Plaintiff loses snow tubing case in PA because their experts could not argue the actions of the defendant were gross negligence.

Association resource guide is used against the defendants to prove the plaintiff’s case.

Bourgeois v. Snow Time, Inc., 2018 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2938; 2018 WL 3868670

State: Pennsylvania, Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Ray M. Bourgeois and Mary Ann I. Bourgeois

Defendant: Snow Time, Inc. and Ski Roundtop Operating Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: failure to state a claim and release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

In the instant matter, Appellant Ray Bourgeois was seriously injured while snow tubing when his tube crossed folded anti-fatigue rubber kitchen mats which Appellees had placed in the deceleration area of the snow tubing run. Appellants’ theory of the case is that Appellees acted recklessly and with gross negligence by placing the mats at the end of the tubing run to aid in tube deceleration.

Facts

This case stems from an incident that occurred while Appellant Ray Bourgeois (Bourgeois) was snow tubing at Roundtop Mountain Resort (the Resort), which is owned and operated by Appellees. As described by the trial court, Bourgeois

went down the hill on his stomach, [head first] on his tube, and proceeded to reach the run-out area at the bottom of the hill. To aid snow tubers in slowing down and stopping at the bottom of the hill, [Appellees] utilized deceleration mats. On his final run, [Bourgeois’s] snow tube came into contact with a deceleration mat, causing his tube to come to an abrupt stop. [Bourgeois’s] body continued forward in motion after his tube stopped, causing him to land [head first] into the snow. The resulting collision caused a hyperextension of [Bourgeois’s] spinal cord in his neck that has left him quadriplegic with limited mobility from his neck down.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted and the plaintiff’s appealed.

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

The first issue the appellate court reviewed was the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims for gross negligence. The appellate court held that “we find that Appellants did not establish a prima facie claim for recklessness or gross negligence

The court came to that conclusion because no one could state the standard of care needed to prove the actions of the defendant rose to the level of gross negligence.

In this case, the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Appellants could not establish a claim for recklessness or gross negligence. The trial court reasoned that since Appellants’ experts had not articulated the standard of care that Appellees failed to meet, a factfinder could not conclude that Appellees were aware of that standard of care and disregarded it and, thus, acted recklessly or with grossly negligence:

The court first looked at the definition of recklessness and gross negligence.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, citing the Restatement (Second) of Torts, found that a defendant acts recklessly, when, inter alia, he owes a duty to the plaintiff and fails to meet that duty. That is, a defendant is reckless when:

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 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.

The key point is the failure must be an intentional failure. The plaintiff must establish that the defendant consciously acted or failed to act. “Thus, recklessness is more closely aligned with intentional conduct than with negligence, which suggests “unconscious inadvertence.

To prove gross negligence Pennsylvania laws requires a deviation from the standard of care.

Similarly, an element of gross negligence is the deviation from a standard of care. More precisely, a plaintiff must establish that a defendant’s conduct grossly and flagrantly deviated from “the ordinary standard of care.”

Normally the trier of fact, the jury must make this decision. However, Pennsylvania courts are allowed to decide this issue if the facts are “entirely free from doubt and there is no possibility that a reasonable jury could find gross negligence.”

Normally, to prove the defendant’s duty, expert testimony is required to establish the standard of care that the defendant failed to meet and how the expert deviated from that standard of care.

The plaintiff hired to experts that provided opinions as to the actions of the defendant. The first expert opined that the actions of the defendant were beyond the standard of care, but never provided an opinion about what the standard of care was.

DiNola, however, did not cite or explain the “ordinary standards of conduct for a tubing park operator” from which Appellees’ conduct had departed. He just baldly opined that the use of the mats departs from ordinary standards of conduct.

The second expert did not set forth any standards of care.

Therefore, we are constrained to agree with the trial court that Appellants failed to articulate the appropriate standard of care for the use of deceleration mats. Without such a standard of care, Appellants, as a matter of law, cannot establish Appellees’ duty to Appellants and that Appellees knew or should have known about the standard of care. Since Appellants failed to meet this element of recklessness and gross negligence, the trial court properly granted Appellees’ Motion for Summary Judgment on this issue.

The simple negligence claims were barred by a release. The plaintiff argued on appeal that the release was void because it did not specifically name in the release one of the defendants. However, the court found that the language in the release, “and their owners” was sufficient to cover the defendant when not specifically named in the release.

There was a dissent in this case. The dissent argued the plaintiff should win because the warning on the mats used to decelerate the tubes stated that vinyl tubes were not to be decelerated by mats or other devices. The dissent also argued the opinions of the experts did provide enough information for a decision about the recklessness and gross negligence of the defendants.

In my view, Appellants have put forth enough evidence at this stage for the jury to decide the issue. I disagree with the sole focus of the Majority and trial court on the use of the folded mats, when that is but one piece of Appellants’ claims. See Appellants’ Brief at 45-47 (discussing the facts Appellees knew or should have known, including the conditions contributing to speeds as high as 30-35 miles per hour, the risk of serious injuries when a fast-traveling snow tube abruptly collides with an obstacle, the lack of sufficient run-out area, and the use of mats not designed for use in snow tubing).5 Both experts explained the ways in which Appellees’ conduct deviated from the standard of care, based upon the facts established through depositions of Appellees’ employees and officers. It is clear to me that a jury could have determined that the series of conscious decisions made by Appellees worked together to create an unreasonable risk of physical harm to Bourgeois that was substantially greater than ordinary negligence. Therefore, I would reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for trial.

So Now What?

The plaintiff was rendered a quadriplegic by the accident so a lot of money was at stake. The plaintiff did not hire experts correctly or did not explain what was needed from the experts. This first rule of pleading is proving your case legally on the paperwork and then prove it in the record. The plaintiff failed to do that.

The biggest hurdle was the association resource guide. The National Ski Area Association created a resource guide for tubing hills. The dissenting judge called it the standard of care. The resource guide did not contain any information on using devices to slow tubes. The resource guide said you should have a sufficient run out.

The court did not see the issue as using a mat to slow participants as a violation of the standard to use a run out.

That was the close one in this case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2019 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Hawaii Supreme Court agrees that finding out a release is required to be signed upon arrival at the activity and after the activity has been paid for may be a deceptive trade practice.

However, the court does uphold the use of a release as a defense to a horseback riding claim.

Citation: Courbat v. Dahana Ranch, Inc., 141 P.3d 427 (Hawai’i 2006)

State: Hawaii, Supreme Court of Hawai’i

Plaintiff: Lisa Courbat and Steven Courbat

Defendant: Dahana Ranch, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence, gross negligence and the actions of the defendant were a deceptive trade practice

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the plaintiffs on the deceptive trade practices claim and sent back for review. However, if not a deceptive trade practice then for the defendant because of the signed release.

Year: 2006

Summary

The plaintiff’s signed up with a third-party booking agent to take a horseback ride while in Hawaii. Upon arrival, they were presented with a release to sign which they were not told about when the booked the ride. Both the plaintiff and her husband signed the release.

During the ride the plaintiff road her horse to close to another hose that kicker her in the leg.

Facts

The present matter arises out of personal injuries sustained by Lisa on February 1, 1999, while she and Steven were on a horseback riding tour on the Dahana Ranch on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The Courbats had booked the tour and prepaid the fee several months earlier through Island Incentives, Inc., an internet-based tour organizer. When they checked in at the Ranch, the Courbats were presented with a document to review and to sign which laid out the rules for the horseback tour and included a waiver “releas[ing] and hold[ing] harmless . . . [the] Ranch . . . from . . . injury to myself . . . resulting from my . . . being a spectator or participant or while engaged in any such activity in the event[-]related facilities” and stating that the undersigned “acknowledge[s] that there are significant elements of risk in any adventure, sport, or activity associated with horses.” [3] According to admissions by the Courbats in subsequent depositions, Lisa read over the waiver and, having no questions regarding the rules and regulations it contained, signed it before passing it to her husband to sign. Steven evidently did not read it, but recognized that it was “some kind of release of some sort” and signed it. In fact, no guest of the Ranch had ever refused to sign a waiver. Steven was familiar with the concept of such waivers, having participated with his wife in a snorkeling activity earlier during the vacation, at which time they both signed similar forms.

The Ranch’s guide, Daniel Nakoa, briefed the Courbats on how to handle a horse and general rules of the trail, including the importance of not riding single-file or allowing the horses to bunch up end to end. Out on the ride, Lisa was injured when she rode up behind Nakoa’s horse while Nakoa was speaking with another guest who had approached Nakoa with a question. According to later statements by both Nakoa and Lisa, Lisa approached Nakoa’s horse from the rear while the three horses were in motion, and, when her horse neared Nakoa’s horse, Nakoa’s horse struck out at her horse, hitting Lisa in the left shin.

It was interesting the court went on for 2 more pages, including the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and the wrangler on how this occurred. It seems like the defendant missed the defense of assumption of the risk, and the court was pointing it out to them.

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

The first argument of the plaintiff’s the court reviewed was whether the practice of booking a ride and having the release signed after the people arrive for the ride was a deceptive trade practice. The Plaintiffs argued.

… that the Ranch’s practice of booking ride reservations through an activity company, receiving payment prior to the arrival of the guest, and then, upon the guest’s arrival at the Ranch, requiring the guest to sign a liability waiver as a precondition to horseback riding is an unfair and deceptive business practice to which the remedies of HRS ch. 480 apply.

Hawaii Revised Statute ch. 480 is the Hawaiian deceptive trade practices act.

The plaintiff’s argued that not telling guests that they had to sign a release until after they arrived was misleading, and the release should be thrown out of that reason. A prior court of appeal’s decision held that the act was not available to plaintiff’s for personal injury claims. The plaintiff’s argued the act did apply because they were injured economically because of the cost of the ride.

The court held that a three-prong test must be applied to the facts to determine if the actions of the defendant violated the statute. The court also held that a determination that the actions violated the statute must be determined by the trier of fact, (the jury) and could not be determined by a motion for summary judgment.

This set up two possible outcomes. The first the non-disclosure of the waiver was a deceptive trade practice, then the release would be void. Also, the court held that the protections and rebutable presumption the Hawaii Equine Liability act provided would be void.

If the trier of fact determines that the failure to inform the Courbats of the waiver requirement was a deceptive trade practice, then the negligence waiver, along with the underlying contract, will be rendered void, and the Courbats’ negligence claims will be revived.

If the trier of fact held that the non-disclosure of the release was not deceptive, then the release is valid and the defendant’s win.

“The general rule of contract law is that one who assents to a contract is bound by it and cannot complain that he has not read it or did not know what it contained. “Furthermore, ” ‘[p]arties are permitted to make exculpatory contracts so long as they are knowingly and willingly made and free from fraud. No public policy exists to prevent such contracts.’

“[S]uch bargains are not favored, however, and, if possible, bargains are construed not to confer this immunity.” Therefore, as a general rule, ” ‘[e]xculpatory clauses will be held void if the agreement is (1) violative of a statute, (2) contrary to a substantial public interest, or (3) gained through inequality of bargaining power.’ ”

The Courbats have not alleged that any of the terms of the waiver, or the use of a waiver by the Ranch, violates a statute; on the contrary, the Courbats concede that waivers are an acceptable method by which tour operators may seek to limit their liability in response to rising insurance and litigation costs.

The court never really specified what the reasoning for its conclusion that the Hawaii Equine Liability Act did not apply except the one statement.

…. we hold that HRS ch. 663B, entitled “Equine activities,” see supra note 2, setting forth a rebuttable presumption of non-negligence on the part of the tour operator, does not apply to the present matter.

The plaintiff argued the release was void because of public policy grounds which the court denied.

….we determine that the public interest here is not at stake: recreational activity tours are not generally suitable to public regulation, in the manner of common carriers, nor of great importance to the public, nor of an essential nature, in the manner of medical care, such that the provider’s bargaining power is greatly enhanced over any member of the public seeking their services.

….in considering negligence waivers in the context of recreational activity, while such waivers may be contracts of adhesion, in that they are presented on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, they are not unconscionable, but “are of a sort commonly used in recreational settings” and “are generally held to be valid.” “[C]ontracts [of adhesion] are ‘unenforceable if two conditions are present: (1) the contract is the result of coercive bargaining between parties of unequal bargaining strength; and (2) the contract unfairly limits the obligations and liabilities of, or otherwise unfairly advantages, the stronger party.’ (“[A]dhesion contracts are fully enforceable provided that they are not unconscionable and do not fall outside the reasonable expectations of the weaker or adhering party.”). Unequal bargaining strength “involves the absence of alternatives; specifically whether the plaintiffs were ‘free to use or not to use’ [the] defendant’s . . . services.”

The court tied up any lose ends by reiterating the plaintiff’s deposition testimony concerning the release.

In the present matter, Lisa read through and responded to queries contained in the waiver form and had no further questions or concerns regarding the contents before she signed it. Steven conceded that he routinely relied on his wife to review documents before signing them and that he knew he was waiving rights when he signed the form. The record demonstrates that the Courbats were given adequate time and opportunity to fully review the waiver presented to them before they signed it and that both knew that by signing it, they were waiving legal rights in return for being allowed to participate in the ride.

The final issue was the gross negligence claim the plaintiff’s plead. The court stated the release did not protect against gross negligence or willful misconduct.

So Now What?

The good news is, if properly written and presented in advance of the arrival or the guests, a release in Hawaii is valid. If the release is void, big check. If the release is valid, still the issue of gross negligence to determine.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2019 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Email: Jim@Rec-Law.US

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

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #SkiLaw,


Morgan, et al., v. Water Toy Shop, Inc., et al., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61546

Morgan, et al., v. Water Toy Shop, Inc., et al., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61546

Jasmine Nicole Morgan, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

Water Toy Shop, Inc., et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 16-2540 (PAD)

United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico

March 30, 2018

OPINION AND ORDER

PEDRO A. DELGADO HERNÁNDEZ, United States District Judge

This case arises out of a tragic accident, a collision between two jet skis -one ridden by plaintiffs Jasmin Nicole Morgan and Jarita Kennedy, and the other by Mark A. Castro- in the territorial waters of Puerto Rico (Docket No. 1).[1] In essence, the complaint alleges that: (1) Castro was grossly negligent in operating the jet ski, seriously injuring plaintiffs (id. at ¶ 51); and (2) Water Toy Shop, Inc., Acosta Water Sports, Inc., and Axel Acosta, who rented the jet skis, did not adequately train Castro to operate the jet ski, and as owners of the jet ski that Castro was riding are liable for the damages claimed. Id.

Before the court is defendants Water Toy Shop’s, Axel Acosta’s and Ironshore Indemnity, Inc.’s “Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof” (Docket No. 52), which plaintiffs opposed (Docket No. 61). Defendants replied (Docket Nos. 69), and plaintiffs surreplied (Docket No. 73). For the reasons explained below, the motion is GRANTED and plaintiffs’ claims against the appearing defendants DISMISSED.[2]

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party. A fact is material if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation. Farmers Ins. Exchange v. RNK, Inc., 632 F.3d 777, 782 (1st Cir. 2011)(quoting Rodríguez-Rivera v. Federico Trilla Regional Hosp. of Carolina, 532 F.3d 28, 30 (1st Cir. 2008)).

In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Griggs-Ryan, 904 F.2d at 115 (citations omitted). There is no room for credibility determinations, no room for the measured weighing of conflicting evidence such as the trial process entails, and no room for the judge to superimpose his own ideas of probability and likelihood . Greenburg v. Puerto Rico Maritime Shipping Authority, 835 F.2d 932, 936 (1st Cir. 1987). The court may, however, safely ignore conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation. Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990) (citations omitted).

II. UNCONTESTED FACTS[3]

Plaintiffs are residents of Washington, D.C. See, Docket No. 52-1, “Statement of Uncontested Material Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment” (“SUMF” at ¶ 1). While vacationing in Puerto Rico, they rented a jet ski from Archie Jet Ski Rental (SUMF ¶ 4), the name used to advertise Water Toy Shop and Acosta Water Sports, two separate corporations that operate different jet ski rental stands in the Isla Verde beach area in Carolina, Puerto Rico. See, PSUMF at ¶ 6 and defendants’ response at Docket No. 69-1 pp. 26-27.[4] Water Toy owned the jet skis involved in the accident, and operated the stand where the jet skis were rented. SUMF ¶ 5; PSUMF ¶¶ 14, 6, 36.

In order to rent the jet ski, both plaintiffs signed a “Personal Watercraft Rental Operations Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims, Express Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement” (“Rental Agreement”) and a “Declaration of Fitness to Operate Personal Watercraft” (“Declaration of Fitness”). SUMF ¶ 7, ¶10.[5] The Rental Agreements read as follows:

PERSONAL WATERCRAFT RENTAL OPERATIONS RELEASE OF LIABILITY, WAIVER OF CLAIMS, EXPRESS ASSUMPTION OF RISK AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT

Please and be certain you understand the implications of signing. Express Assumption of Risk Associated with use of rental of Personal Watercraft and Related Activities I,, do hereby affirm and acknowledge that I have been fully informed of the inherent hazards and risks associated with motorized (e.g., jet ski) or non-motorized (e.g., kayak) and related water sport activities to which I am about to engage, including but not limited to:

1) changing water flow, tides, currents, wave action, and ship’s wakes;

2) collision with any of the following:

a) other participants,

b) the watercraft,

c) other watercraft,

d) man made or natural objects,

e) shuttle boat;

3) wind shear, inclement weather, lightning, variances and extremes of wind, weather and temperature;

4) my sense of balance, physical condition, ability to operate equipment, swim and/or follow directions;

5) collision, capsizing, sinking, or other hazard that may result in wetness, injury, exposure to the elements, hypothermia, impact of the body upon the water, injection of water into my body orifices, and/or drowning;

6) the presence of insects and marine life forms;

7) equipment failure or operator error;

8) heat or sun related injuries or illnesses, including sunburn, sun stroke or dehydration;

9) fatigue, chill and/or reaction time and increased risk of accident.

I specifically acknowledge that I read, understand and agree to abide by the Personal Watercraft Operational instructions at all times and that I have been trained in the safe use of watersport equipment to my complete satisfaction, and I am physically/mentally able to participate in the water sport activities to which I am about to engage.

I specifically waive any defense insofar as this contract is concerned that may arise as a result of any state or local law and/or regulation or policy that may impact its enforceability.

RELEASE OF LIABILITY, WAIVER OF CLAIMS AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT.

In consideration of being allowed to participate in the above-described activities, as well as the use of any of the facilities and the use of the equipment of the below listed releases, I hereby agree as follows:

1) To waive and release any and all claims based upon negligence, active or passive, with the exception of intentional, wanton, or willful misconduct that I may have in the future against all of the following named persons or entities herein referred to as releasees.

Water Toy Shop, Inc. Owner (Company and/ or Individual)

___ (Scheduled Personal Watercraft)

___ (Scheduled Shuttle Boat (if applicable)

2) To release the releasees, their officers, directors, employees, representatives, agents, and volunteers, and vessels from any liability and responsibility whatsoever and for any claims or causes of action that I, my estate, heirs, executors, or assigns may have for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death arising from the above activities, whether caused by active or passive negligence of the releassees or otherwise, with the exception of gross negligence. By executing this document, I agree to hold the releases harmless and indemnify them in conjunction with any injury or loss of life that may occur as a result of engaging in the above activities.

3) By entering into this agreement, I am not relying on any oral or written representation or statements made by the releasees, other than what is set forth in this Agreement.

I hereby declare that I am of legal age and am competent to sign this Agreement or, if not, that my parent or legal guardian shall sign on my behalf and that my parent or legal guardian is in complete understanding and concurrence with this Agreement.

I have read this Agreement, understand it, and I agree to be bound by it. SUMF at ¶¶ 8, 20 (bold emphasis in the original, underlined emphasis added).[6] The Declarations of Fitness state: “by signing this form I still choose to participate in the activity with the rental property and agree to waive all responsibilities to all the above mentioned parties concerning any consequences that would result from my actions.” SUMF at ¶ 9.[7] Morgan did not read the contents of the Rental Agreement and Declaration of Fitness before signing them, or at any time before boarding the rented jet ski, despite having around one hour to spare between the time she signed the documents and when she boarded the jet ski.[8] Neither did she ask Water Toy personnel anything about the document. SUMF at ¶ 11.

Before Castro was allowed to rent the jet ski, he was asked for his I.D. in order to verify that he was old enough to rent a jet ski, which he was; he signed a Rental Agreement and Declaration of Fitness; and was informed of the boundaries within which he could ride, the applicable speed limit and to stay clear of other people. SUMF at ¶ 13, 15.[9] To that end, Mr. Héctor Peralta informed Castro the price for the jet ski ride; explained that he could only ride between the ESJ Tower and the Water Club Hotel; warned him stay away from the swimming area; told him to go slow until he passed the buoys; cautioned him not to get close to a nearby natural reserve and to stay away from other objects or persons because jet skis don’t have breaks; described how the jet skis worked; let him know that when his time was up an employee would let him know; and provided him copy of a Rental Agreement and Declaration of Fitness, explaining their contents and having him sign them. SUMF at ¶ 16.[10]

Additionally, Mr. Jonathan Pérez informed Castro of the boundaries he had to observe whilst riding, by pointing out the ESJ Tower, the Water Club Hotel and the buoys; told him not to ride too far away so that help could get to him straight away in case something happened; warned him not to go over five miles per hour as he left the buoys area in front of the Water Toy stand and when he rode back to it to return his jet ski; and asked him to stay far away from people to avoid any accident. SUMF at ¶ 17.[11] Plaintiffs were taking a break in their jet ski, drifting next to the buoys in front of the Water Toy stand, when Castro’s jet ski collided with theirs at high speed, without warning. SUMF at ¶ 19.

III. DISCUSSION

A. General Principles

Plaintiffs claim defendants are liable to them under Puerto Rico law (Docket No. 61, pp. 2-3), which defendants deny (Docket No. 51, p. 1), stating that general principles of maritime law rather than local law apply in this case, and under those principles they are not liable. Id. at p. 2. Because this case “involves a watercraft collision on navigable waters, it falls within admiralty’s domain.” Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 206 (1996). With admiralty jurisdiction comes the application of substantive admiralty law. Id. Federal maritime law may be supplemented by state law to the extent that it “would not disturb the uniformity of maritime law.” Kossick v. United Fruit Co., 365 U.S. 731, 738 (1961).

In maritime law, “the owner of a ship in navigable waters owes to all who are on board for purposes not inimical to his legitimate interests [e.g., passengers] the duty of exercising reasonable care under the circumstances of each case.” Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 632 (1959); Muratore v. M/S Scotia Prince, 845 F.2d 347, 353 (1st Cir. 1988)(under maritime law, “a carrier owes a duty of exercising reasonable care towards its passengers under the circumstances”). The degree of required care must be in proportion to the apparent risk. See, Muratone, 845 F.3d at 353 (discussing concept)(citing Prosser, Law of Torts, Section 34, at 180 (4th ed. 1971)).

Plaintiffs contend that defendants are directly and vicariously liable under Puerto Rico law because Congress allowed Puerto Rico to adopt liability standards inconsistent with maritime law (Docket No. 61 at pp. 12-20). Congress can alter, qualify, or supplement admiralty law as it sees fit, provided it neither excludes a thing that falls clearly within the admiralty and maritime law nor includes a thing that clearly falls without, as long as the statute is coextensive with and operates uniformly in the whole of the United States. See, Zych v. Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, Believed to be the Seabird, 19 F.3d 1136, 1140 (7th Cir. 1994)(examining congressional power to revise and supplement maritime law).

However, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. See, Maysonet-Robles v. Cabrero, 323 F.3d 43, 53 (1st Cir. 2003)(so describing Puerto Rico). It belongs to, but is not part of the United States, a category considered “foreign … in a domestic sense.” See, United States v. Lebrón-Cáceres, 157 F.Supp.3d 80, 88 & n.11 (D.P.R. 2016)(discussing Puerto Rico’s territorial status)(quoting Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 287, 341-342, 346-347 (1901)). Accordingly, “… Congress can, pursuant to the plenary powers conferred by the Territorial Clause [U.S. Const. art. IV, § 3, cl. 2], legislate as to Puerto Rico in a manner different from the rest of the United States.” U.S. v. Rivera-Torres, 826 F.2d 151, 154 (1st Cir. 1987).[12]

In 1917, Congress enacted Puerto Rico’s second organic act, commonly known as the Jones Act, 39 Stat. 951, Act of March 2, 1919.[13] Under Section 37 of the Jones Act, the legislative authority of Puerto Rico extended “to all matters of a legislative character not locally inapplicable.” In turn, Section Eight read:

The harbor areas and navigable streams and bodies of water and submerged lands underlying the same in and around the island of Puerto Rico and the adjacent islands and waters, owned by the United States on March 2, 1917, and not reserved by the United States for public purposes, are placed under the control of the government of Puerto Rico … All laws of the United States for the protection and improvement of the navigable waters of the united States and the preservation of the interests of navigation and commerce, except so far as the same may be locally inapplicable, shall apply to said island and waters to its adjacent islands and waters.

Both provisions were reenacted as part of the Federal Relations Act. See, 48 U.S.C. §§ 749 and 821.[14] Interpreting and applying them in the context of admiralty and maritime law, the First Circuit held in Guerrido v. Alcoa Steamship Co., 234 F.2d 349 (1956), that the rules of admiralty and maritime law of the United States “are presently in force in the navigable waters of the United States in and around the island of Puerto Rico to the extent that they are not locally inapplicable either because they were not designed to apply to Puerto Rican waters or because they have been rendered inapplicable to these waters by inconsistent Puerto Rican legislation, ” provided that legislation does not “supplant a rule of maritime law which Congress in the exercise of its constitutional power has made applicable to Puerto Rican waters.” Id. at p. 355 (Emphasis added).[15] In line with Garrido, plaintiffs argue that defendants authorized Castro to operate the jet ski, and as a result, are liable for the resulting damages under Articles 1802 and 1803 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31 §§ 5141-5142, and Puerto Rico Law 430 of December 21, 2000, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 12 §§ 1401-1411 (Docket No. 61, pp. 4-7, 15-20). Because it is undisputed that Water Toy owned and rented the jet skis, unless otherwise stated the court circumscribes the discussion of potential liability to that entity.

B. Puerto Rico Law

Article 1802 imposes liability for personal acts, not for acts of others, providing in part that “a person who by an act or omission causes damage to another through fault or negligence shall be obliged to repair the damage so done.” P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31 § 5141. See, Burgos-Oquendo v. Caribbean Gulf Refining Corp., 741 F.Supp. 330, 332 (D.P.R. 1990)(discussing concept). To establish liability, the plaintiff must show: (i) a duty of care requiring defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (ii) breach of that duty; (iii) damages; and (iv) a causal connection between the breach and the damages. See, De-Jesús-Adorno v. Browning Ferris Industries of Puerto Rico, Inc., 160 F.3d 839, 842 (1st Cir. 1995)(so explaining).

In general, the duty of care is defined by the tenet that one must act as would a prudent and reasonable person under the same circumstances. See, Vázquez-Filippetti v. Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, 504 F.3d 43, 49 (1st Cir. 2007)(so observing). This includes complying with statutes, regulations, and ordinances relevant to the action. See, Sánchez v. Seguros Triple S, Inc., 687 F.Supp.2d 6, 9 (D.P.R. 2010)(setting forth and applying formulation). The standard applies to those who operate businesses for profit, commanding them to exercise reasonable care toward business invitees. See, Calderón-Ortega v. U.S., 753 F.3d 250, 252 (2014)(recognizing obligation).

In turn, Article 1803 codifies a special type of vicarious liability, a type of liability based in part on the acts or omissions of others. See, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31 § 5142. To that end, it states that the obligation imposed by Article 1802 “is demandable not only for personal acts and omissions, but also for those of the persons for whom …[the defendant is] responsible, ” including under that rubric the liability of the father or mother for damages caused by minor children; of guardians for the damage cause by the person under their authority who live with them; of employers for the damage caused by an employee acting in the course of his employment; of masters or directors of arts and trades for damage caused by their pupils or apprentices; and of the Government of Puerto Rico under certain pre-established circumstances. Id. The enumeration is taxative, not of an exemplary nature. See, Burgos-Oquendo, 741 F.Supp. at 333 (so acknowledging). Imposition of vicarious liability in other instances must be anchored in alternate precepts or legislation, like Law 430. See, id. (dismissing complaint brought against lessor under Article 1803 in absence of provision establishing responsibility in the lessor for actions of the lessee).

At common law, vicarious liability implies that by reason of some preexisting relation between two parties, one of them may be held automatically liable to a third party for the negligence of the other even if he is free from fault. See, Prosser and Keeton, The Law of Torts, West Publishing Co., 1984, p. 499 (explaining concept). The doctrine applies in admiralty unless excluded by statute. See, Thomas J. Schoenbaum, supra at p. 188 (so noting). In that context, the negligence of employees is imputed to the owner of the vessel upon a finding of master-servant relationship, but in absence of that relationship, the shipowner is not liable in personam for the negligence of persons to whom the vessel is entrusted. Id. Under Article 1803, however, liability does not attach if the defendant shows that he employed the diligence expected of a good father of family, the bonus pater familias, to prevent the damage. Id. Diligence is predicated on how a prudent and reasonable man would have acted in connection with the obligations arising from the situations enumerated in Article 1803. See, Pueblo v. Rivera Rivera, 23 P.R. Offic. Trans. 641, 1989 WK 607294, *§ V (Rebollo López, J., concurring)(analyzing standard).

By contrast, Law 430 operates much like vicarious liability does at common law, providing in part that “[t]he owner of any ship or navigation vessel shall be responsible for damages caused when operating any of these, with fault or negligence, and when it is operated or under control of any person who, with the main purpose of operating or allowing it to be operated by a third party, obtains possession of it through express or tacit authorization of the owner.” P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 12 § 1406(6)(h). By extension, it imposes liability on the principal -the vessel’s owner- for the damages caused by the wrongful operation of the vessel when that vessel has been operated with the owner’s express or tacit authorization, irrespective of whether the owner has acted -in the words of Article 1803 of the Civil Code- with the diligence of a good father of family to avoid the damage.

As enacted, the provision is preempted by the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, as amended, 46 U.S.C. § 30501 et seq., because it conflicts with the negligence standard set in the federal statute. See, In the Matter of Rockaway Jet Ski, LLC, 2016 WL 8861617, *603-*604, (holding New York’s Navigation Act § 48 preempted by Limitation Act, as it imposes vicarious liability on the owners of personal watercrafts if the watercraft is operated by a person who used it with the owner’s permission, irrespective of the owner’s wrongdoing)(quoting In re Hartman, 2020 WL 1529488, *4 n.10 (D.N.J. Apr. 15, 2010)(to the extent the claimant argues that the jet ski owner is strictly liable under state law, the claim is preempted because the state’s strict liability standard directly conflicts with the negligence standard of the Limitation Act)). For the same reason, so too here. And given that the Limitation Act applies in Puerto Rico, [16] its preemptive effect comports with Garrido, banning reliance on Law 430 to impose vicarious liability on the vessel owner in the absence of the owner’s negligence.

Against this background, plaintiffs argue that Water Toy Shop violated Law 430 in: (1) operating an illegal additional kiosk a quarter of a mile east of the area specified in the permit issued by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”); (2) renting a jet ski that was not expressly identified in the permit; (3) using a rental ski as a patrol boat operated by a licensed individual who nevertheless had not received the required first aid training; (4) operating a rental stand without a valid navigation license; (5) keeping defective records lacking customers’ identification, addresses, tag of the jet ski used and date and time it was returned; and (6) renting skis without informing customers of navigation rules, safety briefing and prohibited activities (Docket No. 61 at pp. 5-7), making it liable for the collision and resulting damages. But merely violating a statute or regulation is not a synonym for liability in Puerto Rico, since in order for liability to attach, there must be a causal relationship – adequate cause – between the violation and the damages. See, González v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Authority, 1993 WL 525644, *8 (D.P.R. Nov. 23, 1993)(so holding)(citing Pacheco v. A.F.F., 12 P.R. Offic. Trans. 367 (1982)).[17]

Adequate cause is not an event in the absence of which the damage would not have occurred, but that which in general experience causes it. See, Cárdenas Mazán v. Rodríguez Rodríguez, 125 D.P.R. 702, 710 (1990) (so stating); Ganapolsky v. Boston Mut. Life Ins. Co., 138 F.3d 446, 447-448 (1st Cir. 1998)(accidental injury to plaintiff’s left foot resulting from tripping on a two-inch step at entrance to men’s room in a theater not adequate cause of gangrene requiring foot’s amputation, as the infection that lead to the gangrene normally does not arise from tripping on a step). As such, causation is a function of foreseeability, requiring plaintiff to show that the injury was reasonably foreseeable. See, Marshall v. Pérez Arzuaga, 828 F.2d 845, 847 (1st Cir. 1987)(discussing foreseeability as part of the “causal nexus” element of tort action); Vázquez-Filipetti, 504 F.3d at 49 (highlighting centrality of foreseeability to a successful tort claim).[18]

Within this framework, that violations may have occurred in connection with items (1) to (5)-an unsubstantiated assumption at best- is not causally linked to Castro’s crashing of his jet ski onto plaintiffs’, for there is no evidence in the record showing it was foreseeable for a reasonable person to anticipate that a jet-ski collision would result from those violations.[19] Foreseeability cannot be established through the simple fact that an accident occurred. Id. (so recognizing).[20]The situation is no different in admiralty. See, Poulis-Minott v. Smith, 388 F.3d 354, 363 (1st Cir. 2004)(dismissing claim in admiralty for lack of proof that under the circumstances, there was a reasonable possibility that compliance with the regulatory standard would have prevented the accident).[21]

Water Toy’s obligation to provide Castro with an oral or written orientation on the navigation rules the Commissioner of Navigation of Puerto Rico prepared in accordance with Law 430 stands on a different footing, as it directly implicates the provision of information necessary to safely operate the jet ski. See, Wills v. Amerada Hess Corp., 379 F.3d 32, 42-45 (2d Cir. 2004)(distinguishing between statutory or regulatory provisions naturally and logically linked to maritime safety and those not so linked). The uncontested facts, however, show that Water Toy did provide adequate training to Castro in connection with the operation of the jet ski as well as of the applicable navigation rules. See, SUMF at ¶ 15-17. And the Rental Agreement Castro executed additionally confirms that he: (1) was fully informed of the inherent risks associated with jet skis; (2) understood and agreed to abide by the personal watercraft operational instructions he was given; and (3) was trained in the safe use of water sport equipment to his complete satisfaction. All in all, the record does not sustain a finding of liability against Water Toy deriving from a negligent act causally connected to the damages claimed.

C. Waivers

Beyond the issue of liability, plaintiffs executed a waiver precluding liability as to Water Toy and Axel Acosta – Water Toy’s sole owner and president, representative and agent – except for gross negligence, which the complaint only imputed to Castro. Plaintiffs attack the waiver, essentially characterizing it as unenforceable (Docket No. 61, at pp. 20-31). Voluntary waivers of liability for negligence in maritime activities are enforceable provided they: (1) are consistent with public policy; (2) do not configure a contract of adhesion; and (3) are drafted in clear and unambiguous language. See, Olmo v. Atlantic City Parasail, 2016 WL 1704365, *9 (D.N.J. April 28, 2016)(articulating and applying test)(citing Olivelli v. Sappo Corp., Inc., 225 F.Supp.2d 109, 116 (D.P.R. 2002)). By these standards, the waivers that plaintiffs signed are valid and enforceable.

First, exculpatory clauses waiving liability for negligence in maritime recreational activities are consistent with public policy. See, Cobb v. Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, LLC, 933 F.Supp.2d 1295, 1299 (D. Nevada 2013)(so acknowledging); Olmo, 2016 WL 1704365, at *10 (same).[22] Thus, parties may enter into agreements to allocate risks inherent in those activities, allowing operators to contractually disclaim liability for their own negligence. See, Brozyna v. Niagara Gorge Jetboarding, Ltd., 2011 WL 4553100, *4-*5 (W.D. N.Y. Sept. 29, 2011)(explaining exculpatory waivers).[23] Relying on In the Matter of Rockaway Jet Ski LLC, 2016 WL 8861617, however, plaintiffs argue the waiver violates public policy because it has been invoked to prevent them from asserting negligence claims based on the violation of Law 430, a safety statute which, at bottom, does not contain a waiver authorization clause (Docket No. 61, at pp. 23, 27).

In Rockaway, the court evaluated whether an exculpatory clause can release negligence claims premised on the violation of a state safety statute, New York Navigation Law 73(a)(2), which (1) required businesses renting personal watercraft to provide a video or in-water demonstration of how to safely operate watercraft; and (2) prohibited those businesses from renting a personal watercraft to an individual unless that individual demonstrated ability to (i) operate the personal watercraft, and (ii) use applicable safety equipment. Id. at *595-*596. The court surveyed relevant caselaw, finding that some jurisdictions considering the same question did not permit parties to waive negligence claims premised on the violation of safety statutes, whereas other jurisdictions permitted the waivers. Id. at *598-*599. It sided with the former, noting “the apparent absence of an established admiralty rule on this question, ” (id. at *601); that statutory violations amount to negligence per se; and that waivers of a negligence per se claim violate public policy. Id. at *602.

Applying the reasoning to Law 430, the only statutory item involving safety is the one requiring information to safely operate the jet ski. But renting out a jet ski without taking steps to provide for its safety operation falls within the realm of negligence regardless of whether it is statutorily required. See, In re Hartman, 2010 WL 1529488, *4 (D.N.J. Apr. 15, 2010)(no need to resort to state safety statute to establish negligence in case originating in jet ski accident, because irrespective of statute, ski owner owed plaintiff a duty of care). And as pointed out above, those actions may be waived. See, Waggoner, 141 F.3d at *8-*9 (rejecting argument that exculpatory clause in recreational boat rental contract violated public policy based in part on Restatement (Second) of Contracts’ explanation that “a party to a contract can ordinarily exempt himself from liability for harm caused by his failure to observe the standards of reasonable care imposed by the law of negligence”). Moreover, although Law 430 imposes vicarious liability, that type of liability is less about boat safety and more about ensuring compensation for injured parties. See, Rockaway, 2016 WL 8861617 at *604 (so observing in validating waiver to protect vessel owner from vicarious liability imposed by state navigation law). In the end, Law 430 does not prohibit waivers, and neither does public policy.

Second, adhesion contracts are “take it or leave it” contracts with no opportunity for negotiation between parties with unequal bargaining power. Id. at *6 (delineating elements of adhesion). The definition does not fit waivers used in connection with voluntary recreational pursuits rather than rendition of essential services such as medical care, where courts would be more likely to find that a contract of adhesion exists. See, Olmo, 2016 WL 1704365 at *10 (so recognizing). For the same reason, liability waivers for voluntary recreational activities in navigable waters are not considered adhesion contracts, as the plaintiff has the option of signing or turning around and declining to do business with the defendant. Id. (waiver in case involving parasailing and related activities). So too here, for plaintiffs were free to choose another jet ski rental company or leave the beach without ridding a jet ski at all. See Olivelli, 225 F.Supp.2d at 110-11, 118-120 (waiver of liability not considered adhesion contract in part because scuba diving is a strictly voluntary recreational pursuit and deceased was free to decline defendant’s services if she did not wish to assent to the terms of the waiver); Brozyna, 2011 WL 4553100 at *6 (same with respect to jetboating excursion, as plaintiff had to option to decline to participate in the excursion); Murley ex rel. Estate of Murley v. Deep Explorers, Inc., 281 F.Supp.2d 580, 589-590 (E.D.N.Y. 2003)(if scuba diver did not agree to or understand any of the clauses of the release, he was free to write “VOID” or decline defendant’s services).[24]

Third, the waivers are clear and unambiguous. Their language (1) identified the specific risks inherent to and associated with riding a jet ski;[25] (2) explained and highlighted the fact that, by executing the Agreement, plaintiffs waived and released any and all claims based upon negligence against Water Toy, its officers, directors, employees, representatives, agents, and volunteers and vessels; and (3) stated that plaintiffs accepted responsibility for the consequences of riding the rented jet skis. The language should have put plaintiffs on notice of its legal significance and effect. Murley, 281 F.Supp.2d at 580-581, 591 (validating liability release with similar characteristics in dismissing action arising out of scuba diving accident that resulted in diver’s death). Even more, both plaintiffs and Castro signed the Agreements before boarding their respective jet skis, acknowledging that they (1) were fully informed of the hazards and risks associated with the jet ski and related water sports activities, including collision with other participants or watercrafts; (2) read, understood, and agreed to abide by the “Personal Watercraft Operational” instructions at all times; (3) were trained in the safe use of watersports equipment to their complete satisfaction; and (4) were physically and mentally able to participate in the water sports activities.

Fourth, plaintiffs are college-educated U.S. citizens, who were interested in participating in a recreational, hazardous maritime activity, one conditioned upon the jet ski’s owner and renter being released from liability as set forth in the waivers, a condition plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to.[26] Plaintiffs state that Ms. Morgan signed the documents without reading them (Docket No. 61-1 at ¶ 11). Nonetheless, the defendant is entitled to rely in good faith upon the reasonable appearance of consent that plaintiff created. See, Chieco v. Paramarketing, Inc., 228 A.D.2d 462, 643 N.Y.S.2d 668 (2d Dept. 1996)(holding release and waiver for paragliding lesson valid despite plaintiff’s allegation that he did not read or understand the document), cited in Murley, 281 F.Supp.2d at 591; Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts, 217-218 (West 2000) (discussing defendant’s reasonable reliance on plaintiff’s acts and words to infer binding consent). Private and uncommunicated reservations to a waiver does not subject defendant to liability. See, Dan B. Dobbs, supra (so noting). Therefore, plaintiffs cannot escape the consequences of their voluntary decisions, bypassing the contracts they signed to avoid the legal consequences of their free choice, for there is no evidence of deceit, violence or intimidation exerted on plaintiffs to coerce or wrongfully induce them to sign the waivers, or that they did so by mistake, thinking they were signing something else. See, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31 § 3404 (codifying elements voiding consent under Puerto Rico law, to include violence, intimidation, deceit and error); Cutchin v. Habitat Curacao-Maduro Dive Fanta-Seas, Inc., 1999 WL 33232277, *3 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 8, 1999)(applying pre-accident waiver to dismiss action arising from diving accident, as there was no evidence showing that plaintiff was coerced to sign the document); Murley, 281 F.Supp.2d at 590 (dismissing suit based on scuba diver’s death in part because there was no evidence that defendants procured release by fraud or that deceased signed release under duress); .

Plaintiffs posit the waivers mention negligence but not fault, and cannot bar their action because the complaint alleges that their damages result from defendants’ “fault” or “negligence” (Docket No. 61 at p. 25). These terms have specific meanings in the civil code context of Puerto Rico law. See, CMI Capital Market Investment, LLC v. González-Toro, 520 F.3d 58, 64 (1st Cir. 2008)(so recognizing). Fault consists in the failure to exercise due diligence, the use of which would have prevented the wrongful result, and requires the execution of a positive act causing a damage to another person different from the one who executed it. Id. Negligence supposes an omission producing the same effect as fault (id.), predicated as with fault, on the failure to exercise due diligence. See, Sánchez v. Esso Standard Oil de Puerto Rico, Inc., 2010 WL 3069551, *4 (D.P.R. Aug. 2, 2010)(discussing terms). Both concepts “have in common that the act be executed or the omission incurred without an injurious intent, ” González-Toro, 520 F.3d at 64, and for the same reason, have been described as “faces of the same coin.” Sánchez, 2010 WL 3069551 a *4 (quoting Gierbolini v. Employers Fire Ins. Co., 4 P.R. Offic. Trans. 1197, 1201 (1976).

On this reading, it is apparent that to the extent the waiver mentions negligence it necessarily contemplates the failure to exercise due diligence, the same operative feature underlying fault, reflecting the waiver’s reference to both active and passive negligence. See, Malave-Felix v. Volvo Car Corp., 946 F.2d 967, 971 (1st Cir. 1991)(“An actor is at fault, or negligent, when he fails to exercise due diligence to prevent foreseeable injury”)(emphasis added). Even more, plaintiffs’ factual allegations are couched in negligence, not fault. See, Complaint, ¶ 30 (“As a consequence of the accident caused by the negligence of all defendants, … [Ms. Morgan] has suffered mental anguish, physical injuries and scars;” ¶ 43 (“As a consequence of the accident caused by the negligence of all defendants,, , [Ms. Kennedy] has suffered mental anguish, and physical injuries”).

Plaintiffs allege the waiver does not mention Axel Acosta, the insurance company, or Acosta Water Sports (Docket No. 61, pp. 27-28). Nonetheless, the waiver expressly releases Water Toy Shop’s officers, directors, and agents, and Axel Acosta is Water Sports’ president and resident agent (Docket No. 61-1 at ¶ 23). In addition, the insurance company’s exposure is linked to that of its insured. If the action fails as to Water Toy Shop and Axel Acosta, there is no viable claim against their insurer. Acosta Water Sports would not benefit from the waiver, though, as it is not one of the releases. Only one conclusion follows: the waivers and releases are valid, and must be enforced except as to Acosta Water Sports.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated, the motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 52) is GRANTED and the claims against Water Toy, Axel Acosta and Ironshore Indemnity DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Since it is uncontested that Acosta Water Sports is not the owner of the jet skis at issue, and did not seem to have incurred in any wrongdoing related to the accident, plaintiffs shall show cause, by April 20, 2018 as to why their claims against Acosta Water Sports should not be dismissed as well. In their motion, plaintiffs shall include relevant caselaw arising out of analogous facts and procedural settings in support of their position.

SO ORDERED.

———

Notes:

[1] Collisions have been described as “the most feared catastrophe of every mariner.” Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law, Vol. 2, 103 (West 5th ed. 2011).

[2] Castro was sued and served with process, but failed to appear and the Clerk entered default against him (Docket No. 77).

[3] Except otherwise noted, the facts included in this section are drawn from the parties’ Local Rule 56 submissions (Docket No. 52-1, Docket No. 61-1, Docket No. 69-1). Local Rule 56 is designed to “relieve the district court of any responsibility to ferret through the record to discern whether any material fact is genuinely in dispute.” CMI Capital Market Investment, LLC v. Gonzalez-Toro, 520 F.3d 58, 62 (1st Cir. 2008). It requires a party moving for summary judgment to accompany its motion with a brief statement of facts, set forth in numbered paragraphs and supported by citations to the record, that the movant contends are uncontested and material. Local Rule 56(b) and (e). The opposing party must admit, deny, or qualify those facts, with record support, paragraph by paragraph. Id. 56(c), (e). The opposing party may also present, in a separate section, additional facts, set forth in separate numbered paragraphs. Id. 56(c). While the district court may “forgive” a violation of Local Rule 56, litigants who ignore the rule do it “at their peril.” Mariani-Colón v. Department of Homeland Sec. ex rel. Chertoff, 511 F.3d 216, 219 (1st Cir. 2007).

[4] At his deposition, Axel Acosta explained that these corporations operate separately, with their own permit and insurance. Their personnel, however, is interchangeably used. See, Plaintiffs’ Exhibit 3 at p. 84, lines: 6-20. Water Toy Shop owns the stand adjacent to the San Juan Hotel, whereas Acosta Water Sports owns the stand adjacent to the Intercontinental Hotel. See, PSUMF ¶¶ 6, 36.

[5] Plaintiffs stated they were rushed into signing the documents. However, that do not contest the fact that both of them signed the documents. Moreover, the deposition testimony submitted in support of their contention does not prove that they were rushed to sign documents, but that they “were rushing” (Defendants’ Exh. 2 at p. 94). At any rate, in their opposition to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs seem to have abandoned the “rushing” characterization of the events, focusing instead on the alleged invalidity of the releases (Docket No. 61 at pp. 20-29).

[6] Plaintiffs’ explanation as to who gave them the documents does not controvert the language of the Rental Agreements that each plaintiff signed. Their undeveloped and unsupported contention as to the “content and admissibility of the documents” – without any analysis, case law or support whatsoever – does not contest the statement either.

[7] The “disputed” and generalized statement made by plaintiffs “as to the content and admissibility of the documents” does not contest the language of the Rental Agreement and Declaration of Fitness.

[8] Plaintiff testified during her deposition that “thirty to forty five maybe an hour” elapsed (Docket No. 52-3 at p. 100, lines 14-17).

[9] Plaintiffs “disputed” this statement as follows: “Disputed as to hearsay and admissibility of the documents. With the exception of the witness testimonies, Defendants have not yet produced a single piece of evidence that can confirm the identity, address or telephone number of the person who caused the collision, someone allegedly named Mark Castro.” See, Docket No. 61-1. But in addition to the general language disputing this statement, plaintiffs provided no discussion or authority in support of the argument. As such, the statement is deemed admitted. See, U.S. v. Zannino, 895 F.2d 1, 17 (1st Cir. 1990)(“It is not enough merely to mention a possible argument in the most skeletal way, leaving the court to do counsel’s work, create the ossature for the argument, and put flesh on its bones”). Moreover, their “dispute” language does not comply with Local Rule 56 either. See also, Natal-Pérez v. Oriental Bank & Trust, —F.3d.—-, 2018 WL 618598, *1-*2 (D.P.R. January 30, 2018)(explaining what constitutes a proper denial or qualification under Local Rule 56).

[10] Plaintiffs’ denial does not comply with Local Rule 56. This time, they refer the court’s attention to certain portions of plaintiffs’ Exhibit 6. But nothing in those pages serve to properly controvert defendants’ SUMF ¶ 16. Therefore, the statement is deemed admitted.

[11] Plaintiffs did not admit, deny or qualify this statement as required by Local Rule 56. Moreover, their explanation does not contest this statement.

[12] The Territorial Clause gives Congress authority to “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” As a territorial entity subject to congressional authority under the Territorial Clause, Puerto Rico nevertheless boasts “a relationship to the United States that has no parallel in … [United States’] history.” Puerto Rico v. Sánchez-Valle, —U.S.—-, 136 S.Ct. 1863, 1876 (2016). In a well-documented and comprehensive commentary, “Why Puerto Rico Does Not Need Further Experimentation With Its Future: A Reply To The Notion of ‘Territorial Federalism’, ” 131-3 Harvard Law Review Forum (January 2018), Juan R. Torruella examines the different phases of Puerto Rico’s territorial relationship with the United States, divided into what the author has labeled “the four ‘experiments’ in the colonial governance of Puerto Rico by the United States.” Id. at pp. 65-66.

[13] For a description of the main features of the Jones Act, see, Lebrón-Cáceres, 157 F.Supp.3d at 92. Juan R. Torruella, supra, focuses on the historical context of the statutory enactment. The first organic act, known as the Foraker Act, 31 Stat. 77-86, had been enacted in 1900, two years after the United States invaded Puerto Rico during the Hispanic American War. It established a civilian government in the territory, replacing the military government that had exerted control over Puerto Rico from October 1898. See, Lebrón-Cáceres, 157 F.Supp.3d at 91-92 & n.17 (sketching statute); Juan R. Torruella, supra (surveying historical setting).

[14] Lebrón-Cáceres, 157 F.Supp.2d at 92-93, 99-101, and Juan R. Torruella, supra, provide useful information about this statute.

[15] Gustavo A. Gelpí, “Maritime Law in Puerto Rico, An Anomaly in a Sea of Federal Uniformity, ” published as part of The Constitutional Evolution of Puerto Rico and Other U.S. Territories (1898-Present), Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, Metropolitan Campus (2017), p. 57, discusses Garrido and other judicial decisions in light of the interplay between Federal maritime law and Puerto Rico.

[16] See, Aponte v. Caribbean Petroleum, 141 F.Supp.3d 166, 171 (D.P.R. 2015)(applying Limitation Act in Puerto Rico).

[17] The term “adequate cause” is similar to “proximate cause.” See, Rodríguez v. Puerto Rico, 825 F.Supp.2d 341, 347 (D.P.R. 2011)(so noting)(citing Tokyo Marine and Fire Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Pérez &Cia. de Puerto Rico, Inc., 142 F.3d 1, 7 &n. 5 (1st Cir. 1998)(referring to Puerto Rico decisions explaining adequate cause)).

[18] Foreseeability allows courts to reconcile physical or natural cause and effect relationships with the causation necessary to establish civil liability. See, González, 1993 WL 525644 at *4 (so explaining). If that were not so, “damages following a breach … [would] be linked to each other in an endless chain of events.” Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation v. Arrillaga-Torrens, 212 F.Supp.3d 312, 353 (D.P.R. 2016).

[19] At the most, those alleged violations would warrant administrative sanctions under Section 1407 of Law 430. Yet there is no evidence that the DRN sanctioned, fined, suspended or revoked Water Toy’s permit for those reasons.

[20] See also, Marshall, 828 F.2d at 848 (comparing Negrón v. Orozco, 113 D.P.R. 921 (1983)(finding Puerto Rico Police liable for a shooting death in a police station because intervening act, though criminal and intentional, was reasonably foreseeable) with Rivera v. Cruz, 87 J.T.S. 51(1987)(no liability since defendant had no reason to anticipate the criminal act)).

[21] Poulis-Minott measured liability against the so-called Pennsylvania Rule, pursuant to which if a plaintiff in admiralty establishes both that the defendant breached a statutory duty and the breach is relevant to the causal question, the defendant assumes the burden of proving that its breach could not have caused plaintiff’s damages. See, Poulis-Minott, 388 F.3d at 363 (describing Pennsylvania Rule). The Rule aims to enforce strict compliance with maritime regulations pertaining to the safe operation of ships. Id. So to invoke it, the plaintiff must show a relationship between the regulatory violation and the injury. Id. Plaintiffs never invoked the Pennsylvania Rule, but assuming they had done so, there is no evidence linking a safety-related statutory violation with the accident.

[22] Public policy does prohibit a party to a maritime contract to shield itself contractually from liability for gross negligence. See, Royal Ins. Co. of America v. Southwest Marine, 194 F.3d 1009, 1016 (9th Cir. 1999)(discussing issue). The prohibition does not apply here, because as pointed out in the text, the complaint only raised gross negligence allegations as to Castro.

[23] Congress could block the enforceability of these waivers like it did in 46 U.S.C. § 183(c), which prohibits a vessel owner from limiting its liability for its own negligence when carrying passengers between ports of the United States or from a port of the United States to a foreign port. But that provision applies only to common carriers. See, Waggoner v. Nags Head Water Sports, Inc., 141 F.3d 1162, *5-*6 (4th Cir. 1998)(unpublished)(so holding). No common carrier was involved in the case sub judice.

[24] Still and all, “adhesion does not imply nullity of contract” in Puerto Rico. Nieves v. Intercontinental Life Ins. Co. of Puerto Rico, 964 F.2d 60, 63 (1st Cir. 1992). If the wording of the contract is explicit and its language clear, its terms and conditions are binding on the parties. Id. As will be discussed, the waivers here satisfy this requirement.

[25] Those risks included (1) changing water flow, tides, currents, wave action, and ship’s wakes; (2) collision with any of the following: a) other participants, b) the watercraft, c) other watercraft, d) man made or natural objects, e) shuttle boat; (3) wind shear, inclement weather, lightning, variances and extremes of wind, weather and temperature; (4) my sense of balance, physical condition, ability to operate equipment, swim and/or follow directions; (5) collision, capsizing, sinking, or other hazard that may result in wetness, injury, exposure to the elements, hypothermia, impact of the body upon the water, injection of water into my body orifices, and/or drowning; (6) the presence of insects and marine life forms; (7) equipment failure or operator error; (8) heat or sun related injuries or illnesses, including sunburn, sun stroke or dehydration; (9) fatigue, chill and/or reaction time and increased risk of accident.

[26] Morgan had signed similar documents in order to rent jet skis before the accident. At the time of the accident, she had a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, and Kennedy had a High School diploma with one year of nursing school. SUMF at ¶ 2.

———


Assumption of the Risk is a defense to negligence and gross negligence claims in this case against a college offering for credit tour abroad study.

Student died swimming in the Pacific Ocean and his parents sued the college for his death. College was dismissed because student was an adult and assumed the risk that killed him.

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals of Georgia

Plaintiff: Elvis Downes and Myrna Lintner (parents of the deceased)

Defendant: Oglethorpe University, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2017

Summary

There are some risks that the courts say you understand and accept the risks because we know of them. Examples are cliffs and water. Here, the family of a student who died on a study abroad trip while swimming in the ocean could not sue because the student assumed the risks of swimming.

What is interesting is the assumption of the risk defense was used to defeat a claim of negligence and Gross Negligence.

Facts

During the 2010-2011 academic year, Oglethorpe offered to their students a 12-day study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The students were charged a fee for the trip to pay for expenses such as airfare, lodging, and food. The students were also required to pay the ” per credit tuition rate” and were to receive four credits toward their degree for academic work associated with the trip. Oglethorpe retained Horizontes, a Costa Rican tour operator, to coordinate the trip and to provide transportation and an English-speaking guide.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins was then the director of Oglethorpe’s study-abroad program. According to Collins, Oglethorpe tried to follow ” best practices,” which is ” defined as those protocols, procedures that as best and as far as possible ensure[ ] the safety of students.” He acknowledged that students would swim on the trips. Collins was not aware of any potential dangers in Costa Rica and did no investigation to ascertain if there were potential dangers in Costa Rica.

During pre-trip meetings with Downes and the five other students who had registered for the program, Dr. Roark Donnelly and Dr. Cassandra Copeland, the two professors who accompanied the students on the trip, asked the students if everyone was a good swimmer, and the students agreed that they were. The group also discussed swimming in the ocean, including ” that there are going to be currents.” One of the professors told the students that, during a previous study-abroad trip to another location, a student had recognized that he was a weak swimmer and was required to wear a life jacket during all water activities. After hearing this, the students continued to express that they were good swimmers. Before leaving on the trip, the students were required to sign a release agreement which included an exculpatory clause pertaining to Oglethorpe.

The students and professors flew to Costa Rica on December 28, 2010. During the course of the trip, on the afternoon of January 4, 2011, the group arrived at a hotel on the Pacific coast. The six students, two professors, the guide, and the driver got into their bus and drove to a nearby beach, Playa Ventanas, which had been recommended by the hotel. Upon their arrival, there were other people on the beach and in the water. There were no warning signs posted on the beach, nor any lifeguards or safety equipment present.

The students swam in the ocean, staying mostly together, and eventually ventured out into deeper water. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Donnelly yelled for the students to move closer to shore. Shortly thereafter, student Robert Cairns, a former lifeguard, heard a female student screaming. Cairns swam toward the screams, and the student informed him that Downes needed help. Cairns realized that ” some kind of current … had pulled us out.” Cairns swam to within ten feet of Downes and told him to get on his back and try to float. Downes could not get on his back, and Cairns kept telling him he had to try. After some time, Downes was struck by a wave, went under the water, and disappeared from Cairns’s view. Downes’s body was recovered from the ocean three days later.

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

The deceased student signed a release in this case, however the trial court and the appellate court made their decisions based on assumption of the risk.

Under Georgia law, assumption of the risk is a complete bra to a recovery.

The affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovering on a negligence claim if it is established that he[,] without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not.

Absent a showing by the plaintiff of coercion or a lack of free choice assumption of the risk prevents the plaintiff from recovery any damages for negligence from the defendant.

To prove the deceased assumed the risk the college must show:

A defendant asserting an assumption of the risk defense must establish that the plaintiff (i) had knowledge of the danger; (ii) understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger; and (iii) voluntarily exposed himself to those risks.

The plaintiff does not have to know and understand every aspect and facet of the risk. The knowledge can be that there are inherent risks in an activity even if the specifics of those risks are not known.

The knowledge requirement does not refer to a comprehension of general, non-specific risks. Rather, the knowledge that a plaintiff who assumes the risk must subjectively possess is that of the specific, particular risk of harm associated with the activity or condition that proximately causes injury.

Assumption of the risk is usually a jury decision because the jury must weigh whether or not the plaintiff truly understood the risks. However, if the risk is such that there is undisputed evidence that it exists and the plaintiff knew or should have known about it, the court can act.

As a general rule, whether a party assumed the risk of his injury is an issue for the jury that should not be decided by summary judgment unless the defense is conclusively established by plain, palpable and undisputed evidence.

Drowning is a known and understood risk under Georgia law of being in the water.

It is well established under Georgia law that ” [t]he danger of drowning in water is a palpable and manifest peril, the knowledge of which is chargeable to [persons] in the absence of a showing of want of ordinary capacity.

Because the deceased student was a competent adult, meaning over the age of 18 and not mentally informed or hampered, the risk was known to him. “As Downes was a competent adult, he was necessarily aware of the risk of drowning when he voluntarily entered the Pacific Ocean.”

The plaintiff’s argued the college created the risk because they did not investigate the beach, have an emergency preparedness plan, ensure the professors had adequate training and did not supply safety equipment. However, the court did not buy this because there was nothing in the record to show the College created or agreed to these steps to create an additional duty on the colleges part.

Assuming that Oglethorpe, having undertaken a study-abroad program, was under a duty to act with reasonable care, and that there is evidence of record that Oglethorpe failed to do so, assumption of risk is nevertheless a defense to negligence.

The college was under not statutory or common law duty to provide any of the issues the plaintiff argued. Nor did the college create a duty by becoming an insurer of the students.

Appellants do not show, however, that Oglethorpe was under a statutory or common law duty to provide safety equipment to its students during an excursion to the beach, or that the ocean is analogous to a nonresidential swimming pool. Nor can we conclude that Oglethorpe became an insurer for the safety of its students by undertaking a study-abroad program, or that it was responsible for the peril encountered by Downes in that it transported him to the beach.

Even then the assumption of the risk defense would apply because assuming the risk relieves the defendant of any negligence.

Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was wilfully and wantonly inflicted.

The defendant was not liable because the student, as an adult would have appreciated the risks of drowning in the Pacific Ocean.

Because he was a competent adult, Downes would have appreciated the specific risk of drowning posed by entering a body of water so inherently dangerous as the Pacific Ocean. As Downes voluntarily did so, Oglethorpe established that he assumed that risk. Although Downes’s death was undeniably tragic, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court correctly granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

So Now What?

There are two important points in this decision.

First, although not discussed, the court allowed assumption of the risk to stop a claim for gross negligence. Normally, like assumption of the risk, whether or not a defendant was grossly negligent requires a review by the jury to determine if the facts alleged meet the definition of gross negligence in the state.

Second is the issue that the less you do the less liability you create. In the pre-trip briefing with the students the risks of swimming in the ocean were discussed. The students all stated they were strong swimmers and nothing more was done.

If the college had made them take a swim test, further questioned their swimming skills by requiring more information or making sure a professor who was a lifeguard was on the trip, the college would have created an additional duty owed to the students.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

342 Ga.App. 250 (Ga.App. 2017)

802 S.E.2d 437

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc

A17A0246

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 30, 2017

Assumption of the risk. DeKalb State Court. Before Judge Polk, pro hac vice.

Katherine L. McArthur, Caleb F. Walker, for appellants.

Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, David M. Atkinson, for appellee.

OPINION

[802 S.E.2d 438]

Ellington, Presiding Judge.

Erik Downes, then a 20-year-old college student, drowned in the Pacific Ocean on January 4, 2011, while he was in Costa Rica attending a study-abroad program organized by Oglethorpe University, Inc. Elvis Downes and Myrna Lintner (the ” Appellants” ), as Downes’s parents and next of kin, and in their capacity as administrators of Downes’s estate, brought this wrongful death action alleging that Oglethorpe’s negligence and gross negligence were the proximate cause of Downes’s drowning. The trial court granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment, and the Appellants appeal. We affirm because, as a matter of law, Downes assumed [802 S.E.2d 439] the risk of drowning when he chose to swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Under OCGA § 9-11-56 (c), [s]ummary judgment is warranted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. We review the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment de novo, and we view the evidence, and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in a light most favorable to the nonmovant. (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Assaf v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 327 Ga.App. 475, 475-476 (759 S.E.2d 557) (2014). See also Johnson v. Omondi, 294 Ga. 74, 75-76 (751 S.E.2d 288) (2013) (accord).

So viewed, the evidence shows the following. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Oglethorpe offered to their students a 12-day study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The students were charged a fee for the trip to pay for expenses such as airfare, lodging, and food. The students were also required to pay the ” per credit tuition rate” and were to receive four credits toward their degree for academic work associated with the trip. Oglethorpe retained Horizontes, a Costa Rican tour operator, to coordinate the trip and to provide transportation and an English-speaking guide.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins was then the director of Oglethorpe’s study-abroad program. According to Collins, Oglethorpe tried to follow ” best practices,” which is ” defined as those protocols, procedures that as best and as far as possible ensure[ ] the safety of students.” He acknowledged that students would swim on the trips. Collins was not aware of any potential dangers in Costa Rica and did no investigation to ascertain if there were potential dangers in Costa Rica.

During pre-trip meetings with Downes and the five other students who had registered for the program, Dr. Roark Donnelly and Dr. Cassandra Copeland, the two professors who accompanied the students on the trip, asked the students if everyone was a good swimmer, and the students agreed that they were. The group also discussed swimming in the ocean, including ” that there are going to be currents.” One of the professors told the students that, during a previous study-abroad trip to another location, a student had recognized that he was a weak swimmer and was required to wear a life jacket during all water activities. After hearing this, the students continued to express that they were good swimmers. Before leaving on the trip, the students were required to sign a release agreement which included an exculpatory clause pertaining to Oglethorpe.

The students and professors flew to Costa Rica on December 28, 2010. During the course of the trip, on the afternoon of January 4, 2011, the group arrived at a hotel on the Pacific coast. The six students, two professors, the guide, and the driver got into their bus and drove to a nearby beach, Playa Ventanas, which had been recommended by the hotel. Upon their arrival, there were other people on the beach and in the water. There were no warning signs posted on the beach, nor any lifeguards or safety equipment present.

The students swam in the ocean, staying mostly together, and eventually ventured out into deeper water. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Donnelly yelled for the students to move closer to shore. Shortly thereafter, student Robert Cairns, a former lifeguard, heard a female student screaming. Cairns swam toward the screams, and the student informed him that Downes needed help. Cairns realized that ” some kind of current … had pulled us out.” Cairns swam to within ten feet of Downes and told him to get on his back and try to float. Downes could not get on his back, and Cairns kept telling him he had to try. After some time, Downes was struck by a wave, went under the water, and disappeared from Cairns’s view. Downes’s body was recovered from the ocean three days later.

The Appellants filed this wrongful death action claiming that Downes’s death was the proximate result of Oglethorpe’s negligence and gross negligence. Evidence adduced during discovery included the testimony of Dr. John Fletemeyer, the Appellants’ expert in [802 S.E.2d 440] coastal sciences, that Downes had been caught in a ” rip current” [1] when he became distressed and ultimately drowned. Dr. Fletemeyer opined that some beaches on the western coast of Costa Rica are particularly dangerous ” mainly [because of] the lack of lifeguards,” but also because of physical conditions such as ” high wave energy force” and ” pocket beaches,” and that Playa Ventanas was a pocket beach.[2] He also testified that, in the context of the ocean, ” every beach you go to is extremely dangerous.” Other testimony showed that a continuing problem with drownings on beaches along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica was well publicized in Costa Rica, and that the United States Consular Authority in Costa Rica had ” published statistics about the danger of swimming on Costa Rica’s beaches and identified specifically the west coast beaches as being the most dangerous.” [3]

Following discovery, Oglethorpe moved for summary judgment and argued that (i) Oglethorpe owed no legal duty to Downes; (ii) the Appellants’ negligence claims are barred by Downes’s written waiver of liability and there is a lack of evidence that Oglethorpe was grossly negligent; and (iii) Downes assumed the risk of swimming in the ocean. The trial court granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

1. The Appellants contend that Oglethorpe was not entitled to summary judgment on the ground that Downes, as a matter of law, assumed the risk of drowning when he swam in the ocean.[4]

The affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars a plaintiff from recovering on a negligence claim if it is established that he[,] without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Vaughn v. Pleasent, 266 Ga. 862, 864 (1) (471 S.E.2d 866) (1996).

A defendant asserting an assumption of the risk defense must establish that the plaintiff (i) had knowledge of the danger; (ii) understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger; and (iii) voluntarily exposed himself to those risks. The knowledge requirement does not refer to a comprehension of general, non-specific risks. Rather, the knowledge that a plaintiff who assumes the risk must subjectively possess is that of the specific, particular risk of harm associated with the activity or condition that proximately causes injury.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Gilreath v. Smith, 340 Ga.App. 265, 268 (1) (797 S.E.2d 177) (2017). ” As a general rule, whether a party assumed the risk of his injury is an issue for the jury that should not be decided by summary judgment unless the defense is conclusively established by plain, palpable and undisputed evidence.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Findley v. Griffin, 292 Ga.App. 807, 809 (2) (666 S.E.2d 79) (2008).

[342 Ga.App. 254] It is well established under Georgia law that ” [t]he danger of drowning in water is a palpable and manifest peril, the knowledge of which is chargeable to [persons] in the absence of a showing of want of ordinary capacity.” Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. 67, 69 (2) (166 S.E.2d 89) (1969). See, e.g., White v.

[802 S.E.2d 441]Ga. Power Co., 265 Ga.App. 664, 666 (1) (595 S.E.2d 353) (2004) (the ” [p]erils of deep water are instinctively known” ). The record does not show that Downes was aware of the presence of rip currents in the waters off the beach; however, ” [i]t is the body of water per se that presents an obvious risk of drowning, not its attendant conditions such as a strong unseen current or a deep unknown hole.” Id. at 667 (1). As Downes was a competent adult, he was necessarily aware of the risk of drowning when he voluntarily entered the Pacific Ocean.

The Appellants contend that Oglethorpe had a duty to exercise ordinary care in the planning and implementing of its study-abroad program to avoid exposing the students to a risk of drowning. Because Oglethorpe owed this duty, they contend, the fact that Downes entered the water voluntarily does not establish as a matter of law that he assumed the risk of drowning. Rather, they contend, Oglethorpe created the dangerous situation by taking Downes to the beach without investigating its dangers, adopting an emergency preparedness plan, ensuring the professors in charge had adequate training and procedures for supervising swimming students, and supplying safety equipment.

Assuming that Oglethorpe, having undertaken a study-abroad program, was under a duty to act with reasonable care, and that there is evidence of record that Oglethorpe failed to do so, assumption of risk is nevertheless a defense to negligence. ” Even if a defendant is negligent, a determination that a plaintiff assumed the risk or failed to exercise ordinary care for [his] own safety bars recovery for the resulting injury suffered by the plaintiff, unless the injury was wilfully and wantonly inflicted.” (Citation omitted.) City of Winder v. Girone, 265 Ga. 723, 724 (2) (462 S.E.2d 704) (1995). In Rice v. Oaks Investors II, 292 Ga.App. 692, 693-694 (1) (666 S.E.2d 63) (2008), the defendant was entitled to a directed verdict where, notwithstanding evidence that the defendants were negligent per se in failing to properly enclose the pool in which the ten-year-old decedent drowned, the child’s own negligence was the sole proximate cause of her death because the risk of swimming in the pool was obvious as a matter of law. Similarly, notwithstanding whether a defendant breached a duty to care for or supervise a decedent, the decedent’s assumption of the risk of injury may bar recovery. See Sayed v. Azizullah, 238 Ga.App. 642, 643-644 (519 S.E.2d 732) (1999) (finding no need to reach the issue [342 Ga.App. 255] of whether a duty was owed by the defendant to care for the 17-year-old decedent because the decedent was charged with appreciating the risk of swimming in the lake as a matter of law, and he voluntarily assumed that risk); Riley v. Brasunas, 210 Ga.App. 865, 868 (2) (438 S.E.2d 113) (1993) (any failure of the defendant to exercise the duty of an ordinary responsible guardian in watching over the seven-year-old child, who was injured using a trampoline, could not be the proximate cause of the child’s injuries where the child knowingly exposed himself to the obvious danger). See also Bourn v. Herring, 225 Ga. at 69-70 (2) (as the decedent, who was over 14 years old, was chargeable with diligence for his own safety against palpable and manifest peril, plaintiff could not recover against defendants for failure to exercise ordinary care in supervising the decedent in and around the lake in which he drowned).

As Appellants show, a decedent’s decision to enter a body of water with awareness of the physical circumstances is not necessarily determinative of whether the decedent assumed the risk of drowning. For example, the breach of a duty to provide statutorily required safety equipment may be ” inextricable from the proximate cause of the damage.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Holbrook v. Exec. Conference Center, 219 Ga.App. 104, 107 (2) (464 S.E.2d 398) (1995) (finding that a jury could determine that the absence of statutorily mandated safety equipment was the proximate cause of the decedent’s drowning in the defendant’s pool). See Alexander v. Harnick, 142 Ga.App. 816, 817 (2) (237 S.E.2d 221) (1977) (where the decedent drowned after she jumped from the defendant’s houseboat into the water in an attempt to rescue her dog, and the defendant did not have any throwable life preservers on board, nor readily accessible life vests, as required by law, ” a jury would not be precluded [802 S.E.2d 442] from finding that the absence of the safety equipment was the proximate cause of the decedent’s death merely because she entered the water voluntarily” ). And in premises liability actions, the general rule is ” that owners or operators of nonresidential swimming facilities owe an affirmative duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety and protection of invitees swimming in the pool.” Walker v. Daniels, 200 Ga.App. 150, 155 (1) (407 S.E.2d 70) (1991).

Appellants do not show, however, that Oglethorpe was under a statutory or common law duty to provide safety equipment to its students during an excursion to the beach, or that the ocean is analogous to a nonresidential swimming pool. Nor can we conclude that Oglethorpe became an insurer for the safety of its students by undertaking a study-abroad program, or that it was responsible for the peril encountered by Downes in that it transported him to the beach. Compare Alexander v. Harnick, 142 Ga.App. at 817 (3) (an issue of fact remained as to whether, by taking decedent onto the water without the statutorily required safety equipment, defendant helped to create her peril). Because he was a competent adult, Downes would have appreciated the specific risk of drowning posed by entering a body of water so inherently dangerous as the Pacific Ocean. As Downes voluntarily did so, Oglethorpe established that he assumed that risk. Although Downes’s death was undeniably tragic, we are constrained to conclude that the trial court correctly granted Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment.

2. The Appellants’ other claims of error are moot.

Judgment affirmed.

Andrews and Rickman, JJ., concur.

Notes:

[1]The evidence showed that ” [a] rip current is a strong outflow or stream of water usually beginning at the beach, moving perpendicular to the beach, beginning with the neck and then terminating at some point beyond the surf line[.]”

[2]Fletemeyer’s testimony is not explicit as to why pocket beaches are dangerous to swimmers, although, in the context of the line of questioning, his testimony implies that the physical characteristics of pocket beaches are associated with the formation of rip currents.

[3]The evidence did not show that Playa Ventanas, in particular, had an unusually high number of drownings.

[4]The Appellants also contend that the trial court erred in granting Oglethorpe’s motion for summary judgment (1) because Oglethorpe owed a duty to exercise ordinary care for the safety of its students in the planning and implementation of its study-abroad program, and material issues of fact remain regarding Oglethorpe’s negligence, (2) the exculpatory clause in the release agreement signed by Downes is not enforceable, and (3) gross negligence cannot be waived by an exculpatory clause, and material issues of fact remain as to whether Oglethorpe was grossly negligent.


Paperwork, the death of trees and in this case the only defense the defendant had at this stage of the trial because the paperwork was not taken care of properly.

The youth camp failed to keep a good copy of the registration paperwork. What was presented to the court as a forum selection clause was illegible so the court held it was not valid.

Epps, et al., v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93335, 2007 WL 4463588

State: Pennsylvania, United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Plaintiff: Ben Epps, et al.

Defendant: 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Motion to Dismiss because of improper venue

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2007

Summary

Lawsuits are not games; they are not invitations to parties, there is a lot of money riding on the outcome in most cases. Documents needed for the case must be given to the attorneys defending the case in the condition in which they are maintained. In this case, a document was faxed to the defense attorneys and in such a bad way the court could not read the document. Since the court could not read the document, the court assumed the original was the same, and therefore, the document was not valid.

At the same time, if you are collecting and keeping documents that may end up in court, you need to create a system that preserves these documents in perfect condition so if they do get to court the judge can read them.

Finally, you must get the documents from the people you need a signature from in a condition the court will accept.

Facts

Plaintiffs allege that on June 24, 2005, their son, Axel, fell from a bike and was seriously injured while attending Defendant’s Independent Lake Camp located in Orson, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs allege that Axel’s accident was caused by Defendant’s negligence while Defendant was acting in loco parentis. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant: 1) failed to provide proper supervision and safeguards; 2) gave Axel a bike, helmet, and other equipment without properly training him to use them; 3) allowed Axel to use a bike track, which was inappropriate for his age and experience; and 4) failed to obtain parental consent for its actions.

Plaintiffs further allege that Axel suffered serious and permanent physical injuries, including permanent cognitive and psychological damage, several fractures, lacerations resulting in scarring, cervical and lumbar sprain, and a shock to his nervous system. Plaintiffs also claim that Axel’s injuries include severe financial losses in the form of future costs of treatment and therapy, loss of earnings, and loss of earning capacity.

Defendant brought its motion to dismiss for improper venue alleging that the Registration Agreement, which Plaintiffs had to sign for Axel to attend camp, contained a forum selection clause. Defendant attached a blank, unsigned version of the Independent Lake Camp Registration 2005 (“Registration Agreement”) to its motion to dismiss. Defendant alleges that under the Registration Agreement, the proper forum would be a court in Wayne County, which is located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

In Plaintiffs’ response to Defendant’s motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs argued that the blank Registration Agreement was unsigned and thus that Defendant failed to show that Plaintiffs had agreed to the terms in the document, including the forum selection clause. Plaintiffs averred by affidavit that they did not agree and would not have agreed to such a forum selection clause.

Defendant then provided a signed copy of the Registration Agreement, in which the information requested had been filled in and which was signed by Plaintiff Ben Epps. Defendant submitted an affidavit by Daniel Gould, the president of Defendant and Director of Independent Lake Camp. Mr. Gould avers that, after an exhaustive and diligent search, Defendant could only locate a photocopy of the signed Registration Agreement and was unable to locate the original. He avers that the original agreement is presumed lost and/or destroyed through no bad faith or improper act on the part of Defendant. The photocopy of the agreement provided to the court also appears to be a faxed copy, as evident from a fax header across the top margin.

In the copy of the signed Registration Agreement submitted by Defendant, the small print containing the terms of the agreement is blurry and barely legible. As Defendant concedes, the right-side margin, toward the bottom, is cut off, truncating the forum selection clause.

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

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss because the plaintiffs had filed the case in the wrong court according to the agreement, the registration form signed by the parents of the injured youth. The forum selection clause as defined by the courts or agreement to hold the trial at a specific court, allegedly stated the trial was to be held in Wayne County Court, Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs filed the case in the federal district our in Pennsylvania. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss from federal court and force the case to the state court.

The jurisdiction in the case was going to be Pennsylvania law no matter what; however, the trial would not be held in the back yard of the defendant, which is normally a good thing for the defendant.

When in the federal district court system, if a forum selection clause is upheld the case is simply transferred to the proper court. However, in this case because the selection clause stated a state court the case could not be transferred. The case would be dismissed at the federal court. The case could be refiled in the state court at that time if the statute of limitations had not run.

However, here, the document that was presented to the court that was the alleged agreement by the parents to only sue in state court was not legible.

The court agrees that the small print of the forum selection clause in the photocopied and faxed signed Registration Agreement is blurry and illegible, and does not provide reasonable notice of its terms. The court cannot assume that Mr. Epps signed a clear version of the agreement that became blurry and illegible upon subsequently being photocopied and faxed, because such evidence is not before the court. There is no evidence that Plaintiff Ben Epps signed any version of the Registration Agreement other than the document provided to the court.

Further, even if the forum selection clause were legible, it’s essential term, that any cause of action be brought in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, is cut off so as to be incomprehensible. Even if legible, the term “V– County Pennsylvania” in the forum selection clause gives no reasonable notice of the location of any agreed-upon forum.

The court concludes that the forum selection clause is inconspicuous and does not give notice of its terms to a reasonable person in violation of strong Pennsylvania public policy. The forum selection clause therefore is unreasonable, invalid, and unenforceable. Because the court finds that the forum selection clause is unreasonable and invalid, it does not address the private and public factors as transfer considerations under § 1404(a).

The agreement was a copy that had been faxed, was illegible and could not be read by the court.

Since the court could not read the document, the legal wording was incomplete and the entire document had sections missing the court could not find there was an agreement. The motion to change venue was dismissed.

So Now What?

I would guess the camp had received the faxed copy from the parents. There would be no need to fax the documents around the camp. The camp probably had sent the documents to the parents for their signature, and they had faxed them back. This was mistake one, because the camp accepted a badly faxed copy of the document.

  1. When you receive an email, fax, or original where you cannot make out what is going on, signature seems off, the document is unreadable, you must get a good copy. Tell the signor to do it again and make the copy legible.
  2. Set up a system to check documents when they come in.
  3. Set the system up with enough time so that is time to correct problems. Don’t place yourself in a position where you are balancing the money coming in versus proper paperwork you need.

Second, the camp seemed to not locate the original fax, but only had a copy of the faxed document.

  1. Develop a system to store and maintain the documents. Now day’s scanners are so efficient all the documents can be scanned and maintained in seconds. The original paper documents can be preserved and kept for the statue of limitations for the state, and a good electronic copy is also available.

Don’t allow a kid or adult to come to camp, attend the program, participate in the activity unless you have all the paperwork you need, signed and in a good legible condition. Then and only then cash the check and open the gates.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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forum selection clause, venue, parties, improper venue, enforceability, terms, legible, notice, motion to dismiss, conspicuous, applies, factors, invalid, print, 1.I.L., INC., Independent Lake Camp, forum selection clause,


Epps, et al., v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93335, 2007 WL 4463588

Epps, et al., v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93335, 2007 WL 4463588

Ben Epps, et al., Plaintiffs, v. 1.I.L., INC., d/b/a Independent Lake Camp, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 07-02314

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

December 19, 2007

ORDER

MEMORANDUM

James T. Giles J.

I. Introduction

Before the court is Defendant 1.I.L., Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). Plaintiffs, Bens Epps and Amy Monroe, as parents and natural guardians of Axel Epps and in their own right, bring suit based in diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, against Defendant 1.I.L. Inc. for personal injuries allegedly sustained by their son, Axel, while attending Defendant’s camp.

The primary issue raised by Defendant’s motion and determined by the court is whether the forum selection clause in the Registration Agreement at issue is valid and enforceable. The court finds that the forum selection clause contained in the signed Registration Agreement is not enforceable because it does not provide reasonable notice of its terms. The court concludes that Plaintiffs have brought suit in a proper venue and denies Defendant’s motion to dismiss for the reasons that follow.

II. Factual Background

Plaintiffs allege that on June 24, 2005, their son, Axel, fell from a bike and was seriously injured while attending Defendant’s Independant Lake Camp located in Orson, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs allege that Axel’s accident was caused by Defendant’s negligence while Defendant was acting in loco parentis. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 7.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant: 1) failed to provide proper supervision and safeguards; 2) gave Axel a bike, helmet, and other equipment without properly training him to use them; 3) allowed Axel to use a bike track, which was inappropriate for his age and experience; and 4) failed to obtain parental consent for its actions. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiffs further allege that Axel suffered serious and permanent physical injuries, including permanent cognitive and psychological damage, several fractures, lacerations resulting in scarring, cervical and lumbar sprain, and a shock to his nervous system. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs also claim that Axel’s injuries include severe financial losses in the form of future costs of treatment and therapy, loss of earnings, and loss of earning capacity.

Plaintiffs, citizens of New York, brought suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because Defendant is a citizen of Pennsylvania with offices in both Montgomery County and Wayne County. (Pls.’ Compl. ¶ 1-4; Pls.’ Br. in Supp. of Ans. to Mot. of Def. to Dismiss for Improper Venue (“Pls.’ Supp. Ans.”) 1; Def.’s Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss for Improper Venue (“Def.’s Supp.”) 1, 5.) Plaintiffs demand damages in excess of $150,000 for each of the two counts in the complaint as well as interest and costs of the suit.

III. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on June 7, 2007. Defendant brought its motion to dismiss for improper venue alleging that the Registration Agreement, which Plaintiffs had to sign for Axel to attend camp, contained a forum selection clause. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss 2.) Defendant attached a blank, unsigned version of the Independent Lake Camp Registration 2005 (“Registration Agreement”) to its motion to dismiss. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.) Defendant alleges that under the Registration Agreement, the proper forum would be a court in Wayne County, which is located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.) The blank Registration Agreement, in which the print is small but clear and legible, provides in part:

It is agreed that any dispute or cause of action arising between the parties, whether out of this agreement or other wise [sic], can only be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction located in Wayne County Pennsylvania [sic] and shall be construed in accordance with the laws of Pennsylvania.

(Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.)

In Plaintiffs’ response to Defendant’s motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs argued that the blank Registration Agreement was unsigned and thus that Defendant failed to show that Plaintiffs had agreed to the terms in the document, including the forum selection clause. Plaintiffs averred by affidavit that they did not agree and would not have agreed to such a forum selection clause. (Pls.’ Supp. Ans. 2, Ex. B ¶¶ 2-3 (Ben Epps Aff.), Ex. C ¶¶ 2-3 (Amy Monroe Aff.).)

Defendant then provided a signed copy of the Registration Agreement, in which the information requested had been filled in and which was signed by Plaintiff Ben Epps. Defendant submitted an affidavit by Daniel Gould, the president of Defendant and Director of Independent Lake Camp. Mr. Gould avers that, after an exhaustive and diligent search, Defendant could only locate a photocopy of the signed Registration Agreement and was unable to locate the original. (Gould Aff. ¶¶ 5, 7-10.) He avers that the original agreement is presumed lost and/or destroyed through no bad faith or improper act on the part of Defendant. (Gould Aff. ¶ 10.) The photocopy of the agreement provided to the court also appears to be a faxed copy, as evident from a fax header across the top margin. (Gould Aff. Ex. A (Signed Registration Agreement).)

In the copy of the signed Registration Agreement submitted by Defendant, the small print containing the terms of the agreement is blurry and barely legible. As Defendant concedes, the right-side margin, toward the bottom, is cut off, truncating the forum selection clause. (Gould Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. A.) Consequently, if the print were clearly legible, when compared with the clear, blank version of the agreement, the forum selection clause would read:

It is agree [sic] any dispute or cause of action arising between the parties, whether out of this agreement or other wise [sic], can only be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction located in V [or three-quarters of a W] County Pennsylvania [sic] and shall be construed in accordance with the laws of Pennsylvania.

(Gould Aff. Ex. A.) Thus, if legible, most or all of the letters in the word “Wayne,” as in “Wayne County Pennsylvania,” are missing. (Gould Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. A.)

In Plaintiffs’ reply to Defendant’s affidavit, Plaintiffs do not dispute that Plaintiff Ben Epps’ signature appears on the copy of the Registration Agreement. Nor do Plaintiffs argue that the entire agreement itself is invalid. (Compare Pls.’ Supp. Ans. 2-3 (arguing, before Defendant’s production of a signed agreement, that the Registration Agreement was not enforceable because there was no objective manifestation of the parties’ intention to be contractually bound), with Pls.’ Reply to Def.’s Aff. 1 (arguing, after Defendant’s production of a signed Registration Agreement, that there was no meeting of the minds as to the forum selection clause because the wording of the clause was truncated and indiscernible).) Thus, the issue determined by the court is the enforceability of the forum selection clause.

III. Discussion

Federal law applies in the determination of the effect given to a forum selection clause in diversity cases. Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 877 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Jones v. Weibrecht, 901 F.2d 17, 19 (2d Cir. 1990)). To evaluate the enforceability of the forum selection clause here, the court determines if the standard for dismissal or transfer is proper.[1] See id. at 877-78. If the standard for transfer applies, the court then determines if the forum selection clause is reasonable. See id. at 880 (citing M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 12-13 (1972)).

A. Dismissal or Transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or 1406.

Although dismissal is a “permissible means of enforcing a forum selection clause that allows suit to be filed in another federal forum,” the Third Circuit cautions that “as a general matter, it makes better sense, when venue is proper but the parties have agreed upon a not- unreasonable forum selection clause that points to another federal venue, to transfer rather than dismiss.” Salovaara v. Jackson Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 246 F.3d 289, 298-99 (3d Cir. 2001); see Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 28-29, 32 (1988) (holding that a federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction should treat a request to enforce a forum selection clause in a contract as a motion to transfer venue under applicable federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)); 15 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3803.1 (2d ed. 1986 & Supp. 2006).

Transfer, however, is not available when a forum selection clause specifies a non-federal forum. Salovaara, 246 F.3d at 298. The forum selection clause in the Registration Agreement, if valid and untruncated, would provide that “any dispute . . . can only be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction located in Wayne County Pennsylvania” and does not limit jurisdiction to state court. The provision’s plain language is construed to permit the action in any court of the county, including the federal court in the federal judicial district encompassing Wayne County, Pennsylvania, regardless of whether the federal court is physically located in the county. See Jumara, 55 F.3d at 881 (construing an arbitration provision requiring the action to transpire within a particular county to mean that the action would be permitted in any court, state or federal, with jurisdiction encompassing that county). Transfer is an available remedy because the forum selection clause, if valid and untruncated, includes a federal forum. See id. at 881-83 (applying the § 1404(a) analysis for transfer where a forum selection clause permitted any state or federal forum within a particular county).

Because transfer is the appropriate remedy, the court must then consider whether 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) or § 1406 applies. “Section 1404(a) provides for the transfer of a case where both the original venue and the requested venue are proper. Section 1406, on the other hand, applies where the original venue is improper and provides for either transfer or dismissal of the case.” Id. at 878. Whether venue is proper in this district is governed by the federal venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391. Id.

Without considering the forum selection clause, venue is proper in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Neither party disputes that Defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in this district because Defendant transacts business here. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c); Jumara, 55 F.3d at 878-79; Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29 n.8 (“The parties do not dispute that the District Court properly denied the motion to dismiss the case for improper venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) because respondent apparently does business [there].”); see also (Pls.’ Supp. Ans. 1; Def.’s Supp. 3). This court therefore concludes that the appropriate analysis is whether the case should be transferred under § 1404(a). See Salovaara, 246 F.3d at 298-99.

B. Transfer under 1404(a) Is Improper Because the Forum Selection Clause Is Unreasonable and Unenforceable.

Section 1404(a) controls the inquiry of whether to give effect to a forum selection clause and to transfer a case.[2] Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29, 32. Before considering the factors under Section 1404(a), the court first examines the validity or reasonableness of the forum selection clause through application of the test in M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 12-13 (1972). “Where the forum selection clause is valid, which requires that there have been no ‘fraud, influence, or overweening bargaining power,’ the plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating why they should not be bound by their contractual choice of forum.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80 (quoting Bremen, 407 U.S. at 12-13).

A forum selection clause is unreasonable and invalid if the objecting party demonstrates that (1) the forum selection clause is the result of fraud or overreaching, (2) its enforcement would violate a strong public policy of the forum, or (3) its enforcement would result in litigation so seriously inconvenient and unreasonable that it would deprive a litigant of his or her day in court. Bremen, 407 U.S. at 15-17; In re Diaz Contracting, Inc., 817 F.2d 1047, 1051-52 (3d Cir. 1987).

To dispose of this issue, the court need only address whether the enforcement of the forum selection clause violates a strong public policy of the forum. Under Pennsylvania law, a clause in a contract must be conspicuous, so as to provide notice of its terms to a reasonable person. See, e.g., 13 Pa.C.S. § 2316 (requiring that limitation of warranties terms be conspicuous); 13 Pa.C.S. § 1201 (defining “conspicuous”); Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee, Inc., 2006 Pa. Super 159, P23-24 & n.12-13 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006) (relying on the requirement for conspicuous terms in the sale of goods context in a case involving the sale of services, and finding that disclaimer language on a ski ticket was not sufficiently conspicuous to put a purchaser on notice of its contents). Plaintiffs argue that the forum selection clause contained in the signed Registration Agreement is invalid because the wording of the clause is “truncated and indiscernible.” (Pls.’ Reply 1.)

The court agrees that the small print of the forum selection clause in the photocopied and faxed signed Registration Agreement is blurry and illegible, and does not provide reasonable notice of its terms. The court cannot assume that Mr. Epps signed a clear version of the agreement that became blurry and illegible upon subsequently being photocopied and faxed, because such evidence is not before the court. There is no evidence that Plaintiff Ben Epps signed any version of the Registration Agreement other than the document provided to the court.

Further, even if the forum selection clause were legible, its essential term, that any cause of action be brought in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, is cut off so as to be incomprehensible. Even if legible, the term “V– County Pennsylvania” in the forum selection clause gives no reasonable notice of the location of any agreed-upon forum.

The court concludes that the forum selection clause is inconspicuous and does not give notice of its terms to a reasonable person in violation of strong Pennsylvania public policy. The forum selection clause therefore is unreasonable, invalid, and unenforceable. Because the court finds that the forum selection clause is unreasonable and invalid, it does not address the private and public factors as transfer considerations under § 1404(a).

V. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue is denied. An appropriate order follows.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 19th day of December, 2007, upon consideration of Defendant 1.I.L., Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue (Doc. No. 4), Plaintiffs’ Response in opposition thereto, Defendant’s Affidavit of Daniel Gould and Exhibits (Doc. Nos. 8 & 9), and Plaintiffs’ Reply, it is hereby ORDERED that said motion is DENIED for the reasons set forth in the attached memorandum.

Notes:

[1] Prior to Defendant’s production of a signed Registration Agreement, Plaintiffs argued that the forum selection clause should not be enforced because it did not meet the standard of reasonable communicativeness, as set forth in Marek v. Marpan Two, Inc., 817 F.2d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1987), due to the agreement’s small print. Marek applies primarily in cases involving maritime law. See, e.g., Gibbs v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 314 F.3d 125, 130 (3d Cir. 2002); Hodes v. S. N.C. Achille Lauro ed Altri-Gestione, 858 F.2d 905, 906, 909-12 (3d Cir. 1988). As discussed below, the court follows more recent Third Circuit precedent on the enforceability of forum selection clauses.

[2] Section 1404(a) provides that “a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought” for “the convenience of parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29. Courts must adjudicate motions to transfer based on an “individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness,” weighing a number of factors. Id. (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)). A court’s review is not limited to the three enumerated factors in § 1404(a) – convenience of the parties, convenience of witnesses, or interests of justice – and courts may consider various private and public interests. Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879-80.

The parties’ agreement as to the proper forum, although not dispositive, receives “substantial consideration” in the weighing of relevant factors. Id. at 880; see Stewart, 487 U.S. at 29-30 (“The presence of a forum selection clause . . . will be a significant factor that figures centrally in the district court’s calculus. . . . The flexible and individualized analysis Congress prescribed in § 1404(a) thus encompasses consideration of the parties’ private expression of their venue preferences.”). The deference generally given to a plaintiff’s choice of forum is “inappropriate where the plaintiff has already freely chosen an appropriate venue.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 880.


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

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

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

State:  Indiana, Court of Appeals of Indiana

Plaintiff: (At Trial) Richard Kaler 

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

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability 

Defendant Defenses: No liability and Contributory Negligence 

Holding: For the Defendants (at Trial) 

Year: 2017 

Summary

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

Facts 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What? 

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment. 

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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

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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

 


Cycling Sports Group Recalls Commuter Bicycles Due to Fall Hazard

Recall Summary

Name of Product: Cannondale commuter bicycles

http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2016/Cycling-Sports-Group-Recalls-Commuter-Bicycles/

Hazard: The bicycle’s fork axle can crack, posing a fall hazard.

Remedy: Repair

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and take them to the nearest authorized Cannondale dealer for a free repair. Cannondale dealers will replace the fork free of charge.

Consumer Contact: Cannondale at 800-726-2453 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, by email at custserve@cyclingsportsgroup.com or online at http://www.cannondale.com and click on Safety Notices and Recalls at the bottom right-hand corner of the main page for more information.

Recall Details

Photos Available At http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2016/Cycling-Sports-Group-Recalls-Commuter-Bicycles/ 

Units: About 3,100 (in addition, about 400 were sold in Canada)

Description: This recall involves 2010-2012 Cannondale Bad Boy and Bad Girl commuter bicycles. They were sold in black. Only bicycles with date codes beginning with P, Q and RB through RL are included in this recall. The date code is located on the bottom of the bicycle fork. The frame is matte black. A Cannondale decal can be found on the downtube.

Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received 30 reports of the bicycle’s fork axle cracking; including an injury report of a fall that resulted in a concussion and bruising.

Sold at: Authorized Cannondale dealers nationwide from June 2010 through December 2014 for between $1,000 and $1,800.

Importer: Cycling Sports Group Inc., of Wilton, Conn.

Manufacturer: Post Moderne Tech Corp., of Taiwan

Manufactured in: Taiwan

Retailers: If you are a retailer of a recalled product you have a duty to notify your customers of a recall. If you can, email your clients or include the recall information in your next marketing communication to your clients. Post any Recall Poster at your stores and contact the manufacturer to determine how you will handle any recalls.

For more information on this see:

For Retailers

Recalls Call for Retailer Action

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

Product Liability takes a different turn. You must pay attention, just not rely on the CPSC.

Retailer has no duty to fit or instruct on fitting bicycle helmet

Summary Judgment granted for bicycle manufacturer and retailer on a breach of warranty and product liability claim.

For Manufacturers

The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Plaintiff argues under Minnesota law, the language on the back of the season pass created an ambiguity which should void the season pass release for a ski area.

Since the language was not an “offer” no new contract was being offered by the ski area to skiers, and the language did not create any conflict with the release language.

Bergin, et al., v. Wild Mountain, Inc. 2014 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 212

State: Minnesota, Court of Appeals of Minnesota

Plaintiff: Lee and Cathy Bergin

Defendant: Wild Mountain, Inc. d/b/a Wild Mountain Ski Area

Plaintiff Claims: negligence,

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding:

Year: 2014

This is a lawsuit by a husband and wife against a ski area for the injuries husband received skiing. A friend purchased season passes online for himself and the defendants. As part of that online purchase, the friend agreed to a release online.

Interesting that just five years ago the issue would have been whether the release signed electronically was valid, now the courts do not even look at that issue.

The friend did not discuss the season pass with the defendants before agreeing to it for them. In a deposition, the husband agreed that he had the friend purchase the passes and had purchased season passes online for the past eleven years and agreed to the release all those years. The defendants wrote a check to the friend for the cost of the season passes.

The trial court held that the friend bound the defendants to the season pass release. The defendants did not argue this issue on appeal.

Seven months later, the defendants picked up their season passes and went skiing. On the back of the season pass was disclaimer language.

The defendants skied “the Wall” a double black diamond trail. The wall had a bump run on the right, and the husband skied the left side. Near the bottom of the run, he hit a bump (mogul?) and went airborne landing on his back. The defendant husband is paralyzed.

This was the only incident the defendant ski area had recorded concerning that run that year. The plaintiff’s sued, and the trial court granted the defendants motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.

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

During or prior to the granting of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff’s moved to amend their complaint to add a claim for reckless, willful or wanton conduct of the defendant. The trial court denied this, and the appellate court looked at this issue on appeal.

In order to support a claim for more than ordinary negligence, the rules of civil procedure required a short and plaint statement describing facts supporting their claim.

The court reviewed the requirements to prove the amended allegations. “Willful and wanton conduct is the failure to exercise ordinary care after discovering a person or property in a position of peril.” The plaintiff’s argued their two expert’s affidavits supported these new claims.

Because the defendant had no other notice of the issues, the defendant had no notice of the problem in advance of the plaintiff’s injuries. A requirement under Minnesota law to prove reckless, willful or wanton conduct.

Because the evidence is insufficient to establish that Wild Mountain engaged in conduct constituting greater-than-ordinary negligence, the district court correctly determined that a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence would not survive a motion for summary judgment.

The next issue the court looked at was the validity of the release.

A clause exonerating a party from liability,” known as an exculpatory clause, is enforceable if it: (1) is “unambiguous”; (2) is “limited to a release of liability arising out of negligence only”; and (3) does not violate public policy.

An ambiguous clause in Minnesota is one that is “susceptible to more than one reasonable construction.” The trial court held the release was valid because the release was unambiguous and barred only ordinary negligence.

The plaintiff argued the release was ambiguous because they argued the language on the back of the season pass created questions concerning the release. The plaintiff argued the season pass warning was part of the release and therefore, created issues of how the language of the release could be interpreted.

An ambiguity exists only in the language of the document.

Because a contract ambiguity exists only if it is “found in the language of the document itself,” we consider whether the season-pass card is a part of the season-pass agreement between Lee and Wild Mountain.

The court found the season pass was not a contract or part of the release. The language on the season pass emphasized the inherent risk of skiing. The language on the season pass was not a new offer by the defendant, to enter  a new or modified contract with the plaintiffs.

As the district court correctly concluded, the season-pass card, itself is not a contract. Although the season-pass card contains language emphasizing the inherent risk of skiing, it does not contain an offer by Wild Mountain to be legally bound to any terms.

Even if the language on the season pass was part of the release contract, it still did not create an ambiguity.

Accordingly, the season-pass agreement’s specific language excluding greater-than-ordinary negligence from the scope of the exculpatory clause supersedes the season-pass card’s general language on the inherent risks of skiing. The district court correctly determined that the exculpatory clause is limited to a release of liability arising out of negligence only and granted summary judgment in favor of Wild Mountain.

Because the release was valid, and the plaintiff’s failed to establish the factual issues supporting a greater than the ordinary negligence claim the appellate court upheld the release and the trial court’s dismissal of the case.

So Now What?

When the plaintiff is paralyzed there is going to be a lawsuit. Either a subrogation claim by a health insurance company or a simple negligence claim will be filed because the possible recovery is so large. The amount of money involved is just too much not to try a lawsuit.

Here innovative thinking looked at the release and the language on the back of the plastic season pass card and found a new way to argue the release should be void.

At the same time, the obvious issue, there was no contract because the plaintiff did not purchase the pass from the defendant was missed.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Wild Mountain, Inc, Wild Mountain Ski Area, Season Pass, Release, Ambiguous, Ski Area, Mogul,

 


Pacific Cycle Recalls Swivel Wheel Jogging Strollers Due to Crash and Fall Hazards

http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2016/Pacific-Cycle-Recalls-Swivel-Wheel-Jogging-Strollers/

Recall Summary

Name of Product: Instep and Schwinn swivel wheel jogging strollers

Hazard: The front wheel can become loose and detach, posing crash and fall hazards.

Remedy: Repair

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled jogging strollers and contact Pacific Cycle to obtain a repair kit to secure the front wheel. The repair kit includes a replacement mechanism for securing the front wheel that uses a traditional screw on/off method of attachment instead of the quick release lever method of attachment shipped with the product, as well as new warning labels. Consumers should not return the jogging strollers to retailers where purchased. A repair video is available at www.pacific-cycle.com/safety-notices-recalls/.

Consumer Contact: Pacific Cycle toll-free at 877-564-2261 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, online at www.pacific-cycle.com, www.instep.net or www.schwinnbikes.com and click on “Safety Notices & Recalls” or email customerservice@pacific-cycle.com for more information.

Recall Details

Photos Available At http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2016/Pacific-Cycle-Recalls-Swivel-Wheel-Jogging-Strollers/

Units: About 217,600

Description: This recall involves single and double occupant swivel wheel jogging strollers that have a quick release mechanism for removing and re-attaching the front wheel. Instep Safari, Instep Grand Safari, Instep Flight, Schwinn Turismo and Schwinn Discover Single and Double Occupant Swivel jogging strollers with the following model numbers are affected. These models come in a variety of colors. The model number is located on the inside of the metal frame above the rear right wheel.

Instep Safari

Single

Instep Grand Safari

Single

Instep Safari

Double

Instep Grand Safari

Double

Instep Flight 

Single

Instep Flight

— Double

Schwinn Turismo

Single

Schwinn Turismo

Double

Schwinn Discover

Single

Schwinn Discover

Double

11-AR178

11-AR182

11-AR220B

11-AR282

11-AR101AZ

11-AR201AZ

13-SC113

13-SC213

13-SC105AZ

13-SC205AZ

11-AR179

11-AR183

11-AR224

11-AR283

 

11-AR301AZ

13-SC114

13-SC214

 

 

11-AR180

11-AR184

11-AR278

11-AR284

 

 

13-SC116

13-SC216

 

 

11-AR181

11-AR-192

11-AR279

11-AR292

 

 

13-SC117

13-SC217

 

 

11-AR240B

11-AR193

11-AR280

11-AR293

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR245

 

11-AR281

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR250

 

11-AR290

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR255

 

11-AR291

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR700A

 

11-AR340B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

111-AR750

 

11-AR345

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR178DS

 

11-AR350

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR179DS

 

11-AR355

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR120B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR190

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11-AR191

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received 132 reports of the front wheel becoming loose or unstable, resulting in 215 injuries, including head injuries, sprains, lacerations, bumps, bruises, and abrasions.

Sold at: Small retailers nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Target.com, Toys-R-Us.com, Walmart.com and other online retailers from January 2010 through June 2016 for between $130 and $350.

Importer: Pacific Cycle Inc., of Madison, Wis.

Manufacturer: Lerado (Zhongshan) Industrial Co. Ltd., of China

Manufactured in: China

Retailers: If you are a retailer of a recalled product you have a duty to notify your customers of a recall. If you can, email your clients or include the recall information in your next marketing communication to your clients. Post any Recall Poster at your stores and contact the manufacturer to determine how you will handle any recalls.

For more information on this see:

For Retailers

Recalls Call for Retailer Action

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

Product Liability takes a different turn. You must pay attention, just not rely on the CPSC.

Retailer has no duty to fit or instruct on fitting bicycle helmet

Summary Judgment granted for bicycle manufacturer and retailer on a breach of warranty and product liability claim.

For Manufacturers

The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

clip_image002What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Copyright 2016 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

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

 

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Recall, CPSC, Consumer Product Safety Council, Pacific cycle, Inc., Instep, Schwinn, Swivel Wheel, Jogging Strollers,

 


Bergin, et al., v. Wild Mountain, Inc. 2014 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 212

Bergin, et al., v. Wild Mountain, Inc. 2014 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 212

Lee Bergin, et al., Appellants, vs. Wild Mountain, Inc. d/b/a Wild Mountain Ski Area, Respondent.

A13-1050

COURT OF APPEALS OF MINNESOTA

2014 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 212

March 17, 2014, Filed

NOTICE: THIS OPINION WILL BE UNPUBLISHED AND MAY NOT BE CITED EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY MINNESOTA STATUTES.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Chisago County District Court File No. 13-CV-11-695.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CASE SUMMARY:

COUNSEL: For Appellants: James P. Carey, Marcia K. Miller, Sieben, Grose, Von Holtum & Carey, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota.

For Respondent: Brian N. Johnson, John J. Wackman, Peter Gray, Nilan Johnson Lewis, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota.

JUDGES: Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.

OPINION BY: HOOTEN

OPINION

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

HOOTEN, Judge

In this personal-injury action, appellants-skiers sued respondent-ski resort for damages resulting from a skiing accident. Appellants challenge the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of respondent, arguing that the district court erred by (1) denying their motion to amend the complaint to add allegations of reckless, willful, or wanton conduct; (2) determining that an exculpatory clause bars their claim of ordinary negligence; and (3) applying the doctrine of primary assumption of risk to bar their claim of ordinary negligence. Because respondent’s conduct does not give rise to a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence, and because the exculpatory clause is enforceable to bar a claim of ordinary negligence, we affirm.

FACTS

Appellants Lee and Cathy Bergin sued respondent [*2] Wild Mountain, Inc. d/b/a Wild Mountain Ski Area for injuries that Lee sustained while skiing at Wild Mountain. The Bergins sought damages for Lee’s physical injuries, loss of wages and earning ability, loss of property, and medical expenses, as well as for Cathy’s loss of services, companionship, and consortium. Following discovery, Wild Mountain moved for summary judgment. The pleadings and discovery reveal the following.

In March 2010, Robert Knight purchased over the internet 2010-2011 season passes to Wild Mountain for himself, the Bergins, and another individual. To complete the purchase, Knight agreed to a season-pass agreement which included a release of liability:

I understand and accept the fact that alpine skiing and snowboarding in its various forms is a hazardous sport that has many dangers and risks. I realize that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of this sport. I agree, as a condition of being allowed to use the area facility and premises, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume all risks of personal injury, death or property damage, and release Wild Mountain Ski & Snowboard Area . . . and its agents, employees, directors, officers and shareholders from [*3] any and all liability for personal injury or property damage which results in any way from negligence, conditions on or about the premises and facilities, the operations, actions or omissions of employees or agents of the area, or my participation in skiing or other activities at the area, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage of injury of any kind which may result.

In accordance with Minnesota law, nothing in this Release of Liability should be construed as releasing, discharging or waiving claims I may have for reckless, willful, wanton, or intentional acts on the part of Wild Mountain Ski & Snowboard Area, or its owners, officers, shareholders, agents or employees.

Knight [*4] did not ask Lee about the release of liability before agreeing to it. Lee wrote a check to Knight for the Bergins’ season passes. In his deposition, Lee admitted that he authorized Knight to purchase the season passes, that he had purchased season passes to Wild Mountain since 2001 and had agreed to a release of liability each year, that he understood the release of liability, and that he would have authorized Knight to purchase the season passes had he known about the release of liability.1

1 The Bergins do not appeal the district court’s determination that Lee is bound by the season-pass agreement even though he did not execute it himself.

On the morning of November 28, 2010, the Bergins arrived at Wild Mountain to pick up their season passes and ski. The season pass is a wallet-sized card with Lee’s name and picture on the front and the following language on the back:

I agree and understand that skiing and snowboarding involve the risk of personal injury and death. I agree to assume those risks. These risks include trail conditions that vary due to changing weather and skier use, ice, variations in terrain and snow, moguls, rocks, forest growth, debris, lift towers, fences, mazes, snow [*5] grooming, and snowmaking equipment, other skiers, and other man-made objects. I agree to always ski and snowboard in control and to avoid these objects and other skiers. I agree to learn and obey the skier personal responsibility code.

The Bergins and their friends skied “The Wall,” a double-black-diamond trail. At the top of The Wall, Lee observed that there were mounds of snow on the skiers’ left side of the run. Thinking that the left side was not skiable terrain, Lee skied down the right side. Then, at the bottom of the hill in the flat transition or run-out area, Lee encountered a “mound of snow” that he could not avoid. He hit the snow mound, flew up six to ten feet in the air, and landed on his back and the tails of his skis. Lee estimated that the snow mound was “maybe a little bigger” and “maybe a little taller” than a sofa, and that “there was no sharp edges defining” it. After the fall, Lee underwent surgery on his back and is partially paralyzed.

Daniel Raedeke, the president of Wild Mountain, testified by affidavit that Wild Mountain started making snow on The Wall on November 25, three days before Lee’s accident. On the morning of November 26, snowmaking ceased and The [*6] Wall was opened for skiing. According to Raedeke, “hundreds of skiers took thousands of runs down The Wall prior to” Lee’s accident. Raedeke added:

At the completion of snowmaking activities, there were some terrain variations at various points throughout the entire Wall run from top to bottom and side to side. Terrain variations from snowmaking are common at Minnesota (and Midwest) ski areas, particularly early in the season as ski areas rely on machine-made snow to get the areas open. It is very common for terrain variation to be encountered by skiers in Minnesota and elsewhere and they are generally well-liked, particularly by expert level skiers like [Lee].

Raedeke testified that “Wild Mountain received no reports of anything being hazardous or even out-of-the ordinary on The Wall.”

The Bergins submitted the affidavits of two ski-safety experts, Seth Bayer and Richard Penniman. Bayer testified that Wild Mountain “engaged in snow-making activity, intentionally created the hazard [Lee] encountered by creating large mounds of man-made snow . . . then intentionally left the snow-making mound in the run-out or transition area.” According to Bayer, Wild Mountain “knew or should have known [*7] that the snow-making mound in the transition area created a hazard and should have groomed out the mound or further identified the mound as a hazard.” He added that Wild Mountain failed to follow professional safety standards in making and grooming the snow.

Similarly, Penniman testified that complying with professional safety standards “would have entailed grooming out the snow making mounds; putting fencing around the snow making mounds; and warning skiers of the mounds with a rope barricade and caution signs.” He testified that “Wild Mountain’s failure to have a consistent and structured snow making and grooming policy, which specifically addressed the [professional safety standard], caused or contributed to the unsafe decision to leave a large mound of man-made snow in the transition area between the bottom of The Wall ski trail and the chair lift.” According to Penniman, “snow making mounds are not an inherent risk to the sport of skiing.”

Following discovery and Wild Mountain’s motion for summary judgment, the Bergins moved to amend their complaint to add a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. In April 2013, the district court denied the Bergins’ motion and granted summary [*8] judgment in favor of Wild Mountain. This appeal follows.

DECISION

I.

[HN1] After a responsive pleading is served, “a party may amend a pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 15.01. [HN2] “We review a district court’s denial of a motion to amend a complaint for an abuse of discretion.” Johnson v. Paynesville Farmers Union Co-op. Oil Co., 817 N.W.2d 693, 714 (Minn. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 1249, 185 L. Ed. 2d 180 (2013). [HN3] “A district court should allow amendment unless the adverse party would be prejudiced, but the court does not abuse its discretion when it disallows an amendment where the proposed amended claim could not survive summary judgment.” Id. (citations omitted).

[HN4] Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that either party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. [HN5] A genuine issue of material fact does not exist “when the nonmoving party presents evidence which merely creates a metaphysical doubt [*9] as to a factual issue and which is not sufficiently probative with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case to permit reasonable persons to draw different conclusions.” DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997). [HN6] On appeal, “[w]e view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted. We review de novo whether a genuine issue of material fact exists. We also review de novo whether the district court erred in its application of the law.” STAR Ctrs., Inc. v. Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 644 N.W.2d 72, 76-77 (Minn. 2002) (citations omitted).

The Bergins moved to amend their complaint to add the allegation that Lee’s accident “was a result of the reckless, willful, or wanton conduct” of Wild Mountain. They assert that Wild Mountain “knew or should have known that a large, un-marked, un-groomed, mound of snow in the transition area between ‘The Wall’ and a chair lift . . . created a significant risk of physical harm to skiers.” The district court concluded that, although Wild Mountain would not be prejudiced if the motion to amend was granted,2 the motion must still be denied because the proposed claim “would not survive [*10] summary judgment, as [Wild Mountain’s] conduct does not, as a matter of law, rise to the level of reckless, willful or wanton.”

2 Wild Mountain does not challenge this finding on appeal.

The Bergins argue that the district court erred as a matter of law by “[r]equiring [them] to move to amend the [c]omplaint.” They assert that “Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 9.02 does not require plaintiffs to plead allegations of reckless, willful, or wanton conduct with particularity.” See Minn. R. Civ. P. 9.02 (stating that “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other condition of mind of a person may be averred generally”). Accordingly, they contend that the district court should have examined whether Wild Mountain committed greater-than-ordinary negligence based on the complaint and discovery.

The Bergins’ reliance on rule 9.02 is misplaced. [HN7] Although the Bergins were not required to plead a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence with particularity under rule 9.02, they still had to plead it with “a short and plain statement . . . showing that [they are] entitled to relief” under Minn. R. Civ. P. 8.01, which they failed to do by pleading only a claim of “negligence and carelessness.” See L.K. v. Gregg, 425 N.W.2d 813, 819 (Minn. 1988) [*11] (stating that pleadings are liberally construed to “give[] adequate notice of the claim” against the defending party); cf. State v. Hayes, 244 Minn. 296, 299-300, 70 N.W.2d 110, 113 (1955) (concluding that “both at common law and by virtue of long-established usage,” the term “carelessness” in a criminal statute is “synonymous with ordinary negligence”).3

3 We also note that the district court did not require the Bergins to move to amend their complaint. Following a hearing on the summary judgment motion, the district court sent a letter to the parties, stating that “[a]t the Summary Judgment Motion Hearing, [the Bergins] moved the Court to amend the Complaint” and that “[t]he Court will leave the record open” for them to file the motion. The district court simply responded to the Bergins’ desire to amend the complaint without requiring them to do so.

Turning to the Bergins’ substantive argument, they assert that “there are questions of fact regarding whether Wild Mountain engaged in reckless or willful or wanton conduct that . . . preclude summary judgment.” [HN8] “[R]eckless conduct includes willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others . . . .” Kempa v. E.W. Coons Co., 370 N.W.2d 414, 421 (Minn. 1985).

The [*12] 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 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.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 (1965) (emphasis added); see also 4 Minnesota Practice, CIVJIG 25.37 (2006). “Willful and wanton conduct is the failure to exercise ordinary care after discovering a person or property in a position of peril.” Beehner v. Cragun Corp., 636 N.W.2d 821, 829 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Feb. 28, 2002).

The Bergins argue that their expert affidavits support their claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. We are not persuaded for three reasons.

First, [HN9] “[a]ffidavits in opposition to a motion for summary judgment do not create issues of fact if they merely recite conclusions without any specific factual support.” Grandnorthern, Inc. v. W. Mall P’ship, 359 N.W.2d 41, 44 (Minn. App. 1984). Bayer’s testimony that Wild [*13] Mountain “knew” that the snow mound was hazardous is speculation because there is no evidence that Bayer knew Wild Mountain employees’ state of mind before Lee’s fall and injury.

Second, the Bergins misunderstand the “had reason to know” standard for establishing a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. The Bergins contend that they need not prove knowledge to establish a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence and that it is enough that Wild Mountain “should have known” that the snow mound was hazardous. But [HN10] knowledge separates the “had reason to know” standard from the “should have known” standard:

(1) The words “reason to know” . . . denote the fact that the actor has information from which a person of reasonable intelligence or of the superior intelligence of the actor would infer that the fact in question exists, or that such person would govern his conduct upon the assumption that such fact exists.

(2) The words “should know” . . . denote the fact that a person of reasonable prudence and intelligence or of the superior intelligence of the actor would ascertain the fact in question in the performance of his duty to another, or would govern his conduct upon the assumption that [*14] such fact exists.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 12 (1965) (emphases added). Accordingly, Bayer’s testimony that Wild Mountain “should have known” that the snow mound was hazardous is insufficient to establish the state of mind necessary to establish a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence.

Finally, the expert affidavits are insufficient to establish that Wild Mountain had reason to know that the snow mound was hazardous. According to Bayer and Penniman, the snow mound was hazardous because skiers do not expect a snow mound in the transition run-out area and because the lighting condition obscured the snow mound. Assuming that these alleged facts are true, nothing in the record suggests that Wild Mountain had knowledge of these facts from which to infer that the snow mound was hazardous. Rather, Raedeke’s testimony shows that Wild Mountain received no complaints from hundreds of skiers who skied The Wall before Lee’s accident. The expert affidavits are, at most, evidence that a reasonable person managing the ski operation would not have created, or would have marked, the snow mound in the run-out area. This evidence shows only ordinary negligence.

Because the evidence is insufficient [*15] to establish that Wild Mountain engaged in conduct constituting greater-than-ordinary negligence, the district court correctly determined that a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence would not survive a motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the district court acted within its discretion by denying the Bergins’ motion to amend their complaint to add a claim of greater-than-ordinary negligence. See Johnson, 817 N.W.2d at 714 (stating that [HN11] a district court “does not abuse its discretion when it disallows an amendment where the proposed amended claim could not survive summary judgment”).

The Bergins also argue that the district court “did not address the evidence that created questions of material fact regarding Wild Mountain’s reckless, willful, or wanton conduct.” But the district court examined Wild Mountain’s conduct and concluded that it “does not meet the standards for gross negligence, willful and wanton conduct, or reckless conduct (as defined by both parties).” The district court’s discussion of Lee’s knowledge of the inherent risks of skiing–while perhaps extraneous–does not indicate that the district court failed to analyze Wild Mountain’s conduct.

II.

The Bergins argue [*16] that the district court erred by determining that the exculpatory clause bars the Bergins’ claim of ordinary negligence. [HN12] The interpretation of a written contract is a question of law reviewed de novo. Borgersen v. Cardiovascular Sys., Inc., 729 N.W.2d 619, 625 (Minn. App. 2007). [HN13] Under certain circumstances, “parties to a contract may . . . protect themselves against liability resulting from their own negligence.” See Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 922-23 (Minn. 1982) (considering exculpatory clauses in construction contracts and commercial leases). “A clause exonerating a party from liability,” known as an exculpatory clause, is enforceable if it: (1) is “unambiguous”; (2) is “limited to a release of liability arising out of negligence only”; and (3) does not violate public policy. See id. at 923. “An exculpatory clause is ambiguous when it is susceptible to more than one reasonable construction.” Beehner, 636 N.W.2d at 827.

The district court concluded that Wild Mountain’s exculpatory clause is enforceable because it is unambiguous and bars only ordinary-negligence claims. The Bergins contend that the exculpatory clause is ambiguous because “there are questions of fact [*17] regarding whether the [season-pass card] was part of the exculpatory contract.” They assert that the exculpatory clause and the language on the season-pass card “construed together are overly broad and ambiguous” because the season-pass card contains a non-exhaustive list of risks while the season-pass agreement expressly excludes greater-than-ordinary negligence from the scope of the exculpatory clause. We are not persuaded.

Because [HN14] a contract ambiguity exists only if it is “found in the language of the document itself,” we consider whether the season-pass card is a part of the season-pass agreement between Lee and Wild Mountain. See Instrumentation Servs., Inc. v. Gen. Res. Corp., 283 N.W.2d 902, 908 (Minn. 1979). [HN15] “It is well established that where contracts relating to the same transaction are put into several instruments they will be read together and each will be construed with reference to the other.” Anchor Cas. Co. v. Bird Island Produce, Inc., 249 Minn. 137, 146, 82 N.W.2d 48, 54 (1957). Here, the contractual relationship between Lee and Wild Mountain was formed when the online season-pass agreement was executed more than eight months before Lee picked up the season-pass card. [*18] As the district court correctly concluded, the season-pass card itself is not a contract. Although the season-pass card contains language emphasizing the inherent risk of skiing, it does not contain an offer by Wild Mountain to be legally bound to any terms. See Glass Serv. Co., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 530 N.W.2d 867, 870 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. June 29, 1995). And as a corollary, Lee could not have accepted an offer that did not exist. The season-pass card is an extrinsic document that does not create an ambiguity in the season-pass agreement.

The Bergins rely on Hackel v. Whitecap Recreations, 120 Wis. 2d 681, 357 N.W.2d 565 (Wis. Ct. App. 1984) (Westlaw). There, a skier was injured when he was “caught in a depression apparently caused by the natural drainage of water.” 120 Wis. 2d 681, at *1. The ski resort “denied liability on the basis of language printed on the lift ticket purchased by” the skier. Id. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that summary judgment was improper because “[w]hether the printed language on the ski ticket was part of the contractual agreement between the parties is a question of fact.” Id. Based on Hackel, the Bergins argue that “there are [*19] questions of fact regarding whether the [season-pass card] was part of the exculpatory contract.”

The Bergins’ reliance on Hackel is misplaced. As an unpublished opinion issued before 2009, Hackel has neither precedential nor persuasive value in Wisconsin. See Wis. R. App. P. 809.23(3) (Supp. 2013). Even if it were, Wisconsin’s adoption of a common-law rule is “not binding on us as authority.” See Mahowald v. Minn. Gas Co., 344 N.W.2d 856, 861 (Minn. 1984) (examining other jurisdictions’ standards of tort liability). Substantively, the questions of fact that precluded summary judgment in Hackel are absent here. In Hackel, the only language alleged to be exculpatory was printed on the back of a lift ticket, which the skier did not sign. 120 Wis. 2d 681, at *1. This language did not expressly release the ski resort from liability, but it listed the risks that the skier agreed to assume. Id. The Wisconsin court concluded that a fact issue exists as to whether the language could be construed to mean “that skiers assume inherent risks of the sport without relieving [the ski company] of its own negligence” or that “[t]he language might also be construed as an exculpatory clause.” 120 Wis. 2d 681, Id. at *2. Another [*20] question of fact that precluded summary judgment was “whether the [unsigned] ticket was intended as part of the contract.” 120 Wis. 2d 681, Id. at *1 n.1. Here, unlike in Hackel, neither the existence of an exculpatory clause nor the intention that it be a part of the contract is in question. It is undisputed that Lee agreed to the exculpatory clause in the season-pass agreement before receiving the season-pass card.

Even if the season-pass card and season-pass agreement are construed together, they do not create an ambiguity. [HN16] “Terms in a contract should be read together and harmonized where possible,” and “the specific in a writing governs over the general.” Burgi v. Eckes, 354 N.W.2d 514, 518-19 (Minn. App. 1984). Accordingly, the season-pass agreement’s specific language excluding greater-than-ordinary negligence from the scope of the exculpatory clause supersedes the season-pass card’s general language on the inherent risks of skiing. The district court correctly determined that the exculpatory clause is limited to a release of liability arising out of negligence only and granted summary judgment in favor of Wild Mountain.

Because we conclude that an unambiguous and enforceable exculpatory clause [*21] bars the Bergins’ claim of ordinary negligence, we decline to reach the issue of whether the doctrine of primary assumption of risk also bars the claim of ordinary negligence.

Affirmed.


Michigan decision rules skier who fell into half pipe after landing a jump could not recover based on 2 different sections of the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act.

Language of the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act used to stop plaintiff’s claims two different ways.

Marshall, v Boyne USA, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 928

State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: Marvin Marshall and Christine Marshall

Defendant: v Boyne USA, Inc.,

Plaintiff Claims: Plaintiffs filed the instant action, alleging that defendant was negligent in failing to adequately mark the boundaries of the half pipe.

Defendant Defenses: plaintiffs’ claim was barred both under the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., and by reason of two liability releases, one that plaintiff signed when he rented the ski equipment and a second that was printed on the back of his lift ticket.

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2012

Plaintiff was skiing with a friend. In the morning, they had skied through the terrain park but had not skied the half pipe. In the afternoon, they went back to the terrain park and skied several jumps again. Plaintiff also noticed the warning sign at the entrance of the terrain park.

The half pipe in this case appears to be a trough lower than the height of the ski slope based upon the description in the decision. As the plaintiff landed a jump, he allegedly slid to a stop and then fell into the half pipe suffering injuries.

The plaintiff and his spouse sued the resort. The resort filed a motion for summary disposition (similar to a motion for summary judgment) with the court based on:

…plaintiffs’ claim was barred both under the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., and by reason of two liability releases, one that plaintiff signed when he rented the ski equipment and a second that was printed on the back of his lift ticket.

That motion was denied, and the defendants appealed the denial to the Michigan Appellate Court.

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

The court firs looked at the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act. The court found the claims of the plaintiff were barred by the act. Under the Michigan act, a skier assumes the risks of the sport that are necessary or not obvious.

We agree with defendant that SASA bars plaintiffs’ claim. Under SASA, a skier assumes the risk for those dangers that inhere in the sport of skiing unless those dangers are unnecessary or not obvious. Among the risks assumed are “variations in terrain.” MCL 408.342(2).

Because the actions of the plaintiff were covered under the act, the court then looked to see if the actions of the defendant ski area were in violation of any duty imposed under the act. The court did not find any violations of the act.

Moreover, defendant did not breach a duty imposed under the act. MCL 408.326a imposes a duty on the ski resort to mark certain hazards involving equipment and fixtures, which is not relevant here, as well as a duty to place a sign at the top of a run, slope or trail with certain information regarding the difficulty of that run, slope or trail. There is no dispute that defendant complied with this requirement.

The plaintiff argued that failing to mark the half pipe breached a duty to the plaintiff. However, the court found the plaintiff accepted that risk of an unmarked half pipe when he chose to ski into the terrain park and passed the warning sign.

By choosing to ski in the terrain park, which was marked with signage as required by the SASA, and which contained the half pipe that plaintiff saw earlier that day, plaintiff is held to have accepted the danger as a matter of law.

The defendant raised two additional arguments in its defense. The first was a release signed by the plaintiff when he rented his ski equipment and the “release” on the back of his lift ticket. Because the statute barred his claims and the lawsuit would be dismissed, the court did not look into either of those defenses.

The court reversed the trial court decision.

There was also a dissent in the case. The dissent agreed with the majority that the case should be reversed by based its decision to reverse on other grounds.

The dissent found the terrain park and the half pipe were necessary installations in a terrain park. However, the dissent agreed with the plaintiff’s that the half pipe was not obvious, which is what the dissent believes persuaded the trial court to deny the defendant’s motion.

However, because the plaintiff to actual knowledge of the half pipe that he observed earlier in the day while skiing he could not claim it was a hidden danger.

The dissent also felt the plaintiff should lose because the plaintiff failed to maintain reasonable control of his course and speed at all times as required by the Michigan Ski Area Safety Act.

I would conclude that the obligation to reasonably control one’s course includes the expectation that a plaintiff will avoid known hazards. Here, plaintiff’s failure to reasonably control his course of travel after  executing a jump resulted in him coming up to and falling into the half pipe that he admittedly knew was located in that area of the terrain pipe. For that reason, I would reverse and remand.

The case was sent back to the trial court to be dismissed.

So Now What?

It’s nice when a plan comes together, and a statute is written so the court’s interpretation of the statute proceeds along the same lines as the writers of the statute intended.

The Michigan Ski Area Safety Act is a very effective act, almost as encompassing as Colorado’s. The act was written to make sure that injured skiers could only sue if the ski area actually did something to injure the plaintiffs.

The facts in this case also do not lead you to believe the plaintiff stretched the truth. His actions in skiing across the mountain to hit a jump which sent him further across the mountain diagonally were not super intelligent. However, did not result in any injury except his own.

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Marshall, v Boyne USA, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 928

Marshall, v Boyne USA, Inc., 2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 928

Marvin Marshall and Christine Marshall, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v Boyne USA, Inc., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 301725

COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN

2012 Mich. App. LEXIS 928

May 15, 2012, Decided

NOTICE: THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION. IN ACCORDANCE WITH MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS RULES, UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS ARE NOT PRECEDENTIALLY BINDING UNDER THE RULES OF STARE DECISIS.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Leave to appeal denied by Marshall v. Boyne United States, Inc., 2012 Mich. LEXIS 2153 (Mich., Dec. 5, 2012)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Charlevoix Circuit Court. LC No. 10-091822-NF.

CORE TERMS: half pipe, terrain, skiing, ski, jump, skied, hit, inhere, hazard, trail, sport, downhill, feet, Safety Act SASA, ski resort, skier, slope, top, morning, timing, reversing, booth, edge

JUDGES: Before: HOEKSTRA, P.J., and SAWYER and SAAD, JJ. HOEKSTRA, P.J., (concurring).

OPINION

Per Curiam.

Defendant appeals by leave granted from the circuit court’s order denying defendant’s motion for summary disposition. We reverse and remand.

In 2009, plaintiff Marvin Marshall was skiing at defendant’s ski resort at Boyne Mountain in Charlevoix County with a friend, Randy. They skied several trails that morning, and also skied in the terrain park. Plaintiff was familiar with and had skied in terrain parks, which he described as having “jumps and different obstacles[.]” Plaintiff saw a warning sign at the entrance to the terrain park, but he did not read it.

The terrain park contained a half pipe that was about twenty feet deep. A half pipe is a ski attraction created by a trench in the snow that extends downhill. Skiers ski inside of the half pipe. On the morning of February 5, plaintiff saw the half pipe in the terrain park, but he did not ski into it. Plaintiff skied in an area just to the right of the half pipe.

After lunch, plaintiff and his friend went into the terrain park for a second time. They entered the terrain park from the left side this time. [*2] Plaintiff skied down the terrain park and hit the edges of a series of jumps. When plaintiff was halfway down the hill, Randy yelled to him and plaintiff stopped. Randy said that there was a good jump to their right that would be “good to hit.” Randy went first, and plaintiff followed. Plaintiff proceeded laterally across the hill (to the right, if one is facing downhill). Plaintiff “came almost straight across because there was enough of an incline . . . [he] didn’t have to come downhill much.”

Plaintiff successfully navigated the jump, which caused him to go up into the air about 12 to 15 feet. He landed and came to a stop by turning quickly to the right and power-sliding to a stop. As he looked around for Randy, plaintiff felt his feet go over the edge of the half pipe. He slid down the side a little bit, and then hit the bottom. Plaintiff shattered his left calcaneus (heel) and the top of his tibia, and broke his hip and right arm. He also fractured his left eye socket where his pole hit his head when he fell.

Plaintiffs filed the instant action, alleging that defendant was negligent in failing to adequately mark the boundaries of the half pipe. Defendant moved for summary disposition, [*3] arguing that plaintiffs’ claim was barred both under the Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., and by reason of two liability releases, one that plaintiff signed when he rented the ski equipment and a second that was printed on the back of his lift ticket. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that there remained issues of fact. Thereafter, we granted defendant’s motion for leave to appeal. We review the trial court’s decision de novo. Anderson v Pine Knob Ski Resort, Inc, 469 Mich 20, 23; 664 NW2d 756 (2003).

We agree with defendant that SASA bars plaintiffs’ claim. Under SASA, a skier assumes the risk for those dangers that inhere in the sport of skiing unless those dangers are unnecessary or not obvious. Anderson, 469 Mich at 26. Among the risks assumed are “variations in terrain.” MCL 408.342(2). Moreover, defendant did not breach a duty imposed under the act. MCL 408.326a imposes a duty on the ski resort to mark certain hazards involving equipment and fixtures, which is not relevant here, as well as a duty to place a sign at the top of a run, slope or trail with certain information regarding the difficulty of that run, slope or trail. There is no dispute that [*4] defendant complied with this requirement. Rather, plaintiffs argue that defendant breached a duty not imposed by the statute: to mark the half pipe itself. But Anderson makes clear that when SASA resolves a matter, common-law principles are no longer a consideration. Anderson, 469 Mich at 26-27. By choosing to ski in the terrain park, which was marked with signage as required by the SASA, and which contained the half pipe that plaintiff saw earlier that day, plaintiff is held to have accepted the danger as a matter of law. Anderson, 469 Mich at 25-26.

Accordingly, defendant was entitled to summary disposition by application of SASA. In light of this conclusion, we need not consider whether defendant was also entitled to summary disposition under the liability waivers.

Reversed and remanded to the trial court with instructions to enter an order of summary disposition in defendant’s favor. We do not retain jurisdiction. Defendant may tax costs.

/s/ David H. Sawyer

/s/ Henry William Saad

CONCUR BY: HOEKSTRA

CONCUR

Hoekstra, P.J., (concurring).

Although I join with the majority in reversing, I write separately because my reason for reversing differs from that of the majority.

In Anderson v Pine Knob Ski Resort, Inc, 469 Mich 20, 26; 664 NW2d 756 (2003), [*5] the Supreme Court concluded that if a hazard inheres in the sport of skiing, it is covered by the Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act (SASA), MCL 408.321 et seq., unless it is unnecessary or not obvious.

Here, it is undisputed that the half pipe, like the timing booth in Anderson, inheres to the sport of skiing and is a necessary installation in a terrain park. But unlike the timing booth in Anderson, plaintiff, in my opinion, makes an arguable claim that the half pipe was not obvious to persons skiing cross-hill. It appears that this argument persuaded the trial court to deny defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

But even assuming a fact question exists regarding whether the half pipe was not obvious, plaintiff admitted to actual knowledge of the location of the half pipe from having observed it earlier that same day while skiing. When skiing, a plaintiff is required by the SASA to “maintain reasonable control of his speed and course at all times,” MCL 408.342 (emphasis added). I would conclude that the obligation to reasonably control one’s course includes the expectation that a plaintiff will avoid known hazards. Here, plaintiff’s failure to reasonably control his course of travel after [*6] executing a jump resulted in him coming up to and falling into the half pipe that he admittedly knew was located in that area of the terrain pipe. For that reason, I would reverse and remand.

/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra


What happens when the trial judge rules correctly under the law but between the trial motions and the appeal the State Supreme Court Changes things? Things change

Oregon law allowed the language of the lift ticket on the back of the release to be a release. However, once releases where void as against public policy releases and lift tickets are invalid in Oregon.

Becker v. Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc., 269 Ore. App. 877; 346 P.3d 620; 2015 Ore. App. LEXIS 319

State: Oregon, Court of Appeals of Oregon

Plaintiff: Tabitha Becker

Defendant: Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2015

The plaintiff was skiing at the defendant’s ski area. The plaintiff’s husband purchased the plaintiff a lift ticket. There was also a signed posted that said the ski area had to be notified within 180 days of any injury pursuant to the Oregon Ski Safety Act. The plaintiff did not notice or read the lift ticket. The plaintiff used the lift at issue several times. She was loading the lift when she noticed the seat was up and tried to get out of the way. The lift hit here causing her injuries.

She sued, and the trial court dismissed her case because of the release printed at the back of her lift ticket. Oregon was one of the few (two) states that allowed a lift ticket to serve as a release. (See Lift tickets are not contracts and rarely work as a release in most states.) The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision.

Between the time of the dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit and the issuance of a ruling by the Oregon Appellate court the Oregon Supreme Court voided all releases. (See Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.)

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

This decision is based on timing. If the accident had occurred a year earlier the decision might have stood. However, as the court pointed out, the Supreme Court changed the law in Oregon between the time the trial court ruled and the appellate court ruled.

However, after the parties to this case briefed and argued this case to us, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed our decision in Bagley I. See Bagley II, 356 Ore. at 543. In so doing, the court explained that it would, “for the sake of convenience–if not doctrinal convergence–* * * address the parties’ public policy arguments in the context of [its] analysis of whether, in the particular circumstances of [that] case, enforcement of the release would be unconscionable.”

For a complete review of the Oregon Supreme Court decision see Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy. However, the appellate court in this case, summed up that decision as:

When analyzing the substantive considerations, the court stated that “the enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result” to befall the plaintiff; that the “defendant’s business operation [was] sufficiently tied to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to its patrons[;]” and that “the fact that plaintiff’s claim [was] based on negligence rather than on more egregious conduct carries less weight than the other substantive factors[.]

Consequently, the appellate court did not have much it could do except reverse the trial court dismissal and send it back to the trial court for trial.

The release here is materially indistinguishable from the release at issue in Bagley, and, therefore, under the analysis set forth by the Oregon Supreme Court in Bagley II, we conclude that enforcement of the release in this case would likewise be unconscionable. Accordingly, Hoodoo is not entitled to prevail on its affirmative defense of release, and the trial court erred in granting Hoodoo’s motion for summary judgment, denying Becker’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment, and entering a judgment in favor of Hoodoo.

So Now What?

This is one of those rare (and frustrating) litigations where a win turns into a loss not because the trial court did not rule correctly, but because the law of the state changed.

Supposedly, the recreation providers throughout the state are moving to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court Decision. See Recreation liability the focus for a new advocacy group.

However, if changing the law is possible it will take at least a year, maybe more. In the meantime, anyone injured in Oregon by an outdoor recreation provider who relied upon a release as a defense to claims and lawsuits is going to be relying on assumption of the risk.

Outdoor recreation businesses and programs should create videos warning their guests of the hazards, have their guest’s sign assumption of risk documents that list the risks, have the guest state they know and understand the risks, and state they have seen the videos of the risks. For the time being, there is not much else you can do in Oregon.

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Becker v. Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc., 269 Ore. App. 877; 346 P.3d 620; 2015 Ore. App. LEXIS 319

Becker v. Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc., 269 Ore. App. 877; 346 P.3d 620; 2015 Ore. App. LEXIS 319

Tabitha Becker, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc., an Oregon corporation, dba Hoodoo Ski Area, Defendant-Respondent.

A154563

COURT OF APPEALS OF OREGON

269 Ore. App. 877; 346 P.3d 620; 2015 Ore. App. LEXIS 319

November 4, 2014, Argued and submitted

March 18, 2015, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Linn County Circuit Court. 112557. DeAnn L. Novotny, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL: Kathryn H. Clarke argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was William A. Gaylord.

Andrew C. Balyeat argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Balyeat & Eager, LLP.

JUDGES: Before Sercombe, Presiding Judge, and Hadlock, Judge, and Tookey, Judge.

OPINION BY: TOOKEY

OPINION

[**621] [*878] TOOKEY, J.

Plaintiff Becker, who was injured by a chair lift at Hoodoo’s ski area, brought this negligence action against defendant Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc. (Hoodoo). Hoodoo filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was entitled to the affirmative defense of release, and Becker filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the release was unenforceable because it violated public policy and was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. The trial court granted Hoodoo’s motion for summary judgment, denied Becker’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment, and entered a judgment in favor of Hoodoo. Becker now appeals that judgment, renewing her argument that the release was unenforceable because it violated public policy and was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. For the reasons that follow, [***2] we reverse and remand.

[HN1] We review a trial court’s rulings on summary judgment to determine whether “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact” and whether “the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” ORCP 47 C. “We view the historical facts set out in the summary judgment record, along with all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party–plaintiff on defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and defendant on plaintiff’s cross-motion.” Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 356 Ore. 543, 545, 340 P3d 27 (2014) (Bagley II).

Becker’s husband purchased a lift ticket for Becker to ski at Hoodoo’s ski area. An anticipatory release, along with Hoodoo’s logo, appeared on the face of the lift ticket. The release read as follows:

“Release Agreement

“‘The purchaser or user of this ticket understands that skiing can be hazardous and accepts and assumes the inherent risks of skiing including but not limited to changing weather conditions, variations or steepness in terrain, snow or ice conditions, surface or subsurface conditions, bare sports [sic], creeks and gullies, forest growth, rocks, stumps, lift towers and other structures and their [*879] components, collisions with chairlifts, snow grooming equipment [***3] and other skiers, and a skier’s [**622] failure to ski within the skier[‘]s own ability. Always ski in control.’

“‘THE USER OF THIS TICKET HEREBY RELEASES HOODOO SKI BOWL DEVELOPERS, INC., d.b.a. HOODOO SKI AREA AND ITS AGENTS FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS AND LIABILITIES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF THIS TICKET INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO SKIING ACTIVITIES AND LOADING AND UNLOADING FROM LIFTS. THIS RELEASE INCLUDES CLAIMS BASED UPON NEGLIGENCE.[‘]

“The holder of this ticket as condition of being permitted to use the facilities of the area agrees to assume all risk of personal injury or loss of or damage to property and that the management is not responsible for ticket if lost or stolen. This ticket may be revoked without refund at any time for misconduct of or nuisance caused by the holder[.]

“NO REFUNDS NOT TRANSFERABLE”

(Capitalization in original; emphases added.) The release occupied approximately one-half of the face of the ticket, and the logo occupied the other half.1 Becker did not notice or read the release.

1 The lift ticket was “designed to have its backing removed, and to then be folded over a metal wicket so that the backs of each half stick together resulting in the Hoodoo [***4] logo being visible on one side and the release agreement visible on the other side.” That design allowed the user of the ticket to remove the backing and attach “the wicket to his or her clothing before using the ski lifts.”

A sign was also posted in Hoodoo’s ski area. The sign provided, in part, that

“[a] ski area operator shall be notified of any injury to a skier by registered or certified mail within 180 days after the injury or within 180 days after the skier discovers or reasonably should have discovered, such injury. ORS 30.980(1). Failure to give notice as required by this section bars a claim for injuries or wrongful death. ORS 30.980(4).

“The above notice is required by Oregon Law and is presented in a manner reasonably calculated to inform. It is in addition to other notices and specific release agreements you may have entered into with Ski Area Management.”

[*880] On the day in question, Becker used a chair lift several times without incident. While Becker was waiting to again board the lift, a chair came around to the boarding area with its seat bottom upright. Becker “tried to turn her skis and go off to the right[,]” but the chair struck Becker, and she was injured.2

2 Becker’s complaint alleges, in part, that [***5] Becker

“was struck, lifted, run over, dragged and dropped by a moving chair lift, causing tearing, twisting, wrenching, bruising and abrading to the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and associated soft tissues of her right arm and shoulder and both lower extremities, from all of which she suffered a dislocated right shoulder and associated brachial plexus injury, with radiculopathy and nerve pain and numbness into the fingers of her right hand, requiring her to undergo surgery and to keep her right arm in a sling, resulting in a temporary partially frozen shoulder, and a permanent partial disability of her shoulder and in continuing and intermittent pain, weakness, and reduced range of motion of her right arm; a low-back injury, with sciatic pain down her left leg; injuries to both knees, with parasthesia into the three middle toes of the left foot; and left heel and ankle pain and instability; and exacerbation of a pre-existing plantar fasciitis in her left foot. As a further result of these injuries, plaintiff is now at risk of developing arthritis in the injured areas as she ages.”

Becker subsequently filed this action, alleging that Hoodoo was negligent in its operation [***6] of the chair lift and that its negligence caused her injuries. Hoodoo filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was entitled to the affirmative defense of release based on the release that was printed on Becker’s lift ticket. Becker filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the release violated public policy and was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. After a hearing on those motions, the trial court ruled in favor of Hoodoo as noted above, and Becker now appeals.

On appeal, Becker contends that the trial court erred in granting Hoodoo’s motion for summary judgment, denying her cross-motion [**623] for partial summary judgment, and entering a judgment in favor of Hoodoo, again arguing that the release was unenforceable because it violated public policy and was procedurally and substantively unconscionable.3 Hoodoo responds that the trial court did not err [*881] because the release at issue is not contrary to public policy and is not unconscionable. In their appellate briefs, both parties cite Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., 258 Ore. App. 390, 310 P3d 692 (2013) (Bagley I), rev’d, 356 Ore. 543, 340 P3d 27 (2014)–a case that was decided by this court after the parties argued their motions to the trial court and after the trial court entered judgment in favor [***7] of Hoodoo.

3 Becker also argues that “[t]here was no agreement reached under the circumstances of this case.” However, we need not decide that issue because, assuming without deciding that an agreement was reached in this case, enforcement of such an agreement would be unconscionable, as we conclude below.

The plaintiff in Bagley I, who had signed a release agreement4 when he purchased a season ski pass from the defendant Mt. Bachelor, Inc., was injured while snowboarding over a jump in the defendant’s “‘terrain park'” and brought an action alleging negligence in the design, construction, maintenance, or inspection of that jump. Id. at [*882] 392. There, as here, the defendant moved for summary judgment based on the affirmative defense of release, and the plaintiff argued that the release was contrary to public policy and unconscionable. After analyzing the facts in Bagley I, this court concluded that the release in that case was not contrary to public policy and that the terms of the release were neither procedurally nor substantively unconscionable. Id. at 410.

4 The release agreement at issue in Bagley, which was signed by the plaintiff, read, in part:

“‘In consideration of the use of a Mt. Bachelor pass and/or Mt. Bachelor’s [***8] premises, I/we agree to release and indemnify Mt. Bachelor, Inc., its officers and directors, owners, agents, landowners, affiliated companies, and employees (hereinafter ‘Mt. Bachelor, Inc.’) from any and all claims for property damage, injury, or death which I/we may suffer or for which I/we may be liable to others, in any way connected with skiing, snowboarding, or snowriding. This release and indemnity agreement shall apply to any claim even if caused by negligence. The only claims not released are those based upon intentional misconduct.

“‘* * * *

“‘The undersigned(s) have carefully read and understand this agreement and all of its terms on both sides of this document. This includes, but is not limited to, the duties of skiers, snowboarders, or snowriders. The undersigned(s) understand that this document is an agreement of release and indemnity which will prevent the under-signed(s) or the undersigneds’ estate from recovering damages from Mt. Bachelor, Inc. in the event of death or injury to person or property. The undersigned(s), nevertheless, enter into this agreement freely and voluntarily and agree it is binding on the undersigned(s) and the undersigneds’ heirs and legal representatives. [***9]

“‘By my/our signature(s) below, I/we agree that this release and indemnity agreement will remain in full force and effect and I will be bound by its terms throughout this season and all subsequent seasons for which I/we renew this season pass.

“‘See reverse side of this sheet * * * for duties of skiers, snowboarders, or snow riders which you must observe.'”

Bagley I, 258 Ore. App. at 392-93. (Capitalization omitted.) The “crux of the release agreement was also printed” on the plaintiff’s ski pass. Id. at 394.

In addition, a sign was posted at each of the defendant’s ski lift terminals, providing, in part, that “‘YOUR TICKET IS A RELEASE'” and advising members of the public not to purchase tickets without agreeing to be bound by the terms and conditions of the release. Id. at 395 (capitalization in original).

However, after the parties in this case briefed and argued this case to us, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed our decision in Bagley I. See Bagley II, 356 Ore. at 543. In so doing, the court explained that it would, “for the sake of convenience–if not doctrinal convergence–* * * address the parties’ public policy arguments in the context of [its] analysis of whether, in the particular circumstances of [that] case, enforcement of the release would be unconscionable.” Id. at 554. The court then [***10] set forth the “procedural factors” and “substantive considerations” that it gleaned from its prior decisions involving unconscionable contracts, stating:

“We glean from those decisions that [HN2] relevant procedural factors in the determination of whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable include whether the re [**624] lease was conspicuous and unambiguous; whether there was a substantial disparity in the parties’ bargaining power; whether the contract was offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis; and whether the contract involved a consumer transaction. Relevant substantive considerations include whether enforcement of the release would cause a harsh or inequitable result to befall the releasing party; whether the releasee serves an important public interest or function; and whether the release purported to disclaim liability for more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence. Nothing in our previous decisions suggests that any single factor takes precedence over the others or that the listed factors are exclusive. Rather, they indicate that a determination whether enforcement of an anticipatory release would violate public policy or be unconscionable [***11] must be based on the totality of the circumstances of a particular transaction. The analysis in that regard is guided, but not limited, by the factors that this court previously has identified; it is also informed by any [*883] other considerations that may be relevant, including societal expectations.”

Id. at 560 (emphases added).

The court then analyzed those factors and considerations as they pertained to the facts in that case. When analyzing the procedural factors, the court noted that one factor–whether the release was conspicuous and unambiguous–weighed in favor of enforcement, as the plaintiff did not contend that he was surprised by the terms of the release. Id. at 561. The court then stated that “[o]ther procedural factors * * * point[ed] in a different direction[,]” noting that this “was not an agreement between equals” as “[o]nly one party to the contract–defendant–was a commercial enterprise, and that party exercised its superior bargaining strength by requiring its patrons, including plaintiff, to sign an anticipatory release on a take-it-or-leave-it basis as a condition of using its facilities.” Id. The court also noted that “plaintiff had no opportunity * * * to negotiate for different terms or pay an additional [***12] fee for protection against defendant’s negligence.” Id. at 562.

When analyzing the substantive considerations, the court stated that “the enforcement of the release would cause a harsh and inequitable result” to befall the plaintiff; that the “defendant’s business operation [was] sufficiently tied to the public interest as to require the performance of its private duties to its patrons[;]” and that “the fact that plaintiff’s claim [was] based on negligence rather than on more egregious conduct carries less weight than the other substantive factors[.]” Id. at 565-70. The court concluded by stating, “Because the factors favoring enforcement of the release are outweighed by the countervailing considerations that we have identified, we conclude that enforcement of the release at issue in this case would be unconscionable.” Id. at 573.

The release here is materially indistinguishable from the release at issue in Bagley, and, therefore, under the analysis set forth by the Oregon Supreme Court in Bagley II, we conclude that enforcement of the release in this case would likewise be unconscionable. Accordingly, Hoodoo is not entitled to prevail on its affirmative defense of release, [*884] and the trial court erred in granting [***13] Hoodoo’s motion for summary judgment, denying Becker’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment, and entering a judgment in favor of Hoodoo.

Reversed and remanded.


New Jersey does not support fee shifting provisions (indemnification clauses) in releases in a sky diving case.

Plaintiff’s claims were dismissed because the plaintiff failed to present enough evidence to support any elements of his claim for his injuries skydiving.

Dare v. Freefall Adventures, Inc., 349 N.J. Super. 205; 793 A.2d 125; 2002 N.J. Super. LEXIS 155

State: New Jersey, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Plaintiff: Joseph Dare and Patricia Dare

Defendant: Freefall Adventures, Inc., John Ed-Dowes, Warren Acron and Eric Keith Johnson, Defendants-Respondents.

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses:

Holding:

Year: 2002

The plaintiff was injured when he attempted to avoid colliding with another sky diver. The co-participant had left the airplane first and was lower than the plaintiff; therefore, the co-participant had the right of way.

The plaintiff had been jumping from this site with the defendant for two years, which totaled 137 jumps, including every week the six months before the accident.

Prior to jumping the plaintiff signed a release. The release was five pages long and included an indemnity agreement. The plaintiff also signed a release for Cross Keys Airport, Inc.

The plaintiff sued his co-participant sky diver, as well as the jump facility for his injuries.

The plaintiff denied that it was the cause of his injury; however, he had made arrangements to have his wife photograph him during the jump. In order to allow his wife the opportunity to photograph him, he had to steer through buildings towards the concession trailer where his wife was located.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted because the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence.

Prima facie, Latin for first look, which legally means the plaintiff, could not establish any facts or sufficient facts to support its claims. A plaintiff must show enough to the court to establish the very basics supporting the elements in its claim.

The defendant had argued that based on the release it should be awarded its attorney fees and costs also; however, the trial court did not grant this motion.

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

The court first looked at the standard of care between participants in a sporting event.

…the duty of care applicable to participants in informal recreational sports is to avoid the infliction of injury caused by reckless or intentional conduct.” The Court’s determination was grounded on two policy considerations; the promotion of vigorous participation in athletic activities, and the avoidance of a flood of litigation generated by voluntary participation in games and sports.

The reckless standard is a greater standard than the negligence standard. That means the acts of the co-participant to be liable for the injuries of another participant must be beyond negligent acts.

The applicability of the heightened standard of care for causes of action for personal injuries occurring in recreational sports should not depend on which sport is involved and whether it is commonly perceived as a “contact” or “noncontact” sport. The recklessness or intentional conduct standard of care articulated in Crawn was not meant to be applied in a crabbed fashion. That standard represented the enunciation of a more modern approach to our common law in actions for personal injuries that generally occur during recreational sporting activities.

Another reason for the application of the reckless standard rather than the negligence standard is the concern that the lower standard would create a flood of lawsuits for any sporting injury.

Recklessness under New Jersey law “entails highly unreasonable conduct, involving “an extreme departure from ordinary care, in a situation where a high degree of danger is apparent.”

“The standard is objective and may be proven by showing that a defendant ‘proceeded in disregard of a high and excessive degree of danger either known to him [or her] or apparent to a reasonable person in his [or her] position.'”. “Recklessness, unlike negligence, requires a conscious choice of a course of action, with knowledge or a reason to know that it will create serious danger to others.”

The court also felt that a failure on the part of the plaintiff to provide expert testimony as to what standard of care was for skydiving doomed the plaintiff’s claims.

   skydiving requires the training and licensing of participants. According to the record, it involves knowledge and conduct peculiar to the activity, including an understanding of wind direction and velocity, proper diver spacing, control of descent, and avoidance of ground hazards.

The appellate court upheld the trial courts dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims against the other co-participant sky diver. The court then looked at the plaintiffs’ claims against the defendant sky diving operation. The court found that the recklessness standard did not apply to the facility.

Consequently, the question here was whether, under the ordinary duty owed to business invitees, considering the nature of the risks associated with skydiving and the foreseeability of injury, plaintiff’s risk of injury was materially increased beyond those reasonably anticipated by skydiving participants as a result of the manner by which Freefall operated its facility. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate such a material increase in risk.

For the plaintiff to make a claim against the defendant facility, he would have to prove that facility materially increased the risks over that of a normal sky-diving facility. Again, the plaintiff failed to prove that or provide enough evidence to proceed with his claims.

There was absolutely no evidence presented that Freefall failed to supervise the divers on the day of plaintiff’s accident. The record established that the loading of the aircraft, its operation, and the jumps themselves, were uneventful. Nothing suggests that Freefall personnel knew or should have known that plaintiff, or any other diver, was in peril because of the conduct of other participants. Moreover, Freefall had no way of controlling plaintiff’s, Johnson’s, or any other jumper’s maneuvering of their parachute canopies during the descent. Both plaintiff and Johnson were trained and licensed sky-divers. It is undisputed that once airborne, it was their duty alone to proceed with due care.

Plaintiff also claimed the landing zone of the defendant facility was not in accordance with regulatory minimums; however, he never stated what those minimums were or how the defendant’s facility failed to meet those minimums.

The appellate court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.

We conclude that the recklessness standard applied to Johnson and the ordinary negligence standard applied to Freefall, and, based on the evidentiary material submitted, summary judgment was properly granted to all defendants.

The court then looked at the indemnification provisions in the release which the court called “fee shifting provisions.”

The court looked at how other states had handled fee shifting provisions in sky-diving cases. New Jersey had not looked at the issue in skydiving, but had examined the issue in other cases, which had found the provisions were void.

The court reiterated that the plaintiff’s claim had been dismissed based on the plaintiff’s failure to present a prima facie case, not based on the release. The fee shifting provisions were part of the release. Under New Jersey law, “that sound judicial administration is best advanced if litigants bear their own counsel fees.” Even when fee shifting provisions are allowed, they will be strictly construed.

Essentially, the fee-shifting clause in Freefall’s release/waiver may be construed as an indemnification agreement, whereby plaintiff has agreed to pay counsel fees incurred by Freefall in defending plaintiffs’ suit, even if the cause of plaintiff’s injuries was Freefall’s own negligence. Such agreements, of course, must also be strictly construed against the indemnitee.

Reviewing construction law and finding no recreational case law where a fee shifting provision had been upheld the court determined the provisions were void as a violation of public policy.

Against this backdrop, we conclude that the fee-shifting provision in Freefall’s agreement is void as against public policy. It obviously runs counter to our strong policy disfavoring fee shifting of attorneys’ fees.

The deterrent effect of enforcing such a fee-shifting agreement offends our strong policy favoring an injured party’s right to seek compensation when it is alleged that the injury was caused by the tortious conduct of another.

The court also justified its decision by saying that because skydiving was regulated boy by the FAA and the New Jersey Department of Transportation it would be wrong to allow recovery of attorney fees by the defendant when the plaintiff argued the regulations had been violated, Even though the plaintiff’s arguments had no proof.

The defendant also attempted to argue the plaintiff’s complaint was frivolous which under a New Jersey statute would have allowed the defendant to recover their attorney fees defending a frivolous claim. However, the court found there were enough bases in the plaintiff’s complaint that it did not meet the frivolous claim threshold.

So Now What?

As stated in several other cases, indemnification clauses, even when well written, as you might assume from a five-page release, rarely result in recovery of attorney fees.

This also shows that the length of the release is not a deterrent, whether the release is effective in some court. Some people balk at a release over one page. However, when stopping a multi-million dollar claim a few pieces of paper are not a big issue.

Have your release written so that it protects you and all possible co-defendants and maybe includes a well-written indemnification clause.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Duty of care for a Massachusetts campground is to warn of dangerous conditions.

Plaintiff assumes the risk of his injury at a commercial campground if there is not dangerous condition and/or he knows about the condition because he walks the trail during the day.

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

State: Massachusetts, Appeals Court of Massachusetts

Plaintiff: Anthony Monaco

Defendant: Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

This case involves a commercial campground. The plaintiff was walking up to the restroom at night and fell on the path. He sued for his injuries. The plaintiff sued the campground and others who were never clearly identified in the appellate decision.

The lower court stated the plaintiff assumed the risk based upon the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The court first reviewed the requirements for a negligence suit to succeed under Massachusetts law and condensed the four steps to one sentence. “To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages.” The duty of care is only owed to those who are foreseeably endangered by the contact with the defendant.

Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.

The duty of a land owner in Massachusetts is that of reasonable care “under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.”

Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. That is, an open and obvious danger negates the existence of a duty of care.

The fact that the plaintiff was injured does not create a legal obligation or duty on the part of the defendant. Evidence is needed to support the lack of care or proof the landowner k of the dangerous condition.

…evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards.

The plaintiff had descended the hill earlier and had not seen a dangerous condition. In fact, the plaintiff had been using the campground for eighteen years and had used the path three times the day he fell.

Nor had a dangerous condition on the hillside been identified or spotted during the camps annual inspection.

Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

The court held the defendants owed not duty to protect the plaintiff from the conditions on the pathway.

So Now What?

The requirement that a landowner is not obligated to consistently and constantly check for dangerous conditions is not found in all states. In most states if the dangerous condition exists, the landowner must fix it or warn of it.

The obligations or duties owed to people on your land are usually based upon the reasons why the injured person was originally upon your land. In Massachusetts that issue is not discussed.

Here the obligation was to warn or correct dangerous conditions. It did not matter why the person was on the land.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Monaco v. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., 86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

Anthony Monaco vs. Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., & another.1

1 Jayne Cohen.

14-P-141

APPEALS COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS

86 Mass. App. Ct. 1125; 21 N.E.3d 187; 2014 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1272

December 18, 2014, Entered

NOTICE: DECISIONS ISSUED BY THE APPEALS COURT PURSUANT TO ITS RULE 1:28 ARE PRIMARILY ADDRESSED TO THE PARTIES AND, THEREFORE, MAY NOT FULLY ADDRESS THE FACTS OF THE CASE OR THE PANEL’S DECISIONAL RATIONALE. MOREOVER, RULE 1:28 DECISIONS ARE NOT CIRCULATED TO THE ENTIRE COURT AND, THEREFORE, REPRESENT ONLY THE VIEWS OF THE PANEL THAT DECIDED THE CASE. A SUMMARY DECISION PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28, ISSUED AFTER FEBRUARY 25, 2008, MAY BE CITED FOR ITS PERSUASIVE VALUE BUT, BECAUSE OF THE LIMITATIONS NOTED ABOVE, NOT AS BINDING PRECEDENT.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE MASSACHUSETTS APPEALS COURT REPORTS.

PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE NORTH EASTERN REPORTER.

DISPOSITION: [*1] Judgment affirmed.

CORE TERMS: pathway, campground, landowners, summary judgment, favorable, allowance, obvious danger, duty of care, citation omitted, unreasonably dangerous, obstructions, deposition, anticipate, precautions, unexpected, invitees, uneven, slope, fault, owe, shower, paved, path, owed

JUDGES: Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28

Anthony Monaco seeks to recover for serious injuries he sustained when he fell down a grassy hill that campers used to reach a shower building located on Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc.’s (VCRI’s) Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground in New Hampton, New Hampshire. The plaintiff alleges that VCRI and Jayne Cohen2 were negligent in failing to light the “pathway”3 and maintain it in a safe condition, to warn against its use, or to construct a graded path in its place. A Superior Court judge allowed the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, reasoning that traversing the shortcut in lieu of existing paved pathways, and in darkness, is an “obvious baseline danger,” and that the defendants therefore owed no duty. We affirm.

2 Cohen served as president of Vacation Camp Resorts International, Inc., during the time of the incident in question.

3 Construing the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and noting that the shower building was marked with a “restroom” sign visible from the paved road above, we accept the plaintiff’s characterization [*2] of the route between the road and the building as a pathway.

In reviewing the trial court judge’s allowance of a motion for summary judgment, we consider the evidence submitted with the motion, which may include “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits.” Highlands Ins. Co. v. Aerovox, Inc., 424 Mass. 226, 232, 676 N.E.2d 801 (1997) (citation omitted). See Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). We construe inferences drawn from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and review de novo the trial court judge’s application of the law to the facts. LeBlanc v. Logan Hilton Joint Venture, 463 Mass. 316, 318, 974 N.E.2d 34 (2012). Allowance of the motion will survive appellate review so long as there is “no genuine issue” of “material fact” and “the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Id. at 325-326. Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

To succeed in an action for negligence, the plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages. Ronayne v. State, 137 N.H. 281, 284, 632 A.2d 1210 (1993).4 “[P]ersons owe a duty of care ‘only to those who they foreseeably endanger by their conduct.'” Manchenton v. Auto Leasing Corp., 135 N.H. 298, 304, 605 A.2d 208 (1992) [*3] (citation omitted). “Not every risk that might be foreseen gives rise to a duty to avoid a course of conduct; a duty arises because the likelihood and magnitude of the risk perceived is such that the conduct is unreasonably dangerous.” Id. at 305.

4 The trial court judge determined that New Hampshire’s substantive law governed this action. The parties do not dispute that the choice of New Hampshire law is appropriate under the circumstances of this case.

“[O]wners and occupiers of land owe plaintiffs a duty of reasonable care under all the circumstances in the maintenance and operation of their property.” Werne v. Exec. Women’s Golf Assn., 158 N.H. 373, 376, 969 A.2d 346 (2009). Although landowners should anticipate and take measures to avoid the risks that their property poses to invitees, they are not obligated to “consistently and constantly” check for dangerous conditions. See Pesaturo v. Kinne, 161 N.H. 550, 555, 20 A.3d 284 (2011). The law does not impose a duty on landowners to exercise precautions, unless the dangers are “readily observable” by landowners and imperceptible to invitees. Ibid. Lawrence v. Hollerich, 394 N.W.2d 853, 855 (Minn. App. Ct. 1986). That is, an open and obvious danger negates the [*4] existence of a duty of care. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 422, 807 A.2d 1274 (2002).

The mere fact that the plaintiff was injured does not trigger a legal duty on the defendants. He must produce some evidence, other than “the obviousness of the steep slope,” that the pathway posed an apparent danger. Lawrence, 394 N.W.2d at 856. To support his claim, the plaintiff submitted expert testimony that the pathway was “rutted,” “uneven,” and “unlit,” and did not comport with International Building Code standards. However, other evidence revealed that the condition of the pathway, as it appeared to both parties, posed no greater risk than walkways maintained by landowners in their ordinary exercise of care. Cf. Paquette v. Joyce, 117 N.H. 832, 835, 379 A.2d 207 (1977). Monaco testified at his deposition that he was not aware of any treacherous condition as he was descending the hill, and Cohen never observed any “unexpected,” unreasonably dangerous condition, Ahern v. Amoskeag Mfg. Co., 75 N.H. 99, 101, 102, 71 A. 213 (1908), during her annual visual inspections of the campground. Thus, Monaco’s inattention to obvious dangers on the pathway was the only risk presented, which did not impose on the [*5] defendants a duty to exercise precautions. Contrast Hacking v. Belmont, 143 N.H. 546, 553, 736 A.2d 1229 (1999) (defendant liable for “unreasonably increased or concealed” risks not inherent in the game of basketball).

Moreover, “[t]here is nothing unfamiliar about the inability to perceive in the dark obstructions to the course of one who walks without light.” Ahern, supra at 101. That is, “[i]f there may be obstructions whose presence cannot be ascertained by the eye, due care requires the use of some other sense to detect them.” Ibid. When the evidence is “uncontradicted” that the plaintiff was familiar with the area where the accident occurred and that the injury occurred because of an “unexpected” condition, the defendant is not at fault for failing to anticipate it. Ibid. Unless the defendant had superior knowledge of the danger, “[i]t cannot reasonably be found that of two persons of equal knowledge and of equal ability to appreciate and understand a danger, one is in fault for not apprehending the danger and the other is not.” Id. at 102.

In this case, Monaco’s knowledge and appreciation of the condition of the pathway was equal to the defendants’. Monaco had camped on the campground once per [*6] year for eighteen years and had used the pathway three times without incident on the day of his fall. Likewise, VCRI had been operating the campground for over two decades, and Cohen was VCRI’s president for approximately six years. Both parties had ample opportunities to observe the campground, yet neither noticed any unreasonable dangers. The only risk associated with the pathway was the open and obvious nature of its slope and uneven terrain, which did not impose any duty on the defendants to light or otherwise improve the path.

Conclusion. Drawing all inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we conclude that the defendants owed no duty to protect him against the injury-causing condition of the pathway. The allowance of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was proper.

Judgment affirmed.

By the Court (Cypher, Fecteau & Massing, JJ.5),

5 The panelists are listed in order of seniority.

Entered: December 18, 2014.


Do you Subscribe to Expedition News? You Should!

Expedition News logo
EXPEDITION NEWS, founded in 1994, is the monthly review of significant expeditions, research projects and newsworthy adventures. It is distributed online to media representatives, corporate sponsors, educators, research librarians, explorers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This forum on exploration covers projects that stimulate, motivate and educate. May 2015 – Volume Twenty-Two, Number Five

Celebrating Our 20th Year!

OUTDOOR COMMUNITY RALLIES TO SUPPORT NEPALHard to believe. Another spring and reports of more misery and suffering in Nepal, only this time on a scale of unimaginable proportions. When a 7.9 magnitude earthquake centered approximately 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu struck on Apr. 25, it destroyed homes, flattened historic UNESCO World Heritage sites, and unleashed an avalanche that slammed into Everest Base Camp killing at least 19 and leaving many more injured.

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Fahim Rahim, jrmfoundation.org

Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations resident coordinator for Nepal, estimates that the earthquake had affected eight million people in the country, including two million in the 11 worst affected districts. The death toll at press time was well over 7,500.

It was the worst tragedy in Everest’s history. The American victims who died on the mountain were: Dan Fredinburg, a Google executive; Marisa Eve Girawong, a physician’s assistant from New Jersey; Tom Taplin, a documentary filmmaker from Santa Monica, Calif., and Vinh B. Truong, according to ABC News.

The Independent in the U.K. captured the horror in a series of images depicting the misery and devastation:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/nepal-earthquake-google-employee-killed-in-everest-avalanche-received-inspiring-letter-before-his-expedition-10208186.html

The news from those on the ground in Nepal was dismaying. Tashi Sherpa, founder and CEO of Sherpa Adventure Gear, wrote a few days after the earthquake, “I spent a heartbreaking morning paying my respects to a broken down Manisha (one of our long time employees) and her husband who lost their only son Sunny, in the devastation that hit Bhaktapur, and her old mother who is still missing in the collapsed rubble of an ancient township … Another April and another tale of a sorrowful spring.”

Climber Alan Arnette, a teammate of the late Marisa Eve Girawong, says of the avalanche at Everest Base Camp, “It was a F5 tornado combined with IEDs all in an environment of nylon tents. The only place to hide was behind a larger rock, even then there was no certainty.”

His report of the abbreviated Everest climbing season posted to ExplorersWeb.com is chilling:

http://www.explorersweb.com/offsite/?source=http%3A%2F%2Ffeedproxy.google.com%2F%7Er%2FTheBlogOnAlanarnettecom%2F%7E3%2FyQIbCORfTSo%2F&lang=en

According to Arnette, on May 3, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism said “Everest is closed” due to the Icefall being impassable, then on the following day they said it was officially open and anyone with a permit may attempt the mountain. “As of this writing no one remained at EBC with the intention to climb. For the first time since 1974, Everest would have no summits by any route, from any camp, by any means,” writes Arnette.

Adventurers, explorers, climbers and trekkers who have visited Nepal and know how the country and its people create memories that last a lifetime, are bonding over their shared despair for this latest disaster to befall the kind, warm and beautiful people of Nepal.

As the U.N. and Nepalese government estimate three million people need food and hundreds of thousands are homeless, here’s a look at how some members of the outdoor community are rallying support:

* The American Alpine Club said in a statement, “This tragedy has impacted our tribe of climbers on the high peaks. And it has devastated communities, families, and towns across Nepal. A number of AAC partner organizations are collecting relief funds to help local mountain communities and to support on-the-ground aid efforts. These include the American Himalayan Foundation, the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, and the Juniper Fund.” (www.americanalpineclub.org)

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Envirofit EFI 100L low polluting stoves are heading to Nepal earthquake victims

* The Himalayan Stove Project has reported raising $20,000 in its first six days of appeals. HSP,in cooperation with Rotary International Clubs and individual Rotarians, and a generous global donor community, isfocusing on providing shelter – tents and tarpaulins at a minimum, and more substantial shelters wherever possible, along with water, food and sanitation.

They hope to supply more Envirofit low polluting institutional stoves. Founder George Basch writes, “The EFI 100L which has a 100 Liter pot, is ideal for cooking lentils (Dal) and rice (Bhat) making Dal Bhat, that staple, highly nutritious Nepali dish, as well as soups. The plan is to distribute them in pairs – one for Dal and one for Bhat – so that mass-feeding programs can be supported.

To donate log onto www.himalayanstoveproject.org

* International Mountain Guides (IMG) based in Ashford, Wash., reports

many homes in the Khumbu area have been destroyed, including those belonging to some of the IMG Sherpa families. According to IMG’s web site, “We intend to help support the IMG Sherpas who have done such a great job supporting our IMG teams on the mountain, by providing money and support for specific projects. This is charity work on a small scale, local and accountable.” Donations

to the IMG Sherpa Fund can be made through International Mountain Guides, Attn: IMG Sherpa Fund, P.O. Box 246, Ashford, WA

98304, www.mountainguides.com.

* The Outdoor Industry Association recognizes the role Nepal plays in the adventure field. Its web site statement reads in part, “For the outdoor industry, Nepal represents the pinnacle of world trekking and climbing. Outdoor gear of all types is utilized in every capacity, both by Westerners who journey there every year and by the people of Nepal who make their living in the tourism, guiding and adventure industries.” The OIA recommends cash donations to three groups with high Charity Navigator ratings: Direct Relief, Global Giving, and the American Himalayan Foundation.

http://outdoorindustry.org/education/library.php?newsId=21495&newsSubType=All+News+Stories&action=displayÂ

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Nepal employees of Sherpa Adventure Gear assisting in relief efforts with some of the supplies earmarked for a local monastery. (Photo courtesy of Sherpa Adventure Gear)

* Sherpa Adventure Gear, the Kathmandu-based outdoor apparel manufacturer, has created an earthquake relief fund called “Help Sherpas Help Nepal” to support aid to remote villages affected by the disaster.

The company has committed to initially raising $100,000 through the campaign and 100% of the money raised will be dedicated to direct relief efforts thru Sherpa Adventure Gear’s existing network in villages, where the company underwrites the education of Sherpa children through its charitable Paldorje Education Fund.

The fundraising appeal is on Crowdrise. At press time over $72,000 had been raised. SAG also plans to donate 500 tents and blankets out of existing fabric stock. (www.crowdrise.com/helpsherpashelpnepal)

* The Explorers Club in New York has offered its facility to the country of Nepal for fundraising purposes. In a letter to Ambassador Dr. Shankar P. Sharma, Nepalese Ambassador to the United States, newly-appointed Club president Ted Janulis writes, “From the peaks of Mt. Everest, to the streets of Kathmandu, many of our more than 3,000 world explorer-members have entrusted their lives and their expeditions to the loyalty, bravery and expertise of our Nepalese colleagues and we will forever be grateful for their friendship and support.” (www.explorers.org)

* The U.S. Nepal Climbers Association, Inc. is an organization focused on promoting growth of mountaineering and climbing activities and protecting the Nepalese mountains, natural resources and cultural heritage. Serap Jangbu Sherpa, president, seeks donations through usnca.info.

CAROLINA IN HIS MIND

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An expedition can be as close as your own backyard and nothing proves this more vividly than the Carolina Rivers – Education and Preservation through Exploration initiative launched by African explorer, anthropologist and native Carolinian Julian “Monroe” Fisher.

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Julian Monroe Fisher (left raft, center) on the French Broad River. (Photo courtesy of Carolina Rivers Expedition)

Over the course of the next two years Fisher, 50, will conduct overland and river expeditions along the rivers in North Carolina and South Carolina. He plans to kayak, canoe and standup paddleboard down 32 Carolina Rivers, then hike long sections of North Carolina’s proposed Mountain to Sea Trail and South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail. While exploring the Carolinas, Fisher will gather video to be produced and distributed by Blue Car Productions (www.BlueCarProductions.com).

The first Carolina Rivers Expedition will be on North Carolina’s French Broad River, believed to be the third oldest river on earth. At press time he had traveled the river over 100 miles.

“In reality, well you don’t have to travel to Africa, Asia or Antarctica to be an explorer,” Fisher says. “All you have to do is walk out your door and look at your world with curious eyes.”

The effort is presented by Costa Del Mar and supported by over 30 products and services. For more information: www.CarolinaRivers.com, www.JulianMonroeFisher.com

EXPEDITION UPDATE

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Dooley Intermed International Postpones Eye Mission

The Nepal earthquake occurred 48 hours before the Dooley Intermed International/Operation Restore Vision team of ophthalmologists were to depart to Kathmandu (see EN, March 2015). The epicenter of the quake was in the Gorka region, roughly midway between Pokhara and Kathmandu, the planned location for the eye camp set to open in late April. Dooley president Scott Hamilton wrote, “While we all want to jump in and help, we have been advised by our local contacts in Nepal to postpone our planned project until conditions are under control and we can deliver care effectively. Typically after a disaster like this orthopedic surgeons are in the highest demand due to crushing injuries and need for amputation.”

In the meantime Dooley Intermed transferred funds to its Kathmandu based agent, Mission Himalaya, so that it could provide vital assistance. Donations are being accepted at www.dooleyintermed.org

Six Summits Cancels

Expedition leader Nick Cienski has decided not to continue his attempt to summit Mount Everest out of respect for those who lost their lives in the Apr. 25 earthquake and subsequent avalanches on Everest (see EN, March 2015).

“We feel it would be wrong for us to continue climbing these mountains,” Cienski told People magazine in a statement. “We have made the decision to rededicate our efforts in Kathmandu and provide help alongside our existing partner organizations such as Tiny Hands International, Shared Hope, and Catholic Relief Services.”

Cienski, 48, who is an executive for Under Armor and the CEO for the nonprofit organization Mission 14, had initially wanted to continue the expedition despite the tragedy in order to complete the 6 Summits Challenge – a project to bring awareness to human trafficking by reaching the top of six of the earth’s highest mountains in a year.

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The sea doesn’t scare Erden Eruc. It’s drivers who text he can’t stand.

Row For Peace Begins by Tagging New Jersey

Before he sets out with a teammate to row across the Atlantic this spring, Erden Eruc, the first person to complete an entirely solo and entirely human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth, has to tag New Jersey (see EN, June 2014). As he explained during an Explorers Club presentation on May 6, his rowing journey is from one mainland to another. Since his departing point on May 19 is from North Cove Marina on the island of Manhattan, he must first head west to the New Jersey shore, land there, then turn east towards his destination in Tangier, Morocco.

The project, Row for Peace, will extend to the Gallipoli peninsula on the Dardanelles strait to commemorate the 101th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign, a notable failed offensive by the Allies in World War I. They hope to arrive at the battle grounds in time for the multi-flag 101st anniversary commemorations and the dawn service at the ANZAC Cove on April 25, 2016.

When asked if he ever faced death at sea during his 5-year 11-day circumnavigation, he told the Explorers Club audience, “The boat was an oasis for me at sea. I had radar, a transponder, navigation lights, and reflectors to be seen by other ships. What scared me most was biking on land and facing drivers who were texting – they were like missiles headed towards me.”

For more information: www.rowforpeace.com

EXPEDITION NOTES

“You’re Going to Get Spanked”

Free solo phenomenon Alex Honnhold was one of the featured panelists during a Men’s Journal reception on Apr. 30 in honor of its naming “50 Most Adventurous Men” in partnership with TUDOR Watch U.S.A. Senior editor Ryan Krogh asked Honnhold point blank, “What goes through your head?” Honnhold replied, “Because I have no rope, I only climb on terrain I’m totally prepared for. You have no back-up.”

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Alex is no dope on a rope

Later, in what must be the understatement of the year, he said, “The entire time you have no protection, you have to be very, very careful. I use ropes 99 percent of the time, I only free solo (i.e. no ropes) on special occasions.”

Adventure skier and BASE-jumper Matthias Giraud commented in general, not necessarily addressed to his fellow panelists, “If you want to do something dumb, be smart about it. … there is no quick reward, if you want to do dangerous stuff, you have to pay your dues. … there needs to be a balance between excitement and fear. If there’s too much excitement and not enough fear you’re going to get spanked.”

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An adventure dream team (l-r) Matthias Giraud, Greg Treinish, Alex Honnhold, and Mike Libecki with

Men’s Journal senior editor Ryan Krogh.

Also on the panel was climber/explorer Mike Libecki who defined “organic enthusiasm” as “passion you have and don’t know why.” On the matter of corporate support, he said he doesn’t consider it a sponsorship in the true sense of the word. “It’s a reciprocal relationship – we’re all having fun together making products as members of the adventure community. We’re sharing the fun together before the deathbed comes.”

We Won’t Drink to That

G.H. Mumm’s representatives sent around a suggestion that media covering the Nepal earthquake should interview British explorer and adventurer Neil Laughton, their sponsored climber.

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Photo of Neil Laughton taken

by Jon Maguire of Third Revolution Media and distributed by G.H. Mumm after the earthquake.

Laughton is shown in the email smiling with a giant bottle of G.H.Mumm, which he was taking up Mount Everest to host the World’s Highest Dinner Party to benefit Community Action Nepal. Laughton was leading his team up the North Ridge of Everest to Advanced Base Camp when the earthquake struck. The team survived. But the attempt at publicity was in poor taste.

It was a classic case of “newsjacking” – using a major news story, in this case a disaster, to promote a product or service.

Adventure 101

Would more people get outside and pursue more worthwhile projects if they could take a course that taught the thousand and one skills need by an adventurer? Matt Prior, an Ex-RAF pilot, hopes to find out.

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Matt Prior wants to teach you how to be an adventurer

The British military overseas expedition leader has launched the Matt Prior Adventure Academy so that people can learn while actually on an adventure, in a developing nation, with no Internet, no English and physical challenges along the way. The courses are a no frills practical approach to adventure, travel and overland expeditions in just under a week.

“If you need a hot shower and WiFi each day this is not the course for you,” he warns.

The adventure consultancy business has been endorsed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes who said it’s, “A must for anyone with an adventurous spark but not sure where to start.”

He promises students will gain insight into how to get the ball rolling on their own adventure and answer any questions they may have on adventure travel.

Topics include “showstoppers” that can kill the project before you leave; finances and managing sponsorships; and method of transport. There will be four courses per year each of seven days’ duration, with Prior and only three students per session across several islands in Indonesia.Cost is $4,495 USD.

Learn more at: mattprior, www.mattprior.co.uk, www.mpadventureacademy.com

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“The principal difference between an adventurer and a suicide is that the adventurer leaves himself

a margin of escape (the narrower the margin the greater the adventure)…”

– Thomas Eugene “Tom” Robbins, an American author, from Another Roadside Attraction.

MEDIA MATTERS

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Polar Explorer Ben Saunders Launches New Magazine

Ben Saunders is editor and co-publisher of a new London-based glossy called Avaunt which will cover fashion, outdoor gear and luxury lifestyle products.

He calls the project, “a selfish distillation of everything I’ve enjoyed and been inspired by.”

In an interview with Lena Dystant on Selectism.com he explains, “Digital is a big part of what we’re doing, but that long shelf of decades’ worth of National Geographic magazines was a seminal memory for me. If I close my eyes now I can still recall the smell of some of the older copies as I opened them up, and you don’t get that on an iPad. So print – and making a beautiful thing that people will hopefully treasure – will always be at the heart of what we’re doing.”

Saunders continues, “I’d argue that style has always gone hand-in-hand with adventure. After all, the Earl of Carnarvon cracked open Tutankhamun’s tomb wearing a Norton & Sons’ suit; George Mallory died on Everest in a tailored tweed Norfolk jacket; Amelia Earheart launched her own clothing line in the 1930s (‘For the woman who lives actively’) and Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed Everest without oxygen for the first time in natty Fila down suits. A lot of brands have their roots in the great outdoors, from Barbour to Nigel Cabourn, Moncler to Burberry (who sponsored Captain Scott).”

Learn more at: https://avauntmagazine.com/

EXPEDITION MARKETING

Divers Wanted

The 100 miles of the Big Sur coast of California is one of the most remote, unique and pristine stretches of marine resources along the west coast of North America. But the same remoteness that results in less fishing pressure and puts it out of reach of polluting industries and human population centers, also makes it difficult for scientists to study and manage this area.

To help document changes taking place, Reef Check is planning an expedition in June that’s open to both Reef Check divers and other non-Reef Check recreational divers. In addition to conducting Reef Check surveys at each reef they stop at, they will document the work and the ecosystems they find using Google Ocean’s latest specialized underwater camera to take panorama or “underwater street view” photos. They will then upload these images to Google Maps to help raise awareness of the conservation issues in this unexplored ecosystem.

The expedition is being funded in part with a Kickstarter campaign, and contributors are being solicited to help make it happen. At press time they were only $700 away from their $4,000 goal. For more information: Anna Neumann, aneumann.

See the Kickstarter campaign here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2033378493/marine-ecosystem-assessment-of-the-big-sur-coast

ATC Partners with Moon Shine

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), founded in 1925, has signed a new licensing agreement with Moon Shine, a maker of belts, bags, key chains, pet products and more, that will offer consumers quality products that support the organization in its mission to protect the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Funds received from the sales of these products will benefit trail management and support, conservation work, community and youth engagement and educational initiatives.

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With this belt, a trail name and some trail angels, and you’re all set to tackle the A.T.

A.T. themed products that will be available this year include dog collars, leashes, and harnesses; leather belts and key chains; lanyards and sunglasses holders; and canvas totes, koozies and more, according to Javier Folgar, the ATC’s director of Marketing and Communications. “These new co-branded products will give Appalachian Trail enthusiasts a chance to show their love for the Trail everywhere they go.”

A unit of the National Park Service, the A.T. ranges from Maine to Georgia and is approximately 2,185 miles in length. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.

For more information about Moon Shine’s products visit www.moonshineusa.com

EXPEDITION INK

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The Oregon Trail

By Rinker Buck

(Simon & Schuster, June 2015)

Reviewed by Robert F. Wells

This summer, you could pack the family up in a station wagon bound for The Cape, or Vineyard … Or, you could call your wacky brother, fly to Kansas City, buy a covered wagon – and three unsuspecting mules, not to mention an ungodly amount of canned chili and other supplies – and head West along the 2,100 mile Oregon Trail. An unforgettable adventure? Yes. And as a result, a book by one Rinker Buck.

This wasn’t entirely out of the blue. Back when the author and his brother, Nick, were kids their father packed the family up in an Amish wagon with a sign on the back reading “See America Slowly” and meandered around Eastern Pennsylvania. (Just proves again: apples don’t fall that far from a tree.)

This delightful little narrative details what the Bucks did to hit The Trail. It sprinkles doses of historical perspective about the mass migration of wagons heading West in the mid 1800’s. And then, invites you to enjoy their “reenactment” ride – as they traced old wagon ruts still plainly visible along the way. Who knew The Peter Schuttler Wagon Works was Chicago’s largest factory in 1850? Or that peak migration years – like 1852 – saw over 60,000 pioneers leave the Midwest for California and Oregon. The story of Ezra Meeker. Or a Pony Express rider named Jim Moore who survived one of the greatest endurance rides in history.

Face it, suspension systems on wagons were and still are butt awful. Today, The Trail is bisected with interstates and Walmart parking lots. Rinker’s mules needed water every day. Painted over dry rot on wheels broke through out of nowhere. Yet the trail kept on. Rocky Ridge. California Hill. Cattle guards galore. Barbed wire fences. Surging streams. Irate land owners. Hair-raising drops off mountain sides, littered with boulders and brush.

Readers can’t avoid getting dirt in their shoes. Kinks in their shoulders from sleeping vicariously on bumpy and soggy ground. But for those who have lingered along a trail in nowhere Wyoming… smelling the sage, watching the sun dip over some badlands as everything turns brilliant red… a bit of Albert Bierstadt, an American painter of the American West, tickles your imagination as you flip pages and wander your the way towards the setting sun.

The last documented crossing of The Oregon Trail was in 1909. What Rinker and Nick Buck did to do it again, was epic. Get ready for some gosh darn salty cursing between the two. And hold on, or you’ll get bounced right out of the wagon. Just be glad you’re probably able to read this on The Cape or Vineyard.

Robert Wells, a member of The Explorers Club since 1991, is a resident of South Londonderry, Vt., and a retired executive of the Young & Rubicam ad agency. Wells is the director of a steel band (see www.blueflamessteelband.com) and in 1989, at the age of 45, traveled south by road bike from Canada to Long Island Sound in a single 350-mile, 19-hr., 28-min. push.

EXPEDITION CLASSIFIEDS

Adventure Photographer Seeks Speaking Opportunities – International documentary photographer Daryl Hawk has spent the past 25 years adventuring alone in some of the most remote places on earth. Using his own compelling photographs as examples and his powerful storytelling, he offers dynamic presentations that inspire his audiences to see the world with new eyes. Contact Hawk at hawkphoto, www.darylhawk.com, 203 834 9595

Get Sponsored! – Hundreds of explorers and adventurers raise money each month to travel on world class expeditions to Mt. Everest, Nepal, Antarctica and elsewhere. Now the techniques they use to pay for their journeys are available to anyone who has a dream adventure project in mind, according to the new book from Skyhorse Publishing called: Get Sponsored: A Funding Guide for Explorers, Adventurers and Would Be World Travelers.

Author Jeff Blumenfeld, an adventure marketing specialist who has represented 3M, Coleman, Du Pont, Lands’ End and Orvis, among others, shares techniques for securing sponsors for expeditions and adventures.

Buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Get-Sponsored-Explorers-Adventurers-Travelers-ebook/dp/B00H12FLH2

Advertise in Expedition News – For more information: blumassoc.

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EXPEDITION NEWS is published by Blumenfeld and Associates, Inc., 1281 East Main Street – Box 10, Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Tel. 203 655 1600, editor. Editor/publisher: Jeff Blumenfeld. Assistant editor: Jamie Gribbon. Research editor: Lee Kovel. ©2015 Blumenfeld and Associates, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN: 1526-8977. Subscriptions: US$36/yr. available by e-mail only. Credit card payments accepted through www.paypal.com. Read EXPEDITION NEWS at www.expeditionnews.com. Enjoy the EN blog at www.expeditionnews.blogspot.com.

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Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440 (Dist Colo 1996)

Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440 (Dist Colo 1996)

Carol Lahey, Plaintiff, v. Rick Covington d/b/a Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., and Douglas (Blues) Voisard, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs, v. Rob Mobilian, Third-Party Defendant.

Civil Action No. 95 N 1396

United States District Court for the District of Colorado

964 F. Supp. 1440; 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21247

April 29, 1996, Decided

April 29, 1996, FILED; May 1, 1996, ENTERED

Disposition: [**1] Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings Granted.

Defendants’ motion for summary judgment Granted in part and Denied in part.

Counsel: For Carol Lahey, plaintiff: William A. Trine, Williams & Trine, P.C., Boulder, CO U.S.A.

For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., a Colorado corporation, defendant: James V. Pearson, Pearson, Milligan & Horowitz, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A. For Rick Covington, defendant: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (Blues) Voisard, defendant: James V. Pearson, (See above).

For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, Pearson, Milligan & Horowitz, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A. For Rick Covington, counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (Blues) Voisard, counter-claimant: James V. Pearson, (See above).

For Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Rick Covington, third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above). For Douglas (BLUES) Voisard, third-party plaintiff: James V. Pearson, (See above).

For Carol Lahey, counter-defendant: William A. Trine, Williams & Trine, P.C., Boulder, CO U.S.A.

For Rob Mobilian, third-party defendant: Ira M. Long, Jr., Roos, [**2] Cohen & Long, P.C., Denver, CO U.S.A.

Judges: Edward W. Nottingham, United States District Judge

Opinion by: Edward W. Nottingham

Opinion:

[*1441] Order and Memorandum of Decision

This is a personal injury action. Plaintiff Carol Lahey alleges that she suffered serious injuries during a white-water rafting trip as a result of the negligence and willful and wanton conduct of Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs Rick Covington d/b/a Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., and Douglas (Blues) Voisard [hereinafter “defendants”]. Defendants allege that, pursuant to an indemnity agreement, both plaintiff and Third-Party Defendant Rob Mobilian (“Mobilian”) are liable to defendants for any fees and costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit. The matter is before the court on (1) “Third-Party Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” filed November 15, 1995, and (2) “Defendants’ and Third-Party Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment” filed January 19, [*1442] 1996. Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (West 1993).

Facts

At all times relevant to this case, Covington owned and operated Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., a white-water rafting company located in Twin Lakes, Colorado. (Defs.’ and Third-Party [**3] Pls.’ Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P A [filed Jan. 19, 1996] [hereinafter “Defs.’ Summ. J. Br.”]; admitted at Pl.’s Mem. Br. in Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P A [filed Feb. 5, 1996] [hereinafter “Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot.”]; Mobilian’s Br. in Opp’n to Mot. for Summ. J., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts [filed Feb. 9, 1995] [hereinafter “Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot.”] [incorporating “Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Undisputed Material Facts”].) At all times relevant to this case, Voisard worked for Twin Lakes as a rafting guide. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P B; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P B; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.)

At sometime prior to June 1, 1993, Mobilian scheduled a white-water rafting trip for himself and his family with Covington and Twin Lakes. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P C; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material [**4] Facts P C; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Mobilian is plaintiff’s brother. (See Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl. P 15 [filed Sept. 15, 1995]; Am. Answer to Third-Party Compl. P 3 [filed Nov. 7, 1995].) On the morning of June 1, 1993, plaintiff, Mobilian, and family members arrived at Twin Lakes for the purpose of taking a white-water rafting trip. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. A [Mobilian Dep. at 15-16].)

At the Twin Lakes office, plaintiff and Mobilian signed identical release agreements. (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Exs. A [copy of release signed by plaintiff], B [copy of release signed by Mobilian].) Plaintiff did not read the release before she signed it. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. at 18.) The releases provided:

I recognize that there is a significant element of risk in whitewater rafting or any adventure expedition, sport or activity associated with the outdoors which I have voluntarily applied to participate in.

I fully understand that any activity associated with Twin Lakes Expeditions may include hazards and exposures connected in the outdoors which do involve risk and that I [**5] am aware of the risks and dangers inherent with the activities that I and/or my family, including any minor children, are involved in. I am mentally and physically capable of participating in the activities contracted for and willingly assume the risk of injury as my responsibility, including loss of control, collisions with other participants, trees, rocks, and other man made or natural obstacles, whether they are obvious or not obvious.

. . . .

As lawful consideration for being permitted by Twin Lakes Expeditions to participate in the activities involved, the undersigned, for himself and/or his heirs and assigns, hereby releases the State of Colorado, Bureau of Land Management, Twin Lakes Expeditions and employees of Twin Lakes Expeditions from any liability for claims or lawsuits brought by the undersigned and arising out of the activities provided by the concessioner.

I agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Twin Lakes Expeditions, the United States Forest Service and Parks Department, and all State or Government agencies, and private property [sic] the activities may be conducted on, and all of their officers, members, affiliated organizations, agents and employees [**6] for any injury or death caused by or resulting from me or my family’s participation in the activities associated with Twin Lakes Expeditions both scheduled and unscheduled whether or not such injury or death was caused by their negligence or from any other causes.

I assume complete and full responsibility for my family and myself, including any minor children, for bodily injury, loss of [*1443] life, loss of personal property and expenses thereof.

I have carefully read the agreement, fully understand and accept the terms and conditions explained and stated herein and acknowledge that this release shall be effective and legally binding upon me, my heirs, my estate, assigns[,] legal guardians and my personal representatives during the entire period of participation in the activities.

DO NOT SIGN THE RELEASE IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR DO NOT AGREE WITH ITS TERMS.

(Id.)

After signing the releases, plaintiff, Mobilian, and the others embarked on a white-water rafting trip. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. A [Mobilian Dep. at 21].) They went to the “Numbers” section of the Arkansas River. (See Am. Compl. in Tort for Damages P 10 [filed Aug. 24, 1995] [**7] [hereinafter “Am. Compl.”]; Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl. P 10 [filed Sept. 15, 1995].) Plaintiff testified that, at the time of the trip, she understood that she faced the following risks: (1) she might fall into the river; (2) she might be swept away from her raft; (3) she might strike rocks in the river; and (4) she could be injured. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P F; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P F; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.).

Covington testified that, on June 1, 1993, “Numbers” were a Class IV-plus set of rapids. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 128 11. 16-18].) He described the condition of the river as “high” but not “any more challenging that day than any other day.” (Id., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 136 11. 6-11].) On June 1, 1993, the water flow at the “Numbers” measured 3.8 feet high on the Scott’s Bridge Gauge. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P L; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P L; Mobilian’s [**8] Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) The Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, apparently a white-water rafting regulatory group, recommends against commercial rafting through the “Numbers” when the water flow measures 4.0 feet high or more on the Scott’s Bridge Gauge. (Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P M; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P M; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Covington testified that his company policy was not to take people rafting through the “Numbers” if the water was four feet high or more. (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 160 1. 23 to 161 1.7]; Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 169 11. 4].) He explained that “anything up to [four] feet . . . was certainly not only acceptable, but a fine rafting level, exciting, and a guide’s favorite, if you want to put it that way.” (See Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 161 ll. 4-7].)

During the trip, plaintiff was in a raft guided by Voisard. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P K; [**9] admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P K; Mobilian ‘s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) As plaintiff ‘s raft entered “rapid number 4,” Voisard was thrown out of the raft. (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P N; admitted at Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts P N; Mobilian’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Facts.) Shortly thereafter, the raft capsized, tossing plaintiff into the river. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that, as she was swept through the rapids, she incurred multiple injuries and, as a result, has had to undergo surgery and physical therapy. (Am. Compl. P 29.)

On May 31, 1995, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants in this court, alleging that defendants were liable for (1) negligence and (2) willful and wanton conduct. (See Compl. [filed May 31, 1995].) On August 24, 1995, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, in which she corrected her allegation regarding Covington’s residence. (See Am. Compl.) [*1444] On September 15, 1995, defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint, a [**10] counterclaim against plaintiff, and a third-party complaint against Mobilian. (See Answer, Countercl. and Third-Party Compl.) In their counterclaim, defendants assert that, according to the terms of the release agreement, plaintiff is obligated to indemnify defendants for “all of their damages, attorneys’ fees, costs and other expenses incurred as a result of” her participation in the June 1, 1993, rafting trip. (See id. at 7-8.) Similarly in their third-party claim against Mobilian, defendants assert that, according to the terms of the release agreement, Mobilian must indemnify defendants for all of the fees and costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit.

The motions currently before the court present the following three issues:

(1) whether the release agreement bars plaintiff’s negligence claims; (2) whether plaintiff has presented evidence that defendants acted willfully and wantonly; (3) whether, by signing the release agreement, plaintiff and Mobilian agreed to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. In his motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mobilian argues that the release agreement is unclear and ambiguous and counter to public [**11] policy and, thus, does not obligate him to indemnify defendants. In their motion for summary judgment, defendants maintain that: (1) plaintiff’s negligence claims are barred by the release agreement; (2) plaintiff has not presented evidence that defendants acted willfully and wantonly in taking her on the rafting trip; and (3) Mobilian is obligated to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. I begin with the issues raised in defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

ANALYSIS

1. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

a. Legal Standard

Pursuant to rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where “the pleadings, depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts and the . . . moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Concrete Works, Inc. v. City and County of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1004, 131 L. Ed. [**12] 2d 196, 115 S. Ct. 1315 (1995). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. at 2554). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but must instead designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The court may consider only admissible evidence when ruling on a summary judgment motion. See World of Sleep, Inc. v. La-Z-Boy Chair Co., 756 F.2d 1467, 1474 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 823, 106 S. Ct. 77, 88 L. Ed. 2d 63 (1985). Additionally, the factual record must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Concrete Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Applied Genetics Int’l, Inc. v. First Affiliated [**13] Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 [10th Cir. 1990]).

b. Negligence

Colorado law disfavors exculpatory agreements such as the release agreement at issue here. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 783 (Colo. 1989) (en banc). Thus, they are strictly construed against the drafter. Anderson v. Eby, 998 F.2d 858, 861 (10th Cir. 1993) (quoting Jones v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 376 [Colo. 1981] [en banc]); Potter v. National Handicapped Sports , 849 F. Supp. 1407, 1409 (D. Colo. 1994). Nevertheless, an exculpatory agreement is “not necessarily void . . . as long as one party [*1445] is not ‘at such obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to put him at the mercy of the other’s negligence.’” Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784 (quoting W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68, at 482 [5th ed. 1984].) The release agreement at issue here is not the sort where one party is at so great a disadvantage as to render the agreement void. See Jones, 623 P.2d at 374-75.

In determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid, the court must consider the following four factors: “’(1) [**14] the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.’” Id. at 784 (quoting Jones, 623 P.2d at 376). Whether an exculpatory agreement is valid is a question of law for the court. Jones, 623 P.2d at 376; Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. “For an exculpatory agreement to fail under the first factor, the party seeking exculpation must be engaged in providing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public.” Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Such is not the case here. As in Potter, the activity at issue—white-water rafting—is recreational in nature. Thus, “by definition and common sense, it is neither a matter of great public importance nor a matter of practical necessity.” Id. (citing Bauer v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 788 F. Supp. 472, 474 [D. Colo. 1992]).

The second factor, “the nature of the activity,” involves an assessment of whether the activity can be described as an “essential service.” See Potter, [**15] 849 F. Supp. at 1410; Jones, 784 P.2d. at 784. Clearly white-water rafting is neither. See Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1409. Regarding the third factor, plaintiff testified that she does not feel that she was treated unfairly by Twin Lake’s requirement that she sign the release form before going on the rafting trip. (Def.’s Summ. J. Br., Ex. G [Pl.’s Dep. at 131 l. 23 to 132 l.

1].) Because plaintiff has presented no evidence which contradicts her testimony, I conclude that she entered into the release fairly. Thus, only the fourth factor, whether the terms of the exculpatory agreement are clear and unambiguous, remains to be considered.

The release agreement in this case is short (just over one page), written in simple, clear terms, free of legal jargon, and uncomplicated. Thus, under the standard expressed in Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., it appears to be clear and unambiguous. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 785; see also Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1410. Plaintiff maintains, however, that the agreement is not clear because, even if she had read it, n1 it would not have fully apprised her of the risks she would encounter on the rafting trip. Specifically, plaintiff [**16] complains that the release did not inform her of the following: (1) she would not be given an opportunity to observe “rapid number 4” before proceeding through it; (2) she would not be given an opportunity to determine what risks were inherent in “rapid number 4” before proceeding through it; (3) she would not be given an opportunity to walk around “rapid number 4” instead of rafting through it; and (4) Voisard could fall out of the raft and, consequently, be unable to direct and navigate the raft. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. At 16.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

n1 Even though plaintiff did not read the agreement before signing it, she is nevertheless bound by its terms since there is no evidence that she was fraudulently induced to sign it. See Day v. Snowmass Stables, Inc., 810 F. Supp. 289, 294 (D. Colo. 1993).

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Colorado law does not require that an exculpatory agreement describe in detail each specific risk that the signor might encounter. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 785; see also Potter, 849 F. Supp. [**17] at 1410-11. Rather, an exculpatory agreement bars a claim if the agreement clearly reflects the parties’ intent to extinguish liability for that type of claim. See id.

Plaintiff asserts that the above-listed risks of which she allegedly was not informed were the product of defendants’ negligence. (Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot. at 16.) The release agreement states in plain language, however, that plaintiff agreed to “hold harmless Twin Lakes Expeditions . . . and all of [its] officers . . . and employees for any injury . . . whether [*1446] or not such injury . . . was caused by their negligence. . . . “ (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Ex. A [copy of release agreement signed by plaintiff] [emphasis supplied].) Thus, the exculpatory agreement clearly reflects an intent to preclude claims based on defendants’ negligence. See Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1411.

I conclude that the exculpatory portion of the release agreement is valid as a matter of law. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784; Jones, 623 P.2d at 378; see also Anderson, 998 F.2d at 861-62; Potter, 849 F. Supp. at 1410.

Consequently, it bars plaintiff’s claims to the extent that they are based on defendants’ [**18] alleged negligence. See id. Accordingly, defendants are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s negligence claims. See id.c.

Willful and Wanton Conduct

In Colorado, “willful and wanton conduct” is conduct which an actor realizes is highly hazardous and poses a strong probability of injury to another but nevertheless knowingly and voluntarily chooses to engage in. See Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 354 P.2d 1011, 1013-14 (Colo. 1960); Hodges v. Ladd, 143 Colo. 143, 352 P.2d 660, 663 (Colo. 1960) (en banc); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102(1)(b) (1987) (concerning exemplary damages). Here, plaintiff claims that defendants are liable for willful and wanton conduct because they concealed from her the fact that the risks she would face on the rafting trip were greater that those usually involved in white-water rafting. (See Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Br. at 13-14.) She maintains that “defendants knew that the [’Numbers’] stretch of the river was extremely dangerous and that only skilled and experienced rafters could safely maneuver the rapids.” (See id. at 13.)

Plaintiff’s claim, however, is wholly unsupported by the record. Plaintiff presents no evidence [**19] that defendants knew that the risks posed by rafting through the “Numbers” were greater than usual for the sport of white-water rafting, let alone any evidence that the risks were, in fact, greater. To the contrary, Covington’s uncontroverted testimony is that the river ‘s water-height on the day of plaintiff’s trip was appropriate for rafting according to industry standards as well as his company policy, and that the “Numbers” was not any more dangerous on June 1, 1993, than on any other day. (See Def.’s Summ. J. Br., Ex. H [Covington Dep. at 160 l. 21 to 164 l. 25]; Pl.’s Resp. to Summ. J. Mot., Ex. D [Covington Dep. at 136 ll. 6-12].) Plaintiff has introduced nothing to suggest that defendants did not believe that, in taking plaintiff on the rafting trip, they were acting (1) in conformance with industry standards, (2) in conformance with their company standards, and (3) in what they knew to be a reasonably safe manner, given the nature of white-water rafting. Thus, because plaintiff has failed to introduce evidence that defendants’ conduct rises to the level of willful and wanton, I conclude that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on that claim. Concrete [**20] Works, Inc., 36 F.3d at 1518 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. at 2554).

d. Indemnity

As indicated above, defendants maintain that, by signing the release agreement, plaintiff agreed to indemnify them for their attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred in connection with this lawsuit. Similarly, defendants argue that, because Mobilian is plaintiff’s brother, the indemnity clause in the release agreement obligates him to indemnify defendants for any costs they incur in connection with this lawsuit, including attorneys’ fees and costs.

In general, indemnity agreements, like exculpatory agreements, are strictly construed under Colorado law. Public Serv. Co. of Colo. v. United Cable Television of Jeffco, Inc., 829 P.2d 1280, 1284 (Colo. 1992) (en banc). For an indemnity agreement to be enforceable, it must contain clear and unequivocal language which manifests the parties’ intent that the indemnitee be indemnified for the expenses at issue. See id.; Williams v. White Mountain Constr. Co., Inc. , 749 P.2d 423, 426 (Colo. 1988) (en banc).

Here, the relevant language provides, “I agree to . . . indemnify [defendants] . . . for any injury or [**21] death caused by or resulting from me or my family’s participation [*1447] [in the rafting activity].” (Defs.’ Summ. J. Br., Exs. A [copy of release signed by plaintiff], B [copy of release signed by Mobilian].) That language does not clearly and unequivocally state that the signor agrees to pay the attorney’s fees and costs associated with a lawsuit such as this. In fact, it seems more likely that the clause means that the signor agrees to pay expenses such as medical bills which result from her or her family member’s physical injury during a rafting trip. Further, with respect to defendant’s claim against Mobilian, the term “family” is not clearly and unequivocally broad enough to encompass the signor’s adult sister as opposed to only the signor’s spouse and children. Thus, I conclude that the language of the indemnity clause does not obligate plaintiff or Mobilian to indemnify defendants for the attorneys’ fees and other expenses they incur in connection with this lawsuit. See Public Serv. Co. of Colo., 829 P.2d at 1284; Williams, 749 P.2d at 426. Accordingly, defendants’ summary judgment motion is denied on the issue of plaintiff’s and Mobilian’s indemnity obligations. [**22] I need not reach the parties’ further arguments on that issue.

2. Mobilian’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

As indicated above, Mobilian moves for judgment on the pleadings with respect to his obligation to indemnify defendants for their attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred in connection with this lawsuit. A motion for judgment on the pleadings is a motion to dismiss that is filed after the pleadings are closed.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); 2A James W. Moore, Moore’s Federal Practice P 12.15 (2d ed. 1995). The standard of review for such a motion is as follows:

For purposes of the motion, all well-pleaded material allegations of the non-moving party’s pleading are to be taken as true, and all allegations of the moving party which have been denied are taken as false. Conclusions of law are not deemed admitted. On the basis of the facts so admitted, the court may grant judgment only if the moving party is clearly entitled to judgment. 2A Moore P 12.15; Hamilton v. Cunningham, 880 F. Supp. 1407, 1410 (D. Colo. 1995). I therefore accept as true all allegations set forth by defendants. See id. “A judgment on the pleadings is appropriate [**23] when, even if all allegations in the complaint are true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Westlands Water Dist. v. Firebaugh Canal, 10 F.3d 667, 670 (9th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

Here, for the reasons explained in the previous section, I conclude as a matter of law that Mobilian is not obligated to indemnify defendants for their expenses in connection with this lawsuit. Accordingly, Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

3. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, it is therefore

ORDERED as follows:

1. Mobilian’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED.

2. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

3. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED with respect to plaintiff’s claims of negligence and willful and wanton conduct.

4. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is DENIED with respect to defendants’ claim that plaintiff and Mobilian are obligated to indemnify defendants for their attorneys’ fees and other costs incurred in connection with this lawsuit.

5. Defendants’ third-party claim is hereby dismissed.

Dated this 29 day of April, 1996.

By The [**24] Court:

Edward W. Nottingham

United States District Judge


SCOTT Recalls Vanish Evo Bicycle Helmets Due to Head Injury Hazard

Name of Product: 2015 SCOTT® Vanish Evo Bicycle Helmets

Hazard: The bicycle helmets do not comply with the impact requirements of the CPSC safety standards for bicycle helmets.

Remedy: Refund

Consumers should immediately stop using the bicycle helmet and take it to an authorized SCOTT dealer for a refund of the purchase price.

Consumer Contact: Scott USA toll-free at (888) 607-8365 extension 2012 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MT Monday through Friday, email recall@scott-sports.com, or online at http://www.scott-sports.com and click on Safety and Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information.

Units: About 1,450

Description: The helmets have the brand name “SCOTT” printed on the outer shell of the helmet on the left side. For the Vanish Evo black and grey helmets, the lettering is black; for the Vanish Evo white and grey helmets, the lettering is white. The following serial number ranges are included in this recall: 2014-06/009359 through 2014-09/027210. The serial number is printed on a white sticker inside the back of the helmet.

Incidents/Injuries: None reported.

Sold at: Authorized SCOTT dealers nationwide and online from July 2014 through December 2014 for about $200.

Importer: Scott USA, Inc., of Salt Lake City, Utah

Manufactured in: China

Retailers: If you are a retailer of a recalled product you have a duty to notify your customers of a recall. If you can, email your clients or include the recall information in your next marketing communication to your clients. Post any Recall Poster at your stores and contact the manufacturer to determine how you will handle any recalls.

For more information on this see:

For Retailers

Recalls Call for Retailer Action

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

Product Liability takes a different turn. You must pay attention, just not rely on the CPSC.

Retailer has no duty to fit or instruct on fitting bicycle helmet

Summary Judgment granted for bicycle manufacturer and retailer on a breach of warranty and product liability claim.

For Manufacturers

The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers

A recall leads to lawsuits because injuries are connected to the product being recalled thus a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s hope the three can be connected

Combination of a Products Liability statute, an Expert Witness Report that was just not direct enough and odd facts holds a retailer liable as manufacture for product defect.

 

 

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More than allegations and plaintiff’s testimony to sustain a motion for summary judgment for a binding defect in West Virginia

Failure of the plaintiff to keep the broken binding or have any other proof the binding broke would have changed the outcome of the case.

Mrotek, v. Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., 214 W. Va. 490; 590 S.E.2d 683; 2003 W. Va. LEXIS 179

State: West Virginia

Plaintiff: Daniel Mrotek

Defendant: Coal River Canoe Livery, Ltd., d/b/a Elk River Outfitters, d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., d/b/a Elk Mountain Outfitters, Appellees, and Elk Mountain Outfitters, Inc., v. Skis Dynastar, Inc., d/b/a Dynastar and Adidas America Incorporated, d/b/a Salomon North American, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and product liability

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff did not produce any evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant. Alternatively, the court found that plaintiff signed a valid release.

Year: 2003

Holding: for the defendant

The plaintiff from Florida with a group of friends went to Snowshoe Ski Area in West Virginia for four days of skiing. He first rented skis from the defendant. While renting he signed a release.

While skiing he fell. He claimed the toe piece of one of the bindings came off. Both the plaintiff and one of his friends testified they through the toe piece away.

The plaintiff exchanged the skis for another pair with the defendant. The defendant testified the skis were in good condition and rented out the next day. The plaintiff did not report the ski binding failed nor did he report an accident to anyone.

Upon the plaintiff’s return to Florida, he was suffering head aches and blurred vision. He eventually needed four surgeries and had a permanent shunt placed in his head.

The plaintiff sued the defendant rental business. The rental business filed claims against the ski and binding manufacturer as third party defendants. The trial court, called a Circuit Court in West Virginia dismissed the claims of the plaintiff against the defendant. By doing so the third party claims are also dismissed against the third party defendants. The plaintiff appealed.

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

The basis of the court’s ruling in favor of the defendant was the plaintiff “failed to identify any act or omission allegedly committed by EMO, which in any way caused or contributed to the alleged skiing accident.” In a negligence claim, the negligence must be proved, it cannot be imputed or presumed.  

Self-serving assertions without factual support in the record will not defeat a motion for summary judgment.”

After examining all the evidence the court found” The only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence is that Mr. Mrotek fell while skiing.”

The defendant had no evidence of a broken ski or binding. The plaintiff had not told the defendant the binding was broken and had not registered a claim. No third party saw the broken binding other than the friend who testified it had been thrown away.

The party opposing summary judgment must satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere ‘scintilla of evidence,’ and must produce evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving party’s favor.

In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence in West Virginia, it must be shown that the defendant has been guilty of some act or omission[.]”). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate under the facts of this case.

So Now What?

This case would have been totally different if the plaintiff had kept the toe piece, photographed it or pointed out the problem to a third party or the defendant; anything to support his claim other than his statements.

The main reason for this statement is releases in West Virginia have been disfavored whenever they reach the West Virginia Supreme Court. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release.)

The defendant did the correct thing by following the protocol set up by the ski rental industry. The ski was examined, and nothing was found to be defective so the ski and binding were rented out the next day. If necessary, the defendant could have brought in the rental receipts showing the ski and bindings had been rented and how often after the plaintiff’s incident.

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

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