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

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

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

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: James and Jennifer Goins

Defendant: The Family YMCA

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and fraud

Defendant Defenses: No duty and proximate causation

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

So Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A13A1778.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

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

March 25, 2014, Decided

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

DISPOSITION: [***1] Judgment affirmed.

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

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

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

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

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

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

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

On the day in question, Brant had been walking on the treadmill for a short time when he collapsed. An employee who saw him fall immediately called 911. This employee was trained in CPR, but stated that she did not go over to Brant because there were two “paramedics” [***2] with him. One of the two men was a deputy sheriff who had been a first responder for eight years, was trained in advanced CPR, first aid, and also had life saving training in the Marine Corps. The deputy said that he checked for a pulse and saw that Brant was still breathing. The other man who went over to Brant after he collapsed was an EMT who testified that the deputy was with Goins when he went over to see if he could help. He stated that Brant’s airway was open and he saw him take a breath, but then Brant [*523] appeared to stop breathing. The deputy also testified that he saw Brant take a large breath and then stop breathing. At that point, the deputy and the EMT began CPR. Simultaneously, the ambulance and EMTs arrived on the scene.

The Goins filed this suit, claiming that the Y was negligent in the death of their son because he was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was [***3] also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court granted the Y’s motion for summary judgment in a two-sentence order. This appeal followed.

[HN1] To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). A [***4] defendant may do this by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of plaintiff’s case. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out by reference to the affidavits, depositions and other documents in the record that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. If the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but rather must point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue.

Boller v. Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, 311 Ga. App. 693, 693-694 (716 SE2d 713) (2011).

1. The Goins first argue that the trial court erred in finding there was no duty to render first aid to a minor child in the Y’s care when false representations had been made to the child’s parents.

[HN2] The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence [*524] action is whether and to what extent the defendant [***5] owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

Boller, supra at 695-696. In Boller, plaintiff

claimed that the Arts Center breached its duty of care to her husband, an [**148] invitee, by its failure to have on site either an ambulance or an officer operating an automatic external defibrillator device (“AED”) and by its failure to maintain a safety and security plan to govern the actions of employees and security personnel during a medical emergency.

Id. at 695. This Court held that

the long-established general rule is that [HN3] “[a] person is under no duty to rescue another from a situation of peril which the former has not caused,” even when the peril is foreseeable. We conclude that this case is controlled by our decision in Rasnick v. Krishna Hospitality, where we held that the defendant innkeeper had no legal duty to comply with a wife’s requests that it attempt a rescue of its guest, her husband, from his medical peril. In that case, the defendant did not create the decedent’s underlying medical condition. Similarly, in the case at bar, Boller does not allege that the Arts Center or the concert it sponsored caused her husband’s sudden attack of cardiac arrest.

(Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 696.

Nevertheless, [***6] the Goins argue that a “special relationship” existed in this case, because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The Goins cite to several cases not on point. See, e.g., Bull Street Church of Christ v. Jensen, 233 Ga. App. 96 (504 SE2d 1) (1998) (four-year-old victim molested at church); Wallace v. Boys Club of Albany, 211 Ga. App. 534 (439 SE2d 746) (1993) (five-year-old boy abducted from summer camp after employees assured parents that they would watch child and keep track of his whereabouts). (1) Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.1 There is no merit to this enumeration.

1 The Goins claim that when they signed their son up for a personal trainer at the YMCA, Greg Mason was misrepresented to them as a “certified” personal fitness trainer. This argument is puzzling. The undisputed evidence was that Mason was a certified personal trainer.

[*525] 2. Likewise, for the same reasons discussed in Division 1, the (2) trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellants’ negligence claim. Further, and equally important, the Goins [***7] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death. The Goins’ statement of facts does not refer to the deposition testimony of the deputy sheriff or the EMT. It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician and a deputy sheriff trained as a first responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

3. Next, the Goins claim that the trial court erred in finding no issues of fact on their fraud claim. The Goins alleged in their complaint that they were told that “THE FAMILY Y was a safe and positive environment.” (3) They contend that it was represented to them that there would be adequate well-trained employees on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.

[HN4] To survive a motion for summary judgment on a fraud count, some evidence must support each of the five elements, which are: a false representation by a defendant; scienter; intention to induce the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting; justifiable reliance [***8] by plaintiff; and damage to the plaintiff.

Wertz v. Allen, 313 Ga. App. 202, 207-208 (721 SE2d 122) (2011).

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

Judgment affirmed. Dillard and McMillian, JJ., concur.


Georgia does not have a lot of skiing, but you can rent skis there.

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Release for renting skis stops litigation over failing of the binding to release.

In this case, the plaintiff rented skis from the defendant in Georgia. The plaintiff completed the rental agreement which included a fairly well written release. The rental company from the decision, asked the proper questions to calculate the DIN setting which in this case was 5 ½.

The plaintiff took the rented equipment on a ski trip. He made several runs, falling “uneventfully” the first day. None of those falls released the plaintiff from the bindings. On the last run while attempting to stop he fell releasing one binding but not the other. The leg in binding that failed to release suffered the classic skiing injury, torn ligaments in the plaintiff’s knee.

After the injury, the ski rental shop tested the binding which the test showed the binding passed.

The plaintiff sued for “breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence” and the plaintiff’s spouse sued for loss of a consortium. The defendant used the defense of release, and the trial court granted the defense motion for summary judgment.

Summary of the case

The first area of the law the court spoke to was the fact the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant were bailor-bailee. Normally, this term is applied to someone in possession of another’s property. A valet is the bailee of your car when you hand over the keys. You are the bailor, the legal owner who has given temporary possession to another.

Once the court determined the relationship between the parties, then the court could conclude that the relationship was governed by the rental agreement.

The court then found that the plaintiff had failed to produce any evidence of negligence upon the part of the defendant. Then in a footnote, the court found that if the plaintiff had found evidence of negligence, the plaintiff still would have been bound by assumption of the risk. The court then went back to release and stated that even if negligence had been shown, the release would have prevented the suit.

“…in Georgia, the general rule is that a party may exempt himself by contract from liability to the other party for injuries caused by his negligence, and the agreement is not void for contravening public policy.”

The court then concluded the release did just that.

The remaining claims of the plaintiff were dismissed based on the analysis or the release.

The court finished with this line.

It is difficult to envision how the waiver language here could have been any clearer.

So Now What?

Get a good release written. Have your clients sign the release. Make sure your equipment meets the standards of the industry and maybe if you are faced with this issue, you will see this short and sweat answer to any litigation.

 

Plaintiff: Mr. and Mrs. Benford, no first name was ever given

 

Defendant: RDL, Inc. d/b/a Rocky Mountain Ski Shop

 

Plaintiff Claims: breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence and Mrs. Benford’s claim of loss of consortium

 

Defendant Defenses: Release

 

Holding: For the defendant on the release

 

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Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc., 223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

Benford et al. v. RDL, Inc.

A96A1458.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

223 Ga. App. 800; 479 S.E.2d 110; 1996 Ga. App. LEXIS 1284; 96 Fulton County D. Rep. 4312

December 4, 1996, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Certiorari Applied For.

PRIOR HISTORY: Bailment; release. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Cook.

DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: James B. Gurley, for appellants.

Long, Weinberg, Ansley & Wheeler, Kenneth M. Barre, for appellee.

JUDGES: ANDREWS, Judge. Pope, P. J., and Smith, J., concur.

OPINION BY: ANDREWS

OPINION

[**111] [*800] ANDREWS, Judge.

Mr. Benford and his wife appeal from the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to RDL, Inc. d/b/a Rocky Mountain Ski Shop in Mr. Benford’s suit alleging breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence and Mrs. Benford’s claim of loss of consortium.

1. Viewed under the standard of Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491 (405 S.E.2d 474) (1991), the evidence on summary judgment was that Mr. Benford went to the ski shop on December 12, 1992 to rent skis and boots for an upcoming ski trip. He was assisted by Cooper, [*801] who asked Benford to pick out a pair of boots and to complete and sign a Rental Agreement and Release of Liability. Benford acknowledged reading, initialling, and signing the document which states that:

“I accept for use as is the equipment listed on this form and accept full responsibility for the care of this equipment. I have made no misrepresentations to this [***2] ski shop regarding my height, weight, age or skiing ability.

“I understand and am aware that skiing is a HAZARDOUS activity. I understand that the sport of skiing and the use of this ski equipment involve a risk of injury to any and all parts of my body. I hereby agree to freely and expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death to the user of this equipment while skiing.

“I understand that the ski equipment being furnished forms a part or all of a ski-boot-binding system which will NOT RELEASE at all times or under all circumstances, and that it is not possible to predict every situation in which it will or will not release, and that its use cannot guarantee my safety or freedom from injury while skiing. I further agree and understand that this ski-boot- binding system may reduce but NOT eliminate the risk of injuries to the lower portion of my leg. However, I agree and understand that this ski-boot-binding system does NOT reduce the risk of injuries to my knees or any other parts of my body.

“I agree that I will release this ski shop from any and all responsibility or liability for injuries or damages to the user of the equipment listed on this form, or to any [***3] other person. I agree NOT to make a claim against or sue this ski shop for injuries or damages relating to skiing and/or the use of this equipment. (Please initial ) [Benford’s initials].

“In consideration for being able to rent this ski equipment, I hereby agree to accept the terms and conditions of this contract. This document constitutes the final and entire agreement between this ski shop and the undersigned. There are NO WARRANTIES, express or implied, which extend beyond the description of the ski equipment listed on this form.

“I have carefully read this agreement and release of liability and fully understand its contents. I am aware that this is a release of liability and a contract between myself and this ski shop and I sign it of my own free will.”

Pursuant to the height, weight, and skill level information provided by Benford, Cooper set the bindings of the skis at 5 1/2. This setting was based on a chart used in the business which the person doing the settings consults and then makes adjustments to the bindings, toes and heels of the boots.

[**112] Benford picked the skis up on December 26 and left with his wife [*802] and some friends on a ski trip. On the first day of the [***4] trip, Benford had made six or seven ski runs and had fallen uneventfully a couple of times. These falls did not cause the bindings to release. On his last run, Benford was in the process of coming to a stop to assist his wife who had fallen. Because of a change in the slope where he stopped, his center of gravity got out over his skis and he fell. While the right ski did release, the left one did not and he tore ligaments in his left knee. When he returned the skis to the shop, he was given a free week ski rental, good any time.

Because Benford was injured and contended the skis did not release, Jackson, the store manager, had the bindings tested with the Vermont Calibrator, a device used to measure the torque it takes to remove a boot from its binding, and the skis rented by Benford passed the test. All skis rented by the ski shop were tested on this device once a year, and randomly selected sets were tested periodically.

2. Benford acknowledges that these facts establish the relationship of bailor-bailee, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 44-12-60. Therefore, the relationship between them is governed by the terms of the Rental Agreement and the statutory obligations of a bailor under O.C.G.A. § [***5] 44-12-63. Mark Singleton Buick v. Taylor, 194 Ga. App. 630, 632 (1) (391 S.E.2d 435) (1990); Hall v. Skate Escape, Ltd., 171 Ga. App. 178 (319 S.E.2d 67) (1984).

3. Benford has failed totally to come forward with evidence concerning negligence by the ski shop. Lau’s Corp., supra; Prince v. Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 210 Ga. App. 108, 109 (1) (435 S.E.2d 482) (1993). 1

1 Even had he been able to do so, this is one of those rare cases where, as a matter of law, it can be said that Benford assumed the risk of exactly what happened to him. Beringause v. Fogleman Truck Lines, 200 Ga. App. 822, 823 (409 S.E.2d 524) (1991).

Also, even assuming some negligence had been shown, [HN1] “in Georgia, the general rule is that a party may exempt himself by contract from liability to the other party for injuries caused by his negligence, and the agreement is not void for contravening public policy. [Cits.]” Hall, supra at 179. Here, the agreement clearly and prominently did just that. Mercedes-Benz [***6] Credit Corp. v. Shields, 199 Ga. App. 89, 91 (403 S.E.2d 891) (1991).

4. Benford’s claims of breach of warranty and contract suffer the same fate. There is no showing by Benford of any latent defect in the skis or bindings, such as that in Hall, supra. Therefore, the covenant not to sue is not in contravention of O.C.G.A. § 44-12-63 (3). Mercedes-Benz, supra; Citicorp Indus. Credit v. Rountree, 185 Ga. App. 417, 422 (2) (364 S.E.2d 65) (1987). It is difficult to envision how the waiver language here could have been any clearer.

[*803] Judgment affirmed. Pope, P. J., and Smith, J., concur.

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

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