One winner for equine liability statutes. Indiana statute stops litigation based on horse kick.

However, the plaintiff in this case owned horses and participated as a volunteer in the activities. Equine liability statutes protect horses better than the horse owners.

Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Plaintiff: Teresa Perry

Defendant: Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: injuries were caused by the 4-H Club‘s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn…

Defendant Defenses: Equine Activity Statute

Holding:

The plaintiff was a volunteer with the defendant 4-H Club serving on its Equine Advisory Board. She also owned seven horses. During an event, the plaintiff walked over to a child to instruct the child to move her horse because she was at risk of being injured. The plaintiff in the process was kicked by a horse.

The plaintiff sued. The trial court dismissed the case based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. This appeal followed.

Summary of the case

The court fist looked at its duties when interpreting a statute for the first time.

When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.

The court then looked at the requirements of the statute and whether or not the defendant had met the requirements. First, the protection afforded by the statute does not apply unless at least one warning sign is posted on the premises.

…the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c).

The court found the signs were posted at all entrances to the horse barn and were clearly visible. However, there were no signs on the show barn where the incident occurred. However, the plaintiff admitted that she had seen the signs posted on the horse barn.

The next issue was whether or not the incident and injury the plaintiff suffered were an inherent risk of equine activities. (Really? I grew up with horses; being kicked happens…….a lot.) In this case, the plaintiff tried to argue the language in the statute did not cover the actual incident that caused her injury. Meaning the accident was not caused by an inherent risk but by negligence of the defendants.

Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:

(1) an injury to a participant; or

(2) the death of a participant;

resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2  The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:

the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:

(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.

(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.

(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.

(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:

Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:

(1) who:

(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and

(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;

(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:

(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and

(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;

(3) who:

(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and

(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;

if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;

(4) who committed an act or omission that:

(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and

(B) caused the injury; or

(5) who intentionally injured the participant.

The court’s analysis quasi reversed the plaintiff’s argument. If the injury was caused by an inherent risk of equine activities, then it would not matter if the defendant was negligent.

The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.”

The plaintiff’s injuries were due to an inherent risk of horses.

As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent.

Consequently, the court held the complaint was properly dismissed, and the defendant was not liable.

So Now What?

This is a great case; the statute worked. I now have to change my quote. Equine liability statutes are 100% effective. Since being passed no horse has been sued, but owners of horses are still being sued. And the statute protected one of them.

If you are subject to a statute that requires signs, post them everywhere. Post them in every location where people enter the premises. Post them on every building and every building entrance. Post them inside the building were spectators, and participants will see the signs. The signs are cheap compared to the cost of litigation.

Understand the statute and make sure you fulfill every aspect of the statute and cover all the requirements.

As this case points out, however, the statute still left a lot to lose a lawsuit over. Statutes are rarely written to provide 100% protection. Consequently, unless you want to litigate every word in the statute, use additional defenses.

1.      Use a release. As pointed out in this case, if interpreted differently or if a sign had blown away, the best defense to this lawsuit would have been a release.

2.    Educate the youth you are working with and the adults working with them. In this case, the adult was there because of her knowledge of the risks of the activity.

One point that stands out in this decision is the knowledge and experience of the plaintiff.  It is hard for someone who owns seven horses to argue that getting kicked by a horse is not an inherent risk of horses.

Would this decision be different if the plaintiff had no knowledge or experience with horses?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Teresa Perry, Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., Appellee-Defendant.

No. 92A03-1002-CT-101

Court Of Appeals Of Indiana

931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

August 16, 2010, Decided

August 16, 2010, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

APPEAL FROM THE WHITLEY CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable James R. Heuer, Judge. Cause No. 92C01-0809-CT-652.

COUNSEL: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SARAH E. RESER, Glaser & Ebbs, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CARRIE KOONTZ GAINES, Kopka, Pinkus Dolin & Eads, L.L.C., Mishawaka, Indiana.

JUDGES: ROBB, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.

OPINION BY: ROBB

OPINION

[*934] OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION

ROBB, Judge

Case Summary and Issue

Teresa Perry appeals the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Whitley County 4-H Clubs, Inc. (the “4-H Club”) on Perry’s negligence complaint for personal injuries suffered during a horse competition sponsored by the 4-H Club. For our review, Perry raises two issues, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. Concluding there is no genuine issue of material fact and the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim for injuries resulting from inherent risks of equine activities, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

The undisputed facts and those most favorable to Perry as the non-movant are as follows. At all relevant times, Perry, an adult, was a member of the 4-H Clubs Equine Advisory [**2] Board, which provides guidance and instruction to children participating in the 4-H Club’s horse events, and was herself a regular participant in those [*935] events. Perry was also the owner of seven horses. In July 2007, the 4-H Club held horse practices and competitions at the Whitley County Fairgrounds as part of the Whitley County Fair. These events were generally held in the 4-H Club’s Horse Barn, but one event, the Large Animal Round Robin Competition, was held in the 4-H Club’s Show Barn, located next to the Horse Barn. The Horse Barn is over 100 feet wide but the Show Barn is approximately thirty-six feet wide along its shorter side. Horses were generally familiar with the Horse Barn but unfamiliar with the Show Barn, where they were “not allowed any other time” besides the Round Robin Competition. Appellant’s Appendix at 88. At all entrances to the Horse Barn, the 4-H Club had posted “Equine Activity warning signs” that were “clearly visible.” Id. at 18-19 (affidavit of Bill Leeuw, 4-H Club’s President of the Board).

On July 25, 2007, the Round Robin Competition was held. The Equine Advisory Board and volunteers selected the horses to be shown, and Perry herself selected one of those [**3] horses “at the last minute.” Id. at 93. Perry was present at the Round Robin Competition as an Equine Advisory Board member responsible for the safety of children handling the horses. As part of the event, seven horses were led from the Horse Barn into the Show Barn and lined up approximately two and one-half feet apart along the shorter side of the Show Barn. The horses were then turned over to children who did not normally handle horses but had experience handling animals such as pigs and cows and had received brief instruction on how to handle a horse. After one of the children finished leading a horse through a series of maneuvers, the child left the horse facing away from the center of the Show Barn, in the opposite direction from the neighboring horses and with its rear next to the head of a neighboring horse. The horse facing backwards began sniffing the rear of the neighboring horse, which pinned its ears against its head as a sign it was agitated. Perry realized this situation posed a danger to the child handling the horse facing backwards. Perry therefore approached the child and told the child to turn the horse around. As the child was doing so, the neighboring horse kicked [**4] Perry in the knee. Perry was thrown back and suffered personal injuries.

In September 2008, Perry filed a complaint against the 4-H Club alleging her injuries were caused by the 4-H Club’s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” Id. at 6. As specifically argued by Perry at the summary judgment hearing, she alleged the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn, as the smaller Show Barn “requires horses to be placed close together, increasing the chances that a child near the horse will be injured by one. It’s also an environment the horses aren’t familiar with, which makes it more likely that a horse will get spooked and kick someone.” Transcript at 4. Among the 4-H Club’s affirmative defenses, it alleged in its answer that Perry’s claim was barred by the Indiana Equine Activity Statute.

The 4-H Club filed a motion for summary judgment based in part on the Equine Activity Statute. Following a hearing, the trial court on January 27, 2010, issued its order granting summary judgment to the 4-H Club. The trial court found and concluded in relevant part:

14. [**5] The [4-H Club] was a sponsor of an equine activity when the accident occurred.

15. [Perry] was a participant in the equine activity in her capacity as a safe [*936] keeper when she approached the horses and was kicked.

16. The Equine Activities Act . . . is applicable to this case.

17. Being kicked by a horse is an inherent risk of equine activity.

18. There is no evidence in the designation of material facts that [the 4-H Club] committed an act or omission which constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of [Perry] or that any other conditions set in [Indiana Code section] 34-31-5-2 existed at the time of the accident.

Appellant’s App. at 5. Perry now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

I. Standard of Review

[HN1] We review a summary judgment order de novo. Tri-Etch, Inc. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 909 N.E.2d 997, 1001 (Ind. 2009). In so doing, we stand in the same position as the trial court and must determine whether the designated evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Dreaded, Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Ins. Co., 904 N.E.2d 1267, 1269-70 (Ind. 2009). In making this determination, we construe [**6] the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine factual issue against the moving party. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. Bloom, 847 N.E.2d 175, 180 (Ind. 2006). Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated by the parties to the trial court. Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). The movant has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine factual dispute as to an outcome-determinative issue and only then must the non-movant come forward with evidence demonstrating genuine factual issues that should be resolved at trial. Jarboe v. Landmark Cmty. Newspapers of Ind., Inc., 644 N.E.2d 118, 123 (Ind. 1994).

Because this case turns on the proper application of the Equine Activity Statute, we also recite our well-established standard of review for interpretation of statutes:

[HN2] When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. [**7] We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.

Cooper Indus., LLC v. City of South Bend, 899 N.E.2d 1274, 1283 (Ind. 2009) (citations omitted).

II. Equine Activity Statute

A. Warning Signs

Perry argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. We address this sub-issue first because it bears on the threshold applicability of the Equine Activity Statute as a bar to Perry’s claim. See Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a) (providing [HN3] “[t]his chapter does not apply unless” equine activity sponsor has posted at least one complaint warning sign). In response to Perry’s argument, the 4-H Club initially [*937] contends Perry waived the argument by not raising it to the trial court prior to the summary judgment hearing. We disagree. In general, arguments [**8] by an appellant are waived if not presented to the trial court on summary judgment, see Cook v. Ford Motor Co., 913 N.E.2d 311, 322 n.5 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied, and summary judgment may not be reversed on the grounds of a genuine factual issue “unless the material fact and the evidence relevant thereto shall have been specifically designated to the trial court,” T.R. 56(H). However, Perry did argue at the summary judgment hearing that the evidence designated by the 4-H Club was insufficient to establish its compliance with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. Moreover, this issue was already before the trial court based upon the 4-H Club’s motion for summary judgment and designation of material facts.

Proceeding to Perry’s claim, [HN4] the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black [**9] letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c). The warning must state: “Under Indiana law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-5.

The undisputed evidence is that the 4-H Club, on the day of the incident, maintained “Equine Activity warning signs” on all entrances to the Horse Barn, and the signs were “clearly visible.” Appellant’s App. at 18-19. The 4-H Club’s equine activities were regularly held inside the Horse Barn, except for the Round Robin Competition held in the Show Barn located next to the Horse Barn. Perry acknowledged in her deposition she had seen “those signs” on the Horse Barn, id. at 114, and did not designate any evidence the signs were absent on the day of the incident or lacked the specific warning required by Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5. Perry argues, in effect, that because the only photographs the 4-H Club properly designated to the trial court do not directly show the signs contained the specific warning required, 1 the 4-H Club did not meet its burden of making a prima facie case of compliance [**10] with the statute. We decline Perry’s invitation to, in effect, interpret the Equine Activity Statute to require an equine activity sponsor to submit such photographic or documentary evidence in order to support its claim of immunity. Rather, we conclude the affidavit the 4-H Club properly designated established its prima facie case that it maintained proper warning signs, such that the burden shifted to Perry to come forward with evidence the signs were deficient. Because she did not do so, there is no genuine issue of fact as to the warning signs, and the trial court [*938] properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute applies to this case.

1 The parties dispute, and it is unclear from the record, whether a photograph identified as Defendant’s Exhibit A at Perry’s deposition, and allegedly included along with the deposition in the 4-H Club’s designation of evidence, was actually part of the designated material submitted to the trial court. That photograph, unlike those included as the 4-H Club’s Exhibit C in support of summary judgment and to which the 4-H Club referred at the summary judgment hearing, shows a warning sign containing the text specified in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5.

B. [**11] Inherent Risk of Equine Activities

Perry also argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether her injuries resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. The Equine Activity Statute provides:

[HN5] Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:

(1) an injury to a participant; or

(2) the death of a participant;

resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2 [HN6] The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:

the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:

(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.

(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.

(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.

(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the [**12] animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:

[HN7] Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:

(1) who:

(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and

(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;

(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:

(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and

(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;

(3) who:

(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and

(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;

if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;

(4) who committed an act or omission that:

(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and

(B) caused the injury; or

[*939] (5) who intentionally [**13] injured the participant.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-2(b). As Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute has not previously been interpreted in any reported case, 3 we will cite for their persuasive value the decisions of other jurisdictions that have interpreted similar statutes.

2 “Equine activity,” pursuant to its statutory definition, includes among other things “[e]quine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve equines.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-41(a). “Equine activity sponsor” means “a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-42. Perry does not dispute that the 4-H Club qualifies as an equine activity sponsor.

3 In Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied, the only reported case citing the Equine Activity Statute, this court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on the alternative grounds of waiver and release of liability. Id. at 585. We concluded the waiver applied because the plaintiff’s fall from a horse that moved while the plaintiff was attempting to mount it resulted from a risk “inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding.” Id. at 584. However, [**14] we did not explicitly base that conclusion upon the text of the Equine Activity Statute.

Perry’s argument is that a reasonable trier of fact could find the cause of her injury was not an inherent risk of equine activities, but negligence of the 4-H Club in staging the Round Robin Competition. Perry makes no argument that any of the exceptions to immunity spelled out in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-2(b) (“Section 2(b)”) — faulty equipment or tack, provision of the equine and failure to make reasonable and prudent efforts to match the participant to the particular equine and equine activity, a latent premises defect, reckless disregard, or intentional injury — apply in this case. Therefore, we must examine whether and to what extent, consistent with the Equine Activity Statute, an equine activity sponsor may be liable for simple negligence allegedly causing injury to a participant.

Initially we note that negligence of an equine activity sponsor neither is one of the exceptions to immunity listed in Section 2(b), nor is it included in the non-exclusive list of inherent risks of equine activity under Indiana Code section 34-6-2-69. Thus, Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute, like equine activity [**15] statutes in some states but unlike some others, is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability. Compare Lawson v. Dutch Heritage Farms, Inc., 502 F.Supp.2d 698, 700 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (noting Ohio’s Equine Activity Liability Act, like some other states?, is “silent as to simple negligence as an inherent risk”) (quotation omitted); with Beattie v. Mickalich, 486 Mich. 1060, 1060 784 N.W.2d 38, 2010 Mich. LEXIS 1452, 2010 WL 2756979, at *1 (Mich., July 13, 2010) (per curiam) (Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act abolishes strict liability for equines but expressly provides liability is not limited “‘if the . . . person . . . [c]ommits a negligent act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury?” (quoting Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1665)). Because it is as important to recognize what a statute does not say as what it does say, City of Evansville v. Zirkelbach, 662 N.E.2d 651, 654 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied, and [HN8] statutes granting immunity, being in derogation of the common law, are strictly construed, see Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind. 1994), we conclude the Equine Activity Statute was not intended by the general assembly [**16] to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an equine activity sponsor. However, pursuant to the clear text of the statute, a negligence action is precluded if the injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities and the facts do not fit one of the exceptions to immunity provided by Section 2(b). Stated differently, if none of the Section 2(b) exceptions apply, then an equine activity sponsor is not liable for failing to use reasonable care to mitigate an already inherent risk of equine activities that ultimately resulted in a participant’s injury.

[*940] Turning to Perry’s claim, she was injured when unexpectedly kicked by a horse that became agitated during the 4-H Club’s Round Robin Competition. The horse became agitated because another horse was standing too close nearby and began sniffing its rear, and to remove the danger to the child handling the other horse, Perry intervened. The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways [**17] that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn. See Kangas v. Perry, 2000 WI App 234, 239 Wis.2d 392, 620 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Wis. Ct. App. 2000) (based on Wisconsin’s similar definition of inherent risks, concluding “horses? propensity to move without warning is an inherent risk of equine activity contemplated by the statute”), review denied. We therefore conclude Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities within the meaning of the Equine Activity Statute.

Perry argues the likelihood of a horse becoming agitated and kicking, and a child becoming endangered and needing to be rescued by a supervisor such as Perry, were unreasonably increased by the 4-H Club’s decision to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn, a cramped space unfamiliar to the horses. Even if that is true, however, the 4-H Club’s conduct would have contributed to Perry’s injury only by heightening the already inherent risk that a horse might [**18] behave unpredictably and in an injury-causing manner. Thus, Perry’s argument that her injury resulted not from an inherent risk of equine activities, but from the 4-H Club’s negligence in its manner of staging the Round Robin Competition, amounts to hair splitting irrelevant to the Equine Activity Statute. As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent. See Ind. Code §§ 34-6-2-69; 34-31-5-1.

Perry also relies on cases from other jurisdictions that, while involving similar statutes, are distinguishable on their facts. In Steeg v. Baskin Family Camps, Inc., 124 S.W.3d 633 (Tex. App. 2003), review dismissed, the court held summary judgment for the defendant improper where there was evidence the proximate causes of the rider’s fall included the saddle slipping and the defendant’s negligent failure to secure the saddle. Id. at 639-40. In Fielder v. Academy Riding Stables, 49 P.3d 349 (Colo. Ct. App. 2002), [**19] cert. denied, the court held the defendant was not entitled to immunity where the defendant’s wranglers negligently failed to remove a screaming child from a horse, an “obvious danger” the wranglers had notice of well before the horse bolted. Id. at 351-52. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence the 4-H Club ignored an obvious, imminent danger or that Perry’s injury directly resulted from anything other than unpredictable horse behavior.

In sum, the facts viewed most favorably to Perry as the party opposing summary judgment show her injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities and the 4-H Club was negligent, if at all, only for [*941] failing to mitigate those inherent risks. Therefore, the trial court properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim and properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.

Conclusion

There are no genuine issues of material fact that the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute and that Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. Therefore, Perry’s claim is barred by the Equine Activity Statute and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.

Affirmed.

FRIEDLANDER, [**20] J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.


Indiana decision upholds release signed by mother for claims of an injured daughter for the inherent risks of softball. However, language of the decision may apply to well written releases to stop all claims for negligence.

Decision appears to add Indiana to the list of states were a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries.

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Date of the Decision: August 31, 2012

Plaintiff: Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. f/k/a Wabash Community Service, Appellant-Defendant

Defendant: Taylor M. Thompson, a minor, by next friends, Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson

Plaintiff (Defendant on Appeal) Claims: negligent and violated its duty to protect Taylor by its failure to inspect, warn, and implement preventive measures designed to eliminate or reduce dangers posed by the condition of the second base “such that it was fixed as a rigid obstacle for participants to encounter while sliding into the base and, thereby, posing a clear safety hazard

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Release signed by the mother of the injured plaintiff (defendant on appeal) barred claims for the inherent risks of playing softball

Again, the plaintiff on appeal was the defendant in the trial court. The defendant at the trial court level filed a motion to dismiss. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed that decision. Because of that timeline, the defendant became the plaintiff on appeal. Because of the confusion, I’ll just refer to the parties by their names: YMCA and Thompson.

The mother of Thompson, 17 years old at the time of her injury, signed a release to allow her daughter to play softball. The release was quite bad. It did not contain solid language, the word release, or explain any risks except the inherent risks of softball. The trial court rejected the YMCA’s argument and denied its motion for summary judgment based on the release.

The YMCA appealed the decision to the Indiana Appellate Court which reversed the decision.

Of note and of interest, Indian defines negligence in three steps, not the normal four steps as defined by the appellate court in this case.

In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove:

(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;

(2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and

(3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach.”

Basically, Indiana combines the majority third and fourth step into Indiana’s third step to define the requirements to prove negligence.

Summary of the case

Thompson first argued that an Indiana statute required any release for a minor to be approved by the court before it became effective. Many states require court approval of the settlement of the claims of minors.

The court quickly dismissed this argument because the statute in question was part of the probate law of Indiana and only dealt with post injury claims. Thompson did not raise any other arguments against the release so the court declared the release valid.

The court then went through the requirements for a valid release under Indiana’s law.

It is well established in Indiana that exculpatory agreements are not against public policy. “Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent.” However, this court has held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve a party from liability unless it “‘specifically and explicitly refer[s] to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.'” An exculpatory clause may be found sufficiently specific and explicit on the issue of negligence even in the absence of the word itself. Furthermore, an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity.

Of greater note was this statement from the court. “The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence.”

This may lead you to believe, and I believe properly that a properly written release would top a minor’s claim for negligence under Indiana Law.

The court concluded the release signed by the mother did not release the YMCA for all negligent acts because it was written so poorly. However, it will release the YMCA for what was stated in the release, the inherent risks of softball.

The court then reviewed whether sliding into a base was an inherent risk of softball.

Sliding into second base, notwithstanding its rigidity, is an activity inherent in the nature of playing baseball or softball and we conclude that Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity.

So Now What?

It appears that Indiana will allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. A well-written release, including the magic word negligence, which identifies the risks other than the inherent risks, would stop a claim for negligence.

A well-written release would have eliminated half of this decision, maybe even the appeal. If the proper language, the magic word negligence and a broader definition of the risks were in the release, this case would have been decided faster and with less worthy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. f/k/a Wabash Community Service, Appellant-Defendant, vs. Taylor M. Thompson, a minor, by next friends, Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson, Appellees-Plaintiffs.

No. 85A05-1203-CT-138

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA

2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

August 31, 2012, Decided

August 31, 2012, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL FROM THE WABASH CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Robert R. McCallen, III, Judge. Cause No. 85C01-1110-CT-839.

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: RANDALL W. GRAFF, ORFEJ P. NAJDESKI, LESLIE B. POLLIE, Kopka, Pinkus, Dolin & Eads, LLC, Indianapolis, Indiana.

FOR APPELLEES: JOSEF MUSSER, Spitzer Herriman Stephenson, Holderead Musser & Conner, LLP, Marion, Indiana.

JUDGES: BROWN, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and PYLE, J., concur.

OPINION BY: BROWN

OPINION

OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION

BROWN, Judge

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc., (“YMCA”) appeals the trial court’s order denying its motion for summary judgment. The YMCA raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the trial court erred in denying the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment. We reverse.

The relevant facts follow. On October 13, 2011, Taylor Thompson, by next friends Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson, filed a complaint against the YMCA alleging that she was at the premises known as the Field of Dreams which was owned by the YMCA on May 28, 2009, and was injured when she slid into second base while participating in the Wabash Metro Summer Baseball/Softball League.1 The complaint alleged that the YMCA was negligent and violated its duty to protect Taylor [*2] by its failure to inspect, warn, and implement preventive measures designed to eliminate or reduce dangers posed by the condition of the second base “such that it was fixed as a rigid obstacle for participants to encounter while sliding into the base and, thereby, posing a clear safety hazard.” Appellant’s Appendix at 7. The complaint alleged that Taylor suffered serious and permanent physical injury.

1 The complaint indicated that Taylor was seventeen years old at the time of the filing of the complaint.

On November 22, 2011, the YMCA filed a Motion to Dismiss And/Or Change of Venue Pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(6). The YMCA alleged that Charlene, Taylor’s mother, executed a contractual document for Taylor’s participation in the Wabash Metro Summer Baseball/Softball League, and the YMCA attached the document to the motion. The form contains the following statement:

I (parent or guardian) Charlene Thompson hereby give permission for Taylor Thompson to participate in Metro League Baseball/Softball. I further understand that injuries can occur and will not hold the field, sponsor, coaching staff or league responsible for injury or medical expenses incurred while participating in practice [*3] or playing in a game. I also affirm that my child is physically fit to participate in athletic activities.

Id. at 12. The YMCA alleged that Taylor contractually agreed that there was an inherent risk to her participation in the softball game that could result in injury and that she contractually agreed that she would hold the YMCA, as alleged owner of the field, harmless for any injuries or medical expenses resulting from such injuries.

On December 22, 2011, Taylor filed a response to the YMCA’s motion to dismiss and argued that “in the case of minors, a person claiming tort damages on behalf of the minor against another person has power to execute a release on the minor’s behalf, however, the release must be approved by the Court before being effective.” Appellant’s Appendix at 14. Taylor also alleged that the document YMCA relies upon did not contemplate an injury from the negligent maintenance of the property, rather, it contemplates the foreseeable injuries which can inherently occur while playing baseball or softball. Taylor argued that the YMCA was not a party to the understanding evidenced by the document.

On December 30, 2011, the court held a hearing on the YMCA’s motion. On [*4] January 18, 2012, the court denied the YMCA’s motion to dismiss. On February 16, 2012, the YMCA filed a motion to certify the interlocutory order, which the court granted on February 21, 2012. On April 16, 2012, this court accepted jurisdiction pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 14(B).

The issue is whether the trial court erred by denying summary judgment to the YMCA. Initially, we note that the YMCA’s motion to dismiss was filed pursuant to Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(6) and attached the form completed by Taylor’s mother. Therefore, we will review the YMCA’s motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. [HN1] See Ind. Trial Rule 12(B) (“If, on a motion, asserting the defense number (6), to dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56.”); New Albany-Floyd Cnty. Educ. Ass’n v. Ammerman, 724 N.E.2d 251, 255 n.7 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) (“Although the trial court specifically granted Holman’s motion to dismiss and did not rule on his motion for summary judgment, we must nevertheless treat [*5] the former as a motion for summary judgment on review.”); Galbraith v. Planning Dep’t of City of Anderson, 627 N.E.2d 850, 852 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) (treating the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint as a summary judgment for the defendant when plaintiff submitted an affidavit and the trial court acknowledged that it considered matters outside the pleadings).

[HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). All facts and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts are construed in favor of the nonmovant. Mangold, 756 N.E.2d at 973. [HN3] Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated to the trial court. Id. [HN4] We must carefully review a decision on summary judgment to ensure that a party was not improperly denied its day in court. Id. at 974. [HN5] “[A] motion for summary judgment that is unopposed should be granted only if the designated materials, regardless of whether they stand unopposed by materials designated by the nonmovant, warrant it.” [*6] Starks v. Village Green Apartments, 854 N.E.2d 411, 415 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Klotz v. Hoyt, 900 N.E.2d 1 (Ind. 2009).

[HN6] In reviewing a grant of summary judgment we face the same issues as the trial court and follow the same process. Klinker v. First Merchants Bank, N.A., 964 N.E.2d 190, 193 (Ind. 2012). [HN7] Under Trial Rule 56(C), the moving party bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. If it is successful, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to designate evidence establishing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id.

[HN8] “In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach.” Peters v. Forster, 804 N.E.2d 736, 738 (Ind. 2004). [HN9] In negligence cases, summary judgment is “rarely appropriate.” Rhodes v. Wright, 805 N.E.2d 382, 387 (Ind. 2004). “This is because negligence cases are particularly fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the [*7] objective reasonable person–one best applied by a jury after hearing all of the evidence.” Id. Nevertheless, a defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the undisputed material facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 385.

We initially address Taylor’s argument that while Indiana law requires that a parent claiming tort damages on behalf of a minor against another person has power to execute a release on the minor’s behalf, the release must be approved by the court to be valid. Taylor cites Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) which provides:

[HN10] Whenever a minor has a disputed claim against another person, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, and a guardian for the minor and the minor’s property has not been appointed, the parents of the minor may compromise the claim. However, before the compromise is valid, it must be approved by the court upon filing of a petition requesting the court’s approval. If the court approves the compromise, it may direct that the settlement be paid in accordance with IC 29-3-3-1. If IC 29-3-3-1 is not applicable, the court shall require that a guardian be appointed and that the settlement be delivered to the guardian [*8] upon the terms that the court directs.

Taylor argues that “[n]o Indiana statute, rule, or decision authorizes a parent of a minor to sign a pre-tort waiver.” Appellee’s Brief at 5. Taylor also argues that “the Indiana statute requiring court approval of minor’s claim settlement arises out of a public policy of favoring protection of minors with respect to contractual obligations” and “[t]he statute guards minors against improvident compromises made by their parents.” Id.

The YMCA argues that Taylor’s reliance on Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) “is misplaced and has no bearing on the subject matter at issue in this case, which involves a vastly different legal scenario having nothing to do with probating a disputed claim a minor has against another person.” Appellant’s Brief at 8. The YMCA also argues that if Taylor’s argument is accepted, it would render all releases signed by parents to allow their children to participate in school and sporting events ineffective and meaningless. The YMCA contends that “[i]t would be impossible for parents to obtain court approval for every release or hold harmless agreement for every club, hobby, camp, and sporting activity for each of their children.” Id. at 9.

We [*9] observe that the referenced statute governs a post-injury claim and falls under Title 29, which governs probate law, and not the issue in this case. Further, Taylor does not point to any other authority indicating that the release form was invalid. Under the circumstances, we conclude that the release form is valid. See Bellew v. Byers, 272 Ind. 37, 38, 396 N.E.2d 335, 336 (1979) (addressing a minor’s compromise claim in which the parent and natural guardian was paid an amount for the injuries to her three children in return for a release), abrogated on other grounds by Huffman v. Monroe Cnty. Cmty. Sch. Corp., 588 N.E.2d 1264 (Ind. 1992); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 206-207 (Ohio 1998) (holding that it was not appropriate to equate a pre-injury release with a post-injury release and that parents have the authority to bind their minor children to exculpatory agreements in favor of volunteers and sponsors of nonprofit sport activites where the cause of action sounds in negligence).

We next turn to whether the release applies to Taylor’s injury. The YMCA argues that the release form applies to Taylor’s action of sliding into second base during the softball game. [*10] The YMCA also argues that “one can take almost any on-field mishap and seek to couch it in terms of negligence by arguing for more padding, softer playing surfaces, rule changes, etc., but the fact remains that the injury arose because of a risk inherent in the game.” Appellant’s Reply Brief at 3. Taylor argues that the YMCA’s repeated reference to her injury being the result of her sliding into second base without referencing the accompanying allegations of the complaint that the injury was caused by the negligent maintenance of the second base is a glaring omission throughout the YMCA’s argument.

“It is well established in Indiana that [HN11] exculpatory agreements are not against public policy.” Stowers v. Clinton Cent. Sch. Corp., 855 N.E.2d 739, 749 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. [HN12] “Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent.” Marsh v. Dixon, 707 N.E.2d 998, 1000 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied. However, this court has held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve a party from liability unless it “‘specifically [*11] and explicitly refer[s] to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.'” Id. (quoting Powell v. Am. Health Fitness Ctr. of Fort Wayne, Inc., 694 N.E.2d 757, 761 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)). [HN13] An exculpatory clause may be found sufficiently specific and explicit on the issue of negligence even in the absence of the word itself. Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Ctr., Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576, 581 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. Furthermore, [HN14] an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity. Id. [HN15] The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence. Id. at 581-582.

The form signed by Taylor’s mother did not release the YMCA of liability for all negligent acts because the form did not contain any specific or explicit reference to the negligence of the YMCA or owner of the field. See Stowers, 855 N.E.2d at 749 (“The Stowers’ proposed instruction set out that the Release Forms did not absolve Clinton Central of liability for negligent acts if they did not contain language specifically referring [*12] to negligence; thus, it was a correct statement of the law.”). Thus, we must determine whether Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity. See Anderson, 852 N.E.2d at 581 (holding that an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity).

Sliding into second base, notwithstanding its rigidity, is an activity inherent in the nature of playing baseball or softball and we conclude that Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity. See id. at 584-585 (observing that the plaintiff was injured when attempting to mount her horse and concluding that the plaintiff’s damages were inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding and that the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment to the defendants). The release attached to the YMCA’s motion to dismiss indicated that the owner of the field would not be responsible for any injury or medical expenses “incurred while participating in practice or playing in a game.” Appellant’s Appendix at 12. Based upon the language in the release, we conclude [*13] that the YMCA met its burden of making a prima facie showing that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the burden then shifted to Taylor who did not designate any evidence to show that an issue of material fact existed. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court erred by denying the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment.

For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the trial court’s denial of the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment.

Reversed.

FRIEDLANDER, J., and PYLE, J., concur.

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First of a kind! A release written so badly the assumption of risk language stopped the release from working for one defendant and did not cover the minors because the release did not name them.

How many times do I have to repeat this, hire an attorney to write your release? Hire an attorney that understands your activity and your guests. These releases (yes two of them) are truly ridiculous. The release attempted to cover skiing, snowboarding, “sliding,” (whatever that is) and the tubing hill. On top of that the skier responsibility code or “your responsibility code” was included in the release for tubing. Two different releases were signed for the same activity. Finally the language in the release was just plain wrong and the court pointed it out.

Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, et. al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

Plaintiff: James Stephen Sauter and Piper Sauter, Individually and as the Natural Guardians of M.S., a minor

Defendant:  Perfect North Slopes, Inc., Andrew Broaddus, Stephanie Daniel, Christopher Daniel, Jenny Warr, and Anthony Warr,

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release, assumption of risk, no duty owed

Holding: For the defendant snowtubers who hit the plaintiff’s and for the plaintiff’s against the ski area because the release failed.

 

The case is about facts that probably occur every day on a tubing hill. One group of three tubers, plaintiffs, veered into another lane in the run out. As the second group of tubers, defendant tubers, came down they hit the plaintiffs. The parents of the injured tubers filed suit against the ski area owner of the tubing hill Perfect North Slope, and the defendant tubers that hit the kids.

As luck would have it or actually extremely poor management of the legal issues and documents of the defendants; plaintiff’s signed one release to go tubing, and the defendant tubers signed a different release. The director of Snowsport’s Operations stated:

…testified that Perfect North Slopes was transitioning from the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver to the Snow Tubing Release of Liability for snow tubers and that it was by chance that the Snow Tube Defendants and Sauters signed different release forms.

Both groups of defendants filed motions for summary judgment leading to this decision.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the claims against the defendant tubers. The plaintiff’s brought the defendant tubers into the case arguing the tubers assumed a duty of care to the plaintiff’s by signing the release. The plaintiff’s quote language in the release and specifically in the “Your Responsibility Code” in the release which they argued created liability on the part of the defendant tubers.

The Sauters contend that the duty was assumed upon signing the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver. Specifically, the Sauters rely on the waiver’s clauses that signors agree to “[a]lways stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects,” and “[tube] safely and in control.”

Your responsibility control was based on skiers and boarders on ski slopes. It is based on the simple premise that skier and boarders can turn and stop, that you can ski and board under control. In tubing, the only control, you have is to hold on or not. “Your Responsibility Code” has no bearing on tubing and in this case gave the plaintiffs away to drag in other guests of the ski area.

Under Indiana law a contract that creates a duty can create negligence. That means you sign an agreement that says you will act or not act in a certain way. You breach that duty which causes injury to the other party to the contract, under Indiana law you could be liable. The contract created the standard of care you breached.

Generally, only the parties to the contract can create the duty which can create liability. Third parties, those not identified in the contract or signors to the contract are not part or have benefits or duties from the contract. It is difficult to bring third parties into a contract unless the contract is made to benefit the third party or contemplates the third party in the contract.

Here the court agreed with the defendant tubers that the contract they signed with the defendant ski area did not create a duty of care owed to the plaintiffs. However, that conclusion was based on a very thorough and intense review of the “release” the defendant tuber’s signed. There were several sentences in the agreement that caused the court’s concern.

The signor of the agreement which contained the skier responsibility code agreed to abide by the code. The release also stated, “…as a skier/snowboarder/slider, I have responsibilities to myself and others to ski/ride/tube safely and in control.” The plaintiff argued that those statements created an affirmative duty of care on the part of one group of tubers to another.

The ski area testified that the skier responsibility code had nothing to do with tubing. In fact, much of the deposition testimony incorporated into the decision concerning the intent of the ski area with the release was about the defendant tubers. The judge concluded: “It is illogical that Perfect North Slopes would intend for some snow tubers to affirmatively assume a duty of care to other patrons, while other snow tubers did not.” The third party defendants were dismissed from the case.

Defendant Ski Areas arguments

The same confusion that led to the release from the suit of the defendant tubers worked against the ski area. There is an axiom in the law that states a contract will be construed against the person who drafted it. This means if there is a section of the contract that could be interpreted either for or against the drafter; it will be interpreted against the drafter. This applies to all releases because releases are presented to the guests on a take it or leave it basis. As the drafter, the court figures they had the best chance to write the release correctly and thus wrote the release to help the other party if the release is confusing.

Badly written releases are legally termed ambiguous. Here the court held the release was ambiguous.

“Construction of the terms of a written contract is a pure question of law for the court, reviewed de novo.” If an instrument’s language is unambiguous, the parties’ intent is determined from the four corners of the instrument. If a contract is ambiguous or uncertain, its meaning is determined by extrinsic evidence, and its construction is a matter for the fact-finder. An ambiguity exists where a provision is susceptible to more than one interpretation, and reasonable persons would differ as to its meaning.

A patent ambiguity is apparent on the face of the instrument and arises from an inconsistency or inherent uncertainty of language used so that it either conveys no definite meaning or a confused meaning. Extrinsic evidence is not admissible to explain or remove a patent ambiguity. Conversely, a latent ambiguity does not emerge until one attempts to implement the words as directed in the instrument. Extrinsic evidence is admissible to explain a latent ambiguity.

Ambiguous contracts or releases cannot be upheld.

In reading the release signed by the plaintiff the court looked at whether it was intended to apply to the minor children. The first part of the release was written to prevent suits by the “signor.” In this case, the signor was the parents of the injured minors.

Only in the second part of the release, the medical authorization was there a mention to other parties, children or minors.

Each paragraph and sentence references that the signor understands, accepts, or agrees to the release’s terms. However, in the fourth paragraph, the release changes structure and states, “I authorize Perfect North Slopes Ski Patrol to administer treatment in the event of an injury to myself or to the minor for whom I am signing.”

Reading the contract as a whole, the court found the only part of the release that applied to the children was the medical authorization. The release part of the release only applied to the person who signed it.

The ski area was not released from the lawsuit.

So Now What?

When you have a new release, you shred, recycle, and throw out the old release. You don’t keep them around to save money or paper. The amount of paper you save is just a small percentage of what the parties will go through in a trial.

Make sure that your release does not create duties of care or promises that create liability for you or for third parties. You cannot disclaim liability for future injuries and promise not to injure a guest in the same document.

Don’t put anything in your release that could confuse or compromise the release. Here the skier responsibility code had no application to tubing and could have created liability for third parties. Why waste the space to complicate your document.

Never write, or use, a release that is confusing. Here the interpretation of several confusing sections led to the decision that could have gone either direction to some extent. Your release must be clear and distinctly understandable showing that the parties intend the document will prevent future litigation for any injuries.

The court never considered if the release covered minors. Here was a perfect opportunity for the court to hold that releases stopped suits by minors. However, the release was written so badly the court never even got to that issue.

How hard is it to include a simple phrase into a release so that other tubers are not drawn into a lawsuit? Do you think the defendant tubers are going to go tubing for a while, or for that matter, any other sport with other people they do not know? Instead of marketing and keeping people safe, the release at issue here probably helped keep people from the sport.

This contract was written to cover everything and effectively covered nothing. It just does not work to write releases to cover the world if your operation is that big. Your release must be written for the law of the state where you are operating or based and must be written to cover the activities your client’s are engaged in. Here the release was written to cover everything, written badly and ended up covering nothing.

The release in this case was a disaster. The new release was equally bad. Both were written badly and included language that made them ineffective at best and increased liability to a greater extent. It is difficult to write a release where the language voids it because you describe the risks improperly, however, this release did.

Other Tubing Cases

Tubing brings in a lot of money for a small space, and a well-written release keeps the money flowing            http://rec-law.us/So8QS8

Bad release and prepped plaintiff defeat motion for summary judgment filed by ski areahttp://rec-law.us/12mE4O1

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Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, et. al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, et. al., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

James Stephen Sauter and Piper Sauter, Individually and as the Natural Guardians of M.S., a minor, Plaintiffs, v. Perfect North Slopes, Inc., Andrew Broaddus, Stephanie Daniel, Christopher Daniel, Jenny Warr, and Anthony Warr, Defendants.

Case No. 4:12-cv-00027-TWP-WGH

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA, NEW ALBANY DIVISION

2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 468

January 3, 2014, Decided

January 3, 2014, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: Sauter v. Perfect North Slopes, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95882 (S.D. Ind., July 11, 2012)

CORE TERMS: snow, slope, tube, tubing, lane, summary judgment, patrons, ambiguity, skiing, signor, duty of care, snowboarding, tuber, ski, affirmatively, ambiguous, signing, safely, trail, authorization, extrinsic, collision, skier, sport, seal, language used, patent, release form, ride, top

COUNSEL: [*1] For JAMES STEPHEN SAUTER, Individually and as Natural Guardian of M.S., a Minor, PIPER SAUTER, Individually and as Natural Guardians of M.S., a Minor, Plaintiffs: Louise M Roselle, Paul M. De Marco, MARKOVITS, STOCK & DEMARCO, LLC, Cincinnati, OH; Wilmer E. Goering, II, ALCORN GOERING & SAGE, LLP, Madison, IN.

For PERFECT NORTH SLOPES, INC., Defendant: Michael C. Peek, CHRISTOPHER & TAYLOR, Indianapolis, IN.

JUDGES: Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Tanya Walton Pratt

OPINION

ENTRY ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Following a tragic accident which occurred at Defendant Perfect North Slopes, Inc. (“Perfect North Slopes”) on January 30, 2011, Plaintiffs James Stephen Sauter (“Mr. Sauter”) and Piper Sauter (“Mrs. Sauter”) (collectively, “the Sauters”) filed this negligence action. Perfect North Slopes is a ski resort which among other activities, offers snow tubing, a recreational activity that involves sitting on an inner tube and sliding down a hill. The Sauters were at Perfect North Slopes with their three children, T.S. age 8, J.S., and M.S. age 10 (collectively, “the Sauter children”), on January 30, 2011, for a Boy Scouts event. While snow tubing, the Sauter children veered into Defendants’, [*2] Andrew Broaddus, Stephanie Daniel,1 Christopher Daniel, Jenny Warr, and Anthony Warr (collectively, “Snow Tube Defendants”), snow tube lane, after which the Snow Tube Defendants collided into the Sauter children. As a result of the collision, M.S. suffered a brain injury.

1 The Court notes that the Complaint and CM/ECF caption use this spelling for Stephanie Daniel’s name. However, Snow Tube Defendants’ briefing uses the spelling, “Stephany Daniel.” If “Stephanie” is incorrect, the parties are ordered to file a motion to correct the error.

The Sauters filed suit against both Perfect North Slopes and the Snow Tube Defendants for negligence. Before the Court are the Defendants’ separate Motions for Summary Judgment. The issue of Perfect North Slopes’ alleged negligence has not been briefed, and the sole issue before the Court regarding Perfect North Slopes is the validity and applicability of the release form signed by Mrs. Sauter. For the reasons set forth below, Perfect North Slopes’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 75) is DENIED and the Snow Tube Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 85) is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Snow Tubing and Perfect North Slopes

Perfect North Slopes is a [*3] ski resort located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It has terrain parks, ski slopes, and a snow tubing hill. Snow tubing involves sitting or lying inside a round inner tube and riding at a quick speed down a snow-covered slope. To reach the top of the snow tubing hill, patrons at Perfect North Slopes ride a moving walkway called the “magic carpet” up to the top of the hill. The snow tube hill is divided into multiple lanes separated by packed snow barriers approximately one foot high. On January 30, 2011, there were nine express lanes, nine regular lanes, and four super lanes on the snow tubing hill. Express lanes were longer than regular lanes and the super lanes were wider than regular lanes. The snow tubing hill flattens into a gravel lot called the “run-out” area, which is approximately 180 feet long. Snow tubers can average between 20 and 40 miles per hour down the hill.

Perfect North Slopes employees are located at the top of the snow tubing hill to direct the flow of patrons down the hill. The employees specifically determine when it is safe for patrons to proceed down the hill and they assist the patrons’ start by pushing or pulling the tubes into the designated lane. Perfect North [*4] Slopes also has employees located at the bottom of the hill to assist patrons exiting the snow tube area.

On January 30, 2011, Perfect North Slopes had rules and regulations governing use of the snow tubing hill. The rules and regulations were posted throughout the park, as well as broadcast on a loud speaker system. Only one rider was allowed per tube. Linking — allowing a number of tubers going at one time in one lane — was allowed as conditions warranted. Linking was to be single file and “[w]hen linking, tubers must hold on to each other’s short tube handles the entire time.” Dkt. 85-23 at 2. Perfect North Slopes’ website FAQs stated that, “[o]n the main hill, as many as three tubes can ‘link’ together.” Dkt. 129-10 at 2. Perfect North Slopes also recommended that parents supervise their children at all times.

B. The Releases

Before participating in snow tubing, all patrons were required to sign a release form prepared by Perfect North Slopes. On January 30, 2011, Perfect North Slopes provided the Snow Tube Defendants with a release titled “Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver”. Mrs. Sauter was provided a release titled “Snow Tubing Release of Liability”. The [*5] two forms differed in language.

The Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver included the following language in its “YOUR RESPONSIBILITY CODE”:

A. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

B. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

C. You must not stop where you will obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

D. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

E. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

F. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

G. Prior to using any lift, you must have knowledge and ability to load and unload safely.

This is a partial list. Be safety conscious.

Dkt. 85-21 at 1. This waiver also states that, “as a skier/snowboarder/slider, I have responsibilities to myself and others to ski/ride/tube safely and in control.” Dkt. 85-21 at 1. Each of the five Snow Tube Defendants signed this release.

Conversely, the Snow Tubing Release of Liability form did not have a personal responsibility code. It included language releasing Perfect North Slopes of liability for claims of personal injury, death and/or property [*6] damage. Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). It acknowledged acceptance of risk of snow tubing as a hazardous activity and risk of injury. It specifically stated, “I authorize Perfect North Slopes Ski Patrol to administer treatment in the event of an injury to myself or to the minor for whom I am signing.” Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). It further stated:

I, the undersigned, acknowledge that I have read this agreement and release of liability and I understand its contents and in the event that I am signing on behalf of any minors, that I have full authority to do so, realizing its binding effect on them as well as myself. I understand that my signature below expressly waives any rights I may have to sue Perfect North Slopes, Inc. for injuries and damages.

Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). Mrs. Sauter filled in the names of her three children and signed and dated this release.

C. The Collision

After Mrs. Sauter signed the release, Mr. Sauter took their three children to the “magic carpet,” where he escorted the children in line and then left. The Sauter children and Snow Tube Defendants each made their way to the top of the snow tubing hill. The Sauter children went to Express Lane 7 and the Snow Tube [*7] Defendants went to Express Lane 8. The Sauter children linked their tubes and were pushed down the lane by Perfect North Slopes employee Kelsi Carlson (“Ms. Carlson”). Unfortunately, at some point during their ride, the Sauter children veered out of their lane into Express Lane 8 and came to a stop before the end of the lane 8. Two of the Sauter children got out of their tubes and were pulling the third child in his or her tube toward the “magic carpet”. The Snow Tube Defendants had linked their five tubes and were pushed down lane 8 by Ms. Carlson. Stephanie Daniel went down the hill backwards in her tube and could not see where the tube was going. The Snow Tube Defendants collided with the Sauter children in Express Lane 8, approximately 25 feet short of the end of the snow tube slope. The Snow Tube Defendants’ tubes continued down Express Lane 8 after the collision and came to a stop in the gravel run-out area. Both Stephanie Daniel and Christopher Daniel suffered minor injuries from the collision. M.S. was knocked unconscious by the collision and was seriously injured.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, [*8] 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.” Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.Com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). However, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted). “In much the same way that a court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment, nor is it permitted to conduct a paper trial on the merits of a claim.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotations omitted). Finally, “neither the mere existence [*9] of some alleged factual dispute between the parties nor the existence of some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts is sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Grp., Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 395 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

As previously discussed, the Sauters’ Complaint alleges both Perfect North Slopes and the Snow Tube Defendants were negligent. Perfect North Slopes filed a motion for summary judgment based on the Snow Tubing Release of Liability and the Snow Tube Defendants move for summary judgment on the bases that they acted reasonably at all times and owed no duty to the Sauter Children. The motion’s are addressed in turn.

A. Snow Tube Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

The Court must first address whether the Snow Tube Defendants owed a duty of care to M.S., because in the absence of duty a claim of negligence necessarily fails. See Kroger Co. v. Plonski, 930 N.E.2d 1, 6 (Ind. 2010). The Snow Tube Defendants contend they had no duty of care toward the Sauter children, and thus should be dismissed from the suit. The Sauters contend that the duty was assumed upon signing the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing [*10] Waiver. Specifically, the Sauters rely on the waiver’s clauses that signors agree to “[a]lways stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects,” and “[tube] safely and in control.” Dkt. 85-21 at 1.

In Indiana, “[i]f a contract affirmatively evinces an intent to assume a duty of care, actionable negligence may be predicated upon the contractual duty.” Merrill v. Knauf Fiber Glass GmbH, 771 N.E.2d 1258, 1268 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002). To make this determination, “it is the court’s duty to ascertain the intent of the parties at the time the contract was executed as disclosed by the language used to express their rights and duties.” Walker v. Martin, 887 N.E.2d 125, 135 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). “Generally, only parties to a contract or those in privity with the parties have rights under a contract.” OEC-Diasonics, Inc. v. Major, 674 N.E.2d 1312, 1314-15 (Ind. 1996). The Indiana Supreme Court has stated that:

One not a party to an agreement may nonetheless enforce it by demonstrating that the parties intended to protect him under the agreement by the imposition of a duty in his favor. To be enforceable, it must clearly appear that it was the purpose or a purpose of the contract [*11] to impose an obligation on one of the contracting parties in favor of the third party. It is not enough that performance of the contract would be of benefit to the third party. It must appear that it was the intention of one of the parties to require performance of some part of it in favor of such third party and for his benefit, and that the other party to the agreement intended to assume the obligation thus imposed.

Id. at 1315 (quoting Kirtley v. McClelland, 562 N.E.2d 27, 37 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)).

The Snow Tube Defendants argue that the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver does not affirmatively create a duty of care of the signor of the waiver to other patrons at Perfect North Slopes. The Court agrees. The waiver included the following general language:

A. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

B. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

C. You must not stop where you will obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

D. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

E. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

F. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep [*12] off closed trails and out of closed areas.

G. Prior to using any lift, you must have knowledge and ability to load and unload safely.

This is a partial list. Be safety conscious.

Dkt. 85-21 at 1. This list of responsibilities appears at the beginning of the waiver and by signing the waiver, a signor attests that he or she is “familiar with and will adhere to” the responsibilities. The waiver also states: “as a skier/snowboarder/slider, I have responsibilities to myself and others to ski/ride/tube safely and in control.” Dkt. 85-21 at 1. This statement appears within the first full paragraph of the waiver, in which the signor also acknowledges the risks of the snow sports offered at Perfect North Slopes, Perfect North Slopes’ lack of duty to warn of dangers, and that participating in snow sports is voluntary with knowledge of the aforesaid risks.

The Court is not persuaded by the Sauters’ argument that the recitation of these responsibilities, even with the acknowledgment of the signor to adhere to them, represents an affirmative assumption of a duty of care. First, the “Your Responsibility Code” includes basic safety instructions and concludes with the words, “This is a partial list. Be [*13] safety conscious.” This implies not that the list imposes affirmative duties that are actionable if ignored, but that it is a general guideline. Second, the statement that the signor will tube safely and in control is included as one of many acknowledgments in a paragraph that ends with the statement, “I . . . hereby expressly agree to accept and assume all such risks of [in]jury or death associated with the sport of snow skiing/boarding/tubing.” Dkt. 85-2 at 1. This affirmative assumption of the risks does not mention the responsibilities listed within the same paragraph. Instead, the language regarding the responsibilities includes the words “recognize,” “familiar,” and “agree.” However, it does not affirmatively state the signor “assumes” those responsibilities.

Especially considering that the Sauters are third parties to the contract between the Snow Tube Defendants and Perfect North Slopes, there is no evidence that “it was the intention of one of the parties to require performance of some part of it in favor of such third party and for his benefit, and that the other party to the agreement intended to assume the obligation thus imposed.” OEC-Diasonics, Inc., 674 N.E.2d at 1315. [*14] While performance of the responsibilities listed certainly would benefit third parties like the Sauters and M.S., there is no evidence of clear intent as required.

Further, to the extent the contract language is ambiguous regarding the assumption of a duty of care, the extrinsic evidence of record supports the Snow Tube Defendants’ position. The Director of Snow Sports Operations at Perfect North Slopes, Mike Mettler (“Mr. Mettler”), explained during his deposition that the “Your Responsibility Code” section of the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver was derived from the “Skier’s Responsibility Code” developed by the National Ski Areas Association as a standard code for all skiers and snowboarders. Dkt. 85-7 at 5, 111:14-20. Mr. Mettler testified that there are not standard rules for snow tubing, the “Your Responsibility Code” did not apply to snow tubing, and that snow tubing is inherently distinct from skiing or snowboarding, particularly because a snow tuber lacks the ability to steer and control the tube. Dkt. 85-7 at 5, 111:22-25; Dkt. 85-8 at 51-53, 214:22-216:21; Dkt. 85-8 at 51, 214:6-21. Perhaps also telling, the Snow Tubing Release of Liability signed by Mrs. Sauter did not [*15] include a “Your Responsibility Code” section or any similar language. Mr. Mettler testified that Perfect North Slopes was transitioning from the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver to the Snow Tubing Release of Liability for snow tubers and that it was by chance that the Snow Tube Defendants and Sauters signed different release forms. He further stated that there were no distinction between the forms in terms of responsibilities while snow tubing. Dkt. 85-8 at 50, 213:7-17.

Mr. Mettler’s explanations support the conclusion that the Snow Tube Defendants did not assume a specific duty of care to other patrons. First, Perfect North Slopes did not expect or intend for snow tubers to have the exact abilities and safety responsibilities as skiers and snow boarders given the differences between the sport activities. Second, Perfect North Slopes was phasing out use of the Skiing/Snowboarding/Tubing Waiver for snow tubing, and the new form, the Snow Tubing Release of Liability, did not include any mention of responsibilities to stop and give right of way to other patrons. It is illogical that Perfect North Slopes would intend for some snow tubers to affirmatively assume a duty of care to other [*16] patrons, while other snow tubers did not. The random nature of who signed which form is evidence that Perfect North Slopes considered the two forms to contain the same obligations and releases.

Accordingly, the Court finds that the Sauters have not established as a matter of law that the Snow Tube Defendants affirmatively assumed a duty of care to the Sauter children. Nor have the Sauters established a common law duty existed. Therefore, the Snow Tube Defendants’ motion is GRANTED and they will be dismissed from the suit.

B. Perfect North Slopes’ Motion for Summary Judgment

At first glance, Perfect North Slopes’ motion is seemingly straightforward, as it contends that the Sauters released all claims for liability when Mrs. Sauter signed the Snow Tubing Release of Liability form on behalf of her children. The Sauters respond with two arguments in the alternative. First, they ask the Court to invalidate the release on public policy grounds, an issue on which the Indiana Supreme Court has not spoken. Second, the Sauters contend the language of the release does not contain a waiver of claims on behalf of minors. Because the Court finds that the release is ambiguous and thus does not bar the [*17] Sauters’ claim against Perfect North Slopes, the Court will not speculate on the public policy issue raised by the Sauters.

The Sauters contend that the Snow Tubing Release of Liability does not waive a minor’s possible negligence claims against Perfect North Slopes. The Indiana standard of review for contract interpretation is as follows:

“Construction of the terms of a written contract is a pure question of law for the court, reviewed de novo.” Harrison v. Thomas, 761 N.E.2d 816, 818 (Ind. 2002). If an instrument’s language is unambiguous, the parties’ intent is determined from the four corners of the instrument. City of Indianapolis v. Kahlo, 938 N.E.2d 734, 744 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), trans. denied. If a contract is ambiguous or uncertain, its meaning is determined by extrinsic evidence and its construction is a matter for the fact-finder. Kahlo, 938 N.E.2d at 744. An ambiguity exists where a provision is susceptible to more than one interpretation and reasonable persons would differ as to its meaning. Gregg v. Cooper, 812 N.E.2d 210, 215 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). But the fact that the parties disagree over the meaning of the contract does not, in and of itself, establish an ambiguity. [*18] Everett Cash Mut. Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 926 N.E.2d 1008, 1013 (Ind. 2010) (citation omitted).

When interpreting a written contract, the court should attempt to determine the parties’ intent at the time the contract was made, which is ascertained by the language used to express their rights and duties. Kahlo, 938 N.E.2d at 744. A court should construe the language of a contract so as not to render any words, phrases, or terms ineffective or meaningless. Hammerstone v. Ind. Ins. Co., 986 N.E.2d 841, 846 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013).

Claire’s Boutiques, Inc. v. Brownsburg Station Partners LLC, 997 N.E.2d 1093, 1097 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013). Furthermore, an ambiguity may be patent or latent:

A patent ambiguity is apparent on the face of the instrument and arises from an inconsistency or inherent uncertainty of language used so that it either conveys no definite meaning or a confused meaning. Extrinsic evidence is not admissible to explain or remove a patent ambiguity. Conversely, a latent ambiguity does not emerge until one attempts to implement the words as directed in the instrument. Extrinsic evidence is admissible to explain a latent ambiguity.

Weinreb v. Fannie Mae, 993 N.E.2d 223, 232 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013) [*19] (internal citations omitted). If an ambiguity arises by reason of the language used, construction of the ambiguous contract is a question of law for the court. Farmers Elevator Co. of Oakville, Inc. v. Hamilton, 926 N.E.2d 68, 80 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

The Sauters present the release form as a dual-purpose document; a medical authorization on one hand, and a release of liability on the other. They argue that nowhere does the release explicitly release the claims of minors, and the only reference to minors is in regard to medical authorization. The Court agrees that at best, the release is ambiguous regarding whether a minor’s claims against Perfect North Slopes are waived.

Specifically, the release is written from the viewpoint of an adult signor. Each paragraph and sentence references that the signor understands, accepts, or agrees to the release’s terms. However, in the fourth paragraph, the release changes structure and states, “I authorize Perfect North Slopes Ski Patrol to administer treatment in the event of an injury to myself or to the minor for whom I am signing.” Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). In the seventh and final paragraph the release also states, “I, the undersigned, acknowledge [*20] that I have read this agreement and release of liability and I understand its contents and in the event that I am signing on behalf of any minors, that I have full authority to do so, realizing its binding effect on them as well as myself.” Dkt. 85-20 at 1 (under seal). Perfect North Slopes argues this final statement applies to the entirety of the agreement, while the Sauters argue it applies only to the medical authorization.

Contract interpretation requires “the contract to be read as a whole, and the language construed so as not to render any words, phrases, or terms ineffective or meaningless.” Stewart v. TT Commercial One, LLC, 911 N.E.2d 51, 56 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). Here, the release inserts a specific reference to minors only regarding medical authorization. It does not reference minors regarding acceptance of risk, awareness that tubing is a hazardous activity, or releasing Perfect North Slopes from damage resulting from negligence, or any other clause. This disparity creates a susceptibility of more than one interpretation of the release’s provisions. However, if Perfect North Slopes’ interpretation that the final statement applies to the entire release was accepted, the specific [*21] reference to minors regarding medical authorization would be rendered redundant or unnecessary. Rather, it is reasonable to interpret the release as referencing minors when the release specifically applies to them, which is reiterated at the conclusion of the release. Thus, the Court finds the contract ambiguous. The ambiguity is a patent one, as it is inherent in the language of the document. In this circumstance, extrinsic evidence is not admissible or necessary to the Court’s determination. The release does not include a clear, unambiguous waiver of M.S.’s claims against Perfect North Slopes for its alleged negligence. Therefore, Perfect North Slopes’ motion is DENIED.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, the Snow Tube Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 85) is GRANTED. The Sauters’ claims against the Snow Tube Defendants are DISMISSED with prejudice. Perfect North Slopes’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 75) is DENIED. The Sauters’ negligence claim may proceed. No final judgment will issue for the Snow Tube Defendants until the remaining claims against Perfect North Slopes are resolved.

SO ORDERED.

Date: 01/03/2014

/s/ Tanya Walton Pratt

Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, [*22] Judge

United States District Court

Southern District of Indiana

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Indiana Equine Liability Statute used to stop litigation

Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Issue of failure to post the required notice, not at issue when the plaintiff admitted reading the sign on the other building.

In this case, the plaintiff was an adult leader of a 4-H house club. The plaintiff had helped the kids and participated in the activity for years and owned seven horses. During an event, the plaintiff was moving to assist a child who had lined her horse up in a way that was irritating other horses. While moving to assist the child the plaintiff was kicked by a horse.

The event was held in a building that was only used once a year. Normally, all events were held at the horse building. The horse building had the required Indiana Equine Liability Act signs on all entrances into the building. The plaintiff had been in the Horse Building and admitted seeing the signs.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court based upon the issue that the accident was caused by a horse, and the defendant was protected under the Indiana statute. The motion was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff claimed the 4-H club was negligent for having a horse show in premises that were unsuitable for such activities. The plaintiff also argued that there were no warning signs as required by the statute posted around the building were the accidents occurred.

The court reviewed the statute and the required posting of the warning notice. The statute could not be used as a defense, unless there was a sign posted around the building or on the premises.

34-31-5-3.  Warning notices required.

(a)        This chapter does not apply unless an equine activity sponsor or an equine professional posts and maintains in at least one (1) location on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity a sign on which is printed the warning notice set forth in section 5 [IC 34-31-5-5] of this chapter.

(b)        A sign referred to in subsection (a) must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity.

(c)The warning notice on a sign referred to in subsection (a) must be printed in black letters, and each letter must be at least one (1) inch in height.

The court found that signs on the other building were sufficient to meet the requirements of the statute. It did so not by finding the signs were present, but by finding the plaintiff did not prove the signs were absent. An affidavit of the defendant stating the signs were present shifted the burden of proof to the plaintiff and the plaintiff failed to prove the necessary facts.

The plaintiff then argued that her injury did not arise from an inherent risk of an equine activity. (Really? The number-one  thing’s horses do is kick; number two is bite and number three throw  you off; This from a person who has been kicked, bitten and thrown off horses.)

The court found the plaintiff was injured by an inherent risk of hanging around horses.

The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn.

So Now What?

The obvious argument of the plaintiff was the injury was not due to the actions of the horse but because of the negligence of the 4-H. This normally is very effective in eliminating the defense of equine liability statutes. The human was liable; the horse was not the cause of the accident, just what was being ridden.

Looking at the argument a different way, the ladder failed not because the ladder broke, but because the person who placed the ladder where he did, caused the ladder to break.

The second issue is always having extra statutorily required warning signs, posting them wherever  there are horses. It would have been easy to post a sign on the entrance with tape just for the event. Better, post a warning sign near the entrance into the grounds and on every building.

Finally, this was a lucky case. Another court could have ruled the club was negligent for creating the situation. Most courts have. Since equine liability acts have been enacted, lawsuits against horses have disappeared, however, suits against horse owners are on the rise.

Like a broken record, having all the participants, youth, parents and adults sign a release would have prevented this action, or at least made it even quicker to dismiss under Indiana’s law.

Plaintiff: Teresa Perry

 

Defendant: Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Indiana Equine Liability Statute

 

Holding: For the defendant. The acts that gave rise to the plaintiff’s injuries were protected from suit by the Indiana statute.

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Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Perry v. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., 931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

Teresa Perry, Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. Whitley County 4-H Clubs Inc., Appellee-Defendant.

No. 92A03-1002-CT-101

Court Of Appeals Of Indiana

931 N.E.2d 933; 2010 Ind. App. LEXIS 1501

August 16, 2010, Decided

August 16, 2010, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

APPEAL FROM THE WHITLEY CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable James R. Heuer, Judge. Cause No. 92C01-0809-CT-652.

COUNSEL: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SARAH E. RESER, Glaser & Ebbs, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CARRIE KOONTZ GAINES, Kopka, Pinkus Dolin & Eads, L.L.C., Mishawaka, Indiana.

JUDGES: ROBB, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.

OPINION BY: ROBB

OPINION

[*934] OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION

ROBB, Judge

Case Summary and Issue

Teresa Perry appeals the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Whitley County 4-H Clubs, Inc. (the “4-H Club”) on Perry’s negligence complaint for personal injuries suffered during a horse competition sponsored by the 4-H Club. For our review, Perry raises two issues, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment based on the Indiana Equine Activity Statute. Concluding there is no genuine issue of material fact and the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim for injuries resulting from inherent risks of equine activities, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

The undisputed facts and those most favorable to Perry as the non-movant are as follows. At all relevant times, Perry, an adult, was a member of the 4-H Clubs Equine Advisory [**2] Board, which provides guidance and instruction to children participating in the 4-H Club’s horse events, and was herself a regular participant in those [*935] events. Perry was also the owner of seven horses. In July 2007, the 4-H Club held horse practices and competitions at the Whitley County Fairgrounds as part of the Whitley County Fair. These events were generally held in the 4-H Club’s Horse Barn, but one event, the Large Animal Round Robin Competition, was held in the 4-H Club’s Show Barn, located next to the Horse Barn. The Horse Barn is over 100 feet wide but the Show Barn is approximately thirty-six feet wide along its shorter side. Horses were generally familiar with the Horse Barn but unfamiliar with the Show Barn, where they were “not allowed any other time” besides the Round Robin Competition. Appellant’s Appendix at 88. At all entrances to the Horse Barn, the 4-H Club had posted “Equine Activity warning signs” that were “clearly visible.” Id. at 18-19 (affidavit of Bill Leeuw, 4-H Club’s President of the Board).

On July 25, 2007, the Round Robin Competition was held. The Equine Advisory Board and volunteers selected the horses to be shown, and Perry herself selected one of those [**3] horses “at the last minute.” Id. at 93. Perry was present at the Round Robin Competition as an Equine Advisory Board member responsible for the safety of children handling the horses. As part of the event, seven horses were led from the Horse Barn into the Show Barn and lined up approximately two and one-half feet apart along the shorter side of the Show Barn. The horses were then turned over to children who did not normally handle horses but had experience handling animals such as pigs and cows and had received brief instruction on how to handle a horse. After one of the children finished leading a horse through a series of maneuvers, the child left the horse facing away from the center of the Show Barn, in the opposite direction from the neighboring horses and with its rear next to the head of a neighboring horse. The horse facing backwards began sniffing the rear of the neighboring horse, which pinned its ears against its head as a sign it was agitated. Perry realized this situation posed a danger to the child handling the horse facing backwards. Perry therefore approached the child and told the child to turn the horse around. As the child was doing so, the neighboring horse kicked [**4] Perry in the knee. Perry was thrown back and suffered personal injuries.

In September 2008, Perry filed a complaint against the 4-H Club alleging her injuries were caused by the 4-H Club’s negligence in “allowing horse activities to be conducted on premises unsuitable for such activities.” Id. at 6. As specifically argued by Perry at the summary judgment hearing, she alleged the 4-H Club was negligent in deciding to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn instead of the Horse Barn, as the smaller Show Barn “requires horses to be placed close together, increasing the chances that a child near the horse will be injured by one. It’s also an environment the horses aren’t familiar with, which makes it more likely that a horse will get spooked and kick someone.” Transcript at 4. Among the 4-H Club’s affirmative defenses, it alleged in its answer that Perry’s claim was barred by the Indiana Equine Activity Statute.

The 4-H Club filed a motion for summary judgment based in part on the Equine Activity Statute. Following a hearing, the trial court on January 27, 2010, issued its order granting summary judgment to the 4-H Club. The trial court found and concluded in relevant part:

14. [**5] The [4-H Club] was a sponsor of an equine activity when the accident occurred.

15. [Perry] was a participant in the equine activity in her capacity as a safe [*936] keeper when she approached the horses and was kicked.

16. The Equine Activities Act . . . is applicable to this case.

17. Being kicked by a horse is an inherent risk of equine activity.

18. There is no evidence in the designation of material facts that [the 4-H Club] committed an act or omission which constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of [Perry] or that any other conditions set in [Indiana Code section] 34-31-5-2 existed at the time of the accident.

Appellant’s App. at 5. Perry now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

I. Standard of Review

[HN1] We review a summary judgment order de novo. Tri-Etch, Inc. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 909 N.E.2d 997, 1001 (Ind. 2009). In so doing, we stand in the same position as the trial court and must determine whether the designated evidence shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Dreaded, Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Ins. Co., 904 N.E.2d 1267, 1269-70 (Ind. 2009). In making this determination, we construe [**6] the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine factual issue against the moving party. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. Bloom, 847 N.E.2d 175, 180 (Ind. 2006). Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated by the parties to the trial court. Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). The movant has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine factual dispute as to an outcome-determinative issue and only then must the non-movant come forward with evidence demonstrating genuine factual issues that should be resolved at trial. Jarboe v. Landmark Cmty. Newspapers of Ind., Inc., 644 N.E.2d 118, 123 (Ind. 1994).

Because this case turns on the proper application of the Equine Activity Statute, we also recite our well-established standard of review for interpretation of statutes:

[HN2] When courts set out to construe a statute, the goal is to determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. The first place courts look for evidence is the language of the statute itself, and courts strive to give the words their plain and ordinary meaning. [**7] We examine the statute as a whole and try to avoid excessive reliance on a strict literal meaning or the selective reading of individual words. We presume the legislature intended the language used in the statute to be applied logically, consistent with the statute’s underlying policy and goals, and not in a manner that would bring about an unjust or absurd result.

Cooper Indus., LLC v. City of South Bend, 899 N.E.2d 1274, 1283 (Ind. 2009) (citations omitted).

II. Equine Activity Statute

A. Warning Signs

Perry argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. We address this sub-issue first because it bears on the threshold applicability of the Equine Activity Statute as a bar to Perry’s claim. See Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a) (providing [HN3] “[t]his chapter does not apply unless” equine activity sponsor has posted at least one complaint warning sign). In response to Perry’s argument, the 4-H Club initially [*937] contends Perry waived the argument by not raising it to the trial court prior to the summary judgment hearing. We disagree. In general, arguments [**8] by an appellant are waived if not presented to the trial court on summary judgment, see Cook v. Ford Motor Co., 913 N.E.2d 311, 322 n.5 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied, and summary judgment may not be reversed on the grounds of a genuine factual issue “unless the material fact and the evidence relevant thereto shall have been specifically designated to the trial court,” T.R. 56(H). However, Perry did argue at the summary judgment hearing that the evidence designated by the 4-H Club was insufficient to establish its compliance with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute. Moreover, this issue was already before the trial court based upon the 4-H Club’s motion for summary judgment and designation of material facts.

Proceeding to Perry’s claim, [HN4] the Equine Activity Statute provides that an equine activity sponsor, as a condition precedent to immunity under the statute, must post and maintain a warning sign in at least one location “on the grounds or in the building that is the site of an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(a)I. The sign “must be placed in a clearly visible location in proximity to the equine activity,” and the warning must be printed in black [**9] letters at least one inch in height. Ind. Code § 34-31-5-3(b), (c). The warning must state: “Under Indiana law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.” Ind. Code § 34-31-5-5.

The undisputed evidence is that the 4-H Club, on the day of the incident, maintained “Equine Activity warning signs” on all entrances to the Horse Barn, and the signs were “clearly visible.” Appellant’s App. at 18-19. The 4-H Club’s equine activities were regularly held inside the Horse Barn, except for the Round Robin Competition held in the Show Barn located next to the Horse Barn. Perry acknowledged in her deposition she had seen “those signs” on the Horse Barn, id. at 114, and did not designate any evidence the signs were absent on the day of the incident or lacked the specific warning required by Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5. Perry argues, in effect, that because the only photographs the 4-H Club properly designated to the trial court do not directly show the signs contained the specific warning required, 1 the 4-H Club did not meet its burden of making a prima facie case of compliance [**10] with the statute. We decline Perry’s invitation to, in effect, interpret the Equine Activity Statute to require an equine activity sponsor to submit such photographic or documentary evidence in order to support its claim of immunity. Rather, we conclude the affidavit the 4-H Club properly designated established its prima facie case that it maintained proper warning signs, such that the burden shifted to Perry to come forward with evidence the signs were deficient. Because she did not do so, there is no genuine issue of fact as to the warning signs, and the trial court [*938] properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute applies to this case.

1 The parties dispute, and it is unclear from the record, whether a photograph identified as Defendant’s Exhibit A at Perry’s deposition, and allegedly included along with the deposition in the 4-H Club’s designation of evidence, was actually part of the designated material submitted to the trial court. That photograph, unlike those included as the 4-H Club’s Exhibit C in support of summary judgment and to which the 4-H Club referred at the summary judgment hearing, shows a warning sign containing the text specified in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-5.

B. [**11] Inherent Risk of Equine Activities

Perry also argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether her injuries resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. The Equine Activity Statute provides:

[HN5] Subject to section 2 of this chapter, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for:

(1) an injury to a participant; or

(2) the death of a participant;

resulting from an inherent risk of equine activities.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-1(a). 2 [HN6] The definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” is:

the dangers or conditions that are an integral part of equine activities, including the following:

(1) The propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.

(2) The unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals.

(3) Hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions.

(4) Collisions with other equines or objects.

(5) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the [**12] animal or not acting within the participant’s ability.

Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. The Equine Activity Statute further provides:

[HN7] Section 1 of this chapter does not prevent or limit the liability of an equine activity sponsor . . .:

(1) who:

(A) provided equipment or tack that was faulty and that caused the injury; and

(B) knew or should have known that the equipment or tack was faulty;

(2) who provided the equine and failed to make reasonable and prudent efforts based on the participant’s representations of the participant’s ability to:

(A) determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity; and

(B) determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular equine;

(3) who:

(A) was in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities on which the participant sustained injuries; and

(B) knew or should have known of the dangerous latent condition that caused the injuries;

if warning signs concerning the latent dangerous condition were not conspicuously posted on the land or in the facilities;

(4) who committed an act or omission that:

(A) constitutes reckless disregard for the safety of the participant; and

(B) caused the injury; or

[*939] (5) who intentionally [**13] injured the participant.

Ind. Code § 34-31-5-2(b). As Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute has not previously been interpreted in any reported case, 3 we will cite for their persuasive value the decisions of other jurisdictions that have interpreted similar statutes.

2 “Equine activity,” pursuant to its statutory definition, includes among other things “[e]quine shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades that involve equines.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-41(a). “Equine activity sponsor” means “a person who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for an equine activity.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-42. Perry does not dispute that the 4-H Club qualifies as an equine activity sponsor.

3 In Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied, the only reported case citing the Equine Activity Statute, this court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on the alternative grounds of waiver and release of liability. Id. at 585. We concluded the waiver applied because the plaintiff’s fall from a horse that moved while the plaintiff was attempting to mount it resulted from a risk “inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding.” Id. at 584. However, [**14] we did not explicitly base that conclusion upon the text of the Equine Activity Statute.

Perry’s argument is that a reasonable trier of fact could find the cause of her injury was not an inherent risk of equine activities, but negligence of the 4-H Club in staging the Round Robin Competition. Perry makes no argument that any of the exceptions to immunity spelled out in Indiana Code section 34-31-5-2(b) (“Section 2(b)”) — faulty equipment or tack, provision of the equine and failure to make reasonable and prudent efforts to match the participant to the particular equine and equine activity, a latent premises defect, reckless disregard, or intentional injury — apply in this case. Therefore, we must examine whether and to what extent, consistent with the Equine Activity Statute, an equine activity sponsor may be liable for simple negligence allegedly causing injury to a participant.

Initially we note that negligence of an equine activity sponsor neither is one of the exceptions to immunity listed in Section 2(b), nor is it included in the non-exclusive list of inherent risks of equine activity under Indiana Code section 34-6-2-69. Thus, Indiana’s Equine Activity Statute, like equine activity [**15] statutes in some states but unlike some others, is silent on the place of sponsor negligence in the overall scheme of equine liability. Compare Lawson v. Dutch Heritage Farms, Inc., 502 F.Supp.2d 698, 700 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (noting Ohio’s Equine Activity Liability Act, like some other states?, is “silent as to simple negligence as an inherent risk”) (quotation omitted); with Beattie v. Mickalich, 486 Mich. 1060, 1060 784 N.W.2d 38, 2010 Mich. LEXIS 1452, 2010 WL 2756979, at *1 (Mich., July 13, 2010) (per curiam) (Michigan’s Equine Activity Liability Act abolishes strict liability for equines but expressly provides liability is not limited “‘if the . . . person . . . [c]ommits a negligent act or omission that constitutes a proximate cause of the injury?” (quoting Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1665)). Because it is as important to recognize what a statute does not say as what it does say, City of Evansville v. Zirkelbach, 662 N.E.2d 651, 654 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied, and [HN8] statutes granting immunity, being in derogation of the common law, are strictly construed, see Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind. 1994), we conclude the Equine Activity Statute was not intended by the general assembly [**16] to abrogate the cause of action for common-law negligence of an equine activity sponsor. However, pursuant to the clear text of the statute, a negligence action is precluded if the injury resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities and the facts do not fit one of the exceptions to immunity provided by Section 2(b). Stated differently, if none of the Section 2(b) exceptions apply, then an equine activity sponsor is not liable for failing to use reasonable care to mitigate an already inherent risk of equine activities that ultimately resulted in a participant’s injury.

[*940] Turning to Perry’s claim, she was injured when unexpectedly kicked by a horse that became agitated during the 4-H Club’s Round Robin Competition. The horse became agitated because another horse was standing too close nearby and began sniffing its rear, and to remove the danger to the child handling the other horse, Perry intervened. The statutory definition of “inherent risks of equine activities” includes, without limitation, “[t]he unpredictability of an equine’s reaction to such things as sound, sudden movement, unfamiliar objects, people, or other animals,” and “[t]he propensity of an equine to behave in ways [**17] that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around the equine.” Ind. Code § 34-6-2-69. Such risks directly caused Perry’s injury, in that the horse kicked as part of an unpredictable reaction to the other horse nearby and, Perry alleges, the close quarters and unfamiliar environment of the Show Barn. See Kangas v. Perry, 2000 WI App 234, 239 Wis.2d 392, 620 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Wis. Ct. App. 2000) (based on Wisconsin’s similar definition of inherent risks, concluding “horses? propensity to move without warning is an inherent risk of equine activity contemplated by the statute”), review denied. We therefore conclude Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities within the meaning of the Equine Activity Statute.

Perry argues the likelihood of a horse becoming agitated and kicking, and a child becoming endangered and needing to be rescued by a supervisor such as Perry, were unreasonably increased by the 4-H Club’s decision to hold the Round Robin Competition in the Show Barn, a cramped space unfamiliar to the horses. Even if that is true, however, the 4-H Club’s conduct would have contributed to Perry’s injury only by heightening the already inherent risk that a horse might [**18] behave unpredictably and in an injury-causing manner. Thus, Perry’s argument that her injury resulted not from an inherent risk of equine activities, but from the 4-H Club’s negligence in its manner of staging the Round Robin Competition, amounts to hair splitting irrelevant to the Equine Activity Statute. As explained above, the statute does not require that an equine activity sponsor’s alleged negligence in no way contribute to the injury complained of. Rather, the Equine Activity Statute only requires that, in order for immunity to apply, the injury must have resulted from broad categories of risk deemed integral to equine activities, regardless of whether the sponsor was negligent. See Ind. Code §§ 34-6-2-69; 34-31-5-1.

Perry also relies on cases from other jurisdictions that, while involving similar statutes, are distinguishable on their facts. In Steeg v. Baskin Family Camps, Inc., 124 S.W.3d 633 (Tex. App. 2003), review dismissed, the court held summary judgment for the defendant improper where there was evidence the proximate causes of the rider’s fall included the saddle slipping and the defendant’s negligent failure to secure the saddle. Id. at 639-40. In Fielder v. Academy Riding Stables, 49 P.3d 349 (Colo. Ct. App. 2002), [**19] cert. denied, the court held the defendant was not entitled to immunity where the defendant’s wranglers negligently failed to remove a screaming child from a horse, an “obvious danger” the wranglers had notice of well before the horse bolted. Id. at 351-52. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence the 4-H Club ignored an obvious, imminent danger or that Perry’s injury directly resulted from anything other than unpredictable horse behavior.

In sum, the facts viewed most favorably to Perry as the party opposing summary judgment show her injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities and the 4-H Club was negligent, if at all, only for [*941] failing to mitigate those inherent risks. Therefore, the trial court properly concluded the Equine Activity Statute bars Perry’s claim and properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.

Conclusion

There are no genuine issues of material fact that the 4-H Club complied with the warning sign requirements of the Equine Activity Statute and that Perry’s injury resulted from inherent risks of equine activities. Therefore, Perry’s claim is barred by the Equine Activity Statute and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the 4-H Club.

Affirmed.

FRIEDLANDER, [**20] J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.


Ski Binding Failure to Release under Indiana Law

Moore v. Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc., 555 N.E.2d 1305; 1990 Ind. App. LEXIS 769; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P12,523

Indiana, like most states’, product liability law is controlled by statute which severely limits the defenses available to a defendant. Here the retailer and manufacture were sued for injuries when a ski binding failed to release, both being in the chain of the sale of the product. The plaintiff had signed a “sales slip” which contained release language when she picked up the skis; however the sales slip (release) was only effective against one of the three claims of the plaintiff.

The defendants had filed a motion for summary judgment at the trial court which was granted on all counts. The plaintiff appealed and the appellate court reversed on two of the three product liability claims.

The plaintiff had purchased new skis and bindings from the retailer Sitzmark Corporation which included bindings manufactured by Salomon North America. On the plaintiff’s third run while skiing and her first fall on her new equipment she fell suffering a compound fracture.

The plaintiff sued claiming negligence and strict liability. The negligence claim included two sub-claims negligent design of the bindings and negligent adjustment of the bindings by the retailer. The defenses were “incurred risk” and the release contained in the sales slip. Indiana uses the term incurred risk instead of the term assumption of the risk.

Summary of the case

The language in the sales slip that constituted the release language, excerpted below, did not contain the magic word release. It only talked about assumption of the risk issues. The plaintiff did acknowledge understanding the language.

I have been instructed in the use of my equipment, I have read the manufacturer’s instruction pamphlet (new bindings only), I have made no misrepresentation in regard to my height, weight, age, or skiing ability . . . . I understand that there are inherent and other risks involved in the sport for which this equipment is to be used, snow skiing, that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of the sport and I freely assume those risks. I understand that the ski boot binding system will not release at all times or under all circumstances, nor is it possible to predict every situation in which it will release and is therefore no guarantee for my safety. I therefore release the ski shop and its owners, agents and employees from any and all liability for damage and from the selection, adjustment and use of this equipment, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury which may result.

The court reversed the lower court and reinstated the plaintiff’s strict liability claim. Strict liability is set out by statute in Indiana, Ind. Code 33-1-1.5-1 et seq. The court stated the statute had a three part test for the manufacture and retailer to use as a defense in a strict liability claim.

First, a plaintiff’s knowledge of the defect.

Second, a plaintiff’s unreasonable use of the product despite knowledge of the defect.

Third, a plaintiff’s injuries caused by the product.

The court analyzed the arguments and decided that neither defendant could prove that the plaintiff new of any defect in the binding. This was different from the argument they could prove, through the release language that “Moore knew her bindings would not release under all circumstances.” Because neither defendant could win on step one the case was sent back.

The first negligence claim was a common law negligence claim. Common law meaning the law that evolved over time (and not based on statute), usually from the law carried over from Great Britain. The common law was developed in England during the 1500’s from the King’s decrees and the church’s equity decisions. As time progressed these laws became more streamline and eventually codified, or written down. The common law still exists in all states and is the basis for the law in every state (Louisiana being the sole exception). Only when a statute has been created will a section of the common law for that state disappear or cease to exist. Ninety-nine percent of all negligence claims are common law. A state may have a void in its common law, an area that has never been decided in the state before, however this is getting rare now days.

A common law product liability action in Indiana can be defeated by the defense of incurred or assumption of the risk. However assumption of the risk as a defense had been merged into comparative negligence in Indiana at this time.

The defendants argued that by signing the sales slip the plaintiff assumed the risk of the defect in the product. The court however found the sales slip was proof of assumption of the risk, but not of assumption of negligence the difference is the greater requirement of knowledge required by the statute. Because the first time she fell was also the time she was injured the plaintiff had no direct knowledge of the defect of the product. In this case defect would mean failure of the binding to release. As such, the defense failed because there was no proof of assumption of the risk of negligence. Because the binding has not failed to release prior to the injury, the plaintiff had no knowledge of the binding failing to release that she could assume. This claim was also sent back to the lower court.

The third and final claim was based on negligently “setting, adjusting or checking the bindings.” Here the sales slip with its release language was effective. The court stated “These alleged acts of negligence are exactly those for which Moore granted Sitzmark a release of liability when she read and signed the sales slip.” This final claim was dismissed by the appellate court.

This case is a little confusing because of two issues. Indiana law on product liability is different from many states and the release language in the sales slip was very poorly written. There is not much that can be done about Indiana’s product liability law and the limitation on the defenses available manufacture’s and retailers. However a well written release might have prevented one of the product liability claims.

So Now What?

The release is not clearly identified, other than in a sales slip in this opinion. However during this period, these releases were fairly uniform and used by shops across the US. These preprinted forms are written in a way as to not cause a problem with any state laws rather than to effectively stop a claim.

Having a release in this case that specifically used the word the negligence and identified the defendants as the shop, by name and all manufactures would be the first start. The court spent a lot of space finding a way to bring the manufacture into the defense provided by the release language when the language did not specifically mention the manufacture. The language of the release should incorporate the necessary defenses of the Indiana Strict Liability Act so that the defense in the act is available. The negligence claims should be identified both for negligent acts, negligent mounting and setting and negligent in the design, manufacture or construction of the product. The language should also include more specific assumption of the risk language so the purchaser or customer who is having repairs done understands the risks are not that the binding may not work, but that the risk is the binding will not work and that the user should ski knowing that and in a safe way.

A well written release, based on Indiana law may be difficult to do. However, a well written release will still be better than the one at issue here. Each claim that survives the motions and appeal increases the cost of litigating and the cost of a possible settlement. If the release had eliminated one more of the claims a lower settlement would be easier to achieve, maybe even a complete win at trial.

Plaintiff: Eldonna Moore

 

Defendant: Sitzmark Corporation and Salomon North America, Inc.,

 

Plaintiff Claims: negligence (product liability) and strict liability

 

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk (Incurred Risk) and Release

 

Holding: One claim dismissed based on the release and the two remaining claims sent back to the trial court.

 

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Indiana adopts the higher standard of care between participants in sporting events in this Triathlon case

Mark, v. Moser, 46 N.E.2d 410; 2001 Ind. App. LEXIS 671

This decision examines the different legal decisions involving lawsuits between participants in Indiana and other states.

The plaintiff and the defendant were racing in a triathlon. Both agreed to abide by the rules of USA Triathlon, and both signed releases. While in the bicycle portion

English: Transition area (bicycles) of Hamburg...

of the race, the defendant cut in front of the plaintiff causing a collision. The defendant was disqualified for violating the USA Triathlon rule concerning endangerment.

No cyclist shall endanger himself or another participant. Any cyclist who intentionally presents a danger to any participant or who, in the judgment of the Head Referee, appears to present a danger to any participants shall be disqualified.

The referee stated the defendant’s conduct was not intentional, “rather, he was disqualified for violating the rule “because, by moving over, an accident occurred.” As you can seem the rule, and its interpretation are subject wide interpretation and would lead to more arguments (lawsuits) after that.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence and for acting intentionally, recklessly and willfully causing her injuries. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on both claims. The trial court granted the motion on the negligence claim and denied the motion on the second claim, the international acts.

In some jurisdictions, you can appeal motions for summary judgment that do not finish the case in its entirety. Here the plaintiff appealed the decision. Whether or not you can appeal the decision is dependent on the state rules of civil and appellate procedure.

Summary of the case

The Indian appellate court did a thorough analysis of the legal issues after determining this was an issue of first impression in Indiana. An issue of first impression is one where the court has not ruled on this particular legal issue before.

The issue was what was the standard of care owed by co-participants in a sporting event. The standard for a school sporting event was negligence. The court stated that the standard was negligence, low, because of the duty the school personnel had to exercise reasonable care over the students.

The court then looked at other decisions for the duty between co-participants. The court found three states, Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin where the duty was negligence. The court found California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Texas had adopted a “reckless or intentional conduct” or a “willful and wanton or intentional misconduct” standard of care. This is a much higher standard of care than the negligence standard.

English: Triathlon photographs from the Chinoo...

The court found the higher standard of care was established because participants assume the risk of the activity, to stop mass litigation that would arise every time a foul occurs, and not to limit the sport because of the fear of liability.

The Indiana court determined that participants in sports activities:

…assume the inherent and foreseeable dangers of the activity and cannot recover for injury unless it can be established that the other participant either intentionally caused injury or engaged in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport.

The court granted the summary judgment as to the first count, the negligence claim and sent the second claim back to the lower court to determine if the plaintiff could prove that the action of the defendant was intentional, reckless and willful when he rode his bike. The court sent it back with this statement.

…the trial court must determine whether Kyle’s [defendant] action was an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the sport, such that Rebecca [plaintiff] assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law. In our view, it is reasonably foreseeable that a competitor in a cycling race may attempt to cut in front of co-participants in an effort to advance position. Thus, if Rebecca is unable to develop the facts beyond those presented at this juncture, we would conclude that Kyle’s action was an inherent risk in the event that Rebecca assumed as a matter of law, thereby precluding recovery.

That is a very specific statement as to how the lower court must examine the facts in the case.

The appellate court also made another statement that is very important in this day and age.

As is generally the case, the release form that Rebecca signed does not relieve Kyle from liability as co-participants are not listed among the specific entities or individuals released from liability ac-cording to the plain language of the document.

The court looked at the release to determine if the release stopped the suit even though that was not argued by the parties.

So Now What?

A triathlon bicycle with triathlon handlebar a...

It’s OK to play touch football, softball and have fun in Indiana.

At the same time, the court pointed out the fact that if the release had included the term co-participants in the release, the lawsuit might have started because the defendant would have been protected.

Here just one additional word in the release might have stopped a lawsuit.

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Mark, v. Moser, 46 N.E.2d 410; 2001 Ind. App. LEXIS 671

Mark, v. Moser, 46 N.E.2d 410; 2001 Ind. App. LEXIS 671

Rebecca J. Mark, Appellant-Plaintiff, vs. Kyle Moser, Appellee-Defendant.

No. 29A02-0010-CV-623

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA, SECOND DISTRICT

746 N.E.2d 410; 2001 Ind. App. LEXIS 671

April 19, 2001, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] APPEAL FROM THE HAMILTON SUPERIOR COURT. Cause No. 29D03-9806-CT-323. The Honorable William Hughes, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Trial court’s decision affirmed with respect to Count I. Remanded to trial court for further proceedings on Count II consistent with this opinion.

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: JOSEPH A. CHRISTOFF, KONRAD M. L. URBERG, Christoff & Christoff, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

FOR APPELLEE: STEVEN K. HUFFER, DEREK L. MANDEL, Huffer & Weathers, P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana.

JUDGES: BAKER, Judge. BROOK, J., and BARNES, J., concur.

OPINION BY: BAKER

OPINION

[*413] BAKER, Judge

Today we are called upon to clearly define the standard of care one competitor owes another in a sporting event. Although this court may have tangentially addressed the issue in the past, there has been no case since the adoption of the Comparative Fault Act where an in-depth analysis was warranted. Thus, the precise issue we must decide is whether a participant in an athletic activity may recover in tort for injury as the result of another participant’s negligent conduct.

FACTS

The uncontroverted facts are that on September 7, 1997, Rebecca Mark (Rebecca) and Kyle Moser (Kyle) were co-participants in a triathlon competition in [**2] Marion County, which consisted of three events, swimming, bicycling, and running. Before the competition, each triathlon participant agreed to abide by the rules adopted by USA Triathlon. In addition, all the participants signed an entry form, which included a waiver provision and release from liability.

During the bicycling leg of the triathlon, Kyle was riding on the left side of Rebecca and cut in front of her. As a result, the two bicycles collided and Rebecca was hospitalized with serious injuries. Kyle was subsequently disqualified for violating the USA Triathlon rule against endangerment. That rule provides: “No cyclist shall endanger himself or another participant. Any cyclist who intentionally presents a danger to any participant or who, in the judgment of the Head Referee, appears to present a danger to any participants shall be disqualified.” Record at 115. The triathlon referee, Ardith Spence, stated that Kyle’s conduct was not considered intentional; rather, he was disqualified for violating the rule “because, by moving over, an accident occurred.” R. at 111.

On June 7, 1998, Rebecca filed a two-count complaint against Kyle. In Count I, Rebecca alleged that the collision [**3] was caused by Kyle’s negligence and, in the alternative, in Count II, Rebecca alleged that Kyle acted intentionally, recklessly and willfully in causing her injuries. In response, on September 29, 2000, Kyle filed a motion for summary judgment as to both counts of Rebecca’s complaint. Specifically, Kyle argued that Rebecca was barred from recovering on a negligence theory and, instead, asserted that she was required to establish that he intentionally, recklessly, willfully, or wantonly caused her injuries. In addition, Kyle argued that there was no evidence indicating that he had intentionally or recklessly caused the collision between the two bicycles.

The trial court held a hearing on Kyle’s motion on June 7, 2000. Thereafter, on August 3, 2000, the trial court granted summary judgment as to Count I of Rebecca’s complaint and denied it as to Count II. Rebecca now appeals the trial court’s judgment regarding the negligence count.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION

I. Standard of Review

The standard of review of a summary judgment is well settled. [HN1] This court [*414] applies the same standard as the trial court. USA Life One Ins. Co. v. Nuckolls, 682 N.E.2d 534, 537 (Ind. 1997). [**4] We do not weigh the evidence designated by the parties. Instead, we liberally construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. Summary judgment is appropriate only if the pleadings and the evidence show both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Butler v. City of Indianapolis, 668 N.E.2d 1227, 1228 (Ind. 1996). Where material facts conflict, or undisputed facts lead to conflicting material inferences, summary judgment is inappropriate. Id.

II. The Current State of the Law

A. Indiana Law

Many people might think that Rebecca’s claim would be barred because she in some way incurred, or assumed, the risk of injury by participating in the sporting event. However, under present Indiana law that would not necessarily be the case if the standard of care was negligence. On January 1, 1985, Indiana adopted the Comparative Fault Act (the Act). IND. CODE § 34-51-2-1 to -19. The Act was intended to ameliorate the harshness of the then prevailing common law doctrine of contributory negligence. [**5] Baker v. Osco Drug, Inc., 632 N.E.2d 794, 797 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). Under the common law rule, a slightly negligent plaintiff was precluded from recovery of any damages, even against a highly culpable tortfeasor. Id. In [HN2] contrast, under the Act, if a plaintiff’s conduct satisfies the statutory definition of “fault,” he will be permitted to recover damages, but those damages will be reduced by his proportion of fault. Id. However, if the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is assessed at greater than fifty percent, his recovery will still be completely barred. Id. For purposes of defining comparative fault, [HN3] the term “fault” includes “any act or omission that is negligent, willful, wanton, reckless, or intentional towards the person or property of others. The term also includes unreasonable assumption of risk not constituting an enforceable express consent, incurred risk, and unreasonable failure to avoid an injury or to mitigate damages.” I.C. § 34-6-2-45(b). [HN4] This inclusion of “incurred risk” in the definition of fault abolishes incurred risk as a complete bar to recovery and establishes that the fault of each party should be apportioned. [**6] Baker, 632 N.E.2d at 797. Thus, under Indiana law, if we adopt negligence as the standard of care between co-participants in a sporting event, it would be a question of fact for the jury to decide whether the plaintiff in any way incurred the risk of harm but is, nevertheless, entitled to recover for his injury.

Our supreme court has not specifically addressed the standard of care between co-participants in athletic events. However, it has addressed the appropriate standard of care owed by an educational institution and its representatives to students for injuries sustained while playing campus sports. [HN5] In this context, the court has adopted a negligence standard. See Beckett v. Clinton Prairie Sch. Corp., 504 N.E.2d 552, 554 (Ind. 1987) (holding that school personnel have a duty to exercise reasonable care over students participating in a school activity under school supervision, in a case involving a collision between two student baseball players). Our supreme court adopted this standard based on its recognition that there is a well-established “duty on the part of school personnel to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety of children [**7] under their authority.” Beckett, 504 N.E.2d at 553; cf. Brewster v. Rankins, 600 N.E.2d 154, 158 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992) (holding that [*415] while school authorities have a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of children under their tutelage, they have no duty to prevent a student from injuring other players while practicing his golf swing at home). According to the court, whether school personnel exercised their duty with the level of care of an ordinary prudent person under the same or similar circumstances is generally a factual question for the determination of the jury. Beckett, 504 N.E.2d at 554.

Our supreme court has also recognized, however, [HN6] that if the student athlete can be shown to have incurred the risks inherent in the sports event, this acts as a potential bar to recovery. Id.; see also Clark v. Wiegand, 617 N.E.2d 916, 919 (Ind. 1993) (holding that the question of whether a student in a university judo class incurred the risk of injury from another student so as to bar recovery from the university was a question for the jury). According to the Beckett court, for the “doctrine of incurred [**8] risk” to affect the plaintiff’s likelihood or percentage of recovery, it is not enough that the plaintiff merely has a general awareness of a potential for mishap in engaging in the particular sports activity. Id. Rather, the doctrine involves a subjective analysis focusing upon the plaintiff’s actual knowledge and appreciation of the specific risk and voluntary acceptance of that risk. Clark, 617 N.E.2d at 919 (stating that whether the possibility of sustaining a knee ligament injury while participating in a judo class “was within the plaintiff’s actual knowledge, appreciation, and voluntary acceptance, is a factual matter not easily susceptible to determination as a matter of law”). 1

1 For another case where a student brought suit against the school corporation for injuries caused by a fellow student during a sports event, see Huffman v. Monroe County Community Sch. Corp., 588 N.E.2d 1264 (Ind. 1992). In that case, the plaintiff sustained head and shoulder injuries when a fellow student struck her in the back of the head with a shot put during a track meet. Id. at 1264.

[**9] In Duke’s GMC v. Erskine, 447 N.E.2d 1118, 1118 (Ind. Ct. App. 1983), a panel of this court addressed the situation where a sports participant sued for injuries caused by another player. Duke’s GMC involved a golfer, Erskine, who sued for loss of an eye from being struck by a golf ball at a country club. Id. In addition to being decided prior to Indiana’s adoption of the Comparative Fault Act, Duke’s GMC is distinguishable from the case at bar because the court was not confronted with the standard of care between sports co-participants and because Erskine sued the corporation that paid the dues of its president who hit the golf ball causing the injury, rather than suing the president himself. Id. Specifically, in Duke’s GMC, this court was called upon to decide whether the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and in the instructions it gave to the jury. In addressing whether the trial court’s instruction regarding incurred risk was erroneous, this court approved the parties’ assertion that a golfer could not incur the risk of another golfer’s negligence as a matter of law. This court then discussed the instruction based on a negligence [**10] standard, but it never addressed the standard of care one competitor owes another in a sporting event. However, when discussing the appropriateness of the trial court’s instructions regarding damages, the Duke’s GMC court did examine how violations of the rules of sport affect the negligence analysis. In so doing, this court recognized that the “rules of sport are at least an indicia of the standard of care which players owe each other,” and concluded that “while a violation [*416] of those rules may not be negligence per se, it may well be evidence of negligence.” 2 Id. at 1124.

2 The parties dispute whether the court in this case proceeded under a standard of negligence or reckless misconduct. Appellant’s brief at 8; Appellee’s brief at 4-5. While the standard is unclear, it appears from the court’s holding and analysis of how violations of the rules of sport affect the negligence analysis, that it permitted the case to proceed under a negligence standard. Duke’s GMC, 447 N.E.2d at 1124.

[**11] [HN7]

Thus, under the current state of Indiana law, in actions for sports-related injuries against school authorities, rather than against a co-participant, liability will attach in the event that negligence is shown. We note, however, that the plaintiff’s negligence claim is subject to the defense of incurred risk, which requires the defendant to establish that the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the risk that resulted in his injury. Should the defendant carry his burden of proof on this defense, the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced or eliminated depending on the degree of the plaintiff’s fault.

B. Law in Other Jurisdictions

The authority from other jurisdictions is instructive with regard to the standard of care to be applied between co-participants in a sports activity. Other jurisdictions have generally taken one of two approaches to this issue, and have adopted either a negligence or recklessness standard. They have also recognized two principle defenses, contributory negligence and assumption of risk.

Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin judge sports injury cases between co-participants according to an “ordinary care” or negligence standard. See Estes v. Tripson, 188 Ariz. 93, 932 P.2d 1364, 1366 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1997); [**12] Auckenthaler v. Grundmeyer, 110 Nev. 682, 877 P.2d 1039, 1043 (Nev. 1994); Lestina v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co., 176 Wis. 2d 901, 501 N.W.2d 28, 33 (Wis. 1993). The primary argument for adhering to the negligence standard is the belief that this standard is flexible enough to be applied to a wide range of situations because it only requires that a person exercise ordinary care under the circumstances. See Auckenthaler, 877 P.2d at 1043; Lestina, 501 N.W.2d at 33. Thus, “within the factual climate of . . . sporting events, the question posed is whether the defendant participated in a reasonable manner and within the rules of the game or in accordance with the ordinary scope of the activity.” Auckenthaler, 877 P.2d at 1043 (citing Lestina, 501 N.W.2d at 33).

The majority of other states have adopted a “reckless or intentional conduct” or a “willful and wanton or intentional misconduct” standard. These states include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Texas. See Knight v. Jewett, 3 Cal. 4th 296, 834 P.2d 696, 711 (Cal. 1992) [**13] (applying a recklessness standard to an injury in an informal game of coed football); Jaworski v. Kiernan, 241 Conn. 399, 696 A.2d 332, 339 (Conn. 1997) (holding that a recklessness or intentional misconduct standard should be used in a case involving a recreational soccer game); Hoke v. Cullinan, 914 S.W.2d 335, 339 (Ky. 1995) (applying a recklessness standard with respect to an injury sustained in a doubles tennis match); Picou v. Hartford Ins. Co., 558 So. 2d 787, 790 (La. Ct. App. 1990) (applying recklessness as the standard for injuries sustained during a softball game); Gauvin v. Clark, 404 Mass. 450, 537 N.E.2d 94, 96 (Mass. 1989) (adopting a “reckless disregard of safety” standard in a case involving a college hockey game); Ritchie-Gamester [*417] v. City of Berkley, 461 Mich. 73, 597 N.W.2d 517, 518 (Mich. 1999) (holding that co-participants owe each other a duty not to engage in reckless misconduct in a case involving a collision between two recreational skaters); Dotzler v. Tuttle, 234 Neb. 176, 449 N.W.2d 774, 779 (Neb. 1990) (adopting a recklessness standard with respect to injuries [**14] sustained in a “pickup” basketball game); Crawn v. Campo, 136 N.J. 494, 643 A.2d 600, 601 (N.J. 1994) (adopting a “reckless disregard for the safety of others” standard in a case involving a “pickup” softball game); Kabella v. Bouschelle, 100 N.M. 461, 672 P.2d 290, 293 (N.M. Ct. App. 1983) (adopting recklessness as the standard for injuries sustained during an informal game of tackle football); Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432, 502 N.E.2d 964, 968, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49 (N.Y. 1986) (concluding that a “reckless or intentional” standard applied in a case involving a professional jockey injured during a horse race); Marchetti v. Kalish, 53 Ohio St. 3d 95, 559 N.E.2d 699, 703 (Ohio 1990) (applying the recklessness standard to a minor who was injured participating in a recreational game of “kick the can”); Hathaway v. Tascosa Country Club, Inc., 846 S.W.2d 614, 616 (Tex. App. 1993) (applying a “reckless or intentional” standard in a case involving an injury suffered during a recreational golf game).

Of those states that have adopted a recklessness or intentional misconduct standard, some, including Illinois [**15] and Missouri, have explicitly limited application of this standard to contact sports. See Pfister v. Shusta, 167 Ill. 2d 417, 657 N.E.2d 1013, 1017, 212 Ill. Dec. 668 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995) (holding that participants who voluntarily engage in contact sports cannot recover for injuries resulting from the negligence of other players and, instead, must establish willful and wanton or intentional misconduct); Zurla v. Hydel 289 Ill. App. 3d 215, 681 N.E.2d 148, 152, 224 Ill. Dec. 166 (Ill. App. Ct. 1997) (holding that negligence is the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in golf); Novak v. Virene, 224 Ill. App. 3d 317, 586 N.E.2d 578, 579, 166 Ill. Dec. 620 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991) (concluding that negligence is the appropriate standard between skiers); Gamble v. Bost, 901 S.W.2d 182, 186 (Mo. Ct. App. 1995) (holding that a negligence standard is proper in bowling, a non-contact sport) trans. denied; Ross v. Clouser, 637 S.W.2d 11, 14 (Mo. 1982) (adopting a recklessness standard for contact sports). 3

3 One critic has noted that a “shortcoming of the recklessness standard is the inconsistent formulas courts have established to define recklessness.” Ian M. Burnstein, Liability For Injuries Suffered In The Course of Recreational Sports: Application of the Negligence Standard, 71 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 993, 1014 (1994). Burnstein points out that the Louisiana Court of Appeals in Bourque v. Duplechin, 331 So. 2d 40, 43 (1976), defined recklessness “in terms of consequences to the victim,” whereas the Illinois Court of Appeals in Nabozny v. Barnhill, 31 Ill. App. 3d 212, 334 N.E.2d 258, 261 (Ill. App. Ct. 1975), defined it in terms of the “actor’s ‘reckless disregard’ for the safety of other players.” Id. The New Mexico Court of Appeals in Kabella, 672 P.2d at 294, “defined reckless disregard as reckless or willful conduct,” and other jurisdictions have used the definition set out in the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965). Id.

[**16] Courts that have departed from the negligence standard and adopted an elevated standard of care in the co-participant context, have recognized public policy justifications for doing so. Specifically, some courts have feared that use of an ordinary negligence standard could result in a flood of litigation. For example, in Jaworski, the Supreme Court of Connecticut declined to adopt a negligence standard, acknowledging that:

If simple negligence were to be adopted as the standard of care, every punter with whom contact is made, every midfielder [*418] high sticked, every basketball player fouled, every batter struck by a pitch, and every hockey player tripped would have the ingredients for a lawsuit if injury resulted.

696 A.2d at 338. The Jaworski court went on to state that given “the number of athletic events taking place in Connecticut over the course of a year . . . such potential for a surfeit of lawsuits . . . should not be encouraged.” Id.

Several courts have also recognized that “fear of civil liability stemming from negligent acts occurring [during] an athletic event could curtail the proper vigor with which the game should be played and discourage [**17] individual participation.” Ross, 637 S.W.2d at 14. The Supreme Court of New Jersey in Crawn, noted that “one might well conclude that something is terribly wrong with a society in which the most commonly-accepted aspects of play–a traditional source of a community’s conviviality and cohesion–spurs litigation.” 643 A.2d at 600. With the foregoing in mind, the Crawn court went on to adopt “the heightened recklessness standard,” recognizing this as a “commonsense distinction between excessively harmful conduct and the more routine rough-and-tumble of sports that should occur freely on the playing field and should not be second-guessed in courtrooms.” Id.

Apart from policy rationales, some courts have justified adoption of a recklessness or intentional standard of care on the grounds that a participant in a sports activity assumes the risks inherent in that activity. See, e.g., Knight, 834 P.2d at 712; Marchetti, 559 N.E.2d at 703-04; Turcotte, 502 N.E.2d at 967; Ross, 637 S.W.2d at 14. Assumption of risk can be applied in its primary or secondary sense. See Fowler V. [**18] Harper et al., The Law of Torts § 21.0 (3d ed. 1996). Secondary assumption of risk is applied according to a subjective standard. Therefore, “if the plaintiff knows, understands, and appreciates a risk and deliberately encounters it, he assumes that risk in the secondary sense.” Heidi C. Doerhoff, Penalty Box or Jury Box? Deciding Where Professional Sports Tough Guys Should Go, 64 Mo. L. Rev. 739, 751 (1999). Whether the plaintiff appreciated and was willing to encounter the particular risk is a “factual determination[] usually reserved to the jury.” Id.

Secondary assumption of risk has been subsumed by comparative fault in many jurisdictions and is no longer a defense. However, New York and California recognize primary assumption of risk as having survived enactment of their comparative negligence statutes. These two states have retained assumption of risk in the sports injury context by recasting it as a no-duty rule. Essentially, under the primary assumption of risk doctrine, a sports participant defendant owes no duty of care to a co-participant with respect to risks that are considered to be within the ordinary range of activity involved in the sport. [**19] See Knight, 834 P.2d at 711; Turcotte, 502 N.E.2d at 970. Because primary assumption of risk “is a policy-driven concept that flows from the legal relationship of the parties, not their subjective expectations,” it is applied according to an objective, rather than subjective, standard. Doerhoff, 64 Mo. L. Rev. at 751. Thus, for purposes of determining whether the doctrine negates a defendant’s duty of care, thereby barring a plaintiff’s action, the plaintiff’s “knowledge plays a role but [the] inherency [of the risks involved in the particular sport] is the sine qua non.” Morgan v. State, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 685 N.E.2d 202, 208, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421 (N.Y. 1997). Whether a duty of care attends the relationship between the parties “is a question of law reserved to the [*419] court.” Doerhoff, 64 Mo. L. Rev. at 751. If no such duty is found to exist, then an action for personal injury will be barred as a matter of law absent evidence of reckless or intentionally harmful conduct. Turcotte, 502 N.E.2d at 967.

Courts that have adopted the recklessness or intentional standard have also tended to hold rule violations as an inherent and anticipated [**20] part of the game. Burnstein, 71 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. at 993. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has justified this tendency by reasoning that the “normal expectations of participants in contact team sports includes the potential for injuries resulting from conduct that violates the rules of sport.” Jaworski, 696 A.2d at 337. Thus, “Connecticut, like other jurisdictions that have adopted the reckless or intentional standard of care, allows a participant in a sporting event to escape liability when his conduct is ‘part of the game’ even though it violates [the] rules” of the sport. Mark M. Rembish, Liability for Personal Injuries Sustained in Sporting Events After Jaworski v. Kierney, 18 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 307, 341 (1998).

In sum, the majority of jurisdictions that have considered the issue of the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in sporting activities, have adopted a standard of care that exceeds negligent conduct. The rationale behind this heightened standard of care is the fear of a flood of litigation, the desire to encourage vigorous athletic competition and participation in sporting events, and the perception that risk of injury is a common [**21] and inherent aspect of sports and recreational activity.

C. Analysis

In determining the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in sporting activities in Indiana, we are mindful that in Indiana, as in the rest of the United States, participation in recreational sports has become an increasingly popular leisure time activity. Indeed, over the last decade, more Americans than ever before “have joined recreational softball, basketball, football [and] other types of sports leagues,” and there has also been a dramatic increase in participation in high school and college organized sports. Burnstein, 71 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. at 993. Our legislature also emphasized and endorsed the growing importance of sporting and recreational activities in Indiana, when it enacted a statute specifically immunizing landowners from liability if they have opened their property for recreational use. See IND. CODE § 14-22-10-2. 4

4 [HN8] The Indiana Recreational Use Statute provides that the owner of premises used for recreational purposes, such as swimming, camping, hiking, and sightseeing, does not assume responsibility or incur liability, for personal injury or property damage caused by an action or failure to act of persons using the premises. I.C. § 14-22-10-2. Baseball and sledding are among the sporting activities that have been recognized as being covered by the Recreational Use Statute. See Cunningham v. Bakker Produce, Inc., 712 N.E.2d 1002 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied; Civils v. Stucker, 705 N.E.2d 524 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).

[**22] After reviewing the decisions of other jurisdictions that have considered this issue, we are convinced that a negligence standard would be over-inclusive. Specifically, we believe that adopting a negligence standard would create the potential for mass litigation and may deter participation in sports because of fear of incurring liability for the injuries and mishaps incident to the particular activity. Further, we believe that the duty of care between co-participants in sports activities is sufficiently distinguishable from Indiana cases where a student athlete sues an educational institution or its representatives, to merit a heightened standard of care. Specifically, application of a negligence [*420] standard is justified where a student athlete sues a school or its representatives because there is a well-established duty on the part of such institutions and their personnel to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety of those under their authority. See Beckett, 504 N.E.2d at 553. However, no such analogous authority or responsibility exists between co-participants in sporting events, and therefore, we are not compelled to adopt a similar standard in this context. [**23] 5 Finally, as a matter of policy, we prefer to avoid the need to hold a jury trial to determine whether the plaintiff incurred the risk of injury in every case involving a sports injury caused by a co-participant. We can prevent this necessity by adopting an objective primary assumption-of-risk doctrine and a standard of care greater than negligence.

5 Moreover, to the extent Duke’s GMC is inconsistent with this opinion it is disapproved.

Accordingly, we hold that [HN9] voluntary participants in sports activities assume the inherent and foreseeable dangers of the activity and cannot recover for injury unless it can be established that the other participant either intentionally caused injury or engaged in conduct so reckless as to be totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport. 6 [HN10] The plaintiff’s assumption of risk is primary in nature inasmuch as it flows from the legal relationship of the parties, is evaluated according to an objective standard rather than a subjective standard, and [**24] acts to bar recovery. Thus, it is a question of law for the determination of the court, whether the injury-causing event was an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the game, such that the plaintiff is considered to have assumed the risk. If the court determines that the plaintiff did assume the risk, then the plaintiff’s cause fails. If, on the other hand, the court determines that plaintiff did not assume the risk, then the cause proceeds to a jury to determine, as a question of fact, whether the co-participant intentionally or recklessly caused the injury.

6 This author has advanced the position before, in his concurring opinion in Lincke v. Long Beach Country Club, 702 N.E.2d 738, 741 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998), that co-participants in sporting activities should be considered to have assumed the inherent and foreseeable dangers of the activity as a matter of law. Specifically, this author stated that: “Any golfer in the rough of a hole which runs parallel to another should, as a matter of law, know the dangers of approaching golfers. To be surprised that approaching drivers hook or slice is akin to being surprised that not everyone shoots par. We have said often that ‘there comes a point where this Court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men [or women].’ This is a shining example of the application of that maxim.” Id. (quoting Willner v. State, 602 N.E.2d 507, 509 (Ind. 1992)).

[**25] In addition, because we recognize that rule infractions, deliberate or otherwise, are an inevitable part of many [HN11] sports, a co-participant’s violation of the rules of the game may be evidence of liability, but shall not per se establish reckless or intentional conduct. We share the Supreme Court of Connecticut’s recognition that:

In athletic competitions, the object obviously is to win. In games, particularly those . . . involving some degree of physical contact, it is reasonable to assume that the competitive spirit of the participants will result in some rules violations and injures. That is why there are penalty boxes, foul shots, free kicks, and yellow cards.

Jaworski, 696 A.2d at 337. Thus, while some injuries may result from rules violations, we believe such violations are nonetheless an accepted part of any competition and among the anticipated risks of participation in the game.

[*421] We are affording enhanced protection against liability to co-participants in sports events, in part, because we recognize that they are not in a position, practically speaking, to protect themselves from claims. Event organizers, sponsors, and the like, are able to safeguard [**26] themselves from liability by securing waivers. They usually accomplish this by requiring each participant to sign a waiver and assumption-of-risk form as a condition of competing in the event. 7 However, in most instances, it is simply infeasible for participants to protect themselves by similar means. Indeed, at large sporting events, participants would have to exchange many releases in order to avoid liability. 8 Under the common law system of contributory fault, application of the doctrine of incurred risk would have allowed the judiciary to protect parties who, as here, cannot take steps to legally protect themselves from liability. However, when our legislature abandoned contributory negligence as a total bar to recovery and established a comparative negligence regime, it did not account for situations where parties are unable to protect themselves from liability. Thus, there is a void in the law. We recognize that [HN12] one of the responsibilities of the judiciary is to fill such voids. Accordingly, we determine that, [HN13] as a matter of law, participants in sporting events will not be permitted to recover against their co-participants for injuries sustained as the result of the inherent [**27] or foreseeable dangers of the sport.

7 Indeed, in the case at bar Rebecca was required to sign an “Acknowledgment, Waiver and Release From Liability” form in order to participate in the Triathlon. R. at 71. The release provided, in part:

(c) I WAIVE, RELEASE, AND DISCHARGE from any and all claims, losses, or liabilities for death, personal injury, partial or permanent disability, property damage, medical or hospital bills, theft or damage of any kind, including economic losses which may in the future arise out of or relate to my participation in or my traveling to a USAT sanctioned event, THE FOLLOWING PERSONS OR ENTITIES: USAT, EVENT SPONSORS, RACE DIRECTORS, EVENT PRODUCERS, VOLUNTEERS, ALL STATES, CITIES, COUNTIES, OR LOCALITIES IN WHICH EVENTS OR SEGMENTS OF EVENTS ARE HELD, AND THE OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, REPRESENTATIVES AND AGENTS OF ANY OF THE ABOVE EVEN IF SUCH CLAIMS, LOSSES, OR LIABILITIES ARE CAUSED BY NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF THE PERSONS I AM HEREBY RELEASING OR ARE CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS OF ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY. (d) . . . I also ASSUME ANY AND ALL OTHER RISKS associated with participating in USAT sanctioned events including but not limited to falls, contacts and/or effects with other participants . . . and I further acknowledge that these risks include risks that may be the result of the negligence of the persons or entities mentioned above in paragraph (c) or of other persons or entities.

R. at 71.

As is generally the case, the release form that Rebecca signed does not relieve Kyle from liability as co-participants are not listed among the specific entities or individuals released from liability according to the plain language of the document. See OEC-Diasonics, Inc. v. Major, 674 N.E.2d 1312, 1314 (Ind. 1996) (stating that [HN14] a “release document[] shall be interpreted in the same manner as any other contract document.” Thus, where the language is unambiguous, it should be interpreted as to its clear terms.).

[**28]

8 For example, there were “more than 23,000” participants in the 2000 Mini Marathon in Indianapolis. Indianapolis Life 500 Festival Mini Marathon and 500 Festival 5K, at http://www.500festival.com. (last visited Mar. 7, 2001). Had each of the 23,000 participants attempted to obtain a release from the other 22,999 participants, this would have required the execution and exchange of 52,897,700 release forms. This endeavor would have taken even longer than it would take for this author to complete the requisite 13.1 miles of the mini marathon.

[*422] The foregoing standard means, in essence, that [HN15] an action will lie in tort between co-participants in sports events “when players step outside of their roles as fellow competitors” and recklessly or intentionally inflict harm on another. Doerhoff, 64 Mo. L. Rev. at 744. A player will be considered to have acted in reckless disregard of the safety of another player 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 person to realize, not only that [**29] 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). A player acts intentionally when he desires to cause the consequences of his act, or when he believes that the consequences are substantially certain to result from it. Id. § 8a. Thus, [HN16] recklessness differs from intentional wrongdoing in that while the act must be intended by the actor in order to be considered reckless, the actor does not intend the harm that results from the act.

Applying the foregoing standard, liability will not lie where the injury causing action amounts to a tactical move that is an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the game and is undertaken to secure a competitive edge. Thus, where a baseball pitcher throws the ball near the batter to prevent him from crowding the home plate, and the ball ends up striking the batter and causing injury, the pitcher’s conduct would not be actionable. Similarly, there would be no tort liability where the defense in a football game strategically “blitzes” the opposing team’s quarterback resulting [**30] in injury, or where one basketball team is leading by a point and, seconds from the end of the game, a member of that team chooses to foul the opponent when he drives the lane for a “slam dunk,” thereby forcing him to try to win the game at the free throw line.

In contrast, if a co-participant vents his anger at another player by means of a physical attack, such conduct would be actionable. Instances of such tortious conduct would be where one boxer bites his opponent’s ear during a boxing match, 9 or where a soccer or football player punches another player after a tackle. Similarly, if a baseball batter in a fit of anger intentionally flips his bat towards the opposing team’s dugout and injures one of the players, liability might attach for such recklessness.

9 As one commentator has noted, “it is inconceivable that professional boxing or full contact karate matches could be conducted without some injury to one or both participants [as] causing bodily harm is the very essence of the match.” Daniel Lazaroff, Torts & Sports: Participant Liability to Co-participants for Injuries Sustained During Competition, 7 U. Miami Ent. & Sports L. Rev. 191, 194 (1990). However, while injury as the result of a “left hook” or “jab” is considered an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of professional boxing, injury as the result of a bite is not.

[**31] In light of these examples, it is our view that adoption of the recklessness or intentional conduct standard preserves the fundamental nature of sports by encouraging, rather than inhibiting, competitive spirit, drive, and strategy. Moreover, this standard will avoid judicial review of the kind of risk-laden conduct that is inherent in sports and generally considered to be part of the game, while at the same time imposing liability for acts that are clearly unreasonable and beyond the realm of fair play. Further, we believe that adoption of this standard will not compromise Indiana’s status as the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World.” Tammy Lieber, 20 Years of [*423] Amateur Sports, Indianapolis Bus. J., Apr. 12, 1999, at 3A. 10

10 As a result of the Indiana Sports Corporation’s initiative to turn Indianapolis into the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World,” Indiana has hosted several major sporting events and enjoyed the attendant economic, cultural, and recreational benefits. Lieber, supra, at 41A. Some of the major sporting events that Indiana has hosted include the: Pan American Games; Indianapolis 500 Mile Race; Brickyard 400-NASCAR Winston Cup Series; World Championships in gymnastics, rowing, and track and field; Olympic trials for canoe/kayak, diving, rowing, swimming, track and field and wrestling; U.S. National Championships in diving, figure skating, gymnastics, rowing, and swimming; Hoosier Basketball Classic; Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships and Outdoor Track and Field Championships; and the International Race of Champions (IROC). In 2001 Indiana will host, among other events, the World Police and Fire Games, Hoosier State Games, Coca Cola Circle City Classic, Youthlinks Indiana Charity Golf Tournament, RCA Tennis Championships, Corporate Challenge, PeyBack Classic II, and the USA Judo National High School and Collegiate Championships. Other sporting events scheduled to take place in Indiana during the next few years include the 14th World Basketball Championship for Men in 2002, the 2003 World Gymnastics Championships, the 2004 World Swimming Championships, and the 2006 NCAA Men’s Final Four. Correspondence from the Indiana Sports Corporation (March 7, 2001) (on file with author).

[**32] D. Rebecca’s Claim

We now return to Rebecca’s contention that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Kyle on Count I of her complaint, in which Rebecca alleged that Kyle acted negligently in causing her injuries. In light of our holding regarding the appropriate standard of care between co-participants in a sporting event, allegation or proof of negligent conduct is insufficient to create liability. Thus, Count I of Rebecca’s complaint must fail.

With regard to Count II, alleging that Kyle acted intentionally, recklessly and willfully in causing her injuries, the trial court must determine whether Kyle’s action was an inherent or reasonably foreseeable part of the sport, such that Rebecca assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law. In our view, it is reasonably foreseeable that a competitor in a cycling race may attempt to cut in front of co-participants in an effort to advance position. Thus, if Rebecca is unable to develop the facts beyond those presented at this juncture, we would conclude that Kyle’s action was an inherent risk in the event that Rebecca assumed as a matter of law, thereby precluding recovery.

CONCLUSION

[**33] We thus conclude that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Kyle as to Count I of Rebecca’s complaint. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision with respect to Count I. We also remand to the trial court for further proceedings on Count II consistent with this opinion, to determine whether, under the facts of this case as they develop, Rebecca assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law.

BROOK, J., and BARNES, J., concur.


Alabama follows the majority of states and does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

J.T., Jr., a minor v. Monster Mountain, Llc, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130407; 78 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (Callaghan) 182

This is an interesting case based on who actually signed the release on behalf of and in an attempt to bind the minor.

The minor traveled from Indiana to Alabamato ride at the defendant’s motocross facility. The parents of the minor signed a power of attorney giving the

English: Great Seal of The State of Alabama

Image via Wikipedia

coach the authority to sign on their behalf “all release of liability and registration forms and to give consent for medical treatment” for the minor while on the trip. This was a proper power of attorney, signed by the parents and notarized.

The coach then registered the plaintiff each day and signed the release on the plaintiff’s behalf.

While riding on the third day the minor went over a jump. While airborne he saw a tractor that had been parked on the track which he collided with. The minor sued in Federal District Court for his injuries claiming the act of leaving the tractor on the track was negligent.

Summary of the case

Under Alabama law, like in most jurisdictions a minor cannot contract. That is done so that adults will not take advantage of minors. The exception to the rule is a minor can contract for necessities. Necessities are food, utilities, etc., those things necessary to live.

Also under Alabama law, and most other states, a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right in advance except in with regard to insurance. A parent can sign away a minor’s right in an insurance policy with regard to the subrogation right in the insurance policy. The court reasoned the minor cannot have the benefits of the insurance without the responsibility also.

So Alabama is like the majority of states. A parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue and a minor cannot contract or sign a release.

So Now What?

In most states, the only real defense available to stop a lawsuit by a minor is assumption of the risk. Because a minor cannot contract, the minor cannot agree to assume the risk in writing. You the outdoor business or program must be able to show that you gave the minor the information so the minor knew the risks and accepted them. It is up to the trier of fact to determine if the minor understood those risks.

1. Make your website an information resource. Any and every question about the activity should be there including what the risks are and how to deal with them. Put in pictures, FAQ’s and videos. Show the good and the bad.
2. Provide a bonus or a benefit for completing watching and reviewing the website. If a minor collects the bonus or benefit then you have proof the minor know of the risks.
3. Review the bigger risks and the common ones with all minors before they are allowed to participate in the activity.
4. Still have the parents sign a release. Remember the parents have a right to sue for the minor’s injuries. A release will stop the parent’s suit. Put in the release that the parent has reviewed the website with the minor to make sure the minor understands the risks of the activity.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Avalanche: Man-Made Snow to the Ground







In one of the most bizarre occurences an avalanche occured in the Midwest.

during the fall of 2006 at the Indian ski resort Perfect North Slope. This central Indiana resort was making snow on bare ground, as is common at most resorts. After a night of snow making the staff arrived to see the slope had avalanched.

Not enough research was done on this avalanche but several firsts or at least extremely unusual things occurred during this avalanche

  • ·An avalanche occurred in the Midwest
  • ·The avalanche was composed of 100% man made snow
  • ·The avalanche slid on bare ground with no snow layer below

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