (Miss. 2008).

P13. There are also disputed facts regarding whether it was reasonable to expect Amanda to give Braxton warning after she witnessed her husband being knocked down by a wave. And we have determined that [HN5] “[c]ontradictory statements by a witness go to the weight and credibility of that witness[‘s] testimony, not its sufficiency, and a summary judgment motion does not place the trial court in the role of weighing testimony and determining the credibility of witnesses.” Jamison v. Barnes, 8 So. 3d 238, 245 (P17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (citation omitted).

P14. Additionally, Colyer alleges other acts of negligence: (1) failure to research the dangers of the Pacific coast and (2) allowing the children, including Braxton, to go onto a dangerous rock structure on the coast of the Pacific Ocean without any knowledge of oceanic activities in Costa Rica.

P15. We conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether FUNA provided ordinary care while supervising Braxton during this trip, and so we reverse the grant of summary judgment.

II. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment by considering the waivers of Howell and Braxton.

P16. Even though Colyer [*9] raised this issue, it does not appear that the judge considered the waiver. In his opinion, the judge stated:

[The plaintiff] claims that the defendant is liable for the wrongful death of Marshuan Braxton, who die[d] from drowning during a mission trip to Costa Rica on June 21, 2009. Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court finds no genuine issues of material fact exist[ ] to support [the] plaintiff’s claim of negligence against the defendant. Therefore, this Court finds as a matter of law [the] defendant’s motion to dismiss shall be granted.

P17. FUNA admits that it does not appear that the court relied on the release. However, FUNA states that the waivers are valid and bar recovery. It is undisputed that the parties in this appeal are not the same parties that executed the waivers. It appears that one of the waivers was signed by Howell, who was Braxton’s grandmother. She signed a “parental consent form,” but she is not a party to this action. Braxton, a seventeen-year-old minor at the time, appeared to have signed the release waiver.

P18. [HN6] Pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-19-13 (Rev. 2013), Braxton could not legally sign a contract of this nature to waive liability.1 Braxton’s contract [*10] was not legally binding because of his age and the nature of the contract. FUNA also alleges that the wrongful-death beneficiaries are bound by the contract of Braxton since they are third-party beneficiaries of Braxton’s contract. [HN7] “[O]rdinary contract principals require a meeting of the minds between the parties in order for agreements to be valid.” Am. Heritage Life Ins. v. Lang, 321 F.3d 533, 538 (5th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A contract cannot bind a nonparty. E.E.O.C. v. Waffle House Inc., 534 U.S. 279, 308, 122 S. Ct. 754, 151 L. Ed. 2d 755 (2002).

1 [HN8] “All persons eighteen (18) years of age or older, if not otherwise disqualified, or prohibited by law, shall have the capacity to enter into binding contractual relationships affecting personal property. Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any contracts entered into prior to July 1, 1976. In any legal action founded on a contract entered into by a person eighteen (18) years of age or older, the said person may sue in his own name as an adult and be sued in his own name as an adult and be served with process as an adult.” See also Garrett v. Gay, 394 So. 2d 321, 322 (Miss. 1981).

P19. The two waivers executed in this case are not binding on Colyer and the trial court was correct in not giving any effect to these two waivers in its opinion.

CONCLUSION

P20. There is sufficient evidence before this Court [*11] to show that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FUNA’s supervision was negligent. Therefore, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment is reversed, and this case is remanded for a trial.

P21. THE JUDGMENT OF THE UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT IS REVERSED, AND THIS CASE IS REMANDED FOR A TRIAL. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED TO THE APPELLEES.

LEE, C.J., IRVING, P.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. WILSON, J., CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. CARLTON, J., SPECIALLY CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION, JOINED BY LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ.; WILSON, J., JOINS IN PART. GRIFFIS, P.J., DISSENTS WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. ISHEE AND GREENLEE, JJ., NOT PARTICIPATING.

CONCUR BY: CARLTON

CONCUR

CARLTON, J., SPECIALLY CONCURRING:

P22. I specially concur with the majority’s opinion in this case, and I write specially to address the material questions of fact raised herein. With respect to the negligence claims raised, the question as to whether a duty to warn arose from the relationship between the parties constitutes a question of law. See Pritchard v. Von Houten, 960 So. 2d 568, 579 (P27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Id. at 576 (P20). However, the questions as to causation and foreseeability include material [*12] questions of fact. P23. In this case, a duty clearly arose from the relationship between Braxton, a seventeen-year-old minor, and Amanda, the associate pastor and leader of FUNA’s youth mission trip. At the very least, FUNA, by and through its employee, Amanda, bore a duty to use ordinary care to plan and supervise this international mission trip composed of church members to Costa Rica and its shores on the Pacific Ocean. As the facts of this case reflect, a duty also arose and existed to supervise Braxton on the rock formations of the Costa Rica Pacific coastline. Accordingly, I find that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FUNA, through its employee, Amanda, negligently failed to warn of dangerous conditions that she knew or should have known existed on the beaches of Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean edge, and whether Amanda, as the mission-trip leader, negligently planned and supervised this international mission trip. See Garrett v. Nw. Miss. Junior Coll., 674 So. 2d 1, 3 (Miss. 1996).2

2 In Garrett, 674 So. 2d at 3, the Mississippi Supreme Court relied upon Roberts v. Robertson County Board of Education, 692 S.W.2d 863, 870 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1985), where the Tennessee Court of Appeals imposed a duty of care upon a high-school vocational teacher “to take those precautions that any ordinarily reasonable and prudent person would take to protect his [*13] shop students from the unreasonable risk of injury.”

P24. In Pritchard, 960 So. 2d at 579 (P27),3 we recognized that “[a]n important component of the existence of a duty is that the injury is reasonably foreseeable.” The Pritchard court further explained:

A defendant charged with a duty to exercise ordinary care must only take reasonable measures to remove or protect against foreseeable hazards that he knows about or should know about in the exercise of due care. Such a defendant must safeguard against reasonable probabilities, and is not charged with foreseeing all occurrences, even though such occurrences are within the range of possibility. A defendant whose conduct is reasonable in light of the foreseeable risks will not be found liable for negligence.

Id. at (P29) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Donald v. Amoco Prod. Co., 735 So. 2d 161, 175 (P48) (Miss. 1999). While duty constitutes an issue of law, causation is generally a question of fact for the jury. Brown v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 06-CV-199, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40816, 2007 WL 1657417, at *4 (S.D. Miss. June 4, 2007).

3 The court in Pritchard, 960 So. 2d at 579 (P27), found that a vocational teacher “has the duty to take those precautions that any ordinary reasonable and prudent person would take to protect his shop students from the unreasonable risk of injury.”

P25. In Foster ex rel. Foster v. Bass, 575 So. 2d 967, 972 (Miss. 1990), the supreme court stated that “in order to recover for an injury to a [*14] person or property, by reason of negligence or want of due care, there must be shown to exist some obligation or duty toward the plaintiff which the defendant has left undischarged or unfulfilled.” Issues of fact as to foreseeability and breach of duty preclude summary judgment. See Summers ex rel. Dawson v. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Sch. Inc., 759 So. 2d 1203, 1214 (PP48-51) (Miss. 2000) (reversing summary judgment on negligent-supervision claim because issues of fact as to foreseeability existed).

P26. In this case, the record reflects that Amanda served as both the associate minister and youth minister at FUNA. Amanda testified that she was responsible for planning the trip to Costa Rica and that she recruited others to participate in this international mission trip. She provided that she had led youth mission trips before and had traveled with youth groups internationally before. Amanda testified that she had consulted with team leaders from another church who had traveled to Costa Rica on youth mission trips, but she admitted to failing to check with the United States State Department online travel advisory warnings, or any other travel advisories, as to any unsafe beach, tide, or surf conditions in Costa Rica. She also admitted to not instructing or warning Braxton or any other youth [*15] about beach safety or about the dangerous surf or riptides of Coast Rica’s Pacific Coast.4

4 Compare Rygg v. Cnty. of Maui, 98 F. Supp. 2d 1129, 1132-33 (D. Haw. 1999).

P27. Geographically, Costa Rica sits between the Carribean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The record reflects that the youth group was on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica, and that Braxton and other members of the mission team began climbing on volcanic-rock formations that were separated from the shore by shallow water. Braxton and Josh climbed on and over the rock formation to the Pacific Ocean side, and then they climbed down by the Pacific Ocean’s edge, where they saw some crabs. While watching the crabs, waves from the Pacific Ocean knocked Braxton and Josh off of the rock formation, into the ocean, and into the current of the dangerous riptides. Josh explained that the waves knocked them into different currents.

P28. Regarding the traumatic events, Josh testified that he was standing on the rock formation with Braxton when a wave knocked them off of the rock and into the water. Josh testified that two more waves hit them as they tried to climb back onto the rock. Josh recalled getting pushed back under water after the second wave hit. When he came back [*16] to the surface, Braxton was grabbing his back, and the water had pushed the two of them close enough to the rock that they had fallen off of that they could try to climb back up. When the water from the wave subsided, they slid back down into the water, and Josh and Braxton then became separated by different currents. Josh testified that he was pushed into a current separate from Braxton, taking them in different directions. Josh recalled looking back and watching Braxton climb onto a smaller rock. When a third wave hit them, he and Braxton went under water again, and when he came back up, he could no longer see Braxton. Josh testified that prior to the trip, no one warned him of unsafe tide, surf, waves, or other conditions existing on the Pacific Ocean coast of Costa Rica. He also testified that he brought a swim suit with him on the trip.

P29. The record contains pictures of the location where Braxton was knocked off of the volcanic-rock formation and into the Pacific Ocean. Josh described the top of the rock that he and Braxton climbed on as twenty feet high above the water, and stated that he and Braxton were on the ocean side of the formation, ten feet from the top, when the wave [*17] swept them off. Josh provided that water completely surrounded the rock on all sides, separating the rock from dry sand by approximately thirty to forty feet of ankle-deep water on one side. Josh explained that the water was deeper on the ocean side of the rock where he and Braxton were knocked in the water.

P30. Josh testified that he recalled Adam, a grown man who weighed approximately 340 pounds, slipping into the water before the wave hit him and Braxton. Adam testified that he was knocked down by a seven-to-eight-foot wave. Josh recalled that Adam was swept into the water about fifteen to twenty minutes before a different wave swept him and Braxton into the ocean.

P31. The record reflects existing material questions of fact as to whether the church, through its mission-trip leader and employee, Amanda, negligently breached its duty to Braxton, a minor, to plan and supervise this international mission trip and to warn Braxton of the dangerous beach and surf conditions on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment since triable issues of material fact exist in this case. In planning and supervising this trip, a duty existed to warn of [*18] the hidden dangers and perils not in plain view that FUNA and its mission trip leader, Amanda, knew, or should have known, existed. Additionally, once the tide rose and the large waves knocked the adults down, Amanda bore a duty to supervise and warn Braxton of the dangerous conditions.

P32. The trial court’s decision failed to address the Youth Medical/Parental Consent form waivers or their applicability in this case. However, the enforceability of the waivers was argued on appeal, and I write briefly to address this issue. Jurisprudence reflects that the preinjury waivers herein are unenforceable with respect to the negligence claims for wrongful death raised in this case against the church for its negligence in planning, supervising, and failing to warn of the dangerous beach and ocean conditions on this mission trip to Costa Rica. See Ghane v. Mid-S. Inst. of Self Def. Shooting Inc., 137 So. 3d 212, 221-22 (P23) (Miss. 2014). The language in the waivers in this case applied to church-mission-related activities and related risks. The waivers contained no language regarding the liability or risks of recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, or rock climbing on Costa Rica’s beaches on the Pacific Ocean or the risks of the dangerous riptides and dangerous ocean surf. [*19] Public policy prohibits the use of preinjury waivers of liability for personal injury due to future acts of a defendant’s own negligence. See Turnbough v. Ladner, 754 So. 2d 467, 469 (P8) (Miss. 1999) (waiver unenforceable where it did not express intent of student to accept any heightened exposure to injury caused by malfeasance of instructor’s failure to follow safety guidelines); Rice v. Am. Skiing Co., No. CIV.A.CV-99-06, 2000 Me. Super. LEXIS 90, 2000 WL 33677027, at *2 (Me. Super. Ct. May 8, 2000). For a waiver to be valid and enforceable, it must not be ambiguous and it must be specific in wording as to the liability. See Turnbough, 754 So. 2d at 469 (P8). Waivers will be strictly construed against the defendant. Id. When a waiver contains ambiguous language, it cannot be construed as a waiver of liability for injuries that result from the negligence of the defendant. Id. at 470 (P9).

P33. As stated, the evidence in the record reflects material questions of fact exist as to foreseeability and breach of duty for negligent failure to plan and supervise the mission trip and failure to warn of the dangerous beach and surf conditions of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.5 Therefore, summary judgment must be reversed and the case remanded.

5 Compare Diamond Crystal Salt Co. v. Thielman, 395 F.2d 62, 65 (5th Cir. 1968) (plaintiff was injured on a guided tour of a mine where “the danger was not obvious, and if the dangerous condition [*20] had in fact been observed it would not have been appreciated by persons of ordinary understanding”); see also Martinez v. United States, 780 F.2d 525, 527 (5th Cir. 1986) (duty to warn at shallow swimming area of federal park); Wyatt v. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts LLC, 47 V.I. 551, 2005 WL 1706134, at *4-5 (D.V.I. 2005).

LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ., JOIN THIS OPINION. WILSON, J., JOINS THIS OPINION IN PART.


Travel agents have a very limited duty to disclose, unless they know about a hazard. If you book for others, you are a travel agent.

College students on break to Mexico on a “party train” fell between the cars. Decedent was the 4th student to fall which gives rise to the liability of the travel agent. This is an early Arizona case voiding releases also.

Maurer, v. Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., 181 Ariz. 294; 890 P.2d 69; 1994 Ariz. App. LEXIS 105; 165 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 51

State: Arizona

Plaintiff: Larry Maurer and Linda Maurer, husband and wife, personally and on behalf of the Estate of Molly Marie Maurer

Defendant: Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., an Arizona corporation; College Tours, a division of Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc.; Dennis Anderson and Jane Doe Anderson, husband and wife; Anton Cerkvenik and Jane Doe Cerkvenik, husband and wife; and John Does I-X

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence, violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act,

Defendant Defenses: No duty and release

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 1994

The defendant is a travel agency that specialized in college tours. These college tours are more famously known for taking students south of the boarder during breaks to party where the age to drink is lower and so is about everything else.

One of these tours included an eighteen hour train ride known as the “Party Train.” The plaintiff and a friend decided to move forward and investigate the engine. Between the cars were extensions between the cars were covered with some sort of plate. However the last passenger car had not extension and no plate extending back from the freight car or engine. The plaintiff stepped off and fell from the train to her death.

The plaintiff was the fourth student to die this way on a tour organized by the defendant, although the particular incidents leading to the student deaths were slightly different.

The decedent’s parents sued the travel agency for themselves and representing the estate of the deceased. The trial court dismissed the case because there was no duty of care owed to the plaintiff by the defendant travel agent.

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

The court started its analysis by looking at the duty owed by the defendant as a travel agent.

(1) to exercise reasonable care for the safety of students in operating its student tours; (2) to disclose material facts affecting safety in promoting and selling its tours; and, (3) not to make misrepresentations in promoting and selling its tours.

The defendant argued that because it could not control the train and had no knowledge of the specific condition leading to the decedent’s death the travel agent had no duty to the plaintiff.

Duty is an issue of law and as such the courts decide whether or not there was any duty. Juries apply the facts to the law.

Whether a duty exists is a question of whether one of the parties to a relationship is under an obligation to use care to avoid or prevent injury to the other. “‘Duty’ is a question of whether the defendant is under any obligation for the benefit of the particular plaintiff.”

If the court decides no duty exists then no trial is held. No duty, no negligence. However the appellate court saw the existence of a duty differently from the trial court which stated there was no duty.

The court concluded the relationship between the decedent and the defendant was like an agency, since the defendant was a travel agent.

Different occupations owe different duties to their guests, customers, clients, patrons or consumers. The court set out the duties of a travel agent under Arizona law, which included a duty to disclose. “These duties include the duty to disclose material dangers known to the agent.” This duty “…does not represent an extension of tort liability upon an agent it results from an exposition of the pre-existing duty of care owed a principal by his agent.”

That duty requires the travel agent to disclose information the traveler would like to know.

Unless otherwise agreed, an agent is subject to a duty to use reasonable efforts to give his principal information which is relevant to affairs entrusted to him and which, as the agent has notice, the principal would desire to have and which can be communicated without violating a superior duty to a third person.

That duty appears to be wide open as well as trap. What the traveler wants to know is usually unknown until communicated by the traveler to the agent. However, “The scope of this duty of disclosure will be limited, naturally, to what is reasonable in any given instance.”

However the fact the travel agent does not know what the traveler wants to know is a bar to their duty to disclose. “While there is no duty of investigation, the travel agent must disclose all information the agent learns which is material to the object of the agency.”

The court concluded that a jury must decide whether or not three other students had died on that train was something the deceased wanted to know.

The plaintiff’s also sued claiming violation of the Arizona consumer fraud act. The omission of the other deaths violated the act.

Under the Act, it is unlawful for any person to use or employ any deception, deceptive act or practice, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, or concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact with intent that others rely upon such concealment, suppression or omission, in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise whether or not any person has in fact been misled, deceived, or damaged thereby.

The act defined merchandise to include services. The trial court found that death was not related to the information contemplated by the act to be disclosed. Again the appellate court found differently.

The final issue was whether or not a release was in existence and valid.

The itinerary contained a paragraph stating the defendant waived liability. There was also an invoice for the trip with the same release language as on the itinerary. The decedent acknowledge in her payment for the trip that she had “read the flyer, waiver of liability and the itinerary and acknowledged by her payment for the trip that she had read the information, agreed to it and understood all its terms and conditions.”

The trial court denied the validity of the release and the appellate court agreed. “Here, the danger is too defuse [sic] and unspecific for a valid waiver to apply.”

The appellate court agreed and stated: “Attempts to release oneself from liability by contract for harm caused by one’s own negligence are not looked upon with favor. “This would tend to encourage carelessness.””

The court also quoted Restatement (Second) of Agency § 419 (1957), and found the lack of the disclosure of the other deaths also violated the requirements for the release to be valid.

…such agent is under the “duty of disclosure and fair dealing stated in Section 390.” That section provides that an agent has a duty to deal fairly with the principal and to disclose to him all facts which the agent knows or should know would reasonably affect the principal’s judgment, unless the principal has manifested that he knows such facts or that he does not care to know them.

The appellate court then sent the case back for trial.

Thus, although we conclude that CA is a seller to consumers and an agent bound by statutory and common law duties, we are unable to determine from the limited record before us whether the release is valid. Whether CA fulfilled its duty to Molly under Section 390 must await further discovery or trial.

So Now What?

Duties owed to your customer, consumer or guests vary based on the occupation of the defendant. You need to make sure you understand those duties. More importantly, you need to make sure you understand your classification or job description.

Many outfitters and guides as well as college and university programs book for third parties. College’s book trips, outfitters and guides will book for their competitors when their trips are full. This changes their duties because their relationship with the client has changed.

This case also provides another way that releases can be void and reinforces a common way. Any time the court can find a failure to disclose a release will be void. Courts in the way past would use the argument that a release should be void because it encourages defendants to be careless leading to injuries.

Arizona courts have slowly chipped away at the defense of release for several decades. Unless the activity is protected by statute, the courts have found easy and unobtrusive ways to void releases. Not enough to ring alarm bells, but each time, enough to void the release.

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Maurer, v. Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., 181 Ariz. 294; 890 P.2d 69; 1994 Ariz. App. LEXIS 105; 165 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 51

Maurer, v. Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., 181 Ariz. 294; 890 P.2d 69; 1994 Ariz. App. LEXIS 105; 165 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 51

Larry Maurer and Linda Maurer, husband and wife, personally and on behalf of the Estate of Molly Marie Maurer, Deceased, Plaintiffs/Appellants, v. Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., an Arizona corporation; College Tours, a division of Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc.; Dennis Anderson and Jane Doe Anderson, husband and wife; Anton Cerkvenik and Jane Doe Cerkvenik, husband and wife; and John Does I-X, Defendants/Appellees. Larry Maurer and Linda Maurer, husband and wife, personally and on behalf of the Estate of Molly Marie Maurer, Deceased, Cross-Appellees. v. Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., an Arizona corporation; College Tours, a division of Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc.; Anton Cerkvenik and JANE Doe Cerkvenik, husband and wife. Cross-Appellants.

2 CA-CV 93-0175

COURT OF APPEALS OF ARIZONA, DIVISION TWO, DEPARTMENT B

181 Ariz. 294; 890 P.2d 69; 1994 Ariz. App. LEXIS 105; 165 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 51

May 17, 1994, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Petition for Review Denied December 20, 1994.

PRIOR HISTORY: APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT OF MARICOPA COUNTY. Cause No. CV 91-17422. Honorable J. Kenneth Mangum, Judge, Honorable Sherry H. Hutt, Judge.

DISPOSITION: REVERSED IN PART AFFIRMED IN PART

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: Treon, Strick, Lucia & Aguirre, by Arthur G. Newman, Jr. and Richard T. Treon, Phoenix, Attorneys for Plaintiffs/Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Teilborg, Sanders & Parks, P.C., by Brian R. Burt and Rick N. Bryson, Phoenix, Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

Jennings, Kepner and Haug, by James L. Csontos, Phoenix, Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees Dennis Anderson.

JUDGES: JAMES D. HATHAWAY, Judge, WILLIAM E. DRUKE, Chief Judge, PHILIP G. ESPINOSA, Presiding Judge.

OPINION BY: JAMES D. HATHAWAY

OPINION

[**70] [*295] OPINION

HATHAWAY, Judge.

In this action for the wrongful death of their daughter Molly, plaintiffs/appellants Maurers appeal from the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants/appellees Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, Inc., College Tours, Dennis Anderson and Anton Cerkvenik (collectively, “CA”) on the basis that CA had no duty to Molly regarding the tour package she purchased. CA cross-appeals [***2] the court’s denial of summary judgment sought on the basis of waiver or release from liability and its refusal to award attorney’s fees. We reverse summary judgment as to appellants and affirm as to CA.

2 FACTS

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Nicoletti v. Westcor, Inc., 131 Ariz. 140, 639 P.2d 330 (1982), the facts are as follows. CA is a travel agency doing business as “College Tours.” Its business includes organizing, promoting, selling and operating student vacation tours destined for Mazatlan, Mexico. CA sets the itinerary, arranges for transportation and lodging and provides information relating to the students’ comfort, convenience and safety on the tour. For many years, the tour packages have included an eighteen-hour ride on a Mexican train traveling from Nogales to Mazatlan, as was the case with the tour purchased by the decedent. CA described this as a “Party Train.”

During the train ride from Nogales to Mazatlan, Molly and a friend decided to “adventure” forward in the trainto see the engine. The connecting areas between passenger railcars have metal floors with accordion-like “boots” extending from the [***3] sides of each railcar, forming an area in which it is safe to walk from the door at the end of one railcar to the door at the end of the other. En route, Molly paused and attempted to communicate in Spanish with an apparent employee of the railroad before going through a door, which turned out to be the front door of the foremost passenger car of the train. The car in front of this car was either a freight car or the engine. There was only a partial “boot” between the front of this car and the car in front of it. Beyond the door was only a narrow platform and then a large area between the cars, up to four feet wide, open straight down to the tracks and wheels of the train. It was dark, and after Molly stepped through the door, she fell to her death between the cars.

Molly was the fourth student to die by falling from a moving train on a student tour to Mazatlan organized by CA. Three other students had died previously, albeit the particular circumstances of each incident varied. The students on Molly’s tour were not informed of these prior incidents eventhough CA acknowledges that it “knew of other deaths on Mexican trains.”

[**71] [*296] DUTY OF TRAVEL AGENTS/TOUR OPERATORS

[***4] Appellants contend that CA had a duty (1) to exercise reasonable care for the safety of students in operating its student tours; (2) to disclose material facts affecting safety in promoting and selling its tours; and, (3) not to make misrepresentations in promoting and selling its tours. CA counters that it had no such duties as a travel agent, it lacked the right to control the train to make it safe, and it had no knowledge of the specific condition which caused Molly’s death.

[HN1] The existence of duty is an issue of law for the court to decide, Markowitz v. Arizona Parks Board, 146 Ariz. 352, 706 P.2d 364 (1985), not to be confused with details of conformance with a standard of conduct imposed by the relationship. Ibid. 146 Ariz. at 355, 706 P.2d at 367; see also, Lasley v. Shrake’s Country Club Pharmacy, Inc., 1994 Ariz. App. LEXIS 58, 162 Ariz.Adv.Rep. 10 (App. April 5, 1994). Whether a duty exists is a question of whether one of the parties to a relationship is under an obligation to use care to avoid or prevent injury to the other. [***5] “‘Duty’ is a question of whether the defendant is under any obligation for the benefit of the particular plaintiff.” W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts § 53 at 356 (5th ed. 1984). “If the court decides that no duty exists, then a trial is unnecessary.” Lankford & Blaze, The Law of Negligence in Arizona at 11 (1992). In this case, the trial court concluded that a trial was unnecessary because “no duty was owed by [CA] to [appellants’] decedent for the injuries which led to her death.” We disagree.

To conclude there is “no duty” is to conclude the defendant cannot be liable, no matter the facts. As the supreme court observed in Markowitz: “To postulate that the possessor of land has no duty at all to protect its invitees or warn of specific types of danger is to postulate that it can never be liable, no matter what the circumstances.” 146 Ariz. at 357, 706 P.2d at 369. The court asked the poignant question: “Would the state have been liable even if the park ranger, knowing of the hazard, had sat on the rock, watched David get ready to dive and said nothing?” Id. at 356, 706 P.2d at 368.

Adapting that query [***6] to the instant case, we believe an affirmative answer as to CA’s responsibility is compelled under principles governing agency relationships. As an Oklahoma court well summarized in Douglas v. Steele, 816 P.2d 586, 589 (Okla.App. 1991):

[HN2] An agent who handles travel and vacation plans is a special agent of the traveler for purposes of that one transaction between the parties. … And this is so even though the agent’s compensation may be paid by the company to whom she steers the business, much like an advertising agent….

[HN3] [The travel agent has] a duty to act with the care, skill and diligence a fiduciary rendering that kind of service would reasonably be expected to use…. This agency relationship also imposes a duty to promptly communicate to [the] principals confirmations and all other relevant information about the proposed travel plans and tours which would help them protect themselves from harm or loss.

(Citations omitted.) These duties include the [***7] duty to disclose material dangers known to the agent. See Tracy A. Bateman, Annotation, “Liability of Travel Publication, Travel Agent, or Similar Party for Personal Injury or Death of Traveler,” 2 A.L.R. 5th 396 (1992). This duty to disclose or warn of known dangers, as the court explained in Rookard v. Mexicoach, 680 F.2d 1257, 1263 (9th Cir. 1982), “does not represent an extension of tort liability upon an agent[;] it results from an exposition of the pre-existing duty of care owed a principal by his agent.” See also In re Swartz, 129 Ariz. 288, 294, 630 P.2d 1020, 1026 (1981) (agent’s duty to make full disclosure to principal of all material facts relevant to agency is fundamental to fiduciary relation); Walston & Co. v. Miller, 100 Ariz. 48, 410 P.2d 658 (1966); Restatement (Second) of Agency § 381 (1957), states the duty thusly:

Unless otherwise agreed, an agent is subject to a duty to use reasonable efforts to give his principal information which is relevant to affairs entrusted to him and which, as the agent has notice, the principal would desire tohave and which can be communicated [**72] [*297] [***8] without violating a superior duty to a third person.

The travel agent’s duty to disclose is not without limits, however. The scope of this duty of disclosure will be limited, naturally, to what is reasonable in any given instance. A travel agent is not an insurer, nor can he be reasonably expected to divine and forewarn of an innumerable litany of tragedies and dangers inherent in foreign travel. Nonetheless, it does not follow that because a travel agent cannot possibly presage all dangers, he should be excused entirely from his fiduciary duties toward his principal to warn of those dangers of which he is aware, or should be aware in the exercise of due care.

Rookard, 680 F.2d at 1263. [HN4] “While there is no duty of investigation, the travel agent must disclose all information the agent learns which is material to the object of the agency.” United Airlines, Inc. v. Lerner, 87 Ill.App.3d 801, 43 Ill. Dec. 225, 410 N.E.2d 225, ___, 43 Ill.Dec. 225, ___, 410 N.E.2d 225, 228 (1980);Restatement (Second) of Agency, § 381 (1957).

[***9] In this case, because of the duties existing through the agency relationship, the trial court erred in ruling otherwise.

CONSUMER FRAUD ACTION

Appellants contend that CA violated the Consumer Fraud Act (Act), A.R.S. § 44-1521, et seq., by omitting material facts and making misrepresentations to Molly in selling and promoting its tours. [HN5] A private right of action exists for breach of the Act. Sellinger v. Freeway Mobile Home Sales, Inc., 110 Ariz. 573, 521 P.2d 1119 (1974). [HN6] Under the Act, it is unlawful for any person to use or employ any deception, deceptive act or practice, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, or concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact with intent that others rely upon such concealment, suppression or omission, in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise whether or not any person has in fact been misled, deceived, or damaged thereby, A.R.S. § 44-1522(A) [***10] . The term “merchandise” includes “services.” A.R.S. § 44-1521(5). Accordingly, CA can be held liable for misrepresentations and “concealment, suppression or omission” of any material fact in selling its services.

Appellants contend the trial court evidently held, death, as a matter of law, is not a type of damage for which a private right of action may be brought under the Act. Appellants point out that they have found only one case in the nation that has considered the question. Duncavage v. Allen, 497 N.E.2d 433, 147 Ill.App.3d 88, 100 Ill.Dec. 455 (1986) (claim held to have been stated in suit against landlord for consumer fraud act violation for death of tenant based on representations and omissions about building safety.)

Appellants argue that no policy reason exists to exclude death as an injury for which a private action for damages may be brought under the Act when the omission of material information about safety has caused the death of the purchaser. They also contend that such a view is consistent with Arizona decisions in which the omission of information one has a duty to disclose causes death. See, e.g., Robertson v. Sixpence Inns of America, Inc., 163 Ariz. 539, 789 P.2d 1040 (1990) [***11] (trial court erred in ruling that motel owner owed no duty to disclose information about earlier presence of robber to independent contractor security guard who was later shot and killed by robber.) Moreover, appellants contend that neither the Act nor the cases interpreting it exclude death caused by a breach of the Act; rather, the cases have considered as an element of the cause of action the general “consequent and proximate injury” to the victim. See, Parks v. Macro-Dynamics, Inc., 121 Ariz. 517, 591 P.2d 1005 (App. 1979).

Finally, appellants argue that if a private right of action had not been recognized in Arizona, the statute is the sort the violation of which would have been treated as negligence per se and that death is a cognizable injury within the scope of an action for negligence per se. Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500, 667 P.2d 200 (1983). They persuasively conclude that, “recognition of a private [**73] [*298] right of action should not reduce the relief that would … otherwise have been available under negligence per se without the private right of action.” We agree.

We do not find any basis for an [***12] exemption when the damage resulting from the alleged violation is death. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment as to appellants’ claim under the Consumer Fraud Act.

CROSS-APPEAL ON CONTRACTUAL

RELEASE/WAIVER OF LIABILITY

CA contends in its cross-appeal that even assuming the existence of a duty, summary judgment against appellants must be affirmed because Molly released and/or waived any claim against them for any acts or omissions that led to her death. This issue has been raised both in the cross-appeal and as a cross-issue on appeal.

Molly’s itinerary contained the following provision:

XV. Terms and Conditions

… The purchaser releases and absolves College Tours from all liability for property loss or damage, caused and/or from all damages resulting in death or personal injury, loss of services, which may be sustained on account of, arising out of or while engaged in said trip, whether due to its own negligence or otherwise.

(Bold in original) The itinerary also contained a paragraph expressly entitled “Waiver of Liability.” This provision was set out separately from the other paragraphs in the itinerary and provided:

[***13] The students and the students [sic] relatives hereby waive any [sic] or liability for property damage, or personal injury, or death (Including the loss of services), which may be sustained by any student on account of, arising out of, or while engaged in said trip unless claimant establishes that the person or entity, versus whom the claim is made, violated the law or was guilty of a willful injury. Any alleged violation of law or willful injury must be the direct cause of the injury complained of; otherwise, the student and anyone making a claim as a result of any injury, damage or death to said student, hereby waives any such claim. All potential claimants hereby acknowledge that there are other means and tours available to visit Mexico or Hawaii and the student is not in an inferior bargaining position and thus freely accepts the responsibility contracted for herein. Each client has the right to choose to attend or not attend any event provided by College Tours and does so at their own discretion.

(Bold in original) Molly received an invoice form that also contained a “Waiver of Liability” provision virtually identical to that contained in the itinerary. [***14] It also contained a certification that the customer had read the flyer, waiver of liability and the itinerary and acknowledged by her payment for the trip that she had read the information, agreed to it and understood all its terms and conditions. A copy of the invoice was returned to CA with Molly’s final payment for the trip.

In denying the defense motion for summary judgment on the release/waiver issue, the trial court explained:

This Court does not find waiver to be a valid defense to Plaintiffs’ claims. read the flyer, waiver of liability and the itinerary and acknowledged by her payment for the trip that she had read the information, agreed to it and understood all its terms and conditions. Because the danger being waived was so specific and obvious in Valley National Bank v. National Assoc. for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 153 Ariz.App. [sic] 374, 736 P.2d 1186 (App. 1987), that Court allowed the waiver to defeat Plaintiff’s claims. Here, the danger is too defuse [sic] and unspecific for a valid waiver to apply.

We find merit in the trial court’s distinction. Attempts to release oneself from liability by contract for harm caused by one’s own negligence are not looked upon with favor. “This would tend to encourage [***15] carelessness.” Salt River Project Agric. Improvement & Power Dist. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 143 Ariz. 368, 382, 694 P.2d 198, 212 (1984).

[HN7] While an agent may be discharged from liability by an effective release, Restatement [**74] [*299] (Second) of Agency § 419 (1957), such agent is under the “duty of disclosure and fair dealing stated in Section 390.” That section provides that an agent has a duty to deal fairly with the principal and to disclose to him all facts which the agent knows or should know would reasonably affect the principal’s judgment, unless the principal has manifested that he knows such facts or that he does not care to know them.

Thus, although we conclude that CA is a seller to consumers and an agent bound by statutory and common law duties, we are unable to determine from the limited record before us whether the release is valid. Whether CA fulfilled its duty to Molly under Section 390 must await further discovery or trial. Accordingly, the court’s order denying CA’s Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment on waiver/release grounds [***16] is affirmed.

Reversed in part; affirmed in part.

JAMES D. HATHAWAY, Judge

CONCURRING:

WILLIAM E. DRUKE, Chief Judge

PHILIP G. ESPINOSA, Presiding Judge


Spectators; they do not sign a release. They may not be able to assume the risk, what duty is owed to a spectator?

Organizers of a rugby tournament owed no duty to spectators at the tournament who were free to do at any time from the dangers and risks of lighting.

Patton v. United States Of America Rugby Football, Union, LTD., 381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

State: Maryland, Court of Appeals for Maryland

Plaintiff: Judith Edwards Patton (wife of Donald Patton), acting in both an individual capacity and as personal representative of the estate of Donald Patton; Sophia P. Patton and Robert C. Patton (the parents of Donald Patton); Robert Carson Patton, II; and Meredith Patton (Donald’s daughter).

Defendant: United States of America Rugby Football Union, Ltd., d/b/a USA Rugby (“USA Rugby”), the Mid- Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. ( “MARFU”), the Potomac Rugby Union, Inc. (“PRU”), the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees, Inc. (“Referees’ Society”), Kevin Eager, n2 and Steven Quigg,

Plaintiff Claims: liable in tort for the death of Donald Patton and the injuries suffered by Robert Patton. This liability, Appellants contended, was due to Defendants’/Appellees’ failure to employ proper policies and procedures to protect players and spectators at the tournament from lightning strikes

Defendant Defenses: No duty, Maryland Recreational Use Statute and release signed by the survivor plaintiff/rugby player

Holding:

Year: 2004

This case is a little different for this site; it concerns a rugby game. However, the instrumentality causing the injury was a lighting strike to a player and a spectator.

The plaintiff’s father and son attended a rugby match for the son to play and the father to cheer. A game commenced which the son was playing. The father was on the sidelines watching the game. During the game, a thunderstorm developed and lightning struck in the area. The rugby match was continued even though several other games in the tournament had been ended because of the weather.

Eventually, the match ended. The two plaintiffs’ then ran to some trees where they had left their belongings and took off for their car. On the way, lightning struck killing the father and severely injuring the son.

The plaintiffs were the surviving player and the relatives of the deceased. The defendants were the sponsoring organization, the local organization, the referee association and individual defendants. The plaintiff’s claimed the defendants should have:

(a) Have and implement proper policies and procedures regarding the protection of players and spectators from adverse weather conditions and lightning;

“(b) Have and implement a policy regarding the safe evacuation of players and spectators from the fields of play at its matches when lightning is present;

“(c) Safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the players and spectators at its matches;

“(d) Terminate the rugby match and tournament when lightning is present;

“(e) Monitor and detect dangerous conditions associated with its matches; and

“(f) Train, supervise, monitor and control actions of officials prior to ensure the safety of the participants and spectators from dangerous lightning strikes.”

Several motions to dismiss were filed and the complaint was amended to defeat the motions. Eventually, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, and the appellate court stepped in after the dismissal and issued a writ of certiorari removing it from the Court of Special Appeals to the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court is the top court in Maryland, similar to the Supreme Court in other states.

A supreme court rarely issues a writ to remove a case before the intermediary appellate court has had a chance to review the case.

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

Under Maryland law, the plaintiffs have to prove one or more of the defendants were negligent. That means:

“(1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury,

(2) that the defendant breached that duty,

(3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and

(4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty

The requirements to prove negligence in Maryland are similar or identical to most other states.

The issue thought court stated was whether a legal duty was owed in this case.

As established in Maryland jurisprudence over a century ago: there can be no negligence where there is no duty that is due; for negligence is the breach of some duty that one person owes to another.

The first and most important step in determining whether a duty exists is to asses several issues in the relationship between the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) to determine if a legal duty is owed.

In determining the existence of a duty, we consider, among other things: the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered the injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

Of these, the major test is one of foreseeability. “The foreseeability test “is simply intended to reflect current societal standards with respect to an acceptable nexus between the negligent act and the ensuing harm.”” At the same time, a legal duty does not necessarily exist because of a moral duty.

Even if the foreseeability test is passed by the plaintiff that alone does not prove the existence of a duty.

Duty can be created by ““(1) by statute or rule; (2) by contractual or other private relationship; or (3) indirectly or impliedly by virtue of the relationship between the tortfeasor and a third party.”

Whether a duty exists is also based on policy reasons; whether a type of behavior should be encouraged or discouraged for the benefit of all.

The plaintiffs argued that a special relationship existed between the defendants and the injured, the third way a duty is created set forth above. The plaintiff’s argued this based on their idea that a special relationship exists as spectators at sporting events.

A participant in a sporting event, by the very nature of the sport, trusts that his personal welfare will be protected by those controlling the event. Stated another way, it is reasonably foreseeable that both the player, and the player’s father, will continue to participate in the match, as []long as the match is not stopped by the governing bodies in charge. It also is reasonably foreseeable that, when matches are played in thunderstorms, there is a substantial risk of injury from lightning. And finally, it is reasonably foreseeable that a father will not abandon his son, when he sees those who have assumed responsibility for his son’s welfare placing his son in a perilous condition . . . .

Honestly, I would suspect that most spectators at most sporting events would believe the above to be true.

Here the court did not agree with the idea that a special relationship had been created or existed with spectators.

…the creation of a ‘special duty’ by virtue of a ‘special relationship’ between the parties can be established by either (1) the inherent nature of the relationship between the parties; or (2) by one party undertaking to protect or assist the other party, and thus often inducing reliance upon the conduct of the acting party.”

The court stated that generally, for a duty to exist, there must be an element of dependence, which is lacking in this case. The court raised another case that failed to find a special duty. IN that case a woman died of hypothermia because the emergency telephone operator gave an incorrect address to the policeman looking for the woman.

..“for a “special relationship” to exist between an emergency telephone operator and a person in need of assistance, it must be shown that the telephone operator affirmatively acted to protect the decedent or a specific group of individuals like the decedent, thereby inducing specific reliance by an individual on the telephone operator’s conduct.

There must be an element of ceding self-control by the injured party to the defendant to create a duty which is lacking in the present case.

In a special relationship, one person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself. The duty to protect is imposed upon the person in control because he is in the best position to provide a place of safety. Thus, the determination whether a duty-imposing special relationship exists in a particular case involves the determination whether the plaintiff entrusted himself to the control and protection of the defendant, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself.

The court then looked at the risk presented by thunderstorms and found that there was less liability owed by a defendant to the risk created by lightning. The court, quoting another state court found “…risks and dangers associated with playing golf in a lightning storm are rather obvious to most adults.”

The Court concluded that “it is reasonable to infer that a reasonably prudent adult can recognize the approach of a severe thunderstorm and know that it is time to pack up the clubs and leave before the storm begins to wreak havoc.”

The court agreed with the trial court and found the defendants did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs based on their relationship and because the risks of thunderstorms were known to all.

So Now What?

Would this case have had a different outcome of the plaintiff had paid to attend the event and was at a specific location because the defendant told the spectator they paid to be at that location, or they were only allowed at a particular location?

In this case, the plaintiffs were free to leave the tournament at any time.

Spectators create a very different risk for event organizers. Do spectators at ski races understand a skier can leave the course and hit them? Do spectators at any match with a ball understand the ball always leaves the field of play and can cause injury to them?

Bicycle races are famous for spectators being allowed on the track where they commonly interfere with racers, but do they understand that they may also receive an injury by being there.

However, once the event organizer attempts to provide additional safeguards or warnings for the spectators, they may change the relationship between themselves and the spectators crating liability. You can protect the participants in the event, match or race and at the same time provide protection to spectators, but providing protection for spectators may increase your liability and in some cases increase the risk to players of the game.

Spectators for a risk manager are a difficult risk to understand and deal with.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Patton v. United States Of America Rugby Football, Union, LTD., 381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

Patton v. United States Of America Rugby Football, Union, LTD., 381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

Judith Edwards Patton, Individually, and as the surViving Spouse of Donald Lee Patton, and as Personal Representative and Executor for the Estate of Donald Lee pattOn, et al. V. United States of America Rugby Football, Union, ltd. D/b/a USA Rugby, et al.

No. 113, September Term, 2003

Court of Appeals of Maryland

381 Md. 627; 851 A.2d 566; 2004 Md. LEXIS 308

June 10, 2004, Filed

Prior History: [***1] Appeal from the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County pursuant to certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals. Rodney C. Warren, JUDGE.

Patton v. USA Rugby, 379 Md. 224, 841 A.2d 339, 2004 Md. LEXIS 61 (2004)

Disposition: Affirmed.

Headnotes: Torts – Negligence – Duty – Special Relationship

An amateur rugby player and his father, who was a spectator, were struck by lightning at a rugby tournament. The player was injured and the spectator killed. Various members of the family filed suit alleging negligence against the rugby tournament organizers, the game referee, and related organizations for not taking precautions to avert the incident.

Held: The element of dependence and ceding of control by the injured party that is needed to find a “special relationship” is absent in this case. Our decision is consistent with our view of narrowly construing the “special relationship” exception so as not to impose broad liability for every group activity. The rugby player and spectator were free to leave the voluntary, amateur tournament at any time and their movements were not restricted by the tournament organizers. An amateur sporting event is a voluntary affair, and the participants are capable of leaving the field under their own volition if they feel their lives are in danger. The changing weather conditions were visible to all competent adults. The spectators and participants could have sought shelter at any time they deemed it appropriate to do so. It is unreasonable to impose a duty on the organizers of amateur outdoor events to warn spectators or adult participants of a weather condition that everyone present is fully able to observe and react to on his or her own. The approach of a thunderstorm is readily apparent to reasonably prudent adults and, therefore, it is every adult ‘s responsibility to protect himself or herself from the weather. There was no “special relationship” and, therefore, no legal duty to protect spectators and participants from the storm.

Counsel: Argued by W. David Allen of Crofton, MD. for Appellants.

Argued BY Kristine A. Crosswhite (Crosswhite, McKenna, Limbrick & Sinclair, LLP of Baltimore, MD) on brief for Appellees.

Judges: Bell, C.J., Raker, Wilner, Cathell, Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, JJ.

Opinion by Harrell, J. Bell, C.J., joins in judgment only.

Opinion by: Harrell

Opinion:

[*630] [**567] Opinion by Harrell, J.

On 17 June 2000, Robert Carson Patton, II, and his father, Donald Lee Patton, while at an amateur rugby tournament in Annapolis, were struck by lightning. Robert, a player in the tournament, was seriously injured, but survived. Donald, a spectator watching his son play, died. Robert and various other members of the Patton family filed suit in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County alleging negligence against the rugby tournament organizers, referee, and related organizations with regard to the episode.

Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss arguing they owed no legal duty to Robert and Donald Patton. A hearing was held and, on 10 July 2003, the Circuit Court dismissed the action. The Patton family appealed. This Court, on its own initiative and before the appeal could be decided in the Court of Special Appeals, issued a writ of certiorari to determine whether any of the defendants, under the circumstances alleged in the complaint, owed a legal duty [***2] to Robert and Donald Patton. Patton v. USA Rugby, 379 Md. 224, 841 A.2d 339 (2004).

I.

A. The Lightning Strike

Based on Appellants’ amended complaint, we assume the [*631] truth of the following factual allegations: n1

[**568] Sometime during the early morning of 17 June 2000, Robert and Donald Patton arrived at playing fields adjacent to the Annapolis Middle School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Robert was to play rugby for the Norfolk Blues Rugby Club. Donald intended to support his son as a spectator. Robert and Donald, along with other participants and spectators, placed their equipment and belongings under a row of trees adjacent to the playing fields.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 See Valentine v. On Target, Inc., 353 Md. 544, 548, 727 A.2d 947, 949 (1999) (“as the result of the trial court’s granting a motion to dismiss, as opposed to the granting of summary judgment or judgment entered after trial, the Court will assume the truth of all well- pleaded facts and any reasonable inferences that can be properly drawn therefrom”) (citations omitted).

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***3]

The rugby tournament was coordinated by Steven Quigg and was sanctioned by the United States of America Rugby Football Union, Ltd., d/b/a USA Rugby, and Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. Rugby matches involving over two dozen teams began at approximately 9:00 a.m. and were planned to continue throughout the day. It was a warm, muggy day. The weather forecast for Annapolis was for possible thunderstorms. At some point prior to the start of the twenty minute match between the Norfolk Blues and the Washington Rugby Football Club (“the match”), a thunderstorm passed through the area surrounding the Annapolis Middle School. At the start of the match, rain commenced; lightning could be seen and thunder could be heard proximate to the lightning flashes. By this time, the National Weather Service had issued a thunderstorm “warning” for the Annapolis area.

Kevin Eager, a member of the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees, Inc., was the volunteer referee for the afternoon match in which Robert Patton was a participant. Under the direction of Eager, the match continued as the rain increased in intensity, the weather conditions deteriorated, and the lighting flashed directly overhead. [***4] Other matches at [*632] the tournament ended. Robert Patton continued to play the match through the rain and lightning and his father continued to observe as a spectator until the match was stopped just prior to its normal conclusion.

Upon the termination of the match, Robert and Donald fled the playing fields to the area under the trees where they left their possessions. As they began to make their exit from under the trees to seek the safety of their car, each was struck by lightning. Donald died. Robert Patton sustained personal injuries and was hospitalized, but recovered.

B. Circuit Court Proceedings

Appellants here and Plaintiffs below are Judith Edwards Patton (wife of Donald Patton), acting in both an individual capacity and as personal representative of the estate of Donald Patton; Sophia P. Patton and Robert C. Patton (the parents of Donald Patton); Robert Carson Patton, II; and Meredith Patton (Donald’s daughter). They sued the United States of America Rugby Football Union, Ltd., d/b/a USA Rugby (“USA Rugby”), the Mid- Atlantic Rugby Football Union, Inc. ( “MARFU”), the Potomac Rugby Union, Inc. (“PRU”), the Potomac Society of Rugby Football Referees, Inc. (“Referees’ Society”), [***5] Kevin Eager, n2 and Steven Quigg, alleging that Defendants were liable in tort for the death of Donald Patton and the injuries suffered by Robert Patton. This liability, Appellants contended, was due to Defendants’/Appellees’ failure to employ proper policies and procedures to protect players and spectators at the tournament from lightning strikes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n2 Kevin Eager never was served with process.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Appellants alleged that Appellees each had a duty to, but failed to, do one or more of the following acts:

“(a) Have and implement proper policies and procedures regarding the protection [**569] of players and spectators from adverse weather conditions and lightning; [*633]

“(b) Have and implement a policy regarding the safe evacuation of players and spectators from the fields of play at its matches when lightning is present;

“(c) Safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the players and spectators at its matches;

“(d) Terminate the rugby match and tournament when lightning is present;

“(e) Monitor and detect dangerous conditions [***6] associated with its matches; and

“(f) Train, supervise, monitor and control actions of officials prior to ensure the safety of the participants and spectators from dangerous lightning strikes.”

On 26 August 2002, the Referees’ Society filed a Motion to Dismiss all claims pending against it on the ground that the Referees’ Society owed no tort duty to Robert or Donald Patton as a matter of law. Thereafter, on 16 September 2002, USA Rugby, MARFU, and Steven Quigg filed a joint Motion to Dismiss in which they adopted the arguments of the Referees’ Society and advanced the additional argument that Maryland’s Recreational Land Use Statute, found in Maryland Code (1974, 2000 Repl. Vol., 2003 Supp.), § 5-1101, et seq. of the Natural Resources Article, conferred tort immunity on them for injuries arising from recreational use of premises, i.e., playing rugby on the Annapolis Middle School fields. n3

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n3 PRU was not served with process at the time that USA Rugby, MARFU, and Mr. Quigg filed their Motion to Dismiss and, consequently, PRU was not included in that motion as a moving party. PRU timely filed an Answer to Appellants’ original Complaint on 15 October 2002, and thereafter, was included as a moving party on all pending defense motions.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***7]

Appellants, on 30 December 2002, filed an amended complaint. On 9 January 2003, USA Rugby, MARFU, PRU, and Mr. Quigg filed a second Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment. The Motion to Dismiss argued that: (1) Appellees owed the Pattons no legally cognizable tort duty as a matter of law; (2) Appellees are immune from tort liability under Maryland’s Recreational Land Use Statute; [*634] and (3) the claims of Robert were barred by waiver. On 13 January 2002, the Referees’ Society also filed a Motion to Dismiss the amended complaint.

The pending motions were heard on 5 February 2003. The Circuit Court, subsequently, issued an order granting the pending motions to dismiss and, on 17 November 2003, issued a Memorandum Opinion explaining the reasons for the dismissal.

Based on Maryland precedents and caselaw from other jurisdictions, the Circuit Court concluded that Appellees did not owe a duty of care to Robert or Donald Patton. The Circuit Court noted generally that courts in other jurisdictions have found that “landowners” or their equivalent do not have a duty to warn invitees of the risk of lightning. As regards Donald Patton, the Circuit Court stated:

“Decedent [***8] Donald Patton was a nonpaying spectator at a rugby match organized and overseen by [Appellees]. There is no indication from the record that Decedent had entrusted himself to the control and protection of [Appellees], indeed he was free to leave the tournament at any time. Additionally, there is no indication that he had lost the ability to monitor changing weather conditions and act accordingly. While [Appellants] allege the storm began near the beginning of the match, it was not until the conclusion of the game, that Decedent and plaintiff Robert Patton, attempted to escape the storm by running towards [**570] the tree line adjacent to the open field to retrieve their belongings. It was here that both were struck by lightning.

“The inherently unpredictable nature of weather and the patent dangerousness of lightning make it unreasonable to impose a duty upon [Appellees] to protect spectators from the type [of] injury that occurred here.”

As regards Robert Patton, the Circuit Court stated that “while it is arguable that [Appellees] had a greater duty to protect plaintiff Robert Patton, a player/participant from injury, they were under no duty to protect and warn him of [***9] lightening strikes and other acts of nature.” The hearing [*635] judge relied on cases from other jurisdictions involving lightning strikes on golf courses to conclude that “lightning is a universally known danger created by the elements” and, in the absence of evidence that Appellants created a greater hazard than brought about by natural causes, there is no duty to warn and protect. The Circuit Court expressly rejected as grounds for its grant of Appellees’ motions to dismiss both Maryland’s Recreational Land Use Statute, and waiver argument based on language contained in Robert Patton’s alleged execution of a USA Rugby Participant Enrollment Form. This appeal follows, therefore, from a dismissal of the amended complaint based solely on the ground that there was no legal duty owed to Robert or Donald Patton. Appellants present the following question for our consideration:

Did the trial court err, when it found that Appellees had no duty to protect Appellants from lightning injuries and granted Appellees’ motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted?

II.

Maryland Rule 2-322(b)(2) provides for the filing of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a [***10] claim upon which relief can be granted. We have stated that:

The granting of a motion to dismiss is proper when, even if the facts and allegations as set forth in the complaint were proven to be true, the complaint would nevertheless fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. . . . It will be affirmed if the record reveals any legally sound reason for the decision.

Valentine v. On Target, Inc., 353 Md. 544, 548-49, 727 A.2d 947, 949 (1999) (citations omitted).

III.

A.

For a plaintiff to state a prima facie claim in negligence, he or she must prove the existence of four elements by [*636] alleging facts demonstrating

“(1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty.” Remsburg v. Montgomery, 376 Md. 568, 582, 831 A.2d 18, 26 (2003) (quoting Muthukumarana v. Montgomery Co., 370 Md. 447, 486, 805 A.2d 372, 395 (2002), and cases cited therein). Generally, whether there is adequate proof of the required [***11] elements to succeed in a negligence action is a question of fact to be determined by the fact-finder. The existence of a legal duty, however, is a question of law to be decided by the court. Valentine, 353 Md. at 549, 727 A.2d at 949. As established in Maryland jurisprudence over a century ago: there can be no negligence where there is no duty that is due; for negligence is the breach of some duty that one person [**571] owes to another. It is consequently relative and can have no existence apart from some duty expressly or impliedly imposed. In every instance before negligence can be predicated of a given act, back of the act must be sought and found a duty to the individual complaining, the observance of which duty would have averted or avoided the injury. . . . As the duty owed varies with circumstances and with the relation to each other of the individuals concerned, so the alleged negligence varies, and the act complained of never amounts to negligence in law or in fact; if there has been no breach of duty. Bobo v. State, 346 Md. 706, 714, 697 A.2d 1371, 1375 (1997) (quoting West Virginia Cent. & P.R. v. State ex rel. Fuller, 96 Md. 652, 666, 54 A. 669, 671-72 (1903)). [***12] “Our analysis of a negligence cause of action usually begins with the question of whether a legally cognizable duty existed.” Remsburg , 376 Md. at 582, 831 A.2d at 26.

When assessing whether a tort duty may exist, we often have recourse to the definition in W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts § 53 (5th ed. 1984), which characterizes “duty” as “an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular [*637] standard of conduct toward another.” Id. In determining the existence of a duty, we consider, among other things: the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered the injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

Ashburn v. Anne Arundel County, 306 Md. 617, 627, 510 A.2d 1078, 1083 (1986) [***13] (citation omitted). Where the failure to exercise due care creates risks of personal injury, “the principal determinant of duty becomes foreseeability.” Jacques v. First Nat’l Bank of Maryland, 307 Md. 527, 535, 515 A.2d 756, 760 (1986) (citations omitted). The foreseeability test “is simply intended to reflect current societal standards with respect to an acceptable nexus between the negligent act and the ensuing harm.” Dobbins v. Washington Suburban Sanitary Comm’n, 338 Md. 341, 348, 658 A.2d 675, 678 (1995) (quoting Henley v. Prince George’s County, 305 Md. 320, 333, 503 A.2d 1333, 1340 (1986)).

In determining whether a duty exists, “it is important to consider the policy reasons supporting a cause of action in negligence. The purpose is to discourage or encourage specific types of behavior by one party to the benefit of another party.” Valentine, 353 Md. at 550, 727 A.2d at 950. “While foreseeability is often considered among the most important of these factors, its existence alone does not suffice to establish a duty under Maryland law.” Remsburg, 376 Md. at 583, 831 A.2d at 26. As we clarified [***14] in Ashburn: the fact that a result may be foreseeable does not itself impose a duty in negligence terms. This principle is apparent in the acceptance by most jurisdictions and by this Court of the general rule that there is no duty to control a third person’s conduct so as to prevent personal harm to another, unless a “special relationship” exists either between [*638] the actor and the third person or between the actor and the person injured. Ashburn, 306 Md. at 628, 510 A.2d at 1083 (citations omitted). In addition, “a tort [**572] duty does not always coexist with a moral duty.” Jacques, 307 Md. at 534, 515 A.2d at 759 (citing W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts § 56 (5th ed. 1984)). We have held that such a “special duty” to protect another may be established “(1) by statute or rule; (2) by contractural or other private relationship; or (3) indirectly or impliedly by virtue of the relationship between the tortfeasor and a third party.” Bobo, 346 Md. at 715, 697 A.2d at 1376 (internal citations omitted).

B.

Appellants allege that a “special relationship” existed between Appellees (USA Rugby, MARFU, [***15] PRU, the Referees’ Society, and Steven Quigg) and Robert and Donald Patton sufficient to recognize the existence of a duty to protect the latter, the breach of which gave rise to an action for negligence.

Appellants argue that:

A participant in a sporting event, by the very nature of the sport, trusts that his personal welfare will be protected by those controlling the event. Stated another way, it is reasonably foreseeable that both the player, and the player’s father, will continue to participate in the match, as []long as the match is not stopped by the governing bodies in charge. It also is reasonably foreseeable that, when matches are played in thunderstorms, there is a substantial risk of injury from lightning. And finally, it is reasonably foreseeable that a father will not abandon his son, when he sees those who have assumed responsibility for his son’s welfare placing his son in a perilous condition . . . .

Appellants essentially contend that the tournament organizers had a duty to protect Robert and Donald, and to extricate them, from the dangers of playing in and viewing, respectively, a sanctioned rugby match during a thunderstorm. [*639] Appellees counter that [***16] “there is no ‘special relationship’ between Mr. Patton, Sr., Mr. Patton and the Appellees which would require the Appellees to protect and warn these individuals of the dangers associated with lightning.” Appellees argue that they “had no ability to control the activities of players or spectators at any time,” and “there is no evidence in the record that Mr. Patton, Sr. and Mr. Patton were dependent upon or relied upon the Appellees in any way, shape or form.”

We said in Remsburg that “the creation of a ‘special duty’ by virtue of a ‘special relationship’ between the parties can be established by either (1) the inherent nature of the relationship between the parties; or (2) by one party undertaking to protect or assist the other party, and thus often inducing reliance upon the conduct of the acting party.” Remsburg, 376 Md. at 589-90, 831 A.2d at 30. We conclude that Appellants here did not establish by either of these methods a triable issue as to the existence of a “special relationship.” Id.

In Remsburg, among other issues, we focused on whether a “special relationship” was created because of an implied or indirect relationship between the parties. [***17] Id. We held that the leader of a hunting party was under no special duty to protect a property owner who was shot by a member of the leader’s hunting party. We found insufficient the relationship of dependence between the leader of the hunting party and the injured property owner. This meant there was no duty on the part of the leader to protect the property owner from being accidentally shot by a hunting party member. 376 Md. at 593, 831 A.2d at 33. In holding that the inherent nature of the relationship between the parties did not give rise to a “special relationship” and, hence, a tort duty, we again approved [**573] the traditional “special relationships” that consistently have been associated with the “special relationship” doctrine. 376 Md. at 593-94, 831 A.2d at 32-33. We adopted previously as Maryland common law § 314A of the Restatement, entitled “Special Relations Giving Rise to a Duty to Aid or Protect,” which provides that:

[*640] (1) [a] common carrier is under a duty to its passengers to take reasonable action

(a) to protect them against unreasonable risk of physical harm . . . .

(2) An innkeeper is under a similar duty to his guests.

(3) [***18] A possessor of land who holds it open to the public is under a similar duty to members of the public who enter in response to his invitation.

(4) One who is required by law to take or who voluntarily takes the custody of another under circumstance such as to deprive the other of his normal opportunities for protection is under a similar duty to the other.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A (1965); see Southland Corp. v. Griffith, 332 Md. 704, 719, 633 A.2d 84, 91 (1993). Although the foregoing list is not exhaustive, our caselaw where we have found a duty arises consistently requires an element of dependence that is lacking in the present case. See, e.g., Todd v. Mass Transit Admin., 373 Md. 149, 165, 816 A.2d 930, 939 (2003) (finding that an employee of a common carrier has a legal duty to take affirmative action for the aid or protection of a passenger under attack by another passenger); Southland, 332 Md. at 720, 633 A.2d at 91 (finding that a convenience store, through its employee and by virtue of a special relationship between the business and its customers, owed a legal duty to a customer being [***19] assaulted in store parking lot to call the police for assistance when requested to do so).

As stated in Remsburg, “while we have permitted some flexibility in defining this limited exception, such as including the employer-to-employee relationship and also that of business owner-to-patron, we have been careful not to expand this class of ‘special relationships’ in such a manner as to impose broad liability for every group outing.” Remsburg, 376 Md. at 594, 831 A.2d at 33. Similarly, in Muthukumarana v. Montgomery County, 370 Md. 447, 805 A.2d 372 (2002), we declined to recognize that a “special relationship” existed between two child victims of the sequelae of a domestic dispute and an emergency telephone operator. In Muthukumarana, the operator, [*641] a police services aide, received a frantic call from Ms. Muthukumarana reporting that her husband had assaulted her in their house and then run upstairs. 370 Md. at 468-70, 805 A.2d at 384-86. The police services aide talked with Ms. Muthukumarana on the phone for one minute and forty seconds until the husband returned downstairs and shot and killed the two children huddled at her side [***20] and then himself. Id. Ms. Muthukumarana sued the police services aide and her supervisors alleging that they had a tort duty of care to the decedent children and herself and that that duty was breached by, among other things, a failure to timely advise her to leave the premises. Id.

In Fried v. Archer, the companion case to Muthukumarana, we also declined to find that a “special relationship” existed between a woman who died of hypothermia due to exposure to the elements and an emergency telephone system operator who erroneously reported the location of the woman to police officers on patrol who therefore failed to discover the victim before her demise. In Fried, a communications officer employed by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous [**574] call n4 reporting a female laying semi- conscious in the woods behind a particular building. 370 Md. at 458, 805 A.2d at 379. The communications officer, however, provided police officers with the wrong location of the woman. 370 Md. at 460, 805 A.2d at 379. The responding officers were unable to locate the victim, who died of hypothermia. 370 Md. at 460, 805 A.2d at 380. [***21] The decedent’s mother sued the communications officer and her supervisors alleging that they had a tort duty of care to the decedent and that that duty was breached by the failure to provide the police officers with the decedent’s correct location. 370 Md. at 461, 805 A.2d at 380.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n4 The call, it turned out, was placed by one of the young men who caused the young woman to become unconscious and placed her in the vulnerable location outdoors on a cold, rainy night.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

We applied the “special relationship” doctrine to the circumstances surrounding the emergency telephone operators in both cases and held that no “special relationship” existed [*642] between them and the plaintiffs. 370 Md. at 486, 805 A.2d at 395. We reasoned that for a “special relationship” to exist between an emergency telephone operator and a person in need of assistance, it must be shown that the telephone operator affirmatively acted to protect the decedent or a specific group of individuals like the decedent, thereby inducing [***22] specific reliance by an individual on the telephone operator’s conduct. 370 Md. at 496, 805 A.2d at 401.

The element of dependence and ceding of self-control by the injured party that is needed under Remsberg and Muthukumarana/Fried is absent in the present case. n5 There is no credible evidence that the two adults, Robert and Donald Patton, entrusted themselves to the control and protection of Appellees.

Accordingly, we follow our admonition in Remsburg to avoid expanding the “special relationship” exception in such a manner as to impose broad liability for every group activity. Remsburg, 376 Md. at 594, 831 A.2d at 33. Our decision here, in line with Remsberg and Muthukumarana/Fried, is consistent with our view of narrowly construing the “special relationship” exception.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n5 There may be a degree of dependency and ceding of control that could trigger a “special relationship” in, for example, a Little League game where children playing in the game are reliant on the adults supervising them.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***23]

Of the relevant cases from our sister states, we find Dykema v. Gus Macker Enters., Inc., 196 Mich. App. 6, 492 N.W.2d 472 (Mich. Ct. App. 1992) to be particularly persuasive in the present case. In Dykema, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the sponsors of an outdoor basketball tournament had no duty to warn a tournament spectator of an approaching thunderstorm that ultimately caused his injury. Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 474-75. A thunderstorm struck the area of the tournament. The plaintiff, while running for shelter, was struck by a falling tree limb and paralyzed. Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 473.

Like Maryland, Michigan recognizes the general rule that there is no tort duty to aid or protect another in the absence [*643] of a generally recognized “special relationship.” Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 474. The Michigan court stated that:

The rationale behind imposing a legal duty to act in these special relationships is based on the element of control. In a special relationship, one person entrusts himself to the control and protection of another, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself. The duty to protect is [***24] imposed upon the person in control because he is in the best position to provide a place of safety. Thus, the determination whether a duty-imposing special relationship exists in a particular [**575] case involves the determination whether the plaintiff entrusted himself to the control and protection of the defendant, with a consequent loss of control to protect himself.

Id. (citations omitted). Like the situation of the plaintiff and tournament sponsors in Dykema, Appellants here cannot be said to have entrusted themselves to the control and protection of the rugby tournament organizers. Id. ( “Plaintiff was free to leave the tournament at anytime, and his movements were not restricted by Defendant.”). We do not agree that, as Appellants argue, “the participants in the tournament, in effect, cede control over their activities to those who are putting on the event.” Robert and Donald Patton were free to leave the voluntary, amateur tournament at any time and their ability to do so was not restricted in any meaningful way by the tournament organizers. An adult amateur sporting event is a voluntary affair, and the participants are capable of leaving the playing field on their [***25] own volition if they feel their lives or health are in jeopardy. The changing weather conditions in the present case presumably were observable to all competent adults. Robert and Donald Patton could have sought shelter at any time they deemed it appropriate to do so. n6

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n6 The Dykema court continued its reasoning by assuming that, “even if [Dykema] had succeeded in establishing that a special relationship existed . . . we are unable to find precedent for imposing a duty upon an organizer of an outdoor event such as this basketball tournament to warn a spectator of approaching severe weather.” Dykema, 492 N.W.2d at 475. Citing Hames v. State, 808 S.W.2d 41, 45 (Tenn. 1991), the Michigan Court of Appeals alternatively held that, because the “approach of a thunderstorm is readily apparent to reasonably prudent people . . . it would be unreasonable to impose a duty . . . to warn . . . of a condition that the spectator is fully able to observe and react to on his own.” Id.

There is a line of cases, not dependent on analysis of whether a special relationship existed, that rely on the ability of competent adults to perceive the approach of thunderstorms and to appreciate the natural risks of lightning associated with thunderstorms to justify finding no breach of an ordinary duty of care owed to a plaintiff, whether that duty is recognized by common law, undertaken by the conduct of a defendant, or implied from the conduct of a defendant. For example, in Hames, the Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the State’s failure to provide lightning proof shelters and lightning warning devices at a State-owned golf course was not actionable in negligence. Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 45. Like Robert and Donald Patton, the golfer in Hames began to play his sport of choice on an overcast day. On the day that the golfer was struck by lightning, no signs were posted informing patrons what to do in the event of a thunderstorm and no effort was made to clear the golf course by course employees. Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 42. Approximately 25 minutes after the golfer began to play golf, a thunderstorm moved through the area. He was struck and killed by lightning while seeking cover on a small hill underneath some trees.

The plaintiff in Hames argued that the U.S. Golf Association’s Rules and Regulations created a golf course standard of care that required posting of lightning warnings and precautions. Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 43. The plaintiff’s argument in Hames is analogous to Appellants’ argument in the present case, i.e., the National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines constitute a lightning safety standard of care for outdoor sporting events.

As well as finding no proximate cause, the Tennessee Court found that the “risks and dangers associated with playing golf in a lightning storm are rather obvious to most adults.” Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 45. The Court noted that it would have taken the decedent golfer two minutes to reach the relative safety of the clubhouse, but instead he remained on the golf course. Id. The Court concluded that “it is reasonable to infer that a reasonably prudent adult can recognize the approach of a severe thunderstorm and know that it is time to pack up the clubs and leave before the storm begins to wreak havoc.” Id. Accordingly, even though the State, as owner-operator of the golf course, owed Hames a general duty “to exercise reasonable care under all the attendant circumstances to make the premises safe . . . the defendant’s conduct did not fall below the applicable standard of care.” Hames, 808 S.W.2d at 44-46.

In Caldwell v. Let the Good Times Roll Festival, 717 So. 2d 1263, 1274 (La. Ct. App. 1998), the Louisiana Court of Appeals held that the City of Shreveport and two co-sponsors of an outdoor festival had neither a general nor specific duty to warn spectators of an approaching severe thunderstorm that caused injuries due to its high winds. The court in Caldwell observed that:

Most animals, especially we who are in the higher order, do not have to be told or warned about the vagaries of the weather, that wind and clouds may produce a rainstorm; that a rainstorm and wind and rain may suddenly escalate to become more severe and dangerous to lives and property. A thundershower may suddenly become a thunderstorm with destructive wind and lightning. A thunderstorm in progress may escalate to produce either or both tornadoes and hail, or even a rare and unexpected micro burst . . . all of which are extremely destructive to persons and property. Caldwell, 717 So. 2d at 1271. See also Seelbinder v. County of Volusia, 821 So. 2d 1095, 1097 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2002) (“We begin by joining the almost universally agreed view that the County, in its capacity as “landowner” or the equivalent, did not have a duty to warn invitees, including beachgoers that there was a risk of being struck by lightning.”) (citations omitted); Grace v. City of Oklahoma City, 1997 OK CIV APP 90, 953 P.2d 69, 71 (Okla. Civ. Ct. App. 1997) (“Lightning is a universally known danger created by the elements. [The golf course owner] has no duty to warn its invitees of the patent danger of lightning or to reconstruct or alter its premises to protect against lightning[,]” and “all persons on the property are expected to assume the burden of protecting themselves from them.”); McAuliffe v. Town of New Windsor, 178 A.D.2d 905, 906, 577 N.Y.S.2d 942 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991) (upon the commencement of rain and thunder, the danger of lightning was admittedly apparent to plaintiff and there is no special duty to warn a specific swimmer against a condition that is readily observable by the reasonable use of one’s senses). The reasoning in the foregoing cases, although not explicated in terms of special relationship analysis as such, is consistent with the result reached in the present case.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – – [***26]

[*645] [**576] JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY AFFIRMED. COSTS TO BE PAID BY APPELLANTS.

Chief Judge Bell joins in the judgment only.


Church was not liable for injuries on a canoe trip because the church did not control the land along the river.

There can be no negligence if there is no duty; no control means no duty.

Clark, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company, 465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

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

Plaintiff: John Clark

Defendant: Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company and Orange Park Assembly of God

Plaintiff Claims: duty to warn of the shallowness of the water in the beach area, failed to determine in advance the safe and unsafe areas to swim along the St. Mary’s River, and failed to point out proper sites for swimming and diving by the trip members, failed to adequately supervise the canoeing trip

Defendant Defenses: No duty

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 1985

This is a simple and sad case. A church organized a canoe trip through a livery. One of the obvious benefits of a summer canoe trip was swimming and playing in the water. The plaintiff and his friend in their canoe got to a beach first, beached their canoe and dove into the water.

The friend dove into the water first, and the plaintiff followed in the same direction and dove second. The plaintiff’s dive was different, not a shallow dive. He broke his neck and rendered himself a quadriplegic.

There were no obstructions in the water where the accident occurred and the 21-year-old plaintiff was knowledgeable about water sports and activities.

The plaintiff sued the church and the church’s insurance company. The trial court dismissed the complaint. The canoe livery was not part of this suit, and it is unknown if they were ever defendants. This appeal followed.

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

The basics of the plaintiff’s claims were the defendant church organized the trip. Therefore, they were responsible of all aspects of the trip. That control allegedly included the land along the trip as well as the participants. The plaintiff was 21 and argued the church was in control of him, even though he acted without the church’s knowledge or consent and before the “church” through an assistant minister arrived on the scene.

The court first went through the steps under Florida’s law to determine the requirements to dismiss a case. Motions to dismiss are rarely granted.

In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment in a negligence action, the defendant must show either no negligence on his part proximately resulting in injury to the plaintiff, or that the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of his injury. 

Negligence requires more than the mere occurrence of an accident.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant church was in control of the trip, acting as a guide for the trip and by allowing he to access the beach was liable as a landowner for the beach. The plaintiff argued defendant church constructively possessed the beach.

The court did not accept this argument because the plaintiff arrived at the beach first and before the leader of the trip; the assistant minister who was a paid employee, arrived minutes later. Upon the “church’s” arrival no one tried to exercise defacto control over the beach or the activity which argued was control over the beach.

The next argument was the church was liable for not making sure the beach was safe. However, the plaintiff found the beach and dove without the church’s permission. On top of that, there were not obstructions in the river, which would make the beach or river unsafe.

The court also looked at the age of the plaintiff. The plaintiff “possessed sufficient maturity to appreciate the danger, and was not in a dependency relationship with the appellee church.”

Another argument was the one that created concern and interest. “Appellant also maintains that the church assumed a duty of due care by voluntarily acting as a “tour guide” in organizing and conducting the canoeing trip upon which appellant was injured…”

A prior case Florida case on appeal had held a tour service liable for the accident that occurred in a museum because they had the ability to check out where the tour was going. This legal theory is based on “an action undertaken for the benefit of another, even if performed gratuitously, must be performed in accordance with the duty to exercise due care.”

The court held that the tour company was a common carrier in the other decision, and it did not apply in this case because the circumstances did not create a duty on the part of the church. The liability of a common carrier is the highest owed to a party. Common carriers are usually defined as airlines, trains those transportation services where the customer has no ability to protect themselves or control their situation. The court also found:

Even assuming, arguendo, that the church owed a duty of adequate supervision to appellant, the breach of which would render it liable for ordinary negligence, appellant can be barred from recovery if his own action in diving into the shallow water was the sole proximate cause of his accident.

This statement sounds like an assumption of the risk argument, but is actually a duty statement. There is no liability, unless there is a duty. There cannot be a duty when one is acting on one’s own. “A plaintiff is barred from recovering damages for loss or injury caused by the negligence of another only when the plaintiff’s negligence is the sole legal cause of the damage.”

So Now What?

Sad when a young man spends the rest of his live in a wheel chair. However, the actions that caused his injuries were solely those of his own doing.

The argument that you are a guide when you undertake to organize a trip was interesting. A lot of this would hinge on how you are accomplishing this, what you were saying to get the trip put together. It is important when creating outings or trips like this to identify the responsibilities of the parties. Identify in advance, who is responsible for what. You should always identify that adults are always responsible for themselves.

That division of responsibility is best explained in writing and accepted in writing by the customer. That document is normally called a release.

The way you outline the responsibilities you or the organization you represent when you start organizing a trip will create the duties you will owe. The younger the people on the trip, (kids), and the more the people rely on your statements, the greater the chance you will be held to a duty. If you imply you are creating a duty, then you have created a duty and you will be liable for breaching that duty.

The bigger issue is the assigning of a greater duty by the courts based upon the type of tour being offered. You need to identify in advance that your actions in moving your customers from one location to the activity are done as part of the activity, not as a common carrier. Your liability in the transportation is incidental to the activity, or you may be held to a higher standard of care for all parts of the activity.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Clark, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company, 465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

Clark, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company, 465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

John Clark, Appellant, v. Lumbermans Mutual Insurance Company and Orange Park Assembly of God, Appellees

No. AU-168

Court of Appeal of Florida, First District

465 So. 2d 552; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12832; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 596

March 7, 1985

COUNSEL: Adam H. Lawrence of Lawrence & Daniels, Miami; and Brent M. Turbow, Jacksonville, for Appellant.

Charles Cook Howell, III of Howell, Liles, Braddock & Milton, Jacksonville, for Appellee.

JUDGES: Smith, L., J. Mills and Nimmons, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: SMITH

OPINION

[*553] John Clark, plaintiff below, appeals a final summary judgment in favor of the appellees in this negligence action. After an examination of the whole record, we conclude that no interpretation of the undisputed material facts would support a finding of liability for negligence on the part of the appellee Orange Park Assembly of God (hereinafter “church”). We affirm.

The following facts, taken from depositions filed in this cause, are germane to this appeal. Appellant suffered a broken neck and was rendered a quadriplegic during a diving accident on the St. Mary’s River, located in Nassau County, Florida. The accident occurred during a canoe trip and picnic sponsored, planned and conducted by the appellee church. The church had hired Mr. Gary Hines to be its “minister of youth.” Hines, [**2] a paid, full-time employee of the church, was to direct and coordinate the activities of the church’s youthful members. The trip in question took place June 13, 1981. Its logistics were planned and coordinated by Hines. Approximately 40 to 50 people, including appellant, ultimately participated in the trip. Appellant, a high school graduate, was twenty-one years of age at the time of his injury. He was, in his own words, in excellent health, a good swimmer who was familiar with various water sports.

On the day of appellant’s accident, trip members were transported by church bus and van to a canoe rental establishment located on the St. Mary’s River called the Canoe Outpost. Hines did not attempt extensive instructions to trip members regarding canoe operation or the physical characteristics of the river they were about to traverse. Trip members were instructed by Hines that suitable beaches for swimming existed on the river; however, Hines acknowledged that he had not made inquiries prior to the trip as to the location or suitability of any of the river’s beaches.

During the trip, appellant and a canoeing companion, Lee Brannen, sighted what they thought was a suitable place [**3] for swimming, and beached their canoes. Brannen testified that he ran out into the water approximately three steps and then executed a shallow, racing-type dive into the water, which was approximately chest deep on Brannen, who was six feet one inch tall. Brannen testified he felt it would be “crazy” to attempt a “deep dive,” as he had not yet ascertained the exact depth of the water. Appellant then attempted to execute a similar dive, following what both he and Brannen testified was essentially the same path Brannen had taken in making his dive. Both testified that appellant’s dive differed from Brannen’s. Brannen testified that appellant had not run as far into the water as Brannen had, and that appellant jumped somewhat higher prior to the dive in a manner Brannen characterized as a “piking” of appellant’s body, with the result that appellant’s head and arms preceded the rest of his body into the water. Unfortunately, the result of appellant’s attempted dive was a broken neck and consequent paralysis. The record is unclear as to what, exactly, caused appellant’s injuries, since appellant was unable to state categorically that he hit his head on the river bottom as a result [**4] of his dive. However, all deponents testified that the river bottom area where appellant dove was clear of obstructions.

Appellant instituted the pending action alleging, among other things, that the appellee church had violated its duty to warn of the shallowness of the water in the beach area, where appellant had attempted his dive, failed to determine in advance the safe and unsafe areas to swim along the [*554] St. Mary’s River, and failed to point out proper sites for swimming and diving by the trip members. Appellant also alleged that the church had failed to adequately supervise the canoeing trip.

Appellees moved for summary judgment, asserting that the church breached no legal duty owed the appellant; that appellant had actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition of the beach where his accident occurred; and that appellant’s actions constituted the sole proximate cause of his injury. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that the beach area where appellant’s accident occurred contained no latent or unknown dangers; that the appellee church did not breach any legal duty owed the appellant; and that appellant’s actions were the [**5] sole proximate cause of his injury. This appeal followed.

We are governed by certain well known principles applicable in negligence actions. [HN1] Issues of negligence and probable cause will normally be answerable only by a jury, and not by motion for summary judgment, unless the facts adduced “point to but one possible conclusion.” Cassel v. Price, 396 So.2d 258, 260 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981) (citations omitted), rev. den. mem., 407 So.2d 1102 (Fla. 1981). In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment in a negligence action, the defendant must show either no negligence on his part proximately resulting in injury to the plaintiff, or that the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of his injury. Goode v. Walt Disney World Co., 425 So.2d 1151, 1154 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982), rev. den. mem., 436 So.2d 101 (Fla. 1983). However, as often stated, “the mere occurrence of an accident does not give rise to an inference of negligence, and is not sufficient for a finding of negligence on the part of anyone.” Cassel v. Price, supra, at 264 (citations omitted). Judged by these standards, we find that the trial court correctly granted appellees’ motion for summary judgment.

[**6] Initially, we find without merit appellant’s attempt to affix liability based upon breach of a duty of due care by the church as a “possessor” or “occupier” of land. Appellant contends that the church, by allowing appellant and other members of the trip to utilize the beach where appellant was injured, constructively “possessed” this portion of the beach area, citing Arias v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, 426 So.2d 1136 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983). We disagree. In Arias, the plaintiff was injured after a “john boat” in which she was a passenger collided with a partially submerged diving dock located in a lake directly in front of lakefront property owned by a defendant on Lake Hampton, in Bradford County. The defendant in Arias argued that since the land beneath the lake was owned by the state, rather than by the defendant, he was not in a position to exercise control over the land upon which the submerged dock rested, and hence he owed the plaintiff no duty to warn of the hazard. The Arias court rejected this contention, stating:

[HN2] The liability of an occupant of real property for injuries caused by an alleged dangerous defective condition on the premises [**7] depends generally upon his control of the property, regardless of whether he had title thereto, or whether he has a superior right to possession of property which is in the possession and control of another. (citation omitted)

Id. at 1138.

There are no facts in this case which would tend to satisfy the elements of “possession” or “control” which led to the court’s decision in Arias. The facts in Arias were that the nearly submerged dock was located several hundred feet directly in front of the defendant’s lakefront property, and that while it was located in the lake before defendant bought the property, the defendant had modified it by placing a thin shelled cement surface on the dock. The Arias court held that it could not be determined, as a matter of law, that the defendant had “failed to maintain the requisite control over the boat dock.” 426 So.2d at 1138. Here, by contrast, the church had no actual or constructive “presence” at the beach prior to the accident. [*555] Appellant and Brannen were the first two canoeists to reach the beach, and hence “occupy” it. Hines arrived a number of minutes after the appellant and other members of the group, [**8] and made no attempt to exercise “de facto” control over the beach or over activities on the beach.

Moreover, the view that potential liability may exist under facts such as found in Arias is premised upon the existence of a hidden danger of which the land owner or occupier has or should have superior knowledge, as compared to the injured party. Here, no evidence was produced to establish the existence of any hidden dangers at the situs of the accident. It was uncontradicted that the river bottom and the beach contained no rocks or obstructions. Nor can the depth of the water itself have been considered a hidden danger, since both appellant and Brannen testified that they were well aware of its relatively shallow depth. Switzer v. Dye, 177 So. 2d 539 (Fla. 1st DCA 1965). Appellant testified that he was aware of the danger of diving into shallow water, and was aware that the water depth at the beach where he was injured was indeed properly characterized as shallow. Hence, there existed in the case at bar no “hidden danger” so as to trigger the rule in Arias.

We think the same result is required here if the potential liability of the church is considered in relation [**9] to its duty to investigate the river for dangerous conditions. The “harmful condition” of the beach (assuming, without accepting, the correctness of this characterization by appellant) was recognized and hence was obvious to all who testified below. Therefore, no breach of duty occurred, since the “harmful condition” was in fact obvious to appellant, who indisputably possessed sufficient maturity to appreciate the danger, and was not in a dependency relationship with the appellee church. See Bradshaw v. Rawlings, 612 F.2d 135 (3d Cir. 1979), cert. den., 446 U.S. 909, 100 S. Ct. 1836, 64 L. Ed. 2d 261 (1980); cf. Rupp v. Bryant, 417 So.2d 658 (Fla. 1982) (school children between the ages of seventeen and eighteen considered to be under an in loco parentis relationship vis-a-vis school officials).

Appellant also maintains that the church assumed a duty of due care by voluntarily acting as a “tour guide” in organizing and conducting the canoeing trip upon which appellant was injured, citing Kaufman v. A-1 Bus Lines, Inc., 416 So.2d 863 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982) (Kaufman II). There, the plaintiff was injured when she fell off a cat-walk while touring a museum visited by [**10] tour groups sponsored by the defendant. The Third District had previously affirmed the Kaufman trial court’s dismissal of Ms. Kaufman’s initial complaint, but did so without prejudice to her right to file an amended complaint alleging defendant’s actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition that caused her injury. Kaufman v. A-1 Bus Lines, Inc., 363 So. 2d 61 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978) (Kaufman I). Subsequently, Ms. Kaufman filed an amended complaint alleging that the defendant’s actual knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition causing her injury created a duty to warn on the defendant’s part. The court in Kaufman II found that the defendant could be held liable for negligence while acting as a tour guide, based on the well-known proposition that [HN3] an action undertaken for the benefit of another, even if performed gratuitously, must be performed in accordance with the duty to exercise due care. 416 So. 2d at 864; see also Padgett v. School Board of Escambia County, 395 So.2d 584 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981).

We agree with appellant that a church’s sponsorship and organization of a canoeing trip could give rise to a legal duty to exercise reasonable care in exercising [**11] these responsibilities. Padgett, supra. We observe, however, that Kaufman II is distinguishable from the case at bar due to the Kaufman II defendant’s status as a common carrier. Furthermore, in view of the undisputed evidence concerning the circumstances under which the accident occurred, we do not find it necessary to examine the [*556] extent of the church’s duty in this case, or to categorize the relationship between plaintiff and defendant here, which would otherwise guide our decision in determining whether the church carried its burden of showing the absence of evidence indicating a breach of duty by the church causing injury to appellant, as required to entitle it to summary judgment. 1

1 Cf., Section 768.13, Florida Statutes (1981), the “Good Samaritan Act,” with commercial transactions (Kaufman II, the “tour guide” situation) and dependency relationships (Rupp; schools in an in loco parentis relationship with students).

Even assuming, arguendo, that the church [**12] owed a duty of adequate supervision to appellant, the breach of which would render it liable for ordinary negligence, appellant can be barred from recovery if his own action in diving into the shallow water was the sole proximate cause of his accident. Phillips v. Styers, 388 So. 2d 221 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980), quoting Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So. 2d 431, 438 (Fla. 1973): ” [HN4] A plaintiff is barred from recovering damages for loss or injury caused by the negligence of another only when the plaintiff’s negligence is the sole legal cause of the damage.” We hold that appellant was properly barred from proceeding further with his claim because the evidence below is susceptible to no conclusion other than that he had sufficient intelligence, experience, and knowledge to – and in fact did – both detect and appreciate the physical characteristics of the swimming place in question and the potential danger involved in attempting his shallow water dive. See, Lister v. Campbell, 371 So. 2d 133 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979), Hughes v. Roarin 20’s, Inc., 455 So. 2d 422 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984). 2

2 See, also, Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. 67, 166 S.E.2d 89 (1969), appeal dismissed, 400 U.S. 922, 91 S. Ct. 192, 27 L. Ed. 2d 183 (1970) (church and its representatives held not liable for negligent supervision of Sunday school picnic at lake resort during which youth drowned while attempting to swim from platform in deep water back to shore).

[**13] For the foregoing reasons, the judgment below is

AFFIRMED.

MILLS and NIMMONS, JJ., CONCUR.


Assumption of the Risk to be a bar to a claim the defendant must not owe a duty to the plaintiff that means the plaintiff must be involved in recreation or a sport.

The old idea of you knew what you were doing could result in an injury, and you did it anyway does not necessarily prevent lawsuits now days.

Kindrich III et al., v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

Plaintiff: Carl Kindrich, III, Barbara Kindrich, and Michael Kindrich

Defendant: Long Beach Yacht Club and Charles Fuller, skipper

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in their use and maintenance of both the boat and the dock, Barbara claimed loss of consortium, and Michael claimed emotional distress

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2008

The facts in this case are easy, and to regular readers, sort of annoying. The plaintiff’s father died. The deceased had been a member of the defendant yacht club and wanted to be buried at sea. The yacht club loaned a boat and a skipper to the deceased family to take his ashes out to sea.

Boarding the boat, there was a set of stairs that allowed everyone to climb on the boat. Upon returning the stairs were removed. The Defendant/Skipper/Boat Captain asked the plaintiff to jump down to tie the boat up. He did, injuring his knee.

Free boat to carry out his father’s wishes, knowing the risk, and he still sues. The plaintiff sued the Yacht Club and the skipper, both of whom were donated for disposing the ashes of the plaintiff’s father.

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

The defendant yacht club filed a motion to dismiss based on assumption of the risk. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

The court went through a detailed analysis of assumption of the risk in California. The basis of the analysis was the California Supreme Court decision in Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296; 834 P.2d 696; 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2; 1992 Cal. LEXIS 3969; 92 Cal. Daily Op. Service 7261; 92 Daily Journal DAR 11765; 92 Daily Journal DAR 11870.

The court first started by defining when assumption of the risk is applied as a complete bar and the differences between primary and secondary assumption of the risk.

Assumption of risk that is based upon the absence of a defendant’s duty of care is called “‘primary assumption of risk.’ ” “First, in ‘primary assumption of risk’ cases–where the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm–a plaintiff who has suffered such harm is not entitled to recover from the defendant, whether the plaintiff’s conduct in undertaking the activity was reasonable or unreasonable. Second, in ‘secondary assumption of risk’ cases–involving instances in which the defendant has breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff–the defendant is not entitled to be entirely relieved of liability for an injury proximately caused by such breach, simply because the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering the risk of such an injury was reasonable rather than unreasonable.”

Primary assumption of the risk is a complete bar to a claim. “Primary assumption of risk, “where plaintiff is held to agree to relieve defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him”” (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 306), remains as a complete defense.”

The court stated that the decision in Knight changed how the court should view assumption of the risk. “Knight shifted the focus of assumption of risk from a plaintiff’s “subjective knowledge and awareness” of the risk to the nature of the activity in question.”

In cases involving ‘primary assumption of risk’–where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury–the doctrine continues to operate as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.” Knight justified maintaining the defense in a sports setting because there “conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part of the sport itself” and imposing liability “might well alter fundamentally the nature of the sport by deterring participants from vigorously engaging in activity that falls close to, but on the permissible side of, a prescribed rule”

The old definition looked at whether the plaintiff knew about the risk and voluntarily assumed the risk. Now the court looks at what was going on to determine what happened. Even if the plaintiff did not understand the activity or the risks, by engaging in the activity, they may still assume the risks. This in many senses is a broader definition which helps the defendant. However, when the activity is not a sport, it is a very narrow definition.

The court then looked at all the California cases that had determined that the defendant did not owe a duty to the plaintiff; therefore, the assumption of the risk was a complete bar to the plaintiff’s claims. From that it determined that the complete bar applied if the plaintiff was participating in a sport.

After reviewing a substantial number of cases applying primary assumption of risk to a variety of activities, the court concluded that “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors, it appears that an activity falls within the meaning of ‘sport’ if the activity is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.”

Jumping off a boat is not a sport. It is a common everyday occurrence. As such the activity is not one where the plaintiff assumes the risk because the defendant might owe the plaintiff a duty. The existence of the stairs to begin the boat ride is proof that a duty may be owed. The case was reversed and sent back for further proceedings.

So Now What?

So I’ve posted a lot of cases looking at assumption of the risk. However, you need to make sure you understand that normally, assumption of the risk is not a complete bar to a lawsuit as in this case. For assumption of the risk to bar a plaintiff’s suit, the plaintiff must be involved in an activity or sport.

Here the plaintiff was jumping off a boat. Although the facts make it appear like the suit should be thrown out because when you jump from a boat, it is obvious you can be hurt. The rule states it only applies to how much the trier of fact thinks you were responsible for your injury not whether you assumed the risk as in the past.

Assumption of the risk may still be a complete bar to recovery. It will be dependent upon the state and how the jury sees the facts. However, that must be decided by the trier of fact, and cannot be decided by motions.

By that I mean if the plaintiff does not prove that the defendant was at least or 50 or 51% liable (dependent upon the state) for their injury the plaintiff loses. In some states, the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault only reduces the award to the plaintiff by that percentage the plaintiff is liable, so if the plaintiff is found to be 90% liable the plaintiff only recovers 10% of the damages.

The issue as to how assumption of the risk is to be applied to the facts is based on whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. In a sport, the defendant does not owe any duty unless the acts of the defendant are reckless or intentional, generally (varies by state). Here, the stairs that were there originally created a duty when they were removed.

The reasoning behind keeping assumption of the risk in some activities as a complete bar is, if the risks are removed from the sport, which the defendant would have to do if they were to protect themselves from suit, the sport would not exist. The risk is part and parcel of the sport. Alternatively, without the risks, the sport would not exist.

The controlling term is “sport”. It does not have to be a team sport or a contact sport, but it has to be more than couch surfing or jumping from a boat.

If you are engaging in the activity for a challenge, a thrill, or enjoyment and requires physical exertion, then assumption of the risk may be a complete bar to a claim by the plaintiff.

You could always put that in your release too………….. J

There is a dissent in this case that reasons that “No good deed goes unpunished” and the actions of the plaintiff fit the definition of assumption of the risk, and the older result should apply in this case.

How would they ever be able to tie the boat up if in this fact situation? If a passenger on the boat cannot jump off the boat to tie the boat up, the captain either has to hand over control of the boat to a passenger (see any problems here) or the boat must wait until someone comes down and brings a set of stairs.

Never thought I would write about a “Yacht Club.”

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Kindrich III et al., v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

Kindrich III et al., v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

Carl Kindrich III et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Long Beach Yacht Club et al., Defendants and Respondents.

G038290

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION THREE

167 Cal. App. 4th 1252; 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 824; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 1705

October 28, 2008, Filed

COUNSEL: Brunick, McElhaney & Beckett and Steven K. Beckett for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Cogswell Nakazawa & Chang, Christina L. Owen and Dena S. Aghabeg for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: Opinion by Rylaarsdam, J., with Sills, P. J., concurring. Dissenting opinion by Bedsworth, J.

OPINION BY: Rylaarsdam [*1255]

OPINION

[**825] RYLAARSDAM, J.–Plaintiff Carl Kindrich III was injured while disembarking from a boat after participating in casting his late father’s ashes [**826] into the ocean. He sued defendants Long Beach Yacht Club, the owner of the boat and the dock, and Charles Fuller, the boat’s skipper, alleging they had been negligent in their use and maintenance of both the boat and the dock–specifically because they failed either to have someone on the dock to assist in tying off the boat when it returned, or to ensure that the portable steps, previously used in boarding the boat, would be available for his use when he attempted to disembark. Carl’s wife, Barbara, and son, Michael, also sued. Barbara claimed loss of consortium, and Michael claimed emotional distress suffered as an aural percipient witness to his father’s injury. (Because [***2] all three plaintiffs have the same last name, we will refer to them by their first names to avoid confusion and not out of disrespect.)

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, reasoning the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to Carl’s decision to jump off the boat onto the dock. All plaintiffs appeal, contending the court improperly concluded that the act of jumping onto the dock was an activity subject to the complete defense of primary assumption of risk. We agree that the court’s analysis was incorrect. Carl was not engaged in the type of sporting event where the doctrine of primary assumption of risk should be applied. At most Carl may have assumed risks, categorized as secondary assumption of risk, which are subsumed in contributory negligence. Whether he was contributorily negligent and, if so, how his negligence compares with that of defendants, if any, are questions of fact to be resolved by the trier of fact.

Defendants also contend summary judgment was properly granted because they were not negligent. But this is another question of fact and not subject to summary judgment. Defendants’ additional issues, whether Barbara suffered damages and whether [***3] Michael’s awareness of his father’s accident qualifies him as a “bystander” entitled to recover on a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress, also raise questions of fact.

We therefore reverse the summary judgment.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The complaint alleges that plaintiffs and some of their relatives and friends gathered at the Yacht Club to participate in a “burial at sea” of the ashes of Carl’s late father. The Yacht Club arranged for the attendees to be taken to the burial site on a boat it owned and maintained and assigned Fuller to pilot that boat. The Yacht Club provided portable stairs on the dock to assist the [*1256] attendees in boarding. Plaintiffs contend that, when the boat returned to the dock, the portable steps were no longer in place. According to the complaint, Fuller told Carl to tie off the boat; there was no one on the dock waiting to do so. As Carl “started to jump from the side of the boat onto the dock … , the boat and dock moved relative to each other causing [Carl] to fall and injure himself.”

Plaintiffs allege causes of action for Carl’s personal injury, Barbara’s loss of consortium, and emotional distress suffered by Michael when he witnessed [***4] his father’s accident.

Defendants moved for summary judgment. They argued that Carl’s claim failed as a matter of law because (1) he assumed any risk of injury from his voluntary decision to jump onto the dock from the boat; and (2) they did not breach any duty of care they might have owed him and had no actual or constructive notice that the portable stairs may not have been in place when the boat returned to the [**827] dock. They also asserted that Barbara’s claim failed as a matter of law, both because it was derivative of Carl’s claim and because her discovery responses revealed no loss of consortium damages. Finally, defendants maintained Michael’s claim failed as a matter of law because it was derivative of Carl’s and because Michael was not actually aware of his father’s injury until after it had occurred.

These are the relevant undisputed facts offered in support of the motion: Carl’s father, a member of the Yacht Club before he died, had expressed the wish to be “buried at sea.” The Yacht Club agreed to assist with such a burial and permitted the Kindrich family to use one of its boats, without charge, for the ceremony. The Yacht Club also agreed to let Fuller, one of its long-standing [***5] members and a good friend of Carl’s father, pilot the boat for the ceremony.

Carl, Barbara, and Michael, along with other family members, used portable steps located on the dock to board the boat for the ceremony. After the ceremony was over, Carl and Michael were up on the bridge with Fuller, who piloted the boat back to the dock. According to Carl’s testimony, “[a]fter the burial, we were bringing the boat in and … not too far from the dock, [Fuller] looked to me and says ‘We have to tie up the boat, and someone else will have to help.’ And Michael and I were the only two on the bridge … . And so Michael said that he would help … . [¶] … When [Fuller] turned the boat into the dock and we had gotten up to the dock and we were getting ready to get off the boat, Mike, my son, jumped to the dock. We didn’t see the steps. The steps weren’t there. And then after Mike jumped off, I jumped off, also … .” [*1257]

Carl stated that at the moment he jumped off the boat, it was hit by the wake from another boat, causing it to “go up as he stepped off the boat and when he came down onto the deck, he broke his leg.” The boat used for the burial ceremony does not require more than two [***6] people to tie it up when it reaches the dock–one person to operate the boat and one person on the dock to tie the lines.

Plaintiffs opposed the summary judgment, arguing this was not a proper case for applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, and the case could not be summarily adjudicated on the basis that defendants acted with reasonable care as a matter of law. Plaintiffs argued there were numerous factual disputes relating to whether defendants satisfied the duty of care they owed to the passengers on their boat, and those issues must ultimately be resolved by a jury.

At the hearing, the court explained its initial thinking in favor of granting the summary judgment: “We have some conflicts in the facts as to whether he jumped, or stepped, or lowered himself, or whatever, but that doesn’t matter. What didn’t happen was he wasn’t pushed. He wasn’t ordered. He voluntarily undertook an activity that was inherently dangerous; namely, disembarking from a moving boat obviously onto the dock and he hurt himself. [¶] I believe that without really much hesitation that … primary assumption of the risk applies and the motions should be granted for summary judgment.”

Although [***7] plaintiffs’ counsel attempted to persuade the court that Fuller directed Carl to assist in tying up the boat, and thus his decision to jump from the boat should not be regarded as voluntary, the court did not agree. “[Carl] assumed the risk of something in this recreational activity going wrong. [¶] It did go wrong. The precise wrong is irrelevant. One way or the other he voluntarily disembarked the boat … with the idea of going onto [**828] the dock, and this was an unsafe thing to do.”

The formal order granting the motion cited two bases. First, the court found that “even if the portable steps were actually missing when the vessel … arrived back at dock after the burial at sea, [d]efendants had no notice, constructive or actual, of their absence. … [¶] The Court additionally finds that [d]efendants are entitled to summary adjudication on their Fourth Affirmative Defense because when [p]laintiff … made the deliberate and conscious decision to jump from the vessel … to the dock, he, with full knowledge thereof, knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of sustaining injury. (See Meintsma v. United States [(9th Cir. 1947)] 164 F.2d 976 … ; see also DeRoche v. Commodore Cruise Line, Ltd. (1994) 31 Cal.App.4th 802, 810 [46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 468] [***8] (‘[It] is settled that there is no duty to warn of a danger that is as obvious to the injured party as to the defendant.’).)” [*1258]

The order granted summary judgment against Barbara and Michael as well, concluding Barbara’s claim for loss of consortium was derivative as a matter of law and that any distinct claim for emotional distress was precluded by the fact she did not actually witness Carl’s injury. As to Michael’s claim, the court concluded that a bystander’s recovery for extreme emotional distress was dependent upon a determination the injury he witnessed was negligently inflicted. Since Carl’s negligence claim failed, Michael’s did as well.

DISCUSSION

Primary Versus Secondary Assumption of Risk

(1) Even were we to conclude that Carl’s decision to jump off the boat was a voluntary one, and that therefore he assumed a risk inherent in doing so, this is not enough to provide a complete defense. [HN1] Because voluntary assumption of risk as a complete defense in a negligence action was abandoned in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804, 829 [119 Cal. Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226], only the absence of duty owed a plaintiff under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk would provide such a defense. But that doctrine does not come [***9] into play except when a plaintiff and a defendant are engaged in certain types of activities, such as an “active sport.” That was not the case here; plaintiff was merely the passenger on a boat. Under Li, he may have been contributorily negligent but this would only go to reduce the amount of damages to which he is entitled.

Before Li, contributory negligence and voluntary assumption of risk were distinct and complete defenses in an action for negligence. Under certain circumstances, the “last clear chance” doctrine provided relief from the harshness of the rules. Li changed all that. It adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence and held that “[t]he [HN2] doctrine of last clear chance is abolished, and the defense of assumption of risk is also abolished to the extent that it is merely a variant of the former doctrine of contributory negligence; both of these are to be subsumed under the general process of assessing liability in proportion to negligence.” (Li v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 13 Cal.3d at p. 829.)

Li recognized that there are at least two distinct forms of assumption of risk. “As for assumption of risk, we have recognized in this state that this defense overlaps that of contributory [***10] negligence to some extent and in fact is made up of at least two distinct defenses. ‘To simplify greatly, it has been observed … that in one kind of situation, to wit, where a plaintiff unreasonably undertakes to encounter a specific known risk imposed by a defendant’s negligence, [**829] plaintiff’s conduct, although he may encounter that risk in a prudent manner, is in reality a form of contributory negligence … . [*1259] Other kinds of situations within the doctrine of assumption of risk are those, for example, where plaintiff is held to agree to relieve defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him. Such a situation would not involve contributory negligence, but rather a reduction of defendant’s duty of care.’ [Citations.] We think it clear that the adoption of a system of comparative negligence should entail the merger of the defense of assumption of risk into the general scheme of assessment of liability in proportion to fault in those particular cases in which the form of assumption of risk involved is no more than a variant of contributory negligence. [Citation.]” (Li v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 13 Cal.3d at pp. 824-825.)

(2) So, [HN3] to the extent that “‘”a plaintiff unreasonably [***11] undertakes to encounter a specific known risk imposed by a defendant’s negligence,”‘” he or she is subject to the defense of comparative negligence but not to an absolute defense. (Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 305-306 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696].) This type of comparative negligence has been referred to as ” ‘secondary assumption of risk.’ ” (Id. at p. 308.) Assumption of risk that is based upon the absence of a defendant’s duty of care is called ” ‘primary assumption of risk.’ ” (Ibid.) “First, in ‘primary assumption of risk’ cases–where the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm–a plaintiff who has suffered such harm is not entitled to recover from the defendant, whether the plaintiff’s conduct in undertaking the activity was reasonable or unreasonable. Second, in ‘secondary assumption of risk’ cases–involving instances in which the defendant has breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff–the defendant is not entitled to be entirely relieved of liability for an injury proximately caused by such breach, simply because the plaintiff’s conduct in encountering the risk of such an injury was reasonable rather than unreasonable.” (Id. at p. 309.)

Primary assumption [***12] of risk, “‘”where plaintiff is held to agree to relieve defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him”‘” (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 306), remains as a complete defense. That defense was not fully developed until our Supreme Court decided Knight v. Jewett. There, Knight sued Jewett for negligence and assault and battery after she was injured when Jewett knocked her over and stepped on her finger during a touch football game. In affirming summary judgment for the defendant, the court held that under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty. It “conclude[d] that a participant in an active sport breaches a legal duty of care to other participants–i.e., engages in conduct that properly may subject him or her to financial liability–only if the participant intentionally injures another player or engages in conduct that is so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport.” (Id. at p. 320, fn. omitted.) [*1260]

(3) Knight shifted the focus of assumption of risk from a plaintiff’s “subjective knowledge and awareness” of the risk to the nature of the activity in question. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) [***13] [HN4] “In cases involving ‘primary assumption of risk’–where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the [**830] activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury–the doctrine continues to operate as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.” (Id. at pp. 314-315.) Knight justified maintaining the defense in a sports setting because there “conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous often are an integral part of the sport itself” (id. at p. 315), and imposing liability “might well alter fundamentally the nature of the sport by deterring participants from vigorously engaging in activity that falls close to, but on the permissible side of, a prescribed rule” (id. at p. 319). The focus of the questions should consider the nature of the activity and the relationship of the parties to the activity. (Id. at p. 315.)

There are situations other than active sports where under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk a plaintiff is held to agree to relieve a defendant of an obligation of reasonable conduct toward him or her. For example, Knight stated, “In addition to the sports [***14] setting, the primary assumption of risk doctrine also comes into play in the category of cases often described as involving the ‘firefighter’s rule.’ [Citation.] In its most classic form, the firefighter’s rule involves the question whether a person who negligently has started a fire is liable for an injury sustained by a firefighter who is summoned to fight the fire; the rule provides that the person who started the fire is not liable under such circumstances. [Citation.] Although a number of theories have been cited to support this conclusion, the most persuasive explanation is that the party who negligently started the fire had no legal duty to protect the firefighter from the very danger that the firefighter is employed to confront. [Citations.] Because the defendant in such a case owes no duty to protect the firefighter from such risks, the firefighter has no cause of action even if the risk created by the fire was so great that a trier of fact could find it was unreasonable for the firefighter to choose to encounter the risk.” (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 309-310, fn. 5.)

Other examples of primary assumption of risk are the so-called veterinarian’s rule (e.g., Priebe v. Nelson (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1112, 1121, fn. 1 [47 Cal. Rptr. 3d 553, 140 P.3d 848]) [***15] or where the plaintiff is hired to undertake a particular, dangerous job (e.g., Farnam v. State of California (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1448, 1455 [101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 642]; Herrle v. Estate of Marshall (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1761, 1765 [53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 713]). But for purposes of this case, we need only consider whether Carl’s injuries occurred while he was engaged in an “active sport,” which relieved defendants of a duty of care. [*1261]

There are more than 100 published cases defining what is and what is not an “active sport” qualifying for application of the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. “Since the decision in Knight, which involved a recreational game of touch football, our state Supreme Court and appellate courts have examined the applicability of the primary assumption of the risk defense in a wide variety of cases involving sports and recreational activities. In Ford[ v. Gouin (1992)] 3 Cal.4th 339 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724], the companion case to Knight, the Supreme Court expanded the doctrine and applied it to the noncompetitive, nonteam sporting activity of waterskiing. The Supreme Court has applied the doctrine to other sports, including intercollegiate baseball (Avila v. Citrus Community College Dist. (2006) 38 Cal.4th 148, 161 [**831] [41 Cal. Rptr. 3d 299, 131 P.3d 383]), swimming (Kahn[ v. East Side Union High School Dist. (2003)] 31 Cal.4th [990,] 1004-1005 [4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 103, 75 P.3d 30] [***16] [examining coach’s relationship to sport]), and snow skiing (Cheong v. Antablin (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1063, 1067-1068 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 859, 946 P.2d 817] …). [Citation.] The Courts of Appeal have applied the primary assumption of the risk rule in cases involving snow skiing (Connelly v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 8 [45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 855]), ‘off-roading’ with a motorcycle or ‘dune buggy’ (Distefano v. Forester (2001) 85 Cal.App.4th 1249, 1255, 1259-1265 [102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813]), skateboarding (Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108, 115-117 [96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 394]), figure ice skating (Staten v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1628, 1632-1636 [53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 657]), and long-distance group bicycle riding (Moser v. Ratinoff (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 1211, 1218-1223 [130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198]), to name a few.” (Truong v. Nguyen (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 865, 878-879 [67 Cal. Rptr. 3d 675] [primary assumption of risk applied to bar action for injury to passenger on jet ski].)

In Record v. Reason (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 472 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547], the court held that where the plaintiff was injured when he fell off an inner tube while being towed behind a motor boat, primary assumption of risk applied. In doing so, the court considered the issue of whether a particular activity was a “sport” such that the doctrine should be applied. [***17] After reviewing a substantial number of cases applying primary assumption of risk to a variety of activities, the court concluded that “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors, it appears that an activity falls within the meaning of ‘sport’ if the activity is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury.” (Id. at p. 482.) Although we agree with the result in Record its reliance on a plaintiff’s subjective reasons for participating in a sport seems inconsistent with Knight‘s test, which focuses on whether imposing liability would “alter fundamentally the nature of the sport by deterring participants from” vigorous participation. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 319.) [*1262]

(4) Stimson v. Carlson (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1201, 1205 [14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 670] applied primary assumption of risk to sailing where the plaintiff was one of the crew operating the boat; the court noted that sailing involves swinging booms and physical participation of crew. But in our case, plaintiff was not a participant in the “sport” of boating or in any “active sport.” He was a passenger. Thus [HN5] this activity does not fall within [***18] the test set out in Knight, i.e., that to hold defendants owed no duty to plaintiffs would “alter fundamentally the nature of [a] sport by deterring participants from” vigorous participation. (Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 319.)

This case is more analogous to Shannon v. Rhodes (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 792 [112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217]. There a six-year-old child and her siblings sued the owner and operator of a ski boat for negligence arising from injuries sustained by the child when she fell from the boat into the boat’s propeller. The Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment, holding that primary assumption of risk did not apply. The court noted, “Our analysis begins by examining with what activity the Knight court was concerned. In Knight, the court came to the commonsense conclusion that when two people are playing a sport together one should not be liable to the other for injuries sustained while playing that sport [**832] absent some recklessness or intentional misconduct. [Citation.] The parties in Knight were engaged in a recreational game of football, clearly a physical activity and ‘sport’ within any common understanding of the word.” (Id. at p. 796.) Shannon held that the defense did not apply where [***19] the plaintiff was merely a passenger in the ski boat. (Id. at p. 801.)

Shannon distinguished Ford v. Gouin, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339, the waterskiing case, by noting that in Ford, our Supreme Court “explicitly used the language ‘noncompetitive but active sports activity’ in applying the doctrine to waterskiing. [Citation.] A review of the reasoning set forth in Ford makes clear that the court focused on the physical skill and risk involved in the waterskiing itself to conclude that the activity of waterskiing was a sport, and the boat driver a coparticipant in that sport. [Citation.] The same certainly cannot be said of a mere passenger in a boat … .” (Shannon v. Rhodes, supra, 92 Cal.App.4th at p. 798.)

(5) Here, the trial court characterized the activity in which plaintiff engaged as “jumping” rather than boating. We disagree that [HN6] we must surgically separate an activity’s constituent parts apart from the general activity in which the plaintiff was engaged. Carl was engaged in boating, not in jumping. If he had been a jumper, in the sense of one who competes in athletic events, our conclusion would be different. But he was disembarking from the boat; his method of doing so, be it leaping, jumping, stepping off, or walking the gangplank, [***20] did not turn his activity into an “active sport.” [*1263]

We therefore conclude that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk does not bar plaintiffs’ action.

Defendants’ Remaining Arguments

(6) We need not expend a great deal of time dealing with the rest of defendants’ arguments. Although these were not the basis for the grant of summary judgment, we will comment briefly. Defendants contend they acted with reasonable care. But this argument should be made not to us but to the trier of facts. [HN7] Whether reasonable care has been exercised is normally a question of fact. (Butigan v. Yellow Cab Co. (1958) 49 Cal.2d 652, 656 [320 P.2d 500].) Even if defendants were not responsible for the removal of the steps, and they contend the steps were there, this would only be one possible theory of liability. And, in light of the conflicting evidence, it is not for us to decide whether the steps were removed and, if so, by whom.

(7) As to defendants’ argument that Carl’s wife, Barbara, did not sustain damages to support her loss of consortium claim, the contention rests on the absence of evidence of physical injuries. But, as plaintiffs point out, “[a]lthough [HN8] loss of consortium may have physical consequences, it is principally a form [***21] of mental suffering.” (Rodriguez v. Bethlehem Steel Corp. (1974) 12 Cal.3d 382, 401 [115 Cal. Rptr. 765, 525 P.2d 669].)

(8) Defendants’ final argument is equally specious. [HN9] Whether or not Carl’s son, Michael, had such a contemporaneous sensory awareness of the accident as to satisfy the requirements of Thing v. La Chusa (1989) 48 Cal.3d 644, 668-669 [257 Cal. Rptr. 865, 771 P.2d 814] is again a question of fact, not to be resolved by us.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed. Appellants shall recover their costs.

Sills, P. J., concurred.

DISSENT BY: BEDSWORTH

DISSENT

BEDSWORTH, J., Dissenting.–“No good deed goes unpunished” has become a truism of modern life. Today, [**833] by allowing suit against a yacht club that tried to help one of the sons of a member in his time of grief, only to be sued when he hurt himself intruding into their conduct of the good deed, my colleagues give this sad commentary on modern society the force of law. I respectfully dissent from that.

Carl Kindrich III was injured when he jumped off a boat and onto a dock. He did so voluntarily, after he knew his adult son, Michael, had already [*1264] gotten onto the dock to assist in tying off the boat. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone suggested, let alone required, that Kindrich himself must get off the boat prior [***22] to the time the stairs were put into place on the dock for the egress of passengers. Nonetheless, Kindrich, along with his wife and son, sued both the Long Beach Yacht Club and Charles Fuller, the Yacht Club member who captained the boat, alleging they were responsible for his injuries.

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, and I would affirm that judgment. I believe the trial court properly concluded that Kindrich’s specific act of “jumping onto the dock,” rather than the more generic and sedate “boating” was the relevant “activity” for purposes of assessing his assumption of risk. In my view, jumping or stepping some two and one-half or three feet off the side of a boat onto a dock–merely because portable steps had not yet been put into place–is no more an integral part of “boating” than diving out a window–because no one has yet opened the door–is an integral part of visiting a house.

This was not an outing or an excursion. It was not a leisurely sail. The trip was made to dispose of the ashes of Kindrich’s father. The injury in question was not the result of “boating.” Kindrich was not swept off the boat by a wave or hit by a jib. He jumped off the [***23] boat at the conclusion of the trip before the boat had been tied up. His injury was the result of his sudden decision he would leap off the boat rather than waiting for his son to finish tying it off and ensuring debarkation could be safely accomplished.

It is undisputed that defendants did not expect, let alone require, that passengers would have to jump off this particular boat as part of the “boating” experience. To my mind, the existence of portable stairs, which had been used by these passengers when boarding the boat, and were intended to be kept on the dock for the passengers to use in both getting on and off the boat, rather conclusively establishes the lack of any such expectation. And Kindrich’s own testimony demonstrates that even he did not consider jumping off the side of the boat onto the dock to be a normal part of this boat ride, let alone an integral part of the activity of “boating” in general. As Kindrich explained it, he not only did not expect that anyone else on the boat would be jumping off, he believed them unable to do it. 1

1 As Kindrich explained in his deposition, “Jim, my brother, has a back to where he can’t do a lot of jumping; Mary Ann would not be capable [***24] of doing it; Lisa wouldn’t be capable of doing it; my grandsons would not be capable of doing it. And the other two gentlemen would not be capable of doing it.”

Moreover, there is no evidence that anyone–either Fuller or the Yacht Club–imposed some special obligation on Kindrich to jump off the boat and [*1265] be on the dock while it was being tied up. Instead, Kindrich’s own testimony establishes that (1) Fuller merely stated (either directly to Kindrich or generally to him and his son) that it was necessary to tie up the boat, and “someone else” would have to assist; (2) Kindrich’s son immediately volunteered to do that; and (3) Kindrich was aware his son [**834] had already jumped onto the dock for the purpose of tying off lines before his own ill-fated attempt to follow suit. Even assuming it was actually necessary for “someone” to be on the dock–a fact disputed below–it is uncontested that need had been met prior to Kindrich’s jump.

Under these facts, it is clear that jumping off the boat before the stairs were in place was not a requirement placed generally on those who were passengers on the boat, and it was not a requirement placed specifically on Kindrich by any defendant. 2 Hence, [***25] Kindrich’s decision to do so was simply an optional, and entirely voluntary act, which must be distinguished, for analytical purposes, from any normal aspect of “boating.”

2 Of course, I do not mean to suggest Kindrich necessarily thought through these events with the specificity I have just employed. Presumably, he just figured if Fuller needed help getting the boat tied onto the dock, he was willing to do whatever he could to assist. But that instinct is the essence of volunteerism: “Somebody ought to do it, might as well be me” is not the same thing as being specifically assigned a task. And the fact Fuller might even have appreciated having two people on the dock is not the same thing as concluding he actually directed Kindrich to get onto the dock–by whatever means possible–as soon as the boat arrived. Based upon the evidence in this case, the trial court correctly determined Kindrich was acting voluntarily when he jumped off the boat.

As my colleagues seem to concede, when Kindrich’s activity is construed not as an integral part of “boating” but rather as simply an impetuous act of “jumping off the boat,” it falls within the scope of “athletic” endeavors, which includes those [***26] noncompetitive activities requiring some level of “physical skill and risk,” and thus primary assumption of the risk would apply. (See Ford v. Gouin (1992) 3 Cal.4th 339, 345 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724]; Shannon v. Rhodes (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 792, 798 [112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217].) Because I see it that way, I would apply that doctrine, and grant the summary judgment.

But I should also note that I disagree with the majority’s analysis for an additional reason. As they explain, they considered Kindrich’s situation to be more analogous to Shannon v. Rhodes, supra, 92 Cal.App.4th 792, in which the injured plaintiff, a six-year-old child, was merely a passenger when she fell out of a boat that lurched unexpectedly, than to Stimson v. Carlson (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1201 [14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 670], in which the court applied primary assumption of the risk to a plaintiff who was injured while serving as a crewmember on a sailboat. If that is the analysis, it would lead me to the opposite conclusion. After all, a cornerstone of Kindrich’s theory of liability [*1266] is the assertion he had agreed to help with the docking of the boat, which is why–unlike the other passengers–he could not simply wait for the stairs to be put in place before getting onto the dock. If we accept [***27] his view, it seems clear that at the time of the accident, Kindrich had assumed the role of “crew,” rather than remaining a mere passenger. That would bring him within the majority’s characterization of Stimson. For that reason as well, I would affirm the judgment.

My colleagues have expanded civil liability beyond previous decisional law and beyond my ability to sign on. This ship will have to sail without me.

Respondents’ petition for review by the Supreme Court was denied February 11, 2009, S168902. Werdegar, J., did not participate therein.


Georgia court finds no requirement for an employee to intervene when higher trained first aid providers are present.

Sixteen-year-old collapsed at the defendant YMCA. A sheriff deputy and EMT provided CPR. Court held that the congenital heart disease had no causal connection to the Y’s negligence if there was any. Court also held the Y was not negligent because the employees did nothing, because higher trained medical personnel were already attending to the victim.

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: James and Jennifer Goins

Defendant: The Family YMCA

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and fraud

Defendant Defenses: No duty and proximate causation

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiffs are the parents of a sixteen-year-old who died walking on a treadmill at the defendant Family Y (YMCA). It was determined the deceased died from congenital heart disease.

The plaintiff’s brought their son to the YMCA to get ready for baseball season and to lose some weight. They chose the Y because it was a safe and positive environment with adequate well trained employees “on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.”

(This is an example of looking at the website and brochure post-accident and looking for information or is this why they picked the Y?)

An employee of the Y saw the deceased fall and immediately called 911. She did not go to the deceased because she said there was a sheriff’s deputy who was a first responder and had another first aid training attending to the deceased. Soon thereafter, an EMT also assisted the deceased.

The parents, plaintiff’s, sued the defendant because their son:

…was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court dismissed their claims, and the plaintiff’s appealed.

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

The first issue was whether there was a duty to render first aid and whether the representations that the Y misled the parents. The court first outlined the requirements to prove negligence in Georgia.

The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence action is whether and to what extent the defendant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

The plaintiffs argued there was a special relationship between themselves and the Y because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The appellate court shot down that argument with one sentence. “Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.”

The second issue on appeal was the negligence claim. As stated above to prove negligence, there must be a connection between the injury and the breach of the duty. Here the duty was alleged to be a lack of training, as advertised by the Y., However, the court could not find a connection. CPR would not have saved the deceased’s life and the people attempting to do so were better trained then the employees. “…the [plaintiff’s] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death.” A casual connection is less than the proximate causation required to prove negligence.

It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician, and a deputy sheriff trained as a first-responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

The final issue was the fraud claim. The fraud claim was based on the allegations that the Y promised the plaintiff’s that the YMCA was a safe and positive environment and that there would be adequate and well-trained employees, and the employees would have access to life-saving equipment.

There was not argument that this did not occur. The plaintiff’s then tried to tie together the fact these things did not occur and that because their son had died, proving negligence.  (The absence of facts does not prove a point in most cases and those facts that exist must link to each other in a legal way.) However, the court did not find this to be proved either.

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing.

Not brought up in the decision on this argument was proximate causation. There was no connection between the facts that if the Y had not done any of the issues pled in the fraud that the misrepresentation had anything to do with the death of their son.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

So Now What?

First, it is great to have a court require a special relationship or acceptance of a duty that can be proved, not just argued and based on trying to tie loose facts together. The Y’s acceptance of the deceased minor to provide a trainer came with no other requirements, and the Y did nothing to create additional duties which it could be held too.

This is critical that in bringing in business, you don’t make promises that either you can’t complete or that may come back to haunt you.

Second, although specifically identified, the issue of higher medical care prevailed. I’ve never seen this issue argued in a case, that the person with the higher medical care, once they step in, are in charge and owes any duty. We are all taught this issue in first aid classes, but courts have never identified it. Here the court uses the argument and supports it.

Too often we start any defense of a lawsuit by lining up the defenses. All too often in the outdoor recreation community, we need to see if (1) we did anything wrong and (2) is there a connection with what was done incorrectly or not done and the injury. That is, was a duty breached and was there a proximate connection between the breach and the injury.

Amazing how a well-argued decision can be so short.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al.

A13A1778.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

March 25, 2014, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: Negligence, etc. Richmond Superior Court. Before Judge Annis.

DISPOSITION: [***1] Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Richard H. Goolsby, Sr., for appellants.

Dodson & Associates, Charles R. Beans, for appellees.

JUDGES: ANDREWS, Presiding Judge. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

[*522] [**147] Andrews, Presiding Judge.

James and Jennifer Goins sued The Family YMCA (the Y) after their 16-year-old son Brant collapsed while walking on a treadmill at its facility. Brant died before EMTs arrived, and it was later determined that he suffered from a congenital heart disease. The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment on the Goins’ claims of negligence and fraud. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

The following facts are undisputed. The Goins brought their son Brant to the Y to get him into shape for baseball season and to lose some weight. Brant began training with Greg Mason, a certified personal trainer, and there was no indication at the time that Brant was not in good physical condition. The Goins do not contend that there was anything inappropriate in the level or intensity of the workouts suggested by Mason.

On the day in question, Brant had been walking on the treadmill for a short time when he collapsed. An employee who saw him fall immediately called 911. This employee was trained in CPR, but stated that she did not go over to Brant because there were two “paramedics” [***2] with him. One of the two men was a deputy sheriff who had been a first responder for eight years, was trained in advanced CPR, first aid, and also had life saving training in the Marine Corps. The deputy said that he checked for a pulse and saw that Brant was still breathing. The other man who went over to Brant after he collapsed was an EMT who testified that the deputy was with Goins when he went over to see if he could help. He stated that Brant’s airway was open and he saw him take a breath, but then Brant [*523] appeared to stop breathing. The deputy also testified that he saw Brant take a large breath and then stop breathing. At that point, the deputy and the EMT began CPR. Simultaneously, the ambulance and EMTs arrived on the scene.

The Goins filed this suit, claiming that the Y was negligent in the death of their son because he was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was [***3] also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment in a two-sentence order. This appeal followed.

[HN1] To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). A [***4] defendant may do this by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of plaintiff’s case. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out by reference to the affidavits, depositions and other documents in the record that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. If the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but rather must point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue.

Boller v. Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, 311 Ga. App. 693, 693-694 (716 SE2d 713) (2011).

1. The Goins first argue that the trial court erred in finding there was no duty to render first aid to a minor child in the Y’s care when false representations had been made to the child’s parents.

[HN2] The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence [*524] action is whether and to what extent the defendant [***5] owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

Boller, supra at 695-696. In Boller, plaintiff

claimed that the Arts Center breached its duty of care to her husband, an [**148] invitee, by its failure to have on site either an ambulance or an officer operating an automatic external defibrillator device (“AED”) and by its failure to maintain a safety and security plan to govern the actions of employees and security personnel during a medical emergency.

Id. at 695. This Court held that

the long-established general rule is that [HN3] “[a] person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused,” even when the peril is foreseeable. We conclude that this case is controlled by our decision in Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, where we held that the defendant innkeeper had no legal duty to comply with a wife’s requests that it attempt a rescue of its guest, her husband, from his medical peril. In that case, the defendant did not create the decedent’s underlying medical condition. Similarly, in the case at bar, Boller does not allege that the Arts Center or the concert it sponsored caused her husband’s sudden attack of cardiac arrest.

(Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 696.

Nevertheless, [***6] the Goins argue that a “special relationship” existed in this case, because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The Goins cite to several cases not on point. See, e.g., Bull Street Church of Christ v. Jensen, 233 Ga. App. 96 (504 SE2d 1) (1998) (four-year-old victim molested at church); Wallace v. Boys Club of Albany, 211 Ga. App. 534 (439 SE2d 746) (1993) (five-year-old boy abducted from summer camp after employees assured parents that they would watch child and keep track of his whereabouts). (1) Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.1 There is no merit to this enumeration.

1 The Goins claim that when they signed their son up for a personal trainer at the YMCA, Greg Mason was misrepresented to them as a “certified” personal fitness trainer. This argument is puzzling. The undisputed evidence was that Mason was a certified personal trainer.

[*525] 2. Likewise, for the same reasons discussed in Division 1, the (2) trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellants’ negligence claim. Further, and equally important, the Goins [***7] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death. The Goins’ statement of facts does not refer to the deposition testimony of the deputy sheriff or the EMT. It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician and a deputy sheriff trained as a first responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

3. Next, the Goins claim that the trial court erred in finding no issues of fact on their fraud claim. The Goins alleged in their complaint that they were told that “THE FAMILY Y was a safe and positive environment.” (3) They contend that it was represented to them that there would be adequate well-trained employees on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.

[HN4] To survive a motion for summary judgment on a fraud count, some evidence must support each of the five elements, which are: a false representation by a defendant; scienter; intention to induce the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting; justifiable reliance [***8] by plaintiff; and damage to the plaintiff.

Wertz v. Allen, 313 Ga. App. 202, 207-208 (721 SE2d 122) (2011).

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing. The Y was entitled to summary judgment on this claim, and there was no error.

Judgment affirmed. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.


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

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

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

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

Defendant: Eugene L. Bendotti, husband of the deceased

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: there was no negligence

Holding: for the defendant

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

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

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

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

The plaintiff’s appealed.

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

Summary of the case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

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

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There is no duty on the part of the ski patrol to play cop on the slopes

Skiers and Boarders who do not voluntarily provide their ID to the ski area cannot be “caught” by the patrol and there is no liability on the resort for not doing so.

O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd., 164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

Plaintiff: Mary Ryan O’Connell

Defendant: Killington, Ltd.

Plaintiff Claims: (1) failed to warn of the icy conditions on the trail, (2) failed to close the trail because of its dangerous condition and (3) failed to obtain the identity of the skier who had collided with plaintiff. Defendant denied those allegations and alleged that plaintiff’s injuries were the consequence of her assumption of the inherent risks of skiing.

Defendant Defenses: No Duty

Holding: for the defendant

In this case the plaintiff was stopped on the slope of the defendant ski area. While standing she was struck by another skier. The ski patrol arrived on scene along with the plaintiff’s sister. The plaintiff asked the ski patrol to get the name of the skier that hit her. The plaintiff’s sister spoke to the skier that collided with the plaintiff and asked him to go to the patrol station and identify himself.

The skier never did.

The plaintiff sued the ski area alleging the ski area:

(1)             failed to warn of the icy conditions on the trail,

(2)            failed to close the trail because of its dangerous condition and

(3)            failed to obtain the identity of the skier who had collided with plaintiff.

The basis for the failure to obtain the identity of the skier claim was based upon the defendant’s employee manual.

In its instructions to the jury on the failure-to-identify count, the court stated that the jury could find that defendant had assumed the duty to identify skiers involved in accidents based on its employee manual. This manual instructed defendant’s employees to investigate thoroughly all accidents and to obtain the identity of everyone involved. The court instructed the jury that, to decide defendant’s negligence on this count, it need determine only whether defendant had an opportunity to identify the other skier involved in the accident.

At the end of the trial the judge submitted the failure to warn and failure to identify claims to the jury.

The jury found for the plaintiff on both claims and awarded damages of $71,108.69.

The defendant appealed based on the following issues.

(1)             whether defendant had a duty to plaintiff to obtain the identity of the other skier who collided with her;

(2)            whether plaintiff’s failure-to-identify claim is precluded by the jury’s finding that the accident and injury were a result of one or more inherent risks in the sport of skiing; and

(3)            whether certain instructions to the jury were proper.

Summary of the case

After the accident and before the appeal the Vermont Legislature passed a statute stating that a ski area was not legally responsible for obtaining the name of any person involved in an accident.

12 V.S.A. § 1038(b), effective June 21, 1994, provides, in part:

(b) Collision at a ski area.

(1) Any person who is involved in a collision with a skier at a ski area which results in bodily injury to any party to the collision has a duty to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision and shall proceed to the ski area first aid facility and provide that information to the ski area first aid personnel.

(2) No ski area, its employees or agents shall be held responsible for ensuring compliance with these duties by any person, nor shall it be liable in any way for a failure to obtain such person’s name or address.

Because the statute was passed after the incident in this case, it did not apply to this case.

The Court looked at whether there was a common law (prior to statute) duty to on the ski area to do more than ask for the information. To do that the court reviewed how a duty is created in Vermont. “The imposition of a duty is “‘an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say that the plaintiff is entitled to protection.”

These factors may include the degree of certainty that plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between defendant’s conduct and plaintiff’s injury, the moral blame attached to defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the burden to the defendant, the con-sequences to the community of finding a duty, and the availability and cost of insurance.

The court analysis separated the separated physical harm, an injury, from economic harm, failure to find someone who may owe another money.

Thus, a possessor of land open to the general public has a duty to aid and protect a member of the public coming on the land against unreasonable risk of “physical harm” only. Physical harm does not include economic loss.

The court concluded: “Our review of the decisions from other jurisdictions indicates that, absent a special relationship or undertaking, there is no duty to protect another’s litigation interest.”

The court then looked at the duties of the ski patrol, which do not include the power to detain or apprehend. “Moreover, even if the ski area had a duty to identify, it would have only a limited ability to enforce that duty against an uncooperative skier.”

The main concern of defendant’s ski patrol employees is and should be to give emergency medical assistance, remove the injured skier safely from the mountainside, and obtain necessary medical care. We are reluctant to dilute these critical, emergency duties with a responsibility to pursue and identify another skier.

The plaintiff argued that the statements in the employee manual that establish procedures on how to deal with ski accident create a duty.

These procedures include completing an accident reporting form, obtaining names and addresses of witnesses to the accident, obtaining witness statements and recording observations at the accident scene. Plaintiff argues that these provisions amount to the voluntary assumption of a duty to investigate accidents, particularly skier collisions.

However the court did not agree with this argument.

…we do not believe that the manual provisions show the assumption of this responsibility. The manual makes clear that the investigatory responsibilities placed on employees are for the protection of defendant with respect to suits against it.

So Now What?

Ski Patrollers are the most over worked and underpaid (or volunteer) people on the slope. The last thing you want is to do is to turn the patrol from care givers to cops.

Make sure that no one interprets anything you have or do as an obligation or duty. No employee should be identified, unless they have a badge, to identify people on the slopes causing harm. Your marketing material should explain the law, but make sure you do not imply you can or will do anything else. Make sure your employee manuals and training do nothing more than explain the law. You can ask for identification. You can remove lift tickets and season passes. You cannot do anything more than take back your property. If you feel the need to do more, than call for lawful assistance.

No one on the slopes has the authority to detain, apprehend or arrest another person, unless they have a badge.

Don’t turn the people on the slope who are loved by all, ski patrollers, into people on the slope skiers and boarders should be wary of.

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O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd., 164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd., 164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

Mary Ryan O’Connell v. Killington, Ltd.

No. 93-394

SUPREME COURT OF VERMONT

164 Vt. 73; 665 A.2d 39; 1995 Vt. LEXIS 74

August 4, 1995, Filed

HEADNOTES

1. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

A landowner’s duty does not extend to assisting the prosecution of claims arising from torts of third parties also using the land.

2. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

The main concern of defendant’s ski patrol employees is and should be to give emergency medical assistance, remove the injured skier safely from the mountainside, and obtain necessary medical care; court was reluctant to dilute these critical, emergency duties with a responsibility to pursue and identify another skier for purposes of an injured skier’s litigation.

3. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

The Legislature has provided, as of 1994, that a skier involved in a collision has the responsibility to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision, but has also made clear that the ski area has no duty to obtain that identification. 12 V.S.A. 1038(b).

4. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

Although ski area could voluntarily assume the duty to investigate accidents on behalf of injured skiers, ski area’s employee manual provisions did not show the assumption of this responsibility because the manual made clear that the investigatory responsibilities placed on employees were for the protection of the ski area with respect to suits against it – there was nothing to indicate that they were assumed as duties to third parties.

5. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

To the extent ski area’s policy intended that its employees identify colliding skiers to aid in litigation between them, the rationale of Larocque v. State Farm Insurance Co., 163 Vt. 617, 618, 660 A.2d 286, 288 (1995), that a policy directing employees to investigate claims did not create a duty to a particular claimant, was controlling and prevented use of defendant’s manual to create a negligence duty.

6. Torts – Generally – Existence of Duty

In personal injury case against ski area, although the proper meaning of the employee manual may have been a question of fact for the jury, if a duty were present under some construction of the manual, the threshold question of whether the manual, however construed, could give rise to a duty was for the court.

COUNSEL: Thomas M. French, Brattleboro, for plaintiff-appellee.

Allan R. Keyes and John J. Zawistoski of Ryan Smith & Carbine, Ltd., Rutland, for defendant-appellant.

JUDGES: PRESENT: Allen, C.J., Gibson, Dooley, Morse and Johnson, JJ.

OPINION BY: JOHN A. DOOLEY

OPINION

[*74] [**41] DOOLEY, J. Defendant ski area, Killington, Ltd., appeals from a negligence judgment against it based on defendant’s failure to identify an unknown skier with whom plaintiff, Mary Ryan O’Connell, collided while skiing. On appeal, defendant claims that it owed no duty to plaintiff to identify the other skier, that plaintiff’s claim is barred because the jury found that the accident resulted from an inherent risk of skiing, and that the court made errors in its charge to the jury. We reverse.

[*75] On January 12, 1990, plaintiff was skiing one of defendant’s most difficult trails. She stopped to rest at the edge of the trail and was struck by another skier who lost control on the ice at the center of the trail. One of [***2] defendant’s ski patrollers, along with plaintiff’s sister, arrived at the scene shortly after the collision. Plaintiff requested that they obtain the name of the other skier. While the ski patroller was occupied with evaluating and stabilizing plaintiff’s injury, plaintiff’s sister spoke to the other skier, and requested that he follow plaintiff to the patrol station and identify himself. The skier failed to arrive at the patrol station as requested, and has never been identified. Plaintiff’s injuries proved serious, and she and her husband filed suit against defendant in Rutland Superior Court, complaining that defendant negligently (1) failed to warn of the icy conditions on the trail, (2) failed to close the trail because of its dangerous condition and (3) failed to obtain the identity of the skier who had collided with plaintiff. Defendant denied those allegations and alleged that plaintiff’s injuries were the consequence of her assumption of the inherent risks of skiing.

The trial court denied defendant’s motion for directed verdict, both at the close of plaintiff’s case and at the close of the evidence. The court submitted the failure-to-warn and the failure-to-identify counts [***3] to the jury. In its instructions to the jury on the failure-to-identify count, the court stated that the jury could find that defendant had assumed the duty to identify skiers involved in accidents based on its employee manual. This manual instructed defendant’s employees to investigate thoroughly all accidents and to obtain the identity of everyone involved. The court instructed the jury that, to decide defendant’s negligence on this count, it need determine only whether defendant had an opportunity to identify the other skier involved in the accident.

Based on the instructions, the jury found for defendant on the failure-to-warn count and on the failure to close the trail because it found that the accident resulted from an inherent risk of the sport of skiing. It further found that defendant had negligently failed to obtain the identity of the other skier and that its negligence was the proximate cause of the loss of plaintiff’s “right to compensation” from that skier for her injuries. The jury awarded plaintiff $ 71,108.69 in damages, and the trial court denied defendant’s motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial.

Defendant raises three issues on [***4] appeal: (1) whether defendant had a duty to plaintiff to obtain the identity of the other skier who collided [*76] with her; (2) whether plaintiff’s failure-to-identify claim is precluded by the jury’s finding that the accident and injury were a result of one or more inherent risks in the sport of skiing; and (3) whether certain instructions to the jury were proper. We agree with defendant’s position on the first issue and, therefore, reverse. Because the case must be dismissed, we do not reach the second and third issues.

Defendant first claims that it owed plaintiff no duty to obtain the identity of the other skier, and that, accordingly, the trial court erred by instructing the jury that could find that defendant’s employee manual created such a duty. We agree.

In deciding this question, we first note that although the Vermont Legislature has passed a statute governing liability vis-a-vis the obtaining of names of skiers involved in a collision, see 12 V.S.A. § 1038(b)(2), this accident preceded the effective date of the statute so that it does not apply to this case. In any event, we conclude that the result in this case [**42] is the same under either the common law or the statute. 1 [***5]

1 [HN1] 12 V.S.A. § 1038(b), effective June 21, 1994, provides, in part:

(b) Collision at a ski area.

(1) Any person who is involved in a collision with a skier at a ski area which results in bodily injury to any party to the collision has a duty to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision and shall proceed to the ski area first aid facility and provide that information to the ski area first aid personnel.

(2) No ski area, its employees or agents shall be held responsible for ensuring compliance with these duties by any person, nor shall it be liable in any way for a failure to obtain such person’s name or address.

[HN2] Common-law negligence requires that there be a legal duty owed by defendant to plaintiff, breach of that duty, that such breach be the proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm, and that plaintiff have suffered actual loss or damage. See Langle v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 517, 510 A.2d 1301, 1304 (1986). Clearly, the first of these elements, duty, [***6] is central to a negligence claim, and its existence is primarily a question of law. Denis Bail Bonds, Inc. v. State, 159 Vt. 481, 487, 622 A.2d 495, 499 (1993). The imposition of a duty is “‘an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say that the plaintiff is entitled to protection.'” Id. (quoting W. Prosser & W. Keeton, The Law of Torts § 53, at 358 (5th ed. 1984)).

Plaintiff’s theory is that defendant had a duty to obtain the name of the skier who collided with her so plaintiff could sue that skier for her damages caused by the collision. Under plaintiff’s theory, this duty arises, first and foremost, because plaintiff’s injury occurred on [*77] defendant’s land, held open to the public for skiing. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A(3) (1965).

In Langle, through the discussion of decisions from other states, we identified a number of factors to consider in determining whether a duty exits. See Langle, 146 Vt. at 519-20, 510 A.2d at 1304-05. [HN3] These factors may include the degree of certainty that plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between defendant’s conduct and plaintiff’s injury, the moral blame [***7] attached to defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the burden to the defendant, the consequences to the community of finding a duty, and the availability and cost of insurance. Id. We think that an additional factor is more significant herd — that is, that plaintiff seeks a duty to prevent purely economic loss. Negligence law does not generally recognize a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid intangible economic loss to another unless one’s conduct has inflicted some accompanying physical harm. See Prosser & Keeton, supra, § 92, at 657; Breslauer v. Fayston School Dist. Vt. , , 659 A.2d 1129, 1132 (1995). Thus, a possessor of land open to the general public has a duty to aid and protect a member of the public coming on the land against unreasonable risk of “physical harm” only. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314A(1)(a), (3). Physical harm does not include economic loss. See Breslauer, Vt. at , 659 A.2d at 1132; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 7(3).

Our review of the decisions from other jurisdictions indicates that, [HN4] absent a special relationship or undertaking, there is no duty to protect [***8] another’s litigation interest. For example, there is no duty to preserve possible evidence for another party to assist that party in future litigation against a third party. See Edwards v. Louisville Ladder Co., 796 F. Supp. 966, 969 (W.D. La. 1992); Murphy v. Target Products, 580 N.E.2d 687, 689 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991); Koplin v. Rosel Well Perforators, Inc., 241 Kan. 206, 734 P.2d 1177, 1179 (Kan. 1987). A municipal police force has no duty to investigate motor vehicle accidents to identify possible tortfeasors. See Jackson v. Heymann, 126 N.J. Super. 281, 314 A.2d 82, 85 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1973); Caldwell v. City of Philadelphia, 358 Pa. Super. 406, 517 A.2d 1296, 1303 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986). Similarly, a taxicab company owes no duty to an injured passenger to identify the operator of the vehicle which caused the accident and injured the passenger. See Stupka v. Peoples Cab Co., 437 Pa. 509, 264 A.2d 373, 374 (Pa. 1970). An exception to this rule may exist when there is some special relationship or duty arising from contract, statute or other special circumstance. See Bondu v. Gurvich, 473 So. 2d 1307, 1313 [**43] (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1984) [*78] (claim against defendant hospital for destruction of evidence permitted because hospital [***9] had statutory duty to maintain medical records); Koplin, 734 P.2d at 1179.

This general principle has been applied to circumstances identical to those present here. Two reported decisions have concluded that a ski area has no duty to obtain the identity of a negligent skier who collides with and injures the another skier. See Northcutt v. Sun Valley Co., 117 Idaho 351, 787 P.2d 1159, 1164 (Idaho 1990); Phillips v. Wild Mountain Sports, Inc., 439 N.W.2d 58, 59-60 (Minn. Ct. App. 1989). Based on its prediction of our negligence law, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont determined that a ski area has no duty to identify the negligent skier. See Emil v. Sherburne Corp., No. 80-22, slip op. at 2-3 (D. Vt. July 8, 1980). We agree with that court that the landowner’s duty does not extend to “assisting the prosecution of claims arising from . . . torts” of third parties also using the land. Id. at 3.

We adopt the reasoning of the above decisions and conclude that no duty exists in these circumstances. Although our primary reason is the economic nature of the interest plaintiff asserts, other factors also point to the absence of a duty here. The main concern [***10] of defendant’s ski patrol employees is and should be to give emergency medical assistance, remove the injured skier safely from the mountainside, and obtain necessary medical care. We are reluctant to dilute these critical, emergency duties with a responsibility to pursue and identify another skier. See Caldwell, 517 A.2d at 1301 (police duty at accident scene was to ensure victim’s physical well-being in expediting her trip to the hospital, not to protect the financial interests of the plaintiff).

Moreover, even if the ski area had a duty to identify, it would have only a limited ability to enforce that duty against an uncooperative skier. This suggests that any recognition of a duty should come from the Legislature, which can provide the ski area the means to discharge the duty. In fact, the Legislature has provided, as of 1994, that a skier involved in a collision has the responsibility “to provide his or her name and local and permanent address to the other parties to the collision,” but has also made clear that the ski area has no duty to obtain that identification. 12 V.S.A. § 1038(b).

Finally, we consider plaintiff’s argument that there is a special circumstance present [***11] in this case that creates a duty. Plaintiff relies primarily on defendant’s employee manual that establishes procedures [*79] in case of ski accidents. These procedures include completing an accident reporting form, obtaining names and addresses of witnesses to the accident, obtaining witness statements and recording observations at the accident scene. Plaintiff argues that these provisions amount to the voluntary assumption of a duty to investigate accidents, particularly skier collisions. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 (one who gratuitously undertakes “to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other’s person or things, is subject to liability” for “physical harm” resulting from negligent performance of undertaking).

Although we agree that defendant could voluntarily assume the duty to investigate accidents on behalf of injured skiers, we do not believe that the manual provisions show the assumption of this responsibility. The manual makes clear that the investigatory responsibilities placed on employees are for the protection of defendant with respect to suits against it. There is nothing to indicate that they were assumed [***12] as duties to third parties.

This exact claim was made and rejected in Northcutt v. Sun Valley Co., 787 P.2d at 1164. The court held that imposing such requirements on employees did not create a duty to skiers to act on the skiers’ behalf. This holding is consistent with our decisions in similar circumstances. In Smith v. Day, 148 Vt. 595, 538 A.2d 157 (1987), engineers on a railway train sued Norwich University when a university student shot at the train and injured them. We concluded that, although defendant sought to control its students via the imposition of numerous rules and regulations, it did not assume a duty to third persons to control the volitional criminal [**44] acts of the students. Id. at 598, 538 A.2d at 159. More recently, in Larocque v. State Farm Ins. Co., Vt. , , 660 A.2d 286, 288 (1995), we concluded that a liability insurer’s employee manual, while directing employees to investigate claims in an efficient and cooperative manner, did not create any duty to a particular claimant to process the claim in good faith and consistent with the manual. Citing Smith, 148 Vt. at 598, 538 A.2d at 158-59, we stated that conducting [***13] one’s “business in a way that [is] responsive to third-party claimants does not create a legally enforceable duty to do so with respect to a particular claimant.” Id. To the extent defendant’s policy intended that its employees identify colliding skiers to aid in litigation between [*80] them, we believe that the rationale of Larocque is controlling and prevents use of defendant’s manual to create a negligence duty. 2

2 Plaintiff relies upon a Colorado trial court decision that denied a ski area summary judgment in a failure-to-identify case similar to that here. Burgener v. Keystone Arapahoe Ltd. Partnership, No. 90 CV 215, slip op. at 3 (Colo. Dist. Ct., Summit County Sept. 5, 1991). In that case, the plaintiff argued successfully that the defendant assumed the responsibility to investigate in certain publications and materials that were distributed to the public, including the plaintiff. These were read and relied upon by the plaintiff’s husband, who skied with her. This case has none of the public promotional and reliance elements of Burgener and is distinguishable on that basis.

[***14] In adopting this position, we are necessarily rejecting the suggestion that the jury could decide whether the manual creates a duty to investigate and identify the other skier. The trial court’s supplemental charge to the jury appears to have adopted this approach. As we indicated earlier, the existence of a duty is primarily a question of law. See Denis Bail Bonds, Inc., 159 Vt. at 487, 622 A.2d at 499. Although the proper meaning of the employee manual may have been a question of fact for the jury, if a duty were present under some construction of the manual, the threshold question of whether the manual, however construed, could give rise to a duty was for the court. See Smith v. Day, 148 Vt. at 598 n.3, 538 A.2d at 159 n.3.

Reversed.

FOR THE COURT: John A. Dooley, Associate Justice

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

Louisiana Supreme Court set forth how a court decides if there should be a duty or to create a duty.

Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

Plaintiff: Herman Carrier, Individually and in His Capacity as the Administrator of the Estate of his Minor Child, Herman Blake Carrier, and his Wife, Wendy Wallace Carrier

Defendant: City of Amite, Bell Sports, Inc., and Sears Roebuck and Co.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence failure to properly fit the helmet and instruct on the use of the helmet

Defendant Defenses: no duty

Holding: For the defendant (retailer) Sears Roebuck and Co.

The plaintiff’s in this case are a mother, father and six-year-old child. The parents went into a Sears store and purchased a bicycle helmet for the child. They did not ask for or receive any assistance in purchasing the helmet.

The boy was riding on the municipal tennis court when he had an accident. The plaintiffs sued the city that owned the tennis court, the helmet manufacturer and Sears Roebuck where they purchased the helmet.

Sears filed a motion for summary judgment arguing they had no duty to fit or instruct on the use of the helmet. The trial court granted the motion. The Appellate court reversed finding the trial court committed error in dismissing the case. Sears filed this appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Summary of the case

In this case, it was the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove negligence. The first step in that would be to prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to provide a point of sale fitting instruction for bicycle helmets.

In the instant case, plaintiffs do not identify any Louisiana statutory or jurisprudential authority which establishes a specific duty on the part of a retailer to fit bicycle helmets at the point of sale.” The only thing the plaintiff could point to was the opinion of its expert that the defendant owed a duty. However the expert could not point to any authorities, research or other retailers that supported his statement. “Courts have held that experts may not rely on their own conclusions as authority in the absence of any objective support.”

The court stated the considerations that need to be covered before a duty can be created.

…it is necessary for the court to determine whether the rule is intended to protect him from the particular harm alleged, an inquiry which involves both the duty and causation elements of the negligence formulation. The court must make a policy determination in light of the unique facts of the case. Thus, the duty-risk analysis requires the court to take into account the conduct of each party as well as the particular circumstances of the case. In determining whether to impose a duty in a particular situation, the court may consider various moral, social, and economic factors, including whether the imposition of a duty would result in an unmanageable flow of litigation; the ease of association between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s conduct; the economic impact on society as well as the economic impact on similarly situated parties; the nature of the defendant’s activity; moral considerations, particularly victim fault; and precedent as well as the direction in which society and its institutions are evolving.

Applying the above requirements to this case, the court found no reason to create a duty upon the part of a retailer to provide a point of sale fitting instructions for bicycle helmets. “Under these circumstances, we find the responsibility to determine whether the helmet was properly fitted should rest with plaintiffs, not Sears.”

So Now What?

There are two important things that come from this decision. The first is no duty exists unless your industry, your community, or you create one. Unless you advertise you are going to do something, market yourself or write your requirements down, it is difficult for the plaintiff to prove you owe them anything, a duty or money.

The second is the list of requirements the court set forth to determine if a duty has been created. It is not as easy to review as a list; however, it provides some factors that you can review to make sure you are not creating liability that does not exist.

·        Make sure you know the issues you must do when dealing with your business, program or job.

·        Don’t create liability if you don’t have too.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

Herman Carrier, Individually and in His Capacity as the Administrator of the Estate of his Minor Child, Herman Blake Carrier, and his Wife, Wendy Wallace Carrier versus City of Amite, Bell Sports, Inc., and Sears Roebuck and Co.

No. 2010-CC-0007

SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA

2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

October 19, 2010, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Rehearing denied by Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010 La. LEXIS 3053 (La., Dec. 10, 2010)

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF TANGIPAHOA.

Carrier v. City of Amite, 6 So. 3d 893, 2009 La. App. LEXIS 215 (La.App. 1 Cir., 2009)

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND RENDERED.

COUNSEL: Stephen Dale Cronin, GUGLIELMO, MARKS, SCHUTTE, TERHOEVE & LOVE; John David Ziober, KENNON, ODOM & DARDENNE, APC, For Applicant.

Arthur W. Landry, Jeanne Andry Landry, ARTHUR W. LANDRY AND JEANNE ANDRY LANDRY, ATTORNEYS; Christopher M. Moody; John Ernest William Baay, II, Ernest Paul Gieger, Jr., GIEGER, LABORDE & LAPEROUSE, LLC; Thomas Reginald Hightower, Jr., THOMAS R. HIGHTOWER, JR., APLC, For Respondent.

OPINION

[*1247] PER CURIAM *

* Retired Judge Philip C. Ciaccio, assigned as Justice ad hoc, sitting for Chief Justice Catherine D. Kimball.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether this retail seller has a duty to instruct buyers on the proper method of wearing and fitting bicycle helmets. For the reasons that follow, we conclude plaintiffs failed to establish any legal duty on the part of the retailer under the facts presented.

UNDERLYING FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case arises from an incident in which six-year-old Blake Carrier was injured while riding his bicycle on a municipal tennis court on May 29, 2002. At the time of the accident, Blake was wearing a bicycle helmet his parents allegedly purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Co. (“Sears”) in December 2001.

[Pg 2] Subsequently, Blake’s parents filed the instant suit against several defendants, including Sears. 1 Plaintiffs alleged Sears [*1248] failed to properly fit the helmet and instruct them regarding its correct use.

1 Also named as defendants were Bell Sports, Inc. (the manufacturer of the helmet), and the City of Amite (the owner [**2] of the tennis court). These defendants are not at issue for purposes of this opinion.

During discovery, plaintiffs produced an expert in the area of bicycle safety, James Green. In his deposition, Mr. Green stated he advised his clients to instruct their buyers on the proper use and fit of bicycle helmets. However, Mr. Green admitted he knew of no rules or laws requiring retailers to fit and instruct buyers of bicycle helmets. Mr. Green also explained his clients did not include Sears.

Sears filed both a motion in limine and a motion for summary judgment. In support of the motion in limine, Sears argued Mr. Green had no basis for his conclusion that retailers had a duty to fit and instruct buyers on the proper way to wear a bicycle helmet. In support of the motion for summary judgment, Sears argued retailers had no duty to buyers to fit and instruct on the proper use of bicycle helmets.

The district court granted Sears’ motion in limine to exclude Mr. Green’s testimony, and further granted Sears’ motion for summary judgment to dismiss all claims against Sears.

Plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the court of appeal reversed, finding the district court erred in deciding the duty issue without [**3] first determining that the expert’s testimony was inadmissible under the factors identified in Daubert v. [Pg 3] Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993), and State v. Foret, 628 So. 2d 1116 (La. 1993). Accordingly, the court of appeal reversed the judgment granting the motion for summary judgment, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Carrier v. City of Amite, 08-1092 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/13/09), 6 So. 3d 893, writ denied, 09-919 (La. 6/5/09), 9 So. 3d 874.

[Pg 4] On remand, Sears re-urged both the motion in limine and the motion for summary judgment. 2 After a hearing, the district court denied Sears’ motions.

2 On remand, Sears filed a pleading captioned “Motion for Hearing on Summary Judgment and Motion in Limine for Purposes of Issuance of Oral Reasons for Judgment, or Alternatively, Motion Requesting Written Reasons for Judgment.” Plaintiffs assert this motion was procedurally improper, because nothing in the court of appeal’s opinion indicated the case was being remanded for entry of reasons. However, the record reveals Sears filed its original motion for summary judgment and motion in limine, as well as [**4] supporting exhibits, into the record at the hearing. Thus, despite the caption of the motion, we believe Sears expanded its pleadings to reurge its motion for summary judgment and motion in limine. See La. Code Civ. P. art. 1154.

Sears sought supervisory review of this ruling. The court of appeal denied the writ, with one judge dissenting.

Upon Sears’ application, we granted certiorari to consider the correctness of the district court’s decision. Carrier v. City of Amite, 10-0007 (La. 3/12/10), 29 So. 3d 1241.

DISCUSSION

The central question presented in this case is whether plaintiffs established a legal duty on the part of a retailer, such as Sears, to provide point-of-sale fitting instructions for bicycle helmets. In Lemann v. Essen Lane Daiquiris, Inc., 05-1095 at p. 8 (La. 3/10/06), 923 So. 2d 627, 633, we discussed the principles for determining the existence of a legal duty:

[HN1] A threshold issue in any negligence action is whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. Meany v. Meany, 94-0251, p. 6 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So.2d 229, 233. Whether a duty is owed is a question of law. Peterson v. Gibraltar Savings and Loan, 98-1601, 98-1609, p. 7 (La. 5/18/99), 733 So. 2d 1198, 1204; Mundy v. Department of Health and Human Resources, 620 So.2d 811, 813 (La. 1993); [**5] [*1249] Faucheaux v. Terrebonne Consolidated Government, 615 So.2d 289, 292 (La. 1993). In [Pg 5] deciding whether to impose a duty in a particular case, the court must make a policy decision in light of the unique facts and circumstances presented. See Socorro v. City of New Orleans, 579 So.2d 931, 938 (La. 1991). The inquiry is whether the plaintiff has any law (statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault) to support the claim that the defendant owed him a duty. Faucheaux, 615 So. 2d at 292; Perkins, 98-2081 at 22, 756 So. 2d at 404.

In the instant case, plaintiffs do not identify any Louisiana statutory or jurisprudential authority which establishes a specific duty on the part of a retailer to fit bicycle helmets at the point of sale. Rather, plaintiffs seek to establish the existence of industry standards, including best practices, which they claim are relevant to determine whether a general duty is owed.

At this juncture, the parties dedicate a large part of their briefs to discussing whether the district court properly qualified Mr. Green as an expert on the subject of point-of-sale assistance in the sale of bicycle accessories. However, we find we need not [**6] resolve the question of Mr. Green’s qualifications under the unique facts presented, because we find that Mr. Green’s testimony, even if accepted, is insufficient to establish any factual basis for a duty on the part of Sears.

In his deposition, Mr. Green testified as follows:

They came out with a mass market approach to the Wal-Marts, etcetera, the Sears, the Lowe’s, whoever, that wanted to sell bikes, where they just wanted to get bikes and components out there into the commerce stream. They don’t provide point-of-sale service at all. You have, you have two families of retail organizations here. I maintained ever since I saw this developing some years ago that this mass market approach is not a good thing, that if you’re going to be a reputable retailer and I tell my clients that, if you’re going to be a reputable retailer, you must properly instruct at the point-of-sale from everything to how to operate a quick release, to how to fit a helmet, to never ride at night without a light on your bike, that kind of thing. It should be done at the point-of-sale, because bikes aren’t toys, they’re, they’re vehicles. [emphasis added]

[Pg 6] Although Mr. Green testified the fitting of bicycle [**7] helmets “should” be done at the point of sale, he cited no authority for this proposition other than his own opinion. To the contrary, when asked whether any regulations existed requiring a retailer to provide point-of-sale instructions on fitting bicycle helmets, Mr. Green testified, “[n]o, there’s nothing written up as a standard.”

Similarly, in response to Sears’ interrogatories, plaintiffs admitted Mr. Green did not rely on any formal requirements in support of his position:

INTERROGATORY NO. 4

Please identify any and all standards, state or federal regulations, engineering, helmet manufacturer, department store and/or retail association periodicals, documents or guidelines which your expert, James M. Green, relies upon in opining that an industry standard existed in November, 2001 requiring that retailers of bicycle helmets must give point of sale instructions on proper sizing and fitting.

ANSWER TO INTERROGATORY NO. 4:

There is no requirement but perfectly clear instructions provided by BHSI. Most reputable retailers do fit at the [*1250] point of sale. These include REI, Performance Bicycle, Brooklyn Bike Shop, and any bike shop who belong to the Independent Bicycle Retailer Organization [**8] (now known as the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA). There are currently 6000 shops who belong to NBDA who employ helmet fit at point of sale (See attached documentation from NBDA). The NBDA also outlined the differences between a reputable shop and a mass merchant shop on the safety issue. (See attached documentation from NBDA). [emphasis in original]

A review of the documentation attached to plaintiffs’ answer to Interrogatory No. 4 reveals none of these documents set forth an industry standard which would mandate the fitting of bicycle helmets by a retailer at the point of sale. Moreover, Mr. Green admitted he did not know if Sears belonged to any bicycle safety industry group.

[Pg 7] Under these circumstances, we must conclude Mr. Green’s testimony reflects his own personal opinion as to what a retailer should do, and is not based on any objective standards establishing what a retailer is required to do. Courts have held that [HN2] experts may not rely on their own conclusions as authority in the absence of any objective support. See Grdinich v. Bradlees, 187 F.R.D. 77 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (holding the expert’s testimony was without foundation because “[w]ithout ‘industry standards’ [**9] to rely upon, [the expert] seems to base his conclusions on his own authority”). Thus, Mr. Green’s testimony does not establish the existence of any statutes, regulations, or industry standards which would support the finding of a duty on a retailer to fit bicycle helmets at the point of sale.

Additionally, as a matter of policy, we find no ground for recognizing such a duty based on general principles of tort law. In Meany v. Meany, 94-0251 at p. 6 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So. 2d 229, 233, we discussed the policy considerations to be taken into account in determining whether the law imposes a duty under particular facts:

[HN3] When a plaintiff articulates a general rule or principle of law that protects his interests, it is necessary for the court to determine whether the rule is intended to protect him from the particular harm alleged, an inquiry which involves both the duty and causation elements of the negligence formulation. The court must make a policy determination in light of the unique facts of the case. Thus, the duty-risk analysis requires the court to take into account the conduct of each party as well as the particular circumstances of the case. Socorro v. City of New Orleans, 579 So.2d 931, 938 (La. 1991). [**10] In determining whether to impose a duty in a particular situation, the court may consider various moral, social, and economic factors, including whether the imposition of a duty would result in an unmanageable flow of litigation; the ease of association between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s conduct; the economic impact on society as well as the economic impact on similarly situated parties; the nature of the defendant’s activity; moral considerations, particularly victim [Pg 8] fault; and precedent as well as the direction in which society and its institutions are evolving. Pitre v. Opelousas General Hospital, 530 So.2d 1151, 1161 (La. 1988); William E. Crow, The Anatomy of a Tort, 22 Loy. L. Rev. 903 (1976).

Applying these precepts to the instant case, we believe the policy considerations militate against the finding of any duty on the part of a retailer to provide point-of-sale fitting instructions for bicycle helmets. Under current societal norms, we do not believe it is reasonable to require mass-marketing [*1251] retailers, such as Sears, to offer specialized point-of-sale advice on the thousands of products they sell. Rather, it is typically understood the consumer will ask [**11] for assistance, if it is required. In the instant case, the deposition testimony of Mr. Carrier establishes he never asked for any assistance at the time he purchased the helmet. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Carrier testified in their respective depositions that they believed the helmet, which was purchased as a Christmas gift for Blake, fit him properly; indeed, Mrs. Carrier testified it “was the best-fitting helmet [Blake] ever had.” Mrs. Carrier admitted she did not consult the instructions for fitting the helmet, and testified the instructions “probably got thrown away because we’ve had helmets before so we know how to use them.” 3 Under these circumstances, we find the responsibility to determine whether the helmet was properly fitted should rest with plaintiffs, not Sears.

3 Interestingly, Mr. Green opined that the manufacturer’s instruction on use and fit in this case were “the best I’ve ever seen.” Nonetheless, Mr. Green stated he believed point-of-sale assistance on fit was necessary in part, because consumers frequently failed to consider the instructions on fit and use provided by manufacturers. However, Mr. Green conceded that such a duty did not exist in the case of mail-order [**12] purchases. This dichotomy in Mr. Green’s testimony reveals the fallacy in his conclusions. We believe the more consistent approach is to place the duty on the consumer to determine the product he or she purchased is appropriate for its intended use.

In summary, we conclude that under the facts presented, there is no legal duty which would require Sears to provide fitting instructions for bicycle [Pg 9] helmets at the point of sale. In the absence of any legal duty, Sears is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

DECREE

For the reasons assigned, the judgment of the district court is reversed. The motion for summary judgment filed by Sears, Roebuck Co. is granted, and judgment is entered in its favor dismissing the claims of plaintiffs with prejudice.

REVERSED AND RENDERED.

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