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

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

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

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals of Georgia

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

Defendant: Oglethorpe University, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Assumption of the Risk

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2017

Summary

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

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

Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Now What?

There are two important points in this decision.

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

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

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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

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

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

802 S.E.2d 437

Downes et al. v. Oglethorpe University, Inc

A17A0246

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 30, 2017

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

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

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

OPINION

[802 S.E.2d 438]

Ellington, Presiding Judge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment affirmed.

Andrews and Rickman, JJ., concur.

Notes:

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

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

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

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


Act Now & Stop this Minnesota bill

Minnesota Legislation is considering a bill that would eliminate releases (waivers) in Minnesota for recreational activities.

What the legislature does not understand is this bill will eliminate recreational activities in Minnesota.

Again, the Minnesota Senate and the House have introduced bills to ban releases in MN for recreational activities. Here is a copy of the Senate bill.

A bill for an act relating to civil actions; voiding a waiver of liability for ordinary negligence involving a consumer service; amending Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 604.055, subdivision 1.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1.

Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 604.055, subdivision 1, is amended to read:

Subdivision 1.

Certain agreements are void and unenforceable.

An agreement between parties for a consumer service, including a recreational activity, that purports to release, limit, or waive the liability of one party for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes new text begin ordinary negligence or new text end greater than ordinary negligence is against public policy and void and unenforceable.

The agreement, or portion thereof, is severable from a release, limitation, or waiver of liability for damage, injuries, or death resulting from deleted text begin conduct that constitutes ordinary negligence or for deleted text end risks that are inherent in a particular activity.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective August 1, 2019, and applies to agreements first signed or accepted on or after that date.

Without the defenses supplied by releases in Minnesota:

  • Insurance costs will skyrocket. After OR outlawed releases some premiums jumped 2.5 times.
  • Insurance for many activities will be impossible to find.
  • Either because of the costs or the lack of premium recreation business will close.
  • The first group of recreation businesses to go will be those serving kids. They get hurt easy, and their parents sue easy.
  • Minnesota courts will back log because the only defense available will be assumption of the risk. Assumption of the risk is determined in the vast majority of cases by the jury. Consequently, it will take years to get to trial and prove the injured plaintiff assumed the risk.

Do Something

Contact your Senator and Representative and tell them you are opposed to this bill. Do it by telephone and in writing.

Find other organizations, trade associations and the like and join with them to give them more power because they have more people they represent.

Explain the bill to your friends and neighbors, so they can voice their opinion. Encourage them to do so.

Become politically aware so you know what is going on with the legislature and how to fight bills like this.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Interesting decision only real defense was the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act, which provides little if any real defense.

Defendants are the company that booked the trip (Vail through Grand Teton Lodge Company) and the travel agent who booked the trip.

Rizas et. al. v. Vail Resorts, Inc.; et. al., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 139788

State: Wyoming

Plaintiff: Alexis R. Rizas, Individually and as the Personal Representative of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of John J. Rizas, deceased; John Friel, Individually and as the Personal Representative of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Elizabeth A. Rizas, Deceased; Ronald J. Miciotto, as the Per-sonal Representative of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Linda and Lewis Clark, Deceased; James Clark; Lawrence Wilson; and Joyce Wilson, Plaintiffs

Defendant: Vail Resorts, Inc.; Grand Teton Lodge Company; Tauck, Inc., a.k.a. Tauck World Discovery, Inc., a.k.a. Tauck Tours, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence, Punitive damages

Defendant Defenses: Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act

Holding: Mixed, mostly for the plaintiff

Year: 2009

Summary

Decision looks at the liability of the travel agency and the hotel that booked a rafting float trip where three people died. The only defenses of available were the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act which helped keep the lawsuit in Wyoming applying Wyoming law, but was ineffective in assisting in the defense of the lawsuit.

The rafting company is not part of this decision so probably the raft company settled with the defendants before the case was filed or this motion was heard.

Facts

Tauck is a corporation formed under the laws of New Jersey and primarily doing business in Connecticut. Stipulated Facts, Docket Entry 108. Tauck is in the business of selling tour packages to its clients, one of which in 2006 was a tour called the “Yellowstone & Grand Teton – North.” This tour began in Salt Lake City, Utah and ended in Rapid City, South Dakota. Id. The tour included a two-night stay at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park, and the Lodge was operated by GTLC. GTLC is organized under the laws of Wyoming and operates within the Grand Teton National Park pursuant to a concessionaire agreement with the National Park Service. Among the services that GTLC offered its guests is a 10-mile float trip along the Snake River from Deadman’s Bar to the Moose Landing. Tauck’s 2006 promotional materials contains the following sentence: “Take a scenic ten-mile raft trip on the Snake River as it meanders through spectacular mountain scenery alive with wildlife, including moose, elk, deer, and many species of birds.”

On June 2, 2006, a tour group gathered at the Lodge at approximately 8:00 a.m. They traveled via several vans to the rafting launch site at Deadman’s Bar. The trip took approximately one hour. There the larger group was split into four smaller groups, one for each raft provided. Raft No. 1 was guided by Wayne Johnson, an employee of GTLC. The raft at issue, Raft No. 2, had 11 passengers: John Rizas, Elizabeth Rizas, Patricia Rizas, Linda Clark, James Clark, Lawrence “Bubba” Wilson, Joyce Wilson, Tom Rizas, Ruth Rizas, Jon Shaw, and Maria Urrutia. The raft guide was Daniel Hobbs, who was also a GTLC employee and had been for four years.

During the float trip, Raft No. 2 struck a log jam. The collision occurred in the Funnelcake channel, which was one of several braided channels of the river. The raft upended as a result and all passengers were thrown into the river. John Rizas, Elizabeth Rizas, and Linda Clark died as a result.

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

The first issue was a choice of laws (jurisdiction and venue) provision in the agreement with the travel agency Tauck, which stated venue was to be in Connecticut. The plaintiff was arguing that the case should be moved to Connecticut, which is odd, because the plaintiff’s filed the case to start in Wyoming. However, since they sued in Wyoming, the plaintiff is still arguing that Connecticut law should apply.

Tauck argued the choice of law provisions was for its benefit, and it had the right to waive that provision in the agreement. The court found that Tauck had the right to waive a provision in the agreement that was there for its benefit.

In Wyoming, a contract must be construed according to the law of the place where it was made. There is no evidence indicating where the contract at issue was formed, but that makes little difference because the law of waiver of contract provisions is widespread and well accepted. “A party to a contract may waive a provision of the contract that was included for his benefit.”

The court held that the provision was for Tauck’s benefit because the living plaintiffs were residents of Georgia and Louisiana.

The court also stated, even it had not found for Tauck on this issue this way; it would have still used Wyoming law because of Wyoming’s strong public policy of recreational immunity.

Even if Tauck had not waived its right to enforce the choice-of-law provision, this Court would not enforce this provision due to Wyoming’s strong public policy of recreational immunity. Plaintiffs seek application of Connecticut law largely to avoid the effects of. The Court will discuss the Act in detail below; it is sufficient here to note that the Act provides a near-total elimination liability of a recreation provider where a person is injured because of an “inherent risk” of a recreational activity. River floating is specifically named as a qualifying recreational activity. Consequently, Plaintiffs seek application of Connecticut law because Connecticut is not so protective of its recreational providers as Wyoming.

Choice of law provisions are usually upheld by the courts; however, there are ways to get around them as this court explained.

The tour members and Tauck agreed that Connecticut law would apply, and Connecticut has a significant connection to the contract because of Tauck’s operation there. Nevertheless, Wyoming’s interest in the resolution of this issue is significantly greater because important Wyoming policy concerns are involved in the question of whether a provider of recreation opportunities should be subject to liability for injury from inherent risks. Absent a Connecticut plaintiff, Connecticut has no interest in whether a Wyoming corporation is held liable. Indeed, Connecticut’s interest in this case, if any, is probably more closely aligned with Tauck, which operates in that state.

The Court’s analysis is further informed by the fact that that Wyoming’s public policy in this matter is a strong one. Initially, the Act was less protective of recreation service providers, defining an “inherent risk” as “any risk that is characteristic of or intrinsic to any sport or recreational opportunity and which cannot reasonably be eliminated, altered or controlled.” In 1996, the Wyoming Legislature eliminated the clause, “and which cannot reasonably be eliminated, altered or controlled.” Subsequent to the amendment, this Court recognized the extraordinary protection offered to recreation providers in Wyoming:

Given this extraordinary protection, this Court must conclude that the Wyoming Legislature views immunity for recreation providers to be an important state interest. Wyoming law should apply in this case.

The court then reviewed the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act. The plaintiff’s argued the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act did not apply for three reasons.

First, they contend that Connecticut law applies–an argument that the Court has already resolved in favor of Defendants.

Second, Plaintiffs argue that Tauck is not a “provider” as defined in the Act.

Third, they assert that federal law preempts the Act.

The court found the first argument was already resolved in its analysis of jurisdiction above.

The second argument was the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act did not apply to the defendant Tauck, because it was a travel agent in Connecticut and not a “provider” as defined under the act. The court found that Tauck was a provider under the act because as part of its package. Provider is defined as “[A]ny person or governmental entity which for profit or otherwise offers or conducts a sport or recreational opportunity.”

The final issue was the argument that the state law was pre-empted by federal law. The argument was based on the concessionaire agreement the defendant had with the NPS. Although the concession agreement with the NPS provided for visitor safety, there was nothing in the agreement showing intent to pre-empt the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act.

The court then looked to see if the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act provided a defense in this case. The court first defined Inherent Risk under Wyoming law.

‘Inherent risk’ with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangerous conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.”

[As you can see, the definition of inherent risk is not a broad definition it narrowly defines the risks to those intrinsic or integral to the activity. That leaves out thousands of risks created by man such as steering the raft, water releases, choosing the run, etc. which are probably not protected by the act.]

Outside of the inherent risks, to thwart the act, the plaintiff only needs to argue the risk was not inherent and the case would proceed to trial because the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act does not provide a defense to any risk not inherent in the sport. Because the court could not determine what risks were inherent what were not, it held the Wyoming’s Recreation Safety Act did not apply in this case.

In any case, this Court is bound to apply Sapone. Plaintiffs have submitted evidence that tends to show that the river, on the day of the river float trip, was running higher and faster so as to result in an activity with some greater risk to the participants. In addition, Plaintiffs submitted evidence suggesting that this stretch of river was generally believed to be a dangerous one. Specifically, a National Park Service publication entitled “Floating the Snake River” states that the area from Deadman’s Bar to Moose Landing “is the most challenging stretch of river in the park, and most accidents occur here. The river drops more steeply, with faster water than in other sections south of Pacific Creek. Complex braiding obscures the main channel, and strong currents can sweep boaters into side channels blocked by logjams.” Id. This evidence is not uncontested, of course, but it is sufficient to preclude summary judgment on this issue. The Court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether colliding with the log jam was an inherent risk of the river float trip undertaken by the tour members on June 2, 2006.

The court moved on to Tauck’s motion for summary judgment because as a tour agency is was not liable for the negligent acts of third parties, it dealt with. The law supports that argument. “As a general rule, a tour operator is not liable for injuries caused by the negligence of third parties over which the tour operator did not exercise ownership or control.”

However, that general rules does not apply if a contract with the travel agency or marketing state the travel agency will undertake a duty. (Always remember Marketing makes Promises Risk Management has to Pay for.)

Here the court found the promotional materials were marketing and did not rise to the level to be promises to be kept.

The plaintiff also argued Tauck took on a greater duty to the guests when it undertook the duty to have the guests sign the defendant GTLC’s acknowledgment of risk forms. That duty included duty to inform the guests of the risk associated with river rafting. However, the court could find nothing in Tauck’s action indicating it was accepting a greater duty when it handed out the assumption of the risk forms.

The plaintiff’s created a fraud argument. Under Montana’s law:

To prove fraud, the plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the defendant made a false representation intended to induce action by the plaintiff; (2) the plaintiff reasonably believed the representation to be true; and (3) the plaintiff suffered damages in relying upon the false representation

The plaintiff’s argued that the defendants made all sorts of statements and advertising that the float trip was a leisurely scenic trip. The channel the raft guide took was not leisurely but was a dangerous channel by some authorities. However, the issue was, did the defendants intentionally made the statements about the river to induce the plaintiffs to the trip.

The defendants wanted the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages dismissed. In Wyoming, punitive damages appear to be a claim much like negligence. The punitive damages claim was based on the same allegations that the fraud claim was made, that the defendants misrepresented the nature of the float trip.

Punitive damages in Wyoming are:

We have approved punitive damages in circumstances involving outrageous conduct, such as intention-al torts, torts involving malice and torts involving willful and wanton misconduct.” Willful and wanton misconduct is the intentional doing, or failing to do, an act in reckless disregard of the consequences and under circumstances and conditions that a reasonable person would know that such conduct would, in a high degree of probability, result in harm to another. “The aggravating factor which distinguishes willful misconduct from ordinary negligence is the actor’s state of mind. In order to prove that an actor has engaged in willful misconduct, one must demonstrate that he acted with a state of mind that approaches intent to do harm.”

Failing to advise the plaintiffs that the river was running higher than normal because of the spring run off did not rise to a level to be reckless and willful misconduct. The one channel of several the one guide went down was a negligent decision, not a willful one.

So Now What?

Fairly simple, use a release. It would have stopped this lawsuit sooner. If the outfitter would have used a release, it could have protected the lodge and the travel agent. I’m sure the lodge is going to use one now, which will probably just muddy the water because of multiple releases and defendants.

There are very few statutes that provide any real protection in the outdoor recreation industry. Most, in fact, make it easier for the plaintiffs to win. The exception to the rule is a few of the Ski Area Safety Statutes.

Be prepared and do more than rely on a week statute.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

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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

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

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

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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

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


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

TITLE 9.  CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE

The Alaska state seal.

Image via Wikipedia

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?

The Latvian platoon marches in the Pass in Rev...

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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.

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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.

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Colorado has a “Bill of Rights” for kids to experience the outdoors.

This is really cool.

 CO_OBOR_English

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Summer camp supervision issues are always part of any lawsuit and tough to determine in New York.

Kosok v. Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater New York, 24 A.D.2d 113; 264 N.Y.S.2d 123; 1965 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3042

As long as there was no notice of a problem and no rule of the camp or standard for the camp, assumption of the risk is a valid defense against minors claim.

New York had dozens of decisions concerning lawsuits by injured campers. It is going to take months to figure out if there is any discernable rule or idea on how to run a camp in New York. This decision is a start.
At this camp groups of boys were divided into cabins by age groups. After lunch “camp regulations” required a rest period. Younger campers had to rest on their beds; older boys were just required to do sedentary activities. (Why you don’t want to wear out kids, by the time they go to bed at camp is beyond me?)

During one of the rest periods, a group of boys threaded a fishing line over a rafter and attached a galvanized bucket to it. When someone would walk underneath the bucket, they would lower it where it would hit the unsuspecting camper making a pop. After another camper had the prank played on them the plaintiff was enticed into the cabin where the bucket was dropped. The plaintiff suffered unspecified injuries.

The plaintiff sued the camp and the two boys involved in the prank. The two boys were dismissed from the lawsuit by the trial court. The plaintiff sued for “improper supervision and a failure to provide proper medical care after the accident.” The case went to trial and the jury found for the plaintiff on the supervision claim and for the defendant camp for the medical care claim. The camp appealed.

This decision has great quotes, which have been quoted in numerous other New York decisions, and then, to some extent, seems to be ignored. However, the court found that boys at camp have fun.

Summer camp, it will be seen that constant supervision is not feasible. 
[constant supervision] Nor is it desirable. One of the benefits of such an institution is to inculcate self-reliance in the campers which on overly protective supervision would destroy. 
A certain amount of horseplay is almost always to be found in gatherings of young people, and is generally associated with children’s camps. It is only to be discouraged when it becomes dangerous. Nothing in the incident itself or the surrounding circumstances indicates any notice to defendant that such was likely to result here.

The court did find that the standard of care for a camp was that of a reasonable prudent parent. That standard though varies with the age of the child.

The court held the jury verdict should be reversed, and the case dismissed because the court found no negligence on the part of the defendant.

So?

This case is 52 years old. It is a still relevant law in New York. However, I believe that based on other New York decisions and the standard of care for campers in New York has changed. Many decisions quote the language of this case, and then find a difference in the facts to hold the camp liable.

So Now What?

To work within the boundaries of these and other cases the best result would be to inform parents and campers of the risk. Pictures, videos, brochures and the website are a start. Have the parents and campers to acknowledge that there is horseplay when kids get together and have them acknowledge the kids get hurt.
This should be in a written document that refers to the website as the source of more information or even better information they have reviewed. An assumption of the risk form for the minors and a release for the parents should do more than just have the simple legal language of a release. Each document, or the same document, if written correctly, should identify the activities the minors will be engaging in and the possible risks for all of those activities.

When you are creating your website, don’t be afraid to show kids being unsuccessful as well as successful. Kids fall while playing sports, kids get tagged out running bases and canoes tip over throwing kids in the water. Follow the old Clint Eastwood movie; show the good and the bad, maybe the ugly.

A scrape on a camper is a good way to show parents that you have a medical team on hand. It also lets parents realize that kids are outdoors, having fun and probably getting hurt.

The more you can prove you informed the parents and the campers of the risks the greater your chances at success in keeping everyone happy and out of court.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wrong release for the activity almost sinks YMCA

A release must apply to the activity and the person who you want to make sure cannot sue you.

McGowan et al v. West End YMCA, 2002 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3018

English: YMCA logo (international and USA)

Image via Wikipedia

 

In this case, a mother signed her son up to attend a day camp sponsored by the YMCA. While attending the day camp, the child was accidentally hit in the head by another child with a baseball bat. The mother sued for the child’s injuries.

The YMCA argued that the mother had signed a release, and therefore, the YMCA should be dismissed. The mother argued that the release only applied to her, not her child because the release was unclear as to who was being released in the document. (The mother argued the release was required for her to walk around the YMCA to sign her son up for the camp.)

In this case, the YMCA used its general release for people on the premises of the YMCA as a fitness facility, for its day camp. The release did not indicate a parent would be signing for the child nor did the release look to the issues the child would encounter, only an adult using the YMCA or any other gym.

The mother argued because the release did not identify her son, the injured party, as who the release applied to the release only applied to her while she was on the premises. Nothing in the document indicated that the mother was signing a release on behalf of her son.

Like most releases used in gyms and fitness centers it is written for the adult signing up to use the gym.
Under the law, “An agreement exculpating the drafter from liability for his or her own future negligence must clearly and explicitly express that this is the intent of the parties.”

What saved the YMCA was a technicality in the language of the release. To go to the day camp, the child attending must be a member of the YMCA. The mother of the injured child was not a member of the YMCA. However, her son was. Because the release referred to the YMCA member as the person giving up their right to sue, the court held the release applied to the child not the mother. This language allowed the court to find for the YMCA.

So?

Releases are not documents you can merely find on the internet or put together based on language that sounds good. Think about the contract you used to purchase your house. It was a 10 to 20 page document used to buy something of value greater than $100,000 or so.

If someone is suing you for several million dollars do you want to rely on a document that you put together or worse stole from the business down the street.

Here again you have to make sure your release is properly written. You may have several different releases for different parties or activities. I commonly suggest that people use different paper to print the different release forms. Here the YMCA should have had a general release for use of its fitness and other facilities and a release for its day camp. One could have been printed on white paper and the other on green. Even better, put the release online and save paper.

Your release must identify who is protected by the release and who the release is going to stop from suing. In many cases, one parent will sign on behalf of a child. However, in some states, unless the language is clear, that parent may not be preventing the other parent from suing. Identify every person who can sue in the release as well as every person who cannot be sued. When in doubt, have both parents sign the release.

For information on other states where a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue see: States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue–Updated 2011
 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Minnesota decision upholds parent’s right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Case was a baseball camp where the minor was injured during horseplay. 

Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299 

This is a pretty simple case. The defendants operated a baseball camp on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The plaintiff’s mother had signed her son up for the camp, online or electronically. On the last day after lunch a group of students went to the courtyard. The plaintiff sustained a permanent eye injury when they started throwing woodchips from the courtyard at each other.

The father sued on behalf of his son. The trial court, a district court in the opinion, granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The father on his and his son behalf appealed.

The plaintiff first argued that the release, or assumption of the risk agreement as it was termed in the decision, should be “thrown out” because it could not be produced. Because the mother had signed online there was no signed document. On top of that, the system used by the defendant did not produce any document indicating who had signed what documents.

However, the defendant was able to show that the mother had signed other documents just like the release. A roster of those kids that had attended the camp that summer, with the injured minor’s name on it was produced. The camp through a director, also testified that if the mother had not signed the release, the minor would not have been allowed to attend the camp.

The mother’s deposition was also introduced. She could not deny filing out the forms online even though she did not remember the forms.

The plaintiff’s then argued that the language of the release did not cover the injury the minor sustained. The language only spoke to baseball and as such the release only covered injuries that the minor could have received playing baseball. Horsing around during free time therefore, was not covered by the release. The plaintiff also argued the language that excluded the claims; the release sentence was separate from the sentence that identified the risks. As such the release should be very narrowly construed.

Neither argument was accepted by the court. The court found that the release covered more than just baseball, and the release had to be read as a whole so the risk was incorporated into the exculpatory sentence.

The plaintiff then argued the exculpatory clause violated public policy. The court dismissed this argument. The court found that the baseball camp was not educational in nature. The training could be found through other sources and playing baseball was not essential or of great importance to members of the public.

So?
 
The rules of evidence have a procedure for admitting into trial documents that have been lost. The rule is based on procedure. The procedure to be allowed to go to a baseball camp required a parent to sign many documents. The child would not have been allowed at amp without signing all of the documents. A procedure was set up to show the mother had to have signed the release because her son was at the camp.
You should create a procedure for your business, camp or program. The best one I’ve seen for whitewater rafting was created by Mountain Waters Rafting. Guests were given their PFD’s (life jackets) when they handed in their releases. If a guest had on a PFD, the guest had signed a release.

The more you can identify a procedure that you used the same way every time, the easier to introduce a lost piece of paper.

Electronically, there can be several ways to make sure you can prove a person read and signed the release online. I first suggest you always tie a release into a credit card. The credit card company knows more about the holder of a credit card then you ever will. If the credit is accepted to pay for something on line, and the name on the release matches the name on the credit card you can prove the release was signed. If the trip or camp was paid for a release was signed.

You should also have a system that you are notified that each person has signed the documents. Create a way to download the information, name, address, etc. date and exact time the release was signed to your business computer and do so regularly. That information can be matched up, name, date and time to the credit card and payment used. Match this with your receipt of payment from the credit card company and you should have proof.

Make sure your release is written to cover all the risks of your program, business or activity. Here the language was broad enough the baseball program was covered for horseplay. How often do you feed guests, transport guests, and have guests just walking around that could be a chance to be injured. Your release needs to stop litigation, all types of litigation, not just what you face what you are selling to the public.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

 
Copyright 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreation.Law@Gmail.com

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Why Youth Protection Training is valuable.

It protects youth. It may also keep you from losing your job and your lifestyle. 

People who volunteer with the Boy Scouts of Americaor other youth organizations are now required to take classes in how

History of the Boy Scouts of America

Image via Wikipedia

to deal with youth and avoid dangerous situations. The classes for the BSA are called Youth Protection Training. The training is designed to keep youth from being molested by adults and to protect the privacy of the youth in the organization. This training is important for the youth and for the organization.

Many times I see adults resisting this training because they feel it does not apply to them. It is not necessary or is a waste of time. They don’t molest youth, why take the training.

However, this training can be extremely critical for an adult.

By following the programs an adult is never put in a position where he can be accused of doing something wrong!

Many years ago I was asked to investigate different claims against the Boy Scouts by my local BSA council. Most of the investigation was simply following up to fill paperwork for the council and see if the council might be at risk.

However, once it was not so easy. A man had been accused by a female youth member of sexual improprieties. After six months of work, I knew that she was lying. There was no time and place that the incident could have occurred. The accused was with other members of the unit at all times. The youth had a motive. She hated the leader.

Not so bad you think. Not really. The accused had a very high security clearance for his job. He lost his clearance and was not able to participate at work. He said the six months might set him back permanently in his employment.

An innocent man was wrongly accused and nearly lost everything.

Youth Protection Training protects youth and adults!

If you are interested in the BSA youth protection training you can get it here: BSA Online Learning Center. If you do not have a BSA account you will have to create one here before you can start the training.

What do you think? Leave a comment.
 
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Colorado Appellate Court finds Vail’s boundary marking not enough to prevent a lawsuit.

Two nearly identical mishaps at the same location bring two suits where the skier was able to overturn a motion for summary judgment.

Ciocian v. Vail Corporation, 2010 Colo. App. LEXIS 1353

In Ciocian v. Vail Corporation and Anderson v. Vail Corporation the decisions from the court were identical. The two cases had almost identical accidents against the same defendant, at the same place, within six days of each other. The parties were all represented by the same attorneys so the court issued one opinion to apply to both cases.

The case involved skiers who skied through the ski area boundary, out of bounds, on to private land. The skiers were injured when they skied over a 19’ embankment onto a driveway. The issue was whether the skiers saw the ski area boundary markers and if they did not, whether the boundary was marked correctly under the Colorado Skier Safety Act.

The Colorado Skier Safety Act requires that all boundaries of ski areas be marked. Colorado Revised Statute (C.R.S.) §§ 33-44-107. Duties of ski area operators – signs and notices required for skiers’ information states:

(6) The ski area operator shall mark its ski area boundaries in a fashion readily visible to skiers under conditions of ordinary visibility. Where the owner of land adjoining a ski area closes all or part of his land and so advises the ski area operator, such portions of the boundary shall be signed as required by paragraph (e) of subsection (2) of this section. This requirement shall not apply in heavily wooded areas or other nonskiable terrain.

In the case in these two accidents, the downhill border of a catwalk was the boundary of the ski area. Soon thereafter there is a 19’ drop onto a driveway. The area on the uphill side of the catwalk and the two runs the catwalk connected were in bounds. The uphill side of the catwalk was open for tree skiing. In both cases, the plaintiff skied over the catwalk without seeing the boundary signs.

The skiers skied through the trees and across the catwalk passing the boundary.

The boundary was marked part of the way on the entrance and exit of the catwalk with ropes and signs. The center part of the catwalk, approximately 303 yards, was marked with nine signs.

The issue brought before the court was whether the signs were enough under the act to be seen by skiers warning them that they were about to go outside of the ski area boundary.

Any violation of the Colorado Skier Safety Act is negligence on the part of the ski area: C.R.S. §§ 33-44-104. Negligence – civil actions.

(1) A violation of any requirement of this article shall, to the extent such violation causes injury to any person or damage to property, constitute negligence on the part of the person violating such requirement.

The plaintiff’s argued the ski area failed to mark the boundary in a fashion that was visible to the skiers as required by C.R.S. §§ 33-44-107(6) and therefore, the ski area was negligent under C.R.S. §§ 33-44-104(1). If the negligence of the defendant is based on a violation of a statute (negligence per se) then a release is not effective to stop a lawsuit. This also became an issue for the ski area.

The court first looked at the statute to determine if the statute was clear or if the statute needed interpretation by the courts to be effective. In making that determination the court’s duty is to “to effectuate the intent of the General Assembly, looking first to the statute’s plain language.” If the language of the statute was not plan, or if it is ambiguous the duty is to “construe the statute in light of the General Assembly’s objective, employing the presumption that the legislature intended a consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect.”

The court found the language of the statute was plain and upheld the interpretation of the statute put forth above.

The court also pointed out statements made by the ski patrol about the incident.

With respect to skier # 1, a responding member of the ski patrol testified in his deposition that he “could see how this happened” and responded affirmatively to the question, “you didn’t believe that it was sufficiently clear that that was the area boundary?” With respect to skier # 2, the ski patrol supervisor confirmed that he probably told her that there was “no way she could have known the trees were beyond the ski area boundary and, therefore, it was not her fault,” or words to that effect.

The Appellate Court over turned the trial court’s grant of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and sent the case back to the trial court for trial. However, this case was decided on September 16, 2010 and there is still time for the Defendant Vail Corporation to appeal the decision so this decision may not be final. If not appealed and taken to trial, there is still a long way to go before a decision is handed down by the court.

So?

There are still several things to learn from this decision.

If you are subject to a statute, you must make sure you meet all the requirements of the statute. Failure to do so will not only find you are negligent it will also stop most if not all of your defenses.

You also have to be aware that employees are going to answer questions honestly. The ski patrollers that answered the questions that assisted the plaintiff’s cases were doing so because they must tell the truth first and help their employer second. If your case is such that your employees may believe the plaintiff’s claim, you need to evaluate your case.

At the same time, no matter how much an employee may agree that the company did something wrong, that does not mean that they agree with the amount of money the plaintiff is asking for.

One interesting note, the court in a footnote referenced REI’s www.rei.com glossary in its expert advice section to define a catwalk. It’s not every day that a retailer’s website is referenced in a lawsuit as being a definitive way to define something.

For Other Colorado Decisions see:

Aspen Skiing Company Release stops claim by injured guest hit by an employee on snowmobile.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreaton.Law@Gmail.com

© 2010 James H. Moss

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Playgrounds will be flat soon

No swings, teeter totters or anything above a blade of grass…artificial grass.

Cabell County Schools are removing swing-sets from all elementary school playgrounds. The swing-sets are being

Swing seat rust

Swing seat rust (Photo credit: cynicalview)

removed because of insurance issues and lawsuits stemming from swing-set injuries.

In the past two years, the school district has settled two swing-set claims and is fighting two swing-set related lawsuits.

However, there was a quote that caught my attention. “”In this day and age, we have to do everything we can to keep kids safe,” said Jedd Flowers of the school district.

Why? Why is it the school systems’ job to keep kids safe? There is a difference between falling down or falling off a swing and being kept safe. This is not an issue where young children are being put at risk. At what point in time do we start putting kids in bubble wrap before sending them out the door.

See Risk Management: Preventing Injuries or Preventing Lawsuits? for more of my comments on this idea.

It is this quote that sent me through the roof!

Many of the county’s elementary schools use mulch around their swing sets, although national safety standards now call for rubber-based surfaces, Stewart said. Those types of surfaces can cost at least $7,500 per swing set, he said.

A new standard created by some do gooder group has forced the removal of swing-sets from the school yard. Sure rubber surfaces are better but not everyone can afford one. All the creation of this standard did was eliminate swing-sets not keep kids safe. At least it is going to be a standard that will eventually be obsolete because no on will have a swing set.

A commercial swing-set with four swings costs a playground about $1000 to $1500. However, when you add the cost of the rubber matting the total price of a swing-set is $9000! Or roughly 6 swing-sets.

When I said flat ground? The swing-sets are not going to be replaced with anything because the school district no longer deals with playgrounds.

The dictionary will have to change its definitions; playground will now be a synonym for field.

See School system removing swings

For more articles about how ridiculous standards are see Can a Standard Impede Inventions?, Basics of the Article are Good – But it confuses certification, accreditation and most importantly standards. and This is how a standard in the industry changes…..but….

Sorry my headline is incorrect. Teeter totters were removed years ago because they were dangerous………

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Colorado State Parks Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan

Colorado State Parks is excited to announce the release of the Draft 2008 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) for public review! You can access the entire document (including maps) at: http://parks.state.co.us/Trails/LWCF/SCORPplan/. Colorado‘s SCORP provides a critical five-year plan for addressing key outdoor recreation needs and issues through 2013. Developed in collaboration with a diverse 33-member Steering Committee, the SCORP serves as the principal guide for statewide outdoor recreation planning.

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Outdoor Recreation Program Directory and Data/Resource Guide

Ventura Beach House - ODR Trip

Ventura Beach House - ODR Trip (Photo credit: Presidio of Monterey: DLIFLC & USAG)

A book I keep within arm’s reach is the Outdoor Recreation Program Directory and Data/Resource Guide. Started by David Webb, M.A. and continued by Dr. Raymond Poff, this is a listing of college and university recreation programs: degree, non-degree and activity. The book also includes military programs. It is a very comprehensive look at what is happening at colleges, university, cities, government and military programs in the outdoors.

This is the staggering information. The book identifies $50 Million in Gross Income and 522,000 Participants Reported by Outdoor Recreation Programs in 280 programs. That’s participants, not user days; a pretty staggering figure.

If you need information on the how, when, why and who of military and higher education recreation programs, this is your book. The press release for the book and more information is below:

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 3/3/08

CONTACT:

Dr. Raymond Poff

E-mail: info@raymondpoff

Website: http://www.raymondpoff.com

VALUED MARKETING TOOL FOR OUTDOOR INDUSTRY VENDORS & ORGANIZATIONS

Dr. Raymond Poff of Western Kentucky University www.wku.edu, released (May 2007) the 4th edition of the Outdoor Recreation Program Directory & Data/Resource Guide, a marketing tool for outdoor industry vendors and organizations. Originally created and published by the late David J Webb in 1991, 1996, and 2000, this updated 361 page resource includes survey data from more than 280 outdoor recreation programs at: four-year colleges and universities; two-year colleges; government agencies – cities, counties, park commissions; U.S. Military installations, schools, operations; and nonprofit organizations. This represents a 30% percent increase in the number of outdoor programs being previously detailed (up from 220 programs in the 3rd Edition).

This publication addresses the needs of several audiences. Equipment vendors and sales reps interested in establishing business accounts with outdoor recreation programs will find the Outdoor Recreation Directory & Data/Resource Guide an essential tool. Equipment manufacturers trying to market pro-purchasing programs will benefit by connecting with the programs included in this edition. Training companies offering first aid, rescue, and activity specific training will discover organizations dedicated to high quality staff training.

Administrators of outdoor recreation programs at colleges, universities, military installations, cities, and counties can use this resource to network with their peers, benchmark their programs, and monitor trends. Employers such as camps and outfitters may find this resource helpful when searching for trained outdoor leaders to hire. Researchers interested in studying outdoor recreation programs will find the 4th edition invaluable in contacting potential research subjects.

This survey data helps communicate the size and scope of this sector of the outdoor recreation industry. Included in the resource is: an overall summary of survey data; detailed information about each outdoor program in the survey and their survey responses; financial information with 18 reports detailing various financial aspects; program activity information with 15 reports detailing trips/clinics/events; participation and climbing wall/ropes course facility information; and the top 35 trips/clinics/events ranked by participation. The “Research/Commercial” edition includes the printed book plus a data file containing mailing addresses for the institutions in the book to help companies and organizations share marketing materials for products and services. A “Vendor” edition includes the “Research/Commercial” edition plus the opportunity to be listed on the Outdoor Recreation Program Directory & Data/Resource Guide website.
For more information visit http://www.raymondpoff.com or e-mail info@raymondpoff.com

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