To prove gross negligence under Washington State law you have to show intentional or reckless misconduct. Assumption of the risk prevents river tuber for suing for his injuries hitting a strainer.

Washington defines assumption of the risk the same way most other courts do. However, the names they sue to describe assumption of the risk are different in some cases and confusing in others.

Here, assumption of the risk stopped claims both for negligence and gross negligence for this tubing case.

Summary

Assumption of the risk is growing again as a defense to different types of claims by plaintiffs. In this case, the plaintiff assumed the risk of his injuries for a tubing accident which barred his negligence claim and his gross negligence claim. The standard of proof needed to prove a claim that cannot be defeated by assumption of the risk in Washington is a much higher level of action on the part of the defendant.

Here the plaintiff failed to plead or allege that level of acts by the defendant.

Washington also uses different names for the types of assumption of the risk that are applied to cases, which can lead to greater confusion.

If you are a defendant, instead of attempting to understand what is or is not assumption of the risk. Spend your time educating your customers, so they know and assume the risk they may be facing.

Pellham, v. Let’s Go Tubing, Inc., et al., 199 Wn. App. 399; 2017 Wash. App. LEXIS 1525

State: Washington, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division Three

Plaintiff: Brian Pellham

Defendant: Let’s Go Tubing, Inc., et al.

Plaintiff Claims: presented sufficient evidence of gross negligence because Let’s Go Tubing chose the excursion lo-cation, knew of the existence of a hazard, and failed to warn Pellham of the hazard. He argues that the rental company’s gross negligence supersedes any release of liability and assumption of the risk contained in the form he signed.

Defendant Defenses: that summary judgment was appropriate because Pellham failed to establish a duty, the liability release disposes of the claim, and Pelham’s evidence does not create [**7] a genuine issue as to any fact material to establishing gross negligence.

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2017

Facts

The plaintiff rented an inner tube from the defendant. The rental included delivery to the put in by the defendant. This is commonly described as a livery operation as compared to a pure rental where the renter takes the inner tube and goes wherever.

Upon arrival, the plaintiff signed a release and rented an inner tube. The plaintiff uses releases in his business, although what type of business was never discussed by the court.

The bus driver for the defendant told most of the tubers that upon entry they should push off to the far side of the river to avoid a tree that had fallen into the river immediately downriver but out of sight of the put in.

The plaintiff did not hear this warning. The plaintiff and four friends tied their inner tubes together. The current was swift and they quickly rounded the bend where they saw the tree across the river. The rental company gave each renter a Frisbee to use as a paddle. Everyone used the Frisbee to paddle away from the tree, but the plaintiff hit the tree. Falling into the river the plaintiff broke his ear drum. He went under the tree and upon resurfacing; he struck a large branch which gave him a whiplash.

The plaintiff swam to shore and ended his tubing trip. The plaintiff eventually underwent a neck fusion surgery.

The defendant was legally not allowed to remove the strainer from the river.

The plaintiff sued the defendant. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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

Washington has defined four types of assumption of the risk and has identified them slightly differently than most other states.

Washington law and most other states’ jurisprudence recognize four taxonomies of the assumption of risk doctrine: (1) express, (2) implied primary, (3) implied unreasonable, and (4) implied reasonable.

The first two, Express Assumption of the Risk and Implied Assumption of the Risk are still complete bars to a claim of negligence. The second two, Implied Unreasonable and Implied Reasonable have merged into contributory negligence and simply reduce the plaintiff’s damages.

Washington defines the types of assumption of the risk the same way most other states do.

Express assumption of risk arises when a plaintiff explicitly consents to relieve the defendant of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff regarding specific known risks.

Implied primary assumption of risk follows from the plaintiff engaging in risky conduct, from which the law implies consent.

Implied unreasonable assumption of risk, by contrast, focuses not so much on the duty and negligence of the defendant as on the further issue of the objective unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct in assuming the risk.

Implied reasonable assumption of risk is roughly the counterpart to implied unreasonable assumption of risk in that the plaintiff assumed a risk but acted reasonably in doing so.

Washington also names Implied Primary Assumption of the Risk as Inherent Peril Assumption of the Risk.

Inherent peril assumption bars a claim resulting from specific known and appreciated risks impliedly assumed often in advance of any negligence of the defendant. Plaintiff’s consent to relieve the defendant of any duty is implied based on the plaintiff’s decision to engage in an activity that involves those known risks. One who participates in sports impliedly assumes the risks inherent in the sport.

How the plaintiff was injured defines whether or not Inherent Peril Assumption of the Risk applies. The court went on to define the inherent peril assumption of the risk as:

One who engages in sports assumes the risks that are inherent in the sport. To the extent a risk inherent in the sport injures a plaintiff, the defendant has no duty and there is no negligence. A defendant simply does not have a duty to protect a sports participant from dangers that are an inherent and normal part of a sport.

Inherent peril assumption of the risk extends to water sports. One who plays in the water assumes the reasonably foreseeable risks inherent in the activity. Water sports include inner tubing and canoe rentals. Inherent risk applies because “Bodies of water often undergo change, and changing conditions in the water do not alter the assumption of risk. There is no duty to warn of the presence of natural transitory conditions.”

For the plaintiff to assume the risk, three elements must be found.

Inherent peril assumption, like express assumption of risk, demands the presence of three elements. The evidence must show (1) the plaintiff possessed full subjective understanding (2) of the presence and nature of the specific risk and (3) voluntarily chose to encounter the risk.

Washington also requires the plaintiff to understand the risk. “The rule of both express and inherent peril assumptions of risk requires a finding that the plaintiff had full subjective understanding of the presence and nature of the specific risk.”

However, that does not require knowledge of the specific issues that caused the injury, just knowledge that the injury could occur. Meaning, if the injured party knows that trees fall into rivers, would be enough. There is no requirement that the injured plaintiff knew that a tree fell into the river.

…Brian Pellham assumed the risks involved in river tubing, including the fallen tree. Pellham may not have precisely and subjectively known how the combination of a swift current, a bend in the river, and a fallen tree would produce his injury. Nevertheless, he knew of the potential of all factors. He may not have known of the location of any fallen tree in the river, but he knew of the potential of a fallen tree somewhere in the river.

However, even if the plaintiff assumed the risks, a plaintiff cannot assume the risk where the defendant unduly enhanced the risk.

While participants in sports are generally held to have impliedly assumed the risks inherent in the sport, such assumption of risk does not preclude a recovery for negligent acts that unduly enhance such risks.

This difference places a burden on the plaintiff, in what he or she has to prove to win their claim and a burden on the courts to define what is an increase in the level of danger.

Courts have struggled to properly distinguish between inherent peril assumption of risk (implied primary assumption of risk), which bars the plaintiff’s claim, and increased danger assumption of risk (implied unreasonable assumption of risk), which simply reduces the plaintiff’s damages.

However, here any negligence upon the part of the defendant did not increase the risk. The negligence occurred prior to the plaintiff entering the water. The danger was the tree in the river which the defendant could not do anything about.

When he noticed the risk, he lacked time to avoid the hazard. Pellham did not voluntarily proceed after knowing of the alleged negligence of Let’s Go Tubing. Any alleged negligence of Let’s Go Tubing occurred before Pellham entered the river. Therefore, increased danger assumption of risk does not apply.

The plaintiff also argued in this complaint, that the actions of the defendant were grossly negligent. Gross negligence in Washington is defined as failure to exercise slight care.

Gross negligence claims survive when a release has been signed. The issue before the court was whether gross negligence claims can be stopped if the plaintiff assumed the risk.

At the same time, gross negligence claims survive a release against liability. A sporting participant’s assumption of inherent risks effectively acts as a release from liability. Since gross negligence claims survive a release, gross negligence maybe should survive inherent peril assumption of risk.

The court then redefined how gross negligence was going to be reviewed in Washington applying an intentional reckless standard as the level required proving gross negligence when a plaintiff assumes the risk.

We join the other jurisdictions in imposing an intentional and reckless standard, rather than a gross negligence standard, when the plaintiff assumes the risks of inherent perils in a sporting or outdoor activity.

There is a difference between gross negligence and reckless misconduct under Washington’s law.

Gross negligence consists of the failure to exercise slight care. Reckless misconduct denotes a more serious level of misconduct than gross negligence. An actor’s conduct is in “reckless disregard” of the safety of another if he or she intentionally does an act or fails to do an act that it is his or her duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that the actor’s conduct not only creates an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to the other but also involves a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result to him or her.

Because reckless conduct is a higher burden to meet, assumption of the risk becomes a defense that can beat a gross negligence claim in some situations in Washington. The plaintiff never pleaded reckless conduct on the part of the defendant so the plaintiff’s gross negligence claim was also denied.

Brian Pellham does not allege that Let’s Go Tubing engaged in reckless conduct. No evidence supports a conclusion that the inner tube rental company bus driver purposely omitted a warning to Pellham with knowledge that Pellham would suffer substantial harm.

So Now What?

Understanding the different slight subtlest between the various forms of assumption of the risk is difficult. Comparing them between states does nothing but create a confusing group of definitions that cross one another and at best confuse one another.

Better, set up a system to educate your guests or clients on the risks they may encounter. That time spent educating the guests can pay dividends both in keeping you out of court and keeping your guests happy and coming back.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Pellham, v. Let’s Go Tubing, Inc., et al., 199 Wn. App. 399; 2017 Wash. App. LEXIS 1525

Pellham, v. Let’s Go Tubing, Inc., et al., 199 Wn. App. 399; 2017 Wash. App. LEXIS 1525

Brian Pellham, Appellant, v. Let’s Go Tubing, Inc., et al., Respondents.

No. 34433-9-III

COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION THREE

199 Wn. App. 399; 2017 Wash. App. LEXIS 1525

March 21, 2017, Oral Argument

June 27, 2017, Filed

SUMMARY:

WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS SUMMARY Nature of Action: A participant in an inner tube float on a river sought damages for personal injury incurred when his tube struck a fallen log. The plaintiff sued the company and its owners who rented him the inner tube and who selected the site where participants entered the river, claiming that the defendants owed him a duty to warn about a fallen log in the river that was hidden from but was near the entry site. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act.

Nature of Action: A participant in an inner tube float on a river sought damages for personal injury incurred when his tube struck a fallen log. The plaintiff sued the company and its owners who rented him the inner tube and who selected the site where participants entered the river, claiming that the defendants owed him a duty to warn about a fallen log in the river that was hidden from but was near the entry site. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act.

Superior Court: The Superior Court for Chelan County, No. 13-2-00663-9, Lesley A. Allan, J., on April 14, 2016, entered a summary judgment in favor of the defendants, dismissing all of the plaintiff’s claims.

Court of Appeals: Holding that the defendants did not have a duty to warn the plaintiff about the fallen log because the plaintiff assumed the risk of a fallen log and swift current by voluntarily participating in the activity, the court affirms the judgment.

HEADNOTES WASHINGTON OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

[1] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Sports — River Float — Assumed Risks — Fallen Trees — Swift Current. By voluntarily participating in a float on a wild river, one assumes the inherent risks of fallen trees in the water and a swift current. The assumption of risk may relieve the organizer of the activity of an actionable duty to warn about or to prevent injury from trees in the river.

[2] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Sports — Nature of Assumed Risk. Assumption of risk in the context of participating in a sport is in reality the principle of no duty to warn of the hazards of the sport, in which case there can be no breach of duty and no actionable claim for negligence.

[3] Negligence — Duty — Necessity — In General. A cause of action for negligence will not lie absent the existence of a duty of care.

[4] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Effect — Relief From Duty. The tort concept of duty overlaps with the contract and tort principles of assumption of risk. An assumption of risk can sometimes relieve a defendant of a duty.

[5] Negligence — Duty — Question of Law or Fact — In General. Whether a defendant owed a duty to a plaintiff is a question of law.

[6] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Classifications. The term “assumption of risk” expresses several distinct common law theories, derived from different sources, that apply when one is knowingly exposed to a particular risk. The general rubric of assumption of risk does not signify a singular doctrine but, rather, encompasses a cluster of discrete concepts. The law recognizes four taxonomies of assumption of risk: (1) express, (2) implied primary, (3) implied unreasonable, and (4) implied reasonable.

[7] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Effect — In General. Express assumption of risk and implied primary assumption of risk operate as complete bars to a plaintiff’s recovery. Implied unreasonable assumption of risk and implied reasonable assumption of risk are merely alternative names for contributory negligence and merely reduce a plaintiff’s recoverable damages based on comparative fault pursuant to RCW 4.22.005 and RCW 4.22.015.

[8] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Express Assumption — What Constitutes — In General. Express assumption of risk arises when one explicitly consents to relieve another of a duty regarding specific known risks.

[9] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Implied Primary Assumption — What Constitutes — In General. Implied primary assumption of risk follows from one’s engaging in risky conduct, from which the law implies consent.

[10] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Implied Unreasonable Assumption — Focus of Inquiry. Implied unreasonable assumption of risk primarily focuses on the objective unreasonableness of one’s conduct in assuming a risk.

[11] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Implied Reasonable Assumption — What Constitutes. Implied reasonable assumption of risk is roughly the counterpart to implied unreasonable assumption of risk in that one assumes a risk, but acts reasonably in doing so.

[12] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Implied Unreasonable Assumption — Implied Reasonable Assumption — Comparison. The gist of implied reasonable and implied unreasonable assumption of risk is that a defendant performed conduct that increased the risk of an activity or situation beyond the inherent risks thereof and the plaintiff reasonably or unreasonably encountered the increased risk. The categories of implied unreasonable and implied reasonable assumption of risk hold no meaningful distinction since both reduce rather than bar a plaintiff’s recovery.

[13] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Risk of Activity — Assuming the Dangers. Inherent peril assumption of risk–also known as implied primary assumption of risk–bars a plaintiff’s claim resulting from specific known and appreciated risks impliedly assumed, often in advance of any negligence by the defendant. A plaintiff’s consent to relieve a defendant of any duty is implied based on the plaintiff’s decision to engage in an activity that involves the known risks.

[14] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Sports — Implied Assumption. One who participates in a sport impliedly assumes the risks inherent in the sport.

[15] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Applicability — Sports — In General. Under the theory of inherent peril assumption of risk, a plaintiff assumes the dangers that are inherent in and necessary to a particular activity. To the extent a risk inherent in a sport injures a plaintiff, the defendant has no duty and there is no negligence. A defendant does not have a duty to protect a sports participant from dangers that are an inherent and normal part of the sport.

[16] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Applicability — Sports — Water Sports. Inherent peril assumption of risk extends to water sports. One who engages in a water sport assumes the reasonably foreseeable risks inherent in the activity. This assumption of risk includes inner tubing on water. Bodies of water often undergo change, and changing conditions in the water do not alter the assumption of risk. There is no duty to warn of the presence of natural transitory conditions in the water.

[17] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Test. Inherent peril assumption of risk requires evidence that (1) the plaintiff possessed at least an understanding (2) of the presence and nature of the specific risk and (3) voluntarily chose to encounter the risk. In the usual case, a plaintiff’s knowledge and appreciation of a danger is a question of fact, but if it is clear that any person in the plaintiff’s position would have understood the danger, the issue may be decided by a court as a matter of law.

[18] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Sports — Negligence Enhancing Assumed Risk. While participants in sports are generally held to have impliedly assumed the risks inherent in the sport, such assumption of risk does not preclude recovery for the negligent acts of others that unduly enhance such risks.

[19] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Limited Application. Inherent peril assumption of risk is the exception rather than the rule in assumption of risk situations.

[20] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Increased Danger — What Constitutes. Increased danger assumption of risk–also known as implied unreasonable assumption of risk and implied reasonable assumption of risk–does not involve a plaintiff’s consent to relieve a defendant of a duty. In this type of assumption of risk, the defendant breached a duty that created a risk of harm, and the plaintiff chose to take that risk. Increased danger assumption of risk involves a plaintiff’s voluntary choice to encounter a risk created by a defendant’s negligence. Increased danger assumption of risk arises when a plaintiff knows of a risk already created by the negligence of the defendant, yet chooses voluntarily to encounter it. In such a case, the plaintiff’s conduct is not truly consensual, but is a form of contributory negligence, in which the negligence consists of making the wrong choice and voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk.

[21] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Increased Danger — Applicability. Increased danger assumption of risk does not apply in circumstances where the defendant did not create and could not remove the risk and where the plaintiff did not voluntarily take the risk because the plaintiff did not know the precise nature of the risk beforehand and lacked time to avoid the risk once it became apparent.

[22] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Knowledge of Risk — Warning — Statements in Written Release — Sufficiency. A recitation in a release of liability warning of dangers inherent in an activity can be sufficient to notify a person of the risks of the activity that may give rise to inherent peril assumption of risk where the person chooses to engage in the activity and sustains injury from such dangers.

[23] Negligence — Assumption of Risk — Inherent Peril — Scope of Defense — Gross Negligence — Intentional or Reckless Conduct. Inherent peril assumption of risk in a sporting or outdoor activity may allow a defendant to avoid liability for gross negligence but not for intentional or reckless conduct. A recklessness standard encourages vigorous participation in recreational activities, while still providing protection from egregious conduct. An actor’s conduct is in “reckless disregard” of the safety of another if the actor intentionally does an act or fails to do an act that it is the actor’s duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that the actor’s conduct not only creates an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to the other but also involves a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result to the other. Fearing, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous court.

COUNSEL: Richard D. Wall (of Richard D. Wall PS), for appellant.

Kristen Dorrity (of Andrews o Skinner PS), for respondents.

JUDGES: Authored by George Fearing. Concurring: Kevin Korsmo, Laurel Siddoway.

OPINION BY: George Fearing

OPINION

[*403] ¶1 Fearing, C.J. — This appeal asks: does an inner tube rental company owe a duty to warn a renter about a fallen log in a river when the log is hidden from but near the launch site, the river’s current draws the tuber toward the log, the company knows of the fallen log, the company warns other tubers of the log, and the company chooses the launch site? To answer this question, interests such as exhilarating and uninhibited outdoor recreation, retaining the natural environment, and freedom to contract compete with cautious business practices, full disclosure of risks, and compensation for injury. Based on the doctrine of inherent peril assumption of risk, we answer the question in the negative. We affirm the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of renter Brian Pellham’s suit for personal injury against the tube [**2] rental company, Let’s Go Tubing, Inc.

FACTS

¶2 Brian Pellham sues for injuries suffered while inner tubing on the Yakima River. Because the trial court dismissed Pellham’s suit on summary judgment, we write the facts in a light favorable to Pellham.

¶3 Melanie Wells invited Brian Pellham and his domestic partner to join her and three others on a leisurely unguided excursion floating the Yakima River. Wells arranged the expedition and reserved equipment and transportation from Let’s Go Tubing, Inc.

¶4 [*404] On July 30, 2011, Brian Pellham met the Wells party at the Let’s Go Tubing’s Umtanum gathering site, where additional tubers waited. Before boarding a bus, each participant signed a release of liability and assumption of risk form. Pellham felt rushed but read and signed the form. The form provided:

I, the renter of this rental equipment, assume and understand that river tubing can be HAZARDOUS, and that rocks, logs, bridges, plants, animals, other people, other water craft, exposure to the elements, variations in water depth and speed of current, along with other structures and equipment, and many other hazards or obstacles exist in the river environment. In using the rental equipment or any facilities [**3] or vehicles related thereto such dangers are recognized and accepted whether they are marked or unmarked. River tubing can be a strenuous and physically demanding activity. It requires walking, bending, lifting, paddling, swimming, and awareness of the outdoor environment. I realize that slips, falls, flips, and other accidents do occur and serious injuries or death may result and I assume full responsibility for these risks … . “IN CONSIDERATION FOR THIS RENTAL AND ANY USE OF THE FACILITIES, VEHICLES, OR ENVIRONMENT RELATED TO THE USE OF THIS EQUIPMENT, I HEREBY RELEASE HOLD HARMLESS AND INDEMNIFY LET’S GO TUBING, INC. ITS SUBSIDIARIES AND ITS AGENTS FROM ANY AND ALL CLAIMS AND LIABILITIES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF THIS RENTAL EQUIPMENT.”

Clerk’s Papers at 46. On other occasions, such as a rafting trip, Brian Pellham has signed a waiver. In his business, he employs release forms.

¶5 Let’s Go Tubing launches its customers from the Umtanum site unless the Yakima River level runs low. With low water, the company buses customers to one of two other Yakima River sites, Big Horn or Ringer Loop.

¶6 On July 30, 2011, Let’s Go Tubing’s shuttle bus, because [**4] of a low river level, transported Brian Pellham, his group members, and other customers eight miles upstream [*405] to Ringer Loop. Ringer Loop maintains a public concrete boat ramp and public restroom. The total number of customers on the excursion approached twenty. During transport, Steff Thomas, the Let’s Go Tubing bus driver, told Melanie Wells and a handful of others seated at the front of the bus to push into the middle of the river once they embarked, because a fallen tree obstructed the river immediately downriver but out of sight from the launch site. We do not know the number of customers the driver warned. Thomas did not warn Pellham of the obstructing tree. Nor did anyone else. Someone, possibly Thomas, warned everyone not to leave the river except at designated spots because private owners own most of the riverbank.

¶7 At the launch site, Let’s Go Tubing handed each person a Frisbee to use as a paddle. Brian Pellham requested a life jacket, but Steff Thomas ignored him. Fifteen inner tubers entered the river first. Pellham and four others followed in a second group with their tubes tied together. They encountered a swift current. As soon as the flotilla of five rounded the [**5] first bend in the river, they saw a fallen tree extending halfway across the river. Many branches extended from the tree trunk. Each paddled furiously with his or her Frisbee, but the fleet of five inner tubes struck the tree. Brian Pellham held the tree with his left hand and attempted to steer around the tree. The current grabbed the inner tubes and Pellham fell backward into the river. The fall broke Pellham’s eardrum. The current forced Pellham under the tree and the water level. When Pellham resurfaced, his head struck a large branch. He sustained a whiplash injury. His chest also hit the branch.

¶8 Brian Pellham swam to shore and ended his river excursion. Pellham told Steff Thomas of his dangerous encounter, and the driver admitted he knew about the fallen tree but laws prevented Let’s Go Tubing from removing the obstacle.

[*406] ¶9 Brian Pellham later underwent a neck fusion surgery. The accident also caused damage to a low back disk, and the damage creates pain radiating to his left foot.

PROCEDURE

¶10 Brian Pellham sued Let’s Go Tubing for negligent failure to warn and Consumer Protection Act, chapter 19.86 RCW, violations. Let’s Go Tubing answered the complaint and raised affirmative defenses, including release of liability and [**6] assumption of the risk. The company filed a motion for summary judgment dismissal based on the release and on assumption of risk. In response to the motion, Pellham argued that he did not waive liability because Let’s Go Tubing committed gross negligence. He also argued he did not expressly or impliedly assume the risk of floating into a hazard. Pellham agreed to dismissal of his consumer protection claim. The trial court granted summary dismissal of all of Pellham’s claims.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

¶11 On appeal, Brian Pellham contends the trial court erred in dismissing his claim because he presented sufficient evidence of gross negligence because Let’s Go Tubing chose the excursion location, knew of the existence of a hazard, and failed to warn Pellham of the hazard. He argues that the rental company’s gross negligence supersedes any release of liability and assumption of the risk contained in the form he signed. On appeal, he does not argue liability against Let’s Go Tubing for failing to provide a life vest.

[1] ¶12 Let’s Go Tubing responds that summary judgment was appropriate because Pellham failed to establish a duty, the liability release disposes of the claim, and Pellham’s evidence does not create [**7] a genuine issue as to any fact material to establishing gross negligence. We affirm based on the inherent risks in river tubing. Because of Pellham’s [*407] voluntary participation in the outdoor recreation activity, he assumed the risk of a fallen log and swift current. Conversely, Pellham’s assumption of the risk created no duty for Let’s Go Tubing to warn Pellham of or prevent injury to him from trees in the river. Because we rely on the inherent risks in river tubing, we do not address whether the written agreement signed by Pellham bars his suit.

¶13 Because we hold that Brian Pellham assumed the risk and thereby rendered Let’s Go Tubing dutyless, we do not address whether Pellham created an issue of fact with regard to gross negligence. We conclude that, to avoid application of inherent peril assumption of risk, Pellham needed to show intentional or reckless misconduct of the rental company, and Pellham does not show or argue either.

Summary Judgment Principles

¶14 We commence with our obligatory recitation of summary judgment principles. [HN1] This court reviews a summary judgment order de novo, engaging in the same inquiry as the trial court. Highline School District No. 401 v. Port of Seattle, 87 Wn.2d 6, 15, 548 P.2d 1085 (1976); Mahoney v. Shinpoch, 107 Wn.2d 679, 683, 732 P.2d 510 (1987). [HN2] Summary judgment is proper if the records on file with the [**8] trial court show “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact” and “the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” CR 56(c). [HN3] This court, like the trial court, construes all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Brian Pellham, as the nonmoving party. Barber v. Bankers Life & Casualty Co., 81 Wn.2d 140, 142, 500 P.2d 88 (1972); Wilson v. Steinbach, 98 Wn.2d 434, 437, 656 P.2d 1030 (1982). [HN4] A court may grant summary judgment if the pleadings, affidavits, and depositions establish that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Lybbert v. Grant County, 141 Wn.2d 29, 34, 1 P.3d 1124 (2000).

[*408] Defenses on Review

¶15 Let’s Go Tubing seeks affirmation of the summary judgment dismissal of Brian Pellham’s claim based on both an absence of duty and Pellham’s assumption of risk. In turn, Pellham argues that, under RAP 2.5(a), the rental company may not assert a lack of duty because the company did not raise this defense before the trial court.

[2] ¶16 We need not address Brian Pellham’s objection to Let’s Go Tubing’s argument of lack of duty. We base our decision on inherent peril assumption of risk, and the rental company raised the defense of assumption of risk below. Anyway, assumption of risk in this context is equivalent to a lack of duty. [HN5] Assumption of the risk in the sports participant context is in [**9] reality the principle of no duty and hence no breach and no underlying cause of action. Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. 519, 523, 984 P.2d 448 (1999); Codd v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 45 Wn. App. 393, 401-02, 725 P.2d 1008 (1986).

Assumption of Risk

[3, 4] ¶17 [HN6] A negligence claim requires the plaintiff to establish (1) the existence of a duty owed, (2) breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) a proximate cause between the breach and the injury. Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Society, 124 Wn.2d 121, 127-28, 875 P.2d 621 (1994). Thus, to prevail on his negligence claim, Brian Pellham must establish that Let’s Go Tubing owed him a duty of care. Folsom v. Burger King, 135 Wn.2d 658, 671, 958 P.2d 301 (1998). [HN7] The tort concept of duty overlaps with the contract and tort principles of assumption of risk. As previously mentioned, sometimes assumption of risk relieves the defendant of a duty. Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. at 523 (1999); Codd v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 45 Wn. App. at 402 (1986).

[5] ¶18 [HN8] The threshold determination of whether a duty exists is a question of law. Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological [*409] Society, 124 Wn.2d at 128; Coleman v. Hoffman, 115 Wn. App. 853, 858, 64 P.3d 65 (2003). We hold that, because of Brian Pellham’s assumption of the risk of fallen trees in the water, Let’s Go Tubing, as a matter of law, had no duty to warn Pellham of the danger or, at the least, the rental company possessed only a restricted duty to not intentionally injure Pellham or engage in reckless misconduct.

[6] ¶19 We first briefly explore the variegated versions of assumption of risk in order to later analyze the application of inherent peril assumption of risk. [HN9] The term “assumption of the risk” expresses [**10] several distinct common law theories, derived from different sources, which apply when a plaintiff knowingly exposes himself to particular risks. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 148 N.H. 407, 807 A.2d 1274, 1281 (2002); Francis H. Bohlen, Voluntary Assumption of Risk (pt. 1), 20 Harv. L. Rev. 14, 15-30 (1906); W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 68 (5th ed. 1984). Stated differently, the general rubric of assumption of risk does not signify a singular doctrine but rather encompasses a cluster of discrete concepts. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d 448, 453, 746 P.2d 285 (1987). Washington law and most other states’ jurisprudence recognize four taxonomies of the assumption of risk doctrine: (1) express, (2) implied primary, (3) implied unreasonable, and (4) implied reasonable. Gregoire v. City of Oak Harbor, 170 Wn.2d 628, 636, 244 P.3d 924 (2010) (plurality opinion); Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. 788, 794, 368 P.3d 531 (2016); 16 David K. DeWolf & Keller W. Allen, Washington Practice: Tort Law and Practice § 9:11, at 398-99 (4th ed. 2013).

[7] ¶20 Before the enactment of comparative negligence and comparative fault statutes, practitioners and courts encountered little reason to distinguish the four versions of assumption of risk because at common law all assumption of the risk completely barred recovery. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 496, 834 P.2d 6 (1992). [*410] Today, [HN10] the first two categories of assumption of risk, express assumption and implied primary assumption, on the one hand, continue to operate as a complete bar to a plaintiff’s recovery. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 453-54; Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 794. On the other hand, implied unreasonable and implied [**11] reasonable assumption meld into contributory negligence and merely reduce the plaintiff’s recoverable damages based on comparative fault pursuant to RCW 4.22.005 and .015. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 497. The last two types are merely alternative names for contributory negligence. Gregoire v. City of Oak Harbor, 170 Wn.2d at 636 (2010). Our decision relies on implied primary assumption, but we will discuss other renderings of assumption of risk in order to sculpt our decision.

[8-11] ¶21 [HN11] Express assumption of risk arises when a plaintiff explicitly consents to relieve the defendant of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff regarding specific known risks. Gregoire v. City of Oak Harbor, 170 Wn.2d at 636; Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 453. [HN12] Implied primary assumption of risk follows from the plaintiff engaging in risky conduct, from which the law implies consent. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 453; Erie v. White, 92 Wn. App. 297, 303, 966 P.2d 342 (1998). [HN13] Implied unreasonable assumption of risk, by contrast, focuses not so much on the duty and negligence of the defendant as on the further issue of the objective unreasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct in assuming the risk. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 454. [HN14] Implied reasonable assumption of risk is roughly the counterpart to implied unreasonable assumption of risk in that the plaintiff assumed a risk but acted reasonably in doing so. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 454.

[12] ¶22 We confront difficulty in distinguishing among at least three of the four categories because of the [**12] nondescript identifiers and near homophonic labels of some classifications. Therefore, we recommend that the Supreme [*411] Court rechristen the categories as express assumption, inherent peril assumption of risk, and increased danger assumption of risk. [HN15] The gist of implied reasonable and implied unreasonable assumption of risk is that the defendant performed conduct that increased the risk of an activity or situation beyond the risks inherent in the activity or situation and the plaintiff reasonably or unreasonably encountered this increased risk. The traditional categories of implied unreasonable and implied reasonable assumption of risk hold no meaningful distinction since both reduce rather than bar the plaintiff’s recovery, and so we urge combining the two concepts into increased danger assumption of risk. We hereafter use these new terms.

Inherent Peril Assumption of Risk

[13, 14] ¶23 We now focus on inherent peril assumption of risk. [HN16] Inherent peril assumption bars a claim resulting from specific known and appreciated risks impliedly assumed often in advance of any negligence of the defendant. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 497 (1992); Boyce v. West, 71 Wn. App. 657, 666-67, 862 P.2d 592 (1993). Plaintiff’s consent to relieve the defendant of any duty is implied based on the plaintiff’s decision [**13] to engage in an activity that involves those known risks. Egan v. Cauble, 92 Wn. App. 372, 376, 966 P.2d 362 (1998); Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 797 (2016). [HN17] One who participates in sports impliedly assumes the risks inherent in the sport. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 498; Boyce v. West, 71 Wn. App. at 667.

[15] ¶24 [HN18] Whether inherent peril assumption of risk applies depends on whether the plaintiff was injured by an inherent risk of an activity. Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 797. The plaintiff assumes the dangers that are inherent in and necessary to a particular activity. Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Society, 124 Wn.2d at 144 (1994); Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 500-01; Gleason [*412] v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 797; Lascheid v. City of Kennewick, 137 Wn. App. 633, 641-42, 154 P.3d 307 (2007); Taylor v. Baseball Club of Seattle, LP, 132 Wn. App. 32, 37-39, 130 P.3d 835 (2006); Dorr v. Big Creek Wood Products, Inc., 84 Wn. App. 420, 427, 927 P.2d 1148 (1996).

¶25 [HN19] The classic example of inherent peril assumption involves participation in sports when a participant knows that the risk of injury is a natural part of such participation. Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798. One who engages in sports assumes the risks that are inherent in the sport. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 498; Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798. To the extent a risk inherent in the sport injures a plaintiff, the defendant has no duty and there is no negligence. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 498; Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798. A defendant simply does not have a duty to protect a sports participant from dangers that are an inherent and normal part of a sport. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 498; Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798.

[16] ¶26 [HN20] Inherent peril assumption extends to water sports. One who engages in water sports assumes the reasonably foreseeable risks inherent in the activity. DeWick v. Village of Penn Yan, 275 A.D.2d 1011, 713 N.Y.S.2d 592, 594 (2000). This assumption of risk includes inner tubing on water and canoe rentals. Record v. Reason, 73 Cal. App. 4th 472, 86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 547 (1999); Ferrari v. Bob’s Canoe Rental, Inc., 143 A.D.3d 937, 39 N.Y.S.3d 522 (2016). Bodies of water often undergo change, and changing conditions in the water [**14] do not alter the assumption of risk. DeWick v. Village of Penn Yan, 713 N.Y.S.2d at 594. There is no duty to warn of the presence of natural transitory conditions. DeWick v. Village of Penn Yan, 713 N.Y.S.2d at 594.

¶27 DeWick v. Village of Penn Yan, 275 A.D.2d 1011 is illustrative of the application of inherent peril assumption in the context of water. Trina Kerrick and Daniel DeWick [*413] drowned in Keuka Lake on June 19, 1995. Kerrick allegedly gained access to the lake from the beach at Indian Pines Park, which was owned by defendant Village of Penn Yan. While wading in the water, she stepped from a sandbar where the lake bottom drops off and became caught in an undertow or current. DeWick drowned trying to save her. Neither could swim. The accident occurred on a hot day, four days before the beach officially opened for the season. The plaintiffs alleged that the village failed to warn specifically about the dangers of the drop-off and swift current. The court summarily dismissed the suit. The risk of reaching a drop-off was a reasonably foreseeable risk inherent in wading into a lake.

[17] ¶28 [HN21] Inherent peril assumption, like express assumption of risk, demands the presence of three elements. The evidence must show (1) the plaintiff possessed full subjective understanding (2) of the presence and nature of the specific risk and (3) voluntarily [**15] chose to encounter the risk. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 453 (1987). The participant must know that the risk is present, and he or she must further understand its nature; his or her choice to incur it must be free and voluntary. Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. at 523. In the usual case, his or her knowledge and appreciation of the danger will be a question for the jury; but where it is clear that any person in his or her position must have understood the danger, the issue may be decided by the court. Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. at 523; Keeton et al., supra, § 68, at 489.

¶29 [HN22] The rule of both express and inherent peril assumption of risk requires a finding that the plaintiff had full subjective understanding of the presence and nature of the specific risk. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 453. Depending on how specific the risk must be, this statement of the rule taken literally would abrogate the rule of inherent peril assumption because one rarely, if ever, anticipates the full particulars of an accident producing injury. One can never predict all of the variables that [*414] combine to cause an accident and injury. Also, the doctrine might not apply in wrongful death cases, because the judge or jury will lack evidence of the subjective understanding of the decedent. Washington courts’ applications of the rule suggest, however, that the plaintiff need only know [**16] the general nature of the risk. One case example is Boyce v. West, 71 Wn. App. 657 (1993).

¶30 In Boyce v. West, a mother brought a suit against a college and its scuba diving instructor after the death of her son, who died during a scuba diving accident while engaging in the college course. The mother claimed the instructor negligently taught and supervised her son. The son, Peter Boyce, signed a document acknowledging the possibility of death from scuba diving and assuming all risks in connection with the course, whether foreseen or unforeseen. This court affirmed summary judgment dismissal of the claims against the school and the instructor. The court reasoned that negligent instruction and supervision are risks associated with being a student in a scuba diving course and were encompassed by the broad language of the contract. Although Peter may not have specifically considered the possibility of instructor negligence when he signed the release, this lack of consideration did not invalidate his express assumption of all risks associated with his participation in the course. [HN23] Knowledge of a particular risk is unnecessary when the plaintiff, by express agreement, assumes all risks.

¶31 Boyce v. West entails express assumption of [**17] risk, but [HN24] the same rule of subjective knowledge of risk applies to both express assumption and inherent peril assumption. Based on Boyce v. West and cases involving water sports, we hold that Brian Pellham assumed the risks involved in river tubing, including the fallen tree. Pellham may not have precisely and subjectively known how the combination of a swift current, a bend in the river, and a fallen tree would produce his injury. Nevertheless, he knew of the potential of all factors. He may not have known of the location of any [*415] fallen tree in the river, but he knew of the potential of a fallen tree somewhere in the river. He had more reason to know of the dangers that caused his injury when he started his excursion than Peter Boyce had reason to know of the risks that led to his death when Boyce signed his college course form. In the setting of inherent peril assumption, New York courts have ruled that, [HN25] if the participant fully comprehends the risks of the activity or if those risks are obvious or reasonably foreseeable, he or she has consented to those risks and the defendant has performed its duty. Ferrari v. Bob’s Canoe Rental, Inc., 143 A.D.3d at 938 (2016); Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432, 439, 502 N.E.2d 964, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49 (1986).

[18] ¶32 [HN26] While participants in sports are generally held to have impliedly assumed the risks [**18] inherent in the sport, such assumption of risk does not preclude a recovery for negligent acts that unduly enhance such risks. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 501; Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798. This principle leads us to a discussion of increased danger assumption.

[19] ¶33 [HN27] Courts have struggled to properly distinguish between inherent peril assumption of risk (implied primary assumption of risk), which bars the plaintiff’s claim, and increased danger assumption of risk (implied unreasonable assumption of risk), which simply reduces the plaintiff’s damages. Barrett v. Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc., 179 Wn. App. 1, 6, 324 P.3d 688 (2013). This court warned long ago that courts must carefully draw the line between these two types of assumption of risk. Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 795; Dorr v. Big Creek Wood Products, Inc., 84 Wn. App. at 425-26 (1996). A rigorous application of inherent peril assumption of risk could undermine the purpose of comparative negligence. Kirk v. Washington State University, 109 Wn.2d at 455-56. Significantly, [HN28] inherent peril assumption is the exception rather than the rule in assumption of risk situations.

[20] ¶34 [HN29] Increased danger assumption of risk does not involve a plaintiff’s consent to relieve the defendant of a [*416] duty. Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 796. In this type of assumption of risk, the defendant breached a duty that created a risk of harm, and the plaintiff chose to take that risk. Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 796. Specifically, increased danger assumption involves the plaintiff’s voluntary choice to encounter a risk created [**19] by the defendant’s negligence. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 499; Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 796. Increased danger assumption of risk arises when the plaintiff knows of a risk already created by the negligence of the defendant, yet chooses voluntarily to encounter it. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 499 (1992); Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798. In such a case, a plaintiff’s conduct is not truly consensual but is a form of contributory negligence, in which the negligence consists of making the wrong choice and voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk. Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 796.

¶35 Dorr v. Big Creek Wood Products, Inc., 84 Wn. App. 420, 927 P.2d 1148 (1996) presents a good illustration of increased danger assumption of risk. Michael Dorr entered a forest where his friend John Knecht cut trees. Dorr knew of the phenomenon of “widow-makers,” large limbs caught in surrounding trees after a tree is felled. Nevertheless, after Knecht cut a tree, Knecht waved Dorr forward to meet him. As Dorr proceeded, a large limb fell on him. This court affirmed a verdict favoring Dorr. Although Dorr in general assumed the risk of “widow-makers,” Knecht’s misleading directions led to implied unreasonable or secondary assumption of risk. The jury could still find and did find Dorr comparatively at fault for proceeding with the knowledge of “widow-makers,” but Dorr’s fault would be compared with Knecht’s fault. The negligence of Knecht [**20] arose after Dorr entered the forest.

[21] ¶36 Brian Pellham alleges that Let’s Go Tubing was negligent by reason of sending him and others on inner tubes in fast moving water with a downed tree in the middle [*417] of the water without warning to the tuber. Let’s Go Tubing did not create the risk and could not remove the risk. Although Pellham knew of the risks of logs and current, Pellham did not know of the precise risk when he first encountered it. When he noticed the risk, he lacked time to avoid the hazard. Pellham did not voluntarily proceed after knowing of the alleged negligence of Let’s Go Tubing. Any alleged negligence of Let’s Go Tubing occurred before Pellham entered the river. Therefore, increased danger assumption of risk does not apply.

¶37 Let’s Go Tubing performed no act that created the swift current or felled the log into the water. [HN30] The cases that decline application of inherent peril assumption involve a positive act of the defendant, such as the implanting of a post or snow shack adjacent to a ski run. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484 (1992); Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn. App. at 521 (1999).

¶38 One might argue that Let’s Go Tubing’s failure to warn increased the risk attended to the fallen log in the Yakima River. [HN31] A defendant may be held liable when a reasonable person would customarily [**21] instruct a plaintiff in respect to the dangers inherent in an activity. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 807 A.2d at 1288. Thus, a defendant may be held liable if the plaintiff alleges that a reasonable person would customarily warn, advise, inform, and instruct regarding the risk of injury to participants and the manner in which such risks could be minimized and their failure to do so caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 807 A.2d at 1288. Brian Pellham presents no evidence that those who rent out watercrafts customarily warn of fallen natural objects in the water.

[22] ¶39 The document signed by Brian Pellham contained terms in addition to releasing Let’s Go Tubing from liability. In the instrument, Pellham also recognized that the hazards of river tubing included the existence of rocks, logs, plants, and variations in water depth and speed of [*418] current. Pellham agreed to assume full responsibility for all risks involved in river tubing, including serious injuries and death resulting from the hazards. Although we do not base our holding on express assumption of risk, we note that the release’s recitation of dangers warned Pellham of the inherent perils attended to inner tubing and those dangers that led to Pellham’s injuries.

Gross Negligence

¶40 Brian Pellham argues that the waiver [**22] form he signed does not bar a claim for gross negligence. The parties, in turn, devote much argument to the issue of whether Pellham creates a question of fact as to gross negligence. Since we do not rely on express assumption of risk, we need not directly address this argument. Instead, we must ask and answer whether a tuber may overcome the defense of inherent peril assumption of risk by showing gross negligence by the inner tube rental company.

¶41 [HN32] When inherent peril assumption of risk applies, the plaintiff’s consent negates any duty the defendant would have otherwise owed to the plaintiff. Scott v. Pacific West Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d at 498 (1992); Gleason v. Cohen, 192 Wn. App. at 798 (2016). Based on this premise of inherent peril assumption, the defendant should avoid liability for gross negligence. Gross negligence constitutes the failure to exercise slight care. Nist v. Tudor, 67 Wn.2d 322, 331, 407 P.2d 798 (1965). The lack of duty resulting from inherent peril assumption should extend to an absence of any obligation to exercise slight care.

¶42 At the same time, [HN33] gross negligence claims survive a release against liability. A sporting participant’s assumption of inherent risks effectively acts as a release from liability. Since gross negligence claims survive a release, gross negligence maybe should survive inherent peril assumption of risk. [**23]

¶43 No Washington case directly holds that a claim for gross negligence survives the plaintiff’s express assumption [*419] of risk. Nevertheless, in at least two decisions, Washington courts assumed that a gross negligence cause of action endured. Boyce v. West, 71 Wn. App. 657 (1993); Blide v. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., 30 Wn. App. 571, 636 P.2d 492 (1981). In Boyce v. West, the surviving mother failed to present evidence of gross negligence. In Blide v. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., an injured climber did not argue gross negligence. Other jurisdictions have held that express assumption of risk does not bar a claim for gross negligence since public policy does not allow one to exonerate oneself from gross negligence. Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 437 S.W.3d 184, 193 n.3 (Mo. 2014); Kerns v. Hoppe, 128 Nev. 910, 381 P.3d 630 (2012); Perez v. McConkey, 872 S.W.2d 897, 904 (Tenn. 1994).

¶44 [HN34] Since express assumption of risk and inherent peril assumption of risk both result in the bar of the plaintiff’s claim and arise from the plaintiff’s voluntary assumption of risk, one might argue that a gross negligence claim should survive assumption of risk by inherent peril if it survives express assumption of risk. Nevertheless, the two varieties of assumption of risk promote different interests and raise disparate concerns. A signed assumption of all risks could be the result of unequal bargaining power and apply to activities that involve little, or no, risks. The bargaining [**24] power with regard to inherent peril assumption is immaterial. Assumption follows from hazards the plaintiff voluntarily assumes because of the thrill and enjoyment of an activity.

[23] ¶45 We find no foreign decisions in which the court holds that a cause of action for gross negligence survives the application of inherent peril assumption of risk in the context of sports or outdoor recreation. Instead, other courts addressing the question consistently [HN35] limit the liability of the defendant, when inherent peril assumption applies, to intentional or reckless conduct of the defendant. Ellis v. Greater Cleveland R.T.A., 2014-Ohio-5549, 25 N.E.3d 503, 507 (Ct. App.); Custodi v. Town of Amherst, 20 N.Y.3d 83, [*420] 980 N.E.2d 933, 957 N.Y.S.2d 268 (2012); Cole v. Boy Scouts of America, 397 S.C. 247, 725 S.E.2d 476, 478 (2011); Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392, 404 (Ind. 2011); Yoneda v. Tom, 110 Haw. 367, 133 P.3d 796, 808 (2006); Peart v. Ferro, 119 Cal. App. 4th 60, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 885, 898 (2004); Allen v. Dover Co-Recreational Softball League, 807 A.2d at 1281 (2002); Behar v. Fox, 249 Mich. App. 314, 642 N.W.2d 426, 428 (2001); Estes v. Tripson, 188 Ariz. 93, 932 P.2d 1364, 1365 (Ct. App. 1997); Savino v. Robertson, 273 Ill. App. 3d 811, 652 N.E.2d 1240, 1245, 210 Ill. Dec. 264 (1995); King v. Kayak Manufacturing Corp., 182 W. Va. 276, 387 S.E.2d 511, 518 (1989). A recklessness standard encourages vigorous participation in recreational activities, while still providing protection from egregious conduct. Behar v. Fox, 642 N.W.2d at 428 (2001). We join the other jurisdictions in imposing an intentional and reckless standard, rather than a gross negligence standard, when the plaintiff assumes the risks of inherent perils in a sporting or outdoor activity.

¶46 [HN36] Gross negligence consists of the failure to exercise slight care. Nist v. Tudor, 67 Wn.2d at 331 (1965). Reckless misconduct denotes a more serious level of misconduct than gross negligence. An actor’s conduct is in “reckless disregard” of the safety of another if he or she intentionally [**25] does an act or fails to do an act that it is his or her duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that the actor’s conduct not only creates an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to the other but also involves a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result to him or her. Adkisson v. City of Seattle, 42 Wn.2d 676, 685, 258 P.2d 461 (1953); Brown v. Department of Social & Health Services, 190 Wn. App. 572, 590, 360 P.3d 875 (2015). Brian Pellham does not allege that Let’s Go Tubing engaged in reckless conduct. No evidence supports a conclusion that the inner tube rental company bus driver purposely omitted a warning to Pellham with knowledge that Pellham would suffer substantial harm.

[*421] CONCLUSION

¶47 We affirm the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of Brian Pellham’s suit against Let’s Go Tubing.

Korsmo and Siddoway, JJ., concur.

LexisNexis Practice Guide: Washington Torts and Personal Injury

LexisNexis Practice Guide: Washington Trial and Post-Trial Civil Procedure

Annotated Revised Code of Washington by LexisNexis


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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