Wynne, Jr., v. Summerland, Inc., 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2684 (Conn Super 2012)

Wynne, Jr., v. Summerland, Inc., 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2684 (Conn Super 2012)

John F. Wynne, Jr., Administrator of the Estate of Hunter E. Brothers v. Summerland, Inc. dba Camp Kenwood et al.

LLICV095006358S

SUPERIOR COURT OF CONNECTICUT, JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF LITCHFIELD AT LITCHFIELD

2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2684

November 1, 2012, Decided

November 2, 2012, Filed

NOTICE: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.

JUDGES: [*1] John W. Pickard, J.

OPINION BY: John W. Pickard

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

This is a wrongful death action arising out of the death of Hunter E. Brothers (“Brothers”), a thirteen-year-old camper at Camp KenWood, a summer youth camp in Kent, Connecticut. Brothers died while engaged in a mountain biking activity supervised by two counselors from the camp. The defendant, Summerland, Inc. d/b/a Camp KenWood operated the camp. The defendants, David B. Miskit and Sharon B. Miskit (“the Miskits”), are directors of Camp KenWood. All defendants have moved for summary judgment (#152). The plaintiff, John F. Wynne, Jr., Administrator of the Estate of Hunter E. Brothers, objects (#158). The court heard oral argument on September 17, 2012.

I. Personal Liability of David and Sharon Miskit

The first basis of the motion for summary judgment is stated by the defendants as follows: “There is no genuine issue of material fact that David Miskit and Sharon Miskit, as officers of a corporation, do not incur personal liability for the corporation’s torts merely because of their official position. There is no evidence of any independently tortious conduct on the part of either David or Sharon Miskit, nor is there any evidence [*2] that Summerland served merely as their alter ego. Thus, summary judgment should enter in favor of David Miskit and Sharon Miskit.”

Paragraph 30 of the third count of the plaintiff’s complaint is based on negligence and is directed against the Miskits as follows: “David Miskit, as President of Summerland, and David and Sharon Miskit, as Directors of Camp KenWood, owed a duty of care to Brothers, because Brothers was a minor child who was entrusted to the care of David and Sharon Miskit, and under Section 19-13-B27a(s) of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, which provides as follows: ‘The camp director shall be responsible at all times for the health, comfort and safety of campers.'” Thus, David Miskit is sued as President of Summerland, Inc. and as a director of Camp Kenwood. Sharon Miskit is sued only as a director of Camp Kenwood.

The Miskits claim that there is no genuine issue of material fact that they do not incur personal liability for the corporations’ torts merely because of their official position. The plaintiff argues that the Miskits, as directors of Camp KenWood, owed Hunter a duty of care imposed by the statutes and regulations of the State of Connecticut. The [*3] plaintiff did not present a serious argument that David Miskit owed a duty of care to Brothers merely because he was the President of Summerland, Inc.

Before discussing the Miskits’ basis for summary judgment, it is necessary to distinguish between directors of corporations and directors of youth camps. [HN1] The position of director of a youth camp is one which is provided for in the statutes which regulate youth camps. C.G.S. §19a-422(c) provides: “[T]here shall be adequate and competent staff, which includes the camp director or assistant director, one of whom shall be on site at all times the camp is in operation, activities specialists, counselors and maintenance personnel, of good character and reputation.” C.G.S. §19a-428(a) provides that: “The Commissioner of Public Health shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54, relating to the safe operation of youth camps, including, but not limited to, personnel qualifications for director and staff . . .”

The regulations adopted by the Commissioner of Public Health pertaining to youth camps are found in Regs., Connecticut State Agencies §19-13-B27a. Subsection (n) of that regulation provides, in part: [HN2] “(1) No person [*4] shall establish, conduct or maintain a youth camp without adequate and competent staff. (2) The camp director shall be over the age of twenty-one and of good character, shall not have been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude, shall be certified as mentally competent by a physician, shall not use improperly any narcotic or controlled drug, and shall uphold and maintain the standards required under the Youth Camping Act. Except for those persons who have already served at least one summer as a camp director, a camp director shall have at least sixteen weeks administrative or supervisory experience, in an organized camp or in lieu thereof equivalent training or experience in camping satisfactory to the commissioner.” Subsection (s) of that regulation provides [HN3] “Responsibility of management. The camp director shall be responsible at all times for the health, comfort and safety of campers and staff and shall have responsibility for maintaining in good repair all sanitary appliances on the camp ground. He shall promptly prosecute or cause to be ejected from such ground any person who willfully or maliciously damages such appliances.”

[HN4] The statutory and regulatory scheme with [*5] respect to youth camps is clear that the director of a youth camp must be an individual, not a corporation. Also, the position of director of a youth camp is distinct from the position of director of the corporation which owns and operates the summer camp. A youth camp director is an employee and/or an agent of the camp when performing his or her duties. In summary, the director of a youth camp functions as the chief on-site official of the camp and is charged with certain responsibilities including to the safety of campers. Therefore, the statutes and regulations create a duty which the director owes to campers who attend the camp.

Turning to the first basis for summary judgment, the defendants are correct that David Miskit, as President of Summerland, Inc., cannot be liable for the negligence of the corporation absent evidence that he used the corporation as his alter ego. The plaintiff has not made the allegations which would be necessary to pierce the corporate veil. The real ground for the liability of the Miskits rests not on their status as directors or officers of Summerland, Inc., or on piercing the corporate veil, but upon their liability as directors of Camp KenWood.

The motion [*6] for summary judgment and the supporting brief never address the real ground of liability alleged by the plaintiff against the Miskits that as directors of Camp Kenwood they breached their statutory and regulatory duty to be responsible for the health, comfort and safety of the campers including Brothers. Instead, the defendants focus on whether the Miskits can be liable based upon their official capacities at Summerland, Inc. The last two sentences of the defendants’ brief on this point reads: “In short, David and Sharon Miskit have been named as party defendants merely because they are officers of Summerland, Inc. Officers of a corporation, however, do not incur personal liability for its torts merely because of their official position. Inasmuch as there is no evidence of any independently tortious conduct on the part of either David or Sharon Miskit, nor any evidence that Summerland served as their alter ego, they are entitled to summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims.”

[HN5] The statutes and regulations of the State of Connecticut create a duty on the part of camp directors to care for the “health, comfort and safety of campers.” As co-directors of Camp KenWood, the Miskits [*7] are alleged to have breached this duty.1 The documentary evidence submitted by the plaintiff creates a genuine issue of material fact about whether, in fact, the Miskits breached their duty. ” [HN6] Practice Book §17-49 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Sherman v. Ronco, 294 Conn. 548, 553-54, 985 A.2d 1042 (2010).

1 In paragraph thirty-one of the third count the plaintiffs allege that David and Sharon Miskit breached their duty of care to Hunter through their negligence, in that:

a. They failed to adequately supervise and train Summerland employees with respect to the use of mountain bicycles by campers, CPR techniques and emergency first aid skills:

b. They failed to provide adequate instruction to Camp KenWood’s campers, including Brothers, in the safety precautions necessary for mountain bicycle trips over steep [*8] and uneven terrain, including but not limited to the negotiation or avoidance of dangerous hills and curves and the adequate securing of a helmet:

c. they failed to have a policy which pre-screened and approved appropriate areas for mountain bicycle riding for campers of various ages;

d. They failed to have a policy that prohibited Camp KenWood’s employees from taking young campers on off-camp premises mountain bicycle trips that were not safe for young children.”

II. Open and Obvious

The defendants’ second basis for summary judgment is that, because the geography of Bald Hill Road was an open and obvious condition, the defendants had no duty to warn Brothers about it. The defendants argue that, as a matter of law, the court should determine that there is clear and undisputed evidence that the risk of riding a bicycle down Bald Hill Road was so open and obvious to thirteen-year-old Brothers that it would negate any duty to warn on the part of the two counselors who were supervising her. In support of that proposition the defendants have presented the court with portions of deposition transcripts and other documents. They argue that the grade and contours of Bald Hill Road were easily observable [*9] by Brothers. Also, the two counselors testified that they stopped with Brothers at the top of Bald Hill Road and told her that the hill got steeper near the bottom and that she would need to control her speed with her brakes. Based upon this discussion, the defendants argue that Brothers was actually aware of the condition of the road. The defendants have cited the court to various cases in which courts have held that dangerous conditions were open and obvious as a matter of law.

The plaintiff argues that the issue of whether the condition of Bald Hill Road is open and obvious is a genuine question of fact which cannot be decided on a motion for summary judgment. I agree. The documentary evidence about Bald Hill Road presents a genuine issue of fact as to whether the steep part of Bald Hill Road can be seen from the top of the hill. Brothers had never been on Bald Hill Road. Whether the discussion she had with the counselors at the top of the hill was sufficient to alert her to the danger is a question of fact as well.

Furthermore, unlike most of the cases cited by the defendants, this is not a premises liability case. There are nine separate allegations of negligence directed against [*10] Summerland, Inc., only one of which relates to a failure to warn. The defendants have not addressed these other allegations of negligence in the motion for summary judgment.

III. Conclusion

For the reasons given above, the motion for summary judgment is denied.

BY THE COURT,

John W. Pickard

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Connecticut statute allows Camp Director to be personal liable for injuries of camper

Connecticut has been moving towards the defendant is liable no matter what attitude.

Wynne, Jr., v. Summerland, Inc., 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2684 (Conn Super 2012)

Plaintiff: John F. Wynne, Jr., Administrator of the Estate of Hunter E. Brothers

Defendant: Summerland, Inc. dba Camp Kenwood, David B. Miskit and Sharon B. Miskit, Camp Directors

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: individuals not personally liable and dangers were open and obvious to the plaintiff.

Holding: For the plaintiff, Connecticut statute creates personal liability for the camp directors and the open and obvious argument is a genuine issue of material fact to be determined by the jury.

Another case with good information, however, the case is probably not decided yet and the basis for the decision could be different than first reported.

The facts are spotty in this decision. The deceased was a thirteen-year-old  girl attending the defendant Camp Kenwood. As part of the camp, the plaintiff was mountain biking on Bald Hill Road. The road gets steeper as it descends.

The camper was biking on the road and seems to have run off the road which caused her fatality. The administrator of her estate sued the camp and the camp directors individually.

Summary of the case

This appeal was of a denial of a motion for summary judgment. The motion looked at two issues. The first was the individual camp directors should not be personally liable for the plaintiff’s claims. The second was the case should be dismissed because the risks of the riding a bike on that road is open and obvious.

The individual liability issue was the first examined by the court. Connecticut has several statutes regulating summer camps for minors. One of those statutes C.G.S. §19a-422(c) states:

[T]here shall be adequate and competent staff, which includes the camp director or assistant director, one of whom shall be on site at all times the camp is in operation, activities specialists, counselors and maintenance personnel, of good character and reputation.

Another statute C.G.S. §19a-428(a) states:

“The Commissioner of Public Health shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54, relating to the safe operation of youth camps, including, but not limited to, personnel qualifications for director and staff….

The regulations adopted by the Commissioner of Public Health, included Regs., Connecticut State Agencies §19-13-B27a which states:

(1) No person shall establish, conduct or maintain a youth camp without adequate and competent staff. (2) The camp director shall be over the age of twenty-one and of good character, shall not have been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude, shall be certified as mentally competent by a physician, shall not use improperly any narcotic or controlled drug, and shall uphold and maintain the standards required under the Youth Camping Act. Except for those persons who have already served at least one summer as a camp director, a camp director shall have at least sixteen weeks administrative or supervisory experience, in an organized camp or in lieu thereof equivalent training or experience in camping satisfactory to the commissioner.

Responsibility of management. The camp director shall be responsible at all times for the health, comfort and safety of campers and staff and shall have responsibility for maintaining in good repair all sanitary appliances on the camp ground. He shall promptly prosecute or cause to be ejected from such ground any person who willfully or maliciously damages such appliances.

The plaintiffs argued that because the statutes and regulations created a duty on the part of the directors to care for the “health, comfort and safety of camps” any injury to a camper created personal liability on the part of the camp director.

The defendant argued that liability for actions of a corporation, which owned the camp, could not be imputed to an individual, which is the law in most jurisdictions. That is the argument normally made in this situation where the employee is only acting on behalf of the employer or corporation and as such the corporation has the liability. However, the statutory scheme of Connecticut eliminated that defense.

Consequently, the court easily found that the statutory and regulatory framework in Connecticut created personal liability on the camp director.

The Open and Obvious argument was easier for the court to decide. Even though two camp counselors had warned the deceased of the risks of the road, and the road’s risks were discernible to any rider, the court found that whether or not a thirteen-year-old camper recognized and understood the risks was a decision for a jury.

So Now What?

Part of any plan to develop a business must look at any statutes that apply to the business. At the same time, when the legislature is making laws that may apply to your business you need to become involved and make sure the laws will not make your business life miserable or create liability.

If the statutes or regulations create liability either for the organization, business or program which you do not want to deal with or personal liability, make sure you want to deal with that state. In the alternative make sure can afford the insurance you will need.

Here what could probably appear to be a harmless statute created personal liability for the camp director. Normally, this is a “play” made by the plaintiff to try to increase the value of the case.

However, one issue that should be explored by any camp or outfitter is if the insurance coverage of the corporation provides a defense to individuals for actions of the individual who create statutory liability.

Absent that protection, the individual defendants could be personally liable for any damages. Their homeowner’s insurance would not provide coverage for the liability that occurs because of work. Whether or not their corporate documents, articles and bylaws, provide for indemnification of employees or the board of directors is willing to pay for the damages, the employees could be stuck with the bill personally. Dependent upon how the damages are paid; this could also create a tax liability for the individuals. The final issue is whether the insurance policy provides coverage for employees liable individually.

Whenever you are dealing with kids 12-14 years of age and younger, it is fairly impossible to prove assumption of the risk or the sub-set defense of open and obvious. Unless you have a record of prior experience, a video proving the training, you are going to have a difficult time with this defense.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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