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Texas appellate court upholds release for claims of gross negligence in trampoline accident that left plaintiff a paraplegic.

However, the decision is not reasoned and supported in Texas by other decisions or the Texas Supreme Court.

Quiroz et. al. v. Jumpstreet8, Inc., et. al., 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 5107

State: Texas, Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

Plaintiff: Graciela Quiroz, Individually, a/n/f of Xxxx (“John Doe 1”) and Xxxx (“John Doe 2”), Minors, and Robert Sullivan, Individually, a/n/f of Xxxx (“John Doe 3”)

Defendant: Jumpstreet8, Inc., Jumpstreet, Inc. and Jumpstreet Construction, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence and as next friend of two minor children for their loss of parental consortium and their bystander claims for mental anguish.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2018

Summary

Adult paralyzed in a trampoline facility sues for her injuries. The release she signed before entering stopped all of her claims, including her claim for gross negligence.

However, the reasoning behind the support for the release to stop the gross negligence claim was not in the decision, so this is a tenuous decision at best.

Facts

The plaintiff and her sixteen-year-old son went to the defendant’s business. Before entering she signed a release. While on a trampoline, the plaintiff attempted to do a back flip, landed on her head and was rendered a paraplegic from the waist down.

The plaintiff sued on her behalf and on behalf of her minor. Her claim was a simple tort claim for negligence. Her children’s claims were based on the loss of parental consortium and under Texas law bystander claims for seeing the accident or seeing their mother suffer. The plaintiff’s husband also joined in the lawsuit later for his loss of consortium claims.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted and the plaintiff appealed.

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

The original entity named on the release was a corporation that was no longer in existence. Several successor entities now owned and controlled the defendant. The plaintiff argued the release did not protect them because the release only spoke to the one defendant.

The court did not agree, finding language in the release that stated the release applied to all “jumpstreet entities that engaged in the trampoline business.”

…it also stated the Release equally applied to “its parent, subsidiaries, affiliates, other related entities, successors, owners, members, directors, officers, shareholders, agents, employees, servants, assigns, investors, legal representatives and all individuals and entities involved in the operation of Jumpstreet.”

The next argument was whether the release met the requirements on Texas law for a release. The court pointed out bold and capital letters were used to point out important parts of the release. An assumption of the risk section was separate and distance from the release of liability section, and the release warned people to read the document carefully before signing.

Texas also has an express negligence rule, the requirements of which were also met by the way the release was written.

Further, on page one in the assumption of risk paragraphs, the person signing the Release acknowledges the “potentially hazardous activity,” and the Release lists possible injuries including “but not limited to” sprains, heart attack, and even death. Although paralysis is not specifically named as an injury, it is certainly less than death and thus would be included within the “but not limited to” language. Also, the release of liability paragraph above Quiroz’s signature expressly lists the types of claims and causes of action she is waiving, including “negligence claims, gross negligence claims, personal injury claims, and mental anguish claims.

Next the plaintiff argued that the release covered her and her sixteen-year-old minor son. As such the release should be void because it attempted to cover a minor and releases in Texas do not work for minors.

The court ignored this argument stating it was not the minor who was hurt and suing; it was the plaintiff who was an adult. The court then also added that the other plaintiffs were also covered under the release because all of their claims, loss of parental consortium and loss of consortium are derivative claims. Meaning they only succeed if the plaintiff s claim succeeds.

The final argument was the plaintiff plead negligence and gross negligence in her complaint. A release in Texas, like most other states, was argued by the plaintiff to not be valid.

The appellate court did not see that argument as clearly. First, the Texas Supreme Court had not reviewed that issue. Other appellate courts have held that there is no difference in Texas between a claim for negligence and a claim for gross negligence.

The Texas Supreme Court has not ruled on whether a pre-injury release as to gross negligence is against public policy when there is no assertion that intentional, deliberate, or reckless acts cause injury. Some appellate courts have held that negligence, and gross negligence are not separable claims and a release of liability for negligence also releases a party from liability for gross negligence.

(For other arguments like this see In Nebraska a release can defeat claims for gross negligence for health club injury.)

The court looked at the release which identified negligence and gross negligence as claims that the release would stop.

Quiroz’s Release specifically stated that both negligence and gross negligence claims were waived. The assumption of risk paragraph that lists the specific types of claims/causes of actions that were included in the Release was encased in a box, had all capital lettering, and appeared above the signature line. As noted above, Quiroz received fair notice regarding the claims being waived.

Although not specifically writing in the opinion why the release stopped the gross negligence claims, the court upheld the release for all the plaintiff claims.

…Quiroz’s Release specifically stated that both negligence and gross negligence claims were waived. The assumption of risk paragraph that lists the specific types of claims/causes of actions that were included in the Release was encased in a box, had all capital lettering, and appeared above the signature line. As noted above, Quiroz received fair notice regarding the claims being waived.

The court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.

So Now What?

First this case is a great example of believing that once you have a release you don’t have to do anything else. If the defendant’s release would have been checked every year, someone should have noticed that the named entity to be protected no longer existed.

In this case that fact did not become a major issue, however, in other states the language might not have been broad enough to protect everyone.

Second, this case is also proof that being specific with possible risks of the activities and have an assumption of risk section pays off.

Finally, would I go out and pronounce that Texas allows a release to stop claims for gross negligence. No. Finger’s crossed until the Texas Supreme Court rules on the issue or another appellate court in Texas provides reasoning for its argument, this is thin support for that statement.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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Alaska statute on Parents right to sign away minors right to sue

TITLE 9.  CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE

The Alaska state seal.

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CHAPTER 65.  ACTIONS, IMMUNITIES, DEFENSES, AND DUTIES

Go to the Alaska Code Archive Directory

Alaska Stat. § 09.65.292  (2012)

Sec. 09.65.292.  Parental waiver of child’s negligence claim against provider of sports or recreational activity

   (a) Except as provided in (b) of this section, a parent may, on behalf of the parent’s child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence against the provider of a sports or recreational activity in which the child participates to the extent that the activities to which the waiver applies are clearly and conspicuously set out in the written waiver and to the extent the waiver is otherwise valid. The release or waiver must be in writing and shall be signed by the child’s parent.

(b) A parent may not release or waive a child’s prospective claim against a provider of a sports or recreational activity for reckless or intentional misconduct.

(c) In this section,

   (1) “child” means a minor who is not emancipated;

   (2) “parent” means

      (A) the child’s natural or adoptive parent;

      (B) the child’s guardian or other person appointed by the court to act on behalf of the child;

      (C) a representative of the Department of Health and Social Services if the child is in the legal custody of the state;

      (D) a person who has a valid power of attorney concerning the child; or

      (E) for a child not living with the child’s natural or adoptive parent, the child’s grandparent, aunt, uncle, sister, or brother who has reached the age of majority and with whom the child lives;

   (3) “provider” has the meaning given in AS 09.65.290;

   (4) “sports or recreational activity” has the meaning given in AS 09.65.290.

HISTORY: (§ 2 ch 67 SLA 2004)

NOTES: CROSS REFERENCES. –For findings and legislative intent statement applicable to the enactment of this section, see § 1, ch. 67, SLA 2004, in the 2004 Temporary and Special Acts.

EDITOR’S NOTES. –Section 3, ch. 67, SLA 2004 provides that this section applies “to acts or omissions that occur on or after September 14, 2004.”

USER NOTE: For more generally applicable notes, see notes under the first section of this article, chapter or title.

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Skier/Boarder Fatalities 2011-2012 Ski Season

This list is not guaranteed to be accurate. The information is found from web searches and news dispatches. If you have a source for information on any fatality please leave a comment.

If this information is incorrect or incomplete please let me know. Thanks.

# Date Resort Run Run Difficulty Age Skier Ability Ski/ Tele /Boarder Cause of Death Helmet Reference
1 11/18 Vail Gitalong Road Beginner 62 Skier Yes http://rec-law.us/rBcn7A
2 11/18 Brecken-ridge Northstar Intermediate 19 Expert Boarder suffered massive internal injuries Yes http://rec-law.us/rBcn7A
3 11/27 Mountain High ski resort Chisolm trail Beginner 23 Beginner Boarder internal injuries Yes http://rec-law.us/uGuW17

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations

Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741

However, the decision was not made by the North Carolina Supreme Court and not a ruling by the court and the actual legal issue.

In this case the plaintiff, a fifteen year old minor went on an orientation visit to Camp Lejeune as part of her Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at her high school. While participating in the confidence course (or what used to be called the obstacle course) she was injured. Her injuries were not identified in the lawsuit; however, she was suing for $10,000,000.00.

The minor could not attend the camp unless she and her mother signed the release.

The reason for the decision was based on the plaintiff’s motion to strike the defendants’ answers. This is a preliminary motion that attempts to knock out the specific defenses of the defendant. One of the defenses the plaintiff attempted to eliminate was the defense of release.

This order and decision from the court are not a final decision on the merits of the case. This is only a preliminary motion; however, it is interesting in how the court ruled on the issue of the mother signing the release.

So?

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The court reviewed release law in general and found that in North Carolina, releases are generally enforceable. Releases are strictly construed against the party attempting to enforce them (the defendants). To be valid in North Carolina a release cannot be enforced if it:

(1) is violative of a statute;

(2) is gained through inequality of bargaining power; or

(3) is contrary to a substantial public interest.

The release in this case did not violate any of the above three prohibitions.

The court then looked at whether the release signed by the minor plaintiff was valid. Under North Carolina law, like all other states, a release signed by a minor is voidable by the minor unless it meets rare exceptions. The exception to the contract prohibition is contracts for necessities or when a statute allows a minor to sign a contract. Here, neither of these issues was the reason the release was signed. So the release signed by the minor has no value and is void.

The court then looked at the release signed by the mother. The court found that a minority of states that had looked at the issue, had found releases for minors signed by parents so the minor could engage in “non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations.”

The analysis then looked at whether the North Carolina Supreme Court would hold the same way. The activity the minor engaged in was extracurricular and voluntary and done for the benefit of the child. As such the court held the North Carolina Supreme Court would hold the release valid.

So Now What?

Before a rule, law can be cast in wet concrete (nothing is ever cast in stone) it must be decided by the highest court in the state. Here, the federal court looking at the issue made the decision. The North Carolina Supreme Court at some later time could decide that this is not the way it wants to rule.

Furthermore, the ruling is not that the release signed by the mother is valid. The ruling is the defense of release being argued by the defendant is not thrown out by the court. The legal issue of whether or not the release is a valid release under North Carolina law is still at issue.

The decision is important and will probably be followed later in the case, but there is no guaranty. However, it is a positive step to stop lawsuits.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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How do you prove to a cop that you were not at fault in an accident with a car when you were on a bike?

Crumple zones and skid marks don’t work in cycling.

When two cars collide there are several things besides the statements of the drivers that a cop (police officer when they do things correctly and cop when they don’t) can use to determine who was a fault. When a car hits cyclists, there are one set of skid marks, the cars, but rarely any on the pavement from the bike. Consequently it will be your statement against the drivers and cops have an affinity to believe the driver.
What do you do and in what order to make sure the correct person is handed a ticket and you are your bike are taken care of.

Before you take off on a ride:

  1. Get a smartphone and/or
  2. Get a GPS unit that records your travels in detail
  3. Download to your smartphone an app that tracks your location and time in as small of increments as possible.

When you go on your ride:

  1. Start the GPS unit or your smart phone program
  2. Tell someone where you are going and when you should be expected back
  3. Make sure you can dial 911 easily and quickly from your phone
  4. Make sure you can call friends if need help.
  5. Make sure you know how to use your phone’s camera
  6. a. Make sure you know how to upload photos to some site when you take them at the same time leaving a copy on your phone

  • F. Put an app on your phone that allows you to record conversations and upload or email those files to a third party or upload them

If you are in an accident:

  1. Call 911
  2. Tell them you have been involved in an accident, there are injuries (if there are) and damages and request the police

    Do not state that one of the vehicles is a bike if you can because that may slow response in some jurisdictions.

  3. Photograph everything, the car, the bike, the scene and any witnesses, especially reluctant ones.
  4. Get names and addresses of any witnesses and ask them to stick around until the cops arrive
  5.           Take a picture of the witnesses so you can match the information to each witness
  6.           Better photograph their driver’s license
  7.          Upload your photographs to a safe site, keeping copies on your phone to show the cop
  8. Get the driver’s information and while you’re doing that
  9. Record the driver’s conversation. Initially most people tell the truth, only when the cops arrive do they start to change stories.

However, do not give all of this to the police officer unless you have backed it up or have copies; it may disappear. If the conversation is backed up by the evidence or telling, let the officer hear it and tell the officer as soon as you can get it downloaded you can provide a copy. However you cannot give him the smartphone as it is your only phone. Ask the officer if you can email the recording to him from your phone and do so along with any photographs.

If your GPS allows you, do the same with your track on the GPS. Tell the officer it requires special software that you have to download and print the track and you will deliver it to him ASAP, but be hesitant about giving him the GPS.

Always set your GPS to record as much information as possible for each of your rides. A report that only provides data every several minutes may not sure you stopped at the stop sign before proceeding into the intersection. However multiple GPS hits at one spot with the time stamp will show you obeyed the law.
At the same time, always ride as the law requires. If you do not you will provide the police with the information needed to ignore your story or even write you’re a ticket

Get the case number from the officer and his information. Many officers carry business cards now days. Get the officers business card, and take a photograph of it with your phone and upload it. (In case you lose it or it gets sweaty and can’t be used.) Find out how you can supplement the report with a transcript or a copy of the recording, photographs and a download of the GPS report showing your mode of travel.

If you have the GPS track on your phone make sure you email a copy of the track, photographs and recording to yourself ASAP to have a back copy of everything.

You may not be able to win the argument at the scene; cops are tuned to disregard cyclists. Put together a package of the information you have and deliver it to the police officer. Get a receipt when you do. If you do not hear from the officer within 7 days, find out the officers supervisor and give a copy of your information to him, with a cover letter. Also at that time, give a copy of the report to your county commissioner or city council person anyone who was elected to their position and has responsibility for the police.

If that does not work, go to the press and/or a police overview group. The squeaky wheel gets greased and until you make enough noise that someone cares, you may not get satisfaction.

The whole key is to get enough information to be able to prove your point from anyone or anything other than you. Photographs, recordings, notes and other people are more credible than cyclists in many cases when pleading a case. If nothing else, those third parties and things will support your claims.

For examples of how this has worked see: Why Every Cyclist Should Ride With GPS and Why Every Cyclist Should Think About A GPS

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2011 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

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

Rice, Et Als, vs. American Skiing Company, Et Als, 2000 Me. Super. LEXIS 90

However the court held out the possibility that a

properly written indemnification clause may

be upheld.

In Rice et all the plaintiff was a nine year old boy skiing at Sunday River Ski Area. Sunday River Skiway Corporation was owned by the now defunct

English: The beautiful Sunday River Ski Resort...

Image via Wikipedia

American Ski Company at the time. The mother of the plaintiff signed the plaintiff up for an all-day ski lesson. While doing so she signed a “Acknowledgement &; Acceptance of Risks & Liability Release” (Ski Enrollment Form)” The form stated the risks and released the defendant of liability for negligence. The form also contained an indemnification provisions which stated the parents would indemnify the ski area for any losses of the minor.

During the afternoon instruction the plaintiff fell. The class stopped and waited for him to catch up. The plaintiff lost control and skied into the tree suffering injuries. The plaintiff sued for negligent supervision. The defendants claimed the defenses of the Maine Skiers’ and Tramway Passengers’ Responsibilities Act, 32 M.R.S.A. § 15217 (Supp. 1999) and the release signed by the mother.

The court quickly found the Maine Ski Act did not stop the lawsuit. The Maine Ski Act allows a suit for “does not prevent the maintenance of an action against the ski area operator for the negligent operation of the ski area”. The court found that negligent supervision “clearly” falls within the Maine Ski Acts “negligent operation” exclusion.

The court then looked at the release and struck the normal cords discussing releases. The court looks with disfavor on releases, releases must be strictly construed, and they must spell out with greatest particularity the intention of the parties.

After reviewing Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 696 N.E.2d 201 (Ohio 1998), the court held that Zivich only applied to non-profit organizations and in one-half of a sentence dismissed the issue that a parent is constitutionally allowed to sign a release for a child. The court then looked at prior law in Maine and held that a parent could not sign away a minor’s right to sue in Maine.

The court then looked at the mother’s claim for lost wages. The mother’s claim is derivative of the son’s claims. That means that if the son’s claim does not prevail then the mother’s claim does not stand. Because there were no defenses to the son’s claim then the mother’s claim could go forward.

Whether a parent can recover for their own losses when a child is negligently injured varies from state to state.
The final defense reviewed by the court was the indemnification language in the release. Maine, like all other states disfavors indemnification clauses against a defendant’s own negligence. The court found that this clause was not sufficient to state a defense under Maine law. However the court did not deny indemnifications claims absolutely. A release or indemnification agreement written with the guidelines of the court may be upheld.

So? Summary of the case

Maine fell in with the majority of the states holding that a parent could not sign away a minor’s right to sue. Nothing knew there. However there were several other defenses that were not raised or maybe were raised at later times.

The mother enrolled the plaintiff in a level III class. That required the plaintiff to have experience and be able to “form a wedge, to be able to stop and start and to get up on their own if they fall and they can put their skis on by themselves and that they have experience riding the chairlift.” A minor can assume the risk of injury. Whether or not a nine year minor can I do not know. The specific age were a minor can assume a risk varies by state and by age. However, the plaintiff did have experience skiing and as such might have assumed the risk.

Another outside claim might be that the mother was a fault for signing here son up for a class that was beyond his abilities. Maybe the minor should have been enrolled in a Level 1 or 2 class. However, this claim would be subject to the claim that the instructor should have moved the child if the child was in the wrong class by lunch. This argument may hold if the accident occurred in the morning before the ski instructor had the opportunity to review the student.

The court also brought up and pointed out that the father had not signed any of the documentation. Not a legal point, but an interesting one in this case.

The Great Seal of the State of Maine.

Image via Wikipedia

So Now What?

1. Get the best most well written release you can that specifically stops lawsuits by parents.
2. Educate the minor in advance, and probably the parents so you might have an assumption of the risk defense.
3. Be very wary with kids. If it appears that the minor cannot ski with the rest of the class, either move the minor to another class or move the class to a slope the minor can handle.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2011 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

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

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

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

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

English: Great Seal of The State of Alabama

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

Summary of the case

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

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

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

So Now What?

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2011 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

Twitter: RecreationLaw
Facebook: Rec.Law.Now
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