Convoluted procedural issues at the trial court, created a ripe field for confusion, but the appellate court held the release bard the claims of the plaintiff in the skier v. skier collision where the ski resort was also sued.

Once the jury found there was no gross negligence on the part of the plaintiff, the release stopped all other claims of the plaintiff.

Tuttle et al., v. Heavenly Valley, L.P., 2020 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 814, 2020 WL 563604

State: California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Third Division

Plaintiff: Grant Tuttle et al

Defendant: Heavenly Valley, L.P.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: …implied and express assumption of the risk: (1) any injury, loss or damage purportedly sustained… by Plaintiffs was directly and proximately caused and contributed to by risks which are inherent to the activity in which Plaintiffs participated; (2) Plaintiffs either impliedly or expressly relieved Defendant of its duty, if any, to Plaintiffs by knowingly assuming the risk of injury; and (3) defendant is entitled to defense and indemnity of each and every cause of action alleged in the Complaint pursuant to the release agreement signed by Plaintiffs and/or Plaintiffs’ representative or agent.

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2020

Summary

Reading the case is confusing. A lot of the decision revolves around stipulated jury special verdict form and how the case was decided at the trial level after the jury rendered a verdict. The verdict was sort of in favor of the plaintiff; however, the stipulated part of the proceedings were used by the judge to hold for the defendant.

The plaintiff, deceased, season pass holder was hit on the slopes by a snowboarder. Her family sued the snowboarder and the ski area. The jury held the ski area was negligent but not grossly negligent. Because the deceased plaintiff had signed a release, the release stopped the negligence claims.

Facts

The jury found the plaintiff negligent, but not grossly negligent. The judge then ruled the release removed the duty on the party of the defendant so therefore the defendant was not liable.

The accident occurred on December 21, 2013. Snowboarder Anthony Slater was proceeding out of defendant’s terrain park and collided with skier Tuttle after their respective trails merged. The impact of the collision propelled Tuttle into a tree. Tuttle died the following morning. Factors that potentially contributed to the accident included defendant’s signage, fencing, crowd control the day of the accident, Tuttle’s ski path, and Slater’s speed.

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

The appellate court first looked at the release. The first analysis is what made this case stand out.

Rather than a straightforward argument the trial court erred as a matter of law in interpreting the release, plaintiffs contend the release was narrow in scope and applied only to risks inherent in the sport of snow skiing. But a release that applies only to the inherent risks of a sport is the legal equivalent of no release at all.

You cannot sue, because you assume the inherent risks of a sport. Therefore, a release that only protects the defendant from the inherent risks is worthless, as stated by the court.

To help everyone understand the statement above made by the court, the court reviewed Assumption of the Risk under California law.

The California Supreme Court’s decision in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 (Knight) and its progeny have established that a ski resort operator is not liable for injuries caused by risks inherent in the sport of snow skiing. Instead, pursuant to the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, participants in active sports assume responsibility for injuries sustained as a result of the sport’s inherent risks. Stated another way, the defendant owes no duty of care to protect the plaintiff from the inherent risks of an active sport. Because no duty of care is owed and the plaintiff has assumed the risk of injury, no release is necessary to absolve a defendant of liability when a plaintiff is injured as the result of an inherent risk in an active sport such as skiing.

[Emphasize added]

A ski resort operator still owe[s] a duty, however, not to increase the risks of injury beyond those that are inherent in the sport. This distinction is closely tied to the policy underlying the finding of no duty, i.e., there should be no liability imposed which would chill normal participation or fundamentally alter the nature of the sport, but liability may be appropriate where the risk is not inherent’ in the sport. This is the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk, and it is an exception to the complete defense of primary assumption of risk.

[Emphasize added]

If a defendant increases the risk to participants, then the defendant is liable for any injury to a participant that occurs because of the increase in risk caused by the defendant. However, a participant may still choose to participate and may still be stopped from suing for injuries received from the increased risk if the participants know of the risks and voluntarily assumes the risk. This is called Secondary Assumption of the Risk.

Comparative fault principles apply in secondary assumption of the risk cases. The trier of fact considers the plaintiff’s voluntary action in choosing to engage in an unusually risky sport, whether or not the plaintiff’s decision to encounter the risk should be characterized as unreasonable and weighs it against the defendant’s breach of the duty not to increase the risks beyond those inherent in the active sport. Where a plaintiff’s injury has been caused by both a defendant’s breach of a legal duty to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s voluntary decision to engage in an unusually risky sport, application of comparative fault principles will not operate to relieve either individual of responsibility for his or her actions, but rather will ensure that neither party will escape such responsibility.

Secondary Assumption of the risk is part of the defenses a release provides to a defendant. However, a release provides broader and more defenses then Secondary Assumption of the risk provides. On top of that, by signing a written document, the risk outlined in the release, if any, are assumed by the participant because the document is (and should be) a release and an Express Assumption of the Risk document.

A different analysis applies when a skier signs a written release that expressly holds the ski operator harmless for its own negligence. This triggers the doctrine of express assumption of the risk. Unlike secondary assumption of the risk, but like primary assumption of the risk, the doctrine of express assumption of the risk provides a complete defense in a negligence action.

Not all court think exactly along these lines when reviewing releases. However, many do and all courts reach the same conclusion, just by different legal analysis.

However, unlike both implied primary and secondary assumption of the risk, which focus on risks inherent in an active sport like skiing, express assumption of the risk focuses on the agreement itself. A valid release operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect to the risks encompassed by the agreement and, where applicable, to bar completely the plaintiff’s cause of action. The legal issue in an express assumption of the risk case is not whether the particular risk of injury appellant suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies, but simply the scope of the Release.’

[Emphasize added]

Assumption of the risk is a great defense. However, a release provides a greater defense, a better defense and should, if properly written to incorporate the defenses available in all types of assumption of the risk.

Additionally, a plaintiff does not need to have specific knowledge of the particular risk that ultimately caused the injury. If a release of all liability is given, the release applies to any negligence of the defendant [so long as the negligent act that results in injury is] reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.’ we have said, [t]he issue is not whether the particular risk of injury is inherent in the recreational activity to which the release applies, but rather the scope of the release.’ ([courts will enforce a skier’s agreement to shoulder the risk’ that otherwise might have been placed on the ski resort operator].)

There is one caveat with all of this. If they actions of the defendant in changing the risk, increase the risk to the level of gross negligence, a release in most states does not act to bar gross negligence.

As a matter of public policy, if a skier proves the operator unreasonably increased the inherent risks to the level of gross negligence, express assumption of the risk is no longer a viable defense; and the operator will be liable for damages notwithstanding the existence of a valid release of liability for ordinary negligence.

The court then summed up its review of the defenses of assumption of the risk and release.

To recap, snow skiing has inherent risks, and a ski operator does not owe skiers any duty to protect against them. If a skier is injured as a result of a risk inherent in the sport, the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk provides a complete defense to a lawsuit against the ski operator. But a ski resort operator owes a duty not to unreasonably increase the risks beyond those inherent in the sport. If a ski operator breaches this duty, the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk makes the ski resort liable to an injured skier on a comparative fault basis. If the skier executes a release that absolves the ski resort operator of liability for the operator’s negligence, the release is a complete defense, provided the ski operator did not act with gross negligence. That is to say, the ski operator is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the skier has signed a valid release and the ski operator’s conduct, although negligent, was not grossly negligent.

[Emphasize added]

In reviewing the release the appellate court found it stopped the negligence claims of the plaintiff.

Here, in contrast, Tuttle assumed all risks associated with her use of defendant’s facilities and expressly released defendant from all liability for its negligence. That language applied to ordinary negligence by defendant and provided a complete defense to plaintiffs’ lawsuit, so long as defendant’s conduct did not constitute gross negligence.

The court then applied its ruling on the release to the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant was grossly negligent.

A validly executed express release of liability for a defendant’s ordinary negligence means the only viable theory for a judgment in a plaintiff’s favor is if the defendant acted with gross negligence. There is no inconsistency between findings that a defendant is ordinarily negligent by unreasonably increasing the inherent risks of snow skiing, but not grossly negligent. A finding of gross negligence would necessarily mean a defendant unreasonably increased the inherent risks of snow skiing, so that comparative fault principles apply. But an express release, coupled with an undisputed factual finding that a defendant did not act with gross negligence, necessarily results in a defense judgment.

The rest of the case then goes on to evaluate the appellate court’s findings and the different way the court came to its ruling at the trial court level.

We agree the procedural aspects surrounding the entry of the defense judgment on what appeared to be a plaintiffs’ verdict were unconventional; however, the bottom line is once the jury found no gross negligence, defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The defendant won because the jury did not find the defendant was grossly negligent, and the release stopped all other claims of the plaintiff.

So Now What?

There are several things to learn from this case. The first is the intricacies, procedures and rulings that the trial system has, make any trial a nightmare now days. It is nothing like TV, more like a game of war played out on a board with dozens of books or rules that must be consulted before every move.

The second is the value and power of a release. Even after the plaintiff won the trial, the release came back into to play to defeat the claims of the plaintiff.

Thirdly the education the court provided and copies into this post about assumption of the risk as a defense, the different types of assumption of the risk and how your release should incorporate assumption of the risk.

Make sure your release incorporates assumption of the risk language and is written to protect you in the state where you are doing business for the business you are running.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Tuttle et al., v. Heavenly Valley, L.P., 2020 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 814, 2020 WL 563604

Tuttle et al., v. Heavenly Valley, L.P., 2020 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 814, 2020 WL 563604

Grant Tuttle et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,

v.

Heavenly Valley, L.P., Defendant and Respondent.

G056427

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Third Division

February 5, 2020

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

Appeal from a judgment and postjudgment orders of the Superior Court of Orange County No. 30-2015- 00813230 Nathan R. Scott, Judge. Affirmed.

The Simon Law Group, Thomas J. Conroy; Williams Iagmin and Jon R. Williams for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, Steven R. Parminter, Patrick M. Kelly and John J. Immordino for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

DUNNING, J. [*]

INTRODUCTION

Skier and Heavenly Valley season passholder Dana Tuttle died after she and a snowboarder collided at Heavenly Valley’s resort in South Lake Tahoe. Tuttle’s spouse and sons sued Heavenly Valley and the snowboarder.[ 1] Defendant asserted as defenses the doctrines of primary assumption of the risk, on the ground Tuttle’s accident was the result of the inherent risks of skiing, and express assumption of the risk, based on Tuttle’s signed release of all claims and liability for defendant’s negligence.

The trial court determined as a matter of law the release was unambiguous and covered Tuttle’s accident. Despite these conclusions, the jury was still asked to decide whether defendant ;unreasonably increased the risks… over and above those inherent in the sport of skiing. The jury found defendant did, but unanimously agreed defendant did not act with gross negligence. Finding Tuttle and defendant each 50 percent at fault, the jury awarded plaintiffs substantial damages.

A judgment in plaintiffs’ favor typically would have followed as a matter of course unless defendant formally moved for, and was granted, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). However, the trial court determined the jury’s factual finding that defendant was not grossly negligent, coupled with its legal conclusion that the release provided a complete defense to plaintiffs’ lawsuit, compelled entry of a judgment in defendant’s favor, even without a posttrial JNOV motion.

Plaintiffs appeal, but do not challenge the jury instructions, the special verdict form, or the finding that defendant did not act with gross negligence. Plaintiffs urge this court to (1) review the release do novo and conclude it does not cover Tuttle’s accident, (2) hold the release violates public policy, (3) find that defendant invited errors in the special verdict form and jury instructions and forfeited the opportunity for entry of judgment in its favor without first formally moving for JNOV, and (4) order a new trial. We find no error, however, and affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I.

THE RELEASE

On September 2, 2013, Tuttle purchased a season ski pass from defendant and executed a release.[ 2] The release begins with an all-capital advisement: WARNING, ASSUMPTION OF RISK, RELEASE OF LIABILITY INDEMNIFICATION AGREEMENT PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING. THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY WAIVER OF CERTAIN LEGAL RIGHTS. Salient provisions of the release are found in paragraphs 1, 2, 5, 6, and 13.

In paragraph 1, Tuttle acknowledged snow skiing can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH. In paragraph 2, she ASSUME[D] ALL RISKS… known or unknown, inherent or otherwise [associated with skiing at the resort, including] falling; slick or uneven surfaces; surface and subsurface snow conditions;… variations in terrain; design and condition of man-made facilities and/or terrain features;… [and] collisions. Paragraph 5 advised: The description of the risks listed above is not complete and participating in the Activities may be dangerous and may also include risks which are inherent and/or which cannot be reasonably avoided without changing the nature of the Activities.

Paragraph 6 included Tuttle’s express agreement NOT TO SUE AND TO RELEASE [DEFENDANT] FROM ALL LIABILITY… for… injury or loss to [her], including death. This paragraph specifically advised that Tuttle was releasing all CLAIMS BASED ON [DEFENDANT’S] ALLEGED OR ACTUAL NEGLIGENCE…. In paragraph 13, Tuttle agreed the release was binding to the fullest extent permitted by law… on [her] heirs, next of kin, executors and personal representatives.

II.

THE ACCIDENT AND THE LAWSUIT

The accident occurred on December 21, 2013. Snowboarder Anthony Slater was proceeding out of defendant’s terrain park and collided with skier Tuttle after their respective trails merged. The impact of the collision propelled Tuttle into a tree. Tuttle died the following morning. Factors that potentially contributed to the accident included defendant’s signage, fencing, crowd control the day of the accident, Tuttle’s ski path, and Slater’s speed.

Plaintiffs sued defendant and Slater.[ 3] Defendant raised the defenses of implied and express assumption of the risk: (1) any injury, loss or damage purportedly sustained… by Plaintiffs was directly and proximately caused and contributed to by risks which are inherent to the activity in which Plaintiffs participated; (2) Plaintiffs either impliedly or expressly relieved Defendant of its duty, if any, to Plaintiffs by knowingly assuming the risk of injury; and (3) defendant is entitled to defense and indemnity of each and every cause of action alleged in the Complaint pursuant to the release agreement signed by Plaintiffs and/or Plaintiffs’ representative or agent.

III.

THE JURY TRIAL

The jury trial spanned five weeks.[ 4] The week before jury selection, the parties stipulated to a special verdict form that posed two liability questions: (1) whether defendant unreasonably increased the risks to Tuttle over and above those inherent in the sport of skiing and (2) whether defendant was grossly negligent. The special verdict form further instructed the jury that if it answered yes to either question, it was to make findings regarding the amount of damages and allocation of fault. Before the final witness concluded his testimony, the trial court confirmed that counsel were not making any changes to the special verdict form.

The following day, at the close of evidence and outside the jurors’ presence, the trial court denied plaintiffs’ motion for directed verdict and defendant’s renewed motion for nonsuit.[ 5] The trial court rejected plaintiffs’ argument the release was fatally ambiguous with regard to the risks involved in the accident. Given the absence of competent extrinsic evidence regarding the release, the trial court determined its interpretation presented a legal question for the court: So I will construe the release, relying on its plain language. I find that it is not ambiguous. It covers the risks here, most notably in paragraph 2 where it covers risks regarding design and collision, and later where it notes that the risks include injury, including death.

In the trial court’s own words, the finding as a matter of law that the release unambiguously discharged defendant from liability for its own ordinary negligence meant we still have questions for the jury about whether the contract was entered into and whether the defendant[] committed gross negligence that cannot be released. For these reasons, the plaintiffs’ motion for directed verdict is denied.

The rulings prompted defendant’s counsel to suggest additional jury instructions and a revision to the special verdict form might be necessary to address the fact issues surrounding Tuttle’s execution of the release. The following colloquy then ensued: [Plaintiffs’ counsel]: Your Honor I’ll shortcut the whole thing. With the court’s ruling, I’ll stipulate to the formation of the contract and proceed with the verdict form as is, so no need for additional instructions. [¶] [Defendant’s counsel]: I’m sorry. To be clear, we have a stipulation that the contract existed and that the contract included the release and waiver language? [¶] [Plaintiffs’ counsel]: Right. The release and-release of liability and waiver was executed-existed and was executed. That’s the stipulation. [¶] [Defendant’s counsel]: Accepted, your Honor. [¶] The Court: So stipulated. (Italics added.)

At this point, the jurors returned to the courtroom. The trial court read the jury instructions, and plaintiffs’ counsel began his closing argument. He had this to say about the release: What we’re talking about here, the liability of the resort does not fall under this release. And you are not going to be asked any questions on the verdict form about the release. Yeah, [Tuttle] signed one, and she understood the inherent risks of skiing, and that’s what the release releases. It does not release gross negligence. It does not release what we’re talking about.

At the beginning of the afternoon session, before defendant’s closing argument, the trial court and counsel met again outside the jurors’ presence to discuss the stipulation concerning the release. Plaintiffs’ counsel maintained the jury should not hear about the stipulation. When the trial court repeated its concern the jury could end up finding that the release was not valid and invited counsel to revisit the special verdict form, plaintiffs’ counsel replied there was no need as the release in evidence releases negligence. And the questions on the verdict form go[] to gross negligence, and-this doesn’t have to do with the release, but the increase of unreasonable risk. Defendant’s counsel remarked the dialogue this morning, your Honor, was prompted in part by the plaintiffs’ desire not to have to modify further the special verdict form. Plaintiffs’ counsel concurred: Right. Counsel then agreed the stipulation would not be read to the jury.

Closing arguments continued. Defendant’s counsel did not mention the release in his closing argument. Neither did plaintiffs’ counsel in his rebuttal argument. There, he referred to the special verdict form and told the jurors, [a]t the end of the day, it’s a simple exercise. That jury form…. [¶]… If you perceive wrong on the part of [defendant], you tick those two boxes. And there’s two of them-you tick them both. Procedurally, you tick the one about increased unreasonable risk, and then you tick the one about gross negligence. If you perceive wrong, that’s what you do.

The jury was never told the release provided a complete defense to defendant’s ordinary negligence.

IV.

THE SPECIAL VERDICT

As to defendant, the special verdict form included three liability questions, three damages questions, and three comparative fault/apportionment of liability questions. The liability questions read as follows:

3. Did Heavenly Valley do something or fail to do something that unreasonably increased the risks to Dana Tuttle over and above those inherent in the sport of skiing?

Yes X No __

4. Was Heavenly Valley grossly negligent in doing something or failing to do something that caused harm to Dana Tuttle?

Yes __ No X

If you answered Yes’ to either question 3 or 4, then answer question 5. [¶] If you answered No’ to both questions 3 and 4, and also answered No’ to either question 1 or 2, then sign and return this verdict form. You do not need to answer any more questions.

If you answered Yes’ to both questions 1 and 2, and answered No’ to both questions 3 and 4, insert the number 0′ next to Heavenly Valley’s name in question 11, skip question 5, and answer questions 6-11.

5. Was Heavenly Valley’s conduct a substantial factor in causing harm to Dana Tuttle?

Yes X No __

Because the jury answered yes to question 5, it was instructed to answer the remaining questions. The jury determined plaintiffs’ damages were $2, 131, 831, with Tuttle and defendant sharing equal responsibility.

Immediately after polling the jurors, the trial court asked plaintiffs’ counsel to prepare the judgment and submit it the next morning. The trial court then thanked and discharged the jury without objection from trial counsel. No one noted on the record that express assumption of the risk was a complete defense to the jury’s verdict.

V.

ENTRY OF A DEFENSE JUDGMENT

At the trial court’s direction, plaintiffs’ counsel prepared a proposed judgment awarding plaintiffs $1, 065, 915.50, plus costs and interest. Defendant objected on the basis the jury found defendant was not grossly negligent and the release provided a complete and total defense to this entire lawsuit and Plaintiffs should take nothing.[ 6]

After briefing and a hearing, the trial court sustained defendant’s objection to plaintiffs’ proposed judgment. In its March 9, 2018 order, the trial court reiterated its finding as a matter of law that Tuttle’s release clearly, unambiguously, and explicitly released defendant from future liability for any negligence against Dana Tuttle. The trial court explained its earlier finding concerning the scope of the release still left open fact questions as to whether Tuttle knowingly accepted the release agreement and, if she did, whether defendant acted with gross negligence. With the parties’ stipulation that Tuttle knowingly executed the release and the jury’s factual finding that defendant did not act with gross negligence, the trial court further explained there was only one legal conclusion: [D]efendant has prevailed on the express assumption issue and negate[d] the defendant’s duty of care, an element of the plaintiff’s case.’

The trial court acknowledged the structure of the special verdict form erroneously directed the jury to continue to answer questions on damages after finding defendant had not been grossly negligent. The trial court found, however, the jury’s specific finding that defendant did not act with gross negligence was not inconsistent with, but instead overrode, the award of damages.

The trial court did not invite defendant to file a motion for JNOV or call for the filing of such a motion on its own initiative. Instead, it entered judgment in favor of defendant.

VI.

PLAINTIFFS’ POSTJUDGMENT MOTIONS

The defense judgment reiterated the jury’s special verdict findings and stated in relevant part: It appearing that by reason of those special verdicts, and the Court’s interpretation of the terms of the legal contract in Decedent Dana Tuttle’s season ski pass agreement, and [the] legal conclusions as set forth in that certain Order entered on March 9, 2018, Defendants Heavenly Valley L.P., and Anthony Slater are entitled to judgment on Plaintiffs’ complaint. (Some capitalization omitted.)

Plaintiffs filed a motion to set aside the judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 663 on the ground the judgment was not consistent with the special verdict and adversely affected plaintiffs’ substantial rights. Plaintiffs also filed a motion for JNOV or, in the alternative, a new trial, on the grounds there was insufficient evidence defendant had not acted with gross negligence, [ 7] the special verdict was hopelessly contradictory because the jury’s gross negligence finding imposed no liability, but its apportionment of fault between Tuttle and defendant did, and defendant invited errors.

The trial court denied plaintiffs’ postjudgment motions. Plaintiffs timely appealed.

DISCUSSION

I.

THE RELEASE COVERED TUTTLE’S ACCIDENT.

The trial court found as a matter of law that defendant’s release was not ambiguous and covered Tuttle’s accident. Our review of the release is de novo. (Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 754.) No extrinsic evidence concerning the meaning of the release was presented in the trial court, so the scope of a release is determined by [its] express language. (Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1357 (Benedek).)

Rather than a straightforward argument the trial court erred as a matter of law in interpreting the release, plaintiffs contend the release was narrow in scope and applied only to risks inherent in the sport of snow skiing. But a release that applies only to the inherent risks of a sport is the legal equivalent of no release at all. (Cohen v. Five Brooks Stable (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1490 (Cohen); Zipusch v. LA Workout, Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1281, 1291 (Zipusch).) To understand the distinction, we detour briefly to discuss the doctrines of implied and express assumption of the risk.

A.

OVERVIEW: ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK

The California Supreme Court’s decision in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 (Knight)[ 8] and its progeny have established that a ski resort operator is not liable for injuries caused by risks inherent in the sport of snow skiing.[ 9] Instead, pursuant to the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, participants in active sports assume responsibility for injuries sustained as a result of the sport’s inherent risks. (Id. at p. 321.) Stated another way, the defendant owes no duty of care to protect the plaintiff from the inherent risks of an active sport. (Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1367 (Allan).) Because no duty of care is owed and the plaintiff has assumed the risk of injury, no release is necessary to absolve a defendant of liability when a plaintiff is injured as the result of an inherent risk in an active sport such as skiing.

A ski resort operator still owe[s] a duty, however, not to increase the risks of injury beyond those that are inherent in the sport. This distinction is closely tied to the policy underlying the finding of no duty, i.e., there should be no liability imposed which would chill normal participation or fundamentally alter the nature of the sport, but liability may be appropriate where the risk is not inherent’ in the sport. (Allan, supra, 51 Cal.App.4th at p. 1367, italics omitted.) This is the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk, and it is an exception to the complete defense of primary assumption of risk. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308.)

Comparative fault principles apply in secondary assumption of the risk cases. The trier of fact considers the plaintiff’s voluntary action in choosing to engage in an unusually risky sport, whether or not the plaintiff’s decision to encounter the risk should be characterized as unreasonable and weighs it against the defendant’s breach of the duty not to increase the risks beyond those inherent in the active sport. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 314.) Where a plaintiff’s injury has been caused by both a defendant’s breach of a legal duty to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s voluntary decision to engage in an unusually risky sport, application of comparative fault principles will not operate to relieve either individual of responsibility for his or her actions, but rather will ensure that neither party will escape such responsibility. (Ibid.; see Allan, supra, 51 Cal.App.4th at p. 1367.)

A different analysis applies when a skier signs a written release that expressly holds the ski operator harmless for its own negligence. This triggers the doctrine of express assumption of the risk. Unlike secondary assumption of the risk, but like primary assumption of the risk, the doctrine of express assumption of the risk provides a complete defense in a negligence action.

However, unlike both implied primary and secondary assumption of the risk, which focus on risks inherent in an active sport like skiing, express assumption of the risk focuses on the agreement itself. A valid release operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect to the risks encompassed by the agreement and, where applicable, to bar completely the plaintiff’s cause of action. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 309, fn. 4, italics added.) The legal issue in an express assumption of the risk case is not whether the particular risk of injury appellant suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies [citations], but simply the scope of the Release.’ (Hass, supra, 26 Cal.App.5th at p. 27.)

Additionally, a plaintiff does not need to have specific knowledge of the particular risk that ultimately caused the injury. [Citation.] If a release of all liability is given, the release applies to any negligence of the defendant [so long as the negligent act that results in injury is] reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.’ [Citation.]’ [Citation.] As we have said, [t]he issue is not whether the particular risk of injury is inherent in the recreational activity to which the release applies, but rather the scope of the release.’ (Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at p. 1485; see Allan, supra, 51 Cal.App.4th at p. 1374 [courts will enforce a skier’s agreement to shoulder the risk’ that otherwise might have been placed on the ski resort operator].)

There is an outer limit to the scope of a release from liability for one’s own negligence in the recreational sports context: As a matter of public policy, if a skier proves the operator unreasonably increased the inherent risks to the level of gross negligence, express assumption of the risk is no longer a viable defense; and the operator will be liable for damages notwithstanding the existence of a valid release of liability for ordinary negligence. (See City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 777 (Santa Barbara).)

To recap, snow skiing has inherent risks, and a ski operator does not owe skiers any duty to protect against them. If a skier is injured as a result of a risk inherent in the sport, the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk provides a complete defense to a lawsuit against the ski operator. But a ski resort operator owes a duty not to unreasonably increase the risks beyond those inherent in the sport. If a ski operator breaches this duty, the doctrine of secondary assumption of the risk makes the ski resort liable to an injured skier on a comparative fault basis. If the skier executes a release that absolves the ski resort operator of liability for the operator’s negligence, the release is a complete defense, provided the ski operator did not act with gross negligence. That is to say, the ski operator is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the skier has signed a valid release and the ski operator’s conduct, although negligent, was not grossly negligent.

B.

ANALYSIS

The parties stipulated Tuttle executed the release with full knowledge of its content; consequently, the validity of the release is not before us. The jury unanimously agreed defendant’s conduct did not constitute gross negligence, and plaintiffs do not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support that finding; thus, no public policy considerations preclude its enforcement. Our only concern is whether the release in this case negated the duty element of plaintiffs’ causes of action.’ (Eriksson v. Nunnink (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 708, 719.) If so, it applied to any ordinary negligence by defendant. (Benedek, supra, 104 Cal.App.4th at p. 1357.)

Defendant’s release did precisely that. Tuttle assumed ALL RISKS associated with [skiing], known or unknown, inherent or otherwise. She also agreed not to sue defendant and to release it FROM ALL LIABILITY… BASED ON [DEFENDANT’S] ALLEGED OR ACTUAL NEGLIGENCE. No more was required.

Defendant’s use of the phrase, inherent or otherwise did not create any ambiguity or confusion. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has recognized, [t]he term otherwise,’ when paired with an adjective or adverb to indicate its contrary’… is best understood to mean NOT.’ Webster’s Third New Int’l. Dictionary 1598 (2002). The plain language and meaning of the phrases therefore reflect a clear intent to cover risks that are not inherent to skiing. (Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc. (10th Cir. 2018) 883 F.3d 1243, 1256-1257.)

Plaintiffs’ contention that defendant’s release bears many similarities to the release in Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th 1476 misses the mark. The plaintiff in Cohen fell from a rented horse on a guided trail ride. She sued the stable, alleging its employee, the trail guide, negligently and unexpectedly provoke[d] a horse to bolt and run without warning (id. at p.1492), causing her to lose control of her horse (id. at p. 1482). The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the plaintiff’s written agreement to assume responsibility for the risks identified herein and those risks not specifically identified.’ (Id. at p. 1486, italics omitted.)

The Court of Appeal reversed. The Cohen majority noted the trial court apparently granted summary judgment on the theory that the risks not specifically identified’ in the Release include the risk that misconduct of respondent or its employee might increase a risk inherent in horseback riding. (Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1486-1487, italics omitted.) This interpretation was erroneous because the stable’s agreement did not explicitly advise that the plaintiff was releasing the defendant from liability for the defendant’s negligence. Although a release is not required to use the word negligence’ or any particular verbiage… [it] must inform the releasor that it applies to misconduct on the part of the releasee. (Id. at pp. 1488 1489.) The release in Cohen used the word negligence only once, in reference to the plaintiff’s negligence, not that of the defendant. The stable’s release also did not indicate that it covers any and all injuries arising out of or connected with the use of respondent’s facilities. (Id. at p. 1489.)

Having found the release ineffective to trigger the doctrine of express assumption of the risk, the Cohen majority turned to the doctrines of implied assumption of the risk, i.e., it focused on the inherent risks of horseback riding. Summary judgment could not be granted on that basis, either, because a triable issue of fact existed as to whether the trail guide acted recklessly and increased the inherent risks of a guided horseback ride. (Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at p. 1494-1495.)

Here, in contrast, Tuttle assumed all risks associated with her use of defendant’s facilities and expressly released defendant from all liability for its negligence. That language applied to ordinary negligence by defendant and provided a complete defense to plaintiffs’ lawsuit, so long as defendant’s conduct did not constitute gross negligence. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 308-309, fn. 4.)

The release in Zipusch, supra, 155 Cal.App.4th 1281 mirrors the one in Cohen, but not the one in this case. As in Cohen, the plaintiff in Zipusch did not agree to assume the risk of negligence by the defendant gym. Accordingly, the agreement was ineffective as an express release; and the issue for the Court of Appeal was whether the plaintiff’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of exercising in a gym, in which case the primary assumption of the risk doctrine would apply, or whether it was the result of the gym increasing the inherent risks of exercise, in which case the secondary assumption of the risk doctrine would apply. (Id. at pp. 1291-1292.)

Hass, supra, 26 Cal.App.5th 11 is instructive. Plaintiffs cite Hass in their opening brief, but do not attempt to distinguish it, even though the release in Hass is similar to the one Tuttle signed. The analysis in Hass applies in this case.

In Hass, the plaintiffs’ decedent suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after finishing a half marathon organized and sponsored by the defendant. His heirs sued for wrongful death. The Court of Appeal held that cardiac arrest is an inherent risk of running a race, but a triable issue of material fact existed as to whether the defendant acted with gross negligence in failing to provide timely and adequate emergency medical services. (Hass, supra, 26 Cal.App.5that p. 18.)

Addressing the release, Hass held: By signing the Release in the instant case, we conclude that [the decedent] intended both to assume all risks associated with his participation in the race, up to and including the risk of death, and to release [the defendant] (on behalf of himself and his heirs) from any and all liability with respect to any injuries he might suffer as a result of his participation. This was sufficient to block the [plaintiffs’] wrongful death claim for ordinary negligence. [ 10] (Hass, supra, 26 Cal.App.5th at p. 27.)

Our independent examination of defendant’s release convinces us Tuttle assumed all risks that might arise from skiing at defendant’s resort, including risks created by defendant’s ordinary negligence. With a valid release and no gross negligence by defendant, the issue of inherent risk was no longer relevant. (Willhide-Michiulis v. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, LLC (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 344, 353 [where the doctrine of express assumption of risk applies, implied assumption of the risk is no longer considered].)

II.

ENFORCEMENT OF THE RELEASE DOES NOT VIOLATE CALIFORNIA’S PUBLIC POLICY.

Plaintiffs next argue the release’s exculpatory language violates California’s public policy. The linchpin of their argument is that defendant’s act of unreasonably increasing the inherent risk of an active sport was neither ordinary negligence nor gross negligence, but a separate category of aggravated negligence. Plaintiffs argue Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th 747 left open the question of whether public policy precludes the contractual release of other forms of aggravated’ misconduct, in addition to gross negligence. (Some capitalization omitted.) The argument is raised for the first time on appeal; it has no merit.

In Santa Barbara, a parent signed an agreement releasing the defendants from liability for any negligent act’ related to her child’s participation in summer camp. (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 750.) The child drowned. (Ibid.) The trial court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on the release, and the appellate court denied defendants’ petition for writ of mandate challenging that ruling. (Id. at p. 753.) The sole issue before the Supreme Court was whether a release of liability relating to recreational activities generally is effective as to gross negligence. (Id. at p. 750.)

The defendants argued California law, specifically Civil Code section 1668, [ 11] impliedly allowed recreational activity releases to be enforced against a claim of gross negligence. (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at pp. 762-763.) At the time, no published California decision voided[] an agreement purporting to release liability for future gross negligence. (Id. at p. 758.) The Santa Barbara majority turned to out-of-state authorities and rejected the defendants’ position based on public policy principles. (Id. at pp. 760-762.)

References in Santa Barbara to aggravated wrongs (a term used by Prosser & Keeton, The Law of Torts (5th ed. 1984) § 68, p. 484) (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at pp. 762, 765, 776) and aggravated misconduct (id. at pp. 760, 762, 777, fn. 54) do not suggest a new species of negligence that might affect a liability release for recreational activities. Rather, those phrases encompassed misconduct that included gross negligence and willful acts. (Id. at p. 754, fn. 4.) As the majority held, the distinction between ordinary and gross negligence’ reflects a rule of policy’ that harsher legal consequences should flow when negligence is aggravated instead of merely ordinary. (Id. at p. 776.) With a valid release, a theory of gross negligence, if supported by evidence showing the existence of a triable issue, is the only negligence-based theory that is potentially open to [the] plaintiffs. (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 781.)

Here, no public policy considerations preclude the enforcement of defendant’s recreational activity release that exculpated it from liability for its own ordinary negligence. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 309, fn. 4.)

III.

THE TRIAL COURT DID NOT ERR BY ENTERING JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANT.

Plaintiffs argue the trial court should have entered judgment in their favor regardless of the jury’s finding concerning gross negligence because the jury made findings on damages and apportioned fault between Tuttle and defendant. They contend the responsibility to seek a JNOV or some other postjudgment remedy should have fallen to defendant, not plaintiffs. But once the trial court determined the special verdict was not inconsistent and Tuttle’s express release provided a complete defense as a matter of law, entry of a defense judgment was proper. Even if the trial court erred in entering a defense judgment without a formal motion for JNOV, any error was harmless.

A.

LEGAL PRINCIPLES GOVERNING SPECIAL VERDICTS

A special verdict must include conclusions of fact as established by the evidence… [so] that nothing shall remain to the Court but to draw from them conclusions of law. (Code Civ. Proc., § 624.) A special verdict is not a judgment. (Goodman v. Lozano (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1327, 1331-1332.) If a special verdict includes findings on inconsistent theories, the findings on the legal theory that does not control the outcome of the litigation may be disregarded as surplusage. (Baird v. Ocequeda (1937) 8 Cal.2d 700, 703.) Additionally, where no objection is made before the jury is discharged, it falls to the trial judge to interpret the verdict from its language considered in connection with the pleadings, evidence and instructions.’ (Woodcock v. Fontana Scaffolding & Equip. Co. (1968) 69 Cal.2d 452, 456-457; see Zagami, Inc. v. James A. Crone, Inc. (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1083, 1091-1092.)

B.

THE TRIAL COURT’S RULING

As noted, the jury was discharged before the parties raised an issue concerning the special verdict form and the jury’s findings. The trial court recognized and fulfilled its duty to interpret the special verdict: After [this] court rejected several unilateral proposals, the parties stipulated to a special verdict form…. But they did so before the court construed the release in response to defendant’s nonsuit motion and before the parties stipulated Ms. Tuttle entered into the release. [¶] Thus, the form presented only two questions addressing the assumption of the risk. Question #3 asked whether defendant unreasonably increased the inherent risks of skiing. Question #4 asked whether defendant acted with gross negligence. [¶] The answer NO’ to either Question #3 or #4 exonerates defendant. Answering No’ to Question #3 would foreclose the only relevant exception to the primary assumption defense. Answering NO’ to Question #4 would foreclose the only relevant exception to the express assumption defense. [¶] But the form allowed the jurors to answer YES’ to one question and NO’ to [the] other one and continue to answer questions, including determining and allocating damages. (Italics and bold omitted.)

The trial court further explained: Here, the specific finding that defendant did not act with gross negligence controls over the general award of damages. The jury was properly instructed with the definition of gross negligence. The jury received percipient and expert testimony that, if credited, showed defendant did not act with gross negligence. The parties argued whether defendant [did] or did not act with gross negligence. The answer NO’ to Question #4 unambiguously shows the jury found defendant did not act with gross negligence. That resolved the only factual question on the express assumption issue in favor of defendant. [¶]… [¶] The award of damages is not a hopeless inconsistency so much as it is mere surplusage once the court honors the jury’s unambiguous finding that defendant acted without gross negligence and draws the legal conclusion-a conclusion that [the] jury was not asked to draw-that the release covers these claims and effects an express assumption of the risk.

The trial court also correctly concluded the jury’s findings on Question[] #3 and Question #4 [were not] irreconcilable. The concept of unreasonably increasing inherent risks is distinct from the concept of gross negligence. In a particular case, the same facts that show an unreasonable increase in the inherent risks may also show gross negligence. [Citation.] Overlap is possible, [but not] necessary. In this case, the jury found no such overlap. There is no inconsistency in defendant losing on the primary assumption issue but prevailing on the express assumption issue. And that, after five weeks of trial, is what happened here.

C.

ANALYSIS

A validly executed express release of liability for a defendant’s ordinary negligence means the only viable theory for a judgment in a plaintiff’s favor is if the defendant acted with gross negligence. (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 781.) There is no inconsistency between findings that a defendant is ordinarily negligent by unreasonably increasing the inherent risks of snow skiing, but not grossly negligent. A finding of gross negligence would necessarily mean a defendant unreasonably increased the inherent risks of snow skiing, so that comparative fault principles apply. But an express release, coupled with an undisputed factual finding that a defendant did not act with gross negligence, necessarily results in a defense judgment. Accordingly, Question No. 3 concerning whether defendant unreasonably increased the inherent risk should have been removed from the special verdict form.

Also, the special verdict form should have instructed the jury that if it found defendant was not grossly negligent, it should not answer the remaining questions. The jury’s compliance with the trial court’s instructions and consequent damages-related findings were surplusage, but did not create an inconsistency with its finding that defendant did not act with gross negligence. The trial court correctly entered judgment in favor of defendant based on the dispositive finding of no gross negligence. The trial court’s explanation of its ruling demonstrates the trial court’s application of the correct legal principles in doing so.

In their appellate opening brief, plaintiffs argue defendant forfeited any objection to the special verdict form because it (1) failed to object to the special verdict before the jury was discharged; (2) invited the erroneous instructions in the special verdict form because it had participated in drafting it; and (3) failed to bring a statutorily authorized post-trial motion challenging the special verdict form. Although the special verdict form should have been amended before deliberations, there is no issue of forfeiture or invited error on defendant’s part.

The parties jointly agreed on the wording of the special verdict form. Any fault in the drafting cannot be assigned to one side over the other, and all parties bear responsibility for the erroneous directions in the stipulated special verdict form. Nothing in the record suggests the special verdict form or the objection to entry of a plaintiffs’ judgment was the product of gamesmanship. (See Lambert v. General Motors (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1179, 1183.)

Additionally, plaintiffs’ trial strategy to stipulate to Tuttle’s knowing execution of the release was wise: Evidence Tuttle understood the release was overwhelming. As part of the discussion pertaining to the parties’ stipulation, however, both the trial court and defendant’s trial counsel questioned the adequacy of the special verdict form. But plaintiffs’ trial counsel maintained the special verdict form was fine as is and persuasively argued against making any changes or advising the jury of the stipulation. This meant the doctrine of implied secondary assumption of the risk was not relevant unless the jury found defendant acted with gross negligence.

We agree the procedural aspects surrounding the entry of the defense judgment on what appeared to be a plaintiffs’ verdict were unconventional; but the bottom line is once the jury found no gross negligence, defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Under these circumstances, it would have been a waste of resources to require defendant, or the trial court on its own initiative, to formally notice a motion for JNOV (Code Civ. Proc., § 629, subd. (a)).

Even if we found the procedure to have been erroneous, the error would have been procedural, not substantive; and, plaintiffs have not demonstrated the likelihood of a different outcome. (See Webb v. Special Electric, Co., Inc. (2016) 63 Cal.4th 167, 179 [because the defendant did not have a complete defense as a matter of law, the entry of JNOV was unjustified [on the merits]. In light of this conclusion, we need not reach plaintiffs’ claims of procedural error].) Defendant had a complete defense; there is no reasonable probability the trial court would have denied a formal JNOV motion.

Plaintiffs argue they relied on the state of the special verdict form in making the decision to stipulate to the validity of the release agreement. Plaintiffs suggest defendant, by agreeing to the special verdict form, tacitly stipulated to a deviation from the applicable law to allow plaintiffs to recover damages based solely on a finding defendant had unreasonably increased the inherent risk, notwithstanding the existence of a valid, applicable release. Such an argument is without support in the law. It is also belied by the record. As already discussed, both defendant’s counsel and the trial court raised questions concerning the special verdict form once the parties stipulated to Tuttle’s execution of the release. Plaintiffs’ trial counsel maintained there should be no changes in the jury instructions or the special verdict form.

IV.

PLAINTIFFS ARE NOT ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL.

Plaintiffs argued in their motion for new trial that the special verdict was hopelessly contradictory and, consequently, against the law. Plaintiffs also asserted there were errors in the special verdict form, they excepted to those errors, but then were penalized because the jury’s finding of unreasonably increased inherent risk has ex post facto been deemed insufficient to impose liability on Defendant Heavenly Valley. Although plaintiffs did not claim instructional error in the trial court, they complained the modified version of CACI No. 431, [ 12] to which they agreed, misled the jurors into thinking they could find defendant liable if they found it unreasonably increased the inherent risk of skiing or if they found it acted with gross negligence.

On appeal, plaintiffs ask this court to reverse the denial of their motion for a new trial. They fail to cite applicable authorities to support their arguments. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.204(a)(1)(B).) Instead, they contend the trial court changed the rules of the game only after the game had already been played, leaving the parties and their counsel without the opportunity to satisfy those new rules, and robbing the jury of the ability to assess all viable liability options. Plaintiffs add they stipulated to Tuttle’s execution of the release in reliance on the wording of the then existing Special Verdict form, which… made clear that a finding of gross negligence was only one of two disjunctive liability paths, and was not necessary to impose liability against Heavenly. As a consequence, [plaintiffs]… were… induced into a stipulation concerning that issue in light of the wording of the existing Special Verdict form, an unfair sequence which the trial court itself acknowledged worked against [plaintiffs]. This characterization misstates the record.

First, the trial court made legal rulings throughout trial when called upon to do so. The trial court did not change any of its pronouncements of law after the trial concluded. The record shows the trial court gave the parties every opportunity to revisit the jury instructions and special verdict form before they were given to the jury.

Second, although the trial court described the sequence of events, it did not suggest the events were unfair or worked against plaintiffs. As discussed ante, when the trial court denied defendant’s renewed motion for nonsuit, it advised counsel the jury must decide whether Tuttle actually executed the release. Because neither side proposed jury instructions or questions on the special verdict form addressing the issue of contract formation, defendant’s counsel suggested they should revisit both the jury instructions and the special verdict form. Plaintiffs’ trial counsel immediately stipulated to Tuttle’s execution of the release and advised he would proceed with the verdict form as is. This statement calls into question plaintiffs’ claim they were induced into entering into the stipulation.

Third−and significantly−plaintiffs’ counsel did not discuss disjunctive liability paths in his closing arguments. Instead, plaintiffs’ counsel focused on the evidence and urged the jury to find gross negligence: What we’re talking about here, the liability of the resort does not fall under this release. And you are not going to be asked any questions on the verdict form about the release. Yeah, [Tuttle] signed one, and she understood the inherent risks of skiing, and that’s what the release releases. It does not release gross negligence. It does not release what we’re talking about.

The jury unanimously found defendant did not act with gross negligence. The jury’s function is to make ultimate findings of fact, and it is the trial court’s responsibility to apply the law to the relevant findings of fact. Nothing in the special verdict form misled the jury with regard to the factors it should consider in making any particular finding. We conclude the trial court correctly applied the law and entered judgment accordingly.

DISPOSITION

The judgment and post judgment orders are affirmed. Respondents shall recover costs on appeal.

WE CONCUR: BEDSWORTH, ACTING P. J., MOORE, J.

———

Notes:

[*] Retired judge of the Orange Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.

[ 1] We refer to Dana Tuttle as Tuttle and to her spouse and sons collectively as plaintiffs. We refer to Heavenly Valley as defendant.

Plaintiffs erroneously identified Heavenly Valley in the complaint as the Vail Corporation. There is no dispute Heavenly Valley is the correct defendant in this case.

[ 2] Tuttle purchased the ski pass online. No actual signature was required; she signed the release by clicking the appropriate box on the electronic form.

[ 3] The jury exonerated Slater from liability. He is not a party to this appeal.

[ 4] The appellate record is lengthy. Given the limited issues before this court, however, we do not recite the trial evidence in detail.

[ 5] The trial court denied defendant’s first nonsuit motion two days earlier. At that time, the trial judge announced he would be prepared to find as a matter of law that colliding with a snowboarder or colliding with a tree is an inherent risk of skiing, but the jury would decide whether defendant unreasonably increased the inherent risk of the sport.

[ 6] Defendant also requested a statement of decision addressing the applicability of primary implied and express assumption of the risk doctrines; the trial court denied the request. The trial court’s denial of this request is not at issue in this appeal.

[ 7] Plaintiffs do not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in this appeal.

[ 8] Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296 was a plurality decision authored by Chief Justice George that all members of the court except Justice Kennard subsequently accepted. (Luna v. Vela (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 102, 107, citing Shin v. Ahn (2007) 42 Cal.4th 482, 491.)

[ 9] Whether a risk is inherent to a particular active sport presents a question of law for the court. (Hass v. RhodyCo Productions (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 11, 23 (Hass).)

[ 10] So it is here. Paragraph 13 of Tuttle’s release also binds her assignees, subrogors, distributors, heirs, next of kin, executors and personal representatives.

A wrongful death action is not a derivative action. Nonetheless, although an individual involved in a dangerous activity cannot by signing a release extinguish his heirs’ wrongful death claim, the heirs will be bound by the decedent’s agreement to waive a defendant’s negligence and assume all risk. (Ruiz v. Podolsky (2010) 50 Cal.4th 838, 851 852; see Hass, supra, 26 Cal.App.5th at p. 25 [In other words, although a decedent cannot release or waive a subsequent wrongful death claim by the decedent’s heirs, that decedent’s express agreement to waive the defendant’s negligence and assume all risks’ acts as a complete defense to such a wrongful death action].)

[ 11] Civil Code section 1668 lists the types of contractual releases that are unenforceable as a matter of public policy (i.e., those exempting anyone from responsibility for his own fraud, or willful injury to the person or property of another, or violation of law, whether willful or negligent). Gross negligence is not on the list.

[ 12] Plaintiffs do not challenge the modified version of CACI No. 431 in this court, either. The modified instruction read: If you find that Heavenly Valley unreasonably increased the inherent risks of snow skiing, or that Heavenly Valley was grossly negligent, and also find that Heavenly Valley’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing Dana Tuttle’s harm, then Heavenly Valley is responsible for the harm. Heavenly Valley cannot avoid responsibility just because some other person, condition, or event, including but not limited to Dana Tuttle’s own negligence or the acts of Anthony Slater were also a substantial factor in causing Dana Tuttle’s harm.

———


Valentino v. Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, 209 A.3d 941 (Pa. 2019)

Valentino v. Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, 209 A.3d 941 (Pa. 2019)

Michele Valentino, as Administratrix of the Estate of Derek Valentino, Deceased, and Michele Valentino, in Her Own Right, Appellant

v.

Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, Appellee

No. 17 EAP 2017

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 18, 2019

Argued: May 15, 2018

Appeal from the Judgment of Superior Court entered on November 15, 2016 at No. 3049 EDA 2013 affirming the Order entered on September 30, 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Civil Division at No. 1417 April Term, 2012. Jacqueline F. Allen, Judge

Craig A. Falcone, Esq., Sacchetta & Falcone, for Appellant Michele Valentino, as Admin. of the Estate of Derek Valentino, etc.

Barbara Axelrod, Esq., The Beasley Firm, L.L.C., for Appellant Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania Association for Justice.

Heather M. Eichenbaum, Esq., Spector Gadon & Rosen, P.C., for Appellee Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC.

SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

ORDER

PER CURIAM

AND NOW, this 18th day of June, 2019, the Court being evenly divided, the Order of the Superior Court is AFFIRMED.

Justice Wecht did not participate in the consideration or decision of this matter.

OPINION IN SUPPORT OF AFFIRMANCE

BAER, JUSTICE.

This Court granted allocatur to determine whether an express assumption of the risk agreement executed by triathlon participant Derek Valentino (“Decedent”) serves as a defense to a wrongful death claim commenced against the Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC (“Triathlon”) by Decedent’s heir (“Appellant”), who was not a signatory to the agreement.[1] The Superior Court held that Decedent’s express assumption of the risks inherent in participation in the sporting event eliminated Triathlon’s duty of care, thereby rendering Triathlon’s conduct non-tortious. Absent tortious activity, the Superior Court concluded that the wrongful death claim brought by Decedent’s heir could not succeed as a matter of law because the Wrongful Death Act premises recovery upon “the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301. Accordingly, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Triathlon. For the reasons set forth herein, we would affirm the judgment of the Superior Court and adopt its astute legal analysis.

Preliminarily and as explained in more detail infra, we respectfully note that the Opinions in Support of Reversal (both hereinafter collectively referred to as “OISR”) ignore the issue for which we granted allocatur and, instead, attempt to reverse the judgment of the Superior Court on grounds not encompassed by this appeal. Specifically, the OISR would sua sponte hold that express assumption of the risk agreements are void and unenforceable in violation of public policy in cases involving claims brought pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301. The OISR reaches this conclusion notwithstanding that no party to this appeal challenges the validity of the agreement on public policy grounds or otherwise. We decline to engage in this judicial overreaching and proceed to address the merits of the issue before us.

We begin with a brief recitation of the facts. In 2010, Triathlon organized a multi-sport-event, comprised of swimming in the Schuylkill River, cycling for more than fifteen miles, and running for more than three miles. To compete in the event, each participant was required to register, pay a fee, and execute electronically a liability waiver agreement that included an assumption of the risk provision (“Agreement”). On January 24, 2010, Decedent complied with these requisites by electronically registering as a participant in the triathlon and executing the Agreement.

The executed Agreement stated that Decedent understood “the physical and mental rigors associated with triathlon,” and “that running, bicycling, [and] swimming

… are inherently dangerous and represent an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits.” Appellee’s Motion for Summary Judgment Ex. G, dated Aug. 5, 2013. The Agreement further acknowledged Decedent’s understanding that “participation involves risks and dangers which include, without limitation, the potential for serious bodily injury, permanent disability, paralysis and death … and other undefined harm or damage which may not be readily foreseeable[.]” Id. The Agreement provided that Decedent was aware “that these Risks may be caused in whole or in part by [his] own actions or inactions, the actions or inactions of others participating in the Event, or the acts, inaction or negligence of [the Triathlon].” Id.

Germane to this appeal, the Agreement stated that Decedent “expressly assume[d] all such Risks and responsibility for any damages, liabilities, losses or expenses” resulting from his participation in the event. Id. (emphasis added). The Agreement also included a provision stating that Decedent further agreed that if he or anyone on his behalf “makes a claim of Liability against any of the Released Parties, [Decedent] will indemnify, defend and hold harmless each of the Released Parties from any such Liability which any [sic] may be incurred as the result of such claim.” Id. [2]

The triathlon took place on June 26, 2010. At approximately 8:30 a.m., Decedent entered the Schuylkill River to begin the first segment of the race. Tragically, Decedent never completed the swimming portion of the competition. Divers retrieved Decedent’s body from the river the next day after he presumably drowned while participating in the triathlon. On April 12, 2012, Decedent’s widow, Michele Valentino, both in her own right and as administratrix of her husband’s estate (referred to as “Appellant” herein), asserted wrongful death and survival claims against various defendants, including Triathlon. Only the wrongful death claim is at issue in this appeal. Appellant subsequently amended her complaint and the defendants filed preliminary objections. On July 27, 2012, the trial court sustained the defendants’ preliminary objections and struck all references in the complaint that referred to outrageous acts, gross negligence, recklessness, and punitive damages, holding that these averments were legally insufficient as the facts alleged demonstrated only ordinary negligence. The trial court further struck particular paragraphs of the amended complaint on grounds that they lacked specificity.

In December of 2012, following the various defendants’ filing of an answer and new matter, the defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting the Agreement as an affirmative defense. The trial court denied summary judgment, finding that questions of material fact remained regarding the existence of the Agreement. Appellant thereafter stipulated to the dismissal of all defendants except Triathlon. Once discovery was completed, Triathlon again moved for summary judgment. Concluding that the evidence at that point in the proceedings demonstrated that the Agreement was among Decedent’s possessions and was valid and enforceable, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Triathlon.

Prior to the trial court issuing its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion explaining its rationale for granting summary judgment in favor of Triathlon, the Superior Court, in an unrelated matter, decided the case of Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., 77 A.3d 651 (Pa. Super. 2013), which held that a non-signatory wrongful death claimant was not bound by an arbitration agreement signed by a decedent.[3] Id. at 663. On April 14, 2012, shortly after Pisano was decided, the trial court issued its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion in this matter and urged the Superior Court to vacate its order granting summary judgment in favor of Triathlon based on that decision.

Relying upon Pisano, Appellant argued to the Superior Court that Decedent’s Agreement with Triathlon does not apply to her as a non-signatory and, thus, has no preclusive effect upon her wrongful death claims asserted against Triathlon. In response, Triathlon contended that Decedent’s assumption of the risks inherent in participation in the event relieved its duty of care, thereby rendering Triathlon’s conduct non-tortious as a matter of law. The Triathlon maintained that, absent tortious activity, a wrongful death claim could not succeed because the Wrongful Death Act premises recovery upon “the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301.

Initially, on December 30, 2015, a divided panel of the Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order in part, holding that under Pisano, Decedent’s Agreement was not applicable to Appellant because she was not a signatory to the contract. The Superior Court thereafter granted en banc argument and withdrew its panel decision.

On November 15, 2016, an en banc Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order granting Triathlon summary judgment in a published decision. Valentino v. Phila. Triathlon, LLC, 150 A.3d 483 (Pa. Super. 2016). Preliminarily, the Superior Court acknowledged that because a wrongful death claim is not derivative of a decedent’s cause of action, “a decedent may not compromise or diminish a wrongful death claimant’s right of action without consent.” Id. at 493. Nevertheless, the Superior Court went on to hold that “a third-party wrongful death claimant is subject to substantive defenses supported by the decedent’s actions or agreements where offered to relieve the defendant, either wholly or partially, from liability by showing that the defendant’s actions were not tortious.” Id.

The Superior Court found that the available substantive defense here was Decedent’s contractual assumption of the risks inherent in participation in the triathlon.

The assumption of the risk doctrine, set forth in Section 496A of the Restatement Second of Torts, provides that “[a] plaintiff who voluntarily assumes a risk of harm arising from the negligent or reckless conduct of the defendant cannot recover for such harm.” Restatement Second of Torts, § 496A. Comment c(1) to Section 496A provides that the express assumption of the risk “means that the plaintiff has given his express consent to relieve the defendant of an obligation to exercise care for his protection, and agrees to take his chances as to injury from a known or possible risk.” Id. at cmt. c(1). Notably, the Comment goes on to state that “[t]he result is that the defendant, who would otherwise be under a duty to exercise such care, is relieved of that responsibility, and is no longer under any duty to protect the plaintiff.” Id.

Pennsylvania case law illustrates that one’s assumption of the risks inherent in a particular activity eliminates the defendant’s duty of care. SeeHughes v. Seven Springs Farm Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 343 (2000) (explaining that under Section 496A of the Restatement Second of Torts, where the plaintiff assumes the risk of harm, the defendant is under no duty to protect the plaintiff from such risks); Carrender v. Fitterer, 503 Pa. 178, 469 A.2d 120, 125 (1983) (explaining that one’s assumption of the risk of injury is simply another way of expressing the lack of duty on the part of the defendant to protect against such risks); Thompson v. Ginkel, 95 A.3d 900, 906 (Pa. Super. 2014) (citation omitted) (acknowledging that the assumption of the risk doctrine is a function of the duty analysis required in all negligence actions).

Relying on this substantive tort law, the Superior Court in the instant case held that by knowingly and voluntarily executing a valid agreement expressly assuming the risks inherent in participating in the sporting event, Decedent extinguished Triathlon’s duty of care, thereby rendering its conduct not tortious. Valentino, 150 A.3d at 493.[4] As noted, the intermediate appellate court concluded that absent tortious conduct, Appellant’s wrongful death claim could not survive as a matter of law; thus, the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Triathlon. Id.

The Superior Court in the instant case readily distinguished Pisano on the ground that it did not involve an agreement to assume all risks inherent in a particular activity, which would serve to eliminate the duty element of the wrongful death action against the alleged tortfeasor. Acknowledging Pisano’s principle that a third party’s right of action in a wrongful death claim is an independent statutory claim of a decedent’s heirs and is not derivative of a decedent’s right of action, the Superior Court emphasized that “a wrongful death claim still requires a tortious injury to succeed.” Valentino, 150 A.3d at 493. The Superior Court cogently explained that Pisano does not undermine the fundamental principle that a statutory claimant in a wrongful death action has the burden of proving that the defendant’s tortious conduct caused the decedent’s death. It opined that this cannot occur where the

decedent assumed all risks inherent in participating in the activity and thereby abrogated any duty the putative tortfeasor may have had. Id.

Similarly, the Superior Court distinguished this Court’s decision in Buttermore v. Aliquippa Hospital, 522 Pa. 325, 561 A.2d 733 (1989), upon which Appellant had relied. Valentino, 150 A.3d at 495. In that case, James Buttermore was injured in an automobile accident and signed a release in settlement of his claim against the tortfeasors for the sum of $25,000, agreeing to release all persons from liability. Buttermore, 561 A.2d at 734. The issue on appeal to this Court was whether Buttermore’s wife, who was not a signatory to the settlement agreement, had an independent right to sue the tortfeasors for loss of consortium. Id. at 735. Acknowledging that the release applied to all tortfeasors, including the defendants, this Court held that one could not bargain away the rights of others who were not a party to the contract. Id. Because Buttermore’s wife was not a party to her husband’s settlement agreement and because she sought to sue in her own right for loss of consortium, we held that she had an independent cause of action, unaffected by her husband’s settlement agreement. Id. at 736.

The Superior Court below distinguished Buttermore, finding that unlike the express assumption of the risk agreement here, the settlement agreement in Buttermore did not extinguish a requisite element of the wife’s loss of consortium claim. Valentino, 150 A.3d at 496. Stated differently, unlike the express assumption of the risk agreement in the instant case, nothing in the settlement agreement in Buttermore precluded the finding that the defendants acted tortiously.

We agree with the Superior Court’s application of well-settled tort law and its conclusion that the assumption of the risk agreement entered into between Decedent and the Triathlon operates much differently than the settlement agreement in Buttermore and the arbitration agreement in Pisano, as the latter agreements do not preclude a finding that the defendant acted tortiously. We further agree with the intermediate appellate court that a decedent’s valid assumption of the risk agreement does not negate his heir’s right to commence a wrongful death lawsuit, but it “can support a defense asserting that the alleged tortfeasor owed no duty to the decedent.” Valentino, 150 A.3d at 494.

Accordingly, once Decedent extinguished Triathlon’s duty of care by expressly assuming all risks in the inherently dangerous sporting event, his heir could not resurrect that duty of care after his death. To do so would afford a decedent’s heirs more rights than those possessed by a decedent while alive. Such a result not only defies logic, but also the statutory requisites for a wrongful death claim. As there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is clear that Triathlon is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we would affirm the judgment of the Superior Court, which affirmed the trial court order granting summary judgment in Triathlon’s favor. See Pa.R.C.P. 1035.2 (providing that summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact or when a party which will bear the burden of proof has failed to present evidence sufficient to present the issue to the jury).

As noted, regarding the OISR’s sua sponte public policy declaration, our primary objection is that the issue of whether the express assumption of the risk agreement violates public policy is not properly before the Court; thus, the grant of relief on this claim cannot serve as a means to disturb the judgment of the Superior Court.

SeeSteiner v. Markel, 600 Pa. 515, 968 A.2d 1253, 1256 (2009) (holding that an appellate court may not reverse a judgment on a basis that was not properly raised and preserved by the parties).

Additionally, we observe that the OISR declares the express assumption of the risk agreement violative of the public policy set forth in the Wrongful Death Act, i.e., to compensate family members of victims of tortious conduct, without any explanation as to how tortious conduct can exist in the absence of a duty of care. Further, the OISR seeks to invalidate not all express assumption of the risk contracts, but only those relating to wrongful death claims, based upon the public policy set forth in the Wrongful Death Act. Accordingly, under the OISR’s reasoning, express assumption of the risk agreements would generally be valid to preclude a participant’s ordinary negligence claims against the purveyor of an inherently dangerous sport or activity, but would be invalid where a participant’s injuries were fatal and his heirs sought recovery for wrongful death. Thus, a participant who suffered grievous non-fatal injury would have no redress, but his family would have redress if the participant succumbed to his injuries.

This result is untenable as there is no evidence to suggest that it is the public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to elevate the rights of victims’ heirs over those of the victims themselves or to immunize wrongful death claims from ordinary and readily available defenses. In fact, not only did the General Assembly premise recovery in wrongful death on the precise tortious conduct that caused the decedent’s fatal injuries, but directed expressly that a wrongful death action “may be brought, under procedures prescribed by general rules.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301(a). There is simply no provision in the Wrongful Death Act that renders an heir’s entitlement to relief absolute. Had the Legislature intended that mandate, it would have so directed.

Moreover, it is not the role of this Court to create the public policy of this Commonwealth. Instead, “public policy is to be ascertained by reference to the laws and legal precedents and not from general considerations of supposed public interest.” Burstein v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 570 Pa. 177, 809 A.2d 204, 207 (2002) (quoting Eichelman v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 551 Pa. 558, 711 A.2d 1006, 1008 (1998)). We have held that “only dominant public policy” justifies the invalidation of a contract and in the “absence of a plain indication of that policy through long governmental practice or statutory enactments, or violations of obvious ethical or moral standards, the Court should not assume to declare contracts contrary to public policy.” Burstein, 809 A.2d at 207. Significantly, we have acknowledged that in such circumstances, “courts must be content to await legislative action.” Id.

The OISR fails to heed this warning. By declaring the public policy of this Commonwealth, untethered to legislative fiat and in a case where the issue is not before us, the OISR comes dangerously close to displacing the legislative process with judicial will. Accordingly, we would affirm the judgment of the Superior Court, which affirmed the order granting summary judgment in favor of the Triathlon. While the facts of this case are most tragic, this Court may not afford relief where the law does not so provide.

Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Todd join this opinion in support of affirmance.

OPINION IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL

DOUGHERTY, JUSTICE.

The question before the Court is whether the Superior Court erred when it determined

a pre-injury exculpatory waiver signed by a triathlon participant provides a complete defense to claims brought by the participant’s non-signatory heirs pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301. We would find the waiver is unenforceable against the heirs and does not preclude their wrongful death action. We would therefore reverse the Superior Court’s decision and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

In 2010, appellee Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, organized the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon Sprint (the Triathlon). The Triathlon consisted of three events: (1) a 0.5 mile swim; (2) a 15.7 mile bicycle race; and (3) a 3.1 mile run. The swim portion of the Triathlon took place in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a participant in the Triathlon, Decedent, Derek Valentino, registered as a participant for the Triathlon and executed a Waiver and Release of Liability (the Waiver) by affixing his electronic signature to an online registration form.

On race day, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Decedent entered the Schuylkill River for the swim portion of the Triathlon, but he did not complete the swim and, on the following day, his body was recovered from the Schuylkill River. There is no dispute Decedent drowned in the river while participating in the Triathlon. SeeValentino v. Phila. Ins. Co., No. 120401417, 2014 WL 4796614, at *1 (Pa. Com. Pl. Aug. 26, 2014).

Appellant Michele Valentino filed a lawsuit in her individual capacity and as Administratrix of the Estate of Derek Valentino, against several defendants, including appellee, asserting survival claims on Decedent’s behalf and wrongful death claims on her own behalf and that of her children.[1] See Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 26-28, 34-36, citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 8302 (Survival Act provides “[a]ll causes of action or proceedings, real or personal, shall survive the death of the plaintiff or of the defendant …”); Amended Complaint at ¶¶29-33, 37-41, citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301(a), (b) (Wrongful Death Act provides spouse, children or parents of decedent can bring action “to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another”).[2] In response to preliminary objections, the trial court entered orders striking from the complaint all references to outrageous acts, gross negligence and recklessness. The trial court also struck appellant’s claim for punitive damages. Remaining in the case were several allegations of ordinary negligence, specifically, that appellee failed to: make a

reasonable inspection of the premises and event course; remove or take measures to prevent dangerous conditions; follow rules, regulations, policies and procedures governing safety standards; properly train the Triathlon’s agents, servants and employees with respect to safety rules, regulations, policies and procedures; properly supervise the Triathlon’s employees to ensure the Triathlon was conducted in a reasonable and safe manner; properly construct or design a safe event route to avoid dangerous conditions; regulate or control the number of individuals participating in each phase of the race simultaneously; have proper rules, regulations, policies and procedures for the timely recognition and response of event participants in distress and need of rescue; and have adequate safety personnel on hand for each aspect of the event. Seeid. at ¶ 22(b), (d) & (f) – (l).

Thereafter, appellee filed an answer with new matter, claiming Decedent was sufficiently negligent himself to completely bar appellant’s recovery, or alternatively, to reduce appellant’s recovery in accordance with the amount of comparative negligence attributed to Decedent. See Answer with New Matter at ¶43, citing Comparative Negligence Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 7102. In addition, appellee asserted the complete defense of assumption of risk, claiming it owed no duty to Decedent or his survivors based on Decedent’s execution of the Waiver. Id. at ¶¶44, 46.

a. Summary Judgment

On September 30, 2013, the trial court granted appellee’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of appellant’s remaining claims with prejudice. On appellant’s motion for reconsideration, the court opined summary judgment on the survival action was proper based on the Waiver. Valentino, 2014 WL 4796614, at *2. The court reversed itself regarding appellant’s wrongful death action, and opined that claim should be remanded for further proceedings based on the Superior Court’s decision in Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., 77 A.3d 651, 663 (Pa. Super. 2013), appeal denied, 624 Pa. 683, 86 A.3d 233 (Pa. 2014) (resident-decedent’s contractual agreement with nursing home to arbitrate all claims was not binding on non-signatory wrongful death claimants). Id. at *3. In recommending the wrongful death action be remanded, the trial court observed “a decedent can contract away his own right to recover in court under a survival action, [but] he cannot similarly alienate the rights of third parties to recover in their own wrongful death actions.” Id.

b. Superior Court

A divided en banc panel of the Superior Court subsequently affirmed summary judgment on all claims. Valentino v. Phila. Triathlon, LLC, 150 A.3d 483 (Pa. Super. 2016).[3] The majority reasoned that, for a decedent’s heirs to recover damages in a wrongful death action, there must be an underlying tortious act by the defendant. See id. at 492-93, quotingKaczorowski v. Kalkosinski, 321 Pa. 438, 184 A. 663, 664 (1936) (“… a right to recover must exist in the party injured when he died in order to entitle[ ] those named in the act to sue…. [W]here the deceased would have been barred by contributory negligence, or by the statute of limitations, the parties suing for his death are likewise barred.”) (internal citations omitted). The majority further held its own decision in Pisano, which allowed non-signatory wrongful death claimants to file a court action despite their decedent’s execution of an arbitration

agreement, is limited to the facts of that case. Id. at 493. The majority opined an heir’s right to recover for her decedent’s wrongful death is dependent upon the existence of a tortious act that caused the death, stating “while a third party’s wrongful death claim is not derivative of the decedent’s right of action, a wrongful death claim still requires a tortious injury to succeed.” Id. Underpinning the en banc majority’s analysis was its position that arbitration and settlement agreements “bind[ ] only the parties to the agreement while the [liability waiver] extends to non-signatory third-parties.” Id. at 497 n.9. The en banc majority considered the Waiver to be an express assumption of all risks which eliminated any legal duty otherwise owed to anyone by appellee, creating a complete bar to tort liability.[4] Id.

Appellant filed a petition for allowance of appeal and this Court granted review of two questions:

Whether the Superior Court erred when it determined that a waiver of liability form, executed solely by the decedent, and stating the signer assumes all risks of participation in a triathlon, also binds his heirs, thereby precluding them from bringing a wrongful death action?

Whether the defense of assumption of risk should be abolished except in those situations where it is specifically permitted by the Comparative Negligence Act?[5]

Valentino v. Phila. Triathlon, LLC, 641 Pa. 515, 168 A.3d 1283 (2017) (per curiam ).

Our standard and scope of review on appeal from summary judgment are well-established. “[A]n appellate court may reverse the entry of summary judgment only where it finds that the trial court erred in concluding that the matter presented no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it is clear that the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 576 Pa. 644, 841 A.2d 1000, 1004 (2003), citingPappas v. Asbel, 564 Pa. 407, 768 A.2d 1089 (2001). In determining whether the lower court erred in granting summary judgment, the standard of review is de novo and the scope of review is plenary. Liss & Marion, P.C. v. Recordex Acquisition Corp., 603 Pa. 198, 983 A.2d 652, 657 (2009), citingLJL Transp., Inc. v. Pilot Air Freight Corp., 599 Pa. 546, 962 A.2d 639, 647 (2009). We consider the parties’ arguments with these standards in mind.

II.

Appellant argues the Superior Court erred in determining the Waiver, which

was executed solely by Decedent, barred his heirs’ wrongful death action. Appellant first notes wrongful death actions are statutorily authorized in Pennsylvania:

(a) General rule.–An action may be brought, under procedures prescribed by general rules, to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another if no recovery for the same damages claimed in the wrongful death action was obtained by the injured individual during his lifetime and any prior actions for the same injuries are consolidated with the wrongful death claim so as to avoid a duplicate recovery.

42 Pa.C.S. § 8301(a). Relying on Pennsylvania jurisprudence, appellant argues a wrongful death action is derivative of the victim’s fatal injuries, but is nevertheless meant to compensate a decedent’s survivors “for the pecuniary loss they have sustained by the denial of future contributions decedent would have made in his or her lifetime.” Appellant’s Brief at 13-15, quotingFrey v. Pa. Elec. Comp., 414 Pa.Super. 535, 607 A.2d 796, 798 (1992), and citingTulewicz v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 529 Pa. 588, 606 A.2d 427, 431 (1992), Kaczorowski, 184 A. at 664 (wrongful death claim is “derivative” because “it has as its basis the same tortious act which would have supported the injured party’s own cause of action”).

Appellant relies on Buttermore v. Aliquippa Hospital, 522 Pa. 325, 561 A.2d 733 (1989), where the tort-victim husband executed a general release and settlement agreement after a car accident which purported to waive recovery by “any and all other persons associations and/or corporations[.]” Appellant’s Brief at 15-16, quotingButtermore, 561 A.2d at 734. Plaintiff’s wife did not sign the release agreement. The Buttermores filed a suit against medical professionals who treated him after the accident, including a claim brought by wife for loss of consortium. Seeid. at 16. On appeal from summary judgment, this Court ruled husband’s claim was barred by the release he executed, but wife’s claim was not because she herself had not signed it. Id., citingButtermore, 561 A.2d at 736. Appellant argues the lower courts’ ruling the Waiver in this case, which only Decedent signed, bars his heirs’ wrongful death claims is in direct contravention of Buttermore . Id. at 17-18, citingButtermore, 561 A.2d at 735.

In response, appellee contends summary judgment was properly entered and dismissal of appellant’s wrongful death claims should be affirmed. Appellee argues a wrongful death action is derivative of, and dependent upon, a tortious act that results in decedent’s death. Appellee’s Brief at 13, citingCentofanti v. Pa. R. Co., 244 Pa. 255, 90 A. 558, 561 (1914) (additional citations omitted). Appellee insists the Superior Court correctly determined Decedent’s execution of the Waiver meant appellee’s conduct was rendered non-tortious in all respects because appellee no longer owed Decedent any duty of care. Id. at 16-17, citingMontagazzi v. Crisci, 994 A.2d 626, 635 (Pa. Super. 2010) (plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily encountering an obvious and dangerous risk relieves those “who may have otherwise had a duty”); Staub v. Toy Factory, Inc., 749 A.2d 522, 526 (Pa. Super. 2000) (en banc ) (“Our [S]upreme [C]ourt appears to have concluded that in a negligence action, the question whether a litigant has assumed the risk is a question of law as part of the court’s duty analysis ….”) (additional citations omitted). Appellee also argues Pisano is not applicable here. Appellee contends Pisano determined only the narrow issue of whether a wrongful death plaintiff is bound by an arbitration agreement which she did not sign, and is not relevant to questions regarding

the exculpatory Waiver signed by Decedent. Seeid. at 24.

III.

The Wrongful Death Act (the Act), provides an independent statutory cause of action that belongs to specific claimants, i.e. the surviving spouse, children or parents of the deceased. 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301 (Act provides spouse, children or parents of decedent can bring action “to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another”). SeeKaczorowski, 184 A. at 665 (“By the statute there is given an explicit and independent right of action to recover the damages peculiarly suffered by the parties named therein.”). This statutory claim for wrongful death “is derivative because it has as its basis the same tortious act which would have supported the injured party’s own cause of action. Its derivation, however, is from the tortious act and not from the person of the deceased, so that it comes to the parties named in the statute free from personal disabilities arising from the relationship of the injured party and tort-feasor.” Id. at 664 (internal citations omitted). Accordingly, Pennsylvania courts recognize that while wrongful death actions seek damages for losses to heirs arising from their relative’s wrongful death, the claims are not derivative of — or limited by — the decedent’s own rights. SeePisano, 77 A.3d at 660.

It is clear the General Assembly intended the Act to compensate the decedent’s surviving heirs, not the decedent himself, whose own losses are encompassed in a survival action. Compare 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301(wrongful death) with 42 Pa.C.S. § 8302 (survival); see alsoAmato v. Bell & Gossett, 116 A.3d 607, 625 (Pa. Super. 2015), quotingHatwood v. Hosp. of the Univ. of Pa., 55 A.3d 1229, 1235 (Pa. Super. 2012) (“The purpose of the Wrongful Death Statute … is to compensate the decedent’s survivors for the pecuniary losses they have sustained as a result of the decedent’s death…. A wrongful death action does not compensate the decedent; it compensates the survivors for damages which they have sustained as a result of the decedent’s death.”) (additional citations omitted). The Act is thus designed to assure a decedent’s heirs may seek compensation “for the loss of pecuniary benefits which [they] would have received from the deceased had death not intervened.” Kaczorowski, 184 A. at 665. Also, the Act is a remedial statute, and as such it must be liberally interpreted to effect its purpose and promote justice. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1928(c); Amadio v. Levin, 509 Pa. 199, 501 A.2d 1085, 1087 (1985) (wrongful death statute is “remedial in nature and purpose, and as such should be liberally construed to accomplish the objective of the act”); see alsoO’Rourke v. Commonwealth, 566 Pa. 161, 778 A.2d 1194, 1203 (2001) (noting remedial statutes are to be liberally construed to effect objectives).

With these principles and the legislative purpose of the Act in mind, we must determine whether the Waiver provides a complete defense to a wrongful death claim brought by non-signatory heirs. A liability waiver is, at its core, a contract, and must be construed and interpreted in the same manner as other contracts — such as arbitration clauses or settlement agreements and releases — when determining whether it is effective against a non-signatory third party. The Waiver purports to be an exculpatory contract, and such contracts are generally disfavored by the law. SeeEmployers Liability Assur. Corp. v. Greenville Business Men’s Ass’n., 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620, 623 (1966) (“contracts providing for immunity from liability for negligence must be construed strictly since

they are not favorites of the law”); see alsoSoxman v. Goodge, 372 Pa.Super. 343, 539 A.2d 826, 828 (1988) (“the law … recognized that lying behind [exculpatory] contracts is a residuum of public policy which is antagonistic to carte blanche exculpation from liability and thus developed the rule that these provisions would be strictly construed with every intendment against the party seeking their protection”), quotingPhillips Home Furnishings Inc. v. Continental Bank, 231 Pa.Super. 174, 331 A.2d 840, 843 (1974). Accordingly, a pre-injury exculpatory agreement is valid only when “it does not contravene public policy, is between parties relating entirely to their private affairs, and where each party is a free bargaining agent so that the contract is not one of adhesion.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1177 (2010), citingTopp Copy Prods., Inc. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 626 A.2d 98, 99 (1993). This Court has consistently recognized the exculpatory contract is an agreement that is “intended to diminish legal rights which normally accrue as a result of a given legal relationship or transaction … [which must be] construed strictly against the party seeking [its] protection.” Dilks v. Flohr Chevrolet, Inc., 411 Pa. 425, 192 A.2d 682, 687 (1963), quotingMorton v. Ambridge Borough, 375 Pa. 630, 101 A.2d 661, 663 (1954).

Thus, in determining whether the Waiver provides a defense to appellant’s wrongful death action, we must liberally apply the remedial Act while we simultaneously construe the Waiver strictly against appellee as the party seeking protection from the contract. We would hold the Superior Court did the opposite in its decision below: the court erroneously gave the Waiver the broadest application possible while disregarding the remedial nature of the Act and the public policy considerations underpinning it.[6]

First, we note the Waiver is a contract between Decedent and appellee involving their own private affairs. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1177. The Waiver includes broad language barring Triathlon participants from filing suit to recover damages for injuries or death “which may arise out of, result from, or relate to my participation in the [Triathlon], including claims for Liability caused in whole or in part by the negligence of” appellees. See Waiver attached as Exhibit A to appellee’s Answer and New Matter. However, the Waiver is plainly not an agreement between Triathlon participants’ wrongful death heirs and appellee. We emphasize a wrongful death action belongs solely to a decedent’s heirs, is intended to compensate them, and does not accrue to the decedent. SeeHatwood, 55 A.3d at 1235, quotingMachado v. Kunkel, 804 A.2d 1238, 1246 (Pa. Super. 2002) (“Under the wrongful death act the widow or family is entitled, in addition to costs, to compensation for the loss of the contributions decedent would have made …”). Thus, while a pre-injury exculpatory

waiver might indeed be effective to bar a survival claim by a decedent’s estate, it is quite another thing to conclude the decedent’s agreement acts as a complete defense to statutory claims that are specifically available to his non-signatory heirs. Appellee argues the Waiver provides a complete defense to appellant’s wrongful death claim, but in our considered view, allowing the Waiver to have this effect would require us to ignore the purpose of the Act and the public policy concerns it was specifically enacted to protect.[7]

Our conclusion is consistent with prior Pennsylvania case law arising from wrongful death actions. As this Court has stated, such lawsuits are meant to compensate the statutory beneficiaries, i.e. the spouse, children or parents of the decedent for the pecuniary losses they sustained as a result of their relative’s death. SeeTulewicz, 606 A.2d at 431. Accordingly, our courts have recognized the distinct nature of these claims and have declined to enforce a decedent’s own agreements and obligations against his heirs. SeeButtermore, 561 A.2d at 736 (release signed by husband barred his own action against hospital but not the independent action of wife, who did not sign release); Pisano, 77 A.3d at 660, citingKaczorowski, 184 A. at 664 (wrongful death claim is derived from injury to decedent but it is independent and distinct cause of action; decedent’s agreement to arbitrate not binding on non-signatory heirs); see alsoRickard v. Am. Nat’l Prop. & Cas. Co., 173 A.3d 299 (Pa. Super. 2017) (decedent’s agreement to accept insurance benefits in exchange for allowing subrogation by insurer not binding on non-signatory heirs who recovered damages in subsequent wrongful death action against tortfeasor). The Waiver in this regard is analogous to the settlement and release agreement at issue in Buttermore, or the arbitration agreement in Pisano .

We observe that the undisputed purpose of the Act is “to provide a cause of action against one whose tortious conduct caused the death of another.” Amadio, 501 A.2d at 1087. And, as we have stated, exculpatory contracts must be read narrowly. SeeDilks, 192 A.2d at 687; see alsoTayar v. Camelback Ski Corp. Inc., 616 Pa. 385, 47 A.3d 1190, 1196 (2012) (for exculpatory clause to be enforceable “contract language must be construed strictly”), quotingTopp Copy, 626 A.2d at 99. Allowing the Waiver to have a broad exculpatory effect with respect to non-signatory wrongful death claimants would essentially make the right the General Assembly created for certain heirs through the Act an illusory one. Abrogation of an express statutory right to recovery in this way violates public policy, and a pre-injury exculpatory waiver that contravenes public policy is invalid and unenforceable. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1177. Cf.Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1203 (curtailing purported effect of waiver on public policy grounds). Moreover, our recognition of relevant public policy concerns in this regard does not constitute “creation” of public policy. See OISA at 947. Our law is clear that determination of whether contract terms may be avoided on public policy grounds “requires a showing of overriding public policy from legal precedents [or] governmental practice ….” Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1199. The public policy

we recognize here is well-established in both judicial precedents and statutory enactment. This Court has declined to enforce exculpatory contracts “[w]here the legislature has, by definite and unequivocal language, determined the public policy of this Commonwealth with regard to a particular subject, [because] that pronouncement cannot be set aside and rendered unenforceable by a contract between individuals.” Boyd v. Smith, 372 Pa. 306, 94 A.2d 44, 46 (1953) (exculpatory waiver of liability unenforceable on public policy grounds due to conflict with statute). Precluding the use of the Waiver as a carte blanche automatic defense to wrongful death actions comports with the remedial purpose and protection expressed in the Act. A contrary holding elevates a private contract above public policy embodied in a statutory enactment, and overrides our jurisprudence directing a narrow and strict construction of exculpatory waivers.

Accordingly, we would hold the Waiver is void and unenforceable with respect to appellant’s wrongful death claims and, as such, the Waiver should not be available to appellee as a defense in the underlying wrongful death litigation.[8] We would hold the Superior Court erred in affirming summary judgment in favor of appellee on that basis, and reverse and remand to the trial court for further proceedings on appellant’s wrongful death claim.

Justice Donohue and Justice Mundy join this opinion in support of reversal.

OPINION IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL

DONOHUE, JUSTICE.

I join Justice Dougherty’s Opinion in Support of Reversal (“OISR”) in full. I too disagree with the Superior Court’s conclusion that the Decedent’s exculpatory agreement may serve as a complete defense to the wrongful death heir’s claim against the Triathlon. I write separately to express my view that, in light of the derivative nature of wrongful death actions, the Superior Court was technically correct in its analysis of the mechanical operation of the liability waiver in reaching its conclusion. However, when the mechanical operation of the law works to defeat the purpose of a remedial statute like the Wrongful Death Act, by way of the broad enforcement of a legally disfavored exculpatory agreement, the mechanical operation must yield.

As Justice Dougherty explains, this Court has repeatedly affirmed a requirement that exculpatory agreements must be narrowly and strictly construed because exculpatory language, which purports to relieve a person of liability even when he has negligently caused injury to another, is not favored in the law. OISR (Dougherty, J.) at 952-53, 954-55 (citing Employers Liability Assur. Corp. v. Greenville Business Men’s Ass’n., 423 Pa. 288, 224 A.2d 620, 623 (1966); Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1189 (2010); Topp Copy Prods. Inc. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 626 A.2d 98 (1993);

Dilks v. Flohr Chevrolet, Inc., 411 Pa. 425, 192 A.2d 682, 687 (1963)). Here, Appellant does not challenge the validity or the enforceability of the contractual assumption of risk in the survival action she brought (as administratrix) on behalf of Decedent’s estate. Therefore, for purposes of this appeal, the liability waiver is valid and enforceable as a complete defense to the survival action. As between the Triathlon and Decedent, there is a knowing and voluntary agreement to extinguish Decedent’s ability to recover for claims of ordinary negligence.

I believe that we must, however, decline to allow the liability waiver to defeat a wrongful death action brought by heirs who never agreed, expressly or otherwise, to eliminate their statutory right to recover for their pecuniary loss resulting from the death of their loved one that, as alleged, was tortious but for the liability waiver. Allowing the liability waiver to defeat the wrongful death action, as the Superior Court did, gives the waiver the broadest possible reading, contrary to our mandate to narrowly construe such provisions. The tenet of strict construction requires that we limit this liability waiver to its narrowest effect: a bar to recovery under the survival action.

Moreover, as noted by Justice Dougherty, for an exculpatory waiver to be valid, it must meet three conditions: it must not contravene public policy, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs, and each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion. OISR (Dougherty, J.) at 952-53 (citing Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1177). As to these first two prongs, this Court’s decision in Boyd v. Smith, 372 Pa. 306, 94 A.2d 44 (1953), is instructive. In Boyd, an agreement between a property owner and a tenant relieved the property owner from liability for any injury occasioned by the property owner’s negligence in the maintenance of the leased building. Boyd, 94 A.2d at 45. However, pursuant to statute, “no building … shall be used for human habitation unless it is equipped with a fire escape or fire escapes as required by law.” Id. (quoting 53 P.S. § 3962). The property in question was not equipped with fire escapes. The building caught fire and, unable to escape the building by fire escape, the tenant sustained serious injuries and sued. The property owner attempted to rely on the exculpatory agreement in the lease to avoid liability.

We declined to find the waiver enforceable, explaining:

Such a protective clause is undoubtedly valid and enforceable if it does not contravene any policy of the law, that is, if it is not a matter of interest to the public or the state but merely an agreement between persons relating entirely to their private affairs. The situation becomes an entirely different one in the eye of the law when the legislation in question is, as here, a police measure obviously intended for the protection of human life; in such event public policy does not permit an individual to waive the protection which the statute is designed to afford him.

Id. at 46. We further held, “where the legislature has, by definite and unequivocal language, determined the public policy of this Commonwealth with regard to a particular subject, that pronouncement cannot be set aside and rendered unenforceable by a contract between individuals.” Id.

We are tasked here with determining the legal effect of a liability waiver upon a third party, not the signatory – a far more extreme reach of the waiver of liability than in Boyd . However, as in Boyd, the fullest enforcement of the liability waiver would contravene an unequivocal policy determination by the General Assembly,

namely that wrongful death heirs are entitled to recover pecuniary losses from the party responsible for their provider’s death. See OISR (Dougherty, J.) at 952-53, 954.

The Wrongful Death Act, which is remedial in nature and must be construed liberally, assures that surviving heirs do not need to go without financial support nor look to public welfare agencies to shoulder the economic burden of the loss of a provider. SeeKaczorowski, 184 A. at 665; see alsoGershon v. Regency Diving Center, 368 N.J.Super. 237, 845 A.2d 720, 728 (2004) (observing that, “in many wrongful death cases the decedent was the ‘breadwinner’ and the heirs are children, incompetents or those otherwise economically dependent on the decedent”). Notably, in the case at bar, Decedent was a forty-year-old husband and father of two who worked full-time for United Parcel Service and part-time as a licensed realtor. See Appellant’s Response to Triathlon’s Motion for Summary Judgment at 2.

Allowing the Triathlon to use Decedent’s waiver of liability to defeat a wrongful death claim would require us to ignore clear public policy embedded in the wrongful death statute and our laws governing decedents more generally. Analogously, the General Assembly has for centuries prohibited spousal disinheritance by will in order to ensure the surviving spouse’s financial security after the decedent’s death. SeeIn re Houston’s Estate, 371 Pa. 396, 89 A.2d 525, 526 (1952); see also 20 Pa.C.S. § 2203 (authorizing a surviving spouse to take against the will an elective share of one-third of the deceased’s property, subject to certain exceptions, thereby ensuring the surviving spouse’s right to some inheritance). Thus, a married individual cannot eliminate his spouse’s statutory entitlement, even through an attempted disinheritance in a last will and testament. In my view, it is impossible to reconcile allowing a sporting event participant to eradicate a statutory claim for wrongful death damages when he could not accomplish a disinheritance by virtue of a will. For this reason, and because liability waivers are disfavored, I join Justice Dougherty in narrowly construing the liability waiver so that it is enforceable only in the survival action brought on behalf of Decedent’s estate, where it was not challenged. Cf.Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1203 (curtailing purported effect of waiver on public policy grounds). So construed, it has no effect on the wrongful death action. Like Justice Dougherty, I would decline to give any effect to the Decedent’s contractual waiver of the Triathlon’s duty of care in the wrongful death action because doing so would implicate public, not merely private, affairs and would contravene the policy set forth by our legislature in the Wrongful Death Act which we must liberally construe. OISR (Dougherty, J.) at 954-55; see alsoChepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1189; Boyd, 94 A.2d at 46.

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Notes:

[1] We also granted allowance of appeal to determine whether to abolish the assumption of the risk doctrine under circumstances where the Comparative Negligence Act does not expressly permit its application. Appellant, however, waived this issue by not challenging the overall viability of the assumption of the risk doctrine in the lower tribunals. See Pa.R.A.P. 302(a) (providing that “[i]ssues not raised in the lower court are waived and cannot be raised for the first time on appeal”).

[2] In block capital lettering above the signature line, the Agreement stated that Decedent’s acceptance of the Agreement confirmed that he read and understood its terms, that he understood that he would surrender substantial rights, including the right to sue, and that Decedent signed the agreement freely and voluntarily. Id. This final paragraph went on to state that acceptance of the Agreement constituted “a complete and unconditional release of all liability to the greatest extent allowed by law.” Id.

[3] In Pisano, the decedent had executed an agreement at the time of his admission to a long-term care nursing facility (“Extendicare”), providing that any dispute arising from the agreement would be resolved by binding arbitration. Id. at 653. The decedent’s son subsequently commenced a wrongful death action against Extendicare in the trial court. Extendicare filed preliminary objections, seeking to have the case dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court overruled Extendicare’s preliminary objections, holding that a wrongful death action is a creature of statute and is independent of the right of action of the decedent’s estate. Id. at 654. Thus, the trial court concluded, the decedent’s agreement to arbitrate disputes did not preclude the wrongful death claim brought by the decedent’s son. Id.

The Superior Court affirmed. The court reasoned that pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301, a wrongful death action is not derivative of the decedent’s claim, but is a separate and distinct right of action belonging to statutory claimants to compensate them for damages they sustained as a result of the decedent’s death. Id. at 656-8. The Pisano court concluded that the arbitration agreement was not binding on the decedent’s son because he was not a party to that agreement; thus, the trial court was correct in refusing to compel arbitration.

[4] Notably, the Superior Court presumed the validity of the Agreement as Appellant presented no claim to the contrary. See id. at 492 n.6 (explaining that Appellant “does not challenge the substantive validity of the liability waiver as a bar to her claims of ordinary negligence. Consequently, we need not address the validity of the exculpatory provisions in the context of this case.”). By declaring the Agreement void as against public policy, the OISR ignores this clear waiver of any challenge to the Agreement on those grounds.

[1] Appellant stipulated to the dismissal of all defendants other than appellee on January 29, 2013, and they are not involved in this appeal. See Stipulation of Dismissal Without Prejudice.

[2] In Pennsylvania, wrongful death claims are separate and distinct from survival claims, although both involve allegations of negligence against the defendant. SeeDubose v. Quinlan, 643 Pa. 244, 173 A.3d 634, 637 (2017); Kiser v. Schulte, 538 Pa. 219, 648 A.2d 1, 4 (1994) (discussing differences between survival and wrongful death claims); Tulewicz v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 529 Pa. 588, 606 A.2d 427, 431 (1992); (“the two actions are designed to compensate two different categories of claimants”); Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., 77 A.3d 651, 654 (Pa. Super. 2013), appeal denied, 624 Pa. 683, 86 A.3d 233 (Pa . 2014) (“Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly distinguished wrongful death claims from survival claims”). The survival claim is the “continuation of a cause of action that accrued to the plaintiff’s decedent while the decedent was alive …. On the other hand, a wrongful death action accrues to the decedent’s heirs when the decedent dies of such an injury ….” Dubose, 173 A.3d at 637. As explained more fully infra, a wrongful death claim is an independent action which belongs to the decedent’s heirs for damages aimed to compensate members of a decedent’s family for their loss. Tulewicz, 606 A.2d at 431.

[3] Judge Olson authored the majority opinion joined by P.J. Gantman, P.J.E. Bender, and Judges Bowes, Shogun and Ott.

[4] In a concurring and dissenting opinion joined by Judges Panella and Lazarus, P.J.E. Ford Elliott determined Buttermore v. Aliquippa Hospital, 522 Pa. 325, 561 A.2d 733 (1989) was instructive on the analysis of the Waiver, despite the majority’s effort to distinguish it. Valentino, 150 A.3d at 501-02 (Ford Elliott, P.J.E., concurring and dissenting). Judge Ford Elliott noted the Waiver is similar to the release in Buttermore, and the non-signatory heir in that case had an independent right to sue for the injury she suffered as a result of her decedent’s death. Id. Judge Ford Elliott stated the majority’s holding the Decedent’s own assumption of risk created a complete defense to his heirs’ wrongful death action would “eviscerate the Pennsylvania wrongful death statute which creates an independent and distinct cause of action, not derivative of the decedent’s rights at time of death.” Id. at 502. Judge Ford Elliott would also have relied on Pisano to reverse summary judgment. Id. at 504.

[5] This Court granted review of this second issue and ordered supplemental briefing via a per curiam order dated January 26, 2018. As acknowledged by the Opinion in Support of Affirmance (OISA), although appellant challenged the effectiveness of the Waiver as it applied to Decedent, she never questioned the overall viability of the doctrine of assumption of the risk below, and the issue is therefore waived. See OISA at 942, n.1.

[6] The OISA suggests our view of the case ignores the question before the Court. See OISA at 942-43. Respectfully, the OISA’s position reveals an overly narrow reading of the issue on appeal, i.e., whether an exculpatory contract can be enforced against non-signatory heirs in a claim made pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act. Seesupra at 950-51. In answering that question, we examine the terms of the Waiver within the context in which it is to be enforced. We cannot disregard the nature of the underlying suit and our jurisprudence guiding our interpretation of exculpatory contracts, which specifically includes a consideration of public policy. SeeChepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1177 (exculpatory agreement is valid only when “it does not contravene public policy …”). Although the question granted on appeal did not include the term “public policy,” we must surely consider public policy when determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid and enforceable under the given circumstances.

[7] The OISA accurately observes an exculpatory agreement would “generally be valid to preclude a participant’s ordinary negligence claims against the purveyor of an inherently dangerous sport or activity,” but nevertheless rejects our view that the same waiver could be ineffective as a defense in a wrongful death claim while providing a viable defense in a survival action. See OISA at 947. We consider the disparate treatment of the Waiver in the two causes of action to be the direct result of the different goals and purposes served by the relevant statutes. Seesupra at 942, n.2.

[8] Importantly, our holding would not render appellee defenseless in that litigation, despite the OISA statement our reading means appellant’s right to relief is “absolute”. See OISA at 947. We recognize a wrongful death action is a tort claim arising from the alleged “wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301. Appellant must still prove the elements of her case, including causation, before any recovery would be assured. See, e.g.,Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 576 Pa. 644, 841 A.2d 1000, 1008 (2003) (to maintain negligence action, plaintiff must show defendant had duty to conform to standard of conduct, breach of duty, the breach caused the injury, and the injury resulted in damages).

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Ohio Appellate decision defines assumption of the risk under Ohio law and looks at whether spectators assume the risk.

Spectators are always the biggest risk of many outdoor recreational activities. Even if they are behind fences or lines, the creep closer to the event and if a competitor leaves the track or run, it is the event host who might pay for the damages to the spectators.

Ochall et al., v. McNamer et al., 2016-Ohio-8493; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 5337

State: Ohio, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County

Plaintiff: Andrea Ochall et al.,

Defendant: William M. McNamer et al.,

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, recklessness, negligent and/or reckless design, construction, operation and maintenance, failure to warn or instruct, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, vicarious liability, and loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the Defendants

Year: 2016

This court was almost tedious in its review of the facts and the application of the law to the facts in this case. This case is another one outside of the normal scope of this review; however, it covers assumption of the risk in infinite detail under Ohio’s law and deals with claims of spectators. Spectators are present at most sporting events and in some cases assume the risk, like the baseball rule at baseball games and sometimes do not.

The defendant land owner’s kids built  a go-kart track. The decision involves a go-kart track in a homeowner’s back yard. The track was just a simple asphalt track. There were no barriers, no bleachers, nothing else except one bench. The land owner worked for a paving company so the track was paved. There was also a paved driveway from the barn where the go-karts were kept to the track. The track was built for no other purpose than for the use and enjoyment of the landowners and people they might invite over.

The track owner’s next-door neighbors used the track a lot and owned a go-kart that was stored with the landowner’s go-karts. However, the neighbors never used the track without asking permission before hand.

One day, the neighbors wanted to invite their friends to the track. Those friends became the plaintiffs.

Everyone took turns driving go-karts around the track, including the plaintiff. When not driving the go-karts, most of the people seemed to congregate on the asphalt drive between the track and the barn. The plaintiff argued this was a safe environment and the place to stand. There were no barriers between this or any place around the track and the track.

Various times during the day, different people drove off the track. After going off the track people simply drove back on the track and kept racing.

When not racing, the plaintiff was taking pictures. Taking pictures obscured the plaintiff’s view of what was going on sometimes.

During one race, the headband of one of the go-kart drivers slid down over her eyes. She grabbed the headband and through it off. While doing so she drove off the track striking the plaintiff.

The last picture the plaintiff took was the driver throwing her headband off.

The plaintiff’s sued the paving company the landowner worked for, as well as the landowner. The paving company was dismissed earlier on its motion and was not part of this discussion.

The plaintiff’s sued the landowner and the neighbors who invited them. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based on various motions filed by the different defendants. The plaintiff appealed. The arguments presented in the various motions were boiled down to two and discussed without regard to the plaintiffs and all defendants even though they filed separate motions.

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

The appellate court first looked at assumption of the risk and whether it applied to this case. Assumption of the risk means the defendant owes the plaintiff no duty. Therefore, there is no negligence. Ohio recognizes three types of assumption of the risk: express, primary and secondary (implied).

Ohio law recognizes three categories of assumption of the risk as defenses to a negligence claim: express, primary, and implied or secondary.” “Express assumption of the risk applies when parties expressly agree to release liability.” “Implied assumption of risk is defined as plaintiff’s consent to or acquiescence in an appreciated, known or obvious risk to plaintiff’s safety.” “Under this approach to assumption of risk, defendant owes to plaintiff some duty, but it is plaintiff’s acquiescence in or appreciation of a known risk that acts as a defense to plaintiff’s action.”

Primary assumption of the risk is the defense that is applied to people who voluntarily engage in sports or recreational activities.

Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries.”

The argument for this is some sports or recreational activities cannot be played without risk. If the risk is removed from the sport, then the value in playing or the sport disappears. Another baseball example is the batter assumes the risk of being hit by a badly thrown pitch. If you remove that risk, the batter has nothing to swing at and there is no game of baseball.

By participating in an activity, the plaintiff “tacitly consent[s]” to the risk of injury inherent in the activity. Id. The test requires that: “(1) the danger is ordinary to the game, (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.”

Ohio law applies the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to participants and spectators alike [emphasize added].

Thus, courts apply the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities, and generally extend the doctrine to relieve liability of owners, operators, and sponsors of recreational activities. The doctrine applies regardless of whether the activity was engaged in by children or adults, or was organized, unorganized, supervised, or unsupervised. The doctrine also applies to spectators and participants alike.

Assumption of the risk when applied to a sport or recreational activity is not dependent upon the plaintiff’s knowledge and appreciation of the risks of the sport or activity. Normally to assume the risk a person must know and understand the risk as required in primary assumption of the risk. In sporting or recreational activities, knowledge of the risk is immaterial. Whether a participant assumes the risk is solely based on the risks of the sport, not what the participant knows.

Furthermore, when considering primary assumption of the risk, “the injured plaintiff’s subjective consent to and appreciation for the inherent risks are immaterial to the analysis.” (Noting that the plaintiff’s subjective consent to the inherent risks of an activity are immaterial, because “[t]hose entirely ignorant of the risks of the activity, still assume the risk by participating in the activity”). Indeed, “primary assumption of risk requires an examination of the activity itself and not plaintiff’s conduct.”

Those risks that apply are the ones directly associated with the activity. Consequently, a court must proceed with caution when examining the activity and the risks because assumption of the risk is a complete bar because no negligence can be proved. Was the risk that injured the plaintiff a risk of the sport and if so, was that risk increased by the activity of the defendant. If the risks are part and parcel of the sport, then the defendant does not owe a duty to the plaintiff.

[O]nly those risks directly associated with the activity in question are within the scope of primary assumption of risk.'” “The affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk completely negates a negligence claim because the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff against the inherent risks of the recreational activity in which the plaintiff engages.”

The doctrine of applying primary assumption of the risk to sports and recreational activities was created to ensure the sport was played vigorously and freely without fear of reprisal.

The “goal” of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine “is to strike a balance between encouraging vigorous and free participation in recreational or sports activities, while ensuring the safety of the players.” that the “overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature”);…

That doctrine then defines primary assumption of the risk when applied to a sport as:

…where injuries stem from ‘conduct that is a foreseeable, customary’ part of the activity, the defendant ‘cannot be held liable for negligence because no duty is owed to protect the victim from that conduct.’

The test is then applied with a three-part test.

Under the three-part test, a danger ordinary to a game is a danger which is customary to the game. (observing that “[f]alling is an ordinary danger of ice-skating,” and that “[c]olliding with the perimeter boards is an ordinary danger of ice rink skating”). When a danger is a foreseeable part of a game, there will be common knowledge that the danger exists.

Risks that are “foreseeable, common, and customary risks of the activity” are therefore assumed by participants whether they knew of the risks or not. The Ohio Supreme Court further defined the definition to mean “‘[t]o be covered under the doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.’”

Looking at the risks of go-karting the court found that it was an inherent risk of the sport for a go-kart to leave the track. (Since go-karts had been leaving the track all day, this seems pretty implicit and also gives the plaintiff notice of the risk, although not required by the definition of primary assumption of the risk.)

Pursuant to our de novo review, we have determined that an inherent risk of go-karting is the risk that a go-kart will deviate from its intended course upon the track and strike any object, which may be present around the track. As such, absent evidence of reckless or intentional conduct, primary assumption of the risk applies to the facts of this case and defeats appellants’ negligence claims. Accordingly, we have reached the same result as the trial court, albeit for different reasons.

Primary assumption of the risk barred the claims of the plaintiffs.

The court then looked at whether the actions of the driver who left the track and struck the plaintiff where reckless which would defeat the defense of assumption of the risk. The court looked at the definition of recklessness under Ohio’s law.

An actor’s conduct is reckless when the actor “‘does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another,'” but also “‘that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.

That conduct must be measured against how the sport is played.

What constitutes an unreasonable risk under the circumstances of a sporting event must be delineated with reference to the way the particular game is played, i.e., the rules and customs that shape the participants’ ideas of foreseeable conduct in the course of a game.”

Thus, “[i]f the rules of a sport allow conduct intended to harm another player, as they do in boxing or football, for example, it follows that those same rules allow behavior that would otherwise give rise to liability for recklessness.”

The plaintiff argued the defendants were reckless in failing to inform the plaintiff of the rules of the track. The court found there were no rules and there was no obligation to create them. The track was a backyard track built by the songs of the landowner for their enjoyment. There were no rules nor was there a requirement for the landowner to create rules for the use of the track.

Additionally, there is no duty to reduce or eliminate the risks of a recreational activity. The only duty is to not increase the risk of the activity. Consequently, the land owners did not owe a duty to create rules for the track or to inform the spectators of any rules if they were created.

Courts from other jurisdictions, however, have held that “operators, sponsors and instructors in recreational activities posing inherent risks of injury have no duty to eliminate those risks, but do owe participants the duty not to unreasonably increase the risks of injury beyond those inherent in the activity

The son of the landowner who built the track stated he had a ruled that spectators should stay in the barn. However, he had never enforced the rule. The court found that rule of no real value and no duty to create, enforce it or tell the plaintiff about it.

Accordingly, as the organizer of the go-karting event that day, the McNamers owed appellants the duty to not increase the risk of harm beyond the risks inherent in the activity. Failing to inform appellants about Brian McMillen’s rule did not increase the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting, as it did not increase the risk that go-karts would crash into one another, or that a driver would lose control of their go-kart and deviate from the track. Accordingly, the McNamers did not have a duty to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s rule. Construing the evidence in appellants favor, we find no evidence demonstrating that the McNamers intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Accordingly, appellants have failed to demonstrate that the McNamers were reckless by failing to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s rule.

There was a bench located near the track. The defendant land owner’s son argued it was for racers to sit on between races to rest. The plaintiff argued it was there for spectators and built to entice the plaintiff to stand near it where she was injured. However, the court did not agree with this argument either.

However, there is no evidence indicating that the McMillens placed the bench there to “entice” people to congregate in that area. More importantly, the bench did not conceal any danger from appellants. The bench did not obscure appellants’ ability to see the barrier-less nature of the track or the go-karts driving off the track. There also was no evidence indicating that Mrs. Ochall ever sat on the bench; rather, the evidence indicated that Mrs. Ochall “moved around quite a bit to take photographs.”

The plaintiff’s then argued it was reckless of the defendants to conceal the dangers of the track by failing to warn them of the risks or educating them of the dangers. However, they could not tie these arguments, failing to warn, to the injury received by the plaintiff. The court found even if they had been informed of the risks, it would not have changed anything; the plaintiff would still have probably been injured.

Another recklessness claim was directed at the adults in charge of the minor driver who injured the plaintiff when she drove off the track. However, again, they could not relate those claims to the cause of the accident.

Indeed, appellants fail to make any connection between Doe’s allegedly aggressive driving and the accident. The record indicates only that it was an unfortunate slip of Doe’s headband, and Doe’s attendant need to remove her hand from the wheel in order to remove the headband from her face, which caused the accident. There is nothing in the record indicating that Doe’s alleged aggressive driving caused the accident.

Finally, the plaintiff claimed the minor driver was reckless in how she drove.

Finally, Doe’s act of removing her headband from her line of vision did not amount to reckless conduct. Doe did not remove the headband with any conscious choice of action, or with knowledge that doing so would cause her go-kart to jerk, veer off the track, and strike Mrs. Ochall.

This argument failed because reckless conduct is a conscious act. There was no conscious decision to drive off the track. The decision was to remove the headband when it was blinding her.

…reckless misconduct requires a conscious choice of a course of action, either with knowledge of the serious danger to others involved in it or with knowledge of facts which would disclose this danger to any reasonable man

The court could not find in the plaintiff’s recklessness arguments, a proximate cause or a relationship in the arguments that might have or would have changed the way things happened.

However, every tragic accident does not result in tort liability. Because Mrs. Ochall primarily assumed the risk of injury when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track, and no defendant engaged in reckless or intentional misconduct, the trial court properly granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Having overruled appellants’ first and second assignments of error, we affirm the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. As we have overruled the appellants’ assignments of error, the McMillens withdraw their assignment of error on cross-appeal.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court, and the case was dismissed.

So Now What?

The first issue is assumption of the risk applies to spectators. Spectators have always been the unknown possible lawsuit at events. Spectators usually pay to see the event so recreational use statutes provide no protection. They do not sign releases because they are not participating. However, based on this definition of assumption of the risk and the idea that a spectator should assume the risk because they watch the sport, a spectator is prevented from sung when injured under Ohio Law.

The second issue is the clear definitions of assumption of the risk defined in this.

On a side note, the plaintiff hired an expert witness who opined that the landowner should have built a small elevated wooden platform for spectators to stand on next to the track.

Hawn stated that a “reasonable solution to the safety issue for persons afoot” was to construct “a small elevated wooden platform (~7-8 inches in height) on the infield side of the start/finish/staging area.” Hawn concluded that the “failure to either provide a safe observation location or to otherwise dictate, communicate and enforce safety rules to protect guests from the potential hazard associated with spectating was unreasonable and made this an unsafe environment for persons afoot.”

The expert also opined that the spectator’s area should have been relocated to the inside of the track and elevated. (So you have a group of people above the track level all turning around together to watch the race……)

Can you see what would happen at backyard playgrounds, sandboxes and every other play or recreational device in backyards? Sand boxes would have to come with sneeze guards you see on salad bars so sand could not accidentally be thrown in a grandparent’s face.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Ochall et al., v. McNamer et al., 2016-Ohio-8493; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 5337

Ochall et al., v. McNamer et al., 2016-Ohio-8493; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 5337

Andrea Ochall et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. William M. McNamer et al., Defendants-Appellees, Mark McMillen et al., Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

No. 15AP-772

COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO, TENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, FRANKLIN COUNTY

2016-Ohio-8493; 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 5337

December 29, 2016, Rendered

PRIOR HISTORY:  [**1] APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. (C.P.C. No. 14CV-5498).

DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: On brief: Kitrick, Lewis & Harris, Co. LPA, Mark Lewis, Mark Kitrick, and Elizabeth Mote, for appellants. Argued: Mark Lewis.

On brief: The Carr Law Office, LLC, Adam E. Carr, and Eric K. Grinnell, for appellees William M. and Elizabeth McNamer. Argued: Adam E. Carr.

On brief: Lane Alton, Joseph A. Gerling, and Monica L. Waller, for appellees/cross-appellants Sharon and Mark McMillen. Argued: Monica L. Waller.

On brief: Hollern & Associates, and Edwin J. Hollern, for appellees James Porter and Jane Doe # 1. Argued: Edwin J. Hollern.

JUDGES: KLATT, J. SADLER, J., concurs. DORRIAN, P.J., concurs in and part dissents in part.

OPINION BY: KLATT

OPINION

(REGULAR CALENDAR)

DECISION

KLATT, J.

[*P1]  Plaintiffs-appellants, Andrea Ochall, her husband Robert Ochall, and their two minor children, appeal from a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, granting the motions for summary judgment of defendants-appellees, Sharon and Mark McMillen, James Porter and his minor daughter, Jane Doe, and William and Elizabeth McNamer (“Liz”). For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[*P2]  On May 23, 2014, appellants [**2]  filed a complaint against the McNamers, the McMillens, Porter, Doe, McMillen Paving and Sealing, Inc. (“MP&S”), and McMillen Paving, Inc. The complaint asserted claims for negligence, recklessness, negligent and/or reckless design, construction, operation and maintenance, failure to warn or instruct, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, vicarious liability, and loss of consortium. The events giving rise to the complaint occurred on September 20, 2013, when Mrs. Ochall was seriously injured while watching a go-kart race on the McMillens’ property.

[*P3]  On the day of the incident, the McNamers had invited the Ochalls to their home in Hilliard, Ohio, for the purpose of using the go-kart track located on the McMillens’ property. The McNamers and the McMillens are next-door neighbors and very good friends. Liz McNamer and Robert Ochall are co-workers, and Liz McNamer had previously invited the Ochalls over to use the McMillens go-kart track in 2011. The Ochall family, both the adults and their two children, drove go-karts on the McMillens’ track during their visit in 2011. The Ochalls, however, had never met the McMillens before filing the [**3]  present lawsuit.

[*P4]  The McMillens’ son, Brian McMillen, with assistance from his younger brother Scott, constructed the go-kart track in the McMillens’ backyard between 1994-1995, when Brian was between the ages of 18 and 19-years-old. The McMillens own and operate a paving and sealing company, MP&S. Brian is now the vice president of MP&S, but was not when he originally constructed the track.

[*P5]  Brian and his brother built the track in their spare time, and used some company equipment to build it. The McMillens routinely used company equipment on their home projects. Brian explained that the track “basically is a twisted up driveway.” (Jan. 5, 2015 Brian McMillen Dep. at 62.) The McMillens have never charged anyone money to use the track and they do not operate the track commercially, it is something they simply use “to [their] liking.” Id. at 88.

[*P6]  Although the McNamers and the McMillens are close frends, the McNamers would always ask the McMillens for permission before bringing guests over to use the track. Thus, prior to the Ochalls’ 2013 visit, Liz McNamer asked the McMillens if they could bring the Ochalls over to use the track. The McMillens said yes, and Mark McMillen opened the McMillens’ [**4]  barn and prepared the go-karts for the group’s use.

[*P7]  The McMillens own five go-karts and the McNamers own one go-kart, but the go-karts are all the same make and model. Brian McMillen purchased all the go-karts from the same vendor shortly after he constructed the track, and the McNamers paid the McMillens directly for their one go-kart. Brian explained that he selected these specific go-karts because he “didn’t want to go so fast out there” so that people would “need helmets.” Id. at 109. Brian noted that the go-karts have “a bumper, * * * a full harness and had a roll cage,” and could reach a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour. Id. Brian also noted that he could not “recall whether or not we actually got a manual for the karts,” noting that he did not “remember even seeing a manual.” Id. at 115. The go-karts all have stickers on the back which advise the drivers that there is no bumping.

[*P8]  The McMillens store their go-karts in their barn, and there is a paved driveway which connects the barn to the track. The driveway connects with the track at the track’s start/finish line. Porter explained that people would generally congregate on the paved area next to the start/finish line in order “to trade positions [**5]  with the drivers or to watch people driving by.” (Dec. 30, 2014 James J. Porter Dep. at 41.) Liz McNamer stated that she “always stood” on the paved area near the start/finish line when she was at the track. (Feb. 10, 2015 Elizabeth G. McNamer Dep. at 56-57.) Mrs. Ochall stated that, during her visit in 2011, she was “instructed to stand in that — that particular area” by Liz McNamer. (Dec. 4, 2014 Andrea L. Ochall Dep. at 29.) No one told Mrs. Ochall where to stand during the 2013 visit. Id. at 135-36.

[*P9]  Brian McMillen testified that he designed the track “not to have any spectators.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 168.) Brian explained that, when he took “people out there, that’s part of my deal: Stay up in the barn until you come up and get in a kart.” Id. at 175. He also noted that anyone at the track had to “be aware. You’ve got cars going around the track. You have to be aware that that’s an issue.” Id. Mark McMillen had placed a bench at the back edge of that paved area next to the start/finish line. Brian explained that the bench was “by no means a bleacher,” as it was there simply for drivers to rest on between and after races. Id. at 170-71.

[*P10]  There are no barriers around the McMillens’ go-kart track, only painted edge lines. [**6]  Brian McMillen explained that he purposely did not construct barriers because barriers “would just be something for a kart to hit,” and would “give a much greater probability of making a car go airborn and possible flipping.” Id. at 168, 232. Accordingly, when driving on the McMillens’ go-kart track, “there are times you go off the track on a turn or you veer off for some reason or another. * * * And that happens regularly.” (J. Porter Dep. at 38.) Liz McNamer noted that she “went off into the grass” the first time she drove on the track. (L. McNamer Dep. at 40, 42.) She explained that it was “safe” for a driver to “go off the track and come back on.” Id. at 108-09. Porter noted that he had seen go-karts go off the track on the “big turns, * * * on the little turns, * * * on the straightaways,” and specifically stated that he had seen go-karts go off the track “coming out that final turn into the start/stop” area. (J. Porter Dep. at 38-39; 45-46.)

[*P11]  On the day of the incident, the Ochalls arrived with their two minor children, and two of their children’s friends. The McNamers’ son-in-law, Porter, was also present with his daughter, and the McNamers’ granddaughter, Doe. Doe was 11 years old; the Ochall children [**7]  and their friends were all 13 years old. The group met at the McNamers’ house, and walked through the adjoining backyards to the McMillens’ go-kart track. The McMillens were not present at the track; Sharon McMillen was at the grocery store and Mark McMillen was inside his home watching a football game.

[*P12]  Liz McNamer gave the group instructions regarding how to operate the go-karts, telling them, “the gas was on one side, the brake was on the other, the steering wheel.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 103.) Liz McNamer observed the children as they drove, noting that “[t]hey seemed to be doing pretty well. They seemed like they were able to manage going around the track.” Id. at 106. Liz McNamer noted that she watched the children driving to make sure that no one was “at risk,” and noted that she “didn’t see that.” Id. at 117.

[*P13]  There were more people than go-karts during the 2013 event, so both the adults and the children rotated using the go-karts throughout the day. As was typical at the McMillens’ track, multiple drivers drove off the track that day. Doe’s go-kart came all the way off the track and went into the grass, and Porter’s go-kart came partially off the track. One of the Ochall children drove off the track, “[a]ll [**8]  four wheels were off the track,” and Porter “had to push him out.” (J. Porter Dep. at 93, 95-96.) Liz McNamer stated that she “observed that day each child went off the track at some capacity.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 109.) Liz McNamer testified that, when Doe’s go-kart left the track earlier in the day, she spoke to her granddaughter and “cautioned her and advised her just to be careful. The ground was pretty saturated. * * * There was water standing, so I just wanted her to be aware and, you know, just cautioned her.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 129.)

[*P14]  Mrs. Ochall was aware that there were “no barriers, there’s no safety barriers” around the track. (A. Ochall Dep. at 137.) Mrs. Ochall also witnessed go-karts driving off the track on the day of the incident, and admitted that she knew “that [a go-kart] could come off the track.” Id. at 139. Indeed, two photographs Mrs. Ochall took that day depict go-karts which had driven partially and completely off the track. (See A. Ochall Dep; Defs.’ Exs. 3 and 4.) However, Mrs. Ochall believed that the paved area next to the start/finish line was “a safe environment. That is a safe zone.” (A. Ochall Dep. at 137.) No one ever told Mrs. Ochall that the paved area was [**9]  a safe zone. (See Dec. 4, 2014 Robert W. Ochall Dep. at 13; A. Ochall Dep. at 191.)

[*P15]  Mrs. Ochall drove a go-kart on the day of the incident. After driving, she stood around the track taking pictures. Mrs. Ochall’s camera had a telephoto lens, and there was a cup she had to put her eye up to in order to use the camera. Because she was taking pictures “one right after the other,” Mrs. Ochall admitted that she was “[n]ot always” able to see what was going on around her. Id. at 139-40. She admitted that her vision was “[p]robably” obstructed by her camera. Id. at 140.

[*P16]  After one to two hours at the track, the group decided they would hold one last race. Porter, Mr. and Mrs. Ochall, Mr. and Mrs. McNamer, and an Ochall child were all standing in the paved area adjoining the track near the start/finish line; the others participated in the race. During the second lap of the race, as Doe came into the turn which approached the start/finish area, “her hair band went over her eyes. She had grabbed it and thrown it off to get better vision. So as she grabbed it and thrown it off, * * * she went straight through” the paved area next to the track and struck Mrs. Ochall. (J. Porter Dep. at 117.) Mrs. Ochall was standing “10-12 feet to [**10]  the south of the painted edge line which delineated the marked boundary of the track surface” when the accident occurred. (Pls.’ Ex. C., Apr. 9, 2013 Choya R. Hawn Acc. Reconstruction Report at 8.) Porter noted that, the cars are “hard to steer with one hand,” so when Doe threw her headband “she kind of jerked as well,” which caused her to veer off the track. (J. Porter Dep. at 117.) Doe confirmed these events and told her father immediately after the incident that her “headband slipped over her eyes, and she threw it out and lost control.” Id. at 130.

[*P17]  Doe’s go-kart struck Mrs. Ochall directly and flung her into the air. When Mrs. Ochall landed, she suffered a serious spinal cord injury. The last photograph Mrs. Ochall took that day depicts Doe throwing her headband. (See A. Ochall Dep.; Defs.’ Ex. 5.) Prior to Mrs. Ochall’s injury, no one had ever been injured at the McMillens’ go-kart track. (L. McNamer Dep. at 44-45.)

[*P18]  Although each defendant filed separate motions for summary judgment, all defendants alleged that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred appellants’ negligence claims, and that there was no evidence of reckless or intentional misconduct. The McMillens further asserted [**11]  that, as they did not invite the Ochalls to their property, they could not be considered the social hosts of the Ochalls. The McNamers asserted that, as they were not the property owners, they could not be held liable for any condition on the McMillens property. MP&S and McMillen Paving, Inc. argued that McMillen Paving, Inc. was a shell corporation with no assets, and that MP&S did not design or construct the track.

[*P19]  Appellants filed a memorandum contra the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, asserting that “[n]othing occurred to alert [Mrs. Ochall] to any danger of go-karts driving into spectators in the seating area.” (Apr. 14, 2015 Pls.’ Memo. Contra at 8.) Appellants argued that primary assumption of the risk did not apply to the facts of this case, because the track was designed defectively and because all of the defendants had acted recklessly.

[*P20]  Appellants supported their memorandum contra with the report of their accident reconstruction expert, Choya Hawn. Hawn observed that, “[i]n the absence of any persons afoot the original track design was in [his] opinion reasonably safe for the ‘go-kart operators.'” (Emphasis sic.) (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 13.) Hawn stated that a “reasonable [**12]  solution to the safety issue for persons afoot” was to construct “a small elevated wooden platform (~7-8 inches in height) on the infield side of the start/finish/staging area.” Id. at 16. Hawn concluded that the “failure to either provide a safe observation location or to otherwise dictate, communicate and enforce safety rules to protect guests from the potential hazard associated with spectating was unreasonable and made this an unsafe environment for persons afoot.” Id. at 16, 18.

[*P21]  On May 6, 2015, the court issued a decision and entry denying the McMillens’ motion for summary judgment, in part, and granting the business entities’ motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that, as the McNamers had asked the McMillens if they could bring the Ochalls to the McMillens property, and the McMillens had granted the McNamers permission to do so, “an implied invitation between the McMillens and Plaintiffs occurred.” (May 6, 2015 Decision & Entry at 4.) As such, the court concluded that the Ochalls were the social guests of the McMillens. Regarding the entities, the court determined that McMillen Paving, Inc. had “never performed any business nor held assets, and never acted in the creation of the go-kart [**13]  track,” such that the company was an “inappropriate party to the suit.” Id. at 5. Regarding MP&S, the court concluded that the company “was not employed to create or maintain the go-kart track,” and that Brian McMillen was not acting in his capacity as an employee of the company when he constructed the track. Id.

[*P22]  On July 31, 2015, the trial court issued a decision and entry granting the McMillens’, the McNamers’, and Porter’s and Doe’s motions for summary judgment. The court observed that go-karting is a recreational activity, and concluded that, “[s]ince the risk of being injured by a go-kart leaving the track [was] a foreseeable risk of go-kart racing on the McMillen track,” the risk was “inherent to go-kart racing on a private, barrier-less backyard track.” (July 31, 2015 Decision & Entry at 7-8.) As such, the court concluded that primary assumption of the risk applied to bar appellants’ negligence claims, and that appellants could only recover if the defendants acted intentionally or recklessly to cause Mrs. Ochall’s injuries.

[*P23]  The “parties agree[d] that no one acted intentionally to injure Andrea Ochall on that day.” Id. at 8. Accordingly, the court addressed whether any of the defendants engaged in reckless [**14]  misconduct. Appellants argued that the defendants were reckless because they failed to enforce Brian McMillen’s no-spectator rule. The court observed that, while Brian McMillen had a no-spectator rule when he was at the track, Brian was not the property owner, and neither the McMillens nor Brian McMillen acknowledged Brian’s personal rule as a track rule. As such, the court concluded that “not allowing adult spectators at or near the track for races [was] not a rule, regulation, custom, or common practice of the track or races conducted at the McMillen track.” Id. at 11. The court also addressed appellants’ argument that the defendants were reckless because they had not read or implemented safety guidelines from the go-kart manufacturer’s or owner’s manuals. The court concluded that no defendant had a duty to inform appellants about those safety guidelines.

[*P24]  Regarding the McMillens, the court noted that, as the property owners, the McMillens had no duty to improve their track, as they only had a duty to “exercise ordinary care to prepare the property for social guests.” Id. at 12. Accordingly, the McMillens did not have “a duty to instruct guests on how to go-kart race or to implement any rules other [**15]  than those which the family uses on their land.” Id. at 14. The court observed that the McMillens merely allowed their neighbors and their neighbor’s guests to use their go-kart track. As such, the court did not find any evidence of reckless conduct by the McMillens.

[*P25]  Regarding the McNamers, the court noted that the McNamers similarly “did not have a duty to instruct guests on how to drive a go-kart.” Id. at 16. Regarding the McNamers supervision of Doe, the court noted that Liz McNamer told her granddaughter once to slow down. The court observed that “[a] single admonishment by a grandparent in the presence of the child’s parent” was “not sufficient evidence of recklessness.” Id. at 19. As there was no evidence indicating that the McNamers told appellants “they ‘had to’ stand on the adjacent asphalt area,” and as Liz McNamer also stood on the adjacent asphalt area, the court could not find that the “McNamer’s action of standing on the adjacent area rose to the level of reckless required by the theory of primary assumption of the risk.” Id. at 20.

[*P26]  Regarding Doe, the court concluded that Doe was not reckless, “because removing a hand from the steering wheel to clear one’s vision is the lesser of two evils. * * * [Doe] [**16]  did not intentionally drive into the spectator area, but was unable to correct her kart’s path in time to not strike Plaintiff.” Id. at 21. Regarding appellants claim that Porter was reckless by not removing Doe from the track earlier in the day, the court concluded that, as there was no evidence demonstrating that Doe was driving recklessly throughout the day, there was no reason why Porter should have removed Doe from the track.

[*P27]  Accordingly, the court concluded that primary assumption of the risk applied to the case, and that there was no evidence of reckless or intentional misconduct. As such, the court found the defendants entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

II. ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

[*P28]  Appellants appeal, assigning the following two assignments of error for our review:

1. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED APPLYING PRIMARY ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK TO HOLD THAT DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES WERE ENTITLED TO JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW.

2. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THERE EXISTED NO GENUINE ISSUES OF MATERIAL FACT CONCERNING DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES’ RECKLESS-NESS, THUS ENTITLING THEM TO JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW.

The McMillens have also filed a contingent cross-appeal, asserting the following sole, [**17]  assignment of error:

The Trial Court erred in denying in part the Motion for Summary Judgment of Appellees/Cross-Appellants Sharon McMillen and Mark McMillen and concluding that Appellants were social guests of the McMillens rather than licensees. The McMillens’ assignment of error is conditional upon the Courts’ ruling on the assignment of error of Appellants. If the Court overrules Appellants’ assignment of error, the McMillens will withdraw the cross-appeal.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

[*P29]   [HN1] Appellate review of summary judgment motions is de novo. Helton v. Scioto County Bd. of Comm’rs, 123 Ohio App. 3d 158, 162, 703 N.E.2d 841 (4th Dist.1997). “When reviewing a trial court’s ruling on summary judgment, the court of appeals conducts an independent review of the record and stands in the shoes of the trial court.” Mergenthal v. Star Banc Corp., 122 Ohio App. 3d 100, 103, 701 N.E.2d 383 (12th Dist.1997). We must affirm the trial court’s judgment if any of the grounds raised by the movant at the trial court are found to support it, even if the trial court failed to consider those grounds. Coventry Twp. v. Ecker, 101 Ohio App.3d 38, 41-42, 654 N.E.2d 1327 (9th Dist.1995).

[*P30]   [HN2] Summary judgment is proper only when the party moving for summary judgment demonstrates that: (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and (3) reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse [**18]  to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence most strongly construed in that party’s favor. Civ.R. 56(C); State ex rel. Grady v. State Emp. Rels. Bd., 78 Ohio St. 3d 181, 183, 1997 Ohio 221, 677 N.E.2d 343 (1997).

[*P31]   [HN3] When seeking summary judgment on the ground that the nonmoving party cannot prove its case, the moving party bears the initial burden of informing the trial court of the basis for the motion, and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact on an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claims. Dresher v. Burt, 75 Ohio St.3d 280, 293, 1996 Ohio 107, 662 N.E.2d 264 (1996). A moving party does not discharge this initial burden under Civ.R. 56 by simply making a conclusory allegation that the nonmoving party has no evidence to prove its case. Id. Rather, the moving party must affirmatively demonstrate by affidavit or other evidence allowed by Civ.R. 56(C) that the nonmoving party has no evidence to support its claims. Id. If the moving party meets this initial burden, then the nonmoving party has a reciprocal burden outlined in Civ.R. 56(E) to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial and, if the nonmoving party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the nonmoving party. Id.

IV. FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF [**19]  ERROR — PRIMARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK

[*P32]  Appellants’ first assignment of error asserts that the trial court erred by applying the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to the instant dispute. Appellants asserted various negligence claims against the defendants, and  [HN4] “in order to establish actionable negligence, one seeking recovery must show the existence of a duty, the breach of the duty, and injury resulting proximately therefrom.” Strother v. Hutchinson, 67 Ohio St.2d 282, 285, 423 N.E.2d 467 (1981), citing Feldman v. Howard, 10 Ohio St.2d 189, 193, 226 N.E.2d 564 (1967). “[A] successful primary assumption of risk defense means that the duty element of negligence is not established as a matter of law.” Wolfe v. Bison Baseball, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-905, 2010-Ohio-1390, ¶ 21, quoting Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 432, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996).

[*P33]  [HN5]  “Ohio law recognizes three categories of assumption of the risk as defenses to a negligence claim: express, primary, and implied or secondary.” Schnetz v. Ohio Dep’t of Rehab. & Corr., 195 Ohio App. 3d 207, 959 N.E.2d 554, 2011-Ohio-3927, ¶ 21 (10th Dist.), citing Crace v. Kent State Univ., 185 Ohio App.3d 534, 2009-Ohio-6898, ¶ 10, 924 N.E.2d 906 (10th Dist.). “Express assumption of the risk applies when parties expressly agree to release liability.” Crace at ¶ 11. “Implied assumption of risk is defined as plaintiff’s consent to or acquiescence in an appreciated, known or obvious risk to plaintiff’s safety.” Collier v. Northland Swim Club, 35 Ohio App.3d 35, 37, 518 N.E.2d 1226 (10th Dist.1987). “Under this approach to assumption of risk, defendant owes to plaintiff some duty, but it is plaintiff’s acquiescence in or appreciation of a [**20]  known risk that acts as a defense to plaintiff’s action.” Id.

[*P34]  [HN6]  “Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries.” Morgan v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-405, 2012-Ohio-453, ¶ 13, citing Crace at ¶ 13, citing Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App.3d 27, 2006-Ohio-3656, ¶ 12, 857 N.E.2d 1255 (10th Dist.). See also Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699 (1990), paragraph one of the syllabus. “The rationale is that certain risks are so inherent in some activities that the risk of injury is unavoidable.” Crace at ¶ 13, citing Collier at 37. By participating in an activity, the plaintiff “tacitly consent[s]” to the risk of injury inherent in the activity. Id. The test requires that: “(1) the danger is ordinary to the game, (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.” Santho at ¶ 12.

[*P35]  Thus,  [HN7] courts apply the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities, and generally extend the doctrine to relieve liability of [**21]  owners, operators, and sponsors of recreational activities. Crace at ¶ 12, 20. The doctrine applies regardless of whether the activity was engaged in by children or adults, or was organized, unorganized, supervised, or unsupervised. Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004-Ohio-379, ¶ 8, 802 N.E.2d 1116. The doctrine also applies to spectators and participants alike. Id. at ¶ 10.

[*P36]  Furthermore,  [HN8] when considering primary assumption of the risk, “the injured plaintiff’s subjective consent to and appreciation for the inherent risks are immaterial to the analysis.” Crace at ¶ 16, citing Gentry at ¶ 9. See also Foggin v. Fire Protection Specialists, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 12AP-1078, 2013-Ohio-5541, ¶ 10 (noting that the plaintiff’s subjective consent to the inherent risks of an activity are immaterial, because “[t]hose entirely ignorant of the risks of the activity, still assume the risk by participating in the activity”). Indeed, “primary assumption of risk requires an examination of the activity itself and not plaintiff’s conduct.” Gehri v. Capital Racing Club, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 96APE10-1307, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527 (June 12, 1997). See Rees v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Co., 8th Dist. No. 84183, 2004-Ohio-6112, ¶ 20, quoting Gum v. Cleveland Elec. Illuminating Co., 8th Dist. No. 70833, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 503 (Feb. 13, 1997) (explaining that “‘the baseball fan assumes the risk of being hit by a foul ball when [**22]  he takes his place in the stands, not at the moment the foul ball comes flying his way'”). Accordingly, Mrs. Ochall’s personal belief that the paved area next to the track was a safe zone is irrelevant to the primary assumption of the risk analysis.

[*P37]  [HN9]  “‘[O]nly those risks directly associated with the activity in question are within the scope of primary assumption of risk.'” Horvath v. Ish, 134 Ohio St.3d 48, 2012-Ohio-5333, ¶ 19, 979 N.E.2d 1246, quoting Gallagher at 432. “The affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk completely negates a negligence claim because the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff against the inherent risks of the recreational activity in which the plaintiff engages.” Morgan at ¶ 14, citing Crace at ¶ 15. See also Pope v. Willey, 12th Dist. No. CA2004-10-077, 2005-Ohio-4744, ¶ 11. “Because of the great impact a ruling in favor of a defendant on primary assumption of risk grounds carries, a trial court must proceed with caution when contemplating whether primary assumption of risk completely bars a plaintiff’s recovery.” Gallagher at 432.

[*P38]   [HN10] The “goal” of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine “is to strike a balance between encouraging vigorous and free participation in recreational or sports activities, while ensuring the safety of the players.” Marchetti at 99. See also Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, 38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65, 32 Cal. App. 4th 248, 253 (observing [**23]  that the “overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature”); Yancey v. Superior Court, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 777, 28 Cal. App. 4th 558, 565 (noting that “[d]uty is constricted in such settings because the activity involves inherent risks which cannot be eliminated without destroying the sport itself”).

[*P39]   [HN11] Whether to apply the affirmative defense of primary assumption of the risk presents an issue of law for the court to determine. Crace at ¶ 12, citing Gallagher at 435. We therefore review the trial court’s application of the doctrine de novo. Id.

[*P40]  Appellants contend that the trial court disregarded relevant authority when it “looked only to ‘foreseeable’ and ‘common’ risks to invoke the doctrine.” (Appellant’s brief, at 16.) Appellants assert that the trial court “misunderstood and misapplied Ohio law” when it held that the risks which are foreseeable and common in the course of a sport or activity are the inherent risks of the activity. Id. at 16-17. The trial court observed that “[a] risk is found to be ordinary or inherent to the recreational activity when it arises from conduct that is ‘a foreseeable, customary part of the activity.'” [**24]  (Decision & Entry at 4, quoting Gentry at 144.)

[*P41]  In Gentry the Supreme Court of Ohio held that  [HN12] “where injuries stem from ‘conduct that is a foreseeable, customary’ part of the activity, the defendant ‘cannot be held liable for negligence because no duty is owed to protect the victim from that conduct.'” Id. at ¶ 10, quoting Thompson v. McNeill, 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 104, 559 N.E.2d 705 (1990), modified on other grounds by Anderson v. Massillon, 134 Ohio St.3d 380, 2012-Ohio-5711, 983 N.E.2d 266. The court in Gentry noted that, “[o]bviously,” in Thompson, the court had “applied ‘primary’ assumption-of-risk principles in limiting the defendant’s liability.” Id. at ¶ 11. See Thompson at 106 (noting that, because “[s]hanking the ball is a foreseeable and not uncommon occurrence in the game of golf,” the plaintiff primarily assumed the risk of being hit by a golf ball by playing the game of golf).

[*P42]  [HN13]  Under the three-part test, a danger ordinary to a game is a danger which is customary to the game. See Santho at ¶ 13 (observing that “[f]alling is an ordinary danger of ice-skating,” and that “[c]olliding with the perimeter boards is an ordinary danger of ice rink skating”). When a danger is a foreseeable part of a game, there will be common knowledge that the danger exists. See id. (noting that it is “foreseeable that any time an individual, regardless of skill, steps onto ice, they risk falling or coming into contact with [**25]  the barriers that set the perimeter of the skating surface”); Cincinnati Base Ball Club Co. v. Eno, 112 Ohio St. 175, 180-81, 3 Ohio Law Abs. 164, 147 N.E. 86 (1925) (noting that it is “common knowledge that in baseball games hard balls are thrown and batted with great swiftness, that they are liable to be thrown or batted outside the lines of the diamond, and that spectators in positions which may be reached by such balls assume the risk thereof”).

[*P43]  Thus, [HN14]  for primary assumption of the risk purposes, the risks inherent in an activity are the foreseeable, common, and customary risks of the activity. See also Foggin v. Fire Protection Specialists, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 12AP-1078, 2013-Ohio-5541, ¶ 9 (noting that the “types of risks associated with the activity are those that are foreseeable and customary risks of the activity”); Deutsch v. Birk, 189 Ohio App.3d 129, 2010-Ohio-3564, ¶ 13, 937 N.E.2d 638 (12th Dist.). Accordingly, the trial court did not err by concluding that the foreseeable and cutomary risks of an activity are the inherent risks of the activity. See Gentry at ¶ 10, quoting Thompson at 104 (primary assumption of the risk applies to “‘conduct that is a foreseeable, customary part’ of the activity”).

[*P44]  Appellants further contend that the the “trial court improperly applied the doctrine when it failed to analyze whether the risks that injured Plaintiff-Appellant were inherent, necessary or unavoidable, [**26]  i.e., whether they could be eliminated.” (Appellant’s brief, at 17.) Appellants assert that the trial court “ignored” the “various ways” the danger to spectators “could have been eliminated.” Id. at 23. Relying on the accident reconstruction report, appellants assert that “the ‘potential’ danger to spectators could have been easily eliminated by (1) moving the spectator area, (2) elevating the spectator area by wooden deck, (3) installing simple barriers between the track and spectators, or (4) warning guests about the no-spectator rule.” Id. Appellants, however, misconstrue the meaning of risks which “cannot be eliminated.”

[*P45]   [HN15] The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that “‘[t]o be covered under the doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.'” Horvath at ¶ 19, quoting Konesky v. Wood Cty. Agricultural Soc., 164 Ohio App.3d 839, 2005-Ohio-7009, ¶ 19, 844 N.E.2d 408 (6th Dist.). In Horvath, the court observed that “collisions between skiers are an inherent risk of skiing,” as “‘other skiers are as much a part of the risk in downhill skiing, if not more so than the snow and ice, elevation, contour, speed and weather conditions.'” Id. at ¶ 20, quoting Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 511, 762 A.2d 339 (2000). See also Morgan v. Kent State Univ., 2016-Ohio-3303, 54 N.E.3d 1284, ¶ 25 (noting that, “by its very nature, karate, [**27]  as a martial art, is an inherently dangerous activity from which the risk of harm cannot be eliminated”). To determine the risks which are so inherent in an activity that they cannot be eliminated, a court must “focus[] exclusively upon the activity itself.” Schnetz at ¶ 28. See also Crace at ¶ 25.

[*P46]  For example, in Brumage v. Green, 2d Dist. No. 2014-CA-7, 2014-Ohio-2552, the court observed that “‘[l]osing control and flipping an ATV is a foreseeable and customary risk associated with the activity of driving or riding on an ATV.'” Id. at ¶ 14, quoting Curtis v. Schmid, 5th Dist. No. 07 CAE 11 0065, 2008-Ohio-5239, ¶ 56. The plaintiff argued that certain factors specific to the incident, including that he was driving the ATV on a public roadway, made the risks he faced “greater than are customary in the recreational activity of riding ATVs.” Id. at ¶ 15. The court refused to address the plaintiff’s incident specific arguments, because “flipping off an ATV and getting injured is a risk that is inherent in the recreational activity of riding an ATV.” Id. at ¶ 16. The Brumage court observed that, “‘[w]hat causes the driver to lose control is better addressed when determining whether the driver acted intentionally, [or] recklessly.'” Id. at ¶ 16, quoting West v. Devendra, 7th [**28]  Dist. No. 11 BE 35, 2012-Ohio-6092, ¶ 26, 985 N.E.2d 558. See also Morgan v. Kent State Univ. at ¶ 22, 25.

[*P47]  Accordingly, in analyzing the risks inherent to go-karting, we must focus exclusively on the activity of go-karting, and not on the actions or omissions of the defendants in this case. See Crace at ¶ 25 (observing that, if the law treated participants differently from nonparticipants, the primary assumption of the risk analysis would shift “away from the activity and its inherent risks,” and would “unnecessarily focus upon the extent of the defendant’s involvement and the defendant’s classification as a participant, non-participant, * * * sponsor, provider, or otherwise,* * * with no regard for the inherent risks of the activity”). Appellants’ contentions regarding the things the defendants could have done to alter the McMillens’ track for the benefit of spectators essentially amount to claims that the various defendants were reckless. See Morgan v. Church of Christ at ¶ 16.

[*P48]  Additionally, appellants’ arguments regarding the “risks to spectators” at the McMillens’ track improperly attempts to shift the focus of the analysis away from the risks inherent in the activity. (Appellant’s brief, at 20.) [HN16]  Because the primary assumption [**29]  of the risk analysis focuses on the risks inherent in the activity at issue, spectators and participants are treated the same. Indeed, “spectators as well as participants ‘must accept from a participant conduct associated with that sport’ or activity.” Gentry at ¶ 10, quoting Thompson at 104. See also Taylor v. Mathys, 3rd Dist. No. 14-04-32, 2005-Ohio-150, ¶ 10, citing Gentry at ¶ 6 (noting that primary assumption of the risk’s “limitation on liability extends to the spectators of a recreational activity as well as the participants”); Crace at ¶ 25. “‘[T]hose entirely ignorant of the risks of a sport, still assume the risk * * * by participating in a sport or simply by attending the game.'” Gentry at ¶ 12, quoting Gilles, From Baseball Parks to the Public Arena: Assumption of the Risk in Tort Law and Constitutional Libel Law, 75 Temple L.Rev. 231, 236 (2002).

[*P49]  Focusing on the activity at issue herein, we observe that go-karting is a recreational activity involving motorized go-karts which are propelled forward around a racetrack by a driver. During a race, a go-kart driver will attempt to drive their go-kart past the other go-karts in the race in order to be the first go-kart to cross the finish line. The joy of go-karting derives from attempting to maintain control over one’s go-kart while maneuvering, [**30]  at speed, around the go-kart track and the other go-karts present on the track. Accordingly, [HN17]  the inherent risks of go-karting include running into other go-karts on the track, or deviating from the track and running into any object present around the track. See Loewenthal v. Catskill Funland, 237 A.D.2d 262, 263, 654 N.Y.S.2d 169 (1997) (where the plaintiff’s “go-kart veered off its intended course, striking the wall in the pit area head on,” the court observed that, “[i]n riding the go-cart, the plaintiff * * * assumed the risks inherent in the activity,” which included that the “go-cart would bump into objects”); Garnett v. Strike Holdings LLC, 131 A.D.3d 817, 820, 15 N.Y.S.3d 786 (2015) (noting that “the operator of the track does not have a duty to protect the go-kart rider from the inherent and foreseeable risk of being bumped by another go-kart”). Compare Jussila v. United States Snowmobile Ass’n, 556 N.W.2d 234, 237 (Minn.App.1996) (noting that “a snowmobile takes on a more dangerous character when operated on a racetrack by competitors attempting to win races”).

[*P50]  Accordingly, [HN18]  the risk that a go-kart may veer off the track and strike any object present nearby is a risk inherent to go-karting. As such, Mrs. Ochall assumed that risk in the primary sense when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track while a go-kart race was in process.

[*P51]  Appellants [**31]  assert that the trial court erred “by conflating the duty analysis under primary assumption of the risk with the social host duty of care in premises liability cases.” (Appellant’s brief, at 27.) The trial court noted appellants’ argument that “a risk is not inherent if it can be eliminated with due care,” but concluded that, because “[d]efendants, as social hosts, did not have an additional duty to make adjustments to the private, residential track, * * * the risk in question [was] a risk inherent to go-kart racing on a private, barrier-less backyard track.” (Decision & Entry at 5, 7-8.) Appellants contend that the trial court’s analysis improperly mixed “duty with breach.” (Appellant’s brief, at 27.) We agree.

[*P52]  The trial court erred in its primary assumption of the risk analysis because it failed to ascertain the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting. Instead, the trial court wrongly focused on the defendants, and the duty they owed to appellants, rather than focusing on the activity at issue. See Schnetz at ¶ 30 (finding that the trial court erred by concluding that primary assumption of the risk did not apply “to inmate claims against a prison because a prison owes a duty of care to inmates in its custody and [**32]  control,” as such a “holding shift[ed] the focus of the analysis away from the activity and its inherent risks and improperly focuse[d] upon the extent of the defendant’s involvement and the defendant’s classification”).

[*P53]  Although the trial court erred by considering the defendants’ duty under the primary assumption of the risk analysis, this error does not amount to reversible error. Pursuant to our de novo review, we have determined that an inherent risk of go-karting is the risk that a go-kart will deviate from its intended course upon the track and strike any object which may be present around the track. As such, absent evidence of reckless or intentional conduct, primary assumption of the risk applies to the facts of this case and defeats appellants’ negligence claims. Accordingly, we have reached the same result as the trial court, albeit for different reasons. See Phillips v. Dayton Power & Light Co., 93 Ohio App.3d 111, 115, 637 N.E.2d 963 (2d Dist.1994) (noting that, since the reviewing court must independently determine, as a matter of law, whether summary judgment was properly granted, “[a] summary judgment based on a legally erroneous analysis of the issues must be affirmed if the appellate court independently determines that upon the record summary judgment should have been rendered [**33]  as a matter of law, albeit for different reasons”).

[*P54]  Appellants assert that the trial court disregarded the two Ohio go-karting cases, Goffe v. Mower, 2d Dist. No. 98-CA-49, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 308 (Feb. 5, 1999) and Reed v. Cassidy, 3d Dist. No. 2-01-36, 2002-Ohio-1672 (Apr. 10, 2002), in reaching its summary judgment decision. The trial court noted the cases, but correctly found the cases inapplicable to the present dispute. (See Decision & Entry at 5-6.)

[*P55]  In Reed the plaintiff was injured at a charity go-kart race being held on city streets. The race organizers had placed a four-foot high fence and bales of hay around the race perimeter to separate the sidewalk from the racetrack. The plaintiff was “initially watching the race from a spectator area,” but had moved to another area to watch the race, which was still “protected by the orange fencing” but had “fewer hay bales.” Id. Two go-kart drivers collided during the race, causing one go-kart to veer off the track and strike the plaintiff. The court stated that it was “not convinced that injury to a spectator [was] the kind of risk so inherent to the sport of go-kart racing that the appellant could be deemed to have consented to it.” Id. The court noted that the plaintiff “testified that she observed [**34]  other accidents during go-kart races and that there had, in fact, been several other accidents on the day she was hit.” Id. The court concluded that simply observing other go-karts run into each other did “not mean that injury to spectators as a result of karts leaving the track [was] inherent to racing,” but stated that it “raise[d] a question of fact as to whether such risk was obvious to appellant.” Id.

[*P56]  As Reed is a decision from the Third District Court of Appeals, it holds no precedential value in this district. Furthermore, as the Reed court failed to engage in a proper primary assumption of the risk analysis, we do not find the decision persuasive. Reed did not attempt to ascertain the risks inherent to the activity of go-karting. Instead, the court simply concluded that injury to spectators was not an inherent risk of go-karting. In so concluding, the court treated spectators differently from participants, in violation of Gentry. The Reed court also inappropriately considered the plaintiff’s subjective understanding of the risk, in further violation of Gentry.

[*P57]  Unlike the present case which concerns a private, free, backyard go-kart track, in Goffe the plaintiff was a business invitee [**35]  at a commercial go-kart track. The plaintiff was injured exiting her go-kart at the end of the ride when another driver accidently accelerated and “struck a parked go-cart in the off-loading area of the track,” which then “struck Ms. Goffe in the leg.” Id. The plaintiff alleged defective design had caused her injury because, at the end of the ride, a gate would funnel the go-karts “into a confined pit area so that a runaway go-cart had no option but to strike go-carts in the unloading area.” Id. The court observed that “[o]ne who rides an amusement device assumes the ordinary risks inherent in the ride, insofar as those risks are obvious and necessary, but only so long as the device is properly designed and the operator has used proper care in its construction and operation.” Id., citing Pierce v. Gooding Amusement Co., 55 Ohio Law Abs. 556, 90 N.E.2d 585 (1949). The court concluded that the business had breached its “duty of ordinary care to Ms. Goffe by desiging an amusement ride which created an unreasonable danger that the rider would be injured while exiting the ride but before reaching a place of safety.” Id.

[*P58]  Relying on Goffe, appellants contend that primary assumption of the risk cannot apply in this matter, because defendants “enhanced the unusual risk [**36]  to spectators by operating a defective track.” (Appellant’s brief, at 23.) Appellants assert that defendants “failed to design, build and operate the track to account for spectator safety by, among other steps, moving the spectator area inside the track and elevating it.” Id. at 24. Appellants argue that the track was defective because defendants “built and maintained a ‘short chute’ at the final high-banked turn to create faster go-kart speeds approaching the spectator area.” Id. However, there is no evidence in the record indicating that either the short-chute or the high-banked turn created faster go-kart speeds, or that these aspects of the track caused the accident.

[*P59]  Brian McMillen explained that, in 2010-11, he “raised the elevation” on the curve approaching that start/finish area in order to “control flooding from the pond and the ground water.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 135.) The alteration resulted in the track “dropping three or four inches over that 30-40 feet” as a kart approached the straightaway into the start/finish line. Id. at 149. Brian referred to the straightaway as a “short chute,” explaining that a “short chute” is just a “small piece of straightaway between two turns.” Id. at 150. Notably, Brian [**37]  confirmed that this alteration did not affect a driver’s “ability to change speed or how they had to maneuver that part of the track.” Id. at 149.

[*P60]  Hawn concluded that “it was mathematically possible for a kart to be driven successfully through the high-banked curve at the south end of the track” approaching the start/finish area “at full (maximum) speed,” and explained that “[t]he laws of Newtonian physics dictate that if a kart were to exceed the critical speed of the high-banked curve or fail to maintain a traversable line through the curve, the kart will break tracation and likely slide towards the outside of the curve beyond the apex.” (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 10, 13. ) Hawn stated that Doe’s go-kart was travelling between 18 to 25 miles per hour when it struck Mrs. Ochall, “which was consistent with the critical speed calculations for the kart traversing the high-banked curve.” Id. at 11. Thus, Doe did not exceed the critical speed of the high-banked curve. Although Hawn referred to the high-banked curve as the “fastest curve of the track,” he did not find that the curve created unreasonably fast go-kart speeds or that the curve would cause a driver to lose control of their go-kart. Id. at 13.

[*P61]  Indeed, Hawn [**38]  concluded that the “design, layout, construction and overall environment of the track facility (with the generous clear zone) was reasonably safe for the ‘operators of the karts.'” Id. at 17. Hawn also stated that the “the original track design was in [his] opinion reasonably safe for the ‘go-kart operators.'” (Emphasis sic.) Id. at 15. Thus, appellants own expert concluded that the design of the track was safe. Appellants have failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the track was designed defectively.

[*P62]  Appellants’ contention that the McMillens’ track was defectively designed because there was no infield, elevated, spectator platform, does not amount to an argument that the track was designed defectively. An elevated viewing platform would not be part of the track itself; rather, it would be a separate structure near the track. Appellants’ contention that defendants should have constructed a viewing platform for spectators, or taken other actions for spectators, do not allege that the track itself was designed defectively, but are essentially claims that the defendants were reckless by failing to build a spectator platform.

[*P63]  Based on the foregoing, we find that Mrs. Ochall [**39]  primarily assumed the risk of injury when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track. Appellants’ first assignment of error is overruled.

V. SECOND ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR – RECKLESSNESS

[*P64]  Appellants’ second assignment of error asserts that the trial court erred in finding no genuine issues of material fact regarding defendants’ recklessness.

[*P65]  [HN19]  An actor’s conduct is reckless when the actor “‘does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another,'” but also “‘that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.'” Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, at 587 (1965). “What constitutes an unreasonable risk under the circumstances of a sporting event must be delineated with reference to the way the particular game is played, i.e., the rules and customs that shape the participants’ ideas of foreseeable conduct in the course of a game.” Thompson at 105.

[*P66]  Thus, “[i]f the rules of a sport allow conduct intended to harm another player, as they do in boxing or football, for example, [**40]  it follows that those same rules allow behavior that would otherwise give rise to liability for recklessness.” Id. Conversley, “any conduct which is characterized by the strong probability of harm that recklessness entails, and which occurs outside the normal conduct and customs of the sport, may give rise to liability.” Id. In assessing recklessness, courts must recognize the “inverse relationship between duty and dangerousness,” as the “‘quid pro quo of an “assumed greater risk” is a diminished duty.'” Id., quoting Hanson v. Kynast, 38 Ohio App. 3d 58, 64, 526 N.E.2d 327 (5th Dist.1987).

[*P67]  Appellants assert that the trial court “wrongly construed evidence regarding Defendants’ failure to warn Andrea Ochall about the track builder Brian McMillen’s design and rule prohibiting spectators in a light most favorable to [plaintiffs].” (Appellant’s brief, at 34.) Appellants assert that, construing the evidence in their favor, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether McMillens and/or McNamers disregarded Brian McMillen’s rule and “knowingly failed to warn or inform Andrea Ochall about the Brian McMillen’s design and policy.” Id. at 38.

[*P68]  As noted above, Brian McMillen testified that he did not design the track to account for spectators. (B. McMillen Dep. [**41]  169.) Brian explained that he “rarely” had spectators at the track, but that when he did, he told them to “[s]tay up in the barn.” Id. at 172, 175. However, Brian also did not enforce his no-spectator rule when he was at the track. Brian noted that when the track was first built his “dad may come out or one of [his] friends may come out and stand somewhere in that vicinity,” of the paved area next to the start/finish line, “and watch us turn a couple laps.” Id. at 172. Brian stated that he had never kicked any spectator of the paved area next to the start/finish line. Id. at 182-83.

[*P69]  Sharon McMillen noted that Brian told her “[a] couple of years ago” that he had a no-spectator rule when he was at the track, but she clarified that he never told her that the track wasn’t designed for spectators. (Feb. 10, 2015 Sharon McMillen Dep. at 104-05. Sharon noted that, when she was out at the track, she would stand “[u]sually in the grass out by the corner where the bench sits,” explaining that’s “just where we stand.” Id. at 100, 102. Sharon stated that she previously stood on the paved area next to the start/finish line when Brian was also present at the track, and that he never told her to move from that location. Id. at 130.

[*P70]  Indeed, for adult spectators at the McMillens’ [**42]  go-kart track, there “was no rule” regarding where they had to stand. Id. at 108-09. Sharon McMillen noted, “[t]here’s seven acres they can stand on. They can stand anywhere.” (S. McMillen Depo. 108.) Sharon believed it was safe for people to stand on the paved area next to the start/finish line at the track, “[a]s long as they’re watching what’s going on.” Id. at 102, 108.

[*P71]  The McMillens, as the property owners who granted the McNamers permission to bring the Ochalls upon their land, were the implied social hosts of the Ochalls. See Estill v. Waltz, 10th Dist. No. 02AP-83, 2002-Ohio-5004, ¶ 32 (noting that,  [HN20] to be classified as a social guest, “the evidence must show the host extended to the guest an actual invitation, express or implied”). As social hosts, the McMillens owed their guests the following duties: (1) to exercise ordinary care not to cause injury to their guests by any act of the host or by any activities carried on by the host while the guest is on the premises, and (2) to warn the guest of any condition of the premises which is known to the host and which one of ordinary prudence and foresight in the position of the host should reasonably consider dangerous, if the host has reason to believe that the guest does not know and will [**43]  not discover such dangerous condition. Scheibel v. Lipton, 156 Ohio St. 308, 102 N.E.2d 453 (1951), paragraph three of the syllabus. Accordingly, the McMillens had a duty to warn the Ochalls of any dangerous condition on their premises which the McMillens had reason to believe the Ochalls did not know about and could not discover.

[*P72]  As the lack of barriers around the McMillens’ track was readily apparent, there was no dangerous condition about the track which the McMillens should have had any reason to believe the Ochalls did not know about or could not discover. Indeed, Mrs. Ochall saw go-karts driving off the track throughout the day, and admitted that she knew that there “was no barrier in front of [her] * * * to protect [her] from getting hit by a car if it left the track.” (A. Ochall Dep. at 172-73.) Accordingly, the McMillens had no duty to warn appellants about Brian McMillen’s personal track rule. As such, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the Ochalls, we are unable to find a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the McMillens intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Section 500, at 587 (1965). As such, the McMillens were not reckless by failing to inform [**44]  appellants about Brian’s rule.

[*P73]  Regarding the McNamers, appellants assert that the McNamers were reckless because they “knew of [Brian McMillen’s] prohibition and failed to inform guests.” (Appellant’s brief, at 36.) Liz McNamer stated that she could not recall if Brian McMillen ever told her about his no-spectator rule, noting that “[h]e could have told [her] husband, but * * * [she didn’t] recall.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 66.)

[*P74]  During Brian McMillen’s deposition, counsel asked him if he ever told “people, including the McNamers or anybody, that if you’re not driving a go-kart, then you better not be standing anywhere on this track, whether it’s the access road, sitting on that bench, anywhere on this asphalt period?” (B. McMillen Dep. at 175.) Brian responded, stating:

Absolutely. Absolutely we’ve talked about that with the McNamers, with Michael, their son, with my brother, myself, my dad, we’ve all discussed the common sense rules of the road that we’re going to follow out here on this go-kart track. Absolutely.

* * *

And, again, you know, it’s not like we sat down and said, hey, let’s write a rule book for the track. I’m talking about general guys hanging out in the garage, garage talk, hey, [**45]  these are the rules of the road we’re going to follow. Again, we’re not putting together a commercial facility here. We’re going — we’re putting together a little backyard toy here.

Id. at 175-76.

[*P75]  When asked if he told the McNamers that he “didn’t build this track for there to be any bystanders. And that if you’re not racing, no one is allowed to be standing around watching people racing or in go-karts going around the track on any part of this asphalt,” Brian stated “[t]hat’s just generally speaking what we have always gone with.” Id. at 177.

[*P76]  Liz explained that everytime she had ever been to the track people would be standing in the paved area adjacent to the start/finish line. (L. McNamer Dep. at 67.) Liz also always stood in that area and believed it was safe to stand there as long as “you’re observing and — and paying attention and watching what’s occurring.” Id. at 56-57. Porter similarly testified that whenever he had been to the track, people always stood on the asphalt near the start/finish line. (J. Porter Dep. at 44.)

[*P77]  To determine whether the McNamewrs were reckless in failing to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s personal track rule, we ask whether the McNamers intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about [**46]  Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, at 587 (1965). As noted, [HN21]  primary assumption of the risk “‘relieves a recreation provider from any duty to eliminate the risks that are inherent in the activity.'” Lykins v. Fun Spot Trampolines, 172 Ohio App.3d 226, 2007-Ohio-1800, ¶ 34, 874 N.E.2d 811 (10th Dist.), quoting Whisman v. Gator Invest. Properties, Inc., 149 Ohio App.3d 225, 236, 2002 Ohio 1850, 776 N.E.2d 1126 (1st Dist.2002).

[*P78]  The parties do not direct us, and our independent research has failed to produce, an Ohio case delineating the duty which a non-landowner, sponsor or organizer of a free activity owes to the participants of the activity.  [HN22] Courts from other jurisdictions, however, have held that “operators, sponsors and instructors in recereational activities posing inherent risks of injury have no duty to eliminate those risks, but do owe participants the duty not to unreasonably increase the risks of injury beyond those inherent in the activity.” Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P., 55 Cal. 4th 1148, 1162, 150 Cal. Rptr. 3d 551, 290 P.3d 1158 (2012).1 See also Saville v. Sierra College, 36 Cal. Rptr. 3d 515, 133 Cal. App. 4th 857 (2005) (noting that an “organizer of an activity is under a duty not to increase the risk of injury inherent in the activity”); Estate of McNeil v. FreestyleMX.com, Inc., 177 F.Supp.3d 1260 (S.D.Cal. 2016) (noting that the “organizer and promoter of the freestyle motocross event” owed the plaintiff a limited duty of care, “breached only if they increased the risk beyond that which is inherent to the activity itself”); Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, Inc., 132 Cal. Rptr. 3d 567, 200 Cal. App. 4th 217 (2011) (concluding that the sponsor of the activity, had not “increased the inherent danger [**47]  of riding in an organized motorcycle ride,” because “traffic slowing and other drivers not paying attention are inherent risks of riding in an organized motorcycle ride on public highways,” and to close down the freeway in order to eliminate these risks “would alter the parade-like nature of riding in a motorcycle procession on a public highway”).

1 In Nalwa the plaintiff argued that sponsors of recreational activities should owe a greater duty to participants. The court disagreed, holding as follows:

 [HN23] A rule imposing negligence duties on sponsors, organizers and operators of recreational activities would encompass not only commercial companies like defendant but also noncommercial organizations without extensive budgets or paid staff. Such groups might not easily afford insurance to cover injuries that are inherent risks of the activity; nor could they readily collect large fees from participants to cover that cost. The primary assumption of risk doctrine helps ensure that the threat of litigation and liability does not cause such recreational activities to be abandoned or fundamentally altered in an effort to eliminate or minimize inherent risks of injury.

Nalwa at 1162.

 [*P79]  Accordingly, as the organizer of the go-karting event that day, the McNamers owed appellants the duty to not increase the risk of harm beyond the risks inherent in the activity. [**48]  Failing to inform appellants about Brian McMillen’s rule did not increase the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting, as it did not increase the risk that go-karts would crash into one another, or that a driver would lose control of their go-kart and deviate from the track. Accordingly, the McNamers did not have a duty to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s rule. Construing the evidence in appellants favor, we find no evidence demonstrating that the McNamers intentionally failed to inform the Ochalls about Brian’s rule when they had a duty to do so. Accordingly, appellants have failed to demonstrate that the McNamers were reckless by failing to inform the Ochalls about Brian McMillen’s rule.

[*P80]  Appellants next assert that the trial court “ignored factual issues regarding Defendants’ concealing the danger from Andrea Ochall by installing a bench to entice her to congregate on the paved area next to the track not designed for spectators.” (Appellants’ brief, at 38-39.) Mr. McMillen had placed a light, moveable, park style bench on the back of the paved area adjoining the start/finish line. (S. McMillen dep. at 106.) Brian McMillen explained that the bench was for drivers to [**49]  sit on following a race, noting that, after a race, “you’re tired, your back hurts, your legs are sore, you’re sweating. * * * A guy will sit on that bench and relax for a minute.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 170.)

[*P81]  Sharon McMillen agreed with counsel that someone might think “if there’s a bench around, that that may be a safe place to be because there’s a bench where you could sit.” (S. McMillen Dep. at 106.) However, there is no evidence indicating that the McMillens placed the bench there to “entice” people to congregate in that area. More importantly, the bench did not conceal any danger from appellants. The bench did not obscure appellants’ ability to see the barrier-less nature of the track or the go-karts driving off the track. There also was no evidence indicating that Mrs. Ochall ever sat on the bench; rather, the evidence indicated that Mrs. Ochall “moved around quite a bit to take photographs.” (J. Porter Dep. at 107.) Compare Kacsmarik v. Lakefront Lines Arena, 8th Dist. No. 95981, 2011-Ohio-2553, ¶ 10, 13 (concluding that the “bench was not the proximate cause of [plaintiff’s] injuries,” as the plaintiff was not “sitting on the bench when she was injured” as she had “left the bench, [and] opened the ice rink door”).

[*P82]  Construing the evidence in appellants’ favor, [**50]  we cannot find that the McMillens knew or had reason to know of facts which would have lead them to realize that placing a bench near their go-kart track created an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, or amounted to conduct substantially greater than negligent conduct. Simply placing a bench by the track did not create an unreasonable risk of physical harm to others, as the bench did not obsecure anyone’s ability to appreciate the barrier-less nature of the go-kart track.

[*P83]  Appellants also state that Hawn concluded that Brian McMillen’s 2010-11 alteration to the track, “enhanced the danger to spectators by creating greater risk go-karts would lose control.” (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 13-14.) (Appellant’s brief, at 41.) Appellants assert that “[t]his remodeling and the enhanced risk were not known to Andrea Ochall, whereas McMillens knew that they had made the track faster for go-karts approaching the spectator area where they had placed the bench.” (Appellant’s brief, at 41.) Although appellants do not directly argue that the McMillens acted recklessly by altering their track, we observe that the McMillens were not reckless in this regard, as there is no evidence linking the [**51]  2010-11 alteration to an increased risk that a driver would lose control of their go-kart.

[*P84]  Hawn stated that the paved area next to the start/finish line, and “just beyond the exit to the fastest curve of the track,” would be a danger zone to persons afoot, but only “if a driver should experience such a loss of control and deviate from the track.” (Acc. Reconstruction Report at 13.) Similarly, Hawn stated that the paved area next to the track was dangerous for spectators, but only in the event that “a kart deviated from the track, at speed, due to driver loss of control in the curve.” Id. at 14. Thus, Hawn’s opinion that the paved area next to the start/finish line was unsafe for spectators was based on if a driver should lose control of their go-kart. Hawn did not find that the elevation of the curve, or that the straightaway itself, would cause a driver to lose control of their go-kart. Brian confirmed that the 2010-11 alteration did not affect a driver’s “ability to change speed or how they had to maneuver that part of the track.” (B. McMillen Dep. at 149.)

[*P85]  Furthermore, Hawn opined, and the record supports, that it was Doe’s act of “discarding an unwanted headband” which caused her to fail [**52]  to “maintain steering control [which] was a significant causative factor” of the accident. (Acc. Reconstruction Report, 14-15.) Thus, it was Doe’s act of removing her hand from the steering wheel to remove her headband from her face, and not the elevation of the high-banked curve, which caused the accident.

[*P86]  Appellants also state that “an easy, inexpensive precaution” for the McMillens was to “relocate the spectator area to the inside of the track and raise the elevation where their guests stood.” (Appellant’s brief, at 41.) Appellants do not directly assert that the McMillens acted recklessly by failing to construct an elevated spectator platform. Regardless, the McMillens were not reckless by failing to construct a spectator platform, because they had no duty to do so.  [HN24] “‘There is no duty on the part of the host to reconstruct or improve the premises for the purpose of making his house more convenient or more safe for those accepting his hospitality, gratuitously extended. The guest assumes the ordinary risks which attach to the premises.'” Scheibel at 315, quoting 38 American Jurisprudence 778, Section 117.

[*P87]  Appellants next assert that defendants concealed the “danger by failing to educate themselves about [**53]  safety or warn guests of known danger.” (Appellant’s brief, at 43.) Appellants observe that Sharon McMillen instructed drivers, “don’t be bumping into anybody,” but assert that she was reckless because she did not know how fast the go-karts traveled, wasn’t aware of the go-kart’s maintenance schedule, and did not follow the go-kart manufacturer’s height or age restrictions. Id. at 44-45. Appellants similarly assert that Liz McNamer was reckless because she did not know the make or model of the go-karts, did not know the go-kart manufacturer’s age or height restrictions, and did not know how fast the go-karts traveled. Id. at 45-46.

[*P88]  Appellants, however, fail to explain what any of these facts have to do with the accident. The accident did not result from unsafe go-kart operation; it occurred because Doe’s headband slipped into her eyes. See Thompson v. Park River Corp., 161 Ohio App.3d 502, 2005-Ohio-2855 (1st Dist.), ¶ 43, 830 N.E.2d 1252 (observing that, although the plaintiffs “presented evidence that the handrail was deteriorating and that a 1 to 50 instructor-to-student ratio was too high to be considered safe, they presented no evidence that either of these factors played even the slightest role in causing Eric’s injury”). Appellants fail to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether [**54]  the defendants intentionally failed to educate themselves about go-kart safety when they had a duty to do so, or that they intentionally failed to warn appellants about the dangers of go-karting when they had a duty to do so. Marchetti at 96, fn. 2, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, at 587 (1965). Accordingly, the record fails to demonstrate that any of the defendants acted recklessly by failing to educate themselves about safe go-kart operation or by failing to warn guests of the dangers of go-karting.

[*P89]  Appellants lastly assert that the trial court “construed evidence regarding [Doe’s] driving and supervision of her by Liz McNamer and James Porter in a light most favorable to Defendants.” (Appellant’s brief, at 48.) Appellants note that, earlier in the day before the accident, Doe drove off the track, and that “[o]ther children came partially off the track as well.” Id. at 48. McNamer went and spoke to Doe after she drove off the track, and “cautioned her and advised her to be careful.” (L. McNamer Dep. at 129.) McNamer explained that “all the children had went off” the track that day, but that she only spoke to Doe because she was Doe’s “grandparent.” Id. at 131. McNamer noted that, “[n]o one else said anything to me that anyone was driving reckless or [**55]  that [Doe] wasn’t in control.” Id. Porter testified that Doe’s driving that day was “[t]ypical for past driving and typical of the driving of all of the other children who were racing that day.” (J. Porter Dep. at 105.) Porter stated that he never told his daughter, or anyone, to slow down. Id. at 152.

[*P90]  Mrs. Ochall testified that Doe “had been asked numerous times to slow down and watch her speed. * * * She was warned by her father, by Liz.” (A. Ochall Dep. at 27.) Mrs. Ochall characterized Doe’s driving as “out of control,” because she had “gotten off the track” and “was just driving aggressively.” Id. at 45-46. Mr. Ochall stated that Doe was “driving aggressively,” by “[p]assing other cars.” (R. Ochall Dep. at 53.) However, Mrs. Ochall explained that she took no precautions for her own personal safety in light of Doe’s allegedly aggressive driving, because she “felt that [Doe’s] grandmother and father addressed the behavior with [Doe].” (A. Ochall Dep. at 48.)

[*P91]  Accordingly, construing the evidence in appellants’ favor, Porter and McNamer watched the children driving, all the children drove off the track that day, and McNamer and Porter cautioned Doe about her driving. Although Mrs. Ochall characterized Doe’s driving as aggressive, [**56]  she felt that McNamer and Porter adequately addressed Doe’s behavior by speaking to her. Appellants fail to demonstrate how Porter or McNamer engaged in conduct which was substantially greater than negligent conduct by keeping an eye on Doe and cautioning her.

[*P92]  Appellants assert that the trial court “ignored the Ochalls’ testimony that [Doe] was driving aggressively.” (Appellant’s brief, at 50.) The trial court, however, did not ignore this evidence. The court noted appellants’ contention that Doe was driving aggressively by “passing other karts and veering off the track.” (Decision & Entry at 20.) The trial court observed that Mr. Ochall admitted that “he passed other karts while driving on the track that day,” and that Doe “was not the only child to veer off the track that day, as one of [apppellants’] children also veered off the track while driving.” Id. at 21. The court concluded that there was no evidence that Doe’s “actions prior to the accident amounted to aggressive driving.” Id.

[*P93]  Indeed, appellants fail to make any connection between Doe’s allegedly aggressive driving and the accident. The record indicates only that it was an unfortunate slip of Doe’s headband, and Doe’s attendant need to remove her hand [**57]  from the wheel in order to remove the headband from her face, which caused the accident. There is nothing in the record indicating that Doe’s alleged aggressive driving caused the accident. See Thompson v. Park River Corp., 161 Ohio App.3d 502, 2005-Ohio-2855, ¶ 43, 830 N.E.2d 1252 (1st Dist.).

[*P94]  Finally, Doe’s act of removing her headband from her line of vision did not amount to reckless conduct. Doe did not remove the headband with any conscious choice of action, or with knowledge that doing so would cause her go-kart to jerk, veer off the track, and strike Mrs. Ochall. See West v. Devendra, 7th Dist. No. 11 BE 35, 2012-Ohio-6092, ¶ 37, 985 N.E.2d 558, quoting 2 Restatement of the Law 2d, Torts, Section 500, Comment g (1965) (noting that  [HN25] “reckless misconduct requires a conscious choice of a course of action, either with knowledge of the serious danger to others involved in it or with knowledge of facts which would disclose this danger to any reasonable man”).

[*P95]  Because appellants fail to establish any genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the defendants engaged in reckless misconduct, appellants’ second assignment of error is overruled.

VI. CONCLUSION

[*P96]  The incident at the McMillens’ go-kart track which caused Mrs. Ochall’s injury was, unquestionably, a terrible and tragic accident. However, every tragic accident does not result in tort liability. Because Mrs. Ochall [**58]  primarily assumed the risk of injury when she stood 10 to 12 feet away from the McMillens’ go-kart track, and no defendant engaged in reckless or intentional misconduct, the trial court properly granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Having overruled appellants’ first and second assignments of error, we affirm the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. As we have overruled the appellants’ assignments of error, the McMillens withdraw their assignment of error on cross-appeal.

Judgment affirmed.

SADLER, J., concurs.

DORRIAN, P.J., concurs in and part dissents in part.

CONCUR BY: DORRIAN (In Part)

DISSENT BY: DORRIAN (In Part)

DISSENT

DORRIAN, P.J., concurring in part and dissenting in part

[*P97]  I respectfully concur in part and dissent in part.

[*P98]  I concur with the majority that primary assumption of the risk requires an examination of the recreational activity or sport itself. For this reason, and pursuant to Gentry v. Craycraft, 101 Ohio St.3d 141, 2004-Ohio-379, ¶ 10, 802 N.E.2d 1116, I also agree with the majority that spectators and participants are to be treated the same and appellants’ arguments regarding the “risks to spectators” improperly attempt to shift the focus of the analysis away from the risks inherent in the activity. (Lead opinion at ¶ 48.) Consistent with [**59]  this, I concur with the majority and am not persuaded by the Third District Court of Appeals’ decision in Reed v. Cassidy, 3d Dist. No. 2-01-36, 2002-Ohio-1672 (Apr. 10, 2002).

[*P99]  I concur with the majority that the trial court erred when it conflated the duty analysis under primary assumption of the risk with the social host duty of care under premises liability.

[*P100]  I concur with the majority that the trial court did not err when it observed that “[a] risk is found to be ordinary or inherent to the recreational activity when it arises from conduct that is ‘a foreseeable, customary part[‘] of the activity.” (Emphasis added.) (July 31, 2015 Decision at 4, quoting Gentry at ¶ 10.) (Lead opinion at ¶ 43.) However, I would find further, notwithstanding the trial court’s correct legal statement, that the trial court erred by concluding that “foreseeable risks are inherent risks of recreational activities” and in not conducting the additional analysis of whether the risk is ordinary or customary to the game. (July 31, 2015 Decision at 7.) Given this court’s three part test in Santho v. Boy Scouts of Am., 168 Ohio App.3d 27, 2006-Ohio-3656, 857 N.E.2d 1255 (10th Dist.), which requires that in order to be considered inherent, a risk be both ordinary and foreseeable, I would interpret the term “customary” [**60]  in this context as “ordinary.” To interpret “customary” as “common” or “foreseeable” would merge the doctrines of primary and implied assumption of the risk.

[*P101]  I concur with the majority that the Supreme Court of Ohio has held that “‘[t]o be covered under the * * * doctrine, the risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated.'” Horvath v. Ish, 134 Ohio St.3d 48, 2012-Ohio-5333, ¶ 19, 979 N.E.2d 1246, quoting Knoesky v. Wood Cty. Agricultural Soc., 164 Ohio App.3d 839, 2005-Ohio-7009, ¶ 19, 844 N.E.2d 408 (6th Dist.). (Lead opinion at ¶ 45.) I would note further that contrary to appellees’ suggestion that courts do not typically conduct a detailed analysis of whether a risk cannot be eliminated, a survey of Tenth District case law reveals that this court adheres to this requirement. “If the activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, then a finding of primary assumption of risk is appropriate.” Gehri v. Capital Racing Club, Inc., 10th Dist. No. 96APE10-1307, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 2527 (June 12, 1997) (finding the plaintiff’s “injuries occurred as a result of a commonly known danger ordinary to the sport of thoroughbred horse racing”). See also Morgan v. Kent State Univ., 2016-Ohio-3303, 54 N.E.3d 1284, ¶ 13, 15, 25 (noting that, “by its very nature, karate, as a martial art, is an inherently dangerous activity from which [**61]  the risk of harm cannot be eliminated”); Crace v. Kent State Univ., 185 Ohio App.3d 534, 2009-Ohio-6898, ¶ 35, 924 N.E.2d 906 (10th Dist.) (noting that in cheerleading, “the risk [of injury] is forever present and may only be reduced to manageable levels. Manageable risks are nevertheless risks. It necessarily follows that the risk of injury is incapable of being completely eliminated”); Morgan v. Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-405, 2012-Ohio-453, ¶ 16 (affirming the trial court’s finding “that hiking is a recreational activity to which the doctrine [of primary assumption of the risk] applies, and hiking contains an inherent risk of slipping, tripping or falling that cannot be eliminated, even more so with hiking at night”); Main v. Gym X-Treme, 10th Dist. No. 11AP-643, 2012-Ohio-1315, ¶ 9, 12-13 (noting “[t]he rationale behind the doctrine [of primary assumption of the risk] is that certain risks are so intrinsic in some activities that the risk of injury is unavoidable,” and finding that “tripping, slipping, and falling are all normal inherent risks” with “‘play time and gymnastic activities'”); Schnetz v. Ohio Dep’t of Rehab. & Corr., 195 Ohio App. 3d 207, 959 N.E.2d 554, 2011-Ohio-3927, ¶ 30, 49 (10th Dist.) (noting that “[i]f that activity is one that is inherently dangerous and from which the risks cannot be eliminated, a finding of primary assumption of the risk is appropriate” and finding that “[i]njury resulting [**62]  from colliding with another player on the field of play, even accidentally, is an ordinary danger of the sport of football”).

[*P102]  I concur with the majority that to determine the risks that are so inherent in an activity that they cannot be eliminated, a court must “‘focus[] exclusively upon the activity itself.'” (Lead opinion at ¶ 45, quoting Schnetz at ¶ 28.) I would clarify further that the contention that a risk must be one that is so inherent to the sport or activity that it cannot be eliminated is appropriately considered in the context of the ordinary or customary analysis. I would also suggest that in determining the same, a court should consider the goal of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine as discussed by the majority: “‘to strike a balance between encouraging vigorous and free participation in recreational or sports activities, while ensuring the safety of the players.'” (Lead opinion at ¶ 38, quoting Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St.3d 95, 99, 559 N.E.2d 699 (1990), and Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, 32 Cal.App.4th 248, 253, 38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65 (3d Dist.1995) (observing that the “overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of the risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature”); Yancey v. Superior Court, 28 Cal.App.4th 558, 565, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 777 (5th Dist.1994) (noting that “[d]uty is constricted [**63]  in such settings because the activity involves inherent risks which cannot be eliminated without destroying the sport itself”).)

[*P103]  Finally, I concur with the majority’s ultimate conclusion that the trial court erred in its primary assumption of the risk analysis because it failed to ascertain the risks inherent in the activity of go-karting. I dissent, however, with the majority’s consideration and determination, in the first instance, of the same.

[*P104]  Because the Supreme Court in Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Co., 74 Ohio St.3d 427, 432, 1996 Ohio 320, 659 N.E.2d 1232 (1996), instructs that courts must proceed with caution when contemplating whether primary assumption of the risk completely bars a plaintiff’s recovery and because of the great impact a ruling in favor of a defendant would have, I would not determine the issue in the first instance on appeal. Rather, I would remand this case to the trial court with instructions to consider whether the risk of a go-kart veering off the track and striking objects/persons in its path meets the criteria that “(1) the danger is ordinary to the game; (2) it is common knowledge that the danger exists; and (3) the injury occurs as a result of the danger during the course of the game.” (Emphasis added.) Santho at ¶ 12. In considering whether [**64]  such risk is ordinary to the game, I would instruct the court to (1) focus on the activity of go-karting itself; and (2) consider whether such risk can be eliminated without inhibiting vigorous and free participation, fundamentally changing or destroying the activity of go-karting. Such consideration necessarily involves an examination of the nature of the activity, the purpose or goals of the activity, and the rules or customs of the activity, where applicable.

[*P105]  Finally, I dissent from the majority’s consideration of the second assignment of error. Because I would reverse and remand this case for the trial court to determine, in the first instance, whether primary assumption of the risk applies, I would find to be moot the second assignment of error regarding whether the trial court erred in holding appellees did not act recklessly.2

2 I would note that appellants’ argument, pursuant to Goffe v. Mower, 2d Dist. No. 98-CA-49, 1999 Ohio App. LEXIS 308 (Feb. 5, 1999), that primary assumption of the risk cannot apply because appellees “enhanced” the risk by defective design or operation, would be appropriately addressed when considering whether the exception of recklessness or willfull or wanton conduct applies to application of primary assumption of the risk.


This California decision looks at assumption of the risk as it applies to non-competitive long distance bicycle rides and also determines that assumption of the risk also overcomes a violation of a statute (negligence per se).

A negligence per se claim can be stopped if the plaintiff assumed the risk under California law. This is probably a rare look at negligence per se in the fifty states.

Moser v. Ratinoff, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1211; 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198; 2003 Cal. App. LEXIS 138; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 987; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 1320

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Five

Plaintiff: Christian Moser

Defendant: Joanne Ratinoff

Plaintiff Claims: negligently, recklessly and carelessly operated, owned, controlled and maintained” her bicycle “so as to collide with the defendant.

Defendant Defenses: Primary Assumption of the Risk and Secondary Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2003

The plaintiff and the defendant participated in an “organized long-distance bicycle ride on public highways involving hundreds of participants.” The ride, the Death Valley Double Century was a 200-mile ride (double century). During the ride, the defendant swerved from the right side along the curb to the left into the plaintiff causing a collision. The plaintiff suffered injuries.

Prior to the ride, both participants signed releases. The releases explained several of the risks of the activity, but did not protect participants from claims of other participants. “The document does not purport to be a release of anyone other than the “event holders, sponsors and organizers.”

The case was dismissed at the trial court level because collisions are an inherent risk of cycling. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at the requirements for the defendant to prove assumption of the risk by motion.

When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains.

Under California law, a participant is generally responsible for their own injuries caused by the ordinary care or skill of another.

The court then looked at whether the plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of his injuries.

When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains.

Express assumption of the risk is usually considered a written assumption of the risk. The court set out the definitions that must be met to prove express assumption of the risk in California.

The doctrine of express assumption of the risk is founded on express agreement. ‘Although in the academic literature “express assumption of risk” often has been designated as a separate, contract-based species of assumption of risk . . ., cases involving express assumption of risk are concerned with instances in which, as the result of an express agreement, the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from an injury-causing risk.’ Such an agreement, if valid, ‘operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect to the risks encompassed by the agreement. . . .’ That express assumption of risk is founded on an express agreement undercuts the distributor defendants’ claim that it is good as against the world.

The court found that express assumption of the risk could not be applied to this case, as the defendants failed to prove that she was entitled to use the release signed by both parties before entering the race. However, the court found there could still be some value to the defendant from the release. “A person’s written acknowledgment of the risks inherent in an activity may, however, have an effect on determinations concerning implied assumption of risk.”

The court then looked at implied assumption of the risk, also known as secondary assumption of the risk, and whether it could be proved in this case. Under California law, implied assumption of the risk “embodies a legal conclusion that there is ‘no duty’ on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk”

Implied assumption of the risk was defined by the California Supreme Court as:

…a defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport (in that case, an informal touch football game) voluntarily played by the plaintiff, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct, but does owe a duty not to increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. The court said that “[i]n some situations . . . the careless conduct of others is treated as an ‘inherent risk’ of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.”

The reasoning for this is to impose a duty would place a chill on most sporting activities so that participants would not vigorously compete.

The test for implied assumption of the risk is not whether the defendant must protect the plaintiff from a known risk, but the nature of the activity.

The court then looked to determine if prior decisions had applied the defense of implied assumption of the risk to “organized non-competitive recreational bicycle riding.” However, the court did find that the risks and other factors made this type of cycling the same as other sports that implied assumption of the risk had been applied too by other California courts.

Nevertheless, this sport appears to fall within those activities to which these cases apply the assumption of risk doctrine. As the court said upon “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors” from the cases,  an activity is a “sport” to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies if that 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.” That delineation is a useful one and covers the bicycle ride here.

The court also found that although bicycles are vehicles under California law, this type of activity was not the same as driving a car. This was done for enjoyment and physical activity.

However, the assumption of risk is not a blanket defense to all claims.

The primary assumption of risk rule “does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.’

Defendants have no legal duty to eliminate the risk or protect a plaintiff to the risks inherent in a sport. The next issue becomes what then are the inherent risks of a sport.

Conduct is not inherent in the sport if that conduct is “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport . . . [and] if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” A participant injured in a sporting activity by another participant may recover from that coparticipant for intentional infliction of injury or tortious behavior “so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport” but not for mere negligence.

The court then gave examples of non-inherent risks and inherent risks in sports as determined by other California courts.

Certain activities have been held not to be inherent in a sport and thus not subject to the primary assumption of risk doctrine. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. On the other hand, in various sports, going too fast, making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, or proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports.

The court then found that two riders riding side by side, a collision between the two, or one rider riding into the other was an inherent risk of cycling.

The analogies derived from the risks in other sports suggest that one cyclist riding alongside another cyclist and swerving into the latter is a risk that is inherent in a long-distance, recreational group bicycle ride. The release Moser signed warns of the risk of accidents caused by the participants, thus indicating that such accidents are an inherent risk of the activity.

The defendant in this case the court determined was negligent, but was not wanton or reckless or conduct so totally outside of the range of ordinary activity involved in cycling.

The final issue the court looked at is whether the claim of negligence per se is barred by express or implied assumption of the risk. Court looked at precedent, prior case law, to determine the issue and found none. There were several California Supreme Court decisions that looked at the issue but did not rule on it. On the court today, this court determined from those prior decisions that a majority, four, of the justices on the court would argue that a negligence per se claim is blocked by express assumption of the risk. “Nevertheless, a majority of the present California Supreme courts have expressed the view that a violation of a statute such as involved here does not displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine.”

The court upheld the ruling of the trial court, and the case was dismissed.

So Now What?

First do not assume that assumption of the risk, in any form can bar a negligence per se claim. There are several states were this would not be true.

Second, the court’s analysis of the facts and the law are easily understood and supported by the case law quoted. This is a great case to understand the two types of assumption of the risk allowed in California.

Finally, in California of two or more people riding together is that one of those people assumes the inherent risk of colliding with the other.

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Moser v. Ratinoff, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1211; 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198; 2003 Cal. App. LEXIS 138; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 987; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 1320

Moser v. Ratinoff, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1211; 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 198; 2003 Cal. App. LEXIS 138; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 987; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 1320

Christian Moser, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Joanne Ratinoff, Defendant and Respondent.

No. B153258.

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION FIVE

January 31, 2003, Decided

January 31, 2003, Filed

CALIFORNIA OFFICIAL REPORTS SUMMARY A participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways brought an action against a coparticipant, alleging that defendant was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. (Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC225431, Gregory C. O’Brien, Judge.)

A participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways brought an action against a coparticipant, alleging that defendant was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. (Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC225431, Gregory C. O’Brien, Judge.)

The Court of Appeal affirmed. It held that a waiver, signed by plaintiff prior to participating in the ride, that released the event holders, sponsors, and organizers and acknowledged the risks of the ride, including those caused by other participants, did not inure to the benefit of defendant. However, the court held, the primary assumption of the risk doctrine was applicable. Organized, long-distance bicycle rides are an activity to which the doctrine applies, since they are engaged in for enjoyment or thrill, require physical exertion and skill, and involve a challenge containing a risk of injury. Further, the risk that one cyclist will swerve into another is inherent in such rides. The court also held that the fact that defendant’s movements may have violated various Vehicle Code sections did not preclude application of the doctrine. (Opinion by Mosk, J., with Turner, P.J., and Grignon, J., concurring.)

HEADNOTES

CALIFORNIA OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

Classified to California Digest of Official Reports

(1) Summary Judgment § 26–Appellate Review–Scope of Review. — –A grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. The appellate court makes an independent assessment of the correctness of the trial court’s ruling, applying the same legal standard as the trial court in determining whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Under Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2), a defendant moving for summary judgment meets its burden of showing that there is no merit to a cause of action by showing that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. Once the defendant has made such a showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or as to a defense to the cause of action.

(2) Negligence § 98–Actions–Trial and Judgment–Questions of Law and Fact–Assumption of Risk–Summary Judgment. — –When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains. Determining whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies is a legal question to be decided by the court.

(3) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk. — –A defense to a claim of negligence is that the plaintiff either expressly or impliedly assumed the risk.

(4) Negligence § 38–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Effect of Express Waiver. — –A participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways did not assume the risk of negligence by a coparticipant in the ride by signing, prior to taking part in the ride, a waiver that released the event holders, sponsors, and organizers and acknowledged the risks of the ride, including those caused by other participants. An express assumption of risk agreement does not inure to the benefit of those not parties to that agreement.

(5) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Effect. — –The doctrine of primary assumption of the risk embodies a legal conclusion that there is no duty on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk. Where the doctrine applies, the plaintiff’s assumption of the risk acts as a complete bar to liability.

(6) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons-Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Competitive Sports. — –Under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, a defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport voluntarily played by the plaintiff, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct, but does owe a duty not to increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. Whether the doctrine applies depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties’ general relationship to the activity. The overriding consideration in the application of the doctrine is to avoid imposing a duty that might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.

(7) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Analytical Frameword. — –In assumption of the risk analysis, the question whether the defendant owed a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk of harm does not turn on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct, but rather on the nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.

(8a) (8b) Negligence § 38–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Orgainzed Bicycle Ride. — –In an action by a participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways, in which plaintiff alleged that defendant, a coparticipant, was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries, the trial court properly granted summary judgment for defendant on the basis of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. Such organized, long-distance bicycle rides are an activity to which the doctrine applies, since they are engaged in for enjoyment or thrill, require physical exertion and skill, and involve a challenge containing a risk of injury. Further, the risk that one cyclist will swerve into another is inherent in such rides. Defendant’s movements may have been negligent, but they were not intentional, wanton, or reckless, nor were they totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport. Thus, the accident was within the risks assumed by plaintiff and defendant when they chose to participate.

[See 6 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (9th ed. 1988) Torts, § 1090C.]

(9) Negligence § 37–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Risks Not Assumed. — –Even if an activity is one to which the primary assumption of the risk doctrine applies, there are certain risks that are deemed not assumed and certain injury-causing actions that are not considered assumed risks of the activity. An activity that is not inherent in the sport is not subject to the doctrine. Drinking alcoholic beverages, for example, is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. On the other hand, in various sports, going too fast, making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, and proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports.

(10) Negligence § 40–Exercise of Care by Particular Persons–Exercise of Care by Plaintiff–Assumption of Risk–Violation of Safety Law–Vehicle Code Provisions Applicable to Bicycle Riding. — –In an action by a participant in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways, in which plaintiff alleged that defendant, a coparticipant, was negligent in swerving into him and causing him to fall off his bicycle and sustain injuries, the fact that defendant’s movements may have violated various Vehicle Code sections did not preclude application of the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. The doctrine is not displaced by a violation of a statute that does not evince legislative intent to eliminate the assumption of the risk defense.

COUNSEL: Law Offices of Michael L. Oran, Michael L. Oran, Kathy B. Seuthe; Law Offices of Garry S. Malin and Garry S. Malin for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Barry Bartholomew & Associates, Michael A. Nork and Kathryn Albarian for Defendant and Respondent.

JUDGES: (Opinion by Mosk, J., with Turner, P. J., and Grignon, J., concurring.)

OPINION BY: MOSK

OPINION

[*1214] [**200] MOSK, J.

Plaintiff and appellant Christian Moser (Moser) and defendant and respondent Joanne Ratinoff (Ratinoff) participated in an organized, long-distance bicycle ride on public highways involving hundreds of participants. Moser signed an “Accident Waiver and Release of Liability” form for the benefit of the event holders, sponsors and organizers in which Moser expressly assumed the risk of various injuries, including those caused by other participants. During the ride, Ratinoff swerved into Moser, causing him to crash and sustain injuries. Moser sued Ratinoff for general negligence. Ratinoff filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that a collision between bicycle riders was an inherent risk in the ride, and [*1215] therefore the action was barred by [***2] the primary assumption of risk doctrine enunciated in Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 2, 834 P.2d 696] (Knight). Moser opposed the motion on the grounds that the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not apply because the collision was not an inherent risk of the activity and because Ratinoff’s violation of provisions of the California Vehicle Code precluded application of the doctrine. The trial court granted summary judgment in Ratinoff’s favor. We hold that the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies to the organized bicycle ride, and that a violation of a statute does not displace that doctrine. Accordingly, we affirm the summary judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 1

1 We state the facts in accordance with the standard of review stated post.

Moser and Ratinoff collide during a bicycle ride

In February 1999, Moser registered to participate in the Death Valley Double Century bicycle ride, a 200-mile, noncompetitive bicycle ride on public [***3] highways. Hugh Murphy Productions organized the ride in which approximately 600 bicycle riders participated. 2 Before participating in the ride, Moser signed a document provided by the organizers entitled “Accident Waiver and Release of Liability” (the release), releasing the organizers and stating, “I acknowledge that this athletic event is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss. The risks include, but are not limited to those caused by . . . actions of other people including but not limited to participants. . . . I hereby assume all of the risks of participating &/or volunteering in this event.” The organizer required riders to wear helmets and to have bicycle lights.

2 One of the forms refers to the promoter as “Badwater Adventure Sports.”

The ride had no designated start time. On the day of the accident, Moser and his friend, David Warshawsky (Warshawsky), began the ride at 4:00 a.m. At a rest stop, [***4] Moser and Warshawsky encountered Ratinoff, another participant in the ride. The three cyclists left the rest stop together, with Warshawsky and Ratinoff riding side-by-side and Moser riding behind them. At some point, they began riding single file.

Moser was cycling close to the right-hand side of the road. Ratinoff said that she came from behind Moser’s left side and passed him or rode at his left side. Moser said Ratinoff came up from behind him and rode next to him on his left side. While she was riding on Moser’s left side, an Inyo County Sheriff’s Deputy pulled his car approximately four or five car lengths behind [*1216] them and stayed there for several minutes. Ratinoff turned to look at the [**201] police car, and she then told Moser, “I have to come over.” According to Ratinoff, a “split second” later, she moved to her right toward Moser.

As Ratinoff moved to her right, she made contact with Moser, who nevertheless was able to retain control of his bicycle. Within seconds, Ratinoff again collided with Moser, causing him to fall off his bike and to sustain injuries. At the time of the collision, Ratinoff and Moser were riding at an approximate speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour.

Moser [***5] sues Ratinoff, and Ratinoff files a motion for summary judgment

Moser commenced an action against Ratinoff and in his complaint alleged that Ratinoff “negligently, recklessly and carelessly operated, owned, controlled and maintained” her bicycle “so as to collide with” Moser’s bicycle. Ratinoff alleged assumption of risk as an affirmative defense.

Ratinoff filed a motion for summary judgment in which she contended that she was not liable to Moser because under the primary assumption of risk doctrine she did not breach a duty of care owed to him. Moser, in opposition to the motion, argued that the primary assumption of risk doctrine does not apply to noncompetitive bicycle riding and that Ratinoff violated Vehicle Code sections 21202, subdivision (a) (operating a bicycle as close “as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”), and 22107 (moving a vehicle to the left or right “with reasonable safety”), thereby giving rise to a presumption of negligence and rendering the primary assumption of risk doctrine inapplicable.

The trial court granted the summary judgment motion and entered judgment against Moser. The trial court denied Moser’s motion [***6] for new trial. Moser does not raise the denial of his new trial motion as a basis for his appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

(1) [HN1] We review the grant of summary judgment de novo. (Szadolci v. Hollywood Park Operating Co. (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 16, 19 [17 Cal. Rptr. 2d 356].) We make “an independent assessment of the correctness of the trial court’s ruling, applying the same legal standard as the trial court in determining whether there are any genuine issues of material fact or whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Iverson v. Muroc Unified School Dist. (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 218, 222 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 35].) A defendant moving for summary judgment meets its burden of showing that [*1217] there is no merit to a cause of action by showing that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2).) Once the defendant has made such a showing, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or as to a defense to the cause of action. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849, 853 [107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841, 24 P.3d 493].) [***7] (2))

[HN2] “When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of implied assumption of the risk, he or she has the burden of establishing the plaintiff’s primary assumption of the risk by demonstrating that the defendant owed no legal duty to the plaintiff to prevent the harm of which the plaintiff complains.” (Freeman v. Hale (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 1388, 1395 [36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 418].) Determining whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies is a legal question to be decided by the court. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313; Record v. Reason (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 472, 479 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547].) [**202]

DISCUSSION

[HN3] A person is generally responsible “for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.” (Civ. Code, § 1714.(3)) But a defense to a claim of negligence is that the plaintiff either expressly or impliedly assumed the risk. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 308, fn. 4, 309-321.)

I. Express assumption of risk

Before reaching the issue of implied assumption of risk, we must determine if Moser expressly assumed the risk of a collision based [***8] on the release he signed. [HN4] An express assumption of risk is a complete defense to a negligence claim. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308, fn. 4; Allan v. Snow Summit, Inc. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1358, 1372 [59 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813]; Allabach v. Santa Clara County Fair Assn. (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 1007, 1012 [54 Cal. Rptr. 2d 330].) Moser released the “event holders, sponsors and organizers,” and also acknowledged the risks of the ride, including those caused by other participants. The document does not purport to be a release of anyone other than the “event holders, sponsors and organizers.”

In Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc. (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 1715 [22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 781] (Westlye), the plaintiff, who was injured skiing, filed an action against the ski shop from which he rented allegedly defective ski [*1218] equipment and the distributors of the equipment. He had signed a written agreement with the ski shop in which he accepted the equipment for use “as is”; agreed that he understood that there ” ‘are no guarantee[s] for the user’s safety’ “; acknowledged that there is ” ‘an inherent risk of injury in the sport of skiing, and the use of any ski equipment, and expressly assume[d] the risks for any [***9] damages to any persons or property resulting from the use of this equipment’ “; and released the ski shop from any liability. (Id. at p. 1725.)

The distributors of the equipment contended that “as a matter of law an express assumption of risk is good as against the whole world” and therefore precluded any liability against the distributors. (Westlye, supra, 17 Cal.App.4th at p. 1729.) In holding that the plaintiff had not released the distributors of the equipment, the court said, “defendants fail to submit, and we have not discovered, any authority for [the distributors’] proposition. The doctrine of express assumption of the risk is founded on express agreement. [Citations.] ‘Although in the academic literature “express assumption of risk” often has been designated as a separate, contract-based species of assumption of risk . . ., cases involving express assumption of risk are concerned with instances in which, as the result of an express agreement, the defendant owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from an injury-causing risk.’ [Citations.] Such an agreement, if valid, ‘operates to relieve the defendant of a legal duty to the plaintiff with respect [***10] to the risks encompassed by the agreement. . . .’ [Citation.] That express assumption of risk is founded on an express agreement undercuts the distributor defendants’ claim that it is good as against the world. [P] . . . [P] We conclude the distributor defendants have failed to establish that they are entitled to the benefit of the written agreement between plaintiff and [the ski shop].” (Id. at pp. 1729-1730.)(4))

Westlye, supra, 17 Cal.App.4th 1715, states the existing law that [HN5] an express assumption of risk agreement does not inure to the benefit of those not parties to that agreement. Accordingly, [**203] Moser did not expressly assume the risk of negligence by a coparticipant in the ride. A person’s written acknowledgment of the risks inherent in an activity may, however, have an effect on determinations concerning implied assumption of risk. (See discussion post.)

II. Implied assumption of risk

The subject of implied assumption of risk has generated much judicial attention. Its modern history began when California eliminated contributory negligence and adopted a comparative negligence system in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804 [119 Cal. Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226].. [***11] [*1219] Thereafter, the California Supreme Court–in two companion cases, Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, and Ford v. Gouin (1992) 3 Cal.4th 339 [11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 30, 834 P.2d 724] (Ford)–considered the “proper application of the ‘assumption of risk’ doctrine in light of [the] court’s adoption of comparative fault principles.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 300.) (5))

In Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, the Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion, set forth the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. That doctrine, which is now established as “the controlling law” (Cheong v. Antablin (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1063, 1067 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 859, 946 P.2d 817] (Cheong)), “embodies a legal conclusion that [HN6] there is ‘no duty’ on the part of the defendant to protect the plaintiff from a particular risk. . . .” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 308.) When the doctrine applies, the plaintiff’s assumption of the risk acts as a complete bar to liability. (Ibid.) 3

3 But see the Restatement Third of Torts, section 2 and comment i, pages 19, 25 (“Most courts have abandoned implied assumptions of risk as an absolute bar to a plaintiff’s recovery”).

[***12] (6) In Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296, the court concluded that a defendant owes no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport (in that case, an informal touch football game) voluntarily played by the plaintiff, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct, but does owe a duty not to increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. The court said that “[i]n some situations . . . the careless conduct of others is treated as an ‘inherent risk’ of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.” (Id. at p. 316.) In Ford, the court applied the rule to noncompetitive, non-team-sporting activities–in that case waterskiing. (Ford, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339.)

[HN7] Whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies–which issue is, as noted above, a question of law–“depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties’ general relationship to the activity.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) “The overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated [***13] activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.” (Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 248, 253 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 65].)

III. Activity subject to primary assumption of risk

(7) In Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at page 309, the court said that “whether the defendant owed a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from a [**204] particular risk [*1220] of harm does not turn on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct, but rather on the nature of the activity or sport in which the defendant is engaged and the relationship of the defendant and the plaintiff to that activity or sport.” The court suggested that generally, the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies in a “sports setting.” (Id. at pp. 309-310, fn. 5.) (8a)) Thus, the issue in the instant case is whether an organized, noncompetitive, long-distance bicycle ride is one of those sports activities to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies.

The court in Staten v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1628, 1635 [53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 657], stated, “Knight may require a court to determine a question of duty in sports settings while factually uninformed of how the sport is [***14] played and the precise nature of its inherent risks.” To make a decision concerning duty we must know the nature of a particular sport, and even if we do have such knowledge, we still may have no idea how imposing liability will affect or “chill” the sport–which is a major factor in making a determination of duty. (See American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 30, 37 [93 Cal. Rptr. 2d 683] [court said “expert opinion may inform the court on these questions”].) Nevertheless, under the current state of the law established by Knight, we must somehow make such a determination.

As guidance, there are cases in which courts have determined whether or not the primary assumption of risk applies to a particular activity. There are a number of cases involving sports activities in which the court found a primary assumption of risk. (Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063 [snow skiing]; Ford, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339 [waterskiing]; Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296 [touch football]; Sanchez v. Hillerich & Bradsby (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 703 [128 Cal. Rptr. 2d 529] [collegiate baseball]; Distefano v. Forester (2001) 85 Cal.App.4th 1249 [102 Cal. Rptr. 2d 813] [***15] (Distefano) [off-roading]; Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108 [96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 394] [skateboarding]; American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 79 Cal.App.4th 30 [golf]; Lupash v. City of Seal Beach (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 1428 [89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 920] [lifeguard training]; Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th 472 [tubing behind a motorboat]; Lilley v. Elk Grove Unified School Dist. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 939 [80 Cal. Rptr. 2d 638] [wrestling]; Aaris v. Las Virgenes Unified School Dist. (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1112 [75 Cal. Rptr. 2d 801] [gymnastics stunt during cheerleading]; Balthazor v. Little League Baseball, Inc. (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 47 [72 Cal. Rptr. 2d 337] [little league baseball]; Domenghini v. Evans (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 118 [70 Cal. Rptr. 2d 917] [cattle roundup]; Mosca v. Lichtenwalter (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 551 [68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 58] [sport fishing]; Staten v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.App.4th 1628 [ice skating]; [*1221] Fortier v. Los Rios Community College Dist. (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 430 [52 Cal. Rptr. 2d 812] [football practice drill]; Bushnell v. Japanese-American Religious & Cultural Center (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 525 [50 Cal. Rptr. 2d 671] [***16] [judo]; Regents of University of California v. Superior Court (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 1040 [48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 922] [rock climbing]; Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, supra, 32 Cal.App.4th 248 [river rafting]; O’Donoghue v. Bear Mountain Ski Resort (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 188 [35 Cal. Rptr. 2d 467] [snow skiing]; Stimson v. Carlson (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1201 [14 Cal. Rptr. 2d 670] [sailing].) In some other recreational activities, [**205] courts have held that there was no primary assumption of risk. (Shannon v. Rhodes (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 792 [112 Cal. Rptr. 2d 217] [boating passenger]; Bush v. Parents Without Partners (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 322 [21 Cal. Rptr. 2d 178] [recreational dancing].)

We have found no case that considers primary assumption of risk in connection with organized, noncompetitive, recreational bicycle riding. Nevertheless, this sport appears to fall within those activities to which these cases apply the assumption of risk doctrine. As the court in Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at page 482, said upon “[c]ompiling all of the distinguishing factors” from the cases, [HN8] an activity is a “sport” to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies if that [***17] 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.” That delineation is a useful one and covers the bicycle ride here.

It is true that bicycle riding is a means of transportation–as is automobile driving. Normal automobile driving, which obviously is not an activity covered by the assumption of risk doctrine, requires skill, can be done for enjoyment, and entails risks of injury. But [HN9] organized, long-distance bicycle rides on public highways with large numbers of riders involve physical exertion and athletic risks not generally associated with automobile driving or individual bicycle riding on public streets or on bicycle lanes or paths. 4 Bicycle rides of the nature engaged in by the parties here are activities done for enjoyment and a physical challenge. Moser acknowledged in the release he signed that the activity is “an athletic event that is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it the potential for death, serious injury and property loss.” In view of these considerations, the organized, long-distance, group bicycle ride qualifies [***18] as a “sport” for purposes of the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine.

4 We express no opinion as to such other forms of recreational bicycle riding.

IV. Inherent risk

(9) [HN10] Even if the activity is one to which the primary assumption of risk applies, there are certain risks that are deemed not assumed, and certain [*1222] injury-causing actions that are not considered assumed risks of the activity. The primary assumption of risk rule “does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.’ ([Knight, supra,] 3 Cal.4th at pp. 315-316, italics added.) Thus, even though ‘defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,’ they may not increase the likelihood [***19] of injury above that which is inherent. (Id. at p. 315.)” (Campbell v. Derylo (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 823, 827 [89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 519].) Conduct is not inherent in the sport if that conduct is “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport . . . [and] if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” (Freeman v. Hale, supra, 30 Cal.App.4th at p. 1394.) A participant injured in a sporting activity by another participant may recover from that coparticipant for intentional infliction of injury or tortious behavior “so [**206] reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport” but not for mere negligence. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 320-321.)

[HN11] Certain activities have been held not to be inherent in a sport and thus not subject to the primary assumption of risk doctrine. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. (Freeman v. Hale, supra, 30 Cal.App.4th at p. 1388.) On the other hand, in various sports, going too fast, [***20] making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, or proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports. (See Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063; Distefano, supra, 85 Cal. App. 4th 1249; Record v. Reason, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th 472.)(8b))

The analogies derived from the risks in other sports suggest that one cyclist riding alongside another cyclist and swerving into the latter is a risk that is inherent in a long-distance, recreational group bicycle ride. 5 The release Moser signed warns of the risk of accidents caused by the participants, thus indicating that such accidents are an inherent risk of the activity. If liability attached to entanglements and collisions among 600 bicycle riders, the recreational sport of an organized bicycle ride likely would be adversely affected.

5 Compare Mark v. Moser (Ind. Ct.App. 2001) 746 N.E.2d 410 (inherent risk in a competitive cycling race is that a competitor may attempt to cut in front of a coparticipant to advance position).

[***21] Ratinoff’s movements toward the right side of the road that caused her to collide with Moser may have been negligent, but they were not intentional, [*1223] wanton or reckless or conduct “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport.” (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 320-321.) Therefore, the accident at issue in this case is within the assumed risks of the organized bicycle ride in which Moser and Ratinoff were engaged. 6

6 There are traffic-related risks that might not be considered inherent in the activity involved here, such as those involving automobile negligence. (See Story v. Howes (N.Y. App. Div. 1973) 41 A.D.2d 925 [344 N.Y.S.2d 10] [“mere riding of a bicycle does not mean the assumption of risk by the rider that he may be hit by a car”]; Bell v. Chawkins (Tenn. Ct.App. 1970) 62 Tenn. App. 213 [460 S.W.2d 850] [bicyclist did not assume risk dog would bite her].)

V. Effect of statute

Moser asserts that the primary [***22] assumption of risk doctrine does not bar a claim when, as here, Ratinoff has violated statutes.

A. Pleading requirement

Moser’s failure to allege in his complaint that defendant’s conduct violated any statutory duties owed to plaintiff would, under Distefano, supra, 85 Cal. App. 4th at page 1266, procedurally bar plaintiff from raising the effect of a statutory violation in opposing a motion for summary judgment. Although this holding in Distefano appears inconsistent with long-standing authority that a plaintiff’s allegations of negligence include statutory violations that constitute negligence per se (Brooks v. E. J. Willig Truck Transp. Co. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 669, 680 [255 P.2d 802]; Karl v. C. A. Reed Lumber Co. (1969) 275 Cal. App. 2d 358, 361-362 [79 Cal. Rptr. 852]), we need not determine this procedural issue because of our conclusion that the statutory violations do not, under present [**207] law, preclude the assumption of risk doctrine.

B. Statutory violations do not displace the Knight rule

(10) Moser contends that defendant’s violations of various Vehicle Code sections constitute negligence per se, and thus preclude the application [***23] of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The California Supreme Court has addressed this issue in two cases–Ford, supra, 3 Cal.4th 339, and Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063–and has produced a number of opinions, leading one court to say “there appears to be no clear consensus on the high court about this issue.” (Campbell v. Derylo, supra, 75 Cal.App.4th at p. 829, fn. 3.) Nevertheless, a majority of the present California Supreme Court have expressed the view that a violation of a statute such as involved here does not displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine.

[*1224] The lead opinion in Ford, supra, 3 Cal. 4th 339, which case involved a waterskiing accident, dealt with whether Harbors and Navigation Code section 658, subdivision (d), 7 coupled with the negligence per se doctrine (as codified in Evid. Code, § 669), 8 established a rebuttable presumption that the defendant breached his duty of care to the plaintiff. That opinion concluded that the violation of Harbors and Navigation Code section 658 was inapplicable because the plaintiff [***24] did not fall within the statute’s protected class. (Id. 3 Cal.4th at p. 350.) Three of the justices found that the plaintiff was within the class of persons Harbors and Navigation Code section 658 was intended to protect, and therefore, under Evidence Code section 669, the defendant violated a legal duty of care to the plaintiff. (Id. at pp. 364-369 (conc. & dis. opn. of George, J.); id. at p. 369 (dis. opn. of Mosk, J.).) 9 Three other justices who had disagreed with the Knight plurality opinion and would have “adhere[d] to the traditional consent approach” to assumption of risk (id. at p. 351, fn. 1 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.)), stated that the statute is not “the type of safety enactment that would preclude defendant . . . from asserting assumption of risk as a defense barring plaintiff . . . from recovering damages in his negligence action.” (Id. at p. 363 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.).)

7 Harbors and Navigation Code section 658 provides that no person shall operate a vessel so as to cause, among other things, water skis to collide with any object or person.

[***25]

8 Evidence Code section 669, subdivision (a), provides: “The failure of a person to exercise due care is presumed if: [P] (1) He violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity; [P] (2) The violation proximately caused death or injury to person or property; [P] (3) The death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and [P] (4) The person suffering the death or the injury to his person or property was one of the class of persons for whose protection the statute, ordinance, or regulation was adopted.” (See also Vesely v. Sager (1971) 5 Cal.3d 153, 164-165 [95 Cal. Rptr. 623, 486 P.2d 151].)

9 “Justice Arabian’s [lead] opinion in Ford implicitly assumed, and the opinions of Justice George, joined by Chief Justice Lucas, and Justice Mosk expressly concluded, that if the four elements of section 669(a) were satisfied, that statute creates tort liability between coparticipants in an active sport despite the Knight doctrine of primary assumption of risk.” (Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th at p. 1071.)

[***26] In Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th 1063, two friends were skiing together and collided, resulting [**208] in litigation. The trial court granted summary judgment in the defendant’s favor on the ground that a collision is an inherent risk of downhill skiing. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the defendant’s violation of a county ordinance delineating the duties of skiers resulted in liability under Evidence Code section 669 and foreclosed the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine. The ordinance expressly provided that a skier assumes the “inherent risks” of skiing, including the risk of collision with other skiers. (Id. at pp. 1069-1070.) The majority held that the ordinance did not create any duty other than that available under common law. The court said that “a number of the justices who have signed this [*1225] majority opinion” in Cheong questioned the conclusion of four justices in Ford that if the elements of Evidence Code section 669 were satisfied, a “statute creates tort liability between coparticipants in an active sport despite the Knight doctrine of primary assumption of risk.” (Id. at p. 1071.) [***27] The court added that the point need not be resolved because the elements of Evidence Code section 669 had not been met–the plaintiff had “not demonstrated that he is one of the class of persons the ordinance was intended to protect.” (Ibid.) The court therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment.

A concurring opinion, joined by two justices, expressed the view that “[t]he Knight standard of primary assumption of risk still applies even if the violation of an ordinance or statute, combined with Evidence Code section 669, creates a presumption of negligence.” (Cheong, supra, 16 Cal.4th at p. 1079 (conc. opn. of Chin, J., 10 joined by Baxter, J. and Brown, J.).) A fourth justice stated that statutory obligation along with Evidence Code section 669 did not impose a duty of care when Knight eliminated a sports participant’s duty of care. (Id. at p. 1074 (conc. opn. of Kennard, J.).) Three justices took a contrary view, with one stating that the violation of a statute displaces the “no-duty rule of Knight” (id. at p. 1073 & fn. 1 (conc. opn. of [***28] Mosk, J.)) and the others stating that Evidence Code section 669 “may transform an appropriate statute into a legal duty of due care upon the defendant.” (Id. at p. 1077 (conc. opn. of Werdegar, J., joined by George, C. J.).)

10 Justice Chin also authored the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court has not conclusively determined whether or not a violation of law can displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine. Nevertheless, four justices presently sitting on the California Supreme Court 11 –a majority–expressed the view that Evidence Code section 669 does not itself override Knight, but rather that one must ascertain whether the violated statute was intended to do so. Only two justices now on the court 12 have concluded that the violation of a safety statute or ordinance designed to protect persons in the position of a plaintiff precludes the application of the implied assumption of risk doctrine.

11 Justices Baxter, Kennard, Chin and Brown.

[***29]

12 Chief Justice George and Justice Werdegar.

The appellate court in Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th 1249, addressed this question. In that case, two men, one on a motorcycle and another in a dune buggy, were “off-roading.” After [**209] coming up opposite sides of a blind hill, they collided. Plaintiff contended that the Knight rule did not bar his action because defendant owed him statutory duties under Vehicle Code sections 38305 (proscribing driving off-road vehicles at an unreasonable or [*1226] imprudent speed) and 38316 (proscribing driving off-road vehicles with a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other persons or property). (Id at p. 1265.)

Although the court held that a claim based on a violation of a statute was barred for procedural reasons, the court proceeded to address the merits of the contention that the Vehicle Code, along with Evidence Code section 669, imposed a tort duty that rendered the primary assumption of risk doctrine unavailable. (Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1266-1267.) [***30] The court stated that Vehicle Code sections 38305 and 38316, which provisions were enacted before the Supreme Court’s decision in Knight, did not evince any legislative intent to supersede or modify an assumption of risk doctrine later declared by Knight. (Distefano, at p. 1273.) The court therefore concluded that the statutory provisions “do not abrogate the Knight primary assumption of the risk doctrine, and thus do not impose on participants in the sport of off-roading a higher or different duty in tort than is established under Knight.” (Id. at p. 1274.)

Because a majority of the current Supreme Court justices have expressed the view that [HN12] a violation of a statute that indicates no legislative intent to eliminate the assumption of risk defense does not displace the primary assumption of risk doctrine, and because there are no cases inconsistent with that view, we adopt the Distefano court’s conclusion. (Distefano, supra, 85 Cal.App.4th 1249.) Although the facts show that Ratinoff violated provisions of the Vehicle Code designed to protect persons using public roads, based on our conclusion [***31] as to the present state of the law, such violations do not nullify Moser’s assumption of the risk.

CONCLUSION

Under the present state of the law, as applied here, the result is reasonable. By knowingly participating in a sporting event in which what occurred is an evident risk, Moser is not entitled to a recovery from Ratinoff.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed. Respondent shall recover costs on appeal.

Turner, P. J., and Grignon, J., concurred.

Appellant’s petition for review by the Supreme Court was denied April 23, 2003.


Bad release and prepped plaintiff defeat motion for summary judgment filed by ski area

Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

Plaintiff argued she was “flung” with all employees and to the court, even though she had no proof except her own testimony.

Plaintiff, her husband and two children went to the defendant resort in New York. At the resort, she skied and tubed. During tubing, she was riding with her daughter in a double tube for several runs. She later switched to a single tube.

After riding to the top on the tube she claims she heard the lift attendants at the top talking about trying to get tubers to hit the back of the run out. She then claimed the lift attendant grabbed the rope attached to her tube, ran her back to the back of the top of the landing and ran forward flinging her down the hill. The plaintiff’s tube went through the deceleration area and struck the backstop at the back of the deceleration area causing her injury.

Plaintiff claims that, without warning, Frisher took the rope attached to her tube, ran her back towards the woods, then turned and ran her to the top of the hill and “flung” her down the hill. McDermott does not remember the incident at all and denies ever seeing a coworker “fling” a tuber down the hill. Frisher does not remember the incident and denies ever seeing anyone “fling” a tuber down the hill. Plaintiff struck the barrier at the top of the deceleration ramp.

After her injury, the plaintiff walked with a resort employee to the ski shop. She sat there for 10 minutes and refused additional medical care. She then went to her room. A resort employee and a nurse went to her room and suggested the plaintiff go to a hospital, but she declined. The next day she skied with her family and stayed at the resort until her reservation ended.

While she was at the resort, after her injury, the plaintiff allegedly told three resort managers about the incident, and that she had been flung down the tubing hill. Some of the resort managers remember talking to her, but most do not remember her stating that she was flung down the hill.

The court went through the work done by the resort to slow down tubers in the deceleration area. The resort uses rubber mats and straw to slow down tubers. The runs are checked by resort employees before they are opened to the public and are monitored during the runs. If guests are going too far through the tubing deceleration area, additional measures are taken to slow tubers down.

The plaintiff filed this complaint in federal district court in New York. The court stated the complaint was based on diversity jurisdiction meaning the plaintiff was not a resident of New York; however, that information is not stated in the opinion.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to restrict medical testimony. The court ruled there was sufficient testimony to send to a jury, and the motion for summary judgment was denied.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the defense of assumption of the risk. Under New York law, a person engaging in a sport assumes the inherent risk of the activity that flow from participation. A participant does not assume the risk that are not inherent or a risk increased by the defendant.

However, a participant does not assume risks that are the result of reckless or intentional conduct, risks “concealed or unreasonably increased” or risks that result in a “dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in the activity.”

In New York, whether the plaintiff assumes the risk is a question for the jury.

Generally, whether the plaintiff assumed a risk by participating in a sport is a question for the jury; dismissal of the complaint is appropriate only when the proof before the court reveals no triable issue of fact.

Here the plaintiff was able to create a triable issue of fact that the resort had increased her risk by flinging her down the slope. A triable issue of fact is one that there are issues or different versions of the facts from the plaintiff and defendant. The court cannot, is not allowed to decide, which one is correct so the issue must go to trial. Creating a triable issue of fact is the easiest way to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Because the facts are at issue, it does not matter what law is applied so the motion cannot be granted.

It may seem odd that a judge may eventually make the decision which he or she could not make earlier. At trial, each side is on equal footing and all the rules of trial are at play. Prior to that point in time, the footing may not be equal. As such for one party to win prior to trial, there must be nothing the other side can show that would change the decision. A triable issue of fact is one where one side is able to show there is an issue, and it must go to a full blow hearing of a trial and be reviewed by the trier of fact. The trier of fact in most cases is a jury, but if not jury, then the judge.

One interesting argument on the assumption of risk issue was the warning signs at the tubing hill. The plaintiff claims she never saw any warning signs. She also said she never saw the Willy Bags, padding at the tubing hill also.

The next argument was the plaintiff signed a release. The court quickly dismissed this argument because the release was poorly written. Under New York law, a release “must be plain and precise that the limitation of liability extends to negligence or the fault of the party attempting to shed its ordinary responsibility.” The court found the opposite in this case.

The waiver makes no reference to “negligence” and does not mention the specific risks inherent in snow tubing. Thus, the waiver is insufficient to protect defendants from liability for the subject occurrence. Moreover, having never been made aware of the risks involved in the activity, the claimant cannot be considered to have assumed them.

The next argument is rare to find in cases. The defendant argued that the injuries of the plaintiff were not proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant. Remember negligence has four requirements to be proved.

·        A Duty

·        Breach of the Duty

·        Injury proximately caused by the breach of duty

·        Damages

For the plaintiff to recover the injury she received must have been due to the breach of duty. In this case, her injuries had to have been caused because the defendant’s employee “flung” her down the hill. That means there must be a connection between her injury and what the defendant did.

The basis of the defense was the resort had tried to recreate the incident which caused the plaintiff’s injuries and could not. The plaintiff rebutted this argument with an expert witness who argued based on the facts as stated by the plaintiff; she could have slid to the back wall of the deceleration area. The court sort of looked at the test done by the resort as lame.

The argument made by the defendant was not supported by the defendant in its motion.

The court also looked at the defendant’s arguments that certain medical information should be precluded from the trial; however, that will not be covered here.

So Now What?

Warning Signs: Put into your release that the plaintiff agrees to read and understand all warning signs. Signs must also be placed in a position you cannot help but see them. Signs should be along the path from where you sign in and pay to the lift or from where you pick up your tube to the lift. Places where you cannot argue, you did not see the signs.

You also need to prove the signs were there. Just like the log books of lift attendants, have the tubing lift attendants check for and log that all the signs were up and readable before the hill was open.

Although the facts helped argue assumption of the risk, the plaintiff had equal arguments that the risk was changed or increased by the defendant. As I have stated in the past, the best way to prove assumption of the risk is to have it in writing or video and prove the writing with a signature. Here the release was specifically cited by the court as not having any assumption of risk language in it.

The release was just plain bad.

If you want to recreate the events giving rise to a lawsuit, you cannot do it yourself. You must hire competent outside experts to do it. Here the court looked at the test by hardly even commented on it meaning it had no validity.

The major issue is to spot a lawsuit coming at you. Here the plaintiff, although not suffering any major injuries, went out of her way to talk to all the managers she could find. Although her claims and allegations may seem to be preposterous, she repeatedly made them to anyone and everyone she could. That is a warning sign, you have an upset guest.

No matter how wild the allegations, the other warning signs mean you need to take the complaint as valid and deal with it. More importantly, deal with the complaining guests. Although her allegations are beyond belief and would not be done by your staff, you have a guest who is obviously willing to do anything to get something out of you.

Finally, you must caution your staff about making any statement that could be interpreted by a guest as a risk, threat, or an attempt to create injuries. Although probably, if at all plausible, a joke, it was interpreted or could be interpreted by the plaintiff as the reason for her injuries.

Plaintiff: Donna Rich and Mark Rich

 

Defendant: Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk, Release,

 

Holding: Defendants Summary Judgment motion denied and sent for trial.

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Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

Rich et. al., vs. Tee Bar Corp. et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

Donna Rich and Mark Rich, Individually and as Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs, vs. Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp., Defendants.

1:10-CV-1371 (MAD/CFH)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10682

January 28, 2013, Decided

January 28, 2013, Filed

CORE TERMS: tube, snow, summary judgment, guest, flung, attendant, top, evening, tuber, tubing, rope, pushed, deceleration, temperature, daughter, ski, issue of material fact, citation omitted, introducing, deposition, genuine, sport, conversation, double, ramp, tow, ran, credibility, causally, test runs

COUNSEL: [*1] For Plaintiffs: John W. Liguori, Esq., OF COUNSEL, Rehfuss, Liguori & Associates, P.C., Latham, NY.

For Defendants: Matthew J. Kelly, Esq., OF COUNSEL, Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, Albany, NY.

JUDGES: Mae A. D’Agostino, U.S. District Judge.

OPINION BY: Mae A. D’Agostino

OPINION

Mae A. D’Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs commenced the within action against Tee Bar Corp. and Rocking Horse Ranch Corp. (“defendants” or “Ranch”) seeking monetary damages for pain and suffering and loss of consortium as a result of an accident that occurred on February 6, 2009. Plaintiffs allege that defendants’ negligence resulted in injury to plaintiff, Donna Rich. Presently before the Court is defendants’ motion summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In the alternative, defendants seek an order precluding plaintiffs from presenting medical evidence at trial with respect to certain injuries that defendants claim were not causally related to the accident. (Dkt. No. 28). Plaintiffs opposed the motion and cross-moved for an order pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 403 precluding certain evidence offered by defendants on the motion. (Dkt. No. 31). [*2] This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

FACTS1

1 Defendants filed a Statement of Material Facts and plaintiffs properly responded. Plaintiffs also set forth additional facts. Defendants have not responded to these additional assertions in the reply submission. To the extent that the “facts” asserted by plaintiffs in the Statement of Material Facts are supported by the record, the Court will consider them in the context of the within motion. The background set forth in this section is taken from: (1) defendants’ Statements of Material Facts and plaintiff’s responses therein; (2) the exhibits and evidence submitted by defendants in support of the motion for summary judgment; and (3) the exhibits and evidence submitted by plaintiffs in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. The facts recited are for the relevant time period as referenced in the complaint.

The facts in this case, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed. Rocking Horse Ranch is a family-owned resort in Highland, New York that provides a variety of activities for guests including horseback riding, water activities, entertainment, skiing and snow tubing. Plaintiff, Donna Rich (“plaintiff” or “D. Rich”), [*3] went to the Rocking Horse Ranch with her husband, Mark Rich (“plaintiff” or “M. Rich”) and their two children. Plaintiffs checked in on February 6, 2010 and stayed until Sunday, February 8, 2010.

The ski area and tube run at the Ranch are inspected by the New York State Department of Labor. The Ranch receives a permit from the State to operate the lift at the snow tube hill. The snow tube hill has been in continuous operation at the Ranch since 1994 or 1995. On a given day, approximately 1000 tubes will go down the snow tube hill. The snow tubing hill at the Ranch consists of a single tow rope and either one or two lanes for snow tubers. Guests hook their tubes to the tow rope and ride up the hill. Guests then ride their tubes to the bottom. Ranch employees assist with each step, including giving a “gentle” nudge in order to get the guests started down the hill. Guests may ride in single tubes alone or in double tubes with another person. The snow tube hill ends in a flat area covered with hay and then continues into a deceleration ramp – an uphill section designed to further slow riders. “Willy bags” and hay bales are set up to “create a horseshoe for protection” around the deceleration [*4] ramp.2

2 The parties disagree on whether Willy bags were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.

Generally, because the speed of the tubes is affected by changeable conditions, the snow tube run is tested by the employees before it opens. If tubers are traveling too far up the deceleration ramp, staff members will add additional deceleration mats – rubber mats used to slow the riders – and they will add additional hay at the base of the deceleration ramp, stretching it out so that tubers hit the hay sooner and slow down. Ranch employees test both the single and double tubes before opening the snow tube hill to guests.3 Typically, the double tubes will go farther than the single tubes. Generally, because the conditions are changeable, Ranch employees constantly monitor the distance guests are traveling, and they make adjustments to the hay and mats as needed, even after the hill has opened to guests.4

3 The parties dispute whether these procedures were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.

4 The parties dispute whether these procedures were in place on the evening of plaintiff’s accident.

On the evening of February 6, 2010, plaintiff and her family went snow tubing at the [*5] Ranch. The highest temperature was 26 degrees Fahrenheit with a low temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit.5 Plaintiff knew that snow-tubing involved risks and that there were no brakes on the tube and that she was unable to steer the tube. Plaintiff took approximately three or four trips down the hill with her daughter on a double tube. Each time they would ride to the top of the hill using the tow rope. An attendant at the top of the tow rope would unhook their tube after they climbed off of it, and they would wait in line for their turn to go down the hill. Each time plaintiff rode down the hill with her daughter, she came to a complete stop on the hay at the bottom of the hill. After taking three or four trips down the hill with her daughter, plaintiff switched to a single tube. Plaintiff rode to the top of the hill in her single tube and found the same two attendants working at the top of the hill. Plaintiff believed the attendants’ names were “Tim” and “Sal”.6 Plaintiff claims that the two attendants were talking to each other about trying to get tubers to strike the back of the wall at the end of the tube run. Plaintiff claims that McDermott pushed a girl in a tube, and she [*6] went down the hill “at a good pace” and then stopped on the hay.

5 See Affidavit of Paul F. Cooney, annexed to defendants’ motion for summary judgment as Exhibit P. The affidavit contains certified meteorological records from the National Climatic Data Center. The parties do not object to the authenticity of those records. The records will be considered by the Court on the within motion.

6 The record indicates that the names were Tim McDermott (“McDermott”) and Sal Frisher (“Frisher”).

McDermott helped plaintiff’s daughter into a tube and pushed her down the hill. Plaintiff then got into her tube. Plaintiff claims that, without warning, Frisher took the rope attached to her tube, ran her back towards the woods, then turned and ran her to the top of the hill and “flung” her down the hill. McDermott does not remember the incident at all and denies ever seeing a coworker “fling” a tuber down the hill. Frisher does not remember the incident and denies ever seeing anyone “fling” a tuber down the hill. Plaintiff struck the barrier at the top of the deceleration ramp. Amanda Odendahl (“Odendahl”), a Ranch employee, was working at the snow tube hill on the evening of plaintiff’s accident and testified [*7] that she, “remember[ed] a woman coming down and hitting the back of the wall, rolling out of her tube”. At the time of plaintiff’s accident, the temperature was between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ranch employees assisted plaintiff from the hill. Jack Barnello (“Barnello”), a first aid provider and the manager on duty, examined plaintiff. Barnello walked plaintiff to the ski shop area so that she could sit down. They stayed in the ski shop area for approximately ten minutes, but plaintiff wanted to go back to her room to lie down. Plaintiff returned to her room and Barnello brought another employee, a nurse, to check on plaintiff in her room. Plaintiff complained of a headache. Barnello and the nurse suggested that plaintiff get checked at the hospital, but plaintiff refused to go. Barnello completed an accident report regarding the incident.7 Plaintiff claims that she told Barnello that she was “flung” down the hill. Barnello denies the conversation. The accident report indicates that the accident occurred at 8:00 p.m. at the “bottom of tube run”. In the section of the report entitled “Description of Incident, Statements, Witness(es), Address of Witness(es), Barnello wrote:

Guest [*8] struck her head (left side) on the back wall of the tube run. She was in a single tube, she was thrown into the back wall when tube hit the back wall.

7 The report is annexed to defendants’ motion as Exhibit “R”. Barnello identified the report during his deposition and plaintiffs do not object to the admissibility of the report. Accordingly, the Court will consider the report in the context of the within motion.

Plaintiff did not receive any medical treatment that evening. The next day, plaintiff skied for an hour or two with her family. While at the ski hill, plaintiff spoke with Anthony Riggio (“Riggio), the head of grounds at the Ranch, and claims that she told Riggio about the accident. Riggio denied that plaintiff told him that she had been “flung” down the hill. In the days after the accident, plaintiff claims that she spoke with Stanley Ackerman, the Ranch’s general manager. However, the parties do not agree on the substance of that conversation. M. Rich testified that plaintiff told him that she was “flung” [*9] down the hill. M. Rich did not see the accident occur and did not discuss the accident with any Ranch employees. Plaintiff took Advil and remained at the Ranch for the weekend.

DISCUSSION

I. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A. Standard on Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 ( c ). Substantive law determines which facts are material; that is, which facts might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 258, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). If the Court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, determines that the movant has satisfied this burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to adduce evidence establishing the existence of a disputed issue of material fact requiring a trial. See id. If the nonmovant fails to [*10] carry this burden, summary judgment is appropriate. See id. “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and an issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. v. Hudson River–Black River Regulating Dist., 673 F.3d 84, 94 (2d Cir. 2012).

Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is only appropriate where admissible evidence in the form of affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other documentation demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and one party’s entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Viola v. Philips Med. Sys. of N. Am., 42 F.3d 712, 716 (2d Cir.1994). No genuinely triable factual issue exists when the moving party demonstrates, on the basis of the pleadings and submitted evidence, and after drawing all inferences and resolving all ambiguities in favor of the non-movant, that no rational jury could find in the non-movant’s favor. Chertkova v. Conn. Gen’l Life Ins. Co., 92 F .3d 81, 86 (2d Cir.1996) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 ( c ).

In applying this standard, the court should not weigh evidence [*11] or assess the credibility of witnesses. Hayes v. New York City Dep’t of Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Credibility determinations and choices between conflicting versions of the events are generally matters for a jury and not for the court on summary judgment. Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing inter alia Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). While not argued by defendants, there is a very narrow exception to the rule as stated by the Second Circuit in Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553-55 (2d Cir. 2005). In Jeffreys, the Second Circuit held that summary judgment may be awarded in the rare circumstance where there is nothing in the record to support plaintiff’s allegations, other than his own contradictory and incomplete testimony, and even after drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court determines that “no reasonable person” could believe the plaintiff’s testimony. Id. at 554-55. In order for the Jeffreys exception to apply: (1) the plaintiff must rely “almost exclusively on her own testimony”; (2) the plaintiff’s testimony must be contradictory or incomplete; and (3) the plaintiff’s version [*12] of events must be contradicted by defense testimony. Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 554.

B. Assumption of the Risk

Where jurisdiction is based upon diversity, the court must apply the substantive law of the forum state. Travelers Ins. Co. v. 633 Third Assocs., 14 F.3d 114, 119 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Ascher, 522 F. Supp. 2d at 452 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (citations omitted). A person who elects to engage in a sport or recreational activity “consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation”. Morgan v. State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 484, 685 N.E.2d 202, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 (1997). A participant “may be held to have consented to those injury-causing events which are known, apparent and reasonably foreseeable”. Youmans v. Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 53 A.D.3d 957, 958, 862 N.Y.S.2d 626 (3d Dep’t 2008) (citations omitted). However, a participant does not assume risks that are the result of reckless or intentional conduct, risks “concealed or unreasonably increased” or risks that result in a “dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers inherent in the activity.” Morgan, 90 N.Y.2d at 485; Huneau v. Maple Ski Ridge, Inc., 17 A.D.3d 848, 849, 794 N.Y.S.2d 460 (3d Dep’t 2005) (citations [*13] omitted). “Generally, whether the plaintiff assumed a risk by participating in a sport is a question for the jury; dismissal of the complaint is appropriate only when the proof before the court reveals no triable issue of fact.” Samuels v. High Braes Refuge, Inc., 8 A.D.3d 1110, 1111, 778 N.Y.S.2d 640 (4th Dep’t 2004) (citations omitted).

Here, defendants claim that they satisfied their duty to make conditions safe. Specifically, defendants assert that plaintiff was aware of the risks associated with snow tubing and that she rode down the hill three or four times before her accident occurred. Defendants also allege that summary judgment is warranted because there is no evidence corroborating plaintiff’s version of how the incident occurred. Plaintiffs claim that defendants’ employees engaged in reckless conduct.

Plaintiff testified that she rode down the hill three or four times on a double tube with her daughter. However, her accident occurred during her first run down in a single tube. Plaintiff testified that as she waited in line, “I heard one of the boys joking with the other about having people – – trying to get people to hit the wall”. (D. Rich EBT at p. 88-89). Plaintiff explained that the “boys” [*14] were the two attendants at the top of the hill and believed their names were “Tim” and “Sal”. When plaintiff was ready to move down the hill, she claims that Sal:

. . . took my rope, and he ran me back to the wooded line. And then he turned, and ran me to the tope of the hill and kind of flung my tube down.

Id. at 94.

Plaintiff testified that Sal ran backwards, “more than five feet”. Id. at 96. Plaintiff never saw Sal do this at any other time during the evening. Plaintiff also testified that the day after the incident, she told Jack Barnello, Anthony Riggio and Stanley Ackerman exactly how the accident occurred. Id. at 103-106. Plaintiff claims that Barnello told her that, “he knew something wasn’t right because of the groups behavior after the tube”. Id. at 112. Plaintiff also claims that Barnello told her that he, “addressed the boys, and that they had admitted to fooling around”. Id. at 114. Plaintiff cannot identify any witnesses to her accident. Id. at 115.

The defense witnesses provide different accounts of the events that transpired during the weekend. In some instances, the testimony of the defense witnesses contradict each other. Frisher was deposed and testified that he never [*15] saw plaintiff prior to the date of his deposition and that he had no recollection of working on Friday, February 6, 2009. In fact, Mr. Frisher testified that “I’m usually off on a Friday and Saturday”. In support of the within motion, McDermott provided an affidavit and states, “I do not have any specific memory of this incident”. Riggio testified that “Sal and Tim were mentioned to me as the attendants at the time” but admitted that he knew that from reviewing plaintiff’s deposition testimony. Moreover, Riggio, Ackerman and Barnello did not speak with Frisher or McDermott about the incident. Riggio stated he eventually spoke with Frisher but only after the lawsuit was commenced.

Riggio admitted that he had a brief conversation with plaintiffs in the presence of Stan Ackerman. However, Ackerman testified that he did not recall seeing plaintiff while she was at the facility. (Ackerman EBT at p. 13). According to Riggio, plaintiff never described how the accident occurred and the conversation involved how she was feeling and getting her daughter help on the rope tow. (Riggio EBT at p. 26). Riggio, Barnello and Ackerman testified that none of the Ranch employees were disciplined as a result [*16] of the incident. Ackerman stated that he did not recall telling plaintiff, in any subsequent telephone conversations, that the attendants on the snow tubing hill had been disciplined. (Ackerman EBT at p.34). Barnello testified that he completed an accident report but did not recall plaintiff ever telling him that she was “forcibly launched” down the hill. (Barnello EBT at p. 24).

Defendants also contend that plaintiffs did not read warning signs at the facility. However, plaintiff testified that she had no recollection of any kind of signs that were present at the facility. See D. Rich EBT at p. 72. During plaintiff’s deposition, she was shown photographs of signs and asked if she recalled seeing the signs at the Ranch. Plaintiff testified, “No”. The photographs are not part of the record herein.8 Moreover, there is no evidence with respect to what was posted on the signs, where the signs were located and whether the signs were present at the Ranch on the day of plaintiff’s accident.

8 The Court notes that there are photographs of signs annexed to Jim Engel’s, plaintiffs’ expert, affidavit. Mr. Engel reviewed the signs but does not state whether the signs were present on the day of plaintiff’s [*17] accident or where they were located at the Ranch. Therefore, the photographs are not in competent, admissible evidence and will not be considered by this Court on the within motion.

Based upon the record, the parties and witnesses present varying accounts of the accident and thus, genuine issues of fact exist requiring a trial in this matter. The Court finds that this case does not fall within the narrow Jeffreys exception. Plaintiff’s testimony is not contrary or incomplete. Moreover, plaintiff’s testimony is not contradicted by reliable defense witnesses. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, there are clear factual issues to be resolved by the jury including whether the attendants at the top of the hill unreasonably increased the risk of injury to plaintiff. See Huneau, 17 A.D.3d at 849.

The Court has reviewed the cases cited by defendants in support of the within motion and finds them factually distinguishable from the matter herein. In those cases, the plaintiffs described accidents with “foreseeable consequences” of snow tubing and did not prove that the defendants unreasonably enhanced the dangers. See Youmans, 53 A.D.3d at 959; Berdecia v. County of Orange, 15 Misc.3d 1102[A], 836 N.Y.S.2d 496, 2006 NY Slip Op 52582[U] [N.Y. Sup. 2006] [*18] (the plaintiff was “pushed” successfully on each of her three prior runs and voluntarily presented for a fourth run); Tremblay v. W. Experience, 296 A.D.2d 780, 745 N.Y.S.2d 311 (3d Dep’t 2002) (the risk of impacting the snow barrier was reasonably foreseeable).

C. Waiver

Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate because plaintiff signed an assumption of risk notification warning her of the risk of physical injury when using defendants’ facility. Plaintiff admits that she executed the waiver but contends that the waiver simply warned of weather-related conditions and changes in terrain and as such, plaintiff could not have assumed the risk of being launched down the run.9

9 The form is attached to defendants’ motion as Exhibit “S”. The document is not in competent, admissible form. However, plaintiffs do not dispute the authenticity of the document and thus, it will be considered by the Court on the motion.

An exculpatory agreement will be enforced when the language expresses in unequivocal terms the intention of the parties to relieve a defendant of liability for the defendant’s negligence. Walker v. Young Life Saranac Vill., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166057, 2012 WL 5880682, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (citations omitted). “[T]he [*19] law frowns upon contracts intended to exculpate a party from the consequences of its own negligence”. Id. (citing Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 106, 400 N.E.2d 306, 424 N.Y.S.2d 365 (1979)). “It must be plain and precise that the limitation of liability extends to negligence or the fault of the party attempting to shed its ordinary responsibility.” 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166057, [WL] at *8. Further, an agreement that attempts to exempt a party from grossly negligent acts is wholly void. Gross, 49 N.Y.2d at 106.

On February 6, 2009, plaintiff executed a form entitled “Participants Responsibilities of Activities and Assumptions of Risk”. The form provides, inter alia:

Guest acknowledges that participation in riding, water skiing and other sports and activities listed but not limited to those in brochure, and/or available at Rocking Horse Ranch Resort are used at participants own risk and guest is of legal age and will advise others in his/her parties in inherent risks in partaking of such activities.

* * *

3. I acknowledge that ski area and riding trail conditions vary constantly because of weather and natural causes. I also understand that ice, variations in terrain, moguls, rocks, forest growth, debris and other obstacles and hazards, including other [*20] participants exist throughout the property. Therefore I acknowledge that participation in any sport or activity can be a hazardous activity and that I could suffer personal injury as a participant.

I hereby expressly acknowledge my understanding and acceptance of the foregoing and agree to assume the risk of any personal injuries which I may incur during my use of the Rocking Horse Facilities.

The waiver makes no reference to “negligence” and does not mention the specific risks inherent in snow tubing. Thus, the waiver is insufficient to protect defendants from liability for the subject occurrence. Moreover, having never been made aware of the risks involved in the activity, claimant cannot be considered to have assumed them. Long v. State, 158 A.D.2d 778, 780-781, 551 N.Y.S.2d 369 (3d Dep’t 1990). Thus, summary judgment based upon the waiver of liability is not appropriate.

D. Proximate Cause

Defendants also argues, in the alternative, that even assuming there is an issue of fact with respect to the assumption of the risk doctrine, defendants have demonstrated that being “flung” down the hill, in the manner plaintiff described, was not the proximate cause of the accident.

On February 11, 2012, at approximately [*21] 5:30 p.m., defendants conducted an experiment to determine the effects of being pushed and “flung” on the distance traveled at the snow tube hill. The highest temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit with a low temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time of the test runs, the temperature was approximately 28 degrees Fahrenheit. A Ranch employee who matched plaintiff’s physical characteristics, weighing approximately 200 pounds and standing approximately 5 feet 2 inches tall, took nine runs down the snow tube hill. On the first three runs, the employee was not pushed at all. On the next three runs, the employee was given a hard push on his back. On the final three runs, the employee was pulled backwards by the strap and then “flung” down the hill. In support of the motion, defendants offer the affidavit of Paul Engel, the owner of Sunburst Ski Area. Engel avers that he has engaged in “extensive analysis of the factors that affect speed and distance of snow-tubers”. However, Engel does not assert, nor is there any evidence, that he was present during the experiments that were conducted in February 2012. Rather, he states that he reviewed the video footage taken that evening and that [*22] he “reached several conclusions based on that footage and the associated case information”.

Plaintiffs’ expert, Paul F. Cooney, performed a series of calculations that allegedly led to the conclusion that being pushed or flung would cause a snow tuber to travel farther down the hill. According to plaintiffs’ expert’s calculations, it was possible for a snow tuber to hit the wall if he or she was flung down the hill.

The Court is wary of awarding summary judgment where there are conflicting expert reports. In re Omnicom Group, Inc. Sec. Litig., 597 F.3d 501, 512 (2d Cir. 2010); Rand v. Volvo Fin. N. Am., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33674, 2007 WL 1351751, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (“[i]t is not for the court to decide which expert opinion is more persuasive.”). “The conflicting opinions and statements of both parties’ experts on material factual issues . . . can only be determined by a trial on the merits”. Regent Ins. Co. v. Storm King Contracting, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16513, 2008 WL 563465, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). It would be improper for the Court to engage in an evaluation of Engel’s and Cooney’s opinions. The jury must make a determination regarding the credibility of all expert witnesses. See Scanner Techs. Corp. v. Icos Vision Sys. Corp., 253 F.Supp.2d 624, 634 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) [*23] (“The credibility of competing expert witnesses is a matter for the jury, and not a matter to be decided on summary judgment.”).

II. DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO PRECLUDE

In the alternative, defendants argue that plaintiffs should be precluded from introducing evidence that plaintiff’s herniations and surgeries were causally related to the accident at defendants’ facility.10 Defendants rely upon the lack of contemporaneous treatment records and the opinions of John T. Rigney, M.D., a radiologist retained by defendants to review plaintiff’s MRI films. Plaintiffs’ claim that the reports completed by plaintiff’s treating providers and surgeon indicate that her injuries are related to the accident.

10 On the motion, the parties present various “facts” with respect to plaintiff’s medical treatment. The Court will not recite these facts as they are irrelevant for the purposes of this motion.

As discussed in Part II, conflicting expert opinions preclude summary judgment. Moreover, evaluations of doctor’s testimony should be addressed by the factfinder. Augustine v. Hee, 161 F. App’x 77, 79 (2d Cir. 2005). The conflict in the medical opinions of the parties’ experts, is sufficient to raise an issue of [*24] material fact as to whether plaintiffs’s herniations and surgeries were causally related to the accident; thus, the claims may not be dismissed on summary judgment. See Shamanskaya v. Ma, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63814, 2009 WL 2230709, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. 2009). Defendants’ motion to preclude plaintiffs from introducing evidence related to this issue at trial is denied.

III. PLAINTIFFS’ CROSS MOTION

Plaintiffs cross move for an order precluding plaintiff from introducing the video of test runs from February 2011 on this motion. Based upon this Court’s decision above, plaintiffs’ cross-motion is denied as moot. Plaintiffs’ motion specifically seeks to preclude this evidence from consideration on this motion. The parties are advised that the Court takes no position on the admissibility of defendants’ video of test runs at trial.

CONCLUSION

It is hereby

ORDERED, that defendants motion for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiffs’ complaint in its entirety (Dkt. No. 28) is DENIED; it is further

ORDERED that defendants motion to preclude plaintiff from introducing evidence at trial that plaintiff’s injuries were causally related to the accident (Dkt. No. 28) is DENIED; it is further

ORDERED, that plaintiffs’ motion to preclude [*25] defendants from introducing the video of the February 2011 test runs as evidence in support of defendants’ summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 31) is DENIED as moot.

ORDERED that a Settlement Conference is scheduled in this matter for April 2, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. in Albany. The parties are directed to appear at that time and make submissions in advance of the conference as directed in this Court’s Order Setting Settlement Conference which will be forthcoming.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: January 28, 2013

Albany, New York

/s/ Mae A. D’Agostino

Mae A. D’Agostino

U.S. District Judge

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