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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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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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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

 


Summer camp being sued for injury from falling off horse wins lawsuit because the plaintiff failed to find an expert to prove their case.

Failure of the plaintiff to find an expert witness in a case requiring an expert results in dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint.

Ellis v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

State: Connecticut, United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

Plaintiff: Louisa R. Ellis, PPA Elizabeth Ellis and Elizabeth Ellis

Defendant: Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and consequential damages

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff cannot prove their case because they do not have an expert witness qualified to prove their claims.

Holding: Plaintiff

Year: 2014

The plaintiff attended the day camp of the defendants. One of the activities was horseback riding. For one of various reasons, the plaintiff was given a pony to ride rather than a horse. While riding the horse, the plaintiff fell over the shoulder or head of the horse suffering injuries.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and consequential damages (which is slightly confusing). The plaintiff hired an expert witness to prove their case that had no qualifications as a horse expert. The plaintiff’s expert was then disqualified. Because under Connecticut law, an expert witness was needed to prove the plaintiff’s case, the case was dismissed. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first looked at what an expert witness is and when a case requires an expert witness. An expert witness is a person that is qualified to prove testimony as an expert because of their knowledge, skill, experience, training or education. “…the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge [must] help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.”

The plaintiff’s expert had no “education, training, or experience related to horseback riding. In fact, there is no mention of “horses” or “horseback riding” anywhere in his curriculum vitae.” His work experience also provided no background in horses or horseback riding. Consequently, the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to be an expert witness.

The next issue was whether or not an expert was needed to prove the case.

Thus, the issue the court must resolve is whether the answers to the questions presented by the allegations of negligence in the plaintiffs’ complaint are beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge, or experience of the average judge or juror.

The court then looked at whether the average jury would know enough about horses to understand the case. This court looked at a prior ruling on the subject:

The court observed that “[w]e are well into the age of the automobile, and the general public in the twenty-first century is not generally as acquainted with horsemanship as it arguably was at the beginning of the twentieth century.” Therefore, the court concluded; it was necessary “for the plaintiffs to produce expert testimony to establish both the standard of care to which the defendant was to be held and a breach of that standard.”

The court reached this conclusion. “The services being provided by the defendant, i.e. horseback riding lessons to minor children, are specialized and beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge and experience of jurors.”

Because the plaintiff did not have an expert witness, the plaintiff was unable to prove their case. The court upheld the dismissal of the case.

So Now What?

This is an extremely rare decision, in fact, the first I have ever read. It is paramount that if you are involved in litigation, you assist your defense attorney in finding the best expert witness you can for your case. That means two things.

1.                  The expert has the necessary qualifications to be an expert.

2.                The expert has the ability to convey their opinion to the jury in a way the jury will understand.

You can have the most qualified person in the world as your expert but if he or she is unable to convey the message in a way the jury will understand you may still lose your case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Ellis v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

Ellis v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

Louisa R. Ellis, PPA Elizabeth Ellis and Elizabeth Ellis, Plaintiffs, v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., Defendant.

Civil No. 3:12cv515(AWT)

United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

August 11, 2014, Decided

August 11, 2014, Filed

COUNSEL: [*1] For Louisa R. Ellis, ppa Elizabeth Ellis, Elizabeth Ellis, Plaintiffs: James V. Sabatini, Megan Leigh Piltz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sabatini & Associates, Newington, CT.

For Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., Defendant: Katherine L. Matthews, Renee Wocl Dwyer, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Gordon, Muir & Foley, Hartford, CT.

JUDGES: Alvin W. Thompson, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Alvin W. Thompson

OPINION

RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This action arises out of injuries suffered by the minor plaintiff, Louisa Ellis (the “Camper”), when she fell from a horse while participating in activities at a day camp operated by the defendant, Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc. (“Camp Mohawk”). The plaintiffs’ complaint consists of two counts, one for negligence and one for consequential damages. Camp Mohawk has moved for summary judgment on both counts. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant’s motion is being granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On July 18, 2011, the Camper participated in a horseback riding lesson while attending Camp Mohawk’s day camp in Cornwall, Connecticut. During this lesson, the Camper was assigned a pony, named Geri, to ride. The plaintiffs claim that the Camper was given a pony rather than a horse because Camp Mohawk [*2] did not have enough horses for all of the campers to ride. At some point during the lesson, the Camper lost control of the pony and was thrown over the pony’s shoulder or head. The Camper allegedly had her hands caught in the pony’s reins when she fell.

The complaint alleges that the Camper’s fall, as well as the injuries and losses the plaintiffs have suffered as a result of the fall, were caused by Camp Mohawk’s negligence. Specifically, the plaintiffs list 10 ways in which they believe Camp Mohawk was negligent with respect to the Camper’s horseback riding lesson:

(a) In that the pony was of an insufficient size for the plaintiff to properly and safely ride;

(b) In that the plaintiff’s weight and/or height exceed the reasonably safe riding weight for the pony assigned to the plaintiff;

(c) In that the riding equipment on the pony (the stirrups) were improperly installed or fitted thereby rendering the pony unsafe for the plaintiff to ride;

(d) In that the pony was not adequately and/or properly trained thus rendering the pony unsafe and hazardous for the plaintiff to ride;

(e) In [*3] that the pony was of a disobedient disposition thereby causing the pony to be unsafe for riding by the plaintiff;

(f) In that the defendant failed to properly or adequately train and instruct its employees;

(g) In that the defendant failed to properly and adequately supervise the camp students including the plaintiff;

(h) In that the defendant failed to properly or []adequately instruct or teach the camp students including the plaintiff on how to safely and properly ride on a pony;

(i) In that the defendant failed to warn the plaintiff of the dangers and hazards associated with riding the pony; and

(j) In that the defendant could not have reasonably assumed that the plaintiff, a minor, possessed the experience and judgment necessary to fully appreciate the dangerous condition of the pony and/or the full extent of the risk involved.

(Complaint (Doc. No. 1), at 3-4.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); [*4] Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). Rule 56(a) “mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must respect the province of the jury. The court, therefore, may not try issues of fact. See, e.g., Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Donahue v. Windsor Locks Bd. of Fire Comm’rs, 834 F.2d 54, 58 (2d Cir. 1987); Heyman v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1319-20 (2d Cir. 1975). It is well-established that “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of the judge.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Thus, the trial court’s task is “carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined . . . to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution.” Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224.

Summary [*5] judgment is inappropriate only if the issue to be resolved is both genuine and related to a material fact. Therefore, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. An issue is “genuine . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (internal quotation marks omitted). A material fact is one that would “affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. As the Court observed in Anderson: “[T]he materiality determination rests on the substantive law, [and] it is the substantive law’s identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Id. Thus, only those facts that must be decided in order to resolve a claim or defense will prevent summary judgment from being granted. When confronted with an asserted factual dispute, the court must examine the elements of the claims and defenses at issue on the motion to determine whether a resolution of that dispute could affect the disposition of any of those claims or defenses. Immaterial or minor facts will not prevent summary [*6] judgment. See Howard v. Gleason Corp., 901 F.2d 1154, 1159 (2d Cir. 1990).

When reviewing the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, the court must “assess the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant and . . . draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Consol. Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 177 (2d Cir. 1990)). Because credibility is not an issue on summary judgment, the nonmovant’s evidence must be accepted as true for purposes of the motion. Nonetheless, the inferences drawn in favor of the nonmovant must be supported by the evidence. “[M]ere speculation and conjecture is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Stern v. Trs. of Columbia Univ., 131 F.3d 305, 315 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d. Cir. 1990)). Moreover, the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant’s] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which [a] jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

Finally, the nonmoving party cannot [*7] simply rest on the allegations in its pleadings since the essence of summary judgment is to go beyond the pleadings to determine if a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. “Although the moving party bears the initial burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact,” Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 41, if the movant demonstrates an absence of such issues, a limited burden of production shifts to the nonmovant, who must “demonstrate more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, . . . [and] must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Aslanidis v. United States Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1072 (2d Cir. 1993) (quotation marks, citations and emphasis omitted). Furthermore, “unsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact.” Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 41. If the nonmovant fails to meet this burden, summary judgment should be granted.

III. DISCUSSION

Camp Mohawk argues that summary judgment is appropriate here because expert testimony is required to establish the standard of care and breach of duty with respect to instruction in horseback riding, and the plaintiff has not offered [*8] a relevant opinion from a qualified expert.

A. Whether Expert Testimony is Required

“In this diversity action, the question of whether or not expert testimony is required to prove negligence is a question of [Connecticut] State law.” Conte v. Usalliance Federal Credit Union, Civ. No. 3:01-cv-463(EBB), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82908, 2007 WL 3355381, at *3 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 2007) (citing Beaudette v. Louisville Ladder, Inc., 462 F.3d 22, 27 (1st Cir. 2006) (“In a diversity action, whether expert testimony is required is a matter of state law[.]”)). The Connecticut Supreme Court has stated on multiple occasions that “[e]xpert testimony is required ‘when the question involved goes beyond the field of the ordinary knowledge and experience of judges or jurors.'” LePage v. Horne, 262 Conn. 116, 125, 809 A.2d 505 (2002) (quoting Bader v. United Orthodox Synagogue, 148 Conn. 449, 454, 172 A.2d 192 (1961)) (emphasis in original); see also Santopietro v. City of New Haven, 239 Conn. 207, 226, 682 A.2d 106 (“If the determination of the standard of care requires knowledge that is beyond the experience of an ordinary fact finder, expert testimony will be required.”); State v. McClary, 207 Conn. 233, 245, 541 A.2d 96 (1988) (holding that expert testimony is required when a matter is [*9] “manifestly beyond the ken of the average trier of fact, be it judge or jury”).

Thus, the issue the court must resolve is whether the answers to the questions presented by the allegations of negligence in the plaintiffs’ complaint are beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge, or experience of the average judge or juror. The court concludes that the questions at issue here are such that the answers are beyond such understanding, knowledge and experience. The Connecticut Appellate Court reached a similar conclusion in Keeney v. Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc., 93 Conn. App. 368, 889 A.2d 829 (2006). The court in Keeney found that

the proper method of teaching a novice rider, the qualification necessary to be a competent and qualified instructor of a novice rider, whether to instruct such a rider to remove her or his feet from the stirrups, [and] where those stirrups should then be placed . . . are not matters within the common knowledge of the jury but, rather, are specialized matters unique to the profession of those teaching novice riders.

Id. at 376. These questions are either the same as or substantially similar to the majority of those raised by the plaintiffs in their complaint. See also Raudat v. Leary, 88 Conn. App. 44, 868 A.2d 120 (2005) [*10] (holding that expert testimony was required on the issue of whether a horse was one “that is incompletely broken or trained”) (internal quotation marks omitted)). In Keeney the court explained that “[t]he plaintiffs’ allegations in the present case are akin to allegations of professional negligence or malpractice . . . . because the defendant was rendering specialized professional service to the plaintiff.” Keeney, 93 Conn. App. at 375. The court observed that “[w]e are well into the age of the automobile, and the general public in the twenty-first century is not generally as acquainted with horsemanship as it arguably was at the beginning of the twentieth century.” Id. Therefore, the court concluded, it was necessary “for the plaintiffs to produce expert testimony to establish both the standard of care to which the defendant was to be held and a breach of that standard.” Id. at 376.

The same reasoning is applicable here. The services being provided by the defendant, i.e. horseback riding lessons to minor children, are specialized and beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge and experience of jurors. Since Keeny, the general public has not become more familiar with horsemanship or [*11] the appropriate method for teaching minors how to ride horses. Therefore, the issues raised by the plaintiffs’ contentions as to all the ways in which Camp Mohawk was negligent require expert testimony.

The plaintiffs’ arguments to the contrary are not persuasive. The plaintiffs point to three issues they claim do not require expert testimony: “whether [the Camper] was too big to be riding Geri the pony to begin with”; “whether [the Camper’s] stirrups were properly adjusted prior to beginning her lesson”; and “whether Geri the pony was disobedient.” (Pl.’s Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. (Doc. No. 48) (“Pl.’s Mem.”), at 10-11.) In support of this contention, the plaintiffs point to excerpts of deposition testimony by a number of witnesses that included substantially similar statements. However, the mere existence of a lay opinion regarding a particular issue does not obviate the necessity of an expert opinion on that same issue, if an expert opinion is required in the first place. None of the deponents cited are the plaintiffs’ expert. Therefore, their testimony does not suffice to create a genuine issue of material fact as to these issues.

B. Whether the Plaintiffs’ Expert is Qualified

The defendants [*12] argue that because expert testimony is required on the issues raised by the plaintiffs’ contentions, summary judgment should be granted because the only expert the plaintiffs have identified is not qualified to give an expert opinion on those issues. The court agrees.

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 a witness may serve as an expert if he or she “is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Among other requirements, “the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge [must] help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Id. The plaintiffs have disclosed Corey Andres of Robson Forensic as their expert. His expert report contains a description of his education and experience. He has no education, training, or experience related to horseback riding. In fact, there is no mention of “horses” or “horseback riding” anywhere in his curriculum vitae.

In 1998, Andres received a Bachelor’s of Education with a major in therapeutic recreation and a minor in psychology. He received a Master’s of Education with a major in therapeutic arts in 1999. In 2005, Andres received a Master’s of Arts in educational [*13] policy and leadership; in connection with that degree, he participated in the Principal Licensure Cohort Program. His work experience is comprised of working as a graduate teaching assistant from 1998 to 1999 (where his focus was community recreation programming), working as a 4th and 5th grade teacher from 2001 to 2002, and working as an intervention specialist teacher at a high school in Ohio from 2002 to the present; in that capacity he leads a department of 36 professionals that serve special needs students. Since 2010 he has also been an associate at Robson Forensic, Inc.

In high school and college, Andres was involved with football, lacrosse, track, tennis and various intramural sports, in addition to being a certified lifeguard. He worked at a summer camp in 1995 instructing skills and techniques of golf, basketball, baseball, waterfront activities and tennis. He subsequently worked at camps in a number positions during the period from 1995 to 2008 and taught weightlifting and lacrosse. He has coached lacrosse and also served as a weight room supervisor, giving instructions on proper lifting techniques and exercises.

His resume indicates that his work for Robson Forensic, Inc. [*14] has involved providing technical investigations, analysis reports and testimony in connection with commercial and personal injury litigation involving: school administration, child supervision, recreation and sports programing, coaching, camp supervision and administration, weight training and athletic conditioning.

The only indication that he has had any involvement whatsoever with horseback riding is the fact that at page 6 of his report he cites in footnotes three publications on which he has relied in preparing his report.

At issue in Keeney was whether the plaintiff’s riding instructor was negligent in providing an unsafe instruction to a novice rider. The court concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion in precluding the proposed expert witness from testifying about the appropriate standard for a riding instructor to teach a young novice rider, explaining

The issue in this case, however, was whether Heather Keeney’s riding instructor was negligent in providing an unsafe instruction to this novice rider. The expert, although having been a certified horse riding instructor since 1973, testified that she had not trained young novice riders in more than twenty years, [*15] had taken no refresher courses in training students, had no specialized training in the use of lunge lines with novice riders, had never prepared any instructional or training materials for instructors, had never served on a safety committee and had never taught riding instructors. On the basis of this testimony, we cannot conclude that the court abused its discretion in precluding this witness from testifying as to the appropriate standard for a riding instructor to teach a young novice rider.

93 Conn. App. 372-73.

Andres falls far short of having the qualifications possessed by the proffered expert in Keeney. Because expert testimony is required for the plaintiffs to establish their case and they have failed to produce a qualified expert, they have failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to any of the issues raised in the complaint, and the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 43) is hereby GRANTED.

The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of defendant Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc. as to all the claims in the complaint and close this case.

It is so ordered.

Dated this [*16] 11th day of August, 2014, at Hartford, Connecticut.

/s/ Alvin W. Thompson

United States District Judge


Defendant tells plaintiff the release has no value and still wins lawsuit, but only because the plaintiff was an attorney

The easiest way to void a release is to say the release has no legal value or is not worth anything. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your clients.

Guido et al., v. Koopman, 1 Cal. App. 4th 837; 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 437; 1991 Cal. App. LEXIS 1425; 91 Daily Journal DAR 15350

State: California: Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Five.

Plaintiff: Diana L. Guido et al.

Defendant: Charles Koopman

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 1991

This case would have been decided for the plaintiff but for one small fact. The plaintiff was an attorney. If the plaintiff wasn’t an attorney the screw ups by the defendant would have allowed any other plaintiff to win the case.

The plaintiff signed up with the defendant to take horseback riding lessons. When she did so she was given a release so sign. She was hesitant about signing the release. The defendant told her it had no value and he only did it because his insurance company made him do it.

In her deposition Guido [plaintiff] testified she “just didn’t feel comfortable signing something that said ‘Release’ on it on the top.” However, she signed it without reading it because respondent [defendant] advised her, “…  It doesn’t mean anything.  It is something that I need to have you sign, because my insurance company won’t let me give lessons unless I have people sign this.  …  As a matter of fact, the insurance company wants me to give the students this long detailed form, which I don’t do, because it scares them away when they see this long, detailed form.

The plaintiff took lessons from the defendant twice a week for 9 months before she was bucked from a horse suffering injuries. She had bucked from a horse while taking lessons with this defendant earlier. She sued and the trial court dismissed the complaint based on the release.

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

This case has a few interesting statements. The plaintiff stated she did not think that an inherent risk of riding a horse was the risk of being thrown off the horse. The court responded with this statement.

As to appellants’ argument that the release is ineffective because Guido did not think being thrown off a horse was an inherent risk of horseback riding, we are of the contrary view–that it is one of the most obvious risks of that activity, and readily apparent to anyone about to climb on a horse. The cases of injuries from horseback riding are numerous, and we have found none which describe this risk as unexpected or extraordinary.

The next argument made by the plaintiff was the release was void because it was against public policy. The court’s analysis of public policy in this case was well thought out and well written.

In placing particular contracts within or without the category of those affected with a public interest, the courts have revealed a rough outline of that type of transaction in which exculpatory provisions will be held invalid. Thus the attempted but invalid exemption involves a transaction which exhibits some or all of the following characteristics.  It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation.  The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards.  As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.  In exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence. Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.

This analysis of public policy was along the same lines as all other states that have looked at the issue with regard to releases for recreational activities.

Other than in Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., dba Mt. Bachelor Ski and Summer Resort, 2014 Ore. LEXIS 994 reviewed in Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy. No court has found a recreational activity to be subject to public policy exceptions. For a business to be found to be subject to the public policy exception to using a release it must be found to be:

… a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. 

… the business invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.

… the business confronts the public with a standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence.

…, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the business, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.

With the sole exception of Oregon, the public policy argument to void a release has never worked against a recreational business. The court then looked at whether horseback riding was recreational. The analogy started with the settling of the west up to modern times.

However, for better or worse, the times have changed, and except for a few working cattle ranches where the cow pony has not been completely replaced by the pickup truck, equestrian activities are largely confined to the entertainment arena.

We are unaware of any constitutional or statutory provision that would place horseback riding within the “public interest” category.

Finally the court looked at whether the release was void because of the statements made by the defendant. This is called fraudulent misrepresentation and allows a party to rescind the release. This can also be defined as nondisclosure of a material fact to the contract, which allows rescission of the release. A fraudulent misrepresentation is one made to convince someone to do something.

The representations need not be made with knowledge of actual falsity but also include the “false assertion of [a] fact by one who has no reasonable grounds for believing his own statements to be true, and when made with [the] intent to induce the other to alter his position, to his injury.

The key is the reliance must be justified. Meaning the misrepresentation must be significant so that the fact being misrepresented is important. The other requirement is the person relying on the misrepresentation must do so because it is on its face seemingly valid. “Justifiable reliance is an essential element of a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation, and the reasonableness of the reliance is ordinarily a question of fact.”

The court found the reliance was not justified in this case but for only one reason. The plaintiff was an attorney.

Guido’s [plaintiff] deposition testimony on which appellants rely also reveals that she is a practicing attorney and uses releases in her practice. In essence, she is asking this court to rule that a practicing attorney can rely on the advice of an equestrian instructor as to the validity of a written release of liability that she executed without reading.

In determining whether one can reasonably or justifiably rely on an alleged misrepresentation, the knowledge, education and experience of the person claiming reliance must be considered.

The appellate court found that an attorney could not rely on the legal statements of a non-attorney. “Under these circumstances, we conclude as a matter of law that any such reliance was not reasonable.”

This is a remarkable statement from the court. It makes sense, but at the same time, it has no real value because you are not going to review every participant to determine if they are a lawyer so you can then on worry about misrepresenting material facts about your release.

So Now What?

If the misrepresentation had been made to anyone else this decision would have gone the other way.

The defendant’s fear in having customers sign a release or be scared away from his business because of a release used to be common. However it is an incorrect fear.

The first thing to remember is the people the release scares away are the people who will be hurt and sue if they are hurt. Part of the value of a good release is that it will scare some people away.

The next issue is it will scare everyone away. I had one client have 40,000 people a year for more than ten years sign the release. Over those ten years 26 people refused to sign the release.

You have an obligation to your clients to tell them of the risks of the activity. Nothing can be worse than to have someone on a trip who is terrified because they did not understand the real risks of the activity. It is even worse when someone is injured or dies because they did not understand the risks. Your release must tell the people what they are getting into. It will save you time and money, it will make your customer’s trip better and it will save your butt!

This defendant got lucky.

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Guido et al., v. Koopman, 1 Cal. App. 4th 837; 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 437; 1991 Cal. App. LEXIS 1425; 91 Daily Journal DAR 15350

Guido et al., v. Koopman, 1 Cal. App. 4th 837; 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 437; 1991 Cal. App. LEXIS 1425; 91 Daily Journal DAR 15350

Diana L. Guido et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Charles Koopman, Defendant and Respondent.

No. A052006

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FIRST APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION FIVE.

1 Cal. App. 4th 837; 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 437; 1991 Cal. App. LEXIS 1425; 91 Daily Journal DAR 15350

December 12, 1991, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: [***1] Review Denied February 26, 1992, Reported at 1992 Cal. LEXIS 2024.

PRIOR HISTORY: Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco, No. 897795, Stuart R. Pollak, Judge.

COUNSEL: McTernan, Stender & Wash and Marvin Stender for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Drevlow, Murray & Payne and Mary S. Cain for Defendant and Respondent.

JUDGES: Opinion by Haning, Acting P. J., with King, J., and Poche, * concurring.)

* Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, First District, Division Four, sitting under assignment by the Chairperson of the Judicial Council.

OPINION BY: HANING, Acting P. J.

OPINION

[*839] [**438] Plaintiffs and appellants Diana L. Guido and Donald Schwartz, a married couple, appeal from a summary judgment, enforcing a release from all liability, in favor of defendant and respondent Charles Koopman, doing business as The Academy of Equestrian Arts (the Academy). Appellants contend the release is unenforceable because it was executed in reliance on respondent’s misrepresentation that it was unenforceable. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

Guido [***2] filed her complaint against three groups of defendants for personal injuries allegedly resulting from three separate, sequential accidents during [*840] the summer of 1988: two automobile accidents and a horseback riding accident. These incidents were unrelated, but were joined in the complaint because “[p]laintiff is in doubt as to which of the defendants … she is entitled to redress because there is a question as to which defendant is liable and to what extent for injuries, as she was injured in each incident.” Guido’s husband, Donald Schwartz, filed a separate action for loss of consortium, and the two actions were consolidated.

The summary judgment motion was brought by respondent and is addressed solely to the cause of action against him involving the horseback riding accident.

On September 29, 1987, Guido visited the Academy to inquire about taking horseback riding lessons from respondent. At that time she signed a document entitled “Release,” given to her by respondent. That document reads:

“Release

“I Hereby Release [the Academy], Charles Koopman, Donna Koopman, Managers, Trainers, Instructors and Emplyees [sic] of and From All Claims Which May Hereafter Develop [***3] or Accrue to me on account of, or by Reason of, Any Injury, Loss or Damage, Which May Be Suffered by Me or to Any Property, Because of any Matter, Thing or Condition, Negligence or Default Whatsoever, and I Hereby Assume and Accept the Full Risk and Danger of Any Hurt, Injury or Damage Which May Occur Through or by Reason of Any Matter, Thing or Condition, Negligence or Default, of Any Person or Persons Whatsoever.”

After signing the release, Guido took lessons from respondent, as often as twice a week, until the accident on June 16, 1988, when she allegedly was thrown from one of respondent’s horses.

Respondent’s motion for summary judgment was based, in part, on the ground that the waiver precluded Guido from pursuing any claims against him. The trial court found there was no triable issue of any material fact and granted summary judgment for respondent.

Discussion

[HN1] “[S]ummary judgment shall be granted if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party [*841] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. …” ( Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) The issues [**439] presented are whether the release is voidable and, if [***4] so, whether the undisputed facts prevent appellants from avoiding the release.

Appellants advance two theories for avoidance of the release: First, in Guido’s declaration in opposition to respondent’s summary judgment motion, she states: “… I am an attorney. When I signed the release it was my understanding that releases from negligence were against public policy. [P] … [P] … I am not an expert on horses. But I do not think that an inherent risk of horseback riding is being thrown off of a horse ….” Second, although not mentioned in Guido’s declaration, appellants argued to the trial court, as she does on appeal, that respondent told Guido the release was “meaningless.”

(1) With regard to appellants’ initial contention regarding the legality of the release, they are in error. [HN2] Civil Code section 1668 provides: “All contracts which have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from [the] responsibility for his own fraud, or willful injury to the person or property of another, or violation of law, whether willful or negligent, are against the policy of the law.” [HN3] This statute has been interpreted to mean that “a contract exempting from liability for ordinary [***5] negligence is valid where no public interest is involved ….” (1 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (9th ed. 1987) Contracts, § 631, p. 569; Tunkl v. Regents of University of California (1963) 60 Cal.2d 92, 97 [32 Cal.Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 6 A.L.R.3d 693]; Buchan v. United States Cycling Federation, Inc. (1991) 227 Cal.App.3d 134, 148-149 [277 Cal.Rptr. 887].)

[HN4] Public interest or policy is generally defined by the constitution, statutes or judicial precedent. “In placing particular contracts within or without the category of those affected with a public interest, the courts have revealed a rough outline of that type of transaction in which exculpatory provisions will be held invalid. Thus the attempted but invalid exemption involves a transaction which exhibits some or all of the following characteristics. It concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. [***6] The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it, or at least for any member coming within certain established standards. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services. In exercising a superior bargaining power the party confronts the public with a [*842] standardized adhesion contract of exculpation, and makes no provision whereby a purchaser may pay additional reasonable fees and obtain protection against negligence. Finally, as a result of the transaction, the person or property of the purchaser is placed under the control of the seller, subject to the risk of carelessness by the seller or his agents.” ( Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, supra, 60 Cal.2d at pp. 98- 101, fns. omitted.)

(2) There was a time during the development of this nation, particularly during the early westward migration, that one’s survival frequently depended upon a good horse [***7] and the ability to remain in the saddle. Indeed, legend has it that so vital was the horse to our well-being in the American West that horse thieves were routinely hanged, with a dispatch that bore little resemblance to contemporary notions of due process. However, for better or worse, the times have changed, and except for a few working cattle ranches where the cow pony has not been completely replaced by the pickup truck, equestrian activities are largely confined to the entertainment arena.

We are unaware of any constitutional or statutory provision that would place horseback riding within the “public interest” category. Like the court in Buchan, we are also unaware of any case in the sports or recreation field that has voided such a release on public interest or public policy [**440] grounds. ( Buchan v. United States Cycling Federation, Inc., supra, 227 Cal.App.3d at p. 149.) Similar releases have been upheld for activities that are equally, if not more, hazardous than horseback riding, such as bicycle racing (Ibid.), motorcycle dirt bike racing ( Kurashige v. Indian Dunes, Inc. (1988) 200 Cal.App.3d 606 [246 Cal.Rptr. 310]), [***8] white-water rafting ( Saenz v. White-water Voyages, Inc. (1990) 226 Cal.App.3d 758 [276 Cal.Rptr. 672]), scuba diving ( Madison v. Superior Court (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 589 [250 Cal.Rptr. 299]) and skydiving. ( Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 333 [214 Cal.Rptr. 194].)

As to appellants’ argument that the release is ineffective because Guido did not think being thrown off a horse was an inherent risk of horseback riding, we are of the contrary view–that it is one of the most obvious risks of that activity, and readily apparent to anyone about to climb on a horse. The cases of injuries from horseback riding are numerous, and we have found none which describe this risk as unexpected or extraordinary. (See, e.g., Palmquist v. Mercer (1954) 43 Cal.2d 92 [272 P.2d 26]; Dorobek v. Ride-A-While Stables (1968) 262 Cal.App.2d 554 [68 Cal.Rptr. 774]; Griffin v. Sardella (1967) 253 Cal.App.2d 937 [61 Cal.Rptr. 834]; [***9] O’Brien v. Gateway Stables (1951) 104 Cal.App.2d 317 [231 P.2d 524].) In fact, Guido admitted she was “bucked” from a different horse a few months before this accident.

[*843] (3a) For their second contention–that respondent advised Guido the release was “meaningless”–appellants rely on Guido’s deposition testimony, submitted by respondent in support of his summary judgment motion. In her deposition Guido testified she “just didn’t feel comfortable signing something that said ‘Release’ on it on the top.” However, she signed it without reading it because respondent advised her, “… It doesn’t mean anything. It is something that I need to have you sign, because my insurance company won’t let me give lessons unless I have people sign this. [P] … As a matter of fact, the insurance company wants me to give the students this long detailed form, which I don’t do, because it scares them away when they see this long, detailed form.”

(4) [HN5] “It is well established that a party to an agreement induced by fraudulent misrepresentations or nondisclosures is entitled to rescind, notwithstanding the existence of purported exculpatory provisions contained [***10] in the agreement. [Citation.]” ( Danzig v. Jack Grynberg & Associates (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 1128, 1138 [208 Cal.Rptr. 336]; Civ. Code, § 1689, subd. (b)(1).) The representations need not be made with knowledge of actual falsity but also include the “false assertion of [a] fact by one who has no reasonable grounds for believing his own statements to be true, and when made with [the] intent to induce the other to alter his position, to his injury. [Citation.]” ( In re Cheryl E. (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 587, 599 [207 Cal.Rptr. 728]; Civ. Code, § 1572, subd. 2.)

[HN6] The existence of actual fraud is always a question of fact. ( Civ. Code, § 1574; Blankenheim v. E. F. Hutton & Co. (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 1463, 1475 [266 Cal.Rptr. 593].) (5) [HN7] Justifiable reliance is an essential element of a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation, and the reasonableness of the reliance is ordinarily a question of fact. ( Seeger v. Odell (1941) 18 Cal.2d 409, 414-415 [115 P.2d 977, 136 A.L.R. 1291]; Danzig v. Jack Grynberg & Associates, supra, 161 Cal.App.3d at p. 1138.) [***11] However, whether a party’s reliance was justified may be decided as a matter of law if reasonable minds can come to only one conclusion based on the facts. (9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (3d ed. 1985) Appeal, § 289, p. 301.)

(3b) Guido’s deposition testimony on which appellants rely also reveals that she is a practicing attorney and uses releases in her practice. In essence, she is asking this court to rule that a practicing attorney can rely on the advice of an equestrian instructor as to the validity of a written release of liability that she executed without reading. [HN8] In determining whether one can reasonably or justifiably rely on an alleged misrepresentation, the knowledge, education and experience of the person [**441] claiming reliance must be considered. ( Gray v. Don Miller & Associates, Inc. (1984) 35 Cal.3d 498, 503 [*844] [198 Cal.Rptr. 551, 674 P.2d 253, 44 A.L.R.4th 763]; Seeger v. Odell, supra, 18 Cal.2d at p. 415.) Under these circumstances, we conclude as a matter of law that any such reliance was not reasonable.

The summary judgment is affirmed.

[***12] King, J., and Poche, J., * concurred. Appellants’ petition for review by the Supreme Court was denied February 26, 1992.

* Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, First District, Division Four, sitting under assignment by the Chairperson of the Judicial Council.


Release saves riding school, even after defendant tried to show plaintiff how to win the case.

As an expert you just can’t state facts, you have to prove your facts.

Azad v. Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11218

Plaintiff: Nicole Azad

Defendant: Mill Creek Equestrian Center, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant

This is a horseback riding case. The plaintiff was a beginner rider taking lessons from the defendant. The defendant’s instructor placed her in the jumping ring for training. Another horse in the ring spooked, which spooked the horse the plaintiff was riding. The plaintiff’s horse jumped the ring fence. The plaintiff fell off breaking her leg.

The plaintiff had signed a release before starting the lessons. The release was well labeled stating on each page that it was a release. The release also had a notice right above the signature line indicating the signor was giving up their legal rights.

The release, however, specifically stated that it did not prevent claims for gross negligence.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and after getting educated by the defendant, for gross negligence. The trial court dismissed the case after the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

On appeal the plaintiff claimed:

…there are material issues of fact regarding whether the release was clear and whether it exempted the challenged conduct. She also argues MCEC increased the risk to Azad beyond that inherent in horseback riding.

The court first looked at the validity of the release against a case argued by the plaintiff that found a release was insufficient. The court then only compared the release in this case to the arguments made in the case raised by the plaintiff.

The release was a two-page document. On the first page, it contained a titled, “LIABILITY RELEASE AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT.” On all other pages, it stated, “RIDING INSTRUCTION AGREEMENT AND LIABILITY RELEASE FORM.” Above the signature line, there was a statement that the signer was aware of the legal issues and acknowledgement of the legal issues.

The court found the release worked to stop claims of ordinary negligence but not gross negligence.

The court then reviewed California law on the duty owed by instructors in sports.

By consenting to participate in a sport that includes risks, a person consents to assume the risks inherent in the sport. A person does not consent to a breach of a duty by another that increases the risks inherent in the sport.  “‘[A] purveyor of recreational activities owes a duty to a patron to not increase the risks inherent in the activity in which the patron has paid to engage. . . .'”

A sports instructor must intentionally injury a student or engages in conduct that is totally outside the range of ordinary activity to be liable. Other than those two issues, the participant assumes the risk of the sport.

… a sports instructor breaches a duty of care only “‘if the instructor intentionally injures the student or engages in conduct that is reckless in the sense that it is ‘totally outside the range of the ordinary activity.’

In this case, the plaintiff had not raised any issues or facts, other than statements of the plaintiff’s expert witness who could support a claim of gross negligence. The plaintiff’s expert alleged the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent but did not demonstrate any facts showing an “extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” The court also pointed out the plaintiff stated the instructor was inadequately trained but not support her statement with proof.

The court in stating there was not proof of gross negligence stated:

Gross negligence is defined as “‘”the want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”‘” This definition is similar to the standard employed in Kahn – conduct totally outside the range of ordinary activity.

The court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint.

So Now What?

This release had 2 great points. The title and the heading on each page said this is a release. I’ve continuously stated that you cannot hide your release in other documents. It must be presented as a release to the signor and must plainly set forth the signor is giving up their legal rights.

However, don’t help the plaintiff sue you? Here the release said this document is no good if you prove I was grossly negligent. So what did the plaintiff need to do, prove gross negligence to win.

The facts of the case were pretty tame, and the injury to the plaintiff was relatively minor.

The court did look at what it would take to prove gross negligence from reviewing other cases. One was having a manual and showing an extreme departure from the manual.

If you write it down as the “way,” you better follow it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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