The Idaho Supreme Court holds there is no relationship between signs posted on the side of the indoor trampoline park, and a duty owed to the injured plaintiff

The Plaintiff in attempting to do a triple front flip broke his neck. Plaintiff argued that the manual of the indoor trampoline park, and the signs on the walls created a duty on the part of the employees of the defendant to stop him from doing the flips.

Griffith v. Jumptime Meridian, LLC, 2017 Ida. LEXIS 90

State: Idaho, Supreme Court of Idaho

Plaintiff: Seth Griffith

Defendant: Jumptime Meridian, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: No Causation

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2017

This is a sad case; the 17-year-old plaintiff was injured attempting front flips at the defendants’ indoor trampoline park. The plaintiff went  there with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s siblings. Eventually, the plaintiff ended up near a foam pit where you could land after attempting maneuvers on the trampoline. The pit was near where his girlfriend was located.

He had been performing several double flips successfully. At two different time’s employees of the defendant commented about his double flips. One said it was pretty cool and the other one said, “oh that was pretty sweet.” At no time, did anyone from the defendant admonished him to not to perform the flips he was doing. He was landing in the foam pit with his legs extended downward and on his butt, so he wouldn’t hit his face on his knees. Signs are on the wall said that the plaintiff could not land that way.

The plaintiff filed this complaint alleging that because he was under the age of 18, the defendant had a duty to supervise him. He could  show that the defendant’s written policy manual instructed employees to enforce the rules written on the walls of the defendants trampoline park in several places.

The defendant moved for summary judgment alleging that there was no relationship between the duty allegedly owned to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s accident. In proving negligence one must prove duty, a breach the duty, an injury, and the injury was proximately caused by the breach of the duty.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. The plaintiff appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. Idaho does not have an intermediate appellate court.

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

The court first looked at the requirements under Idaho law to prove negligence.

The elements of common law negligence have been summarized as (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage.

The court then reviewed the actions of the plaintiff leading up to his injury. He did not tell anyone that is going to attempt to do the flip that caused his injury. Nor was any evidence introduced stating that the employee of the defendant could have or should have known that the plaintiff was going to do a triple flip. The plaintiff argued that he should be entitled to reasonable inference that if the defendant had enforced its rules when he was landing improperly, then he would have never attempted the triple flip.

…Plaintiff attempted the triple front flip. He did not tell anyone he was going to attempt it, nor is there any evidence indicating that the monitor knew or should have known that he would try a triple front flip. Plaintiff argues on appeal that he is “entitled to the reasonable inference that had JumpTime enforced its rules and interceded when [he] was landing improperly and dangerously on his back, [he] would not have felt emboldened and would never have attempted a triple flip.”

However, the court did not buy that argument. The court did find that there was no evidence that landing on your back was more dangerous than landing any other way. The plaintiff even testified that he felt safer to land the way he was because it avoided the risk of hitting his face of his knees.

Nor could the plaintiff prove or produce any evidence that he would’ve changed his actions if he had been admonished by an employee. Nothing in the record of the depositions of the plaintiff remotely suggested that idea.

The court simply held that there was no way the defendant could be responsible for the accident giving rise to his injury because it was solely the decision of the injured plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s testimony does not support an inference that JumpTime was in any way responsible for his decision to try the triple front flip. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to JumpTime based upon the lack of evidence regarding causation.

So Now What?

Honestly, it takes a tough court to look at an injured plaintiff, possibly one wheelchair, and not want to award him some damages for his injuries. However, in this case the action of the plaintiff was such a stretch in trying to tie in his injury to something that the defendant had done.

What was of interest in this case was one of the arguments the plaintiff made saying that the signs on the wall describing to the patrons of the defendant how to land in the foam pit established a standard of care that was the defendant’s employee’s duty to monitor and enforce.

In response, Plaintiff contended that the signs on the wall stating how to land in the foam pit established the standard of care and that because of the attendant’s failure to admonish him for landing incorrectly, he was not discouraged from attempting a more difficult maneuver like a triple front flip.

Thankfully, the court did not buy this argument. It is a fine line we walk when we’re trying to train young employees and having them work with even younger patrons to keep safe. You write the rules, tell the employees to enforce the rules, but in some cases there is no way that you can guess what a patron is going to do. Here the plaintiff expected the defendant to guess what his actions would be and the court would not accept that.

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Plaintiff raised argument in work/team building situation that they were forced to sign release

Morrison, v. Northwest Nazarene University, 273 P.3d 1253; 2012 Ida. LEXIS 82

Argument that plaintiff was forced to sign a release by an employer did not prevail, but it was taken seriously by the court.

I’ve worried and written on the issue that when a “team-building” exercise is undertaken by an employer how the issue of a release should be handled. If the

Loco Ropes at Ozark Folk Center State Park

employer uses an employer or rope’s course or climbing wall release is this going to give the employee the argument that they were coerced into the act? Where does worker’s compensation arise in employers “required” team building activity? What if the release the employee signs, is one required by the employer?

A defense to a contract is coercion. You cannot be held to a contract if you were forced to enter into the contract.

In this case, the employer contracted with the defendant university to run a team-building exercise. The team-building exercise included using a climbing wall. Prior to the activity, the employer gave the employee a release prepared by the defendant to sign. The release relieved the defendant university of any liability for negligence.

While climbing the belayer, a coworker failed, and the plaintiff was injured. The plaintiff sued the university for failing to train and supervise the belayer. The university moved for summary judgment based upon the release signed by the employee.

Summary of the case

The Idaho Supreme Court first looked at the basis for release law in Idaho. In Idaho, releases are upheld unless one party owes the other party a public duty created by statute or there is an obvious disadvantage in the bargaining power between the parties. The bargaining power must be so unequal that “the party injured has little choice, as a practical matter, but to use the services offered by the party seeking exemption.”

The plaintiff argued the release was void because of the disadvantage of bargaining power between the employee and the employer. The plaintiff argued that:

·        all employees were expected to sign the release

·        he was not given an option not to sign the release

However, the court pointed out that at no time did the plaintiff say, “that he did not want to climb the climbing wall and that his employer ordered him to do so anyway.”

The release had a statement in it that said:

The undersigned has read and voluntarily signs this release and waiver of liability and indemnity agreement. The undersigned further agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducements apart from the foregoing agreement have been made.”

Between the facts, the plaintiff did not object to signing the release, the team-building exercise or climbing on the wall along with the statement in the release that

Gymnasium team in front of the main building, ...

he had not been coerced his defense failed.

The plaintiff also argued that the release was overly broad and should not be upheld. In Idaho, the court set forth the requirements on how contracts and releases would be interpreted. “Clauses which exclude liability must speak clearly and directly to the particular conduct of the defendant who caused the harm at issue.” However, the language need not “list the specific, allegedly negligent conduct at issue.” In Idaho, that language must be broad enough to cover future negligence.

The parties to a release need not have contemplated the precise occurrence that caused the plaintiff’s injuries but rather may adopt language to cover a broad range of accidents by specifying injuries involving negligence upon the part of the defendant.

In Idaho, the language must not cover every possible accident but have language that allows the plaintiff to understand the board range of possible accidents. As I say, the life-changing ones should be listed as well as the everyday ones.  On a frequency and severity scale, you want the ones with high severity and the ones with high frequency listed on your release.

The court upheld the release as a bar to the plaintiff’s claims. However, it was apparent in the decision that the court took seriously both claims raised by the plaintiff.

There was a dissent about the language of the release which would have ruled for the plaintiff on the issue of the language being broad enough to cover the injuries claimed by the plaintiff.

So Now What?

There are many states where I believe this case would not have survived. In this case if the plaintiff would have asked what happens if I don’t sign or said I don’t want to participate; the release would not have worked.

If you are running team building exercises this places you in an ethical as well as a legal conundrum. How do you protect yourself when the people coming to you

Climber being lowered by the belayer, with wei...

First make sure everyone knows they have an out that they can say public or privately that if they don’t want to do something, they don’t have too. That may defeat the purpose of the team-building exercise in your or the employer’s mind but the long-term costs of litigation over the issue should exceed that issue.

This also places you, the business to take a position, which is against your client. However, I believe you have to protect the participant who does not want to participate from your client. This is a dangerous conflict of interest.

Two, decide advance who will take care of the issue of what to do if someone is sued. It might be easier to have the employer indemnify you for any injuries of employees.

Employees should probably be covered under a worker’s comp policy in situations like this so you might always be subject to a subrogation claim for an injury. Releases stop subrogation claims, and indemnification does not. However, if the worker’s compensation carrier realizes they will be suing their insured because of an indemnification policy it might make a difference.

Three, work everything out in advance. Getting the release to the employer in advance of the activity was great. However, there was still a gap in what to do if someone is injured. Obviously, the employer and the university really never contemplated that someone would get injured, other than their insurance company and legal counsel telling them they must use a release. However, people get hurt all the time; bathrooms can only be avoided for so long. If you and the employer understand who insurance is going to step up and what defenses are available to both parties in advance it might eliminate some suits.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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