Whitewater rafting case where one of the claims is the employer should have provided eye protecting during the rafting trip.Posted: February 4, 2019
Plaintiff was injured during a corporate team building exercise when she ended up with a small rock in her eye after the whitewater rafting trip.
State: Florida, United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division
Plaintiff: Carmen Elena Monteilh Chavarria
Defendant: Intergro, Inc., Timothy Dolan, Felix Renta
Plaintiff Claims: negligence, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for breach of contract
Holding: Mostly for the Defendants
A whitewater rafting trip in Honduras booked as a team-building event ended up in litigation in the US. The allegations were the corporation that booked the team building for its employees failed to provide the necessary safety equipment for whitewater rafting.
The allegations may be taken to allege there is a higher duty owed to employees of a corporation partaking in a sport or recreation event then to other participants. The duty of the raft company appears to remain the same. Only employers are argued to have a requirement of higher standards of care.
Contracting with Intergro in October 2014, the plaintiff, a Honduran national, agreed to provide accounting services at Intergro’s “Shared Services Center” in Honduras. The plaintiff reported to Felix Renta, CFO of the group of companies owned by Timothy Dolan. The plaintiff alleges that both Intergro and Seproma3 “conduct-ed” in Honduras a joint training session for employees. The activities included a white-water rafting event in which the employees were purportedly “supplied with a life jacket and a helmet, but with no other protective equipment, including no eye protection gear.”
After the rafting event, the plaintiff noticed a burning sensation in her right eye. Later she required eye surgery to remove a small stone. After the surgery, the plaintiff began experiencing “significant” difficulty with her vision. Following a diagnosis of “post traumatic cataract disorder,” the plaintiff required two further surgeries. In June 2016, a doctor diagnosed her with a 75% loss of vision in the injured eye.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
There were legal discussions about what law applied and other items that won’t be discussed here. It is unclear how a Honduran corporation, and a raft trip in Honduras ended up in a Florida Federal District Court.
The court was succinct in its analysis of the law and facts. The plaintiff argued the defendants were negligent.
To state a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant owed the plain-tiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach caused the plaintiff damage.
According to the plaintiff, there was a duty of the employer, Integro not to select the rafting event and to: “provide effective personal protective gear instead of “solely allowing the operator of the rafting event to make the decision as to what protective equipment to provide.”
The plaintiff alleges that the defendants, who purportedly authorized, sponsored, and paid for the work event, owed her a duty of care; that the defendants breached that duty by failing to ensure that employees were adequately protected; that the breach caused her injury; and that she has suffered actual damages as a result of the defend-ants’ negligence. The plaintiff states a claim for negligence.
The next argument made by the plaintiff was a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
To state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant intentionally or recklessly committed outrageous conduct and that the conduct caused severe emotional distress. The standard for outrageous conduct is distinctly high
The court dismissed this claim finding the plaintiff failed to allege any instances of outrageous, extreme or atrocious conduct.
The plaintiff also sued for breach of contract. “To state a claim for breach of contract, a plaintiff must allege the existence of a contract, a material breach of the contract, and damages resulting from the breach.”
The court dismissed the breach of contract claims against the individual defendants and granted the plaintiff’s motion to amend her complaint against the corporate defendant to clarify or restate her breach of contract claim.
So Now What?
Simple case, right? Well maybe. In the negligence complaint which survived the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff’s allegations stated:
The plaintiff alleges that both Intergro and Seproma “conducted” in Honduras a joint training session for employees. The activities included a white-water rafting event in which the employees were purportedly “supplied with a life jacket and a helmet, but with no other protective equipment, including no eye protection gear.”
Two issues surface here. The first is the allegation that white-water rafting requires you to have eye protection. However, the second has possibly greater results. The complaint of not providing enough safety gear is not against the raft company, but against the plaintiff’s employer who booked the trip. The allegation is the employer who booked the trip had a duty to provide proper gear for the trip.
This shifts the burden away from the people who understand the risks, rafting companies, to people who do not understand the risks, companies, churches, groups that book raft trips. Every raft company might be able to argue successfully, that the standards in the industry are to provide a PFD.
However, the company will have to rely on the industry standards of whitewater rafting (or any other sport or recreational activity) but then check to see if there is a higher standard of care owed to employees.
Here the plaintiff seemed to lose most of here employment law claims. The decision indicates she was denied worker’s compensation for her injuries. However, if the activity was argued to be part of her employment, then this may create a greater duty and a greater reluctance on the part of corporations to do team building events.
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