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Crashing while mountain biking is an inherent risk under Indiana’s law.

The plaintiff also admitted that he knew the risks of mountain biking and as such were contributorily negligent which barred his claims against the park owner.

Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., et. al., v. Kaler, 73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

State:  Indiana, Court of Appeals of Indiana

Plaintiff: (At Trial) Richard Kaler 

Defendant: (At Trial) Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., City of Indianapolis, and Indy Parks and Recreation

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability 

Defendant Defenses: No liability and Contributory Negligence 

Holding: For the Defendants (at Trial) 

Year: 2017 

Summary

Crashing while mountain biking is an inherent risk under Indiana’s law. The plaintiff, an experienced mountain biker could not recover from the park because he knew and had crashed mountain biking and his knowledge of mountain biking also made him contributorily negligent. Contributory negligence under Indiana Law is a complete bar to recovery when suing a municipality.

Facts 

This decision the parties in the heading is reversed. The plaintiff is listed second in this case at the appellate court heading and the defendants are listed first. The reason is the defendants are appealing the trial court’s ruling and they the defendants are prosecuting the case to the appellate court. Few states work this way in titling their decisions. 

The City of Indianapolis, through its Indy Parks and Recreation department owns Town Run Trail Park. It has numerous mountain bike trails through the park which are managed by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.

The plaintiff had been mountain biking for five or six years. An Eagle Scout had created a berm in the park as part of a “merit badge” in the park. While riding the berm the plaintiff crashed and sued.

He described himself as an “experienced” and “better than average” bicyclist. Although he was familiar with the trails at Town Run, he had not been on the mountain-bike trail since the berm had been constructed several months earlier. “Oftentimes,” Kaler would “try to get an idea of the technical requirements of the trail” and would step off his bike, especially if he saw something within his view “as a danger.”

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

All states have Premises Liability statutes. These statutes set out the duties of land owners relative to people on their land. If the land owner fails to meet those duties, the landowner is liability. An injury to a person on someone’s land is called a premises liability claim.

The plaintiff mountain biker brought a premises liability claim for his injuries. To win a premises liability claim in Indiana the plaintiff must prove the landowner. 

(a) Knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable
risk of harm to such invitees, and

(b) Should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and

(c) Fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger. 

The plaintiff failed to prove this to the appellate court on two different arguments. First, the plaintiff’s experience as a mountain bike showed he knew that crashing was a possibility mountain biking, and he crashed often. 

He admitted that a fall “was just a general consequence of the sport.” Although he had ridden the trail the first time without any problems, when Kaler decided to make a second run, it was getting dark, but he was insistent that he “wanted to ride the higher grade because [he] knew it was more challenging.” At no point, did Kaler step off his bike and inspect the berm’s high grade prior to riding it in the approaching darkness. Accordingly, pursuant to Kaler’s own statements, the City could objectively and reasonably have expected an experienced bicyclist to realize the risks a beginner to intermediate trail would present and take appropriate precautions. 

Second he had ridden the wooden berm once before that day, electing to take a lower ride through the berm. The second time he went faster taking the higher edge of the berm when he crashed.

The plaintiff could not prove that actual or constructive knowledge that the City knew the trail created an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff. Not because of the lack of the cities’ knowledge, but because crashing was part of the sport. Therefore, there was no unreasonable risk. The plaintiff had testified that crashing was part of the sport.

As the expectation of a bicycle crash is a risk inherent to riding trails, it cannot serve to establish the sort of unreasonable risk of harm contemplated in the first Burrell element.

Having the plaintiff admit crashing was part of the sport, the court held that while mountain biking crashing was an inherent risk of the sport. If a risk is inherent to the sport, then you could not sue for injuries from an inherent risk.

The second defense brought by the City on appeal was the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Contributory negligence 

“[c]ontributory negligence is the failure of a person to exercise for his own safety that degree of care and caution which an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person in a similar situation would exercise.

If you can prove the plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries, then the defendant is not liable. In some states, this could act to reduce the plaintiff’s damages. In Indiana, it was a complete bar to the plaintiff’s claims. 

Reviewing the testimony of the plaintiff, the court found that the plaintiff was not completely free of all negligence. Meaning the plaintiff was also negligent and therefore, barred from suing for his claims.

So Now What? 

Two great ideas came out of this for land owners in Indiana. The first is crashing is an inherent risk of the mountain biking. Most mountain bikers already knew this; however, having a court make the statement is great. 

Second premises liability statute in Indiana has been interpreted to allow the defendant to introduce the knowledge and skill of the plaintiff as a defense to the plaintiff’s claims and as a denial of his claims. 

What do you think? Leave a comment. 

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Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., et. al., v. Kaler, 73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., et. al., v. Kaler, 73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., City of Indianapolis, and Indy Parks and Recreation,1 Appellants-Defendants, v. Richard Kaler, Appellee-Plaintiff.

1 On February 23, 2017, Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. filed a notice of settlement with Richard Kaler and, as part of the settlement, dismissed this appeal. Accordingly, Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. is no longer a party in this cause. We will still include facts with respect to the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. where necessary for our decision.

Court of Appeals Case No. 49A04-1604-CT-865

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA

73 N.E.3d 712; 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 133

March 23, 2017, Decided

March 23, 2017, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the Marion Superior Court. The Honorable Cynthia J. Ayers, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 49D04-1209-CT-35642

COUNSEL: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: Donald E. Morgan, Lynne D. Hammer, Kathryn M. Box, Office of Corporation Counsel, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: John F. Townsend, III, Townsend & Townsend, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

JUDGES: Riley, Judge. Crone, J. and Altice, J. concur.

OPINION BY: Riley

OPINION

[*714] Riley, Judge.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE2

2 We held oral argument in this cause on March 7, 2017, in the Indiana Court of Appeals Courtroom in Indianapolis, Indiana. We thank both counsel for their advocacy.

P1 Appellants-Defendants, the City of Indianapolis and Indy Parks and Recreation (the City),3 appeal the trial court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment with respect to Appellee-Plaintiff’s, Richard Kaler (Kaler), claims of negligence after Kaler sustained injuries in riding the City’s mountain bike trail at Town Run Trail Park.

3 For all practical purposes, Appellant is the City of Indianapolis as the City’s Indy Parks and Recreation department cannot be sued outside the Access to Public Records Act context. See City of Peru v. Lewis, 950 N.E.2d 1, 4 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011) (noting that units of local government, but not their individual departments, are suable under Indiana law), trans. denied.

P2 We reverse.

ISSUES

P3 The City presents us with four issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as follows:

(1) Whether a genuine issue of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment on Kaler’s claim of premises liability; and

(2) Whether a genuine issue of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment based on the City’s claim that Kaler was contributorily negligent.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [**2]

P4 The City of Indianapolis owns and operates the Town Run Trail Park through its Indy Parks and Recreation department. The Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc. (HMBA) is responsible for maintaining the trails, which have a difficulty rating from beginner through intermediate. In the spring of 2011, an Eagle Scout, as part of his merit badge project, built a new technical trail feature along Town Run’s mountain bike trail. The feature can best be described as a banked wooden turn, also known as a berm. A rider, approaching the berm, has three options for completing the turn. First, riders can avoid the berm by staying on the dirt path on its left side. Second, riders can elect to enter the berm and ride it on the low grade, or third, riders can negotiate the turn by riding the berm’s more challenging high grade. The entrance onto the wooden turn is fully tapered with the ground, while the exit is only partially tapered. A rider [*715] choosing the low grade would exit the berm with a “little jump” off the end of the feature. (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 100-01). A rider exiting on the high grade would have to make a two-foot jump back down to the trail.

P5 By July 9, 2011, Kaler had been mountain [**3] biking for approximately four to five years. He described himself as an “experienced” and “better than average” bicyclist. (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 90, 91). Although he was familiar with the trails at Town Run, he had not been on the mountain bike trail since the berm had been constructed several months earlier. “Oftentimes,” Kaler would “try to get an idea of the technical requirements of the trail” and would step off his bike, especially if he saw something within his view “as a danger.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). He understood that “on a mountain bike trail there’s multiple paths that you can take, one being more dangerous or less dangerous than another.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). In fact, Kaler had ridden a “fairly sophisticated” trail before which had a “four or five foot drop.” (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 95, 96). While riding a mountain bike, Kaler was “never [] a casual rider. [He] always enjoyed the obstacles[.]” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 100). He “expected to get in a wreck at least every other time [he] rode, and [he] would routinely fall off the bike over obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). “[I]t was just a general consequence of the sport.” (City’s App. Vol. II, [**4] p. 95).

P6 On July 9, 2011, Kaler and his girlfriend took their first trip on the trail. The mountain bike trail is shaped as a “figure 8,” with an approximate length of 6 miles. (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 92). When he first approached the berm, Kaler “took the low grade” on the feature. (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). As he approached the end of the turn, Kaler could see “there was a drop” so he “pull[ed] up on the fork and [did] a little bunny hop[.]” (City’s App. Vol II, pp. 102, 101). On their second trip around the course, Kaler’s girlfriend decided to take a shorter loop back to the trailhead. She was not as “adventurous” as Kaler and was concerned about getting back to the trailhead before dusk. (City’s App. Vol II, p. 92). Despite the approaching darkness, Kaler “wanted to ride the higher grade because [he] knew it was more challenging.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). He reached the berm again around 9:30 p.m. Feeling “capable of riding that high line,” Kaler sped up and rode the berm “as high as [he] could possibly ride it with [his] skill set.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). As he was near the end of the berm’s high grade, he “just saw [him]self lose control [] and just knew he was dropping.” [**5] (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). Kaler “didn’t see the drop, [nor] was he aware of the drop” at the end of the high grade turn, instead he “thought it tapered off.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 104). Due to the fall, Kaler sustained lacerations to his spleen and kidney. After calling his mother and girlfriend to inform them that he had crashed, he rode his bicycle back to the trail head. That evening, Kaler and his girlfriend went out for dinner.

P7 Around 1:30 a.m. on the following morning, Kaler went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with lacerations to his spleen and kidney. On discharge, Kaler was offered physical therapy but refused it because he “didn’t feel it was necessary.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 99). Kaler’s recovery did not last long and he participated in a 100-mile bicycle ride later that summer.

P8 On September 7, 2012, Kaler filed his Complaint against the City, sounding in premises liability. On August 21, 2015, the City filed its motion for summary judgment. (City’s App. Vol II, p. 46). In turn, Kaler submitted his response to the City’s motion, as well as his designation of evidence. On January 6, 2016, the trial court [*716] conducted a hearing on the City’s motion for summary [**6] judgment. On February 2, 2016, the trial court issued its Order, summarily denying the motion. The trial court certified its Order for interlocutory appeal and the City sought this court’s permission to appeal. We granted the request and accepted the interlocutory appeal on May 19, 2016.

P9 Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION

I. Standard of Review

P10 Summary judgment is appropriate only when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C). “A fact is material if its resolution would affect the outcome of the case, and an issue is genuine if a trier of fact is required to resolve the parties’ differing accounts of the truth . . . , or if the undisputed facts support conflicting reasonable inferences.” Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 761 (Ind. 2009).

P11 In reviewing a trial court’s ruling on summary judgment, this court stands in the shoes of the trial court, applying the same standards in deciding whether to affirm or reverse summary judgment. First Farmers Bank & Trust Co. v. Whorley, 891 N.E.2d 604, 607 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), trans. denied. Thus, on appeal, we must determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether the trial court has correctly applied the law. Id. at 607-08. In doing so, we consider all of [**7] the designated evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 608. The party appealing the grant of summary judgment has the burden of persuading this court that the trial court’s ruling was improper. Id. When the defendant is the moving party, the defendant must show that the undisputed facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s cause of action or that the defendant has a factually unchallenged affirmative defense that bars the plaintiff’s claim. Id. Accordingly, the grant of summary judgment must be reversed if the record discloses an incorrect application of the law to the facts. Id.

P12 We observe that in the present case, the trial court did not enter findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its judgment. Special findings are not required in summary judgment proceedings and are not binding on appeal. AutoXchange.com. Inc. v. Dreyer and Reinbold, Inc., 816 N.E.2d 40, 48 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). However, such findings offer this court valuable insight unto the trial court’s rationale for its review and facilitate appellate review. Id.

II. Premises Liability

P13 In support of its argument that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment, the City relies on Burrell v. Meads, 569 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 1991), and Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011). In Burrell,4 [*717] Indiana’s seminal case for premises liability, [**8] our supreme court imposed a three-part test to determine a landowner’s liability for harm caused to an invitee5 by a condition of its land. Under the Burrell test, a landowner can be held responsible only if the landowner:

(a) Knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and

(b) Should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and

(c) Fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

Burrell, 569 N.E.2d at 639-40.

4 We acknowledge that on October 26, 2016, our supreme court redrew the premises liability landscape with its decision in Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316, 321 (Ind. 2016), in which the court issued a new test with respect to the situation where an invitee’s injury occurs not due to a dangerous condition of the land but due to claims involving activities on the land. In Rogers, our supreme court distinguished Burrell as follows:

When a physical injury occurs as a condition of the land, the three elements described in the Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 343 accurately describe the landowner-invitee duty. And because Burrell involved an injury due to a condition on the land, it accordingly framed the landowner-invitee duty broadly. [] [W]hile Section 343 limits the scope of the landowner-invitee duty in cases involving injuries due to conditions of the land, injuries could also befall invitees due to activities on a landowner’s premises unrelated to the premises’ condition–and that landowners owe their invites the general duty of reasonable care under those circumstances too.

Rogers, 63 N.E.3d at 322-23. Because Kaler’s injury occurred when riding a mountain bike trail feature, we find the cause more properly analyzed pursuant to Burrell [**9] as it involved a condition of the land.

5 All parties agree that Kaler is an invitee of the City.

P14 On May 18, 2011, our supreme court issued Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), which applied the Burrell test in the realm of premises liability while participating in sports activities. In Pfenning, Cassie Pfenning was injured by a golf ball at a golf outing when she was sixteen years old. Id. at 396. At the time of the incident, Pfenning drove a beverage cart and after making several trips around the golf course “was suddenly struck in the mouth by a golf ball while driving the beverage cart on the cart path approaching the eighteenth hole’s tee pad from its green.” Id. at 397. The ball was a low drive from the sixteenth tee approximately eighty yards away. Id. The golfer’s drive traveled straight for approximately sixty to seventy yards and then severely hooked to the left. Id. The golfer noticed the roof of another cart in the direction of the shot and shouted “fore.” Id. But neither the plaintiff nor her beverage-serving companion heard anyone shout “fore.” Id. After hearing a faint yelp, the golfer ran in the direction of the errant ball and discovered the plaintiff with injuries to her mouth, jaw, and teeth. Id.

P15 Pfenning brought, among others, a premises liability claim against the Elks, the fraternal lodge that owned and [**10] operated the golf course. Id. at 405. Finding that the injury arose from a condition on the premises, the supreme court turned to Burrell in its articulation of the contours of the Elks’ duty. Id. at 406. In applying the Burrell test, the court held that the two first aspects of premises liability were not established by the designated evidence. Id. at 407. First, turning to the second element–the discovery or realization of danger–the court concluded that “for the purpose of our premises liability jurisprudence, the issue here is [] whether the Elks objectively should have expected that [Pfenning] would be oblivious to the danger or fail to protect herself from it.” Id. at 406. In applying this principle the court found “no genuine issue of fact to contravene the objectively reasonable expectation by the Elks that persons present on its golf course would realize the risk of being struck with an errant golf ball and take appropriate precautions.” Id. Addressing Burrell‘s first element–unreasonable [*718] risk of harm–the Pfenning court reasoned that “the risk of a person on a golf course being struck by a golf ball does not qualify as the ‘unreasonable risk of harm’ referred to in the first two components of the Burrell three-factor [**11] test.” Id.

P16 Likewise, here, we conclude that the designated evidence does not satisfy the Burrell requirements with respect to the duty component of premises liability. Initially, we find that it was objectively reasonable for the City under the facts of this case to expect Kaler to appreciate the risks of riding the trail and take suitable protections. The trail’s difficulty was advertised as appropriate for beginner through intermediate. Kaler’s own deposition characterized himself as an “experienced” bicyclist, who had ridden “a fairly sophisticated” trail before and who “always enjoyed the obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, pp. 91, 95, 100). He conceded that to “try to get an idea of the technical requirements of the trail,” he would get off his bike, especially if he noticed something “as a danger.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). He admitted that a fall “was just a general consequence of the sport.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). Although he had ridden the trail the first time without any problems, when Kaler decided to make a second run, it was getting dark but he was insistent that he “wanted to ride the higher grade because [he] knew it was more challenging.” (City’s App. Vol. [**12] II, p. 101). At no point did Kaler step off his bike and inspect the berm’s high grade prior to riding it in the approaching darkness. Accordingly, pursuant to Kaler’s own statements, the City could objectively and reasonably have expected an experienced bicyclist to realize the risks a beginner to intermediate trail would present and take appropriate precautions.

P17 We also conclude that the designated evidence fails to establish that the City had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the trail that involved an unreasonable risk of harm to Kaler. Kaler’s own deposition unequivocally affirms that being involved in a bicycle crash “was just a general consequence of the sport.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). In fact, Kaler “expected to get in a wreck at least every other time [he] rode, and [he] would routinely fall off the bike over obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 95). As the expectation of a bicycle crash is a risk inherent to riding trails, it cannot serve to establish the sort of unreasonable risk of harm contemplated in the first Burrell element. See Pfenning, 947 N.E.2d at 407.

P18 Finding that the designated evidence conclusively established that two of the elements of the premises liability [**13] test are not satisfied, we conclude that the trial court erred by denying summary judgment to the City. We reverse the trial court’s decision and now find summary judgment for the City.

II. Contributory Negligence

P19 Next, the City maintains that Kaler is foreclosed from any recovery because of his failure to exercise the care a reasonable, prudent mountain biker should have exercised. It should be noted that Kaler brought his claim against the City, a governmental entity, and therefore, his claim falls under the common law defense of contributory negligence, as the Indiana Comparative Fault Act expressly excludes application to governmental entities. See I.C. § 34-51-2-2. Consequently, even a slight degree of negligence on Kaler’s part, if proximately contributing to his claimed damages, will operate as a total bar to his action for damages against the City, even though, as against nongovernmental defendants, any fault of Kaler would only operate to reduce the damages he might obtain.

[*719] P20 A plaintiff is contributorily negligent when the plaintiff’s conduct “falls below the standard to which he should conform for his own protection and safety.” Funston v. School Town of Munster, 849 N.E.2d 595, 598 (Ind. 2006). Lack of reasonable care that an ordinary person would [**14] exercise in like or similar circumstances is the factor upon which the presence or absence of negligence depends. Id. Expressed another way, “[c]ontributory negligence is the failure of a person to exercise for his own safety that degree of care and caution which an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person in a similar situation would exercise.” Id. at 599. Contributory negligence is generally a question of fact and is not an appropriate matter for summary judgment “if there are conflicting factual inferences.” Id. “However, where the facts are undisputed and only a single inference can reasonably be drawn therefrom, the question of contributory negligence becomes one of law.” Id.

P21 In Funston, the plaintiff sued the school after incurring injuries caused by a fall when he leaned backwards while sitting on the top row of a set of bleachers. Id. at 599. Funston had been at the gym for about four hours, watching two basketball games while sitting on lower rows on other sets of identical bleachers. Id. For the third game, he moved to the top row of one of the bleachers. Id. It was clearly visible that there was no back railing for spectators sitting on the top row, but Funston leaned back anyway because he “thought there [**15] was something back there[.]” Id. Our supreme court concluded that Funston was contributorily negligent as a matter of law, finding that:

It certainly is understandable that [Funston] would be distracted as he engaged his attention on his son’s basketball game. But being understandable does not equate with being completely free of all negligence.

Id. at 600.

P22 In his deposition, Kaler affirmed that in trying to build a skill, it would not be unusual for him “to get off [his] bike and look at the [] obstacles.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89). He also acknowledged that he knew the berm’s high grade would be challenging because he had just started riding high berms and had never ridden a berm as steep as the one at Town Run. As he approached the end of the turn during his first ride on the berm, Kaler could see “there was a drop[.]” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 103). After a successful first run on the berm’s low grade, Kaler decided to ride the feature again. Despite the approaching darkness, he planned to ride the berm’s high grade as high as he possibly could because it would be “really cool to ride it and get that speed[.]” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 101). Notwithstanding the coolness factor, Kaler conceded [**16] that riding obstacles posed a risk of bodily injury as crashes were a general consequence of the sport. Typically, to get an idea of the technical requirements of a trail, the biker “would get off his bike.” (City’s App. Vol. II, p. 89).

P23 Based on the designated evidence, we cannot conclude that Kaler was “completely free of all negligence.” See id. Kaler knew and understood the precautions a reasonably prudent mountain biker should take–inspect the feature prior to riding it–but chose not to follow them. There is no evidence that the jump from the high grade was obscured from view and Kaler conceded that he could have anticipated the drop from the high grade had he taken the precaution a reasonable bicyclist riding an unfamiliar trail would take. Accordingly, we find Kaler contributorily negligent.

[*720] CONCLUSION

P24 Based on the foregoing, we hold that there is no genuine issue of material fact that precludes the entry of summary judgment in the City’s favor on Kaler’s claim of premises liability; and Kaler was contributorily negligent when riding the City’s mountain bike trail at Town Run.

P25 Reversed.

P26 Crone, J. and Altice, J. concur


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.

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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.


Neither a release nor the Pennsylvania Equine Liability Act protects a stable for injuries when the stirrup broke.

Between a poorly written release, an Equine statute that requires proof the rider assumed the risk and the “cavalier” attitude of the defendant; the plaintiff will proceed to trial.

Melendez v. Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131576

State: Pennsylvania, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Wilberto Melendez

Defendant: Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Recklessness

Defendant Defenses: Release and Pennsylvania Equine Liability Protection Act

Holding: For the plaintiff

Year: 2016

The plaintiff was part of a group ride. Upon arrival he was told, he had to sign a release which he did. At the office where the plaintiff signed, the release signs were posed as required by the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act. During the ride, the plaintiff asked the guides if he could gallop the horse and was told no several times. Eventually at the end of the ride, the plaintiff was allowed to gallop his horse.

Plaintiff then mounted the horse and participated in a guided group horseback ride for the next forty-five minutes without incident. On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail. At the end of the ride, one of the guides brought Plaintiff away from the group so that Plaintiff could canter the horse. Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal.

While galloping the horse, the stirrup broke causing the plaintiff to fall incurring injuries.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release signed by the plaintiff and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act. The court denied the motion because the issue of the stirrup breaking could be considered reckless under Pennsylvania law.

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

The decision first looks at releases or exculpatory agreements under Pennsylvania law.

An exculpatory clause is valid if (1) the clause does “not contravene public policy”; (2) the contract is “between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs”; and (3) each party is “a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.

Under Pennsylvania, the language of the release must be clear in relieving notifying the possible plaintiff, he or she is releasing the defendant of negligence. “However, a valid exculpatory clause will nevertheless, be unenforceable “unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.”

As in most states, releases are not favored and must conform to contract law. However, the term “not favored” is a term of art rather than a term used to determine if the release will be valid.

Contracts immunizing a party against liability for negligence are not favored by law and therefore established standards must be “met before an exculpatory provision will be interpreted and construed to relieve a person of liability for his own or his servants’ acts of negligence.”

In that regard Pennsylvania, courts have set up standards on how releases will be governed.

1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by ex-press stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.

As in most other states, Pennsylvania does not allow a release to relieve a defendant for intentional or reckless acts. “Further, exculpatory clauses may not immunize a party for intentional or reckless behavior.

The plaintiff did not argue that the release was not valid. The court reviewed the release on its own and find it valid.

First, the agreement does not violate any public policy of Pennsylvania. In light of the Equine Activities Immunity Act–discussed in the next section–and similar statutes addressing other recreational activities, it is the policy of the state to encourage participation in those activities, despite their inherent danger, and assign the risk of loss to those who choose to participate in them.

Second, the agreement was between two private parties, Happy Trails and Mr. Melendez, concerning the purely private matter of renting a horse for recreational purposes. Finally, this is not a contract of adhesion. (“The signer I is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.”). Thus, the agreement is facially valid.

The court also found Pennsylvania law allowed the use of releases for inherently dangerous activities. Horseback riding in Pennsylvania is an inherently dangerous activity.

The plaintiff’s argument centered on the inherent risks of horseback riding. Inherent, a limiting word, defines the risks that are part of horseback riding no matter what. Inherent risks are part of horseback riding and can rarely be reduced or modified by someone because of the horse. However, there are more than just inherent risks in any activity and the plaintiff argued that a stirrup breaking was not an inherent risk and not covered by the release or the statute.

How the bridle or saddle is attached to the horse is under the control of the stable, thus not an inherent risk of horseback riding in must states. How the horse responds; maneuvers or acts is an inherent risk of riding a horse.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant has failed to meet its burden to show either that defective equipment is an inherent risk of horseback riding, or that the language of the agreement shows that Plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of defective equipment.

Plaintiff points out that the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk. (Id.). Further, Plaintiff argues that a broken stirrup is not an inherent risk of horseback riding as demonstrated by the testimony of both Happy Trails’ owner and a Happy Trails’ employee who both stated they had never seen a stirrup break before. Thus, Plaintiff argues, because the risk was not foreseeable and was not expressly in the agreement, Plaintiff could not appreciate the risk and could therefore not assume it.

(For other articles on the use of “inherent” in a release see: Here is another reason to write releases carefully. Release used the term inherent to describe the risks which the court concluded made the risk inherently dangerous and voids the release and 2015 SLRA – Inherent Risk: Should the Phrase be in your Release?)

The court looked at the issue and rephrased it to a contract analogy. A contract must state the intention of the parties. A release is a contract.

…the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties”–is not met in this case because the agreement did not specifically enumerate the risk of defective equipment. Pennsylvania courts, however, have rejected this argument before.

The court then looked at the issue and found that defective equipment was not an inherent risk of horseback riding. This means if you use the term “inherent risk” in your release to describe all of the risks, claims based defective equipment would not be covered by your release in Pennsylvania. However, the release in this case was written broadly so it was not an issue.

Concerning the case at hand, while this Court agrees with Plaintiff that the provision of defective equipment is not an inherent risk in the sport of horseback riding, this point is not dispositive. As one Pennsylvania court explained, “the assumption of the risk doctrine bars a plaintiff from recovering in tort for risks inherent to a certain activity. In contrast, the explicit, broad, and valid language of the exculpatory clause bars all claims, regardless of whether they arise from an inherent risk.”

Pennsylvania courts have held that a release protects against claims for inherent as well as non-inherent risks if written to include those risks, and this release was written broadly.

The plaintiff argued the release should be read narrowly because the release did not identify defective equipment as a risk to be covered. However, the court found that every risk needs not be reviewed or identified in a release.

Plaintiff advances a more narrow reading of the agreement and argues that because the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk, he did not expressly assume it. The Chepkevich Court, however, was clear that no illustrations or examples are required to give common terms effect in an exculpatory agreement. “All claims” and “negligence” are commonly used terms and Pennsylvania law does not require drafters of exculpatory clauses to enumerate every possible contingency that is included in broader language they choose to use.

The next point the plaintiff argued was the actions of the defendant amounted to recklessness and as such voided the release. The court defined recklessness under Pennsylvania law as:

Recklessness is distinguishable from negligence on the basis that recklessness requires conscious action or inaction which creates a substantial risk of harm to others, whereas negligence suggests unconscious inadvertence.”

Pennsylvania uses the term recklessness to define acts of the defendant that exceed the scope of a release. The majority but not all states use the term gross negligence.

This argument the court did accept. The court found that it was the defendant’s responsibility to inspect the equipment, and the defendant could not provide any evidence of any inspection.

Defendant’s bare assertion that its actions do not rise to the level of recklessness does not satisfy its burden to show that there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact. The record shows that Happy Trails provided a saddle for Plaintiffs ride, that a stirrup on that saddle broke during the ride, and that Plaintiff fell from a horse when the stirrup broke. It was the responsibility of Happy Trails, not the customer, to inspect the equipment, but no records of inspections or repairs were kept, nor was the Happy Trails’ owner able to say if any inspection of the specific stirrup occurred on the day of the accident.

The court on this same topic went on looking at the facts to determine other reckless acts of the defendant. In that review, the court added a comment about the attitude of the defendant/owner of Happy Trails and described his attitude as “cavalier.”

He was unable to say where he procured the saddle in question, how long he had had it, or how old it was. Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal. Viewing the record in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, a question of fact therefore remains as to whether Defendant’s action rose to the level of recklessness

Finding a lack of knowledge about the age or condition of the defendant’s equipment, no record of inspecting or maintaining the equipment and the attitude of the defendant allowed the court to reach a conclusion that the actions of the defendant would be found by a jury to be reckless. As such, a motion for summary judgment could not be granted if there were “genuine dispute as to any material fact.”

The next issue was the application of the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act to the case. The court could find no other case law in Pennsylvania that looked at the application of the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act to defective equipment. Consequently, the court had to interpret the statute to see if the language of the statute covered defective equipment.

The Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act like most equine liability protection acts provides immunity to horse owners, stables, etc., for the actions of the animals. (Since Equine Acts have been created, they have been 100% effective. No horses have been sued. Lawsuits against horse owners have increased.) However, the Pennsylvania statute places a burden on the stable or horse owner to prove knowledge of the risk for the immunity to apply.

Most equine protection acts are written to say that when on a horse, or at places where horses, llamas, mules, etc., are, you assume the risk of the actions of the animal. By assuming the risk, the defendant owner is immune from liability for the plaintiff’s injuries. The Pennsylvania statute is different. The Pennsylvania statute states “liability for negligence shall only be barred where the doctrine of knowing voluntary assumption of risk is proven.”

This requirement puts a burden upon the horse owner to provide additional education to the rider.

The court looked at the definition of assumption of risk as defined in the Restatement of Torts, which found four different definitions or as the Restatement defines them doctrines of assumption of the risk.

The Restatement outlines four varieties of the doctrine, the first two of which are of interest in this case. The first, express assumption of risk occurs when lithe 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. (emphasis added). This is the type of assumption of risk examined above in respect to the agreement signed by Plaintiff. The second, implied assumption of risk, occurs when lithe plaintiff has entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk, and so is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve the defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.”

The first type of assumption of risk the court found that applied here was express assumption of risk. Express assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff has consented to the risk. Usually, this consent is given by writing, if written property as part of a release.

The second type applicable in this case was implied assumption of the risk. Implied assumption of the risk has no exactness to the risk assumed. The plaintiff knows there is risk, and the defendant hopes the plaintiff knows of the explicit risk that may injure the plaintiff or that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. If the plaintiff had no knowledge of the risk, then the plaintiff cannot assume the risk.

It is self-evident that a person “cannot be found to have implicitly assumed a risk of which he had no knowledge.” (plurality opinion). As such, lithe defense of assumption of the risk requires that the defendant show that the plaintiff was subjectively aware of the facts which created the danger and…must have appreciated the danger itself and the nature, character and extent which made it unreasonable.”

In this case, there was no evidence that the plaintiff knew of the risk. That risk was of equipment failure that the stirrup would break. Consequently, the plaintiff could not assume the risk.

Thus, for a defendant to prevail on a summary judgment motion based on the assumption of risk defense, it must be “beyond question that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly proceeded in the face of an obvious and dangerous condition.”

In short, to preclude Plaintiffs negligence action under the EAIA, Defendant must show that Plaintiff knew that the equipment he was provided with might break and voluntarily continued with the horseback ride in spite of that knowledge.

Because the risk that injured the plaintiff was outside of the risks assumed by the plaintiff, the defense of assumption of the risk did not apply. As such, the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act did not provide the defendant with any protection.

With the release not valid and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act not providing any protection both defenses of the defendant failed. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

So Now What?

This case would not have meant anything if the plaintiff had simply fallen off the horse. Both the release and the Pennsylvania Equine Activities Immunity Act would have prevented recovery if a claim had even been made.

But broken equipment always creates a different issue. Here it created an issue of whether the actions of the defendant were reckless and proved the plaintiff did not assume the risk.

Another important issue is courts put into their decision the facts they find persuasive or at least interesting.  There were several facts in the decision that did not alter or affect the decision on its face, but important enough for the court to identify them anyway. I always find these facts as instructional and a good indication of something that was not enough for the judge to argue but important anyway.

I also believe that they may not have any legal value, but if written into the decision by the judge, they had to have an impact on the judge’s thinking, and consequently, those issues did affect the outcome of the case.

In this decision those facts included:

After his group arrived, Plaintiff went into the stable’s office to register. Plaintiff was presented with a form (the “agreement”), which stated, in pertinent part….

Combined with the next sentence:

An employee of Happy Trails informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff must sign the agreement in order to go horseback riding. Plaintiff signed the agreement.

Meaning, the plaintiff was not told in advance he was going to be required to sign a release.

Another one was the plaintiff being told galloping was too dangerous yet he was eventually allowed to gallop his horse.

On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail.

Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal.

If galloping the horse was too dangerous earlier, what changed? More importantly, galloping the horse led to the broken stirrup which led to the injury.

And then there are the straight out in your face statements a court rarely makes.

Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal.

If this statement or something like it has been at the beginning, you would have known immediately that the defendant was going to lose. Never walk into a courtroom looking like the bad guy and never give the court proof, such as this, that you are.

For other Equine Liability Act articles see:

$1.2 M award in horseback riding fatality in Wyoming                                     http://rec-law.us/1fE4ncB

$2.36 M awarded to boy kicked by horse during inner-city youth program   http://rec-law.us/1lk7cTP

A specific statute, a badly written release and an equine liability statute sink instructors and business in horse riding accident.                                                                                             http://rec-law.us/SJZCkU

Decisive Supreme Court Decision on the Validity of Releases in Oklahoma                      http://rec-law.us/19gxvkT

Equine laws stop suit against horse, outfitter still sued                                    http://rec-law.us/XjgJvw

Good News ASI was dismissed from the lawsuit                                               http://rec-law.us/131HKWH

Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release         http://rec-law.us/1nvfCV5

Hawaii’s deceptive trade practices act sends this case and release back to the trial court                                                                                                                                                http://rec-law.us/Z3HdQj

Indiana Equine Liability Statute used to stop litigation                                     http://rec-law.us/12UFp1N

Lying in a release can get your release thrown out by the court.                   http://rec-law.us/11ysy4w

Michigan Equine helped the plaintiff more than the stable and helped prove there may be gross negligence on the part of the defendant                                                             http://rec-law.us/1ZicaQs

Parental control: should you, are you accepting responsibility for kids and when you should or can you not.                                                                                                                             http://rec-law.us/1fteMth

Release saves riding school, even after defendant tried to show plaintiff how to win the case.  http://rec-law.us/14DC7Ad

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Melendez v. Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131576

Melendez v. Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131576

Wilberto Melendez, Plaintiff, v. Happy Trails and Riding Center, Inc., Defendant.

3:14-CV-1894

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131576

September 26, 2016, Decided

September 26, 2016, Filed

CORE TERMS: trail, summary judgment, exculpatory, recklessness, equine, stirrup, stable, immunity, genuine, horse, horseback riding, recreational, animal, material fact, skiing, ride, assumption of risk, faulty, broken, ski, rider, inherent risk, exculpatory clause, riding, sport, skier, enumerate, counter, rental, entity

COUNSEL:  [*1] For Wilberto Melendez, Plaintiff, Counterclaim Defendant: Robin A. Feeney, LEAD ATTORNEY, FINE & STAUD LLP, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For Happy Trails and Riding Center, Incorporated, Defendant, Counterclaim Plaintiff: Dennis M. Marconi, Barnaba & Marconi, LLP, Trenton, NJ.

JUDGES: Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Robert D. Mariani

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction and Procedural History

On September 30, 2014, Plaintiff, Wilberto Melendez, filled a one count Complaint with this Court against Defendant, Happy Trails and Riding Center, lnc.1 (Doc. 1). The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff suffered injury as a result of Defendant’s negligence in its operation of a business which rented horses and equipment to the public for recreational horseback riding. After the conclusion of fact discovery, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19) and supporting brief (Doc. 20) on October 29, 2015. Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition (Doc. 22) and Defendant filed a Reply. (Doc. 23). Oral argument on the matter was held on April 4, 2016.

1 Defendant points out that the business is owned and operated by Randolph Bennett, d/b/a Happy Trails Stables, and was incorrectly pleaded as Happy Trails Riding [*2]  Center, Inc. For the purposes of this motion, the error, if any, is immaterial and the opinion will refer to Defendant as “Defendant” or “Happy Trails.”

The motion is now ripe for decision. For the reasons set forth below the Court will deny Defendant’s motion in its entirety.

II. Statement of Undisputed Facts

In accordance with Local Rule 56.1, Defendant submitted a Statement of Material Facts in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 20), as to which it contends that there is no genuine dispute for trial. Plaintiff submitted a response, a Counter Statement of Facts, (Doc. 22), with the result being that the following facts have been admitted, except as specifically noted:

Plaintiff, Wilberto Melendez, went to Defendant’s stable on May 31, 2014, for the purpose of going horseback riding. (Doc. 20, ¶¶ 1, 2). After his group arrived, Plaintiff went into the stable’s office to register. (Id. at ¶ 5). Plaintiff was presented with a form (the “agreement”), which stated, in pertinent part:

AGREEMENT FOR PARTICIPATION AND\OR VOLUNTEERS [sic] I RELEASE AND DISCHARGE, ACCEPTANCE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND ACKNOWLEDGE [sic] OF RISK:

IN CONDERATION [sic] FOR BEING PERMITTED TO UTILIZE THE FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT [*3]  OF HAPPY TRAILS RIDING STABLES AND TO ENGAGE IN HORSEBACK RIDING, AND ALL RELATED ACTIVITIES.

….

1. I understand and acknowledge that the activity I am voluntarily engage [sic] in as a participant and/or [sic] bears certain know [sic] risk [sic] and unanticipated risks which could result in jury, [sic] death, illness, or disease, physical or mental, or damage to myself, to my property, or to spectators or other third parties. I understand and acknowledge those risk [sic] may result in personal claims against “HAPPY TRAILS STABLES” or claims against me by spectators or other third parties.

1. [sic] The nature of the activity itself, including the possible risks to you the rider.

A. The animal may be startled by unforeseen or unexpected noises from other animals, people, vehicles, activities and as a result you the rider may be hurt or injured should the animal react to said noises or activity, by running, bucking, rolling, or kicking, etc.

B. That you as the rider realizes [sic] that the animal is reacting to your physical instructions, conduct, and verbal instructions and commands, and therefore, the animal will respond in accordance with your reactions or commands. However, there are [*4]  times when the animal may be confused or distracted during course [sic] of your instructions and/or commands.

C. You the rider understands [sic] that an animal may kick or bite you the rider, or you the pedestrian, and that other animals which may be on tour, could kick or bite you the rider and/or pedestrian.

D. You the rider are aware that physical conditions of the trails may cause injury or risk to you, should these physical conditions such as low tree limbs, bushes, or other type of natural growth come in contact with animal [sic] or yourself.

2. I hereby release and discharge Happy Trails Stables, instructors, trail guides, stable managers, employees, owners of the horses and related equipment and land utilized for Happy Trails Stables activities, hereinafter referred to as the “Released Parties,” from any and all claims, demands, or cause of action that I, or any of my heirs, successors or assigns, [sic] may hereafter have for injuries and/or damages arising out of my participation in Happy Trails activities, including but not limited to, loses caused by negligence of the released parties.

3. I further agree that I, my heirs, successors, or assigns, [sic] will not sue or make claim [*5]  against the Released Parties for damage or other loses sustained as a result of my participation in Happy Trails activities.

….

4. I understand and acknowledge that Happy Trails activities have inherent dangers that no amount of cares, [sic] caution, instruction, or expertise can eliminate and I expressly and voluntarily assume all risk of personal injury or death sustained while participating in “Happy Trails Stables” activities weather [sic] or not caused by negligence of the Released Parties ….

….

6. I hereby expressly recognize that this Agreement and Release of Liability is a contract pursuant to which I have released any and all claims against the Released Parties resulting from my participation in Happy Trails activities including any claims caused by negligence of the Released Parties. I also assume the risk of the equine activities pursuant to the [sic] Pennsylvania law.

(Id. at ¶¶ 5, 11; Doc. 20-7) (emphasis original). An employee of Happy Trails informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff must sign the agreement in order to go horseback riding. (Doc. 20, 5). Plaintiff signed the agreement. (Id. at ¶ 8). In addition to the agreement, there were signs posted inside the office, outside [*6]  the office, and by the stable which read “You assume the risk of equine activities pursuant to Pennsylvania Law.” (See id. at ¶¶ 12-15; Doc. 20-8).

After completing the agreement, Plaintiff waited while a Happy Trails employee saddled up a horse. (Doc. 20, ¶ 17). Plaintiff then mounted the horse and participated in a guided group horseback ride for the next forty-five minutes without incident. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 21). On several occasions during the ride, Plaintiff requested permission from the guide to gallop the horse. (Id. at ¶¶ 22, 23). Plaintiff was told it was too dangerous to do on the trail. (Id.). At the end of the ride, one of the guides brought Plaintiff away from the group so that Plaintiff could canter the horse. (Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff then put the horse into a gallop and, while rounding a turn, a stirrup broke and Plaintiff fell from the animal. (id. at ¶¶ 27-29).

Plaintiff maintains that the stirrup Defendant provided him was faulty or defective and that this was the cause of his fall. (Doc. 22 at 1). Plaintiff further maintains that this fall resulted in fractured ribs and pneumothorax. (Id. at 3).

III. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those [*7]  claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). “As to materiality, ….[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S. Ct. 3177, 111 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1990). Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record…or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, “[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). “Inferences [*8]  should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party’s evidence contradicts the movant’s, then the non-movant’s must be taken as true.” Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied 507 U.S. 912, 113 S. Ct. 1262, 122 L. Ed. 2d 659 (1993).

However, “facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a ‘genuine’ dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007). If a party has carried its burden under the summary judgment rule,

its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.

Id. (internal quotations, citations, and alterations omitted).

IV. Analysis [*9]

Plaintiffs complaint alleges that Defendant was negligent in providing broken or defective equipment–the stirrup–to Plaintiff, which directly resulted in his injury. (Doc. 1, ¶ 20). Defendant puts forth two arguments that it maintains are separate and independent grounds for summary judgment. First, Defendant argues that the agreement that Plaintiff signed prior to the horseback ride insulates Defendant from liability under these facts. (Doc. 20 at 9). Second, Defendant argues that, pursuant to 4 P.S. §§ 601-606 (hereinafter “Equine Activities Immunity Act,” “EAIA,” or “the Act”), Happy Trails is immune from liability as a provider of equine activities. (Id.).

A. Exculpatory Agreement

An exculpatory clause is valid if (1) the clause does “not contravene public policy”; (2) the contract is “between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs”; and (3) each party is “a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.” Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1189 (Pa. 2010) (quoting Topp Copy Prods., Inc. v. Singletary, 533 Pa. 468, 626 A.2d 98, 99 (Pa. 1993)). However, a valid exculpatory clause will nevertheless be unenforceable “unless the language of the parties is clear that a person is being relieved of liability for his own acts of negligence.” Id. (quoting Topp Copy Prods., 626 A.2d at 99). Contracts immunizing a [*10]  party against liability for negligence are not favored by law and therefore established standards must be “met before an exculpatory provision will be interpreted and construed to relieve a person of liability for his own or his servants’ acts of negligence.” Dilks v. Flohr Chevrolet, Inc., 411 Pa. 425, 192 A.2d 682, 687 (Pa. 1963). Thus, Pennsylvania courts have established several standards governing the enforceability of exculpatory clauses:

1) the contract language must be construed strictly, since exculpatory language is not favored by the law; 2) the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties; 3) the language of the contract must be construed, in cases of ambiguity, against the party seeking immunity from liability; and 4) the burden of establishing immunity is upon the party invoking protection under the clause.

Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., 616 Pa. 385, 47 A.3d 1190, 1196 (Pa. 2012) (quoting Topp Copy Prods., 626 A.2d at 99). Further, exculpatory clauses may not immunize a party for intentional or reckless behavior. Id. at 1202-03.

Defendant contends that the agreement Plaintiff signed is valid, enforceable, and encompasses broken equipment. (Doc. 20 at 13-16). Therefore, Defendant argues, Plaintiffs negligence [*11]  claim is barred and Happy Trails is entitled to summary judgment. (Id. at 16).

Plaintiff does not appear to argue that the agreement is not valid on its face. Nor should he, considering that the agreement easily satisfies the validity requirements under Chepkevich. First, the agreement does not violate any public policy of Pennsylvania. In light of the Equine Activities Immunity Act–discussed in the next section–and similar statutes addressing other recreational activities, it is the policy of the state to encourage participation in those activities, despite their inherent danger, and assign the risk of loss to those who choose to participate in them. Cf. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1191 (finding that, in light of a statute that preserves the assumption of risk defense in the context of downhill skiing, it is “the clear policy of this Commonwealth . . .to encourage the sport and to place the risks of skiing squarely on the skier.”). Further, Pennsylvania courts have held as valid similar exculpatory agreements in the context of a variety of other inherently dangerous recreational activities. See, e.g., id. (downhill skiing); Wang v. Whitetail Mountain Resort, 2007 PA Super 283, 933 A.2d 110, 113-14 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007) (snow tubing); Valeo v. Pocono Int’l Raceway, Inc., 347 Pa. Super. 230, 500 A.2d 492, 492-93 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1985) (auto racing); Nissley v. Candytown Motorcycle Club, Inc., 2006 PA Super 349, 913 A.2d 887, 889-91(Pa. Super. Ct. 2006) (motorcycle riding).

Second, the agreement was between two private [*12]  parties, Happy Trails and Mr. Melendez, concerning the purely private matter of renting a horse for recreational purposes. Finally, this is not a contract of adhesion. See Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1190-91 (“The signer I is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services, but merely governs a voluntary recreational activity.”). Thus, the agreement is facially valid.

Turning to enforceability, Plaintiff contends that Defendant has failed to meet its burden to show either that defective equipment is an inherent risk of horseback riding, or that the language of the agreement shows that Plaintiff expressly assumed the risk of defective equipment. (Doc. 22 at 11). Plaintiff points out that the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk. (Id.). Further, Plaintiff argues that a broken stirrup is not an inherent risk of horseback riding as demonstrated by the testimony of both Happy Trails’ owner and a Happy Trails’ employee who both stated they had never seen a stirrup break before. (Id. at 12-13). Thus, Plaintiff argues, because the risk was not foreseeable and was not expressly in the agreement, Plaintiff could [*13]  not appreciate the risk and could therefore not assume it. (Id. at 13).

Plaintiffs argument essentially states that the second element from Tayar –that “the contract must state the intention of the parties with the greatest particularity, beyond doubt by express stipulation, and no inference from words of general import can establish the intent of the parties”–is not met in this case because the agreement did not specifically enumerate the risk of defective equipment. Pennsylvania courts, however, have rejected this argument before. See Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1193-94.

In Chepkevich, a skier, Lori Chepkevich, sued a ski resort after she fell from a ski lift and was injured. Id. at 1175-76. She claimed her injury occurred because an employee promised to stop the ski lift briefly to allow Chepkevich to help a child board the lift and then the employee failed to do so. Id. Prior to the accident, Chepkevich had signed a document titled “RELEASE FROM LIABILITY” which stated, in pertinent part,

Skiing, Snowboarding, and Snowblading, including the use of lifts, is a dangerous sport with inherent and other risks which include but are not limited to [certain enumerated risks]…. I agree to accept all these risks and agree not to sue Hidden Valley [*14]  Resort or their employees if injured while using their facilities regardless of any negligence on their part.

Id. at 1176. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court first rejected Chepkevich’s argument that she did not assume the specific risk that caused her injury and instead found that a fall from a ski lift was an inherent risk in the sport of skiing. Id. at 1188. Therefore, the Court found that the suit was barred by the Skier’s Responsibility Act, 42 PA. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7102(c), which preserves the common law assumption of the risk defense in the context of downhill skiing. Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1187-88.

Turning to an alternative ground for summary judgment–the release–the Chepkevich Court held that the term “negligence” did not require any definition or illustration to be given effect. Id. at 1193. Indeed, reversing the court below on that point, the Court found “no reason to require the drafters of exculpatory releases to provide definitions and context for commonly used terms such as ‘negligence.”‘ Id. The Court then found that the plain language of the release encompassed Chepkevich’s claim for negligence and therefore barred the claim. Id. at 1194-95. Because the Court had already found that the risk involved was inherent, the Court found it unnecessary to address the merits of Chepkevich’s [*15]  final argument “that the Release exempted Hidden Valley from liability only when its negligence gave rise to a risk otherwise inherent to the sport of skiing.” Id. at 1193-94.

Concerning the case at hand, while this Court agrees with Plaintiff that the provision of defective equipment is not an inherent risk in the sport of horseback riding, this point is not dispositive. As one Pennsylvania court explained, “the assumption of the risk doctrine bars a plaintiff from recovering in tort for risks inherent to a certain activity. In contrast, the explicit, broad, and valid language of the exculpatory clause bars all claims, regardless of whether they arise from an inherent risk.” Nissley, 913 A.2d at 892 (footnote and internal citations omitted). Thus, as long as the language of the exculpatory agreement applies, any inherent risk analysis is superfluous. The fact that the court in Chepkevich found it unnecessary to its holding to address the plaintiffs argument that non-inherent risks cannot be released in exculpatory agreements does not affect this analysis. As that court saw no need to overturn the language in Nissley, this Court sees no reason not to follow it.

As for enforceability of the agreement, in the realm of recreational [*16]  activities, Pennsylvania has upheld expansive language in exculpatory agreements. See, e.g., Nissley, 913 A.2d at 890-91 (upholding motor cycle club’s exculpatory agreement in a negligence action when the release stated that plaintiff “hereby give[s] up all my rights to sue or make claim”); Zimmer v. Mitchell & Ness, 385 A.2d 437, 440 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1978), aff’d per curiam, 416 A.2d 1010 (1980) (upholding ski rental shop’s exculpatory agreement in a negligence action when the release stated that skier released defendant from “any liability”); Valeo, 500 A.2d at 492-93 (upholding race track’s exculpatory agreement in a negligence action where race car driver signed an agreement releasing “defendants ‘from all liability …for all loss or damage'”).

Here, Plaintiff signed an agreement that he knew to be a waiver. (Doc. 20-2 at 51-53; Doc. 20-7). Paragraph two of the agreement stated that Plaintiff released Happy Trails “from any and all claims, demands, or cause of action that I…may hereafter have for injuries and/or damages arising out of my participation in Happy Trails activities, including but not limited to, loses caused by negligence.” Further, paragraph six states that Plaintiff “hereby expressly recognize[s] that this Agreement and Release of Liability is a contract pursuant to which I have released any and all claims against the [*17]  Released Parties resulting from my participation in Happy Trails activities including any claims caused by negligence.” Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant was negligent in providing him defective equipment during his trail ride. The plain language of the agreement signed by Plaintiff releases Defendant from “all claims” including those “caused by negligence.” Thus, Plaintiffs claim, in as much as it is alleging that Defendant acted negligently, is encompassed by the exculpatory language of the agreement and therefore barred.2

2 This Court notes that there is some language in Chepkevich that seems to support Plaintiffs argument. As an aside, the Chepkevich Court states that “the risk [in this case] was not so unexpected, or brought about in so strange a manner, as to justify placing this injury beyond the reach of the plain language of the Release.” Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1194. Plaintiff has pointed out that a broken stirrup is a very uncommon, and therefore unexpected, occurrence. (Doc. 22 at 12-13). Nevertheless, because Chepkevich does not give any standards for what type of risks fall beyond the realm of the plain language of an exculpatory agreement, this Court must turn to other cases. This Court finds  [*18]  Zimmer v. Mitchell and Ness  instructive.

In Zimmer, a skier, Joseph Zimmer, sued a ski rental company after the bindings on the skis he rented failed to release as they were supposed to during a fall, causing him substantial injury. Zimmer, 385 A.2d at 438. Zimmer argued that the rental company was negligent in renting him skis without testing and fitting the bindings. Id. at 440. The court granted the ski rental company’s motion for summary judgment based on an exculpatory agreement that Zimmer signed when he rented the skis that released the rental company “from any liability for damage and injury to myself or to any person or property resulting from the use of this equipment.” Id.

Thus, while the specific issue of a broken stirrup may be very uncommon, Pennsylvania courts have enforced exculpatory agreements in the case of a released party negligently providing the releasing party with defective or broken equipment.

Plaintiff advances a more narrow reading of the agreement and argues that because the agreement does not enumerate defective equipment as a risk, he did not expressly assume it. The Chepkevich Court, however, was clear that no illustrations or examples are required to give common terms effect in an exculpatory [*19]  agreement. See Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1193. “All claims” and “negligence” are commonly used terms and Pennsylvania law does not require drafters of exculpatory clauses to enumerate every possible contingency that is included in broader language they choose to use. Plaintiff agreed to release Defendant from “all claims” including those that arose from Defendant’s negligence. Plaintiff cannot now protest that he did not know what “all claims” included.3

3 At oral argument, Plaintiff advanced a slightly different argument. Plaintiff argued, in effect, that because paragraph one of the agreement enumerates risks associated with horseback riding, the rest of the agreement is limited to those enumerated lists. This argument was also advanced in Chepkevich. See Chepkevich, 2 A.3d at 1194. There, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that “by enumerating risks inherent to downhill skiing and then requiring the skier to accept those risks, the Release only bars suits that arise out of the listed risks.” Id. The court found that the release, which stated that skiing “is a dangerous sport with inherent and other risks,” was not limited to the enumerated the risks, but clearly included “other risks.” Here, as in Chepkevich, Plaintiff’s argument [*20]  fails on textual grounds. It is true that the agreement, in paragraph one, lists some risks inherent to horseback riding. However, in paragraph two and six, the agreement states that Plaintiff relinquishes “any and all claims.” There is no limiting language in paragraph two or six that would indicate that Plaintiff was only relinquishing claims arising out of the enumerated risks in paragraph one.

Plaintiff finally argues that Defendant’s conduct amounts to recklessness and exculpatory agreements cannot immunize reckless conduct. (Doc. 22 at 14); see Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1202-03. Defendant concedes that the agreement only releases it from suits for negligence, not recklessness, and counters that its “conduct at most amounts to ordinary negligence.” (Doc. 23 at 10). “Recklessness is distinguishable from negligence on the basis that recklessness requires conscious action or inaction which creates a substantial risk of harm to others, whereas negligence suggests unconscious inadvertence.” Tayar, 47 A.3d at 1200.

The actor’s conduct is in reckless disregard of the safety of another if he 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 [*21]  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.

Id. at 1200-01 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500).

Defendant’s bare assertion that its actions do not rise to the level of recklessness does not satisfy its burden to show that there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact. The record shows that Happy Trails provided a saddle for Plaintiffs ride, that a stirrup on that saddle broke during the ride, and that Plaintiff fell from a horse when the stirrup broke. (Doc. 22-5 at 35-36, 39-40). It was the responsibility of Happy Trails, not the customer, to inspect the equipment, but no records of inspections or repairs were kept, nor was the Happy Trails’ owner able to say if any inspection of the specific stirrup occurred on the day of the accident. (Id. at 13, 53-55, 58, 60). Happy Trails’ owner testified that he bought used saddles on the internet and also from individuals who walk into his business. (Id. at 18). He was unable to say where he procured the saddle in question, how long he had had it, or how old it was. (Id. at 18-19, 58, 60). Additionally, Happy Trails’ owner displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards [*22]  safety, asserting that customers assume all risks associated with the activity, including equipment breaking, staff failing to put equipment on the horses correctly, and even staff failing to provide basic equipment like stirrups or a bridal. (Id. at 32-33). Viewing the record in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, a question of fact therefore remains as to whether Defendant’s action rose to the level of recklessness.

Defendant goes on to argue that Plaintiff failed to plead recklessness and that if “recklessness is the standard to apply in this case, plaintiffs compliant must be dismissed with prejudice.” (Doc. 23 at 10). This argument, however, runs counter to the holding in Archibald v. Kemble, 2009 PA Super 79, 971 A.2d 513 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009).

Archibald involved a lawsuit stemming from Robert Archibald’s participation in a “no-check” adult hockey league. Id. at 515. In his complaint, Archibald alleged that another player, Cody Kemble, checked him into the boards of the ice hockey rink. Id. The complaint went on to say that

Cody Kemble’s negligence consisted of the following:

a. failing to assure that Robert Archibald was aware and/or warned that the check was going to be attempted before checking him into the boards;

b. failing to assure that Robert Archibald was willing [*23]  to be checked;

c. checking Robert Archibald when not safe to do so;

d. failing to understand and learn the rules, prohibition and limitation on any checking prior to participating in the non-checking league and game.

Id. at 516. First determining that Archibald would only be able to recover if he showed that Kemble acted recklessly, the Court went on to hold that recklessness “may be averred generally.” Id. at 517, 519. Thus, “merely determining the degree of care is recklessness does not give rise to a separate tort that must have been pled within the applicable statute of limitations.” Id. at 519. Instead, “Archibalds’ cause of action was…subsumed within the negligence count pled in their Complaint.” Id.; see also M.U. v. Downingtown High Sch. E., 103 F. Supp. 3d 612, 629 (E.D. Pa. 2015) (construing a separately pleaded recklessness claim “simply as a mechanism to recover punitive damages under [the] negligence claim” because “[t]here is no cause of action for recklessness under Pennsylvania law” and “recklessness is a heightened standard of care required to potentially recover punitive damages”).

Consequently, under Archibald, the fact that Plaintiff did not specifically plead recklessness in his Complaint is not fatal to his claim. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that, among other things, [*24]  Defendant “provid[ed] equipment or tack that defendant knew or should have known was faulty.” This statement encompasses the allegation that Defendant recklessly provided Plaintiff with defective or faulty equipment. The fact that Plaintiffs Complaint does not contain the word “reckless” is immaterial.

In sum, because the agreement that Plaintiff signed is only enforceable to immunize Defendant for its negligence, and not for its recklessness, and because there is a genuine dispute as to the material fact of whether Defendant acted recklessly in this case, the Court finds that the agreement is not a sufficient basis for summary judgment.

B. Equine Activities Immunity Act

Defendant next points to the Equine Activities Immunity Act, 4 P.S. §§ 601-606, as an alternative, independent basis for summary judgment. The EAIA limits the liability of certain providers of equine activities if specific requirements are met. Defendant argues that, as a provider of a qualifying equine activity who has complied with the EAIA’s statutory requirements, it is entitled to immunity from suit. (Doc. 20 at 10-11). Plaintiff counters that Defendant’s negligent provision of defective or faulty equipment puts the suit outside of the EAIA’s [*25]  protections. (Doc. 22 at 4).

The issue of whether a covered entity is immunized from liability under the EAIA for providing defective or faulty equipment is a question of first impression. As such, this Court must engage in statutory interpretation. For this Court to interpret state law, it “must determine how the highest court of the State would decide an issue.” Baker ex rel. Thomas v. Gen. Motors Corp., 522 U.S. 222, 249, 118 S. Ct. 657, 139 L. Ed. 2d 580 (1998). Pennsylvania interprets statutes according to the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa.Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1501-1991. “When interpreting statutory language, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is guided by the ‘plain meaning’ rule of construction.” Hofkin v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 81 F.3d 365, 371 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Commonwealth v. Stanley, 498 Pa. 326, 446 A.2d 583, 587 (Pa. 1982)). “The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. Every statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions.” 1 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1921(a). “When the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.” Id. at § 1921(b).

The EAIA provides immunity for “an individual, group, club or business entity that sponsors, organizes, conducts or provides the facilities for an equine activity” including “[r]ecreational rides or drives which involve riding or other activity [*26]  involving the use of an equine.” 4 P.S. §§ 601, 602(b)(6). The EAIA, however, only provides immunity where signs of at least a certain size are “conspicuously posted on the premises…in two or more locations, which states the following: You assume the risk of equine activities pursuant to Pennsylvania law.” Id. at § 603. For covered entities in compliance with the signs requirement, “liability for negligence shall only be barred where the doctrine of knowing voluntary assumption of risk is proven with respect to damages due to injuries or death to an adult participant resulting from equine activities.” Id. at § 602(a). Finally, the Act is clear that “[t]he immunity provided for by this act shall be narrowly construed.” Id. at § 606.

Plaintiff does not argue that Defendant, as a provider of recreational horseback riding activities, is not a covered entity under the statute. Additionally, Plaintiff does not argue that Defendant did not have the appropriate signs as prescribed under the EAIA. Plaintiffs sole argument is that the Act does not bar actions for the negligent provision of faulty or defective equipment. (Doc. 22 at 6). Stated otherwise, Plaintiff argues that because he did not know he might be given defective or faulty [*27]  equipment, he could not knowingly assume the risk of such. Defendant counters that “[o]nce plaintiff entered the stables property and took part in recreational horse riding, he assumed the risk of harm associated with such activities.” (Doc. 20 at 11).

The EAIA states that “liability for negligence shall only be barred where the doctrine of knowing voluntary assumption of risk is proven.” 4 P.S. § 602(a). The Act, therefore, appears to preserve the common law assumption of risk doctrine in the context of equine activities. In delineating the contours of this doctrine, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has looked to the Restatement Second of Torts. See Hughes v. Seven Springs Farm, Inc., 563 Pa. 501, 762 A.2d 339, 341-42 (Pa. 2000). The Restatement outlines four varieties of the doctrine, the first two of which are of interest in this case. See Restatement (second) of Torts § 496A cmt. c. The first, express assumption of risk occurs when lithe 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. (emphasis added). This is the type of assumption of risk examined above in respect to the agreement signed by Plaintiff. The second, implied assumption of risk, occurs when lithe plaintiff has [*28]  entered voluntarily into some relation with the defendant which he knows to involve the risk, and so is regarded as tacitly or impliedly agreeing to relieve the defendant of responsibility, and to take his own chances.” Id. (emphasis added).

It is self-evident that a person “cannot be found to have implicitly assumed a risk of which he had no knowledge.” Rutter v. Ne. Beaver Cty. Sch. Dist., 496 Pa. 590, 437 A.2d 1198, 1204 (Pa. 1981) (plurality opinion). As such, lithe defense of assumption of the risk requires that the defendant show that the plaintiff was subjectively aware of the facts which created the danger and…must have appreciated the danger itself and the nature, character and extent which made it unreasonable.”‘ Berman v. Radnor Rolls, Inc., 374 Pa. Super. 118, 542 A.2d 525, 532 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1988) (alteration in original) (quoting Crance v. Sohanic, 344 Pa. Super. 526, 496 A.2d 1230, 1232 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1985)); See also Restatement (second) of Torts § 496D.4 Thus, for a defendant to prevail on a summary judgment motion based on the assumption of risk defense, it must be “beyond question that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly proceeded in the face of an obvious and dangerous condition.” Barrett v. Fredavid Builders, Inc., 454 Pa. Super. 162, 685 A.2d 129, 131 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1996) (citing Struble v. Valley Forge Military Acad., 445 Pa. Super. 224, 665 A.2d 4 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1995)). Finally, “[t]he mere fact one engages in activity that has some inherent danger does not mean that one cannot recover from a negligent party when injury is subsequently sustained.” Bullman v. Giuntoli, 2000 PA Super 284, 761 A.2d 566, 572 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2000).

4 Of course, a plaintiff’s own assertion about whether he knew of and understood [*29]  the risk is not conclusive.

There are some risks as to which no adult will be believed if he says that he did not know or understand them. Thus an adult who knowingly comes in contact with a fire will not be believed if he says that he was unaware of the risk that he might be burned by it; and the same is true of such risks as those of drowning in water or falling from a height, in the absence of any special circumstances which may conceal or appear to minimize the danger.

Restatement (Second) of Torts §496D cmt. d.

In short, to preclude Plaintiffs negligence action under the EAIA, Defendant must show that Plaintiff knew that the equipment he was provided with might break and voluntarily continued with the horseback ride in spite of that knowledge. Only then can Plaintiff be said to knowingly assume the risk. Defendant, however, has made no such showing. Defendant has failed to point to anything in the record to show that Plaintiff decided to use the equipment with the knowledge that the stirrup or any other equipment Plaintiff was provided with might break. Nor is this a case where the risk is so obvious that the knowledge could be inferred. The owner of Happy Trails testified that, in the approximately ten years he operated [*30]  the stable, he never remembered a single stirrup breaking. (Doc. 20-3 at 20-21). Given that it is not a common occurrence, it strains credibility to argue that a recreational participant would know that being provided broken equipment was likely.

Therefore, because there has been no showing that Plaintiff knew of the risk and voluntarily disregarded it, the EAIA provides no relief for Defendant.5

5 At oral argument, counsel for the Defendant conceded that, even under the broad interpretation of the Act that Defendant argued for, the Act would not immunize a covered entity for acts of recklessness or gross negligence. As this Court has already found that there is a genuine dispute as to the material fact of whether the Defendant acted recklessly, this provides an alternative ground for the finding that the Act does not provide immunity under these facts.

V. Conclusion

For the reasons stated above, the Court will deny Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19). A separate Order follows.

/s/ Robert D. Mariani

Robert D. Mariani

United States District Judge

ORDER

AND NOW, THIS 26th DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 2016, upon consideration of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED [*31]  THAT:

1. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19) is DENIED.

2. A telephone scheduling conference will be held on Wednesday, October 5, 2016, at 4:00 p.m. Counsel for Plaintiff is responsible for arranging the call to (570) 207-5750, and all parties should be ready to proceed before the undersigned is contacted.

/s/ Robert D. Mariani

Robert D. Mariani

United States District Judge

 


Lizzol v. Brothers Property Management Corporation, Et. Al., 2016 DNH 199; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150427

Lizzol v. Brothers Property Management Corporation, Et. Al., 2016 DNH 199; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150427

Jennifer Lizzol, Michael Lizzol, and T.G., Plaintiffs v. Brothers Property Management Corporation, Out Back Kayak, Inc., and Martin Welch, Defendants

Case No. 15-cv-100-SM

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

2016 DNH 199; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150427

October 31, 2016, Decided

October 31, 2016, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Lizzol v. Bros. Prop. Mgmt. Corp., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16863 (D.N.H., 2016)

COUNSEL:  [*1] For Jennifer Lizzol, Michael Lizzol, T. G., Plaintiffs: Philip R. Waystack, Jr., Sandra L. Cabrera, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Waystack Frizzell, Colebrook, NH.

 

For Brothers Property Management Corporation, Out Back Kayak, Inc. OBK, Defendants: Paul B. Kleinman, Bouchard Kleinman & Wright PA (M), Manchester, NH.

For Martin Welch, Defendant: Paul B. Kleinman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bouchard Kleinman & Wright PA (M), Manchester, NH.

JUDGES: Steven J. McAuliffe, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Steven J. McAuliffe

OPINION

ORDER

Jennifer Lizzol, her husband Michael, and their son, T.G., filed suit to recover damages for injuries sustained as a result of a snow machine accident that occurred during a winter vacation at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, in Whitefield, New Hampshire (“Mountain View Grand”). Defendants move for summary judgment based upon a liability release and covenant not to sue executed by Jennifer and Michael before the accident. Defendants also move for summary judgment on Michael Lizzol’s and T.G’s bystander liability claim. For the reasons discussed, defendants’ motion is granted.

Standard of Review

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must “constru[e] the record in the light most favorable to the [*2]  nonmoving party and resolv[e] all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Pierce v. Cotuit Fire Dist., 741 F.3d 295, 301 (1st Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In this context, “a fact is ‘material’ if it potentially affects the outcome of the suit and a dispute over it is ‘genuine’ if the parties’ positions on the issue are supported by conflicting evidence.” Int’l Ass’n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Winship Green Nursing Ctr., 103 F.3d 196, 199-200 (1st Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). See also Nolan v. CN8, 656 F.3d 71, 76 (1st Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, if the nonmoving party’s “evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,” no genuine dispute as to a material fact has been proved, and “summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (citations omitted).

Background

Construing the record in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, and resolving all reasonable inferences in their favor, the controlling facts appear to be as follows.

The Lizzols travelled to the Mountain View Grand from Long Island, New York, on January 27, 2013, arriving in the afternoon. Prior to their arrival, Jennifer had scheduled a snowmobile lesson and tour for herself, her husband, and her son, as well as for a few of their friends, through the Mountain View Grand’s website. [*3]  Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. C at p. 2. The lessons and guided tour were provided by Out Back Kayak, Inc. (“OBK”). Upon arrival at the resort, the Lizzols quickly put their luggage in their rooms, and then left to participate in the snowmobile activity, including a lesson and tour. Id.

The Lizzols were directed by the hotel activities desk to a small building on the grounds, where they met a Mountain View Grand employee, who told them to quickly pick out helmets and sign a two-page document that bore the following heading:

Snow Machine Tour

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF RISKS AND HAZARDS

COVENANT NOT TO SUE

WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY

(the “Release”). The Lizzols felt rushed during the process, see, e.g., Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. C. at p. 3, but both Jennifer and Michael had an opportunity to review the Release, and each signed and initialed it. (Jennifer executed the release on behalf of her minor son, T.G.). The Release includes the following language:

I . . . hereby voluntarily agree to release, waive, discharge, hold harmless, defend and indemnify BPMC, the field operator, the event promoter, the owners of premises used to conduct the snowmobile activity, their owners, [*4]  agents, officers and employees from any and all claims, actions or losses for bodily injury, property damage, wrongful death or injury, loss of services or otherwise which may arise out of my use of eques[trian] or other equipment or my participation in any BPMC activity. I specifically understand that I am giving up any rights that I may have by releasing, discharging and waiving any claims or actions presently or in the future for the negligent acts or other conduct by the owners, agents, officers, designees or employees of BPMC.

Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. A, p. 1. The Release includes five lettered paragraphs that provide tour participants with a designated space in which to place his or her initials, thereby confirming that he or she understands and acknowledges the following:

(A) that he or she is physically fit to participate in the activity;

(B) that participation in the activity may result in “bodily injury, disease, strains, fractures, partial and/or total paralysis, eye injury, dental injury, blindness, . . . cold weather injuries, heart attack, asthma, vehicle injuries, mental duress, death or other ailments that could cause serious disability;”

(C) that “[t]hese risks and dangers [*5]  [of bodily injury] may be caused by the negligence of the owners, employees, officers or agents of the Mountain View Grand and/or the negligence of the participants . . . ;”

(D) that by participating “in these activities and/or use of equipment, [the participant] . . . assume[s] all risks and dangers and all responsibility for any loss and/or damages, whether caused in whole or in part by the negligence or other conduct of the owners, agents, officers, designees, employees of BPMC, or by any other person[;]” and

(E) that the participant “understand[s] that [he or she is] undertaking this snowmobiling activity at [his or her] own risk, freely and voluntarily without any inducement[.]”

Id. Jennifer did not initial Paragraph B or Paragraph D, and Michael did not initial Paragraph B.

After signing the Release and obtaining their helmets, the Lizzols met their tour instructor, OBK employee Martin Welch, and his assistant, Jennifer Welch. The Lizzols had no snow machine experience. Welch provided a very brief introduction to and instruction regarding operation of the snow machines. He explained how to accelerate, brake, and turn. He told them that the tour would never travel faster than 20 miles per hour. Welch then [*6]  assisted the tour members with their snowmobile selections, and the tour began.

Jennifer and Michael rode on a two-person snow machine, with Jennifer operating the vehicle. They were directly behind Welch in the line of snowmobiles. Their son, T.G., rode by himself and was farther back in the line. Welch drove rather quickly during the tour, and far exceeded the self-imposed 20 miles per hour speed limitation he had announced earlier. Jennifer did not keep pace, and, as Welch increased his speed during the second half of the tour, Jennifer lost sight of him. Jennifer attempted to follow Welch’s tracks in the snow, but, in doing so, lost control of the snowmobile, which left the path and flipped over. Jennifer, Michael, and the snow machine fell down a steep embankment that was approximately seventy-five feet high.

Both Jennifer and Michael suffered physical injuries, but Jennifer’s were particularly severe. She lost consciousness, had collapsed lungs, 10 broken ribs, and multiple injuries to her spine and back.

The plaintiffs later learned that other customers may have complained that Welch drove too quickly during earlier snow machine tours. After the accident, Mountain View Grand manager, [*7]  Chris Diego, asked Michael if Welch had been “going too fast again.” Pls.’ Opp. to Summary Judgment, Exh. 4, p. 6.

Jennifer, Michael, and their son brought suit against Brothers Property Management Corporation (which owns and operates the Mountain View Grand), OBK, and Martin Welch, asserting claims for negligence, including negligent training and supervision, vicarious liability, bystander liability, and loss of consortium. The defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that the contractual Release is both valid and enforceable.

Discussion

Defendants argue that the scope of the Release plainly encompasses the claims at issue here because the complaint alleges that, as a result of the defendants’ negligence, they were injured while participating in the snow machine lesson and tour activity. Plaintiffs disagree.

New Hampshire law generally prohibits exculpatory contracts. McGrath v. SNH Development, Inc., 158 N.H. 540, 542, 969 A.2d 392 (2009). But, there are exceptions. Exculpatory contracts are enforceable if: “(1) they do not violate public policy; (2) the plaintiff understood the import of the agreement or a reasonable person in [plaintiff’s] position would have understood the import of the agreement; and (3) the plaintiff’s claims fall within the contemplation [*8]  of the parties when they executed the contract.” Id. at 542 (quoting Dean v. MacDonald, 147 N.H. 263, 266-67, 786 A.2d 834 (2008)).

A. The Scope of the Release

Plaintiffs argue that the Release is not enforceable because they did not understand it to encompass claims for negligent instruction, or negligent guidance on the snow machine tour, and a reasonable person in their position would not understand the Release to bar such claims. They say that the content, structure, and organization of the Release – which plaintiffs contend is verbose, employs obfuscating language, and uses confusing sentence structure – disguised any intent to relieve the defendants of liability for their own negligence related to instruction or guidance along the trail. They point out that the words “instruction,” “lesson” and “guide” are terms that do not appear in the Release. Rather, the Release focuses on terms like “services,” “use of equipment,” and “participation in activities.” Altogether, they say, the impression is given that the Release applies only to injuries inherent to snow machine activity and the use of snow machine equipment, but not to harm resulting from an instructor’s or guide’s failure to act with reasonable care.

The parties’ differing subjective understandings [*9]  of the Release’s intent is of limited relevance to the controlling analysis, however, since courts must “judge the intent of the parties by objective criteria rather than the unmanifested states of mind of the parties.” Dean, 147 N.H. at 267 (citing Lake v. Sullivan, 145 N.H. 713, 715, 766 A.2d 708 (2001) and Barnes v. New Hampshire Karting Ass’n, Inc., 128 N.H. 102, 107, 509 A.2d 151 (1986)). Under applicable New Hampshire law, courts examine the language of a release and “give the language used by the parties its common meaning and give the contract itself the meaning that would be attached to it by a reasonable person.” McGrath, 158 N.H. at 545 (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Dean, 147 N.H. at 267). “As long as the language of the release clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence, the agreement will be upheld.” Id. (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Dean, 147 N.H. at 267). However, a defendant “will not be released from liability when the language of the contract raises any doubt as to whether the plaintiff has agreed to assume the risk of a defendant’s negligence.” Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 414, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002) (citations omitted).

The language used in the Release at issue here is broad in reach, detailed, and clear. A reasonable person would be hard pressed to avoid recognizing the significance and effect of the words used. The Release [*10]  plainly purports to release Mountain View Grand employees and agents of all liability for their own negligence, or the negligence of others (e.g. other snowmobile activity participants), related to the snow machine instruction and tour (equipment and services). The Release repeatedly references waiving the negligence of MVG’s employees, officers and agents. For example, after warning the signatory of the serious risks of injury associated with participation in the snow machine tour, including bodily injury and death, the Release explains that those risks could be caused by “the negligence of the owners, employees or agents of the Mountain View Grand.” Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. A. The Release then states that the signatory agrees to “assume all risks and dangers and all responsibility for any loss and/or damages whether caused in whole or in part by the negligence . . . of the owners, agents, officers, designees, employees of BPMC.” Id. The Release further provides: “I specifically understand that I am giving up any rights that I may have by releasing, discharging and waiving any claims or actions . . . for the negligent acts or other conduct by the owners, agents, officers, [*11]  designees or employees of BPMC.” Id.

The language of the Release unarguably applies to claims or suits based on the negligence of Mountain View Grand owners, employees, officers or agents. The Release does not qualify or limit the “negligence” being released in any way, nor is the Release ambiguous in that regard. References in the Release to “participation in [the] activity” also make clear that claims arising from the releasees’ negligence associated with the described activity are being waived.

The Lizzols participated in an activity that consisted of a snow machine lesson and a snow machine tour. Plaintiffs’ claim that they were injured because defendants negligently conducted both the snow machine lesson and the tour. Their negligence claims, then, necessarily arise directly from their participation in the activity (the snow machine lesson and tour). That the Release does not include terms like “instruction,” “lesson” or “guide” is not dispositive: “[T]he parties need not have contemplated the precise occurrence that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries, and may adopt language that covers a broad range of accidents.” McGrath, 158 N.H. at 545 (internal citations omitted) (citing Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107). So, attempting to carve out [*12]  discrete acts of negligence from the Release is futile if, as here, those discrete acts are associated with the conduct of the snow machine instruction and tour activity.

A reasonable person “would have contemplated that the agreements released the defendants from any negligence, not just from negligence inherent” in snowmobiling. McGrath, 158 N.H. at 547.

B. The Release encompasses the negligence claims against OBK

Plaintiffs further argue that the Release failed to place them on notice that they were releasing OBK from liability, since OBK is not a named party to the exculpatory contract, and is not mentioned by name. Relying on Porter v. Dartmouth College, No. 07-cv-28-PB, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90516, 2009 WL 3227831 (D.N.H. Sept. 30, 2009), plaintiffs note that the Release repeatedly makes reference to the Mountain View Grand and its equipment, but does not mention OBK or its instructors. Therefore, they say, a reasonable person would not understand that the Release also purported to absolve OBK from liability for its own negligence.

“An exculpatory contract need not specifically identify the defendant by name.” Porter, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90516, 2009 WL 3227831, at *3 (citing Dean, 147 N.H. at 270). “However, the contract must at least provide a functional identification of the parties being released.” Id. Here, the Release reads in relevant part:

I . [*13]  . . voluntarily agree to release . . . BPMC, the field operator, the event promoter, the owners of premises used to conduct the snowmobile activity, their owners, agents, officers and employees from any and all claims, actions or losses for bodily injury, . . . wrongful death or injury, loss of services or otherwise which may arise out of my use of [equestrian] or other equipment or my participation in any BPMC activity. I specifically understand that I am giving up any rights that I may have by releasing, discharging and waiving any claims or actions . . . for the negligent acts or other conduct by the owners, agents, officers, designees or employees of BPMC.

Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. A (emphasis supplied).

Defendants point out that OBK, and Welch individually, are covered by the Release because they are both “agents” of BPMC, and they acted as the referenced “field operator” for the snow machine tour. Indeed, plaintiffs specifically alleged the existence of an agency relationship between BPMC and OBK in their Complaint. See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 48 (“Mountain View Grand controlled in whole or in part the activities engaged in by Out Back Kayak and/or its employees and is vicariously [*14]  liable for the negligent actions of the snow mobile tour guides committed while engaged in the scope of employment.”). The asserted agency relationship is an essential element of plaintiffs’ vicarious liability claim. Defendants readily agree that OBK and Welch were agents of BPMC. For reasons satisfactory to the parties, they do not dispute OBK’s or Welch’s status as agents of BPMC. As BPMC’s agent, OBK and Welch are plainly covered by the Release.

Moreover, plaintiffs’ reliance on Porter is unhelpful. In Porter, the plaintiff, an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, was fatally injured while participating in a class that included ski lessons, at a facility owned, operated, and maintained by Dartmouth. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90516, 2009 WL 3227831, at *1. Her estate filed suit, asserting claims for negligence and wrongful death. Id. Dartmouth argued that the claims were barred by a release agreement plaintiff signed before renting ski equipment for the class. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90516, [WL] at *2. The release in Porter, which had been drafted by Solomon (the ski and bindings manufacturer), did not mention Dartmouth by name, and repeatedly emphasized and referred only to ski equipment being rented by the student. See 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90516, [WL] at *3. Based on those distinguishing facts, the court concluded [*15]  that the release failed to place the “equipment renter on even functional notice that Dartmouth was in any way a party” to the release agreement. Id.

Unlike the release at issue in Porter, the Release here makes evident that it pertains not just to the furnishing and use of equipment associated with the snow machine activity, but also to the furnishing of services associated with that activity. The clearest example is found in the first paragraph of the Release, which provides: “In consideration of Brothers Property Management Corporation . . . furnishing services and equipment to enable me to participate in the Snow Machine tour (snowmobiling), I acknowledge and agree as follows.” Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. A (emphasis added). Indeed, nearly every time the Release references the signatory’s use of equipment, the Release also references the signatory’s participation in the snow machine lesson and tour. See id. Such references objectively manifest the parties’ intent that the Release encompass all claims based upon the negligent provision of services – including services provided by Mountain View Grand’s agent, OBK — that related to plaintiffs’ participation in the snow machine [*16]  tour activity. While not identified by name, OBK and Welch were functionally identified as benefitting from the Release, when acting as agents of Mountain View Grand.

C. Jennifer’s failure to initial certain paragraphs of the Release does not preclude its enforcement.

Plaintiffs next argue that, even if the Release does encompass the claims at issue, it is still not enforceable against Jennifer, because she failed to initial paragraphs B and D of the Release. Plaintiffs characterize the lettered paragraphs as “several distinct exculpatory clauses” that they were required to agree to separately, and which, as structured, give the impression that “the participant might agree to certain terms, but not others.” Pls.’ Mem. in Opp. to Mot. for Summary Judgment at p. 18. Because Jennifer did not initial two of the contract’s paragraphs, plaintiffs say, those paragraphs are not enforceable against her. At the very least, plaintiffs continue, Jennifer’s failure to initial those paragraphs gives rise to disputed issues of material fact regarding her intent to be bound by those paragraphs, and whether there was a “meeting of the minds” with respect to releasing defendants from liability for their [*17]  own negligence. Id.

In response, defendants point out that the final paragraph of the Release reads:

I have read the above paragraphs and fully understand their content. I understand that this is a Release of Liability, which will legally prevent me or any other person from filing suit and making any other claims for damages in the event of personal injury, death or property damage.

Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. A. Defendants argue that the final paragraph clearly and explicitly incorporates the terms of paragraphs B and D, and therefore plaintiffs’ argument is unavailing.

The final paragraph of the Release is unambiguous. By signing the Release, Jennifer acknowledged that she had read the entire agreement and agreed to its terms; all of its terms. Cf. Serna v. Lafayette Nordic Vill., Inc., No. 14-CV-049-JD, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92669, 2015 WL 4366250, at *3 (D.N.H. July 16, 2015) (finding that plaintiff’s failure to sign a release on the back of a form did not bar enforcement, where plaintiff had signed the front of the agreement following a statement acknowledging that she had read the agreement on the back of the form concerning the release of liability, and agreed to its terms); see also Gannett v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 131 N.H. 266, 269-70, 552 A.2d 99 (1988) (“The plaintiff argues, however, that she is not bound by the [*18]  condition in the release, as she never returned the release to Merchants. The return of the release, however, is irrelevant, as it was the acceptance of a check offered on the condition that it constitute payment in full, rather than the signing of the release, which bound [plaintiff]. It is also irrelevant whether she actually read the release, when the release clearly and unambiguously stated the condition, and when [plaintiff] had the opportunity to read it before cashing the check.”). Here, Jennifer acknowledged having read the entire release and objectively manifested her agreement, after which she accepted the services to be provided only on condition that a full release first be given.

The parties do not cite New Hampshire authorities directly on point, nor has the court found any, but it appears that the Tenth Circuit addressed a nearly identical issue in Elsken v. Network Multi-Family Security Corp, 49 F.3d 1470 (10th Cir. 1995). In Elsken, the plaintiff entered into a services agreement with a security corporation to provide a 24-hour alarm system. Id. at 1471. The agreement contained a limitation of liability clause, on the same page as a space provided for a party to initial. Id. at 1473. The plaintiff signed the agreement, but failed to initial the line next to the [*19]  limitation of liability clause. Plaintiff there also signed the agreement below a provision “articulating a presumption that the agreement was properly executed,” which read:

Resident acknowledges that resident has read and understands all of this resident agreement including the terms and conditions on this side and the reverse side, particularly Paragraph 3.0 Limitation of Liability and agrees to the amounts set forth herein.

Id. at 1473. The plaintiff was subsequently fatally stabbed in her apartment. Her estate filed suit against the security alarm company, asserting claims for breach of contract, negligence, and breach of warranties based on the alarm company’s failure to properly respond to an alarm. Plaintiffs argued that the limitation of liability clause was not effective because plaintiff did not initial the line provided for that purpose, and, therefore, had not objectively manifested her agreement to the waiver provision. Id. at 1472-73.

The court of appeals found that plaintiff’s failure to initial the line provided did not preclude summary judgment, since plaintiff had signed “directly below a statement of acceptance of the contract that explicitly incorporates the provisions on the reverse side [*20]  of the page.” Id. at 1474. The court determined that, “[b]ased upon a plain reading of the contract,” plaintiff agreed to the contract in its entirety as written. Id. So too, here. Jennifer’s signature directly follows a paragraph that references the liability waiver clauses defendants seek to enforce.

Finally, plaintiffs point to no evidence in the record that might support a finding that Jennifer’s failure to initial paragraphs B and D was in any way motivated by an objection to or non-acceptance of either of those terms. Nor do they point to evidence in the record that would support a finding that Jennifer ever expressed any objection to the terms of paragraphs B and D before executing the agreement. Indeed, the relevant evidence of record suggests that Jennifer’s failure to initial paragraphs B and D was not the product of a conscious decision. See Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, Exh. C, p. 4 (Q: “Do you have any explanation for why A, C, and E were initialed, but not B and D?” Jennifer Lizzol: “No.” . . . Q: “Was there a conscious decision on your part not to initial B and D?” Jennifer Lizzol: “No.”)

Jennifer Lizzol’s failure to initial paragraphs B and D of the Release does not render the Release [*21]  or those paragraphs unenforceable against her. The same general analysis applies to Michael Lizzol’s failure to initial Paragraph B of the Release.

D. The Release does not violate public policy.

Plaintiffs argue that the Release contravenes public policy, because its enforcement would relieve an instructor from liability for his own negligent instruction. Plaintiffs contend that because the instructor/guide holds a position of authority over the conduct of the snow machine tour, the instructor/guide is uniquely positioned to ensure that the tour is conducted in a reasonably safe manner. So, plaintiffs say, releasing an instructor of his or her obligation to exercise reasonable care will result in that instructor failing to make a good faith effort to carry out his duties, which, they say, is what happened here. That contravenes public policy, they argue, because it will surely impede public safety.

The argument, while creative, avoids the public policy analysis required under New Hampshire law. “A defendant seeking to avoid liability must show that the exculpatory agreement does not contravene public policy; i.e., that no special relationship existed between the parties and that there [*22]  was no other disparity in bargaining power.” Barnes, 128 N.H. at 106. “‘A special relationship exists when “the defendant is a common carrier, innkeeper or public utility, or is otherwise charged with a duty of public service.'” Serna v. Lafayette Nordic Vill., Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92669, 2015 WL 4366250, at *2 (quoting Barnes, 128 N.H. at 106). Additionally, a release may be against public policy if, among other things, “it is injurious to the interests of the public, violates some public statute, or tends to interfere with the public welfare or safety.” Serna, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92669, 2015 WL 4366250, at *2 (citing McGrath, 158 N.H. at 543).

Plaintiffs do not contend that a “special relationship” existed between the parties, as that term is used in the liability waiver context. Nor could they. While the Mountain View Grand is an inn, the Release does “not pertain to the usual activities of running an inn,” but instead to the Mountain View Grand’s facilitation of collateral outdoor recreation activities. Serna v. Lafayette Nordic Vill., Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92669, 2015 WL 4366250, at *2. And snowmobiling (like skating, Serna, id., and snowboarding, McGrath, 158 N.H. at 544) constitutes recreational activity, not “an activity ‘of such great importance or necessity to the public that it creates a special relationship.'” Serna, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92669, 2015 WL 4366250, at *2 (quoting McGrath, 158 N.H. at 544).

“Where there is a disparity in bargaining power, the plaintiff may not be deemed to have freely chosen to enter into the contract.” McGrath, 158 N.H. at 544 (citing Barnes, 128 N.H. at 107). But, “there [is] no [*23]  substantial disparity in bargaining power among the parties, despite the fact that [plaintiffs were] required to sign the release in order to” participate in the snow machine lesson and tour. Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108. Here, the plaintiffs were “under no physical or economic compulsion to sign the release,” and “[s]ince the defendants’ service is not an essential one, the defendants had no advantage of bargaining strength” over the plaintiffs or others who sought to participate in the snowmobile lesson and tour. Barnes, 128 N.H. at 108.

The Release does not violate public policy.

E. The plaintiffs have not sufficiently established fraud in the inducement.

Finally, plaintiffs argue that the Release is unenforceable because they were fraudulently induced to enter into the agreement. Plaintiffs assert that defendants had prior knowledge that Welch generally drove too quickly when conducting snow machine tours, and, notwithstanding that knowledge, failed (negligently) to take reasonable steps to ensure that Welch conducted the tours safely. Plaintiffs further contend that they were induced to sign the Release based upon defendants’ false assurances that the lesson and tour would be conducted in a safe manner, with adequate instruction, and at [*24]  a safe speed. Relying on those assurances, plaintiffs signed the Release. Plaintiffs argue that, at the very least, whether the defendants made assurances (and omissions) regarding the nature of the snow machine tour with conscious indifference to the truth, and whether the plaintiffs justifiably relied upon those statements when signing the Release, are disputed issues of material fact precluding summary judgment.

“Under New Hampshire law, fraud in the inducement is a valid defense to a contract action and can be raised to void a contract.” Bryant v. Liberty Mut. Grp., Inc., No. 11-CV-217-SM, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76713, 2013 WL 2403483, at *9 (D.N.H. May 31, 2013) (citing Nashua Trust Co. v. Weisman, 122 N.H. 397, 400, 445 A.2d 1101 (1982)). As the parties seeking to invalidate the Release on fraudulent inducement grounds, plaintiffs bear a substantial burden: they “must establish that the other party made a representation with knowledge of its falsity or with conscious indifference to its truth with the intention to cause another to rely upon it. In addition, the party seeking to prove fraud must demonstrate justifiable reliance.” Trefethen v. Liberty Mut. Grp., Inc., No. 11-CV-225-SM, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76753, 2013 WL 2403314, at *7 (D.N.H. May 31, 2013)(quoting Van Der Stok v. Van Voorhees, 151 N.H. 679, 682, 866 A.2d 972 (2005)) (additional citations omitted).

Plaintiffs rely on Van Der Stok v. Van Voorhees, but that decision offers little support. That case arose [*25]  out of a transaction for the sale of real estate. The plaintiff represented that defendant-purchaser would be able to build on the property, but did not disclose that his own earlier application to the zoning board for a permit to build on the property had been denied. After the closing, defendant went to the town offices to inquire about the property, and first learned that plaintiff’s earlier permit application had been denied. Defendant stopped payment on the check given at closing to cover the purchase price. The plaintiff subsequently filed an action, and defendant raised fraud in the inducement as a defense to plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff argued the defendant could not show reasonable reliance on his purported misrepresentation, because the purchase and sale agreement provided, “Seller makes no representations as to land use law or regulations.” Id. at 682.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected that argument for two reasons. First, the court was unconvinced that the disclaimer “would put a reasonable person on notice that he could not rely upon the specific representation made . . . that the particular lot he was buying was a buildable lot.” Id. at 683. Moreover, the plaintiff had “made a representation [*26]  with knowledge of its falsity or with conscious indifference to the truth with the intention to cause another to rely upon it.” Id. (quoting Snierson v. Scruton, 145 N.H. 73, 77, 761 A.2d 1046 (2000)). Such “positive fraud,” the court stated, “vitiates every thing.” Id. (quoting Jones v. Emery, 40 N.H. 348, 350 (1860)).

This case is distinguishable from Van Der Stok because the Lizzols have not shown what representation defendant(s) allegedly made “with knowledge of its falsity or with conscious indifference to its truth with the intention to cause another to rely upon it.” Id. In support of their assertion that defendants knew (or believed) that Walsh was likely to conduct their particular tour in an unsafe manner, plaintiffs point to the following: (1) “[u]pon information and belief, there had been complaints from customers that OBK’s tour guides, specifically Martin Welch, had driven unreasonably fast while conducting tours; (2) after the incident, the MVG manager asked Michael if Welch had been “driving too fast again.”

Admissibility of that evidence is doubtful, and it is plainly insufficient to support a finding that defendants knew that plaintiffs’ lesson and tour would be conducted in a negligent or actionably unsafe manner or were recklessly indifferent to that likelihood. And [*27]  plaintiffs have identified no particular representation made by defendants, with the intention to induce plaintiffs to rely upon it, and, upon which they justifiably relied, that either proved to be false or the product of reckless indifference to the truth. The only statement in the record to which they point (Welch’s statement that he would not drive the snow machines faster than 20 miles per hour) occurred after plaintiffs signed the Release. The record is also utterly silent with respect to whether speed in excess of 20 mph is considered dangerous or negligent when conducting a snowmobile tour, or whether “too fast” in the past equates to the speed driven by the guide on plaintiffs’ tour, or even what “too fast” might mean in the context of a snowmobile tour that included novices.

Because plaintiffs have not produced sufficient evidence from which a finder of fact could conclude that the defendants knowingly made fraudulent representations to them, they have not established that a genuine issue of fact exists with respect to whether their execution of the Release was fraudulently induced, and is therefore ineffective.

The Release is valid and enforceable, and it encompasses the plaintiffs’ [*28]  bystander liability claim as well as their negligence claims.

Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, and for those argued in the defendants’ memoranda, the motion for summary judgment (document no. 23) is necessarily granted under controlling New Hampshire law. The Release at issue here is not ambiguous. It unmistakably released the defendants from any liability relating to their negligence, and that of their employees and agents. Neither qualifying language nor any other provision in, nor the structure of the Release, obscured the defendants’ intent to be relieved of all liability for their own negligence. A reasonable person would have understood that the Release relieved the defendants of all liability for injuries caused by their negligence. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment for defendants and close the case.

SO ORDERED.

/s/ Steven J. McAuliffe

Steven J. McAuliffe

United States District Judge

October 31, 2016